Actions

Work Header

flowing all this time

Work Text:

Three years into the mosaic Eliot takes everything he thought he knew about the normal course of things, packs it up into a metaphorical box, kicks the box off the edge of a cliff, and never looks back.

“El.”

They’re still catching their breath, sweat and come sticky, wound up in each other in their bed after a spectacular round three—Quentin, Q, baby, sogoodsotight, I’m going to— which is the final act of resolving the cosmic little argument they’d had that morning. They’ve worked out a good system for their occasional squabbles consisting of round one: still mad. Round two: I’m sorry. Round three: I love you and you’re a half of me I can’t live without.

It’s a funny thing how time and a lack of life threatening emergencies can finally give one the time to smooth out their edges and learn another person.

After the first year—after Quentin took a glorious leap of the metaphorical cliff Eliot seems fond of today—it took them about four months of stop and start and finally gogogo until they arrived here, where a fight isn’t much more than an excuse to make up with hours and hours of shivery good, embarrassingly tender fucking. Until they arrived here, Eliot clueless as to how to even begin untangling the gorgeous strange electric knot of threads between them, if he could summon even a wisp of desire to do that, which he can’t.

“Q.”

Eliot rolls onto his front. Rests his chin on his crossed arms and kicks up his feet, waiting. It’s time for the secret round: how this argument has made Quentin Realize Something that will probably change their lives again in a way that always turns out to be beautiful.

“I’ve been.” Quentin’s chest rises and falls with a deep breath. “I’ve been thinking about what you said. A-and you have to be fucking honest with me or I swear I’ll lose my mind worrying about it—”

Eliot tucks a stray hair behind Quentin’s ear. Presses his thumb to the dimple in his chin.

“Q, it sounds like you’re asking for permission, which you don’t need to do.”

Permission for what doesn’t really need to be said.

Peaches and plums, etc.

“I really think I do. Or. I need... something from you because I can’t even stomach the idea of this if it would make you feel for a second like—”

Eliot thumbs the dip beneath Quentin’s adam’s apple. Curls his fingers soft against his throat like he might cradle the apology out of his lover’s voice. As if Eliot hasn’t spent three—dear god—three years and then some learning every inch of Quentin’s skin and all the deep buried needs that lie in wait underneath. As if he hadn’t been the one to—

I’m Eliot. This is my friend, Quentin.

—in the first place.

“It’s not about— about needing more , or that you aren’t—” His words cut out, a space of silence Eliot has learned to let breathe until Quentin finds his way to whatever profound emotion he needs to devastate his audience with that day. “—because you’re everything, you know you are, but—”

“And,” Eliot corrects, once he manages to breath past being everything.

“What?”

“And,” Eliot repeats, “Not ‘you’re everything, but’. ‘You’re everything, and,' I think is what you’re trying to say. And. Also.”

“I...yeah.” Quentin’s brows ease into something like relief. “Yeah, that’s exactly it.”

Quentin’s smile blooms slowly in the dark, and whatever part of Eliot that might have been capable of summoning even a shred of jealousy dies a soft and peaceful death.

“I love you.” Quentin murmurs, eyes bright, fingers tucked into Eliot’s curls in a way that starts that shivery goodness trailing over Eliot’s skin all over again. “ And. I love you and I want to see where this takes me. Takes us.”

“Then yes,” Eliot says, pressing the back of Quentin’s warm hand to his cheek, “Let’s live a little, hm?”

~

Considering the year it took him to finally kiss—and kiss, and kiss, and ohfuckQpleasethere —Eliot in that first year, Quentin’s courtship of Arielle actually manages something of a pace.

Eliot only has to pretend to be asleep two, maybe three times.

Today Eliot’s finished up a new design, saving the last tile for Quentin—always the last one together, just in case— and his almost nap is interrupted by laughter and then kissing quiet.

Hm. Sounds like someone had a nice afternoon in the village.

Curious, Eliot turns to peek and that’s, wow. It’s nice, in an aesthetic sort of way. Arielle is pretty, Quentin is very pretty. It’s nice to look at and so Eliot does until Quentin spots him and lights up and now that is the prettiest of all.

“El, hi.”

Quentin makes an awkward cute little hop around their table and dips down to kiss Eliot on the mouth in front of Arielle like it’s the most natural thing in the world. Not one to deny himself simple pleasures Eliot tucks his hand into the open collar of Quentin’s shirt and strokes his thumb over his collarbone. Kisses his top lip, then the bottom one, just because he can. Because Quentin is his to share as he sees fit.

“Hi, handsome. Seems like you missed me.”

Quentin’s eyes crinkle at the corners.

“Yeah.”

“Good.” Eliot squeezes his shoulder then sits up to kiss Arielle’s hand because that’s the cute little jokecompromiseboundary they’ve silently agreed upon. “How are the peaches, ‘Elle?”

“The same as always. How’s the puzzle, El?”

Another little inside joke. Eliot aches for Margo but winks instead.

“The same as always.”

Cute. Good. Success.

“Elle’s free to stay for dinner,” Quentin says. Asks, really, but leaves off the question mark. Eliot rolls himself up off the puzzle board to his feet.  

“Then I’d better start cooking.”

“We can help,” Arielle offers. Bright, intrigued, beautiful.

“And you will,” Eliot promises, offering her a gallant hand up from the ground, “By keeping this one out of danger while I actually make us something edible.”

El.

“Fine, I will allow you to set the table. As long as you don’t manage to set it on fire this time.”

Quentin is blushing bright and Arielle is laughing, sweet and clever. She kisses his pink cheek and he flushes even darker and Eliot waits his turn to reel Quentin in with an arm around his shoulder and whisper, low and hot and a little mean as they walk toward the house—

“Honey, I forgot how cute you were like this—”

“Eliot, I swear to god—”

Eliot sneaks a quick little pat to Quentin’s ass before he welcomes Arielle into their cottage.

On his best behavior, of course.

~

A year later there’s something tiny and fragile growing in Arielle and they could solve the Mosaic any day but Quentin gives without fear, or perhaps in spite of it. He stands in front of Eliot with one hand in Arielle’s and the other holding out a silk cord.

It’s a beautiful day, when it comes. For once the puzzle is cleared away and Arielle has flowers in her hair and Quentin is just—just glowing with it all. Glowing hot and thawing out something bitter and cynical that used to live behind Eliot’s breastbone.

Eliot ties them, focusing on the silk sliding through his fingers and not the fact that no matter how deeply they commit themselves to life in this time there could never be a white ribbon to bind his hand to Quentin’s. He traded that one-time only vow for a crown and a god-killing knife. How distant those quests seem in his memory compared to the shining smile on Quentin’s face eases the ache.  

Fillorian marriage magic is nice, but Eliot isn’t going anywhere. And the fidelity clause turned out not to be a real thing. So.

He ties them.

It’s an illustrative tableau. Quentin and Arielle, hands joined with silk. Eliot, brushing his thumb over Quentin’s knuckles as he smooths the ends of the knot. Arielle’s eyes follow the movement before flicking up to meet Eliot’s.

Eliot doesn’t drop his gaze or his smile. This is what Quentin wants from both of them and it isn’t a secret.

Last chance, he conveys with the barest sliver of a pause before he moves his fingers to work the spell.

Almost imperceptible, she nods. Giving without fear.

Or perhaps in spite of it.

With Quentin practically leaking excitedhappynervous into the air, Eliot speaks the incantation, completes the handfasting, and ties their family together.

~

Quentin and Arielle lock themselves in the cottage for five days and nights, leaving Eliot outside with a spectacular goodbye kiss from Quentin and all the honey mead he can drink leftover from the wedding. On the sixth morning Quentin emerges. Glowing, overjoyed, ecstatic, he pins Eliot down in the daybed and makes him come three times in an hour.

“I—fuck— I love married life,” Eliot gasps as he tips over his third orgasm, shuddering into the eager heat of Quentin’s mouth. Quentin pulls off, wipes his mouth on the back of his hand, fuck—fucking giggles, and climbs back up to kiss the bejeezus out of him, between every hotsoftyes slide of lips and tongue Quentin’s urgent ardent thank you thank you thank you.

Eliot drinks in Quentin’s gratitude, as though making Quentin as happy as possible hasn’t been the most selfish endeavor of Eliot’s life. As though his only addiction since he sweated out that last of the nicotine isn’t the warm contented weight of the man in his arms.

“Sweet, beautiful Q, you’re welcome.”

~

The fragile thing inside Arielle keeps growing, until it’s not so fragile. Until it’s a real, more than halfway there baby and it’s Arielle’s turn to glow and Quentin’s excitedhappynervous is dialed up to eleven all the time and Eliot doesn’t—doesn’t really know what to—how to process. It’s happening, and Eliot isn’t going anywhere, he’s here but. But. He doesn’t really have—hm—good memories associated with the concept.  

Until—

Until.  

El. Eliot, come here, oh my god—”

Quentin shouts and Eliot is halfway to pulling up the scraps of battle magic he can remember before he steps outside and finds Quentin kneeling in the dirt in front of Arielle, looking—looking shell shocked but happy.  

“El, baby you have to—”

“Q—hang on. I’m not sure—”

Quentin has him by the wrist, pulling him down and in, and Eliot—       

Eliot does the impossible and resists Quentin’s eager pleading urgency. Looks up for Arielle’s permission, one of those thousands of little exchanges that Quentin in all his giving will never know about. She smiles, slow, and guides Eliot’s hand to press beside Quentin’s against her rounded belly. Eliot can’t help but stare at that image.

Then.  

A flutter.

Just under his palm.  

A kick.

His breath catches in his throat.

Oh shit.

He gets it.

“There he is,” Quentin murmurs, reverent.

With his world reorienting yet again, Eliot makes an addition to the short list of things he’d die to protect.

He pulls Arielle’s hands to his lips in awe and gratitude.

He kisses the happy, thunderstruck tears from Quentin’s cheeks.

With some old scars slowly slowly healing over he wonders how he ever thought he was alive before this. Before the mosaic. Before them.

~

The day Teddy is born is the day Eliot accepts that he is going to die here, in Fillory of the past.

They’re in the clear, the midwife come and gone with a clean bill of health for mom and baby and it’s a kind of high after almost a day waiting outside, trying to keep Quentin from vibrating out of his skin because whatifwhatifwhatif—

But.

They’re in the clear.

More than.

They’re a family .

Arielle is the most exhausted, most sweaty, most beautiful human person Eliot has ever been in a room with, Quentin has surpassed the human spectrum of beauty altogether and Teddy is—

—Teddy is heavy and heartstoppingly light at the same time. Loud and alive and squirming in a way that would have put Eliot’s hair on end five years ago and still does now for an entire world of different reasons. Teddy in his arms, placed there by a beatific, tear-streaked Quentin.

Eliot takes his hand and squeezes tight. Q squeezes back, and Eliot knows they’re on the same page.

Eliot is going to die here, because this is where his life is.

~

Something about being naked in bed with a woman leads to Eliot dwelling on aesthetics again. He doesn’t—doesn’t really feel anything about it, but he’s supremely aware of how they look, he and Arielle bare together, on top of the quilt on top of a bed which Eliot hasn’t slept in for almost two years, Arielle and Quentin’s marriage knot hanging from a tack on the wall above their heads.

They look, well, beautiful, dark and pale and red hair and sun kissed, freckled skin. They look like Quentin’s wildest dream come true.

Which is what this is all about, of course.

Arielle kisses him, only a beat of hesitation. She threads her fingers through his hair. Strokes over the planes of his chest with an almost detached sense of curiosity.

She doesn’t touch him below the waist. He’s happy to return that favor. Instead he kisses her hand, to make her laugh, remembering when he used to show off just to tease, to help ease her into the insane intense thing that was and will always be him and Quentin.

Her eyes go a little softer, a little warmer, and she kisses him again, a little easier. Eliot can kiss too, and he tries a few tricks—a distant bossy beautiful Margo telling him this is what girls actually like, not what they show in porn, dumbass, you have to—and touches one hand to her chest, a gamble which pays off when Arielle jumps but then shivers and that’s good, right? Because they are enjoying themselves. Trying something new. Trying—

Things take a bit of a competitive turn when Arielle tries a trick of her own, her thumbs pressing in, brushing up against the grain of Eliot’s hairline at the base of his neck and he has to laugh because that doesn’t do it for him but on Quentin—  

“Look at that, you know the secret spot.”

Arielle’s brows raise, a laugh twisting her lips.

“I think I know a couple of them, by now.”

“I bet I could show you a few more,” Eliot hums, leaning in to tell secret not-secret in her ear, “Or better yet, we could collaborate. Which, on that note—”

Knowing exactly how beautiful they look, Eliot turns himself out, creates a space between them made for one specific person. One specific person who is waiting on the end of the bed with the cutest, dumbest look on his face.

“Q? You want to join us?”

As it turns out what Quentin wants—sweet, vanilla Q—is to make his wife come twice, then for Eliot to hold him down and fuck him slow and hard while Arielle kisses him and strokes his ears. God, he’s so hot for it too, making these sweet little hurt noises into Arielle’s mouth, clutching Eliot’s hand against his thigh.

“El, Elle—“ Quentin pleads, then half chokes on a laugh because—  

—because haha, yes, we get it baby, we’re both El but then Quentin goes hot and slack and shuddering around him and exasperation at his lover’s terrible sense of humor is the last thought on Eliot’s mind because he’s coming coming coming and it’s good it’s so good and Arielle is watching watching watching and it’s—

Good?

Later, after, eventually, Quentin falls asleep, head on Arielle’s chest and fingers tangled with Eliot’s over his belly. They watch him sleep for a moment together, sharing a glance full of love, gratitude, and the knowledge that they are never doing this again.

“I’ll talk to him,” Eliot promises. He kisses Arielle on the cheek, presses his lips to Quentin’s sex mess hair, and slips out with his clothes to check on Teddy, asleep in the next room.

They have that easy hard conversation over the Mosaic, working steadily until Quentin finally says okay, yeah, sorry and then was it something I— and Eliot puts down the tiles to cup Quentin’s sad cute handsome face in his hands and—

“My Q. Sweetheart, no.” Eliot presses a soft, patient kiss to Quentin’s mouth.

“It’s okay for us to love you in different ways, that’s all.”  

He nods, still a little sad, so Eliot does his favorite thing which is to wrap Quentin up in his long arms and just squeeze him against his chest for a second. It makes him blush and stutter every time, and after a self-conscious little laugh Quentin gives a squeeze back.

“And. Also,” He murmurs tucking his nose into Eliot’s collar.

“Got it in one, Q.”

And.

Also.

“...it’s just—“

Eliot listens. Then:

“Honey, I love you. But that’s one thing I just can’t give.”

That night, curled together in their bed under the stars, Eliot gives himself one minute with Quentin’s soft, stumbled half confessed fantasy of a shared bed, and—you know, I just thought, maybe someday—another baby.

Quentin leading Teddy by the hand, a little girl in his arms.

A little girl with Eliot’s dark hair. Arielle’s grey eyes.

Eliot gives himself one minute with that fantasy, then kisses it goodbye and sends it back to the ether.

In the morning he steals Teddy from his cradle while the sun is still working on rising and just. Holds him. Watches the tiny, minute rise and fall of his swaddling as he breathes.

Loving Quentin’s son is the easiest thing Eliot has ever done.

He doesn’t need anything more.

~

As usual, it takes Eliot too long to realize something is breaking. That something was fragile all along and there he was, unwittingly tipping it on its cracked edge.

“Da.”  

When Teddy calls out from his place on the quilt beside him Eliot glances up expecting to see Quentin’s boots matching the sound of crunching gravel.

But.

It isn’t Quentin.

It’s Arielle, a basket over her arm. Back from the village market. She’s staring at Teddy.

Teddy. Who isn’t calling for his father.

Or.

Isn’t calling for Quentin.

“Da.”

Eliot turns to find Teddy, who’s sitting up on his own since spring but not much of a crawler yet thank god, staring back at him with Quentin’s bright but serious gaze. His little hands grasp for the cloth ball which has rolled just past the edge of the quilt to rest at Eliot’s boot heel.

With Arielle’s silence thick in the back of his throat Eliot tucks the ball back into Teddy’s developing grip, resists ducking down to press a kiss to the top of his downy head, and realizes with a sick twist in his gut that he just hesitated for the first time to show affection to the child Quentin refers to blissfully as “our son.”

“It’s—it doesn’t mean anything,” Eliot says without looking at Arielle, laughing, trying, past the sour lie on his tongue, “He’s just—he’s little, he doesn’t understand yet—“

“I think Teddy might understand better than any of us, actually.”

Eliot meets her eye, and they share one of the last of their little dialogues, the ones Quentin can never know about.

So, Arielle’s gaze admits, resigned, This is going to be yours too.

It was never up to me, Eliot replies as Teddy grabs at his fingers with a happy gurgle.

~

Arielle holds out for two more years. And then—

And then—

Quentin finds him at the edge of the puzzle left unfinished, wine skin empty and discarded in the grass. Eliot can’t—he can’t breathe until he has Teddy clutched under his chin, Quentin’s hands on his face, wiping the hot, bitter tears from his from his cheeks and El, Eliot, baby, what is it, where’s—

Elle? Arielle?

Quentin calls and searches and Eliot can’t do anything but cling to their son as Arielle’s parting words ring in his ears. Arielle, standing that morning at the foot of the Mosaic, bag in hand. Her hand pressing to her still flat belly just long enough for Eliot to know what she’s taking with her. His punishment to live with, because Quentin can never never know.

“I want something that’s only mine.”

~

Teddy is too young to understand.

Too young to understand and young enough to want his mother and confusion in a three year old manifests as tears and fits and then fades into a terrifying, heart wrenching, hollow quiet that only breaks in the dark with the tiny choked off whimpers that nightmares bring.

On the twenty-third day of god-awful chilling silence and Teddy clinging to him, clinging to Quentin as though they might be the next to disappear, all the time his dark eyes searching searching searching—

Eliot breaks.

It’s my fault.

He confesses with his face cupped in Quentin’s hands, too hollowed out to cry. Back in their—her—bed with the—her— baby just barely, finally, sleeping in the next room after hours and hours.

“If I hadn’t. Wasn’t. She would never have—”         

And he misses her, because she was a part of them and it was good and Eliot didn’t realize he was taking taking taking until she thought she had nothing left.  

“You—you could go to her,” Eliot whispers, which nononoshutupshutup but still he has to say, has to know, “With...with Teddy,” —nonono— “and I could stay with the puzzle, and you could just, maybe w-without me—”   

Eliot stops talking because Quentin stops touching him and for a cold second he thinks godpleasenoididntmeanit but.

No.

Quentin looks—he looks, well, pissed — and takes his right hand like a lifeline and he’s tugging off Eliot’s silver rings and he’s pulling out the white silk cord that Arielle threw away from under their pillow and.

And.

And.

When their joined hands are wrapped in white Quentin makes an awkward knot one handed, tugging on one end taut with his teeth, his grip white knuckled under the silk.

It’s imperfect, the chalk that never really washes off rubbing colors into the white and the knot listing to the left and Eliot can’t look away. There’s no magic to work but he feels something sacred thrumming in his blood at the sight of their fasted hands and the fine tremor that has taken up in Quentin’s gaze.

“Do you understand?” Quentin demands, giving their hands a kind of jerk. A shake. As though Eliot hasn’t been looking hard enough. As though he doesn’t see everything that Quentin has given him.

“The spell.” Eliot’s brain is years ahead of the words coming out of his mouth but they come out anyway while he stares at their work rough hands tied together. “Q, it won’t—“

“It’s not fucking magic.”

They’ve been—well, Quentin, has been—really good about cursing since Teddy started walking and talking and really bad about expressing anything at all since Arielle left but that clear, cold fuck just rolls off his tongue and it’s like the grey, out of focus Quentin of the last twenty-three days just snapped back to the love of Eliot’s life, sharp alive and in living color.  

“It’s just—just us, and it has always been, since—Jesus—since the first year? As much as Elle and I ever were. More. Longer. This—“ he holds up their knotted hands again. “To me. This is what we are. So please, for fuck’s sake Eliot, tell me you understand that.”

Quentin’s voice it, it breaks, squeaks a little, like it hasn’t since before even the Mosaic, since school, since they were twenty-somethings who didn’t know how easy they had it and Eliot feels, for a dizzying moment, the actual scope of what they’ve been doing here.  

“I—I do.”

Quentin’s relief is like a beacon and he rubs his eyes, pushes his long loose hair back from his face and sighs, deflates, breathes.

“Okay,” he says, “Okay. Jesus fuck, El, don’t ever try something like that again because I— can’t, cannot, do this without you.”

Eliot presses their tied hands to his face, kisses Quentin’s knuckles and nods, a little shaky still.

“I love you.”

Quentin laughs. Shakes his head, rueful.  

“Yeah, I know,” he says, tipping forward until their foreheads touch, and that—that’s good stuff.    

So good.  

Quentin tips again, up, up, until their lips brush. Soft. Good.

Then again. Less soft. Even better.

Quentin just—mm, wow—works him open, slow, and easy and molten and, and twenty-three days . It’s not like they haven’t, haven’t touched in all that time—they sleep in the same bed, for Christ’s sake—but there’s touching and then there’s Quentin’s tongue in his mouth, hand up his shirt, seeking, wanting, touching—      

Eliot gasps out of the kiss, hot, hard, having a supreme moment of deja vu and so he stammers out, just to see Q smile—   

“H-hey.”

There it is, the blush. Bright smile. Dark eyes. Remembering.  

Wanting.   

“Hey.”

Quentin takes his mouth again, goodsoftwet, and shapes the spell against Eliot’s back that slips the button toggle whatevers of his shirt open one by one.

“I want you out of this.”

Eliot nods, eager, twisting his free hand up into Quentin’s pretty hair so they can be kissing again but then—

But then—

Quentin starts to wriggle his right hand, loosening the knot binding them, and Eliot can’t—he’s not ready to—  

“Here—we can—“

“No, no, don’t.”

Eliot weaves their fingers inside the wrapping, clutching them to his chest. He works open their trousers with his left hand, clumsy and frantic until oh, oh Quentin’s thighs are parted over his and they’re rocking together.

“Like this,” Eliot pleads against Quentin’s sweet soft mouth, “Just like this.”

“Okay, yeah. Yeah, Christ El—“

And Quentin is—holy fuck—Quentin is pulling Eliot’s fingers into his mouth, licking and sucking until Eliot can take them hot and hard together in his spit slick fist and it’s an awkward, wrist-ache angle but Eliot cannot keep the low, wanting sounds from escaping his throat because it is so good. Quentin is just—just holding on, grip tight enough to sting up the back of Eliot’s shirt and whispering hot and low and so hungry in Eliot’s ear yes, yes El, baby tighter, oh god, until—  

“I’m close, fuck, I’m so close, please—“

“Baby, baby, give it to me.”

Eliot lets something sweet and vicious bubble up inside him, something he never needed, never wanted, but oh god it feels—

“Come for me, sweetheart,” he murmurs, wicked heat in his blood, “Give me what’s mine.”

Quentin sobs, spills, sinks his teeth into Eliot’s shoulder and god that’s—that’s everything. Eliot chokes on the pleasure pain, jerking himself off with Quentin’s slick wet mess dripping down between his fingers, and—fuck—that’s his, this is his, and maybe it’s selfish and maybe he breaks things but Quentin—them, their bed, their family— it’s his and he will never give it up.       

Eliot comes pressed to the soft strong curve of Quentin’s throat, breathing, breathing, breathing. Quentin is knelt up, curled over, his cheek resting on the top of Eliot’s head as they come down, slow. It’s, it’s a good place to be, on the inside of Quentin’s temporary shelter, their hands still tied—clumsy, awkward, getting sore, so good—between them. Eliot just, lets go, wipes his hand on their only good blanket—problems for later—and rubs the warm, solid column of Quentin’s back while they inhale, exhale, together.  

Inhale.

Exhale.

The trembling starts in Quentin’s hands, and seeps up his limbs until he’s shaking against the palm of Eliot’s hand—

I-inhale.  

Ex—ex—

“Oh, Q, honey, come here.”  

It’s not crying exactly because they are both so wrung out but it hasn’t even been a month and no amount of newsflash asshole, we’ve been married the whole time! life altering sex is going to just erase five years thrown away in a single sentence so Eliot lets him cling, both of them still bare and sweat sticky and—

“Fuck, fuck, El, how could she? How could she—and Teddy, god —he’s scaring the shit out of me—“

—and Eliot holds on, because this is its own kind of lovemaking, all of Quentin’s scaredangryhurting bleeding out into his arms and all he can give, all he can do is pet his hair and shh shh, sweet Q, I know, I know and it shouldn’t be enough but somehow—

—somehow it is.

Later, after, eventually, Quentin falls asleep, all the tension leaking out of him until he’s a soft warm dead weight against Eliot’s shoulder and that’s fine, it’s good because they are so tired and Eliot could cry from the relief of it all finally breaking over them.  

He unwinds the cord from their hands. Hangs it back on the nail above the—her, their— bed, touches it, letting it be holy and not-magic and so, so important.

He twists his fingers to snuff out their candles.

He lays back down in the dark, tips Quentin—soft, sleeping, grieving, loving— onto his chest and rests.

~

~

~

Time is a funny thing, the way it stretches out in front of a person sometimes.

The peach trees they planted after the wedding are ten feet tall and Teddy—god sixteen— Teddy is starting to look at girls like he’s piecing together a puzzle that’s a lot easier than the Mosaic and Eliot started spelling gray hairs away years ago but lately it’s been more and more and Quentin—

And Quentin finds him with their tarnished, cloudy mirror balanced against the headboard one day, fingers about to twist and flood back in the ebony Eliot wants to see and—

Quentin stops his hands.

“Don’t.”  

He tips the mirror face down and climbs into Eliot’s lap, like they’re twenty-eight again and not—God, Eliot promised himself he’d never count higher than forty—the unnamable age they are now, and he kisses the crows feet at the corner of Eliot’s eyes and he gentle, soft, lovingly touches the undeniable ever multiplying streaks of silver at Eliot’s temples.  

“I like seeing it,” he says, and here comes the profound emotion of the day, brace yourselves, everyone— “I like...knowing.”  

Eliot wraps his arms around Quentin’s waist and holds him. Holds—how when how—the twenty years of each other they carry in their bones.   

He breathes deep against the worn in linen of Quentin’s favorite shirt.

“Okay.”

~

~

~

~

~

It’s been a week since Teddy came home with the family to visit and Eliot isn’t sure he’s put the baby down for more than ten minutes since. He can’t stop staring, kissing her tiny fingers and toes, remembering Teddy this small. Can’t stop seeing Quentin in shape of her mouth, Arielle in her bright red hair.

“Ellie, baby, you are the most beautiful girl in the world.”

She gurgles, happy, and pats at his mouth with sticky baby fingers. Eliot’s cheeks hurt from smiling.

Ellie. Elle.

“El?”

“We’re out here.”

“I thought you might be.”

Quentin joins him on the lip of the puzzle board, mosaic tiles stacked all around and their treasure—their sweet sweet Ellie, only two months old—held warm and swaddled between them.   

“You’re so in love.”

Quentin’s eyes are bright, dancing, but Eliot won’t—can’t—be teased about this.  

“I am going to spoil her rotten, Q, so prepare yourself mentally.”

Quentin shakes his head, petting softsoftsoft over Ellie’s wispy, strawberry red hair. Stroking his thumb softsoftsoft over Eliot’s knuckles as they cradle her together. “I remember,” he says, fond, “How scared you were, before you felt Teddy kick.”

“I was,” Eliot admits. Smiles, at Ellie making a funny face at them both, “I really was and now—”   

Now this, here, with Quentin, is better than a crown. Better than a golden key. Better than magic.

“Q.” Eliot doesn’t mean for his voice to come out rough. Doesn’t mean for his eyes to burn. But, but—

“I love her so much, sweetheart, thank you.”

Quentin just leans his head on Eliot’s shoulder. Rests a hand on one of the knees that at f—fif— fifty-seven are starting to make the Mosaic harder and harder.   

“Every day, every year, everything you give,” Eliot murmurs, staring down at his first—his their granddaughter, whatwhenhow— “I think there couldn’t possibly be anything more. Any more room in me. But then—“

“And.”

.

.

.

And,” Quentin corrects him, eyes bright, “Not ‘but’. ‘ And then’, I think is what you’re trying to say.”

Eliot.

Eliot remembers.

Laughs.

Presses his brow to Quentin’s temple. Presses a kiss to his silver-gray beard.

And.

Also.

“Yeah. Yes, Q. That’s exactly it.”