Brakebills University & Cala Jondal, Ibiza, Spain, November 2016
(Part Four of Our Fabulous Story, Entitled: Bambi Wants Everyone to Know That Her ‘Nick and Nora’ Reference is From The Thin Man Series, Not Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist)
(Alternate Title: Eliot Wants Everyone to Know That He Would Totally Fuck Michael Cera)
The Encanto Oculto Council of Elders required three things in a proper Regalo: Ingenuity, magical proficiency, and above all, concupiscence. Their word, not Eliot's. Obviously.
His first time, the Regalo had been a disappointment. As a newcomer, he wasn’t directly involved in the creation and the rube that led their cohort at the time went with a crass, insensitive version of boner pills. It caused quite the scandal, sparking deep offense among the Elders without either male or any genitalia. The only reason the Physical Kids were even allowed into the wards that year was because, on the spot and desperate, Eliot made a drink so perfect, Jesus wept. Hence, the birth of the Signature Cocktail.
Unfortunately, his second time, a certain amount of hubris caught up with him. He could admit now that his indisputable reign over Brakebills had gone to his head. Instead of treating the gift with the precious attention and detail it deserved, he was too clever. The Elders allowed them in because they understood the acidic irony in the working bag of dicks. But the disappointment in their eyes was clear. It was the first time in his life he felt compelled to better himself in the future.
And he did. Because finally, Eliot got it right for their third Encanto Oculto when they presented the Elders with…a Djinn.
Like, an actual Djinn.
Who granted wishes.
Anyway, it was perfect. It was a real fuckin’ Regalo.
Naturally, Eliot had needed to test out the Djinn first. For research purposes. So before giving him over to the Elders, he had updated his entire wardrobe. He also enjoyed some newfound masturbation techniques. He traveled to another world to swim in an ocean of nonaddictive champagne and opium. He received the answers to every exam for the rest of the year. And he totally—
“Yeah, uh, that all sounds unethical as shit. Remind me how it’s not just straight up slave labor?”
Mid-sentence, he paused and cut a glare over to Quentin, the rudest interrupter.
To the casual observer, Q was the picture of concentration. His hair was in need of a trim, so the long strands slid against his notebook page as his pencil scratched furious. He was doing Nature homework, the worst of the homeworks. But a tiny smile peeked its way out, like he trying he was being a little shithead in response to Eliot’s very interesting and informative story. First time Encanto attendees should lap up every tiny bit of detail they could glean, so he was obviously far too spoiled on the fruits of Eliot’s previous kindness. So he blew smoke in a perfect arch over Bambi’s head to smack him right in the face.
The clear message did nothing to deter him. Quentin smirked wider, far too amused for his own good, and rested his chin on his knee. “But seriously, isn’t that literally the plot of Aladdin?”
“Don’t say shit like that in Ibiza,” Margo said, affronted. She punctuated her message by smacking his thigh with her sharp fingernails. Quentin rolled his eyes.
“I mean, for the record, you two were the ones who badgered me into even going in the first place. You have no room to complain about any of my shit,” he said. He closed his notebook with a sigh and stretching his arms up toward the ceiling. “Jules was the one opposition vote. Still is.”
But Margo puckered her lips and shook her head, blinking rapidly. “Huh? Us? Want you to come to Encanto Oculto? ¿Qué? No me lo creo.”
Eliot cocked his head to the side. “That was a dream you had.”
“A wet dream.” Margo fluttered her lashes.
Quentin snorted. “You two should have a comedy revue in Vegas.”
“We’d be sold out every goddamn night,” Margo said, leaning back to snuggle onto Eliot’s lap and entwining their hands. With a contented sigh, he kissed the top of her head. She was right. They would be, and it could be wonderful.
Rubbing his chin along her hairline, he considered the logistics. Maybe they could drop out before graduation and skip the whole thesis nonsense altogether. Committed to the act and nothing else. Go full Gypsy Rose Lee, Vaudeville Supremes. Because, fuck, even the skeleton concept sounded worlds better than his current working title of The effect of telekinetic inducement on magical and physical properties of the nervous system, via the application of Wolfsbane and ethanol to—
Ugh. Goddamn. Eliot was so fucking bored. So Vegas it was. Decision made.
How do you like them egg rolls, Dean Fogg?
“But my point, Quentin,” Bambi said, giving Eliot’s hand a quick tap to bring him back to earth, “is that while you should definitely not listen to my overbearing girlfriend—”
“Thank you. Jesus. She’s, like, so fucking overbearing sometimes,” Q moaned out. His head fell back against the couch cushion and his legs splayed everywhere as if in catharsis. With a small snorting giggle, Margo stretched forward to fist bump him in solidarity. He returned it awkwardly, more like a brush of knuckles. It was an unnatural movement for him. He was cute.
Bambi settled against Eliot and tilted her head. “But Ibiza is the big leagues, kid. So my point is that—“
“Her point is that you’ll be fine, Q,” Eliot said, pinching Bambi’s arm hard. She elbowed backward into his gut in annoyance. He didn’t care. She was about to be a bitch. “Trust me, if Alice is going and will be fine, as I know she will be, then you'll be great.”
With that, he killed two birds with one swift sentence. He had officially told Quentin that Alice was coming and they could all move on. The end.
“Wait, Alice?” Q jolted upward, incredulous. He wasn’t sticking to the script. “As in Alice Quinn? What? Are—wait, are you serious?”
“Apparently,” Margo said, flat and unamused. He’d already been read the Riot Act twice from her. She could be so unreasonable. “Inex-fucking-plicable.”
Quentin’s eyes blinked wide like a doll. “She’s going to have a terrible time, El.”
Eliot rolled his eyes. “No, she’s going to have an amazing time because I will ensure she has an amazing time. That’s what I do, Q.”
“But why the fuck would you spend your last Brakebills Encanto worrying about that?” Margo’s head landed backwards against his chest with hard and purposeful force. “It’s going to take too much of your time and effort, sweetie.”
“I mean, yeah,” Quentin said with a frown. “That’s a valid question and point.”
“And we can’t yell at her to get in line like we can with this dummy,” Margo said, jutting her thumb toward Q. “She’ll cry. I’ve actually matured past making girls cry for sport, El.”
“Also fair,” Quentin agreed. But then he squinted and looked at Margo. “Though the last part is dubious. What about Lilah last week?”
“That cunt got what was coming to her,” Bambi waved her hand and scoffed. She refocused, fiery and firm. “But Alice is going to drag everyone down. So blah.”
“Uh, that’s not my concern,” Quentin said quickly. Margo rolled her eyes, stretching her hand up to look at her nail polish. “But I do think she doesn’t know what she’s getting into. She couldn’t, if she agreed to go.”
Eliot took a deep breath. He willed the defensive tension in his chest away. “You two are being a touch over-the-top in your concern.”
“But what’s there for her?” Q asked, pushing the point, as he did. “The binge drinking? The excessive drug use? The goddamn orgies?”
“To be fair, are you going to join the orgies, Q?” Margo asked, a laughing challenge. Quentin pulled an undeterred face.
“No, but I’m a true neutral so I don’t care about being around it,” he said, tapping his pencil against his knee. “But Alice? Alice is as lawful good as I’ve ever seen and—“
“Don’t. Say. Shit. Like. That. In. Ibiza.” Margo snapped her eyes shut and pointed at her head. “Migraine. Fuckin’ migraine, Coldwater.”
“Leave him alone, Bambi,” Eliot murmured into her hair. She flipped her head to glare at him and he kissed the tip of her nose.
“He’s our guest,” she said, not fucking around. “His inadequacies reflect on us.”
“No, he’s my guest. Your lustrous reputation will remain intact,” Eliot promised. He slipped his free hand through her hair, soothing and firm at once. He wasn’t fucking around either. “I’ll take the heat if it comes to that.”
Quentin slumped deeper into the couch cushions, almost disappearing. “Your confidence is overwhelming.”
“Again, you’ll be fine. I’m not worried,” Eliot said, stretching to ash his cigarette on the coffee table. He let it rest, plumes of smoke rising all around them. “There’s something for everyone. The festival bends to your desires. But you know Bambi here gets off on being bossy as shit.”
“I make it look good,” Margo said with a wide smile, ever unrepentant and resplendent. He loved her so. With a low laugh, Eliot bit at her cheek, a soft scrape of his teeth against the corner of her mouth. She giggled and batted him away.
When he glanced back up, Quentin was looking at them, softer than before. His big eyes glinted in warm amber light of the Cottage and his frown was gentle, like he was lost in thought. Eliot caught his eyes and tilted his head, questioning the expression. But Q just huffed a laugh and smiled. He looked down at his hands, and Eliot’s heart did a pathetic little flip in his chest.
But then Quentin scratched the space between his brows and lifted up his discerning gaze once again. “Seriously, though, are you sure bringing Alice is a good idea?
“I’m not chaining her up, Q,” Eliot said, the first pricks of annoyance forming in his gut. But then he smiled, upbeat and assured. “Unless she requests it, of course. Daddy’s more than happy to indulge.”
With a small Pfft sound, Quentin rolled his eyes again. “Jesus Christ.”
Eliot winked and licked his lips, but he still hoped his real meaning resonated. Alice was strong, sensible, and scary competent. Just because she was a bit green when it came to partying didn’t mean she needed someone to white knight her. Least of all Quentin, who wasn’t exactly old hat himself at doing lines of cocaine off a pixie’s dick himself. If Q was so certain he could handle Encanto Oculto, then he should extend the same courtesy to Alice.
So Eliot stated it simply, to drive the message home: “She’s an adult capable of her own decision making.”
“I know that,” Quentin said, in a tone that was on the placating side. He wasn’t fond of it. “But I’m not convinced you always recognize the power of your own… persuasiveness, let’s say.”
Considering the notion, Eliot rested one arm behind his head as Bambi purred into his lap. He smiled beatific at his conclusion. “I could be a cult leader.”
“Well, okay, maybe you do,” Quentin said, flat. He pulled his legs under his ass, sitting cross-legged. “But I’m serious, El. I mean, come on—“
The anger hit all at once.
What Alice did was none of Quentin's business. It wasn’t anyone’s business. If she wanted to follow Eliot to the ends of the world, if she wanted to drink his Kool-Aid, if she wanted to murder Gerald Ford for his interest? That would be her prerogative. She was a grown woman who had complete and full knowledge of what she was getting into. More or less. Enough.
Bitter words chipped at his teeth, fighting for release.
Quentin had no problem always presuming Eliot had reckless and selfish intentions. It was like it never occurred to him that maybe Eliot knew things about Alice that Quentin didn’t. That he had made a decision not from his own dumb party boy desires, but because he thought it would be something that could be fun or even good for her. That he was being careful and considerate. God, that he was trying.
“Can’t you just fucking trust me for once?” Eliot let out a strangled breath as the words fell out, rough and harsh. “Jesus Christ, Quentin.”
After a long and uncomfortable beat of silence, Q’s eyes shot wide open and he curled inward like a kicked puppy. He hugged his knees to his chest and his hair fell over his eyes.
“Trust you for once? El. I—” Quentin started to say, shaking his head. But he cut himself off and looked down. “Uh, yeah. Sorry. Of course. Sorry.”
Eliot licked his lips and bit at a piece of dry skin, tugging at it with his teeth. It ripped from the edge and the tiny wound pulsed and stung. He took a quick glance at Quentin, whose face was still dark and sad, but he had picked up his book again, now a picture of false concentration. Shit.
It was fine. It would blow over. All he had to do was say something clever and charming to smooth over the tension. But before he could, Bambi’s leg stretched out and kicked Quentin’s hand.
“Ow, Margo,” he said, voice tiny. She kicked him again until he looked up, moody and morose. “What?”
“Come here,” she said, patting at her stomach and lap. He rolled his eyes and his jaw tensed. He flipped a page.
“No. I’m working.”
“Come here,” Bambi insisted, patting all the harder. She hooked her foot into the crook of his elbow and pulled with her strong ankle. “Come here.”
He sighed and tried to resist her, a vain effort. “I need to get this done.”
“But I wanna play with your hair,” Bambi whined, finally leaning forward to pull him over with her hands. With performative reluctance, he sighed and rolled into her, resting his head in her lap.
The three of them were layered on top of each other, like nesting dolls. Eliot smiled down at the tops of their heads, kissing Margo’s once before leaning back into the coziest corner of the couch, chest quelling. Meanwhile, Margo’s hands dipped in and out of Quentin’s layered hair, twining the ends around her fingers like a cat’s cradle.
“You must condition a lot,” she said idly. Eliot’s fingers twitched at his side and he dug into Margo’s arm. He watched as Q’s lashes fluttered closed when Bambi started massaging his scalp. He cuddled fully into her and Margo let herself smile. It was almost a perfect moment, except that Eliot’s lower lip still tasted like blood.
“Are you braiding my hair?” Quentin looked up at Margo from under his folded and suspicious brow. Eliot remained silent, watching the two of them from above, resting the crook of his arm over his head.
“No,” Bambi lied, tugging several strands into a rather elaborate French twist. He looked so pretty. Eliot’s fingers ached, but he held back in a Herculean effort.
“So El, um, what’s the Regalo this year?” Quentin asked, angling his chin over and up so he could meet his eyes without leaving his coveted place on Margo’s lap. There was no hint of wet, cold kitten anywhere. “How are you going to do better than a Djinn?
It always blew over.
“They aren’t looking for something bigger every year,” Eliot said, stretching his neck back and forth. “It’s like a song. Dips and crescendos.”
“Which means you’re doing—what, exactly?” Quentin smirked, having caught onto the fact that he was stalling.
Eliot reached his arm down and flicked at his flannel covered shoulder. Then he let his arm rest there, hand caught between the couch cushion and Q’s forearm. The warmth of his soft shirt fabric tickled his knuckles.
“I’ll figure it out,” he said, all confidence. “I work best under pressure.”
“Do you wanna, like, brainstorm?” Quentin asked, all earnest. It made him laugh, genuine and loud. He was such a Boy Scout.
“Oh, Q,” he said, fondness swelling in his chest. “No offense, but do you take sex tips from virgins?”
The grump returned and he crossed his arms across his chest. Eliot’s fingers fell to rest around Q’s jean waistband and hip bone. His mouth went a little dry and his heart picked up its pace. But Quentin reached one arm up past Margo’s face to smack him near his collarbone.
“For the last time, I’m not a virgin.”
He was ridiculous. “That was a metaphor, you so-called lit major.”
“I’m just saying, I’m not a virgin.”
“Hm, but that’s exactly what a virgin would say,” Eliot said, slipping his thumb into Quentin’s empty belt loop, because he wanted to. “Wasn’t it Phil Collins who said, The lady doth protest too much?”
“Nah, I think that was Peter Gabriel,” Quentin said, surprisingly quick, eyes glinting under his lashes as he smiled. Eliot grinned right back.
“You two are so fucking weird,” Margo said, gathering Quentin’s hair into two sections. “Q, I’m gonna Princess Leia you, okay?”
“No, that’s dumb,” Quentin frowned in a weak protest. But Bambi kept up her work without comment and Q sighed, closing his eyes. “Whatever. Fine.”
Margo leaned forward and kissed him on the forehead. “I was gonna do what I wanted anyway.”
As Quentin's hair piled into two distinct buns and Bambi chattered on about whether she wanted to debut the blue or the green bikini at the first bacchanal, Eliot smiled and rested his eyes, a rare contentment blooming in his chest.
Eliot always exactly packed two pieces of luggage to Encanto Oculto. His bags were were vintage and boxy, dark green with a chestnut silk inlay and a distressed leather trim. They were gorgeous and vintage, requiring efficient packing, since the leather was too fine to withstand magic. They were his babies. He would take a bullet for them.
Every year, he slipped in folded colorful shirts and pants, and an array of swim briefs and robes. He also placed carefully selected special occasion suits and his many accessories were cradled in their own precious packaging. And of course, the coup de grace: All his curated sex toys and lube, warming and scented to perfection. Simple, to the point, and compact.
In contrast, Alice Quinn was bringing four different huge bubblegum pink bags, all categorized and labeled down to terrifying detail. They were all from Target.
She was frantic, biting her lip like a chew toy and fretting over whether she’d brought enough, if she had accounted for every possible scenario. She had even packed some actual Lycan shit, “in case of magical emergency.” He was only vaguely aware of the properties of creature shit, but as a general rule, they weren’t used in many people’s lifetime. But he certainly wasn’t going to say shit to those crazy eyes. He had some amount of self-preservation after all.
“But it doesn’t make sense,” Alice said, ever the multitasker and somehow fixated on a secondary vexation as she slammed her bag shut.
Beside her, Julia sighed and patted her hand. She was bringing a sensible selection of three black bags, filled with necessities and clothes. Because she was nothing if not sensible. All the fucking time.
“It’s a rabbit hole,” Julia said gently. “We’ve all been down it, to no avail.”
“But it doesn’t make sense,” Alice repeated, more vehement. “They’re third years, right?”
Julia sat primly on the couch. “Correct.”
“And Encanto Oculto coincides with Brakebills South every year?” Alice threw her arms across her chest, face stern and pensive.
“Did they repeat a semester at any point?”
Julia smiled, sliding her lower lip into her mouth. “No. They did not.”
Alice’s eyes glazed over, calculations flying across the pretty blue. “How often does Encanto Oculto occur per year?”
“Once,” Julia said, catching Eliot’s eyes. He winked.
“Okay.” Alice rubbed the bridge of her nose, two sharp lines between her eyebrows. “That means they would have missed it their first year, because they were in Antarctica. Which means last year should have been their first time.”
Reasonable and logical and wrong.
She stamped her foot down, hands flying in the air. “Yet they claim this is somehow their fourth time going? How—?”
“Magic,” Eliot said, lips popping off his flask. He was straddling a dining room chair, applauding Alice’s breakdown with glee.
“But what kind of magic?” Her voice was high-pitched and desperate. But then she pointed right at him and sunk into a dangerous lower register. “Don't you dare say Horomancy. That’s impossible.”
He smiled, bright and mischievous. “Just… magic.”
“But it doesn’t make sense, Eliot.”
At her hair-pulling yelp, Quentin popped his head around the corner. He had one overstuffed and lumpy army green duffel bag over his shoulder and apparently nothing else. But before Eliot could comment, Q blanched, lips sputtering.
“Jesus, are you talking about how the fuck they’ve been to this stupid festival so often?” He didn't wait for Alice’s nod to continue his favorite little rant. Eliot preened, smile lighting the sky. “Don’t bother. I—I have tortured myself for hours trying to figure that shit out. It’s my white whale.”
“So dramatic, Ishmael,” Eliot said, squaring his shoulders and sticking his tongue out.
Quentin shook his head, grabbing several spellbooks off the shelves, stuffing them without strategy into his already untidy luggage. Eliot pulled his flask to his lips and watched shamelessly as he squatted down to place his duffel bag on the floor. Ah. Yes. Three cheers for Quentin’s cute ass.
“Anyway, it haunts me,” Q said to Alice, getting back to the silly subject at hand. “But it’s also futile. I’ll never figure it out and god knows they’ll never tell me.”
“No,” Eliot said, solemn. He bit at his wrist with a hidden smile. “We won’t.”
“Maybe they’re lying,” Alice said, placing her own new tiny pink suitcase next to Quentin’s in the pile. “They seem like people who lie a lot.”
“Once again, correct,” Julia said with a grin. Eliot nodded happily in support and Alice gave him a tiny, cheeky smile back, with sparkling eyes. “But I’ve seen photos. Trust me, they’ve been.”
“For the record, all men, women, and pixies signed waivers consenting to the distribution of their image,” Margo said, descending the staircase like a goddamn queen. Eliot stood to bow and kissed her hand as she reached the final step and she twirled in his arms.
She clapped twice and two dull and unattractive second year boys rushed down the stairs. They held her enormous bags, all filled to the brim with lingerie and string bikinis. She was perfect.
“Does this mean we’re set and ready to go?” Julia asked, gliding in and cutting off Eliot’s grip around Margo. He frowned, but Bambi allowed it. “Since you’ve finally made your grand entrance?”
“Mmm, it’s not up to me,” Margo said, snapping her teeth at Julia’s lower lip. She ran her hands up and down her sides, pulling their hips together. “The portal appears when the portal appears, baby.”
“Well, that’s vague as shit,” Quentin grumbled in the background. Alice nodded at him in solidarity.
(Most nerds loved structured schedules. It made them feel secure amidst an unforgiving landscape.)
The whiny complaints were cut off at the head, when a vine of roses slowly started rising from the floor. And as the Cottage shook, the vibrations rushed straight to Eliot’s dick.
A warm heat pooled in the bottom of his stomach, like the crest of an approaching orgasm. He bit his lip to hold back a moan and rested his hand against the back of the chair he’d been sitting in, finding a semblance of balance. The roses bloomed into a full archway and a golden light shone bright amongst the lush petals. The heavy magic wafted through the room.
It was… a lot.
Still breathing hard and tingling with sensation, Eliot managed to glance about, delighted at the varied reactions. Julia was taking long and slow breaths in and out her mouth, gripping Margo’s hand and swallowing, over and over again. Bambi had actually orgasmed, legs trembling as she bit Julia’s shoulder. Alice crossed her legs and held her arms around her stomach. Her eyes stared straight ahead, unblinking. The tips of her cheeks flushed.
And Quentin sat down on the couch, panting heavily. His pecs were tight with pebbled nipples under his thin shirt, cheeks and neck lined in fire red stripes. His hands gripped at his knees and the tip of his tongue trailed along his cupid’s bow, eyes wide and blown out and holy god, he was delectable and Eliot wanted to ruin him and make him scream his name until his throat was raw and—
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
Weakness acknowledged and thrown in a garbage can.
Alice stood first, clearing her throat and smoothing down her skirt. She shook her shoulders in almost a shimmy and nodded, once. Twice. She cleared her throat.
“Okay then,” she said, voice surprisingly even, considering the adrenaline that was still pumping up and down Eliot’s spine. She let out a steady stream of air from her pursed lips. “Okay. That’s the portal then?”
“Sure is,” Bambi said, whisper-hoarse. She kissed up Julia’s neck with abandon and her girlfriend whimpered, keening. “It always makes the most fabulous entrance.”
“A little warning would have been nice,” Quentin said, strained and breathy and come the fuck on. He grabbed a throw pillow and threw it over his waist. “So do we just—like, walk through?”
“After we send our luggage,” Eliot said, tightening his grip against the chair. Q’s eyes fell on him for a second before they glazed inscrutable. He looked back down at his own hands, taking deep breaths.
The magic sucked the pile in through the vacuum and everyone was silent, willing equilibrium back into their trembling bodies.
“Hey, so, uh, you decide on a Regalo then?” Quentin asked, in a high-pitched voice, hugging the pillow all the tighter. Eliot nodded, head spinning.
“Uh-huh. It’s, ah—a spell that takes you to a pocket portal world and, uh,” he laughed a little, not wanting to test out his own regalo for the first time ever. Sometimes ignorance was bliss. “Uh, it lets you live out your greatest sexual fantasy.”
“That’s some VR shit,” Quentin said, groaning as he tilted his head back against the couch. Alice closed her eyes and pinched her lips. She kept fluttering her lashes open and glancing over at the lost-to-all-but-themselves Margo and Julia, then sighing and closing her eyes all the tighter.
“Yeah,” Eliot breathed out, sliding his hand up and down his outer thigh. He was craving touch. “Had to work with the Illusionist cohort, but it’ll be worth it. Pleased Elders, so to speak, lead to a better experience for all.”
Everyone murmured halfhearted acknowledgments as the tension increased. Eliot bit his lip and closed his eyes, warmth and pleasure curling all around him. It was relentless, without release. A sweet kind of torture.
But as the last luggage (one of Alice’s) was floated away, so went the charged atmosphere in the room. The air was crisp again and they could all breathe, their brains stabilizing in a flash. Julia and Margo burst out into cackling laughter, Eliot slumped onto the chair, and Quentin slammed his forehead onto his knees and shuddered. Alice stayed shock still.
“What the actual fuck was that?” Q asked, voice muffled and anguished.
“The Encanto experience,” Eliot said with an airy laugh, giving Alice a wink. Her eyes were still wide and unblinking. “Just a taste for you all.”
“Oh my god. This is a horrible mistake,” Quentin said, popping up and brushing his hair out of his face. Eliot rolled his eyes.
“Don’t be a prude,” he said, automatic. But at the same time, Julia pulled away from Margo and snorted, dipping backwards from her torso and twisting to stare straight at him.
“That’s what I’ve been telling you, Q.”
Quentin’s grumpy fire returned without a stutter. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but fuck off, Jules.”
Eliot grinned, feeling like his strongest self once again and always there for a Q-sassing-at-Julia session. He was unfettered and alive. He clapped his hands and stared around the room, taking in the final moments.
It was the last time he’d be taking the portal from Brakebills, which deserved some kind of acknowledgment. But, well, he didn’t want to think about it. And neither did Margo, by the way she was walking toward him, smiling wide and nodding toward the portal, fierce and stunning. Without even a single word, he knew she was right. It wasn’t the time for any bittersweet moping.
So he placed his hands on her bare shoulders and reeled her in for a sweet, closed mouthed kiss. She smooched his lips back and hugged him once, before pulling them forward. The roses crowned them in splendor and their toes and hands were bathed in a golden sheen, caressing.
“Ready, baby?” Margo whispered in his ear. He nuzzled her temple and nodded. They were ready.
But then the craziest thing happened.
Before they disappeared into the Ibizan sun, Julia, Quentin, and Alice tried to follow them through the portal. They walked right toward it, happy and spry and so full of hope. Honestly, it was actually really remarkable how confidently they walked toward it, as though they truly believed it was as much their portal as it was Eliot and Margo’s.
… Silly rabbits.
“Oh, no!” Margo squealed and fell over into Eliot. He laughed, loud and tilting his head back. Bambi’s eyes flowed with hysterics. “Oh, no. There’s been a miscommunication.”
Julia smiled a little and laughed, though she was unsure. Perfect Margo hadn’t prepped her one tiny bit. “Um, what? What do you mean?”
“What’s going on?” Quentin asked, harder and firmer. He was such a little cynic, my goodness. Eliot smiled wide at him, before his eyes traced back down to Margo. They laughed and laughed and laughed.
Meanwhile, Alice was still mute and taking deep breaths.
“My sweetest honey bunnies,” Margo said, pouty and delicious. “This is the portal for Eliot and me, only. I’m so sorry you didn’t realize.”
“Are you?” Julia asked, lips twitching.
Anger engulfed those dark brown eyes of hers so delightfully. She and Quentin exchanged an unamused glance that set Eliot and Margo off all over again. Alice started wringing her hands together, and clustered in closer to Julia.
(When Bambi looked down, he shot her a quick wink and she relaxed, slightly. But he did not extend the same courtesy to Julia or Quentin.)
Eliot spoke with authority, gravity, poise. “First-timers to the left.”
At his verbal cue, the three of them followed Bambi’s perfect finger flick. The snap landed on the shit covered Port-a-Potty portal that hadn’t been there even a moment earlier. It was rusty and creaking, and a horrific smell emanated off it, hot and burning in the nostrils.
They liked to have fun.
“Seriously?” Quentin‘s eyebrows dipped down over his eyes and he blew out a puff of air from his lips. Alice and Julia slammed their hands over their noses, gagging. In response, Margo giggled louder, and Eliot simply nodded at Quentin’s sharp and blazing stare, grave and ceremonious.
“Margo, come on,” Julia said, tapping her hands against her legs.
“Oh, I will, baby,” Bambi said, stepping forward and resting both her hands on her cheeks. She kissed her once, soft, and Julia melted into it, despite herself. Eliot glanced away, a sharp pain sticking in his side. “You will too. I promise. But until then, rules are rules, and you’ll be traveling with the sexless wonders.”
Before Julia could protest again, Margo surged up and kissed her, firm but a final answer. Eliot grabbed her arm and pulled her away, bowing grandly at Quentin and Alice, both still shellshocked.
“Au revoir,” he said, full of grace. He smiled at their blank faces. “See you kids on the other side.”
Margo wrapped her arm around his and stepped through the light first. Right before she pulled him in with her, Eliot glanced behind his back, catching Quentin’s eyes. They were lighter than before, sweet and almost smiling at him. He raised his eyebrows and waved, a small thing at his side. Eliot found he couldn’t quite breathe.
Alarm bells blared in his chest.
Before he could think about it more, a cool hand pulled him through the light. He stepped onto soft sand, sinking his leather shoes into a featherlight sparking electric current. Hands tugged at every article of clothing, stripping him down with caresses and mouths and nothing but sensation. He fell onto a pillow thick blanket, surrounded by writhing bodies and Margo’s perfect scent. She straddled him and kissed him once on the side of his mouth.
“Welcome back to Ibiza,” she whispered in his ear, before she rolled off him and someone else took her place, a perfect stranger with perfect abs and a crooked smile. Eliot closed his eyes and let the warmth overflow his ruinous thoughts.
Encanto was exactly what he needed.
The post-orgy glow had settled to a dim veil of light, and the wards opened full across the white sand beach. Cala Jondal was a secluded part of the Ibizan island, stunning and serene. It was Eliot’s favorite place on earth.
Shaped like a clam shell with pebbled beaches, the enclave was surrounded by jagged white cliffs and green pines. Above, an arching mountain sloped downward toward the greenblue sea, resting high and wide like queen’s crown. And during Encanto Oculto, the whole beach disappeared from earthly reality, floating in its own plane of existence.
Eliot slipped into silk pants and a robe, a wave of inexplicable ennui settling over him again like a velvet curtain. For a crazed moment, he didn’t want to be there. He wanted to be home. Wherever the fuck that was. But then it passed as it came. Like always.
Hundreds of Magicians came from all over the world to attend Encanto Oculto each year. The most interesting and beautiful, the heathens and the hellraisers. As he stretched into a floating white chair with a cigarette and a glass of absinthe with magical LSD, he stared upward. He let the smoke rise above him in circles. There was no real sense of time at Encanto Oculto, and the sky was art. At the moment, it was a painting of deep blues and burgundy, sparkling into clouds and stars. It was gentle and melancholy, soothing and sad.
Eliot let the drugs wash over him.
The edges of the world turned bright yellow and silver, and waves of heat shimmers rose from the ground. He could taste the drums blaring in the distance and he could feel the writhing dancers course across his skin. His legs were pins and needles, but he glided to the water’s edge. A boat sailed in, with fireworks above.
“There you fuckin’ are,” Margo’s voice came from his side and he tucked her under his arm. She was wearing her pink bikini and gold chain bodysuit from the previous year. What a sentimental old broad she was. She smiled up at him with more pupil than iris and rested her chin on his collarbone. “Missed you.”
“I love this place,” Eliot said, tilting his head onto hers. She smelled like lilacs and sugar and euphoria and rainbows. He pointed a long white finger ahead toward the shining vessel in the sea, and it giggled. It all giggled. “What’s happening out there?”
“Does it matter?” Bambi asked with a breathy sigh. It was a valid question.
So they stood with the growing crowd as the ship sailed closer and closer, and with it came loud music, eurotrash techno with live drums, pounding firm and steady. The boat jumped into the sky and landed on the shore, flattening into a golden stage with a long runway and a tiered podium.
Atop the highest point stood a handsome black man, dripping in white furs. He was bald and refined, at least thirty-five years old. He was symmetrical, from his cheekbones to his asscheeks, and he stood tall in both height and regality. His smile stretched across his face, broad as his shoulders and joyful in its worldly delight. He held his arms out as he spoke deep and resonant into the crowd, intoning a welcome chant in Spanish.
“Well, now, that is a strapping man if I’ve ever seen one,” Eliot said low into Margo’s ear. His eyes widened infinite times and he laughed, high-pitched. The man kept talking, rumbling like a light breaking through clouds. “I’m gonna fuck him.”
“He’s hot as shit,” Margo said, shrugging with far too much nonchalance considering the sight in front of them. Eliot watched how he moved. Like a dancer, like a fencing champion. His thighs were thick and sinewed, visible under tight white riding pants. His eyes were warm and gentle, and peered into the crowd like he was seeing each person, down to their souls. It was like enjoyed each of them. He was smooth and elegant, never angled and awkward.
“He’s perfect. He’s perfect,” Eliot said twice, with a hint of hysteria. He was perfect. The air tasted like sun beams and Skittles. The water was swirling the wrong way, but it was the right way at long last. “He’s exactly right.”
Nothing else had yet sated him, but someone like that would do the trick.
Margo hummed a beautiful tune and kept resting against him, swaying in the sultry and lemon meringue air. The man continued speaking to the crowd, words like Why not seize the pleasure at once? pouring out him with a grip of his large fist. He stood before them, impressive and at ease, and he sang other beautiful words of hedonism, lust, and indulgence.
“Who is he?” Eliot barely knew he’d breathed the words until an accented voice answered.
“He’s Idri. They call him The King,” the boy, named Stefan said, wrapping himself around Eliot from behind. His hands pressed into his chest, lips on his neck. Eliot pulled one hand lower still; it wasn’t a cuddle party. He got the picture, but kept talking to him and Bambi, their eyes never leaving the man in furs. He was surrounded by fire dancers now and booming a laugh into the crystalline sky.
“They say he’s from another world,” Stefan whispered, tightening his grip. Eliot bit his lip and Bambi pursed hers, staring down at the handiwork. Pun intended. She rolled her eyes, unimpressed. “They say he breathes magic, like air.”
“What the fuck else would he breathe?” Margo asked, patience lost with the Belgian. She grabbed Eliot’s arm and pulled him away from the very serviceable handjob to stalk off in the distance, huffy and majestic. She was lucky she was the most beautiful woman alive.
“I wanna go to him,” Eliot said, eyes drying in the air from refusing to blink. What if the man disappeared if he blinked? But Margo sighed, seemingly sober, somehow, and pulled him over to the flowered feast near the shoreline. The first-timer portal was buzzing and shining.
Oh. Right. Julia, Alice …and Quentin.
His heart sped up.
“Our little ones are about to arrive,” Margo said, holding his hand. She held out a tiny red bottle and shook the liquid inside. “Wanna restart?”
“Yeah,” Eliot said, nodding. He was nervous. Nervous and hallucinogens didn’t play well, so he drank it. Immediately, his body warmed and grounded, almost melting. Reality righted itself, but he remained tipsy and dancing and everything was perfect. In a lucky twist of fate, the mental clarity liquid took care of his pesky nerves too, right as the portal spat Julia out onto the ground.
For a moment, she laid there, face down in the sand. Pushing herself up into a plank, she wrenched her head up and spit out the sand, her lips vibrating in disgust. Then she jumped to her feet and brushed her hands down her dust-covered clothes. Her right eye twitched.
“Hey baby,” Margo said, smiling and sliding over in a figure-eight hip thrust. She let the metal of her bodysuit clink together as she went to wrap an arm around Julia. “I missed you.”
But Julia stepped away from her, finger in the air. “Ah, nope. No. You and I need to go have a discussion, Margo.”
Seemingly sober Bambi touched her hand to her chest and stared at Julia for a shocked moment. Then her eyes went wide and wet, and her lower lip trembled.
“Are you mad at me?” Margo whimpered out. The tears started flowing, hard and fast. “Oh my god. No. No, Julie. Please don’t be mad at me!”
“Shit,” Julia said, low. She wrapped her arm around the shaking and wailing Margo’s shoulders. “Shit. Honey, what are you on?” That made Margo cry harder and so she glanced over furiously toward Eliot. “What is she on?”
“Don’t know, but you have to fix that,” Eliot said in a singsong voice. “Or I will mur-der you.”
“Don’t be mad at me!” Bambi sobbed into her hands. “I’m sorry I did drugs!”
“I’m not mad at you, Margo,” Julia said, half-soothing and holding her tight. She glared at Eliot. “A little help?”
“Get her a red bottle. They’re everywhere, she’ll be fine,” he said, bored and stretching his arms out over his head. He looked back at the portal. Still nothing yet. “Q and Alice on their way or—?”
Julia laughed harsh, between pressing tender kisses to a sobbing Margo’s head. “Uh, yeah, you lost any right to act concerned the second the three of us dropped into that desert. See you later, asswipe.”
Margo spun around in Julia’s arms and gripped them, eyes wild and horrified and leaking. “Are you calling me an asswipe?”
“No, no,” Julia murmured, pulling her tight as they walked away, temple to temple. “I was calling Eliot the asswipe. I can always promise you that I’m always calling Eliot the asswipe, okay?”
Sniffling as they disappeared into the crowd, Bambi let out one more mournful cry before he lost sight of them altogether. For a few more moments, the portal was silent and Eliot felt the tiny rumbles of fear stirring in his gut. But then it buzzed and shone, and Quentin tumbled in, hair sticking up every which way and face coated in a hefty layer of dirt. He breathed in through his nose and searched around the beach, dazed, until his bloodshot eyes landed on Eliot.
His lip sneered and his eyes darted into poison, nostrils flaring like a bull.
Quentin held his hands up in the two fiercest middle fingers the world had ever seen. He conjured all the smoke from the tapestry adorned hookah den nearby him in an angry flash. The smoke swirled into tiny spirals, and they all turned into a hundred smoke hands, also all giving Eliot the finger. And in case that wasn’t clear enough, he also took the time to spell out FUCK YOU ELIOT above his head in crude and smoky sky writing.
He was adorable.
So Eliot smiled, mouth turned toward the dotted and shimmering sky. He beckoned Q toward him with his head. Reluctant, but without much other choice, Quentin stomped over and opened his mouth—
Just in time for for Eliot to cut him off with a series of tuts over his face and body, cleaning him up to his usual sweet and shiny state. Then he fixed his hair by hand because, well, he wanted to.
“There he is,” he said, smiling and tucking Quentin’s hair behind his ears. Q rolled his eyes and glared, yet still softening into something more teasingly mad like he couldn't help it.
“You owe me, like, a truck full of wine,” he said, mumbling rough and ragged. But his lips ticked upward.
“Think bigger, baby,” Eliot said with a laugh, wrapping his arm around him and kissing the top of his head. Fuck, his hair was soft. Fuck, he loved Encanto Oculto. But before Q could respond and Eliot could get lost in his voice and quiet wit and the playful glint in his big brown eyes and never want to leave, ever, ever, Alice scurried her way out of the portal too. She gulped, grabbing onto Eliot’s forearm.
“Alice,” he said, laughing. It was a relief. He ducked his eyes and pouted out his lower lip. “Are you angry with me too?”
“No, I get it,” she said, voice jittery, but eyes cool and roving around the beach. She seemed unimpressed. “Initiation rituals have been a part of our society’s cultural fabric since time immemorial.”
Q’s eyes popped out. “Are you appealing to tradition as a defense of hazing?”
“It’s not about what should be, Quentin,” Alice said with a shrug. She grabbed a tall drink off a diamond floating platter. The foam glittered and reflected the natural sky above the artists’ display. “It’s about what is. There are prices to entry.”
“But I mean, like,” Quentin frowned and slumped into Eliot, snaking his arm around his waist. Taking advantage of the proximity, he buried his nose in Q’s hair. He smelled like sweat and firewood and ugh, god, maybe this was a very, very bad idea. “Sometimes it should be about what should be, right?”
“If you want to live in a fairytale land,” Alice said with a shrug. Quentin frowned, brow rumpling.
“I mean, that’s kinda my whole thing—” he started to say, but Eliot pressed a single long finger to his lips.
“Let’s save the philosophizing for another, much more boring vacation, hm?” He said, smiling down at Quentin’s reluctant and huffy agreement. Eliot called over three shots that hung in the air. They were layered translucent white, green, and deep purple, in long and twisted hand-blown glass tubes. “You both made it, in one piece, after that nasty yet necessary simulation—”
“Simulation?” Q snapped his head toward him. “Are you fucking serious?”
“Of course it was a simulation,” Eliot said, disbelieving and more than a bit condescending. Silly, silly rabbit. “We wouldn’t put you in actual danger. This isn’t Brakebills.”
“Jesus. Fair enough,” Quentin said with a shake of his head. He watched the drinks dance and stared up at the sky. “Worth it, I guess. It’s beautiful here.”
“Mmm, and it’s only the beginning,” Eliot promised, twirling his drink high into the air and calling it back down. It looked like a shooting star. “Welcome to Encanto Oculto. Age, I do abhor thee. Youth, I do adore thee.”
“Hey,” Quentin said, before chuckling low. “That’s my favorite Rod Stewart quote.”
Eliot’s heart skipped as he turned to look at him, surprised. His face was in serious lines, except for twinkling eyes. For a second, Eliot saw nothing else.
Alice rolled her eyes. “No, that’s from a Shakespeare sonnet.”
Quentin smiled and looked at Eliot before glancing away, amusement breaking through his voice. “Thanks, Alice.”
Okay. Fuck. Maybe it was a really bad idea to bring Q to Encanto Oculto.
He swallowed around a tight lump in his throat and adjusted the tie of his robe. That way, it slung justso across his hips, projecting cool and power and poise. He raked a hand through his curls, disheveling them with purpose. He was the Prince of Brakebills. He was the Regalo Architect. He was Eliot Waugh.
Weakness destroyed via arson.
Eliot cleared his throat and plucked his drink out of the humid air. It bubbled at his touch and he smiled, wicked and beguiling at his two little nerds.
“Bottom’s up,” he said, downing it at once. Alice followed, eyes wide and delighted at the bubbling effect and proving herself as game as she promised. But Quentin held it between his fingers, rolling it back and forth.
“Um, what’s exactly in—?” His voice was low and he looked up at Eliot with those endless, swallow-you-alive eyes.
“Don’t worry,” Eliot said, giving Q’s hair a soft pet. He smiled at him, a reassurance. He forced himself not to break eye contact, even as every nerve ending in his body screamed Run run fucking run at the warmth that rushed through him. “Anything I give you is pre-certified Quentin-friendly.”
“Yeah, but—” He started to say, his eyes dropping down, and Eliot took a step toward him.
“You’re my guest, Q,” he said, touching his shoulder. He gave him a half-grin when those eyes tilted back up, gentle. “I’ll take care of you, okay?”
Quentin gave him a strange look at that. He wasn’t quite smiling or frowning as his eyes narrowed and his head cocked to the side. It was more like he was… searching. But whether he found anything of interest was up to someone else to determine. Because then he laughed and poured the drink down his throat.
“Well, in that case, then, uh, cheers, guys,” he said, holding the empty tube high into the sky.
It refilled. And with it, the night began.
The next morning, with a Tinto de verano in one hand and a Vogue Hommes in the other, Eliot was in near bliss.
The sun warmed him from bare chest to swim briefs to bare toes as he sat poolside. It was serene and lovely, the one place at Encanto that allowed natural light, with no magic. Their large cabana was luxurious, and gorgeous Magicians in various states of undress frolicked about the water in front of them. Really, the only thing better would have been a cute boy giving him a foot massage, but Q had assumed he was joking when he asked.
The five of them sat in a quiet row. Alice was working on her Poppers and nursing a mudslide on the far end of Margo, who was sunbathing. Julia was eating spicy chicken wings for some goddamn reason and Quentin, of course, read Fillory for the thousandth time. And Eliot flipped through the pages of his magazine, almost meditative, as he considered the model’s faces with passing interest.
His brain baked and heat danced on his cheeks under his lucite sunglasses. It almost lulled him to sleep until he heard the telltale crackle of Pyromancy and the twirling scent of fresh tobacco smoke wafting his way. He rolled his head toward Quentin and snapped his fingers at him softly, until the sound was replaced by his own lit cigarette. Good boy.
Julia kicked Quentin’s ankle with a grin. “I thought you quit.”
Quentin shrugged and ashed into the tray next to him before bringing the cigarette to his rounded mouth. “That’s a relative term. I’m on vacation.”
“Not judging,” Julia said, stretching her legs. She put her disgusting bird carcass bones to the side. “Margo’s being good and I was being good in solidarity. But now I’m questioning my instincts.”
Bambi yawned and stretched her jaw. “Smoking gives you wrinkles and makes you smell bad.”
Alice frowned and paused her hands delicate in the air. “It’s also the leading cause of respiratory disease and presents a major public health risk.”
“I will never get wrinkles, bitch,” Eliot said, ignoring Alice altogether and pointing at Margo with his cigarette. “And I always smell incredible.”
“I’m talking about lesser mortals, El,” Bambi said, gracefully moving a silk hand fan in from nose to lip. “For instance, Quentin here can’t really afford to be a smoker. He’s already going to be combating major frown lines as it is. No offense, Q.”
“Offense,” Quentin said, lazy and sleepy. He tucked his book into his side and yawned. Placing his cigarette between his lips so it dangled, he shifted on the lavish lounger. He stretched his arms over his head so the lines of his bare chest pulled upward. Humming to himself, he scratched at the smattering of dark brown chest hair around his pecs. And as he settled deeper into the cushions, his loose hair mussed in several different directions, the ends grazing the rounds of his sunburned shoulders.
Eliot’s lips twitched and he poured his drink down his throat. He let the glass rest on the side table with a clang, the ice clinking agitated in the forceful motion. Margo gave him a slow smirk before snapping her sunglasses onto the top of her head to reveal her mischievous eyes.
“On that note, it’s margarita time,” Bambi said, reaching her arm over to the blonde next to her. She patted her thigh twice. “Alice, go get me one.”
“Excuse me?” Alice said, looking up from her diligent sunscreen application. It had been exactly forty minutes since she’d last slathered herself in the white paste. Of course, that was the recommended time span on the bottle. Really, she was cutting it a bit close. She should have gone with thirty-five minute intervals, to be safe.
Margo snapped her fingers twice.
“You’re nearest to the bar,” she said, both inaccurate and impatient. “Extra salt on the rim. Extra shot of Añejo. Fresh lime juice. No sweet and sour mix. Never sweet and sour mix. I will cut off a random dick if I get sweet and sour mix. Got it?”
“Maybe. What’s Añejo?” Alice asked. Quentin sighed and sat up.
“I’ll go,” he said, putting out his cigarette and throwing his hair into a messy bun. “I need to piss anyway. What does everyone else want?”
“I want a Sex on the Beach,” Julia threw her hand in the air, with a delighted grin. Quentin glared at her.
“He’s right. They’re sweet as shit,” Margo said, scrunching her nose. “Ew. You’re embarrassing.”
“But it means Q has to say he wants a Sex on the Beach. Out loud. To a human person.” Julia’s grin grew and grew. “It’ll take him ten minutes to order it. Guaranteed.”
“You’re my dream girl,” Margo said, blunt. Julia scrunched her nose and giggled. Quentin sighed and pushed a stubborn strand of hair out of his face.
“Yeah, fine, whatever. Would anyone else like anything?” He sniffed and shot Eliot a quick and inexplicable look before turning away. “And by anyone, I mean, Alice?”
She glanced up at him, though she continued working through her tuts now that her sun protection was intact. “I’ll take a club soda on ice with lemon, please. But only if it’s not too much trouble.”
Quentin shook his head, wry. “It’s not. I promise.”
And Alice smiled at him, a warm and shy and tiny thing. “Thanks, Q.”
Eliot’s stomach bottomed out with a rush of cold, though he’d jumped into the pool without warning. He blinked and his mouth fell open, his chest punched inward.
Since the fuck when was he “Q?”
He had always been Quentin to Alice.
He was supposed to be Quentin to Alice.
Eliot took a long gulp of water from his chilled Pellegrino and he took a releasing breath upon his swallow. He closed his eyes under his sunglasses.
It was fine, he reminded himself. First of all, lots of people called Quentin “Q.” Eliot called Quentin “Q” almost exclusively sometimes. It was his most common nickname.
Second of all, because it was his most common nickname, it wasn’t a… it wasn’t like a pet name or anything so sentimental or meaningful. It meant nothing.
Because not everyone was so precious about what they were called, right? Just because Eliot hated when unfamiliars called him El didn’t mean that Q felt the same way. And—and Quentin and Alice were kind of (?) friends now, so it made sense that she would evolve to calling him Q, like all his friends did.
Which led him to the fucking third of all, which was that Eliot really, really liked when his friends got along. Quentin getting along with Alice was no different than him getting along with Margo, and so Eliot fucking liked it. He liked it. He really liked it.
Why the fuck wouldn’t he?
“Well, if that’s all then,” Quentin said quickly, throwing his sunglasses on top of his head, “I’ll go over to the bar and—”
The priority of the moment shifted. Eliot sat up straight and shook his glass. The melting ice made a tiny tinkling sound, the sweet high notes of a piano.
“Perdón, I’m dry too, mister," he said, patiently. I’ll take a—”
“Nope,” Quentin said, cutting him off. His hands flew everywhere and his jaw rippled like water over rocks. “Nope. Nope. I’m not memorizing your complicated bullshit. You can order your own.”
Eliot popped his mouth open and laughed, soundless. Genuinely, all he was going to order was a negroni, a common cocktail, perfect for a hot Mediterranean day. Bitter and chilled and luscious, as he preferred.
But now? Oh.
He pursed his lips and ticked his head to the side. “Well, if you wrote down what I want like I always suggest, then—”
“If you want a drink, you’re coming with me and ordering your own shit.”
He sighed, very put out by Quentin’s insolence and vulgarity. “All I want is a frozen highball glass with one ounce gin, one ounce bourbon, half tablespoon honey, half ounce lime juice, a teaspoon and a quarter of grated fresh ginger, lemon zest, and egg white, shaken together for approximately—”
“Oh my god, Eliot.”
“It’s rude to interrupt. Shaken together for approximately forty-five seconds—”
“Again, if you wrote it down, it wouldn’t be that difficult,” he said with a patronizing click of his tongue. Quentin remained unamused. “As I was saying, shaken together for approximately forty-five seconds and poured over shaved ice, garnished with two thinly sliced cucumber rounds in the shape of a flower, if you know what I mean, wink-wink, and—”
Frustrated, Quentin blew air into his cheeks, puffing them out like a fish, and crossed his arms over his hot little unfair goddamn body. He made it way too easy.
“You’re the most ridiculous person alive,” Q said, pulling his aviators over his eyes. They slipped down his nose.
“Sure,” Eliot said, before grinning wide. “Hey, unrelated, but is that a Fillory branded swimsuit?”
There was a small golden Ember’s seal next to the pocket, almost obscured. The fact that Eliot could recognize Ember’s seal on sight wasn’t important. What was important was that Quentin’s whole body flushed red down to the elastic edge of those very swim trunks.
Thank you, weird British eBay specialty goods seller, for your noble service.
“That’s not—I’ve had these for a long time—“ Quentin stammered and Eliot smiled and smiled, blowing smoke in his face. Q huffed. “But my ridiculousness doesn’t negate your ridiculousness.”
“Au contraire, sweet baby Q,” Eliot said, holding his cigarette in one hand and rolling his lip between his teeth. “My so-called ridiculousness is more like... stylish eccentricity, whereas you, my dearest yet most hapless friend, are—“
“Excusez-moi, Nick and Nora?” Margo cut them off, fluttering her vicious eyelashes. Her middle finger pressed hard against the arch of her eyebrow. “I’m losing wood and my ideal BAC level. Shut the fuck up and go get my goddamn drink.”
Quentin blushed again and cleared his throat, chastened. “Sorry, Margo. I'll head out now. Sorry.”
This reaction pleased the queen. She smiled brightly and stretched her long leg out and kicked the back of his knees. “Your ass looks great in those trunks, Coldwater.”
Unable to resist Bambi’s charm, he kicked her back with a disbelieving grin and a clear eye roll that reached up to the sky. They were cute. He could watch them be cute at each other all day, every day, for the rest of his life. Maybe Q could be their manager in Vegas.
But then Quentin broke the spell by sighing and turning to Eliot. “Seriously though, if you want a drink, you’re coming with me.”
He stuck out his tongue, but nonetheless slid his way out of his comfortable chair. He put out his barely smoked cigarette, tutted out a fix to tighten Quentin’s aviators because it was annoying as shit to watch the minor mender ignore it, and wrapped his white and gold-embroidered robe around his shoulders. He was so long-suffering, it was absurd. But with a final tussle of his curls, he smiled at Quentin, who pinched his face at his attire.
“How the fuck are you overdressed even at the pool?”
“Overdressed is a nonsense term,” Eliot said as he stretched his arms wide. He landed one around his friend, walking them toward the glittering bar in the distance, as Quentin kept muttering about how he didn't realize there was a dress code and how he should have brought his designer flip-flops and other grumpy nonsense.
He was such a brat. It was great.
Of course, Quentin made Eliot order all the drinks.
As soon as they reached the bar, he turned to him and said, “So, uh, you remember what everyone wanted, right? Because I really have to pee and you’re, like, so much better at this than me anyway, so gonna go, bye.”
Then he backed away from Eliot’s protests with a series of pew-pew-pew sounds and finger guns, as one did. It was ridiculous. He was ridiculous. His ridiculousness absolutely negated Eliot’s ridiculousness.
And Eliot was absolutely not smiling to himself like an idiot after the order was put in and he stood at the bar, scrolling mindless through his phone. And he definitely was not still smiling to himself like a goddamn idiot when the sound of trotting hooves announced themselves, surreal and regal.
A chestnut horse whinnied and every eye turned in awe. Astride the Friesien was Idri, the King of Encanto Oculto.
Idri slowed the stallion to a walk, and patted his side until he stopped right beside Eliot. He let out a deep sigh and wound himself off the horse, landing with grace beside the bar. The collective held breath released and the world spun back on its usual axis. The man dusted off his tight pants and smiled over his beautiful, defined, shirtless chest.
Eliot’s smile turned from an idiot’s to a predator’s.
He positioned himself so that Idri wouldn’t be able to help but notice him, and it worked in an instant. Catching Eliot’s gaze with a small smile, Idri bowed and laughed. With a snap of his fingers, the horse disappeared, to wherever magic horses lived.
“Pardon me,” Idri said, standing back at his full height. His eyes trailed up and down Eliot’s robe and bare chest. He licked his lips. “I should assure you that I’m aware how of how absurd that was. The Elders like their pomp and circumstance, on occasion”
“A horse walks into a bar,” Eliot said, flicking his eyes upward in mock-thought. “With such iconic imagery, how could I find it absurd?”
“I’ll take your teasing in the light-hearted manner I’m sure it's meant,” Idri said, smile broadening and Eliot clicked his tongue.
“Always, sire,” he said, inclining his head. Idri laughed, loud and cheerful.
“My reputation precedes me once again, I see,” he said before heheld out his hand. Eliot took it, sliding their fingers together, slowly. Their eyes met. “I’m Idri, Elder liaison.”
“Eliot, Regalo Architect and Brakebills third year,” he said, taking a single step closer. So Idri could hear him, of course. “May I order you a drink? I’m esteemed for my mixology knowledge.”
“By all means,” Idri said, with a sweep of his large hand. “I prefer a strong, sturdy libation myself.”
“A man after my own heart,” Eliot said, thumping his chest once. He twisted around and leaned sultry along the glowing counter. The bartender was at immediate attention. “A Boulevardier for the gentleman, if you will. With Pappy’s, Dolin Rouge, and the charmed orange oil.”
“Now, this is why Encanto Oculto is such a special event,” Idri said, sliding into the space right next to Eliot. His shoulder brushed his, highlighting that they were the exact same height. Not ideal, but workable. “You meet the most interesting people.”
Eliot smiled and handed him his drink, which came up in record time. Perks of royalty, he supposed. “You’re being modest, your grace. After all, the rumor mill says you’re a visitor from another world.”
He meant it as a joke, but Idri paused over the rim of his glass. His deep brown eyes glinted and he pursed his lips. He pressed his hand over Eliot’s and stared at him, fervent and secretive.
“That’s because the rumors are true,” he said, gravelly. Eliot’s eyebrows shot up. “I am from another world.”
“Oh,” Eliot said, surprise stuttering in his chest. Huh. Magic had tricks up its sleeve yet.
“I’m from a corner of the multiverse the likes of which none here have ever seen.” Idri dipped his head low, speaking in a hushed tone. Eliot’s heart sped up, intrigued. “A land strange and unfamiliar, a land cloaked in magic and mystery, a land that is incomprehensible to the human mind.”
He looked back and forth to check for spies before he beckoned Eliot closer with his finger, hooking in. Bated breath, he stepped toward him, until he could feel his breath on his neck.
Idri whispered in his ear, “A land called—Cincinnati.”
It had been a long time since a stranger’s flirting had yielded a genuine laugh out of him. But that actually did it.
“Cheers,” Eliot said, finally getting his own drink from the bartender and clinking their glasses. Piled in front of him, Julia's tacky drink sat beside Alice's water, which sat beside Bambi's margarita and Q's dark and stormy. But he couldn't bring himself to care much about that, not with Idri’s smile so warm and friendly on him. His attention and obvious interest felt good. Really good.
Eliot grinned, thinking of the boring gray of Ohio contrasted with the sparkle of the man in front of him. “I’m sure you bring it much needed panache.”
“Quite the opposite,” Idri insisted. He took a sip of his cocktail and leveled Eliot with an intense look. Then he brought his fingers to his lips in a chef’s kiss and rested his hand against his heart. A silent compliment that reached Eliot's toes. “After all, they don’t call it Cinci-naughty for nothing.”
“Emphasis on sin,” Eliot said, missing no beats. Idri laughed, a booming sound.
“Beautiful and clever is a rare combination,” he said, bright white teeth gleaming against the blue and purple jeweled awning. A sparkling jolt zinged through Eliot’s spine and he stood taller.
“Like knows like,” Eliot said, trailing his eyes up and down Idri. He received a lazy, charged half smile for his effort. Fuck yes.
But his victory lap, so to speak, was cut off by a loud guttural sound, a throat clearing behind him. Eliot glanced over his shoulder to see Q standing with his arms crossed and face scrunched. He tapped his foot impatiently. When their eyes met, he widened his lips into a large, false smile. Ever the charmer.
“Ah, yes. Idri,” Eliot said, slowly and stretching the name out. He looked back and forth between the two men. “This is my friend, Quentin. Quentin, Idri.”
“Nice to meet you, Quentin,” Idri said, inclining his head and stretching out his long arm and large hand. Quentin’s brow wrinkled for a second, but he accepted the handshake.
“Uh, yeah. Hey,” he said, before quickly letting go and running his hand through his hair. He looked at Eliot. “Are the drinks up?”
“Right there, but I need a couple minutes,” Eliot said, pointing at the sweating glasses. Quentin sucked his cheeks between his teeth, like a fish. He drummed his fingers over his crossed arms. Idri smiled.
“Are you at Brakebills as well, Quentin?” He asked, leaning against the counter on one elbow. He nursed his drink, sipping it like it was a precious ambrosia.
Quentin slid his eyes over to Idri and nodded once. “Yup.”
“Q’s a second year,” Eliot filled in, showing him how the fuck you were actually supposed to do this. “We’re both Physical Kids. I’m a kinetic and he’s in the mending discipline.”
“I was an Illusion Kid myself,” Idri said, twisting his hand to bring up a fast spinning constellations, to prove the point. “Large-Scale Projections.”
“Ah, that tracks,” Eliot said, sweeping his hand around to indicate the splendor around them. Idri bowed a little. Quentin craned his neck to see what the bartender was doing.
“I envy you both,” Idri said, trying to catch Quentin’s eye to no avail. “My days at Brakebills were some of the best of my life.
“Uh, so that must have been awhile ago then, right? Like, awhile ago,” Quentin said, having apparently found his voice. He shouldn’t have.
Idri responded with far more grace than deserved. “I graduated in the late nineties.”
“So now, what do you do? Are you one of the Elders or—?” Q asked. One of his eyebrows lifted upward as he said it, his not-so-hidden meaning stark. Eliot cut Quentin off with a loud laugh and gripped at his forearm.
“Quentin’s not actually a rude person,” Eliot said with a tight smile. He also kicked his ankle for good measure and relished the tiny Ow as he did. “He just plays one on TV.”
“It’s fine, Eliot,” Idri said, so very poised. Unlike someone. “To answer your question, Quentin, I’m actually a liaison to the Elders. Most of my job is coordinating the ins and outs of the festival’s logistics. I organize all the artists, the musical acts, varying illusions, et cetera. You name it, I’ve lost sleep over it.”
“Cool,” Quentin said, low and monotone.
Then he swallowed and averted his eyes. Eliot gripped his forearm hard again to grab his attention and shot him a dark look. Something frustrated and undefinable passed over Q’s eyes and he set his jaw. But then he cleared his throat and stuck his hands in his swim trunk pockets, softening.
“Um, that sounds like interesting work,” Quentin said, still staring down at his feet. But at least it was slightly better.
“It does sound like you have an exciting career,” Eliot said, turning back to Idri. He was surprised how much he meant it. “How does one even get into that?”
“Well, it’d be against the spirit of Encanto to talk shop at the pool bar,” Idri said with a wide grin. Before Eliot could stop him, he tipped the bartender on their behalf with a wink. Quentin suppressed an eye roll, because he was some kind of alien that didn't recognize kind gestures.
“But I’d be happy to chat with you about it in a more intimate setting,” Idri said, smiling and looking Eliot right in the eye. "Over dinner one night while we’re here?”
His insides coiled with pleasure. “Absolutely.”
Quentin crossed his arms and tapped his foot. “The ice is going to melt in these drinks, El.”
“There’s a fucking cooling charm on them, Q,” Eliot said out the side of his still-smiling mouth. Jesus, could he not give him five seconds?
“But everyone’s waiting—”
“And I will never keep revelers waiting,” Idri said, clasping Eliot’s shoulder under his warm hand and handing him a small slip of paper in the same movement. He glanced down—it was his phone number. Victory rushed through him all over again. Idri smiled, wide and bowing. “Enjoy the rest of your day, gentlemen. Please let me know if I can be of any service."
With another incline of his head, he brought his lips to Eliot’s ear and smiled. “I especially hope to hear from you soon.”
“Bye,” Quentin said, harsh tone of voice not yielding. But when Idri looked up at him with happy eyes, he softened and shifted on his feet. “Um, I mean. Hope you have a good day too.”
With a final squeeze of Eliot's shoulder and a last lingering look, Idri was gone. Quentin cleared his throat, grabbed one of the plentiful ice waters, and took a long sip. With a releasing Ah sound, he craned his neck to stare off after the departed Idri and snorted.
“That guy's a tool,” Q said, rolling his eyes.
“What the hell is your problem?” Eliot snapped. At the same time, he separated the drinks out so they could gather them in their hands. He was too irritated to float them. One might find itself dumped over Quentin’s head.
“He just seems like a tool,” Q said with a shrug. “I mean, Jesus, if I’m even talking about Encanto Oculto when I’m his age? Fucking kill me.”
Eliot's jaw clenched.
Because Quentin was so much more evolved than the all silly people with their silly parties. Because only a frivolous idiot would be interested in that kind of bullshit. Because only morons liked social events and people and pretty lights over philosophy or literature or quantum metaphysical magic theory. Because someone like Idri—a dumb asshole who only cared about aesthetics and cocktails—wasn’t mature enough or interesting enough or good enough for the moody and book smart enigma of Quentin fucking Coldwater.
Eliot’s face was pinprick hot and he elbowed his way back toward the girls, while Quentin walked a few feet ahead. A storm cloud formed in his chest, wrapping his ribcage in a vice. He swallowed, and swallowed, heart pounding out his sternum and eyes burning.
“Oh, and by the way?” Quentin said, turning around and walking backwards. Eliot almost snarled something truly vicious at him. But with a shit-eating grin and a loud hissing whisper, Q pointed a free finger to the space behind them, where Idri had been. “Beefcake.”
Eliot rolled his dark eyes with a scowl, signaling all his frustration in a single sharp glare. He wasn’t going to give him an inch. He didn't deserve it. So it was only when Q shrugged and turned back ahead that Eliot took the opportunity to let his traitorous, unhelpful smile slip loose. It really was hard to stay annoyed at him for long.
And his ass really did look great in those trunks.
SMS with “ Q (cute face w long hair + flannel) ”
11/12/16 4:12 PM
Where are you
no punctuation what have you become
Where are you, asshole?
Boat leaves in 30
Margo’s phone is dead but she says, and I quote,
“[She’ll] rip [your] perfect dick off if [you] [make her] late.”
you fucking dweeb
is this the new york times?
off the record: it is perfect
Seriously, where are you?
scratch that: on the record
publish it, mr. editor
She’s really mad
oh tell her to ice her twat
get her nips licked
& calm the fuck down
Yeah, I’ll say that
be there in 5
So we should leave without you, right?
oui oui, ami
NOPE GET THE FUCK OVER HERE
Say goodbye to the rando cock, dickbag
Sweetie if you aren’t here in ten mins?
I will BURN all your beautiful clothes
They will call it “A Song of Paisley and Fire”
TRY ME A S S H O L E
jesus christ fine
Margo grabbed my phone
whatever you say, liar
Four hours later, Eliot had definitely missed the boat to travel to the outer island for the banquet feast, but the hook ups had been worth it. God bless Encanto Oculto.
Even better, in a minor miracle, Margo was all bluster for once and his wardrobe was intact. Not that he had been genuinely worried, but he had been genuinely worried. So after Huey, Dewey, and Louie finally left, Eliot tugged on a too-tight white polo and buttoned his floral pants. He tutted out a few flame resistant spells on his remaining clothes (to be on the safe side), and then stepped out into the communal area of the house. He was ready to dazzle.
It was almost time for the first big blow out of Encanto, a raver-style club party-slash-literal bacchanal, across the whole beach. It wasn’t actually his style; he preferred his debauchery candlelit and sweaty. But it was crucial to see and be seen early on, to establish yourself as a worthy participant. So he wouldn’t miss it for the world, and neither would his friends under his tutelage.
Speaking of, his mood brightened at the sight of Miss Alice Quinn. She sat alone in the center of a giant magenta couch (?) and was enjoying a bowl of Lucky Charms. She was already dressed for the evening, in a black silk dress. Her smile was tiny around her big spoonfuls and he felt a rush of affection for her.
“Careful,” Eliot said with a half-grin, fussing with his collar. Flipped up? Down? Preppy confidence or relaxed cool? Both, neither? Such was his life. “Those might literally be charmed for all you know. Always assume magic.”
“I’ll take my chances,” Alice said with a tiny snort. She dipped her spoon in and let the milk fall in a stream back into the bowl. “So far everything I’ve seen has been interesting, but not particularly advanced. I don’t think I’ll be bested by sugar cereal.”
He hummed a noncommittal sound and slid next to her on the absolute monstrosity of a furniture piece. Jesus. Ignoring that, he wrapped an arm across the length of the couch and focused all his attention on her. He hadn’t been great about that yet.
Alice smiled at him. “You smell good.”
He did. New cologne.
“You look lovely,” Eliot said in return and she blushed. He placed a warm hand on her knee. “How has the first day treated you? I’ve been remiss in checking in.”
Her eyes brightened. “Oh, it’s been wonderful. I’m having a nice time.”
Eliot shouldn’t have been surprised, but he was. He smiled as bright as her eyes. “Really?”
“Yes. I'll admit I’m not much of art person, generally,” she said, taking a final bite of her cereal. It left her with a slight milk mustache. She put it to the side and curled onto her legs so she could face him. “But Q and I spent almost a lot of last night wandering the galleries and trying to work out the magic and meaning of all the pieces. It was both fun and educational.”
Eliot’s smile dimmed. “Right. I noticed you two have been quite the pair.”
He hated it. He fucking hated it. He didn’t want to examine it, but he hated it. Hated it. Hated it.
“I think he’s worried I’ll be overwhelmed by all the sex and drugs, so he's trying to be a buffer,” Alice said with a smirk. She stretched her fingers out, creating tiny sparks without even meaning to. “One day I’ll invite him over to meet Stephanie and Daniel. Then politely let him know about all the dried egg on his face.”
Fuck. She was wonderful. She didn't deserve an ounce of his petty ire. It was irrational. He was being a dickhead. And he desperately wanted to meet Stephanie and Daniel. Quentin would have to get in line.
“He means well,” Eliot said, instead of any of that. He pulled his flask out and took a sip, before offering a nip to Alice, more perfunctory than anything. But she surprised him and took it from his hands. He smiled.
“I know he does,” she said, making a face at the scotch. Laphroaig was a hell of a place to start. But she still took another pull, valiant. “I see now why you like him so much. To be honest, I didn’t get it at first.”
“You weren’t a fan?” Eliot asked softly. He knew Quentin was an acquired taste to some people, but he personally didn't understand that. There had never been a second he didn’t like Q.
Alice shrugged. “I thought he was okay. But once I realized that sometimes he’s being funny on purpose, his appeal started to click into place.”
“It’s about forty, sixty,” Eliot said, grinning. “Purposeful, not.”
Alice looked both ways before leaning in with a toothy smile and whispering, “That might be a little generous, Eliot.”
He laughed at that and took his flask back. “Perhaps. But now you’re on my turf, my dear. No more Quentin's Learning Journey, I'm not sorry to say. I hope you’re ready for the time of your life.”
But Alice snorted again, all the louder. “Margo already gave me the rundown about this particular party. She may as well have had a PowerPoint presentation called Ways Elsa Might Embarrass Me and How I’ll Murder Her if She Does: A Three-Point Prevention Plan.”
“You’ll be fine,” Eliot said wrapping an arm around her. “Bambi loves a good threat and turning good clean fun into a violently structured hierarchy, that’s all.”
Alice laughed. “I hadn’t noticed.”
“What matters is that, tonight, I’m all yours, okay?” Eliot said, popping a kiss on Alice’s cheek. She scrunched her nose back at him, undeterred by Bambi. She was much tougher than she looked. “Promise. At least, once I herd these cats and we actually get going.”
“Q and Julia are getting ready in his room,” Alice said, jutting her thumb over her shoulder. “But I think they’re fighting. I heard raised voices and then a ward went up.”
With a sigh and a quick pat on Alice’s pretty head, Eliot pushed himself up off the couch by his palms. Time to do the worst part of his job.
Moving through the honestly absurdly decorated apartment, he stopped in front of Quentin’s door. There was definitely a ward, so he looked through a frame to see what he was working with. It was shoddy, hastily thrown up. Q’s work. Without even thinking about it, Eliot waved his hands up and down, breaking it so they would hear his knock. But as he raised his fist to pound on the door so they would move their asses, he paused his hand in the air as the voices became clearer.
“It’s magical orgy week,” Julia’s voice said, exasperated. He could hear her hands on her hips, the little lines between her brows. “Why the hell did you think this would be a good idea?”
A book thudded against the floor. Eliot could tell it was a book because he could hear the flutter of pages.
“Terrible ideas are kinda my M.O.," Quentin responded, wry and dry as ever.
“I’m not sure what you expected here,” she said, unbending and harsh. “You’re going to get hurt. Over and over and over—”
“I’m a masochist,” Quentin’s voice said, cutting her off. He was trying to chuckle, but it came out strained. “Important to stay consistent. Principle of the thing.”
“You say that like it’s a joke—“
“Jules. I’m fine,” he said, sounding distinctly not fine, but that was none of Eliot’s business. “I know what I’m doing.”
Her foot stomped down, audible. “Historically, that hasn’t been the case.”
“I knew what I was getting into,” Quentin sighed and another book thudded at the wall. He cursed under his breath and the pages fluttered upward.
“There’s a difference between theory and practice—“
Yet another book thudded to the floor, bouncing off the wall. “Whoa, no shit?”
“Hey, uh, have I ever told you how much I love when you make that face and use my full name at the same time?” Oh, no. Bitchy Q was coming out to play. Danger, Will Robinson. “It always means great things for the conversation.”
“Excuse me for giving a shit about you,” Julia’s voice said, venomous fire.
“Do you give a shit about me,” he was getting more and more tinny and frustrated, “or do you give a shit about the care and keeping of your high horse?”
She scoffed, “Right, because you’ve never been reckless or obsessive when it comes to—“
“Yeah, well, you’d know about that, wouldn’t you?”
“Don’t you dare throw that in my face,” Julia said, and another book hit the wall even harder. What the hell was he doing? “We are fucking past that—“
“Obviously, but you think it’s the same when it’s not. It’s different because—“
“It is the fucking same! It’s exactly the same. No, actually, you know what? You’re right. It’s not. It’s worse. Because you’re an adult now.”
“Then treat me like one and let this the fuck go.” That time, it sounded like he straight up threw a book at the wall.
“Just... don’t torture yourself, okay?” Julia's voice said, so much softer than before. “Move on, Q.”
“Because you’re so certain that would be the result?" Quentin let out a bitter laugh, with a tinge of sadness at the faltering edge. "That I'll have to move on?”
“If I’m wrong, I’ll be glad for it,” Julia said, laughing a little herself. But then she let out a long breath and he heard someone move off the bed, with quick and determined steps. “But come on. The Scorpion and the Frog, okay?”
Another book slammed at the wall. “Jesus fucking Christ, Julia. You've made your feelings clear, alright? I get it. I get your fucking perspective.“
"Don't shoot the messenger, Q. All I care about is—"
Yeah, okay. Eliot had probably listened longer than he should have. He was being rude. And creepy. Definitely creepy. Which was why his heart was racing like it'd been shocked with a taser, he was sure. So Eliot blinked once, hard, to reset himself and took a deep breath. Then he knocked too bright, shave-and-a-haircut. Two snips.
“Q, I broke your shitty ward,” he called into the wood, too loud and too sweet. “Because it’s time to get fucking moving. Coming in now, so if you’re jerking off, you have five seconds to—“
“I’m in here too,” Julia said with a loud sigh, the ruse complete. Eliot smirked to himself and turned the handle. When he stepped into the room, Julia was hugging herself against the dresser. Quentin was spinning his Fillory books in the air, practicing telekinesis. Only the most astute could have picked up any tension. Thus, for Eliot, it was rife, but he pretended otherwise.
“You kids finally ready to head out? Our first full night awaits,” he said, blithe and unbothered, looking back and forth between them. Julia was in a yellow sundress with fringe and Quentin was in khaki cargo pants under a plain black T-shirt. “Hm. Well. I suppose as much as you’ll ever be.”
Julia scrunched her face. “Fuck you, I look good.”
Eliot held his hand out and pulled her into his chest. If she seemed unusually tense in his arms, he pretended not to notice. “Of course you look lovely, darling. I was more speaking to your buddy pal here.”
“But this is my best T-shirt,” Quentin said with a grin, standing up from the bed and flying his books into a small pile on his nightstand. “The tag says it’s mostly polyester, but it has some wool too. I got it at Macy’s. Forty percent off.”
“Stop talking,” Eliot said, sighing fondly. But Q elbowed him, leaning into his other side, arm wrapping around his waist. On instinct, Eliot brought him in closer, so he could feel the full line of his body against his. It was pathetic, but he would take anything Quentin would give him.
At the same time, Julia pulled away, to fix her hair in the mirror over Q’s dresser, lips pressed down in concentration.
“You look good,” Quentin said without preamble, glancing him up and down with a tiny smile. Eliot snapped his eyes down at him, heart pounding. His throat seized up, dry and aching. “Very tropical. It’s nice. Suits you.”
Eliot could count on his hands the number of times Quentin had complimented how he looked. And he could count on zero hands the number of times Quentin had directly complimented how he looked. He licked his lips and his brain whirred.
What was different about this outfit? Why did it—how did it—had he been choosing wrong all this time? He suddenly hated every single piece of clothing he owned, except for the ones currently on his body. His hands tingled and he fought his usual urge to pin Quentin down to the nearest soft surface, roaring stronger than ever. God.
Eliot schooled his face into a vaguely amused twinkle and smiled at Quentin with a scoff. But his heart continued slamming itself against his ribcage as Q angled his face up at him, sweet and genuine and open. Too open. Too dangerous.
He wanted to kiss him.
But even more than he wanted to kiss him—which was a fucking lot—everything inside him wanted to whisper back something true, something kind, something real. He wanted to say something like, Thank you, Q. I hope you know I’m only teasing. I think you look very handsome.
You always look so handsome.
You’re beautiful, Quentin.
And in another world, he might have. In another world, he would have said all that and more, tucking his loose hair behind his ears before pressing his lips soft against his, warm and gentle and full of everything he felt. Maybe then he’d understand. Maybe then he’d know. He’d have to know.
But in this world, in reality, the only thing Eliot knew was who he was. Nothing had changed. So he winked and elbowed him back, all while directing him and Julia out the door and toward Alice and the night ahead of them. He patted Quentin’s back and kissed Julia’s head, detached and cool as ever, ready to take on whatever glory came their way.
And so Eliot merely chuckled, haughty and aloof, and spoke behind his shoulder.
“Well, someone has to make the effort.”
Eliot should have known that the reveal of Bacchus, the actual Roman God of Revelry, wouldn’t impress Alice Quinn.
He had thought she would at least be interested in the academic nature of his existence. That she would be fascinated by what it meant for the epistemology of the natural order of things, that the Greek and Roman gods were actual entities. But instead, as they stood on the warded, bass-vibrating beach, Alice rolled her eyes. She took a shot when Eliot pointed him out, tall and wearing a silver thong and a green feathered top hat.
“That guy’s an ass,” she said, sticking her tongue out and shuddering her whole body for effect. The beat dropped behind them and the revelers hollered in sweeping unison. “Stephanie and Daniel summoned him when I was sixteen and he spent the whole time talking about how he wanted to motorboat my tits.”
Hm. Okay. That tracked.
“That’s kind of—“ Eliot cleared his throat, feeling awkward. “Sorry.”
Alice shrugged. “Age of consent is a human construct. He was an ass, but not acting outside his own ethical structure.”
“You’re assuming he has one,” Eliot said with a disbelieving snort. He knew Bacchus pretty well. He was not particularly concerned with any ethical structure, let alone an internal one that guided his own actions.
But she just hummed and stared up at the sky, painted in Romanesque frescoes. “He was also really into Trivial Pursuit? Every time the orgies stopped, he pulled out a different version and insisted on everyone playing. It was weird.”
Eliot both laughed and grimaced over his glowing lilac drink and finished it in a gulp. He needed to refocus his strategy. Even though Bacchus was the worst, the first big party was always classic. He always completed the details with go-go dancers, glittering strobe lights, insane MDMA, and live polar bears in stasis. For some reason. Better than that, everyone fucked everyone, on every available space, and the dance floor stretched into the sky. So while the concept may not have screamed “Alice Quinn,” but he was still determined to ensure she had a good time. It was his job, and he tok it seriously.
Luckily, she was already tipsy enough right off the bat to make that a possibility. Her cheeks were pink and eyes dancing, and she wrapped herself around him, giggling despite herself. Once they reached the dance floor, her breath hitched and her eyes were immediately drawn to a group of dancing women. They were all Irish, from what he could tell from their accents and the path forward became clear as a beacon.
Twirling her into the music, Eliot dipped her twice, all Astaire. Then, he gave her a devlish grin and spun her out toward a beautiful red-headed woman, who smiled and gently kissed her on the lips once. Alice let out a high-pitched squeal, before pausing against the woman, flushed in her arms. Then, like she was possessed with newfound inner fire, she kissed her back in earnest, open-mouthed and urgent. Pride swelled in his chest and he could have cried.
What a beautiful moment.
But before she disappeared into the crowd, Alice flitted her eyes over to Eliot once, questioning. Like, Is this okay? Like she was worried he would feel abandoned or some ridiculous nonsense. She was always such a sweetheart.
Bowing to her once, he backed away, hands wide open with the world he was giving her. Out of the corner of his eye as he left, he saw her wrap her arms around the woman's neck and pull her down into another fervent embrace. His work done—and shockingly easy—Eliot skulked off in search of his own fun, be it drugs or boys or ideally dancing betwixt both.
So as he slid and swerved his way through the crowd, he kissed and was kissed at least eight times, all tongue and teeth and meaningless want. He popped something purple on his tongue that made the world move slower, shimmering with the beat. Everything honeyed and his arms swam through the gauzy air, his eyes closed and his skin vibrating. Bodies pressed into him like a trance and his chest was bereft, wondrous and light, all at once. Everything was perfect and full and the night was the Milky Way, carrying him outside of himself.
The best place to be.
But when his eyes opened and the light of a thousand stars and fireflies wrapped themselves around his spine, tickling his soul, he found himself at a bar, in the dark. But a lighthouse was at the outer edge, bringing ship to shore. It wrapped into itself, moody and dour and the most beautiful thing he had ever seen in his whole goddamn life.
It was Q.
So Eliot walked over to him and touched his hair, and it was beautiful.
Quentin had beautiful hair. He didn’t tell him that enough. Or ever. He tell him, at some point. Because Quentin had the softest hair and he loved playing with it, anytime he could. And Q was so cute, like a sweet little nerd who was just... so... fucking cute with his dumb clothes and his silly Fillory books and his fidgeting hands, that all just made him all the more endearing, really. And fuck, the way he listened to The Smiths, all the time, which should have been a terrible cliche. But on Q, it worked. He made it work, somehow, because he was so sweet and earnest, underneath it all. He was such a good person and Eliot was lucky to know him.
Q was smiling at him now and blinking, confused. “Uh, El?”
Anyway, the thing about Quentin was that he could be such an ass sometimes, but at his core, he was kind and he was hopeful, and he always tried so hard. Q always tried so hard, and Eliot admired that so much about him. Haven’t had a dream, in a long time. And god, he had beautiful hair. So fucking beautiful—
“Yeah, okay. You might want to take this,” beautiful Q said, handing him a red bottle. He sucked his lips inward, like he was trying not to laugh but no one told a joke. “You’re talking out loud.”
Eliot registered that he should be embarrassed, but he couldn’t feel it. Besides, it wasn’t like Q would judge him. If anyone understood the need for escape, it was Q. Q with his dumb, adorable books and cute hair and flannel that never fit him right—
“El, seriously,” Quentin said, shuddering out that held in laugh. “Drink the fucking potion. I need to put a stop to this, much as it pains me to give up the blackmail material.”
Ugh. He was cute but he was still a dick.
“Back at you. Drink the potion.”
Quentin was a cherubic, obnoxious little brat, but truly just fucking adorable. Much cuter than he gave himself credit for. He was also kind and dependable, so if he said to drink the potion, Eliot should probably drink the potion. So he unscrewed the top, let the red liquid rest under his tongue for faster absorption, and then—
“Shit,” Eliot said, shaking his head. He stretched his jaw. He blinked. Shit. “Shit. What the fuck?”
"Welcome back," Quentin said, feasting on shit through his wild grin. Oh, Jesus.
He blinked and took in his surroundings. He was by one of the bars, in the quietest corner. Q was sitting by himself, nursing an Old Fashioned on a stool, staring out over the stretch of the party. It was very on-brand. Also, thank fucking god, Eliot wasn’t talking out loud without realizing it anymore. Jesus.
“It was like you were narrating the most embarrassing thoughts you’ve ever had about me,” Quentin said with another laugh, unconcerned. Which, uh… sure. They could go with that. So Eliot raised his eyebrows, wry, and grabbed Quentin’s drink to take a sip.
Quentin nudged him and snorted. “For the record, you have beautiful hair too.”
Eliot bit the inside of his cheek and pierced the far-too-entertained Q with a devastating glare. “Fuck you.”
“Also, cherubic?” Quentin’s smile widened into those impish bracketing dimples. Good god. “What do you think that word means?”
“It’s a synonym for 'childish asshole,'” Eliot said, snapping his fingers at a bartender. He wanted something fun and sweet, not all depressing and For Whom the Bell Tolls. He ordered a couple of mojitos before huffing a breath and turning back to Quentin.
“So. Are you having fun, in this dreary little corner by yourself?” Eliot asked, deftly changing the subject. His mouth reached up one side of his face. Quentin at least had the decency to blush and rub the back of his neck.
“I mean, it’s—“ he gestured out toward the crowd. “It’s a lot.”
The drinks came in record time and Eliot handed one to Quentin. They clinked their glasses together, rote. “Mind if I give you some advice, Little Q?”
“I hate that nickname,” Quentin said with a grumble, glaring over his mint sprig.
“I know,” he said, ruffling his hair. Quentin glared all the harder from under the strands that fell along his strong brow and delicate nose. “But I’m speaking as your mentor right now, not your friend.”
“A condescending as fuck mentor?”
“I know crowds make you nervous, but it’s Encanto Oculto,” Eliot said, ignoring him. He wrapped a signature tight arm around his shoulders. He was still buzzed enough to feel tingly from the hot line of Quentin’s taut and dense body against his. “A feast for the senses and the id. If you want, you can usually take. You just have to figure out what you want.”
Quentin’s jaw tensed. “Oh, is that all? Thanks, El.”
“I’m sensing sarcasm, sir.”
“You know it’s not that simple,” he said quietly, as he traced patterns in the condensation left by the cold glass. Eliot’s heart squeezed and he sighed, placing his hand on the nape of Quentin’s neck. Sometimes he wanted to shake him, to bring him into the present moment where things were good and they could be good for him too. Bu like he said. Not that simple.
Still, he had to try.
“Q, darling, let’s logic this out,” Eliot said, leading him along the bar, in search of the platters of shots. Quentin’s hunched shoulders relaxed under his touch, which was something at least. “Do you want to stand in the corner alone?”
He got a twisted smile in response. “Kinda.”
“Wrong answer,” Eliot said as he grabbed a neon orange shot and handed it over. “You are a fun and worthwhile addition to any social situation and I’m not going to let that brain of yours tell you otherwise, hm?”
Quentin was looking at him strangely again, eyes glittering in the moving lights. Eliot pushed past his racing heart to continue.
“Listen, if you want to head back to the house and read or watch porn or whatever, I don’t care but—“ He cut himself off and took a shot. No use in lying to the man. “Well, no, I would care if you did that. I’d—we’d all miss you. But I do want you to have a good time, whatever that looks like.”
“I am having a good time,” Quentin said, though he gave a sad smile and licked his lips when Eliot leveled him with a disbelieving stare. He raised his eyebrows, acquiescing. “Generally, I’m having a good time. I’m just... in my head tonight. I got in a fight with Jules before we came here and I can’t shake the funk.”
“First of all, fuck Julia,” Eliot said automatically, sliding his hand down and around Quentin’s waist to tug him close again. “Second of all, that’s what alcohol is for, baby bear. It’s like I’ve taught you nothing.”
“El, I—” Quentin swallowed and glanced over to the crowd. “I’m fine, okay? I don’t need you to take care of me. I’m not going to be responsible for bringing you down.”
“God, you couldn’t if you tried,” Eliot said with a laugh. But then he softened, hand tangling gently in Q’s hair. “But most of all, that’s nonsense. I want this to be good for you, Q.”
As soon as the words slipped unwelcome from his lips, he was overwhelmed by how much he meant them. By how much he wanted everything to be good for Q. His legs were unsteady, so he leaned against the bar and extracted his hand, casual and definitely not trembling. Gathering his poise and control, he kinetically raised two of the shots in the air and winked at his friend, who was still staring and staring at him.
Enough of that.
“Courage, dearheart,” Eliot said, with a smirk. Quentin rolled his eyes. It was the exact reaction he anticipated.
“Yeah, I’m going to pretend you didn’t quote C.S. Lewis at me,” he said, though he finally took shot, jaw tilting upward to the sky. His eyes widened at the flavor and the tingle on his tongue. But then he smacked his lips and pretended to glare. “You’re supposed to be my friend.”
Eliot chuckled. “Friends don’t let friends read Narnia?”
“No,” Quentin said, eyes dark. “That’s for mortal enemies. Everyone can fuck off with their Christian bullshit. Fillory or bust, forever.”
God, he was such a fucking nerd. He was so fucking cute. His mouth went dry all over again and the only solution was to drink more. More and more and more.
“My apologies,” he said, as the booze flowed into his veins, gliding over the hot ball of fire that Quentin always sparked in his core. But Eliot would have to keep drinking to prevent it from flaring up again, because Q’s eyes stayed dark as he looked straight at him, the spinning strobe lights silhouetting his frame against the Mediterranean.
“And uh, well, you’re definitely not my mortal enemy,” Q said, voice hoarse and burning Eliot to a crisp from the inside out. He took another shot and shook his head, clicking his tongue against the roof of his mouth.
“I mean, I should hope not,” he said, airy and arch to contrast his snarling, hot interior. There was a siren somewhere, in the distance, maybe. “Otherwise, I’ve been reading the signals wrong.”
Quentin took a step closer and his smile quirked. “Signals?”
He widened his own smile expertly as Q took a sip of his mojito, no longer abandoned. “You know. Of our epic bromance.”
The spit take came exactly as choreographed. “I’m sorry, our what?”
“That’s what Julia calls it.”
Quentin’s eyes widened and his mouth opened in a drawn laugh. “Jesus Christ.”
“Right?” Eliot sighed, leaning his head against Quentin’s and patting his arm. “She’s the goddamn worst.”
“You know, tonight,” he said, settling in against him and oh, it felt too right. Abort. Abort. Eliot pulled away, supposedly to grab another drink. If Quentin noticed the abruptness, he didn’t let on. Instead, he kept sipping his drink and sighing, that infamous Coldwater sigh.
“Tonight, I’ll agree with that,” Q said, sad and resigned and still fucking sighing. Honestly, it was a sigh that did not portend good things. So Eliot snapped his fingers in front of Quentin’s face and tapped the mojito. Dutifully, Q gulped at it.
“You know I’m always happy to talk shit about Julia,” Eliot said, and relished the annoyed grimace he got back as a reward. “But the world is your oyster, my friend, with all the aphrodisiac implications I can muster. And frankly, I’d be a terrible wingman—“
“Wingman? What the fuck?”
He ignored that and continued “—if I didn’t encourage you to get out there a bit.”
Quentin’s hair fell in front of his face. Another sigh. “El.”
He nudged him and kicked his ankle at the same time. “Come on. Go dance, go get tantric with a nymph, go down on a cute surfer girl, or, like, even go talk about Star Trek with literal Roman god. I wasn’t kidding when I said there’s something for everyone.”
“Yeah, I know, but I just—”
“No, none of that,” Eliot said, more serious than he’d been yet. He smiled softly at Q, still endlessly fond of him no matter how obstinate he was being. But this was good for him. “There has to be something you want, Q.”
“And as your friend and mentor,” he said, chuckling but not joking, as he put both of his hands on Quentin’s shoulders, “I want you to at least try, one time, okay? Then you can fuck off and do whatever isolationist bullshit you think you want.”
“Introversion isn’t the same as isolation—“
Eliot ducked his head and stared him right in the eyes. “But you deserve to get what you actually want sometimes, Coldwater. I'm serious.”
Q worked his jaw for a second, looking away from Eliot. He stared out at the crowd, unmoving and unblinking. Then, fast as anything, he grabbed another neon shot from behind him and downed it.
“Yeah. You’re right. Okay. I, uh,” he cleared his throat, eyes darting around. He grabbed yet another shot and twisted it between his fidgeting fingers before staring ahead, resolute. “No, yeah. I know what I want.”
Triumphant, Eliot smiled and licked his thumb, dabbing it over Quentin’s sexy little chin. “Then go get ‘em, tiger.”
Alice’s arms went up over her head and she shrieked in victory, the high-pitched sound laughing bright over the pounding music. Her blonde hair shone like a diamond against the inky night.
Eliot snaked his way over, the same writhing bodies now falling drunkenly into him as he landed next to her, curling an arm around her shoulders. She startled at the touch—engrossed in the game—but her eyes lit up when she recognized him and she giggled an excited Eliot! as she melted into his side.
“Celebrity shot?” He asked in her ear. Alice was standing at the far end of a long and ornate silver table, with six remaining champagne flutes arranged in a diamond in front of her torso. On the opposite side, the three glasses in front of two good looking—and frustrated—Asombro students were in a small triangle.
It was champagne pong. The bougiest of the pongs.
“Only if you’re good,” Alice said, arching an eyebrow. “I’m kicking butt.”
She hiccuped. He adored her. But still, asking if he was good at tossing small objects into cups was insulting. So he scoffed, shooting the small mother-of-pearl ball upward without his hands and twirled it around in the air, to prove a point. But of course, the action was met with immediate angry protests in annoyed Catalan.
“Sense telekinesi, gilipolles,” one of the guys said, snapping his fingers and sharpening his brow.
Jesus. What, no room for showmanship? Pissy babies, embarrassed in a drinking game by a sweet little nerd. But before he could respond for himself, Alice spit fire.
“Merda, no és estúpid,” she replied, stilted in her Catalan but getting the message across.
But the men continued glaring through their bruised egos until Eliot exaggeratedly plucked the ball from the air. He tossed it in a perfect spin and arch. Alice pumped her fist to her chest and jumped in the air as it hit the liquid. Eliot licked his lips lasciviously at the Spaniards, with no intention of fucking either of them. He only fucked winners.
Which was exactly what he told them at the end of the game, much to Alice’s screaming delight.
Once they thoroughly embarrassed the two gentlemen, Eliot floated the remaining champagne over to a small table. That way, they could drink Alice’s spoils as they pleased, congratulating each other on their unadulterated prowess. It must have been how Gengis Khan felt.. Only without, you know, the raping and pillaging, and more cuddling and whispering with a new good firend at a party. Details.
He drank a glass of champagne like a shot. He’d lost count of how much they’d all had to drink. Oops.
Eliot was thrilled to see Alice again, especially holding her own version of court and having a good time. She was certainly hiding in no corners, far exceeding his own perhaps unfair expectations. And she also definitely had glitter lip gloss on her neck, which was an extra little thrill all its own.
So they drank and talked and laughed, and pointed out cute boys and cute girls. Then they moved to the dance floor, finding Margo and Julia, and more neon orange shots filled their minds with fuzzy sensation. The three women danced together, equal parts goofy and sensual, and Eliot swayed to the music, watching and listening and feeling. Soon, another young woman wrapped herself around Alice and Eliot briefly wondered if he should check in on that, to make sure Alice wasn’t too drunk. That she wouldn’t regret anything come morning.
And he was going to do that. He really was. He was even making his way over to her, resolve on his lips far more than anything else.
But then a warm hand grabbed the crook of his elbow and all linear processing disappeared in a flash.
“Hey you, dance with me.” Quentin’s voice was low and raspy against Eliot’s ear, his hand tugging at his waistband. A spiderweb of heat cascaded across his whole body and the world was in spotlit tunnel vision. Eliot repressed a swallow and dipped in toward him, automatic, his nose almost touching Quentin’s neck. For a second, he couldn't breathe.
Then he hitched a sharp breath, forcing himself to logically evaluate what was happening. Because… oh, boy. If Q was drunk enough not only to dance, but to request dance partners? Then he was drunker than drunk. Eliot risked a look at his face and found his eyes, wider than the open sky, looking at Eliot like he was the only thing in the room.
Yup. Mr. Drunky indeed.
So Eliot chuckled and wrapped an arm around Quentin, letting himself be amused by the turn of events and nothing else. Nothing else.
“Well now. Who am I to deny my drunk Little Q anything?” Eliot said, voice softer than he wanted, even as he twisted them out onto the dance floor, exaggerated in his moves. But with a happy sigh, Q’s hands traveled up Eliot’s arms and landed on his shoulders, just as a madcap grin landed on his sweaty, bright face.
Eliot closed his eyes and focused on the music. He laughed, performative, and spun Quentin out from him. A clamorous, unruly beat had taken over the smooth and deliberate pulsing from before. Whenever Bacchus was really wasted, the vibe always shifted from hip and cutting edge house and trance music to truly obnoxious pop hits. And then when he got really wasted, he played his absolute favorite song in the multiverse on repeat, his most prized hymn, at full volume so that the heavens would part in its splendor.
“T-t-t-tasty, tasty!” The crowd hollered out breathily, screaming into the verse with swelling joy. “Fergalicious, def— Fergalicious, def— Fergalicious, def-def-def-def-def—”
Which, thank god, because the music’s turn to the terrible helped keep him grounded. It helped him remember where he was, who he was, and what this was. Two friends having fun. That's all.
It helped when Quentin laughed, exhilarated and uncharacteristic, and Eliot’s own grin widened with unadulterated glee. It helped as the music kept playing, and he and Q twirled each other around, stumbling in their graceless dance moves. The sheer number of drinks they’d each had were catching up with them in the best way. They kept each other upright through each verse and Eliot cackled when Quentin loudly complained about the misspelling in the song (“There’s no fucking E!” he hollered through the cup of his hands), until they were both red in the face and falling over each other.
The world moved in surreal flashes.
At some point, Margo and Julia joined them too, hands graceful in the air and harmonizing laughter filling his sparkling veins.
The room was spinning around them and throughout it, the warm press of Quentin’s hands on his back or tight around his waist kept him afloat, his familiar scent of drugstore soap and laundered clothes and toasted piñonr wrapping around him like a blanket.
But they were in Ibiza, so all that mixed with the sticky sweet smell of pink melon and sunscreen and fuck, he was intoxicating.
It was lucky that he had to breathe to laugh or he would have fallen to a puddle on the floor, dizzy and delirious.
After awhile, Margo and Julia disappeared like they were never there, and he and Q were yelling lyrics at the top of their lungs, arms around each other’s shoulders, falling over like drunken sailors in a shoreline pub.
Eliot was light and drifting on air, even as his center of gravity kept pulling him down to the floor and into Quentin.
Closer and closer and closer into Quentin.
The loud music pounded and he was lightheaded. One of his legs slotted between Q’s thighs.
His hands raced up and down his arms, tight muscles defined under his soft shirt and goosebumps rising on his soft skin with every touch.
Their chests were touching and Eliot’s lips were against Quentin’s temple, laughter dying and something hotter and sharper taking its place. His fingers gripped at empty belt loops, palms settling on hips as they moved together.
He didn’t know the song anymore. He didn’t care.
All he could feel was Quentin, moving against him. His eyes were closed and long hair tickled his nose, and his stomach bottomed out when Q gathered him even closer, hands sliding up his chest and wrapping around his neck. Their lips almost touched before Quentin hummed out a laugh and settled his cheekbone against his.
“You’re a good dancer, El,” he whispered against his ear lobe and holy shit, Eliot could feel it. His toes curled, delirious from the strobe lights and the waning night.
“At least, I really like dancing with you,” Quentin continued, turning around in Eliot’s arms—god, why wasn’t he always in Eliot’s arms?— tilted his head upwards to gently brush his nose against the underside of his jaw.
The strobe light blinded Eliot, weakening his legs into jello shots.
He swallowed everything building up inside and he blinked, reminding himself exactly where he was and who he was and what this was.
“Hm, someone’s tactile this time around,” Eliot said, gruff and spinning Quentin away and back, yet at a safer distance. “I thought drunk you is more into Margo.”
The number of times he had come across Quentin making moon eyes at Bambi after a round of drinks had never been lost on Eliot. It wasn't now either.
“Yeah, Drunk Quentin might be,” Q said, his warm brown eyes tracing up and down Eliot’s face, with a sly sparkle. “But Quentin-Quentin is—”
“Is what?” Eliot pulled him closer when he stopped talking. Quentin-Quentin is what? Quentin is what?
But instead of continuing down that terrifying path, Q laughed, smiling down at the ground. Then he glanced up, those fucking eyes glowing at him with something sweet and heated in equal measure.
“Let’s—um, hey, you wanna get out of here?” Quentin asked, but he was already pulling Eliot's hand toward the quiet bonfires further down the beach. His feet followed without any input from his brain. “We could, like, go for a walk?”
Eliot smiled over the tocsin in his chest. Warning. Warning. Alert. “Us? A walk? How novel.”
Speeding up and holding his hand firmer, Quentin stumbled over his own feet as hiccuped. “I mean, those walks are, like, the best part of my whole life.”
He breathed out his mouth, heart in tremor like an aftershock. Okay. Okay. Quentin was drunk, he reminded himself. Drunk people say stupid shit all the time. It's kinda their thing. So instead of letting the sentiment crawl its way into his stupid heart, he chuckled and wrapped his arm around Q’s shoulders.
“Alright, drunkard,” he said, only barely rolling his eyes at Q’s immediate I’m not that drunk. He smiled down at him with all the friendliness he could muster. “Walk it is.”
With a quick hit of unexpected worry,Eliot looked behind him to see if he could catch a glimpse of Alice in the crowd. But she was gone, sheathed into the twisting and jolting crowd. His eyebrows twitched with a second's concern, until Quentin’s entwined their fingers and his thumb brushed gently along his skin.
She was probably fine.
Eliot always hated his feet. They reminded him of macabre accordions, a skeleton’s playthings.
Not that he would ever admit such a poetic insecurity aloud. But as much as he enjoyed a good foot massage like anyone with a working nervous system, he was always painfully aware that his feet were too long. He had thin bird bones that jutted out of his pale skin with every step. His second toe was taller than his big toe, a Morton's foot. Honestly, if he could always avoid being barefoot, he would. He would wear brogues to the pool.
So that meant one of his favorite small details about Encanto Oculto was the walking paths on the enchanted beach. Though they were invisible to the eye, the space was unblemished by the rough grains of the tiny, irritating stones that made up sand. Thus, wearing shoes was easy and comfortable. Easy to wear shoes and you could avoid the disgusting feel of wet sand even at high tide. Double win.
But god help him, when Quentin kicked his own flip-flops and giddily charged toward the bonfires, in the uncharted sand, Eliot lost himself. They charged together barefoot, still stumbling and laughing, toward the nearest bonfire, as Eliot explained the ins and outs of the nighttime beach charms. The bonfires and blankets were of particular interest to those seeking escape or privacy, a place to relax away from the crowds. As soon as the blankets sensed weight or warmth, an invisibility shield went up over it, like a cloche on a candle. It was a neat trick.
“So Phosphoromancy then?” Quentin asked, eyes matching the reflection of the moon on the sea. “Like Alice’s discipline? She's such a badass at that.”
Eliot grimaced, heart sinking. “I suppose.”
But Q didn’t seem to notice the shift in tone as he flopped down on a patterned blanket, quilted in reds and oranges, mimicking the fire beside it. In the warmth, he dipped his head back, his skin golden and dreamy.
“That’s too fucking cool. All of this is. Nothing is better than magic,” Q said, sighing with drunken delight. Eliot raised his eyebrows and snorted, shifting back and forth on his feet.
“As always, agree to disagree,” he said, a touch snottily. The muscles in his jaw were tense. He was drunk. He needed to drink more, to recalibrate. But when he started to reach for his flask, Quentin smiled up at him, eyes crinkled and warm.
“I like disagreeing with you more than I like agreeing with anyone,” he said, palms behind him and digging into the blanket. Tension broken, Eliot laughed and lowered himself down to a seated position.
“What is ‘Things Q Would Never Say Sober,’ Alex?” Eliot quipped, sitting folded on the back of his heels. Quentin let out a loud laughing hiccup.
“That was nerdy,” Quentin stage-whispered at Eliot, giggling through every syllable. “You’re such a fuckin’ nerd.”
“Hm,” Eliot said, compelled by the booze to move forward until their knees touched. He smiled, tilting his head and wobbling with their eyes locked. “But even if I admitted it, no one would ever believe you. You'd go mad.”
Without warning, Quentin surged forward. His hands were on his forearms and his warm breath tickled his ear. Eliot could feel his smile and his body rushed with a shudder.
“Yeah, well," Quentin said, lips too close. "Personal satisfaction is all I’m after.”
The bonfire snapped and roared. Eliot closed his eyes and forced a smile over his tight chest, still temple to temple with Q. His heart was racing, hands twitching at his side. He was drowning.
“If I didn’t know better,” he said, catching and hoarse, missing the aim for light by a mile, “I’d say that almost sounded like a line, Coldwater.”
Quentin didn’t respond to that. Instead, he pulled back and squinted, like he was seeing through Eliot, down through his skin, down into his soul. Eliot wanted to run screaming into the water. But he didn’t move. He couldn’t move.
“I always like when you wear short sleeves,” Quentin said, out of fucking nowhere, inching even closer. The pads of his quick and gentle fingers trailed fire along Eliot’s arms. “Makes you seem more human.”
His lungs weren’t totally working, but he managed to wheeze out, “Human?”
“Yeah,” Q said, tiny smile flickering in the moonlight. He was so fucking beautiful. “It’s like… you seem more real to me. Like you’re actually here, instead of starring in some fever dream I’m having.”
“Um,” Eliot said, all other language failing him. Quentin scooted closer again. His fingers circled wide and always returned to the pulse point, almost tickling, but too reverent to be such. And he was certain Q could see the relentless pounding of his heart. How could he not?
“It’s like you’re—“ Quentin swallowed and glanced up, pupils vast as the sky above them “—like you’re a little less untouchable, you know?”
With that, he fell forward on his knees, his hands grazing up and over Eliot’s shoulders, until they were cupped around his face. His deft fingers danced across his cheeks in soft touches, untethering Eliot from everything tangible except Quentin's touch. It felt amazing, but it was too much, and he closed his eyes, the world swirling and tingling and nothing but—
“Q,” Eliot gasped out, desperate. “Q. What—what are you doing?”
Of course, the real question should have been Eliot, what are you doing? What the fuck are you doing this is dangerous you know he’s dangerous what the fuck are you doing? But the drugs and the night and the line of the moon on the sand made that self-preserving voice garbled and distant, though it were speaking underwater.
And Quentin’s thumb brushed over the line of Eliot’s cheekbone, lips a hair's breadth away. He let out a small laugh, broken and wonderstruck, before he whispered, “God, you’re so gorgeous, El.”
Surf obliterated sand.
Eliot's face dropped into the crook of his shoulder, unable to stay upright any longer. “Oh my god.”
It was desolate. He didn’t care. His hands trembled as hard as his voice. He sounded as wrecked as he felt, but he didn’t fucking care. Because Quentin wanted Eliot.
He finally wanted Eliot.
His hands clutched the thin fabric of his shirt, smooth and warm under his rings. Quentin, Quentin, Quentin. His nose grazed the hot skin of his neck.
“Eliot,” Q’s voice was low and rough, lips on his earlobe. Eliot’s hands found their way to Q’s soft hair and high holy fuck, if he didn’t kiss him soon he was going to die. “El, please.“
Eliot closed his eyes and pressed his lips against the salt-sweet of his neck. He kissed upward, along his favorite groove. His hands slid up Quentin’s back, relishing the feel of his firm muscles and the heat of his body. He traced his thumb over his cupid’s bow once, tingles pouring into the centermost point of his palm. Quentin whimpered, breathing hard and clutching at Eliot’s knees.
The words came out before he could stop them, husky and adrift. “Jesus. You can’t know how much I’ve wanted this, Q.”
It was like he had issued a challenge. Quentin let out a strangled sound and tilted his face upward, almost defiant. He brushed the tip of his nose against Eliot’s, and his hands stretched over and across his incandescent chest. Eliot tightened his arms around his waist and his senses went haywire. Then Q’s soft brown eyes fluttered shut, and he erased the distance between them. It was a soft touch of lips, in a shy dance. Sharp stubble above, soft parting underneath.
Eliot was frozen still, his brain unable to catch up with what was happening. He couldn’t move, he couldn’t breathe. At least, until Q’s tongue slipped light against his, seeking and gentle and snapping the entire universe into place.
Repeat the sounding joy.
He kissed him back fiercely, pulling him in as close as he could. He gripped at his neck with one hand and twisted the back of his shirt with the other. He poured everything he’d ever wanted into it, hands moving upward to his fucking incredible hair. He was the most beautiful, the most perfect, the most—the most—
“Quentin,” Eliot breathed out, between tilting kisses. He cupped his face between his hands. “Quentin.”
Q made a low whine from the back of his throat as he clutched deeper into Eliot’s arms. They fell on their sides, legs tangled together and lips desperate. Fuck. He’d thought about this moment so much. Too much. And it was so better than he imagined.
He smiled into Q's mouth and kissed down his neck. Quentin arched his back and made a small choked off sound, eyes closed. Eliot scraped his teeth along the contour of his throat, probably marking him, definitely not caring. Mine. He was perfect. It was all perfect. Random. But perfect. He laughed against Quentin's skin, the absurdity hitting him.
"Where the fuck did this come from?" Eliot asked, joking, delirious, between messy touches of lips and soft moans.
The question was rhetorical. He didn’t actually care. It was happening and that was all that mattered.
“I just—” Quentin answered, because of course he did. He was breathless and Eliot ran his fingers up his sides. He pulled him seated onto his lap, not willing to stop touching him for one goddamn second. " I thought maybe it was time we did something about this.”
“About what?” He still didn’t care about the answer. He wanted Quentin to stop talking. They had talked to each other enough. So much fucking talking. He kissed him, hard.
Q pulled away, panting. He only went barely an inch, their lips still tingling together. “About us. Between us. There’s always been— I mean, I’m not crazy, right?”
Eliot rested his forehead against his, breathless for a moment. “No. Never crazy. About anything.”
Still hesitant, Quentin held his fingers above his face and stared at him, wide-eyed and serious. “But you feel it too, right? Um, this—do you—do you feel the same? As me?”
Eliot didn’t really know how to answer that. He wasn’t ready to answer that. He didn’t presume to know what Quentin felt and right now he couldn’t—
It wasn’t time to think about that. Not yet.
So instead of an answer, he bit at the bare crook of Quentin’s neck and Q gasped, palms flat and urgent against his chest.
“Don’t overthink it,” Eliot said, mouthing at his jaw. He tasted like stars. “The night is young, baby.”
Quentin's breath hitched at the endearment and he pulled Eliot to him by his shirt, kissing him like he meant it. They slid back down into the blanket, soft and deep. He stretched their hands over their heads, fingers entwined. He was beautiful. He was perfect. Everything was perfect.
His hands moved desperate over Quentin's body, relishing the feel of his shoulders, back, his perfect ass. Eliot wasn't sure how long they stayed there, kissing like teenagers under the Encanto sky. It may have been hours.
He would have been fine with forever.
But then Q started talking again. Because it was Q and talking was what he did. He wasn't sure if he felt more fond or frustrated at his babbling and how it interrupted all the ways his lips intended to stay occupied. It was a heady combination of the two, an intoxicating shot right in the solar plexus. He was so fucking cute. He was perfect. Eliot adored him.
He was saying something about the house and Eliot tried to pay attention. He really did. But where Quentin would usually say um or uh or like, he kissed Eliot instead and that was... His chest cracked open and he gently pulled him closer. The words washed meaningless over him.
He brought them heart to heart, to quell the sting of his raw nerve endings. Eliot offered his own featherlight kisses with every breath. He was floating. This was a dream.
He half-opened his eyes and smiled at the sucker punch sight of Quentin looming over him, by the dimming golden fire. The magic was fading. He tucked his tangled hair behind his ear.
“Hey,” Eliot said, voice thick. By the softly exasperated look on Q’s face, that wasn’t the expected response to whatever the fuck he had been saying. But he still kissed Eliot again and rested his forehead against his. So it was alright.
“Were you listening to me at all?” He smiled like he knew the answer.
Eliot laughed and kissed the tip of his nose. “Not a damn word.”
“Well, I was saying that, uh—”
Eliot kissed him again. None of that. Not here. Quentin shivered and smiled.
“I was saying that as much as I’d love to fulfill my Never Have I Ever destiny, maybe we should head back to the house? And to a bed? I have some stuff there. Though, uh—” Eliot kissed him, holding his face. Quentin smiled. “Though from what I can tell, my condoms might be a little tight on you, so it might be—”
Holy shit. His arms wrapped around Quentin’s waist, hands sliding up the smooth skin of his back under his shirt. He might have gasped out loud, which would have been embarrassing, except—holy shit.
God, he was going to make it so good for him.
Eliot kissed him again, stumbling into it in desperation, pushing him back on the blanket. It was going to be so goddamn good. He would put his mouth on every inch of him. He would take him apart as long as he could bear, until he was spent and shaking in his arms. He would make him forget everything in the cruel world except how much Eliot wanted him and how much he cared for him. Then he'd know. God, he'd have to know.
“So it might be better to go to your room? I don’t know. All I want is—” Quentin brought Eliot’s palm to his lips. He closed his eyes and tucked his cheek into the warmth. “But what do you think?”
Eliot answered honestly, eyes closed. “I’m not sure I’m capable of real thought right now, baby.”
“Baby,” Quentin murmured into his hand. He could feel him smile as he brushed soft kisses against his fingers. Their eyes met again. “I’ll make it simple then. Eliot, I want you. Do you want me?”
His heart hammered. “Q. Come on.”
Quentin wrapped his hands into his hair. He trailed kisses along his jawline. “I hope you do. I think... I think we’ve maybe both wanted this for a long time. I know I have.”
Eliot whimpered, head falling backward. “How long?”
How long how long how long how long
But Quentin didn’t answer. He dug his nose into the space under Eliot’s cheekbone and gripped his arms. “Do you want me, El? I—I need to know. Please.”
“I told you I do,” Eliot said, pushing Quentin’s hair back, something cold swirling its way along the ridges of his spine. He clenched his jaw against it and reeled him back in for a fierce kiss. None of that. Not there. Not now. Not yet.
“Yeah, but—“ Quentin’s voice was muffled against his lips, and Eliot needed him to shut the fuck up. He didn’t want to think about the implications, the consequences. Not now. Not yet. Not when he had him, in that perfect moment. Not when thinking about the ramifications would—
“But Eliot,” Quentin put a hands length distance between them, breathing hard through his swollen lips. “I think, um—I mean, I know we’ve both had a lot to drink, so—“
Stop. Fucking. Talking.
“So I need to know that you understand what I want here,” Quentin finished, a death knell. He held his hand to Eliot’s heart and rested his forehead against his. His eyes shut, tight and hopeful. “And—and I need to know that you want the same thing, baby.”
Eliot sighed. He wasn’t stupid. He knew what Quentin was saying. What Quentin thought he was saying.
He knew it wasn't Let’s fuck tonight and then forget about it. He knew exactly what Q was trying to convey. About his feelings, about the two of them, about the assurance he wanted. He was saying that he thought it was—
That all of it was—
That Eliot was—
Yeah. Fuck. He knew.
In that moment, he wanted what Eliot wanted. There was no uncertainty and no hesitation. In that moment, they were on the exact same page, drunk and wanting each other more than air, in every way.
But moments? Ha.
Moments were bullshit.
In that moment, in that drunken night, in the stasis between time, Quentin looked at Eliot like he was everything. Like they felt the same. Like he saw in Eliot what Eliot saw in him. Like he maybe even—
The point was, he knew better than anyone that mornings told a different story. And days told an even worse one, harsh and flooded with too much revealing light. The reality was stark: Nothing had changed between them. Eliot was the same. Quentin was the same. What each of them wanted, what each of them deserved hadn't changed just because they were both apparently attracted to each other. When drunk, at that. So. Yeah.
Nothing had changed. Not really. But Quentin was too much of an idealist to see that, to not get swept away in a goddamn moment.
So Eliot clenched his jaw and looked away.
“... Let’s take a beat, Q.”
The words were whispered, but they may have been a gunshot with how fast Quentin tensed in his arms.
After a torturous long moment, he slid backward off him as the words landed in the cold space between them. Eliot swallowed again, the chilled breeze strangling him. All his muscles tightened as Q’s eyes searched him, dark and unreadable in the dimming firelight. He was doing the right thing, but his body was screaming.
“Okay. We can take a beat,” Quentin finally said. His voice was even, like he was trying to sound collected and calm. As always, he was terrible at it. “What are you thinking?”
Eliot’s mouth stretched against his face, wide and cracking. Painful.
“I think—I think we’re drunk. You’re drunk,” he said, cursing how hoarse he was. He cleared his throat and touched Quentin’s now-limp hand. “It’s late.”
It wasn’t that late. Not by any standard. Certainly not by the Encanto Oculto standard. But.
“Oh. Okay. So you don’t want to—?” Quentin’s eyes were guarded and hollow. Eliot forced another smile. It hurt even more.
“You know I care about you, so much,” Eliot said, methodical. He scratched his eyebrow. “But we have to be practical here. We can’t treat this like a random hook up, not without—" he grit his teeth and rubbed his temples. "So let’s not—let’s not do anything we can’t take back, okay?”
“Uh, okay. Okay. So… a hook up,” Quentin’s voice was low, verging on a dangerous sharp edge. “That’s how you see what just happened? That's how you see me?”
“Quentin. No. Obviously, I think you’re—”
The most beautiful and kind and generous and honorable man he had ever known.
Eliot huffed a sharp breath. “I think you’re great. But this isn't worth fucking up our friendship. Not when push comes to shove.”
“But maybe it wouldn’t—“
“Q,” Eliot said, firm. He hugged himself and stared down at the cool sand in the distance, dark blue and outside the glow of the moon. “Come on. You know I’m right.”
He was right. They were too important to each other to let a momentary lapse, a fleeting want, screw anything up. It was good that they'd taken a breather, that Quentin checked in. It was good that Eliot stopped it. It could have gone too far, past a point of no return. One that Quentin would regret and Eliot wouldn’t survive.
Behind them, the waves lapped quiet and steady, and Q shifted. The distance between them widened.
“Yeah, okay,” he said, barely audible He closed his eyes and nodded. He smiled, a sad but true thing. “Alright. You’re—you’re right. Uh, okay.”
Uh, okay. Eliot squeezed his eyes shut tight. His head and chest ached. He hated the world.
“So let’s get up, get some sleep and get sobered up,” Eliot said, clearing his throat. The world wasn’t changing. Nothing was changing. He had to get the fuck up and get the fuck on. “We’ll see where we’re at in the morning.”
In response, Quentin drew his knees in close to his chest and nodded, staring down at his feet. His throat bobbed and he rubbed the inside of his eyes, nodding again. He gave Eliot another small smile, eyes flitting about, all while sighing, like he was resigned. He pushed his hair back and looked out to the nightdark sea. The moon was behind a cloud and the horizon disappeared.
And Eliot—Eliot pushed down everything he was feeling. He grit his teeth against the way his soul screamed at him, the dark stinging in the back of his brain calling him a stupid motherfucker, an asshole, the dumbest person who had ever lived—you could have had him, you could have touched him, felt him, you unbelievable idiot, you shithead, you—
But everything disappeared when Quentin tried to stand and his legs buckled under him.
“Q!” Eliot dashed across the blanket and wrapped his arm around Quentin’s waist, all preceding activities be damned. A cold shot of fear electrified his heart. It was too familiar, it was too much, too much like when—
“What happened?” Eliot focused on what he could control. He tilted his jaw up to him, checking his pupils. “Are you okay?”
“My legs,” Quentin said, moaning and rubbing his knees. “Something’s wrong with my—shit.”
He tried again to stand, but he melted back into the blanket like goo. Eliot moved fast, forgetting all the other bullshit in an instant. His own buzz disappeared. Quentin was having a bad reaction to something. Eliot knew his way around that, if nothing else. It was time to focus.
“Hey, hey, hey,” Eliot grabbed him around his shoulders, stabilizing him against his frame and the earth. Eliot had only given him alcohol with superficial charms, gone after they danced on your tongue. No drugs. Nothing should have—
Cold dread twisted his gut.
“Q," Eliot forced his voice to stay calm and even. "Q. Did you take anything from someone else tonight? Someone other than me?”
Goddammit. “Quentin. What did you take?”
“So this guy named Maurice had these pills?” Quentin swallowed, like he was ashamed. Eliot held his breath, trying to remain steady despite the growing inferno in his brain. “I figured I needed… if I was gonna… you know. Stupid now though. Fucking stupid. Shit.”
Bitterness boiled on his tongue. He clicked out a laugh against his teeth, looking out at the horizon. “Do they increase your confidence or something?”
Of course. Of fucking course. Jesus Christ, Q.
But Quentin frowned. “No. That was the alcohol, I think. He said the pill was supposed to, uh—“ even in his drunkenness, he flushed deep red “—make me a better dancer. He showed me the spell and ingredients, and they shouldn’t have fucked with my brain chemistry. So, um, I took a little more than recommended?”
Eliot couldn’t deal with the implications of any of that right now. He rubbed his nose and up into his eyes, thinking through what he knew about that particular drug. Thankfully, he did know it. Quentin was right that it was physical only, imbuing muscles with flexibility and agility. It also gave you a shot of energy, like cocaine-meets-super caffeine. Part muscle relaxant, part upper. Generally, newbies took a quarter of a pill until they knew how they reacted. No one at Encanto would recommend more than that.
He took a deep breath and bent Quentin’s thumb backwards. It slid back unnaturally. Shit. “Okay. Alright. So, what, you took a whole pill or something?”
“Um. More like—three whole pills,” Quentin said, with the self-awareness to look away and embarrassed. Eliot’s heart caught in his throat and he almost laughed at his sheer audacity, except that it really wasn’t fucking funny. Goddammit. Goddammit. Thank god they didn’t fuck. Among other reasons, Q's limbs would have failed midway. He could have gotten seriously hurt. His lungs might have given out. Or his heart. Or both.
Fuck, he was so goddamn reckless sometimes, and for what? For what? He wanted to shake his shoulders, he wanted to scream at him. But a lot of good that would do. So he stuck to what he knew. He stuck to the tangible.
“Okay. We'll deal with that decision making process later. But can you listen to me for a few seconds? Focus on me,” Eliot said, laying Quentin down with a pillow propping his head up. He clapped at his face when his eyes started to circle around. “You’re going to be okay. Okay? I know this effect. You’re going to be fine.”
He wasn’t sure who he was reassuring.
“It’s like a version of the spins that affects your extremities. It’s the most common side effect,” Eliot continued, leaving out the part about how his crucial organs could collapse. As long as he didn’t exert himself, that wasn’t a risk. There was no need to spike his anxiety on top of everything. “But because you took so much, you're going to have a shitty time physically until it wears off.”
Quentin’s panicked eyes blinked up at him. “Red bottle?”
“No, honey,” Eliot said, trying to soothe over his pained heart. He cupped his face, stroking his thumb back and forth along his sideburns. “Those only clear your mind. This is physical. So the best thing you can do is let yourself fall asleep and run its course.”
The anxiety spiked without his help. “Oh my god. Am I—am I dying?”
“No,” Eliot said, firm. “It sucks, but it’s not dangerous. I promise.”
White lies made the world go ‘round.
Quentin’s shallow breathing into his hands was all he could hear. He moaned, shaking his head. Eliot wanted to sink into the ground, let the sand bury him alive. He wanted to go the fuck to bed. But Quentin couldn't move. Not on his own.
“We can get you back to your room, Q,” Eliot said, touching his shoulder. “I can carry you or I could use, ah, kinesis or—“
He hated the idea of using major telekinesis on Quentin. He fucking hated it. But if he had to, if it was the only way to help him, he’d do it without hesitation.
“No. I won’t make you do that. I’ll stay here,” Q said, so quiet and so soft. “I don’t think I can—I don’t want you to—“
“It’s okay,” Eliot started to say, but Quentin shook his head, firmer.
“I’ll stay here,” he said, with no room for argument. The tension in Eliot’s chest released, falling apart in pieces, and he let out a long breath. But his heart got caught in the mess, his hand refusing to leave Quentin's cheek as he started to lay down. Above them, the sky unfolded into waves of texture, like an oil painting in midnight blues and bruise purples.
“I’m gonna freak out in the morning, El,” Quentin said, curling into himself, the fetal position. “I think I’m gonna totally freak out.”
Oh, god. His heart, his goddamn heart. He sniffed back all his feeling and rubbed the nape of his neck. “Yeah, Q. Probably.”
“I’m really drunk too, El.”
Eliot bit the inside of his cheek, hoping to puncture it. His eyes burned as he managed to speak. “I know, Q. I know. Get some rest, okay? I’ll check on you before dawn.”
He pressed his palm into his cheek one more time. But as he shifted to stand, Quentin stopped him, a light touch on his knee. It may as well have been an avalanche, rocks and ice pinning him in place.
“Can you stay?” Q asked in a whisper, free hand running down the length of his face. “Not like—I mean. I get it, okay? You’re not—wrong. You’re not wrong.”
Eliot tucked his heartache away and took Quentin's hand, squeezing it. Of course he would stay. But he was still talking and Eliot never liked to interrupt his thought process. Not when it mattered. Right then, it mattered.
“But I mean, like, can you still stay?” Quentin wrenched it out, like there was any doubt. “As friends. It's just— I’m just—I’m gonna freak out and if you’re gone, that’s gonna be—“
He cut himself off, but Eliot understood. His fingers slid into Quentin’s hair. Soothing. He hoped.
“Of course I’ll stay,” Eliot finally said, quiet. It was fine. They were friends. That was what friends did. “I’ll always stay.”
Quentin nodded and curled into him, trusting and seeking comfort. His head rested on his chest and Eliot draped his arms under and around him, shifting onto his back. He pressed circular patterns into his hair with one hand, and rubbed up and down his arm with the other. The sky swirled above him and he closed his eyes, too content. Having Quentin in his arms still felt too good, despite everything. He hated the world.
The now-roaring waves and the distant house music almost drowned out Quentin’s gentle voice. " You’re my best friend, El.”
His closed eyes burned and he sniffed. They'd never said that before, not to each other. They felt it, he knew that. But they never said it. Because Julia was Q’s best friend. Margo was his. And yet.
He let the moment rest, for several long minutes. Finally, Eliot pressed his lips to his forehead. Heart swelling, his next words fell against Quentin’s skin, coming without any permission, desperate and ineloquent.
“You’re mine too. You’re mine too, Q,” he said, holding back a sob and staring up at the false sky. “Whatever else I feel doesn’t—I can’t lose you. I can’t. But—”
But it didn't matter what he said. Quentin had already passed out in his arms. Eliot gazed down at his gentle face, mouth dropped open and breath hot on his neck. He brushed Q’s hair back and his fingertips tingled, his heart seized. With a sudden and overwhelming rush of ardor, he desperately wanted to say a hell of a lot more.
He was drunk.
So instead, he closed his eyes and gathered Quentin on top of him. He wrapped his arms around his waist and shoulders, tight as he could. Sleep started to weigh heavy on him, enveloped by the waning and the beautiful man who would never really be his. Because nothing had changed. Not really. The morning would still tell its own story, and the day too. He knew that.
Still, when Quentin’s lips brushed his throat, involuntary in his sleep, the space behind his eyelids turned white. God, he was selfish. He was so selfish.
But he could hate himself in the morning.