Quentin’s fist hovered in front of the door, hesitant to knock.
Which was stupid.
He shouldn’t have been nervous. He was a grown man who could have tough conversations without being all weird about it. And, really, Eliot had been clear from pretty much day one that Quentin’s presence wasn’t a bother. Mi casa es su casa would be Eliot’s motto, if Eliot didn’t specifically find the idea of mottos to be “declassé.” But either way, the point was, El always said if the door was unwarded, it was an invitation to come in, no questions asked. It’d made Quentin feel at ease early on, that warmth and openness, both shown and told. Taking a break from his thesis work to flop into the comfort of Eliot’s massive leather armchair and do card flourishes to himself while El filled the space with his easy, idle chatter had become as much of a ritual as rubbing their pretend romantic relationship in Mike McCormick’s face every weekend.
Only this time, Quentin wasn’t coming by just to shoot the shit or to escape Margo’s ooh-you’d-look- great -in mascara clutches, though that was a plus. Unfortunately, this time, he actually had something serious to talk to Eliot about, which wasn’t exactly their usual “thing.” At least, not when sober.
Hence the bottle in his other hand.
But since Quentin logically knew his fear was (probably) irrational and stupid, and that Eliot (probably) wouldn’t kick his ass out on the street for expressing the shit he needed to express, he pushed past the knot in his stomach and rapped his knuckles on the wood. Tap-tap-tap, then he pulled his hand away like it burned.
He’d done it, it was over, and now he was committed to having this conversation.
And truthfully, they needed to have this conversation, if the details of today were going to work out. He let out a breath and waited, his sweaty fingers twisting around the neck of the Tanqueray. Quentin shifted his weight, blowing staccato puffs out the side of his mouth as he stared up at the ceiling.
The hallway had several types of wallpaper plastered on every surface, in wildly different patterns. Green and pink polka dots next to dark hued swirls and shit, sort of like an oriental rug (“Mina-Khani, Q.”) next to a shock of neon paisley stretching down alternating panels. Somehow, Eliot and Margo’s expert touch made mesmerizing, but it would’ve required a seizure warning if Quentin ever attempted it himself. Not that he gave a shit about interior decorating, anyway. His room at Brakebills was functional and had a lot of shelf space, which was pretty much all he needed.
Though Eliot actually had made some good points recently, about why interior decorating (apparently not the same as interior design, by the way) was something every Magician should care about. How the balancing elements of comfort, luxury, and artistry in a space created a magic-rich environment, providing a better flow and a dedicated “comfort zone,” which led to stronger casting. Magic came from pain, Eliot always said, but that meant it was even more important to have a soft landing for yourself, even for the little shit, since it cumulatively adds up. Thus, comfort charms and planar compression and more art than the brain could process in a lifetime. Quentin had never really considered the impact of specific environments on casting, at least beyond axial positioning, but it actually made sense than he—
The door swung open.
“Hi,” Eliot said, sounding a little out of breath, all smiling teeth and slicked-back hair still wet from the shower. His shirt was only half-buttoned, a single droplet of water coursing a trail from his neck to his chest hair. “What’s up, Q?”
Quentin’s throat dried up. “Um.” He forced his eyes to focus on Eliot’s waiting face, on the slight arch of his questioning brow. “I, uh, I just wanted to talk to you? Just for a second? Uh, before you get too busy? Hey, um, want some gin?”
He thrust the bottle into Eliot’s arms.
Eliot’s brows went from arched to lifted. “That bad, huh?”
Quentin bobbed his head to the side, an equivocating sigh passing through his lips instead of more words. Eliot snorted, tucked the bottle under his armpit, and stepped back into his room, wordlessly nodding at Quentin to follow.
November rain tapped at the giant window, gauzy curtains diffusing the morning light. Eliot’s bedroom was as enormous, and elaborate, and lush as Quentin would’ve imagined in all his wildest dreams, especially with Eliot’s giant purple and gold canopy bed as the centerpiece. Dark walls showcased the brightly colored pieces of art Eliot had on seemingly endless display, and a giant roaring fireplace crackled an orange contrast to the gray weather. There was ample seating and ample blankets, welcoming and warm. Quentin grinned as he took in the warm splendor. Thinking that the bedroom should’ve been too grand to be cozy, that but there wasn’t another word for it.
Like usual, Quentin flopped down in the armchair beside the fireplace, letting his bare toes warm up. He shook his head at the perfunctory offer of a cigarette, and Eliot smoked in silence as he poured the gin into two martini glasses, mixing it in with a bunch of bitters, liqueurs, and a couple of olives, before rounding back over to Quentin with his improvisation.
They clinked the edge of their glasses together and drank. Eliot leaned against the mantle with curious, appraising eyes. Obviously waiting for Quentin to speak.
“Um, so.” Quentin swirled his drink, creating a little mini-game in his head where the olive had to bounce off one side and hit the other in a single motion to get a point. He quickly got to two. “I wanted to—so Julia’s coming over today, right?”
Eliot cocked his head. “That’s the plan as I know it, yes.”
“Yeah, it is. That’s the plan.” Quentin grimaced. “Can we—can we talk about that a little? Would you mind? Just, like. With the arrangement. The scheme, or whatever.”
“Of course,” Eliot said, airy. Something about his voice pricked at Quentin’s insides, but not in any way he could interpret. “I guess we haven’t touched base on the details in a while. What would you like to establish?”
Quentin rocked his head back, overwhelmed all over again. A tension headache popped up between his eyebrows and he rubbed at it harshly with his thumb. He didn’t want to do this. But it was happening.
It was happening.
It’d taken Julia three weeks to finagle her way into the apartment for a brunch date. Three weeks since Quentin had dragged himself out of his bed at the Physical Cottage, opened his door, and found Julia and Eliot walking up the Cottage stairs together, to his immediate horror. Eliot held two cups of coffee in his hand and Julia had her arm looped in his, and they were laughing together like they’d both made the funniest joke at the same time. Their eyes were hollow and their teeth sharp. Julia had given a great performance of her so-called Jersey WASP laugh, an expert at passive-aggression. But Eliot was no slouch either. El had been the picture of poise, but the poison kind. The long, tense lines of his body and the strain of his smile told Quentin all he needed to know about the truth of his first interaction with Julia.
“Hey Q!” Julia squeezed Eliot’s arm. “I kidnapped your boyfriend.”
Quentin ran his hand back through his hair, resting his temple against the doorframe, exhausted. “I, uh, I see that.”
He remembered Eliot’s eyes had flashed with something like concern, like he was worried he’d fucked up, but he covered it like a pro. “We come bearing caffeine.”
“Oh, thank Christ,” Quentin had said, reaching out grabby hands. He gave Eliot what he hoped was a genuinely thankful look, and he’d been rewarded by one of those rare small smiles, the ones that made his stomach flip.
When Eliot handed over the goods, their fingers brushed and lingered, sending a wave of heat down into Quentin’s belly. They hadn’t talked alone in the light of day yet, after spending the night half-drunk and wrapped up in each other’s arms. Quentin wasn’t totally sure if the tentative glint in Eliot’s eyes was about that, but he’d hoped so.
But the moment—if it even was a moment at all—was killed by Julia’s hawk eyes and pursed lips. “Seems like you two had a fun night.”
“We were at the North Pole,” Eliot said, a master of affected nonchalance. “Schnapps happened.”
Despite herself, Julia immediately brightened with recognition. She launched into everything she’s heard about aurora luxalia, how lucky they were to have seen it, how she hoped they’d taken a lot of notes and pictures. Her enthusiasm had been infectious, and for a short while, the three of them had an almost pleasant conversation, skating over the dangerous depths below.
But then Eliot had said something lighthearted about Quentin’s drinking inability, and Julia had read it as criticism. She sweetly, sharply objected in that usual way of hers, and her tone made Eliot’s fingers tighten around his coffee cup. Tension returned like an iron wall, portending nothing good. And while Quentin wasn’t a natural social mediator, panic raised in his throat at the thought of these two people coming to blows, and he blurted out the first thing his brain provided.
“So, uh, El.” Quentin turned firmly to Eliot, who gave a start. “Let me just grab my books and we can head back home, okay?”
His stupid fucking brain.
The silence following his words was damning, and his every instinct tried to force his eyes down to his toes. But he’d said it, it was out there, and as Margo always said—it was way fucking weirder to be weird about it than to own it, no matter how absurd. So as impassively as he could, like he hadn’t said anything weird at all, Quentin turned to Eliot, like all was normal.
Eliot looked strangely sucker punched. Probably confused as shit really, rightfully; seeing as Quentin had never spent a Sunday at the apartment. Eliot’s lips parted under his furrowed brow, speechless, and the hand holding his coffee cup dropped to his waist as he searched across Quentin’s face for a century. But just as Quentin lost his breath, time sped up and Eliot gave him a brilliant smile, taking a sip of his coffee. “Of course, baby,” he said easily. “Don’t forget your Cepheid Variables worksheet.”
Quentin nodded once, bones a slosh of liquid, then glanced at Julia just as she finished mouthing baby? to herself. When their eyes met, her mouth gave a tremulous quirk. “I thought you stayed at Brakebills during the week. Usually.”
“I work better at the apartment,” Quentin said truthfully. Out of the corner of his eye, he thought he saw Eliot’s face do some complicated thing. But when he looked at him straight on, El was placid as ever.
“Oh.” Julia forced a smile. “Okay, well, can we talk soon?”
“Yeah, for sure.” Quentin cleared his throat, eyes sliding away. “I’ll see you around, Jules.”
Julia stayed silent, and guilt overtook Quentin, a sharp splinter in his side. He felt like the tell-tale heart, like she was reading every inch of his bullshit the longer they stood there. I’m lying, I’m a fucking liar, I’m as fucked up as you think I am. But when Eliot sent him a secret wink, the ache and fear faded.
More silence passed, a stalemate. “See you,” Julia finally said.
Always one to read the room, Eliot gave Julia an almost genuine smile. “It was nice to see you again, Julia. We should do brunch sometime.”
Julia blinked for a third time, slow as molasses, then turned a stony smile up at Eliot. The kind that curled toes. “Count on it. Nice to see you too, Eliot.”
And as Julia slowly turned around and walked down the hallway, Quentin could feel El’s warm breath on his ear. “You’re diabolical.”
“What?” Quentin jumped.
Eliot shushed him, smoothing down the collar of his flannel. “Let’s go home, honey?” He clicked his tongue, wrapping his hand around his neck. “Fatal blow.”
“I didn’t—I wasn’t—”
“Now, don’t pretend like you don’t know exactly what you're doing.” Eliot ran his thumb down the line of Quentin’s throat, and Quentin’s vision swam. “Kudos, truly.”
“I wasn’t—I’m just hungover,” Quentin grumbled, though he kept leaning against Eliot, snaking an arm around his waist. “Your spell didn’t do shit.”
“My poor darling.” Eliot pecked a kiss to the top of his head.
Quentin grunted, Eliot grinned. For yet another perfect moment, it all felt dangerously real, all over again. But when he glanced over his shoulder, his heart dropped at Julia standing by the stairs, watching them with a frown. When she noticed Quentin, she just gave him another sad smile and wave, before disappearing down the stairs. It was almost bittersweet, almost like an understanding.
Except... it was Julia.
So for the next three fucking weeks, she hounded him all the goddamn time for a goddamn brunch invitation. Between classes, via text, via email, via spell, waiting for him at Brakebills portals. She brought it up so much, so often, and with such unyielding tenacity, Quentin had to give in, practically begging for mercy and, like, some goddamn peace. And whether the momentary respite would be worth the headache of bringing her into the fold was the world’s biggest fucking TBD.
The fire lapped at the crooked wood, effortlessly passing through its solid weight like a ghost. Magic meant the logs would never turn to ash. Quentin took a long sip of his drink—slightly too bitter and more herbaceous than he liked. Still better than shots straight from the bottle.
“Um,” Quentin said, voice shaking. Eliot cocked his head patiently. “There’s a couple things you should probably—uh, things that might come up today and it’d be weird if you didn’t know?”
Quentin ripped the bandaid clean off. “I have severe clinical depression, to where I’ve been hospitalized on and off for pretty much my entire life. Uh, mostly through my teen years, but also right before I got into Brakebills. The worst of it happened when I was sixteen, when I was basically rendered catatonic with suicidal ideation. For about two months.”
The only sound that followed was the light clink-thud of a glass being placed on the mantle. Quentin watched the reflection of the fire in the shine of Eliot’s black shoes.
“Okay,” Eliot said softly. He cleared his throat. “That’s—okay.”
There was a space then, a space where Eliot could have asked a question or Quentin could have offered more, but it passed with a breath and a bone-deep gratitude Quentin couldn’t express. Eliot hadn’t called the whole thing off or asked probing questions, and honestly, Quentin kind of fell for him harder for it. Pathetic, but true.
But that wasn’t all. “And then, um, the other thing is about my—my dad?” Quentin splashed the drink onto his jeans, a dark spot on his knee, when he got to eight points in his dumb game. “He was diagnosed with brain cancer about, uh, three months into my first year at Brakebills. Glioblastoma, which has about a 5% five-year survival rate.”
Another long pause.
“I had no idea.” Eliot sounded a little hurt that time, which made Quentin feel like shit. It was a fair response, since they had literally just talked about his dad a few weeks ago, but he couldn’t—it was just—
“Anyway, um,” Quentin rushed through, “he’s in a miraculous remission right now that I’m—I’m trying to study? Sort of to see if there’s an underlying magical cause that I might replicate. Using mending not on the curse itself, but on the curse mechanism at the cellular level. My hypothesis is that it’s sort of like plugging a dam.”
“That sounds… plausible, I guess,” Eliot said, voice both dazed and right on the edge of patronizing.
Quentin’s face burned with embarrassment, and he ripped at his cuticle. “I don’t know, I mean, it’s half-baked. It’s why I want a good mentor in the healing field, but no one will take me seriously to even test it out or give me more information about curses to even, uh, get on any kind of right track. I just—I want to do right by my dad, but it turns out magic is just so fucking—um, yeah.”
“Well, okay.” Eliot chewed on his lower lip. “That explains why you’ve been so focused on your thesis.”
Eliot and Margo both thought Brakebills’ theses were bullshit check-the-box exercises with zero bearing on future prospects. They bragged about writing theirs over the course of a single week while tripping on DMT and passing with accolades from a reluctant Henry Fogg. The topic especially came up whenever they tried to convince Quentin to stop working for a few hours and drink, gossip, or otherwise entertain them to their current whim. And now that Quentin was spending… most nights at the apartment, it happened more and more frequently.
Yet Quentin’s specific thesis topic never came up. Now, it sat like a cold stone between him and Eliot.
Eliot took a delicate sip of his drink, eyes never leaving Quentin’s face. Quentin scratched under his chin, then sighed. “Look, it’s not a big deal, okay? I only mention it because those two things are why Julia can be kind of intense with me. About me. I think it’s important for you to know that, so you don’t say something that backs you into a corner. If she thinks I didn’t tell you...”
“She’ll think you didn’t trust me enough.” There was a raw quality to his voice that clenched Quentin’s stomach. “Sure, I get it. No fuel for her self-righteous fire.”
Desperately, Quentin wanted to tell Eliot he trusted Eliot more than he had ever trusted anyone in his life, that he trusted him a frightening amount. That if Quentin could spend his days projectile vomiting all his bullshit thoughts, and anxieties, and half-baked ideas onto Eliot’s generous heart, he would, he would, he would. That the only reason Quentin didn’t or couldn’t was because he was fucked up and couldn’t find the words, that he’d never known how to share that kind of shit on purpose, especially to someone who looked and acted and kissed Eliot did. It was too much, too real, and he wanted it so fucking badly he could taste it. But if Eliot didn’t want the same thing, if Eliot didn’t really want him—
He just couldn’t.
Not for the first time, Quentin almost said fuck it and said it out loud, bleeding heart in hand. But also not for the first time, Eliot instinctually cut off the impulse. His eyes sparkled with that siren-call sardonic brightness and half his mouth quirked up, moving the moment along. “I thought you were going to tell me you fucked her.”
Tension unspooled, the air oxidizing back to its usual state. Quentin huffed a low laugh. “Yeah, uh, nope. Never.”
“Wouldn’t have blamed you,” Eliot said. “You’re a warm-blooded bisexual man after all, and Julia is… attractive?”
“You know she’s attractive.”
“She’s no Margo Hanson.”
“I don’t think it’s a competition.”
“Try telling that to Bambi.”
Fair enough. Quentin rolled his eyes and took a gulp of his drink—still bitter as shit, but growing on him. An acquired taste. “Anyway, I think that’s pretty much it. She’ll be up your ass about pretty much everything, but I think you can handle it.”
“Um, I can definitely handle it,” Eliot said with a scoff. He dropped to a squat, like a Little League coach. “But that’s far from it, mister, sir. This is your first chance to proactively, calculatingly stick it to the bitch who stole your therapy letters and sent them out en masse in some fucked up, almost impressively misguided attempt to get you to... go on a date? You can’t let that opportunity slip through your fingers.”
“Don’t call her a bitch,” Quentin said. “But yeah, good points.”
Strategizing with Eliot was always way more fun than it should be.
“You should talk a lot about our joint financial goals,” Quentin said, after a few alternatingly laughing and deadly serious topics of discussion. They’d settled on a plan of twisting the knife of domesticity. “Like, that we have a spreadsheet together and, uh, an accounting of our assets?”
Eliot grinned. “What assets?”
“All your art and shit?”
“Honey, those are definitely stolen. We can’t have a paper trail.”
Whatever, Quentin wasn’t a business major. He waved it off, right as another stroke of inspiration hit him. “Oh! But you, uh, you should definitely casually mention that you convinced me to go to a bank and—this part is important— physically talk to a teller in order to get a personalized checkbook. Like, y’know, in case I have to deal with non-magic shit sometimes, for my dad or whatever. That’s a motherfucking kill shot.”
Eliot barked a laugh, eyes crinkling at the edges, making Quentin’s heart do a cartwheel. Eliot rounded behind the armchair and squeezed Quentin’s shoulder. “See?” he said, dipping his mouth low to his ear. “Diabolical.”
The rain cleared, and a slant of pale gold light poured through the window. Quentin finished his drink with the conclusion that it was actually really fucking good, like everything Eliot did. He followed the path Eliot forged through the cozy-huge space, watching his long legs stride over to the bureau, to all the tiny details—cufflinks, cravats, makeup, an array of organized scarves and pocket squares and jewelry—that made up the precise, dazzling collage of Eliot Waugh.
Eliot winked at him, looping his tie through his collar. Quentin felt warm all over.
When Eliot ushered Julia Wicker into the foyer a few hours later, the first thing she did was blink at Margo, then at him. She twisted her lips into a tiny smile, and said, “I feel underdressed.”
“Oh, no, you’re fine .” Margo affected a falsetto, smoothing her hand down her own silk and sequin pantsuit. “Love the pigtails, by the way. So retro.”
Despite Margo’s reassurances, Julia was, in fact, underdressed. She was clad only in leggings and an oversized gray cardigan. But while the corners of her mouth tightened at Margo’s tone—assuming she was being snidely mocked—Eliot knew Margo was actually quite sincere. Nothing revved Bambi’s engine like a grown woman in pigtails.
Julia’s eyes flicked up and down Eliot’s three-piece suit. “Q told me it was casual.”
Eliot swooped a hand onto her shoulder, directing her toward the living room and the awaiting bar cart. “Now, don’t be silly. Your comfort is our pleasure. Shall I take your purse to the closet or would you prefer an Hermès stool?”
Julia rounded her mouth. “A what?”
Margo linked arms with Julia, taking her for a turn about the room. “An idea we copped from a Parisian boutique hotel-slash-fine dining restaurant. Right on Rue de Rivoli. Have you been to Paris, Julia?”
“Yes…?” Julia said slowly.
“Then you know. Honestly, between you and me” —Margo leaned in conspiratorially— “it’s mostly overpriced tourist schlock. No surprise given the location, but I’ve still always loved how they bring out a cute little Hermès leather stool for luxury bags. Such a charming and practical touch! That way, you can have easy access to your personal effects, while ensuring your bag never gets sullied by the dirty ground or stretched by the chair. Genius, no?”
Margo twirled her words like honey-sweet venom, like a cloud of too much perfume. She was as pissed at this entitled bitch as Eliot was for what she’d done to Quentin, and she expressed it with subtle vigor. Always a force to be reckoned with, that old cliche, but in ways no one ever gave enough credit. Eliot lived nowhere but in awe of her.
“Wow,” Julia said, frowning but still letting Margo lead them around the living room. “So what happens if you’ve got, like, a Target brand bag? Shit out of luck then? To the disgusting floor it goes?”
Margo laughed. “I doubt anyone who can afford Le Meurice carries a Target bag, though I agree, a little more exclusion would probably serve them well. The stools used to be just for Birkins, but they caved to populist pressure, I guess.”
“And this is right down the street from Place de la Concorde, you said?” Julia batted her lashes.
(Place de la Concorde was where Louis XVI and the unfairly maligned Marie Antoinette were executed, after which it was renamed Place de la Revolution until the July 1830 uprising. Eliot played Jean Valjean in his high school production Les Miserables ; he was well-versed in French revolutionary history.)
Margo touched the tip of her tongue to her canine, then pointedly smirked down at the designer label on Julia’s giant black bag. Julia quickly tucked it under her arm. “I’ll just hold my purse.” She shot Eliot a quick, half-apologetic glance. “Thanks, though.”
Eliot shrugged, positioning himself behind the bar and cutting a few lime wedges. “Suit yourself. Offer stands.”
“What’s your poison?” Margo asked Julia, gliding them down onto the leopard-print chaise lounge. Their arms stayed entwined. “El’s a booze wizard. Just name it.”
“So, I don’t mean to be rude, but I have to ask.” Julia craned her neck toward the kitchen, then the hallway. “Quentin is here, right?”
Margo cocked her head all the way to the side, eyebrows screwed together. “What’s a Quentin?”
One side of Julia’s mouth twitched with amusement, the kind that surprised her enough to school it back down to a neutral placidity in a too-quick blink. But Eliot appreciated any appreciation of Margo, and it was enough for him to take pity on her.
“He’s finishing up some work, but I set a strict fifteen minute egg timer...” Eliot glanced up at their wall clock. “Fourteen minutes and fifty-five seconds ago.”
“Ah,” Julia said brightly. “So it’ll be another hour then?”
“Trust me,” Eliot said. “He’ll heed the timer.”
Sure enough, after another five minutes passed—whilst Eliot made four gimlets in gold-rimmed coups and Margo chattered away to a bemused Julia—a loud yell of “What the fuck? ” rang down the hall.
“That’ll be him,” Eliot said mildly, garnishing each drink with a sprig of rosemary.
Quentin stormed down the hallway, eyes dark and wild. He held out a medium-sized common box turtle as far away from his body as he could, only the tips of his fingers quivering along the shell. “Turn it back.”
“Aw,” Eliot said, bending over at the waist. “Who’s this little fella?”
The turtle stretched his wrinkly yellow neck. Quentin shuddered. “Turn it back, Eliot.”
Eliot wished he had a bit of lettuce to offer their guest. “Only if you acknowledge I gave you a very generous five minute grace period which you then squandered.”
“Are you serious?”
“Timeliness is next to godliness, Q.”
“Like you give a shit about godliness.”
“True. Timeliness far surpasses.”
“I was just in the middle of a thought!”
“All your thoughts are a million years long.”
“I need my notes, Eliot. Turn it back!”
Eliot rolled his eyes and did a few swift tuts. Presto, the turtle returned to its original form—Quentin’s overstuffed green spiral-bound notebook. Quentin pulled it protectively toward his chest, taking a relieved breath. He blew his hair out of his eyes. “I told you I don’t like turtles.”
“That’s what you get for expressing weakness,” Margo called over from the background.
“She’s right,” Eliot said. He tucked Quentin’s hair back behind his ear, smoothing down the shoulder lines of his flannel. “The lesson here, sweetheart, is to always keep your guard up and trust no one.”
“Thanks,” Quentin said flatly.
Then, because Eliot was on display and in boyfriend mode, he wrapped his hand around the back of Quentin’s neck and pressed a gentle kiss to his lips. Quentin made one of those surprised, whimpering little sounds, the kind that always ripped Eliot’s chest to shreds, and pushed up on his toes to kiss him back, with just enough pressure to make the backs of Eliot’s eyelids white-out.
Someone cleared her throat. Quentin pulled away first, color dotted high on his cheeks. His dazed eyes looked just past Eliot’s shoulders and his brows shot up to his hairline. “Julia. Oh, uh. Hey.”
“Hi there, Q.” Julia gave him a wave, her voice unreadable.
Quentin blinked. “I, uh. I didn’t realize you were here yet. Uh. Sorry.”
Eliot snuffed out the bright flare of hope that ignited in his chest. No, that wasn’t right. Quentin had to know Julia was here, because if he didn’t and he kissed Eliot back like that, thinking they were alone in the apartment—
Quentin had to know Julia was here.
Julia gave Quentin another long, indiscernible look, then turned sharply to Margo. “So are they always like this?”
Margo choked. “Oh my god,” she said, pressing her wrist to her mouth. “You have no fucking idea. Honestly, this is them being halfway bearable.”
Honestly, that sounded a little too honest. Margo was a good actress, but not that good. Eliot sharpened his gaze into a subtle warning, a short and swift watch it, but she blithely ignored his subliminal messaging.
“They’re the Spring Fling Kings of the New York Brakebills’ alumni circle,” Margo said drily. Eliot shot her another, harder look. That time merely she arched a brow, not ignoring but not backing down.
Quentin blinked again, slower this time, turning his bright red face to Margo. “But it’s not spring. It’s, like, late fall. Almost winter.”
Margo gave him a serene smile. “Thank you, Quentin.”
Julia hiccuped too loudly, an airy burst of sound, clapping her hand over her mouth. Margo waggled her eyebrows at her, rubbing their shoulders together.
After that, the conversational tempo shifted into a key change. The four of them caught up on life at Brakebills and life in the city, saying lots of words with no real meaning. Everyone nursed their drink, clinging to well-timed sips to get through the awkwardness. Well, everyone but Margo, who had never been awkward in any situation ever in her life. She finished her gin with fast flair and refilled once by the time Julia broached the subject of how often Quentin was staying at the apartment these days.
“I feel like I barely see him anymore,” she said, as though Quentin wasn’t sitting literally right across from her.
Quentin scowled and was the second person to finish his drink after a huge gulp. Eliot took that as his cue to answer for him.
“We don’t spend much time at Brakebills since the portal’s not too far away and this is much more comfortable.” Eliot gestured around the spacious room, to which Julia politely nodded. “But thankfully, I did manage to sneak a few comfort spells on his bed, at long last.”
Eliot used the same cloying co-conspirators’ voice his mother and sisters-in-law did when discussing his awful brothers’ Sunday night football habits. Nauseating to apply to Quentin, but it was the only way he knew how to play this game. Dating Mike McCormick for a few weeks hadn’t exactly given him ample boyfriend tools. Fake it ‘til you make it.
“Oh! Oh, wow. So you agreed to that?” Julia turned to Quentin, deceptively bright. Kill shot. “I thought comfort spells were quote-unquote ‘stupid’ and that you slept just fine on the hay bale at junior cowboy camp, so why would you need anything fancy now?”
Margo leaned forward, putting a hand on Julia’s knee. “I’m sorry, you slept on a what at what?”
“I don’t want to talk about junior cowboy camp,” Quentin grumbled into his glass.
“Well, we’re gonna,” Margo said. “First, why didn’t they have beds? I went to summer camp as a kid, too. From what I remember, they usually have beds.”
“I mean, yeah, they had beds, I just opted out.” Quentin groaned when Margo screwed up her entire face in confusion. “I—I wanted the full cowboy experience, okay? If I had to be there, well, you know. So I slept on a haybale, near the eastern barn. I brought a blanket and a pillow, and the counselors thought my commitment to the spirit of camp was admirable. I fucking hated that place.”
Margo tapped her chin with a finger. “I feel like there’s a lot we need to unpack there.”
“On that note,” Eliot said, voice shaky with his delight at the lovely absurdity of Q. “I’ll go get the food ready.”
“I’ll help you!” Julia said, jumping to stand.
Knives lurked beneath the surface; it wasn’t a friendly offer. And Quentin must have known it, too. He sat up ramrod straight, eyes darting between them. Margo cracked her neck, the slightest bit of tension tightening the line of her throat.
But Eliot had never been one to give into demands. “Don’t be silly,” he said lightly, chuckling. “You’re our guest. Relax, finish your drink.”
He wasn’t sure what he expected in response, but it definitely wasn’t for Julia to tilt her head back and chug the rest of her nearly-full drink in two clean swallows. She let out a happy little sigh on the finish and sent her coup over to the bar cart using telekinesis—a flex, since she didn’t have a Physical discipline.
“All done,” Julia said cheerfully. “Really, I’d feel like a total asshole if I didn’t lend a hand. Plus, you know, this way you and I can have a chat.”
“Julia,” Quentin said in a low warning.
“It’s fine, Q,” Eliot said. He also wasn’t one to back down from a challenge, so he gave fucking Julia a bow. “Thank you, Julia, I’d appreciate that.”
He could feel the weight of Margo’s eyes on him. She cocked her head, her face clearly reading: are you good or do you need me to fuck this bitch up? Eliot appreciated her loyalty, but he already knew he could handle alone time with this toothless, posturing little girl. It was fine.
Margo nodded minutely and stood, walking over to the other couch. She patted the terrified and furious-looking Quentin on top of his head. “Come on, Q. You can help me pick a new outfit.”
Quentin jumped. “What? Why?”
“I don’t think this one fits the vibe anymore.”
“The vibe, the general vibe,” Margo said, waving her hands all around. She grabbed his wrist and tugged. “Come on.”
“No, I don’t—no. Margo, stop. No.”
“You stop, it’ll be fun. Ooh, I’ll do a fashion show for you.”
“ No .”
“Christ, no, not again.”
“Get on board. It’s happening.”
The two of them bickered all the way down the hall, and with the click of Margo’s door, Eliot was once again left alone with Julia Wicker.
She smiled brightly. “Ready, Freddy?”
Olive oil and minced chilis sizzled too loudly on the pan, sending bitter smoke into the air. Eliot cursed under his breath, knuckles stinging from where a spray of scalding droplets jumped onto them from the surface. But before he could spread his fingers out over the invisible dome of energy atop the cooking space, tinier ones got there first, tattooed and delicate.
“Quentin did say you’re good in the kitchen,” Eliot said grudgingly to Julia, who slowly reversed the cooking process with ease, until the oil was bubbling and simmering to perfection.
Julia threw him a look. “Q thinks anyone who can sauté garlic deserves a Michelin star.”
Eliot laughed at that, half-against his will. It seemed to please Julia though, who hummed a little off-key tune under her breath and swayed her shoulders as she spread the sliced garlic and red pepper flakes over the pan and popped the cork off the sherry as it simmered. “Is this stuff drinkable?”
“It’s very dry,” Eliot cautioned, though he called a couple of glasses for them. “But also very alcoholic.”
“That’s all I need,” Julia said. She poured for them both and handed one off to Eliot with a wink. He had to admit Julia had a charm to her; a buoyancy with both magic and conversation that delighted far more than it grated. They drank, made mirrored sour faces at the taste, and then laughed, silently agreeing to finish them like a shot.
Julia stuck her tongue out and shook her head. “Jesus, Spaniards don’t fuck around, huh?”
Eliot hated her. He hated her. He definitely wasn’t grinning to himself as he de-veined the prawns and put them on the heat, and definitely didn’t want to make her a Flor de Jerez with amontillado, so she could experience how sherry could be inviting and delicious, if still a touch unconventional. Instead, since he hated her, he just placed the shrimp into the pan and let them cook on a magical timer—turtle-free this time—before stretching out his casting hands and resting back against the island.
Julia watched him with a mysterious smile. “Thank you for having me today, Eliot. It means a lot.”
You relentlessly invited yourself. “It’s no trouble. The more the merrier.”
She tilted her head. “You know Quentin and I aren’t really talking to each other right now, right?”
Eliot cleared his throat to buy time, then spun around to fuss with the caprese salad. “He mentioned something like that,” he said.
Q had really mentioned that Julia might be this blunt, but he’d hoped she wouldn’t be. It crept into the territory he’d rather avoid with Quentin; some shit was too real to sweep into the nonsense, as this morning proved. What Julia did and how it had affected Q—the ripple effect it had on all of them—certainly qualified as a topic to avoid.
“What exactly do you know?” Julia asked.
“If you’re asking if I know about the letters, the answer is yes.” Eliot tutted out a minor clean up spell, to make the edges of the balsamic drizzle more precise. “I do.”
“Shit.” Julia dropped her jaw. “He told you there was more than one? That’s honest.”
“That’s Q,” Eliot said, without a single trace of irony.
“Right.” Julia’s expression twisted, then smoothed. “Right, well, I’m glad we finally get to meet. You know, for real. It’s been awhile since Q’s had someone in his life and it seems like you’re great for him.”
Eliot snorted, using a spatula to check the doneness of the prawns. Another minute. “Spare me. We both know you’re gearing up for a shovel talk.”
“You know, I’m actually not.” Julia lifted her face into the sunlight, beatific. “I mean, don’t get me wrong. I was fully planning on pulling out the big guns—”
She flexed her biceps and Eliot snorted again, even more undignified. “My god.”
“—but I don’t know. I don’t think it’s necessary.” Julia bit her lower lip and shook her head. “After everything with his dad, it’s nice to see him smile again, you know?”
There it was. Exactly like Quentin predicted. Eliot spooned the sauce over the shrimp, watching their translucence turn white. “Of course.”
“He was so laser-focused for so long. Brakebills, doctor’s appointments, Brakebills, doctor’s appointments. There was no room for Quentin in any of it, you know? And of course he has his own struggles to deal with on top of it all, which are no fucking joke—”
“I’m aware,” Eliot said shortly. A platter and four brown clay bowls flew through the air and landed next to his hand on the counter, the clang covering up his fingers’ restless tapping.
“Great! So obviously, you know exactly how fucked up it would be if someone messed with him and his heart after everything he’s been through.” Her voice had turned grim and skin-crawling. “I don’t need to tell you.”
Eliot plated the gambas into the dishes, not once looking up at her. “Yes, it would be. I’d say it’d be almost as fucked up as someone betraying his trust by disseminating his most intimate secrets.”
As soon as the words escaped him, Eliot clamped down on his lip. He hadn’t meant to go there. This was supposed to be about rubbing Julia’s face in Quentin’s happiness despite her actions, not at all about addressing them head-on. He had no fucking leg to stand on, no matter how much it pissed him off, since he wasn’t actually Quentin’s boyfriend. It wasn’t his business.
But holy fuck, did Eliot hate her for it. “You should have known he’d never want that,” he said. “You should have done better, because you should have known better.”
Julia remained deathly silent for a moment, before a cold whisper came his way. “I’ve loved Quentin for fifteen years. He’s the only real family I have, and one of the few people in the entire goddamn world who I actually give a shit about. That breeds a desire to create good things for him, even if it takes brute force, since he can’t and won’t do it for himself.”
Eliot snapped up, palms digging into the counter. “Look, I’m sure in your little straight girl world—”
“I’m not straight, you condescending prick.”
“Oh, then you really should have known better.”
Julia’s conviction flickered, then hardened. “I’m not a monster. Quentin is openly bisexual” —she held her hand up when Eliot gave an incredulous scoff— “and none of the guys who got the letters are straight either. I was pissed at him, so yes, the decision was rash and emotional. But I can’t regret it when it’s obviously been good for him. If he hates me despite his happiness, then so be it. At least I’ve done right by him.”
There was way too much information there for Eliot to parse, not least of which was the fact that Penny Adiyodi apparently wasn’t straight either (was there something in the water?) but he was too caught on the last sentence to go anywhere near the rest of it.
“You didn’t do shit right by him. You just got lucky that it didn’t fuck him up.”
Julia blew a strand of hair from her face. Just like Q always did. Exactly like Q always did. “If you honestly believe Quentin never needs a push out of his shell and away from his toxic mindsets, then not only are you kidding yourself, but your relationship with him is doomed.”
“Oh, wow, fuck you.”
“Look, I know Quentin at his best is wonderful, okay?” Julia shifted on her feet, the lines of her face drawn and gray and tired looking. “I know I probably sound like a fucking harpy who’s borrowing trouble, since you two are obviously—you have a rhythm with him. I get it. I’m not trying to diminish that.”
“Uh-huh,” Eliot said, suddenly weary himself. He rubbed an eye with his fist.
“But you have to prepare for Quentin at his worst, because Quentin at his worst…” Julia closed her eyes. “You obviously haven’t seen him at his worst. And I’m not even talking about his depression. I’m more talking about… Q has a unique ability to get under your—or at least get under my skin. He says things he both means and doesn’t mean, and so then I do things I both mean and don’t mean. But that doesn’t mean the struggle isn’t worth it.”
Eliot squinted at her. “What the fuck are you talking about?”
“Do you have any siblings, Eliot?” Julia asked.
“No,” Eliot said automatically.
“Well, then it might be hard for you to understand, but that kind of bond isn’t easy or simple or even unconditional in the way people like to romanticize. You have to cultivate it, and you have to fight for it, and you should cultivate and fight for it, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t fucking suck sometimes. No one knows how to hurt you like your brother.”
Eliot took a large knife and sliced an onion clean in half. He was done cooking, but he just—needed to stab something. How Margoesque. “I’m still not following.”
“I’m saying what’s done is done,” Julia said. “Quentin and I will work our shit out, but in the meantime, it’s my responsibility to make sure the worst of my actions don’t, in fact, fuck him up. I’m glad he seems happy, but this isn’t exactly what I thought the outcome would be. I’m sure you can understand where my concern comes from.”
“And what, pray tell, exactly concerns you?”
“Just because you seem to be, like, aggressively incapable of remembering me doesn’t mean I don’t remember you.”
Julia said you with such force, with such accusation, sending a rough shudder down his spine. Eliot pulled himself taut and strode over to the fridge, grabbing a half-used bottle of white he was going to use for a sauce, but now had a greater purpose. He pulled the cork with a satisfying swoosh-pop sound and poured himself a huge glass. Under the gentle guidance of his cupped hand, the pale yellow-gold liquid swirled so fast, it created a vacuum. He didn’t offer any to Julia.
“I thought distracting Quentin from his studies was the whole point of your little endeavor,” Eliot said. “There’s no one more well-versed in that art than me.”
“And that’s probably good for him, for now.” Julia took a step closer, speaking softer. “At least, it’s good for him until you inevitably get bored and toss him aside, like you did with every guy I ever saw cry over you, and Quentin is left heartbroken and shattered.”
Rage was a dangerous emotion. While Margo extolled its virtues and wielded her own to great success, the same roar that defined the core of her passion—her talents—drove Eliot into a frenzy, until he quietly, then violently lost control. It garbled his mind until it was deranged, demented, and his body was no longer his own. Rage made him do things like kick his shotgun-holding, piece of shit dad in the stomach, or drink towards oblivion and wake up in a freshly arson’d warehouse, or murder a child with a school bus.
The lump in his throat threatened to burst, and his fingers vibrated. The thuds of his heart screamed on each repeating beat, but he breathed through the waves because he had to, because it was the one thing in this world he took seriously.
“You’re very dramatic,” Eliot said, light and acidic. “I like that in a person.”
“Cut the crap,” Julia snapped. “Jesus Christ, did you even read the letter he wrote you?”
Eliot’s throat closed in. “Obviously,” he managed.
“Then how the hell can you be okay with that kind of power imbalance? I get you like to be fawned over, and that everything’s a party game to you, but Q idolizes you, Eliot.”
“You know.” Eliot laughed, drumming his hand along the counter so he didn’t punch a wall or worse. “For someone so smart, you sure do have piss-poor reading comprehension.”
Julia went very, very still. “What?”
The ice in her voice cracked. One wrong move meant Eliot would plunge to his death. Honestly, at that moment, he’d welcome it. It’d be better than having this fucking conversation.
But Eliot was in it now. Walking away would admit weakness, and he wouldn’t give Julia anything resembling the satisfaction. “The letter was certainly lacking any economy of language, I’ll give you that. And it was clearly written in the throes of a new, intense crush. Also granted. But if you break it down to its actual meaning, all Quentin ever said is that I’m really hot. And you know what?” He shot her a thin, bitter smile. “That would probably be because I’m really hot.”
Julia fell back on her heels, eyes wide. “I—” she frowned. “I don’t think you’re supposed to say you’re really hot.”
“Gotta know your worth.” Eliot brought his wine back to his lips. His breath shook. “Most of the letter is ridiculous. Q is the first person to say most of it is ridiculous. And it’s not why I asked him out.”
“Okay.” Julia jutted a hip, brow wrinkling with a mocking incredulity. “So, what? You just happened to receive an old love letter from him on the day you were already coincidentally going to travel to Brakebills and sweep him off his feet? Come on.”
“I asked him out because of the postscript.”
Eliot didn’t mean to say that.
But something about it threw Julia. “What postscript?” she asked, face going carefully blank.
Eliot dipped a spoon into the gambas sauce and tasted it. Discarded the spoon to the sink with telekinesis. “ I wish I could miss you more, but I’ll miss you all the same .”
The sauce had gone cold, so he put a warming spell over it. Anything to keep his hands busy, anything to distract from his pounding heart. Julia opened her lips to speak, but said nothing.
Eliot gripped the edge of the counter, too many words bumping into each other, ready to burst out of his chest. “The rest of it was—it was flattering and, yeah, a little intense, but… in a sweet way, especially once I realized it was Q. But that one sentence was all I actually needed to get my ass in gear.”
Julia pursed her lips back together. “Why?”
“Because I knew what he meant. Because I felt the same way.” Oh shit, oh shit . “At Brakebills, Quentin and I—we always had these moments. These perfect moments where it felt like the universe righted itself, just for an afternoon or a night or for a few minutes on the Sea—”
What the fuck was he doing.
“—but I never chased it then, not like I should have, because I’m a coward, or I wasn’t ready for it, or because I was scared it was all in my head. But then I get this letter, and—and I find out it wasn’t. It wasn’t just in my head. Quentin felt it too.”
That day on the couch hadn’t been Eliot’s rock bottom. He’d seen rock bottom before, had luxuriated in its moldy damp surface, digging into his bare ass. He knew that booze and semen-soaked gutter of emotional despair. No, that day had been typical malaise, a post-breakup ennui where his purposelessness of his life had come into an uncomfortably stark focus. But getting that letter had felt like a lightbulb illuminating a once darkened room, so all the shapes Eliot had learned to move around revealed themselves, bringing new depth and dimension to something he’d thought he’d have to live with forever.
“Do you know how often I thought about Quentin, both at Brakebills and since graduation? Do you have any idea how insane it made me feel?” Eliot leaned back against the counter, shaking his head with a breathless laugh. “I was newly single and unsure of everything, and then… this letter lands on my lap like a sign. Like destiny. Jesus Christ.”
Eliot heard Julia shift in the background, but he just hung his head, entirely lost to the moment. “Once I knew I had a chance, a real chance, I had to—I had to do something about it. I had to, even though it was obvious the letter was old and, well, perhaps not something he meant to send.”
Julia’s hand came into view, right next to his. She had moved over to where he stood, positioning herself right next to him, almost curled toward his body. Her tiny shoulder only came up to just above his elbow, which was cuter than it should’ve been. She said nothing.
Eliot was so far gone; he had no choice but to continue. “So I didn’t waste time. I didn’t want to waste another second. I had wasted more than two years of feeling this way and wanting something I thought was impossible. So once I realized that maybe, maybe, it wasn’t, I had to go against every self-preservation instinct I’ve ever had and actually try, for once in my life. I didn’t even each lunch, I just portaled right to Brakebills, and I ran to the Cottage and I—”
Reality caught up with him. All at once, Eliot remembered he wasn’t actually defending his relationship with Quentin to Julia. He didn’t have a relationship with Quentin. The only purpose of this was to help Quentin get back at Julia for the awful thing she’d done to him. Eliot’s feelings were irrelevant. Eliot was irrelevant.
So Eliot got his shit in order.
“And I asked him out, and he said yes. Now, Quentin is the boyfriend of my dreams. It’s like a fairy tale.” Eliot smiled at Julia, imbuing his expression with all the starry-eyed wonder of a man innocently, simply in love. Easy to pull off, actually.
But Julia looked like she’d been slapped across the face. “And you’ve said all this to Q?”
“Yeah,” Eliot said. He swallowed. “Yeah, of course.”
Julia stared at him, eyes shining and glassy, the fragile tension between them hanging on a live wire.
Then she deflated, shoulders slumping. “Jesus. No wonder he’s so pissed at me.”
“Well, I think he has a few reasons.” Eliot meant it, but his voice came out gentle. Almost teasing, which felt both incongruous and weirdly right.
“I fucked up,” Julia whispered to the ground.
Eliot’s heart clenched, and he curled his fingers into his palm so he didn’t do something stupid like cover her hand with his own. “Yes,” he said carefully. “Yeah, you fucked up. But god, I think we’ve all, at one point or another, done something we don’t exactly—”
An eruption of loud laughter mercifully prevented him from finishing his sentence. Julia pushed off the counter to stand up straight, sniffing away her sadness with a forced smile. Margo and Quentin tumbled back into the living room, hands clutching at each other while Margo twirled. Quentin tripped over his own feet, and they both honest-to-fuck giggled, which made Eliot’s stomach go gelatinous.
Margo whispered something in Quentin’s ear that made him double over with more laughter. Tenderness was going to strangle Eliot’s lungs if he didn’t speak, so he took a breath and pointedly lifted a brow at Margo’s silk-and-sequin pantsuit. “You’re wearing the same outfit, Bambi.”
“Holy shit!” Margo gasped, stepping back with her hand pressed to her heart. “What the fuck, what the fuck , where’d you come from?”
“Hey. Hey, it’s okay. They live here,” Quentin said, rubbing a soothing circle on her back. “It’s okay. They live here, Margo.”
Julia frowned exaggeratedly at the ceiling. “Um?”
The giddiness in Eliot’s chest came out in a wide grin across his face. “What exactly have you two been up to?”
Margo opened her mouth, then closed it, eyebrows scrunched deep in thought. She snapped her fingers. “Right! Yeah, okay, see, I was going to change, but then Quentin here—” she patted his chest, but lingered a little too long as she rubbed a slow circle over his pec. “Quentin made an excellent point, you see, which is that getting high together would be way more fun than a fashion show.”
Quentin’s giant pupils nodded. “It’s scientifically proven. I read a journal article.”
Something overwhelming washed over Eliot, tingling down to his toes. Margo pressed her face into Quentin’s collarbone and Quentin wrapped an arm around her shoulders, tugging her in close and resting his cheek on top of her head, and Eliot was so crazy about both of them in such different ways, it was either going to send him to an early grave or grant him the power of immortality. His fingers twitched, the urge to touch Margo’s soft hair and Quentin’s sharp jawline propelling him heart first.
But Julia stepped forward first, biting her lower lip. She cocked her head to the side.
“Do you guys have any more?” she asked, the picture of innocence.
Margo’s answering grin eclipsed the sun.
Usually, Quentin hated feeling own heartbeat, since it reminded him of the slow, relentless crawl toward death and all the ways he was failing to live a meaningful life, but right now, it matching the drumline of “Call Me Maybe,” so it was cool.
He leaned back into silk fabric and cologne, his cheek warm on lean muscle and humming along to the song. Eliot’s heart percussed much the same way as his, a steady thump-thump-thump-thump-thump, while garbled nonsense words about taking time with a call, but no time with the fall, you gave me nothing at all parried with the rush of oceanesque blood in his ears. Quentin lolled his head, then let his eyes slit open, the yellow-gold glittering brightness of the chandelier contrasting the jeweled city lights in the distance, and the way the bright blurs dappled the black velvet night that had crept upon them.
Quentin let out a wheezing sound through his nostrils. Shit. Who the fuck did he think he was, F. Scott Fitzgerald?
“An age old question,” Eliot murmured in his ear, and that was how Quentin realized he said all that out loud.
Whatever. He made a noncommittal hum, like yes, indeed, and settled deeper into Eliot’s arms, warm and satiating. Eliot’s fingers drew patterns up and down Quentin’s forearms, and Quentin wanted to get the pathways tattooed, from his wrists to his elbows, so he could always see them, always feel them. So he could always remember that once upon a time, Eliot Waugh ran his hands over Quentin’s skin.
Having a boyfriend was nice sometimes.
Across the coffee table, obscured by clouds of smoke, Margo and Julia sat curled on the chaise lounge. They’d kicked off their shoes and their bare ankles were locked, hugging matching throw pillows in their laps, both chatting and laughing over how “skeezy” Professor March had been to both of them.
“—and he was, like,” Margo clutched at her chest, laughing so hard no sound came out, “sex magic doesn’t need to be inherently sexual , Ms. Hanson, it can be a transcendent ritual borne of pure phenomenological pursuit.” She leered at Julia, licking her lips. “My office hours are always open for ‘further discussion.’”
That made Julia crack up, sticking a finger down her throat with a gagging sound.
Quentin dropped his jaw in actual horror. “That’s, like, super fucked up, Margo. Did you report him to Fogg, or—or to the board?”
Margo waved him off, not even glancing over. “Oh, Q.”
Eliot chuckled against his neck, shooting sparks down the column of his spine. He kissed the hinge of Quentin’s jaw, then slowly trailed up to the soft skin behind his ear, shifting his legs so Quentin could sink deeper into the V of his lap. Quentin slipped into the ruse easily, gratefully.
Julia sparked the joint in her hand and took a puff. “The thing is, March isn’t wrong, per se. Sex magic has totally been treated as a vulgar ‘secondary’ class, ever since the backlash to Salem. But that’s cultural puritanism, not fact. It’s absolutely a valid form of casting.”
“Absolutely.” Margo winked.
“But, let’s be real.” Julia blew a star in her smoke. “Dude was looking for a handy.”
“Which would’ve been fine , if he’d offered a decent incentive,” Margo said, rolling out her neck. Julia coughed, startled. “I mean, gosh, who amongst us has never gotten the answers to an Arabic exam while wearing nipple clamps?”
Quentin’s face flushed, burning brighter than any flame. “Um.” He swallowed slowly, trying to keep his eyes away from Margo’s chest, but the wildcat smile spreading across her lips was even worse. His knees shook with the image of Margo naked and spread out over a desk, lips pouting and hands sliding down her body, delicate metal chains criss-crossing her tits. The silver metal winked in the light of his mind’s eye and his dick jumped in approval.
“Fuck you,” Eliot said mildly. Margo stuck her tongue out at him. “And can we please be clear that was a T.A., not March? I do have some dignity.”
Quentin gripped his knees with his hands, taking a few steady breaths. The image shifted and now it was Eliot batting his lashes coquettishly, Eliot running his hands through his chest hair, mouth parting on a gasp as some lucky T.A. fell to his knees and got to touch ––
Fuck. Fuck . Quentin swallowed again and tried not squirm back against Eliot, no matter how much his half-hard, throbbing dick was screaming at him to do just that. He stayed as still as humanly possible. No, more than humanly possible. Like a mannequin. A chaste, respectful mannequin. One that didn’t even have a dick.
Julia tore her eyes away from Margo, looking as shell-shocked as Quentin felt. “You?” she squeaked.
“In my defense” ––Eliot sunk his fingers into Quentin’s hair, massaging his scalp with firm pressure––“I’m really bad at Arabic.”
Julia said something to that, which made Margo laugh and launch into another story, but Quentin couldn’t hear a word of it. His heart felt like it was going to beat right out of his chest, at the feel of Eliot’s body underneath him, at the long line of heat from where their knees tangled together to where Eliot’s breath feathered along his temple. Eliot’s shirt smelled like smoke and brandy, and Quentin wanted to bite at it. But he couldn’t open his mouth without risking an embarrassing moan, from the way his toes curled at the feel of Eliot’s hands in his hair.
Eliot’s thumb pressed a maddening circle into the nape of his neck, in time with Carly Rae’s B-sides, in time with his pulse. Everything was hazy and warm. The massage made his legs shake again, however minutely, and all the noise in all the world quieted under Eliot’s strong hands.
“That feels good,” Quentin said, unable to filter himself.
Those soft, warm lips brushed the corner of his mouth, clenching his stomach. “Good,” Eliot whispered, just for him. “You seem tense. Do you want me to get rid of Julia?”
Quentin’s eyes flew wide open, darting to Eliot in shock. “Are you offering to murder her for me?”
“No, baby,” Eliot said, brushing a strand of hair off his nose. “Much worse. I’m offering to subtly hint that she’s overstayed her welcome until all of her well-bred instincts engage and she sees herself out to avoid further embarrassment.”
“Oh." That made more sense. “Oh, well, no. No, it’s fine. I don’t know, like, in a weird way? It’s actually kind of nice that she’s here.”
Eliot smiled. “Okay,” he said softly, running his thumb over Quentin’s chin. “Just checking.”
“FYI, I can literally hear every word you’re both saying,” Julia said. “I’m sitting two feet away.”
“I’m aware,” Eliot said, getting back to massaging Quentin’s hair, neck, face. Quentin slowly turned back to Julia, his numb cheeks shivering under the soft, slow lines Eliot drew on them with his fingers, his lips parted and dry eyes wide.
“Sorry, Jules,” Quentin said. "I wouldn't have let him murder you."
Julia shrugged, then turned back to Margo, who had her face buried in her throw pillow. Her shoulders shook with ragged, silent laughter.
Another hour went by. Possibly two.
Margo and Julia bogarted the joint between themselves, rarely remembering to offer to Quentin and Eliot. If their preoccupation bothered El, he didn’t let on. He spent most of the time unusually quiet, running his fingers through Quentin’s hair, or tucking his chin on his shoulder, or lacing their fingers together in a slow slide. It helped keep Quentin grounded through the drug comedown, so he didn’t panic as the world realigned itself back to its usual indifference.
“Okay, okay, okay.” Julia puffed on the joint, calling Quentin’s attention away from the in-between. “Now that we’re all buzzing little buzzed bumble bees—”
“Oh my god!” Margo cracked up.
“—it’s time to give up the goods, gents.” Jules leaned forward, elbows to knees, shark intensity. “Describe your first date. Describe your first kiss. What’s your favorite thing about each other? Would you describe yourselves as cuddlers? Which popular song best encapsulates your relationship and why?”
“Don’t be stupid.” Eliot wrapped both arms tighter around Quentin’s chest. “We hate cuddling.”
Julia tapped white ash into a ceramic bowl. “What exactly are your intentions with my Quentin?”
“Marriage and children,” Eliot said drily.
Quentin’s idiot heart jumped.
Margo plucked the joint from Julia’s fingers. “What a funny joke, El,” she said, pulling in a drag.
Eliot tensed, fingers digging into Quentin’s elbows. But as fast as it happened, it disappeared. Eliot perched his chin on Quentin’s shoulder and pouted. “Who’s joking?”
Margo released the smoke, cool eyes steady and unreadable. The silence went from companionable to uncomfortable, and Quentin’s fingers and brain buzzed with the need to fill it.
“Julia. Hey, um.” Quentin pursed his lips. “So I appreciate your concern, and I’m grateful for your interest. I recognize it as the sign of support you mean it to be. But what Eliot and Margo are trying to say is that the only thing that matters now, in this moment, is the moment. This moment right now, and every moment following. If––you know, if there’s anything I’ve learned from my time here, spending day after day in their company, and––and through my relationship with Eliot if and of itself, it’s that time is literally… god, Jules, it’s all we have. It’s scarce, and it’s precious, and it’s the only way we humans can conceptualize the measure of our lives, our passions, our growth. It’s all we have. So, like, why should we waste precious moments––our precious time ––looking back at what was, when we can bravely push toward what can be?”
Quentin let out a contented breath, resting his head against the rough stubble of Eliot’s jawline. Julia gazed at him, unblinking. His speech lingered in silence.
A vibrating laugh raced up his spine, a rumble from Eliot’s chest. Likewise, Margo slowly brought her hand up to cover her mouth, trying in vain to stop the otherworldly cackle that erupted from her throat. Soon, both she and Eliot were howling at the top of their lungs.
“Holy shit,” Eliot said, high-pitched and punctuated with short stops of breathlessness. “Oh my god, you’re so high.”
“How much fucking weed did you smoke, Quentin?” Margo laughed and laughed, shining tracks of tears running down her face.
“Wait. I’m confused.” Julia slanted her eyebrows together. “How does time help us measure our passions?”
That sent Margo and Eliot into another roar.
Quentin would’ve been offended, except that Margo fell over onto her side, smiling like the sun, and Eliot’s open mouth was pressed to his throat and his arms were tight around his waist, and even Julia seemed to soak up some of their shine. She was pink-cheeked and grinning, and Quentin was immediately struck by how she didn’t look like the intruder he thought she’d be. She looked like she belonged.
That feeling made the next hour float by, a happy, dipping thing, until Eliot turned his head to the side and into a long yawn, while Margo and Julia snuggled together like burrowed squirrels, eyes locked and expressions serious. They spoke quietly, privately, with no signs of movement either home or to bed. Quentin wasn’t sure what possessed him––he usually wasn’t so bold––but next thing he knew, he was pulling Eliot up by the arm and shooting a wave to the girls as they stumbled off to bed. Eliot didn’t protest.
Before they could turn down the hallway, Quentin felt a soft hand on his shoulder. He craned his neck back just in time to see Julia hold a finger up— one second —at Margo, and Margo smile back wanly. Quentin opened his mouth to ask what she needed, but Julia just snaked her arms around his neck.
“Eliot seems great,” she whispered in his ear as she tightened the hug.
Distantly, it occurred to him that this wasn’t how it was supposed to go, that Julia was supposed to be… mad or something now, but he couldn’t remember the logic of that. It didn’t compute. And Quentin also distantly knew that he and Eliot probably didn’t need to share a bed, since Quentin could just go over to the study and Julia wouldn’t notice, but the truth was he didn’t give a shit. He wasn’t ready to leave Eliot yet.
They both moved seamlessly into the bedroom, the door locking closed with a ward behind them. Continuing right from where they left off on the couch, Eliot chatted more about his high school musical production of Les Miserables , and the surprising amount of gravitas he brought to the role of Jean Valjean even at the tender age of fifteen. He even offered to show Quentin the video of his performance, so Quentin could understand how well he scaled the heights (“Would I be an asshole if I just took your word for it?” “You would be,” Eliot said blithely.) He talked about some casting drama between himself and the kid who played Javert, while rummaging through his drawers until he put a pair of neatly folded blue silk pajamas into Quentin’s fumbling hands.
Eliot grabbed his own red ones and smiled at Quentin over his shoulder, walking into his en suite. The door closed and Quentin frowned down at the clothes. Oh. Right, yeah, that made more sense than sleeping in their boxers again.
He shook off the dumb disappointment and got changed quickly, so he didn’t leave Eliot waiting. Quentin folded his T-shirt into a pathetic triangle when Eliot re-emerged, pajama-clad and clean-faced. He gave Quentin a soft half-smile at the sight of him, hands swimming in the sleeves. Eliot looked younger with all his eyeliner washed off—sweeter, somehow—and it tugged on a string in Quentin’s stomach. Together, they flopped onto the bed, as huge and comfortable as it looked, knees touching as they turned toward each other and their conversation picked up like it never left off.
“I can’t prove it, but I think it was my second time using magic,” Eliot said quietly, with a smile. “We were going to do The Music Man , as is foretold for all podunk Indiana high schools, but the drama teacher had an inexplicable change of heart… right around the same time I stole the Les Mis Broadway cast recording from the Greenwood Park Mall.”
“I literally cannot picture you at a mall.”
“Thank god,” Eliot said seriously. “Honestly, that production is the only reason I think about that point of my life at all. It was the closest I got to a romantic high school experience.”
“Romantic?” Quentin grinned.
Eliot huffed a laugh, a curl bouncing off his nose. “I meant romanticized , like everything Sweet Valley High promised, but reality never delivered. But yeah, now that you mention it, I think there might have been something between me and the guy who played Marius. A little bite of Midwestern forbidden fruit.”
“Let me guess,” Quentin said. “Hot popular jock?”
That made Eliot narrow his eyes and quirk his head, like he was studying Quentin. “Is that what you think my type is?”
“I mean, uh, Mike’s pretty stocky.” Eliot frowned like the name surprised him. “Just wouldn’t surprise me if he was a football player in high school. Or lacrosse, or whatever.”
Fuck lacrosse players specifically.
“He is a Republican.” Eliot’s face twisted like he tasted something sour. “Anyway, ah, no, Eddie wasn’t a jock. Or a hick. More like a painfully shy theatre kid who wore hand-me-downs every day. Terrible performer too, to be brutally honest. Pitchy.” He cleared his throat and looked down at his hands. “But he was always nice to me. More than nice. That took guts.”
“Did you guys ever—?”
Eliot shook his head. “Wasn’t worth the risk.”
“Oh.” Quentin frowned. “That’s sad.”
“That’s life, kid.” Eliot put on an affected Humphrey Bogart voice, chucking Quentin under the chin. His hand dropped with a sigh. “He was probably straight, anyway. Young gay imaginations are overactive.”
“Or maybe he hopelessly pined for you from afar and wrote you a godawful love letter, only that one never reached you.”
Quentin was glad they’d reached the point in their friendship where they could joke about the stupid letter, but Eliot didn’t laugh. His eyes flickered with some unreadable emotion, and his throat bobbed with a swallow.
“Maybe,” Eliot whispered.
His pink lips pressed together softly, and Quentin was overwhelmed with the urge to brush his fingers along the bottom bow. “Um,” he said, flicking his eyes back up. “Well, for what it’s worth, you had more success than me in high school. I was, uh, a late bloomer.”
Eliot didn’t look surprised, but his expression did go softer. “Says the man who wrote five different boys five different love letters.”
“Uh, that was a product of my overactive imagination and literally nothing else.”
“I doubt that,” Eliot said softly. His thumb traced down the shell of ear and Quentin shivered.
“Doubt away, but even now, I’m not exactly, like. Uh, it’s been awhile since I’ve—you know.” Quentin cleared his throat. “Uh, dated anyone.”
Eliot’s hand stilled. “How long?” he asked, voice low. It was probably the lingering effect of the marijuana, but Quentin could have sworn his eyes darkened.
“Too long to admit.”
Eliot held his gaze for a moment, then shifted. Their knees knocked, almost slotted together. “We’re comrades in sexual frustration now, I guess.”
“What?” Heat kindled in Quentin’s chest.
“It’s been awhile for me too. Not since Mike.”
“Your shock is flattering.”
“I just—why? You must have opportunity all the time.”
“It’s like you said a few weeks ago,” Eliot said lightly. “If we’re going to do this, it’s important to take it seriously.”
“You really care about sticking it to Mike that much?”
“My spirit of pettiness knows no boundaries, Mr. Coldwater,” Eliot said with a sly grin. “But it also helps you, and we’ve already introduced you to everyone as my, well, you know.”
Quentin snorted. “Your special friend?”
Eliot laughed. “It’s only a few more weeks. Better to keep it tight and professional until it’s over and then I can…” He trailed off and his eyes did something else strange. “You know, I can celebrate.”
Quentin’s heart dropped to his stomach. “Right. No, yeah, totally. That’ll be—nice. For you.”
“Can’t wait.” There was an odd note that didn’t fit, but Eliot wiped it away with a smile. “But you’re looking more like your normal self. Losing your buzz?”
Quentin took a deep breath, lungs settling down into his rib cage. Yeah, Eliot was right. His shit was more or less back to normal. The world had stopped fading into gold; the air had stopped feeling like a rainbow hug along his bare skin. “Yeah, I’m mostly sober now.”
“Need an edible?” offered Eliot. “I have one that guarantees sweet dreams.”
“Uh, that’s okay. I’m, like, the one asshole in the world who gets wired on marijuana and then can’t sleep.”
“Oh, no,” Eliot laughed. “That sucks.”
His smile was sweet and secret, his nose scrunched. Quentin felt kind of dopey, a little gooey at his center, and it had nothing to do with any drugs. Warmth flared in his chest when Eliot brushed his hair back, again. “But are you doing okay?”
“Yeah,” Quentin said, a little surprised at the question. “I’m great. Why?”
“Well, that’s good.” Eliot chuckled. His hand lingered near Quentin’s face. “I just meant it must’ve been a lot to see Julia like this.”
Oh. “Uh, no. No, honestly, it was fine. This is kind of” ––Quentin blew air out the side of his mouth–– “like our thing? We get over shit in weird ways.”
Eliot’s eyes glittered. “What’s weird about this?”
Quentin huffed. Yeah, it was fucking weird. Life was weird. He was weird. It was probably the drugs, but for once, that seemed like a good thing. “Yeah, well. What about you, though? Was she, like, super intense when you were cooking together?”
“Like I said, I can handle her.” That wasn’t a denial. Eliot stretched his neck back and forth, eyes closed. “I just fed her some bullshit and then we were good. She thinks I’m a model boyfriend, which I’m sure drives her nuts.”
“Yeah, probably.” Quentin said softly. He thought of the way she hugged him, the fervor in her voice.
A moment passed in comfortable quiet until Eliot yawned again. He fought against it, trying to keep his lips closed, but it made its way out, anyway. Quentin’s gooey center expanded up to his chest. “Don’t let me keep you up.”
Eliot popped one eye open at him. “Are you going to offer to sleep on the floor again?”
“Uh, excuse you. I’m the guest. You’re supposed to offer this time.”
“Never in a million years.” Eliot pushed half his face into his pillow, the tip of his grin jutting up like a knife. “Guess you’re stuck with me.”
“Guess so,” Quentin said, with an exaggerated eye roll. Eliot kicked his shin. “Jesus, your feet are freezing.”
“Then warm them up, my sweet babboo.”
Eliot slid his frozen toes up Quentin’s bare shins and Quentin hissed, but didn’t bat him off. That made Eliot laugh again and curl in closer to him, and Quentin couldn’t remember the last time he was this happy.
“Hey,” Quentin said, voice a little lost in the depths of Eliot’s eyes.
Eliot smiled. “Hey yourself.”
“Hey, so, um—”
Quentin pushed up on one palm and kissed him.
It was a fast, bright-burning thing, far more chaste than any of the kisses they’d performed since this whole thing began. But when dropped back down to the bed, he stared up at Eliot, heart pounding in his throat.
His lips tingled. Eliot’s eyes were closed, his mouth still gently puckered.
“Quentin,” Eliot breathed after a moment, a hand sliding up his chest and curling around the nape of his neck. “ Q.”
Quentin wasn’t sure if it was a question, or a plea, or something else entirely. All he knew was that he wanted Eliot to always say his name just like that, exactly like that, forever. He raced forward to kiss him again, their mouths fitting together perfectly even in his desperation. And this time, sparks exploded behind his eyes when Eliot kissed him back.
It wasn’t their first kiss, wasn’t even their eighth kiss, but Quentin knew—he knew it was different this time. He knew it by the way Eliot clutched his face with both hands, the way they gasped for breath together, the way time slowed to a crawl and exploded to dust when Eliot pulled his lower lip between his teeth and gently bit down.
Everything became the push-pull of their bodies, the ways they filled the empty spaces between them with skin and movement. Eliot buried his fingers in Quentin’s hair, nails scratching his scalp and making him moan, and Quentin couldn’t stop running his hands up and down the expanse of Eliot’s silk-covered chest, solid and real. Heat flared in his veins, unfurling low in his belly until his cock plumped at the base and pressed right into Eliot’s thigh.
Eliot stilled. He pulled his lips away, but kept their foreheads tipped together, fingers sifting through Quentin’s hair, slow and exploratory. He ducked down to kiss Quentin again, one time gently, almost like he couldn’t help it. But then he sighed. “Are you too high to do this, baby?”
Baby. Quentin shook his head and pushed himself closer to Eliot, desperate to feel him. Desperate to show him. His vision blanked out at the friction of his dick sliding against Eliot’s hipbone, at the mere fact of touching Eliot , at last, and having Eliot touch him back, or even want him back. Quentin smiled, giddy and off-kilter, when Eliot whimpered.
“I’m sober enough to know I want this,” Quentin promised, kissing up Eliot’s throat. “I want this. I want you, I want you so fucking much, El, I can’t even—”
Eliot cupped his chin and tilted his head back into the pillow’s fluffy softness, making him gasp right before Eliot rolled on top of him. Quentin arched his back into it as Eliot’s tongue curled in his mouth, a soft shock of electricity down the whole length of his body.
Eliot broke away with a broken sob, hands shaking where they held his face. “If we do this, Q” —his eyes bored into him, pleading— “I need you to promise me you’ll still be my friend after. Please.”
Quentin blinked, mind tripping over the word friend . That wasn’t—what was happening? What did Eliot think was happening? “Um.”
“Please,” Eliot whispered.
“Yeah, I promise,” Quentin said instantly, unable to deny Eliot anything ever. Especially this, especially now. “I’ll always be your friend. Always.”
It was the easiest promise he’d ever made. Quentin would rather walk barefoot through a forest fire than ever stop being friends with Eliot. Even if Eliot didn’t want—even if it was just this once—even if Quentin got crushed after this—
Nothing would change.
Eliot groaned, capturing Quentin’s lips with his own like a homecoming, pinning him down to the mattress.
Quentin grabbed two fistfuls of red silk, pulling Eliot as close to him as possible, until their warm bodies were pressed together. He wanted to rip their clothes off, wanted to put his mouth all over Eliot’s skin, until Eliot cried his name. Wanted to take him apart by the seams and put him back together again, even if he had no clue how to do either of those things. He was a flurry of want, stymying him as they kissed and kissed, paralyzing every neuron so all he could do was lie back and let Eliot kiss him and touch him, until he was pliant and delirious.
Quentin broke away for air, and Eliot immediately latched his hot mouth onto his neck. Jesus fucking Christ. “Wait, um, are you—are you too high for this?” That was the right thing to ask, right? Responsible.
Eliot ran the tip of his tongue up the throbbing vein of his throat. “I am not too high for this,” he said, biting his earlobe. Like punctuation.
Quentin gasped. “And—and you want this?”
Eliot took a breath, knocking his forehead into his temple. “Yes,” he said, quieter. He splayed his hand on Quentin’s chest, palming down his side. “Fuck, look at you.”
Quentin swallowed down the instinct to say something snarky and reticent, like I’d rather not . He’d been told guys liked confidence in bed. So he just pushed back up on his elbows and kissed Eliot again, trying not to smile like an asshole when Eliot met him right there, nearly toppling into him, an equal and opposite reaction to his bottomless want.
They were both hard, hips jerking against each other. Eliot moaned brokenly when they broke for air, hands in Quentin’s hair and tugging , shooting sparks of insanely good pain down to his toes. Eliot pressed an open, sloppy kiss to his jaw, and the Christmas candle scent of him was everywhere, fucking choking Quentin alive. It was so overwhelming, Quentin could barely catch his breath, even as Eliot jaggedly pulled back, fumbling with the buttons on their pajama shirts and pushing their pants down to get them both naked.
Quentin’s breath twisted in his chest, throat dry and pulse thrumming like a trapped bird. Eliot’s pale thighs straddled his hips, lean and strong with a smattering of dark curls. His chest and stomach were angled and jutted like something in marble, except for splotchy streaks of red—from the movement of his blood, the friction of their bodies grinding together—stretched down to the long, thick curve of his dick.
Quentin ran his hands along the grooves of Eliot’s rib cage, savoring every inch. The heat of his soft skin, the rolling angles of his muscles, the wiry coarseness of his leg hair, then back up to wrap a loose fist around that gorgeous dick, pumping once to feel its heat and weight in his palm. Eliot let out a stuttering breath, eyelashes fluttering.
“Holy shit, you’re big,” Quentin said wonderingly.
“You like that?” Eliot breathed, swaying in place. A wavering mirage.
Quentin stroked him again, drunk with the power of making Eliot shudder, with the way his dark eyes searched all over Quentin’s body, the way his hands twitched at his sides, like he wasn’t sure where to touch Quentin, like he was just as paralyzed with his want as Quentin had been. Like Eliot was right there with him. Like he wasn’t alone.
“Apparently.” Quentin lifted his eyebrows, mesmerized, as he thumbed over the slit, his own dick jumping when a bead of precome spilled out with the motion.
Eliot threw his head back with a throaty laugh. “Nope,” he said, grinning madly. “Nope, this isn’t real. I’m imagining all of this.”
Quentin thought a confident guy might say something like, I want you to fuck me with that big dick; I want you to rip me in half and make me beg for more , but the words dried up on his tongue. It wasn’t just self-consciousness, even though, yeah, that too. It was more that he wanted—but he didn’t want—Eliot was so much more to him than a big dick and he would never want him to think that was all he wanted, even though he did want it, wanted it more than he’d ever wanted anyone or anything, but it wasn’t just that his dick was apparently, like, a thing for him, it was that it was Eliot. Eliot wasn’t a thing , Eliot was a wonderful, amazing man who deserved—
Eliot’s hand touched his cheek, a gentle thumb brushing the delicate skin beneath his eye. “Still with me, baby?” His voice was soft and teasing, just like his smile.
Quentin’s jaw slackened, and he trailed his eyes from the dimple in Eliot’s chin, to his aquiline nose, up to his amber eyes. He leaned into his touch, kissing the center of his palm, the pulse point on his wrist. His dick was so hard it ached, but it mattered––it fucking mattered that Eliot knew that this mattered. That Quentin wasn’t just horny, or high, but that he wanted this now, with Eliot, who’d become someone he’d grown to care about so much.
“If this is in your imagination,” Quentin lifted his eyes back up to Eliot’s, “then what happens next?”
Eliot hitched a breath, fingers curling into his scalp. “I blow you,” he murmured. “If you’ll let me. If you want.”
Any remaining blood in Quentin’s body ran straight to his dick. “I––yes.” Quentin swallowed. Holy fuck. He was going to lose his fucking mind. “Yes, I want. Oh my god.”
Eliot leaned forward and pressed a chaste kiss to Quentin’s lips, a quick brush of their mouths together. Eliot put his fingers under Quentin’s chin, tipping up so their eyes met. And Eliot didn’t look away, not once, as lowered himself down Quentin’s body and took him full in his mouth.
An otherworldly moan ripped out of Quentin’s throat before he could stop himself, hips spasming like wild things as Eliot sucked slow and tight down his shaft. It was almost too much, too overwhelming, and Quentin pushed up on his palms, thrusting into the sweet, wet heat of his mouth and certain his heart was about to explode with the intensity of it. Eliot splayed a possessive palm over his chest, gently coaxing him back down as he eased up on the pressure, reading Quentin like a book.
Quentin followed his lead and fell into the pillows, fluffy and cool under his overheated back. Eliot’s mouth turned fast and eager, his tongue doing wicked things, and Quentin’s head reeled with the enormity of it, of heat coursing through his veins; the scratch of Eliot’s stubble on his thigh. His whole body shook with a pulsing supernova of pleasure, knotting in his gut, already pushing toward release. He’d wanted this for years , since the first time he saw Eliot on the Sea, a white flame amongst the summer green. And now, beyond the mouth sucking him off in expert, torturous slides, he knew with distinct certainty that he’d fallen in love—real love, no bullshit—somewhere along the way. It was insane; it was reckless, but he couldn’t help it.
Eliot popped off his dick with a ragged gasp, panting for air. But instead of swallowing Quentin back down again, he stroked him with his big, ringed hand, giant eyes glued on Quentin’s face, and eyes, and lips. “You’re gorgeous,” Eliot said, voice scratchy. “You’re so beautiful. You’re the best thing I’ve ever tasted, Q.”
Quentin’s stomach plummeted to the center of the earth. “ Eliot ,” he whined. “Oh my god.”
Eliot sucked Quentin back into his mouth, nearly down his throat, and before Quentin knew what was happening, his body wracked itself with shuddering, gasping sobs. He was gonna come. He was gonna come so hard, so soon, and if his body hadn’t already trending toward nirvana, he would’ve hated himself for it. But he couldn’t. He couldn’t hate anything, not even Quentin Coldwater, not with Eliot’s lips wrapped around his dick with such reverence.
He couldn’t ask Eliot to stop. He didn’t want Eliot to stop. “El. El, I’m gonna—”
Quentin let out a loud shout, an exclamation to the heavens. Eliot’s mouth suctioned tight around his head, hot and wet and slick with spit. His tongue—fucking hell, moving and swirling across his skin and veins like a dedicated cartographer, mapping out pleasure, the way Quentin jolted and moved and moaned. It was profound in its care, in its pliable dips and drags, in the way Eliot never moved his eyes from Quentin’s half-lidded gaze.
Quentin jerked his hips from the bed, his dick trying to push deeper of its own accord. “Shit, oh my god, I’m sorry,” he gasped. “I’m sorry— oh my fucking holy shit, Eliot .”
Eliot took him all in, firmer and harder than before. His nose buried in the bramble of hair at the base of his dick and he bobbed, persistent. The scrape of Eliot’s stubble against his inner thigh made him tremble and gasp, his hands launching forward to grab Eliot’s soft black curls. Every time the impossible tight wet heat along his came back, it enveloped his whole body and his crazed mind with nothing but Eliot, Eliot, Eliot , and his wild gorgeous clever mouth.
Quentin’s fingers scrabbled at the sheets, then back to Eliot’s hair. Eliot licked and sucked him in a ceaseless rhythm, consuming him, worshipping him, loving him . Loving him, if only for a moment, in this perfect space between bullshit reality. He shuddered and grunted, pleading Eliot’s name on a loop, begging him not to stop, to never stop, please, Eliot—
He came with an explosive yell.
The shock of it hit him like a shot, making him sit up straight. Immediately, Quentin curled his stomach back around Eliot’s head, needing to be as close to him as possible, seeking shelter in his body. With a ragged moan, he tugged on soft curls for dear life, and his toes spasmed, and his vision blacked out and his dick pulsed, and pulsed, and pulsed , spurting long and hot into the back of Eliot’s throat, while Eliot worked him through the aftershocks.
When Eliot pulled off, it felt like loss. Like grief, like being plunged into the depths of the ocean. But it only lasted a second, and then Eliot was kissing him again, hungry and desperate, as their arms wound tight around each other. They rolled onto their sides, into the same position as when they started, curled in toward each other. Their legs entwined, their tongues lapped into each other’s mouths, heartbeats thundering under their skin.
Eliot’s hard cock dragged along Quentin’s thigh, wet and hot. Eliot snaked a hand down his own chest, but before he could wrap his hand around himself, Quentin caught his wrist with quick fingers. “Eliot, please let me.” Their foreheads pushed together, both their breath hot and panting. “Let me.”
“I’m already so close, baby,” Eliot said, babbling. “So close, just from hearing you. The sounds you make, oh my god.”
Quentin whimpered. “Eliot.” He nipped at his lower lip, sliding his thumb up and down the long, throbbing vein of his shaft. Eliot made a wrecked sound and nodded, suddenly frantic.
“Yes, please. Please touch me, Q, please. Baby, oh my god .” When Quentin’s hand slightly faltered––intimidated by the weight of it, of how much getting this right mattered to him––Eliot brushed a messy kiss to his cheek. His lips. “Here, shit—ah, okay, let me show you. Let me show you. God, your perfect hands.”
Eliot covered Quentin’s hand with his own, pressing firmly into his knuckles as he guided Quentin’s fist up and down, jacking himself off but using Quentin to do it.
A bright flush rose high on Eliot’s cheeks and his mouth opened, half-smiling, half-moaning, and Quentin had never felt so fervently about a lesson in his life. Eliot taught him the rhythm that made him feel good, and it was the only thing in the entire world Quentin wanted to know. Fuck magic. Just this. Just the way Eliot fucked into his palm and gripped his wrist and kissed his cheeks with slick lips, as Quentin got more and more confident. Soon, he was pumping Eliot on his own, while Eliot ran his hands up and down his back. Like he just wanted to touch, to be close.
They were so close to each other. Their noses bumped on every upstroke, but Eliot’s eyes never closed. He stared at Quentin like he was drowning and Quentin was his only lifeline, like he couldn’t look away, like he’d rather die. He looked, and looked, and looked at him, until he didn’t, until his eyes abruptly screwed shut and he all but collapsed into Quentin, gasping wordlessly, pulsing hot into his hand.
Eliot’s mouth softened on his shoulder, chest heaving. His come coated sticky over Quentin’s hand, across his palm and between his fingers. In a dizzying rush of boldness, Quentin nosed at Eliot’s face until he looked at him. When their eyes met, Quentin licked up his own messy palm with a broad stroke of his tongue, then slowly sucked each finger clean, while Eliot watched him with slowly rising eyebrows.
Quentin could hear his heartbeat roar in his ears. Eliot gaped at him, unblinking.
And just as he regretted it, just as he thought maybe guys don’t like confidence in bed, not if it comes from a total fucking weirdo, Eliot grabbed his shoulders and kissed him hard.
“You’re gonna kill me,” Eliot breathed against his lips.
Then Eliot kissed him again, this time slow and deep, tongue delving deliciously into his mouth. It was maddening, intoxicating, electrifying. The taste of Eliot and himself, together, sharp on their tongues. They stayed like that for a long time, and not nearly long enough.
“ Fuck .” Quentin ran his fingers through Eliot’s hair and held on tight when at last they parted. “Fuck. Wow, shit, that was—uh, that was a lot.”
Something flickered in Eliot’s eyes. “For me too.”
“Um.” Quentin’s heart kicked up. He couldn’t let go, couldn’t look away. “So should we… we should talk about this?”
The flicker repeated. “Right now?”
Uncertainty churned in Quentin’s stomach. He thought they were on the same page, that they both wanted this. Not that Eliot was in love with Quentin the way Quentin was with Eliot, since why would he be? But whatever this thing was that’d grown between them over all this time had recently blossomed into something that wasn’t just pretense and wasn’t just sex.
Eliot furrowed his brow, eyes still unreadable as he looked at Quentin. He ran his thumb once, twice, across the bump of Quentin’s chin and let out a breath. “I’m pretty tired. And more than a little worn out.” He gave him a half-hearted smirk, which quickly softened into something more genuine and vulnerable. “Maybe tomorrow?”
Tomorrow was good. Whatever Eliot wanted was good. Quentin nodded his agreement with a small sigh, melting into the arms still around his waist. He bumped his nose into Eliot’s, with a playful smile. “Can I kiss you again?”
The flicker flashed into something bright and anguished behind Eliot’s eyes, then quickly went out. “Yeah,” he said, sounding choked in a way Quentin felt down to his soul. “Yeah, of course. Um. Any time.”
Eliot caught his eye with a shy, pleading look, lower lip between his teeth. He looked at Quentin like he was equal parts uncertain and hopeful, like he wanted Quentin to know what he was saying without words. And as Quentin cupped his cheek and gently slotted their mouths together—
He was pretty sure he understood.