Work Header

The In-Between

Chapter Text

Quentin Coldwater had never been one for parties. Not when he was four and learned that being sung “Happy Birthday” to was an utterly mortifying experience, not when only one parent and his best friend came to his graduation party, and definitely not now when so-called best friend was obnoxiously knocking on his door while he tried to study—again.

“Q, come on, please open up,” came from the other side of the door, a muffled, melodic voice. Quentin’s eyes fluttered closed in an attempt at a still calm, the white of the ceiling replaced with the warped darkness behind his eyelids, breathing in, breathing out. In one, two, three, four. Out one, two, three four. Quentin had an architectural study paper due, and somehow he didn’t think that included the burning slide of vodka coating his throat, much less the roar of one of Julia’s parties. There were so many other things he could be doing right now, so many productive, healthy things. And yet instead, against all better judgment, he opened his eyes, soon followed by the door.

“Jules,” he said, though that was all he said. It was funny how all other words seemed to fail him with the deepest, loving doe eyes peering up at him. “Yes?” he says instead. No smart remark, no witty comment. Nice one, Coldwater. Very anticlimactic. 

“I know you don’t want a party. So we’re not having a party. Instead, we’re having a friendly gathering!” Julia’s cheeks split into a joyful smile, and Quentin almost gives in to the warm, familiar feeling it spreads through his limbs.


Sighing, Quentin looks away. Down to his feet, only clothed in bare, old socks. There’s a hole where his pinky toe should be, and a stain that looks all too much like mustard right front and center. Where else should he look than an old greasy mustard stain? It was easier to say no that way, looking at his socks and not into Julia’s happy, chocolate dark eyes and heartened smile. How was he supposed to say no to that?

“Changing the words doesn’t change what it is, Julia.” Looking back up, his chest clenches just a bit to see that the smile isn’t there anymore, replaced by a strong set line of lips. Her eyes were narrowed, though not menacingly. Rather more calculating and persuasive, nothing spiteful living in the lines of her skin and color of her eyes. She was determined, Quentin knew, which was even more dangerous. “I just want a quiet night, Jules. I have studying to do, and a paper to write, and I know law school is kicking your ass right now. Plus, I was thinking about finishing my book-”

“You have all of your life to read about Fillory, Q! Live in the moment with me, just this one night.” She’s taking Quentin’s hands, then, pulling him out of the safe confines of his room and out into open space, new air. Their living room is clean, the carpet freshly vacuumed, the coffee table square and set with a bottle of wine and a few glasses. Not something set up for a big party, he supposes.

“It’s not a party, Q,” she’s saying then. “I met a couple of people at school and I really like them. I want you to meet them, I think it could be good for us. For you.” He could see then the worry she held behind her eyes, within her body, out of reach where she thought he couldn’t see. But he could see it, as much as he saw how much she cared about him and as much as he saw she was just trying to take his mind off of the real world. The place where real, bad things happen. “It’s nothing fancy, I promise.” She held out her pinky in an invitation for Quentin to take. He did, twisting their pinkies together like they did when they were eight years old and promised to be best friends, always.

Looking at Julia now, he saw the girl that she was then—pigtails and braces and every color headbands—and the woman she was now. Graceful, strong, compassionate, and loving all thrown into one small body: his best friend. He knew then that she had won, though she had probably known that the second he had opened his bedroom door. He could do this for one night, after all, if it meant Julia wouldn’t worry about him—at least for a little while.

“Yeah, okay, fine. One night.” Julia smiled that smile again, the one that could turn a man blind. Her eyes shone with joy as she looked up at him and as much as he’d rather be alone in his room reading about the adventures of Jane Chatwin or researching for the paper he had due this week, getting through one night of socializing wouldn’t be the thing that killed him.

There was a knock on their apartment door then, to which Julia unlaced their pinkies and ran for the door, the exclaim of, “Pizza’s here!” squealed somewhere along the way.

Quentin, deciding that if they were expecting company he should probably put on something socially acceptable for meeting new people—say, not the sweatpants and mustard-stained socks he’s wearing now—headed back to his room while Julia handled the pizza.

What was he even supposed to wear? He hadn’t bothered to do laundry for at least a week, and seeing that he didn’t have much of a variety in clothing anyway, he was running scarily low on options now.

Looking through his closet, he considered his choices. There was an old pair of sweatpants that were only clean because of the hole, wide and gaping, ripping through the seat. He didn’t really think that counted as ‘socially acceptable’ for having company over, much less meeting them for the first time. 

Flinging the sweatpants aside, he scanned the back of the closet. In the very corner, blending into the shadows, was a pair of dark, ink black jeans he hadn’t thought about in months—years, even. They didn’t have any holes, thankfully, and weren’t too worn out, just a little tight. But seeing as how his only other options were holey sweats or jeans that haven’t been washed for who knows how long, he figured they’d do.

Now all he needed was a clean shirt and he was good to go. He raked over his remaining clothes, brushing right by the t-shirt with Taco Cat spelled backwards is Taco Cat in massive lettering because no one needed to open that can of worms, and grabbed the nicest clean shirt that he owned. It was just a simple light blue button up, but Julia always said that it hugged his shoulders nicely and he didn’t want to look like a total slob. Speaking of, he should probably change his socks.

Julia Wicker and her mischievous plans, Quentin swore that girl was going to be the death of him. He’s actually going to have to do laundry soon. But today was not that day, he doubted he had a lot of time before Julia’s friends arrived and if carrying out a twelve pound basket full of mustard-stained laundry didn’t say ‘ Hi, I’m Quentin and I’m probably not the kind of person you ever want to see again. And you are?’ then he doesn’t know what does.

So he makes a mental note to do laundry tomorrow morning and closes his eyes. And then he just breathes. In one, two, three, four. Out one, two, three, four. This wasn’t anything he couldn’t handle, he knew that. He would meet these people, and he would put on a smile, and he would make small talk, and he would have a few drinks, and he would probably never see them again. Which was fine, most people didn’t stay. But Julia did, therefore he owed her a lot just from that statement alone, not even counting the uncountable things she’s done for him just by being his best friend. 

And right now she’s worried about him, which she has a right to be. She of all people knows how bad Quentin can get, especially around this time of year. And so all he has to do right now to ease her worry is get out of his own head and just open the door. He just has to open the door, put one foot in front of the other, and try to let himself believe that these will be people he’ll get to know, and love, and talk to about the universe and why the world exists and why things are the way they are. He desperately wants to believe that he’ll be able to genuinely like these people, and they’ll like him and accept him for who he is and be there for him when it feels like he can’t breathe because his dad- 

All he has to do is get out of his own head. Get out of his head and open the door, open it to the fresh air waiting for him, let it in.

As it turns out, ‘fresh air’ came in the form of a man. A very tall man, at that. Startled, (and by startled, he means almost jumping out of his own skin, for God’s sake) he has to tilt his head up to see his face, wide eyes and open-mouthed and all.

“Well, shit, this isn’t the bathroom,” the man says, and his voice is somehow rich and soft all at the same time, almost like honey—caramel, even. Impeccably smooth. It fits the rest of him perfectly, in fact any other voice would have been wrong on this man.

His hair was as black as midnight, the time when everything is quiet and dark and yet the stars still find a way to shine, lighting up the sky. Locks fell in soft curls down his head, a single strand curling gently in front—like the delicate petal of a flower taken by the wind. The curl gently hugged the curve of his cheek, framing his face in a way that eluded to the distinct jut of his chin, the strong structure of his jaw. It could have been an accident, yet it looked perfect there, falling against his cheekbone in a way that would always find a way to look immaculate without much effort at all. 

His hair wasn’t too long, definitely shorter than Quentin’s own, not quite able to kiss the collar of his shirt quite yet. He wore a cool gray button up, almost charcoal in the way it glinted like the cool surface of the moon, completed with sleeves gliding down to his wrists. On top of that lay a black vest, maybe even as dark as his hair, with a matching charcoal tie tucked underneath. He was the stars as they formed unique, glittering patterns in the sky, he was the moon, a pale light emanating through the darkness, yet he was also the shadows the light couldn’t quite hide. He was an eclipse all of its own.

A faint shadow of stubble encased his jaw, accentuating the piercingly sharp line. It was a six o’clock shadow at most because it was just that—a shadow. It deemed him as eloquently mysterious in the way he held himself with an air of such effortless self-possession with the high-scale clothes and sure appearance, but the shadow covering his jaw gave him an almost rugged, mysterious edge that fiddled with Quentin’s mind in the most abstract, luring way. It looked almost soft in the way the light caught it, and Quentin had a sudden urge to reach out and touch, to see if he had been right, but that would most definitely send out creepy, time to leave flags and Quentin hadn’t even said a word yet.

“Bathroom, right. Oh, uh, yeah, um, just down the hall there,” Quentin says, pointing behind the man, “First door on your left.” Great way to start off, Coldwater, he thinks because here he has this perfectly poised man right in front of him in his apartment and Quentin can’t even get a sentence out without stuttering over every goddamn word. He might as well have been carrying out all of his mustard-stained laundry with how well this was going.

But when he looked back to the man, one side of his mouth had been curved up like he was halfway between a smile and a laugh and couldn’t decide which to choose. “You must be Q, then, right?” he says and for just a second his brain turns in wonderful curiosity wondering how he could have known that, known Quentin, when it clicks that oh yeah, Julia.

He really wished he had used any self-preservation instinct he had or just plain old common sense to ask her simple, obvious things like how many people were coming, when they would be here, what their names were. A simple, ‘By the way, Quentin, dress to impress a God tonight,’ would have solved a lot of his current problems.

“Quentin. Or Q, if you’d like. Jules has always called me that.” He wants to ask him who he is, what his story is—at least his name. But before he can, the man is talking again, his voice flowing like honey and silk and really, who is Quentin to interrupt that?

“So, Q, do you have a last name?” It’s sarcastic and witty and full of good humor, so much so that Quentin forgets to feel dumb for not saying so sooner.

“I, um, yeah. Coldwater. Quentin Coldwater,” he says, and watches with burning cheeks as the man chuckles and finally allows his lips to spread fully in amusement, like the wings of a butterfly soaring through the sky for the first time.

“Quentin Coldwater?” Eliot quips, and Quentin watches with wide eyes and open mouth as Eliot’s smile turns into a smirk—the quirky, yet devilish kind. The kind that had an essence of teasing in the twist of his lips, but the light and buoyant sort of teasing. Not wolfish, but somehow wry and charming all at the same time. Charismatic.  

“Uh huh,” Quentin stutters, vague noises apparently the only thing that hasn’t yet failed him. Averting his gaze, Quentin looks down—anywhere away from the man, his eyes, his face—only to see that he hadn’t finished dressing himself and he, in fact, has only one fucking sock on. He’d be making fun of himself at this point, too, because things could not get any worse. This man is obviously elegant and witty and he’s just… he’s just Quentin. Quentin fucking Coldwater.

“No, I… I like it. It’s unique.” Quentin’s head snaps back up, only to become eminently aware that he has the full attention, the full focus of pure, electric hazel eyes. He would have shrunk away on instinct except for the fact that they’re joyful and bounding with light, something he hardly ever sees—and never so free. These eyes… they were actually looking at Quentin, not through him. He’s still smiling, and really, what else is Quentin to do but smile back. “I’m Eliot.”

“Got a last name, Eliot?” He feels himself laugh, but doesn’t hear it, can’t hear it. He only hears Eliot’s, the bell chime laughter that was the pure epitome of blatant happiness. Quentin thought it fitting, it was no surprise that it would belong to this man—to Eliot.

“So he does have a sense of humor,” Eliot says. And it’s not mocking or snide, no, it’s light-hearted and buoyant in every way. Eliot smiles again and suddenly Quentin realizes that he had never actually stopped. 

“In all fairness, I thought you were the pizza guy,” Quentin admits with a laugh. “I didn’t exactly plan on meeting you with only one sock, I promise.” He still feels really sheepish about that, he can actually still feel the sting of burning cheeks. But, well, Quentin’s learned that making jokes to lighten a bad situation sometimes makes it just a little bit easier.

“So is the one sock situation a luxury only reserved for the pizza guy? I might be in need of a new job,” Eliot contends, and there’s a spark of mischief in his eyes, burning bright with the glint of amusement. “I also hadn’t exactly meant to run into you—almost literally, I might add—on my way to take a piss so fair is fair.”

There was another knock on their apartment door then, faint but still audible from where they stood lingering outside Quentin’s bedroom. “That’s probably the pizza,” Quentin says, as if that wasn’t obvious and he’s scrambling for things to say if only to talk to Eliot for just a few seconds longer. 

“I’d say that’s your cue, Q.” It’s an awful pun, and if it had been anyone else Quentin would have absolutely made fun of them, but instead he found himself smiling and even laughing, despite himself. “Now go wow him with your sock. Maybe,” Eliot says, mock excitement filling his words, “He has a foot fetish and we’ll get free foot pizza.” He waggled his eyebrows, winked and amused hazel eye, and was gone, just like that. If Quentin watched him go, well, that was his business.

As it turns out, Quentin doesn’t have to embarrass himself in front of the pizza guy. When he gets to the kitchen, he’s greeted by Julia handling the pizza box and a girl he doesn’t recognize carrying plates at Julia’s side. 

When Julia sees him, she smiles. “Q!” she exclaims. “This is Margo, one of the friends I was telling you about.”

He reaches out to shake her hand, because he is still a gentleman, after all. “Quentin Coldwater,” he says, having learned his lesson with Eliot on that one, and Margo seemed to be just as elegant and poised as he was.

Margo was stunning, there was no denying that. Her hair seemed to almost flow from her head, like the current of a stream, all the way down her chest. She probably had about as much as Julia did, luscious brown hair laying in perfect curls almost to her breasts. For a second he saw a resemblance between the two women, but any similarity stops at their hair and slight height. Margo radiated dominance, enough that Quentin forced away the urge to make himself small. It was obvious that she could take care of herself, didn’t need anyone but herself, and could easily have the attention of anyone in a room. Not that Julia couldn’t, because they were both undeniably beautiful, but Julia had a softer presence—gently undemanding. Quentin also got the feeling that Margo could have him on his knees in about three seconds tops if she really wanted to.

She wore a light blue dress that didn’t quite meet her knees, but did wonders for her skin. Dark and lush, even for early spring, her skin seemed to glow under the kitchen lights, almost as if they were made just for her. Her earrings matched the color of her dress entirely and Quentin idly wondered how hard they would have been to find. She looked stunning wrapped in blue, and it was clear that she knew it too.

When she spoke, she spoke with such confidence that Quentin doesn’t think he’s ever had in his life. “Well fuck me, I guess chivalry isn’t dead,” Margo purred as she took his offered hand. “I could see myself liking you.”

Quentin, not sure if she was joking or just being brutally honest, replied, “Thanks?”

Margo smiled, and again Quentin was struck with how beautiful she was. “Oh, don’t sweat it, sweetheart. You’re kind of cute, I suppose.” She patted the top of his head, like they had been friends for years and hadn’t met only seconds ago. Her hand slipped away from his and immediately traded it in for a slice of pizza. Classy and bold, apparently.

“Oh, Q!” Julia exclaimed again, the excitement clear in her voice, like a child with a new toy. “This is Eliot!”

He hardly had any time for confusion as a pair of hands abruptly grasped onto his shoulders and, not that he would ever admit it, Quentin very nearly screamed. He was beginning to think that Eliot just enjoyed scaring the living shit out of him, to hell if he hardly even knew him. Then, as if they hadn’t just talked about foot fetish pizza outside of his messy bedroom, he said, “Hello, Quentin Coldwater. I’m Eliot.”

The pressure on his shoulders was gone then, only the lingering feeling of fingers gripping his skin left behind. But it was worth it when he got to see Eliot smile a crooked smile and nearly feel the kitchen brighten in response. 

“Thank you so much for coming, you guys!” Julia, ever-cheerful, practically squeals. She wasn’t just a kid with a new toy, she was a kid on Christmas morning. “Don’t be shy, make yourselves at home.”

“Well in that case, where’s your alcohol?” Margo asks, and Quentin can’t help but laugh. He’s sure that Margo is many things—beautiful, bold, audacious—but shy is absolutely not one of them. 

“Patience, Bambi,” Eliot says, brushing her hair behind her shoulder, “Good things come to those who wait.” Quentin feels his brow furrow as he watches them. He takes note of the nickname immediately, mindful of the way Eliot touched her, the thoughtless brush of a hand like it was second-nature. They stood close to one another, out of habit or comfort Quentin wasn’t sure. Maybe both. But one thing was clear: they were definitely a couple. Together.

“Yeah, well Mama ain’t waitin’.” Margo affirms, and Eliot smiles down at her fondly. She hands him her half-eaten piece of pizza like they’d done it a thousand times on a thousand different occasions and follows Julia to get the wine and vodka and various other drinks they have lying around their apartment. 

Eliot’s hand reaches beneath his vest, then, and when it reappears, his fingers are securely enveloped around a silver flask. He untwists the cap with ease, a movement he had surely done a countless number of times, and tilts his head back to take a swig, lips wrapping around the protruding top.

It’s almost as if he feels Quentin watching because his gaze flickers over to where he’s been standing since Eliot had easily, thoughtlessly gripped his shoulders. He tilts the flask to Quentin in a clear invitation and really, there is absolutely no way in hell he would —could— say no to that. 

So he takes a swig while Eliot takes his turn to watch, eyes fixed imploringly on one another. He must have seen the surprise clear on Quentin’s face when he didn’t feel the burn of alcohol coating his throat, but instead, “Apple juice?” Quentin asks, confusion clouding his voice.

Eliot smiles, quite clearly amused, and reaches for the flask still held between Quentin’s fingers. “I don’t drink,” is all that he says. 

Quentin didn’t know whether to ask why that was or not, he didn’t want to pry. But he makes up to his mind to keep his mouth shut when Eliot’s eyes unfocus, the wide smile slipping from his lips. Quentin suddenly got the sense that Eliot wasn’t really here right now. His body was here, sure, all long legs and curly hair, but his mind was somewhere far, far away. Quentin thought he could almost see the memories flashing behind his eyes, like the flames of a fire glowing hotter, brighter.

When Quentin speaks, he decides to go for a gentle light-heartedness. Eliot was witty, he’s seen that since the second he met him. And really, Quentin just wanted to help in any way he could, even if it was just with his shitty humor. “Well I, for one, think drinking is overrated,” he starts and Eliot’s eyes find an anchor in Quentin’s eyes to focus on again. “Especially since apples can be made into pretty much anything. I mean, applesauce, apple pie, apple juice, what even compares to that?” And then Quentin feels the warm satisfaction tugging in his chest when he hears Eliot’s light, bell chime laugh bouncing off the walls and bounding through the air because he did that. 

“I, for one, think apples deserve more than we give them credit for,” Eliot says, and he’s the same Eliot that Quentin met outside his bedroom door, laughing at his name and his single sock.

Quentin has a million things to ask, to tell, even just to say. But then Julia and Margo are back, announcing themselves with the rhythmatic click of heels and Margo’s exclamation of, “We made vodka slushies, bitches, don’t you dare make me drink it all.” But that’s okay, because Quentin is starting to get the feeling that he’ll have a lot of time to ask and tell and say things to Eliot.

The rest of the night passes in a blur of laughs and alcohol and just talking about topics worth talking about, not just useless, tedious little things like all of the rain they’ve had this week, or God forbidden topics like the economy. Quentin feels like he’s glowing, he can’t remember a time where he felt this good—so alive in quite a long time.

As it turns out, Margo can be surprisingly sweet and believe it or not, she really was just brutally honest. That was just her. She said what was on her mind without worrying what anyone else thought and Quentin found himself respecting her more for that, it was a trait he could envy and yet still admire. She still kind of made him want to hide any vulnerable parts of himself and run, but she was genuine and whole-hearted to the people she cared about. And from Quentin’s experience, that’s not something a lot of people are.

As utterly elegant as the two were, they had no snobbish bones in their bodies, and they definitely didn’t feel the need to act like they were better than him or Jules, for that matter, which Quentin appreciated more than words could express. When Quentin had asked why they were so dressed up, because seriously it’s not like their apartment was anything fancy, Eliot smoothly replied, “We dress to impress, sweetheart. Most of us do tend to wear two socks when the occasion fits.” Quentin smiles, because yeah, he probably should have been expecting that. He doesn’t think he’s ever going to live that down now and it should be mortifying because of course that was Eliot’s first impression of him. But when Eliot smiles back, joyful and pure, Quentin finds that he’s okay with that because this feels like theirs, an inside joke just for the two of them.

They talked and told jokes, all while Eliot took sips of his apple juice and the rest of them drank the alcohol that burned their throat and made their eyes water. A few times Quentin found his eyes wet from laughter, not the scorch of vodka, and somewhere along the way he had a sense that maybe he did need this. Maybe Julia had been right, maybe he needed to see new people and get out of his room more, away from the pile of dirty laundry slowly taking over his only space and the thoughts littering his mind.

It’s late into the night when Eliot and Margo say their goodbyes. Margo is drunk enough that she throws her arms around both Quentin and Julia, heartily telling Quentin, “I guess I was right, I do kind of like you,” and asking Julia if her pants were vintage.

While Julia helped her put her shoes on—which didn’t look like the easiest job in the world and was not something he envied in the slightest—Quentin had a slight sense of Eliot lingering only feet away, hardly a distance. His suspicions were confirmed when he spoke, voice quiet in the empty air. “You have a lovely home, Quentin.”

He turned toward Eliot, as tall and as gracious as ever, who had begun collecting empty plates and glasses scattered about. “I- Eliot, you don’t have to do that,” he said while beginning to walk closer, taking the various things from his hands. Because he didn’t, he didn’t have to clean up a mess he hardly even contributed to.

“Q,” he’s saying then, “Let me help you.” When Quentin looks up at him, ebony black curls falling about his face, something in Quentin thinks that that’s a great idea, if only so that Eliot stays a little while longer.

Quentin doesn’t know what to say, can only briefly nod his head and hope the message gets across. It does, he knows it does, because Eliot smiles the smile that he’s blinded Quentin with all night—a victory flag of sorts. He gathers the rest of the trash and things strewn throughout the room and follows Quentin into the kitchen, the sounds of Margo and Julia babbling worlds away through the walls. 

“Thank you for coming,” Quentin blurts before he can even think to stop himself. “You made my night, you know. Probably more like my month, actually. And Margo, too.” Wow, Coldwater, you sure know how to scare them off, don’t you, he thinks because ‘You made my month’? Seriously? He’s just waiting for the creepy, danger alert flags to go off when, instead, Eliot laughs. Quentin, finding courage somewhere within himself to take a peek through his lashes, watches hazel eyes ablaze with delight, amusement dancing on the edge of soft pink lips.

Eliot puts his hand to his heart in mock sentiment, sniffling through fake tears because he’s dramatic and resisting anything witty is not Eliot’s style. “Wow, I do think that’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me.” He’s practically seeping with sarcasm, yet somehow Quentin can’t help but laugh.

“Okay, dick, we get it,” he says, and lightly pushes Eliot where his hand had just been pressed, right above his heart. He runs a hand through his hair, pulling at the ends as if that could cover the flaming heat in his cheeks.

But then Eliot’s hand is melting to his shoulder again, just as it had earlier, and Quentin felt, suddenly, as if it had never left. He meets Eliot’s prodding gaze because what else is he supposed to do with those electric eyes burning holes into his, begging for contact? “It was my pleasure.” And Quentin can’t help but believe him, can’t not believe every single word he says, not when he can still feel the heat from his hand and the warmth of his smile. “I do hope we do it again sometime,” he says, and Quentin suddenly can’t picture dragging himself out of bed every day in a world without Eliot.

Days seemed to pass faster now than they did before. At least, it feels that way to Quentin.

He has things to look forward to now, texts to wake up to from his friends. Plural. It’s always just been him and Julia for as long as he can remember, as long as he’s ever known. That’s all he’s known, really. Not that he would change his childhood of playing Fillory in his backyard and drinking hot chocolate to chase away the cold because he wouldn’t, he couldn’t give Julia up for anything. But waking up to a text from Eliot saying ‘I think I’m a little hung over. That apple juice really packed a punch, if you know what I mean’ makes Quentin think that maybe change isn’t all too bad.

One day turns into two days without Quentin even knowing it, and suddenly it’s May when yesterday was March. Time slips through his fingers overnight when it used to be all he could do to get to the next day conscious and breathing.

But that’s the thing. Quentin’s lost track of the hours and the days and the weeks wrapped up in Eliot and Margo and Julia and suddenly… it’s May. And May means his dad… his dad- 

“Q?” A pair of fingers snapped in front of his face and then suddenly Julia came into view, wrapped as she was in emerald silk, a dress befitting for a Goddess. “ You haven’t heard a word I’ve said, have you?” she asked, and Quentin felt a spike of guilt shoot through him. He’d been far away, buried in his head—he hadn’t even realized Julia was talking.

“No, I, uh… sorry, just a headache. You were saying?” She gave him a formulated look, leveled willful from so many years of practice. He knew she didn’t believe any of the bullshit coming out of his mouth, but she continued anyway.

“This party’s great, don’t you think? I mean, God, Margo looks stunning.” Quentin followed her gaze across the room, eyes landing on Margo’s dancing form. She was a blur of white swaying across the floor with Eliot, twirling until her form seemed to fade and she was the brightest star, her own constellation right here in Eliot’s living room.

“Eliot really went all out for her birthday, didn’t he? I mean, I can’t even count half of the people here.” Which was true, they were surrounded by groups of people dancing, some talking, some eating the copious amounts of food laid out in celebration of Margo. He didn’t know most of these people, he didn’t even know how Margo could know all of these people, but that was okay because as he watched, her cheeks split into a wide smile as Eliot spun her around and around. The thrill in her eyes was obvious even to Quentin, gazing all the way across the room.

“He really cares about her,” Julia said, as if it wasn’t obvious. Anyone could see that, Quentin certainly had from the moment they met and continued to do so even now, months later. “I’m happy for her.”

Quentin nodded in agreement. If anyone deserved to be happy, it was Margo and Eliot and Julia. They were his best friends and a few of the only people in his life who had ever seen Quentin and took him for who he was. Eliot and Margo had stayed, they stayed, despite everything he’s ever known, and all he wants for any of them is endless happiness because they were worth it. They were worth all of it.

But when Julia speaks again, she’s looking at him with that steady, knowing gaze. “But you’re not.”

“I- what? Of course I’m happy for Margo, I mean look at her. How could I not be?” he says, because really, of course he wants that. She was a queen, a powerful force of nature that he had come to love and respect multiple times over. She had earned that and had more than proved herself to Quentin long ago.

“That’s not what I meant. I mean you’re not happy.” When Quentin gazes down at her, he’s once again struck with that eight year old little girl who played Fillory with him on warm summer mornings. She knew him better than anyone ever has, of course she knows, and so he prepares himself for the sting of her next words. “You can always talk to me about your dad, Q. I know it’s… hard, but-”

“No, Jules, you don’t know. You don’t know what it feels like waking up every morning knowing you’ll never get to see your dad again because yours calls you every week to ask about school and sends you flowers on Valentine’s Day and mine-” his words break around the lump in his throat and he needs to stop before he causes a scene and says something he doesn’t mean.

“I’m sorry, that was… that was unfair,” he whispers. “It’s not your fault my dad is dead.” And there, he said it. Was that supposed to make him feel better, or something? Because all he feels right now is the ache in his chest and the burn in his throat pulsing with the threat of unshed tears.

“No, it wasn’t,” Julia says. She’s whispering too, despite the crowd, yet somehow the melodic soothing of her voice is still present in his ears. “But Ted was like a second dad to me. He made us waffles and hot chocolate when I snuck over to your house even though I was supposed to be grounded. He gave me birthday presents every year, even when I had outgrown them, right up until-” her voice caught, and when she finally spoke again, her voice shook. “It hurt me when he died, too. And I miss him. But I know that whatever I’m feeling is nothing compared to what you feel every day and I… Quentin, I’m so fucking sorry he got sick.”

Memories flashed before his eyes, then, the clumps of hair his dad had tried to hide in the trash can, the spattering of blood dripping from the wall that hadn’t quite made it into the toilet, the endless, final beeping of the hospital monitor clearing through the angry pour of rain from gray May clouds.

“It’s just… so fucking hard, it hurts to breathe sometimes. I- I can’t-'' he can’t describe how it feels to have friends he considered his self-built family pulling him into new adventures everyday that made him feel alive, and yet wish for death all at the same time. What did that make him then? Just caught in the in between, floating between two different realities.

He’s close to losing it completely, right here in Eliot’s living room surrounded by people he doesn’t know and the warm comforting presence of Julia. But then she takes his hands in hers, just like so many times before, and he uses the strength she offers to him to quench the burning behind his eyes. “You don’t need to punish yourself, Q. I… God, I can’t stand seeing you like this. You’re my best friend and I- I can’t lose you too. Don’t make me lose you too.”

Julia is so strong all the time, always looking forward and fighting for what she believes in. And now, looking into her warm, flickering chocolate eyes, he sees pain fissured there, molded into her wiring. She’s vulnerable in the way she’s looking at Quentin, begging him to understand. And he does. If Julia can still find courage and strength despite the worrying and grief he’s put her through since they were teenagers, then Quentin can be brave, even if just for a moment.

“You’re not going to lose me, Jules. I couldn’t leave you like… that.” And he knows that they’re both thinking of the time he had slit his wrists in the bathtub when he was fifteen, when he had overdosed on his medication at 17, and the day his dad had died. She had found him then in his room, phone full of missed messages, and a gun resting against his temple. He couldn’t pull the trigger, yet he couldn’t find it within himself to pull away, either.

He had put her through so much, and yet she didn’t leave him, didn’t leave him alone. He owed her his life, on three separate occasions. “I’ll be okay, Jules,” he says, even if he won’t be, because he can’t put her through any more grief right now. But he knows it’s true, even as he says it. Looking down at Julia, warm chocolate eyes glistening with unshed tears, and across the room to Margo, looking as delicate and euphoric as a dandelion in her white dress—so pure he could almost make a wish—he knows it’s true. His eyes graze over to Eliot, eyes dancing with his own as he begins to approach, and he knows. If Quentin did have a wish, only one, he knows this would be it. Surrounded by ebony black curls and chocolate eyes and white starry constellations. He would be here, surrounded by his friends who loved him.

He would be okay.

Julia squeezed his hands one last time—an unspoken, lingering question—as her eyes searched his. He smiled, a small twist of lips, and tried to express everything he felt—pain, love, hope. Julia held her pinky up to him, her intentions clearer to Quentin than the sun. Promise you’re okay? He wound his pinky around hers, and it was safe to come out of the dark again. Just a peek.


A pinky promise can never be broken, after all.

Julia smiled, and Quentin found the courage within himself to smile back—a real, cheek-splitting, genuine smile. Seeming satisfied, Julia smoothed out her dress and began to waltz out into the crowd. “I’m gonna go try to find the dancing queen, see if she needs someone to hold her hair while she throws up.” Quentin laughed as he watched her disappear into the crowd, heart aching but bearable enough.

Eliot, finally arriving at his side through the rowdy crowd around them, took Julia’s spot right next to Quentin. “Is it hot in here? I think it’s hot in here,” Eliot says, taking a drink from his flask. Quentin laughs because really, how does he keep that thing full at all times?

“I don’t know, it definitely has nothing to do with you dancing for an hour straight or anything, definitely not,” Quentin says, and when Eliot turns to him his eyes are full of mischief. 

“Are you telling me you haven’t been dancing this whole time?” he asks, mock hurt coloring his smooth, heavy voice. Quentin can see the idea forming behind Eliot’s eyes and he suddenly does not like where this is going.

“Um, not the whole time, no, but-” And then the words are forgotten on his tongue as Eliot takes hold of his hands and drags him to the center of the room, the hot spot where he and Margo had been just mere minutes ago.

“Well I think we’ve got to get you caught up, then,” Eliot smirks. Quentin’s immediate reaction is to run and hide because dancing is not his thing, especially in a public setting. But Eliot’s standing there with him, still gripping his hands, curls falling around his face and smiling at him and Quentin would bet anything that his curls bounce when he dances. 

Quentin soon finds out that they do indeed bounce, and that alone is enough to keep him there shimmying and swaying and laughing the night away.

Later, when most of the guests had either left or passed out on the couch, only Eliot and Quentin were left to clean up the mess. Not that Quentin minded, Eliot had been kind enough to help him clean up his apartment the night they met, after all. Granted, that was a much smaller mess than the catastrophe they were dealing with now, but what was Quentin to do about that.

White and pink streamers littered the floor and furniture, and glitter had somehow made its way onto every available surface . There were chips strewn throughout the house and something that looked suspiciously like a barf stain outside the bathroom door. Plastic cups soaked with various kinds of alcohol littered practically every room of Eliot’s house and Quentin even found a guy passed out on the guest bed, a formidable lump under miles of sheets. At Quentin’s curiosity, Eliot informed him that that was Penny and that he wouldn’t be surprised if he found an empty condom wrapper mixed up in the mess.

But despite all of that, Eliot only laughed. It was a soothing, light sound after so many hours of loud, booming music and drunken slurs. “Not to pat myself on the back or anything, but I do throw one hell of a party,” he said, throwing an arm around Quentin as if it were the most casual thing in the world.

He can feel the warmth of Eliot all around him, burning into his skin where they touched. He smelled of apple juice and sweat, but Quentin pushed into his touch anyway because somehow, someway, he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world right now. Yeah, Quentin thinks. Not too bad. 

May seventeenth brings an invigorating spring day to New York. Birds chirp from sun-kissed trees as they watch the flowers bloom bright and fragrant down below. The grass is sparkling where it grows greener underfoot, swaying in the soft breeze carrying the air. It also carries a fathomless void to Quentin’s heart. 

The day was bright, lit by the radiant sun gleaming through white clouds far above. To anyone else, the day would have been glowing with endless possibilities. Quentin wished desperately to be one of those people, even if only for a minute, he wished it were that simple. Instead, he lay in his bed, unable to find the energy to eat or drink or shower or just find the will get up. The only thing he had really accomplished that day was reaching over to his warm, sun-soaked window and closing the blinds to any light—encasing himself in the fathomless hold of darkness. Because to him, the sun and the breeze and the light was only a reminder of how cruel life was, how unfair. His dad died today, two years ago, but somehow someone said it was okay for the birds to sing anyway, as if today was just another spring day. A happy day. 

It wasn’t.

And so he lay there, shrouded in shadow and blankets, numb to the world and the day outside. Numb to the memories: of him destroying his father’s prized toy airplanes out of grief and an overwhelming sense of anger, of his dad, lying still without life in a box covered in soft earth, the cold impression of a gun pressed to his head. Quentin saw him—his father—every time he closed his eyes. Sometimes he was smiling, and he didn’t know if it was easier to see him like that or coddled asleep in a hospital bed.

But then the form of his father wasn’t solid anymore… it was shifting, changing. There was Eliot, golden hazel eyes alive and burning into Quentin’s, telling scary stories under the glow of a flashlight. Margo appeared next, only to jump energetically onto Eliot for a piggyback ride, laughing with the whole of her being.

As he carried her away, their shapes melted, becoming part of the shadows in his head. Their memories washed away like an ocean tide until only Julia stood in front of him, except she was clad in an exquisite emerald dress, unshed tears sparkling like diamonds in her eyes. She was holding out her pinky to him, asking for a promise, and Quentin remembered. He had taken her pinky in his and promised to be okay, he had promised not to put her through the same grief a fourth time.

And he would keep his word on that, he didn’t break his pinky promises. He wasn’t a kid being bullied through life anymore, that wasn’t him. He was in college, he had a life for himself and friends who grounded him more than any medication could.

But that didn’t change the fact that his whole body ached with grief, the sorrow of a loss he couldn’t change. He couldn’t keep lying in the same old bed looking at the same dark walls, the same dirty cereal bowl, the same engineering textbooks, the same old Quentin. His chest caught like he suddenly couldn’t breathe through the pain, like he could actually feel again after being numb for so long. He didn’t even know how to breathe, though, or how to feel—how to be. But what he did know is that he couldn’t be here anymore, he couldn’t lay here wallowing in the pain of loss and heartache and the inexplicable darkness that had always lived in his head. It’s beginning to overwhelm him in ways he hasn’t felt in a very long time, like he was drowning in an ocean of hurt, its hands pulling him into the current, and yet he had no idea how to swim.

He has to get out now, he knows, otherwise he might not be stable enough to keep his promise to Julia. 

When Quentin steps outside, he’s shocked to see the pale glow of the moon and not the bright shine of the sun. How long had he actually been lying there? It had passed from day to night without him even knowing, without him even caring. How deep in his own head did he have to be for that to happen?

But thinking of the strength and courage his friends bear, for the first time all day, Quentin was able to push his thoughts away. He focused on the feel of the breath nursing his lungs, In one, two, three, four. Out one, two, three, four. He put one foot in front of the other, his shoes striking the pavement in a steady, melodic rhythm. It was oddly soothing, the echo of footsteps, the therapeutic sounds of breath, the animals scurrying through the night, the crickets chirping a secret, sacred song. He let himself wander aimlessly, mind blank and devoid of thought—numb.

He didn’t know where he was going, no, not until he arrived. Not until his feet carried him to the front door of a tall, brick house he knew as well as his own apartment, better than his own room. Even in the dark, he would know it anywhere, the magnificent structure a welcoming view; a comfort, somehow, like the hot chocolate he and Julia made after playing games of Fillory as children.

Maybe it was because he knew what was inside —who was inside. It somehow made sense through his grief-stricken mind that he would come here for help when it seemed like he couldn’t make sense of the world anymore, when he needed a sense of strength he just didn’t have.

He held his hand up to knock, let his knuckles rest against the wood, yet he found himself hesitating. He probably shouldn’t be here like this, no one has ever seen him like this, no one except Julia and, well, his dad-

He heard the echo of his own bones rapping against the wood rather than feeling it, he didn’t feel anything, really. He thought about running before it was too late, while he could still probably get away, but he didn’t think he could handle the grief and the guilt of his cowardice, so he planted his feet and waited for the distant, shuffling footsteps inside to make their way to him.

When the door opened, light spilled out over a tall figure—the first light he had seen in hours. Quentin thought it fitting, somehow, that it seemed to radiate from the man in front of him in brilliant, glowing rays. When he spoke, voice rich and smooth forming the sound of his name, some of the pain seemed to lift from Quentin’s chest. “Q,” Eliot said. It wasn’t a question, just a real, grounding statement of fact.

He was the first real thing Quentin had seen all day, and looking at him now he hadn’t realized just how starved he had been for human sensitivity, human contact. He took in everything about the man, from his long, lean legs to his soft dark curls. He was wearing only a simple plum button up, revealing glimpses of his chest where the top few buttons lay undone. His eyebrows were drawn together, head slightly tilted in confusion, his full lips scarcely parted as if he were about to speak. Because of course he wasn’t expecting Quentin, he had quite literally just thrown himself on his doorstep and honestly, he had no idea what came next. He had no words, so he said the only thing his mind could safely latch onto. “Eliot.”

His voice was scratchy even to his own ears—brittle, dry—he didn’t think he wanted to know what he looked like. But Eliot must have seen some broken piece of his fractured heart, some part of the broken grief—he had always said Quentin wore his heart on his sleeve. Maybe it was his eyes, full of exhaustion, or the slight shake of his hands, maybe, because he pulled Quentin into the heat of the house and the even hotter warmth of his arms. Quentin let himself lay his head against his chest, the softness of Eliot’s shirt a soothing, welcoming comfort against his cheek. He let himself be calmed by the scent of apples and trace amounts of spiced cinnamon that was Eliot. Eliot, who surrounded him with his smell and his body and his presence. Eliot, who cared about him. 

“My dad died today. Two years ago, today,” he whispers into Eliot’s chest, and he’s struck with the realization that this was the first time he’s said it out loud, for his own ears to hear. He thinks this might be the first time Eliot’s heard it spoken too. It seems too loud, too out of place, where only the sounds of his and Eliot’s combined breaths are supposed to be, Eliot’s heart tranquilly beating against Quentin’s ear like the calming, serene buzz of a honeybee. But his arms only pull Quentin in tighter, fingers lightly grasping his shoulders, nose pressing into the very top of his head. Quentin feels a sob rising in his chest and, too tired to bottle his capricious, erratic emotions any longer, allows it to bubble up and scrape against his lungs where it’s safe and warm in Eliot’s arms. 

They stand there, wrapped up in each other—Quentin clinging to Eliot more than anything, but close and secure nonetheless. Eliot lets Quentin hold on to him, using him as an anchor he hadn’t known he needed. They stand there until Quentin is able to breathe again, pressed against Eliot in such a vulnerable, childlike way that he couldn’t possibly bear to show anyone else. He felt more put together than he had in days, Eliot’s arms joining all the broken pieces Quentin couldn’t afford to hold any longer.

When Quentin finally pulls away, eyes puffy and ragged, Eliot takes his hands in his until they slowly stop shaking, a tremble healed with another’s skin. “I’m sorry,” Quentin says, averting his gaze because how can he solemnly look into those bright, hazel eyes when he showed up at his door completely unexpected and threw himself into Eliot’s arms like a sobbing child.

“Shh, Q, it’s okay. You don’t need to apologize to me, it’s okay,” he says, voice and eyes soft and genuine. Quentin is so close to believing him, he desperately wants to, more than anything, but there’s still a voice in the back of his mind telling him it’s not okay to throw his broken, fucked up mess at someone like this, not when they hadn’t asked and sure as hell not when they didn’t deserve it. 

Eliot deserved so much better than him.

He had an urge to apologize again, and even though Eliot said he didn’t need to, he felt like he should, like he had to make up for the train-wreck of a mess that was Quentin.

“No, I… I was just walking and then I was here, and, God, you probably had plans because you actually have a social life because you throw awesome parties and people like you and Margo’s amazing and beautiful and all of that and I’m ruining it all for you.” Quentin’s rambling, he knows he is, but his mind is panicking after so long of doing nothing, it’s going into overdrive. He doesn’t even know why he’s here, breaking down for Eliot to watch. “I wanted to just… stop hurting. I couldn’t be alone in my room anymore looking at the walls like a fucking psychiatric ward and I just… ended up here.” Eliot’s letting him get all of his words out, letting him say whatever he needs to say and okay with everything he can’t. He regards Quentin with an open expression, eyes large and empathetic, clearly trying to understand his chaotic and erratic ramblings. “No, I should just go. I’m a mess, God, I’m so sorry-”

“Quentin.” Eliot catches his hands in his as he turns to walk away, a careful, gentle grasp of fingers. His hands are warm where they’re wrapped around his, and Quentin thinks the blinding fog in mind might be clearing. He was startled to realize that he could actually feel the warm rush of blood beneath Eliot’s skin, he could feel things beneath the dull, numb haze that had coated his mind and body for hours—days on end. He could feel where his own pulse thumped sporadically in his wrist, and he wondered idly if Eliot could feel it too where his fingertips brushed the concealed pulse of blood in his veins.

“Has it ever occurred to you that I enjoy having you around? You’re one of my best friends, Quentin. I dont… I don’t connect with too many people.” Quentin opens his mouth to protest because of course connected with people, he was Eliot, he threw raging parties and knew more people than Quentin had probably met in his lifetime. But Eliot’s eyes are pleading, begging him to listen, and Quentin thinks he owes him at least that. “I know people, yeah, but how many of them do I invite over on a regular basis, how many can I really laugh with?” Quentin has a moment to remember the night of Margo’s birthday party, a time that now seemed like so long ago. Eliot had pulled Quentin onto the dance floor and laughed freely as he spun Quentin around on his two left feet. His curls had bounced wildly, and every time he twirled into view, his eyes were shining with an immense elation that Quentin doesn’t think he’ll ever forget. 

Quentin’s brought back to reality, away from the feeling of Eliot’s guiding hands on his skin, at the sound of his voice. His words are heavy, and they find a way to get through Quentin’s unruly mind almost immediately. “Only three people know what’s really in my flask, you know. Not what I act like it is.”

Quentin had never even considered that other people might not know that Eliot took apple juice like shots. He never talked about why that was, Eliot has rarely ever talked about his past with Quentin and he had never wanted to push him, grateful that Eliot had chosen to do the same and give Quentin space with the things he simply couldn’t talk about. It had never occurred to him, though, that he was in on a special secret. “So no, you don’t have to apologize, Quentin. You’re my friend, of course I want you here. We can talk about it as much or as little as you would like.”

Quentin had never been more grateful that someone understood that even if he might not be able to talk, he at least didn’t want to be alone. He wrapped himself back into Eliot’s arms because he simply couldn’t think of words good enough to express his appreciation. “Thank you,” he whispered, and he could only hope that Eliot knew he meant so much more to Quentin than a simple thanks.

“I was just thinking that it would be a nice night for a fire, don’t you think?” Eliot asks. Quentin nods, he would have said yes to anything Eliot suggested as long as he was able to be by his side.

As it turns out, Eliot has a beautiful fire pit in his backyard that Quentin had never seen. Like the rest of his house, it was sculpted perfectly and brilliantly, and Quentin could suddenly see the appeal of sitting outside with a warm fire crackling and picking out constellations in the glowing night sky to pass the time.

The night air chilled Quentin’s skin and he unconsciously rubbed his hands over his arms, bare to the mercy of the crisp air. He only had what he had come in, just a worn t-shirt and jeans, and as much as the sun had warmed the day, the night was a reminder that summer was still a reach away. He hadn’t been aware that Eliot was watching him through the glow of the fire, not until he spoke, voice low and bleeding warmth. “You look cold,” he said as he shrugged off his jacket, holding it out to Quentin. “Here.”

Quentin hoped the flush of his cheeks could be blamed on the heat of the fire. He took the offered jacket, the fine, soft material a delicate weight in his hands. The strong smell of Eliot surrounded him as he put it on, shrouding Quentin in a cloud of cinnamon spiced vanilla and the lingering scent of apples. And it was good, more than good. He was here with Eliot, whose own cheeks were warm and rosy basking in the passion of the fire, and Quentin lost himself to the intake of air in his lungs, breath coming and going easily and painlessly—he could breathe again. He knew then that his subconscious had been doing Quentin a favor when it brought him into Eliot’s arms. 

The clink of glass reverberated through the still night. When Quentin glances across the firelight, he’s surprised to see the glint of vodka in Eliot’s hand, the bottle nudging Quentin in offering. “You don’t have to have any, if that’s not what you want. I just thought it might help.” Quentin took the cool glass from Eliot’s hands, and just like he hadn’t known he needed Eliot until he was knocking on his door, he hadn’t known he needed this either, not until he took a drink. The sting prickling the back of his throat was a welcomed one, a different kind of pain than what he had been enduring all day.

They didn’t talk for a while after that, and Quentin appreciated the time to gather the thoughts running wild through his mind. Eliot didn’t push him, trusted Quentin to talk when he was ready to. And if he never was ready, then Eliot would take him in his arms and everything would be okay. But the thing was, Quentin was never going to be okay if he didn’t talk about this to someone, whether that be a therapist or Julia or Margo or Eliot —anyone, really.

But Eliot was willing to talk or just let Quentin talk, if that was what he needed. He was patiently waiting close by, so close that Quentin could reach out and touch him, feel the warm kiss of fire left on his skin. His eyes were fixed on the flames, golden halos in the gentle firelight. Quentin had a sudden urge to know what he was thinking, what made him so steady and solemn. Still in a world that wanted nothing but to push people around.

“Have I ever told you why I want to be an engineer?” Quentin asked, allowing his words to be as calm as the crackling of the fire, as smooth as Eliot’s mellow breaths.

“No,” Eliot replied, just as calmly. “I always wondered, but you never said and I… never asked.” Eliot’s eyes land on him, full of explicit curiosity, and Quentin feels himself willingly open up like he hasn’t wanted to for anyone in a very long time.

“I didn’t know either, for a while. I like to fix things. I had the grades and the program wanted me and that was enough for a long time. Just minor mending at first, you know?” When his voice started to shake, Quentin took a deep, grounding breath and remembered that this was Eliot he was talking to, Eliot who wanted him to get better. Quentin wanted to get better, wanted to be someone worthy of keeping Eliot’s secrets.

“But slowly I came to realize that it wasn’t just about building and fixing things with my hands. I felt like- no, I feel like I should have been able to do something, anything, to fix my parents and I just...” Quentin didn’t know how to explain that his mom had walked on eggshells around him until she had found somewhere without them. He didn’t know of any words to tell Eliot how bad it was with his dad when he checked Quentin into various mental institutions with his very own cabinet of medication. 

“That shouldn’t be your problem to fix, Q.” And yeah, he supposed that Eliot’s right, it shouldn’t be. But it was his fault that his mom hadn’t been able to handle him anymore, it was his fault his dad had to spend all their money on Quentin’s medication, he broke his parents and he couldn’t fix it. He could fix bridges all he wanted, but not the bridge between him and his parents.

“You know about my depression, Eliot,” Quentin started gently, softly, because this was something you had to ease into. “But what you don’t know is that I’ve only ever told you the bare minimum, just the necessities so that you knew what you were getting into with me. You don’t know that when it got really bad, my parents started fighting. And of course I knew it was about me, I mean it wasn’t a coincidence it started when I got… worse.” Looking into the fire, the flames seemed to show Quentin memories he had tried his best to repress: himself at fourteen, hiding in his bedroom closet with a bloody razor listening to the angry shouts of his parents reverberating through the walls, flinching every time glass shattered.

“Finally my mom… I don’t think she could take it anymore. It was fall, I remember, and I had woken to the leaves coloring outside my bedroom window. She had left pancakes on the table, the biggest stack of them, so sweet that I could smell them the second I came downstairs. My mom, she… she always made the best pancakes, always the fluffiest, always just the right amount of chocolate chips. No matter what I did, I could never seem to get them just right.” He hadn’t had pancakes since he was fifteen, not even on early morning road trips with Julia from the nearest McDonald’s drive-thru. Not since that day.

“I found out later that she had left early that morning, long before my dad or I were awake, and left pancakes as a parting gift as if that could ever make up for it.” Quentin had carried a burning anger at his mom for so long and, needless to say, her absence hadn’t made things any easier on him or his dad. Things were bad for a very long time in his house, it was harder for his father to find any way to help Quentin when he was the only one left to do so. His dad had hardly been able to support the medication Quentin had needed.

But now, he’s sort of come to terms with the reasons his mom had had for leaving. He’s not okay with it, he still aches when he thinks about it, but… he understands more now than he had then, at fifteen. Quentin can never let anyone carry what he carries inside him, he can’t expect them to pick up the pieces of his broken, messy heart. His mom had tried and it had broken her too.

Quentin knows now that he can never hurt anyone else the way he had his mom. He could never let anyone try to fix what can’t be fixed, and that was just the way it was. That was how the world worked. And like he had said, the world would like nothing better than to push people around.

The fire’s flames licked at the sky, growing higher as he had talked, burning hotter as he had thought. This whole time Eliot had regarded him openly, listening quietly to every word Quentin said. Eliot was so fair with him, so fair that he almost didn’t say what he said next. He didn’t want to, because there was no easy way to say it, no way to sugarcoat it. But was any of this really easy?

So pulling every drop of courage from the alcohol staining his blood and the trust he had in Eliot, he spoke the words he had only ever said to two other people. One living and one dead.

“That was the first time I tried to kill myself.” He didn’t dare look at Eliot—mostly because he couldn't bring himself to. He didn’t have enough courage left to take the chance of looking and seeing the pitied look that never failed to make Quentin feel like an old dog at the pound, or hear the ‘it gets better’ speech. He truly knows that he wouldn’t be able to handle that right now, not today, not from Eliot. He knows without a doubt that that would be his final breaking point, the thing that would tip the scales backwards a few years to psychiatric lane. But when a warm hand gently engulfs his own, hotter than any fire, he can’t help but look anyway.

Eliot, normally as composed and elegant as can be, looks about as vulnerable as Quentin feels. His eyes seem conflicted, wrestling between sorrow and pain, like Quentin’s confession had hurt him personally. He squeezes Quentin’s hands in his own, and he doesn’t know if he intertwined their fingers together or if Eliot did, but it was more comfort than Quentin could have ever asked for from a single person. “You are the bravest man I have ever met, do you know that?” he whispers over the crackling of the coals, and though Quentin doesn’t feel like it, he can’t help but believe that Eliot really means it.

Maybe it’s the heat of the fire warming his skin, or the stars watching as twinkling specs from above, maybe it’s the feeling of Eliot’s hand in his own and the jacket hugging his shoulders that makes Quentin look at Eliot in a way he doesn’t think he’s ever looked at anyone—not even Julia. A bond has formed between them, so real it’s almost living, breathing, and suddenly Quentin can’t imagine leaving this house being Eliot’s normal, simple, average friend.

“It was bad with my dad and I for a while. His son wasn’t stable and his wife was gone, he spent all the money he worked for on me so he had absolutely every right to not be okay. And then just when it felt like maybe I would be okay, that I would get better... he got sick.” The last part came out as merely a whisper, like the lower his voice was, the less it would hurt. If only it was that simple.

Quentin hadn’t talked about his dad with anyone except Julia, and even that wasn’t very often. It hurt letting it out, his chest ached and his throat burned, there was a pounding pressure behind his eyes. But it was freeing, in a sort of roundabout way. He was suddenly very grateful for the alcohol coating his throat, it made it just that much easier for Quentin to let go of the things he was holding on to.

So now Eliot was in on one of Quentin’s secrets—his biggest, most protected secret—just like Quentin was in on one of Eliot’s. Letting someone else in behind his walls, letting them see the baggage and yet choose to stay anyway… well, it gave Quentin a kind of hope he hadn’t felt since he was a child, believing in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy and the world of Fillory. But the fact that this was Eliot, a friend who had somewhere along the way become his best friend, showed Quentin that maybe there was good in the world after all, he just hadn’t been able to see it until now. All of the good existed in Eliot, all of the happy, wonderful things lived in the connection breathing between them. 

“You said your dad was sick,” Eliot began, voice careful as his eyes searched Quentin’s in the firelight—an unspoken question. Is this okay? 

Quentin squeezed Eliot’s hands between his own, the silent reply hanging in the air between them. More than okay. An understanding seemed to pass between the two, an electric current of harmony, a link void of words. Quentin knows he wasn’t the only one who felt it, the receptive opening of his heart, because when Eliot speaks again the melody of his voice is more earthy than even the fire. “Why become an engineer, then? Why not a doctor?”

Quentin had asked himself that same question time and time again, wondering if this was what he really wanted. For a while, he hadn’t been sure, he didn’t really even know enough of himself.

But if there had been any doubt before, it was surely all gone now. Looking at Eliot, hazel eyes flowing like golden honey in the firelight, he knew from the very bottom of his soul. “Because being an engineer isn’t just about fixing. It’s mending the broken things, sure, but… it’s about making new ones, too.”

Quentin turned to face Eliot fully now, startled to find how close they really were. Quentin still gripped Eliot’s hand, a comfort he hadn’t been able to let go of, and now not only were they close enough for Quentin to feel the fleeting warmth of his body, but he could see every detail of his face under the pale light of the moon and the red glow of the flames. Eyes of hazel and honey peeked out at Quentin from behind curls of pure black, the same shade as the night surrounding them, and suddenly it was all he could do to look away from the pure electricity of them.

Eliot’s skin was smooth, glowing with life where it was highlighted by flame, cheeks soft and full of rosy color. Quentin let his eyes wander to his jaw, hair as soft and black as the shadow of curls atop his head, and down to the low dip of the dimple diveted in his chin. His lips were pale and full in the firelight, wet where they parted for the slow flick of a tongue.

Quentin doesn’t think he’s ever looked more beautiful.

Looking back, he doesn’t exactly know what made the final decision for him. It could have been the grief, still a constant throb in his chest, it very well could have been the alcohol drowning in his blood or even the lure of his parted, pale, pink lips. It definitely could have been the way Eliot’s soul was on display, purer than a thousand suns, baring itself in his lidded, golden eyes. Quentin thinks it was probably a mixture of all these things that gave him the push he needed to close the very small distance between them, lips connection with Eliot’s in a single, swooping caress.

They were softer than Quentin could have ever thought, could have ever imagined, where they moved against his own. They were gentle, a light pressure compared to all of the heavy things Quentin had felt today. It was almost effortless the way their lips fit together, like the right pieces of a puzzle filling in the holes. 

Eliot’s breath was warm on his lips, heady and intoxicating. Quentin felt drunk, but not on the alcohol. It was so much more than that. He felt drunk on the feel of Eliot’s lips brushing against his own, slow and probing and exploring a whole new world Quentin hadn’t even known existed until now. He was drunk on the lingering sweetness of apples on Eliot’s tongue, stronger than any alcohol Quentin’s ever known.

Why had they never done this before?

And then in one solid punch, reality slams back into existence. They had never done this because Eliot was his friend who had a girlfriend who was also Quentin’s friend. He pulled away with a gasping breath, out of reach from lips that sought to follow. They were eager and willing, and God if he didn’t want to forget about everything and let Eliot catch Quentin’s mouth again and again. It would be the easiest thing in the world to just give in to the sweetest temptation. But he wouldn’t be able to live with himself knowing that this was wrong, that he was hurting Eliot and- 

“Margo,” Quentin breathed into the air between them. How could he have forgotten so easily? They were his best friends and here he was, kissing Eliot anyway, throwing himself into the middle of a relationship and losing everything that had shown him happiness in a matter of minutes. 

“What about Margo?” Eliot asked, eyes squinting at Quentin in an unknowing confusion. Could Eliot really have forgotten about his girlfriend too?
“You and Margo, you’re, you guys- girlfriend?” Quentin ends up spitting out, suddenly unsure and confused by his feelings and his reality. Was this his reality?

Eliot pulls Quentin from his chair and into his lap, hands coming to rest against Quentin’s sides. He could feel the insistent press of radiant heat through the jacket —Eliot’s jacket— covering his frame, and Quentin could feel his resolve ready to crumble at any second. “Margo has been my best friend for years, sweetheart. Never my girlfriend,” Eliot whispers into the cool stretch of air between them. That space was slowly dwindling, Quentin helpless to stop it.

“But this whole time I thought…” He thought they were together since the night they met, they had acted like it, at least, and that had been enough for Quentin. His brain was spinning trying to process everything in a new light, trying to process this new reality. Eliot and Margo were just friends, they weren’t in a relationship. They weren’t together.

Eliot and Margo weren’t together. 

“Does this clear things up for you?” Eliot asks, and then suddenly Quentin is being pulled down at the will of the man beneath him, gravity seeming to stem from Eliot—a whole new force of his own. Eliot’s hands had left his sides, only to find a home in the locks of long hair behind his head. When their lips meet, Quentin feels more alive than he ever has, electricity igniting and living beneath his skin, fireworks exploding in vibrant colors behind his eyes. The hair on Eliot’s jaw rubs lazily against the soft skin of Quentin’s face, the slight scratch enough for him to pull Eliot closer, as close as he can, blood buried in passion.

Quentin, now free to do as he pleases, lets his hands roam Eliot’s body, eagerly exploring the skin he was never allowed to before. He moves his hands up his sides and, to Quentin’s satisfaction, feels Eliot quiver under his prying fingers, muscles tightening firmly. There’s a burning heat everywhere their bodies connect—where Eliot’s hands are tangled in his hair, where their lips slip together, where their hips push against one another.

Quentin can feel the hard press of Eliot’s cock against the inside of his thigh—he is straddling him, after all. It feels big, from what Quentin can gather from the impression against his skin. A moan slips out of him, sucked into Eliot’s hungry mouth, and Quentin sees stars—whole constellations behind his eyelids. The fire crackles somewhere far away, the warmth nothing compared to the heat he feels in his bones, in his very core, and he wants more. His hand seems to slide down Eliot’s body of its own accord, coming to rest on Eliot’s clothed, hard cock. He needs to free it, he needs more skin, more of Eliot’s skin—to touch it, to kiss it, to suck it, anything. 

But then Eliot’s hand is covering his own, both of them wrapping around the hard outline of his cock. And then Quentin’s being pushed away, gently, though that doesn’t stop the ocean of hurt from flooding through his veins. “I can’t, Q, I…,” his voice trails off, fractured whispers floating amongst the stars. 

Quentin gets it, as much as it hurts, because what did he expect, really? He walked into Eliot’s house and said ‘Fix me,’ when Eliot shouldn’t have to be the one to do that. He sat in Eliot’s lap and said ‘Kiss me’ because it helped him feel something other than pain. He looked into Eliot’s eyes and said ‘Love me’ because Quentin doesn’t know how to love himself right now. Eliot deserved better than that.

Quentin moves to leave, painfully aware of where their bodies connected, deeply conscious that he was still sitting in the lap of a man who didn’t want that. But then a hand moves to cup the back of his head—a soft, feather-light touch—and when Quentin drags his eyes to meet Eliot’s, he looks so stricken, nothing of the poised man he’s made himself to be. Quentin was quite familiar with the strangled look behind his eyes and it pained him deeply to have to see it bared through the softest hazel ones. “Believe me, I want to,” Eliot breathes, chest rising with heavy breaths, and Quentin believed him. Just like that, like it was that simple.

He believed him because he was Eliot, his best friend Eliot, and he had never given Quentin a reason to question the trust he had given without thought, without hesitation. The whole of Quentin’s being stripped itself bare for Eliot, had since the moment they met, and worked only in the hope he had slowly found again while knowing his hands were there to catch him if he were to fall.

Oh, how he had fallen.

“God, Quentin, I can’t just take advantage of you like that. You’re grieving, you’re hurting, I don’t want to hurt you, I- I can’t do that to you.” His voice shook over the sound of his words, a deep tremor uneasy in his lungs. Realization dawned on Quentin that he had never seen Eliot so broken up before, fallen from the grace he emanated like the light of a thousand suns.  Eliot was fighting what he wanted for what he thought was right so hard his eyes had unfocused, reflecting the glow of the forgotten flames. They were bright, but not from the brightness of laughter and sarcasm, the brightness of Eliot. He was fighting so hard he was in pain, a fight of his wills, and God, Quentin couldn’t stand any more pain today.

“When I kissed you, I forgot everything. The hole in my heart was suddenly bearable, I could think, I could breathe. I- I didn’t hurt anymore, Eliot.” He looked so close to crumbling, eyes shadowed in his own self-restriction, yet glowing with want anyway. He was a man who couldn’t allow himself to hope, but wanted desperately to despite that. “Please, I can’t hurt anymore, Eliot.”

And then suddenly the world was spinning again, revolving only around the two of them as their lips met and gravity held him again. Quentin thinks it was Eliot who rose to kiss him, hands grappling hungrily at his back, Quentin’s skin alive with pure passion where he grasped so tightly. But it very well could have been Quentin who couldn’t stand to hold himself up anymore and fell down to meet Eliot, their chests connecting in the most delicious of ways. It was probably somewhere in between, but it didn’t matter because Eliot’s tongue was sliding against Quentin’s lips, mapping his mouth like no one ever has, and he was absolutely sure the world only existed for the two of them at this moment.

His senses were exploding with the entire prospect of Eliot, his soft sounds, his intoxicating smell, his sensitive skin the only thing his mind could physically grasp onto. Quentin could taste the faint, fresh sweetness of apples on Eliot’s tongue where it danced with his own, searing the flavor as a delicacy in Quentin’s lust-filled brain. There was a faint taste of fire smoke in his mouth, a sharp, bitter contrast that made the apples seem impossibly sweeter.

The insistent press of Eliot’s stiff cock against his thigh only serves to remind Quentin of the pulsing throb in his own cock, hard and constricted by the harsh denim of his jeans. It was all he could do to keep his hips still, begging to roll against the hot friction of Eliot’s cock, drag moans from his soft, captivating lips. But they’re still outside, still lounging by a fire in Eliot’s backyard, practically icy compared to the trail of flames Eliot’s fingers ignited on his skin. There’s still clothing between them, constricting layers of clothing, yet Quentin’s nerves are alight with a searing heat despite all of that. If he feels like this now, before bare skin even meets bare skin, Quentin imagines he’ll have been burned by the end of the night, scorching trails marking the places Eliot’s hands and lips have been. He’s burning, yet so utterly alive.

When Quentin needs the drag of soft air filling his lungs, he pulls away, chest heavy and heaving. “God, Eliot,” Quentin’s breathes, air morphing into words, spilling out of his lungs. His head was spinning, images and words and feelings stirring in his bones. Fiery passion, flames of want—flames of need— melting the rest of the world away as if it was made of the most fragile ice. Only Eliot is left, iridescent eyes blown wide. They were more mesmerizing than anything Quentin has ever known, seeming to capture the sparkle of the stars high above in his sweet, cinnamon eyes.

The stars shown just for him, existing only to serve Eliot because without him, the world wouldn’t turn. At least, Quentin’s wouldn’t. Eliot was the brightest star of all, shining when all Quentin saw was darkness. He was ageless, timeless, everlasting and eternal. He was indefinitely beautiful. 

“You’re beautiful,” Eliot whispered, and for a moment Quentin truly believed that this man was a star, and he was glimpsing the millions of radiant constellations in his eyes. They shifted, aligning just right, entire galaxies being moved to spell Quentin’s name. 

“El,” he whispered because that was all his voice could manage. Only a quiet, hushed whisper, just a slight exhale of breath. Eliot stole that soft breath with a sharp inhale, eyes going wide at the nickname that had slipped between his lips. It came easily to Quentin, rolling off his tongue in a way that had seemed entirely natural, like he had been born with that name on his lips. 

“Inside,” was all Eliot said, voice louder and stronger than it had been all night, and before Quentin could even think to crawl out of his lap, to try to get his legs to walk with the promise of what was to come, he was being wrapped in Eliot’s strong arms. Gripping Quentin tight and secure, he stood and began to walk as if he didn’t have one hundred and sixty pounds of man in his arms, and it was all Quentin could do to hold on while his cock throbbed repeatedly against the hard plane of Eliot’s stomach.

Trying to make himself useful (but mostly because he couldn’t bear to stop kissing Eliot even for the minute it took to get back inside), Quentin began lightly mouthing at his neck, hot breaths sticking to the soft skin. He let his tongue chase where his lips had been, licking from the base of Eliot’s smooth neck with the very tip of his tongue until his nose was able to nuzzle the soft hair of his jaw.

“If you keep doing that, Quentin, I guarantee we’re not going to make it to the bedroom.” A laugh stumbles out of Quentin, just a small chuckle, but it’s more than he’s known of joy today, even of the past few days—weeks, even.

But then the meaning of Eliot’s words sink in and Quentin’s undeniably tempted to seduce Eliot just like this, hot lips on his neck and soft moans in his ear. He wants to roll his hips against the hard, sensitive bulge of Eliot’s cock, give him no choice but to take Quentin right here in the cool darkness of the backyard or the chilled surface of the kitchen table.

But as enticing as the idea of Eliot taking him apart right now is, the bigger part of Quentin wants to be wrapped up in the silky sheets of Eliot’s bed with the seductive smell of apple and cinnamon and vanilla infusing his nose, engulfing his senses. He wants to be as close as he can to this man because he’s the brightest person—brightest thing— he’s ever known. Eliot was the only one who knew how to take Quentin’s pain away, replacing the ache with passion and warmth and lust and wanting. 

Oh, how he wanted Eliot.

Quentin didn’t know where they were or how long they’d been pressed together, too wrapped up in Eliot (both physically and mentally) until Quentin was lying on the softest bed, strong arms now only a distant, gentle caress. He had been right, Eliot’s sheets were a velvety silk. It was such an Eliot thing to have, Quentin felt his lips lift in a smile. 

He had been in Eliot’s bedroom before, of course, but this was different. This was intimate, pushing the boundaries that had been unconsciously put up between the distinction of friends and uncharted territory of lovers. Quentin idly wondered if they would be able to go back to friends after this, if they would become more or just left to hang endlessly in the in between. Not friends, not lovers, just existing in each other’s orbit. But could something that felt so good, so right, really be that bad?

Quentin didn’t think so.

“Your lips are dirtier than I thought,” Eliot shuttered, words living through heavy breath. He was more disheveled than Quentin had ever seen him, normally immaculately placed curls now falling clumsily into his eyes. His clothes, always so fresh and neat, were clumped and starting to wrinkle in the places Quentin had gripped the fabric between searching fingers.

“Hmm,” Quentin pretended to ponder. “The more you know.” When Eliot kissed him again, he could feel the traces of a smile lingering against his lips. “Too… many… clothes…,” Quentin mumbled in between kisses, and even that took all of Quentin’s will to stop kissing Eliot long enough to get a few words out.

“Why don’t you take them off then, darling.” Eliot, ever the diligent one of the two, began to thumb at the hem of Quentin’s shirt, nudging it upwards until the cool air cradled his bare skin. If Quentin had cared enough, he would have seen his shirt being flung somewhere behind the bed, but truth be told, he really didn’t. He didn’t care enough to take his eyes off of Eliot as he took Quentin’s bare chest in for the first time. In fact, his eyes roamed the planes of Quentin’s skin for so long that he realized he had begun to unconsciously shrink in on himself, thoughts of not good enough and not wanted running through his head. It was entirely possible that when Eliot finally got a legitimate look at him and realized what was happening, he would decide that he didn’t want this anymore, decide he was making a mistake being here with Quentin like this.

But then Eliot leans down, hungrily letting his lips explore what he had seen, feel with his mouth and warm, velvety tongue what his eyes simply couldn’t. His eyes slowly fluttered open and up to Quentin, hazel eyes ablaze with impassioned fire, dark pupils swallowing any remaining color with waves of desire. Quentin watched as those eyes, focused under heavy lids, captured his own easily, raptly, and Quentin knew with his whole being that looking away simply wasn’t an option, not even if he wanted that. Words couldn’t describe how much he didn’t want that. His eyes were fixed on Eliot and there was no looking away from such an open, honest blaze of passion.

When Eliot slowly dipped his lips to his chest, of course Quentin was watching. That was half of the experience—feeling the way Eliot lit his nerves on fire so easily and watching the places where full lips brushed his skin, where his tongue peeked out to drive Quentin absolutely mad. And so of course Quentin was watching when Eliot gracefully edged his head down again to gently suck a nipple into his warm, waiting mouth. The way Eliot was looking up at him, like he’d be smirking if his mouth wasn’t full of Quentin, made his hips involuntarily roll up into Eliot’s long body above him, hard cock twitching against his side. Eliot actually did smirk then, his teeth grazing the sensitive tenderness of his nipple mercilessly being sucked between his wet, adept lips. 

Quentin threw his head back in a moan, eyes closing in shocking, overwhelming pleasure. He had never known he’d liked this before, no one had ever done this for him and even if they had, Quentin would bet nobody was as skilled as Eliot was with his mouth. How was he supposed to know it would feel this good, so erotically good?

“Mm, you like that, baby?” Eliot mouthed around his sensitive skin, wonderfully salacious vibrations tingling Quentin’s skin following that deep, rough voice, calling him names that made every nerve in his body quiver. Eliot’s tongue gently circled around the edges, teeth pulling at his nipple delicately and easily. His lips soon followed to soothe any soreness, a light drag of softness and small, loosely-placed kisses.

“Fuck, Eliot, you have no idea.” Quentin’s voice shook, though not like it had threatened to all day. It was hoarse, voice unsteady with an intangible wanting he could feel coursing through his veins, in the insistent pulsing of his cock, even as a steady pressure behind his eyes. 

“Mm, I think I do have some idea,” Eliot drawled, giving his tender nipple a break with one final kiss. But that didn’t mean he was done with his mouth, oh no. Instead he began to slowly work his way down Quentin’s body, lips ghosting over the bare planes of his midsection.

Quentin let his hands pull through Eliot’s curls, fingers searching for something to grab onto, anything to anchor him to the earth or else he might just float away. They were softer than Quentin ever could have ever imagined, they reminded him of marshmallows in the way the plush ringlets bounced to life between his rifting fingers.

Quentin, too caught up in the feel of Eliot’s soft curls in his hands, hadn’t realized the other man had drifted as far down as he had until he heard the unmistakable crackle of the zipper on his jeans being pulled down. “God, Q, so hard for me. You’re practically aching for it, aren’t you?” Eliot purred. There’s a sound, then—a desperate whine—and Quentin thinks it might have been him, he can’t even be sure at this point. Eliot had absolutely no clue how hard Quentin was, how agonizingly hard he’s been for what felt like hours in his brain where time isn’t a valid concept.

“Just look at you,” Eliot starts again, words coming more as a deep breath than a voice. “Leaking all over yourself, you can hardly wait.” Eliot pulls Quentin’s worn jeans down his legs, overly cautious to avoid his cock, and they end up haphazardly thrown somewhere across the room like his shirt had. Deft fingers move to his briefs, the barest, lightest of touches to reveal the most hidden, vulnerable part of him. Somehow that made Quentin’s skin overly heightened to any touch of sensitivity, miles of goosebumps erupting along his flesh with only the ghost of Eliot’s touch.

“Are you always such a tease?” Quentin muttered, the hot, burning touch of Eliot against him imprinted in his skin—like muscle memory. Eliot laughed, the warm huff of breath coating Quentin’s bare cock, and Quentin really does think Eliot’s teasing him now just because he can, because Quentin gave him that power.

“You call this teasing? Oh, little Q, you haven’t seen anything yet,” Eliot murmured. He reached his hand forward then, light, golden eyes boring into Quentin’s, forcing eye contact, and slowly wrapped long fingers around Quentin’s cock. He twisted his hand, just lightly, and flicked his tongue down to the sensitive head. Quentin’s hands moved to grip Eliot’s hair tight on instinct, and he could see the gleam of unguarded thirst in his caramel eyes.

Every single pump of his hands, the twist of his fingers, the blistering, needy pressure of Eliot’s tongue made Quentin forget who he was, his mind shutting down and his body taking over. “You taste so good, Q, leaking deliciously in my mouth.” Eliot’s tongue emerged to flick over his wet, delightfully pink lips and Quentin could have come right there from just the sight alone and not have been disappointed in the slightest. “I could suck your pretty cock for hours, Quentin, let you stretch my mouth out, use my throat like a toy,” Eliot whispered, licking the underside of his shaft like a popsicle on a hot summer day.

“If you keep talking like that we’re not gonna have hours,” Quentin said, voice wavering as if to prove his point. Eliot’s mouth was dangerous, so obviously skilled at tearing boys apart, making them tremble and scream. That’s about how Quentin felt right now, at least.

“I think I could drag it out, keep your pretty cock safe and warm in my mouth while I stroked your long shaft in my hand, just enough to bring you so close to the edge… and then slow down, only giving you light touches and wet kisses. See how long you could hold on until you’re begging under me, under my touch, body writhing with the need of release.” Eliot sucked down on his cock then, just the head, and if it had been any more Quentin would have come instantaneously. 

“Fuck, Eliot, I am not gonna last if you don’t stop that,” Quentin just barely squeezes out. Eliot had been right, Quentin was already writhing under him, body quivering under even the lightest touch and somehow aching for more. “And you say I have the dirty mouth.”

“I can find better things to do with it, anyway,” Eliot murmurs, voice fluid and filled with mischief. He sank down on Quentin’s cock fully until the tip hit the back of his throat, hot and solid, moaning around the stretch of his mouth. The vibrations send a consuming wave of pleasure crashing through Quentin’s nerves, helpless to do anything but moan low in his throat.

Quentin’s hands tugged and pulled through Eliot’s hair until they came to roam the expanse of his body, any place his prying fingers could reach. They drifted over his back and to his shoulders, but instead of meeting bare skin, he could feel the soft silk of Eliot’s clothing beneath the pads of his fingers. He hadn’t even realized Eliot was still completely dressed while he himself was entirely exposed, no patch of skin hidden from Eliot’s wandering touch and searching eyes. “I want to touch you, El, let me touch you,” Quentin finds himself saying.

Eliot’s eyes fly open, flitting up to gaze at Quentin, and slowly loosens his lips from where they had been drawn around his hard cock. Quentin thinks it might have been the nickname that had gotten such an eager response, just like it had earlier, and he mentally files that bit of information away for later use. 

Eliot slowly makes his way up Quentin’s body, in a way that would have seduced him entirely if he wasn’t already hard and leaking where Eliot’s mouth had just been. “What do you want, Quentin? Tell me what you want.”

Eliot was right above him now, lips wet and glistening, eyes lustful and flirtatious, and Quentin really didn’t have the willpower to resist being anything but honest. “I want to touch you,” Quentin begins and moves his hands to unbutton Eliot’s shirt until the lean muscle of his midsection is in view, the small curls of hair on his chest as dark as the ones on his head. “I want you… I want you in me,” Quentin whispers, and he’s suddenly all-too aware of the insistent press of Eliot’s stiff cock against his own erection.

Eliot leans down to kiss Quentin then, any and all traces of gentleness and restraint gone with Eliot’s shirt, thrown with the pile of Quentin’s clothes in some corner of the room. “I think I can make that happen,” Eliot breathes against Quentin’s lips, and he opens up for Eliot, lets him explore his mouth with his tongue, lets him grind his cock down against Quentin’s. It’s dirty, absolutely filthy, the way Eliot moans into his mouth, surging deep from his throat. Quentin takes it willingly, he’ll take anything Eliot gives him—kisses, moans, touches. But what he wants more than anything is his cock. 

“C’mon, Eliot, I want you to fuck me, open me up and stretch me.” Quentin’s hands reach for Eliot’s belt, fingers moving but shaking from the dizzying, intoxicating feeling of Eliot’s mouth biting kisses into his neck. He moans against the softly pliant skin there, lightly grazing teeth against the hammering race of Quentin’s pulse. So really, it’s no wonder why he can’t function enough to complete simple tasks, like unbuckling a belt.

He pulls away from Quentin then, just enough to fit his hands where Quentin’s had been. “Let me, darling,” Eliot murmurs, and then just like that the belt is gone, out of sight. Quentin reaches for Eliot’s pants then because he still had on too many layers for his liking, but Eliot evidently had the same thought because his hands were already at his waist, fingers moving deftly to pull the constricting pants off and toss them away to the floor along with their other various pieces of clothing. 

Quentin had never seen anything so stunning, and now that he had he knew nothing would ever compare. Not even the secret waves of the ocean bringing in a sunrise of pastel pinks and pale yellows, not the bursting reds and vibrant oranges pigmenting the fallen fall leaves, not the first winter’s snow yet to be touched when it covers the trees pure and white, not even the twinkling constellations luminously lit under the crackle of a fire.

He was beautiful in all of the ways the seasons changed, how each one brought different lights to the world. He was the embodiment of nature, good and true in the ways that only the breeze can be on a warm summer morning, how the fragrance of a flower’s first bloom encompasses the air, the way the moon glows lustrously in the night to keep the darkness at bay.

He was magic.

Quentin reached out hungry hands to touch, to feel, because that was all he could think about, the way miles of soft, pale skin would feel under the pads of his fingers, the brush of his lips. Quentin knew then, and only then, what it felt like to truly want something with his very being.

Eliot watched him with heavy breaths, the weight of his eyes holding Quentin to the bed while they roamed freely—from his lips, to his still swollen nipples, down to where he was stiff and leaking. Eliot’s hand moved to his own cock, stroking lightly, eyes involuntarily closing with pleasure. Quentin’s gaze followed his movements, the slow, languid motion of his hand stroking over his cock. He hadn’t realized just how big Eliot was until now, the constricted press of it against his thigh beforehand doing nothing to bring it justice. It was bigger than anything Quentin had ever been with, sitting hard and heavy in the grasp of Eliot’s long fingers, and he would be lying if he said he wasn’t just a little intimidated. But Quentin wanted all of that inside of him, he wanted Eliot and he wanted the stretch and the burn that would undoubtedly come with him. He wanted to feel every nerve in his body alive with the overwhelming pleasure and pain that came with every thrust of Eliot’s hips, of him filling Quentin up entirely.

“God, Eliot, you’re so big,” Quentin said, though it came out as more of a moan low in his throat. He didn’t think he’d ever get tired of looking at Eliot, not at noon smiling under rays of sunlight, and certainly not now, willing to show himself vulnerable to Quentin and trusting him to do the same.

Eliot’s eyes flitted open listlessly, full of want swimming in a pool of caramel. “I know you can take it, baby,” Eliot groans softly, like it’s taking all the willpower he has not to just tear Quentin apart. Not that Quentin would mind. “Just look at you, all laid out for me, so fucking eager for my cock.”

Eliot reached over to the bedside table, a bottle of lube appearing in his hand. A warm tingle clenched in the pit of Quentin’s stomach just at the thought of being stretched open on Eliot’s slender, skilled fingers. When he felt the cold press of a finger against his hole, wet and slicked with lube to ease the pressure of intrusion, Quentin gasped softly into the open air between them. It was a sensation he hadn’t ever felt (at least with someone else’s fingers) and it was safe to say that it was not an unwelcome one. New, dangerous, exciting. 

“Kiss me,” Quentin breathed, the feeling of being filled up overpowering his nerves, even with only one slow-moving finger. Eliot leaned down then, lips molding to Quentin’s in a claiming, quick rhythm that had Quentin torn between arching up to melt impossibly closer to demanding lips and pushing down on the shifting finger hooking inside him.

His decision was made for him when a second knuckle pushed its way inside, stretching his walls delightfully. Quentin gasped in surprise, voice turning into a moan as Eliot chased a steadily building pace with his fingers, working something like magic to tear Quentin apart, nerves singed from a fire that was entirely unique to the man above him.

“You feel so good on my fingers, Q,” Eliot breathed against wet, raw lips. “I can’t imagine what you’ll feel like on my cock.” Quentin could hardly do anything but groan at the words spoken deep in his throat, couldn’t do anything but let Eliot have his way, do what he pleased with Quentin. 

The hard press of Eliot’s cock was evident where it was pressed between their bodies, aroused and leaking against Quentin’s flaming skin. His hips had started a slow thrust as Quentin kissed bites into his soft neck, cock sliding against Quentin’s in formidable lust. It was almost too much—the way Eliot’s heavy breaths stuck to his skin, his hips thrusting almost unconsciously against his own, the sweet burn of being stretched on long, elegant fingers. Quentin thinks there might be three inside him now, curling deep inside and opening him up.

“Eliot, El, I want you,” Quentin groans because this is all almost too much, his senses are overloaded with everything Eliot and his mind is spinning in circles trying to keep up, trying to take in as much of this as he can. “I want you in me so- so fucking bad, Eliot, please.” He almost sounds like he’s whining now, like a child begging its mother for candy at the store. But Eliot only curls his fingers deep inside Quentin one last time and manages to pull away, merely emptiness left where he had just been so full, so filled. He almost felt incomplete now, like something important was missing, like a part of him was gone with the absence of exploring fingers. 

But then Quentin has the utmost pleasure of watching Eliot lightly stroke over his own cock, slicking himself with lube with each slow pass of his fist, and he thinks watching is almost as good as feeling. His eyes were blown wide as they roamed over the expanse of Quentin’s body, full of want, maybe even hunger—like Quentin was good enough to eat. “Roll over, baby, I want to see you all spread out for me.”

Quentin felt his opening clench at the ‘baby,’ from Eliot calling him that, his cock pulsing hotly at just the mere thought of Eliot watching his thick cock disappear inside of Quentin only to reappear with every thrust, each time pushing deeper to drag ragged, heavy moans from where Quentin lay spread out below.

He managed just enough energy to roll over onto his stomach and lift his body, supporting his weight with wobbly hands and knees. “Look at you, Q. You’re so beautiful like this, so eager and open for me.” Quentin had never known how much he actually liked being talked to like that—like he was a dirty little secret—not until now, not until he felt it drag sweet little moans from his lips with every heady word Eliot spoke.

Quentin felt the pressure of Eliot’s cock beginning to fill him, just the slow stretch of fullness pressing against his innermost walls, the head entering his tight ring of muscle. Then the pressure started to build as he pushed in deeper, a much bigger intrusion than the fingers he had used to open Quentin up with. The burn lit his nerves on fire with the way his muscles weren’t used to stretching, body full in a way it wasn’t used to feeling. But it was the kind of pain that brought pleasure along in waves, and Quentin was just as aware of that as he was of the sweet burn coursing through his veins. 

By the time Eliot was fully pushed inside of him, Quentin was riding the waves of pleasure his cock brought just by filling him up—so much so that when the burning stretch was just barely an afterthought in his lust-filled mind, Quentin found himself pushing his hips back against Eliot’s in a silent beg. Fill me, fuck me, use me. 

Eliot’s hips seemed to move on their own accord, slight little thrusts that let Quentin adjust to such a wide, burning stretch, but also had his body —his being— aching for more. More of this feeling, more of this blinding sensation, more of Eliot. “I told you that you’d feel good on my cock, Q, but you feel so much better than I ever could have imagined,” Eliot bit out, short pants echoing behind his words. “So tight and hot for me, Q, so fucking good.” 

“God, Eliot, yeah, just like that,” Quentin moaned, so caught up in Eliot’s heavy words and the blissful sensation of being filled that moaning was about all he was capable of. Just smothered sounds spilling deep from his throat, filling the air with Eliot’s soft groans and hushed words. 

After days of feeling alone, weak, broken, Quentin finally felt alive, grounded to the earth from the electricity searing through his body, tethered here, in this moment, with the sharp thrusts of Eliot’s cock delving deep inside him. The slow static of restraint was gone now, replaced with the dizzying, chaotic chase of bliss, hot and dirty and messy and it would never be enough. 

When Eliot’s lips grazed along his back, Quentin lost any strength he had used to support himself and felt his arms give out beneath him. He couldn’t get back up, not with Eliot’s cock moving in spurts, plunging deeper into Quentin’s body than he had ever reached before. He cries out when Eliot reaches that spot, the one that made the room spin and threatened to melt the rest of the world away. He thinks he might have seen stars behind his eyes, the brightest twinkling of lights, and when Eliot’s hands grasp his skin, sensitive to even the lightest traces of touch, the only thing Quentin can think or say—the only thing Quentin knows— is Eliot.

“Eliot, I- fuck, you’re so good at that, so good.” Quentin can feel the moan Eliot breathes against his skin, soft lips tracing patterns there that only he could see—of what only he could know.

“Mm, you like that, don’t you,” Eliot murmurs, and it’s not even a question, but a statement of fact. There’s a slight falter to his voice, a slight tremble where it otherwise has been so calm and steady. He was falling apart, consumed to the same deafening pleasure that was writhing through Quentin’s veins. The only answer he could give was a strangled wimper, just needless sounds, because Quentin couldn’t trust his voice. Not with the way Eliot was taking him apart from the inside out, all while Quentin let him—eager and willing and needy all the same, just as Eliot had said. It was utterly riveting the way Quentin could give himself over entirely to Eliot and get so much ecstasy and bliss in return.

It wasn’t until Eliot’s firm hand slid around his body to grasp his cock did Quentin realize just how much he had needed that friction. His hips had been bucking steadily into the air, cock searching for anything to rub against, anything to sate the hunger rippling through his bones. Quentin was helpless to everything but to feel his cock, hard and leaking, throb into Eliot’s sturdy, stroking hand. Every sense in his body was overloaded with the pure, raw, animalistic pleasure coaxed out with the twist of a hand, the thrust of hips, the weight of a body hot and sweaty against his quivering muscles.

Pleasure boiled hot in Quentin’s blood with every snap of Eliot’s hips, with every slam of the headboard meeting wall echoing in his ears, with every grunt resonating against the hot skin of his neck, with every moan that slipped between Quentin’s parted lips. “I’m so- close,” Quentin choked out, words punched out of him with every pulsating thrust of Eliot’s cock. 

“Do you wanna come?” Eliot asks into his ear, goosebumps erupting along Quentin’s skin in every place they touched and every place he wished they did.

Quentin can only sob out a broken, “Y-Yes, El, please,” because he really doesn’t think he’d be physically able to stop himself at this point, not with the way his nerves burned hotter with every touch of Eliot’s lingering fingertips, with every word flowing in his ear like sweet, sticky honey.

“You can let go, Q, I’ve got you, love.” Eliot’s hand began to stroke him with a renewed vigor, wrist flicking up and down with a tight grasp of fingers. Angled with Quentin’s hips in the air and his upper body pinned to the mattress like this, Eliot was able to continuously strike his prostate with each pass of his cock. Quentin’s eyelids fluttered closed as his eyes rolled back, a whole new wave of pleasure coiling in his very core. 

When it unleashed itself, Quentin saw nothing but black behind his eyes—a deafening midnight obscuring his vision, an eclipse blocking out any traces of light, the darkness masking anything but the monumental pleasure erupting in his veins and the addicting spasm of muscles. Darkness surrounded Quentin, everything around him hidden in shadow. That was the only color he could see, the only thing his mind didn’t block out with the blinding, tremendous bliss. There was the coffee that Eliot drank, so black it couldn’t be anything but bitter, two bodies embracing, shadowed in the firelight, and obsidian dark curls framing a smiling face. 

Quentin thinks he may have blacked out. Literally.

He becomes aware of a sweet, gratifying scent filling his nose and it takes Quentin longer than it should have to register it as the warm vanilla and cinnamon aroma that was Eliot. His face was pushed into a pillow, Eliot’s pillow, and he was suddenly grateful for any mufflement it had provided because there was no way Quentin had felt the way he did and didn’t make any highly mortifying, embarrassing sounds. 

He was vaguely aware of the open emptiness he felt when Eliot pulled away, leaving Quentin bare and gaping. He turned his head just enough to watch as Eliot gave himself a few quick, tugging strokes and then his cock was spilling in long white spurts across his hand, soaking the sheets and even landing on Quentin’s backside, just a few warm drops of pearlescent white tingling his skin.

Eliot’s eyes drew shut, eyebrows drawn together and kiss-swollen lips parted divinely in ecstasy, babbling words that sounded like broken slurs of Quentin’s own name. His curls dangled wildly in his eyes, hiding half of his face from Quentin’s prying view, but he watched as a bead of sweat rolled down the delicious curve of his neck, trailing over the pronounced slope of his adam’s apple bobbing with heavy breaths. Quentin had the sudden urge to trace its trail with his finger, to taste it with his tongue and latch his lips to Eliot’s soft neck to savor the warm, salty flavor. 

But then Eliot’s gone, walking away, and Quentin is helpless to do anything but watch him go. When he appears again, he’s carrying a washcloth in one hand and a glass of water in the other, still undeniably naked and bare as the day he was born. Quentin was vaguely aware of the sudden dip in the mattress where Eliot was crawling on, and when a warm, damp washcloth began massaging his skin, his body came to life with the dying flame of sensitivity.

“I brought you some water, if you’re thirsty,” Eliot murmured. It was calm now, the dire urgentness morphing into a still peace, breath caught and coming easy now. His voice was kind, soothing, even, no trace of the dirty, imperative mood that had overcome the both of them before. 

When Eliot had washed over every nook of Quentin’s skin to his satisfaction, Quentin tried to return the favor and grab the warm cloth, soak and clean every inch of Eliot’s body until the mess they had made was long gone, because that was what he should do. It was the least he could do. But Eliot only wrapped Quentin in his arms—strong, warm, unwavering arms—and Quentin found himself powerless to do anything but lose himself in them. He let himself smell the sweet, musky smell engulfing him, let himself be pulled even deeper into it, and couldn’t help but feel protected, cared about, and really, truly grateful.

“Thank you,” Quentin whispers into Eliot’s chest because somehow that’s easier than looking him in the eyes, his pure hazel eyes. It was like looking into the sun—blinding, yet unable to look away at first glance.

When Eliot chuckles—just a light, soft sound—the vibrations in his chest tickling Quentin’s head. He felt a rush of dizzying affection curl in his stomach, ripple through the very essence of his being, all for the man who hadn’t a clue how much he had actually gotten Quentin through tonight. 

“For the water?” he asks, and this time it’s Quentin’s turn to chuckle.

“Thank you for letting me in tonight,” Quentin explains. “You didn’t have to.”

“You say that as if I’d turn you away,” Eliot murmurs. His hand moves to cup the back of Quentin’s head, fingers threading through the fine, velvety wisps of hair at the nape of his neck. It sent a shiver down Quentin’s spine, though it wasn’t lustful like it had been earlier. It was comforting. Safe. Still.

“You could have turned me away from all of… all of this.” Quentin gestures a hand between the two of them, still wrapped together like they couldn’t bear letting go, as if that could even come close to describing what had just happened. What had just shifted between them tonight, of what Quentin could still feel even now in the warmth of Eliot’s arms, in the melodic beating of Eliot’s heart in Quentin’s ear. “Thank you for caring,” he adds as an afterthought, as if that wasn’t his only thought.

“Some things are worth caring about,” Eliot admits. His voice is soft and warm, and something about how delicately the words are spoken, how graciously he breathes, makes Quentin finally lift his gaze up to Eliot with a biting curiosity. His lips are quirked in an amiable smile, warmer than the shine of a thousand suns. Quentin didn’t doubt for a moment the truth behind his words, he couldn’t, not with caramelized eyes sparkling with a raw sincerity he’s never seen Eliot wear before. 

Quentin was suddenly struck with how honest and sincere Eliot could be once he tore down his walls. He was good and true in a way that was entirely unfathomable to Quentin, a concept he couldn’t entirely wrap his head around. He didn’t know how he ended up to be so close with a man like that, a man that radiated energy more addictive than any drug, pure and outright intoxicating. Quentin suddenly understood the temptation of dependency—of addiction—the enrapturing lure of something that could warp perception, morph reality. He also understood that humans were more captivating than any drug, more than the strongest alcohol, more than any man’s poison.

Eliot had said that some things were worth caring about. He turned that thought over in his head, tasting the words, feeling the meaning that was somehow more than just sounds. “Some limited, but very important exceptions,” Quentin murmurs.

He feels the hold that was Eliot’s warm arms squeeze his shoulders tighter, and he was silent for a very long time. It was quiet for so long, in fact, that Quentin’s eyes began to flutter shut in the warm glow of exhaustion rippling through his bones. He thinks Eliot may have said something in that time, the whisper of words just a feathery exhale against his consciousness. “Very limited.”

Quentin couldn’t be sure if he dreamed it or not.

The next time they meet is through lightning and storm. The roar of thunder echoed in the far distance, a deafening crack of reality. The wind beat against the walls of Quentin’s room, the rain pattering against the window like the rumbling, forgotten footsteps of New York far below. 

His phone vibrated by his bedside, lighting up the room with a soft glow. There was no other light but the electronic screen and the occasional flash of bright, lurid lightning. Quentin just simply hadn’t had the energy to check his phone for the past few hours, he hadn’t had the energy to do much of anything, really.

But when he finally did, he wasn’t surprised to see Julia’s name glowing brightly. He was surprised, however, to see just how many messages there were. 

Wednesday, May twentieth, 3:13 p.m.: I’m sorry, I didn’t want to leave like this

8:54 p.m.: I get that you’re mad, Q. I do. Just please don’t ignore me, at least let me know you’re all right

Missed call from Jules.

Thursday, May twenty-first, 10:15 a.m.: I understand that this is horrible fucking timing but this can’t get any better if you don’t talk to me

4:02 p.m.: You do know that I’ll just keep blowing up your phone, right?

11:21 p.m.: This isn’t funny anymore, Q.

2 missed calls from Jules.

Friday, May twenty-second, 1:46 a.m.: I can’t sleep like this, we always promised never to go to bed angry, never upset

12:30 p.m.: I’m really fucking worried about you. Jesus, just let me know you’re okay. Please.

6:51 p.m.: Quentin, answer your goddamn phone

7:03 p.m.: You promised me you wouldn’t do this again. Don’t do this again, Q. I’m so sorry I’m coming back as fast as I can. The earliest flight I could get doesn’t leave until tomorrow morning. But I’m coming home. I don’t need this as much as I need you

2 missed calls from Jules.

11:07 p.m.: You are NOT flaking out on me, Coldwater. Not now, not ever, okay?

11:11 p.m.: You’re really scaring me, Q. If you won’t answer me, I’m sending backup to make sure you’re okay. Please don’t do something stupid, I need you. I can’t lose you.

That was all a lot to process, almost too much for his brain that had done nothing but stare at a wall for three whole days. To Quentin, it had only felt like hours, maybe, since Julia had left. The fact that he had been lying in his bed for days, doing nothing but breathing and thinking, seemed almost unfathomable to him. But, then again, he’s done it before and he’s sure to do it again.

He also did not want to know what ‘backup’ meant. 

He finds his thumbs typing back a quick message to Julia, just an ‘I’m fine,’ because she at least deserves that. Julia had said that she was coming home, that she was coming back, and Quentin knew that he should be full of joy and relief. Yet all he feels is the heavy weight of guilt. His mind wanders back to what he supposes is now three days ago, right before Julia walked out the door, right before she got on a plane. His mind shows him what’s been playing on repeat in his head, he hears the conversation he’s had enough time to memorize by now, he sees the pain of Julia tearing herself in two.

Quentin could hear the squeal of excitement from the other side of the apartment, even with headphones blaring music in his ears. Actually, all of Manhattan had probably heard the bubbling shrieks of Julia Wicker.

Before he had a chance to even think about moving, she whirled into his room like a hurricane and pulled the headphones from his ears in one swift movement. “You’ll never believe the news I just got!” Julia exclaimed. Her eyes were wide with excitement, her lips spread in a wide smile like it had been glued there. She emanated exuberance, her unrestrained excitement lifting the weight off Quentin’s shoulders for a light moment of clarity.

“That was Orloff-Diaz Law Firm on the phone, and they just offered me a chance to intern under them for the whole fucking summer! I mean, can you even believe that? I’ve wanted to be Kady Orloff-Diaz since before I even started law school and now… an opportunity to study under her? She’s the youngest lawyer to make a name for herself, like, ever.” 

“Jules, that’s amazing!” Quentin exclaimed, arms moving to pull her into a tight, bone-crushing hug. She laughed against his shoulder, a giddy, exciteful sound, and he found himself letting out a carefree giggle with the sounds of her joy.

“They’re even paying for my plane ticket down there and everything. They want me to go and see the firm and find a place to stay right now. I have to start packing!” Julia starts to pull away from Quentin’s embrace, but something she had said wasn’t sitting right with him. A plane ticket? Where was she going that she would need a plane ticket?

“I- Jules? Where are you staying?” Quentin questions, fueled by the panic rising in the back of his mind—the beginnings of a brewing storm.

“The firm is gonna help me figure that out once I get out there, but it shouldn’t be too hard to find somewhere. California is a big place.” And there it was, Quentin’s worst fears confirmed. All of the weight Julia’s joy had lifted just moments ago was pressing down on him again, constricting his lungs until Quentin had to fight for his own air. His stomach dropped and his ears began to ring all at once, all of it just a reminder that this was real, that this was happening. 

Julia was leaving.

Quentin had no words to say, none existed that were safe and okay to acknowledge out loud that his best friend was packing to leave. “California?” is the only thing his flabbergasted mind could latch onto that didn’t directly have the words ‘leaving’ and ‘gone’ and ‘alone’ in the same sentence. 

“Yeah, it’s out in California. But, Q, I’ve dreamed about a chance like this for so long…,” Julia’s voice trailed off into a silence that was so unlike the chaotic mess of Quentin’s brain. “I at least owe it to myself to give this a chance. I owe it to the girl who worked so hard to get here, you know.” Her usual bright eyes were now unfocused, a look apparating in her chocolate eyes that told Quentin she wasn’t really here right now, but somewhere far in the past. Far in her memories.

And yeah, Julia was right. She did owe herself this, he knew, and Quentin wanted her to have the world and nothing less, but… he wanted to be a part of it too. He wanted to see that world, live that life with her, he wanted to hold her hands and watch her eyes sparkle as she realizes that she made it.

“You’re… leaving. You’re leaving,” Quentin murmurs, even though he promised himself he wouldn’t say that. He had never liked that word, it had brought him nothing but pain in the life that he’s known. But he had to say it, to taste the words on his tongue, to hear the solidity of this new reality. He had thought it might make it easier to confront this outside the distorted walls of his head.

It wasn’t.

“Q, no, don’t think like that.” Julia huddles closer to him, the warmth and comfort of her body never too far away. She takes his hands between her tiny ones and gently rubs, like she’s trying to warm his skin with her own. It was fitting, since he suddenly felt so utterly cold—like an uncharacteristic spring chill.

“How am I supposed to think then, Jules? You’re the only person who knows how… bad I can get, and it’s been so fucking bad lately. My dad-” his voice breaks off with a crack of sorrow because it still hurts to talk about, even after two years and Eliot’s careful comfort. “I can’t lose you too, not now,” Quentin whispers, like the space around them might shatter if he spoke any louder. He thought his heart might, if not the air.

“I’m not the only one. Not anymore.” Her voice shook slightly, enough to lift his head in concern. And when Quentin looked into her deep chocolate eyes, lidded and glistening with the glory of knowledge, he knew that they were both thinking of obsidian curls and confident, charismatic energy. “And it’s only for the summer, I will be coming back. That’s a promise, Q.”

She held her pinky out, an action they had completed thousands of times before over a wide variety of things. She had made him pinky promise once, when they were ten, that he would bring her his mom’s pancakes when she got the flu and couldn’t come over so that she didn’t have to miss out. When they were eight and had just discovered the land of imagination that was Fillory, Quentin had made her pinky promise that he would be able to lead the most epic quest either of them would ever go on. Back then, that meant climbing the highest tree in the nearest park their parents allowed them to wander to.

But now, it seemed closer to an insult for Quentin to take her pinky in his like they always do. He didn’t want to do that if it meant Julia would leave. “My mom never came back. You say that you will, you say that now, but what if you don’t? I can’t hold on to false hope like I’m fifteen and naive again.”

Quentin regretted the words as soon as they left his mouth. A crack of hurt flashed behind Julia’s dark eyes and she let her hand fall away with an invisible burn. “If anyone has stuck by you when you can’t even get out of bed it’s me. I always come back for you, Q, but if you don’t want to believe that this time then you’re just making it harder on yourself. If I passed up an opportunity like this, I would never be able to live with myself.” Her eyes were narrowed and focused, the look she got when she was determined and set on a decision that Quentin knew would be futile of him to try to change her mind about. “So I’m taking this and running with it, and I’m sorry if that hurts you.”

“I’m sorry, that was unfair of me to say. You shouldn’t have to plan your life around my depressive needs,” he snaps. He hadn’t intended the biting harshness, not with Julia, but the crack of his heart ultimately shown through without any resistance. Quentin thinks that’s worse, somehow—feeding off the vile flood of darkened emotions than letting them resolve with the accepting river of tears. He’s done enough of that these days, he thinks, and didn’t have enough tears to cry anymore. But fighting wasn’t the answer here, and neither was the weakening sea of sorrowful tears.

“You can’t stop your life to take care of me when I need it. That’s not fair to you, or to anyone, really,” Quentin adds more gently, and can’t help the thoughts of crackling fire and silk sheets and soft planes of skin from running through his mind. 

“I wish you could come with me,” Julia croaks, the evidence of held-back tears apparent in her voice. Quentin appreciated that she hadn’t asked him to, not when they both knew he couldn’t go. He didn’t think he could handle the pain of telling her no.

“I know,” was all he could manage. Quentin couldn’t do the big goodbye speech, not with Julia. That was too personal a thing, and he refused to say goodbye to the only childhood family he had left. It was easier this way, somehow, sitting with the comfort of Julia’s small frame in his arms and knowing deep in his soul all the things he would say if he only could.

Julia’s eyes had softened back to the gentle doe eyes Quentin loved, the fiery traces of anger snuffed out. He didn’t know if that made it harder or easier—he didn’t know if the burning anger or the overwhelming sadness was worse. He wanted the ridiculous giggles and the blinding smile back, he wanted the Happy Julia, not the Sorry Julia. But he couldn’t have that, not when she had to follow a path meant to lead her to a brilliant future that Quentin just couldn’t follow her on right now. This wasn’t the Fillory quest they had taken to a willow tree when they were children. 

This was real life, Fillory didn’t exist and Quentin couldn’t leave.

Quentin had a life here, he had school here, a future and a past here. He had people he loved here, and as much as he loved Julia, he couldn’t tear himself away from the only life he’s ever known. He wasn’t ready for that yet. In fact, he didn’t know if he could ever see himself leaving the bright city of Manhattan. He couldn’t break away from the place he grew up, and all of the memories he had made since then. His father’s grave was here, covered in the lushest of roses, and pulling away from the new, magnetic orbit of Eliot seemed like a feat he would never be physically able to accomplish.

Quentin knew he couldn’t leave his home.

And so instead, he helped Julia pack her never-ending bags full of clothes and makeup and books, and watched the door of their (no, his) apartment close shut one last time, half of his heart bounding further and further away with each step Julia took.

Quentin’s heart clenches in pained remembrance, a shiver running through his limbs with the chill he hadn’t seemed to be able to shake since Julia walked out the door. 

The thunder rumbled a dangerous song, its beat shaking through the very core of Quentin’s bones. He had always enjoyed the rain, had always found relaxing to the pattering of rain drops while reading a good book (or Fillory and Further for the eleventh time) a way to calm the madness inside his head. Even just the steady rhythm of gentle raindrops was enough to lull him into a peaceful sleep. Now, however, the thunderstorm seemed fitting for his chaotic, cloudy mind and bittersweet heart. 

The searing crack in Quentin’s heart was like an echo of the flashing lightning, a reverbing pulse of all the things he couldn’t have. Julia, who was moving to the whole other side of the country, who would give up her dream to make sure he was okay, though that was a selfishness Quentin could never go through with. His dad, whose last breath was rattled years ago, his only existence lying in the picture frame on Quentin’s bedside table. And Eliot. They were more than friends but they weren’t lovers, they weren’t together in any way. They were caught, just as Quentin had feared, in the in between, hanging among the separating line of close friends and more. 

Quentin knew now that there could never be more. They weren’t star-crossed, they weren’t anything that people made movies about and wrote books about, capturing the wishful idea and hope of love. Nobody would write their book or make their movie, they were simply stuck orbiting the frustrating in between. Like a shoe, caught in the middle of two sizes with nothing that fit, nothing was right. 

It was why Quentin didn’t let himself get too close to people, because every single time he did—every goddamn time—life laughed in his face as it watched everybody walk away until only mere Quentin was left. And so it was just easier for him to keep to himself, because if there was one thing he learned through these treacherous years… it was that hope was a dangerous thing. Too much of it could be a downfall —would be a downfall. It was Quentin’s downfall.

But here he was anyway, sucked too deeply in the orbiting pull that was Eliot. Yet he cared too much to walk away now, to break away and leave with Julia. He could have had a fresh start in California, he knew, but somehow Quentin thinks that the loss of Eliot at his side would break him more than staying with the torturing knowledge of things that just simply weren’t meant for him.

It had always been just him and Julia, it was always that way. But he let Eliot and Margo in, and now Julia was gone and he was left with the pieces of what could have been.

Quentin was so deep in his own head, in the thoughts that have been floating there for days, that when his bedroom door flies open all he can do is duck under the safety of his blankets. But when a familiarly rich, deep voice breaks through the pour of the rain and the roar of thunder, he feels it’s safe to poke his head out of the warm confines just to make sure that he’s not hallucinating, that this is real.

He knows his brain isn’t creative enough to conjure up the exact curve of Eliot’s nose, the miles upon miles of legs, the exact shade of his dark hair. It was dripping now, curls soaked from the storm, and yet all Quentin can comprehend is how his hair had gone from dark to purely pitch black in the rain. 

Quentin realizes belatedly that Eliot’s talking—rambling, really—words rushing out of him with every breath. “Fuck, Quentin. God, I thought you were fucking—” his voice dies before he finishes the sentence, but it doesn’t matter because Quentin knew what he was going to say anyway.

“Dead?” he supplies, like they were having a casual conversation about the weather, maybe a pet. 

Eliot begins to ramble again, all of his hushed words coming out at once like he might forget them in a few seconds if he didn’t say them now. “You haven’t answered any of my texts the past few days, and I just figured it was because you needed some time away to- to think, but then Julia called, God, I think she was crying, I could hardly understand her, and she said that you haven’t answered her either and then like five million red flags went off when I remembered what you told me that… night,” Eliot finishes, and Quentin knows they’re both feeling the heat of a fire’s flames tinging their skin along with the broken confession Quentin had made that night.

‘That was the first time I tried to kill myself.’ 

“Well, as you can see, I’m alive,” he says, though it somehow sounds bitter to Quentin’s own ears. Eliot walks closer until he’s at Quentin’s bedside, eyes wide and awake with pain and worry, his light hazel eyes heavy with exhaustion. He realizes that it must be late into the night, Eliot may have even already been asleep. Yet he had come to check on Quentin anyway. 

Eliot watches him with a careful scrutiny, like he’s taking Quentin in with his own eyes just to be certain that he’s here, that he’s alive. That he’s real. He has the sudden urge to reach out a hand and touch Eliot, just to feel the warm comfort of his skin, but he wasn’t entirely sure if that was something he should do. He didn’t know if that would push these newly-made boundaries beyond repair.

So instead, he tightens the hold he has on the blanket just to make sure he doesn’t reach out to touch, to grab, to feel—to be certain he doesn’t break this new, fragile state between them.

But he’s allowed to look at Eliot, right? That’s certainly not against the rules. And so Quentin looks at Eliot like he hasn’t since the glow of firelight lit his skin, and he revels in the spark it leaves in his chest. He hasn’t felt a thing in days, yet Eliot had always made him feel things, hadn’t he? Even when Quentin didn’t want to feel, there was always the searing sense of Eliot burning in the back of his mind.

A droplet of water slowly rolled down the expanse of Eliot’s neck from his dripping curls that Quentin let himself follow with searching eyes. His chest was heaving with heavy breaths, almost like he couldn’t get enough air. “Did you run here?” Quentin heard himself ask.

Eliot’s eyes lift slowly to Quentin’s, his dark, damp eyelashes making the hazel look even impossibly brighter than they were. “What if I did?” Eliot admits, though to Quentin it sounds more like a challenge. Like he’s daring Quentin to yell or get mad or break down or maybe all three.

Instead he’s calm, numb to any draining emotion. “It’s storming, Eliot,” is all Quentin can utter.

“It’s just water,” he retorts bluntly, and perhaps it makes Quentin feel a little bit better to hear Eliot’s familiar sarcasm again, like a little breath of home—like there was still hope for the two of them. But that was just Eliot being Eliot, and it didn’t change a thing between them.

It also didn’t change the fact that it was dangerous outside in the city of Manhattan tonight, and if Eliot had gotten hurt coming to check on Quentin, well, he didn’t think there was any coming back from something like that. Not for somebody like Quentin.

“There’s lightning, you could have gotten hurt out there.” There was a panic rising in Quentin, slipping into his words and the tremor of his hands. It’s the first real thing he’s felt through the numbed cloud of his mind, though he only wished it hadn’t come from thoughts of his best friend hurt or… even worse. The image of Eliot lying in some puddle on some street in the dark alleys of the city flushed a melancholic shudder through his stiffened body. 

“That wouldn’t have mattered if you were dead. Nothing would have mattered if I had to live in this world knowing there was no Quentin Coldwater in it.” Eliot’s voice carries with hollow undertones—something that just didn’t fit Eliot’s vivacious, flamboyant, electric energy—and Quentin can almost feel an emptiness, a void, even, behind his words. There was no playful smirk or loose laugh when he said Quentin’s mouthful of a name—and it somehow felt wrong without the usual tinge of Eliot’s jocular flair. 

“Well you’re in luck, because I’m not going anywhere anytime soon. You’re stuck with this Quentin Coldwater,” he joked, though he had sounded indefinitely more upbeat inside the confines of his head. Quentin probably could have said more had all the air not been rapidly knocked from his lungs instantaneously as Eliot’s arms wrap around him in a fierce, abandoning embrace. His clothes are soaked from the faraway pattering of rain, though Quentin doesn’t mind the lingering moisture. In fact, it’s a new, welcoming sensation compared to the same blandness he’s become accustomed to these past few days. 

Eliot’s skin is strikingly frigid where it brushes Quentin’s bare skin—his grappling, searching hands on the back of his head embedded in the long locks of Quentin’s hair, the wintry curve of Eliot’s nose pressed into the hollow crook of Quentin’s neck. But despite the chill, Eliot breathes a cathartic sigh of relief into the quiver of his skin—like feeling for himself that Quentin was truly alive and okay with his own fingertips and, well, his whole body really, was enough for Eliot to finally let himself breathe again. 

And if Quentin holds the strong weight of the man in his arms just a little tighter, well, sue him for indulging in the sparks of warmth and soothing comfort and raw serenity it seemed he had forgotten. He felt his lungs open up to the new air, inhaling the torrent of musky earth clinging to Eliot’s dripping skin, the dim sweetness of sugary apples such a sharp contrast with the natural scent of earth and nature and harsh spices lingering in the air around them. 

Quentin is shocked to find himself pulling Eliot onto the bed despite his greatest reservations—truly unable to gain rational control of himself because he’s been alone and close to a mental breakdown for three whole days—and is just as shocked to feel Eliot embracing the insistent pull of his hands.

The two flop onto the bed, merely a messy tangle of body and limbs, Quentin fully prepared for Eliot to gently break away with a few kind words because he had every reason to, every right to do so, and Eliot was just the type of person to let Quentin down as easy as possible to save any hard feelings. But instead, all he can say—and it’s more of a breathy whisper, really—is, “I’m getting your blankets wet.”

Quentin laughs, a real, genuine laugh, and feels the barest wave of hope flood languidly through his chest despite every wall he’s put up to keep that out. Because he knows from experience that hope always finds a way to bring him down, and sometimes he can’t find his way back up. But he can’t stop the spreading swell of the light, airy tingling in his blood—of hope— not with Eliot’s body wrapped so tightly around his that Quentin can’t tell where one body starts and the other ends. 

“I don’t care about the blankets, Eliot,” he mumbles, and he’s not even sure if Eliot heard or not because his words seem to get lost in the other’s skin, disappearing in the nonexistent space between them.

But he did hear, because Quentin heeds a raspy, “Then what do you care about?” in reply.

What did Quentin care about? That was a terribly loose question for he cared about a lot of things. The first Fillory and Further book that, in all honesty, had probably saved his life on a few separate occasions and Julia, who had done the exact same, Margo’s unquotable one-liners that never failed to make Quentin laugh, his dad’s undying love and devotion despite all of Quentin’s unique needs, and Eliot. All of him, in every single way. Even the unfiltered remarks that drove Quentin up a wall, he perpetually cared about and sensed that he couldn’t live without.

But Eliot wasn’t looking for any of those things, and Quentin knew that. He wanted to know why he’s been MIA for days, he wanted to understand the thoughts circulating in waves through his brain hindering any ability to let his heart beat as it was meant to—as every normal person’s did. “Everyone is just… gone,” is what Quentin settles with, because that’s the main idea of it, anyway. “And then I’m just the only one that’s left, and it’s funny in a sort of way because I don’t even like me.” 

Eliot pulls the slightness of Quentin in even closer—if that was even remotely possible—and just holds him like that, in his strong, secure arms, nose breathing in the citrusy scent of Quentin’s faded shampoo. He was entirely certain he couldn’t have smelled too good, because seriously, he hasn’t showered in three days. But, despite all of that, Eliot holds him tight and close in his own little pocket of his body anyway.

He didn’t try to tell Quentin that he would be okay, he didn’t try to fill his head with positive thoughts like all of his therapists had done when his mom had left, or when he had tried to end his own existence. ‘Good thoughts’ hadn’t solved any of his problems. Instead, he gave Quentin the gentle nudge he had probably needed the most. “Talk to me.”

And so Quentin did, because this wasn’t a vacuous therapy session, and he wasn’t stuck in the awfully padded psychiatric chairs. This was Eliot, whose body was wrapped around Quentin’s own in the most safe, encouraging way, and he had never had difficulty opening up to the smoldering empathy behind his eyes. For whatever the reason, he felt seen with Eliot in a way he never had with anybody, not even Julia. This was different, somehow—Quentin had shown him his soul and Eliot had only looked deeper. 

“I’ve been stuck in my own head, I guess, just… aching with the grief for people who are gone and who aren’t gone. I mean there’s Julia, who’s more alive than most people I’ve met. She’s not dead or dying, just moving. But somehow it still feels like my world is ending and- God, that sounds fucking dramatic but it’s how I feel. Losing my dad is a ghost that I still haven’t come to terms with and it’s just really fucking hard to let go of the only parent I have left. Well, had, I guess.” Saying it out loud didn’t hurt as much as Quentin thought it would. It still hurt him tremendously—in the rawness of his throat, the sting behind his eyes, and the bruises covering his heart. But he thinks he really may have let go of all the tears he could manage with the grief of his dad because none would come, not even acknowledging his orphaned state. He might as well have been an orphan, he thought, because his mom died in his mind the second she walked out the door.

“I don’t want to die. Not anymore,” Quentin admits, but can’t bring himself to add the ‘because I have you’ threatening to slip away.

When he continues, it’s almost like he can’t stop, not now that he’s talking and Eliot’s listening and all Quentin can hear is the steady thump-thump of the other man’s harmonic heart. “I don’t want to die, I just… don’t feel alive. There’s this ache inside of me—I mean, I guess I’ve always had it, I suppose. Everything hurts, all the time, and as much as I want to see the good in the world, I just… can’t look past the bad of it all. And now that Julia’s leaving… I guess it just really hit me that she’s the only part of my childhood I have left, without my dad. I have Fillory, but I’m not eleven anymore and magic just isn’t real.”

“Who says?” Eliot whispers into the long locks of Quentin’s hair that sends a chill rippling down his spine, though not because of his wet clothes. He feels himself getting lost in the magnetic mystery that was Eliot, and he suddenly couldn’t bear not knowing every intriguing thought running loose inside his head. Above all else, he wanted to know why he was so drawn to the eminent energy of him, why he has been from the very beginning, why Quentin feels such an indescribable pull to this comet of a man.

Maybe Eliot was right, maybe magic did exist. And if it did, Quentin had no doubt it grew within the very core of Eliot’s glorious, vivid soul, manifesting right beneath the lingering palms of Quentin’s hands. 

“There’s been a part of me that’s always believed that, I think. In the magic,” Quentin concedes into the fragile, wondrous air around them— throughout them. “I want to see the happiness and the innocence and the- the magic, like you said. I want to feel good enough to be able to see that, to be that, even. But, I don’t know, that’s just a talent I’ve never had. Not like you.”

The energy emerging between them is thrumming with electricity, an intriguing pressure building like stepping stones in the air. It was the fragile calm before the storm, when all was quiet and at peace, yet the earth was ignited with a sense of curious euphoria, the air charged with raw anticipation.

“Magic doesn’t come from talent,” Eliot murmurs, rich and smooth and rough all at once. “It comes from pain.” Quentin could almost laugh because if the weight of the world had shown him anything, if anyone knew how shitty life could actually be, it was Quentin. “Your suffering isn’t for nothing, Q. And I’m going to be right here when you realize that, when you realize that you made it through.”

Quentin wondered dimly if he ever would. He’s felt himself slipping into old habits and stale tendencies the past few days without his dad’s presence and the weight of Julia’s absence. But now Quentin feels more secure than he probably ever has, and he knows somewhere in the most secret parts of himself that it has something to do with the way Eliot’s holding together his most shattered pieces, how he bears the harshest part of them willingly, uncaring of the burden.

Maybe that’s how Quentin finds the strength to talk, to open up, because Eliot is clearing the way for him. “I had this—I don’t know—this thing I couldn’t shake where I… felt like because nothing was ever not gonna be pointless and empty, then… uh, why go on? And then I got here, with you and Margo and Julia, to this little world full of love and laughter, and it’s amazing that I survived as long as I did without this magic. I can’t go back to how it was before, knowing it would only be worse because now I’ve seen that happiness could be an option for me.”

Eliot is quiet for a long moment, and Quentin can’t bring himself to fill the devoiding silence. He could practically hear the thoughts turning in Eliot’s head, taking the deepest breaths like he would never be allowed any more air. When he chooses to speak—though Quentin can’t tell if it’s willing or forced—it’s not what he had expected, not at all. “I have this… past that I’ve never been able to talk about. Mostly because it’s dark and deep and… awfully messy and complicated. And I live with the guilt of it every single day, with every breath, every blink, every heartbeat. Except, somehow, when I’m with you. I’ve never felt so… light… with anyone else.” 

Tendrils of surprise curl amiably in Quentin’s chest—though not the bad sort. More amazed, really. He should be awed that Eliot would feel so comfortable with him, so open and fond. But all he could really ponder, all he could toss around his head, was what could have hurt Eliot so badly in the past that he won’t—can’t—talk about. What could possibly break such a vivid soul?

“You’ve never felt like that?” Quentin weighs aloud, because somehow he just couldn’t wrap his head around how he could ultimately be that kind of help to anyone. He couldn’t even be that kind of help to himself. “Not even with…?” Quentin trails off, but Eliot would understand despite that. He just had to know, he had to sate that kind of roiling, pushing curiosity.

“Not even with Margo,” Eliot confirms. “And I’m not saying I can see fairy dust in the air and unicorns running wild and talking animals and all of that nonsense, but… it’s like this little sliver of what I can only describe as the purest magic. And it pushes everything else into the background, just for a little while. It’s a relief I never thought I’d have, honestly.”

“If you’re trying to tell me that it gets better—” Quentin starts because he couldn’t count the number of therapists who had tried to spout the same bullshit.

“God, no—no, it doesn’t. I’m trying to tell you… you are not alone here.” And that was just an Eliot thing to say, really. He might not get better, he might not be okay, but he has Eliot. And he would always have Eliot.

Quentin pulls away slightly, just the bare minimum to allow a glimpse of his face. What the hell was he supposed to say? Quentin stumbled over his words to begin with anyway, and here Eliot was, saying things that his fifteen-year-old-self didn’t think he’d have a chance to hear. He wasn’t supposed to be alive for this. Yet it melted the pieces of his heart back together; molding a completely new shape, a new size, to hold all of this eternal, unwavering devotion and passion he had for this very man.

Quentin saw something flicker in Eliot’s eyes, something indiscernible and a thousand shades of indistinct, but maybe just as much tender and young. It was like looking at the small boy Eliot had once been, before the world had swallowed his youthful innocence, and Quentin watched in wondering fascination as the lustrous copper of his eyes shone with possibility. 

He could feel the connection that had formed beneath the glow of a fire start to breathe again amongst the storm outside and despite the storm that lived in Quentin’s own head. The rain pitter-pattered against the window, the stygian clouds highlighting the concealing darkness of Quentin’s room. The wind whistled among the splashing rain, through tall-reaching trees, and it was the only sound to be heard besides the chrodal thrum of their seeking hearts. 

That is, until Quentin’s stomach growled. 

Quentin’s groan of embarrassment goes unnoticed under the bell-chime laughter ringing vivaciously through his ears. “When was the last time you ate?” Eliot shallowly inquires, the hushed, concerned words such a sharp contrast to the carefree boisterous energy he had exhibited just moments ago. 

“I haven’t left my bed in three days,” Quentin confesses. It’s a hideously gross thing to admit, especially to Eliot who had never been caught anything less than poised and improbably composed. But Eliot simply nods, his curls bouncing with the movement, and untangles himself from Quentin’s sprawling limbs. 

He left the bed without a word, Quentin helpless to only watch as he went, fearing the perversely exorbitant voice whispering paranoia in the back of his mind might be right. Maybe Eliot wasn’t coming back. 

Somewhere deep down Quentin knew the voice was only the manifestation of foolish fears, and horribly misleading as well. But he still couldn’t help the relieving sigh that fell from his mouth when Eliot waltzed back into his room, back onto his bed, and held his palm out to Quentin.

On it sat a single peach.

“I couldn’t have you starving on me, now could I?” Eliot inquired. He didn’t seem to be disgusted by Quentin’s reckless behavior. There was no trace of the condescending front he had come to expect (not from Eliot, but rather from people in general. Most he had come to meet hadn’t been the kindest, not towards Quentin’s impulsive behavioral patterns). Instead, Eliot’s eyes were clear and flecked with a worry he had every right to possess. His lips, however, were quirked in his notorious smirk, the one Quentin had begun to associate with home. 

“A peach,” Quentin murmured. It wasn’t a question, not really. It was but a note of fact, of what Quentin could see painstakingly clear in front of him. He loved peaches, he had since he was a young boy savoring the citrusy sweetness on hot summer days—but that wasn’t the issue. 

Now, all it did was resurface memories Quentin would have much rather left alone, far away in the dark shadow of the past. 

When Quentin woke, he was alone. There was nothing but miles of silk sheets and the cold impression of an empty space beside him. He wasn’t in his own bed, that was for sure, this one was easily double the size of the simple single at his apartment. Not to mention his face was pressed into a pillow that smelled curiously of… vanilla apples?

Vanilla apples.

Pieces of scattered memory slowly made their way back to him: the aching loss of his dad, firelight warming his skin, warming someone else’s skin, an eager mouth on his, the flaring pleasure of being stretched from the inside out…

Eliot stretching him open, whispering dirty things in Quentin’s ear.

He remembers now—remembers the desperate yearning to rid the stabbing pain of his grief, and had somehow ended up here. In Eliot’s bed. Naked. With Eliot.

Quentin remembers how much he had wanted it, how Eliot’s fingers had ignited something hot and lost beneath his skin. He had ached for Eliot, all of him, everything he could possibly give and all the things he couldn’t. 

He could feel himself slowly hardening again, all of his thoughts slightly fuzzy except for the memory of Eliot’s lips lighting fires on his skin, beneath in, within it. Eliot had taken Quentin apart with nothing but the art of his grace, piece by piece, kiss by kiss, word by word. 

Normally when (if) Quentin woke up disoriented in someone else’s bed, he knew immediately it had been a mistake. But for whatever the reason… this didn’t feel like one. Not with Eliot. It felt… almost right somehow. Like he had finally found the one thing that made the world turn. 

The captivating aroma of sizzling sweetness wafting through the air (and the rumble of his stomach) drew Quentin leisurely out of the wide comfort of Eliot’s bed. He had found his previously-sprawled clothes in a neat pile on Eliot’s bedroom dresser, folded easily and ready for use. He didn’t have any extra clothes with him because he hadn’t exactly come here with plans on staying the night, and he was sure all of Eliot’s clothes would be much too big on his slight frame. He was a whole head taller after all.

Quentin found Eliot in the kitchen working at the sizzle of the stove. He hummed a melodic tune under his breath, something Quentin didn’t recognize, but startlingly beautiful all the same. He thought he caught a few words, something about ‘don’t get me wrong.’ It was awfully catchy in Quentin’s opinion, he could have stood there all day only listening and have been perfectly content. 

But the rumble of his stomach gave him away, and when Eliot spun around, the tune vanished into thin air. “Well good morning, sleepy head.” A lazy smirk graced his features, one Quentin could only describe as a confident sex-smirk—like he knew just how fantastically good he was in bed. Obviously he did, and Quentin wouldn’t be caught arguing with such a truth.

“I- um, hey,” Quentin mumbled feebly, because he had absolutely no idea what to say or do in this sort of situation, like something straight from a romantic comedy. You’re like my best friend and we had really amazing sex last night and now you’re making breakfast and I still have sex hair so where does that put us? 

“You hungry?” Eliot asks, as if he hadn’t just heard the overly obnoxious roar of his stomach not ten seconds ago. “Here, something to hold you over.” He shoves a basket into Quentin’s hands—no, not just a basket. A fruit basket. Full of—

“Peaches and plums?” Quentin questions with the rise of an eyebrow.

“Well I’ll dare say you could use some nutrients after… exerting so much energy,” Eliot muses, though not unkindly. He turned to Quentin with a mischievous grin that could blind anyone who looked too closely. He was witty and yet somehow charming, ludicrously sarcastic with a biting joviality aimed at everyone but also no one in particular. That was just Eliot, and Quentin let himself be pulled into his orbit—as if he ever had a chance of resisting.

“I- um, well, yeah, uh—” Quentin stammered, a simmering heat boiling beneath his cheeks. Eliot smirked that devilish smirk again, the one that never failed to turn Quentin inside out, all the while fiercely enjoying the tangible effect he had distinctly infused upon him. 

Quentin salvaged the comfort of his long hair and gratefully allowed a tousled curtain to hide his face, hearing rather than seeing the amused chuckle from across the island. “No need to be embarrassed, Q, it was quite a lovely night if I do say so myself.” A steaming plate slid into his line of sight, piled high with a pastry he hasn’t had in a very long time.

“You made pancakes?” he blurted. Quentin wasn’t quite sure whether he was troubled or heartened. Maybe a bit of both, really. There was a surprised nostalgia churning in his bones, that was for sure, he just didn’t know how to feel about it.

“I’m sorry if I’ve upset you, I know you and pancakes don’t have the best track record. I just wanted to try to do something nice for you, reintroduce your taste buds to the world’s most culinary divinity,” Eliot jested, so in-depthly analytical he could have been talking about an intricate Brazilian cuisine. “Pancakes.”

Quentin could only squint at him, glancing back and forth between the mirthful hazelized eyes and the pancakes he’s had a losing battle with for ten long years now. “They don't bite, you know. That’s something you do,” Eliot clarifies with the mindful, teasing laze of a wink.

Quentin can’t help the little bubble of undignified laughter that escapes his lips. “A bit cocky, are we?” he retorts, and watches as Eliot’s tongue flicks in a slow manner across his lips, failing miserably in his mission not to follow its tantalizing path.

“Well, I’d venture to say you figured that out last night,” Eliot murmurs, the tempting hint of well-known desire peeking at Quentin from behind his eyes. He practically chokes in the most undignified way, his whole body thrumming with the memories swirling around his head like springtime clouds. 

“Just take a bite and if you really don’t like them or just really don’t want them, I’ll make you an omelette or french toast or I’ll go out and get you something you’d like from the coffee shop down the street.” Eliot’s sincerity touched some deep part of Quentin’s heart, hardly believing someone would go to such lengths to do something nice for him with the hard reality of a potentially massive backfire. He supposed the least he could do was make an effort, even if it couldn’t possibly compare to the level of Eliot’s charismatic empathy.

He cut a piece off with his fork and tenderly brought it to his lips. There were chocolate chips in the middle, a gooey center that lingered on his tongue that was precisely on the side of not too rich—just the perfect amount. It was soft in his mouth, a perfect fluff that he had somehow forgotten to miss. Quentin moaned lowly at the flavor tingling on his taste buds, lips wrapped firmly around the cool metal of the fork. It was perfect in each and every way his mom had made them—warm, fluffy, flowing with hidden chocolate, and all entirely from scratch.

“I take it you like them, then?” a torn voice rattled, and when Quentin met Eliot’s eyes they were blown wide in a craving aspiration that did things to his insides he still didn’t entirely understand.

“What gave it away?” Quentin remarked, though his words were tainted with the unmasking of admiration. He thought that maybe pancakes didn’t have to mean loss like he had believed since he was fifteen, coping with his new reality of having only one parent. He thought that maybe now they held new beginnings full of exhilarating excitement. He thought that perhaps this time… things would be different. 

“Well, you deserve only the best. And besides, last night was the best, so I know you must be tired. Cute boys need all the energy they can get, now don’t they?” Eliot quipped, his trademark smirk back in place and ready for business. If the teasing turn of lips wasn’t enough to ignite a fire inside of Quentin, his words surely were.

“Speaking of last night,” Quentin started, because it was either now or never. He had a burning drive for answers and the searing touch Eliot had left on his skin was still positively pulsing with leftover energy. There was a cloud filling his brain with memories and desires and things he hadn’t even known he wanted until he wound up with Eliot’s hungry mouth exploring his own.

“I- I want this. This- you are something I want,” he winds up uttering, like he wasn’t in Eliot’s kitchen eating the pancakes he had made in the same clothes he had worn last night that still held trace amounts of smoke with a massive case of sex hair. 

“Don’t get me wrong,” Eliot chuckles, and Quentin finds he much preferred the song he had hummed earlier compared to the inevitable rebuff coming his way. “I enjoyed last night more than you’ll ever know, but—”

“I don’t just mean the sex. I mean, yeah, fuck, last night was- incredible, really,” Quentin stutters, because words and feelings had never been his strong suit. Especially now. “But I don’t just want the sex, I want you, El. Us. I mean, think about it. We- we work. We know that because we’re living it—who gets that kind of proof of concept? You’re my best friend, Eliot.” And that was true, the connection they had was wired distinctively different than the one he shared with Julia.

For Quentin, Julia was like coming home, growing up, a familiar sense of stability that most of the time he didn’t have. But Eliot… well, he was like a whirlwind, uprooting everything Quentin had thought he’d known and showing him how much more there could be—how much more there is. His chestnut eyes stole Quentin’s breath, along with the living swoop in his chest that could only be brought by the waves of new excitement and endless adventure. Possibility. Somehow, he made Quentin feel more alive than he has his entire life. “You can’t tell me you don’t feel something, because all I can feel is the longing in the way you looked at me last night. You can’t tell me that was just sex.”

“You just dealt with two years of pent-up emotions so… I get that you might not be thinking clearly,” Eliot supplies, like this could be written off with a logical explanation. 

But it couldn’t. Because maybe this was reckless and stupid and dangerous and maybe it would burn like a dumpster fire. Maybe Quentin would burn in the process. But he simply couldn’t ignore the smoke in his veins, the storm Eliot had brewed beneath his skin with just a simple touch. He couldn’t let go of this now, not with the very real possibility of potential scratching at the walls of his head.

“No, I’m just saying- what if we gave it a shot? Would that be that crazy?” Eliot regarded him with an unfocused uncertainty, like maybe it really was crazy, and for once he seemed quiet—reserved. His normally jubilant eyes were lowly downcast, like he just couldn’t bring himself to meet Quentin’s marveling gaze. “Why the fuck not?” he added, a brash sense of bravery pushing him towards words and thoughts he didn’t know he had the courage to say aloud. 

Eliot shook his head disbelievingly, like he could try to rationalize something Quentin knew he wasn’t irrational about. “I know you, and you… aren’t…” His voice fades, like he didn’t know how to continue, how to word what he meant. Maybe he just couldn’t bring himself to say it. But Quentin got the gist of it, anyway. I know you, and you aren’t gay. 

Quentin hadn’t ever been with a man before, but he now had the sense that his sexuality wasn’t something that could be set in stone. It was entirely diverse, complex, changing, and it simply came down to the fact that he liked who he liked. And he liked Eliot, his past had no illicit say anymore. “What’s it matter?”

“Don’t be naive. It matters,” he snapped. Quentin recoils from the abrupt sting of words, the sudden brooding force of them, and when Eliot finally peers over at him his eyes are guarded, painstakingly impassive—any vulnerable part of his soul Quentin had glimpsed last night locked tightly away. 

“Q, come on…,” he murmurs, gentler this time. “I love you, but… you have to know that that’s not me and that’s definitely not you, not when… not when we have a choice.” Quentin can only nod, the conclusive finality of his words ringing like an explosion in his ears. 

“Okay. I… okay.” Quentin couldn’t bring himself to say more, not when his voice wavered with the bare minimum of a lame ‘okay’. He couldn’t say that it wasn’t okay, not at all, not for him, because that was simply a trust he didn’t have in himself right now.

“Don’t think I don’t need you, or want you, if that’s where your mind is headed. Because I need you more than you could ever know, but… as my friend.” The flowing molten of his eyes, the golden copper stream that Quentin had somehow come to memorize, now stood solid and still. The flowing honey was but a stiff glow, frozen in a time Quentin didn’t want to live in. “I told you that you deserve the best and that’s just not me. I can’t be that for you.”

“Okay,” he said again, and that was that. He lowered his gaze down to the cooling chocolatey fluff, all too aware that he had been terribly naive and a sort of hopeful that he hadn’t been since his mom tucked him in at night. He had been dangerously right about one thing, though.

Pancakes did mean loss after all.

Quentin took the peach from the outstretched palm of Eliot’s hand, just a gentle grasp of fingers as if it might break if he held it too fractionally tight.

“Go on. It won’t bite,” Eliot remarked, and when Quentin met his steady gaze he wasn’t shocked to see the same teasing glint in his eyes that had manifested that dreadful morning. They don’t bite, you know. That’s something you do.

Quentin only took a bite because the growl of his stomach was a force he did not want to reckon with, definitely not because he could feel the blistering holes Eliot bore into him. Like Quentin might disappear if he dared to look away for even a fraction of a second. It was unnerving, really, being such an apparent focus when he hadn’t showered or at least ran a brush through his hair in three very long days.

Quentin steadily took smooth, citrusy bites to Eliot’s contentment. Truth be told, he hadn’t realized just how hungry he had been—for food, any kind, really, but most of all… human contact. He had a nasty habit of isolating himself when things got bad—why? Whether it was because it was simply easier to lock himself away from prying eyes or because he didn’t want to be someone else’s burden, he didn’t know. It was just something he had always done. But he’ll admit that the comfort of individual touch (mostly just Eliot’s, really) did a lot more to help him feel like himself again. His richly smooth voice was always preferable to the sardonic one whispering dreadful things in Quentin’s ear, in fact he didn’t think he could ever tire of hearing his own name uttered from Eliot’s seamless lips.

Quentin didn’t dare speak a word until nothing but the paltry peach pit was left, he knew better by now than to get in the way of Eliot’s antics. When all of the citric fruit was gone, however, just a drabble of juice remained. Quentin could feel it gliding wet and slow down the slope of his chin, the path of which did not go unnoticed by Eliot. His amber eyes traced the curving trail with avid wonder, so still and focused that Quentin began to toss around the possibility that he had actually spaced out.

But then Eliot’s hand is tilting Quentin’s chin upward, his eyes unable to drift anywhere but the compelling stream of hazel. He didn’t see, but rather felt, a slim finger ghost over the path that the dripping juice had made across his skin.

Quentin’s heart skipped a beat in wonder, of fascination for the incomparable man igniting electricity beneath his skin, the whirl of a storm that had captured his heart, the comet of a friend who had no clue what he did to Quentin—how disastrously alive he felt with every glance, every laugh, every touch. 

He thinks that this storm, this comet, this constellation—that Eliot might actually be the death of him. What a funny thing for Quentin Coldwater to believe, as if he hadn’t been trying to kill himself since he was fifteen.

He thought he should say something—anything, anything at all. But really, he had never been the best at the whole ‘words and coherent sentences’ thing. To his credit, though, he managed to utter a flimsy, “Hey. I- um—” and then the most curiously marvelous thing happened. 

Eliot smiled a tiny smile, just a flash before it vanished, like he couldn’t bear to show his soul again—or any vulnerable part of him, really. Like he couldn’t stand being seen without his casual wit and languid smirk. But Quentin saw it—he saw a true, genuine smile, no matter how brief. It shone blindingly clear just before Eliot pulled Quentin close and his lips even closer, the velvet tip of his tongue peeking out to lap at the mess of peach juice coating Quentin’s lips and chin. 

He melted into the warmth of Eliot’s mouth, the search of his tongue, the hunger of his lips. His kisses were deep and full of an undying desperation, so intense that Quentin couldn’t help but think that he’s never been kissed like this before—like his lips were sweet air and Eliot was hopelessly drowning.

Their breaths billowed together in a stirring buzz, infused with the sweetest of fruits Quentin would ever taste. The juicy flavor of apple lingering on Eliot’s tongue mingled with the fresh tang of peach residing in the secrecy of Quentin’s mouth, and somehow he knew that he had never before tasted a stronger flavor.

Eliot’s kiss wasn’t at all those of movie stars and television, it was packed with an intensity Hollywood could never show. It was profoundly urgent and open and hungry, so much so that Quentin wouldn’t be surprised if his lips were to bruise. It was wet and ravishing and purely open-mouthed, because who was Quentin to deny Eliot the heavy probing of his tongue, teeth, his mouth? Who was Quentin to be anything but willing and open and eager? 

Eliot clung tight to the frame of him, mouth molding perfectly to the shape of Quentin’s own. They moved together in sync, like an impulse or an instinct neither of them could question, a practiced choreography to a dance Quentin only wished he had learned sooner. It was thoroughly carnal and purely embodied passion and scorchingly perfect. 

Until it wasn’t.

Until the world slipped back into focus, until memories flashed behind his eyes and old words echoed in his ears. 

I love you, but… you have to know that that’s not me and that’s definitely not you, not when… not when we have a choice.

I told you that you deserve the best and that’s just not me. I can’t be that for you.

With all the resolve Quentin had, he managed to pull away from the emphatic chase of lips where he could breathe the air that didn’t smell of fruit and safely think without the diligent distractions and haywire of his brain with all thoughts of Eliot. Eliot, Eliot, Eliot. 

“I thought you didn’t want this, I- I thought you could only be friends. Not…,” Quentin waved his hand between them, as if that could possibly sum up his bruised lips and the montarage of Eliot, Eliot, Eliot, rattling catastrophically in his head. “Not this.”

His eyes, so honestly hazel, held an indescribable gentleness so unlike the hunger Eliot had just so thoroughly displayed that Quentin truthfully began to wonder if the same man could possibly radiate such two impossibly differing extremes. His eyes held such a deep complexity within the mystery of iris—hidden vulnerability just scratching the surface—so really, Quentin couldn’t be blamed if the scattered flecks of gold almost distracted him from what Eliot said next.

“I thought you were dead. And it fucking terrified me… put some otherwise lopsided things into perspective.” His nose crinkled ever so slightly, the sullen curve of his mouth equivocally pulled downward in thought. “There are some things I can’t change, and I can’t change the way things just have to be between us, but… I can be your friend. And friends take care of each other.” Then, in the huskiest of whispers, “So let me take care of you.”

What can he say, Quentin had never been one to deny the enticing fire of Eliot. So who was he to say no, really?

The other seemed to drink in the yes, please, now emanating from Quentin’s lips, his eyes, his tingling skin, his bones—sizzling in the air around them. He cupped an easy, practiced hand behind the nape of Quentin’s neck, fingers tightening in the long locks of hair there. And the fact that he used Quentin’s own hair to pull him in close, to melt their lips together delightfully, did things to him in the most compelling, real way.

Both of Eliot’s hands came to tangle in Quentin’s hair, and only then did he remember that he was gross and dirty and probably more than just a little greasy—but the truth was, he didn’t want to look in a mirror long enough to find out. “Wait, wait.” He breathlessly pulled away. Quentin was really getting tired of all the pesky interruptions (because Eliot’s mouth just felt way too good on his), even if he was the one causing them. “I- I should, um, shower first,” he stammers, knowing that it would do them both some good.

Eliot nods abidingly, curls bouncing with the jostle of his head, a murmur of, “I’ll be waiting,” spoken into Quentin’s ear. He brushes his lips against Quentin’s one more time in a soft, chaste kiss, like he just couldn’t help himself. Though that was probably a fair statement if he felt anything like Quenitn did, regretting having to take his hands and lips and body off of his warm skin even just for the time it took to shower.

And that’s when a really impulsive and definitely reckless idea popped into his head. Against all of Quentin’s better judgment, he blurted it out heedlessly before he could do something rational or sensible like think it through. “Unless you wanted to… come with me?” He hadn’t meant it as a question but it comes out as one anyway, hesitant and timid in a totally not sexy way like he had intended. 

“Oh, Q, sweet, sweet Q. I do believe that’s the best idea you’ve ever had,” Eliot drawls anyway, like he had somehow been sexy and seductive, not the shy little flop of a puppy he actually was.

But before Eliot could come any closer, before Quentin was helplessly powerless to the orbital pull of magnetism and apples, he left Eliot on the bed to watch as he stripped his shirt off in a single motion, followed by his sweatpants (that definitely needed washed anyway) until he was standing in nothing but his briefs, open and inviting and teasing in the most brash, bold way. 

“Jesus fuck, Coldwater. That was… fuck.” If the uncharacteristic stumble of words wasn’t worth it, then the flustered gape of Eliot’s mouth absolutely was.

“I’ll be in the shower if you need me,” Quentin mused, enjoying the bulging impression of Eliot’s eyes on his back as he sauntered away.

When Eliot joined him, ducking down under the hot spray of water, Quentin was already soaked and half-hard. “You’re stunning,” Eliot commented, like it was the most natural thing in the world, like Quentin got called that all the time (even though he didn’t).

“And you are unforgettable. Your eyes, your skin, your lips.” As if to prove his point, he pulled the taller man down (because that was something Quentin had to do) into a long, fervent kiss. He found himself reaching for Eliot’s cock, planning to stroke him to hardness, only to find that he was already hot and long and hard under the search of Quentin’s fingers.

Eliot swats his hand away, much to Quentin’s blatant disappointment. “No, not yet. Let me take care of you,” he offers, though the way he said it made Quentin feel like he didn’t have much of a choice in the matter.

A low whine escapes Quentin’s throat—a childish thing, really. He was a grown adult with his own apartment, food in the fridge—though he thinks he may have just ate the last thing in it—and working to become an engineer of his own accord. Yet here he was, completely torn apart, acting like a child, all because of what? One man?

But to be fair, said man was now massaging citrus shampoo into his scalp with the most deft of fingers, fingers that were probably (definitely) too skilled for their own good, and Quentin couldn’t find it in himself to care that his whine had blossomed into a shameless moan.

“Doesn’t it feel good to let someone take care of you?” Eliot insisted, and Quentin got the feeling that he would have agreed to anything Eliot said in that moment. Though, to his credit, this was painstakingly true, and he could finally admit that some deep part of him—maybe all of him—had craved this. A need to tell Eliot just how much he loved this surged inside of him, but when words failed him Quentin ineffably nodded his head against working fingers in affirmation.

“I’ve got you,” Eliot whispers, barely audible beneath the howl of the showerhead, but Quentin is just able to make it out anyway. And that makes it all the more exciting, didn’t it? The slur of hushed words that Quentin had to strain to hear, only able to when he pushes completely, irrevocably, hopelessly, into Eliot—into his waiting hands, the lean planes of muscle, the hard press of his cock rubbing at the slight dip of his lower back. 

Quentin closes his eyes to the current of water, letting droplets slide down his face, his body, feeling the warming cleanse as Eliot rinsed away remnants of sudsy shampoo clinging to the ends of his uncut hair.

Eliot handled his locks with care, applying a chilled layer of something else—conditioner, Quentin thought—and let Eliot do what he wanted to do. Quentin didn’t let himself think about the fact that he would let Eliot do whatever he wanted with him, and he definitely didn’t think about where he wanted Eliot to do things. It was a futile attempt, it would seem, because Quentin was almost completely hard now under the steaming spray of water and dirty thoughts of his mind. 

“You have to let the conditioner sit for a few minutes,” Eliot addressed smoothly as a wandering hand slowly slipped its way down the planes of Quentin’s body, down to the hard throb of his cock. “What ever will we do with our time?”

Eliot’s fingers wrap nimbly around the expanse of Quentin’s length, his hand starting a steady rhythm that almost had him crying out at just the first touch. And if that wasn’t enough, Eliot seemed to make it a point to kiss every place he could reach—his pulse point, the dip of his shoulder, the sensitive spot just behind his ear. 

The world tilted, and all that was left was the soft press of lips, the rhythmic hand on his cock, the hot breaths in his ear. It was Eliot, Eliot, Eliot, consuming him implicitly, hopelessly, divinely—heart and soul and touch.

Eliot, Eliot, “Eliot—” Quentin choked out, the taste of his name as sweet as the fruit lingering on his tongue. His chest heaved with the pleasure in his lungs and veins and blood eating him alive, breath becoming steam under the hot spray.

He’s being spun around now, facing Eliot—wet, hot, vibrant Eliot. His hair hung in soft ringlets around his face, darker than the blackest midnight, consuming pupils just the same. It was a sight Quentin didn’t think he could ever forget—in fact, it was burned in the face of his memory—what with Eliot tall and suave and yet torn apart by Quentin, by his noises and whines and moans. His cock was hard and long, glorious in the hazy mist of steam. 

Quentin wanted to touch him, to stroke him, to feel the weight of Eliot’s cock in his nimble hand. But before he could even reach out, Eliot made a (very arousing) show of wrapping his large hand around both of their lengths, stroking them together with an intense, desperate friction.

When he kissed Quentin, it was hungry and somehow… gentle all at once, like there were two different Eliots and two different passions consuming him all the same. It was intimate and shamelessly long, and finally both opposite intensities—both gentleness and hunger—came to rest somewhere… in the in between, Quentin would say. Their lips met in a continual drag of passion, a perfect balance of two different desires, two different fires. 

But truly, Quentin burned all the same. 

Immeasurable pleasure boiled from the tips of his toes to the hair on his head, dragged out of him by the hand around his hard length. “I like the way your cock feels against mine,” Eliot whispers, breath hotter on Quentin’s skin than the steam could ever be.

Quentin bucks his hips into Eliot’s moving fist, chasing the cresting wave of pleasure beyond his grasping reach. But as desperately as he sought his release with every pump of Eliot’s hand, when Quentin finally came he felt lost in a sort of intimacy he’s never had with Eliot—or anyone, really. The last time they had done this, it was all frantic kisses and movements, like one of them might disappear if they didn’t act quickly enough, sharply enough.

But now… as he spilled over Eliot’s hand and coated his cock, letting loose an unrestrained groan for all the neighbors to hear, his fingers gripped Eliot like an anchor, feeling his real, solid form beneath his quivering muscles. Eliot’s eyes closed in a pure bliss somewhere in the hazy ecstacy of his recovery, where all he could see were stars and hazel eyes, and leaned down to gently slide his lips against Quentin’s. It held a lewd sense of gentleness, somewhat messy and uncoordinated, but that could be blamed on the pulsing pleasure Eliot’s spent cock spilled over his own hand and Quentin’s pruning skin. 

His hands moved to the small of Quentin’s back, arms locking him in the warm embrace of Eliot’s touch. And he kissed him, just like that, Eliot leaning down and Quentin reaching up to connect their lips lazily, blissfully, perfectly.

Quentin doesn’t think he’s ever felt so content. 

“Stay,” Quentin hums against kiss-swollen lips, half-tempted to lick away the beads of water stranded there. Or he could kiss them away with just the barest of touches, it wouldn’t possibly take much. Or maybe something deeper, something to ignite the dying flames of desire.

But before Quentin could get too many ideas, Eliot was brushing their lips together satisfyingly, deeply, though it only lasted a moment. It was merely something for Quentin to savor, to think about when he was alone at night and couldn’t help but rub a hand over his cock. “I wouldn’t leave,” Eliot replied, just as softly. 

Quentin felt the traces of a smile tug on his lips. Or maybe it was Eliot’s. Either way, Quentin felt like he’d finally be okay.

Later, when they lay in Quentin’s shitty single bed that’s really only big enough for half of Eliot, Quentin can’t help but feel grateful. He knows that he has a life, he has a reason to live. He has reasons, actually.

All of his friends that cared about him so deeply, Quentin knew he could never leave them. Julia, who would give up a life-changing opportunity to be with Quentin, and Eliot, who ran through Manhattan at night in the midst of a storm. He had real people who cared about him, and who Quentin cared about just as much. It had been easy to lose sight of that during those dreadful few days, but not anymore. Not with Eliot’s ridiculously long legs wrapped around Quentin, arms holding him tightly against his body, secure and safe and wondrously affectionate. Not with his nose pressed into the soft curve of his neck, inhaling the familiar scent of Quentin’s own minty body wash and citrusy shampoo.

Quentin calmy listened to the thumping beat of the other man’s heart, felt the pulse of it against his skin. It was so peaceful, in fact, that Quentin almost didn’t want to break the silence. But he felt that it was important Eliot knew what he had to say.

“I’ll admit, I hit a, um, a dark patch,” Quentin starts, because it was always easiest to begin with the obvious. “But I just want- no, I need you to know that I’m not leaving, or dying, or killing myself or whatever.” 

Eliot stiffens, just a slight tense of muscles that he does well to hide. But Quentin felt it, and Eliot knew it. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean—” Eliot begins to correct, but it wasn’t necessary.

“No, it’s okay, I put you through a lot today. And not just tonight but our last… meeting.” Quentin stumbles a bit over the last word, unsure of what to call it. I told you about my past, my deepest secrets, how I tried to kill myself, and then proceeded to fall into bed with you. “You had every reason to be worried, and that was my fault, if I would have just answered Julia none of this would have happened.”

Quentin paused, giving Eliot a chance to say something, anything, but he never did. His heart continued its steady beating, and Quentin continued his steady talking. “But… I’m glad it happened,” he confesses, quitely, like maybe Eliot wouldn’t hear if he whispered into the crook of his neck.

“Quentin, I thought you were… dead…,” Eliot croaks, voice breaking off with a harrowing crack.

“But I’m not. I’m here, and you’re here, and I don’t want to go anywhere else. I’ve spent way too long in the space between holding on and letting go, stuck in the in between, and you’ve shown me that there’s a lot more out there if I just let it in.”

“And are you?” Eliot asks. “Letting it in?”

Quentin pulls away, just slightly, readjusting himself to be able to look at the stream of flowing honey and hazel, the curve of pink lips, the soft color of cheeks. He brushes a hand along Eliot’s jaw, reveling in the sweet brush of stubble, enjoying the sensation of living. “I already have.”

Eliot looks at him like he can’t comprehend the words, like he can’t believe it. But he’s not guarded or cautious like he had been when Quentin told him he wanted to give this —them— a try. He was disbelieving in a way like he couldn’t believe Quentin was saying this to him, open and exposed and revealing the sealed parts of his soul… it was apparent that Quentin was lucky enough to be caught behind the force of Eliot’s walls. Or maybe he was the one who pushed them down.

“Someone once told me that there’s a little bit of magic in this world,” Quentin recalls, the tease of a smile playing at the edges of his lips. “I think they just might’ve been right.”

Eliot’s eyes were glistening as he peered up at Quentin, though there were too many fragments of emotion—so many, in fact, that he couldn’t possibly name them all. They were vivaciously reverent, prominently enraptured, impossibly fascinated, breathtakingly heartened. He was beautiful in all the things he felt but could never possibly say.

Strong arms took their place around Quentin’s waist and pulled him down into the striking heat of his body, filling in all the holes and tangles of limbs. Eliot never said anything more, and that was okay with Quentin. Hearing the living, strong, constant beat of his heart was more than enough.

From then on, time is an ideal current. It doesn’t blow by Quentin in a wind like it has been known to do, fastidiously swooping him up in it, and yet it doesn’t drag with the wading slowness of grief and familiar depression. He knows somewhere deep in his fogged memory that this is what coming out of a consuming depressive episode has always felt like—where time is so real a thing, where the sensation of being a human being with actual working feelings is so intense he’s on the verge of being overwhelmed with the meaning of it all.

He remembers, somewhat vaguely, wishing to give himself over to the dullness and the numbness he had been lost in when he began to let the real world back in. But that was in his past, a different Quentin and a different time. Now, this Quentin enjoyed the almost surreal grasp of time, the way he could actually feel himself living in it, not being dragged along or left behind. 

He found himself reveling in it, the marvel of the world and the simple complexity of it all. He didn’t let himself get pulled into the gliding current this time. Now, he held Eliot’s hand and let the solidity of his body—his skin and heart and soul—ground him in the very moment he lived, not in the past and not what was coming.

He simply lived.

When Julia came home, Quentin embraced her with open arms and then set her free again, like it was supposed to be. Continuously moving forward as was meant for them, unwilling to lose himself in the unchanging past.

“Quentin! Where are you?!” Julia came barreling into their (his) small apartment, though that came as no surprise to Quentin. He had heard her speeding up the stairs practically three at a time, as probably had the rest of Manhattan. For her tiny size, she was the biggest force of nature Quentin had ever seen and would never again mess with. If he hadn’t figured that out when they were children fighting over the last cookie (which Julia always got after she pushed him to the ground), he surely knew it now. He might be in need of a new door, Quentin thought, as it may have just fallen off its hinges with how hard Julia slammed it open.

He just managed to get out a feeble, “Jules, I’m okay—” and then she was on top of him, crushing the air out of his lungs along with the last of his words. 

“You’re okay,” she confirmed with a small relieved breath. Quentin held her small shoulders in his arms—or maybe she was holding him?—the familiar rose petal warmth of Julia like the comfort of coming home. 

She jumped out of his arms and back onto the floor, the soft thud of her shoes just a further reminder of how tiny she really was because even though Quentin was only a little taller than average, she was still lifted from the ground as he took her in his arms. Or when she jumped on top of him, which was probably the more accurate analysis.

But Quentin didn’t let her size fool him, not when he could see the blazing fire in her eyes surging smoke in his direction. “Don’t you ever do that again, do you hear me? You scared the fucking shit out of me, Q.” But really, Quentin has known Julia long enough to know that that’s just code for ‘I love you and I’m glad you’re okay’. 

“I know, I scared a few other people too,” he admits, and it doesn’t need to be acknowledged that they both know who he’s talking about. “And to make it up to you, you’re going to get right back on a plane and go kick some ass in California.”

Julia’s eyes widened incrementally, mouth gaping wide like a fish. “No, I can’t just leave you again, and- and I just left so suddenly, I don’t even know if the internship is still on the table anymore and—”

“Jules, breathe,” Quentin coaxed, watching with satisfaction as she complied. She focused her gaze on him, chocolate eyes ever solemn and quizzical. “I’ve already made arrangements for a one-way ticket to California, because I just had a feeling you’d be very… Julia-ish about it. You’re really very stubborn, did you know that?” She leveled him with a look she’s been scaring him with since childhood, and quickly continued before he lost his nerve and crumpled. “And as for the law firm, let’s just say they’re still happy to have you.”

“How did you…?” Julia begins, but then smiles with a mouthful of wonder. “Never mind, I don’t even want to know.” Quentin can see the early roots of possibility growing in her eyes, but it falls away before it could even take hold. “I really appreciate it, Q, but that doesn’t change the fact that I can’t leave you again, not after…,” Her voice lowers a few pitches like it always does when she’s upset, and finally trails offs when it breaks. But she pulls in a deep breath, a calming breath, because Julia just wasn’t Julia if she wasn’t determined. “I won’t make the same mistake again.”

Quentin takes her hand, pulling her down onto the safety of their worn living room couch. If he’s learned anything from his depression, it’s that big conversations are best had when sitting down. “Don’t you see Jules? You’ll be unhappy if you stay here, and if you do I know it’s just because of me and what… happened. I can’t be a burden like that to you, I mean, God, I’m finally starting to not feel like one after ten fucking years. You have to go find your happiness, even if we’re apart for a while. But I trust that you’ll be back someday, and it’ll be like you were never gone.” He gripped her small, soft hands in reassurance, but whether it was for her or himself Quentin simply didn’t know.

When she looked at him, he could see that tiny speck of hope just daring to peek out, wanting to grow. “I don’t understand. What changed?” she asked, and if that wasn’t the question. What was the same?

“It was unfair of me to act the way I did instead of being happy for you. Because I am, even if I didn’t show it quite right. I want your future to be brighter than either of us could have ever seen.” He took a steely breath, willing himself to admit the things that scared him the most. The things he hadn’t had enough courage to speak aloud until he felt the comforting pulse of Julia’s heart in his hand, and he knew that everything would be okay.
“You’re not my mom and I can’t explain to you how sorry I am that I acted like you were. You said you were leaving and when I should have been happy for you, excited for you, some part of me feared that you would never… come back and I just can’t live my life like that anymore, I can’t live in fear. I can’t be afraid of things that hurt me in the past when there’s no telling if they’re my future.”

Julia smiled at him, the one that could turn a man blind, and Quentin wondered how he wasn’t already. If anything, he can see more clearly now than he ever has. “Well I see someone’s had a revelation,” she teased, but she looked happy for him. Content. Just as he should have been for her.

“I just want you to be happy because if anyone deserves it, it’s you, Jules. And I think I’m starting to be, too,” he confesses. But it’s conceded into the pleasant air that has always surrounded him and Julia, the one of forever best friends. Of siblings. 

“You don’t mean…?” she wonders aloud, and when Quentin can only smile, she lets out a high-pitched squeal. “Eliot?!”

“It’s not like what you’re thinking,” he clarifies, but in all honesty, he doesn’t really know what it is. “He’s just… Eliot. And the world seems a lot clearer when he’s around. We’re not, like, together, but it’s… something. I think this is what being happy feels like?” Julia squeals again, a monstrous fit of giggles much too big for such a tiny girl. 

“I would just like to take credit where credit is due because if I recall, I believe I’m the one who introduced you two.” Her misty voice resonates smugness, but her eyes hold only bountiful glee.

“Yeah, yeah, whatever you say,” Quentin jokes, even though they both know she’s right—she’s always right.

“Come on, tell me everything. I didn’t even know for sure if you were… well, you know. Into guys,” she confesses sheepishly, but it’s thrown to the wind in face of her curious thirst for knowledge. “I flew all the way across the country for you, Coldwater, and we both know I can kick your ass. So spill.” Quentin knows she’s joking (mostly), but despite that, he wants to tell her everything. He had never had any really long relationships with women and never any with men, period, so there had never been much to talk about on that front for him. But as much as he wants to tell her anything and everything, what can he really say? He has no idea what they are, if they are anything, and he’d really much rather leave out the explicit details of their… escapades.

“I didn’t really know either, to be honest. I just… like who I like, if that makes sense?” Quentin didn’t really know how to explain it to another person, not when he didn’t know how to explain it to himself. “It just feels… right, in a way. In every way. It just… happened, and now that it has it feels natural for me. I feel whole, like I haven’t since we discovered Fillory, and it’s easy to forget that I’m not. Whole, I mean. It probably sounds dumb and cheesy like a romantic drama or something, but when I’m with him I feel alive. Like I can't think about not being alive.” 

“You trust him, don’t you?” Julia asks, though they both know it’s not a question. Julia knows, and Quentin knows just as well.

“Something like that,” he replies, even though it’s more than that.

“I feel a lot better knowing you won’t be alone here. I want you to be as happy as the day we climbed the Fillory tree on our greatest adventure.” It’s a silly thing to say, or, it would be to anyone else. But not for Quentin, and not for Julia. It was their biggest and brightest memories, something they would both carry even when they were miles apart. 

Quentin pulls Julia into a bone-crushing hug, relieved to feel her holding on just as tight—tighter, even. “I’m gonna miss you, Q,” she whispers, letting out a soft sound that could probably pass as a laugh. In fact it would have, if it were anyone else, but this was Quentin, and he knew it was the noise she made when she was trying not to cry. A gentle sniff, like a crisp fall breeze, light enough to cover up the truth.

“I’ll miss you too, Jules,” he murmurs, and holds her tighter, like maybe she simply wouldn’t go if he could just squeeze her hard enough.

But she would go in the next few days, she would get on a plane heading back to California, and Quentin would fake a laugh to cover up the tear falling down his cheek.

It’s no secret that he misses Julia every day, he misses her gentle laugh and her humor and the way she lit up a room without even trying. He even misses her undying spark, the one that wrestles Quentin to the ground over the last piece of pizza or last shot of vodka. Or both, as has happened on multiple occasions. But Quentin can’t find it in himself to care that he’s never once won that battle, not when he would gladly give her the whole pizza or the whole bottle just to know she’s in their apartment here in the city, just a room away.

Not the whole country away.

But they make do, just like always. They call a few nights that Julia’s not overloaded with work from the firm and when Quentin’s not with Margo or Eliot. Which, now that Julia’s gone, he’s basically always with Margo and Eliot.

They spend most nights gathered in one of their various homes, drinking or watching movies or acting like teenagers with too much alcohol having too much fun playing truth or dare. It was childish in a thrilling way, because they weren’t children. They were adults getting caught in the current of living, of letting go like everyone says they’re meant to do in their twenties.

For Quentin, it’s enjoyable because of who he’s with, it doesn’t matter if they go to bars or clubs or if they play card games all night. He’s simply fascinated with the startlingly vibrant air surrounding Eliot and Margo, entranced with the way they pull him in and treat him as one of their own. The two have steadily become something wondrously like family to Quentin, and now that he has allowed himself to be open to the world, open to the possibilities held within it, he’s found that he couldn’t possibly close Eliot and Margo out—not without disturbing the whole rhythm of the universe. 

Quentin has become exceptionally close with the two of them, closer, even, than they had been before. The lot of them—Quentin, Margo, and Eliot—have become something like the Three Musketeers in recent weeks. At least, that’s how Quentin’s been referring to it inside his head.

There were, however, times when there were only two of them. Margo and Quentin had hung out alone together a few times—all of which had ended with Quentin drunker than the last because as much as he liked Margo and respected her self-confidence, she still made Quentin want to hide under a rock and pray she didn’t kick his ass because there was no competition as to who was winning that fight. 

They had gone to the movies once or twice when the occasion had struck. As it turns out, Margo Hanson has a secret nerd side that Quentin never would have guessed for someone so top-notch. And so that had given them some common ground, had connected them in a way he had only ever with Julia. They talked about Fillory the most, to Quentin’s pleasure, and amidst all the conversation of the Chatwins and High Kings, Quentin found that she wasn’t so scarily intimidating with her face lit up in passion.

Since then, they’ve formed a sort of nerdy bond over their childhood imaginations, of a Fillory where Margo was High King (because she was simply too strong for something like gender to hold her back) and where Quentin’s passion for the magical land had made a legendary flower bloom—something that could only be done by someone with a true love of Fillory in their heart.

Quentin even found himself enjoying the terrifying parts of her expressive personality, slowly becoming less intimidated and more affectionate towards the wildest parts of her.

As for him and Eliot, they were alone together a lot more than Quentin and Margo were, even despite her discovered love of magic. But as much as he loved the new-found bond they had formed, Quentin thinks he may have found his own galaxy of magic living inside of Eliot, festering beneath his skin and lighting Quentin up from the inside, burning him alive.

Whatever was happening between them went unspoken, undetermined. Sometimes they would watch a movie, and sometimes they would get too caught up watching each other to pay attention to a television screen. Eliot would run his hands over Quentin—his chest, his neck, his lips, his cock— and Quentin would moan until his throat was rubbed raw. And then Quentin would kiss away the sinful sounds from Eliot’s lips as he stroked his aching length with a lustful intensity. 

Sometimes they wouldn’t even watch a movie or eat lunch, dinner —breakfast, even—or do whatever they had planned on doing that day. They would fall into one another’s beds, or the couch if they were too wrapped up in sound and touch and desire to make it to the bedroom, and take each other apart without ever batting an eye. Other times they would simply behave as normal friends would, like there wasn’t anything more going on, like Quentin’s skin wasn’t humming with electricity every time he caught sight of soft curls and long legs and honey-hazel eyes. 

They weren’t in a relationship, they weren’t together, yet they were so much more than friends. Caught in the in between, in too deep to tear themselves away, yet so far apart from being able to put a label on whatever… this was. Quentin was swimming in a pool of desire, of an insatiable hunger to be torn apart by Eliot’s hands, so helpless to do anything but let him. 

Eliot was a magnet that he had never been able to pull away from, not when they met and certainly not now. It was a fire they had surrounded themselves in, unable to get enough of skin and teeth and sweat, always inevitably coming back for more. 

But if Eliot had made anything clear, it was that this… thing budding like wildflowers between them was simply just sex. They were friends who occasionally (continuously) had amazing, filthy, head-spinning sex. Eliot was unable to let Quentin in farther than that, some walls he had yet to break through kept him out. It confused Quentin to no end if he thought about it too hard, because he was physically as close to Eliot as he could possibly get, yet some part of his mind was still locked up tight without ever having made a key. 

Quentin supposed he knows what that feels like because he still feels it every single day, even if he’s on a good mental path like the one he strolled now. Every time he lets someone in, they leave. Even his own mother couldn’t handle it —him— after so long. Julia had been the one exception, but she was one in a million. She had seen his demons and held him tighter anyway, but life had shown him that most people aren’t like that. And so for the majority of his life, he’s kept others at an arm's-length away, never allowing them too close.

Because losses tend to break him, and losing Eliot… well, that would send him down an even darker road than the one he had taken when his dad died. 

So here they were, stuck in an endless loop, an endless cycle, of dancing around complete belief and trust but unable to stray too far away.

The in between. 

Today was one of the days where Quentin and Eliot truly hung out as friends, not controlled by the lust scorching through their veins. As much as Quentin enjoyed the rush and the sort of fleeting danger that came with the other, hidden side of their relationship, he cherished the simple friendly parts too. ‘Simple’ probably wouldn’t be the right word, because nothing about Eliot or this thing that was happening between them could be just written off as simple, but it’s the most normal part of it, anyway. 

“Here, this is the spot,” Eliot declares, promptly hauling Quentin down under the soft shade of an enormous tree. Not that he was an expert on trees or anything remotely close, but Quentin could only assume it was a willow tree they were lounging beneath. Its branches extended upwards and out hundreds of feet, easily taller and bulkier than any other in the park. The leaves hanging from its branches resembled tear drops, hanging heavily towards the ground and providing a cool circle of shade. They looked almost to be weeping, like tears falling down a cheek.

“This park is—” Beautiful, exquisite, breathtaking, gorgeous. “—Wow. Why have you never taken me here before?” Quentin wondered aloud, keening happily from the light summer breeze splashing across his face. 

“I never even knew this was here, it’s so hidden. But it’s so beautiful,” Quentin added, rambling like he tended to do when he was excited about something. He had always loved adventures, and though this was only a park, he couldn’t help but feel like he was on one, like he was eight and leading a quest in Fillory again.

He had followed Eliot here like a lost puppy when he had found out where they were going. They could have gone to a simple patch of dandelions and Quentin would have been content. Growing up in the city had left him with a hunger for nature, no matter what form it came in. But this… well, this was magnificent. It was in a secluded corner of the city that Quentin had probably passed hundreds of times, failing to ever notice the hidden trail entrance shaded with trees.

It took a bit of walking, but Quentin didn’t mind—his thirst for adventure almost rivaled his appetite for nature. They had eventually wandered upon a sunny patch full of luscious grass, the tallest trees that Quentin couldn’t possibly all name, bird nests full of song, all completed with a water fountain in the center of all the beauty. It was small and nothing magnificent by any means, it was hardly a tremendous sculpture built for the city, but that made it seem all the more natural to Quentin. It was like another patch of time they had discovered, or even a small pocket world they had fallen into, separate from the life he had known.

Quentin would be charmed to live here for fifty years.

Eliot had pulled him along, walking leisurely with the soft breeze, the light chirp of birds, the sweet aroma of blooming tulips. They had made their way to the most magnificent tree of all, taller than any tree Quentin had ever seen in the city. It must have been here long before Quentin was born, before his parents or grandparents had tasted sweet air.

“How did you even find this place?” Quentin marveled, only half-aware of what he was saying. He was too wrapped up in the intricate aura of all the natural living things he never got to see. 

“I’ve been coming here for a long time. Dare I say it’s the perfect place for a picnic?” Eliot muses, and Quentin can’t help the gasp of joy that escapes his lips. He pulls two wonderfully red apples from the bag he had carried along their adventure, holding one out to Quentin with a wordless smirk—the familiar, ravishing, roguish twist of lips he showed off like a new car.

Quentin huffs a laugh, feeling locks of hair sway with the disbelieving shake of his head. “Are you sure your last name isn’t, like, Appleman or something? I have never seen anyone addicted to apples like you are.”

“Well, Snow White was my favorite fairy tale, if I must confess. The Evil Queen had a unique complexity, by far the best villain of my childhood. And if you ask me, the poisoned apple thing was genius,” Eliot proclaims, the same easy frivolity trickling through his voice. His burning honey eyes twinkle with golden mirth, a mischief Quentin had become familiar with but something he doesn’t think he’ll ever get used to. Those were two quite different things.

“Remind me never to take an apple from you again,” Quentin remarks, and Eliot can only laugh.

But something he had said struck a chord in Quentin, had brought something to his attention that he hadn’t given much thought to before. “You know, I don’t think you’ve ever actually told me your last name.”

Eliot’s soft laughter stops sharply, stuck somewhere between the air and his lungs. The eyes that had revealed so much to Quentin in times past were now blank, cautious and controlled. Something that just wasn’t natural for the free, runaway spirit he had come to know. “Come on, it can’t be nearly as bad as Quentin Coldwater. I mean, the first time we met you laughed at my fucking name, I don’t think it can get worse than that.”

He wondered idly if his last name was something plain like Smith or Johnson, if that was why Eliot didn’t want to tell him. But really, nothing could ever simply be plain on the wildfire that was Eliot. “Waugh. Eliot Waugh,” he says after a long moment. “But you have to know that that’s not me anymore.”

“Waugh,” Quentin repeats, tasting the word, the sounds on his tongue. “It’s unique. That’s what you told me, isn’t it?” No, I… I like it. It’s unique. Quentin remembers as if it were yesterday, remembers the flush of cheeks this stranger had caused so easily.

“I like it,” Quentin states, as if it were that easy—black and white or right and wrong. “Why don’t you?”

Eliot is silent for a long time, mellow where he rested in the grass. Sunlight poked through the branches of their sheltering tree, casting hundreds of separate rays all around them—like their own personal sun for their own little world. Quentin couldn’t help but stare at the radiance washing over Eliot, basking in the warmth of the sun, shimmering like diamonds beneath the naked golden light. 

Maybe Quentin had it wrong. Maybe he was the sun in their own separate world, somewhere under the protection of the tallest tree. 

Eliot was silent for such a long time that Quentin almost began to forget he had asked a question in the first place. But he eventually spoke, and when he did, the natural smoothness coating his voice was gone. Only the sharp cutting edges remained. “Where do you think I grew up, Quentin?”

He’s startled to realize that he didn’t actually… know. There were a lot of gaps that Quentin had filled on his own about Eliot’s past, about the things he didn’t talk about and the things that Quentin didn’t dare to mention. “I figured you grew up here. Or if not in Manhattan, then some other city. I’ve always gotten the impression that you know what you’re doing, most people in the city don’t.”

“I grew up in Indiana, on a farm and in a church. At least for the majority of my childhood.” Quentin feels his mouth drop open, trying to imagine this elegantly poised, immaculately dressed Eliot cleaning stables and attending Sunday morning service.

He is officially the worst friend in the history of ever, he didn’t even know where Eliot grew up for God’s sake. “I’m sorry, I should have known—”

“No, you shouldn’t have,” Eliot cuts in, low and sharp. Pained. “I don’t talk about it much, not even with Margo. And she’s the one who found me here.” He laughs then, but it’s not the light, bell chime laughter of humor and joy and sarcasm—all of the things Eliot basked in like glory. It was dark, pained, a disconcerted, guidless sound. “Actually, I’m the one who found her, if you want to get technical about it.”

Surrounded by the verdant blades of grass and the greenest leaves, his hazel eyes looked strikingly like jade stones, emeralds, taking to the color of the natural world all around. But they were dark, holding demons that the lightness of nature simply couldn’t. Quentin thinks this might be where the tale of the wild things came from—from the exotic world growing behind bewitched eyes.

“You don’t have to tell me about your past, Eliot,” he murmurs, because he doesn’t. Especially not if it’s so very clearly bringing him a tremendous amount of pain.

“But I do.” His eyebrows were knit in sincerity, of a brutally honest vulnerability, and Quentin got the sense that Eliot might need to open up to someone about the things he had never been able to. And if he wanted that someone to be Quentin, then who was he to argue? He trusted that Eliot knew what was best for himself, just like Quentin had when he opened up about his dad. He had needed that too.

So he simply lays down in the cool shade of grass, a show of comfort, an act of diligence, watching clouds through tree branches and resting in the soft breeze while he waits for Eliot to find his words and his mounting courage.

“I left Indiana when I was fourteen, and, like the child I was, spent all the money I had on a bus ticket. By the time I made it to Manhattan, I had about two dollars and maybe a few coins, which is about enough to buy, like, half a bottle of water here.” He laughed, and this time it sounded closer to the cool, comical Eliot that Quentin knew. 

“So by the time I figured out that I had no money, no food, and no shelter, the sun was going down and I had somehow made my way here.” He gestures a hand around the park, the soft grass, the blooming flowers, the massive willow tree above. “It was empty and quiet, but I didn’t really mind that. I grew up on a farm where the only sounds were chickens clucking and the wind blowing. But then... I heard this girl, this very loud, intense girl.” Quentin quietly watched his lips lift in a gentle smile, eyes far away in a distant memory.

“Now, you may be wondering what this young girl was doing in a city park alone, mind you, so close to sundown. I, not surprisingly, wondered the same thing. But the difference between you and I, Q, is that you know just how absolutely terrifying Margo Hanson can be, and, sadly, fourteen-year-old me did not know that very valuable piece of information.” This time it was Quentin’s turn to laugh, all too aware of Margo’s terrifying, pants-pissing personality.

“The young, naive version of myself had a very immoral, immaculately awful plan to take any money and food she had with her.” Quentin’s eyes involuntarily widened, either because Eliot stealing just wasn’t him, or because the idea of stealing anything from Margo was downright nauseating and the thing that gave even grown adults nightmares.

Eliot smiled a tiny bit at him, bemused with his obvious reaction. “Hunger makes you irrational, and even though I didn’t want to steal, I didn’t want to stoop so low, I wasn’t thinking straight.” His voice was riddled with guilt, deep and haunting, like he still punished himself for reckless adolescent decisions. “But, as it turns out, Margo has always been an alarmingly horrific badass because she had me on the ground before I could get too close. You may think that some life-altering experience shaped her into the woman she is, but you’d be terribly wrong. That girl stomped on dandelions as a toddler and cities as a teenager.” A true High King of Fillory, indeed, Quentin thought.

“But she’s also the kindest person I have ever met,” Eliot continued, words flowing easily with the pace of the summer breeze. “Because somehow despite all of that, she still convinced her parents to take me in off the streets anyway. I lived with them until I was eighteen, until I could legally live by myself, and without Margo I probably would have been killed or raped out here. I owe her my life.”

Quentin’s mind faltered, short-circuiting with the truth of Eliot’s past. No child should ever have to run away, much less to the dirty streets of a city. He must have been scared out of his mind. Quentin would have been. “Why did you leave Indiana?” he asks, because there had to have been a good reason for him to risk his life in the way that he had at only a measly fourteen.

Eliot takes a deep, shaky breath, more disheveled than Quentin had ever seen him. Torn apart, breaking, maybe already broken, yet fighting to hold himself together. It broke Quentin’s heart, shattering cruelly at the sight of the significant, important, hopeful parts of Eliot draining away behind an endless void of hazel-green.

“Snow White is just a story, one made up to teach kids that the good wins and the evil loses. But it’s all just a metaphor, isn’t it? I mean, this is the real world, this is life, and the good side doesn’t always win, it’s just a big giant story.” Eliot runs a hand through his hair, across his face, down his neck. His eyes are flickering wildly, breath coming restlessly.

“The world takes the good and twists it until it’s broken, twisted to fit society’s definition of bad or evil or whatever the hell you wanna call it. I mean, where does it end? Just look at the apple—something so innocent and- and pure, yet poisoned vilely.” Quentin doesn’t know where Eliot’s going with this, but he’s tearing himself apart trying to get there. He pulls in a long breath, rattling like a sob in his lungs, and Quentin can’t help but reach out and take his shaking hand—a comfort Eliot had so willingly given him when his heart had broken around a father-shaped hole. “It’s just a fairy tale, something meant for kids, but the fucking irony is that that’s how a lot of children’s lives end up. It’s how mine was for a long time until Margo took me in, sometimes I still feel like I’m fourteen and lost again. Sometimes we don’t have a choice between good and bad, sometimes the apple is poisoned before you can even grow up and find yourself. It changes you when- when I didn’t even have a say.” 

When a sob racked Eliot’s body, Quentin thought he would cry. But instead, like the bravest man he knows, Eliot took a deep breath—a quick, steadying breath—and gently squeezed Quentin’s hand. “Eliot… it’s okay, you’re okay,” Quentin whispers, and softly pulls him down on the delicate caress of blades of grass. Eliot follows his guiding hand and lays down close to Quentin—close enough to feel the heat of his skin, hotter than the summer sun, and the rise and fall of breath.

This was intimate in a way that wasn’t sweat and sex. This was vulnerability, a deliberate openness beneath the budding leaves of the trees.

They lay there like that for a long time, where Quentin could only watch the gliding clouds above, picking out different shapes. Silent but for the thoughts turning in Eliot’s head. “My dad drank a lot,” Eliot finally murmurs, voice hollow with distant memories. “So the first time he hit me, I blamed it on the booze on his breath.”

“Eliot…,” Quentin hears himself saying, the crack of his voice hanging heavily in the air. His head turns slightly to face Quentin, resting casually on the grass, soothing eyes peeking beneath soft eyelashes as if to say ‘it’s okay’. As if Quentin was the one who needed soothing, as if it was even remotely okay. 

When Eliot speaks again his voice is soft and calm, breath gently tingling Quentin’s cheek. “You know, he caught me reading Snow White once. He said something about how real men don’t read about princesses and fairy tales as he split my cheek open. I had been too young to know what the bruises and marks on my mom had meant, but after so long of looking at the same ones in the mirror… let’s just say I put two and two together after that.”

Quentin reached a hand out to the curve of Eliot’s cheek, brushing back a stray curl like he had to feel for himself that Eliot was still whole and here under his fingertips. “Your dad hit you.” Quentin didn’t entirely know if he had meant it as a question or if he was merely clarifying what he already knew deep in the chill of his bones. “You didn’t deserve that, El.”

“Maybe. My dad thought I did. So what I did and didn’t deserve is questionable, especially since I never once saw a scratch on my brothers.”

Quentin had grown up as an only child, the closest thing he had to a sibling was Julia, but even he knew that it wasn’t entirely the same. They didn’t live together (growing up, anyway), and he had always been curious despite himself about the dynamic of sibling relationships. “You have brothers?” he asks, adding that to the list of things he didn’t know about Eliot.

He smiles, just a tiny lift of lips—the barest minimum of a smile—at Quentin’s biting curiosity. “I’m the youngest of three,” he confirms. “I don’t know what ever became of them, we haven’t talked since the night I came to the city.”

“Why not?” Quentin wonders. It was different for him, he knew, because he never had a brother or a sister. But he knew that Julia was the closest thing he had, and he couldn’t bear not seeing her for years. These upcoming months would be his breaking point.

Eliot chews on a worried lip, peering at Quentin with an unreadable expression. Somewhat vacant. “Because they eventually got girlfriends who they would bring to church with the same bruises my mother and I had. And I got hit because I was too… queer, and that’s a sin under the Lord’s name, under the roof of my house.” 

There was a numbness leaking behind the cool green of his eyes, an enveloping darkness beneath the hazel. But if Eliot can be so unbearably strong, then Quentin can be too. Finding a certain strength in the beat of Eliot’s heart, Quentin pulls him closer, arms wrapping protectively around him like he could somehow save him from such a horrific past. “So I left Indiana, that hellhole of a farm, deciding that I didn’t need a family to become who I’m supposed to be. Whatever that is. I still haven’t figured it out just yet.”

Quentin wanted to tell him about the man he saw, about the righteously good glow inside of him, the wit that barely even began to touch how undeniably smart he is, the heart of gold he hid under walls of sarcasm. But Eliot’s speaking again before Quentin can tell him about this beautiful man.

“I didn’t want to be a Waugh if that’s what it meant to be one. But despite that, I brought some parts with me, the parts I couldn’t leave behind. The things inside of me that a bus ticket won’t take away. That’s my flesh and blood, that’s my DNA.”

The worst part was that Eliot seemed to sincerely believe what he said. He said it as if there was no hope for him. “Eliot, no, that’s not you,” Quentin insists into the rise of his chest, lips right above the beat of his heart. “You’re kind and warmhearted and the most extraordinary person I have ever met. That’s not you.”

“You don’t know that, Q. It’s literally in my blood. Violence and anger to top off the drinking problem,” he sneers, words cold opposed to the warm rays of sun filtering through the tree branches.
“I know that’s not you. You’re different than your family, you’re different than most people, really. You care about things, you’re passionate and spirited like I’ve never seen.” Quentin tilts his head to catch Eliot’s gaze, sincere with every word he says. “You’re different. I’ve seen it.”

“If I’m so different, then let me ask you something,” Eliot proposes. “Why do you think I drink apple juice?”

Quentin had wondered that since Eliot told him about it, when he had seen the remorse flash behind his flask the night they met. He had come up with about a thousand different possibilities in his head, but none seemed to be right looking into such restless, piercing eyes.

“I think some part of me wanted to believe the things you said, to prove to my dad and brothers that I’m different, that I’m not the kind of person they are.” Eliot laughed, a short, bitter sound. “I was naive. I got so caught up in trying to prove my dad wrong that I couldn’t stop once I got a taste of it. Gin, rum, vodka, whiskey—you name it, I guarantee I want to drink it. Even now.” Quentin watches with a heavy heart as Eliot’s eyes shut in resentment, self-loathing. It was something Quentin was all too familiar with. 

“I guess you can say my coping mechanisms aren’t the brightest, given that I pour apple juice in a flask and pretend it’s booze. But whatever works, am I right?” he reckons with a shrug Quentin can’t see but only feels where he’s pressed against the long lines of his body.

“I wish you could have met my dad,” Quentin whispers, suddenly sorrowful for something he could never have. Ted Coldwater had been such a giving, loving, selfless father, and he thinks it would have done Eliot some good. He could have been the father he never had.

Quentin feels the slight nod of Eliot’s head somewhere in the fuzz of his brain, relaxing into the welcoming brush of hands on his back, rubbing gentle circles into his skin. He could almost feel the impression of his rings if he concentrated hard enough. 

“My dad… he wasn’t always like that. I don’t remember much, but… we planted a garden, once. Just the two of us, him and I, without the pressure of my brothers. I must have been so young then, I can hardly remember it.” The gentle press of Eliot’s hands continued, a soothing touch that Quentin keened under.

He thought Eliot might just be grateful to have something to do with his hands because soon they wandered up to the stray locks of his hair, fingers twisting in the plentiful strands there. “We were almost a family. Almost,” he clarifies, hollow with the unfair weight of the world. “That’s a big word, isn’t it? It’s everywhere I turn. Almost home, almost happy, almost changed, almost there.”

Strangely, or maybe not so strangely, Quentin understands exactly what he means. He’s been living an almost for as long as he can remember. Almost whole, almost ready, almost living. “Almost, but not quite,” Quentin adds.

A vibration rumbles through Eliot’s chest tickling Quentin’s cheek. It could have been a laugh or a breath, but he thinks it was an acknowledgment. It was a bittersweet feeling to be acknowledged, seen like no one else ever quite saw him. “Not yet. Soon, maybe,” Eliot whispers, so low the wind almost carried it to where he couldn’t hear.

Quentin felt compelled to look up, a startling urge pressing on every nerve in his body, only to find hazel, almost-green eyes gazing into his. Seeing him, not through him, and Quentin didn't think Eliot had ever looked at him so softly.  

He propped his chin on Eliot’s chest if only to see him more clearly, wanting to memorize the unique color of his eyes, like moss crawling over rich forest soil—the thousands of emotions hidden there. The sun’s splitting rays cast down upon them, a sparkling beam of light landing on the curve of Eliot’s cheek to shimmer brightly on his skin. 

His eyes, though sorrowful, were light—lighter than the pollen floating through the air, lighter than even the clouds floating through the blue sky. They were such a striking contrast to the silken, obsidian curls tumbling around his face, hair as dark as midnight falling into the shade and shadow, tickling their skin. Quentin’s breath caught somewhere deep in his throat trying to decipher where the light ended and the dark began. Eliot Waugh was simply the legacy of the million different shades of the world, of nature.

He was the whole of nature, really. A perfect balance of day and night, of dusk and dawn, of summer and winter, of old and new. But not of good and evil. He was as good as they came, and that was something Quentin would always hold onto. 

Watching Eliot open up so willingly touched something deep inside of him, it made his breath hitch and his skin tingle. He looked so beautiful like this, basking in sun and shadow, so everly-elegant but tender and unguarded in a way Quentin has only ever seen glimpses of. He could see the festering pain when Eliot was so exposed like this, unwary and unprotected.

But as much as it broke his heart to see, Quentin knew that pain wasn’t something that could simply be dismissed. If only it worked like that. Somehow, the pain had to heal the damage it had done. Quentin was just beginning that journey, but he found that there was one way that helped the most.

“We’re all defined by things we can’t change, no matter what it is. You just have to find the things you can, and be with the people you want to be with.” For Quentin, he had found a sanctuary in Eliot—in his arms and in the way he wanted to be healed when he was with him. He couldn’t help but wonder if Eliot had found the same shelter in his.

The honey of his eyes flickered with a flash of something indiscernible, something raw and true. Eliot smiled wide, teeth making an appearance behind the curve of his lips. Quentin wanted to lean forward and press his own lips to them, feel the undeniable impression of his smile, the way they had so many times over. It would be easy, so simple, it could happen in the blink of an eye, in the take of a breath.

It would be an intimacy like they hadn’t experienced, to kiss just for the sake of kissing. Not just the start of something, but the entirety of it. Every time they had ended up in bed had been out of a craving for skin, for a secret roughness, for that coiling pleasure they knew so well. But now, laying under the shade of a willow tree, skin warmed by the summer sun, it wasn’t that at all. Quentin simply wanted to kiss Eliot until his lips were swollen, until he couldn’t breathe anymore. Until all he knew was the smell and taste and sense of Eliot.

It may have just been the light, the intoxicating giddiness of the summer air, but Eliot looked at him softly, not hungrily—like maybe he wanted that too. Quentin swore, for just a moment, he saw the golden gates of heaven floating in his eyes. But it was gone as fast as it had come, carried away with the wind like so many other things as Eliot spoke, words as smooth and rich and something like silk. “I want to show you something.” 

Quentin nods, willing to follow Eliot anywhere he wanted to go. They slowly made their way out from under the cool shade of the willow tree, ambling back out into the sharp rays of the sun. It had started to fall down behind the clouds without Quentin even realizing it, just beginning to sink low into the sky. The light blue the clouds floated in had started to darken the smallest bit, infused with a light orange and the telltale signs of a sunset. But despite that, a scathing heat still bore down on their backs, overheating the skin that the shade had cooled. 

Quentin couldn’t help but commit to memory the beautiful scenery as they made their way back up the trail. He did his best to remember the exact shades of the pastel tulips, the way they smelled. He made note of all the bird’s nests scattered through the trees, the light vibratos of which they sang. 

The last thing he saw was the willow tree, magnificent and brooding, standing tall and glorious under the setting sun. As they made their way back into the city—like a whole other world now—Quentin reached for Eliot’s hand, hoping somehow to hold onto some sliver of the nature he had just left behind. Though he supposed maybe it wasn’t all gone, not when Eliot only grasped his hand tighter, like the roots of an intricate tree.

A willow tree.

They walked like that down the city streets, and though they were surrounded by thousands of people, Quentin could only think about one.

It wasn’t long before Eliot was pulling him through a door by his hand, into a bustling area and away from the setting sun. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dim lighting having been so used to the bright sun outside. But when they did, Quentin recognized the clinking of shot and wine glasses, the seemingly hundreds of shelved bottles, the distinct aroma of strong and sweet liquor alike. 

His eyes scanned over the mass of people, dancing under neon lights to some upbeat song Quentin couldn’t bring himself to quite pay attention to. There was a wide space obviously meant for a dance floor, a few tables and chairs and even a lounging couch sat scattered around, all complete with a bar stocked with liquor and glasses off to the side. There were people everywhere despite the fact that it wasn’t quite dark yet.

“A… nightclub?” Quentin asked, confused as to why Eliot would take him here of all places. 

“My nightclub,” Eliot corrects lowly, like maybe if he said it softly enough Quentin wouldn’t hear. But he did, of course he did. The space was lively with people and loud and overly hot, disorienting. He had trouble wrapping his head around what he was seeing, of what he knew. Quentin vaguely felt himself shake his head, and while he was only trying to make sense of everything, Eliot had obviously seen it in a different light.
He laughs, the acidly bitter sound he had conceived earlier that day. “I know, hilarious, right? Like my life’s just one giant punch line.” Eliot laughs again, like there was something comical in the way he felt pain - the pain Quentin could see rippling plainly behind his eyes, dark in the dim light. “I’m sure that’s what you’re thinking.”

“Actually,” Quentin says, just loud enough to be heard over the beat of the music and the bustle of the crowd, “I was thinking about how incredible you are. You once told me that I was the bravest man you’ve ever met, but you’re stronger than I could ever be.”

Something flickered in Eliot’s eyes, something daring like hope, and Quentin swore he saw some of the broken shards piece themselves together again. “I’m not strong, just… resilient, I suppose. I haven’t had a drop of alcohol since I was eighteen, since I’ve been sober. We won’t get into the details of it because it was messy and confusing and the lowest point in my life, to say the least. But I have this bar now to let temptation do its worst, reminding me every day why I’m sober. To stay sober, to make every one of these six years worth something.”

Eliot may have said that he wasn’t strong, but when Quentin looks at him, so stubbornly determined, that’s all he can see. Strength. That same determined passion leaks through his voice, punctuating each and every word. “It reminds me of what I have, of the things I need to be sober for. The… people… I need to be sober for.” 

When his wandering gaze drifted to Quentin, he somehow knew that Eliot was talking about him. Maybe it was the neon lights or the heat of bodies in the crowd or the buzz in the air. But Quentin knew, and even though they were surrounded by moving people, it still felt like just the two of them lying quietly under the shade of a willow tree.

He didn’t quite understand why Eliot liked him so much, when he was exquisite and glamorous and graceful even in his most vulnerable moments, and Quentin was just… Quentin Coldwater. Nothing special, nothing to be fawned over. An overgrown nerd at best. But when Eliot gazes at him like this, like he saw all of Quentin, even the not-so-good parts, he couldn’t help but feel like a completely different person in a completely different time. Like their own little pocket world, filled only by the two of them. He felt good enough to be anything Eliot wanted.

“Thank you for telling me all of this, Eliot. For showing me.” He reaches out a hand, not knowing where it’s going to land until Eliot’s fingers twine through his own. Quentin gently smiles, just a tiny shift of lips to test the waters. But when a gentle pressure squeezes his hand he can’t hold his lips back from grinning completely, spreading wide and hopelessly lopsided. “And for what it’s worth, I’m here whether you’re sober or not. No matter what. You helped me through some of the hardest moments of my life and… I care too much not to stand by you when you need it the most.”

This time it’s Eliot’s turn to smile, Quentin helplessly watching as it sealed some of the broken cracks in his honey eyes. Quentin knew what it felt like to be broken, how alone it felt to be so empty, and he knew wholeheartedly that he would never let Eliot feel alone, much less broken. Because no matter what, Quentin would never see Eliot Waugh as anything but whole. A simple name couldn’t define Eliot, it didn’t have the power to matter. Not when Eliot was the strongest, brightest person he had ever known.

He lifted a hand to ruffle Quentin’s hair like he sometimes did, only because he knew Quentin couldn’t stand it. But this time… this time he only brushed his hair back behind his ear and grinned.

“Go get a drink,” Eliot suggested, pointing a slender finger in the direction of the bar. 

“I don’t want to drink in front of you,” he confessed earnestly. But then the twisted part of his mind reminded him of just how many times he’s taken a shot or a drink in front of Eliot before. He hadn’t really thought much about it until now, he had become so accustomed to Eliot drinking from his flask that he sometimes forgot that it wasn’t alcohol in there—it was apple juice. “Oh my, fuck, I- Eliot, I’m so sorry, I drink in front of you all the time, God, I’m so sorry—”

“Q, look at me,” he soothes, voice straight and compelling. So Quentin did, he looked into Eliot’s earnest eyes and fastidious curls and full lips and tried to remember what breathing felt like. “I literally own a club, a bar, trust me when I say that I know exactly what I’m getting into. And besides, you shouldn’t have to feel guilty over my mistakes, so… go. Get whatever you’d like,” Eliot assures. “It’s on the house.” He winks, unmistakably sensuous, and really, he had no right to ignite Quentin’s most primal urges with nothing but the bat of an eye.

He quickly nods his head and spins toward the direction of the bar, hoping against hope that he had managed to conceal the blooming fire in his cheeks. But by the chuckle reverberating loudly behind him, he didn’t think he had quite succeeded. 

Quentin ordered a mojito simply because that was the first thing his spinning head conjured up. But it turns out to have been a great choice, the freshness of the mint and lime doing wonders to organize his jumbled thoughts. 

Eliot’s past had been traumatic, he had been born into a family that didn’t deserve him, didn’t cherish him like he deserved to be. Something like that could break the wholest of men, and yet… Eliot was different. He may think he’s broken, but how could something —someone— so broken fix the shattered mess that was Quentin? He was extravagant even when the world kicked him around, even when he didn’t want to be.

Eliot may think he’s broken, or doomed to a fate he couldn’t escape, but all Quentin can see is a bright light when he had been stuck in the dark for so long. He sees the pieces of himself he had been missing, the reason why he had never been completely whole.

Now he was.

He had talked to Eliot about what he wanted, about how he felt, and Eliot had dismissed it as a sexuality crisis. As a blurred friendship. But now… now Quentin knew Eliot’s body as well as he knew his own. He had memorized all of the hard lines and miles of skin, the spotted birthmark on his thigh he had licked over countless times, the sensitive spot where the skin of his neck met his sleek shoulder—how he liked to be bitten there. 

And now the lines between friendship and more were as blurred as ever, in between heaven and hell. But Quentin wants to cross that line, he wants to leap across it with miles to spare. And somewhere, somehow, a part of him thinks Eliot might just want the same. 

He had made it clear that this was all just sex and Quentin had agreed to that, had understood that. But the way Eliot looked at him made Quentin wonder if he wasn’t the only one who felt so… complete. He was hungry—for skin, yes, but also for so much more. Quentin could see it in the gentle honey of his eyes, the admiration behind the sarcasm, held within it.

He couldn’t be the only one who wanted more, could he?

Quentin downed the rest of his mojito, welcoming the clarity it brought. A little liquid courage was exactly what he needed if he was going to talk to Eliot about such things. Or was he asking? He didn’t know exactly what he was doing, he just knew how clear the world seemed to be around Eliot, how he feels about him. How he wants Eliot to feel, too.

He maneuvers back into the mass of the crowd because if he stays at the bar any longer he might just drink it all to quench his nerves. That surely couldn’t be too good for his liver, now could it?

Quentin steered himself through the talking and dancing people, trying to find the spot he had left Eliot at. He spotted a head of dark curls protruding above all else and inwardly smiled at the outrageous length of Eliot’s long legs. It wasn’t fair, really, to have miles of legs and the grace to go along with them. Quentin thought the universe could have at least helped him out a bit and made Eliot the least bit clumsy, maybe then he wouldn’t feel quite so unmatched.

Who was he kidding? Eliot outmatched everybody, clumsy or not.

It seemed that Quentin was the clumsy one, seeing as how he bumped into about six people on his treck to Eliot, muttering half-sincere apologies as he brushed by. His sole focus was getting to Eliot, of telling him exactly how he felt before he lost the nerve. Eliot, Eliot, Eliot, continued the mantra in his head, blaring over the beat of the music, the beat of his heart—over everything, really.

But when Eliot finally came into full view, the mantra in his head was replaced by a raw ringing in his ears, a high-pitched buzz bouncing from eardrum to eardrum. He had found Eliot… but he wasn’t alone.

Set aside in a secluded corner stood Eliot and a shorter man, probably around Quentin’s own height. The man held a drink in his hand, gesturing vaguely with it as he talked. He was smiling from what Quentin could see, and Eliot was smiling with him, laughing at something he had said. Quentin wasn’t close enough to make out the words, but he could tell with a vague certainty that the man was British.

He was quite attractive, even Quentin could admit—adorning light skin with salt and pepper hair, remnants of stubble casting shadows across his face that Quentin could see from a distance away. He scathingly brushed Eliot’s arm as they talked, and Quentin felt his heart drop as he watched Eliot lean into the touch, nodding at something the man said. His curls bounced, falling fluidly around his face, highlighting the curve of his cheekbone under the low lights.

Quentin felt something twist inside of him, something guttural and instinctual. He wanted to be the one that made Eliot laugh, that made his curls bounce. As selfish as it sounded, he didn’t want anyone else to be able to do that—at least not as well as Quentin did. It was stupid and not at all his place, but he felt… not jealous, per se. Protective was more of the right word.

And maybe just a little bit jealous. Just a little bit. 

Something flared inside Quentin, and this time he was startled to find that it had taken the face of anger. Eliot isn’t his to have, he isn’t his to be jealous about. Eliot is entirely his own person, and Quentin simply isn’t a part of the category that could justify these feelings. He isn’t Quentin’s, and Quentin isn’t his.

Yet somehow he’s fallen so deeply that he can’t think straight without hazel eyes flickering at the back of his mind, where he cares for Eliot maybe just a little too much. But it’s a losing battle, because Eliot will never feel the same way for someone like Quentin. The world just doesn’t work like that. 

So he’s angry about something toying torturously in front of him that he can’t have, yet wants entirely. Wants so deeply with his whole being, like he’s never wanted anything —anyone— else.

Eliot’s eyes flick over to Quentin then, dark and almost… daring. He holds Quentin’s gaze for longer than what was probably necessary, bold and brash and enticing, yet hidden behind another man. It was stupid and reckless and probably the worst idea he’s ever had but… the animalistic, competitive part of him saw only one thing.

A challenge.

Quentin may not be able to have Eliot like he wants, but he can at least have him naked. And that’s better than nothing, right? He just wants his hands and body and lips on him, somewhere far away from the man brushing his fingers over Eliot’s forearm. And he needs it now.

Quentin feels his legs carrying him the distance to the two men, too caught up in the haughty swirl of thoughts to worry about what he was going to do next. He was suddenly more grateful than ever for downing that mojito, willing to take whatever courage he can get in any shape or form.

It was probably reckless courage, but who was he to look a gift horse in the mouth?

Eliot watches him stride over, thick amusement coloring his eyes. “Hi, I’m sorry to interrupt,” Quentin starts, though he wasn’t very sorry at all. “You seem very lovely, but Eliot and I have some… unfinished business to attend to. If you’ll excuse us.” He didn’t know where the stuttering, shy, dorky Quentin had gone, but he was long forgotten—left behind in the rum coating his veins. It wasn’t much, but it was enough for Quentin to grab Eliot by the arm and pull him along, a confused stutter all that was left behind of the man.

Eliot allowed Quentin to pull him easily along, both of them knowing full well that Eliot could overpower him at any given moment if he really wanted to. Quentin knew from experience that Eliot could pin him down, move his slight body wherever he pleased as he slid delightfully between his legs and—

Quentin didn’t stop walking—striding was probably more accurate—until they were lodged in a corner on the opposite side of the club, far away from the attractive man with the accent and touchy hands. It was secluded and dark, so dim, in fact, that it seemed to be darker than any other area of the club. More importantly, it was concealed from prying eyes. 

“Now what’s all this?” Eliot asks. “Sebastian was very lovely, thank you. Quite a nice accent.” Quentin knows somewhere in the back of his mind that Eliot’s just messing with him, but the image of Sebastian’s hands trailing over Eliot’s skin was burned into his head and he couldn’t quench the anger it brought. If he had wanted to rile Quentin up, he had done that and more. 

Some possessive, genitive part of Quentin was in control now—a newly discovered, hidden side he had never known existed. That same part of him was pushing Eliot up against the nearest wall, body draping over the heat of Eliot’s own. He let out a choked puff of air against Quentin’s cheek, eyes wider than Quentin’s ever seen them. He was caught off guard and, for once, unpoised.

Quentin let his hands run teasingly over the fabric covering Eliot’s chest, slowly down his sides. “You’re right, I’m sure he was lovely,” Quentin breathes against the exposed skin of Eliot’s neck, “But I can do more to you than he ever could.”

Eliot lets out a shaky breath, tingling shallowly down the shell of Quentin’s ear. He had gotten under Eliot’s skin, he could feel it. There was an underlying quiver in his voice when he spoke, no matter how hard he tried to hide it. “Yeah? And what is it that you want to do?”

“This,” Quentin murmurs, and latches his lips onto the sensitive skin of Eliot’s neck. A low moan escapes him, the vibration in his throat tingling Quentin’s mouth. His teeth are grazing, biting, enough to drag quiet moans from Eliot but not enough to leave a mark. 

Once the thought enters his mind, though, he’s surprised by how much he actually wants to leave a mark. His mark. The possessive thoughts running through Quentin’s mind told him to mark Eliot, claim him as his. And so he does, sucking patches of skin into the heat of his mouth, skimming claiming teeth over the sensitive marks. He runs his tongue slowly over the bruising skin, enjoying the sounds it dragged from the man pinned against him.

Quentin’s lips lead him to the stubble lining the other man’s jaw, mouthing there despite the burn —because of the burn. The loud music in the club continued, the neon lights flashed, the people danced. But here, in their own little corner, it was just Eliot, beneath his hands and lips and body. The salt of his skin mingled with the mint and rum of mojito on his tongue, a heavenly addictive combination.

But it would be especially addictive to Eliot, who craved the burn of alcohol like oxygen. 

The lucid, mindful part of his brain, the sliver that hadn’t been blinded by anger and lust, guided Quentin’s hand to the inside pocket of the other man’s jacket. His fingers fumbled until they grasped a familiarly solid shape, pulling away with Eliot’s signature flask.

He held Eliot’s wide eyes as he took a drink, and then another, until the taste of rum was covered by the sweetness of apple juice. Quentin is almost sure that he returned the flask to Eliot’s pocket but he couldn’t be entirely certain, he wasn’t too aware of anything before his lips hungrily met Eliot’s. 

Quentin sucked his bottom lip into his mouth, gently biting with his teeth. Eliot’s moans were swallowed entirely by Quentin, taking in anything he could get. He was still angry, he could feel it in the way he licked into Eliot’s mouth, in the way his hands gripped his sides, tangled in his curls. He wasn’t angry at Eliot, he was angry that he couldn’t have him.

But he would do his best to take him apart despite that. 

When Quentin moves back down to attack his neck, Eliot manages to get out a few words between panted breaths. “In a crowded place, Q? Didn’t know you had it- in you.”

“I could think of something else I’d like in me,” Quentin taunts, unsure of where such brash words had come from. But they sent flares of heat down his spine, and he found himself revelling in the unexpectedness of it.

“Q, fuck,” Eliot groans. His hands had wound their way to Quentin’s hips, one dipping low to cup his ass. Eliot pulls him forward, jerking his hips until Quentin’s pressed right against the unmistakable hard line of his cock.

This time it was Quentin’s turn to groan, feeling incredibly satisfied that he was the one that did that, he had hardened Eliot’s cock and he was able to enjoy Eliot’s groping hands roaming his skin. And though Quentin would never admit it, his blood was thrumming with the possibility of getting caught, of someone seeing them making out like teenagers with hard-ons in the corner. But for what he wanted to do they couldn’t be in public for. “Maybe we should go somewhere else,” Quentin suggests. “This is a public place, after all. You should know, this is all yours.”

In his words he had meant that the nightclub was Eliot’s, but the lust-filled part of his spinning mind had meant something else. “Do you know what else is yours?” he whispers against the soft fullness of his lips. He guides Eliot’s hand down to the bulging hardness of his jeans, closes Eliot’s fingers around the straining mass of his cock. “This,” he says, and shivers at the groping pressure on his most sensitive parts.

“If we don’t leave right now we’re going to end up getting thrown out of my own club for public indecency,” Eliot groans, breathing heavily into the steaming air between them. As tempting as it was to keep Eliot pinned against the wall and tear him apart right here, where anyone could see, the appeal of a marvelous bed and silky sheets called to Quentin more than anything. And he was right, it would be mortifying for Eliot to get thrown out of his own club.

Quentin rubs a teasing hand over the bulge of Eliot’s cock just to watch him squirm. Maybe it was a peek at what’s to come. Either way, eyelids fluttered shut over the blown pupils of Eliot’s eyes, and Quentin quivered with gratification.

He grabbed Eliot’s easy hand and pulled him back into the crowd, working their way around clusters of people and maneuvering around dancing bodies. Right before Quentin pulled Eliot through the exit, he caught a glimpse of the man that had been with Eliot earlier. Sebastian, his name had been.

Quentin only hoped the bruises on Eliot’s neck were visible as they walked out the door.

His eyes faltered as they stepped back outside, squinting against the brightness of the sun. It was almost set now, the sky lit up with pastel pinks and oranges and yellows in its wake. But it was still shockingly bright after being concealed beneath the dim, dark lights of the club.

Eliot’s house was much closer to here than Quentin’s apartment was, but he didn’t mind in the slightest. He couldn’t afford a bed bigger than a single, and even if he could his room was comparable to the size of a closet. He wanted room, space, comforting silk sheets. And that is what he would get.

Once his eyes focused past the point of squinting, he began walking in the direction of Eliot’s house. It made sense now how he could afford it: the house, the expensive clothes, a decent backyard in the city. That nightclub had been bustling with people and it wasn’t even night yet. A lot of blanks about Eliot’s past and present had been filled today.

It’s not long before they reach their destination, but it feels like an eternity with all of the lustful thoughts torturing his mind. When he glances at Eliot he looks just as pained, eyes wild and plainly impatient. Under any other circumstances Quentin would have stopped to admire the view of the picture-perfect sunset lighting up the sky behind Eliot, the swollen amber in the clouds that matched the vibrant color of his eyes. He could have looked like an angel standing there, sent from heaven with a bundle of boisterous curls as a halo.

But the impatience flowing through his veins was enough to pull Eliot inside, stepping into the familiarity of the house and away from the vivid hues of the sky.

The click of the door echoes as Quentin pushes Eliot against it, closing it with the force of their bodies. His lips are on Eliot’s in a second, no room for breathing, no time to think. He pressed himself close to Eliot, into the hands smoothing down his back, falling down to cup his ass. Eliot welcomed the aching force of Quentin, pulling his hips impossibly closer with a low groan.

“Who knew… you could… be so… rough,” Eliot bites out between kisses, Quentin wondrously devouring his breath.

Quentin leans upwards on the tips of his toes to lick the shell of Eliot’s ear, nibbling at the sensitive lobe. “I think you like it a little more than you let on,” Quentin breathes, enjoying beyond measure the shiver that cascades through the taller man’s body. His cock was pressing sweetly into Quentin’s hip, letting him know just how much he liked it. 

“What gave it away?” he mocked, a hint of a chuckle breaking his lips that Quentin could feel brushing the exposed skin of his neck. It sent a tingling down his spine, through his veins, sparking in his chest. His cock throbbed impatiently, a sole reminder of what he needed.

“I don’t know,” Quentin pondered, pretending to give it some thought. “It couldn’t have been this,” he finished, slipping his hand down the hem of Eliot’s trousers and the waistband of his underwear to grip his straining cock between restless fingers. 

He gave his cock a few slow strokes, not nearly enough to get him anywhere but more than enough to drag a few soft moans from Eliot’s mouth. “Shit, that’s so good, Q, dear God.”

“What was that?” Quentin asked, gripping his length tighter and stroking him just a little faster—enough to make him pant through the clenches of teeth.

“Fuck, Q, so good, so fucking good. Just like that, Quentin, Q,” he panted. Hearing his name like that should not have made him so undeniably hard, maybe even leaking. But it did, and he couldn't stop the moan that escaped his lips if he tried.

“I have a feeling that if I keep doing this,” Quentin starts, twisting his hand a little just to make his point, “you’re going to have a mess in your pants. So let’s get you out of them,” he suggests, removing his hand to instead wind around Eliot’s back, pulling him back to the bedroom as their lips find each other once again.

Quentin didn’t need to see to know where he was going, he’s been in Eliot’s room more than enough times to seek it blindly. They make the trip easily, stumbling into the room through the dark; completely unable to part long enough to turn on any of the lights. They make do with the faint glow of the setting sun peeking through the window, relishing in the gentle gleam before night fell upon them.

When Eliot’s legs hit the bed, Quentin pushes him down only to immediately climb on top of him, draping his body over every inch of Eliot’s in the most delicious way. “Now, what will we ever do with these?” Quentin ponders, tugging lightly at the fabric of Eliot’s pants. “They look a lot better off than they do on.”

“Why don’t you take them off then?” Eliot taunts, voice low and deep in Quentin’s ear. 

He runs his fingers over the unmistakable tent in his pants, cupping softly, teasingly. Eliot sighs in a memorable way, head thrown back on one of the various pillows covering the bed. Quentin could tease Eliot like this forever, he could take his time and truly drag this out. But he doesn’t have the patience nor the tolerance for that right now, all he wants to do is rip his clothes off and feel the adrenaline of skin touching skin and bodies groping bodies. 

So he does, he pulls Eliot’s pants off and then his own, tossing his shirt off somewhere in the mix. But that’s as long as he can part with the addictive rush of skin and sex, readily crawling back towards Eliot on the bed. He was deftly unbuttoning his shirt as Quentin thoroughly kissed his enthralling lips, the impatience growing tenfold in the mere seconds since he had stripped down to bare skin. 

Eliot moaned into his mouth—or maybe that was Quentin—and melted into the bruising force of Quentin’s lips. He didn’t see, but rather felt when Eliot’s shirt had left the equation, feeling the tufts of hair on his chest brush the roaming pads of his fingers. 

They kissed like they would never be able to again, like it would sizzle out if they even thought about stopping. It was rough and sloppy and deep, fueling a desperate itch beneath Quentin’s skin. It was littered with a breathless hunger he couldn’t recall ever feeling before.

Eliot made a pleased sound, pulling away to plant fervent kisses along Quentin’s jaw. “What do you want, Q? Do you want me inside of you, filling you so fucking good?” Eliot asked, fingers winding around to brush right over Quentin’s open hole. He shivered, pushing back just enough to make his hole clench despite himself.

It felt so impossibly good that Quentin almost gave in, he almost let Eliot do what he wanted with him. He didn’t think he would ever get tired of having Eliot inside him, such a big size stretching him open. In fact, his cock throbbed at the mere thought.

But that wasn’t what this was about.

“I want to taste you,” Quentin tells him, licking a long stripe along the jut of his collarbone. “All of you,” he adds, moving down the long length of his body. He leaves a trail of kisses as he goes—over his chest, his nipples, the flat planes of his stomach. He purposefully moves around his cock, taking note of its vast length, the wide girth, the spreading flush—everything he’s memorized a hundred times over.

He doesn’t stop until his lips are brushing the inside of his thigh, the clean, strong scent of man heady in his nose. Eliot cries out when Quentin’s teeth graze the softness there, biting gently though purposefully. It’s normally not like Eliot to cry out in bed, but this dominant side of Quentin craved it, needed it, reveled in it. Eliot’s body was all so much bigger than Quentin’s own, and something inside him keened at being able to take him apart like this, relishing in the power of being in control.

He had gotten a sweet taste of it and, like an addict, he couldn’t find it within himself to stop. He wanted more. So, naturally, he moved to the one spot that would make Eliot moan and writhe like nothing else. 

Quentin moved to mouth at the skin between his thigh and his cock, pulling one of Eliot’s balls easily into his mouth. He swirled his tongue around the sensitive, pliant skin, sucking just lightly enough for Eliot’s hands to clench the blankets with the whitest of knuckles.

“Do you like that?” Quentin moaned, pulling away to lick a single stripe up the underside of his cock, from base to tip, bottom to top.

“I love that pretty little mouth of yours. Fucking hell, Q.” That was really all the incentive he needed to swallow his cock down, as far down to the base as he could go. Eliot let out a resounding groan as his hands pulled through Quentin’s hair in opposition to the sheets.

Quentin had recently discovered that having his hair pulled—or even just played with, really—turned him on a lot more than it should, more than he ever knew. So could he really be blamed for bucking his hips into the mattress, hard and leaking cock rubbing between body and blanket? He moaned helplessly around Eliot’s length, listening to the heavy breaths and soft whimpers resonating from above.

Quentin bobbed his head up and down vigorously, letting his tongue work the underside of his cock. The salty-sweet taste of Eliot lingered inextricably on his taste buds, simple but exotic in a way that made Quentin want to do this, want more, as if the sweet sounds slipping from Eliot’s lips weren’t enough.

His size was too big for Quentin to swallow entirely, but he covered the areas he simply couldn’t reach with the stroke of his hand. He alternated between sucking the tip with an energetic vigor and taking his whole cock, hand deftly working the solid base. “You feel so- so good, your mouth is so good,” Eliot groaned, words coming out in a marred haze. “Keep going, baby, fuck.” 

Quentin’s cock throbbed at being called such names, helpless to do anything but moan, the sweet vibrations in the back of his throat blasting down the sensitive nerves of Eliot’s hard length. He could feel the pleasure mounting, beginning to coil within his very core. His senses were overwhelmed with the intensity of so much touch, so much sound—Eliot’s fingers swimming through his hair, his cock digging into the friction of the mattress, the wretched moans floating through the air. It could have been him and it very well could have been Eliot.

It was most definitely both of them.

Eliot’s muscles were quivering beneath Quentin’s touch, tense with an approaching wave of release. His hips thrust upwards into the heat of Quentin’s mouth, a gentle push, but enough to make him choke. It wasn’t much, but it was enough.

He just choked on Eliot’s massive, hard dick.

“Shit, Quentin, I’m so sorry—”

“Do it again,” he blurts, pulling off to catch his breath. He hadn’t meant to say it, but… he wanted Eliot to make him choke with his cock, he wanted him to use Quentin’s throat to come, he wanted that dizzying rush of pleasure-pain. “Do it again,” he says once more, but this time he slides off the bed and onto the floor, kneeling in waiting.

Eliot sat up to watch him, to take him in, eventually focusing enough to make his way off the bed. He stood in front of Quentin, looking down at him with the darkest eyes he had ever yet to see. Like a blackhole, or a starless sky. Hungry all the same.

Now eye-level with his cock, Quentin took in as much as he dared, as much as he could. Eliot gasped raggedly as he enveloped his length in the hot heat of his mouth—waiting, pliant, and eager to be choked. “God, look at you, Q, so needy. You’re perfect like this, on your knees with my cock in your mouth.”

Quentin shivered at the filth of his words, eyes slipping shut with tingling lust. When Eliot finally moved, he did so gently—just a slight thrust of hips. Quentin moaned, craving the impossible burn of his throat, the ignited, dragging pressure of Eliot in his mouth. Quentin’s hands wound around to cup Eliot’s ass, pulling his hips forward to push his cock to the back of his throat. He felt full, filled with nothing but Eliot Waugh.

Seeming to get the hint, Eliot thrust forward again, slowly making a rhythm with the back of Quentin’s throat. “You’re taking my cock so well, baby, so fucking good for me,” Eliot grunted, voice slipping into the deep gravel it sometimes did when he was close—a marvel Quentin knew well. He only moaned as Eliot hit the back of his throat, fingers tightening in his hair exponentially.

It was the painful pleasure he had craved.

“I’m- I’m close, fuck,” Eliot bites out, bucking forward again and again into the wet heat Quentin all too willingly provided. He tightened his grip on Eliot’s lean hips as if to say ‘stay’, hoping against hope that Eliot wouldn’t pull away. “Do you want a taste?” he asked, and Quentin thought he might just explode if he didn’t. He wanted to taste all of Eliot, he wanted to sear the flavors on his tongue, to savor the saltiness of masculinity. 

Quentin nodded as well as he could with his mouth filled, flitting his eyes up to Eliot, conveying lust, desire, want. Yes. 

Eliot groans as his eyes meet Quentin’s, curls bouncing around his cheeks in the most mesmeric way. He bucks forward into Quentin’s mouth one last time, hips stuttering as he released into the waiting, eager heat. Eliot’s eyes twitched shut, clenching over black pupils and slight hazel irises, plainly lost in the feeling of numbing pleasure. His cock jerked lightly in Quentin’s mouth as he sucked him through the waves, swallowing anything and everything he had to offer.

When he eventually pulled away, Eliot sighed contentedly. “I think you need a reward for all of that,” he drawls, and winds his hands around the broad width of Quentin’s shoulders. He pulls him off the ground, off of his knees, and moves them until they’re laying leisurely on the bed. His cheeks were pink with spreading flush, breath coming heavy with the beads of sweat clinging to the roots of his hair. But Eliot had never been a selfish lover, and so he began to stroke Quentin’s cock with an energetic vigor like he wasn’t completely exhausted and sexually drained. 

He had been close before Eliot had even laid a hand on him, but now Quentin’s nerves were alive with the ferocious pleasure. It felt as if his senses had heightened tenfold, like a mind-numbing drug. But it was just Eliot’s fingers on his cock, stroking skillfully and twisting masterfully. It drove a forlorn moan from his lips, and Eliot was there quickly to swallow it up.

The salty taste of him was still heady and potent in Quentin’s mouth, but Eliot licked eagerly inside anyway as if to chase the blended flavors of Quentin and Eliot combined. “You were so fucking good for me, baby,” Eliot says against the plushness of lips. He moves to leave a fiery trail of kisses along his jaw, his cheek. “I can feel how much you wanna come,” he murmurs then, the low huskiness of his voice bringing him that much closer to that burning edge. He could fall off at any moment, leaving nothing but smoke.

Eliot’s hand picks up speed, his thumb shifting to rub over Quentin’s heavily leaking slit. Every time his hand moved over the most sensitive spot—the one right before the head of his cock—his grip would tighten and Quentin would groan gutturally. Eliot knew every overly-responsive spot on Quentin by now, and he used that to his advantage rather well. Incredibly well, who was he kidding?

Sometimes Eliot liked to use this knowledge to tease him, to brush over every hyperactive nook of skin just to get him hard and leaking. But now… now, his lips settled at the soft spot right beneath his jaw, biting marks there as his other hand tangled in Quentin’s now-tousled hair. “I- fuck, so… so close,” Quentin whimpers out. 

It was embarrassing how close he already was, how close he was before Eliot even touched him. But Eliot only licked open-mouthed kisses into his neck, biting out soft sounds of encouragement. “You’re so fuckin’ hot like this, Q. So close just from my hand. I could watch you like this forever; red-cheeked and moaning with your cock in my hand, my mouth.”

Quentin bucked his hips into Eliot’s pumping hand, drowning in the waves of pleasure surging through his very essence. “I’m gonna- fuck, Eliot, I’m so- so close,” he managed to stutter out. His words weren’t coming out properly—hell, his brain wasn’t even working properly. 

“Come on, Q, come for me, baby,” Eliot coaxes, and the way he twists his hand just right, the way he nibbles gently on his earlobe, the way his breath tingles the shell of his ear pushed Quentin completely over the edge.

He shuddered out Eliot’s name as he came in hot ropes coating his bare stomach, Eliot’s stroking hand, his own cock. This feeling never got old, Eliot never failed to provide the most mind-numbing orgasms Quentin had ever had. That was why this was so addictive, partly why he couldn’t stop doing this. The other part, however, was simply just because of Eliot himself.

He radiated an unfailable grace in everything he did—even just by existing— and their sexual activities were no different. Sure, anyone could give Quentin a hand job, but Eliot was certain with every move he made, moving tactfully and seamlessly. He knew exactly how to take Quentin apart in just about every way imaginable—with his lips, his hands, his mouth, his eyes, his cock. And he never faltered or hesitated, he knew what he wanted to do and he did it with the same charisma like with everything else he did. That was just a part of Eliot, what made him so… magnetic, alluring. 

It was also why a simple hand job with Eliot was better than any sex he’s ever had with anyone else.

“That was… wow,” Quentin concludes, brain too wrapped in bliss to remember what words were. 

Eliot’s hand slowly halts to a stop once Quentin’s skin begins to shy away from pleasurable and creep to oversensitive. “Mm,” Eliot confirms, “Yeah, it was.” He runs a hand through Quentin’s hair one last time before getting up from the bed, reaching for the neat stack of washcloths he now kept in his bedside drawer. They’ve done this enough times to be prepared by now and Quentin can admit that it’s come in handy on several occasions. Like right now, as he watches Eliot wipe away the remains of Quentin’s own release.

He tosses the gently-used washcloth towards Quentin, sticky with his own remnants. Apparently he had gotten more on Eliot than he had thought.

He cleans himself off as Eliot stands and stretches, arms soaring through the air as his taut muscles relax. Every long, lean plane of his skin was exposed, from the tendons in his neck to the smooth lines of his calves. There was no trace of the sun outside, for it had already set. Only the pale gleam of the moon and shimmering stars illuminated his profile, rolling off of him in tens of beams through the bare window.

Quentin couldn’t help but think he looked almost angelic as their eyes collided, Eliot’s signature, lazy smirk coating his lips. “I think I need a shower, I still feel kind of… dirty. You’re welcome to join me,” he drawls, and Quentin still couldn’t figure out for the life of him how even after they had both gotten off, Eliot still made him want to jump his bones in the most nonchalant, infuriating way imaginable. That was just Eliot, and Quentin was immutably helpless to his charms. 

This, however, may be the first time since he’s met Eliot that he somehow, someway, doesn’t fall into the existential orbit of his seduction. “I’m actually really, well, um, just tired… I think. I don’t want to keep you too long, anway,” he explains, beginning to work his way off the bed.

“I’m not gonna make you shower with me, Q,” Eliot laughs. Quentin stops to watch him, having stopped making his way to stand. Something shifts in his eyes, or at least so Quentin thought. But it was gone so quickly that it couldn’t have possibly been there in the first place, there was hardly enough light to see clearly anyway. A trick of the light—of the moon, maybe.

But when he speaks again his voice takes on the same note his eyes had gleamed only moments before. Precarious, unsteady. Troubled. “But you don’t have to go. Stay.”

Quentin faltered. It’s not like he hadn’t stayed here before, this wasn’t just a one-night stand. This was Eliot, also known as one of his favorite people, his best friend. Someone he trusts more than he’s ever known how to before.

Maybe he could stay. He shouldn’t, but… he wants to. Even if he couldn’t admit that. “Okay,” Quentin finds himself saying. “No promises that I’ll be awake when you get out, though.” 

Eliot laughs, the same bell-chime laughter that had the power to chase any worry away. It was oddly relieving, though Quentin didn’t know if it was him or Eliot that was so. 

He’s left to his thoughts as Eliot washes off, close enough to the bathroom to hear the rhythmic spray of the water. The apple spice of the sheets was a liberating comfort Quentin hadn’t known he had needed. He let it wash over him, let the acquainted scent cling to his skin as he lay in the vast space of bed and sheets. 

It was oddly soothing being wrapped up in apple and darkness and Quentin found himself feeling glad that he had stayed. But something wasn’t sitting right with him, as it hasn’t been since the club. He had seen Eliot with another man, and that had awoken something dire inside of him. Indignant, choleric, livid. 

They hadn’t really been doing anything besides innocently flirting, but that wasn’t the point. It was the very real realization that had come with seeing it—the knowledge that it could go beyond flirtation. Quentin had been slammed into the fine print of this reality right then and there.

He had known somewhere deeply repressed that this was always a possibility, that all the cards were on the table with a situation like theirs. But tonight he had been forced to acknowledge the somber fears eating away inside his head, the ones he had grown good at ignoring. And he had acted without thinking, using the anger surging through him… the fear.

He had pounced on Eliot in a way that wasn’t like him—in a demanding, dominant way. Not that they hadn’t gotten a good time out of it, but… that wasn’t Quentin’s biggest concern. The point was that his first instinct had been to seduce Eliot into bed when that was exactly the thing that had put all of these hushed fears into his head in the first place. Because the harsh reality was that he wanted Eliot to want him for more than just sex, as more than just a friend with… benefits. 

Quentin had thought that sex was better than nothing at all, but he couldn’t have been more wrong. It was like dangling his greatest desires in front of him with nothing to hold on with, unable to grasp the manifestation of the aspirations he dreamed. It was like walking past a lemonade stand on a steaming day with no money. It was unimaginably frustrating to be so close to everything he wanted, and yet falling just a little bit short.

Almost there, but not quite. He had said those words to Eliot earlier that day, back when they had been laying beneath the branches of a willow tree what now seemed like days ago. Almost, but not quite. If only Eliot had known just how much he meant it. 

He was living it.

Quentin had missed the telltale hiss of the shower spray shutting off somewhere miles deep in his own thoughts. Laying away from the door, he can only hear the patter of feet wading into the room instead of the sight of Eliot’s long profile. He probably wouldn’t have been able to see much in the dimness of the room anyhow, but he can imagine exactly how Eliot looks right now. Damp curls falling in tufts around his face, skin glowing pale in the moonlight beneath the silk robe he favored after showers. He would look stunning, and Quentin would be unable to look away.

Instead, he pretended to sleep as Eliot slipped into bed beside him. He had always been one for physical contact, no matter who. Margo, Julia, Quentin, he was just a touchy person in general.

Quentin had always thought that Eliot was comfortable enough with himself to be this comfortable with others, even strangers. That was just the kind of ambiance he radiated—sureness, grace, confidence. But after learning about Eliot’s past today, Quentin thinks he might just be trying to piece himself together with the solace of others’ touch.

So when he slid under the blankets next to Quentin, draping his arm around his chest like he’s done a million times, Quentin let him.

He eventually falls asleep like that—closer to Eliot than anything but farther away than he’s ever been, wondering if sex was really all there would ever be to real-life drama of Quentin and Eliot. 

He met her in a bookstore. It had rained throughout the June day, sprinkling the city streets with puddles of water. Ferocious gray clouds obscured the sun and cried full tears onto a busy Manhattan below. It was exactly the kind of weather that made Quentin want to curl up in bed with a good book, a steaming cup of coffee, and a supersized sweater. 

And he had done just that, rereading the second Fillory and Further book and listening to the pitter-pattering of the rain outside. He had read the story that had given him hope as a child, especially when he couldn’t see it in the real world. He had found that spark within the Chatwins and the Watcher Woman and just the idealistic belief of magic. 

It was then that Quentin realized some kids had never had that relief. Fillory had saved his life when he didn’t think it held any meaning for him. But magic had given it a meaning—the unfailing hope of something purer beyond anything he had known.

Eliot had never had that.

His dad had hit him for reading Snow White and he hadn’t had any kind of solace to guide him as a child, nothing to show him that maybe magic did exist, that just because he was down didn’t mean he couldn’t get back up. 

Quentin wanted to give Eliot that chance, even if it was a late one. It wasn’t too late, though, he at least deserved the opportunity to have a missing piece of a childhood he hadn’t had. A childhood that was taken from him.

So that was how Quentin ended up wading through the city crowd that particular Friday afternoon, umbrella leading the way to his favorite bookstore in Manhattan. It also helped that it was only a ten minute walk from his apartment.

He had been coming to The Order since he was a little kid, strolling the aisles with his dad on the search for a new book. He had always ended up coming back to Fillory and Further no matter how many books he read, but the calming air of a bookstore had always been like a home away from home.

The clean, new smell of fresh pages engulfed him as he entered the store, like a whole other world away from the rainy bustle of the streets. This had been his safe haven as a kid, he knew it as well as he knew his childhood bedroom or current apartment. His legs carried him exactly where he wanted to go, like an automatic autopilot mechanism hardwired in the chemistry of his brain.

He strolled past Zelda, giving her a slight wave as he passed. She smiled at him and Quentin almost felt like he was eight again, wandering through these doors for the first time and discovering he had an undying love for reading—for stories. Zelda had helped him to find Fillory for the first time and had watched him grow up in the sanctuary of these walls from afar. She had been here for as long as Quentin could remember. 

Julia and his father may not be here, but maybe not all of his childhood was gone, after all.

In what seemed like the blink of an eye he was in the Fantasy section, breathing in the crisp pages of fresh paper. Colors popped out at him from all angles, vibrant hues in every color of the rainbow manifesting in its own form of magic. There were emerald dragons, golden-eyed monsters, devil-red spirits, humanoid creatures ablaze with flames not red, but blue. 

Anything was possible in this world—well, this section at least—and Quentin breathed the envisage like air. 

He grabbed the whole Fillory and Further series from its shelf, intending to share some of the magic that had gotten him through the hardest years of his life. It somehow seemed fitting to give Eliot his own copies, for him to have something entirely new but so worn with love. A new childhood, perhaps. The infamous, missing one he so yearned for.

Quentin took stock of the weighted pages in his hands, all five books accounted for. He turned to leave, only to find a girl observing him thoughtfully. “Have you heard the rumors of a sixth book?” she asked, and Quentin’s breath caught. She was talking about Fillory. 

“Of course, I’ve read all the conspiracies about Plover’s missing book. It’s fascinating, really, how much more could be out there that we know nothing about,” Quentin explained, gesturing largely to the books in his arms. Christopher Plover had written five particularly amazing books, but the speculation of a sixth one had brought along so many further hopes and ideas that he couldn’t even begin to name.

“At this point, I’m willing to write the sixth book myself. I can’t get enough of the magic,” she laughs, her eyes lighting up with something Quentin knew all too well. Passion. She was startlingly beautiful, despite all the ways she tried to hide it. Her clothes were purposefully concealing to hide as much skin as possible, though it didn’t do much to disguise her heavy chest. Light blonde strands of hair fell over the strong line of her jaw, straighter than Quentin’s sexualtiy. But something about this girl generously reminded Quentin that he liked both men and women, and that was nothing to be ashamed of.

Sky blue eyes hid behind the safety of glasses, but the vivid color was hard to miss. They shone with a calculating curiosity, intense but in a way that drew Quentin in—unlike Margo, who sometimes made him want to hide, no matter how much he adored her.

“I’m Alice,” she introduces with the beginnings of a smile, silvery hair falling in tendrils across her face.

“Quentin,” he says, and for a moment can only smile. “Well, Alice, if you ever write that book I’ll buy the first copy,” he laughs, and for a moment forgets who he is, what he’s doing, where he is, when Alice smiles.

“Actually, why don’t you buy me dinner instead?” She spoke with a confidence that surprised Quentin entirely. She may have hid her body well, but she let her personality shine bright. Her steel blue eyes were strikingly intense, but radiated a boldness he could only dream of possessing. 

“Yeah- um, yes, uh… what are you doing, um, tonight?” Quentin stumbles out, because he wasn’t the kind of guy that girls sought out—or men, for that matter. He was dorky and his hair was definitely too long and he struggled to put cohesive words together when he talked. And Alice was undeniably beautiful, a girl about forty times out of his league—probably most guys’ leagues. 

But here she was anyway, talking to Quentin about Fillory (which was like a nerdgasm all on its own) and asking him on a date. “Well now I’m going to dinner with you,” she clarifies, and Quentin is half-tempted to pinch himself because there is no way that this is real. Things like this just don’t happen to him.

Alice pulls out a pen from her pocket, casually grabbing Quentin’s hand. “There,” she says as she finishes drawing on his skin, “Call me.” Upon closer inspection, he can clearly make out ten neat digits on his hand that would inevitably spell out a phone number.

“I could have just given you my phone, you know,” Quentin laughs, still slightly certain that this was all a hallucination. But this probably wasn’t something his brain would make up, no one has ever written their phone number on his hand before. That only happened in movies, and he was certainly not a movie star.

“Yeah, but I’ve always wanted to do that,” Alice admits, eyes darting around sheepishly. Quentin had an urge to know what went on in that brain of hers—one minute confident and intense and the next withdrawn and shy. She was a mystery that he couldn’t quite figure out just yet.

But he wanted to.

“I actually have to get these to someone,” Quentin says, gesturing to the books he was still holding. It wasn’t until then that he remembered why he was here, what he was doing. He had come here for Eliot.


What would Quentin even say to him? The thought brought a wave of horrific terror, and for a split second he was overcome with the realization that he was cheating on Eliot.

But then the image of Eliot and the man from the club—Sebastian, he thinks it was—pops dutifully into his head. Eliot opened flirted with other men, he had made it clear from the beginning that this was all just sex to him, that a relationship wasn’t something that they could have. Eliot didn’t want him like that, Quentin was just idiotic enough to. 

Quentin wasn’t cheating on him, no—he couldn’t do that when this wasn’t anything more than simple pleasure. So if Eliot could have his fun with other men, then Quentin could surely go on a date, right? He couldn’t keep up these unhealthy feelings, they would inevitably get in the way of their friendship and everything they had built. Losing Eliot simply wasn’t an option. 

So he would have to push away his feelings and live in the moment, just like he was doing now. “But I’ll see you tonight?” Quentin asks, and tries to convince himself that this was necessary. Healing was sometimes painful, he knew that more than anything.

“Tonight,” Alice confirms, and parts with one last, shy smile.

He watches her go, sun-kissed hair flowing silkily to brush her shoulders. But as Quentin turns to leave, something else catches his attention.

A fairy tale. 

He reaches for one last book—something that wasn’t precisely unique to him, but rather to Eliot. Something Quentin knew without a doubt he would like. A stolen piece of innocence.

He wondered then if he would ever be able to get over these feelings for Eliot, the irrevocable way they consumed him. He had just gotten a date with a striking woman, and yet here he was, still thinking about Eliot. It was always about Eliot, wasn’t it?

A part of him knew that he would never be able to really, fully let go of him. Not in the way he needed to. Eliot turned his world, and he couldn’t bear to face what happened when it stopped spinning.

Quentin pays for the books almost mechanically, handing Zelda his credit card and praying to a questionable God that it didn’t decline. But, as it would turn out, luck was on his side with the cheerful beep of his purchase going through. He might not be able to afford groceries for the next week, but that was a price he was willing to pay.

Quentin wandered back through the dreary streets, carrying the bag of books under his shirt until he reached his apartment complex. He probably looked ridiculous, but Manhattan had seen much worse than a strangely overprotective man.

He felt it was safe to pull the books out from their clothed shelter once he entered the refuge of the building, safe from the falling drops of rain outside. He made his way languidly up the stairs to his third floor apartment… only to find it had been unlocked. Quentin was sure he had locked it when he left, he was almost certainly positive.

His brain immediately jumped to the conclusion that there was someone in his apartment, probably stealing his things as he stood there. There wasn’t much to take—just a few boxes of noodles, some old jeans and hoodies, his collection of books—but it was his. It was all he had, and he wouldn’t let anyone take that from him.

Quentin threw the door open, steeling himself for confrontation with the point of his apartment key. It was the only weapon he had on him—if it could even be considered that. It was more of just a very small, pointed object that could probably buy him a maximum of three seconds in a life-or-death situation.

He crept into the small apartment, looking around for any sign of intrusion. “Took you long enough,” he heard, resounding through the small space. Whipping his head around, Quentin almost screamed at the sight of a man lounging on his couch. That is, until he took note of the dark curls, the lazy smirk, the obnoxiously lengthy legs. “Eliot,” Quentin breathed out, relief coursing through his body. “How did you…?”

“Get in here?” he finished with a laugh. “Long story short, I had a very… fascinating dream.” Eliot smiles, wolf and devil mixing as one. “I texted but you didn’t answer, so I thought I’d pay you a visit. You should really find a better place to keep a spare key than beneath your doormat, don’t you know that’s the first place everybody looks?”

“You… broke into my apartment?” Quentin asks, stumbling forward to where Eliot loosely lounged. He wasn’t mad, Eliot would never mean any harm. He was just surprised to see him here and now as the adrenaline slowly fled his veins.

“Not breaking in, just… visiting,” Eliot quips, elongating to stand at full height. Lean legs carried him the rest of the way to Quentin, sauntering over as casual as could be. “I missed you,” he fesses, pulling Quentin in close, books long forgotten.

He leans down to plant his lips to Quentin’s neck, to taste the exposed skin there. “I missed your neck,” he murmurs against his pulse point, positive that Eliot could feel the hammering of his heart beneath his lips. “I missed your cute little ears,” he whispers against the shell, nibbling gently on the lobe in the way he knew made Quentin weak in the knees. And, finally, “I missed your lips.”

Eliot finally shifts to slot their mouths together, delving his tongue into Quentin the second he opens up. He tasted like apples, just like he always did, the telltale sign he had been drinking. Apple juice, that was.

Quentin melts into Eliot, into his roaming hands and addicting lips. He didn’t care that this was a booty call, or rather… a booty visit, not when it felt so mind-numbingly euphoric. He didn’t care about anything, really, other than the deft fingers tugging at his shirt.

Eliot pulled away just enough to tug up the hem of the fabric, foreplay be damned. Quentin moved to help the process, hands fumbling over the buttons on Eliot’s vest. If he had learned one thing, it was that undressing him could be quite the task—taking up the time that Quentin would rather spend beneath him.

But then Eliot stopped, letting Quentin’s shirt fall back into place. “What’s this?” he asked, catching Quentin’s hand in his. He flipped it over a few times, to the back and then to the palm. He studied the writing there, eyebrows furrowing like he couldn’t quite make sense of what he was seeing—or just didn’t rather want to.

If he was being honest, Quentin had completely forgotten about his plans with Alice the second he had caught sight of Eliot sprawled on his couch. But now it was all rushing back to him—the beautiful girl in the bookstore, the date he had tonight. How could he have forgotten so quickly? He had taken one look into those gleaming eyes and forgotten every reason he needed to stop this. It was hard when no other person could ever compare to Eliot Waugh, when no other soul shone so brightly.

“Um, that’s a phone number,” Quentin states, like that wasn’t bitingly obvious. “Of the girl I’m taking to dinner tonight.” He had meant to sound confident, yet somehow it still came out sheepish. Because he still cared what Eliot thought, he still wanted Eliot to feel something. Anything.

Eliot nodded, like that made perfect sense. “Dinner, as in a date?” he asks. His eyes, the hazel that normally showed Quentin every thought, every feeling, were now blank. Impassive, like he had rebuilt his walls just when Quentin had finally broken them down.

“Yeah, um, a date,” he confirms, seeking any flash of emotion, any flicker that told him how Eliot felt. But none ever came. 

Some part (every part) of Quentin was silently hoping that Eliot would tell him not to go, talk some sensible clarity into him and tell him he was making a horrible mistake. He wished upon every star this man had shown him that he would finally tell Quentin that he wanted to be with him. That he wanted him.

“You should go for it,” Eliot said instead, letting Quentin’s hand drop back to his side. He smiled, though it wasn’t quite right. It wasn’t a smirk or the devilish grin he had come to know, and it didn’t quite reach his eyes. The honey had stopped flowing, molding into a slow, sticky syrup. 

For once, Quentin couldn’t tell what he was thinking.

“Well, I think I should let you get pampered for your date. I’ll leave you to it.” Eliot pulled away, leaving a cold air in the warm place he had just been. Quentin could see him buttoning up his vest as he walked away, and for a second he almost called out to him. He almost told him not to go, he almost told him to stay.

Almost. With Eliot, that was all he knew.

Quentin watched with an empty chest as he gently shut the door behind him, his heart breaking the only sound to be heard once the wooden echoes died. He was gone, and that was that—even though the only thing he wanted was for Eliot to stay. Stay a minute, stay the day, stay the night.


But somewhere deep in a place he kept locked away, he knew he had made the right decision. He knew because it hurt, and hurting meant healing. Eliot didn’t care for Quentin like he wanted him to, like he needed him to. He would only ever see him as a friend, and he had finally been able to admit what he had feared for so long.

The in between was all there was for them. A reality that held only pain in the way they cared for each other, but all the things he would never be to Eliot. The most painful thing, however, was letting go. Quentin had held on to things not meant for him for much too long. 

He thinks, somewhat forlornly, that he might need Alice more than ever. If only to let go of the broken and reach for the new.