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time cast a spell on you (but you won't forget me)

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Quentin sighed, turned away from the closet, tossed a henley onto the mountain he had piled on the bed. Its peak of fraying hems and threadbare t-shirts reaching for the ceiling. Immediately, Julia flopped down into it, sending sweaters and ratty old jeans cascading to the floor.

“I can’t believe this is actually my life right now,” she said with a huff. “I can’t believe I’m actually helping you get ready to go on a date with your asshole ex-whatever.”

Quentin tugged another sweater from its hanger, frowned at the hole in the sleeve, and tossed it over his shoulder. “Moping in the reject pile isn’t actually helping, Jules.”

She considered him with a tip of her head, propping herself up on the points of her elbows. “Fine,” she said, hopping to her feet, crossing the distance between the bed and the closet in a few quick strides. “I’d also be happy to remind you that it’s Sunday and we have a quiz in Ancient Greek at the literal ass-crack tomorrow, so you probably shouldn’t be going out tonight.”

“Jules—”

“Also—” She reached into the closet, plucked a t-shirt out, held it up to Quentin’s chest, smoothing out the wrinkles. “Who the hell goes on a date on a Sunday night?”

Quentin snatched the t-shirt away, bunched it up, added it to the mountain on the bed. “Lots of people.” He sighed with his entire chest. “Would you just—please. Help me find something that doesn’t look like it was pulled from a rack at Goodwill ten years ago.”

Hands on hips, Julia let her eyes scan over the scant remnants of the closet. “Well, Q,” she said, turning to face him with a smirk playing on her mouth, “you see, that might be a problem. Considering your entire wardrobe was pulled from a rack at Goodwill ten years ago.”

Quentin glared, feeling rumpled as his heap of discarded clothes. “Not helping.”

“Sorry.” She turned her attention back to the closet, nudging a sealed up box on the floor with her shoe. “What’s in the box?”

Quentin squinted at it, a jolt of something nameless surging through his limbs, all tingly and electric, thunking like a stone in his belly. “I… honestly have no idea,” he said, brows pinching themselves together. “Probably something that got magicked over from my dad’s.”

“It’s definitely your bondage kit,” Julia said with a waggle of her brows.

“You’re the worst thing that’s ever happened to me,” Quentin said, anticipation prodding at his insides like slick, insistent fingers. “Just FYI.”

“Please,” she said, tugging the box out of the closet with an elegant flourish of her hand. “You’d be lost without me, Quentin Coldwater.”

Quentin’s belly knotted itself into a fist, squeezing until the whole of him seemed to flicker. Like a filament ready to blow. “What are you doing?”

Julia was already on her knees, magicking the box open with a wave of her hand. “Well,” she said, bow of her mouth curving upward, “maybe we’ll find something behind door number two that’s a little less Goodwill-chic.”

Immediately, she started rummaging around inside. Quentin could only stand there wavering, like a bird who’d had its wings snapped off. Some quivering, half-dead thing lying helpless on the pavement. His heart pattered under his ribs, his fogged-over brain a useless mass inside his skull. Quentin had no idea what the hell his problem was. It was only a cardboard box. One that had been tucked away inside his closet for months. Overfilled with winter scarves or books or whatever else he’d seen fit to discard and forget about back in the ‘burbs.

Julia pulled something out, tossed it down on the floor at Quentin’s feet. A jacket he’d worn a handful of times back in undergrad. Quentin’s belly did a somersault under his shirt. A pair of slacks with a busted zipper, a belt, a single leather glove that had lost its mate. All things he was pretty sure he’d worn his final year at Columbia, pulled from his closet and packed away in haste as graduation loomed.

“Oh, hey.” Suddenly, Julia was holding something Quentin could only register as dark and sweater. “This is—why have I never seen you in this before? This is like—” She thrust the something that was definitely dark and definitely a sweater up into the light. “This is actually not terrible, Q.”

Distant thumping of his pulse in his temples, Quentin felt himself go dim, then flare brightly as a supergiant star. He hadn’t even been thinking about—of course that was where it had been all this time. Shoved to the bottom of a cardboard box and forcefully forgotten in his grief.

“Don’t—” Quentin snatched the cardigan out of her hands. Its thrifted forest green; its tortoise shell buttons Eliot had sewn on with his own magic fingers. “You shouldn’t—” His face flushed with fever, like he’d pressed it right against the sun. “You shouldn’t just go through someone’s things without asking, you know.”

“Calm down, Sméagol,” Quentin heard Julia say beyond the rushing of blood in his ears. “I don’t want your precious.”

He had to fight the urge to shove the cardigan up under his mattress like the filthiest contraband. It was entirely Pavlovian, the way his brain just—reacted. Like they were still back in undergrad, and Eliot was still the secret Quentin was keeping tucked under his heart. He opened his mouth to quip something in return, but all that came out was a dry clicking sound, crawling up out of his throat like surrender.

“Okay, so—” Julia pulled herself to her feet, and a laugh tumbled out. “You’re a freak, which—wait.” She laughed again, eyes flitting between Quentin’s scorching face and the sweater. “It’s Eliot’s, isn’t it?”

“It’s none of your—” Quentin swallowed around the mountain in his throat, reminding himself he didn’t have to hide anymore. She already knew everything anyway. “It’s—” He huffed a breath out of his nose, his grip on the sweater going soft. “You remember that present he left on my bed before winter break?”

“Wow.” Another laugh sputtered softly from her mouth. “My money was still on nipple clamps.” She reached out, tucked a tuft of hair back behind Quentin’s ear. “I would say I can’t believe you got that twitchy and weird over a sweater, but, I mean...”

Quentin hardly registered her words. Clutching the cardigan to his chest for a handful of seconds before tossing it back into the box. “It doesn’t matter,” he said with a huff. “This isn’t what we’re here to—”

“Wait.” Julia was on it at once, plucking the sweater back out. The sight of her fingers curling into the soft knit made Quentin’s stomach turn. “I mean—it is, like… the nicest piece of clothing you own.”

Quentin narrowed his eyes, his hands shaping themselves into fists. “And?”

“And—” In Julia’s hands, the sweater took on the appearance of a limp sail in want of wind. “You want to look nice for the jerk who broke your heart. For some reason. So—” She shrugged, balled the sweater up, tossed it at his chest. “Maybe you should wear it.”

Quentin bundled the sweater in his arms, pressing it right over his sour, stumbling heart. “I can’t—” He swallowed, took a breath. “I can’t—Jules, I—”

“Where’s he taking you?” She was already turning away from him, magicking Quentin’s discarded clothes back into the box.

Quentin shrugged, clutching the cardigan like a security blanket. He wanted to press his face into it, pull the memories it held deep into his lungs. “I don’t know,” he said. “I told him to take me somewhere and he said to be ready by eight and that was... about as far as we got.”

“Well—” With a twist of her hand, Julia shoved the box back into the closet. “You can’t exactly know the dress code if you don’t know where you’re going.” She pulled a face, considering him with a tip of her head. “And even if you did—it’s still the nicest thing you own. So wear it.”

“It’s—it’s too big.” Quentin wasn’t looking at her. He was watching the way his fingers curled into all that lush, forest green. “The sleeves are too long. I’ll look ridiculous.”

“Hate to break it to you, Q,” she said, reaching up, patting Quentin on the head, “but you do a pretty stellar job of that all on your own.”

Quentin trapped her in his gaze, biting at the inside of his cheek to keep from smiling. “I hate you so much.”

Julia grinned with her entire face. “You love me so much you can’t stand it,” she said, plucking a joint out of the pocket of her jeans, dangling it between her fingers like a hypnotist. “Come on. Don’t make me smoke alone.”

He glared, draping Eliot’s cardigan over one arm like a banner, like a shield. “I’m sort of busy here.”

Julia pressed the joint between her lips, and lit it. Chest puffing out as she inhaled, scarlet eye watching from between the V of her fingers. “Please,” she said, exhaling, thin cloud of smoke obscuring her face in blue-white shadow. “Just this once. I am begging you, Q. From the bottom of my soul. Stop pretending you’re not going to do the thing we both know you’re going to do. And just do it. You’re not the only one with a hot date tonight, you know.”

She held the flaming joint in front of Quentin’s frowning face. He watched as it chugged out a pattern, like a secret signal flaring in the dark. Relenting with a heavy sigh, Quentin took it, and took a hit, and held it in until he burned.

In the mirror over the bathroom sink, Quentin’s reflection smoothed down one final tuft of straying hair, tucked it back behind the curve of his ear. Shadows painted hollow crescents beneath the red-rimmed eyes gazing back at him. Hours had passed since he’d smoked that joint with Julia, but he was pretty sure he was still a little stoned.

He was wearing his only decent pair of slacks and the same old boring shoes and the nicest button down he’d found amongst the dregs in his closet. Turning away from his reflection, he went back to his room and checked the time: exactly five minutes to eight. Immediately, Quentin’s heart began to pound up into his throat.

Eliot’s cardigan was draped over the foot of his bed like a discarded shadow. Quentin picked it up and pulled it on, the relief of it some bone-deep thing. Immediate in the way it soothed. A balm being rubbed on an ache. It warmed him right down to his center.

He cuffed the sleeves to keep them from swallowing up his hands. He went to the door and pulled it open and stepped out into the hall.

Eliot was waiting in the common room, looking surprisingly casual in a dark button down and his usual well-tailored slacks. His sleeves rolled halfway up his forearms. Three buttons undone on his shirt. Quentin’s heart felt like it had been struck with a hammer. He always loved Eliot best like this: easy and light, not a stitch of armor. With his hair all soft and begging for Quentin’s fingers. He was beautiful, shockingly so. It was only that—

It wasn’t what Quentin had been expecting. He’d been certain Eliot would have on a three-piece suit. A vest and a tie at least. Something with a jacket for dinner.

A little pebble of something like dread kicked up in Quentin’s belly.

They spotted each other at a distance. Eliot was lounging on the sectional across the room, and he jumped to his feet when Quentin approached.

“Hey.” The word breathed right out of Eliot’s chest. Eyes sweeping along the length of Quentin’s torso. Down and back again. Lingering, drinking in the sight of Quentin wrapped up in his cardigan. “Hi.”

“Hi.” Quentin stepped closer, nearly close enough to touch. “We’re not having sex tonight.”

The faintest hint of a smile played on Eliot’s mouth. “I know.”

“And we’re not—” Quentin straightened his neck in a mockery of confidence. “We’re not getting back together, okay. That isn’t—that’s not what tonight is about.”

“I know,” Eliot said, his eyes all soft and dark.

Quentin’s legs began to wobble. For a moment, he allowed himself the indulgence. Watery gaze scanning over the room, picturing all the places he might let Eliot take him apart: bent over the coffee table there in front of the sofa; down on all fours, smack dab in the center, the rug biting into the soft flesh of his knees; on the window seat with the curtains thrown open, his burning face pressed right against the chilly window glass.

“Just, um—” Quentin shook his head, shoved the surge of longing down to fester in his belly. “Just let me get my coat and I’ll be ready.”

“You don’t...” Eliot pressed into Quentin’s personal space, took him by the shoulders. The adoration of his hands moving over Quentin’s sweater-clad arms. Reverent and unhurried. Like his fingers were steeping in the memories trapped inside the knit. “You don’t need a coat. I, um—” He shook his head, pulled his hands away. Soft puff of laughter catching in his throat. “I couldn’t get reservations anywhere worth going on such short notice.”

“Oh.” Quentin could feel his body physically deflating. Like someone had stuck a pin in his side. “That’s, um—it’s okay. Um—maybe we can—some other time—”

“Q.” Eliot snipped Quentin’s spiral off at the root. His hand reaching out, skimming down the front of Quentin’s cardigan. Eliot’s cardigan. Fiddling with one of the buttons he’d sewn on with his very own hands. “This is not me canceling on you.” Before Quentin could even register the movement, two of Eliot’s fingers were looping around two of his, like neat little links on a chain. “Why don’t you just let me show you.”

Quentin allowed himself to be led. For a moment, transformed into that wanting thing without a mind. Blipping along behind Eliot with their fingers all knotted together. Away from the enchanted glow of the common room, down the gloomy chasm of the hall. To the back of the Cottage, the door swinging open. Clatter of their shoes on stone as they stepped out onto the porch.

At once, Quentin felt the air being stolen from his lungs.

It was—

Oh.

It was like the doorway had been a portal, and here they were, stepping out into another world. One that was made entirely of stars. Quentin swore he could feel the light seeping down into his bones. He had to glance back over his shoulder to believe the Cottage was still there. Everything golden. The air, his breath, and Eliot beside him. Quentin felt the shimmer pumping like blood in his heart.

Eliot’s hand slipped over Quentin’s shoulder, snatching him from his trance. “I know you, uh—” He laughed, the sound fluttering out of him. “I know you probably wanted to go somewhere with tablecloths and a wine menu and other people. But I just thought. For now…”

Quentin’s eyes jumped between Eliot’s face and the scene taking place out in the yard. His brain still slogging behind, trying to catch up with his heart. “This is—” He shook his head, skin prickling with a hundred million points of light. “Eliot, this is beautiful.”

Eliot’s mouth curled up. “I’d be happy to haul Todd and his band of miscreants out here to talk too loudly while we’re trying to eat and bang some silverware around if you’d prefer the company.”

Quentin laughed, for a moment so light it was like he was being lifted, soaring right out of his shoes. “I think I’ll be okay.”

Eliot’s eyes were on the cardigan again. “That’s good to hear,” he said, almost absently, both of his big, beautiful hands reaching out, touching the delicate fold of the collar. “So, I was thinking—maybe, while we eat, I could—” He swallowed, drew a breath, tugging his hands away, bunching them into fists at his sides. “I could tell you a little about my life. If that’s all right with you.”

Their eyes met. For a moment, everything stopped. Golden flickers—that’s all Quentin could register. Little pinpoint stars dancing over Eliot’s face, like sunlight reflecting off the surface of a pool. Quentin could only nod his agreement. Mouth falling open but no words coming out. Blood looping around inside his heart, thumping out a rhythm in the line of his throat.

He let Eliot take him by the hand, lead him down the steps and out into the yard. In the grass, Eliot had spread a blanket out. Some plush looking thing Quentin wanted to sink his bare feet into, like the oversized skin of a fairytale animal. Cutting clean down the center of the blanket was a charcuterie board so big it could have doubled as a life raft in a pinch. Piled high with so many glistening treats and sensuous cuts of meat, Quentin’s mouth began to water at once.

Shimmering in their martini glasses like crimson planets, two drinks bobbed along the periphery of the spread, patiently waiting to be trapped inside the orbits of their hands. The sight of them there plucked at a memory, but before Quentin could grab hold it was already gone.

All of this lay beneath a twinkling canopy of magic light. Curving overhead like the cupped palm of a luminous god. Like Eliot had reached into the sky with his very own hands and pulled down a blanket of stars. There had to be a hundred thousand points of illumination—a million. Nebulous in the way it shifted and moved, like it was mapping out the rotation of the earth.

They passed through the buzzing membrane of a warming enchantment and into the bubble of light. Eliot sat down on one side of the spread and Quentin took the other. Trembling palms pressing into the plush blanket of fur. For a moment, it was like the ground was drawing breath. Like they’d been swallowed whole by magic itself, or were skittering around inside the enchanted belly of a blazing star.

“So—” Eliot’s skin was flushed with golden light. Posture of his body tense as the shaft of an arrow. He gave a little flourish of his hand, and their drinks pulled themselves from their stasis. “This is a little something I invented a while ago.” He paused. Flared bowls of the glasses settling down into their waiting hands. “I named it after a boy I couldn’t stop thinking about.”

Sense memory like shockwaves. Quentin blinked, let his eyes fall away from Eliot’s golden face, down to the shimmering liquid in the glass. Ruby red face of an alien sun. Sparkling crimson as the blood moving through the chambers of his heart. He brought the brim of the glass to his lips, and drank. Eyes sliding shut, and all at once—

Quentin felt it like a kick to the gut.

I think you’re going to like this.

I invented it just now.

Maybe I’ll name it after you.

Quentin’s eyes shot open. Every star overhead seemed to be tumbling down, down. “This is—” He groped around inside his skull for the words that wouldn’t come. For a moment it was as though he’d been transported back to East Campus, fourth floor, Eliot’s room at the end of the hall. Cherries bursting on his tongue, sweeter than the taste of honey.

“Do you remember?”

Quentin took another sip, and let the glass flutter away, bobbing just out of reach like a little crimson moon. “I—” He swallowed, a delicate blush sweeping over his face. “Yes.” He wondered if Eliot could feel it, how quickly Quentin’s heart was beating. “Of course—of course I remember.”

Soft eyes locked with Quentin’s, Eliot took a sip of his drink, sent it floating away. “You can, uh—dig in whenever you’d like,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to use your fingers.”

Heat flared along the nape of Quentin’s neck, tickling down his spine like fingers. Suddenly over-warm beneath his layers. For a fraction of a second—desire tugging low in his gut. He let his eyes drift down to the spread that stretched between them like a cavity in the earth. There were so many delicious-looking things, Quentin didn’t know where to begin: soft cheeses speckled with colorful bits that glistened like confetti; luscious folds of prosciutto and ham; dried fruits that glittered like diamonds; mounds of grapes so dark they looked black; stacks of crackers and hunks of crusty bread; jams and spreads in delicate dishes that dotted the board like planets.

“This looks…” Quentin’s gaze drifted upward. “Like, uh—” He huffed a laugh. “Like something out of those magazines my mom always used to have scattered around the house when I was a kid.”

Eliot’s mouth curled up in a smile, his soft eyes speckled with starlight. “That’s a… good thing?”

Quentin nodded his head. “I think so,” he said. “I mean, I don’t really talk to my mom anymore, but—”

Mouth snapping shut, Quentin clipped his own voice off at the root. He hadn’t meant to say—

“It’s all right,” Eliot said very quietly, straightening his spine into a perfect pillar. “I haven’t talked to—anyone in my family. Since I ran away from home when I was seventeen. So.”

There was a tugging in Quentin’s chest, icy fingers poking at his heart. “Oh.”

“Yeah.” Eliot swallowed, ducked his head. Scrubbing a hand over the back of his neck like he was starting to lose his nerve. “I just—” His gaze skipped between Quentin’s face and the open palms of his own hands. “I want you to know I’m not going to tell you any of this because I think it’s going to change… anything. Between us.”

Quentin swallowed. “That’s good,” he said, far too softly for what he was trying to convey. “Because we’re not—we’re not getting back together.”

Eliot nodded, worrying his hands together in his lap. “So—yeah.” He drew a breath, and pushed it out. “I ran away.” Fidgeting with the buttons on the front of his shirt. Even at a distance, Quentin could see the way his fingers trembled. “Graduated early by the skin of my teeth. Not that it made any difference to my father.” His face twitched when he said it. Father. The word like poison leaching out of his throat. “No, see—dear old dad was more concerned with reminding his degenerate queer of a son where he was going to end up if he didn’t man up and get right with the Lord.”

Quentin’s stomach clenched. Thick braid of misery twisting under his heart. “El—”

“Sorry.” Discordant sound in Eliot’s chest. Something like a laugh with all the joy sucked out. “Maybe not the best dinner conversation.”

“It’s okay.” Jumping out of his skin, Quentin wanted to reach across the distance, cradle Eliot’s hands in his. “I—I want you to tell me.”

Eliot blinked, eyes damp in the dappled light. Flicking one perfect spiral of a curl back from his brow. “Yeah, so they—my family—” He shook his head. “I’ll spare you the details.” He let that sit for a long, terrible moment. “Velvet Jesus over the mantelpiece. Preacher barking fire and brimstone on mom’s tinny little radio.” He gave an airy wave of his hand. “You get the picture.” He breathed in, and breathed out. Quentin felt as though he hadn’t drawn a breath in hours. “They weren’t exactly going to start flying the rainbow flag down on the farm the first time dad found gay porn on the family computer.”

Quentin choked back a swell of tears. Horrid images flickering in grey matter. Emotion stinging in his throat like bile.

“You get used to it. After a while...” Eliot looked away, down at his own hands, Quentin watched the starlight dance over on his sullen face. “I didn’t have any plans. Not really. I never really thought I’d—” Something like a laugh huffed out of his nose. The thought he didn’t finish scattering like smoke from a fire. “When mom started talking about shipping me off somewhere to set me straight, I—” His whole face twitched. Like Eliot was on the verge of shattering apart. “I couldn’t do it anymore, Q, I—” A single tear tumbled down his cheek, and Eliot brushed it away. “I swiped all the cash from my dad’s wallet and I got on a bus and—” He shrugged, gave a little shake of his head. “You know, I don’t think they ever even tried to look for me.”

Quentin wanted to say something—anything—but he couldn’t get a single word to form around the knot of dread winding in his throat. He waited, and listened to the drumming of his pulse in his ears, and watched Eliot’s face shifting beneath the blanket of stars.

“I showed up in the city with a pocketful of change and a ratty old gym bag stuffed with flannel.” Something like a smile tugged at the corners of Eliot’s mouth. Quentin felt it tugging at his heart. “It didn’t take a week for Marina’s ears to perk up when she heard some baby-faced nobody was selling minor miracles downtown for ten bucks a pop.”

“Marina.” Quentin rolled the name around on his tongue, like he was trying it on for the very first time. “Your friend with the penthouse.”

“My friend with the penthouse,” Eliot said with an easy little sigh. “I would say I think she felt sorry for me, but Marina doesn’t really do sorry.” He paused for a handful of seconds. Quentin swore he could see the memories unspooling around Eliot’s head in a makeshift halo. “Anyway—she took me in. Showed me all the magic my greedy little fingers had ever wanted.” He looked down into his cupped palms, and smiled. “Used to have two full sleeves of those little star tattoos the hedges like to cover themselves in to show off how much they can do.”

Quentin’s gaze fell to the blank slates of Eliot’s forearms, exposed where his sleeves were rolled up. All that lean muscle, all that skin, velvet-smooth. “You had them removed?”

Eliot plucked a grape from its cluster, popped it in between his lips. “Took me a full year of bottom feeding to earn them all,” he said, chewing, and swallowing. “But when I asked Marina to help magic me through the prestigious gates of our alma mater—”

“Wait.” Quentin narrowed his eyes. “You used magic to get into college?”

Eliot shrugged, popped another grape into his mouth. “Columbia has an acceptance rate of six percent, Quentin, don’t look so surprised.” Devious little glint in his eyes, one well-groomed brow quirking up. “I actually think Marina was more into the idea than I was. Something about sticking it to the higher-ups in academia.” He called his drink back into his hand, downed half the glass in one swift gulp. “At the time, I thought—I don’t know. I wanted to feel like someone different. And, well—” He puffed a little laugh from his nose. “I wanted to get laid.”

Something in Quentin’s belly fluttered, battering his insides with a swarm of little wings. “You were—when we met, you were—” He didn’t even know what he was trying to say. He kept trying to say it anyway. “You—El, you were so—”

Quentin blinked, and in the darkness beyond his eyelids he saw Eliot standing there: the poised lines of his body on that first day of orientation; the way he carried himself with an effortless sort of grace; the way he seemed to light up the world.

Hi. I’m Eliot.

The jolt of electricity that had passed between them when their hands met. That one, shocking instant Quentin told himself he’d imagined, and then immediately forced himself to forget. Because Quentin was pathetic. Because—god. How could someone like Eliot Waugh, certified wet dream walking on two legs, ever have wanted someone like—

“I was faking it,” Eliot said, downing the last of his drink and sending the glass away with a wave of his hand. “I was fucking petrified, Q. I had no idea what I was doing.”

Heavy stone thunking in Quentin’s belly, tumbling all the way to the bottom. “So what, uh—what are you saying?” He worried his thumb over the edge of one tortoise shell button, down to the dip in the center. Its little X of thread catching under his nail. “Were you still faking it when we started—you know...”

“Not in the way I think you might mean.” Joy and devastation played on Eliot’s face in equal measure. “The things we did together in that room, Q—” He shook his head. “That was freedom. That was—” He paused, eyes slick and dark. “That was everything I’d dreamed of when I was still back in Indiana getting my ass kicked for being queer.” He held his open hands outward, like he was offering Quentin the whole world there in heartlines and blood-warm flesh. “Baby, you were my dream come true.”

“I’m sorry—” Grief bloomed in Quentin for one hard instant. Some dark, hidden thing clawing its way out into the light. “I’m sorry it was so—” A single, haunted sob caught like a hook in his throat. “You didn’t deserve to be treated that way. No one—”

“Don’t be sorry.” Eliot said very quietly, gaze downcast and distant. “It happened.” He shrugged, a gesture far too casual for the weight of the moment. “I got out.” He smiled. Quentin watched it happen through a thin film of tears. “And then I met you.”

Quentin felt the moment settle over him like a book pressing shut. Swiping at the tears that were slipping from his eyes with the sleeves of Eliot’s cardigan. He didn’t even know what he was feeling—sorrow or fury or love. It was like he’d opened his mouth and swallowed something terrible. And here it was, thrashing in his belly, begging to be set free.

“I’m sorry.” Eliot’s voice was hardly a whisper. “I shouldn’t be putting this on you right now. It’s—” He huffed a breath, gesturing to the untouched food stretching like a gulf between them. “You asked for a date and I gave you a sob story and ruined your appetite.”

“You didn’t—” Quentin sniffled, straightening his spine. “You didn’t ruin my appetite.” His stomach grumbled, sour, hard as stone. Uninterested in anything but its own roiling misery. “I’m—I’m gonna just—” He let his eyes skitter over the feast set before him: olives glistening like green and black pearls; jams and jellies glinting brightly as water reflecting the sun. “I’m gonna eat everything.” He plucked up a wedge of cheese, popped it in his mouth. “I might not—” His stomach looped itself into a knot as he chewed. “Might not even leave anything for you.”

All he could feel was Eliot’s pain. That sad little boy curled inside without a hand to hold. Quentin’s skin pulled taut where the current of tears had gone dry on his face. Everything inside him soft and hollow. He was aching clean down to the bone.

Across from him, Eliot’s mouth curled up for one bright, fleeting instant. Quentin watched as he started snatching at things on the board and stacking them together. Devouring a towering mouthful and sucking on the pads of his fingers. The sight of it alone was enough to ease the knot in Quentin’s belly. Together, they began to eat. Fingers brushing as they reached for bites of this and that. Shifting from some rote, mechanical thing into a primal act of devotion. Scooping up Eliot’s offering and pressing it into himself. Quentin called his drink back into his hand and downed it in two quick gulps.

Stuffed to the gills, Quentin nearly collapsed. If nothing else, he certainly wasn’t hollow anymore. “Jesus fuck—” He let out a heavy sigh, and a laugh. “That might have been better than sex.”

Eliot pushed out a laugh that Quentin felt in his own belly. “Now we both know you don’t actually mean that.” The smile on his face was—easy. Somehow, even after everything. So charming it was fucking devastating. “But you can’t really go wrong with mountains of carbs and animal fat.”

Quentin’s mouth fell open, searching for something clever to say. Something ruinous. Something—anything. Immediately, Eliot started to cast. Elegant curves of his hands flowing like twin currents. Between them, the entire charcuterie board and its remnants started to lift. Merrily, it bobbed away, followed by their empty glasses, the entire spread depositing itself somewhere beyond the starlight of their little golden bubble.

Sleight of hand—Eliot seemed to produce his shining silver flask out of the air itself. “Well, I don’t know about you,” he said, screwing the top off, pressing the open mouth of it to the swell of his bottom lip. “But I sure could go for some dessert.”

Quentin watched with rapt attention as Eliot took a long pull, all heat and decadence. “Thought you were on the wagon.”

“Well,” Eliot said, “we did already indulge in your signature cocktail.” His mouth shaped itself into a smile. Their fingers brushing as the flask passed between them. “So—cheat day?”

Their eyes locked together, Quentin pressed the flask to his lips, and drank. It was good bourbon—dark and smooth, burning its warmth clean down to Quentin’s overfilled belly. “I, um—” He took another pull for good measure and passed it back. “I have class in the morning, so I, uh… I should probably call it a night.”

Shock of sunlight. That one glorious instant when their fingers slipped together. Eliot took the flask, took a drink. “Okay. But, before you go...” Sudden movement. Quentin registered nothing but the blur. The flask being pressed into his open hand, Eliot falling down onto his back on the blanket. “Just for a second. Lie with me. There’s something I wanna show you.”

Quentin shifted, gazing down at his fingers curled around the flask. Its shiny silver mirror-smooth, reflecting back a thousand pinpoint stars. A miniature galaxy there in the fold of his hand. Eliot’s cardigan moved against the back of his neck like the touch of a lover. He took a breath, and took a drink, and let his body tumble down, down…

Legs stretched in perfect parallels. Quentin landed on his back and sank into the plush fur of the blanket. It was like being pulled into the spun-sugar belly of a cloud. Quentin turned his head, and Eliot was there. Close enough to see the color of his eyes sparking in the magic light.

“Hi.” The word breathed out of Eliot, barely a whisper. Quentin could feel the heat spilling from him like a furnace. Seeping down under the fabric of his slacks, clawing up under his sweater like fingers.

Quentin’s hand clenched around the flask, gaze flitting between Eliot’s eyes and the soft, pink bow of his mouth. “Hi.”

For one sweltering instant, Quentin thought Eliot was going to press forward, and kiss him. And Quentin was going to let him do it. His lips were already parting, pulse hammering in the column of his throat. But then, all at once, Eliot turned his face away. “How many do you think you can name?” he said, one long, elegant finger pointing upward, tracing a pattern against the canvas of their artificial sky.

Punch-drunk and reeling, Quentin couldn’t think. He pinched his brows together, following the line of Eliot’s finger all the way up to the glittering blanket of stars. “How many what?”

Eliot was silent for a long moment. Quentin’s heart counted the seconds. Heavy drumming under the slats of his ribs. Pulse points buzzing in his neck and in his wrists. “Constellations,” Eliot said at last. “Look. Don’t you see them?”

“Oh…” Quentin tipped his head to one side, watching the stars as they turned. “This is actually…”

“Perfect map of every star in the sky.” Something like a laugh puffed out of his nose. “If we brought it in a little closer, turned off all the light pollution. Not to scale, of course.” He laughed again. “I maybe took a bit of artistic liberty with what’s actually visible in his hemisphere.” Quentin could hear the smile on his lips. “One of the first spells I learned to do when I found out magic was real.” The silence that followed had a weight to it. Solid as a fist pressed over Quentin’s heart. “Used to cast it on my bedroom ceiling all the time back in Indiana.”

Quentin took a long pull from the flask and passed it to Eliot. “It’s beautiful.” His voice breathed out of him, feather soft.

Quentin knew a lot of constellations: Canis Major; Cassiopeia; Orion. He couldn’t place a single one. Booze and desire crossing wires in his brain until everything started to go all fuzzy at the edges. Eliot’s index finger twitched against the back of Quentin’s hand. Quentin turned his head, trapping Eliot in his gaze. Furious drumming of blood in his temples. Eliot was gazing back at him, tossing the flask down onto the blanket. Closer now than he’d been only seconds ago.

“Would you, um—” Quentin scrabbled to keep hold inside his mind. Already falling, falling. “Would you teach it to me? The spell.”

“Of course.” Eliot’s voice was so soft, Quentin felt it like the press of lips to the hollow of his throat. “Anything you want.”

Anything, anything. Quentin was melting, sinking down into the hungry belly of the earth. He rolled onto his side, pillowed his head on the fold of his arm. Beside him, Eliot did the same. Like a mirror bouncing his reflection back at him. Two parenthesis closing in on each other until there could be no end.

Just drunk enough to not give a shit for one blank and beautiful instant, Quentin pressed his hand to the center of Eliot’s chest. “Do you wanna kiss me?”

Eliot’s soft mouth shaped itself into a smile. “I always wanna kiss you.” He thumbed at Quentin’s cheek. “Beautiful boy.”

Quentin sucked a breath in through his nose, let it spill out of his mouth. “Well—” He bunched his fist in the front of Eliot’s shirt, and squeezed. “I’m not—I’m not gonna let you. Not—not tonight.”

“That’s all right,” Eliot said, his voice like a wounded animal in his throat. “We can just—” He shook his head. “Look at the stars.” Fingers moving, brushing a tuft of hair back behind Quentin’s ear. “Do you know any of their names?”

“I don’t—” Quentin swallowed, shook his head. His hand was slipping upward, into the open collar of Eliot’s shirt, seeking all that blood-warm skin. “I don’t know. I can’t—” His hand on Eliot’s throat, pressed right against the whirring of his pulse. “I can’t remember.”

“It’s okay.” Eliot’s fingers like a million points of light, tracing patterns into Quentin’s scalp. “Maybe I’ll name them after you.”

Quentin’s heart knocked against his breastbone. Rush of blood up under his ribs, hammering in his temples. Hardly any space left between them now, their legs all tangling together, Eliot’s breath tickling over Quentin’s parted mouth. Between his legs, Quentin’s cock began to fill. All warm and sleepy-sated, he thought he was probably too full from their meal to really want to do much of anything but lie there and be together. But still, there was the ache. The way it climbed up the trellis of his backbone like a choking vine. The way it moved beneath his skin like a hungry little beast.

“I should, um—” Quentin took a breath. His hand had found the nape of Eliot’s neck, fingers looping in the spirals of his curls. “I should go inside. I have—have an early—” Their middles were pressing together. God—it was like magnets drawing their bellies flush, lips a hair’s breadth away from a kiss. “Early morning…”

Eliot hummed. “All right.” His hand was playing along the front of Quentin’s cardigan. His cardigan. Tracing the edges of a button, drawing the collar between the pads of his fingers. “Haven’t seen this in so long,” he said very quietly. His words etched a pattern over the stumbling mess of Quentin’s heart. “I’m glad you kept it.”

“You can, um—” Quentin’s breath had left him, his tongue just this side of going under. “You can have it back if you want.”

Eliot shook his head, nuzzling the tips of their noses together. “No,” he said. “It was a gift.” His arm snaked around Quentin’s middle. Under the cardigan, over Quentin’s shirt. “Hope it keeps you warm forever.”

Quentin was melting, a puddle of himself there in Eliot’s embrace. “Do you wanna…” He shivered, Eliot’s fingers dancing along the trail of his spine. “Wanna walk me to—to my room?”

Eliot nodded his head. Gentle rumble in his throat. “Of course,” he said. “I wouldn’t dream of keeping you up past your bedtime, pretty boy.”

Eliot’s voice was a live wire straight to Quentin’s dick. Eliot had to feel it, the way it was pressed all against him like a fist made of stone. Insistent in the way it hummed to the tune of Quentin’s pulse. It took every last ounce of willpower Quentin had left in his failing, feeble limbs to tear his body away.

Somehow, he got to his feet, all wobbly-kneed and empty-headed. Quentin spent a long, agonizing moment trying to cover his erection with the front of the cardigan before deciding he didn’t really care if Eliot saw. Pulling air deep into his lungs, he turned his gaze to the glittering canopy, tried to count the stars. At his side, Eliot stood like a beacon throwing its light to shore. Quentin wanted to crash into him until their lines all blurred together.

Seconds passed like hours, but finally his body settled. They shared a glance, and for a moment Quentin swore he felt a hundred thousand words pass between their eyes in silent conversation. Heart jackhammering under his ribs, Quentin turned away, and started to move.

Out of the static universe of their little magic bubble, up the stairs to the porch, into the dark surrender of the Cottage and its silent walls. Eliot stayed locked in Quentin’s orbit, trailing just behind as they moved upstairs and down the hall. Clatter of their footfalls on hardwood. Marching in time with Quentin’s frantic heart. Just outside his room, Quentin spun around. Eliot was close, looming like a backlit ghost in the dim, haunting Quentin clean down to his marrow.

“Um, so—” Quentin pressed forward, took Eliot by the front of the shirt. He hadn’t meant to do it, not really, but suddenly they were tumbling together. Quentin’s back pressed flat against the hard plank of the door. Eliot pressed against him from hip-to-shoulder. “Good, um—goodnight.” He huffed a breath, face tipping upward. “Goodnight, Eliot.”

Eliot’s curls tickled over Quentin’s face. Their foreheads knocked together. Minute space between their lips buzzing with a wild energy. Over-warm and sparking, like at any moment they were going to combust.

“Goodnight, Q,” Eliot said, voice coming out all raspy and broken.

Quentin’s grip went tight on Eliot’s shirt. Up on his toes, swell of his bottom lip dragging over Eliot’s. “You can—” He drew a breath, and shuddered it out. “You can kiss me now if—if you want.”

Eliot’s throat clicked as he swallowed. Animal sound shattering out of him—partway between a growl and a moan. In the split second before they came crashing together, Quentin swore he could feel the floorboards shifting under his feet. Lips parting, and a gasp pouring out—wet, hot, wanting mouths finding one another in the gloom. Nipping teeth seeking flesh, clever curl of greedy tongues. Eliot’s hands on Quentin’s face—gentleness of his trembling fingers. Dizzying in contrast to the way his hips bucked Quentin back against the door. Insistent press of jutting bone hard enough to bruise.

Giddy haze of Quentin’s mind—not a single coherent thought was breaking through the dim. Everything fragmentary—deeper, harder, more. Quentin wished for nothing but to be marked by him. To come away from this night well and truly broken in.

Suddenly—Eliot broke the kiss. Quentin could feel himself spinning out from the center. His dick so hard he wondered if it might kill him. Eliot’s erection jabbing into his hip. Zero gravity—Quentin was floating up and away from himself. The whole of the Cottage falling out from underneath his shoes, the lines of his own body growing dark.

“I know, um—” Eliot’s voice suddenly broke in through the fog. His hands curved around the sides of Quentin’s neck like a collar made of flesh. “I know you said no sex. So, we should, uh—” He was laughing now. Soft rumble spilling from his chest and into Quentin’s. “I’m this close to coming in my pants like a goddamn virgin, Q.”

Jesus fucking—Quentin was going to pass out. He curved his hands around Eliot’s forearms, sucked a breath in through his nose. “We should—” He swallowed, tongue all fuzzy deadweight in his mouth. “We should stop.”

Eliot backed off a fraction of an inch, but his hands didn’t move. Like Quentin was the only thing anchoring him there with his shadow. “That’s—” He nodded, knocked his forehead into Quentin’s with a sigh. “That’s a good idea.”

“Yeah—” Quentin didn’t want to pull away. He wanted to stay like this until their bodies turned to stone. “Goodnight, Eliot.”

“Goodnight, Q.” Eliot whispered the words right against Quentin’s parted mouth. And when it was over, he was still there, like he’d been cemented to the floor. “Um—” He took a breath, long and deep. Exhalation tickling over Quentin’s burning face. “I actually, um—I have—” A silent laugh rolled through him, moved in Quentin like a pulse. “I have one more thing to say before I go.”

Quentin’s hands fell down to the gentle sloping of Eliot’s waist, nestled there like they were coming home. Heart leaping under his ribs, he nodded his head, waited for Eliot to continue.

“I just...” Eliot’s hands shook where they were curled against Quentin’s neck. “I’m not saying this because I—” He clipped the words off clean in his throat, taking a moment to breathe. Eyes glinting like dark jewels in the muted light. “I know we’re not getting back together. Darling, I know. That isn’t what this is about, okay?”

“Okay—” Quentin could hardly get his leaden tongue to work. “You—you can say it.” He could hardly be sure the words were coming out at all. “You can say—”

“You deserve to hear it. To really hear it. To—” Eliot leaned in close. So close they were almost kissing. Hands cupping Quentin’s face like two perfect cradles of flame. “You’re—Quentin, baby…” He drew a deep, shuddering breath, and pushed it out. “You’re the one that I love. You’re the only one.”

Quentin’s head was ringing like a bell that had been struck. Hollow brass and the air that shivered around it. He bunched his hands in Eliot’s shirt, faintest hint of a whimper rising in his throat.

“I love you.” The words punched out of Eliot’s chest. Barreling straight into the burned-out wreck of Quentin’s heart. “I don’t know how to stop.” Tears were spilling from his shadow-masked eyes. Quentin swore he could taste the salty splash on his tongue. “I’ve tried. I’ve tried to—I couldn’t drink you away, baby. I couldn’t—”

It was like his vocal cords had been severed, the way the words snipped themselves off in Eliot’s throat. All at once—sacred fire of his hands pulling away, his feet stumbling backward, nearly catching on themselves. All wobbly-legged and disoriented. Quentin watched the blur of him tottering around. Everything wild and dark.

“I’m sorry.” Eliot’s hands were moving, like wings. Like he was trying to lift himself right out of his shoes. “I shouldn’t have—”

Quentin tried to lift his hands. He couldn’t feel them. His whole body buzzing now—a wire all stripped bare at the ends. Exposed and flailing on the pavement.

“I’ve never said that to anyone. Not even—” Eliot pressed himself flat against the wall opposite Quentin, shut his eyes, drew a breath. “This is so fucked up, Q. I’m—I’m really sorry.” He opened his eyes, pushed away from the wall, stumbling a little as he went. “This is really unfair to you. I’m—” He was already moving his body in the direction of his room down the hall. Quentin watched him recede beyond a gossamer curtain of tears. “Just, um—I’ll see you—” He spoke the words right over his shoulder, his back turned to Quentin now. “I’ll see you tomorrow, all right?”

A blur—thin wisp of a shadow moving through the dark. Eliot was there, and then he was gone. Click of his shoes against hardwood, click of his bedroom door as he pressed it shut. Quentin stood trapped in stasis—unable to think or speak or breathe or move. He stayed that way for a very long time after Eliot had gone. Minutes passed, or hours. Quentin’s feet had rooted themselves to the floor.

Eliot’s voice—it echoed. Quentin’s body a hollow chamber, the whole of him ringing with it now. I love you I love you I love you whirring around like blood in his heart.

With great effort, Quentin peeled himself away from his bedroom door. Pulling it open and pressing it shut. Clicking on the light. He climbed into bed over the covers with his clothes still on. Turning onto his side and making his body into a tight little pocket of itself. All knobby knees tucked up to his chest with his hands curled inside the sleeves of Eliot’s sweater.

Something had opened inside him. Quentin felt like one of those big brass bowls they used for spell work. All hollow, shiny corners waiting to be filled with magic, ringing out a spark.

There was a stirring low in his gut, heat tickling the base of his spine like breath. His dick was still half-hard in his slacks. Quentin spent a long moment thinking about touching himself. All curled up inside the warm little nest he’d made of Eliot’s cardigan. Eliot’s cardigan that still smelled like him, after they’d spent so long pressed and aching together. It would have been the easiest thing—shoving his hand down the front of his slacks, pulling himself all the way to the bottom. Eliot’s name dripping from his tongue all syrupy-smooth.

But—god. Just the thought of it left him reeling. All twisted up inside and slick with fever. Tonight, Quentin didn’t want his own hand. If he were going to have it at all—no. Tonight, he wanted Eliot. Eliot’s mouth and all its wet hot magic. Eliot’s hands and their deft, seeking fingers. He pictured how it might happen in his mind’s eyes so clearly: tottering down the hallway in the dim, finding Eliot’s room unlocked and unwarded. Just for him—an invitation. The way he’d open the doorway and slip inside that blinding dark. Feeling his way over to the bed by touch alone. And then, so swiftly—folded up in Eliot’s arms like a second skin. Hands and mouths and teeth all over.

Quentin rolled onto his back in a huff, forced himself to breathe. His head was all mixed up inside. Like someone had come along and shut off all the lights, rearranged the furniture under a blanket of dark. What he really needed, more than anything, was to get some fucking sleep. Time passed, an hour or more. He couldn’t be bothered to look at the clock. After a while, the wanting in his body dulled to a dim little flicker.

He’d only just started to doze when his bedroom door creaked open. Immediately, Quentin’s heart began to pound. And for a split second, before his sleepy-eyed gaze adjusted back to the world of the living, he thought—maybe. Just maybe—

It was Julia, of course. Because why would she ever bother to knock. Slipping inside and pressing the door shut firmly at her back. Her shoes seemed to click in time with Quentin’s pulse. Crossing the distance in a few quick strides. Like she’d been holding onto some wondrous secret, and here she was—ready to unload.

Quentin groaned and tossed an arm over his eyes. His heart was pounding so fast it made his stomach ache. “That’s a really bad habit, you know,” he said, voice coming out all husky and ruined. “How did you know I wasn’t, like—busy…”

Julia flopped down on the bed beside him, tugging Quentin’s arm away. “Well, luckily for us, you’re not.” She let that sit for a long moment, rolling onto her side, resting her head on the corner of Quentin’s pillow. “You’re just in bed. All by yourself. With your shoes on like a weirdo.”

Quentin frowned at her with his entire body. “Shouldn’t you be with Margo or something?”

“Well,” Julia said, one corner of her mouth curling up, “she passed out around orgasm number five, so—”

“Oh my god.” A sound puffed out of Quentin’s chest. Deep and resonant, like a sputtering engine. “Jules, are you—”

“Hey, you asked—”

“I did not ask about Margo’s orgasms—”

“You asked,” she repeated herself, a little louder this time. “And I answered.” She nudged him in the shoulder. “You know—for someone so into super freaky sex you sure are a prude.”

At once, Quentin flushed. Deep crimson heat sweeping down to his chest, painting the apples of his cheeks. “Did you really come in here to do this right now?”

“I mean—maybe a little?” A soft puff of laughter slipped out of her nose. “But mostly—” She nudged him in the side, maneuvering herself up under his arm, pressing herself all snuggly-close. Chin to his chest, gaze tipping upward. “I just wanted to see if you’re all right. After—you know…”

Quentin eyed her, heart stirring beneath the press of her hand. “I’m—” He tangled a hand in his hair, pushing all the breath from his lungs. “I don’t know.” His hand flopped down at his side, shockwave fluttering over the mattress. “He told me he loves me.”

“And?” Julia pinched her brows together. “You literally just told me he said he was in love with you. Like—yesterday.”

“Yeah, but he, like—” Quentin sighed with his entire chest. “He said the words out loud, Jules. He said I love you. No one’s—” He turned his eyes away, set them on the ring of light splashed across the ceiling. “No one’s ever said that to me before.”

“I tell you I love you all the time, dummy.”

“God, you know what I—” Quentin let his eyes slide shut, crimson flush steadily burning his face clean down to the bone. “Not in the way that he said it, Jules. Not—”

Julia was laughing. A silent rumble that spilled from her and into Quentin. “You really are the biggest sap I’ve ever known, Quentin Coldwater.”

Quentin’s eyes snapped open, his gaze tumbling down to Julia’s upturned face. “I don’t know why you ask me about things if you’re just going to give me shit right after.”

Julia huffed a breath out of her nose. “I’m not giving you shit,” she said. “Although I am… a little confused. As to why you’re not getting dicked down by lover man tonight.”

Quentin furrowed his brows at her intensely. “Don’t call him that,” he said, casting his eyes onto the ceiling, the halo of light radiating out from the center. “And just because we had a sorta-date doesn’t mean—”

“Speaking of,” Julia cut in, her voice a heady mix of cynicism and mock indifference. “Where’d he end up taking you anyway?”

Quentin’s belly twisted. For a moment, he swore he could see their canopy of night splashed across the ceiling. A hundred thousand winking stars—each of them carrying his name. “Surprised you didn’t see it,” he said. “The backyard looked like one of those nine-foot-tall Christmas trees your mom always used to put up.”

“Sorry,” Julia said, patting Quentin on the chest, drawing his gaze back down. “I was a little preoccupied.” Her mouth curled into a neat little bow, eyes sparking like mischievous gems. “With Margo’s orgasms.”

Quentin narrowed his eyes, worrying the soft flesh of his cheek between his teeth, only just barely suppressing a smile. “You’re a freak.”

Julia nudged him in the thigh with the bony jut of her knee. “Big talk coming from the guy who was getting freaky with his ex in Christmasland.”

“We didn’t—” Quentin huffed. “We just kissed.” White-hot flash of a memory—the thrill of Eliot pressing him back against the door. Hard line of his erection, soft curl of his clever tongue. “Stop looking at me like that.”

“I’ll stop looking at you like this when you start making sense,” she said, snuggling in a little closer, pressing her face right into his chest. “The way you were talking yesterday—it was like no question you guys were getting back together.”

“Yeah, well, like I said before—” Quentin wrapped his arm around her, letting his eyes slide shut. “I’m still thinking about it.”

After Julia had gone, Quentin hardly slept at all. Finally stripping out of his clothes, pulling Eliot’s cardigan back on over his t-shirt and boxers. He curled up under the covers and thought about Eliot’s hands and all the magic things they could do, drifting half in dreams until morning.

When the sun came up, Quentin stripped down again and took a shower and dressed in his own soft old sweater and a pair of well-worn jeans. He went to class and let Ancient Greek incantations roll from his tongue like rain on window glass. Just past noon, he and Julia had lunch, tucked into their own little corner of the dining hall. She talked and Quentin mostly listened, though he wasn’t really there at all. He was back in the hallway outside of his room, he was pressed back against his bedroom door. He was in Eliot’s hands, soaking love down into his bones like heat from a flame.

Their last class of the day was over by three. Quentin walked back into the Cottage feeling light and heavy all at once. Like an anvil made of feathers. Like a fist closing around its own soft, breakable skin.

A handful of Physical Kids were milling around the common room—none of them Eliot. Quentin had no time to be miserable about it. Suddenly—Margo was there. Popping in from around a corner, making a beeline for Quentin where he stood. Her face all pinched together, looking poised and ready to fight.

“You,” she said, poking one well-manicured finger into the center of Quentin’s humming chest, “are coming with me.”

No time to react. Margo took him by the arm, started hauling him away from the warmth of the common room. Quentin let it happen. Zipping into the dim corridor of the hall, the hair on the back of his neck stood on end. He felt like a lamb being towed to his own bloody doom.

Blur of color in Quentin’s periphery, speeding past like headlights on the interstate. Whipping around corners all topsy-turvy, unsteady on his feet as a newborn foal. Quentin was struck with the distinct feeling the Cottage had been plucked from its foundation, and everything was spinning apart. It took him a long moment to register that they’d come to a stop in the kitchen. Thick swell of his pulse hammering in his throat. Margo shoved him back against the island in the center, sharp edge of the countertop biting into the dip of Quentin’s back.

“Don’t break his heart.”

Margo was a mirage in Quentin’s vision, her dress swirled all around her hips like a violet in full bloom.

“Margo.” His voice sounded like it was coming from somewhere else. On the other side of a door he couldn’t reach. Hands curling themselves into tight little buds at his sides. “I’m not—”

“He thinks you’re getting back together,” she said, hands on hips, dark spray of her hair tumbling over one shoulder.

Quentin drew a breath, chest tight as a bowstring cradling an arrow. “Did he say—”

“He doesn’t have to say dick.” She considered Quentin with a tip of her head. All five-foot-nothing of her towering like a colossus. “I can read his face like a gossip rag.” She narrowed her eyes to dark little slits. Quentin felt them like a blade at his throat. “He has hope, Coldwater.”

Quentin's heart whipped around inside his chest. A hurricane leaving his body in ruins. “I never told him we were getting back together,” he said, voice coming out all thready and broken. “And I—I don’t owe him—”

“He won’t survive.” The words tumbled out of her with all the gentleness of a blow to the chest. “I’m not saying it because you owe him, Q.” She gave an easy little shrug of her shoulders. “I’m saying it because it’s the truth.”

Quentin let his eyes fall down to his shoes. Skittering over the jagged edge of a lace, white scuff on the worn black leather. “Maybe you should—” Right under his heart, a little thread of fear tugged loose, started to unspool. “Maybe you should focus on your own relationship, and I’ll—” He raised his eyes, steeling himself. “I’ll worry about mine.”

Anticipation, stark and acrid. Rising like bile in his throat. Margo was going to tear him apart. Unhinge the sharp set of her jaw and swallow Quentin whole. Waiting, worrying his bottom lip between his teeth, breath catching like hooks in his overworked lungs. Seconds passed. Margo’s eyes bore holes into him. And then—

The fury didn’t come.

Instead, she smiled, and it was devastating. Sad little quirk of her painted mouth that sent Quentin’s stomach plummeting to the floor. Spinning on her heels, she marched to the doorway, not sparing Quentin a single parting quip over her shoulder.

Bare feet padding softly, receding into silence. Margo was gone, and Quentin was alone.

He heaved all the air from his lungs. Heart knocking around inside his chest like it was trying to break itself apart. He rounded the island without registering the movement, collapsing down into a chair. Bony jut of his elbows pressed to the countertop, Quentin held his spinning head in his empty hands. And breathed.

Somehow, Quentin managed to avoid everyone on campus who knew him by name for the rest of the day. Sitting all alone in his room doing card tricks. Slumped at his desk under a blazing orb of magic light, pretending to study for his Horomancy exam. Trying to snatch at the thoughts that bobbed around his skull, half in shadow, each of them a smarting bruise.

He waited until the stars were out, and the Cottage was dark and quiet. He pushed back from his desk, extinguished the light with a snap of his fingers. He opened the door and stepped out into the hall. And stood there in the haunting dim. And walked to the stairway. And breathed. And listened.

He was pretty sure everyone else was sleeping. Quentin trudged downstairs, went to the kitchen, stood at the sink and downed a glass of water straight from the tap. He couldn’t think—he needed a smoke. Groping around inside his pockets and coming up empty as always.

Quentin padded back out into the hall, headed for the common room. Aching for the sweet pulse of nicotine pouring into his lungs. All that warm magic light beating over his head like rays of sun. Hardwood pressed beneath the arches of his bare feet. He scented the smoke on the air before he saw it.

Eliot was there. Because of course he was. Lounging on one of the sofas with his legs kicked up. All six-foot-everything of him like a blow to Quentin’s heart. Puffing away on a cigarette, half-obscured beyond white wisps of shadow, swimming in all that vellumy smoke.

Their eyes met. Eliot ashed his cigarette into the ashtray balanced on his knee, held it up like communion. An offering. A prayer.

Quentin stepped closer, and breathed it in, and let his mouth fall open. “I don’t want to be your friend.”

Eliot froze, cigarette chugging its smoke, trailing its gossamer tendrils up to the ceiling. “Okay,” he said at last, bringing the filter up to his mouth, wrapping his lips around it, and inhaling. “I’m happy to be your enemy if that’s what you want.” Exhalation, words breathing out in a nicotine fog.

“That’s not what I—” Quentin huffed all the breath from his lungs, and was moving. Suddenly and without thinking. Crossing the distance between their bodies in a few quick strides. “Give me that.”

He snatched the cigarette from between Eliot’s fingers, pressed it to his lips. Inhaled, exhaled. Eliot’s gaze flitting over him, warm as the palms of his two magic hands. Their fingers knocking together when Quentin passed the cigarette back, immediately wishing that he hadn’t. Nothing left to do with his hands now but worry them together, fingers knotting like thick braids of rope, all white-knuckled tension and jutting bone.

Eliot stubbed the cigarette out, sent the ashtray fluttering away with a flourish of his hand. Swinging his legs around, bare feet pressing to the floor. No thought—Quentin lowered his body down onto the sofa, curving inward. Knee knocking into Eliot’s, and his mouth falling open.

“I’m in love with you.”

The words plucked themselves from Quentin’s throat. An exorcism. Like something had been taken—inky dark spilling itself into the golden light.

“Q...” Eliot reached out with one of his big, elegant hands, pressed it to the slope of Quentin’s shoulder. “Sweetheart—”

“No, just—” Quentin brushed Eliot’s hand away. Voice quavering, chest tight. Thick knot of tension catching in his throat. Already, he was starting to lose his nerve. “Just let me say this. I just—I need to say—” Eliot flickered in his vision, tears sweeping over his eyes in a wavy curtain. “You deserve—” He didn’t know where the words were coming from. But here they were, pouring out. Brain like a handful of stones knocking around in his skull. “You deserve to hear it too.” One hooked hand curving over his knee, nails biting into the denim of his jeans. “You deserve to—to hear that I love you because—” He sucked a breath in through his nose, pushed it from between the O of his mouth. “Because it’s the truth.”

“Quentin.” Eliot’s hands trembled where they were cradled in his lap. For a long moment, Quentin couldn’t take his eyes from them. “Baby. You know you don’t have to—”

“I don’t care what I have to do.” The words came out through the hard set of Quentin’s teeth. Eyes tracking upward, locking onto Eliot’s gaze. “You’re—” A single radiant sob punched out of his throat. “You’re fucked up, Eliot.” He made a sound. It might have been laughter. Quentin couldn’t be sure. “I’m fucked up too.”

“Baby, no.” Eliot pressed forward, pressed his hands to Quentin’s face. “You’re not—”

“I am.” There was laughter now, it was certain, though Quentin could hardly breathe. “It doesn’t matter.” Torrent of tears spilling over from his eyes, tumbling down his cheeks. Eliot swiped them away. “This is what I feel.” Reaching out, hand catching in the front of Eliot’s shirt. “I—Eliot, I—” Swallowing around the stone in his throat, Quentin was laughing again. “I forgive you.”

Like a great gust of wind, suddenly Eliot was pressing forward, kissing Quentin on the mouth. Swallowing down the tears that splashed over his lips, swallowing down a strangled sound. Quentin could feel it moving through him—all that light. The way it poured from Eliot’s throat in a choking flood. His hands shaping themselves into fists around the collar of Eliot’s shirt. Tugging him nearer, Quentin pushed forward, half-crawling into Eliot’s lap.

“Q—” Whimper bubbling in his throat, Eliot broke the kiss, knocking their foreheads together. Breathing, breathing. “My love.” His big warm hands on the nape of Quentin’s neck, pushing heat clean down to the bone. “Are you sure?”

“Yes.” Quentin shifted, fully seating himself in Eliot’s lap, knees caging in the spread of his hips. “Yes.” He took Eliot’s face in his hands, and brought their mouths together. Pushing into the seam of Eliot’s lips with a greedy curl of his tongue. “I want—” Breaking the kiss, pushing forward again, pecking Eliot on the corner of his mouth. “El, I want…” Words dissipating from him like mist. “I want…”

“Darling.” Eliot’s hands tangled in Quentin’s hair. Drag of his fingers, like he was trying to pull Quentin apart. “Tell me what you want.”

Leaden-tongued, slipping away from himself. All at once, Quentin couldn’t speak. Parting his lips, a broken little whimper pouring out. He shook his head, throwing his arms around Eliot’s neck. Pressing his face into the collar of Eliot’s shirt, breathing him in.

“Oh, baby.” Eliot’s arms looping around Quentin’s waist, a perfect knot linking them together. “It’s all right.” Hands, fiery and strong, rubbing circles into the flesh of Quentin’s back through his sweater. “Just breathe. That’s it. I’ve got you.”

Quentin made a sound, partway between a moan and a sigh. Pulling back, his hands on Eliot’s neck. Pressing forward, tracing the ridge of Eliot’s bottom lip with his own. And kissing him. And pulling away. Trying to force the words to come.

“Hey.” Eliot’s hands, moving, soothing along the slope of Quentin’s neck. “Baby. Here. Try and sit back for me. Just like this.”

Quentin registered the next gasping seconds of his life in fits of light and color. Eliot was moving him, and Quentin allowed himself to be moved. Tumbling over onto the sofa, spinning around. Feet pressed flat against the floor. And Eliot, going down to his knees right there, settling in between the parting of Quentin’s thighs.

“Okay.” Eliot’s hands pressing forward, cupping Quentin’s face. “How about we start like this.” His thumbs, sweeping over the rise of Quentin’s cheeks. “Do you want me to be your dom?”

Quentin felt the question sweep right through him. Brilliant flare of light in the dark. He parted his mouth, words hovering there in the hollow of his throat. “Yes.” That single syllable, shattering out of him like a bullet. “But I don’t—” Dry rasp in his throat, Quentin swallowed, shook his head. Tumbling down into the depths of Eliot’s bright-eyed gaze. “I don’t want you to be just that.”

Eliot’s face—like something inside of him was cracking open. Pitching forward, his mouth ghosting over Quentin’s, tips of their noses slipping together. “Baby, I—” Dark tuft of a curl bobbing against his brow, tickling over Quentin’s face. “I want that too.”

There was something lingering there, in one shadow-dark corner of Quentin’s mind. It had been there, he thought, for ages. Hovering like an aura in his periphery. But now here it was, throwing open the door, hurdling itself out into the light. “Do you think we were meant to be together?” He breathed the words against Eliot’s mouth, their foreheads pressing together like hands. “Because—our magic, I mean. It’s—we’re… connected.”

Eliot’s hands slipped down to Quentin’s neck, cradled right against his hammering pulse. “I don’t know,” he said very quietly. “Baby—it doesn’t matter.”

Quentin nodded, shut his eyes, kissed Eliot on the mouth. Once, softly. “I have a busted brain.” The words came out of their own volition. Quentin hadn’t meant to say it. He took Eliot by the front of his shirt, thumb slipping against a button, like it was trying to claw its way in.

“Sweetheart.” Eliot kissed Quentin on the tip of his nose, the slope of his cheek. “I’ll take care of you.” He spoke the words the way a shadow lifts. “Darling, I—I want to try.” Sweeping a tuft of hair back from Quentin’s brow, peppering his skin with kisses. “If you’ll let me.”

Quentin swallowed, hand slipping upward, curving into the hollow of Eliot’s throat. “Yes.” It was all he could manage, the word choking out of him. “Yes.”

Eliot’s hands, it seemed for a moment, were everywhere. In Quentin’s hair, on his face, the nape of his neck. “Can I kiss you?”

That he would ask now, after everything, tugged something loose in Quentin’s belly. Unspooling itself in thick, needy tendrils, knotting itself at the base of his spine. “Yes,” he breathed. “Yes. Kiss me.”

Eliot was on him at once. Needy rumble in his throat. Flicker of tongue against the seam of Quentin’s parting lips until he opened. They crashed together—pawing hands and nipping teeth. Eliot half-crawling into Quentin’s lap, warm palms pressing up under the hem of his sweater. Fuck. Kick of desire between Quentin’s legs. His cock began to thicken, straining against the denim of his jeans.

They parted, suddenly. Leaving Quentin blurry, starved. Palm of Eliot’s hand splayed out over Quentin’s fluttering belly.

“Do you—” Eliot nuzzled into Quentin’s burning cheek. “Do you wanna come upstairs with me, pretty boy?”

Quentin groped at the back of Eliot’s shirt, nodded his head. Holding onto his voice by the skin of his teeth. “Please,” he whispered, knotting his greedy hands into fists. “El—El, please…”

Suddenly, Eliot was kissing Quentin again. Dark-throated sound slipping out of him. Quentin swallowed it whole, clutched it in his belly. Perimeter of his body hazy, Quentin started tugging at Eliot’s shirt, trying to untuck it from his slacks. Eager to get at all that blood-warm skin. Dizzying—the two of them nearly toppling over, crumbling apart right there on the sofa. Where anyone might walk in. Where anyone might see—

Eliot broke the kiss. “Q. Baby. Fuck—” He was laughing. Curve of his mouth a radiant blur. “Let me take you upstairs.” He kissed the corner of Quentin’s mouth. “Let me get you out of these clothes.”

Quentin made a sound—full-throated sob, teeth seeking out the slope of Eliot’s neck. But before he could latch on, Eliot pulled away. Stumbling to his feet and tugging Quentin right along with him. Quentin blinked. He was upright. His dick so hard it made his belly ache.

At once—he was up on his toes. Throwing his arms around Eliot’s neck. Kissing and kissing. Their middles all pressing together. Eliot’s hands went to Quentin’s ass, and squeezed.

Quentin reached down, between the tight press of their bodies, cupped Eliot’s hard cock through his slacks. A strangled sound poured from Eliot and into Quentin’s hungry mouth. In the palm of Quentin’s hand, Eliot seemed to pulse.

Eliot took Quentin by the throat, broke the kiss. “Baby—Q—” He was laughing, thumb fluttering over the point of Quentin’s pulse. “Come on, let me—let me take you upstairs.” His hand skirting around, gripping Quentin by the nape. “I wanna do this right.”

Quentin almost wanted to laugh. Right was anywhere. Right there, right then. Quentin didn’t care who saw. Still—he let Eliot lead him away in a flurry of air and color. The two of them stumbling from the common room with their fingers all tangled together. Tottering onto the stairs, and up. Down the hall to Quentin’s room. Fumbling with the doorknob and pressing inside.

Door slamming shut—someone clicked on the light. All fuzzy-headed and sideways, Quentin couldn’t be sure if it had been Eliot’s hand or his own. They were kissing again. Tangle of their legs moving them over to the bed, where Eliot took Quentin by the shoulders, and shoved. Falling down onto his back in a daze, Quentin reached out with two hungry hands.

Eliot was on him at once, pressing all against Quentin from hip-to-shoulder. Snarl of their legs tumbling down over the side of the bed. Eliot’s mouth on Quentin’s neck, sucking a bruise. Starry-eyed and sinking, constellations etched themselves in brilliant whorls against the faraway ceiling. Quentin felt it like two hands pulling him under. All that quiet, limbs like lead, honey-dark in the way it soothed.

Cresting like the tip of a wave, a thought began to form. Deep in one murky corner of Quentin’s hazy mind. He grasped at it with both hands, tugged it out into the light. Taking Eliot by the shoulders, and shoving, hard. Gasping, chest-heaving—

Stop.

Eliot’s black-washed eyes swallowed up his face. He brushed a tangle of sweat-damp curls away from his brow, cupped Quentin’s burning face. “Baby.” He drew a breath, mouth shaping itself into a frown. “Did I hurt you?”

Quentin swallowed, shook his head. Wrenching the words up out of his belly. “No,” he said, flat of his palm pressing to Eliot’s chest over his shirt. “No, just—” He gulped down one breath, and then another. “I just need—I need to—”

Eyes flitting to the nightstand, catching on the bracelet. Glint of the silver snap, brassy spark in the overhead light. He opened his mouth to say the words, but Eliot was pulling away so quickly. Taking Quentin by the hands, helping him upright. Quentin had to grip the edge of the mattress to keep from tumbling over.

Eliot went down to the floor, knobby knees pressed to hardwood, settling between the spread of Quentin’s thighs. “My love.” He took both of Quentin’s hands in both of his, pressing a kiss to each one. “Tell me what you need. Anything, baby. Anything—”

“I want you to—” Heart slamming against his ribcage, Quentin drew a breath. “To put it on me.”

Eliot reached up with one hand, thumbed at Quentin’s cheek. “Put what on you, sweetheart?”

Across the distance, the bracelet seemed to hum. Quentin reached for it, wrapped it in his fist. Leather warming the moment it made contact with so much fiery skin. “This,” Quentin said, fingers splaying outward. Stark black band coiled neatly in the center of his palm.

“Oh,” Eliot said, the word breathing out. “Oh.” He wasn’t looking at Quentin. He was looking at his own name. Etched inside the band of leather like something whispered in the dark. “Baby—” Pinching the bracelet between his fingers, and lifting it. Holding it up to the light. “Are you sure?”

Their eyes met. Quentin nodded his head, parted his lips. “This—” Slick palms curled around the curves of his own knees, Quentin held on, and willed the words to come. “This is what I choose.” Reaching across his own body with one arm, rucking up the sleeve of the other. Presenting his pale wrist, veins like blue roots cutting down the center. “Maybe we’re connected or—whatever. Our magic. But you’re right, it—” He shook his head. “It doesn’t matter.” Gaze flitting between his wrist, and Eliot, and the band of leather. “Because I’m—I’m choosing this. I want—” He reached out with one hand, touched Eliot on his blazing cheek, wet with tears. “I want to be yours.”

Beneath the cupped palm of Quentin’s hand, Eliot trembled. Clutching the bracelet like it was the only thing keeping him from blowing apart. “This, um—” Eliot reached forward, fingers skittering over the flesh of Quentin’s wrist. Quentin pulled his hand from Eliot’s face, gripped the edge of the mattress. “Baby.” Damp eyes flitting up to Quentin’s face. “This is all for you.” Circling Quentin’s wrist with his fingers, bringing it forward, lips pressing right to the point of his pulse. “I belong to you.” Another kiss. Blunt, teasing drag of his teeth in its wake. Lifting the bracelet, stark black leather glinting in the light. “I’m yours.”

Band of leather looped around his wrist, and snapped shut. It felt, for a moment, like Quentin was slipping into his very own skin. Like all this time he’d been vapor, and here he was—being made flesh. Being made into the shape of a person. And life, breathing into him.

Eliot kissed the space just above where the bracelet had been snapped together, pressing another into the center of Quentin’s palm. “My boy.” Eliot’s eyes tracked upward, meeting Quentin’s gaze. “How’s that feel?”

Quentin let his eyes settle over that cutting dark line, that perfect circle. The space where he was all stitched up tight. “Feels—” There were no words. How could there ever be words for this? Quentin took two fingers, touched them to the leather. “Really good.”

Eliot reached up. Open cradle of his palm pressing to Quentin’s cheek. “Really good is…” His soft, pretty mouth curling up in a smile. “Really good.”

Head tipping to one side, Quentin nuzzled into Eliot’s hand. “I wanna…” For a moment, losing himself. A wanting, low in his gut, unspooling in thick, hot tendrils before he’d even said the words. “I wanna have sex.”

Pushing forward, both of his hands now on Quentin’s face, Eliot nodded his head. “Me too.” Something like a laugh sputtered out of him. “Oh, baby—” Lunging up from the floor, all but crawling into Quentin’s lap, Eliot ghosted their mouths together, hot and dark. “My love.” Hands in Quentin’s hair, stoking the fire, letting it burn. “I wanna fuck you until the sun comes up.”

Quentin felt Eliot’s words like a hand sweeping over his heart. “And I want—” His hand curled against the front of Eliot’s shirt, made a fist. “I want it like it was before. No—no magic. Just, you know…”

Eliot hummed, faintest hint of a smile playing on his lips. “I see,” he said, kissing the corner of Quentin’s mouth. “You want daddy to take his time with you, hm?”

Little whimper in his throat, Quentin nuzzled their noses together. “Yes.”

God—Eliot was devastating, well and truly. In every possible way. Long, lean line of his body pressing in, in. Nearly pushing Quentin clean down onto his back, cradling the slope of his neck just so. “Okay, so…” Hot wet mouth on Quentin’s, barest hint of a kiss. “How about…” Drag of his teeth over the swell of Quentin’s bottom lip. “You go get nice and clean for me. Just the way you used to, hm?” His hands, for a moment, circling Quentin’s neck. Thumbs playing over Quentin’s airway, but not pressing in. “And when you’re finished…” Gaze sweeping down, down. Over the hard line of Quentin’s dick tenting the front of his jeans. He made a sound, deep-throated and dark. “Come meet me in my room.”

For a moment, Quentin went all slack-limbed and loose. Needy sound bubbling in his throat, Eliot licked past the seam of his lips, and Quentin opened. Deep and languid—god. Quentin wanted Eliot to pull him apart. Slowly, slowly. Quentin’s hands went to Eliot’s back, flat of his palms gliding smooth over all that shifting muscle. Heat of him seeping through the fabric of his shirt.

And then all at once, they broke apart. Eliot tottered backward, leaving Quentin dizzy, hands reaching forward, desperate, seeking. Eliot took them, palms clasping, helped Quentin stagger to his feet.

Eliot swept a tuft of hair away, kissed Quentin on the brow. Fingers looped together, they didn’t speak. Eliot led Quentin to the doorway and they stepped out into the hall.

Dazed, Quentin walked. One foot in front of the other until they stopped outside the bathroom door. And Eliot turned to him, tangle of his fingers in Quentin’s hair. They kissed, and Quentin put his hands on Eliot’s neck, and felt the hammer of his pulse.

“Take your time,” Eliot said, very softly, when they parted, hands lingering on the slope of Quentin’s neck, his shoulders. “We have—” Soft puff of laughter from his nose. “So much time. All night…”

He kissed Quentin once more, softly, and pulled away. Padding down the hallway to his room, and opening the door, and pressing himself inside. For a long moment after he’d gone, Quentin could only stand there in a daze, touching his lips, touching the leather on his wrist. And breathing, smelling Eliot on his clothes. Seeping down into his skin like perfume.

Heart pounding, pounding—Quentin stepped into the bathroom, clicked on the light, and shut the door.

Quentin stood at the bathroom sink, swiped a hand over the mirror. Reflection coming into focus beyond the damp trail his palm had left in the steamed-over glass. Skin all pink and supple—Quentin was cleaner than he thought he’d ever been. Ready for anything. Ready for Eliot. Ready for the night to just stretch on and on.

He looked like someone different, someone he had never seen before. Like decades of grime had been washed from his skin, left to whirl down the drain at his feet. Pulse an off-kilter drumming in his throat. Dick already stirring, pressing all against the fluffy white towel he had looped around his hips. He touched the bracelet, worrying his thumb over the leather, and turned away from the wavy image of his own reflection, headed for the door.

Damp hair tickling the slope of his neck, he padded down the hall. Opening the door to Eliot’s room, and stepping inside. Clicking it shut at his back.

Shocking flood of dark, and a million pinpoint lights cutting through it. Quentin pressed himself back against the door, gave his eyes a moment to adjust. Gaze flitting upward, half expecting to see a mirror bouncing back the sight of Eliot sprawled out on the bed.

There was a bottle of lube on the nightstand. Quentin let his eyes dance over it for one hard instant, and a shiver tickled through him. He pushed away from the door, tugging the towel loose from his hips, letting it tumble to the floor. Soft rustle as it pooled around his feet, fixing Eliot with his hungry-eyed gaze.

“Hey.” Eliot was lying on his side without any clothes on. His beautiful cock curved and soft against his thigh. “There you are.”

Quentin stepped closer, heart rocketing up into his throat. “Here I am.”

Eliot pushed himself up onto his elbows, started to move. Perching on the edge of the bed, long legs tumbling down, feet pressing flat to the floor. Hands finding Quentin’s skin the moment he was close enough to touch. “Hi.” The word only just barely breathed out of him. Warm cups of his palms skimming over the curve of Quentin’s ass, face tipping upward. “Baby. Come here. Come closer.”

Tangling together, Quentin straddled Eliot’s lap. Hard, leaking cock pressing all against the line of Eliot’s torso. God—Quentin could have come right there, right then. Just from this. From the way Eliot’s mouth found his throat, and opened. Sucking a kiss right over the point of Quentin’s pulse. Arms snaking around, drawing him nearer.

Quentin looped his arms around Eliot’s neck, pressed a kiss into his hair. Pulled back, touched his face. This close—Eliot’s eyes were red-rimmed and puffy, his cheeks flushed a deep shade of scarlet. Like he’d been sobbing for hours, for days.

“Darling,” Eliot said, voice tender, small, shattered. Hands settling against the dip of Quentin’s back, palms singing like embers. “Can I ask you something?”

Stomach twisting itself into a tight little fist, Quentin nodded his head, waited for Eliot to continue.

“Do you—” He drew a deep, shuddering breath and pushed it out. Fresh swell of tears quivering in his eyes, their color swallowed up in black. “Do you really forgive me?”

Quentin swept a curl back from Eliot’s brow, lips trailing in the wake of his fingers. Pulling back, cupping Eliot’s face. “Yes,” he said, clutching at his voice, desperate to keep hold for just a moment longer. Biting at the inside of his cheek to keep himself from sobbing. “El, I—god, yes. Yes…”

A broken sound pushed out of Eliot’s throat. Something feral, hungry, starved. Little nod of his head, he pushed forward, stealing Quentin’s mouth in a fleeting kiss. All seeking tongues and scraping teeth. “Baby—” He breathed, breaking the kiss, drawing their middles tightly together. “God, your cock is so hard.” He laughed against the curve of Quentin’s neck. “You want it so bad, don’t you?”

Quentin sucked in a breath, made a sound. Thready little whimper unspooling from his center. He pressed nearer, spread of his thighs going wide. Eliot’s cock all pressed against his, thick head of it leaking. It pulsed, velvet glide of pre-come making everything so slippery-smooth.

“I wanna give it to you,” Eliot said, two of his long, deft fingers pressing to the seam of Quentin’s lips. “Here. Get these wet for me.” Fingers pushing in, in. “I’m gonna make it so good for you tonight, sweet boy.”

Quentin moaned, and sucked, vibrating from somewhere deep, like a string that had been strummed. Eliot’s fingers came out dripping. All slick and warm and honey-smooth when he pressed the tips to Quentin’s fluttering hole.

Quentin gasped. Eliot’s mouth was on his neck at once. Drag of tongue and the blunt edges of his teeth mapping out a trail. And he was smiling. Quentin could feel it. Gentle curve of it pressed against the slope of his shoulder.

“Oh,” Eliot said, the sound of it all air. “Oh, baby. You love that, don’t you?” Tips of his fingers drawing circles, slicking Quentin’s rim all over. “You love it when daddy plays with your pretty pink hole.”

Quentin shuddered his response, locking Eliot in the circle of his arms. Going up on the points of his knees, face pressing into Eliot’s sweat-damp hair. Eliot pressed the pad of one finger in, just a little. Just enough for Quentin to feel it. Teasing and slick all along the expanse of those electric, humming nerves.

“Feels so good, doesn’t it?” Fingertips licking over Quentin’s entrance, like the slick, pointed tip of a tongue. Eliot hummed. “God, baby, I can’t wait to eat you out.” Pads of his fingers tapping, gently. Once, twice. “I’m gonna tongue fuck you until you’re sobbing.” Pushing in with the velvety tips, and retreating. Smiling against the curve of Quentin’s neck when he moaned. “And then do you know what I’m gonna do, baby, hm?”

In the tangle of Eliot’s hair, Quentin’s hands shaped themselves into fists, and tugged. Hot surge of pleasure clawing at the base of his spine, drawing his balls up tight.

“I’m gonna fuck you open with these,” Eliot said, tips of his fingers pushing in again, and stilling. Quentin’s spit-slick rim fluttered around them. “Get this greedy hole all nice and sloppy.” Fleeting, open-mouthed kiss to Quentin’s shoulder. “Daddy’s gonna make you gape so pretty.”

Between the press of their bodies, Quentin’s dick began to pulse. The first shining hints of orgasm suddenly moving through him. Jesus fucking—Quentin sobbed, fingertips dragging over Eliot’s fiery scalp. Mouth falling open. Deep, bubbling sound pouring out of his throat. Come spurted against their bellies, just a little, and Eliot pulled his fingers free. Pulling back at once, taking Quentin’s face in his hands.

“Oh my god, Q, did you—” Eliot tipped his gaze down, and Quentin followed. His dick was still so hard he felt the ache of it in his temples, in his teeth. “Baby. Fuck—” He let the word purr right out of him, chest dappled with shining little pearls of Quentin’s come. “Okay. Hey—come on. Come here, sweetheart. I want you to lie down for me.”

Quentin hardly had time to react. Suddenly, Eliot was flipping him over, depositing his body all sideways onto the bed. Pulling away, tottering to his feet. Fairy lights dripping like falling stars. Quentin’s whole body like the flaring tip of a sparkler, jumping out into the night.

Eliot crawled up onto the bed, hands on Quentin everywhere. Positioning the tidy column of his body in the center. Quentin’s dick pressed against his navel, bruising crimson, beating to the rhythm of his pulse. Shiny bead of come quivering at the tip. It made his belly ache just to see it. Hands curving against the silky glide of Eliot’s sheets, fingers shaping themselves into claws.

Eliot took a pillow, shoved it up under Quentin’s hips. Quentin’s knees tipped back like a doorway spilling open. Bony curves of them pushing up, and in, bracketing his chest. And there, between the deep V that had been made of Quentin’s body, Eliot kneeled. One hand fluttering down the length of Quentin’s thigh.

“Oh, baby, I have…” Eliot tipped forward, bowing his body in two. Pressing his lips to the curve of Quentin’s ass, and gazing upward. “I have missed this.” Nosing over to the center, pressing a kiss back behind Quentin’s balls. “Worshipping this pretty little body…”

Quentin made a shattered sound, reaching between the spread of his legs, pawing at Eliot’s hair.

Eliot’s mouth curved upward, eyes twin pools of dark. “Look at you,” he purred, mouth shaping itself into a pretty pink circle, breath ghosting over Quentin’s over-sensitive rim. “Spread so wide open for me.”

Sharp, keening sound ripping out of Quentin’s throat. His cock jumped against his belly, leaking heartlines all the way up to his chest.

On hands and knees, Eliot tipped forward, let the curling tip of his tongue tease over Quentin’s hole. Once, fleeting. “Baby, why don’t you let me show you—” Broad swipe of his tongue, slow and aching, reaching all the way up to Quentin’s balls. And back again. Tracing circles over his spit-slicked entrance. “Let me show you…” Open-mouthed kiss, little rumble in his throat. “Just how much…” Turning his face inward, nuzzling against the flesh of Quentin’s thigh, their eyes meeting in the golden dim. “Just how much I love you.”

Quentin opened his mouth to speak—to sob, to beg—but his voice had been plucked away. He didn’t fight it. Glorious weight of that quiet place closing around him like so much comforting dark. Eliot had him. Quentin felt his body tumbling down, down…

Eliot sealed his mouth around Quentin’s rim, and sucked. Flicker of his tongue like the jumping tip of a flame. Sharp bite of pleasure as he fucked in with the length of it, and retreated. His hands on Quentin’s ass, spreading him apart, pushing deeper, deeper. Quentin let his body go slack, fixing his gaze on the ceiling. Pinpoint lights overhead spinning themselves apart like a million glittering shards of glass.

Eliot pulled back, kissed Quentin on the curve of his ass. “I think,” he said, voice a husky rumble in his throat, “I love this more than I’ve ever loved anything.” He nuzzled against the strip of skin behind Quentin’s balls. Pressed his mouth to the center of Quentin’s quivering hole. “Taking you apart.” Lavishing Quentin’s entrance with a deep, open-mouthed kiss that made his whole body purr like an engine. “Hearing you make those pretty little sounds.”

Quentin’s fingers looped around Eliot’s curls. Knees tucking back against his chest until he burned. Spreading himself wider, tugging Eliot close. Slick sounds of Eliot’s tongue working over Quentin’s rim filled the room like notes in a song. Swelling orchestral din. Heavy as a sinking stone, Quentin sobbed. Thick, grunting animal sounds punching out of his chest as Eliot lavished his hole. Over and over. Until the stars overhead started to flicker. Aching cock jumping against his belly, balls bunching themselves up tight as a fist.

All at once, Eliot stopped, pulled back, leaving Quentin dripping. Sitting back on his heels, wild tendrils of his curls whorled around his head in a messy halo. Pale skin gleaming beneath the light of their stars. That dark-eyed stare, the set of his shoulders. Quentin could see it, even in the dim. The way he’d sunk down into that quiet place of his own. The one where there could be only this. Total focus. Languid flick of his wrist as his hand moved over his dick, once. Sharp puff of air from his nose.

Eliot lifted two of his fingers, pressed them to the seam of his lips, and took them inside. Pulling them free with a slick pop, holding them up to the light. They shimmered. Bottom lip drawn between his teeth, he pressed them to Quentin’s rim. Massaging tight little circles with the tips, drawing a sob from Quentin’s throat.

Eyes drifting up to Quentin’s face, Eliot’s mouth shaped itself into a smile. Tips of his fingers pushing in, Quentin felt his body open. The glide of it velvet-smooth for one fleeting instant.

Eliot pulled his fingers free, and Quentin whimpered. Gripping the backs of his own thighs, spreading himself impossibly wider. Knees nearly brushing the curves of his ears.

“Oh, baby,” Eliot purred, soothing one hand down the back of Quentin’s thigh before lifting it, palm open, reaching out. “Don’t you worry.” The bottle of lube on the nightstand fluttered over, and Eliot wrapped it in his fingers. “Daddy’s gonna get you nice and slippery.”

Eliot popped the cap on the lube, slicking Quentin with a generous stream, tossing the bottle down onto the bed.

There was nothing but this: two points of light reaching in the dark. Tips of Eliot’s fingers pressing forward, pressing in. Quentin locked his eyes on Eliot’s slack-jawed face. Pleasure flaring all along the column of his spine, sticky-sweet glide of skin-on-skin. Eliot thrust the tips of his fingers in, and stilled. Palm of his free hand soothing over Quentin’s torso, pointedly avoiding the aching line of his dick.

“God, baby, you are—” Eliot pushed his fingers in, in. And pulled back. And teased over Quentin’s entrance, mapping patterns with the tips. “You are so close already, aren’t you?” Thrusting forward, spearing Quentin in two. Sound bubbling in his throat that might have been laughter. Quentin could hardly make it out over the rushing of blood in his ears. “I can feel it.”

The clenching fist of Quentin’s body quivered. The top of his skull, the soles of his feet. Quentin felt it everywhere.

“Go on, baby.” Eliot took Quentin’s cock in hand. Fingers slipping from his body, thrusting in. “Blow your load for me. All the way this time.” Hands working in tandem now. Two relentless, torturous machines. “Don’t worry.” Crooking the lengths of his fingers just so, kissing Quentin from the inside as he stroked. “I know you can get it up again, sweetheart. I’m not nearly finished with you yet.”

Wet, rasping sound in his throat. Hands grasping at anything, anything—Eliot, the bedsheets, Quentin’s own damp hair. Quentin was coming before he’d even registered Eliot’s words. Spurting all the way up to his chest, his collarbone. One shiny pearl catching him on the chin, streaked across his neck like brushstrokes. All the while, Eliot’s fingers fucking in to the hilt, spearing Quentin clean in two. Warm, tight sleeve of his fist working Quentin’s cock in perfect harmony. Twist of his wrist, thumb fluttering over the slit, gathering up spatters of come and slicking Quentin all the way down to his balls.

And then, all at once, Eliot pulled his hands away. Quentin felt it like a death. Through the fuzzed-over windows of his eyes, Quentin watched the stars fall. Image of Eliot coming through like he’d slipped beyond a sheet of rain-slick glass. The pillow was being tugged out from underneath Quentin’s hips, body unfurling like a hand releasing its hold.

Eliot was touching him, touching him. Maneuvering Quentin’s slack, sated body up to sit, and tumble forward, face pressed into Eliot’s chest, hot mouth tracing the ridge of his collarbone.

“Baby—baby, hey.” Eliot took Quentin by the nape, tugged him back, soothed a hand over his hair. “Here—”

A bottle of water was being pressed to Quentin’s lips, and he drank. And drank. Cool rivulets tumbling from his lips to his chin, tracking down to his neck, his chest. Quentin downed half the bottle in a few quick gulps before Eliot pulled it away, and set it aside. And pulled him forward, into the circle of his arms, their middles slipping together. Quentin’s filthy, come-slick chest. Eliot’s cock rigid and pulsing. Quentin’s softening, over-sensitive and drooping down against his thigh.

Eliot soothed a hand along Quentin’s nape, muttering love into his hair. Quentin’s arms looped around Eliot’s middle, holding him close. Fingers pressing into the fiery flesh of his back, tracking up to his shoulders.

“That’s my perfect boy,” Eliot purred, hands going to Quentin’s face, mouth pressing against his fevered brow. “How about…” He nuzzled their noses together. “How about you lie down for me, hm? On your side.” He kissed Quentin on the lips, fleeting flicker of his tongue. “Let me hold you.”

Loose-limbed and dazed, Quentin tumbled down. With a little help from Eliot’s hands, he curved onto his side, cradling his head into a pillow. Eliot settled in behind him, their bodies all nestling together. Fitting against one another like smooth-rimmed pieces of a puzzle. Eliot nosed all along the slope of Quentin’s neck, up into his hair. Hard press of his dick against the dip of Quentin’s lower back. One arm snaking around, drawing him close. Back-to-chest and perfectly flush.

Eliot nipped at Quentin’s shoulder. “Oh, my love,” he purred, flat of his palm pressed right over Quentin’s drumming heart. “You want daddy to fuck you, hm?”

Quentin pushed a whimper from his throat, covering Eliot’s hand with his own. Threading their fingers together, and squeezing. Pressing back against the hard jut of Eliot’s erection, silky-smooth glide of pre-come leaking at the tip.

Against the curve of Quentin’s neck, Eliot’s lips parted. Tongue flicking out. Warm, wet open-mouthed kiss. Blunt edges of his teeth sinking in, sucking the flesh in between until Quentin’s eyes started throwing sparks.

“Fuck—baby…” Eliot pulled his hand free from Quentin’s hold. Palm slinking down Quentin’s torso. Slowly, slowly. Wrapping around Quentin’s soft cock, holding it gently. “You know, we can just lie here if you’re not ready.”

Quentin whined, a sound pulled from deep inside the cavern of his belly. Reaching back, touching Eliot on the arm, the hip, the ass. Anywhere he could reach. Begging—pleading—to be filled. To be made full.

Eliot hummed, nuzzling against the bruise he’d painted. Thumbing a bead of pre-come from Quentin’s slit. “Oh—” The sound breathed right out of him. There in Eliot’s hand, Quentin’s cock began to fill. “There he is.”

Quentin screwed his eyes up tight. Stars dancing in all that watery black. He whimpered, tipping his head at a sharp angle, exposing the line of his neck, starved for Eliot’s teeth.

“Patience, my love,” Eliot said very softly, pulling his hand away for one terrible instant. “Daddy’s going to give you everything you need.”

At Quentin’s back, a rustling. The sound of the bottle of lube being popped open. Eliot’s fingers between the cleft of Quentin’s cheeks, slicking him until he was dripping. A thud as he tossed the bottle away.

Gently, Eliot nudged Quentin in the thigh. “Push your legs up for me, sweetheart,” he said, snuggling in a little closer. “Yes. Just like that. That’s perfect.”

Quentin tucked his knees up to his belly, felt his body open, open…

Sharp intake of breath—a gasping, needy sound plucking out of Quentin’s throat. The thick, slippery head of Eliot’s cock was licking over Quentin’s entrance.

“God—” Eliot was practically growling, one arm slipping up under Quentin’s neck, draping down over his shoulder, locked across his chest. “Baby…” Eliot angled his hips just so. Head of his cock teasing, teasing. “Now that I’ve got you all nice and wet.” Mouthing at the slope of Quentin’s shoulder. “Bet I’m gonna just…” Pushing forward just a little, making Quentin bloom all slippery-smooth. “Slip right in.”

A sob punched out of Quentin’s chest. He held his breath, pushed his face into the pillow.

Eliot held his body still, soothed the flat of his palm over Quentin’s hip. “Just breathe, baby. I’ve got you.” Mouth parting, teeth sinking in. Eliot sucked, working Quentin’s flesh into a thrumming bruise. “That’s it,” he hummed, voice dripping, oil-thick. “Think you can take a little more?”

Eliot snapped his hips, sinking in another inch. Pulling back, mouth on Quentin’s neck, working up a rhythm. Quentin’s body folding in on itself like the tight little bud of a flower. All corners and sloping edges. Pleasure coiling tightly at the base of his spine, spreading outward. Coursing in his veins like fever.

It happened very quickly after that. Quentin experienced it all in gasps and flashes. Eliot started driving into him, babbling nonsense into Quentin’s hair, his neck, his shoulder. Fingers slipping where they were curving over Quentin’s hip. It seemed like an impossible thing, that they could be teetering on the edge already. And yet they were, right there, together. Shattering apart, tumbling over. Slipping into that blinding, animal dark.

A thread tugging low inside him, and everything unwinding. Quentin’s body flushed with heat. Eliot’s teeth and the blunt points of his fingers cutting into Quentin’s skin. Behind the blue-black of his eyelids, flowers bloomed. Between his legs, his cock began to quiver and spurt. Eliot muttered something. Quentin didn’t hear it. They were rocking together, trembling. Feral sounds ripping out of their throats. Quentin could feel it—Eliot was coming too. His cock brushing against that spot inside of Quentin that made everything drip like honey from a spoon.

When they were both spent and sated, they sank together, their bodies a sweat-soaked, muddled heap on the bed. Quentin’s head was in the clouds, a million miles underwater. The pillow he pressed his face into was soaked clean-through with tears. That blank and comforting void folding in around them like dusk, blossoming on the air like morning.

Eliot’s soft cock slipped from Quentin’s body, and he snuggled closer. Muttering love into Quentin’s blush-dappled skin. Soft cadence of his voice a balm, the sweetest music. Lilt of it ushering Quentin at once into the shapeless fold of blackout sleep.

Quentin woke to rays of golden sunlight sweeping over his face like the hand of a lover. He stirred, every muscle in his body shimmering with a well-fucked ache. Bundled up under their nest of covers, shell of his ear pressed right against Eliot’s warm, thumping chest. Their bodies clasped together all supple and loose.

Flashes of their night together stirred in Quentin’s memory. In the dark, the way they woke and found each other. Collapsing at the end of their pleasure, tumbling into the half-life of dreams. Waking some time later to start all over again. Eliot’s fingers and his teeth, shapes and patterns marked all along the ridges of Quentin’s bones. All those well-worn paths waking up and remembering what they’d been before.

Quentin drew a breath, lifting his gaze. Catching with his own sleep-heavy eyes the exact moment Eliot roused from his dreams. Long, dark lashes fluttering over the slopes of his cheeks, pale skin golden in the morning light.

Slowly, the corners of Eliot’s mouth curved up. “Morning.” The word puffed out of him, soft as breath. “What time is it?”

Quentin smiled up at him, eyes narrowing into drowsy little slits. “Early,” he said. “Late. Non-existent?”

Eliot leaned down, pressed his lips to Quentin’s brow. “Right,” he said with an easy little sigh. “Of course.”

“I mean—” Shit. Quentin was suddenly laughing. “I probably should be in class, like… right now.”

Eliot hummed, lashes dancing as his eyelids fluttered shut. “Such a naughty boy,” he said, a sleepy smile softening his face. “What are we ever going to do with you?”

Quentin pressed closer, one cupped hand trailing along the dip of Eliot’s waist. “I don’t know,” he said, body responding at once to the shapeless promise of Eliot’s voice. “But I think I, um—” He huffed a little laugh from his nose. “I think I might have a few ideas.”

He rolled half on top of Eliot, craned his neck upward, kissed him on the mouth. Eliot’s hands went to the dip of Quentin’s back, trailing down the ridge of his spine, making a beeline for the swell of his ass. He squeezed, and Quentin’s skin lit up. Dark sound pushing up from his belly, tumbling into Eliot’s parted mouth. Like magic, Quentin’s cock began to thicken where it was pressed against Eliot’s hip.

“Baby.” Eliot broke the kiss, laughing against the corner of Quentin’s mouth. “As much as I, um—” He gasped when Quentin wrapped a hand around the shaft of his half-hard dick. “I really love the idea of going for round four—five—whatever with you right now—”

“Then just shut up and let’s do this,” Quentin said, straddling Eliot’s hips. Hungry edges of his teeth nipping at the line of Eliot’s jaw. “It’s kind of bullshit I didn’t get to suck your dick last night during round… whatever.”

Quentin could hardly believe the ease with which his own voice was coming out of him, the surety he felt. Chest so light it was a wonder he didn’t up and float away.

Airy sound of pleasure falling from Eliot’s mouth. For a moment, he let Quentin do as he pleased. Sucking kisses into the hollow of his throat. Mapping his journey down to the rise of Eliot’s collarbone, teeth grazing over the drumming of his heart. Nuzzling into that heavenly smattering of chest hair, breathing in deep. Finding a nipple and plucking it between the press of his teeth.

Eliot’s hand found the nape of Quentin’s neck, and tugged. “Sweetheart.” His voice was wrecked. All sleep-heavy and threaded through with lust. Their eyes met. Eliot’s so glassy-dark it was like gazing into pure black shadow. “There’s something I wanna show you.”

Quentin couldn’t help the whine that bubbled up in his throat. “That sounds like—” He drew a breath, struggling to keep hold of his voice. “Like it’s going to involve getting out of bed.”

Eliot hummed, stroking one big, warm hand over the sleep-tangled mess of Quentin’s hair. “If I say it’s going to be worth it would you believe me?”

Quentin knocked his head against Eliot’s shoulder. “Depends,” he mumbled, dragging his mouth right over the point of Eliot’s pulse. “Are you going to let me blow you after?”

A silent fit of laughter rumbled in Eliot’s chest. Quentin felt it moving through him like a shifting in the earth. “I’ll let you do anything you want, baby,” he said, both of his fiery hands soothing circles into Quentin’s back. “After. Come on. I’ll make you a cup of pour-over with the beans I swiped from Hoberman.”

Quentin fixed Eliot with his gaze, pinching his brows together. “Is beans code for drugs?”

“Very possibly yes,” Eliot said, mouth curling up in the corners, softening his face and eyes. “At the very least a cup of coffee so good you might forget about blowing me for a minute or two.”

A tugging low in Quentin’s gut made his mind go all fuzzy. “I guess I’ll, um—” He drew a breath and pushed it out. “I’ll believe it when I taste it.”

Quentin kissed Eliot on the mouth. Couldn’t resist it. Deep and slow, little flicker of his tongue darting out and dancing along the seam of Eliot’s lips. With great effort, he forced himself to break the kiss, and pull away. Slowly, they parted. Lingering hands and wandering gazes. Flipping the covers back and stumbling to their feet. Eliot cast a few cleaning spells on the sheets and on both of their bodies for good measure.

Quentin shivered as he bounced around looking for his clothes. Sighing with his entire chest the moment he remembered where he’d left them: in a tangled heap on the bathroom floor down the hall. He gazed down at the towel, discarded like a shed skin near the door, and frowned.

Eliot already had his underwear pulled on. “Here, sweetheart,” he said, rushing to the closet. Tugging a floor-length wine-dark robe from inside, draping it over Quentin’s shoulders. “Can’t very well have you traipsing around cock-out this early in the morning for all to see, can we?”

A gentle blush tickled over Quentin’s cheeks. “I was gonna use the towel,” he said, arms slipping into the sleeves. “So my cock wouldn’t really be—” Eliot was grinning with his whole face, and Quentin’s blush deepened, blazing scarlet. “Shut up.” His hands fumbled with the sash, tied it into a loose knot. He ducked his head. “Thank you.”

Eliot took Quentin by the shoulders, kissed him on the brow. “You’re welcome,” he said, giving Quentin a gentle swat on the hip. “Go on. Cover that perky ass in ill-fitting denim and meet me in the kitchen.”

Quentin lingered. For a long moment, going up on his toes and pecking Eliot on the mouth. Trailing palms down the lengths of his arms, their fingers dancing together, little loops of sinew and bone. Finally relenting, Quentin slipped away, trudging down the hall with his head all airy, like it was foaming with bubbles. He went to his room, pulled on a t-shirt and jeans. Combed his fingers through his hair, unknotting the worst of the tangles.

He spent a handful of seconds fiddling with the band of leather looped around his wrist. Pushing his fingers against it, feeling Eliot’s name inside. Each letter skimming flesh like the softest kiss.

Muscles aching out a song as he moved, Quentin left his room, went downstairs, met Eliot in the kitchen. The scent of coffee beans being pulverized wafted on the air like smoke.

“Have a seat,” Eliot said, face softening the moment their eyes met. Leaning down, pecking Quentin on the mouth. “It’s almost ready.”

Quentin sat down at the island, watched Eliot moving through the motions of a spell to heat the water he had waiting in a big silver kettle. Whistle of the steam, his elegant fingers undulating like dancers. For a moment—Quentin was struck silent by the aching domesticity of it all. This: a morning after that didn’t feel like a hand pressing down on his heart. There was an honesty to the way that Eliot moved, with his sleeves shoved up to his elbows and his hair all downy and soft. Like he’d slipped free of some shining chrysalis, and here he was—finally stretching his wings.

Pouring the steamy water over the dark mash of the coffee. Slow trickle of the liquid down into the wide open belly of a carafe. Eliot poured two steaming mugs, splashed in a little cream and sugar. Set Quentin’s down in front of him and pecked him on the cheek. “That should be perfect,” he said, taking the seat next to Quentin, their knees knocking together beneath the counter. “Tell me what you think.”

Quentin wrapped his hands around the mug, heat seeping from the ceramic and into the flesh of his palms. He brought it to his nose, and breathed. Deep, heady darkness. Sweetness edged in bitter. Warm, smoky earth wafting into his nose and kissing over his tongue. “Smells amazing,” he said, bringing it to his lips, and sipping.

Warmth, cascading down his throat and into his belly. The taste of it—like a hard kick to Quentin’s senses. Deep and smooth, with just a hint of creamy sweetness. It was fucking spectacular. He turned his face, watched Eliot watching him over the top of his own steaming mug.

“It’s—” Quentin curled his mouth up, took another sip. “Really good.”

Eliot winked, took a little sip from his mug. “Daddy doesn’t lie about his magic beans.”

Quentin bit at the inside of his cheek. “Fee-fi-fo-fum?”

Eliot nudged him in the arm. “Watch it, Coldwater.”

Quentin let his whole face light up in a smile, cradled his head on Eliot’s shoulder. “I’m probably still thinking about blowing you,” he said with an easy sigh. “Just so you know.”

“Don’t you worry, baby,” Eliot purred, pressing a kiss into Quentin’s hair. “We’re gonna put that mouth to work as soon as we’re done.”

Up under his ribs, Quentin’s heart began to pound. “Um, speaking of—” He lifted his head, meeting Eliot’s soft-eyed gaze. “What exactly are you… showing me?”

Eliot set his mug down on the counter with a pretty little clink. “Your discipline.”

He said the words so plainly, Quentin was almost certain he’d misunderstood. Very carefully, he set his coffee down next to Eliot’s. “My—I’m sorry, my what?”

Eliot stroked a hand along the top of Quentin’s head, down to his nape, lingering there for a long moment. “Yours was undetermined, right?” He leaned in, nuzzling their noses together. “So, I was thinking you might like to determine it.”

“I don’t—” Quentin swallowed around the stone in his throat. “They said they couldn’t, um—Eliot, I don’t understand.”

“Hey.” Eliot’s hand trailed down, soothing circles between the tense line of Quentin’s shoulders. “This isn’t a freak-out spiral situation, my love, I promise.”

“I’m not—” Quentin huffed. “I’m not spiraling, I just—” He shook his head, lifted his brows. “I don’t understand.”

“So, as you’re already well aware, the administration here is…” Eliot paused, and Quentin could see the wheels turning behind his golden hazel eyes. The way he was choosing his words very carefully. “They suck.”

Quentin squinted at him. “Okay…”

“So.” Eliot’s warm hand curled around the back of Quentin’s neck, thumbing at his fevered skin. “They don’t really give a shit about your discipline. I mean—” A little laugh sputtered out of his mouth. “I literally told them mine was telekinesis and they didn’t even bother with the test.” He gave an airy little wave of his hand. “Disciplines only really matter for Houses, and even then it’s mostly elitist, cliquey bullshit.”

“Okay, so—” Quentin’s brain felt like a mass of swarming insects. “I still don’t actually understand how we’re going to figure mine out.”

Eliot pulled away suddenly, reached for his coffee, took a sip. “Well,” he said, “if the dear old admin here can’t determine yours in ten minutes flat with that little test of theirs…” He shrugged. “That’s it. You’re finished. And like I said, they don’t really give a shit anyway.”

Quentin sucked a breath deep into his lungs, and shoved it out. “Okay, but how—”

“There’s another test,” Eliot said. “For the... rarer disciplines. Minor bullshit that extra doesn’t matter as far as Henry Fogg et al. are concerned.”

Quentin narrowed his eyes to razor-thin slits. “How do you know about this?”

Eliot took another sip of his coffee. Face soft, eyes dark. “I may have tripped and fell on a book locked in a drawer in Sunderland’s office.”

Quentin couldn’t help the smile that twitched at the corners of his mouth. “Why were you in Sunderland’s office?”

Eliot set his mug down on the counter, reached for Quentin’s hand, threading their fingers together. “Well,” he said, “I was looking for something to spice up our ill-fated tutoring sessions of yore.” His thumb stroked against the back of Quentin’s hand. “I was gonna tell you about the book, but then everything went to shit, so...” Momentary flash of a smile, the curve of it tinged in sorrow. “And—anyway. I figured it probably wouldn’t do you much good before we kicked that block on its ass.”

Jaw clenched tight, Quentin untangled his fingers from Eliot’s, reached for his mug, heat seeping through the ceramic and into his hands, grounding him. “Okay,” he said, gazing down into the mug, the creamy coffee rippling inside, “so how do we use your pilfered book to determine my minor-bullshit discipline?”

Eliot leaned in close, nuzzled against Quentin’s temple. “Finish your coffee,” he said, pressing a kiss into Quentin’s hair. “Just try and relax, my love.”

“I am relaxed,” Quentin grumbled, heart racing under the thin cotton of his shirt. “I just…” He lifted his mug to his lips but didn’t drink. “I wasn’t expecting… this.”

Eliot’s hand curved around Quentin’s thigh over his jeans. “You trust me.” It wasn’t a question.

Quentin sipped his coffee, eyes flitting over to Eliot’s placid face. “I trust you,” he said, the heat from Eliot’s palm seeping down through the denim of his jeans. A surge of something moving through him, turning in his belly. Anticipation or uncertainty. He set his mug down on the counter and hopped to his feet. “I’m ready. Let’s just—” Unsteady, quivering knees. Running a hand over his hair in a huff. “Let’s just do this.”

Eliot eyed him for a long moment before relenting. “As you wish,” he said, rising to his feet. Taking Quentin by the hand, leading him from the kitchen.

In the common room, Eliot’s stolen book was waiting. On the coffee table, its leather cover etched with looping sigils. And next to it, a slim glass vial, the potion it contained tinged a powdery blue.

Quentin hadn’t even been thinking about it, his discipline. He didn’t think he even cared all that much anymore. But seeing it there, like a golden apple waiting to be plucked with his very own hand. Quentin swore he could taste it, melting on his tongue all sugar-sweet.

Eliot plucked the vial from the table, held it up to the light. Beyond the elegant curve of the glass, a blue-white galaxy turned. “Took me days to get it right,” he said. “Had to swipe a few things from Henry’s personal stash after hours. Casting until my fingers ached…”

Under his shirt, Quentin’s heart well and truly burned. “What’s it for?” he asked very softly, taking one careful step in Eliot’s direction.

Eliot shrugged. “Guess I just anoint the back of your hands.”

Quentin frowned with his whole face. “You guess?”

Eliot offered an airy little sigh. “Well,” he said, “Sunderland’s book is like if a magic dictionary fucked an IKEA instruction manual and the baby came out written in a dead language with half its pages missing. So, yeah, I’m mostly guessing here.” He let that sit for a moment. “Worst case scenario: it doesn’t work and we blow each other straight through till lunch.”

Quentin’s belly looped itself into a knot, eyes transfixed on the swirling liquid in the vial. “So you just, um—” He shook his head, meeting Eliot’s gaze. “You just anoint my hands with that stuff and that’s it?”

Eliot’s mouth curled up. “Not quite.” He plucked the top from the vial with a pop, setting it down on the table. “One thing the book did make abundantly clear is that I’m going to have to elicit… a pain response.”

Quentin felt a slick shiver run down the ridge of his spine. “Um, okay. So—okay.”

Eliot stepped nearer, pressing into Quentin’s personal space. “Whoever wrote that thing a million years ago suggests whacking your hands with a ruler, but—” His eyes went narrow and dark. “I have a better idea.”

Quentin swallowed. “Oh.” It was all he could manage.

Eliot dipped a finger into the potion, sent the bottle fluttering away. Lifting each of Quentin’s hands, and marking them. “There,” he said, eyes flitting between Quentin’s face and the backs of his hands. “How’s that feel?”

Quentin shook his head. “It doesn’t feel like anything.” Reaching out, fingers curling against the front of Eliot’s shirt. Face tipping upward, angling for a kiss. “How are you going to… elicit a pain response?”

Eliot’s eyes grew darker, fiery hands cupping Quentin’s face. “Oh, my darling boy,” he said very quietly, leaning in, ghosting their mouths together. “I think you know.”

He brought their lips together. Kissing Quentin once, gently, before pulling away. Leaving him all giddy and unsteady on his feet. Slinking around the perimeter of Quentin’s body, pressing all against him from behind. Back-to-chest. One of Eliot’s big, strong arms looping around Quentin’s middle and drawing him close.

Quentin let his eyes slide shut, pressing back into Eliot’s heat. Eliot nosed into Quentin’s hair, against his temple, the two of them swaying a little on their feet. One of Eliot’s hands fluttered over Quentin’s torso, the other brushing his hair to one side. Quentin tipped his head, desire skittering in hungry little sparks over his skin, exposing the line of his neck for Eliot’s seeking mouth.

“How will we, um—” Quentin was tumbling down into that blissful, empty nothing. “How will we know that it worked?”

Eliot hummed, blunt edges of his teeth dragging along the slope of Quentin’s neck. “Not sure,” he said, voice hardly a whisper, punctuating his words with a soft press of his mouth. “Guess we’ll just have to…” Drag of his tongue, teasing flicker of an open-mouthed kiss, making Quentin shiver. “Wait and see.”

Nip of Eliot’s teeth. Quentin’s eyes snapped open. Open palm of his hand pressing to Eliot’s where it was cupped against his ribcage. His throat quivered, cock already stirring in his jeans. Eliot’s mouth tracked its way slowly downward. Coming to land on a spot just above the collar of Quentin’s shirt. That delicate space where neck met shoulder. Where just last night Eliot had worked Quentin’s flesh into a shade of brilliant purple-blue.

“Ready?” Eliot’s teeth dragged over the mark, tongue darting out, lavishing it with a broad, languid stripe.

Quentin nodded, brain all flushed with static. He could hardly get the word to come. “Yes.”

Gulping air deep into his lungs, Quentin kept his eyes fixed on Sunderland’s book, the sigils on its cover like healing scars. Eliot pressed against him, breath warm and teasing over the aching flesh of Quentin’s neck. Their fingers threading together right over Quentin’s thumping heart. Everything still and easy for that one blissful second. And then—

Sparks shot up into Quentin’s throat. He gasped. Godfuck. Eliot’s teeth sank in. Searing pulse of pleasure-pain, cutting through Quentin like a sonic pulse. He opened his mouth, and a sound fell out. A strangled, broken sob that ripped itself clean from one side of the room to the other. Instantly, his dick was hard enough to fuck through steel. Like a little god inside his belly had snapped its fingers, and all at once his flesh was swallowed in flame. Vision going all spotty at the edges. Eliot sucked, Quentin’s purpled skin flaring between the press of his teeth. Quentin wavered, holding on. Body dissolving into a puddle of stars.

Eliot lavished the mark with the flat of his tongue. Two bodies swaying in a tremulous dance. Eliot was the only thing keeping Quentin upright, every muscle in his body turned to jelly, his brain a soggy mess sloshing around inside his skull.

“I don’t think—” Quentin started to babble. He wasn’t thinking anything. Didn’t have a single speck of grey matter left inside his fuzzy skull that could hope to form a thought. He could feel Eliot getting hard against the dip of his back. For a moment, it was like they were sinking together, heading all the way down to the bottom. “I don’t—Eliot, I don’t think—”

He felt it in his fingers first. A persistent, golden tingle. Like a limb that had gone dead prickling itself awake. Pins and needles shooting up to his wrists, hot beneath the leather of the bracelet.

At his back, Eliot was losing himself. Quentin could feel it moving in him. That silent animal howl. One of Eliot’s hands lifting up and circling Quentin’s throat. The other started groping at the front of his jeans. Quentin’s hard dick aching in the cup of Eliot’s palm. Eliot’s hot mouth babbling nonsense where it was pressed to Quentin’s ear.

“Look, look…” Quentin was saying, but Eliot didn’t hear him. “El. Look—”

Patter of their feet as they stumbled around. Quentin thrust both of his hands out, palms facing upward. A delicate gasp escaped from his throat. They were radiant. Solid beams of golden sunlight spilling from the tips of his fingers. On the table, Sunderland’s book flapped open. Hard thud of the cover pulling Eliot from his trance, hands ceasing their brilliant torture at once.

Their bodies pulled apart. Quentin nearly crumpled to the floor. He watched it all happening from the other side of a filmy curtain. Eliot, tottering over to the table, lowering himself to his knees right there in front of the book. Downy tuft of a curl tumbling over his brow. He bent forward, narrowing his gaze. Eyes skipping over the page in greedy little flickers.

A hundred thousand frames per second. Eliot turned his face to Quentin. Face soft, eyes softer. One hand lifting, stretched across the distance. “Come here, sweetheart,” Quentin thought he heard Eliot saying. “Do you want to see?”

Quentin’s heart skipped under his ribs. He turned his gaze down to his hands. The sunlight had finished leaching from his fingers, but he could still feel it, tinkling just beneath the surface, ringing like the sound of glass. Slowly, he lifted his eyes, allowing himself to be drawn into Eliot’s warmth. He stumbled over to the table and went down to his knees. At once, Eliot’s arm looped around his shoulders.

Vision wavy, like seeing the world through steamed-over glass. Quentin turned his gaze to the book, let his eyes scan over the page. For a moment, it was like the letters had all been jumbled together. Like those little wooden Scrabble pieces, shaken and scattered. Quentin plucked at each one, opened his mouth, tried to feel them come together on his tongue.

“Oh.” Heart sinking, the letters making patterns, forming words. Quentin read them over a half dozen times before speaking them out loud. “Repair of Small Objects.”

Eliot touched Quentin on the neck, drawing his gaze. “How do you feel?”

“I, um—” Quentin shook his head, for a moment nothing but empty. Like a hand had reached inside his belly and scooped him hollow. “I don’t know.” He turned his eyes back to the page, read the words again. “I guess I wasn’t expecting—” He bit at his lip, worrying his hands into knots in his lap. “I don’t know what I was expecting. Maybe something… not that.”

Eliot’s hand on Quentin’s nape. Grounding as a kick to the heart. “You have always excelled at minor mendings, my love.”

“It doesn’t even matter.” The words spilled out of him. He hadn’t expected them to. “I fixed a glass, Eliot. That doesn’t—” Suddenly, Quentin had to choke down the urge to sob. “It really doesn’t matter, does it?”

Eliot’s palm cupped Quentin’s cheek, swiped at a tear Quentin hadn’t known he’d shed. “Hey,” he said from somewhere distant. “Quentin. Sweetheart. Look at me.”

Quentin turned his face. He didn’t even know why he was crying. “There are people at this school who can read minds and travel to other dimensions, and I—” He blinked, vision of Eliot fluttering beyond a veil of tears. “I can fix fucking a glass.”

“Baby—” Eliot leaned forward, pressed his lips to Quentin’s brow. “Come on.” Suddenly, he was moving. Popping up to his feet and tumbling onto the sofa. “Come here. Sit with me.”

Quentin turned around, resisting the urge to grumble. Eliot’s thighs were spread into a V, and he was patting the space in between, waggling his brows. His beautiful, open face. His tempting magic hands. All that inviting warmth, calling to Quentin’s bones like a beacon. All at once, he didn’t hesitate. Pulling himself up to the sofa, letting Eliot draw him in. Back slumped against Eliot’s chest. Right where he belonged.

“Now.” Eliot’s arm was looped around Quentin’s middle. Lips pressed right to the curve of Quentin’s ear. “I want you to show me what you can do. We just need something to shatter.” He paused for a beat, kissed the side of Quentin’s neck. “Maybe not a glass. Maybe—”

“Wait.” Quentin felt it pressed against the meat of his thigh, deep inside the pocket of his jeans. “I have—” Reaching inside and fishing around, plucking out his little glass marble. The one he hadn't thought about in weeks. “I have this.”

Quentin held it up to the light, smooth surface of the glass glinting like a jewel.

Another kiss to Quentin’s neck. “That’s perfect, my love,” Eliot said, and Quentin could feel him smiling. “Go on. Break it on purpose.”

“But I don’t know how—”

“Yes you do.”

Quentin drew a breath. Eliot’s hand pressed right over his heart. His tears had all dried up on his cheeks. Deep in the center of his chest, something turned. Well of something warm and bright. All at once, he let his hand go slack, letting the marble slip free of his hold. Setting it floating there in front of his eyes like a little watery moon.

Eliot’s palm fluttered down, moved against Quentin’s belly. “Look at that,” he said, words coming dark and hot against Quentin’s neck. “Look at what your magic can do.” Deeply, Quentin felt him inhale, exhale. “Go on. Shatter it apart.”

There was no hesitation. Quentin raised his hands, palms outward. Drawing a breath, and letting the blinding wave of magic come. It was like an exhalation—like a great gust of wind bursting out of his palms. Quentin swore he could see it rippling out of him in slow motion. Blue-white waves of enchantment fluttering on the air, pulsing like a river’s current. Flowing right from his center and into the hovering sphere of glass.

Like throwing a switch—Quentin watched the marble blow itself apart. A hundred thousand little diamonds scattered. The tip of a firework splintering to pieces. Little bits of glass dinging off light fixtures and skittering like insects over the hardwood planks of the floor. And for a moment, it was so loud, drowning out the pulsing of Quentin’s blood in his ears. It seemed to fill up the world, and then it was over. A shadow lifting. Like a fog giving itself over to the sun.

“You see that?” Eliot was saying. Drawing Quentin back against him so close. It was like he was trying to press them together. Press their bodies like a flower between the pages of a book. “You’re so powerful, baby. You’re so—”

“It’s because of you,” Quentin heard a voice say. He thought it might have been his own.

“No, baby.” Eliot nuzzled into Quentin’s hair, hand tracking upward, pressing right over Quentin’s beating heart. “No. This magic—this is—do you feel that?”

“I feel you.”

Eliot’s breath tickled along the slope of Quentin’s neck. “I feel you too.” Points of his fingers pressing into Quentin’s chest over his shirt. “Baby, you’re—” Voice quavering, shattering like so much glass. “You’re my entire heart.”

A sob lodged itself in Quentin’s throat. “El—”

“Focus.” Eliot’s voice dripped out of him. Quentin could feel him trembling in all the places they pressed together. “Baby, focus on your hands.” His palm pressed firmly to Quentin’s chest, like he was trying to cradle his heart. “Feel this. Feel your magic. This is where it’s coming from. Right here in the center of you.”

All over the room, little flecks of marble shimmered. Quentin pictured each one, like grains of sand, pinched between his fingers.

“Call it back to you,” Eliot said, his voice the softest command. Hand tracking upward, playing like a collar at the base of Quentin’s throat. “Make it whole. I know you can. It’s yours.”

“I’ve—” Quentin huffed a breath from his nose, suddenly flooded with doubt. “I’ve done this before.” His voice a sheet of vellum. “El, it doesn’t mean anything.” So thin it could crumble apart. “I’ve done this—”

“Not like this.” Eliot’s hand on Quentin’s collarbone, fleeting kiss of his fingers. “Now you know, sweetheart.” He pressed a kiss to Quentin’s cheek, lips trailing down the slope. “Now you know who you are. Every part of you.” He was smiling. Quentin felt it everywhere, curling in his toes. “My perfect little magic man who makes everything whole.”

Eliot drew a breath, and Quentin felt it fill his lungs. The two of them so close together it was like their bodies had melded. And Quentin was so in love—he was so in love. And he wanted to open his mouth and say it, but he couldn’t get his tongue to shape the words. Instead—he let his mind go blank and dark. Sinking like the heaviest stone, thunking when he reached the bottom. Letting that quiet place shimmer around him, all folded up in Eliot’s arms.

A tinkling on the air, so quiet at first. Gentle patter like rain on pavement. Magic leached from Quentin’s skin like sweat, like heat, like stars. Like it was taking him over, swallowing every atom. In every hidden corner of the room, all those sparkling diamonds lifted. Like time itself was ticking backward. And here Quentin was, picking up the remnants of his own scattered heart.

All those glittering fragments, fitting themselves together like clockwork. Springs and gears all turning together. Hovering there over the cupped palms of Quentin’s steady hands. One after the next, snuggling nearer, piece-by-piece, until it was almost like the marble had never been shattered at all.

Almost.

Quentin pinched the watery sphere between his fingers. Holding it up like something plucked from a vine. There on its sloping surface, one tiny imperfection. A chip so small Quentin had to squint to see it. Glimmering like a single facet on a gem.

Inside his chest, Quentin felt the beating of Eliot’s heart, and his own. “It’s—” His voice rasped out of him. He could hardly believe he was speaking at all. “It’s missing a piece.” He shook his head. “Why didn’t it all come back?”

Eliot breathed into Quentin’s hair, fingers pressing into him like ten brilliant points of light. “I don’t know,” he said. “But, baby—look at it.” His voice shattered out of him. “Really look.”

Inside that little glassy sphere, Quentin watched their reflections dance. Two bodies slotting together, mended. Two broken halves made one.

“This is who you are.” Eliot reached out, ran the tip of his finger along the curve of the glass. “That little shattered thing, baby.” His chest was quaking. He was crying. Quentin could feel it. “You did that.” He laughed, kissed Quentin’s neck. Quentin felt the warm splash of a tear trickle down to his shoulder. “You healed it.”

Transfixed, Quentin turned the marble over in the light, watched that single facet spark. “But it’s not—” He frowned. “What if it needs it?” He turned his eyes from the marble, turned his face to Eliot, their noses brushing together. “Do you think it’ll still… work.” He swallowed, something cresting in his throat that he couldn’t hope to name. “Without it?”

Eliot pressed forward, kissed Quentin on the mouth, softly. “Yeah, baby,” he said, voice all whisper-soft. “I think it’ll be all right.”

Quentin nodded, let go of the marble. Let it flutter away. He felt it like shutting his eyes, wandering into the light of a dream. Turning his body inward, pressing all against Eliot’s chest, fingers slipping up into those soft, familiar curls. “Us too?” He spoke the words right against Eliot’s quivering neck. And the tears—Quentin didn’t fight them. Quentin let them come. “El, us too, right?”

“Oh, my boy—” Pressing closer, closer. Swallowing Quentin up in his arms. Eliot pressed a kiss into his hair, and breathed. “We’re gonna be just fine.”