Eliot un-crumpled the sheet of paper again, re-read it for the sixth time.
What kind of name was 'Quentin Coldwater' anyway? It sounded like something from a cheesy superhero show or more likely, based on the wording in the ad, someone from a fringe religious cult. Still, desperate times were definitely upon him and so, even if Eliot technically didn't meet, well, literally any of the requirements Quentin had listed... he could hopefully fake it long enough to secure whatever tiny side room Quentin was renting out so cheaply.
Eliot glanced around the coffee shop. Quentin had said in his text that he'd be wearing a dark hoodie, had shoulder-length hair, and would be reading a book. There were a lot of men in hoodies... fewer also with long hair... and there, in the corner, must be Quentin, absolutely lost to the world as he read.
A good first impression might go a long way here, so Eliot went to the counter and ordered two black coffees, picking up creamer and sweeteners on the side, and mentally prepping himself. He had to get this room. Otherwise, he wouldn't be able to afford to stay in New York without bleeding away the rest of his meager savings... and slinking back to Indiana with his tail between his legs was not an option. He had to turn on the charm, be as convincingly respectable as he could manage, and keep up the act until he was able to find a better paying job and get his own place. Easy.
Eliot leaned against the wall, studied Quentin a moment.
He remained completely absorbed in his book, something called Fillory and Further. His hair had clearly been tucked behind his ears at some point but most of it had fallen forward. He hadn't shaved that morning, judging by his stubble. Eliot suspected forgetfulness as opposed to a deliberate style choice. He had... a nice face. Strong eyebrows. The sleeves on his hoodie were pushed up to just below his elbows and his arms were hairier than Eliot would have expected.
“Quentin Coldwater?” he asked.
Quentin's hands flailed out immediately, knocking over the napkin holder. He dropped his book on the floor and glanced up at Eliot, eyes wide and startled. His eyes were... a very captivating shade of brown.
“Uh-huh?” Quentin managed as he tried to stand up and bumped – painfully – against the table. Eliot winced in sympathy. “I mean- uh. You're Eliot? Um. Waugh?” Quentin made an odd, helpless-looking hand gesture. “I wasn't- I mean. I was expecting, you, I just- I was waiting for you. I guess, I just... um. Forgot?” He held out his hand towards Eliot, then seemed to register that Eliot's hands were full and he blushed and dropped his hand and rubbed it against his jeans. “You must think I'm- I promise the apartment isn't as much of a mess as I am.”
“You're fine,” Eliot said, gently. He'd been expecting someone more... stern, maybe. Not an anxious rabbit of a boy who talked with his hands. He'd been prepared to lie to the serious-probably-religious-straight dude that the requirements had led him to believe he'd be meeting. He was less sure he could lie to an awkward blushing disaster. He placed the cups down on the table and held out his hand. Quentin took it and his handshake felt exactly like someone had coached him all about the importance of the precise firmness of his handshakes. “You were going to tell me more about the apartment?”
“Yes, I was- I've been sharing with my- my best friend, Julia, but she's-” Quentin hesitated a moment. “She's getting married next year, so she- she moved in with her fiancé. I was gonna- gonna just be there alone but she thinks- uh, I get-” Quentin's hands fluttered around as he tried to make his point. “-caught up in my own head, I guess. Julia thinks it, um, that having a roommate would be a good idea, so she wrote the-” Quentin let out a shaky breath, and that solved a couple of mysteries for Eliot right there. “-she's actually over in the other corner, checking to see if- if she thinks you're a serial killer.” Eliot didn't look, but Quentin's eyes darted over to where Julia was presumably keeping watch. “I, uh. I don't think you are,” Quentin added, in a way that was so painfully sincere that Eliot couldn't help but respond in kind.
“Thank you,” he said, then plunged forward into the truth. “Quentin, I do want this place. Badly. My financial situation is-” he laughed, a bitter edge to the sound that he couldn't quite hide. “-not that great right now. But I'm not actually... quiet or studious or, ah, particularly responsible or any of the other things Julia put on that list. Also, I stole the entire sheet of tabbed numbers from the board so that no one else could call you. So... I understand if- if that ends this discussion, but if it doesn't... I promise you, I will be the best fucking roommate in the world.”
“Oh,” Quentin said. He picked up one of the cups and took a sip and now it was Eliot's turn to be carefully studied, to be quietly examined the way Quentin had been focusing on his book earlier. After a long moment, Quentin sat back down and said, “Yeah, okay.”
And that, apparently, was that.
They talked for a few minutes about logistics and then Quentin waved over to his friend, Julia, who sat down next to him with a fond “Q!” and a kiss on the forehead that made Quentin's face scrunch up slightly. Eliot tucked the nickname away for later use; it suited Quentin. He also, regretfully, slid Quentin over into the 'probably straight' category. He knew the look of unrequited love all too well.
Quentin, it turned out, was a pleasant roommate who was under the impression that he was a terrible one. He had a tendency to ramble, sure, but his voice was soothing to listen to, enough that Eliot didn't have to care about the topic in order to keep listening.
The apartment was a bit bigger than Eliot had expected, but still fairly cramped. He couldn't blame Julia for wanting to escape to her fiancé's place, which was all floor-to-ceiling windows and modern art. Benefits of the fiancé being a trust-fund kid, Quentin had explained with a laugh.
Quentin and Julia were both business majors, which Eliot – privately in the back of his mind – regarded as a big mistake. They'd met the fiancé – James – during orientation and-
“He fell in love with Jules at first sight,” Quentin said, with a complicated set of hand gestures that Eliot had no clue how to translate.
Eliot, of course, was firmly embedded in the liberal arts side of things which, he confessed to Quentin, he was getting worried wouldn't work out in the long run. He couldn't go home – and he was desperately grateful to Quentin for never pushing him on why – but the city was... well, fucking expensive.
“You can stay here as long as you need,” Quentin told him, earnestly, when they were half-way through a decent bottle of red. “I- you're good company.” Then, more shyly, “I'm never lonely when you're around.”
That was the first time Eliot almost kissed Quentin.
It was later that year when Eliot finally got to see why Quentin acted like he was the bad roommate – as September rolled into October, it was harder and harder to convince Quentin to wake up and eat breakfast and head off to class. He didn't want to eat or shower or even go see Julia. All he seemed to want was to bury himself in his bedroom and never leave.
“Do you think it would help-” Eliot asked the clump of blankets that was Quentin today. “-if you were actually taking classes for something you enjoyed, or would it still be this bad?” There was a movement in the bundle that suggested a shrug.
But after a couple more weeks, Quentin dragged himself to his college counselor and got a referral for a therapist.
“I just hate the idea that it never goes away,” Quentin said later. “That it's always lurking in the background, waiting to find me again.”
During everything else, Eliot did manage to host the occasional party where he had the occasional hook-up. Quentin had said, at the start of everything, that Julia's list had been a calculated attempt on her part to weed out the most shady of the potential people searching for rooms. Quentin didn't actually care whether or not Eliot was quiet or studious as long as Eliot didn't mind Quentin hiding in his tiny bedroom during any parties Eliot might want to throw.
So, when Eliot invited people over, Quentin would quietly weave his way through the crush of people and disappear into his room for the night. He never showed any interest in the girls or boys that filled up the rooms and never brought anyone back to the apartment. But Eliot wasn't sure if he was still hung up on Julia, either, as the pained looks had faded considerably over the last few months.
Life settled into something of a comfortable routine, until it was time for Julia and James to get married...
But instead Julia was sitting on their couch, in a wedding dress, crying her eyes out onto Quentin's shoulder, sobbing about how she couldn't marry James after all.
“How long have you felt this way?” Eliot asked, ready with a glass of whiskey when she seemed ready for it. “It doesn't seem like this is a new problem.”
And Julia wiped off her face and took the drink and downed it, sagging into the couch next to Quentin afterwards.
“I don't know,” she said. “Months. It's built up slowly over the last few months. I just feel- I feel like I'm marrying him because- because it fits my parents' plan for me. Just like the stupid business degree. But this is- it's the rest of my life. How can I stand up there and promise him forever if I feel this trapped by the idea?”
“Do you want to keep dating him, even if you don't get married?” Quentin asked, rubbing her back. And Julia sighed, looked torn for a long moment, then finally shook her head 'no'.
So Julia moved back into the apartment and, for the first few days, she slept in Quentin's bed while Quentin slept on the couch. Any arguments from Eliot that he should be the one on the couch had been met with that mulish determination that Quentin showed every once in a while, as he pointed out that he was a lot shorter than Eliot, whose legs would dangle off the end of the couch if he even tried sleeping there.
After about a week, Julia replaced the regular couch with a fold-out, and took over the main room, letting Quentin go back to his own bed. Having Julia there all the time was fine, it really was, but Eliot couldn't help but wonder.
About two months into their new living arrangement, Eliot asked Quentin, as casually as he could manage, “So, Q, do you think you'll ask Julia out? Now that she's single.”
Quentin lowered his book – one of those Ice and Fire books, which Quentin complained about endlessly but still kept reading – and, sounding baffled, responded, “Why would I ask out Jules?”
“Well, I mean. You had a big crush on her back when I first met you,” Eliot said, tapping his hand on Quentin's ankle where it rested in his lap. “I could tell.”
Quentin stared at him. Long enough that it felt a little uncomfortable.
“I guess that's a no,” Eliot said, feeling relieved for reasons he wasn't prepared to explore at this time. “Sorry for interrupting. Get back to your hate-reading.”
“I had a crush on Julia back in high school,” Quentin said, and he was putting a bookmark in between the pages and placing his book carefully on the coffee table. “Um. I guess I still felt that way until recently? But I haven't been pining over Julia for a while. Months. More than a year.” Quentin settled back, leaning against the arm of the couch, giving Eliot a look that reminded him of that careful assessment Quentin had given Eliot after he'd confessed to sabotaging anyone else's chances at snagging his roommate spot. “I actually- uh. Have feelings for someone else.”
“You do?” Eliot asked, and his mind raced, trying to figure out who else Quentin ever even talked about. “Is she in one of your classes?”
“No, not in any of my classes,” Quentin said, then out of nowhere, he added, “I walked in on you and Robbie a month ago. You were giving him a blowjob?”
“Who's Robbie?” Eliot asked. Was that who Quentin had a crush on? Had Eliot screwed someone Quentin liked? Did Quentin like guys?
Quentin stared at Eliot for another long moment, then absolutely collapsed in helpless laughter.
“I'm just trying to help,” Eliot said, his pride feeling a little stung. “I want you to be happy.”
“You make me happy,” Quentin said, in a tone that implied you great big dummy. “I have feelings for you, El.”
“Oh,” Eliot said. “Well. That's-”
Words didn't seem adequate, so Eliot tugged on Quentin's legs, pulled Q into his lap.
“Hey there,” Quentin said, with a smile that creased up those lines at the corners of his eyes.
“Hey,” Eliot said back, feeling breathless.
“This friendship thing we've been working on has been- pretty great,” Quentin told him, seriously. “But if you wanted- wanted to maybe make it a sex thing too or even, like, a romance thing. That would be- you know. I think it would work out okay. If we tried.”
“Yeah,” Eliot agreed, and he leaned in and tested out a soft kiss, only for a few seconds, just to feel Quentin's lips under his. “Yeah, let's give it a try.”