Scenes From a Second Year
Highest highs, lowest lows.
Quentin sat in an uncomfortable chair. He crossed and uncrossed his legs, in a vain attempt to keep his blood vessels from constricting. Despite his best effort, they still fell into severe pins-and-needles. The tweaking fluorescent light shone off his father’s graying gold hair and a complicated machine beeped across the room.
Early on, he learned the technical names of every piece of equipment surrounding Ted Coldwater. But he was too drained to call them anything but childlike nicknames after the all the surgery complications.
Heartbeat measuring machine. Tubey shit. Weird wires. Boop-beep thing.
The hospital in Dallas had a Magician surgeon on staff. One of Julia’s contacts had pulled some strings, when things got bad in the form of a sudden grand mal seizure. In the span of a harrowing twenty-four hours, he left his planned summer, relaxed at home without a care, far behind him. It supposed to be for two weeks, to allow for the surgery and recovery, but then a bad blood clot happened. That was that.
So his time away from Brakebills, from everything (everyone) neared a full month. It turned out death and the relentlessness of Texas were the only inevitabilities in life. Though at least his dad had evaded the former item.
But even with magic in the air, it was a bleak place. His nostrils flaring and burning at once, Quentin was sick to his stomach. There was no smell more terrible than the chemical-grade sanitizer. Or the incense from the private incantations. Or the perfume of sickly death, permeating the long white hallway leading to his father's tiny room. He even preferred the sterile, almost chocolatey (for some reason) smell of the psych ward in Jersey.
A well of tears jolted up from the crevice of his bottom eyelids and he pinched the sides of his nose as hard as he could.
Quentin had never yearned for the warmth of the Cottage more. Never yearned more for that perfect daybed. Never yearned more for the lights glimmering through cocktail glasses. Or to have breakfast under a glowing sign that read TADA. Or to make coffee in that perfect tiny kitchen. Never yearned more for Julia’s warm hugs and Margo’s harsh laugh. Never yearned for Todd’s goofy jokes. Fuck, he even yearned for the nameless faces of the other Physical Kids. They were comforting in their ubiquitousness, if not their particularities.
And fucking hell, it had been over three weeks since he’d seen Eliot. Since he’d touched Eliot. Since he’d breathed in that heady sweet scent of him, since he’d wrapped dark curls around his fingers, since he’d felt the brush of his morning stubble against the top of his lip as they kissed and kissed under Eliot’s luxurious sheets, since he’d heard that low rumble of a laugh and felt it vibrate against his back, since he’d chased that dazzling smile, since—since—since—
He knew he was supposed to be focused entirely on his dad’s health. But he missed Eliot so much. He missed his friends. He missed his home.
But shit was bad. Or it could still be bad.
He knew he worst of it was over. But the reassurances from the doctors did nothing to quell the aching anxiety rooted right in the center of his chest. It churned and webbed outward, ready to assure him with a pouncing claw that the second he left, his dad would be gone. And that was why he made the shitty phone call, moments earlier. The one where he had to tell his boyfriend that he was going to have to change his flight. That he had to stay in Dallas for another two days. At least. Maybe longer. That they weren’t going to have their reunion. Not yet. Not fucking yet.
Of course, Eliot had taken it in stride. Told him to eat. Told him to sleep. Told him to shower. And that he was proud of him, for being such a good son and such a good person. It would have been easy to miss the disappointment, without knowing where to find it. It was almost hidden in his warm, rich voice, except for the slight tremble on the final I love you.
Quentin missed him so much. So much. Too much.
He squeezed hard on mostly empty plastic water bottle in his hand, the label half-torn off from his nervous tittering. It made a pleasant wheezing and cracking sound under his hands. He imagined it was his bereft and exhausted heart.
“Curly Q,” a gruff voice called from the bed beside him at the sound. Like a jolt, Quentin was at his side. “Curly Q, what are you still doing here? You were supposed to leave today.”
“What kind of question is that?” Quentin said more than asked. “Dad, you’re still recovering. They think you won’t be released for at least another forty-eight hours.”
“Bah,” Ted Coldwater said, lifting himself up by his elbows. “Technicality.”
Quentin pinched the bridge of his nose again. “It’s not a technicality. You’re recovering from brain surgery—”
“If you start saying brain surgery the same way you say brain cancer, I’m going to—ah, how is it you’ve put in the past?” Ted made a show of tapping his chin. It reminded Quentin of Margo. “Oh right. I’m going to have a shit fit.”
“Glad you woke up feeling so good,” Quentin said with a deadpan sarcasm. That was how his relationship with his dad worked.
“Quentin,” Ted said, all serious Dad Tone and bright eyes. “You need to go back to your life, son.”
“This is my life,” Quentin said, taking his dad’s hand. “Or it’s part of my life. I never want you to think—”
“You’re very good to your old man,” Ted said, the words coming out like a grumble, squeezing back. “But you’re still not always so good to yourself. You know I have Marjorie here. No need to take on the weight of the world.”
Quentin offered his dad a gentle grin. His dad had been seeing Marjorie, a kind-faced kindergarten teacher, for over six months. It was serious. He’d never seen his dad happier than when she finally arrived in Texas, right before everything with the thrombus. And that alone made Quentin happier than he could quantify.
“More support is great, Dad,” he said, now drawing his words out with precision and focus. “But her being here doesn’t mean that I should—”
“It does,” Ted said, squeezing his hand one more time before releasing it. “I refuse to be the reason you’re not living your life, Q. Even for a short period of time. I know how precious your stability is and how fast it can change.”
Quentin’s brows lowered. “Dad.”
“You have your whole elite graduate program… thing.”
“Thing?” He repeated back, amused. Ted rolled his eyes.
“I’ll admit I still don’t get the finance angle,” he said, with a barking laugh. “But I can’t argue with your happiness.”
“I am happy,” Quentin reassured him. As many times as he could offer that reassurance, forever, he would. “Very happy.”
“And I know you also your have your friends and…”
His dad trailed off and shook his head, smile glinting in the grotesque light. He leveled Quentin with a knowing look.
“What?” Quentin asked, not sure where his dad was going.
“I see you, Curly Q,” Ted said with another coughing laugh. “I see the way you light up when that phone of yours goes off, at the same time every day. I see that smile you get. There’s someone special waiting for you at that school of yours, isn’t there?”
Quentin let that same smile cross his face at the words. It wasn’t actually something he was hiding. But he also hadn’t brought it up either. A life and death situation didn’t seem to be the best time to drop the I’m in a serious adult relationship and, oh yeah, it’s with a man potential atom bomb. But it looked like he still wasn’t particularly subtle, regardless of his intentions.
“Um, yeah,” Quentin said, sobering down to a half-smile. “Someone really special, Dad.”
“Then I release you,” Ted said, holding his hands out. “Don’t change your ticket. I’m a strong man. I can take care of myself. You need to take care of yourself as well.”
Quentin shook his head, unmoved. “It’s only two more days. I can stay until you’re released and then reevaluate.”
“Well, I don’t want you to do that,” Ted said, his Dad Tone fierce and final. “I’ll be back home next month and I’ll expect our weekly dinners. Maybe the deal can be that you bring your special someone once or twice. Quid pro quo.”
Quentin repressed a chuckle, knowing both that his dad meant well. He also knew the idea was more likely to send Eliot into a tailspin than anything else. Still, Quentin appreciated the sentiment. And also noticed that his dad never used a gender pronoun. For a moment, he wondered exactly how much he actually knew.
But that was a conversation for a different day.
“I’m serious, Curly Q,” Ted pointed at him, knuckle wobbling. “Get outta here. You’ll miss the flight if you don’t leave now.”
“Okay, Dad,” Quentin ran his hands through his hair. It was growing longer again, with strands in the back starting to graze his collar. But he felt no desire to hide. “I can tell when I’m not wanted.”
“Damn right, son.”
Standing to wrap his dad in as tight of a hug as he could manage, Quentin thanked him, the words muffled into the thin, scratchy hospital pillow.
Quentin tossed his duffel bag over his shoulder, clenched and tangled against his trusty messenger bag. There was portal to Brakebills from Newark airport, right by the baggage carousel. Quentin landed at 2:06 PM and he was back on campus by 2:18 PM, out the side of the library and facing Woof Fountain. As soon as the tip of his sneaker touched daylight, Quentin ran with a quick-paced jog toward the Cottage. He reached it at 2:32 PM. Record time.
He opened the door with a burst of joy to find—
To be fair, that wasn’t crazy with an unexpected arrival.
A smile curled on Quentin's face as he took in the empty Cottage. Not in all its glory. At the moment, it was more like a sleeping giant. But it was there and it had been waiting for him.
His smile grew wider as he glanced over at the bar cart—several drinks were recently poured, waiting on a platter. They were arranged in a perfect circle, one he knew was plotted through muscle memory and the keenest eye. His heart leapt to his throat and he let the quiet of the still house wash over him.
His senses perked alive as he heard several of his favorite voices in the entire world rush in from the window.
Quentin huddled himself next to the sliding door and the scene became clear. Julia and Margo seated at the table, drinks light pink and fizzy, with floral garnishes. Kady and Penny on the ground, their legs entwined, gazing up at Julia. And at the barbecue—fluttering his fingers into the perfect fire call—was Eliot. He was dressed in a blue polo and white shorts, with dark sunglasses and a dangling cigarette. He looked like a film star from the 60s, tall and tanned and obscenely handsome. All long lines and elegance.
It took everything not to rush out and throw himself into the beauty that had somehow become his life.
But since no one suspected his arrival, Quentin figured he could at least have a little fun with it. He cast a quick tut, bringing the voices in through the window, so he could hear.
“—had to see Mackenzie,” Julia stuck her tongue out, before sipping her drink like it could be a chaser to her terrible family. “The worst.”
“You know, after everything you’ve ever said,” Margo mused, letting the sunlight angle onto her open face, “I definitely want to meet her.”
“My sister is the biggest bitch in the world,” Julia snorted. “Why the fuck would you want to meet her?”
“Game recognize game.”
Julia laughed at that and pushed Margo’s arm. Then she handed her drink to Kady without a word, like she knew her girlfriend wanted a sip, at that very moment. Quentin smiled.
It was kind of sweet.
But in the same moment, Penny blinked his eyes once, hard. He shook his head, like a just-bathed dog. Then he blinked hard again, before turning his dark eyes into a dangerous glare around the patio, searching. Desperate. Haunted.
“Okay, someone’s wards are slipping,” Penny growled. “Eliot, is that you?”
“My wards are immaculate,” Eliot said without glancing up from the barbecue. “Who wants brats versus burgers?”
“Well, someone is blasting motherfucking Taylor Swift through my brain. Since Coldwater is blessedly not here—”
“Watch it,” Julia said, firm. Eliot roared the fire on the barbecue until it snapped up like a snare.
“—you seem like the next most likely candidate,” Penny said, finishing and still glaring at Eliot. His boyfriend laughed.
“Not sure what to tell you, champ,” Eliot said, before turning his back on both Penny and the conversation. Penny scratched at his head, glare not moving from Eliot. Quentin turned the volume up and relished Penny’s silent scream. Kady lazily ran her hand along his thigh, like she was trying to comfort him.
It was kind of sweet.
“Riveting as your obsession with Taylor Swift is,” Margo said, standing daintily over Penny’s protests, “Mama needs some ice water. Don’t miss me too much, kids.”
With that, she stood up and walked through the door. She pushed her sunglasses up onto her head and grabbed a tall glass from over the oven. She didn't glance once at the corner where Quentin was stuck up against the wall. It was only when as she opened the refrigerator for a pitcher of water that her peripheral vision caught on. She startled back with a sharp hiss.
“Jesus motherfucking Christ!” Margo pressed her hand to her chest, squeaking and shocked. Then she glared, hands on her hips. “Dickhead. What the fuck?”
“Uh, hey,” Quentin said with a grin and a tiny wave. “Long time, no see.”
Margo twisted her lips to the side and rolled her eyes. She smiled and took a single step closer, into Quentin’s space.
“You’re such a little shit,” she said, nudging his arm with her elbow. It was the Margo version of giving him a screaming bear hug. “How’s your dad? Fine, I guess, if you’re here.”
“Fine,” Quentin confirmed. “He’s getting released in the next couple days. Then he has physical therapy in Dallas for another month. But I couldn’t stay that long though.”
Margo’s face blanched and she shook her head, “Oh, fuck. No. You couldn’t.”
“Yeah, unforgiving professors.”
“No, unforgiving Margo,” she slapped his arm and pinched his side at the same time. He winced in actual pain. “If you’d left me alone with a Quentinless Eliot for another month, no jury would have convicted me, Coldwater.”
Quentin’s mouth slid into a warm smile. “He’s been grumpy about me being gone?”
Margo gave him a withering glare, all ice queen and hot rage.
“Grumpy?” Margo bit her teeth into a false laugh. “Grumpy?!”
“Unbearable?” Quentin guessed again, trying very hard not to smile. It didn’t work. Margo’s glare turned neon and spiked.
“Look, I get that he didn’t want to burden you with his lovesick moping. I’m sure that was very functional while you were dealing with a lot of shit,” she said, pacing through the kitchen. Quentin settled himself against the counter, laughing.
“But holy shit, Quentin. It’s not on me at all now. Not anymore. Jesus.”
“I mean, I’d say sorry I was gone, except that I was gone because—”
“No one wants to hear your bullshit excuses,” Margo said, hard and harsh, pointing right at him. “He belongs to you for a month. No. A month and a week. I’m charging you fuckin’ interest. All yours. Not kidding.”
“Fair enough. I can take on that terrible burden,” Quentin said, smirking and heart alight. “Speaking of, I’d better—”
“Oh yeah, you’d better,” Margo laughed, rubbing her hands together. “He’s going to be furious that I kept you even this long. But payback’s a bitch.”
Quentin scratched the back of his neck, sheepish, “I mean, maybe we can tell him I just got here? What he doesn’t know won’t—”
“Bambi, what are you doing?” Eliot boomed happily as he stepped through the glass door. “Your bratwurst is almost done. I guarantee whoever the fuck you’re talking to isn't worth missing my feast out here, you saucy little—”
Quentin was pretty sure he was about to call Margo a minx. But the word disappeared as Eliot’s eyes met his. The top of his defined cheekbones immediately flushed pink in his frozen recognition.
“Yeah, not worth it, you’re right,” Quentin smiled, offering a quick wave and starting to angle towards kitchen’s door rame. “So you two go have fun and I’ll—“
But somehow, Eliot’s hands were already in his hair, backing him up against the counter without a moment’s lead-in. Tangling himself into the embrace, everything fell away and balance restored. Eliot’s soft lips moved over his, urging and aching. It was like they’d been apart for years instead of weeks, and Quentin’s chest fell to his feet.
Honeymoon phases were fucking awesome.
“When?” Eliot asked when he pulled away, dazed and joyful, his eyes tracing up and down Quentin’s face. “When—? You were supposed to be—few days from now? You’d said—? I—I had an outfit, not this one, it’s terrible—Q, fuck—”
“Are you kidding? I love this,” Quentin said, running his hands down Eliot’s chest. “I was thinking you look like a movie star.”
“Yeah?” Eliot smiled, tucking a piece of Quentin’s hair behind his ear. He swooped in for another kiss, his tongue slipping against his with one long drag. “Well, you look like my little impish prince.”
“Oh my god,” Margo’s horrified voice carried through them. “No.”
“When did you get here?” Eliot asked again, pointedly ignoring her. His nose was grazing Quentin’s cheekbone, his eyelashes fluttering against his brow.
“Just now,” Quentin said, tucking his hands against deeper Eliot’s chest, feeling his racing heart. “I was watching you guys, trying to surprise you, but got distracted by the opportunity to fuck with Penny—”
“Reasonable,” Eliot smiled. “I should have put that together.”
“And then I got side-tracked by talking to Margo,” Quentin smiled back. Lying was stupid. Everything but being right in Eliot’s arms was stupid. Predictably, his face darkened.
“Unreasonable,” Eliot said, but he turned his glare to the woman in question. She shrugged, completely apathetic. Shooting one last sharp look her direction, Eliot turned back to Quentin. He softened, joy painting all his features.
“But you’re back?” Eliot asked, running his hands up and down Quentin’s arms. “Back-back?”
“Back-back,” Quentin said, stretching on his tip-toes to kiss the side of Eliot’s mouth. It was meant to be quick, but Eliot had his own plans, capturing him under him all over again. They separated only when they were glowing and out of breath.
“And your dad?” Eliot asked, sheepish. It should have been his first instinct. It was even Margo’s. But Quentin couldn’t find it in him to mind.
“Okay,” Quentin said, touching Eliot’s hand, awed by the feel of his long fingers. “He’ll be okay. For now.”
“Hey, remember that for now is good,” Eliot said. He pulled Quentin against his chest. “The present moment is good and that matters.”
Quentin tilted his head up and kissed him again. “Fuck, I missed you.”
“I missed you so much, Q.”
The loud tick-tick-tick of a stiletto tapping on linoleum broke their hazy gazes.
“I’m still here, you fuckers,” Margo said. “I’m starving. Andale.”
“Oh. Sorry, Bambi,” Eliot looked over at Margo with a wicked grin. “Tongs are on the counter. You’re dismissed.”
“Fuck you both,” is what Quentin was pretty sure Margo said as she exited back to the patio. But he was far too distracted by swooping repeat of Eliot’s hands in his hair, lips on his ear, backing him into the wall where he belonged.
Eliot’s bed was more comfortable than Quentin’s.
The beds were exactly the same in mattress and frame. Brakebills only allowed a certain amount of magic to change the firmness, softness, or dimensions. So each one queen-sized, square, and sturdy. Meaning, it shouldn't have mattered which one they slept in each night.
But unsurprisingly, Eliot chose his details with extreme care. Silk sheets from a small Chinese province, where the silkworms were only fed mulberry leaves. Four large fluffy pillows and a fluffy duvet, all rapturously scented like Eliot’s hair and cologne, as well as a strong whiff of vanilla. Good vanilla too, spicy and complex. Every night, the combination of luxuries staggered Quentin’s senses in the perfect harmony of comfort.
In fact, he loved Eliot’s bed so much that one night, he murmured, “Fuck, I could live here for the rest of my life.” He said it without thought and right into the crook of El’s neck, his lips caught against the scented pillow.
He meant it.
The second Quentin said it, hot anxiety stung through his throat and up into his mouth. It was—an intense thing to say. He especially recognized the intensity when his boyfriend stilled and tensed under him, like his breath lodged in his chest.
He tried not to panic. Quentin and Eliot were in love and happier than he’d ever imagined he could ever fucking be. And it wasn’t like he meant it literally. Or at least, it didn’t have to be interpreted literally. Not if that wasn’t what Eliot wanted. It was fine. It was a fine and normal thing to say. Except. You know. But.
But they’d only been dating for two months.
It was a lot to say. Maybe it was too much? Maybe it was different than the sweet nothings back in Paris. Back then, it was all fire and extreme newness and reconciled longing. Maybe now it was—
Quentin never got the chance to spiral what it was or could be. Because Eliot shut up all panicked lines of thought, fiercely flipping Quentin over onto his back with a searing kiss.
He kissed him deep into the mattress, lips sliding over each other and entwined hands up over their heads. They kissed and kissed with growing ferocity and urgency, until neither of them were capable of any thought, ever again. And then Quentin's clothes were gone and Eliot's clothes were gone. And the sheets were so soft and the duvet was floaty and it was a cumulus, lifting them higher and higher through the air and Eliot had stars in his eyes—
And yeah, it was literal. They were actually above the bed. Floating and flying above the bed.
“Holy shit, Eliot,” Quentin let out a heady and breathless laugh. He wrapped himself around Eliot’s body. The buoyancy through the air and the literal magic flooded through every tiny space between them. It nearly killed him, almost as much as the feeling of boyfriend’s hands digging into his hips as he chuckled low against his chest.
“Is this okay?” Eliot asked, teeth scraping against Quentin’s clavicle. His lips and hands were everywhere at once. “I can bring us back down if—”
“Don’t you dare,” Quentin groaned out. He dipped his head backward, all sensation flaring white hot in the kinesis. “Fuck.”
“I’ve got you, baby,” Eliot promised. His hoarse voice was almost lost against the movements of his lips. They slid against every inch of his body, still suspended in dizzying animation, closer to the ceiling than the bed. “I’ve always got you.”
An hour or a millennia later, Quentin’s skin was a sparkling supernovae, resting on the cusp of the universe. Or those damned perfect silk sheets. Either way. He huffed a short or long breath out into the ether of their love, throwing a hand against his sweaty forehead.
“Mmm, you keep saying that,” Eliot said, folding himself into the crook of his arm, eyes closed and face dreamy. He hadn’t even known he’d spoken aloud, still too dazed and blissed out, while everything surrounding him was still and hot and perfect. He stared down at Eliot’s fucking beautiful sleepy smile. An avalanche of love collapsed joy and peace all over his nervous system. It was a perfect moment.
So naturally, Quentin said—
“I don’t know anything about your exes.”
He tucked his cheek against Eliot’s bare chest, listening to the steady thrum of his heartbeat. They were folded into each other at odd angles, like they refused to separate so they’d instead opted to become human origami. Wouldn’t separate, never again, if either of them could help it. After he spoke, he sighed contentedly and kissed the groove of Eliot’s pec muscle, over and over again. Then he felt the low rumble of a chuckle, as expected.
“That’s your pillow talk of choice?” Eliot asked with a grin, pulling them both up to snuggle upright. He traced his finger in a small squiggle over Quentin’s temple. “Every time I think I have those synapses figured out…”
“It's an important discussion and I’m feeling, like, secure or whatever.”
“Or whatever,” Eliot smiled, kissing the side of his mouth. It sparked. “Okay. That makes sense. Though I’ll disappoint your curiosity. There’s not much to talk about.”
“There were obviously guys before me,” Quentin said, folding his eyebrows. “And I know nothing about them. You never talk about it.”
“Because they’re irrelevant,” Eliot said, frowning. “A parade of nothing.”
“That can’t be true,” Quentin tilted his face upward. “Tell me about your first love.”
Tell me everything about you. I want to know everything.
That’s what he really meant.
“Puppy love?” Eliot rocked his head back and forth before frowning, a darkness passing over his eyes. “Probably Taylor.”
“The one you—?”
“Oh,” Quentin sunk back into him and sighed. Well, that took a shitty turn. He cleared his throat. “Okay. Uh. Then tell me about your first real love. Requited. Non-traumatic.”
Eliot considered the request for a moment, before gathering Quentin in his arms. He kissed his hairline and sighed.
“What do you want to know?” He asked, voice soft as it had ever been.
“Whatever you want to tell me,” Quentin shrugged. “It’s your story. I’m honored to have a piece of it.”
Eliot smiled and drew him into the warmth of his chest, both arms wrapped around his chest and shoulders. Quentin waited, ready to hear whatever Eliot had to say. He didn’t feel even an inch of jealousy. He wanted to know everything. Everything.
“Let’s see,” Eliot pressed his cheek against Quentin’s hair. “The first time I saw him, I thought he was handsome. Like a devastating kind of handsome, you know? And he was sexy too.”
Quentin blinked. Something bile-like and green started inching its way through his veins.
“Oh,” he said, with an electric shock of surprise. He blinked again. Okay, maybe he wasn’t that much of an un-possessive saint. But it was fine. This was what he’d asked for. “Uh, that’s nice. I guess.”
And it didn’t hurt that Eliot was slowly kissing his hairline and tracing his fingers up and down Quentin’s still tingling arms.
“But then, I came to realize that he was also kind and generous. Full blown Natalie Merchant style,” Eliot said and Quentin could feel his smile against his scalp. “So he was the first person who made me want to be generous or kind.”
This was fine. This was fine. This was fine.
It was all he could say. He tried to chuckle through it, like Ha, ha! That’s great, honey. But he was pretty sure it came out like a thud of a sound, wet newspaper on cement. Eliot didn’t seem to notice.
“I never knew how to laugh before I met him either. He helped me take myself less seriously, which was a gargantuan task,” Eliot ran his tongue over his teeth. He squeezed Quentin’s shoulder. It was comforting. It helped. “So I was a goner early on.”
“I never knew that you, uh, had such an important relationship,” Quentin said. He ignored the screaming tension boiling in his stomach. He pushed it the fuck down. He’d asked to talk about this. He was beyond this. “Sounds like a good guy.”
“Don’t get me wrong. He could annoy the fuck out of me like no one else,” he said, shaking his head and sticking out his tongue. “He had the distinct habit of being a self-righteous know-it-all and just—really fucking uptight. Not always in the sexy way.”
“I guess there are worse things,” Quentin said, with a grumble and a short shrug. He wanted to scream. Eliot smiled again.
“Definitely. It even grew on me. Sort of,” he said with an eye roll and a chuckle. “But no shock, he had a lot more room to complain. It took me longer to get my shit together. I wasn’t worthy.”
Quentin clenched his jaw. “I doubt that.”
“No, I wasn’t. I was—well, I was me. You know. Stubborn. Total dickhead.” Eliot ran his fingers up and down Quentin’s arms again. Fuck, it was soothing. “But I like to think I got better over time. I always tried to make up for it, even after he said it wasn’t necessary.”
“Lucky guy.” Quentin was more flat-voiced than he wanted to be. But Jesus. Come on.
“No. Lucky me,” Eliot whispered, closing his eyes as he kissed Quentin’s cheek. “Because somewhere along the way, he loved me too. Like a miracle.”
“So what ended up happening?” Quentin asked, officially grumpy. He clunked his head against the fluffiest pillow he could find. His lower lip jutted out against his will. “College graduation or what? Or are you still, like, pen palling with this dude?”
But Eliot laughed, a wide and bursting sound. His eyes crinkled in delight and he ran his thumb under Quentin’s jaw. He pushed it upward, angling their faces toward each other. Then he fixed him with a gentle smile.
“You’re an idiot.”
“Oh.” Quentin said, hit by a two-by-four. His skin turned bright red. “Oh.”
“Yes, Q,” Eliot rolled on top of him, pinning him down on the bed. His curls fell in his face as he laughed. “Fucking Oh. How many goddamn times have I told you that you’re the only one I've ever—? You’re adorable.”
“You threw me off though,” Quentin said, shaking his head as he gazed up at Eliot’s perfect face. “Because you definitely did not think I was devastatingly handsome the first time you met me.”
“I most certainly did,” Eliot kissed him once, twice. “And so fucking sexy. I wanted to eat you up, slowly. Lapping.”
“Bullshit. This is revisionist history,” Quentin said with a playful glare. Eliot purred and rolled his hips, refractory period be damned. A deep, tugging ache kindled in the center of Quentin’s stomach, flushing his cheeks and racing his heart, thoughts fraying at the edges. “You fucking hated me.”
His swallow made a soft and sad sound. His jaw ticked once, along with a tremble in his forearms. He rolled off Quentin, curling into him with soft eyes and gentle fingers feathering over his lips, chin, cheekbones.
“Baby, I never hated you,” Eliot said. He was quiet and he ran his hand down the whole Q’s face, stroking his jaw over and over again. “You terrified me and I was an inexcusable asshole. But I never hated you. Never. Not in any world, okay?”
“Okay,” Quentin nodded, kissing Eliot’s palm. Then he smiled again. “So the whole haughtier-than-thou-Todd’s-Friend thing was all a massive front for your desperate love at first sight?”
“Coup de foudre,” Eliot whispered, all meaning and all feeling. He kissed him and Quentin was a blaze of firelight.
But then Eliot pulled back with a laugh, all wicked grin. “At least until you opened your mouth. After that, I absolutely thought you were an audacious little shithead.”
Quentin surged up and gently bit Eliot’s lower lip down to him. His boyfriend’s pupils dilated and he smirked. “I’ll show you audacious right now.”
“Yeah?” Eliot grinned, waggling his eyebrows once. “Come at me, Coldwater.”
One year earlier, Pearl Sunderland poured herself four fingers of gin. She did it while Quentin Coldwater watched, eyebrows slanted downward and heart dejected. It had been a showy point of how he’d wasted her time after his first discipline test.
Unnecessary as it seemed at the time, Quentin knew now that her frustration made sense. From what he understood, Sunderland was held in high regard from all corners of the magical universe. She had faced down countless instances of death and destruction, yet come out the other side all the wiser. Certainly all the more adept. Nothing and no one could break her.
That is, until Quentin came around.
He still remembered how she rubbed her temples, glaring at her most unassuming, bumbling student. Quentin had gulped, still holding a whole raw chicken in his hands. The juices dripped to the floor, the resonating puddle the only sound through the large lecture hall.
“Okay, Mr. Coldwater,” Sunderland had said, pressing her hands down on the desk. “I’m done.”
The chicken disappeared with a popping sound from his hands. His jeans had still been covered in the pale pink fluid from its entrails.
“You’re done?” He had blinked. “Wait, can you just be done?”
She raised her eyes up to him from their pitted despair and she grit her teeth.
“After today? Yes, I can be done, Mr. Coldwater. This is done.”
She had shaken her head and closed her eyes, taking a deep breath, “We will retest you in a year. I will be sure to drink prior to our appointment next time.”
Then, it was the gin, to drive the point home. She chugged it in a single go when he tried to ask a follow-up question, dismissing him with a single flick of her wrist.
So now that Quentin was about to begin his second year in earnest, he was back in the lecture hall. He stared down the long space between chairs, leading up to his likely doom. What if he was forever Undetermined? What if he wasn’t a Physical Kid and had to move out of the Cottage? Oh god, what if he was somehow a fucking psychic and didn’t know it?
To say that he was nervous about his second time around was understating the case. A tad. A touch. A fuckton of a lot. The usual.
Quentin took a deep breath and faced Pearl Sunderland with as confident a face as he could fake. But instead of her usual glowering and resigned glare his way, she simply smiled and took a sip of her water. Her throat bobbed up and down elegantly with each increasing sip, soon turning into gulps until the glass was empty. She held it to the slanted light, tilting moving rainbows throughout the half-darkened classroom.
She smashed it on the ground.
“Fix it, Mr. Coldwater,” Sunderland said, slipping backward to sit on the desk. Her long strand of pearls grazed her bare knee, visible under her gray sheath dress. She looked smug and hopeful, and his heart started thudding in a new rhythm. The smile on his face arrived before the magic through his hands.
Once both were there, it was like a homecoming all over again.
His fingertips buzzed with exhilaration and magic as Quentin walked through the front door of the Cottage . He snorted at the sight of Julia, Margo, and Eliot, sitting on the couch, as though with bated breath.
“Don’t you people have a life?” He said, teasing as he dropped his messenger bag next to the door.
“What’s the fucking verdict, Coldwater?” Margo said, staring at him upside down, her head lolled against the back of the couch. “And don’t do that dumb nerd thing where you drag it out. No one actually cares.”
“I care,” Julia said and Eliot made a quick seconding hand motion. Margo rolled her eyes.
“Yeah, but they’re both unhealthily obsessed with you,” she said, spinning around and blowing a raspberry in Eliot’s direction . “Whereas I’m your real talk pal, here to assure you that no one fucking cares.”
“The important thing is that I’m staying in the Cottage,” Quentin said with a sigh and a half-grin. “I’m a Physical Kid.”
“That much was already clear.” Eliot rolled his warm and glinting eyes. “So definitely not the important thing. What of the specific discipline?”
“Agreed,” Julia said, grinning. “Give us the good shit.”
“Uh, well, it’s kind of dumb,” Quentin rubbed his neck and Eliot sighed, standing up. Wrapping Quentin in a hug, he kissed the top of his head, coaxing. As usual, it worked. “It’s called Repair of Small Objects. It’s part of the Mending category. It’s dumb.”
“Not dumb,” Eliot murmured in his ear, his hands running up and down his back. “Perfect. You’re perfect. To me, for me.”
“To me, for me,” Quentin said back, low against Eliot’s cheek. He received a soft kiss on his temple in response. He reluctantly pulled away and raised his eyebrows at Julia, who was giving him a proud lip purse, her head tall and straight in its certainty.
“It makes sense, Q,” Julia said with a bright nod. Margo tilted her head and shrugged.
“Fixing shit,” she said. “Yeah. Okay. I can see that.”
“Thanks,” Quentin said with a tiny smile, touched at Margo’s acknowledgement. Until an evil smile melted over her delicate features.
“You’re like a magical construction worker,” she said, barely holding back a snorting laugh. “Or a magical HVAC guy. Or—”
Getting called to Dean Fogg’s office was a bit like getting called to the principal’s office of yore. Quentin was a mess of sweating palms and blinding anxiety. He thought through everything he could have done wrong to lead him to the inevitable admonishment in store. He counted backwards from one-hundred as he walked through the glass and wood doors. The administrator’s office was stately and pristine. It scared the shit out of him.
Generally, Quentin never made much of a fuss one way or the other. But authority figures freaked him out. He was a total disaster around cops.
Quentin hadn't spent much time with Henry Fogg. Regardless, Quentin knew he was a booming figure. He was sardonic and humorous, with a zealot focus on magical theory. He suffered no fools and loved himself a good brandy. He adored Julia, but like Mayakovsky, disdained most of his students. Unlike Mayakovsky though, Fogg cared about their well-being and their progress. Albeit, his care often came with mixed results. Quentin knew Fogg had been a Knowledge student when he attended Brakebills. He often wore his ties like Eliot, in trinity knots. Based on said ties, his favorite pattern must be paisley, his favorite color gold. But most of all, he knew that Fogg had exactly zero natural interest in Quentin Coldwater. Because he was the middlest middle-of-the-crowd Middle that had ever middled.
So when Fogg greeted him with an enthusiastic smile upon entry, Quentin wasn’t sure what to do with it.
“Mr. Coldwater. I hope you had a refreshing summer session,” the dean said, resting his elbows on his organized desk. He gestured to the chair in front of him. Quentin flopped down. “I was sorry to hear about your father, but I hope his recovery is going well.”
“As well as can be expected,” Quentin said, proud of his lack of stammer. He didn’t want to stammer in front of Fogg. It would make him feel even more like a child than he already did. “Thank you.”
“I’ll cut to the chase then,” Fogg said, folding his fingers together, sitting formally at the desk. He was still smiling, but Quentin’s heart was still about to explode in a mess of nerves. “It’s the beginning of the year. Classes are starting in three days, as well as the preliminary entrance exam and our new cohort.”
Fogg paused. Quentin tried very hard not to furrow his brow and widen his eyes, in that stupid way he did when he was confused.
“Uh, yeah? Um.” Shit.
The dean chuckled, still warm and still smiling. "I received a glowing recommendation of you, for the role of student guide. From a trusted source. So I was hoping that would be something you’d be interested in helping with this year.”
Wow. Holy fuck.
“Was it Julia?” Quentin couldn’t help but ask before giving his answer. “Uh, Julia Wicker, I mean.”
Thankfully, Fogg laughed again. “No, Mr. Coldwater. I don’t think this is precisely on Ms. Wicker’s radar. It was actually, ah, Mr. Jones. He was your student guide.”
Fuckin’ Todd. Quentin smiled, his mouth tingling in surprise and gratitude.
“That’s very kind of him, sir, but I’m not sure I’m—” Quentin cleared his throat and cut himself off. “I’m not exactly the, uh, most social person. I’m sure there are others who would be a better welcome. Than me.”
“You’re perfect for the role,” Fogg said, more commanding than attempting to convince. “I’ve followed your journey. I’m blind to neither your growth nor your relative mediocrity. You could bring a unique perspective. So I hope you’ll shake my hand and agree to meet the young lady near the Brakebills sign, seventy-two hours from now.”
Unsure if he was flattered or offended by the small speech, Quentin opted to nod and bite down a sigh, a smile, and a dumb eyebrow thing all at once. Without saying another word, he reached his hand out and they shook on it. Fogg downloaded the instructions , before handing Quentin a small white card with a name printed on it in black. Then the dean sent him away, with a bare minimum farewell. He was still a very busy man with very little time for the mediocre.
But as Quentin tucked his materials into his messenger bag and started to turn around, Fogg raised his voice one more time.
“Oh, and Mr. Coldwater?” He called. Quentin looked back, expectantly. The dean narrowed his eyes, the dark brown fiery. “I don’t think I need to impart that Mr. Waugh is in no way permitted to join you on this venture, yes?”
Fogg said Eliot’s name though it were akin to Beetlejuice—hissing, harsh, hushed, and hardly worth the risk. Quentin ran his tongue over the front of his teeth several times, willing himself not to laugh. No laughing. No laughing. No laughter.
Lacking control of his own bubbling vocal chords, he nodded tersely. He stretched his lips out into a stern, close-mouthed grimace.
“Um, yes. Indeed. Understood, sir,” Quentin said, his voice too deep and wobbling as he backed out of the office. He scurried away to the sound of Fogg’s long sigh and the sight of his undulating hand, dismissing him.
“This is the Physical Kids cottage,” Quentin said as they walked through the door, three days later on the dot. Annabelle was a skittering young woman, with large blue eyes and jet-black hair.
She was like Quentin in that she rarely made eye contact. She was different than Quentin in that she'd passed the exam with flying colors—literally.
He grinned at her. “We’re known in order for great parties and any kind of magic that involves the manipulation of tangible matter or sensation.”
“This is where you live?” The inducted first year asked and Quentin nodded.
“Officially part of the cohort as of a week ago,” he said, tucking his hands in his pockets. “My discipline was undetermined for a year and I got placed in the Cottage because they had extra room.”
Annabelle nodded, looking around. “It’s…cozy.”
“Fuck you,” Margo said, popping her head up from the couch. Quentin rolled his eyes. “I know a passive aggressive insult when I hear one. Who the fuck are you?”
“Margo, this is Annabelle,” Quentin said with a sigh. He tried hard to meet the frightened girl’s eyes with a reassuring smile. “Annabelle, this is Margo. Sorry in advance.”
“For what?” Annabelle said, right as Margo said, “Apologize for me again, dickhead, and you’ll wear your ballsack as a hat.”
“Brakebills is a fun place,” Quentin said, patting Annabelle’s tense arm and ignoring Margo, per usual. “Want a drink? We have a great bartender here.”
Annabelle settled herself in the living room, angling away from Margo’s predatory gaze. Soon, Julia walked through the door and introduced herself with her usual disarming friendliness. And Quentin finally convinced Eliot to prepare a batch of signature cocktails. Since they were the single most important part of the Cottage experience.
“For the lovely young lady, in congratulations for an exam conquered,” Eliot said. He handed the frightened girl the bright blue drink with a cool smile. He wasn't invested in her. “Enjoy. It will change your life.”
“Sip it,” Quentin said, throwing himself down next to Julia and elbowing her as a hello. “Do not chug. Slow and steady wins the race.”
“Nerd,” Eliot smirked, before sitting next to him, stretching his long arm out over the back of the couch.
“More like fuckin’ killjoy.” Margo rolled her eyes, before languishing back into her arm chair. Quentin didn’t even bother returning the gesture and turned back to the newcomer.
“The first time I had this drink was about two full months into term,” Quentin said as he flicked his boyfriend’s ear. “And I ended up sleeping in a classroom.”
“I don’t know this story,” Eliot said, turning to him with bright eyes. “Tell me.”
“That’s the whole story,” Quentin snorted. “I drank the goddamn cocktail too fast and I ended up sleeping in a classroom. I don’t remember anything else.”
The conversation continued in teasing earnest. The new girl was silent, drinking the blue (turquoise, Quentin heard Eliot say in his mind) drink with little heed to his warning. And sure enough, ten minutes later, her eyes were glittering and her cheeks were pink…and she’d more than found her voice.
“Okay,” Annabelle said, hiccuping. She’d downed half her drink. “Maybe it’s this incredible potion or cocktail or whatever the hell it is, but I have to ask. How the fuck did you people find each other?”
“Pardon?” Margo lifted her head from her neck, with a raised eyebrow. Annabelle giggled.
“You’re all so hot,” she said, shaking her head. “Did you, like, all go to a Hot People’s Convention? And one of you was like, Yo, do any other hot people wanna be friends? And the other three were like, Yeah, sure, sounds chill.”
“That is exactly what happened,” Julia said with a giant grin. Quentin kicked her foot, grinning back.
“I get your pain. I'm the resident average looking person of the group,” he said. Eliot immediately kicked his shin, kind of hard, “And I find that—”
But Annabelle cut him off with a loud laugh. “Oh my god. If you’re average looking, then the world is fucked.”
“Okay, I like you,” Eliot said, raising his glass. But Margo put her trademarked hands on her hips and scowled.
“He’s taken, bitch,” she said with a harsh glare. Eliot rolled his eyes, unperturbed. Annabelle blinked and puckered her mouth. She looked like a very pretty puffer fish.
“Sorry,” she said, slowly and carefully, though she were diffusing or disarming. Margo was obviously an easily detonated bomb. “I promise I wasn’t hitting on him. Just saying that he’s super good looking. An aesthetics thing. You’re—you’re a lucky lady.”
“Oh god. No,” Quentin said with a laugh. “No, I’m not dating Margo. Fuck no. No.”
Margo dragged her sharp glare like a machete to Quentin. “That doesn’t get cuter the more you do it, Coldwater.”
“Q’s with Eliot,” Julia said, thumbing over across the couch. El waved , before lighting a cigarette and curving his fingers around Quentin’s shoulders.
“Wow. Okay,” Annabelle said. Her blue eyes flitted back and forth between the two of them. It was like she was completing a particularly difficult riddle. It made Eliot preen. It made Quentin squirm. “Power couple. Got it.”
“Oh my god, Q in a power couple,” Julia screeched out laughing, falling on her legs. “That’s so ridiculous. Sorry!”
“Eh, Eliot’s all the power anyone needs,” Quentin chuckled. That time, his shin was kicked much more playfully.
Ten iochroma cyaneas laid in a small circle, rich purple in their poison nightshade glory, like delicate telescopes. Around them, fifteen bright white plumerias hugged at their edges. On the third ring, seventeen yellow orchids sat interspersed with the unripened berries of a holly plant. And on the fourth and final ring, twelve giant white magnolias laid in pairs. They were separated by leafy ferns, lavender, more orchids, and fifty small white flowers. Together, they all made a swirling starburst, stretching through the center of the Cottage.
Eliot sat on his knees, his eyes closed and sleeves rolled up. He breathed in twice, stretching his long arms. He entwined his fingers in a flexing, easy motion. He had more grace and poise in a single instant than Quentin had ever had in his entire life.
Q crossed his arms around his tingling and fiery stomach. He tried hard to focus on the academics of the moment, rather than his urgent desire to grab those perfect arms and drag them upstairs.
But then Eliot twisted his hands out. His thumbs married in their outstretch and his other fingers were lithe and lean. He angled the lines of his spell toward the flowers and magic and Quentin.
Which. Wow. Fuck.
Quentin grabbed a throw pillow and clutched it, casual and definitely not weird, to his waist. Normal pillow snuggle time. Lots of people did it.
Meanwhile, Eliot levered himself up from the ground. He flowed his hands in concentric circles from his wrists and breathily whispered as the flowers rose from the ground. They danced like a corkscrew.
“He loves me…he loves me not…” Eliot muttered, eyes still closed. “He loves me…he loves me not…”
With a zing of sharp and spiced electricity, the flowers all joined together in a perfectly arranged bouquet. The arrangment landed right on Quentin’s lap, atop of his Not-a-Boner-Hiding pillow.
“He loves me,” Eliot smiled, sliding into the space next to Quentin. Those incredible fingers cupped his jaw before he kissed him. “Hi.”
“Cheesy,” Quentin murmured into Eliot’s mouth, like his whole body wasn’t ripped apart by a shimmering earthquake of feeling. But lest Eliot get the wrong impression, he ran his fingers through Eliot’s hair and down his waistcoat. He tried to show that which words were inadequate to convey. “No one’s ever given me flowers before.”
“That’s a war crime,” Eliot said, breathy and nipping at his jaw. “A mortal sin.”
Quentin smiled, tugging them down into the pillowy leather cushions of the couch and twining his fingers through Eliot’s. Their foreheads stayed touching as they sat for a few moments, breathing.
“So did this really have anything to do with your thesis then?” Quentin asked, droll and pressing a quick kiss to his nose. Immediately, Eliot chuffed Q’s jaw with his knuckle, dragging it down the line of his neck.
“Yes, baby,” Eliot said not quite laughing and a touch impatient. “It’s the kinetic mapping spell I told you about. It’s step one for demonstrating how telekinesis can manipulate the dimensional space axis. It's the foundation for my entire project.”
“Right, yeah. Sure, I remember now,” Quentin said, shaking his head. “Jesus, whatever I end up doing is going to look like a macaroni art project.”
“Hardly,” Eliot said, twisting his hand into Quentin’s hair. “Mmm, getting long.”
“Do you like it?” Quentin asked, his lips pulling down. “I know you liked that you could see my face with the shorter version.”
“Can still see your face,” Eliot said, bringing both hands up to massage his scalp. “Love your face. But I also love the longer hair too. I’ll fight Julia to the death if she ever curses it again.”
“It wasn’t a curse—”
“It was a fucking curse.”
“It was not a fucking curse,” a familiar and feminine voice said from overhead. They both glanced up at Julia, who stood tall with her arms crossed and a thick notebook in her hands. She cocked her head with a scrunched side-smile. “And I’d like to see you try to take me down, Waugh.”
“What’s up, Jules?” Quentin asked, twisting to get a better look at her. It had the added benefit of cutting off whatever way too intense retort was probably on Eliot’s tongue. “Did we have a study date I forgot about?”
“I’m actually here to see your boyfriend,” Julia said, patting Quentin on the side of the head. She walked around the couch before sitting primly between them, forcing her way in with a couple of shimmies. Eliot frowned.
“Me?” He asked, on the wary side. He and Jules were on general good terms after everything with the Secrets Ward. But it wasn’t like they sought each other out for gossip and teatime yet.
"I need your advice," Julia said, ticking an eyebrow. "You're the only one I can talk to."
“Uh, I’m right the fuck here,” Quentin said, hands splaying in the air. Eliot shushed him and sat up taller. He loved having his ego stroked more than almost anything else.
“She’s learning. Let’s not ruin it,” Eliot said, bright smile directed right at Julia. “What is it, my darling?”
“Fogg wants my input on how to mix things up for the Trials this year,” Julia said. She thrust the notebook toward Eliot, opened to a page with as complex a written spell as Quentin had ever seen. “I wanted to know if you thought this idea was too mean or not mean enough?”
“Too mean,” Quentin shot out and Julia hit him, jutting her fist out behind her with nary a glance backwards. They’d learned how to punch each other sight unseen over a decade ago.
“That’s exactly why I’m asking Eliot. He’s the Just Right Bear.”
“Like Goldilocks?” Eliot asked, nose wrinkling in amusement.
“Quentin thinks everything’s too mean. Margo thinks everything should be about eighty times meaner,” Julia said, stretching her neck back and forth. “You’re by far the most objective. Sad state of affairs, but I work with what I’ve got.”
“On the outs with Kady and-or Penny again?” Eliot asked, a slight twist to his smile. The three of them had about as explosive of a relationship as ever seen. Quentin suspected that Eliot was slightly smug to be in the more... functional relationship. He could be so petty.
(Though. Uh. Yeah. He and El were totally winning. Suck it, Penny.)
Julia glared, the tenuous part of their friendship coming back to the forefront. “I don’t want to talk about that.”
Eliot shrugged, before turning his attention back to the spell. Quentin tried to crane his neck to read it as well, but Julia kept blocking his view. Rolling his eyes, he let go of the pillow—Julia had definitely killed that as a possibility—and snatched The Lord of the Rings off the cushion. He slipped his finger into the dog-eared pages. He reabsorbed into the ride to Endoras, near the middle of The Two Towers: The Treason of Isengard section. Which, fun fact, was actually the appropriate way to refer to the volumes, rather than saying he was reading the book The Two Towers. Tolkein had intended all three parts to be its own volume, published concurrently with The Silmarillion. Quentin believed in honoring author’s intentions even over historical accuracy, since—
“Who’s ring leading anyway?” Eliot asked Julia, still tracing his finger along the circles and sharp lines on the page. His voice always cut through everything in Quentin, no matter what. “I was the obvious and only choice for my class, but no one jumps off the page for you all.”
“Oh, it’s me,” Quentin said, not looking up from his book. He kept his voice even. “Everyone agreed because of my natural showmanship. Hello, first years.”
He could hear the slam fingers against the soft notebook pages and he smirked.
“I would burn the campus down,” Eliot said. He wasn’t joking. “You’d be terrible. You’d destroy a beloved tradition.”
Quentin looked up at that, lowering his brow with a twitch. “Beloved? Is it?”
“If you warn anyone, Q,” Eliot pointed right at him. “I swear to god—”
“I mean, just because you completely lack a moral compass—”
“Take it up with the fucking faculty then. They’re the ones who—”
“You know what? I should. It’s psychologically abusive—”
“Oh, come on, Quentin—”
“I’m out,” Julia said, patting their bickering legs with finality and her own subtle smug tone. “Eliot, we’ll get together later, okay?”
And she was gone, humming in her wake.
...They were still a better couple than anything to do with Penny.
Peace of mind solidified, Quentin continued fervently arguing that the Trials were an elitist hazing ritual (“Yes. And?” Eliot infuriatingly responded.) But as they kept debating, Quentin ran his thumb around the soft petals of the orchids in his bouquet.
Over and over again.
As the days turned crisper and the nights cooler, Eliot started waxing poetic about his softening heart. At first, Quentin thought it was another gentle reference to their relationship. He thought it was sweet and romantic.
But, uh, apparently?
It had all been leading up to his views on Halloween.
As Eliot put it, the holiday was still undeniably "gauche as shit." But at the end of the day, he felt that he'd been spitting on the spirit of hedonism by not allowing the celebration. He'd been remiss in not embracing others' pleasure-seeking. Really, the decision was as thoughtful and reflective as any he'd ever made. So it was a hard-earned victory when Eliot announced the party over breakfast in the middle of October.
It felt like a royal decree.
Preparation took well over a week. Naturally, the Cottage was the centerpiece. But for once, plans stretched all the way from East to West. A large haunted maze connected the Physical Kids and the Illusion Kids in a shaky and temporary stalemate. Illusion magic was essential for any good Halloween party. Even Eliot knew that and created the diplomacy needed to acquire it. Because no Eliot Waugh sanctioned Halloween party would ever be creepy peeled grapes in a bowl and “Monster Mash” on repeat.
Throughout the days leading up to the 31st, strangers and familiar faces alike were in and out of the Cottage. The Illusion Kids cultivated their particular brand of magic for an eerie and macabre atmosphere in all the tucked away corners. Their work was a stunning contrast to Eliot’s—rich, golden, and dripping with autumnal charm next to lurid, tongue-in-cheek darkness.
Quentin considered paying them a genuine compliment, but thought better of it. This was because he hadn’t actually spoken much to the Illusion Kids in recent days for, uh, reasons. And frankly, he didn’t plan on changing that particular status quo if he could help it.
But on the day before the party, Mario, the unspoken leader of the Illusion cohort, had stopped by. He was there to check a few of the more ghoulish Illusions... and he ran smack into Quentin as he was coming down the stairs.
It was awkward.
“Oh. Whoa. Hey,” Mario blinked and swallowed. It was awkward. “Quentin. Hi. Haven’t seen you around lately. Since last year?”
“Uh, yeah,” Quentin said, rubbing the back of his neck. It was awkward. “Yeah. You know, after—um, after there wasn’t much reason to come to the East Cottage anymore. I guess. Sorry.”
Of course, he meant after Ryan. Who he hadn’t thought about in months. Who he’d forgotten, like he said he would. As usual, no one could ever accuse Quentin Coldwater of not knowing himself. For better or worse.
“Well, I hope you know you’re still always welcome to hang out with us,” Mario said, putting his hands in his pockets. “We’ve missed you.”
“Yeah, uh, thanks,” Quentin said, guilt flaring in his gut. He only half-meant the gratitude. He was a terrible person. Leaning into it, he glanced around the room, looking for an excuse to cut the conversation short. “Anyway, I’d better—”
But Mario stopped him, placing a warm hand on his arm. He smiled then, softer, with more intensity. More intention. “Maybe you and me could grab some coffee sometime? Catch up?”
“Uhh—” He started to say, when his woeful inelegance was cut off by Eliot’s hand on his shoulder. It was like he’d materialized out of thin air.
“Q, baby,” Eliot said, rubbing his hand up and down his arm. “I broke a glass upstairs. Would you mind taking care of that for me, sweetheart?”
The double pet names weren’t lost on anyone. Mario snorted. His eyes slit into red snakes. With a gruff head shake, he immediately pushed past the two of them toward the living room.
“Yeah, okay,” Mario shot back over his shoulder, unamused and uninterested. “Fuckin’ figures.”
Once Mario was more than gone, with only the ghost of a metaphorical middle finger in his wake, Quentin slid his eyes over to Eliot. “Really? Was that necessary?”
“That guy’s the worst,” Eliot said, popping a kiss on his forehead. “Gotta rub shit in when you can. One of my mottos.”
“Didn’t you kinda date him?”
“That’s an overstatement. Also, it changes nothing.”
Quentin rolled his eyes. “So do you actually need me to fix something then?”
“Fuck no. I haven’t broken glass in years,” Eliot said, nuzzling his nose into his temple. “But you can go open a bottle of wine for us. Daddy’s parched.”
“I will if you stop calling yourself Daddy.”
But Eliot swatted his ass as Quentin nonetheless walked toward the wine cabinet.
All Hallow’s Eve arrived shortly, and Margo kicked Quentin out of Eliot's room. He’d been gathering his simple costume items when she’d stormed in like lightning. She grabbed his arm and pushed him out with little more than a Get the fuck out, Coldwater or I swear to fucking god I’m going to cut your dick off. Loving friendship stuff. Very normal. The usual.
Of course, Julia was less amused when he recounted the story later as they got ready together. But she didn’t understand the Margo-and-Eliot dynamic, and where or how Quentin fit into it or if it was healthy for any of them. It wasn’t her business though, as he consistently told her.
(Privately, the vehemence of how little she understood concerned him, but not for the reasons he’d ever tell her. Because that was equally not his business.
“Do you ever get jealous?” Julia had first asked him, in the early summer, in the first few days of Eliot. Quentin had actually laughed and thrust himself up from her bed, incredulous.
“Of Margo? Fuck no,” he’d said, meaning it. “She’s part of him. Loving Eliot is loving Margo, even outside my own friendship with her.”
“But. Yeah. Okay. But.” Julia bit her lip. “But let’s say there was a terrible fire and—and he could only save one of you—”
“Aren’t you actually poly, Jules?” Quentin asked, more to cut her off than anything. “You of all people should know how fucked up of a question that is.”
“I know. I—I know.”)
Regardless, it was nice to get some quality Julia time. Her mentorship with Fogg was time and energy consuming, so he felt like he never saw her anymore. Their bonding time was relegated to study sessions lately, and he missed her. So as they stood in the staid air of his underused room, Quentin tried to focus all his attention on his best friend. And he was going to keep it light-hearted and fun.
He dug through his dresser drawers—most of which were empty by that point—until he tugged out an old black tie. He grinned up at Julia.
“The pièce de résistance,” Quentin joked, looping it around his neck. She smiled, but glanced back again at his empty drawers. Her eyes traced all around the room, catching on any hint of the general lack of upkeep.
“I’m still confused how one person could ban Halloween anyway,” Julia said, rolling her eyes. She pulled a tight black cardigan over her black leotard.
“You’re forgetting what Eliot was like a year ago,” Quentin said with a huffed laugh. Julia tucked her hair behind her ears and swiped her hand along the dresser in front of his mirror. She frowned at the layer of dust on her fingers.
“He was a huge asshole,” she said, pinning the sides of her hair back. She reached down into her bag for a headband with cat ears. “But people followed him blindly anyway? Why?”
“I never understood it either,” Quentin said, straightening his collar and smoothing the tie fabric down. It rumpled right back up. “He’d say charisma. I say inexplicable.”
But Julia nudged his side with her elbow.
“Sure, yeah,” she said, with a teasing smile and twinkling eyes. “Playin’ it cool. Like you didn’t fall madly in love with the guy.”
“Doesn’t mean I liked when he tried to boss me around,” Quentin said, before dipping his eyebrows up and down. He winked. “Well, you know. Then. Now it’s pretty, uh—“
“TM-fucking-I, Coldwater,” Julia wretched her tongue out with a gagging sound. “Holy shit. You’re spending way too much time with him and Margo.”
“We’re past the point of no return on that one.”
Julia hummed and cleared her throat. Instead of continuing down that path, she playfully narrowed her eyes at his black suit and silly little To Hell with the “Beatles” lapel pin.
“For the record, Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger is not a couple’s costume.”
Quentin shrugged and shot himself a secret smile in the mirror.
“You’re wrong. They’re an iconic duo,” he said, waving her off. “You’re just not that up on pop culture. Now help me brush my hair in front of my forehead.”
Julia rolled her eyes and twisted out a spell, so that Quentin’s part rearranged itself. He looked exactly like a page boy dreamboat from 1965.
“Or do that.” Quentin grinned and narrowed his eyes. “But this isn’t permanent, is it?”
“Fuck you,” Julia said, pushing his shoulder. “Not all my spells are permanent.”
“El says I should ask you every time from now on. He’d be so mad that you just did a spell on me without my explicit permission. Open honesty and clear communication, Wicker."
“Well, El needs to mind his own business,” Julia said as fluffed her own hair, staring into Quentin’s mirror. “And don’t think I haven’t noticed that you’ve moved all your shit into his room. Talking about honesty here, Coldwater.”
“I wasn’t actually hiding it.” Quentin smirked at the obvious non-sequitur.
“Okay, so clear communication? Here’s me asking ,” Julia smiled mischievously, as she drew light cat whiskers against her cheeks. “How are things with you two? Still going well?”
“Uh, yeah,” Quentin said, his chest warming with his tiny smile. “Yeah, things are good. Really good.”
“I do have to say,” Julia shot him a cheerful glance, before pulling out green and gray face paint. “You seem pretty happy.”
“No. I’m not,” Quentin said, sighing and casting his eyes downward. She pursed her lips for a moment before he grinned. “I’m really fucking happy.”
“Yuck, Q,” Julia said, elbowing him with an eye roll. “You’re cheesy when you’re in love. Cheesy and way too much of an over-sharer.”
“He’s good for me, Jules,” Quentin said, rolling back and forth on the balls of his shiny leather shoes. “I think we’re good for each other.”
Julia smiled, all love and affection. She walked over to Quentin and patted his cheek.
“I’m very happy for you, Q,” she said, scrunching her nose and standing on her tiptoes to kiss his forehead. “Now can you help me with a quick spell?”
The party was a spooky spectacle. Dark and light, with the right mix of camp and genuine terror. Blood seeped from the walls and talking cats cracked jokes. The air smelled like mulled wine and a zombie-bride chased unsuspecting first years through the quad. Everyone was dancing and drinking champagne, and screaming while horrors flashed on the insides of their eyelids. In short, it was a masterpiece, like everything Eliot did.
In full costume, Eliot himself looked like something right out of Rolling Stone magazine. He was rumpled and dangerous and achingly untouchable. He’d straightened out his hair into soft waves, flipping up and outward, framing his defined face like angel whispers. His eyes were black rimmed in deep charcoal and he wore a striped tank top and a fur jacket, over criminally tight pants. He laid out in a sprawl along the couch, nursing a thin black cigarette and a smoking flask.
Next to him, Margo lounged in a tight red bustier dress and devil horns. She looked insanely hot. She clearly knew it too as she stretched her neck out like a model, taking in the certain and unyielding admiring glances from around the room.
They were always and forever undisputed royalty, and Quentin watched them from the stairs in awe.
Julia nudged him forward with her green and gray clad arm. Her eyes were golden and bloodshot, glamoured wide as a cat’s. Once they reached the heady nook of couches, Quentin’s dry throat tried to greet Eliot. His heart glowed when he saw Eliot was gazing back at him like he was the one who looked criminally sexy. Which was... nice and loving and hot, but Quentin was basically just wearing a too-tight suit. Eliot was slightly biased.
Biased and hot.
But before he could throw himself right onto Eliot’s lap, the devil in the red dress cut him off with a confused frown at Julia.
“Zombie cat?” Margo asked, crossing her bare legs over one another. She leaned forward with her chin propped on one hand. “Is that a thing?”
“Oh, come on!” Julia laughed, twirling once and winking. “It’s obvious.”
The geek in Quentin jumpstarted and he smiled at Julia’s costume again.
“It’s definitely obvious,” Quentin agreed, grinning wider and wider. Eliot’s cheeks danced upward at him around his cigarette. “And it’s genius.”
“Don’t tell them,” Julia slapped his arm with a grin. Margo rolled her eyes.
“So it’s definitely gonna underwhelm, huh?” Eliot said, drolly. He stood up and stalked his way over to hug Q from behind, cigarette dangling from between the tips of his fingers. He purred in his ear. “Hi.”
“Hi,” Quentin smiled upward, kissing the hinge of his jaw. He turned excitedly back to Julia, who was bouncing on her feet. Margo remained unmoving and unimpressed.
“Think about it. Zombie cat. So—alive and dead at the same time?” Julia offered. She glanced back and forth between two blank faces and one over-enthused face with a sigh. “Hello?”
“Nope,” Eliot said, blowing smoke in Julia’s face over the crook of Quentin’s neck. It was so hot. “Nothing.”
He couldn’t take it anymore.
“Schrödinger’s Cat!” Quentin burst out and Julia squealed, clutching his hand and jumping up and down. Margo and Eliot immediately exchanged exhausted glances.
“Get the fuck out of my party,” Eliot said. He pulled Quentin onto the couch and into his lap, his arm tightening around his waist like a secure lock. He still glared down at him. “Both of you.”
Quentin bit into his shoulder and Eliot laughed, kissing his forehead.
“Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney is not a couple’s costume,” Julia retorted with a sharp clench of her teeth. Eliot shrugged and dragged on his cigarette, before turning his attention to the badly neglected nape of Quentin’s neck. Margo took a long sip of her martini and snapped in the air. A nameless first year presented Julia and Quentin with the Halloween version of the signature cocktail. It was blood red, with an aromatic mist wafting off the top.
But as soon as the four of them were together, they were separated once more. Staring into the distance with frozen fear painted on her face, Margo shifted with a start on the couch. She sniffed once, before standing and sweeping away, like a movie star, like a muse, like the Queen of the World.
“Not tonight, Satan,” she said aloud, kissing Eliot on the cheek. “See you losers around. You too, El.”
Then in her place, stood one of Quentin’s other favorite people.
“Hey Quentin!” Todd’s voice was chipper as ever, under his large square glasses, blue velvet suit, lacy and poofy white cravat, and magically enlarged teeth. “Lookin’ groovy, baby.”
Eliot tensed underneath him, a slight and angry growl emanating from his throat.
“Austin Powers,” Todd said, pointing at himself. “My favorite movie.”
Quentin smiled with good humor and a tiny salute. But out of his periphery saw the half-moon muscle near Eliot’s eye twitch once, hard, shuddering the whole side of his face.
“Having a good time, Todd?” Julia asked, sweetly cutting off any of Eliot’s most natural instincts. Immediately, Todd gasped, like he hadn’t seen her and was now horrified.
“A zombie cat! It’s alive!” He held his arms out, waggling them, before pointing both his hands out in finger guns. “Yeah, baby, yeah.”
“I’ll spare you life if you give me—” Julia twisted her face like a goofy mask and put her pinky to the side of her mouth. “—One million dollars.”
Todd waggled his hips at her. “Oh, behave!”
“Quentin. Q, I—I can’t,” Eliot whispered in his ear, breath hot and urgent, hands gripping his thighs in a tight panic. “I fucking can’t.”
Springing into action, he cleared his throat and gave Eliot a quick kiss on the cheek. He hopped to his feet, wrapping arms around the giggling Todd and Julia, still quoting the 1997 comedy masterpiece back and forth at each other.
“Let’s get a drink in your hand, bud” Quentin said, ushering Todd toward the bar, and into relative safety. “The haunted maze opens soon too. Could be fun.”
Quentin spilled coffee all over his fucking button-down.
After a night of particularly shitty sleep, it was a three cup kind of Saturday. Caffeine made him jittery on a good day, but normally he could keep his shit together. But that day, his nerve-endings tried to jump out of his pores, while sleep still tried to slam his eyes shut while he walked. So he decided to pour an ill-advised fourth cup. As he sipped, he ended up chatting with Margo. He got excited about an idea and gesticulated one time and, well, there he was fucking was.
So with a grumble, Quentin stole his way into his—into Eliot’s room, lifting the shirt up and over his head. The collar stuck against his neck and he flailed for a few seconds. After a short struggle, he finally turned it inside out and onto the ground.
But Quentin didn’t realize that the shirt’s sleeves had wrapped around his shoe. When he took a step forward, he slipped back on the tangled mess, his knees buckling under him. Steadying himself against the bureau with a halting sigh, he started over again. He grabbed the shirt from the floor and crumpling it into a ball in his hands.
“Don’t hurt yourself, baby,” Eliot’s voice said from the bed, book in hand. Quentin held his hands out in mock surrender and shook his head. Eliot chuckled and his eyes lifted to give him an affectionate look. Then he kept reading.
“Can you show me that laundry spell again?” Quentin asked, opening his drawer in the bureau. He pulled out one of his T-shirts and threw it on, without any major mishap. “Last time I made the stain worse. Somehow.”
“I’ll do it for you,” Eliot said, not glancing up. “Throw it in the hamper.”
He obliged with a small smile of thanks. But Eliot missed it, apparently engrossed in the book more than his boyfriend’s clumsy laundering drama.
“Thesis work?” Quentin asked, stretching his arms behind his back. It was a reasonable assumption.
Anytime Eliot wasn’t with him, with Margo, or behind the bar cart, he was reading about the synapses of telekinetic magic. Quentin didn’t totally get everything Eliot was doing yet, though he was trying. What he did know was that the Physical parts were more and more gorgeous every time. Whatever Eliot was attempting to do was working, in all its stunning glory.
But Eliot shook his head.
“No. I’m reading,” he said, slowly. “Finished now though if you want to hang out.”
“Left to right.”
“Like, a fictional story?” Quentin flopped down on the bed next to Eliot, who immediately angled the pages away from him. “For pleasure? On purpose?”
“You’re not as funny as you think you are,” Eliot said, closing it and tucking it under his arm. Like that was going to deter rather than fuel.
“I’m medium funny,” Quentin said with a nose scrunch into his cheek. Eliot snorted a little despite himself. “But what the fuck are you reading?”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Well, now I’m even more curious,” Quentin ducked his head at the tightly drawn-in spine and laughed at the lack of conspicuous lack of title. “Is it porn?”
“Please,” Eliot smirked. “You know I’d be doing a dramatic recitation on the downstairs table if it were.”
“Then what the fuck?” Quentin pulled himself up on and over Eliot’s arm. “Let me see—”
“Q, seriously. Leave it—”
Protestations ignored, Quentin grabbed the book out of his hands. He used an old sleight-of-hand trick up his sleeve. With a wild and victorious grin over Eliot’s increasing demands for the return of his property, he read a few sentences with glee. Turn about was fair play, and it was finally Quentin’s time to mercilessly tease.
But instead, as he registered the words in front of him, his heart stopped. It floated in his chest.
He blinked and read a few more sentences. He blinked again and read more, confirming. He looked back up at Eliot. Something thick and heavy caught in his throat, and he swallowed it down hard, until it landed with a sweet thud in his stomach. He felt light-headed.
Meanwhile, Eliot’s cheeks tinged red and he was studiously examining his nails.
“El,” Quentin said, breathless and shaky. Disbelieving. “Are you reading—?”
“Don’t make it a thing, Coldwater,” Eliot said with a half-grin, still not meeting his gaze. “You and Margo won’t shut up about it, so it’s to make our joint time less tedious.”
“Eliot,” Quentin said, a wide smile growing on his face.
“And really, I was anticipating about eighty percent more centaur dicks than I’ve yet seen, so I’ve got a lot of unmet expectations. I’m writing a stern letter to the editor.”
Quentin slowly sat back down, breath returning in heated, joyful waves. “Well, that’s why you should read the annotated version and all the appendices.”
“Yeah, I don’t love you that much,” Eliot said, with a sidelong glance. Quentin felt his dimples burst onto his cheeks.
“This is The Wandering Dune though,” he said, flipping through and resting his chin on Eliot’s shoulder. “Are you reading them out of order?”
“No, I’m on the final installment,” Eliot shifted his eyes again, pressing a quick kiss on his forehead. “Anyway, what do you want to do for dinner tonight?”
“When the fuck did you have time to read the whole series?” Quentin knit his brow, still reading down a long paragraph, one of Rupert’s speeches. God, the prose was gorgeous. “They’re not short. Are you a secret speed reader?”
“If you must know, I began reading them last year,” Eliot said, with a slight tremble of his Adam’s apple. He cleared his throat and approximated a carefree tone again. “But seriously, I don’t feel like the salt-lick cafeteria slop so I’m cooking. What do you want?”
Light poured down from the sky. “Wait, did you start before we—?”
“Jesus. Fine. Yes, Q,” Eliot snapped with an affected huff. “Yes, okay? I had a big gay crush on you and so I read your favorite books. Happy?”
“I mean, incredibly,” Quentin said with a soft smile. His boyfriend’s shoulders relaxed and he sighed, resting temple-to-temple.
“They’re a big part you and I love all parts of you,” Eliot said, quietly. Simple and straightforward. It made Quentin want to fucking ravish him. “It—it didn’t feel right not to have my own access to it. That’s all.”
“Yeah, uh, that makes me want to fucking ravish you,” Quentin said. He swung his legs over Eliot's lap until he was straddling him. And Eliot’s eyes widened with an effervescent laugh, throwing the book across the room.
Quentin ran his thumb along the cylindrical smoothness of the cigarette as he inhaled the rich smoke. He’d quit again, but that didn’t feel important. All that felt important was Eliot’s warm knee knocking against his, while they sat on the brick ground of the Cottage patio. All that felt important was sharing a single cigarette and playing the question games that helped bring them together in the first place.
That was what was important.
“Superfluous,” Quentin said, passing the cigarette back. At Eliot’s puzzled look, he smiled. “I like how it rolls off the tongue.”
“I like how you roll off the tongue,” Eliot said, predictably, grabbing Quentin’s belt loop with his thumb and angling his hips closer.
“Least favorite word?”
“Encrusted,” Quentin said, lifting the edge of his lip toward his nose. “In any context.”
“Even a culinary one?” Eliot asked and laughed at Q’s fervent nod.
“Okay. Fine. Your turn.”
“Same questions. Favorite?” Quentin asked and Eliot smiled brightly.
“Right,” Quentin went to smack his chest, but Eliot caught his hand and brought it up to his lips instead. “Least favorite?”
Eliot’s face darkened into a glower. He took a drag on the cigarette again and passed it over, coughing. “Sassy.”
“Ah, yeah,” Quentin raised his eyebrows into a grin around the smoke. “That makes sense.”
“A shocking number of people still use it when they first meet me. And it still never goes well for them.”
“I mean, I know. But it’s so weird, though?” Quentin shook his head, unable to parse the logic. “Margo is sometimes kind of sass—uh, you know, like that—”
“I appreciate your sensitivity,” Eliot said, solemnly.
“But you’ve never exactly been like,” Quentin put his hand on his hip and waved his hand in the air back and forth, “Hey girlfriend.”
Eliot shot up into a seated position and a prayerful look crossed his face.
“Do it again,” he whispered, his teeth brightening his entire face. Quentin burned red.
“No,” he said quickly, sitting up and rubbing his neck. “What I meant is that my first impression of you was that you were more, uh, sardonic and elegant than—”
But Eliot barreled himself into Quentin’s lap, wrapping his legs around his torso and twisting his hands into his hair.
“Do it again,” he said, fervently. “I’ve never begged for anything in my life, but I am begging you, Coldwater.”
“El, come on,” Quentin dipped his lips in and out his mouth to prevent a smile. “No, it’s stereotypical and shitty. I was just trying to say that—”
“Do it again,” Eliot kissed his neck. “Do it again.” Eliot kissed his temple. “Do it again.” Eliot kissed his lips, quickly and firmly, before cupping his cheeks. “Do it again.”
So Quentin did it again. Eliot’s laughter bounced endlessly off the side of the Cottage, before he buried his shaking, crying, joyful face right into his chest.
“Can I say something one time?” Quentin asked into the darkness, focused on the blinking of the digital clock on the nightstand. “And then it’s yours to handle as you want?”
Eliot shifted and his groggy voice answered under the thick veil of sleep.
“Mmm, that sounds ominous,” he said, yawning. He threw an arm over his eyes.
Quentin was quiet for a few moments.
“Q?” Eliot cleared his throat. “You’re freaking me out.”
“I’d feel better if you drank less.”
The silence that followed was the heaviest thing Quentin had ever carried.
“Eliot. Did you hear me?”
For twenty minutes, they laid in stony, tense silence. Until finally, Eliot placed his hand on Quentin’s and squeezed.
Julia broke up with Penny and Kady on a Sunday, during an afternoon party at the Cottage.
It happened when Quentin was at his dad’s for dinner. Margo intercepted him at the door as he portaled in. She tried to seem concerned but mostly appeared gleeful at the salacious gossip. It was sad, but not surprising. The fights had gotten worse, and worse, and so much worse over time.
But it culminated in a three-way argument about whether Florida really was an awful place or if that was an “Ivy League horseshit” thing to say. From the way Margo told it, the yelling and stomping finally ended with Kady caught between two live wires. She finally made the call, “for all their sakes.” This much didn’t surprise Quentin—he wasn’t close to Kady, but it was clear she was a survivor who didn’t take shit.
But in the slight more shocking denouement, Kady had thrown goddamn Battle Magic toward the bar, breaking all the glassware. (This was reportedly to Eliot’s own incandescent rage and Margo’s utter delight.) Then she mic dropped up to her room, barricading the staircase. And when Julia tried to reach out to Penny—emotionally, physically, far too publicly—he’d Traveled out of the Cottage. He left her behind with little more than a “I can’t fucking do this anymore, Julia” and a pop-zing, out of her life.
In the quiet fall out, hours later, Julia cleaned up the living room by hand. Kady had left the Cottage with a duffel bag and Penny was still somewhere in the universe, probably listening to “dubstep” or what the fuck ever.
Truly, Quentin tried to be sympathetic. He tried to be loving and helpful, and there for Julia in the way she deserved, after a public heartbreak and humiliation. He really did.
…It didn’t go well.
“Not everyone meets their soulmate when they’re twenty-three, Q,” Julia snarled out, throwing a book that barely missed his head. He suspected Eliot—unnervingly silent next to him on the couch—may have had something to do with that. Because normally he knew Julia had remarkable aim. Because she was athletic. Because of course she was.
Julia stomped her foot and narrowed her eyes. “Don’t be so condescending.”
“All I said was that I’m sorry everything went so terribly,” Quentin said. “I know shit’s been hard lately—“
Julia flipped him off.
“That is not all you really said and you know it,” she snapped. “Your eyes are wide puddles of bullshit. Sweet li’l puppy dog, my ass.”
Eliot hissed out an annoyed breath. He was focused on rolling a cigarette. He was acting like he wasn't listening to their conversation, stealth telekinesis aside. But staying quiet was a herculean effort for him.
“Jules, it sucks. I know you loved them,” Quentin said, gentle. He absolutely held the ‘B’ word back with all his might. He really did. He bit his lip and Julia rolled her eyes, reaching her hands up to pull out her hair.
“But?” She finally asked, throwing her hands down into a defensive stance on her hips.
“But maybe it’s for the best?” He threw his own hands up helplessly. Even she had to admit that shit had been bad lately. It had to be a relief, in some small way. She was too smart for it to be anything else.
“Oh, Jesus Christ,” Julia laughed, desperate and hollow. She crouched on the ground and picked up a shard of glass between her polished fingernails. “If you and Eliot broke up and I said that, you’d freak the fuck out.”
“Let’s leave my rock solid relationship out of your clusterfuck, shall we?” Eliot shot out, like he couldn’t help it. Sensitive as always. Quentin elbowed him with more force than usual.
“I know you have the empathy of a thimble,” Julia said to Eliot but not looking at him. She picked up more and more glass, by hand, like penance. “But you and Quentin aren’t actually the only people in the world to fall in love.”
Quentin laid a firm hand on Eliot’s roiling, hot chest before he could say something else defensive and antagonistic. He took a deep breath.
“Jules, come on. Please let me do that. It’s literally my discipline.”
“I’ve got it, Q,” Julia mumbled, her voice thick and throaty. His heart ached and stood up, taking her hands. He pulled her toward him and wrapped her in a tight hug.
“It’s, like, kind of painful for me to be around,” Quentin said, low and rubbing her back. It was true. His fingers twitched and itched with the need to rearrange the broken glass. “So please?”
She nodded into his chest and sniffed once.
“Sorry,” she said, pulling away. Then she looked up at Eliot. “Sorry.”
El shrugged, playing it casual and cool as ever. But Q saw him warm and the small flicker of hurt dissipated from his hazel eyes.
“Sorry too,” he said, flicking his gaze away. Eliot was getting better at that.
Quentin spun Julia onto his spot on the couch. With a focused breath and closed eyes, he brought his fingers together, lacing them and then pulling them down toward the ground and up to the ceiling. Strings of gold he couldn’t see—but could feel and smell and taste—wrapped around his ankles.
All the barware was fixed and back on the shelf. He opened his eyes again and shrugged, downplaying the tingling pride flushed over his skin.
“You’re getting really efficient at that,” Julia said with a hiccup. She tentatively sipped the violet and lime drink Eliot had long ago placed on the coffee table. She gave him a sheepish smile in thanks He rolled his eyes. Then he mussed her hair and rested his hand across her shoulder.
“Yeah, I actually have a helpful mentor,” Quentin said, sitting down on the small armchair next to Margo, who he’d forgotten was there. She embodied bored silence. “A Brakebills first.”
Julia gave him a halfhearted smile and then rubbed her temple. “Fuck. This sucks. I don’t know what I’m going to do now.”
Quentin furrowed his brow. “Jules—“
“I have a proposal,” Margo said, looking up from her lazy position like she’d been engaged the whole time. “Come to Ibiza. No better way to get over your failed polyamorous triad, trust me.”
“Encanto Oculto?” Julia rolled her eyes. “Not my scene.”
“Don’t be so judgy,” Margo smirked. “It’s artsy and shit too. It’ll be fun. El and I will show you the ropes, while Quentin party poops back here on campus, reading or whatever.”
Quentin grinned. Reading or whatever was infinitely more appealing to him than sunburn and huge crowds of fucked up Magicians listening to techno. Plus Spain was still his least favorite country because, whatever, you’re irrational. And Margo and Eliot had planned the trip since they’d met—the big final blow-out to end all blow-outs, before their final semester at Brakebills. He’d miss Eliot, sure, but he understood. Or at least, he figured good boyfriends tried their very best to understand.
But in contrast to Margo’s excitement and Quentin’s resigned relaxation, Eliot was palpably frozen. His fingers were tense and cupped over his knees, eyebrows knit tightly together. He licked his lips and swallowed, like he was facing something unspeakably difficult.
“Uh, Bambi,” Eliot said, clearing his throat, his eyes darting about in that way they did. “Um. Uh. I, uh—“
“Jesus, El, you’ve been spending way too much time around Quentin,” Margo said, drawling out. Quentin glared devastatingly at her. She ignored him. “Spit it out.”
He swallowed again, staring straight ahead.
“I’m not going to Ibiza,” Eliot said, low. Quentin and Margo both snapped shocked stares over at him.
“What?” Quentin asked, his eyebrows rising in contrast to his falling jaw.
“Fucking seconded,” Margo said, her hands on her hips. “El, it’s our third year trip. The big one.”
“This conversation is supposed to be about me,” Julia protested. She slumped into the couch and sipped her drink in a huff.
“You thought I was going to Ibiza?” Eliot looked at Quentin, hurt. Quentin widened his eyes.
“Well, not for, like, the orgies, but I thought—“
“There’s no other point, Q,” Eliot said, smiling with a gentle curve of his lips. Then he ticked his eyes at Margo. “Which is why Margo should have seen this coming.”
“I thought he’d give you a weeklong pass,” she said, jutting a nod over at Quentin. “He’s cool.”
“Uh, no,” Quentin said, interjecting with a frown. “Not that cool.”
“Prude,” Margo said with a sneer. Quentin opened his mouth, but Eliot stood between the small space between the two arm chairs. He silenced Q with a gentle hand on his thigh.
“Bambi,” Eliot said, as warm and firm as he could manage. “I don’t want that.”
“But it’s our thing, Eliot,” Margo said, her brow wavering. “I didn’t think you being all in love with Quentin would change our things. Not the important shit.”
“Hey, let’s go upstairs,” Eliot took her hands and pulled her up. He made gentle shushing noises and gathed Margo’s tiny frame in his long arms. “We can chat up there, okay?”
“No,” Margo said, pouting into Eliot’s chest. “If we chat, that means it’s real and you’re actually not going.”
“I’m actually not going either way, Bambi,” Eliot said softly, kissing the top of her head.
“Then what’s the point of talking about it, you dick?” She sniffed. “Are you ever coming to Ibiza again?”
Eliot closed his eyes. “Bambi…”
“Fuck, Eliot,” Margo pounded her fists against his chest. “Monogamy is the fucking worst. God.”
“Quentin can tag along? I know he’ll completely ruin everything else, but at least you’d be there,” Margo quietly suggested, throwing a final Hail Mary. “And you can fuck him and only him that way and—”
“You know that’s not happening, Bambi,” Eliot said, almost inaudible. He let his hand rest on the back of her neck and squeezed her close to him.
Margo shook her head, burrowing deeper into Eliot’s clavicle. “But who am I even going to hang out with? I hate everyone.”
Eliot made a loud, strangled sound out the back of his throat and Quentin shifted in his chair. Okay, maybe he could suck it up and join them. It would be his literal waking nightmare, but Margo wanted or needed him to take one for the team and—
“You know what?” Julia said standing up and throwing her hair back. “I’m in. Let’s do it. Girls’ trip.”
“Really?” Margo popped off Eliot. She wiped her eyes and smiled. “Huh. I’ve never done a girls’ trip before.”
“We’ll tear it the fuck up then,” Julia said with a matching grin and marked determination. Then she stuck out her tongue in light disgust. “I’m sick of these two assholes making us fail the Bechdel test.”
Quentin frowned. “I mean—“
“Quiet, the women are talking,” Margo admonished. She shushed with a dismissive hand wave. She tapped her chin, walking closer to Julia in a prowl. “You’re right. We do talk about them a lot. Yet we’re way more interesting.”
“Way more might be a stretch—“ Eliot started to say, folding his arms, but Margo made the same shushing sound in his direction.
Julia snorted, still focused on Margo.
“Did you know I mastered spectral refraction before I even got my discipline?”
“Did you know I robbed a bank when I was in high school?”
“Wait the fuck up and rewind, Bambi,” Eliot tried to interject, the purest glee and incredulity on his face. But Margo ignored him.
“Come, I’ll tell you all about it while you help me pack,” Margo patted Julia’s hand. “How many thong bikinis do you own?”
“Zero,” Julia said, her brow wrinkling. Margo laughed.
“No problem,” she said, shimmying and tugging them upstairs. “I love a good shopping trip.”
Days after the Encanto brigade had raucously departed, the Cottage was drowsy and still, not unlike the summertime. But even under the weather enchantment, it was cooler and draftier, still entirely wintertime. So Quentin was covered head-to-toe in his own red flannel pajamas and one of Eliot’s soft fleece blankets, stolen from their room.
He sat on the couch, a mug of boiling hot ginger tea in one hand and a sci-fi novel in the other. His feet were clad in mismatched white socks. He shifted them under his ass, scooting backwards against the couch’s arm so that it pressed into his lower back. But in his movement, his gangly knee jostled against the mug and the scalding liquid spilled onto the top of his thigh, burning the shit out of him. He hissed through his teeth and shot both his arms out, splattering the offending drink onto his neck with pin-pricking scorches.
“Shit,” Quentin jerked out under his breath as scrunched into himself, unable to find balance. And just as he was about to tumble down onto the floor, drink and book and all, the mug gently lifted into the air and stabilized next to him. It balanced graceful and steady to his side.
Laid next to him, Eliot’s apparently not-so-sleeping mouth quirked into barely concealed laughter. But he remained silent with his eyes gently closed. He snugged his curls back into the fluffy pillow he’d called down the stairs thirty minutes before, drifting off again.
Quentin huffed out a small laugh of his own and resettled, comfortable and cozy once again.
All in all, it was an excellent end of semester break. Way better than Antarctica.
He extended his legs out, tangling them with Eliot’s as he sunk into the strange and uninhibited world of Samuel R. Delaney. And Eliot sighed contentedly, hooking his knee over and into his as sleep finally overtook him. Through the touching, fascinating and, well, uh, very graphic words on the page, Quentin smiled. He definitely owed El a trip somewhere exciting and romantic, next time they had a chance.
Second semester began with a potent mess of stress.
After Julia and Margo returned, giggly and thick as thieves, and after classes started up again in earnest, it was like the world fell into a time vacuum. It swooped everything into warp-speed nothingness and remarkable focus. Spellwork and the demands of their professors were more difficult and inescapable than ever before.
Even Eliot spent most of his time working through his thesis and final projects. Hell, he even spent more time in the fucking library than perfecting cocktails. He’d relinquished control of most parties to automated magic, only personally involved in the Saturday night ones. Even then, he often turned in at the once obscenely early hour of eleven. He preferred to cuddle up next to Quentin and talk aloud about the calibration of colors and the use of dimensional space through the sound continuum. Not that Quentin complained, but it was a shift.
Meanwhile, similarly, Margo was in and out of portals to Antarctica—working with Mayakovsky of all people—on her Cryomancy thesis. Julia was Julia, studying and excelling, and then back again. And Quentin was just trying to keep his head above water.
But almost six weeks in, there was a surprise and long-anticipated visit. It brought a slight balm to the school-centric drudgery that had enveloped their lives and sanity.
“I’m back, motherfuckers!” Josh Hoberman hollered, stepping his way through the portal. He was wearing large oversized sparkling sunglasses and a bright pink suit. He looked like an aggressively heterosexual Elton John.
“Welcome, pal,” Quentin said, pulling him into a big hug.
“How do you look better every time I see you?” Josh said, leaning back without breaking the embrace, pressing a hand to Quentin’s cheek. “I want all your secrets. Especially about your glowing skin.”
Quentin assumed Josh didn’t mean the compliment literally. But it turned out he could actually speak to that topic, in quite some depth.
“So dating Eliot had some unexpected perks,” Quentin said, lowering his voice and ticking off his points on his hands. “To wit, there are these things called face serums. They’re effective as hell, but there’s a big barrier to entry because there’s overwhelming amount of them. They’ll change your life though. Or, you know, your face.”
“Okay,” Josh nodded in fast succession, brow furrowing. “Okay. So how do you know where to start then?”
Quentin smiled. “I can get you a chart I made.”
“Oh man,” Josh smiled and pumped his hand to his chest. “Yes. I love charts.”
“Right? Just, uh—don’t tell El. He says it’s embarrassing,” Quentin glanced around before taking Josh’s elbow in his hand and continuing, head tucked in secrecy. “Anyway, you also are going to you want to use this stuff called cleansing oil. Which I know sounds counterintuitive but—”
“‘Sup, John?” Margo said, slinking over to cut Quentin off and rest her arm on his shoulder. She nodded her chip up briefly. “Long time, no see.”
Josh glared at her.
“Seriously, Margo?” He put his hands on his hips. “We were having an educational moment here.”
“Hmm,” she said, twisting her lips into a bright red smirk. “So did you bring us any presents?”
“Of course I did,” Josh sighed, with a rueful smile. “You know I always do.”
“Quentin, you need a drink, you sad little boy,” Margo said, grinning into his face and tugging his hand toward the living room. She licked her lips. “Come with me.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Quentin said, sighing and smiling down. “That never gets old, huh?”
“How are things going with your mentor, Q?” Josh asked, lighting a joint expertly and puffing twice before passing it to him. Before he could pull it to his lips, Margo plucked it out of his fingers to inhale first. “You’re working with Mindy Aramore, right?”
Quentin nodded, taking the joint back without a second glance. “Yeah, it’s been fascinating. It makes sense that archaeologists need menders often. It’s been amazing to, uh, explore this whole new area of knowledge, you know?”
“I hate archaeology,” Margo said, leaning forward to take the joint from Eliot, who was unusually taciturn. Marijuana tended to do that to him. “It’s so dumb. Old shit is dumb.”
“Are you serious?” Quentin asked, genuinely baffled and turning his whole body to face her. “Archaeology is the only reason we have any cultural history, Margo. Psychology, philosophy, even the fucking arts wouldn’t exist in the same capacity without—”
“Oh my god,” Margo groaned. “No one cares.”
He glared at her. “You’re full of shit.”
She wrinkled her nose at him. “You’re cute.”
“So think you’ll be Cairo bound in a year then? Or Xi’an?” Josh asked, taking the joint back and puffing smoke into the shape of a long dragon. “Or Athens or wherever?”
“Fuck no,” Quentin said, shaking his head. “The publishing pressure is insane. Worse than professors. I’d be a shaking pile of sweat, like, all the time.”
“Can we talk about something other than the real world?” Eliot said with a sigh, lolling his head onto Margo’s shoulder. She kissed his forehead. “I have such few opportunities for beautiful oblivion right now.”
Quentin’s heart ached and thudded, but he swallowed it down. He blinked any thoughts about Eliot’s graduation out of his hazy head. But Josh shook his head.
“In one sec, okay?” He said, pointing at Eliot. “Before I forget, I actually wanted to let you know that I recommended you to a colleague.”
Eliot blinked, like he was trying to think through the haze of his high.
“Much as I appreciate you putting your good judgement to work,” Eliot said with a half-grin, “I have no interest in the food service industry.”
“Not food. Art museum,” Josh said, pushing his glasses up his nose. “Friend of a friend. He’s scouting for a Magician with masterful telekinetic work. Plus, a keen sense of aesthetics, and top-notch networking abilities. Seemed like a slam dunk.”
“But I don’t have any art history background,” Eliot narrowed his eyes. Josh chuckled as he rolled his fingers over the joint.
“Sure, but I told them that you’re the sharpest motherfucker I’ve ever met,” Josh said. “I know I’m praise-happy amongst friends, but that actually carries weight in my professional life.”
Eliot leaned back on his hands and bit the inside of his cheeks. “Nice of you, Hoberman.”
Josh chuckled. “There would be some symbiosis if you all met. Worth a conversation.”
“Where?” Eliot asked. His shoulders tensed an Quentin recognized it as an interest he was trying to keep under wraps.
“London. Tate Modern,” Josh said and Eliot’s pupils dilated for a brief second. But then, he glanced over at Quentin.
“Appreciated, Hoberman,” Eliot said, slow and careful. “But I’m trying to stay closer to New York.”
“El,” Quentin said, taking his hand. “I mean. You should at least explore the option.”
“You know your boyfriend’s right,” Josh said, re-lighting the joint in a smooth circular motion. “Why is this fucker dulling out on me?”
“I’ll think about it,” Eliot said. His face was smooth and still. “Thank you.”
Even though he was talking to Josh, he caught Quentin’s eye as he spoke.
It had been a rough two weeks, but Quentin was finally on the other end.
The increasing demands of Brakebills—of fucking magic as a general concept—had nearly broken him. There was no conscious realization, but Quentin had become a torrent of insomnia and dangerous thoughts. His feet had worn a trail across Eliot’s lambskin rug, from where he’d paced over and over again like a goddamn maniac. He was constantly distracted. Showering felt like a insurmountable burden. He mostly ate pretzel sticks, when he ate at all. He stared into space a lot. He re-read the first Fillory book three times. He skipped four classes.
But that day, Quentin could wash the dishes. The feel of the hot water on his hands. The moving circulation of the rainbow soap bubbles against his wrists. The weight of the plates atop his palms. It all silenced his awful mind. It was finally soothing, rather than robotic, rather than monotonous.
He was caught in the motions, lulled into sweet release. The calm was expanded by an 80s adult contemporary slow jam about endless summertime and a lost love playing through the air. The sharp smell of lemon tickled his nostrils and he could finally breathe. So much so that he barely even noticed Eliot’s gentle hand on his back and the tentative kiss across his temple.
“Need help drying?” He asked, soft.
There was nothing worse than being on the other end of an episode and still treated with kid gloves. He wanted immediate acceptance, immediate letting go, immediate normalcy.
But Quentin knew that it was a lot to ask. Especially of Eliot.
Because now that the fog was lifting, he was able to take a long and hard look at his boyfriend. The circles under El’s eyes were dark purple, like two ringed bruises. His cheeks were pale and his gaze uncertain. He’d obviously slept about as much as Quentin and Quentin…hadn’t given a single shit
Guilt clenched hot on his gut. Eliot was the one who was down to the wire for his thesis defense. He was preparing for several interviews. He had actual understandable existential crises about the upcoming crossroads in his life. Yet every night he tried to hold Quentin. He tried to talk to him. He gave him space. He gave him contact. He made him food that went untouched. He cleaned and ironed the clothes Quentin left in piles on the floor. He went a whole fortnight without sex. He had been firm and warm and steady, no matter how much Quentin kicked and screamed away from him in that quiet and sullen and unlovable way of his.
Yet Eliot still loved.
And that was the only reason why Quentin swallowed back his initial I’m fine, go the fuck away instinct. Instead, he nodded and handed Eliot a dry washcloth.
“No magic,” Quentin said as a terse reminder. He still hadn’t managed to make his tone gentle yet.
“Only if you don’t scratch the shit out of my dish ware,” Eliot smirked, indicating the large pile of soaped up cutlery and pans. His eyes widened with genuine alarm. “Or submerge the fucking cast iron with soapsuds. Jesus, Coldwater.
He scrambled his favorite pan out of the water, drying it with magic in an instant.
“Oh,” Quentin frowned, running his finger along the black and gold edge. “Uh, sorry. Is that not okay? It was caked as shit.
“We’re going to have a Cookware 101 lesson at some point,” Eliot said with a half-teasing, half-exasperated sidelong glance at Quentin. “Hand me the flutes. Please.
So Quentin did. He watched Eliot’s lean fingers delicately polish the glass until it glinted against the setting sun in the window. He repeated the action five more times, on five more glasses, even though there was an easy spell and—and
“Hey. Um, I love you,” Quentin said, low-toned and hunched over, his hair greasy and shirt stained. Eliot kept his face neutral. His mask was casual, calm, and collected. His audible swallow gave him away.
“Love you too,” Eliot said, trying for light. But it came out hoarse. He cleared his throat and extended his hand again. “Shiraz glasses please.”
Quentin sighed and twisted his mouth. There were about a thousand different wine glasses and none of them were labeled Shiraz. So. Uh?
“Which ones are those?”
“The taller ones that taper at the top,” Eliot said. He elbowed him, tiny smile on his lips. “Philistine.”
“Fucking no one knows that, Eliot,” Quentin said, the first hint of a laugh warming his chest as he grabbed one. Eliot shook his head (“That’s a Chardonnay glass.”) He grabbed another. Eliot took it. “And why does the order matter? You’re showing off.”
“No, I'm educating,” Eliot smiled wider. “And I have a system. Also, can we please put on music that’s not Richard goddamn Marx?”
Quentin snorted and rested his arm against Eliot’s. “You’re so high maintenance.”
Springtime snuck up on him. One second it was March. Then—
Oops. Fuck, shit.
The enchanted weather made the days blend together and the (seriously, had he mentioned?) daunting amount of schoolwork—
Well, it gave him a new appreciation for exactly how brilliant Eliot and Margo actually were.
Last year, Quentin never would have guessed they were buried under boulders of work. The fact that they had time for anything else, let alone all his bullshit, was impressive. Because if the roles were reversed and Quentin now had some first year alternately pining after him and kind of breaking his heart? He would have flipped the person off and said, “Holy shit, go the fuck away.” Then he would have opened his P.A. workbook for the twentieth time in three hours, mainlined coffee, and hunkered down in a dark corner.
(When he expressed that sentiment to Eliot, his boyfriend laughed. Then he kissed the top of his head and said, “You say that, but you’re underestimating exactly how cute first years can be.”)
Quentin tugged at his hair, long and uncombed. He returned his focus to another treatise on Meteromancy, the fucking worst. The worst. The goddamn worst. Fuck Meteromancy. Fuck it into the stupid, mud-sinking ground until it reached the fiery bowels of hell and—
“Hey Quentin?” A knock came from his doorframe and he popped his head up, bleary and dazed. But he marginally relaxed when he saw Todd’s friendly smile.
“Todd,” he said, rubbing his hands lengthwise down his face. “What’s up?”
“Do you need, like, a coffee or something?” His friend asked, frowning at his disheveled state. Quentin shook his head, with a false grin.
“I need someone to go back in time and murder the shit out of Pierre Pauda.”
He was the so-called Grandfather of the discipline. His body of work was worse than every human rights violation in the past century combined. He deserved to be waterboarded.
“Yeah, Meteromancy sucks,” Todd half-smiled in sympathy. “But you’ll build on it next year with some pretty cool stuff.”
“I doubt it’s worth it, but I appreciate your, uh, attempt at optimism,” Quentin said, pressing his lips and his hands together at once before sighing. “Anyway, not to be a dick but I’ve got, like, a thousand pages to read and that’s barely hyperbolic, so—“
“No, I get it,” Todd laughed. “Remember how we barely saw each other second semester last year?"
Which, yeah. That was true. But Quentin assumed it had been because he was so caught up in Eliot, Eliot, Eliot that nothing and no one else had mattered. It never once occurred to him that Todd also had his own shit going on. Especially not academic shit. Because, what, were they grad students or something?
“Anyway,” Todd patted his legs and started to angle his way out, indicating that he would be brief. “Just wanted to let you know that the admin office had a message about your dad.”
Quentin’s face blanched, icy and dull, contrasting his dropping stomach and racing heart. “What? Is everything—?”
“Shit. No. I’m sorry!” Todd held his arm out and shook it wildly with his head. “He’s fine. Everything’s fine. He just needs to cancel your dinner this week.”
“Jesus, Todd,” Quentin panted out, clutching his hand to his chest. For the first time in a long time, he felt a sharp spark of anger toward him. Sometimes Eliot’s annoyance wasn’t completely inexplicable. “Okay. Um. Thanks for letting me know. For the best right now anyway.
Todd smiled. “I’ll grab you a coffee later, okay?”
Quentin smiled back. His annoyance didn’t last. Todd meant well. Always. Proving the point, Todd knocked twice on the doorframe again with a soft grin.Then he was gone, leaving Quentin in peace.
But in retrospect, that was when he really should have started to get suspicious.
At the end of the week, the Cottage was scented like a memory.
Quentin staggered against it when he walked in from his final Friday class. He couldn’t totally place it, but the sense memory was instant nonetheless. Strikingly tangible, glowing and halting in its encompassing wonder. His eyes closed against their will and his hands reached out in the air, like he was trying to grasp—something. But he didn’t know what.
“All good, Q?"
Quentin shook his head, tight and fast. He opened his eyes again, peering over at Eliot by the bar. He let out a short breath and shook his head again, walking over. Eliot gazed down at him with a teasing smile and held his hand out, pulling him into a quick kiss.
“Yeah, sorry,” Quentin said, with an almost laugh, even though whatever it was he felt—it wasn’t funny. It was good. But not funny. “There’s just—the air is weird? Good weird. But weird. Do you feel it? At all? Or am I crazy?”
Something behind Eliot’s warm embrace immediately faltered and his brow lowered.
“Shit,” he said, low and under his breath, pulling away from Quentin to look down at him. “No, baby, you’re not crazy. It’s, ah—“
“So there is something,” Quentin smiled, pleased that he’d called it correctly. “I knew it. It’s super weird. Someone’s thesis prep, I assume?”
Eliot’s eyes brightened again. “Yes.”
“Well, I’m not complaining,” Quentin said, kissing Eliot again twice in fast succession. He clutched his messenger bag and angled toward the stairs. “Makes me feel all tingly.”
“Tingly, huh?” Eliot purred, catching Quentin’s arm before he could slip away. He dipped his head against his ear. He ran his fingers up and down the curve of Quentin’s spine. “Maybe we should go take advantage.”
Quentin sighed. “Give me, like, an hour? I have so much to do.”
“Q, you need to take breaks,” Eliot said, firm as his flattened hand on his lower back. “We talked about this.
“I am!” Quentin protested, but then took a deep breath and rested his forehead on Eliot’s chest at the no nonsense look in his eyes. “Okay. I will. I will. Thirty minutes?”
Eliot wrapped his arms fully around Quentin and hugged him, lowering his face into the crook of his neck.
“Twenty,” he said, muffled into Q’s skin. “On the dot. Even if you’re mid-sentence.”
Quentin squeezed back and reluctantly disentangled himself, before cupping Eliot’s face. Then, a bright thought soared through him and he smiled.
“Hey,” he said with a laugh. “I just realized. Monday is, like, our anniversary or whatever.”
Eliot raised his eyebrows and touched the tip of his tongue against the edge of his front teeth
“Huh,” he said, smiling. “Is it?”
“Yeah, I lost track of time too,” Quentin said. “Been so brutal. But we should go out to dinner or something.
Eliot hummed. “Or something. Sure.”
“We should try to find time to celebrate before Wednesday though,” Quentin mused, not wanting to eclipse Eliot’s thesis defense.
“Maybe Sunday? My dad canceled on me.”
“We’ll figure it out,” Eliot said, kissing a promise on Quentin’s forehead before surreptitiously swatting his ass. “Now go study for twenty minutes, and then I’m coming for you. Got it?”
“Aye, aye,” Quentin said with a goofy grin, saluting him. Eliot chuckled and ran a single finger down the side of his face.
Twenty minutes later, on the dot, Eliot walked through the door. Quentin choked on his own breath. El was dressed in a dark blue suit, linen and perfectly pressed, with a silvery vest and bright green pocket square. His curls were soft and bouncing over his grinning face, and charcoaled bright eyes and, uh, how was this his life?
In contrast, Quentin was wearing a gray T-shirt and black jeans, long hair falling in his face. Sweeping the world with his model beauty as always. Pushing the strands back with the heels of his palms, he snorted a cocked half-grin up at Eliot. His face broke into a dazzling smile, perfect eyes roaming Quentin’s face like he couldn’t quite believe it. His heart soared up to his throat, bright as a star.
Fuck it. The world didn’t matter.
“How did you get changed?” Quentin asked, quickly glancing around their room. He definitely hadn’t been so focused that he would have missed Eliot walking in. But maybe.
“Magic,” Eliot said with a laugh and quick jazz hands. Then he grabbed Quentin’s wrist and pulled him off the bed with an eye roll. “Or, you know, Margo’s room.”
“Oh. Yeah. Occam’s Razor, I guess.”
“Well, I don’t know about all that sci-fi stuff—book down, please—“
Quentin tossed his manual on the bed, letting his boyfriend tug him toward the door. “It’s not sci-fi, Eliot.”
“—but we are running late, so let’s go.”
“Running late for what?” Quentin asked, sighing. “I thought we were gonna, like, do it and then I’d keep studying for the rest of my goddamn life.”
As Eliot’s hand touched the doorknob, he craned his neck around to shoot a withering glare behind his shoulder.
“Romantic, Q,” he huffed out, squeezing his wrist tighter and pulling them out into the hallway. “I’ll remind you that when you entered into this partnership, you implicitly agreed to indulge all my whims. So here we are.”
Quentin hid a smile, even though Eliot was staring straight ahead. “Uh, not sure that’s how it works.”
“Allow me to assure you that it is,” Eliot said, twisting them down the stairs and back toward the kitchen. “Shush, shush and chop, chop. I packed your bag, don’t worry.”
“Packed my bag?” Quentin shook his head as quickly as his feet followed Eliot’s long stride. “Okay, are you going to tell me—“
But before he could finish, the familiar scent from earlier wrapped around all his senses, visceral and overpowering. His throat went dry with the slow thud of his heart. Quentin pressed his free hand between the space separating his ribs, to try to alleviate the pressure. He needed to contain the nostalgia and free-falling love and knowing, knowing, knowing that buckled his knees in time.
The aroma was of dusty parks and fresh baked bread and sun heated stone and river algae and Dior perfume and red wine and body odor and fresh air and car exhaust and thyme and lavender and sewage and urine and history and sunsets and duck fat and promises made in the dark. And it emanated clearly, in humid wafts of warmth, from a small pantry door, glowing bright magic white around the perimeter.
Quentin was barely aware of his own shaking limbs until Eliot laced their fingers together, closing the distance between them. He kissed his cheek, his jaw, his forehead, the curve of his smile. He angled his chin upward, catching Eliot’s soft, gazing eyes, endless in their green. Quentin was certain he looked like a trembling mess, on the verge of crying or, like, full-on bursting with more of everything than he ever thought he’d have.
But if he was a total disaster, El didn’t let on. Instead, he stroked his face and drank him in, before kissing him once, gentle, on the lips.
“Happy anniversary, Q,” Eliot whispered and Quentin couldn’t speak if he tried. Then he opened the door, and Quentin floated through, breathless and full of wonder.
They were back in Paris.
Eliot’s Paris was much different than Margo’s.
Margo had focused on the refinement and salaciousness of art and history. She only allowed occasional detours toward fashion and the monuments. It’d been at once as sleek as her flat-ironed har, but full of the same sweet richness as her soul. It’d been lovely, special, and friendship-affirming. But not entirely compatible with Quentin’s own interests and perspective.
But for Eliot, the city was an intricate weaving. Each strand was as precise and colorful as the next, with a distinct understanding for how each part intersected with each other. It was a shocking kaleidoscopic vision that Quentin was certain no one else could dream to match.
They ate garlic butter drenched escargot in the Marais. They made out like irreverent teenagers in the Catacombs. They watched the sunlight burst through the stained glass of Saint-Chapelle and dance on their skin. They fucked and made love and fucked again for hours in their hotel room. They chatted about nothing while wandering the Marche aux Fleurs. They drank red wine on picnics along the river. Everything felt so perfectly planned, and so spontaneous, and so perfect, in that way that only Eliot could pull off.
It was perfect.
On Sunday, the day before their anniversary—very carefully not called The Secrets Ward Day—they walked to the Tuileries, en route to L’Orangerie. Eliot wasn’t a Monet fan (“Dull as death”) but Quentin wanted to see the Water Lilies, his dad’s favorite. But best laid plans went the way they sometimes did.
A heavy deluge of rain chased Quentin and Eliot into a glass enclosed cafe, dripping water into puddles under their sliding feet. With ambivalent shrugs, they gathered into tiny chairs next to the fogged and wet windows, secluded and alone in the back. Eliot tutted out a quick drying spell on both of them and an even more important curl-smoothing spell on himself. Quentin chewed on his lip as he pored over the obscenely expensive menu (18€ for a packaged Niçoise salad—were they fucking joking?) before settling on a hot drink. It was slow to arrive, but he didn’t mind, wrapping his arms around himself. He listened to Eliot artfully lecture on the travesty that was touristic cafes, content.
After their coffees finally made their way to the table, they both stared out the window. They watched tourists race their way uncovered through the unexpected rain, seeking shelter in the trees. Much as he loved Eliot’s voice, sometimes he loved their companionable silence even more.
“Margo got that hedge fund job,” Eliot said after an indeterminate period of time. He was ripping up a dark green napkin into small thin slivers. “In the city.”
Quentin leaned back in his chair and knit his brow together. “Kind of a funny that the cover story is that we’re studying finance. And now she’s actually going into fucking finance.”
“She’ll be good at it,” Eliot said, sighing. “Plus she’s actually really good at probability magic. Insider trading kind of good.”
“Does insider trading apply to hedge funds?” Quentin asked, not really knowing much about the industry. Eliot lifted one shoulder in a loose shrug.
“Fuck if I know. I find money very dull unless I’m purchasing luxury goods.”
Quentin snorted. “Well, hopefully Margo will like it.”
“She’ll like the power,” Eliot said, stretching his arms in the air, long and languid. Quentin could see more than one person watching him with keen interest—one of the hazards of dating Eliot Waugh. “And the paycheck. She’ll out earn all of us, by an order of magnitude.”
“Good for her,” Quentin said with a shrug. “Not what drives me though.”
“Hmm,” Eliot said noncommittally. His arms fell down onto the table, and his fingers started dancing everywhere, like all the caffeine had hit him at once. A slow dawning of realization started to hit Quentin in turn and he leaned forward, careful to let Eliot be the one to lead the next few moments.
“So, ah,” Eliot said, looking everywhere but in his eyes. “Ah, Q. Speaking of, you know, all this. There’s something I should probably talk to you about. It’s, uh—it’s not—I mean—“
“You got the Tate job, didn’t you?” Quentin asked, quiet and fond. Eliot’s jaw tensed.
Quentin let a soft smile cross his face and he took Eliot’s tapping hand in his own.
“That’s—“ he said softly, his throat tight with pride. “El, that’s so wonderful.”
Eliot’s eyes flashed to him. “Thanks. But I’m actually letting you know that I’m turning it down.”
Quentin pinched his face, startling backward into the chair.
“I’m going to find a job in New York,” Eliot said, waving his free hand, voice light as anything. “It was a nice offer. But this way I can get an apartment with Margo and—“
“El, come on,” Quentin squeezed his other hand tighter, with more urgency. “I saw how much you put effort into those interviews. You can’t—“
“That was only because I don’t like to half-ass things.“
“Bullshit,” Quentin shot out. “You half-ass things all the fucking time. What you won’t half-ass is anything you care about.
Eliot closed his eyes, jaw working overtime. “Q, I can’t, okay?”
“Why the fuck not?”
“I’m not going to be a continent away from you. Or Margo, for that matter. My entire life is in New York.”
Quentin took a deep breath. One thing at a time. “Margo’s going to be working hundred hour weeks. She’s going to be too busy and way too badass for you to be worried about her. She’d be the first to say that and you know it."
“Conceded,” Eliot said with a huff. “But you’re not addressing the whole My-Boyfriend-Will-Be-on-a-Separate-Land-Mass snag. You know that’s not happening, Q.”
“There’s literally a portal to a London pub down the hall from our room at Brakebills, El,” Quentin argued. “If it was any other city, yeah, it might be tough, but we’d still make it work. In this case, it’s actually easy to make work.”
But Eliot shook his head, curls bouncing in a spiraling little tizzy.
“It’s still too far. We couldn’t do Horomancy every time, so the time change would fuck us over,” Eliot sighed. He rubbed his hand over his face. “Besides, I’d also be trying to adjust to life without everything that ever made me feel like I could have a home. That it’s not a complete impossibility for me. It’s too much.”
“That’ll be the case anywhere, though. No matter what, you won’t be at Brakebills anymore,” Quentin said, softly. Eliot tensed. “So you should at least do something you give a shit about. I know you give a shit about this.”
“I give a shit about you more. I give a shit about us more.”
“And I’m not going anywhere,” Quentin said fiercely. “It’s a year. Thanks to magic, we’ll still be able see each other every week. Every other at the worst.”
Eliot’s mouth widened incredulously at that. Quentin rushed forward before he could respond, saying, “Yeah, I know, that would suck, and I know it won’t be the same as living together. But we can manage for a year."
“And then what? You move to London?” Eliot shot out, like it was crazy. Quentin flipped Eliot’s hand over in his and ran his thumb across the delicate skin over his wrist, over his pulse point, over his metro map of blue veins. He willed his touch to course his devotion straight into his partner’s heart.
“Yes. I move to London, El. Or wherever you are.”
“Just like that?” His eyes were guarded, like he was desperately trying not to show any hope. “What about what you want to do? You’ll have options too.”
“I choose you over any of them. Easy. Every time.”
Eliot looked more frustrated than swooning. “But that’s exactly what I’m trying to do here, Q.”
Quentin sighed and brought Eliot’s hand up to his lips, smiling into his knuckles.
“Yes, I know. I know that’s true,” he said, gently and patiently. But then he looked right at Eliot. “But you’re also being a chickenshit.”
Eliot’s eyes widened, horror and anger and something softer filling them to their brim. “Excuse me?”
“Come on, Eliot,” Quentin said, kissing each knuckle as he spoke. “I love you, and part of loving you is that I can’t let myself be a convenient excuse for you to run away from something you actually want.”
Eliot’s molars ground into each other, hard. “I want you—“
“You have me.”
Eliot laughed, desperate and breathy. “What I mean is, I don’t want to lose you—“
“You’re not going to lose me,” Quentin said, kissing Eliot’s palm. “But you will resent me if you give up an opportunity like this because I’m too scared to let you go.”
“You’re scared?” Eliot asked into the table, quiet and small-voiced.
“Of course I am,” Quentin said, furrowing his brow, running his fingers up and down the length of Eliot’s breathtaking ones. “But this matters. To you, and therefore to me. We could start building something really good here. Something great, together. Even if I have to meet you there after you get it started.”
Eliot’s breath hitched and he straightened up, taking Quentin’s hand back into his control. He kissed the back of his thumb carefully, before pressing their joint hands to his heart.
“Okay,” Eliot whispered. Then he cleared his throat and rolled his eyes, aiming for unaffected. “I’ll think about it.”
Quentin smiled, knowing. “Okay.”
The rain stopped as abruptly as it came, and the sun sizzled off the excess water in shimmering humidity. But rather than heading to the museum, Eliot led Quentin through the garden. They ducked onto a quick side street to stop at Nicolas, a ubiquitous wine store chain throughout the city. He picked out an ridiculously expensive bottle of champagne, named something he didn’t recognize and couldn’t pronounce.
“We need to celebrate,” Eliot said as they settled back in the Tuileries. But Quentin looked around furtively.
“Are we allowed to drink that here?”
Eliot shrugged, indifferent. He produced two gorgeous flutes from one of the larger pockets Quentin’s bag. It should have been impossible. But it wasn't.
“Not sure. But let’s live a little.”
Quentin laughed at that. “I’ve lived more since I met you than all the other years put together."
Eliot paused, his fingers tightening their grip around the glasses for an almost imperceptible second. Then he smiled center-on at Quentin and handed him a glass, before popping the bottle expertly and pouring without any fizzing head.
“Salut,” Eliot said, holding his glass aloft. “To us. To living."
“Cheers,” Quentin said quietly, touching their glasses together. Then he took a small sip. It was fucking good champagne. Of course.
The next thing he said came without any preamble, thought, or focus.
“If we ever get married, we should try to do it on the same day, so our anniversary doesn’t change,” Quentin said, readjusting in the uncomfortable green chair. “I’m bad with dates. I’d forget my own birthday if Julia didn’t remind me.”
But he was never actually particularly good at casual drops like that and Eliot’s piercing, careful gaze proved it. Not taking his eyes off Quentin, he slid down into the grass, still cool from the rain but rapidly drying in the sun, and pulled him toward him. Stroking the side of his head, Eliot leaned his other arm against the seat of the chair, with Quentin’s head resting gently in his lap.
“I’ll remind you,” Eliot said, with a smallest smile. “And for your birthday too. Julia is relieved of that duty.”
Quentin closed his eyes, relishing the feel of Eliot’ skillful fingers against the crown of his head. “I’ll send her the memo.”
“Also, you’re getting a thousand surprise birthday parties in the future,” Eliot said. He leaned down to pepper a small kiss on his forehead before sipping the bubbly with a delighted sigh. “Because you’re going to live to be a thousand and twenty four if I have anything to do with it.”
Quentin rolled his face into Eliot’s stomach. “I hate surprise parties.”
“No, you don’t,” Eliot said, running his hands back through his hair again, scratching his scalp. “You just say you do. Because that way, when you don’t get one, you won’t feel disappointed because you’ve already said you hate them. Then you can convince yourself that’s the only possible reason why no one threw one for you.”
“Jesus,” Quentin grumbled. “Poke my emotional frailty a little deeper, will ya?”
Eliot laughed. “Defensive circular logic happens to be my forte, darling.”
“I really am an introvert though,” Quentin angled his head upward, grinning into the growing sunlight. “So a surprise crowd would actually be an issue.”
Eliot frowned and nodded, all business. “Taken under review.”
The comfortable silence crossed over them again, and Quentin stared at the sky, counting passing clouds. Eliot sang under his breath, steady and lovely and wordless. Quentin recognized the melody deep in his bones and he wondered if it was a hymn, or a folk song of an ancient past, rich in history and feeling and—
Suddenly, it clicked.
“—Uh, are you humming Gaeta’s Lament?” Quentin said, pushing himself off Eliot’s lap and blinking rapidly. Eliot cocked his head.
“I don’t know the name,” he said with a shrug. “It’s stuck in my head for ages and I can’t place it.”
Quentin shook his head. Out damn cobwebs.
“Yeah. Never mind. The one I’m thinking of is from, uh, Battlestar Galactica of all things and obviously that's not—” Quentin started to say, starting to lay his head back down. But Eliot laughed and snapped his fingers.
“Thank you! That’s right. It’s the tune the traitor guy would sing in the hospital,” Eliot closed his eyes and laughed again. “Fuck, that’s been driving me nuts.”
“I mean, calling Felix Gaeta a traitor is reductive,” Quentin frowned.
“Except that he was. By definition.”
But before he could form a coherent response, Quentin shook his head again, hard, really hard, before grabbing Eliot’s arm. “Wait, what the fuck? You’ve watched Battlestar Galactica?”
“Margo made me watch it during our first Encanto,” Eliot said with another sip of his champagne. “Awful choice for a ‘shrooms comedown, but it was entertaining enough. It’s one of our go-to’s now.”
Quentin blinked his eyes all over again, slow and dazed and in fucking shock.
“So you’ve actually watched it. You’ve watched Battlestar Galactica.”
Eliot nodded. “Yeah, it’s a good show.”
“You’ve watched every episode. Of Battlestar Galactica.”
“A couple of times, actually. Here and there.”
“You’ve watched Battlestar Galactica more than once.”
“Why are you saying it like that?”
“We—“ Quentin swallowed and brought his fist to his mouth, a short rush of anger and elation hitting his teeth. “We could have been talking about Battlestar Galactica this entire time?”
Eliot blanched. “Um, ah, there’s nothing to really—“
Quentin sat up all the way. He tugged his knees under his ass and rested his palms on the ground before them, sinking in to level Eliot with a most probing stare.
“First things first, do you accept the ending as canon?”
Eliot sighed, resigned. “I don’t know what that means, Q.”
“Do you accept it as consistent within the established world building and philosophy of the show?”
Eliot shrugged again. “Yeah, sure.”
Contrasting his monotone question-statement of Eliot’s wrongness, Quentin slammed his hand down. His boyfriend tilted his head, with the tiniest hint of inappropriate amusement behind those eyes of his.
“It is what it is,” Eliot said, rumpling his very pretty brow like a total know-nothing. “I’m not sure that I, as a consumer, have the right to accept or reject it. Plus, it was fine. I liked it."
“Bullshit and fuck you,” Quentin said, shooting his finger out with laser beams in his eyes.
Quentin set his jaw and flailed his hands up, knocking over their flutes. Eliot stopped any spill with telekinesis. Laughter was clearly forming under his beautiful and short-sighted lips as they pressed over and around his teeth.
“It was a fucking deus ex machina. It was like if Agatha Christie was like, ‘Oh, I know I set forth a grouping of structured clues to point towards the heiress or the servant. But it was actually God’s will that killed them all. Surprise!’”
Eliot leaned back on his arms and raised his eyebrows, smirking. But Quentin rolled his hands in the air, anger and frustration renewed.
“The issue was that they set up clear narrative expectations and didn’t see it through. The story didn’t follow through on what was promised, on what would be acceptable in any other art form. It’s insulting to the audience and to the production and to the act of storytelling as a concept.”
“Q,” Eliot said, half-warning.
“And—and not to fucking mention? Like, okay, all due to respect to what Ronald D. Moore built prior to the last two episodes? But someone had better give him a quick fucking refresher course on who exactly Mitochondrial Eve actually was and—“
“Jesus Christ, Coldwater. Take a breath.”
But Eliot said it with a chuckle, and a warm kiss on his temple. It was disarming and dizzying. So Quentin let his incredibly wrong opinion go, while they still had a few more hours in the most beautiful city on earth. This time.
(Or really, for the moment. Because fuck, he was so wrong. Margo would back him up.)
Still chuckling, Eliot refilled their glasses and raised his into the Parisian sun, offering a soft, quiet toast. Quentin obliged, fluttering his lashes against the chiming clink of the glass. And Eliot gazed at him for a moment, before cupping his cheek. He gently stroked his jawline, like Quentin was still the most precious thing in the world to him. Everything was light, and perfect, and endless in that pink and gold moment.
Eliot met his eyes, true and steady. He sighed.
“I can’t believe I’m head-over-ass in love with such a goddamn nerd.”
Quentin laughed and started to protest, but Eliot leaned in and wrapped him in a long, firm kiss. It was like he was pouring out his soul into every tiny tingle in the press of their lips together. And Quentin wasn’t sure if it was the champagne, or magic, or the sheer fact of Eliot, but he could have sworn they were floating again.
It was Todd’s last day at Brakebills.
At least, that was the easiest way for Quentin to qualify it.
Not that he didn’t love Todd, of course. He would miss Todd. Dearly. He would always wish the best for him. He would even keep in touch with him. However, thinking about it being Todd’s last day at Brakebills kept him grounded. It allowed him to be celebrating and wistful all at once.
But not in a way that made him want to fall to absolute trembling pieces, on the verge of a panic attack. Like if he thought about it being someone else’s last day at Brakebills.
So. Todd’s. That worked.
It was the evening before the mysterious graduation ceremony and it had been a weird week. Eliot floated on ephemerality, all the tension in the world in every curve of his body. If he had an audible internal monologue, it would be something like Everything is fine everything is fine fuck you everything is fine. He’d refused to pack a single item for his new flat in London, a small one-bedroom in a hip, obscenely expensive central district. When pressed, he would airily say that it would “get done when it got done.”
Instead, Eliot threw all his anxieties into throwing the perfect final bash, while never actually using the word final. He worked tirelessly. He calibrated cocktails and moved furniture, tweaking the lighting and the music in rapid succession. He barked orders at hapless first years, none of whom Eliot actually knew on a personal basis. The activity was constant, to the point that Quentin had to retreat to their room for most of the day, until the last touches were enacted.
But the end result was less dazzling than usual. It kind of looked like every party he’d ever thrown.
Sure, it was glittering, glinting aesthetic perfection. But it was clear Eliot’s focus was actually elsewhere, actually beyond the frivolity in front of them. Still, Quentin knew a sensitive subject when he saw one, so he went out of his way to praise it as the end-all, be-all, the party to end all parties. The kind of party that would leave a legacy, that Magicians would be talking about for sparkling, shining decades. And it seemed to work, until Eliot cupped his face and sighed gently.
“Baby, I love you so much,” he said, but then he patted his cheek, firm. “But never patronize me again.”
So he hung back, letting Eliot do his thing, an equally floaty and slightly panicked looking Margo by his side. Quentin’s chest panged, sharp and harsh.
He really was sad that Todd was graduating the next day. It was going to be strange without Todd with him, every day. Without the small routines they had built, and the closeness, and the two best friendships of his adult life. And he was just going to really fucking miss Todd, so goddamn much. To the point that it physically ached his muscles and strangled his chest and heart and oh god
Quentin grounded himself in the moment.
He was standing by the staircase of the Physical Kids’ Cottage, on the east side of campus. The lights were dimming, because the final party for the graduating third year students was beginning. The bannister was digging into his lower back at an uncomfortable angle, but he didn’t mind. Eliot was standing at the bar, bent over like a scientist with an atomizer in one hand and a sliced orange in the other. He was staring down a martini glass like it was his final coup. Margo was standing next to him, wide eyes staring at nothing but a fixed point in space. She was casually jumping perfectly rounded circle cubes from her fingertips and into the silvery bucket beside her. The air smelled like ginger and cedar, with a dash of tobacco and red wine. Low-fi beats crooned wordlessly in the background. And his heart? His heart was fuller, and sadder, and more joyous than he’d ever thought possible.
It was going to be a good night. It was going to be a great night. And it wasn’t an ending. It was another beginning.
The cool night air was really cool morning air, if one was technical about these things. Quentin let the star-twinkled darkness wrap around his shoulders, loose and slightly wine drunk. He made his way down the garden path from the Cottage all the way to the sloping green grass of the quad. He could still feel the rising heat from the ground, from the fading weather enchantment. Under his sneakers, a fallen twig snapped, ricocheting off the still and silent nothing of the sleeping campus.
The party had been a huge hit, of course. Quentin had spent most of the night with his arms wrapped around someone. Whether he was reminiscing with Todd or smoking a joint with a spontaneously portaled-in Josh. Hugging a thrilled and newly reunited Julia and Kady or bumping awkwardly into Penny and scurrying away. Dancing with Margo, or simply being with Eliot, firm and steady and affirming. His whole body was still flush with the warmth and affection of the evening.
And the wine. It was really good wine.
He’d assumed he would spend the last vestiges of the night with Eliot. Together, waiting for the morning to come, waiting for the inevitable conclusion, the beginning of the next part of their lives. But instead, Quentin spent a quiet hour with Margo. They shared a rare cigarette for both of them. He let her lean into his arm, talking about Fillory and the future and all the nothing in between.
(“You’d better fucking come into the city once in awhile,” she’d sniffed, closing her eyes against his hoodie. “I’m going to be busy as shit and I’m not going to be that boring ass alumna who crashes parties like she can’t let go. I’m no Hoberman. So portal in, asshole.”
Quentin squeezed her cool fingers and smiled. “Sir, yes, sir.”
Margo smiled at him, with no snark or sharpness. She ran her fingers through his hair.
“At ease, cadet.”
Then she kissed his cheek.)
When they went back inside, Margo curled her way over to Eliot, wrapped in his arms. Both of their eyes were red-rimmed and their arms shaking as they held each other. They whispered in each other’s ears and pressing soft kisses to their cheeks and temples. And Quentin knew it was sacred. He and Eliot had time. They had everything. And it was important that he make space for everything else too.
So, a walk. It seemed the best and only conclusion, since sleep was definitely going to fucking elude him.
He crossed onto the grass, springy and damp. It squished under his careful heel-toe step, trying to prevent a characteristic, clumsy spill onto the vast ocean of green. He succeeded and tucked himself into the large roots of his favorite tree, not caring about the cold wet spot seeping into his jeans. He clunked the back of his head against the solid trunk behind him. His flyaway hairs caught in the sharp groove of the bark and tangled. But he didn't care. Instead, he closed his eyes, breathing in magic. He folded his knees against his chest, hands pressed on top of his knees.
He wasn’t sure how long he stayed like that before he felt a warm, comforting presence sink down next to him, hand covering his without hesitation. Quentin smiled and love rushed through him all over again.
“Hey you,” Julia said, tracing lovely patterns on the back of his hand with her manicured fingernails. “Wanna talk about why you’re sitting in the quad at three in the morning?”
“Not particularly,” Quentin said, but he opened his eyes and gave her a smile so she didn’t worry. Whatever she saw must have placated any initial concern and she grinned back at him. “I don’t know. It’s just, like—can you live a lifetime in two years?”
“Obviously. Or more accurately, apparently,” Julia said with a laugh, jostling her shoulder against his. She tucked her tiny head into his shoulder. “What a long, strange trip it’s been. So far.”
“Stunningly original,” Quentin said with a snort. But Julia returned it with a full-throated honking sound of her own.
“Wow,” she said, patting his knee. “That... was an Eliot-ism if I’ve ever heard one.”
Quentin blushed. “Sorry.”
They sat in silence for another moment. Quentin wrapped his arm around her, like he’d been doing with everyone he cared about all night. It was perfect.
“El’s meeting my dad on Sunday,” he said, rubbing his thumb in circles around the ball of her shoulder. “So that’s something to look forward to, even after tomorrow.”
“You have so much to look forward to, Q,” Julia reminded him softly. “We both do.”
Quentin tilted his head down at her. “Kady and Penny?”
She shrugged. “Among other things. Like, you know, fucking magic.”
“True,” Quentin said, gazing back up at the stars. They were clear and dotted, true in their perfect, dying brightness. He was wondrous. “Right. There’s, like, a million other things. It’s sort of beautiful?"
It really was.
“I love you, Q,” Julia said, her voice thick. He nodded, and kissed the top of her head. “And it’s all going to be okay. Really. Everything’s going to be so great.”
A comet flashed through his soul, burning bright with clarity.
“Yeah. I know.”
And Quentin smiled.