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Not Always Folly

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New York City & Brakebills University, April 2017

*

(An Epilogue, Three and a Half Months After Our Fabulous Story, Entitled: Mendings, Major and Minor)

 


 

The room was upside down.

Eliot hung like a bat, long legs thrown up over the back of the velvet couch. His head rested in the space between the cushion and an elaborate kilim rug. Balanced delicately, he cast his eyes across the sweeping high ceiling and the imposing windows, standing in for walls throughout the entirety of the open space.

Through the warded glass, he could see the overcast sky below and miniatures of the city above. Expanses of green and faraway bridges, the edge of the manmade lake, all toylike in the distance. The tiny people below walked under black dots, uniform umbrellas in a hurry. Closer by, mist hung at the windows, cool and moving swift, without reaching the lofty succession to the atmosphere. Drips of water formed downward, obscuring the view into an oil painting.

April showers bring May flowers, his school teachers used to ominously intone.

—It was a weird month.

Eliot stretched his arms down and gripped the floor with his fingers, savoring the feel of solid ground. April had always been a weird month, with cold days and warm days, a strange and uncertain pall over the country. He had always hated it.

But especially now.

With a blink back to earth, a clicking shutter on a camera, he swallowed roughly and focused on what was in front of him, on physical sensation. 

He focused on the steady stream of magic through the cavernous space. He focused on the crisp scent, the artificial clean lemon that signaled Not a home, not yet in all its perfect sterility. He focused on the colors, all whites and grays and chrome—drab and unwelcoming. That kind of stark minimalism was for serial killers and suburbanites. He focused on the vertical lines, the parallel lines, the way the mouldings and the beams intersected. He focused on whether it felt anything like comfort and beauty, the two qualities he cared about most. He focused on if he could feel life, beyond the dull magic, in a space he could call his own. 

And thus far, his conclusion was a solid—

Meh.

Eliot let out a slow stream of air between rounded lips, tamping down his frustration—with the space, with himself, who could say. It was absurd either way. He closed his eyes, tension knotting from between his shoulder blades and growing out like twisted vines toward his chest, threatening to burst.

He took another long breath.

Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. Inhale—

The space next to him dipped with a warm weight. Silky hair cascaded down in his periphery, punctuated with a wry smile on gentle lips. And all of Eliot’s tension unspooled at once.

Quentin’s eyes were soft as he set a serious brow and mouth, matching Eliot’s gaze about the large room. “So what are we looking at here?”

“The lines of the architecture,” Eliot said, rolling his head to look at his constant sunflower, a much more compelling sight. “To see if they flow from every perspective.”

“Why does it matter?” Quentin snorted, offering but an incredulous sidelong brow furrow. “How often do you plan on being all turned around like this?”

Oh, sweetheart.

At Eliot’s slow grin, Q turned deliciously pink and blew air out the side of his mouth. “Well, yeah, but then, like, if you’re noticing the lines of the architecture, I’m not doing my job.”

His eyes sparkled.

“Oh? What job is that?” Eliot gave into the soft space under the hinge of Q’s jaw, nosing and nipping, with only a hand on the floor (and the wings of love) keeping him balanced. “Be specific.”

Quentin closed his eyes, humming into the sensation. That is, until he jolted, reaching his hand down to the ground with his eyes wide.

“Shit,” Q said, sliding and twisting, a chuckling kind of panic in his voice. “Shit, I’m falling.”

Sure enough, his feet were scrabbling off the edge of the couch and his head was slowly sinking down toward the floor. With a loud laugh, Eliot righted himself up on the couch and wrapped his hands around Quentin’s biceps, easily tugging him up and into his own chest. Quentin settled into him, blowing his wild hair out of his eyes and tilting his face up for a kiss. 

Eliot obliged, ever a hardship. Then he sighed and smiled into Q’s lips. “Hi.”

“Hey,” Quentin said, husky voiced in a way that went straight to the dick. 

Twitching his head up, almost like it was involuntary, Q offered another one of those tiny kisses that somehow lit Eliot up from the inside as much as their most intense foreplay. So Eliot kissed him harder, hands cupping his stubbled face, that perfect blend of soft and sharp to set his nerves ablaze.

They pulled away and Eliot let out an almost embarrassing stutter of breath. Q curled into him with a grin, resting his head in the crook of his neck, like he was made for it. Eliot lazily trailed his fingers up and down his arm as they took in the room, ready to get back to the subject at hand.

But Quentin matched his rhythm—trailing his fingers along Eliot’s inner thigh and tilting his perfect mouth into his pulse point. And Eliot whited out behind the eyes, just a little. All he could feel were his too-gentle fingers and the brush of lips up his neck. All other sensation fuzzed out, meaningless. 

But then, Quentin rolled Eliot’s earlobe between his teeth and the whole world crashed back into sharp focus, all vibrant colors and heat.

Q whispered into his skin, breathless and heady, “You know, a live demo with some, uh, hands-on instruction might be our best bet. To account for the varying learning styles in the room.”

—Eliot had no idea what the fuck he was talking about.

He gazed down at Quentin and smoothed the stray hairs off his brow, thinking back to what they said before nearly toppling off the couch. Which—right, describe the job, as corny and flippant a come-on as there was. And naturally, Quentin had turned into an involved academic metaphor-slash-roleplay. 

Jesus.

For neither the first nor last time, Eliot marveled at how he actually got to have this. With a wide smile and fond as all hell, he laughed and pulled Q in by his belt.

“I appreciate the care you put into your curriculum,” Eliot said, biting at his lower lip with a spark of teeth. “Professor Coldwater.”

“Fuck,” Quentin moaned, surging up and slipping his hand around the knot of Eliot’s tie.“Add that to the list.”

That was actually a surprise. “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Q breathed against his lips. “Like, you could be my student.”

The surprise turned to heat. “... Yeah?”

“But, like, one who’s older or maybe it’s more like you’re auditing?” Quentin kept kissing him, whispering growing fervent. “And also I’m, like, an assistant adjunct, which could maybe help with the weird power differential—“

Eliot gentled him, smiling into his temple. “Q.”

“But one day, near the end of term, you wear that scarf I like,” Q said, mouthing down his throat. Eliot gripped his hip, dick twitching hard. Quentin was talking about the velvet scarf, the one they brought out every so often. “So I ask you to stay after class––”`

God, fuck. “Mmm, yeah ?”

“And I’m, like—” Quentin pulled away, giant and soft and earnest eyes unfairly meeting his, never giving him a single chance. “Please give me a good evaluation, I’m finally up for a permanent position, I’ll do anything.”

Eliot adored him, body and soul.

“Oh, no.” He crawled on top of Q, pressing him down into the couch. “Now I have too much power.”

“It’s okay because it’s a subversion,” Quentin said with a Boy Scout head nod and Eliot sunk down into him, capturing his lips and thanking all his lucky fucking stars. Q wasn’t quite done though, breaking away and burying his hands in Eliot’s hair to gaze up at him, endless and magnificent. 

“But then you would be like, well, last lecture, you made a moralistic argument about the Canterbury Tales which I can’t get behind,” Q murmured, running his thumb against the grain of Eliot’s stubble. “And then I would say well, I think ‘moralistic’ is a wrongheaded interpretation but I still ––

Eliot barked out a laugh, airy and joyful, right into his chest. “ Q.”

Quentin popped his eyebrows up and finished his thought with a cheerful grin. “But I still should suck your dick.”

“Teacher knows best,” Eliot murmured, pinning him in his place with a roll of his hips. And Quentin was right there with him—god, like he always was—and he pulled Eliot down, down until there was no closer they could get, until they were once again an artless, stunning tangle of limbs and lips and hands and ragged breaths. Fuck, Eliot was about to rip their fucking clothes off, telekinetically or otherwise, when—

—he remembered where he precisely was.

He forced himself back with a gasp, staring down at that dangerous kiss-swollen smile, truly hating himself for what he was about to do. But, like, in the fun way. 

(You know, the healthy kind of self-hatred, borne from a more potent mix of want and security than he ever thought he’d see in his whole life. It was a sweet loathing, a gentle inner screaming without fear. 

It was nice.)

“Okay, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but—“ Eliot sighed, cupping his hand under the curve of Quentin’s pert ass, letting his forehead rest on that damn chin. “We probably shouldn’t fuck on the couch of my new company’s model apartment.”

Q levered himself up on his elbows and looked both ways, frowning. “I mean, like, it’s warded, right?”

Quentin,” Eliot laughed, shocked and delighted. 

He was such a saucy minx. 

Honestly, obviously, Eliot almost gave in at the unabashed challenge gleaning in his boyfriend’s eyes. But instead, he sat up and patted his knee, sighing mournfully.

“If it wasn’t the property of my contingent-upon-graduation-and-no-bullshit new job, we’d sully the fuck out of this place,” he said, smoothing out his pants and vest, to give his hands something to do other than Q. “In the meantime, I should try to be responsible, every now and then.”

Quentin sighed, exaggerated and smiling. “Sometimes it’s like, I don’t even know who I’m dating.”

“Sorry to disappoint,” Eliot said with a quick peck to his lips, pulling him up to stand. But Quentin squeezed his hand, grinning up at him.

“Never,” Q said, kissing his cheek and wrapping a tight arm around his waist.He said it like that was just something people said, especially to Eliot, about Eliot, with such ease and certainty. He felt his heart do a stunned flip in his chest and he brushed his lips against the crown of Quentin’s head, messy and rough. 

Sometimes he was still overwhelmed by it all, enough to make him dizzy, to make the world go sideways and bendy, yet full of an endless light. 

Disconcerting, but delightful. 

Delightful, but disconcerting. 

He imagined it was how muggle bungee jumpers felt as the last swoop settled in their stomach and the enormity of their feat caught up with their overstimulated senses. Safe and solid, but still feeling like you’re flying, like you’re falling, like you spat in the face of a god.

Enthralled, Eliot whispered a promise meant to be a surprise. “But I got us a hotel tonight.”

Quentin widened his eyes with a blink of unexpected delight. “In the city?”

“If you’re willing,” Eliot purred, dropping his hand to grab his ass, in a very innocent and surreptitious manner. At Quentin’s happy nod, he smiled and admitted a half-truth. “I may have splurged a tad with my signing bonus.”

(The tad was the half.)

“I still don’t understand how money works with Magicians,” Quentin said, darkening his face into that thoughtful and faraway look he got when he didn’t immediately grasp a concept.

“Like all economics, sweetheart,” Eliot said brightly, dropping a kiss on his nose. “Nonsensically.”

But Q’s face just darkened even more, eyes going unfocused. “I mean, that’s not totally accur—“

Eliot spun him into his chest, cutting off his futile train of thought with a grin. “The point is, we’re gonna eat gnocchi, drink a nice glass of wine, and talk shit about our friends—“

Quentin groaned, rolling his eyes. “Yeah, oh my god, I have so much shit.”

“Me too,” Eliot assured him, popping a kiss on his lips. “But then we go fuck each other’s brains out on perfectly pressed hotel sheets until we only have mental and physical and, ah, magical energy for binging nonsense television, hm?”

Quentin shivered, pressing his face into the dip above the panels of Eliot’s waistcoat and arms wrapping all the way around his back. Then he inclined his face up, soft smile blinding as always.

“I’ll raise you fancy hotel shower sex and watching Get Out on hotel pay-per-view.” Quentin said, like pay-per-view was a sacred ritual unknown to mere mortals. But then he paused and added, “I’ve heard that movie’s, like, really good.”

So had everyone. He was so damn cute. 

Eliot smiled, tucking Quentin’s hair behind his ear. “You’re on.”

And Quentin smiled back, like that was that, like everything was easy and perfect. And fuck, if it wasn’t true. Everything was easy and perfect, so much easier and so much more perfect than Eliot could have ever imagined, could have ever fucking dreamed, in all his most ludicrous domestic fantasies.

Which, speaking of—

Eliot sighed, the mood dampening as he pulled out of warm arms to spin around the room, vaguely unimpressed. He pursed his lips. “So what do you think?”

“I think if you wanted to talk about the decor,” Q chuckled, “you should have brought Margo.”

Of course. But Eliot would bring Margo later, if he decided to go with the apartment. Because if he tried to bring her now? Well, he could already hear the arch huff of breath and the sharp I don’t do “hypotheticals,” El, Jesus Christ, spat out lovingly. Better not to waste time.

Besides, the decor wasn’t the point, not yet. So Eliot shook his head and strode over to the window.

“Don’t worry about the details,” he said, before casting a glance back at Q over his shoulder. “I want to know what you think, overall.”

“Like—?” Quentin tried to coax, but then relented at the stony impatience likely writ all over Eliot’s face. He held his hands out and shrugged, wide and unsure. “Okay, well, I think, uh, it’s a good location.”

Eliot gently sneered, looking down at the green below over his nose. “It’s okay.”

“You would literally have a view of Central Park,” Q countered, wry smile growing. “That’s a big deal.”

“But dull, right?” Eliot stuck out his tongue, shaking his head back. “It’s like being in Paris and having a view of the Eiffel Tower.”

“Yeah,” Quentin said, squinty eyed and scoffing. “That sounds terrible.”

“Or in San Francisco with a view of the Golden Gate.”

“Fucking bullshit.”

Eliot bit down on his teeth, giving cheeky Q an irritated look. This was serious. “It’s a postcard, it’s expected. It makes it feel––not real.”

Quentin softened, brows falling into their puppylike slants. He crossed the room and wrapped an arm around Eliot again, hand running up and down his back.  Tension seeped away on a breeze and Eliot nuzzled his nose into soft hair, relishing the sage-grass-smoke-and-Q scent that he would bottle if he could, as if any magic could ever come close.

Quentin glanced up at him. “What would you want a view of, if you could look at anything?”

Saying Your dimples was too cheesy and nonsensical, even now, even if true. So Eliot let out a considering breath, frowning over the question.

“Tall buildings in brick and chrome, with the lighting of a golden sunset glowing off them,” he said, picturing the scene in his mind’s eye. He frowned deeper. That pointed toward the Meatpacking district, his favorite double entendre of an overrated neighborhood. Chelsea then too, maybe. But god, how cliche. 

Plus, there was the issue that Eliot’s answer was total bullshit. 

He still did that a lot.

Even when talking to Q, the last person who would expect him to forever maintain some city sophisticate artiste appreciation of the world. Yet his cool and languid lies were still as natural as breathing, still felt truer than truth. That was the fucked up part. But Eliot was getting better at recognizing it and admitting it, even if that was as natural as a horseshoe up the ass.

He was trying to try, a constant work-in-progress. Which meant Eliot tucked Quentin under his chin with a ragged sigh.

“Actually, I don’t know,” he said quietly. “I think that’s more what I think I’m supposed to say. Maria’s pointed out how I do that.”

Q stilled at the unexpected name drop. 

He pulled back a bit to look up, surprised and sweetly cautious. “Right. Uh, how’s that going?”

Everything was easy and perfect. 

“It’s fine,” Eliot said, placid smile at the ready. But he caught it and sucked in his lower lip with a breathy laugh, flexing underused muscles as he swallowed. “It’s—it’s hard.”

… Except when it wasn’t. 

See, the being Eliot part of being Eliot didn’t just go away. The worst of him still thrived under his shields, under his new lease on life, always kicking up dirt and causing a scene.

And then, you know, to be fair—

There was also Q’s occasional tendency to bottle shit up until it exploded, and his itty-bitty predilection for snarky-ass passive aggression, and his insignificant habit of eating soup in bed like that was something people actually did. And sometimes, these things made Eliot feel microscopic amounts of annoyance and frustration.

Anyway, they had their shit. Like everyone had their shit. Usually, they talked it through and fucked in celebration of talking it through.

But not always.

The worst had been when Eliot and Margo’s friend from their first year came to visit. It was that fun idiot Rick, who always brought a dopey smile and dangerously good times along with him. Thus, despite his early evening promise to stick to a three-drink limit, Eliot had proceeded to get rip-roaring drunk off his ass.

It had been the first time since December 18th and it had been from an overabundance of fucking Jello shots, no less. Atrocity of atrocities. And of course, Eliot had also promptly blacked out, body out of practice and shocked into complacency. Because top notch decision making had always been his greatest strength.

Even two months later, Eliot only had blurry polaroids of the night imprinted on his memory. Dancing on tables, snorting something shiny, wearing his tie like a bandana. Et cetera, et cetera, sigh. 

He was also told—repeatedly, from various sources—about how he went on casting spree through campus. They all breathlessly recounted how he celebrated his renewed love of booze, with grand proclamations, as he literally soared through the sky. They said his laughter echoed off every brick, the hysterical giddiness calling forth a band of true believers—Little Waughs—all following in happy suit, in a raucous pandemonium of dancing and revelry. 

It painted an evocative picture, he had to admit.

—Anyway, then the polaroids got less fun.

Bambi told him the fight was mostly petty bullshit, with a side of drunken nuclear weapon lodging. Which sounded right, at least from the flashing blurs that gutted him dry whenever he dared to dwell upon them. 

He remembered a stricken glare of betrayal, from someone refused to have fun with Eliot, no matter how loudly Eliot insisted on it. He remembered hostile words spat out in haste. He remembered storming away, way more than once. He remembered sobbing in the shower, begging them not to leave, to please stay, as strong arms held him up and smaller hands held his face. 

And Eliot definitely remembered waking up in Quentin’s lap, eyes pained even by the gray morning light. He definitely remembered a cool rag on his forehead and a hand sliding through his hair. And he would always remember a soft kiss to his cheekbone and a gentle voice that said, El, I really think you would benefit from therapy.

Anyway, Quentin didn’t push it after that, because he was Quentin. And it took Eliot another two weeks to make an appointment, because he was Eliot. Once he finally worked up the courage, he started going weekly and it was—

Hard.

But he was doing it, even though it was hard, even though talking fucking sucked. Even though it made him feel like he was ripping his own bones out from under his skin every goddamn time. 

That had to count for something, right?

Back on land, Quentin smoothed down the lapels of his vest and lingered around a gold button. “I don’t ask unless you bring it up because I don’t want to—“

“I know, sweetheart,” Eliot said, leaning down to kiss him, just once. “Thank you.”

Q gave him a small smile but didn’t say anything more, obviously letting Eliot take the lead. He hated it, he was grateful for it, and Quentin was still the reason it was all fucking worth it. So for that reason only, Eliot took the proffered rein, tightening his grip around Quentin’s shoulders and walking them closer to the window with an equivocating frown.

“No, it’s good,” Eliot said, half-meaning it. “She’s kind of a hippie and is all free love and jam bands, man—” he put on a vocal fry and held his hand up in a peace sign to an amused snort from Q “—but then kicks my ass without breaking a sweat. It’s an intriguing mix of traits.”

Eliot could see Quentin’s face in the reflection of the fogged window, distorted and faint. There, his lip worried between his teeth. “You’re comfortable with her?”

It should have been a difficult question, considering how difficult it was for Eliot to get his ass into that office every damn time. But surprisingly, the answer was actually quite simple.

“I like her, which is—a trip,” he said with a smile and he could feel Q relax against his side. Truth often needed further truths to actually be true though. 

“But some of it still fucking sucks.” Eliot swallowed and let out a sharp breath, staring down at the line of yellow taxis that looked like playthings. “We’ve been talking about you a lot and that freaks me out.”

Fingers trailed up and down his spine, soft and coaxing in the best way. “Why does it freak you out?”

Eliot let out a small snort and hid his face in the strands of Quentin’s hair. He affected his usual light and airy tone, a minor shield against the words he was about to say.

“Oh, maybe because I’m worried that one day I’ll be too honest and she’ll tell me I’m right and that I’m too broken to be with you and then obviously I’d have to quit therapy, you know, because she can go fuck herself. And yet no matter what I do, her words will haunt me and thus shall I live out all my days with wondering guilt about whether I’m nothing but a yoke around your neck,” he said in one breath, before offering Q a strained smile. “But I haven’t thought about it that much.”

That Quentin pulled him down into a searing kiss shouldn’t have been a shock by then, but it still took his breath away. Sliding his hands into their home in silken hair, Eliot let the kiss linger, slow and sweet, until Q broke away with his most determined face jutted up at him.

His eyes blazed bright and true. “If she ever said anything in same acreage of that bullshit, I would be the captain of Team She Can Go Fuck Herself, okay?”

“I love you,” Eliot said, murmuring his constant awe. 

With a warm sigh, Quentin softened, hand smoothing up his chest to rest around his neck. The feeling of his thumb brushing his jaw was almost as hypnotic as the way he whispered the words back into his lips. 

When they broke away, Q also said, “But that kind of thought process is, like, exactly what therapy can help you work through, El.”

“I know. Sometimes I’d still rather talk to you though,” Eliot said, turning his face in to kiss Q’s palm. Then he studiously brightened. Enough was enough. “Not today though. Today, we decide if I live here or get my own place.”

He would make enough money to afford either a decent Magician place or a fabulous Muggle place, albeit with shitty access to portals. And there was something to be said for choosing his own space from the ground up, rather than working with the soulless framework provided before him.

But Quentin didn’t miss a beat in his over-the-top eye roll. “Yeah, uh, there’s literally no draw back. It’s free. Take it and make a final decision later.”

“It’s a statement,” Eliot said, tapping his thumb against his lips as he contemplated the space, pacing them in a circle. “It’s saying I’m a bougie Manhattan Magician socialite.”

“Not a good thing?”

Eliot frowned. “Neutral thing.” Maybe we could try that again? Maria’s voice said kindly. “A need-to-get-used-to thing.” Ooh, one more time please. He sighed, frowning deeper. “An I’m-still-nervous-you’re-unimpressed thing.”

“Impressed and proud,” Quentin said, straightening back his shoulders like he was called up to duty. But Eliot ticked a brow at him and he shrugged, cheeks tinged pink. “Well, I mean, yeah, like, I know I might not ever be an expert hobnobber—“

At that, Eliot’s smile cracked like a bright light across his face. Hobnobber. “No? Really?”

Quentin elbowed him with another eye roll. “—but I’ll try for you, if you’ll try for me.”

“Always,” Eliot promised with a nuzzle to his temple.

“Then we’re good. This is good,” Quentin said emphatically, all trademarked optimism, as he took his hand, swinging their arms between them. “Plus, like, lunch with Idri went pretty well I thought.”

Oh.

Huh.

… Sure, Q.

Eliot widened his eyes and nodded, a high-pitched squeak caught in his throat. 

Lunch with Idri had been—it had been something that happened, that was true. It had happened that day. It had been at a nice restaurant, one of the ones in the mall at Columbus Circle. Fancy shit that usually made Quentin groan, but he hadn’t groaned once, which was very generous of him.

That was where the positives ended though.

“It did go well. You were great,” Eliot lied, moving his hand up to massage the nape of Q’s neck. He cleared his throat, testing the water. “Though maybe next time we could work on you, ah, making occasional eye contact too?”

He smiled brightly but only got a dark glare in return. Swing and goddamn miss.

Quentin set his mouth and crossed his arms. “I made eye contact.”

He did not. 

But it meant a lot to Eliot that he was willing to try at all, so he immediately dropped the rope and nodded, kissing his forehead. It didn’t matter if Quentin and Idri liked each other. They’d see each other at holiday parties, max. And Q had been—mostly good with Eliot needing to meet with Idri to go over early plans and strategy, so it wasn’t like it was affecting his work. 

Shit was a work-in-progress, right? 

“Anyway, I’m saying I get it,” Quentin said, cutting through his thoughts to lace their hands back together. “I have to tell my brain to shut up too. You know, when I worry I won’t, like, fit into your life.”

His big brown eyes shrugged up at him, plaintive and sweet. And Eliot’s heart collapsed on itself as he reeled him into his chest. You are my life, he thought without hesitation as he kissed Q, cradling his face between his hands. 

(Maria would definitely have something to say about that, but sometimes Maria really could go fuck herself.)

When he finally pulled away, Eliot twisted his lips and glared around the cavernous space. He sighed, resigned. “Fine. It’ll do.”

Quentin gave him a snarky thumbs up. “Resounding.”

“Not worn in yet,” Eliot said, especially scrunching his nose at the goddamn marble in the kitchen, meant for people who didn’t actually fucking cook. “So it’ll chafe for a minute.”

Quentin rubbed his chin, nearly a parody of thoughtfulness, if it wasn’t so earnest. “Maybe there’s, like, a spell so you could make it look like the Cottage for a little? Ease you into the change?”

Eliot’s incredulous snort was swift and unforgiving.

“God, fuck, could you imagine if I did that?” He shook his head, rolling his eyes. “How sad.”

The shutter over Quentin’s eyes was equally swift. “No sadder than a grown man with Fillory shit all over his room, I guess.”

Eliot sighed. Because, right, yeah, that was another thing Q did.

He recontextualized unrelated statements through the lens of insecurities and then applied the new interpretation to his own perceived failings. After which, he got annoyed at Eliot for triggering the mindfuck, even though there was no way to anticipate it.

It was super fun.

“Hm, that one was a reach,” Eliot said gently, twirling the end of Q’s hair between his fingers. “Curious how you got there?”

Quentin tensed again and shot his eyes back out the window, jaw clenching and muscles popping. “There’s no shame in finding comfort in familiarity.”

Oh, Jesus. He never said there was.

Eliot took a nice deep breath and pressed a firm kiss to Quentin’s temple, silently begging him out of that gorgeous, fucked up brain of his.

“Absolutely true,” Eliot said, meaning it. But also. “But also, it’s good to know when to let things go. Turning points, right?”

At that, Quentin stared up at him with such heartbreaking sincerity, all doe eyes and trembling mouth that inappropriately made his cock twitch. But just as Eliot was about to duck his head down and take a tiny bite of that lower lip, Q sighed and pinched his brow to say—

“So you think I should get rid of all my Fillory shit?”

“Oh my god,” Eliot laughed, pulling him into a tight hug and firmly kissing the top of his head. “We were not even remotely discussing that, baby.”

“I know.” Quentin spoke into his vest, mumbling and grumbling. “But it’s been on my mind.”

“You don’t say,” Eliot chuckled into his hair. Knowing when to take charge, he pulled Q across the room toward their hanging coats. “Come on, you can talk about it while we walk to dinner.”

As usual, Quentin didn’t need to be told twice and the faucet started pouring without end. Eliot smiled to himself as Q talked and talked, helping him with his coat and leading him out the door with his hand on the small of his chatty back.

“—So it’s just, like, Jules worries that I’m basically surrounding myself with constant memories of being hospitalized, which she thinks impedes my growth without me realizing it,” Quentin continued, slumping all the way into Eliot with his entire weight as they settled into the small magical elevator.  “But, like, it doesn’t feel like that? I’m not sure why she would make that assumption?”

He was apparently actually asking, based on the way his unfocused eyes ticked up at him. So Eliot shrugged, putting in the wardbreaker to get them down to the lobby with a thoughtful pinch to his lips.

“Well, I’d guess Fillory reminds her of when you were hospitalized,” he posited, stepping back onto his heel so Q could completely rest against him. “Julia sucks at seeing outside herself sometimes.”

It was true. Eliot would say that to Julia too, even now. But he meant it in a kind way, in an empathetic way. He recognized the undercurrent of soul-trembling fear, right under the skin, whenever Q got more and more engrossed in the books, when he wouldn’t talk about anything else. It was a siren, for sure.

But Julia was a large picture thinker with a smattering of extreme myopic perspectives, especially when it came to Quentin. It was hard for her to parse out the difference between Q’s standard love of Fillory and when he was turning inward because he needed Fillory, because shit was going south, bad and fast. 

It was understandable—even easy —to say that Quentin should rid himself of the reminder of his depression hyperfixation at all costs. But it was also missing the forest for the trees.

“Shit,” Quentin said quietly, blinking into a frown. “I never thought of that. That actually makes sense.”

“She doesn’t get the comfort it brings or the hope you see in it, even when your brain isn’t actively breaking on you,” Eliot continued, absently playing with Quentin’s hair. The elevator ticked down with ringing bell pings. “You should focus on that when you talk to her about it. If you do. It’s also reasonable to tell her you don’t want to engage.”

“Damn,” Quentin said, blinking again. This time he smiled. “Therapy, bitches.”

The elevator doors opened to the lobby as Eliot kissed him, endlessly charmed by things that shouldn’t charm him.

“My newfound psychological expertise is going to be so useful when I’m a cult leader,” Eliot said brightly, tangling their fingers for all the world to see. “Anyway, let’s go, I’m starving.”

As they braced themselves against the wet and cool air, drizzle flying at their faces and enchanted umbrella fighting against the breeze, Quentin tucked into Eliot’s side, both of them warm and dry and safe.

Q looked up at Eliot with a soft smile—like he felt warm and dry and safe—and kissed him, quick and chaste. Eliot felt it in his soul.

Then Quentin sighed, rolling his eyes. “But really, it’s also none of her goddamn business how I decorate my room.”

“Well, that’s just true,” Eliot said, matching his annoyance in the spirit of camaraderie. He held the umbrella out and pushed them forward, off toward the mythic subway. “Fuckin’ Julia.”

Quentin smirked, arm wrapping tight around his waist. “Fuckin’ Julia.”

 



The gnocchi was excellent, per usual, at the little muggle spot they had grown to call their own. 

The company was even better, with Quentin’s beautiful face illuminated by candlelight glowing above white linen. It was a detail Q always called a hazard (“Oh, whoa, that’s a hazard,”) without fail, every time they sat down. And that detail always made Eliot smile, without fail, every time they sat down next to each other. Because, yes, they were also one of those gross couples that sat next to each other instead of across from each other, mostly so Eliot could whisper dirty little things to a blushing Q as the mood struck. 

Point was, it was sopping romantic in every wonderful way that Eliot had never known he wanted, for so long. For far too long.

(On the other hand, the one time he tried to feed Quentin a bite of food, Q had rolled his eyes and said, “I know how to use a fork.” So some things didn’t change.)

After lingering over a tiramisu for longer than necessary, the two of them stepped out to find the evening sky quieted. The streets shined with low headlights and burgeoning streetlights, reflecting golden life and steel in streaks of water and grime. But the air was pleasantly cool, so Eliot and Quentin walked to the hotel on 57th and Park—the worst part of town that Eliot still desperately found himself wanting to conquer.

Consistency in desire was for suckers.

So conquer he did, ushering Q into a private elevator and crowding him against the wall, kissing him senseless. Dizzy and hot, Eliot skimmed hands and lips and teeth everywhere he could reach the whole fifty-two story journey upward into the Manhattan sky.

He had been a very patient man all day, a blight against nature.

They stumbled out of the elevator and immediately into the room, with Eliot barely giving the surroundings a second glance. Without even coming up for air, he unbuttoned their coats and slid them to the floor, and his hands slid back into Q’s hair, focused and with a thousand types of intent.

But Quentin was on an observant alert, taking a breath to wrench his face away from Eliot. And he stared around the room with the squinted eyes of a detective. 

It had been building from his first suspicious brow twitch in the lobby. 

The movement had astutely registered how everyone at reception lit up when seeing their full reservation. Q’s forehead wrinkled tightly when the concierge had rushed over, bending over backwards to kiss each of Eliot’s rings, full with tongue. Then finally, his whole damn face deepened into Sherlock Holmes territory when they were escorted to their own elevator, the words Our pleasure, Mr. Waugh thrown around like candy and oxygen.

So it wasn’t a huge shock when his pretty mouth gaped open, stilled and awed against Eliot’s best efforts. Quentin faltered back once, blinking and sputtering as he stepped further into the room, arms flat against his side, drawing to pop.

“Jesus Christ, Eliot,” he said, staring up at the cathedral ceiling and then out the massive window. “What the fuck?”

The room glittered in low lights, the white walls shining with lacquer and precious stone, rising high to a dramatic point. Falling down from above was a twisting glass chandelier, silhouetted by a sweeping view of all Manhattan. A roaring fireplace greeted them from afar and the first room itself was larger than the whole downstairs of the magically enhanced Cottage.

“Nice, right?” Eliot said, waving a dismissive hand toward the splendor, before pressing Q against the nearest shiny wall and returning to his mission, teeth scraping against soft skin. “Let’s find the bedroom.”

“Sure, uh, do you have the map handy?”

And Quentin was officially distracted. 

Great.

Eliot rested all his weight against Q’s shoulder, growing sexual frustration emanating from a single point on his forehead. He sighed, popping one cocked eye up at one adorably flabbergasted face.

“You said I could spoil you a little this time,” Eliot said quietly, seductively, fingers trailing up and down Quentin’s sides, dipping up and under his shirt. He nipped down at the spot on his neck, the one that always did it for Q.

—But no dice.

“Yeah, but I thought that meant––” Quentin cut himself off with a fly-catching wide mouth, eyes somehow even wider. He dragged himself out of Eliot’s wanting arms to scrunch his face at the shimmering details, luxurious even to the layman. “But this is—this is—how much did this cost?”

It was the most expensive hotel room in New York.

Eliot clicked his tongue against his teeth. “That’s a very rude question.”

His gentle chastisement did not have the intended disarming effect. Instead, Quentin lowered his brow into a foreboding chastisement of his own. 

His voice was a low warning. “Eliot—“

“Oh, humor me, Coldwater,” Eliot said smoothly, winding his arms around him from behind. He smiled against the shell of his ear, whispering. “Think of that sad little boy standing in a cold and lonely cornfield, who never thought he’d get—“

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,”  Q said, dropping his head back onto Eliot’s shoulder, relaxing against his chest. “Though for the record, this feels more like you spoiling you.”

Not incorrect.

It was a weird month. And they deserved a little glamour.

Eliot deserved a little glamour.

So he conceded the point by chuckling and then biting the soft skin of his earlobe, hands smoothing down Quentin’s stomach and under the band of his jeans until he could feel a smattering of soft-coarse curls. He chuckled even more at the sharp intake of breath he elicited, like Q was shocked and pleased, like it was the first time Eliot had touched him like this.

Though Eliot also couldn’t deny the way his own heart rate picked up, the giddy lightheadedness racing up his spine as his lips buried into the warm skin of his neck, as he felt Q harden under his fingers.

(... And he also couldn’t deny that Maria would have something to say about Eliot’s tendency to use his “trauma” as a lighthearted means of teasing Quentin, the way he la-di-da deflected it as humorous, like it something so detached he could joke about it. Like that was strength, like that was acceptance and healing, rather than a new tactic for avoidance.

—She was annoying as shit.)

But Quentin was a fucking tease and pulled away again with little more than a consolation kiss to the underside of Eliot’s jaw, the fucking tease. 

Q walked over to the enormous glass table by the enormous window (with two golden rams’ heads at the base, you’re welcome ) and flipped open the leatherbound information packet, shaking his pretty head all the while.

“Seriously,” Quentin said, glancing up over his shoulder and swiping his hand over the thick linen white paper. “You know this is all totally lost on me, right?”

“The mother-of-pearl inlay doesn’t scratch your aesthetic itch?” Eliot reached his hand out and ran his fingers across the cool wall, dancing across the iridescent detail.

Q snorted, eyes ticking up to roll along with his small grin, still flipping through the pages. “Maybe if I knew what an inlay was.”

“Aw,” Eliot said, crossing the room and wrapping soft hair into his hands, twisting the strands into a bun as he teased. “I’m sure you can figure it out with that big brain of yours.”

Quentin read a lot. He could use some context clues to put together in and lay when it came to wall interior design. Just like how he could figure out Phosphoromancy if he really tried his best.

They were all rooting for him.

“This says we have a Rolls-Royce chauffeur service?” Quentin stuck out his tongue and scoffed, as though Eliot wasn’t peppering expert kisses on the nape of his neck. “I mean, I guess that’s one way to get stuck in fucking Midtown gridlock.”

“Grumpy Gus,” Eliot breathed into his skin, barely able to tamp down a fond smile. “Come here.”

But the pages just flipped with more and more zeal.

“Unlimited massages? There’s a zen room? A library? A grand piano? An infinity tub?” Quentin flipped around and put his hands on his cute little hips. “How much did this cost , Eliot?”

At that, Eliot tsk’d his lips up once, stepping right into his space and kissing him, soft and sweet. Quentin was such a worrywart, so easily riled up. His irritation was intoxicating.

Eliot walked them back against the white wall, contrasted next to the black and light-dappled cityscape below. Quentin was still murmuring things like, And what the fuck is Chinese onyx? against his lips and so Eliot sighed, cupping his face between his hands.

Then he sunk to his knees, flicking open a button in one quick movement.

“Oh— oh ,” Quentin breathed, finally halting his brain. His fingers slid into Eliot’s hair automatically, as Eliot pulled him out reverently. “Oh, this is what we’re doing.”

Eliot smirked, nuzzling gently before lavishing the head with a slow kiss. “Yes, Q, this is what we’re doing.”

Eyes tracing upward, he could see the line of Quentin’s throat spasm and his eyes close, as Eliot sucked him slowly, a tease begot from teasing.

“Like, uh,” Q pitched his voice up, knees buckling. “Like, right now?”

“Like, right now,” Eliot promised, before taking him all the way into the heat of his mouth, thrilling at the feel of him hardening against his tongue, at the sound of the small noises Quentin always, always made, immediate and unbidden and wild.

And so, all teasing ceased.

 


 

Splayed over a huge silk comforter and under a truly obscene ceiling canopy, Quentin settled his cheek along Eliot’s hipbone, their breaths and pulses finally cooling in the clean afterglow. 

Eliot rested against a cloud masquerading as a pillow, while Q nosed at his pelvis, twining his fingers through the hair he found there. He stayed like that for a long time, with his own silky hair fanned out across Eliot’s chest, and his hands moved and scratched and pet, without heat. It was pure exploration, growing more experimental and calculating with each moment. 

It was hypnotic, meditative. Eliot closed his eyes, quiet and content.

But when sharp little pinch pulls came from down below, he finally broke, along with a smile across his face. “Whatcha doin’, Q?”

He couldn’t see his face, but Eliot could feel the lines of his jaw tensing, like Quentin was squinting, observing. “Your pubes are, like, perfect.”

“Oh?” Eliot laughed, tugging at the ends of Q’s own perfect hair. “Is that so?”

Quentin flopped onto his belly, digging his chin into the line right above said hair and giving Eliot a rather spectacular view of his ass. “Pretty sure they’re the Platonic ideal of pubes.”

“I condition them,” Eliot said, certain the fondness in his voice was a billboard for his heart. “It’s an involved process.”

“Seriously?” Q flashed his warm brown eyes up at Eliot and smiled at the slow confirmatory nod. Then he returned back to his exploration. “The curls are so curly and shiny, and it’s like I can see every one.”

“Mmm,” Eliot said distractedly, since he was distracted by how the curve of Quentin’s ass felt under his fingers. “Happy to know my work has paid off in your appreciation.”

“It’s like if you pull on one, it’ll just, uh,” Q tilted his nose down, fingers twisting and twirling above the curls, “sproing back.”

Eliot stilled his hand—fingers wide around impossibly smooth skin—and tucked his lip between his teeth. “Sproing?”

“Yeah, see?” Quentin buried his fingers down and then pulled, hard. Sure enough, the hair straightened out and then popped right back into a curl. Again, and again, and again. “ Sproing . Sproing. Sproing . Sproi—“

Eliot’s breath caught in his throat, wild and tight with the knowledge that this was real. That Q was there with him, with him, despite everything, despite fucking everything, and that was—

That was—

“God, you’re a dork,” he said, like his heart wasn’t raw and overworked in his chest, ready to explode if he didn’t feel the warm pressure of Quentin’s body over it immediately. “Get up here.”

He gathered Quentin onto his chest and wrapped them in the opulent blanket, pressing kisses to his cheeks and nose between bright smiles. The weight of him, the warmth of him, quieted the universe.

“Well, I can’t be that dorky if I got an Eliot smile out of it,” Q said, laughing into his breastbone. “I’m suave as hell they say.”

Oh, sweetheart.

“You are absolutely that dorky and that’s why you make me smile,” Eliot said, meaning to tease but coming out aching, a confession into his hair. “Among other reasons.”

Quentin kissed the space just above his heart and snuggled in tight. Silence covered them like pleasant rain, dripping and warm, otherworldly. Eliot wrote words into Quentin’s back with his fingertips, ones he knew, but ones he could never know well enough.

“Do you need to talk about it?”

Eliot almost didn’t hear Quentin’s question, uttered so softly into the low light. And pathetically, his first instinct was to lighten his tone and scoff, Talk about what? 

But he was still trying to be better than his instincts—first or otherwise—especially as the stakes grew every day, along with his boundless love for Q. So Eliot swallowed and ran his hand through his hair, kissing his forehead.

“I should be asking you that,” he said simply, pulling him closer so every part of them was touching. His dick gave a newly interested twitch at the still novel feel of naked Quentin, but that wasn’t the point right now.

“Except I’m fine,” Quentin said, as he always did. Eliot pushed a knuckle into a tense spot in his back, kneading. Coaxing.

“It’s okay if you’re not,” he said softly, relishing the low happy moan Q gave at the unexpected massage. “Just because I haven’t been doesn’t mean you—“

Quentin cut him off with a kiss, surging up with his arms wrapped all around his neck, hands deep in his hair. Then he broke away, smiling with a touch of melancholy as their foreheads pressed together.

“I know, baby,” Q said softly and Eliot kissed him again for it. “But the thing is, I’m, like, way less full of shit than you are.”

Eliot snorted. “Thanks.”

“I’m just saying,” Quentin said with a sigh, gentle eyes belying his bratty grin. “If I wasn’t fine, you’d know. Not always the case with you.”

Fair enough.

“You do have a terrible poker face,” Eliot said, letting his mouth spark up at Quentin’s instant indignation. He was so easy. He was perfect.

“We’re not changing the subject,” Q said fairly and firmly, eyes dark and determined, “but my lack of poker face is my poker face. I would sweep you goddamn clean.”

“Of course, sweetheart,” Eliot said, wide-eyed and never condescending. He laughed and dipped down to bite the tip of the middle finger wagged in his face. Then he kissed it because, well, that was who he was now.

Quentin’s face went soft and he curled back into Eliot, facing away from him, staying close. The perfect position for talking about heavy shit. “Tomorrow’s a weird day—“

“One way to put it,” Eliot said, sniffing over a clench in his chest.

“—and, like, I know you’ve been trying to not overburden me with your feelings or whatever,” Quentin said, playing with Eliot’s fingers, his rings, the lines on his palm. “But I meant what I said that first night, that I don’t want you to carry it alone. That’s, like, what I’m here for.”

“I know,” Eliot said quietly. He let out a shaky breath and wound his arms around Q, like a child clinging to a raft. “I know. But I think I’m mostly looking for a distraction right now.”

“You don’t say.” Quentin traced his eyes up the lines of the lavish room, all gentle amusement. Eliot chuckled despite himself, slowly learning to enjoy his own predictability, the way Q did. Q made things like that much easier than he ever would have guessed.

“That’s the other reason you’ve been coming up with Maria,” Eliot admitted without really meaning to. He felt Q’s nod but didn’t see it, because his throat tightened and his eyes closed. “I’ve been dreaming about it. A lot. The only thing that helps—is keeping my mind off it.”

Quentin stroked his thumb along the veins on the back of Eliot’s hand, could probably feel the cold rush of blood. “So you don’t want to, like, process? Ahead of the day?”

Eliot was nothing but a process right now. 

Every fractured part of his heart, every whir in his brain, every ache in his bones was process, process, process . And coming up on The Anniversary—of what happened in April, the Kady shit, the worst day of his life, whatever the hell one wanted to call it—all he wanted was for the gears to click in place, to give him peace. He wanted to forget and focus on the gorgeous man in his arms, and nothing else.

And Eliot was getting better at asking for what he wanted.

“Out loud?” He filled one side of his mouth with air and exhaled, dropping a wincing kiss on the top of his head. “Not really.” Then he paused, uncertain again. “Is—is that okay?”

“Yeah, just offering,” Quentin said, like he really was. He brought Eliot’s hand up to his lips and kissed his knuckles, and that was that. Q nodded over toward the wall-sized television. “Wanna watch Get Out? I’ve heard it’s, like, really good.”

Eliot smiled, eternally grateful for him.

—But no, he didn’t want to fucking watch Get Out

He didn’t want to watch horror or social commentary or anything that made his brain engage beyond the giddy swoop of his stomach after two fictional characters finally kissed, as well the feel of his own romantic hero’s back leaning on his chest.

“Let’s see if we can find something more lighthearted,” Eliot said, flipping on the television with telekinesis and scrolling the menu options while chewing on his lips. “Maybe a nice rom-com.”

Then something terrible happened.

Quentin grumbled and rolled his eyes. “But I hate romantic comedies”

Time stopped. Wars ceased. The cries of the saints turned breathless in their horror.

Eliot slit burning eyes over at Q, a growl behind his teeth. “Excuse me?”

Quentin shrugged, like he hadn’t thrown Eliot’s whole world off its axis and hurling into space. “They’re all the same.”

He had some fucking nerve. 

Eliot crossed his arms over his chest, glaring down so hard as a single dark curl obscured his vision. “Like your whole sci-fi and fantasy genre never follows a formula.”

Q bobbed his head back and forth, shaking his Pedant Finger wildly. “Okay, yeah, no, but that’s different.”

Eliot let his mouth fall open, wide and indignant. “How the fuck is it different?”

“Because, like, rom-coms are all heteronormative garbage,” Quentin said, throwing his hands up and going into full-blown Q mode. “They’re all like, Hi, I’m a fucking blonde woman named Patti ––”

Eliot forced down a laugh, ticking his brow with a wobbly, “... Patti?”

“—and I work in publishing, which is actually a grueling-ass industry, but I spend all my time drinking, like, lattes and tripping over rugs and shit.

“It makes her relatable to the average American,” Eliot explained patiently. “We’re a klutzy, coffee-drinking culture, Q.”

Quentin sat up more, wind filling his sails. “And then there’s, like, a brown-haired actor from England but they make him speak like an American, even though he’d be way hotter with the accent—”

Eliot nodded thoughtfully. “Point to Quentin.”

“—and he’s all, I’m a playboy hotshot architect up for a promotion and I have no need for human connection because I’m probably a sociopath.” Q put on a criminally nerdy approximation of a brawny asshole voice and Eliot fell in love with him all over again. “ So I’m gonna be a total douchebag for most of the movie and ride a motorbike inexplicably.

“It represents his powerful dick,” Eliot purred into Q’s ear, sliding a hand up his thigh. But Quentin was on a roll, never to be deterred.

“Then the two of them do increasingly demented and cruel things to each other but it’s, like, packaged as the height of fucking romance until finally Patti dumps his ass for lying to her about some promotion-related bullshit—which, like, why does his promotion have anything to do with her?” Q threw his hands in the air. “Who the fuck knows!”

As he ranted, Quentin’s voice pitched up and up, and he scrubbed his hand down his face, apparently genuinely distressed.

It was very cute.

(Also, Eliot had to say that Q really knew a lot about the basic structure of rom-coms for someone who quote-unquote hated them.)

“But despite that single wise decision, all sanity ends abruptly with the douchebag running through the city and being like,” Quentin let his eyes get heavy-lidded, dumb adorable voice turning back on, “love you, you are the other half of my soul, you’ve enchanted my heart with your crystalline eyes even though he’s had all the poetry of, like, a skateboarding dog before that point.”

Eliot fucking loved him.

Quentin huffed a deep breath and slumped over, out of steam. “Then they make out in the rain, cut to credits. It’s boring.”

The only sound was their heavy breaths and the chipper hotel channel, telling them about the great sights of the great city. Eliot slid his hand over Quentin’s and squeezed, falling back into the soft pillows and gazing up at him through his lashes.

“I really want you to know,” Eliot said, with every ounce of tenderness in his heart, “that I would watch the fuck out of the movie you just pitched.”

Quentin snorted but fell down into his arms, where he belonged. He sighed as Eliot happily nosed at his jaw, staring up at the ceiling, cute little brow pinching in that cute little way.

“They always have so much shit between them that they don’t deal with. Like, at all,” Q said with a thoughtful frown. “We never see them address, like, their trust issues or how they’re going to communicate better in the future.”

Eliot smiled into his cheek. “Because no one cares about that, Q.”

“But like, we barely even know why they love each other, why it’s all so worth their, uh, mutual mountains of asocial bullshit,” Quentin continued, curling down into Eliot. His voice was muffled and Eliot could feel his lips move against his chest. “Usually there’s one scene where the douchebag meets Patti’s wacky family and he smiles at her and we’re supposed to just, like, intuit true love.”

Again, quite the evocative and specific detail from an avowed hater.

“It’s popcorn bullshit fun,” Eliot said lightly, trailing a hand down the knobs of Q’s spine, lazy and relaxed. “No different than your cookie cutter superhero movies.”

Quentin popped the fuck up at that. “They’re not cookie cutter.”

And Eliot knew the only way forward.

“Name one difference between Captain America and Superman,” he said slowly, letting his smile take over his face like syrup, like diffused light, like destiny. And Quentin turned a stony glare on him, fingers grabbing fistfuls of fancy sheets as his face turned pale.

His voice was brittle as he said, “I am not having that conversation again.”

“Because you know I’m right,” Eliot said, stroking his hair and pressing kisses up the column of his neck. Quentin turned a delicious shade of splotchy red as he worked his jaw and his gorgeous hands and fuck, Eliot wanted every piece of him.

“No, you are not—the physical changes in Captain America are the result of—and, and, and fucking Superman is a goddamn—no,” Quentin managed to get out, as Eliot just kept humming sweetly and kissing him. “No, just, like, pick your rom-com. This is a nice night. We’re having a nice night.”

“Great!” Eliot said cheerfully, pulling away with a shit eating grin even riled up Nerd Q couldn’t resist. He got a quick, annoyed kiss for his efforts. All was well.

—And Steve Rogers was the same as Clark Kent, the end.

So Eliot turned back to the menu options, victorious, before landing on one of the many retro offerings with an even bigger grin. “Ooh, Never Been Kissed. A classic.”

Quentin shrugged. “Don’t know it.”

Oh, he was in for a treat

Eliot waggled his brows and rubbed his hands together, shifting so Quentin was basically laying on top of him.

“Late ‘90s Drew Barrymore as an irresponsible journalist infiltrating teen life,” he summed up with a grin, before whispering conspiratorially. “The cute English teacher thinks she’s his seventeen-year-old high school student, basically the whole time. They fall in love at first sight and end up making out in a baseball field.” He paused to stick the landing. “They compare it to As You Like It.”

It was the Greatest Movie of All Time—and it’s was thematically relevant to their sex life. 

Win-win.

“Jesus Christ,” Quentin sighed, shaking his head. Then he frowned a little. “Also, spoilers.”

“So sorry,” Eliot laughed, nuzzling his temple. He wound his arms around Quentin from behind as the movie started and the warm comfort of beautiful nothing overtook them.

As it was, the masterpiece film was as cheesy and ridiculous and adorable as he remembered. The early bits featured a mousy brunette Drew in some truly terrible pleated skirts but with a far too cute face to be so unlucky in love. Then she dyed her hair blonde but wore makeup that washed her out and met the hot teacher in soft beige sweaters who wanted his students to call him Sam, with goddamn bedroom eyes. Which, like—

Yes, sir.

And true to his rom-com hating word, Quentin quickly lost interest, turning to the siren call of his phone and internet access. He scrolled through Reddit and other terrible websites while remaining propped against him, only interjecting with a Wait, is that James Franco? and a Shit, I forgot David Arquette was ever, like, a thing and an Uh, were the screenwriters all homeschooled or something? as occasional bitchy commentary. And Eliot called them over snacks and a little wine, and they lounged, free from their troubles.

It felt domestic.

It felt really nice.

But just as it was prom night, and Mr. Sam Coulson slow danced with his goddamn student and was about to fucking tell her that he loved her, all while a couple of bitches planned to dump dog food on a model-beautiful girl they called Alpo—because it was the greatest movie of all time—Quentin jolted up, eyes wild and darting.

“Oh my god, Eliot,” Q sputtered out, hand in his forehead like he had a fever. “What the—what the fuck?”

“I know,” Eliot said, popping a chocolate in his mouth. He nodded in joyful commiseration. “This is such a juicy part.”

“No, I mean, what the fuck ?” Quentin hissed, slamming his finger on the face of his phone. “Is this right?”

Eliot glanced over his shoulder and, uh-oh, oops, Q had googled four seasons ny penthouse cost per night and the (definitely right) answer came up over and over again in bold, highlighted in several online travel magazine articles.

Which, yeah.

It was a large number.

“You can’t—“ Quentin gaped at him again, hand in his hair, strands shaking in the luxurious air. He squeezed his eyes tight. “How big was your fucking signing bonus? How much are you making at this fucking job?”

Eliot would make a lot.

Like… a lot.

Even by Magician standards. 

Not because the market valued event planning so highly. Rather, all payment was an ongoing blessing from Bacchus, enacted centuries ago, in perpetuity. Which must have been why the agency promoted him so much despite what a dickhead he was.

(Seriously, Eliot had sat in on a meeting with him and the god kept insisting on all party music be nothing but the Black Eyed-Peas , for the whole of the next year, to bring them back to “relevancy.”

—He was a scourge and an embarrassment.)

That aside, the size of his future paycheck made Eliot vacillate between pride and shame. Between overwhelming joy of make there, make it anywhere and the sick hollow gutting of his Midwestern-Frugality-is-Virtue upbringing. And then maybe, he also felt a touch of actual uncomfortable ambiguity—of not knowing what the fuck he was going to do with any of it, of what it meant. 

His inner turmoil had been enough to neglect mentioning the exact size of his upcoming yearly income to Quentin, who would definitely have… thoughts. Many, many thoughts. An exhausting amount of thoughts. He wouldn’t put it off forever, couldn’t put it off forever, but—

Maybe a little longer.

(Of course, Eliot had mentioned it to Bambi, who immediately jumped in the air, hugged him, and screamed, “Oh my god, I’m rich!”)

“Magicians operate in a different realm,” Eliot said lightly, knowing it answered zero if the questions posed. “It’s a totally different system that happens to coincide with the muggle one, and to our advantage. It’s fine.”

It’s fine. Please.

Eliot knew the guilt and the flashbacks and the self-loathing would kick in. They had already started, creeping deep in his psyche, taunting him cold with his failures. And he knew part of why he was in that ridiculous room was to try to overwrite all that, while he could. He could overwrite his pain, his guilt, his past—wannabe sugar daddies and cold beds and truth serum all—with a view at the top of the world, for the man who loved him, against all odds. 

And while they were there, tucked away in their own little world—which, yes, he knew was ludicrous and ostentatious and maybe genuinely criminally expensive. But while they were there, Eliot was also safe and far away from everything that was going to kick in, going to catch up with him. At least, for a little while.

For a little while, Eliot could just be, and be with Quentin too.

So he swallowed, tilting his eyes and pleading. It’s fine, please.  

Like he could read Eliot’s face with perfect fluency, Quentin let out a soft breath and clicked off his phone.

“Okay, Jesus, fuck, okay,” Q said, laying his palms flat on the fluffy blanket, taking another deep breath. Then he glanced sidelong at him, lips quirking. “Okay, this is fine, I get it. It’s a distraction—“ his eyes went gentle for a moment as he leaned up to kiss him “—and your money.”

“Glad you agree,” Eliot said with another small kiss to his lips. “Let’s indulge in our All-You-Can-Eat caviar then soon, hm?”

(It was an actual amenity.)

“First, gross,” Quentin said, holding his finger in the air. “Second, I do want to make the very quick point that when we share finances, you can’t do this kind of thing without talking to me about it.”

Eliot burst into a smile, blooming wildflowers. When, when, when. “Understood.”

“No, uh-uh, no, don’t look at me like that,” Q said, eyes too bright above his flat-lined mouth, giving him away like they always did. “That was supposed to be stern, not romantic.”

“It was stern and romantic,” Eliot said, tugging him closer and smiling wide. “Swoon.”

He literally swooned into Quentin’s chest, cheek flat against his heartbeat. It picked up gently, maybe playfully, as he felt lips press firm at the crown on his head.

“Jesus Christ,” Quentin grumbled into his curls, the slightest tinge of laughter in the gruff tone.

Eliot tipped his chin up at him and smiled. “You’re a good boyfriend.”

“I’m an indulgent boyfriend,” Q corrected, smoothing his hand over his curls. Eliot popped all the way up and kissed him as punishment for his cheek, then dragged him back down to his shoulder.

“Synonyms,” he said, kissing the very tip of Quentin’s nose. But then he sighed, the gurgle of confession strangling words out against his will. “... These sheets have 22-carat gold woven into the fabric.”

Oh my god, Eliot.”


 

The day itself passed without much fanfare.

Eliot woke up early, but let Q sleep on him for a few hours, mouth soft against his chest. When Sleeping Beauty finally arose, they fucked slow and hushed, without a single word between them. Eliot savored his warm skin, the quick beat of his heart, the scratch of his stubble, the sweet relief of his catching breaths—he felt all of it, all around him, everywhere.

After, they stumbled out of bed, took a long shower, had a decadent room service breakfast (that, yes, involved comped sides of caviar.) Then they checked out of what Quentin had started to fondly and brattily call High King Eliot’s Distraction Palace, back to Brakebills.

And Q spent the rest of the day with Julia, per the custody arrangement.

It was fair. It was fine. Eliot was okay with it. 

Not only because that day had sucked for Julia as much as it sucked for him, but also because it meant he got to hole up with Margo. She plied him with with muggle THC, boatloads of gossip, and another rewatch of Never Been Kissed , but this time with the appreciation it deserved. (“The things I would do to Michael Vartan cannot be legally categorized,” Bambi declared as they watched him ride on a romantic ferris wheel with someone he thought was his bullied underage student. Eliot agreed.)

But once nighttime rolled around and his nerves started acting up, Margo made him a potion for dreamless sleep and they cuddled in his bed. She whispered sweet things to him, nonsense things, and he fell into the void. Then, when Eliot woke up the next morning, Quentin was in her place. 

Anyway, that next day ended up being hard.

Really hard.

—Eliot-didn’t-want-to-talk-about-it kind of hard.

But the day after was a little better. Then the day after that was a little better than that. And the next, and the next, and the next.

They weren’t all better in a straight line. Sometimes everything stayed the same. Sometimes it got worse. Sometimes he forgot about it altogether. But he went to therapy and he worked on his thesis and he planned parties and he kept the gears moving. He processed, processed, processed. Ever moving, ever changing, ever all the same. Ever getting better.

So before Eliot knew it, it was the day he had been planning all year. The most important event of his lifetime, if not the century itself.

—It was Bambi Thesis Day.

“I don’t want a fuss,” Margo had airily said, at the very beginning of the year. She waited perched on the kitchen counter for Eliot to finish making her coffee. “All I require is breakfast in bed served with a single stemmed red rose in a white bud vase, a picnic reception upon my glorious victory wherein I rub my superior magical adeptness in the panting faces of everyone who ever doubted me, and then a 75-to-100-person party at the Cottage with all my favorite music. Black tie, non-optional.”

“Uh, what exactly would a fuss look like then?” Quentin had asked, adorably befuddled over his own mug of coffee. Eliot had grinned at him and laughed into his work, but didn’t say anything. Bambi had it handled.

“Oh, honey,” Margo had cooed, scooting over to bump her hip into his arm with a devious smile. “You’ll find out at Encanto Oculto.”

Quentin had rolled his eyes. “Yeah, except I’m not going to that.”

“You’re going and you’ll like it,” Eliot had shot back over his shoulder, right as Margo had scowled to say Yes, you fucking are, dickhole. And Quentin had flipped them both off and Margo had laughed and it all felt like a million years ago, like a different lifetime.

Back then, Eliot had ignored him and gathered the delicate cup in his hands, the heat warming his palms. He brought it over to Margo with care  and kissed her cheek. “Turkish coffee for my Bambi. And of course, I’ll deliver every wish you command.”

“I know you will, baby,” she said, pressing her cool hand to his cheek. “I’ll have extremely high expectations.”

“As I prefer,” Eliot had said happily. At her answering smile, he stroked his thumb on her tiny elbow before spinning around back to busy himself with something other than impending classwork. 

Meanwhile, Margo kept listing her elaborate demands—partially to tease Quentin and partially because Margo really did have high expectations––and Eliot always volleyed back with an even more extravagant counter. Because not even Ms. Hanson herself could outdo him in decadence.

(He also remembered how Quentin was looking at him, at Eliot-and-Bambi doing their pitter-patter back and forth, almost wistfully, almost softly, with the tiniest smile over the rim of his mug. At the time, his heart went stuttering and pained in his chest and he extinguished hope before the first light ignited. But now, looking back, well—

Eliot was trying to be better than his instincts, while also trusting them more.)

In the present, The Day was going off without a hitch.

He had burst into Margo’s room at the crack of dawn, blithely ignoring Julia’s grumpy Fucking seriously, dude? to telekinetically lay out a platter for both of them, surrounded by glowing magic candlelight, warming the sweet and adorable room with a prism of vivid colors, courtesy of an Alice Quinn charm.

The serving tray and candlesticks were ornate carved silver, and the room filled with their favorite foods and several types of specialty mimosas, as well as the requested single red rose. While he was setting up, Margo slept like the dead and so she didn’t stir, just as Eliot hoped. With a final flourish of delights, he raised his eyebrows once at Julia and bowed, finger to his lips as he backed out the door. 

But Julia had let out a quick Psst between her teeth before he ducked away, capturing his attention for a moment longer.

“This is nice,” Julia whispered at him over her trademarked tiny smile. Then she threw a pillow at his chest. “But give a girl some warning next time.”

Eliot rolled his eyes. “Fine.” Then he pursed his lips. “Don’t let her drink more than two of the mimosas. They’re strong.”

“Don’t let her?” Julia laughed silently and offered a snarky thumbs up. “Sure.”

“Well, make sure she knows they’re strong,” Eliot hissed back, hands on his hips. “They’re really strong.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t have put so much alcohol in them then.”

“You of all people should respect my dedication to the pursuit of—”

“Oh my god, El,” Margo grumbled from under her mess of hair into her pillow. “Go the fuck away.”

At that, Julia bit her lip and coughed back a laugh, eyes glittering as she looked around at all of the efforts put forth, which had been summarily dismissed for more sleep. She mouthed Sorry, wincing her lip down and pressing her laughing mouth into Bambi’s grumpy shoulder. But he just shrugged—used to it—and winked at the growing adoration over Julia’s soft face, as she ran her fingernails down the slender back beside her, lips tilting into something private and sacred. 

Then Eliot went the fuck away. 

Thesis defenses at Brakebills were closed door affairs, so no one actually got to witness Margo’s certain triumph. But she had no problem regaling them with the tale, in varying styles and dramatics, as they all finally laid out on the picnic blanket later that afternoon, magic sun warming their faces.

“—and then Fogg caught his breath to say, Margo—may I call you Margo? ” Bambi said, in deep baritone, before arching a brow. “And I declined, so he said, Ms. Hanson, that was the single greatest feat of magic I have seen in my entire career. My work is complete .”

That tracked.

Eliot nodded, despite the incredulous snort from Quentin, who was already neck deep in the cheese plate without glancing up. At the same time, Julia pressed her lips closed into the world’s fondest smile, stroking Margo’s hair and tugging her head in her lap.

“You are so full of shit,” she murmured down into Bambi’s forehead, in that usual way of hers that always sounded suspiciously like I love you. Eliot glanced away with a smile of his own, heart warming at the recognition of it.

“Prove it,” Margo drawled lazily, snuggling into her girlfriend’s stomach. “Anyway, I guess you could say it went okay.”

But from the other side of the blanket, Alice tucked her legs under her skirt and bit her lip, frowning. “So the committee didn’t have any questions about the application of cryomantic properties to metaphysical bridges?”

Maybe only Eliot caught it, but Bambi’s brow darkened. “No, they did.” She paused and smirked, slightly strained. “I kicked that question’s ass though. End of story.”

“Oh, how?” Alice perked up, not reading the room. Or the way Margo literally said end of story. “Because when I saw your trial practicum and notes, I was mostly impressed, but that detail seemed like a potential paradox. So I wasn’t sure how—“

“Alice, darling,” Eliot said, gently cutting her the fuck off. Bambi was tired and drained. And definitely caught that mostly. Dangerous territory. “Would you be an absolute love and pour the champagne for everyone? I realized we haven’t toasted yet and that’s unacceptable.”

Alice glared at both his interruption and implication for a moment. But then she gave a curt nod, tutting an obnoxiously quick series of telekinesis enchantments. In a shock of seconds, they all had filled champagne flutes in their hands.

“Holy shit,” Quentin said, startling back to earth as his hand clasped around the unexpected stem. Obviously, he splashed the fizzing drink behind him, but Eliot caught it with his mind and returned it to its rightful place. He received a quick perfect grin of thanks for his effort, and all was well.

Then once each of them had their glasses steady in their hands, Eliot cleared his throat and held his glass up—

And let out a sigh, turning to look at Julia.

“We don’t have all day, Wicker,” Eliot said, letting only the faintest of smiles rest on his face. “Say your bit so we can drink.”

If Julia was surprised at his magnamity, she didn’t let on. Instead, she sat up tall and held the flute high above her head and smiled wide.

“To the baddest of bitches making a mockery of the ordinary,” Julia said, full-hearted and clear. “And to Henry Fogg’s retirement to a remote region of the Himalayas. May he live out his days shamed by Margo’s glory.”

“Jesus,” Bambi said, eyebrows appearing over her sunglasses, grin bright as the sun they blocked. She took a ginger sip of her drink. “Suck my tits for them, why don’t you?”

“Cheers!” Alice squeaked, downing her glass with pink stained cheeks. Margo smirked.

Meanwhile, Quentin clinked the rest of the glasses with his usual perfect wry smile, taking a small sip and placing his glass on top of one of his random, discarded books. It still almost fell over, so Julia kicked at Q’s happy ankle and kept stroking Margo’s hair and Eliot—

Eliot swallowed an unexpected lump in his throat and blinked his blurry eyes.

“Cheers,” he said quietly, finishing his glass in one gulp too, though for very different reasons than Alice. Then he reached over and pulled Quentin into him, finding equilibrium in the scent of his hair.

Eliot was a lucky man, in many ways.

“Gotta say, it’s nice that you two are getting along now,” Quentin said in his painfully honest way, settling his back against Eliot’s chest. “Or that you’re not, like, ready to fucking kill each other.”

“Aw, I thought our thing was more, you know, the long, cold winter freeze,” Julia said thoughtfully, tipping her glass back into her mouth. “The vast and unreachable arctic.”

“To global warming,” Eliot said, lifting his glass again. Julia grinned and clinked her glass to his, while Alice muttered, You shouldn’t joke about that, it’s a catastrophe. She was lovely and strange.

“Well, I’m not a fan,” Margo said, sitting up to twitch her pointer finger between Eliot and Julia. “You gotta think bigger, Q. This is gonna be used against us. We need to organize.”

A dark rain cloud passed over the picnic, bringing with it a howling wind.

“Maybe you two could have another slumber party,” Eliot said tightly, clenching his jaw. “Without me.”

Quentin threw his hands up, not even giving him the courtesy of looking him in the eyes. “Oh my god, can you please let that go?”

“Never,” Eliot snapped, a promise and a threat. But his indignation only provoked Margo to slither toward him on hands and knees, biting smile at the ready. She cuddled in on Eliot’s opposite side, winding his arm around her waist.

“No, it’s a great idea, Q,” Bambi said, tapping her chin, voice taking on a sweet and delicate quality. “We could kick El out, cold on his ass, and then give each other manicures…” She smiled. “Rank the whole Cottage by fuckability…” She winked. “Play Truth or Dare…” She pouted. “And, like, kiss a little.”

With a dazzling giggle, Margo nuzzled her nose forward into Quentin’s shoulder, pulling out nothing but a gruff, “Jesus Christ.”

“I am so good to you,” Eliot said, blinking down at her with his best performance of hurt and sorrow. “Yet you are so cruel to me.”

“Aw,” Margo said, running her hand down his face, pouting her smile. “You like it.”

Eliot bit at her lower lip with a grin. “I do.”

At that, Quentin tilted his head back into the crook of Eliot’s shoulder, long soft hair tickling his neck. He lodged a heavy sigh and closed his eyes, smirk on his lips. “You two are ridiculous.”

Bambi smacked his folded arms. “You’re ridiculous.”

“No,” Q said, brow pinching and lips spasming. “You’re ridiculous.”

“Fuck you, Quentin, you’re—“

“So Alice,” Julia said, perky and changing the damn subject, spinning over on her ass. “Did you get a chance to read that book on reverse temporal energy I told you about?”

“No, I didn’t read it,” Alice said, frowning. Then she snorted a dorky laugh and pressed her hands on the blanket, eyes alive. “I devoured it.”

Thus, the conversation turned to easy white noise, with Quentin and Margo undeterred in their eloquent back and forth (“You put the dick in ridiculous, Coldwater,”) while Julia and Alice geeked the fuck out over some theoretical nonsense that had apparently not only challenged but revolutionized all [their] preconceived understandings of the topic. And Eliot let it all wash his thoughts away, like a tide, face turned to the warming light.

—He may have taken a small cat nap for how the words and laughter blended together under the steady weight of his two constants.

But then the bushes behind them rattled, and a new figure popped through the hedges, all black curls and ripped jeans and bright red lips. At the spontaneous appearance of Kady Orloff-Diaz, Julia’s face did something surely similar to Eliot’s. Her features froze, locked in automatic fear, before slowly melting into tentative acceptance. After another long moment, Julia pressed her lips together and smiled, a little tight. Then she looked down at her hands, studious and still. 

She was his mirror.

Alice, on the other hand, lit up like a fucking sparkler. “Kady!”

“Hey, sorry to interrupt,” Kady said, holding one hand up. She turned her gaze down to Alice, exasperated. “I’ve been texting you.”

Alice rolled her eyes so quickly it sent a blinding glint off her glasses. “You know we’re not allowed to use phones on school property.”

Jesus Christ.

“I guess technically?” Kady crossed her arms and tilted her head, eyes narrowed. “But literally no one follows that rule, Blondie.”

“Nerds follow that rule,” Margo said with a bored yawn, not even bothering to turn her head toward Kady. “You’re officially the caretaker of your very own. Welcome to the club.”

“Yeah, no, uh, Margo’s right,” Quentin said, trying to sit up despite Eliot’s strong arm keeping him firmly in place. “Not about the nerd part—” Bambi snorted “—but really, people do follow that rule for a reason. Cell phone use fucks with the magic.”

Alice nodded resolutely, agreeing. “It causes interference.”

“Wait,” Julia said, face faltering as she cast her dark eyes at Margo. “Are you implying that I am your so-called ‘nerd?’”

“Aw, baby,” was all Margo said, before she shimmied her shoulders back into Eliot and zoned out. Her Majesty had made her address and would accept no commentary.

“Okay, yeah, but it, like, barely messes with the magic,” Kady said, scrunching her nose and still stuck on the logistics. “It's the same as using your phone on a plane. Maybe if we all did it, all at the same time, with the exact right circumstances—“

“Also sorry to interrupt,” Eliot said, casting amused eyes up at her. “But I can tell you from firsthand experience, that argument is going to fall on deaf ears.”

“It’s not deaf ears,” Quentin said, hands splaying out wide as his eyes, “it’s that it’s, uh, more nuanced than you want to admit and—“

“Want a drink?” Eliot asked Kady blithely. He swept his hand out over the spread and indicated the spare pillow next to Alice. “You’ll need it if you’re going to engage in this particular conversation.”

“Only because Quentin’s right,” Alice argued fiercely. “It is more nuanced—”

“Yeah, you know what?” Kady said, plopping down and popping her eyes wide at Eliot. “I’ll take you up on that, Waugh.”

“Excellent choice,” he said with a wink, passing her a flute with only slightly shaky hands. Quentin and Alice exchanged exasperated looks, their adorable and severe solidarity bonding for them life.

Good for them.

But across the blanket, Julia blanched and pressed her lips together even firmer. She ticked her head, a twitch of irritation and doubt.

“Oh, wow,” she said, pulling her arms into her chest. “Okay. I guess this is—”

Quentin sat up and shot Julia an intensely indecipherable look, which she returned with something fiercely inscrutable. Blah, blah, blah. It went on for its usual awkward amount of time, so everyone else just ate and drank like it wasn’t happening. But finally, as always, it eased into neutrality—and Julia sighed, opting to ignore Kady than engage.

(A reasonable enough decision.)

But Quentin took the opposite tack, also reasonable. “Kady, I have one for you.”

“Hit me,” she said with a knowing smirk, taking a preparatory sip of her champagne. 

Q sat up taller and rubbed his hands together, gleeful and perfect and adorable. “What is the most common recurrent digit between 1 and 1000, and what is the least common?”

Eliot wanted to give him everything the world had to offer.

“That’s not a riddle, Q,” he said, brushing his hair to the side and placing a kiss on the slope of his neck. “That’s just math.”

Quentin turned around and frowned, “Math is both its own riddle and its own answer, El. That’s the inherent thrill of it.”

Eliot wanted to kiss every inch of his skin, spectators be damned.

“You are very lucky you’re pretty,” he purred hot in his ear, relishing the shiver that went through Quentin’s body, the way the hair on his wrists stood on end. God, maybe they could duck out a little early, so they had time before Margo’s big party, so they could get all their very silly clothes off and—

Kady cleared her throat pointedly. “Inclusive?”

“Yeah, sorry,” Q said, jumping and tucking his hair behind his ears. Eliot smirked into the side of his head. “Definitely inclusive.”

She nodded intently and started to reach into her purse. “Can I use paper?”

“I mean, I guess,” Quentin snorted, a little shit. “If you must.”

Kady glared, snatching her hand out of her bag and crossing her arms. She stared into space, calculations crossing over her bright green eyes. As she did, Margo came back to life and curled over Eliot’s lap, to smile beatifically up at Q.

“Hey Quentin, while she thinks,” Bambi said with a shark smile, “I have a really good riddle for you too.”

Quentin didn’t look at her. “Fuck you.”

“It’s so good,” she murmured, dancing her fingertips toward his knee. “I think you’ll really like it.”

“I said fuck you,” he repeated, finally blazing his lamb eyes over at her.

“Wow,” Margo said, sitting up and giving him a Most Serious look. “Here I am, trying to engage, trying to join in my dear friend’s interest, trying to connect with you human to human—“

Quentin pinched the bridge of his nose. “Just tell your goddamn joke, Margo.”

“Admit there’s a part of you that’s worried I’m serious,” she said, poking his arm with a grin, “and you’re feeling preemptively guilty for that.”

“Obviously,” Q sighed, flopping back against Eliot with a frown. Eliot tightened his grip around his waist, letting his thumb stroke softly under his shirt. A gentle grounding touch, that was all.

Taking that as acceptance, Margo sniffed her sunglasses off and sat up brightly, all academia. “I go in hard but I come out soft, and I like when you blow me. What am I?”

Quentin jolted up excitedly despite himself. “Oh, uh, yeah, that’s a classic. It’s bubble gum.”

“No, you virgin,” Bambi said slowly, low and silky as her growing smile. “It’s a dick.”

“Um, fuck you,” Q shot back, finger pointing right in her happy face. “Eliot and I fuck, like, all the time.”

Eliot dragged his fingers down Q’s hair, soft and light. “My sweet poetic prince.”

“I haven’t seen it,” Bambi said as a challenge, lifting an unamused brow.

“That is her one and only bar,” Eliot confirmed to a sputtering Q, solemn and definitely not teasing at all, not even a little.

“Stop being a cock, Coldwater,” Bambi said, hands on her hips, “and let me watch.”

“Uh—“ Q started to say, but he was cut off from another voice across the blanket.

Um,” Julia said, lifting her head from her ongoing geek session with Alice to frown, “yellow light.”

Margo threw her hands up and glared backwards at her girlfriend, “I would just watch.

“Yellow light,” Julia repeated, all the more emphatic, to the immediate protest from Bambi. They bickered en sotto voce, half-serious and half-foreplay of their own.

And as Margo scowled and Julia made gentle There, there soothing sounds, Eliot quirked a quiet brow over at Q, who shrugged and bobbed his head back and forth with a thoughtful look on his face. It was as clear and interested a Maybe as he had ever seen.

Fucking noted.

“Can we change the subject please?” Alice asked, cheeks pink. Beside her, Kady barely blinked out of her concentration but Julia nodded, pouring more champagne.

“Fine, we’ll keep it prude-friendly,” Margo said lightly, meaning it in the best way even if Alice’s face darkened at the wording. “So, like, who wants to talk about ponies and shit?”

—Eventually those two would be on the same team. Eliot could just feel it.

No one talked about ponies, even though Alice did mention something about the wild ones on Assateague Island, as a “joking” fun fact. Instead, the conversation turned honey-drip slow and gossipy, flowing around the blanket without much rhythm. Eventually, Julia hooked her foot under Q’s knee and tugged him toward her and even more eventually, Alice took Q’s place, scooting over to sit next to Eliot with a cheerful smile as her girlfriend kept ignoring her in favor of math.

Poor thing. Eliot knew exactly how that felt.

Over a happy sip of her fourth glass of champagne, Alice swayed into him. “What would you like to do to celebrate your thesis defense next week, Eliot?”

“Absolutely nothing,” he answered honestly, brushing a stray strand of gold from off her nose. “No acknowledgement would be grand.”

There were a lot of things worth celebrating at the end of his Brakebills career, from the personal to the magical. But his bullshit sleep-written thesis about how telekinesis could make alcohol stronger was definitely not one of them. Eliot would pass with flying colors and then never think about it again.

Know thyself. Et cetera.

“But it’s a big deal,” Alice insisted sweetly, blue eyes clear and bright despite her increasing tipsiness. She gasped then, gripping his forearm with a happy grin. “Ooh, Quentin and I could plan a party for you.”

Eliot let his eyes widen for half a second before softening, running his thumb along the line of her stunning jaw.

“That’s a nice idea, Alice,” he said quietly, chucking her under the chin with an affectionate knuckle. She beamed up at him so endearingly that he almost felt bad for the wicked grin that took over his face. 

Almost.

“... Based, of course, entirely in my morbid curiosity,” Eliot finished, biting the words out with a grin. Because he would fucking pay to see the results of a goddamn Alice-and-Q planned event, holy shit.

“I’m a fun person!” Alice protested, arms crossed huffily over her chest. “So is Quentin.” But then she paused, biting her lip. “Or he must be, if he’s dating you.”

Eliot snorted. “Yes, deep down, he’s my little fount of frivolity.”

“So let us do it,” Alice said as she excitedly patted his leg, her sarcasm meter set to zero. She hiccuped. “We’ll make it an Eliot Extravaganza.”

He felt her adorable alliteration down to his toes. So he slung his arm around her pink-clad shoulders and kissed her forehead once, to show his affection, to make sure she knew. She leaned into him, happy and sweet. All was well.

Satisfied, Eliot smiled down at her with a waggish wink, ready to prove a point.

“Hold that thought for one moment,” he murmured into her hair, before angling his head toward Margo, who had joined Q and Julia in a perfect triumvirate. “Bambi dearest, Alice and Q are going to throw my thesis party together, alright?”

Quentin shot his head up from his plate, a bit of jam hanging from the corner of his mouth. “Wait, what the fuck?

“Like fuck they are,” Margo said fiercely, their two fucks harmonizing in time. She glared at Alice. “Excuse you, but I have a legacy to uphold, Elsa.”

Kady broke from her stupor to speak for the first time, coolly pursing her lips. “Yeah, her name is Alice.”

“It’s a term of endearment, chill,” Margo said, waving her hand as she rolled her eyes. Then she snarled, facing Alice with all the ferocity in her soul. “I will gouge your pretty little eyes out if you so much as make a fucking playlist, do you understand me?”

Alice rolled her eyes right back. “That’s not an overreaction or anything.”

“You’re right,” Margo agreed bright as death. “It’s an underreaction.”

“Uh, no one said shit to me about a party,” Quentin interjected, hands up as though the cops had him surrounded. “Like, for the record.”

(Eliot loved him so much.)

Alice folded her arms, not backing down from Margo. “I want to contribute.”

“Fine,” Bambi said breathily, looking Alice up and down from over her sneering nose. “What theme would you choose?”

Alice considered the question for a few long moments, before snapping her fingers. “A costume party. Movies from the 1980s.”

Bambi thunked forward into her own lap, curled hair splaying everywhere.

“Wrong,” she moaned, shaking her head in her arms. “Oh my god, so wrong. Jesus.”

“Eliot loves costumes and movies and the 1980s,” Alice argued accurately, spitting fire. She arched her brow and sniffed. “I feel like you would have reacted like that to any of my suggestions.”

Margo didn’t lift her head, but instead pointed her arm straight out, index finger sharp and deadly. “Take your nonsense out with the rest of the trash and talk to me when you’re ready to be serious.”

“Someone please clarify if I have to plan a party,” Quentin insisted, meeting Eliot’s eyes with a panicked pleaded. And Eliot was evil, so he just shrugged impassively.

It didn’t kill him to stew a little.

“I mean,” Julia said with a wince, scrunching her nose delicately, “you are his boyfriend.”

Quentin bit the inside of his cheeks and shook his head, finger wagging all about. “Yeah, but, no, like, we both bring our own shit to the table, right? And that is not my shit.”

“Pussy up, Q,” Margo said, flinging her head back and letting her curls cascade around her shoulders. “You should have been planning for weeks, honestly.”

Quentin went bright red and set his mouth into determination, “No, but like, no one told me so—”

Kady pumped her fist into the air and laughed, giddy. “One and zero, respectively!” At everyone’s baffled attention, she shrugged. “What? Those are the answers.”

As everyone’s chatter reached a zippy and clattering din, Eliot chuckled and tugged a pouting Alice into his side.

“Bambi’s word is law,” he said upfront because, well, it was true. Still, he smiled genuinely. “But I think your idea sounded nice.”

Alice pinched her lips and shook out her shoulders. Then with all the dignity in the world, she held her head high. “It would be silly and sweet, which are the best possible party themes.”

Eliot huffed a laugh, running his hands through her hair, lightly enough that she could pull away if she wanted. He was heartened when she didn’t and rested his cheek on top of her head. And in truth, when it came to her party philosophy, he really neither agreed nor disagreed.

—Well, okay, no, he disagreed.

But what really mattered about her idea was one thing and one thing only.

“You and I would make a killer Baby and Johnny,” Eliot said, ducking his head to her ear, speaking truth to light. He waggled his eyebrows as Alice pulled away, a mix of delight and surprise playing all over her features.

But then her face fell.

She looked frightened, eyes going wide and glassy, and concern rippled under Eliot’s skin. He reached out to her, not sure what he had said wrong, just as she stammered her mouth open, shuddering under his gaze.

Alice blinked. “I carried a watermelon.”

Then Her pretty face erupted into giggles, laughing hands spilling the last of her champagne into the grass without a care. And a bright current bubbled laughter out of Eliot’s chest, sounding like a clear bell, adoring and cheerful and light.

And then Quentin hopped on his knees and told another convoluted riddle for any takers to his beautiful mind and his infectious enthusiasm, and Margo kissed Julia and shot Eliot a wink when the corner of their eyes met. And Kady held Alice’s hand and Julia teased Q and all their voices hummed like a melody, soothing and bright to the soul. And the distant call of birds fluttered and vibrated against the edge of the Brakebills wards, the strong hint of nature held back by no magic. The sun dimmed to a pink and blue watercolor over the green horizon of trees, readying for evening and night, and the promise of tomorrow. 

And as time ticked its merry way by, laughter and kinship and joy—unadulterated joy—filled Eliot’s lungs, toppling from the brim, uninvited yet welcome all the same.

 


 

fin.