“What do you need, baby?”
Quentin is huddled in on himself, the whole of his body shoved between the couch cushions of the new sectional. Most of the weighted blanket Eliot got him for Christmas is covering the couch pile so that all Eliot can really see is Quentin’s mess of hair, his eyes, and the glow from his phone. There’s a movement of eyebrows. “‘M fine.”
“Can I get you anything?”
“No,” he says, surly, sinking deeper into the couch puddle. The cat, having spotted her target, leaps from the floor and prances along the back of the couch, stretching and digging her claws into the teal velvet fabric. She settles on a spot near Quentin’s shoulder, butting up against him and starting to purr immediately. Between Q and Izzy, Eliot’s classy Joybird furniture will be ruined before they finish unpacking the moving boxes. He should have gone with pet-and-Quentin resistant fabrics, he thinks. Rather too belatedly.
“I was going to make the grilled chicken with red potatoes and fresh green peas.” Eliot watches him from the corner of his eye as he wipes down the counter: He didn’t think it was possible, but now he can only see honey-colored hair and cat.
He can see it when Quentin hears him, a slight shift in the blanket. “Yeah, ok.”
Shockingly, neither Quentin nor Izzy moves during Eliot’s dinner prep. If anything, Q sinks deeper into the couch, making a permanent home for himself in the cushions. Eliot rather theatrically cleans off the kitchen table— also new, a farmhouse table that Eliot found at an antique shop in Queens, distressed by time, character coursing through its dark maple whorls. And Quentin, if Eliot has to forcibly drag and/or levitate him from the couch, is sitting at the fucking table for dinner.
He knows he’s in for a barrage of apologies and justifications once he starts poking, so he reserves the first prong of his plan for the very end of dinner prep. Chicken preserved with aluminum foil and a heating spell, potatoes nestled warm in the pressure cooker, Eliot strains the peas, and after, noisily sets the table.
“You talked to Theresa?”
Eliot can feel Quentin rolling his eyes. “Yes. Appointment tomorrow.” Q’s voice is muffled, the syllables lightly clipped when he speaks. “I’m taking care of myself.”
“Possibility of changing up the—”
“My meds are fine.”
“We can get a refill of that mood tincture from the potion place. Helped last time.”
He can almost feel the things Quentin wants to say, remnants of the conversations they used to have. Leave me the fuck alone, Eliot. And later. I’m not good enough to be in a relationship with anyone— I have no fucking clue why you put up with this—
“Yeah,” he says instead. There’s movement beneath the blanket; he can hear Quentin crunching the fabric, the heavy glass beads inside crunching against one another. “It helped some.”
“I can go by tomorrow.”
Another pause. “Yeah. Okay.”
“You’re eating at the table,” Eliot says, standing in full view of the sofa. The cat catches him in her cool blue stare. It’s all over for her when Eliot gets the puppy he’s been lobbying for. Honestly, it’s probably all over for the puppy. Izzy knows who’s top bitch in the house already. And it’s definitely not Eliot.
“Can’t I just— I packed the TV trays. I haven’t been able to find them—”
“I threw them out.”
“What the fuck—”
“They’ve moved through three apartments now. One of them doesn’t stand anymore. In case you haven’t noticed, we have a house. And I’d like to use the table I very lovingly refinished.”
“I don’t have a choice, do I?”
“No,” Eliot says. He flicks his wrist, and the weighted blanket slings itself over the back of the couch. Quentin is still wearing a pair of Eliot’s sleep pants and the same tattered Fillory shirt he wore to sleep the first night Eliot stayed over at his apartment.
Dinner is mostly fine. Izzy paces around the table, turning her nose up at her own food until Eliot gives her a tiny bite of chicken and gets up to let her on the porch. It’s late spring, so she finds the final sunbeam of the day and flops down in it, kicking her fluffy white legs out behind her. Eliot talks aimlessly about redoing the porch, tearing out the astro turf-y plastic carpet that’s probably been there since 1975, replacing the screens with actual walls and putting in skylights and a heater and air conditioner to make it a four-season sunroom. Quentin makes a few teasing comments about Eliot’s sudden enthusiasm for home renovation— the best he can muster, Eliot knows, given the circumstances.
Eliot tries to quell the creeping sensation that’s come and gone a few times a year since he first got to know Quentin. Nothing has ever been as bad as the first low he reached after they moved to the first apartment in Brooklyn. After Ted died. It had been bad for Eliot, too— Ted was the only adult family Eliot ever really had, and Eliot had belonged to Ted as soon as Quentin started bringing him home for holidays and long weekends.
They’d been as prepared as they could be to lose Ted, but no one is ever really prepared for that kind of loss. Eliot had thought— he’d thought he might lose Quentin that year. Just because— Q couldn’t trust that Eliot would keep loving him through his grief and the riptide-pull of his depression, the hyper swirls of his anxiety, his inability to care for himself in the deepest valleys of grief. There were days when he had to peel Quentin out of his clothes and push him into the shower, waiting by the door for signs of life. He’d had to feed Quentin milkshakes so he got calories in his body, drive him to New Jersey to get his meds refilled. And for a long time— there was no end in sight. So long, in fact, that when it ended, and Quentin came out on the other side, Eliot met his own grief, sharp and unexpected.
It wasn’t that Eliot couldn’t handle it when Quentin was at his lowest— it was more his terror that Quentin wouldn’t come back. His Quentin. The one he fell in love with, the man he knew he was going to marry from their first week together. And then they would never return to what they were becoming. A selfish sentiment, he knew. One that haunted him for a long time before he began to understand who he is, who they are together.
There’s a bit of that panic now, but they’ve been through this. They’ve endured far worse storms. They’ve been through it with Quentin, and Eliot’s always been— Eliot. He might not break in the same ways Quentin does, but his breaks have been just as fierce, his self just as buried. They know how to do this. They’ve done hard things. They can keep doing them.
“Baby,” Eliot says.
Quentin looks up at him; dark circles, like bruises, sit beneath his eyes. The chicken is half eaten, the potatoes poked at, and most of the peas gone. That’s something— at least. “I’m sorry,” Quentin says, his eyebrows arching into little loops. “I just— I keep going over and over the— fucking warning signs with the shop. And the finances. And the fucking— cracked foundation, for fuck’s sake. I’m a mender. I should have— felt it. I should have known. And now I don’t— I don’t even have a job.”
Eliot nods because he seems to remember Quentin melting down at one point about Eliot trying to fix his shit. So he just listens.
“And we’re supposed to be adults— but like, we just moved in here, and we’re getting married and— I don’t have shit to do but like— look out the window.”
“We have money, Q. We’re okay. We’ve got a house, we’ve got each other.”
“Yeah but— I’m just. Useless.” A crease forms between his brows.
“You were going to take care of the puppy when we adopt. Water my herbs. Look attractive on my arm at parties.”
Quentin rolls his eyes like— like he can’t imagine why Eliot would take him to a party. Why he keeps coming home to Quentin, keeps wanting him. They’ve been through this— so many times.
“I’m supposed to— do something with my education from Brakebills. Okay? Like. I’m supposed to— I was supposed to keep the shop running, keep expanding and—taking new clients.” He rakes his hand through his hair, his fingers trembling. “I was supposed to—”
“You don’t have a physical location for the shop anymore because the previous owner didn’t tell us the foundation was sinking. And that’s one of those things magic can’t fucking fix. No matter how many patches they did. And you haven’t stopped working. You’re just working from home. It’s a— setback. Not a life sentence.”
Quentin scowls at him, but after a moment, he pushes out a breath and lets his face soften. “I know— it’s just my brain. You know— like. They tell you therapy and meds are the, like, keys to the universe. And then you’re like the happy pod person smiling in his kayak on the commercial for Effexor.”
“Okay,” Eliot says carefully. They’ve been through some version of this before, but the kayak— that’s new.
“And then, like. They don’t tell you that, like, you might be able to get in the kayak and, like, force a smile? But the kayak is still headed for fucking waterfalls and rapids and shit. And you— you just never know when they’re fucking coming or how bad they’re going to be. Like maybe all the like— good, helpful shit is like a life jacket, but like the kayak is ripped to shreds and there’s a fucking— angry bear on one shore and a moose on the other.” Quentin pauses and fiddles with his fork, poking at a potato. “You know, moose are actually more dangerous than bears.”
“I feel like you’ve mentioned that. But not in the context of a metaphor for life.”
Quentin cracks a smile. “I just hate— hate that I get like this and you have to force me to shower and eat. Like I’m turning thirty-one this summer. I should know how to manage myself when something major happens. I’m on fucking three different meds—”
“And they work, Q. You figured out something that works. After— a lot of trial and error.”
“Yeah, and, like. What’s the end result? I’m not going to drive off a cliff. That’s like— the long and the short of the guarantee.”
Eliot gives him a little nod. “You can sit at the table and pick up your fork. You can actually get out of bed, stand up for a shower. You can do your mending work. And feed Izzy. Q, look at me.”
Quentin looks up, focusing on Eliot. His eyes look about thirty seconds from glassing over entirely, but he’s trying, tuning in for a moment. “Yeah?”
“You’ve done all the things you’re supposed to do. Okay? You’re doing the right things. It’s just that life isn’t going to stop being— an angry bear.”
The corner of Quentin’s mouth quirks into a smile, but there’s still a worry line between his brows. “Yeah. I know it’s not. But I thought— I got to this point in life. Like I have all these skills, and I’m really— like, contrary to what I thought when I was at Brakebills, especially compared to Julia and Alice— I’m not half bad at magic. And I’m really fucking good at mending. I had a good business running and I have—” Quentin swallows, blinking a little, dabbing at the corners of his eyes with a napkin. “—you. I never— when we met, I never thought you’d give me a chance. Like you were— unattainable. But, somehow, I have you. And you— you love me for reasons that I— I really have a hard time identifying on my best fucking days.”
“That’s easy,” Eliot says, reaching across the table and taking Quentin’s hand in his. “You’re very cute. And excellent in bed. Makes up for a world of sins otherwise.”
“So you say.” Quentin gestures to yourself. “I know you’re really into, like, sweaty depression Quentin. I’ll be sure to keep this in mind for the wedding. See if I can get an unwashed hoodie to go with the tux.”
“Mm,” Eliot says, thoughtful. “If we put a strategic holes in your shirt, we could make it a theme.”
Quentin shifts in his seat and squeezes Eliot’s hand. “I don’t even know why— I don’t know why anyone would want me. Not when I’m— like this. When I’m— Eliot, I’m always going to break the fuck down like this. I’m always going to— like. Lose my shit. It’s just going to keep happening.”
“Baby. I don’t think you’re seeing yourself clearly right now. You’re— kind and—”
“I’m a dick—”
“Yeah, sometimes. And so am I. Everyone worth knowing is a little bit of a dick. And— and I love you. This is what we do for each other.”
“Can I just— I need to sit back down on the couch. Or go to bed. Please, can we—” Quentin takes a shuddering breath. “I just can’t be sitting at the fucking table anymore.”
“Sure,” Eliot says. A knot rises in his throat as he watches Quentin take his tray of mostly uneaten food to the sink and wander over to the sofa. Q squeezes himself back into the corner, nesting down with Eliot’s designer throw pillows. Before Eliot clears the table, he sends the weighted blanket back over Quentin with a quick tut. If this is what coping looks like tonight, so be it.
“Thanks,” Quentin says, his voice muffled by the layers of blankets and pillows. “I do love you. A lot.”
“I love you, too.” Something warm and complex blooms in Eliot’s chest. There’s the hint of a remembered feeling sitting just beneath it— that panic that used to hit him when they were first together and he was hit with the full force of Quentin’s love and Eliot didn’t know— because he’d never known, really— what to do with someone who loved him in quite the way Quentin did.
Eliot didn’t have a family, not a real one; he’d been disowned long before he was born. There was a period of grace, from birth until age four perhaps, where his mother, at least, had cared for him. But once it was clear that Eliot was never going to pick up a football or grow into a trucker hat, he was slowly excised from all things family. By the time he moved to New York and donned his new identity, shedding the extra L and T from his first name and swapping out his surname for something more fitting, it was like he’d never had people at all.
After his cocaine-fueled years at Purchase, he’d found Margo, freshly expelled from Brakebills and living on her father’s credit card in Soho. They’d earned their stars— Margo’s tattooed on her back in a single looping spiral, Eliot’s along both arms and across his shoulders— and eventually joined Kady’s coven. By then, he’d replaced all of Indiana with the sharp edges of the city and a group of witches as jaded and jagged as himself.
There was no doubt; they were the family he’d been bound for all along. But Quentin wasn’t like them. As fraught as Q’s childhood had been, despite the dark ravines of hospitals and clinics and medications— as lonely as his life had been— Quentin had grown up with one parent who had tried, and succeeded, in loving him. He was broken in many ways, but he had someone who cared enough to try to pick up the pieces. Quentin had known love and— maybe he didn’t quite know how at first— he wanted to create a life with his own unique brand of love, and he’d wanted, from the very start, to give that to Eliot.
The first time Quentin had said the words, lying in the dark, limbs tangled, Eliot had gone stiff in Q’s arms, cold panic flooding him. It was so different from Margo’s love, which had always been just as deep— but it was sharp and fierce and no-bullshit, tinged with a cynicism that Eliot found kinship with. She connected with the barbed parts of Eliot’s soul, the two of them bound together like velcro from the beginning. Quentin’s love had at first felt— overwhelming.
Vast and unquestioning, ceaseless in its presence, Quentin’s love had wrapped him up— not in a suffocating way, more like— opening the windows after a long summer to let in fresh, clean, autumnal air. Sinking into Quentin’s love had felt like relief, but Eliot had spent so long with his windows painted shut, his doors all locked, that he didn’t understand it, could barely make a place for it. Hey, you don’t have to say it— I just thought you should know.
He remembers the cadence of those words, the sensation of closing his eyes and feeling them, the swell of anxiety in the pit of his gut. The weeks following had been strange and disorienting, Quentin carrying on like usual, living out of a duffle bag at Eliot’s apartment and waking him up with hungry kisses— like everything was still normal, like he hadn’t turned Eliot’s world on its side in the span of five heartbeats. Quentin had set him spinning out into the unknown, still stuck inside the well protected home he’d built in his mind— but now with the windows not just raised but blown open, paralyzed as he came to understand his world was grayscale despite its shiny outward trappings— and outside of him, beyond the walls, there was color.
Quentin had often told him he didn’t know why Eliot stayed after Ted died. It was a common intrusive thought of Quentin’s during that time— not knowing why, what value Eliot saw within him. It was beyond him to comprehend why Eliot went to the trouble of finding him a hedge witch therapist, why he held Quentin’s hair after the first cocktail of antidepressants had left him dizzy and sick, why he’d pushed Quentin to shower and eat and fucking take walks that he hated. It made no sense to Quentin why someone would stay. Someone like Eliot, in particular— Quentin had said that so many times, as if Eliot were something rare and beautiful, something he didn’t quite deserve, like he saw something grand— not just in Eliot’s artifice, but in his soul.
Eliot had never bought flowers for anyone before Quentin. It was a solid month after that first I love you that he surprised Quentin with a bouquet of hydrangea and calla lilies and a dinner of seared scallops and homemade pasta, his leg twitching beneath the table the whole time they were eating. He’d waited until dessert— a slightly overbaked tiramisu— to say it back. And Quentin had said, I know you do. And he’d gestured at dinner and the bag in the corner next to Eliot’s bed in his tiny studio apartment, the pile of Quentin’s books on the nightstand. I don’t read people that well. But this is what your love looks like. I can see that.
He’d recounted that story to Quentin in the depths of his grief. And Eliot had told him— that was the end of the walls within Eliot, that they’d well and truly toppled after that, leaving him surrounded by something new. There wasn’t any going back, no turning around after that.
Eliot cleans the farm table and loads the dishwasher— a luxury they’ve never before had— and feeds Izzy, watching as she goes back to Quentin’s perch again, settling in next to him. A hand appears from the pile and scratches over her ears. Eliot sits on the other end of the sofa, stretching his legs out so that they’re shoved part of the way beneath the mountain of pillows and blankets. “You wanna watch something?”
Quentin makes a grumbling noise that might be a word or something close to it.
“Didn’t hear you.”
“Yeah, s’fine. We can. ‘M’not doing anything. Just watching TikTok.”
“Anything good?” He pokes Quentin’s leg with his foot, and the cushion-and-pillow heap twitches.
“Just— you know. Like the weekend survivalists and— I dunno. People folding laundry— they call that laundrytok— and— there are some shirts that sounded like— fine. They’re shirts but like. Good quality shirts. So I might get some, I dunno.” The pile makes a small movement, a shrug from Quentin.
“What kind of shirts were being advertised on TikTok?”
“Like, just t-shirts. Like— no logos or embellishments—”
“Ah, they sound fascinating. Right up your alley.”
Quentin snorts, lets out a little sigh. “I mean. I was just looking at them.”
“You know, I respect and fully support retail therapy, but please pick something more interesting to buy, baby. An antique vase, maybe in a cool tone— we can use at least three new picture frames in various sizes. I like that distressed look—”
“The, like, entire point of online shopping when I’m depressed is to buy stuff I actually want. Not, like, stuff to support my fiancé’s interior decorating addiction.”
“It’s not an addiction if I have the money for it.” Eliot turns on the TV, flipping through movies and shows.
“I don’t think that’s how it works,” Quentin says, a little humor winding its way into his voice. He knows Eliot is tugging at him a little, trying to bridge the dark valleys in his brain. “I think anything that, like— you press the button again and again to get dopamine— anything like that can be an addiction.” Quentin’s head pokes out over the pillows. “Like, and— there’s literally a button that you press when you’re shopping online. It’s literally a fucking— button. Pavlov would have loved fucking— PayPal. Fucking constant sedation for the masses. Distraction from the fact that capitalism—”
“Hey, how do you feel about a movie?” Eliot isn’t going down this particular road— again— so he flicks over to the movies they’ve accessed mostly illegally with a tidy little unlocking charm Eliot learned on the magical gray market. “Lost in Translation? No— don’t answer that. That’s too moody.”
“Oh. Yeah. Movie is good.”
“You can’t fall into a TikTok hole if I put on a movie.”
Eliot flicks through the movies, eliminating each one in his mind before moving on. “Ah. I’ve got just the thing.”
“What’re you— oh.” Quentin straightens up, finally poking up from the great Trash Heap couch lump, glassy eyes pointed at the TV. It was one of the movies they’d both known from start to finish, every line, every scene. One common thread between them, worlds away. “Yeah. This is good.”
“It’s a cinematic classic, my love.”
“Yeah, it’s— it’s— you know. ” Quentin says, voice soft. They’re both quiet for a bit at the opening, Eliot with his toes against Quentin’s leg, or what he can get to of it beneath his fortress of solitude. “Actual, like, happy feelings. But in screen form.”
“Better than pushing the happy button over and over, hm?”
“Yeah.” The Princess Bride opens in the grand, sweeping way that credits used to roll in the movie theater, something lost in the last— almost forty years, now since it was released.
He imagines himself and Quentin sometimes, stowed away in separate corners of their separate homes, living entirely distinct lives. Q with his absent mother and a father that at least tried to understand him, even if he didn’t manage it most of the time. Eliot, hidden from his father’s path as much as he could manage, shipped off to Vacation Bible School in the summer and 4H Club in the afternoons, anything to make him fit.
Separate lives with disparate worries; Quentin’s bolstered by threads of love, Eliot’s, not so much.
Eliot thinks sometimes about his childhood more often than he’d like to admit—he’d spent so much of his youth wondering if he’d ever meet someone he loved. By the time he escaped to New York, he’d written off the entire concept.
Indiana seemed decades behind the rest of the country in how it saw people like Eliot—not just queer but—very obviously queer, unable to hide in plaid shirts and rough jeans. Beyond that, he was painfully different, someone who stuck out in every classroom and hallway, even in the gay bar he’d made his way to when he was sixteen, just before he left it all behind. There wasn’t love to be had for people like him; his parents had been clear enough about that. He was deviant, a broken, frightening thing who had chosen the path of sin. If he couldn’t fit the mold created for him, he was nothing.
It’s funny the things you internalize—as much as he’d loathed all the hate they’d espoused, had grated against it from the time he understood what it was, it was still there within him. He’d meant to leave it behind him, smothered beneath the floorboards in his room—along with the note Seth Brohener had passed him in algebra two—but it had come along with him on the four-day bus ride to New York. It had lived within him in the first safehouse he came to, followed him to college, and later to the Brakebills exam he’d been too high to pass—and on and on, beyond that, rearing its head still despite therapy and meditation and fucking yoga, despite Quentin loving him beyond reason. It still sat there within him, an inextricable part of his history.
He’d thought, so often when he first arrived in the city, that a love like he’d imagined when he was a kid—the kind he saw in The Princess Bride, anyway— was fiction. And it is, really.
“You wanna sit with me, Q?”
There’s a shuffle in the cushions, the press of Quentin’s leg against his toes. The click of beads within the weighted blanket. “Mm, I’m—I need to shower.”
Quentin snorts at that, hands pushing the blanket off and away, and he’s just coming to Eliot in the way he has—trusting and wanting, his face soft and lovely, mouth slightly downturned in the way that Eliot finds enragingly attractive. He shouldn’t want his boyfriend—his fiancé—to look sad, but he’s beautiful because he’s Quentin and because Eliot loves him, never really stood a chance when it came down to it. The only person who’d ever made him want it enough, want to fight back, take down the nasty voice inside him that sat at his core. “Okay, I’m—I really need to wash my hair.”
“You do,” Eliot says, putting an arm around Quentin’s waist and tugging him in.
Quentin is warm and soft, and he tenses up for one moment when Eliot puts one hand on his belly. Eliot nuzzles at the back of his neck, placing a kiss at the junction of neck and shoulder. “Hmm, unwashed man. Really should put this into a room spray. Probably sell like hotcakes at the bookstore.”
“You’re fine, baby.” Eliot’s maybe a little horny for it, but he doesn’t say. That’s just not— not the mood, right now. He always smells good to Eliot, which is undoubtedly a little gross, but Eliot’s always loved boys, and Quentin is the perfect specimen of that variety of human. “And it’s doubly fine because you’re getting into the shower right after we finish this movie.” Eliot strokes his fingers over the fuzzy hair on Quentin’s arm, still holding him tight to his body. It takes a few moments, but he sighs and relaxes, letting his head loll back on Eliot’s shoulder.
“My dad got this movie for me when I was in the third grade. Like a long time before I discovered the Fillory books.” Quentin takes Eliot’s hand and clasps it in his. “I think he saw it with my mom, you know. Like in the theaters. When things were good between them.”
“My cousin had it on VHS, and we watched it in her basement during a family reunion— kids all piled on the couches together. None of the parents were really paying attention to us. Mine probably would have— well, they wouldn’t have been very happy.”
“Yeah, I can see that. Not like The Princess Bride is— all that racy. But yeah your parents. I mean. I know what you’ve told me. Sometimes I feel— it feels weird that I’ve never met them.”
“Hm, I know, baby. If any boy had a chance of winning them over, it would be you.” Eliot’s not sure if that’s actually true, but he wants to believe it, more than just about anything. It’s odd to think that, that he’d want them to like Quentin, when he rarely spares them or his brothers a daily thought. But it’s— it’s one of those things within him that’s a fact like the reality of his original name or the small, jagged voice within him that sometimes speaks in his parents’ words. More than hoping they’d like Quentin is— wishing that they were parents who had room to like anyone he brought home. Wishing for a different version of reality, one that doesn’t exist, has never existed.
Their families are limited. The wedding will be sparsely populated with actual blood relatives. Quentin’s mom, a few Coldwater cousins. But mostly their chosen family, the interwoven network of hedge witches and magicians. It’s better, he knows, to have it this way. Even if there’s an underlying current of pain in it, even if it’s not what Eliot had imagined when he’d first dreamed of love.
But he thinks— if he had parents like he ought to have had, like everyone ought to, really— the type of parents who maybe didn’t get things right all the time but tried to at least figure out how to get close enough— that mythical family of Eliot’s would have loved Quentin. All of the soft, kind things about him and his sharp edges, the way he’s never really taken any of Eliot’s shit. He feels certain— if he’d had the right kind of family, they’d have seen exactly how they fit each other. Like Margo had, with her appraising, Hm, okay, I can see it, the first time she’d met Q, when they weren’t even dating yet.
“Maybe,” Quentin says after long moments of spacing out, watching the swirl of colors on the TV screen. “I don’t know— I don’t think—” Eliot’s impulse is to stop him, prevent him from going down this road, but that’s not how they communicate, not now, not anymore. “— don’t think I’m— what you think I am.”
“Respectfully, sweetheart, you don’t get to decide how I see you.” He sweeps Quentin’s hair away from the back of his neck and kisses him there. “Your brain packs away all the good things in times like these.”
“I guess.” They’re silent for a while, images flashing across the screen, well worn words and memories, as familiar as a childhood bedroom, the clicking on of the family television, the smell of a kitchen on a Sunday morning. All those things, Eliot thinks, he left behind— but he rebuilt them here. With Quentin.
“I don’t know how you can— I mean, I don’t know why you— put up with me. Things are good and like— I’m just— things like this happen to everyone. Everyone faces loss and— like, grief. And I just can’t fucking handle it because mentally I’m still— fucking fifteen. I break down and I have to scrape up the pieces. No— it’s you scraping up the pieces most of the time. And that’s— it’s fucked up.” Quentin wiggles back against him, pulling Eliot’s arm tighter around him, like it’s the one thing that can protect him from the world, from the scraping, pointed awfulness in his mind.
“I don’t mind.” Eliot hums and pets over Quentin’s hair and the backs of his shoulders, kneading his thumb into a particularly stubborn knot until it releases, brushing his lips over the nape of Quentin’s neck. Quentin settles as best he can, head against Eliot’s shoulder, fingers laced tight with Eliot’s.
They watch the movie without extra conversation for a while, the sounds of the night blending together around them— the low rumbling of Izzy’s purring as she settles near Quentin’s shoulder, the distant passing of cars on the main thoroughfare in front of their new neighborhood— so much quieter than any of the places they lived in the city— the HVAC ticking on as the temperature falls outside, the sound of rain just starting to fall, beginning to plink against the windows.
This, Eliot thinks, is what he wanted. This, more than sex or wildness or magic or glamor— this is what had been expressly forbidden for boys like Eliot. At least— that’s what Eliot had concluded from the hellfire and damnation sermons he sat through in church, the casually cruel remarks from his parents and brothers and aunts and uncles— that this was unnatural— the simple act of holding a man he loves at his lowest point, while their cat pricks holes in the fabric of their brand new sofa in the home that they built together, watching a movie they’d both loved forever— perhaps for different reasons or perhaps for the same ones, but loving it all the same.
This was the idea he’d been raised with; it was a sin to believe that he could love, and be loved in return. Even if he never outwardly believed it, that admonishment had lived within him for long years— until Quentin had gone about the work of dismantling it, piece by piece. Until Quentin had taught him, with more patience than Eliot ever deserved, that these small acts of care and comfort are far more holy than anything taught to him by his false religion, that the people who brought him into the world were never really his family, that real family is sought out and created, that it takes effort and time and more than a little luck— that this was waiting for him. That there will always be stumbling blocks, but this— this is permanent because they have chosen to make it that way.
“Remember—” Eliot starts and then— pauses.
“I mean, I know you remember. But I have a point.”
“Okay,” Quentin says, a little amusement slipping into his voice, like he’s preparing for one of Eliot’s pep talks that he really didn’t ask for.
“The time— it was about a year after Ted died. And I— you know, he was the only real adult family I ever had.”
“Yeah— yeah, I know.”
“I held it together long enough for you to get better. And I started drinking— a lot because— not just because of that loss but because I spent months thinking I might lose you, too. And you— you had to pick me up at that magicians’ bar in midtown so they didn’t fucking— hex me. Or call the cops. You had to do that more than once.”
“Yeah,” Quentin says. “And you got better. I didn’t have anything to do with that. That was all you.”
“You are—” Eliot says, sticking his nose into Quentin’s hair— and it does smell a bit musky and oily in the way that tells Eliot it needs to be washed in the next twelve hours or so— but right now, it just smells like Q, which is a good thing, he thinks. It makes everything, strangely, feel more real, and God, he loves Quentin, “— so full of shit. You drove me to that healer, and you kept telling me you fucking believed in me. And I couldn’t help but get better, I think, because you were so fucking sincere, and I was falling in love with you. You’d just lost your whole world, and you kept showing up for me, even though— I didn’t really think I deserved it. I still don’t know if I do.”
“You do,” Quentin says. Without hesitation. Because there never really is any hesitation with him, not when it comes to things like this. Surety is a mainstay of the Quentin Coldwater experience: surety, stubborn loyalty, steadfastness in the face of the absolute worst. Discretion has never been the better part of his valor; it’s all reckless devotion with Quentin.
“Why’d you keep doing it— bailing me out, showing up?”
“Because you’re you. I wasn’t going to— I dunno, fucking leave you to rot on the pavement.” Quentin huffs a little, like the question Eliot asked is patently ridiculous, like he should already know the answer. Eliot already does know— but that’s not the point and also— a large part of it.
“Why? Beyond me being me. Which is a tautological argument, I think, so it doesn’t hold.”
Quentin laughs at that, and, even in the dark, Eliot can feel him smile, the way it takes over his face, scrunching everything up into a delight of creases. “Yeah I guess that qualifies— though I think you can argue that it’s, like, not a full tautology because—”
Eliot cuts him off. “So tell me. What’s the reason, the real reason—that you came and got me that night?”
“Look, I get what you’re trying to do. You can’t—” Quentin snorts. “— use my own arguments against me like that. Like, yeah, I kept coming to get you, and I helped you dry out because I love you. Because I realized, when you were crying on the sidewalk in front of that stupid bar— and that bar sucks anyway— that I’d always— I’d go through hell to get you back. That’s what it was, you know. I knew I’d give anything to make sure— that you’re safe.” Quentin’s voice breaks a little at the end, and he sighs, squeezing Eliot’s hand. “And I get it, that you feel that way about me. But it’s hard because— I’ve never really felt that way about myself. So I get why you would— but I also don’t get it. Like on a fundamental level.”
“Because you’re cute—”
“— and great in bed. You made me chicken and rice casserole when I had the flu. You gave me what I never really had.”
“I didn’t ever have a home, but you gave me one. I didn’t think I needed a family to become who I was supposed to be, but I was— I think I was wrong about that. It was you. It was always you. And I don’t think— I don’t think that it’ll ever stop being you.”
Quentin snuggles in closer, pushing out a broken sigh before he speaks. “I mean. Same. But about you. I’m just—” He gestures to himself, as if to demonstrate that there’s something lacking there, like his imperfections are somehow enough to diminish how Eliot loves him.
“Q, whatever you have in your brain right now— it’s a lie, and it doesn’t really compare— I dunno, baby, I don’t think any of it compares to what we’ve built. Our foundation is—”
“Oh, my God. I’m going to text Margo and tell her what a dork you are. That’s just—”
“— immovable. Everything out there— it doesn’t really have anything to do with us. That’s what I’m saying. We’re home, and that’s... our highest governing circumstance. Nothing can shake it. There are going to be ups and downs, but this is always here. This was always what I was looking for. And I’m staying. Last stop on the line, nothing beyond it.”
Quentin squeezes his hand, running his thumb over Eliot’s engagement ring, eyes a bit misty when he turns so they’re face to face. “I’m— it’s just— hard.”
“Yeah, I know. But I’m not going anywhere.” Eliot pushes in slowly, lips touching Quentin’s and he thinks— he tastes good and clean when he coaxes Q’s mouth open, and he’s probably brushed his teeth today, which is a step in the right direction, and whatever— whatever’s after this, they’ll deal with it. They kiss lazily, Quentin’s fingers coming to rest at the base of his neck, toying with his curls, their bodies tucked up together, tight and warm. He loves Quentin— has loved him as long as they’ve known each other, he thinks. A good night in isn’t a perfect cure for the lowest lows, but— it’s a start. It’s a reminder that, whatever else transpires, they’re already home.