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Quentin ran as fast as he fucking could for fifty goddamn minutes. He hoped Eliot had a thing for puddles of sweat, strained muscles, and dirty suits, because that was what he was about to offer up. Jesus Christ.

He wheezed and panted, finally standing on the leftmost bank of the Seine and looking up at the beautiful former train station. His lungs were caught sticky against his rib cage. For the first time that night, he was actually glad Eliot had forgotten the cigarettes in the restaurant. If he’d smoked, he never would have gotten across the city without collapsing, though he’d like to think that the wings of love would have carried him regardless. And in his heart, they certainly did. But his body was as weak and unathletic as ever, so even without any fresh smoke clogging up the works, Quentin really needed to rest for just a moment.

He winced as he leaned against the concrete and limestone barrier between the museum and the drop to the river. His palms pressed into the rough material and he dropped his head down, taking several long, slow breaths. Academically speaking, Quentin knew that the idea of running across town to reach the love of your life was considered romantic. But he wasn’t actually trying to be romantic, not if it meant more time away from Eliot. More time that Eliot didn’t know, more time before the two of them could finally start.

…Or hope to start. Maybe. All of this was assuming that Quentin hadn’t completely fucked things up, with his insecurity, cowardice, and painful obliviousness. Much as it increased the weight of his heart, he knew he had to consider that possibility, the one of a certain amount of futility, even after everything. Though at the same time, he could also hear and see Margo scream at the top of her lungs, tongue sticking out wildly, at even the slightest hint of hesitation on his end. Still, he figured, balance and all that.

So though the idea of the run was romantic, the reality that led him there was much more commonplace. First, he’d missed the final train of the Metro. And then, his French sucked and therefore the taxi he captured had promptly dropped him on his ass, too frustrated by all the innumerable drunkards in the streets to deal with one who could barely even pronounce Bonjour without heavily emphasizing the ’n’ sound. He’d stood there, lost, at Place de la République for a good while before he’d decided Fuck it and his legs took off.

When he finally arrived, the night was dark and quiet; the museum looked closed to the average outsider. But as it turned out, there was actually nothing average about Quentin Coldwater. With a fast smile toward his love of magic, he pulled his hands into a frame and his stomach giddily swooped as all large windows lit up with sparkling glamour, music, and dancing behind his fingers. How exactly Josh had managed to turn his intimate dinner party into a large soirée at one of the most gorgeous museums in the world was both a magical and social discipline that entirely eluded Quentin. But he was thrilled to be along for the ride, even if the party itself was mere window dressing for the true crown jewel within.

Closing his eyes reverently, Quentin breathed in the scent of sewage and bread, before offering a prayer to Paris, thanking it for its strange service. With that, he walked through the door to the museum, the party, and the rest of his life. Immediately, his eyes widened as he stood at the top of the grand marble staircase. The windowed half-sphere was lit in fireworks, blazing and sparkling in ever changing colors, while hundreds of perfectly coiffed, perfectly gorgeous people mingled throughout the statues and history. The wards must have been obscenely intensive, he imagined, as champagne towers flowed over Gaugins and Rodins without a care. It was all undeniably beautiful.

But Quentin didn’t give a shit about any of it.

Not with the way his heart was clenching in three-quarter time, a waltz of heady anticipation rather than exertion. He scanned the large room, looking for a handsome figure towering over them all, ruling with ease, and smiling so dazzlingly that the fireworks were mere pittances of dull sheens. But he saw no one who even came close, and his brow furrowed in immediate frustration.

Where the fuck was Eliot?

Fear stuttered in his throat. It was very possible that Eliot had already left—gone back to his room with his date, Guillermo. As much as the idea punched Quentin’s gut into a simpering pulp, it wasn’t like it wouldn’t be fair. Eliot didn’t owe Quentin anything, at all, and especially not celibacy at that particular moment. But fuck. Fuck. It would just make everything he was trying to prove that much more difficult and complicated and—

Quentin spotted Guillermo amongst the crowd. He breathed again. 

Guillermo wasn’t as tall as Eliot, but he was close. He was hard to miss, all top-knots and broad shoulders, as he stood laughing near a Bourdelle. Quentin's heart darkened when he realized his arm was wrapped around a handsome, lithe stranger. And a sharp annoyance hit him even further as Guillermo dipped his mouth down and pressed a sloppy, laughing kiss against the man’s neck.

Uh, who the fuck did he think he was? He was there with Eliot Waugh and he was flirting with some other douchebag? Did he not comprehend how goddamn lucky he was? He really had half a mind to go down there and tell Guillermo where he could stick his flippant fucking attitude, that asshole, that complete piece of—

The barrage of insults continued rapidly though his furious mind until Quentin remembered that he was technically there to straight-up steal Guillermo’s date, in a permanent sense. So, fine. Whatever. He calmed his shit, internally called it even, and kept his eyes moving, walking down the hallway.

For the interminably long time of approximately five minutes (okay, three), Quentin found nothing but nothing and no one. But then, finally, when he ducked past a Camille Claudel lovers’ embrace, a warm hand firmly grabbed his arm from behind and tugged him close. Quentin’s breath caught in his chest. Turning around with wide eyes, he automatically tilted forward into the light, his heart beating painfully as a sweet hope burst in his soul. His mouth fell open, as he saw—

Josh Hoberman.

Oh.

“Oh,” Quentin said, his shoulders slumping. “Hey Josh.”

“Quentin Coldwater,” Josh shook his head at him. “Our little instigator. Why are you so fucking dirty?”

His suit was still covered in a mess of dusty grime. It was a thing.

“Uh, well, Margo trapped me in a garden and I—got dusty,” Quentin explained weakly. But he apparently didn’t need an explanation beyond the word Margo to satisfy Josh, who immediately nodded sagely, understanding.

“Say no more,” Josh held his hands up. “Fuckin’ Margo. Seriously, if she was even like an eighth less hot…”

“And, uh, sorry about the instigation,” Quentin continued, his eyes flicking about. He really wasn’t sure what to say about Margo’s hotness. Or about anything that wasn’t asking, Where the fuck is Eliot?  at the top of his desperate lungs. “Hopefully it goes without saying that it was unintentional.”

Quentin was proud of himself. He officially had the social awareness to look sheepish and engage Josh in conversation, rather than—again—immediately grabbing at his suit jacket and demanding, Where the fuck is Eliot? Which, if it wasn't clear, was all he actually wanted to do. 

Maybe he really had grown, in his own way.

“Eh, all gatherings need a drama factor,” Josh waved his hand with a wry smile. “And really, I’ve been up my own shit creek with the Burlesque dancers all night. I was going for a Josephine Baker vibe, but it ended up a bit more Lady Marmalade. Booty shorts and all.”

“That’s funny,” Quentin said with a polite grin because he still couldn’t just say Where the fuck is Eliot? “Vous lay vous-koo-shay and all that.”

“Did you study at the Sorbonne?” Josh laughed and it reminded Quentin of something Eliot would say and Where the fuck is Eliot? “Perfect pronunciation, man.”

…Though, really, if Quentin had made that particular joke to Eliot, he only would have gotten a Jesus, Q. No. Bad dog, complete with the haughtiest sigh and the tiniest hint of a hidden smile.

God, he loved him.

But he had to keep talking to Josh, for at least a minute. Maybe half a minute? He still wasn't sure about all social expectations. But he did know that it was Josh’s party. The "real" reason he was there, after all. And no matter what, Josh had genuinely become a friend to Quentin and that counted for something. Besides, the man at the heart of the question—and the heart of everything in Quentin these days—would be the first to chastise him for being too abrupt and graceless with someone who genuinely enjoyed Quentin’s company and wanted to spend time with him. It was fair.

“Self-taught if you can believe it,” Quentin laughed. Where the fuck is Eliot? ...Okay, he couldn’t help it. He refocused. “But seriously, don't worry. Everything tonight has been fantastic. Couldn’t imagine a better send-off for you.”

“Hey now, don’t call it a send-off. I’ll still be around,” Josh winked. “I don’t think you kids would survive without my cakes next year. Portal magic, baby.”

“Never,” he smiled, agreeing. “Still, I’ll miss the fuck out of you.”

It was true. He really would miss him next year. But the same time, Quentin was an inherently selfish person and a momentary hit of panic overtook him. He imagined sending Margo and—oh god, Eliot off in the same fashion, a mere three-hundred some odd days from then. Everything went hazy and dizzy before he firmly compartmentalized that gut-wrenching thought for another day. His emotions were far too haywire for any kind of unnecessary interference.

But his patience had also officially run out.

“Hey, uh,” Quentin swallowed and looked around, like the thought had just occurred to him. “So, perchance, um, have you seen Eliot around anywhere?”

At least he put it nicely. And very casually too.

Josh nodded, “Yeah, yeah, he went towards the bar in the back. If you’re heading there, can you grab me a Remy Martin?”

“Uh-huh, sure,” Quentin smiled briefly, knowing there was no chance in hell he’d be bringing Josh his drink. Oh well. “We’ll catch up more soon, okay?”

“Sounds great, man,” Josh called after him as Quentin quickly retreated. “And tell Eliot to come be social finally! The hermit look ain't sexy on him.”

“Sure thing!” He called back with a big grin and a wave, lying his ass off.

 


 

Quentin twisted his way into an almost darkened gallery, underneath a set of tall, winding metal stairs. Watercolor paintings hung on the plain walls, calling all the attention to themselves. But as it was a Magicians’ party, a bar appeared as well, long and wooden against the dim light. A single tuxedo’d bartender dried a glass with a white towel and for a moment, Quentin thought he’d reached a dead end.

But in the thin light, he saw him. At the very end of the long expanse, a hunched over figure sat on a stool, long pale fingers wrapped into messy dark curls. Eliot traced his other hand’s index finger along the rim of a half-drunk champagne flute, his flask splayed beside. His heaving breaths were visible in the curve of his back and his eyes were hidden under his wrist. He looked small. Which was possibly among the last words Quentin ever associated with him. But it was the truth.

He looked small.

Quentin wanted to run to him. To throw himself at him. To bodily rip his heart out of his chest and say, Here, fucking take it. But he knew better than that. Eliot was clearly not in a good place. And Bad Place Eliot needed to be approached with caution and care, and with a hefty thick skin of one’s own.

Gathering up every ounce of insignificant courage he had, Quentin walked past the symmetrical row of empty red bar stools and stood next to him, his hands frozen in trepidation before he could tap his shoulder. But even in his current state, Eliot was always aware and he covered his eyes fully with both hands.

“Margo,” he said, hoarsely. “I am not ready to talk to you. Go the fucking fuck away.”

“Um,” Quentin started, and immediately at the sound, Eliot dug the heels of his palm into his eyes and made a tortured, guttural sound from the back of his throat. “Uh, not Margo.”

“You’re like a cockroach,” Eliot said, not moving and not kind. “I asked you for one thing, Quentin.”

Quentin sighed. Not exactly an auspicious start. He gulped and breathed through the initial rush of defensiveness and pain Eliot’s words brought on. He knew where it was coming from.

But.

Still, he tried to keep his voice soft and understanding. He owed Eliot at least that much.

“Look, I know you’re pissed—“

Eliot shot his head up, staring straight at the rows of aperitif bottles on the mirrored wall behind the magical bar.

“Pissed. Pissed? That’s the emotion you’re ascribing to me? Wow,” he said, letting out a harsh laugh. His strong, statuesque profile glowed golden like a dimming marquee. “Maybe you’re the AI.”

Quentin dug his fingernails into his palms.

“I understand why you’re lashing out. I would too, if I were you,” he said, even and whispering. His heart was caught firmly in his throat, his fingers shaking as he could physically feel Eliot slipping away from him. “But can I just—I actually did see Margo, okay? And there’s something important I need to talk to you about.”

Eliot was silent. For a moment, Quentin wondered if he’d even heard him. But just as he opened his mouth to repeat himself, Eliot entwined his fingers in the prayer position, his knuckles against his lips.

“You have thirty seconds and then I’m walking away,” he said, biting the inside of his cheek before popping his lower lip out from under his teeth. “So don’t use up too much of it with your stammering.”

When he wanted to slash your throat, Eliot wielded a knife expertly. Quentin touched his forehead, instinctively pushing back his hair. He felt smaller than Eliot looked and his chest rushed with a pounding pain, telling him that it was all a terrible idea, that he was a stupid, worthless man who would never deserve Eliot, that he’d done too much and too little all at once, and that he should just walk out now and save him and Eliot the heartache and frustration, respectively.

“Fuck, Eliot—“ Quentin gasped out, but Eliot’s eyes flashed at him.

“Clock’s on, Coldwater.”

You deserve every piece of his anger. You hurt him, you absolute piece of shit. Why the fuck should he forgive you? Even if he does or fucking did love you, why should he give himself to a spineless, idiotic coward?

His angry brain kept hissing crueler and crueler things, as though it wasn't the same goddamn one that told him for months that he’d never be good enough for Eliot, that Eliot would never see him as anything more than a pet nerd, and certainly would never consider him as anything even remotely romantically viable. His brain could be a real asshole that way.

But Quentin needed to be brave. For once in his dumb life, he needed to be brave. If not for himself, then for Eliot. So he took a deep breath, pushed down the harrowing, relentless battery from his mind, and spoke.

“Margo wasn’t bullshitting us,” Quentin said slowly, methodically. “It was secrets magic. Real secrets magic.”

“The ward?” Eliot shook his head and chuckled, low, rough, dangerous. “It obviously wasn’t. Thanks for the chat.”

He took a hard swig from his flask and flicked his ringed hand out at Quentin, the caricature of an aristocrat dismissing a servant. Quentin gently grabbed his wrist and Eliot lurched backward, snatching it away, like his touch was horrifying and painful. His wide eyes burned into him for a split second before turning firmly away once again.

Ouch.

Okay.

“El. I’m serious,” Quentin said, desperately trying to seek Eliot’s eye contact. It was refused. “It was a secrets ward. You and I need to talk.”

Eliot twisted his hands into shaking fists, rapping his knuckles manically against the wood of the bar. He breathed out his nostrils, hard, and a long line down his pale throat trembled, shrouded in a gorgeous five o’clock shadow.

“No, it wasn’t,” Eliot said, hissing with incredulity. “It couldn’t have been. And you and I—fuck, Quentin. You and I need nothing. Lots and lots of nothing.”

“I’m telling you it was—“

The fists slammed down on the bar and Eliot finally really looked at him, leaning into the counter like it was the only thing holding him up. His eyes were dark and devastated and holy shit, everything Margo said was true. Quentin’s own heart burst and flipped in his chest and it took everything in him not to wrap his arms around Eliot’s chest and pull him close. But he didn’t. Hopefully, there would be plenty of time for that later. For now, he needed to help Eliot understand. He needed him to see. He needed to be brave.

But his courage was faltering in his  mouth, as it always did.

“Stop it. Why are you doing this?” Eliot shook his head. He was looking at Quentin like he might be the worst person in the world. Honestly, after their evening, it wasn’t totally crazy. “Think for two seconds about the implication of what you’re saying. Are you trying to hurt me?”

“Never, El,” Quentin managed to get out, his vocal chords trembling with feeling and fear. “Never in a million years. Please, just let me—”

“What’s that you always say?” Eliot clicked his tongue against his teeth. “Oh yeah: Could’ve fooled me.

“I deserve that,” Quentin said, sitting down on the stool next to him because his legs were far too weak and his head far too dizzy. Eliot immediately stood up. “I do. But you have to listen to me.”

“I don’t actually have to do shit,” Eliot said, taking another pointed chug out of his flask. Then he held his hands out with a gasping laugh and glared away from Quentin. “Your time’s run out. Have a good evening.”

With that, he turned on his heels and walked away from Quentin, his head held high. For a small moment, it felt like an ending. Like closure. Tears wet Quentin's eyelashes and he couldn’t help but think that maybe in another world, in another lifetime, when they weren’t such fuck ups, the two of them—

“Eliot, I’m in love with you.”

Quentin’s hopeful heart overtook his scathing brain, valiant and true. It tumbled out desperately, without thought and entirely on the instinct of what he knew best in the entire world. He loved Eliot. He loved Eliot. He loved Eliot.

The words hit Eliot’s retreating form like Hemingway’s bankruptcy: Gradually, then suddenly. Tension roiled through every visible, moving muscle under his well-fitted suit. His feet slow-motion stopped on the ground before his entire form froze in place. His shoulders sharply thrust toward his ears like a haunched, hissing cat, before he whipped back around. His hazel eyes were red and wild, slicing into Quentin like an out of control machete.

“What?” Eliot breathed out. “What the fuck did you just say?”

“I’m in love with you,” Quentin said again, swallowing at the end. His heart rate increased exponentially with each passing microsecond that Eliot simply stood there, staring at him, slack-jawed. “I’m, like, so in love with you it’s stupid.”

“Stupid,” Eliot repeated, monotone. He blinked. He blinked again. His face betrayed no emotion. And Quentin’s eyes flew open.

“No, I mean, like, I’m stupid,” he rushed to explain. “Not—not that being in love with you is stupid. That’s not—I mean, god, El, me being in love with you is really the only thing that makes sense, right?”

“The only thing that makes sense,” Eliot repeated again. His hand went up to his forehead and his eyes widened, down to the floor. “The only thing that makes sense? I—what?”

“Look, I saw the spell Margo used. In the ward, we both had to—” Quentin took a deep breath. “We both had to tell the truth. And we just didn’t realize the other was telling the truth too because we’re—we’re whatever.”

“We’re whatever.” Eliot was still repeating his last words back to him, though his voice was getting tinnier and higher, more strained like a panic. Quentin pushed through the uncertainty that provoked in his gut, knowing he needed to at least see his message through.

“But when I said I love you, there and here,” he pressed a single finger down on the bar, emphasizing his most important point. “I meant it. I mean it.”

Eliot opened his mouth. Then he closed it. Then he opened his mouth, like he was going to laugh. Then he closed it.

His eyes widened.

He opened his mouth again.

Closed it.

Finally, Eliot stared down at the ground and cleared his throat, before looking back up at Quentin with his fingers pressed together against his lips.

“Yeah. Ah. Hmm. I just blacked out a little,” he said, nodding broadly, up and down. His eyes were glassy and Quentin genuinely wasn’t sure if what he said was meant to be a quip or not. But based on the shake of Eliot’s hands, he leaned toward the latter. “I’m sorry. What?”

“We both had to tell the truth—“ Quentin started to repeat, but Eliot furiously shook his head.

“What?” He asked again, before dropping his mouth open, one finger defiantly in the air. “No, no, no. No. You said—you said—“

“It came to my attention that we were kinda talking past each other,” Quentin averted his gaze, Eliot’s intensity too much. He still wasn’t completely sure what exactly was racing through that mind of his. He was inscrutable on a good day and that day was—well, it was a weird day. The weirdest day. And it wasn’t like he thought for sure Eliot’s response would be to yell I love you too and throw himself at Quentin, but well…

It had at least been a hope. The brightest, truest, strongest hope he’d ever felt in his entire life that definitely had yet to come to fruition and seemed to be slipping further away the more they talked. But, uh, no biggie.

Quentin gulped.

“Past each other?” Eliot asked, his eyebrows falling down. He didn’t sound angry, but he didn’t sound not angry at the same time. “What the hell does that mean?”

Quentin shrugged and scratched the back of his neck, extremely nervous, “Like, we both thought the other knew. You know, how we felt.”

“Knew?” Eliot’s eyes were bigger than his whole face. “Wait, you thought I knew that you—? That you—?”

“Yeah.”

Another dark look registered on his face, “And you didn’t know.”

It wasn’t a question anymore. Quentin half-laughed. He wished he had a drink. Or a cigarette. Something that he could do with his hands, since he was pretty sure ripping out his hair wouldn’t be attractive to the remarkably stoic Eliot. At least, remarkably stoic all things considered. Quentin felt like all his bones were about to jump out of his skin. Eliot seemed—maybe perturbed? Anxious? At worst? Still nothing much auspicious, as far as he could tell. His heart sunk down as he swallowed his fear.

“No. I didn’t know,” he said softly, looking down at his hands. “Definitely not.”

Eliot’s face had teetered between emotionless and shellshocked. But then, a swath of anger and incredulity passed over his eyes, his eyebrows knitting tightly together and his lips snarling in a haughty square.

“How the fuck didn’t you know?” He asked, hard. He ground his teeth and raked a hand through his hair. “I told you. More than once.”

“Actually, uh, no,” Quentin kept staring at his hands. “You technically didn’t. So, uh, I had no idea. At all. Margo actually had to tell me.”

“Margo told you,” Eliot said, repeating again. This time, he wasn’t monotone. He was half-amused, half-furious. “Margo told you? My god, she is on the thinnest of motherfucking ice—”

“She was trying to help, El,” Quentin sighed. “Give her a break. And if it—whatever the fuck ‘it’ is—was so obvious, why do you care that she told me?”

“Do not become a Bambi apologist on me,” Eliot snapped, expertly sidestepping Quentin’s last question. “That’s how she gets her claws in. Brainwashing bitch.”

“I—” Quentin started to say and rubbed the inner corners of his eyes in a pinch. He nodded. “Yeah. Okay.”

Eliot’s face faltered at that and he gripped the edge of the nearest bar stool, his knuckles contrasting light pink against the Parisian red of the leather. He kept blinking for a few more moments, until he finally stared down, straight at his shoes. Quentin’s ears rushed in haunting swooshes as the world stood still on its axis.

“So wait, you’re—?” Eliot finally started to ask, all his sharpness and confidence drained. He cleared his throat. “You’re actually—? You feel—?”

Quentin nodded, cautiously, still staring at his hands. When he received no response, he glanced up and realized that Eliot also wasn’t looking at him. So he cleared his throat and Eliot’s shoulders jerked with a startle.

“Uh, yeah, El,” he said, cursing the way his voice caught, like a prepubescent boy. But he pressed onward. “Yeah. I am. I do.”

Eliot threw his flask on the counter next to Quentin and abruptly started pacing. He walked back and forth between the bar and a minor Monet on the opposite wall. He raked his hands even more thoroughly through his hair, which was less artfully messy and actual messy-messy at that point. But he still looked…

Well, he looked like Eliot. Quentin’s heart thudded.

“I’m processing,” Eliot said, into the ground. “Give me a minute.”

“Okay,” Quentin said quietly.

Eliot’s long legs carried him back and forth between the short space so quickly that it was more like he was pivoting and spinning over and over again. There was no scurrying in his stride, nothing harried or frantic. He was fluid, constant, unyielding. But tiny movements of his mouth and forehead belied his grace.

“What exactly did you think was happening that night, by my room?” He demanded, still moving. “When I asked you to stay with me? Did you think I was inviting you to eat popcorn and gossip?”

“I thought you were too drunk to consent,” Quentin said, honestly. Eliot laughed, like a madman.

“Consent? What?” He stopped his feet, but his hands ran up and down the side of his head in their own pacing motion. “Our life isn’t a campus sexual assault PSA, Quentin. I obviously wanted—”

“I wasn’t going to mess up our friendship because of an advance I didn’t think you meant, El,” Quentin looked down, refusing to apologize. “Because, honestly, it’s not like it would be the first time you’d hit on someone without it meaning something more .”

“Do not throw shit like that in my face,” Eliot said, firm. There was still no hint of affection or anything close to love in his eyes, and Quentin was growing nervous.

“I’m not throwing anything—” Quentin started, but Eliot shook his head and tensed his jaw.

“I make no apologies for my past proclivities and I never will,” he said, pointing his finger firmly toward Quentin. “It’s separate from you and me. From us.”

Eliot swallowed a little at the final word and shook his head, like he was dazed.

“I’m just—I’m explaining. You wanted an explanation.” Quentin said, rubbing his neck. “But really, I just wouldn’t have been able to live with myself. You were drunk off your ass, El.”

“Always so fucking noble,” Eliot almost laughed again, but his eyes were still darting, still processing. “Jesus Christ.”

“I mean, it’s basic decency, not—”

“Save it for your Women’s Studies course,” Eliot said, growling. “To me, it was a fucking rejection. I am currently processing that it apparently wasn’t, okay?”

“Okay.” Still quiet.

He resumed his pacing for what felt like a lifetime, though it was probably less than a minute.

“Oh, fuck,” Eliot stopped on a dime, gritting his teeth and closing his eyes. “Fuck. Easy for you. Fuck. Goddammit.”

“Uh, yeah,” Quentin said, quiet and quieter still. “I might have overreacted a little—“

“Wasn’t what I meant,” Eliot said, whispering toward the wall. “Not at all. God, what do you think of me?”

“I—” Quentin wasn’t really sure how to answer that. It hadn’t been fair. He’d jumped to the worst possible conclusion and he didn’t have an excuse for it. But Eliot was still pacing and still talking.

“I didn’t—if I had known, I never would have—Oh, god, everything would have been so—“

Eliot didn’t continue and shook his head at the ground. Real panic slowly wrapped its way around Quentin’s torso, reaching up to strangle him. Eliot understood now. But he was barely looking at him. He’d barely stopped moving. His eyes and his voice were filled with shock, regret, maybe an apology. But not anything more. It occurred to Quentin that perhaps Eliot’s truth had been something else he said, that maybe Margo was wrong, that maybe—

But then, Eliot finally looked up at him and Quentin was overwhelmed with light. And that’s when he remembered that in the ward, Eliot spoke last. Quentin’s heart blossomed.

“God, Q,” Eliot said, softly. His eyes were intense and entirely focused on all of Quentin. “If I had known.”

“I’m sorry,” Quentin said automatically and Eliot shook his head, still unsmiling but much warmer.

“Don’t go down the apology rabbit hole again,” he said, his eyes green as ever on Quentin’s face. His gaze focused first on Quentin’s lips, before darting up to his eyes, with full contact. “That’s—no. Please.”

“Okay,” Quentin nodded, rooted to his spot. “I’ll, uh, try.”

Eliot closed his eyes and cracked his neck, a hint of a smile forming on his face. He touched the tip of his tongue to his front teeth and nodded once, before throwing himself into the stool next to Quentin. The tips of his fingers tapped along the bar and he reached across Quentin’s arms to grab his flute. He drained what was left of the drink and then frowned at its emptiness, still not speaking.

Cautiously, Quentin handed Eliot his flask, which had been resting next to his elbow. Eliot narrowed his eyes before huffing out a laugh. But instead of taking a sip of the bottomless alcohol, he pocketed it.

“So we, ah—we clearly need to work on our communication skills,” Eliot said abruptly, drumming the surface under his hands. He darted his eyes sidelong to Quentin, with the first spark of their familiar ease settling between them. “For instance, when I gave you thirty seconds? Were it me, I wouldn’t have necessarily opened with some oblique bullshit about Margo’s spell. Polite tip.”

“Fair feedback,” Quentin shrugged, his own smallest smile forming on his face. Eliot opened his mouth wordlessly and let out a long sigh, his eyes still dancing around Quentin’s face.

“Um,” he said, before shaking his head, falling wordless again. “But I think that’s where I’m kind of hitting my own wall.”

“Okay. Okay,” Quentin scratched the top of his head, his hotly squirming heart trying to form some kind of coherent words. “So, um, then how—how do you feel? You haven’t actually said.”

“How do I feel? You—” Eliot’s eyes fell open and deep, and his hand jerked slightly, in the small yet cavernous space between them. He breathed out a small sound, almost desperate. “Quentin. I—”

And just as Eliot was about to speak further, fucking Poppy walked in the gallery, clomping her stupid feet with her.

Upon seeing Quentin and Eliot, she let out an obnoxious woo-hoo sound and galloped over to them in some combination of a sprint, a skip, and a stomp. Eliot’s crumpled, annoyed face blinked at her tilted head with about as much amusement as Quentin felt in his black heart.

“Sup, homies?” She waved brightly. Then she widened her mouth. “Ooh, did I just walk in on more drama? Yes!”

Poppy pumped her fist to her chest. Quentin hated her.

“You two are hilarious,” she grabbed a bottle from behind the bar, to a very stern, very French glare from the silent bartender. She gestured toward them with the top of the bottle. “Bottom’s up, kiddos.”

She chugged the amber liquid before making a face, with her tongue sticking out.

“Ugh, don’t chug Ricard,” she said, wagging her face back and forth. Eliot simply ticked a weary eyebrow. She turned her gaze directly to Quentin. “By the way, offer’s still on the table, Dragon Freak.”

“Oh, uh—” Quentin turned bright red and Eliot’s head swiftly snapped toward him, his eyes wide all over again. But Poppy’s face broke out in a huge, devious smile.

“Or even better? Maybe, like—a threesome?”

She was pointing between him and Eliot, waggling her eyebrows.

Quentin was floating outside of his body, the absurdity of his life completely drowning him in the air. He opened his mouth to try to respond, but he was cut off by guttural, bursting sound next to him.

...Eliot had doubled over onto the bar, both hands flat in front of him and his smile wide as his whole body shook with loud, gasping laughter.

“Oh my god,” he cried out, touching his forehead to the edge of the counter. “Oh my fucking god.”

He cackled all the more raucously and tears started flowing through his crinkled eyes as he sputtered, bringing his fist to his mouth which could barely cover his bright grin. For a moment, Quentin stared at him, stunned. But then, slowly, a bubbling laughter reached up through his own chest, his shoulders shaking in time with Eliot.

Oh my god.

Quentin’s smile broke out on his face and his hair fell in his eyes, and he couldn’t stop laughing. Catching Eliot’s eyes, their laughter joined together and they were both leaning on the bar, laughing so hard they were crying.

“I’m, like, covered in dirt right now,” Quentin said, out of nowhere, choking the words out between howls. But it made Eliot fall over to his side, the sides of their torsos bumping together. Eliot laughed so hard it came out silently through an open, wheezing mouth and Quentin wiped his eyes as he laughed and laughed into Eliot’s shoulder.

On instinct, he reached over and twined his fingers through Eliot’s, desperate for his touch. And Eliot instantly laced his fingers down, brushing them over Quentin’s knuckles. He chuckled out a final laugh before raising his eyes to meet Quentin’s, soft and fond.

“Um,” Quentin breathed out and Eliot barely nodded, barely smiling.

“Yeah,” he said, squeezing Quentin’s hand. The warm, firm movement shocked light and hope directly into Quentin’s aching, broken chest.

“We should talk,” Quentin said quietly. Eliot nodded, firmer.

But Poppy was still staring at them from the opposite side, expectantly, with the bottle of pastis cocked at a precarious angle. Eliot snorted in her direction before once again moving his gentle hazel eyes all along Quentin’s face, like he was searching, memorizing, considering. His smile growing, he moved forward off the stool, his steps elegant, light, and determined.

“Come on,” Eliot grabbed Quentin’s arm, tugging him away without a backwards glance. “I know where we can go.”

Heart pounding and glowing with each step, Quentin moved swiftly behind him, as Eliot pulled him up the creaking metal stairs above them, toward the darkening heights of the back galleries. He was so focused on Eliot’s monarchal stride, the perfect curl of his hair against the nape of his neck, the length of his body, and the scorching heat of his hand on his arm, that he barely heard Poppy’s voice call out as they disappeared.

“Seriously, I’d fuck you both. Could be a good time!”

 


 

Through their journey upward, Eliot didn’t spare a single glance backward, though his tight grip on Quentin’s forearm never yielded.

When they reached the darkened fifth floor gallery, Eliot carefully maneuvered the exhibit, like he knew it by heart. Now at the highest point of the Orsay museum, they'd reached the clocktowers held high above Paris, like watchful guardians. The clocks glowed on the sides of the large walls, the only source of light throughout the quiet floor. With a warm sigh at their destination, Eliot finally pulled Quentin up onto the small platform beside the first clock. With that, they were illuminated by nothing but the moonlight and the city lights coming in through the large rounded glass of its face, with statues posing regally outward as their focal point. It was calm and quiet, contrasted to the boisterous party below. As a final touch, Eliot set a silencing ward, so their upcoming, inevitable words couldn’t be heard by others. The last vestiges of the music below disappeared at the same time. Finally, Eliot looked at him again, standing away from him, his dark hair glowing blue in the light.

“Holy shit,” Quentin said, more to himself than even to Eliot. He moved toward the large clock-window and looked out across the city's landscape. He felt sheer awe. “I’m kinda shocked no one else is up here.”

“It’s not strictly open to the public, even of the magical variety,” Eliot said, standing next to Quentin, his own eyes gazing out across the river. “But minor inconveniences don’t deter me.”

“No,” Quentin glanced over at him with a half-grin. “They really don’t, huh?”

Eliot caught his gaze and huffed out a breath. If he didn’t know any better, he’d say Eliot looked…

Nervous.

Huh.

But before Quentin could totally process the tingling rush that sent though his legs or how it sparked a dopey smile across his own face, Eliot turned back to the large window and raised his head, his eyes darkening in the shadows. He looked like a painting, like a Delacroix—intricate, expressive, powerful, soft.

“Is this private enough?” Eliot asked, all deep tones, placing his hands clasped behind his back. “For you?”

“What?”

“Where we are,” Eliot said, those dark eyes unmoving. “Do you think it’s private enough? Or should we go somewhere else? I know privacy matters to you.”

“Uh, I mean,” Quentin looked around. The gallery was still and empty. “I think we can talk here. It’s secluded and you set the ward, in case any stragglers wander up. So yeah, it’s probably—”

The end of his sentence was lost forever though, as Eliot took one long swooping stride toward him and his mouth fell against Quentin’s, his perfect hands curling around his jawline and up into his hair. 

The universe hummed.

When Quentin was a child, his family went to the seashore every summer. He never grew to enjoy the beach, but he loved the ocean. The power of the water terrified and awed him in equal measure. He was drawn to it past the hot sand, the cawing gulls, and the laughing children who never included him in their games. Beginning with his toes, always shocked by the cold in the shallow, he would slowly wade in deeper and deeper, until the water came up to his neck. There, his feet would dangle effortlessly above the sun streaked floor below.

Waiting, young Quentin would tread water, slowly circling his arms and legs outward until a particularly perfect crest of a wave approached. And as it touched his face, he would crash himself down, leading with the back of his head, submerging into the depths. The rush of stillness, of silence, of complete peace in suspended animation and weightlessness made him forget his need for breath every time. It was as though he were passing through the orbit of the moon or around time itself.

Kissing Eliot was exactly like that.

Such was the floating wonder of Eliot’s soft lips gliding achingly over his own starstruck mouth, of Eliot’s trembling hands grazing and caressing his jaw, his neck, his hair, of Eliot’s warm and humming chest pressing into his, of Eliot’s heartbeat joining with Quentin’s like their lost breaths, as they both moved down, down, into the depths, well past the point of no return. It was a gentle revelation, the beginning of all beginnings, and Quentin knew down in the furthest reach of his soul that there was no more turning back. He could have lived in that tender rush of silence for the rest of his life. It was the rest of his life.

But then Eliot’s tongue teased softly against his with a low moan and Quentin’s heart twisted into his stomach, all the way to the center of a supernova.

Like his body remembered something ancient and primal, he surged into Eliot, his hands tangling in his curls and his throat making desperate sounds right from the core of him. Immediately, Eliot’s long, perfect hands gripped Quentin’s shoulders and raced their way across his back, and up his neck, and he was consumed. By Eliot. By nothing but Eliot, with his haunting scent like sharp sugar and smoky rain, the strong and masculine curves of his muscles, the surging, intoxicating heat of him, and oh, fuck—he couldn’t remember his own name.

Eliot pulled him closer and closer, a single long leg slotting between Quentin’s thighs. Quentin ran his hands down Eliot’s neck and shoulders, before he reached his broad chest, pulling Eliot somehow even fucking closer still by grabbing the lapels of his jacket. Eliot briefly pulled away, gasping for breath, his eyes squeezed tightly closed. His lips moved all across Quentin’s face, like he needed every inch he could find. And when his teeth found a sensitive ear lobe, Quentin couldn’t help himself, his throat moaning out in joy.

“Eliot,” he gasped, falling forward into the space between his shoulder and neck, breathing in his skin, his hair, the heady warmth of him, as his stubble roughly stroked against his forehead. Stilling, Eliot’s lips pressed against the tingling skin beside his ear and the squeeze of his hands on Quentin’s arms tightened.

“Say my name again. Just like that,” Eliot said, low and strained, his mouth vibrating against him. “Please.”

A lump caught in Quentin’s throat and he could feel the teary smile cross his face before he could help it. He brought his hand up to Eliot’s cheek and could barely breathe.

Eliot,” he finally said, awed and nearly unmanageable. But the way Eliot’s eyes fell into his, like he was just as disbelieving and overjoyed, made the embarrassing tremble in his voice worth it. Eliot turned his face into Quentin’s palm and kissed his hand.

“I thought you’d never…” Eliot trailed off, shaking his head, nuzzling his strong, beautiful nose against Quentin’s wrist. “Fuck. Oh my god.”

Eliot grabbed him again, pushing Quentin against the side of the black iron wall. He melted into him—the pronouns’ reference irrelevant—lips frantic and desperate, rougher than before, like a thousand years of pain was healed through their passion.

Quentin smiled into Eliot’s mouth. So maybe, possibly, occasionally Julia definitely wasn’t the only one who could be the tiniest bit overwrought. But wow, he didn’t care. If anything was worth poetics, it was—

Eliot firmly, slowly traced his tongue throughout Quentin’s mouth and gripped his wrists, raising them above his head against the wall. It was like he’d realized Quentin’s attention had flowed away and he couldn’t have that for even a single second. And really, who was Quentin but a weak man with no recourse to resist? He gave in, pliant and passionate, powerless against all of Eliot against him.

He tasted like smoke, and the sharpness of alcohol, and peppermint, and something floral and citrusy—

...Flowers and citrus?

A knife thudded firmly into his gut, like panic or pain.

Violet and limes.

Violet and limes.

He tasted like fucking violet and limes. Lovelorn Sighs. Oh—oh god. The flask. “It won’t work for you.” Oh, god. Fuck.

Fuck.

Quentin pulled away with a gasp, his heart breaking out of himself. He had been so stupid. He had been so blind. So callous and cruel, everything he always swore he never was and could never be. And yet—yet, there was incontrovertible evidence of his lack of awareness and the ways that manifested into something dark and horrible. How long had Eliot been drinking it? How often? How much of it? Was his flask always

He slammed his eyes shut, forcing his chin down and to the side so he could catch his damn breath. All of his jaw muscles were on fire in tandem with his chest and he staggered, swallowing self-loathing. When he finally looked back up, Eliot stared down at him, his eyes curling into confusion.

“Q?” He asked, nakedly fearful. And Quentin hated that he could inspire that in him. That he could inspire anything but security and comfort and warmth and endless love. Eliot reached his hands lightly toward Quentin’s hips, trying to gently coax him back toward him. “What—what’s wrong?”

He firmly cupped Eliot’s face, forcing them both to maintain eye contact.

“I love you,” Quentin said, fierce. “I love you, okay? I love you more than I ever knew my heart was capable of loving someone. I thought I was broken, forever, but then I found you, El. I love you.”

And Eliot—witty, thunderous, irreverent Eliot—totally collapsed into his touch, his mouth opening with a shudder. He slumped forward into Quentin, his forehead against his, barely holding himself up by clutching at Quentin’s shoulders. And instead of his usual barrage of bon mots, the only sound he made was something like a sigh, laugh, and purr rolled into one. And Quentin was certain his own heart imploded and revived itself in a single instant.

“And I’m so sorry,” Quentin said, tracing his thumb along Eliot’s perfectly coiffed sideburn, because he could. Immediately,  Eliot pulled back, just enough to look at him, his eyes widened in urgency.

“Stop that,” He barely breathed out, adoring. God, adoring. “Absolutely not. You have nothing to be—“

“Yeah, uh, you’ve made your opinion on my apologies pretty clear recently,” Quentin smirked and Eliot tilted his head with a dazed half-smile. “I hear you. But I—I hurt you. Even if I didn’t mean to or know that I was doing it, I still hurt you and I fucking hate that.”

But Eliot simply pulled Quentin against his lips, pressing firmly into his hairline. He sighed, his nose burying into the hair on top of his head.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said, punctuating each syllable with light pressure all along Quentin’s forehead. “Not anymore. God, just kiss me again.”

Quentin was only human. He tilted his head up and recaptured Eliot’s lips, pouring out every bit of ache and longing he’d felt for the better part of a year. He flattened his hands against the broad expanse of Eliot’s strong, masculine chest and dragged his palms up his shoulders and to his neck, his fingers tracing the shell of his ears. And Eliot—Eliot wrapped the whole length of his long arms around Quentin, until they fell back against the wall.

He lost track of how long they stayed there, wrapped up in the feel of each other. It wasn’t long enough though, Quentin grieved, when Eliot pulled away with an almost pained gasp.

“Q,” Eliot gripped at Quentin’s suit lapels and brought their heads together, his eyes tightly closed, like he was overwhelmed. “Q. Oh my god. I can’t—you have no idea. You have no idea.”

“I mean, I have some idea,” Quentin smirked but Eliot shook his head, lips gently kissing the side of his mouth.

“I’m not ready to joke around yet, okay?” he said, quietly, petting Quentin’s hair back. In response, Quentin kissed him softly and Eliot’s hands tightly grasped at his ears and neck again.

“Okay,” Quentin said, reluctantly pulling away again. But they still really needed to talk at some point. “Then I need to tell you why I’m sorry. Please.”

Eliot nodded, silently, his fingers lightly moving up and down Quentin’s jaw line. Quentin took his hand and kissed his knuckles, before gently pulling Eliot to the ground. They sat with their backs to the wall and Eliot held onto Quentin’s hand like it was going to disappear.

“So, um, sometimes, I can kind of get stuck in my own head,” Quentin began, with a fast, labored breath.

And Eliot, for someone who had just said that he didn’t want to joke around, swiftly bit over his bottom lip as his eyes sparked with unbridled humor. But to his credit, he sobered the barely contained teasing down with a quick clearing of his throat and he simply waited for Quentin to continue.

So, he did.

“I should have—I don’t really have an excuse for why I was such a fucking ostrich, okay?” Quentin said, scratching his knee with his free hand. “You were right. I should have known. It’s not like you didn’t make it clear. I should have known.”

“Q,” Eliot started, running his thumb across Quentin’s bottom lip. A rush of heat emanated from his lip down to his thighs, like a tsunami. He turned away with a blush.

“Uh, that’s distracting,” Quentin admitted and Eliot’s lips curled up into a much more familiar, confident expression.

“Noted,” he said, with that inherent smugness and sensuality that was—fuck. He was calculating and categorizing Quentin already. With a jolt, he realized that Eliot may have actually already been doing so for awhile. More likely than not.

“Just let me—okay?” Quentin laughed a little and Eliot raised his eyebrows, with the barest hint of a smirk and glittering jewel eyes. His Cheshire Cat grin only grew as Quentin cleared his throat and shifted slightly away.

“By all means,” Eliot said, sweeping his free hand out, like he was carefree and casual. But his other hand was still white-knuckle gripping Quentin’s.

“The thing is, I’m not even, like, that emotionally stunted,” Quentin swallowed. “I understand subtext sometimes. I can even on a very rare occasion tell that someone is attracted to me. But, uh, with you it was, um—“

“Different,” Eliot supplied for him, quietly nodding. “Yeah.”

“Yeah,” Quentin pressed his face into his hand. “And, like, I think I couldn’t imagine that you’d ever feel anything for me. Ever.”

“What?” Eliot somehow squeezed his hand tighter.

“It was, like, incomprehensible to me, because—”

“Because of the beginning of the year,” Eliot filled in, his voice tight. “Q, I was such an idiot.”

“El—”

But Eliot gasped out a half-laugh and looked up at the ceiling, his eyes wet and pained, “Do you know how many times I’ve replayed our first meeting in my head? How many times I've imagined all the ways I could have done it differently, done it right? I would have swept you off your fucking feet if I—”

“No, El,” Quentin shook his head, cutting him off, tears in his eyes too. “It’s not about that. I’m over that. I’m over that. It’s about you. Who you are.”

“Who I am?” Eliot asked slowly, like he wasn’t sure if it was a compliment or an insult. That was probably Quentin’s fault.

“I—I wanted you from the first time I saw you,” Quentin quietly admitted. Eliot’s jaw tensed.

“Oh, god,” he said, letting go of Quentin’s hand for the first time, to rub his own face. “We could have had nine fucking months. Oh my god. I’m such an idiot.”

“El, please,” Quentin pressed his hand on Eliot’s knee and immediately, Eliot entwined their fingers again. “I wanted you, but I thought that you were—well, you know.”

“No, I don’t,” Eliot squeezed his hand again, coaxing.

“Out of my league,” Quentin swallowed. “Or some less cliche way of putting it. And I never really got over that, unlike everything else. We were friends and that seemed like the end of the line for what I could, um, reasonably expect.”

Eliot just stared at him, Quentin’s hand limper in his than it had been yet. So Quentin took another deep breath.

“And that’s what I meant by us being—that it was the best possible outcome,” Quentin said, not sure if Eliot would know what he was referring to. But he very obviously did, since his breath hitched and he winced, full-body, at the words. “I meant for me. And what I could hope for from you.”

Eliot narrowed his eyes and nodded, staring at a fixed point in space.

“Okay,” he said, like it was very much not okay. “Okay. I have—thoughts about that. Not all totally... positive. But I think I need to process again.”

“I understand,” Quentin nodded. “I get that. I’m sorry.”

“And I—” Eliot shook his head. “Fuck. I’m not really sure what I want to say right now. I’m jumbled.”

“Twinsies,” Quentin said, on an impulse, before sighing. “Sorry. No jokes. Sorry.”

He let out a long breath and dipped his head down, his eyes in his hands. Slowly, he felt Eliot’s long fingers push into his hair, massaging against the sides of his scalp like it was the most natural thing in the world. Fuck. It felt so good.

“Fuck, that feels so good,” Quentin said aloud. He expected Eliot to laugh or offer a languid quip about magic fingers. But instead, those hands slowly tugged Quentin closer, capturing his lips under his again, whisper soft.

“My Q,” Eliot said gently against him and Quentin was gone. “My Q.”

Quentin immediately deepened the kiss, parting his lips and Eliot took every inch given to him. Wrapped in each other, imprecise in their movements but not their passion and sheer depth of feeling, everything was warm hands, soft lips, breathy sighs, aching hearts, and Eliot.

“Shit, you’re really good at this,” Quentin breathed out when he surfaced for air.

“We’re good at this,” Eliot murmured against his mouth. “It’s—it’s us together, Q. My Q. I am—”

“El,” Quentin leaned back in, but Eliot shook his head, pushing Quentin slightly away.

“I know I haven’t said it yet,” he said, lowering his eyes, like he was ashamed.”Sometimes I require patience. Certainly more than average.”

“El, I don’t give a shit about that,” Quentin said, really meaning it. “All I want is you.”

But Eliot shook his head harder, his intense eyes meeting his, “Q. Quentin. I am—”

He scooted forward, shaking bringing his hands up and his lips as close as they could get without kissing.His jaw tensed slightly and he took a sharp breath inward.

“Quentin, I am madly in love with you,” Eliot whispered, caressing his face like he was precious. “I’ve never—never in my whole life. I’ve never even come close to this, not once. Jesus, you thought you were broken? You—I love you. I love you so fucking much.”

“Eliot,” Quentin said again, dazed and amazed, but Eliot’s thumb pressed on his lips. Fire sparked in his gut and he sighed, closing his eyes against his touch.

“I’m not done,” Eliot said, intense and devout. “I—I’ve thought a lot about what I’d say if you ever—if this fucking fantasy ever came true. God, that’s pathetic.”

Quentin brought his hand up to Eliot’s curls, smoothing them out clumsily.

“No,” he shook his head. “That’s—it’s definitely not pathetic, okay?”

Eliot smiled slightly, unconvinced, but he took Quentin’s hand and kissed each of his fingertips regardless, “In any case, I’m going to say it every single day, okay? I owe you that.”

“You don’t owe me anything,” Quentin said simply, and Eliot smiled.

“Then I want to give you that,” he kissed each of Quentin’s knuckles, like he was completing a ritual. “Can you—can you let me? Please?”

“El,” Quentin swallowed tears with a jagged breath. “Yeah. Yeah.”

“Every day.”

An instinct for lightheartedness made him dizzy and he quickly kissed Eliot’s lips again before pulling back. Eliot immediately lodged a formal complaint at the abrupt lack of contact, which included lips firmly crawling up Quentin’s neck. But instead of giving in to Eliot’s not so subtle demand—a Herculean task—Quentin instead grinned widely, dipping his head away from Eliot’s determined efforts.

“And I’ll pretend that it’s, uh,” he bit his lip a little, already amused with himself, “not really just a chance for you to get to hear the sound of your own voice more often.”

He smiled and Eliot’s eyes widened.

“I love you,” he said, planting a firm kiss on his lips before laughing, bright and joyful. “God, I love you. And all your dumb jokes.”

Quentin glared, “They’re not dumb.”

“It’s important to me that you know that they are. They’re really dumb,” Eliot brushed the pad of his thumb over Quentin’s chin, his grin never waning. “But I love them.”

“Agree to disagree,” Quentin said, dipped his head backward with a smile of his own that he couldn’t fight. “Mr. Bon Mot.”

“I’m not going to apologize for my natural eloquence,” Eliot brought his posture up, looking very much like himself. It warmed every part of Quentin. “Besides, it’s best we operate on a policy of full transparency.”

“Uh-huh,” Quentin laughed. “Yeah, we’ve been really good at that so far.”

“New leaf and all that,” Eliot sighed and leaned back against the wall, flipping Quentin’s hands between his own much larger ones. He watched the movement carefully, avoiding eye contact again. “So in that same vein, what I really mean is that you’re, you know…perfect.”

Eliot’s eyes darted as he swallowed, like he was nervous again. Quentin wrapped his fingers around Eliot’s and squeezed.

“I’m not,” he said softly, shaking his head. The strands of his hair fell in front of his eyes and Eliot pushed them back, pressing into his scalp. “I’m very much not. But I love you too.”

“Perfect to me,” Eliot murmured, his eyes closing. He leaned in and nuzzled their noses. “For me. God, Q.”

Quentin wanted to lean forward again, into Eliot’s lips. More than he’d ever wanted anything. Really, he’d be more than happy to take up a permanent residence there, forgetting everything else for the rest of time. But.

But.

“But, uh—full transparency?” Quentin said, pressing a kiss against Eliot’s cheekbone so he didn’t get too freaked out. He tensed anyway. “I think there’s still some shit we need to parse out.”

“Is there?” Eliot asked, unnaturally high-pitched. "Or are we, like, good?"

“El.”

“Q.”

Quentin ran his hands down his face, “Look, it’s just that I’m—I feel like the biggest fuck-up in the world.”

“Dramatic,” Eliot said, hand on Quentin’s knee. “But relatable.”

“I had no idea, El,” Quentin laughed bitterly, his voice and his words getting away from him, his eyes closing. “Like, that’s fucked up.”

“No need to be a martyr about it.” Eliot’s voice was an eye roll he couldn’t see.

“Do you even like oranges?” Quentin peaked one eye open and Eliot laughed.

“Oh, Q.”

That was all he said. Quentin groaned.

“Yeah,” he said, banging his head backward. “Yeah. I’m an idiot.”

“It’s fine,” Eliot kissed his forehead. “I like ‘em pretty and dumb.”

“Ha, ha,” Quentin bit down on his teeth. He shook his head again, too heavy to keep up. It dipped down into his chest. “It’s just that now I see everything you did and it’s, like, I really must be fucking broken if—”

But Eliot cut him off with a soft shushing sound and kissed him gently, before pulling him into the warm space between his shoulder and neck. He hooked his arm around Quentin’s shoulder and squeezed him as tightly as he could against him.

“Hey, I know. Me too,” he said quietly, resting his chin on top of Quentin’s head. “It’s okay. We’re the same, baby.”

Normally, Quentin loathed terms of endearment and especially that one. But from Eliot? Okay. Yeah. Okay.

“And as much as you like to take on everything yourself, I'm sorry to say this actually wasn’t just you. I didn’t listen to you either,” Eliot said, his hand rubbing firm, massaging circles into the back of Quentin’s neck. “You told me that you needed the words, but I was too fucking selfish and cowardly to give them to you.”

“What are you talking about?” Quentin blinked up at him, frowning. “When did I say that?”

Eliot gave him a probing look, “A few weeks ago. Remember when we were talking about Julia and Kady?”

“Yeah, sure," Quentin frowned deeper, confused. "But, uh, what do Julia and Kady have to do with us?”

Eliot laughed. Hard. Really hard. Like, a little insultingly hard?

“Never mind,” he said, kissing Quentin’s forehead again. That was apparently, like, a thing. He liked it. “The point is, I should have said something. I should have made sure you really knew, before running away. I’ll—try not to do that again.”

“I’m sorry I wasn’t brave sooner,” Quentin said, swallowing.

“You’re the bravest person I know. I’m in awe of your bravery,” Eliot said, quiet and staring right into Quentin’s eyes. Quentin swallowed and shook his head, before laughing a little.

“That’s an exaggeration,” he said, averting away from Eliot. “I can’t think of anything brave I’ve ever done.”

Eliot leaned his cheek against the top of Quentin’s head, “Yeah, but that’s because it’s instinctual to you. You think it’s normal. But it’s not. It’s incredible.”

“Right,” Quentin laughed harshly. “Yeah, you know, they’re actually writing a fucking superhero series about me. Socially awkward nerd reads books alone in room for two decades. Real heroic.”

Eliot was stone still for a few long moments. His dark eyes slit over at Quentin, before he let out a stifled breath.

“Okay. I’m done processing,” Eliot said then, referring to his earlier statement. He sat up, fully glaring. “Margo’s right. You have to stop that shit.”

“They’re just jokes,” Quentin sighed. “Not that serious, El.”

“You can't bullshit a bullshitter,” Eliot snapped. “It’s not a compliment to me when you act like it’s absurd that I could think these things of you.”

“Yeah, except that it kinda is. It’s totally absurd,” Quentin laughed. “You and me—we’re not an obvious pairing, El. You could have literally anyone and I’m just this—”

“Fucking stop it, Quentin,” Eliot’s hands burst out in a frustrated motion. “Stop it. I know you have a broken brain but you don’t have to give it what it wants all the goddamn time.”

Quentin blinked and frowned, “But they're just facts. You’re gorgeous and worldly and, like, I’m a former admin of the internet’s largest Fillory fan forum.”

“How uncharacteristically shallow of you,” Eliot said with a true incredulous snort. “Seriously?”

“My point is that it’s not totally self-deprecation. It’s self-knowledge.”

“Jesus,” Eliot rubbed his temples. “Well, then your self-knowledge sucks, as does your analysis. Because gorgeous and worldly? That shit doesn’t keep, Q. But your passion, your kindness, your fucking bravery—”

“I’m not saying you’re only—”

“I know you’re not!” Eliot banged the back of his head against the wall. “But fuck. I—”

“What?” Quentin whole being clenched with defensiveness and he hugged himself, tucking his knees close to his chest. But Eliot just deflated.

“I adore you,” he said, low. “I believe all these things and so many more, but you cut me off at the head every time I try to express them. I don’t know how to—”

Eliot swallowed and closed his eyes.

“I know I’m not good at this,” Quentin said, resting his chin on his knee. “But, like, you’re going to have to give me a minute with this whole adoration thing. I didn’t fucking know.”

He knew he was being pissier than the situation called for. But he did that sometimes. Better for Eliot to get used to it now, if he wasn’t already. He wrapped his arms tightly around his dirty pants and set his mouth into its comfortable, annoyed straight line.

“Yeah, but that’s my fucking point, Q,” Eliot buried his head in his own hands. “I failed. And I’m terrified that I’m going to keep failing.”

“Well, you could start by not being so hot and cold with me,” Quentin shot out before he could stop himself. Eliot pulled his head up, blinking.

“Are you on the whole moody thing again?” He rolled his eyes. But Quentin set his jaw.

“I mean, yeah, kinda,” he said. “You were basically a huge dick to me all night. Until you weren’t. But then, oops, never mind, there it was again.”

“You have context now,” Eliot said, flat. “I was trying my best.”

“Yeah, well, your best was pretty fucking mean,” Quentin sighed. “You can be mean.”

“Been waiting to say that or what?” Eliot bit his tongue between his teeth, staring at his fingernails. “Look, I know, Q. And I’m sorry, but—”

“But?”

“Margo’s bullshit got to me, okay?” He laughed, off-kilter. “I was spiraling. I didn’t expect to see you and then I did and I couldn’t handle it and then fucking Margo—I lashed out.”

“Yeah, I know with the ward,” Quentin said. “But El, it had been building all night. I’m actually talking about before that—”

“Oh, so the fuck am I.”

Quentin blinked. “What do you mean?”

Eliot wearily ran his fingers over his face and laughed, his discomfort calcifying again.

“Remember when I said Margo was more misguided than cruel? Well, it was about all of it. The whole fucking night, especially you being her fucking date,” he said, spitting out the last word.

“I wasn’t her date-date,” Quentin said, frowning. “I hope obviously.”

“Obviously,” Eliot shook his head, closing his eyes. “Obviously. I know that. Rationally. But it still got under my skin. She had some, ah—ulterior motives.”

“Margo?” Quentin gasped, widening his eyes. That at least got a brief laugh out of Eliot.

“I don’t think she entirely intended to send me on a tailspin,” he kept his eyes down, taking Quentin’s hand and entwining his fingers in and out in a pattern. “But as they say, the road to hell is paved with manipulative intentions, so what can you do?”

“Yeah, okay. So what was that about? The tailspin, I mean,” Quentin asked carefully. Eliot shrugged, an instinctive response. But then he took a deep breath.

“Her intention, I think, was to show me what I was missing, in an attempt to get me to engage more. To, like, fight for you. For us,” he said slowly. “But it had the opposite effect because—because, well, I already acutely knew what I was fucking missing. I knew better than her. I didn’t need the What-Could-Have-Been dangled in front of me.”

Quentin’s heart cracked.

“El.”

But Eliot almost imperceptibly shook his head, continuing to stare down at their joined hands. He wasn’t done.

“Also, I have this mostly irrational fear that one day, Margo actually will tire of me and all my bullshit,” Eliot said quickly, tracing his eyes upward and out. He squeezed Quentin’s hand for dear life. “And then, you know, I’ll die alone. In Palm Springs.”

“Specific,” Quentin said, giving him space. Eliot brought his legs up and cradled his head in his palm.

“And I think even the kernel of the idea that she would abandon me to spend all her time with you, the man I fell for more than I’d ever thought I—“ Eliot cut himself off with a choke, but then swallowed, “And, you know, who I thought would never love me back because I’m too…“

“Eliot,” Quentin breathed out as he trailed off. He settled himself in closer, running his hand along Eliot’s hair. Eliot leaned into the touch, but then blinked several times in succession and his head hung down, eyes glassy.

“Uh, I kind of lost it, I guess,” he said, finishing with a sad and dull tone.

“Definitely wasn’t her intention,” Quentin said, his voice too raw to say much more. Eliot shrugged and let out a dark laugh.

“I’m not sure if I was more pissed about the ward or that fucking bottle of champagne,” he clenched his fist. “That was a particularly low blow.”

“I’ll drink a million bottles of champagne with you,” Quentin said, squeezing his hand. Eliot smiled tearily at him and nudged him.

“You’d definitely die of alcohol poisoning. Probably by the fourth or fifth bottle, really,” he said, his recognizable lilt in his voice. “But I appreciate the sentiment.”

“Didn’t think you were so literal,” Quentin glared, dully, though he couldn’t totally keep the smile off his face.

“Only as suits for the bit,” Eliot said, but his face was also still smiling too much, still too dazed for his normal sharp impact. "But Q, I'll work on it, okay? On being mean and the unfair lashing out. I promise. But only if you work on not being so shitty to yourself."

Eliot brought his long fingers up to his curls and pressed them back, taking long deep breaths like he was steadying himself. Quentin’s heart thudded twice, sending a pool of warmth down to his stomach. It had been a really long fucking night. They were spent. And while they still had a lot to talk about, over days, weeks, probably years, none of it mattered. Not in that moment. Not really. So Quentin sidled up to Eliot, resting his chin on his shoulder. He quietly laughed, glancing up at him with a smirk.

“It’s kind of impressive, really.”

“What is?” Eliot asked, still dark and inward.

Quentin kissed the edge of his shoulder blade. “Just that even your worst tailspin looks a lot like my coma.”

That broke him out. Eliot laughed and wrapped his arm around Quentin, tucking him in closer to his chest.

“I internalize on occasion,” he said, with a wag of his eyebrows. “Until I don’t.”

“See, I always thought you were more like James Bond,” he said, before affecting a terrible British accent. “Shaken, not stirred.”

“Yeah, see, that’s a really nerdy thing to say,” Eliot said with a vaguely amused sidelong glance.

Quentin offered his best bright grin, “Well, I yam what I yam.”

“Oh my god,” Eliot said, shaking his head and hiding a smile, before kissing him again. Which was good because it had really been an unreasonable amount of time since he’d done that. Quentin kissed him back, firm and soft, opening his mouth just so, touching his tongue to Eliot's.

“Mmm, I like being able to do that,” he admitted with a grin and Eliot pressed his lips lazily along Quentin’s jaw.

“I like you doing that,” he hummed back, nipping a little. The pressure of his teeth on his sensitive skin made Quentin’s eyelashes flutter down against his cheeks. His breath hitched. Everything was perfect. Everything was perfect.

Everything was fucking perfect

“Hmm. Okay,” Eliot smiled as he pulled away, far too quickly for Quentin’s taste. Then he nodded curtly and pressed their hands down against the floor, like a shift of some kind was happening. “Okay. So now what?”

“Um,” Quentin furrowed his brow. “Um, well, I guess we start by defining our terms, right? And, uh, we should probably have a discussion about what our mutual starting understanding is, vis-a-vis—”

“Outta there, Coldwater,” Eliot laughed, tapping Quentin’s forehead with all the affection in the world. “I was speaking more immediately. Practically.”

“Like, uh...?”

“Well, as much as I’d like to keep making out in a clocktower, eventually we might want to move somewhere,” Eliot’s fingers wrapped firmly around Quentin’s wrist, “you know, more comfortable. If—if you want.”

His whole body lit on fire at once. Oh god, why weren’t they already somewhere more comfortable right the fuck then? He grasped Eliot’s hand and brought it up to his chest, like it was an anchor.

“Right,” Quentin said, hoarse. “Uh, yeah, I think it’s safe to say that... I want.”

Eliot dipped his nose against Quentin’s so they shared the same breath, “But there are a few minor logistical impediments. Our rooms here are otherwise occupied.”

They were both there with other dates. Because they were stupid, stupid men who didn’t come together, as God intended. Fuck.

“Well, uh, I guess we could wait a day or so,” Quentin said, tucking his brow down, hating that option more than both Guillermo and Margo combined. “Or—“

“Fucking or?” Eliot pressed, sounding desperate. Quentin smirked.

“Or Margo might give us space.”

“Subzero chance,” he rolled his eyes hard. It occurred to Quentin that Eliot was still angry with her, even after everything. “She’s too fucking nosy.”

“Or—okay,” Quentin sighed and briefly kissed Eliot, because he was right there. “Then we go home.”

“Home?” Eliot smiled. “I thought you were going to say we splurge on a muggle hotel room. We’re in Paris, Quentin.”

“I know. I know it’s dumb,” Quentin bent his head, blushing. Eliot’s fingers danced their way across his warmed skin.

“God, your pink cheeks,” Eliot dashed forward, his lips messily pressing to the side of his face. “They are so fucking delicious.”

“Jesus, Eliot,” Quentin smiled and his cheeks reddened more. Eliot’s lips fell back onto the pulse point of his neck. “Um—oh god, okay.”

The vibration of Eliot’s rough laughter tingled his skin, “You were saying?”

“Ah—something.”

“Mmm. Yes. I agree,” Eliot’s teeth grazed against his jaw and his ear, his hand tucking slowly up and under his shirt. Quentin’s breath caught sharply. “I should just take you right here, consequences be damned.”

“Fuck, don’t tempt me,” he gasped out and Eliot opened his mouth to retort wickedly, but Quentin rushed out the rest of his words like a wave. “It’s just that I’m—I’m so tired. It’s been a long night. I just want to be with you. I don’t care about Paris.”

Eliot pulled away and softened, sighing, “Really?”

“Maybe that’s hard for you to understand,” Quentin shook his head, looping their fingers together again. “But I spent most of the night really sad and—”

Eliot kissed him with such tenderness then that Quentin thought he’d sink into the ground.

“I’ll do anything to make you happy,” Eliot promised quietly against his lips. “Anything, Q.”

“Me too,” Quentin nodded. “For you. So what do you want?”

“I want what you want.”

“I think this is going to get really circular, really fast.”

Eliot laughed, loud and true, “Fair enough. Okay. Well, I suppose there’s a certain appeal to going home.”

Quentin gave a small smile. “Yeah?”

“For one thing,” Eliot tilted his head, all teasing, “you could get changed out of these extremely expensive clothes that you rolled in the fucking dirt for some godforsaken reason.”

Quentin grinned widely, laughing. He’d forgotten that he hadn’t actually explained that one to El.

“Obviously it was an act of revenge against Margo,” he said, pushing his hair back. “Duh.”

Eliot’s eyes sparkled, “Devastating, Q.”

“I mean, my nickname in undergrad was The Count of Monte Cristo,” Quentin winked. “So, you know.”

“I—” Eliot sputtered and laughed, like he was genuinely perplexed. “Why does that do it for me? How did this happen?”

“Speaking of doing it for you, if we went home? I could put on one of my T-shirts and a hoodie,” Quentin said, smiling up into the night’s lights and Eliot’s perfect eyes. “I know how much that look turns you on.”

“You think you’re joking, but it does,” Eliot groaned, his head dropping onto Quentin’s shoulder. “You’ve truly mastered some black magic witchcraft shit.”

“Margo’s going to be so disappointed in you.”

“Oh, she knows and she is,” Eliot laughed. “Your whole current attire was just as much about changing me as you.”

Quentin knew he was supposed to joke back, to keep that pop-pop-pop flowing electric between them. But the idea of Eliot confiding in Margo that he thought Quentin looked good or sexy or anything in his usual stupid clothes overwhelmed him. He reached up and cupped Eliot’s face, drawing him in for another long kiss. He couldn’t believe how easy it was and how much Eliot responded, instantly, tightening and caressing like Quentin might slip away if he didn’t.

When Quentin finally drew back and pressed his lips downward onto Eliot’s frankly fucking remarkable chin dimple, Eliot sighed into his hair, his hands moving up and down his back.

“You’ll have to explicate what precisely causes that reaction,” he murmured into Quentin’s forehead. “Because I intend to seek it near constantly.”

“Near?” Quentin asked, teasing.

“Well, we all have to piss sometimes. Unless you’re a lot kinkier than I’m anticipating.”

“I may surprise you,” Quentin said with a laugh, if still not without its own truth. “Though, yeah, probably not that.”

“Don’t worry, I’ve dated prudes before,” Eliot pulled back with a cheeky grin and kissed the tip of his nose. “It’s fine.”

“Funny guy.”

“But seriously,” Eliot said, tracing circles on the nape of Quentin’s neck. “You want to go home?”

“I want to be in your bed,” Quentin admitted, not caring if it was too bold. But the way Eliot’s pupils dilated and his breath hitched made the risk worth it. “I’ve, uh, wanted that so much. For a long time. In a lot of different ways.”

“Um,” Eliot’s voice was threadbare as he swallowed, eyes black and painted on Quentin’s. “Um, yeah.”

He smiled, innocently, knowing he may actually have Eliot in the palm of his hand, “But we can wait if you—“

“We are waiting for nothing,” Eliot gripped his shoulders, speaking right against Quentin’s lips. “For nothing, ever again, in our entire lives.”

And the balance shifted back.

“Seriously, you do have to get changed though,” Eliot smiled into his mouth. “I keep clean sheets.”

“Fine. Okay.”

“The ground in Paris is disgusting, Q.”

“Understood.”

“Which means you’re disgusting right now.”

“Yeah, okay, I get it.”

“I’m not sure you do. The fact that I’m even touching you speaks to the monumental depth of my love for you.”

“Sheesh. I mean, if it’s such a burden, I can—”

But Eliot found a new way to shut him up and that was how it was for a good long time.

 


 

Unlike Quentin’s typical disaster zone method, Eliot was able to procure a taxi for them without issue, and they reached the portal entrance in record time. Despite having spent the last couple hours kissing in a large clock, Quentin had lost track of time and was shocked to see the numbers 4:30 blinking back at him as Eliot paid the driver. Quentin’s eyes were bleary, but he couldn’t stop tapping his hands against his legs. He was exhausted and he had all the energy in the world at the same time.

The portal was glamoured to look like a city maintenance door in the side of a stoned wall, half a block from the hotel. Eliot opted not to do Horomancy to get them home at a time before or after the natural time zone change, because apparently fucking with it more than once in a day would, indeed, break the space-time continuum.

“But why would that break it more than doing it once?” Quentin asked, leaning against the wall as Eliot tutted to activate the dormant portal. It wasn’t supposed to come back on-line for another four hours. “It should break literally every time then.”

“Because of the Mandala Principle,” Eliot said with a quick glance of duh over at Quentin before turning back to his work.

“Mandala? Like Hindu symbolism?” Quentin’s eyebrows had a mind of their own as they moved around his forehead. “What the fuck does that have to do with time travel?”

“Everything is connected,” Eliot said, his hands gracefully fluttering out a pattern Quentin didn’t recognize. “The universe, our dreams, and all is one.”

“I—“ Quentin put his hands in his pocket and rocked back and forth on his feet. “I still don’t think I totally follow?”

“Imagine a single set of footprints in the sand and how the light of the world carries you forward,” Eliot said as he finished the first phase and now was working on the final wards. “Then how we must dance like no one’s watching, sing like no one’s—“

“You’re messing with me,” Quentin crossed his arms. Eliot smiled into the ground.

“Yeah,” he said softly. Then he glanced up cheekily at Quentin. “No one knows how Horomancy works, Q. It just does. Now, get ready.”

“I mean, someone must know—“

The portal opened, a bright glowing white light.

“Chop, chop,” Eliot grabbed Quentin’s hand firmly, kissing his knuckles. “Time’s a-wastin’.”

And with two short steps, they were back in New York.

It was around eleven at night and the Cottage party was in full-swing, even without Margo and Eliot. They ran a well oiled machine, Eliot explained, his voice low and breathy in Quentin’s ear as he shuffled him quickly up the stairs. The parties were basically automated at this point, never needing their loyal, passionate cultivars to fulfill their purpose anymore. It was all very nice, but Quentin couldn’t have given less of a shit. He was too focused on everything else about Eliot than the words he was saying.

And as soon as they were upstairs, in the empty, darkened hallway, he and Eliot were pushed up against each other, against the wall, and the urge—the need to crawl between each other, under each other, was more than any public space could handle.

“Go get changed,” Eliot gasped into Quentin’s neck. “Now. Or I’m going to—“

“Right,” Quentin nodded, a bobble head, out of his fucking mind. “Right. Um?”

His eyes asked the silent question and Eliot smirked.

“Behind you, second door on the right,” he said, giving Quentin directions to his own room. He kissed him once, hard. “Then come back to me.”

In turn, Quentin kissed him once, soft.

 


 

The second they closed Eliot’s door and set the privacy wards, Quentin frantically threw himself at Eliot, not giving one single damn how desperate he seemed. He had been desperate for far too long. His hands pushed through his curls and he kissed him hungrily, the rough brush of that artful stubble dizzying every sense.

But Eliot, ever kingly Eliot, slowed Quentin’s pace naturally, smoothly, with a single hand to the back of his head and a spine-tinglingly slow caress of his tongue up Quentin’s neck.

“Not so fast, baby,” Eliot hummed into his ear. “I want you so much I can barely stand. But tonight, I need to show you, okay? Please let me show you.”

He’d said that before. Quentin didn’t understand it then, but he was starting to get the gist now. Eliot slowly backed Quentin onto the bed, sliding his whole body between his legs, until they were lying together, tangled and slowly kissing.

“Show me—ah,” Quentin gasped out as Eliot bit his earlobe. “Show me what?”

“Everything,” Eliot murmured as he pulled off Quentin’s shirt and kissed the newly bare expanse of his chest. “How much I love you. How crazy you make me. How incredibly sexy you are.”

“Oh god,” Quentin bucked his hips up as Eliot continued to kiss down his body. “Eliot.”

But Eliot just chuckled softly as he brought his face back up to Quentin’s and kissed him, deep and firm.

“I’m gonna take care of you, baby,” he said, his lips moving all across his face. “God, I’m gonna take such good care of you. You’ll see.”

“Eliot,” Quentin said again, all his mind could process. His hands twisted the silk sheets, as Eliot straddled him and pulled his own undershirt shirt all the way off. Those curls falling in front of his face, he gazed down at Quentin, eyes warm and adoring.

“You are—“ Eliot was almost choked up, as his hand caressed Quentin’s cheek. Quentin kissed his palm and Eliot’s next words came out jagged. “You are so beautiful. You make me breathless.”

With every particle of him singing, Quentin shot up fast and his lips found Eliot, his hands found Eliot, his heart found Eliot. He loved and he was loved. He loved and he was loved.

 

He loved and he was loved.

 


 

coda and epilogue to follow.