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Four Seasons

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It's pretty clear that they specifically design the Brakebills entrance exam to be disorienting, and that's – whatever, they're trying to make their little point about magic and pain or whatever, or in a charitable reading trying to prepare students for the unraveling of the philosophical underpinnings of their worldview. Fine, Quentin gets it. He's not the biggest fan, but he sees what they're going for.

In Quentin's case, it's just such fucking overkill, but that's his typical bad luck.

He's a mess from the second he stumbles onto the lawn, lashing himself for the stupid fight with Julia, sunk in a weird, dark place from coming face-to-face with a dead body, anxious about losing his grip on reality, and hot-prickly-jittery-cranky from being on the cusp of a heat cycle. He's already disoriented. He's kind of permanently unraveled in general, but that day specifically is – not great.

Apparently he's also late, at least according to the tall, sexy alpha they send to collect him. It's both embarrassing and infuriating, because Quentin wasn't letting himself be late, he hates being late to things, he didn't know about any of this, and that should be obvious? But the alpha still cuts his eyes judgmentally up and down Quentin's body like Quentin is transparently messy, and not like– Quentin is Ivy League, you know? He's not incompetent at stuff, he can handle himself under normal circumstances. (There's a hospital bill in his messenger bag that he's supposed to send to his father that Quentin's not thinking about, but – it's not relevant, it's not – Quentin still would have been here on time if he'd known he was scheduled for an exam.) That part is infuriating; the embarrassing part is that Quentin gets wet when he does it, and he knows it has to be scentable.

Well, whatever, it's not Quentin's problem if – Eliot? It's Eliot, right? – takes something meaningful away from that, because it doesn't mean anything other than Quentin is less than a week away from starting his heat, and his body is hypersensitive to certain things. This isn't junior high, after all, with alphas and omegas presenting without warning and everyone freaking out about it. They're adults, they're college graduates. Everybody should have figured out biology by now.

Magic, not so much.

 

Stupid fight notwithstanding, Quentin is so glad to see Julia in the crowd, and when they hug after the exam he drops his face right into her neck and breathes in her clean, neutral beta scent like a big, weird dog, but it's just – so grounding. The test room is insane with hormones, way more than Quentin is used to, and he doesn't think it's just his hair-trigger nose. Statistically speaking, in a room like this there should be maybe a dozen secondaries at best, a few more alphas than omegas; all graduate schools skew a little alpha. Quentin can't figure out why Brakebills should be any different, but Quentin's senses are telling him that practically everyone around him is a secondary, which is – so, so weird. And crazy uncomfortable.

He doesn't have time to explain that to Julia before they're whisked apart, and he doesn't have time to apologize for earlier, either, which he was planning to do, even though – he's not sure he was in the wrong. He doesn't care about being right anymore, he just wants some outpost of normalcy, something he understands. Julia being vaguely snotty and superior about her amazing, unmessy life is at least familiar, which – Quentin doesn't mean quite the way it sounds, but is nevertheless not untrue.

And then Quentin does magic while a strange alpha yells at him, and he's still hot-prickly and anxious and insecure and generally a mess, but he's also – a Magician. Apparently.

It's the most incredible thing that's ever happened to Quentin, in every possible sense of the word, and all he wants to do is den himself into a closet for like fifty years, until things calm down and he can think, which he can't do because for some reason (for no reason?) his tall, sexy (what is it about Brakebills guys, like seriously, this is not in Quentin's heat-cooked head, right? They're all like this?) beta roommate just instantly despises him, and Quentin doesn't want to make things worse by forcing a personal-space conversation right now. It'll have to happen before Quentin goes into heat, but he's willing to kick this can down the road at least a day or two.

They don't seem to encourage leaving the Brakebills campus more than entirely necessary, so Quentin has no idea where he's supposed to den, and it's a time-sensitive issue. His heats are usually super regular, but he feels it coming on faster than normal this time, probably because he's in proximity to all these goddamn alphas at once.

He doesn't mean it like that – goddamn alphas. He likes alphas fine. He likes alphas plenty. But he likes music, too, and that doesn't mean he wants to hear fifty different songs blared in his ear all at once. He tells himself it'll be less intense when he's on the other side of the cycle, or he'll adjust to it, or hopefully both.

Meanwhile he stays in his room, pleading exhaustion. Penny leaves, slamming the door, and Quentin crawls all the way under his blankets, tucking his head under the pillow to block out the light. But this is good, right? This is still good, this is – they're going to teach him magic. He's not dealing well with how chaotic all of this is, but he'll adjust, and he'll handle it.

He can usually handle things, if he gives himself enough time to process. He doesn't end up in the fucking asylum every time something comes along to surprise him.

There must be a cafeteria or a commissary or something, because before it gets dark, Julia shows up with a chicken Caesar wrap and a bottle of Sprite. “You need anything?” she asks as he crawls out from under his shitty blanket den and takes the food from her.

“I don't know,” he says. “No. I'm okay. Do you know if there's – like a doctor on campus? I need to figure out how to get my prescriptions here.”

“There's a clinic. Didn't you get a campus map?” Julia says, because sure, Quentin would be asking her this basic question if he already had the answer to it, that sounds so like him. Whatever, he's not going to snap at Julia again. He just give her a flat look, and she looks a little apologetic. She pats his knee and says, “There's a whole orientation weekend starting tomorrow, and a required session just for secondaries first thing in the morning. I bet they'll talk to you about the suppressant situation then.”

He was thinking more about the antidepressants than the suppressants, but sure. Both are important. “Great,” he says. “I guess I should – rest up for that. Hey, is your roommate also a huge dick, by any chance?”

“I mean, a little?” Julia laughs. “I don't know, you might like her. She's kind of your type.”

“I have a type?” Quentin says.

“You know,” Julia says with a little shrug. “Mean alphas.”

“I don't like – mean alphas,” Quentin says. Does he? He's only ever been with one alpha, and he wasn't mean, just. Kind of matter-of-fact. Whatever, it's not a character flaw to like sex just for sex. It's not like Quentin was pining for the guy, he was just. A good person to call, especially at certain times.

But then Quentin thinks about earlier this afternoon, the alpha on the lawn with the cigarette dangling between his fingers. How he'd looked at Quentin like he was only very, very possibly not a total waste of time, and how Quentin had gone flushed and slick and wanted to prove--

Whatever, that was just. Hormones and proximity, not some kind of kink for people with shitty personalities. He'd much prefer to fuck someone – you know, nice. Maybe even someone who's mate material, as long as they're okay with taking things slow. Quentin doesn't have his whole life planned out like Julia does (like Julia did?), but he likes school, and he's good at it. He can see himself being happy in academia, and it's a rare enough thing that Quentin can see anything making him happy, so he's not going to just blow that off for a bite and some puppies. He thinks he'd like that stuff too, but – later. For now, matter-of-fact suits Quentin fine.

Of course, he guesses he's not going to be an academic after all. He's going to be a Magician, so – holy shit.

“What are you going to do about James?” Quentin asks.

Julia blinks for a second, and she doesn't say it, but Quentin would bet the house that she's just now remembering that James exists. “Uh – I don't know,” she says. “The hell with him, I guess? Q, we're going to be Magicians.”

Her smile is incandescent, and faintly terrifying. If Quentin does have a thing for a little streak of mean, he guesses it's not limited to alphas. “Okay,” Quentin says, because – like, fuck it? James is a friend, but people break up, it's not the end of the world. “So, we – yeah. Holy shit.”

Julia starts to laugh, and Quentin can't help letting her enthusiasm bolster his mood, because they're doing this, holy shit, they're going to be Magicians.

Quentin's unraveled for a lot worse causes. He can handle a little bit of chaos for this.

 

In the morning Quentin's mood stays steady, buoyed up by the thrill of fucking Magician school even though his body is still prickly and sweaty and generally gross in all the ways that they skip right over when they're making heat porn. He barely has time to find the cafeteria and eat a bowl of off-brand Froot Loops before he makes it to the lecture hall where he's supposed to be at nine o'clock with all the other incoming omegas.

There are eight others, which is insane, that's so many more omegas than Quentin's ever been in a single classroom with. They're only like five percent of the population. Quentin sits by himself; everyone's sitting as close to by themselves as they can, most of them with notebooks and pens at the ready, keeping their eyes to themselves. Part of Quentin thinks that maybe they should be – developing some kind of camaraderie? But he's the last person to get that ball rolling. He's never had close omega friends before, not because he believes what they say about unmated omegas only seeing each other as competition or whatever, just. He doesn't know, he gets nervous? He gets nervous with everyone, but it's worse with omegas. He always suspects they're like – good at being omegas in a way that Quentin is highly aware he himself is not. Most of them seem so poised, so comfortable with their own value, so – not suicidal. Sorry, can't relate.

Everyone seems a little off their game right now, though. Brakebills's special magic, Quentin guesses.

The session is led by an attractive omega who introduces herself as Dr. Lipson. “Possibly unlike wherever you were before this,” she says dryly, “Brakebills is very accustomed to accommodating the unique needs of omega students. Magic tends to run most strongly in secondary genders, so this is very likely to be the first situation you've ever encountered where you are not a small minority. I stress this because the most common problems we have tend to involve omegas being unwilling to come to us for help when it's warranted. I know that you've likely been ignored by people who don't fully understand what being an omega entails, and that you may have learned you'll be belittled and infantilized if you insist on reasonable accommodations, as if you've somehow failed to be betas. That is not the situation at Brakebills; some of the most powerful Magicians ever to exist were omegas, and we do not underestimate your potential.”

That sounds nice. Quentin's experiences haven't been as dire as the stuff you hear about, but it's still-- Well, you worry about it, about how people are going to see you if you draw attention to it. Quentin does, at least.

Anyway, she talks for a while, and Quentin didn't bring anything to take notes with, so he just tries to concentrate. They're required to get wellness exams every semester, and obviously to stay on suppressants while enrolled. Jesus, Quentin can just imagine what absolute insanity one unblocked and unmated omega would wreak on a contained campus packed full of alphas. “Obviously matings happen on campus,” Dr. Lipson says, with a clear grudge in her voice, “but they are not encouraged. The Brakebills program is demanding, and we will not lower our standards for a student just because they are distracted by personal matters. If you can't keep up, you will be expelled and your memories of Brakebills removed. If your mate can't keep up, they will be expelled and erased, and you will also be removed from the program.” Someone lets out an obvious, indignant noise at that, and Dr. Lipson looks sharply at that side of the room. “As separating bonded mates is an obvious violation of international human rights, we would have little choice.”

Honestly, it doesn't seem that unfair to Quentin. God, why is everyone in such a rush to mate? They're still really young, and if someone likes you enough to mate with you for life, it doesn't seem like that big a sacrifice just to date for a couple of years first.

They get down to brass tacks after that. The campus has a few magic-null and scent-neutral spaces that they call Clean Rooms, and that's where they're going to spend heats. It sounds a little grim to Quentin; he's been going since he was a teenager to an omega hostel, and those are designed to be dark, cozy little dens, but something about Clean Room sounds – he doesn't know, clinical. Yes, intellectually he totally understands and supports that heats are just necessary medical functions, but when you're in the middle of one, you want – he doesn't know. You want to be a little gentle with yourself, right? Make it feel like a real den, not just a place you're renting.

The good news is that at the beginning of next semester, they'll all take another series of tests that will – well, she says it less dorkily, but basically sort them into their Hogwarts houses, so they'll be moved out of the first-year dorm and into a literal house with upperclassmen, and each of those houses has a private den. That sounds almost wildly luxurious to Quentin; Quentin's parents are betas so they didn't have a den in the house, and when Quentin presented they just started sending him to the hostel, and then he lived in Manhattan where nobody had the space for a dedicated den. He's always kind of fantasized about being able to den down for a heat in his own home, in a familiar space that smells like – well, at least like him, and maybe – ideally maybe like someone he cares about, you know? Just because he doesn't want to mate right away doesn't mean he's immune to romance. Anyway, a private den in a house where he lives with people who are hopefully friends – that sounds kind of fucking blissful, and Quentin can feel his skin sizzling and his vent softening and dilating a little. He's going to be fucking lucky if he gets out of here without an embarrassingly adolescent dark patch on his jeans, and it's going to be a miracle if he makes it to the end of orientation weekend without a full-blown early heat.

They're allowed to designate an alpha student to share the den with, but in order to ensure consent, they're supposed to have that filed with the clinic at least a week in advance. So that's a no for Quentin this week, even if he wanted to just – throw social niceties to the wind and present to any and all takers, which obviously he would never do, nobody actually does that in real life.

Even if everyone fantasizes about it.

Quentin's awkward enough just making conversation with strangers. He can't actually see himself getting knotted by one, even if Brakebills's rules allowed it. That's the kind of scenario that's hot when you're rubbing it out, but the reality would be excruciating.

The session ends with a well-rehearsed pep talk about Brakebills's special responsibility to the health and whole personhood of their students, and it sounds great, although Quentin's not sure how it squares with that hope you don't die release they made him sign yesterday. Whatever, he literally could not care less. Everybody dies. Not everybody is a goddamn Magician, are they?

He emerges from the classroom to find Julia waiting for him at the bottom of the stairs, but she doesn't notice him right away, deep in conversation with a blonde woman who's scowling at her over the top of a stack of books pressed protectively to her chest, and it softens the last of Quentin's little pissiness from the other day. It's so Julia to find someone on her first day who looks as tense and anxious as Quentin feels and insist on befriending her by force. Julia is just this – wonderful, frustrating sheepdog who can't stand to see anyone hanging around on the margins, and it comes from such a well of goodness. If Quentin ever gets his head out of his ass for half a minute, he could maybe hope to be half as unselfish as Julia is.

“Hey, Q!” she calls as she sees him coming down the stairs. “Alice, this is my friend Quentin – Quentin, my new roommate Alice Quinn.”

“Hi,” Quentin says, and then isn't sure how to follow that up, because Alice – Julia's mean alpha, he guesses – is staring at Quentin like he killed her dog as she scents him with flared nostrils, and she's just unbelievably beautiful, again, and she clearly hates him, again, for like no reason? Why, what the hell is Quentin doing wrong when he just got here? “Um,” he says. “Really nice to meet you.”

“Alice knows some magic already,” Julia says. “Her whole family are Magicians.”

“Oh, that's – cool,” Quentin says hesitantly. “Very cool. I guess we'll – know who to talk to about stuff, because Julia and I don't know anything. Unless it works on a d20 system, which. It doesn't. Obviously. That– I'm kidding, it's not – a game, I know.” What the fuck is Quentin's problem, can't he just shut up? His heart is pounding, a whole crazy array of instincts activating at once in the presence of an attractive but vaguely threatening alpha, like someone's just keysmashed the control console in Quentin's brain. He doesn't know whether to get the hell out of here or show his throat or use his words like a fucking person and ask her what her problem is, and all of this is just – such bad timing, god, he's not usually like this, he just feels so small and ignorant in this new world, and his body is already just so hungry and irrational and vulnerable, and the harder he tries to sound like a normal person, the further away he knows he's getting.

Alice says absolutely nothing to him, she just turns her attention back to Julia and says, “I don't like being set up with people's omega friend. It's insulting.”

Oh, god, she thinks Quentin is displaying for her? Why? He was just being the bare minimum of polite, but – some alphas can take politeness that way. Most of them don't have the goddamn nerve to say it out loud, though. “I really wasn't setting you up,” Julia says, cool and rational. “Quentin's an old friend. He doesn't even date alphas.”

“Julia,” Quentin protests weakly. She doesn't have to make it sound like he has some kind of no-alpha policy, when really he just – seems to be more attractive to betas, or at least the way it's worked out is that most of the people who were interested in dating Quentin happened to be betas, because most people are betas, and most alphas have – options. Better options. But Quentin's not, whatever, prejudiced against alphas, or – or gay, although obviously it's fine to be gay, he's just. Not. He likes betas, and he's – the normal amount of attracted to alphas, except for at this point in his heat cycle, when he's really unreasonably attracted to alphas, as per the whims of his weird secondary hormones.

Possibly especially to mean alphas. Dammit, he hates when Julia knows him better than he knows himself.

“Quentin!” someone calls, and Quentin's just – really done, he's done with this day, it's not even time for lunch and he cannot deal with any more drama, but clearly drama's not done with him yet, because who comes swanning across the quad straight at him but the tall alpha from yesterday, arm in arm with – uh, okay, Quentin's not gay, but just like, factually – the most beautiful omega who ever existed. “This is the interruption you've been waiting for,” Eliot says with utter confidence in spite of the fact that his shirt is untucked and his tie is askew and his deep voice is faintly slurred like he's three Bloody Marys into the morning already.

“Oh, um,” Quentin says. “I wasn't waiting for--”

“Hi,” Eliot's omega purrs, using the tips of her fingers to flip back both sides of her perfectly feathered hair carefully, like she needs to get an unobstructed view of Quentin in all his rumpled glory. “I'm Margo.”

Quentin nods dumbly, and then his brain finally arrives on the scene and he says, “Okay, hi, um, this is Julia and--”

But for whatever baffling reason, the interruption is apparently embossed with Quentin's name alone. “Julia, we're going to borrow your friend, okay?” Margo says without bothering to look at Julia, and neither she nor Eliot wait for any response before they split apart and flank Quentin with military precision, herding him away. Quentin manages to look over his shoulder, and he can see Julia raise one hand and both eyebrows in the universal gesture for uh, what the fuck? Quentin shakes his head, hoping his expression conveys no fucking idea! It usually does.

“Is that your alpha?” Margo asks him sweetly. “Julia?”

“I – no, what, I – Julia's not – you mean Alice? Alice is the alpha. Not mine.”

“See, El?” she says, casting a sly look over Quentin's head at her own alpha. “Have a little faith.”

Quentin's not sure what that's supposed to mean. He sneaks a glance to his right, where Eliot is fishing a cigarette from a case in his vest pocket, looking as bored by life as a person who spent that much time on his hair this morning could possibly look. “Bambi, behave yourself,” he says around the tip of the cigarette, before he makes a short, crisp gesture with three fingertips and – lights the cigarette. With fucking magic.

It is, quite possibly, even sexier than the way Eliot smells.

“I should, um – I think there's still a, like a campus tour I'm supposed to go to,” Quentin says. He can't remember; he stuck the folded-up campus map in his pocket but he forgot to bring the itinerary that was also in his orientation folder, because he was running late this morning, hazy and distracted and nervous in that paralyzing way that inevitably eats its own tail, creating more life bullshit to be nervous about. Quentin's not usually like this, but – he's not never like this, either. It comes and goes. Hormones don't help, stress doesn't help, the smell of strangers doesn't help. Very little, right now, is actually coming to Quentin's aid.

“Bitch, we are your campus tour,” Margo announces with finality. For a second Quentin's hackles go up, but then – that's not really an insult when another omega says it, right? It seems like in – movies or whatever, omega friends call each other that all the time. Quentin wouldn't know, he's never had an omega friend, and the idea that Margo, with her perfect hair and her fancy eye makeup and her swaying stride in thigh-high boots, could even theoretically be his first kind of beggars belief. It's not like hey, you've been accepted to the magic school you never applied to levels of improbable, but it's – like, whatever's right below that, basically.

He glances again at Eliot, who's still semi-ignoring them both with cool serenity while he smokes. He smells like – like Quentin imagines alphas smell in, like, movies from the 40s, powerful but controlled, elegant – musk and cherrywood and tobacco. There's a note of early fall in the air around them, the crisp leading edge of decay, but it's like Quentin could step off the clean edge of that ambient smell and fall down and down and down into Eliot's richness. Quentin rubs his hand over his face, trying to use his own familiar, boring scent to block everything else out before he just, like. Does something crazy.

Quentin guesses they're serious about the campus tour, because instead of any attempt at small talk (where are you from? What's your undergrad degree in? Why do you dress like a homeless beta?) they start rapid-firing Brakebills facts at Quentin, pointing out this building, that professor, some other thing that Quentin's never going to remember.

When they pass a group of students who are floating a dozen apples in the air, Eliot breaks into a trot, breaking into their circle and stretching for the highest one. “Physical kids,” he explains for Quentin's benefit. “Telekinesis. Move shit, lift shit – most can fly.” He tosses the apple to Quentin, who manages to catch it – small mercies. He thinks Eliot's eyes rest on him a little longer than necessary, approving. Quentin takes a bite out of the apple, and Eliot looks away, striding onward so that his shorter-legged omega companions have to scamper to keep up with him. “Also, magnificent partiers. Do not come by our house if you have anything important to do in the morning.”

“Got it,” Quentin says breathlessly, and for the first time he thinks he does sort of get – something about Eliot, something Eliot has accidentally let slip about himself through the warm notes in his voice when he says our house. Between the short, taut sentences, Quentin hears territory and pride and mine; he hears alpha as clearly as if Eliot had bared his teeth.

It doesn't sound like Quentin's going to have much choice about what his discipline is, but – god, he wants to be something that belongs to Eliot like that.

He wants – he wants –

It's all so much, the early fall heat and Brakebills and Eliot's rumbly voice and Margo's strong little hand tucked in his as she drags him along behind her. Quentin knows he's sweating through the back of his shirt, and he kind of – can only partially follow the train of their conversation, his brain and his skin and his nose are all overstimulated, and he can feel a whine gathering low in his throat because he wants--

They bring him inside, and it's such a relief to be somewhere dark and sheltered that Quentin's knees buckle a little, and he ends up leaning against the doorjamb with his eyes pressed shut, panting to get more of the cool air into his lungs. “Sorry, sorry,” he gasps, aware of Margo's hands pressed to his shoulder and chest, Margo's candied voice lilting in exaggerated sympathy, ticking up at the end like she's asking him a question. “I think it was the sun.”

“Lie down, baby,” Margo orders. “Let's get you some water.” Quentin tries to obey, navigating in the general direction of the couch. Lying down sounds good, he wants--

He wants--

Everything flickers. Time tilts. He's on his back, sinking into soft cushions and looking at dark wood and a galaxy of fairy lights, and oh, he likes this place, it feels safe, he wants to stay forever. He wants--

A rush of alpha fills his nose as a big hand wraps around the back of his neck, pulling his head up toward the cool rim of a bottle of water, and the whine finally bursts out of Quentin's chest; he can't swallow, but he opens his mouth as water splashes against his lips, because he is thirsty, he's thirsty and he's burning up and he wants he wants he wants--

“Oh, fuck,” the alpha growls, and every joint in Quentin's body rattles at the same deep note, it feels amazing, it feels agonizing. “Bambi, a little help?”

The alpha tries to move further away. Quentin hates the idea. He grabs the-- Eliot, he's a person, his name is Eliot – by his convenient tie and he says, “I wanna stay, let me stay,” before all he can do is make sounds of want want want, alpha--

Everything flickers. Time bends. He's sitting up, shoved into position by Margo underneath his arm. “Up you go,” she says, sounding a little amused and not at all patient. “Let's go, puppy. Feet on the floor.”

He manages the feet-floor part, but then he can't – won't – doesn't want to go any further. He squeezes his eyes shut and shakes his head, leaning heavily against Margo, breathing her soft hair into his nose. “I don't wanna go, don't make me go,” he says.

“Life's rough,” Margo says. “Look, I'm helping you, okay, you dingbat? We're going to the infirmary, because someone is in his twenties and doesn't know how to track his heat cycle.” Quentin is very vaguely aware that he's being slandered. It's early this time.

Holy shit, it's early this time – he's in heat. On the fucking couch. At some strange – fraternity house or something. Even Quentin, who is no stranger to social disaster, has no frame of reference for how fucking horrifying this is, how beyond embarrassing. “I'm sorry,” Quentin tries to explain. “I'm sorry, it's – never this fast, and it's early, I think – the test yesterday, and, and Eliot smells, Eliot's so--” No, oh my god shut up, say literally anything except that--

Thankfully, Margo doesn't bristle up, although she has every right. She just rolls her eyes and says, “Yeah, yeah, Eliot is so,” with the wry smile of someone who is not hearing this for the first time. Quentin guesses she's – probably not. She's used to it? He guesses?

“Take him downstairs,” Eliot says from somewhere Quentin can't see. His voice jolts through Quentin – brusque, demanding, irresistible. Alpha.

Irresistible unless you're Margo, it seems. “Oh, fuck off,” she says, snapping her fingers and pointing upward. “Out. Go to your room.”

“Bambi,” he protests, and this time it's less demanding. He sounds like – maybe he wants, too. Wants Quentin to stay in his house. Quentin rubs his face against Margo's shoulder, his breath hitching as he tries to just – just shut up, just please shut up for once –

“Oh, I do not want to hear it,” she says. “Take your knot somewhere else, this exact second. I'm counting to three.” There's a gruff noise of displeasure, and then the sound of heavy feet ascending the stairs, and Quentin keens a little at the abandonment. He can't help it. “Jesus,” Margo sighs, patting his head a little. “No wonder he thought you were so cute. Okay, come on, now. I know the PKC has a reputation, but you can't spend your heat in the living room, that's a little much even for us. You've got to walk to the infirmary; I'll help you.”

“I'm sorry,” Quentin says. “I'm sorry, I can't – I'm sorry, I didn't mean to.” Can't stand up and walk, can't get his head straight, can't hold this off any longer, can't shut up shut up shut up--

“I know you didn't, puppy. Shit happens. But you gotta work with me, here.”

He wants to. He's not being difficult. But every part of his body feels too heavy, flushed with blood and slick and nerve endings like he's – like he's wearing his own body plus someone else's, too. He stumbles with every step he takes, even with Margo to lean on, and his eyes are heavy with tears before they get to the front door, because he can't, he can't make it, he just wants to curl up tight and sink through the floor like a thousand dense pounds of wet, hot, miserable, rebellious organic matter, bodies are so stupid.

The first thing that distracts him from his own pathetic meltdown is that when the door opens, Quentin's still in the comfort of cool darkness, not facing the unforgiving sun. “One step down,” Margo says, steady and – not exactly warm, but reassuring. She sounds like she knows what to do. So Quentin listens and puts his foot down a step. “Good,” Margo says, her hand small but unyielding, pressed against Quentin's chest where he's sweating through his unironed shirt. “Stick with me, okay? Another step. I got you.”

They're not leaving, Quentin realizes. Wherever Margo is leading him is down, not out – is inside the house (our house, territory, pride, Eliot's house). They get to the bottom of the stairs and across the uneven cobblestones of the laundry room floor, until finally, just when the ache in Quentin's pelvis is radiating into his thighs so intensely that he knows he can't keep walking anymore, there's another door. Margo takes her hand from Quentin's chest, flips the deadbolt and raises the bar, and shoves him inside with her shoulder. Quentin stumbles and doesn't even really try to stop himself, just lets himself half-fall and half-crawl onto the big square futon-style mat laid out on the floor. He rubs his face and his neck against it, gasping for breath.

“--liquids in the fridge,” he can hear Margo say as he starts to relax into the mat, comforted by the way it smells a little like him now, a little familiar. “Hey. You listening to me, puppy?”

“Yeah, sorry,” he mumbles, rolling to his side so he can look up at her through the mess of his hair. “Liquids. Yeah.”

Margo looks at him critically for a minute, then shakes her head. “Congratulations, kiddo. You're a Physical bitch for the next three days. Don't do anything I wouldn't do.”

“Thank you,” Quentin says. Margo waves at the air, fingernails flicking away the concept. “I'm sorry, I was trying – I didn't mean to – but thank you.”

“You're fine,” she says. “Hey. We gotta look out for each other, right?” Quentin nods, even though he doesn't know if she means – Magicians or omegas or what.

A little shiver rolls up Quentin's spine at the sound of the heavy door closing, the bolt sliding shut. Even though it's happened four times a year since he was twelve, it's always – weird, being locked in, for at least a minute. But then Quentin lies in the dimly lit den and focuses on his breathing, and he can feel everything slowing down, releasing. His eyes flicker shut, his vent melts further open, and he licks the fabric of the mat to test the scent. It's good, it's cotton and Quentin's own saliva. It's safe. Safe den, protected. Quentin breathes in, holds it. Shudders on the exhale, feeling relief and indolence and....

Want. The want prickles at the back of his neck, icy-hot, and Quentin groans, because it's time. He's safe, he's ready. It's time.

He pulls his clothes off, vaguely aware that they're completely gross and quite possibly ruined, and he kicks them toward a dark corner, near the mini-fridge. He feels better once there's nothing but cool air touching his skin, bringing the inflammation from the friction of his clothes down. Quentin puts a hand on his neck and rubs down over his chest, taking deep, shivery breaths. He's okay, this is okay. He flicks a little sweat out of his eyes and pulls his hair back, looping the elastic a third time to tie it tight. Should he get a drink first? Probably, right?

But he doesn't. He doesn't want to move just yet. He lies down on his back and reaches with both hands, resting them on the soaked insides of his thighs, and the contact feels so good. He moans as he feels his vent flutter and dilate, aching with the initial stretch and the emptiness. His cock is hard, too, but he can barely feel that, like it's gone completely numb in comparison with the aliveness between his legs. Quentin explores further inward with two fingertips, and the hungry sounds his throat makes when he contacts the wet, sensitive flesh of his vent no longer have the power to embarrass him at all. It just feels so fucking good, and he needs the pressure, the relief.

He needs – the pressure of – the weight –

Quentin grits his teeth and lifts his hips up into it, and he wants, but he needs-- Safe in a good den, he's ready, he's ready, he needs his alpha pushing into him, holding him and opening him and taking him, taking care of him. The memory of Duncan's face floats through his hazy brain – oh, he'd been a good alpha, strong, big – not Quentin's alpha, but there to take care of him when Quentin needed it. Quentin remembers the weight of Duncan's body across his, anchoring him while Quentin nuzzled into the scent of summer at his throat, remembers his warm, smooth skin and the muscular curve of his chest, his heavy hand petting Quentin's shoulder and his cheek, his kind voice whispering it's okay, just let me in, I'm here, I'm right here. Quentin pushes his fingers inside his body, but it's nothing like – it's not nearly what he wants.

Still, it's okay for now. Quentin gets himself off quickly and easily, not a real heat orgasm, but a perfectly fine regular one. It takes the edge off, for the moment.

Quentin rests his wet hand over his stomach, feeling his breaths and trying not to sink into self-pity. Solo heats can be lonely, but that's. It's not a real emotion, it's mostly hormones. Partially hormones. It's – more than half hormones.

There's an alpha for every omega, they say, but it's really not true. Like, statistically maybe there's some truth to it, but in reality – not everyone mates. Some alphas die. Some alphas are gay. Some alphas choose to pair-bond with betas, and some just aren't into bonding at all. There are no guarantees in life, and there's certainly no grand, magical promise from the universe that every omega who wants a mate ends up finding one. People don't like to admit that, but it's true.

Fifty weeks out of the year, Quentin really doesn't have a problem with that. If you want someone to grow old with, there are friends. If you want to be loved, the world is full of betas, and their minds and hearts are just as good as anyone's, they're just as easy to love. And there are a million types of arrangements you can make if all you want is an able, reliable knot on a quarterly basis. Nobody needs a mate.

Fifty weeks out of the year, Quentin believes that and it's fine.

With a sigh he rolls onto his hands and knees and crawls off the edge of his mat to investigate this mini-fridge situation.

 

Quentin guesses he should've known even based on a brief acquaintance with Eliot and Margo, but the Physical house is a pretty swanky situation, as dens go. When Quentin's head is finally clear enough to go poking around, he finds basically everything you might want during your heat, and some stuff Quentin would never have thought of. The fridge is stocked full of Gatorade and plastic containers full of berries, chicken sausages and wheels of smoked gouda. There's a record player and a vinyl collection, mostly classical music and R&B, plus a few oddball outliers (KT Tunstall? The Black Keys? Dolly Parton? okay....) There's a bookshelf with a few antique-y looking books about magic, and then a bunch of old paperbacks, mostly historical family sagas and classic science fiction. There's a sink and a toilet behind a decorative screen, and there's a half-sized closet stacked completely full of blankets and towels and sweatpants and hoodies in various sizes. The lights are on a dimmer switch and the walls are painted with forest scenery. It's really comfortable, actually. Quentin doesn't know anything about the Clean Rooms, but he feels confident that he stumbled into a much better deal here.

Dr. Lipson shows up to visit him, Margo hovering behind her, and they check Quentin's vitals and leave a cooler of food with him. Quentin remembers to wrap a quilt around himself, but it's funny how close he comes to not remembering – he's spacey during heat, and body-shame is kind of the first thing that usually goes away. He apologizes again for throwing a wrench in the system on his first full day on campus, and Lipson gives his hair a firm, almost motherly stroke and says, “As long as you're comfortable, Mr. Coldwater. That's what matters.”

He is comfortable. The loneliness goes away, more or less, after a couple of hours and a couple of orgasms. Quentin's heats have always been physically easy, and it's not like he has anything to worry about or anywhere to be. Or so his dumb omega brain has decided, and even though part of Quentin knows that he could actually worry about any number of the same things he normally worries about, during heat he generally just – doesn't.

There are several roll-on vials of synthetic alpha pheromones in the toy chest, and that helps a lot; Quentin rubs it all over his wrists and palms and then curls up on the mat, snuffling his face greedily into his hands. It doesn't smell like anyone – not grassy and humid like Duncan's scent, or heavy and rich like Eliot's – but the chemicals do their job, leaving Quentin grateful and relaxed and humming with satisfaction between spikes of urgency.

There's not a ton of variety in the toys; Quentin figures people who live here are likely to bring their own stuff into the den, so it's probably just here for people who don't have strong fake-knot opinions outside of heat. Quentin does have strong fake-knot opinions; he can't stand the kind where the knot inflates. He gets that it's supposed to feel more natural or whatever, but there's always a certain give to the knot that just – isn't enough to get Quentin all the way there. Fortunately, there are also a few of the heavy glass kind, which are a little harder to maneuver when you're trying to get it all the way in and also your brain is lava, but once it's in, it's – yeah, it's what Quentin likes best.

He wonders if they'll let him keep the one with the swirly turquoise pattern – probably, right? If he's brave enough to ask. It doesn't look like they reuse any of this stuff, and by the end of the second day it's practically Quentin's new boyfriend.

Okay, that's a joke. Obviously. But it is really nice, built with a longer-than-usual handle that makes it less impossible than most to move when Quentin's in presenting position, and the knot is closer to spherical than others, which means when Quentin's body grips onto it and pulls and pulls with the long waves of his deep-heat mating orgasms, there's no uneven spot, just a perfect, even pressure as Quentin's sensitive channel flexes again and again against its weight. It's a myth that omegas get mindless with desperation during heat; you notice that stuff, or at least Quentin does, and he appreciates it.

It feels so goddamn good that he doesn't want to take it out even after the pulses eventually subside and he's no longer tied onto the knot. He just drops onto his stomach, lazily tilting his chin back and forth to get the sweat from his scent glands deeper into the fibers of the mat, to claim this peaceful space for his own. He wonders if they'll let him come back here in the winter. It's so nice. Everyone's been so nice to him here. God, it almost actually makes him want to go to one of those parties that Eliot's so proud of.

Thinking about Eliot gets him wet at both ends, a rush of slick between his legs, a rush of saliva on top of his tongue. A flicker of rationality tells Quentin he should be embarrassed; there's no reason to believe – they barely know each other and – Brakebills is full of omegas, omegas who are a hundred times prettier and sweeter and more adept at being alive in the world than Quentin will ever be. Brakebills has Margo. The tall, strikingly handsome alpha whose scent dominates the whole Physical house doesn't have the slightest need for – Quentin, and if he were in his right mind, that would matter to Quentin.

But he's in heat, so fuck it, fuck it. Quentin shifts, rolling his hips to test the feeling of the glass dildo still inside him, and he thinks he's – not ready to go again, but not far from it. He should get up and get a drink and some protein, but he's not going to. He's going to lie here like a dumb, horny starfish and imagine that he's shuddering and squirming under the weight of a tall, handsome alpha, locked on his perfect knot while he runs big, hot hands up and down Quentin's arms and leans close to his ear, smelling like cherrywood while he says you feel so good, Q, I'm so glad you stayed here for me.

Solo heats can be lonely. It helps to be a little gentle with yourself – let yourself have whatever harmless little fantasies help get you through it. In your own den there doesn't have to be any such thing as out of your league, right? Right.

When the sharp rush of the next wave comes over Quentin, he pushes himself onto his knees, the glass knot already making his head spin as he stretches into presenting, and he closes his eyes and allows himself to call out Eliot, alpha, Eliot as his body rocks to meet a thrust that never comes. It feels so good in his mouth, and what does it hurt, right?

It's such a good den. Everything feels good here, and nothing hurts. Quentin never wants to leave.

 

When it's over, it's over. Quentin dozes off like he's been doing off and on in hour-long doses for days, and when he wakes up he feels like himself again. Basically. Sore and just super, super sticky, but mentally himself.

Quentin pushes himself to his feet, wobbling a bit on quads that are going to resent the fuck out of Quentin for days, and he hobbles to the sink to make an even bigger mess trying to wash up. He does at least get clean enough to put on a pair of sweatpants with the Brakebills crest printed on the thigh and a black t-shirt he finds in the stash. He lets his hair down and gets his hands soaking wet, then runs his fingers through his hair before tying it up again, and a little spaceyness must be lingering, because he gets transfixed by his reflection in the small mirror, the way individual drops of water track down from his hairline, past the faintly stubble-shadowed edge of his jaw, down to dampen the neck of his t-shirt.

The room feels so quiet now. Quentin closes his eyes, wondering – what the fuck you're supposed to say to the total strangers who had to take responsibility for your heat? God, it's going to be so awkward.

But then – maybe it won't. Brakebills isn't like the real world, right? Quentin's not everyone's one omega friend here. We gotta look out for each other, Margo said, so maybe--

Quentin's eyes fly open, staring at his reflection in shock as the hazy memories resolve themselves in front of his newly alert brain. Margo didn't just give him Gatorade and a place to crash. Margo was protecting him – take your knot somewhere else, this exact second – god, god, fuck, Quentin was so out of it that he basically presented to a total stranger, and if Margo hadn't-- God, what the fuck? If Margo hadn't been there....

Well. But she was. Which is good, because now Quentin can just – put this in the past and move on with his life. Shit happens. Margo said that, too. Quentin closes his eyes and takes a few deep breaths. Everything's fine and nobody has to be in therapy forever.

Not for this, anyway.

There's only so much cleaning up Quentin can do, but he at least tries to consolidate the food trash into one pile and folds up his dirty clothes, and then he sits down on the cleanest edge of the mat that he can find and reads a couple chapters of Something Wicked This Way Comes.

Eventually someone knocks on the door, and it's a good thing Quentin's ready to go, because Margo opens the door without waiting for a response. “Still alive, I see,” she says.

“Uh, yeah,” Quentin says, levering himself uncomfortably to his feet. “I – hope that was the plan.” She gestures out the door with her head, but Quentin hesitates. “I feel like I need to – help clean up? I can't ask someone else to--”

“Sure you can,” she says. “We use magic, it takes nothing. Don't worry about it, just hurry up, we're waiting dinner on you.”

Quentin is half-telling himself that she's kidding all the way up the stairs, but – she's not. The main area of the house is full of people, at least ten of them, grouped on the couch or the main stairway or around the bar, and there's food – a big pot of chili and hot garlic bread and a million little fruit tarts for dessert, and Margo introduces him around to a bunch of people who have obviously heard all about him, but in a – not terrible way, like, they all seem not to care that he's the basket case who went into heat right here three days ago. They're all Physical Kids, Quentin guesses, or maybe they're not, and they're other omegas and betas and a couple of alphas, and they're vaguely curious about Quentin but not that curious, so he doesn't feel totally put on the spot, and – honestly Quentin hopes – he could see himself living here, he means? Not because he fits in, he's not sure he does, it just seems like. A place where nobody expects you to fit in all that much.

Maybe that's Brakebills. They're all – Magicians, right? What does fitting in even mean, in magic school?

By the time the food is picked over, it's after eight o'clock, and the music starts and the drinks start to flow, and Quentin thinks – it's a school night? It's Monday night, right? He's missed a day of classes, and if he stays-- He can't stay, he's so exhausted, he really--

“I can't,” he says when Eliot tries to put a mixed drink with – steam? smoke? – coming off the top of it into his hand. “I – it's late, I--”

“Drink it,” Eliot says. His eyes are warm and amused. He's wearing a tie again, and again it's loose, exposing his throat, which seems like – kind of an omega look, actually? Like, Quentin's not that savvy about fashion, obviously, but it seems like you don't see alphas baring their throats like that too often. Quentin likes it. He tries the drink, and it's – pineapple-y. It's fine.

“I hope you didn't – do all of this for me,” Quentin says, gesturing around the party – party? – with his glass.

“Why would you hope that?” Eliot asks. He seems genuinely curious.

The answer seems intuitive to Quentin, but it's – probably not, to people who aren't Quentin. “I don't know,” he mumbles. “You just. Didn't need to go to any more trouble than you already have. For me. You don't even know me.”

“Mm,” Eliot says. “That could change.”

Eliot has sideburns. Quentin's never actually seen someone their age – pull off sideburns before. Quentin bolts the rest of the cocktail and then says, “It's not rude if I go, though, right? I mean, I'm. Really tired.”

“It's not rude at all,” Eliot says. “I'll walk you back to the dorm.”

“Oh,” Quentin says. “Uh, you don't – have to. Your party....”

“Will be here when I get back, I assure you,” Eliot says. “And of course I have to. Send a beautiful omega home alone in the dark on a strange campus? Please, I have a reputation to protect.”

Yeah, Quentin just bets he does. “Are you saying I'm not safe at Brakebills?” Quentin says.

“Oh, you're most certainly not safe at Brakebills,” Eliot says. “Didn't you read the fine print? Magic is an extraordinary gift that is, it turns out, not unlikely to kill you.”

“Worth it,” Quentin says without missing a beat.

“Oh,” Eliot says dryly. “You're one of those.” Which Quentin guesses he can't exactly argue with.

He has to say goodbye to Margo before he can leave, of course. He manages, barely, to pull her attention away from the dancing that's just started, but she pauses just long enough to pat his face fondly while he stumbles through an unnecessary explanation about school nights and Eliot. “Don't do anything I wouldn't do,” she says meaningfully, then dances off. Quentin's still not sure if they're friends or not.

Not only does Eliot walk him back to the dorm, but he holds his arm out for Quentin like the Golden Age of Hollywood heartthrob he smells like. Quentin puts his hand on Eliot's arm, feeling unbearably self-conscious about it, but even more self-conscious about seeming rude by refusing. Even without undue hormonal influences, Quentin – really likes the way Eliot smells. It's unique. Eliot's – unique.

Quentin's so stupid. He can't start thinking things like that, he's only going to make a fool of himself. Alphas like Eliot go after real omegas. They don't need someone who....

Who would still probably smell like the hospital, if he didn't smell like he'd just been in heat instead.

It's not far to the dorm, but to Quentin's surprise, Eliot offers him a cigarette when they get there instead of just dropping him off. Honestly, Quentin could really use one. “Is this good for your gentlemanly reputation?” Quentin asks after he takes his blissful first drag. “Loitering around the first-year dorms like a predator?”

Eliot smiles at him, coiled in the dark like the smoke rising from his lips. “You think my reputation is gentleman?”

“Well,” Quentin says, and he knows he's supposed to banter or whatever, but – yeah, no. “You were a gentleman with me. Before.”

“Ah,” Eliot says.

“I'm really sorry,” Quentin says. “That was – an insane position I put you in. I mean, it could've. Gotten really weird. If...Margo hadn't been there, I mean.”

“It's your first week and you've already discovered my darkest secret,” Eliot says. “I'm positively lost without Margo.”

Right. “Well, you guys are cute together. What did you call her – Bambi?”

“Quentin,” Eliot says carefully. Quentin looks up from his shoes to – something closer to Eliot's general direction. Eliot is looking at him intently, but at the same time almost – uncertainly, somehow. Like he doesn't quite know what to make of Quentin. Finally he shakes his head and drops his cigarette on the brick steps, grinding it out with the pointy toe of his boot. “You don't owe anyone an apology,” he says briskly. “In fact, you should apologize a lot less in general.”

“Sorry,” Quentin says dryly.

Eliot reaches out, and before Quentin can react, Eliot brushes his thumb softly against the side of Quentin's chin. “Pretty omegas never apologize,” he explains. “They make the world solve their problems for them. They make us fight for the privilege of solving their problems.”

“I'm not--” Pretty. “--that kind of omega. I guess.”

“Mm,” Eliot says. “Time will tell. Goodnight, Quentin Coldwater. Come play with us again soon.”

Quentin is still kind of dazed by – everything as he trudges up the stairs toward his room, so he doesn't even notice passing a doorless room until he hears his name called, and he doubles back and realizes he walked right past where Julia and Alice and – ugh – his asshole roommate Penny are studying around a small library table.

“You idiot,” Julia says after she's rushed over to him and pinned him into a hug. “You should've told me, I didn't know you needed--”

“I didn't either,” Quentin says. “I just. I don't know, it's been weird, but it's fine. I'm fine, Jules, it's – not a big deal.”

“You're an idiot,” Julia whispers, squeezing him tighter, and then she lets him go. “Hey, you wanna--”

“No, I'm just. I'm turning in, I'm-- I'm worn out. I'll see you tomorrow, okay?”

He takes advantage of the quiet on his hallway to take a long, private shower, and if he's expecting anyone to be waiting by his door when he squishes damply back home in his shower flip-flops, it's definitely not--

“Hey,” he says. “Uh. Alice. Hi.”

Without pleasantries, Alice pushes a stack of papers in his direction. Quentin tries to take them between his fingertips and not drip on them. “I brought your homework,” she explains. “And notes. My notes – copies of my notes. From class today.”

“Oh,” Quentin says. “Well, that-- Thanks, that was really nice.”

“I should apologize to you,” she says, scowling at his hairy legs between his boxers and his dumb flip-flops. Or just scowling in general. Alice seems ambiently scowly. “That was rude, the way I talked about you like you weren't there and treated you like an--”

Well, it's. Something. “Like an omega?” Quentin can't help but say.

Alice looks up at him, and for the first time she doesn't look vaguely pissed off. Or, she does, kind of, but she looks – something else, too. Lost, maybe. “My mother's an omega,” she says. “My mother's...the only omega I know. I don't know a lot of people.”

Quentin's no therapist, but. “I'm guessing you're not close.”

“I don't know what we are,” Alice says. “She...tries, but she's. Manipulative. Melodramatic. Narcissistic.”

“I'm not,” Quentin says. He wants to– Alice is pretty, and he guesses she's Julia's friend now, and she's kind of intense and uncomfortable and Quentin always finds that intriguing. He wants to give her a chance, he really does. He's just a little tired right now to be someone's personal guide through unlearning their secondary sexism.

“I know,” Alice says sharply. “I said I was sorry.”

In spite of himself, Quentin smiles. She's weird and intense and disagreeable and – relatable. They're either going to get along really well or not at all, and honestly he knows which one he's hoping for. “Maybe you can help me go over this stuff sometime tomorrow. Help me make sense of it.”

A spark of something shows in Alice's eyes – intense, but a different kind of intense. She has her scent covered fairly well, but that spark gives the alpha away in a flash. Quentin feels a pleasant prickle run up his arms, raising the hair. Is this what Eliot meant – make the world solve their problems? Is that what this is, what he's doing right now?

Quentin's not that kind of omega. He never has been.

Of course, he's never been a Physical bitch before this, either.

Quentin reaches past her for the doorknob to his room and watches her skitter back out of his way almost deferentially. Huh. “Goodnight, Alice Quinn,” he says, and leaves her standing on the other side of his door.

 

Chapter Text

Quentin wakes up with his girlfriend curled around him and trying to work her face further and further into his armpit. It tickles. “Alice,” he mumbles, not quite awake enough to decide if he objects or not. “Tickles.”

Either she's not listening or she takes that as a compliment, because she nudges in more firmly and drags her tongue up his ribs, which shocks what is probably technically a yelp out of him. He still can't decide if he's permitting this. What time even is it? It's so dark.

It's nice, actually. The dark. The hollow hum of Brakebills' ancient but overachieving radiators. The sweat rising on his skin in response to the heat of Alice's body and her delicately piney scent with its topnote of rosemary. “You smell so good,” she tells him, slurring the words a little, curling her tongue through the hair under his arms.

Oh. Right. “C'mere,” he murmurs, dragging at her shoulder until she figures out to climb onto him. When they kiss, Quentin thinks he can feel the burn of his heat hormones tingling on his own lips, sharp and peppery.

That's nice, too. Quentin's never liked kissing anyone as much as he likes kissing Alice; they wake each other up this way a lot of mornings (they fell straight from Brakebills South to basically living together, which is – maybe a more intense level of commitment than Quentin thinks is ideal, but until Julia gets tired of whatever she thinks she's doing with Penny, Quentin has a room to himself and Alice is basically homeless, so here they are), and even on an ordinary day, Quentin's always pretty into it.

This is not an ordinary day, of course. Quentin tilts his head back and lets Alice have his mouth, all hungry and growly and hot, while he cups one hand over her ass and strokes the other hand through her half-collapsed knot of hair until he can flick the scrunchie free. God, he loves her hair when it's messy. It's so – private, so incompatible with the pleats and pearls Alice wears for the world. “We better stop,” Quentin says reluctantly as her lips suck at the corner of his mouth, headed toward his chin. “Unless you want....” What the fuck time is it? What day is it? Sunday, right?

Sunday. Sunday, and Alice has a special early final arranged for this morning, because she can't take it with the rest of her Analytical Geomancy class on Monday. Because she'll be busy fucking Quentin all day. Yeah, it's all – coming back to him now. Vividly.

“Yeah,” Alice says. “God, can we?”

“What, you can't wait until tonight?” Quentin teases, but honestly it's – it's not funny at all, it's – he doesn't know what it is. He's wet and melting under Alice's weight, pinned down by the snap of her teeth and the fire in her slightly unfocused eyes, and she doesn't want to wait, she wants him right now.

Alice kisses him again, softer this time, like she's stroking his lips with her own in the same idle way he's sliding his fingertips against her scalp. “We won't be us tonight,” she says.

Quentin feels his muscles tighten underneath her, suddenly just a little bit wary. “It's – it's not like that,” he tries to explain. “I'll still be me, Alice. We'll still be us.”

She doesn't look convinced, but Quentin resists the urge to say more, to try explaining it. The simple truth is, Alice has never been in rut before, and assuming the experience is anything at all like being in heat, there's – really no explaining what it's like. “I thought it would be – kind of like the foxes,” she says hesitantly. It's not clear from the way she says it whether she was hoping it would be like that, or afraid of it.

Quentin smiles reassuringly at her and leans up to kiss close to her ear, where he can feel the faint, permanent indentation from where her glasses rest all day long. “It's more like. Um. If most of your life, your brain and your body are kind of – stuck together on a long road trip, right? Arguing over music and snacks sometimes, but sometimes – like, having good conversations, and just – knowing each other really well, even when they argue? So being in rut – or, being in heat, and from what I understand it's basically the same – it's like you pull the car over and you trade places for a little while. So your brain's still there, it's just. Taking a turn in the passenger's seat. If that makes sense.”

“I think so,” she says. “I just. I guess I'm worried that I won't be very good at that. My brain is kind of bossy.”

He's noticed, but he doesn't say that. He just strokes her hair again and says, “You've met my brain, right? I promise, you just – you get over it. It'll happen.”

“Don't tell me nature takes its course,” Alice huffs. God, she's fucking cute. “People always say that.”

“I mean – it does, though?” Quentin says. “Alice, seriously, listen. I've had regular sex and I've had heat sex, and the thing is? Regular sex is weird and confusing, and if you're going to make a fool of yourself, that is absolutely where you're going to do it. Heat sex is – um, it's extremely forgiving, okay? Neither of us are going to – not like it or not be, be satisfied or whatever. You're going to be good. We both are.”

He doesn't mention that they would also survive if tonight turned out to be weird and confusing. The first few weeks of their relationship was wall-to-wall weird and confusing, as Quentin tried to figure out what to do with an alpha's body and Alice tried to get out of her own way. And they survived, right? They developed – okay, maybe not a fluency yet when it comes to talking about this stuff, but a little repertoire of reliable moves, and more importantly, some small degree of chill. There's something wildly liberating, after all, when you've both just gone ahead and been clumsy and clueless and naked and now that's out of the way. If they had no other choice, they could repeat the process with heat sex, and Quentin thinks – maybe it would make them closer. He thinks figuring out the other stuff kind of made them closer, or at least just admitting that neither of them had the other stuff figured out made them closer.

But he's – 99% sure he's telling the truth. This is just going to happen for them, like a million times more easily than the other parts did. Alice can be salty about it all she wants, but when she's locked in a room with an omega in heat, yeah, nature is going to take its course. That's kind of the whole point.

Nature is already taking its course, which is why Quentin is soaking through his boxers right now and he woke up with Alice treating him like a salt lick. In fact, they're probably talking about this way too much already; that's usually the best part of being with Alice – lying plastered together in bed and picking apart the secrets of the universe – but today is not usually. Today is the day they start their first heat together, and Quentin's been trying to be cool about things because they both have finals to think about and because – well, he just doesn't want to seem too intense or clingy or whatever, but right now he doesn't feel very cool. He feels like he's simmering on the edge of heat and he has a beautiful alpha in his arms, his alpha, who's currently vibrating between wanting to fuck him and worrying herself into an anxiety spiral about not being able to take care of him, and that's not – whatever, how alphas are supposed to be, but it's – kind of better? Alice isn't exactly the picture of confident alpha swagger, but it's because she's a little socially maladjusted and super intense and she cares about things so much, she cares about Quentin, and that reality beats any boring, mass-produced romantic fantasy Quentin's ever had.

“One more just for us,” he murmurs indulgently, kissing her face as he rolls them to their sides. Her tank top is rucked up by the friction, and it's easy to hook his fingers into the frayed elastic waistband of her panties and dive inside. The thinner, liquidy texture of her female slick is familiar, and familiar is good, but when she bucks her hips up sharply and presses the smooth, wet head of her cock into the curl of Quentin's palm, that's unfamiliar and even better. Alice moans and grinds up against his touch, and Quentin makes a noise of his own, wonder and amazement and need, because she's not in full rut yet, but holy shit, just the smell of Quentin is already starting to make her unsheathe. He circles his palm around the slippery round knob, and he's getting high as fuck off the reality of this: the proximity to Quentin is sending Alice hurtling toward her first rut, is making her whole body change just for him, just to mount him. “Does that feel good?” he asks, as if Alice's whimpering and arching is somehow not a valid form of communication.

“Sensitive,” Alice says, and affection floods him for the precision of Alice, the specificity of her that always modulates the caring-too-much and keeps it from turning into sentimentality. She's really – not like anyone else Quentin's ever met, alpha or beta. She's really just so unique, so special, and she thinks he's special, too? It's like magic, something Quentin always dreamed about in the vaguest terms but never even knew enough to ask for until it dropped out of the sky for him. “It's – it'll be too much if you keep doing that.”

“Sorry,” Quentin says automatically, starting to pull his hand away.

“Inside,” she says, a throaty command that makes Quentin shiver with the combined anticipation of this and of later tonight, when Alice will use that same voice on him to say up or open or stay still or hush, or whatever, whatever she needs from him before she gives him what he needs.

In the meantime, Quentin's gotten pretty good at giving Alice what she needs.

He presses in three fingers and curls them, but right away everything feels different; he knows the gentle swell of Alice's sheathed cock, has learned how to fold his fingers to cup it and stroke, but god it's so much thicker now, firmer when he presses against it. Alice makes a long sound, all vowels, before she can bite down on her lip, her eyes squished shut and her nostrils flaring as her hips rock in a circle. “Feels good, right?” Quentin says – a tease, yeah, but a gentle one. He wants her to feel so good, to feel like the alpha that Quentin sees in her, even if she doesn't always. “It's gonna get even better,” he promises, kissing the creases between her eyebrows. “I'm gonna make you rut for me, it's gonna be so good, Vix. You and me.”

“Oh,” she says, high and startled, like she's just now becoming aware of this fact. “I've never – I've never--”

Quentin leans his face against her cheek so she can feel his smile. “I know,” he says, twisting his hand back and forth as much as he can, rolling the firm cylinder of her dick in the grooves between his fingers. “I'll be your first omega – that's not bad, Vix, it's good, it makes me feel – special.” That's – too much? Clingy? God, well, how is he supposed to, like, not react to all this? He's only human. And it's true, he does feel special, Alice Quinn liking him when she doesn't like anybody makes him feel amazing. (Okay, he likes mean alphas, but only when they like him, he's not a masochist.)

Her eyes flutter open, squinty and nearsighted and blurry with endorphins. “Do you want to fuck me?”

Quentin swallows. “If – if you want me to.” She doesn't always; but then, Quentin grew up believing that alpha women wouldn't allow you to ever, so sometimes has been a pretty delightful surprise. Alice is nothing if not full of surprises. She nods at him with such a sweet, serious look on her sweet, serious face that Quentin has to kiss her, can't stop kissing her even as they both try together to get rid of Quentin's boxers. Part of Quentin thinks he should slow down and enjoy this, but honestly it's kind of a blur and he loves it, both of them slippery wet and gasping into each other's mouths, Alice's nails digging into his shoulders, the tight fit of their cocks pressed together, sliding against each other inside the heat of Alice's body. Quentin's enjoying it, all right, but slow is not an option.

When she comes, the unsheathed head of her cock leaks right against Quentin's groin, skin to skin, and he shudders, his vent aching and his head spinning. He comes, too, but it leaves him something short of satisfied, all his overactive internal parts clenching and churning in hot anticipation. This is the best, it's the best thing ever, but he knows in his bones that it'll get even better. Tonight.

Like – it's probably always stupid to pin your hopes on any one heat being magical or life-changing or whatever, but Quentin is literally a magician now? And he woke up this morning – he wakes up almost every morning with a beautiful, brilliant alpha who loves kissing him, and all of his exams are over and all but one of his final projects are done and he's going to a party at the coolest house on campus today because he's always on the guest list, and – maybe it's fine, you know? Maybe it's good to expect good things. Today – tonight – in the future. Maybe it's fine.

They have the showers to themselves – hell, they might have the whole first-year dorm to themselves, between the students who've already fucked off or flunked out, the ones who are camped out in a lab or a library on the ramp-up to finals, and the ones who have more or less pre-moved into their future houses.

None of the testing for disciplines starts until next semester, but for a lot of students, it's just kind of obvious. Penny will move in with the psychics, for example, and Julia will almost definitely head off to the Knowledge Kids' Villa. Most everyone, it seems, has been tagged and unofficially embraced into the social life of their future house, except for Alice, who's so damn good at everything that she could wind up almost anywhere, and Quentin, whose problem is – the opposite of that.

He's trying not to think about it until after finals. One round of opportunity for soul-crushing failure at a time.

The first-year building is strangely lovely when they have the run of it, the damp slap of their flipflops on stone echoing off the grand Romanesque Revival arches that turn the dorm into a maze of high, narrow tunnels. It's chilly and remote and low-key haunted, and Quentin loves it, loves the way that Brakebills is consistently unwelcoming, and yet if you manage to get there and you manage never to let it get rid of you, the whole school kind of curves in around you, aloof but protective. Quentin's fingertips find Alice's under the cuffs of their thick winter bathrobes and they share giddy little smiles, the two of them always each other's tiny point of glowing warmth, from Antarctica to Upstate.

And they're only getting warmer.

Quentin sits on the edge of the bed, watching a little glassy-eyed as Alice gets dressed, throwing off a casual tut to wick away the last water clinging to her skin so that her tights go on smoothly. Quentin can't imagine ever being so comfortable with magic that he'll just wind it into his daily routine like that, but to Alice it's not even strange, it's just how things are done; she uses magic to ease her way through the little annoyances of life in the same thoughtless, perfunctory way that Quentin's seen his wealthier classmates use money. For Quentin they're the same, really, magic and money – something that he can access, but that he can't afford to waste. Something he's lucky to have. Something he'd be an idiot to assume he can always rely on being there when he needs it.

God, finals have really done a job on his brain. But he's passed, he's passing. He almost definitely gets to stay. He may never be a magical prodigy, but he gets to stay, and that's all he cares about.

On the steps outside the dorm, he gives Alice a hug, a kiss, and a pep-talk before sending her off for her last-minute Geomancy cramming (he would normally help her study, but in his current state they both know he's pure distraction), and then he takes a minute to smoke a cigarette before striking off through the crispy, gray winter landscape of Brakebills.

The Cottage, of course, is surrounded by a bubble of high summer, because Margo and Eliot have decided that their mid-finals party theme is a cookout, December be damned. It's still more breakfast than brunch, but the patio is filling up with furniture and people and the inevitable drink cart. Quentin would say they're pre-gaming, but if he knows the Physical Kids, pre-gaming started last night and the party itself started with Bloody Marys at dawn.

“Quentin!” Eliot calls to him, waving with his spatula from behind the giant grill. Quentin gives him a shy wave back. Eliot's – unpredictable, he either ignores Quentin completely or they're best friends for a day or two, and Quentin never has really figured out how he's supposed to react to – like, anything Eliot says or does, honestly, but by now he kind of just rolls with it. Today Eliot seems excited to see him, at least for a hot second, and then he returns to fretting over the grill in conference with that blond alpha from Nature, Mike somebody. McConnell. McCormick.

Honestly, that's fine. The days when Quentin does have Eliot's undivided attention can be a little – exhausting. Eliot's great, he's great, but he can be a lot.

Quentin plops down on the cushioned patio bench next to Margo, who drapes her arm over his shoulders. She's dressed for the fake summer, in a halter top and hot pants, and Quentin is just now realizing that because he forgot to layer, he's going to be wearing his dumb sweatshirt unless and until he wants to walk back to the dorm to change. It already feels sweat-damp and itchy against his skin, and he tries to squirm around so it's – touching him less, or touching him differently, or something.

Margo flexes her toes where they rest on Todd's knee while he applies a sealing coat over her nails. “Are you even awake?” she demands of Quentin. “You look zoned out. You're going to stay for the party and not den early, right? You fucking promised.”

“I know, I'm gonna,” Quentin says. “I'll try.” Margo scoffs, and Quentin puts his head down on her smooth shoulder. Some of the quivering pre-heat tension starts to leak out of his pores, leaving him just – basking in the morning sun, surrounded by the scent of charcoal and flowers and nail polish and his friends.

He knows the scent of everyone in the PKC so well by now – Eliot's gorgeous alpha scent, of course, but also the omegas, Margo with her vivid, wintergreen sharpness and Todd like good, solid earth, mossy and nutrient-dense. Even the two betas – they don't have their own distinct signatures the way secondaries do, but Quentin knows they're in the mix, that the Cottage wouldn't be the Cottage without their breath and skin and sweat rubbed into all its surfaces.

Quentin has to be assigned here – right? He hasn't shown a special brilliance for any particular kind of magic, but he's solid on levitating, solid on teleporting small objects, if anything comes quickly to him, it's that kind of basic matter manipulation, so – he belongs here. Doesn't he? He has to belong here.

Nowhere else in the whole world has ever felt like Quentin's home the way the PKC feels like home, and he guesses that's mostly because he's whatever all those other jealous bitches say, Margo's new pet or whatever. Like it's something to be ashamed of, that Margo actually likes him.

The morning passes in – kind of a blur, hazy and hot and vague. Eliot comes by with a tray of coffee and pistachio biscotti; Quentin watches from half-lidded eyes as Eliot places the tray carefully on a table near the three omegas and chats with them about – something, who knows – from a respectable distance. The coffee has something boozy in it, and maybe hazelnut something? Quentin likes it. He tucks his feet up beside him on the couch and keeps lolling against Margo as he sips; the heat of the coffee just makes him more flushed and sweaty and probably gross, but he doesn't care too much anymore. He likes hazelnuts. He likes biscotti. He likes just sitting here while handsome alphas bring him stuff.

Handsome alphas keep bringing him stuff, actually. Josh Hoberman from Nature shows up and drops a bundle of joints in Margo's lap; they smile at each other (they possibly hook up sometimes? Quentin's not great at social cues, but there's a certain Margo smile that she only seems to aim at Josh, and something must be going on there), but before he moves along, he fiddles with his glasses and doesn't quite make eye contact while he says, “They're for, you know, for you, too. Quentin. I mean, they're for everybody!”

“Thanks,” Quentin says, putting the one Margo sticks between his fingers in his mouth and lighting it. (He can do that by himself now: fuck yeah, Brakebills.) Josh just keeps kind of standing there, nodding a little over-agreeably, like he's waiting for Quentin to say something else. What, though? Ugh, parties are the worst; Quentin only comes because Margo would kick his ass if he didn't.

“Okay, thank you,” Margo finally says, loud and sardonic, shooing Josh on with the back of her hand. “Somewhere else, please. Thank you. God, he's embarrassing,” she confides low in her throat to Quentin after Josh vacates.

“He's sweet,” Todd says from somewhere in the grass below them. “I like Josh. He tries hard, you know?”

Margo makes a face, and Quentin almost chokes on smoke and giggles. “The fact that you say that like it's a compliment, Jesus, Todd.”

At some ineffably determined appropriate time, music starts. People are really starting to show up now, and Quentin can smell the meat. Kady Orloff-Diaz comes by to bring them lemonade – just lemonade, she explains, because apparently the three of them are looking pretty in need of hydration by this point, just a pile of sweaty, crossfaded omega. When did Todd move up to the couch on Quentin's other side? No wonder Quentin's burning up.

The lemonade sounds amazing, and he grabs it with a grateful noise and chugs before wiping his mouth with the sleeve of his stupid sweatshirt (what was he thinking?). “You want more?” Kady says, her voice husky and her dark eyes searching him with concern, and it's funny that she always seems so – sharp and fast and closed-up like the heart of a city, but her scent wafts over him like weedy wildflowers, like a meadow waving under a breeze. “I can get you more.”

“Maybe?” Quentin says, and she darts off for another pitcher.

Margo laughs into Quentin's hair. “Ask for jewelry next time,” she says.

That doesn't make any sense. He's thirsty, what does that have to do with jewelry? The sun's almost straight overhead now, the weather spells slow-cooking him from the outside just like the spreading warmth from his belly is making him soft and wet from within.

After she brings more lemonade, Kady goes back to join Julia and Penny, who just showed up, Quentin thinks. Quentin waves at Julia, who smiles brightly at him and waves back, and now that Quentin's looking around, it seems like a lot of people have taken off their shirts – Penny and Mike and even Julia is stripping down to her sports bra, so it's not weird if Quentin does that too, right? With some difficulty, Quentin manages to get rid of the sweatshirt without strangling himself for more than a minute, and then he's more comfortable. The fresh air wicks the sweat from his skin, and gray clouds drift across the sky, and there are enough people now to get a game going, some kind of croquet-Welters crossover that Quentin doesn't understand the rules of, but Julia and Kady and both the PK betas are all on one team, so Quentin applauds loudly for that side when they act like they've scored points.

The game is just wrapping up when Mike McConnell-- McCormick comes over to their couch, leaning on his folded arms over the back and smiling at them, all scruffy blond beard and twinkly blue eyes and the skin along his arms pinking up from the sun. “Hey, kids,” he says, warm and familiar, and a noise jumps in Quentin's throat, a whimper. He bites his lip, afraid to answer. “What are y'all having for lunch? We've got kebabs, brats, and chicken wings.”

“Get the fuck out of here, you knob,” Margo says before Quentin decide whether or not he can say the words chicken please without drooling all over himself or possibly licking Mike's solid, flushed-pink bicep. Margo sounds – actually pissed, way more than she usually sounds when she tells someone to fuck off.

Mike takes a couple of steps back, his hands up placatingly. “I'm just helping out, Margo.” The standoff lasts – well, probably just seconds, but they're heavy seconds, Margo all but baring her teeth, Mike lowering his head and planting his feet bullishly. Finally he gives, stepping further back and tossing up his hands with an irritated snort.

“I'm sorry,” Quentin says meekly as Mike abandons them to rejoin Eliot at the grill.

“What are you sorry for? He's the one who's always coming around here lately, making a goddamn-- Ugh, I can't stand him.”

Quentin's eyes track across the patio, watching as Eliot leans down a little to hear whatever Mike is telling him quietly, his hand on Eliot's forearm. Eliot looks toward the couch and frowns, and he's, he's probably annoyed with Margo, actually, for being so rude to a guest, but still Quentin's stomach swings and slides. “I – I think I shouldn't have come to the party,” Quentin mumbles. Or at least he should've waited until Alice was done with her exam and they could come here together.

He's not sure exactly what's going on, but he thinks he's. Causing drama. Somehow.

Margo rubs his shoulder and says, terse but not unkind, “It's not your fault.”

But it is, though. Somehow.

Quentin excuses himself and heads up to the bathroom, locks the door and runs cool water that he can splash all over his neck and chest. He even tries to clean himself up with hand soap, even though he's being ridiculous, he could dump every bottle of cucumber melon soap in existence over himself, and all he'd smell like right now is breeding omega, at least to an alpha.

And it's stupid, he knows it's stupid. He shouldn't feel embarrassed about that; he is an omega, there's no reason he should hide it or feel like it's – even any kind of problem at all, that's just like, internalized– right? The alphas here are his friends, or at least friendly; they know he's just existing, they know that the instinct to provide for him or whatever is just whatever, it's whatever, it'll be totally gone by the next time he sees them, and everybody gets that, everybody is fine.

But now that the cool air and the brace of water on his skin has straightened his head out a little, Quentin's realizing. It's not the alphas who are acting weird. Not really. They're just being alphas, just existing, same as him. It's Margo.

And yeah, Margo has a certain low-key contempt for – basically every alpha in the world except Eliot, and she makes fun of them all the time, but usually in, like a cute way? Like the way that makes her Margo, quick and funny and cynical and loyal. The way she kind of gently dragged Josh and Kady, that seems familiar, that's how Margo is all the time, with all alphas. But with Mike she was different.

Was she mad that Mike was looking at Quentin when he talked, that he was paying attention to--? Was she mad that Quentin was, um, kind of noticing – how he looks and smells? Does Margo – like, is she interested in Mike? It really...does not seem that way. At all.

Quentin doesn't know, he can't figure it out. He doesn't even know Mike that well, except that he's been hanging out at the PKC a lot lately – him and Josh and Eliot and Margo, not exactly a tight-knit group, but when Quentin drops in to say hi, at least since he's come back from South, it seems like if any of them are around, all four are.

They obviously had a fight or something, Margo and Mike. Quentin doesn't know why she hasn't said anything, because normally Margo loves talking shit. He doesn't know, it's all weird, it feel weird.

She really could've told Quentin. He's been rude to lots of guys out of loyalty to Julia over the years, he's more than willing to be a dick to whoever Margo wants. Quentin's a good friend like that.

Ready to act somewhat adjacent to normal again, Quentin goes back out and joins everyone else in the scrummage around the food, loading up a plate with wings and some kind of watermelon-feta salad thing and grilled corn and macaroni salad and a big glob of guacamole, and he takes all that and a glass of sangria to go join Julia.

He has fun, honestly he does. He's still not exactly sold on the whole Penny thing, but Penny and Julia have this comfortable, teasing rhythm set up between them and it seems – real, it seems like Julia really is happy, like Penny really does care about her. And Penny can still be pretty abrasive, but he isn't coming on like he has something to prove anymore, so he's whatever, tolerable. Kady's sitting with them, too; Quentin doesn't know her well except from class, but she's friends with both of them, and she's – whatever, not really Quentin's speed, but she has nice eyes and great arms and there's like four days per year when Quentin can pull off flirty, so why waste one of them?

He's happy to see Alice when she finally makes it out of her test, and then she climbs up in his lap and kisses him, digging both hands into his hair and pushing her tongue into his mouth like she's trying to reach his scent glands from the inside of his throat, and that also makes him happy, and kind of lightheaded. “You want to get out of here?” he asks breathlessly. Her knees are clamped around his hips, and he can feel the swell of her cock under her skirt, caught between their bodies because she's not used to managing it unsheathed. He can't stop smiling.

Alice laughs awkwardly and bumps his forehead with hers. “Can I eat first?”

“Sure,” Quentin says. “Try the guac, I think you'd like it.”

“I don't like guac, it's bland,” Alice says.

“I know, I'm saying this one's not, I think you'll like that it's spicy.”

“I don't like guac,” she repeats, smiling at him, so close their noses are still touching. He hasn't let go of her waist yet. He likes her, he likes her, he likes her so much; all the alphas here smell good to him right now, but none of them are Alice.

While Alice scavenges what's left of the lunch spread, Quentin tries to refocus on the conversation around him, but it's not going well. The clarity he had upstairs is eroding fast under the influence of two hot alphas, and oh, he really wishes he hadn't just had the thought two alphas, because that's sticking with him now. Now he just has to keep nodding while people talk about Brakebills South and Disney remakes and time travel and try not to make it incredibly obvious that there's not a thought in his brain right now that doesn't have to do with who's going to stick what inside him and most importantly, when.

But then – Brakebills. It's different here; Quentin doesn't have to explain anything to anyone, because most of them can smell it on him anyway, and even the betas have been around now for a whole semester full of omegas going into heat. And they're his friends, anyway, they won't care. So he lets himself cuddle closer to his alpha, lets her scritch her fingertips through his hair, lazily kisses her shoulder through her silky blouse. He's not fully displaying in public, but he's not really trying to hide what he wants, either.

Over the course of the afternoon a bunch more people show up. The music gets louder, the drinks circulate faster, and a magical fountain appears for people to horse around under. It looks like fun, but when Quentin suggests in a murmur that he and Alice should join in, she winds her arms tigher around him and licks the back of his neck possessively. “Do it again,” he says hoarsely, and she does, again and again. Quentin closes his eyes and feels so high, so thrilled, so Alice's.

He's never had an alpha want him like this, want to claim him. It's like magic. It's a dream come true.

They stay at the party long enough to watch the sunset, cycling between making dopey small talk with all their beta and omega classmates (Alice is carving out a pretty good radius of Death Glare against approaching alphas, which is not polite, but people tend to be forgiving as long as it doesn't become a habit) and making out. They take a pause in both those activities to have a little more sangria (okay, it's really fucking good, is it an Eliot concoction? Probably it is) and murmur platitudes about the beauty of the sunset, and Quentin loves the stain of wine and juice on Alice's pale lips and the determined heaving of her chest and the way her glasses are crooked and her smile is crooked and he could love Alice, he thinks? It's a little early still, but she's so smart and determined, so careful and quietly decent; Quentin feels safe with her, he knows their home would be safe, their kids would be safe, if Alice asked to mate him, she'd mean it, she'd be so good to him, so trustworthy.

When his heat clears, he'll remember that it's way too soon to be thinking this way. But it's actually nice right now, so Quentin's not going to make himself stop. It's his heat, he deserves to feel nice.

“Do you want to go?” she asks quietly, brushing the stray hair out of his face.

“Yeah,” he says. “Is it okay if I have a cigarette first?”

Alice, the first nonsmoker Quentin has ever dated, rolls her eyes a little and then kisses his cheek reassuringly, and Quentin gets up on wobbly legs and starts to walk around the Cottage grounds, looking for somewhere he can smoke without having to make awkward conversation with anyone. He's been good all day, a credit to his future house (please let it be his future house), but his brain just can't hold anything else right now.

So he's found a dark, shrubby spot around the side of the Cottage where he can smoke in peace, and he's just letting his body hum along while the smoke drifts and his thoughts drift, when he hears the side door slide open and a man's voice saying, “Eliot...” in a low whine of – anger? Pleading?

“Okay, I just want to be clear,” Eliot's voice responds, and he's almost laughing, but he has that same thing in his voice. Like they're arguing, and maybe not even with each other. “You're following me now. This is you.”

“I know,” the other voice says impatiently, and Quentin recognizes it but he still kind of doesn't until he shifts just enough to see Mike and Eliot further down the wall, on the other side of the glass door. “I'm following-- Look, stop, would you stop? I just want to talk.”

“Because earlier you fairly strongly implied--”

“I know, I know what I said. Eliot – I'm sorry. Can we just talk?”

This definitely doesn't feel like anything that Quentin is entitled to know about, or that they'd be saying if they knew Quentin was here. He should – slip away. Or make a big noise, like he's just now stumbling through, didn't hear a thing, nope. He should-- It's just--

It's been nagging at him, on some level. What Margo's problem is with Mike. What Quentin doesn't know. This absolutely has to be related, and he's fucking curious, okay? Very carefully, Quentin stubs out the last half of his cigarette on the wall behind him and turns so he can see between the branches of the ornamental.

It's basically full dark now, and the light coming through the glass door turns them into silhouettes more than anything else, so Quentin can't see anything significant about their faces. But it's easy to tell the two shapes apart just by their build, so Quentin can tell that Eliot is leaning back against the wall and Mike is standing close, his hands stuck in the pockets of his jeans. “I don't know if talking is going to help,” Eliot says scornfully, still with that mocking chuckle just under his words. “Not if you want me to tell you it's not what it looks like.”

“That's not what I want,” Mike says. He sounds tired. “Eliot. I know this is my problem, I'm not asking you to make it go away.”

“You've made it my problem, haven't you?” The sound of Eliot's voice is suddenly – totally different, barely Eliot at all. Quentin's not sure he's ever heard Eliot...without the hum of laugher before, the tone that says he's indulging the absurdities of an absurd world. Without that layer, he sounds.... Quentin doesn't like it.

“It doesn't help, you rushing me,” Mike says.

There's a moment of silence, so quiet that Quentin has to hold his breath, and even still he's sure some movement is about to give him away. He can see Eliot's arms move, pulling back like he's – folding his hands behind himself, pinning them between his body and the wall. “Then walk away,” Eliot says, soft and intent in a way that sends a shiver prickling down Quentin's neck and back, raises the hair on his arms. “I'm not keeping you here. Not even touching you.”

“Eliot,” Mike says, faint protest, more uncertain than before.

“Walk away,” Eliot says, low and challenging. The kind of alpha voice that makes Quentin want to – to get down on the ground and – god, Eliot's always had the best voice.

There wasn't much distance between them to start with, but Quentin can see their shadows blur together, distance disappearing, the distinctive sharp cut of Eliot's chin lifting higher as Mike's head bends low to his collar, hands vanishing into the shape of Eliot's body.

In a sudden panic, Quentin's brain becomes able to comprehend that he's spying on – on his friends, on something he's not supposed to see, not supposed to know about. He has to somehow coordinate his extremely confused body to flee without giving himself away, and somehow he guesses he does it?

He staggers his way back to the zone of the party, back to Alice, and he fits himself up behind her, arms around her waist. She strokes his forearm, and she must feel the tension there, because she squeezes his hand and says so kindly, “Are you nervous, Fox?”

“No,” he murmurs. “I – don't know. Maybe.” It's not like he has a better excuse for acting crazy, does he? Maybe he should just go with that.

Why is he acting like this, anyway? Yeah, he's – surprised, he didn't technically know that Eliot was into Mike in particular, or alphas in general, but it's not – that surprising? It happens. And Eliot is a very alpha sort of alpha, but he also has this – glam-rock energy, this certain too-muchness, like he could never be limited by conventional definitions or whatever. Like, if Quentin said to him would you ever fuck another alpha? Eliot would definitely laugh at him for even asking the question.

Eliot laughs at him a lot, in that chilly but oddly gentle way he has, when he's around people he likes. Like nothing is really to be taken seriously in life, but a few things are worth caring about in spite of their ridiculousness. Some people find that whole vibe of Eliot's pretty patronizing, but – Quentin doesn't know, he kind of likes it.

It didn't feel right, hearing Eliot drop the laughter. Hearing him say You've made it my problem like he was taking it seriously, like this was a problem that mattered. Half of Quentin's agitation, he thinks is really – is an ache on behalf of his friend, who's obviously getting jerked around, who wants – someone who isn't totally sure that he'd be fucking lucky to have Eliot Waugh.

Margo wasn't pissed because Mike was flirting with Quentin in particular. She was pissed because he was making Eliot watch him flirt with an omega, and now that he has more context, yeah, Quentin is a little pissed, too. Whatever they're doing together, it's obviously – complicated, but that doesn't mean Mike can just feel free to jerk Eliot around until he makes up his mind. It's fucked up.

It's fucked up that Quentin – can't get it out of his head. Two alphas. Eliot tipping his head back, baring his throat, ready to be taken.

It's actually really objectifying. He feels legitimately so shitty about it, he definitely does.

“I'll take care of you,” Alice promises, squeezing his hand again.

“I know,” Quentin says into her hair.

Todd walks them downstairs to the den and locks them in. It's just like Quentin remembers, but Alice has never been inside a den before, and she's Alice, so she has to poke around at absolutely everything, behind every cupboard door and screen and into the extra cooler that someone's arranged for them. Quenin just sheds his pants and lies back on the mat, because watching her explore is cute, but watching her eyes go wide and dark when she turns around and sees him is even better.

Alice – wants him, he knows she does, but she still moves with odd reluctance, taking her glasses off and working on the buttons of her blouse like she's in slow motion. Quentin tries not to seem impatient or concerned; he lets his eyes fall shut, takes breaths so deep that they settle in his pelvis. He's not in heat yet, not really, but he can feel how close he is.

He opens his eyes again when he feels Alice's hands on his knees, and he looks down his own body to see Alice kneeling on the mat between his legs. She looks so different without her glasses; she usually wears them even during sex, unless they're trying a position that doesn't really lend itself, so he only ever sees her without them right before sleep and right after she wakes. Quentin's eyes track down her body to her fully unsheathed cock, which Quentin's never seen but somehow surprises him less than what her face always looks like without her glasses. “You're smiling,” Alice observes.

“You're pretty,” he says.

She smiles a little hesitantly and pushes the tips of two fingers through Quentin's vent. It gives for her easily, slippery and soft and welcoming, and Alice must feel the reverb of it in her dick, based on the way she shifts her knees and her hips with a faint look of surprise. “Are we – should we just?”

“We can,” he says. “It's not really-- It'll be more intense later. Soon. But yeah, if you want we can--”

He's not fully in heat yet, but he hasn't not been horny for days, and it feels – god, so fucking good, Alice's hands spreading him open, Alice's weight pressing him down, Alice filling him up like she's pouring herself into him, easy, easy, perfect. He runs his fingers through her hair and moans his approval. He tilts his head back so she can smell him, nuzzling right over his glands, kissing them.

God, Quentin likes her so much. He feels so safe, feels like he belongs right here – at Brakebills, at the PKC, in this den, being held down and fucked open by his alpha, by an alpha who means it. Quentin whispers vague, tangled praises for Alice's body, for her slow and steady control, for her sweet, squinty eyes, for being Alice Quinn, and he holds her while she comes inside him, making adorable squeaky noises as she scrubs her cheek against his chest hair.

He doesn't think about anyone else, anyone singular or anyone plural. His brain has never managed to hold onto problems very effectively during his heats, which is maybe Quentin's favorite thing about heat in general.

Not that it's a problem. Anything. Anyone. Well, like, he feels bad about Eliot – feels bad for Eliot, because Eliot's obviously going through some stuff, and he frankly deserves better than what Mike is apparently interested in giving him (don't rush me? God, Margo's right, he really is a knob).

“What are you thinking about?” Alice asks him. They're not locked together, but she's still mostly hard inside him, and it's almost better than being knotted. More comfortable.

“Nothing,” he says. “I don't – don't do a lot of thinking like this. This feels really good, though.”

They separate eventually, and drink some sparkling water, and cuddle and nap. Quentin loses track of time. Time doesn't matter. It's all now, all the feeling of Alice's smooth skin as he nuzzles her chest and belly, her fingers in his hair, the soft, pleasurable ache of his dilated vent.

It hits him during the nap, wakes him up by rolling through him, bending his spine. He gasps against the mat, scrabbling to get his hands under him and Alice off of him long enough to – he's still him, he is, but he can't think about anything except that he won't get what he wants, he won't be released from this hot vise clamped onto his brain and his belly, until he shows – until he makes himself – until he shows his alpha –

“Alice,” he mumbles, kneeing her in the thigh. He waits until he sees her head jerk, her hand flail around confusedly, and then he hangs his head down between his arms, pressing his eyes shut and thinking please, please, please, and look at me, look at me.

“Oh,” Alice says. He can feel her stirring, and then her hand, cool on the feverish skin of his back. He can't speak. All he can do is widen his knees out, drop further down in his shoulders, until his forehead brushes the backs of his hands – look at me, look at me, alpha, see what I need?

She touches him carefully at first, short, soothing strokes along his back and his hips. It's nice, he likes it, he likes her, but it's not what he needs. Quentin knows he should tell her, should help out a little, but all he can do is whine for it, every part of his brain that would usually process things like verbal communication temporarily rerouted into the insinct to present, the certainty that he needs to be mounted, mated, fucked and knotted and held and kept by an alpha, immediately. He can't explain it. He needs her to know, to see him like this and know.

Nature takes its course. He's still him, she's still her, but the way their bodies speak silently to each other is so much more like the foxes than it ever was like Quentin Coldwater and Alice Quinn, two wildly overeducated and undersexed bookworms who normally spend more time talking about time travel paradoxes in bed than they do fucking. Unlike with everything else except the damn foxes, this time they just – know. Alice bends over him, peaked nipples brushing along the oversensitive skin of his back and making him shiver, plants her hands on the mat, her arms pinning securely to either side of his ribs, and she slides straight home, straight into the hot heart of his need. “Yes,” he chokes out, practically the only word he still knows, and he leans back as much as he can, wanting to feel the root of her pressed to the rim of his vent, wanting to feel the bones of her hips against his ass, her body receiving him and diving into him, both.

“Q,” she says, a low, happy keen as she begins to fuck into him. One of her hands scrabbles around, trying to find a way to touch him that won't wreck her balance, and it finally wraps hard around Quentin's forearm, just below the point of his elbow that's anchored into the mat. Her hair swings loose, ghosting over his shoulders, and he just keep making sounds, happy but unsatisfied, close but--

He feels the exact moment when the rut grips her, when she stops fucking him because he's the boyfriend that she fucks and starts fucking him wild and selfish and possessive, because her senses are full of omega and her body wants to make him hers. It's so good, it makes him wet and lax and helpless in the best possible way, and his body finally, finally gives up some subconscious struggle that Quentin never really knows he's putting up until he releases it.

The first contractions of his heat orgasm shock him back into his body. Quentin can feel Alice's knot now, as he locks around it and compresses and makes her scream. He can feel the motion rippling through his whole body, his cloaca tightening and massaging the shaft of her cock like he's playing scales on the piano, drawing more come out of her with every pulse. He can feel the room, too, the rough cotton of the mat as he grinds his face into it, the sweat on Alice's palm where it's locked onto his arm, the lights just slightly too bright, the perfect timelessness of it, the infinity. God, if it could be like this always, if he could feel this good, this real....

The early waves subside, and he starts to feel the tightness in his shoulders, too. “Alice,” he mumbles. She grunts a little at him, questioningly, and lifts her hand to stroke his hair behind his ear with shaky fingers. “Alice, we can – lie down. On our sides.”

Moving with someone you're knotted to is a weird sensation; Quentin has to wobble and sway and rely on luck, because he can't really focus on anything but the weight of this new part of his body. Alice makes a few broken little grunts of agony-pleasure as he shifts around her, rolling them down to their sides so that Quentin can relax almost onto his belly and Alice can spoon up tight behind him, holding his legs down with one of her own. “Good?” Quentin asks when all motion comes to a stop except for the gentle circles his hand is making of its own volition over Alice's knee.

“Ohhh,” she says. Her hips jerk against his, a flash of toe-curling pleasure, and she giggles from the surprise of it. “How long until...?” She doesn't even get to finish the question before another wave rolls through Quentin, milking more out of her while she shudders and groans. “Oh, god,” she says when she can breathe again. “It's going to – be like this the whole time?”

Quentin smiles against the mat. “Off and on,” he says. “You okay with that?”

“I never want to let you go,” she says, intense and a little defensive, like she's concerned someone might barge in here and try to force them apart.

“I know,” he says, smiling even more. He doesn't bother telling her that's the normal reaction to a rut, that it's even pretty much the point of one. Alice may be new at this, but she's certainly not stupid.

And anyway, when you're in the middle of a heat with someone, you should be nice to each other. Cold, hard reality can come later – that's what real life is for. And in this case the cold, hard reality....

Well, Quentin doesn't even know, does he? Maybe she's telling the truth and maybe she's not. It's still such a new relationship, there's still so much room for things to change, for better or worse. They're still – young, really. Like, they're technically adults, yes, but Quentin's not sure he knows more about what never and forever feel like than he did when he was twelve years old, confined to his first rented den with two sex toys and a laptop pre-loaded with the kind of wholesome bonding porn that they make for omega kids, to teach them how a nice alpha is supposed to treat you, how they're supposed to call you by name a lot and promise that they'll be here even when your heat is over.

Like a lot of things that are approved for the education of children, it's not exactly true to life, but Quentin appreciates the motives. And this is – Alice would be good at it, she's the kind of alpha they make educational videos about, so maybe it's – truer to life than Quentin sometimes gives it credit for. Not everything is shitty, after all; they give Quentin pills when he starts to believe things like that.

“I love you,” he tells Alice – later, sometime later, not that mounting but a different one.

Maybe he's telling the truth and maybe he's not. It feels so good to say, though, and afterwards she feeds him strawberries and animal crackers and smiles at him with her eyes, behind her crooked glasses. “This is nothing like I thought it would be,” she tells him.

“Is it worse?” he teases her through a parched throat, quirking an eyebrow.

“Oh, yeah, definitely,” she teases back, leaning down to tug his nipple between her teeth, and Quentin closes his eyes and lets the moment expand and become infinite.

Chapter Text

A lot of the time, Quentin sleeps over in Margo's room, in Margo's bed. Long story.

(Okay, the story is like this. Officially, bureaucratically, the PKC has six bedrooms: two doubles that share a suite bathroom, and four singles that all have to use the second, smaller bathroom at the north end of the hall. Eight beds altogether. And last semester there were five residents, then Kady and Alice both placed into Physical – five plus two is seven. One free bed plus one Quentin Coldwater, Nothingmancer, equals pity or destiny or who knows, but they tell him to go live there, and Quentin is 91% excited about it and only 9% totally fucking humiliated by being so relentlessly mediocre a Magician that he has to be, like, stored somewhere based on available square footage while all his classmates are-- Okay, but you know what, that's not the point. Whatever.)

(Officially and bureaucratically, there are two doubles on the south end of the PKC, but in the cold, hard world of realpolitik, those rooms belong to Margo and Eliot, and the benevolent part of their benevolent despotism kind of stops at roommates. That leaves six students and four shitty little bedrooms, each of which can fit two beds and a desk if you don't want to, like, open a door all the way. Eric and Renee don't seem to care at all about living together; they basically live out of each other's pockets anyway, and Quentin still doesn't know what their deal is, are they hooking up or just like weird blood siblings or what? Nobody will tell him, and he's come to suspect that nobody actually knows. Kady has her own room, and Alice has her own room, because god fucking forbid an alpha would have to share fourteen square feet with another alpha without someone getting punched to death – you know, people say omegas are high-maintenance, but only for a few days at a time. Quentin's roommate is Todd.)

(Which is fine. Todd's fine, he's a very considerate roommate, actually. He has a weird sense of humor, pretty dark for a guy who genuinely seems to like everyone. He keeps a jar of jellybeans, for some reason, and he shares. It would actually be an okay situation on the Todd front – Jesus Christ, it's a step up from Penny Adiyodi, that's for sure – except that the room is like, literally fourteen by fourteen, it is just too damn small for two people who don't have the option of settling their interpersonal annoyances by fucking.)

(He kind of lived in Alice's room, more or less, until that particular trick stopped working.)

(Long story short, Quentin and Alice's list of interpersonal annoyances is not exactly-- Well, when they have separate rooms to retreat to, things go a little more smoothly. That's okay. They're both private people, they need a certain amount of personal time. A lot of couples are like that, it's super healthy to be able to negotiate good boundaries in a relationship, and Alice's boundaries, it turns out, are about fourteen by fourteen feet.)

(Margo's room has a queen bed, a couch, and a whole wall of books. Her bathroom has a tub. She lives like a fucking human being, it's basically an apartment. She has her own espresso machine. Quentin starts out just using her room to study in during parties, and then when he realized she never seemed to mind if he just kind of kept hanging out there, he maybe took a little bit of an advantage. If Margo had a problem with it, he's pretty confident that Margo would say so.)

(He thinks she kind of likes having another warm body around. They stay up late a lot, curled into the center of the queen bed; when they're feeling quiet, Quentin reads Discworld books aloud to her, and when they're feeling hyped up, Margo spins up wild stories about their classmates, ominous scandals and salacious gossip both real and invented, until Quentin is laughing so hard his ribs hurt. Margo likes to be spooned. Quentin feels more at home in bed with Margo than with his own girlfriend. They keep each other's secrets.)

Anyway. A lot of the time Quentin sleeps over in Margo's room, which means he comes in and out of Margo's bathroom pretty regularly; he even keeps a toothbrush there. So, like. He's definitely aware that Eliot and Mike are fucking.

Which is fine, Quentin totally doesn't have a problem with it. He doubts anyone would have a problem with it, really, at least none of the Physical Kids. God, Eliot could be killing drifters in his room and probably no one would have a problem with it; they'd all assume he had his reasons. Eliot is a good person, infinitely loyal and infinitely generous toward the seven wayward souls he considers part of his royal domain; he's protective of the betas, quietly gallant toward the omegas with just enough distance to keep it from coming off possessive, and when he was kicked headlong from being the house's only alpha last semester to one of three, he went all the way out of his way to make it clear that Alice and Kady were compatriots, not competitors. Yeah, Eliot can sharpen his tongue on a person's bones if he thinks they have it coming, but by and large he's – he's beloved, okay? They all love him, and they're not going to judge him just for having – whatever, eclectic tastes in the bedroom.

Quentin thinks everyone knows anyway, and nobody says anything because Eliot doesn't seem to want anyone to say anything. Quentin's not sure about that; he doesn't know how to ask around without being the one who gives the secret away, if it is a secret.

Maybe they don't know. Margo knows, of course, because she's Margo. Quentin knows because – because the shower walls are still wet first thing in the morning, like someone's been there and gone already, and the towels smell like Mike, and there are four toothbrushes when only two people live in the suite. Also you can kind of – hear through the bathroom door sometimes, which Quentin discovered completely by accident.

(He stayed on purpose, though, holding his breath, face half-pressed to the door and his other hand dug into the socket of his eye, sick with guilt and terror – that he'd get caught – that he deserved – that they'd fucking evict him from the house if anyone ever knew – that he'd only ever been given trust in this place, and he'd betrayed it from every side like the weak piece of shit he is. The heavy wood of Eliot's bedframe, creaking and thudding mysteriously. Quentin's legs shaking like he'd run a marathon, his teeth grinding, his glands leaking sharp and acidic into his saliva, filling his mouth with the taste of lust and marking. Eliot's slow, wavering moans, thinning into the distinctive pleading whimpers of every heat porn Quentin's ever watched, as his imagination ground to a stunned halt and fell apart in a cloud of confusion over what could ever make a noise like that come out of an alpha like Eliot.)

(He tried so, so hard only to think about Alice when he jerked off afterward in the shower, like it was a debt he owed her. It worked, mostly, or it would have, if he hadn't come exactly when he pictured Alice astride Eliot, throwing her head back as she rode another alpha's cock. Like the weak piece of shit he is.)

Anyway, that's how – long story short – after Quentin's girlfriend stands him up for the house's Mardi Gras party, he winds up limping pathetically upstairs to hide in Margo's room.

He's pissed and embarrassed – Brakebills is not a large campus, everybody knows who Quentin's alpha is, everybody knows she just didn't care to show up, while he sat awkwardly on the couch for two hours drinking watermelon daquiris by himself – and he can't get the fucking ambient glitter scrubbed off his face and arms no matter how much soap he uses. He's frustrated with – with the glitter and the stupid party (do they have to have a party for literally everything? And can't the theme ever be, like, Cards Against Humanity Plus Everyone Eats Pizza and Has a Chill Nice Time and There's No Fucking Drama for Once?) – and he's frustrated with Julia for getting stoned with Penny and Kady and then acting weird when he came over to say hi like they're still in the ninth fucking grade and Quentin's holding her back from social advancement yet again – and he's frustrated with Alice, who's too busy, as usual, to....

Well, to be in a relationship, right? That's what she keeps trying to tell him, without ever just. Telling him. It's implied in every plan she cancels or won't commit to, every time she doesn't care where Quentin is all night, because she's in the library, every time she spends a whole date night trying to finish her internship applications in the middle of dinner, but she won't ever just, like, fucking say it. I'm sorry, Quentin, it was intriguing at first to finally meet an omega with whom I'm marginally sexually compatible, but I find my interest in you waning as the novelty disappears, particularly vis-a-vis magic, which you can surely understand, can't you?

He kind of can, actually. It's not like he ever claimed he was more fascinating than unlocking the secret circumstances of the universe. He just wishes.... He wishes it didn't feel so much like Alice was just waiting until after his heat next weekend to dump him.

(Maybe she's being gallant, trying not to leave him in the lurch on short notice. Maybe she just wants to mount him one more time.)

(Maybe Quentin's a goddamn idiot for thinking – for hoping – that when they den together, when she has no choice but to pay attention to him, that things will...feel like they did before. That they'll both remember the potential they used to see and scent in each other, in the beginning.)

Quentin turns the water off and dries his face, glaring at himself in the mirror. In the sudden relative silence, he hears, dimly, noises coming from the other side of the door – Eliot's door.

He seriously, seriously is not trying to spy on Eliot. (That was one time.) He's actually worried that someone has like, broken in or something, because Eliot doesn't leave the party early – not his own party (and they're all Eliot's own parties). That's the only reason he creeps toward Eliot's door into the shared bathroom.

“--gonna criticize everything about me anyway--”

The voice is definitely Mike's. Quentin jerks away like the door zapped his ear with static where it brushed against the wood. He can hear Eliot's voice in response, but lower, a rumble that Quentin might not even recognize if he didn't – if he wasn't – pretty good friends with Eliot. But he does recognize it.

Something bangs loudly, and Quentin goes wheeling back, his feet tangling up before his hand catches the edge of the sink to stabilize himself. Get a fucking grip, he tells himself. It was a dresser drawer being thrown shut. Eliot's room and Margo's have matching dressers. Heavy drawers, easy to slam closed a little too quickly and produce a noise like that.

So it's – fine. Well, it's not fine, but it's also not any of Quentin's business. If it were up to Quentin, Eliot wouldn't – you know, he wouldn't be fighting with his – whatever, or he'd have a whatever he didn't fight with so much, Quentin really thinks he deserves a lot better than this. But no part of Eliot, Quentin's pretty sure, is interested in his opinion on a relationship that officially Quentin's not even supposed to know about.

No part of any reasonable person should really be sitting around going, like, I wonder what Quentin would do to save this relationship? Quentin has only ever been a boyfriend the same way he's been a Magician – barely scraping through, and with no particular special skills.

But Quentin feels a little weird now about reading quietly on Margo's comfy bed; he doesn't exactly feel relaxed, even though once he leaves the bathroom he really can't hear anything. He should go back down to the party, maybe? You know, it honestly was his own fault that he was just sitting there bored, waiting for Alice; nobody forced him to do that. He could've looked for – Todd, maybe, or Renee, both of whom will usually talk about movies or whatever with him. He could be a fucking adult and push through the awkwardness with Julia; Penny always wants him to fuck off, but Kady and Julia both like him, and they'd probably smoke him up and let him hang out, as long as he shut up and didn't drag everyone down with his shitty, self-pitying mood.

He could even – and this is a concept – go look for Alice and have an honest conversation about his feelings with her. Tell her he needs something he's not getting from this relationship, that he feels way more invested than she is. The absolute worst, most devastating things Alice might say in response would probably not hold a candle to the things Quentin routinely says to himself, so he's not even saving himself any pain by dodging the conversation. And maybe things would...get better? That's not something that Quentin generally likes to take to the bank, but it doesn't mean it's impossible. Sometimes people talk and learn and then do better, right? Not every relationship issue means the immediate end is at hand.

In reality-world, Quentin is definitely not going to do that. Not tonight, at least. He can at least go back to the party, though.

That was totally, absolutely his plan – return to the party, have another watermelon daquiri and one chill, nice, no-drama conversation with a fellow student, mind his own goddamn business. But when he steps out into the hall and closes Margo's door behind him, he hears just the most godawful shattering sound from Eliot's room, and Mike booming out “Goddammit, what the hell, Eliot?” in a reverberating voice that hits Quentin like a brick to the chin and freezes his whole body for a second.

Everything in Quentin is telling him to get the fuck out of here – or almost everything.

It can't actually be everything in Quentin, because – somehow – he's taking a step toward Eliot's door. He's raising his hand and knocking. He's using his best anti-anxiety therapy breathing. He's noticing his feelings. He's choosing to--

Mike jerks the door open, and Quentin falls a step or two back from the stench of angry alpha and whiskey that floods over him. “What?” Mike demands.

“I heard something break,” Quentin says. He notices that his arms are pulled in and tucked around his own waist, but he can't focus on talking and moving at the same time. “I just thought – everything okay?”

“It's fine,” Mike says shortly.

Eliot appears in the doorway behind Mike's shoulder, his usual rich scent a grounding thread woven through the chaotic clash still wafting out from the room. “Go back downstairs, Q,” he says quietly. He looks tired and a little disheveled, his tie undone and his emerald green shirt untucked, bagging around his narrow hips.

Quentin wants to, he wants to. He doesn't belong here, everything feels wrong and smells wrong and he wants to run and – maybe get Kady? Kady is as protective of the house in her own way as Eliot is; she wouldn't let – she'd know what to –

“I heard something break,” Quentin says.

“Did you hear him tell you to go away?” Mike snaps, and Quentin takes another shuffling step backwards. He shouldn't be here, but he shouldn't – shouldn't leave, either, right? He doesn't know what the fuck he should do, so he does the only thing he can think of: he looks up into Eliot's eyes and waits.

Eliot frowns slightly and puts his fingertips on Mike's bicep. “Hey, don't,” he says, still in that low, rumbly voice that, a little late, Quentin recognizes as Eliot's drunk-but-trying-not-to-show-it voice. “Don't yell at him. He's shaking.”

That kind of pisses Quentin off, mostly because it's true. “I don't care if you two are fighting,” he lies baldly, “but I think you should take it out of the house. Take a walk or something.”

Mike scowls at him. “Is that what you think? Who the fuck do you think you are?”

“I live here and you don't,” Quentin snaps, which isn't technically an answer to the question, except in spirit. He has grounds to object because he, unlike Mike, is a fucking physical kid.

“Oh, Jesus, fine,” Mike says. “You know what? Fine. I'm gone. You hear me, Eliot? I'm gone.

“I hear you,” Eliot says tonelessly. “Bye. Don't forget to write.”

Already out the door and gone, Mike turns around, still walking down the hall, only backwards now so he can swipe his hand through the air as if dismissing both Eliot and Quentin at once. “Just figures,” he says. “Any little thing happens to you, and you run and hide behind some omega, don't you, El? I don't know what kind of alpha you are – not even sure you are one at all.”

That seems – a little juvenile to Quentin, but still kind of mean, in a lazy, drunk way. If Eliot thinks it's mean, he doesn't show it. He just smiles very slightly and says, “How convenient for you.”

When he vanishes down into the stairwell, Quentin looks back at Eliot, leaning with one hand on the edge of his doorway. “Are you...okay?”

“Of course,” Eliot says, and then tries to make good on his words by pushing himself up straight. His vest and a few buttons on his shirt are undone and he's wearing several strings of the Mardi Gras beads that are everywhere downstairs, so – it kind of looks like he's having a good night. If you don't look him in the eye. “You should go back to the party,” he advises.

“You don't think I had my reasons for leaving it?” Quentin can't help saying, even though he's really not here to complain about his own problems right now. He's not a total douchebag. On the other hand, maybe – someone else's bullshit would be a welcome distraction for Eliot? He's a little bit of a busybody. In like, a nice way. “Alice kind of stood me up,” Quentin admits.

Eliot makes a soft, sympathetic noise, and it's – nice. It's nice, you know? He can't really tell Julia much about how things are going, because she'll give him advice that he won't take (be a grown-up, tell her how you feel), and he can't tell Margo, because she'll give him advice he won't take (don't settle for the first alpha who's ever shown any interest in you, have a little self-respect) and then probably also get involved when Quentin doesn't take advice. He doesn't know who he can just – talk to. Maybe Eliot?

“Fuck – Eliot,” he says when he catches a glimpse past Eliot's arm of the floor inside his room. Before Eliot can tell him not to, he ducks around Eliot and walks in. A shard of the big glass lamp that used to sit beside Eliot's bed crunches under his foot; there's glass everywhere. “Did he--”

“I'll clean it up, it's fine,” Eliot says. “Just – just be careful.”

“Did he break this?” It's not broken, it's shattered. Bits of it glint from the carpet like colorful Christmas lights. It looks like it exploded. Quentin crouches down to pick up a sliver of red from the dark carpet.

“No,” Eliot says. “I did, it's my-- It was my fault. Please don't-- Q, you're going to hurt yourself.”

He wants to say he won't, that he'll be helpful, but every edge of the glass is thin and sharp, and maybe Eliot's right. Maybe they can find a spell that'll be safer than touching all of this with their bare hands.

Can the lamp be fixed? It seems unlikely, but what at Brakebills doesn't seem unlikely? They're Magicians. Maybe they can fix it.

Eliot wraps a hand around Quentin's arm and pulls. It doesn't hurt, but it's – a lot, somehow, Eliot's big hand and – he's strong, stronger than you'd think. Quentin drops the glass he's holding and just. Kind of goes, blind and mindless, until he's nose-to-neck with Eliot. He puts up a hand to steady himself against Eliot's chest and he closes his eyes, and nothing grounds him but the weight of Eliot's hand as he floats in the ocean of mingled scents that floods this room – the way Mike always smells, like maple syrup or warm butter, like something edible, and the way that Eliot smells, wood and pipe tobacco and the undercurrent of heavy, ripe fruit – and then beneath it all, the bitter bite of aggression, the piquant tang of arousal. Quentin can feel himself getting pulled under by the riptide of it, overwhelmed by alpha. Heat blossoms between Quentin's legs and his chest burns, too, his tongue sizzling and sore and useless so that the only noise he can make is a faint groan from the pit of his throat as he drops his forehead into the crook of Eliot's shoulder.

“Quentin,” Eliot says, soft and liquid. The heat of whiskey drips from the syllables. The heat of Quentin's slick and his sweat drips from his groin to his thighs, and Eliot is still holding him securely with just one hand on his arm. Vividly, the image and the sensation of Eliot's hand coalesces behind Quentin's eyelids, three long fingers driving deep and sure into Quentin, broad palm cradling Quentin's balls. His hips hitch forward involuntarily, both in the fantasy and in real life, and suddenly Eliot's thigh is right where Quentin needs it to be, Eliot's other hand clasped low on Quentin's back, urging him to keep going.

The fucking door is still open. Quentin's losing his mind, this isn't even-- This isn't him.

He tries to explain that, but all he gets through is, “Eliot – the door.” The door shuts with a bang, and that wasn't what Quentin wanted at all. Unless it was.

Possibly it was.

God, he can't – he can't help it, it's all those daquiris and all these pheromones, it's the cusp of his heat, it's Eliot's hands, it's how – how lonely he's felt for weeks now.

But that's, that's bullshit, right? He can help it. If he lets it happen, that's him letting it happen, and any version of reality that says it's because of some other thing is just an excuse. Right now, Quentin has some pretty good excuses, but if he uses them, then he's still – still a person making excuses for himself.

The logic is compelling. Quentin is perfectly aware of this, even as he opens his mouth, letting the scent-rich sweat over Eliot's salivary gland coat the inside of Quentin's lips and make them tingle. Even as he tightens his legs around Eliot's leg and squirms.

He doesn't even honestly know how he ends up on his back in the middle of Eliot's oversized bed – something to do with Eliot's hands, his arms, with the focus of his desire and and his intent. He's so focused on Quentin, and Quentin aches with arousal, still semi-aware that he's responding to – this lack in his own life as much as he's responding to Eliot, that he's starving for the, the fucking attention, for someone who doesn't make Quentin feel like they've got somewhere better to be.

It's not a good reason to fuck a friend. It's an actively bad reason to fuck a friend who's running high and wild on the emotions of a messy breakup. It's a legitimately just terrible reason to cheat on his alpha, spiteful and selfish and destructive, when it's no one's fault but Quentin's that he couldn't just tell her he wanted....

Quentin is perfectly aware of this.

His breath hitches almost painfully, straining the holding capacity of his ribcage, as Eliot starts unbuckling Quentin's belt from where he crouches between Quentin's splayed thighs. Eliot brushes his shirt up and lets his mouth brush softly over Quentin's belly, and Quentin feels like he can't breathe even though his panting is by far the loudest thing in the room, far louder than the dim thumping of the music leaking up through the floor. He puts both his hands in Eliot's hair at once, and it's so – warm, and a little sticky with product, and more than almost anything else so far it feels – intimate, distinctly Eliot. More than anything else, being permitted to crush Eliot's curls in his hands feels like being the chosen one, and maybe that shouldn't make Quentin as wet as it does, but oh fucking well.

“How drunk are you?” Eliot asks breathlessly when he lifts his head, his lips slick with the same saliva Quentin can feel forming a complicated sigil on his own skin.

“I don't know,” Quentin says truthfully. “How drunk are you?”

Fuck, you smell so good,” Eliot says, pressing his forehead to Quentin's solar plexus.

A shiver runs through Quentin, because he thinks – he thinks this might be the second time that just being close to Eliot is kicking his heat into high gear, and that's not – that's not normal. No one else has that effect on Quentin, so what does that mean? “You smell good,” he manages to mumble, lacing his fingers behind Eliot's head, nested in his hair.

God, he's going to do it, isn't he? He's going to let Eliot--

Eliot curls one hand under Quentin's leg and pushes it up and out, giving himself room to move further down. He's opened Quentin's belt and the fly of his jeans, but Quentin's still basically dressed, not that it seems to matter; Eliot nuzzles firmly into the crease of Quentin's groin, biting and sucking at the denim, inhaling so deeply that Quentin can see his back rising and falling with it.

“Eliot,” he says urgently, tugging on Eliot's shoulder, on the open collar of his shirt. He can feel the beads pressed between their bodies, cool plastic on Quentin's heated skin where his shirt is rucked up. “Eliot.” Eliot looks up, his eyes dark and dazed, and Quentin instantly forgets what he intended to say. It wasn't kiss me, he's pretty sure, but Eliot's – so far away, and Quentin doesn't like it. “Kiss me,” he says roughly, and Eliot scrabbles to grip the blankets, to drag himself up Quentin's body and obey.

Eliot's kiss is intoxicating, and it's not just the taste of whiskey. He kisses like he's hosting this party, like it's his home, and Quentin drinks and drinks and feels his reluctance sink away, his grip on logic and shame loosening until he's ready to dance. Until he can't remember why he hasn't always been right here, letting Eliot open him up and taste him.

But he must still have at least half a brain, because when Eliot pushes up on one hand, Quentin makes a soft noise of disappointment at losing the warmth, the strength of Eliot's slow-moving jaw, the careful, thorough sweep of his tongue – but he has no trouble parsing the worry darkening Eliot's expression. Quentin shakes his head, unable to speak, hoping just that vague gesture will be enough to dissuade Eliot from--

“You know we can't.”

Damn.

They can, they obviously can, they are doing this, but. Eliot wants to stop, for reasons. For all those reasons that Quentin – remembered a minute ago, that he cared about at least a little, until he got utterly wasted on the smooth burn of the chemicals in Eliot's saliva.

Goddammit, Coldwater, he tells himself. Be a fucking person, you know this isn't you, you know you'll hate yourself in the morning.

It kind of works. He manages to nod. He manages not to beg as Eliot shifts off of him and sits cross-legged on the bed next to Quentin. Eliot puts his elbows on his knees and his face in his hands and makes a weird, ragged noise, something like a laugh, and Quentin – wants to touch him, wants to do something to help, but he doesn't know how to gather up all this broken glass without slicing them both to ribbons.

“You know,” Eliot says, “I've poached more than my share of omegas before this, and I never felt.... But then, I never really had. Friends who were alphas, before Brakebills. Or – many friends at all. But the people here are – they trust me, they're – they are my friends, and Alice, she's, she's one of us, and – it's different now. Everything's different.”

Quentin's heart twists a little, because he's never seen this side of Eliot before, never heard Eliot of all people say that he's ever lacked for anything in his life, let alone imply that he knows what it feels like to be – lonely. “I know,” Quentin says. “I know, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have...”

“Shouldn't have what?” Eliot asks with another attempted laugh, wiping his eye with the heel of his hand. “Been nice to me? Well, I certainly hope you've learned your lesson. Didn't anyone ever tell you that alphas only ever want one thing from omegas?”

Trying not to draw too much attention to it, Quentin zips himself up and threads his belt back through the buckle, even though he's too shaky to mess with the holes. He draws himself up to sitting, further up the bed a little from where Eliot is. “I didn't even really know if you liked omegas,” he admits.

It is a little funny, actually, the baffled look Eliot gives him. “You didn't-- Because of Mike?” Quentin shrugs. “Q, I've fucked half the omegas on this campus. You can't be telling me that nobody told you to be careful around me.” He seems a little offended, actually.

“But I mean – rumors,” Quentin says vaguely. “I don't believe everything I hear, you know? And I know you den with Margo, but other than that, all I know about you first-hand is that you flirt with every omega you see, and. And Mike.”

“So you assumed, what, I was closeted? That surprises me, Q, honestly. I never pegged you for biphobic.”

“Okay, I'm not biphobic, and I didn't assume anything, I said I didn't know.”

“Well, now you know,” Eliot says with a bitter bite underneath the coolness he's mostly managed to restore. “The rumors are true, Eliot Waugh will fuck anything with a pulse and the ability to use a safeword.”

Except me, apparently, Quentin thinks, but he knows as soon as he thinks it that it's unfair. Eliot's trying to do the right thing. Quentin should be thanking him, not feeling like – like this is yet another Brakebills rite of passage that Quentin has failed at.

Could he maybe, just possibly, not make this one thing about himself?

“I'm sorry about Mike,” he says, and he can't put much muscle behind it, but he really is trying.

It makes Eliot smile a little, which wasn't really the goal, but he'll settle for it. “Are you?”

Quentin shrugs. “I didn't think – I mean, it seemed like you guys were – like you had a lot of, um, a lot of issues, but. You must've liked each other, or it wouldn't have gone on as long as it did. So, I guess, like... I'm sorry you like someone it's not going to work out with? If that makes sense?”

“You're sweet,” Eliot says. “I do like him. And it's not going to work out. I mean, it never was going to work out, but throwing a lamp at him probably put a period on that sentence.”

“You threw the lamp?” Quentin doesn't know why that's funny to him, he just. It's Eliot. Eliot never loses his shit.

Eliot makes a slight expression of distaste, presumably for having lowered himself. “In my defense,” he says, “I didn't do it on purpose. He was coming toward me, and I got – startled.”

Well, now it's not funny at all. “Wait, when you say coming toward you, you mean--”

Eliot waves a languid hand in his direction. “Oh, I don't know, it was – nothing, I'm sure. He's never hit me, if that's what you want to know, but. Other people have, and. This used to happen more, before I had actual training. I'd get overwrought about something, and my telekinesis would just do things. Break things.”

He's obviously trying to play it down, but there's a hard note in his voice that sits uneasily with the vulnerability in his dipped neck, the weary lines of his body language. Suddenly, Quentin kind of gets why Eliot never loses his shit. Why it matters so much to him that everything happens just the way he plans it. Why he seems a little – unemotional sometimes, even when he seems so kind and generous other times.

It's a stereotype, obviously, but alphas do tend to be impulsive, to flare hot when they meet opposition, to escalate their rivalries and their flirtations way faster than betas do. Eliot's different, he's always been different. Quentin just figured it was like, a style statement, part of Eliot's noblesse oblige aesthetic, and beyond that he never really wondered why Eliot was like this, what it gets him. It gets him being Eliot, which seems to Quentin like its own reward.

“Is it, um. Is it, like – more intense? Being with – I mean, two alphas?” What the fuck, what is he saying? This is none of his business, and even if it were, there's a time and a place, right? And yet for some reason, Quentin can't shut his goddamn mouth. “I mean, is that – the way you guys fought, is that – normal?”

Eliot takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. “Maybe,” he says. “I couldn't say for sure. The sex is intense, but I don't know if.... I've never been in a relationship with an alpha before this. And... nobody tells you what to expect, you know? People don't even like to talk about it. I don't even know what I don't know. Ugh, omegas are so much easier.”

“Thanks,” Quentin can't help saying dryly.

“I guess you can take that however you want,” Eliot says with a flicker of a smile at him.

“Easier doesn't mean better.”

“Oh, is that what you want to hear? I like to get hot and dirty with the occasional alpha, but I don't want one, not when omegas are so much better. Can't imagine why people think you're biphobic.”

Quentin doesn't know, maybe he deserves to be mocked, but it bothers him anyway. Not like lamp-throwingly bothered, but irritated. “Okay, first of all, people don't think I'm biphobic, that's just you,” Quentin says. “And second, I wasn't trying to get you to tell me I'm – I don't know, better than Mike because I'm an omega or whatever. I'm just saying, on behalf of my gender, that if alphas are what you like, then we don't really want you to flirt with us or wind us up or notch us on your fucking bedpost or whatever just because it's easy. I mean, it's kind of hurtful, when you just made us – or one of us – you know, or someone, someone feel like. Like you actually do care.”

Great. Great, Coldwater, extremely subtle.

Eliot looks over at him, making direct eye contact for the first time since he crawled off of Quentin's body. God, why does he have to have those eyelashes, and those cute little crinkles by his eyes when he smiles like that? “You speak on behalf of the gender now, do you?”

“Yup,” Quentin says. “It's my turn this week.”

“I like both,” Eliot says, and he says it with a smile, almost tossed-off like a cool, bohemian brag or whatever, but – to someone who knows Eliot – to Quentin it seems honest. It seems like something he wants Quentin (specifically Quentin?) to know. “I don't know, I always wanted...everything. To try everything. And that wasn't really – allowable, the way I grew up. Being an alpha was like, a – commission from God. You were chosen to mate young and breed fast, because what kind of alpha wouldn't want that? Well, whatever kind of alpha I am, I guess is the answer to that.”

“Your chemistry's not your destiny,” Quentin says. “That's so fucking retrograde. We've had suppressants for almost two hundred years.”

Eliot snorts. “If you think the omegas where I come from were allowed to take suppressants, then-- God, you really are the cosmopolitan elite, aren't you?”

“Uh, probably,” Quentin admits. “Wait, so – their parents wouldn't let – in high school? How could you even go to--” He shuts his mouth with a snap before he makes himself look even stupider. They didn't finish high school, of course. They chose a mate. He knows there are still places like that, he just. Doesn't know anyone who comes from one. Or didn't think he did, anyway. “That must have been – weird,” he ventures.

“Weird is a good word,” Eliot says. “I started my first rut in math class. They just – stuck us in the nurse's office and let us – work it out.”

Jesus Christ. Intellectually, of course Quentin knows that it's worked that way for most of human history, but still, he remembers being-- He presented comparatively young, yeah, but even when he was fourteen or fifteen and he'd been doing it for a while, heats felt so intense, physically and emotionally, and alphas were thrilling but also intimidating, and the idea of mating and breeding was insane, impossible, some incomprehensible future-Quentin's problem to deal with. The idea of being tossed into a den with, like, the closest suitable warm body and expected even to be capable of not having the world's weirdest, horniest series of panic attacks, let alone actively feeling good.... He'll never complain about the cheesy educational heat porn they gave him in high school again.

“That's fucked up,” Quentin says softly. “I'm sorry that – that was your first experience.”

Eliot shrugs. “It is fucked up but, you know. I liked it. I'm aware that it sounds traumatic to normal people, but I was in rut. Of course I liked having an omega on my knot, soaking the sheets on the nurse's cot while he shouted my name.” Quentin shivers a little, and Eliot's not hiding how carefully he watches that. Quentin wonders if that means he passed or failed Eliot's little test. “Bodies are just bodies, Q. The only thing I cared about was...getting out of that town before they wore me down and talked me into mating. I had bigger plans for my life than that.”

“And now here you are,” Quentin says. “Wait, so – do you have – are you a father?” Holy shit, that concept seems both impossible and – kind of amazing? Like, Eliot would be such a good father, holy shit, Quentin is getting wetter just picturing him with a pup in one arm and another one in a sling on his chest, and yeah, Quentin's aware that the context of this conversation makes his reaction wildly problematic, but. Bodies are bodies.

“Thankfully, no,” Eliot says. “Saved by a combination of statistically low fertility rates during early heats, desperation-driven resourcefulness in procuring specialty condoms we were not old enough to buy legally, and dumb fucking luck.”

“Well. That's good,” Quentin says, and hopefully his ovaries will get the message there.

Eliot must have calmed down by now (even though he still smells like – not rut, but something heavier and more intense than usual, like himself only spilling over the edges), because he moves around so his back is to the wall like Quentin's, spaced a careful six or eight inches away from Quentin's side. “I'd been fantasizing about alphas since I knew what fantasies were,” Eliot says, okay, they're doing this – okay. “But it was – even when I left home, it was.... I didn't really know if it was safe, or how to act to attract one. I spent my whole life watching old movies and romantic musicals and shit like that, and I knew how to chase after an omega, make them feel special, the usual drill, but it didn't seem like alphas would like that. I literally-- God, I was an idiot.”

“I mean, being stunningly handsome must've helped,” Quentin says, because, uh. A supportive friend would say that? Probably?

“Uh-huh,” Eliot says, amused. “Apps helped more. It turns out that alphas appreciate the direct approach. Tell 'em what you're going to do for them, do it, then tell 'em what you just did.”

“Good tip,” Quentin says faintly. “But you didn't – like any of them. That's what you said.”

Eliot hesitates. “That's not quite what I said. But I guess I didn't...like them a lot. There's never really been anyone I liked a lot, except for Margo. I thought Mike.... I don't know, I guess I made that something in my head that it never really was. Maybe I liked him,” he finishes in a wistful tone that even Quentin, who's not the keenest observer of relationship nuance, hears clearly as maybe I loved him. God, poor Eliot – and fuck Mike for thinking he could, whatever, do better than Eliot somehow.

“I'm glad he's gone,” Quentin says impulsively.

Eliot lets his head loll to the side. Quentin can feel his eyes on the side of Quentin's face. “You are, huh?” Eliot says. “This have anything to do with how you just tried to dry hump my leg because I'd been unattached for nine and a half seconds?”

“Why I tried to--” Quentin begins in a burst of disbelief, but. Actually that might be...how it happened. “Sorry about that,” he offers quietly.

“Good,” Eliot says with suspicious good humor. “You should be.”

Okay,” Quentin huffs. “I get it, it was out of line, Quentin's a dumbass. Big if true.”

He's just – he's lonely. Things aren't working with Alice, and he doesn't know why, if they're just not, not compatible, or if the timing is bad or they want different things or if he's driving her away by being too needy, because he just. God, he's twenty-two and he knows that's not old, but his body has been banging on at him for ten years to find someone, it's fucking neverending and he just – he wants that. Someone who makes his heart race, who smells right, who takes care of him, who trusts him with everything – a real bond, where they touch and they share and they show up for each other and they get so drunk on each other that they can't help dancing.

It wouldn't even have to be Eliot, specifically. That feels like – asking for a lot. The guy who's fucked half the omegas on campus plus a few assorted others... he's not going to work his way down the list to Quentin Coldwater and then just go, yup, this, this right here, forever. Quentin's not an idiot.

But kissing Eliot felt like...like nothing else ever has, which is probably what everyone says when Eliot kisses them, he knows. He knows, he knows, but he can't explain it to his hormones, and right now those have a pretty impenetrable lock on his – emotions.

His heart. God, is that actually a literal thing? Do you like – physically feel people like their names are engraved on your actual heart?

What a fucking clusterfuck tonight is turning out to be, Quentin just knows this is leading nowhere good, he should never have knocked on the door at all, and he sure as shit should not still be here, when--

“Hey,” Eliot says, angling around and cupping Quentin's cheek in his hand. “Q, I'm messing with you, I'm not mad.”

“You should...maybe not...” Quentin says, or thinks he says, or thinks about saying. He's not sure he's breathing, actually. His whole body is heavy and hot, like freshly solidified lava, and he can't look away from Eliot's gorgeous golden eyes.

“I want to,” Eliot rumbles, so soft but loud enough to land on Quentin's skin like a hailstorm, shaking everything. “I wanted to put my hands on you from the minute I saw you. I thought I was giving you time to adjust to Brakebills, I didn't know how little time I had...”

Quentin shakes his head, denying he doesn't even know what – that if Eliot had said something just a little sooner, things would be different? That this is happening at all? “Eliot,” he says, and he knows he's making a mess of his words, everything chopped and screwed as waves of hot, helpless sensation roll up his body. “You have to – let me go, I'm – my heat.”

“It's not til this weekend,” Eliot says warily.

Yeah, well, that was before you got involved, Quentin would say if that were a thing he could say. “It's now,” he snarls, because he literally does not have time to argue about this, okay? “Please – El, please, I can't here.”

He can't, he can't do this here, in Eliot's bed. He can't – this isn't how it should go, you can't be with someone for the first time in heat, not if you, if what you really want is-- “Eliot,” he gasps, and he knows he's begging. He feels woozy, sticky with sweat, he's losing his mind and he needs, he needs-- “Please, I want to be in the den, you have to take me there.”

“Okay,” Eliot says. “Okay, come on, I'm going to take you down there, okay? Just hold onto me.”

That's kind of beyond Quentin's capabilities at the moment; all his effort is being expended on letting Eliot pull him off the bed and onto his feet. The glass crunches under their shoes, punctuating every labored step they take as Eliot half-leads and half-drags Quentin across the room, his strong arm braced around Quentin's ribs while Quentin basically hangs by one arm off Eliot's neck.

He's not going to make it. He can hear Eliot's soft, nonsensical encouragement – come on, sweetheart, againit's gonna be okay, just one foot at a time, you can do this – washing over him, semi-meaningless. He's shaking, and every hot spike of sensation that throbs through his body wrings a pathetic little whimper out of him, he can't handle this.

They make it all the way out to the hall before Eliot just gives in and picks Quentin up like – like this is a stupid movie, it's humiliating, humiliating that it feels this good, and Quentin puts his arms around Eliot's neck and nuzzles into the draped-open front of Eliot's shirt until he collides with Eliot's sweat-damp collarbones, until he can breathe in the deep, dark scent of alpha, alpha, alpha. A wave of woozy calm comes over Quentin, and he breathes in hard and shivers and slips into a half-dream of pleasure.

It's so loud downstairs, and Quentin thinks he hears his name once or twice. He doesn't want to deal with that, or with the scent of so many bodies, not to mention the sugar and the smoke and the rum and the gumbo. He tries harder to press his face to Eliot's skin, to block it all out with the smell of Eliot, the sound of his pulse pounding just under the surface.

He's vaguely, vaguely aware that they've stopped walking. He can hear – arguments, angry voices, and Eliot is responding less-angrily, his voice vibrating unevenly between choppy bursts of breath. Everything is too much, grating and frustrating, and then suddenly Quentin's feet are on the ground again, and he tries too late to grab for Eliot's shirt, for Eliot, but he's being pulled away.

Quentin opens his eyes and the colorful world spins around him, green and purple and gold. People are looking at him, saying his name, and none of it makes sense. “Alpha,” he manages to say, reaching back for Eliot, but he can't reach, he's being pulled further away by strong arms, and he tries to squirm out of the grip and go back where he belongs, but it's impossible.

After a minute – multiple minutes – he can't keep track, he can't think – the sound of a door slamming pierces through Quentin's heat haze, and suddenly he can feel cool air against his skin, wicking away some of the sweat. The door blocks a little of the sounds and smell, and Quentin is able, just barely, to take stock of his reality. He's on the basement stairs, headed toward the den, but it's not Eliot holding him on his feet anymore, it's – Penny? It's fucking Penny, what the fuck is Quentin's life?

“Let go of me,” Quentin growls with a faint, futile push against Penny's chest.

“Shut the fuck up,” Penny says, almost – nicely? Almost like he's being not a huge dick to Quentin right now? “You're melting down, you don't know what you're saying. We're gonna put you in your crate, okay?”

“Fuck you,” Quentin says weakly, but he lets himself follow Penny's guidance, one step down at a time. “Eliot. Where's Eliot?”

Penny laughs harshly. “Eliot can go to hell,” he says, not at all nicely. “Margo's gonna go find your girl, okay? She'll come take care of you, I just need you to get in the – in the Red Room of Whatever, whatever you call it.”

“Den,” Quentin mumbles. “It's a den.”

“I don't care. Christ, you're heavier than you look.”

It's not like Penny is exactly gentle with him or anything, but he does go a little above and beyond just shoving Quentin through the door into the den. He actually walks all the way in with Quentin and holds onto Quentin's am while he drops down onto the futon mat so it's not just a deadfall. “Okay,” he says uncertainly, his eyes darting around the den. Quentin curls up into the fetal position, sucking up lungfuls of clean, almost-scentless air. “Okay,” Penny says again. “I'm gonna-- You just. You stay here, okay? You're. You're safe now, Quinn's on her way.”

Quentin doesn't move. He can't think of what he's supposed to say. The world is spinning a little less now that he's horizontal again, but still nothing really – makes sense to him. He can process safe now, barely. The rest of it is mostly just noise.

The door closes behind Penny. He can hear the lock being thrown. Safe now. Safe now. It's not – too much, anymore. He breathes. He breathes. He can breathe.

He sits up eventually and peels out of his shirt. God, his head still throbs, but with his own scent the strongest one around him, he can focus his thoughts at least a little. It's so – quiet down here, though. He glances over at the record player consideringly, but it feels like a long way to that part of the room. Maybe later.

Time passes. He feels – calm now, pretty much. He strips off the rest of his clothes and walks on wobbly legs to the screened area with the plumbing facilities, and he runs a whole hand towel under cold water and rubs himself down with it. His whole body throbs and aches when his hands move between his legs, the faint touch against his vent too much and not enough. He goes back to lie down.

Time passes. Not – not a ton of time, he doesn't think, but it still feels.... He's flushed and – fragile or something, he can think now but he doesn't want to. What the fuck is he going to think about? Everything his mind brushes up against brings a stab of guilt and shame and confusion. He doesn't want to think. He's in heat, he doesn't want to think, he just wants....

His alpha. Obviously. And she'll be here soon.

Time passes. Quentin fucks his fingers into himself kind of half-heartedly, finding that the friction eases the ache a little, but it doesn't supply enough adrenaline to counteract this bone-deep weariness and want. He dozes a little, his hand still tucked up between his legs.

He feels so – sad, and he doesn't even know why. He just needs.... He needs all the usual things – the scent and the knot and the bone-shaking heat orgasms that release all this strain and start him functioning again – but more than that, he just wants someone here with him.

Time passes.

A knock at the door rouses Quentin from his half-trance. He sits up in his tight nest of blankets and listens to the slide of the lock, to a muffled voice saying, “Q? Q – sweetie, I'm coming in, okay?”

It's not Alice's voice.

He feels a strange jolt of discomfort when Julia comes in; he's not really embarrassed, but he has this dim sense that he probably should be. Julia's never seen him in heat before, but it's not that big a deal, she doesn't care and right now, neither does he. She closes the door behind her and comes over to him, sitting cross-legged on the foot of his mat. She's got some of the gold glitter from the party stuck all over her face, just like he did earlier. Her hair is braided in several chunks, then braided together again, and that strikes Quentin as weird. It's not how Julia normally wears her hair. “Your – what's that?” he croaks out, gesturing in a circle around his own head.

She laughs softly at him. “I'm trying it out,” she says. “How are you doing?”

Quentin just stares at her for a second. “I mean – normal?” he finally manages to say. “Considering everything. I'm just – waiting for Alice.”

He can tell in a second, just from the look on her face, what's wrong. He just doesn't know why.

“Alice isn't – she's not coming, Q,” Julia says. “I'm so sorry. I think it's – it's really shitty to do it this way, no matter how mad she is, and I did tell her that, and I will again.”

“She's mad at me?” Quentin hates the way his voice breaks. He clears his throat and says, “Can you – would you mind getting me some Gatorade from over there?”

“Of course,” Julia says, springing up eagerly now that she has a practical goal for improving the situation, however short-lived.

Quentin gulps down the orange drink so quickly that he can't help spilling some of it over his chin. God, he's a fucking mess. “I knew she was going to break up with me,” he finally admits. “I just – I thought she'd. Wait. Why didn't she...?”

Julia's mouth goes hard for a second. “I think if she would talk to you, you two could – clear this up,” Julia says. “But you know how rumors spread on this campus.”

“What rumors?”

“That, uh. You were with Eliot, and. You know, that he was – coming here with you.”

He wants to laugh. He wants to scream. He could've fucked Eliot and it wouldn't have made any difference. They blew it all to shit for nothing. “He broke up with somebody,” Quentin says. “I was in his room – we were talking. He was helping me get to the den, he wasn't – he wasn't coming in with me.”

“He said the same thing,” Julia says quickly. “And I believe you, I really do.”

“But Alice doesn't.”

Julia sighs. “I think it's just. Because it was Eliot, you know? He kind of has a reputation for pulling shit like this, and – and it's always bothered Alice, how much attention he pays to you.”

“Oh,” Quentin says. He didn't know that. How did Julia know that? Well, she's friends with Alice, of course. The thing is – Quentin thought he was, too. “So...what now?”

“I don't know, kid,” Julia says with such heart-wrenching sympathy. “I think you guys just need to talk everything out, but. Obviously – later. I'm really sorry. But you'll be okay here, right?”

There's like – a minute – a window – this little break in time between question and answer when Quentin has a choice. He could ask about Eliot or he could – not do that. And he wants to. God, he wants to, he wants more than ever to feel Eliot's arms and his lips, to have his deep voice murmuring you can do this and I want to as his hands open Quentin up. He wants to know if Eliot would call him sweetheart again if he were knotted deep inside Quentin's body, wants to know that almost as much as he wants the damn knot.

And if he asks for Eliot, Eliot might come. Or he might not.

If he does come, everyone will believe it was true all along. Alice will hate him forever, and she'll be so humiliated, with the whole school staring at her like she let another alpha scoop up her omega right underneath her nose, right down the hall from her own bedroom. Quentin can't – he can't let that follow Alice around when it's not true. Not – exactly true, anyway.

If he doesn't come....

“Of course I'll be okay,” Quentin says. “Nothing I haven't done before. Will you just – will you tell her I want to talk? After I'm done here?”

“I'll tell her,” Julia says. “Is it, um. Okay if I give you a hug?”

Quentin makes himself smile. “I'm game if you are,” he says, and they both lean carefully forward to hug with their upper bodies, because they're close and all, but not that close. It feels nice to have Julia's hands on his back, her soft cheek against his.

It makes it so much worse when she leaves and he lies down alone. His breath hitches noisily in the silence and his vent flutters painfully, clenching around nothing. He guesses he needs to – crawl his way over to the chest for a fake fucking knot, so he can be responsible for taking care of his own needs, like usual.

He's three orgasms in when he finally breaks down and cries, calling Eliot's name pitifully into the mat beneath him.

 

 

Chapter Text

If Quentin were doing as well in his classes as Alice is, he'd be trying to wrap finals up early, but instead Alice is – he's heard, and it sounds true – taking extra finals, to get permission to place out of some of next year's pre-reqs. She's going to be on campus for at least another week. He's heard.

It's not that Quentin doesn't admire the whole go-getter thing (as proof of this, he would submit: Julia), and of course she's not taking her education seriously at Quentin, but like. It's insanely inconvenient, because it's the first week of June and mostly nobody is in the PKC anymore except for Quentin and Alice, and they share a wholehearted dedication to avoiding any direct interaction with each other, but even they kind of can't keep it up under these conditions.

Quentin, obviously, is not still on campus because he's taking extra finals (Jesus Christ). He just asked Dr. Lipson for special permission to stay through his summer heat, because it turns out that it's – pretty much true that at Brakebills, you can just say, hi, I have omega stuff going on, can someone help me out? and they...do that. Weirdly, that's harder for Quentin to fully get his mind around than the magic itself; he was always secretly prepared to believe he had undiscovered magic powers, but it really never occurred to him that being an omega wasn't on some level a huge fucking inconvenience for himself and everyone around him.

You're not supposed to say that, he knows. You're supposed to be proud of who you are, and he – is? He thinks he is?

It's complicated.

Anyway, Brakebills is Brakebills, and all he had to do is drop by for his physical and say, Hey, the PKC is my primary den, is it okay if I stay in residence until after my heat? It was no big deal, it wasn't even an awkward conversation.

Getting four hundred signatures from an alpha who's terrified to be in the same room with him was an awkward conversation, but that's nothing Dr. Lipson could've helped him with.

Living across the hall from his ex while he's in pre-heat is a whole new high-water mark for awkward in Quentin's life, but they're both managing. They really don't have a lot of choice.

It would be easier if they didn't also share a bathroom. The scheduling thing is pretty easy to work out: Quentin's a nighttime-shower person and Alice prefers mornings, and during the day Alice is mostly in the library or the labs or whatever anyway. It's the smells, really, that get under Quentin's skin, and he gets the feeling Alice would agree. He makes sure to take any towels or cloths he's used out with him when he's done, and Alice buys those really expensive medicated soaps that dampen her scent – he doesn't know, maybe it's all in his head? Maybe the bathroom doesn't even smell like Alice at all, or like him, or like him-and-Alice. Maybe he just remembers so strongly....

Fuck, he was doing so well before this. Quentin has zero experience trying to be civil with an ex; he's only dated a couple of women seriously enough that he could be said to have gone through a breakup with them, and the circumstances were such that it was easy for them to ghost each other completely and pretend it never happened. Quentin always assumed he'd be pretty good at being friends with an ex, but then also he always assumed that none of his breakups would ever be because he tried his hardest to cheat, then failed, but also kind of started dating the person he tried and failed to cheat with.

Kind of. It's complicated.

Anyway, now Quentin's done with classes and he's just lying around the Cottage, surviving on hot dogs and ice cream sandwiches and frozen, bagged steak fries, reading Chuck Tingle “ironically” and debating with himself about the wisdom of breaking into his kind-of-but-not-really boyfriend's suite to use the good bathtub. All things considered, he does not think he's exactly the friends-with-his-ex spokesmodel.

And the really petty thing? Is that he's kind of feeling sorry for himself, not even because of the Alice situation specifically, but just because – he got used to the pre-heat experience at Brakebills, where for a few days you just automatically without even putting in the effort become, like, Regina fucking George or something, and everyone smiles at you and wants to sit by you and bring you drinks or weed or cupcakes and tries to make conversation about things you're interested in and just basically acts like you're low-key famous or whatever.

Okay, not everyone – alphas. And Quentin is the last person (he thinks he is?) who's going to get his identity and self-worth all tied up with what random alphas think of him, but. It's nice, okay? After a lifetime of being either totally invisible or an inconvenience, he gets a few days per year where people treat him like they want to be around him, and yes it's all fake hormonal shit, but yes everybody else gets their turn and Quentin wants his. He wants alphas to fake-like him for a few days, but instead he's alone in a house with one alpha who would rather impale herself than so much as heat up a batch of steak fries for him.

It's Quentin's own fault, but it's also unfair. These two things can coexist, can't they? He doesn't know, but that's how he feels: guilty and also self-pitying and generally in no mood to put any effort into creating performance art about how chill he is being alone with Alice now. It's weird, it's awkward, it's just gonna stay that way.

Still, he's not actively pretending she doesn't exist or anything, so when they end up in the kitchen at the same time on Friday morning and Quentin is scrambling eggs, he offers to scramble a larger batch and share it with her. “Oh,” Alice says, and stares at him. And that's literally it.

He waits for a minute, and then says as gently as he can, “So is that – yes or no?”

“Oh!” she says again, less puzzled and more startled, which seems like the reverse of how this should logically go, but whatever. “I mean. If you're doing it anyway. Sure.”

“Yeah, it's no trouble,” he says, which it's really not.

Quentin's cooking isn't very Food Network or whatever, but eggs are easy, and the PKC fridge is always full. He puts in some sour cream and fresh chives, and Alice sets the table for two and makes the coffee. It's almost normal.

It could've been their normal. He's not as upset about the loss of that as he was a few months ago, but it's still close enough that he remembers the misery of their breakup in his bones, in his belly. It's fine, he's adjusted, it's probably for the best, but he's definitely not at look back on it and laugh territory yet.

“How are your exams going?” he asks when they sit down to eat together.

Alice shrugs. “Where's Eliot?” she asks, and Quentin can't tell if she's doing it in kind of a barbed way, or if she really just doesn't know how to politely ignore anything at all. It's Alice, so both are on the table.

“Um, post-finals spa retreat with Margo,” Quentin says. “He'll...be back tonight.”

He doesn't say why. He couldn't hide the reason from Alice if he wanted to, and – he doesn't really want to? Yes, things are ugly and messy and weird and she has every right to resent both of them, but. What's done is done. Quentin's apologized a billion times, and he is sorry, but it happened and now this is happening and life just. Moves forward. What does she want him to do, be alone forever in penance?

Probably. Shit, maybe he'd want the same thing in her place, he doesn't know.

“Well, good for you two,” she says, stabbing her fork against the plate.

“Look – Alice,” he says, because Jesus, they all have to live here together for another year, and Quentin can't take another year of this. “I asked you if you wanted to, um, to keep, keep working on the relationship, and like. You didn't.”

“I know, Quentin, I was there,” she snaps. “I know I had a choice, but both choices sucked, okay? So I'm sad about all my choices sucking, and I'm allowed.”

“Yeah, you're allowed,” he mumbles. He should drop it there, he knows. He should. “I just – okay,” he says, smacking his fork down on the table. “Okay, but. I don't know how you think it's supposed to make me feel, when I'm one of the choices you think sucked so much. Like, you get that that's why we broke up, right? Because I never made you happy.”

Her head snaps up, eyes bright and owlish under her glasses. “What?” she says. “That's not – that's not why– You didn't, though? Not make me happy. You didn't.”

“It didn't feel like I did,” he says.

Not like I make Eliot happy, he doesn't say. He's not a monster, he's not going to just say that. It's the truth, though. Eliot is very committed to his weird courtship program or whatever, but every time Quentin walks into the same room, Eliot's face turns toward him like a bloodhound and Eliot's scent flares warm and spicy and assertive, like his whole metabolism just gets thrown into a higher gear so fast you can hear the transmission stripping. Even if Eliot doesn't say a word, his eyes and his scent and his smile are all so eloquent, all singing I like you, I like you, please be mine at Quentin.

It's so corny. It's hard to know how to react to. Quentin usually just gets flustered and waves at him before going up to his room, where he lies on his bed and listens to his heart hammer and wonders what the fuck kind of Jane Austen novel he even lives in now.

The fact that Alice was different from that when she was his alpha – Quentin's not saying it made what they had not real or anything like that. Alice cared about him, he knows, and he definitely cared about Alice. If they didn't care, it wouldn't be so hard now, watching Alice struggle not to cry because of him. “I shouldn't have left you alone at your heat,” she says. “I'm – sorry about that.”

It's the first thing Alice has ever been sorry about when it comes to Quentin, other than maybe Quentin in general. He's appreciative of, like, the spirit behind it, but. “I'm actually fine with that,” he says. “I'd rather spend a heat alone than with an alpha who's actively pissed off at me. It's not – it was never the heat, Alice. You shouldn't have left me alone at the party.”

“It was just a stupid party!” she bursts out, and there's as much confusion in her voice as anger. “There's a party all the time here.”

“But you told me you were coming, so I fucking waited for you,” he says. “I waited all night, because those were my sucky choices, right? I just – wait for you to put down the book and pay attention to me, or I go get you, and then I'm the needy, clingy, manipulative omega. I just. I felt like I was turning into this person I didn't want to be.”

Alice pushes her nibbled-at eggs away from her, shoulders drawing up and arms crossing in front of her. “So let me get this straight. Falling into bed with another alpha because I wasn't paying enough attention to you, that was you not being manipulative?”

“That was me being an idiot, I've apologized to both of you literally a million times.”

“Oh, I'm so glad you apologized to him,” Alice says acidically. “God, it must be agonizing for him, being so tall and sexy and confident and impressive. Omegas just can't seem to prevent themselves from falling on his knot, totally against his will.”

It's probably not a good idea to be defensive on Eliot's behalf, given the circumstances, but there's a little ball of vicarious pain in his chest right now, hardened around the memory of a drunk, sad, undefended Eliot saying I never really had friends who were alphas before Brakebills. Out loud, Quentin limits himself to saying, “He's your friend.”

“He's the competition,” Alice says flatly, and then her eyebrows do a funny thing, almost like she's surprised to be informed that she believes that.

Quentin can't help smiling just a little. His instincts are kind of a mess, but he really doesn't hold a candle to Alice in that department. “That's just hormones talking,” he says gently. “Eliot is your friend.”

“Maybe,” Alice says grudgingly. “He's not – he's not a bad person, I know that. It's just that he could have anyone he wants. He didn't have to pick someone else's omega.”

It sounds pretty basic, when she says it like that. It's more complicated in real life, or at least Quentin thinks it is. “Eliot makes being Eliot look a lot easier than it is,” Quentin says. “I'm not – justifying anything. Just, if you think he's so perfect or whatever, that everything comes so easy for him, it's – that's not really true.”

Maybe that's a little over the line, but all this air-clearing must be having some effect, because at least Alice seems to be listening to him and not just reacting. “I guess that's nice to know,” Alice finally says. “Do you love him?”

“I don't know,” Quentin says. “I could probably make an argument either way.”

Eliot is like the prince from some fucking fairy tale. He's handsome and self-possessed, he's witty and thoughtful and a good listener. They sit out on the Sea together, Eliot's jacket draped over Quentin's shoulders against the cool draught of the Upstate spring breeze, and Eliot lounges on a picnic blanket, displaying his perfect long legs and narrow waist, offering it all up for Quentin's approval the same way he offers bowls of olives and blueberry-thyme jam on goat cheese and white sangria. Eliot knows how to do this thing where he rubs, like, Quentin's eyesockets, which seems insane but makes a study headache disappear in thirty seconds flat. He can absolutely roast Quentin for being kind of a sulky asshole, but do it while smiling at him like he's an enchanting sulky asshole. He leaves presents in Quentin's room for him – just random little stuff like fancy shaving cream or socks with Yoda on them. Eliot gets really, really mad about jukebox musicals, and it's so fucking cute it's probably a threat to Quentin's health. Eliot smells like pure sex, but in a classy way, and every time he brushes his thumb over Quentin's fingers, pulling him closer by the hand to receive a gentle kiss goodnight on the temple, it feels for a second functionally identical to going into heat.

None of it feels real. Nothing about being Eliot's maybe-sort-of-unofficial-omega-it's-complicated feels like the way that real people live their lives. Even at Brakebills, where Quentin had to do an extra-credit project to pass a course called Philosophy of Chronoalchemy. Even here, Quentin can't fully relax and believe that the alpha every other alpha is jealous of...just for no reason decided there's no better use of his time than courting Quentin. Who even courts anyone in real life? That's YA novel shit – that should be proof that Eliot's like a thousand-year-old immortal or something. But he's not, he just.... Oh, god, Eliot is just not like other alphas, Quentin can't stand that he just had that thought without a single drop of irony.

The argument for loving Eliot is Eliot. The argument against is the very real chance that Eliot is a fairy tale, and Quentin is not the first person to think being the current focus of his attention is something that it's not.

“I kind of hope you do,” Alice says, evening out her quivering lip and pushing it into a slight smile. “I think getting dumped is easier if you can say at least he moved on to the love of his life.”

“Literally did not dump you,” Quentin says, finding a smile in response. “I'm the one who said we could work on fixing things, remember? You were there.”

Alice shrugs. “Because you felt guilty.” That's unfortunately more insightful than Quentin would like for it to be. “The reality is, there wasn't much left to work on fixing. You'd moved on.”

That's – well, call it an oversimplification. Quentin's not sure he's fully moved on now, let alone three months ago when Alice told him to fuck off. Still, he remembers waking up in the den when the last wave of his heat broke, dry-mouthed and feeling the ache in his thighs and his core. He remembers the total silence around him as he nuzzled his face into the pile of blankets he'd constructed to wrap himself around, how they smelled like no one but Quentin, and he remembers feeling weary and wrung-out but also...free. Like a reset button had been punched on his life, and he could just put his clothes on and walk back up to his room and carry on with the semester. And for a few minutes, before the weight of all his choices started pressing down on him again, he can admit he wasn't picturing carrying on...with Alice.

He still thinks Alice was done with him first, but there's nothing he wants to do less than spend the rest of his grad school career arguing about it. Quentin gently pushes Alice's plate of eggs back in front of her, and she hesitates a minute before picking up her fork with a faint, embarrassed smile. “They're good,” she says, scooping up another forkful. “I didn't even know you could cook.”

“I can't cook,” he says. “They're just scrambled eggs.”

“Well, they have – herbs,” she says. “So that's. They're not just plain eggs, they're – good.”

The very fact that Alice can kind of blurt out your worst flaws also makes it, Quentin doesn't know, even nicer when she thinks something nice about you. It would never occur to Alice to make that shit up, not even to flatter a breeding omega; sure, Quentin's still a little annoyed at not having any admirers during his pre-heat, but that's – whatever, it's fun but it's meaningless. Alice's kindness, when she gives it, though. That's never meaningless. “Thanks,” he says.

She even volunteers to do the dishes, but Alice has more schoolwork and Quentin has literally nothing else to keep him occupied for the rest of the day, so he insists that she not bother. It's not a lot of dishes, he really doesn't mind.

Quentin pushes up his sleeves and sinks his hands into the water, and the heat sizzles strangely against his skin, the foam of the soap a light tickle that feels unexpectedly intense. God, he's been in this vaguely hazy state of bored abstraction for the last couple of days, and he didn't realize that his body had already slipped over into the sensitized skin-hunger that he associates with first days.

What time did Eliot say he was coming home, anyway? No, maybe he – maybe he shouldn't think about Eliot too much yet.

Yet.

Yeah, maybe Quentin does need that bath today.

Only Margo and Eliot's suite has a tub, and both of them typically ward their doors. Quentin's never tried to get into Eliot's room uninvited (he's pathetic, but he's not that pathetic), and he hasn't tried to get into Margo's room – lately, but he does start for that one first. Then he rethinks. Whether or not he can get into Margo's room now (and he probably can't), there's no question that she's going to be infinitely more pissed at him about the intrusion than Eliot would.

That wasn't always the case, but. Margo's default with him these days is just-slightly-less-than-infinitely pissed, and those do not feel like reliably stable qualifiers. He chooses Eliot's door instead.

It's satisfying deep in Quentin's bones when Eliot's door opens to a simple Koehler's, because that's normally how you pick a mundane lock, not a magically warded one, which means – Eliot's wards are definitely set to go soft for Quentin, right? That's what it has to mean.

And it's impossible not to think about that, as he runs the water for his bath, as he strips his clothes off and sinks in. Eliot resetting his wards, adding a new condition, just in case. In case Quentin – wanted to come in while Eliot was away? While Eliot was asleep?

Quentin huffs out a little breath and sinks up to his neck in the hot water, his knees popping above the surface as he scrunches his shoulders downward. Fuck, should he – should he have done that? Just been like, fuck Eliot's courtship rules and broken into his room, broken into his bed, crouched over him with his hands braced on the silk of Eliot's robe (does he sleep in the same robe he comes down to breakfast in? Does he sleep in anything?) and leaned over and kissed him awake?

No, that's. Eliot doesn't want that. Quentin knows he doesn't want that, because he said with his literal mouth in literal English words, The situation is delicate, darling appearance of improprietyproceed with caution. Eliot doesn't even like for them to be in the same room alone; he'll put his arm around Quentin while they study on the couch, hold Quentin's hand around campus, but you know what people will think if we come out from behind closed doors together.

I don't honestly care what they think? I don't understand why you do, either.

But he does, and that's just – Eliot. Eliot cares more about what other people think than any ten normal human beings, and it's not exactly Quentin's favorite thing about him, but everyone has their stuff. Fuck knows Quentin does, so who is he to judge?

That ward, though. A boundary specifically designed to fall down the moment Quentin tapped at it. That's... Huh.

Quentin can smell his own sweat, pulled out of him by the steam filling the closely sealed bathroom, and he tilts one leg outward, bracing his knee on the side of the tub. He can feel his vent melting open just a little more – speaking of a soft border that's just waiting to be pushed through. In just a few hours, Eliot is going to use his long fingers – his strong, nimble fingers that have gripped Quentin's hands and guided him through tuts, that have tangled in between Quentin's fingers possessively – to push Quentin's vent open wider, and that information hits Quentin between the shoulderblades and punches a moan out of him. Quentin grips his own thighs with both hands, closing his eyes and listening to his too-sharp, too-loud breathing in the quiet bathroom, because fuck, it would be so easy to rub it out right now, but also he doesn't want to, the last thing he wants is his own hand yet again. Not when he's finally so, so close to getting Eliot to spread him open and--

God fucking dammit, can Eliot just fuck him already? Quentin's been waiting for it for – conservative estimate, about two months, and more accurately – like ten years?

Breathe. A few hours, that's all. Breathe....

They've only even had a conversation on the subject one time, two months ago when they became officially-unofficial, or whatever the fuck they are. Upstairs from another dumb PKC party (theme: Flamingo Tango, which meant lots of boisterous pink and palm fronds and delicious pineapple drinks), just drunk enough to cross the line into not caring that everyone hates them together. Pinned against the hallway wall, half-hanging off Eliot's neck, kissing and kissing until Quentin's lips tingle and he's making helpless, hungry noises that Eliot licks off the tip of his tongue. Trying clumsily to undo Eliot's tie while Eliot's arm is in between them, his hand pressed up under Quentin's black t-shirt (fuck a flamingo) and cradling the curve of his ribs. Wait – wait, Q, you have to – ah, fuck, not do that.

I want to. Eliot, I want to--

But I don't.

And the way his stomach falls, the sick tremble of confusion, embarrassment, of loss – until Eliot touches his face, cups Quentin's chin in his big hand, presses two, three strong kisses against Quentin's cheekbone. You're different, I want it to be different with you. There were a lot of people I didn't treat right. Let me do better, let me treat you better, treat you like you deserve.

Okay, that's – that's really sweet, but like, sleeping with you would be, uh – pretty good? I would definitely feel like I was being, uh, treated – treated great, actually. I bet.

Eliot's smile, low and slow and dangerous, and his kind, kind eyes. Trust me, I can do much better for you than pretty good. But not tonight. I want to do this right.

Like – after a date?

Eliot's smile, and his eyelashes sweeping low as he shuts his eyes, as he leans in to kiss Quentin's face one more time. Eliot, smelling happy and steady and protective, smelling like Quentin's home. After I've courted you and won your favor.

After.... Eliot, oh my god, you have my favor, okay? I favor you, I favor the shit out of you, can't we just--?

He would keep arguing, if Eliot hadn't shut him up with a kiss that basically melts Quentin's jaw off his face. We started all wrong. I want to make it right.

And what could Quentin have said to argue with that? It was Quentin's fault they started wrong. He said he was sorry, but if sorry doesn't translate into letting Eliot do – whatever he thinks makes it right, then it's just an empty word.

Eliot deserves more than empty words. And Eliot deserves more than Quentin starting without him today, so he's not going to. Today is....

He's Eliot's today. They've both earned that, and Quentin's not going to fuck it up for a boring, stupid orgasm in the bath alone.

So he's good in the bath, he's so good, on his very best behavior, but the warmth bleeding into his muscles feels amazing, so Quentin re-ups the heat in the water with magic more than once, and when he finally drags himself out he's probably less clean than he started off, all wilted and waterlogged, covered in the sharp scent of his own sweat and slick. He sits on the edge of the tub and dries off, half-afraid to try standing up, because wobbly legs and steam-damp bathroom tiles are a bad mix and going into heat with a head injury would be an even worse mix.

He didn't even plan far enough ahead to bring a change of clothes. He's eyeing his balled-up, discarded clothes from this morning, obscurely put off by the idea of them touching his wet skin. Fresh clothes sound marginally better, but only marginally; the truth is he doesn't want to put anything on at all. The truth is – what he really wants –

Well. Why can't he?

He's Eliot's omega (unofficially, it's complicated), and even if he's not (exactly), he has Eliot's signature on four hundred pieces of paper that say that he's about to spend three days on Eliot's knot, so why can't he be in Eliot's bed? Eliot's not even here and neither is anyone else, basically, so for once they don't even have to care what the neighbors think (Quentin never cared to start with).

Quentin doesn't even remember making a decision, it just kind of – happens. He leaves all his clothes on the floor of the bathroom and wanders into Eliot's room, which apparently he's allowed in, even though he hasn't been here since, since his last heat, the last time he was flat on his back with Eliot in between his legs, Eliot's mouth on his skin.... Quentin whines into the pillow, rocking his whole body with slow, lazy intent against Eliot's soft purple blanket. He doesn't remember deciding that, either – to lay down naked and damp and get Eliot's bedding all messed up, but at whatever point he made the decision it was a good one. He can smell Eliot everywhere, faint but unmistakable, and when he licks Eliot's pillow, his own pheromone-rich scent mingles with it, harmonizing.

He dozes off, he thinks, or at least he's dragged under the surface by that thing that happens in heat, where time doesn't exist. Is he in heat? He's not sure – he's close, but he doesn't feel – he's so contented here, arms and legs wrapped around Eliot's comforter, with none of the driving, heart-racing touch-hunger that he associates with heat. So maybe not, or not yet anyway. Maybe this is just...partially the oversensitivity of preheat and partially...just happiness? Normal happiness, where you just want to be where you are? Maybe, Quentin guesses.

The sounds of the door and footsteps get Quentin's attention, but he doesn't look up from where he's pressed his face into the pillow, because if he hears what are you doing here? he's not going to have an answer, so he'd ideally like not to hear that just yet.

What he does hear is his name, the way Eliot shapes his name – that low, soothing voice dipping gracefully to stroke the first syllable harder than the second – Quen-tin. It sounds so nice when Eliot says it. Melodious. Quentin responds in a little grunt, which isn't graceful or melodious – he can't do things the way Eliot does them, he's nothing like Eliot.

Eliot sits beside him, dipping the mattress. “Quentin,” he says again, soft and breathless. His hand settles gently against the sweaty skin of Quentin's back. “Darling, can you – can you sit up for me?”

“No,” Quentin mutters, which is more or less a lie, he probably can sit up. He doesn't want to, though. He doesn't want to move at all, he just wants to breathe the spicy smell of Eliot and let Eliot's giant hand pet him until he melts.

Eliot's hand shifts until it rests with Quentin's sacrum right in the cup of Eliot's palm, his fingers spread wide so they lightly cover Quentin's back and a not insignificant portion of his ass. “You're beautiful like this,” he says with a strange little catch in his voice, marring the music of it. “But it's not... Your den is almost ready; I need to take you there. Okay?”

The den – Quentin's den, the den in the place where he lives. Where he and Eliot live, not live together, but – kind of together. That sounds nice. “Okay,” Quentin sighs, turning his face to the side so he's not talking directly into the pillow. “Yeah, that's-- we should go to the den.”

He can see Eliot now; if he looks better after spa day with Margo, then Quentin's too clueless to see the difference. Eliot looks perfect, like always. He smiles at Quentin, using the tips of his fingers to brush the damp hair off Quentin's face. “Hello,” he says.

Quentin smiles back. “Um, hi. I was – I took a bath.”

“Mmhm,” Eliot says. He leaves his hand against the side of Quentin's neck as Quentin pushes himself up with one arm and awkwardly works himself around to sit on the edge of the bed at Eliot's side. Eliot leans in and presses a warm kiss to Quentin's temple, inhales deeply, and then sits back with his hands clasped in his lap. Quentin's not sure if that's supposed to cover up his erection, but actually it only draws attention. There's...really no hiding that. “I – I did some shopping,” Eliot says. “I haven't had time to unpack it all, so if you can – do you think you can wait just a little more? Not long, I promise. I just want everything to be ready for you.”

He's still staring at Eliot's crotch, Quentin realizes, and he jerks his head up to make eye contact. That's – better, for certain values of better. “You want me to – wait here?” Quentin doesn't love the idea, honestly.

From Eliot's little frown, he kind of agrees. “No, come with me,” he says. “I'll get you a robe.”

Oh, because Quentin is – naked, right. Yeah, that's, that's a good point. Robe would be good.

Eliot has a million of those, of course, and he picks out a heavy dark blue robe from his closet and basically dresses Quentin like a doll in it. It's not that Quentin can't move, he's just kind of – zoning out, and anyway this is better, he's pretty into the way Eliot's big hands feel around Quentin's forearms, guiding him into the sleeves, the way Eliot's arm make a big, loose circle around him as he wraps Quentin up in warmth. “There, now, that's better,” Eliot murmurs, sweeping Quentin's hair back with his fingers, placing a soft kiss on his forehead. “You're with me now, aren't you, pup?”

“I'm not a pup,” Quentin mutters, even though he's pretty much acting like one right now. Still, it's not nice to make fun. Heat-brain – Quentin can't help it.

“I know you're not,” Eliot says. “You're my lovely little omega, aren't you?”

But he's – he's not, though, or it's – unofficial, it's complicated, they're not.... It's not the way Eliot makes it sound. “You want me to be?” Quentin asks, because in spite of how Eliot dresses and acts, it's not the fucking Edwardian era, it's the twenty-first century, and – relationships are complicated, they don't all look alike, and you can't assume that just because someone went shopping to stock your den and calls you darling and calls you special and takes you on, on stupid fucking picnics on the Sea, you can't assume you know what they want from you, unless you. Ask.

Eliot frowns again, but he seems more puzzled than unhappy. “You know, Q,” he says in something a lot more like Eliot's normal voice, “I actually put a lot of work into--”

“I know, I know you do,” Quentin says hurriedly.

“--into courting you, so I don't. I don't – know what you want?” Quentin's stomach drops, and he shakes his head, trying to figure out how to say, nothing, nothing, just you. “I know the reputation I have, and I'm not saying it's wrong. But I'm doing everything I can think of to show you that – to show you how much I care about you. I know you still don't – believe me, entirely, you aren't sure about me--”

“That's so not the issue,” Quentin says. “I'm sure.”

“Are you?” Eliot says, fixing Quentin with focused intensity, his hand gripping Quentin's thigh, but the scent coming off of him holds no anger at all. He smells sad. Quentin's eyes close as Eliot leans closer, and he thinks they might kiss, but instead Eliot's forehead butts gently up against Quentin's. Quentin can feel the curl of Eliot's hair brushing against his skin. “You know how I feel about you?”

Quentin's not sure he can breathe, but he manages a little sound, a puff of yes, and he reaches his arms up around Eliot's neck and tilts his own head to bare his throat. Eliot's hand slides up to grip Quentin's hip, and he bends down to press his mouth to the join of Quentin's neck, nuzzling his lips against the slippery, slightly oily texture of the sweat beading up around Quentin's gland. “Jesus, fuck,” he groans into Quentin's skin. “I want you so much. I want you to be mine.”

You're really not supposed to have, like, relationship conversations under heat conditions, but – fuck it, Eliot's right, he's been more than putting in the work, and there's no other reason he'd do all that, other than just. Wanting Quentin. “Me too, I want you, too,” Quentin says breathlessly, nuzzling into Eliot's lovely silky hair. “Take me – knot me, please. Eliot, please.”

Eliot's fingers clench in the velvety fabric of the robe, and he pushes himself slowly away until he's sitting upright by Quentin again. “Come on,” he says. “Everything's almost ready for you.”

Once his arm is tucked snugly under Eliot's arm, it's actually not hard to walk down the hall, down the stairs. Everything is working, brain and body, Quentin is just – spacey. But Eliot anchors him, his smart, crisp shirt and the solid forearm underneath it giving Quentin something to wrap his hand around, the sheer size of him towering at Quentin's shoulder providing shelter to soothe Quentin's little bit of hindbrain hypervigilance. He's going to his good, safe den, escorted by his good, strong alpha, and it's stupid and irrational, but it feels nice. He smiles up at Eliot, feeling foggy and dumb and happy, because yeah, maybe pretty much everyone in Quentin's life hates the fact that he and Eliot are a thing, but they are. So – suck it, haters.

Eliot takes him down to the kitchen and has him sit at the bar, brings him sparkling water with a twist and kisses his temple again. “Just stay right here until I come for you,” he says, rubbing Quentin's back. “It won't take long.”

“Okay,” Quentin says contentedly, leaning on his elbow and poking the lime twist until it falls into his glass with a splish. “I'll be here.”

He does almost doze off then, tracing patterns in the condensation on the side of his water glass, listening to the way Eliot's heavy steps echo through the PKC when it's all but empty, up and down stairs, opening and closing doors. Taking care of things. Taking care of Quentin.

That's not – the kind of omega that Quentin is, usually. Or he didn't think he was this kind of omega, but what if he is? If Eliot – tall, sexy, confident Eliot, the alpha that the miniature world of the Physical Kids revolves around like the sun – if he thinks that all of this is right for Quentin, that it fits him, then maybe Eliot – knows? Eliot knows a lot of omegas, after all.

There are voices on the far side of the living room, over near the foot of the stairs – voices arguing. Quentin hunches down, turtling into his robe, because he can't deal with conflict right now, it crawls over his skin like ants and he hates it.

The only voice he can really make out is Margo's, but in the pauses between her words, he can hear the low thrum of Eliot trying to be soothing, and Quentin knows they're fighting about him. They don't fight about anything else. Quentin puts his head down on his arm and wishes he could....

God. What, run away from home? Disappear into a comic or a Fillory book? Call Julia and let her distract him with funny stories about math camp? All the hits going way back into Quentin's discography, any of the things that used to keep him from crawling out of his skin when his parents yelled at each other, not infrequently about Quentin.

He can hear the staccato shots of Margo's heels on the tile as she stalks into the kitchen, passing behind him. He doesn't say anything to her, and she ignores him, too. She mostly ignores him these days.

Quentin doesn't fully exhale until he hears Eliot's slower tread approaching, Eliot's scent settling protectively around him as he puts a hand on Quentin's arm and another one on his back. “Okay,” Eliot says, quiet and a little tense. “Come on, Q, it's time.”

It's time. It's time. Quentin slides off the barstool and grabs for Eliot's hand to steady himself. Eliot's strong fingers lock through Quentin's and squeeze, and for a second Quentin really does forget everyone and everything else. The second after that he remembers, but it's pretty easy to pretend that he doesn't – that he can't feel Margo's cold eyes prickling through his back as he walks away.

He just focuses on his alpha, who's there to keep anyone from hurting him.

But of course Margo can't just let herself be ignored, like – of course she can't. “Have fun, boys,” she calls after them, poisonously sweet. “Fuck it all out of your systems, okay?”

There must be something more than just the mating urge sizzling along with all the chemicals in his blood, because a totally unfamiliar anger flashes up between one heartbeat and the next, and Quentin wheels around to face her and says, “You know, he denned with you a month ago, and I didn't say anything--”

Margo slams the cabinet shut and swings toward him like a cobra. “You didn't say anything? What the fuck do you think you could have said about it?”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Eliot says, throwing an arm up across Quentin's chest, a barrier between them that's probably more to deter Margo than Quentin; it's just that Quentin's closer.

“I thought you were my friend,” Quentin says – shouts? Is he shouting at Margo? He can't even tell, he just feels so – wild and needy and – and hurt, it hurts how she turned on him when he'd been so proud even just to, to be close to her. “You told me he wasn't your alpha, I didn't know you'd take it this way--”

“Is that what you think, you think I'm jealous?” Margo scoffs. “I don't give a shit who he sleeps with, as long as they put him back the way they found him. But you're going to wreck him, and I take that just a little fucking amiss.”

“What does that even mean?” Quentin says, at the end of his fucking rope with this, he's been walking on eggshells for months and he doesn't even know why.

“It means that Eliot is special--”

“Bambi, stop it,” Eliot says. “Stop, this isn't the time--”

It doesn't make a difference, of course, Margo doesn't listen to anyone, not even Eliot. Quentin can't believe he used to think that made her so cool, and not just, like, an asshole. “It means that he is special,” she says again, and something new shines out from the crack in her voice. She's still pissed as hell, but for the first time there's something raw and painful behind it. “He was supposed to be somebody, he-- we were going to travel all over the world after graduation, we were going to throw parties and discover artists and gamble excessively and seduce and blackmail someone who really deserves it. That's what he wants, it's what he always wanted, until he decided the only thing that mattered was some bougie bitch from New Jersey without a single adventurous bone in his fucking body, the nice omega he can finally take home to Mother. He's going to throw away his whole future, everything he could have done and been, just to make you happy, and you're not fucking worth it.”

Quentin has no idea what to say to that. Of course he's not – but he doesn't want – and Eliot wouldn't – Quentin's adventurous, isn't he? At least a little? Like, he doesn't know if he wants to seduce and blackmail Elon Musk or whatever, but did it really never once occur to Margo that... He's a really good poker player, at least, and the rest of it he could – probably learn? If he were worth an invite, which. He guesses Margo doesn't think he is.

“That's enough,” Eliot says, quiet and sober. “I told you, this isn't the right time to get into all this.”

“Right,” Margo says scornfully, like Quentin's regularly occurring heat today is some personal insult aimed at Margo. “Of course.”

She doesn't look back at them as she goes upstairs, doesn't give the slightest indication that she's coming back, but they still stand there dumbly for a minute, like they're both afraid to set something off by moving. Finally, Eliot leans over and kisses Quentin's hair lightly. “Don't worry about it,” he says. “She's – freaked about graduating next year, and she found someone to take it out on. She'll get it out of her system and things will go back to normal.”

That's not exactly the kind of friendship that Quentin is used to. It sounds exhausting. He manages a game smile as he slips his hand back into Eliot's, and he says, “You know, I'm a pretty good poker player. Like, if we all went to Monaco and we put you up as collateral in a high-stakes game as part of a secret Interpol sting to take down uranium smugglers, I would win that game. Save the day. All that.”

“Good to know, Mr. Bond,” Eliot says, smiling warmly at him. “Might pencil that in for next summer.”

Even though Quentin's legs are trembling a little from the double hit of adrenaline, lust and conflict, he feels like he floats effortlessly down the stairs; he's probably as clumsy as usual, but Eliot has him, Eliot won't let him slip and fall. Everything is okay, because Eliot. (That's the heat talking – mostly.)

Before he opens the door to the den, Eliot wraps an arm around Quentin and covers Quentin's eyes with his hand. “Eliot,” Quentin says, trying not to whine, or to melt. “Trust me, the anticipation is – we don't need any help.”

“Indulge me,” Eliot says. “And – act impressed, okay?”

That does make Quentin melt a little, and not just as, like a euphemism for the fresh pulse of slick wetting his thighs. It's just such a weirdly vulnerable thing to say, because who is ever not impressed by Eliot, where did he ever get the idea that he might need to call that in as a favor?

It's impressive – of course it is. Eliot has piled the mattress with pillows and blankets, quilted and knitted and one faux fur, and he's hung paper lanterns above the mattress on different lengths of cord, so that they look a bit like they're falling like snow in the dimness. There's another light on a small table that Eliot's moved into the room, a candle inside a jar that illuminates the low, round table and its piles of food. “So nice, Eliot,” Quentin mumbles, leaning back against Eliot's body, letting Eliot's arms wrap around him.

“Yeah?” Eliot says. “Do you want to lie down and smell everything? I've been – I've had it all on my bed for the last couple of weeks, because I didn't want anything to smell – too new, you know, or like it just came out of the plastic.”

“You wanted it to smell like you,” Quentin teases gently, his fingers brushing over the back of Eliot's hand where it rests on Quentin's belly. “That's, uh. Really romantic.”

“I hope that's all right,” he says cautiously.

They could keep this up all day, or at least until the first clench of true heat. Feeling equal parts impatient and giddy, Quentin twists out of Eliot's arms and backs toward the mattress, pulling Eliot along by the fingertips. It's easy to drop Eliot's robe in among the other warm things so that when Quentin lies back, he's completely naked, and this time Eliot doesn't ask if it's all right to follow. He falls down just where Quentin wants him, wrapped up between Quentin's legs, his tongue sliding home easily between Quentin's lips. Quentin purrs his approval of the tobacco-and-clove scent of Eliot that enfolds him from every side, gripping the shoulders of Eliot's shirt with both hands and tugging him closer, deeper. Eliot's hand strokes him, slow and exploratory from hip to underarm, then settles lightly over the curve of Quentin's chest, over his giddy, impatient heartbeat.

When Eliot pushes up on his hand, his lips are wet and flushed and his eyes are soft, the lashes fluttering like he's fighting off a spell to put him to sleep. Quentin puts a hand to Eliot's face, feeling the smoothness of his fresh, professional shave and probably, like – exfoliation or something. “Is there – anything you want to talk about?” Eliot half-whispers. “Anything you want?”

“Just you,” Quentin says, and for once he doesn't feel – weird saying stuff like that to Eliot, weird about talking to him like Quentin has some kind of right. At the moment, Quentin has every right. “God, I can't believe you made me wait until my next heat before you'd even touch me, you dick.”

“I touch you,” Eliot protests with a smile. “I touch you...respectfully.”

“Well, I don't want your respect,” Quentin says, reckless and semi-truthful. “Jesus, I want you to think I'm attractive, okay? Is that too much to ask, in between carrying my books and making me fucking – charcuterie boards?”

Eliot's smile doesn't falter, but Quentin's pretty sure he sees a little flicker of uncertainty at the corner of Eliot's eyes. “Wouldn't bother if I weren't attracted,” he says. Quentin nods and pets comfortingly through Eliot's loose curls, but before he can apologize, Eliot adds, “If it were just us, I'd never let you out of my bed. But if our positions were reversed – if I had to see you going to someone else in my own home-- I guess I thought if Alice had the rest of the semester and the summer to get over you, it wouldn't hurt her so much.”

And Quentin knew that was a factor, like obviously he did know, but something about hearing Eliot say it directly rather than slide around it with vague platitudes like appearance of impropriety, it makes Quentin ache a little with the proof of how kind Eliot can be, how much he thinks about other people, or at least his friends. “I get to choose, though,” Quentin says, and it feels – so unnatural in his mouth, but also it sends a thrill over his skin, heat and cold all at once like a fever. “That's – like, whatever, that's – being a quote-unquote real omega, right? You both brought me what you had to offer, and I...like you. I pick you.”

Quentin has never been the kind of omega who had alphas fighting over him. He's not beautiful like Margo or warm like Todd, he's awkward and prickly and moody, he can't dance and he can't read a room, he's a total buzzkill at parties. This is not a situation he knows except from movies and books, but he is an omega, and he theoretically knows his rights. He knows he gets to keep the alpha who can win his favor, and holy shit, he favors the absolute fuck out of Eliot Waugh.

“Lucky me,” Eliot says, low and breathless, and he nuzzles Quentin's cheek and his neck until Quentin squirms. “How close are you?” Eliot asks, settling his hand firmly on Quentin's thigh, thumb drawing circles in the hair. “Want something to eat first?”

“I mean,” Quentin gasps, “if – if you're hungry. I can be ready, though. If you want.”

“I don't think it has anything to do with what I want,” Eliot chuckles.

But it – kind of does, in this case. Quentin leans up to press a quick kiss to Eliot's perfect cheekbone and he says, “Want to see a cool trick? Take your clothes off.”

“Oh, I like it already,” Eliot says lightly, kneeling up to obey.

Eliot's body is – Quentin's not surprised, by any means, but fuck it's so gorgeous, slim and graceful like a beautiful omega, which only sets off his alpha assets – his height and solidity, his big hands and strong jaw and the dark hair all over his torso. Quentin tries to be cool about staring at him, like it's not his first time seeing a naked alpha, which it's not, but he still doesn't feel mentally and emotionally prepared for the sight of Eliot's thick, flushed cock standing up hard for Quentin, for the scruff of loose skin around the base that will thicken up into a knot once the rut catches hold of him. God, Quentin could've seen a hundred naked alphas (he has not), and he'd still be drooling all over himself to feel this body covering his, this knot filling him up, this--

This person who likes Quentin, who wants to be good to him, sharing the intimacy and the vulnerability of heat with him.

“Show me your trick,” Eliot says gently, his eyes laughing at how fucking transparent it all definitely is on Quentin's face.

“C'mere,” Quentin demands, and Eliot comes without hesitation.

The blankets do help and probably the robe did, too, but nothing packs a punch like the taste of it straight from the source, the scent of Eliot's breath and his wet mouth and the sweat clinging to his hairline and beading up low on his throat. Quentin breathes it all in, deep, heaving breaths, and he feels it wash over him, rich and smoky, carnal, Eliot. Quentin's body shudders, aroused and frankly a little confused, but that doesn't keep Quentin from grabbing Eliot's wrist and pulling his hand toward Quentin's vent. Eliot gasps and goes wide-eyed as his fingertips sink in with mindless ease, slick pooling in the cup of his palm. “You – did you just--”

“Uh-huh,” Quentin says, squirming down on Eliot's fingers.

“You can trigger your own heat on purpose?” Eliot says.

That's – no, that's so backwards that Quentin has to laugh, which actually comes out more of a crazed giggle. “'M not,” he says, screwing his hips upward, trying to get more sensation against the blood-flushed, sensitive inner walls of his cloaca. “You are. If I'm close, smelling you can, can get me there.”

“But – why? I've never heard....”

Neither had Quentin, but he's done a little research recently, and according to the good omegas of r/heat_help, it's rare but not unheard-of. Clinical research is sparse, but like any other form of attraction, it seems to be something in the immune system recognizing and latching onto a particular, necessary form of compatibility. Quentin fully intends to explain all of this in appropriately endocrinological detail – it's pretty interesting, actually – but right now he's in fucking heat, and the best he can do is gasp out, “You'd make a good, good father, my body wants – put it in me, please, give me your pups.” Oops, that's – marginally socially acceptable in the middle of a heat, but it's weird, right, that Quentin just went there right away? He's never done that before.

Eliot doesn't seem to mind at all. He makes a weird growling noise against Quentin's chest and pushes his fingers in hard, deep, coaxing more slick from Quentin's body. “Yeah, yeah,” he grunts, the fingers of his other hand closing tight in Quentin's hair. “Mine, beautiful, wanna breed you, sweetheart, right now.”

“Okay,” Quentin says on a spacey laugh. They're lying, of course, Quentin's suppressants are working like always, regularizing his cycles and dampening his pheromones so that he doesn't shed I'm breeding please come get me 24/7, as well as preventing any actual conception. Yay for modern miracles of science, allowing Quentin to be twenty-two years old and a mediocre Magician getting a non-accredited Master's degree in moving shit with his mind instead of just someone's loyal mate, barefoot and pregnant half his life.

But, like. Today it's really hot to pretend that Eliot's gonna dick him down so good that Quentin will never be anything but fat and happy and surrounded by little – superpowered mini-Eliots with amazing immune systems or whatever. Like, this is a feeling that will definitely pass, but right now it is what it is, so why fight it?

The last thing Quentin wants to do right now is fight anything. He lets himself go a little limp, makes Eliot exert himself a tiny bit to roll Quentin over into presenting position, which Quentin could do on his own, but it feels so much better when Eliot handles him. He makes a little squeak of surprise when the feeling of Eliot's hands on his hips is followed not by Eliot's dick, not right away at least, but by Eliot nuzzling inside his thigh, up into his wet cleft, his tongue circling Quentin's soft, dilated vent until Quentin almost sobs into the nearest pillow. Quentin whines a little, trying to widen his knees, but all he gets for his trouble is a few sweet, nipping kisses on the meat of his ass while Eliot's long fingers rotate inside him again, which is like – he's not complaining, but. “You taste – smell so good,” Eliot rumbles. “Buttery – warm – toast.”

“Toast,” Quentin repeats, half hysterical, because oh my god, Eliot had months of time Quentin would've happily dedicated to foreplay, but now he wants...?

It happens fast when it happens, though – Eliot rears up, looming, and it makes Quentin instinctively hunch down into his presenting crouch, his chest practically pressed flat to the mattress and his back arched. Eliot's cock is big, definitely bigger than any of the others (okay, either of the other two) that Quentin's had, but – nature takes its course, and Quentin's body softens and spreads effortlessly to welcome him in. Eliot gives a few lazy thrusts like they're just fooling around, a little advance sample (Quentin hopes) of what real life will be like now that they're together, but quickly enough Quentin can feel the pressure of Eliot's knot, firm and snug against him.

When Eliot knots him, he puts his back into it, riding Quentin right down into the mattress almost before Quentin's locked around him. Quentin whimpers, his whole world reduced to Eliot's hands on his waist and Eliot's knot caught inside him as the clench and release of orgasm begins deep inside Quentin.

The first wave passes, and Quentin releases his breath in a rush. “Shhh, shsh,” Eliot is saying, his strong hand stroking over Quentin's side. “Okay, sweetheart?”

“Okay,” Quentin confirms shakily. “It's – kind of abrupt at first, like a cramp? Feels better now.” An aftershock shivers through him, and he bites his lip on a little smile hidden in the pillows. Yeah, from here on it gets much better....

Eliot feels huge draped along Quentin's back, and Quentin loves it, holy shit. Eliot's hips move lazily as his lips nuzzle the nape of Quentin's neck and behind his ear. “Toast?” Quentin says, shifting his head so his cheek rests on his arm.

“Yeah,” Eliot says on a sigh. “Warm bread, dripping butter. Notes of strawberry jam. Saturday morning breakfast.”

“Oh, okay,” Quentin laughs softly. “I smell like brunch, cool.”

“Hm,” Eliot says. “Like croissants at brunch maybe, but. I was thinking of – when you get up early on Saturday morning to watch tv, and it's not a school day so you're not being pushed out the door with yogurt and cold cereal, but your mom still doesn't want to make breakfast for everyone, so the older kids make toast and chocolate milk....”

“That's a very specific memory,” Quentin says. “You – had a big family? Growing up?” It's a little weird to talk about this while they're, like, literally still coming, but all they're doing now is riding it out, so why not take advantage of Eliot being literally unable to get away?

He's silent for a minute, just long enough for Quentin to realize that he doesn't have to answer any questions just because he can't technically leave. But then he finally says, “Yeah. I was six of eight.”

“Is that your Borg designation?” Quentin asks, and he laughs at his own stupid joke. Look, he's literally having an orgasm right now, he can't be expected to be witty. “That's, that's a lot, though. I'm an only child,” he adds, which he's pretty sure Eliot knows, probably. Quentin's not secretive about that stuff. “I always thought I'd like a big family,” he says dreamily. “Not that big, though. Like – three or four kids.”

Eliot chuckles, which given their context – yeah, it's a weird thing to say. “Split the difference. Good call.”

“I mean. Not right away,” Quentin says. “Obviously, like – after we have jobs and a place to live and all that.”

“We?” Eliot says softly, brushing Quentin's hair carefully away from his exposed eye.

“Well, my – my mate and I. I'm still, uh. Interviewing for the position, obviously.”

Eliot laughs again and drops his cheek to rest against the back of Quentin's shoulder. That must be murder on his neck, but he doesn't seem to mind. “How am I doing?”

“Your, uh, your resume really caught my eye,” Quentin says.

“I'm sure,” Eliot says wryly. “Don't worry, I know this is not the appropriate time to make plans for the future. I'm just feeling very cozy at the moment.”

“Yeah,” Quentin says. “I – I get that. So you – you do want that, too? A mate and a family and everything?”

The conversation is briefly derailed by something apparently pretty amazing happening to Eliot, who grasps at Quentin and grinds into him and makes a lot of low, breathless noises that are maybe the sexiest thing that's ever happened to Quentin in real life. “Oh, fuck,” he sighs when he goes lax against Quentin again. “What – what were we talking about?”

“Nothing, it doesn't matter,” Quentin says. Not like they won't have to talk about all this stuff again later.

But Eliot finds the thread on his own and says, “I wasn't always sure. Maybe I'm still – not completely sure. But it's a hell of a lot more appealing to me than it used to be.” He doesn't actually say that has anything to do with Quentin specifically, but – they are tied together, currently. And they're extremely genetically compatible, so. Quentin's going to, at least temporarily, believe that it has everything to do with him, or at least with the way he apparently smells like family breakfasts to Eliot.

“I'm not a very good cook,” Quentin blurts out. Eliot makes a lazy questioning noise and rubs his hand up and down Quentin's arm for no clear reason. “I can – make eggs. I made scrambled eggs this morning, they – came out pretty good?” Quentin closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. Every tiny shift of his ribs and his abdomen makes him intensely aware again that Eliot's cock is still deep inside him, pulsing gradually in response to the contractions of Quentin's heat. “I can make breakfast when we leave here. For – us. I mean, for you.”

Eliot is silent for a moment. “I think that's my job,” he says gently. “You'll be tired.”

“We'll both be tired,” Quentin points out. “And...that's one of the things I like about you? I mean, that you're not-- That you don't always do things like other alphas do.”

“Don't I?” Eliot says, soft and a little reserved. Uncertain, maybe.

“I mean, I see you as an alpha, of course I do,” Quentin says, and then he winces because – isn't that one of those things that you can't actually say without kind of implying the opposite? “Just, just not a stereotypical alpha. I mean, I would think that you'd...be okay with...non-traditional gender stuff?”

“Because I'm queer?” Eliot sounds – not defensive, exactly, but guarded. Quentin's definitely going about this all wrong.

“I don't even know what that means,” Quentin says. “I mean – I know what it means, obviously. But I don't know what it means for you, and like – if it means you're either more or less likely to eat eggs, I definitely don't quite get that aspect.”

“Touche,” Eliot says. “Can we...talk about this later?”

Quentin's still not entirely sure what the fuck they're talking about, but he's fine with that.

There's plenty of time after they separate, and by that point Quentin's actually pretty hungry. He and Eliot both pull large pillows over to the table and lounge naked by candlelight, working their way through a surprisingly healthy spread – roasted cauliflower and blackberries and slices of salami and a really amazing white bean and artichoke dip. “Forget it, I changed my mind,” Quentin says, experimenting with wrapping the salami around a cracker-and-dip combo. “You're a better cook, you should cook.”

“Well, practice makes perfect,” Eliot says lightly. “Listen, I – overreacted, and I apologize.”

“It's fine,” Quentin says.

“Maybe, but I want to explain. I've never been – involved with anyone quite like you before, and I think I've been trying to.... I don't know, over-correct a little? Maybe prove to – you, or to myself, that I can do the...” Eliot makes a languid gesture in the air, the candle guttering as his arm sweeps past it. “The alpha thing. The has-mate-potential thing. It's always been more of a goal for me to convince people that I'm not those things.”

“You don't want to – be someone's mate, or – or an alpha?” Quentin knows that's a thing, of course. That not everyone quite takes to their secondary designation, any more than to their primary. It's a tiny minority of a pretty tiny minority, though, so if anything Quentin's way more clueless about – all that than he was about Eliot's sexuality.

Eliot pours himself a little more wine, frowning thoughtfully. “It's more – localized than that,” he says. “I don't mind it personally. I like it, honestly. I like being able to smell things that betas can't. I like ruts. Sex vacation, what's not to love? And – being wanted like that by an omega, being needed.... It's not something I would want to give up. I just don't like the way people feel like they know you, the – the reductive way that – the box they want to put you in. I don't know, it's hard to explain.”

“It makes sense to me,” Quentin says. “I think...we all feel like that sometimes. Primary gender roles can be constrictive, and secondaries... we get it all so much worse, because we have all these. Biological imperatives. There's so much we can't control, I think people. Forget that we can control a lot. I never liked feeling like someone just saw me as, like, an example of omega-ness, either. It's super dehumanizing.”

“I think I'm...angry,” Eliot says, which startles Quentin. Alphas are famous for being angry, but – Eliot's not. But then Quentin thinks for the first time in a long time about that shattered lamp, about the guilt on Eliot's face when he admitted responsibility for it. “The minute I presented, my life slammed into this fossilized form, where I'd follow my knot around, chasing omegas until one of them thought I was worth something, and then I'd just start – all of it, you know.” Quentin nods; he doesn't personally know, because he grew up with people assuring him that he could do anything he wanted, that being an omega wouldn't change his life at all except four times a year. That wasn't totally true, but it was...aspirational or whatever. He doesn't think anyone ever told Eliot that. “Do you know Jacob and Esau?”

“Uh.” No? Sort of? “I know it's – it's Genesis, right? Jacob...wrestles with an angel?” Quentin wasn't raised religious, but you can't be an English major without at least a cursory familiarity with the weirder parts of the Bible.

Eliot nods, staring down into the surface of his wine like he's scrying it. “Esau was Jacob's older, hairier brother, and Jacob stole his birthright by tricking their senile father into passing his blessing onto Jacob in a fake fur. Very 80s sitcom-level stuff, in my humble opinion, but that's how the story goes. We learned in my church that the birthright was secondary gender – that we inherited the blessing of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, while betas are all descended from poor, dim-bulb Esau.”

“Weird,” Quentin says vaguely. Probably not the most culturally sensitive response, but he doubts Eliot is going to call him out on it.

“Yeah,” Eliot agrees mildly. “Not evil-talking-snake weird, but weird enough. Anyway. My beta parents' faithful, godly marriage was graced with eight children, and I was the only secondary. Blessed and beloved. In theory.” The way he says it is soft and bitter and infinitely deep. Quentin thinks that – if he does keep Eliot in his life, then he might be spending a not-insignificant part of that life learning what all of this is about, what it means to Eliot, what it did to him. That's kind of terrifying, but maybe not as terrifying as it logically should be. Knowing Eliot is – good, maybe? Is exactly what Quentin wants to do with his life? “I wanted out from the minute I knew there was a world outside of Whiteland, Indiana. It's all I wanted, and it was never.... It was never going to be easy, but fuck, my folks had seven other kids, I figured they'd learn to live with it. But once I was the fucking chosen one, there was really no – finessing it. It was stay and be their Jacob or go and never come back. So. Here I am.”

That's not exactly a tragedy from Quentin's point of view, but he wants to be sensitive. “Do you ever wonder if you did the right thing?”

“Never,” Eliot says. “God, no. Can you even imagine? No, staying was not an option. But I'm angrier that it had to be that way than I used to think I was, you know? I'm not...heartless. My family wasn't perfect, but I loved them. It hurt to....”

“Yeah,” Quentin says, just to take the pressure off of Eliot. God, he looks so – beautiful and so weirdly fragile, naked literally and figuratively in the soft light and the flickering shadows. “It really – sucks to feel like maybe people don't. Love you as unconditionally as you'd kind of, um, kind of prefer.” Quentin's not really cut off from his mother, not the way Eliot is from his family, but. They're a little more estranged than Quentin finds it easy to admit, even – even to himself sometimes.

He thinks he could say that to Eliot, sometime soon. He doesn't want to make it about himself right now, but it's a conversation he can imagine having with Eliot. God, he can imagine being known by Eliot, and that's at least as big a deal as knowing him. Bigger.

Shit, he's in love with Eliot, isn't he? Not because there's an argument for it, or because Eliot's won his favor or he's good mate material, or anything like that, Quentin just. Can't find the limits and the conditions of this way that he feels, can't imagine what he would ever learn about Eliot that would make Eliot seem anything less than worth it.

“Can we...?” Quentin says, glancing over his shoulder toward their mussed and empty bed.

“Yeah, do you need--?” Eliot says, setting down his wine glass and sitting up straight.

Quentin nods, because his body could probably go another fifteen, twenty minutes before he needs to be mounted, but he does need Eliot's arms around him, needs to feel the strong bones under Eliot's skin between his hands, needs the scent of Eliot right from the source, needs to lick it straight off Eliot's tongue. God, he needs this man, and he's not sure when it started and can't imagine when it would ever stop.

 

A thousand years later, when the candle has long since burned down and Quentin is thirsty and sleep-deprived, he takes advantage of omega privilege to sprawl decadently on his back, brain halfway to the next galaxy while Eliot sucks desperate marks into his neck and fucks him with sweat and muscle, with his big cock and his filthy fucking perfect pheromones dripping off his skin and onto Quentin's. He's not thinking about anything. He doesn't need anything. He's never felt so good, so full, so content in his entire life, and every time another wave of orgasm shakes through him, he slips free of his body just a little more.

“I love you,” Eliot says, his hand splayed against the side of Quentin's face, his hard, hungry kisses moving up Quentin's jaw, blindly seeking and finding his mouth. “Q, I love you, you're mine,” he says as he shudders, bending under the force of his desire, and Quentin wraps as much of himself as he can around Eliot and holds on, nodding as he gasps for air. I love you too, yes, me too.

They'll have to talk about it all again, obviously. Later on. Quentin doesn't care.

Eliot falls asleep almost before they've managed to untie, but Quentin is still in the stratosphere because of all the endorphins, and he rests on his side, stretched out along Eliot and stroking Eliot's sweat-matted chest as it rises and falls, the paper lanterns casting a celestial glow over the dramatic planes of his face. He's so remarkable, he's so unlike anyone Quentin's ever known. Quentin's so in love with him, and they're only just getting started.

 

It's the last gasp of Quentin's heat – honestly, he's not sure he even was still in heat for that last round; Eliot's knot didn't even fully catch, and neither of them noticed or minded. Quentin's still wired, but in a clean, bright way that feels more like being hyped up on energy drinks and anxiety for midterms than it does like being in heat.

Poor, sweet Eliot is sleeping like he's just come home from the war. He deserves the rest.

Quentin's trying to estimate the time when he realizes – the door's not locked. You always have to be locked into your den when you're alone, because the time will definitely come when you won't be able to remember that there are downsides to going out and offering yourself to the first alpha you can find. Even when Quentin's had companionship in the past, he's defaulted to a locked door; a lot of omegas like the extra sense of security. But so much was going on this time, he didn't even notice.

He's never left a den while his alpha was still there, but – there's no real reason for that, it's just. Not the way things are generally done, and Quentin is a bougie bitch from New Jersey, so he just does things the way someone told him they're always done and that's that. Point for Margo, he guesses.

Well, it's not much of an adventure, as adventures go, but Quentin gets up and finds his robe – Eliot's robe, and he lets himself out of the den. He wants to make breakfast for Eliot, and he's going to, because Eliot has literally nothing left to prove about what mate material he is, and Quentin...thinks maybe he has quite a bit to prove to Eliot.

It's not technically breakfast, since it's about two in the afternoon. He desperately needs a shower, and he weighs the pros and cons of using the bathroom he shares with Alice – terrible idea, he hates it – and of using Margo's – possibly the literal death of him, so, fuck.

He eventually decides on the suite bathroom, because if he's going to be sleeping in Eliot's room from now on, they're going to have to cross this bridge sooner rather than later. But then Margo isn't even up there, so Quentin gets his hot shower in peace, but he still has this hanging over his head, the inevitable confrontation when he and Margo have to share space again, because they share Eliot now.

It's fucked, and he – misses her so much. Misses who he thought she was, anyway – or who he thought they were to each other. Once he starts thinking about it, the melancholy overtakes whatever happy chemicals were lingering in his blood, and Quentin mostly just stands under the shower feeling exhausted and sad and missing Eliot already.

When he gets out, he forces himself to put on the clean clothes he brought from his room, but then he can't resist lying down on Eliot's bed for what turns out to be a nap.

He wakes up with a jolt, and it's after five. No sign of Eliot, though, so maybe it's not too late to surprise him, and Quentin pelts downstairs quickly, only to be brought up abruptly in the common room, where Margo and Alice are both reading on separate ends of the couch. Where else would they be, right, but he's still deeply unprepared for the way they both look up at him at once.

Still. They'll all be going their separate ways for the summer in a day or two, so a little awkwardness isn't the end of the world. “Hi,” he says, and they both stare at him with varying degrees of suspicion. “I'm, um. I'm gonna make eggs and toast for El, for when – I mean, he should be up soon, and. You know, you could – join us for dinner, if you want. Both of you.”

Alice glances at the door down to the utility room and the den, which is, god, unnecessary? Yes, it's going to be a post-heat-dinner, a high-carb, high-protein, you're-probably-hungry-after-mounting-me-fifteen-times-in-three-days dinner, but if everybody agrees not to draw attention to it, then it's not weird, right?

It's weird. Fine, it is weird.

“That'd be okay,” Alice says. “Can I do anything to help?”

He smiles, because it was kind of a downer to miss out on the flattering alpha attention during his preheat, but honestly if Alice Quinn offers you anything at all it's always worth a million times more, because she means it. “Yeah,” he says. “I'm putting you in charge of toast, okay?”

Margo...doesn't exactly offer to help, or agree to join them at all, but by the time the food is underway, Quentin glances over and sees that Margo has taken it upon herself to set the table – with four settings. “Oh, hey,” Quentin says, even though he probably shouldn't draw attention and make it weird. “Are you eating, too?”

“Well, everybody's gotta eat,” she says. “And...I owe you a small favor, so consider my glorious presence it.”

“You don't owe me anything, Margo,” Quentin says, because – yeah, she hurt him when she dropped him as a friend, but favors don't fix that. Only being a better friend next time fixes that, and she either wants to do that or she doesn't. Either way, they'll...figure things out. They'll have to, for Eliot's sake.

Margo shrugs, reaching into the secret wine dimension past the back of the fridge to come up with a bottle of champagne for mimosas. “Well, it was a little harsh, what I said about New Jersey,” she says. “I mean, it has its charms, right? You got Atlantic City. Springsteen. Some guy took me on a date up there one time to look at whales. Fucking whales, whatever, but at least he made an effort. So. I shouldn't have been so quick to run my mouth off. Some people like it, you know.”

“New Jersey,” Quentin says, just to check that they're, like, sticking with this.

“Yeah, New Jersey,” Margo says crisply. “We're talking about fucking New Jersey, aren't we? I'm saying, some people like it, and even if it wouldn't be my pick, I could – cut it a little slack.”

“I'm sure Springsteen appreciates you keeping an open mind,” Quentin says.

They're just sitting down at the table when Eliot comes pelting up the stairs, still half-asleep and startled into a mild panic by having lost the omega that it was kind of his one job to protect; he signed the forms and everything. “Hi, sweetheart,” Quentin says. He's not sure that really fits right on his tongue, but he might get used to it? He'd like to keep an open mind, anyway. “Are you hungry?”

Quentin watches Eliot's eyes sweep the table loaded with eggs and toast and mimosas, the friends already seated and the plate waiting for him. He looks over at Quentin with something – beautiful and complicated and curiosity-provoking on his face, something Quentin can't wait to know better, and he says, “I was going to make dinner for you.”

“Ugh,” Quentin says, rolling his eyes. “Are you tired?”

“Yes,” Eliot admits.

“Are you hungry?”

“God, yes.”

With some effort, Quentin maintains the same casual tone as he says, “Are you my boyfriend?”

“I – yes,” Eliot says, the words scraped out of him through sheer will.

Quentin gestures with his fork toward Eliot's waiting chair. “Then shut up and eat the eggs I made you.”

Slowly, Eliot pulls out the chair, still moving in a bit of a daze. He looks around once more at everything and everyone like he's trying to commit it to memory, or trying to believe it's real, but whatever he needed to see, that one more look seems to find it, and Quentin can see his shoulders relax. He pauses in the act of sitting down to kiss Margo's cheek next to him, and then he's taking a plate of toast Alice passes him, and the conversation starts up again like it never stopped.

Quentin lives for two more years at the PKC, but he never attends a better party there.