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You Steer My Heart

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Attraction



The soft moments after sex, when the world went lazy and quiet, were some of Eliot’s favorite moments. Q after sex was pliant and affectionate, clingy and sweet. All his rough edges smoothed away, he was just... lovely, like this, on his side next to Eliot, his wild spray of loose hair scattered across Eliot’s bicep and the pillow underneath. His hand is on Eliot’s chest, fingers playing idly with Eliot’s chest hair, and that is... distracting. That is enough, maybe, for Eliot to start wondering if they can afford to go again and still complete a pattern today.

Probably not. Best to just enjoy the afterglow.

Still, these moments, especially when they happened during the day and therefore were less likely to fade into sleep, were some of the absolute best moments to talk. They’d shared so much of themselves in the shelter provided by the intimacy of post-orgasmic bliss. Enough that Eliot can tell when something’s eating at Q, something he wants to talk about and can’t figure out how to get it started.

“Hey,” Eliot murmurs to get Q’s attention, then nudges him off enough that Eliot can wriggle down, settle so they’re face to face. He snags Q’s hand in his, presses them so they’re palm to palm. Quentin’s hand is stockier than his, broader, but Eliot’s fingertips stretch well beyond the end of Q’s. Flexing his fingers a little over the top of Q’s earns him a small chuckle, and his heart does that stupid thing it’s been doing when Quentin smiles at him, dimpled and crinkly eyed.

“You’re a ridiculously long human,” Quentin says dryly, voice quiet, and Eliot wiggles his eyebrows, suggestively.

“Well, you’d know.”

Yeah, I would,” Quentin drawls, stretching a little in a way that’s sure to tug a bit at some sore muscles. It sends a fresh rush of heat through Eliot’s body, and he really needs to not let himself get pulled into a round two, they have a quest to do here.

Leaning forward to kiss Q is only a bad idea if he lets it get going. A soft peck should be fine. No matter how soft and warm and inviting Quentin’s mouth feels under his. Q lets him pull back, though, that pinched thoughtful look on his face as he works through whatever he’s trying to talk about.

“What is it?” Eliot asks, fondly, settling his hand on the side of Quentin’s neck, brushing his thumb against Q’s jaw.

“Do you ever think about giving up on the puzzle and just– Using the key to go home?”

Whatever Eliot had been expecting, it isn’t that. He feels all of the muscles in his body freeze, the ice-rush of adrenaline flooding his system as his stomach drops out. I am home, he thinks, and that familiar feeling of fear grips him tight by the ribs and doesn’t let go.

“What?”

“I mean... we’ve been at this for almost three years. Maybe it can’t be done.”

“It can be,” Eliot bites out, and pulls away from Quentin to sit up, feeling suddenly very, very naked. “You were the one who said, the mosaic was solved before Jane got there–”

“Yeah, fifty years from now,” Quentin snaps back, a little angry crease settling between his eyebrows. “How long are we supposed to put our lives on hold for?”

You knew this was coming, Eliot thinks, desperately, wild, scared. You knew he wasn’t your forever. At some point, every failed pattern they completed stopped being a disappointment and became a relief, because it meant they could have another day. Another day here, in the only home Eliot had ever had. It had never occurred to him that Quentin would just give up on it.

Rolling out of bed, he grabs his shirt off the floor, tugging it over his head so he doesn’t have to look at Quentin. “Well, I’m sorry you’re so fucking miserable here,” He hisses, snagging his pants off the foot of the bed, and storming out into the living room.

“That’s not what I– Eliot!” Quentin calls after him, but Eliot’s ignores him, blood pounding in his ears. That gnawing ache of fear is eating at his throat, and god fucking damnit, his eyes are fucking prinkling, what the fuck.

This is my home, he thinks viciously, shoving his feet into his shoes and slamming the door to the cottage open. You don’t get to fucking take it away from me. Quentin follows him out, still doing up the front of his ridiculous baggy wrap shirt. Eliot wheels around to look at him, feeling wild, like he’s flying apart with anger and fear.

“I’m just saying, there’s things we left behind that are important, El,” Quentin pleads, like Eliot’s the one being unreasonable.

“Like Alice?” Eliot retorts, and he sees Q flinch like Eliot slapped him. It’s a spiteful thing to say, and it would have been salt in an open wound except– Except it’s literally been years, and Quentin hasn’t mentioned Alice in so long.

“What the fuck? No! I mean– Yes, she’s there, but that’s not what I meant–”

Eliot laughs, and fuck, he sounds hysterical, he sounds crazy. “We could be done tomorrow for all you know. We can’t just throw away all this time we’ve invested!”

Quentin settles into the chair by the mosaic, rubbing his hand on his face, and it’s just– Fuck, he’s such a fixture in Eliot’s life. He’s such a huge part of it. The whole landscape of Eliot’s understanding of the world has shift, settling again with Quentin at magnetic north. I’d give up sex to keep this, Eliot thinks, and he’s shaking with rage, with fear. He storms over to the table to expend energy somehow, shuffling papers just to have something to do with his hands.

“You want to live your life? Live it here.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Quentin snaps back, quick as anything, and Eliot.

Eliot feels lonely, suddenly, in a way he hasn’t in a long time.

“You know exactly what that means.”

The white noise ringing in his ears is broken by the clatter of ceramic tiles, and Eliot whips around to see Quentin standing next to the mosaic, a stack of tiles scattered on the ground in front of them like he’d kicked them over. Because he’s a fucking brat. In that moment, Eliot hates him. Hates him for his prickly edges and his bitchiness and his selfishness. Hates him for his stupid fucking gentle heart, hates him for how much Eliot loves him.

“You’re a child,” he hisses, and storms away, out into the woods before he does something stupid like start crying or spill his entire messy soul at Quentin’s feet.

Every path in the forest around the cottage is familiar by now, and Eliot lets his feet move him on autopilot. One direction would lead to the village, another towards the orchards, and both of those directions involve people, which is not something Eliot can stomach right now. Instead, he follows the winding path down to the river, which is running lazy and low on it’s banks in the anticipation of the summer rains.

It’s no Chatwin’s Torrent, but stripping and diving into the chilly water feels cleansing all the same.

So maybe Quentin just wants to leave. That didn’t seem likely, because it would mean going back and just... resigning to living in a world without magic. Quentin was the bravest person Eliot knew when it came to this kind of thing. He was the bravest person Eliot knew when it came to most kinds of things, really. It wasn’t like him to just give up on a quest, not when the stakes were this high. Especially when he wasn’t in the middle of a depressive episode, which as far as Eliot could tell, he wasn’t, which meant–

Well, one of two things, really. Either he was finally getting tired of Eliot, or there was something specific from their lives before Quentin was missing in particular today. There’s things we left behind that are important, El. Maybe Eliot had over-reacted, without giving Quentin a chance to actually get out what he was trying to say.

Because Q doesn’t know, does he, how scared Eliot is of losing this life they’ve built together. How much it means to him. He doesn’t know, because Eliot has never told him.

But we could be done tomorrow, he thinks, and swallows, closing his eyes and floating on his back in the river. Then what?

Then you love him anyway, and let him go. Like you promised yourself. Yeah. He’s doing a great job of that so far.

Eliot stays out until sundown, partially to give them both time to cool off, and partially because he’s afraid of what he might find when he gets back to the mosaic. An empty cottage, the quest key gone from it’s nail over the fire, empty, empty, everything empty.

It wasn’t fair of him. He should know Q better than that, give him more credit than that. By the time he gets close enough to see the cottage, he can see firelight flickering in the windows and smoke rising from the chimney.

The knot in his chest releases, some, and shame takes its place. Feeling scolded, almost, he trudges towards the cottage, stepping over the mosaic. He pauses, for a moment, when he notices the pattern is done, mostly. There’s one tile left, sitting on the edge of the the brick, waiting. Because they never complete a pattern without one another. Eliot’s heart hurts, tears pricking at his eyes again, and he just wants to go inside and bury his face in Q’s hair and beg for forgiveness, but–

But fear gnaws at him. Will he ever stop being afraid of this?

It takes all the courage he has to get through the door.

Quentin’s curled up on the sitting bench by the fire, his hair hanging in his face and his nose buried in a book, but reassuringly there. Physically present, taking up space in Eliot’s life like he should be. Eliot lets the door swing shut behind him, standing unsurely in the little room.

“There’s soup on the fire, and also you’re a dick,” Quentin says, not looking up from his book, and Eliot swallows. Moves towards the hearth to ladle out a bowl of soup, heart in his throat. Even righteously pissed at him, Quentin had made enough food for both of them.

The silence between them is tense, stretched thin like an elastic band, the whole atmosphere of the room poised on the edge of snapping. Eliot thinks about breaking the silence several times, but can’t find the words. What are the words for this?

Well, there’s one good place to start. “I’m sorry,” he says into the tense silence, watching Quentin’s eyes flick up to him and away.

“Yeah, okay,” Quentin replies, bitchy, still hurt and sticks his nose back in his book. It lasts about a minute, because silence isn’t something Quentin is good at, much less the silent treatment. His book snaps shut, and he’s looking at Eliot with anger in his eyes, more anger than he’d had in him during the fight earlier. “What the fuck, Eliot? Do you really never miss it? Like... even our friends? Don’t you ever miss them? Like... Margo? You must miss her.”

Of course I miss her,” Eliot hisses, swallowing through a sharp pain in his throat. Beautiful, vicious Margo, who was the first person who’d met him with his armor fully in place and worked her way underneath it. When he let himself think of her, it hurt so much it nearly choked him. Missing her was like missing a part of himself, just as fucked up and just as precious. Anger, caustic and spiteful, flared back to life at the suggestion that he might not. “She’s been my friend longer than anyone else in my life, Quentin.”

Only it’s– It’s not true, is it? Not anymore. Not two and a half years into this thing, when he’d had Margo for maybe two total.

“You met Margo, what, at the start of your first year at Brakebills? I’ve known Julia since I was nine years old,” Quentin spits, and his eyes go over-bright, and suddenly Eliot knows that he’s missed something. They bicker and fight all the time, but he’s never made Quentin cry before. He swallows, thickly, and then says in a strangled voice. “I think today’s her birthday. I think she’s turning 28 today.”

“Oh,” Eliot breathes, and oh, he’s an idiot, he’s an idiot. Oh, that made everything make so much sense. And Jesus, Eliot had thrown Alice at him, when Q was just missing the person who’d helped keep him alive for most of his life.

Eliot was an idiot.

Setting his spoon and bowl aside, Eliot stands, crossing over to kneel on the floor in front of the sitting bench. Quentin’s hunched in on himself, hugging his knees, avoiding looking at Eliot which was totally fair. He expects Quentin to shy away from him, as he reaches out to rest his hand on Q’s, but he doesn’t. He doesn’t really open up for Eliot either, but he’s not drawing away.

“You’re right, I’m a dick. I’m sorry. I’m trying to be less of a self-centered cock but it’s taking some work.”

“I don’t get why you reacted that way,” Quentin says, and he sounds hurt, he looks hurt, when he meets Eliot’s eyes. “Do you think I’m just going to leave you here to finish the puzzle? I would never do that. We’re in this together.”

“I know,” Eliot replies, like he hadn’t spent the last hour worried about that exact thing. That wasn’t even it, not really, not the thing that really scared him. He swallows, and drags up a smile from somewhere. “Hey, I wouldn’t blame you if you’re sick of me. It has been almost three years.”

“Eliot,” Quentin says, and he’s looking at Eliot like he’s the dumbest person on the planet. “I sleep next to you every night. I share housework and yard work and cooking with you. I read to you, I have sex with you most days. What part of that is making you think I’m sick of you?”

You don’t have any other options, supplies Eliot’s fear, and he sighs. Tries to grab for honesty, because he owes Q that. “You don’t have the monopoly on anxiety in this house,” is what he gets out. It’s the best he can do, can’t look at Q while he says it.

There’s few beats of silence, then Q’s hand is on his cheek, warm and solid, drawing Eliot’s eyes back to him. Magnetic north. “You’re lucky you’re pretty, because you’re really dumb,” Quentin says, all the fight gone out of him, and he just looks tired. Eliot’s heart aches, wants to jump out of his chest and curl up in Q’s lap.

“I’ve been telling you that for years.”

Quentin rolls his eyes, and slides his hand through Eliot’s hair. It makes him shiver, stupidly, but god, he’d been afraid he’d lost the rights to that touch for a minute there. Leaning forward, he presses his presses his forehead to Q’s hip, feels Q’s thumb stroking at his scalp.

“I’m here. You’re not alone,” Quentin says, an echo of the words Eliot usually offers him as comfort and solace. He tries to believe it.
__

“Arielle broke up with Lunk.”

Eliot looks up from where he’s been sawing at some kind of overcooked bird they’d caught in a trap on the edge of the clearing. It’s the first time in weeks they’ve had meat, they keep catching things that can talk and having to release them. But cooking meat on an open fire is a trick proposition, and well. You win some, you lose some.

Quentin’s stabbing kind of fruitlessly at his own hunk of the bird Eliot does not know the name for, his cheeks a little flushed. Which– Interesting. Rarely does local gossip make Quentin blush. “Oh?”

“She came by today while you were asleep.” Q’s foot nudges his under the table, and Eliot rolls his eyes. Look, sometimes one just needs to nap, okay? His back still fucking hurts, though, so maybe naps twisted weirdly in a hard wooden chair while cuddling a stick weren’t the best option. “Apparently he cheated on her.”

Eliot whistles, low, in disbelief. “What kind of idiot cheats on a girl like Arielle? She’ll cut his balls off with a peach pit.”

“Yeah, well. I– Don’t exactly have a spotless track-record, on that. Not sure I can throw stones,” Quentin admits, looking uncomfortable, and Eliot... thinks about all the boyfriends of other people he’s fucked in his life, including the one sitting in front of him.

They’re working to be better people. It’s work, but it’s happening.

“Well, I always thought she was too good for him,” he says, spearing a thankfully perfectly cooked potato with his knife, bringing that to his lips.

“That’s what I said!”

He’s blushing again, though, and Eliot.

Eliot knows Quentin, in a way he’s never known anyone in his whole life. He knows him the way he’s known the best of friends he’s ever had, knows the ways he gets awkward and weirdly intense about girls he likes. He knows Quentin the way you know someone you live with, the ways you learn to read their silence and the slant of their shoulders. He knows Quentin the way you know someone you’ve been fucking for almost two years, knows his particular brand and cocktail of attraction, knows the things that will get him going better than Q does himself sometimes.

He knows, suddenly, that Q wants her.

The thing is, Eliot really likes Arielle. She might seem like a simple farm girl on the surface, but she’s not. She’s witty and pushy and smart. Her father may own the orchard, but she’s the one who sells the crops. She’s an excellent salesman, she’s incredibly smart with trade, and has a bitchy streak to rival his own. Because of course she does, has Q ever in his life been drawn someone who wasn’t a little bit mean to him?

You’re going to lose him, says Eliot’s fear. And maybe. Maybe he is, maybe this is the thing that will finally pull Quentin out of his bed, will finally put a crack in this wonderful little snowglobe of a life that was always to good for Eliot anyway. He’s been braced for it since that lovely late autumn night when his stupid dumb heart woke up and said oh I want this, this please, forever, just this one thing.

He’s broken out of his thoughts by Quentin’s hand touching the back of his, where he’s been mechanically pushing overcooked whatever-bird around in his plate.

“What are you thinking?” Quentin asks, head tilted like a curious puppy, the corner of his mouth quirked just so. “You’ve got this look on your face like you think that bird is going to come back to life and eat you back. It won’t El, it’s very dead. It’s a little too dead.”

Eliot laughs, feeling a pressure valve release a little in his chest, just enough so he can draw in breath, fill his lungs against the bands of panic tightening against his sternum. “It’s super fucking dead. No more rotisserie birds,” he agrees, deflecting. Quentin lets him, though he looks skeptical.

He also lets Eliot tug him down into his lap on the bed, later that night, lets himself be kissed while Eliot clings to him. Quentin’s compact little body is such a perfect lapful, straddling Eliot like this, he’s so goddamn lovely. He slides his arms around Eliot’s neck and goes where Eliot puts him, moans so fucking sweetly at being manhandled.

There’s a moment as Quentin’s sinking down onto his cock, needy little rolls of his hips because he can never just take it– he’s got to move on it– A moment where Eliot feels utterly fucking stripped raw, and it’s almost– It’s almost too much, fucking face to face like this in the candlelight. Quentin’s lovely brown eyes are trying to so hard to stay on Eliot’s face but they keep flickering close with how much he loves it, he loves it, fucking rides dick like a pro, oh god. Eliot loves him.

And it’s almost too much. There’s a heartbeat, where the fear crests, and he wants to pull away, flip Q over and fuck his face into the mattress so he can’t see how broken Eliot is. Almost.

And then Q pants, “El,” all needy and soft and tips his forehead against Eliot's and just clings to him. “You feel– El, you feel so good. Take such good care of me.”

Which, god, yes that. Yes, I want to. Eliot swallows the fear and holds on tight. When Q draws back a little, finally moving his hips in earnest, Eliot lets him go. Chases his mouth for a searing hot kiss, fucking his tongue into Q’s mouth as Eliot’s cock sinks into his tight little ass. God, how did people ever manage to do anything other than have sex when it could feel like this?

Quentin breaks away, head falling back on a moan, and Eliot can’t look away from him. “Baby,” he whispers, sliding his hand to the back of Q’s neck to tip him forward again. “Baby, I–”

He chokes on it, but Quentin nuzzles into his wrist, looking at Eliot with those big brown eyes. It’s like he’s seeing through Eliot, down to the very core of him. It’s terrifying, but– But maybe Eliot doesn’t have to say it, if Q can just... know...

“El, please touch me,” Quentin whispers, begging a little as he rides back on Eliot’s cock, his own a hard needy line against Eliot’s stomach.

And well. He can do that. He can kiss Q exactly how he likes to be kissed and rub his cock until he comes, a needy shaky mess in Eliot’s arms. It’s the best fucking thing he can do.

Quentin passes out the moment his head hits the pillow, which is always hilarious when it happens, but it leaves Eliot’s busy mind unoccupied by anything other than his pliant and sweaty little spoon. He’s gotten used to this, in the last three years, another body in his bed, this particular body in his bed. Even on the nights they don’t fuck, Q’s there, perfect little weight in his arms or koala’d on his back.

“You’re going to make me learn to sleep alone, again, aren’t you?” he whispers, quiet into Quentin’s hair. Q snuffles softly in his sleep, rolling over towards the sound of Eliot’s voice, and Eliot shushes him, stroking the hair off Quentin’s face. For a moment it looks like he’s going to wake but he doesn’t, just settles again with his face tucked in against Eliot’s shoulder.

In sleep, he looks young, looks like that 23 year old kid Eliot had met stumbling across the sundrenched lawn at Brakebills. It’s a fragile illusion, but a precious one.

I don’t want to lose this, he thinks, desperately. And maybe he means the sex, but mostly he means... Quentin’s trust. His affection, his openness, his presence by Eliot’s side.

Well. The best way to deal with a problem was to get out ahead of it.

––

Arielle starts coming by the Mosaic more after that.

More than makes sense for her, really, because there’s only so much coin or trade they can afford to spend on her peaches and plums, no matter how much they both love them. But she comes by anyway, and talks with them for awhile, lets Quentin get swept away by her stories and her attention. Eliot can’t really blame her for that. He knows what it’s like to have Quentin look at you like that.

It does take him a couple weeks, maybe longer than it should, to realize that Q hasn’t... really stopped looking at him like that, too.

Eliot, well, he likes to consider himself a man of the world. He knows people experience sex and love in infinite combinations. That people can love only each other and open their bed to others, or love widely with an open heart and choose only one body to keep to themselves. He’s slept with boys who have girls at home who know about him (or don’t), and boys who bring their girls into bed with him.

Hell, he’s shared more than one curious boy with Margo, who he’s loved as passionately and as fiercely and as codependently as it’s possible to love someone. It never matter that he wasn’t in love with her, that never lessened what it meant to him, to share those things, those boys with her. He’d long ago gotten used to the idea that the shape of his love was never got to match what he’d grown up being told it should, and deciding to lean into it had been freeing.

Nothing about Quentin before had ever indicated he was looking for anything other than a very normal shaped life.

Had it? Eliot remembers a little of their time with Margo, less than Q does he thinks, but he remembers waking up to the two of them about three minutes away from fucking next to his unconscious body. Remembers the way Margo had kissed him and the way Q had climbed in Eliot’s lap to take his own turn. He remembers how fucking happy Q had been to let the two of them share him, how he’d clung to Eliot while Margo bossed him around, how he’d melted in Eliot’s grip.

So maybe Quentin could surprise him still.

Arielle, though... Arielle had just been cheated on. Eliot had some experience with girlfriends who’ve been cheated on, though usually from the other side of the coin, and nothing about those experience suggested that she’d be likely to want to– what? Share? No.

No, not likely.

She makes him happy, Eliot thinks, sitting on the bare mosaic, sorting colors as he watches the two of them flirt by the table. Q keeps touching the fruit in her basket, like he can’t work himself up to touching her yet. Like she’s not looking at him from under her lashes, tilting her neck to show off the long pale column of her throat. She says something that makes him laugh, dimples creasing the corners of his mouth, and Eliot smiles too, on reflex, because he loves it when Q’s happy, can’t not smile at the sound of Quentin’s laughter.

I just want you happy, he’s thought so many times. Brought home books and food and trinkets and spells– What wouldn’t Eliot do just to make Q happy? And if Eliot can give him this, help him have this? Well then. Maybe he can be a part of that happiness too.

Arielle comes by midmorning, a few days later, when Eliot’s alone at the mosaic, in the process of pulling up the pattern they’d completed late the night before.

“Hello,” she greets brightly, swinging the basket at her hip, and does a very good job of not looking around for Quentin.

He smiles at her, because he understands, he really does. “Morning. We’ve got some juice if you want some.” He gestures with his chin to the pitcher sitting on the table, pressed from their suddenly over abundant supply of peaches. Then says ruefully, “Q’s not here, he’s in the village helping Wallok’s boys fix their pig pen.”

Arielle sets her basket down and takes him up on his offer, pouring herself a cup of peach juice and coming over towards him. She gathers up her skirts and settles down onto the empty part of the mosaic, having apparently decided to keep him company. “He’ll probably get a nice rasher of bacon for that, next time they slaughter one,” She says shrewdly, ever the businessman.

Eliot smiles at her, winks. “That was my thought.”

She hums, tilting her head up knowingly, and smiles at him. “So what is today’s theme?” she asks, looking around at the tile’s he’s stacking near the edge of the mosaic.

“No theme yet,” he admits, and–

He wishes he could be mad at her, but he isn’t. Abruptly, like a damn breaking, all of that drains out of him. The twisting ache of sadness, the fear of losing lodged in his chest isn’t her fault. Every conversation he’s had with her, he’s reminded of how much he likes her, and today is no exception.

Girls who like the boys he likes have always been his favorite kind of girls.

The day stretches onwards, and she keeps him company for a few hours, telling him stories of the village which has become their home. Arielle knows by heart the personal histories of all the villagers, and is happy to regale him with them. Small towns are the same everywhere it seems, on Earth and Fillory.

“You came from a village like this?” Arielle wonders, when he shares this thought with her.

“I– A lot more like this than I’d like to admit,” he says ruefully. While thinking of his family doesn’t actively drive him to drink anymore, thank you so much Chatwin’s Torrent for your apparent ability to cure addiction... Well, it’s still not exactly a happy thought.

“Did you grow up with Quentin?” Arielle ask curiously, and Eliot smiles fondly.

“No, I only met him at– Well, a couple of years before we came here.”

“It’s hard to imagine one of you without the other,” Arielle muses, stacking green tiles. “It seems like you sprung into this world a pair.”

“Well,” Eliot says, ignoring how much his heart aches at that. “Technically this world, we did. Though it was less springing out of the ground and more stepping out of a tree.”

By the time the sun is hanging over the clearing they’ve got the tiles all cleared away. Arielle hands him a plum (“In trade for the juice,” she says, and winks), and takes her leave, heading off on the rest of her route.

He gets about half of the pattern completed before Quentin gets home, covered in mud and looking grumpy. He waves vaguely at Eliot and heads into the cottage, presumably to de-mud himself. The pattern’s almost done by the time he emerges, and they finish it together. Nothing happens, but they’re long since used to that.

They settle in for the evening, Eliot reading half heartedly on the sitting bench while Quentin sits close by at the table, fixing a seam that had given out on his jacket. The book is significantly less interesting that watching Quentin concentrate on sewing, so Eliot mostly does that. Affection swells in him at the pinched look on Quentin’s face as he works, which is both ridiculous and adorable to behold.

“Arielle came by while you were in the village.”

“Oh?” Quentin asks, shooting a glance at Eliot. “I think we have to admit we’ve hit our limit on fruit for the time being.”

Eliot snorts, because really? Like she’s been coming by for the sales opportunities. “She helped me pull up the puzzle, for a couple hours. Told some outrageous stories about the Elrik boys.”

“I’m sorry I missed that,” Quentin says, still concentrating on the material in his hands. Get ahead of the problem, Eliot thinks, and swallows down his fear.

“You should take her to the festival in a couple of weeks,” Eliot says lightly, and by some act of will power he manages to actually mean it.

“What?” Quentin asks, confused, looking up from his needle and thread.

“Arielle,” Eliot clarifies, like there’s really any other ‘she’ Quentin would want to take to a festival. “If you asked her, she’d say yes.”

Quentin frowns, crease forming between his brows, and Eliot sighs, reaching over to smooth it away with his thumb. “I don’t– Why would I do that?”

“Because she’s a pretty girl who likes you and dancing with pretty girls at festivals is fun,” Eliot says lightly, let his hand drop to Quentin’s shoulder, and then away. “Or so I understand, if you. Like that sort of thing.”

“I don’t know how to dance,” Quentin protests, still looking utterly confused by the whole conversation. Oh, Q.

“I can teach you some, but trust me. She’ll make sure you don’t look too dumb.”

Quentin looks at him searchingly for a moment, brow creasing and Eliot swallows, throat clicking in the face of Quentin’s intensity. “Eliot, are you telling me to ask her out?”

“I–” He starts, and stutters out, forcing confidence he doesn’t feel. “Well, if she’s into it, and you are, why not?”

“Because! Well– I guess, I thought– I mean.” Q stutters to a stop, looking away from Eliot, then determinedly back at him. “Why? Why are you telling me to do this?”

“You like her,” Eliot points out, and it’s getting increasingly hard to keep his voice even. To act like this isn’t something that matters to him, that he doesn’t care.

“Don’t tell me how I feel, I know how I feel,” Quentin snaps, and there it is, that caustic bitter bitchiness that’s as much a part of Quentin as his sweetness. “Why are you telling me to do this?”

Lie, Eliot thinks to himself and– doesn’t. Can’t manage it. “Because I need you to be happy,” he gets out, his voice soft. “I need you to be happy more than I need you to be mine. And if I can be a part of it then I won’t... lose you.”

Quentin blinks at him, stunned to silence, which is pretty rare, to be honest. Then hurt and confusion pass over his face, and Eliot feels– awful, he’s felt awful for weeks, god he wishes suddenly that he still drank enough that blacking out was an option. “Why are you so convinced that you’re going to lose me? We’re literally on a quest together, Eliot. Where am I going to go?”

Eliot flinches, because that’s. That’s the problem, isn’t it. What other options has Quentin had up until now? He looks down at the book in his hands, runs his thumb over the cracked leather of the spine, and says, “You’re my very best friend in the world, Q.” Because it’s all he can drag out of himself.

He hears Quentin sigh, then stand, coming to sit next to Eliot on the sitting bench. His fingers drag into Eliot’s curls, then he’s tugging Eliot over until he’s resting his head on Quentin’s shoulder. “I know,” he says, and he smells like lye soap and fresh air and clean sweat. Sitting like this means Eliot has to hunch, but it’s worth it, to feel Quentin warm and solid under his temple. “You’re my best friend too. No matter what.”

“No matter what,” Eliot repeats. He breathes it in, repeats it to himself. No matter what. That’s enough. It’s more than he’d ever have thought he’d get to have.

The new normal of their lives continues, for a few more days. Quentin flirts with Arielle, and flirts with Eliot, and Eliot flirts with both of them because that’s just who he is. He and Quentin cook and clean and bicker and laugh and fuck and sleep curled together.

Arielle decides to teach Quentin how to juggle, which goes badly. Quentin decides to kiss her, under the clothesline next to the cottage, which by all appearances, goes very well. Eliot watches them, watches Quentin push his face towards her in that little ‘kiss me’ tilt of his, and feels... oddly light, when she does.

He’d have expected to feel sad, but he feels better than he has in weeks as she leaves. Quentin looks happy, blushing but pleased, and he still comes over to where Eliot’s laying on his side on the mosaic. Q drops down, laying perpendicular to Eliot so he can rest his head against the curve of Eliot’s waist. Eliot pets his hair in greeting, fondness swelling in his chest.

“Good?” Eliot asks, and watches Q flush, grins at him.

“Mmmhm,” he hums, and then looks at Eliot with twinkling eyes. “Less prickly than I’m used too.”

“Oh fuck off,” Eliot laughs, brushing his hand against Quentin’s own scratchy cheek. “You like it.”

“I like both,” Quentin says, solem, and the look in his eyes goes intense, suddenly. It shakes Eliot, a little, and he has to look away. Glances back at the pattern he’s planning out.

“You gonna come help me with this or just lay there looking pretty?” He asks, and hears Q hum again.

“Think I’ll just lay here looking pretty,” he says, bratty. “You know. If that’s an option.”

“Dick,” Eliot accuses fondly, but lets him get away with it.

Courtship



“I still have no idea how to dance,” Quentin complains, from where he’s working on the mosaic.

Eliot looks over at him through the plants he’s pruning, carefully leaving enough shade so the weird purple tomatoes don’t get roasted by the sunlight. “She said yes, didn’t she? I don’t think Arielles cares that much if you know how to dance.”

“But it’s spring festival, everyone’s going to be– dancing.”

“Q,” Eliot says, fondly exasperated, sitting back on his haunches. “It’s a spring festival. Everyone’s going to be fucking. I know you know how to do that.”

Quentin splutters, dropping the tile he was holding. “Wow, thanks El, now I’ve gotta be worried about that too.”

“Why are you worried?” Eliot laughs, going back to carefully trimming his pea plants. “I’m telling you, people are just gonna drink a lot of wine and probably do whatever the Fillorian equivalent of a Maypole is, and then go home and fuck. Arielle’s gonna be happy if she gets you to drink and Maypole with her, anything else is just. Extra credit.”

Q mumbles something under his breath which sounds suspiciously like, “I’ll give you extra credit,” and makes Eliot smile to himself.

“I’m serious, stop worrying about it.”

“When has that ever worked for me?” Quentin asks emphatically, giving Eliot an incredulous look. “What if I step on her?”

“Jesus, were you this nervy before you fucked Alice? How did she even get your pants off?”

“I was a fox before I fucked Alice!” Quentin’s voice reverberates into the clearing, clearly louder than he’d intended if the way he’s blushing is any indication. Eliot starts laughing, tipping back until he’s sitting with his hands braced behind him, knees up to the sky. Quentin glares are the tiles in his hand, and mutters. “You’re a bitch.”

“But I’m your bitch,” Eliot replies, and watches the little smile tug at the corners of Quentin’s mouth.

“I think we both know that’s not true,” Quentin says, quietly, pleased, and Eliot grins, delighted. Loves him, with his entire helpless heart.

“C’mon,” he says, springing to his feet so abruptly that Quentin starts, looking over at him. He dusts off his hands on his pants, and then tries to dust off his pants. Gives up on that, because fuck, he’s just permanently coated in dust, now, isn’t he? He comes around the raised plant bed, holding out his hand to Q. “You’re going to have to forgive me if I get dirt on you. Actually– no you don’t, it’s your dirt too.”

“I’m... doing something?” Quentin says, waving a tile kind of stupidly at Eliot, his brows creased in confusion. Eliot rolls his eyes and reaches forward, grabbing Quentin’s flailing arm and tugging him stumbling to his feet by his wrist.

“Yes, you’re dancing with me,” Eliot agrees, and takes the orange tile out of Quentin’s hand. Fuck the orange tiles, Eliot never liked them. “Come on, dancing is just like... Energetic public foreplay.”

“I don’t think Fillory does that kind of dancing, El,” Quentin says sarcastically, like he’s ever in his life done any grinding on anyone for long enough to be judgemental about that kind of dancing.

“All dancing is with a partner is foreplay if you’re doing it right,” Eliot says matter of factly, pulling Quentin in front of him. “Okay, so I’ll be Arielle in this situation–”

“Eliot, this is weird even for us.”

“Shut up,” Eliot laughs, looping his arms around Quentin’s shoulders. “So I’m Arielle and I’ve probably got flowers in my hair and am wearing a shirt that’s showing just enough decolletage–”

Jesus, you are so gay.

“–showing just enough titty so you want to kiss me by the bonfire.”

“I want to kiss you by the bonfire anyway,” Quentin says, serious, swaying a little in Eliot’s arms which is... a lot, honestly.

“Fuck,” Eliot whispers, dropping his forehead to rest against Quentin’s. “What the fuck are you worried about, you’re gonna be fine, that was smooth as hell, Coldwater.”

“Yeah,” Quentin agrees, looping his arms around Eliot’s back. “But I know how to be smooth with you, because I know if I say something dumb you’re just going to think it’s funny.”

“Well,” Eliot hedges, because he’s not– wrong, really. Even in the pre-Beast days, Eliot had always been stupidly charmed by Quentin’s awkwardness. “Arielle knows you. If she’s not expecting a little bit of dumb, she’s not as smart as I think she is.”

“Thanks,” Quentin grumbles, and Eliot laughs, pulls back to kiss his forehead.

“Okay, so. Dancing that isn’t just middle school swaying: Let’s see if we can just do a box step without you looking at your feet.”

It takes a bit of practice, and hilariously (predictably) Quentin keeps kind for forgetting to lead. He keeps looking at Eliot with his big brown eyes, and trying to fall into step with him, like following where Eliot takes him is an instinct built into the core of his being. And it’s fun, honestly, it really is, Eliot wants to actually dance with him, lead him around the mosaic in sweeping patterns, spin him until he’s breathless and laughing.

Dancing really is foreplay to Eliot, holding his partner close and feeling their trust, their body move with his. He wants to see where Q will let Eliot take him, how good their rhythm can be when Eliot’s leading.

But that’s definitely not the point of this, so he tries not to get distracted. Tries to push Quentin to take the lead and says “Don’t look at your feet, I swear that’s going to make you trip more than not,” and get Q to set their path himself. It takes practice, but they get there.

“It’ll probably be easier since she’s shorter than me,” Eliot laughs, once they’ve collapsed into a sweaty pile on the mosaic. They lay side by side, looking up at the cloudy blue sky, pressed together all along their arms from shoulder to wrist.

“She is,” Quentin agrees, then gets a dopey smile on his face. “Still pretty tall, though.” Because of course he likes that, likes his girls tall and pushy. Well. Likes his people tall and pushy, maybe.

“You’re gonna do great, Q,” Eliot says, turning his head to look at Quentin’s profile, drink in the point of his nose, the curve of his lip, the sharp line of his jaw. Sensing Eliot’s gaze, Quentin rolls his head over to the side to meet his eyes.

“Thanks,” he says, simply, and takes Eliot’s hand. Holds it as they lay there on the half-completed mosaic, in the clearing that makes up their home. Eliot smiles, just a little, and holds right back.

The day of the festival, they get up early to get through a pattern and record it before Quentin has to start getting ready to leave. They’d both gone to other gatherings in the village in the past, though last year the spring festival had been during a particularly vicious depressive episode, and they hadn’t made it in. Now, Eliot’s elected not to go, because Jesus, it’s not like privacy is exactly abundant anywhere in the village. While it was tempting to go along and find some local boy who was was willing to be taken for a spin... Eliot is trying to be honest with himself if no one else, and honestly, he didn’t want a local village boy.

So Eliot is going to stay home and get drunk. Q doesn’t know about that second half of the plan, but what he doesn’t know can’t hurt him.

Eliot gives him space, as much as physically possible in their little cottage, as Q cleans chalk and dirt and ceramic dust off himself and tries to be... whatever he’s gotten it in his head that Arielle wanted him to be. But it was hard to ignore the frustrated grumbling coming out of their bedroom, and Eliot gives in to curiosity, poking his head into the room to see Quentin fighting a losing battle with his own hair.

“Can I help?” Eliot asks, tentative, because for the first time in a long time, he’s not sure if he has a place in this part Quentin’s life. But Q just gives him a relieved look and lets go of the tentative twist he’d been making in his hair, letting it fall loose around his face.

“Please, I have no idea what I’m doing,” he says, ruefully, and Eliot snorts. Settling onto the bed behind Q so he can get his fingers into Quentin’s hair, Eliot works it into french braid. It’s simple and masculine, but secure enough to stay out of his face while dancing.

“That feels nice,” Quentin murmurs, as Eliot’s fingers work in his hair. “I’ve always liked you playing with my hair.”

It sends a pang in his chest, how easy this is for Q, how open he is. How he shares everything, everything with Eliot, thoughtlessly, wonderfully. “I know,” is all Eliot can say in reply. He finishes the braid, and ties it off, pressing a kiss to the back of Quentin’s head.

Quentin sets out before sunset, waving goodbye with a smile, nervous and excited. He’s taking the path to the orchard, meeting Arielle there and heading into the village together. Eliot watches him go, and tries not to feel too empty inside. It’s not like he’s never alone here, in the cottage. They take time to themselves several times a week, and there’s always things that need to be done in the simple dirty business of living.

It shouldn’t feel different, but it does.

So. Drinking.

He’s got a casket of carrot wine, and a book on the escapades of some fucking talking swan to occupy his night. There’s bread from the loaf Q had made yesterday and eggs and purple tomatoes for dinner, and he has to stop himself from cooking for two out of habit. The silence in the cottage feels oppressive, heavy on his shoulder, as he sits with his stupid swan book and his stupid glass of carrot wine. Except he keeps getting distracted by the book, forgetting to drink. He ends up nursing the cup like he would on a normal night, if Q were somewhere near by, mending or reading or cleaning something.

This isn’t me anymore, he realizes, looking into the cup in his hand, and it’s a startling thought. He’s not sure what to do with it, with himself, with the sudden nervous energy shooting through his veins. Abandoning the book and the wine, he collects the small handful of trinkets they’d agreed to mend for people from the village, for coin or in trade.

Q’s better at mending that Eliot is, but it’s good to practice, and the magic feels familiar, soothing as it passes through his fingertips. He feels... connected, to something bigger than himself. A Magician, classically trained, and a partner, improvised but no less real for it.

He gets about halfway through their little take-home project before he starts to feel worn out by it, and takes that as an excuse to crawl into bed. He doesn’t let himself think about if he’s going to wake up alone in the morning, but leaves the candles in the living space lit. Just in case.

It’s meant to be a gesture, but Quentin comes back before Eliot’s even managed to fall asleep. He’s clearly a little drunk, and trying to be quiet, and, honestly, he smells like sex when he falls into the right side of the bed, and Eliot–

Eliot sees, like a fork in the road, two paths stretched out before him. He can pretend to be asleep, let Q crawl into bed and never bring it up again. That option is tempting, is perhaps the path of least resistance. But. But. But. But, there’s a thin line between letting Q go and sharing him, and Eliot thinks. He thinks maybe he can ride that line a little while longer.

He rolls over, opening his arm in invitation for Q to tuck into his side. “Have a good time?” he asks, smiling as Quentin makes a happy noise, rolling, rolling, rolling with a little drunken giggle until he collides with Eliot’s chest.

“Yeah,” Quentin murmurs, snuggling into him, and oh, this. This is so precious. Eliot tips his nose down to bury in Quentin’s hair, breathe in the smell of him. You can do anything that makes you happy, just please come back after, he thinks, aching, afraid. “I didn’t step on her even once, which I think is better than we both expected. And then-”

He cuts off, bashful, and Eliot can practically hear him wondering if kissing and telling is bad form. “And then she fucked you stupid?” He finishes, just to hear Quentin laugh.

He does, and it’s light, and wonderful. “She really fucking did, El.”

“Good,” Eliot says, and feels a wash of relief. Quentin had still come home to him. He could survive anything as long as he had that. “I knew I liked her.”

__

“What’s ‘radar’?”

Eliot looks up from the tile in his hand, to where Arielle perched on the chair edge of the mosaic. She’s got one leg pulled up to her chest and is in the process of shelling peas into a big wooden bowl in her lap, a hard-won bounty from this year’s garden. The fucking bugs would not leave them alone, so much Eliot had resorted to figuring out some minor stand-in pesticide magic. But they have peas and Ari’s here helping shell them while Q’s in the village doing some mending work.

“Quentin said ‘It’s on my radar’ this morning, and I’m not sure what that means,” she explains, at his inquisitive look. “Sometimes it’s like the two of you speak a different language.”

“It means he’s aware of it,” Eliot explains, taking the excuse to sit back from the pattern and stretch out the cramp forming in his shoulders. His fingers haven’t gone tingly yet, but that doesn’t mean he should push it. “Radar is a... non-magic way for ships on Earth to see what’s in the ocean around them.”

Arielle tilts her head, thoughtfully. “Like an alarm spell?”

“Yep, pretty much.”

“Radar,” She repeats, then again under her breath, “on my radar.”

Weird fondness twists in his chest, watching her clever fingers work through the peapod in her hands absently. She absorbs their culture so easily, working more than she could rightly be asked to learn the quirks of their home and take them into herself. She is, he thinks, such a good woman at her core.

“I’ve never been to the ocean,” Arielle says thoughtfully, holding out an unshelled pea pod towards him. He takes it, the crunch of it satisfying, and enjoys the bright green fresh taste. “Have you?”

“Yeah. Both here and on Earth.”

“What’s it like?”

He thinks of the beautiful turquoise waters of the Mediterranean off the beaches of Ibiza, of the rich blue crests of waves in California, of the cold grey stretch of the Atlantic off the coast of New York. “Vast,” he says, picturing it in his mind’s eye. “You know it will be but when you see it for the first time... everything feels so small, staring out into the water which just feels infinite. It’s like all your problems feel so small, in the face of this endless, endless water.”

“I can’t decide if that sounds peaceful or terrifying,” Arielle muses, squinting like she was trying to imagine it.

“It’s both,” Eliot laughs, leaning back on his hands. “I was 18 the first time I saw the ocean. I remember being... literally breathless. Though that could have been the drugs.”

Ari shoots him a fondly exasperated look, so much like Quentin’s it makes his heart pang for a second. Then her expression goes thoughtful, watching her hands as she snaps open a pod. “You both have seen so much of the world. Worlds. Earth and Fillory. Sometimes I wonder how you could possibly be happy here.”

There’s a note of insecurity to her voice, for the first time in the whole time that Eliot’s known her, just a hint of concern. The smallest impulse of cruelness sparks inside him, a shadow of the thoughtless bitch he’d been years ago, and he knows he could tell her they never would be. She might even believe him.

But it would be a lie. It would be cruelness for the sake of it, to pretend like he’s not the best version of himself that he’s ever been, or that Quentin’s not the most settled Eliot’s ever seen him. And it would be a lie, to pretend that the love they’ve found here would have existed if they’d never come to the mosaic.

“I’m happier than I’ve ever been,” he admits, and it’s. It’s hard to say. He’s not sure he’d be able to manage it, if Quentin was here, if it wasn’t just Ari here with her quiet smile and thoughtful eyes. “I can’t speak for Q, but– I didn’t think I was capable of being this happy.”

“I’d like to think he’s happy,” Arielle says, quiet, almost questioning, eyes flicking to Eliot. And how was it fair of her, to seek reassurance from him on this? When Quentin was magnetic north for him, the thing that pulled him onwards, and she was here shifting the ground under their feet. How dare she ask this of him?

But he is Quentin’s best friend, no matter what. How dare he not live up to that title?

“I’d like to think he is, too.” And oh god, wouldn’t he like to think that, hasn’t he laid in bed with his hand over Quentin’s tattoo every night for the last two weeks and thought be happy, be happy, my love, just be happy and whole. “But... You need to know– No matter how good his life is, there will always be times for Q when he can’t stop feeling sad." It hasn't happened for a while, but more than anything that felt to Eliot like they were coming up due for an episode.

Arielle, to her credit, takes him seriously. She tilts her head, staring into the middle distance between them as she thinks about it. "I know I've come by before and he's... different. Empty, almost. He has a melancholy shade."

Eliot nods, looking down into his lap, then back up at her. "On Earth, we call it depression. It's... A chemical imbalance in the brain."

"Chemical?" Arielle repeats, brow creasing in a frustration, a smart woman trying to comprehend something she doesn't have the framework for and getting annoyed at her own limitations. He sits forward, draping his arms his folded knees, shaking out the imprint of the tiles on his palms left by leaning back on his hands for so long.

"Think of it like... a component of how our brains work," Eliot tries to explain, thinking of how reframe it for her. "Like circumstances in a spell, one chemical being slightly off makes the whole thing stop working right. It makes him... sad and lost and... suicidal, sometimes. I'm sorry, it's a shitty thing to hear about someone you– care about, but it's important for you to understand."

She's stopped the mechanical work of her hands, looking at him with a pinch of distress on her pretty mouth. "What do you do about it?"

"Love him, even when it's hard," Eliot says, and maybe he's showing too much of his hand right now but she needs to understand. "Remind him to take care of himself, help him do it when he can’t. Listen, if you can get him to talk about it. If it- if it gets really bad, some day, then we'll have to figure something else out. But I've only seen him that bad once, and his girlfriend had just died, so."

Arielle blinks, her grey eyes unreadable, and Eliot wonders suddenly if Quentin’s hold her about Alice. What he’s said, if he has. How do you explain the complicated shitstorm that was that relationship? Then she seems to shake herself, her hands resuming the work of shelling peas, smooth and easy in her clever fingers. She looks over at him, her beautiful sharp face dower. "Thank you, Eliot. For telling me."

He shrugs. "You should know."

"We can help him together," she says, and smiles a little sadly this time, holding out another pea pod to him. He takes it mechanically. "You know how to help, and I can learn. I can help you help him."

Eliot’s stomach twists, a little shiver of jealousy that he makes himself look at full in the face, because he’s trying to be honest with himself. Quentin deserves to have as many people pulling for him as he can get, and wouldn’t it be nice, really? To have someone to share the work with? When Quentin’s cynicism and his tendency to lash out at people who were trying to help him got too frustrating, wouldn’t it be nice to have some back up?

“I think we can,” Eliot agrees, and can’t find a smile to give her, but squeezes her shoulder as he stands up to go back to work on the puzzle. It’s enough.

__

That harvest, Eliot gets recruited to help in the orchard.

“This better be because he’s tall, and not because you think he’s less likely to fall off the ladder,” Quentin grumbles, as Arielle comes by to collect Eliot early in the morning. Quentin’s still mostly asleep, wrapped up in their quilt and sitting on the table, because he’s never sat in a chair like a normal human in his life. “Because have I got a story for you.”

Eliot flicks him off, cheerfully, and kisses Q’s temple just in case he does fall off a ladder to his death. Watches, feeling warm, as Arielle kisses him and says, “Oh, Quentin. It’s definitely because he’s less likely to fall off the ladder.”

Then they trudge off together into the cool mist of the forest, following the path which takes them towards the orchard. The sun’s barely started to rise, and they walk in companionable silence, leaves crunching under their boots. They reach the orchard just as the first bright beams of sunlight cut through the trees, painting everything bright gold. A handful of other local boys and men have gathered as well, and they all break off into practiced pairs, grabbing baskets and heading out into the trees.

Eliot follow’s Arielle’s lead. This is the kind of work he hates, normally, and honestly he kind of still does, but it’s better with Arielle at his side. She takes the fruit he passes down to her, teasing him the whole while, full of wit and snark. She’s the only woman in the field, because Fillory is still ass-backwards in a lot of ways, but it doesn’t bother her.

Doesn’t seem too, anyway. A portion of Arielle’s job in their pair is running baskets of fruit back to the main cart, while Eliot moves the ladder. Thank god he’s a Physical kid with a specialty in telekinesis, or he definitely would have the worse end of that job. But he gets the ladder moved in record time, which leaves him with time to kill while Arielle drops off her basketful and heads back to him.

On the third run or so, she gets intercepted by a couple of the other men working in the orchard. Eliot’s skin prickles, watching them, hair standing on end. He knows boys like this, grew up around boys like this, only just managed avoid becoming a boy like this because of a twist of fate or genetics. Tense, at the base of the ladder, he watches, magic swirling at his fingertips, ready for release if one of them so much as touches–

Arielle slaps one of the men, hard, right across the mouth, and disengages from the group, her mouth a pinched, angry line. He watches her storm up to him, the same bubbly admiration he’d felt every time Margo eviscerated someone in front of him swelling in his chest.

“I know a bunch of battle magic,” he offers, as Arielle approaches, baskets swinging empty on her wrists.

“Not every problem is yours to solve, Magician,” she snaps, and he cocks his head at her.

“I know,” Eliot says carefully, bracing his foot on the bottom rung of the ladder. “I just. I have three older brothers, okay, and they’re all idiot pushy farm boys. I know the look.”

Some of the tension visibly drains out of her as Arielle looks at him curiously. “I didn’t know you had brothers.”

“Yeah, well. Not like I really ever wanted to hang out with them, even when I didn’t live on another planet.”

She hums, bracing her hip against the ladder as he starts to climb again. She’s quiet for long enough that Eliot thinks she might have said her piece on the subject, then admits: “They don’t like that you’re here. They don’t like you and Quentin in general. They think that any children of Earth who don’t want to be kings are either criminals or cowards.”

But we are kings, Eliot thinks, remembers the sharp bite of pain as the knife sliced into his palm. Kneel, Eliot Waugh, says the Quentin in his memory, desperately hopeful and full of a kind of excitement Eliot longed for. “In my experience, criminals are drawn to positions of power.”

She laughs, sharp and hard, and Eliot looks down at her, winks. She rolls her eyes and reaches up for the fruit. “You’re probably right. Anyway, one of them offered to, um. Give me a better option. I slapped him.”

Yeah, you did,” Eliot grins, and Arielle grins back.

Her mood stays dower for the rest of the day, hackles going up every time she walks by the other men working in the orchard. By the time the sun begins to set, he’s starting to worry she might crack a tooth from how hard she’s clenching her jaw. They deposit their last basket full of fruit, Eliot making his ladder float along beside them because fuck these hicks, honestly. He knows who he is, and that’s the motherfucking High King of Fillory.

“Come back with me,” He suggests, and watches Arielle consider. “Come on, Q’s been by himself all day, which means he’s gonna be all wound up about something. We can pick up some blackberry wine, have a bonfire.”

“That sounds fun,” she admits, swaying into his side a little bit. He wraps his arm around her shoulder, and it feels. Right.

With a pang, he thinks of Margo, then quickly pushes the thought aside. It’s too painful, even now. Instead, he leans into Arielle, feels her wrap her arm around his waist. “Then that’s what we’ll do.”

They take the long way back to the cottage, stopping in the village to buy a case of blackberry wine. It’s truly dark by the time they’re on the path back home, and Eliot lets Arielle carry the wine, makes a handful of heatless blue flames hover over his palm to light their path.

He’s maybe showing off a little. He’s not entirely sure why.

Quentin did not, it seems, work himself up into anything over the course of the day. He’d made bread, and finished a pattern except for one tile, and restrung the clothesline. It’s a relief, if Eliot’s being honest, he was always half-afraid of coming home to anxiety or emptiness when he’s away from the cottage for too long. But Q greets them with surprise and delight, letting Arielle snag him for a kiss as Eliot shakes out his handful of flame.

“We,” he says, catching Quentin’s attention, drawing it back to himself. “-are having a party.”

“Oh?”

“Yes,” Eliot says firmly, and task the casket of wine from Arielle. “Because the village boys are idiots and we’re better than they are.”

“O-kay,” Q agrees, confused, looking to Arielle like she’s going to give him more clarity. She shrugs, and leans her head on his shoulder.

“He’s right,” is all she says.

Eliot gets a bonfire going, because he’s not a pyromancer but he loves flame, and let’s Q and Arielle wrangle the sitting bench out of the house. Eliot grabs a chair from near the mosaic, and the quilt from where it’s sitting folded on the end of their bed. It’s a cool night, and even with the roaring fire, he’s happy to have the extra warmth.

So they settle by the fire, passing around cups of wine and slices of warm bread. On the scale of parties Eliot’s thrown, it’s microscopic, but he feels settled in a way he never could have imagined when he was 22 years old and elbows deep in the construction of himself. Watching Arielle tuck into Quentin’s side, both of them lit by the fire light, something complicated and huge settles into his chest. Makes him smile as much as it kind of makes him want to cry, but they’re laughing at each other and they’re– happy.

They’re happy, and he helped give them that. Gets to be a part of it.

Sparks shoot up from the fire, and Eliot watches their little orange trails, the hypnotic randomness of them. He doesn’t realizes he’s drumming on the edge of his chair, humming to himself, until he catches Quentin’s eyes on him. He grins and starts to sing.

“Blackbird singing in the dead of night, take these broken wings and learn to fly. All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arise...”

Performance comes naturally to Eliot, always has, and Quentin and Arielle present a captive audience. He lets himself get swept away in it, the familiar melody lifting in his voice easily, the rhythm of it rolling out of his hands on the edge of the chair. He lets the song carry him, singing out into the night, lets all of his complicated feelings leak out into simple melody.

“That’s lovely,” Arielle says once the song has wound to a close, and in the firelight her grey eyes glow golden. “Is that a song from Earth? I’ve never heard it before.”

“It is,” Eliot confirms, settling back into the chair, smiling at her. “I don’t know any of Fillorian songs. I’ve never heard any.”

“There was that one at the wedding,” Quentin points out, like there was much of a chance Eliot remembered any details about that night. He remembers a building sense of panic, remembers seeing Fen for the first time scant seconds before their hands were tied. Remembers a blur of faces, remembers latching on to Quentin because he couldn’t look at Margo without feeling like he might throw up. Doesn’t remember a song, but that’s not really surprising. He was pretty drunk.

“Who’s wedding?” Arielle asks curiously. “Were you at Marsella’s wedding two years ago?”

“No,” Eliot says, because they hadn’t integrated much with the village yet, at that point. “No, he’s talking about my wedding.”

“El has a wife,” Quentin says, eyes dark with something unreadable.

“You do?” Arielle sounds surprised, and well. That’s fair, nothing about Eliot exactly said ‘girls forever, yes please.’

“Yeah,” he says with a sigh, looking down into his cup of blackberry wine. “Arranged marriage. She’s a knife maker’s daughter, we needed a knife strong enough to kill a God. I was only married to her for about a year, before– We’ve been here so much longer than I’ve even known her.”

It’s weird to think about in those terms, how long they’ve really been at this thing.

“You still wear her ring,” Arielle points out, glancing at his hand, then at Quentin. “I never noticed before, but...”

His hackles go up automatically, like she’s saying– Like he could possibly love Quentin any less because of a choice that was taken from him in another life. But he forces it down, the irritation and his own reckless fear because it’s not like Quentin’s his anymore anyway, and makes himself look at Q too. His eyes are steady on Eliot, lovely brown and warm, with the smallest smile edging around the corners of his lips. Even with his arm around Arielle, bathed in firelight, he looks at Eliot like no-one else ever has before.

Like he’s going to keep him.

“I wasn’t a very good husband to her,” Eliot admits, and it’s costing him something to be honest here, but it’s suddenly important that Arielle understand. “I married her because I had to, it was never my choice. But that wasn’t her fault and she was always kind to me. Kinder than I deserved. And then I left her behind, ran off with my friends on a quest the moment I got the chance. I’m... a better man, now, I think, than I was then. And she may never get to see it. If I don’t think of her, every so often, then I truly have abandoned her. So I wear her ring, and I try to remember.”

Arielle absorbs this, her beautiful sharp face thoughtful. “I think you’re a good man,” she says, simple, and tips her head to look at Q. “I think you both are.”

Q’s smile is helpless, utterly lost as he looks at her, and Eliot’s chest aches. He doesn’t feel like a good man. Spinning his wedding ring absently, he’s suddenly filled with restless energy, needs to stand, needs to move.

“I’m gonna grab a jacket,” he mutters, pushing himself out of his chair. “Need anything?”

“Nope,” Quentin replies, watching him with that same unreadable expression, and Eliot–

Runs away.

The cottage smells like yeast and smoke, bready and warm, and he leans back against the door. You did this to yourself, he thinks, viciously, knocks his head back against the door once, twice, three times. Idiot. Even through the door, he can hear them talking softly, and he wants– he wants to be in the circle of their love, share their light, he wants Quentin’s perfect little weight in his arms, oh, I miss you so much baby, I think I’m dying. But he’s lucky to have what he has, and he knows it. His very best friend in the world, and this wonderful witty girl...

He takes as long as conceivably possible to find a jacket, settling it on himself as fastidiously as he can manage. Pussy up, says a voice in his head which sounds a lot like Bambi, and it makes him smile. Gives him the strength he needs to go back out into the night.

They’ve moved, while he was dallying inside, Arielle shifting to the chair, the quilt wrapped around her shoulders. Q’s standing by the fire, and turns to face Eliot as he comes out of the cottage, small smile on his face.

“Hey,” Quentin says, soft, holding out a hand to Eliot, who. Takes it. Helpless.

“Hey,” he replies, call and response, and Quentin smiles at him.

“Can you sing Here Comes The Sun?” Q asks, pulling Eliot closer, until he can feel the heat of Quentin’s body next to his in the chilly night.

“Of course I can,” Eliot replies, because bravado is built into every stitch of his armor, and plus. He does love to sing.

So he does, sings softly into the night, swaying a little bit with the pulse of the melody. Quentin’s still got him by the hand, and Eliot makes the mistake of glancing over at him, getting caught in Quentin’s eyes. He’s still smiling a little, face tilted up towards Eliot, crinkles in the corners of his eyes and his dimples, fuck.

“...little darling, it feels like years since it's been here. Here comes the sun. Here comes the sun, and I say, it's all right...” Eliot sings, caught in Quentin’s smile, in his eyes, in the heat of him as his arms wrap up around Eliot’s shoulders. Helpless, Eliot holds him back, tries to remember to keep singing.

Then they’re swaying, and when the fuck did Eliot’s dorky dungeon master get this smooth. But Quentin’s still smiling at him, inches between their faces, until Eliot presses their foreheads together, because that’s allowed and he needs an excuse to stop looking at Q’s lovely precious face. So they sway, moving with the familiarity of bodies that know each other, while Eliot sings softly “sun, sun, sun, here it comes.”

The song fades from his breath, and Eliot feels frozen in agony, locked in place with Quentin in his arms. He needs to move, needs to let go and break the moment and go find a way to reattach his heart inside his chest because he thinks maybe he’s bleeding out over this. Except Quentin isn’t pulling back, he’s brushing their noses together and smoothing his hands down the front of Eliot’s chest.

Quentin goes up on his toes, fingers fisting in the rough material of Eliot’s jacket as he tugs him down for a kiss. It’s so soft, so sweet it almost hurts, and Arielle is right there, what’s he doing?

Eliot jerks back, but Q doesn’t let him go far, keeps a solid hold on his jacket. “Eliot,” he whispers, earnest, and his eyes are wide, emphatic. “It’s okay. It’s okay, sweetheart, she doesn’t mind.”

Eliot’s eyes flick over to Arielle, lost, to see her sitting as she had been, in the chair by the fire, one knee drawn up with her skirts flowing around her, watching them. She smiles at Eliot when he meets her eye, and suddenly there’s a moment of recognition, of realizing he’d watched her kiss Q with the same feeling of affection and relief.

“I told you,” she says, and she sounds fondly exasperated, smarter than either of them. “I can’t imagine one of you without the other.”

“El,” Quentin says, an Eliot looks back at him, heart slamming in his throat. Quentin’s smiling, just a little, just enough to dimple the corners of his mouth. Oh, fuck but Eliot loves him. “It’s okay, baby. I’m still yours.”

Eliot has no response for that, other than a desperate hungry kiss.

He wants more, wants so much, wants to pin Q to the mosaic in rhyme with years ago on a night just like this, get his mouth on Q’s cock until he falls apart. He wants to drag him into the cottage and fuck until they both pass out from it, animal and rough. He wants to collapse on the bench and just kiss, because the kissing is so sweet and Quentin loves it, melts for it. But it’s dark and late enough that Arielle’s going to have stay in the cottage for the night, which he knew when he asked her to come back home with him, and he can't... share that with her. Not yet. Not after months of thinking this was lost to him for ever.

So they finish their wine as the fire dies down, and then tumble into bed. Quentin ends up wrapped between them, Arielle cuddled into his back while Eliot pressed against him forehead to chest to knee.

They woke up to thin sunlight and Arielle stealing out of bed, kissing Quentin goodbye as she slips out to head back to the orchard. Half awake, Eliot feels her squeeze his own shoulder as she leaves. He would be content to doze like this, half awake in the early morning light, lazy in bed with Quentin in his arms. Everything feels warm and slow, and it’s crawling into his skin, settling in his bones, the bright glow of being wanted.

Except Quentin’s tilting his face up to look at Eliot, blinking sleepy and warm. “Hey,” he says, soft, and his face says ‘kiss me.’ Oh, sweetheart, Eliot thinks, bringing his hand up to cup Quentin’s jaw, brush his thumbs against Q’s cheek. Oh, sweetheart, anytime, anything you want.

They kiss, soft and sweet like syrup between them, and it’s not like Eliot forgot the way Quentin yields, opens up, unfolds under Eliot’s hands and lips. More like he hadn’t let himself think about it in so long, locking those thoughts away behind the wall of things he never looks at because they hurt too much. But now he has it again, has Quentin under him arching up into every kiss, and he’s hungry for it.

Shedding their clothes is thoughtless, and it’s really all Eliot has the patience for, when it comes down to it. When he has Quentin’s skin against his, and Quentin’s mouth against his, and Quentin’s cock against his, that’s all he can think about. So they cling to each other inelegantly, and it feels so good to be close like this. He’s barely got the focus to get a hand down between them, hold their cocks together in the single tight channel of his fist.

The sound Quentin makes, shocked by pleasure, he’s always so surprised by it, Eliot thinks he might remember that sound for the rest of his life. He unspools as he comes, shaky in Eliot’s arms, and Eliot’s helpless to do anything but follow.

Jesus. Eliot can feel his heartbeat in his fingertips, what the hell. How was sex allowed to feel like this? Q nuzzles into his throat, cuddling close, and then slides down a little until he’s resting his head on Eliot’s chest, lazing in the early morning light.

"I think I missed this more than the sex," Quentin murmurs, rubbing his scratchy cheek against Eliot's chest hair.

“I’m not saying that’s because you’ve still been having sex, because that would be gauche and step on your very romantic sentiments... but I’m not not saying that.”

Quentin’s fingers dig into to his side, so jabby, prickly little brat. “I mean... you could have– I never told you that you– I just assumed–”

“I know, baby,” Eliot cuts him off, before he gives himself an aneurysm. “I know what I want. Jesus, I’m 30, I fuckin’ better know what I want.”

“What’s that?” Quentin asks, tipping his chin onto Eliot’s chest to meet his eyes.

You, forever, he thinks, and still can’t– say it. Even now. But Quentin’s eyes are soft, and his smile is softer, and Eliot thinks he knows. So instead, he says, “Breakfast, and a bath. We’re a mess.”

Q rolls his eyes. “You love that,” he accuses, and well.

He’s not wrong.

It’s like the first couple weeks after their one-year anniversary all over again, Eliot spends the whole day just wanting to touch, now that he can, now that he has permission. Except it’s better, now, because he knows Q, really knows him. Knows how to skim his fingers against the sensitive skin under his ear or tease him in a way that’s just the right kind of mean to get him all worked up. And Quentin knows Eliot, knows all his buttons too.

It’s not really surprising they fall into bed again before lunchtime.

But now the desperate edge is gone, and everything is golden with sunlight streaming onto the bed through thrown-open windows, and it feels like fucking ecstasy to kiss languid and syrupy. Eliot’s missed this, sex, yes, in that instinctual animal way that his body knows Q’s, knows oh, this is the one we fuck. But he’s missed the intimacy of it, of teasing Quentin until he laughs and then teasing him until he moans.

Tracing the sigil for the familiar spell against Quentin’s lower back makes him gasp, shivering in Eliot’s arms.

“That’s never stopped feeling weird,” Quentin breathes into Eliot’s open mouth, and he makes a sympathetic noise.

“I know, baby. I’m sorry,” he soothes, and Quentin shakes his head at the apology. Eliot rolls him onto his back, hitching one of Q legs up so Eliot can hold it against his own side, open him up, watching him arch as Eliot sinks inside. And oh jesus, he could die like this, it feels fucking good to be inside the warm clutch of his body. “You feel so good, darling.

He let’s Q’s leg fall, pushing forward so he can steal another kiss, and another, slide his hand into Quentin’s hair, hold his jaw, just never stop touching him. Q’s hand slides down from Eliot’s elbow to his wrist and then he’s tugging, nudging Eliot’s hand down off his neck and down–

Oh-

Onto his throat.

Adrenaline spikes, sharp and electric throat Eliot’s veins. Carefully, he folds his palm over the curve of Quentin’s exposed throat, holding, just holding, watching Q’s eyes flutter shut. And Jesus wept, Eliot–

Eliot has killed men before, with magic flowing through his fingertips, and he’s never felt powerful like this. It’s overwhelming, it’s humbling, this trust, oh god. So much trust. Quentin’s hand is still on his wrist, just holding like he doesn’t know where else to put it and doesn’t want Eliot to move, thumb rubbing little repetitive circles against the thin skin of his inner wrist.

It’s distracting, and Eliot very much needs to not be distracted, his hand carefully holding the stretch of Q’s throat. “Put your hands behind your head,” Eliot whispers and Quentin moans, Eliot can feel him clench down where he’s buried inside, feel how much he loves this.

Eliot pulls him up by the throat, just a little, so Quentin can work his hands under his own hair. He’s so fucking blown open, so pliant and trusting, fucking gone on it, and Eliot missed this. Nothing has ever terrified or fulfilled him more than getting to be the person who takes apart Quentin’s whole jittery self, just to love all the pieces.

“Okay?” Q asks, onces he’s settled with his hands under his head, tempting curves of his soft inner arms on display. Eliot wants to bite, which is not helping him not get distracted, especially with Q looking at Eliot for- fucking, reassurance. That he did it right.

“So okay, baby boy, you’re doing so good,” he murmurs, stroking his thumb gently against the column of Quentin’s neck. He can feel the reaction to that too, a full body shutter and the way Quentin grinds down on the cock inside him, needy and thoughtless as his eyes fall closed.

His pretty pink mouth has gone slack, open and sweet, and Eliot needs to kiss him, suddenly, desperately. He has to pull out a little bit to do it, contorting them both a little bit so he can maintain the utmost control of his hand on Quentin’s soft, vulnerable throat. Bracing his free arm over Q’s head, Eliot tips Q’s face up and kisses and kisses and kisses him, until he’s gasping.

“Please,” Q begs as soon as he has the breath too, as Eliot pulls back from him. He’s working so hard not to pull his hands free and touch, and Eliot can see it, he’s so proud of him. “Please Eliot, fuck me, please fuck me.”

And fuck. Fucking Christ almighty, how could Eliot ever say no to that?

It’s so good, it’s spine melting, so good it can’t last, not when Eliot’s barely holding it together already. Jesus, there was a time in his life when he prided himself on his stamina, prided himself on being able to fuck a boy for hours and never lose control. Maybe he’d just been– fucking numb to the world, because now he can only just hold on until Q comes, arching up under his body, under his hand, fuck. Then that’s it, he’s gone, falling over the edge, coming in Quentin’s perfect little ass in waves of overwhelming pleasure.

After, he pets Quentin’s hair off his face, pets him all over really, as he drifts– coming down, coming back to himself. When Q starts to shiver, EIiot grabs the quilt, wrapping them up in its’ familiar soft embrace. Q curls into him, tucking his face into the space in the curve of Eliot’s shoulders, clinging a little with his arm around Eliot’s waist.

“I missed you, El,” Quentin whispers, like they haven’t been sleeping side by side every night, sharing their days and their work and Quentin’s wonderful girl.

“I missed you too,” Eliot chokes, and holds him close.

Marriage



“Should we get a second bed?” Eliot had asked, to which Quentin had responded with the ridiculous constipated facial expression of someone faced with a concept they loathed. Still, having three grown adults constantly sharing one mattress seemed complicated by itself, never mind the combinations in which sex did and did not occur between those adults.

They compromised with the daybed. Three quarters of the year, the weather in Fillory was temperate enough that sleeping outside was not only possible, but kind of pleasant. Only the summer rains and the chill of the heart of winter were enough to pose any hindrance. They’d long since warded the clearing around the cottage enough to feel safe with only the rickety little door between them and the outside world, and those wards were enough security for sleeping outside, as well. Not all the time, but... occasionally.

So they bought and traded the supplies they needed to construct it, and the daybed was born into existence. It proved to be an excellent to retreat for whichever of them decided to depart the cottage for the night, Eliot and Arielle in fairly equal measure. Arielle said she liked sleeping under the stars, and Eliot, well. He was starting to see the value of private time, living in the closest of quarters with two other people.

Even Quentin occasionally took the bed outside, when insomnia or anxiety were keeping him awake. More often than not, though, Eliot followed him out into the night. It wasn’t in him anymore to leave Quentin alone with his darker thoughts, even if it meant a sleepless night talking under the stars. He trusted that if Quentin wanted to be left alone, he’d tell him.

So when he wakes up to the feeling of Quentin getting out of bed in the night, Eliot gives him the length of time necessary for bodily functions as the benefit of the doubt, then rolls his way out of bed as well. Arielle shifts in the empty space, sprawling a little, stealing the blankets and Quentin’s pillow as she settles back into sleep. He watches her fondly for a handful of heartbeats, to make sure she’s truly settled, and then takes the folded quilt off the foot of the bed and heads out into the night.

It’s lucky he grabbed it, because Quentin’s laying on top of the day-bed blanket, barefoot and in light sleep clothes and the night is cold enough that Eliot’s skin prickles just stepping out of the warmth of the cottage. Q’s laying on his back, arms and legs in an untidy sprawl like he’d collapsed down onto the daybed and stayed where he fell. Once Eliot gets close enough, it’s obvious he’s crying. Not sobbing, there’s no shake to his shoulders and his face is calm but for downward twist of his mouth, but there’s a steady stream of tears leaking out of him.

It’s what Eliot expected, and it never gets any easier to see.

“Hey,” Eliot says on a sigh as he sinks onto the daybed, opening his arms to Q, who’s already rolling in towards him. He busies himself with getting the quilt spread out over them while Quentin leaks tears onto his chest, the only sound from him the occasional clogged-nosed snuffle or whimpery breath. Then he’s left to just... hold him, and weather out the crying jag, pet Q’s loose hair and murmur assurances that he’s there. That Quentin’s not alone.

Q doesn’t pull away once he’s cried himself out, just kind of collapses like dead weight against Eliot’s chest, sniffling. Eliot takes it upon himself to push Q’s hair back off his wet face, to kiss the top of his head and murmur, “What’s wrong, darling?”

Half the time Q can’t even answer that question, because the answer is ‘everything’ or ‘I can’t even tell’ but Eliot always asks. Now Q just... snorts, darkly, digs his forehead a little into Eliot’s collarbones. “Everything’s just– pointless.”

They’ve been fighting this darkness for long enough that Eliot doesn’t flinch at that, anymore. It still hurts to hear, and he still can’t stop the instinctual rush of... fear, and self-doubt that says if he were a better friend, a better partner to Q, maybe he wouldn’t feel like this. But they’ve been doing these battles for over 5 years now, and Eliot knows better.

“You’re so loved, Q,” Eliot whispers into his hair, and it’s not quite what he should– But it’s dark and quiet out here in the Fillorian night, and Eliot’s always found honesty easiest when comforting other people. So he rubs Q’s back and pets his fingers through Q’s hair, which is soft but a little bit rough with grease. It must have been a few days since he’d had a bath, which Eliot had missed. He was pretty good at catching early warning signs, but sometimes he misses things. Still, Q’s clinging to him, and talking to him, which means things aren’t as bad as they could be. Rocking them both, a little, he repeats, “You’re so, so loved.”

“Yeah,” Quentin chokes, and he sounds derisive, dismissive. “Until you both figure out what a miserable sad sack of shit I really am.”

“I know exactly who you are,” Eliot says, and it’s maybe a little sharper than it should have been but he hates listening to Q talk like this. “I know you’re an bitchy, bratty, dork with the sweetest soul I’ve ever met. And we both know Arielle is way smarter than me, so if you think you’ve pulled something over on her, think again, Coldwater.”

Q doesn’t have a response to that, not something he’ll say out loud anyway, so Eliot just sighs and tugs him in closer. Their legs tangle under the quilt, and like this Q’s head is pillowed on Eliot’s bicep, which probably means it’s gonna go tingly and numb in a couple hours. He really doesn’t care, will aggressively cuddle the emptiness out of Q any day of the week.

Eliot doesn’t really expect Q to sleep, but against all odds, he does. He’s clingy in his unconsciousness, worming his hands under Eliot’s loose sleep clothes, skin hungry and needy. Not that Eliot’s complaining, really, there are worse things in the world than Q’s hand on the center of his back, Q’s dear face against the open front of his shirt.

Dozing is the best Eliot manages, too alert to every movement from Quentin to fall into a deep sleep. He wakes up when the cottage door opens and Arielle emerges, dressed for the day. In the watery light of early sunrise, she looks lovely and ethereal, like she could only exist in a place like Fillory. Her footsteps are muffled by the soft ground as she walks over to them, and Q doesn’t wake. His sleeping breath is long and slow against Eliot’s chest, clinging to him.

“Bad night?” Arielle asks, quiet, perching to sit on the end of the daybed by their feet.

“Yeah,” Eliot agrees, and wonders if he should ask her to stay today. It’s not harvest season, someone else could take her route, and if there were two of them here then...

Arielle’s looking sadly at Quentin, then her eyes flick over to Eliot. She’d stay if he asked, he knows she would, but she’s worked so hard to keep her hold of her own life, her place in her business even as she integrates into their quest. She’d stay and feel like she’s failing on multiple levels, letting her orchard down by being here and letting them down by wanting to be gone. And well. One thing the mosaic was definitely good for was teaching you to fail with grace.

“We’ll be fine,” Eliot reassures her, nudging her leg a little with his foot. “I’ll get him down to the river to get clean, and make sure he eats. Then it’s just... the mosaic. He can pass me tiles.”

She hums, looking down at her hands, and Eliot can tell she’s relieved he’s giving her an out, and resentful that she wants to take it. “You’re better at this than me.”

“I have more practice,” he says, softly, and he can’t help but brush his fingers gently through Quentin’s hair. “Also I’m my special own brand of fucked up, which makes it– Easier to understand him, maybe.”

“It’s more than that. My mother would have said you have a winter kind of love.”

Quentin’s starting to stir, a little, from all the conversation around him. He snuffles a little, rubbing his face against Eliot’s bare collarbones, and they fall silent until he settles again. Eliot feels... desperately protective, of the man in his arms, and achingly fond of the girl at the foot of their bed. “I’ve never heard that expression before. What’s it mean?”

“It’s the kind of love that... sustains. Holds through the hard times.” For the first time, there’s something wistful, something sad in her face, looking at them. Distant and a little disconnected, like maybe she’s realizing there’s a part of what they have that she will never be able to touch. “I’ve never been good at loving like that.”

“I think you are,” Eliot says, feeling– panicked, weirdly. A year ago, longer, before he had as much of Q as she did and sharing his life with her had become commonplace, this might have have felt like a victory. Something he could give Q that she couldn’t, hadn’t he been wanting that, in the dark parts of himself that he made himself look at and then ignore?

He doesn’t want that. He emphatically doesn’t want her thinking that.

Arielle smiles, and it looks more like a grimace. “It’s kind of you, but– I’ve always been too independent to be someone’s whole world. I’m... glad he has you. That’s what I’m trying to say.”

At a loss for how to respond, he watches her stand up, and gather up her basket. She stops by the head of the bed to bend down and kiss Quentin’s cheek, then Eliot’s forehead.

“Ari,” he whispers, calling out for her as she steps toward the orchard path.

“I’ll bring some fruit home by midafternoon,” she says, turning back to look at them, pulling her shawl tighter around the her shoulders. “Will you be back from the river by then?”

“Yes.”

He’ll make sure they are. She nods, waving goodbye with a little smile, and he watches her walk into the forest with a weird sense of foreboding.
__

It takes less time for Q to come out of his slump than it does for Eliot to shake the feeling of disquiet that had crept into his brain. It sits like an itch under the skin, irritating and distracting, unreachable. He finds himself watching Q and Arielle interact more closely than he has in a year, since he was on the outside of their happiness looking in.

The itch feels like fear, which should be familiar, but it has a different shape than the fear he knows.

He watches from the table near the mosaic as Arielle kiss Q goodbye, soft and light, on her way to the orchard in the morning. She says something too soft for Eliot to hear, but it makes Q nod and bump his nose against hers, which is just... adorable, frankly. It’s too much for Eliot’s weak heart to watch without feeling full to bursting. He looks down at the chalk he’s sorting, so they don’t catch him staring, smiling like a dope.

He looks up when Q comes over to him, pushing into Eliot’s side to look down at the pattern he’s been working on. Eliot wraps his arm around Q automatically, because it’s just instinct now to tuck Q’s perfect little frame against him.

“Gradients?” Quentin asks, looking over the page on the table, then quizzically up at Eliot.

“Maybe the beauty of all life is a smooth transition,” Eliot says casually, and ignores the pointed look Quentin’s giving him.

“I haven’t known that many smooth transitions in my life.”

“Yeah, well, we definitely made a vagina yesterday and that wasn’t the beauty of all life, so I’m going for something a little less literal.”

Quentin snorts, pulling away. “It was a flower!”

“Oh, Q. It was definitely a vagina.”

This earns him an eyeroll which he cheerfully ignores, while Q grabs the broom from beside the cottage door and goes to sweep the leaves off the empty mosaic. He’s been on a kick about Greek mythology recently, trying to see how much of it he remembers. So they compare notes and write stories down when he and Eliot both agree on the details. Eliot’s only really been helpful when it comes to Achilles and Patroclus, because if there’s one kind of history he fucks with, it’s the queer kind. So that particular myth in their records is probably going to be a little bit more... explicitly gay than most Earth historians would approve of, and a lot heavier on the “died of grief by your side” in the ending.

“‘I could recognize him by touch alone, by smell; I would know him blind, by the way his breaths came and his feet struck the earth. I would know him in death, at the end of the world,’” Eliot recites, watching Quentin organizing blue tiles and feels his heart beat, beat, beat.

Quentin squints up at him, a little perplexed. “I don’t remember that in The Iliad.”

“It’s not from the Iliad, it’s from The Song of Achilles. Honestly, good fiction existed outside of the Fillory books, Quentin.”

“I know!” Q protests, offended, and Eliot grins at him.

“Well, your knowledge of Greek Mythology comes from a philosophy undergraduate program and mine comes from an english lit undergrad, so mine was probably a little heavier on the modern adaptations.”

“What were you going to do with an English degree, anyway?”

“Cocaine, probably. What where you going to do with a Philosophy degree?”

“I never thought much further than grad school,” Quentin admits, coming over to take the darkest blue tiles from Eliot’s hands and head back to the mosaic. “And that was mostly because Julia was pushing me to do go. I didn’t really have any other direction besides where she was pointing me.”

Watching Q work thoughtfully, Eliot grabs the pile of tiles he’s sorting and comes over to sit cross legged on the mosaic. It’s easier to talk about them, now, Julia and Margo and the rest, than it had been the first couple years. Distance has made all of the hostility about the Beast and Reynard dull in Q’s mind, and now his recollections of Julia are just– his childhood best friend. The Jane Chatwin to his Martin from his memory.

Eliot still misses Margo so much he feels like he’s missing a limb, some days. He wonders, occasionally, what her wedding was like. Who she married. If she ever got to be happy.

“Do you ever think about asking Arielle to marry you?” he asks, and expects it when Q stutters in what he’s doing, looking up at Eliot with that deer-in-the-headlights look.

“I– Not. I mean– Maybe once or twice but not really– Did she say something–?”

Eliot huffs out a laugh and shakes his head, beginning to laying out the tiles in front of him. “No. And do you think she’d say something to me even if she was thinking about it.”

“Yes,” Quentin says frankly, bracing his hands on his upper thighs where he’s kneeling on the mosaic, giving Eliot a shrewd look. “I think the two of you talk about a lot more stuff than either of you let on to me.”

Well, that’s not– exactly incorrect. Still–

“No, she hasn’t said anything to me about it. Doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to marry you.” Silence stretches out, and Eliot looks up tentatively to see Quentin frowning down at the mosaic, laying tiles with a single minded determination. He sighs and says softly, “Come on Q, you know where this is going. It’s not like any of us are getting any younger.”

“I know, it’s just–” He starts, low and frustrated, and then cuts himself off, making a face. “You know we wouldn’t be able to fuck anymore, if I did– marry her. So I’m trying to figure out why you’re breaking up with me again.”

“I’m not,” Eliot chokes, because he did know, he did know he was basically signing up for a life of celibacy right this moment by even broaching the subject, but– but he doesn’t need sex as long as he has everything else. “I just think, if it would be good for both of you...”

“Really? So you’re just going to self-sacrifice, nobly? You, who were so resentful about being forced into monogamy years ago, you’re going to be happy to never fuck again? Because that feels like you’re trying to move back to a place where you can have an excuse to hate her.”

An angry rush of cold washes through him, and he glares at Quentin. “I have never,” Eliot says, and he sounds angry, Jesus. “I have never hated her. I have been on her team since day one. What, are you worried I’m gonna go full 2016 Beyonce on her? I’m not. I know she loves you like I love you.” His jaw snaps shut, well aware that this is maybe the closest he’s ever come to saying the words.

“Eliot,” Quentin chokes, and his voice is like sandpaper. “I hate you so much putting me in this position.”

“That’s because you think I’m asking you to choose,” Eliot says, with conviction he doesn’t quite feel. “And I’m not. You’re stuck with me forever, Coldwater, no matter if you want to be or not. She’s the one who could walk out at any moment and I–”

His voice fails him, and he can’t look at Quentin anymore. Can’t handle the knowing look that’s blooming in his eyes. Fuck you for knowing me so well, he thinks, looking down at his hands, at the opal ring Margo had given him, and Fen’s wedding ring.

“It’s really fucked up that you’re trying to get me to marry a girl because you’re scared of losing more people you love, El.”

“You love her,” he points out weakly, because that’s true. It’s so true it’s obvious from miles away, that lost puppy look Q gets on his face when he’s following Arielle with his eyes. Everyone in their village and probably the next three village over knows it. Everyone who Arielle’s ever sold a plum to knows it.

“Yeah, I do,” Quentin sighs, and he’s sagging, sinking in next to Eliot’s side on the mosaic, the perfect little weight of him. At least I’d still have this, he thinks, and it hurts less than he expects. “But if it were just her and me, it wouldn’t work.”

He sounds thoughtful, and honest, and when Eliot gathers up the remainder of his courage to look up and meet Quentin’s eyes, he’s struck by how much older Q looks. Which doesn’t make sense, really. Q’s 30 now, by every estimation they can muster, but Eliot’s been around to watch the change. It shouldn’t hit him out of nowhere.

“It could,” he deflects, and it feels like he’s peeled back some veil over his heart, some curtain covering a hidden, ugly thing.

“No. It couldn’t.” Then Q’s leaning into him, pressing a soft, sweet, gentle kiss against his mouth. One of hundreds of kisses they’ve shared, and it still makes him feel so fucking alive. “I’m not stuck with you, baby. I made this choice a long time ago.”

Fuck. Eliot loves him.

“I’m not asking you to pick,” he repeats, and Q’s face is so close to his right now that he feels like he’s going a little cross-eyed, so he closes his eyes. “I’m not even telling you that you should marry her right now, or this year, or... ever, if you don’t want too. But do it because you do or don’t want to. I’m saying that– I’m never going to ask you to choose. And I want you to know you can talk to me about it, if you are thinking about it. Because you’re still my best friend, no matter what.”

Quentin smiles, and it’s a little smile, a sad one. Eliot sways into him, pulled forward by him, because he’s magnetic north and Eliot’s stupid compass heart has never given up. They kiss again, and it’s soft and sweet, and they might still be able to have this, too. If he did– when he does marry her.

“I’ll talk to you about it,” Quentin agrees, and that’s as much confirmation as Eliot expected to get.

When Quentin draws away, turning back to his work on the mosaic, that burning itching fear under Eliot’s skin is quieter.

__

They get married in the dead of winter.

They get married in the center of the village, under the wedding arch that has been in Arielle’s family for generations. It’s an old wooden thing, hasn’t seen a wedding since her mother’s sister married, fifteen years earlier. The wood is polished and sturdy, carved with the twin heads of Ember and Umber, to call their protection on the newly wed couple.

Eliot, who’s not very fucking fond of Ember or Umber thank you very much you source-of-magic-shitty-dickweeds, tries to persuade them to let him cover the top part of the wedding arch with flowers. But Arielle puts her foot down.

“I’ll be married under the same arch as my mother, and my mother’s mother. History is important to some people, Eliot, it shows us where we come from.”

And, okay, she had a point, maybe. And she also got Eliot thinking. So much of their wedding was going to be hers, her family around them in her village, under her family’s wedding arch. What did Quentin have of his history, of his home and his culture to bring into this wedding besides well. Eliot.

And thus Eliot’s secret project began.

He requires some help, mostly from Malis, from whom he procures the main object of the project. And then it’s just... magic. Lots of magic, complicated magic. Magic that was all kind of theoretical, or an adaptation of a spell he’d heard of and half remembers. The physical parts of the project come easiest, but the transmutation is more difficult, and the illusion work leaves him stumped for days.

It would probably go faster if he could ask Quentin, because Quentin was a pretty good problem solver and decent at thinking out of the box, even if Eliot was a more powerful caster and a year further along into his training. A lot of magic required out of the box thinking, and Eliot had maybe been too high during some of his classes to be entirely sure where the box was to begin with. But it was a moot point, because Eliot couldn’t exactly ask for Quentin’s help with his own gift.

So there was some trial and error involved, and a little bit of coercing Arielle into keeping Quentin out of the cottage while he tore his hair out over atmospheric variables in illusion spells. She was an excellent partner in crime, however, and by the time day of the wedding arrives, Eliot can say honestly that he’s pretty proud of his creation.

Arielle stays with her family in the orchard the night before the wedding, because of tradition and also because Q’s a nervy fucking mess and honestly having her there was making it worse. So when the sun rises, clear and cold into the morning of their wedding day, Eliot is the only one there to help Q get ready.

Not that there is much to do, really. It’s going to be a simple wedding. As a child, Eliot had secretly dreamed of big weddings featuring a host of impossibly perfect grooms, and in reality had been married himself with about two hours forewarning to a bride he’d never met. This wedding, he hopes, will be simple in the way that made it special and memorable for years to come.

They both have new clothes, pants and jackets and sturdy boots in the face of the winter chill. Quentin keeps pacing, running his hand over his hair, and dragging it out of the neat tie Eliot had pulled it into. Eliot doesn’t ask if he’s alright, or why he’s nervous, or if he still wants to go through with it. Instead, he pulls Q down onto the sitting bench by the fire and says “I have something to give you.”

Quentin’s frazzled look fades a little, replaced by a pleased, touched little smile. “You do?”

Eliot laughs, and says. “Yeah. I don’t know how many weddings you went to on Earth, or traditions that your family might have had, but– There’s that old saying. Four things you should always have at a wedding.”

He pulls his project out of his pocket, twisting into Q’s side so they can look at it together.

“Something old,” Eliot says, holding out the pocket watch for Quentin to see, its tarnished metal glinting in the sunlight streaming through the window. It was burnished, and lived up to its name, dented on the surface but still ticking away. The back of it was engraved with twin ram heads, and it’s probably meant to be the gods again, but it just makes Eliot think of Quentin’s books, and the clock in the Physical Kids Cottage.

“Something new,” He continues, and pops open the watch, drawing his fingers in a tut across the surface of it so the glass goes opaque, then begins to unfurl up from the surface. The twisted glass creates a miniature model of an airplane, sputter across the face of the clock, before the enchantment runs its course.

“Something borrowed,” he repeats, and another careful tut turns glass of the clock face transparent again and the whole thing expands and opens up, locket-like. Inside rests the tie-pin Eliot had been wearing when they stepped through the clock into Fillory, the only piece of that life they had left.

“Something blue,” he finishes, and carefully closes the whole watch, dragging his fingers around it resting in his palm. The illusion springs to life, a complicated, semi transparent little revolving depiction of the Earth, complete with drifting white clouds across blue oceans.

“Eliot,” Quentin gasps, and he sounds– Overwhelmed, he sounds breathless, reaching out to pass his fingers through the illusion spell, the tiny revolving planet in Eliot’s hand. “How did you–? That’s beautiful magic, El, oh my god. You did this for me?”

“Yeah,” Eliot says, pleased, and pass his fingers over the watch to dispel the illusion. “It’s permanently enchanted, I can show you the tuts to trigger the different parts of the spell later, but–” He holds the watch out to Q, palm up.

Quentin takes it, turning it over in his hands to brush his thumb over the rams’ heads on the back. “Thank you, sweetheart,” he says, seriously, and looks up to meet Eliot’s gaze. “Thank you for doing this. For giving me this.”

Anything, Eliot thinks, anything for you. But he just nods, and when Q pushes up for a kiss, gives it to him.

So Quentin and Arielle get married in the village center, in the dead of winter, and Eliot stands before them, a strip of white ribbon in his hands. Arielle is beautiful, radiant, in a pale blue dress which gives color to her grey eyes, hair braided with winter poppies. Quentin can’t stop staring at her, like like if he takes his eyes off of her for even a moment, she might cease to exist.

Standing under the wedding arch, Quentin and Arielle vow to love and protect, to listen and cherish, to have and to hold. With each vow, Eliot wraps the ribbon around their joined hands, tying them and their lives together for the rest of their days. He watches them kiss in the bright winter sun, and feels indescribably connected, undeniably whole.

The village around them cheers, whoops and cat-calls coming from the younger members of the crowd, and Eliot smiles when Quentin catches his eye. Celebration comes after, food and drink contributed by their village, and it’s not long before Q and Arielle are swept away for a wedding dance, which Quentin emphatically did not know was going to happen and was not prepared for. Privately, Eliot suspects Arielle did that on purpose, so he wouldn’t have a chance to refuse to do it, which was just... clever, clever girl.

Eliot watches them dance together and thinks of Margo. He thinks of Julia. Of Alice and Fen. Their lives before had been shaped by the women in them, for good or ill. Now there’s one more, tied in with them, one more by their side for the rest of their lives. Love is patient, love is kind, he thinks, as Arielle gamely steers Quentin through the steps of a dance he doesn’t know, leading backwards. What a wonderful woman. Drawn on, he makes his way towards them though the crowd.

“Can I steal your wife for a dance?” He asks, as the song ends, watches Quentin light up with joy at the word ‘wife’ and looks at Arielle, good boy, seeing if she wants to be stolen. She just smiles and kisses him once, soft. Quentin steps away, holding her hand out to Eliot, the new shiny band on her finger in flashing in the torch light. “Only if I can steal you for one after.”

“Sounds fair,” Eliot agrees, like he would ever pass up a chance to have Q in his arms.

On Earth, a move like this would have been an excuse to talk to Arielle, private in the anonymity of the crowd. On Fillory, the dancing is too lively, to energic, spinning around the town square through their neighbors, Arielle’s dress flowing out behind her. Really, he just wanted an excuse to be a part of their happiness, to have a moment of it. And he is a better dancer than Q, so if she gets to dance a little more freely, all the better for her.

The song comes to an end, and they spin to a stop, laughter condensing on the chilly air between them. Eliot takes her hands, hold them firmly between his own, and meets her eyes. “May you have a love that holds you through the coldest winter,” he says sincerely, and then bows to her, deep and low like he’d bowed to Margo on the night of his own wedding.

He promised Quentin a dance after that, but suddenly the crush of the crowd around them feels oppressive, people who’ve known Arielle since she was born coming up to congratulate her on the rest of her life. So he kisses her cheek sweetly and slips away, out of the crowd to the edge of the square. Someone opened a case of carrot wine, shitty and weak, all they could get in the winter, and Eliot accepts a cup of it, heading out to find a place to perch and watch the wedding guests all celebrate. There’s a low wall outside of Malis’s place, and that’s good enough, even if the stones are cold under him when he settles on it.

It takes maybe ten minutes, about two songs and dances in the celebrating crowd, for Quentin to peel away and come find him. It’s easy, Eliot’s not trying to hide, just– taking a breath, but close enough that once Q starts looking, he finds Eliot within moments.

“Hey, you were supposed to dance with me after,” Quentin complains, coming to sit on the wall next to Eliot. He has to jump to get up on it, and he stumbles a little, nearly fucking the entire operation and landing on his face in the chilly, slushy mud. Eliot pats his back once he’s settled, which earns himself a glare and a middle finger. “That was the deal, and you skipped out.”

“I needed a break,” Eliot deflects, and fuck, he wishes he had a cigarette, just to have something to do with his hands, to have an excuse to step aside from the crowd. As it is, all he’s got to hold on to is the cup of shitty mid-winter carrot wine, and that’s just less aesthetically pleasing than a rakish lit cigarette.

“Are you alright?” Quentin asks, and Eliot knows what he’s thinking, that Eliot’s distance and slipping composure are because of him or Arielle or the wedding, and it’s not. Quentin’s hand falls onto Eliot’s knee, squeezing companionably, and Eliot sighs. Slumps into his side, leans his weight against Quentin’s solid little frame.

“I miss my Bambi, Q,” Eliot whispers, and it clogs in his throat. Hot tears prick his eyes, and he wraps his arms around himself. “I’m never going to see her again. And I hate that.”

“Hey.” Q twists, reaching up to tug Eliot into a hug, arms around each other on this chilly stone a wall. “You’ll see her again when we finish the puzzle.”

“If you really believed that, you would never have married Arielle,” Eliot says into Quentin’s shoulder, and it’s a moment of complete honesty between them, maybe the first time they’ve ever addressed this. “This is it for us now, Q. And if somehow– if we get the key, someday, so much time will have passed. She won’t be my Bambi anymore.”

“I’m sorry,” Quentin whispers, and he pulls back, eyes wide and intense. “I’m sorry Eliot, I know how much she means to you.”

Eliot nods, and pulls away, looking back out into the winter sunlight filtering into the village square. “I hope she’s happy. I hope she found a way to be happy.”

Silence stretches out, fragile like a thin layer of ice, and Eliot can feel the question building Quentin’s mind, growing between them until he can’t hold it in anymore. “Are you? Happy, I mean. Are you happy?” he asks, and he’s tripping over himself in that nervy-Quentin way, like if he talks through the awkwardness he can distract Eliot from it.

Eliot smiles, reaches over to take Quentin’s left hand, bring it up to his mouth to kiss the shiny ring on his finger. It’s hard to say because it’s true, but honesty is always easiest for Eliot when he’s comforting other people. “Yeah, baby. I am.”

“Okay,” Q murmurs, and his weight sways into Eliot’s side again, steady, solid.

Eliot lets it brace him, just for a moment, and then shakes Quentin’s hand where he’s holding it. “C’mon,” he prompts, hoping off the wall. “I owe you a dance. Think you can get off the wall without eating shit?”

“Fuck you,” Quentin says cheerfully, and hops down, impressively not eating shit at all in the process. “Ha! Now you have to dance with me.”

“How will I survive,” Eliot says sarcastically, twisting their fingers together.

They walk back into the crowd together, hand in hand, stepping back into the celebration. Arielle catches his eye, from where she’s been pinned by a cluster of older women, undoubtedly giving her a bunch of unsolicited advice. Her expression is one of a trapped animal, and he grins at her, winking, gets an eye roll for his trouble.

Laughing, he turns back to Q and tugs him into a dance.

__

“Did you and Quentin have a fight?”

Eliot looks up from where he’s chopping squash for roasting, over to Arielle. She’s been working in comfortable silence at his side for a little while now, skinning and deboning fish from the river. In almost every way, Arielle is better at cooking meat than either Q or Eliot himself. Her movements are practiced, scraping the fish clean, and she glances up at him, meeting his puzzled gaze.

“...I don't think so? I mean, he took my good vest the other day. I kind of yelled at him for that, but he definitely knew it was coming.”

“That’s not what I mean,” she says, waving her knife dismissively, and Eliot leans away, just a little, just to make sure he’s out of range. “I appreciate you giving us space after the wedding, really, it was very kind. But it's been a while since you spent a night with him. I can sleep outside tonight, if you’d like.”

There’s a heartbeat, a moment of confusion, like he’s missed a step going down stairs, that stomach swooping moment of fuck, what’s happening as Eliot processes her words. “We– can’t. You’re married, he can’t with me.”

“Why not?” She asks, brow furrowed. “I don’t mind, it’s not like that’s changed.”

“No, I mean, he can’t. Can he? Isn’t there like... fidelity magic, in Fillorian weddings?”

Arielle persess her lips, giving him that particular look which means he’s being extra moronic. “Eliot, you're also married to a Fillorian woman. Have you been having trouble having sex in the last four years?”

Eliot blinks. “Well, no. But I assumed that as because she's not, you know. Born yet. It was definitely an issue at one point.”

“You were also a King, once. You’re not anymore,” she says, gently, and he appreciates her being gentle with him because he feels the entire world shifting on its axis. Again. “Fidelity magic makes a lot of sense when lines of succession are involved, but what use would I have for that? That was never a part of our wedding. Eliot... you should know that. You tied our hands.”

Which... definitely made sense. He probably should have figured that out himself, that he definitely didn’t cast anything during their wedding. “Does Q know?” He asks weakly, and Arielle sighs.

“Probably not. If either of you would talk to me about these things, he might. This planet is my home, you know. I think I know it better some books that aren’t even written yet,” she stabs viciously into the fish, and Eliot’s about to speak when she looks up at him, eyes flashing. “Why did you let him marry me if you thought that– That you’d be giving that up?”

“Okay, well, first of all, ‘let him’ implies that it would have been my place to stop him if I even wanted too, and it isn’t.”

It is,” Arielle says, her voice shake, and she puts down the knife, flexing her hands like she’d been holding it to tightly. “I know exactly what I stepped into, I know you were here first. I know I’m not a part of your quest–”

“That’s why,” Eliot cuts her off, heart in his throat, and he wants to reach out to her but has no idea how to touch her right now. “I did it because I didn’t want you feeling like this.”

“What–”

“No, listen to me, Arielle.” He steps forward, and reaches up to brush a strand of her wild orange hair back behind her ear, the same way he would’ve touched Margo, in the life he had before. “This is your home. He is your husband. I know he loves me, and that’s all I needed, honestly. Darling, I’m not going to pretend I don’t miss having that with him, or that I don’t want it back, but I need to you feel like you have a place here more.”

Her expression goes soft and she sighs, her hand coming up to hold his wrist. Her fingers are slender but strong, rough with a lifetime of work. “You told me once you were trying to become a better man, be a better husband to your wife?” He nods, mutely, looks into her lovely grey eyes and thinks of Fen, of the baby they never raised. “I think you succeeded, honey.”

There’s a moment that stretches between them, where he doesn’t know how to tell her how much that means to him, to have her say that, to have her say that. Then she’s going up on her toes, brushing a kiss against his cheek. She smells like rosemary and peach blossoms, soft and feminine, and when she steps away she’s all composure again. Bright and strong, this clever witty girl.

“I’ll take the daybed tonight,” She says lightly, going back to her fish, eyes twinkling. “You get to start your evening explaining this mess to Quentin.”

Which just leaves him keyed up all through dinner, honestly, practical vibrating in his seat while Arielle tries not to laugh at him.

“You’re acting weird,” Quentin accuses, side-eying him, and Arielle does laugh then, and kicks Eliot under the table.

“I’m fine,” he says, glaring at her, but she just raises an eyebrow, clearly an saying you did this to yourself.

She disappears out into the night later, after their dinner is all cleaned away, with a kiss to Q and a wink at Eliot, blanket wrapped around her shoulders.

“Okay, what is going on?” Quentin asks, confused, standing in the doorway of the bedroom to watch her disappear out the cottage door.

Eliot, perched on the end of the bed feeling oddly nervous, holds out his hand for Q, beckoning him over. He comes, confused but willing, easy, so easy, to stand between Eliot’s spread knees. Pulled forward, dragging magnetically onwards, Eliot slides his arms around Q’s hips, pressing his forehead to the base of his sternum.

“Baby?” Quentin asks, sliding his fingers into Eliot’s curls, which makes Eliot shiver, god. This is everything, this closeness. To feel loved in every touch. “El, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” he whispers, into the thin material of Q’s shirt, and then tips his head up to look at Quentin’s face. Make himself ask, even though nothing in his life has ever scared him more. “Do you still want me?”

“Eliot,” Quentin groans, and there’s a flash of pain in his eyes. Eliot swallows, feeling guilty but he needs to know. “You know I do. Why are you asking me this, when we can’t–

“What if we could?” He asks, and maybe he’s taking the long way around this, but he needs to know. “If we could, would you still want–”

Yes,” Quentin hisses, and he’s climbing into Eliot’s lap, straddling him so they’re eye to eye, arms around his shoulders. “Of course I would.”

“Ari said there’s no fidelity magic in your wedding vows,” he says, reaching up to take Quentin’s left arm off his shoulder, run his thumb over the back where their marriage ribbon had crossed his skin. “I tied your hands and I didn’t cast anything. I should have figured it out.”

“What are you saying?” Quentin asks breathless, and Eliot gives him a helpless smile.

“That I’m yours, if you want me. Forever.”

Eliot,” Quentin moans, and then he’s pushing forward, and his mouth is open and hot and sweet and hungry under Eliot’s. It’s deep and slick right way, and Eliot’s body knows this body, and Eliot’s mind knows this man, and he’s just– he’s just so–

Fucking.

Precious. The best, most real, most important thing Eliot’s ever had.

He collapses back on the bed, pulling Quentin with him until he’s laying on top of Eliot, pressed together from lips to chest to groin, and Arielle had been right because they are definitely getting hard. Unexpectedly, he wants to laugh, can’t hold it in as he gets one hand down on to Quentin’s ass, the other up into his hair.

“What,” Quentin asks, panting, against Eliot’s lips as laughter bubbles out of him.

“I’m just–” He shakes his head, then rubs their noses together. “I’m just happy.”

“Oh,” Quentin breathes, a little startled. Then he’s smiling, just a little. “I’m happy too.”

“Good,” Eliot murmurs, and gives Quentin’s ass a little squeeze just for good measure. Then he wraps his arms tight around Quentin and flips them, moving them a little so they’re all the way on the bed and Quentin’s underneath him.

Q, predictably a little sloppy around the edges at being manhandled, lets out a little ‘oof’ and clings to Eliot’s shoulders. “Jesus, you’re fucking good at this, how do I always forget how good you are at sex?”

Eliot snorts, inelegantly, and braces himself so he’s hovering over Q, arms on either side of his head. Quentin looks up at him, captivated, and Jesus, Eliot feels that heady rush of affection and trust and protectiveness. Carefully lowering himself down until there’s scant centimetres between their lips, he whispers “Survival instinct?” and then ducks down towards Q’s neck before Q can press up into another kiss.

Q groans, and then moans, when Eliot gets his teeth into the sensitive skin on his throat. Laughter bubbles up again, and Eliot continues his downward path, pausing to suck at Quentin’s collarbones, rucking Q’s shirt up to get at his small pink nipples.

“Clothes off, El,” Quentin pants, and he’s way too coherent, if you ask Eliot, but he also makes a decent point. Everything is so much easier without clothes.

They strip quickly, which is one good thing to be said for the loose style of Fillorian clothing in this century, and then Eliot can go right back to pining Quentin to the bed and kissing his way down Q’s fuzzy belly. Q’s cock is hard, because there’s no stupid fidelity magic, they’ve been idiots for weeks. He kisses it hello, flicking his tongue out against the head, and above him Quentin shouts, fingers scrabbling for purchase on Eliot’s shoulder and in the blankets.

The first slide into his mouth always makes him shiver a little, at the stretch of his jaw, the fuck of it. This act, more than anything else, has always felt subversive to him, felt aggressively, defiantly queer. There’s a rightness to it, a sense of looking yourself in the face and knowing exactly who you are, which has always gone along with taking a dick in his mouth. Maybe he didn’t love it the way Quentin loves it, but it still feels amazing, to have Q vulnerable and shaking in his mouth and under his hands and know I’m doing that.

“Eliot,” Quentin calls, above him, pushing at his shoulder, until Eliot pulls back, pulls off with a confused hum.

“Okay?” he asks, rubbing Quentin’s hip bones with his thumbs, and Q huffs out a breath.

“I’m great, just... come up here so I can get my mouth on you too.”

Oh.

What a clever boy.

“Here, come on, get on your side,” Eliot instructs, helping Q turn and adjusting his own position, until they’re lined up, until he can get his mouth back on Q’s cock and Q can get his mouth on him.

Everything goes hot and sweet and wet after that. In five years, somehow, they’ve barely ever done this, and it feels so good. The stretch of Q’s cock in his mouth, the smell of him, and then there’s his mouth, working Eliot with practiced ease. It’s easy, they know each other, it’s easy to relax his throat and bare down, until Q’s cock bumps the back of his throat. Dizzyingly, he feels Quentin mirror the movement, feels the tight pressure of the back of Q’s throat sweet on his own cock and oh–

Oh Jesus. He’s taking instruction.

Sweet saints alive.

How was it supposed to last, like this, when you got to demonstrate exactly how you wanted your cock sucked and have a fucking expert on your body just do it. Eliot–

Well, Eliot hasn’t had sex in weeks. He really can’t last. He pulls off, panting into Q’s hip, gripping his thigh helplessly as cascades of pleasure rush through him, coming into Q’s willing mouth.

“Sorry,” he whispers, and feels Quentin laugh, twists down to watch him lick a stripe of come off his lip. Jesus wept.

“I’m not complaining,” Q says, smug, and Eliot has to push him back onto his back, get his mouth back onto Quentin’s cock. It doesn’t take much longer to get him there, with the full focus of Eliot’s undivided attention on him. He shivers apart, Eliot’s name on his lips, fingers in Eliot’s hair.

They end up spooned together, barely fully on the bed, sweat drying tacky on their skin. Quentin was the one who pushed backwards into the curve of Eliot’s body, pulled Eliot’s arm around his waist, but he keeps twist around to kiss him, like he can’t make up his mind, wants to have his cake and eat it too.

“Q,” Eliot whispers, soothing his hand across Quentin’s naked side. “It’s okay, baby. I’m not going anywhere.”

Quentin laughs shakily, but stills nonetheless, settles in Eliot’s hold. “Promise?”

“I promise,” Eliot says, and means it.

Means it.

__

Spring comes like a wash of heat to the cottage that year, driving way the winter chill. Peach blossoms fall like snow in the orchard, coating the ground in a thick blanket of soft pink petals. Every day, Arielle comes home with them stuck in her hair and in the folds of her clothes, raining off of her in a fragrant shower.

“It’s going to be a bountiful year,” she says ruefully, brushing petals off of her sleeves. They tumble down onto the mosaic, landing on the tiles like a gentle kiss. “Everyone in the orchard is saying so. They’re talking about the spring festival already.”

Eliot grins up at her while Q gently pulls blossoms out of her hair, coming loose from it’s braid after long day’s work. “Everyone’s always talking about the next festival,” he grumbles, making a pleased little noise as his wife leans back into his arms, kisses him. “They spend all the time between festivals complaining that the last one was a disappointment, and talking about how to do better next time.”

“You’re turning crotchety in your old age, Coldwater,” Eliot teases, then kicks out a little at their feet. “Get off my pattern, bitches, you’re standing on the tail.”

“I’ve always been crotchety,” Quentin quips, while at the same Arielle asks–

“Tail of what?”

“Can’t you tell it’s a dragon?” Eliot asks, and then makes a mock offended noise when she laughs.

“Oh, not even a little.”

“You wound me,” Eliot sighs, then winks at her when she rolls her eyes, turning to head into the cottage.

Quentin moves off the mosaic, heading back to the table to collect a set of dark green tiles, and comes back, passing them down to Eliot. “You’re coming to the festival this year, right?” He asks, and Eliot smiles at him. Reaches up to catch his left hand, brushes his thumb against the ring on Q’s finger.

“Yeah,” he says, simply, then tugs a little at Q’s hand, reminds him. “I went last year too.”

“You were weird about it, though,” Quentin says, making a face, and Eliot rolls his eyes.

“I was adjusting,” he says dismissively. Q snorts, and leans down to kiss the top of Eliot’s head.

“Yeah okay. Whatever you need to tell yourself.”

The truth is, he probably had been being weird. This festival still feels to him like a Q and Ari thing, no matter how far they get away from the first one. But the lines between Q and Ari things and Q and El things and even El and Ari things are starting to blur, a little. Enough, maybe, that he can avoid feeling like a third wheel this year.

So the night of the festival, he braids Quentin’s hair, which is long enough to hang past his shoulders now. Arielle, in her pretty blue dress, watches them while she twists her own bright red hair, smiles when Eliot presses an open-mouthed kiss to the sensitive skin on the back of Quentin’s neck. She moves to intercept them as they stand, planting her hand firmly in the center of Eliot’s chest and pushing until he sits back down on the edge of the bed, startled.

“Your turn,” She says, mischief sparkling in her eye, and proceeds to spend the next 20 minutes twisting peach blossoms into his curls. He watches her, grinning a little at the concentration on her beautiful, sharp face.

“Am I presentable?” he asks, when she finally lets him up, and she squints, giving him a thorough once over.

“I suppose you’ll do,” she teases, twisting the curl falling over his forehead around her finger, letting it spring back into place.

The party gets started well before sun down, as they make their way into the village. Everyone gives and gives generously during the festivals, here in the little town that they’ve made their home, and their contribution is peach and plum pies, made with jam from their stores and what flour they had left over from the winter stock and butter traded for what work a Magician could do.

It’s been a while since they’ve been a curiosity here, since they’ve been “the questers” and not just Eliot and Quentin, Arielle’s boys. Dugal, the miller, greets Eliot with a hearty laugh and a clap to the shoulder which still makes his teeth rattle, and accepts the pies in trade for three glasses of blackberry wine.

It’s good, this year, sweet and sharp, harder to come by than carrot wine but better for a party. Eliot passes them along, raising his cup to clunk against theirs. “L'chaim. To life!”

“To life,” Quentin echoes, smiling with his eyes, and Arielle repeats it back, willing as ever to go along with their child-of-earth strangeness.

‘To life’ indeed was the theme of the festive. Spring was finally upon them, and flowers were everywhere, hanging in garlands from the buildings in the village center, on every hitching post and torch brazer. Music was flowing already, women and boys and girls and men spinning through the square. Food and wine could be found in abundance, the whole village breathing a sigh as the darkness of winter fades from the landscape.

Eliot, drawn as ever by music and revelry, lets himself get pulled away from Q and Arielle soon enough. He leaves them with a kiss, Q on his pretty sweet mouth and Arielle on her forehead, and lets himself get swept away. He dances with one of the tanner’s sons, who’s young (when did 20 start looking so young) and wide-eyed by Eliot’s presence, and then one of Malis’s daughters, who’s just had her second baby and seems grateful for the chance to let loose a little. A line dance passes Eliot down to Arielle, and he keeps her for a little while, enjoying the sound of her laughter and the delight on her face as he dances her breathless.

She gets swept way again, as the music kicks up tempo, and Eliot lets her go. He ends up dancing with Dugal, for a handful of moments, which is just hilarious, and then spins away again. Everything feels electric, so alive, and Eliot lets it consume him, this wonderful, weird little village in a fantasy world which was not so fantastical for everyday living.

The music slows again, in the ebb and flowing way of it, and Eliot squeezes the hand of the boy he’d been dancing with in thanks and slips out of the dancers. Catching his breath for a moment by a be-flowered fence post, Eliot’s eyes are drawn as ever to his own personal compass point. He watches fondly as Quentin, who seems to have collected a small following of children, repeats party trick illusion spells, sending miniature fireworks up into the sky, or blooming small flowers in his hand.

Oh my love, he thinks, your tender fucking heart is going to be the death of me.

Quentin stands up from where he’d been crouched, talking to a little girl with wavy brown hair, as Eliot approaches. “Hi,” he greets them, smiling at the little girl who he thinks is named Alyana and belongs to one of the Elrik boys. “Can I steal you friend for a minute?”

“He was gonna show me some magic,” she pouts, and Eliot laughs, gives Quentin a speculative look.

“Can you follow along? Mirror me?” He asks, and at Q’s determined nod, moves to face him.

They stand toe to toe, Quentin watching Eliot’s hands, the precise movement of tut after tut, following close enough for the cooperative spell to build between them, sparkles of electricity dancing between their fingertips. He raises his right hand and expands his finger tips, releasing the wave of energy, Quentin only seconds behind. Light, radiant and pure, cascades off their hands in a wide dome and fragments, expanding outwards into little drifting speckles of light that swirl around them like snow. Like peach blossom petals.

A smattering of applause filters out from the crowd as the spell fades, but Eliot only has eyes for Quentin, his flushed pleased face and sparkling eyes. Alyana runs off, satisfied at the display, and Eliot steps in close, looping his arm arounds Quentin’s waist.

“I miss doing magic like that,” Quentin admits as he leans into Eliot’s chest, and Eliot feels it too, the electric buzz under his skin, the way all his nerve endings feel hypersensitive. There’s special high of cooperative magic, and it’s been a really long time since he’s been high at all.

“I’ll cast with you any day, baby,” he murmurs, reeling Q in for a kiss. He can feel Q stretch up on his toes for it, and god, Eliot still loves this, loves Quentin’s perfect little frame, loves how they fit. He makes himself pull away, sooner than he’d like too, because with his skin magic-sensitive and Quentin so willing always, it would be very easy for this to get not safe for work very fast. And they are in the middle of the village square.

“Dance with me?” he asks instead, stepping backwards, sliding his hands from Quentin’s back, down his arms to catch his hands, tug him towards the dancing crowd. Quentin rolls his eyes, put upon, but lets himself be pulled.

He lets himself be lead, follows Eliot’s path and doesn’t stumble even a little once he stops thinking about it. Eliot catches his eye and holds it, leading him through the dancing crowd, spinning him through, keeping him away from collision always, keeping him close, keeping him safe. By the end he’s laughing, and Quentin doesn’t laugh enough, it’s now a personal goal of Eliot’s to make him laugh more.

Quentin pushes up for another kiss as the song ends, hot and breathless. “You make me feel,” he pants into Eliot’s mouth, “so much, always. How do you do this to me?”

“I just–” love you. Someday he’ll be brave enough to say it. “I just know you, baby.”

“You really do,” Quentin says, sighs, then glances around, as another song picks up again. “I think I’m gonna find Ari and dance one with her? Since I’m dancing now, apparently. Is that okay?”

“Of course,” Eliot promises, bring Q’s hand up to his mouth to kiss his palm, and lets him go.

The three of them drift back together by the time the festival is coming to a close. It may be spring, but the chilly nights are persisting, and they congregate by a fire brazier, pleasantly drunk and tired from dancing. Quentin’s shivering a little, and Eliot gathers him into his arms thoughtlessly, rubbing his hands along Q’s back to warm him. Arielle’s telling them about a drunken mishap she just witnessed, the tanner tipping face first into a horse trough, the bumbling idiot. Eliot laughs, rocking Quentin a little in his arms, who’s watching his wife like she hung the moons.

The general chatter of the festival quiets to a murmur as Dugal, who seems to be presiding over the festivities this year, climbs a little clumsily up onto the raised plinth in the village center where the musicians had been set up. Now, racks of brightly colored cloth are erected there, and Dugal waves at them all to get their attention.

“Well now, another festival come and gone,” he starts, and Eliot can hear Quentin groan, dropping his face onto Eliot’s collarbones. Eliot just smiles, swaying him a little, the cranky bitch. “You all know what’s coming next. All the younglings have disappeared into the night to have their fun, now it’s time for those coupled among us to have our game. C’mon up, get a cloth. Lead your husband or wife home for the summer.”

Smiling, Eliot pressed a kiss to Quentin’s hair, and lets him go, sends him up towards Dugal along with half the remaining crowd. He’s prepared to trail behind them, watch fondly as as Quentin or Arielle stumbled blindfolded back to the cottage. It comes as a surprise, then, when Q ambles up to him, still pleasantly tipsy, and says “Kneel, Eliot Waugh. Or maybe don’t actually kneel, but you’re too fucking tall and I can’t reach your face.”

“Me?” Eliot asks, startled, looking around at the rest of the villagers, as those who are coupled tie cloth around their spouses eyes. “But shouldn’t one of you–”

“You,” Quentin interrupts, smiling bright, unashamed. Behind him, his wife holds the back of his jacket, eyes twinkling with mischief.

“Don’t you trust us to guide you home?" Arielle asks, tipping her chin onto Quentin's shoulder, looking at Eliot with a fond kind of exasperation.

"I feel like saying yes is asking for the universe to laugh at me," Eliot says warily, watching Q fold the soft cloth on his hands into a blindfold. This might-- actually be the weirdest thing Eliot's been blindfolded for. Who said life stopped being interesting after 30.

They're all a little tipsy, but when he ducks his head Q ties the cloth over his eyes with the utmost care, Arielle holding Eliot’s bicep the whole time. Then Q's hands take a hold of the front to Eliot's vest, and he's pulling himself up for a soft kiss, electric in the darkness. Arielle giggles, near Eliot's ear, and then her lips are brushing his cheek just under the blindfold.

"Follow us home," Quentin whispers, then he's pulling away, and Eliot is left with darkness, the sounds of their village neighbors calling to each other ringing in the night.

He turns in the direction he thinks is towards the cottage, and waits. Trusting.

"Eliot!" Quentin calls, a few feet away, and he sounds so happy. Oh, love, so fucking happy. Eliot would follow his voice even in darkness.

He hadn’t been too far off in his guess of direction, turning to the left a bit and following Q's voice a few more feet and the another voice calls.

"Over here, silly!" Arielle's voice, painted with laughter. Eliot corrects his course, follows her.

"El!" Quentin, further ahead, then laughter and the sound of two people colliding, then a softer "Sorry, Ari."

"Eliot, tell him he doesn't have to walk backwards too," Arielle giggles, and fondness swells in his chest.

"That thing I said, about regretting this? You're not instilling confidence," he calls back to them, hears their twin laughter on the path ahead.

He follows them home. The path to the cottage is long, but with their laughter and love guiding him, it's easy to follow, to let himself feel a kind of trust he would never have believed possible. The ground goes soft under foot, as they break off of the main road, and he can hear them giggling as they calling to him, Q's ‘El’s mixing with Arielle's ‘Eliot's. There's moments where they whisper to each other, the soft sounds of kisses traded in the night, and he follows him with his heart open.

"Almost home, baby," Quentin calls, and Eliot corrects his path, towards Quentin voice.

"Now you need to find us!" calls Arielle, further away, and Eliot follows.

He reaches out, once their laughter goes stationary, reaching towards them. His fingers brush soft light cloth and a braid of fine hair thrown over a slender shoulder. Arielle.

"Hello, lovely girl," Eliot says, feeling affection swell in his chest as Arielle tucks herself into his side.

“One more,” she teases, and Eliot turns his face outward, listening.

“Come find me, sweetheart,” Quentin calls, and Eliot moves towards his voice, magnetic north, Eliot would follow him to the ends of the world.

Arielle steers him a little, with her arm around his back, which is probably cheating, but he’ll take it. Then his outstretched fingers brush the front of Quentin’s jacket, and Eliot fists his hands in the rough material, pulling Quentin in, up to him, for a sloppy, off center kiss.

“Found you,” he pants, pulling back. Arielle’s arm leaves his back, and then there’s hands working at the tie of the blindfold, letting it slip away. And then– There’s Quentin, standing in the light of the ever-burning torches, skin lit golden like it had been that first time they’d kissed on the mosaic, smiling at Eliot like he’s personally set the world spinning.

Eliot reaches for him, cups Quentin’s face in his palms, feeling awe, pure awe as his thumbs brush against Q’s dimples. I love you, he thinks, and feels no fear at all.

When Q goes up on his toes for a kiss, Eliot meets him halfway. For a few seconds, the whole world is only this, Quentin warm against him, Arielle’s presence at their side. They break apart and she’s there, sneaking in to steal her own kiss from her husband. Eliot watches them, and feels whole.

His family, here in this little home they’d built for themselves.

No, he isn’t scared at all.