Work Header

i'm a little out of tune

Chapter Text

Quentin doesn’t really remember figuring out he was bi. He thinks this might have something to do with the fact that his mother is also bisexual, and while his parents divorcing when he was twelve followed by his mother marrying her girlfriend when he was thirteen don’t add up to a particularly pleasant series of events, there is something eye-opening about having an obviously queer parent. 

Even if she’s only in his life every other weekend and a few holidays each year. Even if his stepmother Molly seems more bewildered by acquiring an almost-teenage stepson than willing to bond with him much. Quentin doesn’t really blame Molly; she’s an only child of only children and tells him pretty honestly that she has no idea what to do with a kid, even though she has the decency to assure Quentin that she knows he isn’t a little kid. 

Mostly, she has him help in her garden, which he can’t say is the most riveting way he’s ever spent weekend afternoons, but it’s kind of nice too. Quentin likes working with his hands, after all — one reason his dad keeps trying to convince him he’d like working on those model planes if he would just give it a chance — and while this isn’t card and coin tricks, it’s… solid.

Also, given that most of his conversations with his mother tend to turn into her criticizing his… everything, there’s a straightforward relief in being able to go outside where — as long as he follows Molly’s clear directions — he can’t fuck up. It’s nice to know what’s expected, to have certain steps to carry out; much harder to mess up when you know the score. 

So, yeah. Quentin’s not close with either of them, but it has an effect. How can it not? Mostly it just comes down to the idea that it’s perfectly possible for him to like boys or girls, or both. So Quentin never really has the phase of denial when he realizes half of his fictional crushes — and all of them are on fictional characters for most of his preteen and early teen years — are aimed at male characters.

He does notice, however, that his crushes stay entirely fictional more often than seems to be typical. He doesn’t even really find himself admiring actors the way other people he knows do; yes, they’re still pretty but it isn’t the same unless they’re in character. At least, not for him. 

He assumes it’s part of his depression, this lack of interest in anyone. Until, of course, one day it was lack of interest in anyone but Julia, while at the same time harboring fanboy crushes on fictional characters of variable genders. It’s weird how it happens, so that he can’t even pinpoint exactly when he tipped over the edge — and it’s not like people hadn’t joked for years about the two of them dating, Quentin and Julia both rolling their eyes — but it just slowly dawns on him how much he wants to kiss her. How much he just wants , in a nebulous hazy way that simply doesn’t otherwise happen.

Being a teenager is supposedly a time of raging hormones, supposedly when teenage boys in particular have only one thing on their minds and that thing is sex. But this just doesn’t seem to apply, as Quentin moves through high school. And it’s not that he misses the fact that a lot of people are really pretty. Quentin’s attempt to give up on drawing when his second therapist tries to turn it into a therapy trick fails because people are just… 

Like, what’s the point of noticing how Bree from AP Lit manages to braid her hair differently every single day, or how Kyle from trigonometry class has long graceful hands that look amazing even when he’s just writing equations, or all the other little things Quentin sees, if not to draw little fragment sketches along the edges of all his notebooks? 

Quentin’s not a stalker, he doesn’t draw people , usually, not like portraits or anything. Just these little things he notices, little things that make so many people beautiful. He thinks he sees it more clearly because he doesn’t always see it, because he misses social cues even on his best days. Because sometimes the whole world is clouded by depression haze and he can’t see anything but the greyness of his own fucked up brain. 

But when he does see, it never seems to be about wanting , never about… 

People talk about sex a lot in high school, is the thing. They talk about having it, they talk about wanting to have it, in the locker room boys talk about porn and Quentin nearly climbs into his locker so that no one will see him because he — well. He did try watching, a few times, but the only times it interested him were when it reminded him of a porny fic and he could think about the words too, about the characters and that there were feelings with the sex. 

Not always romance but feelings, between the characters or just, like — you don’t read fic for characters you don’t like, and reading about characters you like enjoying themselves, seeing through their eyes, so to speak, well… It’s hot. But watching random people have sex for the camera is just weird, and the idea of having sex feels like a — a badly-fitting, itchy sweater for his mind, or something.

“The thing is,” he tells Julia one day, “I don’t — like why would you ever want to sleep with someone you don’t know? How would that even work ? I’m not saying it’s wrong or anything but it doesn’t, I don’t know. It doesn’t compute. Why would you want to see a stranger naked? Or be naked with one?” It’s weird to talk about this with her, his newfound crush thrumming under his skin, but he needs to talk to someone because he’s starting to think something might actually be off here.

“It’s fun, and sometimes you don’t want strings attached?” Julia says with a shrug. 

“No, I get that, in theory. I just… I don’t know. The mechanics are over my head somehow.”

“So, what, you’re going to save yourself for marriage like a good little Catholic boy? Which you so aren’t, even if all your crushes are fictional half of them are guys,” Julia comments. Quentin rolls his eyes.

“No. Like I said, I just don’t get it.” 

Quentin doesn’t exactly get it either, but here’s yet another side effect of growing up with queer adults in his life, however peripheral they feel: he stops worrying about it. He is who and what he is, and that might not be anything much, but on the list of things to change, his lack of general interest in sex and things just… doesn’t seem high on the list. 

He has a crush on his best friend who he’s pretty sure will only ever see him as a friend, which sucks even at the best of times. And there aren’t all that many best of times because he has clinical depression that’s so far proven to be treatment-resistant too (or maybe he’s treatment-resistant, he’s not sure) and he knows how much he makes his dad and Julia worry about him. 

In the face of that, going into college still finding himself not wanting to fuck people just seems… irrelevant. Odd, but nothing more than that. 


It becomes something a little… sharper than just odd but irrelevant, in college. 

Quentin is hospitalized again in college, or rather in the summer between his second and third years, the breakneck pressure he put on himself during exam season leading to a rather spectacular flame-out of a crash. Not that he needs stress to want to die, but that’s the kind of thing that pushes him to try actually making it happen, usually. 

As far as Julia and his dad are concerned, this is the worst thing that happens to him in college. Objectively, waking up in the hospital after having his stomach pumped, knowing that Julia is the one who found him and that his dad saw him too, well… It is the worst thing. But it was pills, he mostly just remembers passing out and the aftermath in the hospital, and inpatient afterwards. Actually almost dying feels unreal, in its way, it’s what happened after that was awful. Whereas when his dad or Julia talk, they see his recovery as the positive part. 

(His recovery, such as it is, because it’s never over, and that’s the worst fucking part. Because depression can go from being a chronic but manageable thing to being the equivalent of a fucking terminal illness with no goddamn warning. Quite apart from being a shitty thing to live with, it’s infuriating on sheer principle.)

Quentin agrees, more or less, that improving as much as he can is good even if the experience is awful. But for him, somehow, this latest relapse isn’t the worst thing that happens. It’s going to happen again, after all; this is just the truth of him and he hates that, oh, he hates it so fucking much, but it’s just… It’s what it is, and unless someone invents an actual cure for depression — which is probably somewhere really low on the list of Illnesses The World Wants Cured given that to a lot of people mental illness only hurts you as much as you let it — then this is how it’s going to be. 

Later, in a grad school Quentin could never have imagined even in all his daydreams about other worlds, about more than the mundane of life, he will insist to a laughing maybe-friend that no, he is not a virgin. This is, as far as it goes, a true statement. It doesn’t follow, really, that Quentin has ever particularly enjoyed sex much. Oh, it’s usually nice enough in the moment, he gets off and that means he enjoyed himself, and some of the memories are good afterwards.

But, really, he kind of prefers it when he gets to go down on someone and not have them touch him back. He likes making someone fall apart under his lips and tongue and the help of his fingers at the right moment, he likes knowing he’s done something well and right and… Truthfully, it’s easier to just stroke himself off — when his partner is actually concerned about him getting off, which isn’t always — while the person he’s with is still catching their breath. 

(If the thoughts he uses to bring himself over the edge are never about the person he’s with but a strange jumble of things he’s read with hazy half-images of being in those roles, desire sparked only by imagining those feelings as his own, well. No one needs to know that.)

When he actually has full-blown sex, fucking a girl or letting a guy fuck him — he’s never topped and he’s glad because he’d be terrible at playing this game of his then — it’s hard. It’s hard not to let himself pretend any girl he’s with is Julia when she’s still the only girl he’s ever actually wanted. He hates it, he knows she doesn’t owe him anything like that but he still hates that she doesn’t love him back. 

And in the end, he hates that he hates it in a terrible vicious circle that makes him try yet again with a girl whose Star Wars t-shirt or X-Files pin or whatever makes him hope they have something in common.

Even when they do have something in common, it’s not enough in the face of his awkwardness with new people, the way he tries too hard because he just can’t relax. Even when things go well and he does start to calm down, a few conversations just aren’t enough to change the fact that he’s cold in the bedroom and they always get tired of it before he figures out how to stop being cold. He knows he can , he knows because he has with Julia, but he doesn’t know how. 

He doesn’t know why Julia but no one else, and that’s as hard as the very fact of the crush itself. Maybe he’s actually in love with her — he really can’t say, being barely into his twenties and not knowing much about love in real life — but as far as he knows, that isn’t supposed to mean you’re never attracted to anyone else at all, especially if you’re not actually dating. He’s heard of people who are asexual, but he’s pretty sure that’s supposed to mean never wanting sex, ever, with anyone. Which doesn’t fit him either.

In some ways, guys are easier. It’s simpler to find ones who are happy to let a pretty boy with longish hair get on his knees for them without checking if he enjoyed himself too afterwards, for one thing. Quentin feels tacky when they don’t check as much as he feels relieved that he doesn’t have to make up something, but it’s an easier process, some of the time at least.

And it turns out that receiving in anal sex is one of those things that people can apparently enjoy even when they don’t stay hard for it, so when he can’t keep an erection for that, no one asks too many questions. There’s part of him that likes that best of all, that enjoys the sense of being used that in other situations makes him feel like a thing instead of a person, but it’s still not… He still doesn’t crave it, it’s just that he can relax more and that means he can give himself over to it.

He doesn’t do it for too long, in the end. He only started it up for a couple of reasons. First, he wanted to figure out what made himself tick, and that has been a spectacular disaster. Even when he enjoyed himself he was still cold at bottom, none of it’s ever really moved him. It’s a pleasant experience but no better than any number of other nice things he could do. 

The other reason is unexpected, and why it takes a while before he gives up on the whole project as a bad job. The sheer physicality of sex, of someone’s body wrapped around his own or the focus of using his mouth and hands to bring someone pleasure, these things take Quentin out of his own head. There’s no room for thoughts at times like that, there’s no room for anything but precisely what is happening. He likes that, and it seems safer than chasing other sensations that do that, because a lot of those aren’t good at all.

But the truth is that he has enough to do with his courseload, especially so that he doesn’t end up a super senior because he lost time to a less extreme but still inconveniently timed spiral. He doesn’t have time to pursue casual flings that won’t do anything for him in the long run, and he’s apparently incapable of wanting anyone he can have in a way that suits long-term. 

So he stops, and he ignores Julia’s attempts to set him up — she just wants to make him stop pining for her without ever admitting she knows how he feels, anyway. He wishes one of them had the fucking guts to say something and get that awful conversation over with, but that’s not likely to happen.

He buries himself in schoolwork and fiction and fandom in general‚— in Fillory in particular— and tries not to think about the fact that something in him feels cold. Wrong, instead of just odd. If he was frigid, if he just didn’t like sex at all, then that might make sense, but there’s his crush on Julia, there’s the fact that there are things about sex which are nice if hardly groundbreaking, there’s the fact that he can and does react to porny stories. 

So what the fuck isn’t firing right in his brain this time?


Quentin first comes across the term demisexual in fandom, which, really, is extremely on brand for him. It’s random, scrolling down a Star Trek headcanons blog and finding one that says I think Spock is demisexual. It’s not random exactly — this kind of headcanon’s pretty common, after all — but the word is weird. 

On a whim, Quentin looks it up. He isn’t expecting anything in particular, he’s just vaguely curious. He spends a lot of time on the internet, and it’s far from the first time he’s come across a sexuality or gender-related term he isn’t familiar with. Fandom isn’t universally queer — although some segments nearly are — but it is one place where you see this stuff. 

So he Googles it, and after a few minutes, this is what he has, in terms of formal definition:

  • Demisexual people only feel sexually attracted to someone when they have an emotional bond with the person.
  • Demisexual people do not feel primary attraction — the attraction you feel to someone when you first meet them. They only feel secondary attraction — the type of attraction that happens after knowing someone for a while.
  • A common misconception is that demisexual people need to be in love with someone to feel sexual attraction. Demisexuality requires a connection, but for many people, that can be a close friendship or another type of non-romantic relationship.

Demisexuality, he learns as he reads, is part of the asexual spectrum, a specific kind of grey-asexuality, which in general means people who experience sexual attraction only rarely or under specific circumstances, and otherwise “react” like people who are asexual. There’s also a slightly silly donut analogy but Quentin is too busy fucking reeling in his seat to figure out how exactly the donut is supposed to represent sex. Or eating it is. Or something. 

He feels like he just got hit over the head because this explains it. This explains everything. This is why he’s usually sexually cold, but he can still have fantasies when they involve characters he likes, and he can still want Julia. (And, very occasionally lately as he spends more time with James as well as Julia, he’s thought it might be pretty good to be literally between them.) This is the ‘switch’ he’s been looking for; he can’t feel desire without the connection, and he’s been trying to make the desire happen first. 

It doesn’t actually help his potential love life much, all things considered, given the fact that he doesn’t actually know that many people. But he almost doesn’t care about that because he has an answer. This is an actual thing, a sexual orientation — it means that in this, at least, he isn’t broken. It’s not part of his depression or anxiety, it’s something… something he would have been anyway. And he hasn’t lost being bi — technically, it looks like the term he should use is biromantic, but it’s basically the same thing. He’s still bi but he’s not defective because he’s just a demi bi instead. 

It’s funny. Quentin doesn’t usually like labels. He’s had too many applied to him — they know he has depression and anxiety, and in middle school they suspected he was on the autism spectrum but the bit of testing they did was inconclusive and his mother kicked up enough of a fuss that his dad didn’t push too hard on it. So Quentin still doesn’t know if that’s a thing too or not, but it’s been suggested.

Other things have come up, mostly as they try to figure out why none of the treatment regimens seem to really click. Actually, come to think of it, this might help that as well — one of the nastier downturns he’s had in recent years was because one doctor thought his lack of interest in sex meant he was on the wrong meds. Because, as a teenage boy, he ought to be a hormonal mess. That particular drug swap had led to the pills which left him so foggy in the head he’d halved his own dose just so he could think

This had, in the end, helped cause the spiral that led to attempt number two. So, yeah, not ideal. But for once a label might help him, might be a tool in the hand instead of just one more thing that’s broken about him. The next time he talks to someone about adjusting his meds, or about if he needs to go back to therapy full time, the sex question won’t be something he has to avoid so they won’t try to treat it too. 

There’s nothing to treat. 

The problem is, explaining to professional people is one thing. How the hell is he going to explain a sexual orientation most people haven’t heard of to anyone else? Does he even want to?


Telling his dad is mostly a non-event. He looks bewildered for a few minutes, then sighs. “Well, Curly Q, if it helps you to know that, that’s what’s important,” he says. Quentin knows his dad means that; he also recognizes that tone as the same one that goes with ‘well, you’re a little old for it but it makes you happy.’ Quentin loves his dad, and he knows his dad loves him, but they don’t… really understand a lot about each other. 

Still, he’s already seen in his online research that people can be awful about this — ‘waiting for love is a choice, not an orientation’ or ‘ so you’re a normal person who wants to be a special snowflake’ to name just two — so even if he gets the sense his dad doesn’t know why this is a word that exists, Quentin’s cool with bemused acceptance here. 

He’d been more worried about the bisexuality part back when he was fourteen, if only because his mother and Molly were only just not having an affair when his parents split two years before. They’d been friends for years, and started dating like a week after his mom left, which has always made Quentin think they must have at least talked about how they felt while his mom was still married and not even separated. But his dad had taken Quentin’s own queerness in stride, saying only that he was sure he could share baby pictures with a boyfriend as easily as with a girlfriend. 

Also, he’d bought a bumper sticker in the bisexual flag colors that says I Love My Bi Son, and the next time Quentin goes home his dad has found a little asexual flag sticker that he put on the corner of the first sticker. Technically, there is a separate demisexual flag, but Quentin doesn’t mention this and anyway, it’s the same colors. 

The gesture makes him smile, and — there’s a lot they don’t talk about. He knows his dad worries about him. Sometimes with damn good reason, unfortunately. It’s hard to talk about anything important and not feel like he’s letting his dad down or like they might have a pointless fight that just leaves them both unhappy. But in this at least, Quentin knows he’s all right. 

So yeah, telling his father goes well. Telling his mother… 

“Quentin, that isn’t a real sexuality. You’re bisexual and you need to work on your people skills. Otherwise, if you lack a sex drive, you should ask about different meds. This is… some online trend,” she says, shaking her head. 

“No, Claire, it’s a little odd, but it’s real,” Molly says, which surprises Quentin enough that he almost falls off his chair. 

“Mol, please don’t encourage him. He has enough problems without making these things worse for himself.” 

“Gee, thanks, Mom,” Quentin says. She looks at him over the rims of her glasses.

“Someone needs to be blunt with you. Your father coddles you, and you’re too dependent on your friend… what’s her name? Jessica?” 

“Julia.” We’ve been friends since we were four, how do you not know her name? Quentin thinks but doesn’t say. He doesn’t bother to argue at all, and whatever else Molly says is too low for him to hear. His mother does get off the subject, and neither of them bring it up again, which Quentin supposes is the best he can ask for.

He leaves it alone, but when his birthday rolls around, Molly slips him a small box that turns out to be a black fidget spinner ring. Her note says: A black ring on your right middle finger is an asexual symbol, and I thought a fidget spinner might suit you best.

Quentin’s never been one to wear rings, or jewelry at all after that nerd pendants phase in 10th grade, but he gives it a try anyway, because it was a nice gesture and a totally unexpected one to boot. After a few days, the gentle pressure and weight of the wide band starts to feel soothing, and actually the spinny bit in the middle does help when he gets anxious.  

Julia, well… “So, you’re saying you can’t like a stranger the same way you wouldn’t like girls if you were actually gay, instead of bi?” she asks finally, looking thoughtful and a tad skeptical. 

“Probably not a great analogy for regular use, but more or less, yeah,” Quentin says after a moment’s thought. “Mom doesn’t think it’s real.” 

“Your mom’s a bitch, though. We don’t listen to her,” Julia says, and Quentin doesn’t point out that he wishes it were always so easy. This time it kind of is — nothing his mom says can shake the memory of how right it had felt, when he found out what demisexual meant — but too much of the time it really isn’t. 

“No, not listening to her. Dad took it all right — I’m not sure he thinks it’s really a thing either, but he said if it helps me that’s what matters, so that’s good.” Quentin slumps back on the couch and waits, because he doesn’t want to have to ask Julia outright if she believes him. When she finally speaks, though, he sits bolt upright real fast, because what she says is this: 

“So if you can only like people you connect with, I guess that explains — shit.” Julia looks at him with alarm, I didn’t mean to say that written all over her face. And, OK, really, Quentin doesn’t actually want to have this conversation in a million years either but Julia’s started it and he thinks he will feel even worse if they don’t finish it.

Still, he can’t help but hide behind his hair when he says, “That explains my pathetic crush on you?” he asks, trying very, very hard not to sound bitter. 

“Q…” Julia sighs. “It’s not pathetic. You’re not pathetic. I mean it, it’s kind of a compliment, right?” 

God, he wants to jump out the window, this is awful. Quentin twists his hands in his lap and stares at his feet. “But you don’t — you’re not ever going to —” Just say it, Coldwater. “You’re not ever going to want me back, are you?” His voice shakes and his eyes are burning but he manages, barely, not to cry. After a few rapid blinks, he makes himself look up.

Julia looks almost as upset as he feels. There is a tiny part of Quentin that’s comforted by that. He feels like an asshole for it, but there it is. 

“No,” Julia says, and to both of their credit, Quentin thinks, they actually manage to keep eye contact now that they have it again. “No, Q, I’m not. You — you’re like my brother, it’s just not like that for me and it isn’t going to be.” 

Quentin nods. Finally, he manages to say, “I’m gonna go home for a few days.” Being Julia’s roommate while having a crush on her was a terrible idea to begin with, probably, but the idea of staying here while he works through this? Beyond terrible, completely impossible.

“Q —” Julia stops, then nods. “OK. You’ll come back though, right?” 

“Yeah. Yeah, I — I’ll be back. I just, I need a few days.” 

He takes the weekend, and also crashes in one of the student center armchairs rather than go home on Monday night. But by Tuesday he feels a little steadier, and also his neck is killing him from sleeping in a chair the night before, so he goes back to the apartment. Julia is already there, homework spread over the kitchen table.

“I’m gonna need you to not, like, flop onto my bed with me for a while, or be all that cuddly,” he says abruptly. Julia looks up, sticking her pencil behind her ear. 

“That’s… out of left field. Is this a punishment? I don’t want to date you, so we can’t hug like normal friends do ever again?” 

“No, I just… for a little while… can’t do that. I want to stop crushing on you because, like. I don’t want to be a bitter jerk who talks about the friendzone? Because I know that’s not a thing? But if I don’t shake this I’m a little worried it’ll happen anyway. I want to stop that from happening.” 

Julia sighs. “OK. That seems fair. You think it’ll work? You do still live here.” 

“I think it will. After a little while.” 

And, slowly, it does. Quentin isn’t sure if the crush is totally gone, but it seems to go quiet, at least. Julia forgets and hugs him after exams are done a semester later, and all he thinks is how nice it is to hug her again. 

It still stings to see her with James, but it’s nothing like what it was. It’s a start, anyway. He knows why it was Julia now, and part of why he hadn’t really tried to get over her, a part he’d been afraid to admit even to himself, had been the fear that there never would be anyone else. That somehow she was the only one he could want.

She’s the only one he does want, because he doesn’t know anyone else well enough to want them. But that can change. He doesn’t know how, with his luck, but it can, and somehow just the possibility of it makes all the difference.


In the end, figuring out he’s demisexual isn’t a life-changing revelation. Quentin does feel more settled, after; he feels like he understands himself better than he did, and given how often his brain is confusing even to him, that’s a relief. But it’s quieter than you might think, maybe because ace-spec identities are quieter, a lot of the time. Maybe it’s passing privilege, maybe it’s just a fact, but it’s how things are, at least as far as Quentin can see. 

Julia tries to get him to buy flag-type stuff - she buys him a bi flag pin and a demisexual flag pin in the shape of Starfleet badges, which he finds impossible to resist putting on his messenger bag. But otherwise he mostly avoids it because the idea of advertising it all just feels weird. He does end up buying this one t-shirt with faded-print playing cards — all aces, of course — in the purple, grey, black, and white of the ace and demi flags. He likes it enough he buys a few more in different shirt colors, and then Julia, looking very smug, finds the same design with the four Jacks of the deck in bi colors. 

“Fine, just this once,” Quentin sighs when he opens the package on his 22nd birthday. Julia grins even wider and James laughs at both of them, because of course he does. Quentin rolls his eyes and spins the middle of his ring with his thumb, a practiced movement by now. 

Maybe it is a little different. He feels… a little more at ease in his own skin, once he has a word for it. And sometimes he goes on forums for ace-spec people, instead of Fillory or Star Trek or other fandom ones. It’s nice to talk to people who have some of the same experiences, after all. But still, day to day not much changes. 

And then, he has an interview for Yale’s graduate program that turns into something else entirely.

What comes next, well… That does change everything.