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Quentin sighed, nudging the brats around on the grill. Just. The rich, thick smell of grilled meat. His stomach turned, not unpleasantly. Another in the long list of things he’d forgotten. He had flirted with the idea of writing things down. But the list quickly had become so long and overwhelming. The sheer length of it. And, well. He was working on being kinder to himself. They'd been working on this: him and Birdie. His most appropriately named therapist, tiny and fierce. Fittingly, like all the women in his life. He’d been working on a lot of things with Birdie, actually. Therapy had been long overdue. So had getting back on his meds, which kind of dampened the edges of the world, but made them bearable. Sorta. But, also, made him face all of the things that the constant pain and fear and loss had wrapped around his broken brain for all those awful months like cotton batting. And that? Alice never had to face the howling maw before, not like that. And, it had been hard, and frankly more than she had signed up for. Wasn’t exactly why she had thrown up the deuces; she had a serious job that had pulled her away with greater and greater frequency, but still. Probably had prodded the decision along.

You’re cooking? Should we take shelter?”

Why did the world suddenly feel like it tilted on its axis? Quentin turned slowly, and Jesus. It had almost been a year since he’d seen Eliot. But, fuck. He was still so staggeringly beautiful. In that stupid old Hollywood kind of way that never failed to completely disorient him. Eliot stood there with a bottle of something alcoholic in one hand and a small gift bag in the other, eyebrows raised in challenge at the grill behind Quentin.

And, shit. “Shit!” Several of the brats had caught fire and were charred black. Shit.

Eliot sauntered over, all effortlessly regal, and sniffed. “Well, I guess some people like them extra crispy?”

Quentin just gaped at him, his mind still playing catch up.

Eliot was in motion, though. Bizarrely took off his vest, unloosening his tie and rolling up the sleeves of his dress shirt. “You got an apron?” Eliot cocked an eyebrow towards him, but then shook his head. “Of course not, you neanderthal.” He took the grill tongs out of Quentin’s hand. “You’re such a boy.” Eliot wrinkled his nose, pulling the burned brats off of the grill, looking around for some place to put them.

Jesus. The sheer easy way Eliot had with him; like they had never been apart. Quentin felt a wave of grief and longing crash inside his chest, but he carefully shoved this down for further examination later. And he turned to the side, squinting at his friends milling around the lawn.

“You ok?” Eliot’s voice was soft, searching.

“Yeah, I um. Yeah.” He turned back around, looking at Eliot. He realized with a start that he hadn’t even given him a hug.

Julia, seeing Eliot, loped over. “Eliot! You got my bunny!”

He gave her an easy grin. “Yes, ma’am. Wouldn’t miss it for the world.” This last part was directed at him, and something unbolted in the middle of Quentin’s chest.

When Julia had proposed the party, Quentin had thought it was the worst idea he had ever heard. But, she had been so excited. “A new birthday party? A back-from-the-dead party?”

“A zombie party?” Quentin had cut in dryly.

Julia winced. “Well, maybe that’s what the kids are into these days?”

He groaned. “Jules.”

She had placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. “Q. I think we have a lot to celebrate. I’m so proud of you; how far you’ve come.” She had tucked herself into his side. “Let me do this for you, ok?”

And, who was he to say no in the face of that.

It was a good idea. Bringing people together, seeing his friends. They had fractured quite a bit while he’d been...gone. Alice and Kady to the Library, Eliot and Margo to Fillory to find Josh and Fen. Julia had been the one to stay behind, and with her, Penny 23. Some of the band had gotten back together to bring him back, led by Alice. With heavy assists from Eliot and Julia.

But soon after, too soon, really, Eliot had to return to Fillory. They didn’t have much time to talk, but he’d hugged Quentin tightly and told him softly how glad he was to finally, finally see him again. And, that he was happy for him and Alice; they all deserved a little joy, after everything. Which, Quentin didn’t know how to process at the time, but had sounded very much like a goodbye. And that? Hurt like a motherfucker. When Quentin had asked if he had to leave, Eliot's face went through several different guises before settling on pinched and pained. He hauled Quentin into another hug and then left with a muttered sorry.

Julia had later let him know that things had been particularly difficult for Eliot; she didn’t have many details, other than Margo had not been pleased that Eliot had abandoned her for what she thought was an untenable quest. Which, again, Quentin wasn’t really sure how to process.

He shook his head, trying to pull himself back to the now of it.

Julia took his hand, swinging them together playfully. “Hey, teach?” She tilted her head towards Quentin. “You have some starry-eyed students over there vying for a few minutes with their favorite professor.”

Quentin felt his face go red, but he was secretly delighted. Turned out, he loved teaching. When Dean Fogg had approached him about filling a recent staff vacancy, to say he had been shocked would have been a bit of an understatement. But, the more he had talked it over with Julia and Birdie, and after getting over the initial weirdness of actually living Brian’s fabricated life, the idea seemed to gain merit. Julia was enrolled as a student full time, and Fogg had offered to set him up in a little cottage on campus, and it just--made sense. Gave him purpose. Turned out, he was pretty good at teaching. Even if the subject was only Minor Mendings. He glanced over at Eliot, nodding at the grill. “Are you--”

Eliot gave him a small smile, clicking the grill tongs at him. “Go. Your adoring fans await. I can handle feeding the masses.”

Quentin allowed Julia to pull him toward the loose throng of students hanging on the outskirts of the party. She looked at him sidelong, tossing a glance back at Eliot. “So. How’s it going?”

He squeezed her hand. “Fine.”

She laughed brightly. “Uh huh.”

“No, really, Jules.” He squeezed her hand. “Thanks for this. Didn’t know I needed it.”

She pulled him into a quick sideways hug, kissing the side of his head. “Well, I wasn’t gonna say I told you so, but. Yep.”

***

Quentin had been sent into the house to grab some serving spoons, which--he had no idea if he even had any, but found some plastic ones on the kitchen counter in a Target bag. He pulled up short when he saw Eliot leaning against the little bar, which just happened to be Quentin’s favorite feature of the cottage. “Hey.” He laid the spoons on the bar, then moved into Eliot’s space, pulling him into a surprisingly unawkward hug. He stepped back, a little nervous, running his hand through his hair. “Sorry. Um. We didn’t--before.”

Eliot squeezed his arm. “Hey. I always welcome hugs.” He ducked his head. “Especially from you.” He held up the bottle of a 12-year MaCallan between two fingers. “Got something for this?”

Quentin leaned bodily over the bar, pulling down two glasses that hung on pegs.

“Perfection.” Eliot gave him a quick smile, filling both glasses with two fingers of amber liquid, then slid one over to Quentin. “To, well. To you.” He held up his glass, inviting Quentin to clink his against his own before taking a swallow. “Jesus that’s good. Still no single malts in Fillory.”

Quentin took a sip, letting the peaty roundness settle on his tongue a moment before swallowing. “Cheers.”

Eliot eyed his glass a bit before taking another sip, then laid it down on the bar. He slid sideways onto a stool, pushing out the other, inviting Quentin to sit. “You look good, Q. So, Dr. Jones, you fighting off students who write ‘Love You’ on their eyelids?”

Quentin chuckled. “Not quite yet, but its a near thing.” And, it was. Nina Patel had cornered him after class one day, just casually asking if his girlfriend was coming to his party. God. He slid onto the stool, feeling shy all of a sudden. “You look good, too.” Eliot beamed at him, and he felt warmth spread through his belly. “How’s Margo?” Something flitted past Eliot’s eyes so quickly that most people would have missed, but Quentin was watching.

Eliot waved a hand, airly. “Bambi’s Bambi.” He gave Quentin a scandalous smile. “Running a kingdom like a boss while navigating a throuple.”

Quentin’s eyebrows shot up. “Josh and?”

Eliot nodded sagely. “Fen.”

Wow. Ok. “How do you feel about that?”

Eliot shrugged, running his finger over the lip of his glass. “Happy for her, I guess?” At Quentin’s concerned look, he shrugged again, easily. “Don’t worry about me. I’m slowly working my way through the battalion of palace guards as well as scores of visiting diplomats”.

And. Well. Quentin definitely had complicated feelings about that. Which, wasn’t even remotely fair, but there it was. Box it up, shove it down, examine later.

Eliot squinted at him, obviously noticing something on Quentin’s face. “So, Alice is looking good, as well.”

Right. “Yeah. She is.” Quentin drained his glass, earning him a glare from Eliot, but he dutifully gave another pour.

Eliot topped himself off, as well, eyeing Quentin carefully. “So, how’s she liking the Library?”

“Uh.” He shrugged, looking down. “I, uh. Don’t really know? Good, I think. I mean, the last time we talked, she said things were going--well.” The last time he’d talked to Alice, she’d told him that she was focusing on reforms, of large-scale, magical coalitions. Or something. He hadn’t heard much beyond This isn’t working, Q.

Eliot’s head shot up in alarm. “Oh. The last time you talked?”

And, shit. Eliot didn’t know. How could he? “Yeah.” He cleared his throat. “So. Me and Alice broke up. Well, she broke up with me. So. That happened.”

Eliot’s face did something complicated, and he gripped at the lip of the bar so tightly his knuckles went white. He leaned in towards Quentin. “Oh, Q. I’m so sorry. Are you ok?”

At that, Quentin did laugh a little, closing his eyes. “Yeah. I mean, it sucked at the time, but we'd been growing apart for awhile.” He took a fortifying sip. “And, it wasn’t her fault. She has this important job. And, I don’t make things easy--.” At this, he motioned around his head, hoping Eliot would get the gist without having to explain.

He did. “Oh, Q. I’m so--Jesus. I’m really sorry.” He reached over, giving Quentin’s hand a little squeeze before pulling away. “How’re you doing now?”

Quentin’s eyes felt unexpectedly hot, and he swallowed thickly. Eliot got it, and he felt so fucking grateful. “Ok.” At Eliot’s look of disbelief, he shook his head. “No, really. I’m. Well. Therapy helps, and I’m back on my meds. And, El, I really love teaching. So, all things considered--”

Eliot’s gaze was so painfully tender. “I bet you’re a wonderful professor.”

His voice was so warm and genuine; Quentin felt like his heart would burst out of his chest. “God, I miss you.” He hadn’t meant to say it, but the words just came flying out.

Eliot closed his eyes. “I really miss you, too.” He took a few breaths before opening his eyes again. “Along those lines, I got you something.” He held up the little gift bag.

Quentin reached for it; it felt really light. He lifted a questioning eyebrow at Eliot, but all he got was a go on hand wave. He pulled out a little tube of parchment, held together by a ribbon. When he unfurled the paper, he saw that it was a spell. He looked at Eliot with confusion.

Eliot pointed at the bag again. “There’s a--”

Quentin tipped the bag over, and a--actually he didn’t know what it was that fell into his hand. It was silver and round and looked mechanical. “El, what is this?”

Eliot was grinning at him. “So, obviously it’s a spell. I just had it--modified.” He crowded into Quentin’s space, close enough he could feel the heat from him. “Margo discovered it while looking for Josh and Fen. It allowed her to, basically, hang out with them. Even though they were in another time.”

Quentin scrunched his eyebrows, peering up at Eliot. “Hang out with them?”

“Yep.” He took the metal doohickey from Quentin’s palm. “And this little baby allows you to astrally project--anchoring to the person or persons you want to talk to.”

“You made this in Fillory?” If memory served, even modern-day Fillory hadn’t yet discovered the marvels of electricity or indoor plumbing.

“Well, we were 300 years into the future. Even Fillory isn’t immune to the onward march of technology.” He threw Quentin a knowing glance. “And, before you ask, Margo figured out how to get these little buggers,” he held the metal ball between finger and thumb, “to Josh and Fen via bunnies. Apparently, they could time-hop as well as universe-hop. It’s how we started to figure out the time-bending stuff. She used these to communicate with them before we figured out how to unfuck everything and get back to our own time.” Eliot held the ball out to Quentin, dropping it in his outstretched hand.

“So, how does it work?” Quentin eyed the innocuous looking thing.

Eliot gave him a careful smile. “It’s--intense. You’ll want to be somewhere comfortable. When I’m in the astral, that little ball will chime, letting you know. Then you place the ball right here,” he tapped at his temple. “You only have to read the spell the first time, just to calibrate it to your circumstances and general location. But, you should know, whatever you feel inside, your body will experience out here.”

Quentin glanced at the little ball nervously. “Why do I feel like this will be a cautionary tale about the evils of technology?”

Eliot gave him a fond grin. “Because you watch too many movies, you nerd.”

Julia burst through the door, an overly-exacerbated look on her face. “Jesus Q. I didn’t think I would need to send out a search party just to get some serving spoons. Two plastic forks have valiantly given their lives in the service of some potato salad.” She noticed Eliot, raising a questioning eyebrow at Quentin.

Eliot didn’t even hesitate, pushing off the bar. “Quelle horreur?” He held out an elbow for her, ever the consummate gentleman, and led her back outside. “So, Miss Wicker, how’s the first year treating you?” He leaned down and said something inaudible into her ear, causing her to giggle and swat at his arm.

Quentin smiled, watching them fondly for a moment, before grabbing the spoons and following them back outside.

***

Quentin was up to his elbows in sudsy water, washing out the serving bowls and spoons from the party. He always liked doing dishes; something about the repetitive motion, allowing his brain to drift mindlessly.

“You shouldn’t be doing dishes at your own party.” Julia came in from behind, squeezing his shoulder lightly.

He shrugged. “Eh. I don’t mind. Wanna dry?”

She pulled the tea towel from where it hung on the oven door and swatted his ass, making him jump a little. She took a plate from the dishes drying on the rack. “You have a good party?”

“Yeah.” Quentin swiped his nose against his shoulder before plunging his hands back into the sink. He could tell already they would be all pruney. “It was really great to see everyone.” He looked at her squarely. “Thank you. It was a good idea.”

“See.” She smiled and batted her lashes at him. “And, it was good to see everyone.” She licked at her lip, thoughtful. “Saw you chatting with Alice, even.”

He huffed a laugh. “Yeah. We’re trying this new thing.” He brought his hands out of the water, causing a little flurry of bubbles. He made air quotes with his soapy fingers. “Friends.”

Julia chuckled. “How’s that going?”

Quentin tilted his head to the side. “I’ll let you know.” He sighed. “Adulting sucks.”

She smiled at him, then tilted her head again, appraising. “How was seeing Eliot?”

After things went down with Alice, he had gotten very drunk with Julia and told her everything. All the things. The good. The bad. And, the Eliot. Finally, like a dam breaking, he explained all that he had been holding inside, what had been driving him all of those long, horrific months. And, she’d cried, clinging to him with long, awful sobs. How could she have missed it? Why didn’t he blame her for not seeing? It was pretty fucking terrible, but it went a long way towards giving Quentin the space to start forgiving himself.

Now, he gave her a soft smile. “It was really great to see him, Jules. Thanks for inviting him.”

She gave him a small smile in return. “Well, he seemed pretty happy to see you, too.” Picking up a bowl, she leaned her hip against the sink to get a better look at him. “You know, with the summer break coming up, maybe you should think about visiting him? I’m sure he’d--”

He sighed, cutting her off. “I don’t know, Jules. Whenever I asked about Margo, he got a little--weird.”

She held a hand out. “Q, we’ve been over this. That wasn’t about you. She was just worried about Eliot. She had almost lost him before; thought she had lost him. Maybe if you--”

He tilted his head back, closing his eyes briefly.

She shook her head at him. “Q. You’re living your second chance now. Why don’t you just--”

He looked at her, eyes pleading. “Jules, please. I’ll--think about it. But, I’m doing ok, you know? Loads better than I was. Having a schedule helps. Regular therapy helps. That’s what I need right now.”

She turned away from him, draping the towel over the edge of the rack to dry. She grabbed into the corner of the counter tightly. “I just want you to be happy.”

He leaned over, kissing her on the temple. “I know.”

***

Quentin dropped onto the couch, beer bottle in one hand and the remote in the other. He felt pleasantly buzzed and still on a bit of a high from the party. He clicked on the tv and opened Netflix, intent on catching up on the last season of “Stranger Things”, when he heard a muffled chime coming from the little gift bag he had left on the bar. Intrigued, he snapped off the tv and headed over to claim it.

He pulled the ribbon off of the scroll and headed back over to the couch--Eliot had warned him to be someplace comfortable. It was a simple Latin incantation, just as he had been told, to set his circumstances. He held up the little metal ball, eyeballing it for a moment, before securing it onto his temple. He felt himself sink back into the couch as his eyes rolled into his head, and briefly saw himself on the couch as his consciousness floated above. And then, he was someplace else.

Someplace else, apparently, was a giant field, surrounded on all sides by woods. An empty field, except for Eliot, who was making his way over towards him with a warm smile.

“You made it!” Eliot was dressed in his standard fare: dress pants, vest and tie.

Quentin looked down at his own outfit: the usual black hoodie and jeans. He held out his hands, turning them over slowly. He didn’t know what he expected--maybe they would have avatars, or something. But they just looked like themselves.

“Oh. You can change your outfit, if you want. Just think about it.” And, Eliot’s clothes switched in an instant, scrolling through several fussy royal and embroidered numbers and a couple different vest outfits before settling on simple Filliorian peasant clothes.

Quentin tried not to think too hard on that, and instead focused on changing into his own Filliorian-styled linen shirt over drawstring pants.

“We can change the location, as well.” And again, the scenery shifted in rapid fire around them, a beach, a Welter’s pitch, Whitespire, a cabin by a lake. They landed back in the empty field. “But, I just thought this location was best for what I had in mind”.

“What, uh--” Quentin turned around in a circle, a little dumbfounded. “What did you have in mind?”

Eliot gave him a smirk, flicking his hand out into which a piece of parchment appeared. He handed the paper over to Quentin.

He couldn’t help his incredulous scoff. At the top of the page, written in gold filigree, were the words magische Bohnen. “Are you serious? Are we trying to summon a giant?”

Eliot looked appropriately horrified, hand over his chest to great effect. “I hope not.” He walked around to stand near Quentin’s side, so he could see the sheet as well. “I just thought your nerdy heart would get a kick out of it. Besides, remember what I told you about this place,” he gestured broadly about him, “being intense?”

Quentin nodded.

“Well, as you know, collaborative magic is generally pretty profound. This place will just serve to amplify that.” He gazed down at Quentin. “I hope you’re someplace comfortable.”

“I’m on my couch.” He felt a brief jolt of adrenaline spike down his belly, frantically wondering if he had locked the door. If Julia, or god-forbid anyone, found him with his eyes rolled back, slumped down on the sofa. Well. Nothing he could do about that right now. He also briefly gave a thought as to why Eliot had called him here to do magic. It seemed pretty weird, especially since they hadn’t seen each other for so long. He thought they would maybe do more talking. Maybe this was Eliot’s way of deflecting? Tracked, given what he knew of the man.

Eliot eyed him knowingly. “Don’t get stuck in that big brain of yours. This is just something I wanted to share with you. We don’t have to--”

Quentin felt a warm rush of affection across his chest, unbidden. His cheeks flushed, so he looked down and away quickly. “No. It’s ok. I want to do this.” He took in a deep breath and nodded at Eliot. “Let’s do this.”

“Ok. Let’s begin.” Eliot looked over Quentin’s shoulder at the spell, hands held up in anticipation.

Quentin had a moment of confusion over what to do with the spell sheet, but Eliot made a quick tut, and the paper floated in front of them. Quentin held his hands up in the first formation, meeting Eliot’s eyes.

Eliot nodded once, and they both began chanting in German.

Quentin knew before anything happened that the spell would work, the certain slotting feeling you got in your chest when the magic was just right. There was something else happening, too, that conjoined feeling of collaborative magic, zinging electricity through his fingertips. He glanced at Eliot, and was met with warm eyes, smiling through the words.

Eliot took a step back, never faltering, just giving a little room.

A tiny bud burst its way up through the ground, like a stop-motion nature documentary, wending its way toward the sun. The ground began to shake a little, and Quentin took a huge step backwards as more tendrils made their way through the dirt, twining together. The stalk began to take shape, the tiny buds thickening to ropey vines, wrapping around each other like a giant double helix, impossibly headed for the sky. The stalk had to be at least ten feet around, and Quentin had no idea how high it went, just that he couldn’t see beyond where it met the clouds.

And, holy shit. Eliot had been right. Quentin felt all tingly and fucking high, not doped out, but pure, unfiltered, childlike joy pulsed through his veins. He knew he was staring dopily, could tell Eliot saw it too, by the look he was giving him. But Eliot’s eyes weren’t mocking. Not at all. They were fond and full of something Quentin had resigned himself to never see again. And, he couldn’t help it. It was like he was being pulled towards Eliot, like he was the magnetic north, and Quentin marched right over and rose onto his toes, grabbing onto Eliot’s tunic and pulling him down into a kiss.

It was messy, and frantic, and Quentin half expected Eliot to immediately pull away. Instead, Eliot bent down to meet him, sliding a hand behind his neck, gentling the kiss into something slower, longer. Like he had been waiting for Quentin all along. And, wasn’t that a mind fuck? Not that Quentin had much brainspace to consider anything beyond the way Eliot’s tongue was currently fucking his mouth. How Eliot was crowding him backwards against the giant beanstalk they had made. The vines were digging into his back, but he didn’t care, not with the way Eliot was using his greater size and height to hold him up, sliding down his back to cup his ass, tugging him upwards so that Quentin’s legs were wrapped around his waist. And, Jesus Christ Eliot knew how much he loved this. He hadn’t had sex, even felt any real desire, in so, so long, and he felt a groan rip itself from the depths of his chest as Eliot bit lightly at his earlobe, laving it with his tongue. That seemed to do it for Eliot as well, as he groaned in response, knees buckling and pulling Quentin down to the ground, fully seated in his lap.

The motion caused the kiss to break, and Quentin pulled back, breathless, checking in with Eliot. What he saw was a desire burning in Eliot’s eyes to match his own, so he pushed himself forward, thanking fucking Christ they had gone with the thin Fillorian clothes that allowed him to feel Eliot’s hard cock right up against his own, shoving his tongue into Eliot’s mouth at the same moment. His hand snaked down to rub against Eliot’s dick through his clothes, and Eliot moaned into his mouth, bucking his hips upwards. And--

Eliot? What in the actual fuck are you doing? Margo. Definitely. Not that Quentin could see her.

“Bambi? Fuck!” Eliot looked around dazed, lips kiss swollen and hair mussed from Quentin’s fingers. “Just--Christ. Give me a minute.”

Hey, fuckwad. Is this some sort of weird porn shit?

“I--” His eyes flicked towards Quentin, frantic and yet somehow still full of remorse. “I’m so sorry. I have to go.”

“Eliot?” Quentin felt totally unmoored; his voice husky and a little broken.

Eliot reached up to his temple, fingers around the small metal disc there. “I’ll--I’ll be back.” He pulled at the ball, and disappeared.

Leaving Quentin sitting in a field, leaning against a magic beanstalk with a rager of a hard on. Alone and utterly confused.

***

Quentin figured he should probably talk to someone about what happened, and the most likely candidate outside of Julia would have been Birdie. But, those first few, dimly lit months at the beginning of his healing journey, or whatever, had been mortifyingly focused on talking around and about and through Eliot, and so. He just wanted to not. Do that again. And, Julia? He wanted to figure out what he was feeling first, before bringing her in on things. Because she definitely already had strong opinions.

Instead, he sent bunnies to Fillory. What happened? Where did you go? Are you ok? Talk to me, motherfucker. That last one, slurred with drink. So much so that as he fell asleep, he was unsure as to whether it could’ve been understood.

When he woke on Monday morning, with a pounding head and a tongue made of felt, he sent one last entreaty. Answer me, asshole.

The response was immediate. 10PM. Tonight.

By the time 10PM had rolled around, Quentin’d been fixing for a fight. He wasn’t sure who he was angrier with, himself or Eliot. Because he had, after a very long, (too long, really), period of self-reflection, concluded that for once in his life he needed to focus on himself. And, yeah, that was hilarious in the way that for once in his life happened to be after he had actually died and come back. So. There was that. And, yeah. Alice had broken his heart. And this time, it wasn’t even totally his fault. And, long before that, so had Eliot. Spectacularly. But he’d admitted to himself, (and to his therapist), that maybe he wasn’t in the best position to be anyone’s boyfriend or partner or whatever label, since at that particular point in time he really didn’t even like himself. So. Yeah, not totally rational, and he knew that, but. Still. He wasn’t sure what he was angry about or why, just that even being near Eliot had awakened something inside of him that had lain dormant for so long that he had convinced himself he really didn’t own anymore.

But, honestly, they’d been working on that, too. Birdie had nearly convinced him it was ok to want things. To want to be wanted. Maybe that was the problem; the source of his anger. That he had self-imposed an embargo on all forms of wanting when it came to Eliot. Like when he had tried to fill in that person-shaped hole that had been carved into his chest with just the most fragile bits of hope, I’m alive in here, for all those months that he’d been dragged around by the Monster. And, then, had tried to fill in with Alice. Which hadn’t been fair. And, neither had been enough, in the end. So, maybe he was being extra cautious, or was hyper-aware, but somehow leaning into wanting Eliot almost felt like a betrayal. And, wouldn’t Birdie have a field day with that.

So, he was full of vim and vigor and ready for a fight, but any anger died on his lips as soon as he entered the astral. As soon as he saw where they were. A beach. A very specific beach. One where the entire ocean, including cresting waves hundreds of feet high, had frozen in an instant when the planet had been wrenched out of its orbit. The sky was rippled with bright pinks and blues, almost how he'd imagined the Northern Lights would look, but in broad daylight instead of night.

They had been lying together under the scratchy blanket they used in the early fall of Fillory. The setting sun brought a slight chill to the air outside, but their little cabin had retained some of the mugginess from the day. Eliot had nuzzled his nose against his own, twining his impossibly long leg around Quentin’s and sliding his foot up the back of his shin. His voice was husky and just the right side of tired. “Ok. So. If you could visit one imaginary place from fiction, where would it be?

“Uh. I-huh.” He shifted so he could fully turn into Eliot’s side, his eyes warm and his chest so fucking full. Quentin kissed the underside of Eliot’s chin, making the other man hum contentedly. “Woman Wept.”

Eliot’s forehead wrinkled as he looked down at him in confusion. “That sounds--pretty fucking maudlin, Q.”

But that just made him giggle, rolling onto Eliot’s chest. “No, it’s a--” Eliot leaned over, pressing a kiss right behind his ear, clearly trying to distract him. “From Doctor Who.” Eliot curled his tongue around his ear lobe in a way that Quentin suspected was an attempt to cut off any further nerdy ramblings. Which was totally working. “Uh. Like a whole frozen planet. But, the waves--oh, God--froze like hundreds of stories high right as they crashed on the beach and, uh--” They didn’t really talk about anything else for the rest of the night.

Somehow, Eliot had remembered. He recreated that whole planet just for him. Eliot was standing, waiting, on the beach just under the enormous frozen wave; wild curls gently lifting in the incongruously warm breeze. He looked nervous. “Um, hi.”

Quentin felt a rush of desire surge up so quickly that he practically staggered over, pulling Eliot down into a desperate kiss. His steps stuttered and he fell forward, crashing into Eliot. The force knocked them both to the ground, or whatever it was. It didn’t move like sand. It almost seemed to mold itself to their bodies, like a memory foam mattress, and holy shit. Eliot had thought of everything. Quentin, somehow, had landed almost fully seated in Eliot’s lap.

Eliot put his hands on his shoulders in an attempt to stop, or at least slow him down, but his eyes kept slipping down to Quentin’s lips. “Hey, Q. Wait--”

But Quentin didn’t want to wait. They’d waited too damn long already, and he just wanted to be closer, skin against skin. “Please Eliot. Please, I want--” He tipped forward, biting out little kisses against Eliot’s chin, nuzzling the stubble there.

“What, uh--” Eliot threw back his head, giving Quentin better access, letting out a hot huff of air. “What do you--”

Quentin grasped his neck with both hands, bringing him back down to fully kiss him. He rocked his whole body into Eliot’s, drawing his legs tightly around Eliot’s waist. “I want--” His voice was urgent, whispering right against Eliot’s lips.

“Uh huh. Yeah. Ok,” was the immediate response, as Eliot slipped his tongue against his lips.

Quentin felt like he had fire in his veins, like Eliot’s skin was burning him in all the places they were touching. After not even thinking about sex for the better part of, well, forever, it seemed, now it was all he could do to hold on, feeling on the brink of completely whiting out. He leaned back a little, panting, before making a quick movement, removing all of his clothes at once. He raised an eyebrow in question at Eliot, who just nodded frantically, leaning in to basically eat his face off as Quentin made another sharp gesture, quickly removing all of Eliot’s clothes as well.

Eliot kept fucking his mouth with his tongue, but Quentin leaned back, allowing Eliot to suck at the column of his throat while he brought his own hand up to messily lick the palm. He wrapped his semi-slick hand around both of their cocks and oh, Jesus. He’d missed that slick and hot slide, that feeling of wanting to climb into, under Eliot’s skin. Eliot seemed to agree, as a low moan reverberated from the depths of his chest, and Quentin was gone-baby-gone.

And, well. He didn’t last too much longer after that, tipping over towards orgasm almost embarrassingly quickly, noticing that Eliot had followed not far behind.

They both lay quietly on the beach, catching their breath, Quentin collapsed half-across Eliot’s chest. Eliot made a lazy tut, a cleaning spell, Quentin realized. Comfortable silence was something Quentin had grown to appreciate with Eliot, and he let his eyes roam over the scene that had been set. For him. He felt so warm and languid and all the other well-fucked words. Finally, after his breathing evened out, he broke the trance. “Holy. Shit.”

Eliot hummed in agreement, carding a hand through Quentin's hair.

“So, ok, I know I haven’t had sex in like, two fucking years. But, was that extra juiced by this place, or--”

Eliot lifted his head to look down at him, jostling him in the process. When he looked up at him, Eliot’s expression was inscrutable. “Two years?” He scrunched his eyebrows together almost comically. “What about Alice?”

And, oh. Quentin dropped his head back down on Eliot’s chest. There had been several aborted attempts with Alice, mortified sorries followed by It’s ok. Really. And then one memorable time when he had showed up to the party way before it had even started, and yeah. More whispered apologies. Instead of admitting to that, he just mumbled, “Yeah. Turns out getting back on my meds and sexy times do not good bedfellows make.” He snorted. “Literally.”

Eliot rubbed a hand soothingly over his back and settled again to petting his hair. “Yeah. Well. Me neither.”

At that, Quentin did lift his head again. “What about all the king’s horses and all the king’s men? And, like, the entire royal navy?”

Eliot, still cupping his head, ran a thumb across his nape, causing him to shiver. “Well. That may have been an over-exaggeration on my part.” He sighed, and Quentin rested his head again on his chest, feeling Eliot’s heart hammering a staccato to match his own. “Tried once. With Idri.” Quentin felt him shrug. “But, uh. I couldn’t. Um.”

Quentin nodded his head, not looking at him.

Eliot cleared his throat. “Felt too much like infidelity, to uh--”

At that, Quentin had to look, and when he did, what he saw was pure, raw emotion reflected back at him. Eliot looked like he was about to cry. Quentin's breath hitched.

The music was faint, at first. But that was the setting on his phone. Gently rousing him towards waking. And. Shit. Fuckdamnshit. FUCK. His alarm. “Fuck!” He pushed off of Eliot. “How does time work here?”

“I-I dunno? I think it’s a bit wonky.”

“Shit. Oh, fuck, Eliot! I have to teach a class this morning!” He hopped up onto his knees, reaching for the little metal ball.

“Wait!” Eliot sat up as well, wrapping his arms around Quentin’s shoulders, pulling him down for a lingering kiss. “Can you meet me again tonight? Same time?”

Quentin couldn’t help the dopey grin; buoyed by the bubbles of happiness filling his chest for the first time in as long as he could remember. “I’ll be there.” He leaned down to give one last kiss.

***

Monday classes had dragged, and it seemed like every time he checked the time he was stuck in some vortex where the minutes had been stretched into hours. Didn’t help that Fogg had called an impromptu staff meeting in the evening to discuss some idiot student who had gotten drunk and tried to impress his girlfriend by summoning a fucking hippo in one of the fountains. That had gone exactly as terribly as anyone could have predicted and they were both almost trampled to death. Which, sometimes it was worth remembering that his friends weren’t the only morons to have graced the hallowed halls of Brakebills.

Finally, finally, 10PM arrived, and Quentin, after double-checking the door had been locked, heard the chime and dropped into the astral.

And into the twin-sunned desert planet of Tatooine, and fuck. Looking down at himself, he was dressed as a young Luke Skywalker and Eliot was Han Solo. And, yeah. So, he’d never actually shipped those two, but it didn’t fucking matter because holy fucking shit.

***

The next night had clearly been an Eliot pick as he found himself in the middle of lush meadow surrounded by the Alps like the opening scene from “The Sound of Music”. He couldn’t help himself, he held out his arms and began spinning, and Eliot caught him around the waist, turning with him. Just like they did the last time they had found themselves in a brave new world.

***
Wednesday night was decidedly trippy; the sky was of Van Gogh’s Starry Night; the starbursts shifting and exploding as they rocked into each other. That the painting just happened to be one of Quentin’s favorites didn’t escape his notice.

***
Last night had been his favorite for several reasons. It had been a strange one, for sure, in all the right ways. But also had been so sweetly romantic that Quentin’s heart felt like it would burst out of his chest. It was simply a bed, on a beach, in the middle of a snowstorm. It took him a moment to realize it was a scene from “Eternal Sunshine”, one of Eliot’s favorites. And, he and Eliot had made love in that bed. Really there was no other word for it. Eliot had tenderly cupped his face and saw him, so overwhelmed by what he found there that he closed his eyes against it. The whispered “Q” seemed almost like a prayer.

They had figured out the timing issue by now, so they actually found the time to talk every night. But really, it was about nothing, pretty much. Quentin shared stories about students, (Eliot had laughed actual tears at the hippo), and Eliot filled him on the shitstick politics of Fillory. And, it was nice, and comfortable, and easy to just be with one another. No matter the timeline, they had never been at a loss to find things to talk about. Quentin sighed and drew nonsense symbols on Eliot’s chest, content to not break the magic and just enjoy the time they had together. They hadn’t really allowed the conversation to veer into anything real, which was something they were both very skilled at. Had a lifetime of practice, in fact. And although it made Quentin’s chest constrict with the thought that at some point they probably should talk about the hard stuff, or anything real, he was loathe to break the spell. Because the last time he had tried to put a name to what they had between them, well.

But, then, Eliot cleared his throat and shifted. “Hey.”

Quentin’s hand stilled, and he flattened his palm out. “Hey, yourself.”

“So.” Eliot’s hand slipped up over his shoulder, squeezing a little, pulling him closer. “What was--” He took a deep breath, Quentin’s head rising and falling on the in-and-out. He waited a few moments before talking, long enough that Quentin lifted his head to look at him quizzically. “What was it like?” He waited a moment, giving it space. “When you--you know?”

He knew. And, just like that, the spell was broken. He’d worked through this, with therapy, with Julia. But, still. His heart was hammering in his chest, his throat thick. He wrapped his arm around Eliot’s torso, pulling him closer. His mouth opened and closed several times while trying to figure out what to say.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, baby.” Eliot was running a soothing hand up and down his back. “You don’t have to answer that.”

Instead of focusing on the actual existential crisis of it all, however, his mind became a broken record, caught on the baby that had been automatically offered. Rather than comment on that, he swallowed, gathering his thoughts. “No, it’s.” He lifted his hand up, fingers splayed and tilted to the side. “I don’t actually--know.” And, that was how it was. There was this entire year of his--well, not life, but. Where he could feel the tendrils of something existing there, in this great blank space. Like, when you couldn’t remember someone’s name, or a movie title. Skipping across the front of your brain, just right there; but somehow remaining impossibly out of reach.

Eliot ran his thumb against the grain of his hairline in that soothing way he knew Quentin loved. “Hmm. Makes a kind of sense, I guess.” His breathing seemed a bit uneven, but Quentin didn’t dare to look up.

“Yeah, I guess. Maybe the, uh, living, aren’t supposed to know?” He kept his head on Eliot’s chest, blinking slowly.

Eliot let out a shaky breath. “Well, I for one am very glad that you are back in the land of the living.” He bent his head, brushing his lips against Quentin’s temple.

Quentin, for his part, was stuck in a loop of babybabybaby.

Eliot brought his hand up, squeezing in between his eyes. Quentin pretended not to notice. He took in a deep breath. “Hey, Q?”

“Hey.” He rolled his face, planting a kiss right over Eliot’s heart.

“So.” Another deep breath. “There’s something I--” He tangled his hand in Quentin’s hair, tugging lightly. “Hey. I need to tell you something.”

Quentin lifted his head, looking Eliot in the eyes. His stomach flipped as he realized Eliot actually looked nervous. A million bad scenarios flitted through his mind. Of course. He hated that his eyes swam with tears, so he looked away.

“Hey. Hey, baby.” He cradled Quentin’s jaw, gently nudging him to turn his face. “No. I--shit. God. I’m managing to fuck things up yet again. OK. So listen--”

Saved by the bell, as it were, as the soft chimes from his phone began to ring. “El--”

Eliot let out a rueful chuckle. “Well, fuck.” He pulled at Quentin’s shoulder. “Look. Let’s meet again tonight. And, as much as I love this--” at which point he ran a hand down Quentin’s back, settling on his ass, giving a brief squeeze--”I really need to talk to you, ok? Can we do that?”

And even though he could feel his heartbeat in his ears, Quentin gave him a half smile. “Yeah. Of course.” Something foreign settled in his chest, something he hadn’t felt in so long that he almost didn’t recognize it. Something that felt a whole lot like hope.

***

Quentin’s phone buzzed in his pocket. He fished it out as he walked across campus, reading the text as he walked. Ignoring the four from Julia that he meant to answer. Would answer. But, the one from Birdie was the most pressing.

You better not blow me off again, Coldwater, or I’ll set the dogs on you.

So, ok. He’d skipped out on his Tuesday session. For reasons obvious probably only to himself. He sighed, tapping a quick reply. I’ll be there.

As soon as he walked into her office, she threw her long. dark dreads over her shoulder, giving him a once over. “Well, shit.” She broke into a huge grin. “Either you got your hands on the good stuff, or you actually look--happy.”

Birdie wasn’t actually a psychic. She had told him that psychic therapists were just cheating. She was an empath; could read auras. Which, Quentin thought was still kind of cheating, but whatever.

“So, what’s his-slash-her name?” She raised a carefully sculpted eyebrow at him.

“Uh.” He toyed with the cords of his hoodie, pulling one side long, then the other. “Eliot, actually.”

She leaned back, all cat got the cream. She spread her hands like a marquee. “The Eliot?”

He sighed, tipping his chair back and feeling his face flush as he studied the ceiling. “Yeah.”

“Huh.” He could hear the smile in her voice, even though he wasn’t looking. “That must’ve been some party.”

He let the chair fall forward again, the momentum bringing his hands to his knees, which he scrubbed absently. “I uh--yeah.” He shrugged. “I guess, but it’s not like that.”

She nodded at him, all big-eyed and earnest. “So, what’s it like, then?”

So, he told her. He was done holding everything inside like it might break him if he actually spoke the words out loud. He’d done that for far too long, and it had pretty much broken him completely, so. He was still terrified that by speaking the words, willing whatever this was into existence, would somehow make it all shatter and disappear. When he finished, he looked back up at her, having offered the entire story to the ground.

She had a speculative look on her face. “Well, that is definitely some of the grandest romantic shit I’ve heard in a long time.” She gave him a careful smile.

He felt his stomach bottom out. He knew there was a but coming.

She let out a deep breath, pressing her hands onto her desk. “But, there is a lot to unpack here. First of all, as we’ve discussed, you’re obviously a words of affirmation dude, and Eliot is, well, I guess that he would qualify as an acts of devotion guy. But, it sounds like he is trying to meet you in the middle here.”

Quentin nodded. He’d read that book after she referenced it for the umpteenth time. And, although self-help books weren’t usually his jam, he actually found some truths about all of the different relationships of his life tucked within the pages.

“Secondly, and you really shouldn’t just gloss over this, because it is actually a pretty big fucking deal, but the fact that your sex drive is back is a really good sign. A great sign, actually.”

Quentin was definitely blushing now, focused on the little parade of carved soapstone elephants marching across the end of her desk. Still, he nodded his assent.

She let out a deep breath, silent long enough for him to look up and meet her steady gaze. “Ok, and now for the tough stuff. I personally think things sound good, and hopefully are headed in the right direction. But. I still need to check in with you, that if things don’t go as you’d hoped--”

Her large brown eyes fixed on his, and he forced himself to remain steady, to not look away. Even though anxiety wormed through his gut.

“I need to know you’ll be ok, Q.” She slid a hand in his direction across the desk, then thinking the better of it, pulled it back, thumping the wood once. “You know can call me, anytime, right? Just to talk. Or yell. Or scream obscenities. Or whatever. Or, you can go to Julia. Right?”

He swallowed thickly, dread prickling the base of his skull. “Yeah. I uh.” He scratched at his neck, willing the uneasiness to dissipate. “Yeah. I know. I will.” He didn’t really need a reminder of what happened the last time things didn’t go well and he thought he could handle his broken brain without reaching out for help.

She tilted her head at him, appraising, no doubt reading the spikes of apprehension coloring his aura. Her eyes softened in empathy. “Hey. It’s going to be ok, whatever happens. Just know that you have people pulling for you. That you don’t have to face this alone.” (You're not alone here.) She gave him a genuine smile. “Good luck tonight.”

He forced himself to smile back. For the record, aura reading was totally cheating.

***

As he made his way back across campus, his phone dinged with an incoming text. ARE YOU THERE, JACKASS?. He sighed. Julia.

“So, your phone does work, huh?” Julia was walking towards him, an angry glint in her eyes.

“Yeah. Listen, I’m sorry, Jules.” He blew out a long breath. “I’ve just been really--busy.”

She was looking at him strangely, then broke into a huge grin. “Yeah you have.” She stepped into his space, peeling back his collar for inspection.

The day had been unusually warm for fall, and he had shed his jacket and unbuttoned his dress shirt. He nervously batted her hands away and pulled his collar closed. “Hey! What’re you--”

“Quentin Coldwater! Is that a hickey?” She cackled at him. “I do declare, professor, but did you let Miss Patel get to first base?” She rolled her eyes at him. “Don’t think it escaped my notice how she moons over you.”

He sputtered. “No, God, Julia! She’s a student!” He felt horrified that she would think this. He wasn’t Mayakovsky, for fuck's sake.

“Easy, tiger.” She swatted him playfully on the arm. “So, spill then. Unless you were getting creative with a vacuum cleaner.”

He sighed. “Ok. Fine. It’s Eliot.”

“Eliot?” She leaned around him, peering in the direction of his cottage. “What, do you have him stashed away in that little love nest of yours?”

He felt trapped, but knew she wasn’t going to drop it. “No. It’s not like--it’s--”

She nodded at him. “Ok. Well, obviously this is a conversation that needs way more caffeine.” She pulled him by the wrist and dragged him across campus to the little cafe, his heart in his throat the entire way.

Once they were seated at one of the little tables outside, she impatiently made a hurry up gesture with her hands.

So, he'd explained. The more he talked, her expression changed from gleeful gossiping to something that almost looked like pity. Which did nothing but bump the dial on his anxiety up to an eleven.

When he finished, she let out a long sigh. “Wow. That’s--a lot, Q.”

“A lot, good? Or?” He took a sip of his coffee, not even really tasting it.

“Just. A lot.” She reached across the table, gently taking his hand. “Q. Could this be a good thing? I really hope so.” She gave him a tiny smile. “But, this sounds a whole lot like what you told me about--before. When the two of you; that other life.” She made a vague hand gesture, squinting at him. “You tell Birdie?”

He nodded mutely, his chest cracking down the center. Of course, she was just putting a name to that fear that had been lingering from the start of all this. He hadn’t wanted to investigate; to tempt fate. Leaving it neatly boxed on a shelf.

“Good.” She squeezed his hand. “What’d she say?”

He shrugged dejectedly. “She thought it could be a good thing. But wanted me to be careful. That if things went sideways--.” He trailed off, looking down. “To talk to you. Or her.”

Another squeeze. “That’s good advice.” She shook his hand in hers. “You promise?”

He licked his lips slowly. “Yeah. I promise.”

***

So, of course, by the time it came to meet Eliot, Quentin was ramping up to a full blown panic attack. He tried to calm himself, do the breathing exercises that Birdie had taught him. Still, his heart felt like it was about to beat out of his chest.

But, when he got into the astral, he just gasped, the ambient opium in the air immediately calming him. Because he was in their tiny yard where they had spent decades working on an impossible puzzle. The air even smelled faintly of peaches, which wasn’t actually a thing, but points for effort. Eliot sat on the patterned quilt in the middle of the mosaic, dressed exactly as he’d been on the night of their first anniversary. Torch lamps threw his face into sharp relief, dancing in his eyes. By his side were two of those awful metallic-tasting tin cups, and he knew without looking they would be filled with plum wine. Eliot smiled up at him, almost shyly. “Hi.”

“Oh wow, El.” He sank to his knees on the quilt beside Eliot. “This is--”

Eliot grinned at him. “You like?”

“It’s perfect.” And he felt all warm, and filled to the brim with awe. That Eliot would do this. For him. For them.

Eliot’s smile went wider. “Good.” He picked up his cup, indicating Quentin take the other, clinking them together and taking a long sip. Gathering his courage, Quentin realized, after he drained his cup.

And, well. Quentin had never been good at holding back his words, and decided instead that he would meet Eliot in the middle, everything coming out in a rush. “So. I’ve been thinking that with the summer break coming up, that maybe I could come spend it in Fillory. With you.”

Something shuttered behind Eliot’s eyes. He quickly rounded it out back into a grin, but Quentin had seen it.

And, Quentin felt a red hot rage descend, his stomach lurching. He felt so incredibly stupid. So hurt. He should have realized. Julia had basically warned him of this very thing, but he chose to ignore her, instead leaning into hope. Hadn't he already learned this lesson the hard way? He stood up quickly, throwing the cup down onto the ground, where it spilled all over the quilt. “You know what? Fuck this, Eliot!”

Eliot stood quickly, taking a step towards him, completely in shock, but Quentin stepped backwards. “No, Q, wait!” He made another move to close the distance between them, but stopped, taking in the fury on Quentin’s face. “Please. Let me explain. God--””

“Fuck off, Eliot! Jesus. The mosaic?” All of his anxiety he had been carrying around all day had morphed into a boiling resentment, bubbling out of him. “I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised. This, from the guy who shattered my heart into a million pieces and then told me to go play life partners with someone else. Christ.”

“No! Quentin, please.” Eliot looked stricken; like he was about to cry. “Please, let me talk to you. I can explain, sweetheart.”

“Don’t you dare call me that.” He went to pull the offensive little piece of metal from his temple.

“No, wait!” Eliot made another step towards him.

“Don’t call me again.” And he zapped himself out.

***

The stupid little ball was still chiming when he got back into his body, so the first order of business was making it stop. He tried drowning the damned thing in a glass of water to no avail, and ended up smashing it under his shoe. It gave out one long whine before dying out.

Second order of business was to get as drunk as possible. So, he snagged an unopened bottle of Jack someone had brought to the party, a couple cans of Coke, and headed to his bedroom. He threw a blanket over the window so that the sun wouldn’t wake him in a few hours, then set out to get well and truly drunk.

He woke the next morning, or afternoon really; the need to pee was finally urgent enough to get him out of bed. His eyes were all crusted over and he felt like his vision was swimming. And, he almost tripped over the eight bunnies that lined the hallway in front of his bedroom. Great. Their little bunny voices erupted over top of each other, different pleas for answers and apologies. And he picked up every single one and told it to fuck off, return to sender.

He knew he should call Julia, but felt he had earned at least one day to wallow. Instead, spent the better part of the afternoon nursing his hangover, eating leftover Thai takeout in bed and starting a rewatch of ‘Battlestar Galactica’. He heard more bunnies mumbling from the hallway, and when they reached a cacophonous din, he opened the door and shouted FUCK OFF, hoping the mass message would work. They stopped coming after that.

Once the room had darkened with the setting sun, he set out to drink himself to sleep once again.

He was unceremoniously awakened the next morning when Julia stormed into his room and tore the blanket from his window. “What the fuck, Q?”

He just blinked up at her from his quilted cocoon.

She yanked the blanket away from him. “Come on. Up!”

“Hey!” He tried grabbing for it, but she was faster. So, he just starfished on the bed in defeat.

“Nope. Come on, buster. Move!” And she was actually pushing under his torso, like she would be able to move him off the bed. “God, you stink!”

He gave in, getting up on his own, sliding off the far side of the bed. He glared at her. “Jesus, Jules.”

She looked at him, letting out a long sigh. “So, he’s an asshole.”

He sighed back. “Yeah. He’s an asshole.” All that longing and despair he’d been trying to drown with alcohol felt like it was clawing its way back up his throat.

“You want to talk about it?”

“Not particularly.”

“Ok. You get a pass for today.” She nodded at him before marching around the bed, grabbing him by the arm and bullying him towards the door. “But, you need a shower, mister. God, Quentin. What, did you bathe in whiskey?”

Quentin never stood a chance in the face of a determined Julia Wicker.

While he was in the shower, she had the brilliant idea to portal into the city, bringing back a pizza from Lombardi’s, a pint of Cherries Garcia and some really good weed. So, they snuggled up together on his couch, eating and passing a joint between them. She even indulged his ‘Battlestar’ rewatch marathon. They got high off their asses and he felt soft and warm, head pillowed on her lap as she carded through his hair. It was the exact perfect thing he needed and he loved her so very much. And, he began to feel like he was maybe going to be ok. He was sure that things would be pretty terrible for probably a very long time. But he didn’t have that same sucking feeling in the middle of his chest that had made him feel like he was drowning for all those long months.

***

Didn’t make Monday morning any easier, though. He felt like he was barely going through the motions. Then, he’d called that Owen kid Ethan, and in his defense, he looked more like an Ethan than an Owen. But, still. He hadn’t failed to notice the kid’s face completely fall at his mistake. He knew Owen had that ‘dorks-in-solidarity-hero-worship-thing’ going on. So, didn’t exactly make him feel any less shitty about himself. His mood was decidedly dark by the time he made it back to his cottage. Where he found Eliot sitting on his couch. As if the day could get any worse.

Before he could say anything, Eliot huffed out a breath. “Look Q. I really need to talk to you.”

“And I really need to get drunk and catch up on some Netflix. I guess one of us is going to have to live with disappointment.” He picked up the bottle of scotch Eliot had brought him, taking a pull right from the bottle. It had the intended effect.

Eliot sighed. “Q-”

Quentin shook his head, taking another long pull. “You know what? I actually blame myself, here. I really thought this time was different. That Julia couldn’t possibly be right.”

Julia?”

“But, this is exactly like the mosaic, isn’t it? I mean--sure--you want me when it isn’t real, when it doesn’t actually have to mean anything. God. I am such an idiot for even--”

“I love you.”

Quentin was on a roll, ramping up for a fight. But. “Wait. What?”

Eliot swallowed thickly, clearly bracing himself. “I--uh. I’m in love with you. So. There’s that.”

His head felt all buzzy with adrenaline, but Eliot’s words had the effect of making the world feel like it abruptly jerked to a stop. He just stared, trying to get his equilibrium; finally finding his words after a long moment. “I don’t--”

Eliot had been studying his hands the entire time, nodding slowly to himself. He let out a wet chuckle, looking back up. “You know, I had this big speech prepared. I even practiced it in front of poor Charlton like a million times. Now, I can’t even remember the highlights.”

Quentin just stood there blinking at him, completely dazed. “Uh, Charlton? As in, Heston?”

At that, another quick laugh. “No. It was way less Ben Hur and more Tim Burton’s Nightmare up in here.” Eliot tapped his temple, like that explained anything. He sighed, rocking back with his hands over his knees. Then he closed his eyes and breathed in slowly, steeling himself. "I wish I had the words, here, Q. But, I am just--so fucking sorry. That I hurt you. That in my insecurity and fear I pushed you away and…" He sighed again. "God, if I made you feel that you were any less than... You are so good, and true, and the best thing that has ever happened to me. And, if given another chance, I will always choose you." Eliot looked at him again, all doe-eyed and sincere, and Quentin felt his heart turn in his chest. “I guess what I want to say is, will you come back to Fillory with me?” He tilted his head to the side. “Let me clarify: to be with me.”

Quentin’s eyes felt prickly and hot; his heart thumping double time. That tiny little spark of hope breathed back into life inside his chest. Still, he felt the sharp sting of doubt worming its way up his neck. He wrapped his arms around his middle, protecting the soft bits. “What about Margo”?

Eliot gave him a quick smile. “Don’t worry about Margo.” At the look Quentin must have given him, he filled in to clarify. “Ok. So look. Yes. Margo didn’t completely understand what we--what you--” Quentin was startled to see Eliot's eyes fill with tears. “When you--um.” He bit at his lower lip, a nervous tic. “It was pretty bad, Q. I was--”

Quentin took a step towards him, always hating to see Eliot suffer. “Eliot, you don’t have to--”

Eliot gave him a watery smile. “No, I do. See, I made myself this promise to be honest with you.” He stopped and started several times before he found the words. “When you were--gone.” The last word was barely a whisper. “I completely broke, Q. Margo was trying to stage a revolution and I was just completely broken. And so, when Alice found a way to send bunnies, telling us there was the tiniest remote chance we could get you back? I just left.”

He really didn’t know what to think about that.

“When I returned, after. Well. She was beyond pissed.” Eliot sighed, running a hand through his hair “Things were pretty ugly. So I spent a lot of time trying to make things up with her. To be honest, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to where we were before.” He shrugged. “Maybe, maybe not? But I've tried really hard, to be useful. To not be a worthless piece of shit. But--” Another pained sigh. “I just fucking missed you. So, when Julia sent the invitation to your party, I knew I had to come. And had the thought that maybe, I mean, even though you were with Alice, maybe you missed me, too?”

Quentin took in a shaky breath. “I did. So fucking much.”

Eliot huffed a laugh, a tear escaping down his cheek. “So. Um. Then, Margo found out about me going to the astral, and I just. Didn’t want to share with the class, you know. I wanted--I wanted this--” He waved his hand between them. “Just for me.”

He nodded, understanding completely. He’d be a hypocrite if he blamed Eliot. He'd done the same thing.

“But then--when you just left last night--.” He cleared his throat. “Well, obviously I was wrecked, and after the hundredth bunny showed up telling me to fuck off, Margo cornered me.” He spread his hands wide. “So, I finally told her. Everything. Our whole story. Why you mattered so much.”

He was a little surprised; he would have thought Eliot had told Margo long ago. “What’d she say?”

Eliot snorted. “I believe her exact words were: Then you go bring his ass back here, or I will pull your spine out through your rectum."

“Uh, wow. Um. That’s really gross.”

Eliot nodded. “Yeah, even by Bambi standards, that one was pretty graphic.” He swallowed slowly, gazing up at Quentin. “So, whaddya say?” One corner of his mouth ticked up nervously. “Or, do you need the whole spiel.”

Quentin closed his eyes briefly, taking in a deep breath. He stepped around the table and into the vee of Eliot’s legs, liking being the taller one for a change. He felt the spark start to spread in his chest, almost afraid Eliot could see it; he felt like he could barely contain it. And, it made him feel very, very brave.

Eliot’s hands automatically settled on his hips, drawing small circles there.

“As much as I’d love to hear your prepared speech, considering I’m apparently a “words of affirmation” guy--”

Eliot reared back at this, barely containing his grin. “Are you actually quoting ‘Love Languages’ to me right now?”

Quentin laughed, easy and bright. “Are you actually telling me you read that book?”

Eliot shrugged, still grinning softly. “Heard about it on a podcast.”

Quentin brought his hands up to frame Eliot’s face. “Uh huh. I, um. Just really want to kiss you right now.”

“Q--you haven’t actually told me what you--”

That light, that glow, spread across his sternum, down through his limbs. “Eliot. I can’t actually remember a time I wasn’t in love with you. I would follow you anywhere, honey.” Eliot’s eyes went wide, gazing up at him with such a naked look of wonder that Quentin felt like he would burst. How was one person expected to hold so much love inside? He brushed his thumbs at Eliot’s temples. “So.”

Eliot’s eyes were suspiciously shiny. He nodded, turning his face to kiss one of Quentin’s palms. “So.”

Quentin leaned forward, pulling Eliot into a gentle, yearning kiss. Eliot met him with a sigh, his weight against him so achingly familiar. Quentin allowed himself to sink into his warm, sure embrace; one of Eliot’s hands snaking up the back of his button-down and gently nudging him closer. After a long beat, he reluctantly pulled back, shaking his head a little, resting his hands on Eliot’s shoulders. “Just to be crystal fucking clear, here.” He looked down briefly, then immediately back up, meeting Eliot’s warm eyes. “You want to do this? Us? For real?”

Eliot’s eyes went even impossibly wider, as if he was staring right into the center of Quentin’s soul. “If the last couple of years have taught me anything--” He shrugged, almost helplessly. “You’re it for me, Q.” Eliot licked at his lips, his eyes full of hope and want and love. Of all the things Quentin thought he had lost forever.

Quentin was smiling as he leaned back in. As he finally came home.

                                                                                                                     ~fin~