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“So,” says Eliot Waugh, internationally famous actor, subject of many, many of Quentin’s mortifying fantasies, and number three on Vogue’s Best Dressed Men of 2019. “You come here often?”

“Um,” Quentin says, “we’re in a, uh, supply closet.”

“I meant the studio.” Eliot’s voice is amused. Quentin wants to dig up a hole and just, like, bury himself in there, and never come out; at least it’s too dark for Eliot to see the pink spreading across his cheeks. At least it’s too dark for Quentin to have to look at Eliot, who’s already squeezed in next to him, a solid, warm weight against Quentin, shoulders knocking together. Eliot’s long, long legs are tucked up to his chest, hand outstretched on the floor of the closet a fucking minuscule distance away from Quentin. Quentin’s practically become the wall in his attempts to keep some space between them.

Jesus, Quentin’s palms are sweaty, and Eliot is saying – “Although I do apologize for the supply closet part.”

It was Eliot’s fault they were here – Quentin had been looking all over the place for the bathroom, regretting letting Julia convince him into coming to the studio, and wondering vaguely why he kept hearing people scream He’s over there! when Eliot fucking Waugh ran into Quentin.

First: he smiled crookedly, charmingly, and Quentin’s knees went all weak or something. Second: he said, “Sorry about this.” Third: he launched them both into the nearest door before Quentin could even stammer out a sentence. Or, okay, he actually, probably would’ve just been stammering. Eliot Waugh is even better-looking in real life than on the cover of Julia’s magazines, perfectly tousled curls and a perfectly put-together outfit. Eliot wasn’t even supposed to be here. Quentin was prepared to see other famous people, not him.

The nearest door turned out to be an extremely cramped supply closet, and now Quentin has Eliot Waugh pressed close to his side and his elbow stuck in a mop bucket.

“I love my fans,” Eliot continues, like he needs to explain himself to Quentin, a literal nobody, “but they’re kind of crazy, and I just needed to get away – I’m sorry you got caught in the crossfire.”

“It’s okay.” Quentin’s not a total idiot. He can connect the dots. People are screaming, Eliot is running, Eliot has to hide, Eliot is a world-famous celebrity, Quentin will never see him again after this encounter and will have to hear Jules mock him mercilessly once he inevitably starts moping.

“I’ve never seen you here before,” Eliot says, shifting a little and toppling over a broom.

“Oh,” Quentin says awkwardly, “I’m – not an actor.”

“No?” He can practically hear the smile in Eliot’s voice. “What are you then?”

“I’m.” Quentin swallows. It’s not particularly impressive, but. “A writer.”

“Cute,” Eliot says. Then, before Quentin can die of embarrassment, presses on: “What’s your name?”

Is this an interrogation, thinks Quentin wildly.

“Quentin,” he tells the door in front of him. “Coldwater.”

“Well, that’s unfortunate,” Eliot says. “I’m Eliot.”

“Yeah, um, I know.”

Eliot grins. “Always nice to meet a fan, they’ve got good taste. Wait, Quentin Coldwater, like. The author of The Tale of the Seven Keys, the book Bambi’s movie is based on! That’s incredible.”

“Bambi?” Quentin asks, ignoring the flutter in his chest at the thought of Eliot knowing who he is, and thinking it’s incredible.

“Margo,” supplies Eliot. Margo Hanson, incredibly beautiful, incredibly dangerous, best friends with Eliot. Quentin hasn’t met her yet, and he’s a little scared to. “Cast in the role of – ”

“Summer,” Quentin finishes, a little fond. It’s just that Summer’s one of his favorite characters, mean with a heart of gold buried deep, deep, deep down.

“Yes!” Eliot says delightedly. “I’m here for her, actually, but somehow word got out and the fans got in – ”

The fans. Who are probably gone already. Hasn’t Eliot realized?

“I read the Wiki of your book,” says Eliot. “Not the actual book. Sorry. I can’t read. It was good.”

“Really?” Quentin looks down, trying to will his goofy smile away.

“Inspired by Fillory & Further, yeah? Margo loves those books and yours – ”

The supply closet door swings open to reveal Margo Hanson herself, hair shiny and straightened, hanging down past her shoulders. Quentin’s mouth falls open a little. He blinks, trying to get adjusted to the light. Margo’s heels click-click-click-click on the floor; her arms are crossed and makeup perfectly intact and she is really, really, really pretty, thinks Quentin.

“This looks cozy,” Margo drawls out . “I’ve been looking all over for you, El. Your Find My Phone app said you were in here. Thought you needed rescuing. Clearly, I was wrong.”

“Shooting ended early?” Eliot says, instead of addressing any of that. He pulls himself up gracefully and extends a hand out to Quentin. Quentin takes it, heart going a million miles per hour. Eliot’s voice is easy, warm, when he talks to Margo. He’s dropped Quentin’s hand. Quentin feels a strange sort of loss.

Margo gets a dark look on her face. “Fucking Alice Quinn – ”

Quentin starts a little. He knows, of course, that Alice is playing Summer’s love interest Olivia, and he knows that he’s going to have to talk to her, interact with her, but somehow hearing her name in person is – different.

Eliot is rolling his eyes. “Please can you not talk about your blood feud with Alice for a minute, we have a guest.”

“I noticed,” Margo says, as Quentin trips over another mop bucket and outside into the hallway.

“This is Quentin,” Eliot announces, “the writer.”

“Oh,” Margo says, sounding interested this time, giving Quentin a once-over.

Quentin tucks a strand of his hair behind his ear. He should say something. He does not say something.

“Shooting isn’t actually over,” Margo says grudgingly, “I took a break. I needed to vent, but you abandoned me to flirt, I guess.”

“Oh, no – ” Quentin says hastily.

“I am truly sorry, Bambi,” Eliot says, sighing, and bringing Margo in for a hug. He presses a kiss to her hair. “Alright. Let’s go to your dressing room, you need to retouch your makeup anyways – oh, Q.”

Quentin looks up; he thinks, Q? His dad and Julia call him Q, but apparently now internationally famous actor Eliot Waugh does as well. It shouldn’t make Quentin feel warm inside, but it does.

“You forgot to give me your phone number,” Eliot says with a disarming smile, and Quentin is so dumbfounded he passes his phone to Eliot without saying a word.

────────────

Quentin has never been the biggest fan of summer, of the girls with their exposed calves and the boys with their sleeves rolled up past their elbows, of the sweat, and sickly-hot weather. People like Quentin are meant for fall or winter; he’s never been comfortable without layers and layers of clothing. But the summer sun has always made him feel alive, like the Fillory books did, made him feel like he was real this was all really happening. It was okay to be alive, in the sun. And he did like the way everyone shined a little brighter, the way Julia’s eyes looked golden and his shifts at the bookstore were shorter.

Eliot Waugh, it turns out, loves summer. It’s what he’s currently texting Quentin about, and no, Quentin can’t believe that part either.

Eliot had saved his number in Quentin’s phone (as Eliot with a winky face, making Quentin feel some sort of way) and he’d given Quentin his phone (Quentin had saved his number as Quentin Coldwater.) But he hadn’t seriously expected Eliot to text Quentin. He thought maybe it was some sort of courtesy thing, getting Quentin’s number, or maybe because he was interested in the movie or Quentin’s book or something. But he got the first text at night, on the comfortable couch they could afford because of Julia’s raised salary. He was watching a rerun of the Harry Potter movies with Julia, except she had fallen asleep in the middle of a Quidditch game. So no one was there to see Quentin incredulously check his phone and fight a losing battle with his mouth, with the way it was tilting up, up, up.

A picture of Harry Styles in 2015 and the following text: who did it better, u or him? Thinking face emoji.

Quentin had snorted on reflex, wondered if maybe Eliot had some other male friend with long brown hair he’d meant to text instead of Quentin. He spent ten minutes trying to think of a reply, before settling on a Definitely Harry Styles. Then he panicked. Maybe that was the wrong answer. Maybe it was too lame. Maybe Eliot hadn’t meant for him to reply at all.

Eliot sent back a heart-eyes emoji, a scissors emoji, and an emoji of someone blowing their nose or something?

Quentin wasn’t sure why it made him smile so much, especially when it didn’t really make that much sense.

Eliot kept texting him, emojis and gifs and 3 AM  rantsabout Margo and opinions on his outfits, over the course of the next week. Quentin kept replying, and pretty soon he was texting Eliot without Eliot texting him first, long rambles that he regretted as soon as he sent. But Eliot responded, always. It was – ridiculous. Surreal. Eliot was famous, had everything he could ever dream for, could talk to anyone in the world. And he was talking to Quentin.

He thought about telling Julia. He needed to tell Julia. Before she figured it out herself, anyway. He needed her advice, because he was a useless mess without her. But it felt private, something special, so he didn’t. He kept those texts close to his heart, tried not to think too hard about why Eliot was bothering.

“Okay, who the fuck are you texting?” Julia says, like she’s been holding it in forever. They’re stretched out on her bed, Julia alternating between flipping through her script and texting someone herself on her phone, her nose scrunched up and a frown on her face, while Quentin is failing to write and messaging Eliot.

A notification from Eliot pops up on his phone: what’s so terrible about summer?

“Who are you texting?” Quentin shoots back, and types back Nothing there’s just not anything so great about it. I like some parts.

Julia throws a pillow at him and it hits him right in the face. Quentin has always been terrible at dodgeball.

“Don’t try and hide things from me,” says Julia. “Of all people, me? Honestly, Q. You don’t even like texting people that much. You’re all happy. And you keep smiling this stupid smile. Are you and Alice back together?”

“No,” Quentin says. “And I do not.” Another notification: what parts? Another: and why won’t you ever come to the studio anymore? Plus ten sad face emojis. Eliot loves double-texting.

“There it is again,” Julia says. “The dumb smile.”

“Oh my God.” Quentin throws the pillow back at her. “Okay, I’m texting Eliot.”

A moment of silence. “Eliot,” Julia repeats, slowly. “Like...Eliot Waugh?”

“Yeah, Eliot Waugh.”

“So...not some other Eliot?”

“No, Jules, Eliot Waugh.”

“Super famous Eliot Waugh. Friends with Margo Eliot Waugh. Your celebrity crush Eliot Waugh – ”

“He is not,” Quentin begins hotly. “I mean, maybe a couple of years ago, but that’s not.”

Q! Oh my God,” Julia says. “Oh my God, you asshole, you’ve been holding out on me, tell me everything right now.” So Quentin does, and naturally Julia laughs at him and makes fun of him, but she also looks genuinely happy, excited. He’s glad. That he told her, glad that she’s here, next to him. Even if she throws another pillow at him for waiting this long to tell her.

“I bet he has a crush on you,” Julia informs him, and Quentin coughs so much he nearly chokes. Like, Jules literally has to come over and soothingly pat his back. She abandons her script on the other side of the bed and settles down beside him.

“You’re like. Crazy,” Quentin says.

“How many days has it even been since you met?”

Quentin looks at the bed and mumbles, “Eight.”

“Eight!” repeats Julia. “And you’re like, best friends now? This is some soulmate-level shit, Q.”

“That’s crazy,” Quentin says. “You’re crazy.”

“Is this why you’ve been avoiding going to the studio?” Julia says instead of addressing her total insanity. “You don’t want to see him, because you’re afraid everything will be weird in real life?”

Quentin sighs and covers his face with one of Julia’s pillows. She knows him too well. “Kind of. I also just don’t like going there, it’s weird, Jules. I still don’t know why the producer guy, Fogg or whatever, decided to adapt the book – ”

“Because it’s good, Q,” Julia says. “And so is the script.” She waves it around in her hand for emphasis.

“Maybe,” Quentin says doubtfully. “Plus there’s Alice, and I haven’t exactly talked to her yet. And I feel useless over there. I don’t really have anything to do.”

“You can become involved!” Julia says encouragingly.

“I helped write the script and approved the casting,” Quentin argues, “how much more involved do you want me to be?”

“I don’t know,” Julia says. “But sometimes...you keep a distance from things. And you push yourself away from people, for no reason.”

“Well I’m not doing that now,” says Quentin, even though he has a sinking feeling he is doing exactly that. He runs away, from relationships, from real life, from success and from failure. It’s what he does.

Julia frowns, and Quentin doesn’t want to feel like her pity case again, so he changes the subject. “Now tell me who you’re texting.”

“Her name’s Kady. Orloff-Diaz,” Julia says, shrugging. “She’s in a band. We’re friends. End of story.”

Quentin looks at her suspiciously until she elaborates with, “Okay, fine. It’s more like trying to text her, she’s not really. Responding. She was going to be part of the movie soundtrack, the way Eliot is – ”

“Eliot is part of the soundtrack?” Quentin echoes faintly. This movie deal, he thinks, is like one of those dreams he had when he was a pimply, depressed teenager. It’s both terrifying and exhilarating.

“Yeah,” Julia says. “You didn’t know that? He’s basically your boyfriend.”

“Friend!” corrects Quentin sharply. “A weird, hot, famous friend, but also just a friend. Okay, so Kady was going to be part of the soundtrack – ”

“But she declined at the last minute,” Julia says, “and I think it was because of me. We kind of have some history.”

The implications of this are too disturbing to even consider. “I don’t even want to know.”  

“Not that kind of history, you dumbass,” says Julia. “We became friends when I was working on that movie in New York, remember?”

“Yeah.” Quentin remembers. It is not a good time to remember. Julia had dumped James for that movie, and Quentin had been the one left to console him. Even though he’d kind of felt like Julia had abandoned him, too, and even though Quentin and James had only really been friends because of Julia. So he’d been flattered that James still wanted to hang out with him, and upset Julia wasn’t there: the last remnants of his crushes on the two of them. Hanging out with James without Julia lead to that night when they were both really drunk and made out with each other. That wasn’t one of Quentin’s proudest moments.

Julia looks a little shifty. “Well. We fell out. That’s why you never heard about it. I think she hates me.”  

“You’ll win her over,” Quentin says, sure of this.

“Maybe. I’m gonna go get something to eat.” Julia presses a kiss to his cheek and climbs off of the bed.

Once she’s disappeared out of her bedroom, Quentin grabs his phone. He’s missed several texts from Eliot in the last ten minutes.

margo wants to meet you for real. Plus an eyes emoji.

you left me. Ten sad-face emojis.

Quentin is not smiling a stupid smile, whatever Julia says, but. He can’t say he’s not all happy.

────────────

Eliot 😜

 

May 10, 2019, 12:24 PM

 

There’s a book based off one of your movies here.

[Attached Image]

aw, ur at a book store that’s such a quinessental quentin thing to do

I think you meant quintessential

I work at a bookstore.

that is even better

that is the best thing i’ve heard all day

oh my god

quentin

Eliot

ok, listen to this

quentinssential

I actually don’t have anything to say to that

how about “you’re brilliant”?

Why would I lie

ur so mean

u hide behind a sweet, kind nerd persona

but ur secretly mean at heart

Am not

are too

Am not

Aren’t you supposed to be working?

aren’t YOU supposed to be working?

Point made.

i’m not at work

i’m with margo, she’s complaining about alice.

i cannot express to you how little i care, q

but u do what u gotta

Oh

Well, you sacrifice for the people you love

that’s a sentimental way of looking at it

I’m a sentimental person, I guess

nerd

────────────

“Yo, Coldwater. What’s with the phone?”

Quentin looks up at Penny warily from where he’s shelving books in the science fiction section, and yeah, checking his phone. “Why do you care?”

Penny leans against a bookshelf, cool and handsome and an extreme asshole. “Not supposed to go on your phone while working, are you?” he says, because he’s been making fun of Quentin ever since they both started working at the bookstore around the same time, and possibly he doesn’t know how to stop, or wouldn’t if he could. Quentin doesn’t even know why Penny, who definitely does not care about books at all, is working here. He’s long past trying to figure that out.

“Oh, hilarious. I text people too, you know,” Quentin mutters, casting a glance at his phone again for a notification from Eliot. He’d told Eliot he would come to the studio tomorrow and was still waiting on a reply. Logically, he knows Eliot is just busy or something, but Quentin’s brain isn’t a fan of logistics.

“What I can’t figure out,” Penny drawls, “is who would wanna talk to you. I mean, voluntarily.

“And what I can’t figure out is why you’re such a dick all the time,” Quentin snaps, taking another book out of his cart. He pauses to look at it, and. “Penny. Did you put this book here?”

Penny casts a lazy look down at the book in Quentin’s hands and stifles a snort at the title, which. Says. 101 Tips on Gay Sex For Dummies. “This is a judgement-free area, Coldwater, it’s okay.”

Quentin does his best not to explode. “This is not my book, Penny, you’re the one who put it here. I know Sunderland asked you to sort the science fiction books – ”

“And?”

“Look, just put this away in the proper section – ”

“For fuck’s sake, why – ”

“Penny, this is not a science fiction book – ”

“Oh, and you would know all about that, wouldn’t you, for you gay sex is practically science fiction – ”

“You’re the one who – I’ve literally had gay – sex – before!”

Penny starts laughing hysterically and has to clutch at the bookshelf he was leaning on for support. Quentin murmurs something unkind under his breath, embarrassed and annoyed and red-faced.

This is when Todd, another employee, pops around the corner wearing a shirt with Eliot’s face and autograph on it, and tells Quentin, “There’s someone here to see you.”

Quentin drops Penny’s stupid book on the cart, shoves his phone into his pocket, and follows Todd outside to the front area of the bookshop. Penny follows him there, to where it turns out Julia is waiting, hair pinned back prettily.

“Hey.” She smiles at him lightly. “I’ve got some time before work so I thought I’d come by and we could have a coffee. Your shift’s over in five minutes, right?”  

“Uh yeah, it is, that sounds great,” Quentin says, and suddenly notices Penny right next to him, looking at Julia.

Quentin frowns at him, but the damage is already done. Julia says, “Hi,” directed towards Penny.

“Hi,” Penny says back, less dick-ish than usual.

“Julia,” says Julia, extending out a hand. “You work with Quentin?”

Penny takes her hand, gently, like he’s a suitor or some shit (?????? thinks Quentin rapidly.) “Penny. And you could say that.”

“Ohhh,” Julia says, and Quentin knows she’s remembering his rants about the hot asshole he works with named Penny who has it out for him. “Q’s, uh. Mentioned you before.”

Penny’s mouth lifts itself up into an indolent smile. “Let me guess. All bad things.”

“Yup,” Julia says. They’re still holding hands. Why are they still holding hands?

Quentin clears his throat pointedly. “We should go.”

“Yeah.” Julia looks a little dazed. Penny is still smiling, a softer smile than Quentin is used to seeing, except for when sometimes Penny would talk to someone on the phone, but it’s been a while since Quentin’s heard him talk to whoever that was.

Oh my God. Is this what Penny looks like when he’s flirting? Is he flirting with Julia? That’s not allowed, Quentin thinks hysterically.

“Meet you outside in five?” he says to Julia.

“Sounds good,” Julia agrees, and with a parting glance at Penny (?????? goes Quentin’s mind again) leaves the shop.

“By the way,” Penny says into the resounding silence, “I’ve had gay sex that is definitely, one-hundred percent better than anything you’ve done.”

“I hate you,” Quentin says with feeling. Penny cackles, and Quentin’s phone dings with a notification from Eliot. A million different hearts sent in rapid succession. The world is suddenly a lot brighter, and Quentin goes to put away the last remaining books – including 101 Tips on Gay Sex for Dummies, in the proper section – with a wide smile on his face. Even Penny making fun of him can’t put a damper on his mood. So, yeah. Julia might have a point. But Julia was also just flirting with Penny and is trying to convince an ex-friend/girlfriend/work associate/whatever to talk to her. People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones! In Quentin’s humble opinion.

And he’s not, he tells himself sternly, going to overthink this the way he always does.

────────────

Quentin is lurking.

He doesn’t mean to. It’s not like he goes about life thinking, oh yes, I want to creepily hang back in the background while everyone else talks and goes about whatever they’re doing. He’s just not sure how to approach people. He doesn’t want to bother them, and he doesn’t want to interrupt them; hence, lurking in the shadows until someone noticed him. Not even really in a creepy way, just in a sad, invisible nerd kind of way.

So, he’s lurking in the studio where his movie, which is still unbelievable, is being produced. There are multiple cameramen – camerapeople – with their fancy cameras blocking him from anyone’s view, and he’s kind of glad, but he also kind of. Wants to see this, his book that he wrote listening to Taylor Swift and the Harry Potter soundtrack and sad indie music on repeat, his book that he slaved over. His book that made him feel like he had something worth doing or was someone worth being, that pulled him out of a creative block the size of two houses, that Julia proofread multiple times, his best friend/editor/sensitivity reader. His book as a movie, with Margo Hanson, his ex-girlfriend, and his best friend as the leads, and Eliot Waugh in the soundtrack.

Quentin Coldwater did something worth making into a movie. If he could, or needed to produce a Patronus, the memory of that would be more than enough, and it’s stronger than any self-deprecating remark his depression can throw at him.

Now if only Quentin could get the nerve to come a little closer. He can hear Margo’s same drawl from the other day, and Julia’s voice, more familiar than anything in the world. He would totally be allowed to be, like, up close and see all the action. He doesn’t really want to, is the thing, he doesn’t want to. There’s a sick sort of anxiety in his stomach thinking about going up to see his extremely personal, Fillory & Further geek out inspired book acted out, and before he knows it he’s backing away discreetly, then breaking out into a run when no one calls him back. Out the door, and tumbling into – someone’s arms.

Eliot’s arms, Quentin realizes a split second later, when Eliot says, sounding surprised, “Q?”

And that one word makes Quentin feel all soft inside.

“Sorry,” he says, carefully disentangling himself from Eliot’s warm embrace and solid shoulders and – Quentin derails his thoughts before they can go any further. “I, sorry, I didn’t mean to – are you alright?”

“I think I should be asking you that,” Eliot says, smiling with one side of his mouth. “Though we should probably stop meeting like this.”

“Sorry,” Quentin repeats, for some helpless reason. Now that he’s put a little distance between the two of them, he can see that Eliot is wearing a vest that looks identical to what he was wearing the last time Quentin saw him, the sleeves of his button-down shirt rolled up and his tie loosened. His curls are purposefully styled messily, eyes focused on Quentin. You could drown in Eliot’s eyes, thinks Quentin, and then feels a hot spike of – desire, shame, embarrassment. Whatever you wanted to call it.

It’s the first time they’ve seen each other since they first met, and it’s difficult to reconcile the glamorous Eliot of GQ model shoots and running away from screaming fans, with the Eliot who texts him at ungodly hours of the night and spells things wrong and tries to hide behind a nonchalant air but cares so very deeply about people it bleeds through even online. Eliot looking really fucking handsome is the cherry on top of the sexually frustrated cake. But Quentin, incredibly, isn’t really starstruck anymore. Maybe consistently receiving emojis morning and night for a week and a bit from someone does that.

They don’t know each other. They really don’t. At least – not yet.

“Stop apologizing,” Eliot says sternly. “Hey, were you leaving? I just got here.”

“I,” starts Quentin. “It’s a long story.”

“I would say I have nothing but time but God, that’s a cliche, wouldn’t you agree,” Eliot says. “Obviously when someone says it’s a long story they don’t want to tell you, and then there you are, saying you’ve got ‘nothing but time’, and the poor bastard has to tell you anyway. I have got time, though. This soundtrack is the only thing I’m currently working on, actually, besides photoshoots and interviews, so dull, and I come here mostly for Margo. I’m boring you, aren’t I.”

“No,” says Quentin honestly. He’s not following much of this, but he’s definitely not bored. “And I don’t mind. Telling you, I mean.” This is, actually, true, and he doesn’t know why. Talking to people about personal things, especially things like his depression, is not something Quentin generally does. But looking at Eliot, at his eyelashes fluttering and at the gentle curve of his mouth, it seems so easy to talk to him. He wants to.

“Really?” Eliot’s eyebrows draw together, like he hadn’t expected this. “Alright, come on, I’ll take you to Margo’s dressing room. There will most likely be cookies.”

So Quentin follows Eliot as he navigates through the hallways of the studio with ease, gesturing with his hands while he talks about the karaoke bar he and Margo went to last night, and how he and Margo sang One Day More from Les Mis. Quentin chimes in here and there, and somehow doesn’t feel like he’s being annoying or useless or unnecessary. It’s so natural to talk to Eliot, as if Quentin has known him for fifty years and not a week.

When they finally reach the door with MARGO HANSON written on a sign, Eliot opens the door and holds it out for Quentin, a teasing smile on his face. Quentin can’t help but smile back.

In Margo’s dressing room, there’s normal things, like a dresser with a mirror, and two chairs haphazardly placed near the dresser, and a rack of pretty costumes. What’s not normal is the picture of Alice with devil horns and a moustache, taped to the mirror. He kind of. Doesn’t really have anything to say to this. There’s hysterical laughter bubbling up in his throat, and when Eliot catches his eye, he gives in and starts laughing, and then Eliot starts laughing.

“Look,” he says between giggles, “I don’t know – what the fuck that is and I’ve tried, trust me, to get Margo to explain her totally unfounded hatred. This picture is too much, Quentin, it really is. She just won’t tell me anything, which is how I know something’s going on. And I like Alice, actually, we’re friends – what’s wrong?”

Quentin’s laughter has stopped abruptly. “Oh. It’s nothing.” Eliot would like Alice. They’re entirely different people, but they care the same, he thinks.

“Come on,” Eliot says. “We’re already having a heart-to-heart, you might as well tell me. Unless you don’t want to, obviously, I – ”

“No, it’s just,” says Quentin. “Alice and I used to be together.”

There’s a strange look on Eliot’s face. “Oh.”

Quentin and Alice had been a little doomed from the start, couldn’t have a week without ending up in a fight, had grown apart and couldn’t find each other again. He likes to think they could have, maybe, one day. It didn’t work out that way. He’d met her visiting Julia when she was shooting some pilot for a TV show that never took off, and gone to see her again and again until they exchanged numbers. Alice Quinn was a genius, at acting, at music, at mathematical equations, at getting doctorates and degrees. She could have done anything she wanted. They’d never gotten to the point where he found out why she chose acting. But they knew each other, loved each other. They really did. He would have done anything to stay together; now he thinks it’s for the best she broke up with him.

“It was a while ago,” Quentin tells Eliot. “We just haven’t talked since.” He misses her. Only, he’s not sure how to approach her now. Julia thinks he’s being ridiculous.

“Right,” Eliot says, voice odd. “You could talk to her on set.” He’s turned around, surveying the framed pictures set on the dresser attached to Margo’s mirror. Apart from Alice’s disfigured one, there are four of them, and they’re all of Margo and Eliot. Margo and Eliot making funny faces, smirking, laughing, posing like they’re models. Which they are, he guesses. They make Quentin smile. He feels like he knows Margo already, from his first brief impression of her and from Eliot’s stories over the past week. He’s sure she’s formidable and dangerous, but in these pictures she just seems like she really cares about Eliot.

He shrugs, a little confused at Eliot’s strange behaviour. “I guess.”

Eliot turns back and looks normal again, the charming, vain multimillionaire he is. Quentin must have imagined it. He’s holding out a packaged box of cookies in his hands for Quentin to take with an air of triumph.

“From one of Margo’s many, many admirers,” explains Eliot, unwrapping the box – it takes a few tries but he gets there in the end. He gestures for Quentin to take one, so Quentin does, and they’re good. Really good.

He tells Eliot as much. Eliot beams like he made the cookies personally, settling down on one of the chairs a little ways from Margo’s dresser. Quentin gingerly sits down on the other.

“So,” Eliot says, “you wanna tell me why you were running out of the studio?”

The word running sends a pang to Quentin’s chest. He’s always running, isn’t he? And the impulse to disappear from this conversation, wave it off or lie or make an excuse, is still there. But he doesn’t want to act on it. He wants to tell Eliot the truth, and there’s a first.

“I…” Quentin looks at him, takes a breath, and thinks, okay okay okay. “I have this thing. Where I feel like – life is awful and sad and it goes on forever and ever and what’s – the point. Everything gets messed up in the end. I always mess it up.” He casts a glance at Eliot from beneath his eyelashes, just to see how bored Eliot is, how maudlin and horrifying he must think this is. Eliot’s not. Any of those things. He’s stretched out lazily but looking at Quentin with intent eyes. He looks like he’s listening.

As a result Quentin presses on. “And this – this movie deal is good, it’s something good. When I, um, wrote the book, I wasn’t in a good place. That was the whole reason that I – that I started writing it, in the first place. This is something good and I’m just waiting for when something is going to mess it up, and I know nothing will but I keep thinking – and I hate it. I can’t even enjoy it. I don’t even know what they’re changing and keeping and it makes me sick to think about. Everyone keeps asking me how I feel about it and I don’t know, I’m – I’m a fucking mess. So. There it is. Sorry. It’s kind of a lot.” Especially for someone he’s only met a week prior.

Eliot is quiet for a few seconds, but he doesn’t stop looking away from Quentin. Quentin can’t quite make out the expression on his face. It’s not pity, or sympathy.

“Me too,” Eliot says.

“What?”

“I’m a fucking mess too,” Eliot says. “I never know what I’m doing. I drink too much. I smoke too much. I have one person in my life I can actually stand.”

You’re Eliot Waugh, thinks Quentin, a little unbelieving, and doesn’t say it because he knows it’s a cheap excuse, a way to get out of this conversation and make it superficial. It’s more than a bit of a relief  to know that Eliot is human too, like Quentin. “And what, it gets better?”

“No,” Eliot says, a bitter, ironic twist to his mouth. “No, Jesus. It doesn’t. But. You’re not the only one. You’re not alone.”

Something in Quentin goes a little quiet. A little settled. He holds Eliot’s gaze for a moment or two and an understanding passes through them. “Thanks,” Quentin says, softly, and hopes Eliot can understand how much he means it.

“Any time,” Eliot says. They trade topics for conversations back and forth, and at one point Eliot makes Quentin laugh so hard he chokes on his sixth cookie. He hasn’t even realized how long it’s been until he checks his phone, and sees the two missed calls and three missed texts from Julia.

The last one says: had to go home margo told me ur with eliot text me if something’s wrong or u need me to come back

“Shit,” mutters Quentin. “Julia was my ride, she left.” He can text her back, he guesses, but he can’t help but feel guilty. He doesn’t want to trouble her anymore than he already has.

“I’ll give you a ride home,” Eliot offers.

Quentin looks up so quick he nearly gets whiplash. “You seriously don’t have to do that. I can take the bus or text her to come – ”

Eliot rolls his eyes. “Come on, Quentin, we’re past that point. It’s not a problem.”

“I – ”

“Shhhhh,” Eliot says. Then he literally stands up and closes Quentin’s mouth. This is real and apparently really happening to him. “Let’s go.”

Quentin pushes Eliot’s hand away and helplessly says, “Well – alright. If you’re sure.” He types out a quick I’m okay getting a ride with Eliot sorry to Julia, and then off they go, Eliot grabbing Quentin by the hand and pulling him off of the chair.

He’s hurrying after Eliot, who has long legs that he uses to his full and annoying advantage, Eliot’s hand still pulling him along, when Eliot remembers that Margo is almost certainly going to murder him.

Quentin is honestly not sure if this is hyperbole or not, and he’s more than a little distracted with the feeling of Eliot’s hand in his. It’s – nice. Quentin likes holding hands, though he’s never really had the opportunity to do it with anyone. But what if his hand is sweaty? No, Eliot would have let go by now if that were the case. Why hasn’t Eliot let go? Doesn’t he realize what he’s doing to Quentin’s heart rate?

“I was supposed to stay as Margo’s moral support,” Eliot says. “I left her alone with her archenemy. Again!”

“Sorry?” Quentin ventures. He really hopes the archenemy part is hyperbole at least.

Eliot waves him off. “Well it’s not your fault. I texted her a while ago. What’s the time on your watch?”

How did Eliot know he has a watch, Quentin wonders, when the sleeves of his hoodie are pulled down past his elbows and Eliot hasn’t even looked down. This is a mystery he’ll have to solve later. For now, Quentin rolls up his sleeves and tells Eliot, “Twenty past one.”

“Oh.” Eliot brightens. “They should be taking a break. Do you mind if I go check on Margo? She’ll be worried. And also ready to stab someone in the neck.”

“Yeah of course,” Quentin says. Before he can ask if he should wait here, Eliot says, “Excellent,” and keeps striding along with his hand in Quentin’s, in the direction of the studio.

It turns out they don’t need to go to Margo. Margo comes to them; they follow the sound of her voice arguing with someone, getting progressively louder and louder, and another person’s voice, too quiet for Quentin to make out. Then, an unexpected burst of laughter.

“Now that’s interesting,” Eliot says, exchanging a look with Quentin. The two of them round the corner to find Margo and – Alice, standing outside the door to the studio, facing each other and smiling. Archenemies, thinks Quentin, are not supposed to smile at each other. Not that he is objecting to the smiling. He would much rather Eliot’s best friend not have a grudge against his ex-girlfriend.

Margo’s smile drops as soon as she spots Eliot and Quentin. She straightens, turns away from Alice, and brushes off her dress. Alice’s mouth turns into a thin line, too; she must be in costume, because the jeans she’s wearing aren’t Alice’s usual style. And it’s still a little weird, in his opinion, to see his characters as flesh and blood, especially when his ex-girlfriend is playing one of them. Cool. But weird.

Alice is carefully avoiding Quentin’s gaze. Eliot is looking between Margo and Alice with a bemused air, and between Quentin and Alice with a peculiar look on his face. Margo has an impatient expression on her face, but Quentin’s not sure who she’s trying to fool.

“Sorry, Bambi,” Eliot says at last, “we lost track of time. Though I’m not sure if I should really be sorry.” This last part with a meaningful look at Alice, who does that awkward thing with her chin Quentin remembers, where she looks down at no one in particular and looks back up. Quentin is a little endeared. He tries to catch her eye again and fails.

“You should be,” Margo says crisply.

“I’m going to drop Q off at his apartment,” Eliot says with a raised eyebrow. “You’ll be alright?”

Margo hesitates, and looks at Alice for the most miniscule of moments. “Yeah.”

“Okay,” Eliot says, and gives her a quick kiss on the forehead goodbye. Quentin goes with a more subdued wave that Margo and Alice both ignore. Though Margo does call out, “Get that sweet, sweet dick!” which can classify as a goodbye depending on your opinion. In Quentin’s books, it does not.

Outside of the studio, the sky is impossibly blue, and the sun shines relentlessly down on Eliot and Quentin, a summer breeze picking up and blowing Quentin’s hair into his face.

Eliot walks over to his car, and Quentin doesn’t know much about cars but he knows for sure that Eliot’s is extremely expensive. Once they’re both inside, Quentin gives his address to Eliot. A somber British voice starts speaking, but Eliot clearly doesn’t care that much because he turns on the radio and starts singing along to Landslide by Fleetwood Mac. Quentin doesn’t know how to drive, but Eliot does it with practiced ease.

He rests his head against the seat, the windows down and wind sweeping through, more alive than he’s been in a while. He and Eliot don’t talk, and it should be awkward, is the thing. But it’s not, and Quentin doesn’t know what to do with that, or the butterflies in his stomach at the way Eliot is singing.

He decides not to think about it, and the drive to his and Julia’s apartment passes in a peaceful haze. Quentin doesn’t even realize they’ve arrived until Eliot’s GPS says in its slow accent, “Destination on the right.”

“Oh,” Quentin says. He’s not particularly interested in leaving. His gaze keeps getting caught on the curl falling in Eliot’s eyes, or his sun-lit skin, or the exposed curve of his collarbone.

“Well,” Eliot starts, and doesn’t finish.

“Thanks for the ride,” Quentin says. “And for listening. Seriously.”

“It was no problem,” Eliot dismisses. “You can repay me with cookies.”

“Right,” Quentin says, smiling a little. “I’ll bake them myself.”

“You bake?” Eliot asks skeptically.

He shrugs. “How hard could it be?”

“Oh, I’m holding you to that,” Eliot says, and then they’re both looking at each other and smiling and smiling and smiling.

“Um,” Quentin makes himself say, “I should go.”

“Oh – yeah – say hi to Julia for me – ”

“Right, I’ll just – ” Quentin makes an aborted gesture to the passenger seat door, and scrambles to open it, waving embarrassingly at Eliot on his way out. It takes him three tries to put his key in the lock of their apartment. When the door swings open, Julia is waiting for him, wearing velvety bunny slippers and blushing almost as much as Quentin is.

They stare at each other for a moment.

“I’ll spill if you spill,” she says. Which is how, ten minutes later, they’re both on the couch, a fuzzy blanket thrown across both of them. Julia’s legs are across his lap and they’re eating two separate pints of ice cream – Julia’s cookie dough and Quentin’s strawberry. It turns out Julia was going to wait for him a little longer, but she got a text from Kady and went to meet her the nearby cafe Quentin and Julia always get their coffee from.

“Sorry about that,” Julia tells him, “but you got a ride home from your crush, so really you owe me.”

“Not my crush.” Quentin holds out a hand for her ice cream. “Switch.” Julia obediently transfers her ice cream for Quentin’s. “So what happened with Kady?”

Julia groans through a mouthful of strawberry ice cream. “Did you know she’s Penny’s ex-girlfriend?”

“No way. Penny has a girlfriend? He’s such a dick.” Except Quentin remembers the way Penny’s voice went all gentle talking on the phone to someone, and his relaxed expression.

“He’s not,” Julia protests.

“Hey, you’re not allowed to have a crush on Penny,” says Quentin. “That’s like. Illegal.”

“I don’t have a crush on him.”

“I believe you,” Quentin says, “so believe me when I say Eliot’s not my crush.”

“Okay, whatever. He’s hot and he was nice when we met,” Julia says. “I don’t know what you have against him.”

“Honestly, I don’t really have anything against him,” Quentin admits. There’s only so long you spend all your time working in a bookshop with someone until you form a grudging bond. “Calling him a dick is just second nature by now.”

Julia rolls her eyes. “Well I feel guilty as fuck thinking he’s attractive now that I know he and Kady used to date.”

“Mm. Switch.”

“And I mean, Kady and I were actually getting along. I got her to agree. To the soundtrack for the movie.”

“That’s good. What’s the problem?”

Julia chews at her lip, setting the ice cream down on the couch. “Nothing. I guess.”

“You said you were going to spill.

“I like her!” Julia says, covering her face. “I liked her before and I still like her!”

“Damn,” says Quentin. “Do you think she likes you back?”

“I don’t know, I. I kind of ruined any chances of that.”

Quentin doesn’t ask for any details. “You can try again. Tell her the truth. I’m sure she’d understand. Try and regain her trust first.”

“Maybe,” Julia says dubiously. “Alright, this is stressing me out. What about you, with your three-hour date with Eliot Waugh, who dropped you off here – ”

“It wasn’t a date,” Quentin insists. “And it was nice. We talked. There’s nothing else to say. Switch.”

“You talked about what? You never talk to people.”

“About...my depression,” Quentin says, determinedly staring straight ahead and eating Julia’s cookie dough ice cream until he scraps the bottom.

“Shit. Really? Are you okay?”

Quentin sighs and looks at her, the concerned furrow between her eyebrow and eyes locked on his. A little knot in his chest loosens. Julia, he thinks, is always going to be looking out for him. “I’m fine. Talking to him helped.”

“That’s good,” Julia says. “I’m glad. You know you can talk to me too, right?”

“I always know that, Jules.”

“Good,” Julia says again, and curls in closer to him. Quentin grabs his computer, set on the table in front of them, and turns on Netflix. They watch Buffy and Julia orders pizza and everything is normal, except it’s not.

Eventually Julia extricates herself to go for a run, to clear her head, she tells him. Quentin manages to last a good few seconds until he thinks about Eliot listening to the ugly truths of Quentin and knowing what to say in response. And he gives in to what he was probably always going to end up doing. He exits out of Netflix, balancing the computer on his knees, and opens his hundredth tab on Google, carefully types out eliot waugh.

Enter. About 204,000,000 results, 0.60 seconds.

It’s like he’s back in high school, graduating with diagnosed depression and no direction in his life whatsoever while Eliot was twenty, three movies and an album under his belt. Julia might’ve called it a crush, but it was, Quentin thought, just an appreciation of Eliot’s bone structure and voice, which any reasonable person would have. He’d grown out of it. Well, he’d thought he’d grown out of it.

He spends a few minutes looking through Eliot’s new photoshoots, and then feels a little hot under the collar. He switches to a video of Eliot singing a cover of Under Pressure, featuring Kady. Quentin spares a moment to feel amused, adds it to his liked videos so he remembers to show Julia later.

He means to stop there. Really. He’s not a stalker. But YouTube keeps suggesting all of these videos of Eliot, interviews with Margo and interviews by himself, until he’s trapped and physically can’t stop. A few minutes later, the sound of a key jingling in the lock, signalling Julia’s arrival, startles him badly enough that he exits out of the tab so fast he nearly drops the computer.

“Hey,” Julia says, passing through on her way to her bedroom, untying and retying her ponytail.

“Hey,” Quentin says, aiming for casual but sounding a little deranged. Julia, thankfully, doesn’t ask, just keeps going, but Quentin has learned his lesson. He relocates to his bedroom. The thought occurs to him that he could stop. Eliot is his kind-of friend, and this is objectively a wrong thing to do. Maybe he could do some writing. Take a nap. Call his dad, call Alice. Do adult things; go grocery shopping – it’s probably time – or do his taxes. Though Julia is usually the one handling taxes. She’s also the one mostly paying for this apartment, with her mom’s money and her salary. Occasionally Quentin manages not to feel guilty about this, and the royalties for his book helped him feel less useless and pay her back, even though she insisted it wasn’t necessary, along with his own salary from the bookstore.

He does not take any of the previously mentioned options. Instead he falls down the rabbit hole of the Internet and the wealth of information there is on Eliot Waugh. Though a lot of it is probably false, and sometimes he can see Eliot’s smile straining in an interview, and it makes him so fucking furious – a little unreasonably furious on behalf of a friend he’s known for a week. Whatever. It’s fine.

He watches a video Eliot did with ClevverTV where they ask him his top five tips for anyone watching. Number one is to drink more water. Quentin pauses, drinks from the water bottle on his dresser that he doesn’t usually remember is even there.

He watches a video Eliot did with Margo of the two of them answering fan questions. They’re so genuinely happy to be snarking and talking with each other, Quentin watches that one twice. He watches a video of Eliot playing with puppies and melts inside. He watches Eliot’s third movie, and smiles into his pillow.

He watches the video where Eliot comes out to the public.

Nineteen but so young, Eliot says, his voice wavering and tinny through the computer speakers, “I know what my family would say if they were watching this, and I know they would never approve of any part of my life right now. But I am who I am, and I’m past trying to change that for anyone.”

A single tear falls down, past Quentin’s chin. He looks at Eliot’s shoulders, straight back, chin up, like a king, and turns the computer off before he can think any more about the feeling creeping in slowly into his heart.

The sudden silence is stifling. Quentin’s not alone – he has Julia in the room next to him. But he feels like he is.

────────────

eliot waugh @eliot_waugh requested to follow you.

 

eliot waugh @eliot_waugh

@quentincoldwater you still owe me cookies.

 

Quentin @quentincoldwater

@eliot_waugh I made no promises

────────────

“Smores,” Eliot says. “’S like...smores.”

Quentin looks up blearily from where he’s stretched out on his apartment carpet, lifting his head from Eliot’s chest. He doesn’t know how he ended up in this position, he really doesn’t. The last thing he remembers is the doorbell ringing while he was eating noodles and watching Queer Eye without Julia, who’d gone out with one of her actress friends who always called Quentin Quindle, Marina. He’d set down his noodles and wondered if Julia had actually written to the producers of Queer Eye to come turn him from sad to glam. But when he opened the door a crack, it was to Eliot, holding a bottle of Riesling and saying, “Room for one more?”

So of course, Quentin opened the door completely.

He couldn’t believe Eliot was there, had decided to come to Quentin of all people. It’s been a month since they’ve become friends, or whatever you would call it, but he’s still surprised. He also wasn’t entirely sure where Eliot had gotten his address, but when he asked, Eliot said Julia, who loved to meddle and probably thought of herself as a matchmaker, had told him. He wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth, which is why he got drunk off his ass and is lying down on the floor.

“What’s like smores?” Quentin says, squinting in the distance and setting his head back down. Eliot’s chest is solid and com...comfitable. No, it was some other c-word. Computer. That meant something else, didn’t it. Whatever. Eliot’s chest is nice.

“Me,” says Eliot. “I’m like smores. They’re...they’re all crunchy and hard on the outside but when you bite down they’re soft and melty and they taste good.”

“That makes sense,” Quentin agrees. Eliot probably tastes good. “What about me, what am I like?”

“You’re like the marshmallow,” Eliot says.

“I’m part of the smore?”

“Yes.” Eliot pauses. His legs tangle a little with Quentin’s. “And you’re fluffy and delicious. We’re out of wine.”

Quentin looks at him sideways.

Eliot clears his throat meaningfully. “We’re out of wine. Oh, fine. I’ll get more. What kind of wine do you even have?”

“Don’t remember,” Quentin says.

“You don’t remember, what do you mean you don’t remember.”

“Don’t remember a lot,” he explains. “It all happened so long ago.”

“Okay,” says Eliot indulgently.

“Why’d you come here?” Quentin asks, a moment later. That sounds wrong, so he adds, “Not that I don’t want you here, but like. You know.”

“I should probably leave,” Eliot says, instead of answering the question. “It’s late.”

“Nooo, you’re drunk,” says Quentin, furrowing his eyebrows. ”You can’t go home alone...how did you get here?”

“Margo,” Eliot says. “She dropped me off here because she needed to go...somewhere...Margo is very mysterious. An anigma. Or enigma. Or however you say that word.”

“Enigma, probably,” Quentin tells him. “Maybe she went to drinks with Julia and Marina.”

“Marina?” Eliot says. “No, no, no, Margo and Marina don’t get along. She’s got a date, I bet. Margo gets lots of dates.”

“I bet,” Quentin echoes in agreement.

“I need to get home,” says Eliot.

“You need to stay,” corrects Quentin, though the idea of that is very terrifying. Why is it terrifying, muses Quentin. Some reason. Some probably logical reason.

“Won’t be able to sleep anywhere,” Eliot says, which makes a certain amount of sense. “I’ll be intruding. An intruder. I will call an Uber instead.”

Quentin wants to protest, but he’s so sleepy. He only watches as Eliot fumbles with his phone and calls an Uber, but he does follow Eliot outside of the apartment to find a red Honda Civic.

“What is a Honda Civic,” Quentin says, but Eliot’s spotted a car that is red as far as Quentin can tell, though his vision is a little blurry, and he’s turning to Quentin to say – goodbye?

No, thinks Quentin, because he forgot Eliot was actually going to leave. He can’t just let Eliot go on his own! “Can’t just let you go home alone,” Quentin says determinedly, and drags Eliot along to walk to the car.

Eliot stifles a yawn and says, “Okay.”

They stumble into the backseat of the car, a tangle of limbs and laughter. The driver says nothing, but Eliot shouts, a few minutes into the drive, “Hey, I know you!”

“Oh, yeah, man,” says the driver, who does look vaguely familiar. “Josh Hoberman! And you’re Eliot Waugh and some dude! Didn’t want to bother you, you seemed busy, but how’s it going, man?”

“Uh, who are you?” Quentin asks.

“This is Josh, he’s an actor and he and Margo used to fuck,” says Eliot. Josh does not object to this wording. “I didn’t know you were also an Uber driver.”

“In-between acting jobs I like to take it up, you know, invest in my money,” Josh says.

“Mm-hm,” Quentin says, which is when Eliot turns to him with an agonized look on his face like he’s just realized something.

“Q, now you have to go home by yourself!”

“Huh,” says Quentin. He hadn’t thought about that, but it doesn’t seem like a very big problem.

“You’ll just have to stay over,” says Eliot, “I’ve got lots of rooms...oh, wait, Josh, did I give you Margo’s address when you asked for mine?”

“Sure did,” Josh confirms.

“I didn’t mean to,” Eliot says to Quentin. “I meant to say my place, but it’s alright, you can still stay. Margo won’t mind.”

“No I can’t,” Quentin tries to protest.

“Why?” Eliot says, and Quentin scrunches up his nose, trying to think.

“Because I’d be an intruder too!” he says triumphantly. “I’d be intruding.”

“Doesn’t sound like you’re intruding to me,” Josh says from the front seat. “He invited you, didn’t he? Get an invitation, you gotta go, man, it’s like. Societal rules or some shit.”

“No one asked for your opinion, but thank you, Josh,” says Eliot. “See, sweetheart? Societal rules.”

Sweetheart? Quentin’s mind short-circuits.

“You okay?” Eliot asks, leaning in close to inspect him.

“Yeah,” Quentin squeaks out, but his mind is replaying sweetheart over and over again. This means he can’t think about another defense for not going to Eliot’s place, but he’s a little fuzzy on why he’s even trying to do that in the first place anyway. So the ride passes and at the end the both of them tip Josh because it’d be kind of rude not to, since he was formerly sex buddies or something with Margo, and that makes him family, kind of.

In Margo’s condo, Eliot throws himself onto the nearest surface he can find, which is the best thing Quentin has ever seen in his life: a very large couch with pillows that’s basically a bed.

“That is the best thing I have ever seen in my life,” he informs Eliot.

Eliot yawns. Quentin sneezes. “You sound like a kitten,” Eliot says, and starts laughing hysterically for no reason.

“I shouldn’t be here,” Quentin says to no one in particular.

“Yes you should,” says Eliot and pats the space next to him. “C’mere.”

“I can’t,” Quentin says.

“Why?” Eliot asks again. Quentin can’t think of a good excuse, so he mumbles disgruntledly under his breath and sits down next to Eliot, who’s lying down, his eyes closed, without a care in the world.

“You have to lie down too,” Eliot says, cracking an eye open. “This was a hundred dollar couch or something, take advantage of it.”

“I will not,” Quentin mutters, a minute later, but Eliot isn’t even listening anymore. He’s started snoring quietly, with his shoes still on and everything. Quentin makes an amused sound. “Out just like that?” he says, even though Eliot can’t hear him.

He looks down at Eliot and feels – something that he doesn’t want to press at or think about. In his sleep, Eliot looks relaxed,  eyelashes fluttering and mouth pink. It’s nice, is all. He reaches down to brush one of Eliot’s gelled curls away from his forehead. Then he feels like creepy, like Edward in Twilight or something, so he looks away. Closes his eyes, and lies down like Eliot had wanted him to.

Comfortable, thinks Quentin before he drifts off to sleep. That’s the word.

He doesn’t have any nightmares, doesn’t lie awake staring at the ceiling. He sleeps better than he has in ages. When he wakes up, a hangover pounding in his head, Eliot’s already left, with a note stuck to Quentin’s forehead saying you look cute when you sleep.

────────────

There must be a single, logical point in time that Quentin can refer to that will explain how Eliot Waugh and Margo Hanson have become permanent fixtures in his solar system. Maybe when he told Eliot something he’d never told anyone. Maybe the first time he called Eliot El, and Eliot’s whole face brightened. Maybe when Eliot mentioned him on Twitter and Quentin got a million more followers. Maybe when Quentin showed up with Julia to the studio every day, and ended up talking to Eliot while Margo did her scenes, and Margo when she wasn’t doing her scenes. Maybe when Eliot came over and they got drunk, and went to Margo’s place and Quentin got to sleep next to him.

Whatever the reason is, he gets used to it over the next few months. He gets used to texting Eliot morning and night, at ridiculously late and ridiculously early hours of the night. He gets used to meeting him for milkshakes every Sunday, where Eliot talks about fashion and political theory and drinks, and Quentin talks about books and embarrassing moments of his life and existential crises. He gets used to Eliot’s elbow on his shoulder, Eliot smoothing down his hair as he walks by. It becomes a pattern. That’s all.

(Eliot drinks too much and he’s incredible at cooking, eats proper meals and gets Quentin into the habit of doing it too. Eliot is mean when he wants things and he’s gentle with kids, like the ones that are acting in The Tale of the Seven Keys. Eliot holds his heart a distance away from everyone except Margo, and when he smiles at Quentin, Quentin always smiles back.)

Becoming friends with Eliot is why he’s currently catching up on Game of Thrones with Margo Hanson in her hundred-dollar, fancy condo, on her hundred-dollar, fancy couch.

Margo was a difficult person to get to know, but for some reason she didn’t want to crush his spirit with her six-inch rainbow heels, and for some reason Quentin liked talking to her. It made Eliot complain about them bullying him, but Quentin was getting to know Eliot, and he could tell that Eliot liked that they were friends. Or acquaintances.

She was the only person in Quentin’s life who watched Game of Thrones, because Julia had given up on it four seasons ago; she was bisexual like Quentin, had a pride sticker on her computer and a crush on Princess Leia and Han Solo like Quentin; she had her coffee the way Quentin had his – black.

“Oh fuck off Joffrey,” Margo says. She rummages in her popcorn bowl without looking, and, finding it empty, grabs some from Quentin’s. Quentin doesn’t protest. He’s learned not to argue with Margo, and besides, he doesn’t really mind.

Margo’s phone starts playing a song that is most likely from Dirty Dancing.

“It’s El,” she says, hitting pause on the remote that is wedged in between two of the cushions on the couch. After a few more moments of a man’s voice singing, Margo slides right and clicks on speaker.

“Hi,” Quentin says.

“Hello nerds,” Eliot’s voice greets them affectionately. “What season are you on?”

“You don’t know we’re watching Game of Thrones,” Margo says. “Maybe we were having sex.”

Quentin turns a distressing shade of pink.

“Oh well, in that case please don’t stop on my account,” Eliot says, sounding amused.

“Uh, seven,” says Quentin, clearing his throat. “We’re on season seven.”

“Oh, Q,“ Eliot says, “I’ve got tickets for this outdoor book and arts carnival thing or whatever in a few days, this seems like something you’d be into.”

“Smooth,” Margo says for some reason, rolling her eyes.

“Really?” says Quentin, trying not to let too much excitement into his voice.

“El, aren’t you supposed to be at an audition?” Margo asks, ignoring him.

“Ah,” Eliot says. “Yes, that.”

“Eliot.” Margo’s voice is dangerous. “What did you do?”

Quentin can picture Eliot making a face on the other line. “I might have. Left and told my agent I don’t want any more auditions.”

“What?” Quentin says.

“The fuck,“ Margo says, jaw clenched. “You’re explaining that to me as soon as you get home.”

“Mm-hm,” Eliot says and ends the call.

Margo stares at the phone in her hand for a few seconds and finally says, again, “Fuck.”

“Uh, you wanna talk about it?” Quentin offers awkwardly, cringing at himself internally.

Margo keeps looking at her phone. “I don’t know – I don’t know what’s going on with him. He tells me everything, he usually – but this. He’s not telling me. He’s not okay, and I don’t know what’s wrong.” She turns to Quentin suddenly, before he can say anything. “Can you ask him?”

“I don’t think he would – ”

“No, for whatever reason he thinks I’m not going to understand,” Margo says. “That’s the only way he wouldn’t tell me. So just – please talk to him, when you go to the fair or whatever. He’ll listen to you.”

“Yeah,” Quentin says, “of course, I’ll – I’ll try,” and he reaches out to press a kiss to her forehead, the way he’s seen Eliot do a million times, and smooths down her hair. It’s probably more awkward than comforting, but Margo doesn’t seem to mind; her eyes are closed tight and she takes in a shuddering breath.

He cares about her. About her and about Eliot. A lot. It feels like something he should already know, but it hits him like a bucket of ice cold water in his face. Quentin’s only ever had about three people in his life who cared about him at the same time, and now the list is slowly racking up: Julia, his dad, Alice, Eliot, Margo, the people who thought his book was worth buying.

Dangerous, thinks Quentin. Like a trust fall, or walking on a tightrope. Because they could stop caring about him, so easily, and he can’t. He knows he can’t.

“Alright, enough of this feelings bullshit,” Margo says, pulling herself away. “We’ve got a whole season to get through.”

And Quentin is going to let go of this feelings bullshit, really – but then his gaze travels behind Margo’s shoulder and sees the book, his book, on a small table, atop an edition of Sappho’s poetry.

“Is that my book?” he says.

Margo turns to where he’d been looking and turns back with a disgruntled expression. “Oh, really, Coldwater?”

“That is my book,” Quentin says, a little wondering.

“Yes.” Margo sighs. “That’s your book. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m starring in an adaption of it.”

“Oh.” That makes sense, obviously Margo would want to go through it to connect to her character. “Right.”

“Don’t give me your puppy-dog eyes,” Margo snaps.

Quentin, startled, says, “I don’t – ”

“I like it a lot,” Margo says. “Your book.”

Quentin feels ridiculously pleased, but – “You do?”

“Yeah,” Margo says, smiling a little. “You could tone the surprise down a little.”

“Oh,” Quentin says again, all warm inside. “Thank you.” He thinks of Eliot, the first time they met each other, in a storage closet, saying – Margo loves those books, and yours too. It’s still a little unbelievable. “Eliot said you read the Fillory books.”

“They were my favourite books in the world,” Margo says, and she sounds earnest, genuine.

“Mine too,” Quentin says.

“I know,” Margo tells him, “you’re not exactly subtle about it.” But she’s smiling. So Quentin smiles back.

────────────

El 😜

 

August 8th, 2019, 1:03 AM

 

carnival?

check yes or no juliet

Yes

If you’re sure you want to give them to me.

quentin why would i go to a carnival 

You’re not coming?

oh

did you want me to?

i thought you would go with alice or someone

cute face like yours, gotta have a date

Of course I want you to.

They’re your tickets.

Unless you don’t want to.

no i do!

And Alice and I broke up

I don’t have a someone.

right

me neither

Really?

You’re always pictured with

Male models or something

all fake

a serious loss for the male models

i mean look at this face

It’s a good face

yeah

pick you up tomorrow at 6?

That works

it’s a thirty-minute drive just warning you

and u might not recognize me

i’ll be in disguise for the press

I’m okay with long drives

I’m pretty sure I’ll recognize you

shut up

go to sleep

You go to sleep

i will

if u do

Okay

I am

ok

me too

Good night

good night

────────────

Eliot does come in disguise to Quentin and Julia’s apartment the next day, but you wouldn’t know it.

This is what you call a disguise?” Quentin says dubiously when he opens the door to find Eliot beaming, clad in huge sunglasses and some sort of detective overcoat.

Eliot frowns. “What’s wrong with it?”

“Jesus,” says Quentin, “just – wait here for a second.”

“Also, no hello? No, so good to see you Eliot, light of my life apple of my eye?” Eliot calls out, his voice getting fainter as Quentin retreats back into the apartment to find what he needs.

When he gets back, he says, “Hello, so good to see you Eliot, light of my life apple of my eye. Now, please, at least cover your hair.” And Eliot smiles at him like the sun, all tousled curls and a handsome jawline. Quentin ducks his head down to hide the sappy look on his face, and hands him one of Julia’s multi-patterned scarves and his dad’s old fishing hat.

“Quentin, do you own both of these items?” Eliot asks, wrapping the scarf around his neck and shoving the hat on his head. “The hat in particular is horrendous – ”

“It’s my dad’s,” Quentin says.

“Oh.” Eliot grimaces. “Sorry. Well, does it suit me?”

Everything suits you, thinks Quentin. “Um it hides your hair, which is the important part. And the scarf is Julia’s. She’s not here, so she never has to know you stole her scarf.” Julia had left a few hours ago to go meet Kady, and Quentin would have teased her about it, but she’d gotten there first by telling him cheekily to have a good time on his date.

“Okay, but you’ve got to hide too,” Eliot says.

“No one knows who I am,” Quentin points out. “Why do I need a disguise?”

Eliot pouts. “Q, come on. I can’t be the only one in tacky sunglasses and a hideous scarf. That’s no fun.”

Quentin manages to resist for a few good seconds, but in the face of Eliot’s adorable pouted lips and sparkling eyes, his resolve is no use. “Okay – ”

“Great, I have some stuff in my car,” Eliot says instantly. “You ready to go?”

Quentin spent the entire morning trying to get ready to go: hyperventilating and wondering whether Eliot really had meant it as a date, and then immediately dismissing the thought because they were only friends anyway, and going through his entire closet for something to wear, and asking Julia repeatedly if he should keep his hair up, and trying to find his misplaced wallet, and thinking about telling Eliot to go with someone else, who was cooler and more collected and more handsome than Quentin.

“Yeah,” he says.

“Great,” says Eliot again, and before he turns around, he adds casually, “Your hair looks good like that.”

Quentin stands rooted to the same spot for a few seconds, before he shakes himself off and follows Eliot to where his car is parked. Expecting to see Eliot’s sleek, expensive, stylish car from months before, Quentin is a little puzzled to find instead a small, bright pink old-fashioned car.

“What is that,” he says.

“This is Betty,” Eliot says, lovingly running a hand across the car’s dashboard. “Paparazzi would recognize any of my cars, so I had to rent one.”

Of course Eliot owns more than just one car. Quentin spares a moment to be annoyed, and then says flatly, “And you named it Betty.”

Her,” corrects Eliot. “Betty is a sophisticated lady.”

There’s actually nothing Quentin can say to this. He gets in the passenger seat – in Betty’s passenger seat, while Eliot pulls himself into the driver’s seat. Quentin looks away for five seconds, and when he looks back, Eliot has somehow produced a pair of sunglasses and a pair of gardening gloves.

“You already have your hair up, which is different, so that’s good,” Eliot says. “But your disguise is not yet complete.”

“Eliot, it’s so hot outside,” Quentin says, “why would I need gloves, much less gardening gloves? And how do they even disguise me?” But he’s already pulling them on, and the sunglasses too. This inability to not indulge Eliot’s antics is seriously becoming a problem.

“Now we’re incognito,” Eliot declares, starting up the ignition and turning on the radio and pressing his foot to the pedal, and when they’re on the road, Quentin thinks about the juxtaposition of Eliot’s expensive coat and his easy grip on the steering wheel.

“I thought you would have had a driver,” he says.

Eliot laughs a little. “Yeah, you’d think.” He casts a sidelong look at Quentin, and looks away quickly, too quickly for Quentin to make out the expression on his face. “I actually...I grew up driving. A – well, I grew up driving trucks, mostly.” He swallows, looking straight ahead. It must have been hard for him to share that with Quentin. Trust fall, thinks Quentin with a pang. He tries to think of the best thing to say, the way Eliot had for him.

It’s not like he’s not surprised. He is. The details of Eliot’s past have been hushed up so thoroughly none of his fans really know how he grew up. Quentin always assumed he was a bastard son of an English lord or something.

“I grew up driving trucks in Indiana,” Eliot says, like every word is physically paining him, “on a farm. I know I don’t seem like it. That’s because I – I reinvented myself completely, I did whatever I could to forget about that farm in Indiana and the people there that were supposed to be my family.”

“I’m sorry,” Quentin says.

Eliot shrugs, keeps looking at the dashboard in front of him. “I don’t really have anything to complain about now.”

“That’s not – ” Quentin says, surprising himself. “I mean, yeah, you – you don’t seem like it. But I think that’s impressive. That you came so far, and you became a really – really, um, good person,” he finishes lamely. “And – thanks. For trusting me enough to tell me that.”

Eliot keeps driving, that same look on his face like he’s the North Star, or Quentin is. The radio says, can anybody find me somebody to love? Eliot’s driving one-handed; Quentin’s mouth is dry and he can’t stop watching him. He blinks, looks at Eliot’s handsome profile, and thinks, dizzyingly: Did I dream he was real? Then he blinks again, and of course Eliot is real. He’s sitting right there, looking at Quentin from the corner of his eye and saying, “Yeah, well. You told me something personal, I told you something personal. Eye for an eye and all that.”

“Keep your eyes on the road,” Quentin says, biting down on a smile of his own. Eliot keeps his eyes on the road and Quentin keeps his eyes on the view. If he’s being honest, which he’s not, he keeps his eyes on Eliot. Eliot tapping his fingers against the steering wheel to the beat of Somebody to Love, warm brown eyes gold in the sunlight streaming in from the window, his mouth still quirked up in the ghost of the genuine smile he’d given Quentin.

But he’s not looking at Eliot, he’s looking at the window.

Need somebody to love I need somebody to love I need somebody to love, the radio and Eliot sing. Can anybody find me somebody to love?

────────────

Quentin’s lost him.

More specifically, he’s lost Eliot. Or he hasn’t lost him – he’s misplaced Eliot, who’d gone to find a bathroom about thirty minutes in to exploring the festival. He’s trying not to think about how maybe Eliot got tired of Quentin or ran into one of his celebrity friends or was maybe kidnapped. Which one of those options is worse, wonders Quentin. Obviously, the kidnapping one. He’s not sure why he even asked himself that. He doesn’t want Eliot to be kidnapped.

Quentin had found a nice, shady area by a table offering up first-edition Harry Potter books, run by a couple respectively named Emilie and Amira, who were kindred spirits and totally sympathetic to Quentin’s plight. He’d bought one of the books, even though he owned all of them. His self control is back at the apartment with Julia. Emilie and Amira had given him a discount, anyway.

He checks his phone, again, and – one message from Eliot. omg so many more people at this geeky festival than i thought there would be, meet me at the ring toss stall?

Quentin can breathe. Eliot did not get tired of him, did not ditch him, and was not kidnapped. He says goodbye to Emilie and Amira, who look at him a little weirdly, but it’s alright. He has to make his way through crowds of sweaty people with their easy laughter, but it’s alright. He’s got a new book in his backpack, and Eliot waiting for him, and a popsicle Eliot had bought him when they’d first arrived in his hand. He’s happy. It’s such a strange feeling that for a moment, almost at the ring toss stall, Quentin doesn’t pay attention to where he’s going, and he loses his footing and stumbles into someone.

“You okay?” asks a low, familiar voice.

Quentin looks up to see – “James?” he says, disbelieving. “Sorry, um – is that you?”

“Quentin?” James says, staring back at him. It is James: square-jawed, handsome, golden-haired. The last time he saw James must have been three years ago, and Quentin goes a little red when he remembers that embarrassing drunken night.

“What are you doing here?” This isn’t the kind of place James would usually come to. Or, well, three years ago, he might have come to a fair like this with Julia, and Quentin as their perpetual third wheel.

“I’m here with one of my friends,” James says, a little awkwardly. “You – you look different. Are you here with Julia?”

“Uh.” Quentin huffs, amused at the thought of what James would say if he knew Quentin was here with Eliot. “No, actually.”

“Oh,” says James. “How is she...how are you both doing?”

“We’re doing alright,” Quentin says, a little embarrassed, his popsicle melting in the sun. He hasn’t thought properly about James in a while, and he doesn’t think Julia has either. The three of them grew apart in ways that can’t be put back together.

“I heard about your book, congratulations.” James looks completely genuine, so the really-nice part hasn’t changed, at least. What has changed is Quentin’s lack of annoyance at how nice and perfect James always seems.

“Oh, thanks,” Quentin says and doesn’t know what to say next, so they stand in uncomfortable silence for a few moments until someone calls out, “Q!”

Eliot.

James furrows his brows. “Are you here with someone?”

Of course he’s surprised. Three years ago, Quentin’s only friends were Julia and James. Now...well, he’s got Eliot and Margo, and he had Alice before they lost each other, and on good days he can count Penny as one of his friends too.

He feels before he sees Eliot: his elbow coming to rest on Quentin’s shoulder. “Hi,” Eliot says, and Quentin turns his head a little to look at his flushed, happy face. Summer suits Eliot, but then, everything suits Eliot. “Who’s this?”

“James. I’m an old friend of Quentin’s,” says James, extending a polite hand out to Eliot despite his still quizzical expression. “Do I know you from somewhere?”

“Just one of those faces,” Eliot lies smoothly, managing to look like a superstar despite Julia’s scarf still around his neck, his dumb trenchcoat, huge sunglasses, and Quentin’s dad’s fishing hat.

James looks a little bemused, and Quentin really doesn’t want him saying Eliot’s name where anyone can hear it. So he says a quick goodbye and promises to text James later so they can meet up, and drags Eliot away by his hand to the ring toss stand, where Eliot insists they should wait in line.

“You guys looked cozy,” Eliot says, an accusing note in his voice.

“James?” he says. “He’s Julia’s ex. We used to be pretty close.”

Eliot cranes his head around to see past the line, though he’s so fucking tall he doesn’t even need to. He’s not looking at Quentin.

“Actually, we had a thing after they broke up,” Quentin admits, and he doesn’t even know why. For some reason he wants to confess all of his secrets to Eliot, like church the few times Quentin had gone as a child. Father, son, and Holy Spirit, amen. “Very brief. Kind of humiliating to run into him.”

Eliot makes a choking noise.

“Are you okay?” Quentin asks, frowning.

“Perfectly fine!” Eliot says, voice very high, looking straight ahead. “I didn’t know you, uh – ”

“Oh, did Margo not tell you?”

“Margo knows?” Eliot says, sounding scandalized. “I mean. That’s perfectly fine. Everything is perfectly fine. Oh, look, it’s our turn.” Which is true, so Quentin opts for ignoring Eliot’s strange behaviour and watching him be utterly destroyed by a game of ring toss. He tries and fails for six rounds to win a prize; Quentin watches while finishing off his popsicle, but mostly he’s laughing.

“Stop laughing,” Eliot hisses. “I don’t usually do things like this.”

“Okay okay,” Quentin says. “I’m kind of good at it, let me have a try?” he raises his voice for the last part to the poker-faced person manning the stall, who looks dead inside. Quentin can sympathize.

After, when Quentin’s won a huge teddy bear as his prize, a sulking Eliot says, “You didn’t tell me ring toss is one of your many talents.”

“It’s not,” Quentin says, hiding his smile and squinting up at the sun while they walk on, not bothering to hurry or pick up their pace.

“Being modest is worse than bragging,” Eliot sing-songs.

“Is it,” Quentin says mildly. “You can have the teddy bear anyways.”

“It’s your prize,” Eliot protests.

“No, take it, really,” Quentin says determinedly, shoving the teddy bear into Eliot’s arms. “I’d rather you have it anyway.”

Eliot considers the teddy bear with a tilted head. “Well. Alright. I’ll name him Theodore. Teddy for short.”

“Incredible,” says Quentin seriously. “That’s my dad’s name.”

“Is it? I’m channelling his spirit, I guess. I’m wearing his hat and everything.”

“Naturally. Does Teddy get a middle name?”

“You can choose,” Eliot says with the air of offering Quentin a very important gift.

“I’ll go with...Rupert,” Quentin says.

Rupert? Quentin, why are you dooming Teddy to a lifetime of bullying with this middle name?”

“Oh, like you’re one to talk, you named him Theodore! It’s for Rupert Chatwin.”

“From Fillory? You massive nerd.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“Oh, Q, look. Peaches and plums,” says Eliot, and makes a beeline for a fruit stall on the left side. He makes easy conversation with the stall owner, disguising his voice so he sounds deeper than usual, while Quentin just stands around and admires him. Eliot – despite Quentin’s protests that he’s got money too, you know – exchanges cash for a basket of peaches and plums, and they head off again, in no particular direction whatsoever.

“Peaches are my favourite,” Eliot tells him, taking a bite out of one and swinging the basket around.

“I like peaches too,” Quentin says, “but I like plums better.”

“Both are good,” Eliot concludes.

“Did you know, um.” And Quentin doesn’t mean to, but Eliot looks so attentive that he starts rambling about the health benefits of peaches and plums, and that leads to talking about the freaky light bulb in Quentin’s bedroom that he keeps meaning to fix. He’s still talking about how creepy it is when he can’t sleep and the light keeps flickering, when Eliot spots a decorate-your-own-sugar-cookie station, and of course they have to go there.

It’s at this station that a girl with light purple hair and a leather jacket says, “Oh my God, can I have your autograph?”

Quentin stops making a lopsided heart with his gel frosting, and starts panicking, thinking she’s talking to Eliot beside him. It only takes a second, though, for him to realize that she’s talking to him, eyes wide and looking straight at him.

Eliot looks up from his elaborate cookie design and makes an amused noise. “Got a fan, Q?”

His disguise is basically torn to shreds, since he’d taken off the sunglasses an hour ago – Eliot hadn’t, because he didn’t mind looking like a weirdo – and his gardening gloves did absolutely jackshit. But who would recognize him or want his autograph? They must have mistaken him for someone. Maybe they saw the back of his ponytail and thought he was Harry Styles.

“Are you Quentin Coldwater?” the girl asks. “My girlfriend loves your book, I would really appreciate getting your autograph for them, and maybe a picture? Unless you don’t want to of course!”

“Um,” Quentin says, dumbfounded, while beside him Eliot is beaming. “Sure?”

He takes a picture with the girl, whose name turns out to be Plum, and signs an autograph for her girlfriend.

“Thank you so much,” Plum says. She’s extremely bubbly, more outgoing than you’d expect someone with purple hair and black clothing to be.

“Oh, it wasn’t a problem.” And then because the idea of someone loving his book is still unbelievable, incredible, he adds, “Tell your girlfriend, uh, thank you, and I’m glad they liked it. The book, I mean.”

Plum’s face lights up. “Oh, absolutely!”

“I told you you needed a disguise,” Eliot says after she’s gone, through a mouthful of his sugar cookie.

The sun starts setting and the crowd starts thinning, but Quentin and Eliot keep going. They visit a photographer’s stall, and she offers to take a few pictures of them; Quentin can barely stay still, and feels like an idiot the whole time, and Eliot makes him laugh a million times. Only when the pictures are done, they’re lovely, and Quentin can’t stop looking at them. In almost all of them, she’d captured Quentin laughing, genuine and real, and Eliot looking at him, not the camera. The only one where Quentin wasn’t laughing, he was looking at Eliot and Eliot was looking back. Something in Quentin’s stomach flutters when he shifts through the polaroids, and when he shifts his gaze to Eliot, Eliot is smiling. They thank the photographer, and go to a few more carnival games. Eliot has slightly better luck with these ones while Quentin does pretty good, if he does say so himself.

Eliot in the dark, face illuminated by artificial yellow luminescence and the moonlight and the sky, midnight-blue and stars shining distantly, if you look hard enough. Don’t forget this, thinks Quentin irrationally. Don’t forget it.

A lot of the stalls start closing, so even though Quentin doesn’t want to, not at all, he and Eliot decide on heading back. Or, they’re supposed to be heading back, but Quentin gets a little distracted by a stall with the sign Authentic Fillory & Further Collection, by the tall, ornate grandfather clock placed front and center. It looks like something just out of the books.

Eliot follows his gaze.

“It’s nothing, it just looks like the clock from Fillory,” Quentin says, “let’s go, um – oh, the fish cup game, wonder what that is – El?” For Eliot was dragging him along to the stand with the clock, and before Quentin knows it, he’s standing in front of the stall and Eliot is asking firmly how much for the clock, please.

“1000,” the old man running the stall says, with a strange, wise smile.

“Eliot,” Quentin hisses.

Eliot waves him off. “Deal.”

“Write your address down here and I’ll have it sent to you tomorrow,” says the old man, and Eliot doesn’t even hesitate.

“I can’t believe you,” Quentin says as soon as they start walking back, “I cannot believe you, you spent 1000 dollars on a clock – ”

“I wanted to buy it. I don’t know why. I just did.”

Quentin closes his mouth, and kicks aimlessly at the ground. “What are you going to do with it?”

“I don’t know,” Eliot says. “Souvenir, I guess. You and Margo can geek out over it.”

The smile that breaks out over Quentin’s face at this is too big to hide. He lifts his head up and looks at the sky, so Eliot doesn’t see the things too clearly written on his skin, the comforting black stretching out across as far as the eye can see.

He remembers Margo asking him to talk to Eliot when they’re in the car. Betty’s air conditioning is broken, and Eliot has rolled his sleeves up and loosened his collar. The few inches of tantalizing skin that Quentin can see make him avert his eyes.

Before he can broach the topic of what’s going on with Eliot, he says, “Sorry it’s late. You probably want to go home.”

“No,” Quentin says, surprised, “I don’t – that was nice.”

“Oh.” Eliot’s grip on the steering wheel tightens. Quentin watches his hands. Eliot always wears that same signet ring; he wonders what it’s for, or if it’s just because. “You know, Margo’s beach is around here.”

“Sorry, did you just say Margo’s beach?”

So naturally, they have to go to Margo’s beach, which, Eliot tells Quentin while taking off Quentin’s dad’s hat and Julia’s scarf, she bought when she and Eliot were super high. It was a popular area for locals, not tourists, and still is – the beach is Margo’s in name only.

“We haven’t been here in ages,” Eliot informs Quentin, after parallel-parking like a boss in the parking area that lies a little ways from the beach. “But I’ve got full access.” He looks a little shifty. “Technically. Anyway, there’s not going to be anyone here at 10 PM. The beach is closed.”

“And we’re going to get in how?”

Eliot gracefully exits Betty and opens the passenger seat door for Quentin. “Bribing the security guard, obviously.”

Eliot is an absolute menace. Quentin takes his offered hand and gets out of the car, hurrying after Eliot to the beach entrance, the two of them muffling their giggles in case anyone is around.

There is a security guard, but Eliot charms him with seemingly no effort, an exchange of some money, and a pat on the back. Quentin thanks him awkwardly. There is no response. Not that he expected a response.

Neither of them came prepared with footwear for the beach, since of course, they didn’t know they were coming. Eliot laments about how his boots will be ruined, but they go on with their shoes on, because Quentin says, and Eliot agrees, it would be kind of gross to take their socks off after walking for hours at the carnival. There’s going to be sand all over Quentin’s favourite sneakers. He can’t bring himself to care. Not in the dark with Eliot, his mouth lifted mischievously and footsteps nearly silent on the sand.

The beach is peaceful, untroubled. There’s just the waves crashing into the shore and the distant sound of cars going by on the freeway, and Eliot’s soft breathing.

There are two long chairs in front of the water. Quentin trips on the sand trying to walk over to one, but Eliot catches him easily, pulling him up before he ever hits the ground. And of course, then, Quentin trips again, and it pushes him closer to Eliot.

Really close. Close enough to see Eliot’s slight eyeliner and sharp cheekbones and the dimple in his chin. Quentin’s heart pounds in his chest, and Eliot’s hand stays balanced on his shoulder. One of them should move, but neither of them do. Eliot licks his lips and Quentin thinks, if I just reached up

Eliot lets go with a laugh. Quentin didn’t imagine that, he knows he didn’t, but he also knows what Eliot did and what Eliot didn’t do. Heart still beating unsteadily, he follows Eliot over to the chairs. He settles on one and then slips down a little, stretching out his legs. “Okay let’s do that,” Eliot murmurs and flops onto the chair beside Quentin, sinking down so he’s at the same height as Quentin.

In the quiet, Quentin turns his head to look at Eliot, head tilted back and looking to the stars. He asks, “Why did you tell your agent you don’t want to do any more auditions?”

Eliot shifts in his chair, doesn’t say anything for a few moments. Then, “Margo told you to talk to me.”

“Yeah,” says Quentin, who doesn’t see the point in lying. “She just care about you.”

“I know she does,” Eliot says.

“But that’s not – just it.” Quentin stumbles over his words, trying to find something with enough meaning to make Eliot understand. “I was – I am – worried, too.”

“I can’t have this conversation sober,” Eliot says, exhaling, but in the next breath, he’s turning to Quentin so they’re both looking at each other. The moon shining above them and the waves in front of them, but none of it compares to the curve of Eliot’s mouth.

Quentin has to look away. “Was it just because you want a break?”

“I want a permanent break,” Eliot says, scoffing a little. “I’m sick of it. I’m sick of paparazzi following me everywhere I go and people on the Internet judging my every move and having kids look up to me, the shittiest role model in the world. I’m done. I don’t care enough about what I’m doing to have to deal with this anymore.”

“You could tell Margo that,” Quentin says softly.

“I don’t – God, I need a drink.” Eliot lets out a long, frustrated sigh. “It’s always been the two of us. We’ve always been a team. I can’t – fucking destroy all of that, for some dumb reason, when so many people would kill for what I have. I just. I need a little break, and then I’ll be fine and everything will be normal again, like it was before.”

“That’s bullshit,” Quentin says.

The corner of Eliot’s mouth lifts up into something that’s not quite a smile. “Is it.”

“What do you want to do?” says Quentin. “If you don’t wanna act, what do you want?”

For a moment Eliot opens his mouth and looks at Quentin with an inscrutable expression. Then he answers, a little wistfully, “I want to keep making music. Fade out of the public eye just a little.”

Quentin says, like it’s really that simple, “So do that.”

“I can’t just – ”

“Why not?”

“Well, it’s – ” Eliot starts. He pauses. “I can’t think of a good answer.”

He’ll listen to you, Margo had said. Quentin hadn’t believed her. “Tell Margo, would you?” he says. “She’s worried.”

“And you? Are you still worried?”

Quentin moves down a little more on his chair and smiles. “Do you want me to be?”

Eliot coughs. “You don’t, uh, need to be anymore. I’m taking your advice, so.”

“Naturally,” Quentin says. “Giving advice is another one of my talents.”

Eliot laughs suddenly, sounding a little surprised. They pass a few more moments in silence, and then Eliot says, “You know...no one’s actually, seriously asked me what I wanted before.”

Oh. “Well, they should have,” Quentin says.

“Yeah?” Eliot says,

“Yeah,” Quentin says, and they don’t say anything else for a while. This night feels endless, alive.

In an hour, Quentin will be home with Julia asking him how it went and heating up an enchilada for him. He’ll go to his room and he’ll think about the whole day, and he’ll think about the distance between him and Eliot when they’d stumbled into each other, the lack of distance that drunk night when they’d slept next to each other and Quentin had no nightmares. He’ll think about how easy it would have been to kiss Eliot, how he wanted to. And he’ll realize something. An attraction to Eliot is not worth losing his friendship, a prize beyond any other measure. So Quentin will tell himself to get over it. Don’t think about it.

But for right now, he can’t imagine being anywhere else than right here, next to Eliot.

────────────

A few days later he’s sipping tea at a restaurant during his lunch break with Eliot and Margo. Eliot is in the bathroom when Margo says, casually, “So what was it like dating Alice?”

Quentin chokes on his tea and starts coughing. “Um, what brought this on?” he manages, after he’s done wheezing and Margo’s done watching him with an unimpressed look on her face.

Margo affects an entirely innocent look. “Just wondering. I mean, you guys aren’t really compatible.”

“What do you mean by that?” Quentin says warily.

“Sexually speaking. You both clearly want to be bossed around in bed – ”

“Please.” Quentin raises his hand to stop her. “Stop talking. I regret having asked.”

“I’m just asking if you guys got along,” Margo says. “Like, how was she in bed? Was she a good kisser?”

“Margo,” Quentin hisses. “Why would I tell you what my ex-girlfriend is like in bed? I thought you hated Alice, anyway.”

“I don’t hate her,” Margo says. “We have a mutual rivalry. It’s not even a rivalry, because a rivalry would imply that I actually think about her, which I don’t.”

“Then why are you asking me about her sexual preferences?”

“Oh my God,” Margo says, like he’s the one being unreasonable. “I thought we were bros.”

“What does that have to do with – ”

“Forget it. Just don’t tell Eliot I asked you this.”

“Why?” Quentin says wildly.

“I told you to forget about it Coldwater,” says Margo, and goes on calmly eating her croissant like nothing’s happened at all.

Quentin’s never forgot about anything in his life. “I’ve been meaning to ask, actually, you and Eliot, is that – ”

“All fixed?” Margo finishes. “Mostly, or good enough. Thanks. For talking to him.”

“You know me,” Quentin says. “Always talking. To people.”

“Yeah, okay,” says Margo, like he’s a weirdo. “But let’s get something very, very clear.” She picks up the butter knife Eliot had used for his toast and examines it with ease, then looks straight into Quentin’s eyes. “If you hurt Eliot, I will destroy you. You’ll wish you’d never even been born. And I mean that.”

She goes back to looking at the knife casually. Quentin swallows nervously. He says, “I don’t think I could hurt – ”

“Don’t play dumb with me,” Margo argues, looking extremely scary. “Are we clear?”

“Crystal,” says Quentin weakly. He feels the need to add, “I really would never try and hurt Eliot.”

“Well. Good. Now I just need to have this talk with Eliot.”

“Uh, why would you – ”

“What are the two of you talking about?” Eliot says, sliding into Quentin’s booth and pressing their knees together.

“Nothing,” Margo says, and shoots Quentin a glare that just dares him to say anything. Quentin finds this lack of faith in him very insulting. He’s not going to say anything. He doesn’t want to get eviscerated by Academy Award winning actress Margo Hanson, yeah, but he wouldn’t say anything anyways.

“Okay,” Eliot says, looking at them like they’re weirdos but he’s used to it.

Quentin finishes his tea and he and Margo split the bill, because he doesn’t want to feel like Eliot and Margo’s charity case. He takes a moment, when the three of them are exiting out the door, to tell Margo, “You know, if you want to talk – ”

“Jesus fucking Christ on a sushi stick,” Margo says, “I don’t want to talk. What I wanted was for you to tell me how your ex-girlfriend was in bed, but I guess we can’t always get what we want. The Rolling Stones told me that ages ago.”

“I don’t even know what to say to that,” Quentin says faintly.

“Are the two of you okay?” says Eliot, which is when Quentin realizes that he and Margo have been standing on the sidewalk having an intense whispered conversation for too long for Eliot not to notice.

Quentin straightens. “Yeah.”

“Ooookay,” Eliot says. “Q, you need a drive to the bookstore?”

Quentin assures him that he can walk, it’s ten minutes away, but Eliot still persists in asking if he’s sure, it would be no trouble, until Margo eventually gets tired of their shit and forcibly tells Quentin goodbye.

He doesn’t mind walking. By the time he’s at the bookstore, he’s still in the same cheery mood he’s been in all day. It’s a little clouded by the fact that he and Eliot could have kissed until Eliot pulled away, but he’s fine. Seriously.

“What is wrong with you?” Penny says amidst the two of them shelving books in the Romance section. “Does this have something to do with your dumb movie?”

“Me? Nothing,” says Quentin absently, thinking about the little curl that falls into Eliot’s eyes when he doesn’t have his hair styled. “I’m fine. Why do you sound concerned? I’m fine. And why aren’t you making fun of me? Why do you, of all people, actually sound worried?”

Penny picks up a bodice-ripper and makes a face. “Chill, man, I’m not worried.”

“Wait,” Quentin says, attention momentarily diverted from reliving how easily Eliot caught him. “You are.

“I’m not,” Penny snaps. “Why would I be worried about you?”

“Because we’re friends!” Quentin says. “Penny, you’re my mean friend!”

“Stop. I am not. I will never be – what are you doing.”

“Hugging you,” Quentin says, voice muffled through Penny’s chest.

“Oh my God. The fuck is wrong with you, Coldwater?” says Penny, but his arms, which have been awkwardly hanging at the sides, reluctantly wrap around Quentin and pat him on the back.

“I knew we were friends,” Quentin says, satisfied.

“Okay, now will you please just get off of me,” Penny says, voice shrill. “God. I wish I never asked.”

Quentin is taking pity on him and pulling away, when something occurs to him. “You know about my movie?”

“I’m apart of the soundtrack for your movie, dumbass,” Penny says.

Quentin blinks. “What?” That can’t be. He would have known this if this were true.

“Did you think I just worked at this bookstore every hour of my life?” says Penny. “I’m a musician. Got the offer for your idiot movie and I accepted.”

Apparently everyone in Quentin’s life is involved in this movie. He should have known this. Why did he not know this? Possibly he’s too self-centered, or not self-centered enough. It’s alright; Quentin is intimately aware of all his flaws, but somewhere along the way he stopped hating himself for them.

All these revelations about Penny keep Quentin distracted enough that he doesn’t think about Eliot’s mouth for his whole shift. Or, well, that’s a lie, but he thinks about it less, so. It’s fine. He’s fine. Eliot is his best friend, and everything is great. Everything is fine.

Everything is fine, thinks Quentin as he pushes open the door of the bookstore when his shift is over, then sees the PULL sign and pulls the door open instead.

A million cameras held by a million paparazzi flash in his eyes.

“Mr. Coldwater, would you care to comment on the nature of your relationship with Eliot Waugh and Margo Hanson?”

“Are you and Margo romantically involved?”

“What were the three of you talking about this morning?”

Quentin blinks, trying to refocus his eyes and backing away a little. “Um,” he says, eloquently. Maybe he’s dreaming. “I, uh – I’m just gonna – ” And he rushes back inside, closing the door and exhaling as soon as he can’t see the reporters holding out microphones eagerly, waiting for him – him, Quentin Coldwater, average nobody – to give them a statement.

“What the fuck?” Penny says, pausing in the middle of sweeping the floor angrily. He peers out at the windows and makes his why is this happening to me face. Todd, manning the receptionist’s desk with a feather boa around his neck, looks from Quentin to Penny with his eyebrows raised.

“Back door,” gasps Quentin. “We have a back door, right?”

“God I hate you,” Penny says, and leads him out the back door, into an alley, where, Thank God, there are no reporters waiting for Quentin.

“Thanks,” Quentin says.

“You don’t even have a ride,” Penny points out. “And you’ve got reporters following you for reasons I don’t want to and will never understand.”

“I.” Quentin flounders. “I’ll call Julia.”

Penny sighs. “No, man, come on, they’re gonna be after her too, she’s already famous.”

“You actually care about Julia,” Quentin says.

“Seriously, not the point right now,” Penny snaps. “Alright, fucking fine. I’ve got my motorcycle parked around here.”

Quentin gapes at him. “First of all, motorcycle, and second of all...you’d do that?”

“Shut up,” Penny says, “and wait here.”

“Thank you!” Quentin calls after him while he disappears down the right. Then Quentin is left alone with his thoughts, and the ugly anxiety recoiling in his stomach knowing that people took pictures of him and want to know who he is.

Calm down, he thinks, over and over and over again until Penny comes back with a real actual motorcycle and two helmets.

“Okay,” Quentin says faintly. “Um. Do you need the address?”

“I already know it, I’ve been there,” Penny says, tossing him one of the helmets.

“With Julia?” Quentin says, betrayed and shocked. “She didn’t tell me that!”

“It was recently,” says Penny. “Now will you get on before I change my mind about this.”

Quentin gets on. The ride to his apartment is, thankfully, quick but still miserable, and when Penny parks in front, there’s no reporters outside.

“They must think I’m still at the bookstore,” Quentin says, swinging off of Penny’s bike and taking off the helmet. His hair is a mess, naturally. He tucks a strand of it behind his ear. He turns to Penny. “Do you want to come in?”

“Why would I wanna do that?” asks Penny flatly.

“I don’t know!” says Quentin. “I’m trying to do you a favor here. I’m trying to be your wingman.”

Penny mutters something under his breath and shoots a glare at Quentin. “Fine. I’ll come in.”

So Penny comes in, and he and Julia do this awkward dance-around-each-other, give each other moon-eyes, flirty thing. Quentin is so going to kill her for not telling him about Penny coming over. Penny is apparently good at making sandwiches, so he makes some for Julia and himself, and none for Quentin, but Julia shares hers, so it’s okay. Quentin honestly forgets about the whole paparazzi thing until, when they’re sitting in the living room eating sandwiches, Penny mentions that they should keep an eye out for reporters.

Reporters?” Julia says.

So Quentin tells her, and she spends a few minutes cursing their names creatively. Penny looks at her like she hung the moon. Quentin seriously didn’t need to know that swearing turns him on. Or that anything turns him on.

“I just don’t know how they even know me,” Quentin says.

Julia looks at him like he’s crazy. “First of all, your book is being turned into a movie. Second of all, you’re friends with me, Eliot, Margo, Penny, and you were dating Alice Quinn. Third, you were photographed with Eliot and Margo this morning.”

“Well when you put it that way,” Quentin mumbles. “Also, Penny’s famous?”

“I just told you this,” Penny says.

“You said you were a musician!” protests Quentin. “Not that you were famous!”

“Moderately,” Julia corrects. “Like me.”

Penny smiles at her. Gross. Quentin needs to leave this room, he needs – to be somewhere he can breathe. For some reason he thinks of Eliot and the beach again. “I’m going to take a nap,” he says.

“See you,” Julia says, a little wrinkle in the middle of her eyebrows that means she’s concerned.

“Yeah,” Quentin says and stumbles like he’s half-drunk into his bedroom, onto the bed, where he can pretend, at least, that he’s stopped thinking.

────────────

ELIOT WAUGH AND MARGO HANSON SPOTTED WITH NEW BRUNETTE

 

LA, CALIFORNIA – Our favourite socialites were spotted cozying up this morning to who our sources reveal as Quentin Coldwater, author of The Tale of the Seven Keys , the book that Margo’s new movie is adapted from. Quentin Coldwater is known for his friendship with actress Julia Wicker ( Hedge Witches, The Girl Who Told Time, Our Lady of the Tree ) and for dating universally acclaimed actress and musician Alice Quinn (Consequences of Advanced Spellcasting, Hotel Spa Potions, Lesser Evils). Alice and Quentin were short-lived, but we totally shipped it. Has he moved on with Margo? See pictures of him with Eliot and Margo having brunch on page 52….

────────────

El 😜

 

August 10th, 2019, 7:28 PM

 

i’m so sorry margo and i had no idea the press would be there

Don’t worry about it

It’s not your fault

it is though, they’re only being so asshole-y because you were with me

i fucking hate this

It would have happened sooner or later

Me too

Julia went grocery shopping and bought plums

delicious

She has a crush on Penny and Kady

You know Kady

Did I tell you about Penny?

you’ve complained many times, yes

We’re actually friends, I guess

He’s nice deep deep down

Isn’t that weird

very

what about penny and kady, are her crushes mutually reciprocated?

With Penny, yeah

Kady, I don’t know

she won’t know till she makes a move

tell her she’s gotta go for it

I’ll be sure to pass that advice along

u better

────────────

Three days after, Quentin is still getting hounded by the press. Julia keeps murmuring angry comments under her breath, but it’s worse if she tries to get involved. He gets a call from his agent about another book deal and instead of calling him back, finds himself knocking on the door of Eliot’s place two hours later.

Quentin has been to Eliot’s house, or mansion, really, once, but it was after a night steadily drinking with Margo and Eliot, and his memory of it is more than a little fuzzy. Eliot is usually at Margo’s apartments; he practically lives there.

He has a hood covering his face, just in case, and he pulls it further over his face nervously. Maybe Eliot is busy. But the door swings open a few moments later, and Eliot, curls loose and vest perfectly matching, smiles when he sees Quentin. “Nice hoodie.”

“I’m in disguise,” Quentin says, smiling foolishly back. “You gonna let me in?”

Eliot mock-bows, and stands aside to let Quentin come in.

Quentin hadn’t remembered that while Eliot’s mansion is extravagant and lavish, it’s lacking of anything personal. Sure, there’s Eliot’s taste in decor, elegant brown floors and a bottle of risque on a table, everything perfectly suited and straight out of a house magazine. There’s the framed pictures hung up: of him and Margo, mostly, though there’s one with him, Alice, and Julia, and another of him and a girl with long brown hair. And here and there, Quentin finds himself, awkward but happy. Most of Eliot’s beautiful vests and belongings are back at Margo’s place. Quentin shouldn’t be surprised; he knows Eliot and Margo are each other’s home.

“What brings you here?” Eliot says as Quentin takes off the hood of his jacket.

“I can leave,” Quentin assures him, trying in vain to fix his hair.

“I didn’t say that.” Eliot is watching him, his mouth quirked. “Here, let me – ” And he closes the gap between them, and gently goes through Quentin’s hair with his hands. Quentin swallows, doesn’t look at him. His heart thuds in his chest.

“All better,” Eliot says, moving away, and if Quentin didn’t know any better, he’d think Eliot’s voice was a little dry. “Well, for your hair situation, anyway.”

“I don’t know why I’m here,” Quentin admits, “I just – ”

“Hey, Q,” Eliot says. “I’m glad you’re here. Come see the clock. Margo’s telling me to move it to her apartment, but who bought the clock? I did, not her…”

Quentin lets the familiar cadence of Eliot’s voice wash over him as he follows Eliot to wherever he’s going. He would follow Eliot everywhere, if he’s being honest.

He follows Eliot to the clock, where Eliot gestures proudly at it, and Quentin thinks about nights where Fillory was the only thing that made him feel like he could get up. He follows Eliot into Eliot’s bedroom to help Eliot choose between two suits for a premiere tomorrow, but is no help on the suit front. He follows Eliot into the kitchen and remembers that long-ago claim that he would make cookies.

“You don’t actually know how to make cookies,” Eliot says when he brings it up. “That’s why you never fulfilled your promise.”

“I didn’t promise! And I do know how. I’ll do it, um. Right now.”

“Okay, yeah,” says Eliot, leaning against the counter and crossing his arms. “Go ahead.”

Quentin falters, looking around the kitchen like some sort of magic recipe with instructions will show up. “I – okay, so I’m going to get a bowl.”

“Right,” Eliot agrees, sounding like he’s trying not to laugh.

“I need, uh. Milk,” Quentin says, and thinks desperately about what else you need for cookies. “Flour? And sugar!”

“I can’t watch this anymore,” Eliot says, pushing himself off the counter. “Alright, I’ll help.”

“Thanks,” says Quentin feebly.

Eliot rattles off a list of ingredients for Quentin to acquire from his oddly well-stocked pantry and fridge, and Quentin obediently retrieves them all in three trips, setting them down on Eliot’s marble counter-top.

“Oh, turn the oven on,” Eliot says, mixing together some of the ingredients in a bowl.

Quentin casts a look back at Eliot’s fancy, high-tech oven, and sheepishly looks back. “Um, how?”

For a moment he thinks Eliot will be annoyed, but Eliot just laughs and tells him how. He’s stirring in chocolate chips and nuts when Quentin looks back. Quentin didn’t know people put nuts and chocolate chips in cookies, but he trusts Eliot. Not just to cook, but kind of with everything.

When Eliot is done mixing the ingredients, he tasks Quentin with helping to make little balls of the batter and placing them on Eliot’s cookie sheet. Quentin thinks while he’s rolling another one that he’s glad he came here, in Eliot’s warm kitchen with Eliot humming a Betty Who song and a batch of cookies on the way; he’s nearly forgotten about the paparazzi and his agent and every single monstrous thought his brain has thrown at him today.

“How come you’re never usually here? Like, at your huge mansion or whatever,” Quentin says, carefully putting a ball a safe distance from another one.

“I.” Eliot hesitates. “I don’t really like it here. I’d rather be at Margo’s place.”

“Why did you buy it, then?”

Eliot shrugs ruefully. “Felt like something I should do. I had all this money, and I’ve never had so much of it before. I wanted to piss off my dad, spend a lot of it on shit he wouldn’t approve of, like this place.”

“Oh,” Quentin says, watching Eliot. He kind of wants to murder Eliot’s dad. He could probably get away with it with Margo’s help. “You could make it a place you want to be at. Or buy some place you do like. I dunno.”

“I could, I guess,” says Eliot, looking at Quentin with a small smile that feels too private even for Quentin himself to see.

He opens the oven and Eliot puts in two cookie trays, one on top and one on the bottom. One of the balls is slightly squished. Quentin feels a little bad for it, so he decides on taking it when the cookies are ready.

“Okay, now the hardest part,” says Eliot. “Waiting.”

Quentin hadn’t realized he was hungry until now, or that the last thing he ate was a bagel this morning, hours ago. He stares mournfully at the oven, and Eliot notices, smiles and says, “Can’t wait ten minutes?”

Before Quentin can say anything, he’s opening the fridge and taking out a bowl of – peaches and plums, Quentin registers, and it’s like someone poured ice-cold water over his head, drenching his clothes and his hair and leaving him with one simple realization.

He likes Eliot.

An attraction to Eliot, thinks Quentin hysterically. If he could only be so lucky, to have that instead of – what? A desire to date him? A crush?

Love?

“Not as good as the ones we got at the festival,” Eliot is saying, oblivious to Quentin standing in the middle of his kitchen having a complete crisis, “but still delicious, d’you want a plum?”

“I,” Quentin says, helplessly. He looks at the relaxed edges of Eliot’s smile, his lovely eyes crinkling at the ends, the half-eaten peach in his hand. He thinks, I don’t know much but I like you I like you a lot a lot a lot, I like you too much.

“I’ll take that as a no,” Eliot says, laughing. He puts the bowl back in the fridge and closes it, coming over to stand next to Quentin beside the oven.

Quentin isn’t really thinking rationally so much as he’s thinking about Eliot’s mouth, pulling Eliot in by his tie and kissing him so hard he can’t see straight. Not that Quentin would be able to accomplish that with that much finesse, because he’s Quentin. And he’s seen the boys Eliot likes, delicately pretty or model-handsome but all secure in themselves and better than Quentin in every way possible.

For some reason he doesn’t care. For some reason he’s thinking, but what if I tried? For some reason he turns to Eliot. Says, “Hey.”

“Hey,” Eliot returns, an eyebrow raised like he’s indulging Quentin. He swallows a bite of his peach and places it down on the counter behind them.

“I, um – ” And he’s not thinking, not hesitating, just leaning forward, up on his tip-toes. He waits the briefest tiniest millisecond for Eliot to back away, and then Quentin kisses him.

Eliot makes a small, muffled noise. His lips are soft and Quentin thinks for one second that he might be kissing back, before Quentin pulls away. The whole thing couldn’t have lasted more than a few seconds, and it can’t really have been classified as a kiss, but Quentin’s heart is racing and all he’s thinking about is doing it again.

He smiles at Eliot, sheepish but not regretful, as if to say the cards are in your favor now. Do what you like with me because I’m yours.

Eliot smiles back, slow and sure, and he leans forward and kisses Quentin this time, pushing him against the counter. His hand on Quentin’s neck and Quentin’s hand in his hair. It feels like coming home, thinks Quentin. A key turning in a lock, his feet on a welcome mat. The counter is digging into his hips but he doesn’t care, can’t care, not with Eliot taking hold of his face and kissing him like it was what he was meant to do.

Eliot tastes like peaches and Quentin can feel the smile against his mouth. He grabs onto Eliot’s hair tighter, makes an embarrassing noise –

Beep, the oven says, beep beep beep beep beep.

Quentin is seriously considering ignoring it, but Eliot pulls away, breathing hard. His curls are in a disarray and his mouth looks swollen. Quentin doubts he looks any less like he’s just been well and truly made out with, but Eliot somehow looks even more attractive.

“The cookies,” Eliot says, looking and looking at Quentin.

What cookies? Quentin almost says, because he genuinely remembers nothing beyond the past few minutes: Eliot’s mouth on his and the peach on the countertop. Then it hits him. “Shit.”“

Shit is right,” Eliot agrees wildly, eyes wide. “Hand me those uh. Fuck. Ovens. No, oven mitts, hand me those oven mitts, the second drawer, behind you.” Beep beep beep beep beep, goes the oven. They’re probably just a little burnt. It’s fine.

Quentin scrambles to open the drawer and tosses the mitts at Eliot, rushing to open the oven for him. Eliot carefully takes out the trays, and sets them down one at a time on the place mat Quentin had put on the table earlier.

They are more than a little burnt.

Eliot laughs, covering his face with his hands. “At least we didn’t burn the kitchen down.”

“Yeah,” Quentin says, examining a cookie sadly. Now there’s nothing to distract them, and there’s only the awkward truth stretched out between the two of them. They almost burned the kitchen down because they were kissing like their lives depended on it, so. What now, thinks Quentin, but he can absolutely not form logical thoughts right now. He just wants to kiss Eliot again, everywhere that Eliot wants him to, and he wants to stay best friends with Eliot. His brain is more than a little wired right now but he thinks that’s called dating.

He’s about to say something, anything, when the doorbell rings.

“Oh, shit,” Eliot says, “Kady was supposed to come over to help me write a song –

“Right, sorry,” says Quentin, a little dazed.

“I can tell her to come back later,” says Eliot, at the same time that Quentin says, “I’ll just go.”

They stare at each other and laugh. Quentin smiles down at the floor. When he looks back up, Eliot is rubbing the back of his neck. The doorbell rings several times in a row.

Eliot grimaces. “She’s probably going to start kicking the door down soon.”

“I’ll go,” Quentin says, even though he would rather do anything else. “I didn’t tell you I was coming or anything – ”

“No, you can come whenever you want.” Eliot makes a frustrated noise. “I don’t want – are you sure?”

No, thinks Quentin. “Yeah,” he says. “Don’t worry about it.”

“Okay,” Eliot says. The doorbell rings. Eliot ignores it, muttering something under his breath, and leans forward. He grabs Quentin by the collar of Quentin’s shirt and kisses him, a perfect execution of the move Quentin wanted to pull off earlier and a perfect movie kiss. Quentin is out of breath by the end of it.

“Now you can leave,” says Eliot, out of breath himself.

Quentin puts on his hoodie, tossed on the kitchen table, and hesitates on the threshold of Eliot’s kitchen. Then he takes a few steps so he’s back in front of Eliot, and reaches up to kiss Eliot, hands balanced on Eliot’s shoulders.

Eliot is smiling when Quentin pulls away, that surprised, adoring look that Quentin loves so much. “You didn’t have any cookies.”

Quentin laughs. “You should probably throw them out.” But he grabs one anyways, and Eliot does too.

“Okay, on three, and quick before Kady kills me,” Eliot says. “One, two, three.” And they bite down at the same time.

Quentin makes a face. “It’s...not that bad.”

“It’s awful,” Eliot says, and Quentin starts laughing, even though they have to hurry and he has to leave and there’s no time for this.

“No, they weren’t that bad,” he argues, but his heart isn’t in it. Eliot keeps shaking his head. Quentin is still smiling by the time he’s at the front door, Eliot on his heels. He opens the door to find Kady Orloff-Diaz, with her arms crossed and her combat boots over a pair of jeans and a matching leather jacket.

“Fucking finally,” Kady says. She and Penny are a lot alike; no wonder they used to date. Quentin wonders why they don’t anymore. “Who’s this?”

“Quentin,” says Quentin, “uh, friends with Julia. I was just leaving. Have a nice time.” He slips out the door, Kady turning to let him leave.

“Q,” Eliot calls back, and then looks at Kady. “Um.” There’s something odd about his expression, the first sign Quentin has that there’s something wrong. “Be safe.”

Quentin smiles at him and is so unbelievably happy. “I will.”

────────────

Eliot is avoiding him.

When Quentin got home two days ago, he’d been grinning so much Julia made him tell everything (her reaction included: “Oh my God, was he a good kisser? Was there tongue? Tell me everything, I fucking knew it.”) and then he’d made Julia tell him everything because she was grinning so much (Penny asked her out and Kady kissed her, and she liked them both and they were in some sort of polyamorous situation.)

He texted Eliot, typing and typing over and over again and then settling on a simple hi, but Eliot hadn’t responded at all. Quentin had felt too pathetic to text anything else.

It’s been two days, and Eliot hasn’t texted him back. One day was fine. Quentin can play that off. But now, it’s more than a little worrying.

And he misses Eliot: saying good night and good morning every day, Eliot pushing him as far as he can go and kissing him like he meant it, Eliot’s daily updates about random moments in his life.

“I’m sure everything’s fine,” Julia says in the morning over pancakes (Julia) and waffles (Quentin) with ice cream, because they can do that now, they’re adults and they can have ice cream with their breakfast if they fucking want.

“Maybe he’s at the studio,” Quentin says, instead of something depressing like maybe he got tired of me. “I’ll come with you.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Julia agrees. And then, quieter, “Eliot wouldn’t not text you without a good reason.”

Quentin knows she’s right. But he also doesn’t know what a good reason means for Eliot.

So Quentin comes to the studio with Julia, but Eliot isn’t there. Quentin looks for him in vain, but he can’t see him anywhere. So. It’s official. Eliot doesn’t want to see him.

He does find Margo, though, so when everyone takes a break, he corners her at the snack table. She barely notices him standing there waiting for her, too busy staring longingly at – Alice, in costume and chatting with an employee wearing the name tag Sheila. Quentin thinks about Margo and Alice laughing together and Margo asking him about Alice’s sexual and romantic life and Margo currently staring at her like a creep. No, he thinks, incredulously, but apparently, according to logic, yes.

“Oh my God,” he says out loud, distracted from Eliot, “Margo, do you have a crush on – ”

Margo whips around, her perfectly curled hair flying into Quentin’s face. “What the fuck are you doing, Coldwater?”

“Um.” Quentin blinks. He lowers his voice. “Do you have a crush on Alice?”

“Absolutely not,” Margo hisses, “why would you think that, never, absolutely never.”

“Oh my God,” Quentin says again, despairingly. “You do. I thought you hated her!”

“Why would you think that!” Margo says, glaring at him.

“You have a picture of her with devil horns,” Quentin says. “Why’d you hate her so much anyway?”

“Not – ugh, shut up. I – ”

Quentin’s never really seen Margo like this. “Hey, we’re bros,” he offers. “You can tell me.”

“I tried to be nice to her and she was mean to me,” Margo says. “No one is mean to me. I’m mean to them. I’m the mean one.”

“Right,” says Quentin. “Obviously.”

“So maybe it came to my attention,” Margo goes on, “that she’s not...as bad as I thought. That doesn’t mean I have a fucking crush on her.”

“Okay,” says Quentin, “but you do, don’t you?”

“If you tell anyone,” Margo says threateningly, “I’ll cut off your head and hang it outside of my home as a warning to the next bastard who tries to cross me.”

“Okay, okay.” Quentin raises his hands up a little. “It’s okay. I have a crush on Eliot.”

“I know that,” Margo says dismissively. “Wait. You know that? You two idiots figured it out? Have you been fucking like a pair of bunnies on their honeymoon while I’ve been over here worrying my ass off?”

“Uh,” Quentin says. “Kind of. That’s why I’m here. You were worrying?”

“I haven’t seen Eliot in two days!” says Margo. “Obviously I’m fucking worried, but I thought he was with you, on some surprise romantic retreat the two of you are pretending isn’t a date. You’re telling me he’s not?”

“Well.” Quentin’s cheeks go red. “We did – kiss, but Kady came over, and the last time I saw him was two days ago, same as you. He’s not here, and he didn’t reply to my text, so I thought. You would know where he is.” If Margo hasn’t seen Eliot either, Quentin is seriously panicking. What if Eliot got kidnapped? What if Quentin provoked his kidnapping into existence ages ago, that day of the beach? Okay, that’s a little far-fetched, but what if he’s not okay? What if he’s hurt, or something happened? Quentin doesn’t know what he would do if something happens.

“You kissed,” Margo repeats. “I would say hallelujah, but clearly Eliot’s fucked this up somehow. I am this close to kicking down his door or seducing his security team into letting me in, but – you’re the one who’s got to do it.”

“Excuse me?” says Quentin.

“Look.” Margo turns to face him fully, hands on her hips. “Here’s what you have to understand about Eliot. He’s gone through a lot. He doesn’t like letting people in. But you know that, don’t you? Because he’s already let you in, and I never thought I would see him do that to someone other than me. Right now, I guarantee you he’s panicking, because God knows he’s a commitaphobe and a lot of it has to do with his family. So you’re the one who’s gotta ovary up and tell him you love him.”

“That’s really inspiring and stuff, but I didn’t say I loved him,” Quentin says, a tad defensively. “Who said that? It’s only been a few months, that’s not enough time to fall in love.”

“Oh, save it for someone who cares, Coldwater,” Margo says, rolling her eyes. “Are you going to talk to him or not?”

Quentin half-shrugs. “You already know I am.”

“Yeah,” she says, “I do. At the risk of sounding sappy, I’m really glad Eliot pushed you into a supply closet.”

“Me too,” Quentin says. “You want me to, uh. Talk to Alice? See how she, um.” God, he can’t do this. It’s too weird.

Margo makes a face. “Please don’t.”

“Probably for the best,” he agrees. Margo leaves shortly to the bathroom, but Quentin stays at the snack table and finishes a donut. He’s gone through a lot, Margo had said. Was that really why Eliot wasn’t replying to him? Was he scared, because they meant something? Did they mean something? Because to Quentin, they did. They do. He wants to hope, with all of his heart, that this means something to Eliot too, that it was real.

He doesn’t realize Alice has come up to him until she startles him by saying, hesitantly, “Hey.”

Quentin hasn’t talked, genuinely talked to Alice in what feels like forever. She looks good, eyes brighter than when he’d seen her last, new eyeliner but the same glasses. “Hey,” he says back, at length.

“I wanted to – ” Alice starts, and stops. “I just wanted to say hi, because. I miss you, Q.”

She’d been so important to him for so long. He wonders how they both could have thought they could cut each other out of their lives completely. “I miss you too,” Quentin says. “I’ve been meaning to talk to you – ”

“I have, too – ”

“Are you, um, are you doing alright?”

“I am! Um, I wanted to say congrats, Quentin. This is an amazing opportunity for you, and I’m really glad I’m apart of it.”

“I’m glad you are too,” Quentin says. “I can’t imagine anyone else playing Olivia.”

“I love playing her,” Alice says earnestly. “I read the book too – ”

“Yeah?”

“I’m proud of you,” Alice says.

Quentin says, quietly, “Alice, I want us to be friends. If you’d like that.”

Alice smiles, laughing or sobbing a little. “I’d like that.”

Margo had told him not to put in a good word or whatever, but Quentin can’t resist trying to find out Alice’s side of this whole feud/crush. He doesn’t want her to hurt Margo, and he doesn’t want Margo to hurt her, either, and he has no idea how Alice feels about Margo. So he says, “How is it working with Margo?”

To his surprise, Alice goes pink and doesn’t look at him. “It’s nice.”

“I’m sure it is,” Quentin says, grinning. He thinks Margo and Alice will be fine.

When he gets home, he doesn’t mean to, but he ends up at his desk, grabbing the fountain pen his dad bought him and a piece of paper. He’s thinking about Eliot the first time Quentin ever saw him, in a magazine Julia had been reading, a photo of him looking into the camera with bedroom eyes and a face like a prince or a king. He’s thinking about Eliot the first time Quentin ever met him, thrown into a storage closet, uncomfortably pressed together, Eliot’s charm making Quentin stumble over his words even more than he usually did. He’s thinking about Eliot the first time Quentin ever kissed him and maybe the last, surprised and wondering, tasting like peaches.

Quentin’s head is spinning in a million different directions, and he doesn’t know how to feel or what he feels or what he wants. Or maybe he does, and he just doesn’t want to admit.

He’s been through a lot.

Quentin presses his pen to the paper. He’s ten years old and writing his first story again, fifteen years old and writing terrible Fillory & Further fanfiction again, twenty-three years old and writing a novel again. Twenty-four years old and writing a letter to the person who might be the love of his life.

────────────

El,

I don’t know why I addressed this. It’s a little dumb. It’s not like you’re going to read this. I hope you’re not going to read this, I think it’ll probably end up being really embarrassing. You know, I’m supposed to be a writer. I’m supposed to be good at this. Maybe I should start at the beginning, the very beginning, when you didn’t know I even existed. The last year of high school. I was just this little speck in the distance that you were going to see soon, if you kept walking, but not yet. I knew you then, though. Everyone knew you. Obviously. You’re famous. But then, you were just starting to rise in fame and almost everyone had a crush on you. Julia will tell I had a crush on you then, too. She’s a liar, because it wasn’t really a crush. Or maybe it was. I don’t know. Well, I got over it. I didn’t think in a million years that I would ever have to talk to you more than once. The idea of meeting you terrified me, but I thought it’d probably happen someday, because Julia kept getting roles and I was always along for the ride. I never thought I’d matter to you. It never occurred to me to even dream about that.

But I think I do.

You matter to me, anyway. Graduating high school, you mattered to me. When you pushed me into a storage closet and were pressed closer to me than I’d ever thought you would be, you mattered to me. When you texted me when you should have been sleeping, you mattered to me. In your car, in Margo’s dressing room, at the festival, at the beach, at your place, at Margo’s, at mine.

When you kissed me, you mattered to me.

I don’t know if this means anything to you. I don’t know if you haven’t been talking to me because this doesn’t mean anything, or because it does mean something. I don’t really know anything about what you want. I know what I want. I want you. Maybe the feelings involved in that are – complicated, and hard to unravel. But here’s, okay, here’s the thing. I’ve never liked someone the way I like you. You’re my best friend, but you know that already. I guess what you don’t already know is that I love you.

What I’m going to write next is so sappy and corny I can physically feel myself cringing as I write it, but it’s not like you’re going to read this anyways, so. Gotta go full out, right?

I love your hair, especially when there’s no product in it, but really it looks nice all the time. I love the way you smile, and I love the way you laugh. I love that you’re a mess but you’re good, deep down. I love how you take care of Margo and me. I love that thing you do, um, with your tongue? I love that you’d be totally delighted if you read that last part. I love when you smile with half of your mouth and I love when you raise your eyebrows. I love when you’re mean and when you’re kind and how you’re a complete contradiction, but fuck if you aren’t a lovely one.

I love a lot of things about you, El. And I know you, the dark, deep awful parts, and I’m not scared of them. And you know me, the dark, deep awful parts, and you’re not scared either. I think that means something.

So I wrote this to try and figure that out. I don’t know. At least I can be honest with myself, and say, I love you and I’m not going to push it down anymore.

Q

(I don’t know why I signed this either. It’s just that I already addressed it, so it would be kind of weird not to sign it. That’s what I thought, anyways. Oh, who the fuck cares.)  

────────────

“Roses, huh? Got a special somebody to impress?” the girl at the counter says, smiling. Her name tag says, Fen, with a smiley face, and she looks so genuine Quentin can’t help but reply to her. She also looks vaguely familiar, but Quentin can’t quite place where he’s seen her.

“Um,” he says, and shrugs a little helplessly. “Yes, I guess? I’m trying to tell someone that, uh, I love him.”

He hadn’t meant to end up in a flower shop. Really, he hadn’t. He’d gotten the courage to take a taxi to Eliot’s mansion, and then saw the flower shop across the street. Quentin had thought maybe it would be a nice idea, but now he was thinking it was just really embarrassing. It isn’t like he’s picking Eliot up on a date. But now he’s already here, and Fen, if that is actually her name, is beaming at him expectantly, so.

“Oh my God, really?” she says. “That’s so romantic. Who’s it for?”

“Um,” Quentin says again. “His name is Eliot.”

Fen’s eyes widen. “You’re Quentin!”

Possibly Quentin has missed something. “Um,” he says for the third time, “sorry, how do you know my name?”

“You’re talking about Eliot, aren’t you? He and Margo are my favourite customers!” Fen says. “They come all the time to send flowers to each other, and somehow I always end up in Margo’s apartment baking with Eliot, but the point is, Eliot’s always talking about you! Quentin, long brown hair. Oh, am I mistaken?”

“No, no you’re right,” Quentin assures her, and thinks Eliot talks about me. He needs a minute. This is too much. Now he remembers where he’s seen Fen, in a picture at Eliot’s apartment. He thinks Margo might have mentioned her once, someone with a fondness for flowers and a talent with knives. He probably misheard that last part.

“I think it’s just wonderful that he’s found someone,” Fen goes on, and Quentin is too awkward to correct her. He just takes the bouquet when Fen is done, and waves goodbye to her afterwards.

“Okay,” he tells himself once he’s outside of the shop. “You can do this. It’s Eliot. He’s seen you do so many embarrassing things, this’ll be a piece of cake.”

Which is true. The only person Quentin feels less self-conscious with than Eliot is Julia.

“You got this, man,” some random guy says encouragingly, passing by.

Quentin squints at him, tilting his head. His memory of that night is more than a little fuzzy but “Josh? Hoberman?”

“Hey, man!” Josh says. “You remember me! Didn’t think you would, you were seriously smashed, but I hope everything goes well with you and Eliot.”

“Thanks,” Quentin says as Josh keeps walking. He shakes his head this day is getting seriously weird and crosses the street, making his way to Eliot’s mansion and ringing the doorbell. His palms are sweating, but it’s just the heat. He’s fine.

He waits. Rings the doorbell again and this time Eliot opens the door. He’s got dark circles under his eyes, is the first thing Quentin notices, and he doesn’t look well, but otherwise it’s like Quentin can finally breathe just seeing him. He’s okay. This little knot in Quentn’s chest unclenches.

“Hi,” he says, and holds the flowers out just so he can get rid of them. “These are for you.”

Eliot’s face does something very strange, but he takes the flowers. “For me? You shouldn’t have,” he says teasingly, but his tone falls a little flat.

This isn’t exactly a super promising start, but Quentin presses in. “Can I come in?”

“Course,” Eliot says, and moves to let him come inside. “To what do I owe this pleasure?”

“I wanted to talk to you,” says Quentin, wincing at himself internally. “Margo and I have been worried sick, where have you been?”

“Oh, here and there.” Eliot’s voice is airy, but Quentin can see right through it. Maybe Margo was right, and he’s been panicking about what happened the last time Quentin was here.

“Next time text one of us,” says Quentin. “That was messed up, El.”

“Yeah,” Eliot says. “Sorry, really. Did you want to sit down?”

Everywhere Quentin looks, he’s reminded of Eliot in the kitchen, happy and easy, Eliot kissing him. The Eliot of two days ago is such a stark contrast from this one right now, avoiding Quentin’s eyes while he leads the way to the living room.

Quentin perches on the edge of a sofa and Eliot sits down a fair distance away from him. His face is turned the other way, and Quentin is a little concerned. “Eliot, are you okay? Is there something wrong, or I don’t know

“Nothing’s wrong,” Eliot says, and turns to face him. “What did you want to talk about?”

Despite how strange Eliot’s acting, Quentin still wants to take the plunge. He wants to be brave enough to ask if it’s okay that he likes or loves Eliot, to ask if Eliot will like or love him too. He wants to wake up to morning kisses from Eliot instead of morning texts, and is it really – is it really so unbelievable that this could work, he could have this? Already, everything’s going so much better than he’d thought it would when he was eighteen. He’d never even thought he would be here right now, but he is, and he never thought he could love someone like this, but he does. And Quentin knows, if he ignores his extremely low self-esteem and severe trauma and abandonment issues, that Eliot likes him, at least a little.

“I thought, maybe,” he starts, tentatively, “we should talk about, you know, the last time I was here, and if that has to be a – a one-off thing. Maybe it can be real. Maybe we can go on dates like Margo says we always do, and buy one milkshake instead of two on Sundays.”

There’s this expression on Eliot’s face that Quentin can’t quite place. It’s something like disbelief, or dread, or shame, or all three intertwined together.

“I think,” Quentin says, “I think, um, we work. We’re good with each other. Maybe we could do this, for real.”

“Q,” Eliot says gently, and Quentin knows already that something’s wrong but he hopes, with all of his heart, ferociously. “You’re my best friend, you know that this isn’t – it’s not what either of us want or need, it’s not. A good idea, we’re – ”

And. He was wrong. Of course he was wrong, of course he was wrong, he’s – he knows when someone wants him and when they don’t, and more often than not they don’t.

“Right,” Quentin says and doesn’t look at him, can’t look at him, swallows down against something swelling up in his throat. He doesn’t know why he thought –

“I don’t mean that I don’t – ”

“No, I get it, yeah,” Quentin makes himself say, staring at his knees. He sneaks a glance at Eliot, who isn’t looking at him, and it hurts too much to see him. Quentin reaches up to wipe a tear threatening to fall down from his nose and stands up too fast. His face is warm and he feels a little sick, but there’s nothing he can do about that. “I’ll just – I’ll go. I’ll see you around. Don’t worry about it.”

A shifting sound on the couch means Eliot has stood up too, but Quentin doesn’t look back.

“Q, wait – ”

“I’ll see you around,” Quentin repeats, and he walks out of the room and out of Eliot’s stupid house as quick as he can without seeming any more pathetic than he already is. You’re my best friend, Eliot had said. Well, fine. That was enough. That was more than Quentin really deserved from him.

He pushes Eliot’s door with more force than necessary. He thinks out in the fresh air he’ll be able to breathe, but instead there’s this awful feeling creeping up on him, and his throat stings, and there’s rain, falling lightly, showering down amongst the sun. Summer rain, the kind of rain that Eliot likes, and it’s another knife to his heart.

It’s fine. He’ll be fine. He’ll walk to the bus stop and he’ll be fine, and he’ll go home. Everything will be like it was before Eliot was in his life. Everything was fine before.

He can exhale, a little, because he’s out of Eliot’s neighborhood, but that’s when someone calls his name. It’s Eliot’s voice, of course. Quentin would know Eliot’s voice anywhere.

Quentin stops. He thinks, despairingly, God, what now, wipes away the tears or rain on his face.

“Q!” Eliot calls again. “You forgot something.”

Quentin can’t do this. He keeps walking like he hasn’t heard Eliot.

“I think it’s important,” Eliot says, a little more softer this time, something different about his voice. Not different like it’s been the whole time they’ve been talking, but like Eliot at the beach, staring at the stars.

Quentin closes his eyes, turns around and opens them. Eliot is standing in the rain a distance away from, not too far away that Quentin couldn’t walk to him quickly.

His hair is wet and he’s holding something in his hand. A piece of paper, folded four times.

Quentin’s letter, the one he’d written last night and put in his jeans pocket for – courage, or something. At the sight of it, the sickening feeling in Quentin’s stomach increases, and he thinks, why why why why. Eliot reading that humiliating letter is the worst part of all of this, Quentin’s honest, uncontained feelings all over the place.

“Sorry,” says Quentin. His voice sounds hoarse and small. “I forgot I had that.”

Eliot takes a step closer. “Please don’t be sorry.”

“Just throw that out,” Quentin says, tired. “I didn’t mean – it doesn’t matter.” And he turns back around, intending on walking again, but Eliot’s voice stops him in his tracks.

“This is something good and I’m just waiting for when something is going to mess it up,” Eliot says, voice loud and clear. It takes Quentin a moment to remember his words from months ago, in Margo’s dressing room, the first time he’d anyone how he really felt about this movie deal.

What does Eliot want? What does he hope to gain from this, embarrassing Quentin even further?

“That’s what you told me, the first time we talked for real,” continues Eliot. “You had something good, but you couldn’t believe it. You didn’t want to believe in it, because what if it all went wrong? It was supposed to go wrong, because everything went wrong around you.”

“God, I get it,” Quentin says unexpectedly, the words wrenched from his mouth. He closes his eyes again. “What does this have to do with anything?” Besides being an apt metaphor for his feelings about Eliot.

“Q,” Eliot says, “you’re something good. For me. I’m not...good at this like you are. When you kissed me I was scared to death. Today I was trying to make sure nothing happened to our friendship, because that’s – really important, to me. I was trying to make sure nothing messed it up. But I guess I messed it up myself, which is no surprise.”

Quentin turns around. He tries to tamp down the smile tilting up the corners of his mouth. He doesn’t even know what Eliot is trying to say yet. “People are going to come out here and take pictures of you,” he says quietly.

“They can fucking go ahead.” Softer, Eliot holds up the letter and says, “No one says things like this about me. Because I’m too much. And I never get attached to anyone or anything except for Margo. But I got attached to you. A lot.”

“Eliot, you don’t need to try and make me feel better – ”

“I’m not, I swear.” Eliot swallows, takes another step closer. “Did you mean everything you said in here?”

And, well. Quentin’s never liked lying. He’s not sure he’s even capable of lying to Eliot. “Yeah.”

“Even the bit about my tongue?”

“Oh fuck you,” Quentin says, holding back a laugh.

“I don’t like the idea of trusting someone when they could betray me the next second,” says Eliot. “That terrifies me. But you. God, you. I trusted you the very first moment we met and I didn’t even know why. You wouldn’t betray me, and when I read what you wrote I realized that I know that, I fucking do. How could I just let you leave thinking that was the end of it when I knew that you actually do care about me, you do want this?”

Something warm unfurls in Quentin’s foolish heart. He casts a sideways look to the houses on his right, where a crowd of people have come out and are watching with puzzlement and their phones out. “Eliot...”

“Forget them,” Eliot says. “Quentin Coldwater, you’re the bravest, most honest, loyal and loveliest person I’ve ever met. And you have a great ass. You’re literally like, the whole package.”

“Thank you?” Quentin says, his mouth going a little dry.

Eliot keeps walking until he’s right in front of Quentin, the rain still drizzling down on them. Eliot’s beautiful clothes are soaked; Quentin’s not much better off but his clothes were from Target, so.

“There’s this thing you do when you smile at me,” Eliot says quietly, his eyes shining, eyelashes glimmering from the rain. “You do it with your whole face, and your eyes go all crinkly, and you look at me like you’re the luckiest person in the world, and then you look away quickly and laugh. Every time you do it, I’m the one who’s lucky. I got really lucky when you were standing in the middle of the hallway, and I got really lucky when you replied to my weird texts. There’s not anything in the world that could match up to the way I feel when you smile at me, except maybe the way I felt when you kissed me.”

Quentin’s heart thuds in his chest, and the sun comes out. “What are you saying?” he asks, voice barely a whisper. He can’t breathe. He can’t, there’s no way that –

“I’m crazy about you,” Eliot says. “So if you still want me, I’m yours.”

The rain is so light Quentin can barely feel it sprinkling upon him and the sudden warmth spreading through him is less because of the sun that’s come out and more because of Eliot. He presses a hand to his mouth, wondering, his heartbeat out of control, and looks at Eliot.

With the sun kissing his soaked hair and his eyes sparkling, Quentin’s never thought more that Eliot must be something that stumbled out of one of his dreams. But he’s real, like Quentin is real, and he wants Quentin, like Quentin wants him. And he’s told Quentin the truth, in front of dozens of people murmuring and watching them.

“You’re a dick,” Quentin says, something in his voice that’s in between a laugh or a sob, and he takes one step closer to Eliot, close like they’d been close in the kitchen before Quentin got the courage to do what he’s wanted to do since he first met Eliot. “This is all going to be on the news, you know.”

“If you don’t care, I don’t care.” Eliot looks more hopeful than Quentin has ever seen him, and when Quentin grins at him outright, he leans forward to cradle Quentin’s face and kisses him. This is where Quentin was meant to be, this whole time.

When Eliot lets go, Quentin wraps his arms around him and hugs him like he’s never going to let him go, eyes tightly shut. Eliot’s face is buried in Quentin’s shoulder, and when Quentin opens his eyes he can see that the rain is still falling gently, but there’s a rainbow unfurled across the sky, bright and vibrant.

────────────

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────────────

A BRAND NEW SUMMER ROMANCE! Eliot Waugh publicly proclaims his love for Quentin Coldwater

by EDITOR AND WRITER Lana McCaffery

 

Eyewitnesses yesterday were shocked to see Eliot Waugh running after writer Quentin Coldwater (24), where the two had a heated conversation and then embraced. Coldwater has been linked to celebrities in the past and dated Alice Quinn two years ago, and was recently discovered with Eliot and Margo Hanson. Sources linked Quentin and Margo together, but it may have been the other way around this whole time. Worldwide response to this has been conflicted, but ‘Queliot’ has been trending on Twitter since the news broke out. We have reached out to representatives of both Eliot Waugh and Quentin Coldwater. We have received no official response yet.

Pictures of the two can be seen here. READ MORE here.

────────────

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” Quentin says.

“Shhhhh, you look great,” says Eliot, brushing down the shoulders of Quentin’s suit jacket and intently turning Quentin this way and that. They’re in Eliot’s bedroom, or practically Quentin’s too, by now; it’s been one month since they officially became a thing, or whatever, and more often than not, Quentin is at Eliot’s place. He’s got a toothbrush here but not a change of clothes, so he usually ends up wearing Eliot’s, and he’s working up the courage to drop in the idea of him maybe moving in one day.

“Not my clothes, the movie premiere.” Quentin considers. “But also my clothes a little. There’s going to be a lot of people there, and they’re all going to be like. Looking at me.”

“Lucky them,” is Eliot’s unhelpful verdict. He carefully pushes Quentin’s hair away from his face and dusts off Quentin’s suit, taking the opportunity to feel him up a little, because obviously, he’s Eliot and ridiculous.

“We have places to be,” Quentin says but secretly, or not-so secretly, he’d rather stay here and have sex with Eliot than go anywhere.

“Mm-hm. All done.” Eliot spins Quentin to face the mirror and sets his chin down on Quentin’s shoulder. Quentin stifles a smile. Quentin’s tie matches Eliot’s waistcoat, and the suit actually does fit him, and he looks at himself and doesn’t hate anything about the picture reflected back at him.

“Okay, check yourself out later, we’re late and Margo will kill us,” Eliot says.

Whose fault is that? Who is the one who just had to make sure the suit fit me perfectly and ended up making out with me halfway into that? Because it wasn’t me.”

Eliot sniffs, adjusting his bow tie. “Rude.”

Quentin’s smile fades. “Everything’s going to be fine, right?”

“Everything’s going to be great,” Eliot says. “This is your big day! I’m pretty sure Julia’s crying, so you should be crying with her. And even if something goes extremely wrong.” Eliot steps forward, and lifts up Quentin’s chin. Quentin rolls his eyes fondly. “We just come back here, and everything’s okay in the end.”

“Yeah,” Quentin says and smiles. “Yeah, you’re right. Julia, Kady, and Penny are going together...is Margo going with Alice?”

“Weirdly enough, yes, and I can’t believe she told you before she told me – ”

“Hey, you were having a breakdown over your feelings about me – ”

“Oh my God, do you have to bring that up all the time?”

“I mean, I’ve gotta milk it for everything it’s worth, right? But you did turn back immediately after – ”

“Because you wrote me a love letter – ”

“Do you always have to bring that up?”

“Who would I be if I didn’t? Hey, Q.” Eliot catches his arm before he starts walking away in a fit of mock-anger. “I love you.”

So obviously Quentin pushes him onto the bed and kisses him, and they’re probably going to end up being a little late.

But it’s alright.