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A Finite Resource

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“Charlton,” Eliot said, looking at him with the tiniest glimmer of a smile. “You… look like you.” Except for the awful suspenders, and the hideous shirt, which were all Hyman, he looked like a real person. He looked young, Eliot realized, and he actually looked better in the awful suspenders and hideous shirt than he had in his... well, similarly awful Fillorian doublet.

“I also feel like me,” Charlton said, stumbling a little over his words. Good god, Eliot thought, is he nervous? “If you touch me, but also inside.” He let out a small sigh of relief. “It’s nice.”

Eliot didn’t need much of an invitation, but he took Charlton’s words as one anyway, reaching out to brush his fingers just to where Charlton’s sideburns met his jawline. This particular part of his face was so different from Hyman’s. He was warm to the touch, the right human temperature, and there was a little bit of stubble actually growing where Eliot’s knuckles met his chin, as if Charlton was really living in this body. 

Eliot’s fingers cupped the side of his face, and Charton leaned into it, suppressing a small sound. He wouldn’t meet Eliot’s gaze, and Eliot realized that was probably wise. He couldn’t stop staring at the way Charlton unconsciously leaned into his hand. It must feel so good to be touched after a thousand years without a body. His stomach twisted a little. Maybe it was pity, he thought, at least partly.

Eliot smelled something animal and heated in the air where it hadn’t been a moment before, and tried to drop his hand away, but couldn’t. Everything happening was suddenly far too intimate. His face burned a little. Embarrassment was rare for him these days, but apparently not out of the question.

“Well, this is weird,” Eliot admitted, trying not to let his thoughts wander too far ahead. He knew where this would normally go, but none of this was normal.

“Good weird?” Charlton asked, sounding almost pathetically hopeful. Eliot pulled his hand away and let it rest in his lap, thinking about the series of events that had led him to this moment, staring at the man who had lived in his head, here in the flesh. He felt like he was catching up. The past weeks were a blur. Did Charlton always look at him that way?

“I have a question,” Charlton continued, barreling past Eliot, who had opened his mouth to speak. That was good; Eliot had no idea what he’d been about to say. “I often ask myself what you’d say and the answer is ‘Of course not. Don’t be stupid, Charlton. Eliot isn’t the kind of guy who--’”

“Charlton.” There they were, Eliot thought with a shock, right on schedule. Charlton had more steel in his spine than Eliot had given him credit for, and it reminded him that he’d promised a memory he would be braver next time. “Ask.” He wouldn’t look at Charlton while he did it, though. His courage was a finite resource.

Charlton took a moment, wet his lips, and squinted off at nothing. So neither of them were going to be able to look at each other for this, Eliot realized. 

“I wonder whether you could ever be romantically inclined towards someone like me?” Charlton was doing it, he was staring him down now, meeting his gaze with a braced expression, like he could sense a punch coming and was ready for the pain. That was a kind of bravery Eliot recognized.

He took a moment to consider the question. Charlton was kind of a dandy, and he’d always struck Eliot as basically innocent. Virginal, if he’d really thought about it, which he hadn’t. He had more or less assumed Charlton was sexless, the kind of effete that was just par for the course for Fillory, and that an eon ensconced as a passenger in other creatures’ consciousnesses had robbed him of the human ability to feel something as dependent on having a body as lust. What could he possibly mean, someone like him ? There was no one like him.

“A thousand year old Fillorian in a pervert ghost’s body wearing a transfiguration amulet?” Eliot asked, half amused by the question. This felt better, he was on solid ground now. Light mocking of the absurdity of the situations he found himself in always did wonders for the spirit.

Charlton swallowed. The words were out of his mouth as if he had practiced them, his voice lower than usual. “A man who knows you well, is emotionally available, and plans to stick around.” 

It hurt, like a velvet-clad knee to the gut, and Eliot felt slightly betrayed.. Had he been so easy to read? Had Charlton looked through all his repressed memories so carefully? Of course he had, and more; Eliot had been right there with him when he’d done it. He looked at Charlton then, really looked. He wasn’t trying to be glib; he was actually being earnest. Well, that tracked; the man was earnestness personified.

“Well, shit, Charlton,” Eliot chuckled hollowly, feeling warmth pool in his stomach. Did he have a crush? Why did it feel like he had a crush? On Charlton , of all people? The idea that Charlton had been planning for this, had been hoping for this, had actually wanted Eliot all this time felt a little indecent somehow, as kinky as discovering Jiminy Cricket had had a boner for Pinocchio. But it was also weirdly sweet, and flattering. Charlton had seen the worst of Eliot-- truly the worst, from his most miserable childhood memories to his repressed recollections of sexual failures. Charlton had watched Eliot’s heart shatter over Quentin, twice. He’d seen Eliot catch feelings for the Dark King. And still he was looking at Eliot as though he were something special. It wasn’t quite reverence, and that was good. It was closer to hope.

Eliot peeled himself off of the sticky leather chair. Fine. They could do this the hard way, or they could do it… the less hard way. 

“Are we going somewhere?” Charlton asked, startled. Good. Eliot needed to know he was still capable of surprising someone who had seen every part of his life for months.

“Upstairs, to... explore this further,” Eliot called, already halfway there. He slowed, but he didn’t turn back. If Charlton knew what he was doing, that made one of them.

“Fuck,” Charlton murmured (correctly; Eliot was proud of him for nailing that one), then jumped out of his chair. He met Eliot on the stairs and grabbed his arm. Eliot turned to look at him, and then Charlton was kissing him, much less gently than Eliot would have expected from him. Good job, Eliot thought. Maybe Charlton had learned something from his years of voyeurism. He didn’t kiss with any real uncertainty, and Eliot felt a rush of relief. He kissed like he knew what came next.

Charlton pulled away, still holding the arm for leverage, and looked at Eliot expectantly. Without thinking, Eliot leaned in and kissed him again, just to try it. Charlton opened his mouth for more. Jesus, Eliot thought. He was actually going to fuck his conscience. 

Doing anything without thinking was dangerous, he chided himself internally. It was how he’d often hurt his friends, and himself. Charlton kissed him the way only one other person had: needy, and so openly vulnerable. He didn’t care that Eliot knew how he felt. Who lived like that? Someone who would die like that. Someone who had died like that. Eliot’s breath left him entirely. It had been a long time since he had been kissed that way. He could remember it, even though it had happened in another timeline, forever ago.

Eliot pulled away to rest his forehead on Charlton’s for a moment. He turned to walk the few steps to his bedroom. Charlton followed him through the door, though Eliot didn’t turn to look. 

Behind him, Charlton pressed close against his back and wrapped his arms around Eliot in a backwards embrace. Eliot went very still. “Where are you right now?” Charlton asked quietly, against the nape of his neck. “I can’t follow your thoughts anymore.”

Eliot turned around and pushed Charlton gently, his arms on either side of Charlton’s head, closing the door behind them for whatever protection that was worth against a certain voyeur from the astral plane. He leaned very close to Charlton’s ear, as if he was going to say something. Charlton almost stopped breathing. Then Eliot bit his earlobe, sucking at the mark he’d made, and Charlton failed to suppress a gasp.

“You don’t have to pretend not to know exactly what I’m going to do to you,” Eliot murmured darkly, low in Charlton’s ear.

“Oh my fuck,” Charlton said, and Eliot could see him trying to remember how to breathe. Eliot stepped away to neatly fold his tweed jacket, carefully draping it on the back of his desk chair.

“You’ve watched me do it a hundred times,” Eliot pointed out, unbuttoning his vest and catching Charlton tremble as he drew closer again.  He cupped his jaw again and titled his face up to stare right into his eyes. “Haven’t you?”

“A hundred and forty-two,” Charlton whispered, fingers reaching out to clumsily undo the buttons on Eliot’s shirt. “Not counting every one of the other timelines, which are surprisingly... hard to find.”

Eliot smiled a little at that. “It should be creepy, but it’s honestly kind of sweet,” he said, as Charlton moved to kiss the column of his neck. 

“I’m sorry. There wasn’t anything else to do.”

Eliot laughed a little. “Generally I like to reward curiosity. What did you like?”

“I didn’t like to watch you do it,” Charlton admitted. Eliot threw his suspenders as far away as possible and pulled Charlton’s borrowed shirt from where it was tucked into his khakis. 

Eliot chuckled lightly. “I don’t believe you.” They were both shirtless, and Charlton shivered again. He crossed and uncrossed his arms around his chest, unable to decide if he liked Eliot raking his gaze across his body or not. Eliot waited.

“Can I--” Charlton started, then dropped to his knees. Eliot swallowed a noise that would have been mortifying had it slipped out, and looked down at Charlton between his legs. “I liked it when you told them what to do.”

Eliot nodded at this. “Take off your pants,” he said easily, and Charlton complied. He rubbed the other man’s hair affectionately. “Do you need me to tell you what to do next?”

“No,” Charlton said, leaning into Eliot’s crotch and rubbing his face against it. He took his time, bringing Eliot’s cock out of his flies and watching as it changed at his touch. “Oh, gods, Eliot, I really never--”

“What?” Eliot asked, genuinely bemused. “Thought about it? Clearly you did.”

Charlton looked up at him, eyes wide and wet. He took Eliot into his mouth with a single, fluid motion, and Eliot huffed his approval. Charlton wouldn’t stop looking at him intently from under his fringe, so Eliot threw his head back against the door, letting his eyes fall closed. It felt like it had been forever since he’d gotten to enjoy himself. He carded his fingers delicately through Charlton’s hair. He felt like being careful. He stroked gently at the locks around his ears, then the ears themselves. Charlton choked back a moan, reaching a hand between his own legs to stroke himself off.

“Well done,” Eliot said, thrusting shallowly, trying to go slowly. “I didn’t even have to tell you to touch yourself.” Charlton sucked harder at that, his hand moving faster. “Aw, but you like it when I do.”

Charlton tried to nod, gagged, and pulled off abruptly. “Um,” he said, trying and failing to catch his breath. His hands stilled on his thighs, the effort obviously costing him.

Eliot raised an eyebrow. “Use your words,” he said kindly.

“Before, when you said we could… explore this further,” Charlton started. He was still pink around the edges; Eliot thought it looked good on him. “That is, I mean, how much further were you planning to--?”

“This was your idea,” Eliot pointed out, stroking Charlton’s sweaty bangs away from his forehead. “What did you imagine, when you asked?”

Charlton reached out a hand and Eliot pulled him up so they were nose to nose. “I wanted you to take me to bed,” he said quietly.

“Oh, god,” Eliot snorted, all but rolling his eyes. “The way you say it--”

“I wanted you to fuck me,” Charlton interrupted, louder this time, no waver at all in his voice. Eliot swallowed thickly. “I want you to fuck me. I want you to do it the way you like to do it, the way you like best.” He met Eliot’s eyes again. “You don’t like begging. You think it’s pathetic. You like it when they know what they want. You like it when they say it.”

“And you think you know what you want,” Eliot sighed, stepping out of his pants and sitting on the bed, rubbing his eyes with his palms. Charlton, who had lived in a Fillorian castle at the end of the world, who had only just learned how to swear properly, who had just this week possessed a living body for the first time in a millenium, thought he might want to get fucked by the person whose mind he’d been using until very recently like his own personal entertainment system. “I don’t know how I get into these situations, I really don’t.”

“On my back,” Charlton continued, as if Eliot hadn’t said anything. He scrambled onto the bed and laid down against the pillows. Eliot’s mouth went dry. Something in him surrendered. This was his life, and there were worse things out there than a sweet, handsome guy trying gamely to seduce him. They’d both lived through several of them. 

“Why?” Eliot asked, crawling up the bed and sinking down onto Charlton’s hips so that their cocks slid neatly against one another.

“I want to see you,” Charlton choked out, rocking up experimentally. “I--I want to watch you and know it’s really me this time, making you...”

“Come,” Eliot supplied, leaning down. He grabbed Charlton’s hands and pinned them above his head as he moved to kiss his chest, rutting faster. “The word is ‘come.’ What else?”

Charlton bit back a groan as Eliot took a nipple between his teeth. “I was angry at everyone who didn’t deserve you,” Charlton confessed.

“Oh,” Eliot said. He took a moment to think about that. There had been a lot of those. He reached down between them and jerked Charlton absently, mulling it over. Charlton bit his lip and flinched. “You can make noise, Charlton, there are wards up.”

“There was one memory--” Charlton started, then turned to cover his eyes with his forearm so he wouldn’t have to watch what Eliot was doing as he spoke. “One that I spent a lot of time in, back when I was-- when I didn’t think I was going anywhere. It was… you weren’t happy so much of the time, you know, and in that one it really almost seemed like maybe--”

“When?” Eliot asked hoarsely. He knew before Charlton opened his mouth.

“Quentin,” Charlton murmured quietly. “You were older, and I think outside a cottage. Fruit was involved?”

For a second, Eliot wasn’t sure where he was. It felt like a full-body blackout. He felt older and younger simultaneously, and he couldn’t remember where in time and space going to bed with Charlton was happening. Had he even turned thirty yet? Was he teaching, or was he still in school? Had he really been to Fillory, or was he a kid again, finding the books for the first time in his middle school library? Hadn’t he had a kingdom, a wife, a husband? Where was Margo? 

It all came back to him in a rush, and Eliot went very still, letting everything wash over him in one horrible tsunami. He couldn’t breathe. After a moment, he felt a hand on the back of his neck.

“I know I can’t make it better,” Charlton said, raising himself up to press his lips to Eliot’s closed eyelids, first the left, then the right. “I only ever wanted to help, you know. Not fix you. There’s nothing to fix. Just-- if you would let me--”

Eliot swallowed hard, then opened his eyes. Charlton’s face was still pink, and his lips were swollen, and Eliot knew he could do anything in this moment, or the next, and Charlton wouldn’t leave. “I’m… a lot of work,” Eliot said hesitantly. “Not always, not if it’s just once. But eventually, I wouldn’t be able to pretend not to be.” 

“I like work,” Charlton pointed out. Eliot let that hang in the air between them. Then he kissed Charlton again, because there was something so damned hopeful about the way he looked at Eliot. It made Eliot feel, for once, incapable of being disappointing.

Charlton fell back to the mattress, hair splayed out like a halo, urging him on, and then Eliot was kissing down his chest and stomach. When he got to his cock, Eliot chuckled dryly. “I’m not sure whose dick I’m looking at, but it’s very impressive.”

“It’s mine, it’s mine, it’s definitely mine,” Charlton babbled, trying and failing to keep his voice even. High spots of color appeared in his cheeks as he looked down at Eliot, hips twitching up, seeking contact. “Please, don’t um, don’t feel the need to--”

Eliot ducked his head and licked a slow line from the inside of Charlton’s thigh back to his perineum. Charlton’s untouched cock jerked and leaked a little, smearing across his abdomen. “Eliot--”

“You liked watching me do this,” Eliot said, and it wasn’t a question. Charlton nodded. “So watch.”

He tutted a spell in one liquid motion, and slipped a finger between Charlton’s ass cheeks, admiring the way he bore down. Then he leaned down to kiss around the finger, gratified by the appreciative sounds Charlton made. 

Charlton’s hips were thrusting up at the empty air, his ass pushing back on Eliot’s finger. “I told you,” he panted, bearing down. “I told you, I know what I want.”

Eliot pulled his hand away and grabbed Charlton’s leg, pushing it up and out of the way, aligning their hips. He stroked himself once, twice, as Charlton squirmed beneath him. “Why aren’t you touching yourself?” he asked, and Charlton’s hand flew immediately to his own cock, fisting it tightly. Eliot pressed against Charlton’s entrance and pushed in, slowly, not wanting to overwhelm him. Charlton was silent, looking up at Eliot as he arched his back and canted his hips forward onto Eliot’s cock. He didn’t make a sound, staring up at Eliot with cool blue eyes, urging him on. Eliot gripped his bent knees and pushed them farther back, lifting his feet from the bed with every thrust so that Charlton couldn’t get any purchase. 

“Is this how you imagined it?” Eliot asked, surprising them both with how shaky his voice sounded. This was not a scenario he’d ever thought about, not really, and now that it was happening he couldn’t figure out why it hadn’t occurred to him that Charlton would want this. He pushed in deeper and bottomed out, and then stayed there like that for a long moment, waiting for Charlton to respond. The other man squirmed, looking for friction. Eliot took pity, shifting his weight so that he could wrap his hand around Charlton’s on his cock and jerk him faster, his hips snapping harder.

“No,” Charlton panted. Eliot leaned down so he could kiss him again, open mouthed and a little sloppy. He felt like a first year again. “When I think about it,” Charlton’s breath hitched, “You always come first.” He shuddered and spilled over Eliot’s fingers, gasping a little at the sight. “Oh-- I’m--” He clenched and unclenched around Eliot’s cock, half-conscious of what he was doing, his hips juddering off-rhythm. Eliot bent forward to drive himself deeper and came, not bothering to hold back a moan. He pulled out and collapsed onto the bed beside Charlton with a dry laugh.

“Not bad,” Eliot murmured, lazily folding his fingers into the motions to cast Alexander’s Nitidus. 

To his surprise, Charlton nuzzled up against his side, pushing into his personal space in a way Eliot did not usually find adorable. Well , he thought, first time for everything .

“Are you the kind of person who likes to go to bed immediately after?” Charlton asked curiously, head finding its place on Eliot’s shoulder.

Eliot let his hand touch the nape of Charlton’s neck, stroking the hair there in a way he sincerely hoped was soothing. “Charlton,” he started to say, not sure of how to continue. He paused to consider. “I really have absolutely no idea what kind of person I am.”

“I don’t think that’s true,” Charlton said, talking vaguely to the ceiling. “You’re just... capable of surprising yourself.”

Eliot laughed. “You’d know best,” he said, and magicked off the light.