Quentin shook out the tension in his hands. He didn’t understand why it wasn’t getting any easier. For days on end he’d been trying to perfect the illumination spell the rest of his fellow First Years had nailed in a matter of hours. But no matter how he tried, Quentin couldn’t seem to make anything more than a spark.
He didn’t know what was worse: that his discipline was apparently shit at magic, or that he’d been placed in the Physical Kids’ Cottage with his ex-whatever-the-hell-they’d-been-in-undergrad because the administration didn’t know what else to do with him. He couldn’t do shit about the latter, but he figured he could at least try and get the basics of magic down before Dean Fogg realized what a grave mistake he’d made in allowing Quentin into Brakebills to begin with.
“Your Popper four is off,” Eliot said, suddenly appearing in the common room, like he’d materialized out of thin air. He flopped down on the sofa and reached for Quentin’s hand. “Here, like this…”
Quentin wrenched away from his touch before their skin made contact. “I’ve got it, thanks,” he said, his heart doing some truly impressive acrobatics in his chest. “Don’t you have like… a cocaine orgy to be at or something.”
“You’re such a child,” Eliot said, a smile tugging at his mouth. He lit a cigarette with the tip of his finger like a goddamn show-off. “You know, you’re not going to get very far in this place being wound-up so tight.”
Quentin took a breath, meeting Eliot’s gaze for a fraction of a second. That was always a dangerous game. “I wouldn’t be wound-up so tight if you would just leave me alone to practice.”
Eliot puffed on his cigarette. “To practice incorrectly.”
Quentin bit the inside of his cheek hard. “Would you just go?”
Eliot kicked his feet up on the coffee table, blowing out a long wisp of smoke. “This is a common area, Quentin. I’m trying to enjoy my cigarette if you don’t mind.”
Quentin choked down the urge to scream, pulling himself to his feet and crossing to the sectional on the far side of the room. He probably should have just gone upstairs—or outside, or to the library, or anywhere else on campus really—but it was the principle of the thing. He wasn’t about to let that ridiculously smug, ridiculously tall, ridiculously—fucking infuriatingly gorgeous asshole get the better of him.
He tried the spell again. A pathetic little spray of sparks poured out of his palms and fizzled into oblivion.
“Left index finger should be under—” Eliot started, but Quentin cut him off with a huff.
“I don’t need your help.”
A beat of silence. The image of Eliot smoking casually with his feet kicked up loomed in Quentin’s periphery. Quentin flexed his fingers, like that was somehow going to make a difference. Like that might finally be the key to unlocking the vault of Suddenly Not Shit at Magic. When he tried the spell this time, the sparks that sputtered out of his hands didn’t even have the common decency to look pretty.
“Shut up,” he said before Eliot could think to open his mouth again. “Just—if you could stop staring—”
“I’m not staring,” Eliot said, that arrogant slash amused lilt to his voice that made Quentin’s jaw clench tightly. “You just so happen to be in my field of vision. And your Popper four is still off by miles.”
“Hm, that so? How’s this?” Quentin raised the middle finger of his right hand in Eliot’s direction, cursing his traitor eyes for even considering glancing his way.
“Being impolite isn’t going to make you a better magician, Quentin,” Eliot said. “I’m only trying to help.”
“You can help by leaving me alone,” Quentin said through gritted teeth.
His hands were shaking too terribly now to have any hope of trying the spell again. Quentin breathed in, and breathed out, trying to steady his heart. He didn’t think he’d ever been so happy to see Julia as he was when she came walking through the front door a handful of awkward seconds later.
“Hey,” she said, depositing herself on the sectional next to Quentin, giving Eliot a single sideways glance. “Everything okay?”
“Shouldn’t you be in the library?” Eliot said from across the room.
Julia answered with a middle finger of her own.
“I’m fine,” Quentin said, trying to keep that pathetic kicked puppy look from his face that she could read easier than a paperback. “Just practicing.”
“He needs help with his Popper four,” Eliot chimed in.
Julia glared in his direction. “Would you fuck off already?”
Suddenly, it was like all the air had been sucked out of the room. Quentin—still pointedly refusing to actually look at Eliot—kept his eyes fixed on Julia. She sat at his side like a predator, poised and ready to strike. Like at any moment she was going to launch herself clear across the room and go for Eliot’s throat. In the corner of Quentin’s eye, Eliot was very still.
The tension was unbearable, closing like a fist around Quentin’s lungs until it was a struggle just to breathe. He cleared his throat loudly because he didn’t know what else to do, drawing Julia’s gaze away from Eliot at once.
A moment later, Eliot took the opportunity to make his exit. “Well,” he said with a tremendous sigh. “You kids have fun. If you need me, I’ll be having a cocaine orgy in Margo’s room.”
Quentin could feel Julia’s eyes on him as he watched Eliot saunter away. She gave him a sympathetic look—emphasis on pathetic—once he was out of sight up the stairs. “So he’s still…”
Quentin slumped down against the back of the sofa. “Acting like we just met last month? Yeah.”
“Fuck him,” she said, settling in at Quentin’s side. “He’s the one who broke up with you. And he didn’t even break up with you. He fucking ghosted you the second you graduated. That’s not someone who deserves your energy.”
Quentin frowned in her direction. “That’s easy for you to say. You’re not the one who has to live with him.”
Julia considered him with a quirk of her brow. “You can’t ask the Dean for a transfer to literally anywhere else?”
“There’s no space anywhere else.” Quentin sighed with his entire body. “And I don’t need to draw more attention to myself than I already have by being so bad at magic I don’t even have a discipline.”
Julia offered a little smile. “You just need more practice,” she said, nudging him with her shoulder. “Come on, show me First Illumination.”
“I don’t want to.”
“Pouting isn’t going to make you a better magician.”
“I’m not pouting,” Quentin said, pouting with his entire face.
Julia stared him down for a long moment before relenting. “Okay. Suit yourself. You talk to James lately by the way?”
“You know that I haven’t,” Quentin said, his stomach turning sour. The last thing he wanted to do was talk about or to his sorta-boyfriend with his ex-whatever under the same roof. “Not since, uh… last weekend. It’s getting harder to come up with excuses for why he can’t come visit me at Yale.”
Julia hummed her sympathy. “Fogg’s illusion magic is severely lacking in imagination, that’s for sure. They should’ve told everyone we were going to grad school in Antarctica or something.”
Quentin huffed out a laugh, allowing himself to momentarily feel something other than unmitigated annoyance. “Honestly, Antarctica sounds… really nice right now.”
“I’ll take learning actual magic at an actual magical university over freezing my tits off with polar bears and penguins, thanks.”
Quentin laughed again. For a moment everything almost felt normal. The way things had been when they were kids, without a care in the universe, scribbling their map of Fillory in markers and crayons on the underside of Julia’s family’s kitchen table. Long before Columbia or Eliot Waugh or Brakebills University for Magical Pedagogy. Back when magic was just as real to him, but in a simpler way. Close-up magic, card tricks, rolling quarters across the thin planks of his fingers for anyone who happened to cross his path.
And then as quickly as it began, Quentin felt the laughter leave him. He hugged a throw pillow to his chest and sighed. “Maybe it’ll be for the best when I get kicked out,” he said. “I won’t have to live with Eliot anymore at least.”
“Q, you’re not getting kicked out,” Julia said.
Quentin promptly ignored her. “I’ll go back to Brooklyn.”
“To James. It’ll be… whatever.” Quentin hugged his pillow tighter. “Like it was before.”
“Like it was before,” Julia said. Quentin could feel her eyes on him, but he couldn’t bring himself to look. “Before as in the year you spent drifting after graduation?”
“I wasn’t drifting,” Quentin said, sounding utterly indignant. “I was just… figuring stuff out. Not everyone has their whole life plotted out from point A to point Z from the jump.”
Julia was quiet for a long moment. Quentin hoped this meant she was just going to fucking drop it, which of course she didn’t.
“All those weekends you spent at the hospital.”
Quentin’s stomach clenched. He dug his fingernails into his pillow. “Two, Jules. Two weekends—”
“Whatever.” Quentin was fully turning his body away from her now. “You know why I—Julia, you know...”
“Yeah,” Julia said at his back, touching his shoulder softly, making him flinch. “I know everything felt pointless until you found this place. And now you’re about to throw it all away over some asshole who dicked you down for a semester and a half back in undergrad and then acted like you didn’t exist the moment it was no longer convenient.”
Quentin sighed, and shut his eyes, and sank down into the sofa a little further, clinging to his pillow like a lifeline. “I’m not doing this with you right now, okay? Just—I have a lot I need to think about.”
Julia still had her hand on his shoulder. He couldn’t see her from this angle, but he could feel her softening through the press of her fingers. “Look, I’m sorry. I’m not trying to make you feel like shit about it. I just really fucking need you here, okay?”
As infuriating as her bedside manner could be, Julia still knew him better than anyone. She understood that sometimes what Quentin needed was just something to hold onto, even if only by a thread. “I’m here,” he said, finally turning back to face her with a sigh. “I promise I’m—I’m trying, Jules. I swear.”
Julia gave him a soft smile. “Okay,” she said. “Hey, what do you say we blow off some steam tonight, hm? There’s a party at the Treehouse. You should come with.”
Quentin looked at her for a long time. Some things, he knew, were destined to never change. “You know how I feel about parties,” he said with a sigh.
“Yeah,” she said. “I know. But the people here aren’t like those Columbia douchebags.”
Quentin couldn’t shake the overwhelming sensation that his body was actually shrinking into the sofa. “I still think I’m gonna pass,” he said, casting his gaze downward at the rug.
Julia was quiet for a long moment before hopping to her feet. “You know where to find me if you change your mind,” she said, ruffling Quentin’s hair playfully before walking away.
“Yeah,” Quentin said to her back. “Later, Jules.”
Quentin didn’t know why he still bothered going to parties. The floors were always sticky with beer and other things he didn’t want to think about. And the music was always too loud. And he always felt like a freak, but tonight even more so than usual. He’d been aiming for Martin Chatwin with his last-minute costume, but mostly he just looked like a child in an ill-fitting First Communion suit.
Julia—dressed as Katniss from The Hunger Games, a long braid flowing over one shoulder and a quiver of fake arrows strapped to her back—had coaxed him out of his room with the promise of actually having a good Halloween this year, Quentin, but now he couldn’t remember why he’d even wanted that to begin with. Mostly, Quentin just wanted to go to bed.
“Come on,” she’d said, tugging him away from his desk. He’d been trying to study for his Ethics exam that was still an entire week away. “Bet you’ll meet a girl tonight. Who knows.”
They were one and a half semesters out from graduation, and Quentin had a total of two disastrous, embarrassing hook-ups under his belt to speak of going back to freshman year. He wasn’t really aiming for a third, but he agreed to go with her anyway.
The party was at an off-campus apartment on Morningside Drive. Quentin was thankful at least they weren’t partying with the frat bros tonight. He found himself instead in some stranger’s kitchen, pressed up against the edge of the counter like a loser, half-heartedly drinking his plastic cup of shitty beer, alone and utterly miserable. In the space of thirty minutes, Julia had ditched him to hook-up with the sharp-jawed finance major she’d been lusting after for weeks, and Quentin had managed to scare off at least three moderately attractive girls by trying to show them the latest card trick he’d learned from a YouTube video.
A little past 10pm, with Julia nowhere to be found, Quentin decided to just call it a night.
He pushed through the throngs of writhing Daenerys Targaryens and Batmans and girls in glorified bikinis donning cat ears and made his way out into the hall. The elevator ride down by himself was its own particular brand of misery. Quentin was hot and cold all at once, his suit jacket itchy against the back of his neck. At least it was a short walk back to his dorm once he made it down to the street, and the chilly autumn air was like a miracle on his skin after having been trapped inside with so many too-warm bodies.
Quentin hadn’t made it ten steps down the sidewalk when someone started calling his name from behind.
“Hey, Coldwater! Wait up!”
When he turned around, someone dressed as the Goblin King from Labyrinth was sauntering over to meet him. “Hey,” he said, a little out of breath, whipping off his wig. It was only then that Quentin could see the Goblin King was actually Eliot Waugh. “Can I bum a smoke?”
Quentin stared at him for a long moment, his heart clawing its way up into his throat. “Did you just come from the party?” he asked finally, pulling the squashed and mostly empty pack from his jacket pocket.
“Some party,” Eliot lamented, fishing the final cigarette out from its husk and handing the empty remains back to Quentin. “I couldn’t even find any coke, if you can believe it.” He stuck the cigarette between his lips. “Wanna spark me up?”
It took Quentin’s brain a second to catch up and realize he was asking for a lighter.
Quentin and Eliot weren’t exactly friends, though they’d always been friendly enough. They had rooms in the same dorm this semester—East Campus, a hulking structure overlooking Morningside Park, where Quentin sometimes liked to go to feed the ducks—on the same floor even, but the time they’d spent together between freshman orientation and now had been minimal. They ran in different circles—not that Quentin even had a circle to speak of, he was pretty sure Julia didn’t count. Eliot was a drama major and spent most of his time not going to class and hooking up with every boy he’d ever set his sights on. Quentin mostly ran into him at parties he didn’t want to be at or in the laundry room.
Honestly, he was surprised someone like Eliot Waugh would even know his name.
They walked back to their dorm together, passing the cigarette back and forth while Eliot rambled on about party planning: something about mood lighting; something about the hosts being morons for insisting on having their party on the 31st even though it’s a goddamn Thursday, Quentin; something about a mountain of cocaine.
When they arrived, Eliot flicked the cigarette butt away, and they went inside, and they rode the elevator up to the fourth floor together in companionable silence. And Quentin figured that would be the end of their little adventure. He mumbled his goodnights and headed for his room, fully content to go crawl into bed and have sweet David Bowie dreams when Eliot grabbed him by the shoulder.
Quentin’s heart had a totally normal reaction to this development.
“Come have a drink with me, Coldwater,” Eliot said, smirking when Quentin turned back around.
He could only blink in disbelief for a long moment, struggling to keep his eyes on Eliot’s eyes. The entire walk back to the dorm, Quentin hadn’t been able to keep himself from wondering if what was going on below his waistline was simply part of the iconic getup, or if that was just what happened when Eliot Waugh put on a pair of leggings.
“Come on,” Eliot said again with a little waggle of his brows, and Quentin trailed behind him down the hall like a lost puppy desperate for a home.
Walking into Eliot’s room was like walking into an art installation at the Met. He clapped his hands and the lights came on—because of course Eliot Waugh would own The Clapper—an array of twinkle lights bursting against the ceiling like stars. The walls looked like they were covered in deep burgundy and gold brocade. In the corner where his desk should have been, Eliot had installed a mini bar.
And over his bed, Eliot had installed a full length mirror, rimmed in the same twinkle lights that adorned the rest of the ceiling. Quentin averted his gaze, blushing at the sight.
“What can I get you?” Eliot asked, tossing his wig down on the floor and making a beeline for the mini bar.
“Um,” Quentin turned back and shut the door behind him. “I don’t know. Whatever you’re having is fine.”
Eliot smirked, reaching for two martini glasses from the little rack mounted over the bar. Quentin stood in the exact center of the room, afraid to touch anything, certain that if he did the spell of whatever the fuck was happening in here might suddenly be broken. He glanced over to the dresser beside him. There was a strip of condoms stretched out along the top all marked with XL in gold foil letters that he immediately pretended not to see.
“So, um… how did you get away with… all of this?” Quentin gestured wildly with his hands, turning his attention back to Eliot.
Eliot glanced over his shoulder with a smile. “Oh, you know, magic,” he said, vigorously shaking a cocktail shaker and pouring the cherry-red liquid it contained into the glasses.
“Right,” Quentin said, allowing his eyes to slide down the expanse of Eliot’s body quickly. “If only.”
“If only,” Eliot echoed in a cheery tone, turning to present Quentin with his drink. “I think you’re going to like this.”
“What is it?” Quentin asked, gazing down into the shimmering pool of red in the glass. The drink itself appeared to be lit from within.
“I don’t know,” Eliot said, looking quite pleased with himself. “I invented it just now. Maybe I’ll name it after you.”
Quentin met Eliot’s gaze, feeling his face turn a shade he felt certain was a perfect match for the drink. He took a tiny sip, tasting cherries and a lot of other things he couldn’t hope to place.
“Good?” Eliot asked, and Quentin nodded.
“Yes. Thank you.”
“I’m never wrong about these things.” Eliot smirked, taking a seat on his narrow bed and knocking his head back against the wall with a sigh. “Can I ask you something, Quentin?”
Quentin’s heart did a somersault. The look in Eliot’s eyes felt like nothing short of a seduction. Very slowly, Quentin nodded his head.
“What’s with the Sunday school suit?” Eliot took a casual sip of his drink. “You do know it’s Halloween.”
Quentin shuffled awkwardly from one foot to the other. “This is a costume,” he said, ducking his head, somehow blushing even deeper. “It was—it was sort of last minute, okay?”
Amusement washed over Eliot’s face brightly. “Last minute… for Halloween? Oh, Quentin…”
Quentin sucked in a breath, taking a nervous gulp of his drink. “We—we can’t all be Bowie at the drop of a hat, you know.”
Eliot laughed softly, a grin lighting up his face. “That you can’t,” he said. “But if you think this costume wasn’t six months in the making…” He sighed. “Never mind that. Tell me who you’re supposed to be.”
Quentin shot the last of his drink back in one fantastic gulp. “Martin Chatwin,” he huffed out, setting his empty glass down on the dresser and wiping at his mouth with the back of his hand.
Eliot eyed him curiously for a long moment. “I don’t know who that is,” he said finally, taking one last sip of his drink before setting it aside. “Come. Sit with me, Quentin.”
Quentin fully intended to start rambling about the glory of Fillory, but the words never quite made it to his mouth. His eyes slid from the spiral of a curl falling over Eliot’s brow down to the open collar of his frilly shirt. Somehow, he managed to get his legs to work long enough to cross the short distance to the bed. It was like he was on autopilot, moving mechanically until he was seated next to Eliot, close but not quite touching. He knocked his head back against the wall, gazing up at his reflection in the mirror for a long moment.
When he looked back down, Eliot’s face was very close. Quentin thought distantly that no human being had the right to make that much smudged eyeliner look so goddamn hot. Eliot’s gaze flicked over Quentin’s face, from his eyes down to his mouth and back again.
“Tell me, Quentin,” Eliot said after a moment of silence, “why are we only just now having a drink together after all these years?”
Because I’m a depressed super nerd, and you’re Eliot fucking Waugh, Quentin thought. “I don’t know,” Quentin said with a shrug. “Guess you never offered before now.”
“I hope you’ll find it in your heart to forgive my discourtesy,” Eliot said, his eyes fixed firmly on Quentin’s. “Would you like me to make you another?”
Another drink sounded really good. Quentin thought, if nothing else, it would probably calm his furiously racing heart. But the idea of either of them moving right now sounded like its own particular brand of hell. “Maybe later,” he said. “Thank you.”
Eliot suddenly produced a joint as fat as his index finger, seemingly right out of thin air. He gestured to Quentin shall we? and Quentin gave him a hesitant nod. Technically, there was no smoking allowed in the dorm, but Eliot didn’t seem to be bothered one bit by such an arbitrary rule. Everything felt so dreamlike, Quentin almost thought he saw Eliot sparking it up with the tip of his finger. He couldn’t look away. Eliot took a hit and inhaled deeply, a thin trail of smoke pushing out from between his lips a moment later.
“Come here,” Eliot said very softly, holding the joint to his lips. “Come closer…”
Eliot took another hit. Quentin slowly leaned his body forward, though he hardly registered being the one to do it. It was like some unseen, magnetic force was drawing him in, a moth to Eliot’s flame. Eliot met him in the middle, bringing their faces very close together. His pulse rushing so loudly in his ears he could hardly think at all, Quentin’s lips parted of their own accord, and Eliot exhaled the smoke into his mouth slowly, carefully. In a way that almost felt like a kiss.
Quentin inhaled, his head going all swimmy in a way he was pretty certain wasn’t from the smoke. Their eyes met for a long moment after they parted. Quentin exhaled, coughing a little, and Eliot shot him a smile, like there’d never been anything quite so amusing as Quentin being a fucking lightweight.
They only smoked the joint down about a quarter of the way before Eliot extinguished it in an ashtray and set it aside. “Don’t want you going out of your skull,” he said, still with that same smile on his face.
“I’ve smoked weed before, Eliot,” Quentin said, entirely indignant and incredibly fucking stoned.
Eliot only gave a dopey grin, and shut his eyes, slumping down against the wall. “This is much better than that tragedy those amateurs were trying to pass off as a party, don’t you think?”
Quentin felt too hot under his layers, like they were suddenly lounging on the sun. “Yeah this is… nice,” he said, tugging at the too-tight collar of his shirt.
Eliot’s eyes were on him again, watching as he began fumbling with his tie. “Let me,” he said softly, reaching forward with his beautiful, elegant fingers and giving the knot a single firm tug. He popped open the button at Quentin’s throat before pulling away. “Better?”
“Much,” Quentin said, unable to keep his eyes from wandering down to the open V of Eliot’s shirt. Chest hair had no right being that attractive. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” Eliot said. Quentin hadn’t realized how close their bodies were until that moment, and their faces too. If he thought he was hot before, he was absolutely scorching now, like someone had turned a knob and set his blood to boil.
In the split second it took Quentin to wonder if Eliot was going to kiss him, Eliot was already pressing forward and crashing their mouths together.
James lived in a cramped sixth floor walk-up with water that never quite got hot enough and pipes that rattled incessantly in the walls, but at least he had a king size bed. And for Quentin, that beat the hell out of crying himself to sleep on Julia’s couch every night, on the rare nights he actually slept. Or staring at the ceiling for hours watching shadows move. Or watching the black screen of his phone in the dark, hoping tonight might finally be the night Eliot decided enough was enough.
“It’ll be like those sleep-overs we used to have in middle school,” James said when Quentin tossed his duffel down on the floor. “Maybe we can read the Fillory books under the covers with a flashlight for old time’s sake.”
“Right,” Quentin said, hardly registering the words, staring at the bed like it was a lifeboat in the middle of a churning ocean. “Maybe later. Tonight I just really need to try and sleep.”
Quentin didn’t sleep that night, or the night after that, or the night after—
Somewhere along the way, James pressed their mouths together in the dark, and Quentin thought, what the hell. This feels okay I guess.
And being with someone—anyone, really—was better than being alone.
Quentin didn’t change his mind about the party at the Treehouse. Not even when Julia popped into the Cottage that night and all but begged him to join her. He was a different animal now than he’d been back in undergrad. He told her to fuck off in the most loving way possible, and after that she left him alone.
Not that it really mattered in the end, because Eliot and Margo were throwing a party of their own—there were rumblings of a rivalry with Josh Hoberman over who could facilitate the most debauchery under their roof in a single evening—and everyone who wasn’t at the Treehouse piled into the Cottage with no care or concern for the fact that some people just wanted to get some fucking rest.
Quentin dragged himself out to the back porch and collapsed into one of the chairs in the dark, deciding he might as well get a little practice in if he wasn’t going to be permitted to sleep. There were silencing wards on the Cottage at least, so with the doors firmly shut, it was almost like a party wasn’t happening inside at all.
He readied his hands for First Illumination, certain he felt his magic bubbling at the tips of every last one of his fingers. His Popper four was completely on point. Eliot didn’t know what the hell he was talking about.
Quentin cast, wincing immediately when a tiny bolt of lightning leapt from one palm to the other. Mother fucking—
“Your Popper four could use some work,” someone said, emerging from the yard. A moment later they formed a tiny ball of light in their hands and pinned it overhead, and Quentin saw that it was Alice Quinn. “Your left index finger needs to be under the middle when you cast. And maybe try to relax.”
Quentin tensed when she took the seat next to him at the little table. “I am relaxed,” he said, somehow tensing even more. “Shouldn’t you be inside enjoying the debauchery or something?”
Alice quirked a brow in his direction. “Not really the partying type,” she said. “Try the spell again. But do it right this time.”
Quentin swallowed, setting his eyes on the glowing orb she’d sent floating over his head. “Maybe I don’t wanna do it while you’re watching.”
“You’re kind of a dick, you know that?” she said after a moment of silence. “I’m only trying to help.”
Quentin sucked in a breath and pushed it out. “Why does everyone think that I need—” He forced himself to clip off the anger rising in his throat. Yeah, he probably was a dick, but he knew that spitting venom intended for Eliot in Alice’s face was ten different shades of wrong. “Look, I… I just came out here to be alone, okay?”
“Yeah,” Alice said. “So did I. And I was actually out here first, so if we’re calling dibs—”
The backdoor flew open then, the din of the party thumping into the night as a single body tottered out onto the porch. Eliot—of course it was fucking Eliot—wearing a ridiculous satin robe over his clothes, a drink clutched in one hand, a cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth.
“Hello, children,” he purred, magicking the door shut behind him. “Don’t let me interrupt your little love fest. Daddy just needed some air.”
The sour sting of anger immediately started rising in Quentin’s throat. “We’re not having a—jesus fucking—” Quentin shut his eyes and took a breath. When he opened them again, Eliot was slumping down in the open chair at his side. “You can’t be serious right now.”
Eliot puffed on his cigarette. “I know we’ve only just met, Quentin, but one thing you should know about me is I am always deadly serious about everything,” he said, punctuating it with a stupid little giggle. “God, you should see your face. You really need to learn to relax.”
Quentin’s heart sank down to his shoes. He was beginning to suspect this whole thing was just one big game to Eliot. Jesus. The Eliot Waugh he’d known back at Columbia—the Eliot Waugh who had been his lover for nearly seven goddamn months—had never been this particular brand of cruel. He’d had his bitchy moments, sure, but Quentin had never seen him take actual pleasure in fucking with someone’s head.
“You’re really gonna play this game…” Quentin made the terrible split second decision to meet Eliot’s gaze head-on. Immediately it was like someone had thrown a switch. His mind started drifting at once, like bad reception on an old TV set. Falling away from itself, turning to white noise and static. It would have been thrilling if it weren’t so utterly infuriating he could still make Quentin feel this way.
Eliot’s lips quirked up in a smile. “I don’t know what game you could possibly be referring to, Quentin,” he said, dropping his cigarette butt down into his nearly empty glass, then pulling a baggy filled with little green tablets out of his shirt pocket. “Who wants to come with daddy on a little adventure and find out what these do?”
Quentin looked away, pinching the bridge of his nose until the urge to scream subsided. He should have just stayed in fucking Brooklyn.
“You’re going to take drugs without knowing what they are?” Alice said, quite sincerely, and a cackle immediately broke out of Eliot’s chest. Like she’d just told the greatest punchline in the history of jokes.
“Oh, Alice,” he drawled, plucking a tablet out of the baggy and holding it between his thumb and forefinger. “Come on. Live a little.”
“No thank you,” she said, shrinking in on herself at the offer.
Eliot shrugged and popped the tablet in his mouth. “How about you then, hm?” he said, immediately fishing another tablet out, offering it in Quentin’s direction. “Care to join me, Quentin?”
Quentin kept his eyes fixed on the little green circle, holding onto his anger like a lifeline. “No,” he said, his voice thick and rough as he pushed back from the table and tottered to his feet. “Have a good night, Alice.”
He all but ran inside and made a beeline for the bar in the common room, the music so loud he could feel it pumping like a second heart in the hollow of his chest. There were probably only twenty or so people in the Cottage, but to Quentin it felt like a hundred thousand or more. Too many bodies. Too many eyes on his skin.
He grabbed a random bottle and poured a generous amount into a highball glass, then skulked off to the window seat, turning his eyes away from the party. Taking a swig, he was pretty sure he’d just poured himself a glass of straight up grenadine, because his life had apparently turned into the cruelest fucking joke. Whatever. He drank it anyway.
“Eliot!” Margo’s voice carried high above the swell of the music. “Hey, El! Where the fuck did you—oh, hey, Coldwater!” Suddenly Margo was at his side. Quentin was beginning to wonder if materializing out of thin air was something they were teaching all the Second Years. “Eliot crawl off with the twink of the week already?”
“How the fuck should I know?” Quentin spit, way harsher than was probably necessary. Margo was moderately kind to him when she wanted to be, and he was pretty sure she didn’t know shit about his history with her supposed best friend. But still, he wasn’t in the mood.
“What the fuck is your problem?” She narrowed her eyes, resting her hands on her hips. “And what the fuck are you drinking?”
“Why do you care?” He sipped his glass of liquid entropy, doing his best not to pull a face.
Margo glared in his direction for a long time. “Come on,” she said, snatching the glass from his hand. “You’re gonna take that stick out of your twat and let me make you a proper drink.”
Quentin stared blankly at the empty space in his hand where his drink had just been. “What if I said I liked that drink just fine?”
Margo took a sip, her expression instantly twisting in disgust. “Fucking hell, Coldwater,” she said, tugging on his sleeve until he started to move.
He trailed behind her over to the bar, where she made him something in a martini glass that shimmered like stars and tasted like strawberry lemonade. She watched him expectantly with one brow quirked as he gave it a taste.
“It’s good,” he said timidly, not sure if she could even hear him over the din. “Thank you.”
She seemed pleased enough after that, dragging him over to sit with her on the staircase. “So,” she said once they were settled in, “you gonna tell me why you’re always such a prick to me and El, or am I gonna have to glove up and pull it out of your ass myself.” She held up a hand before Quentin could open his mouth. “And if you even think about feeding me more of that ‘why do you care’ bullshit, you’re gonna be tasting my Monolo’s for breakfast.”
“It’s—” Quentin sighed hard, taking a huge gulp of his drink to calm his nerves. “I’m just really stressed out, okay? And I don’t—I don’t know why you and Eliot care, okay? You’re not obligated to be my friends.”
Margo gave him a hard look. One that told him she was trying to choose her words very carefully. “If you think I ever feel obligated to do anything, Quentin,” she said, “you’re an even bigger idiot than I thought.”
Quentin could only blink in response.
“Look,” she continued after a moment. “I know El can be a bit much at first—”
Quentin couldn’t help but huff a laugh. “You can say that again.”
“But he likes you. He wants to be your friend. He’ll never admit it because he’s Eliot, but I know him better than anybody.” Margo put a hand on Quentin’s shoulder and looked deep into his eyes. “So unknot your cock and maybe give him a chance, hm?”
Quentin wanted to snark, or laugh, or tell her to go fuck herself, but he found that his tongue was frozen in his mouth when he tried to speak. So he took another sip of his drink instead, his stomach clenching so tightly he worried for a moment he might be sick all over Margo’s very shiny—and he assumed very expensive—shoes.
“You know what your problem is, Coldwater?” she said after a long moment of silence, lighting a cigarette with her finger, the same way that Eliot always did. “You need to bust a nut in something other than your own hand every once in a while.”
“Oh my god,” Quentin said under his breath, doing his damndest to hide his face behind his drink.
“I’m just saying—”
“I have a boyfriend, okay?” Quentin blurted, a little louder than he’d intended, even with trying to be heard over the music. Margo seemed to be genuinely amused by this development. “And I’m not… doing that. With anyone who isn’t him.”
“God you’re boring,” she said after a long stare-down. She pressed her cigarette between her lips and pulled herself to her feet, patting Quentin gently on the head before sauntering back to the party.
Quentin set his drink down on the empty space beside him very carefully, and leaned his head against the railing, and shut his eyes.
One moment Quentin was sitting on Eliot’s bed, stoned out of his skull in his too-warm clothes, the next he was being pressed down into the mattress under the full and glorious weight of Eliot’s body. And Eliot was kissing him. And Quentin’s heart was beating so fast he was absolutely certain he was going to die.
But he thought, absently, that this was how he wanted to go. He hadn’t realized until that moment just how badly he’d wanted Eliot to kiss him for… god. Months, years. It was just that he’d never allowed himself to entertain the idea that it could actually happen. Why, with every other option under the fucking sun—he could have anyone, anyone, anyone that he wanted—would someone like Eliot Waugh want to hook up with Quentin Coldwater?
Eliot made a happy little sound and broke the kiss, his fingers fumbling at the loose knot of Quentin’s tie. “You wanna get out of these, hm?”
Quentin couldn’t even hope to get his mouth to work. He could only nod, and want, and lie there quivering under the weight of Eliot’s gaze.
“Come here,” Eliot said, sitting back on his heels and tugging on the sleeve of Quentin’s jacket. “God, you must be burning up.”
You have no idea, Quentin thought, pulling himself up to sit, keeping his eyes fixed on Eliot’s face. Everything that was going on below his neckline was just far too overwhelming for Quentin to handle. Head swimming, he shrugged out of his jacket and tossed it to the floor.
Eliot already had the top half of his costume off by the time Quentin was struggling out of his sweater vest. Eliot watched him fondly as he discarded it alongside the jacket, then started tugging his tie up over his head. Before Quentin could even think to start working open the buttons of his shirt, Eliot’s hands were there, popping open one after the next with his skilled, nimble fingers.
He got Quentin out of his shirt so quickly, it almost felt like magic.
Quentin settled back on his elbows, his breath coming very quickly as Eliot’s hand ghosted down the expanse of his torso. “Jesus…” he whispered to himself, fingers fluttering over Quentin’s belly like a kiss. “Goddamn, Coldwater…”
Quentin had never—had anyone ever looked at him like this before? He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, utterly overwhelmed. It was all too much to take. How could someone like Eliot—
Everything that came after happened in a rush of hot mouths panting, fingers pressing, chests heaving, bodies wanting. Eliot’s hips pressing Quentin’s hips down into the bed. Eliot whispering, “Is this okay?” and Quentin pushing out a litany of, “Yes, yes, yes. Please, please, please.”
Quentin felt like he was seeing the whole thing in a series of snapshots through someone else’s eyes: the front of his pants being worked open, and Eliot pushing his hand inside; Quentin pressing his face into the hollow of Eliot’s throat; Quentin giving himself over to animal instinct, his hand suddenly down the front of Eliot’s pants with a boldness he never could have mustered sober; Quentin wrapping his fingers around Eliot’s dick—and, god, it felt even bigger than he’d imagined—giving it one clumsy stroke after the next.
And when it was all over, they lay there clinging to one another, covered in each other. Quentin’s mind had whited-out entirely, not a single coherent thought forming in the haze. Eliot might have been laughing, distantly, or pressing lips to Quentin’s forehead. Quentin had no way of being sure. Each second melted into the next; each heartbeat; each ragged, panting breath.
Eliot might have pulled Quentin into his arms then, or whispered his name, or whispered praise. Strong hands like a promise pressing into his back.
When Quentin finished his drink, Margo made him another, depositing it right into his hands where he still sat slumped down on the steps. And when he’d finished the second, she went ahead and made him a third.
“Whattaya say, Coldwater?!” she shouted over the music. “Your ball sack un-bunching itself yet?!”
To that, Quentin could only laugh. Not because it was particularly funny, but because he was suddenly very, very drunk.
At some point, he stumbled to his feet and joined the party. Sort of. He mostly wandered around the Cottage making people uncomfortable and watching Eliot from the corner of his eye. Everything started winding down at three in the morning, when the music suddenly quieted to a whisper. Quentin found himself slumped down in an armchair, too wasted to even think about standing again. Eliot was sprawled on the couch across from him, his ridiculous robe falling from his ridiculous shoulders, the front of his shirt hanging open, one of his fellow Second Years straddling his lap and sucking kisses into his chest.
Quentin could tell from the look on his face that Eliot was on another planet in his mind, so stoned-drunk-whatever all he could do was smile and laugh as the Second Year boy whose name was eluding Quentin quite literally tore open the front of his shirt.
He couldn’t keep his drunken brain from wandering, thinking back to that first night he and Eliot had been together. Halloween 2013, when Quentin had worn that awful suit and tried to pass it off as a costume. Clumsy, stoned hand jobs in the dark. It hardly registered as a hook-up in the grand scheme of things. Not with what had come after; when shit had gotten so intense they’d decided they absolutely had to enter into each encounter with a clear head, and entirely fucking sober.
Eliot had stopped partying for the last six months of undergrad for him. It wasn’t until now that Quentin realized exactly what that had meant.
Which only made this whole I ghosted you and broke your heart and now I’m gaslighting you into thinking we never met bullshit all the more confusing.
Eliot giggled, a high, broken sound that twisted around Quentin’s drunken heart like a curse. “That tickles,” Quentin heard him slur as What’s-His-Face attached himself to a nipple right there in front of everyone. Well, in front of Quentin and the smattering of people still left in the common room, most of whom were passed out on the floor.
Still. Quentin groaned. “Jesus,” he said, his tongue feeling like cement in his mouth. “No one wants to see that, you know.”
Eliot giggled again, finally opening his eyes for the first time during this whole ordeal, sort of half-heartedly fixing them on Quentin. “I think we’re offending the virgin, Gerald.”
What’s-His-Face picked his head up from where he was planting a kiss near Eliot’s navel. “My name’s not—”
“Whatever.” Eliot brushed him off with a wave of his hand and another giggle. “Gerald’s wasting his time anyway. I couldn’t get it up with all the sex magic on campus.”
Not-Gerald pulled back, staring at Eliot for a long moment before deciding to cut his losses and stumble off to some darkened corner of the room. Quentin found himself caught in Eliot’s unsteady gaze. Unwilling to meet it, and unable to do much of anything about it, he decided it was probably better to just shut his eyes.
In the moments before Quentin’s mind gave itself over to the blissful haze of blackout sleep, he thought he might have heard Eliot whispering goodnight.
Quentin woke on the morning of November 1st in a panic, bolting upright with a gasp in a bed he didn’t recognize. For a moment, he had no idea what planet he was even on. But then someone shifted beside him, and when Quentin looked down and saw Eliot he remembered everything.
Eliot made a happy sound, his sleepy smile curling against the half of the pillow he had cradled under his head. “Morning,” he said with a sigh, his eyes not yet opened.
“Hey,” Quentin said, his heart still thumping out a frantic rhythm even as his body relaxed. “I, um...” He groped at his pocket for his phone, finding it instead down on the floor in their pile of discarded clothes. “Shit,” he said, looking at the time. “I have to get to class.”
“Okay,” Eliot said with a little groan, his eyes finally popping open. “But you should know you’re going to miss out on the best hot plate egg served on a day old bagel you’ve ever had if you go.”
The fondness of Eliot’s expression made Quentin warm all over. Slowly, he let his eyes rake down the expanse of his own body. He was only half undressed, and his loose belt buckle had left a partial impression of itself on his hip where it had been trapped underneath him while he slept. He desperately needed to change his pants and take a shower. He could feel his boxers sticking to his skin in several places from the mess that he’d allowed to dry there.
Quentin flopped down onto his back and slowly rolled onto his side, pressed to Eliot very closely in the narrow bed. “I really do have to go,” he said, blushing a little under Eliot’s attention. “In a minute.”
Eliot hummed, like he was trying to make sense of the words, slowly reaching out and ghosting his knuckles down Quentin’s burning cheek. “Well, since we have a minute,” he said, “how about you tell me what you’re into.”
Quentin narrowed his eyes, his brain still half in dreams. “Well, um… I really like reading? And, um—”
Eliot cut him off with a silent fit of laughter. “No, Quentin, no, um… I mean like—god you’re adorable.” He grinned at Quentin for a long moment before continuing. “I mean like... in bed.”
Quentin had to fight the urge to hide his face. “Oh, um… uh…” Shit. Had anyone ever asked him something like this before? “I guess I’ve never really thought about it.”
Eliot seemed genuinely amused. “Okay, that’s uh—” He let a silent laugh roll through him. “I mean you don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to. We don’t even have to hook-up again I just thought…” Eliot slipped a hand across his nape, nuzzling into Quentin gently. “We could have a little fun together, you know.”
Quentin didn’t know how to tell Eliot he’d only slept with three people in his entire life, and none of them more than once. So he just settled for, “Um… can I think about it?” as his whole body quickly transformed into a steadily burning flame.
“Of course,” Eliot said casually, pulling back with a smile. “I’m not talking about catching feelings or anything, Quentin.” He rolled onto his back in the cramped space between Quentin’s body and the wall. “You know where to find me.”
Quentin watched him for another handful of seconds before rolling out of bed. He gathered up his things, buttoning his shirt up all wrong and staggering to the door. “I’ll, um… I’ll see you later?”
Eliot, still lounging on the bed, nodded in his direction. “Later.”
Quentin all but ran out into the hall, nearly tripping over his own feet in the process. He only just barely had time to go to his room and take a shower that lasted less than a minute before dressing in a sweater and a pair of jeans he’d pulled from his dirty laundry. He made it to Medieval Philosophy in time, his hair still dripping from the shower, but he could hardly focus on the lecture to take a single coherent note. While the professor was rambling on about Thomas Aquinas, all Quentin could think about was the way Eliot’s hands had felt on his skin.
His phone buzzed with a text from Julia ten minutes before class let out—hey!!! lunch ????—and he met her in the commons dining hall just before noon, where she proceeded to eye him over her turkey sandwich with a knowing smile plastered on her face.
“So,” she said. “Who’d you go home with last night?”
Quentin poked at the salad he’d bought without thinking. “I could ask you the same thing. Or maybe just ask why you ditched me. Again.”
“Oh, please.” She rolled her eyes and dropped her sandwich onto her plate. “Girls aren’t going to approach you if I’m hanging around anyway.” She punctuated her point with another smile. “So you gonna stop deflecting and tell me her name or what.”
Quentin let his fork tumble down into the tangle of leafy greens that was supposed to be his lunch. “Why do you always assume it’s going to be a girl I’m hooking up with?”
Julia’s smile instantly transformed into a full-faced grin. “So you did get laid last night.”
Quentin ducked his head, a blush spreading up the back of his neck and washing over his cheeks. “I wouldn’t call it… that.”
“Name,” Julia said after a moment of silence. “Girl or boy or whoever.”
He met her eyes for a flash, then fixed his gaze firmly back down onto his salad. “I don’t see why it matters,” he said, his pulse picking up the second he let his mind rush back to being in Eliot’s bed. To being under his mouth, his hands, the strong press of his body…
He could feel the pity pouring out of her eyes without even looking. “Another bad one, hm?” she said. “Look, you’re just in a slump, I’m sure you’re going to meet—”
“It wasn’t bad!” Quentin shouted, and then shrank in on himself a little. Looking around, the scant few people at the other tables all had their eyes fixed on him now. “It wasn’t… it was, um…”
When Quentin looked to her again, Julia was still grinning. “Okay,” she said. “You don’t have to tell me, okay? I just—I’m happy for you. Whoever this mystery person whose name I’m clearly not going to get happens to be.”
Quentin picked up his fork just to give himself something to do. “Thank you,” he said very quietly.
“So are you planning on seeing them again?” Julia asked after a long moment of silence.
Quentin shrugged, his heart racing wildly under his ribs. “I don’t know,” he said. “He wants to but I—I don’t know. He’s like… a lot more experienced than I am and it’s kind of embarrassing.”
“You shouldn’t be embarrassed,” Julia said with a shrug, picking up her sandwich and taking an enormous bite, then saying with her mouth still full: “You’ve gotta learn from somebody, right?”
Quentin jabbed a piece of lettuce with his fork. “I don’t think just cause we, you know—it doesn’t mean he wants to be my—my sex tutor, Jules.”
Julia laughed quietly. “If he’s asking to see you again, it’s ‘cause he likes you, Q. I’m sure a little sex tutoring is not going to be a problem.”
Quentin took a shuddering breath and pushed it out. “Yeah, I—like I said I don’t know if I’m seeing him again, so—”
“Do you like him?”
Quentin met her gaze head-on, his heart skipping a beat. “What?”
“You heard me,” she said with a smirk. “Do you like him?”
Quentin hesitated, feeling foolish. The answer was obvious: of course he fucking liked Eliot. The problem was, he still couldn’t figure out why Eliot seemed to like him. “He’s definitely out of my league,” he said finally, to which Julia promptly shook her head.
“Don’t ruin something that could be really good for you by being an idiot,” she said. “As on-brand as that would be for you.”
She wasn’t wrong. Still. Quentin gave her a hard look. “I’m thinking about it,” he said, bringing a bite of salad right up to his lips. “Can we talk about something else now please?”
Quentin woke slowly with a groan. There was a terrible crick in his neck, and he was pretty sure his entire back was literally on fire. His mouth was so dry it hurt to even try to open it. Someone was nudging him in the ankle with the toe of their shoe. It took his eyes a moment to adjust and register who it was.
“Here,” Eliot said, pushing a glass of something that smelled like moldy death into his hands. “Drink up.”
Quentin groaned again, frowning down at the sludge in the glass. “What the hell is this?”
“Hangover cure,” Eliot said. “Make sure you spit in it before you take a drink.”
Quentin wanted to tell him to go fuck himself and shove the sludge back in his face, but the rhythmic thumping of the headache trapped right between his eyes made him think better of it at once. Swallowing his pride was probably worth it if it meant not having to lose an entire day to hugging the toilet and languishing in bed.
He spit in the glass and drank down the contents as quickly as he could stomach, holding his nose the entire time. It tasted exactly how it smelled, and for a moment only seemed to amplify his suffering tenfold. His stomach twisted and his head thumped like a death metal band had suddenly taken up residence in his skull.
Eliot flopped down on the sofa and used his telekinesis to float a bottle of water over to Quentin. “Just give it a minute,” he said. “A water chaser seems to speed the magic up.”
Quentin snatched the water out of the air and begrudgingly took a sip. “Why do you even care?” he said, offering Eliot little more than a side-eyed glance.
“Friends don’t let friends suffer through their very first hangover, Quentin.”
“It’s not my first—” Quentin whipped his head around, keeping his eyes fixed on the open collar of Eliot’s shirt to avoid his eyes. Which… might have been even worse. “God you’re a dick.”
“And good morning to you, too, Quentin,” Margo said, suddenly flopping down at Eliot’s side. “I see we’re feeling a little cranky after baby’s first big party.”
Margo and Eliot smiled at each other like super villains who’d just succeeded in their plot for world domination. Quentin took one last sip of water and staggered to his feet. The thumping in his head had gone down at least, and he figured that was a start.
“Thanks,” he said absently, waving both of them off and heading for the stairs. “Now if you’ll excuse me, some of us actually have to get to class.”
Margo actually meowed as Quentin walked away. “See you later, kitten!”
The deep rumble of Eliot’s laughter followed Quentin all the way up the stairs. His heart felt like it was going to explode. He went to the bathroom and locked himself inside, pressing his body back against the door until he remembered how to breathe. He went to the sink and brushed his teeth and splashed water on his face and sat on the edge of the tub for a very long time before deciding he probably needed a shower and a change of clothes. The hangover cure had definitely kicked in, but he still couldn’t hope to keep his hands from shaking as he got himself clean and toweled himself off and pulled on a soft old pair of his favorite jeans.
When Quentin was through making himself feel marginally more human, he took the back way out of the Cottage and headed for his first class of the day. Clutching the strap of his bag like a lifeline, he hadn’t made it halfway through the quad before being apprehended by Dean Fogg.
“Ah, Quentin!” The Dean said in that aggressively cheery way of his. “Just the man I wanted to see. If you have a moment, I’d like to speak with you in my office.”
“I, um…” Quentin swallowed, clutching his bag a little tighter. “I have to get to class, so…”
The Dean offered him a tight smile. “Your class doesn’t start for thirty-five minutes,” he said, already leading Quentin away with a firm hand on his shoulder. “And the matter I’d like to speak with you about is a bit more vital to your education than Magic of the Middle Ages.”
Quentin didn’t see the point in arguing. The Dean led him back through the quad to the administrative building where his office was housed, and proceeded to pour himself a scotch like it wasn’t ten in the morning before taking his seat behind his desk. Quentin stood nervously by the windows, worrying his hands into knots, waiting for the terrible news bomb looming overhead to explode all over his morning.
“Please,” The Dean said calmly, drawing Quentin from his anxiety spiral, “have a seat.”
Quentin obliged, if only to get this whole thing over with sooner. “Is everything all right?” he asked, doing his best to keep his voice from quavering. If you’re going to kick me out please just fucking do it already, he thought, clenching his teeth.
“Everything is perfectly fine,” Fogg said, the tight line of his smile entirely unconvincing. “Though, Professor March tells me you’re struggling a bit with some of the foundations of casting.”
Quentin stammered for a response, but the Dean cut him off before he could get a single word out.
“There’s no need to explain, Quentin,” he said. “We each bring our own set of strengths and weaknesses to the art of magic.”
Quentin already felt like he was going to cry. Way to be pathetic, Coldwater. “If you just give me a—a little more time, I can—”
Fogg raised a hand. “I assure you, this is far more common than you probably realize.”
“Okay, so…” Quentin knitted his brows together. “Why am I here if everything is fine and this is perfectly normal?”
“Many of our First Years who have experienced similar troubles have found it helpful to work with a tutor,” the Dean said. “A fellow student more advanced in their studies who can help nudge you over that initial hump, so to speak.”
“Okay…” Quentin's heart sank down into his belly. “Do I get to choose my tutor?”
“No, Quentin, you may not.” Quentin was starting to suspect the whole everything is perfectly fine thing was definitely bullshit. “One has already been selected for you.”
Quentin’s heart continued its downward journey, coming to rest somewhere in the vicinity of his shoes. “Selected how exactly?”
“Sense magic, of a sort,” the Dean said, fiddling with an instrument on his desk, eying his untouched drink like it was an escape hatch. “I won’t bore you with the details, but the spell is very precise. And works to pair you with the magical adept on campus with whom you’re most compatible.”
Quentin narrowed his eyes. “I could probably just ask Julia for help.”
“The spell didn’t pair you with Julia, I’m afraid,” Dean Fogg said, clasping his hands together on the desk.
Quentin thought he already knew the punchline to this particular cosmic joke. He asked anyway: “Who did it pair me with then?”
“Eliot Waugh,” said the Dean.
Quentin could only feel that same sinking feeling. His heart must have been somewhere near the center of the Earth by now. “Eliot doesn’t even go to class,” he said, because it was fucking true. “He’s never going to agree to—”
“He’s already agreed to help, Quentin.” Fogg just kept flashing him that same generic smile, brushing him off with a wave of his hand. “I am well aware of Eliot’s reputation, but the fact remains that he is one of this University’s most talented magical adepts.”
“I don’t see what that has to do with me.” Quentin knew he was just treading water, but he couldn’t stop himself. “Julia can be my tutor. Or—or Alice. Or—”
“Quentin.” The Dean tensed, wrapping his hand around his drink but not lifting it. “Do you want to be a magician?”
“What sort of question is that?” Quentin immediately shrank in on himself. “Sorry, I… I just don’t get why it matters who helps me get better.”
Another tense smile from the Dean. Quentin wanted to scream. “Tutoring someone in magic isn’t like teaching someone to read or write, Quentin. Some of us catch on more easily than others. The spell is a failsafe to assure we help you live up to your full potential.” He picked up his drink carefully, as if to say this is over whether you like it or not. “Give Eliot a chance. The way I see it, you probably have nothing more to lose at this point.”
Quentin bit his tongue and swallowed down his urge to argue. He understood perfectly well what loomed on the other side of this conversation: do what we tell you to do, you terrible joke of a magician, or you’re no longer welcome at our school.
He slinked out of Fogg’s office with his head screaming and his heart on fire, deciding to just skip Magic of the Middle Ages all together, because he didn’t see how a lecture on why it’s generally a bad idea to nuke your own liver with an unauthorized spell was going to help him anymore than sulking on the lawn and chain smoking cigarettes was going to.
An hour or so later, after class had let out, Julia found him lying on his back in the grass, puffing away on his last cigarette, a graveyard of butts scattered around his head like a halo.
“Hey,” she said, lying down beside him. “Skipping class already, hm?”
“Doesn’t matter,” Quentin said, offering her a sideways glance before fixing his eyes back on the clouds. “I’m fucking toast, Jules.”
“You’re so dramatic.” She snatched the cigarette out of his fingers and took a drag.
“Fogg assigned me a tutor.” He let that sit a moment as Julia passed the cigarette back and he pressed it to his lips. “Go on. Ask me who it is.”
Julia turned on her side at once, propping herself up on an elbow. “Get the fuck out.”
Quentin sighed hard. “You didn’t ask—”
“He’s fucking with you,” she said with a quirk of her mouth. “He’s totally—you know that he’s fucking with you, right?”
“Fogg said they used a spell to match us.” Quentin passed her the dregs of the cigarette, then squeezed his eyes shut, pinching the bridge of his nose. “I don’t know… what he said doesn’t actually make any sense.”
“Why can’t I just tutor you?” Julia asked after a long moment, rolling onto her back. “Or… anyone else on campus? Why does it have to be him?”
“I don’t know.” Quentin opened his eyes, choking back a pathetic swell of tears. “Do you think Eliot could have found out and manipulated the spell somehow?”
“Wouldn’t put it past him,” Julia said. “Not after everything he’s done to you. It’s like he gets off on ruining people’s lives.”
Quentin swiped at his damp eyes. “I’m not doing it,” he said. “You can tutor me and I’ll—I’ll get better and—and they’ll see how stupid and pointless their stupid pointless spell is.”
“Come on,” Julia said suddenly, sitting up and tugging at Quentin’s sleeve.
Quentin groaned as he pulled himself up off the grass. “Where are we going?”
Julia smirked. “We’re going to teach you some fucking magic, Coldwater.”
James brushed a strand of hair away from Quentin’s brow. “Just tell me what you want,” he said, cupping one of Quentin’s hands in both of his. “Come on. Talk to me, Q.”
Quentin shifted uncomfortably on the edge of the mattress. “I… I already told you. It’s—it doesn’t work if you…” He sighed hard and pulled his hand away. “Just forget it. We can just—we can just go to sleep.”
A nervous laugh slipped out of James’ chest. “But you don’t—come on.” He touched Quentin’s face softly, and Quentin had to fight the urge to turn away. “Q, please. I wanna make it good for you.”
Quentin knew that James had the best of intentions, but they’d been over this so many times in the five-ish weeks they’d been sleeping together. If you could even call it that. “It’s—what we did last night was fine, okay?” He shrugged, face burning. “Let’s just do that again.”
Blow jobs under the covers in the dark were—they were fine. They would get each other off and go to sleep and everything would be... fine. And James would hold Quentin close. And he would be soft and warm and safe. And maybe—just maybe—Quentin would even succeed in getting out of his own head for a little while. It would be enough.
Quentin crashed forward and brought their mouths together, telling himself it would be enough.
Quentin stood in the hallway outside of Eliot’s room. Their dorm was suspiciously quiet for a Friday night, but Quentin’s concerns were elsewhere. Namely, getting his hand to cooperate long enough to raise itself and knock on the fucking door.
He took a breath, and then another. Quentin couldn’t do it, even as his dick was getting hard just thinking about seeing Eliot tonight. He ran his hand through his short crop of hair and turned to skulk back to his own room down the hall.
And then suddenly Eliot was just… there. Stepping out of the elevator looking immaculate in a white button down and a pair of dark blue suspenders. “Quentin,” he said, his eyes red-rimmed and droopy, a dopey grin spreading over his face. “Heyyy. You wanna go get stoned?”
“It, uh, looks like you’ve already beat me to it,” Quentin said with a nervous laugh, his body lighting up like the Fourth of July when Eliot placed a hand on his shoulder.
“Perhaps,” Eliot said, slipping an arm around Quentin’s shoulders. “Still, I hope I’m not catching you at a bad time.”
Quentin allowed his body to be led back down the hall. It was the most thrilling feeling, being consumed in Eliot’s warmth. He could hardly get his tongue to work long enough to spit out a few mumbled words. “It’s a good time,” he said, and Eliot shot him a grin as he reached to open the door.
“Oh, yes, Quentin,” Eliot said. “It is a very, very good time indeed.”
They stepped inside and shut the door. Eliot clapped, and his room came to life in a burst of twinkle lights and color, a glow that seemed to emanate from nowhere at all seeping out of every corner and straight into Quentin’s bones.
Eliot flopped down onto his bed with a tremendous, contented sigh. “So,” he said, looking Quentin over carefully. “How are you tonight?”
“I, um…” Quentin fidgeted with the hem of his shirt, a blush pinking his cheeks. “You said, um… that I knew where to find you if, um… you know…”
A grin spread over Eliot’s face at once. “Right. Of course.” He drew his bottom lip between his teeth slowly. “You wanna have a little fun with me tonight, pretty boy?”
Quentin’s stomach twisted itself into a hundred thousand knots at the sound of Eliot’s voice. No one had ever called him… anything like that before. He tried to open his mouth to speak, but his throat only clicked pathetically. Eliot moved to the edge of the mattress and held out a hand.
“Come here,” he said very softly, and Quentin allowed himself to be drawn in without a single thought. Eliot caught Quentin’s wrist in the circle of his fingers when he was close enough to touch. “God, look at you, blushing already…”
God. Quentin wished his hair was long enough to hide behind. He ducked his head and averted his gaze. “Um, so—”
“So,” Eliot purred, taking Quentin by the hips and drawing him closer. “Hey…”
Before he could even register what was happening, Quentin found himself straddling Eliot’s lap on the bed. And Eliot’s hands were pushing up under his shirt, and his lips were going for Quentin’s throat. And Quentin’s blood was rushing so loudly in his ears he could hardly keep hold of a single one of his own thoughts.
“Fuck,” Eliot’s voice rumbled against Quentin’s skin. “You’re so warm…”
Quentin wrapped himself around Eliot tightly, certain he was going to pass out if he didn’t hold on. It felt like Eliot’s hands and mouth were just… everywhere, setting every one of Quentin’s nerves alight. Some pathetic sound clawed out of Quentin’s throat when he tried to speak, and Eliot hummed against the side of his neck.
“So,” he said very softly, “since you came back…” His fingers pressed up along the dip of Quentin’s spine, making him shiver. “You wanna tell me what you’re into now?”
Quentin swallowed, a kick of desire thumping in time with his heart between his legs. “I, uh… I already told you,” he pushed out, making a sound that was half laugh, half moan when Eliot nipped at his ear. “I really—really don’t think about it.”
A silent laugh rolled through Eliot’s body, shaking them both. “You really don’t have to be shy.”
“I’m not,” Quentin said, voice breaking terribly. “I’m—I don’t know. I’ve never—”
“Oh my god,” Eliot said, suddenly pulling back and looking deep in Quentin’s eyes. “Don’t tell me you’re a virg—”
“I’m not a virgin!” Quentin hadn’t meant to shout. His face burned impossibly hotter. “Not like, um… not technically. Um… I’ve, you know…”
“Jesus.” Eliot sounded awe-struck. “You’re not fucking around, are you?”
Quentin ducked his head, making to pull away. “Sorry, um—sorry, I can go if—”
“Don’t you dare.” Eliot’s grip on his hips was a firm and solid weight. “Don’t, it’s—god damn, Quentin.” He laughed, studying Quentin’s face in the dim glow. “It’s okay if you’re… inexperienced. If you really wanna go, I won’t try and stop you but... I promise you it’s not a problem for me.”
Quentin met Eliot’s eyes head-on, reminding himself to breathe. “Why would you, um… why would you wanna do… you know, with um… with someone who—”
“Quentin,” Eliot said very gently, taking Quentin’s face in his hands. “Don’t overthink it, okay? You’re hot, I’m hot…” He laughed softly. “I am more than happy to take you under my wing and teach you a thing or two or… a hundred. Whatever. Or we can just jack each other off again and call it a night.”
Quentin let out a broken little laugh. “I don’t understand how you can be so casual about it,” he said, shivering as Eliot’s hands slid down to his neck.
“Sex is… whatever. It’s fun.” Eliot smirked, his strong hands sliding down to Quentin’s shoulders. “It feels good and... I’m really good at it.”
Quentin took a shuddering breath. “I’m not.”
“I wasn’t complaining last night.” Eliot’s hands slipped down Quentin’s body, from his arms to his waist to his hips. “Okay, how about—we’ll just take this one step at a time, okay?”
Quentin nodded, taking one deep breath after another.
Eliot drew their hips together slowly. He was hard, and Quentin was too, and for a moment everything turned to rushing blood and white noise and blurry vision. “Just tell me this,” he said. “Have you only been with girls before now?”
Quentin shook his head. “No, um… one boy, um…” He had to laugh, thinking back to how terrible it had been. “It was… weird.”
“Okay,” Eliot hummed, nuzzling against Quentin’s cheek. “So… you don’t know what you’re into.”
“Not really, um… I mean, I’ve watched a lot of porn, um—fuck.” Quentin knocked his forehead against Eliot’s shoulder, feeling every bit the loser he knew himself to be. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t apologize.” Eliot began rubbing soothing circles into Quentin’s back. “You have no idea how—god. Okay, just um… tell me what kind of porn you like to watch?”
“I don’t know,” Quentin mumbled against Eliot’s neck. “Um… blow jobs are nice.”
“Oh, I concur,” Eliot purred, tugging Quentin back to meet his eyes, holding him gently by the shoulders. “So… tell me. When you’re watching… blow jobs. Do you like to imagine you’re the one being blown, or that you’re the one… doing the blowing.”
“I don’t know,” Quentin breathed, trembling like a leaf caught up in a hurricane. “Both are good I guess.”
Eliot smirked. “You don’t have to be shy, Quentin. You—”
“I’m not, I’m—fuck.” Quentin sighed with his entire body. “I guess, um… usually when I’m watching porn I’m not really thinking about myself.”
“Certainly you have a fantasy,” Eliot said very softly, slipping his fingers along the buttons of Quentin’s shirt. “Believe me, Quentin, there’s nothing I haven’t heard at this point.”
“I don’t know, I don’t know.” Quentin grew more distressed by the second. Honestly, he might as well have been a virgin. It wasn’t like any of his experience mattered. “Could you just, um… could you just tell me what you want me to do?”
Something stirred in Eliot’s eyes at that. Something dark and feral. “Okay...” he said very carefully. “Okay. I, um…” He paused, arms slipping around Quentin’s middle as a laugh rumbled through him. “Do you like being told what to do, Quentin?”
Eliot’s mouth was on his neck again, and Quentin could only hold on tight and tremble. “I don’t know,” he breathed. “Maybe…”
Eliot hummed happily. “Okay, so… how about—” he punctuated his words with a kiss—“you sit on the bed and we get you a little more comfortable, hm?”
Quentin nodded slowly, then crawled awkwardly out of Eliot’s lap and flopped down onto the bed, sitting back against the wall with his heart racing like a bird trapped inside the cage of his chest. Eliot stood and turned to him, eying Quentin carefully in the dim light. He was half-hard inside his pants, and the thrill at the sight of it was almost more than Quentin’s frazzled nerves could take.
“If we’re going to do this,” Eliot said, stepping forward and touching Quentin’s knee, “we need to establish a few… ground rules.”
“Okay.” Quentin swallowed, bunching the covers beneath him into loose fists. “Like what?”
“Like…” Eliot pushed one knee onto the bed in between Quentin’s legs. “Like if I tell you to do something you’re unsure about, you’ll tell me to go fuck myself.” He ran one hand up the expanse of Quentin’s thigh, his body heat seeping through Quentin’s jeans. “Tell me you understand.”
Quentin nodded slowly, pinned under Eliot’s heat and his gaze. “Yes,” he said. “I understand.”
“Good,” Eliot said after a long, quiet moment, finally pulling away. “First—hmmm,” he considered Quentin with a smirk tugging at his mouth. “I think I’d like you to stand up for me, actually.”
Eliot took a few steps back and waited. Quentin shimmed off the bed and stumbled to his feet. And—god. Eliot was… he was tall and handsome and elegant. The way he held himself was like a goddamn fairytale prince. Quentin didn’t care how lame that sounded. Eliot Waugh carried his body through the world like unsuspecting royalty. Like the uncrowned High King of Fillory, traipsing around planet Earth without a clue there should actually be jewels glittering on his head.
“Come here,” Eliot said, holding out a hand. “The first thing I want you to do is kiss me.”
Every time Eliot beckoned it was like a magnetic force. Like the center of the Earth opening up and swallowing Quentin whole. Quentin took one step and then another, until he found himself pressing right up against the heat of Eliot’s body, his hands going to the straps of Eliot’s suspenders because he didn’t know what else to do.
“Hey,” Eliot said, skimming his knuckles down Quentin’s cheek with a smirk. “Come closer.”
Quentin went up onto his toes, gripping the straps in his hands like they were the only things anchoring him to the ground. Eliot fingers tangled into his hair as their lips slotted together, slowly, growing from a spark into a five alarm blaze in the space of a single breath. Quentin moaned, throwing his arms around Eliot’s neck. He backed Eliot up against the dresser without even meaning to. Everything was just happening so fast. Eliot’s hands went to his ass and Quentin felt the ground tipping underneath his feet. If it weren’t for Eliot’s body holding him up, he was certain his knees would have given out right then.
Eliot broke the kiss with a needy little sound. “Jesus, Q…” he pushed out with a laugh, his warm hands moving up under the back of Quentin’s shirt. “Fuck, okay…”
Quentin panted against Eliot’s neck. “Sorry, I—”
“You have nothing to be sorry for,” Eliot said, separating their bodies gently, his eyes flicking from Quentin’s mouth to his eyes. “Take your shirt off. I wanna see you.”
Quentin nodded, stepping back, his fingers trembling as they went to the buttons of his shirt. It took him a literal eternity to get all of them undone, but Eliot didn’t seem to mind. He leaned back against the dresser casually, arms crossed over his chest, watching Quentin like they had all the time in the world, just the two of them alone in this room. Like maybe when they’d crossed over the threshold and shut the door time had stopped outside all together. The Earth had stilled on her axis. There was only Eliot’s gaze, Quentin’s trembling fingers…
Quentin popped the last button open and did his best to not look like a total loser as he peeled it from his arms and tossed it to the floor. He could only stand there after, heart pounding, body flushing a bright shade of crimson as Eliot stepped forward and pressed a hand to the side of his neck.
“That’s better, hm?” Eliot’s free hand skimmed down the curve of Quentin’s shoulder. “Tell me how you’re feeling.”
“I don’t know, I don’t—” Quentin squeezed his eyes shut, shaking his head. “I’m sorry, I’m—”
“Stop apologizing, pretty boy,” Eliot thumbed at the swell of Quentin’s bottom lip. “We just need to get you out of that head for a little while, I think.”
Quentin nodded, his eyes still screwed up tight. “That sounds nice, thank you.”
“Yeah,” Eliot said, laughing gently, taking Quentin by the hand, “I think so too.”
Quentin opened his eyes, and let Eliot lead him back over to the bed. The most bizarre feeling washed over him then. Even though he’d technically known Eliot for years, they really didn’t know each other at all. Still, in that moment, the overwhelming trust pumping in Quentin’s heart was unlike anything he’d ever felt for another person before. It was ridiculous; thrilling and terrifying and calming and and and—
Eliot ran the straps of his suspenders through his hands teasingly, looking Quentin over with a hunger in his eyes. “Take off your shoes,” he said. “Socks too.”
Quentin kicked off one shoe and then the other. Eliot actually lit a cigarette then—did he use a lighter? Quentin didn’t think he’d seen one last night either. And seriously, how was he even getting away with smoking in his room so blatantly to begin with?—casually puffing away as Quentin got to work peeling off his socks. It would have been borderline rude had he not looked so ungodly gorgeous doing so.
“That’s good,” Eliot said when Quentin was through, ashing his cigarette into the ashtray on the dresser. “Belt.”
Quentin swallowed, eyes fixed on the smoke curling around Eliot’s head as his fingers fumbled with the buckle. Pulling the belt through each of the loops on his jeans seemed to take a small eternity, but it was nice to have something to focus on other than the slowly simmering dread that he was about to leave Eliot very, very disappointed at the end of… whatever they were about to do.
Eliot butted his cigarette out when Quentin tossed his belt down on the floor. “That’s very good,” he said, stepping closer, reaching out and carding his fingers through the short crop of Quentin’s hair. “Pants now. But leave your underwear on.”
Quentin’s fingers shook the entire time he was working his fly open and tugging his zipper down. He lifted his hips up off the bed and shimmied his jeans down beneath his hips as Eliot stood watching, licking his lips as Quentin shoved them down below his knees, then his ankles, finally kicking them away to pool down on the floor.
“God...” Eliot kicked the discarded clothes out of his way so he could kneel at Quentin’s feet. “You are—look at you…”
Quentin felt raw and utterly exposed, even though he still had his boxers on. He couldn’t hope to hide the size of his erection, or the way that he was blushing from his ears down to his chest. Or the way his shoulders rose and fell so quickly with the force of his breathing. Or the way his body quivered all over as Eliot ran his hands up the curves of his knees, over his thighs, the whisper of a touch, like a kiss from skin-to-skin.
“Can I ask you a question?” Eliot skimmed the legs of Quentin’s boxers with his fingers, smirking when Quentin answered with a nod. “With a gentle reminder you are free to tell me to go fuck myself at any time and I won’t be offended.”
Quentin swallowed around the lump in his throat. “Yeah. Of course.”
Eliot took his bottom lips between his teeth, his hands moving up to Quentin’s hips. “Have you ever given a blow job before?”
All at once, Quentin felt the air being sucked out of his lungs. “Um,” he managed to stutter out, laughing away the nerves as he worried his hands against the covers. “Once, um… the one guy I was with, we—I don’t think I was very good at it.”
“Well, now, see,” Eliot purred, pushing forward to press a kiss to the center of Quentin’s chest, “that’s just because you weren’t with someone who wanted to make it good for you.”
“I don’t understand what you mean,” Quentin said, feeling well and truly like the world’s most pathetic virgin now.
“Sex isn’t just about…” Eliot kissed his way down Quentin’s chest slowly. “Chasing an orgasm. It’s about…” Eliot nuzzled into Quentin’s middle, pressing a soft kiss there, making him squirm. “You know… I think I’d rather just show you.”
Before Quentin could even hope to get a word out, Eliot curved a hand around the bulge tenting the front of his boxers. Gently, hardly a touch at all. A promise of what was to come more than anything. Still, Quentin gasped, bucking up into the contact in a way that Eliot must have found hysterical, if the smile that spread over his face was anything to go on.
Eliot ducked his head, nuzzling against Quentin’s erection through the fabric of his shorts. Quentin’s hands groped at the back of his head, his shoulders, trying desperately to ground himself as the room began to tip and spin and come unglued. He mouthed at the head of Quentin’s dick and Quentin made a strangled sound. Some pathetic, involuntary thing he couldn’t keep from sputtering out. He could come like this, he could, and the worst part was Quentin knew it would hardly take any time at all.
Eliot pulled back, teasing his fingers along the space where his mouth had been. “I… am going to get undressed,” he said. “And then I’m going to sit right where you’re sitting. And I’m going to put you on your knees. Okay?”
Quentin could only nod, feeling all at once too connected to his body and utterly apart from himself, floating up somewhere near the ceiling as Eliot rose to his feet. He didn’t put on a show undressing like Quentin had expected him to. Eliot was extremely practical about the entire ordeal: slipping his suspenders from his shoulders, untucking his shirt, unbuttoning each button with a casual ease. Shoes, socks, pants, underwear. Everything was removed and folded and tucked away neatly. And when Eliot stood before him entirely bare, Quentin’s dick jumped between his legs at the sight.
Eliot’s soft cock hung thick and heavy between his legs, his back rod-straight, the set of his shoulders perfectly relaxed. “Hey,” he said, stepping forward and holding out his hands. “Can you stand up for me?”
Quentin let Eliot take his hands, and guide him in a practiced dance to his feet. And Eliot kissed his mouth softly, and then lowered himself down onto the bed. And Quentin couldn’t help but fall to his knees without a word. It was like the most natural thing, settling in between the spread of Eliot’s thighs and gazing upward.
Eliot smoothed a hand over the top of Quentin’s head. “That’s perfect,” he said. “You’re perfect.”
“Shut up,” Quentin said, playfully ducking his head, turning what he imagined might be an entirely new shade of red in the process.
Eliot caught him by the chin, tipping his gaze upward. “There you are. That’s it,” he said very gently. “Now… you wanna open that pretty mouth for me?”
Eliot thumbed at his bottom lip as Quentin’s jaw went slack, mouth parting without hesitation. The pad of Eliot’s thumb pressed in just a little, just enough to tease over his tongue before pulling back. Quentin wanted to chase it, but something in his bones told him that he should be still. That he should only take what he was given; only do as he had been told to do by Eliot’s words alone.
“Come closer.” Eliot’s voice came out barely more than a whisper, his feet planted firmly on the floor, his body inching up right to the edge of the bed. He was holding his soft cock in one hand, touching Quentin’s face with the other. “I just want you to hold it in your mouth. Just—you can say no if you—”
“I want to,” Quentin blurted, because—god. He didn’t think he’d ever wanted anything more. Not magic, not Fillory. Not a crown on his head, not a throne in Whitespire. Not a quest, not—
“Good,” Eliot said, a little breathless, taking Quentin by the nape and guiding him forward. “Open, open—good, that’s—oh, fuck, Q. Yes…”
Quentin didn’t have a lot of first hand—first mouth?—experience to go by, but he was pretty certain that by all standards Eliot Waugh’s dick was fucking massive. He pressed in between Quentin’s lips slowly, in a way that was almost tender, and Quentin’s mind went all fuzzy in an instant, a full body tremble ripping through him like a storm.
“That’s so good,” Eliot breathed. “That’s—that’s perfect, baby.”
Eliot’s praise felt like a kiss. He was growing harder by the second, and Quentin moaned around the stretch of it, aching deeply down between his legs. Something was happening in his body. Something very different from the nerves or arousal he was used to. Something that almost felt like static buzzing under his skin. It clawed up into his brain and whited out his mind until he could hardly even remember the sound of his own name. It was like sinking and floating all at once. It was like, finally, after twenty-two years of that little voice in his head running on a near-constant loop, someone finally had the good sense to come along and flip his switch to off.
Eliot pulled him off with a soft little whimper. “Are you okay?” Quentin thought he heard Eliot say through the rushing river that was now his mind.
Quentin tried to open his mouth to respond, but it was the strangest thing. The link between his mouth and his brain had been entirely broken. It would have been terrifying if it hadn’t been for Eliot’s strong hands holding him steady.
He managed to give a little nod, a broken sound cracking out of his chest where his words should have been. Eliot nodded back, and took himself in hand again, and dragged the head of his dick across the seam of Quentin’s lips.
“Stick out your tongue,” he said, and Quentin did so at once. “Good… good…”
Quentin lost himself to the rush of all that came after that: Eliot’s breath, Eliot’s hands; the breathy little way that Eliot commanded Quentin to suck, ohgodyes just like that; the filthy, aching way that Eliot throbbed against his tongue, between his lips; Eliot’s fingers in his hair, on his face; Eliot’s hips thrusting upward, just a little, just enough…
A warmth spread down between Quentin’s legs. Full-body pleasure sizzled through him like lightning. Every inch of his skin felt like stars. Distantly, he was aware of Eliot moaning, repeating Quentin’s name over and over like prayer. Seconds, minutes, hours, days. Quentin had no concept of how much time had passed, but suddenly Eliot was pulling out from between his lips, mumbling something that sounded like, “Do you want me to come in your mouth?”
Quentin had to force his eyes open. He couldn’t think, he couldn’t speak. All he knew was that he wanted. He was pretty sure he’d managed to nod his head at least, because suddenly Eliot was making a strangled sound, and pulling him back down by his nape. And then, almost as quickly as he’d slipped back inside the heat of Quentin’s mouth, Eliot began to crumble apart.
Quentin swore he could taste Eliot’s pleasure as he splashed all over his tongue, pulsing there until he had nothing left to give. Quentin held him in the warm pocket of his cheek until Eliot started going soft. For a long moment neither of them moved. Quentin swam and sank and flew and drifted. When the time came, he was only faintly aware that he was being dragged up to his feet and deposited onto the bed.
“Jesus,” Eliot’s voice drifted like sweet music into Quentin’s ears. “Did you…”
It was only then that Quentin felt the wetness down between his legs, his boxers sticking to his spent cock where he’d come all over himself entirely untouched. Eliot curled up at his side, pressing kisses into Quentin sweat-slick hair. Quentin wanted to say so many things: I’m sorry. What the fuck just happened? Can we please do that all over again right now immediately? But he still couldn’t find his way back to forming words.
Eliot let out a contented sigh against Quentin’s temple. “That was fucking spectacular,” he mumbled, punctuating his words with another gentle kiss.
Deep in the billowing fog of his mind, Quentin heard his own voice whispering the sound of Eliot’s name, over and over until he thought it might be the only word he would ever speak again.
Julia sighed, taking Quentin’s hands in hers and twisting his fingers around. “No, like this,” she said. “You had it right the first time and then you—just… try again, okay?”
They’d moved on from First Illumination—which Quentin had only gotten sorta-right, his little glowing orb coming out pea-sized and pathetic, sputtering out its light for only a few seconds before fizzling away—and were now trudging through the basics of levitation on the little glass marble all the First Years had been given.
Quentin focused until he was certain his eyes were going to pop out of his head, fingers shaped exactly as Julia had left them, willing the magic to come. The marble in the table beneath him sat mockingly still under his hands. “Maybe I’m not a magician,” Quentin lamented, pressing his hands flat against the table, eying the marble like an enemy. “Maybe—”
“Stop right there.” Julia lifted up a hand. “This is your whole problem, Q. You’re too busy whining—”
“Whining and thinking about—”
“About Eliot,” she said firmly, snatching up the marble, levitating it from her palm all the way up to the ceiling. “You are a magician,” she continued, catching the marble when it plopped back down. “You passed the exam. Just fucking do it, Q. I know you can. You did First Illumination… sorta.”
“Thank you,” Quentin said, slumping down in his chair. “That’s very helpful, Jules.”
“Would you rather your ex-boyfriend be teaching you magic right now?”
He stared at her across the table for a long time. “I don’t think we were ever really boyfriends,” he said at last. “He just fucked me until he got bored.”
Julia gave him a pitying look that made Quentin’s stomach turn. “Whatever he was to you,” she said, “the best revenge you can get is to be the most kickass magician Brakebills has ever seen. Prove to that dick you never needed him to begin with.”
Julia dropped the marble into his hand, and Quentin gazed down into the glassy center, wishing for a vision. Some sign that he shouldn’t just pick up right then and return to the monotony that had been his life with James. He shut his eyes, took a breath, and when he opened them again he set the marble on the table.
Quentin readied his fingers and willed his magic to come. He cast, or at least he thought he did. Everything about what he was doing was technically correct, but underneath Quentin’s hands the marble didn’t budge.