“When you said French countryside,” Eliot glared sharply over the rising dust and the unflattering clack-clack-clack of his rolling bag against the uneven road, “I was picturing chateaus and champagne on manicured lawns. Not fucking farms and churches.”
“What exactly did you think Notre Dame de Chartres was?” Quentin asked, shielding his eyes with his flattened hand over his brow. In the parlance of cheesy weather men back in the States, it was shaping up to be a scorcher and bubbles of sweat ran down his neck in slick sprints. The heat wave would last the next few days, common in the early European summertime but no less aggravating and unsteady in the high sun.
They were supposedly only a few hundred meters from their gîte, but the only buildings in sight were silos and small brown barns, attached to coops and a plain farmhouse in the slight distance. They’d driven the hour or so north from the better known city, since developing a portal would have taken some resources beyond what Quentin had available to him as a freelancer. The perks of Brakebills was never lost on him now that he was an alumnus.
But the current small town Quentin and Eliot were now angling towards was more rural than expected, and so they had to park the car on the perpendicular between the paved road and the craggier dirt one, cutting like a snake through the gold and green sea of whispering fans of new wheat.
“At least Chartres had something vaguely resembling a town square. But this?” Eliot spread his arms wide across the unbroken landscape and his suitcase fell over unceremoniously. “This is my personal hell, Q.”
An icy hand gripped Quentin’s stomach. “Oh my god. I’m sorry. I didn’t think about—”
Rural settings and Eliot didn’t mix for many more reasons than simple preferences. Throughout their six years together, Quentin had grown to feel a dark sickness in his own chest over his partner’s experiences in Whiteland. And that certainly paled in comparison to Eliot’s own complex take on the situation, likely making the current scenery less Picturesque and more, you know, Traumatic. Scars still flecked the perfect softness of El’s lower back and Quentin had always promised himself that he would shield him from anything ever approximating that pain ever again. But now he’d—
“Oh, I’m not talking about my childhood,” Eliot waved him off like the internal monologue wasn’t even happening. He squatted to right his Mark Cross with a small frown; the leather was nicked by one of the small stones kicking up from the ground under their movements. “Horrible as this is, it still isn’t Indiana. Thank fuck. I just hate it.”
Quentin breathed easier and nodded. Then Eliot pointed right at him, a gentle glee on his face.
“But once upon a time, I totally would have milked that, so you should really be grateful for my impressive maturation.”
Truly, Quentin was grateful for that every day. But right now, he knew Eliot was just being a shithead, mostly to be funny. So he shot him a barely amused grin and tugged a map out of his back jean pocket, taking in his own notes. He grimaced against the drawn pathway and carefully noted steps, like an old MapQuest description, leading to the inevitable conclusion. He swallowed.
Apparently the brown barn up ahead, attached to the plain farmhouse, was their gîte.
…Eliot was going to have a conniption.
“In that case, I’m not sure what to tell you,” Quentin sighed, pointing his flat hand ahead, like an air traffic controller. “You wanted to come along on my work trip. This is my work trip. I sent you the details so you knew what you were in for.”
“Which I definitely read,” Eliot said, far too fast. Quentin rolled his eyes. “But the reality is apparently this hellhole and I hate it.”
Quentin glanced his eyes up at his partner, to gauge how serious he was being.
In the mid-afternoon sun, Eliot stood against the shock blue sky like Apollo, eyes not even squinting against the harshness of the light. His face was every bit as defined as it had been the first time he’d seen him—possibly more so, even, with the lines around his cheekbones dipping inward, painted with the almost-beard he cultivated now, rather than it being indicative of a lack of care. He still wore a button-down like a royal brocade, standing taller than anything on the planet. And his fucking beautiful eyes still glinted down at Quentin like Eliot was the one who’d lucked out, the one who’d somehow won the lottery. Quentin figured it was the greatest magic trick he’d ever managed.
And right then, those eyes were glinting teasingly and Quentin let out another breath he didn’t know he was holding.
He smirked, “I mean, it’s quaint.”
“Quaint is my new least favorite word,” Eliot quipped. “Officially.”
“Again, you wanted to come on my work trip—”
“I wanted to go on a trip with you. It’s been too long,” Eliot said, sighing, slowing his steps to walk directly next to him. He put his free arm around his shoulders and squeezed once. “And as I may have mentioned, in passing, occasionally, this is my only time off because apparently the whole European holiday culture is bullshit.”
He made a good show of complaining, but Quentin knew exactly how much his most recent promotion had meant to him. Eliot had struggled for the first few years in the London museum circuit, particularly without a formal art history education or any real interest in magical theory. He mostly got by through his sheer force of will and natural way with people. But when he’d finally been made Director, at the Magician level, across the whole of the Tate Collective, it had been like the kid with a 2.9 undergrad GPA had finally proven himself to the ivory tower and elitist assholes who’d always tried to keep him down. He knew it felt good, loath as Eliot would be to admit it. He still occasionally cultivated an attitude of apathy, even as every part of his life stood in stark contradiction to the idea.
Still, Quentin couldn’t help but chuckle at the idea of telling that haughty kid from Brakebills that Eliot now actually gave a shit about his career. Because, honestly, he’d probably throw a cocktail in Quentin’s face for his terrible influence, entirely blaming him. He snorted, enjoying his own internal thought a little too much. He was funny, on occasion. But he turned the snort into a throat clear when Eliot glanced down at him, bemused. He’d still been talking, but had entirely lost Quentin’s attention.
His own head still had a siren’s call he couldn’t ignore at times.
“Didn’t realize I’d said something amusing,” Eliot said, with a knowing glance.
“Sorry,” Quentin said, quickly wrapping his arm around Eliot’s waist before letting go. It was too hot for prolonged contact. “Rewind a bit.”
“Just reiterating that I was definitely thinking lush vineyards and lavender fields, not—”
“That’s Provence,” Quentin said, unnecessarily. Eliot knew. “And there’s plenty of good wine around here. We’ll just have to be a little more creative in our downtime.”
“You know where else there’s good wine?” Eliot sparkled and teased in the sunlight. “Lisbon. Mendoza. Cape Town.”
Quentin nodded slowly, “Well, if any of them have structural shit in their historical monuments that needs fixed on a detailed or microscopic level, rather than something more intensive, and they have a Board of Trustees with a Magician on staff willing to hire me, then we can go there next.”
“Mmm, you’re such a free spirit, baby,” Eliot nuzzled a kiss into the top of his head, his lips probably burning from the sun-baked heat. “It’s what drew me to you from the start.”
“A regular Bohemian, sure,” Quentin raised his eyebrows once, before pointing at the barn in the short distance. It was time.
A small gray cat hissed at them from the gravelly patio and a rooster pecked its way around their feet. The screens over the windows were weathered and torn, surrounded by bright blue shutters with chipping paint. The stone facade of the home was dark gray and brown, with bright green ivy growing through the aged grooves. The terra cotta roof sloped upwards, until it connected awkwardly into the splintered dark brown wood of the barn behind them. American pop music blasted through the obviously thin walls and a gravelly voice shouted Ah, putain! over the clang of kitchenware.
Quentin took a breath. “Okay, so, uh, don’t freak out.”
Eliot narrowed his eyes as he glanced back and forth between him and the farmhouse, putting the narrative together in his quick mind. He let go of both his luggage and Quentin’s shoulders in a single movement, bringing his hands up to his face and letting out a slow groan.
It hadn’t been the best night of sleep in their lives, Quentin had to admit as he blinked against the light streaming through the lace curtains.
At home, they had an extra long king size bed, magic’d to fit in their small flat. But there, in the tiny farmhouse loft, the accommodations were what they were. Magicians or not. So the two of them were cramped into a brittle-thin double bed, about four inches too short for Eliot’s long frame. Neither of them could quite find their usual rhythm of sleep patterns and Eliot had, half-snarky, half-coping, spent a good five minutes muttering “Fiji…Fiji…Fiji…” just barely above his breath before finally drifting into sleep. And since Quentin couldn’t sleep well even on a feather bed crafted by the angels themselves, he’d tossed and turned for another hour after Eliot’s breath had evened out, until sleep finally swallowed him whole, more out of abject exhaustion than because he’d reached any equilibrium.
The one bright spot was that once they were asleep, they were able to rest in bed until the nearly unheard of late hour of almost nine in the morning.
In their frantic day-to-day, seven was the latest they ever seemed to capture and Quentin snuggled the side of his head into the flat pillow, embroidered with scratchy Brussels lace. Shitty as the accommodations objectively were, it was worth it to get the chance to keep his eyes closed for almost six hours of sleep, for once in his adult life.
But his hair was tangling against the strange fabric and he couldn’t help the smile on his face. Staring up at the ceiling, he rolled his head back and forth a few times, angling his long hair—still loosely tied in a straggly bun—in the precise way he knew Eliot liked most. It would be at least one thing that Eliot would enjoy—he still loved Quentin’s bedhead more than anything, possibly more than Quentin himself. He snorted again at his own internal joke and tucked it away for later. He could see the resigned eye roll and tiny reluctant smile already and it warmed him down to his toes.
Sighing against the hot air in the room with only a fan to keep them comfortable, Quentin willed the realities of the world away.
It would be a long and painstaking day of deceptively delicate and actually grueling work, but at least he had the best company on Earth with him. Trade-offs in life, he thought with another dramatic sigh, curving over to tuck himself against Eliot’s sleeping form. He was facing away, sleeping on his side, the sunlight illuminating his dark curls and pale skin, like a painting. Quentin’s eyelids fluttered down with the force of love that regularly threatened to overwhelm him: Eliot was still, now and always, the most beautiful person he’d ever seen.
With the rush of quiet morning affection he’d lived in for years, he gently ran his fingers down the strong lines of Eliot’s shirtless back, dipping up and under the grooves of the soft skin over his spine. He never thought he’d know another body nearly better than his own, in all ways, and to be so lucky that it was Eliot—Quentin let out a halting breath, angling his hips closer. His heart expanded with tingling grace and he brushed his lips against the nape of Eliot’s neck, just to take a moment to breathe in the beauty of his life.
“I’m not fucking you in this bed,” Eliot’s sleep-heavy voice stumbled out. “Two thrusts and it’ll split in half.”
“And Germaine would be so mad at us,” Quentin said in Eliot’s ear, wrapping his arm around his chest and pulling them into a warm skin-to-skin embrace. He felt the telltale uptick of Eliot’s cheek into a smile against his chin. “Such a lovely woman. Would hate to upset her.”
The gîte owner was a hearty middle-aged woman with graying hair and stern eyes. She’d insisted on giving them a room with two beds and made it extremely clear that they were under no circumstances to give the cat any canned tuna, as though it was first on their to-do list. They would obviously be pen pals for life.
“You know, your birthday is coming up,” Eliot mused, turning around into Quentin’s arms with twinkling eyes. “We should ask her to join us as a third. I think she’d really fit our energy.”
“Oh, well, if I wasn’t ready to go before, I certainly am now with that image,” Quentin deadpanned, tangling his legs into Eliot’s. “Ravish me, Waugh.”
Eliot hummed out, kneading his fingers into his scalp, eyes drifting dazed over the off-kilter angles of his hair. Hook, line, and sinker, Quentin thought with a rush of smug pride. He leaned in and kissed him once, soft and chaste.
“Tempting as always, Coldwater,” he said gently, before glancing over his shoulder at the blinking orange digital clock, the only sign of modernity in the entire room. “But I’m pretty sure you have to be on site in—”
“Yeah, yeah,” Quentin groaned, burrowing into Eliot’s comforting neck like it would stop time. “Don’t remind me. Fuck being a responsible adult, seriously.”
Eliot tucked Quentin’s head fully under his chin and chuckled, “Obviously, I concur.”
There really was nothing obvious about that, though. Not anymore. But Quentin refrained from saying it. Instead, he tilted his head upward and kissed the underside of his partner’s jaw. Then he flopped backward, the flat pillow barely catching him against the bounce of the pitifully thin mattress. And Eliot propped his head up under one arm balanced on a carefree elbow, glancing around the room.
“Besides,” he said, clearly repressing a laugh. “I think I’d much rather be on the road than spending one more second under the judging eyes of these singing cow tchotchkes.”
Quentin blinked and reoriented himself. Eliot was right. In nearly every inch of the room, there were paintings, needlepoints, ceramic statues, and plastic figurines, all of anthropomorphic cows standing on two legs, mouths wide open and holding sheet music. And all their eyes were firmly planted towards the bed. Well, beds. Because there were two beds in the room.
In any case, it was...specific.
“Uh, yeah, what’s with that?” Quentin was certain his eyebrows were doing one of their stupid things where they moved all around, but there was no point in being self-conscious around Eliot, of all people.
“The French are weird, baby,” Eliot said, pressing a quick kiss to his forehead and patting his shoulder. “Up and at ‘em, Repair Man.”
“I think Germaine is the weird one,” Quentin said, low and mostly to himself, as he slid his feet onto the fluffy pink carpet under the bed. Eliot was already across the room, digging through his suitcase for his perfectly pressed clothes.
“Hey now,” Eliot shot behind his shoulder. “Speaking poorly of her is speaking poorly of me. Our hearts are one.”
Quentin threw the ugly pillow at the smartass with a grin, and he wrenched his own exhausted ass out of bed. Somehow, he was much more heartened to start his day than he thought.
“Still making a point, are we?” Quentin deadpanned as Eliot magically blasted music through the aging car stereo. Specifically, The Beach Boys began crooning about an imaginary remote island deep in the Caribbean. Eliot grinned wickedly.
“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean,” he said with a laugh, before singing along with the chorus, poking Quentin in the ribs at Come on, pretty mama.
Quentin very unsuccessfully bit down his own smile, trying to keep his eyes on the road instead of the perfect distraction in the passenger seat. He drove at a cautious speed through the landscape, all greens and whites, with large round bales of hay as the only mile markers. Or kilometer markers, he supposed. Even after five years in the UK and throughout Europe, he’d never quite gotten used to the metric system. Uncle Sam would be proud.
“You’re a little flat,” he said, shooting Eliot a quick glance out of the corner of his eye. In turn, El gasped and gaped at him, admonishing with a smack on his thigh.
“How dare you. Stay in your lane,” he said, all bright teeth and bright eyes, before his brow furrowed ahead. “Uh, literally, Q. You’re hugging the right.”
“Oh, shit,” Quentin said, gripping the wheel and jolting the car into the center of the lane again. “Sorry.”
“You know you’re not actually going to drive headfirst into oncoming traffic, right?” Eliot asked, the wry grin evident in his voice. “That’s a much more difficult feat than you seem to think. Especially with a telekinetic failsafe right next to you.”
He was referring to himself, of course. But Quentin just shook his head, stubborn.
“I mean, there’s really no way to know if your reflexes would actually engage on time.”
Eliot merely lifted a single eyebrow. “If your life was in danger? Try me.”
Quentin glared into the road, tightening his knuckles until they nearly bled. “I hate driving.”
“You’ve gone six months,” Eliot said lightly. “Too long. It’s good practice.”
Three years ago, Eliot had dragged Quentin kicking and screaming into a car during a routine visit to Brakebills, insisting that he finally learn how to drive. It hadn’t been their best days, even if Quentin did eventually get a license. But it was still very much a work in progress.
Like he could sense the anxiety ripping up through Quentin’s chest, Eliot touched his knee, tenderness seeping out through the firm pads of his fingers.
“I’ll drive on the way back, okay?” He said, the stretch of his palm engulfing his leg. “You’re doing great.”
“I’m doing okay, at best,” Quentin snorted and Eliot squeezed tighter. “But thank you.”
“You’re a safer driver than someone who overestimates their abilities.”
“Gee, I can’t imagine what that could look like.”
Eliot bit the inside of his cheek and narrowed his eyes, “Except I actually am an excellent driver, thank you very much.”
“Which is why speed limits are just a friendly suggestion?”
But before Quentin could retort, a sharp buzzing sound emanated from Eliot’s pocket. With a snapping groan, Eliot dug into the side of his pants and his jaw tensed in time with the vibration. With a quick glance at Quentin and a single finger in the air, indicating that he’d only be a minute, Eliot pulled a small Bluetooth out of his other pocket and pressed it into his ear, with a dry, false smile.
“Alonso,” Eliot answered with a frustrated groan, banging his head back against the headrest once, twice. “Exactly what part of On holiday was beyond you, friend?”
In the short distance between them, Quentin could hear a high-pitched baritone squawk nonsensically through the air, clearly panicked. He knew that Eliot’s work involved a ridiculous level of logistics, which he handled with exactly the kind of poise one would expect. But his assistants had historically not handled the pressure quite as well.
“Alright,” Eliot said placatingly as tapped his fingers on his knee, his face pinched in concentration. “Alright. Breathe. This is a glorified scheduling problem. I know he’s difficult, but all you need to do is—”
Quentin let the soothing tone of Eliot’s Work Voice wash over him, as the monotonous scenery started to change slightly into old stone buildings and a canopy of large green trees, perfectly lined against the road. They were still a ways out and Eliot’s call was hardly an imposition in their slow moving morning, but he still mouthed a dramatic Sorry and pointed to his ear with one hand, making a derogatory yapping sign with his other.
He appreciated it, of course. But at least Quentin could focus on the drive, on the feel of the wheel beneath his hands, the pedal under his foot, and the solidness and heat of Eliot beside him, even or maybe especially without his undivided attention. The present moment, gorgeous and simple, with him always beside him, even while focused elsewhere. It was—
“Don’t bother me about stuff like this again, okay?” Eliot broke through his minor reverie, admonishing, yet with a surprising gentleness that would have been unheard of years prior. “I officially give you permission to be a cliche and think outside the box, even without my say-so. In fact, I insist on it.”
As Eliot hung up with an eye roll and a Ciao, he rolled down the window, the breeze tossing his curls around like dandelion pollen. Comfortable silence filled the air, with the exception of the low moan of music and a light humming sigh from Eliot’s throat. Quentin had never felt so calm as he drove, ever.
“How’s it working out with the new guy anyway?” Quentin asked after a few more moments of sweet quiet. “Sounds like he’s your new Todd.”
“Fuck no,” Eliot said, aghast. “Overall, Alonso’s competent. Todd could never hack it as my assistant.“
And some things never changed.
“You know he got started as Fogg’s assistant, right?” Quentin said, his usual rush of defensiveness of his old friend surfacing. “I imagine Henry’s a pretty exacting boss too.”
“Maybe for a barely functional alcoholic in goddamn academia,” Eliot smirked. “I’m the fucking Director of Strategy-comma-Magic for the most visited art museums in the United Kingdom. Todd would be a puddle of incompetent nerves from the pressure.”
Eliot really liked saying his new title. It was cute. But Quentin had a point to make.
He shook his head and offered a wane grin, “He’s not incompetent. That’s my point.”
“Sure, sure,” Eliot said dismissively. “You’re still inexplicably Team Todd. I get it. We can talk about something else now.”
“I mean, that’s kind of condescending—”
“Q, baby,” Eliot lolled his head over, his smile charming as all hell on his stupid perfect face in his periphery. “You’re the one who brought him up even though you know my stance. I really don’t want to fight about Todd. Not again. Please?”
Technically, Quentin was more concerned with Eliot’s tone about the whole thing and his complete refusal to grow into someone who could halfway stand one of Quentin’s oldest friends than just “Todd.” But he didn’t want to fight either, and that particular issue certainly wasn’t going to get resolved during the car ride. So he acquiesced, opting to smirk and raise his eyebrows with a light shrug. Three of his favorite ways to ease into something more palatable from common thickets, rolled into one.
“Did you know they say that any disagreements you consistently have after your first year together are the same ones you’ll have for the rest of your life?”
It was true. He’d read it in a study. Though he honestly wasn’t sure if it was more depressing or comforting. Bittersweet, maybe.
“Jesus Christ, if I’m still hearing about how Todd is quote-unquote Not dopey fifty years from now,” Eliot said slowly, only half-jokingly, “I’ll finally just euthanize him for the sake of my screaming brain.”
“I think that’s better known as murder, honey.”
“Tomato, tomato. At least someone would be out of their misery,” Eliot said with a soft smile, scratching his fingers along Quentin’s thigh. It was a gentle, familiar touch. “How far out are we?”
Quentin allowed the subject change. “About thirty. We’ll have some time to grab coffee in town before we head to the church.”
Eliot nodded in approval and squeezed his leg once, before lifting his hand to turn the music up again. He bit his lip cheekily and tutted a quick change to the song selection.
An overly poppy beat blared out and Quentin immediately risked a glare, directly at Eliot. He was happily bopping along to the opening verse with a shit-eating grin.
“Seriously?” Quentin sighed, desperately willing himself not to laugh. He couldn’t give him the satisfaction. “I get it. We’re not at the beach.”
“You’re reading into things, Q,” Eliot said, leaning his seat all the way back as he lifted his hands in the air, rolling his fingers to Will Smith praising the diverse demographics of the city of Miami. “I happen to love this song.”
Quentin lifted a careful hand off the wheel and playfully shoved at Eliot’s curls, “Jackass.”
“Ten and two, Coldwater.”
Quentin couldn’t pronounce the name of the village they were in, nor the name of the church they were heading towards, beyond Notre Dame de Chat—
He grimaced against his mind’s terrible French, embarrassed that it was still somehow even worse once it reached his still-awkward tongue and mouth.
As much as Eliot would take vehement issue with that description in a, uh, different context, Quentin still knew exactly who he was. He wasn’t an awkward adolescent anymore, nor an overly mind-trapped grad student for that matter, but there was no world where he’d ever be considered a great orator.
Which was fine. He had other talents.
At the same time, he’d always assumed that by thirty he would have at least some kind of eloquence under control. But considering he had approximately two weeks and six days until that milestone, he wasn’t feeling too confident in a major shift.
The town itself was lovely. Gray cobblestones stretched out under their feet and green plants crawled their way up and down the painted stone facades of old row houses and tiny shops. Every window was framed by rich brown shutters and a brick sill, through twisting side streets, paved only for pedestrian feet. It was nearly silent in the morning—finding an open cafe had taken a good portion of the hour they had before Quentin was set to start work—and the echo of their footsteps, the crunch of tiny broken rocks under their shoes, reverberated as they moved closer and closer to the historical site, a tiny church on the edge of the village. For his part, Quentin couldn’t decide if the quiet was peaceful or disconcerting.
Eliot, though, had clearly decided on the latter.
“Is this a ghost town?” He asked as they turned down another narrow street. “We haven’t seen or heard another soul since we left the cafe.”
“Well, it’s Sunday morning,” Quentin shrugged. Eliot snorted.
“So they’re all nursing hangovers?” He asked, stretching his neck side-to-side and glancing down an alleyway. It was sweetly provincial, with blooming bougainvillea and aging stone walls, under the angled sunlight. Eliot probably hated it.
Quentin shot him a sidelong glance. “They’re at church.”
“Church? Like an actual service?” Eliot frowned like he was confused, seemingly sincerely. “I thought all the churches around here are historical monuments.”
“I mean, yeah,” Quentin said slowly. “Most of them are. But they’re also, you know, churches.”
“Fascinating,” Eliot said, with the first hint of a teasing grin passing over his features.
“In villages like this, church is kind of the social center,” Quentin said, tucking his arm around Eliot’s waist. “Not a lot else going on.”
“You don’t say.”
“And trust me, I have as many issues with Catholicism as the next thinking person in a long-term same sex partnership,” Quentin continued, with a sigh. Eliot chuckled at the formality of the phrasing. “But the art and the history and the power of the community kind of transcends that. I’m glad I can be a part of keeping it alive in the near future.”
“Sure,” Eliot said with a wane, unconvinced smirk. “Honestly, the way I see it is that you’re good at what you do and this is a great opportunity to do what you do. I get it.”
Quentin nudged him with his shoulder. “Practical.”
“Always,” Eliot said, increasing his walk speed as they passed a few more alleyways, the next turn toward the site only a few blocks ahead of them. “But I’m glad you’re getting something out of it. Though you know you always have a place at—“
“El, I love you,” Quentin smiled and squeezed his partner’s hip to him. “But I think if I lived with you and worked with you, I’d go fucking insane.”
“Understood.” Eliot glanced both ways—he was checking for others, a hazard of the terrible wide world—before pulling Quentin tightly against him, kissing his forehead. “Though you’d basically never see me. I’d be so senior to you it’s not even funny.”
“Appreciated, really,” Quentin said, tipping his head upward into Eliot’s warm mouth, the familiar press of his lips tingling against his skin. “But it would do nothing to help my infamous reputation as your trophy wife.”
“Are you sure your discipline is Minor Mendings and not running jokes into the ground?” Eliot said, kissing his forehead one more time, before patting his arm to continue on towards his tedious doom.
Fuck, Quentin didn’t want to work. They really did need a real vacation.
But as they continued down the stone walking path, Quentin couldn’t help but stop for a moment, looking down the long twisting lines of the town, the way the bright morning sunlight hit the yellow and gray stones, the contrasting bright green. It really was lovely. It almost—almost—felt like they were exploring the village for its own merits, for touristic reasons, rather than because he needed to stop the roof of a nearly eight-hundred year old church from caving in and he owed the area’s version of a Magicians’ Historical Society Board president a favor.
Charmed by the pretty asymmetry of the space before him, Quentin twisted his torso to pull his messenger bag against his hip for easier access. Rummaging through the largest compartment, he pulled out a small DSLR camera, one he’d inherited from Margo a few years back. He angled it toward the light, snapping a quick photo. Then he took another, just for good measure. Then another, with the camera turned on its vertical. Next to him, Eliot grinned down, clearly amused, before snatching it right out of his hand. Quentin made a half-hearted sound of protest, but they both knew it was for show.
“Let me see,” Eliot said, flipping through the viewfinder. “Photography, huh? I didn’t know you had an artistic bone in your body.”
“Too easy,” Quentin teased, and Eliot laughed. He always did. “And you know damn well I’m not artistic. These are just for memories, not to show off.”
“Oh, come on, I’m sure they’re—“ Eliot started as he flipped through the digital images, before rumpling his brow. “Hmm. Okay. Yeah, these are pretty fucking bad, Q.”
“I mean, they’re not that bad,” Quentin said with a small rush of defensiveness. But Eliot’s smile broadened as he kept going further and further back.
“Jesus, do you even know how to focus this thing?” Eliot laughed, hard. Quentin clamped down on his teeth, trying to keep his face stern.
“I’m going for, like, a moody aesthetic—“
“Uh-huh,” Eliot rolled his eyes. “Right. I’m usurping. I relieve you of your duty as official photographer.”
“Like fuck you will,” Quentin smirked, his arms crossed. “We came back with nothing but close ups of my face after Havana.”
“In my defense, it’s a beautiful face,” Eliot smiled, cupping his cheek. “And if I recall, I also snuck in a few very tasteful shots of your ass.”
“You can take pictures of me anywhere,” Quentin tried not to let his fondness for Eliot’s ever-lasting Eliotness show more than the base level. “The point of travel photos is to capture the sights.”
“Ugh, but that’s so boring,” Eliot said, complaining. He wrapped his arm around Quentin’s shoulders and kissed his temple. “These old buildings will be around for centuries. But you, sweetheart, are changing every day. Growing, evolving, into something and someone new, all the time.”
“That’s dramatic,” Quentin said, furrowing his brow at the solemnity in Eliot’s voice. But Eliot just shook his head.
“Sometimes I think about that kid I fell in love with seven years ago, you know?” He smiled, wistfully. “Obviously, he’s you and you’re him, but very much not at the same time.”
“You miss Brakebills Quentin?” He asked, incredulous, and Eliot rightfully sputtered his lips in dissent.
“Fuck no. I mean, he was absolutely was perfect for the disastrous fuck up that was Brakebills Eliot, of course,” Eliot said, gently taking Quentin’s hand in his. “But at the end of the day, we were two messed up young men with chips on our shoulders. I’d be a fool to want that back compared to this.”
“We definitely had some shit,” Quentin huffed a laugh and glanced sideways before pressing his own kiss to Eliot’s jaw. His partner hummed. “So what are you actually saying then?”
“I don’t give a fuck about remembering this pretty little street,” Eliot gazed down at him, all serious. “But remembering everything about you, in every phase of our life together? Yeah.”
A cloud passed across the sun, casting a shadow over their path before bursting bright again, right into Quentin’s eyes. He closed them softly against the white burn into his retinas and the pricking along the edge of his eyelids, flashing in the heat. He staggered forward, his forehead resting against Eliot’s chest.
He was wearing a white button-down, in a softer, more casual material than his younger self ever would have allowed. His cologne had changed from those days too—now he smelled like clean sheets, lavender, and verbena, instead of the dark and heady musk, wood, and sugar that once haunted Quentin’s every waking moment. There wasn’t a single trace of cigarette smoke on him, even though he still indulged occasionally, as a stress reliever. His posture was somehow even more perfect, firmer and steadier. But the feel of his hand on the back of Q’s neck, his soft lips on the top of his head? That had never changed.
Quentin let out a halting breath and pulled away, lifting his eyes up to Eliot with a small smile. Not really caring if anyone saw them, he pushed up on his toes and placed a featherlight kiss on his lips. Eliot kissed him back all the firmer, running his thumb along his jawline, and Quentin felt infinite and shallow at once. Because the other thing that had yet to change throughout the years? How much Eliot could still unexpectedly take his breath away.
They pulled away and Quentin’s eyelashes hazed his line of vision. Fuck.
“We’re here, sweetheart,” Eliot said softly, indicating the small building in front of them.
Apparently, one side effect of being completely enraptured by the most beautiful person on the planet was a complete lack of spatial awareness. Somehow, they’d floated their way to the front walkway of the church, right on time. The church was a small gray stone building, with jagged edges jutting into the sky and carvings on every square inch of the facade. A ward covered the whole radius of the property, like a dome, and Quentin easily tutted out the break, like inputting a security code.
He tried not to let disappointment sink his good mood. He was there on work. To work. It was the whole point.
So instead, he shone a grin right back up at Eliot.
“Sometimes I do miss the vests though,” Quentin said as he pulled open the heavy wooden door. Eliot made a quiet Pfft sound and winked.
“Obviously,” he said, clasping the back of Quentin’s neck and ducking them into the dark entryway. “I wore the hell outta those things.”
Eliot fell asleep five and a half hours into the work session.
It made sense, Quentin thought after he took a deep breath and his jean-clad ass fell back against the heels of his boots, into a lazy kneel. His fingertips buzzed with pins-and-needles from the detail spells, so he needed a second to gather his wits and energy, before he performed the final incantation. But when he’d glanced over to let Eliot know he could finally pay attention to him again, if only for a moment, the man in question was sprawled out lengthwise along the front pew, hand over his eyes and lightly snoring.
Really, the fact that he’d stayed awake as long as he did—with only idle chatter about everything and nothing for entertainment, and only in between Quentin’s long form spells—was impressive.
The limestone church’s tall pentagonal windows were cloaked in shadow, out of the angle of the sun. The yellowing stone walls were contrasted with deep blues and purples, like a bruising mist from the pale indirect light. Being nearly ancient and well fortified, the air was cool and humid, wafted in a sickly sweet and musky incense from the service a few hours prior. It was peaceful and quiet, and his magic wasn’t anything flashy—just a few strands of gold coursing through tiny cracks at the space where the stone wall behind the altar met the ceiling. During that, Quentin had been silent, in deepest concentration, through the trickiest part of the spells, and Eliot was inherently a social creature, needing the stimulation to keep himself from getting bored or restless or drained. On top of everything was that lazy afternoon hour, not quite bright noon, not quite evening. If Quentin closed his eyes, he probably would have passed the hell out too.
Sparing another glance at Eliot’s gently snoozing form, he smiled and looked at his watch, stretching his fingers back into position. Centering himself over his energy, Quentin moved his fingers in their final twists and turns, solidifying the roof for centuries to come. Light pinged next to him, alerting him to a job well done and a new deposit of money in his bank account. Shaking with adrenaline, he let himself fall entirely to the ground for a few short minutes, the cool stone seeping away the magical heat from his reverberating skin.
He’d be back at it the next day, in another town. Fuck.
Quentin loved magic. He loved working. He loved being useful and stable, and all the things he never thought he would be, in his darkest days. And he loved having Eliot along with him, on what could have been a boring and lonely trip, through the countryside, with such little social contact, something he’d learned to welcome into his own life, and now even enjoyed. But fuck, if he didn’t really, really crave that vacation Eliot kept teasing him about, deep in his bones. But life was what it was, and he intended to enjoy it for exactly what it was. He’d learned about regret and living in hypotheticals too early in his life. Never again.
So he moved over to Eliot, his forever gravitational pull, and grounded himself in the moment.
“Hey honey,” Quentin whispered, running his hand lightly along Eliot’s forehead. He blinked awake at the contact, and it took him a second to adjust to his surroundings. “I’m all wrapped up here.”
“How long was I asleep?” Eliot asked, propping himself up with one hand and rubbing his eye with the other.
“No more than an hour,” Quentin said, putting both hands on Eliot’s knees. “We can head back to the house and try to find somewhere to eat?”
“You’re with an old man these days,” Eliot said as he rolled his neck around with a satisfying crack. Well, satisfying to Eliot. Quentin hated the sound. “Jesus.”
Quentin chuckled and helped pull him to a standing position, “You’ll never be old.”
“You’re a very sweet person,” Eliot said with a wide smile, the kind that pierced his heart every goddamn time. “But the other week, my knees hurt. For no fucking reason. It’s happening, Coldwater.”
Not really sure why, but that something broke in Quentin. He surged up at Eliot, kissing him with everything he had. His heart was full and aching, and he just—he fucking loved Eliot so much. And he needed him to know that, right then, right there. He was overflowing, overwhelmed with how much he needed him to know, how much every part of him was yearning for him, always.
“Mmm,” Eliot’s eyes were still closed as he smiled, still breathing the same air as him. “A kiss? During working hours? In a Catholic church? Naughty, naughty.”
Quentin loved that he didn’t question the burst of affection more than that. Because he wasn’t sure he had the words yet.
“Well, they don’t call me the bad boy of the Mending community for nothin’,” he said, cheeky as he could get. He was rewarded with a melting gaze and a small laugh. “Though technically, it’s not working hours anymore. An hour ago I wouldn’t have done that.”
“Spontaneity thy name is Quentin,” Eliot said, wrapping his arm around his shoulder as they walked toward the door, the church creaking in their movement.“And yes, new clothes sound perfect. I think my shirt is going to smell like fucking incense through a few washes here.”
“I like this shirt,” Quentin said lightly, running his hand up and down Eliot’s torso. That got another smile out of him.
“Yeah?” He asked, puffing his chest out. “Well, I like your face.”
Quentin smirked, “But not my shirt.”
“I mean. It’s fine. I guess.”
And as they walked out of the church and back into the glowering rural heat, laughing and ribbing each other, verbally and literally, Quentin was inexplicably giddy, and light, like the rest of the day was going to be one of the best he’d ever had.
But that theory broke down along with their car, five miles from the farmhouse.
Eliot slammed the hood down, storming away from the car in a fell swoop, clenching his fists at his sides. He gracelessly wiped his brow with the back of his hand, a small streak of soot and grease sliding across his forehead like a plane through the wide sky. Vapors of humidity rose from the ground, a foreboding warning of the heat wave still stretching across the countryside. It was nearing sunset, evening well upon them, and they were both starving and messy, and ready to be anywhere fucking else in the world than on a long dirt road, surrounded by wheat fields as the only sign of life.
“I’m done,” Eliot said, after ninety solid minutes of tuts and old-fashioned digging around. “I think we’ll have to call whatever the French version of AAA is. An old school tow truck, I guess?”
Quentin groaned and shook his head, “Yeah, except there’s no fucking cell service out here.”
“And even if there was, what village is this even? What would our search terms be?” Eliot almost laughed, his hands shaking. “Communauté non constituée en société, et putain de dépanneuse, et tue-moi?”
“You know I can’t speak French,” Quentin spat out, tenser than necessary.
He hated cars. He fucking hated cars. He should be more like Margo and insist on traveling exclusively by portal, no matter how stupid or excessively wasteful it was. Eliot closed his eyes with a strained breath and stretched his long fingers out into the air, like he was willing a new magic to course through them.
“Fuck,” he finally said. “Fine. So we fucking walk. What a goddamn disaster.”
“Calm down,” Quentin said, pulling his messenger bag against him, like armor. “We’re in reasonably good shape. We walk longer than this around London all the time.”
“It’s thirty-two degrees out,” Eliot said, unnecessarily. Yes, it was fucking hot. They both knew it. He didn’t need to state the fucking obvious. “And yeah, for now, the sun is still up, but soon it’ll be dark and we’re walking somewhere we don’t know, through the fucking dirt. Then, when we do get back to the fucking farmhouse, we’re going to an uncomfortable bed and the shower pressure isn’t exactly anything to write home about either—”
“I get it, Eliot,” Quentin slammed his hand on his leg. “You don’t want to be here. This trip is a nightmare for you. You’ve made your point.”
Eliot blinked, his eyes faltering out of their frustration. “Q. That’s not—I actually thought we were having a nice time. “
Quentin softened then and started to reach his hand out, when Eliot snorted.
“You know. Considering.”
“Okay, that’s what I’m talking about,” Quentin said, pointing his finger out. “You can’t just say we’re having a nice time. You have to add in a little dig. Or—or play stupid Will Smith in the car, or make fun of my pictures—”
Eliot rolled his eyes, haughty as ever and cutting him off, “Yes, I playfully gave you some shit. It’s kind of our whole dynamic. You can’t just decide it pisses you off because you’re pissy.”
“You’re pissy,” Quentin grumbled.
“Mature,” Eliot said, but there was no heat behind his voice. If anything, he was sly and slightly amused, his head cocking and arms folded. “Look, this isn’t ideal. And I’m sorry if my jokes are too much now. But I did actually know what I was getting into, okay? It’s my choice to be here.”
“You didn’t even read the emails I sent you,” Quentin accused. “So you didn’t really know what you were—”
Eliot cut him off with a groan.
“I obviously read the fucking emails, Quentin,” he said, his voice deceptively even. “Jesus. I know the Eliot’s-Barely-Literate jokes are still hilarity du jour, but—”
“That is not what those jokes are about and you know it.”
“Fine,” Eliot set his jaw. “I know the Eliot-is-a-Lazy-and-Entitled-Fuck-Up jokes are still hilarity du jour—”
“Hey, hey,” Quentin’s chest melted and he rushed to take Eliot’s hands. “Hey. That is never what I’m trying to say. Ever. You know I think you’re brilliant and thoughtful and hard-working and good.”
A balm passed over the deep-rooted insecurity in Eliot’s eyes and he fluttered them downward, as he swallowed. Sometimes Quentin forgot that even his remarkable, unflappable partner needed sweet words of validation, every now and then.
“And you’re right,” Quentin said, pulling Eliot closer by his dangling arms, until they were pressed chest to chest. “I was being pissy. I’m frustrated. It’s hot and we’re stuck in the middle of nowhere. I’m sorry.”
“I do genuinely hate this place,” Eliot said softly, slowly wrapping his fingers around Quentin’s. “And yeah, maybe some of that is because of some fucked up subconscious associations.”
His fingers squeezed. “But I love being near you. So it evens out.”
Quentin closed the distance between them and wrapped his arms around Eliot, tucking into his chest in a hug.
“I’m sorry,” he said again, breathing in that clean scent of Eliot, now mixed with his sweat and the sneezing dust of the road. “I love you for being here. But El…”
“But Q,” Eliot said back, teasingly, strong nose nuzzling the top of his head. Quentin rested his ear along Eliot’s clavicle, barely able to hear his steady heartbeat.
“It’s only a few days,” he said, soft and hopefully reassuring. “We’ve been apart way longer than that before. So, like, why even come along? If you really knew what it was? You didn’t have to.”
Eliot pulled away, blinked and screwed his face up, in genuine confusion.
“I know that. But I’d rather be anywhere in the world with you than not.”
He said it like it was the most obvious thing. He said it like it was simple and easy. He said it without even a romantic gaze, no heat or meaning behind those eyes of his. He said it like it was that much of a given, that much engrained into the fabric of their small little life. It wasn’t a moment to him, not a declaration or a gesture. It just… was. And the thing was—Quentin knew it too. Right then. Right there.
It just was.
Quentin’s legs wobbled under his weight.
“Anyway, let’s keep at it,” Eliot said, brusquely sniffing and rubbing his neck. “Fuck, I picked the wrong day to go commando. My balls are pissed off, let me tell you.”
But he couldn’t move. His legs had solidified to the ground, melting under the heat of the lingering heat and the strength of his feeling.
“Hey,” Quentin said, looking up at Eliot. Everything was falling away and burning clarity was all that remained. “Um. Hey. I need to talk to you about something.”
Ahead on the long dirt road, Eliot’s shoulders slumped and if Quentin could move, he would have run over to buoy them back up where they belonged—confident and strong and facing the world together.
“Really? Now?” Eliot said, turning around gently and gesturing ahead again, wiping sweat off his forehead. “We’ve got about an hour and half ahead of us here, Q.”
“Uh, yeah. No, it’s gotta be now.” Quentin took a deep breath. “It can’t wait. I need to—now. Right now. Right the fuck now.”
“Okay,” Eliot said, sighing and resigned. He tilted his head with narrowed eyes. “What’s up?”
…What’s up indeed.
Quentin pulled a long breath through his nostrils, trying to figure out exactly where to start.
There were a lot of avenues he could take, but they all fell short on his tongue. They all felt too formal or too jokey or not adequate in some fundamental way that he couldn’t quite parse. He was used to feeling woefully inadequate, nearly all the time, so it wasn’t a new sensation. He wanted to get it right, of course. But one thing he’d learned over the years was that there was one thing more important than getting it right…and that was getting it out. So he took the advice everyone always gave him and stopped overthinking, and started speaking. Eloquence be damned, right?
“So, um, I’ve been reading this book,” Quentin said after a few moments of silence, his hands in his pockets. He tared out over the green wheat field, new and unbroken. The beginning of the sunset was like over an ocean, golden, pink, and vast. The heat rose from the ground like a sauna.
“You want to talk about a book?” Eliot was half-amused, half-exasperated. “Right the fuck now?”
Quentin ignored him and continued, his heart expanding like an accordion playing a terrible song right against his ribs.
“It’s by this new philosopher,” he said, still staring out into the horizon, willing himself not to shake. “Well, new in comparison to Kant. Not that new. But anyway, the crux was an argument about atheism. Or—or at least an argument against valuing the eternal.”
“Okay,” Eliot said again, but this time his eyebrows deepened along with his voice. Quentin smiled lightly, still gazing outward.
“I won’t bore you with the epistemological details—”
“Appreciated,” Eliot said, automatically, even though he was always the last person on earth bored by what he had to say. Quentin noted with a small frown that Eliot’s voice was controlled, oddly cautious. He pressed forward.
“But it basically came down to this thought process that, uh, the reason anything is beautiful is that it’s transient,” Quentin said, still looking outward. His heart was still going crazy in his chest, thudding and pounding all over the place. “Like, if the beauty in this sky lasted forever, it would be nothing to us. Nothing to anyone, on both an objective and subjective level. Eternity is synonymous with nothingness. And so not only beauty, but also love and life, right? It only matters because it’s ephemeral.”
“Q,” Eliot said his name almost urgently, but Quentin wasn’t done yet.
“So if there was a God or gods or anything like that, there could be no beauty. No life, no love. There could be nothing but nothing,” Quentin said, laughing a little. It was the kind of proof he enjoyed best. “Life without transience couldn’t be beautiful. Only transitory things matter.”
“Sounds like word games,” Eliot said quietly. “Pedantry. You know how I feel about that.”
“I mean, that’s about ninety percent of philosophy. Maybe ninety-nine,” Quentin snorted. “But, uh, I’m actually trying to make a bigger point—”
“Quentin, what’s going on?” Eliot asked, grabbing his hand with a tight squeeze. Quentin startled, looking up at him. His eyes had bald fear in them.
“El,” he tilted his head. “Hey, what—?”
Eliot widened his eyes, in contrast to the slits they were a moment before. They were still soft and more than a little scared. He softened his grip on Quentin’s hand.
“It’s just—” Eliot swallowed. “This sounds a lot like—Are you feeling okay, sweetheart?”
“Oh, fuck,”Quentin laughed. He literally laughed. He was light-headed. “Oh, Jesus, I am fucking this up even more than I thought I possibly could.”
“You’re not fucking anything up, baby,” Eliot asked, ducking his head and stepping closer, gentle. “You know you can always talk to me.”
But Quentin kept laughing, shaking his head in the heavy air. “No, I’m definitely fucking this up. You’ll—you’ll see what I mean. Jesus.”
“Q, it’s okay.”
Eliot stepped even closer to him, still soft and still sad, his hand reaching up to stroke Quentin’s cheek. But that just made him laugh again. It was so fucking sweet and loving, but Jesus, not what he was going for. And then because he was the Crown Prince of Inappropriate Emotional Reactions, he laughed even harder when Eliot’s jaw ticked with frustration.
“Quentin.” Eliot’s voice was harder. Still concerned. But harder.
Calming himself down and remembering that Eliot didn’t have the same context, he reached his hand up and smoothed the spasm along the side of Eliot’s beautiful face with his hand, taking a deep breath.
“Uh, I think I need to start over. Um, shit,” Quentin a firm puff of air out and looked up at Eliot, fully sobering down his laughter. He took his hand, reassuringly. “Just—I’m fine, okay? I’m not—that’s not what’s going on.”
“Okay,” Eliot said, a little flat, a little unconvinced.
God, this was very on-brand, as a younger Eliot would have said.
“Eliot, I love you,” Quentin said, softly, looking him in the eyes. “What I’m trying to say is that I know forever is bullshit. But it’s human nature to try to touch it, right? To try to reach it.”
He smiled, the rush of love and hope coursing through his veins. All the synapses in his brain lit up at once, with too many ideas, too much to convey. They spilled out of him, like a wellspring, like everything he’d ever felt all at once.
“And even if, even though all of this will disappear someday, under a deluge of water and the burning explosion of the sun, like, you know, the complete and total destruction of everything this tiny, insignificant planet had ever known or ever knew or will ever know—and even if all this beauty that I never thought could ever be actually mine still doesn’t even really belong to me and never really will—”
“Sweetheart,” Eliot touched his shoulder, concern still kindling green in his eyes. “You’re losing the train.”
“Right,” Quentin breathed in. He smiled. “Right. Um, what I’m saying is that even in spite of all that, I want to try to reach it. Because I have you and I want to try to reach everything, with you. Always.”
Eliot softened and caressed his cheek, finally with slightly more affection than worry. “Oh, Q. Me too. You know that. But, what—?”
“Right. Then, um,” Quentin took a deep breath. Now or never, his brain told him with a smirk. But that was bullshit. It was now or next time. Now or a few days. A few months. Even years. They had time. They had time. But the one thing he knew, more than he’d ever known anything before was that Quentin wanted it to be now. He was ready. He was so fucking ready.
So he dropped down on one knee, clasping Eliot’s hand with every promise in his heart.
“So, um, Eliot Waugh—”
Eliot staggered backwards, breath hitching and eyes the size of his face. His hand slipped away, but Quentin felt no fear. He felt nothing but light and hope and more love than he knew he could ever contain within himself.
“What are you doing?” Eliot asked, cutting in, breathless, with a disbelieving pull of his lips upward cracking his face.
Quentin gave him a teasing glare. “What does it look like I’m doing?”
“Oh my god,” Eliot shook his head, but the smile. Oh, the smile. “Q, I was going to—”
“Tough shit, I beat you to it. Now, let me—”
Quentin reached back out and grabbed his hand again. Eliot gripped like it was a lifeline, like it was everything. He entwined their fingers and rubbed his thumb over and over again across the soft skin over the bony, elegant grooves of Eliot’s wrist. And his hazel eyes burned down brighter than the glow of the sun over the space where sky and earth met, in harmony.
He started to speak again, but Eliot opened his mouth, laughing. “I have dirt on my shoes, Quentin.”
He twisted his mouth. This was going to take longer than he thought.
“I’m not concerned about your shoes, Eliot.”
“Well, a good husband would be.”
“Well, I’m not going get to be your husband if you don’t let me—”
“Please, you’ve been my husband for years. This is a formality.”
Quentin bit down his smile, acutely aware of the lingering, simmering heat engulfing his body in humidity. “Will you just fucking let me—?”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Get on with it.” Eliot’s smile dazzled the whole countryside. “I’m famously impatient, you know. Tick, tock.”
“Are you going to interrupt again?” Quentin asked, half-serious.
“Probably,” Eliot shrugged, like he was nonchalant about the whole thing. But those eyes gave him away. “It’s at least worth a try though.”
Quentin grabbed his hand and gazed at his beautiful Eliot and shuddered out a breath, “Eliot Waugh, will you—”
“Yes,” Eliot fell down to the ground, kissing him, hard. “Yes. Yes, Q. Oh my god.”
Quentin smiled into the intensity of the kiss, a surging and dancing juxtaposition of light and heavy, passion and solidity. The pink and red sky wrapped around them as the wind sung a hymn through the swaying green stalks, pliant in the fertile earth. At once, all that mattered was Eliot, and him, and him-and-Eliot.
Yet so much more mattered too.
He saw the light of the changing universe. He saw their home. He saw their family—chosen and loved more than should have been possible. He saw their children. He saw their grandchildren. He saw Fillory and Brakebills and New York and London and a thousand other places all in the world, all for them. He saw holidays. He saw colors. He saw jokes and tears and fights and comfortable silence. He saw Eliot at the bar cart, glaring down at him. He saw Eliot on a golden wedding anniversary. He saw Eliot on the floor of D’Orsay, declaring his quiet love . He saw Eliot in bed, scrolling through his phone. He saw Eliot on his death bed, clutching Quentin’s wrinkled and age-spotted hand.
He saw Eliot, Eliot, Eliot.
He saw himself, happy and whole.
He saw everything.
Before he drowned wonderful in his own feeling, Quentin pulled away from Eliot and cupped his face, willing his eyes to shine up at him with that same everything.
He smiled. “I mean, you don’t even know what I was going to ask.”
“God, your dumb fucking jokes,” Eliot kissed him again, before laughing, giddy and free, without any inhibitions. “Must we, darling?”
“Like you weren’t just—” Quentin started to protest, but Eliot cut him off again, surging into him, kissing and kissing until neither of them could breathe.
“How do you always do this?” Eliot asked, breaking away to place his forehead against his. “How? Fuck, Q. I am in awe of you, baby.”
Quentin involuntarily let out a soft sound from the back of his throat.
“I think it’s safe to say that’s mutual,” he whispered, because he was too hoarse to speak at a normal volume. He was definitely going to cry soon. It was frankly some kind of medical miracle that he wasn’t already. “I love you so much, El.”
Eliot gazed at him, brows hooded and smile warm, and he was every man he’d ever be and ever was in that instant. He swallowed as he tugged Quentin’s chest against his, fingers lightly trailing down his back. Instead of saying the words back, he tilted his lips against Quentin and showed him in his most fluent language, with a hum and a sigh. Their hearts had never been meant for separation and Quentin was glad he could finally mend that hardly minor oversight.
The last glowing line of the neon gold sun dipped below the endless line of green, and the world reset its spin.
Germaine would have been so disappointed in the pair of nice, God-fearing colleagues.
“The wedding can be whatever you want,” Quentin said, lacing his fingers through Eliot’s once they were back at the farmhouse and every surface had been thoroughly christened in their bliss. The sky was deep into darkness, with only the single light above the barn illuminating the window. “I’ll just nod and say, Yes, dear. Or stay away from the planning entirely. Let you and Margo do your thing.”
“How selfless,” Eliot said, kissing Quentin’s forehead with a light eye roll. “Except I’m not throwing you a surprise party. You have to be involved.”
“Though right now, I’m so happy, you could easily convince me to just go down to the court house,” Eliot said before softly kissing him again. And again. “Because that’s all that matters.”
“Holy shit,” Quentin laughed against his mouth. But then Eliot immediately pulled back.
“To be clear, you should not actually try to convince me,” he said, very seriously. “Because eventually, I’d come to and I’d be so mad at you.”
“Understood,” Quentin ran his hand along Eliot’s hair. “Thought that counts.”
“Also, I want a ring. It’s bullshit that I don’t have a ring right now. Formal complaint.”
“It was a spur-of-the-moment decision,” Quentin laughed. “Romantic.”
“Synonyms for sloppy planning,” Eliot teased, biting the tip of Quentin’s ear. “Though I’m definitely going to have so much fun retelling this whole story.”
“Well, yeah, I’d certainly hope so. It’s our proposal,” Quentin said, knitting his eyebrows together. “It was beautiful.”
“Uh-huh,” Eliot slid a laughing look over at him. “Like, you know, how at first I thought you were having a depressive episode.”
Quentin pinched his lips together and blinked.
“Well, I mean—”
Eliot’s evil smile crawled up and up his face, like the Grinch Who Stole Christmas.
“Which was around the same time you segued into an argument against the existence of God.”
“Okay, but that was—“
“Followed by speaking at length about the inevitable destruction of the Earth.”
“Yeah, I get it, El—”
“All while we were knee deep in a bumfuck nowhere wheat field, with a broken down car and no portal for miles.”
“Well, fine, when you put it like that,” Quentin grumbled and Eliot kissed his forehead.
“So romantic,” he smiled down at him and Quentin playfully pushed his chest.
“All of that makes it more romantic than if it was some written-in-the-stars bullshit.”
“Oh, baby,” Eliot smiled wider and wider. “If you think we weren’t destined for each other, then you really aren’t paying attention.”
Quentin never believed in destiny. He believed in choice. He believed that choosing this—choosing his life with Eliot, choosing each other, day in, day out—actually really was much more romantic than if it were out of his hands, out of their control. He loved Eliot more than anything, but it was because of who they were, who they chose to be, intentionally, together, every day. Not because the fucking gods deemed it so. Fuck the gods. He and El were greater and purer than any of that shit.
But at that moment, they were giddy and light, and it didn’t really matter. So he let Eliot have that one with a contented sigh and a snuggle back onto his chest, their naked bodies fitting together in their perfect post-coital cuddle.
“We should call Margo,” Eliot said, sighing and reaching for his phone. “It’ll pop the bubble a bit, but we’ll be in for it later if we wait too much longer.”
“Or we could call Julia,” Quentin said, with a smirk. Sometimes he liked to remind him that he also had a soul-bonded best friend, thanks. But Eliot merely shot him a dark look.
“You want to live in a world where we told Julia about our engagement before Margo? Are you really prepared for those consequences?”
He’d long ago learned that the whole We shouldn’t negotiate with terrorists cliche didn’t pass muster with Eliot regarding Margo. So she still pretty much got her way, all the damn time. Frowning in wane but acquiescent agreement, Quentin sighed and nodded. Eliot gave him a quick look and kiss before hitting the second name on his Favorites list (which had been a whole other thing, a few years back, he remembered with a shudder) and turning on the speaker. The line rang barely once before a huffing and peevish guttural sound answered, without a true greeting.
“About fucking time you called me, asshole,” Margo’s voice rang through the speaker like a bell.
“I miss you too, Bambi,” Eliot said smoothly. “Q’s on the line.”
“Hey,” Quentin said.
He could hear the eye roll across the world.
“What, did Eliot fucking propose or something?”
“Nope,” Eliot smiled. “Quentin did.”
“So did he say yes or—?”
“Jesus, Margo,” Quentin sighed with his own eye roll. Eliot bit his lip to stop himself from laughing. “Of course.”
“Hmm,” she said, before he heard a long, deep sigh that sounded suspiciously like a yawn. “Okay then.”
“This is the part where normal people say Congratulations,” Quentin prompted, feeling a potent mix of grumpy and elated.
“Don’t listen to him, Bambi,” Eliot said quickly, grabbing Quentin’s. “Never be normal.”
“You two have been ninety-nine percent monogamously fucking for six years,” Margo said lightly. “You live together. You share finances. You have a goddamn cat.”
“Hate that goddamn cat,” Eliot said, fervent. Quentin rolled his eyes.
“For all intents and purposes, you’re married. So congrats on the fuckin’ tax write-off, I guess?”
“We always appreciate your enthusiasm for sharing in our joy, Margo,” Quentin deadpanned, not really hurt. It was Margo. Also, he was still Quentin. “That’s not how it works in the UK anyway.”
“All the more reason to move to New York,” Margo said slyly. Eliot’s jaw tensed.
“Bambi,” he said warningly. They had this argument often.
“The fucking MoMA is here, El,” she said, fierce. Quentin could practically see the spittle fly. “And me. Portals are fucking bullshit and you know it.”
“Margo, you know if I could—”
They bickered back and forth for a little while, a well-choreographed dance, and Quentin wasn’t ashamed to admit he dozed off for a few minutes. Eliot’s arms were solid and sweetly warm, wrapped tightly around him and he’d walked five miles after tedious and grueling shellwork and he’d gotten fucking engaged and then they’d had marathon sex, so it really made sense that he was fucking tired and—
But then he heard Margo say his name sharply.
“Quentin gets three vetoes, max, on planning decisions,” Margo said, making him frown and rub his eyes, sitting up to attention. “And one of us can always veto his veto.”
“Obviously,” Eliot automatically agreed.
“No, not obviously,” Quentin rubbed his ankle against Eliot’s in a half-hearted kick. “If you can veto my veto, it’s not even a veto, by definition. And you literally just said I have to be involved.”
“Yeah,” Eliot looked at him like he grew an extra toe out the side of his ear. “Involved. Not in a leadership role. Walk before you run, sweetheart.”
“El, are you going to get married in London or New York?” Margo asked directly over Quentin, the sound of rapid fire typing underscoring her words. “We need to narrow down a venue.”
“Well, we haven’t even started talking about anything like that yet—” Quentin started to say, but Eliot shushed him.
“Of course, we’ll have a reception in both places,” Eliot said, smoothly. “But unsure which one will be the larger. Probably New York.”
“In the city?”
“That’s my initial preference.”
“How do you feel about The Cloisters?”
“Hard pass on anything even tangentially related to a museum.”
“Got it. Too much like work,” Margo said. “What about one of the botanic gardens? Brooklyn’s chic again, so they say.”
“Ugh, maybe,” Eliot said with his trademarked tetchy sigh. “Q would probably like that, but it’s a bit 2014 for my taste.”
“I mean, it sounds nice,” Quentin said with a slight pout. Eliot gave him a half-grin, brushing his thumb along his jutted out lower lip.
“Ooh, I have an Illusionist contact at the Mandarin,” Margo said, snapping her fingers loud enough to come through the phone. “That could be something special.”
“Veto,” Quentin rushed in. “No fancy hotels.”
“Q,” Eliot practically whined.
“How about a library?” Quentin offered, biting down his trembling lip. Eliot’s glare was earth-shattering.
“Don’t be cute,” Margo shot out. “Fuckin’ library. Fuckin’ nerd.”
“Alonso will draft up a spreadsheet,” Eliot said to Margo, now the one talking over Quentin’s contribution. “With our weighted options. I’ll make sure he gets it to you first thing Wednesday.”
Quentin knew he was supposed to remind Eliot that he wasn’t supposed to give his assistant personal tasks. But he really wasn’t in the mood to push his shoulder futilely against a boulder right that second. So he closed his eyes again, listening to Margo and Eliot wrap up the start of the logistics for his fucking wedding to Eliot, and grinned against the soft skin near Eliot’s armpit. It smelled like his floral deodorant and it was squishy in a sweet and comforting way. He loved it, even though El would have kicked him out of bed for the description, recent engagement or no.
“Enjoy celebrating that your monogamous fucking will now have a weird death clause,” Margo finally said with a yawn. For once, it didn’t sound like her normal affectation. It was nearly ten at night in New York and time took its toll on the best of them. “I’m done talking. Love you, El. You too, Quentin.”
She hung up, without letting them say anything. That was standard. But the I love you’s were anything but, so her happiness for them was settled in kind. With a soft grin, Eliot tossed the phone onto the modest nightstand and rolled onto his side, curling into Quentin. His eyelids were obviously heavy, and sleep was nearly upon them.
But there was one last thing he needed to confirm, old insecurities and cruel whispers crawling through his strong, but still damaged mind.
“…It wasn’t actually disappointing though, right?” Quentin asked, trying to keep his voice even, not wanting his issues to dampen their joy. “I know it probably wasn’t what you pictured.”
Eliot immediately fell into him, gasping between deep kisses.
“Never, baby,” he whispered roughly, pressing his forehead against Quentin’s, his eyes tightly closed. “God, never. I was teasing because I honestly can’t totally process it yet. But it was perfect. You’re perfect. To me, for me.”
“To me, for me,” Quentin repeated, gently kissing the tip of Eliot’s nose.
“I still love you as fiercely as I did then, you know that?” Eliot said, his nails scratching lightly at the soft skin on the underside of Quentin’s arm. It was hypnotic. “And really, even more now, somehow. It shouldn’t be possible, but—”
Quentin kissed him, softly. He understood. He didn’t need the words. But surprisingly, it seemed like Eliot did. He pulled away and kissed Quentin’s cheek, then his chin, before tucking Quentin deep against his bare chest. His heart thrummed steadily, and Quentin could feel the skin pump up and down under his ear, hot and thriving and alive.
“I never thought I’d get this,” Eliot said, low. He’d expressed similar sentiments before, but. But. “I never thought a fuck up farm boy would ever get this. I just—Thank you.”
“El,” Quentin lifted his head up, softly pushing curls out of Eliot’s eyes. “We were both broken kids made whole in each other.”
It was probably one of the cheesiest things he’d ever said. Didn’t make it less true.
Eliot half-smiled at him, those eyes promising a bottomless devotion. Wrapping his arms around Quentin’s chest and back, he pulled him up firmly, kissing him again, like he never wanted to stop. Not for their whole lives. Their whole life. Singular. Singular, yet connected and centered in a greater mosaic of life. More than Quentin ever could have dreamed about, back in the dark winter of his early days, lost in the black heather of his own fucked up mind. His family, his friends, his magic, his work, his medicine, his home, his own strength —all of that had slowly, surely brought light into his life, creating something from what felt like truly nothing. But Eliot had singlehandedly brought technicolor.
In the light of the next day, they would call Julia, who would squeal and jump around, the effervescent opposite of the cool yet deeply feeling Margo. They would pack up their things and head to the next small town, and Eliot would bitch about it because he was Eliot and Quentin would reluctantly grin about it because he was Quentin. They’d work on their phones and laptops when they had to, and make quippy, cheesy comments when they wanted to. It would be a normal day, it would be something entirely unique.
It was their life, continuing and starting.
But in the heat of the aging night, Quentin and Eliot wrapped themselves around each other, breathing into each other, both amazed that the world was so promising, so good. Quentin smiled against the last of his will to remain conscious, before the fuzzing, hazy darkness took over his eyelids, and his hand nestled into Eliot’s palm.