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The problem was, Eliot had never taken any of Quentin's suggestions before.

In fact, Eliot usually went out of his way to decide the opposite of whatever Quentin tentatively recommended in their daily briefing. Tetrarchy wasn't designed for fair levels of agreement in the throne room. Eliot overruled everyone, and Janet always echoed whatever Eliot said. It was why Quentin had pressed ahead on throwing the tournament and fixing up the Muntjac without even seeking permission, presenting both as a fait accompli.

Maybe that was why Eliot had suddenly decided now was the time to listen to him, having realized how annoying it was to have zero control over a situation.

Quentin made a soft, sad noise in the back of his throat.

Eliot had certainly decided to listen to Quentin now.

Eliot was bent over, leaning against the stable wall, those long legs of his spread wide. He had his forehead pressed down on his folded hands as his current lover soundly fucked into him. Eliot's paramour had wide hands that made Eliot's narrow hips look fragile, breakable, but the continued thrusting was quite energetic, and Eliot was taking it, and taking it, making these breathy little grunts that rang in Quentin's ears.

This wasn't the first time Quentin had caught Eliot in flagrante delicto. Quentin had been eighteen and new to magic and even more confused than he was most of the time now the first time he walked in on Eliot mid-coitus. Quentin was older now, more worldly. He'd seen things. He'd been in love and he'd lost. He'd grown as a person. But right now, just like last time in the Observatory at Brakebills, Quentin was almost hypnotized. He couldn't look away.

Quentin's heart pounded loudly in his ears as his eyes caught on the way Eliot's damp curls pressed to his neck, at the muscles flexing under Eliot's pale skin.

Quentin could remember the words that had doomed him, as clearly as any spell. It was like he'd somehow cast his current misery into existence. Only this spell was in English, with no complicated gestures, no consideration of circumstances. They were plain words that still worked to devastating effect.

Eliot had been upset that Quentin was taking over the banquet hall for his sword-fighting tournament, but it had made sense. It might rain, which made throwing it outside unreasonable, and the banquet hall was the only room in Whitespire large enough. So when Eliot complained about where they would eat now, Quentin had been equal amounts unequivocal, practical, and snarky.

"I told them to serve dinner in your receiving room," Quentin told Eliot. "So you'll have to do your receiving somewhere else. Maybe you can do that outside."

Yes, those were the words that were currently and completely wrecking Quentin's calm.

And yes, okay, Quentin had maybe been trying to make a point of it. There wasn't a single servant in Whitespire who hadn't happened upon Eliot's appetites at some point or other. Most who did reported being invited to join (Quentin's ears burned when he realized quite how many accepted that invitation.)

Eliot hadn't listened to Quentin ever before; how was Quentin supposed to expect Eliot would start listening now?

Because Eliot certainly was… receiving.


Exactly like Quentin had suggested.

One of Eliot's hands slipped between his legs, furtively and frantically moving. Quentin should probably leave. Any time now.

After putting the call out to attract the best warriors from across Fillory, Quentin had been expecting Janet to be the one causing him a headache. He'd anticipated that Janet wouldn't be impressed by his testosterone-fueled idea. Surprisingly, she was more onboard than any of the others, chomping at the bit to show off her best defensive and shielding spells. She'd been helping him draw up safety plans for the tournament with a ferocity that Quentin hadn't seen since her Welters days.

Janet wasn't the problem.

Eliot was. Eliot was the problem. Stupid Eliot with his long legs and him stubbornly deciding to listen to Quentin now and his penchant for sex in public shared spaces.

Quentin briefly thought he might be as lucky as he was the first time around, that Eliot might not notice him staring. But this time, Quentin didn't go unnoticed: Eliot turned his head, and caught sight of him.

For a second, they stared at each other, wide-eyed. And then—because Eliot was a suave, confident, cocksure, cocky little bastard—he smiled at Quentin, wide and self-satisfied, and continued pliantly accepting the rhythmic thrusts with beatific contentment.

Quentin was trapped by the heady sight of Eliot getting soundly fucked, and he felt uncomfortable in a way he didn't want to think about. His pants were tugging at him wrong, and that was—that was normal, people got hard-ons for plenty of reasons, right?—and then Eliot moaned, a low reverberating noise that somehow went right to Quentin's groin, taking his body's vague interest to full-alert, and that noise was what shocked Quentin out of this stunned, suspended moment.

He fled, leaving Eliot to it, Eliot's loud and musical panting the soundtrack to his escape.

Quentin squeezed into Whitespire, fleeing down random hallways until he found an empty one in the non-rotating part of the castle where he could collapse against a wall. The bricks were rough and cold against his back, even through the rich and warm fabric of the elaborately-embroidered doublet he wore. It was the right kind of sensation to anchor Quentin back to reality.

A brief amount of distance and time was all Quentin needed to be able to regard the moment logically. Sex was fine. Normal. Anyone was free to have as much consensual sex as they liked. Eliot was free to have sex with whomever he wanted. Wherever. Eliot was a free spirit. He was High King of Fillory. If he wanted to be bent over by the royal stables and thoroughly taken, then there was no law to stop him, and if there was, Eliot could neatly erase it. Janet would be the first to champion any such law. Especially once she saw the face Quentin would probably pull if Eliot ever announced it.

Quentin's mouth often moved without his express permission like that. It was annoying.

"Jesus, you look like you've swallowed a fish," Eliot said, loudly.

Quentin startled, smashing his elbow into the cold stone wall as he did. The pain was sharp enough to cover some of his confusion in Eliot appearing here, after being so recently...entangled.

"It better not be one of the carp in the gazing pond near Janet's bedroom," Eliot wagged a long finger at Quentin threateningly. Eliot's hair was askew under his crown; anyone would think it was just wind-swept if they didn't know any better. Quentin was grumpy about it, because no one should have a post-sex hairstyle that made it look like they'd spent an hour deliberately getting it styled at an expensive salon. "I spent forever convincing them not to eat any paper that shows up. I don't want to have to spend half a day charming more fish just because you had a random craving for sushi."

"There's no need to be so dramatic," Quentin said. Okay. Maybe that was a little louder than he meant it to be.

Eliot's eyebrows knotted. "Whatsoever could have gotten your knickers in such a knot today?"

Quentin tried to look away, but his eyes caught on a blossoming hickey on Eliot's neck and he felt hot. "Nothing."

If Eliot's eyebrows were knotted before, they were a tangle now that might never get undone. "Oh," Eliot said, after a pause, drawing the sound out. He leaned against the wall, his long legs crossing elegantly, his balance immaculate; if Quentin tried any movement so smooth he'd be on the flagstones immediately, ass over tea kettle. "You're peeved about Mallon."

Jesus, Quentin hated it whenever Eliot affected that smug-as-shit air. Then again, Quentin couldn't blame him. Their shared Brakebills background had proven time and again that they were all brilliant little shits; when one of them did know something the others didn't, it was rare enough to demand an iota of smugness.

"What the fuck is a Mallon?" Quentin asked, aware of the petulant tone drenching his question. He couldn't shake that irritability from his words; the agitation was lodged in his throat. Any sound he made would end up drowning in it before it could even leave his mouth.

"Not what. Who. My friend." Eliot gestured in the direction of the study, an elegant curve that with a little more angling on the fourth finger made up the first two gestures in Amelia Popper's seventeenth study. "Mallon. He's here for the tournament."

Quentin involuntarily and viscerally recalled the bunching, impressive muscles of the guy thrusting into Eliot. Oh gods. Quentin would jab his own eyes out with his thumbs, except it wouldn't help, the sight of it was already in his mind. There was no scrubbing it out now. "And just why, exactly, did you have to—" Quentin made a less elegant gesture that appeared in precisely zero of Lady Popper's punishing finger exercises. "Outside," he hissed, in conclusion. Eliot was so damned smart, he could understand the full question without Quentin having to say every single word, surely?

"You're the one who told me to do it outside," Eliot said, and Quentin nearly groaned out loud, because that's what he was dreading that Eliot would say.

Quentin shot a look at Eliot with as much misery in it as he could muster, even though that would probably amuse Eliot even more. "I said maybe. And I didn't mean it literally."

Eliot rubbed the side of his nose. "Then you shouldn't have suggested it. You know I like to take things literally sometimes."

Yeah, Quentin thought aggressively. Only when doing so steams somebody else. He breathed in sharply through his nose. "Well. I don't mean it literally," Quentin said, and tilted his chin as regally as he could. He was glad there were no mirrors nearby to show him how little his fantasy of regal matched his reality of it. "Don't do your receiving outside. Find somewhere private. Inside."

"Fine. I guess that's me told." Eliot still looked amused. It was probably because Quentin's face was doing something amusing without his express permission again.

"Yes. It is." Quentin pushed his shoulders back, trying to look as kingly as possible as he made his exit, swooping past Eliot, who remained elegantly leaning against the wall, watching Quentin. Like he was waiting for Quentin to trip over his own feet. Look, it wasn't Quentin's fault he fell over more often than other people. Like Eliot he had a lot of limbs to handle; unlike Eliot, he was about as naturally graceful as a duck on ice. It's why Quentin was so glad he had card tricks to fall back on as a teenager. Not just to impress Julia; most card tricks were done with you standing in one place. Less opportunity for dire public humiliation.

Quentin might have managed his exit with the imperial grace he was after if he didn't lean into Eliot and add in a hiss, "I hope Mallon trips and knocks himself out on the hilt of his own sword in the first round," as he passed Eliot. But what could Quentin say? He was working on that mature adulthood thing; he was still very much a work-in-progress.

Quentin couldn't bring himself to face Eliot at dinner.

All the other monarchs had rejected the idea of taking food in their private receptions, which just added to Quentin's frustration that Eliot had taken his liaison outside purely to mess with him. Remembering that the entire world did not revolve around him was difficult when people in his immediate world conspired to place him at the center of their various dramas.

Janet had commandeered a table in the kitchen itself for royal dining—she especially seemed to enjoy being able to terrorize some of the scullery maids in proximity—and Julia had taken to the idea with aplomb. Well. As much as Julia took to anything. She showed up at dinner time and sat down and ate with them, which for Queen Julia was high praise. There was something nice about dining together in an intimate space. But the idea of Eliot's face so close to his own made Quentin jittery for reasons he couldn't explain.

It was probably normal to be uncomfortable after seeing a good friend mid-coitus, he told himself. It was a vulnerable, personal act. Anyone would be embarrassed.

Quentin ended up skulking back to his room, stopping only by the royal wine cellar to lift a bottle of something that maybe counted as whiskey, if whiskey was supposed to have so many bubbles. The four of them generally called it whiskey and tried not to ask about what it was made from. That was the best thing to do when it came to Fillorian cuisine. As long as it didn't come from a talking animal, that's all Quentin needed to know. It wasn't until Quentin was back in his bedroom that he realized he'd also lifted two tumblers, automatically.

Eliot didn't always come to chat in Quentin's chamber before bedtime, but it was regular enough that they had a tradition—each drinking a large glass of the amber liquid that was probably-not-actually-whiskey-after-all. Well. Eliot would down his, and Quentin would do his level best to hide his own so he could take his time with it. It was always in Quentin's room, never Eliot's. Quentin wasn't sure why, only that Eliot liked it that way.

Quentin didn't know whether Eliot would visit him tonight, but he figured he might as well be prepared, so he poured two tumbler-fulls and placed one for Eliot on the windowsill, before hiding the mostly-full bottle under his bed and carefully putting his own tumbler on his nightstand. He'd need to move it if Eliot came in. Eliot's alcohol intake wasn't quite at the hedonistic levels it had peaked to in Manhattan (Quentin tried not to think about that era too much, because then he wanted to violently increase his own alcohol intake) but Quentin was not about to tempt a return to that if he could help it.

Quentin pulled on his pajamas, trying to desperately ignore his rumbling stomach. He glanced at the tumbler on his nightstand, because drinking on an empty stomach was probably a bad idea, but it still sounded a lot better concept than not drinking at all. He didn't know whether he wanted Eliot to come and find him or not.

He took a moment to enjoy the feeling of silk against his skin. Quentin had never worn something so ridiculously self-indulgent as silk pajamas back in his old life on Earth; everything he used to own there was a cotton or polyester-blend that Eliot and Janet would set on fire if he let them unsupervised within ten meters of his personal wardrobe.

His clothes had probably already been sold or donated to Goodwill by his landlord, whenever they realized Quentin wasn't coming back. Quentin had never been very materialistic; he'd packed light for that bullshit job at Plaxco, rented an already-furnished apartment, and even his wardrobe had been small, because why buy multiple suits when you could buy one and use magic to clean it every night? He didn't regret that he wouldn't see any of the crap in his apartment again. Besides, all the important things like his Fillory collection were still in storage at his parents' house.

Here in Fillory, the castle staff insisted on giving him fancy clothes, and provided him with exquisite clothes he didn't have to ask for. The more Quentin insisted on the plainest clothes available to him, the richer the fabrics those clothes were made of. The only reason Quentin wore the intricately embroidered tunics was that they reminded him of what he'd always imagined the Chatwins would wear, so he was glad to have predicted something right about Fillory (or the Chatwin kids described them very precisely to Plover. Or came back wearing them. But Quentin didn't like to think about Christopher Plover as much as he used to; Death of the Author was a concept Quentin was appreciating more the older he got.) Quentin had the sneaking suspicion that if he asked for any clothes that were a plain, single color, they'd come made of marble or gold or some other uncomfortable material.

Quentin was getting used to the rich clothes, and he had almost gotten the hang of wearing tights every day, and if he'd had any intention of going back to Earth, then maybe he'd consider taking the silk pajamas with him. As it was, it would take something immensely important to make him leave Fillory now. It was the fantasy land of his dreams, and it was real, and his. Now if only fantasy kingdoms that turned out to be secretly real could actually also turn out to make more sense, Quentin would be obliged. Although, Quentin should probably give some consideration to the fact that his biggest issue at the moment wasn't even a Fillorian citizen.

Eliot was rude. That was the real problem. Who took that sort of activity outside, where anyone could see them? As Quentin settled into his sheets, sighing at how comfortable they were, his indignation built up righteously. That sort of thing was something people ought to consent to see, surely?

Quentin had dabbled with a few things he wasn't proud of, moments where he'd been too high or too drunk for consent to be as clear as it should be (drunken, drugged pawing in the sweaty shadowy corners of Manhattan's night clubs; a threesome that he even now frustratingly could only remember jigsaw pieces of, the curve of Janet's back, stubble against his cheek, and something, a fragment of a feeling, a trace of fullness—but no, the memory was just as patchwork as it had ever been.) Quentin had been wrong then, so very wrong; he couldn't believe it had taken him so long to be shocked out of his post-Brakebills malaise; he could still barely believe that the cost of that lesson had been so much.

Shame crawled up Quentin's spine, a feeling he didn't enjoy, and he grumpily reached for the tumbler on his nightstand, gulping down some of the amber liquid. It scorched the back of his throat as it went down. He probably deserved that.

Consent. That's what he was thinking about. Surely even looking should be something one agreed to do. It wasn't even the first time Eliot had been in an intimate situation in a public place.

Quentin didn't like to think much about that time in the Observatory, when he'd caught Eliot on his knees, moments away from performing a sex act on another male student. The look on Eliot's face had been an expression Quentin had never forgotten. Sometimes it even swam up into Quentin's memories, slipped its way into the slideshow of his fantasies whenever Quentin was trying to spend some personal time in bed, just his hand and himself. That was perfectly normal, Quentin thought. Anyone you caught having sex would end up in your spank bank. The human libido was a willful creature and rarely stopped to check if its impulses were welcome.

This was all Eliot's fault, Quentin thought, and then sighed and had to disregard that. It was an old coping mechanism to blame everything on other people. Jesus, it was so annoying to have to be responsible about that sort of thing and not pass ownership for all of Quentin's most uncharitable thoughts to any likely candidate.

It didn't matter how annoyed Quentin was, there was something incredibly soothing about his Fillorian bedroom. It was spartan by choice and contained only what he needed. Two chairs that were currently doing double duty as closets. A night-table. A single rug and a couple of excellent tapestries, one of which cheered Quentin up every time he saw it; a griffin that seemed to watch you right from within the warp-and-weft. There was a portrait of a Fillorian soldier that Quentin was tempted to take down, because Eliot had seemed to rather like it a little too much, the last time they'd talked in here.

Quentin didn't want to think about that conversation, either, because then he remembered what they talked about (Julia) and then he would have to think how much of her whatever-it-was-she-was-going-through was his fault (a lot, probably; he should have tried harder to get Fogg to listen; surely there must have been a way?) and then he just became functionally useless for an entire day, which wasn't good when there was a tournament to prepare for. There would be time later to deal with blame, when he was out on the open sea and sailing toward adventure.

Quentin's cavernous and ruthlessly minimalist room had another benefit: the acoustics were such that if he was quiet enough—okay, sometimes his bedtime ritual was reciting paragraphs from The World in the Walls under his breath, what of it?—then he could hear if anyone was approaching. Eliot wore some truly dramatic shoes in his role as High King; he'd aesthetically risen to the role with aplomb like he'd been waiting his whole life for it; he suited the royal life in a way none of them did. Not even Janet, who wielded power and authority like a well-sharpened knife. Julia—beautiful, haunted, atmospheric—didn't look like a picture-book Queen, but she held attention in her slow and measured way, and her words when she spoke rang with the right weight of enigmatic importance that a Queen's voice should hold.

Okay, so, maybe it was just Quentin who didn't belong; even now he still had moments where he felt like a kid playing dress-up. He feared often that soon the bell for bedtime would ring and he'd wake up from this dream in his childhood home, ten years old, feeling keenly that he was small and unwanted and alone.

There was one occasion that Quentin remembered where his mother, on one of the very rare occasions that she noticed he was still there, had finally realized he'd had a growth spurt. (Quentin despaired that everyone was surprised by it; his father was over six foot tall from a historic line of beanpoles; his mother was a couple of inches away from supermodel height herself; if he'd been short it would have been more of a shock.) She'd looked surprised for a good ten minutes. Quentin supposed she thought he'd done it to spite her, somehow. Like his little prepubescent brain had loudly yelled "try to ignore this" and shot him up in height almost half a foot overnight. Sometimes Quentin wondered whether that was one of the magical workings that Fogg's array of globes had picked up on, before he knew magic was real.

Quentin hadn't stopped growing taller until he was a moody, lanky teenager. It still didn't make him stand out much more at home, except for the rare times he had to find a spare lightbulb in the closet under the stairs. Every single time he needed something from that closet, he made a loud noise—a very distinctive clunk!—every time he exited it; he always misjudged the height of it and he would hit his head against the top of the door frame. His mother would look up from her easel and frown slightly when she heard it, like some mysterious shadow had shifted in the corner of her eye, before her attention would drift back to her painting and Quentin would slope off with his painfully-won lightbulb, rubbing his head and wondering if any of the Chatwins had ever gotten the chance to become invisible. The Monitor Lizard was a questing beast that could grant invisibility for a year, but Quentin seemed to have been granted a lifetime of it from his parents.

Ugh, but Quentin was just depressing himself. He forced himself back onto his original thought-track—Eliot and his ridiculous shoes. That was the matter here. If Quentin closed his eyes and focused, he'd be able to hear Eliot clacking down the stone hallway. The acoustics in his bedroom were beautiful, making every noise echo in an unusual way, elegiacal and strange. Quentin took a deep breath, listened intently, and that's when he heard it.

Eliot was coming to see him.

Quentin scowled and, because his comforting room hadn't yet had enough time to seep all the annoyance from him, he turned his back to the door and burrowed down further into his sheets. Let Eliot find him asleep. Eliot had been discourteous receiving his gentleman caller outside where anyone could see; pretending to be asleep to stave off a social call wasn't anywhere near as rude as that.

He didn't need to be listening intently to hear his door open, or to hear Eliot close it behind him. Or to hear him in his ridiculous boots clacking across the floor to the drink Quentin had left him. Or to hear Eliot sigh when Quentin didn't even greet him.

"You're being ridiculous, Quentin," Eliot said.

Quentin pulled a face into his pillow. Eliot was the ridiculous one. He was the High King of Ridiculousness. Having sex outside was remarkably unhygienic. Shouldn't sex be the kind of thing you did inside, in sanitary conditions?

"You obviously expected me, or you wouldn't have left a drink for me," Eliot said, in a coaxing, soft voice. Like Quentin was an angry horse he could calm down with his voice. Or a puppy. First Eliot fornicates in public, then he dehumanizes Quentin. And he tried to call Quentin ridiculous? "Come on. Stop sulking."

Quentin pushed his mouth into a line. He wasn't sulking.

"You really don't have the facial structure for a good sulk," Eliot continued.

Quentin's mouth fell open and he wriggled around in bed, turning to irritably glare at him. "Excuse me?"

Eliot was grinning at him over the top of the glass of whiskey, his eyes sparkling. Quentin felt like he'd just been expertly played somehow, but he couldn't figure out the trick of it. "There you go," Eliot said, nonsensically. "You can't be angry at me for too long. It's a fact."

"Oh, it is, is it?" Quentin said, vaguely aware he should want to protest that—but honestly, was Eliot wrong? Eliot's mouth, always lopsided from his teeth, quirked even further to one side in a smirk that Quentin should be annoyed by, but Quentin guessed his cavernous bedroom had finally worked his magic. "Fine. It's a fact. Whatever."

"We missed you during dinner," Eliot said, turning with his own tumbler to stare out through the windows. "Well. Janet and I missed you. I don't know if Julia did. She mostly just stirred around some salad leaves, drank some water, and then shuffled closer to the fire. Janet thinks she was trying to photosynthesize."

"That just reminds me of that plant commercial." Quentin shuffled in his bed, pushing himself into a sitting position. The slide of his silk pajamas— against whatever just-as-soft material his sheets were made of—sometimes made some bed maneuvers dangerous. Quentin pushed with both feet and was glad Eliot's gaze was still averted, so he wasn't watching Quentin just flail around in bed.

"Which one?" Eliot said, turning to look at him.

Quentin sighed. So much for not being seen struggling. "Where they say we wouldn't give our kids just water, so why do you only give plants water; you should buy fancy fertilizer. I'm sorry. If I had a kid, and they could photosynthesize, I would just give them water and shove them out on the lawn."

Eliot raised his eyebrows judgmentally. "Warn me if you're ever seriously considering reproducing so I can start saving up for therapy for them."

"I'm not planning on it." Quentin puffed out his cheeks. "Do you think having parental experiences that you wouldn't want to revisit on your own progeny is an essential part of Brakebills picking you, or just more of a Physical Kids thing?"

Eliot snorted, obviously tickled at the thought. "Jesus, I haven't thought of that for a while. Physical Kids. Kids was the right term. We were so young."

"Speak for yourself," Quentin said, who'd really been the youngest of them all, in more than just the physical sense. Quentin wondered whether his stunted emotional growth was a him thing or his upbringing. Nature or nurture, both fucked you over in different ways.

"The physical part, though," Eliot mused, "that's the part I've always excelled at. I'm sure many Fillorians think so."

Quentin glared at Eliot, starting to cycle back to annoyed again. "I'm sure they do."

"I wasn't so sure of this tournament thing at first, but it's nice to have a new pool of muscular men to hit on." Eliot raised the tumbler. "Cheers to that, King Quentin. Sometimes you do manage amazing things, even if I'm sure increasing my dating options wasn't part of your conscious planning."

"Sure it was," Quentin said amiably, reaching for his tumbler so Eliot couldn't get designs on it also being for him. "Find a talented swordsman, create some entertainment for the masses, increase High King Eliot's chances of getting lucky. It's my three-part strategy to success."

Eliot snorted again. "As well it should be. I've heard jousting isn't on the menu. Any particular reason?"

Quentin had nixed it for being much too phallic for his calm. The sword jokes that were already flowing from Janet's mouth like water were already too much. Adding jousting on top was like adding unnecessary fuel to a forest fire.

"The horses complained," Quentin said. It wasn't a lie. They had.

"They complain about everything. You probably shouldn't let it stop you. They'll get soft."

"I complain about everything. I couldn't judge."

"You hardly complain about everything," Eliot said, kindly.

"Just the important things." Quentin eyeballed Eliot. "Like when certain people have sex outside."

Eliot sighed noisily. "So we're back to that?"

"I hadn't left."

"You're the one who said I should do my receiving elsewhere, you were the one to cite outside as an option."

"Yes, I'm well aware of what words I said that you twisted."

"I didn't twist anything." Eliot tilted his head. "Well, there was certainly something of Mallon's that you could say that—"

"Oh my god."

Eliot put his tumbler down on the windowsill with a loud clunking noise. "Look, I didn't come here to argue. I was worried. You didn't show for dinner. I wanted to know if you were okay. That's all."

There was a note in Eliot's voice, like he was genuinely annoyed at Quentin. Quentin squirmed, feeling heated again, only this time it felt more like misery, and not the same kind of warmth when he thought about Eliot bending over outside, with Mallon, behind him, around him. Inside him. Jesus. Okay, maybe it was that kind of hot feeling too.

"Sorry," Quentin said, his voice feeling thick. "I just—"

Eliot's chin tensed mulishly. "You just don't mind I am the way I am, as long as I don't shove your face in it?"

Quentin flinched. This was a new heat, a third heat. He'd never thought anything like that, not for a second. Never considered it for the briefest moment as something to be ashamed of, and he was angry that Eliot would even accuse him of it. "That's not it at all. And I thought you'd know that would be the last thing I would ever accuse you of, considering."

Eliot still held his face and shoulders at a tense and deliberate confrontational angle. "Considering?"

"That you know full well I'm not opposed to—" Quentin started.

There was something dangerous in Eliot's eyes, something daring Quentin onward, like he was fully aware that Quentin's impulse was to couch the language in metaphors, to leave it unsaid. Eliot's expression loudly said that he had hefty amounts of money on Quentin shoving his head in the sand. Quentin forged onward, because honestly, fuck Eliot for thinking that Quentin would be like that.

"You know that it would be hypocritical of me to have a problem with two men fucking," Quentin said, loudly. "Wouldn't it?"

Quentin held Eliot's gaze triumphantly. See. He could say it without stumbling over the words; without that guilt-inducing threesome having to remain fully hidden in Polaroid snapshots of a severely-drink-compromised memory.

Something flickered across Eliot's face that looked a little bit like shame, but maybe it was shame directed at himself, not Quentin. "I guess it would," Eliot said lightly, taking pity on Quentin's fractured nerves by turning his face away, so Quentin didn't have to maintain that intense eye contact any longer.

Quentin's breathing felt weirdly strained, like he'd just run a marathon. "You really think I'd deliberately be a dick about it?"

"You're hardly effusive about it," Eliot mumbled.

Quentin squinted at Eliot dubiously. "I'm hardly effusive about anything that's not the collected works of Christopher Plover, obscure finger casting techniques from the sixties, or how to avoid Janet when she's in the mood to do something social and all I want to do is hide in the library for a few hours."

"Well. That's true too, I suppose."

"I don't mind what you do, Eliot. I never did. I just don't want to see it happen outside," Quentin said, every single syllable delivered in a stiff and dry voice that he hated, but couldn't stop. "Anyone could walk in on it—any Fillorian, and we have so many people coming in for the tournament—and maybe the castle staff are used to it, but they're not, and that's not fair."

There was a pause. Quentin wondered whether he'd been unfair to even be upset, let alone clarify it.

"You know what," Eliot said, "that's actually more than fair to feel that way."

Quentin released the breath he'd been holding. "It is."

"I'm sorry," Eliot said. Whether he was sorry about the outside shenanigans, or for thinking Quentin would be a dick about his sexuality, he didn't clarify. Quentin would never push. Even an I'm sorry was rare. It clearly cost Eliot something dear every time he said it; Quentin would never make it worse for him by demanding more than Eliot could give. "I won't do it again."

"Thank you."

"I should get some sleep." Eliot's face did something complicated, like he regretted something deeply, or like he was embarrassed, but that was probably Quentin doing that badly-interpreting-emotions thing he excelled at, because Eliot didn't do things like embarrassment or regret. Even the single apology had probably exceeded Eliot's sorriness quota for the year. "It's been a long day."

"Sure," Quentin said. His voice still felt strained. "I hope you sleep well."

Eliot gestured vaguely, no grace, no magical movement in it. "I'll try." He headed to the door, and after opening it, paused at the threshold, looking back at Quentin. In the shadows, Eliot's face became a jigsaw of shapes. "Good night, Quentin."

"Good night," Quentin echoed, and then Eliot was gone.

The castle carpenters were making bleachers for the banquet hall, so the audience for the tournament would have somewhere to sit.

Fillory was a constant contradiction in the things it had and the things it didn't have. Apparently no monarch in the history of Fillory had ever even thought about staggered seating. There was something heady in getting to describe something that was old-hat on Earth, and getting stared at worshipfully by Fillorians who thought you were a god-damned genius. Quentin was a genius, thank you very much, compared to most struggling mortals back on Earth. You couldn't be a magician and not be. But compared to other classically-trained magicians, Quentin did not think he was anything exceptionally special, so it was somewhat nice to be looked at with some real and earnest appreciation.

Quentin was keeping an eye on them. He felt like it was the kingly thing to do. Some of the stewards had set up an impromptu nest of cushions for him to sit on, moments after noticing him awkwardly loitering by a wall, and he was being brought a suspicious number of snacks from the maids. It took Quentin a moment to notice why the maids were taking every opportunity to drop by his royal nest: beyond the construction of the bleachers, several of the swordsmen who'd come to take part in the tournament were in the castle courtyard. Stretching. Most of them had neglected to wear a shirt and their skin looked suspiciously oiled.

It was some sort of posturing, Quentin supposed. They were showing off like peacocks, trying to psych out their opponents before the tournament had even begun. Classic posturing. Quentin kept his gaze averted and pretended it wasn't because months of being waited on hand and foot had given him a physique that faintly resembled a failed pancake, and it was difficult not to compare himself to them unfavorably.

Quentin couldn't stop side-eyeing the swordsmen, all who seemed to be doing various athletic and bendy warm-up exercises. Some of them were waving weapons around energetically. Were they posing for Quentin? It wasn't going to be an aesthetic tournament; Quentin had already announced the winner would be whomever was the most skilled. It was brackets all the way until there was a single victor. Quentin was about to gracelessly clamber up off his cushions and go back inside when he noticed who the swordsmen were posturing for.

They were preening for Eliot, of course. Quentin had missed he was there originally, some of the construction equipment for the bleachers had been in the way, but a stack of wood had been moved, and now Quentin could see him, leaning against a boulder and smirking at probably the most muscular man Quentin had ever seen in his life. Jesus, the guy had to be a foot taller even than Eliot, and he was brawny, muscles bulging on muscles Quentin hadn't known even existed. He had a big shaggy brown beard, too, the same color as his glistening, naked skin—like all the other swordsmen he was stripped to the waist—and Quentin promptly named him Bearded Guy in a fit of terrible creativity.

Eliot was smiling at Bearded Guy, his distinctive askew teeth turning the edge of his smile up in a way that hinted at richly promising misadventure. Quentin frowned as the Bearded Guy flexed in front of Eliot. It was so obvious. Shouldn't flirting be an art? This wasn't an art, this was—a loaded weapon. Bearded Guy moved fluidly. Quentin hadn't known someone with so many muscles could move that way, like he was swimming deep underwater, and gravity didn't mean the same to him like it did for everyone else. Eliot seemed to be appreciative of it too, sweeping Bearded Guy with a lingering elevator glance. Obvious, too. Perhaps that was how normal people did things, Quentin thought, frowning. Everything Quentin had seen of romance, or read in a book, seemed to be say flirtation should be an art, not this—raw, and—unsubtle. And effective as hell, if the way Eliot was letting Bearded Guy slide a large, capable hand possessively around one of Eliot's upper arms was indicative of anything.

Quentin tried to picture flirting that way with anyone. It didn't matter how he turned the scenario up and down and around in his head, somehow all his daydreams ended with someone punching him in the face. He sighed. Eliot had charisma, that's what the difference was. Eliot had charm. Quentin couldn't flirt his way out of a paper bag. If he tried, people tended to just offer him remedies for trapped gas.

Frowning, Quentin turned to the next maid who'd come to drop him something. She was holding a small golden plate of green grapes and staring at the field full of men, ignoring Quentin completely. Quentin couldn't fault her. She didn't even stir when Quentin reached out and pulled down the grapes. Well. It was probably rare that there was a perk to serving royalty day and night; Quentin couldn't begrudge any of the castle staff some ogling.

Especially when the High King himself was doing some dedicated ogling himself.

Quentin pulled a grape from the rescued bunch, began to lift it to his mouth, only for it to be swiped from his fingers with a cool, firm grip. He turned to stare accusingly at Julia.

Julia wasn't looking at him. She was sitting cross-legged on the cushions, her eyes locked on some birds swooping overhead. Her hair hung limply down her back. She was wearing black, but she always wore black now. The Fillorians loved their Goth Queen, as well they should. Quentin should probably love her too. He prodded at that thought experimentally. She was beautiful, and the rare magic that Quentin saw her use was hauntingly beautiful, every time.

She ate her purloined grape with a careful snap of her teeth. "You're not in love with me," she said.

Quentin blinked, several times in a row. She wasn't even looking at him. He frowned at the elegant lines of her profile, at the sharp lines of her exposed collarbones. "I'm not?"

"You just think you are," Julia continued.

Jesus, she didn't know how to pull her punches, did she? Quentin's cheeks felt warm. He felt numb at how confidently she was speaking. She knew things, things Quentin knew he never would know: it was evident from the glassy look in her eyes sometimes, or the things she would whisper under her breath when she zoned out from reality for stretches at a time. She spoke like every single word from her mouth was incontrovertible fact.

"Okay," Quentin said. He didn't recognize his own voice. It sounded unsteady. Small. It reminded him of his younger self. Fifteen and hunched in front of a grainy video on an old television set, desperately trying to recreate a magic trick that was decades old. Quentin had relentlessly figured out so many of the oldest magic tricks in the book, and those not even in the books. He wondered now how many of them he could actually pull off, and which ones his own magic had intervened to fix, to protect him by distracting him from his failure.

Julia turned her face to look at Quentin. Her pupils seemed blown, like the grape she'd stolen had been of the pharmaceutical kind. Quentin found himself automatically putting the rest of them down, awkwardly perching the bunch on one of the cushions. It looked like Julia was gearing up to say something important. The air felt pregnant with potential. A secret, maybe. A clue to a quest.

"You're not very observant," Julia said, eventually, after a long pause.

Quentin felt himself deflating. He felt like an idiot for expecting something monumental. Instead, it was an insult. This was the price of too-high expectations, Quentin thought glumly, and then he felt hot in a different way. The burn this time seemed to be in his chest.

Not very observant? Quentin? He was absolutely observant. Totally capable of seeing all the things. Look at him now, observing how Bearded Guy was moving in closer to Eliot, one large capable hand moving to Eliot's slim waist; Quentin could see each of Bearded Guy's fingers carefully splayed over the richly embroidered fabric of the doublet Eliot was wearing, the floral pattern in Eliot's clothes embedded and tessellated like the key-and-bee that could be found throughout Brakebills. The heat in his chest crawled aimless throughout his body, twisting and tunneling through him.

"You're looking," Julia said. She shrugged elegantly and got to her feet in one smooth motion. Her skirt swished around her, a swirl of black lace. She looked down at Quentin, the Fillorian suns spilling a halo around her head. "You're not seeing."

Quentin opened his mouth to reply, but he wasn't quite sure what to say, and Julia swept away before anything came to mind. He snapped his mouth shut and his gaze moved sullenly over to the swordsmen. Several of them were still flexing and doing push-ups, but Eliot and the Bearded Guy had gone. Quentin's stomach twisted unpleasantly and he didn't want to be outside anymore.

When Quentin struggled up from the cushions, he wasn't anywhere near as graceful as Julia. The maid who'd come by to bring him something else—a plate of cookies of some sort, Quentin thought—firmly looked elsewhere as he flailed upward ungracefully.

Quentin examined the scene in front of them for a moment, before concluding the workmen would probably be insulted by too much observation. Which is what Quentin was doing. Observing them. Because he was observant! What did Julia know? She spent half her days lying in a field and chatting to small-to-medium sized animals.

He was still muttering about it as he stomped back into the castle. Observant. Of all things to accuse him of. Quentin was totally observant. He was super observant. He...had to apologize profusely for nearly walking into a bunch of servants, okay, but that wasn't his fault, he was preoccupied with the dire slander he'd just received, that near collision was totally not his fault.

Quentin sighed and rubbed his forehead. He did have some paperwork to get to. Being King of Fillory meant he didn't have much to do, but there were still a few. Several archaic systems that had been put in place by a king of old who really liked to make sure Castle Whitespire's treasury was exactingly accounted for at all times, and paying out for the Muntjac to be fixed and the tournament to be arranged had come with several scrolls-worth of figures to input. Thankfully, Quentin was still deeply a nerd at heart, and after the last twenty-four hours, a night with a quill and some math to sink into didn't sound too bad.

He should also formulate what to say when he saw Eliot next. Quentin couldn't shake the feeling he still probably owed Eliot a slight apology after their talk last night.

What evidence had Quentin ever given him that he wouldn't be just like all the other dreadful judgmental gossips at Brakebills? Eliot wasn't the wunderkind of obliviousness that Quentin had been, in those pre-Fillory years—Eliot had to know the whole school talked about his preferences, candidly, with open derision. Sure, Quentin had never joined in with the spreading of rumors on campus; he had loftily refused to even deny that he might have been one of Eliot's boys; he had considered himself better than that, morally superior for not giving into the urge to spread infantile, puerile, abusive gossip. But would Eliot have known that Quentin had never denied it? Quentin had to finally face the horrible truth: never denying it wasn't nearly enough.

Refusing to deny he was one of Eliot's boys had been a band-aid—a nod towards the right thing, not a full-on step. Quentin had made an iota of effort towards taking the moral path, and had considered it enough. He'd been too baffled at other people's condemnation to manage much more than that. People who loved as openly as Eliot did were just trying to get through life; they were trying to have a good time and maybe they were hoping to fall in love while doing so; what was wrong with that? They were champions of optimism. They deserved celebration for not having seen the bleakness of life and instantly fallen into a terrible abyss of fatalistic pessimism. In one way, Eliot was kind of a hero for fucking his way through Fillory.

Well. Maybe that was going too far. Quentin felt cheered up for thinking it, though. He'd find some way to tell Eliot that, hopefully couched in a way that wouldn't make the High King's head any bigger than it already was.

The thing was, though, as much as Quentin knew he probably owed Eliot that overdue apology, he also couldn't erase the feeling that Eliot owed him one, in return. But was that right? Quentin considered himself Fillorian now and Fillorians were much more open about sex than humans; Quentin probably shouldn't be imposing the ideals of his upbringing to this other world, especially considering his upbringing was less than ideal.

Quentin was used to just being able to dive into a pile of books for his answers, but what were books, but a collection of usually second- or third-hand reports? Quentin was surrounded by first-hand sources, he should use them. There was nothing stopping him from asking a Fillorian whether they thought Eliot's antics were rude. Perhaps one of the members of castle staff would spare him some time, but would they give their King the right answer, or just the answer they thought he wanted to hear?

Perhaps he could come up with a disguise. His white hair was much too distinctive. Quentin briefly regretted that Brakebillian inter-Discipline rivalry had been so strong, because in retrospect he could have done with some more illusion casting in his repertoire. Perhaps he could give himself a horse's head. Or a bear. Nearly a fifth of all Fillorians had some animal aspect to their physiology: Quentin didn't like to think about the how of it too deeply; Janet relished in loudly discussing it, probably because of how uncomfortable it made everyone.

If Quentin could come up with a good enough disguise, maybe he could even enter his own tournament. If it was solid enough, his friends wouldn't have to know if he got knocked on his ass in the first round. And who knew? Sure, he was out of shape, but he'd been strong, before he spent six months sitting on said ass and not using magic and promptly losing all his shiny, grief-honed powers. It could be worse, Quentin thought; he could still be in that monochrome office at PlaxCo, counting down how many minutes until it was socially acceptable to go use the coffee maker again.

It was a shame Fillory didn't do caffeine, because it would be good to have now Quentin's to-do list had piled up: treasury paperwork; disguise brainstorming; figuring out how to fully clear the air with Eliot. Things were always better when he and Eliot were on the same page. Quentin nodded to himself. He should make some notes first. He pushed open the door to his study, and all his good intentions for productivity fled instantly.

Because his functionally sparse study was currently very occupied.

Graphically occupied.

Bearded Guy was sitting on Quentin's chair, completely naked, his bare ass directly on Quentin's favorite cushion. And sitting on Bearded Guy, in the most intimate possible definition of that phrase, was Eliot, of course. Naked too, apart from his crown.

Quentin's brain went instantly, completely blank.

Eliot didn't even stop moving for a second, just continued working himself deeper on Bearded Guy's substantial endowment. There was an interesting flush across Eliot's pale chest; Quentin's eyes got weirdly stuck on a prominent tendon in Eliot's neck. Eliot was hard, almost painfully so, a drop of fluid pearling onto the tip. Eliot's gaze met Quentin's. His curly hair stuck damply to his forehead as he smirked.

"You said not outside," Eliot gasped out, his smirk widening.

Bearded Guy chuckled into Eliot's shoulder. One of his large hands was braced against Quentin's desk, the other cupped around Eliot's chest, a large thumb stroking near one of Eliot's nipples. Sometimes the gesture caught and Eliot made this hiccupy sound, like he couldn't help it, like he couldn't believe it felt so good. Bearded Guy's mouth widened on seeing Quentin still stood there, staring.

"Does your friend want to join in?" Bearded Guy asked, staring at Quentin with a lewd expression.

Eliot looked at Quentin, that infernal smirk lingering. "If he likes," Eliot said, nonchalantly, but then moaned, his thighs quivering, and that was the moment that jarred Quentin loose from whatever hypnotism had held him still.

Quentin found himself being able to move again, and just for one brief second, Quentin found himself lurching forwards, like he couldn't help himself. But it reminded him of something, suddenly. A time he wanted to forget. Heading out to a club with Eliot, night after night, high and drunk and handsy, always handsy, and was it always strangers? Was it Quentin's memories or imagination that sometimes his hands had found Eliot, in the safe, anonymous darkness of a hundred different nightclubs?

Quentin let out a cry and flung himself backwards, storming out of his study and slamming the door. His limbs felt unsteady as he stumbled along the hallway to his bedroom at the far end.

Somehow Quentin managed to get into his room and he leaned against the inside door, blankly staring into his cavernous, sparse bedroom. His breathing was ragged. How could Eliot think that was—why would Eliot do that—in Quentin's space? Like that? Put himself on—on display like that?

And Julia's words were still running around his mind too. Not observant. Not observant? Quentin could remember every single detail of what just happened, every single little aspect of Eliot's receiving, and little was entirely the wrong word. Quentin felt overly warm, almost feverish. Did the two of them start out in that position, or work up to it? Did the Bearded Guy gruffly order Eliot around, maybe tell him to get on his knees? Eliot would comply, Eliot liked that.

Julia thought Quentin wasn't observant, but Quentin still vividly remembered every detail of the first time he'd ever caught Eliot in an intimate situation. Like Quentin's study, the Observatory had been a quiet haven for Quentin to sit and read. Unlike his study, it was technically a shared space for the students; Quentin just rarely found anyone else up there. Until the day he did. Eliot was on his knees, cajoling another boy into dominating him. Belittling him. And Eliot—Eliot got off on that. Eliot looked at Eric's dick like it had been the best thing Eliot had ever seen in his entire life.

Quentin wasn't observant? Quentin saw everything that day, and he could still remember it with painful clarity, even the parts he'd been reluctant to acknowledge at the time—the bulge at the apex of Eliot's spread knees; the flush at Eliot's cheekbones; the way Quentin's pants had briefly felt uncomfortable as he shakily climbed down the ladder.

Quentin's pants weren't just uncomfortable right now, they were agony. His hands were at the ties to release them before he even realized he was doing it, but even after faltering, he had to continue, because to keep it contained would hurt too much. He murmured an incoherent noise as his heated erection hit the cold air; Quentin wrapped a hand around it reflexively, and his thighs thrust forward into the grip of their own accord. Like all magicians, Quentin's grip was strong; he used that to set a punishing rhythm, his hips continuing to stutter into his clenching fingers. He was fully feverish now, heat pushing behind his eyeballs, pooling in his groin, making him feel sweaty all over.

Eliot always did blush beautifully when he was aroused. Quentin was observant, but that was a regret to harbor now, because Quentin must have seen everything in that rueful threesome. Only having the briefest, polaroid snapshots of it was a curse. Quentin could remember flashes still. Stubble against his cheek in a desperate, passionate kiss; Eliot's large hand soothing down Quentin's spine, hot fingertips lingering at every knob of his spine; those fingers dipping down at the sensitive curve of Quentin's ass, dropping low, searching. And later, Quentin thrusting into Janet, her clever heat urging him further up, further in—Eliot had been staring at him the whole time, rubbing Quentin's chest with his capable fingers, whispering sweet encouragements, Quentin, you're doing it, you're doing so well—

Quentin came, warm sticky wetness streaking violently out of him, making a mess of his pants, his tunic, his face. His breathing hitched as he stroked himself through the aftermath, trying to gulp in enough air to process it; he ended up laughing to himself as he tucked himself away and sank to the cold stone floor. That was kind of weird, right? His face felt impossibly hot. He had the notion that if he looked in a mirror, he'd be bright red all over.

He ended up staying on the floor for he wasn't sure how long. He was there until his stomach grumbled at him, which considering how much he'd snacked earlier indicated he'd been there too long. Quentin managed to get to his feet, his legs unsteady beneath him, and he hurried into his adjoining bathroom, using magic to make the water as scorching hot as he could. He deserved that. He needed to scour all those thoughts away from him, because maybe it was wrong to use the memory of a friend like this? For his own pleasure?

Quentin re-dressed in clothes that were pretty close to the ones he'd worn that morning. He tugged at the doublet, a couple inches shorter than the other one and embroidered in a slightly different pattern. He couldn't shake the idea that anyone could take one look at him and know that he'd just come, thinking about Eliot. He felt like it was written all over his face.

It was long past any reasonable time to get lunch. Which meant Quentin had missed the daily balcony wave (while not always Quentin's favorite thing, a bit of admiration might be nice right now), but it did mean the kitchens might be relatively empty. That buoyed Quentin on to leave his room, even if he did listen out for an obscenely long time to be sure Eliot wasn't anywhere near.

Quentin was distracted by his thoughts as he hurried to the kitchens. He thought about how he should be feeling guilty (for using a friend's intimate moment for his own pleasure), but he should also be angry (that was Quentin's personal space and shouldn't you get consent before making people see things like that?), and mostly he was just confused. He was feeling something, he just didn't really know what it was. Maybe he was just hungry.

There was always food left out in the kitchens: it was that Fillorian abundance-of-everything thing raising its head again. Quentin ambled in, smiling amiably at the maids who were milling around at the far end, and he wandered over to the table. He pocketed an apple in a half-hearted pretense that he was actually going to eat it, instead of leaving it in his pocket for some poor castle servant to discover later, and then drifted towards the end of the table with the plates of baked goods. The head baker made these sweet, pillowy bread buns with currants and nuts in them; Quentin had a soft spot for them. He picked one up, turned around to scuttle off with it, and promptly dropped it in surprise, where it rolled to the corner across a disappointingly dirty floor.

Quentin barely even noticed it drop. He was much too distracted by the guy from his study. Bearded Guy. The man who had been fucking Eliot. Standing right there in the kitchen doorway.

He wasn't as large as Quentin thought, but he was still an imposing figure. Wide shoulders. Strong arms. Cheekbones that could cut glass. He was effortlessly gorgeous, someone who back on Earth would be pulling millions of dollars just for smiling into a camera.

Quentin gulped noisily, trying desperately not to remember how hard he'd come, thinking about that guy and Eliot together. Quentin's dick even had the audacity to twitch at the sight of Bearded Guy. Quentin wanted to stare judgmentally at it, but he didn't want to have to explain to anyone why he was scowling at his own crotch.

"Oh, it's you," Bearded Guy said. His voice sounded husky. Maybe he'd been returning that act that Quentin knew Eliot used to favor, back in school. Quentin shut that thought down hard, not wanting to think about it. "Yeah. The High King talks about you a lot."

Quentin forced an awkward smile, reaching out backwards to clumsily pick up another bun to shove in his pocket with the apple. Thankfully he didn't fumble it this time; his juggling reflexes kept coming in handy in life. So many of Quentin's childhood obsessions kept turning out to be surprisingly useful.

"Oh," Quentin said, because he could always be counted on to be socially eloquent.

Bearded Guy moved toward the table, the corner of his mouth lifted up. "He's really fond of saying your name."

Quentin frowned. Well. He supposed that made sense. Quentin was turning the castle upside down with the arrangements for his tournament and his following planned voyage out to the Outer Isles; he supposed it made sense that he'd come up a lot in conversation. Even though Eliot and Bearded Guy didn't look like they were doing much talking when Quentin had seen them.

"Oh, um, that's nice," Quentin said vaguely.

If the Bearded Guy was there for food, he was going about it weirdly, looking at Quentin a lot instead. "Sorry about the show. I didn't know that room was yours."

"I, oh, forget it, it's fine," Quentin said. His coherence had fled out of the building, apparently. Bearded Guy being right there was messing up something in Quentin's brain. He couldn't help but flashback, vividly; Bearded Guy's thighs, bracketing Eliot's perfectly, and his strong brown fingers pressed against Eliot's pale skin. Eliot always took the time to do his sun protection spells; he liked having the same aesthetic aura of a Victorian gentle-person dying of consumption.

Quentin was planning to set sail again soon, this time for the Eastern horizon. When he'd been on the Skywalker, on his voyage to the West to find the White Stag, Quentin's skin had tanned from the constant exposure to the sun, a deep rich brown that had taken weeks of hiding himself away in the chrome and glass of PlaxCo to fade. Now he was back in Fillory, and spending hours lazing outside, his skin was tanning again. It was fainter than his western voyage, but maybe on the Muntjac he would return home with that same brown hue, and the idea of that rich color against Eliot's pale soft skin—Quentin could imagine sun-touched dark fingers splayed against Eliot's anemic paleness—Eliot would tilt his head back, eyes glassy from how good the pressure of Quentin's hand would feel, exposing more of his neck so Quentin could wrap his fingers more firmly around that vulnerable expanse—

"Oh," Bearded Guy said throatily, startling Quentin from his daydream; Quentin's cheeks heated as he noticed Bearded Guy's eyes lingering down at Quentin's crotch, where Quentin's body, as usual, was doing its own thing without explicit permission. Quentin wasn't entirely sure how it was even managing to rise to attention, considering the morning he'd already had. "Oh, you clearly did enjoy the show."

Quentin watched Bearded Guy warily as Bearded Guy put one of his large hands on the table behind Quentin, leaning in, his eyes intently locked on Quentin's.

"Um," Quentin managed to say, eloquently. His brain felt like it was blue-screening. Bearded Guy was hot, muscles on muscles, and Quentin had seen him naked. Had seen his powerful body thrusting into Eliot's like he was part-machine.

Bearded Guy put his face close to Quentin's ear. Quentin felt hot all over, and shivery. He wasn't sure how his legs were remembering to stay upright.

"I've never fucked two Kings in one day before," Bearded Guy whispered.

Quentin watched him, warily. Objectively, the man was attractive. And for some reason, even though he'd already been with Eliot, he did seem to also be really into Quentin. Quentin was never quite sure how to feel about that, whether he should feel sorry for them having weird taste or not, but if someone was willing to openly flirt with him, he was usually game to give it a try. Okay, so, usually it was women who cornered him in a bedroom and kissed him before he had a chance to overthink it. But—save for that terrible period in Manhattan that Quentin didn't like to think about—as an impulse it had never really served Quentin wrong.

Quentin had never really had a problem with his own sexuality, to the point that he just resolutely never thought about it. He didn't see why he should. It was what it was; he never saw the worth in labeling it. He knew that love and sexual compatibility were difficult to find, so you might as well give into the opportunity wherever it appeared; you should take the offered ingredients to happiness wherever you could.

Quentin could be slow at it, though. He usually had to get to know a person before really wanting to do anything more than some half-hearted petting in a dark corner. Even his one foray into polyamory (could it be called a foray if it was a depressed, drunken hook-up?) had been with two people he knew really well and had known for a long time. So it wasn't the fact it was a man right now catching his eye that bothered him; Quentin was only perplexed that this attraction was so sudden.

It wasn't like Eliot was dating the man. Eliot didn't date anyone. Eliot saw nothing wrong with using and losing someone. Why should Quentin act any differently? He was single. He had grieved the loss of a loved one. He should try moving on.

Bearded Guy's smirk widened when he realized Quentin wasn't ducking out of reach and he moved the hand from the table and up to Quentin's wooden shoulder. The weight of it was heavy, even if Quentin couldn't feel it the way he would have had it been his flesh-and-blood one. Quentin watched the guy warily, to see what he'd do next. He felt like if he opened his mouth to say anything that the guy might disappear entirely, explode into confetti fragments like a dream.

Quentin was undeniably hard again now. Had Bearded Guy held Eliot like this? Bearded Guy's fingers slipped to hold Quentin's neck, his fingers strong and hotter than Quentin had expected them to be, like a furnace.

Quentin's gaze slipped to the guy's mouth, still trying to really decipher if he wanted this. His body was clearly up to it; he thought he might even be panting. His mouth tingled for a moment with the echo of another kiss, scruff against his face as his lips were locked in a desperate embrace. He might not have been able to remember that night clearly, but he remembered one thing: he liked it. He really liked it. If Bearded Guy kissed him now—

He was so far into the what if that it took Quentin much too long to realize Eliot had come into the kitchen too. Quentin blinked, confused, and then he jolted backwards, slamming painfully into the jutting edge of the table. The pain helped focus him and Quentin realized how it would look, with Quentin staring up at Eliot's conquest, probably looking desperate, and close to doing something very unQuentinish. Which made Quentin wonder for a second about doing it. So what if Quentin fucked this guy, right here, right now? Eliot clearly thought that sort of thing was okay.

But when Quentin looked over Bearded Guy's shoulder, Eliot face was doing something intensely complicated, he looked—

Well, Quentin didn't know what Eliot's face was doing, to be honest. Magic, puzzles, obscure casting, deep-dives into overanalyzing the Fillory books, and overthinking each and everything he did; that was Quentin's territory, not this. Quentin squirmed under the Bearded Guy's hot gaze and he nimbly ducked to the side, getting out of Bearded Guy's way.

Eliot's face had cleared up by then, his expression carefully blank, but Quentin still couldn't really look at him.

"Ah, Quentin," Eliot said. "Janet said if I saw you to let you know dinner tonight would be by the river. And if you skipped it like you skipped the balcony wave today, she'd remove your lungs and box you around the ears with them while your lifeforce drained out of you."

"Specific," Bearded Guy grunted. "I like it."

Quentin turned to glare at him, and by Bearded Guy's wince, he thought his disproving glares must have improved—until he realized Eliot was glaring at him too.

"That's a direct quote, isn't it," Quentin realized. He smiled weakly at Eliot. "I'll be there."

Eliot opened his mouth to say something else, but Quentin realized he didn't want to hear it, so he smiled improbably widely, and then fled the kitchens at a clip. Eliot didn't like running. He said the speed of it—without the undulating motion of a horse beneath him or his wings rippling behind him, because Eliot never minded some good horseriding or some idle time flying in a decent breeze—did terrible things to his hair.

Maybe it was childish, but some distance felt like the right decision to make.

Distance was a good idea. Quentin managed to erase some of the tension boiling in his stomach by doing the deepest clean possible on his study. He used every scouring spell he knew, and, when he was through those, he boiled some water and scrubbed every possible surface. He aired the room out thoroughly, re-arranged the furniture, and swapped out the chair in his study for the one in Janet's. She'd never know. She never used hers.

Julia came to fetch him for dinner, looking highly unimpressed at being used to essentially babysit Quentin. Quentin sulked when she appeared in his doorway, because while Quentin might be vaguely uncertain about being in proximity to Eliot at the moment, avoiding Janet was a dangerous hobby he only practiced when he really needed to. Janet was feisty. And relentlessly smart. And ferociously dedicated to screwing you over if you messed with her. Quentin wasn't going to waste his good hiding spots unnecessarily. Anyway, as far as Quentin was concerned, Eliot was the one who should be avoiding him.

Quentin almost groaned as soon as he realized why they were eating outside and not in the kitchens. The spot Janet had chosen was overlooking another field full of prospective tournament contestants. The contestants had noticed that the royals were set up in a position to watch them, so they were showing off. Again. Quentin sighed and slumped into a seat.

Janet's definition of picnic didn't seem to jibe with Quentin's—there was an entire banquet laid out on a long oaken table, complete with candlesticks and fancy table decorations: bowls of golden and silver pinecones; small glass trees with individual crystal leaves that jingled as they moved in the breeze; engraved silver half-animal Fillorians wrapped around tiny amphoras which had been filled with fresh flowers. And because Janet was the mastermind, she'd arranged the chairs so that she could monopolize Eliot's attention, which was just fine with Quentin.

Unfortunately, Quentin's chair placement gave him a perfect position to see all the men posturing down in the field.

Quentin tried his best to ignore them.

He got into a fight with Janet over whether Will Smith's Wild Wild West was science-fiction or action-adventure; Janet won because although she was incorrectly on the action-adventure side of the initial argument (Wild Wild West was clearly steampunk, a known science-fiction sub-genre; also it set futuristic technology in the past, and if you wanted to discount that sort of thing, you'd have to eject Back to the Future from the science-fiction genre, which was a ridiculous notion), she did point out that Quentin had spoken for five minutes without pause...on the movie Wild Wild West.

He spent five minutes trying to open a butter tureen. (Julia leaned over and tugged it open in one easy gesture; Quentin had been doing the butter tureen equivalent of trying to pull a push door.)

He even willingly goaded Janet into expounding on her assertion the other day about Jollyby's hairiness, and after three minutes of those details, even Eliot's indiscretion in Quentin's personal space seemed mild in comparison.

Quentin's best efforts failed, though, and his gaze constantly ended up drifting to the field. Where Bearded Guy was naturally jostling around with some of the other competitors, being all attractive and buff and oh god, Quentin was very glad Janet thought of the table, because it provided some well-needed cover.

Quentin was such a late bloomer that he'd managed to exit Brakebills without a defined Discipline. Maybe his libido had just finally decided to come to life and work more like other people's did? He'd heard some people could just be instantly attracted to other people, instead of needing to get to know them first. Quentin's gaze drifted back to the Bearded Guy. So what if it was kinda scary to consider having sex with someone he didn't really know? Quentin had already rejected one potential quest recently, out of nothing but fear. He was done veering away from something just because it was scary.

"You should go for it," Eliot said, jolting Quentin out of his (apparently not-covert-at-all) staring. Eliot had shifted his chair nearer—Janet had gotten distracted by Julia deciding it was okay to lift a rat onto the table to drink from her soup bowl.

"Hm?" Quentin said, eloquently.

Eliot nodded back at the field. Quentin followed his gaze to where the Bearded Guy was...using another contestant as a weight? Quentin felt faint. Just how strong was Bearded Guy? Could he benchpress Quentin? Oh, that had possibilities. "He's a really good lay," Eliot said. "You should go for it."

Quentin moved his gaze away from Bearded Guy directly to Eliot. There was a weird expression on Eliot's face. "I wouldn't need your permission anyway."

"I wouldn't dream of giving it. It was just a review."

Quentin stared at Eliot skeptically. "Uh-huh."

Eliot leaned in closer, lowering his voice into a conspiratorial whisper. "He wanted to take it too, if that helps. Not really my thing of course. I like—"

"I know what you like," Quentin interrupted, sharply, because it was all too much—his fourth erection of the day, and Bearded Guy's muscles, and the friction of Eliot's whisper that ran up his spine in a thrill.

Quentin immediately regretted it, because Eliot looked hurt.

"Tinkerbell, darling," Janet trilled, "be on my side here; rodents on the dinner table, yay or nay?"

Quentin was still bristling with the over-stimulation of it all and he glared sourly at Janet too.

"Don't call him that," Quentin snapped, and with a low noise of annoyance, he pushed himself away from the table, faintly registering his chair dropping to the ground as he staggered off back towards the castle. He was done the hell with all of them for the day. Maybe for the week. If he could get away with lying in his bed for a month he would.

Quentin could hear Janet huffing, "What the hell infectious disease crawled into his urinary tract today?" as he stomped, but he didn't slow down or use magic to find out what Eliot said in response; it was obviously funny enough to send Quentin away with the sound of faint, distant laughter.

Eliot's footsteps didn't always sound ominous, but they did tonight.

Quentin moaned in sheer annoyance. He wasn't in the mood to entertain Eliot tonight, couldn't Eliot intuit that from his moody dinner exit earlier? Quentin turned onto his side so his back faced the door, closed his eyes, and desperately hoped to fall asleep in the next six seconds so he would be asleep once Eliot came through the door.

No such luck, of course.

The door opened, and Quentin wriggled up into a sitting position, because there was no point pretending to be asleep now. It was Eliot's turn for the drinks and he was holding two as he came in, but his face did something strange when he saw Quentin, and he balanced both tumblers on the windowsill.

Quentin scowled. If he'd had the foresight to hide the empty bottle on his nightstand, then maybe Eliot would have given him one of the drunks he'd been carrying. But Quentin didn't have the foresight. How could he? He'd only just finished drinking everything that had remained in yesterday's bottle.

Eliot's face was blurry. That was rude of him, to do a wobbly spell like that one before coming to see Quentin.

"I'm fine," Quentin said.

Eliot's blurry eyebrows shifted. "I didn't ask."

Didn't he? "Oh." Quentin screwed up his eyes to see if that helped make Eliot look less blurry. It made it worse. Wasn't that life for you? Whatever Quentin did, he ended up making things worse. He should stop doing anything at all. Would the Fillorians notice if one of their royal fuck-ups was a human burrito? Perhaps they could make a cart for him and just wheel him out onto the balcony for the daily waving.

"Were you drunk at dinner?"

Quentin opened one eye fully. "Are you the right person to ask that?"

"Do you see anyone else here right now?"

"Apart from a judgmental griffin and a stupidly hot soldier you wanna fuck, no."

"Anyone real, not the artwork," Eliot elaborated.

"Oh." Quentin blinked. "No. And no. No to all of the things."

"Hm. It might have explained the yelling more if you had been," Eliot tapped his long fingers against his glass. "Still, I didn't mind it. It turns out that someone yelling at Janet is a kink of mine and I'm always languidly pleased about uncovering new parts of my psyche—"

"I don't want to talk about your kinks," Quentin said, stiffly, because kinks meant Observatory, and if Quentin flashed back to that memory one more time today, he was going to burrow down under his blankets and never come back out, the tournament and his planned eastern voyage on the Muntjac be damned.

"Kink shaming is so 1990," Eliot said, with a hard edge to his voice.

The sharpness of it was enough to knock through the fuzzy edges of Quentin's drunkenness, and that was a shame, because once the haze ended, that's when the remorse could get in. Drinking the whole bottle had seemed like a good idea at the time, and now it was just another regret on the pile.

Quentin stared at Eliot, trying to communicate what he was feeling, which would be a fucking miracle, because even Quentin didn't have the words for it. Everything he'd thought earlier had gone, and he was just left with a heavy feeling in his stomach, and hot stones in his throat, and a building pressure in his skull. He was over-tired, and under-worked, and miserable.

And he'd obviously hurt Eliot. Again. Somehow. That was the fucking worst.

Eliot stared at Quentin for a moment, but something about Quentin's misery seemed to soften him, and he shook his head and startled rambling about the orders that were coming through for the Muntjac's soft furnishings. Quentin let Eliot's words roll over him. They were soothing in a way Quentin didn't really feel like he deserved, but he was too tired to get Eliot to stop.

Talking about cushions made Quentin painfully aware that Eliot stood all the time when they talked like this. Didn't Eliot's back hurt after standing for so long? Quentin's did, once or twice, even though he didn't like to think about it, because back pain was something that happened to old people. Not that Eliot was old either, but Quentin realized he hadn't even stopped to consider making Eliot feel comfortable the way he would with any other guest. It was too difficult to think of Eliot as a guest when he was, well, family. Eliot had said as much in his letter to Quentin when he was healing with the centaurs. Just because they never talked about it didn't mean it wasn't true and valid and important.

Even though it hadn't actively bothered him until now, Quentin started to find himself increasingly irritated that Eliot was still standing. There were friends. They were family. There was no need for Eliot to be so far away from him.

"You should sit down," Quentin said, with the loud certainty of someone who had probably had too much alcohol in one go.

Eliot blinked at him. Oh. Maybe he'd been right in the middle of a sentence when Quentin spoke. Well. It wasn't like Quentin wasn't being motivated by good intentions. Thankfully Eliot wasn't as drunk as Quentin, or if he was—if he'd been pregaming before visiting Quentin—he hid it better; Eliot did have more practice holding his liquor. Either way, it meant he was able to rally quickly to Quentin's noisy interruption.

"On the floor?" Eliot wrinkled his nose. "Or…" His gaze lingered on where Quentin's clothes were heaped on the room's two remaining chairs. "On your closets? No, I don't think so."

Quentin felt sulky. Yes, he'd been inconsiderate when instructing his servants to remove all the excess furniture from this room, and he could have asked them to bring a chair in—this routine of Eliot dropping by Quentin's bedroom to chat had been going on for months now—but it wasn't like Eliot was a stranger.

"There's plenty of room on the bed," Quentin said, indignantly, wondering why his throat was so dry. Eliot had said they were family, once upon a time. Surely family could sit on bed. They were close enough. Eliot obviously felt close enough to Quentin to have no compunction in having sex where Quentin could see. Quentin's bed was larger than any bed he'd ever had. There was space.

"The bed?" Eliot's gaze dropped to it for a second. His face looked oddly intense. "I don't think that would be a good idea."

Quentin stared at him. Why would that be a bad idea? Now he'd thought of it, it sounded like a great idea. Eliot's answer was completely incomprehensible.

"I don't know what you're saying," Quentin sighed.

"In vino veritas. Did it hurt for you to admit you didn't know something?"

Quentin tried to shoot him an angry look for that one, but Eliot smiled, so maybe Quentin's angry expression had missed the mark.

"I might be more think than I'm drunk I was," Quentin sighed.

For some reason, Eliot inexplicably chuckled. It sounded fond. "Oh, Q," Eliot said.

"I can't read what you're thinking." Quentin looked down at his hands, abruptly fascinated by his own fingers. Did they always lie like that when he wasn't paying attention to them? "You're not a book. It's inconvenient. Books make sense. People should be books."

"That doesn't sound like it would be fun."

"But it would be easier. Alice used to tell me what people were thinking and it was always a surprise to me. There's so much going on inside people and I never know. How are you supposed to know? Am I missing something? Are there people books that other people get to check out and that gives them the answers to people?"

There was a closer sound, glass against wood—Eliot putting his tumbler down somewhere near Quentin. Quentin was still somewhat entranced by his fingers. Bodies were incomprehensible jigsaw pieces; the fact they even worked at all was a confluence of impossible odds. People who believed in intelligent design had never taken a really good look at the improbability of human anatomy.

"There's no secret library, Quentin," Eliot said.

Eliot was always so kind to Quentin. Even when they very first met, and Quentin had thought Brakebills was Fillory. Eliot hadn't laughed. So many people would have.

"That's what someone who had access to the secret library would say," Quentin sighed. He felt so heavy. Like maybe the secret library was a pile of books on his back, weighing him down, and Quentin could turn and turn, but it would always stay behind him, forever inaccessible.

"I suppose so."

"I'm used to people being mysteries, I just don't normally care enough to find out why. But when it's you, I just—" It drove him mad, to be honest. Quentin wasn't normally this honest with himself. It made his head hurt and it just made the world seem unsteady, so he just didn't think about it. People didn't make sense. Eliot never made sense. "I just wish—"

Quentin exhaled, and when he looked up, Eliot's eyes were dark, closer.

"What do you wish?" Eliot whispered the question, reaching out to cup Quentin's cheek with one of his large, capable hands.

Quentin felt hot again. He stared at Eliot, miserable.

Eliot chuckled and it was still a fond sound. "You don't know, do you; you ridiculous man."

"I do know," Quentin said indignantly, because of course he did. "I want—to be happy. I want to be happy. That's all I've ever wanted, Eliot, it's all I've ever wanted. Happiness." Oh. Was he crying now? Alcohol did that to him sometimes. The bubbles went away to misery, and then the misery gave way to more misery. It wasn't turtles, it was just plain misery, all the way down. "I want to be happy. And I don't know how."

People really weren't books, because confusingly, Eliot did the opposite of his own words and sat on the bed, elegantly kicking off his shoes and stretching out on Quentin's mattress, and then Quentin was wrapped in warmth—oh, Eliot's arms, coming around him, tugging him close into an embrace.

"Sshhh," Eliot soothed. "It's all right."

Quentin squirmed, once, but even that felt like too much energy. He was so tired. Every single limb and joint felt weighed down. He sagged into the welcoming warmth. It was nice. Something smelled really good. Quentin's eyes were closed. His bed was moving a little, in a way that didn't feel familiar, but felt pleasant nonetheless.

"Try and get some sleep, Quentin," Eliot suggested.

That was a smart idea. Eliot always had the best ideas. No, wait, Eliot didn't always have the best ideas. Sometimes Eliot had terrible ideas.

"Sometimes you have terrible ideas," Quentin murmured.

Quentin's bed shifted. Eliot was chuckling low in his throat.

"You're a terrible idea," Eliot said.

Quentin meant to agree, but sleep claimed him before he could.

When Quentin woke up he was grim, hungover, and confused. The confusion—why he felt so safe, and secure—soon gave way to horrible levels of embarrassment.

Because he was, and there was no other word for it, smushed up against Eliot.

Quentin's torso was curled into Eliot's side, and Eliot's arm was around him, and Quentin's face was pressed into Eliot's neck and, yeah, that was drool on Eliot's skin, yep, great, amazing. Every single nerve in Quentin's body was screaming at him to tug the covers up and disappear under, never to be seen again.

Quentin tensing the fuck out seemed to wake Eliot up from his slumber. Instead of Quentin's inability to be smooth in any situation, Eliot woke up gracefully. Even though he had Quentin inelegantly crushed against him in a heap.

"Good morning," Eliot said. At least his voice was sleep-rough, so Quentin wasn't stuck with Eliot being completely irritatingly perfect when waking up. That friction in his tone was doing something to Quentin, though, something he really didn't want to think about.

"Oh god," Quentin said, "I'm so sorry—I just—my head is shitting me—Eliot, I—"

"Sshhh," Eliot said, soothingly. Quentin stopped stumbling over his attempt at human words and stared at Eliot. Had Eliot shushed him like that last night? He could only remember bits and pieces; everything had been a blur after he picked up that nearly-full bottle of alcohol. Forgetting was supposed to be a feature, not a bug; Quentin shouldn't be disappointed that he wasn't quite sure how he got from sulking in bed to being pressed up against Eliot.

Quentin tried to shift away from Eliot, but that just made his whole body scream at him in the choral agony of the most stupendous hangover Quentin had suffered in a while. "Ow," Quentin said, eloquently.

Eliot leaned in and pressed a gentle kiss against Quentin's poor, aching forehead. "You did this to yourself, you know."

"Yeah," Quentin sighed. His head hurt, but it was oddly comfortable, curled into Eliot's side. Eliot was pleasantly warm. Quentin knew he should get up, but he was finding it difficult to figure out if there was any urgency in that need.

Eliot had a smile hovering on his face that Quentin couldn't quite decipher. It didn't look mean, but then, Quentin could never really read Eliot as well as he wished he could. "I recommend a good, protein-heavy breakfast," Eliot declared, and wrinkled his nose. "And a bath."

Quentin grimaced, and that was the impetus he needed to finally be able to shove himself away from Eliot and leave his bed.

There was a brief moment when Quentin considered just staying in his bath. He cheated and used magic to heat up the water. The idea of calling in the servants to do it for him was tempting, but Quentin felt like his embarrassment was branded on his skin, as indelible as the remnants of the cacodemon trap on his back that he was still secretly pretty fond of. He couldn't stand the idea of them looking at him and seeing him for the human fuck-up he really was.

By the time he was clean, he was feeling a lot better about himself. And he probably owed Eliot for making him sleep at an uncomfortable angle all night, propping up his sad-sack of a friend; doing what he suggested was probably the least Quentin could do. Which is why he found himself clambering out of the bath, toweling off, and stumbling into clean clothes so he could make it to the kitchen for breakfast.

The kitchen was busy by the time Quentin made his way down there. That was the way he liked it. He could just slide into what was rapidly becoming his usual chair and it made him feel less self-conscious, like he was just one more of the multiple moving pieces that made up Castle Whitespire. Julia and Janet were already there, seemingly having a silent contest on who could make the highest tower out of segments of Fillory's various citrus fruits. Julia was winning; Quentin could see the familiar flush of rage building on Janet's exposed collarbones, a crimson nebula of a warning sign. She would explode at some point, but not yet.

By the time Eliot joined them, Quentin had a plate full of food, and he was starting to forget he'd made such an ass of himself last night. Everyone made a fool of themselves when they drank too much, and it wasn't a failure to need to cut loose every now and again. Eliot didn't mock him about it either as he sat down and was immediately served a plate full of beautifully presented food, but then, Josh had already let slip years ago that Eliot mocked Quentin behind his back. Remembering that nearly put a damper on Quentin's rebounding mood, but Quentin was nothing if not rigorous at pushing down things from his past that he didn't want to think about. Josh had just been bitter that Quentin could control his magic better than he could. Besides, that was a lifetime ago, everyone had changed, even Quentin.

Janet's fruit tower wobbled and she frowned at it and wriggled her fingers with her brusque, exact casting style, freezing the structure in place. Julia glared at her in clear reproach.

"It's not against the rules, sweetheart," Janet snapped.

Julia tilted her head and smoothly got up from her chair. They were all expecting her to flounce, Quentin could tell, but instead, she crossed to a window, stretched upwards to it without her feet leaving the floor, and whispered something. A moment later, a bird flew to her and dropped something into Julia's outstretched hands. Julia nodded and swept back to the table, sitting down like she wasn't suddenly seven foot tall. Julia unpeeled the object in her hands, tugged at a piece of pith, and it turned out to be an unusual-for-the-season Fillorian citrus fruit that unfolded like a concertina. Julia placed the tall fruit on top of her tower and it towered half a foot above Janet's.

Janet sighed noisily, and Quentin had the impression that had Eliot not been there, shouting and violence might have ensued.

Still, Janet was always a simmering powder keg, and Quentin should probably try and change the subject.

"I've been thinking about figuring out a disguise so I can compete in the tournament," Quentin said.

"A paper bag," Janet suggested, instantly warming to his distraction.

Quentin grinned, because he still found her more amusing than insulting. Most of the time. "I'll add it to the idea list."

"You're an idiot," Julia said.

Quentin charitably decided to ignore her.

"Q," Eliot said loftily, "do believe me when I say that I mean this with the greatest fondness, but, no."

Quentin's face fell. "No disguise?"

"No taking part. You'll fall on your ass in the first round."

"In the first minute," Janet said. "But it would be amusing, so why not?"

Eliot flashed a look at her. "He could get hurt."

Janet shrugged. "Quentin risks that nearly every time he opens his mouth and speaks in my vicinity."

"I could get past the first round," Quentin said, obstinately, even though he was fairly sure Janet was right about the first minute thing. "There's that sentient sword who's still looking for someone to wield it."

"I heard one of the Fenwicks was going to do that," Eliot said.

"One of the Fenwicks?" Janet started chipping at her frozen fruit tower with a knife. "You think any of those dandies would risk getting their pants dirty?"

"Perhaps they would strip down to compete," Eliot suggested.

"And that just killed my appetite," Janet sighed, shoving her plate and its fruity ice chips away from her.

"You're not going to take part in the tournament, Quentin," Julia said imperiously, which just made Quentin want to do it more, to be honest. He had never had much experience of his own parents telling him what to do. It was disturbing to find that it would have rankled him so much if they had.

"It would be a shame if you did take part, your majesty," someone else said, and Quentin turned automatically to see Bearded Guy, standing there at the head of a group of other swordsmen. They were all wearing similar clothing. Quentin vaguely recalled that style of wrapped leather to mean they were probably from Barion, a small townstead over the river from the Darkling Woods. They must be lumberjacks for all of them to have muscles that big, Quentin thought. The trees in the Darkling Woods were infamous for trying to wrestle anyone who came close to them.

"How so?" Quentin asked, blinking up at Bearded Guy, disappointed that someone so clearly well-equipped in every way would think that he wouldn't be good enough to take part in a tournament. Okay, Quentin had barely even touched a sword before, but that wasn't the point. He'd survived Ember's Tomb. He'd held the power of life and death and microscopic particles in his fingers, once upon a time. He wasn't helpless.

"Well," Bearded Guy said, "it's just that you would have a much better view of me from those fancy seats your people are building than from across a flat battlefield."

Quentin's head was still pounding from the hangover, but this sudden attention from Bearded Guy was making him feel as dizzy as he had when he'd been downing the alcohol the night before. He had the sudden thought that this might be what seasickness might feel like, if Quentin were the type to ever suffer from that. It wasn't a bad feeling. It was a boost to know that Bearded Guy wasn't insulting his potential sword-fighting prowess; instead, he was hitting on Quentin. Even Quentin, with his infinite capacity for missing the obvious, couldn't help but see that.

"Your advisor said we could take some supplies out to our people," Bearded Guy nodded across to where there were some servants already bringing out some sacks out of the stores. "Most of them are camped out by the Silver Banks." He arched an eyebrow and smiled at Quentin. "I've got a room in the Royale Hotel in Brighthaven, though. Room 507. If your majesty ever needed to find me."

"Oh," Quentin said, "um." It was one thing feeling flattered that he was being flirted with. Thinking about doing anything about the flirting, however, filled him with bubbling uncertainty. Bearded Guy was looking at him expectantly, probably wanting more than um as a response; Quentin was forever doomed to be the furthest thing possible from socially eloquent under pressure. "Thanks?"

Bearded Guy grinned and nodded at his compatriots. "C'mon, men, sooner we get it shifted, sooner we can train for the fighting, we have a King to impress!" He leaned in quickly to mutter in Quentin's ears, "I usually retire after second bells," before darting off with his group of men. Quentin nodded mutely and distractedly watched him move to pick up the sacks of food with his friends.

When he turned his attention back to the table, Eliot was quietly cutting up his food, Julia was shaking her head, and Janet was aggressively opening and closing every pot on the table, peering in at the contents and muttering discontentedly before slamming one aside and looking in the next one.

Quentin had to move his plate back as Janet jerkily shoved a ceramic cookie jar in his direction.

"Are you looking for something in particular?" Quentin asked.

"Wouldn't have to if someone hadn't gutted the dining hall," Janet snapped. "We'd actually have room instead of being shoved on this tiny table on these spindly chairs. This is all your fault. Your stupid idea, your pathetic quest—"

Quentin stared at her. She had seemed to be coping just fine a moment ago, what had changed since then? Bearded Guy coming over, he supposed, but how could she be angry about that? Janet was jostling earthenware in his direction, too. "Janet," he started, in as reasonable a tone as he could manage, and he gave into a nagging suspicion. "This isn't about not having room, is it?" His hangover was acting up; his pounding head made him feel queasy, and he put his fork down. The way she was moving seemed to indicate something that Quentin found difficult to believe, but he voiced it anyway. "Are you angry at me?"

Janet stopped shoving things around the table and she whirled on Quentin with a furious expression on her face. "Of course I'm angry at you, you're a howling idiot!"

Howling had been a word that was all the rage at Brakebills, but Quentin hadn't heard it yet in Fillory. It sounded discordant, the same way it felt weird to hear a Fillorian say Jesus Christ, something they did a lot now thanks to Eliot and Quentin's bad influence.

Quentin stared at her in confusion. Was his hangover making him miss something obvious enough even Quentin should be able to see it? "What did I do?"

"If you fucking mess him around," Janet said heatedly, "everyone knows how gone on you he is—"

"Bearded Guy?" Quentin turned and stared thoughtfully in that direction. He knew the castle staff's ability to gossip rivaled Janet's own. It made sense that everyone would already be talking about Quentin and Bearded Guy's interaction in the kitchen the other day; there had been a couple of maids spilling around.

"I oughtta cut off your balls," Janet hissed, which Quentin felt was a definite overreaction.

"Janet," Eliot said, loudly, and leaned over, putting a hand on Janet's forearm. She startled and stared at it. Eliot wasn't much for initiating touch between the two of them; it usually fell on Janet for that. His touch seemed to instantly soothe her. Eliot's face was oddly flushed. Sometimes Quentin got second-hand embarrassment over what his friends did, when they overreacted. He must be feeling that way about Janet's outburst now. "Calm. It's all fine."

Janet's gaze angrily moved to Eliot's, but she must have seen something in his expression to douse her fire, because her shoulders relaxed, and her sharp movements faltered and stilled. "The staff have been talking about nothing else this morning," Janet muttered.

Eliot shot her a dark look. "And they will stop. Understand?"

"We can't stop them," Julia said. "Things that begin with the letter G are more inevitable than others. Gravity. Greed. Gossip."

"Gothic-witch-bitches," Janet rolled her eyes, but her anger didn't reemerge so Quentin let himself relax. Until she glared at Quentin. "Why are you still here?" she snapped.

Quentin rallied, grabbed his plate, and made what he thought was a tactically-sound decision to flee the kitchen.

After a few more days had passed, Janet was acting like she hadn't had an inexplicable shitfit at Quentin in the kitchen, and she was back to bullying him around as they worked on the security plans for the tournament.

Quentin was content for her to take the lead on this part of the planning; he hadn't thought this far ahead, and she really enjoyed being a leader. Quentin was happy to follow along, to a point, even though he still strongly felt the call to adventure. There was something waiting for him, out in the Outer Isles, Quentin could feel it. Once this tournament was over, and the Muntjac was finished, then Quentin would feel satisfied. He might have finally assembled all the ingredients for real happiness, wouldn't that be something?

The two of them had taken over the biggest table in the library, and to the Whitespire's main librarian's horror (another Fenwick; this castle was stuffed with them), Eliot sometimes brought them snacks. It reminded Quentin a little of that exhausting time during his first year at Brakebills, when they let him advance a year, and Eliot brought snacks to the study room where there were no wards to get them in trouble for studying past curfew.

On this particular day, Janet had disappeared off to the bathroom, and Quentin was settling down into planning out a set of wards for the far end of the banquet hall, because Janet refused to poop anywhere but in her own en-suite bathroom and that was at the far end of the castle. She wouldn't be back anytime soon, if at all: it was usually even odds that she'd lie down for an afternoon nap and not arise again until dinner. Quentin didn't mind. Once he got wrapped up in a magical problem, he could be difficult to rouse too; if it wasn't for the others stopping him from eighteen-hour magic study benders, Quentin's daily schedule would be a haphazard mess.

Eliot interrupted him, barely an hour into Quentin working on a tricky combination of Fillorian circumstances that didn't mesh well with the original spell framework, which had been designed to work well on Earth, where eclipses were much less common.

"How goes it?" Eliot asked, leaning in and looking down at Quentin's scroll with what looked like genuine interest.

Quentin's hand was cramping. He hadn't realized. He stretched out his fingers before shaking his hands.

"Oh, you know," Quentin said, vaguely. He noticed Eliot's hands were unusually empty. "No snacks today?" Quentin smiled at Eliot anyway, to show him there were no hard feelings for that; Quentin was an adult, he was perfectly capable of rousing himself from a deep work dive to get food.

Eliot pulled a face. "I promised the Fenwicks that I would stop enabling you to eat in the library. Apparently old Bodie has been giving the rest of the family a hard time."

"That kind of makes me want to do it more."

Eliot grinned and shook his head. "C’mon, you little rebel. I took advantage of the promise to arrange something messier."

"Janet just went to the little Queen's room," Quentin said.

Eliot wrinkled his nose. "We can skip her invitation, I don't mind."

Quentin frowned as Eliot stood up straight. "Wait. You want me to come now?"

Eliot shrugged. "The tournament's still a few days away. You've got time."

It was such an unusual request that Quentin found himself getting to his feet and complying. Eliot's expression was carefully blank, so staring at his face didn't give Quentin a clue what was going on; Quentin quickly turned and wrote "gone with Eliot, be back later, Q" on the bottom of his scroll and trotted off after Eliot, who was already sloping off toward the library exit.

Eliot wouldn't respond to any of Quentin's questions, merely kept inclining his head and saying "this way". Quentin's brain tried its usual catastrophizing and he crossly told his brain to shut up, because Eliot knew what Quentin was like now; if this was bad news, Eliot would have announced it as bad news from the start. Some options filtered through anyway—the sword tournament was being canceled; the Muntjac had burned down; Eliot was taking Quentin out to the woods to murder him; Eliot was dying and wanted to show him—

All of those terrible thoughts vanished when Eliot led him to one of the smaller courtyards in the castle and Quentin saw it: a small table set up with plates, two chairs, a couple of large dishes, a bottle of wine, and two glasses.

"If I couldn't bring the snacks to you," Eliot said, "I thought you might not mind being brought to the snacks."

"Snacks," Quentin replied dubiously, as Eliot swept to the table and lifted off the lid to reveal a large dish of pasta and another of small bread rolls.

"I'm High King," Eliot said, winking at Quentin as he served him up a generous ladle of the pasta and handed it to him. "If I say this is a snack, it's a snack."

Quentin couldn't fault that logic and he obligingly took a forkful of the pasta. The sauce was delicious, and familiar, somehow. "As snacks go, it's delicious," Quentin said, smiling at Eliot in thanks.

"Well. Maybe it's a meal, not a snack," Eliot allowed, sitting opposite Quentin and doling himself out a portion. "But pasta is all I could remember how to make."

Quentin stared as Eliot wrinkled his nose. "You made this?"

Eliot shrugged. "I wanted to see if I still could. Skills get rusty when you don't use them."

Quentin thought about how his magic had been so sharply exact, before PlaxCo and ruling Fillory had rounded all those edges. "Yeah, I get that." He took another thoughtful bite, letting the sweet tomato sauce linger in his mouth before he swallowed it. "This is really good."

Eliot looked pleased. He always responded well to compliments. Quentin should remember to give him more of them. "I'm glad."

Quentin smiled, and a shadow of movement caught his eye; Julia sitting down next to him, elegantly, and holding her hand out imperiously for a plate. She'd brought her own chair from somewhere to join them.

Eliot laughed and handed her his, eating from the dish with the serving ladle once she had a portion of it.

"A bird told me you were out here," Julia said. Quentin and Eliot exchanged a glance and shrugged. They were starting to adjust to the reality that Julia had grown into her role as the closest possible gothic equivalent to a Disney princess.

"Is your hair different?" Quentin asked Eliot; he'd been distracted here and there by some loose curling hairs at the nape of Eliot's neck. Quentin tried not to glance at Julia triumphantly, not observant his ass.

"Yeah," Eliot put a distracted hand to it for a moment. His gaze moved to a doorway, where, unsurprisingly, there was another crop of wannabe swordsmen flexing. Quentin glared at them. Didn't they have anything else to do? Maybe he'd made the tournament prize too appealing. Or maybe it was the notion that the winner would be going on a quest at the end; Fillory had an excess of everything, and that included free, purposeless time. "I guess so. I've been taking cold baths for the last few days. Kind of messes with my hair routine but needs must."

Quentin frowned at Eliot. "Have the servants refused to heat your water?"

Eliot grinned, showing all of his teeth in a way he didn't around most people. Quentin understood why—once upon a time he'd been faintly judgmental of Eliot's lower, misaligned teeth, but now Quentin saw them as just another part of him. The way they made Eliot's smile less symmetrical was oddly charming. "Well, seeing as someone has taken over or ruled out every one of my preferred locations to take out my frustrations in a less-cold-water-involved manner…"

Quentin blinked at the stress Eliot put on the word someone. Even Quentin, with his persisting inability to notice the obvious, knew that meant him. Eliot's words felt heavy, somehow, and Quentin stared at him, stricken. "You haven't been—" Quentin started, and faltered, frowning. "At all?"

"Well," Eliot said, still staring at the swordsmen. "You seemed upset about it."

Quentin's stomach jumbled, enough that he had to put his plate down. That wasn't what he'd wanted at all. Eliot was free to do whatever he wanted, Quentin just didn't want to see it. That was all. "Doing it where I could see it," Quentin said, in a thick voice. "That's what I was—" He couldn't say the word upset. It didn't feel right. "You know," he finished, pathetically. His ears felt blocked, like he was hearing his voice from a distance. "Is there a reason you can't use your receiving room?"

"Janet kind of wrecked it," Eliot wrinkled his nose. "I was supposed to be paying attention to her a couple of weeks ago, and I didn't, and she kind of iced my desk over a little bit."

"She shattered it," Julia said. "I felt it happen when we were looking at the boats for the voyage."

Quentin glanced briefly at Julia, who just kept placidly eating her pasta. Of course she'd felt it. Quentin could have too, if he'd wanted to. He'd been too distracted by the Muntjac, probably.

"All the repairmen got siphoned off for your tournament," Eliot said. "Which I don't regret, don't get me wrong. But it's left me with limited options. And you're the one who invited so many eligible bachelors into town, it's like letting a starving man loose onto a buffet."

Quentin faintly ignored that he was somehow being blamed for this. "And you can't use your bedroom, why?"

Eliot glanced at Quentin in open astonishment, like Quentin had suggested using a talking hedgehog as a croquet ball. "And get spunk all over my silver filigree embroidered quilt?"

Julia arched an eyebrow at Quentin, which looked suspiciously like she was saying, yeah, Quentin, what are you thinking suggesting something as stupid as that?

Quentin thought about it. There had to be a solution. His sheets were cotton, or whatever the Fillorian equivalent was. He'd refused the fancy quilts when he'd made the servants carry out all of the other over-the-top shit that had been in his royal bedroom originally. There was no problem in getting any sort of intimate fluids on Quentin's sheets, they could be boiled in the worst case scenario and not suffer from it.

"Swap, then," Quentin said, frowning at Eliot, because the solution was easy. "While the Tournament's going on. You can…use my bedroom for your liaisons. Then you don't have to worry about your quilt."

Eliot wrinkled his nose. "Where will you sleep?"

"I said swap," Quentin repeated, trying not to sound too impatient. It wasn't Eliot's fault he missed things sometimes. "I faithfully promise not to come on your sheets."

"Please, you'll cream yourself in your sleep," Eliot said, dismissively. His gaze had slipped back to the swordsmen, who were, of course, edging closer to the three royals now they'd noticed they were being watched. "My sheets are that good."

"I really don't think sheets could affect me like that," Quentin said.

Eliot made a soft, distracted noise, and Quentin followed his gaze to where a different burly guy was winking at Eliot, and showing off his muscles. "Yeah, okay," Eliot said. "I might take you up on that." He flashed a quick grin at Quentin and Julia. "Now if you excuse me, I think I've got someone more interesting to talk to."

Quentin scowled after Eliot. He and Julia were plenty interesting. Certainly more interesting than the guy Eliot was jogging over to talk to. Sure, Eliot's target had the glistening body of a greek god, but that probably meant he spent all his time working out, which sounded pretty boring to Quentin. His stomach hurt weirdly as he watched Eliot lean in to talk to Probably-Boring-Greek-God Guy. Maybe he'd eaten too much of Eliot's pasta. Or not enough.

Quentin turned back to pick up his plate again and test that theory, but Julia had already stolen it.

"You really are an idiot," Julia said.

Quentin opened his mouth to argue, but snapped it shut again, because he had the faint suspicion that she might be right this time. Even if he couldn't quite figure out why that might be so.

Quentin had the wherewithal to remove anything he'd need from his bedroom before he mentally said goodbye to it for at least a week. After some consideration, he also moved everything from his "closets" to the laundry basket in the en-suite bathroom; he didn't want any spare, enthusiastic fluids landing on them.

There was something almost sad about the fact that he could hold all the things that meant anything to him here in one hand. Fillory was his home now. Shouldn't he be putting down roots? He made a mental note to plant something. Maybe actual plants. Nothing said I mean to stick around like putting seeds into some mud that wouldn't sprout for months.

Quentin's timing was good too. He was at the far end of the hallway, his clothes for the week wrapped around his shoulders in layers like a heavy stole, when he saw Eliot at the other end. Eliot wasn't alone. He was with Probably-Boring-Greek-God Guy, of course. There was no point in ever learning any of their names, Eliot's hook-ups never stuck around.

Quentin hurried around the corner so he couldn't see them anymore. The briefest glimpse of Eliot pushing the guy into the wall and kissing him senseless was enough. Eliot had lifted him up slightly to kiss him, the guy's legs raising to wrap around Eliot's waist. Quentin shook his head, trying to visually dislodge the image of it, but it wasn't helping.

It was stuck. Visual after-burn. Every time Quentin closed his eyes, he could see Eliot and his hook-up kissing. The way they were wrapped around each other. The desperate urgency of their movements, Eliot's usual grace swapped for staccato as he shoved the guy against the brickwork.

Quentin scowled as he hurried on to his destination. He could see why Eliot didn't want to bring his hook-ups to his bedroom. As the High King, Eliot was granted the best bedroom, at the very top of the tallest tower. A technology-free kingdom, this meant walking all the way up, unless you were like the Wrought Iron-Man of old, who had been one of the weaker post-Chatwin rulers of Fillory. Whitespire staff whispered even now about how he'd had to be carried up all four-hundred steps to the High King's Suite on a golden throne that four servants would hoist between them.

By the time Quentin got to the top of the tower, he understood why Eliot wasn't softening in Fillory the same way Quentin was. Getting to his bedroom was an effort. This was why Quentin's bedroom was Eliot's preference for their evening drinks and chats. Quentin tried to picture bringing a bedmate up all these flights of stairs. He reckoned the passion would probably have petered out halfway up. You'd either have to fuck on the stairs, or by the time you reached the top, you'd both have to lie down on Eliot's quilt and pass out for a couple of hours before you got any sort of energy back for sex. No wonder Eliot didn't want to bring his hook-ups to his room.

Plus, Eliot was right. Intercourse could be messy and his bed quilt wasn't up to that sort of assault. It was heavy and gorgeously embroidered in an intricate design, painstakingly tiny and even stitches that must have taken a hundred Fillorian textile artists a hundred years. It was the kind of bedding that deserved Quentin's silk pajamas; he felt a little embarrassed that he'd been wearing them in the plain, soft sheets of his own bed.

Plain, soft sheets that Eliot was probably messing up with his friend right now.

Quentin pulled a face and made his way to Eliot's en suite bathroom. It took him a while to safely navigate there. While Quentin's bedroom was sparse and functional, Eliot's was crammed with ostentatious decoration and over-the-top furniture. The Fillorians were fans of Eliot's aesthetics; he naturally adored exactly the same things that the Fillorians agreed displayed the right kind of pomp and circumstance and royalty. There were gold figurines and statues all over the room. Every piece of soft furnishing was enhanced with pearls or gold or jewels. There were four (four!) chandeliers in the room, each with dangling crystals that looked like they would take hours to polish. Perhaps there was anti-dust magic on them. Quentin had to pick his way around ceramic plinths holding delicately painted vases, and several trunks with intricately bejeweled lids.

The bathroom was less crowded, but still gorgeous in an overstimulating kind of way. A large marble bath large enough to swim in graced the center of the room. A fireplace dominated the far wall—to heat the water for the royalty that couldn't magically warm it, Quentin supposed. The walls were covered in the same kind of intricate mosaic that Quentin remembered from Ember's Tomb, only with warmer colors and none of the movement. The similarity to the tomb dampened Quentin's urge to take in the view, though, and he busied himself with what he came there for.

There was a chair in the bathroom that Quentin decided to use as his new closet, and Quentin dumped his clothes down onto it unceremoniously. He was glad he'd remembered to bring them, so he didn't have to make more trips up that staircase than necessary. Eliot's wardrobe would probably fit him—they were the same height, and Quentin knew enough spells to alter fabric to persuade Quentin's slightly-wider shoulders and sadly-wider paunch to fit in if he had to, but everyone would know at a glance he was wearing Eliot's clothes, and Quentin wasn't sure how to feel about that. Besides, Eliot might not be pleased about it; he was much more concerned about other people touching his things than he was about people seeing him in his altogether, apparently.

Next Quentin balanced his three bottles of cleaning product where there was space next to a large stone sink. They looked small next to the array of sprays and lotions and dispensers along the shelf in Eliot's bathroom. Quentin avoided his reflection in Eliot's large, gold-and-emerald framed mirror as he washed himself and brushed his teeth; he turned his back on the mirror entirely to shimmy into his silk pajamas, before exiting the bathroom and picking his way back across Eliot's crowded, garish bedroom to the very large, very big bed.

It was higher than his own bed, which Quentin appreciated. The world just wasn't designed for tall people. Quentin had always felt like people wanted you to apologize for being tall; the way some doors were made so that tall people had to bow in submission just to get into a room made that clear to him. And you were never viewed as a person when in the supermarket, you were a handy way of getting things from the top shelves. No one ever was as helpful when Quentin needed to buy something from a shelf near the floor.

Quentin lifted the heavy cover and slid beneath. It was only when he was fully under that he realized he hadn't closed Eliot's drapes. This tower was one of the spinning ones, although it moved so slowly it was hard to tell; come morning, there was a high chance that one of Fillory's suns would wake him. But Quentin felt so weary, after climbing the stairs and navigating Eliot's cluttered space, that he just closed his eyes and sighed.

The smell hit him almost instantly. Quentin was observant, and as such had always embarrassingly noticed that Eliot smelled good. Like, really good. Coconut and rosewater. It made sense that Eliot hadn't thought to ask the servants to change his bedsheets, even though he knew Quentin would be using them tonight. Well, at least it wasn't a bad smell. It was probably all the oils and lotions that Eliot used, that rubbed off from his body onto the bed. Maybe Eliot was right about having a skin and hair routine.

The cover might be heavy and intricate, but Eliot's sheets were incredible. If Quentin's own sheets were soft, Eliot's were like someone had managed to weave a cloud into fabric form. This was Fillory, the notion wasn't impossible. Quentin luxuriated in the feel of them; he rubbed his legs together, grasshopper-like, and smiled at the ease of the movement. Now this was a bed. And Eliot didn't bring his hook-ups up here? Quentin could easily picture how nice it would feel, to have sex in this bed, to cocoon up in the fabric and rock up against another person, hands and limbs slipping against silky skin and smooth sheets, the heavy quilt pressing down, pressing you together.

Quentin's groin stirred as his thoughts spiraled and one of his hands reached down between his legs until he remembered, shit, he'd promised not to jerk off. His chest felt tight and he tried to breathe evenly. His head was a mess, flitting between flashes of imagining having sex in this bed, to those afterburn flashes of Eliot kissing his conquest for the night, and Quentin's fingers determinedly kept moving as if being controlled by a different master.

Eliot seemed particular about what he liked; at the very least, he knew what he liked and he wasn't afraid to ask for it. Quentin never spent time thinking about sex. Usually he just waited until someone approached him and he went with the flow. There was never a particular plan of attack. Quentin's mind was racing, although it might be his heart as well. Was Eliot born knowing these things about himself? Quentin certainly wasn't.

Quentin realized belatedly where his hand was trying to go and he irritably jerked his hand down lower, missing his twitching dick, and his fingertips grazed his balls instead. Which just somehow, impossibly, made him harder. Quentin stared down at his crotch, even though he couldn't see anything through the quilt. He didn't know he liked that. No one had really paid attention to his balls before, not during sex. He was only vaguely aware that it was a thing. He moved his fingers with a little more determination, experimentally rolling his balls in his hand, shifting his attention from one to the other.

It wasn't technically jerking off. He'd promised not to come on Eliot's sheets. If he didn't come, that wasn't breaking the promise. It felt good, though. Quentin took a shaky breath. Was this how Eliot knew what he liked? Maybe masturbating should be like science. Quentin tossed himself off as often as any other red-blooded person with a dick, Quentin was sure of that. But he'd always only been concerned with getting off as fast as possible, because spending time on it didn't make sense. Getting fancy during sex was for other people.

The scientific approach, Quentin thought, as he shuddered. He could get behind that. His balls felt good in his hand; his groin tightened again and he felt dizzy, so he let go. It was only breaking his promise if he came. Quentin took a long, slow breath. He didn't need to come to make his dick soften. It would go down on its own if he was patient, even if it was aching in an insistent way that made Quentin wonder about getting out of bed. But then he remembered the mirror above Eliot's sink, and the idea of catching even a glimpse of himself naked, his hand working at his erection, frantically jerking himself off—it made Quentin feel queasy.

His erection cooled enough for Quentin not to feel too guilty at moving his hand again. He still wasn't touching his dick at all, and if he was leaking a little, it was into his pajamas, not Eliot's quilt. And oh, it really did feel good. And Eliot had never fucked anyone in this bed? It was a shame, the sheets were so soft. Maybe he'd done this to himself, though, Quentin thought. Maybe Eliot had teased himself to full hardness before scurrying off to the bathroom; he'd probably have no problem with watching his own reflection as his long fingers wrapped around his impressive, glistening erection.

Maybe Eliot lay in these sheets for hours, just rolling his balls between his fingers. Or maybe he'd fingered himself open. Eliot had long, pale fingers; Quentin could imagine them slipping into a heated, secret depth, eagerly pressing his fingers in, opening himself up. Quentin had never tried that either. He hadn't seen the point. Wanking got the job done, why bother learning extra unnecessary skills? But Eliot seemed to like it, riding Mallon's and Bearded Guy's cock, taking those lengths into himself, over and over. There had to be a reason for it. It had to be pleasant.

Quentin reached a finger down experimentally, just rubbing the pad of his forefinger over his own hole, and oh. Oh. It was an unfamiliar sensation, but there was a spark of something, behind his eyeballs, deep in his core. And Quentin's asshole immediately fluttered, interested in just that single grazing touch. Maybe more wouldn't be too wrong? He'd need lubrication, Quentin might be naive and new to this, but he knew that much, he'd seen enough porn (so much porn, because the internet had so many free breasts to stare at, and Quentin was fascinated by them with a fervor he was frequently embarrassed by, yet couldn't stop) to know that anal sex required assistance. It had seemed like a lot of bother, but maybe they were onto something. Quentin tensed his jaw and tried to push the tip of his finger inside himself, just the smallest amount, and that was—something to think about. He liked something about it that was difficult to—oh god—put his finger on: the way his body wanted to open up; the hint of a burn that didn't feel like a stop sign; an itch that he suddenly and desperately needed to scratch.

"I thought you promised not to jerk off in my bed," Eliot said.

For the briefest second, Quentin wondered whether it was possible to die of sheer embarrassment, because Eliot was lounging in the bedroom doorway, looking eternally amused. But then Quentin's analytical brain slammed back online. Quentin was fully covered by the heavy quilt. There was no possible way that Eliot could tell what Quentin was doing under the sheets.

"I wasn't," Quentin said, desperately hoping he didn't sound guilty as he surreptitiously moved his hand, keeping his knees steady so that it wouldn't be obvious what he was doing.

Eliot waggled his eyebrows. "But you could have been and I would have been able to mock you for eternity."

Quentin forced a smile. "Like you don't anyway."

"True," Eliot sighed, straightening up from the door frame and taking his crown off, putting it on one of the ornamental sideboards and running a hand through his hair. "Just gonna go wash up."

"Sure," Quentin said, mildly confused. He took the opportunity of Eliot wandering across the room to the bathroom to fully remove his hand from his pants. Wait. Eliot wasn't supposed to be here. There was a social convention for a situation like this one. Quentin cursed that it wasn't natural for him as he tried to think about what most people would say. "Uh, are you okay?"

Eliot, hidden inside his bathroom, made a noncommittal noise. "Guy was a failure," Eliot said, his voice a little muffled. "Came in his pants before he even took them off and passed out on one of your rugs. I'd burn it, if I were you."

Quentin wrinkled his nose. At least that mental image was enough to kill the slight remnants of his hard-on. "Did he—" Quentin had enough of thinking about sex for a lifetime. "Y'know. On it?"

"No," Eliot said, emerging from the bathroom, rubbing a towel over his damp face before throwing it to one side where it hung limply on one of the statues, covering the toothy grin of a sculpted lion. He'd swapped his clothes for a simpler shift that hung down to his knees. It was intricately embroidered; Eliot looked every inch a High King still, even with his crown abandoned on the sideboard. "It's just an ugly rug."

"There's more to life than aesthetics," Quentin mumbled, trying to defend his rug. It wasn't ugly, it was like Quentin. Plain. Efficient. He looked up as Eliot peeled back the other side of the quilt. "What are you doing?"

Eliot looked at him askance, but continued climbing into the bed. "I'm not going to sleep in your bed when my chosen partner is drooling into the floor. Not when this bed's big enough for both of us. Don't be such a baby about sharing. Besides, you want to cuddle me again."

"I do?" Quentin said, meaning to protest, but there wasn't any fire in his tone. Mostly because he didn't really want to. Because cuddling Eliot had been really nice. Especially when Eliot stroked his hair. Quentin gave up on even thinking about protesting, and he rolled over, helpfully smushing himself into Eliot's side, as that had seemed to be how Eliot had liked it last week.

Eliot didn't say anything or protest; he merely tugged Quentin even closer.

"Fine, yes, I do," Quentin sighed.

Eliot wasn't there by the time Quentin woke up.

His first reaction was disappointment, but he pushed that feeling aside. Often his early morning emotions didn't make much sense anyway, and he had to go meet Janet in the banquet hall; it was time to start laying the defensive wards which would ensure the audience didn't accidentally get stabbed during the tournament.

Quentin was the first into the banquet hall, but that was to be expected; Janet never liked the preparatory part of setting wards, and Quentin was a nerd. He liked this part. There was something soothing about chalking out a labyrinth on the polished wooden floor of the Banquet Hall. Quentin favored the Greek Lemnian pattern, and could draw them from memory by now; he hadn't lost that skill in his fallow period. It took him a few tries to get the hang of the geometry of it, but working it out cleared his mind pleasantly.

Labyrinths were a good base for big spellwork like this one; Quentin didn't think their magic was particularly running low, but this was going to be a large undertaking, it was better to be sure there was enough magic, then risk having to draw in too much to finish it off. Fillory had seen the creation of one niffin. One was already too many.

Once the labyrinth was drawn, Quentin began walking the path, committing it to memory. He'd done a better job of it than usual, to be honest.

"Always Greek with you," Janet sighed, and Quentin spared her a glance as he walked the soothing, almost hypnotic spiral of his labyrinth. "Would it hurt you to try an Egyptian base?"

Quentin shrugged and kept pacing. The size of the hall meant he could have drawn the path of it wider, but he liked the tight twists and turns.

"Did you see the ambulatory skeleton that turned up to compete in your tournament?" Janet chuckled to herself. Quentin had; he'd made seven Jason and the Argonauts jokes until even Eliot had begged him to stop. "Talk about a boner killer."

"Stop trying to make me laugh, I'm concentrating."

"That would imply you have a brain, and I'm not so sure about that, Coldwater."

Quentin glanced up briefly. Janet was leaning forward, hands on her knees, her short hair braided back into a crown of hair that interlocked with her actual crown. Apparently she was going to let him do all the work. Well, that tracked, he supposed.

"Whatever you need to believe to get you through the day, Way," Quentin called back, carefully making the next u-turn.

"Oh, it's Pluchinsky now. Did I not say?"

Quentin nearly tripped right out of his complex chalk circle. "Did you get married?"

Janet laughed, like it was the funniest thing she'd ever heard. "Christ, no. Mom did. I deliberately pissed my dad off by taking my new stepfather's name."

"Good thing it wasn't Fenwick. Can you imagine?" Quentin stepped out of the end of the labyrinth and looked back at his handy work. He'd have to run through it at least a dozen more times to even start to build up the power base.

"There's enough Fenwicks that I could make it happen."

"Eliot's head would explode. Better not."

"Oh, you do think considerately about Eliot. I was wondering."

Quentin had been thinking about starting his next loop of the labyrinth but he stopped, foot outstretched to the entrance, to frown at her. "Excuse me?"

"The castle staff have been gossiping about little else," Janet sighed, and jumped down from the bleachers, landing too lightly not to have used a little magic to make her descent optimally dramatic. She tilted her head and approached Quentin, fixing him with a cool look. "You have to stop messing with him if you aren't serious about this, Quentin."

Quentin stared at her. He wasn't sure what she was referring to. Quentin was being serious about a lot of things at the moment. He was serious about hosting this sword tournament. He was serious about voyaging out to the Outer Isles on the Muntjac. "Serious about what?"

Janet made a scoffing noise as she bodily shoved past him to begin walking the labyrinth. She walked the path as briskly as if she'd drawn it herself; she must have been memorizing it from her view up on the newly-made bleachers. Quentin sighed and started to follow her, timing his start so they didn't end up shoulder-to-shoulder at the tricky turns.

"You're the biggest idiot on Earth and Fillory," Janet declared, glaring at him as their paths briefly brought them so they were nearly facing each other.

"I am?" Quentin asked, throwing the question over his shoulder.

"Yeah, obviously," Janet called, sing-song.

Quentin frowned. Julia had said the same. Neither of them told him what he was being an idiot about. Perhaps to them it was obvious, somehow?

"My parents, whenever they bothered to say anything about me, said I have an almost limitless capacity for ignoring the obvious," Quentin sighed.

Janet arched him an eyebrow as she passed him again. "My parents called me a dirty, slutty whore."

Well, Quentin figured, that explained why Janet might have wanted to piss her dad off a bit by taking another man's surname. He sighed. "Do you have to have shitty parents to become a magician?"

Janet made a noise like she was thinking about it. "You might be an idiot over most things," she said, after a short pause, "but you might be onto something there."

As far as Quentin could tell, Eliot didn't even bother to find a hook-up. He just followed Quentin up the stairs to his tower bedroom. Quentin shot him a few awkward glances, but he was tired from a long day of labyrinth walking, and mentally exhausted from Janet continuing to snipe at him awkwardly; he didn't have the spare energy to figure out this whole weird situation. He'd promised to sleep in Eliot's bed for the week and not to ejaculate in the sheets, and that was his priority right now.

Besides, there was something weirdly nice about getting ready for bed with someone else in the room.

"Do you really need all this stuff?" Quentin asked, having stubbed his toe on an ornamental silver toad before climbing into the bed.

"Yes," Eliot said, already under the sheets. He waved his hands and muttered something and the oil lamp he'd placed near the door extinguished, plunging the room into darkness. Quentin beamed as he settled under the quilt. Magic was pretty damn good to have.

They were quiet for a long moment. Quentin listened to Eliot's breathing. There was something reassuring about it. It wasn't settling out, though. Eliot wasn't falling asleep easily tonight.

Quentin understood that. He hadn't rolled over this time. He'd wondered about it all day, whether it had been a presumption to lean against Eliot, whether that was why Eliot had slipped out of the bed before Quentin even woke up. So he laid still and stared up into the darkness instead, acutely aware of how close Eliot was. Now he was here, the thoughts started to creep in. Why didn't he just ask Eliot if he needed Quentin's room tonight? There was no need for Quentin to be there. Eliot might want his own space. But if he wanted his own space, wouldn't he ask? Eliot was good at knowing and asking for what he wanted, wasn't he?

So much of Eliot was a mystery, really. Quentin never understood anyone, but it felt like Eliot was more of a question mark than most. Sometimes Quentin thought he and Eliot were on the same page, and then other times, it felt like they were an ocean apart. Eliot might not be near sleep, but Quentin was. He could feel sleep tugging him down into its cozy, dark depths. But if Eliot wasn't going to sleep any time soon, maybe Quentin should stay awake too?

Holding in so many questions and thoughts never worked well for Quentin, though. Especially not with a source of answers so close. And Quentin's mind had returned to a certain event more times than he was happy with, of late. It was an old itch, and Quentin was still bothered by it, and in the dark, it was easier to be honest.

"When we were at Brakebills," Quentin said, and it was like there was wind rushing in his ears, but he was speaking it now, this old mystery that had been irritating him for years; it was too late to hold it back, "you never asked me."

The bed rocked a little; Eliot moving his long limbs to get comfortable. "Asked you what?"

"You know," Quentin whispered. His throat felt tight. Maybe there was still time to take this back. He was tired enough. If he closed his eyes, he could fall asleep now, mid-thought.

"I don't," Eliot said, and he sounded confused enough.

"The boys. Your boys. Observatory boys."

Eliot stilled. "Oh."

"You never asked me," Quentin clarified. It had been the very first thing that had bothered him, when he stumbled in on Eliot in that embarrassingly intimate, personal situation.

"I know," Eliot said. His voice sounded thin. Distant. "You'd have said no. I didn't want to hear it."

Something swept over Quentin that he couldn't identify. He felt cold. Shaken. He didn't feel quite like himself.

"I suppose you're right," Quentin sighed. Misery. The feeling felt like misery. Why should Eliot's honest response make him feel miserable? He'd wondered why; Eliot had told him. He should be relieved to have an answer to the mystery. Especially because the answer was nice. Wasn't it? It wasn't you aren't my type. It was true. Quentin had been so unready for everything back then.

"You would have said no, wouldn't you?" Eliot's voice sounded more like it usually did, with that question.

"I—" Quentin started, because would he? He'd thought then if Eliot had asked him that he would say no. But was that really the case? His thoughts had been all over the place recently.

"It's okay," Eliot said, his tone soothing and gentle. Reassuring. He always knew how to calm Quentin down.

"Maybe," Quentin managed to say, even though his throat was gamely trying to close up, to not let him say anything. "Maybe not."

"Q." There was a tension in that single syllable. Almost a sadness.

There was an old anger coming back, roiling inside him. The way the others in school gossiped about Eliot's tastes. The way Eliot never talked about it, just shuffled his hook-ups into abandoned areas of the campus.

"I hated that you felt you had to hide it," Quentin said, hotly.

"I was never hiding I was gay," Eliot said, defensively. Had he ever actually used that term before in Quentin's hearing? Had he ever actually admitted it out loud? Had any of them bothered with labels? Just magician. That had felt like the only label that ever really counted. "I was just hiding… the other parts of it. The dirty wrong parts, I guess."

"Kink shaming is so 1990," Quentin retorted instantly.

Eliot snickered. "Ah, yes. You're right." There was a long pause, and Quentin thought that was it, the topic over and done with, and he was okay with that. He'd already prodded too far into a dangerous conversational area. That was probably enough for one night. But then Eliot added, in an almost wistful tone, "I liked that you never denied it."

Quentin was sure he was missing something. "Denied what?"

"When people thought you were one of mine." Eliot's voice was soft, and steady, each syllable carefully measured out. Like if he made one wrong move, the whole moment might shatter. "I know you heard people saying that you were. And you never said you weren't."

Quentin realized he was holding his breath for some unfathomable reason. He forced himself to let it go. His chest felt weirdly tight. People had accused him. Gretchen and Surendra were the first, but they hadn't been the last. Rumors of his association with Eliot had followed Quentin for his whole time at Brakebills. Quentin didn't deny a single one.

"It made me angry," Quentin whispered. This was all so much easier to say in the dark, with Eliot somewhere behind him, part of the shadows himself.

"To be accused?" Eliot asked, and instead of sounding hurt, Quentin thought it sounded like resignation. Like Eliot had already accepted that someone would be insulted at the accusation of being associated with him. Like he was too tired to believe anything else but the worst possible interpretation of events.

Quentin could empathize with that. Sleep was dragging at him. He could barely keep his eyes open. Why was he even bothering, when it was pitch black? He wasn't even facing Eliot in the bed. There wasn't any worthwhile sight he was missing out on.

"No," Quentin said, trying to be indignant, but his head felt heavy and weary. He was surprised to even be making full words. "That they implied being one of your boys would have been an insult." His words were slurring together. Sleep was stealing him away. That was rude of it. "Anyone should be proud to be yours," Quentin mumbled.

Quentin thought he could feel fingers in his hair, and a soft, warm pressure, like Eliot had pressed a kiss into his hair. It was all ridiculous fancy, probably because he was so tired. There was a thought, fluttering against Quentin's skull, something that seemed important, a fragment he couldn't fully parse, but when he thought he was close enough to identify what it was, it darted away.

As sleep finally took hold, the last thing Quentin thought was that hopefully he'd remember to look at that element closer tomorrow.

Eliot was gone in the morning again. Perhaps he just had an earlier schedule than Quentin did. Quentin meant to ask him about that, whether it was part of his skin routine perhaps, but as soon as he joined Julia, Janet, and Eliot at the kitchen table for breakfast, Janet started in loudly about how she desperately needed her favorite boots re-heeled, and if Quentin was so desperate for her help with the rest of the wards, he would be a dear and go to the only decent cobbler in Fillory, Caleb Fenwick (just how many Fenwicks lived in Fillory, anyway?) and personally ensure they were done correctly and quickly.

"Eliot will go with you," Julia said.

Quentin opened his mouth to protest.

"Oh, yeah, you'd better," Janet said, elbowing Eliot. "Otherwise I'll end up with mis-matched soles."

"Why would that be a bad thing?" Quentin tilted his head. "They're on the bottom of your feet. Who looks at the bottom of your feet?"

"I see what you mean," Eliot said to Janet, pushing his mouth into a line. "I'll go."

After breakfast had finished, Quentin quietly followed Eliot out to the front of the castle. He kept watching Eliot uncertainly, trying to figure out if Eliot was mad with him. The servants who Eliot asked to go ready the royal coach giggled as they left. Quentin stared after them, confused.

"Ignore them," Eliot said, his first direct words to Quentin for the day.

"Sure," Quentin said, baffled.

Quentin thought that Eliot was going to continue to be weird with him, but Eliot seemed to have just decided everything was back to normal, and he chattered about the kind of boots he might order while they were there. Apparently you could get even pointier shoes. Quentin hadn't realized that. He wondered out loud whether he could get knife shoes, but Eliot argued instantly in return about how more likely it was for Quentin to injure himself on those things, considering how easily he'd been assaulted by simple bedroom furniture.

Quentin of course immediately argued back that there was nothing simple about Eliot's bedroom decoration, nor could most of it be considered furniture, even if he did like to use some of the statues as a place to hang his used towels. By the time they reached Brighthaven, Quentin had forgotten that there had been any tension between them.

Maybe it was the fact he was in a good mood by the time the coach pulled into the city that made the following situation so unbearable for Quentin, though. He'd thought their business with the cobbler was going to be short; Caleb Fenwick wasn't anywhere near as obnoxious as the rest of his family, and he understood exactly what Janet wanted. Apparently half his income came from the other three royals. Quentin eyed his own boots a few times. He wore the same pair for everything. He didn't know what was wrong with that.

Then Eliot wanted to talk to Caleb, and Quentin stepped back, expecting it to be a two minute conversation, but almost half an hour later, and Eliot and Caleb were still talking. Quentin swallowed back a sigh and paced several circuits of Caleb's store. He looked through a sample book of leathers four times; who knew there were so many shades of brown? His eyes flickered back to Eliot and Caleb talking, earnestly and rapidly, Eliot's hands gesturing, and Caleb's eyes dropping interestedly down the length of Eliot's body, and oh. Oh. Eliot was flirting. Eliot was flirting with Caleb Fenwick while Quentin was right there, and Caleb was flirting back.

Quentin tried not to sigh again. If he stayed there any longer, chances were he'd be treated to the same kind of eyeful Eliot had granted him with before, and Quentin's stomach hurt at the thought of it. But why?

He had trouble identifying his emotions; he tended to just pick the first emotion that made the most logical sense and then he stuck with it. Which is why he'd thought he was maybe falling in love with Julia again, when it probably wasn't true, or he wouldn't have been so ready to let Bearded Guy kiss him the other day.

So if he wasn't falling in love with Julia, what else explained the protective way he felt about her whenever he looked at her? Disappointment that she'd never fallen in love with him? No. Friendship? No, that had never been enough. He'd always figured out he'd wanted to see her all the time, that he was never happy unless he knew she was alive and okay.

Family? Was Julia family?

Eliot used to say that he didn't need family, but he'd admitted that had been a lie, that Quentin was the family he needed. Family to Quentin was people who you lived with, who you maybe saw at mealtimes. That's what his parents were like. But the Chatwin siblings had each other. Well. Okay. In reality, the five of them were a mess, and Martin had been drowning and none of them knew, and Helen was fanatical and Fiona still denied them and Jane was a psycho and Rupert was… whatever had happened to Rupert. But in the books they loved each other and they liked talking to each other. They did their best to help each other. They trusted each other. They had each other's backs when things went wrong. That's what family was supposed to be like. So when Quentin was handed family, real family, the way family was supposed to be… it made sense that he wouldn't understand immediately what it was.

Julia was his family. That's why he always wanted to know if she was okay. That's why he smiled when he saw her talking with animals, or messing with Janet, or using that strange intense magic of hers. It was love, he wasn't entirely wrong about that, but it wasn't romantic. It was platonic. She was the sister he never knew he needed.

Janet was the same, Quentin thought, almost wanting to laugh in delight. A bitchy, older sister who always knew exactly how to cut you down to size, but who you could count on to always have your back, whenever you needed them.

And Eliot, he was family too, right? Eliot had said so. But when Quentin thought brother, his brain only sent back a wave of question marks. It didn't fit. Why didn't it fit for Eliot, when it fit so well in his head and heart for Julia and Janet?

Eliot was leaning over the counter, running a hand through Caleb's hair. Quentin's stomach boiled. Maybe you were supposed to feel that kind of enraged heat, seeing family flirt with someone else. Why should Quentin feel angry over it?

Oh. Right. Yes. He was trying that new thing. Analyzing his own emotions and not accepting the first idea that seemed vaguely right. How novel.

If it wasn't anger, then what could it be? He was annoyed they were still here, he supposed. They had a lot more important things to be doing than talking about shoes. But that wasn't right. He was bored, but Quentin had felt boredom a lot in his pre-Brakebills days, when school classes weren't fulfilling enough, when he wasn't academically challenged. This wasn’t boredom. Was he jealous?

Yeah, jealousy felt right for the feeling, but how did it make sense for Quentin to be jealous? Caleb wasn't that attractive. Honestly, with his pale blond hair and long lanky limbs, Caleb looked too much like Quentin himself for Quentin's newly-awoken libido to get interested. So he couldn't be jealous of Eliot getting to flirt with the guy.

Maybe he was just jealous of the contact? He'd cuddled up so readily to Eliot in bed. Quentin wasn't used to getting hugs growing up, but he was human, and humans needed a certain amount of physical contact. He took a deep breath. That might be why his libido had accelerated so confusingly, recently. Quentin was touch-starved.

It made sense. It made a lot of sense.

"I'm gonna go outside," Quentin said, waving vaguely.

Eliot paused in his flirting briefly to nod in acknowledgment.

Quentin smiled weakly at Caleb and pushed out of the door into the street.

Brighthaven was one of the most built-up towns in Fillory. It was bustling, Fillorians crammed into the street, talking to friends, moving in and around the shops, laughing and singing as they visited brightly-colored stalls. Quentin shielded his eyes as he looked around. One of the servants from the coach pointed at the door, clearly asking if Quentin was ready to come back inside, but Quentin shook his head. It was a warm day. Instead, Quentin bought a couple pints of what passed as ale in Fillory, passed them to his grateful coachmen, told them he wouldn't be long, and he headed out into the crowd.

Quentin didn't have the same kingly spirit as Eliot did. His mere presence didn't part the crowds or even garner him that much attention. A couple people noticed his crown and did a double-take, bowing to him, but he waved them on. Quentin wasn't really getting the hang of the King thing, if he was being honest. Which was something new he was apparently trying now. His jealousy wasn't fading any; he was keenly aware that Eliot and Caleb were still flirting, even though he couldn't see them anymore.

Human contact. Maybe if Quentin got that, he wouldn't be so weird around Eliot. Maybe that's what Eliot was trying to show him, by having sex in front of him. Here, look at what you're missing out on, Quentin. Quentin couldn't blame his friends for going the obvious route. He really did miss so much.

Alice would have known, Quentin thought. His eyes stung. Alice could always figure out what everyone was feeling. It was one of her superpowers.

Quentin took a deep, steadying breath. Eliot got human contact all the time. Just by asking. Quentin felt light-headed. He could ask someone. Anyone. He wasn't as beautiful as Eliot, but he wasn't unpleasant. People had been sexually interested in him before. Bearded Guy had been interested in him for sure. Quentin's gaze moved almost automatically, because that reminded him—Bearded Guy. He'd told Quentin something about Brighthaven.

Royale Hotel. Room 507. Yes. That was it.

It wasn't anywhere near the time Bearded Guy had given him, but maybe he was around anyway?

Quentin never thought of himself as particularly lucky. Luck was a social construct for people who didn't have a sound grasp of chaos theory. When Quentin turned the corner to the Royale Hotel, though, Bearded Guy was standing right there, so if luck was improbably real in Fillory, it was obviously on Quentin's side.

Bearded Guy beamed when he saw Quentin and headed right for him, and his gaze wasn't shy or reserved when it dipped to appreciatively travel the full length of Quentin's body. "Ah, and I worried it wouldn't be a good morning," Bearded Guy declared.

"I should probably learn your name," Quentin said, if they were ditching small talk.

Bearded Guy laughed, like it was hilarious. "Hm, maybe I'll tell you," he said. "You're probably going to need something to scream."

Quentin also laughed, although his came out of his throat as fast as a gunshot. His initial reaction was to turn and run for his life, but he'd felt jealous earlier. He needed this, obviously. "Oh, I can probably think of something to yell," Quentin said, bravely. He looked around, and saw a nearby alley. Maybe that would do. He didn't want to have a conversation like this one out in public. Quentin raised his eyebrows and then headed for it, wondering if the guy would follow.

He not only followed Quentin, but he satisfyingly pushed Quentin against the wall once they were both safely in the shadows of it, his large hands resting at Quentin's belt.

"I was sad when you didn't come to see me," Bearded Guy said, his gaze lingering on Quentin's mouth. "I was hoping you would."

"I wanted to," Quentin said. The heat in his stomach changed, a heavier, tighter feeling. It felt like anticipation. Quentin didn't know whether it was good anticipation or bad.

"Unfortunately, I promised my men I'd join them on the field in half a bell's time," Bearded Guy said. "I don't think that's enough time to enjoy you right now."

Quentin shuddered. Bearded Guy's eyes were so close and intense, unwavering. "I think we need a bit longer than that, too," he said. "Tonight?"

"Yeah," Bearded Guy breathed, leaning in closer. "But I need to make sure you don't forget me in the meantime."

Quentin stared at him. He felt completely disconnected from his body, somehow. Physical touch might anchor him right back to it. He licked his lips and let his gaze drop to Bearded Guy's large hands. Quentin was getting hard again, his mouth tingling in anticipation, and then Bearded Guy lifted one of those capable hands to Quentin's neck, and he kissed him.

Quentin was panting barely seconds in. He only had the briefest memory of enjoying one stubbly kiss before this moment, and it turned out Quentin was definitely into this sort of kiss. The burn of the man's beard against his face made the kiss better somehow. Bearded Guy wrapped one of his heavy hands around Quentin's waist, crushing him closer against a matching hardness; neither of them were fully chubbed up but both of them were on their way. Bearded Guy's face slipped down, and that delicious hairy friction dragged against delicate skin as he pressed a wet, hot kiss into Quentin's neck. Quentin clenched back automatically, trying to grab hold of Bearded Guy, and pleasure rushed over him in a wave. Yeah, okay, maybe Quentin really needed this, in a way he hadn't thought he would.

He needed someone to hold him down. To press hot kisses against him. To run their stubble over him, and press fingers into him. Quentin wanted someone to work him open, to fuck deep into the core of him, and then they'd let Quentin flip them over, work his own hands into their grasping, greedy hole. Quentin would feed his dick into them in return, into a gripping, welcoming heat, and Eliot would look up at Quentin, his eyes locked on Quentin as he begged him to do it harder, please, Quentin, please—

That was weird. Why had Quentin thought about Eliot?

Maybe—oh, maybe because Eliot was there. Quentin felt a rush of confusing panic as his eyes caught on the sight. Eliot was standing out in the street, looking like Quentin had physically hit him with something. How did that make sense? Nothing was making sense. Maybe it was Bearded Guy's hands on him; Quentin was losing his mind. Eliot might have finished his flirting, and come to find Quentin.

Bearded Guy's lips found Quentin's again, and Quentin's eyes slipped closed in pleasure, but he found himself opening them again quickly, to glance back at the street. Eliot was gone. Had he even been there, or had Quentin imagined him? Did Eliot kiss like Bearded Guy did? He wouldn't be as aggressive, Quentin thought. He'd be kinder, even with the desperation of arousal spurring him on. Quentin only had fragments of a memory of Eliot kissing him, but those fragments were beautiful. Eliot was beautiful. Eliot—

"Eliot," Quentin breathed, miserable, hating himself fiercely as the realization fully sank in.



Quentin wasn't jealous of the human contact at all.

He'd been jealous of Caleb. And Mallon. And all the thousand others.

He didn't want Bearded Guy. He'd just wanted Eliot to want him like that.

Quentin had been desperate for Eliot's attention, right from the beginning. Had followed him around Brakebills, and then been deeply hurt when Eliot seemingly discarded him. No one's first rational reaction to seeing their friend having kinky secret sex should be why didn't they pick me.

Not unless they wanted it to be true.

Quentin had always wanted Eliot to fuck him, but he'd pushed that thought away, over and over, because he was scared. Because looking at his feelings meant acknowledging them, and acknowledging his feelings meant accepting the shitty ones too. Quentin was a poor excuse of a person, so poorly formed even four years of Brakebills couldn't settle him with a real Discipline. He couldn't even figure out his own feelings without a massive struggle. What kind of a catch was he for anyone? Let alone someone as lovely and enchanting as Eliot?

Now he knew what he was feeling, Quentin couldn't let this liaison continue. God. He'd been so desperate for Eliot that his libido had attached onto someone who'd been with him, like it was the closest it could get so it would have to be good enough. But Bearded Guy didn't deserve that, and Quentin couldn't go through with it, now he knew why he wanted it. It wasn't fair on either of them.

Quentin pushed at Bearded Guy's shoulders, trying to shove him away, but Quentin wasn't nearly strong enough for that to be effective. So Quentin summoned his magic instead, and he crooked his fingers into a brutal, swift physical jab of magical energy that sent Bearded Guy stumbling back a few paces.

Bearded Guy could have twice the number of muscles; he didn't stand a chance against a motherfucking magician.

Bearded Guy stared at Quentin. "Oh, you like to play, don't you?" He smiled a little. "I could be into that."

Bearded Guy kissed Quentin again. He was good at it. Quentin almost forgot for a second why he'd pushed him away. Eliot wouldn't want him. Maybe this was the closest Quentin would ever get.

No. It was wrong. This was all wrong. Now Quentin had figured out his confusing heart, Bearded Guy's hands felt too big, his tongue too insistent.

And he wasn't Eliot.

"Eliot," Quentin said, to reaffirm to himself why he had to push Bearded Guy away.

But this time, Bearded Guy stepped back without Quentin having to shove at him. He was wiping his mouth with the back of one big hand, his eyebrows arched high, an unpleasant sneer on his face.

"Oh, I see what this is," Bearded Guy spat.

Quentin stared at him miserably. He hadn't meant to lead him on.

"I don't mind being a one-time lay, but I've got more self-respect than being a proxy fuck," Bearded Guy said. "You two play your games with someone else."

Quentin blinked. "What?"

"Picking a guy and calling your lover's name while you're with them? I thought he was just hopelessly pining over you, or something, but with you doing it too?" Bearded Guy's sneer deepened. "Those twisted kind of sex games might be acceptable on your world, but here on Fillory, you can both fuck off. I guess I'll see you at the tournament. If I win, you better pick the person who comes in second for your little sea voyage. I don't want to see either of you for any longer than I have to."

"Wait," Quentin said, uselessly, staring as Bearded Guy stomped out of the alley. What had just happened? Why would Bearded Guy think...that he and Eliot were using him...for a twisted sex game?

Several facts crammed together in Quentin's mind. Back in the kitchen, on the day they first met, Bearded Guy had said that Eliot was fond of Quentin's name. Quentin had thought it must have been conversation, but even he had noted Bearded Guy and Eliot hadn't had that much time to talk. Bearded Guy had thought Eliot was hopelessly pining over Quentin? He'd specifically said your lover's name.

Quentin's heart was pounding as everything started to crash together.

Eliot had been standing in the street, looking like Quentin had thumped him.

And he was gone. He'd left. He'd seen Quentin there in the alley, letting Bearded Guy maul him. If Eliot really somehow did maybe have some sort of a thing for Quentin, then that would have been unpleasant to see. It didn't make sense. But there was nothing else that did make sense.

Quentin had to know. He had to know for sure. He had to find Eliot. If Eliot was still in the cobbler's shop, flirting with Caleb Fenwick, then Quentin would know he'd hallucinated Eliot and he had another problem to deal with—mostly that of having an impossible crush again. But he'd survived that with Julia, and he'd survive that with Eliot.

Of course, there was the alternative. That Bearded Guy was right, and Eliot maybe was the one to have a crush on Quentin. Stranger things had happened, Quentin thought. Like him being a magician. Like Fillory being real. Like his friends flying up to his office window to offer him a throne.

Quentin ran out into the main street, his heart pounding frantically in his ears. His eyes scanned the street desperately until he saw it—a gap in the crowd, and Eliot's curly head in the middle of it, his crown glinting in the sun. It was nearly midday. Nearly time for the Eclipse. Quentin hurried, the sight of Eliot buoying him onward.

Eliot, who had been the first person to greet him at Brakebills, who hadn't laughed at him. Eliot, who had guided them through Fillory as the perfect High King, and had declared Quentin family, and had needed him in a way no one had ever needed Quentin before.

Eliot, who would always be the symbol to Quentin that impossible things were possible.

He was running at full pace, and the crowd was parting for him. Perhaps Quentin was finally radiating kingship, or maybe no one wanted to be elbowed by a six-foot white-haired magician sprinting like the world was on fire. He caught up to Eliot and grabbed onto Eliot's sleeve, gasping out an attempt to ask him to stop so they could talk.

"Leave me alone," Eliot snapped, pulling his sleeve away, and his gaze softened briefly when he saw it was Quentin. And now Quentin was open to the possibility of it, Quentin could see it—the moment of brief hurt that Eliot swiftly and professionally parceled away, Eliot assuming a forced placid expression to cover it up. Eliot tilted his chin, and couldn't quite mask all his pain; there was a glint of it in his eyes as he said, "Done already, are you?" in the coldest, most dismissive tone Quentin had ever heard from him.

"Eliot," Quentin said, blurting the name, because Eliot's pain felt like a knife slipping into Quentin's ribs.

Eliot stopped still and folded his arms, glaring at Quentin. "I thought you were against people fucking in a public space."

"I didn't," Quentin said. "We weren't."

"Right," Eliot said, rolling his eyes. Several people were gathering close to watch, whispering excitedly to each other. This was prime entertainment, two royals bickering in the street. Gossip was the fastest moving thing in Fillory; it would be all around the castle by the end of lunchtime.

"I didn't," Quentin insisted, firmly, because it was important that Eliot knew that for sure. He could picture how it looked now, from the outside. Bearded Guy had been all over him. But it was just a kiss. A very eye-opening kiss, although not in the way Bearded Guy had intended it to be. "I couldn't."

Eliot raised one eyebrow. "Performance anxiety?" he asked, coolly.

"No," Quentin said, indignantly. "Because he wasn't you."

Eliot froze. Briefly. His eyes were the first part of him to move, and he blinked uncertainly, staring at Quentin. There was a flush of pink creeping into Eliot's pale cheeks, a color that prompted Quentin to step forward, earnestly. Because Quentin might be oblivious most of the time, but even he couldn't misinterpret this.

"What?" Eliot whispered, sounding faint. He was staring at Quentin almost desperately. Like he couldn't believe what he was hearing, but in a good way. Like this was something he'd been waiting to hear. It made Quentin brave, in a way that thrilled and scared him all at once.

"I thought I wanted him," Quentin admitted, and he met Eliot's gaze, holding it carefully, "but all I could think about was you." Eliot's gaze dipped briefly, just to Quentin's mouth, but that was, finally, clear enough. Even if Quentin was currently kicking himself, because maybe Eliot had been looking at him like that all along. "I keep thinking about you in our bed."

"Our bed," Eliot repeated, almost sounding hysterical. He was fully blushing now, a crimson that matched some of the red in his tunic, and when Quentin's own gaze dipped low, Eliot's tight pants weren't hiding any of his bodily reaction to Quentin's words.

Eliot was that hard, from Quentin barely saying anything? Gods, how had Quentin missed this?

Well. There was that dense, completely oblivious to all emotions thing he had going on.

"Let's go," Quentin said, imperiously, grabbing Eliot's sleeve and yanking him toward their coach. Castle Whitespire was twenty minutes drive from there. It was already too much.

"The staff will talk," Eliot said, this time letting Quentin tug him, a dazed expression on his face.

"Let them," Quentin said, furiously.

"They've been talking for days and we were just sharing a bed platonically," Eliot said.

Oh. Well. That explained some of the giggling. And Janet's threats suddenly made much more sense.

"Let them talk," Quentin said. He felt feverish. Knowing he was able to put his hands on Eliot, and yet so far from having somewhere safe to do so, was dizzying. Quentin impatiently shoved Eliot into the coach and brusquely ordered the coachmen to get them back to the castle, double-speed. Their servants shared knowing smirks before nodding and readying the horses as Quentin followed Eliot inside.

"Janet was furious when she heard about us sharing a bed," Eliot added, as Quentin secured the door, and the coach lurched between them, starting the journey back to the castle. Quentin was faintly aware that they hadn't waited for Janet's shoes to be fixed. Oh, well. Let her be angry. The shoes could wait.

"I don't want to talk about Janet," Quentin said, impatiently, and straddled Eliot right there on the seat. He nudged their erections together and smiled when Eliot shuddered against him, a damp spot appearing on the fabric of Eliot's pants. Yeah, this was going to be pretty epic.

"What do you want to talk about?" Eliot's eyes raked across Quentin's face giddily, like he couldn't believe it. He looked at Quentin like he was something special, like he was a gift just for Eliot. Eliot's hands moved up to Quentin's back and his touch was light, speculative. Like he thought Quentin might disappear if he held on too tightly.

"Talking's overrated," Quentin said. Eliot opened his mouth to protest, because his default reaction usually was to argue with Quentin, but Quentin swallowed up whatever Eliot's argument was going to be with a kiss.

Any doubt that Quentin still harbored that Eliot might not want this was erased by how quickly Eliot responded to him. Quentin had seen Eliot's seduction routine more times than he cared to think about; he knew Eliot was careful, with every single movement designed to woo perfectly. But Eliot wasn't sticking to his usual script; even if this kiss was perfect, it was kinda sloppy. Something about Quentin made Eliot desperate, and urgent, and it made Quentin harder immediately when he realized it.

"Oh my god," Eliot breathed, as their mouths disconnected with an obscene smacking noise. "Quentin, Quentin."

Apparently Eliot really was fond of Quentin's name. Quentin tightened his grip on Eliot's thighs, using his knees to keep his balance as he leaned his weight back a little, so he could raise up his hand to Eliot's face. Eliot pressed himself into Quentin's palm, his eyes locked to Quentin's.

"I feel like I'm dreaming," Eliot whispered, his eyes tracking Quentin's face, back and forth like he was trying to commit every single detail of this moment to his memory. "I've been trying to let you know for years, but you never seemed interested."

Quentin almost laughed, but even he realized that Eliot would take that badly right now. "Yes," he said, instead. "Yeah, I don't blame you." He stroked Eliot's face in wonder, both at how good it felt, and how amazing it felt to see Eliot's eyes go half-lidded, just at such a simple touch. "I didn't realize. My own feelings. Or yours." It felt daring to say that with such confidence, but Eliot didn't deny it. "Emotions are tricky. I don't approve of how difficult they are to understand."

"I knew you found them difficult," Eliot sighed. "I thought that was other people's emotions, not your own too. And then there were days that I thought you knew how I felt, and you were just being kind."

"No, I'm just that dense, I'm afraid." Quentin offered Eliot a weak smile of apology.

"You're not dense," Eliot said, automatically.

"Magic, no. People, oh god yes." Quentin scrunched up his nose. "You might have to spell things out clearly to me." He considered it. "I don't think I'm kind, either. That's you. You're kind."

Eliot raised his eyebrows. "I was such a brat about you deciding to do something without me that I deliberately fucked guys in front of you to make you angry," he said. "I don't think that's kind. I think it was petty and I'm sorry about that."

"Oh. Maybe you're a dick too, then." Quentin thought about it. "I'm kinda into that."

"I'm kinda into you," Eliot said, firmly.

Maybe things would have been different if Eliot had said that earlier, and Quentin could spend time lamenting that, or he could spend some time kissing Eliot and showing him that the feeling was mutual. Emotions were stupid incomprehensible puzzles, but tactical thinking was much more Quentin's speed. Eliot kissed him back, enthusiastically, no hesitation. Yep, there was definitely some areas where Quentin was still a genius.

By the time they got to Whitespire, Eliot had definitely accumulated some of Quentin's impatience. They both ignored the staring, muttering staff, and Eliot manhandled Quentin all the way to Quentin's room. Eliot had barely pushed him through the door before he was scrabbling at Quentin's clothes, trying to strip him like he would die if he didn't get to see Quentin naked immediately.

"I didn't fuck anyone in here after all," Eliot murmured, yanking at the ties that kept Quentin's pants up. "I couldn't."

"You couldn't?" Quentin gasped, desperate to know, but annoyed that he had to have his mouth not on Eliot to ask.

"No," Eliot said, finally managing to yank Quentin's pants down; he was so enthusiastic that Quentin's underpants were casualties in the same tug.

"Why?" Quentin asked. He might have been wanting more information, or generally crying to the universe that Eliot's pants weren't being nearly as co-operative as Quentin's in this urgent quest for nudity.

"Because," Eliot said, impatiently joining Quentin's efforts, "he wasn't you."

Those words did make Quentin suddenly frantic and rather grabby, which didn't exactly help them get Eliot's pants off any more smoothly.

"Please say this is gonna be our bed from now on," Quentin murmured. "Yours is too far away."

Eliot nodded fervently, exhaling sharply when Quentin finally got the right purchase on Eliot's pants and peeled them down to his knees in one swift movement. "Gotta have sheets we can defile guilt-free," Eliot quipped, and shuddered when Quentin pressed a soft kiss to his exposed thigh. "You can't think how often I thought about it. Every night, and you'd just—be lounging here—looking so soft—looking like my perfect wet dream, always in those infernal silk pajamas. God, you were such a tease, did you have any idea?"

Quentin shook his head. "I didn't know," he said, miserable that he'd caused Eliot such agony. He thought about it briefly in reverse, if Quentin had known about his crush on Eliot, and had to see Eliot lying in silk pajamas on his bed, night after night, so near, and yet so seemingly disinterested… "I didn't mean to be a tease."

"I know you didn't," Eliot said, soothingly, throwing his tunic backwards and grabbing desperately for him.

There was a blurry, uncertain moment when their bodies collided, fully naked, because it was just too good. Quentin's ears flooded with his rapidly pounding heartbeat, and he reached for Eliot helplessly, needing to be kissing him, needing it more badly than he knew he could need anything.

Eliot rolled them over so he was on top, his weight gloriously pressing Quentin down into the mattress, and they hungrily kissed, Quentin meeting each and every one of Eliot’s eager movements.

"Wanted this," Eliot murmured. "Wanted you so long."

"I want you too," Quentin gasped back, his hands running along Eliot's long back. He ran his fingers along the enticing curve of Eliot's ass, and Eliot moaned directly into Quentin's mouth.Quentin was entranced by Eliot's chest, the rosy color of his nipples and the dark dusting of hair between them; Quentin could easily see himself getting obsessed with the sight. Quentin lowered his mouth and kissed across the soft swell of Eliot's pecs, licking over the rough texture of one nipple and then the other one, delighting in the noises Eliot made each time. Quentin had thought the scientific method of exploring his own body might be interesting to look into, but the idea of methodically exploring Eliot's body to figure out how he ticked seemed about five thousand times better.

"Good," Eliot said.

"But no more tournament guys," Quentin said, firmly. "If you want to fuck someone, you fuck me."

Eliot stared at Quentin like he was crazy. "Obviously," Eliot rolled his eyes. "I'm a sequential monogamist. If you're my boyfriend, I'm not going to go around fucking anyone else." An uncertain wobble reached Eliot's mouth, like he realized exactly what he'd just said. "You are my boyfriend now, right?"

"I'd fucking better be," Quentin said.

Eliot grinned. "Guess I'd better get used to those cold baths while you're off sailing to the Outer Islands, huh?"

Quentin stared at him. He'd forgotten that part of his plan entirely. "Maybe we can delay that part of the plan," Quentin said, after a moment. "After all, I didn't run the full plan by my High King first."

"Hm," Eliot said. "That sounds bad. That sounds like you should be punished." He lowered his face and bit gently at Quentin's ear before soothing it with his tongue. Quentin impossibly grew harder; he hadn't known he would like that. He got the feeling Eliot was going to introduce him to all sorts of new things in bed. "How do you want this?"

Quentin shuddered as one of Eliot's hands interlocked with one of his and gently pushed it into the mattress. "I thought—you just—liked receiving."

"I'm very versatile," Eliot said, soft like a promise.

"Oh," Quentin gasped, and then shivered when Eliot's other hand questingly dipped down low, a teasing finger rubbing gently over Quentin's hole. "All the ways," Quentin breathed. "I want all the ways with you."

Eliot smiled, like it was exactly what he wanted to hear.

"Next time you can bend me over in the corner and fuck me up against the window," Eliot said, his gaze intent as he sat up and knelt over Quentin. "I've thought about that a lot. While you talked, sometimes I wouldn't even be listening. I'd be staring at the windows and wondering what it would be like to see your reflection as you fucked me."

"Jesus," Quentin swore. "Yes. Next time. Definitely next time." He squirmed, thinking about it. He'd never gotten further than a fingertip, but he knew he wanted it; he knew he wanted more of it. He needed it. He needed Eliot inside him. Now. Yesterday. Right this second.

Eliot had other plans, though, and Quentin would have protested, except Eliot's hot mouth was on his dick and Quentin was too busy shouting. He belatedly wondered about setting up a silencing ward, but fuck, the staff would all know what was going on in here by now anyway. And Fillorians were much less reserved about sex than Quentin was. As Eliot slid down further onto Quentin's dick, the warm and wet suction driving Quentin wild, Quentin wondered whether the Fillorians were onto something.

He ended up having to bat at Eliot's hair to get him to stop, which had the result of Eliot glowering up at him with a surly expression.

"Stop fucking around and get inside me," Quentin hissed.

Eliot's expression remained somewhat poleaxed, but he did pull away from Quentin's dick with one last soft, teasing kiss to the tip. "I should have known you'd be a pushy bottom."

"Well, if you'd rather talk," Quentin mumbled, and shoved at Eliot, knocking him down into the mattress and bending over, taking Eliot's dick in his mouth. This was more familiar territory from his infrequent experiences with men; Quentin had a minor oral fixation and he never minded indulging it. There was something heady about the weight of Eliot's dick on his tongue, and something headier still about the way Eliot fell to pieces under the careful and thorough administration of Quentin's mouth on him.

And talk Eliot did, mumbling constantly under his breath, about how good Quentin looked with his mouth wrapped around him, and how deep he was taking him, how good he was.

Quentin reluctantly disengaged when Eliot pushed at him, and he understood why Eliot's first reaction had been to scowl when he had to pull off. Gods, he wanted to taste Eliot, he wanted to know and remember everything about Eliot's body, and maybe he'd said that out loud, because Eliot smiled and said, "Later, love," and Quentin forgot everything: his own name; what he was doing there; what magic was. The only thing that mattered suddenly was Eliot. Everything was Eliot. Quentin did everything Eliot wanted, pliantly letting Eliot rearrange him on the bed, canting his hips up so Eliot could put a pillow beneath him. It seemed like Eliot couldn't stop touching him. Quentin was okay with that.

"I want to see you," Eliot murmured, and all Quentin could do was nod.

Eliot's hands carefully moved through an urgent but graceful series of positions. Quentin wasn't sure what it was until he saw Eliot's fingers suddenly glisten. Quentin had heard there was a wide range of sex magic, but he'd always been too shy to really ask anyone about it. Eliot would be glad to teach him, Quentin thought, fidgeting at the idea of it. Quentin always did enjoy learning.

Eliot lifted up one of Quentin's legs to balance on his shoulder, pausing to kiss Quentin's wooden knee and the indents from the scar where the landshark had bitten him. Eliot held him like he was something special; Quentin's eyes felt hot, and he reached up for Eliot to drag him down into a kiss, pressing his fingers into Eliot's tumble of curls. His hair was so soft. Eliot's hand drifted back down as they kissed, wetly tugging at Quentin's aching dick before slipping down. Eliot didn't ignore Quentin's balls either, gently rubbing them as he continued to lick into Quentin's mouth, and Quentin was so light-headed from the sensations that he barely noticed Eliot pressing into Quentin.

Quentin whined when he did register the intrusion, feeling hot in several places at once—his forehead, his eyes, his groin, and somewhere deep inside him.

"Relax," Eliot said, "I'm just going to make this a little easier." Quentin watched as Eliot's spare hand traced a few shapes in the air, and Quentin felt a rush of bubbles inside him, and oh, he was opening up, easy now, so easily, and Eliot's fingers were pushing inside him, three of them at once, and Quentin—Quentin suddenly remembered this. They'd done this before. During that time in Manhattan. Eliot had worked his whole hand into Quentin using that same spell, and Quentin had wanted it, Quentin had begged for it, needing to be filled up, needing it. Well, Quentin supposed that's why his body had known so quickly that he liked it.

"This is amazing," Quentin mumbled, trying his best to make coherent words. He was proud that he wasn't just mindlessly yelling Eliot's name. "You're amazing."

"I'm amazing?" Eliot sounded like he was almost choking on the words; the rhythm he'd started up with his hand didn't falter, though. "Jesus, Quentin, look at you, taking it so well. You're incredible. I l—"

Quentin's mouth fell open, lax, and he wriggled his hips, trying to get Eliot deeper inside him. Eliot was about to say I love you, Quentin was sure of it. Even Quentin knew it was probably safer to wait for later, when sex wasn't turning every good feeling up to eleven. But just the knowledge it was lurking beneath the surface was enough for him.

"Get the fuck inside me right now," Quentin demanded, and Eliot looked unsure, but only for a second, because he gestured again, another spell, a protection one that Quentin did recognize from the painfully embarrassing time that Dean Fogg had tried to give them a magical sex ed lesson. Eliot didn’t even hesitate, fully sheathing himself inside Quentin's body in one smooth push the second the spell was done.

Quentin gave in and yelled, he wasn't sure what; there was no pain, only pleasure that was building inside him like a volcano. Eliot paused for a moment, staring down at Quentin with a wild, incredulous expression, before he then started fucking Quentin in earnest, using that substantial length of his to great effect. Quentin wrapped his ankles around Eliot's back, urging him onward, digging his heels in when he wanted Eliot to go faster. Eliot obliged, and Quentin had to bury his face into Eliot's neck as Eliot relentlessly kept fucking into him.

"I need," Quentin said, gasping for air as Eliot started unerringly hitting somewhere inside him that felt like a miniature lightning strike with every third thrust, "El, El." He pushed at Eliot's shoulder, teetering on the edge of something, but unable to get there. His dick was hurting, he was so hard; the wet tip struck Eliot's taut stomach with every rocking motion. He felt swollen with a rushing, bubbling energy, but there was something else that would take him where he needed to be, he knew it.

"What?" Eliot's mouth trailed a wet line up Quentin's jaw. "What do you need?"

"I don't know," Quentin sighed, his eyes wet. "I just, I need it." His eyes locked on Eliot's. Eliot looked confused. Quentin empathized. He wish he knew what he needed. "More," he said.

Eliot wrapped a hand around Quentin's dick, but Quentin shook his head, and Eliot frowned, and then he moved his hand down. Quentin nodded fervently. Yes, yes, that was right. Quentin still wasn't quite sure what he was asking for, until Eliot slipped a finger further down, catching on the rim before sliding in to join Eliot's cock, and yes, yes, that was it, that's what Quentin needed. Quentin was sobbing now, but it wasn't grief, it was pure relief. This had been what he's needed for so long, and he hadn't had a clue. He knew now.

Figuring out emotions and expending all that energy to do so might be painful and exhausting, but apparently it was really fucking worth it.

Now he understood what Quentin needed, Eliot set to it with gusto, fucking him eagerly in a fast, unrelenting rhythm, and Quentin canted his hips so that Eliot was hitting that lightning-strike place with every thrust, and Quentin's head fell back into space, because his pillow had somehow disappeared in all the beautiful chaos. No. It hadn't disappeared. He and Eliot were floating. Quentin had heard it happened to magicians sometimes, but he'd never experienced it himself. Quentin laughed out loud and dug his heels into Eliot's back, urging him on again, and Eliot compiled, smiling so much they could barely kiss.

They landed with a thump on the mattress at the exact moment Quentin came, his ejaculate smearing in the space between them, and Eliot laughed, thrust a few more times, and followed him over the edge. Quentin wouldn't let him fully withdraw for a while, though, sulking until Eliot left a couple of his fingers curled inside him, soothing him through the last few aftershocks of his orgasm.

"You are something, Quentin Coldwater," Eliot said, when they were done and Eliot was curled on top of him, naked and spent. Thank goodness for Eliot having enough know-how and energy to cast a few clean-up spells, because Quentin was so done he would have slept in the damp spot without complaint. Quentin idly ran his hand through Eliot's hair as he tried to catch his breath.

"Something good, I hope," Quentin mumbled. He looked up at Eliot, who was staring at him so fondly that Quentin nearly entirely forgot how to breathe at all.

"Good doesn't even start to cover it," Eliot said.

"Good," Quentin said, and smiled up at Eliot, unable to stop. The feeling in his chest wasn't even new; Quentin realized he'd felt it before. Was it happiness? Had Quentin been happy before, and just not realized? He guessed that made sense—his childhood had rarely been happy, how was he supposed to recognize what real happiness felt like?

"You look happy," Eliot said, like he could read Quentin's mind.

"You know what?" Quentin beamed at him. "I think I am." He considered it. "But we should have sex a few hundred more times just to be sure. The scientific method, you understand."

"Oh, science," Eliot said. "Sounds terrible." He leaned in and kissed Quentin, soft as a promise. "I'm in."

It turned out that so many people had entered the tournament that the banquet hall wasn't big enough to hold everyone, and Quentin ended up spending the entire tournament running frantically between the battles, claiming he was much too busy to sit down in one place for long.

Eliot smirked when Quentin explained that for the fifth time, because it wasn't entirely the truth.

Eliot probably didn't need to be so smug about it.

Even if it was entirely his fault.


Maybe it was Quentin's fault too. Eliot was splendidly versatile.

"You two make me sick," Janet sighed, when she saw them share an innocent smile across the kitchen table.

Eliot shrugged, looking unapologetic.

Quentin tried to glare at Janet, but he couldn't muster up the energy. He smiled at her fondly instead, which did make Janet groan in disgust, which would have been the intent of his glare anyway.

"I said you weren't in love with me," Julia said, sing-song.

"Do you ever get tired of being right?" Quentin asked.

Julia arched an eyebrow. "Do you ever get tired of being wrong?"

Quentin narrowed his eyes, and then caught glance of Eliot and promptly forgot everything he was doing. By the time he did remember, Julia was deeply engaged with a new battle with Janet—stacking up baked goods this time, in a silent war as to which of them could best recreate Whitespire out of pastries—and Quentin let his gaze return to where it wanted to be: where Eliot was still looking at him, smiling like he couldn't stop.

Maybe Eliot would be up to doing some receiving in Quentin's study, later, if Quentin could get him to agree to locking the door first, because Quentin still wasn't a fan of the idea of anyone walking in on them. It did turn out that Eliot was very amenable to Quentin's suggestions now.

"Whatever dirty thought you were having all the way through breakfast," Eliot whispered to him as they left the kitchen to go oversee the next day of battles, "I am totally in."

People might still be difficult for Quentin to read, but apparently Eliot could read Quentin much more easily.

"Deal," Quentin grinned, and leaned in and kissed Eliot on the mouth, just because he could.

And also because it made Janet squawk, "Not in public where anyone can see you, Jesus, that's disgusting."

Quentin grinned knowingly at Eliot. Quentin wasn't always right, but he wasn't always wrong either, and he was more than okay with that.