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Not Always Folly

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Brakebills University, October 2016

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(Part Three of Our Fabulous Story, Entitled: According to Julia, “Gaydar” is Nothing But Confirmation Bias, So Let’s All Calm the Hell Down)

 

 


 

“The answer isn’t always penis, Eliot,” Alice said, stern. He chuckled over his drink. 

Ice clinked against crystal as he brought it up to his lips. Brakebills had scheduled a rain day on a fucking Saturday, because Fogg had neither decency nor shame. The one silver lining was that he had the excuse to concoct several glasses of a warm whiskey, mezcal, and cacao blend. Not to be outdone even by himself, he topped it off with the tiniest hint of a scalp-tingling charm in a single ice cube for an extra zing and a hint of contrast. The drinks were coziness in a glass and strong as hell, getting his two yellow-haired companions pleasantly tipsy in short order. Currently, they were sitting together on the couch, knees touching. Perfection.

Of course, less perfect was that the afternoon’s low-key and slow moving festivities had somehow led to them telling each other... riddles? For some goddamn reason? They were like a couple of geriatric sentimentalists. Awful. Disgusting. Boring, boring, boring.

They were made for each other.

Hence, Eliot rested his arm on the back of the couch, bored out of his numbed skull, but silent. He considered a solemn truth: Sacrifice in the name of love was man’s greatest gift. Shakespeare said that. Or maybe it was Phil Collins. Honestly, that would have been a lot more tonally consistent with the whole affair. God, it was boring.

Bringing him unwillingly back to the dull reality, Mike clapped his hands for attention. He gave Alice a small smile. “Let’s try another. I swear, I’m going to stump you at some point, young lady.”

She cleared her throat and glanced away. “Maybe.”

Wagging a mock-chastising finger at her with a wink, Mike held himself high and spoke in a false English accent. It was corny. 

I'm offered to the loved, and also on the sick bed. I come in varied hues, most notably red. Twelve of my full heads lead to tender words said. What am I?”

“Okay, but that one has to be dick,” Eliot said, flat and serious. He only broke into laughter when Alice sent a quick magical zap at his wrist.

“A rose,” she said with a tiny smile at Mike, not sparing Eliot even half a glance. Mike bowed, inclining his head with an impressed shine in his eyes. Jesus, things were going really fucking well. Every single one of Mike’s dorky riddles had been thematically linked in the language of l’amour and directed entirely at Alice. He couldn’t have planned a better chaste slow burn courtship if he tried. Not that he would ever try for that bullshit. But the victory was sweet, even if roundabout.

“Okay, okay. You’re good,” Mike said, nudging Alice with the tip of his elbow. He winked at Eliot over the top of her head. “Definitely getting more of them right than Mr. El over there. Sitting so far away.”

"This is the best spot to keep abreast of the goings-on," Eliot said with a gracious head nod. He was on the couch perpendicular from them, curled against the furthest arm. Giving them space was crucial but he couldn't say that so directly. "The host's burden and pleasure."

“I also don’t think he’s really trying. These have all been pretty easy,” she said with a frown. Eliot cleared his throat and gave her a hard look. She squeaked and attempted a smile. “Fun though! If you have any left, I’d love to hear some more, um—riddles?”

The shift happened before Eliot could stop it. The 1930s radio drama dun-dun-DUN musical cue rang loud.

Within seconds of the word spoken aloud for the first time, there was a roaring vroom and a flash cartoon swirling blue flannel, ugly brown leather bag, and nerd. Tangled limbs landed on the couch next to him, staring at Mike and Alice with way too intense eyes. 

Eliot sighed and palmed at his aching temples. His fault. He should have seen this coming. Tactical error.

“Wait, you guys are telling riddles?” Quentin asked. His hands tapped on his bouncing knees and his homework was left abandoned on the daybed behind them. “Is that—is that what’s happening? I didn’t realize.”

“How’s your work going, Coldwater?” Eliot asked, glaring down at the top of his head. “Wouldn’t want to lose your concentration.”

He refused to pour him a drink.

Quentin ignored him. Or rather, he slid his terse eyes over once and then back to Alice. “Not to brag, but I was crowned Riddlemaster of the Month twice in undergrad. What school are you focusing on? Logic, word play, mathematics? Enigma, conundra?”

Jesus Christ. Fucking Quentin. Eliot sucked his lower lip in between his teeth and bit at his poison ring. “Yeah. No world where that’s a brag.”

He snorted, smug and mocking. “Except I think you’re maybe underestimating how big the riddle community is at Columbia, Eliot.”

Fuck. He was cute. It was obnoxious how cute he was. He bit back a smile and focused on his drink. His hairline tickled itself.

“Mike was sharing a few. Nothing particularly, ah, formally categorizable,” Alice said, smoothing down her skirt fabric. “You’re welcome to join, of course.”

Oh boy. Nononono. Eliot shook his head, clicking his tongue. “Now, I’m sure Q is very busy and—“

“Never too busy for a riddle,” Quentin said, staring intently at Mike. He smacked both of his knees at once. “Hit me.”

Mike’s face filtered through several shades of irritated before he sighed. He plastered on a polite smile. “I have one more. You can use me to say hello, and to say goodbye. I'm no good when I'm too dry. I can be quick or I can be slow. What am I?

Uh.

“You’re fucking with me now, right?” Eliot asked, actually a touch incredulous. But Quentin was staring at Mike like he was a third-grader who ate the wood shavings from the bottom of the class hamster cage.

“Oh, wow, okay,” he said slowly, quirking his lips down. “But like—do you have any riddles that didn’t come from a Brain Quest flashcard set?”

God, he could be such an ass. It was kind of hot. 

But that aside, he was undermining Mike in front of Alice. To prove the point, she let out a nasal and high-pitched laugh that she quickly covered into a cough. In retaliation for his unnecessary rudeness, Eliot slammed down on the tips of Quentin’s toes with his heel. Q kicked him off, but his tiny eye roll indicated that he got the message.

Mike’s nostrils flared at Quentin, poison in his eyes. “Do you know the answer then?”

“Maybe, um, a kiss?” Quentin said with a sigh and a lazy wave of his hands. “Unless I’m missing some clever layer.”

He said it like that was an utter impossibility. Again, it was kind of hot. But unproductive.

Alice looked apologetic, nervously biting her lip at Mike. “I was actually going to guess kiss too.”

Mike smiled at Alice and ignored Q. “Correct.”

“I guessed it first,” Quentin said, thumbing at his bottom lip. He bit down on the edge of his nail, brows tightening over his burning eyes. “Alright. Enough child’s play. I’ve got a real riddle for you both.”

Eliot scratched at the inside of his nose and pinched the bridge. But Mike nodded politely. With permission granted, Q smiled, all sly. 

“Okay. So. There’s a Japanese soroban with fifteen rods. Standard six beads valued at one-to-five and four-to-one—”

Quentin,” Eliot said with a yelp. He slammed his hand on his thigh, digging in his fingers enough to bruise. “Would you be an absolute dear and grab us a carafe of sparkling water?”

He shot him annoyed look. “No, you can do it. This isn’t your thing anyway.” Quentin turned back to Mike and Alice, excitement returned. He licked his lips and rubbed his hands together. His eyes lit up. “So as I was saying, there’s a fifteen rod soroban—”

“Quentin. No. Wait. Stop,” Alice said. Eliot could have kissed her. She leaned forward. “Do we need paper for this? It sounds like it might involve calculations. Or is mental math the point?”

Motherfucker.

“Shit, yeah. Definitely need some paper, sorry,” Quentin said, nodding and reaching into his messenger bag. He rustled through his notebooks for blank pages. “If you could do it in your head, you’d be the Emperor of Math.”

“Ooh, I like the sound of that challenge,” Alice said, pointedly sitting back with her arms crossed. Her eyes glowed with the heady anticipation of academic glory. “What are you waiting for?”

Quentin held out a ripped spiral bound page and wagged it at Mike. “Do you want?”

“Ah, sure,” Mike said, taking it and shaking his head a little. “I am definitely not the Emperor of Math. Not even a minor oligarch.”

“This might be a little hard for you then,” Q said, brow furrowed. “If you’d rather watch Alice give it a try—”

Mike’s eyes glinted with an unusual touch of sharpness. “No. I’ll play. I can hang with the smart kids.”

Alice smiled, a little forced. “We could solve it together?”

Mike patted her shoulder. “That would be great, Alice.”

“I guess if you need your hand held,” Quentin said, like an asshole. Mike clenched his jaw. “Anyway, the soroban is already set with the following digits: Four. Nine. Two. Five—”

Eliot stood abruptly, kicking Quentin’s shin as he did. Oops.

“Since it looks like you’re all settling in, I’m going to get our happy band of riddlers a round of drinks,” he said with a cheerful laugh. He squeezed Q’s shoulder and dipped down. He hissed in his ear. “Wrap this up fast or I will poison you in your sleep.”

Fuck off, Eliot,” Quentin shot back, low and out the side of his mouth. He smiled again, continuing. “Eight. Nine. Nine. Two—”

 


 

Eliot rounded the door frame of the kitchen in search of water and some hidden specialty cocktail ingredients. But he was blessed with something even greater—his heart soared at his favorite sound in the world. The brassy notes ricocheted from every surface deep in his soul and it all burst into light when he finally saw her. His beautiful Bambi, biting harsh into an apple and leaning her hip against the counter. 

Also, Julia was there. Hooray.

“That’s cute that you were a cheerleader,” Margo said, not noticing him yet. Her perfect eyes were zeroed in on Julia. She sucked in a pouty lower lip. “I was head cheerleader.”

“Of course you were,” Julia said with a laugh. Then she bit her own lip in turn. “I could have been. But I was also Class President, Model U.N. chair, the top scoring Debate Club champ—“

“Aw, baby. You think all this is impressive, but it only speaks to what a huge dork you were,” Margo said, giggling into Julia’s cheek. She kissed once and then pulled back, simpering. “Let me guess? You were Homecoming Queen too.”

Julia flushed. “That’s not relevant.”

Margo’s face broke out into the widest grin and Eliot cleared his throat, trying to call attention to himself. They either didn’t notice him or they ignored him. Unacceptable either way. He cleared his throat again, all the louder.

Still nothing.

“So cute,” Margo said to Julia with a sharp intake of breath. “And with Quentin following you around, carrying your sash and purse while you made out with your strapping date. Lap dog extraordinaire.”

Julia snorted. “Oh, yeah, Q definitely went to Homecoming. He definitely didn’t spend the whole night at home in a solo protest of the status quo, playing Devendra Banhart’s version of “Little Boxes” on repeat.”

Eliot swallowed a laugh. He wouldn’t give Julia the satisfaction. He was annoyed at them. So he cleared his throat, again

… They were jerks.

“Which was still the cooler choice,” Bambi said, all shit-eating-grin. She narrowed her eyes and held the tip of her tongue between her teeth. “Quentin was cooler than you.”

“Take it the fuck back!” Julia’s fingers tickled into Bambi’s side and the two of them shrieked in laughter against the counter. 

Eliot rolled his eyes. Bored now.

“Afternoon, Bambi,” he said, fully crossing the threshold. He dropped a kiss on the top of her head, but she didn’t so much as glance at him. Her eyes were still locked on her stupid girlfriend.

“Hi honey,” she said, half-aware. Julia nuzzled into Margo’s neck. They were gross. “Excited for our plans today.”

Reaching for the pitcher on the counter, Eliot poured a glass of water and wished it was vodka. Still, it was good. Artisan sparkling was always worth the money. When he turned back to the girls, though, Margo tucked into Julia, both of their pupils wide like dolls.

“Mmm, but maybe we could both wear our old uniforms sometime. And I could be like, Your moves are good, sweetie, but I’m not sure you’re ready for the squad,” Margo said in a breathy whisper. She pulled her close so their chests touched. “Then you could, you know, convince me otherwise.”

“Or we could be rival captains, after the same quarterback,” Julia said, eyes twinkling. She entwined their fingers. “But when we do a striptease cheer off for his affections, we realize we wanted each other all along.”

Eliot let out a strangled sound and stuck his tongue out. His blood rushed hot and frustrated, and he hated both of them, deep in his soul. He pushed past Margo’s shoulder, dramatically, and pulled a disgusted face. 

“Holy shit, get a fucking room.”

Margo glared a thousand knives right into his head, but he persevered. He needed tequila. Now. He swung open one of the cabinet doors, looking for his special stash of Patron. And apple brandy. And maybe some grenadine, and bitters, and some Campari, and lime. Go fucking hog wild, with no elegance. Bold and inventive, and above all, apathetic.

“What’s up your butt, Mr. Sex Positive?” Julia asked, a class act. She searched through the Cottage fruit bowl, frowning at the selection even though she didn’t live there.

“Not nearly enough,” Eliot said with a lewd wink. He passed it off as a joke. But it wasn’t inaccurate. 

Truth be told, he hadn’t had sex for a hot minute. He retired his latest round of first years out of boredom and hadn’t found many or any suitable replacements. It was a temporary dry spell (always was), but it probably wasn’t helping anything. It certainly wasn’t helping his mood.

Julia laughed, though, kicking his leg and waggling her eyebrows. Ugh, she was charming. 

He grimaced and took another sip of water. “But I’m also frustrated because Quentin turned Mike’s flirting love riddles with Alice into math. Wet blanketed all over the damn place.”

“Christ. Yeah. That bitch needs to get laid yesterday” Margo said, nodding solemnly. But Julia simply shook her head and pointed right at Eliot.

“Definitely your fault for letting riddles happen within a ten mile radius of Q,” she said, munching on an orange. The juice dripped down her chin and she wiped at it with the back of her hand. “No pity here, dude.”

Touche. He knew that. Still.

“I don’t know. I actually might be Team Cockblock,” Margo said, tapping her chin. “‘Cause on second thought—what the fuck is a love riddle?” 

“Riddles where the answers are romantic in nature,” Eliot said, knowing her likely response. As expected, she scowled.

“That’s dumb. Mike’s dumb. I hate Mike.”

Eliot rolled his eyes. “I know you do, Bambi. But Alice doesn’t.”

“Mike’s a cock.”

“I know, Bambi.”

“He’s probably anti-choice.”

“I know, Bambi.”

“Quentin and I talk shit about him all the time. I do this hilarious thing where I grunt and say,” Margo affected a slumped over posture and pounded her chest. “Me Mike, me don’t think women deserve basic autonomy. It makes Q laugh and laugh, and then he says Me Mike, me have stupid hair. Which is funny because he does, in fact, have stupid hair. We have a theory he frosts the tips.”

Bambi sighed dreamily and twirled her hair. “It’s by far the most fun we have together.”

A dark storm cloud of jealousy settled over Eliot’s head. Why didn’t they invite him to these sessions? He could contribute. He would have gone with Me Mike, me have pointy eyebrows and talk too much about the national debt. But he took a steadying breath. He reminded himself that he liked Mike well enough. That he really liked Quentin and Margo’s independent friendship. And that none of it was relevant to the issue at hand.

“Goddammit, Bambi, I know,” Eliot said, still a touch impatient. Predictably, Julia laughed in the corner, always delighted Bambi’s stubbornness. “But we want to help Alice get laid. Remember?”

“I only want her to get laid so she doesn’t snap like a goddamn rubber band,” Margo said with a lazy shrug. “Otherwise, holy shit, I don’t care.”

Julia kissed her cheek and smiled up at Eliot.

“Well, I’m about to be Alice’s guardian sex angel,” she said, glancing up at the kitchen clock. “Because Q and I have to get the fuck out of here if we want to make our movie time. I have to reopen the portal, which is such a bitch.”

Eliot winced in support. Portals were indeed a bitch. “Sorry. Mike could actually help with that, if you want.”

She sputtered her lips. “I don’t need no goddamn man.”

“You’re a dream,” Margo said, light and soft, as they made their way out the kitchen. Eliot’s stomach squirmed and he glanced away, his jaw working against his molars. He was ready to have Bambi all to himself. But when they finally reached the stairway, the three of them froze to the spot. 

Kady Orloff-Diaz stood between Alice and Mike. She smiled at Quentin from behind the couch. She stood there talking to them, like she belonged. Like she was a casual part of the group. Just—hangin’ out. In particular, Alice tilted her head upward and smiled at her. Her cheeks were pink and here blue eyes shone with stars that danced beside the moon Kady hung.

With a tiny gasp, Julia reached backwards and clutched Eliot’s hand, fierce and firm. He clutched back. He felt the heavy weight of Margo’s worried eyes on the side of his face, burning like a noontime sun.

“The value is eighty, and the duchess took the final bead from the knight,” they heard Kady say, leaning against the couch in a leather jacket. Her arms were folded and her lips ticked up in smug self-satisfaction. Quentin dropped his pencil and clapped his hands.

“Holy shit, Kady is the Emperor of Math,” he said with a laugh and a bow. Kady’s cheeks flushed and she looked down at the floor. “Gotta be honest, wouldn’t have guessed that. Mea culpa.”

She hugged her arms tighter and her eye twitched. She cleared her throat and painted on a smile. “Well, that’s because you’re—secretly kind of an asshole, Coldwater.”

“Fair enough,” Quentin smiled. Mike laughed a bit too loud.

What the fuck? What the actual fuck?

Eliot swallowed and held the back of his free hand to his brow. He felt Bambi’s cool fingers grip his wrist and Julia’s fingers at the same time, but he couldn’t register much sensation beyond it. Alice and Kady tittered over the notes and Mike smiled at them, all while sending annoyed glances Q’s way. It appeared to be a normal tableau. But all Eliot felt was the force in the palm of his hand rev up. Good. Good.

“Who the hell does she think she is?” Julia asked, breaking through the moment, whisper harsh. She started to push her way forward. “Who the fuck does she think she is?”

But Margo’s arm flew out in front of her, like an immovable parking lot gate. “Julie. You are going to ruin your whole damn day if you charge in there guns blazing.”

Eliot blinked, long and slow. Once again— 

What the fuck?

He cast his wary eyes right at Margo. “Wait. What the fuck? You’re advocating for not guns blazing?”

For a flash, Bambi looked like a toddler caught in the forbidden candy jar. But then it was gone, steel in her eyes. She scoffed and ticked a signature eyebrow.

“You know I like playing Poke the Nerd as much as anyone,” she said, with an air of false indifference. “But Q is fucking exhausting when he’s self-righteously indignant. It’s a public service.”

She wasn’t wrong about that. But it was still unnerving from Margo’s lips.

“It’s not about Q’s reaction, though,” Julia said, pushing forward into Margo’s arm. Bambi didn’t budge. “It’s about the audacity. And I’m sorry, but he doesn’t stand up for himself. He’s so fucking desperate to be liked that he’ll even—“

“Give him more credit than that,” Eliot couldn’t help but interject. But Julia stuck her tongue out, annoyed.

“I know you two have been on your, like, epic bromance for the past year—“

Bromance?” Eliot laughed, the sound disintegrating into ashes on his tongue. Speaking of audacity.

“—but you still can’t possibly understand how much he needs to be pushed, how little he values his own—“

Eliot’s teeth seared together. Bambi laughed. 

“No, we do. We’ve met him. He’s not that fuckin’ mysterious,” she said, firm yet still softer than Julia deserved. “But take this as a gentle reminder that Q is a grown ass man. He’s not that kid anymore. He doesn’t need you to superhero shield him all the fucking time.”

“You say that like it’s so simple. Like it wasn’t just six months ago that—”

“Hey, fuck you, we were there too. But you have to let him live his life without being a mama bear at the drop of a hat.”

“But he needs it, Margo. Can you seriously not understand everything I’ve experienced for fifteen years?”

“Can you not understand that our perspective might be more fucking objective? You infantilize the shit out of him, Julie.”

“No, I take care of him. Someone has to and I’m the only one who—“

Eliot cut his hand in between them, like a karate chop. He snapped his fingers. “As much as Q would be deeply flattered by all this whispering about him, can you two wrap it the hell up?”

Julia and Margo stared at each other for a long moment, a silent standoff. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched Kady wave a short goodbye and send a rare full smile Alice’s way before heading out the door. Mike turned to Alice himself then, grabbing her attention away from Q and talking to her in low tones. Her eyes lit up and she nodded, excited as he’d ever seen her.

It was all moot now anyway. 

Julia seemed to realize it too, as all the wind deflated right out of her sail. She slumped into herself, exhausted.

“Fine,” she said, tense. Margo let out a breath and rubbed her back. “Fine. But if you’re getting on the pro-Kady bandwagon—“

“When the fuck have I ever been pro-anyone?” Bambi sounded actually annoyed. “Jesus Christ, Julia—“

“Well, it certainly sounds like—“

“Want me to kill her? I will. I don’t give a shit. But then you can deal with—“

But whatever else Bambi or Julia were going to say  was cut off by Quentin perking up in his seat and waving at Julia with a buoyant greeting, sweetly earnest and completely unaware of everything that had just occurred. Lucky him.

“Ready to go?” Q asked, smiling. She grinned back, bright. Too bright.

“Sure thing, slugger!” Julia said, walking over to punch him on the shoulder. Quentin blinked and frowned.

“Uh, okay. Weirdo. Let me just grab my bag,” Quentin said, shaking his head a little. He glanced over at Mike and Alice. “Hey, nice work. Both of you.”

“That was fun, Quentin,” Alice said, cheeks wide and smiling. Bless her. Mike grunted. 

Bless him too.

 


 

His lips were open and pink and trembling. Flushed red cheeks, wide brown blown-out eyes, and mussed hair, jawline sharp and shoulder muscles broad in the starlight. He was stunning. And hard under his hand.

“That for me, baby?” Eliot asked, hoarse and low. 

Q’s throat flexed and vibrated as he swallowed, nodding. He whined, eyes closing and head falling back, as Eliot unbuttoned his pants and pulled him out, slow and painstaking. He kept one hand on him, moving, as he crawled up his body, placing soft kisses on every space of skin he could find. Quentin whimpered again and Eliot surged up, finally capturing his lips under his. 

Fuck, he was the most beautiful man he’d ever seen in his whole stupid life. He wanted every part of him. He wanted to share every part of himself. He would never let anything happen to him, not ever.

“El—Eliot,” Quentin panted out against him. They were outside, in the grass, on the Sea. His eyes darted, anxious and shy and delectable. The crease between his brows deepened. “Eliot, what—what if someone sees us?”

“Then they’ll know you’re mine.” He scraped his teeth against his stubbled throat, tightening his grip below. Quentin squirmed under him, breathless and patchy hot. His hands traveled down Eliot’s body, digging into his hips and reaching as far as he could, desperate to cup his ass. Fuck.

“Eliot, holy shit, oh my god,” Q moaned out, lifting his head enough to fuck his tongue into his ear. He bit at his earlobe, and Eliot stroked him, harder, longer. “El, fuck. I want you.”

He kissed him, deep and slow. “You mine, baby? You’re all mine, aren’t you?”

“Fuck. Yes. Only yours.” Quentin’s hips bucked. He was close. He was getting so close, so soon, so quickly. From Eliot, because of Eliot.

“Q,” he whispered, biting and sucking at his lower lip. He got a low moan in response and he was alive for the first time. “You belong with me. Be with me, baby. Please.”

Quentin nodded, thrusting into his hand, voice staccato and groaning in a mournful hymn. “Yes. Yours. I’m—that’s. Me, El. I’m yours. Wanna stay.”

Eliot smiled into his mouth, increasing his speed. Quentin gasped and slipped his fingers into his hair, tugging. “El, I’m gonna—too hot for you, if you don’t stop, I’m gonna—“

He’d give him anything. He nuzzled the hollow of his throat, kissing up and along his jaw. He spoke as fast as his rhythm. “Come for me, baby. That’s it, my sweetheart, my Q. You’re everything to me. You know that, right? God, Quentin—I—I don’t know what to do about it, baby. So please—come for me, okay? Please come for me, please come—“

“Eliot, oh my god,” Q squeezed his eyes tight shut, gripping his whole body around him, heart bursting. Eliot kissed his hairline, holding him tight to his chest, prolonging the sensation, the pleasure, the contact. “Fuck. Eliot. Eliot, I lo—“

Dreams were a bitch. 

Stretching out his frustrated jaw, Eliot slipped out of bed and into his discarded dress pants. He threw on his red silk robe, tied loose around his waist. He scrubbed at his face with his hands. 

He needed to snap the fuck out of it. 

He was still high. 

He would give his left nut for a dreamless existence.

Eliot flew down the stairs. He was awake, even in the late evening hours. He and Margo had passed out around six after eating weed brownies, deep conditioning their hair, and making out while they cuddled. It had been great. But it also meant he already slept more that day than he did on an average night and he was itching for something to do. A distraction. But unfortunately, the Cottage was quiet. Most people were at some godawful psychic party. Horrible.

But when he turned the corner into the side living room, Eliot  perked up when he saw his favorite nerd, reading by the firelight. Not exactly a productive distraction. But. Well. Annoying sex dream aside, Q was still a welcome sight. Always was.

“Hey,” Eliot said, with a small wave. Quentin glanced up and returned it. He closed the pages of his thick book on his fingers. “When did you get back?”

“Awhile ago,” he said, tucking an errant hair behind his ear. “Jules and I had dinner in the city but that was it. She said you and Margo were, like, totally passed out.”

“High as fuck,” Eliot said, shameless. He walked around the second chair and went to slide into it, when he was greeted by a sleeping Todd Bates. Fuck. He sighed.

“Did he talk himself into a stupor again?” Eliot asked, lifting his arm and letting it drop with a heavy thud. Todd growled in his sleep and bit at the air, before curling in deeper on himself. He snored.

“Something like that,” Quentin said, with a gentle smile into his book. “He’s out like the dead, so you might want to pull up another chair.”

“No,” Eliot said with a lofty sigh. All the other chairs were uncomfortable as shit. “We’ll share.”

Quentin pulled his book over his face in pretend concentration. “No. Get another chair.”

“Scoot over, Q.”

“No.”

“Scoot the fuck over,” Eliot laughed as Q grunted, holding up a proud middle finger. He didn’t move his cute butt one inch. “I’m too tall to sit in your lap, Coldwater, but I will to make a point. Move.”

Quentin laid his book on his chest and swept his hand out. “As an alternate, the floor is right there and expansive.”

Brat, brat, brat. He reached over to push at Quentin’s shoulder and it bounced back against the chair. He laughed, stubbornness breaking. He slid over, creating enough space for Eliot to sit close, tight, and almost entirely pressed up against him.

“Hi,” Eliot said with a grin. It was nice. Really nice. Quentin rolled his eyes.

“Happy now?”

“Happier. You could always sit on the floor.”

“Fuck you, I was here first,” he aid without heat. Eliot smiled in victory. Giving in, Quentin dropped his book to said floor and stretched his neck. “So you got your Margo fix then?”

“And how,” Eliot said, curling himself back into the comfort of the chair. It really was the best in the house. “Plus, some bonus excitement: Alice and Mike spent all day cooped up tight in the library together.”

“Thrilling update.”

Eliot smacked him. “They were working on Horomanic portals. One of her many seminar extras and he was the perfect white knight. The porno writes itself.”

“Homework,” Quentin said, still flat. “Yeah, super romantic. You’re a real fairy godmother.”

Eliot knocked his knee against him, passing over the more obvious yet tired joke, and instead shined a playful glare down at him. “Please. Like that isn’t your absolute dream date, you fucking nerd.”

“Well, considering I’ve never been on any date, your guess is as—”

Eliot shook his head, hard and fast. He let out a slight laugh and nudged Quentin. “What the fuck? What do you mean, you’ve never been on a date? You’re an adult man.”

“Well, not in, like, the traditional kind of way,” Quentin said with a shrug. He didn’t seem concerned about it, but Eliot was flabbergasted. “Just never had the opportunity. Didn’t date much in high school and then it hasn’t been my thing since.”

“Never took Jenna to the Times Square Chevy’s?” Eliot smirked, waggling his eyebrows. “Or a special occasion Cheesecake Factory anniversary date? I heard there’s a great one in Yonkers.”

Quentin flicked his ear with his index finger. “My taste isn’t that pedestrian.” Eh. Debatable. “I’m sure I would have at least tried to plan something nice, if I’d ever taken her out.”

“But you didn’t?”

Quentin frowned and Eliot felt bad for pushing the issue. It wasn’t important. He was only curious.

“Uh, well, it’s just—Janie and I mostly, like, hung out in our dorm rooms and fucked when our roommates weren’t around,” he said, thoughtful and remorseful.  “And we did D&D campaigns together. That was the height of our romance.”

“Ah. Well, poor Janie,” Eliot said, smiling and light. “Never even got a free meal outta the arrangement.”

“Trust me, that was the least of her complaints. I was a shitty boyfriend.”

Eliot both believed and doubted that at once.

Quentin peered over at him, inscrutable. “But what about you? You don’t exactly seem like the wine ‘em and dine ‘em type.”

“Excuse you, I plan impeccable dates,” Eliot said, cuddling in closer. More to get more space on the chair—Quentin was smaller than him, but he was dense as fuck. Move over. “Half the guys who fuck me are more hoping for the chance to experience the city through my vision.”

“Yeah, I doubt that,” Quentin said and Eliot’s heart stopped. But then Q continued like nothing, reviving all normal functions. “So then, what? You take first years out on the town? When the fuck do you do that?”

That made him laugh. “Brakebills boys? God, no. They don’t know the difference between Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. It would be a worthless endeavor.”

“Fucking morons,” Quentin deadpanned.

“Sometimes you have to scratch an itch, Coldwater,” Eliot said, unrepentant. “But I also like to have my fun with older city sophisticates, so why not eat some cake?”

The first date Eliot had ever planned was at the end of his first year of undergrad. He’d been seeing a boy named Johnny Peterson for a few weeks. It had been eighty percent shy kisses at parties. Ten percent sloppy blowjobs. And ten percent sitting together cross-legged on a bed and listening to The Book of Mormon on repeat. Eventually, he decided he wasn’t going to hide from the world anymore and properly asked him out. Johnny had been enthusiastic, to say the least.

So Eliot wore his best pressed button-down and made a reservation at Sardi’s, like a good goddamn theatre kid. They sat in a giant and shiny red booth, with drawings of Billy Crystal and William Shatner staring them down. They ordered crab cakes as an appetizer and chicken scallopini as a main, sharing to save money. Most notably, the evening was also the first time Eliot felt the heavy jitter of Bored bored bored I’m fucking bored

He avoided Johnny for the rest of his college experience. The kid was a bit heartbroken, which made him feel bad. It was the first of many though, and much easier that way. It was for the best.

The first good date Eliot ever planned was his senior year of undergrad. He was fucking a performance artist named Byung, no last name. His work emphasized sexuality in the grotesque and fractal algorithmic variability. He was extremely hot. 

So after a gallery performance, Eliot decided on a whim to whisk him away for a night of decadence. He lied their way into Restaurant Daniel. They ordered the most extravagant tasting menu and a bottle of Cristal. Then they dashed before the check came. After, the two of them good ecstasy and danced all night at the Boom Boom Room. They fucked in the bathroom and did some decent coke with a lesser Kardashian. He hadn’t been bored for a second.

He also never saw Byung again. 

Still. Dates were great. He loved going on dates. It sucked that Quentin had never been on a real date. So he said so.

“Well, I mean, I’m sure I’ll go on one. Someday my prince will come or whatever,” Quentin said. He rolled his eyes with forced casualness. He was terrible at forced casualness. It made Eliot smile. 

But.

It sucked that Quentin had been so sequestered for most of his young adulthood. Eliot was hardly sentimental, but a good date was a timeless and universal sort of fun. Quentin was wonderful, but he had his struggles and it—sucked. He deserved a nice date, with a nice date, more than anyone he knew.

Not that Eliot thought there was any world where Quentin would enjoy, say, Eleven Madison Park. His anxiety over the formality would tank the night alone. But for someone capable of getting him over the It’s Time to Get Out of the House, You Hobbit hump, he could see Quentin enjoying a fun and quiet gastropub. Hearty food, good wine and cider. In the West Village? Q would complain that the environs were bougie, but he’d secretly love it. Much as Eliot joked, Quentin was actually more a clumsy and obvious elitist than mundane. Think The Spotted Pig instead of Planet Hollywood.

Anyway, after, the two of them could walk southeast to find some hipster dive bar with a rooftop. One with a great view over the river, but less than $20 cocktails. The holy grail. They would share cigarettes outside. They'd talk for hours about nothing, while they got giggle drunk on shitty whiskey gingers. And Q would stand with his hair blowing in the night wind and smile out into the world, relaxed and happy. Just—fucking happy. Like he should always be. 

And maybe then, Quentin would realize that he and his date had something special between them. Something real and terrifying, yeah. But also sort of beautiful and worthwhile and even, fuck, hopeful. Which was definitely something neither of them exactly expected in their lives. Maybe the two of them would finally say fuck it. What the fuck are we doing? This is worth taking a chance on. This is worth trying. This is worth—

“Uh, hello? El?” Quentin nudged him, teasing eyes reflecting the flickering fire. “Earth to asshole?”

Eliot blinked. He shook his head and cleared his throat. 

Shit. 

Shit.

He grabbed the half-drunk green bottle from its precarious position between Q’s torso and a throw pillow. “Stop being a wine hog.”

“You disappeared for a second there,” Quentin said, face folded in amusement. “Where’d you go?”

Eliot forced a laugh. Shitfuckgoddamn. Things were weird. Things had been weird. It was all catching up with him. Like Margo said it would. Fuck you, Margo.

(He needed to get laid.)

“I’m still high from earlier,” Eliot said instead of any of that. Of course. Also, it was true. “Hoberman left Bambi with a ton of the good shit last time he was here.”

Quentin gave a disinterested nod and Eliot remembered his manners. He knew the answer, but offering was key. “Would you like some? Plenty left.”

“No thanks,” Q said, stretching his whole body out like a cat. “They fuck with me more often than not.”

Quentin kicked his legs up and over Eliot’s knees, resting his ankles on the chair arm. It was the kind of casual ease they always had with each other. It made Eliot feel like he was going to choke. But Q continued, like there was nothing going on. Because there wasn’t. 

“I don’t think his shit plays well with Zoloft.”

Eliot pulled the wine bottle to his mouth. Genuine curiosity tugged his thoughts to the present. “I thought you were on Abilify?”

“Switched,” Quentin said, dropping his head back. His jaw cut upward like an arrowhead. “I was having trouble sleeping again. Plus, the psychosis stuff isn’t—I don’t think I’m—I’m not, uh, dealing with that anymore—I mean—”

“It’s fine, Q,” Eliot said, soft. He pressed his hand down on his knee, stroking the bony ridge with his thumb. Not to soothe, but to cut off his spiral. “Doesn’t matter. It was an idle inquiry.”

But Quentin sat back up, intense and intent as he stared off. “Fogg and Lipson think my brain chemistry is stabilizing because of access to magic—”

“That’s horseshit,” Eliot said, cutting him off. He couldn’t help it. He also didn’t want to hear it.

“I know,” Q said, like he didn’t know but didn’t want to argue. “Whatever it is, I really have been more stable lately. Not exactly happy. But it’s better. I guess.”

“That’s great.” What else could he say? He wasn’t a psychiatrist.

Quentin directed his intensity at the fire. “Are you happy?”

No. “Yeah.”

He cut a glance at him. “Yeah?”

Eliot rolled his eyes, wide and for effect. “Yes, mother.”

Q let out a breath and his eyes twitched, too knowing. But he didn’t say anything more, opting instead to take the bottle back and nurse a long sip. For a quiet while, they sat there, together and drinking. Eventually, Quentin reopened his book. It was a sci-fi novel with a too-long title. And Eliot zoned out, lost in blissful nothing. The fire died as they crossed over the midnight threshold.

“The octopus ate all the Oreos!”

Fucking Todd jolted awake with a nonsensical holler. His hands reached everywhere for stable ground. His hair was mussed and he panted for breath.

“Morning, Todd,” Q said, droll and not looking up from his book. Eliot chuckled, leaning back against the chair and lolling his head over to look at the silly boy beside them in full.

“Wow. Whoa. Hey, you two,” Todd said, scrunching his brow and shaking his head. “Is it really morning?”

“Uh, technically,” Quentin said, looking down at his dorky little Timex. “But you’ve only been asleep for about three hours.”

“Feels like three weeks,” Todd said, stretching his arms up in the air. He smiled and sat up. “How’s it going, Eliot?”

Everything he said was so obnoxious. “I’m fine.”

“That’s good!” He said, all bright and ugh. Then he rubbed his stomach in a circular motion. “Boy. I’m kinda hungry. If I made some nachos, would you want in?”

Eliot sneered. “Of course not.”

But at the same time, Q perked up and said, “I could go for some nachos, yeah. Thanks.”

Todd gave Quentin a thumbs up and stood. “Cool. I’ll heat some up for you.”

Eliot sighed, put upon and annoyed. He thrust himself out of the chair and Quentin’s legs fell to the ground with a thud. Everyone was always forcing him to do everything. 

“Fine,” Eliot said, snappish. Todd’s face circled through several emotions, landing on little bewildered. “I’ll help you. You’ll fuck it up otherwise.”

Todd’s uncanny valley eyes went extra wide. “Can you fuck up nachos?”

“What type of peppers were you going to use?” Eliot asked, a challenge. If the answer was anything other than a combination of jalapeños and red bell, he was ill-equipped. As expected, Todd stuttered.

“So I was going to, like, melt some pepper jack on tortilla chips and then maybe add some bottled salsa, sour cream, and cilantro?“ He frowned at Quentin. “Unless you have the cilantro-tastes-like-soap thing?”

“I don’t think so. It, uh, tastes like cilantro—“ Q started to say, but Eliot scoffed over him.

“Wrong answer,” he said to Todd, rolling his sleeves up. “Come along then. If you’re going to be using my kitchen—”

“It is not your kitchen, Eliot,” a traitor said.

Eliot shushed Quentin and glared down at Todd from his full height. To his credit, he cowered and nodded.

“Super happy to have your help,” Todd said, swallowing nervously. At Eliot’s darkening stare, he blanched and shook his head. “No, I mean, I’m happy to help you. Of course. I’m sure you can teach me a lot. You’re, like, so smart and good at things.”

“Very well,” Eliot said, relatively pleased. He ignored Quentin’s soft little Oh, come on, Todd and looked the sad boy up and down. He would hold him back from making ideal nachos, but technically it was his idea. So. “You can grate the cheese.”

“Well, actually, there’s pre-packaged—”

“You can grate the cheese, Todd.”

As they made their way to the kitchen and Todd babbled stupidly about the time he accidentally portaled to Oaxaca, Quentin coughed. It was a loud, barking sound. It was at once sharp-pitched and guttural, like it came deep from his bronchial cavity and bounced off his diaphragm. It also sounded suspiciously like Control freak

But that couldn’t be right. Poor thing must be getting sick. He would have to make him some tea.

 


 

SMS with  “ Q (cute face w long hair + flannel)
10/31/16, 8:32 PM

  

how’s your daddy?

No

no what?

 

No, Eliot
You’re fucking gross

jeez sorry for caring
gutter brain

Uh-huh

 

fine
how was dinner w your dearest father
the incomparable ted coldwater
on this the day of all hallow’s eve?

My dad is fine, dickhead
You in the city?

 

here and queer
last chance to be cool

That ship sailed years ago

 

i know
but there’s a portal from montclair 
right into port auth & then easy train to bk

 

Not easy unless Mike lives in Bed-Stuy

shit, williamsburg 
ugh he’s so basic

Williamsburg’s nice

 

no accounting for taste
come to the party

 

I don’t have a costume

 

kurt cobain’s nerd brother
done

Har har
I’m not going

come ON

 

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity
The Cottage will be empty tonight

so?

 

Being home alone at the Cottage is like… 
My ultimate fantasy
Reading, tea, music, bliss

quentin
i am a renowned purveyor of earthly delights 
and you say that shit to me? 

Renowned?
By who?

whom
p.s. you’re banished

K.

don’t you dare

K.

brat

 


 

Eliot didn’t love ceding hosting rights. 

He especially didn’t love the idea of ceding hosting rights to Mike McCormick and his shitty Brooklyn apartment complex. He also especially, especially didn’t love giving up Halloween, once the true ruling party night for the Physical Kids. But it was the Illusionites year, a tenuous truce brokered by the dean after too many years of in-fighting. So he couldn't throw his own party and they had a multiple exclamation point texted invite to Mike’s extravaganza. The choice was obvious. At least the four of them were in the city, brimming with possibility and costumed adventure.

And getting laid. Dear motherfucking god, getting laid.  It was still Eliot’s longest dry spell in—

Fuck.

It was Eliot’s longest dry spell.

It was his own fault. It was brought on by his complete lack of interest in the available Brakebills boys. They were all too dull or too tall or too annoying to catch his interest, even for a quick mouth fuck. Normally he wasn’t so discerning, but he also couldn’t get it up if his stomach was churning at the very notion. So heading into the city, with the chance to meet new people was exactly what he needed. Because it was getting untenable. All of it.

Before heading into Mike’s brick-and-warded Magician building, Julia built out small pocket portals. That way they could each change into their costumes rather than walking through the city, too cold and too tacky. Done well before the rest, Eliot lit a cigarette and waited, taking in the crowd. So far, nothing and no one interesting. He took a long drag and let the smoke settle in his lungs, harsh and unforgiving. Lung cancer was worth it.

The portal swooshed and Julia and Margo stepped out. They looked delightful and delicious in the traditional ‘Hot Girls in Lingerie on Halloween’ style. In particular, Julia wore a pink silk negligee and held an oversized cigar between her fingers. Eliot tilted his head.

“Okay, I’ll bite,” he said, looking her up and down. “What’s with the cigar?”

“Here’s a hint: Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar,” Julia said, chuckling like she was clever. He shook his head. She sighed and then grinned. “I’m a Freudian Slip.”

“I hate you,” Eliot said, without missing even the microsecond of a beat. She reached up and patted his cheek, murmuring Don’t be jealous

As if.

Meanwhile, Margo, dressed in a black corset and thigh-highs, came up behind her and bit at her neck. Not because she was wearing a vampire costume. She just really liked biting necks. “Let’s go get drunk and dance, nerd.”

Julia smiled and nuzzled Margo’s cheek. “Lead the way, hot mama.”

Bambi slid her eyes over to Eliot and pouted. “Meet us in there, El? Once Elsa gets done taking her sweet damn time?”

Eliot lifted the collar of his slinky sequin suit jacket, adjusting the fit against his bare chest and back. The array of necklaces clinked and pulled at his chest hair, in contrast to the smooth silk of his long scarf sliding all the way to his visible hip bones. He bit at the filter of his cigarette, the smoke filling his mouth in a dizzy haze. 

“How’s my hair?” Eliot asked her. She looked him up and down, and gave him a tiny smile.

“You know it looks good,” she said, puckering her lips. He grinned and pulled a drag. It was true. It was full and curly and luscious. Atop his sultry drawn eyes and thigh-high riding boots, it was obvious he’d get to fuck his pick of the litter that night. At least, once he got Alice situated. 

Fucking finally. Jesus Christ. 

“It looks damn good,” he corrected with a purr. Margo kissed his cheek and dragged her girlfriend toward the door, cupping her ass with her bright red fingernails. Julia shrieked and giggled. They were gross.

Finally, the portal swirled one more time and Alice appeared. She wore her ubiquitous pink fuzzy sweater and a large poodle skirt. Her hair was pinned up in retro curls and she traded her usual glasses for rhinestone studded cat eyes.

Goddammit.

“What happened to the costume Bambi picked out?” He asked, demanding. Her eyes flew open wide and she stuttered.

“It was obscene, Eliot,” she said, pursing her lips. “I looked like—I looked like a lady of the night.”

“A what?” he asked, innocently tilting his head over. “I don’t know that term.”

Alice widened her eyes and leaned in, hissing through her teeth. “A sex worker, Eliot.”

“What’s wrong with being a sex worker?”

“Nothing!” Alice squeaked, skin pale. “I’m not—I’m not saying there’s anything—I just don’t want to dress like—oh my god.” 

He grinned and beckoned her into his side, popping a short kiss on the top of her rambling head.

“Come on, you misogynist,” Eliot said, much to Alice’s immediate protest. “The night awaits.”

 


 

The inside of the party was green foaming punch and small bats flitting around. Otherwise, the most elaborate illusion was a bloody-mouthed chupacabra Hillary Clinton. It stomped through the maze-like room, yelling Where's... Monica? Hunnggrryy!

Yeah. That was all anyone needed to know about the decor.

(Margo and Julia would set it aflame by the end of the night. Guaranteed.)

But Eliot was spared the need to think too deeply about it as an amiable Mike walked toward him and Alice with a giant wave. He dressed in all black with two electrode bolts coming out the side of his neck. The top of his head was magic’d flat and his skin magic’d green. It matched the punch, which seemed to be a dubious mix of Malibu, green Kool-Aid, and a mystery liqueur. 2/10.

“Eliot! Eliot, Eliot, Eliot,” Mike said, throwing his arms around him in a giant hug. He grinned and returned it. He really was a great hugger. Mike pulled away and looked him up and down, shaking his head. “Outdoing yourself again, sir. Best costume of the night.”

“It’s not of anything though,” Alice mumbled into her drink. She made a tiny disgusted face at the taste and put it down gingerly on the plastic covered table. Finally hearing her voice, Mike took a short breath and smiled, tentative. He was still a little shy around Alice. 

“Alice,” he said, taking her hand. Her cheeks turned pink despite herself. “As always, it’s a pleasure to see you.”

“Thank you, Mike,” Alice said with a tight smile. “Your costume is well-done. It’s a classic take. I like that.”

“Costume? What costume? ‘Tis I,” Mike spoke in a loan groan, with his his hands held out in front of his chest, “Fearsome Frankenstein.”

Alice’s cheeks sucked into her teeth like she’d eaten an extra sour lemon. Eliot squeezed her shoulder. She could keep it together. Mike laughed and chuffed under her chin, before looking around. A small smirk crossed his lips.

“So, ah—no Quincy tonight?” Mike asked, arms around both Eliot and Alice.

“Quentin,” she quietly corrected.

“Q’s being antisocial,” Eliot said with a sigh.

“Well, that’s a shame,” Mike said, though he smiled wider with more than a glint of unadulterated joy. “I like Quincy. He seems like he’d be a really good friend.”

“His name is Quentin,” Alice said again, firmer. Mike laughed and squeezed them in tighter to him.

“My mistake. Of course. We’ll have a drink for him later,” Mike ushered them through a spun illusion of cobwebs and the dulcet tones of Monster Mash. “Come this way, and enter Fearsome Frankenstein’s lair. Dance floor is to the left—”

As Mike kept talking and giving them the grand tour of the beige apartment, Eliot grabbed Alice’s arm and pulled her in close. It was time for a pep talk-slash-real talk. A jangling skeleton boogied above them, singing Restore America now, before she looks like me, to the tune of "The Yellow Rose of Texas."

“Two things. One, he thinks Quentin is competition,” Eliot said, leaning into Alice’s ear. “So he’s pretending to get his name wrong.”

But Alice frowned. “Well, that’s petty.”

“Two, don’t correct him.”

She averted her gaze, all innocent. “About Quentin’s name?”

“No. The other thing.”

“But—“

“Alice. Don’t correct him.”

She bit her lip. “I want to correct him.”

“I know you do, honey. Don’t.”

“Quentin would have corrected him immediately,” Alice mumbled, pouting. Eliot laughed.

“He sure would have,” he said, maneuvering her by the lower back toward the bar. “As a general rule, if you can figure out what Q would have done, go with the opposite instinct.”

She considered it and then nodded, taking his hand. “Okay. That’s reasonable.”

With a laugh and a twirl into the red and orange lights, Eliot and Alice bopped their way to Bobby Pickett. Aggressive Republican shit or not, the party still swallowed them whole.

 


 

Later, Mike asked him if he wanted to go outside for a cigarette. 

At the time, Alice was dancing with Margo and Julia, so it seemed a suitable course of action. They could shoot the shit and get a nicotine fix, then head back toward their separate nights.

As he always maintained, he liked Mike well enough, even with the shitty Republican stuff. He could get over it for the sake of a friendly acquaintance. He imagined they would chat about Brakebills and then run out of things to say to each other like they usually did. So they’d smoke in silence and then do the bro head-nod back into the party. 

All good. All swell. All fine. All to say—

Eliot certainly had not intended to end up plastered against a wall with Mike’s hands down his pants and tonguing laving up and down his throat. 

Really. 

But the best laid plans of mice and hot men often go awry.

Which—shit—Mike was really, really hot and Eliot was really, really horny. And he fucking hated that word under most circumstances. That night though, he was so keyed up and live-wire charged that he felt like a teenager. Ready to burst and just fucking—horny

“Damn,” Mike said, his deep voice extra rough as he kissed at Eliot’s collarbone. Eliot let his head fall back against the brick and his eyes fell back into his head. “You are the sexiest man alive.”

Fuck yes.

“Is that so?” Eliot breathed out, laughing. He pushed Mike’s head down a scooch. You have to buy the lottery ticket after all. “What do you wanna do to me, Mikey?”

Mike squeezed his ass. “I will do literally anything you want me to do, Eliot.”

Well, wasn’t that a motherfucker? Hunger roared in his chest and he snapped his face into Mike’s, kissing him hard. He was a strong kisser and matched Eliot beat for beat. His tongue moved swift and firm, sweeping around like it was on a mission. 

There was no tenderness or joy in his movements. It was pure animal instinct and fuck, if that didn’t scratch a goddamn itch better than anything most days. It wasn’t like he wanted to date Mike. Someone else could sit through his boring stories about Texas or his long spiel about whatever the fuck the Cato Institute was. No, all Eliot wanted was to take what was offered and leave the rest to—

Oh. Shit.

To Alice. 

He was supposed to leave the rest to Alice. If she wanted it. Because Mike was kind of dating Alice, his newest friend who he had promised to help. And what he was doing was not exactly helping so much as actively fucking over.

Shit.

“Mike—“ Eliot said. He pulled away, lightheaded and spinning. He was so stupid. He was so fucking stupid. “Shit. I can’t believe I’m saying this. But, uh, I—I actually can’t do this.”

With an authoritative scoff, Mike grabbed at Eliot’s hips again, face in his neck. That seemed to be his main move, but he wasn’t complaining. He expertly sucked at the delicate skin there and Eliot saw stars. He forgot why he had protested to begin with. It was fine. It was good. It was really fucking good. It was—Jesus, it was awesome.

At least, it was awesome. Until Mike whispered the most boner-killing sentence known to man, hot and breathy in his ear. 

What Quincy doesn’t know won’t hurt him.”

Eliot jerked backwards, lips falling open. His arms tensed as they pushed Mike away. His heart flipped over.

What?

“Wait, what?” Eliot’s voice staggered. He laughed. He was unsteady. His sight darted everywhere and he rubbed his nose. “You’re talking about—Quentin?” Holy shit, he did not want to think about Quentin. “No, I’m not—this isn’t—”

Mike stepped in closer again and nipped at Eliot’s earlobe. “God, you could do so much better than that twerp.”

The heat from Mike’s lips on his face made Eliot’s stomach sour. He was a Republican dickbag. He was supposed to be making out with Alice. He had pointy eyebrows.

“Get the hell off me,” he growled, pushing Mike away with a firm hand. “I mean it. This isn’t happening.”

“Hey,” Mike said, reaching up and stroking his thumb against Eliot’s sideburn. “Don’t get me wrong. I kind of get it. He’s a pretty twerp with a cute ass, but—“

Eliot pulled out another cigarette and lit it. The flame burst into Mike’s face and he stepped back, blinking away the spark. Eliot took the opportunity to move away from the wall and paced between the alley, glaring at Mike. “I said no. That’s pretty basic consent shit, McCormick.”

Mike swallowed and took a deep breath. He smiled at Eliot, though he were approaching a feral toddler. It wasn’t helping anything.

“Here’s my elevator pitch,” he said, tugging Eliot in close by the waist. Fuck, he was pretty, even with green skin. His eyes were navy blue on him and slanted in the ghoulish light. “I don’t know anything about wine, or music, or art. But I don’t think Quincy does either.”

Quentin knew nothing about wine. 

But Quentin knew much more than most people about music and art, at least from an academic standpoint. He didn’t necessarily give a shit about any of it, but he knew it. He knew it better than most people. He absorbed things so easily and read so much, even beyond his Fillory obsession. In fact, his careless and encyclopedic knowledge never failed to make Eliot feel like a hillbilly in a tux. Every single fucking time.

None of that was relevant.

“And I’m also pretty sure,” Mike continued, laughing as he brushed his lips back against Eliot’s ear. “I'm sure that I’m hotter, more interesting, and much more eager to learn than him.”

Not even by half on any of those accounts. But again, irrelevant. Q was irrelevant. He was turning Mike down because of Alice, not because of Q. He didn’t owe Q anything. Q didn’t want Eliot to owe him anything.

“Mike,” Eliot said, blinking down his lust as Mike started kissing his jaw. The skin-on-skin contact felt so damn good. But he couldn’t do this. He wouldn’t do this. “Mike, this isn’t happening.”

He traced his tongue around Eliot’s skin. His warm breath puffed air into his ear drum. It reverberated. “Please listen to me. Quincy doesn’t deserve you. You are so much better than him.”

Eliot’s stomach twisted like a cold rag. He pushed Mike off again, with less fervor but more surety. He held Mike by the shoulders and looked him dead in the eye.

“Please listen to me, asshole. Quentin and I aren’t together. We’re just friends.” He cursed the waver in his voice with his whole soul and he cursed the quick brightness in Mike’s eyes even more. “But you and I still aren’t doing this.”

“Because you’re not attracted to me?” Mike asked, licking his lips. He shot his eyes downward at Eliot’s tight pants. “Someone would beg to differ.”

Eliot clenched his jaw and thought about baseball. “I mean because of Alice.”

Mike finally looked caught off-guard. He frowned, every feature tensing. “Alice? What? I mean, she’s a very nice girl—“

Eliot scoffed. “A nice girl? You’ve been spending every week with her—”

“No,” Mike said slowly, blinking. “I’ve been spending every week with you. She happens to be there. A lot. A fucking lot. Honestly, she was getting almost as tiresome as Quincy.”

What the fuck? Eliot blew smoke out harsh. “No, I happened to be there. The whole point was—”

“The only reason I didn’t complain?” Mike said with a laugh, holding his hands out and shaking them. It was like he trying to physically rid himself of the implication. “I figured she was your newest fruit fly. I was trying to be welcoming. If I had known that you thought she and I were—I would have made it very clear that I—”

Eliot’s nostrils flared. “I’m sorry. My newest what?”

Mike waved his hand and sputtered his lips. “You know. Fruit fly. Cute girl who hangs around with gay guys. Kind of a blonde Margo. But nicer than Margo, thank god. Bitchy hags are out. Good to mix it up with the straight chicks.”

Holy motherfucking shit.

“Are you guest starring in an episode of Sex and the City?” Eliot crossed his arms. “What the fuck are you rambling about?”

Mike tilted his head, all soft condescension. “I mean it as a reclamation. A term of endearment wrapped in a power shift. Sorry if it’s not your thing, but—“

“Yeah, straight boys?” Eliot pointed at him with his cigarette. He flared the tip. Pyromancy for the dramatic point. “Don’t get to say shit like that, Mike.”

He laughed. “Straight boy? My tongue was down your throat, Eliot. I was touching your dick.”

“If I had a nickel.”

“Eliot,” Mike said with a small laugh. He shifted back and forth on his feet. He sighed and ran his hand through his flat hair. “You, uh—you know I’m gay, right? I’m very gay.”

What.

“What?” Eliot dropped his cigarette. He called it back up to him and took a long drag. His brain was shorting out on him.

Mike chuckled again and put his hands in his pockets. “I’m talking Kinsey Six gay.”

“What?” 

There was—that was—what? Eliot shook his head over and over again. That in no way computed with anything he knew about Mike. He thought over every interaction he had with him. He thought about everything he had ever learned about him. He thought of every conversation they’d ever had, every passing look, every lingering touch. There were so many things he could say to refute, so many obvious ways in which Mike had misled or at least not been as obvious as he thought. But out of his mouth came only one thing—

“You’re a Republican.”

Mike sighed. “I can be a proponent of well-structured small government and sucking cock at the same time.”

Eliot squinted his eyes and tilted his head. “Can you though?”

Mike held his hands up like a surrender and smiled too wide. “Look, I’m not opposed to marriage equality, okay?”

“High bar,” Eliot shot out. “Not opposed.”

“I’m a Texan politician, Eliot,” Mike said, biting each syllable out. “Change isn’t going to happen overnight. I could try to do as many mass brain-control spells as I want to get into office, but—”

“Jesus, that crossed your mind?”

“It crosses every Magician politician’s mind and most of us are Magicians. The literal bloodbath wouldn’t be worth it,” Mike said, huffing. He pulled out his own cigarette and lit it. “But there are certain ways I have to live my life to get the results I want. I make no apologies for that."

Eliot swallowed down a stinging bile and clenched his fists. His fingers popped everywhere, a goddamn nervous tic. “So what—Courtney was your beard then?”

Of course she was. Jesus Christ. Holy shit. What the fuck.

“Court’s a great girl,” Mike said with a fond laugh. “It was nothing so shameful. She’s also very gay. But our arrangement was no longer helpful for either of us. It wasn’t polling well.”

Eliot shook his head, still in shock. “Polling well?”

Mike took a long drag on his cigarette. “I can’t get into it too much, but I’m considering a mayoral run in Lubbock. So my probability spells have been working overtime to see where I’m landing.”

“And?”

“And—politics are getting so extreme as of late,” Mike said, taking Eliot’s hand and stroking his knuckles with his thumb. All he could do was stare down, perplexed more than intrigued. “I need to win hearts in other ways. Lonely boy-next-door looking for love and fiscal responsibility is the new angle. Work the narrative well before the big run. Otherwise, my reasonable Libertarian perspective is a hindrance.”

He could hear—he could hear—Quentin’s derisive snort and Uh, reasonable Libertarian? Are we listing oxymorons now? Jumbo shrimp. Silent scream. Microsoft Works.

But that was definitely not relevant.

“Why didn’t you broach this two years ago then?” Eliot asked, jaw working overtime. He didn’t give a shit about anything Mike was saying. His answer hadn’t changed. But it still wasn’t making sense to him and he hated that off-kilter feeling.

“I wasn’t sure if I could trust you,” Mike said through a plume of smoke. He looked as though he was stating facts. Sky was blue, grass was green, Eliot was untrustworthy. “I mean, come on. You know you don’t exactly scream discreet.”

Oh. Scratch that. Eliot was reckless and too queer. Got it. 

He sucked on his cigarette hard. It was a stub. He was ready to go. But motherfucking Mike was still talking.

“But I don’t know. It’s like you’ve mellowed in the past year or so. You seem more grounded. I thought it was Quincy’s influence—“

Quentin,” Eliot snapped, patience on its last fucking tether.

“—and that made me so jealous, so I knew I had to go for it. Take a risk on the fun guy, you know?”

What a poet.

Eliot laughed and stared down at his feet. “Sure.”

“And then I figured that my lifestyle and goals might even be a perk for you,” Mike said, hand running up and down Eliot’s chest. “No commitment, no pressure. Fucking in portals and planes and hotel suites, no breakfast in the morning. That’s why Quincy being your boyfriend surprised me so much—“

“His name is Quentin and he is not my boyfriend,” Eliot spat out, shaking with anger. He had a headache. He had a terrible headache.

“I know that now. It makes way more sense,” Mike agreed, dopey smile on his stupid slack-jawed face. Eliot responded with a sneering smile of his own. “So what do you say? Should I go grab some lube and a rubber? Do you switch? I exclusively top.”

Eliot’s mouth fell open and he let out a soft, wet sound. “Um. I’m gonna pass. But thanks anyway.”

Mike waggled his eyebrows. “My friend down there seemed to disagree.”

“Yeah, my cock was hard when you were sucking on my chest,” Eliot said, firm and unapologetic. “But I’m not an animal and I’m not interested.”

“Mmm, but I’ll bet you’re a total animal in the sack—”

“Jesus Christ, Mike,” Eliot said, edging on real fury. “Are you incapable of taking no for an answer? Because that’s my answer. It’s not fucking happening. Do you understand?”

Mike stepped back like he was slapped. His pointy eyebrows quirked down and a flash of remorse went across his face. “Sorry. Sorry. I thought we were doing, like, the witty banter thing.”

“Witty banter?” What the fuck? What the fuck? Eliot needed a thousand cigarettes.

“I misread it,” Mike said, ducking his head down and putting both hands up in the air. “I’m sorry. I thought you were interested. But I get that you’re not and I will let this go.”

Eliot closed his eyes and brought his hand to his head. It ached, tense and dull. “Okay. Good.”

Mike clapped his hands and looked back and forth. “So I can get a portal set up for you, if you’d like.”

“Well, I—uh—wait, what?” Eliot threw his cigarette on the ground and stubbed it out. He didn’t have the energy to send it to the Island of Used Filters at the moment. “I wasn’t planning on going home yet.”

Mike smiled but it looked and sounded more like a wince. “Might be kind of awkward now though, right?”

Eliot stood still and ran his tongue over his teeth. He grimaced, cold. “Are you kicking me out of your party?”

“I think it would be for the best if you found somewhere else to spend the evening,” Mike said crossing his arms. “I know you don’t get it, but this is actually a big disappointment for me. So seeing you here would be—”

“Yup,” Eliot popped the consonant. He adjusted his jacket and cracked his neck. “No, I fucking got it, Mike. No need to do me any favors, I can find my own way.”

“I like you, Eliot,” Mike said, his voice quiet. He couldn’t bring himself to give a shit. “So I’m sorry. But I think this is for the best.”

Eliot closed his eyes for no more than three seconds. 

In that moment, he let him feel all the inadequacy, all the rage, and all the worthlessness he knew he held within him. Some people contained multitudes. Eliot contained nothing. But then he opened them and willed it all away. He was so much more capable than any of this bullshit.

“It always is, Mike,” he said, with a tiny salute. “Have a good fucking life. Hope you lose to an avowed communist, in any race you may run.”

Mike laughed. It sounded a little wet. “Wow. Okay. If that’s how you want to leave it, that’s your choice.”

It certainly was his choice. It wasn’t quite how he wanted to leave it though.

“Oh, and by the fucking way?” Eliot spun around on his heel and held his head high. “You’re not Frankenstein. You’re Frankenstein’s monster. Good night and thank you.”

Mike chuckled and stuck his green hands back in his pockets. He gazed off into the distance, looking at once like a pastoral painting and a complete buffoon. 

“Mature, Eliot.”

He lit a cigarette and held his middle finger high in the air, walking away. “What can I say? First star to the right and straight on ‘til morning. 

“Eliot—“

"Go fuck yourself.”

 


 

 

SMS with  “ Q (cute face w long hair + flannel)
11/1/16, 12:04 AM

 

hey can you open a portal for me
without your usual barrage of questions
please

quentin
answer your phone

oh my god
answer your phone

live a little
break a rule
answer your phone

seriously?
goddammit q

 


 

Two hours later—with no fucking thanks to goddamn anyone—Eliot stumbled through the Cottage front door. World weary but alive.

He slammed it shut and pressed his back against the cool wood. He panted, rocking his head backwards. He stood there for a few minutes, steadying his breathing and gathering his bearings. 

It was already two in the morning, but he assumed he would come back to a dim and quiet house. The Halloween parties usually lasted full-blown until at least four. He thought at most he’d pass Quentin asleep in the reading nook. He couldd slip past and not have to deal with his judgy eyes until at least the true morning. Lights low, no creatures stirring, easy to slink off to bed. He needed the rest.

But that… was not exactly the case.

Every single light in the house was on. There were several books strewn around and Chinese takeout containers rested on both the coffee and dining room tables. There was an old-timey projector playing Charlie Chaplin movies in one corner and an elaborate fort built over one of the couches. It looked like the Iron Throne, if the Iron Throne were made of fleece blankets and throw pillows. Playing cards were swirling and jumping through the air to a melodious rhythm. Specifically, blasting-loud Taylor Swift. It was the pious hymn and victory chant of the Thinks He’s Home Alone-r. And sure enough, when Eliot cocked his ear just so, he heard warbling from the kitchen. It was the telltale sound of an off-key nerd, wide awake and joyful.

Moving toward the terrible singing with a chuckle, Eliot opened his mouth and held up his finger. He was preemptive as he rotated through a series of potential quips, certain to startle and shame. Fucking awful as the night had turned out, at least he would have that. Catching Quentin red-handed, doing all the shit everyone knew he did. Poetic justice la creme. 

When he actually arrived at the kitchen though, his plans disintegrated into dust. His hand fell against his side, heavy.

He knew he should burst the bubble with a biting comment. He knew he should have relished it. But all his wit curled itself into a ball, right in the center of his chest. In that moment, he could barely move, let alone speak.

“‘Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play,” Quentin half-sang with a cracking voice. His hair flew around as he banged his head up and down, like he was in a mosh pit instead of listening to a pop princess. “And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate—

He drummed along the counter, twisting his feet along the linoleum and smiling as the tea kettle announced itself with a squeal. He jumped up and down as he levitated a mug over to the stove, using his own rarely seen telekinetic abilities. He flipped off the gas with a surprising amount of panache. The music kept playing as Quentin popped his hips back and forth, pouring the hot water over a tea bag. 

Eliot leaned his head against the wooden frame, still unable to take his eyes off Q. His heart was tight in his chest. He wondered what it would take for him to always be like this. 

“I’m lightning on my feet,” Quentin spoke-sang out, holding his mug in one hand. He slid forward, like Tom Cruise in Risky Business, before spinning around. “And that’s what they don’t—oh, fuck.”

He staggered backwards, his eyes wide on Eliot. He spilled a shock of his boiled water on his foot. He jumped with a sharp intake of breath through his teeth, as it hit his bare skin. Every muscle in Quentins’ body tensed and hunched. Eliot pushed the disappointment down, down, all the way fucking down.

“Jesus Christ,” Quentin said, heaving with his hand on his heart. “Wear a bell.”

“Sick beat,” Eliot smirked.

“Yeah, well,” Quentin crossed his arms and darted his eyes around the kitchen. He clapped the music off and Eliot ignored the pained thud in his chest. “What are you doing here?”

“Nice to see you too.”

Q met his eyes again and he frowned at Eliot’s terse and annoyed tone. “Just didn’t expect you back. Figured you’d end up staying in the city.”

He shook his head, eyes flying open in the motion. “Yeah. I know. Sorry. Tried texting you, actually. Needed a portal.”

Quentin looked like he was going to argue about the texting rule, but instead sighed and wiped down his pant leg with a kitchen towel. “Why did you need a portal?”

“Just did,” Eliot said, stretching his arms out. He chuckled, though it didn’t sound particularly good-humored. “Weird night.”

Quentin furrowed his brow and nodded once. His mouth was in a thin line and he cleared his throat, turning back to the burners behind him.

“Do you want tea?” He asked, indicating the kettle. His voice was quiet and gentle. Eliot smiled. He never wanted tea. But it was a sweet offer.

“Sure. But you could pour some whiskey in the hot water instead?” He called over a mug for himself and wagged it at Quentin. He nodded, so Eliot pushed his luck. “With a touch of honey. Lemon juice. Cinnamon stick. Oh, and a quarter teaspoon of vanilla extract but—”

“So you want a hot toddy,” Quentin sighed, barely smiling. “Make it yourself.”

“You offered.”

“I offered tea.”

But despite his bluster, Quentin was already unscrewing the red lid off the Maker’s Mark. Eliot shimmied his shoulders at him, quite pleased.

“So you look, um—“ Quentin started to say with a swallow, eyeing his costume. Eliot lifted his mouth into a lascivious half-grin. He looked good. It was okay, Q. “What—what are you supposed to be, anyway?”

“Margo and I go as the same thing every year,” he said, resting his palms backwards against the counter. “Hot.”

Quentin groaned and rolled his eyes, but smiled like he couldn’t help it. “Yeah, okay. I actually remember that now. Last year is still kind of hazy.”

Eliot’s own smile faltered. 

For the Brakebills’ 2015 Halloween Physical Kids Spooktacular (Todd named it, it stuck, Eliot didn’t want to talk about it), Quentin wore his old sad little suit and had magically grown a mustache. He claimed he was "Quentin’s Evil Twin." It had been equal parts groan inducing and cute, like most things he did. Though he almost looked cool compared to Julia’s Virginia Woolf costume that—yes—included a wolf mask and a “Virginia is for Lovers” crop top. She was the worst.

That all was fine.

But it had also been the night Quentin started “dating” Halitosis Sam. He had proclaimed Q’s low effort costume the funniest thing he’d ever seen and chased after him all night. He had hearts in his eyes, full Pepe LePew style. Emphasis pee-ew

Eliot had thought it was funny at first, worth at least teasing his new friend about. He never once registered Halitosis as any kind of threat, in all his jittery short stature and wiry buck-toothedness. That is, until he had gone looking for Quentin with a fresh drink in his hand. He stumbled on the two of them making out in a corner, with Quentin’s hands gripping tight in Halitosis’s wavy brown hair. And that had been—

Eliot’s eyebrows and jaw twitched at the same time.

It was a sour memory, much like the other man’s eponymous breath. Not only because Eliot had felt like his rib cage was punched and then vacuumed out of his chest. But also because it was the direct prelude to the worst and only real fight they had ever gotten into. The one where Eliot learned exactly how much Quentin hated the rhetorical question: “Oh, sweet Little Q, who among us isn’t a touch bicurious?”

Which was, for the record: A fucking lot.

It was a shitty thing to say. Quentin wasn’t wrong. But Eliot was stubborn and a master condescender, and things... escalated. It didn’t help that Margo interjected with, “Ooh, kitten’s got claws” and “Woof, woof, li’l pup” throughout the proceedings. It was all kind of a mess.

(Though after Quentin had yelled a final Fuck you, Eliot and slammed his door, Margo turned to him. She clucked her tongue and said, “You know what? I changed my mind. I like him.”)

It all settled anticlimactically. The next day, Quentin had stormed downstairs and threw himself next to Eliot on the couch. He called him an asshole and said he was “a bisexual man”, and that Eliot “needed to fucking accept that.” And so, Eliot did. He did.

Fuck, the only reason he had even pushed back at all was because—

Because it complicated things. For him.

Quentin’s attraction to men made it harder for Eliot to see him as nothing but a guilty pleasure fantasy. So even though he kind of hated himself every time he thought that it would have been easier if Q was straight, it was true. It would have been easier. And he still thought it, every day.

Like he realized he’d poked a sore spot, Quentin took a long audible breath of his own and blew his hair out of his face. It broke Eliot out of his reverie and he projected cool ease. Quentin smiled and got to quick work on the toddy.

“Where’s the cavalcade?” Q asked as he reached to grab a lemon, slicing it in half. He cut a single round, as a garnish, because he’d learned that giving Eliot a drink without an attractive garnish never went well. “Bringing the party back here?”

“Not exactly,” Eliot said with a sigh. “Kind of a fucked up night. Shit with Mike went sideways.”

“How do you feel about the phrase I told you so?” Quentin juiced the lemon into Eliot’s mug, before pouring the whiskey. “Positive? Neutral?”

“Yes, well. You were right,” Eliot said, gripping the counter with a sigh. He averted his eyes away from Quentin, who stopped his movements to stare at Eliot.

“Shit,” Quentin folded his eyebrows down. “Okay, I don’t think you’ve ever actually said that before.” 

He snorted, catching Quentin’s eyes again. “Sometimes lightning strikes.”

“What the fuck happened?”

“It appears Mike isn’t exactly—” Eliot clicked his teeth together. “He made a pass at me.”

“Oh,” Quentin shrugged. He turned back to his work. “Yeah, sure. I can see that.”

“Seriously?” Eliot’s mouth popped open and he laughed. “What?”

Quentin shrugged again, firmer. He cut another lemon round. “He’s always been, like, obsessed with you. Which I know people tend to be but it was—-more, I guess. Didn’t know for sure, but I had my suspicions.”

“And you never thought to mention it because—?” 

“Right. Because you would’ve been like,” Quentin pulled himself up straight and sniffed haughtily. “Why, yes, my dashing Q, your celebrated social awareness is, like, utterly splendid and shit.”

Eliot bit the inside of his cheek. Hard. 

“Is that—“ He cleared his throat, glee bubbling up and voice a whisper. “Is that what I sound like in your head?”

Quentin blushed all the way down his neck. “I’m not good at impressions.“

“Now, why would you say that? You’re, like, a most perspicacious parodist, dearheart.”

He glared. “But you wouldn’t have believed me is all I mean.”

Eliot widened his smile. But then took pity on him and changed the subject back to the matter at hand.

“Well, you should have at least tried to tell me,” he said, keeping a watchful eye as Quentin stirred the bourbon into the water. “Especially since my stubborn ass actually did want to fuck him. Ship’s sailed now though.”

“Well, uh, you’ll get the next one,” Q said, attention on slicing the rest of the lemon. His voice didn’t have much inflection. “You always do.”

Eliot passed over that bitchy little implication with a sigh. He scrubbed his hands down his face. “Not sure how I, of all people, missed it.”

“Eh. Happens. Poor Alice though,” Quentin said, topping off Eliot’s drink with his requested cinnamon stick and the lemon round. He handed it to Eliot, twisting the mug so he could take it by the handle. “Careful, that’s hot.”

“Thanks, Q,” Eliot smiled over the rim as he took a sip. It was bitter and the proportions were off, but he didn’t care one bit. “Tastes great.”

“Shit,” Quentin reached toward the drink, his fingers brushing against the back of Eliot’s hand. “I forgot the honey.”

He laughed, stepping away from his touch. “I’ll add it. I appreciate the unnecessary effort as it is.”

Quentin gave him a quick, unreadable look before turning to his own tea. He blew into the mug and the tag fluttered against the white ceramic.

“But like, why has the ship sailed?” Quentin asked, leaning back against the counter. His hair fell like a curtain over his eyes. “Are you that loyal to Alice now?”

“Yes and no,” Eliot said, tutting honey into his drink. He took a delicate sip and deemed the concoction serviceable. “It sailed for me. He told me to leave his party after I said no thank you to his dick offering.”

Quentin snorted. “What a baby.”

“Right? Took his balls and went home,” Eliot said, amused with himself. But then he took a longer gulp of the toddy and it burned down his throat. “I don’t know. He said all this shit about how I didn’t used to be discreet enough for his political goals. I assume he meant about my preference for dick and, uh, I guess flamboyance, which is—yeah.”

Quentin’s eyes flashed up and his lips tightened as he crossed his arms. His foot tapped.

“He also said that I’m the fun guy that he could take a risk on and—“ Eliot closed his eyes and swallowed “—and he framed it like a compliment, but I—I don’t know—“

“He’s a total shitbag,” Quentin said, the words slashing through the air, vicious. Eliot smiled, rueful and touched.

“Something like that,” he sighed, opening his eyes and jerking his mouth into something unaffected. “The point is, I’m no one’s dirty secret. Those days are behind me. Been there, fucked the professor. Not worth the hassle.”

“Yeah,” Quentin said, looking down into his mug. “Besides, I mean, Jesus, anyone with you should be proud as fuck. He’s a dickhead. Good riddance.”

Eliot’s heart caught in his throat and he couldn’t feel his hands. Bratty and sullen and fucking goddamn moody as he was, Quentin could also be—he could be so—

Kind. So kind. In a way Eliot had never been in his entire life. It always stunned him.

“Well, one thing we can agree on is that I am indeed magnificent,” Eliot managed to get out, with a smirk. Or at least, he hoped it was a smirk. Whatever it was, Quentin wasn’t fazed by it. He pushed his hair back and shrugged, smiling down at his crossed arms.

“Your magnificence aside, he’s an asshole,” he said, simple. “That’s all.”

Eliot smiled at him, wide and closed-lipped. But genuine. “Thanks, Q.”

The pressure in the air increased, like a heavy invisible weight spanned between them. Quentin's eyes crinkled for a second as he took a long look at Eliot, eyes expressive and obscure at once. He took one step forward.

“Hey. Um, Eliot. Hey.”

Eliot took a sip of his drink and cocked a brow. “Hey?”

Quentin stared down, mouth pulled in lines. He took a deep breath. “Um. So. Uh, maybe this is weird timing, but there was something I wanted to—“

The soft whoosh and white flash of a closing portal interrupted him. They both snapped their heads over to the door frame. A tiny blonde vision in Pink Lady gear ticked her way in on sensible Mary Janes.

“Eliot!” She said, hand on her heart. “There you are. Hello, Quentin.”

“Hey Alice,” Q said, waving his tea mug in the air in greeting. His voice sounded resigned and relieved at once. She looked him up and down, nodded, and returned her gaze to Eliot.

“Mike told Margo that you left,” Alice said, wrinkling her facial features. “She said not to worry about it, but it didn’t seem like you to disappear. I’m glad to see you’re okay.”

“You came to look for me?” Eliot asked, surprised. Alice nodded, big-eyed and determined.

“Of course,” she said, crossing her arms. “I was worried. You’re my friend and you—disappeared out of nowhere. I did a special locator spell with my prism. It works like a one-way mirror, so I was able to see you walking toward the Cottage.”

Quentin snorted and spoke softly. “Yeah, uh. That coulda been awkward for you, Alice.”

Eliot shot him a glare. It was true that Alice was slightly naive. But there was no reason not to gently neglect to mention that—yes—he could have been fucking someone. It didn’t happen so it didn’t matter. So instead, Eliot gave her a warm look and touched her arm. 

“You’re a sweetheart. But you should have stayed and continued your fun. I’m a big boy.” 

Alice jutted her chin upward toward him, resolute. “Leave no man behind.” 

There it was. 

Eliot stared down at her, a lump in his throat. He took one step forward and tilted his head at her. 

She was blinking brightly under her absurd 1950s glasses. She probably thought it was a sweeter and kinder time, bless her little heart and not in the Southern way. Her lips quivered in unwavering loyalty, far more than he deserved from anyone, least of all someone who barely knew him. And far more than from someone who trusted him not to make out with Mike after a year stuck in a frozen wasteland with a drunk psychopath.

It was all on him.

He glanced back at Quentin, but he had decided to busy himself in the intricacies of his tea mug like a good awkward boy. 

“Q, was there something you needed?” He asked, half-hoping for an excuse and half actually curious. But Quentin shook his head, hair flying. He laughed.

“Uh, no. Definitely not. Not important.”

Eliot smiled to himself for a second before sighing, true and deep. Great. No way to put off the inevitable any longer.

“Hey Alice,” Eliot said, softly. He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and squeezed. “Let’s go to the fireplace and chat, okay?”

 


 

Eliot knew to expect the tears. 

He even knew to expect the ones flowing down and the way her hands wiped at them, haphazard and stumbling. The sheen in her eyes, as more and more came in waves. He sighed, clenching his jaw as Alice sniffed and sputtered, shaking with wet, painted cheeks. He knew it was coming. He knew it.

But it didn’t make it easier, as he sat there, mortified. They sat in the two leather chairs and the fire roared orange and gold, the only light in the room. Eliot closed his eyes and ran his tongue over his lips, pouring more wine for both of them. They were going to need it.

“Okay,” Eliot said, frowning and shifting. He ran his fingers through his curls, pinky catching. “But like—it’s not that funny.”

Alice burst into another cackle, slapping her knee. She howled, teeth shining in the firelight. Her wine glass vibrated in her hand, the liquid jumping around though it were in an earthquake.

“No, it is,” Alice said, eyes shining and amusement in every syllable. “You did say you’d be bad at this, but my god.”

“To be fair,” Eliot said with a finger in the air, “his last public relationship was with a woman. He never gave me any sign that he was—”

She fell into giggles again and shook her face in her hands. “God, it makes so much more sense now. Do you know what our date at the library was like?”

Eliot frowned. “No, we never got to talk about that.”

“It was terrible!” Alice said, laughing harder and harder. “We did my homework! The whole time! He kept asking if you’d want to join us!”

“He thought I’d go to the library?” Eliot felt his own smile break through. “On a Saturday? Boy was barking up so many wrong trees.”

“The only ‘move’ he made was kissing my hand at the end of the day,” she said, curling into the chair and wrapping her legs around her wine stem. She smiled, all teeth. “It was sweet but—”

“Not heterosexual?” Eliot said, a touch self-deprecating. Alice slapped her hand over her mouth as another laugh squeaked out.

“No. Actually, um, I was starting to think he was really religious or something?” Alice said, her head bobbing as she chuckled. “Like he couldn’t kiss me because his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was watching?”

Eliot bit into his knuckles, smiling. 

“I’m sorry,” he said, rough and staccato over his own laughter. “I can’t believe I missed it. I have no excuse. I was probably drunk. Actually, you know what? That’s my excuse. I’m sorry for being so drunk.”

He should get monogrammed stationery with that printed on it.

But Alice gave him a tiny look, almost shy behind her glasses. She took a languid sip of wine and raised her brows.

“It doesn’t surprise me at all that you missed it,” she said, scrunching her nose up over her glass, mouth obscured by the rich red liquid. “You make a habit of assuming people are one thing or another. It’s quite, ah, heteronormative of you.”

Eliot rolled his lip between his teeth and jerked his head. He considered what she was saying but then laughed.

“Not sure what you’re talking about. I think all my friends are somewhere along the line of the sexuality spectrum.” He paused and bobbed his head back and forth. “Well, except for you.”

She glared at him.

… Oh. 

Shit.

“Oh, shit,” he said aloud, scooting towards her. “Shit. But you said—you said you date men.”

Alice cocked her head. “I believe my precise drunken words were that I mostly date men.”

Shit. Yeah. That was right. Shit.

“I’m—an asshole,” Eliot said, raising his eyebrows. He closed his eyes and shook his head. “Sorry.”

“Nothing terrifies my horrible mother more than me ending up in a monogamous heterosexual marriage,” Alice said. She smiled down into her wine. “But for better or worse, I’m definitely not straight.”

“I’m such a dick,” Eliot laughed, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his palms.

Alice glinted her bright blue eyes up at him. She was amused. “Magicians are generally much more open to broader sexual mores. My interest in women is tame compared to my parents’ polyamorous creature orgies.”

“Ah, yes,” Eliot chuckled, half-joking. “The mythic pansexual paradise.”

“I’d hardly call it that,” she said, with a sudden bitter laugh. “No matter what, your identity can fuck you up. More open societal spaces or not.”

He’d never heard her say fuck before. He liked it in her mouth. 

“My parents had me start working with a sex therapist when I was thirteen,” Alice continued, shuddering. “It was—anyway, I was already an awkward kid but that was when I buttoned up. Figured it would be the best way to stick it to them.”

Eliot shook his head. “Naturally.”

“They aren’t the best people,” Alice sighed. “I suppose my father tries, in his own way. But they both wanted me to be something bolder, something less rigid. So that’s why I started dating sweet boys, one at a time. You know, awkward fumbling at parties and study dates until it petered out. Closed my eyes and thought of Stephanie, angry about how I was limiting myself. Worked.”

“So hetero fuck buddies have been your—rebellion?” Eliot blinked and then let out a slow stream of whistling air. “Fascinating.”

“Not all of them,” Alice conceded, curling her knees up with a tiny smile. “But the day I come home with a thousand year old vampire on one arm, a sexy redhead on the other, and a Lamia rubbing their mouth into my cleavage? That's when Stephanie Quinn would finally declare she had a daughter.”

Eliot fell over laughing. Alice giggled into her hands, eyes alight with pleasure.

“That was funny,” he said, holding out his wine glass toward her. Game recognize game, as Bambi would say. “Cheers, doll.”

Alice’s face flickered in the firelight. Her eyes cast downward and she frowned, watery and wavering. She put her glass on the floor, not toasting him. Eliot was overwhelmed with the feeling he did something wrong.

“My brother used to call me that,” she said, laughing like it pained her. “Allie Doll. I hated it. I always told him I wasn’t an inanimate object. But now—now I’d give anything to—“

Eliot closed his eyes, and he imagined the flames caressing every inch of his skin. The warmth almost burned. They were so close. They were intoxicating. He wasn’t the best at grief. He could recognize it anywhere. That was as far as his skill on the subject matter went.

“I’ve been lonely, Eliot,” Alice said, placing her soft and small hands in her lap. She stared into the fire, the flames reflecting in the ice blue. “I’m so lonely. All the time. Even before South. Sometimes I can’t breathe.” 

Me too. It’s killing me. How the fuck do we get out of bed?

That’s what he wanted to say.

Instead, he said: “Oh. I—uh—oh.”

“And I’m so tired of people insisting that I’m any less smart or competent if I want to find love in my life,” Alice said, grabbing her wine glass and chugging it. The fire was within her now. “That I can’t be a powerful woman and also have a partner. As though I’m falling into a conventional trap instead of thinking for myself. It’s sexist garbage.”

Eliot couldn’t help himself. “I mean, it is conventional. By definition. But I think I understand your point.”

She frowned. “Is it so bad that I want it? Conventional or not?”

Eliot sighed. “I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that whatever you’re dealing with about your brother might be fueling all this?”

Her face shuttered. “That’s none of your business.”

So, yes. But also, fair enough.

“I don’t like airing my shit either,” Eliot said, stretching his legs long and out toward the brick of the fireplace. It glowed golden red and shadows told endless tales on the jagged ridges. “But you’ve reaffirmed your conviction and pointedly mentioned that you’re interested in women. Is there—are you interested in someone specific, Alice?”

He didn’t want to hear the answer. But he also needed to hear the answer.

“Kady Orloff-Diaz and I have been getting along well,” Alice said with a blush and there it fucking was. He had to give him credit—Q was picking up more social cues than usual. Or maybe Eliot had lost his touch. Either way, it was time.

He sipped on his wine and stared into the fire.

“What do you know about her?” He asked, keeping his voice even. Alice adjusted her glasses.

“She told me that she had a tough year last year,” she said and Eliot wanted to laugh. Kady’s year was fucking fine. “She also told me that you hate her.”

“I wouldn’t say hate.” Wasn’t strong enough. Alice didn’t need to know that though. “I don’t trust her, after everything that happened. Did she tell you what happened?”

“No,” Alice said, the word dropping low from her lips. It stretched slow and into a whisper. “She said it was in the past.”

Eliot rolled his ankles and stretched the balls of his feet out and in. Out and in. Out and in. He spoke with exact precision. He was a surgeon. He was an Impressionist. He was going to land the crashing plane with only one casualty.

“Last year, she was stealing materials from the school and passing them onto the leader of a Hedge Witch coven,” he said, starting slow. “From what I understand, the woman was someone who had been kicked out of Brakebills a few years prior and was on a scorched-earth campaign.”

Alice frowned deeper. “Oh. Why did Kady—?

“Your guess is as good as anyone’s. For kicks seems to be the prevailing theory.”

“That doesn’t sound like Kady,” Alice said with a wrinkle on her nose. “She’s very—she’s conscientious, once you get to know her.”

Eliot laughed, hollow. Get to know Kady. Fucking adorable.

“Well, Miss Conscientious even took sentient books from our library. Separated from their mates, from their home bases, from the climate control they needed. Tantamount to torture.”

Alice was a living and breathing PETA campaign, except that she liked bacon with her waffles. She and Margo had gotten into it over the cruelty of foie gras production one time. Eliot needed to get her where it hurt, early on. He didn’t need to tell her everything—wasn’t going to tell her everything. But she needed to get the picture.

“Wow. Okay. Wow,” Alice swallowed. She shook her head, like she was working through a logic puzzle. “But wouldn’t all that be grounds for expulsion?”

Eliot dipped his head back, exposing his long throat. “You’d think. But that wasn’t even the worst of it.”

As he continued the story, he made sure to keep his tone light and disaffected. He pulled out his flask and took a lingering sip. 

“She’d been up to her villainous shit all year, but she didn’t actually slip up until closer to the end of last semester. She was at the Cottage and she had all these goddamn books hidden away under some shitty cache spell. No finesse, just desperation.”

Alice was brimming to interject, but when Eliot wanted to, he could command any floor. She wouldn’t dare interrupt him.

“Anyway, we tried to stop her and she tried to claim she was returning them, which was bullshit,” Eliot spat out, with a grit of his teeth. “And then she—lost her shit and her goddamn mind, all at once.”

“What do you mean?” Alice asked. She was tiny, like a little girl finding out Santa wasn’t real.

“She wanted to have her cake and eat it too. Learn magic, but fuck up the system in the process,” Eliot clenched his jaw and ground the hatred down into particles. “But you can’t serve two masters. Once she realized we were planning on turning her over to Fogg, she was Ms. Brakebills 2016. Going on and on about how being here gave her meaning, gave her focus and strength, all kinds of manipulative horseshit.”

Eliot ran his fingers along the edge of his glass and swallowed a bitter pill. “But uh—some people fell for it. Wouldn’t let us bind her up to take her to the dean. Physically stopped us.”

Echoes of Why are you being so fucking stupid about this? rang in his ears. He drank.

“So that prolonged her presence in the house, which then—”

He closed his eyes. More for dramatic effect than an actual emotional response. He’d mostly numbed himself to this part with practice, but he needed it to land. He sighed and opened them again, peering at her with all the weight in the world.

Alice chewed on her lip and cocked her head. “What happened?”

“She let loose an energy surge,” Eliot said, rough and crackling like the fire. “It was the Hiroshima of Battle Magic inflections. The interior of the Cottage was destroyed, as bad as Cat 5 hurricane damage. It was a total fucking mess.”

Understatement of several millennia. But by the look of Alice’s wide and scandalized lashes fluttering all over the place, she had gotten the message. Her quickness on the uptake was a small blessing.

“I had no idea,” Alice said, still small and quiet. She wrung her hands together. “Was it voluntary?”

Eliot snorted, joyless smile stretching wide. “I don’t know. Personally, I think so. She was pissed. Different people have different theories though.”

“But why didn’t she get expelled?” Alice asked again. It was like her to be stuck on the result and not the journey.

Eliot slumped into the chair and airily waved his hand in the air. “From what I hear, Kady licked Fogg’s asshole into an inch of his life, splayed out over his desk like a starfish.”

Alice barked out a gasp. “She what?”

He pushed himself back up by his palms and cocked his head, smiling. He was so charmed by her.

“That was a joke, kitten,” he said, soft. She visibly relaxed. Remarkable. “I have no idea how she convinced Fogg to let her stay on, except that Brakebills is a fucked up place with inconsistent terms of service.”

“My goodness,” was all Alice said. She took a gulp of her wine, culling it. Eliot reached over and touched her knee.

“I’m not telling you what to do,” he said, gazing at her through his lashes. “But it would be wrong of me not to at least warn you. She’s dangerous. She’s fucking dangerous.”

Alice swallowed, her throat trembling. She took a sip of wine and didn’t say anything more. There wasn’t much to say. He understood. The quiet draped over them, still and velvety. It wasn’t exactly comfortable, but it had weight and thoughtfulness. It was pleasant.

That is, until a rustling and a brief crash broke through, behind them.

“Shit,” Quentin’s voice said and they both turned around, staring over the backs of their chairs. “Sorry, guys. I’m, uh, looking for a book? I thought it was in here but—it’s not. I must have misplaced it.”

“The Cottage is a mess, Quentin,” Alice said, the disappointed school marm. Deliciously, he went beet red.

“I know, sorry,” he said, scratching at his neck. “I was gonna—I’ll clean it up.”

“See that you do,” Eliot said, authoritative and narrowing his eyes. Quentin rolled his. He had no respect.

“Anyway, uh, sorry,” he said, arms up and shoulders scrunched to his ears. He shuffled in front of them and tripped over the rug. He shook his legs out one at a time and kept inching his way across the fireplace. “Shit. Sorry. I’m not here. Continue like I’m—like I’m not here.”

“We’re only drinking wine,” Alice said. But she also did not invite Q to join them. The omission wasn’t lost and he huffed a breath.

“Okay, um,” Quentin cleared his throat and saluted them. “Well, then. See you both. Later. See you both later and bye.”

“Bye, Quentin,” Eliot said, flat voiced. He received a brief glare for his efforts and then Q was gone, squirreling his way back to the main living room.

Alice’s eyes followed his bumbling across the top line of her black-and-rhinestone rimmed glasses.

“He’s odd,” she concluded, pouring herself more wine. She offered to Eliot and he happily accepted. But to her statement, he shrugged one shoulder up.

“Eh. He’s Q,” Eliot said. Then he smiled and shook his head. “So yes. Good eye.”

“You two are a bit of an odd couple,” Alice said, light. Eliot tensed.

“We’re not a couple.”

Alice cut a curious glance to him, with only her eyes. “I know. You’ve both made that clear. But how did you become friends?”

“He was the 2015 inductee into my Adopt-a-Nerd program.”

She laughed, “I actually believe that.”

“Margo started dating Julia about a year ago,” Eliot explained, more seriously. “Julia and Quentin are something of a package deal.”

Alice’s eyebrows shot up. “Really? He seems closer to you than her.”

“They’ve been best friends since they were kids,” Eliot said rather than agreeing that, well, yeah. He and Q went together more often than anyone these days. But that was a path no one wanted to follow, for too many reasons. His heart ached for Bambi.

Alice nodded, but pursed her lips. Her eyes cut back over at him, considering. Then she shrugged and took a deep gulp of wine, like she decided something. She tucked her legs under her giant skirt, surrounding her tiny torso like a fluffy petals.

“I know you’ve said you aren’t a couple. But—is there anything between you two?” Alice asked, blunt as fuck. “Because it seems like there might be.”

Eliot schooled his face. He gazed regally into the fire, a sardonic and disbelieving twist to his lips. “What on earth do you mean?”

“You’re always together and you’re very affectionate with one another,” Alice said, pinning him down with her ice blue eyes. “There’s a certain way you look at each other too. I can’t quantify that aspect, but it’s there nonetheless. All that, combined with the fact that you’re both interested in men? It seems like a logical conclusion.”

Eliot shot up, surprised. “How did you know that Q—?”

“He referenced an ex-boyfriend. Seemed like he wanted me to know,” she said with a shrug. Eliot rolled his eyes. Halitosis was not an ex. 

Alice must have noticed a shift in his demeanor. “Look, if this is a painful subject—”

He laughed, light. He adjusted his necklaces, busying his hands. “No, darling. It's not a subject at all.”

“Really?” Alice asked, unconvinced. 

“To give you credit, you’re right on most accounts. Q and I are close friends and spend a lot of our free time together. We’re both tactile people,” Eliot said, throat dry but voice clear. He sighed and swirled his wine, grand. “Sure, yes, there’s overlap in who we find attractive. But your logic doesn’t see itself through because—it’s not actually about logic. We’re friends and that’s all. Nothing more, but also nothing less.”

Eliot wasn’t lying to her. Facts were facts were facts. Still, he was excellent at putting on a convincing show. She looked at him for a moment longer and then nodded.

“Okay,” Alice said. It was like that was that. “I believe you.”

It seemed like she did. Remarkable. So different from his Bambi. He rested his head against the soft green leather and smiled, watching the sparks float up to the ceiling. He made them dance. 

But it appeared the conversation wasn’t wrapped up quite yet. Alice was still staring off where Quentin had been, eyes thoughtful and eyebrows clenched together.

“He loves magic. I can tell that much. His excitement radiates off him,” she said, quiet and almost to herself. “I haven’t decided if it’s admirable or terribly stupid.”

“Admirable,” Eliot said, without hesitation. “Quentin can be naive, but he’s never—he’s not stupid. It helps to be around. At least, it helps me remember that it’s not all shitty.”

She nodded slowly. Unconvinced. She drank more of her wine and let out a soft, nasal laugh.

“He reminds me of Charlie. More awkward, less sparkling. But there’s still—he’s still like Charlie,” Alice said, lip trembling. Eliot tilted his head, coaxing her for more detail. “My brother.“

“I’m sorry, Alice.” He was. He wasn’t sure for what exactly. But he was sorry. But she shook her head, though she were dispelling any softness from her soul. She straightened her shoulders back.

“Everyone has their shit.”

Eliot swallowed. “Cheers to that.”

Their glasses clinked, half-hearted.

She sighed, leaning back. Her lips lifted into a playful smile, the air filling with a dusting of glitter from her eyes.

“So,” she said, curling her knees into her chest. “Any other gay men in your Rolodex you want to try to set me up with? Or I could go on several dates with a Catholic Priest in plainclothes, who thinks he’s converting me?”

“Leave the sass to the professionals,” Eliot said, wry smirk over his glass. She giggled again. “I may retire as a matchmaker. Best to quit while you’re ahead.”

“Quentin was right. Mike’s riddles were stupid,” Alice said, as though that was the real issue. He laughed.

“Sure.”

“But even though it was terrible, you’re the most fun person I’ve ever met in my life. So it was at least worth the experience,” Alice said, eyes shining. The way she said fun was so different than Mike had. He felt a strange warmth overtake his chest and he swallowed. 

She was lovely.

He also had an idea.

Eliot ran the edge of his thumb nail against his lip and leveled Alice with an intense gaze. “No more matchmaking. But I have a—crazy thought, let’s say. Bit more my natural style. If you’re game.”

Alice laughed and twisted in her seat, almost a dance. “Okay. Sure. I’m trying to be more game. What is it?”

Eliot leaned forward, pressing his palms into his thighs. He smiled and asked the question, even though he already knew the answer.

“Have you ever been to Ibiza?”

 


  

tbc.