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Some Kind of Stranger

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Quentin found himself amongst bush and brambles in a way that recalled an earlier life, maybe several of them, though the trees seemed to be smaller somehow. The bushes less plentiful. A turn of the seasons? He wasn’t sure, but he looked down at his empty hands, his Metro card apparently spent and déjà vu heavily in his mind as he stumbled out of the short labyrinth into the wide open field where a man clad in black draped elegantly over the stone Brakebills sign in front of a set of buildings that seemed… what? Less robust? Fewer?

It was familiar and unfamiliar all at once, as was the languorous form he approached, smoking clouds of green-gray into the air. Not quite cigarette smoke, not mealy like weed. Spicy.

As he approached, he recognized Eliot, though he was wearing way more eyeliner than Quentin usually ignored on him. His face took on an almost sickly pallor of white, lips bright red.

As he sat up, metal from clasps and O-rings rang against the stone, revealing Eliot in a fishnet shirt and harness that locked into a corset pulling him tight.

Looking down at himself, Quentin was in his black hoody, shirt and black jeans that he’d… well, he’d died? Dissolved? Met Penny 40 in? He wasn’t dressed like the schoolboy he’d been when he’d first entered Brakebills. He was, well, he knew what Brakebills was.

“Eliot? Is that… are you in mourning?”

“How do you—” Eliot frowned and pointed at Quentin with a black cigarette and then held up a white card and peered at it. “Quentin Coldwater?” He narrowed his gaze on Quentin, not seeming to know him. “Have we met? Because I don’t recall introducing myself, and I haven’t had nearly enough to drink today to forget you already.”

He stared at Eliot, not sure what to say. I’ve known you for fifty years in another life.

Had they reset the timeline? Was Eliot goth now for some reason? Should Quentin know about timelines? They’d defeated the Monster. Jane Chatwin was dead. And he’d told his secrets, gotten his Metro card. This couldn’t be heaven or Eliot would be naked.

Did Quentin say that out loud? It was hard to tell by the bemused expression on Eliot’s face.

“Um. Yeah. That’s me.”

“Okay, well, we’ll figure out where you know me from later, because you’re late.” Eliot jumped down from the stone and ushered Quentin toward the main building. “What took you so long? You clearly didn’t labor over your…couture.”

“I was dead.” Quentin dutifully followed Eliot through campus, staring around in amazement. Were they really going to do this again? Now? After everything?

The students seemed to be a lot more invested in Manic Panic and flannel than he’d remembered. Another oddity were Walkmans. Not that people used smart phones on campus that much before. Electronics could be—the professional term was wiggy, he thought—on campus, but Walkmans?

“Are you taking me for the test?” Quentin double-timed his steps; Eliot’s legs were so fucking long. That wasn’t something he remembered the first time, but he’d been so dazed. Now he was… well, he wasn’t not not dazed, but at least he knew what he was in for. “This look is new, isn’t it?”

“New? No. I’ve been goth for years.” Eliot seemed to take offense at that and shot Quentin a narrowed-eye gaze before giving him the tiniest, smudged-lipstick smile. “How do you know about the test? Also, if you were dead… One, fantastic, that’s super goth, and two, you look amazing for a corpse. So lifelike.”

Then they were at the door, and Eliot was ushering him inside. “Go on, little neophyte. Good luck.”

“No, I mean, I’ve taken it. Eliot, wait!”

The protest did no good. Eliot bodily thrust Quentin through the door.

Quentin expected to see Dean Fogg, which he did, but younger and with more hair. He flanked an elegant woman who stood tall despite her diminutive height.

“Take your seat,” she commanded Quentin, who quickly shuffled off to a seat next to a chubby punk rocker with a mohawk who sneered at him. “I am Iana Seagrave, Dean of this school. You are taking an admissions test to Brakebills University for Magical Pedagogy. This is a timed test, and it starts now.”

The blue book appeared before Quentin, familiar but also strange. He had so many questions, but at least this time he knew the answers, or at least had some capacity to understand the questions the entrance exam asked.

He was quickly through the test and on through demonstration of magic, which he aced because he already knew it, but few of the faces were familiar to him.

The professors whispered to one another. Surely Quentin must seem like a prodigy at this point, but no one seemed interested in listening to him, and honestly, every time he opened his mouth, he did sound crazy even to his own ears.

He finished the day being assigned to a dorm without specialty along with the punk guy he’d been sat next to. He tried to express surprise when the man introduced himself as Penny.

This was surreal, and he was reminded of the spell Julia and Marina had once cast on him that almost killed him. But he was already dead.

At least in theory.

And this wasn’t the afterlife way station. He’d seen that. There was bowling, not school.

But if all things tracked, Quentin just had to wait and then Eliot showed up with Margo. Both were draped in black, Margo more funereal than fetish like Eliot was. She smiled with black lips and tugged on the strings of his hoodie.

“He’s not that cute. And he looks pretty alive to me.”

“Listen, Margo, I don’t—” Quentin started.

She turned to Eliot with her gaze. “Did you already tell him about me?”

“How do you know us?” Eliot sounded borderline dangerous, like he might do something unpleasant. Then he looked to Margo, frowning. “Maybe we met him at a club?” Eliot’s gaze returned to Quentin, scrutinizing. “Did we have a threesome?”

That was hard to answer.

Quentin bit his lip and furrowed his brows. “Um, I mean, we didn’t not have a threesome, but I guess not yet.”

This was confusing. He needed a drink. Quentin rubbed his forehead. “I’m so confused.”

Margo took his hands. “We have that effect on people. There is something familiar about you, though. I don’t know what it is. But, never mind that, we’re your welcoming committee. Are you ready for your tour?”

“I’m here until they figure out my emphasis, but I’m a Physical Kid. I already know that.” Quentin tried to read Margo’s gaze.

How could she remember him, but Eliot didn’t?

“You sure you’re not psychic?” She smiled, but there was something disturbed in her expression. “We saw your file; you’re not a legacy. How do you know so much?”

“Because… because I’ve done this, but then I died, and now… you’re here, but you’re different.”

Margo stared hard at him and then said, “Hm. You don’t seem like a ghost to me. Eliot and I know ghosts, don’t we?”

“It’s a hobby,” Eliot agreed, looking between them. “You are definitely not of the poltergeist persuasion, but I maintain my bafflement with everything else regarding you, Quentin Coldwater.”

After a moment, he added, “Although, it’s good to know a threesome is in some way relevant to our association, because that’s really where this is all inevitably headed.”

“Um, no. I don’t think so. I mean, not this time. I don’t think I…” Quentin eyed Margo, who rolled her eyes.

She leaned in. “Listen, it’s the ‘90s, baby. No need for gay panic.”

“It’s the what?” Quentin looked around the room, and it was different. Dated? He wasn’t sure, Brakebills always had a style its own outside of time. But the flannels, the Walkman. “But that can’t… the nineteen nineties?”

Margo traded looks with Eliot and then walked Quentin back to sit on his cot. “Of course.”

“That doesn’t make any sense. You guys aren’t… not in the nineties. What could this… I don’t know why I’m here. I thought it was for Eliot.” Quentin looked up at them as Margo situated herself between him and Eliot.

“If this is some kind of queer-bashing scenario, first year…” Margo started dramatic tuts, her long velvet sleeves seeming to dance.

“No, no!” Quentin looked between them, holding one hand up to shield himself. “Not like that. I don’t have gay panic. I… this isn’t my time.”

“You’re fucking right this isn’t your time,” Margo snapped. Quentin forgot how angry she could get and how protective she was of Eliot.

Quentin looked past her at Eliot in appeal. “I’m not here to hurt anyone, I swear.”

“It’s all right, Bambi. Take a chill pill.” Eliot laid a hand on Margo’s arm and drew her back. Then he looked to Quentin again.

“You said… You thought you were here for me. Why?” Eliot produced a familiar flask from one of his many pockets and uncapped it. He took a long swig, gaze never leaving Quentin. “You know us, somehow, and you imagined I had anything to do with your presence here. Unless we fucked when I was very drunk, I would remember you.”

Eliot paused and then clarified, “I mean, I’m a slut, but I’m not a forgetful slut, in particular. You’re extremely adorable. I would have committed you to the spank bank, unless you were just terrible, in which case I’d have committed you to the Hall of Infamy for Margo and I to mock eternally. Regardless, you wouldn’t be such an absolute void in my memory.”

“Yeah, um.” Quentin glanced at Penny, who was pretending not to listen.

Apparently getting the idea that Quentin wouldn’t be blunt around him, Margo ordered Penny out of the room.

“I don’t know how to explain this. I keep wanting to ask if this is a hallucination but,” Quentin looked up at Eliot helplessly, “I know asking you if it was wouldn’t help. I just… the nineties. We would’ve been babies. It doesn’t make sense. This timeline is so different. Mine’s… later, and I… we… though that was further in the past, I guess.”

“Maybe the exam scrambled his brain.” Margo turned toward Eliot.

“No, I mean, there’s a multiverse, and I guess it’s not impossible to have existed in the nineties, and maybe this is… where we can…” Quentin stopped speaking. Be together. But Eliot didn’t know him beyond thinking he was adorable and maybe crazy, and in the timeline where he did know him, that wasn’t what he wanted. “I just um. I guess. Okay. Maybe it’s not.”

“Wait. You’re…from another timeline?” Eliot perched on the bed next to Quentin, looking into his eyes in a way that felt all too familiar even if the thick, smudged kohl wasn’t. “Listen, Coldwater, I don’t know what you’re up to, but this isn’t funny or clever. And I still don’t understand what I have to do with it.”

Quentin closed his eyes, taking a moment to steady himself. Should he even say? He really didn’t know why he’d be here, but now Eliot was here. Eliot but not Eliot. Not the monster. But also, not backing away.

“I don’t know why I’m here. I just… I died in part to protect you. You’d been possessed, and…and I had to get rid of the thing, and in doing it I…I died. And I thought that was it. But it’s not it because here I am and here you are again, and though none of this is… I really don’t know why, but it can’t be coincidence that you’re the first person I saw, can it?”

“I’d like to state for the record that I don’t believe in coincidences. When I became a born-again goth, I committed to the idea of Fate, and I’m just trying to work out where you fit in.” Eliot sounded like he was joking, but there was something somber to it too. He rested a hand on Quentin’s shoulder, and it felt like being home, as strange as everything else was. Just the size of it, the heft of it, the way it pressed warm into Quentin’s skin right through his hoody. This was still Eliot, a version of him anyway, and he seemed healthy and shockingly normal, all things considered.

After a moment, Eliot squeezed Quentin’s shoulder companionably. Voice hushed, he said, “So you died saving me, in your timeline? We were friends?”

Margo stepped back as if to give them some privacy, but she remained wary, as if ready to pounce if Quentin did anything to hurt Eliot.

“Yeah. We met… like this. You on the Brakebills sign, smoking a cigarette. You were wearing mostly white.” Quentin smirked at the memory but also at how that might horrify goth Eliot. “We went on quests together, we lived a life in another timeline and,” Quentin rubbed his forehead. “We had a life together. Like husbands. And then we didn’t. And now I worry if I’m here because you’re in danger again.”

“Husbands,” Eliot echoed, and as dubious as he looked, there was something yearning in his voice. He laughed, bitter, and sighed as he shook his head. “We were married in another life, and you died to protect me, and now…somehow…you’re here, and you’re wondering if you’re going to have to die for me again? Is that what you’re telling me? Because that sounds…”

He glanced at Margo, and his expression was so nakedly vulnerable for a moment that it tore at Quentin’s heart. Then he returned his gaze to Quentin, and his countenance shifted into something like morbid fascination.

“Sounds like a discussion to be had in more private circumstances, but I don’t think we can get you into the cottage yet.” Margo folded her arms—not in an angry way, but she did appear concerned.

“I can get into the cottage. I went here already. I know magic.” Quentin gestured vaguely at where the faculty resided. “They know. And I know it sounds crazy. And I know it would probably be smarter if I went along with things but I just… I just really want you to hold me right now. Just for a minute. I didn’t think I’d ever see you again and…”

Eliot frowned, and Quentin’s heart sank immediately, but then El reached out and drew Quentin close against his chest, wrapping his arms around him where they sat together on the tiny bed. And it was so perfect, so warm and intimate, and Eliot tucked his chin atop Quentin’s head just as he always used to. If the cigarette smoke that clung to his clothes was spiced with cloves and his cologne was different too, it didn’t matter. It was Eliot, and beneath it all, he smelled the same as always, that distinctive clean musk that was Eliot’s skin.

“You fit just…so well,” Eliot marveled, voice a little muffled against Quentin’s hair.

Quentin melted against him and tried not to sob. All that time with the monster, the casual touches, the aggressive ones, too, but all Quentin had wanted was to fit against Eliot like this again. At least one last time. He let out a long sigh and scooted in closer just to relish it.

Margo shifted where she stood. “You know, there are easier ways to get in his pants. Like just asking.”

Quentin chuckled against Eliot’s chest. “I know. I mean, I knew. I guess. That’s not what I…”

“If you don’t want to fuck, you need to recalibrate your approach, because saying you died for me and that we were married in another life is sending some very strong signals,” Eliot murmured, his hands stroking over Quentin’s back. He laughed softly, like that was funny to him, and then sighed again. “This is fucking weird, Coldwater. You are a weird, weird boy.” A pause. “Fortunately for you, I am just an enormous sucker for weird boys.”

Quentin lifted his head to look up into Eliot’s smudged eyes. He smiled, feeling a little wan but also happy and warm. “Well, yes, but the you I knew would call all the snuggling I’d want after a party foul in regular circumstances.”

“It’s like he’s met you.” Margo smirked at them and then peered down the corridor. “Let’s try him out. See if he really can get into the cottage.”

“A brilliant idea, Bambi.” Eliot released Quentin and stood, smoothing his clothing with the same elegant fastidiousness Quentin knew from his own time. The clothes were different, but in so many ways, Eliot was the same.

Quentin stood too, not wanting to be left behind, and they made their way to the Physical Kids’ Cottage with a minimum of conversation. It was probably for the best. It wasn’t going to help Quentin any if everyone in the vicinity heard his story, and if this timeline was at all like his own, he was already drawing enough attention just being in company with Eliot and Margo.

As they reached the cottage, Quentin took in its appearance with interest. It was largely the same, but it was painted black and had a distinctly spooky air to it, like Margo and Eliot had remade it in their macabre image.

“You guys really commit to a theme. So what happened, did you watch The Crow and get inspired?” Quentin smoothly worked through a tut that got him through the door.

“No, it’s not out yet. I loved the comic book. Brandon Lee is going to be a major star.” Margo traded a look with Eliot, appearing impressed, even if she didn’t say it out loud.

Quentin winced but decided they didn’t need to know more about that. “Yeah, so um, like I said…”

“So you’re a magical adept, from another timeline, and you’re a Physical Kid like us.” Eliot paused, studying Quentin, and then tilted his head thoughtfully to the side. “Do you like Kate Bush?”

Some things really didn’t change. “You introduced me to her. And I’m not an adept really. Just minor mending.”

Quentin led the way into the cottage and up the stairs. He knew exactly which room was Eliot’s. “You made cocktails and threw fabulous parties. Wore eyeliner but not as much. I like it though. It suits you.”

Margo crept behind Eliot and peered around him as Quentin sat on Eliot’s bed. Eliot hung back beside her, draping an arm around her shoulder.

“Minor mending, hm?” Eliot seemed entertained by that, like it didn’t fit his picture of Quentin. “You’re awfully bold stalking upstairs and making yourself at home in my room. What a picture in contrasts you are. I’d had you pegged for a shy super nerd, but you’re already in my bed.” He gestured gracefully around the room, whose deep purple walls and Victorian-style furniture were wholly new to Quentin. “I still make cocktails and throw fabulous parties. I’m starting to think you really did know me.”

His gaze turned to Margo. “What do you make of it, Bambi?” As light and playful as his tone was, Quentin knew him well enough to sense the underlying worry.

Margo eyed him, her gaze sliding over him slowly. “He hardly looks dressed for the future, but I think you could take him if it came down to it. Think he obviously wants to fuck you, so I was going to make myself scarce.”

Quentin coughed at the bluntness. His cheeks flushed and not because she was wrong. But then this wasn’t really his Eliot, and he really should be trying to figure out how to get back to him, whether that Eliot wanted him or not.

He stood up, self-conscious. “Oh, um, sorry. I just… um…”

“Where are you going, little nerd?” Eliot took a step forward, arm slipping from around Margo, and he reached out to cradle Quentin’s face in one big hand. “Did Big Bad Bambi spook you? Try not to worry too much about the fucking. If you want to work up to it, I’m open to making you a drink first, maybe listening to some CDs. If it’s Fate… Well.”

Quentin closed his eyes, drinking in the touch. Then he opened his eyes to meet Eliot’s gaze, trying not to be too intense or too needy. “I probably… I mean, this isn’t really my time or… and you’re not really… and it’s probably not right. He didn’t want to… be more.”

“You sound like you’re in love, Coldwater.” Margo leaned against the doorway. She eyed Eliot curiously. “Kind of romantic, isn’t it? I mean, if he’s not completely delusional.”

“But you said we were married. How could I—he—not want to be more if we were married?” Eliot’s obvious confusion etched a line between his eyebrows. Then Eliot smiled, stroking Quentin’s cheek. “You must be here for a reason. What if you’re here to sweep me off my feet with your crazy romantic bullshit?”

“If you don’t already think I’m crazy, it was… a different world we were in. Completing a quest. It took our entire lives to do, and you died. He died. And then I died, and then Margo managed to undo it, but we had memories. We raised a child and… and when Margo plucked us back into our world…I wanted another lifetime with him, and he…you… it wasn’t… I don’t think he believed me or he just didn’t… and it was all…” Quentin fidgeted and looked down at his feet.

This all sounded so crazy and ridiculous, and he didn’t even know what he was trying to accomplish. “I’m sorry. I just saw you and I thought… I guess I didn’t think. I just wanted, and that’s not fair and probably not why I’m here.”

“Oh, poor child. He is. He’s in love with you, Eliot. Crazy little nerd from who knows where, and he’s just… hopeless.”

When Quentin looked up at Margo, he expected her to be sneering, but her hand was over her chest and she looked sincerely touched.

Eliot blinked a couple of times and looked from Margo to Quentin, his mouth slightly ajar like Quentin had shocked him. His lips moved as if he was trying to find the words. Then his tongue flashed across his lips and his eyes went heavy-lidded, and Quentin’s heart pounded as Eliot leaned in to kiss him. It startled Quentin enough that when Eliot’s tongue teased his lips, he just parted them and sagged into Eliot’s embrace, into his familiar taste and the perfect, awkward angle as Quentin tipped back his head to let Eliot kiss him more deeply.

So fucking tall, and his mouth like cigarettes and good scotch, but lipstick this time, waxy against Quentin’s lips, smearing everywhere. Quentin couldn’t help making a soft little noise of surprise and pleasure as Eliot pressed closer, and then Eliot’s hands were everywhere: In Quentin’s hair, at the small of his back, gripping his nape and his elbow and his ass.

He heard the door to Eliot’s room shut, and Quentin looked over briefly. It appeared Margo had left the room, and Quentin wrapped his arms around Eliot. Not his Eliot, maybe, and maybe this Eliot would find him insufficient soon enough anyway, but at the moment, after all that time being so close to him and not able to really touch him or have him, Quentin couldn’t stop himself.

He slid his hands over the mesh of the fishnet shirt, fingers finding and pausing on the nipple piercings, not something his Eliot had but also not surprising, given how sensitive his nipples could be. “Oh god, El.”

This was fucked up, probably. Or not. In some ways it felt like the most natural thing in the world to be caught up with this familiar form, tasting the new flavors of spice and lipstick and feeling the rough press of the corset against him.

He let Eliot back him up to the bed again and looked up at him. Quentin wrapped his hand around the back of El’s neck and stared into his eyes. He wanted to tell him that he was in love with him, but how could he? He didn’t really know this Eliot or how much like the other he was. Maybe they’d just fuck and that would be… that would at least be something.

“Hey,” Eliot whispered, smiling down at Quentin, and it was so heartbreakingly familiar. Then Eliot’s hands were at Quentin’s waist, tugging at his hoody, pulling it up over his head.

Quentin lifted his arms and let himself be divested of his upper clothing, and then Eliot’s mouth was on his neck, so hot and wet, and his hand slid down to rub Quentin through his jeans. He could feel the slick lipstick smudged across his mouth, across his throat. Then Eliot was sinking to his knees and pushing Quentin back to sit on the bed with his legs spread.

Looking up at him, Eliot tipped his head to the side and brushed his curls out of his face. “You’re so fucking cute, Coldwater. I think technically I was supposed to show you around, but… You already know everything, so…” He arched a brow. “Tell me how you like it while I suck your cock.”

Then Eliot unfastened Quentin’s jeans and pulled his cock free of Quentin’s underwear, hands as deft as ever despite the newness of the black nail varnish.

“How I like what, campus or getting my dick sucked?” Quentin slid his hands through Eliot’s hair. He had to admit, he’d never really thought that Eliot could be improved in any way, but the black nail polish and piercings were really doing it for him. Was that disloyal?

Quentin lifted his hips, letting Eliot slide his pants off as he shivered in pleasure. “Because I never had any complaints about your dick sucking abilities, and… do you have a tongue ring?”

Eliot opened his mouth and stuck out his tongue, displaying a silver barbell. Then he grinned and gave Quentin a filthy look equal parts lusty and smug. “Noticed when we were kissing, did you?”

Then Eliot’s hands were on Quentin’s inner thighs, spreading them wider as Eliot gazed at him in the dim red glow of his bedside lamp. “You are such a pretty boy. I am going to just fucking ruin you.”

When Eliot looked up again, he caught Quentin’s gaze, and they stared at each other for a long moment. “Do you want me to undress, or is this doing it for you? Tell me what you like, and I’ll give you what you need.” After a beat, Eliot smirked and added, “Unless you’re the shy type who just lies there holding his breath and tries to telepathically will me to do it just a little harder, a little to the left?”

“I want you to undress. I want to… I mean, do you have tattoos? The other Eliot didn’t. Sorry, that’s weird, isn’t it? Um,” Quentin blushed and reached out to run his hands over Eliot’s skin. “But you fucking ruin me every time. No matter where we are or what time we’re in. I want to see all of you.”

Quentin stopped him suddenly. “Do you believe me?”

“Of course I believe you.” Eliot smiled and leaned up to kiss Quentin again. “You’re…strange, but not a liar. There’s something sweet about you, something earnest. I like it.”

He spoke so softly that Quentin held his breath to hear it. Then Eliot kissed him again and again, hands gliding over Quentin’s back and sides, and even this Eliot wore a dozen rings whose cool metal traced against Quentin’s overheated skin.

Then Eliot pulled away and began undressing. As the corset and harness came off, Quentin saw the whorls and swirls of delicate black tattoos wrapped around Eliot’s waist. Eliot peeled off the fishnet shirt, baring his torso, and Quentin realized the designs were intricately inked stony wings curved around his ribs from behind.

Apparently noticing Quentin’s interest, Eliot turned to show off a gargoyle hunched across his back, unfurled wings continuing all the way around to Eliot’s front, like Eliot’s body was a gothic cathedral in need of such adornment. Then, as Quentin watched, Eliot removed his tall boots and his strappy black pants with their wide legs and myriad buckles and rings. He stood there naked, all long and lean, his ass a high, tight curve and his skin pale and dusted with curly black hairs.

“Come here. I think you’re beautiful.” Quentin held his arms out, reaching up for Eliot. This different, almost softer version of him. Though maybe not soft, exactly. Just more romantic. Less jaded somehow, though how that happened to a queer man living through the AIDS crisis seemed contradictory.

He pulled Eliot close and wrapped his legs around Eliot’s waist, settling in comfortably in a familiar position. He reached down between them, palming Eliot’s cock, reliably large but not pierced, for which Quentin was thankful.

He met Eliot’s kips, kissing him slowly, not in any hurry but to feel Eliot’s weight and the differences in his body. “I don’t scare you? I’m not too intense?”

“Life’s short,” Eliot answered after a long, searching kiss. He looked into Quentin’s eyes and smiled just a little. “You can’t be afraid of the dark, or of love, or of cute dead boys you meet on a sunny day.”

He kissed him again and again and then pushed him back onto the bed. It was so different from the bohemian modernism of Quentin’s Eliot, a vast four poster canopy all in wrought iron, and the sheets were black silk. It was still recognizably lush and luxurious and so very Eliot, even if the style differed, and that soothed Quentin too. Some things never changed. Eliot was always a Sybarite.

Then Eliot’s hand curled around Quentin’s cock and he kissed his way down Quentin’s chest, taking his time to lavish Quentin’s nipples with attention. “You want me to fuck you?” Eliot asked, lips moving against the hard little nub.

Quentin moaned and arched his back, pressing harder against Eliot’s mouth, which seemed to surprise him a little. Maybe nerd boys in the ‘90s weren’t quite as uninhibited.

Before Eliot, maybe Quentin wasn’t either.

“Yeah. You like that? We… switched a lot. Is that… is that what you like?”

“I like everything,” Eliot purred, giving Quentin a wicked look and pulling his cock in slow, rough strokes. “We going to take turns on top, dead boy? Think you can keep up with me?” He laughed like he liked the idea and then then slid lower down Quentin’s body and nuzzled his cock.

“I’d joke that I’ll die trying, but I’ve done that twice now apparently and should probably try to cut down.” Quentin lay back and spread his legs for Eliot, reaching down to slide his fingers through his hair. He could almost pretend this was his Eliot, but should he? They weren’t in a relationship; that wasn’t how they’d left it.

Yet, Eliot had said of all things peaches and plums, motherfucker.

His Eliot would miss him and be miserable, and shouldn’t Quentin be trying to get back?

Only… how?

Death was apparently not a parallel move, because this wasn’t a mutation of his timeline. This was a completely different dimension. He wouldn’t just be hopping along a timeline working in a predictable way. And…

And oh fuck Eliot’s mouth wrapped around Quentin’s cock and everything else melted away. “Fuck. Yes. Please.”

Eliot sucked him leisurely, looking up at him, giving him eye contact and a smirk as he swirled his studded tongue around Quentin’s shaft. His hands glided over Quentin’s body in soothing loops, stroking and squeezing, black nails scratching lightly. It was everything and nothing like Quentin’s Eliot, so alike and so different. There was something strangely immediate about this man between his legs, something intense and open and right there on the surface, and Quentin had fought so hard for so long to ever glimpse the same in his own Eliot.

Here it was for the taking, though, like this Eliot wasn’t afraid of emotions. Like this one wanted whatever Quentin was offering.

Quentin could so easily get lost in that. Just let go and let it all happen. But what about his Eliot? Suffering, sad.

But was he?

Sure, Eliot had said that wasn’t Quentin and implied that, if choices were open, Quentin would choose differently. But also, so would Eliot. He’d said he loved him, but he wasn’t in love with him, and if Quentin went back, would that change?

Not to mention the technical difficulties of returning.

He’d been sent here. If Fillory’s timeline could change, maybe so could Earth’s. Though Fillory technically had gods running that shit, and as far as Quentin could tell, Earth had, well, certainly no one that hands-on.

The goth between his legs just held Quentin’s gaze, darkened eyes hooded, seeming to enjoy this not only as sexual pleasure, as if he actually was ready to be loved.

Quentin ran his hands through the curly hair, mussing it and then smoothing it back so he could see him, gently fucking his face until he started to feel close. Then he tugged Eliot up by his shoulders and sat him on the bed with his back against the headboard.

Quentin straddled him, sitting on Eliot’s lap so their faces were level. Then Quentin cupped Eliot’s face and kissed him like they’d kissed after fifty years of familiarity, of raising a child, with the trust that neither of them wanted to be anywhere else.

That was really what Quentin had missed. What he’d wanted. To give love and to be loved.

Eliot splayed his big hands over Quentin’s shoulder blades, supporting him in place as Eliot kissed him harder, smiling against Quentin’s mouth, seeming so receptive to Quentin’s intensity, like he thrived on it too, like he wanted it all. He was hard between Quentin’s legs, his cock rubbing against Quentin’s, and then Eliot whispered, “How did I get so lucky?”

Like he really meant it. Like he thought Quentin was something special.

Quentin paused to execute the spell Eliot had taught him, cleaning and lubing him so he was ready. This Eliot might not have known that spell yet, or perhaps he was surprised Quentin knew it. The nineties were a more conservative time for queerness in a lot of ways. Or so Quentin had heard. And Eliot looked impressed, which gave Quentin a warm glow in his belly.

At least this Eliot won’t doubt my queer street cred.

The second he thought it, he felt guilty and pressed his forehead to Eliot’s as Eliot started to finger him. “I feel like the lucky one right now.”

“You are just so perfectly my type. I don’t even know how to articulate the astronomical odds against this, dead boy.” Eliot smiled at him, and Quentin could hear the smile in his voice, too. It went all the way down. Somehow, Quentin had pleased this Eliot, had won him over already, and he remembered what his Eliot had once told him: Well, I bond fast.

And maybe this Eliot didn’t have the benefit of internet debauchery to really push the boundaries of his skillset, but his fingers felt amazing, and he knew just how to touch Quentin, and it didn’t matter that it was all moving crazy fast because it felt right.

Eliot nibbled along Quentin’s jaw, nuzzling behind his ear, and it was so affectionate, so tender, and Quentin couldn’t help feeling like maybe this was as close as he was going to get to heaven. He’d seen the afterlife. He knew how it worked. He’d never imagined he’d get something like this.

“It’s magic.” Quentin tilted his head to the side, rocking against Eliot’s fingers, getting them where he wanted them and whining for more. “Maybe you made a friend in the Underworld with all this goth magic.”

It was as likely as anything else, honestly. The odds were crazy, and the thing about magic was that it was a lot of math and circumstance and alterations, but there was a large chunk of it that they really didn’t understand and probably never would. Those were questions more for the Knowledge kids, the more dedicated hackers of the group, and for now Quentin was content to just enjoy Eliot.

He paused while Eliot reached for a condom and kissed El’s face and neck as he opened it and rolled it over himself. Then Quentin sat back, gazing at Eliot as he lined up with Quentin’s opening and started to slide inside of him.

“Fuck,” Eliot gasped as the thick head of him slipped past Quentin’s defenses. He threw back his head and breathed deep, seeming so raw and unguarded, so absolutely present, and Quentin held him and tried to relax, to let him in. Gravity eased Quentin down Eliot’s slick shaft a little at a time, and they moaned in tandem, both of them lost in the moment, in the pleasure.

This Eliot might’ve looked fierce and dangerous with his tattoos and thick kohl, but he was as gentle as Quentin’s Eliot, as attentive and patient. As Quentin opened to him bit by bit, Eliot pushed deeper and sighed, head dropping forward to rest his brow against Quentin’s again until they were breathing each other’s breaths, until they were so impossibly close that Quentin felt something like complete.

Then Eliot lipped at his mouth, not quite kissing, just toying with Quentin, just playfully nipping and caressing lips to lips. “I did work a spell,” he admitted quietly, voice breathy. “Years ago, when I was trying to discover magic on my own, before Brakebills. I carved runes into a stone and bled onto them and chanted an invocation to bring my true love to me. Do you think it worked?”

“God, I hope so.” Quentin wrapped his arms around Eliot’s neck and clung to him, just needing to feel him close and maybe just needing to believe that this could be real and could actually be for him.

Maybe it was selfish or unfair of Quentin to want so much from Eliot. He’d already had a lifetime. That was more than most anyone got, and yet still he wanted more.

He kissed Eliot deeply and started to rock against him, taking him deeply and lovingly. “I really, really hope so, El. Blood magic is very… and I really have traveled so far to be here. Did you really… do you really… want that?”

“What?” Eliot asked, smiling and gripping Quentin’s hips, holding him steady as Quentin moved. “Do I really want a true love? Of course I fucking do. Who doesn’t?”

He seemed to mean it. He really seemed to mean it.

Then Eliot was kissing him again, and Quentin just let himself melt against him, basking in the moment, in Eliot’s tongue against his, Eliot’s cock deep inside him.

“How else would you have gotten here, dead boy?” Eliot teased, but there was something darker there, something possessive and somber, and when Eliot rolled them over suddenly, brought Quentin up on top of him, his eyes glinted with something feral and greedy. “Stay with me. Stay here with me. I summoned you. I bled for you. Be mine.”

It was fast. It was all happening so fast, and this was Eliot, but not necessarily the one he knew.

But maybe the one who needed him.

Quentin rode him, throwing his head back, arching to get Eliot as deep inside him as he could. He loved the way it made Eliot moan, how he explored Quentin’s body almost tentatively at first. Then he pulled Quentin forward, and they kissed again, deeply, needily. Quentin wanted nothing more in this moment than to be kept.

He stretched out over Eliot, pinning his arms while Quentin rode him, gazing down at him, his hair shadowing them from the world. “You really want that? Want me to stay? Want me to be with you? You’ll let me love you?”

“Yes,” Eliot exulted, rolling his hips upward, expression dreamy. “Quentin.” He sighed, looking up at Quentin, and then rolled them over again, putting Quentin on his back beneath him. He kissed him recklessly, hungrily, and then pulled out of him.

“Want you to fuck me now.” Eliot reached into his nightstand for another condom and unrolled it deftly onto Quentin, smiling almost shyly. “Do that spell again. You’ll have to teach it to me later, but I can’t think clearly right now.”

“That’s fair; you taught it to me in another life.” Quentin smiled up at Eliot and then focused on the spell, moving his fingers deliberately. As it took effect, Quentin grinned at Eliot’s surprised pleasure. “It’s kind of nice, isn’t it? You need me to—”

Before Quentin could offer to ease him open, Eliot slid onto Quentin, taking him in with an eagerness that startled Quentin. Quentin exhaled in bliss at how perfect Eliot felt around him and held Eliot’s hips as he moved, tilting his own hips just so, the way Eliot liked it, or at least, the way Quentin’s Eliot did.

That appeared to be a constant, as Eliot groaned and then gave himself over to Quentin completely.

“You brought me here, didn’t you? It was you, wanting me. And here I am.” Quentin pulled the condom off Eliot and spelled lube on his hand before wrapping it around Eliot’s cock. “Two halves of a whole. No matter what dimension.”

“Yeah?” Eliot turned his rapt gaze on Quentin and rolled his hips, moving between Quentin’s thrusts and Quentin’s slippery grip. His expression was sheer bliss, and Quentin basked in having made him look like that, in having made him feel so good. “Are we meant to be, Quentin? You love me? You going to be with me forever?”

Eliot planted his hands on either side of Quentin’s head and took him harder, riding him desperately and kissing him between ragged, triumphant breaths. “Quentin,” he whispered. “Quentin, Quentin, Quentin.”

Could Quentin even help himself? Even when this was clearly not his Eliot, Quentin hadn’t gone far afield. And sure, it was different, because Quentin had hoped to win his Eliot back. But if Eliot from the time loop wasn’t the same as Brakebills Eliot wasn’t the same as High King Eliot, then there were just so many incarnations of Eliot. Despite changes superficial and deep, in his core, this was still Eliot.

Keeping one hand on Eliot’s cock, Quentin placed the other over Eliot’s heart as if he could scan it, could somehow scry meaning through touch and see into Eliot.

Eliot put both hands over Quentin’s as if he treasured this exploration, as if he knew what Quentin was attempting. Though neither of them was psychic, they’d always been connected on an unspoken level.

Between the tenderness and the amazing sensation of moving inside Eliot’s tight body, Quentin’s release was imminent. He could feel in Eliot’s pulse and the way he moved that his was, too.

“Eliot… my Eliot. I do love you. As long as you can tolerate me and even when you can’t.”

Eliot laughed softly, a dark, raw sound and shuddered, clenching around Quentin and riding him with abandon, his hands still clasping Quentin’s over his thundering heart. “You’re fucking crazy, Quentin Coldwater, and I am really into it.”

Eliot rocked between Quentin’s hand and his cock faster and faster, rhythm growing syncopated as he pushed himself to the edge, and just watching it was so sexy it blew Quentin’s mind. He’d never believed he’d have this again, just the two of them, just Eliot smiling down at him this way, watching him with so much exasperated affection like he couldn’t believe what a nerd Quentin was. Like he loved what a nerd Quentin was.

Then Eliot was gasping and leaning down to kiss Quentin, trembling as they moved together. “C’mon, Q. Make me come. I’m so close.”

He gripped Eliot’s nape as he fucked him harder, tightening his grip on Eliot’s cock. His Eliot liked his cock manhandled, and it seemed that this one did, too. He kissed Eliot deeply, probing into him in as many ways as he could and then drawing him down.

Eliot groaned into Quentin’s mouth, sucking away Quentin’s breath as his body seized and Quentin’s hand grew slick. It was enough to tip Quentin into his own release, balls tightening with that desperate feeling like it was all too much but not enough, that he might not make it and then… There it was, and Quentin let go, his body spasming, hips violent against Eliot’s body as Quentin rode it out.

He turned his head to the side to gasp for air, wrapping both arms around Eliot when he started to fuss at overstimulation. Quentin held him tight, just taking a moment to catch his breath before carefully reaching down between them to slide himself out and remove the condom.

Sighing, Quentin turned his head back toward Eliot and hid his face against Eliot’s neck. Eliot sighed too, soft and pleased, and then sprawled out on top of Quentin like he belonged there, heedless of their sweat and spunk and smiling lazily.

“Yeah, we could fall in love,” Eliot said, like it was nothing to say it, like he could just let himself feel it. Then he nuzzled Quentin and wiped a thumb against his mouth. “Jesus, I made a mess out of you.” Then he kissed Quentin again anyway, like he didn’t care at all how much red lipstick ended up all over Quentin. Against Quentin’s lips, he whispered, “Not bad for a dead boy.”

“Making a mess of me is kind of what you do. I’ve got proof of concept on that.” Quentin didn’t even care how much lipstick was on him or how insane he probably looked. He let out a long, relieved sigh. He didn’t need promises or a ring or anything crazy, just a chance, and it sounded like Eliot was willing to give him that.

It sounded like he’d even wanted that.

Grinning wickedly, Eliot stroked Quentin’s side, caressing him all over possessively, and then rubbed their noses together like the post-coital affection was no big thing. Like this Eliot didn’t try as hard to be cool and unaffected. Like maybe he liked the sweltering wreck of human emotions Quentin invariably became after sex.

“So I guess you could go back to your room with mohawk boy and just hope he doesn’t mock you relentlessly for where you put your dick, or you could get your things and move in with me until they assign you a room here in the Physical cottage. You’ve already proved your right to be here.”

Eliot didn’t specify whether “here” was the cottage or his bed, but he didn’t really need to, the way he was looking at Quentin. He tapped the center of Quentin’s lip with one elegant, black-lacquered fingertip. “Mine now. I’ve got dibs.”

“I’d much rather be here.” Quentin kissed Eliot’s finger and then opened his mouth wider to take it between his lips. “He can mock all he wants. I’m not ashamed of what I want.”

Could it really be this simple? Just live here in the nineties with his goth Eliot. Buy a bunch of Apple stock when it got crazy low, and they’d never want for anything. “All yours.”

Eliot’s eyes gleamed as he cradled Quentin’s cheek in his hand. “Let’s be hopelessly fucked up together forever, dead boy. The universe brought you here, and I’m not letting go.”

He kissed Quentin again, gentle as anything, and smiled into the kiss. Then he laughed, sprawled, and snuggled closer all at once, nearly overwhelming Quentin with how fucking good it all was, how perfect this life could be. He curled into Eliot’s larger frame, sheltered there, his hair kissed and his back stroked.

After a few long moments of silent contemplation, Eliot murmured, “Fuck it. I love you too,” as if that settled that, like the pact was sealed.

Maybe it was. Maybe, in this universe, that was all it took. Maybe here Quentin could be happy.