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

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Brakebills University
September 2015

Quentin shook out the tension in his hands. He didn’t understand why it wasn’t getting any easier. For days on end he’d been trying to perfect the illumination spell the rest of his fellow First Years had nailed in a matter of hours. But no matter how he tried, Quentin couldn’t seem to make anything more than a spark.

He didn’t know what was worse: that his discipline was apparently shit at magic, or that he’d been placed in the Physical Kids’ Cottage with his ex-whatever-the-hell-they’d-been-in-undergrad because the administration didn’t know what else to do with him. He couldn’t do shit about the latter, but he figured he could at least try and get the basics of magic down before Dean Fogg realized what a grave mistake he’d made in allowing Quentin into Brakebills to begin with.

“Your Popper four is off,” Eliot said, suddenly appearing in the common room, like he’d materialized out of thin air. He flopped down on the sofa and reached for Quentin’s hand. “Here, like this…”

Quentin wrenched away from his touch before their skin made contact. “I’ve got it, thanks,” he said, his heart doing some truly impressive acrobatics in his chest. “Don’t you have like… a cocaine orgy to be at or something.”

“You’re such a child,” Eliot said, a smile tugging at his mouth. He lit a cigarette with the tip of his finger like a goddamn show-off. “You know, you’re not going to get very far in this place being wound-up so tight.”

Quentin took a breath, meeting Eliot’s gaze for a fraction of a second. That was always a dangerous game. “I wouldn’t be wound-up so tight if you would just leave me alone to practice.”

Eliot puffed on his cigarette. “To practice incorrectly.”

Quentin bit the inside of his cheek hard. “Would you just go?”

Eliot kicked his feet up on the coffee table, blowing out a long wisp of smoke. “This is a common area, Quentin. I’m trying to enjoy my cigarette if you don’t mind.”

Quentin choked down the urge to scream, pulling himself to his feet and crossing to the sectional on the far side of the room. He probably should have just gone upstairs—or outside, or to the library, or anywhere else on campus really—but it was the principle of the thing. He wasn’t about to let that ridiculously smug, ridiculously tall, ridiculously—fucking infuriatingly gorgeous asshole get the better of him.

He tried the spell again. A pathetic little spray of sparks poured out of his palms and fizzled into oblivion.

“Left index finger should be under—” Eliot started, but Quentin cut him off with a huff.

“I don’t need your help.”

A beat of silence. The image of Eliot smoking casually with his feet kicked up loomed in Quentin’s periphery. Quentin flexed his fingers, like that was somehow going to make a difference. Like that might finally be the key to unlocking the vault of Suddenly Not Shit at Magic. When he tried the spell this time, the sparks that sputtered out of his hands didn’t even have the common decency to look pretty.

“Shut up,” he said before Eliot could think to open his mouth again. “Just—if you could stop staring—”

“I’m not staring,” Eliot said, that arrogant slash amused lilt to his voice that made Quentin’s jaw clench tightly. “You just so happen to be in my field of vision. And your Popper four is still off by miles.”

“Hm, that so? How’s this?” Quentin raised the middle finger of his right hand in Eliot’s direction, cursing his traitor eyes for even considering glancing his way.

“Being impolite isn’t going to make you a better magician, Quentin,” Eliot said. “I’m only trying to help.”

“You can help by leaving me alone,” Quentin said through gritted teeth.

His hands were shaking too terribly now to have any hope of trying the spell again. Quentin breathed in, and breathed out, trying to steady his heart. He didn’t think he’d ever been so happy to see Julia as he was when she came walking through the front door a handful of awkward seconds later.

“Hey,” she said, depositing herself on the sectional next to Quentin, giving Eliot a single sideways glance. “Everything okay?”

“Shouldn’t you be in the library?” Eliot said from across the room.

Julia answered with a middle finger of her own.

“I’m fine,” Quentin said, trying to keep that pathetic kicked puppy look from his face that she could read easier than a paperback. “Just practicing.”

“He needs help with his Popper four,” Eliot chimed in.

Julia glared in his direction. “Would you fuck off already?”

Suddenly, it was like all the air had been sucked out of the room. Quentin—still pointedly refusing to actually look at Eliot—kept his eyes fixed on Julia. She sat at his side like a predator, poised and ready to strike. Like at any moment she was going to launch herself clear across the room and go for Eliot’s throat. In the corner of Quentin’s eye, Eliot was very still.

The tension was unbearable, closing like a fist around Quentin’s lungs until it was a struggle just to breathe. He cleared his throat loudly because he didn’t know what else to do, drawing Julia’s gaze away from Eliot at once.

A moment later, Eliot took the opportunity to make his exit. “Well,” he said with a tremendous sigh. “You kids have fun. If you need me, I’ll be having a cocaine orgy in Margo’s room.”

Quentin could feel Julia’s eyes on him as he watched Eliot saunter away. She gave him a sympathetic look—emphasis on pathetic—once he was out of sight up the stairs. “So he’s still…”

Quentin slumped down against the back of the sofa. “Acting like we just met last month? Yeah.”

“Fuck him,” she said, settling in at Quentin’s side. “He’s the one who broke up with you. And he didn’t even break up with you. He fucking ghosted you the second you graduated. That’s not someone who deserves your energy.”

Quentin frowned in her direction. “That’s easy for you to say. You’re not the one who has to live with him.”

Julia considered him with a quirk of her brow. “You can’t ask the Dean for a transfer to literally anywhere else?”

“There’s no space anywhere else.” Quentin sighed with his entire body. “And I don’t need to draw more attention to myself than I already have by being so bad at magic I don’t even have a discipline.”

Julia offered a little smile. “You just need more practice,” she said, nudging him with her shoulder. “Come on, show me First Illumination.”

“I don’t want to.”

“Pouting isn’t going to make you a better magician.”

“I’m not pouting,” Quentin said, pouting with his entire face.

Julia stared him down for a long moment before relenting. “Okay. Suit yourself. You talk to James lately by the way?”

“You know that I haven’t,” Quentin said, his stomach turning sour. The last thing he wanted to do was talk about or to his sorta-boyfriend with his ex-whatever under the same roof. “Not since, uh… last weekend. It’s getting harder to come up with excuses for why he can’t come visit me at Yale.”

Julia hummed her sympathy. “Fogg’s illusion magic is severely lacking in imagination, that’s for sure. They should’ve told everyone we were going to grad school in Antarctica or something.”

Quentin huffed out a laugh, allowing himself to momentarily feel something other than unmitigated annoyance. “Honestly, Antarctica sounds… really nice right now.”

“I’ll take learning actual magic at an actual magical university over freezing my tits off with polar bears and penguins, thanks.”

Quentin laughed again. For a moment everything almost felt normal. The way things had been when they were kids, without a care in the universe, scribbling their map of Fillory in markers and crayons on the underside of Julia’s family’s kitchen table. Long before Columbia or Eliot Waugh or Brakebills University for Magical Pedagogy. Back when magic was just as real to him, but in a simpler way. Close-up magic, card tricks, rolling quarters across the thin planks of his fingers for anyone who happened to cross his path.

And then as quickly as it began, Quentin felt the laughter leave him. He hugged a throw pillow to his chest and sighed. “Maybe it’ll be for the best when I get kicked out,” he said. “I won’t have to live with Eliot anymore at least.”

“Q, you’re not getting kicked out,” Julia said.

Quentin promptly ignored her. “I’ll go back to Brooklyn.”

“Q.”

“To James. It’ll be… whatever.” Quentin hugged his pillow tighter. “Like it was before.”

“Like it was before,” Julia said. Quentin could feel her eyes on him, but he couldn’t bring himself to look. “Before as in the year you spent drifting after graduation?”

“I wasn’t drifting,” Quentin said, sounding utterly indignant. “I was just… figuring stuff out. Not everyone has their whole life plotted out from point A to point Z from the jump.”

Julia was quiet for a long moment. Quentin hoped this meant she was just going to fucking drop it, which of course she didn’t.

“All those weekends you spent at the hospital.”

Quentin’s stomach clenched. He dug his fingernails into his pillow. “Two, Jules. Two weekends—”

“Three.”

“Whatever.” Quentin was fully turning his body away from her now. “You know why I—Julia, you know...”

“Yeah,” Julia said at his back, touching his shoulder softly, making him flinch. “I know everything felt pointless until you found this place. And now you’re about to throw it all away over some asshole who dicked you down for a semester and a half back in undergrad and then acted like you didn’t exist the moment it was no longer convenient.”

Quentin sighed, and shut his eyes, and sank down into the sofa a little further, clinging to his pillow like a lifeline. “I’m not doing this with you right now, okay? Just—I have a lot I need to think about.”

Julia still had her hand on his shoulder. He couldn’t see her from this angle, but he could feel her softening through the press of her fingers. “Look, I’m sorry. I’m not trying to make you feel like shit about it. I just really fucking need you here, okay?”

As infuriating as her bedside manner could be, Julia still knew him better than anyone. She understood that sometimes what Quentin needed was just something to hold onto, even if only by a thread. “I’m here,” he said, finally turning back to face her with a sigh. “I promise I’m—I’m trying, Jules. I swear.”

Julia gave him a soft smile. “Okay,” she said. “Hey, what do you say we blow off some steam tonight, hm? There’s a party at the Treehouse. You should come with.”

Quentin looked at her for a long time. Some things, he knew, were destined to never change. “You know how I feel about parties,” he said with a sigh.

“Yeah,” she said. “I know. But the people here aren’t like those Columbia douchebags.”

Quentin couldn’t shake the overwhelming sensation that his body was actually shrinking into the sofa. “I still think I’m gonna pass,” he said, casting his gaze downward at the rug.

Julia was quiet for a long moment before hopping to her feet. “You know where to find me if you change your mind,” she said, ruffling Quentin’s hair playfully before walking away.

“Yeah,” Quentin said to her back. “Later, Jules.”

Columbia University
October 2013

Quentin didn’t know why he still bothered going to parties. The floors were always sticky with beer and other things he didn’t want to think about. And the music was always too loud. And he always felt like a freak, but tonight even more so than usual. He’d been aiming for Martin Chatwin with his last-minute costume, but mostly he just looked like a child in an ill-fitting First Communion suit.

Julia—dressed as Katniss from The Hunger Games, a long braid flowing over one shoulder and a quiver of fake arrows strapped to her back—had coaxed him out of his room with the promise of actually having a good Halloween this year, Quentin, but now he couldn’t remember why he’d even wanted that to begin with. Mostly, Quentin just wanted to go to bed.

“Come on,” she’d said, tugging him away from his desk. He’d been trying to study for his Ethics exam that was still an entire week away. “Bet you’ll meet a girl tonight. Who knows.”

They were one and a half semesters out from graduation, and Quentin had a total of two disastrous, embarrassing hook-ups under his belt to speak of going back to freshman year. He wasn’t really aiming for a third, but he agreed to go with her anyway.

The party was at an off-campus apartment on Morningside Drive. Quentin was thankful at least they weren’t partying with the frat bros tonight. He found himself instead in some stranger’s kitchen, pressed up against the edge of the counter like a loser, half-heartedly drinking his plastic cup of shitty beer, alone and utterly miserable. In the space of thirty minutes, Julia had ditched him to hook-up with the sharp-jawed finance major she’d been lusting after for weeks, and Quentin had managed to scare off at least three moderately attractive girls by trying to show them the latest card trick he’d learned from a YouTube video.

A little past 10pm, with Julia nowhere to be found, Quentin decided to just call it a night.

He pushed through the throngs of writhing Daenerys Targaryens and Batmans and girls in glorified bikinis donning cat ears and made his way out into the hall. The elevator ride down by himself was its own particular brand of misery. Quentin was hot and cold all at once, his suit jacket itchy against the back of his neck. At least it was a short walk back to his dorm once he made it down to the street, and the chilly autumn air was like a miracle on his skin after having been trapped inside with so many too-warm bodies.

Quentin hadn’t made it ten steps down the sidewalk when someone started calling his name from behind.

“Hey, Coldwater! Wait up!”

When he turned around, someone dressed as the Goblin King from Labyrinth was sauntering over to meet him. “Hey,” he said, a little out of breath, whipping off his wig. It was only then that Quentin could see the Goblin King was actually Eliot Waugh. “Can I bum a smoke?”

Quentin stared at him for a long moment, his heart clawing its way up into his throat. “Did you just come from the party?” he asked finally, pulling the squashed and mostly empty pack from his jacket pocket.

“Some party,” Eliot lamented, fishing the final cigarette out from its husk and handing the empty remains back to Quentin. “I couldn’t even find any coke, if you can believe it.” He stuck the cigarette between his lips. “Wanna spark me up?”

It took Quentin’s brain a second to catch up and realize he was asking for a lighter.

Quentin and Eliot weren’t exactly friends, though they’d always been friendly enough. They had rooms in the same dorm this semester—East Campus, a hulking structure overlooking Morningside Park, where Quentin sometimes liked to go to feed the ducks—on the same floor even, but the time they’d spent together between freshman orientation and now had been minimal. They ran in different circles—not that Quentin even had a circle to speak of, he was pretty sure Julia didn’t count. Eliot was a drama major and spent most of his time not going to class and hooking up with every boy he’d ever set his sights on. Quentin mostly ran into him at parties he didn’t want to be at or in the laundry room.

Honestly, he was surprised someone like Eliot Waugh would even know his name.

They walked back to their dorm together, passing the cigarette back and forth while Eliot rambled on about party planning: something about mood lighting; something about the hosts being morons for insisting on having their party on the 31st even though it’s a goddamn Thursday, Quentin; something about a mountain of cocaine.

When they arrived, Eliot flicked the cigarette butt away, and they went inside, and they rode the elevator up to the fourth floor together in companionable silence. And Quentin figured that would be the end of their little adventure. He mumbled his goodnights and headed for his room, fully content to go crawl into bed and have sweet David Bowie dreams when Eliot grabbed him by the shoulder.

Quentin’s heart had a totally normal reaction to this development.

“Come have a drink with me, Coldwater,” Eliot said, smirking when Quentin turned back around.

He could only blink in disbelief for a long moment, struggling to keep his eyes on Eliot’s eyes. The entire walk back to the dorm, Quentin hadn’t been able to keep himself from wondering if what was going on below his waistline was simply part of the iconic getup, or if that was just what happened when Eliot Waugh put on a pair of leggings.

“Come on,” Eliot said again with a little waggle of his brows, and Quentin trailed behind him down the hall like a lost puppy desperate for a home.

Walking into Eliot’s room was like walking into an art installation at the Met. He clapped his hands and the lights came on—because of course Eliot Waugh would own The Clapper—an array of twinkle lights bursting against the ceiling like stars. The walls looked like they were covered in deep burgundy and gold brocade. In the corner where his desk should have been, Eliot had installed a mini bar.

And over his bed, Eliot had installed a full length mirror, rimmed in the same twinkle lights that adorned the rest of the ceiling. Quentin averted his gaze, blushing at the sight.

“What can I get you?” Eliot asked, tossing his wig down on the floor and making a beeline for the mini bar.

“Um,” Quentin turned back and shut the door behind him. “I don’t know. Whatever you’re having is fine.”

Eliot smirked, reaching for two martini glasses from the little rack mounted over the bar. Quentin stood in the exact center of the room, afraid to touch anything, certain that if he did the spell of whatever the fuck was happening in here might suddenly be broken. He glanced over to the dresser beside him. There was a strip of condoms stretched out along the top all marked with XL in gold foil letters that he immediately pretended not to see.

“So, um… how did you get away with… all of this?” Quentin gestured wildly with his hands, turning his attention back to Eliot.

Eliot glanced over his shoulder with a smile. “Oh, you know, magic,” he said, vigorously shaking a cocktail shaker and pouring the cherry-red liquid it contained into the glasses.

“Right,” Quentin said, allowing his eyes to slide down the expanse of Eliot’s body quickly. “If only.”

“If only,” Eliot echoed in a cheery tone, turning to present Quentin with his drink. “I think you’re going to like this.”

“What is it?” Quentin asked, gazing down into the shimmering pool of red in the glass. The drink itself appeared to be lit from within.

“I don’t know,” Eliot said, looking quite pleased with himself. “I invented it just now. Maybe I’ll name it after you.”

Quentin met Eliot’s gaze, feeling his face turn a shade he felt certain was a perfect match for the drink. He took a tiny sip, tasting cherries and a lot of other things he couldn’t hope to place.

“Good?” Eliot asked, and Quentin nodded.

“Yes. Thank you.”

“I’m never wrong about these things.” Eliot smirked, taking a seat on his narrow bed and knocking his head back against the wall with a sigh. “Can I ask you something, Quentin?”

Quentin’s heart did a somersault. The look in Eliot’s eyes felt like nothing short of a seduction. Very slowly, Quentin nodded his head.

“What’s with the Sunday school suit?” Eliot took a casual sip of his drink. “You do know it’s Halloween.”

Quentin shuffled awkwardly from one foot to the other. “This is a costume,” he said, ducking his head, somehow blushing even deeper. “It was—it was sort of last minute, okay?”

Amusement washed over Eliot’s face brightly. “Last minute… for Halloween? Oh, Quentin…”

Quentin sucked in a breath, taking a nervous gulp of his drink. “We—we can’t all be Bowie at the drop of a hat, you know.”

Eliot laughed softly, a grin lighting up his face. “That you can’t,” he said. “But if you think this costume wasn’t six months in the making…” He sighed. “Never mind that. Tell me who you’re supposed to be.”

Quentin shot the last of his drink back in one fantastic gulp. “Martin Chatwin,” he huffed out, setting his empty glass down on the dresser and wiping at his mouth with the back of his hand.

Eliot eyed him curiously for a long moment. “I don’t know who that is,” he said finally, taking one last sip of his drink before setting it aside. “Come. Sit with me, Quentin.”

Quentin fully intended to start rambling about the glory of Fillory, but the words never quite made it to his mouth. His eyes slid from the spiral of a curl falling over Eliot’s brow down to the open collar of his frilly shirt. Somehow, he managed to get his legs to work long enough to cross the short distance to the bed. It was like he was on autopilot, moving mechanically until he was seated next to Eliot, close but not quite touching. He knocked his head back against the wall, gazing up at his reflection in the mirror for a long moment.

When he looked back down, Eliot’s face was very close. Quentin thought distantly that no human being had the right to make that much smudged eyeliner look so goddamn hot. Eliot’s gaze flicked over Quentin’s face, from his eyes down to his mouth and back again.

“Tell me, Quentin,” Eliot said after a moment of silence, “why are we only just now having a drink together after all these years?”

Because I’m a depressed super nerd, and you’re Eliot fucking Waugh, Quentin thought. “I don’t know,” Quentin said with a shrug. “Guess you never offered before now.”

“I hope you’ll find it in your heart to forgive my discourtesy,” Eliot said, his eyes fixed firmly on Quentin’s. “Would you like me to make you another?”

Another drink sounded really good. Quentin thought, if nothing else, it would probably calm his furiously racing heart. But the idea of either of them moving right now sounded like its own particular brand of hell. “Maybe later,” he said. “Thank you.”

Eliot suddenly produced a joint as fat as his index finger, seemingly right out of thin air. He gestured to Quentin shall we? and Quentin gave him a hesitant nod. Technically, there was no smoking allowed in the dorm, but Eliot didn’t seem to be bothered one bit by such an arbitrary rule. Everything felt so dreamlike, Quentin almost thought he saw Eliot sparking it up with the tip of his finger. He couldn’t look away. Eliot took a hit and inhaled deeply, a thin trail of smoke pushing out from between his lips a moment later.

“Come here,” Eliot said very softly, holding the joint to his lips. “Come closer…”

Eliot took another hit. Quentin slowly leaned his body forward, though he hardly registered being the one to do it. It was like some unseen, magnetic force was drawing him in, a moth to Eliot’s flame. Eliot met him in the middle, bringing their faces very close together. His pulse rushing so loudly in his ears he could hardly think at all, Quentin’s lips parted of their own accord, and Eliot exhaled the smoke into his mouth slowly, carefully. In a way that almost felt like a kiss.

Quentin inhaled, his head going all swimmy in a way he was pretty certain wasn’t from the smoke. Their eyes met for a long moment after they parted. Quentin exhaled, coughing a little, and Eliot shot him a smile, like there’d never been anything quite so amusing as Quentin being a fucking lightweight.

They only smoked the joint down about a quarter of the way before Eliot extinguished it in an ashtray and set it aside. “Don’t want you going out of your skull,” he said, still with that same smile on his face.

“I’ve smoked weed before, Eliot,” Quentin said, entirely indignant and incredibly fucking stoned.

Eliot only gave a dopey grin, and shut his eyes, slumping down against the wall. “This is much better than that tragedy those amateurs were trying to pass off as a party, don’t you think?”

Quentin felt too hot under his layers, like they were suddenly lounging on the sun. “Yeah this is… nice,” he said, tugging at the too-tight collar of his shirt.

Eliot’s eyes were on him again, watching as he began fumbling with his tie. “Let me,” he said softly, reaching forward with his beautiful, elegant fingers and giving the knot a single firm tug. He popped open the button at Quentin’s throat before pulling away. “Better?”

“Much,” Quentin said, unable to keep his eyes from wandering down to the open V of Eliot’s shirt. Chest hair had no right being that attractive. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Eliot said. Quentin hadn’t realized how close their bodies were until that moment, and their faces too. If he thought he was hot before, he was absolutely scorching now, like someone had turned a knob and set his blood to boil.

In the split second it took Quentin to wonder if Eliot was going to kiss him, Eliot was already pressing forward and crashing their mouths together.

Brooklyn
June 2014

James lived in a cramped sixth floor walk-up with water that never quite got hot enough and pipes that rattled incessantly in the walls, but at least he had a king size bed. And for Quentin, that beat the hell out of crying himself to sleep on Julia’s couch every night, on the rare nights he actually slept. Or staring at the ceiling for hours watching shadows move. Or watching the black screen of his phone in the dark, hoping tonight might finally be the night Eliot decided enough was enough.

“It’ll be like those sleep-overs we used to have in middle school,” James said when Quentin tossed his duffel down on the floor. “Maybe we can read the Fillory books under the covers with a flashlight for old time’s sake.”

“Right,” Quentin said, hardly registering the words, staring at the bed like it was a lifeboat in the middle of a churning ocean. “Maybe later. Tonight I just really need to try and sleep.”

Quentin didn’t sleep that night, or the night after that, or the night after—

Somewhere along the way, James pressed their mouths together in the dark, and Quentin thought, what the hell. This feels okay I guess.

And being with someone—anyone, really—was better than being alone.

Brakebills University
September 2015

Quentin didn’t change his mind about the party at the Treehouse. Not even when Julia popped into the Cottage that night and all but begged him to join her. He was a different animal now than he’d been back in undergrad. He told her to fuck off in the most loving way possible, and after that she left him alone.

Not that it really mattered in the end, because Eliot and Margo were throwing a party of their own—there were rumblings of a rivalry with Josh Hoberman over who could facilitate the most debauchery under their roof in a single evening—and everyone who wasn’t at the Treehouse piled into the Cottage with no care or concern for the fact that some people just wanted to get some fucking rest.

Quentin dragged himself out to the back porch and collapsed into one of the chairs in the dark, deciding he might as well get a little practice in if he wasn’t going to be permitted to sleep. There were silencing wards on the Cottage at least, so with the doors firmly shut, it was almost like a party wasn’t happening inside at all.

He readied his hands for First Illumination, certain he felt his magic bubbling at the tips of every last one of his fingers. His Popper four was completely on point. Eliot didn’t know what the hell he was talking about.

Quentin cast, wincing immediately when a tiny bolt of lightning leapt from one palm to the other. Mother fucking—

“Your Popper four could use some work,” someone said, emerging from the yard. A moment later they formed a tiny ball of light in their hands and pinned it overhead, and Quentin saw that it was Alice Quinn. “Your left index finger needs to be under the middle when you cast. And maybe try to relax.”

Quentin tensed when she took the seat next to him at the little table. “I am relaxed,” he said, somehow tensing even more. “Shouldn’t you be inside enjoying the debauchery or something?”

Alice quirked a brow in his direction. “Not really the partying type,” she said. “Try the spell again. But do it right this time.”

Quentin swallowed, setting his eyes on the glowing orb she’d sent floating over his head. “Maybe I don’t wanna do it while you’re watching.”

“You’re kind of a dick, you know that?” she said after a moment of silence. “I’m only trying to help.”

Quentin sucked in a breath and pushed it out. “Why does everyone think that I need—” He forced himself to clip off the anger rising in his throat. Yeah, he probably was a dick, but he knew that spitting venom intended for Eliot in Alice’s face was ten different shades of wrong. “Look, I… I just came out here to be alone, okay?”

“Yeah,” Alice said. “So did I. And I was actually out here first, so if we’re calling dibs—”

The backdoor flew open then, the din of the party thumping into the night as a single body tottered out onto the porch. Eliot—of course it was fucking Eliot—wearing a ridiculous satin robe over his clothes, a drink clutched in one hand, a cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth.

“Hello, children,” he purred, magicking the door shut behind him. “Don’t let me interrupt your little love fest. Daddy just needed some air.”

The sour sting of anger immediately started rising in Quentin’s throat. “We’re not having a—jesus fucking—” Quentin shut his eyes and took a breath. When he opened them again, Eliot was slumping down in the open chair at his side. “You can’t be serious right now.”

Eliot puffed on his cigarette. “I know we’ve only just met, Quentin, but one thing you should know about me is I am always deadly serious about everything,” he said, punctuating it with a stupid little giggle. “God, you should see your face. You really need to learn to relax.”

Quentin’s heart sank down to his shoes. He was beginning to suspect this whole thing was just one big game to Eliot. Jesus. The Eliot Waugh he’d known back at Columbia—the Eliot Waugh who had been his lover for nearly seven goddamn months—had never been this particular brand of cruel. He’d had his bitchy moments, sure, but Quentin had never seen him take actual pleasure in fucking with someone’s head.

“You’re really gonna play this game…” Quentin made the terrible split second decision to meet Eliot’s gaze head-on. Immediately it was like someone had thrown a switch. His mind started drifting at once, like bad reception on an old TV set. Falling away from itself, turning to white noise and static. It would have been thrilling if it weren’t so utterly infuriating he could still make Quentin feel this way.

Eliot’s lips quirked up in a smile. “I don’t know what game you could possibly be referring to, Quentin,” he said, dropping his cigarette butt down into his nearly empty glass, then pulling a baggy filled with little green tablets out of his shirt pocket. “Who wants to come with daddy on a little adventure and find out what these do?”

Quentin looked away, pinching the bridge of his nose until the urge to scream subsided. He should have just stayed in fucking Brooklyn.

“You’re going to take drugs without knowing what they are?” Alice said, quite sincerely, and a cackle immediately broke out of Eliot’s chest. Like she’d just told the greatest punchline in the history of jokes.

“Oh, Alice,” he drawled, plucking a tablet out of the baggy and holding it between his thumb and forefinger. “Come on. Live a little.”

“No thank you,” she said, shrinking in on herself at the offer.

Eliot shrugged and popped the tablet in his mouth. “How about you then, hm?” he said, immediately fishing another tablet out, offering it in Quentin’s direction. “Care to join me, Quentin?”

Quentin kept his eyes fixed on the little green circle, holding onto his anger like a lifeline. “No,” he said, his voice thick and rough as he pushed back from the table and tottered to his feet. “Have a good night, Alice.”

He all but ran inside and made a beeline for the bar in the common room, the music so loud he could feel it pumping like a second heart in the hollow of his chest. There were probably only twenty or so people in the Cottage, but to Quentin it felt like a hundred thousand or more. Too many bodies. Too many eyes on his skin.

He grabbed a random bottle and poured a generous amount into a highball glass, then skulked off to the window seat, turning his eyes away from the party. Taking a swig, he was pretty sure he’d just poured himself a glass of straight up grenadine, because his life had apparently turned into the cruelest fucking joke. Whatever. He drank it anyway.

“Eliot!” Margo’s voice carried high above the swell of the music. “Hey, El! Where the fuck did you—oh, hey, Coldwater!” Suddenly Margo was at his side. Quentin was beginning to wonder if materializing out of thin air was something they were teaching all the Second Years. “Eliot crawl off with the twink of the week already?”

“How the fuck should I know?” Quentin spit, way harsher than was probably necessary. Margo was moderately kind to him when she wanted to be, and he was pretty sure she didn’t know shit about his history with her supposed best friend. But still, he wasn’t in the mood.

“What the fuck is your problem?” She narrowed her eyes, resting her hands on her hips. “And what the fuck are you drinking?”

“Why do you care?” He sipped his glass of liquid entropy, doing his best not to pull a face.

Margo glared in his direction for a long time. “Come on,” she said, snatching the glass from his hand. “You’re gonna take that stick out of your twat and let me make you a proper drink.”

Quentin stared blankly at the empty space in his hand where his drink had just been. “What if I said I liked that drink just fine?”

Margo took a sip, her expression instantly twisting in disgust. “Fucking hell, Coldwater,” she said, tugging on his sleeve until he started to move.

He trailed behind her over to the bar, where she made him something in a martini glass that shimmered like stars and tasted like strawberry lemonade. She watched him expectantly with one brow quirked as he gave it a taste.

“It’s good,” he said timidly, not sure if she could even hear him over the din. “Thank you.”

She seemed pleased enough after that, dragging him over to sit with her on the staircase. “So,” she said once they were settled in, “you gonna tell me why you’re always such a prick to me and El, or am I gonna have to glove up and pull it out of your ass myself.” She held up a hand before Quentin could open his mouth. “And if you even think about feeding me more of that ‘why do you care’ bullshit, you’re gonna be tasting my Monolo’s for breakfast.”

“It’s—” Quentin sighed hard, taking a huge gulp of his drink to calm his nerves. “I’m just really stressed out, okay? And I don’t—I don’t know why you and Eliot care, okay? You’re not obligated to be my friends.”

Margo gave him a hard look. One that told him she was trying to choose her words very carefully. “If you think I ever feel obligated to do anything, Quentin,” she said, “you’re an even bigger idiot than I thought.”

Quentin could only blink in response.

“Look,” she continued after a moment. “I know El can be a bit much at first—”

Quentin couldn’t help but huff a laugh. “You can say that again.”

“But he likes you. He wants to be your friend. He’ll never admit it because he’s Eliot, but I know him better than anybody.” Margo put a hand on Quentin’s shoulder and looked deep into his eyes. “So unknot your cock and maybe give him a chance, hm?”

Quentin wanted to snark, or laugh, or tell her to go fuck herself, but he found that his tongue was frozen in his mouth when he tried to speak. So he took another sip of his drink instead, his stomach clenching so tightly he worried for a moment he might be sick all over Margo’s very shiny—and he assumed very expensive—shoes.

“You know what your problem is, Coldwater?” she said after a long moment of silence, lighting a cigarette with her finger, the same way that Eliot always did. “You need to bust a nut in something other than your own hand every once in a while.”

“Oh my god,” Quentin said under his breath, doing his damndest to hide his face behind his drink.

“I’m just saying—”

“I have a boyfriend, okay?” Quentin blurted, a little louder than he’d intended, even with trying to be heard over the music. Margo seemed to be genuinely amused by this development. “And I’m not… doing that. With anyone who isn’t him.”

“God you’re boring,” she said after a long stare-down. She pressed her cigarette between her lips and pulled herself to her feet, patting Quentin gently on the head before sauntering back to the party.

Quentin set his drink down on the empty space beside him very carefully, and leaned his head against the railing, and shut his eyes.

Columbia University
October 2013

One moment Quentin was sitting on Eliot’s bed, stoned out of his skull in his too-warm clothes, the next he was being pressed down into the mattress under the full and glorious weight of Eliot’s body. And Eliot was kissing him. And Quentin’s heart was beating so fast he was absolutely certain he was going to die.

But he thought, absently, that this was how he wanted to go. He hadn’t realized until that moment just how badly he’d wanted Eliot to kiss him for… god. Months, years. It was just that he’d never allowed himself to entertain the idea that it could actually happen. Why, with every other option under the fucking sun—he could have anyone, anyone, anyone that he wanted—would someone like Eliot Waugh want to hook up with Quentin Coldwater?

Eliot made a happy little sound and broke the kiss, his fingers fumbling at the loose knot of Quentin’s tie. “You wanna get out of these, hm?”

Quentin couldn’t even hope to get his mouth to work. He could only nod, and want, and lie there quivering under the weight of Eliot’s gaze.

“Come here,” Eliot said, sitting back on his heels and tugging on the sleeve of Quentin’s jacket. “God, you must be burning up.”

You have no idea, Quentin thought, pulling himself up to sit, keeping his eyes fixed on Eliot’s face. Everything that was going on below his neckline was just far too overwhelming for Quentin to handle. Head swimming, he shrugged out of his jacket and tossed it to the floor.
Eliot already had the top half of his costume off by the time Quentin was struggling out of his sweater vest. Eliot watched him fondly as he discarded it alongside the jacket, then started tugging his tie up over his head. Before Quentin could even think to start working open the buttons of his shirt, Eliot’s hands were there, popping open one after the next with his skilled, nimble fingers.

He got Quentin out of his shirt so quickly, it almost felt like magic.

Quentin settled back on his elbows, his breath coming very quickly as Eliot’s hand ghosted down the expanse of his torso. “Jesus…” he whispered to himself, fingers fluttering over Quentin’s belly like a kiss. “Goddamn, Coldwater…”

Quentin had never—had anyone ever looked at him like this before? He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, utterly overwhelmed. It was all too much to take. How could someone like Eliot—

Everything that came after happened in a rush of hot mouths panting, fingers pressing, chests heaving, bodies wanting. Eliot’s hips pressing Quentin’s hips down into the bed. Eliot whispering, “Is this okay?” and Quentin pushing out a litany of, “Yes, yes, yes. Please, please, please.”

Quentin felt like he was seeing the whole thing in a series of snapshots through someone else’s eyes: the front of his pants being worked open, and Eliot pushing his hand inside; Quentin pressing his face into the hollow of Eliot’s throat; Quentin giving himself over to animal instinct, his hand suddenly down the front of Eliot’s pants with a boldness he never could have mustered sober; Quentin wrapping his fingers around Eliot’s dick—and, god, it felt even bigger than he’d imagined—giving it one clumsy stroke after the next.

And when it was all over, they lay there clinging to one another, covered in each other. Quentin’s mind had whited-out entirely, not a single coherent thought forming in the haze. Eliot might have been laughing, distantly, or pressing lips to Quentin’s forehead. Quentin had no way of being sure. Each second melted into the next; each heartbeat; each ragged, panting breath.

Eliot might have pulled Quentin into his arms then, or whispered his name, or whispered praise. Strong hands like a promise pressing into his back.

Brakebills University
September 2015

When Quentin finished his drink, Margo made him another, depositing it right into his hands where he still sat slumped down on the steps. And when he’d finished the second, she went ahead and made him a third.

“Whattaya say, Coldwater?!” she shouted over the music. “Your ball sack un-bunching itself yet?!”

To that, Quentin could only laugh. Not because it was particularly funny, but because he was suddenly very, very drunk.

At some point, he stumbled to his feet and joined the party. Sort of. He mostly wandered around the Cottage making people uncomfortable and watching Eliot from the corner of his eye. Everything started winding down at three in the morning, when the music suddenly quieted to a whisper. Quentin found himself slumped down in an armchair, too wasted to even think about standing again. Eliot was sprawled on the couch across from him, his ridiculous robe falling from his ridiculous shoulders, the front of his shirt hanging open, one of his fellow Second Years straddling his lap and sucking kisses into his chest.

Quentin could tell from the look on his face that Eliot was on another planet in his mind, so stoned-drunk-whatever all he could do was smile and laugh as the Second Year boy whose name was eluding Quentin quite literally tore open the front of his shirt.

He couldn’t keep his drunken brain from wandering, thinking back to that first night he and Eliot had been together. Halloween 2013, when Quentin had worn that awful suit and tried to pass it off as a costume. Clumsy, stoned hand jobs in the dark. It hardly registered as a hook-up in the grand scheme of things. Not with what had come after; when shit had gotten so intense they’d decided they absolutely had to enter into each encounter with a clear head, and entirely fucking sober.

Eliot had stopped partying for the last six months of undergrad for him. It wasn’t until now that Quentin realized exactly what that had meant.

Which only made this whole I ghosted you and broke your heart and now I’m gaslighting you into thinking we never met bullshit all the more confusing.

Eliot giggled, a high, broken sound that twisted around Quentin’s drunken heart like a curse. “That tickles,” Quentin heard him slur as What’s-His-Face attached himself to a nipple right there in front of everyone. Well, in front of Quentin and the smattering of people still left in the common room, most of whom were passed out on the floor.

Still. Quentin groaned. “Jesus,” he said, his tongue feeling like cement in his mouth. “No one wants to see that, you know.”

Eliot giggled again, finally opening his eyes for the first time during this whole ordeal, sort of half-heartedly fixing them on Quentin. “I think we’re offending the virgin, Gerald.”

What’s-His-Face picked his head up from where he was planting a kiss near Eliot’s navel. “My name’s not—”

“Whatever.” Eliot brushed him off with a wave of his hand and another giggle. “Gerald’s wasting his time anyway. I couldn’t get it up with all the sex magic on campus.”

Not-Gerald pulled back, staring at Eliot for a long moment before deciding to cut his losses and stumble off to some darkened corner of the room. Quentin found himself caught in Eliot’s unsteady gaze. Unwilling to meet it, and unable to do much of anything about it, he decided it was probably better to just shut his eyes.

In the moments before Quentin’s mind gave itself over to the blissful haze of blackout sleep, he thought he might have heard Eliot whispering goodnight.

Columbia University
November 2013

Quentin woke on the morning of November 1st in a panic, bolting upright with a gasp in a bed he didn’t recognize. For a moment, he had no idea what planet he was even on. But then someone shifted beside him, and when Quentin looked down and saw Eliot he remembered everything.

Eliot made a happy sound, his sleepy smile curling against the half of the pillow he had cradled under his head. “Morning,” he said with a sigh, his eyes not yet opened.

“Hey,” Quentin said, his heart still thumping out a frantic rhythm even as his body relaxed. “I, um...” He groped at his pocket for his phone, finding it instead down on the floor in their pile of discarded clothes. “Shit,” he said, looking at the time. “I have to get to class.”

“Okay,” Eliot said with a little groan, his eyes finally popping open. “But you should know you’re going to miss out on the best hot plate egg served on a day old bagel you’ve ever had if you go.”

The fondness of Eliot’s expression made Quentin warm all over. Slowly, he let his eyes rake down the expanse of his own body. He was only half undressed, and his loose belt buckle had left a partial impression of itself on his hip where it had been trapped underneath him while he slept. He desperately needed to change his pants and take a shower. He could feel his boxers sticking to his skin in several places from the mess that he’d allowed to dry there.

Quentin flopped down onto his back and slowly rolled onto his side, pressed to Eliot very closely in the narrow bed. “I really do have to go,” he said, blushing a little under Eliot’s attention. “In a minute.”

Eliot hummed, like he was trying to make sense of the words, slowly reaching out and ghosting his knuckles down Quentin’s burning cheek. “Well, since we have a minute,” he said, “how about you tell me what you’re into.”

Quentin narrowed his eyes, his brain still half in dreams. “Well, um… I really like reading? And, um—”

Eliot cut him off with a silent fit of laughter. “No, Quentin, no, um… I mean like—god you’re adorable.” He grinned at Quentin for a long moment before continuing. “I mean like... in bed.”

Quentin had to fight the urge to hide his face. “Oh, um… uh…” Shit. Had anyone ever asked him something like this before? “I guess I’ve never really thought about it.”

Eliot seemed genuinely amused. “Okay, that’s uh—” He let a silent laugh roll through him. “I mean you don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to. We don’t even have to hook-up again I just thought…” Eliot slipped a hand across his nape, nuzzling into Quentin gently. “We could have a little fun together, you know.”

Quentin didn’t know how to tell Eliot he’d only slept with three people in his entire life, and none of them more than once. So he just settled for, “Um… can I think about it?” as his whole body quickly transformed into a steadily burning flame.

“Of course,” Eliot said casually, pulling back with a smile. “I’m not talking about catching feelings or anything, Quentin.” He rolled onto his back in the cramped space between Quentin’s body and the wall. “You know where to find me.”

Quentin watched him for another handful of seconds before rolling out of bed. He gathered up his things, buttoning his shirt up all wrong and staggering to the door. “I’ll, um… I’ll see you later?”

Eliot, still lounging on the bed, nodded in his direction. “Later.”

Quentin all but ran out into the hall, nearly tripping over his own feet in the process. He only just barely had time to go to his room and take a shower that lasted less than a minute before dressing in a sweater and a pair of jeans he’d pulled from his dirty laundry. He made it to Medieval Philosophy in time, his hair still dripping from the shower, but he could hardly focus on the lecture to take a single coherent note. While the professor was rambling on about Thomas Aquinas, all Quentin could think about was the way Eliot’s hands had felt on his skin.

His phone buzzed with a text from Julia ten minutes before class let out—hey!!! lunch ????—and he met her in the commons dining hall just before noon, where she proceeded to eye him over her turkey sandwich with a knowing smile plastered on her face.

“So,” she said. “Who’d you go home with last night?”

Quentin poked at the salad he’d bought without thinking. “I could ask you the same thing. Or maybe just ask why you ditched me. Again.”

“Oh, please.” She rolled her eyes and dropped her sandwich onto her plate. “Girls aren’t going to approach you if I’m hanging around anyway.” She punctuated her point with another smile. “So you gonna stop deflecting and tell me her name or what.”

Quentin let his fork tumble down into the tangle of leafy greens that was supposed to be his lunch. “Why do you always assume it’s going to be a girl I’m hooking up with?”

Julia’s smile instantly transformed into a full-faced grin. “So you did get laid last night.”

Quentin ducked his head, a blush spreading up the back of his neck and washing over his cheeks. “I wouldn’t call it… that.”

“Name,” Julia said after a moment of silence. “Girl or boy or whoever.”

He met her eyes for a flash, then fixed his gaze firmly back down onto his salad. “I don’t see why it matters,” he said, his pulse picking up the second he let his mind rush back to being in Eliot’s bed. To being under his mouth, his hands, the strong press of his body…

He could feel the pity pouring out of her eyes without even looking. “Another bad one, hm?” she said. “Look, you’re just in a slump, I’m sure you’re going to meet—”

“It wasn’t bad!” Quentin shouted, and then shrank in on himself a little. Looking around, the scant few people at the other tables all had their eyes fixed on him now. “It wasn’t… it was, um…”

When Quentin looked to her again, Julia was still grinning. “Okay,” she said. “You don’t have to tell me, okay? I just—I’m happy for you. Whoever this mystery person whose name I’m clearly not going to get happens to be.”

Quentin picked up his fork just to give himself something to do. “Thank you,” he said very quietly.

“So are you planning on seeing them again?” Julia asked after a long moment of silence.

Quentin shrugged, his heart racing wildly under his ribs. “I don’t know,” he said. “He wants to but I—I don’t know. He’s like… a lot more experienced than I am and it’s kind of embarrassing.”

“You shouldn’t be embarrassed,” Julia said with a shrug, picking up her sandwich and taking an enormous bite, then saying with her mouth still full: “You’ve gotta learn from somebody, right?”

Quentin jabbed a piece of lettuce with his fork. “I don’t think just cause we, you know—it doesn’t mean he wants to be my—my sex tutor, Jules.”

Julia laughed quietly. “If he’s asking to see you again, it’s ‘cause he likes you, Q. I’m sure a little sex tutoring is not going to be a problem.”

Quentin took a shuddering breath and pushed it out. “Yeah, I—like I said I don’t know if I’m seeing him again, so—”

“Do you like him?”

Quentin met her gaze head-on, his heart skipping a beat. “What?”

“You heard me,” she said with a smirk. “Do you like him?”

Quentin hesitated, feeling foolish. The answer was obvious: of course he fucking liked Eliot. The problem was, he still couldn’t figure out why Eliot seemed to like him. “He’s definitely out of my league,” he said finally, to which Julia promptly shook her head.

“Don’t ruin something that could be really good for you by being an idiot,” she said. “As on-brand as that would be for you.”

She wasn’t wrong. Still. Quentin gave her a hard look. “I’m thinking about it,” he said, bringing a bite of salad right up to his lips. “Can we talk about something else now please?”

Brakebills University
September 2015

Quentin woke slowly with a groan. There was a terrible crick in his neck, and he was pretty sure his entire back was literally on fire. His mouth was so dry it hurt to even try to open it. Someone was nudging him in the ankle with the toe of their shoe. It took his eyes a moment to adjust and register who it was.

“Here,” Eliot said, pushing a glass of something that smelled like moldy death into his hands. “Drink up.”

Quentin groaned again, frowning down at the sludge in the glass. “What the hell is this?”

“Hangover cure,” Eliot said. “Make sure you spit in it before you take a drink.”

Quentin wanted to tell him to go fuck himself and shove the sludge back in his face, but the rhythmic thumping of the headache trapped right between his eyes made him think better of it at once. Swallowing his pride was probably worth it if it meant not having to lose an entire day to hugging the toilet and languishing in bed.

He spit in the glass and drank down the contents as quickly as he could stomach, holding his nose the entire time. It tasted exactly how it smelled, and for a moment only seemed to amplify his suffering tenfold. His stomach twisted and his head thumped like a death metal band had suddenly taken up residence in his skull.

Eliot flopped down on the sofa and used his telekinesis to float a bottle of water over to Quentin. “Just give it a minute,” he said. “A water chaser seems to speed the magic up.”

Quentin snatched the water out of the air and begrudgingly took a sip. “Why do you even care?” he said, offering Eliot little more than a side-eyed glance.

“Friends don’t let friends suffer through their very first hangover, Quentin.”

“It’s not my first—” Quentin whipped his head around, keeping his eyes fixed on the open collar of Eliot’s shirt to avoid his eyes. Which… might have been even worse. “God you’re a dick.”

“And good morning to you, too, Quentin,” Margo said, suddenly flopping down at Eliot’s side. “I see we’re feeling a little cranky after baby’s first big party.”

Margo and Eliot smiled at each other like super villains who’d just succeeded in their plot for world domination. Quentin took one last sip of water and staggered to his feet. The thumping in his head had gone down at least, and he figured that was a start.

“Thanks,” he said absently, waving both of them off and heading for the stairs. “Now if you’ll excuse me, some of us actually have to get to class.”

Margo actually meowed as Quentin walked away. “See you later, kitten!”

The deep rumble of Eliot’s laughter followed Quentin all the way up the stairs. His heart felt like it was going to explode. He went to the bathroom and locked himself inside, pressing his body back against the door until he remembered how to breathe. He went to the sink and brushed his teeth and splashed water on his face and sat on the edge of the tub for a very long time before deciding he probably needed a shower and a change of clothes. The hangover cure had definitely kicked in, but he still couldn’t hope to keep his hands from shaking as he got himself clean and toweled himself off and pulled on a soft old pair of his favorite jeans.

When Quentin was through making himself feel marginally more human, he took the back way out of the Cottage and headed for his first class of the day. Clutching the strap of his bag like a lifeline, he hadn’t made it halfway through the quad before being apprehended by Dean Fogg.

“Ah, Quentin!” The Dean said in that aggressively cheery way of his. “Just the man I wanted to see. If you have a moment, I’d like to speak with you in my office.”

“I, um…” Quentin swallowed, clutching his bag a little tighter. “I have to get to class, so…”

The Dean offered him a tight smile. “Your class doesn’t start for thirty-five minutes,” he said, already leading Quentin away with a firm hand on his shoulder. “And the matter I’d like to speak with you about is a bit more vital to your education than Magic of the Middle Ages.”

Quentin didn’t see the point in arguing. The Dean led him back through the quad to the administrative building where his office was housed, and proceeded to pour himself a scotch like it wasn’t ten in the morning before taking his seat behind his desk. Quentin stood nervously by the windows, worrying his hands into knots, waiting for the terrible news bomb looming overhead to explode all over his morning.

“Please,” The Dean said calmly, drawing Quentin from his anxiety spiral, “have a seat.”

Quentin obliged, if only to get this whole thing over with sooner. “Is everything all right?” he asked, doing his best to keep his voice from quavering. If you’re going to kick me out please just fucking do it already, he thought, clenching his teeth.

“Everything is perfectly fine,” Fogg said, the tight line of his smile entirely unconvincing. “Though, Professor March tells me you’re struggling a bit with some of the foundations of casting.”

Quentin stammered for a response, but the Dean cut him off before he could get a single word out.

“There’s no need to explain, Quentin,” he said. “We each bring our own set of strengths and weaknesses to the art of magic.”

Quentin already felt like he was going to cry. Way to be pathetic, Coldwater. “If you just give me a—a little more time, I can—”

Fogg raised a hand. “I assure you, this is far more common than you probably realize.”

“Okay, so…” Quentin knitted his brows together. “Why am I here if everything is fine and this is perfectly normal?”

“Many of our First Years who have experienced similar troubles have found it helpful to work with a tutor,” the Dean said. “A fellow student more advanced in their studies who can help nudge you over that initial hump, so to speak.”

“Okay…” Quentin's heart sank down into his belly. “Do I get to choose my tutor?”

“No, Quentin, you may not.” Quentin was starting to suspect the whole everything is perfectly fine thing was definitely bullshit. “One has already been selected for you.”

Quentin’s heart continued its downward journey, coming to rest somewhere in the vicinity of his shoes. “Selected how exactly?”

“Sense magic, of a sort,” the Dean said, fiddling with an instrument on his desk, eying his untouched drink like it was an escape hatch. “I won’t bore you with the details, but the spell is very precise. And works to pair you with the magical adept on campus with whom you’re most compatible.”

Quentin narrowed his eyes. “I could probably just ask Julia for help.”

“The spell didn’t pair you with Julia, I’m afraid,” Dean Fogg said, clasping his hands together on the desk.

Quentin thought he already knew the punchline to this particular cosmic joke. He asked anyway: “Who did it pair me with then?”

“Eliot Waugh,” said the Dean.

Quentin could only feel that same sinking feeling. His heart must have been somewhere near the center of the Earth by now. “Eliot doesn’t even go to class,” he said, because it was fucking true. “He’s never going to agree to—”

“He’s already agreed to help, Quentin.” Fogg just kept flashing him that same generic smile, brushing him off with a wave of his hand. “I am well aware of Eliot’s reputation, but the fact remains that he is one of this University’s most talented magical adepts.”

“I don’t see what that has to do with me.” Quentin knew he was just treading water, but he couldn’t stop himself. “Julia can be my tutor. Or—or Alice. Or—”

“Quentin.” The Dean tensed, wrapping his hand around his drink but not lifting it. “Do you want to be a magician?”

“What sort of question is that?” Quentin immediately shrank in on himself. “Sorry, I… I just don’t get why it matters who helps me get better.”

Another tense smile from the Dean. Quentin wanted to scream. “Tutoring someone in magic isn’t like teaching someone to read or write, Quentin. Some of us catch on more easily than others. The spell is a failsafe to assure we help you live up to your full potential.” He picked up his drink carefully, as if to say this is over whether you like it or not. “Give Eliot a chance. The way I see it, you probably have nothing more to lose at this point.”

Quentin bit his tongue and swallowed down his urge to argue. He understood perfectly well what loomed on the other side of this conversation: do what we tell you to do, you terrible joke of a magician, or you’re no longer welcome at our school.

He slinked out of Fogg’s office with his head screaming and his heart on fire, deciding to just skip Magic of the Middle Ages all together, because he didn’t see how a lecture on why it’s generally a bad idea to nuke your own liver with an unauthorized spell was going to help him anymore than sulking on the lawn and chain smoking cigarettes was going to.

An hour or so later, after class had let out, Julia found him lying on his back in the grass, puffing away on his last cigarette, a graveyard of butts scattered around his head like a halo.

“Hey,” she said, lying down beside him. “Skipping class already, hm?”

“Doesn’t matter,” Quentin said, offering her a sideways glance before fixing his eyes back on the clouds. “I’m fucking toast, Jules.”

“You’re so dramatic.” She snatched the cigarette out of his fingers and took a drag.

“Fogg assigned me a tutor.” He let that sit a moment as Julia passed the cigarette back and he pressed it to his lips. “Go on. Ask me who it is.”

Julia turned on her side at once, propping herself up on an elbow. “Get the fuck out.”

Quentin sighed hard. “You didn’t ask—”

“He’s fucking with you,” she said with a quirk of her mouth. “He’s totally—you know that he’s fucking with you, right?”

“Fogg said they used a spell to match us.” Quentin passed her the dregs of the cigarette, then squeezed his eyes shut, pinching the bridge of his nose. “I don’t know… what he said doesn’t actually make any sense.”

“Why can’t I just tutor you?” Julia asked after a long moment, rolling onto her back. “Or… anyone else on campus? Why does it have to be him?”

“I don’t know.” Quentin opened his eyes, choking back a pathetic swell of tears. “Do you think Eliot could have found out and manipulated the spell somehow?”

“Wouldn’t put it past him,” Julia said. “Not after everything he’s done to you. It’s like he gets off on ruining people’s lives.”

Quentin swiped at his damp eyes. “I’m not doing it,” he said. “You can tutor me and I’ll—I’ll get better and—and they’ll see how stupid and pointless their stupid pointless spell is.”

“Come on,” Julia said suddenly, sitting up and tugging at Quentin’s sleeve.

Quentin groaned as he pulled himself up off the grass. “Where are we going?”

Julia smirked. “We’re going to teach you some fucking magic, Coldwater.”

Brooklyn
August 2014

James brushed a strand of hair away from Quentin’s brow. “Just tell me what you want,” he said, cupping one of Quentin’s hands in both of his. “Come on. Talk to me, Q.”

Quentin shifted uncomfortably on the edge of the mattress. “I… I already told you. It’s—it doesn’t work if you…” He sighed hard and pulled his hand away. “Just forget it. We can just—we can just go to sleep.”

A nervous laugh slipped out of James’ chest. “But you don’t—come on.” He touched Quentin’s face softly, and Quentin had to fight the urge to turn away. “Q, please. I wanna make it good for you.”

Quentin knew that James had the best of intentions, but they’d been over this so many times in the five-ish weeks they’d been sleeping together. If you could even call it that. “It’s—what we did last night was fine, okay?” He shrugged, face burning. “Let’s just do that again.”

Blow jobs under the covers in the dark were—they were fine. They would get each other off and go to sleep and everything would be... fine. And James would hold Quentin close. And he would be soft and warm and safe. And maybe—just maybe—Quentin would even succeed in getting out of his own head for a little while. It would be enough.

Quentin crashed forward and brought their mouths together, telling himself it would be enough.

Columbia University
November 2013

Quentin stood in the hallway outside of Eliot’s room. Their dorm was suspiciously quiet for a Friday night, but Quentin’s concerns were elsewhere. Namely, getting his hand to cooperate long enough to raise itself and knock on the fucking door.

He took a breath, and then another. Quentin couldn’t do it, even as his dick was getting hard just thinking about seeing Eliot tonight. He ran his hand through his short crop of hair and turned to skulk back to his own room down the hall.

And then suddenly Eliot was just… there. Stepping out of the elevator looking immaculate in a white button down and a pair of dark blue suspenders. “Quentin,” he said, his eyes red-rimmed and droopy, a dopey grin spreading over his face. “Heyyy. You wanna go get stoned?”

“It, uh, looks like you’ve already beat me to it,” Quentin said with a nervous laugh, his body lighting up like the Fourth of July when Eliot placed a hand on his shoulder.

“Perhaps,” Eliot said, slipping an arm around Quentin’s shoulders. “Still, I hope I’m not catching you at a bad time.”

Quentin allowed his body to be led back down the hall. It was the most thrilling feeling, being consumed in Eliot’s warmth. He could hardly get his tongue to work long enough to spit out a few mumbled words. “It’s a good time,” he said, and Eliot shot him a grin as he reached to open the door.

“Oh, yes, Quentin,” Eliot said. “It is a very, very good time indeed.”

They stepped inside and shut the door. Eliot clapped, and his room came to life in a burst of twinkle lights and color, a glow that seemed to emanate from nowhere at all seeping out of every corner and straight into Quentin’s bones.

Eliot flopped down onto his bed with a tremendous, contented sigh. “So,” he said, looking Quentin over carefully. “How are you tonight?”

“I, um…” Quentin fidgeted with the hem of his shirt, a blush pinking his cheeks. “You said, um… that I knew where to find you if, um… you know…”

A grin spread over Eliot’s face at once. “Right. Of course.” He drew his bottom lip between his teeth slowly. “You wanna have a little fun with me tonight, pretty boy?”

Quentin’s stomach twisted itself into a hundred thousand knots at the sound of Eliot’s voice. No one had ever called him… anything like that before. He tried to open his mouth to speak, but his throat only clicked pathetically. Eliot moved to the edge of the mattress and held out a hand.

“Come here,” he said very softly, and Quentin allowed himself to be drawn in without a single thought. Eliot caught Quentin’s wrist in the circle of his fingers when he was close enough to touch. “God, look at you, blushing already…”

God. Quentin wished his hair was long enough to hide behind. He ducked his head and averted his gaze. “Um, so—”

“So,” Eliot purred, taking Quentin by the hips and drawing him closer. “Hey…”

Before he could even register what was happening, Quentin found himself straddling Eliot’s lap on the bed. And Eliot’s hands were pushing up under his shirt, and his lips were going for Quentin’s throat. And Quentin’s blood was rushing so loudly in his ears he could hardly keep hold of a single one of his own thoughts.

“Fuck,” Eliot’s voice rumbled against Quentin’s skin. “You’re so warm…”

Quentin wrapped himself around Eliot tightly, certain he was going to pass out if he didn’t hold on. It felt like Eliot’s hands and mouth were just… everywhere, setting every one of Quentin’s nerves alight. Some pathetic sound clawed out of Quentin’s throat when he tried to speak, and Eliot hummed against the side of his neck.

“So,” he said very softly, “since you came back…” His fingers pressed up along the dip of Quentin’s spine, making him shiver. “You wanna tell me what you’re into now?”

Quentin swallowed, a kick of desire thumping in time with his heart between his legs. “I, uh… I already told you,” he pushed out, making a sound that was half laugh, half moan when Eliot nipped at his ear. “I really—really don’t think about it.”

A silent laugh rolled through Eliot’s body, shaking them both. “You really don’t have to be shy.”

“I’m not,” Quentin said, voice breaking terribly. “I’m—I don’t know. I’ve never—”

“Oh my god,” Eliot said, suddenly pulling back and looking deep in Quentin’s eyes. “Don’t tell me you’re a virg—”

“I’m not a virgin!” Quentin hadn’t meant to shout. His face burned impossibly hotter. “Not like, um… not technically. Um… I’ve, you know…”

“Jesus.” Eliot sounded awe-struck. “You’re not fucking around, are you?”

Quentin ducked his head, making to pull away. “Sorry, um—sorry, I can go if—”

“Don’t you dare.” Eliot’s grip on his hips was a firm and solid weight. “Don’t, it’s—god damn, Quentin.” He laughed, studying Quentin’s face in the dim glow. “It’s okay if you’re… inexperienced. If you really wanna go, I won’t try and stop you but... I promise you it’s not a problem for me.”

Quentin met Eliot’s eyes head-on, reminding himself to breathe. “Why would you, um… why would you wanna do… you know, with um… with someone who—”

“Quentin,” Eliot said very gently, taking Quentin’s face in his hands. “Don’t overthink it, okay? You’re hot, I’m hot…” He laughed softly. “I am more than happy to take you under my wing and teach you a thing or two or… a hundred. Whatever. Or we can just jack each other off again and call it a night.”

Quentin let out a broken little laugh. “I don’t understand how you can be so casual about it,” he said, shivering as Eliot’s hands slid down to his neck.

“Sex is… whatever. It’s fun.” Eliot smirked, his strong hands sliding down to Quentin’s shoulders. “It feels good and... I’m really good at it.”

Quentin took a shuddering breath. “I’m not.”

“I wasn’t complaining last night.” Eliot’s hands slipped down Quentin’s body, from his arms to his waist to his hips. “Okay, how about—we’ll just take this one step at a time, okay?”

Quentin nodded, taking one deep breath after another.

Eliot drew their hips together slowly. He was hard, and Quentin was too, and for a moment everything turned to rushing blood and white noise and blurry vision. “Just tell me this,” he said. “Have you only been with girls before now?”

Quentin shook his head. “No, um… one boy, um…” He had to laugh, thinking back to how terrible it had been. “It was… weird.”

“Okay,” Eliot hummed, nuzzling against Quentin’s cheek. “So… you don’t know what you’re into.”

“Not really, um… I mean, I’ve watched a lot of porn, um—fuck.” Quentin knocked his forehead against Eliot’s shoulder, feeling every bit the loser he knew himself to be. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologize.” Eliot began rubbing soothing circles into Quentin’s back. “You have no idea how—god. Okay, just um… tell me what kind of porn you like to watch?”

“I don’t know,” Quentin mumbled against Eliot’s neck. “Um… blow jobs are nice.”

“Oh, I concur,” Eliot purred, tugging Quentin back to meet his eyes, holding him gently by the shoulders. “So… tell me. When you’re watching… blow jobs. Do you like to imagine you’re the one being blown, or that you’re the one… doing the blowing.”

“I don’t know,” Quentin breathed, trembling like a leaf caught up in a hurricane. “Both are good I guess.”

Eliot smirked. “You don’t have to be shy, Quentin. You—”

“I’m not, I’m—fuck.” Quentin sighed with his entire body. “I guess, um… usually when I’m watching porn I’m not really thinking about myself.”

“Certainly you have a fantasy,” Eliot said very softly, slipping his fingers along the buttons of Quentin’s shirt. “Believe me, Quentin, there’s nothing I haven’t heard at this point.”

“I don’t know, I don’t know.” Quentin grew more distressed by the second. Honestly, he might as well have been a virgin. It wasn’t like any of his experience mattered. “Could you just, um… could you just tell me what you want me to do?”

Something stirred in Eliot’s eyes at that. Something dark and feral. “Okay...” he said very carefully. “Okay. I, um…” He paused, arms slipping around Quentin’s middle as a laugh rumbled through him. “Do you like being told what to do, Quentin?”

Eliot’s mouth was on his neck again, and Quentin could only hold on tight and tremble. “I don’t know,” he breathed. “Maybe…”

Eliot hummed happily. “Okay, so… how about—” he punctuated his words with a kiss—“you sit on the bed and we get you a little more comfortable, hm?”

Quentin nodded slowly, then crawled awkwardly out of Eliot’s lap and flopped down onto the bed, sitting back against the wall with his heart racing like a bird trapped inside the cage of his chest. Eliot stood and turned to him, eying Quentin carefully in the dim light. He was half-hard inside his pants, and the thrill at the sight of it was almost more than Quentin’s frazzled nerves could take.

“If we’re going to do this,” Eliot said, stepping forward and touching Quentin’s knee, “we need to establish a few… ground rules.”

“Okay.” Quentin swallowed, bunching the covers beneath him into loose fists. “Like what?”

“Like…” Eliot pushed one knee onto the bed in between Quentin’s legs. “Like if I tell you to do something you’re unsure about, you’ll tell me to go fuck myself.” He ran one hand up the expanse of Quentin’s thigh, his body heat seeping through Quentin’s jeans. “Tell me you understand.”

Quentin nodded slowly, pinned under Eliot’s heat and his gaze. “Yes,” he said. “I understand.”

“Good,” Eliot said after a long, quiet moment, finally pulling away. “First—hmmm,” he considered Quentin with a smirk tugging at his mouth. “I think I’d like you to stand up for me, actually.”

Eliot took a few steps back and waited. Quentin shimmed off the bed and stumbled to his feet. And—god. Eliot was… he was tall and handsome and elegant. The way he held himself was like a goddamn fairytale prince. Quentin didn’t care how lame that sounded. Eliot Waugh carried his body through the world like unsuspecting royalty. Like the uncrowned High King of Fillory, traipsing around planet Earth without a clue there should actually be jewels glittering on his head.

“Come here,” Eliot said, holding out a hand. “The first thing I want you to do is kiss me.”

Every time Eliot beckoned it was like a magnetic force. Like the center of the Earth opening up and swallowing Quentin whole. Quentin took one step and then another, until he found himself pressing right up against the heat of Eliot’s body, his hands going to the straps of Eliot’s suspenders because he didn’t know what else to do.

“Hey,” Eliot said, skimming his knuckles down Quentin’s cheek with a smirk. “Come closer.”

Quentin went up onto his toes, gripping the straps in his hands like they were the only things anchoring him to the ground. Eliot fingers tangled into his hair as their lips slotted together, slowly, growing from a spark into a five alarm blaze in the space of a single breath. Quentin moaned, throwing his arms around Eliot’s neck. He backed Eliot up against the dresser without even meaning to. Everything was just happening so fast. Eliot’s hands went to his ass and Quentin felt the ground tipping underneath his feet. If it weren’t for Eliot’s body holding him up, he was certain his knees would have given out right then.

Eliot broke the kiss with a needy little sound. “Jesus, Q…” he pushed out with a laugh, his warm hands moving up under the back of Quentin’s shirt. “Fuck, okay…”

Quentin panted against Eliot’s neck. “Sorry, I—”

“You have nothing to be sorry for,” Eliot said, separating their bodies gently, his eyes flicking from Quentin’s mouth to his eyes. “Take your shirt off. I wanna see you.”

Quentin nodded, stepping back, his fingers trembling as they went to the buttons of his shirt. It took him a literal eternity to get all of them undone, but Eliot didn’t seem to mind. He leaned back against the dresser casually, arms crossed over his chest, watching Quentin like they had all the time in the world, just the two of them alone in this room. Like maybe when they’d crossed over the threshold and shut the door time had stopped outside all together. The Earth had stilled on her axis. There was only Eliot’s gaze, Quentin’s trembling fingers…

Quentin popped the last button open and did his best to not look like a total loser as he peeled it from his arms and tossed it to the floor. He could only stand there after, heart pounding, body flushing a bright shade of crimson as Eliot stepped forward and pressed a hand to the side of his neck.

“That’s better, hm?” Eliot’s free hand skimmed down the curve of Quentin’s shoulder. “Tell me how you’re feeling.”

“I don’t know, I don’t—” Quentin squeezed his eyes shut, shaking his head. “I’m sorry, I’m—”

“Stop apologizing, pretty boy,” Eliot thumbed at the swell of Quentin’s bottom lip. “We just need to get you out of that head for a little while, I think.”

Quentin nodded, his eyes still screwed up tight. “That sounds nice, thank you.”

“Yeah,” Eliot said, laughing gently, taking Quentin by the hand, “I think so too.”

Quentin opened his eyes, and let Eliot lead him back over to the bed. The most bizarre feeling washed over him then. Even though he’d technically known Eliot for years, they really didn’t know each other at all. Still, in that moment, the overwhelming trust pumping in Quentin’s heart was unlike anything he’d ever felt for another person before. It was ridiculous; thrilling and terrifying and calming and and and—

Eliot ran the straps of his suspenders through his hands teasingly, looking Quentin over with a hunger in his eyes. “Take off your shoes,” he said. “Socks too.”

Quentin kicked off one shoe and then the other. Eliot actually lit a cigarette then—did he use a lighter? Quentin didn’t think he’d seen one last night either. And seriously, how was he even getting away with smoking in his room so blatantly to begin with?—casually puffing away as Quentin got to work peeling off his socks. It would have been borderline rude had he not looked so ungodly gorgeous doing so.

“That’s good,” Eliot said when Quentin was through, ashing his cigarette into the ashtray on the dresser. “Belt.”

Quentin swallowed, eyes fixed on the smoke curling around Eliot’s head as his fingers fumbled with the buckle. Pulling the belt through each of the loops on his jeans seemed to take a small eternity, but it was nice to have something to focus on other than the slowly simmering dread that he was about to leave Eliot very, very disappointed at the end of… whatever they were about to do.

Eliot butted his cigarette out when Quentin tossed his belt down on the floor. “That’s very good,” he said, stepping closer, reaching out and carding his fingers through the short crop of Quentin’s hair. “Pants now. But leave your underwear on.”

Quentin’s fingers shook the entire time he was working his fly open and tugging his zipper down. He lifted his hips up off the bed and shimmied his jeans down beneath his hips as Eliot stood watching, licking his lips as Quentin shoved them down below his knees, then his ankles, finally kicking them away to pool down on the floor.

“God...” Eliot kicked the discarded clothes out of his way so he could kneel at Quentin’s feet. “You are—look at you…”

Quentin felt raw and utterly exposed, even though he still had his boxers on. He couldn’t hope to hide the size of his erection, or the way that he was blushing from his ears down to his chest. Or the way his shoulders rose and fell so quickly with the force of his breathing. Or the way his body quivered all over as Eliot ran his hands up the curves of his knees, over his thighs, the whisper of a touch, like a kiss from skin-to-skin.

“Can I ask you a question?” Eliot skimmed the legs of Quentin’s boxers with his fingers, smirking when Quentin answered with a nod. “With a gentle reminder you are free to tell me to go fuck myself at any time and I won’t be offended.”

Quentin swallowed around the lump in his throat. “Yeah. Of course.”

Eliot took his bottom lips between his teeth, his hands moving up to Quentin’s hips. “Have you ever given a blow job before?”

All at once, Quentin felt the air being sucked out of his lungs. “Um,” he managed to stutter out, laughing away the nerves as he worried his hands against the covers. “Once, um… the one guy I was with, we—I don’t think I was very good at it.”

“Well, now, see,” Eliot purred, pushing forward to press a kiss to the center of Quentin’s chest, “that’s just because you weren’t with someone who wanted to make it good for you.”

“I don’t understand what you mean,” Quentin said, feeling well and truly like the world’s most pathetic virgin now.

“Sex isn’t just about…” Eliot kissed his way down Quentin’s chest slowly. “Chasing an orgasm. It’s about…” Eliot nuzzled into Quentin’s middle, pressing a soft kiss there, making him squirm. “You know… I think I’d rather just show you.”

Before Quentin could even hope to get a word out, Eliot curved a hand around the bulge tenting the front of his boxers. Gently, hardly a touch at all. A promise of what was to come more than anything. Still, Quentin gasped, bucking up into the contact in a way that Eliot must have found hysterical, if the smile that spread over his face was anything to go on.

Eliot ducked his head, nuzzling against Quentin’s erection through the fabric of his shorts. Quentin’s hands groped at the back of his head, his shoulders, trying desperately to ground himself as the room began to tip and spin and come unglued. He mouthed at the head of Quentin’s dick and Quentin made a strangled sound. Some pathetic, involuntary thing he couldn’t keep from sputtering out. He could come like this, he could, and the worst part was Quentin knew it would hardly take any time at all.

Eliot pulled back, teasing his fingers along the space where his mouth had been. “I… am going to get undressed,” he said. “And then I’m going to sit right where you’re sitting. And I’m going to put you on your knees. Okay?”

Quentin could only nod, feeling all at once too connected to his body and utterly apart from himself, floating up somewhere near the ceiling as Eliot rose to his feet. He didn’t put on a show undressing like Quentin had expected him to. Eliot was extremely practical about the entire ordeal: slipping his suspenders from his shoulders, untucking his shirt, unbuttoning each button with a casual ease. Shoes, socks, pants, underwear. Everything was removed and folded and tucked away neatly. And when Eliot stood before him entirely bare, Quentin’s dick jumped between his legs at the sight.

Eliot’s soft cock hung thick and heavy between his legs, his back rod-straight, the set of his shoulders perfectly relaxed. “Hey,” he said, stepping forward and holding out his hands. “Can you stand up for me?”

Quentin let Eliot take his hands, and guide him in a practiced dance to his feet. And Eliot kissed his mouth softly, and then lowered himself down onto the bed. And Quentin couldn’t help but fall to his knees without a word. It was like the most natural thing, settling in between the spread of Eliot’s thighs and gazing upward.

Eliot smoothed a hand over the top of Quentin’s head. “That’s perfect,” he said. “You’re perfect.”

“Shut up,” Quentin said, playfully ducking his head, turning what he imagined might be an entirely new shade of red in the process.

Eliot caught him by the chin, tipping his gaze upward. “There you are. That’s it,” he said very gently. “Now… you wanna open that pretty mouth for me?”

Eliot thumbed at his bottom lip as Quentin’s jaw went slack, mouth parting without hesitation. The pad of Eliot’s thumb pressed in just a little, just enough to tease over his tongue before pulling back. Quentin wanted to chase it, but something in his bones told him that he should be still. That he should only take what he was given; only do as he had been told to do by Eliot’s words alone.

“Come closer.” Eliot’s voice came out barely more than a whisper, his feet planted firmly on the floor, his body inching up right to the edge of the bed. He was holding his soft cock in one hand, touching Quentin’s face with the other. “I just want you to hold it in your mouth. Just—you can say no if you—”

“I want to,” Quentin blurted, because—god. He didn’t think he’d ever wanted anything more. Not magic, not Fillory. Not a crown on his head, not a throne in Whitespire. Not a quest, not—

“Good,” Eliot said, a little breathless, taking Quentin by the nape and guiding him forward. “Open, open—good, that’s—oh, fuck, Q. Yes…”

Quentin didn’t have a lot of first hand—first mouth?—experience to go by, but he was pretty certain that by all standards Eliot Waugh’s dick was fucking massive. He pressed in between Quentin’s lips slowly, in a way that was almost tender, and Quentin’s mind went all fuzzy in an instant, a full body tremble ripping through him like a storm.

“That’s so good,” Eliot breathed. “That’s—that’s perfect, baby.”

Eliot’s praise felt like a kiss. He was growing harder by the second, and Quentin moaned around the stretch of it, aching deeply down between his legs. Something was happening in his body. Something very different from the nerves or arousal he was used to. Something that almost felt like static buzzing under his skin. It clawed up into his brain and whited out his mind until he could hardly even remember the sound of his own name. It was like sinking and floating all at once. It was like, finally, after twenty-two years of that little voice in his head running on a near-constant loop, someone finally had the good sense to come along and flip his switch to off.

Eliot pulled him off with a soft little whimper. “Are you okay?” Quentin thought he heard Eliot say through the rushing river that was now his mind.

Quentin tried to open his mouth to respond, but it was the strangest thing. The link between his mouth and his brain had been entirely broken. It would have been terrifying if it hadn’t been for Eliot’s strong hands holding him steady.

He managed to give a little nod, a broken sound cracking out of his chest where his words should have been. Eliot nodded back, and took himself in hand again, and dragged the head of his dick across the seam of Quentin’s lips.

“Stick out your tongue,” he said, and Quentin did so at once. “Good… good…”

Quentin lost himself to the rush of all that came after that: Eliot’s breath, Eliot’s hands; the breathy little way that Eliot commanded Quentin to suck, ohgodyes just like that; the filthy, aching way that Eliot throbbed against his tongue, between his lips; Eliot’s fingers in his hair, on his face; Eliot’s hips thrusting upward, just a little, just enough…

A warmth spread down between Quentin’s legs. Full-body pleasure sizzled through him like lightning. Every inch of his skin felt like stars. Distantly, he was aware of Eliot moaning, repeating Quentin’s name over and over like prayer. Seconds, minutes, hours, days. Quentin had no concept of how much time had passed, but suddenly Eliot was pulling out from between his lips, mumbling something that sounded like, “Do you want me to come in your mouth?”

Quentin had to force his eyes open. He couldn’t think, he couldn’t speak. All he knew was that he wanted. He was pretty sure he’d managed to nod his head at least, because suddenly Eliot was making a strangled sound, and pulling him back down by his nape. And then, almost as quickly as he’d slipped back inside the heat of Quentin’s mouth, Eliot began to crumble apart.

Quentin swore he could taste Eliot’s pleasure as he splashed all over his tongue, pulsing there until he had nothing left to give. Quentin held him in the warm pocket of his cheek until Eliot started going soft. For a long moment neither of them moved. Quentin swam and sank and flew and drifted. When the time came, he was only faintly aware that he was being dragged up to his feet and deposited onto the bed.

“Jesus,” Eliot’s voice drifted like sweet music into Quentin’s ears. “Did you…”

It was only then that Quentin felt the wetness down between his legs, his boxers sticking to his spent cock where he’d come all over himself entirely untouched. Eliot curled up at his side, pressing kisses into Quentin sweat-slick hair. Quentin wanted to say so many things: I’m sorry. What the fuck just happened? Can we please do that all over again right now immediately? But he still couldn’t find his way back to forming words.

Eliot let out a contented sigh against Quentin’s temple. “That was fucking spectacular,” he mumbled, punctuating his words with another gentle kiss.

Deep in the billowing fog of his mind, Quentin heard his own voice whispering the sound of Eliot’s name, over and over until he thought it might be the only word he would ever speak again.

Brakebills University
September 2015

Julia sighed, taking Quentin’s hands in hers and twisting his fingers around. “No, like this,” she said. “You had it right the first time and then you—just… try again, okay?”

They’d moved on from First Illumination—which Quentin had only gotten sorta-right, his little glowing orb coming out pea-sized and pathetic, sputtering out its light for only a few seconds before fizzling away—and were now trudging through the basics of levitation on the little glass marble all the First Years had been given.

Quentin focused until he was certain his eyes were going to pop out of his head, fingers shaped exactly as Julia had left them, willing the magic to come. The marble in the table beneath him sat mockingly still under his hands. “Maybe I’m not a magician,” Quentin lamented, pressing his hands flat against the table, eying the marble like an enemy. “Maybe—”

“Stop right there.” Julia lifted up a hand. “This is your whole problem, Q. You’re too busy whining—”

“Jules.”

“Whining and thinking about—”

“Stop.”

“About Eliot,” she said firmly, snatching up the marble, levitating it from her palm all the way up to the ceiling. “You are a magician,” she continued, catching the marble when it plopped back down. “You passed the exam. Just fucking do it, Q. I know you can. You did First Illumination… sorta.”

“Thank you,” Quentin said, slumping down in his chair. “That’s very helpful, Jules.”

“Would you rather your ex-boyfriend be teaching you magic right now?”

He stared at her across the table for a long time. “I don’t think we were ever really boyfriends,” he said at last. “He just fucked me until he got bored.”

Julia gave him a pitying look that made Quentin’s stomach turn. “Whatever he was to you,” she said, “the best revenge you can get is to be the most kickass magician Brakebills has ever seen. Prove to that dick you never needed him to begin with.”

Julia dropped the marble into his hand, and Quentin gazed down into the glassy center, wishing for a vision. Some sign that he shouldn’t just pick up right then and return to the monotony that had been his life with James. He shut his eyes, took a breath, and when he opened them again he set the marble on the table.

Quentin readied his fingers and willed his magic to come. He cast, or at least he thought he did. Everything about what he was doing was technically correct, but underneath Quentin’s hands the marble didn’t budge.

Chapter Text

Columbia University
November 2013

Quentin waited until Eliot was asleep to slip out of bed and hastily tug his clothes back on. The illuminated screen of his phone told him it was just past 12am. Clutching his shoes to his chest, he opened the door as quietly as he could manage and tip-toed out into the hall, all but running to his room and clicking the lock shut firmly behind him.

The moment he was safely inside, Quentin made a beeline for his laptop, frantically pecking into Google can you have a stroke during sex? The WebMD pages and forum posts he read nearly sent him into an anxiety spiral, but the symptoms listed sounded nothing like what had actually happened at least. He shut the laptop and took a breath, saying his name out loud just to confirm that his mouth had started working again.

Satisfied that he probably wasn’t going to die, Quentin pulled a pair of clean boxers out of his dresser along with his favorite soft pajama bottoms and a threadbare t-shirt and headed to the shower. He turned the water up as hot as it would go. When he was finished scorching his skin supple and pink he went back to his room and shut off the lights and curled up in bed with his hair still dripping wet, tugging his knees up to his chest and shoving his phone up under his pillow.

Approximately thirty seconds after Quentin shut his eyes, his phone let out a muffled buzz under his head. He couldn’t remember giving Eliot his number, but as he squinted at the screen in the dark, Quentin knew the text couldn’t be from anyone else.

Sweet dreams, pretty boy, it read, making Quentin’s pulse pick up at once.

He let the screen go dark, desperately searching the well of his mind for something clever to say before his fingers decided to betray him: Can I ask u smth???? he pecked out, hitting send before he could even consider what he was doing.

A handful of seconds later, the number that was probably Eliot replied: Sure

U know a lot about sex right ???

Now what gave you that idea, maybe-Eliot said.

Quentin’s regret was swift and all-consuming. Never mind, he typed as quickly as his shaking fingers would allow. Goodnight, Eliot. If this is Eliot. Sorry if ur not.

The screen went dark. A handful of miserable minutes passed. When the phone lit up again, Quentin’s heart jumped into his throat. It’s me, Eliot’s message read. Sorry. You’re worried about what happened ?????

Quentin felt like he wanted to cry, which only served to make him feel even more pathetic. He choked down a swell of tears and replied simply: Yeah

A minute passed that felt like an eternity. Finally Eliot responded: Don’t be........ think it was just subspace

Quentin squinted at his phone, replying: Whatspace????????

Eliot actually had the audacity to wait nearly five whole minutes to respond. Ur a sub, he said finally, and Quentin’s eyes nearly popped out of his head.

??????????????????

A submissive, Eliot replied. Then, a few seconds later: U didn’t crash did u ???????

Quentin replied with another long string of question marks.

We should talk in person. Typing on phone sux, Eliot replied almost immediately. Then: Tomorrow?

Quentin could only blink at his phone until the screen went dark. If Eliot had asked him what he even needed in that moment, he wouldn't have been able to say. Being a submissive didn’t sound like something Quentin wanted to be. All he knew was that being with Eliot had felt better than almost anything he’d experienced in twenty-two years of life, even if the end result had been sort of terrifying and confusing.

After a long moment of agonizing, Quentin pecked out okay goodnight, to which Eliot replied with a winking emoji that made his stomach turn itself inside out and sideways.

Quentin tossed his phone down onto the floor, and tossed his arm over his eyes, and tried his best to pretend that he was actually going to be able to sleep.

Brakebills University
September 2015

Quentin dragged himself back to the Cottage with an old familiar emptiness in the hollow of his chest. He lowered himself down onto one of the sofas in the common room and wished for tears to come. He’d left Julia in the library with his marble and her magic. Somehow, he’d convinced her not to follow. Maybe, deep down, even his oldest friend had come to realize what Quentin truly was.

It was only when Eliot appeared from around a corner and sat down next to him on the sofa that anything resembling a human emotion began to tug at Quentin’s heart. “I take it Henry told you—”

Quentin shot Eliot a venomous look that stole the words straight out of his mouth. “You are not teaching me anything,” he spit, his voice some pitiful, shrunken thing he hardly recognized as his own. “And if you think you’re fooling anyone with—” He shut his eyes and took a deep, shuddering breath. “Please just leave me alone.”

He kept his eyes squeezed shut for a very long time.

“I…” Eliot started and stopped, that single letter so tender and soft Quentin thought he might melt into the center of the Earth. “I really just want to help, Quentin. Henry says—”

“I know what Henry says,” Quentin said through gritted teeth, fixing his gaze firmly on his own shoes. “Please. I just… I don’t want…”

“Quentin, I—” Quentin could see Eliot’s hand hovering over his knee out of the corner of his eye, and then Eliot thinking better of it before pulling away. “I’m sorry if I’ve upset you.”

Quentin swallowed around the fist-sized lump occupying the column of his throat. “Can you just tell me one thing,” he said very carefully, looking at Eliot’s hands instead of his eyes. “Did any of it—” He shook his head, choking back a hot swell of tears. “Did you ever feel, um—all that time… did you ever...”

The words died away on his tongue before he could speak them. At Quentin’s side, Eliot was very quiet and very still.

“I really think… I can help,” he said eventually, and Quentin didn’t know if he wanted to cry or scream in response. “I’ll leave you to think about it.” Eliot rose to his feet, and Quentin stared down at the rug with tears bursting in his eyes. “I’ll be in the library after dinner tonight if you’d like to meet me there.”

After Eliot had gone, Quentin buried his face in his hands, a terrible sob catching in his throat.

Columbia University
November 2013

Bleary-eyed and exhausted, Quentin picked up breakfast sandwiches and coffee at the dining hall at the truly ungodly hour of 7am, and sat on a bench in the quad waiting for Julia to respond to one of the countless texts he’d sent since pulling himself out of bed before sunrise.

Hey. Breakfast ????

What do u want????

Jules………

I rlly need to talk 2 u

I’m going to get food n coffee meet me in the quad…….

I’m here on bench food getting cold pls hurry?????

Julia

:(

It was nearly 8 when she finally joined him, wrapped in a heavy cardigan with her pajama bottoms still on, hair piled in a messy bun on top of her head. “Okay, so,” she said, wrapping her hands around her now cold paper cup of coffee, “you wanna tell me why you’re blowing up my phone on a Saturday morning when neither of us have to be awake?”

“Sorry, um, so…” Quentin poked at his cold breakfast sandwich, still in its paper wrapper. “I, uh… have a question.”

Julia quirked a brow, sipping her coffee. “One that couldn’t wait until lunchtime?”

Quentin blushed, hot under his jacket in spite of the autumn chill. “Do you think I’m, um… do you think I seem… submissive?”

Julia nearly choked. “Tell me you’re not serious,” she said. “I could be having morning sex right now.”

“Julia, please—”

“Fuck, I could be sleeping right now.”

“Jules.”

Julia met his eyes, setting her coffee down and reaching for her sandwich. “Is this about that guy you’re banging?” she asked. “You saw him again last night?”

Quentin took a slow breath. “I don’t know that I would call what we did—I don’t, um… it was, uh…”

“You did see him.”

“Yeah.” Quentin ran a nervous hand through his hair. “It was… weird.”

Weird weird or weird hot?”

Quentin shook his head. “The last one I… I think.”

Julia smiled, biting into her sandwich. “Details.”

“I don’t know, it um…” Quentin ducked his head. “When we did… what we did. I sort of thought I was going to die, like… it felt—I’ve never felt that way before. It was… really really good, but, uh…”

Julia furrowed her brows in his direction. “I don’t see what the problem is. Sex is supposed to feel good.”

“No it wasn’t—” Quentin pinched the bridge of his nose. “It’s hard to explain. Something… happened. And I got freaked out but he said it was only because I’m, um…”

“Are we getting to the submissive thing now?”

“Yeah.” Quentin sighed. “Do I seem… like that?”

Julia shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe? Would it bother you if you did?”

“I don’t know,” Quentin said. “I guess I never thought of being submissive as a good thing.”

Julia smiled and shook her head. “You think too much,” she said. “As long as this guy’s not treating you like shit—”

“He’s not,” Quentin blurted, his belly twisting when he thought about just how gentle Eliot had been. “He’s, um… he’s really nice.”

“Then it’s... whatever,” Julia said with a quirk of her mouth. “Stop worrying about how you might seem to other people and just do what makes you feel good.”

Quentin nodded, unwrapping his sandwich slowly. “Thanks, Jules,” he said. “You can, uh… go back to your walking jawline now if you want.”

Julia nudged him with her shoulder. “Watch it, Coldwater,” she said playfully. “So, who is this mystery man with the dick so good it almost killed you?”

Quentin’s heart fluttered under his ribs. “I promise I’ll tell you if it turns into anything serious.”

Julia narrowed her eyes. “If it’s one of your professors—”

“Oh my god,” Quentin said with a laugh. “Now I’m really never telling you.”

“Because you’re actually banging one of your professors?”

Quentin took a bite of his ice cold sandwich with a shrug. “Maybe I am.”

After Julia had gone, Quentin pulled his phone out of his pocket to a single text notification from Eliot: Busy this morning, pretty boy? Come by mine after?

Quentin fumbled to peck out a reply, his blood racing furiously in his ears. Not busy be right there.

He had to physically stop himself from running back to the dorm. By the time he got to his room, anticipation was rattling his insides with such force Quentin thought his knees were going to give out. He shrugged out of his jacket and checked himself in the mirror. There were bags under his eyes from lack of sleep, but he guessed there wasn’t much he could do about that now. Quentin ran a hand through his hair that didn’t do anything to fix how rumpled it looked. He thought about changing his outfit, but honestly all of his clothes pretty much looked the same.

Quentin left his room and headed down the hall. Approximately two seconds after knocking on Eliot’s door he was being tugged inside. Eliot slammed the door shut and pushed Quentin up against it. Hands on his neck, tongue licking into his mouth. Quentin held onto the back of Eliot’s shirt to keep himself upright, allowing himself to be kissed. Allowing himself to be consumed.

Eliot dragged Quentin over to the bed and pulled him down into his lap. Strong hands on his ass, up the back of his shirt. A warm, hungry mouth not leaving his for a second. Eliot flipped them over and settled in between Quentin’s parted thighs. He rocked his hips, both of them hard already, a moan slipping from Eliot’s mouth and into Quentin like the first gasping breath of life.

Quentin struggled to break the kiss, panting as Eliot moved to his neck. “Hey, we… um… El—we… you said we should… we should talk.”

Eliot let out a pathetic little whine. “I shouldn’t be allowed to text after midnight,” he muttered, punctuating his words by sucking a kiss into Quentin’s throat.

Quentin’s whole body suddenly felt like it was made of cement. He could feel himself sinking already, falling down into that beautiful, mindless pit he’d been in when Eliot put him on his knees last night. Eliot rocked his hips again and Quentin made a strangled sound. It was hard to get his mouth to open, even harder to find the words.

“But… hey… you said… you… Eliot… hey…”

Eliot whimpered and pulled away, chest heaving as he gazed at Quentin beneath him, hair falling into his eyes. “Okay, sorry… shit,” he said with a laugh, sitting back on his heels. “You’re right, uh… come on. Are you all right?”

“I’m, um…” Quentin’s head felt like it was underwater as Eliot helped him sit up. “Yeah, I think I’m okay. Just…” He shook his head, gaze flicking over Eliot’s face. “I don’t know what’s happening to me.”

They sat across from each other on the bed. Eliot reached over and carded his fingers through Quentin’s hair. “I take it this isn’t your normal response to sex.”

Quentin shook his head. “Like I said before I, um… I’m not very—you know, experienced. But, uh… no. I’ve never, um...”

“Hey,” Eliot took Quentin’s hands in his own, drawing in his gaze. “You don’t have to be nervous.”

Eliot’s hair was all mussed up, the first four buttons of his shirt undone. He looked so fucking good, Quentin could hardly stand it. “I’m sorry,” he breathed. “I just, uh—can you tell me what subspace is?”

Eliot grinned. “Generally something that takes a great deal more flogging to get into than you experienced last night,” he said. “I’m no expert, but I do know when you’re in subspace your brain is releasing a shitload of endorphins. Which is why I asked you if you crashed after. It’s… sort of fascinating. That you got there the way that you did. I don’t have a ton of experience domming, but I’ve never seen anyone—just from sucking dick, I mean, that’s—”

“Do you think there’s something wrong with me?” Quentin blurted.

“Oh, sweet boy…” Eliot took Quentin’s face in his hands. “I think you—whatever’s happening here...” He thumbed at Quentin’s burning cheek. “It’s nothing to be afraid of.”

Quentin swallowed and nodded his head. Eliot’s hands were warm—so warm—and he could have so easily drifted away on that feeling alone.

“Do you still want to have fun with me?” Eliot asked, taking his hands away. “Remember, you are allowed to tell me to fuck off.”

Quentin laughed, knotting his own hands together in his lap. “Yeah,” he said. “I do.”

“Good,” Eliot said, straightening his back, looking Quentin over before he continued. “I do have one little concern before we go any further, however.”

Quentin clenched his jaw. “Okay…”

“It’s just…” Eliot took a breath. “If you’re going non-verbal during sex, you won’t be able to tell me to stop. And if we ever decide to dabble in the sort of play that might require a safeword it would be fucking useless. And if you don’t even really know what you want yet, I—I’m just… very much not into non-consensual anything if you get my meaning.”

Quentin didn’t think he’d ever been so on-edge having a conversation. Not even that time his mom tried talking to him about how important it is to use a condom, Quentin when he was all of fourteen years old with zero sex life to speak of. “I trust you,” is all he could think to say. “I—you wouldn’t do anything to hurt me.”

“I appreciate that,” Eliot said. “And I wouldn’t. But there’s no way for you to actually be sure.”

Quentin’s stomach lurched. “What are you trying to say.”

“I’m saying…” Eliot brushed his knuckles down Quentin’s cheek. “We’re going to go into this as clear-headed as can be. I’m talking… stone fucking sober, Quentin.” A little smile tugged at his mouth. “And... we’re going to take this slow. Like, I don’t know the pace at which snails fuck, but if I had to guess… approximately something like that.”

Quentin offered a nervous laugh. “Okay.”

“Which… I don’t think is going to be a problem for you. I mean…” Eliot laughed. “If you’re going into subspace and coming in your pants just from sucking dick, well… we’re probably going to want to work our way up to the rest anyway.”

Quentin ducked his head, but Eliot caught him by the chin and tipped his gaze upward. “No,” he said. “Don’t hide that pretty face from me. When we’re… doing whatever it is we’re going to do, Quentin, I’m going to have nothing to go on but that. And your body… the way it reacts to my touch…” Eliot’s strong hand wrapped loosely around Quentin’s throat. “And of course… those pretty little sounds you’re going to make when I’m taking you apart…”

Quentin melted into the touch, his eyes fluttering shut. He was falling into that empty space again. Getting there, apparently, was going to be easier than drawing a breath when Eliot was around. “I, um…” he croaked, forcing his eyes to open. “I want…”

Eliot moved a little closer, drawing Quentin in by the nape of his neck. “Go on,” he breathed. “You don’t have to be shy. Not with me, Quentin.”

Quentin shivered when Eliot’s fingers tangled in his hair. “I wanna—I just… wanna make it good for you.”

A smile spread itself over Eliot’s face as he leaned forward, ghosting their lips together. “Oh, you are—you really are something, aren’t you?” He kissed the corner of Quentin’s mouth before pulling away. “You know, when I first got into theatre it was mostly just a way to meet boys. I mean, you don’t have to wonder who around you is queer ‘cause the answer is always everybody. But if I had known…” Eliot’s gaze raked down Quentin’s body. “If I had known the kinky shit I’d find hiding out with the philosophy majors, well…”

Quentin laughed, a blush spreading down to his chest. “To be fair I didn’t really know that about myself until, um… like twelve hours ago. So.”

“So…” Eliot grinned, then sighed. “I have a few things I need to take care of. But you’re going to come back and see me tonight.”

It wasn’t a question. Quentin’s skin felt like it was bursting with light. “Don’t you usually party on Saturday nights?”

Eliot brushed him off with a wave of his hand. “Spending another Saturday night in a roofie dungeon on Frat Row sounds about as appealing as a tonsillectomy,” he said. “So… 10pm sound good?”

Quentin nodded in response.

“Good,” Eliot said. “There are a few things I’d like for you to do beforehand. To get yourself ready for me.” He took one of Quentin’s hands in one of his own and gave it a tug. “Come closer. And I’ll whisper it into your ear.”

Brakebills University
September 2015

Quentin locked his bedroom door. Not that it was going to do any good in a house filled with actual lock-picking magicians, but it made him feel better anyway. He went to his closet and pulled a still half-full moving box from the shelf, fishing around inside until he found another, smaller box that fit perfectly into the palm of his hand.

He opened the little box with its creaky hinges. Inside there was a slender, well-worn band of black leather that fastened with a silver snap. Quentin slipped it on his wrist and sat down in the armchair by his little rectangle of a window. He swore he could feel the name etched into the inside of the bracelet thrumming against his skin steadily as a pulse.

The clock on the wall told Quentin it was just past 7pm. Dinner—which he’d skipped all together—would be over by now. Eliot would be waiting for him in the library. Unless of course the promise of meeting him to begin with had been just another way of fucking with his head. Out of all the potential outcomes of this evening, that was certainly the strongest contender.

Quentin knew he shouldn’t go. Head game or not, actually showing up would be the same as giving in. But as the minutes dripped on by, Quentin’s bone-deep desire to force Eliot to show his hand won out over his spite. He dragged himself out of the Cottage and crossed the green sea of the lawn as quickly as his legs would carry him.

Eliot was perched on the steps of the library, puffing away on a cigarette, looking infuriatingly handsome and cozy in his midnight blue cardigan. “I was beginning to think you weren’t going to show,” he said, rising to his feet and flicking the cigarette away. “Shall we?”

Quentin didn’t know if Eliot actually being there made him feel better or worse. “Wait,” he said to Eliot’s back, meeting him at the top of the steps. “I need you to look at something.”

Eliot turned to him. “If you need help with your homework, Quentin, we can do that inside,” he said, an expression painting his face that made Quentin’s knees instantly turn to water.

Quentin pushed up the sleeve of his shirt, holding out his wrist so that Eliot could see. “Tell me you don’t remember this,” he said, touching the band of leather. “Really tell me you don’t remember the night you put this on me. No bullshit. Tell me you don’t and I’ll—I’ll leave, okay? I’ll just fucking go and you won’t ever have to think about… any of this ever again. Just tell me, just—”

Eliot’s eyes were firmly fixed on the bracelet, his back rod straight, his jaw clenched tight. “I’m sorry, Quentin, I—I really think you have me confused with—”

“Look at it.” Quentin pulled the band from his wrist and held it up so Eliot could see the inside. “That’s your name. It’s your name, Eliot.”

For the briefest of moments, Quentin almost thought he saw a single hairline crack showing in Eliot’s bullshit facade. “Eliot is a perfectly common—”

“Do you remember what you said when you gave this to me?” Quentin’s voice cracked pathetically with the promise of tears. He couldn’t look away from Eliot’s face now, not with all the magic in the world. “You said—you said it was so I would never forget. So I would never forget who I—”

“We should really, um…” Eliot eyed the entrance, taking a step away. Quentin thought he looked genuinely flustered, as if that made any fucking difference now. “Get inside. If we want to—”

Quentin was suddenly so angry he thought his head might explode. “No, fuck you, Eliot,” he spit, the bracelet suddenly flying out of his hand, bouncing off Eliot’s chest before landing down between his feet. “I think I’ve had my fill of being taught by you for one lifetime, thanks.”

He wrenched his body around, all but running down the steps before the tears threatening in his eyes spilled over. Quentin didn’t stop moving until he found a bench in the quad to collapse down onto, biting at the inside of his lip until the pathetic urge to sob had mostly passed.

It was worse, Quentin decided just then, that Eliot had actually been there. His outright cruelty would have been easier to swallow. But this was the worst sort of game. A knife to the back concealing itself as a kiss to the mouth. Maybe this was how Eliot survived, like an energy vampire whose sole source of nourishment was slowly driving his ex-lovers out of their minds with doubt.

Quentin was preparing to stumble back to the Cottage and start packing his shit when suddenly Alice was there, taking the seat beside him. “Wanna talk about it?” she asked.

He had to clench his jaw to keep from spitting something cruel. “I’m good, thanks,” he said, his voice some shriveled, terrible thing.

“Suit yourself,” she said. “But I imagine it’s not easy living with your ex-boyfriend and finding out you’re not very good at magic at the same time.”

Quentin physically recoiled from her words. “What are you—how do you—did Eliot say something to you about—”

“He didn’t have to,” Alice cut him off. “God, you two couldn’t be more obvious.”

Quentin felt his face flushing a deep shade of crimson as he turned his body away. “It doesn’t matter anyway. I’m leaving,” he said, shrinking in on himself. “Do you think if I ask the Dean nicely he’ll agree to take more than just my Brakebills memories?”

Quentin could feel Alice’s eyes boring holes into the back of his skull. “Before you go all Eternal Sunshine on yourself, can I make a suggestion?”

He shot her a pitiful glance over his shoulder that she took as permission to continue.

“Throwing your whole magical life away over a boy is stupid,” she said. “Do you know how many magicians out there would kill for the chance you’ve just been handed, Quentin?”

“I can’t—” He sighed with his entire body, turning slowly to face her. “Fogg said I’m not going to get any better at magic unless Eliot tutors me.”

Alice knitted her brows together. “So then let Eliot tutor you.”

“But it doesn’t make any sense why it has to be—”

Alice jumped to her feet suddenly, taking him by the hand and tugging hard. “Come with me,” she said, and Quentin had no choice but to stumble up after her, nearly tripping over his own feet in the process.

“Where are we going?”

“To break into Professor Lipson’s office.”

“Alice, we can’t just—”

“Oh for fuck’s sake, Quentin,” she said, releasing her death grip on his hand. Quentin had to jog to keep up with her stride. “Just stop whining for ten seconds and keep watch while I take down her wards.”

The administrative building was eerily quiet, most of the Brakebills staff having retired to their private living quarters for the evening. Quentin stood with his back pressed to the wall outside Lipson’s office, scanning the length of the hall anxiously as Alice got to work.

“How do you even know how to do that?” Quentin shout-whispered. “And what do you think is going to happen if we get caught?”

“I come from a family of magicians. Shut up,” she said, not sparing Quentin even a single glance as she cast, her fingers flowing like water. “And Lipson’s wards are sloppy. I could replicate them ten times over in my sleep.”

Quentin didn’t even have time to reply before she’d finished. Alice straightened her back and opened the door with a spell, because the number one rule of magicians is apparently show off in front of the losers whenever possible. They stepped inside and Alice shut the door carefully at their backs, then immediately crossed to Lipson’s desk and started rummaging around.

“You’ve done this before,” Quentin said, watching as she pulled a long instrument out of a drawer.

Alice didn’t respond, quickly crossing to where he stood and scanning his body with the instrument. Whatever it was, it appeared surgical, but with colorful lenses at the end of each of its three arms where you might expect something terrible and stabby to be. “Yeah,” she said after a moment of peering through the lenses, giving Quentin a hard look. “You’ve got a magical block.”

Quentin’s stomach clenched. “I’ve got a… what?”

“Your magic is blocked,” she said, crossing back over to the desk. “I suspected as much when you said the Dean assigned you a tutor.”

“So—okay, so…” Quentin cocked his head like a confused puppy. “So can you unblock it then?”

“Nope,” she said, tossing the instrument back in the drawer and casually sliding it shut. “But your tutor can.”

Quentin followed her to the door stammering. “That—that doesn’t make any sense. There has to be a spell, or—or something. We’re magicians.”

Alice stepped out into the hall and Quentin followed, watching in silence as her magic worked and—he assumed—Professor Lipson’s wards went back up as though they’d never been broken.

It was only when they were safely back outside that Alice said: “Magic isn’t a scalpel, Quentin. It’s more like a sledgehammer.”

“I don’t know what that means,” he said, trailing two steps behind as they trudged across the lawn to the Cottage.

“It means...” She stopped in her tracks and turned around. “There isn’t a spell you’re going to toss at this to make it go away without royally fucking something up in the process.”

Quentin stared at her for a very long time. “If I’m blocked why didn’t Fogg just tell me?”

She shrugged. “I imagine to stop you from doing exactly the stupid thing you’re thinking of doing now,” she said. “I don’t know. Just… let Eliot help and the block should go away.”

Quentin sighed. “But why—”

“I don’t know,” she half-shouted, making Quentin flinch. “I don’t know, Quentin. I’m not going to hold your hand through this, okay? I was just trying to do you a favor as a friend. So can you please just not make me regret it?”

Alice didn’t wait for Quentin to respond, speed walking the rest of the way back to the Cottage on her own as he trailed ten paces behind. Quentin didn’t even register crossing the rest of the distance. Suddenly he was falling down into a chair on the porch, and the sky overhead was bleeding shades of pink and gold, and his pulse was stumbling like an off-tempo drum in the prison of his chest.

Quentin lifted his hands and tried First Illumination, not making a spark even big enough to light the cigarette that he so desperately craved. If only his misery could make magic, Quentin thought, his whole body would be bursting with light.

Columbia University
November 2013

Quentin wrapped himself in his fluffy white bathrobe and looked himself over in the mirror. His face was the exact shade of an over-ripe strawberry, and his hands wouldn’t stop shaking no matter how he tried. He’d done exactly as Eliot had asked—“When you come to me tonight,” he’d purred in Quentin’s ear. “I want you to be… clean. Just nod if you understand what I mean. It’s okay if you don’t. It doesn’t have to be weird, okay? I’m going to tell you how.”—and now it was nearly 10pm. All that was left to do was move his body down the hall to Eliot’s room. And have what was certain to be the greatest sexual experience of his pathetically inexperienced life.

The only problem was, Quentin couldn’t actually get his legs to work. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to do… whatever Eliot was planning. His dick was already half-hard just wondering what that whatever might entail. He didn’t think he’d ever wanted whatever so much in his life. But after spending an entire afternoon all alone stewing in anticipation, the nagging little voice that was forever chattering in the back of Quentin’s skull wouldn’t stop insisting he was going to find a way to fuck this up.

His phone dinged where it was perched on the edge of the sink, and Quentin’s heart leapt under his robe. The single text notification from Julia read: Hey!!!! Come drink w/ me loser

Quentin pecked out a quick reply—Rain check? Sorry—and went back to his room. At least he was moving now. He dumped his phone on his desk and fiddled with the tie of his robe to give his hands something to do other than tremble.

It was now or never. He went out into the hall and just kept walking until he was standing outside Eliot’s door. He didn’t even have time to raise his hand to knock before the door was swinging open. Quentin’s heart skipped several beats, fully expecting to be tugged inside and kissed until he couldn’t think, but Eliot—regal in a flowing deep purple silk robe—simply stepped aside and ushered Quentin in.

“Good evening, Quentin,” Eliot said, shutting the door behind them, then placing a hand on Quentin’s shoulder that seeped warmth all the way down through the thick cotton of his robe.

Quentin almost didn’t register the touch, too busy trying to get his brain to accept that where the bar had been earlier in the day, there now sat what appeared to be a plush, cozy loveseat. “Um,” Quentin furrowed his brows in Eliot’s direction. “Wasn’t there…”

“Never mind that,” Eliot said, taking Quentin by the nape, drawing his gaze upward. Whatever Quentin had been wondering about completely went off the rails in his mind. Something about a bar. Something about Eliot being made of magic. “Look at you. Just exactly as I wanted you to be.” He leaned down and pressed his lips right to Quentin’s ear. “What a perfect boy you are.”

Quentin’s knees turned to dust in an instant, his hands fisting the front of Eliot’s robe, holding on like the Earth itself was trying to swallow him whole. Eliot took Quentin’s face in his hands, pressing the phantom of a kiss to his lips before pulling back with a smile.

“How are you feeling?” he asked, unbunching Quentin’s hands and taking them in his own.

Quentin swallowed. “I’m good,” he said. “Um… are you, uh…” He couldn’t stop himself. The words were coming entirely of their own accord. “Are you going to fuck me?”

A grin spread itself over Eliot’s face. He brought one of Quentin’s hands to his lips, pressing a soft kiss to his knuckles. “Oh yes,” he said, repeating the gesture with the other hand. “But not in the way you’re thinking. Not yet. Not tonight.”

Thrumming with so much nervous energy he could have rivaled the sun, Quentin allowed Eliot to lead him over to the loveseat. Eliot lowered himself down, sitting like a king upon his throne, gazing up at Quentin with a hunger in his eyes.

“First thing’s first,” he said, “I want you to take off your robe.”

Quentin’s immediate instinct was to panic, but in such a ridiculous way he almost wanted to laugh. What if he thinks my dick looks weird? was the first coherent thought that popped into his head. Honestly, he’d never given the appearance of his dick much thought before, but as he unknotted the sash of his robe with fingers that shook like he was vibrating from the inside out, he couldn’t think of anything else.

When the front of his robe flapped open, Quentin had to fight against his natural inclination to hide away.

Eliot drew a deep breath in when Quentin let the robe fall from his shoulders and pool around his feet. For a long moment, neither of them moved. “Jesus…” Eliot said finally, his gaze flicking up and down the expanse of Quentin’s body, his hands coming up to curl around his hips. “Goddamn, look at you…”

Quentin ducked his head, his face burning so hotly he thought it might actually be on fire. He was suddenly too aware of every curve and line and blemish on his body. His dick was hard and getting harder, and he was pretty sure it was dripping down onto the floor, and Quentin was so embarrassed at the force of his own arousal he thought he might just cry.

“Hey,” Eliot said, pressing a soft kiss to Quentin’s belly, ignoring what was happening between his legs completely. “God. That’s perfect...” He punctuated the words with another kiss, and a gentle little nuzzle. “You wanna turn around for me? Come on.”

His heart clawing up into his throat, Quentin allowed Eliot to maneuver his body around. Warm hands on flesh; Eliot’s breath; the rushing of blood in Quentin’s ears and down between his legs. Quentin stared straight ahead at the wall, uncertain what to do with his hands. Eliot made an approving sound, skimming his fingers down the dip of Quentin’s back, ghosting gently over the curve of his ass.

“Goddamn, baby,” Eliot purred, hands moving back up to Quentin’s hips, the curve of his waist. “You know, I always thought you had a great ass, but… I really had no idea what was waiting for me under those ill-fitting jeans.”

Quentin sucked in a breath. He didn’t think he’d slipped into subspace just yet, but his voice had already gone. Eliot spun him back around and pressed another kiss to his belly, eyes sweeping over his cock before flicking up to Quentin’s face.

“It’s time for you to kneel.” He reached for a big square pillow at the far end of the loveseat and placed it on the floor. “Go on.”

His eyes fixed on Eliot’s eyes, Quentin lowered himself down onto his knees. The front of Eliot’s robe was flapping open, exposing the tempting expanse of one thigh, and Quentin couldn’t resist the call to reach out and touch.

“None of that now,” Eliot said, moving Quentin’s hand away. “Lock your hands at the small of your back.” The promise of a smile ghosted over his face when Quentin obeyed. “Good boy. We’re just going to sit like this for a while, okay? Bow your head. I’ll tell you when it’s time for more.”

Eliot stroked a hand along the top of Quentin’s head. Immediately, Quentin surrendered to the rush of letting go. It was like a spell, he thought, being cast there by the two of them. Real magic, sparking along Quentin’s spine like open-mouthed kisses as he gave himself over to the deep blank void waiting behind his eyes.

Brooklyn
September 2014

For all those months he’d been with Eliot, Quentin hadn’t thought of himself as an addict. But now, so far removed from having last felt the blissful haze of subspace under Eliot’s guidance, Quentin was positive he was going through actual physical withdrawals.

One overly-warm Monday night in the middle of September, Quentin crossed the bridge into Manhattan, winding up at a bar in the Village where a tall man with strong hands almost—but not quite—gave him something resembling what he needed in the cramped privacy of a locked bathroom stall. But still, even getting blissed out on a cock in his mouth he could almost pretend was Eliot’s with his eyes closed, Quentin couldn’t make it back to that quiet place no matter how he tried.

And after, stumbling half-drunk and stinking of sex and stale cigarette smoke back into the apartment he shared with James, Quentin felt a hundred times worse than he had before he’d gone.

The next day, he slipped into something worse than depression. A crash harder than any subdrop he’d ever experienced. It was all that he could do to make it through the forty-eight hours that followed. Half out of his mind with exhaustion and despair, Quentin used the last of his energy to check himself into the hospital on Friday morning, telling neither Julia nor James where he was going.

When he dragged his weary bones back to the apartment on Sunday afternoon, having promptly checked himself out against medical advice, the two of them were on him at once, asking a thousand frantic questions Quentin’s brain registered as nothing but background noise.

He fell face first into bed and pretended he was dead. Julia was the one who went to him then, curling around his back and holding onto him tightly. But he could feel James’ presence looming just out of reach, in the doorway, like he was terrified to get too close. Like Quentin was a wounded animal, a predator, a flame.

“Where have you been?” Julia just kept repeating, mumbling the words against his neck.

When Quentin tried to open his mouth to answer, all that came out was a weary little sigh.

Brakebills University
September 2015

Days passed. Somehow, Quentin managed to avoid Eliot, and Julia, and Alice, and the Dean, and anyone else who wanted to remind him of just how limited his days inside the Brakebills wards definitely were. He knew choosing to not leave on his own was only delaying the inevitable. Every morning, Quentin would wake up and tell himself, this is it. This is my last day as a pseudo-magician. My last day with actual magic existing as an actual possibility in my life. But then he’d find himself going to class anyway, brushing Julia off the best he could when she tried to get him to study after, or even just sit out on the lawn and chat.

Quentin spent most of his time locked away in his room, practicing in secret on his own—which, more often than not, ended with him half in tears, chain smoking cigarettes until his lungs burned and he had no choice but to give himself over to rest. He scoured books in the library late at night after everyone else had gone to bed, looking for anything that might even hint at removing a magical block, and unfucking his future at Brakebills as he knew it.

On the last Saturday of the month, Quentin once again found himself surrounded by mountains of books, head pounding from eye strain after poring over pages for hours. He figured there was probably a spell for that, not that he would know. Not that he could do it even if he did. Quentin shut the book open on the table and rubbed at his eyes.

“You know, you really should just let me help,” Eliot’s voice came suddenly, giving Quentin’s heart a start.

He tossed his hands away from his eyes, casting his gaze distantly over Eliot’s shoulder. “Isn’t there a party at the Cottage tonight? Jesus…”

“There is,” Eliot said, taking the seat across from him at the table, “but it’s boring. Gerald gives terrible head, and I’ve already fucked everyone else on campus worth fucking, so.”

Quentin’s insides did a somersault. “His name isn’t Gerald,” he said, looking down at his own fingers white-knuckling the edge of the table. “And I’m trying to study, thanks.”

“Alice told me about the block,” Eliot said. “You’re not going to find anything in any of these books to help with that.”

“How would you know?” Quentin said very quietly, too terrified of what might happen if he dared to raise his eyes. “You haven’t studied a day in your life.”

“And yet I’m acing all my classes, and you’re, well—” The smallest laugh fell out of Eliot’s mouth. “How about we just try a small spell together, hm? A little… cooperative magic. What do you actually have to lose?”

Quentin hated that his first instinct—after the one that wanted to tell Eliot to go fuck himself, of course—was to just… give in. Immediately to just let it all fucking go. To allow Eliot to have it any way he wanted. To allow himself to be swept back into that practiced, intoxicating dance. The dance that Eliot had choreographed for the both of them himself, even if he refused to acknowledge even a single step of it now.

And if Quentin swallowed his pride for just a fraction of a second, he knew Eliot wasn’t wrong. He truly had nothing left that could be taken away. And what would Eliot actually be gaining when all was said and done? The satisfaction that he’d gotten Quentin to do a spell while attending a school that taught actual magical spells to its students? Even if he was having the time of his life playing his little head game, that could hardly be considered a win no matter how it was sliced.

Through gritted teeth, and unwilling to look at Eliot above the line of his jaw, Quentin said, “Fine. Whatever. I don’t care. Let’s do it.”

Eliot’s mouth twitched with the promise of a smile. “Well now, Quentin, see I think we’ve identified the other part of your problem,” he said. “If you don’t care about magic, how do you expect it to care about you?”

Quentin pinched the bridge of his nose, using it as a momentary excuse to have his eyes anywhere but Eliot’s goddamn perfect jawline. “That is easily the most pretentious garbage I’ve ever heard come out of your mouth. And considering who I’m talking to—”

“Do you want to do a spell or not, Quentin?”

Quentin shrugged, trying to ignore that Eliot’s tone of voice was exactly the one he’d always used to shower him with so much praise. “Yeah,” he said, heart pounding up into his throat. “Go on.”

Without a word, Eliot slid a book over from one of the stacks and flipped it open. Immediately, he ripped out a single page, and Quentin audibly gasped.

“What are you doing?”

Quentin’s eyes accidentally slid too far upward, and like a tractor beam Eliot drew him in. “We… are going to do a minor mending,” he said with a smirk. “First Years haven’t gotten there yet, but I assure you it’s even easier than making those pretty little orbs they like to dazzle you all with.”

A litany of oh shit oh fuck oh shitfuck oh shit fuckfuckfuck wheeled through Quentin’s mind. He couldn’t look away. He was a goner. For a long stretch of seconds, he was pretty sure he didn’t draw so much as a single breath.

“Popper six. Both hands. Go on,” Eliot said, and like the desire to obey his every command was etched into the very memory of Quentin’s atoms, his fingers were moving of their own accord before his brain had a chance to catch up.

Eliot grinned. God. He was so hot it should have been illegal. At the very least, against the Brakebills code for student dress. His curls were expertly styled, the oxford under his cardigan open at the throat. Casual yet polished perfection. And his eyes. Fucking goddamn those eyes. His nose his hands his mouth. Fuck.

Eliot positioned his fingers identical to Quentin’s over the book, so close they were almost touching. “Now,” he said, mouth quirked up in a smile, “this is going to sound like bullshit, but the most important part of this sort of magic is imagining that the broken thing is whole again.”

“It can’t be that easy,” Quentin’s voice trembled out. Honestly, he was surprised he could even make a sound.

“Oh, but it is,” Eliot said. “And keep your eyes on mine. Cooperative magic tends to work better that way.”

Quentin shook his head, or at least he probably did. He couldn’t be sure of anything, not if his hands were still holding the shape of Popper six correctly, or if he even had hands anymore. When Eliot didn’t correct him, he figured he was probably okay. Maybe he started to cast, maybe he didn’t, all Quentin knew was that one second Eliot was peering straight into the deepest recesses of his soul, the next he was looking down at the book, and smiling, and saying something that sounded like, “And that’s all there is to it.”

Quentin struggled out of his trance long enough to see that the book had been mended, the page sealed back into place as though Eliot had never defaced school property to begin with. “I didn’t…” he started and stopped. “I didn’t do that.”

“Oh, but you did, Quentin,” Eliot said with a flourish of his hands. “It’s true, minor mending generally isn’t a cooperative thing, but I was hardly casting.”

“Bullshit,” Quentin said, slogging out of the muck in his mind, finding his way back to something like anger, holding onto it for dear life. “I didn’t—”

“You did,” Eliot said firmly, sending a little shiver down the back of Quentin’s neck. “Though I imagine if you’re blocked, it might take a while to work out all the kinks. We should schedule a regular time to practice together.”

“Absolutely not,” Quentin said, feeling the anger slipping before he could get a proper hold. “No, I—I don’t want—”

“I assume you’re already coming here every night,” Eliot cut him off with a casual tip of his head. “So what’s the harm in actually making a little progress along the way?”

Quentin opened his mouth and shut it again. Eliot wasn’t wrong. Goddammit. “Fine,” he said. “Fine. But it doesn’t mean we’re friends. Or that I’ve forgotten how completely full of shit you actually are.”

If softness could be weaponized, it would have looked something like Eliot’s smile. “Of course,” he said. “But I really don’t—”

“And no more bullshit,” Quentin cut him off. “If you can’t stop lying I—I just don’t want to talk about it at all.”

Eliot let that sit for a very long time. “Strictly business,” he said finally. “Same time tomorrow night?”

Quentin swallowed and averted his gaze, unwilling to trust himself not to fall right back down into Eliot’s trap. “Sure,” he said with a shrug. “That’s fine.”

“Good,” Eliot said, pushing back from the table. “Oh, but there’s… one more thing before I go.”

The whole exchange that followed happened in slow motion.

“You dropped this,” Eliot said, pulling the leather band Quentin had thrown at him days ago out of the pocket of his cardigan. He reached for Quentin’s wrist, a furious blaze burning its way up Quentin’s arm the moment they were skin-on-skin.

Eliot slipped the bracelet on and snapped it securely in place. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said, pulling away, leaving Quentin there humming like an overloaded circuit, sparking and ready to explode.

Quentin had no way of knowing how much time passed after Eliot had gone. He sat very still, staring down at his own hands pressed flat against the table, at the open page of the book he and Eliot had mended together, at the strip of leather looped around his wrist.

He shut his eyes, reaching for the bracelet, running the pads of his fingers over the leather. Quentin swore he could hear it then, clear as the day Eliot had whispered the words right into his ear. So you never forget who you belong to. A tight fist curled around his heart, another around his throat. He should have just thrown the fucking thing in the fireplace at the Cottage when he’d had the chance.

It had been so easy the first time around, taking the bracelet off and never looking back. But now it felt like some impossible thing. Like in doing so he might upset the delicate balance of the universe. Quentin pulled himself to his feet and left the library. Back at the Cottage, he went straight to his room, and locked the door, and crawled into bed above the covers with all his clothes still on, hugging his knees to his chest, the leather around his wrist etching Eliot’s name into his skin like a brand.

Columbia University
November 2013

Quentin was floating on a current. Water lapped at the nape of his neck, warm and grounding in the endless safety of his void. Somewhere, distantly, a voice was saying his name, saying something that might have been you’re such a good boy for me. It was the voice of someone he knew, but Quentin couldn’t quite remember.

Gentle waves caressed his lips, his cheeks, his brow. Like a kiss, he thought. Yes, exactly like a kiss. And then a face came into focus, and he was rising from the water. It was the most beautiful face he’d ever seen, including all the ones in movies or in magazines or in all that porn he watched online. The face seemed so familiar. Quentin desperately wished he could place it.

“Hey,” the face was saying with that same voice from before. “Hey, can you hear me, pretty boy?”

Quentin heard himself making a sound. A happy little humming emanating from his chest. The face said his name and then kissed him on the mouth.

“Quentin, baby, are you in there?”

Another kiss. Eliot, Quentin thought, waking up slowly, as if from a dream. Eliot was holding Quentin’s face in his hands, smiling down at him softly, thumbing at his cheeks. How could he have forgotten? Of course. Eliot, Eliot, Eliot.

“There you are. Hey.” Eliot carded fingers through Quentin’s hair. “That didn’t take much now did it, hm? God, where did you go…”

Quentin tried to speak, but all that would come out was a whimper. Eliot soothed a hand along the top of his head.

“It’s okay, you don’t have to—god, you are…” It was like suddenly Eliot’s words were leaving him too. He smiled and shook his head. “I think… you deserve a reward for being so patient, wouldn’t you agree?”

Eliot took him by the hands and began to tug Quentin up off the floor. Feeling suddenly ravenous, Quentin crawled into Eliot’s lap and straddled his hips, swallowing down a surprised, happy sound when he crashed their mouths together. Eliot’s hands went to Quentin’s bare ass at once, giving it a squeeze.

Quentin licked into Eliot’s mouth, desperate to consume, and to be consumed by him. When Eliot pulled back and broke the kiss, Quentin latched onto his throat.

Eliot gasped and laughed. “Fuck, Q… fuck. Okay.” He tangled his fingers in the hair at Quentin’s nape and tugged him off. “I want you over on the bed now. I wanna eat you out.”

Every drop of blood in Quentin’s body rushed down between his legs. Eliot helped him to stand, and led him over to the bed where he instructed Quentin to sit. He pressed a kiss into the top of Quentin’s head. “Very good,” he said. “Now lie back. We’re gonna get you nice and comfortable, pretty boy.”

Gazing up at his own hazy reflection in the mirror over the bed, Quentin watched as Eliot pushed his thighs back against his chest, and shoved a couple pillows up under his hips, and then settled down on the floor, running his hands up the backs of Quentin’s thighs. Eliot said something that Quentin couldn’t quite make out, kissing the curve of his ass with reverence.

Quentin knew he was easily experiencing the most vulnerable moment of his life. He anticipated the urge to shield himself from Eliot’s gaze, but the urge never came. Everything was coming to him in gasps and waves. Eliot kissed up the expanse of one thigh and back again, ghosting over Quentin’s hole with the phantom of a breath. He laughed, and in the mirror Quentin could see Eliot pressing his fingers in between his lips, then trailing those spit-slick fingertips up the sensitive strip of skin behind Quentin’s balls.

Quentin made a strangled sound, his dick jumping the moment Eliot’s fingers made contact.

In the mirror he could see Eliot shifting, his robe falling teasingly off of one shoulder. “Perfect,” he said, voice coming through clear as a bell. “You’re absolutely perfect, Quentin. Oh, baby, I’m gonna make you feel things you didn’t even know you could…” He spread Quentin’s cheeks apart and planted a gentle kiss right against his hole. “I’m gonna tongue fuck you all the way to heaven.”

The first swipe of Eliot’s tongue felt like an open-mouthed kiss to Quentin’s entire body. The second went straight to his dick. Then everything started to blur. Quentin kept his eyes fixed on the mirror, his view of Eliot’s mouth at work mostly obscured by his wild crop of dark curls. The sounds that Eliot made as he began spearing Quentin with the tip of his tongue were sounds of hunger, sounds of feasting, and Quentin’s whole body began to tremble.

Eliot pulled back, planting a kiss to Quentin’s inner thigh. “Don’t you dare,” he said firmly, gently. “Not yet. You don’t come until daddy says it’s time.”

Quentin squeezed his eyes shut, tossed his head back, and let the pleasure come. Eliot kissed sucked licked fucked until Quentin felt flayed alive. Tears spilled from his eyes and tracked their way down his cheeks. He wanted to come so badly it was unbearable.

Eliot pulled back, his strong hands spreading Quentin apart. “God, look at you...” His voice came out completely wrecked. When Quentin fixed his gaze back on the mirror, he could see Eliot sucking on the pads of his fingers, then pressing them right to his hole. “That’s so fucking pretty, baby. Can you see?” Eliot looked up and met Quentin’s eyes. “Can you see how pretty you are?”

Quentin answered with a strangled sob. Eliot smirked and ducked his head, giving Quentin his tongue again, licking all the way up to his balls, taking each of them into his mouth before nosing his way back down. He fucked Quentin open with his tongue until he was dripping with spit, and Quentin was keening so loudly he wouldn’t have been surprised if all of Manhattan could hear.

“You think that feels good,” Eliot said, suddenly pulling back and rising to his feet. “Think how good it’s going to feel when I finger that pretty hole open for the very first time.” He tugged at the sash of his robe, letting it flap open and then tumble from his shoulders. Wrapping a hand around his dick, Eliot gave it a single stroke. “Or when I give you this. Think you can take all of it, baby, hm?”

Quentin wanted to reach for him, to beg him to be fucked, but when he opened his mouth to speak all that came out was a whine. Everything that he was belonged to Eliot now, his body and his mind. If Eliot had snapped his fingers and commanded Quentin to come right then, entirely untouched, he had no doubt that he could.

Eliot pressed one hand flat to the back of Quentin’s thigh, using the other to stroke himself at a languid pace. He was flushed from his ears down to his chest, his curls sticking up at wild angles all around his head, pupils blown wide open. All Quentin could think was: I did this to him. I made him feel this way.

“You make me so hard,” Eliot said, voice breaking off on a little whimper. “Oh, god, baby you make me wanna—”

Suddenly—like someone had flicked a switch—Eliot was coming, spurting hotly between the spread of Quentin’s legs. All over his dick and spattering over his hole. His fingers trembled where they were pressed to Quentin’s thigh. Eliot’s eyes squeezed shut, his mouth falling open on a broken, strangled sob.

“Jesus fucking… fuck…” A laugh choked out of Eliot’s chest. “Fucking hell, Coldwater…”

Quentin whined. He wanted Eliot to kiss him so badly he thought he might die.

“Oh, baby… look at what I did to you.” Eliot pulled his hand away from his own softening dick and dragged his fingers through the mess spattered over Quentin’s hole. “You are absolutely filthy…”

Eliot wrapped his hand around Quentin’s painfully hard dick, started stroking him from root-to-tip. He was so slick with Eliot’s come, and his thighs began to tremble. “You’re so close. I can feel it,” he said. “But don’t come yet. Don’t—not yet, pretty boy. Not yet. Just be good for me…”

It was all so wetwarmtightperfect. Quentin could hardly breathe. He didn’t think he’d ever felt anything so good as this. He made a deep, guttural pleading sound as he felt himself starting to slip. He couldn’t hold on any longer. Not even for a single second. He was going to—he was going—

Quentin keened and arched up off the bed, chasing Eliot’s touch when he pulled away.

“Don’t—no…” Eliot was laughing and trembling like a leaf. “You have to be good, okay. I know—I know you can, Quentin. I—I know…”

Seeing Eliot like this—it was like unraveling some deep, forbidden secret of the universe. Like he was being unstitched and opened right before Quentin’s eyes, and all the light was spilling out. He was going supernova. He started stroking Quentin again, slowly at first, then picking up the pace. Quentin’s over-stimulated cock leapt inside Eliot’s fist, fresh tears springing in his eyes.

Quentin didn’t stand a fucking chance. The first tendrils of his orgasm started ripping through his body in the time it took to push out a single, strangled moan. Eliot pulled away the moment Quentin’s dick started to pulse, leaving him to quiver and sob.

“Don’t be a bad boy or I’ll have no choice—no choice but to turn you over my knee.” Eliot’s voice came thick and dark and shattered.

Quentin’s whole body responded to that. Eliot went down to his knees again, lapping his own come away from Quentin’s hole. Quentin pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes and wept. Eliot licked a trail up to his dick and nuzzled against the head, ghosting lips over his slit like he was waiting for permission to continue.

“Okay,” Eliot said very softly. “Okay. I don’t wanna torture you, baby. Go on. Think you can come like this?”

Eliot swirled his tongue around the head, then started massaging the glans with the pad of his thumb. It was more than enough to send Quentin hurdling the rest of the way into oblivion. He tumbled down, down, leaving his body completely, spurting all over his belly and Eliot’s waiting tongue. Eliot stroked him through the sharp-edged aftershocks, pressing kisses to his dick as Quentin started going soft.

Quentin went limp on the bed, his body all fuzzy and light, his head entirely underwater. He wanted Eliot to hold him more than anything in the world. He seemed to be away from Quentin for a very long time. When he finally reappeared, it was like night giving itself over to day.

He tugged the pillows out from underneath Quentin’s hips, moving him completely up onto the bed, cleaning him with a cloth that was soft and warm, whispering gentle praise. With a little careful maneuvering, Eliot got Quentin tucked in under the covers and crawled in after, pulling him tightly to his chest, wrapping him up securely in arms and legs.

Eliot pressed a kiss into Quentin’s hair. “Just rest now, sweet boy,” he whispered. “You were perfect. You are… you are so perfect for me.”

Quentin was already drifting, Eliot’s beating heart a comforting presence in his ear. A sound that seemed to say you’re mine, you’re mine, you’re mine; I’m yours, I’m yours, I’m yours.

Eliot kissed his forehead, and Quentin was out like a light.

Brakebills University
September 2015

Julia burst into Quentin’s room just past two in the morning. Quentin groaned when she flopped down next to him in bed.

“Seriously, Jules? The door was locked for a reason.”

“Saw the light under the door,” she said. “And you should know locks don’t mean shit on a campus filled with magicians.”

Quentin sighed hard. “Yeah, well, I can’t exactly put up wards when my magic is… you know.”

She propped herself up on an elbow, opening her mouth and then closing it again when something caught her eye. She took Quentin by the wrist.. “Seriously, Q?” she said, eying the leather band. “Why do you even still have this thing?”

Quentin snatched his wrist away. “I don’t wanna talk about it.”

“No.” She gave him a wide-eyed, incredulous look. “You’re not shutting me out anymore. Tell me what—”

“I threw the bracelet in his face days ago and tonight he found me in the library and put it back on,” Quentin pushed out, face burning as he turned his eyes away.

“And you just let him?” She was silent for a long moment, her question hanging over their heads like a cloud. “Q, you do remember you have a boyfriend, right? James, the one who’s nice to you. The guy who doesn’t just treat you like some fuck doll he’s gonna throw away at a moment’s notice?”

“He’d have to fuck me for that to be an issue,” Quentin mumbled as he turned his back. He was pretty sure Julia didn’t hear.

A second later she curled around him from behind and sighed against his shoulder. “Tell me how I can help,” she said.

“Help me unblock my magic,” he said miserably. “Or I guess maybe you could just kill me.”

She nudged him in the back of the knee. “Don’t do that,” she said. “Look. I’m pretty sure if unblocking your magic were as easy as casting a spell, Fogg would have done it for you.”

“Maybe he likes watching me suffer.”

“You talking about Fogg or Eliot?”

“Does it even matter?” Quentin squeezed his eyes shut. “What if I just gave in and accepted his help? I mean, it’s not like I could be any more of a loser than I already am.”

“I’d say you asking me that question means you probably already did,” she said after a long stretch of silence. “And the fact that you’re wearing his fucking collar around your wrist again isn’t exactly helping your case.”

“It’s not a collar,” Quentin grumbled, stomach flipping, Eliot’s voice playing on a loop in the corner of his mind.

So you never forget who you belong to.

So you never forget who you belong to.

So you never forget who you—

“I think sometimes you forget that you told me everything when you were half out of your mind with grief,” she said against his shoulder. “I mean like… everything, Q.”

Quentin turned his face into his pillow with a groan. “Yeah, okay, I get your point,” he said, voice muffled. “We are so not talking about… any of that right now, Jules.”

He could feel a silent laugh roll through her. “Sorry,” she said. “Look… if you think you can bite the bullet and deal with him long enough to get your groove back…”

Quentin sighed and turned his face to his shoulder. “Pretty sure I never had my groove to begin with, but… yeah. It’s probably that or… say goodbye to magic forever.”

“If you need a chaperone let me know,” Julia said, smiling against his neck. “Or, you know, if you just want me to kick him in the balls or something.”

“Thanks,” Quentin said. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

She kissed him on the cheek and ordered him to get some rest. Not long after she’d gone, Quentin fell into something that might have resembled sleep if he squinted. He woke up gasping at sunrise, thrashing at the covers and drenched in sweat. He’d been dreaming of treading water, and drowning, and Eliot’s hands around his throat.

The morning was a slow and torturous drag. Quentin sat out on the porch squinting against the sunlight, sipping coffee from a steaming mug and wishing for his bed. But at least no one tried to talk to him about magic or his feelings. His only class of the day dragged by even slower, an afternoon spent slogging through the basics of nature magic. But he did come away feeling marginally better when none of his fellow First Years were particularly brilliant at making magical seeds grow from nothing.

The evening was its own particular brand of torture. Quentin only picked at his plate at dinner. The anticipation of meeting Eliot in the library that night was enough to turn his belly to stone. He still had the bracelet on, and it was terrible, and he knew it, but Quentin couldn’t bring himself to part with it now. He put on his roomiest sweater with sleeves that went down to his hands in the hopes that at least Eliot wouldn’t notice.

And then he showed up to the library an hour too early because the idea of running into Eliot before their scheduled session was somehow even more terrifying than the session itself.

Or at least that’s what he’d told himself, but when Eliot finally arrived Quentin nearly jumped out of his skin. He’d been sitting at his usual table in the back corner, leafing through the same book over and over without registering a single word on any of the pages. Eliot looked good—but that was sort of a given, even rumpled and unkempt Eliot Waugh would always be the hottest person in any room—in a polo shirt with all the buttons undone. His hair looked soft in a way that tugged at Quentin’s heart. Immediately, Quentin could feel his body temperature rising.

“Hello, Quentin,” Eliot said, taking the seat across from him at the table. “How are you this evening?”

“Ready to get this over with,” Quentin said, proud of himself for managing to sound almost composed.

Eliot, poised and unaffected as ever, turned his hands upward on the table. “I see no reason why we can’t get started right away,” he said. “Show me Popper one.”

Quentin rolled his eyes. “I know Popper one.”

“Then you won’t have any trouble showing me a basic page turning spell on that book you’re not reading,” Eliot said with a quirk of his mouth. “Popper one, crook your index finger. Yes. Just like that. Very good.”

Quentin was never going to be unaffected by praise from Eliot’s mouth. A bead of sweat rolled down his spine under his too-warm sweater. “Aren’t you supposed to do it with me,” Quentin said, holding his fingers almost steadily over the open book. “I mean, isn’t that how this whole thing is supposed to work?”

“No,” Eliot said. “Turn the page on your own. Go on.”

“I can’t,” Quentin said, sounding every bit the brat he knew he was being. “You already know that I can’t.”

Eliot leaned back in his chair, folding his arms over his chest. “You haven’t even tried, Quentin,” he said with a smile. “So how would I know that?”

Quentin missed his anger. He maybe-cast with his stupid useless hand but nothing happened to the page. Eliot gave him a soft look, and wrapped his deft fingers around Quentin’s wrist—the wrist that was wearing the bracelet underneath his sweater—and for a moment everything stopped.

Eliot could feel it there. Quentin knew he could, but Eliot made no comment. Instead he moved his hand to Quentin’s fingers, adjusting them just a hair, looking him square in the eyes. “There,” he said. “Try it now. Don’t think about anything else but what you’re trying to do.”

Quentin couldn’t tell if he was being sincere, or if a comment like that was meant to be some ironic, backhanded taunt. How was he supposed to focus on anything but the fifty thousand ton elephant sitting on the table between them? Quentin took a breath, and tried again, Eliot’s eyes fixed on the motion of his fingers.

Slightly, as if moved by a gentle breeze, the open page of the book fluttered at one corner.

“Good,” Eliot said, looking genuinely pleased. Quentin hated what it did to his heart. “Do it again.”

Quentin did, his heart racing like a rabid stallion in his throat, and the page trembled up into the air before falling back down.

“Again,” Eliot said, grinning with his entire face. “You’re going to do it this time.”

Quentin filled his lungs with air and pushed it all out as he cast. The page flipped over as easily as thinking the thought in his mind. The look in Eliot’s eyes filled Quentin with so much pride it was embarrassing, and he flushed hotly from his ears to his toes.

“See,” Eliot said, flipping the book shut with a casual flick of his wrist. “Easy. Now, for your next trick…” He laughed in a way that made Quentin flush even hotter, low and dark with promise. “Lift the book up off the table.”

Heart sinking, every bit of Quentin’s pride left him then. “I couldn’t even lift a marble with Julia.”

“That was with Julia,” Eliot said. “Now you’re with me.”

A hot spark of something like desire lit its way down Quentin’s spine. He was permitting himself far too much eye contact for this to end well. “Can’t I just, um… can’t I just do the page turning spell again?”

“No,” Eliot said, the look in his eyes saying nothing short of you want to be good for me, don’t you? “Stand up. I’ll show you how.”

Quentin’s legs trembled like a newborn foal as he rose from the chair and stood waiting for Eliot to meet him. Like the perpetual showoff he was, Eliot moved the chairs out of his way with a sweep of his hand as he approached, then stood next to Quentin at the table, gazing down at the book in the center.

“Just follow the motion of my hands,” Eliot said, like he wasn’t Brakebills’ most naturally gifted telekinetic. “Like this…”

Eliot held his palms outward, and as he raised them the book lifted up into the air as if drawn to him by magnets. He lowered his hands. The book settled back down. Easy as taking a breath.

“Go on,” Eliot said softly at his side. Quentin didn’t dare turn his head as he lifted his shaking hands. “No. No, not like—here. Let me…”

Suddenly, Eliot was moving behind him, and Quentin couldn’t breathe. His presence there was all-consuming: his chest pressing up against Quentin’s back; his arms snaking around; hands hovering over Quentin’s hands for a long moment before making contact.

“Like this,” Eliot said very quietly in Quentin’s ear, making his whole body quake. “Up a little more. That’s good…”

Quentin grasped for his anger, begging for it to return. Please just let me hate him, he begged of himself. Please please please please please.

Eliot’s breath against his neck. Eliot’s warmth seeping into his back. Quentin forgot what they were even trying to do. Something about a spell, a book. Something something magic fuck.

“Why, um…” Quentin grasped desperately for purchase, his mind already slipping under, giving in. “Why did you leave? Eliot, why… why did you go?”

“I’m right here, Quentin,” Eliot rumbled against his ear, fingers slipping against Quentin’s fingers. “Just focus on the spell. Lift the book with me.”

Quentin let his full weight fall back against Eliot’s chest. Please, I want to hate him, please. Quentin had no hope of focusing on the spell, of doing any actual magic of his own. But that didn’t seem to matter the second he felt Eliot’s magic flowing into him. Or at least that’s what he thought was happening. Maybe he was just going out of his mind, or sinking into some brand new level of subspace the two of them could only make together.

Quentin swore he saw his own hands glowing as the book began to levitate. It only lifted up an inch or two before flopping back down, but the tingling in his fingers felt like enormous magic. Like he was tapping straight into the source this time, letting it flow into his body like a wild electric current.

Eliot lingered before pulling back, and when he finally did Quentin had to grip the edge of the table to keep from falling over. Eliot sent his chair back over with a wave, and Quentin lowered himself down into it slowly. He grasped for words as Eliot sat back down, his tongue so heavy it was like cement behind his teeth.

“I don’t, uh…” Quentin shook his head, staring down at his own hands. “I don’t think it counts if you’re doing the spell for me.”

“Don’t be silly,” Eliot said with a little wave of his hand. “That was all you, Quentin.”

“I didn’t even cast,” Quentin said, lifting his eyes, immediately falling down into the center of Eliot’s gaze.

“You didn’t have to,” Eliot said. “Our magic together is what’s going to knock that pesky little block right on its ass.” He folded his hands neatly on the table, his posture poised and easy. “But just to be sure, how about you do the spell on your own this time.”

“I don’t think I can—”

“Stop doubting yourself,” Eliot said with a little shake of his head. “You’re a magician. This is what you do.”

“I’m not telekinetic.”

Eliot pressed his hands flat to the table and leaned forward. “Quentin. Lift the book up into the air. Do it now.”

The name pressed to Quentin’s wrist under his sweater seemed to hum. He took a breath and slowly let it out as he readied himself to cast, his mind focused solely on Eliot’s attention. There was no way he was getting any actual magic done tonight, and certainly not something like this. It was all too heavy, too much for his pathetic little spark. But whatever. He couldn’t exactly back away from this now.

Palms outward, Quentin lifted his hands up into the air.

On the table, the book began to tremble.

Chapter Text

Columbia University
November 2013

Dry-mouthed and groggy, Quentin woke in Eliot’s bed alone. He groaned, groping around for his phone to check the time for a long moment before remembering he’d left it in his room. Quentin rubbed at his eyes, rolling over and up to his feet, muscles he didn’t even know existed screaming as he went. He picked his bathrobe up from the floor and pulled it on, then tottered down the hall to empty his bladder and brush his teeth and gulp down frantic handfuls of water from the bathroom sink.

Eliot was there when Quentin stumbled back into the room. He was immaculate already, dressed for the day with his hair perfectly styled, sitting on the loveseat with bagels and coffee. “Morning,” he said with a smile, handing Quentin a paper cup when he sat down. “Sorry for disappearing. I didn’t wanna wake you.”

“It’s okay,” Quentin said, taking the first gloriously warm sip from his cup. “What time is it?”

Eliot shrugged. “Noon. Later. Who cares. It’s Sunday.”

“Jesus,” Quentin said. “I don’t think I’ve slept that many hours in a row since…” Since my last major depressive episode in high school, Quentin thought with a shake of his head. “Uh… it’s been a long time.”

Eliot hummed, smiled, running a hand along the top of Quentin’s head. “Well earned, I’d say,” he said, handing Quentin a bagel. “Go on. I know you must be starving.”

Quentin took one look at the bagel and his stomach grumbled. He set his coffee down and proceeded to devour it in the least dignified manner possible, wiping his fingers down the front of his robe when he was finished. He figured there was probably no point in being precious about something like that in front of the person who’d had their tongue in your ass last night.

“Thank you,” Quentin said, washing it down with a sip of coffee. “Uh, not just for the bagel I mean. Last night was…” He shook his head with a little laugh, suddenly feeling bashful. “It was, uh…”

Eliot touched his face, thumbing at his cheek. “I’m happy you enjoyed yourself,” he said, his mouth quirking up in a smile. “Do you know what I would find very enjoyable right now, Quentin?”

Quentin’s dick responded immediately. Jesus fucking—“Um… I don’t know,” he said with a nervous laugh.

Eliot pulled back, considering Quentin in silence for a long moment. “Tell me something about yourself,” he said finally. “Anything at all.”

“Okay, um…” Quentin had not been expecting that. “Like what sort of anything?”

“Whatever you’d like,” Eliot said with a shrug. “Something you’re interested in. How you like to spend your time when you don’t have your nose buried in a textbook. Or when you’re not indulging my every fantasy looking ravishing in terrycloth.”

Quentin immediately started to panic. It was like being mind wiped, only not in the fun floaty out-of-body dick so hard he couldn’t remember how to work his tongue deep down in subspace sort of way. It was more like suddenly Quentin couldn’t remember a solitary thing he was actually interested in. Fuck. Shit fuck. Something about books with a magical portal clock. Something something Middle Earth. Tabletop RPGs were a thing right??? Why couldn’t he remember the name of his favorite one??????

Fuck shit fuck shit fuck—“I’m really good at close-up magic!” Quentin hadn’t actually meant to shout. Shit. Well. At least he’d remembered something.

Instantly, his brain kicked into overdrive: Fillory and Further Christopher Plover Lord of the Rings FUCKING TOLKIEN Dungeons & Dragons shit fuck shit fuck SHIT—

A smile brighter than a hundred million suns lit up Eliot’s face. “That so?” he said, sounding genuinely pleased. “You wanna show me a magic trick, Coldwater?”

“Um—” Blushing, fidgeting, feeling like the world’s most unfuckable nerd to ever exist, Quentin shook his head. “Yeah, uh… I could show you a card trick, or a coin trick, or—”

“A coin trick,” Eliot cut him off, practically purring, like Quentin might be offering him some sinful temptation. “That’s absolutely what I want to see from you.”

“Okay, uh… do you have a quarter?”

Eliot grinned. “Perhaps,” he drawled, shoving his hand down into the cushion of the loveseat and fishing around, pulling it out a handful of seconds later with a shiny silver quarter held between his thumb and forefinger. “Would you look at that...”

“Thought I was supposed to be the one doing the magic trick,” Quentin said with a little smile, taking the coin from Eliot, rolling it across the planks of his fingers.

“Well, color me impressed already,” Eliot said, eyes firmly fixed on Quentin’s showboating fingers. “Is this the part where I shut my eyes and you pull it out from behind my ear?”

“No, um…” Quentin laughed. “This one only works if you keep your eyes open.”

Eliot gestured go on and Quentin sat up a little straighter, took a breath. He was going to do the easiest trick in his repertoire because honestly, he didn’t trust himself to do anything more complicated right now and not entirely fuck it up. This one was all about the angle, and it still looked cool as shit when performed correctly, so easiest was probably fine. He held the coin out so that Eliot could see before he palmed it, then brought his hands together in a flourish and curled the ring finger of his opposite hand around the coin, a move that was intended to be imperceptible to the watchful eye of the viewer.

With a little fake out, he pretended to only just now transfer the coin from one hand to the other while it remained curled up behind his finger. With another flourish of his hands, Quentin presented his empty palms carefully. From where Eliot was sitting, the coin would appear to be gone.

“Tada,” Quentin said, feeling so lame he wanted to make himself disappear the moment the word left his mouth.

“Hm, very impressive,” Eliot said with a little smirk. “But seriously, did you put it behind my ear?”

Quentin laughed and flipped the coin up into the air, then caught it in his open palm, rolled it across the fingers of both hands, a nervous gesture more than anything. “My card tricks are probably better, um… you know if you, uh…” He tossed the coin to Eliot, who snatched it out of the air with his elegant hand. “If you ever wanna see.”

Eliot took the coin, tucked it carefully into the pocket of his shirt. “Oh, pretty little Q,” he said, leaning forward until he was practically crawling into Quentin’s lap, ghosting their lips together. “I wanna see everything you wanna show me, baby.”

He pressed the softest whisper of a kiss to Quentin’s mouth before pulling back. Quentin caught him by the front of his shirt, holding onto the contact like he might die without it. “Don’t, um…” Quentin laughed, spurred forward with a sudden surge of bravery. “Will you kiss me again?”

Eliot grinned, sitting back and tugging Quentin into his lap. “How about,” he said, hands pushing up under Quentin’s robe and going straight for his ass, “you kiss me instead.”

Quentin didn’t think his dick had ever gone from zero to rock hard so quickly. Jesus. He wondered if Eliot could feel it there, between the press of their bodies as Quentin leaned forward and slotted their lips together. Eliot squeezed Quentin’s ass, pulling him closer, and Quentin gasped into his mouth, deepening the kiss. He curled his hands around the sides of Eliot’s neck, feeling the thumping of his pulse, a deep and stumbling resonance that traveled through Quentin’s body like an electric charge.

He broke the kiss, panting against Eliot’s mouth. “Are you—can I…” Quentin moaned when Eliot’s fingers brushed over his hole. “I want you in my mouth again.”

Quentin didn’t know where this sudden streak of boldness was coming from, but Eliot didn’t seem to mind. He nuzzled their noses together with a smile, his hands coming to rest on the small of Quentin’s back. “I bet you do,” he said. “And I want that too. But we’re taking this slow, remember?” Quentin whined, and Eliot laughed. “Will you come back and see me tomorrow night?”

Quentin physically could not stop himself from pouting. “That’s like… a really long time from now.”

Eliot smirked. “What’s that saying about absence and making your dick grow fonder?”

Quentin whined again, and knocked his head against Eliot’s shoulder. “I could just, um…” He pressed a kiss to Eliot’s neck, groping at the front of his shirt. “I could just do it now if you want. I—”

“Hey.” Eliot took Quentin by the shoulders and nudged him back. “Hey, I—god I can’t believe I’m actually saying this right now, but I can’t let you suck my dick today.”

Quentin frowned, blushing, feeling foolish. “Okay…”

“It’s not—” Eliot thumbed at his cheek, cradling his neck with one strong hand. “It’s not that I don’t want it. You—fuck, Q, here. Feel.” He took one of Quentin’s hands and pushed it down between his legs, right up against the hard line of his erection through his pants. “The only thing harder than saying no to you right now is my dick, okay, but…” He pulled Quentin’s hand away. “We don’t know that your brain chemistry isn’t going to be seriously fucked by all this happening so soon—”

“I feel fine,” Quentin blurted. “Really, I’m—I’m not crashing or—”

“We don’t know that you won’t,” Eliot said firmly. “And the more intense shit gets, the more likely that is to happen. And if I can’t be around for you after…” He sighed, running a hand through Quentin’s hair. “I’m just saying subspace every single day may not be the best idea right off the bat. And I’m sure you have a life—”

“I really don’t,” Quentin said, laughing because it was… kind of true. “Aside from Julia and going to class and studying I—” Quentin ducked his head. “Sorry. I sound like a total fucking loser right now.”

“You don’t,” Eliot said, running his knuckles along Quentin’s cheek.

“Yeah I do,” Quentin said, blushing harder. “And—and you definitely have a life, and—I’m sorry, I—”

Eliot took Quentin by the chin and tipped it upward. “Anyone ever tell you you’re even cuter when you’re flustered?”

“Shut up.” Quentin averted his gaze, biting back a smile.

“And also that you’re kind of an enormous brat.” Eliot offered a little laugh. “Which is… really ridiculously hot in the you’re begging for a spanking kind of way.”

Quentin sucked in a breath, leaning into the touch when Eliot’s hand cupped his cheek. “Maybe I am…”

Eliot kissed Quentin on the mouth. Lingering, warm, soft. Like a memory of coming home. “All good things in time, pretty boy.”

Brakebills University
October 2015

Quentin and Eliot settled on a schedule: they would meet every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 11pm sharp in the library. Much to Quentin’s surprise—and, underneath, his agonizing dismay—they found a way to keep things mostly impersonal. The magic Eliot taught him was mind numbingly dull: flipping pages and lifting objects and making pretty little colors with the tips of his fingers.

Eliot kept his hands to himself, refusing all contact even when Quentin’s fingers were itching for adjustments. Even when Quentin intentionally fucked things up just to see if he could get a rise. Quentin rationed their eye contact like a rare mineral, each passing glance some ephemeral thing. After the first couple sessions, Quentin turned it into something of a game. Only raise your eyes when Eliot isn’t looking and you win a prize. The prize is your heart not leaping up into your throat and your brain going all fuzzy like AM radio. Pass Go. Collect $200.

“I want you to show me your favorite spell,” Quentin blurted during their first Friday session, desperate to break out of the monotony of what was quickly becoming their routine. He’d had quite enough of Eliot’s detached coldness, even if seeking his warmth was probably the world’s most dangerous game.

Eliot’s mouth twitched up in a smile. “Well now, Quentin, I don’t think I can do that here.”

Quentin frowned. “Why not?”

“Because to show you that spell you and I would need to be wearing a great deal less clothing than we are at the moment.”

Quentin sucked in a breath, his heart instantly skipping several beats. “Okay, I don’t—”

“Sex magic, Quentin,” Eliot said with a tilt of his head. “I’m talking about sex magic.”

Quentin swallowed, his face flushing several shades pinker in the process. He’d heard of sex magic, of course. He’d just never actually considered—“Oh.”

“I apologize if I’ve made you uncomfortable, but you did ask,” he said, levitating Quentin’s little glass marble from the table like it was his own personal fidget toy. “I have a whole journal filled with the stuff, although I know most of the spells by heart.” Eliot quirked his finger, and the marble began looping elegantly over their heads. “It’s the only real magic of use I’ve learned in this place if I’m being honest.”

The absurdity of such a statement was enough to knock Quentin’s embarrassment on its ass. “Sex magic,” he said flatly as Eliot called the marble down into his waiting hand. “Sex magic is the only thing of use you’ve learned at a school where you can learn to literally fly and make fire with your mind.”

Eliot waved him off, setting the marble back on the table. “Most of the First Year curriculum is stuff I’d had mastered when I was fifteen, Quentin,” he said.

Quentin’s heart stopped cold in his chest. “You—are you telling me you knew about magic when you were fifteen years old?”

“Of course not,” Eliot said with a little laugh. “I learned about magic when I was fourteen.”

Suddenly, it was like the last piece of some puzzle he hadn’t even known he’d been assembling for literal years falling into place. “Oh my god.” Quentin knitted his brows together intensely. “Of course you were a magician then, you—of course. It all makes sense now. It—oh my god. Eliot, oh my GOD did you put a spell on me when we were together? Is that why it always felt so good?”

Eliot was quiet for a long time, averting his gaze when Quentin dared to meet his eyes. “I would never use magic on someone without their consent,” he said finally, his most practiced I’m totally unaffected by this conversation smile tugging at his lips.

It was the closest Eliot had come to not flat out refusing they’d known one another pre-Brakebills, and Quentin didn’t know if that came as a relief, or if the deep chasm in the center of his chest cracked itself open just a little wider.

He shook it off, took a breath, reminding himself that they weren’t even supposed to be poking that particular elephant, and especially not with its own trunk. “Whatever. Just—can you show me something different? This is starting to get really boring.”

Eliot clasped his hands together, his expression almost infuriatingly neutral. “What did you learn in class this week? I haven’t even asked you how you’ve been doing on your own.”

“We learned a cooperative shield charm in PA,” Quentin breathed out, hands jittery, clammy and cold. “I was shit at it. But I can levitate the marble now even when you’re not around, so I guess that’s something.”

Eliot smirked. “These little trysts with magic are helping then, hm?”

“Don’t call this… that.” Quentin looked down at the table. Bashful? Angry? He had no fucking idea anymore. “And yes. They’re helping. I don’t think the block is gone, but I—I can cast some things by myself.”

Eliot nodded. “Good,” he said, suddenly pushing back from the table and rising to his feet.

Quentin frowned in his direction. “Where are you going? Our session isn’t—”

“We,” Eliot said, using his telekinesis to push his chair back in, “are going to the Cottage.”

“But why—”

“You’re bored,” Eliot cut him off with a tilt of his head, “because the library is boring. If you really want to discover the wondrous world of all that magic can do, Quentin, we’re not going to do that surrounded by card catalogs and books detailing the rote mechanics of spells. Well...” He laughed. ”Not the legal ones, at least.”

Quentin somehow frowned even harder. “There are illegal magic books?”

“Oh, Quentin,” Eliot said with a tremendous sigh, turning on his heels. “Follow me.”

They trudged back to the Cottage in silence, Quentin wondering the entire way what illegal magic would even look like. Did it have something to do with robbing banks? Mind control? Becoming a super-villain and hiding out in a hollowed-out volcano plotting to take over the world? Or maybe it had something to do with sex magic, Eliot’s favorite spells. He wondered, after everything they’d done together and to each other, if there was anything magic could actually bring to the table to enhance such an experience.

Quentin had his doubts.

There was a party in full swing when they walked through the door, and Margo was on them before they’d even taken two whole steps inside. “Where have you been,” she exclaimed, hooking her arm in Eliot’s arm, her eyes falling to Quentin. “Oh, right. It’s magical Viagra night for our little Q.”

Quentin resisted the urge to roll his eyes, following them two paces behind over to the bar. “Our session isn’t over. Eliot said—”

“Eliot said…” Eliot’s hand went to his shoulder, a bolt of lightning surging from the point of contact straight down to the soles of Quentin’s feet. “We’re exploring the world of magic. Which is supposed to be fun, Quentin, in spite of what the starched collars who run this place might have you believe.”

Eliot pulled away and started levitating bottles up off the bar like it was nothing, the colorful liquids inside swirling down into the three waiting glasses Margo had set in a neat little row. Quentin frowned at the display.

“How is getting drunk supposed to help me become a better magician?”

Eliot lowered his hands. The bottles settled back down on the bar top. “Because daddy likes to smoke when he drinks,” he said, pushing a glass into Quentin’s hand, “and it’s about time he taught you how to light his fire.”

Their eyes made contact then, and Quentin could feel his knees quaking at once, his sparkling blue drink physically trembling in his hand. The ground under his feet dropped out. His teeth rattling in his skull, heart quivering like a snare drum in a marching band. His skin warming, warming, sparking like kindling, every beat of his pulse stoking the flame.

He’d never been so grateful to hear another person’s voice as he was when Margo chimed in. “Oh for fuck’s—ándale,” she huffed, tugging on Eliot’s hand. “You two can eye bang all you want, but you’re not making me drink alone.”

She led Eliot over to their usual perch, the cozy little V-shaped nook in the corner of the common room, the only spot in the entire Cottage no other Physical Kid would dare to claim without express written permission from the King and Queen themselves. And even then, they probably wouldn’t risk it. Quentin’s luck somehow found him squeezed in between the two of them on the bench, his back pressed right into the corner, clutching his drink like a lifeline. He hadn’t taken more than a single sip before Eliot was snatching the glass away, setting it on the shelf behind him.

He pressed a cigarette in between his lips, his attention fixed firmly on Quentin’s face. “Now, I’m only going to show you this once, and then you’re going to do it.” He grinned around the filter in a way that made Quentin’s stomach lurch. “Feed the spark, light the spark… gather the flame.” Eliot’s hand worked like an old master. He snapped his fingers, a delicate little flame springing to life from the tip of the one he had pointed in the air. He lit the end of the cigarette, puffed it once, then passed it over to Margo. “Simple.”

His chest tight, Quentin sucked in a breath as he watched Eliot pluck another cigarette from his case. “I wouldn’t call making fire with your hands simple.”

“You would if you were my magical other half.” Eliot cocked his head to one side, cigarette dangling from his lips. “Go on. Wanna spark me up?”

Quentin’s body had a visceral reaction to that. For a moment, he worried he might actually pass out. It was like he was caught up in a loop from which there was no escape. There at Brakebills in Upstate New York one second, then suddenly back in Morningside Heights the next. Halloween night 2013. Handing Eliot his last cigarette there on the sidewalk, cupping his hand over the lighter to shield it from the breeze.

He shook his head, shook out his hands, trying his damndest to ignore the way Margo’s eyes were fixed on their every move. Quentin mimicked the motion of Eliot’s hand exactly: feed the spark, light the spark, gather the flame. He snapped his fingers near where the cigarette dangled, struggling to light the end with the tiny spark that presented itself where the fire should have been.

One corner of the paper caught just enough to burn, an ember that grew into a little inferno there on the cigarette’s tip. Eliot inhaled deeply. Quentin watched with rapt attention, captivated by the way the smoke curled from Eliot’s lips on the exhale, the way his mouth quirked up in a smile as he passed the cigarette over.

“My little fire starter,” Eliot said, the gentle sort of praise that would have sounded more at home coming from his mouth with Quentin on his knees. “See that, Bambi? We’ll make a magician of him yet.”

“Yeah,” Margo said flatly, puffing away on her cigarette, her half-empty drink floating on an enchantment next to her head, “a real fire breathing dragon, this one.” She nudged Quentin in the ankle with her shoe. “Anybody ever tell you you think too much?”

Quentin’s cheeks burned hotter than any flame. He shoved the cigarette between his lips and talked around it. “Yeah, maybe once or twice.”

“Hmm. I think I know what you need...” Margo considered him with her icy stare, leaning forward and stubbing out her cigarette in the ashtray on the shelf, then practically crawling into Quentin’s lap to whisper something in Eliot’s ear. When she pulled away a moment later, both of them were grinning like the cat that swallowed the canary whole, bones and all.

Margo hopped to her feet at once, disappearing around the corner. “Um,” he said, handing the cigarette back to Eliot. “Should I be concerned?”

Eliot shrugged, his elegant fingers pressing the cigarette to his lips. Margo was back before whatever witty response he was certainly piecing together could fall from his mouth.

“Here, fire boy,” she said, curling up at Quentin’s side and pushing a joint the size of his index finger in between his lips. “See what you can do with that.”

“What is this?” Quentin mumbled around it with a furrow of his brows.

“You’ve never seen a joint before?” Margo quipped with a roll of her eyes. “It’s from Hoberman. It’s just weed but it’s enchanted as shit. If that doesn’t get you out of that pretty little head, Coldwater, I don’t know what will.”

In an instant the bracelet looped round his wrist—the one branded with Eliot’s name—felt heavier than a neutron star. He shifted on the bench, suddenly aware of how close he and Eliot were, that Eliot’s body heat was seeping through the fabric of his jeans, that he’d gone all soft and pliant under Eliot’s attention, that he wasn’t fighting anymore, if he’d ever really been fighting at all. As he started moving through the motions of the fire spell, Quentin was thankful at least that Julia wasn’t present to witness his surrender.

This time around, a real burning flame sprang forth from Quentin’s index finger, and it felt incredible, warm and alive inside his tendons and his bones, like embers were sparking from some universal source and spilling into his bloodstream. So fucking good he wondered if he might be hallucinating or dreaming or under the influence of some truly extraordinary spell that had convinced him he’d been transformed into an actual competent magician.

The smoke poured into his lungs, and Quentin felt immediately stoned. Maybe that was the enchanted part, he thought. Or maybe the two sets of eyes on him were just starting to feel that good.

They passed the joint around until it was nothing more than a blackened nub of a roach that Eliot sent fizzling into oblivion with a flick of his fingers. Margo started laughing then, deep-bellied hysterics that caused her to double over into Quentin’s lap until he was laughing so hard along with her that it hurt. And then Quentin was falling over onto Eliot, and the three of them came to rest all tangled up together, dizzy and grinning, the party so forgotten in the background they might as well have been on the moon.

Quentin’s head on Eliot’s chest, face pressing up into the hollow of his throat. Eliot’s pulse thumping, blood-warm skin, the scent of him heavy in Quentin’s nose like a perfume. A leaden feeling taking over, like his brain was being cradled underwater. A sense-memory of his wrists being pinned over his head. A narrow bed, a creaky mattress. A mirror image of their bodies gazing down from the ceiling. The way his legs wrapped around Eliot’s hips like infinity. Lips pressing to his ear, the words whispered there sending tendrils of desire straight down to the soles of his feet.

You want me to pop your cherry, baby?

Quentin gasped, pulled away, flailing, pushing someone out of his lap. His brain lagging like a snail slogging through the mud, it took him a long time to register Margo’s death-glare cutting through the fog.

“Fuck’s sake, Coldwater,” she said. “El, get your boy toy, he’s killing my buzz.”

“Hey.” Eliot’s hand on the back of his neck. Warm. Strong. Grounding. Fuck. “Hey, come on, Q, just—fuck, Margo, tell me Hoberman didn’t give us the shit that lets you see into Bizarro World again.”

“Not unless he wants me to put a hex on his dick and make his ball sack into an amulet,” she said.

Eliot thumbed at Quentin’s nape, up into the hair at the base of his skull. It felt so fucking good he had to bite at the inside of his cheek to keep from making a sound.

“Quentin,” Eliot’s voice came as softly as his touch, “if you’re seeing little green men you can tell us.”

“I’m fine,” Quentin said with a sigh, feeling it move through his entire body.

Margo said something that sounded like it was coming from very far away, somewhere in outer space. Drifting like a satellite around the dome of Quentin’s skull. The soft rumble of her laughter cut into Quentin’s chest as she straddled his thigh. Everything dragged like the slow drip of honey from a spoon. He fixed his eyes on her face, hands clenched in white-knuckled fists at his side, but Margo ignored Quentin completely in favor of leaning over and kissing Eliot square on the mouth.

It was a deep kiss, with tongue, and when she pulled back both of them cackled out a fit of identical laughter. “Oh,” Margo said teasingly, turning her attention to Quentin now, touching his face with her soft, warm hands. “I’d say we should kiss him too, El, but he’s got a boyfriend, if you can believe it. And they’re monogamous. Isn’t that right, Coldwater?”

Quentin tilted his gaze in Eliot’s direction. Eliot’s hand was still on the back of his neck, possessive and familiar. They shared a long, intense moment without words. He could feel Margo watching them intently, like she was trying to decipher the secret language passing between their eyes. Quentin couldn’t decide if Eliot looked sad, or relieved, or terrified, or if he was just very, very high.

Suddenly and without thinking, Quentin turned to Margo, crashing forward until their mouths mashed together. It was a sloppy, terrible kiss, the angle all awkward and wrong, but Margo leaned into it after a second, getting her hands in Quentin’s hair, kissing him exactly the way she’d kissed Eliot just a moment before. And Quentin swore—he swore—he could taste Eliot on her tongue. For a moment it was like kissing both of them at once, or being served up for their supper. Quentin’s blood thrilled at the thought, his hands going to Margo’s hips over her skirt.

Eliot’s fingers were slipping up into Quentin’s hair when Margo broke the kiss. “You know what I think, El,” she said, her pretty mouth quirking up into a devilish grin. “I think we should deflower the virgin.”

Before his mouth could think to catch up and groan I’m not a fucking virgin Margo was hopping to her feet and tugging both Quentin and Eliot up after. Quentin’s legs felt like jelly. All the other people in the Cottage swam in his vision like fish in a barrel. Looping around his head like stars. In a flash the three of them were tumbling up the stairs and into the nearest bedroom—Margo’s—and falling down onto her bed in a heap of pawing hands and searching mouths and broken laughter.

It was all too fast and too much, but Quentin didn’t care. All he cared about was this: Eliot’s body on his body now, intense and warm as an open-mouthed kiss; Eliot settling between the open invitation of his thighs, pressing Quentin down into the mattress; Eliot going for Quentin’s throat, mouthing at the point of his pulse; Eliot’s lips finding his lips in the rush, and Quentin swallowing down a dark-throated moan; Eliot pinning one of Quentin’s hands up above his head, going to his wrist, like he was searching for the bracelet, then running his fingers up under the leather, pressing into the thump, thump, thumping of Quentin’s frantic pulse.

So you never forget who you belong to.

Seventeen months. Seventeen months since Quentin had last felt the blissful thrill of his own beating heart in his chest. Seventeen months, and he was coming back to life. He locked his legs around Eliot’s middle, holding him firmly in place. Their bodies writhed together in a tremulous dance. Quentin was floating up, sinking down, down. Don’t let me go, don’t let me go, don’t let me go. He was back in Eliot’s bed at Columbia, a hotel room in Harlem. He was slipping in and out of time, out of space, out of the confines of his own mortal body. Every moment they’d ever shared together happening at once.

So you never forget who you belong to.

Their last night spent together. Columbia already a hazy, fading memory in their rearview. All wrapped up underneath the covers, sated and warm and loose-limbed. In the hotel room Eliot had gotten them days earlier to celebrate. Days on end spent in a blissed-out, fucked-out haze. Quentin had nearly nodded off during commencement that morning. He made up some bullshit excuse to take a rain check on dinner with his dad. There’d be plenty of time for that later. His birthday. Christmas. Whatever. It didn’t matter. He couldn’t imagine being anywhere but with Eliot in their happy little bubble. God. Quentin was just so fucking happy every second they were together. Spilling over with joy in a way he’d never imagined in a hundred thousand lifetimes might ever be for someone like him.

He turned his face upward, chin resting on Eliot’s chest. “Hey,” he said with a dopey little grin. “You wanna hear something funny?”

“Fucking hell,” Margo’s voice cut in through the memory clear as a warning. “Not to interrupt, but maybe you two should get a room.”

Eliot broke the kiss, laughing against Quentin’s neck. “Sorry, Bambi,” he huffed, sitting back on his heels, Quentin’s legs draped up over his thighs. “I’m sure Coldwater would be more than happy to let you have a turn. Isn’t that right, Q?”

Margo considered them both with a clever little smirk. “I don’t know, El...” She waggled her brows in Eliot’s direction. “You think… maybe…”

Quentin’s heart was beating so fast he could taste it. Eliot grinned, touching Quentin’s neck, his chest. “Hey,” he breathed, thumbing at one of the buttons on Quentin’s shirt. “You want Bambi to fuck you with her strap-on?”

Quentin was suddenly stone fucking sober. His whole body clenched like it was being starved. God yes please. He wanted to be filled so badly he could hardly breathe. He could see it in his mind’s eye then: Hands and knees, face down, hips up high with his thighs spread to their limit, Margo lining herself up behind him, pushing in just a little before backing away, teasing, laughing, Eliot propped up on a mountain of pillows in front, legs splayed out, the feast of his cock hard and drooling, ready to press in between Quentin’s waiting lips, Eliot’s strong hand winding in Quentin’s hair and pushing him down, down…

Eliot’s hands went to his hips and Quentin gasped, suddenly wrenching away from his touch, scrambling backward until he’d nearly tumbled off the bed and onto the floor. “No, no—I—” Trying to get the words out was like running a marathon uphill with a boulder strapped to his tongue. “I—I can’t. I’m sorry, I—I have a boyfriend, I—”

Unsteady as a calf on his feet, Quentin smoothed his hands down the front of his shirt, suddenly painfully aware of the size of his erection. “I have to go, I—I can’t do this, I’m sorry, I’m—I’m really—”

Margo quipped something that Quentin didn’t quite make out. Something about a big baby with an even bigger boner. Eliot said his name and Quentin felt it like a knife to the heart. He stumbled to the door, not looking back as he tottered out into the hall and ran in the direction of his room.

He opened the door, slammed it shut, didn’t bother with the lock, fell down onto his back in bed and fixed his eyes on the moonlit ceiling. Shadows moved like looming threats, his heart pounding up into his throat, choking off his air. Memories wheeled, etched in grey matter like celluloid, Eliot’s scent so heavy on his clothes Quentin felt soaked straight through to the bone.

Why had he given in so easily? Quentin was pretty sure he hated himself. Why hadn’t he given in all the way if he was going to let it go that far? He was so in love with Eliot he didn’t want to be alive for one more second without those strong, familiar hands pressing love into his skin. God. He could still feel Eliot there, between his legs, circling the flesh of his wrist. Warm mouth on his wanting throat. His dick was still so hard it hurt every time he moved.

Quentin pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes until stars bloomed there in the darkness. He could go back right now and they would probably still have him. Margo would make fun of him, sure, but Quentin didn’t think he would care that much. Not if it meant he’d finally get what he’d been needing for seventeen goddamn months. Maybe Eliot would even put him on his knees and feed Quentin his dick while Margo watched. He’d never had a threesome before, but the more he thought about it, the more thrilling the idea of Margo seeing them together became. The more his blood warmed at the thought of taking it from both ends, blissed out on Eliot’s dick while Margo gave it to him good and hard. And Maybe Eliot would even tie him up if he asked. Hands behind his back; wrists strapped to the headboard; wrists bound to his ankles with a gag in his mouth. Blindfolded, so deep in subspace he didn’t care if he ever came out. And then, after, Eliot would turn him over his knee until his ass was cherry red because he’d come without daddy’s permission, you greedy little boy.

And then maybe Eliot would—maybe he would—maybe maybe maybe—and then and then and then—

Quentin bolted upright and filled his lungs to their limit, holding in the breath until his lungs began to burn. He wanted to cry scream fuck until his body literally combusted. He needed somewhere to run away to. Somewhere that wasn’t Julia’s arms or James’ bed or the fucking ‘burbs in Jersey. The thought of seeing his dad right now felt like its own particular brand of hell. And Julia would take one look at his face and read him like amateur spell work. And the thought of James touching him anywhere made Quentin want to hide under his bed and burrow into the center of the Earth.

If only he could open up one of his Fillory books and crawl between the pages, a portal to another world where no one knew his name. A place where he’d be greeted as a hero, not some loser who couldn’t even get it up for magic without syphoning power from his ex-whatever. A fairytale land brimming with healing waters and crystal-spired castles and talking animals doling out quests to all who sought adventure or escape.

Down the hall, he could hear Eliot and Margo spilling out of her room, the sharp peal of Eliot’s laughter echoing down into the deep crater at the center of Quentin’s aching chest. Their footsteps were heavy on the stairs as they receded into silence, back to the party. Maybe they would find another boy to take to bed tonight.

Quentin fell down onto his back. And took a breath. And shut his eyes.

Columbia University
November 2013

When Quentin got back to his room, he found approximately five billion texts from Julia waiting for him on his phone. A series of increasingly incoherent sentences strung together with eggplant emojis and one blurry selfie sent around 2am with the twinkle lights of a Midtown bar Quentin recognized but couldn’t recall the name of streaking like comets in the background.

Boo u whore

Q sucks

O shit wait r u seeing the professor again tonight???

Tell him I said hi

I cant believe ur finally getting laid

Q literally sucks big fat professor dick

HAHA

I’m proud really I am

U gotta tell me all about it tomorrowwwww

I don’ think I’m getting laid tonight

Did u evr think there’d b a day whn u were the one gettin duck on a saturday nite n not me HA

Hey q i mde up a new game ‘s call duck duck gooch HA i’m a fuckin genies

Wish u wre heeeeeeere bithchhhhhhhhhh

Hey membr tha time i walked in n u naked when we were like 12 n ur face turned reddr thn spidermaan omg

Don no why i jus thought of it

If i ask how bg the professor ducks is tomorrow u gotta tell k

Quentin’s thumb flicked across the screen as he scrolled and scrolled and scrolled. Jesus. He wondered absently what had happened to the finance bro she’d been actively banging not 24 hours earlier, if she’d gone out drinking all by herself last night. Certainly Julia had friends other than Quentin. He was pretty sure that she did. She got invited to parties literally all of the time.

The final text had been sent just past 10am. A simple Brunch???? with no follow-up when Quentin hadn’t answered. He shot off a quick response—Sorry, um… here now if you wanna get together?—and then headed to the shower.

Clean and dressed, hair towel dried, his body feeling marginally less like he’d over-extended every muscle below his waist, Quentin checked his phone to find a single notification. Julia. Two words: Duck pond. He smiled and shoved his phone into his back pocket, grabbed a jacket, and headed for the door.

The duck pond at Morningside Park had been Quentin’s preferred location for moping since freshman year. Murky green water, generally inhabited by more birds than people. And when he wasn’t busy moping, it was an okay place to go and read, in between tossing handfuls of duck feed he’d occasionally pick up at the Petopia near campus for his feathered friends. He’d taken to naming the birds after Fillory characters for approximately one week junior year, but honestly he could hardly tell them apart, and it quickly became more tedious than rewarding. There was little space in Quentin Coldwater’s life for agonizing over duck names when he was trying to brood.

He found Julia tucked into the corner of the furthest bench curved along the pond’s north side. She was clutching a sandwich wrapped in paper in one hand, and when Quentin sat she handed him the other she’d been balancing on her knee.

“Hey,” he said, letting his finger slide along the waxy paper. “I, uh—sorry about last night.”

“Don’t be sorry,” she said with a smirk, dark circles framing her eyes that she hadn’t bothered to conceal with makeup. “I mean, I can’t exactly be mad at you for doing what I’ve been trying to get you to do for… literally your entire post-pubescent life.”

Quentin laughed. “Yeah, I um… I figured you’d be with your guy last night, so.”

Julia made a disapproving sound. “Not my guy,” she said, bringing her sandwich up to her mouth and then lowering it again.

“You wanna talk about it?” Quentin asked.

Julia quirked her mouth. “No,” she said. “It doesn’t matter. His balls looked weird anyway.” She took a bite and continued talking around it in that endearing way of hers. “Tell me about the professor.”

It was sort of amazing, Quentin thought, how quickly his pulse picked up at the mere suggestion of talking about Eliot. “We, um…” Quentin unwrapped his sandwich at record speed and shoved a corner into his mouth. “We had fun.”

Julia laughed. “This really is gonna be like pulling teeth with you, isn’t it?”

Quentin gave her an incredulous look. “I don’t see you recounting your hook-ups with me.”

“I told you about Atticus’ balls.”

Quentin snorted a laugh. “His name isn’t really Atticus.”

“It is.”

“God.” Quentin laughed again, took another bite of his sandwich.

“Anyway,” Julia continued after a moment of silence, “I’m not the one getting dominated so—”

“Hey.” Quentin started blushing immediately. “I never said—”

“You said he called you submissive.”

“But that doesn’t mean—”

Julia cut him off with a look. “Q,” she said, and touched his knee. “There’s nothing wrong with—”

“I know there’s nothing wrong with it, Jules, I just—” Quentin sighed hard and bit into his sandwich again, a gesture motivated by nerves more than any actual hunger. “I don’t know how to talk about this with you. I’m sorry.”

Julia raised a hand in surrender. “Fine. We won’t talk,” she said. “We can just feed the ducks and sulk. That’s what this place is for anyway, right?”

Quentin swallowed. “We don’t have anything to feed them.”

Julia held the remnants of the sandwich up. “We have this.”

“You can’t feed them that it’s not good for—”

“Oh my god.” Julia laughed and shook her head. “I can’t believe you’re my actual lifelong best friend sometimes.”

They sulked for a few silent minutes together. They finished their sandwiches and crushed the wrappers and Quentin used the time it took to ferry them to the nearest trash can to decide how much information might be too much information to divulge about the night before, even if said information was being divulged to his literal best friend in the entire universe. Even if there wasn’t a solid seventy-five percent chance she was going to laugh the moment he mentioned any of the details, he didn’t know if his favorite park in front of his favorite waterfowl was the best location to discuss getting his ass eaten for the first time with… anyone.

He sat back down and watched the ducks dipping their heads under the placid green surface of the pond. “So, um,” he started after another long stretch of silence, “I think I probably had the best sex of my life last night.”

“I mean…” Julia laughed. “Is that really saying that much for you?”

“No, I…” Quentin’s face warmed. He rubbed at the back of his neck. “I’m pretty sure it was the best sex anyone has ever had… ever. In the history of sex, Jules.”

When Quentin glanced over, Julia was grinning with her entire face, like she was barely suppressing a laugh. “Is this the part where I ask about his dick?” She waggled her brows, nudging Quentin in the shoulder. “Come on, you started talking about it again so you clearly want me to know.”

Quentin hesitated. It was the stupidest thought that popped into his head just then: had Eliot been telling any of his friends what he and Quentin had been getting up to? Did Eliot have a best friend? Or even just someone close enough to brag to about his latest sexual conquests? And is that what Quentin was? Eliot Waugh’s latest sexual conquest. Yeah, that sounded right. And in that case, would it even be worth mentioning at all? Because for Quentin, this was brand-fucking-new life experience territory. Something he would probably remember until the day his ass was so saggy and wrinkled no one would even think about going near it. But for Eliot? God. Quentin would be lucky to wind up a faceless, nameless blur of undergraduate fun in the annals of Eliot’s life.

He took a deep breath, suddenly very tired, wondering absently if this is what Eliot had meant when he talked about crashing. Or maybe he was just spiraling because he was Quentin and that’s what Quentin did. Or maybe the twelve plus hours of sleep had something to do with everything in his body and his brain suddenly sinking, sinking…

“Hey.” Julia gave his shoulder a nudge. “Where’d you go?”

“Hm?” Quentin turned to her, trying to keep whatever the fuck this was from showing on his face. “I’m here. Sorry, I’m… I’m just really tired.”

“Yeah.” She gave him a knowing smile. “I bet, Coldwater. Up all night getting that big professor dick.”

“Jules.” Quentin laughed in spite of himself. “You know I’m not actually fucking a professor, right?”

Julia gave him a playful shrug. “Well until you tell me his name—”

“I told you, I’ll tell you who he is if—”

“Yeah, Q, I remember what you told me.” She shrugged again, and smiled. “So until that day comes, The Professor he shall remain.”

They left the park and went their separate ways a little past 3pm. Quentin went back to his room, fully intending to study for his upcoming Ethics exam, or bury his nose in his Symbolic Logic textbook, or do card tricks for himself until he couldn’t see straight, or just read a fucking Fillory book. Anything really to keep his mind from drifting back to Eliot Eliot Eliot for the rest of the afternoon. Anything to keep those useless little tendrils of dread and doubt from coiling around his stomach and his heart, threatening to squeeze the joy out of the first good thing in his life to come along in forever before it really even began.

Instead, Quentin fell down into bed, curled up on his side, and stayed that way until dark. Given his history, he probably should have taken the whole crashing thing into consideration a little more than he had at the time.

He rolled over and scooped his phone up off the floor where he’d left it, entirely unable to fight against the overwhelming urge to suddenly just… be in Eliot’s presence. Whatever that happened to mean. Or at the very least, be in the presence of his name illuminated on a little rectangle in the dark. Maybe just a word or two would be enough. A little reassurance, something, anything really. Maybe it would be enough.

Hey, Quentin pecked out and hit send, then clutched his phone tightly to his chest until he felt the buzz of Eliot’s reply several excruciating minutes later, startling like a jolt to the heart.

His reply read simply: Hi

Quentin agonized over what to say. Asking to see him was probably out of the question. For all Quentin knew, Eliot had another boy’s mouth on his dick at this very second. It hurt to even consider, and he hated that it hurt. It shouldn’t have, he didn’t think. It’s not like they’d made any sort of commitment to each other. Eliot had agreed to guide Quentin through his sexual awakening, but he didn’t think that could be considered a relationship by anybody’s standards.

He finally settled on: What does it feel like when u crash???? which was fucking stupid. Because if anyone knew what a crash felt like it was Quentin. But whatever.

Not thirty seconds later: Can b like depression sorta. Called subdrop. Ever been depressed ?

Quentin couldn’t lie about… that. He responded simply: Yes

Eliot’s reply came almost instantly. I’ll be home in ten. Then: Come over. And finally, as an afterthought: No sex.

Home. God. Quentin knew what Eliot had meant, but still. His brain latched onto the word like a hand clutching a worry stone, rubbing it shiny and mirror-smooth. Wherever Eliot was right now, he wanted to come home to Quentin and—god. Fuck. He really hoped subdrop wasn’t actually code for turning into a pathetic, needy sap. He clutched his phone and tried to not obsessively check the clock. Ten minutes wasn’t a very long time. Ten minutes wasn’t shit. He was fine he was fine he was—

The urge to go wait outside Eliot’s door like a puppy left out in the cold was suddenly overwhelming. Quentin jumped to his feet and shook it off, tossed his phone down on the bed, rubbing at his eyes. Jesus fucking fuck, Coldwater, get it together. Try acting like a person for once.

He clicked on the light and crossed to look at himself in the full length mirror mounted on the back of his door, and—god, even considering what his baseline usually was, Quentin looked fucking awful. His face haggard and sullen, sallow in the artificial light, his hair sticking up in wild tufts he couldn’t quite smooth down. His clothes all rumpled from where he’d been curled in on himself for hours on end.

He briefly entertained the idea of changing his clothes before trudging back over to the bed and checking his phone. Only four minutes had passed since Eliot’s final text. Fuck. Quentin flopped down on the bed and tossed an arm over his eyes, gritting his teeth through the eternity that was the next six minutes of his life.

It only occurred to him when he was standing outside Eliot’s door raising his hand to knock that the whole ten minutes thing probably hadn’t been literal. Maybe he wasn’t even home yet. Maybe he wasn’t coming. Maybe he was halfway across the city with another boy in his lap, deciding when all was said and done to not entertain Quentin’s little breakdown after all. Maybe he was—

Quentin’s mouth went dry, his palms sweating, and he forced himself to just knock on the fucking door. Goddammit. Shit fuck. He was truly the most pathetic loser alive.

Eliot answered the door immediately. “Hey,” he said, a warm hand on Quentin’s shoulder as he ushered him across the threshold. “Come in.”

The door clicked shut behind them, and Quentin felt instantly calmer, yet suddenly amped up to eleven all at once. Eliot looked good, and not just in the usual Eliot way. He like… he looked really fucking good. Tousled, careless hair that still somehow looked polished and so fucking soft it was the hardest thing in the world not to touch. A little bit of smudged eyeliner, hardly enough to even notice it was on, but just enough to remind Quentin that he definitely had a thing for that. An oxford shirt open at the throat. It might have been blue or lavender or gray. Quentin couldn’t tell in the light. He had on a vest and tie that were both hanging loose and open. And his ass looked so goddamn insanely perfect in his well-tailored slacks it was like someone had sculpted it from marble.

And now Quentin was going to have to co-exist with this literal walking wet dream in the same room and somehow not drop to his knees begging to suck him off.

Okay. Yeah. Quentin could definitely pull that off.

Fuck.

Eliot took him by the hand and led him over to the loveseat. They sat down side-by-side, knees touching. Quentin only just barely mustered up enough self control to fight back against the urge to climb into Eliot’s lap and bury his face right inside the deep V plunge of his open collar.

Eliot held Quentin’s hand in a way that felt almost… chaste. “So, um...” he said with a sigh. “We probably should have talked about your history of mental health whatever… before now.”

“Yeah,” Quentin said, heart sinking as he ducked his head. “Sorry, I—”

“Hey, no.” Eliot took him by the chin and tipped it upward. “Don’t do that. This is… this is uncharted territory as far as you’re concerned. And I should have been the one to ask anyway. I’m…” Eliot ran a hand over the top of Quentin’s head. “Your dom? Your sexual spirit guide? Your… friend who is very good at sex and wants to make the sucky shit suck as little as possible?”

Eliot’s hand went to Quentin’s nape, warming him immediately. “I, um…” He let out a nervous laugh. “I think I’m okay now? Now that I’m… here.”

His hand crept over and touched Eliot’s thigh, and Eliot’s lips curled in a smile. “I’m glad that you’re here,” he said. “And that you’re okay now, but... I think we still have to talk about it.”

“Okay,” Quentin said, the tiny black pool of dread in his stomach growing a little larger with every breath. “Um, so… I…” God. He braced himself, figuring the odds of coming out on the other end of this ever having sex with Eliot again were 50/50 at best. “My brain breaks sometimes.”

Eliot thumbed at Quentin’s cheek. “Tell me how you mean.”

Quentin cast his eyes downward, focusing on the press of his palm to Eliot’s thigh, the warmth of his skin through his slacks. “I mean… I was institutionalized in high school.” He could physically feel Eliot’s entire body frowning at that. “I, uh—everything just felt… pointless. And I—I couldn’t get out of bed, so, um, you know—but I’m—I’m not in that place anymore. I’m… I think I’m okay. Or at least… as okay as someone like me can be?”

He sucked in a breath and raised his eyes. Eliot’s expression was blank.

“Institutionalization sounds—”

“I know how it sounds,” Quentin cut him off, heart racing. “I wasn’t like… in a padded room if that’s what you’re thinking. It was more like, um… it was really boring actually.” He laughed so that he didn’t start crying. “They helped me take care of myself until I could handle being a person again? It wasn’t for very long.”

Eliot pulled his hands into his own lap, and it felt like a loss. The pool of dread in Quentin’s belly grew to the size of a fucking ocean.

“Q, I don’t know if this is—”

Quentin reached for Eliot’s hand and held onto it tightly. “No, this—” Fuck. “Eliot. I’m okay, I swear, I’m—I haven’t had those thoughts in years.”

Eliot softened a little. “I don’t wanna hurt you,” he said. “I don’t wanna risk sending you back to… having a broken brain.”

“You won’t.” Quentin squeezed Eliot’s hand. “Today I—I don’t even know if it was… subdrop or whatever. I—I think I just freaked myself out about something really stupid.”

“Still.” Eliot gave him an uncertain smile. “Look, as far as I know subdrop is fairly short-lived, but I don’t know if that applies to someone with a history of... clinical depression? Are you taking any medication?”

Quentin swallowed. Sometime during sophomore year he’d just sort of… stopped picking up his prescriptions. “I don’t need medication,” he said, and it was true. He was fine. “I told you I’m—I’m better now.”

Eliot knitted his brows together. “Q, I don’t know. Look, if you crash and I can’t be with you after...”

Quentin let go of Eliot’s hand, casting his eyes downward. “So are you saying you don’t wanna see me anymore?”

Eliot was quiet for a very long time. Slowly, he lifted his hands to Quentin’s face, cradling it gently. Their eyes met, and Eliot smiled. “I am very much not saying that, Quentin,” he said with a little laugh. “I’m—I don’t know what I’m saying. I just…” He sighed with his entire body. “You have to promise me that if you think you’re getting to… that place again. You’ll tell me right away.”

“Of course, of course,” Quentin said with a sudden burst of laughter, maybe feeling just a tiny bit delirious. “Anything you want.”

“Even if we’re not together—especially if we’re not together. You text, you call, you send a fucking smoke signal, a goddamn carrier pigeon, I don’t care. Tell me you understand.”

“Yes.” Quentin nodded, his heart twisting itself around in his chest. “I understand.”

“Good,” Eliot said very carefully with a tip of his head. “And I am extra-fucking-serious about how slow we’re taking this, Quentin.”

“Okay, I know. I know—it’s okay.” Quentin gripped the front of Eliot’s shirt. “Slow is good. Slow is—slow is great.”

Eliot hummed, leaning forward, his hands moving to Quentin’s neck. “Now,” he said, ghosting their lips together, “do you think you’ll be able to control yourself if I kiss you, pretty boy?”

Quentin whimpered. God. Eliot’s hands were so warm and strong. And he smelled so fucking good. Like cedar and tobacco, but not that stale cigarette smell that clung to most people who smoked. How did he manage to pull that off? He gripped the front of Eliot’s shirt more tightly and nodded his head.

“You sure?” He kissed the corner of Quentin’s mouth, his fingers slipping up into the hair at Quentin’s nape. “I meant what I said, Coldwater. We’re not having sex tonight.”

Quentin drew his breath in slowly, deeply. If he moved just a little bit closer, he could climb into Eliot’s lap so easily. He would hardly have to move at all. “I, um…” He could feel himself losing his tongue already. Jesus fucking—“I’m sure. I’m sure, I’m—”

Eliot kissed the words right out of his mouth, licking in between the seam of his lips. And Quentin just… lunged forward. He couldn’t help himself. Eliot’s lap was right there, it was right there. And Eliot didn’t resist, didn’t stop him, didn’t pry their wanting lips apart and tell Quentin to stay. Quentin straddled his hips and Eliot’s hands went for his ass and oh god Quentin was so hard already it shouldn’t have been possible. He wanted Eliot so badly he wanted to cry.

“Q—” Eliot’s hands were suddenly fisting the front of Quentin’s shirt and pushing him back, both of them panting, Eliot’s pupils blown wide in the golden light. “Q. We can’t—we can’t, um—oh my god.” He laughed, the sound filling Quentin’s chest like a brand new heartbeat. “Do you have any idea how much self control is required to say no to you right now, Quentin?”

“Okay, so…” Quentin knocked their foreheads together, winding his hands in the loose ends of Eliot’s tie. “Don’t say no.”

“Q…” Eliot’s mouth was hanging open, his breath still coming very quickly. “Hey… hey. I need you to listen to me, okay? I need you to be good. You can be good for daddy, can’t you?”

Quentin only answered with a whimper.

Eliot smiled, touching Quentin’s face. “Have you eaten? Why don’t you let me feed you.”

Quentin frowned, Eliot thumbed at his bottom lip.

“Tomorrow night, pretty boy. Come on, just try and relax.”

Quentin relented, allowing Eliot to maneuver him back down onto the loveseat, his head all swimmy and dazed like he’d just stepped off a carnival ride. He didn’t figure there was much blood left in his brain at that point, or anywhere else in his body that wasn’t his dick. Quentin tucked himself into the far corner and hugged a throw pillow to his chest, trying to remind himself to breathe, not protesting when Eliot insisted they get something to eat, even if he didn’t think he was hungry for actual food.

A half an hour later, they were sitting on the rug eating Chinese takeout—beef and broccoli, spring rolls, enough fried rice to take down a horse. Quentin devoured his food like he’d been starved. So, okay. Maybe he’d been a little bit hungry. After, he at least found himself so thoroughly stuffed he wasn’t thinking about sex anymore. Which came as a relief after a meal spent making eyes at each other over the paper cartons, fingers brushing as they reached for just one more spring roll, Eliot’s knees knocking into Quentin’s. The bed right beside them. The bed where just last night Eliot had—

When Quentin cracked his fortune cookie open and the little slip of paper inside read Your infinite capacity for patience will be rewarded he fell down onto his back, laughing at the ceiling until his sides hurt, until he was certain he was going to be sick all over Eliot’s rug. He figured he was maybe a little out of his skull at that point, but he didn’t think it mattered. He was happy, he thought. Yeah, no—Quentin was definitely happy. Infinitely happier than he would have been all alone in his room at any rate. Sex or no sex, being with Eliot was better.

In the middle of Quentin’s fit, Eliot curled up at his side, laughing too, pressing a grin right into the crook of his neck.

Brakebills University
October 2015

Quentin slept in on Saturday morning. The Cottage was quiet and empty when he trudged down to the kitchen well past noon and brewed himself an overly-strong pot of coffee. As he carried his steaming mug outside, Quentin was hopeful this meant everyone had fucked off beyond the Brakebills wards for the weekend. He just wanted to sulk and drink his coffee in peace. And maybe also never see another living person again.

Approximately five minutes after sitting down on the back porch, Margo came sauntering out to join him, and Quentin groaned into his mug.

“If you’re gonna make fun of me just—can we get it over with please?”

A smile tugged at one side of Margo’s mouth. “Oh I could do that,” she said. “And it would be totally hilarious. But I think if I did we’d have to file it under animal cruelty. You’ve got that whole kicked puppy thing down to an art.”

Quentin groaned again and sipped his coffee, bitterness washing over his tongue and down the back of his throat. Seriously, what the fuck was he even supposed to say to that? Quentin settled on nothing, hoping she would just… go away. Knowing that she wouldn’t. It was Margo after all.

The silence held for all of thirty seconds before Margo caught his gaze across the little table, holding it like she might be reading his mind. He was pretty sure she wasn’t actually psychic. Pretty sure. Maybe. He hoped. God. Living with magicians was actually the worst.

“So,” she said with a little tip of her head, “this is the part where I ask you about last night.”

Quentin hid his face behind his mug. “You really don’t have to do that.”

“Oh, see, I disagree. ‘Cause no offense, honey, but you don’t exactly strike me as the sort of man who’s gonna shy away from what I’m packing in my panty drawer.”

Was there a spell for disappearing? Why the fuck hadn’t his actual magic school taught him how to actually disappear yet? That was like, basic illusionist stuff, right? Fuck. “I don’t know what that even means,” he said, gazing down into the blackness inside his mug, a blush growing high on his cheeks.

“Oh, please. You wear I’m a bottom like an old lady wears Shalimar.” She wasn’t smiling when Quentin raised his eyes. “So you wanna tell me what’s really going on with you and El, or am I gonna have to start pulling teeth?”

“There’s nothing to tell,” he said very quietly into his coffee, as if she was somehow going to buy the bullshit he was selling so poorly and call it a day.

Margo glared at him incredulously, and Quentin sighed.

“Look, why don’t you ask him about his life before this place,” he said, setting his mug down on the table, but keeping his hands wrapped around it, like somehow the warmth of the porcelain was the only thing keeping him together. “Since clearly he hasn’t filled you in on the details.”

A momentary sadness flickered over her face. “Eliot isn’t exactly the filling you in on the details type,” she said. “But he was a fucking mess First Year, I can tell you that. And I don’t just mean in the usual Eliot’s a mess kind of way. I’m talking there were days he was falling down drunk in class, when he bothered to attend at all. I honestly don’t understand why Fogg even let him stay.”

Quentin swore he could feel every chamber of his heart contracting, expanding. The blood moving in, the blood moving out. He thought, for a moment, that it might just up and leap out of his chest, presenting itself there a bloody, stumbling bruise on the table. “He’s not who you think he is,” he croaked out after a long moment of silence. It was all he could think to say as his heart kept pounding, pounding, pounding.

Margo gave him a sad smile. “Eliot is exactly who I think he is, Quentin,” she said. “And that’s how I know that he is in pain every second.”

Quentin sucked in a breath, or he thought he did. He was breathing, right? Yes. He was pretty sure he was breathing. “What are you talking about?”

Margo pulled a face, shrugging her shoulders. “He hides it well, most of the time. But sometimes if you get him high enough, shit just up and slips out.” She let out a little sigh. “And I see the way he looks at you. I definitely saw the way he was kissing you last night.”

“Eliot kisses lots of people.” Quentin’s voice came out pitiful and small.

“Not like that he doesn’t,” she said with a sad little shake of her head. “After you ran out he tried to laugh it off. It wasn’t one of his better performances.”

“I don’t know what—” Quentin bit at the inside of his lip to keep the tears at bay. “I don’t know what you expect me to do about it.”

Margo cocked her head, pulled out a cigarette, lit it with the tip of her finger. “Yeah, well, I don’t fuckin’ know either,” she said finally, blowing a long trail of smoke up toward the sun. “But I know you two need to get your shit together. Whatever—”

“No he—” Quentin was suddenly very, very angry. “He needs to get his shit together. I’m not—I’m not the one acting like we never even met before Brakebills. Like we never—” Breathe, Quentin scolded himself. Just remember to fucking breathe. “Six and a half months, Margo. Six and a half goddamn—he was my whole world—he was—he was everything. And we were friends for years before that. Or—or we knew each other, at least. And then he just—he was just gone. He left, Margo, and I—”

The words caught in Quentin’s throat. He was crying now. Couldn’t help it. He wanted to crawl into the dark abyss of his mug and never come out again.

“Well,” Margo said, passing the cigarette across the table, which Quentin took without hesitation, “running when shit gets tough does sound like El.”

Quentin took a long drag and passed the cigarette back. “You don’t understand,” he said with a shake of his head. “Nothing was tough. We were—we were happy. Or I thought we were. But he still—he left like it was nothing.”

Margo narrowed her eyes. “Tell me what you did.”

“I—I didn’t do anything, Margo.” Quentin frowned with his entire face. “He left me. He—this is on him, okay, so don’t look at me like I—” Quentin glared across the table. Somehow, Margo glaring back seemed to soften him a little. “Okay maybe I—maybe I said something stupid, but it—I didn’t mean it the way that it sounded, okay? And even if—even if I had meant it that way, it wouldn’t be an excuse for—for fucking gaslighting me, Margo. This is not on me.”

Margo sighed after a long moment of silence. “So you’re both idiots,” she said, stubbing her cigarette out in the ashtray between them. “Yeah, that tracks.”

Quentin’s chair scraped loudly as he pushed back from the table, his legs wobbling underneath him as he stood. “I’m not—I’m not doing this,” he said, nearly tripping over the chair as he stumbled away. “He’s your best friend, so—so maybe just ask him about it yourself if you wanna know so bad.”

Margo scoffed at his back. “Please,” she said. “You of all people should know Eliot doesn’t talk about his feelings.”

Quentin didn’t respond, didn’t look back. He went inside. Dizzy, pissed off, terrified, quaking, fucking devastated beyond reason. Confused. What the fuck. I know that he is in pain every second. Quentin found Eliot in the common room, pouring straight bourbon into a glass, shooting it back in one huge gulp, slamming it down on the bar when he was through.

“Quentin,” he slurred, wiping at his mouth with the back of his hand. “Hey. You want me to fix you something?”

Eliot’s eyes were glassy and bloodshot, the shadows underneath so dark they looked bruised. Immediate, sharp like a sting to the neck. The urge to pull Eliot into his arms was devastating. Pitiful, mindless. Quentin swallowed it down like bile rising in his throat.

“It’s, um… it’s sort of early, isn’t it?”

Eliot groaned. “How can it be early when I haven’t even been to bed yet, hm?” He laughed, sounding manic, started pouring himself another drink with his unsteady hands, the bottle clanking against the rim of the glass. “Where’s Bambi, hm? Bambi will have a drink with daddy.”

He slammed the bottle down, slammed back the contents of the glass. Eliot tottered, unsteady on his long legs, and his empty glass slipped from between his fingers like water. Quentin experienced the whole thing in something like slow motion. His hands started casting without thinking, his magic catching and lifting the glass midway down before it could make contact with the floor.

Eliot wobbled, laughing as he watched Quentin lower the glass down onto the bar top. “Very impressive, young Padawan,” he said, his whole body tipping wildly to one side. “Very, very…” He swiped Quentin’s nose with the tip of his index finger. “Impressive.”

Quentin caught Eliot by the wrist when he went to pull away. It was all animal-brained instinct, like catching the glass had been. He hadn’t considered what he was doing until it was already done. “Eliot…” His pulse galloped inside his neck. What was he doing what the fuck was he doing what the fuck was he—“You, um—don’t you think maybe you should—”

Eliot wrenched out of Quentin’s grasp with a peal of terrible, cackling laughter, tumbling backward and catching himself sideways on the bar, knocking several bottles and pieces of glassware over in the process. The room filled with the sound of shattering glass. Eliot pressed his hands flat to the bar top, holding himself unsteadily upright. Trying, it seemed to Quentin, to will his body into temporary sobriety.

“Maybe. I should…” Eliot spun around, straightened his back, straightened his neck, pushing forward with one careful step and then another, reaching out to curve a hand around Quentin’s cheek. “Maybe I should…”

Quentin froze like a terrified animal. Synapses misfiring, his feet turned to lead. He tipped his face steadily upward. Muscle memory. Lips parting in anticipation of a kiss that he wanted so badly he swore he could already taste it.

“Maybe…” Eliot sucked in a breath and tottered back, nearly colliding with the bar again, catching his hand on the edge. Another laugh. The point of contact broken. Quentin’s body left shivering and cold.

He hardly registered the click of Margo’s shoes from down the hall, the scent of her perfume announcing her arrival. “Oh for fuck’s sake,” she said, hands on hips, looking the two of them over like they’d just committed a crime. “He’s supposed to be in bed. Tell me you’re not actually letting him drink right now.”

She was staring right at Quentin, and he furrowed his brows at her intensely. “Do you honestly think I have any control over what he’s doing?”

“Now you two,” Eliot said, his words coming out all heavy and stumbling as he tossed an arm around each of their shoulders. “No need to get all catty on account of lil ole me.”

Margo immediately started navigating the trio of their bodies over to the sofa. “Oh, honey,” she said, mockingly sweet, “this ain’t even close to catty. But by all means keep drinking if you wanna see my claws.”

Together, Quentin and Margo plopped Eliot down onto the sofa. He fell onto his back, reaching for Margo as she pushed his legs up to join the rest of him. “Bambi,” he slurred with a little laugh, “daddy wants a dirty martini. Four olives.”

Eliot held up three fingers, dropped them, his chin knocking against his chest, eyes sliding shut.

Margo glanced over at Quentin, looking sad and fucking furious. “I’d magic all the booze shut, but my wards have never been able to keep him out,” she said. “Or he’d just go get more even if they did. Whatever. Let him sleep it off. And if he asks you for hangover potion tell him to suck it up. A little suffering might do him some good.”

She walked away without another word, leaving through the front door and magicking it shut. Quentin stared down at Eliot on the sofa for a very long time. He lay perfectly still in a way that didn’t look like he was sleeping. Dread crept up on Quentin slowly, like a cold hand curling around the back of his neck. It was hard to stand over Eliot’s body then and not think he maybe looked just a little bit dead.

Quentin leaned over, putting his hand up under Eliot’s nose until he felt the air moving against his fingers reassuringly. He remembered all the horror stories from undergrad then: friends of friends of friends passing out flat on their backs, getting sick, choking on it, never waking up again. The more he thought about it the more he freaked. Quentin crossed the room in a panic, grabbed a couple big square pillows from the sectional and wedged them up under Eliot’s back, partially lifting the deadweight of his body just enough to turn his head to the side.

Eliot made a noise suddenly, one clumsy hand swatting in Quentin’s general direction. “Quentin,” he said very quietly, one eye only just barely slitting open. “Quentin… hey… c’mere.”

“Do you want me to, um… get you some water?” Quentin took a step back, blood like hoofbeats racing in his ears. “I can—”

“No, no,” Eliot slurred with a lazy wave of his hand. “C’mere. Close—come closer. Just wanna...”

Quentin hated how soft he was. How he immediately stepped forward without thinking. Hated how he knelt down and pressed his face close enough to Eliot’s to see the color of his irises shining through the little slits of his eyelids. Hated the way his heart galloped and wanted. Hated how his hands ached to touch. Hated how strong the pull was to be closer, a satellite to a star.

He drew in a breath. He waited for Eliot to speak.

Eliot reached forward with his clumsy fingers and touched the ends of Quentin’s hair. “S’long,” he slurred, his hand falling down limply, a stupid grin spreading over his face. “Like it this way…”

His eyes, sad little glints of bloodshot madness. I know that he is in pain every second. Quentin tottered to his feet, running a hand nervously over his hair and tucking it behind his ear. “Um, I uh—I’m gonna go… get you some—I’ll be right back, um...”

He had to stop himself from running out of the room. Quentin walked to the kitchen in a daze and stood gazing into the harsh yellow light of the refrigerator until it started to chime. Cold air on his hot face. He pulled out a bottle of water and sat down at the island, giving himself a moment to breathe.

A memory, fresh as a bruise smarting under his fingernail: April, he thought, maybe early May. Quentin’s life had turned into a whirlwind of Eliot, Eliot, Eliot, running to class, ten minutes late, drawing stupid little hearts in the margins of his notebooks, zoning out in lecture, reaching over and touching the bracelet around his wrist just to feel him there, and above it the phantom of Eliot’s mouth hot against the point of his pulse, and popping into the barber shop near campus for his semi-regular trim hadn’t really been much of a priority since returning from winter break.

But Eliot—god. Eliot loved it. Quentin thought he might never see the inside of a barber shop ever again. The memory prickled hotly along the dome of Quentin’s scalp, electric in its current. Eliot winding the length of Quentin’s hair around his fingers, mouth warm and wet along the line of his neck, brushing right up against his ear. “There you are,” he purred, voice syrup-thick and just as dark. “There’s my pretty boy. Fuck—” He gave Quentin’s hair a tug, wrenching his neck back, opening the line of his throat in time with the thrusting of his hips. Buried to the hilt, holding himself in place, his free hand working along the slick shaft of Quentin’s over-stimulated dick between his legs. “My pretty boy and his pretty hair.”

Quentin squeezed the bottle of water in his hand so tightly he was amazed it didn’t burst. He shoved the memory away, forced himself to his feet, trudging back to the common room with his jaw clenched tight enough to snap. He found Eliot fully passed out on the sofa, snoring gently, cheek pressed in between the cushion and the arm, mouth hanging open, his long limbs twisted at awkward angles. Quentin fought against the urge to collapse into the nearest arm chair and keep watch until this nightmare was over.

He set the water down on the coffee table, allowing himself a single, fleeting touch of Eliot’s shoulder before making his exit through the front door.

Columbia University
November 2013

Monday night. Eliot’s room. Golden light filling up Quentin’s senses the moment the door clicked shut. The triumphant conclusion to 48 sexless hours that had felt more like some epic penned by a cruel and unfeeling writer being paid by the word to torture him. Eliot kissed him on the mouth, and Quentin turned to putty in his hands. Shudders coursing through him like shockwaves, poleaxed by lust. Eliot led him over to the loveseat and pulled Quentin down into his lap, kissing him, kissing him, kissing him breathless.

Hand on the nape of his neck, another in his hair. Flashes of heat down his chest and between his legs. Eliot laughed into the hollow of Quentin’s throat, working open the buttons of his shirt. Skin-on-skin-on-skin. Teeth scraping over the planes of Quentin’s collarbone. Quentin gasped, Eliot’s warm strong hands pressing flat against his spine, tracing it like the route to his final destination.

Quentin, feeling bold, curved his hand over the hard jut of Eliot’s erection through his slacks. “Will you let me,” he breathed against Eliot’s ear. “Will you let me…”

Eliot let out a tremendous, happy sigh, taking Quentin’s face in his hands, thumbing at the curve of his lips. “You wanna suck my dick, baby?” Quentin couldn’t help but whimper in response, and Eliot grinned, pressing the tip of his thumb in between Quentin’s wanting lips, teasing it in just a little before pulling away. “Come here, come on. I’m gonna teach you exactly how I like it.”

Desire made everything fuzzy, washed out flashes of memory happening in real time. A flurry of clothes coming off; Eliot putting Quentin on his knees; Quentin letting the warm, dark waters of subspace flood in and wash away his mind. And it was easier, he came to realize, taking instruction while deep in that void than he’d imagined it might be. The connection of their thoughts absolute, like Eliot had plugged himself right into the source. A reflex. Quentin found himself doing exactly as Eliot commanded before the words even had time to leave his mouth.

Just like that. Yes. Oh, that’s so fucking beautiful, Q. Open your mouth a little—just a little more. Yeah yeah—god. Yes. Use your tongue. That’s—that’s perfect. Yes, that’s—a little less teeth, baby. God. God. Yes. You can use your hand if you—god fuck yes just like that. Fuck, your mouth is so warm. It’s so wet, it’s so—oh my fucking—god shit fuck—I’m gonna—stop baby, stop. Not yet. I wanna make it last. That’s it. You don’t have to try and take it so deep. It’s so good just like this. It’s so good, baby. It’s so fucking—

When Eliot came it was with hips stuttering, mouth babbling, fingers grasping. Quentin swallowed, swallowed, swallowed him down. Feral. Gasping. Drunk. I did this to him. I made him feel this way.

After, hair wild and eyes dripping with a dark and insatiable hunger, Eliot pushed Quentin down flat against the floor and pressed kisses all over the expanse of his body: his cheek, his lips, his jaw. His shoulder, the palm of his hand, the bony knob of his hip. His dick, his balls, the crease of his thigh. The curve of his knee, his shin, his ankle. His mouth tracked down and back up again, feather-light in its attention, reverent in the way he lingered, ignoring the way that Quentin groped at his hair and his shoulders. Desperate, tongue like concrete, skin lighting up in all the places Eliot had put his mouth.

When finally—finally—Eliot relented, he moved Quentin over onto the bed and curled around his back, one arm locked across his chest, bodies flush all the way down the slope of their legs. Eliot gave his dick a couple firm strokes and Quentin keened, body drawing drum-tight. So close, so close. Only seconds away…

“Remember, sweet boy,” Eliot purred in Quentin’s ear. “Not until I say, hm? I’d hate to have to keep this pretty cock under lock and key and never let you come again.”

Quentin pushed all the air in his lungs out through his nose. Eliot’s hand fluttered over his belly, mouth going to his neck, sucking a kiss there, a little scrape of his teeth, almost experimental. A sharp, wanting gasp slipped from Quentin’s chest and out into the room. He cocked his head to the side, pressing it into the pillow, exposing the line of his neck in invitation, and Eliot purred, nosing up into Quentin’s hair and back down again.

“You like that, hm?” he said, wrapping his hand around Quentin’s dick and giving it a single lazy stroke. “Yeah. God, yeah, you do.” A chaste kiss, the teasing drag of teeth. “Maybe I’ll just…” Eliot latched onto Quentin’s neck, almost gently, sucking the flesh in between his teeth until Quentin saw stars and his dick jumped between his legs. “Mark up this pretty skin...”

The idea of walking around campus with a string of hickeys around his neck thrilled Quentin straight through to the bone. Like a collar, he thought, or a brand. Eliot’s name etched into the tender flesh that surrounded his collarbone, all the way down to his shoulder. Ley Lines marking the points of their journey in brilliant purple and blue. Eliot’s fingers fluttered over the hard nubs of Quentin’s nipples, his other hand firmly grasping Quentin’s dick at the base. He scraped his teeth over the first mark he’d made and got to work painting another just below, holding Quentin’s shuddering body firmly against his own.

“There,” Eliot said, lavishing his tongue over the bruise. “I think that’s a good start, don’t you? Or do you want me to do one a little higher, hm?” He stroked Quentin once, twice, stopping to thumb at the glans, slicking him with pre-come all over. “So everyone can see just who you belong to, pretty boy.”

When Eliot took his hand away this time Quentin jerked forward, chasing the contact, so close he could taste the orgasm bubbling up in his throat. Eliot clucked his tongue, dragging a teasing finger up Quentin’s shaft. “That’s a naughty boy, Quentin. It’s almost like you don’t wanna come at all, is that it?” One stroke, lightning quick, down and back up again with the tight circle of his fist. “That’s better. That’s a good boy. Don’t try and take more than daddy gives you.” He planted an open mouthed kiss over the tender mark on Quentin’s neck. “Just lie there and take it. That’s all you have to do.”

Eliot’s hand went back to work, but he didn’t let up this time. Slow and steady strokes from base-to-tip. Praise and nonsense muttered into Quentin’s ear. Quentin’s whole body quaking. Cresting waves of pleasure whiting out his senses. Every swift movement of Eliot’s hand taking him right up to that first, gasping second of orgasm, but not quite letting him spill over the edge.

“I can feel it,” Eliot purred in his ear, focusing his skilled attention on the head of Quentin’s over-stimulated dick. “I can feel how badly you wanna come. Oh, baby, it feels so fucking good, doesn’t it?” Stroke, stop, thumbing at the glans, stars bursting behind Quentin’s eyes. “It feels so good, it feels so—no, don’t—don’t you dare come yet, baby—don’t come, don’t, don’t—”

Eliot was relentless. A master torture artist who wielded the promise of pleasure like a blade, toeing the line between unfathomable bliss and pure fucking agony. He mouthed up and down the slope of Quentin’s neck, stopping at his shoulder to suck another bruise. Quentin sobbed, pressing his face into the pillow. Eliot responded with another cluck of his tongue.

“Don’t hide away from me, sweet boy,” he said, his hands suddenly stilling, his touch moving away. “You know what, Quentin… I think I wanna see your face when you come. Roll over onto your back. Come on.”

Quentin could hardly stand the chill that moved through his body when Eliot pulled away. He didn’t actually register moving. Suddenly he was gazing up at his reflection in the mirror, and Eliot was kneeling beside the bed, reaching over, running his big, warm hand down the plane of Quentin’s belly.

He met Quentin’s eyes in the mirror. “There you are,” he said, taking Quentin in the tight embrace of his fist once again. “Look at yourself, god. Blushing so pretty all over for me. This pretty blushing dick. Oh, fuck, baby it’s so hard. I’m gonna make you pop, sweet baby, but not just yet. Not just—just a little bit longer. Just a little bit longer for me. Reach up and grab the headboard. Arms above your head. That’s it. That’s my perfect boy...”

Eliot straddled his thighs, and Quentin felt consumed by his presence. His heat, his eyes, his touch. Quentin white-knuckled the wooden spindles of the headboard, holding his body as still as he could manage with both of Eliot’s hands on him now, one steadily moving up and down the slick shaft of his dick, the other cupping his balls.

“God fucking—look at that. Oh, sweetheart.” Eliot dragged his bottom lip between his teeth. “I know you can’t speak, but if you—if you wanna come, I need you to beg for it.” Two fingers massaging the strip of skin behind Quentin’s balls, Eliot’s thumb smearing pre-come all over the head of his dick. “I want you to beg me to let you blow your load all over yourself. Come on, baby, let me see how badly you want it. Look me in my eyes and—and beg.”

Quentin only barely understood what he was even being asked to do, so blissed out of his skull he didn’t know if he was still on the bed or pinned to the ceiling, trapped inside the reflection of the mirror, in a bubble, a puddle on the floor. He made a high pleading sound through his nose and arched his back up off the bed, and this seemed to please Eliot greatly, so Quentin did it again. His eyes locked on Eliot’s eyes. Begging, begging, pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease—

“That’s good. That’s so good, baby,” Eliot babbled, jaw slack, cheeks dappled with a scarlet blush. Pupils blown, eyes black. “So good, so perfect, so pretty. Come on. Yeah, that’s it. Oh, fucking shit Coldwater, I can feel it pulsing in my hand. Okay. Okay, sweet baby, I think you’ve earned it. I want you to come for me and I want you to come right now. Do it right now. Right now, right now baby, right—”

Shocking cold, heat, death. Head like a balloon, body sinking underwater. Swallowed up inside the hungry center of a star. Fat, warm tears tracked down Quentin’s face as Eliot stroked him at a relentless pace straight through to the aftershocks. Eliot held Quentin inside the warm embrace of his hand until he started going soft. And then, after, for what seemed like a very long time, he licked Quentin’s body clean with his hot, starving tongue. His soft dick, his belly, his chest, all the way up to his throat.

Their bodies tangled together in the aftermath. Quentin buried his face in Eliot’s chest, head filling with the rhythmic beating of his heart. Eliot kissed the top of his head. Warm hands on Quentin’s back. Eyes screwed up tight. Breathe in. Breathe out. A blissed-out, mindless haze. Slow drag of a smile spreading over Quentin’s face. The rest of the world entirely forgotten.

Brakebills University
October 2015

Quentin didn’t see Eliot again until Monday night, when they met at their regular time in the library. He arrived to find Eliot perfectly polished and poised, sitting at their back corner table like the weekend might have been nothing more than some feverishly vivid dream, gone in a blink, never to be spoken of by either of them again.

The moment Quentin sat down he opened his mouth, letting the thought fall out that had been forming in his head for days. “Tell me what happens if two people who are magically compatible have sex.”

Eliot raised his eyes, doing his damndest to give off that practiced, unaffected air of his. But Quentin could see it underneath, the momentary twitch of his brow, the way his throat worked as he swallowed, the tiniest clench of his jaw before he forced it to relax. “Well,” he said, shrugging after a long moment of silence, “I’m not entirely sure. But I have heard it can be… intense. Why do you ask?”

Quentin narrowed his eyes. He didn’t know why he’d even needed to ask. He’d already known the answer. “I want you to teach me sex magic,” he said with hardly any thought behind it.

Eliot grinned, ducking his head, like for a moment he was truly at a loss. “Quentin, you don’t really want—”

“I don’t need you to tell me what I want,” Quentin spit back. “We almost had sex the other night, I don’t see what the difference would be now.”

Eliot lifted his gaze, took a breath, folding his hands neatly on the table. “Do I really need to explain to you the difference between a stoned hook-up at a party and… whatever you’re trying to turn this into. And besides… don’t you have a boyfriend?”

“I don’t wanna talk about my boyfriend,” he said. “We don’t have to talk about anything, okay? Our past—I don’t really wanna talk about any of it.” Quentin didn’t even believe his own words as he was saying them, but whatever. Eliot wasn’t the only one allowed to bullshit through his teeth. “You’re my tutor, and I’m asking you to teach me.”

Eliot laughed softly, shaking his head, touching one of the books between them on the table like he didn’t know what else to do with his hands. “I don’t think teaching you how to transform the moisture in the air into lubrication is exactly what Henry had in mind when he paired us together, Quentin.”

Quentin’s belly twisted with longing, desire thumping like a kick pedal drum down between his legs. If Julia could see him now she’d probably never want to speak to him again. Shameless, like an addict trying to score a hit after so many months on the wagon. More reckless with his heart than he’d even been back in middle school, when he’d fallen in love with every classmate who so much as whispered two kind words in his direction. But it didn’t matter now, it didn’t matter. They didn’t have to talk about it. Their bodies, a bed. That’s all they really needed. To make it through the night, the next agonizing hour...

“I’m, uh… I’m going back to the Cottage,” Quentin said, pushing back from the table and rising to his feet. “So... you know where I’ll be.”

Eliot said his name, but Quentin didn’t stop. He figured moping in his room was better than sitting in the library not learning magic while being rejected by his ex-whatever. He went straight up the stairs when he arrived at the Cottage, went into his room, turned on the light, didn’t bother with the lock on the door. Sat on the edge of his bed worrying the hem of his sweater between his fingers. Sick with a violent hunger. Tears clawing at his throat.

Quentin didn’t know how much time had passed, but he thought maybe it had been hours when the door finally creaked open, giving his heart a start. Stomach in a jumbled knot. Teeth clenched, hands shaking. Eliot stepped inside, shut the door, and clicked off the light, plunging the room into darkness.

“What are you—”

Quentin clipped off his words when the first brilliant orb formed between the palms of Eliot’s hands. He sent it blazing toward the ceiling like a miniature sun, immediately going to work on another, casting with his elegant hands until a half dozen or more balls of light were bouncing happily over their heads, bumping against each other like bubbles in a glass.

“Go on,” Eliot said, finally turning his attention to Quentin. “Your turn. Show me First Illumination.”

“I think we have enough—”

Eliot pressed a finger to Quentin’s lips. “First Illumination. Go on.”

Quentin met his eyes in the golden light as he stepped back, crossed his arms, and waited. The sound of water filled Quentin’s head at once. Full and empty, rushing and thoughtless. He readied his hands, and between his palms grew a pulsing orb nearly the size of a basketball. He let it go. Eliot smiled.

“Impressive,” he said, cocking his head to the side, considering Quentin in silence for a long moment. “You know there’s lots of different kinds of sex magic, Quentin. Lubrication, preparation, magical bondage, levitation during—”

“I don’t care,” Quentin cut him off, foot bouncing nervously against the floor. “I don’t care what you wanna do, just do it. Just, um…” A heavy sigh pushed out of Quentin’s chest. He ran a hand over his hair, ducking his head. “You know, I—I just, um… I just need to get out of my head for a little while, so if, um—if you could just help me…”

Eliot’s fingers hooked under Quentin’s chin, slowly lifting his gaze. Their eyes met, the orbs overhead flickered. “Take off your clothes,” he said, thumbing at Quentin’s cheek before stepping away.

Eliot stood near the door, lit a cigarette. Quentin rose to his feet and began peeling back one layer after the next. Sweater up over his head, belt a challenge with fingers that did nothing but shake. Shoes and socks kicked away. Smoke pouring from Eliot’s mouth as he watched in silence. Jeans shoved down around Quentin’s ankles and stepped out of. He sat down on the foot of the bed with his underwear still on, and a shudder ran through his body sharply as Eliot extinguished his cigarette and stepped forward.

Leaning down, pressing his lips right to Quentin’s ear, Eliot whispered, “Underwear too,” a smirk tugging at his mouth when he pulled away. “Lie down on the bed when you’re finished.”

Quentin figured he should have at least felt moderately ashamed of himself, but all he could feel was his blood warming as he shimmied out of his boxers and kicked them across the floor. He positioned himself in the middle of the bed, stripped of everything but Eliot’s name looped around his wrist, lying back on his pillows, holding his body rod-straight, his dick already half hard where it came to rest against his belly.

Eliot shrugged out of his cardigan, draping it over the back of Quentin’s desk chair. He slipped the suspenders from his shoulders and untucked his shirt, slowly undoing each button with an agonizing precision. He stripped his body bare like time had stopped for this alone. Like he might take a small eternity to step out of his shoes, and that would be just fine. Quentin could only lie there quivering, anticipation slowly gnawing him in two.

Black silk boxer shorts. Quentin’s focus narrowed. Time skipped forward and stopped again. Eliot’s black silk boxer shorts riding up into the creases of his thighs. The way the fabric framed his dick, heavy and tempting. Quentin’s throat went dry. Eliot slipped out of them quickly, tossing them over his shoulder with a careless sort of indifference, then stood at the foot of the bed looking Quentin over for a very long time.

A sudden sense-memory of Eliot’s body pressing into his. Eyes sweeping from Eliot’s face to down between his legs. His dick was even bigger than Quentin remembered. Even like this, soft and indifferent. He thought he might like to do nothing more than hold it in his mouth as he drifted off to sleep. Body tingling like a sparkler, watching Eliot crawl up onto the bed, spreading Quentin’s legs apart and settling between them.

“I suppose, Eliot said, hand curving warmly around one of Quentin’s hips, “it’s time to show you my favorite spell.”

His other hand, Quentin’s other hip. Tugging him forward until his head came off the pillow. Long, deep, intense eye contact in the flickering golden light. Eliot pushed Quentin’s knees back against his chest.

“Do you think, um—” Quentin took a shuddering breath. “Do you think you could kiss me first?”

Eliot considered him for a long moment before pushing forward. Quentin’s knees hooking over his shoulders. His lips ghosting over Quentin’s lips before he set his aims higher, pressing the softest of kisses to the center of Quentin’s brow.

“Now,” Eliot said, settling back on his heels, tugging Quentin nearer to get the angle just right, pushing his knees up and back until he was nearly bent in two. “I think you’re going to like this one. Makes the whole prep thing a breeze, for when you just wanna get down to it. Those Ancient Greeks really knew what they were doing when they put it all together.”

“Is it, um—” Quentin could already feel himself sinking. “Does the spell have a name?”

Eliot grinned. “Probably. I never bothered to ask.” He sighed. “The name isn’t important. What’s important is what the spell does to your body. Three spells in one, really. One for hygiene, one for lubrication, one to… stretch you to accommodate the caster.”

“What does, uh…” Fuckshitfuck. Quentin’s tongue stumbled in his mouth. “What does it feel like?”

Eliot quirked a brow. “It, um…” He laughed. “Well, I’ve never had anyone use it on me personally, but I’ve been told by those I’ve used it on that it feels… intense. Like all that sensation of being worked open is being condensed down into a single moment. Like, um…” Eliot breathed, pressing his hands flat to the back of Quentin’s thighs. “Like being finger fucked times a hundred thousand.”

Quentin’s dick began to throb in time with his heart. His focus narrowed down to a single point: Eliot sucking on two of his own fingers, then pressing them softly to Quentin’s hole. Feather-light touch like a kiss. And his smile, like he was happy and sad all at once.

“Now, um, this is—are you ready for this?” Eliot asked, and Quentin immediately answered with a nod. “When I recite the spell it’ll happen right away, I can write it down for you later if you want. For… whenever.” He laughed, genuinely sounding nervous. Vulnerable, mask slipping, all bullshit pretension gone, gone, gone. “Uh—just try and relax, okay? It’s gonna feel amazing, I promise.”

Quentin barely registered the words Eliot was saying over the rushing of blood in his ears. It all happened so quickly, a shocking sensation not unlike being fucked deep and hard and slick. He gasped, tossed his head back, eyes screwed up so tightly he saw stars, and it took him a moment to register that, at the very moment the spell took hold, Eliot’s two spit-slicked fingers had slipped into his body without any give at all. He was so wet, he—jesus fuck he was dripping with lube. Eliot fucked his fingers in and out once, slowly. Quentin was so open and ready for his dick it was like Eliot had been fingering him for hours.

“Oh my god, oh my god,” Quentin heard himself muttering, distantly, the heels of his hands pressing into his eyes.

The sound of his breathing filled the room. Eliot pulled his fingers free. “Look at me, Quentin. Look—look at me. That’s it. Oh my fucking—it’s good, yeah? Fuck, it’s so—your hole is so pretty and pink right now, baby. I wish you could see it.” Down between his legs, Eliot was stroking himself lazily. Quentin swore he could see the hard length of it throbbing in his hand. “Are you ready for this, pretty boy?”

Ohgodyesplease. Quentin could only whimper.

Eliot spread his knees out into a wide V with Quentin in the middle. “Come here,” he said. “Come—just… drape your legs around me. Yes. Just like that. Just until I—god yes that’s perfect.”

Quentin’s thighs were hitched up in Eliot’s lap, feet planted firmly on the bed on either side. The anticipation made his teeth ache dick throb heart fucking stutter inside his chest. He gasped at the first teasing press of Eliot’s dick against his hole. Tight little circles over the slick and sensitive rim. He pushed in just a fraction of an inch before retreating, and Quentin arched into the contact, chasing the pleasure sparking from the source.

Eliot’s eyes were fixed firmly where their bodies were coming together, mouth hanging open, eyes almost awestruck in their reverence. He pushed in a second time and didn’t pull back. Quentin stopped breathing, Eliot made a sound. Something halfway between a gasp and a moan, a beautiful little piece of music meant for Quentin’s ears alone.

The fullness was immediate, and Quentin felt—god, he felt like he was breathing with his whole chest for the very first time. In every way that mattered, they were back in that little narrow bed in the dreamscape of Eliot’s dorm. Everything fresh and brand new, untainted by bitterness and time, the two of them in love to the point of madness, even if neither of them ever quite found the courage to say it out loud.

Eliot hooked one of Quentin’s knees over his shoulder, the other hooked around his hip. One strong hand on Quentin’s waist. Eliot surged forward and bottomed out so easily. Sex magic was a miracle, Quentin was pretty sure. Their bodies were made to fit together. Eliot sucked in a breath, his cheeks flushing a deep shade of crimson. He turned his face, pressed a kiss to Quentin’s knee.

“That’s so good,” he mumbled, rocking his hips once, twice. This angle was—it was perfect. His dick brushed against Quentin’s prostate like a kiss. “So fucking good for me…”

Quentin couldn’t look away. Eliot looked as though he’d carved out a space for himself in the center of heaven. Shallow thrusts of his hips, bottoming out each time. Hands on Quentin’s waist, mouth parted, eyes locked, neither of them blinking. Quentin felt filled up to the brim. Eliot was in his belly, in his throat, in the center of his fucking soul. He touched Eliot’s arms, his thighs, little sobs punching out of his chest every time Eliot kissed him from the inside.

It was too good. Slow and deep and insistent. Quentin felt like he was moving through water, everything groggy and warm. The shared wonder of their magic coming together, the way that it always had. Every time. That’s why it had always been so intense. Quentin understood that now.

“Fuck,” Eliot breathed out slowly, hands massaging the dip of Quentin’s waist. “Fuck, baby, you’re so warm on my dick. You could make me come already. Just like this…” He thrust once, hard, and Quentin keened, clutching at Eliot’s thighs, begging again again again. “You like that, hm? You want me to fuck you hard?”

Quentin’s mouth fell open, and a pleading sound fell out. He felt like an animal rutting in the dirt. He would have let Eliot have him any way he wanted.

Eliot braced himself, hitched Quentin up a little higher. Grip on his waist like a vice. Hips snapping in a sudden rush. Zero to a billion. Heart pounding in Quentin’s throat. Vision blurry like rain on glass. His prostate sending tendrils of pleasure to his dick with such quickness it was like he was vibrating from within.

Tears sprang in Quentin’s eyes, hot and stinging in his throat. Eliot was relentless, a feral darkness in his gaze, and a sadness swimming underneath. Quentin felt heartsick with it. Eliot shrugged Quentin’s leg down off his shoulder, taking him by the hips and driving forward, the staccato slap of skin-on-skin filling the room like music.

“Come on, baby, come on,” Eliot babbled, sweat dripping from his brow. “I want you to blow your load for me just like this. Just like this. Come on, pretty baby, I know you can come on my dick.”

Quentin arched his back, saw stars. Sobbing, sobbing. Tears streaking down his face. He shut his eyes and let it happen. Shocking, like some cosmic thing. Eliot didn’t relent, driving into Quentin’s body with a wild fury as his dick spurted all the way up to his chest. Cracked wide open, the pleasure seeming to never end. His orgasm crested and crashed and looped right back to the start. Eliot didn’t stop fucking until Quentin’s dick had gone entirely soft.

They went very still, breathing together. Quentin could feel Eliot’s heart beating where his dick was still buried to the hilt. Eliot tried to break the hold of Quentin’s legs around his hips, but Quentin whined, drawing him forward, managing to breathe out a single, broken word: “No.

“Are you sure?” Eliot breathed, chest heaving. “I don’t wanna hurt you, baby. I know you’ve gotta be sensitive right now.”

Quentin whimpered, locked his ankles a little tighter.

“Okay,” Eliot said with a little laugh. “You want me to finish inside you?”

Quentin nodded, and Eliot’s whole body sighed. He fell down and buried his face in Quentin’s neck. Chest-to-chest as he started moving again. Everything heavy, fuzzy, slow. Eliot mouthed at Quentin’s throat. He quivered and he quaked. Quentin wrapped around him with arms and legs, spurring him forward, begging to be filled.

Eliot came with a broken sob a moment later, hips faltering, the full weight of his body pinning Quentin to the bed. Warm tears tracking down to Quentin’s shoulder. Ringing in his ears like the hum of night. The golden light of their magic above painting their skin sunset gold. Everything suddenly frozen. Eliot holding himself in Quentin’s body until he was soft.

Quentin went limp on the bed, limbs splaying out. Sticky, filthy, covered in come and sweat. Eliot pulled out, rolled off, and settled on his side, curving inward like one half of a broken circle, their bodies hardly touching. A stifling blankness. Void-empty, hollowed out. That’s what Quentin was left with now. Whatever pseudo-subspace he’d manage to sink into had fizzled and died away. Reality settled over him like a heavy blanket. Suffocating like a shroud. Eliot’s eyes locked onto his eyes and Quentin had to turn away, shame rising in his throat so quickly he could’ve choked.

He stumbled to his feet, pulled his bathrobe out of his closet, not sparing Eliot a single backward glance as he plodded from the room and down the hall. He locked himself in the bathroom and took a long, hot, steaming shower that nearly scorched him raw. Quentin didn’t cry, though he anticipated the tears, wanted them to come. There was nothing left inside his body to give. Wrung-out and defeated. The chasm of his chest swallowing up every last flicker of emotion.

Eliot’s come was still dripping down the inside of Quentin’s thigh when he pulled his robe back on, and went back down the hall to his room, where he found it empty and dark.

Eliot was gone.

Quentin shut the door, pulled the leather band from his wrist, set it on the nightstand, and crawled into bed alone.

Columbia University
November 2013

Weeks passed where the days all seemed to meld together. By some miracle, Quentin managed to ace his exam in Ethics, and mostly show up on time to his classes, and mostly make time for Julia that wasn’t spent entirely talking around the subject of his sex life. Every second he wasn’t with Eliot, his brain was constantly drifting. Back to Eliot’s bed. Over and over. They saw each other three times a week, maybe four if Quentin was feeling bold. He tried his best not to drive himself crazy on the nights they weren’t together, wondering what—or who—Eliot was getting up to.

Sometimes it worked, mostly it didn’t.

He reasoned with himself that this was what he was feeling on those groggy mornings after. Not subdrop, just uncertainty. And besides, they hadn’t even done all that much for Quentin to be crashing to begin with, right? Eliot hadn’t even tied him up yet, or spanked him, or done any of those other things his internet searches had told him could lead to his brain going a little haywire in the hours that followed. He didn’t think blow jobs and rimming fell under the category of intense play, even if his brain was prone to slipping into subspace from nothing more than a long, slow make out session in Eliot’s bed.

The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, Eliot summoned Quentin to his room a little past 10pm with a single word via text: Come. Quentin dropped his highlighter into his open textbook immediately, and had to physically stop himself from running down the hall. The door was unlocked. He went inside. Eliot was sitting on the loveseat, and Quentin went to him at once, kneeling at his feet, resting his head on Eliot’s knee.

He shut his eyes. Eliot carded fingers through his hair. For a moment they were just… present. Together. Quentin could feel the tug of subspace as easily as drawing a breath.

“Hey,” Eliot said very softly, pulling his hand away, tugging Quentin back to reality. “Hey, sweetheart. Come up here and sit next to me.”

Quentin raised his eyes, and Eliot smiled, helping him up to his feet. Quentin settled in against his side, Eliot’s arm looping around his shoulders. He mouthed at Eliot’s neck, groping at his thigh, wanting him so badly he could hardly breathe.

“Hey, baby… hey,” Eliot said with a little laugh. “Hey, I um—I wanna ask you something.”

Quentin froze, uncertain if he was excited or terrified by the implications. He pulled back, meeting Eliot’s gaze. “Is everything all right?”

Eliot’s mouth quirked up in a smile. “Everything is perfect, pretty boy.” He took Quentin by the nape, pressed a kiss to his forehead. “I just wanna check in with you first before we… try something new.”

Oh. Oh. Quentin’s pulse picked up at once. “Something new sounds… good.”

“Yeah.” Eliot thumbed at Quentin’s cheek. “We, um… we’ve got a long weekend ahead of us. So I thought… maybe a little something to…” His hand went to the arm of the loveseat. It was only then that Quentin noticed the long strip of crimson silk and the thick leather band draped there. “Build the anticipation.”

Okay, so. Fuck. Every synapse in Quentin’s brain misfired. A blindfold? Or maybe something to tie him up with? The leather definitely looked like a collar. He was pretty sure it was a collar. God. His dick was already getting hard.

But then, in spite of his overwhelming desire, Quentin started to panic. The thought of the long weekend apart, of going to his dad’s in Jersey, immediately sent Quentin on a spiral of but where is Eliot going to be for the next five days? I know nothing about his family. He always changes the subject when I ask him about himself. We’ve never even talked about where he’s from oh my god.

Quentin’s eyes flitted between the maybe-blindfold-and-collar and Eliot’s face. “Um, okay, so… speaking of the weekend. It just, um, occurred to me I have no idea where you’re even going to go.”

Eliot gave an airy little sigh. “Not home to Indiana, that’s for sure.”

Quentin knitted his brows together. “You’re from Indiana?”

“Farm country, if you can believe it. If you tell anyone I’ll deny everything. I’ve not put in all this work these past four years trying to forget just to—” Eliot brushed it off with a wave of his hand. “It doesn’t matter. If I never see another cornfield again it will be too soon. So while you’re off in Jersey land I’ll be staying with a friend in Midtown.”

Quentin’s stomach dropped. “A friend?”

“Yes,” Eliot said, his expression entirely unreadable. “A friend.”

Quentin was physically incapable of not seeing this spiral all the way through to the end. God he was a loser. “So, um…” He shook his head. “I know, you um… you have a life, you know? And I—I respect that. And I just—I’ve been wondering if, um—if, you know, um… if you’re still—you know… with other people? Um… it’s obviously fine if you are, and I—I think it’s great if you—”

“Quentin.” Eliot placed a hand on his shoulder, drawing in his eyes, clipping his anxiety off at the knees. “Stand up and take off your clothes.”

Quentin frowned. “Um… okay?”

Eliot smiled softly, kissing the corner of Quentin’s mouth. “I promise I’m not brushing this off, sweet boy. Just do it.”

Dizzy with nerves, it took Quentin a long moment to get to his feet, even longer to get out of his clothes. Eliot watched with rapt attention, patient as ever, smiling every time Quentin met his eyes. When he was finished, stripped bare for Eliot’s eyes alone, Eliot touched him softly on the hips, and kissed his belly, and gazed up into his face, and for a moment everything calmed to a whisper.

“There you are,” Eliot said with a grin. “There’s my perfect boy. You—god, baby you are… you are a gourmet fucking feast, you know that?” Eliot’s hands slipped around to curve over the flesh of Quentin’s ass. “Beluga caviar.” He laughed. “Dom Pérignon. Wagyu filet mignon.” He pressed another kiss to Quentin’s belly. “Why the fuck would I ever wanna go back to eating ramen out of a paper cup?”

Quentin had to hold onto Eliot’s shoulders to keep his legs from giving out. What the fuck. What the fuck. He’d never—no one had ever—“I’ve never, um… I’ve never eaten caviar before,” he said with a nervous fit of laughter, his whole body flushing scarlet.

“Hm, well…” Eliot wrapped a hand around the base of Quentin’s painfully hard dick, licking a stripe up the underside, his gaze never once leaving Quentin’s face. “Baby, you’re it. There’s not a boy in all five boroughs who could tempt me away from this.”

“How about in Indiana?” Quentin asked, a stupid grin spreading over his blushing face.

Eliot gave his dick a playful little squeeze. “Watch it, mister,” he said, and then he kissed Quentin’s hip. “So… now that we have that settled.” Eliot pulled his hands away. “How about you go ahead and kneel for me, sweet boy.”

Quentin immediately obeyed, instantly calmer settled in between the spread of Eliot’s knees.

“You’re such a good boy.” Eliot ran a hand over the top of his head, then reached for the strips of silk and leather beside him, holding them taut between his hands. “I want to blindfold and collar you now, Quentin. It’s okay if you’re not ready.”

“I’m ready,” Quentin blurted. Oh god oh fuck he was so ready he wanted to scream. “Please. I want… I want that.”

“Good. Very good.” Eliot draped the blindfold and the collar over his thigh, then thumbed at Quentin’s bottom lip. “After you have them on, I’m gonna bring you up here with me, and I’m gonna put my dick in your mouth. But I don’t want you to suck me off, I just… you’re just gonna keep it warm for me, okay?”

Fuck. Oh god. Quentin could only nod.

Eliot smiled, picking up the collar, holding it out so Quentin could see. “Don’t you think it’s pretty? I picked it out just for my boy.”

A thick black leather band with a shiny silver buckle on one end. A loop in the center, the same shiny silver as the buckle, the sort of thing one might attach a name tag to. Quentin’s dick jumped between his legs when Eliot brought it to his neck.

The transfer into subspace was immediate and intoxicating. The moment Eliot had the collar fastened in the back Quentin felt possessed. I’m yours, I’m yours, I’m yours, he repeated on a loop in his head, his last remaining thread of coherence. The collar felt heavy and good, like it belonged there. Like Eliot’s hands gently encircling his neck.

Eliot checked in, asked him if he was okay, slipped two fingers up under the collar to make sure it wasn’t too tight. Quentin was pretty sure he nodded his approval. He hardly registered Eliot putting the blindfold on. Drifting, swimming. Everything warm and dark. He was so fucking gone he hardly felt himself being lifted up onto the loveseat, his head coming to rest cradled in Eliot’s lap.

Eliot muttered praise, petting Quentin’s hair. Distantly, the sound of a belt buckle being undone, the fly of Eliot’s pants being worked open. A thumb brushing gently against the seam of his lips. Open wide now, sweetheart. His head being cradled by a firm, gentle hand. Eliot’s dick pressing into his mouth, and Quentin utterly incapable of not letting out a moan with his entire chest, starting to suck on instinct.

Eliot shushed him, pulling Quentin back by the nape. “No, baby, we’re not doing that, remember?” He pushed into Quentin’s mouth again slowly. “That’s it. That’s perfect. Just hold it there my beautiful boy.”

Quentin always felt connected to Eliot when he was in subspace, but suddenly it was like they’d leveled up. Like Eliot had crawled into his empty head and settled in for a long and restful nap. Quentin found himself floating somewhere that was not unlike a dream, the presence of warm hands on his skin some distant comfort, the vague awareness of Eliot’s voice murmuring in the dark like a constant, looping song.

When he finally came back to himself, it might have been hours later. His mouth was empty, and that was fucking terrible as far as Quentin was concerned. Even worse was the blindfold being lifted away, though he was comforted by the immediate sight of Eliot smiling down into his lap, his warm hand pushing the hair back from Quentin’s brow.

“There he is,” Eliot said, his voice as though it was coming from above the water, and Quentin down below, resting on the bottom of the stream. “There’s my boy. Are you with me, Quentin?”

Quentin swallowed, the collar looped around his neck making itself known. It was calming, Quentin thought, like a hand upon his cheek. He licked his lips, tried to speak, but all that came out was a breath.

“It’s okay, sweetheart,” Eliot said. “Come here. Come on. Let’s sit you up so I can get you some water.”

Eliot lifted Quentin up slowly, and helped to position him in the far corner of the loveseat, slumped against the arm. Quentin felt drunk. It was crazy, really, that Eliot could take him to such a place with his presence alone. His voice, his hands. And, okay, the collar probably didn’t hurt. The dick in his mouth had also definitely been a bonus, whether he’d been getting Eliot off or not.

Eliot stood up and tucked himself back into his pants, grabbed a quilt from the bed and draped it over Quentin’s naked body before heading to the mini fridge and pulling out a bottle of water. He cracked it open and helped Quentin take little sips of it slowly, petting his face, leaning in to press a kiss to his brow every now and then. Quentin had never felt so taken care of in all his life. Eliot made him feel—god. Cherished. Adored. Loved.

Loved.

Eliot put the cap on the water bottle and carried it over to the dresser, then opened the top drawer and pulled something out, tucked it into his pocket before returning to Quentin on the loveseat. “Are you back with me now, Quentin?” he asked, reaching under the blanket to curve a hand around his knee.

Quentin swallowed. “Yeah, I, um—” He felt as though he hadn’t used his voice in years. “Yeah. I’m here.”

“Welcome back.” Eliot said with a playful smirk. “Are you okay with wearing your collar for a little while longer?”

Quentin sucked in a breath, letting the quilt fall down and pool around his hips. He reached up and touched the band around his neck, the supple leather blood-warm from where it had been resting against his skin. “Yes,” he said, sounding just a hair too desperate. “I… I think I’d be okay wearing it forever.”

Eliot gave him a full-faced grin. “That’s what I like to hear,” he said. “It suits you. God, you’re fucking beautiful, baby.”

Quentin’s whole body warmed under his attention. “I, um… I probably can’t though, I guess. It’s, uh… not exactly—”

“Discreet?”

“Yeah,” Quentin said with a small laugh. “I mean. Maybe somebody else might be able to, um… pull this off as a legitimate fashion choice but, I don’t think Julia would ever let me hear the end of it…”

Eliot smiled at him fondly. “Well, we can’t have that now. But maybe…” He reached into his pocket and pulled out what he’d fetched from the dresser. Another leather band, slimmer than the collar. A bracelet, Quentin thought. “Maybe we can try something else. A little stand-in, if you will. Something you can wear all the time, even when we’re not together.”

Quentin could feel his pulse beginning to race, thumping against the collar. “Okay…”

“Okay.” Eliot opened the bracelet, holding it up to the light. “You see this, Quentin? I had it made just for you…”

Eliot’s name, etched into the interior of the band in an elegant script. Intentional and very discreet. Eliot’s name would rest against Quentin’s skin like a secret. He reached over and took Quentin by the hand, slipping the band around his wrist, snapping it shut with a gentle little click. Like the shutting of a door, Quentin thought. The closing of a circle. Like coming home. Infinity.

Eliot leaned in close, pressing his lips right to Quentin’s ear. The drumbeat of blood in his neck. Eliot’s strong hand gripping his thigh under the quilt.

“So you never forget who you belong to.”

Chapter Text

Brakebills University
October 2015

Tuesday morning was hell. Quentin woke just before eleven, empty as a husk. Filthy, all used up. His thighs sticking together where Eliot’s come had dried there in the night. Quickly realizing he’d already missed his first class of the day, Quentin pressed his face into his pillow, pulled the covers up over his head, and surrendered to the blank comfort of late morning sleep.

He woke again at two in the afternoon to Julia poking him in the shoulder. “Q.” She sounded panicked. “Q, if you don’t answer me I’m calling Professor Lipson. Q, I’m serious—”

He shoved the covers down in an exhausted huff, a curtain of hair falling over his eyes that he quickly brushed away. “Can I help you?” was all he could manage.

She eyed him incredulously. “Do you have any idea what time it is?”

Quentin rolled over onto his back and furrowed his brows at the ceiling. “I wasn’t aware sleeping late was a crime.”

She sat down on the edge of the bed. He could feel her eyes fixed on him for a long time before she opened her mouth. “Maybe you should come with me to the infirmary,” she said finally.

Quentin frowned at her with his entire face. “I’m fine.”

“Or maybe,” she continued as though she hadn’t heard him, “you should think about going back on your meds. I mean, for real this time. Not just for like, a week to humor me and James.”

He said nothing, turned his warm face in the direction of the nightstand as her hand tracked over to snatch up the bracelet. She held it up like she was preparing to toss it into Mount Doom, eyes catching his in the filtered light spilling through the curtains. “You wanna talk about it?”

Quentin’s face burned hotter as he hitched the covers up over his shoulders, chest swelling with shame. “I want you to leave me alone,” he said.

Julia sighed, tossing the bracelet back down. “I thought things were going okay with you two,” she said. “You know, keeping it casual. Not talking about the hundred thousand pound elephant with its trunk around your neck.”

Quentin took a breath. “I’m in love with him.”

Saying it should have been hard. It wasn’t. It was easier than shutting his eyes.

“I know you’re in love with—”

“No,” Quentin cut her off with a shake of his head, a swell of sharp-edged, sour regret rising like bile in his throat. “No, you—you couldn’t possibly understand how this feels, okay? He’s—he’s all I think about. Every second, I—” Quentin paused, biting back his body’s hair-trigger reflex to sob. “I’ve tried hating him, Julia. I can’t.”

She touched his knee through the covers. “Look, maybe… maybe this place isn’t good for you. Maybe…” She gave him a sad little smirk. “You know, I bet the two of us could make a pretty good go of this whole magic thing out in the real world. I mean… we probably don’t actually need Brakebills now that we know we’re magicians.”

Quentin scoffed, a tsunami of tears threatening in his eyes. “Right, because I just have so much going for me out there.”

“You have James.”

Quentin gave her a hard look. “Don’t.”

“Who,” she continued, “I will remind you has been one of our best friends—”

“Jules.”

“Best friends. Since we were kids. And he’s nice to you.”

A bitter laugh slipped from between Quentin’s lips. “Yeah, he’s nice to me, Jules.” He was close to shouting now, he realized, but he couldn’t actually stop. “He’s nice. He’s so fucking nice. But nice isn’t—” Quentin paused, took a breath. “He doesn’t give me what I need.”

The sympathy in Julia’s eyes was suffocating. “Still,” she said very softly. “Gotta be better than pining away for someone who can never love you back.”

Quentin groaned and rolled over, turning his back to her. “I think I’d like to go back to sleep now if you don’t mind,” he mumbled over his shoulder.

A long, agonizing beat of silence. Julia’s hand curled around his shoulder. She said nothing. A moment later, she got up and left the room.

Quentin’s stomach grumbled. His bladder ached. His mouth felt like it was filled with sand. The thought of getting out of bed to take care of any of those things felt like a Herculean task. Sisyphus and his boulder. All he could do was shut his eyes, and tug the covers back over his head, and let the heavy pull of dreams drag him under.

Ridgewood, New Jersey
November 2013

Julia tagged along with Quentin to the ‘burbs. Something about her mother being an unrepentant bitch who’d rather hop on her broom and fly to Paris than spend a weekend with her daughter, Quentin. Which… whatever. It was fine. He was happy to have the company. Quentin only wished she’d stop hinting at your boy, your guy, your little lover man, The Professor when his dad was within earshot. Which, because he was cursed, was apparently always.

He managed to sneak off to bed early Wednesday night and avoid the worst of it, spending literal hours lying on top of his high school-era Fillory sheets staring at the ceiling just… thinking about Eliot. It was ridiculous. He couldn’t think about anything else, hadn’t been able to for nearly an entire month. He thought about his eyes and his lips and his hair and his nose. About the way that he smiled and the sound of his laugh and the way his fingertips felt when they pressed into the dip of Quentin’s spine. He thought about his dick a lot. Too much. He got hard and almost jerked off and then decided he probably shouldn’t.

Eliot hadn’t actually said not to, but still. Quentin bit at his lip and resisted the urge.

Just before midnight, Quentin heard his dad go into his room down the hall. The house was dark and quiet. Julia was curled up in the guest room one door over. Quentin lay surrounded by the rhythmic hum of night and so much teenage angst plastering his walls. It was like coming out of a trance. He rolled onto his side, pulled out his phone, and typed into Google how do you know if you’re falling in love?

At least half the search results linked to LiveJournal posts which, if the content was anything to go by, had been written by hormonal middle schoolers still high on the rush of their very first kiss. Quentin groaned, clicked the screen to black, and shoved the phone up under his pillow.

He ran his fingers over the bracelet on his wrist, drifting back to the moments just after Eliot had put it there. Eliot’s lips ghosting over his lips. Kiss me, kiss me. Yes, that’s it. Come here, baby. God, look at you. Pretty little thing. Warm, strong, familiar hands. Hot mouth on the point of his pulse above the leather. Eliot’s fingers circling his neck, pushing up under the collar…

Fuck. Quentin was hard again. He rolled part way onto his belly and started rutting against the mattress. Just to take the edge off. Just a little. Just enough. Stars bursting behind the press of his eyelids, dick straining against the fabric of his boxers. He was so close already it was maddening. He rolled onto his back panting and over-warm in his thin t-shirt, pulling his phone out from underneath his pillow and opening his text thread with Eliot. Exactly the thing he’d told himself he wasn’t going to do on his very first night away, but… whatever. He wasn’t responsible for his own decisions when his dick was hard enough to hammer through concrete.

He pecked out one word—Awake?—and hit send, fully prepared for that terrible sinking feeling he knew would be plaguing him for the torturously long weekend ahead if Eliot happened to be too busy with his Midtown friend to answer.

When Eliot replied right away, Quentin sighed with his entire chest.

Yes, his reply read. U okay?

Pulse skipping in his throat. Desire blood-warm and unrelenting between his legs. Animal-brained Quentin wanted to reply with something like: I’d be a whole lot better with your dick in my mouth. Logical and anxious Quentin settled on: Yes. Sorry. Can’t sleep.

One minute passed. Quentin pressed the heel of one hand against his erection just to take a little of the edge off, wincing at the relief. His phone buzzed against his chest, and he sucked in a breath when he read Eliot’s reply.

That so? ;) Then, How can I help?

Fuck. Okay. So maybe he was actually going to get somewhere with this plan that hadn’t actually been a plan to begin with. Trying to form a coherent thought to send back felt like slogging through mud, his brain a locomotive in danger of chugging off the rails.

Idk, he sent back. Would it be okay if I… you know…

Eliot replied immediately. R u asking for permission to jack off, Quentin?

Thumping, dizzying and hot. In his neck and down between his legs. Um. Maybe.

Never said u couldn’t, Eliot replied. Do u want me to say u can’t ?????

Quentin didn’t understand how his dick was getting even harder. Idk… not tonight??? I’m really hard…

God. He could hardly believe his own words as he read them back, scrubbing a hand over his burning face. He was so aroused it was almost too much just to feel the fabric of his shirt brushing against the hard nubs of his nipples. Quentin wondered absently if this was how sexting started. Or if that’s what they were already doing. Or if maybe that’s what he’d been hoping for the moment he’d pulled out his phone.

It had been, he knew. Hungry, wanting, unable to wait even one more second…

Eliot’s request, when it came, was simple: Send me a pic.

Quentin immediately began to panic. What sort of pic did Eliot mean? Did he want a full body shot? Did he just want to see Quentin’s face? Or was he hoping for something extra? No clothes, Quentin’s hand wrapped firmly around the base of his—god. Was Eliot asking for a dick pic?

He reached over and clicked on the bedside lamp, fumbled a couple times opening up the camera on his phone. He decided, instead of making a fool of himself and sending something wrong all together—or making himself look like an even bigger loser by asking Eliot to be more specific—he would settle on something in the middle. Maybe a little bit of a tease. He figured if nothing else, Eliot would probably appreciate the aesthetic.

He lay on his back, head nestled into the center of his pillow, stretching his legs out long, rucking his shirt up just a little. Just enough to see the strip of skin between his boxers and his navel. The front of his blue boxer shorts were tented in a way that was almost comical. Quentin blushed a little harder when he took in the sight of it through the screen of his phone, a little blurry in the dim lamplight, but more than enough to give Eliot a taste.

He snapped about a dozen pictures, all of them identical, then spent several agonizing minutes flipping between them trying to decide which to send. In the end, he settled on letting his finger tap on a random square, sending it off before he could agonize one second more about what the fuck he was actually doing right now. Sending dirty pictures to his maybe-boyfriend-definitely-dom on his fucking Fillory sheets in the middle of the night.

He let the screen of his phone go black, holding it tightly to his chest and counting the minutes on the clock. One, then two, then five. Just when Quentin was preparing to craft some elaborate and rambling apology for clearly misunderstanding what Eliot had meant, his phone began to buzz. Again and again and again.

Wow

Fuck

Jesus that’s beautiful

Baby do u have any idea what u do to me?

U thinking about getting ur mouth on this?

The next message was a full-frame shot of Eliot’s dick. Quentin sucked in a breath, held it. Throat clicking in a dry quiver as he pushed it out. He tapped on the picture and let it fill up his screen. It had been taken from underneath a blanket, his legs stretched out on an unfamiliar sofa. He was shirtless, his pajama bottoms shoved down below his balls. The picture had been taken with the flash on, the light reflecting off the glistening skin above where his hand was circling it at the base. And fuck—fuck. He was slick. Absolutely dripping with pre-come and what Quentin assumed was his own spit. Like he’d been lying there for all those minutes just… touching himself. Touching himself and looking at the picture Quentin had sent.

Another text buzzed in as Quentin lay there staring, dick throbbing inside the confines of his boxers. U still with me pretty boy?

Hands shaking, Quentin swiped the picture away. Sorry, he replied. I’m here.

Good, Eliot’s reply read. Will you answer my question now, Quentin?

Oh. Right. That. Fuck. Yes, he sent, his phone physically trembling against his palm. Always thinking about that. It’s so big.

Eliot replied with a winking emoji. Then: My hungry little cocksucker

Fuck. Something about that made Quentin’s whole body clench.

You make daddy’s big dick feel so good with that pretty mouth

Godshitfuck. Quentin couldn’t think, let alone come up with anything coherent to type. He waited, and waited, biting at his lip to keep from reaching in his boxers and taking himself in hand.

Eliot continued a moment later: One day I’m gonna have to open up that throat, baby. Teach u how to rlly take it.

The hot kick-thump of blood rushing down into that one central point. His hips twitched, a little whine escaping from Quentin’s throat when the sensitive head of his dick rubbed against the fabric of his boxers. He had to say something, anything. Panicked now that if he didn’t Eliot might give up and leave him to fend for himself.

That sounds nice, he sent. Then: I want that

Good, Eliot responded immediately. But right now u know what I want?

Breathe, breathe, breathe. Just breathe, Coldwater. Quentin replied with a string of question marks.

Buzz of his phone, stutter of his heart.

Take off your clothes.

The firm, commanding precision of his words set Quentin’s skin on fire.

Stroke your dick.

Make it last. Edge yourself.

Think about me.

Imagine I’m there, taking you apart with my hands and my mouth.

And my dick.

Quentin couldn’t help the broken whimper that poured out of his chest. His phone buzzed again. Eliot wasn’t done.

When you’re finished I want you to take another picture.

Show me how messy you got.

Can you do that for me, baby?

Quentin couldn’t breathe. He was coming undone from the inside out, disintegration of atoms. Yes, he replied. Of course

Good, Eliot texted back. That’s my perfect boy. Go on...

God fuck. Quentin took one last look at the picture Eliot had sent and tossed the phone down on the bed, pressed his hands against his eyes until they started shooting sparks. Everything in his body bright like champagne bubbles. Blood thumping in his ears and in his dick. He took a breath and shoved his body upright, pressing back against the headboard with a tremendous sigh. He peeled his shirt off and tossed it away, lifting up his hips and carefully extracting himself from his boxers when he was finished. His dick thwacked against his belly, so hard it bordered on agony.

Head knocking back, eyes sliding shut. The sharp and immediate memory of Eliot’s warmth pressing all along the dip of his back. Legs spread, reaching down and cupping a hand around his balls, fingers teasing the way that Eliot would, skin pulled tight as a drum. Picture him there: fingers dipping down to tease along that sensitive strip of skin; phantom of lips against his neck, the ghost of a kiss, warm hum of breath in its wake. Quentin spit into his palm once, twice, brought it to his dick and gasped at the pleasure-pain.

Slowly, slowly. Building up a rhythm. Eyes screwed shut, feet planted on the bed. Firm, languid strokes from base-to-tip, thumbing at the head the way that Eliot always did. Teasing, slowly, make it last, make it—fuck. Quentin bit at his bottom lip. He could blow his load in five seconds flat. He could do it and Eliot would never even know. He could take the picture, wait ten minutes, twenty, thirty… send it off like he’d only just finished right then...

The idea of it made Quentin’s belly sour. He curled his toes against the covers, recalling the deep rumble of Eliot’s voice close and dark against his ear. That’s it, sweet boy. That’s it. Just a little longer for me now. Not just yet. Not until I say.

Speedy strokes, slick with spit and pre-come. Focusing on the head with clever little twists of his wrist. Right there, so close, belly pulling tight. Thick cresting pleasure tugging at his throat. Bright, sharp, shimmering promise of orgasm spreading from his center. Quentin let his dick thump against his belly, a little spurt of come painting his fevered skin, pulse frantic and wanting as he let it rest for ten seconds, twenty, pressing both hands flat on either side of the tight line of his body, the furious push-pull of air through his nose.

Quentin had to clap his free hand over his mouth when he started in again. Sharp intake of breath, his oversensitive nerves sparking like kindling beneath the slick glide of his palm. He knocked his head back against the headboard, the headboard knocked against the wall. Fuck. Drawing his lip between his teeth, slow drag of torment with every shallow stroke. Breath hitching, thighs spreading wider, wider, an invitation to a phantom, the ghost of Eliot’s love.

Stop. Count. Take a breath. Quentin realized absently that what he was doing to himself could probably be classified as torture. He reached over, grabbed his phone, checked the time. Only four minutes had passed since Eliot had sent that final message, but his dick was insisting it had actually been something in the area of four hours or more.

Jesus fucking—he whined, stuck the pad of his thumb in his mouth and got it wet, then teased it over the nub of one nipple. Slowly, slowly. He wrapped his hand around his dick loosely. Gentle little strokes, the whisper of a touch. Quentin was so close to popping he didn’t think it mattered. And he couldn’t stop himself this time around, couldn’t get his hand to pull away, no matter how his brain was screaming. Just a little longer, just a little—

Quentin came so fast and so hard he saw fireworks. The brilliant white flare of supernova stars bursting in his vision. Everything warm and sinking. Relief, despair, oblivion. Come striping his hand and his belly, spattering up to his chest. He had to bite into the heel of his free hand to keep from crying out. Headboard rattling, thighs quivering, warm tears spilling down his face.

For a moment, everything bright and empty. Slumping down onto his pillow, fuzzy ringing in his ears. Somewhere in the blankness of the fog, a reminder that he still had one last thing to do.

He groped around on the floor for his t-shirt and cleaned the mess from his hand, reached for his phone, fumbling as he unlocked it. Hazy, hands trembling with aftershocks. The picture he snapped for Eliot was from the chest down, his free hand lying upward at his side, the hard black line of the bracelet cutting through the harsh lamplight just above. His soft dick lay spent against his thigh, belly filthy and glistening, chest dappled with blush and come and beads of drying sweat.

He sent it off without a message attached. Only six minutes had passed since Eliot had told him to begin.

Quentin reached for his t-shirt and swiped it across his belly and his chest. The moment he tossed it away his phone buzzed, his exhausted heart zinging to life along with the sound.

Well that didn’t take long, Eliot said, punctuating it with a winking emoji.

The tiniest bit of guilt broke through Quentin’s blissful haze. Sorry, he pecked out slowly with one finger.

Eliot replied immediately: Don’t be

Thank you for the picture

God……

It’s perfect

But don’t cum again until we’re together. Tell me u understand

Quentin looked over at the clock. Not even 1am Thursday morning. Monday seemed so very far away. An eternity, longer. I understand, he replied.

Eliot replied with a smiley face and a simple Goodnight, Quentin.

Quentin sent back: Goodnight, Eliot, tossing his phone onto the nightstand, what he’d really wanted to say itching at the tips of his fingers, rattling in his skull like madness.

He whispered it instead, to himself, a secret for now to be hidden in the dark. “I love you,” he said very quietly, hardly a sound at all, and let his eyes slide shut.

Brakebills University
October 2015

Quentin woke to dark outside his window, rolled his groggy body out of bed, and tottered down the hall to the bathroom. He emptied his bladder, he took a shower, he brushed his teeth. Working mechanically as though locked in a trance. Driven by primal urges more than by any actual need to be an upright, living human. Hierarchy of needs, bottom of the pyramid stuff. Numbness buzzing around his brain like flies.

After, he went back to his room and got dressed. He stared miserably at the bracelet lying in a tight circle on his nightstand, tentatively ran a finger over the leather. Cold and lifeless from where it had been away from his body for so long.

He went downstairs to the kitchen, chugged an entire bottle of water standing in the cool air of the refrigerator and cracked open another. He slapped together something that might have resembled a proper sandwich if he squinted and devoured it while standing at the counter, spilling crumbs all down the front of his shirt. His belly ached when he was finished, an endless sinking without any bottom. Hard stone tumbling in the blankness.

Gripping the edge of the counter, counting to ten, then twenty, dragging himself out into the hall. Standing with his back pressed against the doorframe, hardly breathing, listening to the voices carrying over from the common room, hushed and easy, none of them belonging to Eliot. Still, he didn’t know if he could bear it. The risk of seeing him now. He wanted his bed, the safety of nightmares shifting from his dreams.

But he also really fucking wanted a cigarette. Which of course he didn’t have. The shortest, safest route would be going to Jules. She’d be happy to see him upright at least. They’d have a smoke, and they wouldn’t talk about his feelings, and then he could crawl back under his covers for another day or two. Treading lightly, he made his way to the back of the Cottage and opened the door to the night without a sound, the waning crescent of the moon overhead providing just enough light for Quentin to see that he wasn’t alone the moment he stepped out onto the porch.

Alice. The distinctive flash of her white-blonde hair. She was straddling someone’s lap in one of the patio chairs. Mouths panting, happy little sounds, the unmistakable music of kisses finding their mark. Quentin stood frozen in the thin wash of moonlight. He looked to his left. The stairs weren’t very far away. Carefully, he started inching toward them, determined to slip past without disturbing Alice and whoever was underneath her in the chair.

But because his life was equal parts tragedy and comedy, Quentin nearly slipped while feeling for the top step in the dark. Gasping, reaching out for the banister and only just barely catching himself, he startled Alice and her companion up to their feet. Alice held the partially open front of her blouse shut, her face awash with confusion and maybe a little terror. Quentin froze, his throat clicking dryly when he saw who had jumped up behind her.

Penny, the psychic who’d had it out for him since the day of the Brakebills exam. Fuck. Of course it was fucking Penny. Quentin had been doing pretty well at avoiding him for weeks on end. The other shoe was bound to drop eventually.

“Man, I knew I heard...” Penny laughed under his breath, stepping forward, crowding Quentin up against the railing. “You spying on us, Coldwater? You some kinda pervert or something?”

What the fuck. Quentin wondered absently how much of a head start it would give him if he jumped over the railing and booked it. “What—no, I—I was just—just trying to—I, um…” Blood pounding in his skull, fists bunched so tightly his nails bit into his palms. “I was just trying to—”

“Penny,” Alice cut in calmly, stepping forward and touching Penny’s arm, her blouse buttoned up all wrong. “Why don’t you go up to my room and wait for me there.”

Penny narrowed his eyes, but he’d softened immediately under Alice’s touch. Line of his shoulders slumping, letting out the tension in his jaw. Another handful of seconds locked in a staredown, and he finally relented. Quentin sighed with his whole chest when Penny turned away and disappeared inside the Cottage.

“You know I wasn’t—” Quentin started and stopped, running a hand through his hair in a huff. “I wasn’t spying—”

“I know you weren’t,” Alice cut him off, arms crossed over her chest, her expression hard to make out in the dim moonlight. “But you shouldn’t just sneak up on people like that, Quentin.”

“Oh my god,” Quentin mumbled under his breath, pushing past her to collapse down into a chair. “I was trying to give you two some privacy. I—I just really needed a smoke, and—you know what. Never mind. It doesn’t matter.”

The pity on Alice’s face was clear, even in the dark. “This about Eliot?”

“I don’t wanna talk about it,” Quentin spit, slumping down in his seat. “You don’t have to try and make me feel better.”

“Fine,” she said with a terse little shrug of her shoulders. “We won’t talk about it. And I wasn’t trying to make you feel anything, Quentin. Sometimes friends—” She huffed, suddenly clipping herself off mid-sentence. A beat of silence followed, her expression turning hard. “You know, you should really consider putting up some silencing wards on your room. Everyone in the Cottage could hear you two last night.”

Quentin blushed from the top of his head straight down to his toes, all the way down to the center of the earth. Alice spun on her heels, heading for the door.

“Alice wait,” he called after, practically jumping out of his chair. When she turned around, he had to fight the urge to hide his face. “Can I, um... can I ask you something?”

“If this is about the wards, I don’t have time to—”

“It’s not about the wards,” he said with a sigh.

Alice answered with a little tip of her head.

Quentin tucked a strand of hair behind one ear. “What, um—what do you see in him? Penny, I mean.”

“He’s nice to me,” she said. The simplest thing in the world. “Don’t give me that face, you don’t know him.”

“I’m not giving you a—”

“He listens. And he—” She paused, visibly flustered. “He gives me what I need. No one else has ever—you know, before him. No one else has ever really bothered to—” She huffed. “I wouldn’t expect you to understand.”

“I understand,” Quentin said, heart on fire in his chest. “Believe me, Alice, I—”

“Yeah, well—” She cut him off, her voice high and frantic as she turned and started rushing away. “Goodnight, Quentin.”

Alice went inside and shut the door. Quentin sighed, scrubbing a hand over his too-warm face. Suddenly, going to see Julia sounded like the worst idea he’d ever had. He didn’t need a cigarette. Quentin needed a fucking drink. Or something stronger. He needed to ward his room up the ass and scream until his voice gave out.

He sat miserably staring down at his own shoes, up at the winking sliver of the moon. The droning hum of the crickets. The campus felt deserted. A ghost town without any ghosts. Just Quentin and his wounded heart. He shivered under his sweater.

Shitfaced drunk. That’s what Quentin wanted to be. Sloppy to the point of sickness. At least he’d get out of his own head for a while when everything went all spinny and he couldn’t feel his body anymore. He’d never been an alcoholic or an addict like Eliot, but Quentin fully understood the appeal. Who the fuck wanted to be conscious anyway?

But getting drunk meant going inside. Going inside meant increasing his risk of running into Eliot. Even if he only just grabbed a bottle and ran up to his room, his chances were 50/50. Quentin hesitated for a handful of agonizing minutes before deciding that was a risk he was willing to take.

Standing up, going to the door, tugging it open, stepping over the threshold, pulling it shut behind him. Quentin stood motionless, listening for any sound coming from the front of the Cottage. Nothing. Suspicious drone of silence. Cautiously, Quentin began to move. Warm orange glow, enchanted light. When he entered, his view of the common room was obscured by the shelf between the bar and the sofa. If anyone was there, they weren’t making a sound.

Just grab a bottle and get the fuck out of Dodge.

Racing to the bar, wrapping a hand around a half-empty bottle of vodka, Quentin made the tragic mistake of raising his eyes. Swimming through the rows of glass, the unmistakable outline of a body in a chair. Cool bottle under his warm fingers. Quentin let it go. Because he couldn’t help himself. He rounded the corner and Eliot was there.

Snuffed out. That’s how Quentin felt. Like a flaming wick pinched between cruel, uncaring fingers. Sizzle-pop into oblivion. White trail of smoke reaching for the ceiling.

Slumped in one of the armchairs, Eliot balanced a nearly empty whisky glass on his knee, gaze fixed on the thin golden dregs inside. He raised his eyes to Quentin, a miserable little smile pulling at his mouth. “Can I fix you something?” The thready, broken voice of someone who hadn’t spoken for hours or days.

Heart the size of a fist in his throat, Quentin fixed his eyes down on the rug. Curly wisp of a thread that had been pulled loose near the toe of his shoe. Black char of a cigarette burn. “No,” he said, every muscle in his neck pulled taut as piano wire, “I’m fine, thank you.”

He raised his eyes, and Eliot raised his glass, knocking back the remnants of his drink and then floating it over to the coffee table. Quentin couldn’t move, had no idea what the fuck he was even doing. Rug like quicksand dragging him under. Eliot pulled out his cigarettes and stuck one between his lips.

“I’ll take one of those,” Quentin heard himself say from somewhere outside of his body.

Eliot lit it, took a drag, then offered it to Quentin between his outstretched fingers.

Quentin didn’t register moving. Suddenly he was standing next to Eliot’s chair, taking the cigarette and pressing it between his lips. Inhale, exhale. Thin trail of smoke like mist dissipating over their heads.

“Thank you,” he said with a little tip of his head.

“You’re welcome,” Eliot said, already puffing on one of his own. Smoke spooling around his head like a halo. “Tell me about your day.”

Hot flare of anger in his throat. “Don’t do that,” Quentin said, ashing his cigarette into the empty glass on the coffee table. “Don’t.”

Eliot offered an airy little shrug. “I’m only being polite.”

Everything hazy, like floating in fog. Quentin took one last drag and tossed the cigarette down in the glass. “I can’t do this,” he said, running a hand over his hair. “I can’t just stand here and talk about the fucking weather with you.”

“Then why are you here?” Eliot gazed at him miserably. Thick purple shadows under his eyes, stubble darkening his jawline. “No one’s making you stay.”

Quentin’s heart felt too big for his chest. The disconnect between his brain and his body was staggering. Paralysis on a cosmic scale. Palms damp with sweat, his tongue a fuzzy lump of deadweight in his mouth.

He said nothing. There wasn’t anything he could say.

Eliot stood up, dropped his cigarette down into the glass next to Quentin’s. Heat death, sad little puff of smoke. He straightened his back, stepping right into Quentin’s personal space. Quentin swallowed, their eyes met. Hazel shimmer of Eliot’s irises in the golden light. Shifting air in the minute space between their bodies: hot, then cold, then scalding.

Eliot’s hand pressed flat to Quentin’s chest. Center of his ribcage, thumping animal heart. Fingers splayed and inching in the direction of his throat. Quentin tipped his face upward, mouth parting, the muscle memory of it all. He felt like glass under Eliot’s palm, quivering and thin, translucent right down to his center. Like at any moment he might crumble, shattering at Eliot’s feet. Bright, sparkling blur of confetti.

He swore he could feel his collar being slipped on. Metal of the buckle cold against his fevered skin.

Eliot leaned forward, trapping Quentin in his gaze. Slow drag of minutes coming to a standstill. Infinite space between one breath and the next. “Goodnight, Q,” he said very softly, and pulled away in a sudden rush. Pushing right past like a specter of himself, leaving Quentin trembling and haunted. Stolen air spinning out from his lungs and blowing itself apart.

Quentin stood in a vacuum. Buzzing in his ears, high and sharp. A frequency only animals could hear. He stumbled backward and collapsed down into the armchair, still warm from Eliot’s body. The heady scent of him clinging to the stagnant air. Waves of nausea and madness. Quentin had to hang his head between his knees to keep from passing out.

Someone came in through the front door a handful of seconds later. Quentin sat back and smoothed a hand over his hair, thready pulse skipping, everything in his vision taking on the aura of a dream. Margo walked over, took one look at him and said: “You look like shit.”

Everything felt like it was underwater. Quentin briefly wondered if he might be hallucinating before deciding it didn’t matter.

“Yeah.” He was surprised he could even speak. His voice sounded like it belonged to someone else. “That sounds about right.”

“Where’s Eliot?”

“I have no idea.”

Hands on hips, softening expression. Margo lifted up one side of her skirt, pulling a sleek silver flask from the garter around her thigh. “Wanna get wasted?”

“Yeah,” Quentin said, choking back the urge to weep. “I really fucking do.”

Ridgewood, New Jersey
November 2013

Quentin’s parents divorced when he was fifteen, and his mother moved to California. As a kid, Thanksgiving had been an entire event. Extended family that spent the rest of the year scattered across the country all converging on their dining room, his mother up until the wee hours prepping the night before. Cooking before the sun came up. A turkey big enough to feed an army. More sides than Quentin had fingers.

But after the divorce Quentin realized one thing: his father didn’t have much family of his own to speak of. Thanksgiving without his mother around became just another day.

Quentin had hated those giant family dinners more than he could say. Too many prodding questions from relatives he hardly knew. The year he turned thirteen, an endless stream of Oh well aren’t you just the cutest thing? I bet the girls are just crazy about you. Poking at his cheeks, strange fingers tugging at his hair. Blushing so much he wanted to cry. Leftover pizza and store bought pie in front of the tv with his dad was much more Quentin’s speed. He wasn’t crazy about the football game that always seemed to be on, but at least his dad didn’t ask any questions.

Well, he didn’t ask any questions on normal, peaceful years when Julia wasn’t around giving him something to ask questions about. Quentin thought he would have preferred being forced into a hundred awkward photos with his distant cousins if it meant not getting looks every time Julia started in with some variation of I’m talking about your boyfriend, Q.

Quentin stood at the kitchen island, watching his dad slice into the cherry pie he’d picked up at the local Acme the day before. Julia was fetching plates from the cupboard and setting them on the counter. His dad looked up mid-slice, said, “So, Curly Q, what’s this I hear about a boyfriend?” and Quentin’s face turned the exact shade of the pie filling streaked across the blade of his paring knife.

Quentin sighed. “Goddammit, Jules,” he muttered under his breath as she sidled up beside him. “I, um…” He ran a hand over his hair. “It’s nothing like that, dad, um… Julia’s just giving me a hard time.” He pinched her on the hand and she squeaked, then kicked him in the ankle. Quentin only winced a little. “Isn’t that right, Jules?”

“Hm, yeah, sorry about that Mr. Coldwater,” she said, snatching up the first piece of pie his dad plated along with a fork, immediately shoveling a bite into her mouth. “Inside joke. You know how it goes.”

Quentin’s dad glanced between them with a confused half-smile tugging at his mouth. “Well… okay then,” he said. “But, you know, Quentin. It would be just fine with me if you were, well… you know. I mean… I—I wouldn’t have a problem with—” He let out a nervous laugh. Quentin could only stand there, wishing for the ground to swallow him whole. “I just want you to be happy, son.”

He looked to Julia, who was barely suppressing a laugh around her fork. “Yeah, thanks dad, I, uh—okay.”

Blushing, death-glare aimed in Julia’s direction, Quentin woofed his pie down in two seconds flat, bundled up in his coat and scarf, and excused himself to have a smoke out in the yard.

“Hold up,” Julia said from behind, grabbing Quentin by the arm as he stepped out into the late autumn chill. “We’re gonna need something a little stronger than a cigarette.”

Quentin huffed, his breath a puffy white cloud on the air. “You know, I don’t even know if I wanna talk to you right now, Jules, I—you really—”

“Oh, come on,” she nudged him in the shoulder, holding up a joint she’d rolled with her favorite cherry-printed rolling paper. “Peace offering?”

Quentin groaned but quickly relented, a playful smile tugging at his mouth. Tossing an arm around her shoulders, they went out to the edge of the property to the big oak tree where they used to smoke in high school. The one with the trunk so wide it would conceal them both from prying eyes watching from the house. They sat down, pressed their backs up against it, stretching their feet in the direction of the privacy fence.

Julia lit the joint, took a hit, passed it to Quentin, rested her head on his shoulder. “I’m sorry for being a shit,” she said, thin puff of smoke pouring from her mouth. “I didn’t, like, actually mean to almost out you to your dad. Just so we’re clear.”

Quentin pulled the first hit of smoke into his lungs and exhaled slowly, feeling it with his entire chest. “I know,” he said, “that you’re a shit.”

She picked up her head and gasped in mock offense. “Why I never,” she said with a grin, taking the joint from between his fingers and pressing it to her lips. “You know, I think I’ve decided you’d be completely miserable without me, Quentin Coldwater.” She took a hit, blew it out. “And also totally not getting laid so well you zonk out mid-conversation ‘cause you can’t stop thinking about that big professor dick.”

Quentin furrowed his brows in her direction. “What do you have to do with me getting laid?”

Julia shrugged, took another hit, cherry of the joint between her lips glowing ember-red in the semi-dark, her words coming out on an exhale. “You wouldn’t have been at that party if it wasn’t for me,” she said. “Ergo no professor, ergo no big professor dick for Quentin.” She paused for a second, taking one more hit before passing it back. “Ergo you totally owe me the naming rights of your first born with Mr. Lover Man.”

Quentin hit the joint long and hard enough to cough. He passed it back, the taste of resin heavy on his lips. “Bold of you to assume I met him at the party for the first time,” he said.

Julia studied him for a long moment. “Well,” she said, joint to her lips, inhaling deeply, “even if you didn’t. You still only banged him that night ‘cause I pulled your nose out of that textbook. Ergo…” Laughter as she exhaled, her cheeks turning pink from the cold. “I win. You’re welcome and thank you very much.”

Quentin knocked his head back against the tree trunk, starting to feel incredibly stoned. They were silent for a long stretch of minutes, passing the joint back and forth, the overcast sky winking goodnight to the last hints of golden light. Thoughts of Eliot wheeling through his mind, vivid and immediate as photographs. The night before, the texts, the pictures they’d exchanged. The collar he could still feel like fingers encircling his neck.

They smoked the joint down to a tiny nub. Julia stubbed it out on the tree and tossed the roach into her cigarette pack, then rested her head back on Quentin’s shoulder. “Tell me about the bracelet,” she said.

It was immediate, the way Quentin’s pulse began to gallop in his neck. “How do you know about that?”

“Please,” she said with a little laugh. “The whole time we were watching the game with your dad you couldn’t stop touching the thing. You’re about as subtle as a sledgehammer to the tit.”

A laugh stuttered out from between Quentin’s lips. “That’s quite the visual, thank you,” he said, hoping absently that the weed had made her scatterbrained enough to just… drop the subject all together.

Which, of course, she didn’t. “Gift giving sounds pretty serious,” she said. “Does that mean I get to ask you his name and get an actual answer now?”

A thread of something that might have been sadness tugged at Quentin’s heart. Over the weeks he and Eliot had been together, he’d turned it into something of a game. A deep mythology etched into the memory of his atoms. A primordial understanding Quentin knew without having to be taught. Keep the secret thing close to your chest, and the spell can never be broken. Never utter its name out loud, and it will be yours forever. Quentin had tried, once, weeks earlier, but the words had died away on his tongue before he could shape them into syllables.

He sucked in a breath, lungs burning with the cold bite of impending winter. “It’s, uh… it’s not really that serious,” he said, and under his heavy coat his pulse thumped against the band of leather. “I mean, we haven’t technically even been on a real date yet, so…”

A silent laugh rolled through her then, shaking Quentin’s shoulder. “Well, now you’re just fucking with me,” she said.

Quentin turned his face and kissed her on the forehead. “You know that’s always been my favorite pastime.”

“Whatever,” she said with a tremendous sigh, snuggling in a little closer in the dark. “But if you’re in love with this dude, you’re obligated by law to tell me.”

“I’ll tell you,” Quentin said very quietly, so in love with Eliot he wondered if it might actually kill him.

Brakebills University
October 2015

Quentin spent most of his Wednesday in bed. Alone, ignoring Julia’s pleas to join her outside the warm cocoon of his covers. Come on, it’s such a beautiful day. Have lunch with me on the lawn, you loser. Quentin, come on, seriously. I’ll teach you the spell you missed today in class. Harper’s Fire Shaping. Totally useless, but I bet it would make a bonfire a thousand times more badass. Quentin. Q. Come on. You’re really starting to freak me out.

Still, somehow, he managed to find the motivation to get up and get dressed and drag his weary bones across campus to the library in time for his tutoring session. Quentin was pretty sure Eliot wasn’t going to show. Mostly, he just wanted to prove himself right. Rip the bandaid off, get it over with, try and move on with his life. His whole body felt like a bruise. Robotic motion of his limbs propelling him forward. He climbed the stairs, pushed through the doors, trudged to their table in the back fully prepared to turn right back around and crawl into bed for the remainder of the week.

But Eliot was there. Standing at the table, poring over a scroll he had stretched clear from one end to the other. He looked up with a little smile when Quentin approached. He was clean shaven and smelled freshly showered. Dressed in a shirt and tie and vest with a cardigan on top. His hair was perfect. His facade stitched up tight. Quentin wondered how long he would have to poke before all the cracks began to show.

“What’s this?” he asked, eying the scroll upside down, deciding, for now, to join Eliot in his little game of everything’s perfectly fine.

Eliot smirked. “It’s a map of the campus,” he said, tracing the pad of his finger delicately along one edge. “Rumor has it, there’s a weak spot in the wards… here.” He placed his finger on the upper east side of the map, a spot near the Hudson, not far from the location of the boathouse. “Too many repairs over the years. Makes the magic go all sideways if the person patching it doesn't know what they’re doing. Honestly, I’m surprised the whole thing hasn’t collapsed.”

Quentin furrowed his brows. “Okay,” he said. Eliot’s hand was pressed flat against the map on top of the table. Quentin wanted to touch it. Feel it curl around his cheek, the nape of his neck, his throat. “And why does that matter exactly?”

“Because,” Eliot said, straightening his back, “we’re going on a field trip.”

Quentin blinked. “But it’s the middle of the night.”

Eliot shrugged, a wicked little smile tugging at his mouth. “And what better time to siphon off a little of this prestigious institution’s untapped power for some cooperative magic, hm?”

Eliot rolled up the scroll with a twirl of his wrist. Quentin blinked at him again. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Um—say that again.”

Eliot sighed. “Relax, Quentin,” he said, clapping his hands, pausing as the library’s enchantments snatched up the scroll for re-shelving. “It’s not like it’s illegal. Well—” He laughed. “Okay, Henry would probably say we’re violating the pillars of magic or whatever. But he’s never going to—don’t look at me like that. It’s going to be fun.”

Quentin squinted at him intensely. “What’s going to be fun?”

Eliot gave him a soft look. “The weak spot in the wards can be… manipulated. Stolen from, whatever. I heard sometimes the Naturalist stoners use it to light their bongs. There are so many layers no one will ever notice they’ve been fucked with. But we… get to take advantage of all that untapped potential and do something really fucking cool.”

“El, that’s not—”

“Haven’t you ever wanted to fly, hm?” Eliot laughed. Everything felt so easy. For a moment, Quentin could almost believe that it was. “Because we could definitely do that with a little energy boost.”

“Why would you need to steal magic to fly?” Quentin offered. “You can levitate, I’ve seen you do it.”

“Yes, my young apprentice,” Eliot said, rounding the table and stepping into Quentin’s personal space. “It’s true. Levitation is easy. It also only gets you maybe five inches off the ground and, look…” He laughed, and slung an arm around Quentin’s shoulders. “I know some people will tell you five inches is plenty…” He pressed his lips right to Quentin’s ear, pausing for a beat to let the moment simmer. “But I think you and I both know that isn’t true.”

Skip-thump of his pulse in his neck. Quentin took a shaky breath and pushed it out. “I just, um…” He shook his head, the sweet scent of cedar and tobacco wafting into his nose. Body over-warm under his thin jacket. “I just think that sounds like, um… really dangerous.”

“Oh, it definitely is.” Eliot was practically purring now, leading Quentin in the general direction of the exit. “That’s what makes it so fun, Quentin.”

“It’s just that, um—It’s just—” Quentin was pretty sure he’d up and blown a fuse. How was he supposed to form a coherent thought with Eliot so close? Insistent heat of his body, strong curl of his hand around Quentin’s shoulder. “Eliot…”

Eliot pulled away to lean against the doorframe of the exit. “Look, Q, we don’t have to do anything you don’t want. Obviously we don’t. I just thought… it could be a nice change of pace.” He let that sit for a moment. “And who knows, maybe fucking around with some serious magic is what you need to send that little block of yours packing once and for all.”

Quentin took a breath. “When the block is gone we won’t have any use for these sessions anymore,” he said, the heaviness that had kept him in bed all day rolling back in like a cloud. He felt swollen with it, like at any second he might burst.

“Well,” Eliot said with a sigh, his expression suddenly shifting. “That is what you wanted, right?”

He pushed the door open to the hum of night beyond. It happened so quickly it took a long moment for Quentin’s brain to catch up. Watching him move down the steps and into the silent darkness of the campus. The sad, sinking implication of his words pressing against Quentin’s heart like a fist.

When Quentin finally started moving he had to jog to keep up with Eliot’s stride. His brain lagging two paces behind his body, uncertain how he’d even made it to the bottom of the steps. The anger again, rushing up to greet him like an old, weary friend. “What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”

Eliot threw his hands up. “It means you never wanted me to be your tutor to begin with, Quentin,” he shouted over his shoulder. “That’s not exactly breaking news.”

“You don’t actually think you have the right to be—” Quentin huffed. “Do you think you could maybe slow down? Not all of us are built like giraffes, you know.”

Eliot stopped cold in his tracks, so abruptly Quentin nearly collided with his back. He turned slowly, hands on hips, giving Quentin a calculated once-over through the dark.

“If you’re seriously upset about that how the fuck do you think I feel?” Quentin pulled cold air deep into his lungs. His heart hadn’t gotten the memo that they’d stopped. Unbearable pounding in his chest. Eliot said nothing, so he continued. “I mean—” He laughed bitterly. “Jesus fucking—like, you do understand why the idea of you being my tutor was a little hard to swallow?”

Eliot ducked his head. Did he look ashamed? Quentin couldn’t tell in the thin veil of moonlight.

“Not even touching on the mountain of shit that is our history…” Quentin took a breath, deep and slow. Lungs burning, heart burning, everything just fucking burning. “We can’t even acknowledge that forty-eight hours ago your dick was inside me.”

That drew Eliot’s gaze upward. Quentin swallowed around the mammoth-sized lump in his throat.

A pained, unhappy smile washed over Eliot’s face. “Forty-eight hours ago you asked me to fuck you. And I did. And you seemed to really enjoy it. So I don’t see what there is to talk about.”

“Yeah,” Quentin said, voice thick and edged in bitterness, “why would we ever talk about anything? Why would we ever talk about—” He threw his hands up, suddenly backing away. Heartsick, sour sting of anger making everything go sideways. “You know what. Fuck this. I’m not giving you the—the satisfaction of—of standing here and—I’m done, okay? I—I took your fucking collar off—” He rucked up the sleeve of his jacket and thrust his bare wrist into the hazy light of the moon. “I don’t wanna fly with you or steal magic with you or—or be your apprentice. And I don’t wanna be your friend.” Tears swimming in his eyes, Eliot a nebulous blur in the dark. “If I’m destined to be a nothingmancer shit magician without you then… I guess that’s just what I’m going to be.”

Quentin turned and started moving, biting at the inside of his lip until the tears relented. Fast as his legs would carry him. Cold indifference of the dark, everything blurry with motion and rage. Storming past the library with the Cottage in his sights, thump of the silent lawn under his shoes, thinking only of his bed. Thick blanket of depression sleep, comforting in its unbreakable vow. In the distance, a pinpoint beacon breaking through the endless dark. The front bay window of the Cottage glimmering like a boat at sea, growing a little larger with each plodding step.

Quentin pushed through the front door and kicked it shut behind him. Tunnel vision, heading for the stairs—

“Don’t even think about it.” Julia, suddenly beside him. Taking his hand and tugging him in the direction of the common room. “Come on. Come sit with us and act like a person.”

Everyone was there. Everyone. Alice and Penny. A bunch of Physical Kids whose names Quentin didn’t know. Julia led him over to one of the sofas where she settled down next to Margo. He tucked himself into the corner beside her, trying to make himself small. Sweating under his jacket, unbearable hangover spins. Clammy skin, eyes that wouldn’t focus. The front door swung open, Eliot walked inside, and Quentin thought he was going to be sick.

Julia nudged him. “Hey.”

Quentin barely registered her voice. Soft curl of her hand over his knee. Margo saying something, sharp bark of laughter from across the room. He turned his burning face away, set his eyes on Eliot at the bar, the image of him distorted and segmented beyond the shelving unit that housed their glassware. He’d already made himself something golden in a martini glass and was well on his way to being ready for another.

He forced himself to look somewhere different, across the room. Penny was sitting with Alice on the sectional, and Quentin made the grave mistake of catching his eye. Sad little rabbit, leg twisted up in a snare. Penny scowled like Quentin had just committed a crime.

Quentin quickly turned to Julia, pretended to laugh, praying that would be the end of it, but it was already too late.

“Hey, Coldwater,” Penny shouted. Every other voice in the room fell silent. “Do you know how to close your mind?” He rose to his feet. Slow, calculated steps. Alice said something that he didn’t seem to hear. “Because I will show you right now.”

“Um.” Quentin swallowed. Every eye in the room was on him now. Julia’s hand curling around the sleeve of his jacket. “I’m sorry, um—what are you—”

“Mental wards, genius,” Penny said, suddenly very close. “Man, it is taking everything I have right now to block you out and—” He pulled a face, put his hands up. “That is too much information. Does someone wanna teach this loser a basic fucking spell he should have learned weeks ago or am I gonna have to—”

“Leave him alone.”

Penny spun himself around. Eliot, suddenly there. Crowding into Penny’s personal space, his body language all sharp lines. Immediate confrontation, begging for a fight.

“Oh, hey, would you look at that,” Penny said, “we’ve got ourselves a volunteer.” He laughed. “Man, you are sealed up tighter than Fort Knox. You really could teach your boy toy a thing or two. But please, I am begging you, for the sake of what’s left of my sanity, do it now. Because the shit leaking out of his brain about you is—”

Eliot jabbed two fingers into Penny’s chest and shoved. Hard. Penny tottered backward, banging his legs on the coffee table. Suddenly, the air in the room felt too thin. Everything frozen, temporary paralysis. Penny tilted his head to one side, considering Eliot with an easy sort of indifference. He almost looked amused.

“Eliot,” Margo said, her voice a mockery of calm. “Sweetie, why don’t you come sit over here with me?”

Across the room, Alice stood up and said Penny’s name. Neither he nor Eliot took any notice.

Everything that came after was like a head-on collision. Like watching a car crash from the side of the road. Seconds spooling out into infinity, over before anyone could even hope to intervene. Penny lunged forward, fists poised and ready to strike, but Eliot was quicker. He cast the way that lightning hits, hands pressing forward, the long lines of his body pulled taut, graceful as a dancer spilling over with mindless rage.

Everyone shouting at once. Margo, Julia, Alice. Penny was already halfway to the ceiling before Quentin realized he was being lifted. Telekinetic elevator, hot air balloon aiming for the stars. Limbs flailing, scarf trailing down from his neck like it was waving goodbye. Shouting something that might have been a threat. Penny’s back pressing flat against the ceiling, Eliot’s hands curling outward like claws.

Suddenly, everyone in the room was on their feet.

Alice lunged forward with a fire in her eyes. “Eliot. Put him down.”

Eliot said nothing. Quentin could feel the frantic energy of his magic vibrating in the center of his chest.

“Man, I swear,” Penny shouted, straining helplessly against his magical binds, “if you don’t let me go…”

Julia put her hand on Quentin’s shoulder and he jumped. His body felt like it belonged to someone else.

“Eliot.” Margo, approaching like a snake charmer. Trying to coax the terrifying animal back into its cage. She touched his arm. Eliot didn’t even flinch. “Honey. I know he’s being an asshole—”

“Hey, screw you,” Penny spit down from the ceiling.

“You really wanna start with me, Adiyodi?” Hands on hips, five-foot-nothing without her heels on but towering like an Amazon. When Penny said nothing, she turned her attention back to Eliot. “El. Come on. I don’t wanna get blood on my new dress when Wonderland here castrates you for raising the roof with her man.”

Alice rolled her eyes. “Actually, I’ll have you know I agree with you,” she said, shooting a glance upward at Penny. “He is being an asshole.”

Penny flopped uselessly against the ceiling. “Hey!”

Alice ignored him, looked at Eliot, her body language softening a little. “But this isn’t what magic is for,” she said. “Everyone needs to calm the fuck down.”

“I think I like her,” Margo said to no one in particular.

Julia tucked herself closely to Quentin’s side. Together they watched as Eliot suddenly backed down. Lowering his hands, the sharp vibration of his magic dying away, like a radio being clicked off. Penny came crashing down at once, only avoiding a collision with the coffee table by the skin of his teeth thanks to Alice’s quick thinking. She cast a shield spell quicker than Quentin had ever seen anyone cast anything.

The whole Cottage seemed to sigh around them.

Eliot spun on his heels as though nothing had just happened and sauntered out of the room. Julia gripped Quentin’s waist with the sharp points of her fingers. “Don’t,” she said, but Quentin was already pulling away, pushing past Margo and following the quick sound of Eliot’s footsteps down the hall.

“I don’t need you to fight for me, you know!” he shouted when they were near the backdoor, feeling half out of his mind. In the semi-dark, away from everyone else, the Cottage took on the distinctive air of a liminal space.

Eliot stopped dead in his tracks, turning slowly to face him. A warm pulse of something passed between them, eyes meeting in the gloom. Sudden, swift movement that he hardly registered. Eliot’s hands curling around his throat, a sound bubbling out of his chest that might have been a snarl. Quentin’s hands gripping the front of Eliot’s cardigan in the split second before their mouths came crashing together.

The kiss was all possessive heat and anguish. Quentin could only stand there and let it happen, pulse drumming beneath the warm press of Eliot’s palms. Scrape of teeth, miserable whimper. Eliot kissed him until Quentin thought he had died. Skin pulsing with light, shimmer of galaxies beyond the blank void of his eyelids. Knees knocking together, Eliot’s body the only thing keeping him upright.

They broke apart. Hot panting of mouths. Quentin’s hands had pushed inside Eliot’s cardigan and were gripping the back of his vest. Solid weight anchoring him to reality. Eliot’s hands on his face, their noses nuzzling together. Groggy slow drip of seconds. Eliot kissed the corner of Quentin’s mouth so tenderly it felt like saying goodbye.

And then it was over. Eliot was pulling away, and Quentin nearly crumbled to the floor. A marionette whose strings had just been cut. Shivering away from the warmth of his body. Eliot stepped back, looking ashamed. He said something, Quentin didn’t hear it. He thought it might have been his name.

“Eliot,” Quentin said over the ringing in his ears, but Eliot was already reaching for the door.

He opened it, and stepped out into the darkness beyond.

Quentin didn’t follow.

Columbia University
December 2013

Back in his dorm early Monday morning, Quentin had to fight the urge to run down the hall to Eliot’s room right away.

They hadn’t talked much since Wednesday night aside from exchanging a few casual texts. Good nights and good mornings. Quentin had tried to not spend every moment he was alone under his covers staring at the picture Eliot had sent, but he’d thought about it nearly every waking second, and dreamed about it too. The memory of Eliot was some incandescent thing, lighting up Quentin’s skin from the inside like a five alarm blaze.

He dropped his bag off by the door and shrugged out of his coat, walked over to his desk. Quentin was entertaining the idea of burying his nose in a textbook before his Symbolic Logic lecture when the door to his room swung open. Eliot, stepping over the threshold and pushing it shut behind him. Crossing the distance between their bodies with his quick and graceful stride. He was still in his heavy overcoat, the scent of winter air on his skin as he took Quentin by the front of his sweater and crashed their mouths together.

Quentin moaned, clutching at Eliot’s lapels, anywhere that he could reach. The distinctive sensation of falling. Eliot pushing him back against the edge of the desk, strong fingers tangling in his hair, pressing into his scalp. Velvet tongue licking into his mouth. Thump of his heart striking his breast bone again and again. Pulse like a stampede. Zero to a hundred thousand before his brain had any hope of catching up.

Eliot broke the kiss with a happy little whimper. “Hey,” he said, thumbing at Quentin’s cheek. “I, uh… I saw you in the quad with your friend Julia and I… I wanted to come say hi.”

Quentin drew a breath. Heavy tongue, struggling to speak. “Um…” He laughed, sliding his hands down the soft lapels of Eliot’s coat. “Hi.”

Eliot’s eyes. Eliot’s hair nose mouth smile. Adorable dimple of his chin. The scent of him, the way his hands went from freezing to fever-warm the moment they came in contact with Quentin’s skin. Like opening his eyes and realizing he was still trapped inside a dream. Finally getting to the good part, praying to never wake up. The part where everything in his body was weightless, and Eliot was kissing him again. Fingertips pressing into his flesh like the pinpoint light of stars.

“You have class?” Eliot asked, punctuating his words with a little kiss to Quentin’s cheek.

Quentin nodded, brain shooting off sparks, all the wiring exposed. “Yeah, um…” He shook his head. “But I have time. Or—or I don’t even have to go. It’s just a stupid lecture.”

Eliot clucked his tongue, dragging the pad of his index finger down the swell of Quentin’s lips. “We can’t have you neglecting your education on account of me, sweet boy.”

“I’m not, I—” Sharp pangs inside his chest, claws scraping viscera. Something feral lashing out, baring its teeth. Hot snarl purring in his throat. Quentin’s hands groped at the front of Eliot’s coat, desperate to get inside. “I missed you.”

Eliot grinned, teeth dragging over his pretty bottom lip. “Have you been a good boy for me, Quentin?”

Warm nuzzle of Eliot’s nose against his cheek. Quentin sucked in a deep breath and pushed it out. “Yes. Um… yeah. I—I haven’t, um.” Hands on the broad expanse of Eliot’s back, pressing in through all his layers, hoping he could feel it, osmosis of desire. “I haven’t. Not since Wednesday.”

“Good,” Eliot purred, hand moving between the press of their bodies to curl around Quentin’s erection through his jeans. Massaging up and down the shaft, tugging a strangled sound from Quentin’s throat. “That’s what daddy likes to hear. You’ll come and see me tonight, hm?”

Eliot started to pull away and Quentin panicked, lunging forward and touching his neck, his face. “No, um—I mean—I mean yes, but, um—” He started fumbling with the buttons on Eliot’s coat. “I can come see you now. Or—or we could spend the day together, or—” Quentin knew he sounded past the point of desperate, but he couldn’t be bothered to care. There was no place for pride in his heart when he needed something this badly. “Or I could just blow you right here. I’ve been thinking about it so much I—I couldn’t stop looking at that picture you sent me and I—”

“Quentin.” Eliot considered him softly, warm hands cupping his burning face. “God, Quentin, I—” A laugh rumbled up from deep inside his belly. “I think that maybe I’ve created a cock sucking monster.”

Desire and mirth twisted in Quentin’s stomach until he thought he was going to be sick. “Is that a bad thing?”

“No,” Eliot assured him. “Not at all, sweet boy. And you’re getting so good at it too. Every moment that pretty mouth is on my dick is—it’s heaven, baby. But I have something extra special planned for tonight. And I’d rather not spoil your appetite.”

“You couldn’t. You won’t. You—” Quentin tugged at the front of Eliot’s coat, and a single button popped open. “God, will you just take this stupid thing off at least?”

Eliot’s face and eyes lit up in a smile. “There’s that bratty mouth that I love,” he said, then sighed, his body language going soft. “Okay. Tell me how much time you have before your lecture.”

Quentin glanced at his alarm clock. “Over an hour.”

Eliot considered this for a moment, stepping back, eyes sweeping down to Quentin’s feet and back again. “Maybe,” he purred, tipping his head to one side, fingers going to a button and popping it open. “Maybe just… a little taste for my boy…”

Godyespleasefuck. Quentin’s heart kicked into overdrive, chambers pumping blood like pistons, all of it pooling hotly down between his legs. He pressed back against the desk, gripping the edge until it bit into his palms. Grounding pain. Reminder he was still occupying a living human body, his head somewhere floating in outer space.

Eliot shrugged out of his overcoat, slung it over the back of Quentin’s desk chair. He was wearing a midnight blue sweater underneath and Quentin wanted to shred it to pieces to get at his skin.

“Go sit down on the bed,” Quentin heard Eliot say through the drumming in his ears. “Take off that sweater first.”

Quentin moved over to the bed in a daze. Sweater up over his head, tossed and forgotten the moment it hit the floor. Lowering his body down. Sitting. Watching. Waiting. The rhythmic click of Eliot’s shoes as he approached. Dropping to his knees between Quentin’s parted thighs. Hands on the dip of his back, soft heat rising from the base of his spine, jumping like a candle flame up to the hollow of his throat, a bullseye right in the center where Eliot put his mouth, and sucked.

Sizzle of his skin, hot like burning. Quentin clutched at Eliot’s shoulders, the soft cotton knit of his sweater. Eliot’s mouth moved down to his collarbone. Soft scrape of teeth, Eliot’s strong hands on Quentin’s waist. Lower still, down to Quentin’s nipples, lavishing one with the velvet glide of his tongue. Quentin made a soft, broken sound. Blood pooling faster, hotter. Dick jumping where it was pressed against his zipper. Thumping of his heart in his neck, his wrist, the leather of his bracelet like a kiss against the point of his pulse.

A kiss pressed into the center of his breastbone, Eliot’s mouth trailing a line down to his belly. Quentin clutched at Eliot’s hair. “Hey,” he said, his leaden tongue making his voice come out all slurred. “Hey, you said. El. You said…”

Kiss to Quentin’s navel. Eliot pulled back grinning. “What did I say, pretty boy?”

Quentin swallowed, drawing in a breath. “You said I could—I could taste…”

Eliot hummed. Another kiss, this one to the curve of his ribcage. “Oh, Q,” he purred. “I did say that, didn’t I? But how can I be expected to resist all this?”

Shutting his eyes, tossing his head back as Eliot mouthed his way back up to Quentin’s nipples, his throat, finally his lips. Kissing him like he was trying to stoke a fire with his tongue.

Eliot pulled away, sitting back on his heels, lips glistening and pink when he dragged a finger over them in contemplation. “So,” he said, eyes raking over Quentin’s body like a whisper, his hands moving to the buckle of his belt. The front of his slacks were tented with the thick curve of his erection. “Something sweet for that pretty mouth. Is that what you want, my boy?”

A moan slipped out of Quentin’s throat, soft and high and pleading. He nodded, speech some foreign thing, mind dissolving to embers.

Belt undone, fly zipped down. Eliot reached into the open front of his pants and wrapped a hand around his dick, pulling it out just enough to expose the head beyond the embrace of his fist. “Just… a taste,” he said, giving himself a languid stroke, then dragging the pads of his index and middle fingers through the pre-come drooling from the tip.

Eliot held them up to the light, glistening with temptation, and Quentin’s throat worked as he swallowed, hunger pangs jolting through him like an electric current.

“Open your mouth, baby.”

And Quentin did. Leaning forward—god. Eliot’s fingers pressing to the seam of his lips. Holy eucharist, salty splash of Eliot melting on his tongue. Blood-warm drag of fingertips. Quentin shut his eyes. Ragged gasp of Eliot’s breath. Staccato slap of his own heart inside his chest. Eliot’s free hand gripping Quentin’s thigh hard enough to bruise.

“That’s it,” Eliot said, thrusting the length of his fingers in, drawing over Quentin’s tongue as he pulled back. “Open your eyes, baby. I want you to look at me now.” Quentin did, and Eliot’s lips twitched in a smile. “There he is. God, I love fucking this pretty mouth.”

Quentin sucked on the pads of Eliot’s fingers. His dick pulsed between his legs, and for a moment he thought he was going to come. Jesus. Tumbling into the deep, radiant pull of Eliot’s eyes. Everything slowed down, slogging upstream against the current. Quentin could have stayed like that forever. Moaning, being fed, the tease and promise of it all.

Eliot pulled his fingers free suddenly, and Quentin chased them with a needy little whimper, pawing at Eliot’s sleeve as he tucked himself back into his pants without so much as a word. “Now,” he said, his warm palms moving to the bare flesh of Quentin’s waist, “stay with me, Quentin. Look at me. Can you talk?”

Click of his throat as he swallowed. Quentin shook his head.

“Baby. Hey.” Eliot’s hands on his shoulders, his neck, his face. “It’s not time for losing yourself just yet. I’m gonna take you there tonight, I promise. Come on. Can you say my name?”

Quentin shut his eyes, counted to ten. Eliot’s touch grounding and disorienting all at once. He breathed deeply, slowly, opened his eyes. Eliot was watching him the softest expression.

He opened his mouth. Eliot’s name fell out a broken gasp. Quentin said it again. “Eliot.” Sweetest music, a song he felt with his entire chest.

Eliot pressed forward and kissed him again on the lips. It took all of Quentin’s willpower to take him by the shoulders and push him away. “That’s—” He laughed. “That’s not gonna help right now, El.”

“Sorry.” Eliot was blushing, cheeks dappled pink in a way that made Quentin crazy. “Hard to resist.”

“Who’s the one losing himself now?” Quentin laughed, meaning it as a joke, but the look in Eliot’s eyes clipped it off in his throat, a fresh wave of heat crawling up his spine.

Eliot pulled back, hands lingering for a moment on Quentin’s over-warm skin. He stood up, buckled his belt, smoothed a hand down the front of his sweater. “I should go,” he said, taking a breath. “Let you get ready for class.”

Quentin tottered up after him, tentatively touching Eliot’s sleeve. “What time, um…” Eliot touched his face, and he lost his train of thought for a moment. “Uh… what time do you want me to come to you tonight?”

Eliot’s hand curled around Quentin’s nape. “Before you have dinner. I’ll feed you after. Seven? Unless you have—”

“I don’t.”

“Good.” Eliot leaned forward, pressing his warm lips to Quentin’s forehead. “Seven it is.”

Eliot went to fetch his overcoat. Quentin drifted in his periphery, watching him shrug it on, watching his eyes scan over the room, lingering on Quentin’s bookshelf with a quiet sort of reverence. Like he was trying to memorize every title etched along the length of every spine. It tugged at something in Quentin’s heart that he couldn’t hope to name.

“So.” Eliot stepped forward, eyes firmly fixed on Quentin again, reaching out, fingers trailing gently down the curve of his cheek. “I’ll see you tonight.”

Quentin nodded, trapped in the fire of his gaze. Happy to stand there and burn for as long as Eliot would allow.

“Kiss me, sweetheart,” Eliot whispered, and Quentin swore he could feel his entire body melting through the floor.

Going up on his toes, throwing his arms around Eliot’s neck. Eliot’s arms around the circle of his waist. Slow motion dance of atoms between the press of their bodies. Lips parting and slotting together. Languid kiss, ticking pulse. Everything perfect in that single, fleeting instant.

And then it was over. Eliot stepped back, his hands lingering down the slope of Quentin’s shoulders for just a moment before he headed to the door.

“Later,” he said as he opened it, looking back over his shoulder with a soft-eyed smirk.

“Later,” Quentin said, voice coming out all air, his body collapsing down onto the bed the moment the door clicked shut.

Brooklyn
November 2014

Coming out of the bookstore on Fulton Street empty handed, Quentin took a deep breath and held it. Cold air burning in his lungs, a sign of life he couldn’t help but feel grateful for. Everything else had gone numb. He shoved his hands into the pockets of his heavy coat and was heading for the intersection when a flash of someone rounding the corner stopped Quentin’s heart cold in his chest.

Long legs, elegant gait. Forest green coat with the collar turned up against his neck. Messy crop of dark curly hair. Quentin didn’t realize he was running until he was already at the corner, cutting a hard right onto Portland Avenue, pushing through the throngs of people waiting at the light. Reaching out and grabbing a sleeve, expensive wool warm under his frozen fingertips.

“Eliot.” The name fell out of his mouth all broken, like he was speaking for the first time in months and his tongue had gone limp from disuse. “Hey. Hey, El—”

Spinning around to greet him was the face of a stranger. Bodies pushing past them on the sidewalk. Quentin’s lungs squeezed like fists, impossible to breathe. He tottered backward, the stranger’s eyes fixing on his in confusion. Quentin put his hands up, taking another step away, knocking sideways into a lamp post as he tripped over his feet.

“Sorry,” he said, stumbling, heartsick and cold. “I, um—I thought you were—sorry. Shit, um—”

The stranger shrugged, said nothing, turned away. Quentin nearly collapsed, wandering aimlessly out into traffic. Horns honking, voices shouting. Too desperate to put distance between his body and the man who wasn’t Eliot to care. Quentin ran to the cafe across the street and pressed his back up against the side of the building. His face burning hot and cold. Heart stamping like angry hooves under his coat.

When he started walking again it was entirely without direction. Away from his subway stop, the idea of going home to James some unfathomable thing. Quentin swore he could smell Eliot all over his clothes, saturating his skin like a sickness. A perfume he could never scrub away. A possession. Quentin was possessed, in need of an exorcism. He wanted to forget everything. Temporary amnesia. Maybe he’d find a bar and get blind drunk and let someone take him home.

But he didn’t. Quentin just kept walking. The sound of his own voice droning on inside his skull. Eliot, Eliot, Eliot. Endless looping rhythm. A record skipping over a chasm in its infinite surface. A cold, insistent blankness around Quentin’s wrist where Eliot’s name used to be.

Chapter Text

Brakebills University
October 2015

Quentin couldn’t feel his face, or much of his body for that matter. Which was… fine. It was great. It was fucking phenomenal. As long as it meant he also couldn’t feel the sinkhole that had formed in the center of his chest. The one that had been there for days, weeks, months, fucking years. He couldn’t feel anything at all.

So, mission accomplished. Way to go, Hoberman. Way to go, Hoberman’s drugs.

He laughed, and sat up, and popped the last bite of brownie into his mouth. “What the hell did you put in these things?”

Josh gazed down from the high perch that was ostensibly his bed. “Does it matter?” he said with a shrug. “You feel better, right?”

Quentin flopped onto his back. “I feel like a sugary cereal,” he said, the garland of fairy lights strung around the periphery of the room dancing like shapeless stars.

Josh jumped down and sat cross legged next to Quentin on the floor. “Sugary cereal is awesome,” he said, puffing away on a joint the size of a cigar. “I’m glad you’re here, man. Even if we don’t really know each other. Always happy to help a fellow magician in need.”

Quentin had dragged himself across campus to the Treehouse early Thursday afternoon, puffy-eyed and half out of his mind from being up all night sobbing until his ribs ached. “I need something for my head,” he’d slurred, dangling from the rope ladder that served as the Treehouse’s entryway.

When Josh asked him what was wrong with it, Quentin scowled and said: “It exists.”

Everything had gone a little fuzzy after that: Josh ushering Quentin up through the trapdoor and leading him through the labyrinth that was the Nature Kids’ dorm. It reminded Quentin of the TARDIS if the TARDIS were covered in black light posters and powered by a four-foot bong. Stretching out on a strange hammock and being offered a sticky leaf that tasted like basil and turned the whole world into a carnival ride. Enchanted brownies, crawling out of the hammock and stretching himself out on the floor. Swimming in the pleasant, weightless abyss that was the aftermath of whatever the fuck he’d been given.

“So,” Josh said, passing Quentin the joint. “You wanna talk about it?”

“Talking,” Quentin said, tugging himself up into a sitting position, taking a massive hit and holding it, “is stupid.”

“Well,” Josh said when Quentin passed the joint back, “it’s not that I don’t agree. But you did show up at my door a little—”

“Ready to party,” Quentin heard himself saying, somewhere distant, the universe stretching like taffy around him. His head going one way, his body going the other.

“Yeah,” Josh said, “let’s go with that.”

The echo of a giggle, like it was coming from the end of a long corridor. Quentin was pretty sure it had come out of his mouth.

“Look,” Josh continued, “I’m just saying… you seem troubled. And I’ve been told I’m a pretty good listener, so…” Quentin watched as galaxies unspooled around Josh’s head, infinity looping in the coil of smoke pouring from his mouth. “You know. Girl troubles, boy troubles—whoever troubles. I’m here.”

Quentin blinked, then laughed. “I don’t wanna talk about Eliot.”

Josh coughed and passed Quentin the joint. “Eliot troubles. Okay. You know, I’d heard a rumor—”

“Was the rumor that he’s an idiot?” Quentin laughed again, and tossed the joint onto the floor. Orange embers skittered across the wooden planks like the after-image of comets. Quentin laughed at those too.

Josh recovered it quickly and extinguished the flaming end with a snap of his fingers. “Okay. I think we’re cutting you off.”

Quentin groaned and fell down onto his back. “You’re boring,” he said. “But your drugs are... very good.”

The moment Quentin’s eyes slid shut, he fell into a primitive pseudo-sleep. Vivid, hallucinogenic dreams unfurling inside the cradle of his skull. He was back at Columbia in the hallway of his East Campus dorm, the straight-line distance between his room and Eliot’s twisting into an impossible labyrinthian maze. Trapped for days, breaking through walls with his bare fists until they were nothing more than bloody, crumbling stumps. Looming on the cusp of death. Opening his mouth to scream out Eliot’s name, his useless voice swallowed in the blankness without ever making a sound.

Quentin woke gasping and sticky with sweat. He bolted upright, tottering on the cusp of insanity. He was still half-stoned, but the sort of half-stoned where the fun part is over and all you’re left with is a mouth full of sand and skin that feels like it’s trying to run away from itself. He’d been left on the floor covered up with a thin blanket, a bottle of water set off to one side that he couldn’t gulp down fast enough.

Josh’s room didn’t have any windows, and Quentin didn’t bother carrying his phone on campus since it didn’t work inside the wards anyway. He pulled himself to his feet, wondering about the time, the decade, if he’d slept straight through to the end of the world.

It was night when he exited the Treehouse down their ridiculous spiral slide. Quentin landed flat on his back and lay there for a long moment, watching the sharp crescent of the moon poke holes in a gray blanket of clouds overhead. Disoriented, everything dim and sideways. The ground was cold and damp and it seeped straight through the thin layer of his shirt, making Quentin shiver.

He felt poisoned. Not from the drugs, but the veil of reality that was rotting underneath. Acrid as a bullet dissolving on his tongue. Quentin somehow managed to get his feet underneath him and stumble back to the Cottage without his legs giving out. He pushed inside to the hum of a lazy Thursday night party. No more than ten people, most of them Physical Kids. He had no reason to join them—was guaranteed to run into Eliot if he did—but Quentin was still just stoned enough to justify making the worst of all possible decisions.

He thought, deep down, all he really wanted to do was hurt. Press his finger to the bruise and blind himself with the ache. Self-flagellation, making himself holy. Staring straight into the mouth of the dreadful thing until it swallowed him whole.

Quentin dragged himself over to an empty chair and tumbled into it. “Does anybody have a cigarette?” he slurred to no one in particular, raising his hand like an anxious middle schooler with the wrong answer to a question.

Everyone ignored him.

He found a crushed pack on the coffee table and stuck the only one that wasn’t broken clean in two between his lips, lighting it with a brilliant blue-white flame so hot it nearly scorched the end of his finger. He inhaled deeply, holding the smoke inside his lungs until it burned. It was only after he’d exhaled that Quentin allowed himself to set his eyes on Eliot where he was sitting across the room.

Quentin had felt him there from the moment he sat down. Holding court on his usual perch sans-Margo. Casual in a dark oxford shirt he wore open at the throat. Draping himself on the bench like a piece of Greek statuary. Long legs kicked up as he took pulls from his flask and very pointedly didn’t look at Quentin.

Luminous, heart cleaving itself open at the sight of him there, Quentin wanted to crawl into Eliot’s lap and lick the taste of whisky right out of his mouth.

It was stupid how much Quentin wanted him. Impossible. Some animal-brained thing he couldn’t wrap a single thread of logic around. He puffed away on his cigarette, aftershocks of the drugs still coursing in his system making him tremble. Too warm under the threadbare t-shirt he’d dressed himself in that morning, sweat pouring down the column of his spine. Breathing in thick, stinging clouds of smoke, Quentin wanted to make a scene and draw Eliot’s attention. Eliot’s attention was better than anything, he decided right then. Better than drugs or blow jobs or magic.

The moment came and passed as quickly as the thought had formed. Someone else was already drawing Eliot’s attention. A First Year illusionist named Wyatt who was always giving Quentin sour, sideways glances in every class they had together. He leaned down and whispered something in Eliot’s ear. Familiar, suggestive glint in his eye. Eliot gazed up into his face for a long moment after Wyatt pulled back, head lolling to one side as though he were studying a curious animal, a little smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.

His vision dimmed, like gazing at the world through a dirty, fuzzed up window. Clenching his jaw so tightly he gave himself a headache, Quentin watched at a hundred thousand frames-per-second as Eliot kicked his legs down from his perch and rose to his full height with all the grace of a someone who knew he was being observed and wanted to put on a show.

Wyatt smirked, taking Eliot’s hand and giving it a tug. A playful little gesture, the sort of thing that lovers do. Eliot stumbled forward, tucked his flask into his pocket with a barely perceptible smile. The rest of the exchange came through in snapshots of hot-blooded jealousy and disbelief so stark and heavy Quentin wondered if he might pass out. Wyatt turning, two of his fingers hooked in a loop with two of Eliot’s. The casual familiarity of it, the way Eliot trailed behind him like a kitten being led right to the saucer of milk.

Magic light. Eliot’s eyes falling over Quentin like a shadow as he passed. Warm, then freezing. An eclipse overtaking the sun on the longest day of summer. Eliot lingered before turning back to Wyatt. Turning away and disappearing into the empty darkness down the hall.

Quentin could only sit there for a long moment after, completely outside of his own body, letting the cherry on his half-smoked cigarette burn itself clean down to the filter.

Columbia University
December 2013

Freshly showered, scrubbed clean from the top of his head to the soles of his feet, Quentin opened the door to Eliot’s room and slipped inside.

He was wrapped up in his bathrobe with nothing underneath but the bracelet looped around his wrist. Exactly the way he knew Eliot would want him. Shutting the door and pressing himself back against it, Quentin didn’t even have time to say hello. Eliot was on him at once.

Warm hands on his face, the nape of his neck, the top of his head. Eliot kissed him like he was trying to pull Quentin apart from the inside. “Baby,” he whispered in between aching, languid kisses. “Baby, baby, baby. God…” Eliot pressed against him with his entire body. “Do you have any idea what I’m going to do to you tonight?”

Scraping teeth and clever tongue. The energy of his mouth like an electric charge. He threaded his fingers in Quentin’s hair and gave it a tug, making a sound against Quentin’s neck that could only be described as a growl. Eliot was wearing nothing but a pair of black silk boxers, and Quentin’s arms snaked around his middle, hands going straight for the tempting swell of his ass. He could have died right there, Eliot’s dick hard enough to chisel through steel where it pressed against his hip.

Quentin could feel his smile as Eliot nosed along the slope of his neck. “When I get done with you tonight, sweetheart,” he purred, “there’s not going to be anything left inside that pretty little head but my name.” He broke away suddenly, tottering backward, leaving Quentin dizzy. Pink lips glistening in the golden light. Soft curls falling into his eyes. “Come over here, beautiful.”

In through his nose, out through his mouth. Lungs working like pistons underneath his ribs. Quentin reminded himself to breathe. Floating forward, everything weightless, he let Eliot take him by the hand and lead him over to the loveseat.

His collar was resting there, set atop a plush square pillow like a crown awaiting its prince. Eliot sat down next to it, ran his fingers over the leather in reverence before turning his attention to Quentin.

“Take that thing off,” he said, gesturing to Quentin’s robe, legs spread wide as he pressed the heel of his hand against his erection through his boxers. “I wanna see that pretty cock.”

Quentin’s fingers were already going for the sash, fumbling with the knot. He tugged it loose, letting the front flap open, pausing for a moment to linger under the heat of Eliot’s gaze. His attention felt like a drug. Quentin shrugged the robe from his shoulders and let it pool around his feet. Soft rustle of the fabric as it hit the floor. Eliot was silent for a long stretch of seconds, rubbing himself through his shorts.

“You know, baby,” Eliot said finally, dark purr of his voice making Quentin’s belly quiver, “I haven’t touched myself since Wednesday night either.” Lips upturning in a hungry smile. “I’ve been saving this all for you…”

Eliot sat back, shoving the waistband of his boxers down under his balls and taking his dick in hand. The sight of it was like a punch to the center of Quentin’s chest, all the air spilling out, leaving nothing but desire in its wake. He had to fight the urge to drop to his knees right there.

Hazel coronas of Eliot’s irises glowing around deep black centers. Quentin’s breastbone fluttered like the skin of a drum. He reached down between his legs, desperate to take a little of the edge off after five long days, but the moment his hand made contact Eliot stopped him with a single command.

“No.”

Quentin’s hand fell away at once.

Eliot teased over the head of his own dick with his thumb, one corner of his mouth curling upward. “Good boy,” he said, stroking himself with fluid little flicks of his wrist. “That pretty cock belongs to me.” He huffed a little laugh. “You don’t touch unless I say.”

Quentin nodded. He didn’t know what to do with his hands. He wanted to touch Eliot so badly it hurt to breathe.

Eliot tipped his head back, exposing the beautiful curve of his throat, letting an audible moan slip out of his mouth. “Maybe—” He tipped his gaze forward, meeting Quentin’s eyes dead-center. “Maybe I’ll just give you a little show. How does that sound, baby, hm? Standing there dripping all over my floor while I get myself off for you.”

Quentin’s throat clicked as he swallowed. “Please,” he managed, somehow, not even certain what he was asking for.

“Oh, well, now that you mention it, Quentin…” Eliot’s hand went still between his legs. “I think I would like you to beg me for it.”

God. Fucking—“Please.”

Eliot clucked his tongue. “No. Not like that, sweet boy. I’m going to need you to really use your words.” Teeth dragging over his bottom lip in agonizing slow motion. “Tell me what you want…” His hand gliding up and down the shaft of his cock, once, slowly. “And I’ll let you have it.”

Quentin could feel himself tipping at odd angles, like the floor was suddenly a body of water pitching under his feet. “You,” he pushed out, all air. “I want—I want you.”

“Be more specific.” Another languid stroke from base-to-tip, Eliot’s other hand cupping his balls. “Ask and you shall receive, sweetheart.”

Quentin swallowed, his heart like a racehorse thundering under his ribs. “I want—” He took a breath, clenched his jaw, his own dick jumping between his legs. “I wanna—god. I...”

“Yeah, that’s it, my beautiful boy.” Eliot’s voice crawled over his skin like warm fingertips. “Say it. You’re doing so well for me.”

“Please—fuck.” Quentin bunched his hands into fists, forcing the words to fly from his tongue. “Please let me suck your dick.”

The shifting of Eliot’s expression was immediate. Dilation of his pupils so wide Quentin could drown in the blackness. He leaned forward, focus so narrow Quentin might have been the only other soul left alive. “Come close to me, Quentin,” he said carefully. “I want you on your knees.”

That was not a command, in any version of reality, that Quentin needed to be given twice. The scent of Eliot was intoxicating as he knelt between the V of his thighs. Body looming like an apparition. Holy vision of some long-dead saint. This was it for Quentin, this act of worship. Hands going to his neck, his face. Eliot’s hands. The warm, insistent, hands of his lover.

“There’s that pretty mouth.” Eliot thumbed at Quentin’s bottom lip. “You wanna show me how much you missed me, sweet boy?”

Quentin whimpered, gripping the flesh of his own thighs. “I want…” He kissed the pad of Eliot’s thumb, tip of his tongue flicking out to steal a taste. “Yes.”

Eliot’s mouth twitched. “That’s what daddy likes to hear.” He took his hands away, slipping fingers into the waistband of his boxers. “Come on, baby. Help me get these off.”

He lifted up and Quentin tugged them down and tossed them away in one swift motion. Eliot spread his thighs wider, his dick hard and dripping in the circle of his hand. Quentin’s eyes flicked over to his collar and back, craving the comforting weight of leather around the flesh of his throat.

Eliot saw this, and ran a hand over the top of Quentin’s head. “Soon, my boy,” he said. “But right now, I want you to stay with me. You think you can do that, hm? Suck my dick and not go into subspace?”

Quentin swallowed, tested his voice. “Yes,” he croaked with a nod of his head. “I—I can try.”

“Good.” Eliot’s warm hand on his nape, drawing him closer, the other wrapped firmly around the base of his dick. “Open. Good boy. That’s perfect.”

Quentin shut his eyes, sealed his lips around the head. He sucked, tonguing at the slit. Immediately the lights in his brain began to flicker. His whole body a living, breathing flame.

Eliot sat back and let Quentin go to work, fisting one hand in his hair, thighs spreading to their limit. “God yes, Q—fuck, I love that mouth,” he purred from deep inside his belly. “Baby—” He moaned, high and bright, when Quentin started mouthing at the glans, massaging his balls with one hand, stroking along his shaft with the other. “Oh, baby, I’m gonna take you apart...”

Eliot tugged at his hair, and Quentin felt himself slipping away. Warm little bubble of subspace closing around him like an old friend. He desperately held onto reality, forcing his voice to work. “Are you—” He mouthed along the thick shaft of Eliot’s dick, down to his balls and back again. “Are you going to fuck me tonight?”

Another tug, harder than the first, a shower of sparks raining down the column of Quentin’s spine. “You wanna know—” Eliot guided Quentin’s mouth back to the head of his dick, thrusting upward with a clever little roll of his hips. “You wanna know what I’m gonna do to you tonight, sweet baby? Oh…” Tugging him back, purring as Quentin lavished the head with his tongue. “Oh, Quentin. I am gonna fuck you, sweetheart. I’m gonna fuck you with my tongue and my fingers. Gonna make that pretty pink hole gape—fuck.”

Both of Eliot’s hands were tangled in Quentin’s hair now. Crown of his head dancing with stars. He wanted to tell Eliot the whole hair pulling thing wasn’t really helping to not send him hurtling into subspace, but he didn’t think any of that mattered now. Nothing mattered but this. The point where their bodies were connected, cresting waves of heat and pleasure making them whole.

Quentin pushed himself deeper, and Eliot let out a groan with his entire chest. “Yesyesyes,” he babbled, thrusting up to meet Quentin halfway, deep enough now that it was a struggle just to breathe. “That’s it, Quentin, show me how deep you can take it.” His thighs were quivering. Quentin could feel it in his chest, his steady pulse thumping down between his legs. “Godfuckyes—choke yourself on my dick.”

Quentin could feel the shifting in his atoms. His body transforming into some wild, snarling thing. Shocks of pleasure spilling from his mouth and into Eliot. Down, down, down so fucking deep, but hardly taking half of Eliot’s length. Flat of his tongue pressing to the underside. Blaze of his mouth stoking the flame of their shared bliss. High, sharp whimpers punching out of Eliot’s chest. Quentin felt Eliot’s balls drawing tight in his hand, salty splash of pre-come on his tongue. Spit dripping down his chin, his own dick so hard it bordered on agony. Making a mess of the floor between his legs as—

Eliot pulled Quentin roughly back by the hair, his cheeks flaring scarlet, hair sticking up at wild angles. He trembled in all the spaces Quentin’s body touched, one hand wrapping firmly around the base of his dick. A laugh, or something like it, tumbled out of Eliot’s mouth, his grip going slack in Quentin’s hair. “Jesus, Q—” He laughed again, one warm hand moving to Quentin’s face. “You almost—you almost lost me there, sweet boy.”

They breathed together for a long moment. Eliot took Quentin by the hand, lifting it to his lips, going straight for his wrist where the bracelet was looped. Mouth pressing against the pulse point just above. A gentle kiss, the flicker of his tongue. Their eyes met. Eliot said, “You still with me, Quentin?”

Quentin nodded, a tentative gesture, not entirely sure of the answer until he opened his mouth to speak. “Yes.”

The word sounded like shattered glass. Eliot answered it with a smile.

“My boy.” Another kiss to Quentin’s wrist. “I wanna take you there. I wanna take you apart.” Quentin’s skin lighting up beneath the velvet heat of his tongue. Pulse point throbbing, blood-warm between Eliot’s lips. “I want you to feel it, baby. When I put my collar on you.”

Quentin’s eyes flashed to the circle of leather again, Eliot’s hands encircling his neck. Bending down, kissing Quentin on the mouth.

“Reach for it,” Eliot whispered into the curve of his cheek. “Go on, beautiful. Hand it to me.”

Quentin shuddered. A stone skittering over the surface of a pond. He touched the collar, leather and metal the weight of a crown beneath the circle of his fingers. A ceremony, Quentin thought. That’s what this would be. A coronation, kneeling at the feet of his king. I now dub thee Holy. I now dub thee All Mine.

The collar passed between them, its leather already warming in the presence of so much fevered skin. Quentin turned his face upward, watched the metal buckle glinting in the light.

“Look at me baby,” Eliot said very quietly, holding the collar outstretched between two fists. “Right in my eyes, that’s it. Stay right here with me.”

The leather pressed to the curve of Quentin’s throat like the hand of a healer. Buckle cool against the back of his neck but warming the instant Eliot got it fastened. Groggy, empty-headed, vivid skin suffused with light. Quentin sank down into the warmth of it easier than flicking a switch.

They spent a long, silent moment watching each other. Eliot’s hand nestled into the join of Quentin’s neck and shoulder. Quentin’s hands resting against the flesh of his own thighs, upturned in silent worship. So in love it felt like a miracle. Like something given to him at the end of a long and arduous quest. Like something he’d earned, even if Quentin didn’t have the faintest idea why he deserved it to begin with.

“Quentin.” Eliot offered him his own name like a benediction. Looping a finger in the ring at the center of his collar, giving it the gentlest of tugs. “Come up here and kiss me, darling.”

Quentin crashed forward, crawling into Eliot’s lap and kissing the air from his lungs. Eliot’s hands on his ass making him whimper. He felt hollowed out with how much he wanted Eliot to climb inside his body and settle in. Quentin reached between where they were pressed together, wrapped a hand around Eliot’s dick, and started to stroke.

“Baby.” Eliot broke the kiss and nipped at Quentin’s neck above the collar. “Hey—” A moan rippled through him, and he froze, catching Quentin’s wrist mid-stroke. “None of that now. Come on.”

He kissed Quentin’s cheek softly and pulled his hand away. Quentin whined, reaching for him again, and Eliot caught his wrist with a grin.

“Don’t be a brat.”

Eliot started moving him sideways onto the loveseat, and Quentin immediately relented. He sank down into the space where Eliot had just been, still warm and radiant with the heat of his body. Eliot dropped down to his knees right there, taking Quentin by the hips and tugging him forward at once.

“That’s it, baby. Lie back, just like—yes. That’s perfect. Knees back as far as they can go. God—yes. Look at that. Look at you…”

Hands on the backs of his thighs, spreading him impossibly wider. Quentin was practically bent in two in the time it took to draw a single breath, his eyes falling over Eliot’s blushing face through the steeple of his legs. Quentin didn’t think he would ever get over allowing Eliot to see him like this. All the secret, hidden corners of his body on full display for Eliot’s eyes alone.

“Baby.” Eliot sighed, settling in. “Relax.” He kissed the curve of Quentin’s ass, one side and then the other. “I can still feel the tension in you, sweetheart.” Quentin breathed, a thread held taut in the center of him vibrating sharp and high. “You’re safe with me, darling. You know that. And I know—baby, I know how badly you’ve been wanting this.” Two fingers, the phantom of a touch dragging over Quentin’s hole. “Wanting me to split you open…”

Quentin plucked at the thread and let it snap, exhaling into free fall. Surrendering to the blankness of being possessed. Neurons fizzling apart in a brilliant blaze of strobing light. Everything calmer now, like sinking down into a warm bath. He melted into the loveseat, the weight of his body going slack.

“That’s it. That’s my boy.” Eliot slicked the pads of his fingers with his tongue and started drawing circles on the sensitive flesh of Quentin’s rim. “You know, Quentin, I’ve been thinking, and I’d say, right now—right in this moment, oh baby, I am the luckiest man alive.” A devious smile, dragging his bottom lip between his teeth. “Do you wanna know why?”

Pleasure rippled from the point of Eliot’s fingers straight to Quentin’s dick. Heart bludgeoning the hard shell of his ribcage.

“I am the luckiest man alive,” Eliot continued, fingers tracking up to Quentin’s balls and back down again, “because no one else has ever been inside this body.”

Quentin gasped when Eliot licked a stripe straight down the center of him. No one else, no one else. No one else would ever have him like this. No one had. No one—what the fuck had they been doing for so many weeks months years before this moment? Eliot could have been the one to take him here so many years ago. So much wasted time. Oblivious travelers orbiting each other’s pulsing stars.

“Do you think about it, Quentin?” Eliot nuzzled into the back of his thigh. Scrape of his teeth, teasing slow drag of his tongue. “What it’s going to feel like the first time I put my dick inside you?”

Quentin answered with a litany of broken music, reaching for Eliot, patches of warm skin kissing the tips of his hungry fingers.

“I think about it too, baby.” Eliot’s tongue again, tracing patterns over Quentin’s rim, then replacing it with the tips of his fingers. Gentle pressure, teasing over the sensitive nerves, making Quentin’s dick pulse against his belly. “Fucking this virgin hole until it’s sloppy and dripping with my come.”

Quentin hooked his arms up under his knees, holding himself open in wanton invitation. Drunk on the glory of being Eliot’s most cherished possession. Leather pressing into his throat like fingertips. Begging with the sharp angles of his body to be full, to be filled.

Eliot hummed, lavishing the strip of skin under Quentin’s balls with his tongue. “Oh, darling, did you know—” A sigh. A golden, shimmering sound. “Did you know that when you blush—” The smallest laugh, slipping from Eliot’s mouth thick and dark as honey. “You blush everywhere.”

Eliot drew a breath, barely audible over the driving rhythm of blood in Quentin’s ears. Another press of his fingers, clever little twists and spins that made Quentin feel like he was turning inside out. A whimper pushing up from his belly and catching in his throat.

Suddenly: the sound of a cap popping open. Quentin breathed, anticipating the sensation before it hit. Eliot slicking him with a cool stream of lube that quickly warmed against his skin.

“Sweetheart.” The tease of Eliot’s fingertips sent Quentin hurtling into the darkness behind his eyes. Squeezing them tightly shut, feeling everything. “Baby.” Pressing in, the tip of one finger, holding it there for a long moment before retreating. “Darling.” More lube, Eliot pushing in again. Nearly the full length of his finger this time. “Beautiful boy.” He fucked his finger in to the hilt, pulled back. Breathed. When he pushed in again he’d added a second. Just the tips, just enough. The stretch so all-consuming Quentin felt filled right up to the brim.

He made a sound. An animal crying, the sound of being loved. Opening his eyes to gaze at Eliot gazing at him. Eyes sweeping over all of his most vulnerable parts. Eyes warm on his skin like two hands.

The slick glide of two fingers moving into him. A flower, bloomed and opening its face to the sun. An exhalation, a release, like a shadow moving away from its source. Eliot kissing the back of Quentin’s thigh and holding their bodies still, together.

Holding their bodies together.

“That’s it.”

Filled and spilling over with it, Eliot fucked his fingers in, the pleasure of it cascading over Quentin’s nerves like ripples in a pool. Tendrils of electric current unfurling down to the soles of his feet. Light as air, lifting to the ceiling when Eliot curled his fingers and found that place inside that made everything hazy as sunrise.

“Oh.” The word came from Eliot’s mouth a gasp. “Oh, baby.”

Eliot kissed the space next to where his fingers rested, swallowed up by the heat of Quentin’s body. Soothing a hand down the slope of his thigh, as though he’d been wounded by lust. Heartbeat in Quentin’s ears the rhythm of creation.

“Oh, baby, that’s the spot, isn’t it?” Another kiss from his fingers inside, warm like cinders coursing in his veins. “Goddamn, that is…” He pulled back, pulled free from Quentin’s body. “That is gorgeous.” Two fingers tapping against his rim. An enchantment, an anointment. “This hole is so pretty and pink.”

He spit between the spread of Quentin’s cheeks, pushed back in, wrenching a sob out of his throat. Eliot built up a rhythm the way hands build a fire: one spark stacked on top of another, kindling of Quentin’s flesh catching at one corner and swallowing up the world.

“Yes.” The word a breath, a promise. Eliot nipped at soft flesh everywhere his teeth could find, fucking Quentin with careful, practiced movements until everything slipped slow and easy as a current. “Yesyesyes.”

Eliot moaned, like opening Quentin’s body was suddenly indistinguishable from opening his own. The precision with which he avoided touching Quentin’s prostate again was maddening, like he wanted his flesh to beg for its own ruin. Like he was trying to carve out a space for all that pleasure to go. Like Quentin’s body couldn’t hold it. He needed to be made bigger, made more.

Yes.

The fingers slipped out of him again, and for a handful of terrible seconds Eliot’s hands left him completely. Through the blurred framework of his own folded body, Quentin watched as Eliot sat back, and stroked his dick. Once, twice. Thumbing at the slit, gathering a shining bead of pre-come that he brought forward, and pressed to Quentin’s hole. Pressed inside.

Oh.

He could feel it coursing through him like a fever. Eliot went down on all fours and started lapping at Quentin’s hole. Open-mouthed kisses flooding his body with sweetness. Eliot tongue fucked him until he was breathless. And then his fingers again. Fuck. The perfect, slick insistence of twin arrows finding their mark. More spit, more lube, Quentin’s body singing from the base of his spine to the top of his skull.

All the while, Eliot was speechless. Quentin wondered absently if he’d found himself slipping into whatever his equivalent of subspace happened to be. Total focus, one singular goal: Quentin’s pleasure; his flesh so thoroughly ruined the memory of this night would live on inside the remnants of his bones long after the rest of his body had gone.

“Fuck.”

The word tumbled from Eliot’s mouth like a hymn. His fingers stilled, he pulled them free. Slicking them again with more lube. Quentin held his breath, watching them glisten like precious gems in the light.

“Think you can take three now, baby, hm?”

No hesitation. Quentin nodded, tried to, thought he did. He didn’t know what his body could take, but he didn’t think it mattered. His body felt limitless folded in on itself like this, all wide open spaces with the boundaries smudged off.

He took a breath and held it.

Three points of light pressing into him. Quentin didn’t know if it was pleasure or agony. For a long moment, there was only the stretch and the heat and the comets painting themselves in brilliant colors on the ceiling.

But then, like a dam bursting open, the pleasure carved out a chasm in his center. Eliot’s fingers started to move. Sticky-sweet and cloying in his throat. The number three so much greater than two. The way it entered Quentin’s body like infinity. The way he could feel it in his belly, illuminating the chambers of his heart. The curl of his toes, the clench of his teeth.

It felt exactly the way Quentin had always imagined a dick would feel spearing him open. Like his body was no longer a body, but a resting place. Some place that Eliot might call home.

Eliot pressed his face against the back of Quentin’s thigh. “Ohgodbabyyes,” he slurred, fucking his fingers in once more and holding them still for a long, torturous moment before pulling out.

He sat back on his heels, he breathed. From somewhere just out of Quentin’s line of sight, Eliot produced his phone.

“You’re so—” He made a sound that might have been a laugh, pretty cheeks flushed with a deep scarlet blush. “You’re so fucking hot right now, Quentin. Jesus, I wish—” He trailed his slick fingers over Quentin’s sloppy entrance, the three of them that had just been moving inside his body. “Can I take your picture, pretty boy?”

Eliot’s voice sounded like a figment of itself. All air and desperation and lust. Shattered just the way that Quentin felt. He didn’t even have to think about the question. To be seen by Eliot was a miracle. He nodded furiously, and shut his eyes, and tucked his body in on itself a little more completely. Open and seen and wanted. Quentin had never felt more powerful in his own skin.

Digital pulse of a camera shutter click. Eliot must have taken a dozen pictures in the time it took Quentin to open his eyes. One hand holding him open, fingers splayed and slick along the swell of skin hot enough to blister. The image of his absolute submission recreated, mirrored, and gifted to eternity right there on Eliot’s phone.

The mottled blush on Eliot’s chest looked like an impressionist painting. Quentin couldn’t take his eyes away. One last picture was snapped. Eliot lowered the phone.

“Do you want to see them?”

Before Quentin could even hope to make a sound, Eliot was settling down next to him on the loveseat. Quentin let his legs fall down at once, feet pressing flat to the floor. The full-body ache of his effort spreading through his muscles like wildfire.

“Here, baby.” Eliot helped him to sit back, soothing a hand over his sweat-slick hair, touching the blood-warm leather of the collar. “Just for a minute. Relax. Let me show you how pretty you gape for me.”

Quentin didn’t register the image that Eliot pulled up on the screen as anything resembling his own living body. It was the image of a stranger. All slack-jawed with his eyes screwed shut. Flesh so red it was like it had been pinched between the cruel, uncaring fingers of a god. Knees hiked up to his ears, his dick the same shocking red as the rest of him. And lower, where the focus of Eliot’s digital eye had aimed, that most tender, vulnerable part of him. Slick and blushing pink.

It felt, for an instant, like gazing straight into the center of his own soul.

“You see that?” Eliot spoke right into Quentin’s ear, his voice breaking open like epiphany. “You see how beautiful you are, my boy?”

He couldn’t believe it. He couldn’t look away. Eliot pressed the phone into Quentin’s trembling hands and let him swipe through to the end of the camera roll. Ruined images of himself fluttering one into the next until he let the screen go black.

Eliot took the phone and tossed it aside, his hands going to Quentin’s face at once, kissing him on the mouth. “Will you lie down for me, sweetheart?” His voice came like a heartbeat over Quentin’s lips. “Right here. Come on. Lie down and spread your legs.”

Quentin went down and Eliot nestled a pillow under his head, propping one leg up on the back of the loveseat, folding the other up under itself and letting it jut to one side like a broken wing.

Eliot knelt before him, stroking his softening dick lazily until it reached full hardness again. “Do you want me to fuck you?”

Quentin swallowed, tipping his head back just to feel the leather bite into his throat. Letting his body speak the words that his tongue no longer had the language to communicate. A drop of pre-come glistened like a pearl at the tip of Eliot’s dick. Quentin watched as it dripped and rolled down the back of his hand.

“I wanna fuck you.” Each syllable tumbled from Eliot’s mouth like he was trying to shape them into living, breathing objects. “I wanna pop your cherry, sweetheart. I wanna—I wanna be your very first time.”

Your very first time. Your very first time. So you never forget who you belong to.

Quentin arched his back, spread his thighs a little wider. His body had been made for this. Had been fitted together in all its soft and wild angles just for Eliot to pull apart.

Eliot said, “Put your hands above your head,” the command in his voice like a thread connecting all their circuitry together. Quentin’s arms stretched upward before the words had even registered, hands clasping together sharp and high. A penitent preparing to pray. There was a scarf in Eliot’s hand now. The same one he’d used just before break as a blindfold. It was as though he’d manifested it out of the air. Scarlet red as the blush painting their bodies.

Reality stuttered around them. The click of Quentin’s eyelids, the strobing of the light.

Eliot wove the silk around Quentin’s wrists with a casual ease. “How’s that feel, baby, hm?” He kissed Quentin on the mouth before pulling away.

A hand teasing down the center of his sternum. Quentin fluttered underneath the touch. He tugged at his binds just to feel the soft silk holding him together. Eliot had the lube again and he was slicking his fingers. A slow, deliberate gesture, making no effort to hide that he was putting on a show.

He tossed the bottle away, pressed his fingertips to Quentin’s hole and slipped inside. “I’m gonna fuck you, darling boy, but not tonight.” His fingers bottomed out, his other hand nestled in the crease of Quentin’s thigh. “Not yet. I intend on savoring you for a good long while, sweetheart.”

Quentin sobbed at the curl of Eliot’s fingertips finding his prostate. Strummed from the inside, plucked like the strings of an instrument in a virtuoso’s hands.

“You’re gonna come just like this,” Eliot said, dragging against that spot inside, a cascade of pleasure pinning Quentin’s body down. “But not until I say the word.” Gentle tap of fingertips, a sob catching in Quentin’s throat. “If you even think about coming sooner, sweet boy, I’ll put that pretty cock in a cage until after the new year.”

Time dissolved around Quentin the way a dream lets go of the night. Thirty seconds spinning into an hour, an evening, a lifetime. Every brush of Eliot’s fingertips inside the heat of his body made Quentin’s dick quiver and throb. Back deeply arched, the promise of orgasm nipping at the base of his spine. Eliot not ceasing his insistent rhythm until Quentin’s dick pulsed once, hard, a single bead of come dripping from the tip shiny as a tear.

“That’s my boy. Just breathe.” Eliot’s palm soothed over the curve of Quentin’s knee. He was quiet for a very long moment after. “We’re gonna go again now, baby. A little longer this time.”

Quentin’s pulse hammered. The press of silk and leather. Eliot’s fingers rocking into him like he was trying to take Quentin apart one stitch at a time. He could feel himself unraveling, face wet and warm with tears as Eliot paused again, and breathed, and counted the slow drip of seconds silently between them.

“Good boy. Good…” Eliot stroked himself with his free hand, his dick an angry red blur beyond the circle of his fist. Quentin could see it, the way it always happened right when Eliot was about to crumble apart. His features slack with wanting, all the lines of his body drawing tight. “Just a little bit longer, baby, just a little—”

Eliot’s chest heaved with a sob. The hand around his dick stilled. Quentin could see it thumping like a heartbeat in his grip. “Just a little—” Eliot’s fingers inside his body started moving again, frantic little whispers that made his skin prickle all fuzzy and bright. “A little longer, Quentin. Baby. My boy, just—just a little more—”

Eliot stroked himself once, quickly. In a cresting wave of pleasure Quentin felt in his own body, everything stilled, and ended. And Eliot was coming in hot spurts while his fingers kept working over Quentin’s prostate. And Quentin could feel it, the way he was trying to hold on. Eking out one final chord before the stereo clicked to static.

“Come,” Eliot commanded, voice quaking out of his chest, stroking himself through the aftershocks. His come streaked all over Quentin’s dick and balls, dripping down to that space between his legs where Eliot’s fingers were spearing him open. “Come for me, my love.”

My love. My love—

Everything went blank and stark white as the end of the world.

Eliot’s fingers never once stopped moving inside him. Not until Quentin’s cock was entirely spent, his spring-tight body going slack. Distantly, the voice of a stranger crying. Eliot was saying his name and soothing him through it. It all seemed to go on for a very long time. The pleasure drawing out until it was nearly unbearable, over-stimulated nerves sparking out one last hurrah before hurtling straight into the dark.

And then—the emptiness. Eliot pulled his fingers out and all but collapsed between the spread of Quentin’s thighs. Without looking, he reached up and undid the binds at Quentin’s wrists. The scarf floated down to the floor softly as a feather. Quentin folded Eliot up in his arms and legs, carding fingers through his sweat-damp curls. For a long moment after, Eliot didn’t speak or move.

When Quentin started to doze, a kiss to the center of his chest pulled him back to reality. He opened his eyes. Eliot was gazing up at him with a lazy smile. “I promised to feed you,” he said. “I should get up and… do that.”

Quentin made a disapproving sound and held onto Eliot tightly. His mouth was dry and his belly was empty, but Eliot was warm and soft and Quentin never wanted to let him go.

“Okay,” Eliot said with an easy laugh, settling back in with a sigh. “Okay. Not just yet. But soon.”

A smile tugged at Quentin’s mouth. He exhaled, and touched the warm nape of Eliot’s neck, and shut his eyes.

Brakebills University
October 2015

Quentin went to the library Friday night just to make himself miserable. Sitting there for over an hour going through the rote mechanics of coin tricks and frowning at the empty chair across from him at the table.

He went back to the Cottage feeling lopsided and spilling over with sorrow so thick it made his muscles ache. Climbing the stairs felt like jogging through quicksand. Passing Eliot’s half-open bedroom door in the hallway, light from inside spilling out across the floor in a radiant beam, neurons sparked in Quentin’s animal brain at the sight of the trap. A hook dangling beneath the surface of the placid water. A snare angling for the delicate circle of his neck.

Fight or flee or scatter to the wind. Quentin never could resist the allure of making a terrible decision. He pushed the door open the rest of the way and leaned heavily against the doorframe. Eliot’s eyes shot up from where he was sitting at his desk, looping his elegant script into a notebook, an open textbook set off to one side.

“Quentin,” he said, dropping his pen and straightening his neck. “Is everything all right?”

Quentin huffed a little laugh and stepped into the room. “Is that a serious question?”

Eliot raised his brows and offered a shrug. “I don’t know,” he said. “Is this a serious visit?”

Quentin resisted the urge to spit venom, took a breath, running a hand along the edge of the desk. Smooth wood grounding beneath the frenzied energy of his fingers. “I went to the library,” he said. Pathetic, feckless heart that wouldn’t listen to reason stamping itself bloody underneath his ribs. “For our session.”

A subtle shifting of the air in the room. Like a candle blowing out. “Oh,” Eliot said very quietly. “I’m sorry. Were you expecting me?”

“No,” Quentin said quickly, drawing in a deep breath and pushing it out. “I don’t know.”

“Well…” Eliot let the word settle in between them. “You did say you were done with me.”

Their eyes met across the short distance. Quentin’s brain cracked itself wide open. “I know what I said, but I—” He shook his head, no thoughts behind any of his words or actions. Total system failure, autopilot steering only from the heart. “I need help with my mental wards.”

Eliot considered him for a long moment, fingers rolling along the cylinder of his pen. “Well,” he said finally, “I suppose I could take a break from my studies to write something down for you.”

A laugh rolled through Quentin’s body then, deep enough to nearly knock him from his trance. “You’re not actually studying.”

Eliot let out an airy little sigh. “Sadly, Quentin, not all test answers can be paid for with spankings,” he said, picking up his pen and flipping to a fresh page in his notebook. “The wards are easy. Anyone can—”

“I think you should probably just do them for me,” Quentin pushed out, the connection between his tongue and his brain entirely severed. “You know, um… just in case. The block…”

Eliot turned back to him slowly, dropped the pen. “All right,” he said, silent for a stretch of seconds before rising to his feet. “Penny isn’t giving you shit again, is he?”

Their eyes met briefly as Eliot pulled a small glass bottle from the shelf over his desk. Quentin shook his head slowly, fixated on Eliot’s hands. The way he pulled the stopper out of the bottle and set it on the desk.

“Good,” Eliot said, sitting down sideways in his chair. Perfect posture, hands folding elegantly in his lap, raising his eyes to Quentin. “I’m going to need you to kneel.”

Quentin swallowed. Fluttering knees, fluttering heart. Metronome of his pulse ticking at a thousand beats per minute. “Um… okay.” Shaky drawing of his breath, gesturing to the bottle on the desk, the honey-tinged liquid inside swirling with flecks of herbs and golden yellow flowers. “What’s that?”

Eliot ran a finger around the open rim of the glass. “Ashwagandha, rosemary, forsythia, eye of… something,” he said, his mouth quirking in the phantom of a smile. “It’s for the spell. Go on. Kneel. It’ll only take a second.”

Reflex like a kick to the heart. Going down to his knees felt like breathing. Settling in between the V of Eliot’s parted thighs. Eliot actually had the audacity to undo his cuffs and roll his sleeves up to his elbows. Quentin’s eyes tracked over the lean muscle of his forearms, down to the elegant puzzle work of his hands. Sinewy curves of his fingers reaching for the bottle on the desk.

Eliot dabbed some of the tincture on the pads of his fingers, set the bottle back down. “Now,” he said, voice smooth, almost clinical, “you might feel a little tingle in your grey matter.” Quirk of his mouth, silent laugh brightening his features. Leaning forward and pressing his fingers right to Quentin’s temples. “But it shouldn’t hurt.”

The moment exploded around them like a flash bulb going off. Eliot muttered an incantation in a language Quentin didn’t recognize. Something Baltic maybe, he couldn’t be sure. A sparkle of something bright and airy tugging at his brain. Clever swirl of Eliot’s fingers. The moment was over just as Quentin was allowing his focus to drift from a spot on Eliot’s cheek down to his mouth.

“There,” Eliot said, pulling back. “Tighter than a—” He laughed softly, moving the air between them, a soft little puff against Quentin’s parted mouth. “Well. You know. You should be all right for a while.”

Something hypnotic bouncing between them like a magnetic charge. It would have been so easy for Quentin to shut his eyes, and rest his head on Eliot’s knee, and allow the drag of subspace to ferry him under. “Um,” he pushed out, all sloppy-tongued and woozy. “Thank you. Um—” He drew a breath, allowing himself the momentary weightlessness of meeting Eliot’s gaze. “Is this—is this what the psychics do?”

Eliot grinned, a momentary reflex that settled in the time it took Quentin to blink. “No,” he said, tucking a strand of hair behind Quentin’s ear. “Um, it’s my own secret brew. Much more secure than whatever new age hocus pocus the mind sluts are using. No one’s getting up there now unless you really want them to.”

Eliot’s hand pushed under the collar of Quentin’s thin jacket, resting in the dip between his neck and shoulder. A familiar gesture. Quentin’s body settled against it like an old friend. He could see it in his mind’s eye then, the way it all would happen. Crashing forward, their mouths coming together in the rush. Quentin crawling into Eliot’s lap, panting and covetous. The way they would rut against each other until they were on the verge of orgasm with all their clothes still on. Spinning apart, making their way over to the bed. Their clothes coming off in a flurry of warm mouths and bruising fingers.

Sex magic. Subspace or something like it.

Hating himself when the twinkling lights going supernova in his brain settled to a flicker and there was nothing left between them but cold air and time.

Quentin had the front of Eliot’s shirt bunched up in his fist, completely detached from any memory of having done so. His other hand was curving over Eliot’s knee, angling for the flesh of his thigh. Utterly indifferent to the consequences of its hunger.

He flinched and pulled away. Eliot did the same.

Desperate to find his way back to something like sanity, Quentin pushed out the first words that came to the fore of his mind. “So are you and Wyatt, like, a thing now?”

Eliot’s brows knitted together, his expression a mockery of confusion. “Me and who?”

“Don’t be a dick,” Quentin said, trying—and failing—to keep his tone light and casual. “You know who I mean. Last night...”

Silence settled between them like an enemy. Eliot turned back to his notebook. “Oh,” he said, giving an airy little wave of his hand. “Him. Right.” He huffed a laugh, all air and indifference. “He’s been begging to blow me for weeks. Heard some… rumor.” Another laugh as his gaze flicked over to Quentin for a flash of a second. “Pathetic, really. But I was bored, and he was there, and I—” He sighed and leaned back in his chair. “It was hardly worth the trouble. I didn’t even finish.”

Quentin suddenly flushed with shame, understanding perfectly how he must look. There on his knees begging for whatever Eliot was willing to give him. Picking at the wound until it opened and gushed. Wanting, in the deepest spaces of his heart, for Eliot to tell him something that really, truly hurt.

“I, um—” he swallowed, turned away, stumbling up to his feet all sideways. “I should let you get back. To your studying.”

“Yes,” Eliot said, offering Quentin a sidelong glance. “Of course.”

Heat flared at the base of Quentin’s skull. Sweet sting of a thousand memories cutting him straight to the quick. In each of them, Eliot reached out, and pulled Quentin forward, and kissed him on the mouth.

It was like a window had been shut between them. Quentin had to reach over and steady himself on the desk to keep from falling over.

He took a breath, then wobbled over to the doorway, leaned against it, sparing Eliot a glance over his shoulder. “Goodnight, Eliot,” he said.

Eliot looked up, the end of his pen pressed firmly to the seam of his lips. As though he’d lost himself so quickly to whatever he was pretending to care about he’d completely forgotten Quentin was there. “Goodnight,” he said, tiny ghost of a smile curling the edges of his mouth upward.

Quentin turned away, and went down the hall to his own bedroom, and shut himself inside.

Columbia University
December 2013

Weeks passed. Winter settled around the city with her icy hands. Quentin and Eliot felt none of it. The chill could never reach them beyond the white-hot walls of their sanctuary. That’s how Quentin had come to think of the room at the end of the hall on the fourth floor of the East Campus dorm: a sacred space. Passing over the threshold and into all that golden light felt like shifting into another dimension. Enchanted glow of their temple kissing every dip and blemish of their sweat-slick skin, the world beyond the frosted-over windows entirely forgotten.

The week of finals came and went. Quentin hardly registered the days. Somehow, he found himself tumbling out on the other side with his GPA intact.

Time slipped away from him like water. Quentin tried to hold onto the hours, desperate to stave off the terrible reality that was winter break looming like a monster at the end of the semester. They technically didn’t have to be out of their dorms until two days before Christmas, and Quentin was determined to move through the motions of packing at a snails-fucking pace.

He planned on being back on campus a full week before the new semester began. Still, Quentin was staring down a solid two weeks in Jersey away from Eliot. A dreadful fourteen days and change in the ‘burbs. A life sentence as far as his heart was concerned.

Julia was growing restless, but Quentin couldn’t be bothered to care. He spent nearly every night of the week after finals locked away in Eliot’s room. Deep down in subspace for hours with his collar on. Drifting away into dreams with Eliot’s soft dick in the warmth of his mouth. Once, Eliot strapped his wrists to his ankles and spent what felt like hours eating him out. Quentin’s tears that night soaked clean through the sheets and down into the mattress.

But the Monday before Christmas—their very last day on campus before break—Eliot suddenly disappeared. The subdrop that morning had hit Quentin like an anvil, and Eliot wasn’t answering his texts. A coil of anxiety nestled darkly in his belly. For all Quentin knew, Eliot had already made his exit for the semester, and he hadn’t even bothered saying goodbye.

He sat in the commons lounge with Julia, eyes glued to the blank screen of his phone. It was like the perfect storm of misery, his brain crashing on today of all days with Eliot nowhere to be found.

“Q, seriously, let’s just go,” Julia said, eying him over her paper cup of vending machine coffee. “Or are we still waiting on The Professor to text us back?”

Quentin frowned, tapping the screen of his phone, finding no new notifications behind the blackness. “You know, Jules,” he said with a sigh, “you could have just gone ahead to my dad’s without me. Or—I don’t know. There’s your mom’s place on Park Avenue. Your mom’s place in Tribeca. Your mom’s place in—”

“Yeah, okay, I get your point.” She frowned down into her cup. “But that doesn’t answer my question.”

He tapped the screen again, his Fillory wallpaper and nothing more popping up to greet him. “I have one last bag in my room I need to grab.”

She popped up from her spot on the sofa, shot back the last dregs of her coffee, and tossed the cup into the trash. “Then let’s go get it.”

He trailed miserably behind her back to East Campus, shivering beyond the heavy scarf coiled around his neck, dread so thick in his stomach he thought he might be sick with it by the time they made it to his room. Weeks without Eliot looming on the horizon, and he wasn’t even going to get a goodbye kiss to tide him over.

Quentin saw it the moment he opened the door and stepped inside. There on his neatly made bed next to his duffel: a box wrapped in golden paper and tied with a champagne colored bow.

His heart felt weightless at the sight of it. At his back, Julia said something that Quentin didn’t register. Her voice sounded like it was coming through on AM radio. Background static as Quentin’s focus narrowed. In his mind’s eye, seeing Eliot’s elegant hands at work...

Wingbeats battering his insides, he plucked the little card out from underneath the ribbon. Flipping it over, his eyes running over the elegant scrawl so quickly he had to read it three times for any of the words to make sense.

Q,

Since I won’t be there to keep you warm over break.

Above where he’d signed the first initial of his name, Eliot had drawn a little heart. Quentin pressed his thumb into its center, for a split second swearing he could feel it pulse.

“E?” Julia’s voice broke in the though the fog, She was going up on her toes, peeking over his shoulder. “Oh, come on. You’ve gotta give me something more than—”

“Jules,” Quentin heard himself say, reaching out, pressing the pads of his fingers to the box. The paper Eliot had chosen like velvet under his touch. “Can I just… have a second.”

“What’s in the box, hm?” She nudged him in the shoulder. “Nipple clamps? A paddle? Oh, what if he got you one of those—”

“Jules!” He hadn’t meant to shout, heart thumping at the speed of light under his heavy coat. “Please.”

Julia held up her hands, backing away in the direction of the door with a smirk tugging at her mouth. “Whatever,” she said, reaching for the doorknob. “Five minutes, Coldwater. And no getting freaky with whatever lover man left for you in that box. There’ll be plenty of time for that in the ‘burbs.”

She stepped out into the hall and shut the door. Quentin’s heart ticked off-kilter inside his chest, like a broken clock. A thin shaft of winter light spilled in through the window and fell over the box on the bed. He touched it again, fingers gliding delicately over the ribbon. Grabbing one end and giving it a tug, watching the bow slip free from itself and collapse.

Warmth prickled at the base of Quentin’s spine. He removed the ribbon from the box, running it through his hands with a quiet reverence before setting it aside. The wrapping paper Eliot had used was decadent. High-end, luxury stuff. The sort of thing Quentin’s gifts from Julia’s mother always used to come wrapped up in when they were kids. Paper so thick it might have been fabric. All the corners perfectly creased, the ends so seamless it took Quentin a long moment to find a space to slip his finger in and pop it open.

He held his breath, carefully extracting the gift from its shell. The box inside was sturdy as a wooden chest. Quentin took a moment to breathe, anticipation nipping hotly at the base of his skull. A feeling that was as much excitement as it was knee-quivering terror.

Ripping off the bandaid, Quentin flipped the top of the box open and held his breath. It took a moment for his brain to catch up with his eyes and process what he was seeing.

It was one of Eliot’s cardigans. His favorite one, in fact. Some soft old vintage thing he’d thrifted and spruced up with new tortoise shell buttons. A forest green so dark it looked black in dim light. Quentin pressed his palm into the soft knit, trailing fingers over a button. Hesitating for a long moment before plucking it free from its box.

Stop. Breathe. Quentin clutched the cardigan in his hands and pulled it toward him with his entire body. Bringing it to his nose and breathing in until the scent of Eliot was so overwhelming it was like he was there in the room. Lingering just out of Quentin’s line of sight. Looming in the dark cloud of a shadow, waiting for his moment to crash their bodies together and give Quentin the proper goodbye he’d been longing for.

Almost immediately, Quentin started to panic. Somehow, this felt like a gift far too intimate to share with another person. If it had been sex toys inside the box, he thought that would have been preferable. The idea of Julia seeing this—this sacred object, something for him to wrap his body in behind the locked privacy of his bedroom door—felt like slashing open his heart and letting it bleed all over her shoes.

He unzipped his duffel in a hurry and shoved the cardigan straight down to the bottom, under his neatly folded stacks of jeans and button downs. Like a teenager hiding a dirty magazine under a mattress. He didn’t know what else to do.

He slipped the card into his pocket and took a moment to breathe.

Feeling like he’d just committed a crime, Quentin zipped the bag shut and carried it out into the hall.

Brakebills University
October 2015

Over the years, Quentin had grown accustomed to a certain level of misery. His baseline had always been something of a dull ache. He carried it around like a stone in his pocket. Sometimes he thought he wouldn’t know what to do with himself if suddenly it were gone.

Learning to live with Eliot without having him felt like just another stone. A little heavier at first, but over time the sort of thing he got used to. As they danced around each other for weeks on end, Quentin became something of a master of avoidance. Learning the sound of Eliot’s footfalls on the stairs in a way that was almost Pavlovian. Ducking around corners at the first strains of his resonant laughter cutting through the silence.

Sometimes, in the middle of the night, Quentin would stand in the dark hallway outside Eliot’s room, pretending he was going to knock. Once, he actually raised his hand, only stopping himself when the sound of a voice that wasn’t Eliot’s rose high and sharp with pleasure somewhere beyond the door.

He went to class when he had to. His magic still half-blocked, passing his exams by the skin of his teeth. By some miracle, he hadn’t been summoned to Dean Fogg’s office again. Mostly, everyone saw fit to leave him alone. Even Julia, who’d grown so close to Margo that Quentin was almost certain they had to be fucking. He thought he was happy for her. As happy as he could manage to be for anyone. At least someone was learning to scrape a little joy out of the utter shitshow that was being alive.

Halloween just so happened to fall on a Saturday, and the party Eliot and Margo put on was appropriately over the top. Everyone on campus packed into the Cottage, spilling up the stairs and into the bedrooms. So many bodies Quentin felt choked by their presence. He was pretty sure he spied a professor or two in the mix. There was no getting away from it, or getting away from Eliot, who was tending bar dressed as a king of some nondescript foreign land, jewels glittering in the crown perched like a halo on his head, a swell of dramatic chamber music accompanying his display.

He was so beautiful it made Quentin’s stomach turn.

Clouds of smoke dancing like sprites on the air. Flickering lights and writhing, costumed bodies draping themselves across one another like hungry animals. Quentin curled up on the window seat, clutching a pillow to his chest like a shield, tucked into a corner and doing his damndest to make himself invisible. He hadn’t bothered with a costume, because what the fuck was the point of even trying to pretend this year anyway.

It came as no great surprise to see Julia and Margo tucked into a darkened corner making out, hands pawing at each other through their costumes. Julia was dressed as the Watcherwoman, if the Watcherwoman saw fit to wear a glorified bikini under her cloak and little else. Margo was probably a pirate, in a brocade overcoat and leather pants, a frilly white blouse with a neckline that plunged down nearly to her navel. An elaborate, embroidered eyepatch blanking out one of her eyes.

Cackles of laughter rose high above the strains of Eliot’s ridiculous music. Quentin pulled the partial pack of cigarettes he’d bummed from Julia earlier in the week out of his pocket and stuck one between his lips, lighting it with a sputtering flame that flickered from the pad of his finger. He slumped into his corner smoking as miserably as he felt. Watching bodies shift and move like an ocean made of flesh. Watching lovers kiss and touch until he could hardly stand the sight of another living person.

Quentin stubbed out his half-smoked cigarette in the nearest ashtray, deciding he was feeling just self destructive enough to ask Eliot to make him a drink.

He pushed through the throngs and trudged over to the bar. When Eliot caught sight of him, he offered Quentin his more practiced, unaffected smile, passing a martini down the bar to someone in an elaborate bear costume and clasping his hands together.

“Quentin,” he said with an elegant little tip of his head. Looking so unbelievably regal in his get-up Quentin wanted to throw a drink in his stupid perfect magnificent face. “What can I get you?”

He took a breath, giving Eliot his most heartfelt scowl. “You know what I like,” he said, his voice coming out entirely too small for his body. “Surprise me.”

Eliot smirked, reaching for a glass. “Something strong and neat, I think,” he said, hand wrapping around a bottle of bourbon, tipping it over, pouring Quentin a double.

Their eyes met when Eliot set the drink on the bar, and pushed it closer, the glittering lights and the smoke and the music and the din of a hundred people all talking at once suddenly nothing more than white noise itching at the corner of his mind. A slow motion replay he was watching on a screen. The quirk of Eliot’s mouth, the way his crown caught the light and shot it back out in an array of colorful sparks.

Quentin’s breathing slowed and then picked up again. Heat on his face like he was being held over a fire. Sweat pouring down the back of his shirt. Quentin felt his hand wrapping around the glass but registered nothing but the kick of his own pulse in his neck. The way Eliot’s gaze swept over him like a warm breeze. They watched each other for a handful of agonizing seconds, and when someone touched Quentin on the arm he nearly jumped out of his shoes. Everything came rushing back in, like the volume being cranked up on a stereo. Total sensory overload. Quentin downed half his drink before turning around.

Julia greeted him with a drunken grin, stumbling a little as she used his arm to steady herself. “Shit, Q,” she said with a little laugh, “there you are. Shit—” Another laugh, tottering a little underneath her heavy cloak. “I forgot to tell you. Um…”

“Jules.” He took her by the arm, Eliot’s gaze burning a hole clean through the back of his skull. “Maybe you should go sit down.”

She wrenched out of his grasp with a sound that could only be described as a giggle. “Shut up. No. Listen, Q—” Quentin felt dizzy just looking at her. She wobbled, and leaned heavily against the edge of the bar. “Listen, I talked to James.”

The floor under Quentin’s shoes pitched like the deck of a ship. “Okay. Um—” He glanced over at Eliot, who was doing his best to make himself look busy. “How—”

“He knows you’re not at Yale,” Julia slurred. “I was gonna tell you earlier, but then—”

“Wait.” Quentin’s heart dropped like a boulder into his belly. “What the fuck are you—how does he—what did you tell him?”

“I didn’t tell him shit.” Julia’s drunken gaze barreled into him. “I mean, you haven’t talked to him in what? Two months? So—” She pushed away from the bar with a stumble and a shrug. “You gotta talk to him, okay? I don’t wanna get in the middle of your shit.”

“Jules—”

“Nope. Not a chance, Coldwater,” she cut him off with an intoxicated wave of her hand, reaching behind the bar and snatching up a bottle of rum, raising it to Eliot in a lopsided toast. “And you… can go fuck yourself.”

Before she had a chance to stumble away, Margo was suddenly there, slinging an arm around her shoulders, snatching the bottle in one swift motion and setting it back on the bar. “Not so fast, Little Drunk Riding Hood,” she said, shooting Eliot a grin over her shoulder as she led Julia away. “I think it’s high time we got you some water, hm?”

Quentin took a breath, the air thick and heavy as quicksand pressing down on his shoulders. The room in his vision tipped at odd angles, like looking at the world through a funhouse mirror. Eliot behind the bar making a drink for someone in a green latex bodysuit, his eyes fixed firmly on Quentin as he cast a spell to tip three bottles all at once into a highball glass.

He slammed back the last of his drink and set the glass down on the bar. It burned all the way to the bottom.

Quentin turned away from Eliot, still burning, and headed for the door. Down the steps and out onto the lawn. Night air cutting straight through the thin fabric of his button down. Eliot called his name from behind and Quentin froze, flesh prickling like a warning. Orpheus in the Underworld with nothing left to lose but himself. Don’t look back, don’t look back, don’t look—

“Quentin.”

Gulping down a lungful of chilly air, spinning on his heels. The sight of Eliot standing in the doorway was enough to send his stomach hurtling straight down into his shoes.

“Is everything okay?”

“You know, you ask the stupidest questions!” Quentin shouted without thinking.

Even in the dark, even with every feature of Eliot’s face obscured in backlit shadow, Quentin could feel him smirking. “I only meant—it’s the middle of the night.”

“I have to talk to my boyfriend.”

The words came out of Quentin’s mouth pure venom. Aimed like a stinger right for Eliot’s throat.

“It’s Halloween, Quentin,” Eliot said, like that was supposed to mean anything when he could feel the literal world literally crumbling under the weight of his heart. “I’m sure whatever it is can wait until morning.”

“Yeah, well, I’m sure it’s not any of your business.”

Quentin took one lumbering step backward, uncertain what he was even running toward. There would be nothing he could salvage with James on the other side of this mess. Not that it even mattered anymore. Not that it ever had.

Still.

“Come inside,” Eliot said. “I’ll make you another drink.”

“I don’t want—” Quentin clenched his fists so tightly it was a wonder his bones didn’t snap. “You know, sometimes I think you actually enjoy this. I mean why else would you—” He filled his lungs, held onto the burn, pushing it out only when he was certain he could keep himself from screaming. “Just go back to your party, Eliot. Unless—” He had to laugh at himself then, before he even said the words. “Unless there’s something you’d actually like to say to me.”

Chamber music filtered out through the open doorway like a draft. Throb of crickets, silver moon bashing its light over his head through a thin swoop of clouds. The way his chest felt too full and empty all at once. Eliot pressed his body against the doorframe, his long legs sticking out at an angle, the sharp lines of his shadow ink-dark against the shifting interior light.

“I—” His voice started and stopped, clipping itself off the way a window shuts. “Quentin…” Silence filled him for a beat. Quentin felt the warm breath moving out of him and shriveling against the chill. “Come inside.”

“No.” Quentin held up a hand, uncertain if he were rejecting Eliot or the sound of his own name. “No, no, I…”

The words all disintegrated on his tongue. Crumbling like ruins. Slipping down the ladder of his ribcage and dying at his feet. He turned from the dark imprint of Eliot’s silhouette glimmering like a mirage through the tears threatening in his eyes, started moving away from him somehow.

The Cottage at his back grew smaller, the way a memory fades. Leaves kicking up under the heavy soles of his shoes. Quentin felt empty enough to blow away. Lighter than the white cloud of his breath, whisper-thin against the heavy blanket of dark.

An ellipsis hanging on at the end of a sentence, waiting for permission. Even as Quentin was moving away, clinging to the ghost of the words he knew would never come.

Brooklyn
October 2015

Professor Sunderland wasn’t happy when Quentin showed up at her room in the faculty dorm asking to be portaled into the city, but she agreed to do it anyway. Not that he’d given her much of a choice, thrusting this problem into her lap in the middle of the night, knowing she would want to get rid of him as quickly as possible. She was dressed up like Samantha from Bewitched, and Quentin was pretty sure he spied several other scantily-clad members of the faculty passing a joint back and forth sitting on her bed.

“I won’t bother asking why this can’t wait until morning,” she said, weaving the portal in a neat rectangle on the wall opposite her doorway. She didn’t bother finishing the sentence, but Quentin understood the subtle language of her eyes like a native speaker: You saw nothing, you were never here.

She finished the enchantment and Quentin stepped through into an alleyway in Prospect Heights a half-block from James’ apartment. Turning back around, he watched as the portal sealed itself shut, the image of Sunderland on the other side going with it like a television being clicked off. Its magic hanging on the air like a heartbeat for a long moment before fizzing away.

The scent of the city was overwhelming after so much time spent in relative isolation on campus. Industrial smells, wet asphalt, the dumpsters lining the alleyway like checkpoints. Quentin didn’t have his wallet or his keys or his phone. He didn’t even think it mattered if James was home. It only mattered that Quentin kept moving in the direction of his own hollow pain.

He made the journey up to the sixth floor on autopilot. Suddenly standing outside of the little apartment he used to sometimes think of as home. He raised his hand and knocked, hardly making a sound. Gentle rapping of bone against wood. He only had to wait a moment or two.

When James answered, dressed in his pajamas and wrapped up in his robe, eyes red-rimmed and puffy, Quentin didn’t feel anything at all. His emotions delayed or gone entirely. Like he’d stepped out on the other side of Sunderland’s portal a shed skin in place of a person.

“Quentin.” James’ eyes grew to the size of dinner plates, his voice some brittle, crumbling thing. “Do I even wanna ask how you’re here right now?”

“Um—” A laugh puffed out of Quentin’s chest, all airy and light with performance, like he might be popping in for a cup of tea with an old friend. “Can I come in?”

James clenched his jaw, offered a shrug. “It’s your apartment too, Quentin,” he said. “I didn’t change the locks, I—”

“I don’t have my key. It’s…” He breathed, shook his head. “It’s a long story, um—”

“This whole time…” James paused, fixing Quentin with his watery gaze. “This whole time you haven’t been at Yale.”

“I haven’t been at Yale,” Quentin said. “I don’t know if I can explain.”

James moved aside, ushering Quentin into the dimly lit apartment without a word. They sat on the sofa, bodies curving toward each other but not touching. Silence filling the gaps in between the seconds. Quentin kept his eyes fixed on his own hands, opening his mouth and snapping it shut without speaking a half dozen times before he could get the words to come.

“I didn’t want to lie to you,” he said finally. It sounded like bullshit because it was. He’d never particularly cared if James knew about Brakebills or not. “I—”

“Just tell me something,” James cut him off, voice clipped and terse. “Is it him?”

Quentin felt that, raised his eyes. Something like shame lancing his heart without mercy. “James, I—”

“You know, I went to Connecticut. To see you.” There was a manic edge to the way James spoke, glass on the verge of breaking. He laughed like it was the only thing left holding him together. “It was the stupidest fucking thing. I—I made so many excuses for why I hadn’t heard from you for so long, why your phone never seemed to be working. Julia’s too. But at least she was calling to check in every now and then, and—” He laughed again, a sound that lurched out of his throat like a sob. “Anyway, a few days ago I decided—fuck it. Because apparently I have to make a total fool of myself and drive all the way to a school my boyfriend isn’t actually attending for it to finally sink in.”

Quentin was a bad person. It hadn’t fully hit him until that moment: Quentin Coldwater was a bad person who hurt people he cared about on purpose. Obsessive and cruel in the way that he fixated on the one person he could never have. A child screaming for dessert before dinner.

He swallowed, throat clicking like a stalled out engine. “If I tell you,” he said, “you won’t believe me anyway.”

James’ bloodshot eyes were hollow. “Is that really what you came here to tell me? That you’re not going to tell me anything.”

He would have done a spell right then, but there was no magic inside of him to give. Not a flicker or a spark.

“I mean, Julia being cagey is… whatever,” James continued, eyes set somewhere beyond Quentin now. Gazing blankly into the middle distance. “She wasn’t the one sleeping in my bed and—” He pinched the bridge of his nose, ran a hand over the top of his head. “I knew you were still in love with him. With Eliot.” He said the name like a curse. “And I accepted that.”

“James—”

“Don’t.” Jaw clenched, James put his hand up. “I knew this would never be some great love affair, Quentin, but we’ve—I mean, since we were kids, we—” He shook his head. “I thought if I just gave it more time.”

“I’m sorry.”

“No, you’re not.” The words came out flat as the edge of a blade. Aimed like a dagger, finding Quentin’s throat with precision. “If you were sorry you—” He looked at Quentin now, his gaze a deep, blank cavern. “You never would have let any of this happen to begin with.”

Blurred, like a smudge against the side of a glass. That’s how Quentin felt watching James rise to his feet and leave the room. A moment later, he came back, clutching something in his hand.

“Here,” he said, tossing the something into Quentin’s lap. A little box. It tumbled from Quentin’s lap down onto the floor between his feet.

“What is—” Quentin wrapped his hand around the box and understood what it was right away. “Oh.”

“I got it after you left, thinking—” He tossed up his hands, like he was trying to snatch his own words out of the air. “I don’t know what I was thinking. But I’m tired of looking at it. Take it, throw it in the Hudson. I don’t really care anymore.”

James turned his back, gazing out through the slats of the blinds to the night sky beyond. Light pollution swallowing stars. Quentin held the little box in his hand like a pet, tipping open the lid and recoiling at the sight of the ring nestled against the velveteen interior.

A slim gold band, understated. Undeniable in its intent. Quentin shut the lid. “James, I—”

“You can go now,” James said over his shoulder, the grit in his voice like buckshot aimed at the soft flesh of Quentin’s belly. “I don’t even know why you’re here.”

Nothing. There was nothing he could say. He stood and shoved the box into the pocket of his jeans.

On the end table, a photograph. Three sets of eyes cutting into him. The frozen image of three ghosts captured in another life. Quentin, Julia, James. Coney Island on the last day of summer before their senior year of high school. Wind-swept and grinning after one too many rides on the Cyclone. Arms thrown around each other like their bodies knew no end.

It felt like a living thing. Quentin had to look away. He dragged his body out into the hall, the ring inside his pocket weighing him down like another heavy stone.

Columbia University
December 2013

Julia nudged Quentin in the side. “So what was in the box, hm?” she asked, her words forming on the air like puffy cartoon clouds.

Quentin gripped the strap of his bag a little tighter. “None of your business,” he said with a playful smirk.

They were traipsing through the quad like time had come to a standstill. Slow scrape of boots over frosty pavement. Now that they were leaving, Julia seemed to be in no hurry. The car she never drove waiting for them in an off-campus parking garage, trunk stuffed to the gills with the bags they’d packed last week.

“I knew it,” she said, cheeks rosy and pink as she flashed him a toothy grin. “He totally got you a sex toy.”

“You’re a freak,” Quentin teased, heart pounding like he’d just finished running a marathon.

“Yeah, well, I’m not the one getting sex toys for Christmas from my professor, so...”

Quentin huffed a little laugh. Lighter than the winter air on his cheeks, that’s the way he felt. The cardigan in his bag like an amulet keeping the cold at bay. An unspoken promise that winter’s chill would never touch him again.

On the walkway in front of the library Quentin froze in his tracks, warmth prickling at the back of his neck like suddenly the whole campus was on fire. Julia, two steps ahead now, stopped, turned, pulled a face. Opening her mouth to speak, it wasn’t her words that came out—

“Quentin.”

His heart stopped cold in his chest, then soared. He’d know that voice by the touch of its vibrations alone. The lilt of it encoded into the fabric of his DNA. Eliot, suddenly there. At Quentin’s back, touching his shoulder, spinning him around so quickly it was like the world was ending in a spiral of color and air.

Quentin dropped his bag to the ground.

A deep, resonant thumping in his ears. Quentin couldn’t feel the edges of his own body. Eliot’s hands were on his face and he was crashing their mouths together. Quentin white knuckled the lapels of Eliot’s coat in a last-ditch effort to keep his body upright, allowing himself to be kissed until his knees turned to water.

One of Eliot’s hands found Quentin’s neck beneath the bundle of his scarf. Quentin’s pulse pummeled the center of his palm like a hammer striking sparks. Levitation, a shifting of gravity under his heavy boots. His body spinning out and shattering like a mosaic of stars against the pavement. The velvet glide of Eliot’s tongue the only thing that could piece him back together.

Quentin didn’t draw a single breath for a long moment after Eliot broke the kiss, their hands clinging to each other the way autumn clings to summer. He surged forward, mindless, searching, wanting, and Eliot pressed the pad of his thumb to the center of Quentin’s mouth.

“Merry Christmas, Quentin,” he said, a whisper into the shifting air between their lips.

Eliot pulled away suddenly, and Quentin thought he was going to collapse. He could only stand there watching as the sight of his body grew dimmer. The long line of his back beneath his overcoat. The heat of him already dying away. The sound of his footfalls receding into silence. Eliot’s elegant gait carried him so quickly he was nothing more than an inky smudge against the backdrop of the campus by the time Quentin remembered he wasn’t actually alone.

The whole experience registered like a hallucination the second it had ended. He turned to Julia the way a body wakes up from a bad dream.

“Holy fucking shit, Q,” she said, grinning like a kid on Christmas morning, practically bouncing out of her shoes. “The Professor is Eliot Waugh?!”

Chapter Text

Brooklyn
November 2015

Quentin felt a lever turn inside his chest, the source of his magic eking out a spark. Enough at least to send a message to Julia back at Brakebills. One of those little enchanted paper airplanes they’d learned his first week in Practical Applications that he never could get to fly quite right. He scrawled his SOS on a cocktail napkin and watched it flutter away like the world’s saddest butterfly. The universe took pity on him. Quentin figured he was probably due.

She met him at a bar on Washington Avenue. It was just past noon and Quentin had been up all night wandering the city, smoking cigarettes and entertaining the idea of walking to the East River just to watch James’ ring sink down to the murky bottom.

He’d smoked his last cigarette hours ago, and the ring was still tucked away inside its little box in the pocket of his jeans.

Quentin was shitfaced. Absolutely out of his mind. Julia slid into the corner booth next to him, slid him his wallet and his phone, nudged him in the shoulder.

“Not getting carded anymore, hm?”

Quentin scowled into the dregs of his whiskey. “I think the bartender feels sorry for me.”

“Yeah, well, come on,” she said, already pulling away. “The portal’s still open in the alley so we can—”

“No,” Quentin slurred, the sour rot of a bellyful of booze rising in his throat like venom. “I’m not—” He waved her off, downed the thin remnants at the bottom of his glass, slammed the empty glass down on the table. “I’m not going back to Brakebills.”

Julia sighed. “Look, Q, I’m like… really fucking hungover right now,” she said. “I’m not gonna give you shit about any of this, or even ask you to tell me what happened with James. I just wanna go back to my bed and sleep until tomorrow.”

Quentin did a tut, tried to move his empty glass across the table. It didn’t even budge. “You know, I slept with him,” he said, sliding his glassy eyes over to her face.

She furrowed her brows at him. “James?”

“Eliot.” he averted his gaze, pressing the points of his fingers to the glass and giving it a shove. Watching it skate clean to the other side of the table. “During one of our sessions, when he was still my tutor. I asked him to fuck me and he just—he did.”

“Oh, for fuck’s—”

“And you wanna know what the worst part is?” He let a moment of silence settle on the air between them, thick as fog. “I didn’t, um—I didn’t even think about James at all. When it happened, or after. And I didn’t feel bad—” He laughed, a bitter sound that rang hollow as a bell inside his chest. “Well, okay—I felt like shit. But not because I’d cheated on James. I didn’t give a fuck about that.”

“Q.” She touched his arm and made him flinch. “You’re wasted.”

“Yeah,” he said. “I am.”

She tugged on the sleeve of his shirt. “We can talk about this after you’ve slept it off, okay?”

He turned to face her slowly, his whiskey-addled brain slogging ten paces behind. “Do you think that makes me a terrible person?”

“Q.”

“That I just—” He gave an airy, limp little wave of his hand. “I just don’t give a shit about someone who’s been my friend for—for my whole fucking life.”

Her face twisted into something that might have resembled pity beyond the veil of his double vision. “I think…” She paused, and he could see that she was choosing her words very carefully. “I think you’re hurting, Q. And I think you’ve been hurting for a really long time. And… you should probably get up and come home with me now.”

Home. Quentin wanted to laugh, or break something. Break himself, break the world. Scream until the bartender kicked him out on his ass. That word—what the fuck was it supposed to mean anymore? Alien syntax anesthetizing his tongue. A tunnel with no light at the end, the dark and open throat of it stretching on and on.

“Come on,” Julia said, sliding out of the booth and rising to her feet. “Let’s go.”

Quentin watched her from his perch for a long moment. Underneath the glow of the pendant light hanging like a fallen star over the table. All her features dimmed and sliding into wavy, haunted shadows. When he finally relented, it was for entirely selfish reasons alone: he didn’t think he had it in him to lose another friend this week.

He tottered over to the bar and paid his tab and over-tipped. The bartender thanked him with the same pitying look they’d been giving him since the moment the sign on the door had flipped to open. He followed Julia outside and into the alleyway next to the bar, followed her through the portal back to Brakebills, letting it swallow him whole.

The Lincoln Tunnel
Somewhere Between Manhattan and New Jersey
December 2013

They’d been stuck in traffic for an hour.

“I know you’re not actually sleeping,” Julia said from behind the wheel.

Quentin, who wasn’t actually sleeping, peeked at her out of the corner of his eye, but didn’t lift his head from where it was resting against the window. The car crawled along under the Hudson for half a breath before stopping again. Quentin felt like a prisoner in a tiny metal cage. Trapped in the midst of a mass exodus of the city. All he wanted to do was make it to his dad’s already and lock himself inside his room for two solid weeks and maybe never make eye contact with Julia again.

“You know, you don’t have to be embarrassed,” she said, drumming her fingers against the steering wheel to the song that was droning out of the speakers at such a low volume Quentin couldn’t make it out. “I mean—” She huffed a little laugh from her nose. “Okay, he is sort of a loser, but—”

Quentin groaned with his entire chest, lifted his head, and frowned at her in the dim glow of the tunnel lights. “How is he a loser?” His voice faltered, his brain unable to process that this conversation was even happening. The shock of the encounter and its aftermath still coursed in his system like a narcotic.

“Oh, come on,” Julia laughed, the car rolling forward approximately six inches before stopping again. “You’ve seen the way he acts at parties. Like nothing could ever touch him, like he doesn’t care about anything but getting high and fucking. The way he dresses—” She laughed again. “I’m sorry.” She shot him a sympathetic look as she rolled the car forward another inch or two. “You have to know it’s all bullshit, right?”

Quentin turned away, pressed his forehead to the cool window glass. “You don’t know anything about him,” he said very quietly, nearly choking on the end of the sentence that he couldn’t speak. The and neither do I, not really of it all.

Julia clicked off the radio and sighed into the silence. “I’m sorry,” she said. “Look, I’m not trying to be a bitch.”

“Could’ve fooled me,” Quentin grumbled, folding his arms over his chest, pressing himself firmly against the door, like he was trying to pass right through it. The unbreakable promise of Eliot’s cardigan tucked away in his duffel behind the seat like a siren song.

She huffed a laugh out of her nose and let the silence settle between them. The car moved and stopped and moved again. Just when Quentin was actually starting to doze, she started in once more.

“So are you going to tell me what he got you for Christmas now?”

“No,” Quentin muttered with a tremendous sigh. He could see her smiling without even opening his eyes.

Another stretch of silence followed. Quentin knew it wouldn’t hold.

“He’s so tall,” she said thirty seconds or an hour later. “I never pictured you with a tall guy. I don’t know why.”

“Jules.”

“Sex with tall guys is fun, though,” she said, punctuating her words with a full-on giggle. “Has he ever done that thing where he picks you up and slings your legs up over—”

“Oh my god.” Quentin whipped his head around and fixed her with his steely gaze. He could feel the blush spreading over his face at once. “Jules, seriously?”

“God, look at your face.” She cackled from deep inside her belly. “Relax, Q. Don’t be such a prude. You’re getting dicked down real good and I’m—”

“I’m not actually—” Quentin clamped his mouth shut. Shit fuck. His tongue was an enemy that couldn’t be trusted. “Never mind.”

“No, Q, oh my god.” She swatted him on the thigh excitedly, practically bouncing out of her seat. “Tell me.”

Quentin tugged at his scarf and tossed it into the backseat, suddenly over-warm beneath his layers. “I don’t wanna tell you.”

“You so wanna tell me,” she said, waggling her brows, gripping the steering wheel with both hands like they were the sole passengers of the world’s worst carnival ride. “You wanna tell me so bad, Q, you can’t even stand it.”

“No, I—” Fuck. Quentin hated how immediate the desire to air every lurid detail suddenly came on. Now that the secret was out, it was like his tongue had a mind of its own. “Okay—goddammit. You’re not allowed to make fun of me if I—”

“Q, come on. I wouldn’t do that.” She laughed. “I mean, okay—I would. But I won’t. And you know sex isn’t a big deal to me. So come on, spill.”

Quentin took a deep breath of the stuffy, dry air pouring out of the vents and pushed it out. Traffic rolled on at a snails-fucking pace. “Okay, so, um—we haven’t actually, um—you know, like—um.” Another breath, his hands bunching like a pair of bellows in his lap on the exhale. “He hasn’t put his… you know… inside me. So like, technically not, you know—getting dicked down.”

“Okay, um...” She was biting at her lip, the tension in her jaw a tell-tale sign she was trying not to laugh. “Do you want him to?”

“Yes?” Quentin’s face glowed like burning embers. He reached over and clicked off the heat. “Yeah, I—he said he wants to take it slow.”

“Shut up.” Julia looked at Quentin like he’d just told her Santa Claus was real and they were on their way to meet him. “Guys like Eliot Waugh don’t take it slow.”

Quentin shrugged, swallowing around the heart-shaped lump wedging itself in his throat. “He said he wants to, um…” He ran a hand over his hair and ducked his head. “He said he wants to... savor me.”

Julia barked out a laugh so high and sharp Quentin felt it in his bones. “You’re fucking with me,” she said. “He did not actually say that.”

“You said you wouldn’t—” Quentin huffed. “Just forget I said anything.”

“No—hey. Q, shit, I’m sorry, I’m not—” She touched him on the shoulder. “I just mean—you know that he’s like... massively fucking in love with you, right?”

Quentin’s vision suddenly blurred. Beyond the windshield, the tunnel lights dripped like molten rain. “What are you talking about?”

“You can’t seriously be this dense.” One hand on the wheel, Julia rolled the car forward another foot or two. “He wants to savor you? He’s giving you gifts so intimate and personal you can’t even share them with your best friend? That romcom shit with the kiss in the quad? Q—”

“Jules.” Quentin said her name through the tight clench of his teeth. “He’s not—” Unutterable emotion rose thick as oil in his throat. “He’s not.”

“Shit,” she said, sighing out the word. “You’re in love with him too.”

Quentin felt like he’d up and swallowed the sun. Suddenly, traffic started to move. Cars whirring past like brightly-colored comets into the yawning mouth of New Jersey at the other end of the tunnel. Julia’s words bouncing around inside his head like a hand feeling for a latch. Like a final incantation spoken. A key slipping into a lock, and turning. A doorway creaking open...

Quentin swore he could feel the instant that it left him. Breathing his secret out into the world. A splinter of bone piercing through flesh. A bloody heart stumbling in the open palm of his hand. His fist closing desperately around it, trying to keep hold for just a moment longer.

Brakebills University
November 2015

Quentin slept straight through to Monday morning. Over the covers with all his clothes still on. The sort of blank and empty sleep he’d grown accustomed to when his brain had nothing left to give. A neurochemical wasteland too depleted of itself to spare even a single drop for something as trivial as a dream.

He woke feeling like the shell of something that used to be human. Like he’d been all scooped out inside. An exoskeleton left behind the dragging, naked body of an insect. Something that had never been alive to begin with. Forcing himself up to his feet, Quentin stumbled down the hallway to the bathroom. Mechanically, he went through the motions of undressing, showering, brushing his teeth. He stood over the sink and shaved, nicking himself with the final pass of the razor. Watching in the mirror as a thin trickle of blood slipped away from his chin, drawing a line clean down to his throat.

Back in his room, Quentin dressed. Yesterday, before tumbling into bed for his eighteen-hour fit of blackout sleep, he’d placed the ring box from James on his desk. Now, he picked it up, plucking out the thin gold band, slipping it on his finger, holding it up to the light. He watched the metal glint in a washed-out shaft of mid-morning sun. Brilliant as a halo, heavy as a shroud.

He tried to conjure emotions the way he’d once known magic to come to his hands, but there was nothing to be found. Flat and blank as the last empty page in a book. Even worse off now, he knew, than he’d been the very last time he’d checked himself into the hospital in Brooklyn. Or that overcast, dreary morning he’d dragged himself home to James with the perfect understanding that the hospital would never help. That he’d always feel worse coming out than he had going in. That doctors and pills and airy rooms with soft yellow walls and group therapy and talking about how much he secretly wished that his mother still loved him would never succeed in piecing Quentin Coldwater back together again.

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. Nothing happened after. The End.

He left his room, he shut the door. The ring heavy as an anchor wrapped around his finger, his heart beating hollow and dim. He couldn’t even hurt himself properly now, but he figured—maybe. Just maybe he could hurt someone else. Maybe he could make Eliot hurt. Or try, or pretend to. Flaunt the facsimile of happiness in his face until something inside of Eliot snapped. Maybe he could conjure something then, something like a feeling. Something in the shape of revenge.

He went downstairs, glanced at the clock. He should have been in class fifteen minutes ago, but he couldn’t even remember which one. Figured it didn’t matter anymore. Fogg would kick him out or he wouldn’t. The Cottage was quiet. He went to the kitchen and drank a glass of water and stood gazing into the cold light of the fridge thinking about feeding himself, in the end unable to muster a single ounce of the energy it would take to actually get food inside his belly.

Quentin went outside without a jacket on and shivered against the early November chill. Eliot and Margo were in the backyard, having a late morning barbecue and drinking bloody marys like it was the middle of summer. Because of course they were.

Quentin didn’t think, he just moved. Eliot and Margo didn’t notice him at first, but as he tottered down the steps they turned, and Margo pulled a face.

“Hey, Sleeping Beauty,” she purred, hand curled effortlessly over her hip. “Welcome back to the world of the living.”

Quentin clenched his jaw, running a hand over his hair. Doing his best impression of someone who was moderately mentally stable and unaffected by the presence of his ex-whatever. As he took another step closer, he felt his body pass through the veil of an enchantment. A warm bubble of air enveloped them and the little charcoal grill Eliot was tending to. Tutting like a carefree master in a pair of pink and blue plaid shorts.

“I need to talk to you,” Quentin said, and Eliot spared him a fleeting glance, doing a tut and flipping something over on the grill. When Eliot said nothing, Quentin turned to Margo with a sigh. “I need to talk to him alone.”

“Anything you say to him he’s just gonna tell me later,” she said with a little quirk of her mouth. “So you might as well just spit it out.”

“Bambi.” Eliot’s posture went rod-stiff, a flame jumping up from the grill and licking at his fingers. He spun on his heels, took her by the shoulders, kissed the top of her head. “Daddy needs a refill.” He gestured to his empty glass floating on the air.

Quentin felt something then, the way a heartbeat skips. A single pulse of longing for the gentleness of Eliot’s hands. The warmth to be found at the parting of his lips. The pull of it for that one hard instant was nearly enough to send Quentin to his knees.

Margo narrowed her eyes. For a long moment, Quentin watched as she and Eliot engaged in silent conversation. A quiet understanding passed between them. Quentin felt it like a sudden drop in atmospheric pressure. When she finally turned to leave them, Margo’s hand raised in an elegant tut, and Eliot’s empty drink glass followed behind like a cheerful puppy nipping at the heels of its owner.

“So, Quentin,” Eliot said, turning back to the grill with his practiced grace, stoking the flames with a little wave of his hand, “how can I help you this morning?”

Quentin watched the fire flicker and dance. “I need you to be my tutor again,” he said.

Eliot froze, then slowly wheeled his body around. Quentin watched the tendons in his neck draw tight as the strings of a bow. “You can’t be serious right now.”

“I’ll get kicked out if—” He shook his head, meeting Eliot’s gaze head-on. He had to bite at the inside of his lip to keep from losing his nerve. “If I don’t take care of this block. It’s getting worse, and—”

“You had enough juice to send Julia that little airplane,” Eliot cut in with an airy little laugh. “And anyway, you said you didn’t care if you were shit at magic.”

Quentin clenched his jaw, clutching at the tiny stone of anger rising in his belly. “I changed my mind.”

Eliot offered an incredulous grin. “That must have been some talk you had with your… boyfriend.”

Quentin held up his hand, the cuff of his shirt slipping down just enough to expose the blank expanse of his wrist. And above it, James’ ring glinting like a celestial body in the filtered sun. “Fiancé,” he said, something like triumph edged in shame cresting in his throat.

Something in the set of Eliot’s shoulders shifted. His jaw went tight and relaxed in the space of a single breath. “Oh,” he said, turning back to the grill, killing the fire with a snap of his fingers. “Congratulations.”

“Thank you,” Quentin said, the cadence of his voice all wrong. Like someone else had taken possession of his vocal cords. “I can’t afford to be a fuck up if I’m—if I’m getting married.” The word rolled away from his tongue like a wrecking ball. “I have to be a better magician.”

Quentin stood watching the rise and fall of Eliot’s shoulders as he breathed, picturing the poison arrow so neatly hitting its mark. He tried to paint an image in his mind’s eye of Eliot’s expression: the twisting of his pretty mouth, tears welling in his hazel eyes. A boulder of agony lodging in Eliot’s throat. The way his lungs would burn. Allowing himself to believe for a handful of seconds that this might be the moment it would all come crashing to an end. That Eliot would fall to his knees right there in perfect honesty and—

Eliot spun around, an easy smile curling the corners of his mouth. “Our usual time tonight, then?” he said with a casual gesture of his hands.

Quentin bit at his cheek until he tasted blood, answering with an easy nod.

Eliot gave a little nod in return. “Don’t bother with the library. Just come to my room.”

The veil of numb indifference over Quentin’s heart was coming undone, one delicate stitch at a time. “We’re not having sex,” he said, pushing all the words out at once.

Eliot grinned, all teeth. “Of course we’re not having sex, Quentin,” he said. “Don’t be silly. You have a fiancé.”

Quentin swallowed, locked dead-center in the tractor beam of Eliot’s gaze. “Yes,” he said, the clamor of his heart rattling his bones. “I—I do.”

He fidgeted with the ring on his finger. The cool metal was grounding. He focused on the chill and the pounding of his blood. He turned away, stepping out of the warmth of the enchantment and making for the stairs. He couldn’t decide what he was feeling, but it was something. Or the shape of what that something should be. Mimicry, impersonation. Hard and metallic like a hook lodged in the soft flesh of his cheek.

Margo was stepping out onto the porch just then, two freshly made bloody marys twirling around her like burning red planets orbiting her star. She gave him a little smile as he passed by and stepped into the doorway. “Later, Coldwater,” she said.

Quentin said nothing, didn’t look back, feeling Eliot’s eyes on him even after shutting the door.

Ridgewood, New Jersey
December 2013

Quentin’s phone buzzed in his pocket, and his heart zinged to life. He was sitting between his dad and Julia on the sofa in the living room, their faces in the dark illuminated by the pulsing color of television light. They were watching Die Hard—a Christmas tradition, as far as Ted Coldwater was concerned—and Quentin tried to not make a show of it as he reached into his pocket, slipped the phone out, and let his eyes scan over the notification on the over-bright screen.

Eliot. Just seeing his name made Quentin’s pulse skip in his neck at once.

Hey. U alone?

Quentin sucked in a breath, clicked the screen to black, and shoved the phone into his pocket. “I, uh—will you excuse me?” Operation don’t make a show of it instantly failed as he jumped to his feet. “I just—I have to, um—I’ll be right back.”

Julia grinned at him in the dim light, waggling her brows. Her face half-obscured in shadow, Quentin was ninety-percent sure she was making an obscene gesture with her tongue poking into the pocket of her cheek.

“Everything okay, Curly Q?” his dad asked, hand buried in the bowl of popcorn on his lap, briefly tearing his eyes away from the movie to offer a thin smile.

“Yeah, uh—everything’s fine.” Quentin began to slowly back away from the sofa, nearly tripping over his own feet in the process. “Just, you know, uh—too much soda at dinner.”

His dad mumbled something through a mouthful of popcorn that Quentin couldn’t make out. He turned and walked out into the hall with all the grace of a puppy who hadn’t quite figured out the complicated mechanics of putting one paw in front of the other. On the television, an explosion rattled the speakers. The moment he made it to the stairs, Quentin broke out into a full-on sprint up to his room. Once inside, he locked the door and pressed himself back against it. Cradling his phone, pecking out a reply as quickly as his shaking fingers would allow.

Am now………

He held his breath and waited for a response. The screen went black, pitching Quentin into total darkness. He looked at the alarm clock on his nightstand, its fat blue numbers the only light in the world. Two whole minutes passed before the phone began to buzz, the screen bursting to life up with an incoming call from Eliot’s number.

Rhythmic and insistent as a heartbeat in his palm, Quentin nearly dropped the phone in the process of trying to answer. “Hi,” he breathed, voice barely a whisper. He stumbled through the dark and sat down on his bed.

“Hey,” Eliot said, the smile in his voice clear as a photograph. Quentin could see it in his mind’s eye, Eliot’s mouth a perfect bow. “Hope I’m not interrupting anything too important.”

“Nothing important.” Quentin flopped down onto his back, pressing the phone flat against his ear. “Don’t worry.”

“That’s good.” Eliot paused for a long moment. Quentin lay very still, listening to the gentle push-pull of his breathing. “I wanted to apologize,” he said finally, and Quentin felt it fill him like a long, cool drink of something sweet. “For earlier.”

“Um—” Quentin’s brain felt like an empty casing. He could hardly remember what he’d been doing before coming into his room. “Apologize for what?”

“Oh, you know,” Eliot said with an easy little laugh. “In case I embarrassed you in front of your friend. I didn’t mean to—”

“You didn’t,” Quentin blurted, then laughed, the memory of their frantic goodbye filling him to the brim. “You didn’t, um—I’m glad you were there, you know. I—I wanted to see you.”

“Well,” Eliot said on a long exhale, like he’d been holding his breath, “I couldn’t very well let you go all the way to suburbia without giving you something to remember me by.”

Quentin drew a breath, touched his lips, the fuzzy memory of Eliot’s warmth lingering still. “I don’t think you have to worry about me ever forgetting you,” he said without thinking, flushing immediately in the afterglow. Julia’s words catching like hooks in his brain. You know that he’s like massively fucking in love with you, right? “I just mean—it was nice. The kiss…”

“Yeah,” Eliot breathed, all fondness and longing, “Kissing you is always nice, pretty boy.” He let that sit a moment, everything too warm between them, in spite of the distance. “Did you like the gift I left you?”

The cardigan was still at the bottom of his duffel, shut neatly away in his closet. The call of it deeply hypnotic. “Yes,” he said. “Thank you. It’s—it’s perfect. I’m sorry I… didn’t get you anything.”

“Oh, Q—” A happy little hum tickled Quentin’s ear through the phone. “You’ve already given me so much…” You know that he’s like massively fucking in love with you, right? “Tell me. Are you wearing it now?”

“No.” Heat spread from Quentin’s face to his chest, all the way down between his legs. “I, uh—I was saving it. For later.”

“Oh.” The word purred out of Eliot’s chest. Quentin felt it in his toes. “When you’re all alone…”

“Yes.” Quentin curled his warm palm around the side of his neck, imagining Eliot there.

“You wanna feel me on your skin, beautiful?”

“I always—” Quentin pushed out a breath, trying to tamp down the arousal sparking along the base of his spine. “I always want that.”

“You were busy,” Eliot said, “when I texted.” It wasn’t a question. “Where are you now, sweetheart?”

“In my bed,” Quentin said. “In my room.”

“Sneaking away from family time just for me, hm?” Eliot made a decadent sound of approval. “Oh, Q. What did you think I was going to ask of you, hm?”

“Well,” Quentin said, and—jesus. His dick was already getting hard. “You asked if I was alone.”

“I did,” Eliot said. “But I can be very patient when I need to be, darling.”

“What would—” Quentin bunched his free hand into a fist at his side. “What would you say to me if you didn’t have to be patient?”

“Oh…” Eliot teased, making Quentin’s skin prickle and burn. “Oh, baby, you’ll find out soon enough.”

“But—”

“You’re going to call me back, all right? Soon. When you’re all tucked into bed. Nothing against your skin but my sweater. Tell me you understand.”

Quentin resisted the urge to whine, pressing the heel of his hand between his legs to take a little of the edge off. “I understand.”

“Good boy.” Eliot’s praise ripped right through him. “Go on, now. They’re waiting for you, Quentin.”

Quentin opened his mouth to say goodbye, but the line was already dead.

He pulled the phone away from his ear, clutched it to his pounding chest.

Brakebills University
November 2015

Quentin lay in Julia’s bed in her room above the library, watching her where she sat at her desk, fiddling with her First Year marble. Casting Dempsey's Silent Thermogenesis, the watery glass transforming into a molten puddle underneath the archways of her hands.

“So, just checking in,” she said, breaking the easy silence that had fallen over the room, “to make sure you haven’t forgotten what an idiot you are.”

She’d been reminding him nearly every hour on the hour since finding out about the ring, and his plan that wasn’t actually a plan, and his decision to take Eliot back on as his tutor. And and and—

Quentin sighed and looked at the clock. “I haven’t forgotten,” he grumbled, pulling himself up to sit. “I have to go.”

“Well,” she said, shaping the molten glass on her desk into something that vaguely resembled a rhinoceros, “we wouldn’t want little Q to be late for his torture session, would we?”

“You know, you don’t have to always—” Quentin pulled himself to his feet and ran a hand over his hair. “You have no room to judge me, you know. You’re… fucking Margo.”

Julia barked out a laugh. “Margo,” she said, “didn’t break my heart and proceed to gaslight my ass after the fact. I mean—” She considered him with a tilt of her head. “She is a total bitch. But that’s at least fifty percent of her appeal.”

“She’s Eliot’s best friend,” Quentin said, like that was supposed to mean something.

“You say that like it’s supposed to mean something,” Julia said, watching as her little glass rhinoceros trotted across the desk and toppled onto its side. “Margo is probably the most honest person I’ve ever met in my life.” She picked the rhinoceros up and set it right, its little legs flailing like wind-swept branches. “Her best friend could learn a thing or two.”

“Whatever,” Quentin brushed her off, inching closer to the door. “I’ll… see you later I guess.”

“Later,” Julia said, not sparing Quentin a single parting glance, too engrossed in melting down the facsimile of life she’d created and starting all over again.

He arrived back at the Cottage five minutes past the hour, found Eliot lounging on one of the sofas all alone in the common room. Heat crested in Quentin’s chest like a solar flare. At least he was feeling now. Pins and needles where once there had been so much numb. The way circulation returns to a sleeping limb.

“You,” Eliot said, pointing an amber colored longneck bottle in Quentin’s general direction, “are late.”

“So are you,” Quentin said, his stupid traitor heart tumbling itself into knots at the sight of him there. “I thought you wanted to meet in your room.”

“I do,” Eliot said with an easy shrug, bringing the bottle to his lips and taking a swig.

Quentin narrowed his eyes. “Is that… beer?”

Eliot sighed. “Or something like it,” he said. “Hoberman said it would make me feel like there were rainbows shooting out of my ass but it… mostly just tastes like backwash.” He sent the bottle floating over to the coffee table with a little wave of his hand and swung his legs around, pressing his shoes to the floor. “Doesn’t matter. Shall we go upstairs?”

“No,” Quentin said before Eliot could stand. Plucking out the word like a rotten tooth. “No, um—here is fine.”

Eliot tilted his head. Quentin couldn’t tell if the shift in his expression was one of disappointment. “Of course,” he said with an airy little gesture. “Here is… here.”

Quentin sucked in a breath and let Eliot’s orbit draw him closer. “We don’t—we don’t need privacy to practice magic at a magic university.”

The corner of Eliot’s mouth quirked up. “Of course we don’t,” he said, extending a hand and calling his cigarette case over from the coffee table. “Come over here and give me a light.”

Lurching forward without thinking, Quentin tensed every muscle in his body to stop himself from spilling into Eliot’s lap. “Light it yourself,” he pushed out, making his hands into fists. The hands that wanted to press against Eliot’s skin like a homecoming.

“Now, Quentin.” Eliot spoke around the cigarette pressed between his lips. “There’s no need to—” He laughed. “I’m only trying to gauge where you’re at. With your magic, of course.”

“Right.” Quentin swallowed, taking another step closer. “Of course.”

Jaw clenched so tightly his teeth began to ache, Quentin decided right then that Julia had been right—he was an idiot to the highest degree. Hapless, hopeless. Already falling apart when this entire ordeal had been his idea. The simple act of looking at Eliot was maddening. What the hell had he been thinking in his sleep-wrecked haze?

Eliot turned his face upward, the cigarette perched on the swell of his bottom lip like a passageway. Quentin wanted to walk right through it, make a beeline for his stumbling heart. Prod it until the damage started to show. There was a single stupid perfect curl falling over one of his eyes, and Quentin had to fight the urge to pinch it between his fingers. He raised his hand, performed the tut for the fire spell and—nothing.

Not even a spark. The center of his chest a barren well containing not a single drop of magic.

“Relax,” Eliot plucked the cigarette from his lips and set it aside, and suddenly—they were touching.

Or really—Eliot was touching him. Eliot was touching him and Quentin was glowing like something that had been ejected from the belly of a white-hot star. The warm, deft drag of Eliot’s fingers over the flesh of Quentin’s palm.

“Relax.”

Eliot’s fingers skirted around to Quentin’s knuckles, tracing over the ridges of his fingers. Finding the slim band of gold Quentin had placed there like a loaded gun.

“Relax.”

Eliot spoke like a hypnotist. His eyes like a pendulum swinging. Quentin couldn’t look away.

“I can feel your magic.”

Eliot pushed his fingers up under the cuff of Quentin’s shirt, skimming over the point of his turbulent pulse. Thumb and forefinger making a loop. For a single, fleeting moment—infinity.

“Think we just…” Eliot pulled his hand away with a sigh. “Need to recharge your batteries.”

The floor throbbed under Quentin’s feet. For one urgent second he thought the earth was actually quaking. “I’m—” His brain felt like a sinking vessel. He struggled against the pull. “Um—I don’t feel anything.”

“Well, it’s there,” Eliot said with a casual gesture, placing the cigarette back between his lips. “Try again.”

Quentin shook his hands out, ran them over the top of his head, trying to come back to his center. Trying to look anywhere but Eliot’s eyes—or his mouth. An impossible task while trying to light something on goddamn fire that was being held between his lips. Quentin’s hand was shaking when he tried the tut again, but he made a tiny cinder with the point of his finger, and it breathed out the phantom of a spark. Just enough to catch the edge of the paper. Eliot smirked around the filter and helped him along, stoking Quentin’s pathetic little flame until a bright red cherry formed at the tip.

He exhaled, passed Quentin the cigarette. Quentin had to sit down after he took it, legs like jelly, heart chugging like a steam engine under his shirt.

He forced himself to speak, to say anything. Lest he launch himself into Eliot’s lap right then and ruin everything. “I don’t understand,” he said, exhaling a long trail of smoke up at the ceiling. “If we’re—” He swallowed around the word before setting it free. “Compatible. Magically, I mean. Um—why do I have a block and you don’t?”

He passed the cigarette, their fingers brushing as it moved between them.

“Well,” Eliot said, taking a long, decadent drag and letting the smoke tumble from his lips like water. “I’m not sure.” He let that sit a moment. “But if I had to guess I’d say… I discovered my magic… a decade ago? You… are basically the magical equivalent of a fetus. No offense.”

Lingering drag of his touch as he passed the cigarette back. Time moved between them like a lumbering beast. Quentin pressed the cigarette to his lips, the taste of Eliot tumbling honey-smooth down the burning river of his throat. Opening bronchioles, blood vessels, taking root inside his lungs.

“None taken?” He managed on an exhale, already having forgotten what he was supposed to be not-offended about. He passed the cigarette back, watched the smoke coil as it poured from the scarlet eye at its tip.

“If we’re being honest, Quentin, I can’t believe you went so long without, well—” Eliot took a long drag, looking Quentin square in the eyes as he exhaled. “Knowing who you are.”

Quentin didn’t think he had the energy to parse that particular bit of subtext. “So what, um—what are we supposed to do to… recharge my batteries? And, um—keep them charged. This time.”

Eliot extinguished the cigarette, tucked it back into his case and set it aside. “Well,” he said, the velvet glide of his voice instantly causing Quentin’s brain to backfire. “Being close to me doesn’t seem to hurt.”

It hit him like a fist. Like a cudgel to the heart. Quentin almost wanted to laugh. Aching so deeply he didn’t understand how it didn’t blow his body apart. He clutched at his pain like a wayward friend. Across the short distance, Eliot reached for Quentin’s hand. Life lines and heart lines. Their fingers threading together. For a moment, he let it happen. He let it happen with the ease of letting go from some impossible height. The summit of the highest mountain. The ground rising like destiny. Falling and falling and—

“Don’t do that.” Quentin wrenched his hand away, anger suddenly surging through him with an electric force.

At his side, Eliot’s expression was stoic, though he was clutching at his hand like he’d been burned. “I’m only doing what you asked me to.”

“You’re only—” Quentin had to pause to keep himself from shouting. “You don’t just get to act all soft with me because—” He held up his hand, brandishing the ring like a warning. “Because I’m getting married to the man that I love.”

Love, love, love. The word curdled in Quentin’s throat, sour and sharp. His eyes desperately searching Eliot’s face for some sign that the venom had found its way to his heart.

“That’s not—” Eliot laughed, easy and indifferent. “I’m not doing that.”

“Then what the fuck are you doing, Eliot?” Quentin said the words with the familiar, hot sting of tears in his eyes. Because of course he couldn’t make it through one little nefarious plot to hurt his ex without turning on the waterworks. “Because I’m just—” I’m just trying to hurt you. Why won’t you just let it hurt? “I’m just trying to be a fucking magician, okay?”

A monstrous silence grew between them. Quentin picked at the hem of his shirt. His body so heavy it was like he’d swallowed a fistful of lead, the poisonous rot of it leaching out into his bloodstream until no part of him had been left untouched. He spun the ring around the circle of his finger. It had never been a weapon. It had only ever been a noose. And Eliot at one end, taking up the slack…

“Does he know.” Eliot’s voice cut through and startled Quentin from his brooding. “Your fiancé, I mean. Does he know that you’re a magician?”

“Of course he knows,” Quentin spit out, unable to keep his voice from cracking. “Of course he—we don’t keep secrets from each other.” The weight of Eliot’s gaze on his skin felt like a hand pressing down. Like two hands encircling his neck. Quentin fixed his eyes over Eliot’s shoulder. “We don’t lie to each other.”

In his periphery, Quentin saw Eliot smirk. “Is that so?”

Flashbulb memories, one after the next. Quentin felt at once transported back to the night he’d given in. His body shaped into an entryway. Brilliant loops of arousal twirled inside his gut. He was illuminated with it. Glowing like he was radioactive. His longing bloomed in him clean as a bruise. He could feel it, in the marrow of his bones. If Eliot touched him again, it would be over. And it would be so easy. It would be so—

“Can we just… do some fucking magic already, please,” Quentin choked out, vision blurry and unfocused. He made a fist of his left hand, the ring biting into the flesh of his finger like a sharp-toothed animal.

Eliot was silent for a single agonizing moment, then rose to his feet like nothing had happened at all. “Of course we can do some magic,” he said. “It’s why we’re here, isn’t it?”

The image of him sauntering away came to Quentin like it was playing on a wobbly, stop-motion film reel. He disappeared beyond the shelving unit on the far side of the room, positioning himself behind the bar. Quentin could see the shifting outline of his body through the rows of glassware. The dip of his back, the dark mop of his hair. Quentin forced himself up to his feet, hardly registered moving the distance between the sofa and where Eliot stood until suddenly he was there.

“I really don’t feel like drinking right now,” Quentin lied, eying bottles of booze lined up like amber-colored crystals so he wouldn’t have to look at Eliot just yet.

Eliot didn’t say a word, but he was smiling when Quentin finally met his gaze. Quentin felt it like a jolt of blue-white fire. Eliot raised a hand, did a tut, calling a whiskey glass over from the shelf. It hovered like a hummingbird over the flat plank of his open palm, and Eliot eyed it intensely. Like all his energy was being distilled into the line of his gaze. Quentin held his breath, half-expecting laser beams to start shooting out of his eyes.

Instead: a cracking sound. A sheet of ice buckling under the weight of a body. The glass shattered mid-air without so much as a flash or a spark. Stayed there even as Eliot pulled his hand away, glittering like a constellation a foot or so above the surface of the bar. A patchwork puzzle of jagged teeth. Quentin eyed the shards and the space between the shards and Eliot smiling beyond the shimmer.

“Make it whole,” Eliot said with a tip of his head. “It won’t be hard if you just focus.”

Quentin stood suspended in silence. Watching glass swirl like confetti in the golden light. Watching Eliot watching him. Feeling his pulse humming in his throat, his wrists, his chest.

“Why should I have to fix something you broke?”

Eliot’s expression shifted into something like pure, unfiltered amusement. “I don’t think you actually want this, do you?”

Quentin huffed out a breath. Distantly aware he was being a massive pain in the ass on purpose. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

A quirk of Eliot’s mouth. Quentin watched it curve like a bow. Ready, aim. He pressed forward, reaching over the bar, trailed a finger along the collar of Quentin’s shirt, then wrapped his fist around it and pulled. “If you want it,” he said, lips ghosting over Quentin’s lips. The first aching seconds before a kiss that didn’t come. “Stop being a pain in the ass on purpose and prove it.”

Quentin could feel his brain slipping under the surface of the water at once. Deep sonar pulse of his heart tracking up into his temples. He gripped the edge of the bar until his fingers ached, his one and only mainstay. His anchor in the sand. Straightening his spine like a mast holding firm against the current.

“Fix the glass,” Eliot continued, his voice coming out all sugar-sweet. “And I’ll make you that drink we both know you’re dying to have.”

Eliot pulled back suddenly, and Quentin could feel his legs threatening to buckle. Flushed and dazed, struggling to keep his body upright even with the bar top holding the brunt of his weight. He forced his eyes away from Eliot, trying to catch a glimpse of his own reflection in the rows of glass behind him. Certain he would find something like a cartoon halo of stars dancing over his fevered head.

Deep in the cavern of his belly, Quentin swore he could feel his magic as it started to bloom. Roaring to life in his chest like an engine. He set his eyes on the glimmering fragments of glass, lifted his hands, forgetting for a moment that he’d ever been hollow. That he’d ever wanted Eliot to hurt. That he’d ever wanted to hurt himself. There was nothing but his magic. His body a wellspring of enchantments. His very flesh etched with spell work. He was the fire and the spark.

Quentin hardly even had to think the thought. The glass began to fit itself together as though it had never been broken. He could still see the afterimage of the cracks burning in his retinas as the glass began to lower itself down onto the bar. Settling with a pretty little clink. The sound of his own heart like a marching band drumming under his ribs. Eliot’s thousand-watt smile bleeding into him. The corners of his eyes crinkling up. Quentin wanted to launch his body over the bar and latch onto Eliot’s neck with his teeth. Rending his clothes to shreds. Letting the shared power of their magic burn their bodies clean through.

“Tada,” Eliot said with a flourish of his hands. “Your magic never leaves you, Q. You have to stop—”

“Shut up,” Quentin said through gritted teeth. Uncertain if he might be angry or aroused or—

“Quentin.”

“Shut up and make me a drink.”

Eliot’s smile shifted into something darker. Something steeped in yearning. “As you wish,” he said with an elegant little nod.

Quentin stood in a heavy-hearted daze watching Eliot glide through the motions behind the bar. His big, beautiful hands clutching at bottles and slicing into the rind of a lemon. The bite of lemon oil on the air tickled his nose. The drink that Eliot served was heavy on the cognac and went straight to Quentin’s head from the very first sip, like he’d infused the liquor itself with the essence of his untamed magic.

“When you’re finished, we’ll try something else,” Eliot said, straining his own drink into a glass. When he was finished he took it in hand and rounded the bar, graceful as a lurking cat. “What sort of magic do you think you’d like to do? If you could do anything…”

Quentin stepped closer. Didn’t mean to. Couldn’t help it. “Can it make me happy?” he said without thinking, immediately flushing with regret, but unable to stop himself now that it was there, hanging like a fog in the minute space between their bodies. “Magic, I mean—there has to be a spell to—to… I don’t know.” He let himself feel the sadness when it came, didn’t fight it. “What the fuck is the point of any of this if we’re so fucking miserable all of the time?”

Eliot considered Quentin, sipping his drink. “You’re getting married to someone you love,” he said, the words dagger-sharp, lancing Quentin’s heart. “I would think that’s better than all the make you happy spells that don’t exist anyway, wouldn’t you?”

Quentin’s blood ran instantly colder. Muscles jerking with a wild energy. “I, uh—” He set his drink down on the bar top very carefully. “I should go to bed.”

“Wait.” Eliot caught Quentin by the wrist before he could turn away. “Wait, just—”

Quentin drew a breath, felt it burn right through him. Time skittering at half-speed. “Don’t,” he said, too softly, unable to muster any sincerity behind it. He didn’t want to pull away. He didn’t want to be anywhere but here, basking in the warmth of Eliot’s hearth. “Don’t.”

“I just—” Eliot hooked their fingers together, set his drink down on the bar. “Q…”

Quentin blinked, and suddenly his palm was pressing flat to Eliot’s chest. And when had one of Eliot’s hands curled around the side of Quentin’s neck? It was all coming in flashes and gasps. Shockwaves of images. How had they gotten this close without thinking, hardly breathing. Hardly—

“Quentin.” Eliot thumbed at Quentin’s ear, turning his blood to gasoline, feeding the fire roaring in his heart. “Stay. Just—we’ll… finish our drinks. And I’ll teach you a spell…”

It would be so good. If Quentin let Eliot fuck him right then. Right there against the bar. With the spell Eliot could be inside him in thirty seconds flat. And it would be so. fucking. good. Deep and hard and steady. If Quentin asked him sweetly enough, he bet Eliot would even pull his hair and bite his neck. Leave him all marked up and ruined just the way he liked.

The great arc of a sob flared up in Quentin’s throat. His dick was already getting hard, and he knew that Eliot could feel it pressing against his hip. “I can’t, um—I can’t, I—” He took a step away. It felt like his body was separating from itself, one flimsy atom at a time. “I have to go. I—I have to call my fiancé.” He scanned Eliot’s face desperately for a shift in his expression. Anything, anything. Some meager reminder of what this night had been about. “I told him I would. Before bed. So I—I have to go.”

The air between them was an inferno. Quentin couldn’t read anything on Eliot’s face. He only stood there for a long moment, arms hanging limply at his sides, like he didn’t know what to do with his hands. “All right,” he said finally, offering a laugh that sounded equal parts casual and forced. “It’s fine. I just thought you might like to—” He shrugged his shoulders, reaching for his drink. “It doesn’t matter. Another time. Please do pass on my congratulations to James.”

There was a ringing in Quentin’s ears like the wailing song of a banshee. It cut his thoughts off clean at the root. He couldn’t even piece together how Eliot knew that name. Maybe he’d mentioned it before and couldn’t remember. Maybe Julia had. Or Julia had told Margo who had told—whatever. He figured it didn’t matter. He nodded his head in Eliot’s direction as he backed away, said something that sounded like, “Yes. Of course. Goodnight, Eliot.” He aimed his body at the door, desperately trying to hold onto a single fragment of coherence in the jumbled puzzle of his mind.

Quentin’s head felt like a gas tank running on fumes. The needle on his gauge slipping down well past the point of empty. He made his exit through the front door, passed into the dark and empty chill of the night, collapsed down onto the porch. He was pretty sure he didn’t have the energy to even go down the steps, let alone haul his body all the way across campus to Julia’s, or to Hoberman’s to score some blessed cocktail of illicit drugs in the hopes of kicking himself straight out of his skull.

And he couldn’t go back inside. He couldn’t. Maybe not for the rest of the night. If he did, he knew what was going to happen. He knew it in every muscle and bone. He was going to sleep with Eliot. And it was going to be so fucking good. It wasn’t even a question if he could spare that particular blow to his dignity. He would do it again and again.

Over and over. Until his body had nothing left to give.

Ridgewood, New Jersey
December 2013

The second the credits began to roll on Die Hard, Quentin hopped to his feet, but Julia stopped him cold in his tracks before he could make his exit. “Oh, no you don’t,” she said, taking him by the elbow and steering him sharply in the direction of the back of the house. “You owe me a smoke break, Coldwater.”

His dad could only sit on the couch offering the very same smile-frown he’d worn the day Quentin had told him he was planning on majoring in philosophy.

Quentin begrudgingly bundled up in his coat and scarf while Julia teased a joint in front of his face. “I really don’t think it’s such a good idea for me to get stoned before—”

“Before having phone sex with the theatre nerd?”

“I’m not—” Quentin’s face immediately flushed. “That’s not what I was going to say.”

“But you are having phone sex with the theatre nerd.”

“He’s not—we’re not—” Quentin drew a breath in sharply through his nose and pushed it out. “Can we just get this over with please?”

They walked in silence out to the big oak tree and stood with their backs pressed up against it while Julia lit the joint. Quentin couldn’t stop himself from taking out his phone, clutching it in his hand like he could send his thoughts straight through to Eliot by force of will alone. Please don’t go to bed. If I don’t hear your voice again tonight I think I might actually die. I just have to do this one ill-advised thing to appease my friend and then I will be ready to do literally any other ill-advised thing you ask me to.

“If you wanna text lover man just do it,” Julia said, startling Quentin from his thoughts and passing the joint.

“It’s fine,” Quentin said, shoving the phone into his pocket and taking the joint. “I just told him I’d call him when—stop looking at me like that. We’re not… doing what you think.”

Julia shot him a grin that was nothing short of incredulous, watching as Quentin inhaled. “Please,” she said. “If you honestly expect me to believe you’re going to crawl into bed and get on the phone with your gorgeous nine-foot-tall boyfriend who doms you and some super freaky shit isn’t going to happen...” A small laugh skipped out of her mouth. “Q. Come on.”

Quentin narrowed his eyes and passed the joint. “First he’s a loser, then he’s a nerd. Now he’s… gorgeous?”

“None of those things are mutually exclusive,” she said, waving him off, still grinning, the cherry-pink of her cheeks shining in the dark. “And I mean—it’s not like I’m blind? I know I like to give you shit, but I totally get why you’re gagging to suck his cock 24/7.”

Quentin’s icy cheeks immediately started to warm. They passed the joint in companionable silence for a minute or two. By some miracle, Quentin managed to keep his hand away from his phone inside his pocket. “I don’t think I’d call him my boyfriend,” he said when the joint had been smoked about halfway down.

“He buys you presents and he makes you feel good and you can’t even stand to go one night without talking to him on the phone.” The way she said it—it was like a royal decree. By the order of Julia Ogden Wicker, first of her name, I henceforth pronounce you boyfriends. “Come on,” she said, stubbing the joint out on the tree and tucking the remnants into her pocket. “My tits are literally turning into ice cubes. And I’d hate to make the Professor wait even one more second to get his freak on.”

Quentin groaned with his entire chest. “You’re not seriously going to keep calling him that.”

Julia giggled, sounding exactly as high as Quentin was starting to feel. “Oh, I so am. Every day from now until your wedding. Maybe a few years after? Oh!” She grabbed his shoulder, bouncing like an over-excited kangaroo. “Since it’s basically illegal for you to not let me name your first born now, might I propose—”

“Jules.”

“Come on, even you have to admit Professor Jr. has a ring.”

Quentin pushed all the air from his lungs in a huff. He’d been aiming for annoyance, but his body instantly settled into something softer, a great white cloud growing on the air as he started to laugh. Tossing an arm around her neck, kissing the top of her head, Quentin tugged Julia in the direction of the house. “Keep it up,” he said, a fit of laughter rolling through him so hard it made his belly ache. “I might have to conveniently forget how thin the wall is between our rooms tonight.”

Julia nearly doubled over with laughter. “You wouldn’t dare,” she said. “Remember when we were kids? Your dad would wake up at, like… the hint of a floorboard creaking in the hall.”

“You really wanna test me, Wicker?” he said, laughing so hard the words came out all garbled together.

They tumbled into the house and slipped out of their coats and scarves. Julia kissed Quentin on the cheek and began backing away in the direction of the kitchen, making obscene gestures with both hands. Quentin flipped her off with one middle finger and then the other, body nearly doubled over with hysterics as she disappeared around the corner.

He was pretty sure his dad was still in front of the TV in the living room when he made his way back to the front of the house. He could see the blue-green light flickering against the wallpaper from where he stood in the hall. As quietly as he could manage, Quentin tip-toed his way to the stairs and up to his room. Once inside, he locked the door, and immediately dissolved into another fit of laughter as he started shimmying out of his clothes.

It was only when he was down to his boxers that something like panic finally broke in through the haze. Quentin froze, thumbs still caught in the waistband of his shorts. Shit. Fuck. He was very probably almost certainly about to have phone sex with Eliot and he was completely blitzed out of his skull. Pulse suddenly jackhammering in his throat, Quentin sat down on his bed like the mattress was set over a tripwire. The weed Julia generally procured ranged from this is okay I guess to I’m too lazy to leave campus and find another dealer. But now—jesus fuck. Whatever she’d rolled up in her pretty little cherry paper tonight, it was the polar opposite of the crunchy green-brown confetti filled with stems and seeds she’d snuck into his room the night they got probably-stoned for the first time their freshman year of high school.

Quentin was pretty sure his head had detached from his body and was floating somewhere in the vicinity of the moon.

He stood up, limbs heavy with a sense of unreality. Like suddenly the bottom had dropped out from underneath his skin and the air was made of fluffy marshmallow clouds. He shimmied out of his boxers and managed to keep mostly upright as he kicked them away, the floor under his bare feet merely a suggestion as he tottered in the direction of the closet to fetch Eliot’s cardigan from the bottom of his duffel.

The weight of it like spun gold in his hands. The scent of Eliot wafting up into his nose. He pulled it on, the sense-memory of Eliot wrapping around Quentin’s body immediate as drawing a breath. He felt weightless. So feather-light he could have rushed straight up through the ceiling and touched the tip of every visible star. He pressed his nose into the collar and his dick got hard so quickly it was like it was connected to invisible threads. He couldn’t stop touching the buttons, hugging his arms around himself to feel the soft knit gliding under the flesh of his palms.

He pulled his phone out of the pocket of his jeans where he’d discarded them at the foot of the bed, then crawled up on top of the covers and lay flat on his back, pressing the phone to his bare chest over his heart. And then, before his brain could even register what his hands had done, the phone was pressing right up against his ear, and it was ringing—once, twice, three times—

“Hello, Quentin.”

God. Quentin loved the sound of Eliot’s voice. “God, I love the sound of your voice,” he said, punctuating the words with a stupid little giggle he couldn’t quite manage to hold inside.

Eliot made a sound on the other end that might have been a purr or a sigh or a laugh. “Well,” he said, and Quentin could feel the smile wrapping around his voice. “I see someone’s been hitting the eggnog tonight.”

“Nope,” Quentin purred. Quentin was definitely purring. He could feel it in his chest like someone had turned the knob all the way up to kitten with a brand new toy. “Julia made me get high with her before I was allowed to call you.”

“Such an obedient boy,” Eliot teased, sending warmth surging through Quentin’s chest like the first breath of a brand new life.

“Only for you,” Quentin said, a dopey grin pulling his face so tightly it hurt. “Um—” His heart instantly began to pound to the rhythm of regret. “Sorry I—I feel really dumb when I say stuff like that. Which is why I think I like subspace so much. Well—I like it for lots of reasons—” Another uncontrollable giggle. “But it’s—it’s nice knowing I can’t say anything stupid because I can’t talk.”

“Oh, Q...” A soft laugh, barely audible through the speaker, set Quentin’s skin alight. “I love it when you talk to me."

The air on his skin felt warm as bath water. Quentin said, “Yeah, but… sometimes I can’t shut up.”

“Oh, sweet boy,” Eliot said. Quentin felt the words down between his legs. “I don’t want you to shut up. In fact…” He paused for a second, the sound of his body shifting on the other end, the rustling of fabric. “I think I’d like for you to tell me a story."

“You, um—” A ridiculous laugh snorted out of Quentin’s nose. “Okay. What kind of story?”

“We’ll get to that.” A beat of silence, a breath drawn on the other end of the line. “First. We need to establish a few ground rules…”

“Ground rules for… storytelling?”

“Yes,” Eliot said, soft and dark. “Well. It’s only the one rule, really. But it’s a very important one. Do you want to know what it is?"

Quentin felt a shiver travel through him. “Of course.”

“Well—” Eliot’s voice came through clear as a bell. Like suddenly he was there in the room, pressing his lips right to Quentin’s ear. “You are not, under any circumstances, permitted to have an orgasm.”

Quentin furrowed his brows. His brain felt like it was filled to the brim with strobing lights. “I’m not allowed to have an orgasm while I... tell you a story?”

“That’s right,” Eliot said. “But you’re going to get me off.”

Quentin’s thoughts were coming through like slogging analog signals. It took him a long, breathless moment to parse what Eliot was actually saying. And then suddenly—

Oh.

Oh.

“El—”

“But.” Eliot’s tone was as firm as it was playful. “I do want you to touch yourself. For as long as you can stand without coming. You—” A slow laugh dripped out of him like water. “You aren’t going to come again until you’re back in my arms, baby boy.”

Quentin let out a breathy little whine. “That seems like… really unfair to me personally, El.”

“Quentin—”

“No, El. Listen, I—”

“Quentin.” The way Eliot said his name this time made his hair stand on end. “Am I going to have to journey into the New Jersey suburbs just to turn you over my knee?”

He dissolved into a fit of silent laughter then, uncertain if he was more amused or aroused. Or if there was even any difference between the two in his current state. “That sounds, um—that sounds really good right now actually. You know, you—” His voice came out all broken through the hysterics. “You keep saying you’re going to spank me and then you never do. Are you just trying to—”

“Oh my god.” Eliot’s voice dripped with adoration. “Darling, you really are—maybe we should save this until you sober up, hm?”

“No!” Quentin clamped a hand over his mouth. Didn’t pull it away until he was certain he wasn’t going to shout again. “No, um—El. Please, I—I really—god, my dick is so hard right now.”

“Well, now see—” Eliot couldn’t keep the laughter from his voice. “I’m really not sure if this is such a good idea, baby. How do I know you’re going to be able to control yourself?"

“I can! Shit—” He reached over and clicked on the bedside lamp, then settled back down against his pillow. “I, um—I did what you asked me to. With the sweater I mean.”

“Oh yeah?” Eliot’s voice dropped to a low rumble. “You all wrapped up and cozy now, baby?”

“Yes,” Quentin breathed, arousal singing in his belly. “Do you, uh—do you want a picture?”

Eliot was quiet for a long moment. “I, uh… I can’t believe I’m actually saying this but… no? No, uh—I think I’d like for you to describe it to me instead.”

A smile tugged at Quentin’s mouth. “Is that the story you want? A detailed description of how I’m wearing a sweater.”

Eliot hummed. “Consider it… the prologue."

Quentin swallowed, suddenly hyper-aware of his naked flesh. “Okay…” The cardigan lay open and loose at his sides. Looking down at the flat plane of his own chest, the rise of his ribcage, the valley of his stomach. His cock, blushing and hard where it lay pressed against his over-warm skin, a pearl of pre-come glistening at the tip. The way it throbbed to the rhythm of his heart. “I’m—I’m sorry, El, I don’t—” When he laughed this time it was all nerves and anticipation. “I don’t know how I’m supposed to make this good.”

Eliot made a happy little sound. “Well, why don’t you start by telling me how it feels to have it on.”

“Warm,” Quentin immediately blurted. He wasn’t laughing now. “Warm, and—safe. Safe… the way—the way it feels when you hold me while I’m sleeping.”

“Holding you while you’re sleeping is easily top ten on my list of things to do to Quentin Coldwater in the dark.” Eliot tried to laugh it off, but Quentin could already hear his voice teetering on the brink of ruin. “You’re doing so well, sweetheart. Do you think you can describe your body for me now?”

Quentin sucked in a breath, slowly pushed it out. “El…”

“Baby.” Eliot held the endearment gently in his mouth. “Don’t be shy. It’s me…”

“I know, I know.” Quentin’s face flared white-hot. He pressed his fingers to it just to feel the burn. “I just—I’m sorry. I feel… really stupid.”

“You’re beautiful.” Eliot said it like an irrefutable fact. “Do you want me to go first, hm? Tell you exactly what I’m doing right now…”

God. Yes. “Yes.” Quentin’s voice flickered out of him like it was taking flight. “Yesgodplease.

“Okay, so…” Quentin could hear the smile in Eliot’s voice as he began. “First I think we need to set the scene. I’m… in a gigantic, luxurious bed that doesn’t belong to me. In a gigantic, luxurious apartment in Midtown that is likewise—tragically—only on loan. Or—” He laughed, a sound that served to soothe before Quentin could even think to lose his mind in a fit of panicked jealousy. “My friend, she uh—” Quentin breathed in silent relief at the utterance of the pronoun. “She’s out of town. I have a key and she lets me crash sometimes.”

“Oh,” Quentin heard himself say, a little sound he hadn’t intended to make. “That’s good.”

“Yeah,” Eliot said with an easy sigh. “Sorry. Too much exposition. Not sexy. Moving on.”

Quentin was suddenly laughing again. “I don’t know, El,” he said. “I mean—have you seen the page count on some of my favorite books?"

There was a silence on the other end of the line for a long moment. Quentin listened as Eliot drew a deep, slow breath and exhaled.

“Are you saying you want me to talk hobbit to you?”

“You’re too tall to be a hobbit,” Quentin offered, his smile stretching clean from one side of his face to the other. “Maybe, um—you could be Aragorn, or maybe—”

“Quentin.”

“Sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry,” Eliot said fondly. “I am totally down for some kinky fanboy roleplay in the future if given ample time to rehearse my lines beforehand.” He let that sit a moment while Quentin let a fit of silent laughter roll through his chest. “Now—to recap: gigantic, luxurious apartment; gigantic, luxurious bed. A California king, I’m certain of it. I could sprawl for days and my feet would never even come close to reaching the bottom.

Quentin smiled. “That must be nice.”

“You have no idea, my love.” That word, from Eliot’s mouth, never failed to hit like an arrow to the chest. Bullseye of Quentin’s heart drumming faster, harder. “Now. I am in this gigantic, luxurious bed. Sprawling. As befits someone of my generous stature—”

It occurred to Quentin all over again just how stoned he was. “You’re so tall it’s stupid—”

“Hush now,” Eliot chided playfully. “I’m trying to paint a picture for you, Quentin."

“Sorry.”

Eliot sighed. “So—sprawling. Right now. In this crazy opulent bed that doesn’t belong to me. I was under the covers earlier but I shucked them off. I should probably turn the thermostat down. Far too warm in this place, even without any clothes on.” Eliot paused. Quentin was suddenly aware of his own body again, the thumping pulse in the line of his neck. “Did I not mention that part earlier? That I’m not wearing any clothes.”

Quentin made a sound that was meant to serve as a response, halfway between a whimper and a broken little sigh.

“You know,” Eliot continued, his voice dropping to a slow, dark whisper in Quentin’s ear, “before you called I was… flipping through that special little folder on my phone. You know the one. With all the pictures of you…”

God. Fuck. Quentin gulped down a breath. “You were looking at me…”

Speaking was suddenly very difficult, and Quentin wondered absently if he might be able to slip into subspace in spite of the physical distance. If the presence of Eliot’s voice alone could possibly be enough.

“I was.” Eliot paused, Quentin breathed. “Looking at you and stroking my dick, and—god, baby, I was so hard. Still am—a little. Can you see it when you close your eyes, Quentin? The way I look lying here. Waiting for you…"

Quentin’s eyes were already closed. “Yes,” he breathed, sounding just as broken as he felt. Somewhere between shutting his eyes and saying the word his hand had fallen down between his legs. And he’d started to stroke. And he couldn’t help the little whimper that—

“Take your hand away,” Eliot cut in, the firm command lighting Quentin’s brain up like the Fourth of July.

“Sorry.” He bunched his hand into a fist at his side, clenched his jaw. “I just—”

“Quentin.”

Quentin opened his eyes, for a moment expecting to see Eliot there in front of him, crawling up onto the bed and settling in between the V of his legs.

“Tell me, baby,” Eliot continued on the other end of the line. “Tell me what you see right now when you look at yourself.”

“El.” Quentin let his gaze sweep down the line of his body. “Eliot…”

“Sweetheart. I love your body. Do you—do you have any idea…” His voice went all high and breathy for a moment. It was enough to drive Quentin straight out of his mind. “Tell me…”

“I’m—” Quentin swallowed. “Okay, I’m, uh—I’m in my bed. Obviously, um—fuck.”

“I can see you,” Eliot said, the current of his voice rushing straight into Quentin’s bloodstream like a drug. “I can see you lying there, Quentin. Can you feel my eyes on you?”

“Yes. God, El—”

“Go on. Keep going.”

“I’m—I’ve got the sweater on.” Quentin didn’t think he’d ever blushed so hard. He pushed himself to just keep going, lest he lose his voice. “It’s open, and it’s, uh—I’m not wearing anything underneath. Well—just my bracelet I guess. I’ll never take that off.” He let that simmer for a fraction of a second. “You can—you can see everything.”

Eliot made a sound. Like something sprouting wings and fluttering out of his chest. “Oh, I sure can, pretty baby,” he said. “I can see that gorgeous little body. That beautiful dick...”

Quentin drew his bottom lip between his teeth, his dick throbbing back to full hardness where it was lying against his belly. “It’s so hard, El…”

Eliot hummed. “So pretty and blushing pink. I bet you’re getting so wet for daddy, hm?”

Quentin’s hips twitched on instinct. “Yes,” he said, eyes sweeping over the trail of pre-come spreading near his navel. “Can I—El, please, can I—”

“You wanna touch yourself, baby?"

“Yes.”

“Okay,” Eliot said, his voice coming out in a slow drip. “Go on.” A breathy little laugh tickled through the speaker. “But it’s story time, sweet boy. I, um—I want you to tell me. A fantasy. Your fantasy. If you could have anything right now—"

“I want you to fuck me,” Quentin pushed out, letting his fingers curl around his dick. Slick, warm glide of his palm up the length of his shaft, teasing over the head with a deep and resonant groan.

“Now, Quentin,” Eliot said fondly. “I’ll ask that you respect the integrity of the narrative structure.” He paused for a moment to let a laugh purr out of his chest. “Act one, scene one, darling. Tell me how we begin.”

“Um—” Quentin’s pulse stuttered in his throat. “You—you come here.”

“Oh,” Eliot said brightly. “How is Mr. Coldwater going to feel about that?”

“He doesn’t have to know,” Quentin said, his hand all slick with pre-come as it slipped up and down his shaft. “You can… come in through my bedroom window.”

Eliot clucked his tongue. “Such a naughty boy,” he teased. “Is your room on the ground level, Q, or am I scaling the siding like Spider-Man?”

Quentin bit at his lip, a fit of laughter clawing its way up alongside a shattered moan. “You’ll find a ladder or something,” he said. “It’s the suburbs, you’ll figure it out.”

“Okay,” Eliot said with a laugh. “Okay. I figure it out. What then?”

“You come inside and, um—” Quentin thumbed at the head of his dick, a luminous shock of pleasure moving through him. “You take off your coat and—god. You look so fucking hot, El.”

Quentin squeezed his eyes shut, could see him there clear as a picture playing out on a television screen. The long rise of his legs going up, up. An enticing bulge at the front of his slacks that Quentin immediately wanted to get his mouth around. Four buttons undone on his casual shirt, the hair on his chest peeking out and begging for Quentin’s fingers. The curve of his throat, a dark dusting of stubble on his cheeks. Curls wild and soft.

“You’re hot.” A little moan rolled out of Eliot’s throat. “Pretty little thing waiting there for me in nothing but my sweater. Are you lying in your bed, sweetheart?”

“No,” Quentin said. “No, I’m—I’m standing where you are. By the window. I want you to kiss me.”

“Oh, I’ll kiss you baby.” Eliot breathed out a little sound of pleasure. “I’ll kiss you right out of your mind. Keep going.”

“You—I don’t know.” Quentin stilled the motion of his hand, holding himself in the warm embrace of his fist. “I don’t know. I’ll let you do anything you want to me.”

“Oh, no you don’t,” Eliot said. “No, baby. This is your fantasy. Tell me what you want me to do.”

“I—I want—” Quentin felt a jolt of hunger travel through him. “I want you to put me on my knees.”

“Right here?” Quentin could hear Eliot touching himself on the other end of the line. The shifting of his movements, slick and frantic, fragmentary little puffs of air coming through the speaker like kisses. “Right here by the window, baby?”

“Yes.” Quentin’s hand started moving again. “You take off all your clothes and—and put me on my knees right there. I don’t care if the neighbors can see.”

“God, Quentin, you are—” Eliot already sounded like he was slipping out of control. “You are such a dirty boy, aren’t you?”

“Just for you.” Quentin couldn’t believe the sound of his own voice, the words coming out of his mouth. That he was even able to form words to begin with. “I just, um—I want you to put your dick in my mouth.”

Eliot drew in a gasping breath. “You want me to fuck that perfect hot wet mouth, sweet boy?”

Quentin glowed, like his bones were made of embers. “Yes. God, El, please."

He licked his lips. He could taste it. The splash of Eliot’s pre-come pooling on his tongue.

“Tell me,” Eliot said. “Tell me how it feels.”

“It feels—it’s so good, El.” Quentin thumbed a bead of pre-come from his slit and spread it down the length of his dick. “It always feels so good to make you feel good.”

“You make me feel so good, Q. So fucking—god. So good, my boy.” Eliot let out a decadent moan. “Tell me what comes next.”

Quentin felt translucent. Diaphanous. Like at any second he might up and blow away. “You fuck my mouth. And I go right into subspace—just like that. And then—” He whimpered, his balls drawing tight. “I wanna—wanna deepthroat you, El. I wanna take it all.”

“I don’t wanna hurt you, darling,” Eliot huffed.

Quentin immediately answered with a groan. “Thought this was my fantasy,” he said, punctuating the words with a laugh. He forced his hand to still for a moment.

“Oh, it is, baby. It is. Go on…”

“I just, I—” Quentin shook his head. “I deepthroat you and it feels so good. It feels—I can feel you… inside me. I’m so full and I—I can feel your dick throbbing.”

Quentin.

Eliot made a beautiful sound. It spurred Quentin forward like a kick to the heart. “I love choking on your big dick,” he said with a whine. “I love it so much, El. I—I love—”

You, he heard a voice that sounded like his own screaming inside his skull. You. You. You. You’re the one that I love.

Another voice—a louder one—told him that he shouldn’t say it.

“Keep that up and you’re gonna make me come, baby boy,” Eliot said, the words cracking right out of his chest.

“I wanna make you come,” Quentin breathed, started moving his hand again. “I want to—”

“Not yet,” Eliot said with a little puff of breath. “Not—tell me what comes after. Please.”

If Quentin hadn’t been lying down, his knees would have buckled at the sound of Eliot’s plea. “You take me over to the bed,” he said very quietly. “Maybe you pick me up. You carry me to the bed.”

“Just like that? I pick you up…”

“Yes.” Quentin felt his body being lifted. Levitation. His body was possessed. “You’re so much bigger than me so it’s—it’s not a problem.”

Eliot moaned. “Not a problem at all, sweetheart.”

“Yeah…” Quentin released his death grip on his cock, moving his fingers up to tease over his nipples. “So you—you set me down on the bed and you take the sweater off of me and we’re both naked and—” He forced himself to pause, to breathe. “Your hands are so warm when you touch me, El.”

“I love touching you, Quentin.” Eliot’s voice was gravelly and dark. “Tell me where I put my hands.”

“Everywhere.” Quentin rolled one nipple between his thumb and forefinger. “You sit down on the bed and pull me into your lap and—” He moved his hand back down, keening high and bright when he touched his dick again. “And you kiss me…”

He could feel himself losing the plot, losing himself. The sound of Eliot panting through the line like a signal flare to his heart. Every atom in his body singing for the sweet relief of giving in.

“What else?” Eliot sounded entirely unhinged. “What else, what—tell me…”

“I just want you to fuck me, El,” Quentin whined. “I want it so bad. Do you—do you think you could come here for real?”

“Quentin.” Eliot was only barely holding on. Quentin could hear it, swore he could feel it across the distance. “Sweetheart…”

“Eliot.” Quentin pressed his feet flat against the bed, toes curling against the covers. “I don’t want a fantasy. I just want you.”

The speaker crackled with the sound of Eliot pushing all the air from his lungs. “You have me, baby. You have me.” Quentin could see him lying there, the deep arch of his back, eyes squeezed shut, mouth hanging open as his big, beautiful hand worked his big, beautiful dick right up to the edge. “Are you touching yourself? Are you close?”

Quentin keened. Deep inside his chest, he could feel a fulcrum pivot, then snap. Every muscle in his body drawing tight, the promise of release sweet as a sugar cube melting on his tongue. “I’m so—I’m so—yes—El—”

“God, yes, baby—I wanna fuck you—I’m gonna fuck you—when I see you again—when I see you—I’m gonna make it so good for you, my darling boy. I’m—”

A strangled sob ripped out of Eliot’s throat. Quentin felt it travel through him. His own orgasm tugging low in his gut like impending doom, the cresting wave of it dark and maddening. He allowed himself to feel it for one long, slow instant before wrenching his hand away. His dick thumped against his belly with an agonizing pulse, red and angry and throbbing in time with the beating of his heart.

He breathed, and breathed. He pressed the phone against his ear and listened to the sound of Eliot stroking himself through the aftershocks. The way he panted and laughed and sighed. The way he babbled Quentin’s name like a hymn. The way it just went on and on…

“Fuck, baby. Fuck—” Eliot’s ruined voice came through like music. “You didn’t—tell me you didn’t..."

“I didn’t,” Quentin said with a whimper. “I didn’t. I wanted to, but I—”

“Good. Good. Just breathe now, Quentin. Just breathe. It’ll—it’ll be alright in a minute. Just—I know it’s hard—”

“You have no idea,” Quentin huffed, running a hand across his sweat-slick brow.

Eliot let out a vibrant laugh. “Jesus, you should see me right now,” he said. “I’m a mess. You made me come so hard I think I might have burst a vein.”

Quentin’s eyes swept down the line of his own body. His dick was still so hard it hurt to breathe. “You really should—you should come here. Just—it’s not that far.”

“Quentin.”

“Eliot."

“Darling boy.” Eliot sighed. “Waiting… it’s. It’s going to be worth it. I promise. What I have in store for you when we’re back on campus, oh—” The sound Eliot made sent a shiver rippling down Quentin’s spine. “I meant what I said. I’m gonna make it so good for you. We’re gonna go all the way...”

Quentin bit at his lip, swallowing down the urge to cry. “El…”

The tension in his body had abated a little. There were so many shapeless things he wanted to say to Eliot right then. He could find the words for none of them.

After a long moment of silence Eliot said, “Try and get some rest.”

“Fine,” Quentin said with a dejected little sigh. “But, El, I...”

love you love you love you love—

“What is it, Quentin?”

“Nothing.” Quentin said softly, his heart the size of a mountain in his chest. “Just... goodnight, Eliot."

“Sweet dreams, darling boy,” Eliot whispered, voice receding into the cold silence of the line going dead.

Quentin tossed his phone onto the nightstand, rolled over onto his side. He pressed his face into the soft collar of Eliot’s cardigan and shut his eyes.

Brakebills University
November 2015

Intro to Horomancy let out at a quarter past noon. Quentin trailed behind Julia out into the hall after the rest of the class had filed out. He’d only gone because she’d forced him to, and he was already dreaming of the warm solitude of his bed in the dark. She was saying something about lunch that didn’t matter, clipping herself off mid-sentence when she spotted Margo loitering near the exit, wearing a sweater so red it felt like a warning.

“Hey,” Julia said, suddenly oblivious to Quentin’s existence, a blush painting itself high on her cheeks. “Wanna get out of here?”

Margo stepped into Julia’s personal space and kissed her on the mouth. “Hey yourself,” she said with a smirk. “And you know I do, kitten. But first—” Her steely gaze fell over Quentin like a shadow, making his stomach drop. “I need to talk to your best friend.”

Quentin frowned at her with his entire face. “What did I do?”

Margo offered a quirk of her brow. “Well how’s that for a coincidence,” she said. “I was just about to ask you the very same thing. Or more specifically, Quentin—what the fuck did you say to Eliot now?"

Quentin’s pulse picked up. He put one hand on his hip, mirroring her power pose, trying to not let the animal-brained terror show on his face. “Thought you said whatever I tell him he’s just going to spill to you later.”

Margo rolled her eyes. “Please, you know I was just fishing for gossip,” she said. “Quit trying to change the subject. I wanna know what you said.”

Quentin eyed Julia—who was slowly inching her way to the door—before throwing his hands up with a sigh. “I don’t see why it matters what I—”

“Because Eliot didn’t get out of bed this morning.”

The way she said it—her voice so filled with dread. It made Quentin’s heart sink down into his shoes.

“Yeah, well—” Quentin shrugged. “No one really seems to care when I stay in bed all day.”

“Q,” Julia cut in. “That’s not fair.”

“And this isn’t about you,” Margo added. Quentin could feel himself shrinking underneath the scrutiny of her gaze. “When Eliot’s messed up about something, he doesn’t sleep. He drinks and he fucks and he cokes himself up to the gills.” She let that sit a moment. “Today, he didn’t even wanna have mimosas with me out on the porch. He didn’t even want a cigarette. So I’ll repeat: what the fuck did you say to my best friend, Coldwater?”

A little thread of anger began to unfurl in the corner of Quentin’s mind. He pinched it between his fingers, giving it a tug. “He’s only upset because he—” Quentin held his hand up, letting the ring catch the light. “He can’t control me anymore. That’s all this has ever been about. Fucking with my head, and—”

“Oh, you have gotta be—” Margo pressed her lips together, like she was only just barely suppressing a laugh. “You don’t actually expect me to believe you’re really—” She glanced over at Julia. “He doesn’t actually expect me to believe he’s really…”

Julia put up her hands. “I’m staying out of it,” she said, doing a tut and opening the door at her back. “We’ll, um… we’ll get dinner later, yeah?” She offered Quentin a sad little smile, then promptly turned her attention to Margo. “And as for you… I’ll be waiting in your room.”

She disappeared into the chill beyond the door and magicked it shut behind her. Margo watched her go with a devious smirk on her face. One that quickly faded the moment she and Quentin were well and truly alone.

“Talk,” she said, crossing her arms over her chest in a way that told Quentin he had two options: listen or be eaten alive. “Now.”

Quentin groaned with his entire chest. “I don’t know what you want me to tell you,” he said, taking a seat on one of the benches outside the classroom door.

Margo sat down next to him, crossed her legs in his direction. Her body language somehow soft and terrifying all at once. “I want you,” she said very carefully, “to tell me. What the fuck your angle is here.”

“I don’t—” He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “I don’t have an angle, Margo. Okay, you can—you can believe whatever you want. I—”

The look on her face snipped the words off clean in his mouth. “Eliot might be just enough of a heartsick sap to eat up your bullshit, Coldwater, but there’s something you should know about me.” She leaned in close, so close Quentin could see all the wild flecks of color dancing in her irises. “Mama had her bullshit vaccine long before you came along, sweetheart. So as far as you’re concerned, she’s fucking immune.” She backed out of his personal space with a pretty little smile. “You wanna keep up this little charade of yours?” She shrugged. “Fine. Guess there’s not really anything short of castration I can do to stop you. But don’t insult me by lying to my face.”

Quentin was quiet for a long moment, gazing blankly at the bulletin board on the wall across from where they sat. “If he loved me,” he started, so quietly he couldn’t be sure Margo could even hear him. “If he loved me he—he would try to make things right.” He bit at the inside of his lip hard, trying to keep the tears at bay. “I just thought—maybe. Maybe if I forced him to—I don’t know. Maybe if I hurt him enough he’ll give me something. Anything...”

A beat of silence filled the air, then burst between them like a heavy cloud. “If he didn’t love you, Q,” Margo offered, so softly it made Quentin’s whole body ache, “we wouldn’t even be having this conversation right now.”

“Is that supposed to make me feel better?” Quentin’s voice quavered with a hot swell of emotion. A tsunami, a flood. Some catastrophic thing that would swallow them whole if Quentin dared to let it out.

Margo shook her head. “Hell if I know what’s gonna make you feel better,” she said. “But I know waving that ring in his face isn’t gonna suddenly pop the impenetrable lock on Fort Eliot like you’re hoping it might.”

“What if it does?”

“It won’t."

Margo’s words came out like a judge passing down a sentence. Quentin didn’t know what he was supposed to say after that, didn’t know if he had the energy to even try.

“Look,” she said, offering Quentin a little pat on the knee before rising to her feet. “I don’t know what you need to do or not do to make yourself feel better. Fuck if I know how to be happy.” For a flash of a second, Quentin swore he could see beneath the thick, shiny varnish of her exterior. Under all that armor, the vulnerable little magic girl with a beating heart that felt. “But stop making my best friend sad just for the hell of it.” Hand on hip, a little tip of her head, long hair flowing over her shoulder. “And while we’re at it, stop making your best friend worry about you so goddamn much. I don’t appreciate being clit-blocked, Coldwater.”

She walked away before Quentin had any hope of forming a response. He watched her disappear through the exit door. He watched the exit door swing shut.

It was a long time after she’d gone before Quentin found the energy to move his body again. He tottered back to the Cottage in a daze, climbed the stairs up to the second floor, and collapsed right there in the hall outside of Eliot’s room.

He pressed his ear to the door, listening for any sign of life coming from within. The rush of his own blood the only sound that filled his head. The way it pounded, pounded...

Chapter Text

Ridgewood, New Jersey
December 2013

Christmas morning was a lackluster affair.

Exchanging gift cards over coffee and devouring great mounds of Ted Coldwater’s Famous Ham and Eggs while still in their pajamas. After, Julia and Quentin lay on the living room floor and Skyped with James, his grandparents waving hello from Pennsylvania in the background. They opened the stack of impersonal and overly-extravagant gifts from Julia’s mother that had been delivered to the house the night before. Quentin received a pair of cashmere socks and a leather belt with a shiny silver buckle.

There was nothing from his own mother to be opened. Not even a phone call or a card filled up with someone else’s words. Which was—it was fine. It was what Quentin had been expecting. It was how Christmas had been for years and years. He didn’t allow himself to feel upset about it. He figured there were plenty of other things he could hold onto if he wanted to be miserable. Like being away from Eliot for two long weeks. Like sleeping all alone. Like not understanding why it made his belly twist in a way that didn’t always feel good when he thought about Eliot loving him back.

All he really wanted to do was curl up back in his bed. Send Eliot a good morning text. Maybe get a little something in return...

Quentin’s chance to sneak away came just past 11am.

“Come with me,” Julia said, emerging from upstairs wearing actual human clothes, her coat draped over one arm like a drooping flag.

Quentin slumped down in his seat on the sofa. “It’s Christmas,” he said with a sigh. “Where could you possibly want to go—”

“Friends,” she said with a smirk. “Come on. I know you don’t wanna hang out with your dad all—”

Quentin huffed, gesturing at his plaid pajama pants. “I’m not taking these off,” he said. “It’s Christmas. Those are the rules.”

“You suck,” Julia said, spinning on her heels and heading for the door. “If you change your mind—”

“I won’t,” Quentin grumbled, offering her a smile when she glared over her shoulder.

Quentin’s dad was tucked away in his office, fiddling with his model airplanes at his desk. Entirely lost to the world. Quentin all but ran up the stairs to his room and locked himself inside. Made a beeline for Eliot’s cardigan in the closet and tugged it on over his pajamas. Folding the sleeves up over his hands like mittens, allowing himself to be enveloped entirely in its warmth.

He crawled into bed and shot off a text. Good morning. Merry Christmas. He punctuated the words with a string of festive emojis and hugged the phone to his chest while awaiting Eliot’s reply.

It came in two minutes later. Merry Christmas, beautiful boy, it read, followed immediately by a long series of eggplant emojis and a winking face.

Quentin grinned until his jaw ached. Shut his eyes with the phone wrapped loosely in one hand. Thought about sucking Eliot’s dick until he was so hard it was like his heart had decided to take up residence down between his legs. He bit at the inside of his cheek until the urge to shove his hand down the front of his pants subsided. Reminding himself over and over again exactly what he wasn’t permitted to do for two torturous, impossible weeks.

It was silly, actually, when he thought about it for more than a second or two. It wasn’t like Eliot had any way of knowing what Quentin got up to when he was all alone in his bedroom across state lines. But he couldn’t help it—the stirring in his chest when he thought about being good. Being good for Eliot specifically. And really—two weeks wasn’t a very long time. Not in the grand scheme of an entire life. Not compared to months or years or decades.

He’d keep himself busy. He could do anything for two weeks if he focused.

He pulled himself out of bed and went to his desk and rummaged around in one of the drawers until he found a deck of cards. The perfect solution to keeping greedy hands occupied when the urge to ruin everything came on a little too strong. Card tricks, sleight of hand. Pick a card, any card. Making coins disappear up his sleeve or behind Julia’s ear. He’d Skype with James and make him watch as the cards flowed through his hands like water. He’d learn new tricks on YouTube, make up new tricks of his own on the spot. Pull a rabbit out of a fucking hat. Saw his own body in half behind the veil of a curtain.

Whatever it came down to in the end. Quentin wanted to be good.

Two weeks was nothing. A blink. A puff of smoke. And it wasn’t even two whole weeks anymore. Not if he arrived back on campus the first Monday in January. Twelve days from that very moment. Less if he counted the hours of the morning that had already passed. Eleven and a half days. A week and a half, really. Which was so close to being only one week. Which was so close to being—

Quentin sat down on the floor, started shuffling his cards.

Brakebills University
November 2015

Quentin woke to the shock of something blunt and insistent jabbing him in the shoulder. He’d been dreaming about his mother’s voice pleading in a deep, blank void. Brightly colored Christmas ornaments shattering in the cupped palms of his bleeding hands.

Not again, Quentin. Not again. You know you always break everything you touch.

The world was too bright when he opened his eyes. Like the sun had moved indoors and decided to wake him. Sharp daggers of light piercing into his retinas. He rolled over onto his back, swallowing down the grit in his throat, eyes landing on the flat plank of the ceiling overhead. And a face, looming like a watery shadow as his vision adjusted to the glow. Dark hair, furrowed brow. Margo and her bright red sweater. He was lying in the hallway outside of Eliot’s room. He might have been there for a hundred years or more.

“You gonna haul ass, Coldwater, or am I gonna have to haul it for you?”

It felt like someone had taken a mallet to Quentin’s spine. “What time is it?” he asked with a groan, stretching his arms over his head, blinking up at Margo like he was trying to communicate via Morse code.

Margo tilted her head, hair falling around her face in pretty little wisps. “It’s time for you to stop sleeping outside of your ex’s room like a freak and let me get inside.”

“I didn’t mean—” He pulled himself up to a sitting position with some effort, rubbing at his eyes. His memory of the moments before drifting away all fizzy and fragmented in his mind. “I didn’t mean to fall asleep.”

She pushed him aside without a word the moment he was on his feet. Tutting the way a ballerina moves. All grace and ease of motion. Like magic itself had been given to humans for Margo Hanson’s benefit alone. She popped his wards in less than a minute, popped the lock on the door with a spin of her fingers and pushed inside the room.

“Okay, Waugh Van Winkle, time for you to—”

Quentin stepped over the threshold behind her. Eliot’s bed was empty.

Margo turned to Quentin and narrowed her eyes. “Where the hell did he go?”

Quentin shrugged. Tight coil of trepidation unspooling in his gut. “Do you honestly think I would have been sleeping outside his door if I thought he wasn’t in here? Maybe he’s downstairs.”

“He’s not,” she said. “I checked.”

“Yeah, well,” Quentin sighed, his belly souring before the words could leave him. “He’s probably shacked up with Wyatt or something.”

Margo glared. “Who the fuck is Wyatt?”

Before Quentin could answer, Julia popped into the room, gave him a little nudge in the shoulder, immediately turned her attention to Margo. “Hey, uh—” Something passed between them. A slip of paper, creased all over and crumpled at the edges. Like it had been folded and unfolded hundreds of times. “This just flew in through your bedroom window.”

Margo’s expression turned grave. She unfolded the paper without elegance or grace. Skittering eyes cast downward onto the page. “Well shit,” she said after a long moment.

Quentin craned his neck in a half-hearted attempt at catching a glimpse. “Is it from him?”

Margo raised her eyes. “Yeah,” she said, thrusting the note in Quentin’s face like a threat. “It sure is.”

Quentin’s heart felt like it was trying to leap right out of his mouth. His insides felt like they’d been boiled in acid. He let his eyes sweep over the page and didn’t register a single word. Cursed with the spins like the morning after a long night of too many drinks. He tottered over to the bed and perched on the edge, running his eyes over the note on an endless loop. Over and over until at last the words began to fit themselves together in his mind.

bambi,

hate to leave w/o saying goodbye but probably [the rest of the line was entirely illegible]

left drugs in box under bed feel free to raid

won’t be coming back

sorry

Eliot had signed his name beneath a smattering of lopsided hearts. There was something scrawled at the very bottom of the page that had been scribbled out so furiously with black ink it had scored the paper clean through to the other side. It looked like an incision, like a wound. Like the paper had started to scar. Quentin pressed his finger to it, swore he could feel the dark of the ink seeping into his skin like venom.

Quentin let the paper go. Let it flutter down to the floor between his feet like he was shedding his skin. Margo was saying something. Something about removing Eliot’s head from his ass and replacing it with her favorite pair of stilettos. Julia sat down on the bed, giving Quentin’s heart a start. He raised his eyes. They were damp. Julia put a hand on his shoulder.

“This is what he does,” Quentin said, voice thick and quavering. Ruined like his brain and his heart. “This is what—you’re not going to find him. He—”

“Like hell I’m not,” Margo cut in, eyes spilling over with so much fiery determination Quentin wondered at how the air around her didn’t combust. “He doesn’t just get to walk out on me when—” She drew a breath, exhaled slowly. “Fuck that. I’ll track his ass down and drag him back here by the ball sack myself.”

Quentin felt a scream on the verge of bursting in his throat. He swallowed it down, let it fester in his belly until he felt sick. “You don’t get it, you don’t—” He let a bitter laugh roll out of his chest. “You’re not his keeper, okay? And neither am I. If he—if he wants to go. That’s it—that’s—I don’t know how you’re not understanding this, Margo.”

Margo watched him with her dark eyes for a handful of seconds. Tension in the line of her jaw and the set of her shoulders. Then, without a word, she was lunging forward. Sudden blur of movement startling Quentin’s animal brain. He flinched, anticipating something sharp and bruising. Her open palm, the bony jut of her knuckles to his cheek. In the stasis of that moment, where everything and nothing seemed to be happening at once, Quentin thought it was probably what he deserved. That when it was all over, it would probably even feel good.

But the blow never came. Margo reached down and snatched up the note from where it was lying between his feet. She spun on her heels. She disappeared into the hall.

Quentin and Julia sat on the bed together in silence for a long moment after she’d gone. The specter of Eliot haunted every corner of the room. The objects scattered on his desk in a chaotic constellation: talismans and charms; a strip of condoms and the box they came in; a pen, an open book, an ashtray spilling over with butts and half-smoked cigarettes. His shelf of tinctures and potions: swirling colors; silver, violet, Prussian blue; golden flowers in a vial watching like unblinking eyes. His closet, half-open, lined with all his beautiful, expensive shirts. A pair of red suspenders in a coil on his dresser. A richly colored silk tie, still knotted, hanging from one of the bedposts. The way the sheets on his unmade bed were still all rumpled from where he’d been sleeping in it just hours ago.

Quentin reached over, touched a pillow. Knew if he pressed his face into it, it would smell like Eliot’s shampoo. Lavender, with something heady and masculine underneath. Pheromones, the lingering whisper of his sweat. The sharp sizzle-pop of his magic. Like a shot into Quentin’s bloodstream, a volley to the heart. A kick of desire between his legs. So much mindless, animal wanting from the scent of him alone.

“Hey,” Julia said softly, pulling Quentin from his longing. “Q, I’m sorry.”

He ran a hand over his hair and sighed. “It’s, uh—it’s better this way, right?” His teeth were chattering, his whole body trembling. He couldn’t hold it in. “I mean, this—this is what I should want, right? To be done with him. To just… be done. For real this time.”

Julia wrapped her arms around him, pressed her face into his neck. “Yeah,” she said. “It should be. But I know it’s not.”

She pulled back and looked at him. Quentin wanted to hide his face. Cheeks scarlet with emotion, tears welling over in his eyes and falling, falling. He swiped them away with his shirt sleeve, gulping down a sob. Feeling like he’d swallowed the ocean.

“Um,” he said, sniffling, looking down at the tear stains on the cuff of his shirt, “if I said I wanted to be alone—”

“I’d say there’s not a chance in hell I’m letting that happen right now,” Julia said, offering the tiniest of smiles. “Look, you’re—you’re strong, Q. Stronger than you know.”

“I’m not—”

“You are.” She let that sit a moment, then stood up, took Quentin by the hand, gave it a tug. “Come on. I bet you haven’t eaten anything all day.”

Quentin gave her a hard look, but allowed her to pull him to his feet anyway. He trudged behind her out into the hall, followed her down the stairs, walked in a daze to the kitchen. Sat down at the island, the overhead lights burning in his retinas like miniature suns. He felt like he was floating around inside of a dream, just waiting for his brain to get the message to his body so he could wake the fuck up already and get on with his life.

Julia made a massive, colorful salad. Quentin didn’t think it looked very good, but he ate it when it was placed in front of him anyway. Or picked at it, at least. Shoved enough of it in his mouth while Julia was looking to give the illusion of eating like a person. All the while, he couldn’t stop thinking of that furious scribble at the bottom of Eliot’s letter. What that desperate smear of black ink had been trying to contain. What Eliot had written and then immediately flushed away with the scarring force of his regret.

Words that might not have been intended for Margo at all. Words for someone else. For Quentin. A confession. A heart beat spilling over onto the page. A goodbye, an apology. Something. Finally. Something, anything—

Tell Quentin I’m sorry

I’m sorry

I remember

How could I ever forget

I’m sorry, Quentin

I’m sorry

I’m so sorry

Forgive me

Quentin, please, I’m—

Ridgewood, New Jersey
December 2013

Quentin bought a dildo three days after Christmas.

It wasn’t that he was planning on—he wasn’t going to use it to—it was just that—

He wanted to give Eliot a present.

Or maybe he was just bored. And horny. And so tired of doing card tricks he was seriously considering setting his own hands on fire. But he really, truly wasn’t going to use it on himself. Not like that. Not in the way he imagined most people who bought dildos used them on themselves at least.

It was just that. It was just—

Over the hours and days that had passed between their conversation on Christmas Eve Eve and the moment he’d come up with some bullshit excuse for why he needed to borrow his dad’s car just to drive into town real quick I swear, Quentin had decided no one else on planet Earth deserved something nice for belated-Christmas more than Eliot Waugh.

And it wasn’t technically breaking the rules. Quentin wasn’t planning on jerking off. He was acquiring a brand new skill. It was admirable, really, if you thought about it. Like that summer before junior year when Julia was away with her family in Europe, and James had a job and a new girlfriend, and Quentin had been left all alone with nothing but his books and an internet connection for company. The end result had been teaching himself Sindarin to keep from climbing the walls. It had livened up his smutty LOTR fanfic for months, and he still remembered it a little, even if the syntax felt foreign and sticky on his tongue.

That night, after Julia and his dad were fast asleep, Quentin took his new silicone friend into the shower, and was immediately overwhelmed by the everything of it all. In the shop it had looked… different. Less intimidating somehow. Maybe it had been a trick of the light. Or the fact that Quentin’s heart had been racing so fast under his heavy coat he could hardly think. Or the fact that he’d been wearing dark sunglasses the entire time. And hiding half his face under his hood. Red as a strawberry ripe for the picking. He’d selected the one he thought resembled Eliot’s anatomy most accurately, slapped his cash down on the counter, and made a beeline for the door.

It had a suction cup on the bottom. Quentin stuck it to the wall and stepped back under the shower head, letting the delightfully steamy water soak him from head-to-foot. His dick was already hard thinking about what he was going to do, but he didn’t allow himself to touch. He reached out with the point of a finger, ran it along the silicone from base-to-tip, finding it smooth and cold.

Disembodied like this, it was kind of terrifying. Something far too big for any part of his body to ever contain. But it was also—god. It was almost exactly Eliot’s dick in appearance. Thick and heavy and proud. Rigid in the core with just the right amount of give in its facsimile of flesh. Quentin spit in the palm of his hand once, twice. Wrapped his hand around the shaft and gave it a single languid stroke.

It shouldn’t have turned him on as much as it did. It was only silicone. But the idea of—just the thought of—of Eliot—of doing this for him—imagining the sounds he would make. The strangled little pleasure noises that would bubble up in his throat. The way his thighs would quiver and shake. The way he’d wind his strong fingers in Quentin’s short crop of hair and tug until stars blossomed along the column of his spine.

Quentin shut his eyes, wrapped his lips around the head. Wondered absently if Eliot had ever been well and truly deepthroated before. If any of the countless boys that had shared his bed over the years had ever really succeeded in taking him all the way down. The possibility that it had never happened thrilled Quentin to his very center. The idea that maybe, somehow, in some way, Quentin could still be Eliot’s first.

Even with his eyes closed, there was no mistaking that what he had in his mouth wasn’t the real thing. No blood-warm skin, no quiver-pulse as Eliot’s dick grew to full hardness. But still—still. It made Quentin ache something awful down between his legs. Steady drip, drip, drip of pre-come mingling with the warm water spraying from the shower head. He stretched his jaw wide open, pressed his tongue flat to the underside, and began the task of sinking down, down. Just a little at first before pulling back, lavishing the head with his tongue even though there wasn’t really any use.

But—god. He’d missed this. Missed getting blissed out on a dick. Getting blissed out on Eliot. Even if it had only been a week. He sank down on his silicone cock until it brushed along the flesh of his soft palate, nudging at the entryway of his throat. This was the deepest he’d ever been able to take Eliot. The promise of the thing without ever letting it cross the line. He didn’t gag. He never did with Eliot either. He figured that was probably a promising start.

He pressed forward suddenly. The head of the dildo slipped down into his throat an inch or two. Quentin’s heart immediately began to throb under his ribs, the points of his pulse fluttering like sirens in the night. He pulled back, panicked. It was so fucking big he was going to die if he tried to take it any deeper. It hadn’t occurred to him until that moment that he probably should have bought something a bit smaller and worked his way up to the imitation-Eliot size. Fuck.

He knocked his head against the cool tile of the wall, the warm shower spray pounding against his back like drops of summer rain.

Brakebills University
November 2015

Quentin sat in the common room chain smoking the cigarettes he’d swiped from Margo earlier in the day. There was an ashtray balanced on the arm of the chair he was slumped in and he was thinking about knocking it onto the rug for no reason at all. It was dark beyond the windows. Everyone was tucked into little corners of their own. Hushed conversation and easy laughter carried like strains of music. Penny and Alice were parked on the window seat, pawing at each other over their clothes. He curled a hand around the side of her neck when he kissed her. The sense memory that came over Quentin at the sight was enough to make his stomach turn.

Margo and Julia were on the sofa across the room, talking too low for Quentin to make out what they were saying. Every now and then, Julia shot Quentin a look with her sad and serious eyes. An hour passed, maybe more. Most of the others filed out. To go crawl into bed. To go crawl inside of each other. Quentin lit another cigarette. He was using a lighter. He didn’t have the energy to decide if he could do magic or not anymore.

“Hey, Coldwater,” Margo said. It was only her and Julia left in the room with him now. “Come over here. I wanna ask you something.”

Quentin stared at her without a word as he took one last drag on his cigarette. He stubbed it out, rose to his feet feeling like he was taking his first steps in approximately a decade. Trudged miserably over to the sofa and sat down in the open space Julia made between her body and Margo’s.

Julia snuggled up close to his side. Margo turned her body toward him, soft and serious.

“Tried a tracking spell earlier,” she said. Her voice was different now, no bullshit, no armor. “On El and on his little goodbye airplane. The note was enchanted on school grounds so it’s no use. And his wards are tighter than panties at a purity ball. But you…” She shrugged her shoulders. “You knew him before. Maybe you know somewhere he might have gone...”

“Margo, I—”

“I tried to tell her,” Julia cut in, resting her chin on his shoulder. “It wasn’t really… that kind of relationship.”

Quentin’s stomach churned. His whole body felt like it was being crushed under the weight of the moment. His heart a tiny insect under a boot. “Yeah, uh…” He stared down at the shriveling cups of his hands. “It wasn’t. It—we didn’t—he wasn’t my boyfriend or anything like that. It was—it was only sex.”

“You said he was your world.” Margo touched him on the shoulder. He could feel the heat of her burning clean through his shirt to his skin, the muscle underneath. And in his bones, boiling his marrow.

“He was.” Quentin let the words fall from his mouth the way a storm gasps its way out of the sky. A grand and pitiful surrender. “But that doesn’t mean I was his. Everything I knew about him, uh—it was like trying to chip away at a mountain with a fucking spoon.”

A gentle silence fell over the room. Margo curled against Quentin’s side, mirroring Julia across from her. Reaching over, touching Julia’s shoulder. The warmth of their bodies was like a balm to his ache. For a moment, he allowed himself the comfort.

“Tell me what he was like,” Margo said very quietly. “In undergrad.”

Quentin inhaled, felt the oxygen moving through him. Hyper-aware of the expansion of his chest, the way it fluttered as he pushed the breath back out. His body some fragile thing, thin as the skin of a balloon. Like if you pressed a pin into his side, he’d have no choice but to burst.

“He was, um...” Quentin shook his head. “He was like he is now. Beautiful.” He let that sit. Pictured Eliot’s mouth, his eyes. “He partied and he slept with whoever he wanted and then… he wanted me.” Quentin’s arm slipped around Margo’s shoulders, his other arm pulling Julia in. They settled against his chest. And breathed. And listened. “He was kind. And gentle. And strong. And he made me feel so goddamn good when we were together. But he never really let me in.”

“Yeah,” Margo said, the shape of a miserable smile painting her voice. “That sounds like El.”

“And sometimes—sometimes I thought he, you know—I thought he was in love with me. Sometimes it really felt like he was, but—I don’t know.” He paused for a long moment, until he could be certain he wasn’t going to cry. “I guess it’s like everything with him. How sometimes I think he’s going to give me something and then he never does. And it feels impossible. Like there’s this wall you can never break through. He shuts everything out that isn’t… mindless fucking hedonism.”

Margo turned her face upward. Her eyes were damp. “He’s in pain,” she said. “You have to see that now.”

Quentin shrugged, soothed a hand down Margo’s arm. “Just when I think I see something like an actual human emotion inside of him, Margo, he shuts down. And he acts like nothing matters. Like everything is just a game. Like he’s—fucking untouchable.”

Margo gave him a sad little smile. “His bullshit really does work on you, huh?”

Anger flared in Quentin’s throat for one hard instant. “All I have ever wanted from him is an apology and he—” He tried to tamp the fury down, the way a candle snuffs out. “He won’t even acknowledge that it happened. So excuse me for not exactly being clear on what’s going on inside his head.”

“What’s going on inside his head is a fucking shitstorm,” Margo said. “Which is why we can’t just let him walk away.”

Anger cresting, falling away. Giving over to sorrow so cloying and thick Quentin wondered if he might be drowning. “Why should I have to keep chasing after him? Why should I—” He choked on the words, shutting his eyes to keep the tears at bay.

“For the record,” Julia cut in very quietly, “I’m with Quentin on this one.”

“Yeah,” Margo said with a sigh. “I know you are, kitten. But I suspect if this were Quentin we were talking about—”

“Quentin would never—”

Quentin’s eyes shot open. “Can you please not talk about me like I’m not literally underneath you both right now.”

Julia smirked. “Sorry.”

Margo said, “My point still stands. He needs his friends.”

“I’m not his friend,” Quentin and Julia said in unison.

He could feel a shifting in their shared energy at once. Margo pulled away. The warmth of their little cooperative spell broken. Quentin’s bones went instantly colder. Julia must have felt it in his chest, because suddenly she was pulling away too. He didn’t know what to say. He felt like he’d committed a felony. He touched the cold metal of the ring on his finger, waited for someone to break the silence.

Margo slumped into the corner of the sofa and lit a cigarette. “Whatever,” she said, the word punctuated with an exhale, a long tendril of smoke pouring from her lips. “I’m gonna find him. With or without your help.”

Quentin looked to Julia then. She gave him the saddest of smiles, a little shrug of her shoulders. He pinched the bridge of his nose, head suddenly pounding, heart entirely unmoored.

After a long moment of silent agony, Quentin got up, went to the bar, and made himself a drink.

Ridgewood, New Jersey
December 2013

It was New Year’s Eve, and Quentin was surrounded by strangers. Technically, they were supposed to be friends. Earlier in the day, Julia had asked him if he wanted to go to a party with some people from high school, and Quentin had reluctantly said yes. For some reason. Even though he’d been looking forward to night number four of Operation Deepthroat. Just his bed and the shower and his dildo and buckets of time.

When they showed up at the house on Highland Avenue that was easily three times the size of his dad’s place, Quentin hadn’t been able to pick out a single name or face from their graduating class.

“You remember Candace,” Julia said as they picked up glasses of champagne from the bar. “Q, seriously? We literally came to a party at this exact house senior year. Her parents were out of town and—come on. You were there. I remember.”

Twinkle lights and sequin dresses sparked like kindling in Quentin’s vision. “I’ve never been here in my life, Jules,” he said, taking a swig of champagne. “And I don’t know Candace.”

“Shut up,” Julia exclaimed, knocking him in the shoulder. “You remem—oh shit. Do you think your brain had to do a memory dump to make room for all your dirty Professor-related fantasies?”

“Oh my god—” Quentin set his champagne glass down on the bar top and threw his hands up. “We are not doing this right now, Jules.”

“Oh we so—hey! Where are you going?! Oh, come on. Quentin, don’t be a brat, I’m just fucking with...”

Julia’s voice trailed into the background as Quentin pushed his way through the throngs, made a beeline for the nearest bathroom. He locked the door and leaned back against it, pulled out his phone to check the time. It was three minutes to midnight, and suddenly his brain was all incoherence and champagne bubbles. Filled straight up to the top with the din beyond the door.

Quentin’s fingers were suddenly moving. Pulling up his text thread with Eliot. Pecking out a message before his brain could catch up to his hands.

Wish I could kiss you at midnight

He sent it off with one careless press of his thumb, hands tingling, mind a font of hopeless wanting. Something that tasted like sadness souring in his throat. He didn’t even have the excuse of being all that drunk yet. He only wanted. He only wanted to shut his eyes and make a wish and—

Before the sonic boom of regret could go off inside his chest, Eliot texted back.

Just kiss? ;)

Quentin exhaled a breath he’d been holding for so long his lungs burned. He laughed, slid his way down the door until he was sitting, knocked his head back against the wood.

Obviously not, he replied. But you know what I mean………...

Thirty seconds later, when Eliot hadn’t replied, Quentin added: I miss u

He hadn’t heard Eliot’s voice since their call that very first night apart, and Quentin had to fight the urge to dial him right then. Even the sound of his breathing would have been nice. The soft rumble of his laughter. The poetry of Quentin’s name rolling from his tongue.

As the clock rolled over into 2014, a string of texts from Eliot chimed in. One, two, three, four—

Happy New Year, sweetheart

Not long now

Less than a week

;)

There was a long pause between the winking face and what came next.

I miss u too

Quentin let his eyes scan over the words a dozen times or more, felt them in his chest like a shimmer of lights, rushing swiftly as his blood. He set the phone down on the floor at his side, counted six days out on his fingers. Just to see them there, like little pillars, tick marks dashed out in flesh. Like it could somehow make the days go faster. Like it could somehow—

He put one finger down.

It was only five days if he thought about it, really. The new day had already begun. The new year. The opening of a doorway. Passing from darkness and out into the light. Eliot’s warmth already washing over him like happy yellow rays of sun.

Brakebills University
November 2015

The early morning hours of Wednesday smarted like a bruise. Quentin sat on the window seat in the common room all alone. Taking pulls from a flask that belonged to Margo. One of the ones she and Eliot had enchanted to never empty. The liquor it was filled with burned in his belly like gasoline.

Drunk enough for every point of light in the room to melt in his vision like shooting stars, he groped at his pilfered pack of cigarettes and found it empty, tossed it to the floor in a huff. He took another pull from the flask and tossed it down on the seat beside him, knocked his head back against the window and shut his eyes, wishing his brain would just give over to the sweet thrill of oblivion already. He was so very tired of having a mind. Just an hour or two, that’s all Quentin was asking for.

Heavy clunk of footsteps on the stairs. Quentin sucked in a breath, eyes snapping open at once. The shape of someone moving in the streaking light. Tall, dark, broad-shouldered. Wrapped up in a fluffy white robe, their lumbering movements giving them the distinct appearance of a mechanical ghost.

The ghost shuffled nearer. Their face a wash of jittery features. Quentin’s brain scrambled to piece them together. Hair, eyes, nose, mouth—

Shit.

Penny.

Quentin considered making a run for it, but he was pretty sure he couldn’t even stand up.

Penny tottered over, rubbing at his eyes. The top half of his robe was gaping open, his chest exposed in a deep V plunge. “Coldwater,” he said with a groggy tip of his head. “You look like shit.”

Quentin reached for the flask, just to have something to hold onto. Rubbing at it like a worry stone under his thumb. “I think that might be the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me,” he slurred.

Penny glared for a long, tense moment. His features warping in the swampy madness of Quentin’s eyes. Quentin anticipated something biting and cold falling out of his mouth. Snark or cruelty, most likely a little of both. Maybe tonight would be the night he finally saw fit to put Quentin out of his misery. In his current state, he didn’t think he could be bothered to care all that much.

But when Penny opened his mouth, it was only to say, “Wait here.” He stumbled a little as he spun on his heels, his robe swishing behind him like a fairytale cloak. He trudged out of the room and down the hall. Quentin squinted into the blank space where his body had been.

Quentin figured it was only fair he should have no idea what was going on, out of his mind as he was. In the great chasm of his skull, none of the details fit. He unscrewed the cap on the flask and poured more liquor into his mouth. He could hardly feel the burn of it anymore, the way it sloshed around like poison in his gut. Fractured memories of Eliot bobbed to the surface of his brain like hungry fish. Feeding on the venom draining into his bloodstream in a slow and steady drip.

He didn’t know how much time had passed, but suddenly Penny was back. “Here,” he said, shoving a glass of water into Quentin’s hand. “You seriously do not look good, man.”

Water sloshed over the rim of the glass, rolled down the back of Quentin’s hand like drops of rain. “I’m sorry,” he said. “What’s happening?”

“Would you just drink it?” Penny made an airy gesture with one hand. “I do not have time for…” He trailed off with a sigh, the force of it overtaking his entire body. Face shifting and rolling like Quentin was viewing the world through a kaleidoscope lens.

And then suddenly he was—Penny was sitting down next to Quentin on the window seat. Quentin’s brain took the shape of a hundred thousand question marks firing off in unison. In the midst of a full-blown stupor, he had no hope of keeping up.

“Why do you care if I drink water?”

Penny’s robe slipped off of one shoulder. Objectively, he was an incredibly attractive person. Tall and strong with big hands and sturdy shoulders. Exactly the sort of guy Quentin used to jack off thinking about before Eliot Waugh came along and ruined his fantasies for anyone else. He imagined, in some other world, another version of himself might be responding quite differently to the sight of a half naked Penny Adiyodi intruding on his personal space in the middle of the night.

“Because you—” Penny started and stopped. “If you die of alcohol poisoning, well—I can at least say I did my part to try and stop you.” His eyes flitted from Quentin’s face down to the flask in his lap. He snatched it up, screwing the top off and bringing it to his nose. “What are you even—” He sniffed, pulled a face, immediately screwed the top back on. “Smells like straight gasoline. Man, what the fuck.”

The flask tumbled back into Quentin’s lap with a hollow thunk. He watched all of this happening like it was playing out on a television screen. It had to be make believe, otherwise it didn’t make any sense. Like some essential law of the universe was being flipped on its head. Penny was his bully, had been since Quentin’s very first day on campus. And the number one rule of bullies was they didn’t bring you water to try and stave off alcohol poisoning. The second rule was generally they were too busy bullying you to care if you got alcohol poisoning or not.

Quentin couldn’t figure out what he was supposed to say next. He blinked, vision flickering like bad reception. Opened his mouth, let the first words his tongue could shape from his madness tumble out into the world.

“Do you wanna have sex with me?”

It was like being stuck on instant replay. The way time stalled out and looped inside his head. A shower of sparks skittering over grey matter. Penny started to laugh. Quentin registered it distantly the way an engine starts, sputtering as it broke free of his chest. Quentin was surprised by his own words and he wasn’t. He was fairly certain he’d been thinking about Eliot biting into his neck. Biting hard with sharp, insistent teeth that didn’t stop until they came away bloody and ruined.

Penny offered Quentin an incredulous grin, his features streaking past like the nebulous tail of a comet. “You’re, uh—” He laughed, shaking his head in slow motion. “You’re a fucking mess, Coldwater.”

A silence settled between them for a long moment. Quentin wanted to say something—anything—but the words kept disintegrating on his tongue before he could speak them. Acid rain sizzling on pavement. Over-warm face, sweat prickling on the back of his neck. Through the sickening haze of it all, Quentin thought he might have felt something akin to shame.

At his side, Penny shifted. Opening and closing his mouth a half dozen times or more before finding the words. “So, uh—here’s what’s about to happen.” He sighed. “I am going to go back upstairs and crawl into bed with my girl. And, uh—you and I are going to forget this whole thing ever happened.”

Quentin felt like a blur. His stomach churned. Thick, dark water rising in his throat as he watched Penny pull himself to his feet.

“Look,” Penny continued. The vision of him tottering sideways like he was melting. “I should probably say thank you. For having mercy on me and putting up those mental wards. ‘Cause I really don’t think I could stomach whatever’s going on inside that head of yours at this point. You really, uh—” He huffed a laugh. “You need to get some help, man,” he said, half-turning his body away. “And drink your fucking water.”

Quentin watched him leave the way a light goes dim. Fading into shadow, distant hum of footfalls echoing up the staircase. And then he was gone. And Quentin was alone. Slipping out of his own body like shedding a skin. If he’d ever really been there at all. If he’d ever really been—

He took a single sip of water from the glass before his fingers lost their hold. Quentin tried to stop it with his magic, but there wasn’t any use. Hands shaping the tut all wrong long after the glass had hit his knee, and tipped sideways, and began its short descent to the floor where it shattered with a discordant shriek. Tinkling of the shards raining over hardwood like splinters of bone.

Quentin pressed his face to the cool window glass and shut his eyes. Oblivion had found him, but the thoughts of Eliot wouldn’t leave. Body limp and heavy, like all his misery had suddenly been distilled into his arms and legs. Behind the darkness of his eyelids, Quentin let the memories drift. Flicking past like still images on a projector screen. Until at last he settled on one, pressed against it like the cool, sharp edge of a blade. Graduation night 2014. That hotel room in Harlem where they’d lost themselves inside each other for days. Under the covers, wrapped around Eliot like a second skin. His own words echoing now like a siren wailing in the dark.

Hey.

Quentin was falling. The window seat under his body dropping away. The memory lingering like a haunting, even as the sweet incoherence of dreams rose up to swallow the world.

You wanna hear something funny?

Ridgewood, New Jersey
January 2014

Quentin pretended to be hungover on New Year’s Day. What better excuse to stay locked inside his room for hours getting blissed out on disembodied dick. Shafts of early morning light fell over his body in thick blades. Quentin lay curled up on his side with the dildo in his mouth. Hardly moving at all. Holding it inside of his cheek, swirling his tongue around the tip with his eyes squeezed shut. Picturing Eliot behind him, pressed all along the curve of his back. Petting his hair and spurring him forward. Kissing the bare expanse of his neck, his shoulder.

Such a good boy for me, Quentin. Show daddy how deep you can take it.

He wondered what Eliot would think, seeing him this way. A longing pulsed in his heart and down between his legs. It would be so easy to reach over and snatch his phone up from the nightstand, snap a photo of himself just like this. Send it off without any commentary. Shove his phone up under his pillow and ignore the insistent buzzing of Eliot’s replies coming in.

Just the thought of doing such a thing made Quentin’s balls draw tight as the skin of a drum. He shifted, rolling over onto his back and slipping his head from the pillow to get the angle just right. Stretched his jaw until it ached, gripping the dildo firmly by the shaft and pressing down an inch or two. He was getting better with the mechanics of it all if nothing else. Thinking of his body as a doorway. A corridor to be passed right through. Shoving his terror aside in favor of absolute focus.

His tongue flicked out, sweeping over the underside of the silicone shaft. He started losing himself a little after that. Body going sideways on the bed, head dangling down over one edge at a sharp angle. Line of his throat perfectly open. No care or concern for the noise he was starting to make. Slick, wet sounds of his throat working as he pushed the dildo deeper. Fucking himself with half the length, and then a little more. Hips twitching against the feather-light friction of his boxer shorts. Cock straining against the fabric like a closed fist.

Fanfare sounded in his chest. When it happened, it was all at once. On another planet in his lust-addled mind. Sense memory of Eliot’s taste washing over his tongue. His presence loomed in fits of light and shadow. Like if Quentin reached out the cock he was swallowing down would be attached to a body. Eliot’s fevered skin. The bony juts of his hips working as he buried himself to the hilt in Quentin’s eager throat.

He pressed the dildo down with one hand flat against the base. Pulse fluttering in his throat as he filled himself right up to his limit. Forcing himself to hold it there for a count of three as he began to sputter and choke. Spit dripping from his mouth and down his face in filthy spatters. Off-kilter drumbeat of his heart down between his legs.

He pulled the dildo free with slick gasp, tossing it aside and bolting upright in bed. Gulping down great lungfuls of air. Throat humming with the memory of fullness. Like he’d been enchanted from within. Like Quentin’s body itself had been transformed from flesh into pure fucking magic.

He toppled over sideways in a fit of hysterics. Buried his burning face in the coolness of his pillow. Quentin was glowing like a brand new star. Swore he could feel the light inside him seeping out of every pore. His dick so hard he wondered if he might come from the thought of it alone.

He forced himself to breathe around the ache. After a while, his frantic heart began to slow. Quentin shut his eyes and he drifted. Falling down into white-hot dreams of Eliot on his skin. The two of them rutting together like animals. Flashes of teeth and pawing hands. Pleasure cresting until Quentin felt it bubbling in his throat like a second pulse.

When he woke minutes or hours later, Quentin had flipped over onto his belly. His teeth had found the pillow. Dark-throated grunts puffing out of him like a shattered lion’s roar. His dick pulsed inside his boxer shorts, hips working in jerky little stutter-stop movements against the mattress underneath. The final throes of orgasm ripping through his body in a way that was utterly violent.

Quentin lay there twitching through the aftershocks. Bleary-eyed and devastated. Penumbra of his ruin settling over his body on the bed in a thick black cloud. He felt all scraped out inside. Raw as a busted knee glistening on blacktop. He flipped over onto his back when the haze of it subsided, the mess inside his shorts already starting to cool. Sweat-matted hair sticking to his brow and the nape of his neck. Eyes drifting down to the strip of black leather pressing Eliot’s name against the inside of his wrist like a tattoo.

Brakebills University
November 2015

In the dim everything was quiet. And then the sun came up.

Quentin woke from his blackout sleep to a crash of voices like daggers in his eardrums. The sound of glass crunching under a boot setting his teeth on edge. He had no idea where he was until he opened his eyes. The common room of the Physical Kids’ Cottage waved in his vision like he was viewing it from the bottom of a lake.

His mouth felt like the inside of a grave. Whoever had been making all the commotion had gone. Quentin was alone and the room was quiet. He looked down at the rumpled line of his own body. Filthy t-shirt sticking to his ribs. Fraying hems of his jeans. The flask of poison he’d fallen asleep with had been replaced with a bottle of water. Quentin blinked at it, trying to make sense of the offering. Plastic sweating icy beads as he wrapped his quaking fingers around it, cracked it open, and dumped the contents into his belly.

Quentin cast the empty bottle aside and swung his legs down off the window seat. Soles pressing into hardwood. Tight cords of his muscles protesting like stubborn roots. It was only when his feet weren’t torn to shreds by shattered glass that Quentin remembered that they should have been. He sighed, tipping at an odd angle as he tried to get his bearings. Julia, he felt certain of it, had come to his rescue once again. His stomach flipped where it was pressed under his heart. Quentin was ninety-percent sure he was still blitzed out of his mind.

He’d only just lowered himself down onto one of the sofas when Julia popped in from around the corner. Guilt struck Quentin’s breastbone like a hammer. “Hey,” she said, a little smile playing at the corners of her mouth as she took the seat beside him. “So um—I see some mistakes were made last night.”

Quentin ran a hand over the top of his head. “Mistakes are… definitely still being made as we speak,” he said, sharp sting of acid burning up the line of his throat. “What time is it?”

Julia shrugged. “Does it matter? We’re ditching class today, so...”

Quentin squinted in her general direction. The effort made his temples pound. “Since when do you ditch class?”

A laugh stuttered out from between her lips, an unspoken sadness lurking in her eyes. “Since my best friend needs me to sweet talk Margo Hanson into scoring some of that hangover cure.”

Quentin groaned and slumped down in his seat. She deserved so much better than what she’d settled for in him. “Don’t bother,” he said, letting his eyes click shut. Plunging his whole world into darkness. “I’m still wasted. Might just make the whole thing worse.”

“Well, sober up. Sleep it off. Whatever.” She rested her head on his shoulder with a sigh. “We’ve already missed one class. Might as well take the day.”

Ridgewood, New Jersey
January 2014

Quentin agonized for hours over what he had done. Stripping off his ruined sheets and ruined boxers. Shoving them to the bottom of the hamper to take care of in the dead of night when he could feel certain he was alone. Showering and putting on fresh, clean clothes before making an appearance at dinner to pick at his food. None of it helped to dull the ache under his ribs. The bright little spark of dread growing like a pearl in his center.

The sun went down. A great, still sheet of darkness settled over the coast. Quentin sat on the edge of his bed staring at the blank screen of his phone in the yellow lamplight. Turning the day's events over in his mind. Trying to find some version of reality in which Eliot didn’t have to know.

All the logical parts of Quentin’s brain reminded him this whole thing was only a game. There would be no real world consequences to orgasming without Eliot’s consent. His body was and always would be his own. And he hadn’t even meant to do it. His hips had been working on autopilot. The smallest glitch in his subconscious crossing wires and tossing the rest of him out to sea like chum for sharks.

But still.

Still.

It had been done. And after everything, Quentin couldn’t simply let that go.

His finger pecked against the phone’s display. He pressed it to his ear. The line trilled a half dozen times before Eliot’s voice came through on the other end. The first, puzzled strains of it like a melody rising from the depths.

“Quentin?”

Hitch in his breath, the way a fault line shifts. “Hey,” Quentin said, unable to keep his voice from cracking. “Hey, um—can we talk?”

Silence on the other end. Empty hum. A stark, blank hollow. “Yeah,” Eliot said finally. “Just, uh—just give me a second, okay?”

Muffled sound of the phone falling away from Eliot’s ear. Quentin clenched his teeth. Fragmentary voices in the background. Eliot wasn’t alone. Click of footfalls, shoes on hardwood. A door swinging open and pressing shut. Quentin felt the moment Eliot returned like a hand pressing against his cheek.

“I’m here.” Eliot’s voice came through steady and even, but Quentin could still hear it. The twinge of worry underneath. “Are you all right?”

Quentin drew a breath. “No, uh—” A laugh slipped out of his chest, all manic energy edged in tears. “No. Something happened.”

“Shit.” Eliot’s voice crackled in the speaker. “Tell me what happened. Baby, are you hurt? Are you—”

“I had an orgasm!” Fuck. Quentin bit into his bottom lip hard, cheeks flushing with heat. “It was—it was in my sleep. I was—I’m sorry, Eliot, I—”

The muffled sound of Eliot’s laughter clipped Quentin’s words off in his mouth.

“Q, you, um—” Quentin could see it in his mind’s eye, Eliot’s face lighting up in a smile. “Jesus. I thought you were going to say you needed help getting rid of a body. Or something equally illicit. Not—”

“You don’t have to make fun of me.” Quentin ducked his head, wishing for magic, for time to suddenly reverse. He had to fight the urge to end the call. Doing so now would only make it worse.

“I’m not—Q, no, hey—” Eliot’s tone melted into something softer. “Baby, no—I’m not making fun of you. I—it’s just—it’s not a big deal.” A soft rumble of laughter tickled Quentin’s ear. “Literally every person on the planet has wet dreams, sweetheart.”

“Yeah, well,” he managed, chest tight as overwound clockwork, “literally every person on the planet didn’t promise you they weren’t going to—you know…”

“Oh, baby.” Eliot’s voice a balm, sweeping over the tight braids of Quentin’s muscles. “I was just—you know I’m just trying to make this good for you, right? I wouldn’t have said anything if I thought it was going to cause you actual distress. It’s—wait.” Every trace of mirth drained from Eliot’s voice at once. “Did you think I was going to be mad?”

“Um—” Quentin pushed all the air from his lungs. Tension unspooling in thick ropes along the line of his neck. “I don’t know. I think, um—I think I’m more mad at myself.”

“Okay,” Eliot said after a long moment of empty silence. “Tell me how I can help.”

Quentin fell down onto his back on the bed, fixing his eyes on the blank slate of the ceiling. “I think—” He sighed. “I think I deserve to be punished for what I’ve done.”

Eliot made a sound. Dark, low rumble in his throat. Quentin felt it between his legs. “Quentin,” he said. “Baby. Are you sure?”

“Please.” Quentin whimpered with his entire chest. “El, please. I need—”

“Okay.” Eliot laughed softly. “Oh, my sweet boy. Okay. All right. What do you think your punishment should be?”

Quentin’s heart began a slow crawl up the length of his throat. “You know…”

“Oh,” Eliot purred. “I see.” A beat of silence. Quentin’s pulse broke out into a gallop. “You want me to spank that perky little ass until it’s blushing, my love?”

Quentin swallowed, a breath puffed out of his nose. “Yes.”

“Well...” Eliot hummed. “You have been a very naughty boy. Getting yourself so worked up you blow your load all over yourself in your sleep.”

“Yeah,” Quentin breathed. Dick straining in a thick curve against the fabric of his pants. “I just—I can’t stop thinking about you. And it—it makes me—El…”

“It’s all right, baby,” Eliot said, voice thick and dark. “I’m gonna make it all better when I turn you over my knee.”

“That sounds—” It was like someone had thrown a switch in his brain. Thoughts pitched into total darkness. “Really… yeah…”

“It does sound really yeah, doesn’t it?” Quentin could feel the smile in Eliot’s voice. “Tell me something. Do you think you’d rather have a paddle or—or would you prefer my bare hand on your ass?”

Oh. Quentin had never—he’d never considered—“I don’t—” Quentin shook his head. “I don’t know. Whatever—whatever you think I deserve.”

“Come on,” Eliot said sweetly, like he was coaxing an animal from its cage. “I know you’ve thought about it.”

In every fantasy Quentin had ever had of Eliot, they’d been skin-on-skin. Nothing between them but sweat and heat. “Your hand,” he blurted after a long moment. “I—I want you to use your hand.”

“That’s my perfect boy.” Eliot let that sit a moment. “Do you feel better now, Quentin?”

Quentin nodded up at the ceiling. “Yeah. I—I think I do. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Eliot said. “So I’ll see you Monday morning, hm?”

Quentin’s mouth twitched in a smile. “Of course,” he said. “I’ll be there.”

Eliot let out a contented little sigh. “Well then,” he said. “Sweet dreams, Quentin.”

Quentin let his eyes slide shut, pictured Eliot there beside him. Pretty mouth quirking up in a smile meant only for him.

“Sweet dreams, El,” Quentin said very quietly.

A moment later, the line went dead.

Brakebills University
November 2015

The morning dragged by in a slow drip of hours. As the alcohol leached out of Quentin’s bloodstream, his drunken haze gave way to a bruising sickness. One that left him feeling dimmed from the outside in. By some miracle, he nearly made it to lunch before giving over to the lonely call of his bed. He crawled under the covers feeling like someone had taken the flat edge of a blade to all his softest parts. Dull thud of his pulse inside his skull lulling him into a fit of hellish dreams.

He woke to the final gasps of daylight pummeling the horizon beyond the window. Julia curled up on the bed beside him, her knees tucked up to her chest. She reached over, brushed the hair away from his brow. Something about the contact jostled his brain. Warm fingers on clammy skin. Insistent longing clawing its way out of the blank space left by nightmares in his memory. Quentin bolted upright in bed. Heart ticking like a time bomb under his shirt.

“Hey.” Julia sat up beside him, touched his shoulder. “Talk to me.”

“I—” Quentin ran a hand over his sweat-damp hair, eyes flitting from Julia to the thin coil of the leather bracelet that was lying on his nightstand like the world’s saddest shrine. “I know where Eliot is.”

Julia narrowed her eyes at him. “Don’t do this to yourself,” she said. “He isn’t your problem anymore.”

Quentin huffed out a breath, tossing back the covers. “Margo—”

“You really don’t have to pretend you wanna chase after your ex for Margo’s sake.” She gestured at the band of gold wrapped around his ring finger. “I know you’re still hoping that’s going to work. But, Q, come on, it’s—”

Quentin worried the inside of his cheek between his teeth. “He—Jules. He owes me.” He let that sit a moment, studying the pinched skin of Julia’s brow. “I need closure. I need—something.”

“Q—”

“I will die if I—if I don’t do something.” He watched the words as they found their mark, Julia’s throat working as she swallowed. “Do you understand? I can’t move on. You know how hard I tried before.”

Julia’s expression had shifted, all the harsh lines of her body softening as she leaned into him. “Okay,” she said very quietly, resting her chin on his shoulder, reaching for his hand. “Okay. Let’s go find Margo.”

Quentin’s whole body felt like a wound that wouldn’t heal. He stumbled to his feet, stepped into his shoes, ran his hands across his rumpled clothes. Trailed behind Julia like a miserable little satellite. Down the stairs, down the hall, out onto the back porch where they found Margo sipping a drink under a thin wash of magic light, a single glowing orb pinned high above her head like a yellow moon.

“Hey.” She tipped her face upward and let Julia kiss her on the mouth. “Anyone feel like trying their luck on the mystery drugs I found under Eliot’s bed?”

Julia took the seat beside her. “Maybe not,” she said, mouth twitching in a smile as she turned her eyes to Quentin. “But I think Q… has something to tell you?”

Margo’s gaze pierced into him. She set her drink down on the table with a pretty clink. “Spill.”

Quentin took a single step forward, hands thrust into the pockets of his jeans. “So, I—I think I know where Eliot is.”

Margo narrowed her eyes with a practiced intensity. “You think?”

Quentin nodded. “Yeah, he—he had this friend. Um—I think she lived in Midtown. He—he would go there sometimes. Over break. Um, I never got her name and I don’t have an address, but—”

“Shit,” Margo said, leaning back in her chair with a sigh. “I bet it’s that hedge bitch Marina.”

“Okay.” Quentin swallowed. “Do you know where she lives?”

Margo smirked. “Nope,” she said. “But we’ve got magic on our side, puppy. Or have you forgotten?” She quirked one well-manicured brow at him. “He ever text you when he was at her place?”

“Yeah,” Quentin said, a tsunami of memories flooding every untouched corner of his mind. “He did.”

Margo hopped to her feet so quickly, Quentin hardly registered her moving at all. “Get your phone,” she said, already heading for the door. “I’ll be in Eliot’s room.”

Cell phones were about as useful as bricks with built-in cameras inside the wards of the Brakebills campus. Quentin didn’t really bother keeping his charged anymore. He swiped it from his desk and trudged down the hall to Eliot’s room, found Julia and Margo sitting cross legged on the bed. No supplies between them, nothing visibly ready to do any sort of spell work.

Quentin stood in the doorway, narrowed his eyes. “Do we have to do this in here?”

“Yes,” Margo said. An absolute and complete sentence.

“Okay,” Quentin said. “Why?”

Margo glared. “Because we do,” she said, extending her cupped palm in his direction. “Hand it over.”

Quentin swallowed around a thick knot of tension, eyes falling over the blank screen wrapped inside his hand. “It isn’t charged.”

“That’s adorable,” Margo said with a little cluck of her tongue, turning her attention back to Julia. “He really doesn’t know dick about magic, huh?”

Julia fixed him with her gaze, a smile playing on her lips. “He tries his best.”

Margo whipped her head around, a thread of impatience tugging at her features. “Ándale, Coldwater,” she said. “Now.”

Quentin’s skin prickled with heat. His archaic thread of texts exchanged with Eliot had sat untouched on his phone for so many months, he’d almost managed to forget. But now, watching the phone pass from his hand and into Margo’s—Quentin remembered everything. The ache of every word pecked out, washed-out pictures snapped in lamplight. Full breadth of Quentin’s id totally exposed.

It was some out of body thing, watching Margo as she worked her magic. Bright flash of the display as it came to life. Quentin’s passcode entering itself beneath the guidance of her hands. Margo smirked, pecking at the screen with absolute purpose. The floor pitched hard under his feet as she pulled up the texts. Quentin had to physically stop himself from lunging forward and throwing his entire body on top of the phone to shield it.

“Those are, um—they’re really private, so—”

Margo waved him off with one hand as she scrolled. “I’ve seen dick pics before, Coldwater, don’t—” Her mouth snapped shut, eyes going wide where they were fixed on the screen. “Oh my…” She raised her eyes to him with a devious grin. “You weren’t kidding, were you? Gotta say—I didn’t think you had it in you.”

Quentin’s face burned so perfectly, so brightly, it was like he’d been set on fire. “Can you just do the spell—”

“Relax, puppy. I’m actually impressed,” Margo teased. “Now, I have to ask. For the sake of the spell. The first picture he—”

“He took it at her place, yeah,” Quentin pushed out, all the words bunching together in a tight coil. Rubbing at the back of his neck, restless legs twitching to carry him somewhere far away. Plunging dramatically to his death from his ex-whatever’s bedroom window had a certain appeal.

“Great,” Margo said absently, setting the phone down between herself and Julia on the bed.

Julia, for her part, was only just barely suppressing her laughter. Quentin could see it beyond the veil of her long hair she was using to hide her face. Margo began to tut with both hands. Almost immediately, a sharp sizzle-pop emanated from the phone, a little spark of light shooting up from the display and fizzling like a firework.

Margo smirked, gave a flourish of her hands. “Lost and fucking found,” she said. “Congrats on being such a horny little deviant, Q. Really saved my ass with that one.”

Quentin could only stand there, praying for a swift end to his misery.

Everything that came after seemed to happen all at once. Margo popped up to her feet, breezed past him still clutching his phone. Shoved it into the pocket of her pants as she stepped out into the hall. Quentin blinked. Julia was suddenly beside him, hooking their arms together like links on a chain.

They followed Margo into the hallway. Quentin tipped his head at a sharp angle, watching as the glowing doorway of a portal came to life there on the wall opposite Eliot’s room. “Um—I’m sorry. We’re going now?”

“You two can stand here holding your twats for all I care,” Margo said, tutting with all the grace and ease of a conductor at work. “But I’m going to get my best friend and bring him home.”

At Quentin’s side, Julia shrugged. “Well,” she said. “I was probably just gonna hang with you guys tonight anyway, so...”

The lines on the wall burned a deep carbon-blue. Quentin felt like he’d swallowed nails. All he could register was the light. Glowing like a gateway to a hell that had frozen over. Then, a tinkling on the air. Like the sound of glass. The portal opened like an eye, and Quentin found himself suddenly gazing into an alleyway in Midtown Manhattan. Shadow-washed brick, the damp scent of the city wafting into the hall. Cold air rushing in and swallowing all the light in his bones.

Margo hopped over the sharp, high line of the threshold without a word, turning back to them with one hand on her hip. Quentin shivered at the sight of her there in the cold dark without a coat.

“Well,” she said, already setting her gaze down the deep cut of the alleyway. “Haul ass if you’re gonna haul it.”

Columbia University
January 2014

Quentin was dreaming. He had to be dreaming, because Eliot was there. Unbreakable circle of his arms thrown around Eliot’s neck. Up on his toes with Eliot’s hands pushing up the back of his sweater. And they were kissing. Lips, tongues, the tender scraping of teeth. Languid little moans slipping from one body and into another.

He was dreaming that Eliot was pressed against him from hip-to-shoulder. That Eliot was pressing Quentin back against the door in his dorm room. And Quentin was being lifted. And the floor under his feet was being snatched away. Quentin’s legs were locked around Eliot’s middle in a tight loop as they kissed and pawed at one another through their clothes. He was pretty sure this was going to turn into another one of those wet dream scenarios any second. And he was going to ruin everything all over again. But he couldn’t be bothered to care when Eliot nipped at the swell of his bottom lip and—

Eliot broke the kiss. Quentin’s eyes shot open. Eliot’s face came into view, swimming in Quentin’s vision like a mirage. Cheeks dappled pink in the early morning light falling through the window. They were in Eliot’s East Campus dorm room. Quentin was wrapped around Eliot like a well-tailored suit. Wild animal of his heart hammering his ribcage.

“Baby. God. Hi. Hey...” Eliot sighed, knocked their foreheads together. “I’m—I’m gonna put you down now, okay?”

Quentin swallowed, nodded his head. The hours that had preceded this moment little more than hazy fragments shattered in his memory. The car ride back with Julia, arriving back in the city before the sun. The speed with which he’d carried his body down the hallway to Eliot’s room. His feet hit the floor, and he pressed his face into the front of Eliot’s shirt. The call of subspace was so insistent, so immediate, Quentin had to scrabble to keep hold. Fists bunching in the back of Eliot’s shirt, tipping his head back, gaze sweeping upward.

“I—” Quentin breathed, lifting his leaden tongue inside his mouth. “I have a present for you.”

Eliot quirked a brow, running his hands over the top of Quentin’s head, curling them around the nape of his neck. “A present.” He said the word like a discovery. “For me?”

Quentin nodded. “Yes, uh—it’s not. A physical object, um—” He pressed his hands to the warm expanse of Eliot’s back over his shirt. “It’s something I have to show you.”

Eliot leaned forward, kissed Quentin on the brow. “Can you show me this not-physical object in subspace?”

Another quick nod of his head. “Yes. I—I think that might be preferable actually.”

Eliot grinned, thumbed at Quentin’s bottom lip. Teasing little drag of his own bottom lip through his teeth. “Good,” he said, pulling back at once, tugging Quentin into the center of the room along with him. Their bodies folded together like clasping hands. “Now.” Eliot tipped Quentin’s face upward, kissed him on the mouth. “I do believe…” He kissed Quentin on the tip of his nose. “I owe you a punishment, darling boy.”

Quentin’s throat clicked as he swallowed. “Yeah,” he breathed. Hot kick of desire down between his legs. “Yeah. You do…”

Eliot hummed, stealing one last kiss before pulling away. “I want you to take off your clothes,” he said, inching his body in the direction of the loveseat. “And then come to me. All right?”

Quentin nodded his head mechanically, watched as Eliot lowered himself down onto the loveseat. His body all elegant lines hidden beneath well-tailored, expensive fabrics. Quentin fiddled with the hem of his sweater, eyes locked on Eliot’s eyes across the distance. The draw of him like a length of rope connecting their bodies in the very center. Quentin took a single step forward, took a breath.

He tugged the sweater up over his head, skin prickling in all the places where Eliot’s eyes made contact. Sweeping over him like hands. He kicked out of his shoes, peeled his socks away. Fingers trembling against the buckle of his belt, muscles jumping under his skin with a feral energy. Chattering teeth, but not from the cold. The chill beyond the windows a mere suggestion of the season.

Jeans shoved down and stepped out of. Thumbs pressing into the waistband of his boxers. He stood there for a long moment, allowing himself to be seen. Eliot reached a hand between his legs and pawed at the thick curve of his cock through his slacks. Hungry eyes, tongue darting out to sweep across his lips, Quentin’s skin a feast.

“Come—” Eliot breathed, reaching out a hand. “Come here. Let me.”

Eliot’s voice was utterly ruined. Gaze flitting from Quentin’s toes all the way up to the last wild tuft of his hair. Face and eyes, the curve of his throat, his chest, the quivering plane of his belly. His wrist that wore Eliot’s bracelet in a perfect, unbroken circle of black leather. The heavy swell of his dick straining against his boxers.

Quentin moved toward him without thinking. The rope connecting their bodies winding in on itself, taking up the slack. Eliot’s hands were like a miracle the moment they pressed against Quentin’s skin. Mouth pressed to his navel, his hip. Warm fingers looping in the waistband of his shorts and tugging them down. Quentin held onto Eliot’s shoulders to stop his knees from buckling. Boxers around his ankles, he stepped out and kicked them away.

“There you are.” Eliot tipped his gaze upward, one strong hand wrapping around the base of Quentin’s dick. “There’s my boy…”

A shudder ripped its way along the column of Quentin’s spine. A single bead of pre-come glistened from his slit. Eliot set his eyes on it, tongue darting out like the point of an arrow. Pressing forward, taking the bead on the tip of his tongue. The body of Christ. Eliot made a decadent sound of pleasure, curl of his tongue retreating into the cavern of his mouth.

“You taste like paradise.” Eliot mouthed at the head of Quentin’s dick. It pulsed inside the sleeve of his fist, in perfect time with Quentin’s heart. “If I didn’t have other plans for you, sweetheart, I’d strap you to my bed and suck this pretty cock for hours.”

Quentin’s fingertips pressed into Eliot’s shoulders. Eliot took Quentin by the hips and tugged him forward. Quentin’s feet sweeping out from underneath his body as he straddled Eliot’s lap.

“Baby.” Cupped palms of Eliot’s hands on Quentin’s ass, sweeping up to the dip of his lower back. Their mouths finding one another for a fraction of a second before parting. “Come on. Face down, now, sweetheart. Lie across my lap and let me take a look at you.”

Arms outstretched above his head, reaching clear across to the other end of the loveseat. Knees bent just so to get the angle right. Jut of his hips pressed to the solid plank of Eliot’s thigh. His hard cock trapped in between, thumping along with the rhythm of his blood.

He knocked his head between the parallel lines of his arms. Fire of Eliot’s hands everywhere. Rubbing circles into the flesh of Quentin’s ass, following the trail of Quentin’s spine up to press between his shoulders. Insistent fingers tangling in the hair at Quentin’s nape. It was getting longer now.

“You know,” Eliot said, voice dripping out of him like water, fingertips grazing along the skin of Quentin’s nape, “sometimes I think I dreamed you up. You’re just the prettiest little thing…”

Quentin turned his face to his shoulder. Eliot an elegant blur in the periphery of his vision. Arch of his back high and sharp. A little whimper slipping out of his throat.

“Can you speak, my love?” Eliot asked, one hand on Quentin’s ass, the other carding through his hair.

Quentin gave a little nod, tried his tongue. “Yes.”

“That’s beautiful,” Eliot purred. “You’re so beautiful.” He pressed both palms flat to the expanse of Quentin’s back. “I want you to stay with me for as long as you can, all right?”

Quentin answered with a little thrust of his hips.

Eliot took hold of him then, held him very still. “None of that now,” he said. Out of the corner of his eye, Quentin watched Eliot’s smile curving upward. “You’re so warm, baby. God—I could just sit here touching your gorgeous little body for days.”

Quentin said Eliot’s name. Bunched his hands into fists above his head. The slick pad of Eliot’s thumb swiped over Quentin’s hole like a stolen kiss, pulling a gasp out of his chest. All his movements easy and slow as a morphine drip.

Eliot’s fingers moved along the cut of Quentin’s spine, like he was playing an instrument. Plucking out one note and then another. “Now,” he drawled, hands tracking slowly downward, “I’m going to give you ten swats, Quentin. A nice even number, don’t you think?”

Quentin nodded. His dick twitched between the press of his body and Eliot’s thigh.

“I think so too.” Eliot placed both his hands on Quentin’s backside, started kneading the flesh into his greedy fists. “And for as long as you can, I’d like you to count them off for me. Say yes if you’re still with me, darling.”

“Yes,” Quentin breathed, pressing his face down into the cushion beneath him. Tiny sob cracking out of his throat. Anticipation tugging low in his gut.

“Look at you,” Eliot said after a long moment of watching Quentin twitch there in his lap. “So eager to take your punishment.” Eliot pressed up with the meat of his thigh, the most delicate friction against Quentin’s aching dick. “If you take it like the good boy I know you can be, Quentin, I’ll let you wear your collar. How’s that sound, sweetheart?”

Brain lighting up and going dark. Thoughts he couldn’t quite hold onto strobing in an endless loop. Quentin wondered absently if deepthroating might be made more difficult with that thick band of leather encircling his neck. But that seemed like a problem for another version of himself. The one that would emerge on the other side of this experience all shiny and brand new.

Silence. For a moment. The air hummed with an electric charge. Quentin felt it at the base of his neck like a slick drag of fingers. And then—Eliot’s left hand pressed between Quentin’s shoulder blades. His right hand lifted from Quentin’s body. Hovering like little god over Quentin’s naked flesh. Quentin held his breath—

Pleasure-pain. Then only pleasure. Blissful smack of skin-on-skin. Sharp, immediate sound of it rattling the air. The way it filled Quentin’s head with music. Slipping up from his tailbone to the dome of his skull like shockwaves in a pool.

Quentin’s skin began to warm like flesh held over fire. Eliot soothed it with the flat of his palm. “Can you—baby, do you think you can—”

“One,” Quentin slurred through the tight circle of his mouth. It was shocking, really, that he could even make a sound.

“That’s so good, Quentin,” Eliot said very softly. “You’re so good for me. Stay with me, sweetheart. Stay here as long as you can. I want you to feel it all...”

Eliot’s hand went up and came back down again in one bright instant. It bloomed in Quentin’s belly like a flower bursting from the thawing earth. A flashbang grenade going off in his head. Specks of light and color dappling his vision. Bubbles skittering over his flesh in a merry little dance.

“Count.” Eliot had Quentin by the hair at his nape. Fingers laced around the root. He tugged once, hard. Lanterns lit their fires all along Quentin’s scalp. “Come on, baby. I know you can.”

Quentin keened, a strangled sound bubbling in his throat. “Two.” The word split right out of him, a figment of itself.

“Perfect.” Eliot soothed his hand along the crown of Quentin’s head, down the gentle sloping of his neck. “God. You’re blushing so pretty for me already. Just like I knew you would.”

The third strike from Eliot’s hand was some radiant, powerful thing. Full force of his body behind it. Quentin glowed like a filament ready to burst. The sound of it echoed, the pleasure rolled on. Left hand back in Quentin’s hair. Tugging hard. Sweet twinge of it at both ends. Flickering and incandescent beneath the surface of his skin.

“Baby. Oh, baby, that’s so gorgeous.” Eliot’s fingers dragged along Quentin’s scalp, right hand tracing patterns into his backside. “Are you still here with me?”

Quentin’s throat clicked, useless. Tongue plucked from his mouth the way a feather falls from a wing. Floating off to some faraway land. He set his eyes on Eliot over his shoulder. Image of him wavy beyond a thin wash of tears.

“That’s my boy,” Eliot said. “It’s all right. You’re doing so well, Quentin. I’ll be your voice for now.” Fingers skittering along the sweat-damp hair clinging to Quentin’s brow. “That was number three, sweetheart. And this—” Seismic ripple along the fault of Quentin’s spine. Glimmering like a fit of madness. Tickling over his balls and pulsing in his dick. “Is number four.”

Everything started to go a little swimmy after that. Quentin pressed his face into the crook of his arm, babbling as Eliot’s hand came down again. Five. Hands working in unison. One on Quentin’s ass and one knotted in his hair. Six. Consecrated by Eliot’s touch. Quentin’s body hallowed ground. Seven. He could hardly believe it, that a body could feel this much. That his nerve endings didn’t simply collapse like dying stars. Eight. Deeper in subspace than he’d ever been. So deep he could feel the bottom. Nine. Tears on his face, salt on his tongue. Body all lit up like the brilliant tip of a Roman candle. Ten.

Quentin’s tears soaked clean through the loveseat. Pleasure pierced him everywhere. He felt it in his fucking teeth. High, sharp ringing in his ears accompanying the sound of blood. Pumping in his neck and down between his legs. Eliot was saying something. Quentin didn’t catch a single word.

And then, a shock of something cool being massaged into his backside. Quentin found himself drifting back into the room. Fuzzy lines of his body waking up. Eliot’s hand soothed along Quentin’s burning skin in tight little circles. His voice coming through a little clearer now, though he sounded very far away. Like he was speaking from underwater.

“You took that so well, sweetheart.” When Quentin turned his face to his shoulder, Eliot swept the hair back from his eyes. “You’re a work of art, Quentin. A fucking masterpiece.”

Quentin sighed with his entire chest, mouth twitching in the smallest of smiles. It was all that he could manage.

“It didn’t hurt too much, did it, darling?”

Quentin gave a lazy little shake of his head.

“Do you think you can sit up for me?” Eliot’s fingers carded through Quentin’s hair. “Come on, sweetheart. I’ll help you. Kneel right here beside me. I wanna kiss that pretty mouth.”

Eliot bore the brunt of Quentin’s weight. His body floating up and then settling back down again. Legs tucked up tightly in the space between Eliot and the arm of the loveseat. He slumped forward, folding himself around Eliot’s neck. Mouth latching onto Eliot’s in a languid, velvet kiss. Then trailing downward, mouthing at the stubbled line of Eliot’s jaw, his chin. Pressing his face into the hollow of Eliot’s throat.

Moving into Eliot’s lap, straddling his hips. Pawing at the front of his shirt, mouthing at the skin exposed by the open V of his collar. Quentin’s dick was still so hard it seemed impossible. He could hardly believe he hadn’t blown his load all over Eliot’s thigh somewhere around swat number six. Eliot allowed himself to be pawed at and kissed as they writhed together. His palms and their radiant heat touching Quentin everywhere.

After a long moment, Eliot took Quentin by the nape, tugged him back. “Here,” he said, lips glistening and kissed pink. “Here. Let me put this on you.”

Quentin’s collar was in Eliot’s hand. As though it had manifested itself from the air. Quentin blinked, brows knitting themselves together. Eliot lifted it nearer, angling for his neck, but Quentin caught him by the wrist at once.

It was a physical ache to deny Eliot anything. Quentin met his eyes, a little whimper skittering out of his throat as he shoved Eliot’s hand and the collar away. It was only that he wanted—he needed—

Quentin shook his head, and Eliot immediately let the collar tumble from his fingers. It bounced its way off the loveseat and flopped onto the floor. “Sweetheart.” Eliot’s hands on his face, thumbing at his cheeks. “Tell me what’s wrong.”

Their foreheads knocked together. Quentin shook his head, offering a little smile and a sigh. He took one of Eliot’s hands, brought it up and wrapped it around the column of his throat. Reached between the press of their bodies and groped at Eliot’s dick through his pants. Little nod of his head, a roll of his hips. Drag of his bottom lip between his teeth.

“Oh—” Eliot’s eyes went wide as two glimmering moons. “I almost forgot.” Mouth twitching in a smile. “My present?”

Quentin nodded slowly.

“Okay…” Eliot leaned forward and kissed Quentin on the mouth. “On your knees. Go on.”

Separating felt like tearing himself away from himself. Plucking his shivering body from the orbit of Eliot’s sun. But then he was settling down between the V of Eliot’s thighs. And there was a pillow there to catch him. Cradling his knees with plush velvet. And Eliot’s fingers were carding through his hair. And the sun was rising all over again, washing over his skin in fat, hot beams.

“Quentin,” Eliot said, cupping Quentin’s cheek. “Help me get out of these clothes.”

Quentin turned his face inward, pressed a kiss to the thrumming expanse of Eliot’s wrist. He started the work of undressing Eliot the way a fire builds. Steady, careful flickers of his hands. Lifting one of Eliot’s feet and tugging off one of his ridiculously expensive-looking shoes. Mirroring the motion with the other foot. Setting both of his shoes aside with a gentle click. He could feel Eliot’s eyes on him through the watery haze. Deep sea dive of his brain, thoughts bobbing in the warm, blank depths. Eliot’s hands touching his neck, his shoulders.

Quentin peeled Eliot out of his socks and set them alongside his shoes. A very particular brand of worship. Circling Eliot’s ankle with his fingers. Letting the moment simmer. Eliot had already begun the work of getting his shirt undone. Popping open one button and then another, his eyes locked on Quentin all the while.

Through his jittery, unfocused eyes Quentin watched Eliot slip the shirt from his shoulders and toss it aside. “Come here,” Eliot said, pressing his body closer to the edge of the loveseat, widening the V of his thighs. “Unbuckle my belt for me, gorgeous.”

Quentin let his gaze flit down the line of Eliot’s torso. Tipping forward, mouthing at the curve of his half-hard cock through his pants. Eliot’s hands went to Quentin’s hair. A broken sound cracking out of his chest. A litany of pet names falling from his lips as Quentin soaked the fabric clean through.

Quentin’s hands worked like sputtering machinery, once he’d finally managed to pry his mouth away from its feast. Eliot’s posture relaxed and easy, seemingly content for Quentin to spend a small eternity on this one simple task. Smile playing at the corners of his mouth. Torturous little hitches in his breath as Quentin pulled the strap free from its buckle at last. The ends flapping loose with a melodic clink.

Eliot wasted no time after that. Popping the fly on his slacks. Snick of his zipper as it came undone. Lifting his hips and shoving them down along with his underwear in one quick swoop. So much dark fabric pushed away and forgotten. And then there was nothing left between them. Quentin straightened his back, drum of his heart thumping away in his chest at the sight. Eliot wrapped a hand around his dick, tipping his head to one side with an easy smirk. It was drooling at the tip, and Eliot thumbed it away, slicking himself with pre-come. His length a tantalizing blur beyond the sleeve of his fist.

Eliot’s hand on the nape of Quentin’s neck. “Show me,” he said, face a luminous smear in the morning light.

Quentin tipped forward, nudging Eliot’s hand away from his dick. A moment later, the circle of his own fingers replaced it. Eliot seemed pleased by this, settling back with a little nod of his head.

“Show me what that pretty mouth can do.”

Quentin let his eyes click shut. Getting blissed out for a long, lazy moment mouthing at the head of Eliot’s dick. Teasing along the glans with the flat of his tongue, lapping the salty taste of pre-come from his slit. His free hand palming Eliot’s balls. Pulling pretty little strains of music from his throat.

And then Quentin’s eyes drifted open. Gazing upward to drink in the sight of Eliot’s face. It was enough to make Quentin’s heart quite literally skip under his ribs. All slack-jawed with his cheeks glowing a deep shade of crimson. Peering at Quentin through the narrow slits of his eyes. He ran the curve of his palm along the crown of Quentin’s head in silent worship. Little nod of his head spurring Quentin forward. And down again. Eyes closed, mouth falling open.

It was nothing like it had been before. All alone with the dildo in the shower or in his bed. But Quentin wasn’t afraid. Eliot’s dick throbbed in the circle of Quentin’s hand. Quentin understood all of his most sensitive spaces. Pressed his mouth to every one. Letting his jaw go slack, tongue pressing flat against the underside of Eliot’s shaft. Slowly at first, taking him down an inch or two. Making love to the head of Eliot’s dick with the warm pocket of his cheek. He tasted like a dream of flesh. Eliot’s strong fingers looped around Quentin’s hair at the root, sending happy little bubbles of pleasure-pain tingling over Quentin’s scalp, raking over his spine like teeth.

He started working up a rhythm. Thick head of Eliot’s dick tickling over Quentin’s soft palate. Quentin pressed his palm to the inner curve of Eliot’s thigh just to feel the muscles twitch. Pulling back, taking a deep, languid breath. Gazing up into the lust-blown darkness of Eliot’s eyes before diving back in. He teased Eliot at the entrance of his throat. Slick sound of it flooding the room. Eliot gasped, rewarding Quentin with a sharp tug of his hair. Quentin’s pulse throbbed down between the spread of his own legs, his dick leaking onto the pillow beneath him in a steady drip.

Total focus. Nothing in the world but this. When it happened, it was just like breathing. Swallowing Eliot down like air. Every muscle in Quentin’s body slack for one perfect instant. Taking him all the way to the bottom. A shockwave of pleasure rippling from Eliot’s body and into his. Eliot’s hands scrabbling for purchase on Quentin’s neck as a sob ripped out of his throat.

Ohgodfuckyesbabyplease.

Quentin held himself down for a count of two delirious heartbeats. One, two. Tongue pressed flat to Eliot’s balls. Little puff of air escaping his nose. He pulled back like surfacing from underwater. Filling his chest with air and pushing it out. Thin line of spit drooling from his mouth and down his chin. Quentin couldn’t be bothered to wipe it away.

Something in Eliot’s eyes had shifted. Like he’d tapped into some other, deeper part of himself. Like slipping into a brand new suit. Pupils blown wide as blackholes, swallowing all the color in his eyes. He quivered underneath the press of Quentin’s hands. Leaning forward, thumbing at Quentin’s glistening bottom lip. A broken laugh tumbling out and kissing over Quentin’s face. “Do you—” he started and stopped, corner of his mouth a delicate curl. “Do you want it rough, sweetheart? Is that what you want from me?”

Quentin circled Eliot’s dick with his fist, gazing up into the glassy depths piercing into him, mouthing at the glans with a slack little nod of his head.

Eliot’s hands found Quentin’s hair again. “Merry Christmas to me,” he purred, tugging Quentin down, down. Quentin felt the floor pitch underneath the pillow that cradled his knees. “Open.”

Quentin allowed himself to be taken, to be used. Going all soft and pliant under Eliot’s touch. Tongue flicking out, eyes all dazed and unfocused in the seconds before they fell behind that thick curtain of dark. Quentin opened like he was blooming. Piston of Eliot’s hips finding their rhythm. He pressed into Quentin’s throat with no resistance, holding himself there until Quentin began to sputter and choke. Once, twice, three times.

Quentin’s hands hooked at the small of his back. Their rightful place of honor. Thrusting his eyelids open. Tears streaming down the burning planes of his cheeks just in time to see Eliot toss his head back. Mouth hanging open like he was crying out to God. Dark threads of his lashes dancing against the pale rise of his cheeks. And just like that—Eliot was coming. Buried to the hilt in the heat of Quentin’s body. Quentin felt his throat flutter around it. The need to breathe edging on the precipice of terror.

Swallow, Quentin heard his own voice saying from one blank corner of his mind. Swallow. And he did. Taking every drop down into his belly. Gasping the instant Eliot tugged Quentin back by his hair, pulling his spent cock free. Slick, softening head of it dragging along the seam of Quentin’s lips.

Eliot slumped down in his seat, glowing in the aftermath of Quentin’s love. Muscles spasming with little aftershocks of pleasure. “Hey. Hey...” He muttered, carding lazy fingers through the mess of Quentin’s hair. “You wanna—wanna jack yourself off for me, Quentin?”

Quentin let his eyes flit down between the deep V of his own thighs. He’d slipped off the pillow at some point and knocked it away. Dick red and angry and drooling onto the bare floor. Hardwood cutting into his knees. He tipped his gaze upward, nodded once, wrapped a hand around himself and nearly sobbed at the relief.

Eliot reached forward, dragging his knuckles down Quentin’s cheek. “Go on. Let me see you come, baby. Lean back so I can—yes. That’s perfect. Oh, baby, that’s beautiful. Goddamn…”

Quentin stroked himself from base-to-tip three times and he was coming. Head tipped back at a sharp angle, slick line of his throat exposed. Bracing himself with one hand pressed against the floor as he spurted all over his belly. Wave after crashing wave of orgasm ripping through his body like a violent wind. Wrecked little sobs puffing out of his chest. And then—

And then.

It was over.

Quentin’s whole body went slack. Crumbling and boneless. The sight of Eliot moving toward him a withering smudge in his periphery. Strong arms folding around him before he could tip sideways onto the floor. Face pressing into the warm hollow of Eliot’s throat. Sticky with his own release and a slick sheen of sweat. He drifted. Taste of Eliot lingering on his tongue like the memory of sugar.

He hardly registered it happening, but suddenly Quentin was being lifted. It felt like floating, warm cradle of Eliot’s arms carrying him away. Lowering him down onto the bed. Quentin’s eyes fluttered open. Eliot was cleaning him with a warm, soft cloth. Swiping it over his brow, his neck, his chest, his belly. Cleaning Quentin’s hands, pressing a kiss into the center of each palm when he was through.

“Rest.” Eliot’s knuckles kissed over Quentin’s cheek. “Just shut your eyes and be here with me, baby. I’m going to take such good care of you.”

Quentin was out like a light, dreaming of nothing at all. A blank and glorious defragging of his brain unlike anything he’d ever experienced. When he woke hours or centuries later, Quentin was smiling. Tucked up under the covers with his head cradled against Eliot’s chest. Ear pressed flat to the easy rhythm of his heart.

He stirred in the perfect cocoon of their warmth. A little sound of waking rising in his throat. Gaze sweeping upward just in time to see Eliot’s mouth curling in an easy smile.

“Hey.” Eliot soothed a hand down Quentin’s back, kissed him on the brow. “There you are.”

“Here I am.” Quentin gave him a squinty-eyed smile, voice thick and heavy from disuse. “What time is it?”

“Doesn’t matter,” Eliot said. “Time doesn’t exist. Not today. How are you feeling?”

“I’m fucking phenomenal,” Quentin said, punctuating the words with a sleepy little grin.

“Yeah you are.” Eliot nuzzled Quentin’s brow with his nose. “God. You’re unreal. I can’t believe you deepthroated me for belated Christmas.”

Quentin snuggled into Eliot’s chest with a sigh. “You’re welcome.”

Eliot kissed the top of Quentin’s head. “Am I allowed to ask how you learned to do that in two weeks? While we were… not together.”

“Uh, well—there was… another dick involved. Just…” Quentin’s pulse picked up a little, a blush sweeping over his cheeks. “Not a real one.”

When Quentin peeked up at him, Eliot was grinning with his entire face. “Oh you are definitely showing me that later,” he said.

Quentin swallowed. “Okay,” he said. “I will. On one condition.”

Eliot quirked a brow. “I’m listening.”

Quentin drew a breath. “I wanna ask you something.”

“Go on.”

Quentin’s stomach pinched itself into a closed fist. It was stupid how much this mattered to him. It shouldn’t have mattered. It didn’t—

“Has anyone ever, um—you know. Done that to you before?

Eliot waggled his brows. “Sucked my soul out of my body through my dick?”

Quentin was an idiot. A pathetic, hopeless, sentimental sap parading as a person. “No. Um—” Heat pulled his face taut as the length of a bow. “You know, like—taken you. All the way.”

Eliot was blushing now, just a little. Gentle tinge of color on the apples of his cheeks. “Are you asking if you popped my deepthroat cherry, Quentin?”

Quentin hid his face in the center of Eliot’s chest. “What if I am?”

Eliot soothed a hand along the dip of Quentin’s spine. A mist of silence settled over them for a long drag of seconds. “No one,” he said finally, very softly, speaking right against the top of Quentin’s head. “No one has ever made me feel the way you made me feel today, Quentin.” He pressed a kiss into Quentin’s hair. “You’re my first in every way that counts.”

At once, Quentin felt himself filling with an emotion he couldn’t place. It was too big, too much. He shoved it away. His body couldn’t contain it. He turned his face upward to Eliot, and smiled.

Eliot kissed Quentin on the mouth. His tongue a quiet flicker. The searing tip of a flame. “So,” he said after they’d parted. “Speaking of first times.” He nuzzled their noses together gently. “If you’re feeling up to round two…”

Quentin’s whole body twitched with nervous energy. In all his excitement about Operation Deepthroat slash Operation Finally Getting Spanked he’d nearly managed to forget—

“I am.” Quentin could already feel his body stirring. “Fuck, El. I’m—I’m ready.”

Eliot’s eyes grew dark, blunt points of his fingertips biting into Quentin’s back. “Well,” he said. “In that case. I believe I have one more present to give you, darling boy.”

Manhattan
November 2015

The bright, shining sting of grief propelled Quentin through the portal into the city. Down the shaft of the frigid alleyway in the dark. Along Eighth Avenue to a towering high-rise where Margo and her quick thinking glamoured the doorman to get them past the entrance without a hitch. Into the tomb of an elevator, its artificial light painting their skin with sickly blue-white brushstrokes. Quentin stood shivering in between Margo and Julia as they rose like three silent balloons up to the very top.

The penthouse apartment lay beyond a set of French doors faced with panels of frosted glass. Quentin pressed his hand to one. The unmistakable glow of a fireplace roaring its warmth in shades of orange and gold. He half expected the tips of his fingers to catch like kindling.

Margo made a rectangle of her fingers, gazing through it with the lens of one open eye. “Shit,” she said after a long moment, dropping her hands down at her sides with a huff. “Whoever warded this place is not dicking around with their magic.”

Julia quirked a brow. “Hedge bitch?”

Margo shrugged, hands curling around the juts of her hips. “Who knows,” she said. “Christ on a cock, do you feel that?”

“Yeah,” Quentin said. Strange magic prickled on the back of his neck like static fingers. “Gonna go out on a limb and say neither of you know how to take these down?”

Two narrowing sets of eyes bored into him. Quentin ducked his head.

Margo raised her fist. “Fuck this,” she said, thrusting the tips of her knuckles forward, but Quentin caught her by the wrist before she could make contact with the door. “Coldwater.” She wrenched out of his grip at once. “Don’t test me.”

“I just need five minutes,” he said, eyes skipping between her and Julia and the doorway glimmering like a bonfire. “Please.”

Margo glared, but said nothing, taking one graceful step away from the door. Crowding into Julia’s personal space. Their hands finding one another and folding together.

After a long moment of tense silence, Julia said, “So. Not to be that person, but… have you two considered the possibility that Eliot isn’t actually here?” The pity in her eyes was stifling. Quentin had to look away. “I mean… how much do we actually have to go on?”

“He’s here,” Quentin said without thinking. It wasn’t a question. He could feel Eliot, beyond the haunting magic of the wards. The sort of hardwired instinct that drives a body through a home after so many years spent living inside. Navigating sharp corners and crooked stairways in the blinding dark. A tugging low in his gut. An unseen hand taking up the slack on that invisible rope that had always bound them together.

He raised his hand, rapped his knuckles against the door. Spray of acid shooting up into his throat. “Eliot,” he said very quietly. “Eliot. It’s me.”

Quentin cast his gaze over his shoulder. Met Julia’s eyes, then Margo’s. Turned back to the burning panels of the double doors. He felt it like a breath at the base of his skull, the very moment the wards came down. Like tugging on a single thread and watching the fabric of the universe come undone. There was a long beat of silence. Quentin held his breath, pushing it out slowly as one side of the doorway began to creak open.

“Quentin,” Margo said at his back. “Quentin, so help me if you make it worse I will strand your ass in Manhattan without a portal.”

Quentin pressed his palm flat to the half open door and gave it a shove. “Five minutes,” he said, eyes cast forward into the firelight of the apartment. The way it flickered and danced was hypnotizing. “And then he’s all yours.”

The wards around the apartment stitched themselves back into place the moment Quentin stepped over the threshold and shut the door. Like a passage into a liminal space. The very air around him seemed to be threaded with gold. Footsteps echoing off hardwood. A massive spiral staircase was set into the center of the open-concept space like a towering monolith. Quentin let his gaze sweep around all the corners and curves, drinking in the opulence. Whoever owned this place had to be fucking loaded. Or a master magician slash evil genius. Quentin figured it was probably both.

His eyes came to rest on Eliot where he was sitting across the room. In a high-back golden chair that folded around the planes of his body like a closing hand. Quentin’s heart pinged with sorrow. Rumpled, wild curls. Eliot’s shirt was half undone. Even at a distance, the stench of alcohol leached out of his pores like a perfume.

“Quentin.” Eliot rose to his feet, stumbling a little, carding fingers through the tangle of his hair. “How did you—”

“You really can cut the bullshit now, you know.” Quentin was amazed at the power of his own voice. The way it boomed out of his chest without a single crack. “There’s no point, okay. You know exactly how I found you.”

He circled around to where Eliot stood, gazing up into the liquid movement of his eyes. Close enough to feel the heat of him. The animal of Quentin’s body stirred.

“Okay,” Eliot offered, punctuating his words with a lopsided flourish of his hands. “Hi.”

Quentin clenched his left hand into a fist. The kiss of gold around his finger sending a shiver up his arm, the way a fever spreads. “Margo’s here,” he said, wrenching himself out of Eliot’s orbit, lowering himself down onto the sofa. “Out in the hall. Waiting. She wants to take you home.” He set his gaze on the half empty liquor bottles and filthy glasses and paraphernalia that littered the coffee table. “But I—” He shook his head, knotting his hands together. “I just came to ask you one thing. Just one thing, Eliot, and then I’ll leave you alone forever. For real this time. I mean it.”

Eliot was silent for a long moment, and then he laughed. A sickening edge of madness to the sound. “You don’t—” he started and stopped. Analgesic movement of his limbs blurred in Quentin’s periphery. “You don’t have to leave me alone. You’re here. We should—we should have a party.”

Quentin’s heart slumped in his chest. “Looks like you already beat me to it,” he said, eyes skipping over a silver tray speckled with the remnants of powdery white lines.

“I have—” Eliot tumbled forward, down onto the sofa next to Quentin at a distance. Moon of his body curving inward at sharp points. “I have a massive bed here and—” He laughed. “I mean. Okay. I probably can’t get it up right now, but—”

“Stop it.” The urge to cross the gulf between them was maddening. Quentin saw it in his mind’s eye: pressing his face into the opening at the front of Eliot’s shirt. Dragging his teeth across the thumping of his heart. “Just stop.”

Eliot was smiling. Eyes unfocused and glassy in the firelight. “Sorry,” he said. “Sorry. I forgot about—what’s his name? Your… betrothed.” A laugh sputtered out of his chest. “Jeremy—no. Jeremiah.” He waved it off with a limp little flick of his wrist. “Jere-something.”

Quentin worried his bottom lip between his teeth. “It’s James.”

“James.” The name clunked out of Eliot’s mouth. “James sounds… boring.”

Quentin felt something lodge in his throat. Something blank and sour. “James is nice to me,” he said. “He—he doesn’t lie to me, Eliot. He acts like a fucking person.”

Eliot sighed with all the petulance of a child. “Boring.”

Quentin set his eyes on the shadows moving against the drawn curtains. The way they swam like ghosts. “Just tell me this one thing,” he said very quietly. “Tell me.” He turned his face to his shoulder, locked himself in Eliot’s flimsy gaze. “Tell me it meant something to you.”

Silence. Nothing. Eliot was perfectly still. Not even a twitch of his mouth.

“It meant something to me.” A sad fit of laughter tumbled from Quentin’s mouth. “You don’t have to—you don’t have to say you loved me. Or that it was—” He shook his head, swiping a tear away from one eye. “We weren’t boyfriends. I know that, okay? But it wasn’t only sex. You—” Eliot smeared in his vision beyond a cresting wave. “You took care of me.” He let that sit a moment. “You told me I belonged to you. And I did. I was—Eliot, I was yours. And that—that meant something. It meant—”

The end of his sentence clipped off in his throat. Eliot sat unwavering, slumping at an odd angle that made the whole world feel upside down.

“But you can’t even give me that, can you?” Quentin breathed into the silence. Chest so tight it was like his skin had withered. “You’re a coward.”

The gulf between them seemed to pulse. Eliot straightened his back, the first sign of life he’d shown in minutes that felt like hours. He did a tut, called his cigarette case over from the coffee table. Popped one out and stuck it between the press of his lips. Lit it with a stuttering flame that burst from the tip of his finger.

He turned to Quentin, plucked the cigarette from his mouth like an offering. The orange bead of the tip danced like a firefly in the semi-dark. “Do you wanna have a drink with me?”

Quentin’s whole body filled with an unfathomable rage. Right up to the crown of his head, until he was spilling over with it. He had to resist the urge to smack the cigarette out of Eliot’s hand. He turned it into fuel to burn, letting it propel him up from the sofa and to his feet. Touching the thumb of his left hand to the inside of his ring finger, pad of it slipping over the blood-warm metal.

He took a breath, and aimed his weapon. One last arrow cutting clean across the distance. “You can go back to Brakebills,” he said, thrusting his hand outward, gold of the ring sparking in the glimmering light. “I’m going home to Brooklyn. To marry the man that I love.” Every part of him quivered and twitched. Like at any moment he was going to up and burst free from his body at last. “And I am never going to think about you again, Eliot. Do you understand? Do you—”

Quentin felt the life draining out of his body at once. Blood spilling out of a vein. The arrow of his words clattering to the hardwood and skittering away like ashes. Eliot only sat there on the sofa with his eyes cast downward, puffing away on his cigarette. Blood red cherry offering its indifference. The period at the end of a sentence. Quentin felt it like a sickness in his bones.

He turned away from Eliot then and didn’t look back. Setting his eyes on the twin shafts of white light coming from the double doors where he would make his exit. Shadows moved beyond the frosted glass. Julia and Margo and their growing impatience.

Quentin dragged his feet like dead weight over the hardwood. Heartbeat a dull presence in a body running on empty. Maybe he’d go back to Jersey. Or maybe James would take him back if he begged. Or maybe, just maybe, Quentin would keep walking and never stop. Out into the passive cruelty of the city until his legs gave out. It wasn’t like it mattered anymore. It was only a matter of time—

At his back, the sound of Eliot’s voice rang out. Dim and lifeless. Quentin went perfectly still, scrabbling to piece the stolen fragments together. Wondering for a moment if he’d only imagined it. The first glittering hints of something that almost sounded like—

It was almost as though Eliot had said—

Quentin thought it might have been—

“Don’t marry him.”

Quentin pivoted where he stood. Muscles convulsing under his clothes. Eliot was standing near the spiral staircase. Hands empty, facing outward. Eyes cast down into the blank space between his bare feet on the floor.

“What did you just say to me?” Quentin couldn’t keep his voice from shattering. “Eliot. What—”

“I—” Eliot raised his eyes. Even in the feeble light, Quentin could see they were damp. “I said—” He shook his head, straightening his neck. Like a man waking up from a long and fitful sleep. “I said don’t marry him, Quentin.”

Quentin’s vision glitched. He didn’t know if he wanted to scream or cry. He settled on fury instead. “Why?” He took a single step in Eliot’s direction. “Eliot, I swear I am going to walk out that door right now if you don’t start talking like a person.” His chest puffed up with a breath and he shoved it back out. “Eliot, you have five seconds. Tell me why you don’t want me to marry James. I am not fucking around. I’m—”

Bare feet smacking against hardwood. Eliot lunged forward with such intensity Quentin’s eyes could hardly register the movement. Suddenly he was just there. Stepping into Quentin’s personal space with one fat, perfect tear slipping from each of his eyes. Pressing his hands to Quentin’s face like flares in the dark.

For one agonizing instant, Quentin thought he was going to be kissed. And that he was going to allow it. Eliot leaned into him. Palms slipping down to curl around the sides of Quentin’s fluttering neck. Eliot quivered like exposed wiring. Quentin could feel it in all the spaces they were pressed together.

Warm breath falling over Quentin’s face. Eliot had him. Close enough for Quentin to see the shifting color of his eyes. Eliot’s lips parted, and three little words came tumbling out. He whispered them right into Quentin’s slack-jawed mouth.

“Because you’re mine.”

Chapter Text

Columbia University
January 2014

Quentin stood at the bathroom sink, watching his face shift in the steamy mirror glass. Stark naked save for the towel looped around his hips. Hair dripping in cool, fat beads down onto the planks of his shoulders. So clean he swore he could feel himself sparkling from the inside out.

His latest gift from Eliot was sitting upright on the edge of the sink. Cherry pink glass shiny as a pearl and just as smooth. The plug was approximately the length of Quentin’s palm, its flared base sculpted in the likeness of a daisy in full bloom. He blinked. Glint of the glass in the artificial light streaming down from overhead. Curve of his dick tenting the front of his towel from the sight of it alone.

“A pretty little thing for my pretty little thing,” Eliot had purred into Quentin’s ear not an hour ago. Just before sending him down the hall wrapped up in a purple silk robe with too-long sleeves and a miniature bottle of lube tucked away in the pocket.

Quentin was blushing a shade of pink to rival the glass. He ran the tip of one finger down the smooth bulb of the plug and shivered, then reached for the fold of the towel at his hips and gave it a tug. He arranged the towel in a neat little square on the floor, then turned on the tap and held the plug under the steaming water until the glass came away warm as pulsing flesh.

He took one last look at himself in the mirror over the sink. Chest flushed scarlet, wet lips parted. Quentin went down to his knees, kneeling on the folded towel with the plug and the bottle of lube. He slicked his fingers first, teeth worrying over the delicate flesh inside his cheek. Yellow fluorescents painting his skin like a mockery of summer. Fingertips teasing over his fluttering entrance. And pressing in. And pulling out. And pressing in again. Until everything was slippery and Quentin’s cock was dripping down onto the floor.

He slicked the plug and watched it shimmer. Quentin shut his eyes. And drew a breath. And made his body into a garden.

Manhattan
November 2015

Eliot’s breath on Quentin’s face. For a long moment, it was all Quentin could register. Eliot’s mouth, warm and soft, tracing the bow of his lips.

Distantly, Quentin understood what he was feeling was probably an emotion. It hovered like an aura, rising like steam from an engine. He tried to give it a name. Anger or something like it. One of his hands pressed flat to Eliot’s chest and shoved.

Through the fuzzy white tunnels of his vision, Quentin watched Eliot stumble. “You—” He groped at the thoughts bouncing around inside his skull. “No.” Running a hand over his hair, hardwood pitching and rolling like a body of water under his feet. “Eliot. You can’t just say that now.”

“You wanted to talk,” Eliot said, unsteady on his feet, having the nerve to sound—annoyed? Angry? “I’m talking.”

Quentin drew a breath and forced it back out. “I think I need to sit down.”

It felt like it was happening to someone else. Quentin followed Eliot in a daze. They sat down on the far side of the sofa, close but not touching. Eliot gazed down into his wilted hands like he was hoping they might gaze back. Like suddenly he’d lost his nerve. Quentin picked at a spot on his jeans, the silence settling over their heads like a thick and choking fog.

“Why?” The word puffed out of Quentin. A held breath, the softest of pleas. “For months, El—you. You just acted like it never happened. Like we never—” The anger again, a thousand hungry shades of it twisting like a knife in his gut. “What the hell is wrong with you?”

Eliot raised his glassy eyes. Firelight throbbed around his head in gasps of orange and gold. A halo trying to make sense of itself. One corner of his mouth quirked up, and a laugh shattered out. “I’m wasted, Quentin,” he said, lips crashing into a thin, dark line.

Quentin narrowed his eyes. “That’s not what I asked.”

Eliot’s jaw visibly tensed. “We can—maybe we can talk tomorrow,” he said. “Quentin I—” Another laugh. “I can’t even feel my face.”

“We’re talking now.” Quentin couldn’t believe how much he believed his own words. The way he managed to make them believable. “Or I walk. Those are the rules.”

Eliot plunged the room into silence. Wild, frizzed-out curls tumbling down over his brow in a thick curtain. He tipped his head back, as if trying to draw a brand new lexicon from the cavern of his throat. “Ultimatum,” he said at last, the word so clunky and fragmented on his tongue Quentin could hardly make it make sense.

“What?”

Eliot’s features warped beyond a veil of light and shadow. “Ultimatum.” He let that sit with a tilt of his head. “Is the word you’re looking for. You’re giving me an ultimatum, Quentin.”

Quentin blinked at him across the distance. “You’re the most infuriating person I’ve ever met in my life, you know that?”

Eliot slumped down into the corner of the sofa, an easy smile pulling all his features soft. “You haven’t met very many people then,” he said with eyes half-shut.

Quentin pressed his fingertips into the sofa cushion, claws aching to become a fist. “Talk,” he said. “Eliot—”

“Coldwater!” The sound of Margo’s voice carrying in from the hall gave Quentin’s heart a start. Her fist was suddenly battering against the door. “I know a dozen curses and I’ll put ‘em all on your dick if you don’t let me in!”

“Better listen to Bambi,” Eliot said, perking up a little. “Mama’s deathly serious about her dick curses.”

Sorrow shimmered in Quentin with a bright, narcotic sting. “Do you want me to leave?”

Eliot blinked, his face twitched.

“Yes or no.” Quentin shrugged. “You don’t have to speak to me in riddles, just say it.”

“No,” Eliot said, quiet as a whispered secret. “I don’t want you to leave.”

“Then talk.”

Eliot drew a breath, looking to his hands again. Like he’d scrawled all the answers along the edges of his fingers. “I saw you,” he started. And stopped. And filled his lungs. And emptied them. “The day of the Brakebills exam,” he continued, raising his eyes. “I saw you before you knew I was there.”

Columbia University
January 2014

Eliot’s robe draped around Quentin’s shoulders like sheets of breath made whole, the too long sleeves swallowing up his hands as he stepped out of the bathroom and into the hall. Muffled sound of his footfalls like distant heartbeats. With each new step he took, Quentin was aware of what had blossomed inside him. His body tried to make sense of the intrusion, all wobbly-kneed with hands that kept itching to reach back before they remembered.

The door to Eliot’s room had been left unlocked. It didn’t matter today. East Campus was a ghost town, save for the two flickering animals of their bodies knocking around inside. Quentin pushed it open and pressed it shut. Eliot was lying on the bed without any clothes on. His soft cock lying in quiet repose against the curve of his thigh.

He’d been dozing, cheek half-pressed into his pillow. Hands folded over the flat plane of his torso like patient little wings. When Quentin entered, Eliot made a sound of waking, eyes blinking open, crooked bow of his smile tugging at his mouth. “Hey,” he said, pulling himself up to sit. “There you are...”

It took Quentin a long moment to register that the room had been plunged into darkness. A thick blackout shade pulled down over the window. Candles flared all along the top of the dresser, on the nightstand. Fairy lights glittering in their spiral constellations on the ceiling like the night sky had been moved indoors.

“Baby.” Eliot swung his legs around, perching on the edge of the mattress, reaching for Quentin across the distance. “Come here. I was dreaming about you.”

Quentin blinked out of his daze. Eliot was a dream of candlelight trapped in flesh. He stumbled in the direction of the bed, letting Eliot draw him in. Curve of the plug shifting between the spread of his body a gentle reminder that he had been filled.

Eliot tipped his gaze upward as they tangled together. “Hi.” He smiled, hands gliding down the dip of Quentin’s back. “How are you feeling?”

Quentin looped his arms around Eliot’s neck, straddling his lap, silk flowing like water around his hips. He brushed the hair away from Eliot’s brow, sweeping his lips over the hum of his skin. “I feel,” he said, voice a tremulous whisper. “Um—I—” Eliot’s hands pushed up under the robe, fingers tracing the delicate ridges of his petals. An open-mouthed kiss into the center of his throat. “I feel…” His voice was being plucked away. Quentin scrabbled to keep hold. “Full…”

Eliot hummed, nosing along the line of Quentin’s throat. “Oh, sweetheart,” he said, hands kneading the flesh of Quentin’s ass in greedy little circles. “I’m gonna fill you right up to the top.”

Quentin shuddered, thunder booming in his veins. Eliot’s hands moved, went to the sash of the robe and began the delicate task of undoing the knot. “You’re gonna fuck me,” he breathed. It wasn’t a question. He thought that maybe he just really wanted to hear the words. The very act of saying it out loud making it real.

“Yes,” Eliot said, eyes flitting up to Quentin’s face. “Are you excited, pretty boy?”

Quentin swallowed, nodded his head. Cheeks flushed with heat. Eliot got the sash undone, pressing his hands into the front of the robe until it fluttered open. He pushed it from Quentin’s shoulders, let it tumble to the floor. Eyes sweeping from Quentin’s face to down between his legs. Quentin was suddenly aware of how hard he’d been this entire time. How he was drooling pre-come where his dick was pressing into Eliot’s belly.

“I’m excited too,” Eliot said, hands coming to rest on the curve of Quentin’s waist. He mouthed along the line of Quentin’s neck, his shoulder. “Are you nervous? It’s all right if you are.”

Quentin sucked in a breath and tumbled forward, pressed his face into Eliot’s neck. “A little.”

Eliot rubbed circles into Quentin’s back, making a map of flesh and bone, all its ridges and slopes. “If you want to wait a little while,” he said, “you know you can tell me. There isn’t any rush, sweetheart.”

Quentin shook his head. “I’m with you,” he said, like it was the answer to everything, speaking right into the point of Eliot’s humming pulse. “I’m with you.”

Eliot took Quentin by the shoulders, gently prying their bodies apart. “Come on,” he said, thumbing at Quentin’s blushing cheek. “Lie down on the bed for me.”

Manhattan
November 2015

“You were standing on the lawn,” Eliot said, voice an echo of distant memories. “With Margo.”

Quentin focused on Eliot’s mouth as he spoke. The way the pink bow of his lips shaped the sounds. Scrabbling to stay inside the fuzzy edges of his own body. Days and weeks and months and fucking years of anguish flooding his heart and his bones. Undertow of exhaustion sweeping him under. It was a wonder Quentin could even keep his eyes open.

“It’s funny,” Eliot continued. Quentin struggled to hear him over the rushing of blood in his ears. “Looking back, I mean—it was supposed to be me greeting the new kids that day, but I overslept so Henry sent Margo instead.” A sad little laugh puffed out of his mouth. “I woke up just in time to—well, you know.”

Quentin clenched his jaw, raising his eyes to Eliot’s eyes. “Just get to the point,” he said, softer than he’d intended. He called upon his anger again, but there was no response.

“When Margo brought you to me after.” Eliot drew a breath and pushed it out. “After the exam. Do you remember?”

“What kind of question is that?” Quentin’s heart tapped against his ribcage. “Of course I remember.”

Edges of his sad mouth hooking upward, Eliot continued. “I think I was—I don’t know. Maybe I was in shock.” Phantom laughter puffed out of his chest. “What the fuck am I saying—I know I was.” His voice came slow and heavy, like he had an anchor strapped to his tongue. “I mean—I wasn’t surprised. That you were—I mean I had always suspected you were… like me. Sometimes I swore I could feel the magic inside your body when I was—” He paused, shut his eyes. Quentin watched his posture waving, like at any moment he might tumble over. “Seeing you there.” Eliot’s eyes snapped open. “It was like seeing a ghost.”

Every muscle in Quentin’s body tensed. “I wouldn’t have been a ghost if you hadn’t fucking buried me, Eliot.”

Eliot offered a sad little smile. “I didn’t know what to say to you that first day, Quentin. How was I supposed to know—”

“You could have started by saying you were sorry.”

“I didn’t—” Eliot ducked his head. “I didn’t know what to say.” It was like Eliot hadn’t heard him. Like Quentin wasn’t there. “And the next day. It wasn’t—it still felt the same.”

Quentin couldn’t help the laugh that sputtered from his mouth. “You are so completely full of shit.”

“Quentin.” Eliot carried the name like something he’d plucked from the earth. All the features of his face quavered in the fiery light. “So much time had passed.”

Columbia University
January 2014

Quentin was pinned to the ceiling—no. Quentin was flat on his back in Eliot’s bed. Candles roaring like a dozen little witnesses in the periphery of his vision. Eyes fixed on the reflection in the mirror overhead. Their bodies incandescent, Eliot settled in between the spread of Quentin’s thighs. Quentin’s legs were looped around Eliot’s hips like infinity, his wrists trapped together in one of Eliot’s hands, pinned above his head in a perfect halo of flesh.

Eliot mouthed along the slope of Quentin’s neck. The mirror took on an otherworldly glow in the dim, fairy lights twisting around its edges like a portal to a far-off land. Eliot nipped at the shell of Quentin’s ear, making him gasp. In the mirror, their bodies writhed. Quentin couldn’t tear his eyes away. The way they fit so snugly together. They way they just went on and on.

Quentin’s pulse in his throat, his chest. Between his legs, in his wrists. Beneath the press of leather and Eliot’s hands. Eliot’s mouth ghosting over the ridge of his ear.

“Baby,” Eliot whispered. “Quentin. My love…”

He thrust forward, once. Rocking gently as a body of water lapping the hull of a ship. Slick glide of their cocks moving in all that friction and heat. Quentin could feel the plug as it shifted inside him. Gentle pressure of the bulb kissing over his prostate for one perfect instant.

“You want me to pop your cherry, baby?”

Eliot’s words traveled through Quentin like something taking flight. Wingbeats in his ears and under the steep mountains of his ribcage. He let his gaze sweep over their bodies gazing down from the mirror for one final second before shutting his eyes, pressing his face against the side of Eliot’s neck. Fingers dipping into the firm planes of his shoulders in a silent plea.

Quentin nipped at Eliot’s shoulder, his collarbone. Anywhere his mouth could reach. Trying to make a home out of his body, clawing his way inside. “Eliot…” he panted, his voice a specter of itself, rattling around his throat in fragments and shards. “El…”

Eliot purred, his nose dragging over the steep terrain of Quentin’s throat, seeking the clearing underneath. Quentin felt it shiver through him. “Oh, Quentin. Baby...” Drag of his tongue over the slick bow of Quentin’s collarbone. “Patience. We’re going to take our time.” He pulled back, breaking the lock of Quentin’s legs, began his slow descent down the valley of Quentin’s chest. “I intend on savoring every bite.”

His tongue flicked over the sharp nub of Quentin’s nipple. Tip of it drawing a tight, perfect circle around the ring of flesh. A gasp plucked itself out of Quentin’s throat, teasing drag of Eliot’s teeth setting his nerves alight. Eliot moved to the other, lavishing the sensitive flesh with broad swipes of his tongue. Quentin groped at Eliot’s shoulders, the back of his neck, his hair. He quivered, gazing up at himself in the mirror for a long moment, watching as his own expression shattered apart.

Eliot’s descent continued. Mouthing down the center of Quentin’s sternum. Warm breath licking over Quentin’s heart. He hovered, on hands and knees, over the feast of Quentin’s navel, his drooling cock pressed tightly against it in an angry red line. Bending forward, dragging his tongue through the mess of pre-come pooling on Quentin’s skin.

“Darling.” Eliot was gazing upward, his breath ghosting just over the head of Quentin’s dick. “Oh, darling boy, what a feast you are...”

Not breaking eye contact for even a second, Eliot parted his lips, and welcomed Quentin into the paradise of his mouth. Quentin keened, his back arching up off the bed like the cresting tip of a wave. Eliot took him to the root, flat of his tongue lavishing Quentin’s balls until the world dissolved into sparks. Eliot sucked dick the way he did everything else: with all the effortless grace of a maestro in his element. Quentin’s fingers tangled in the forest of Eliot’s curls, his vision going all spotty at the edges. The plug sitting snugly inside the heat of his body making its presence known with every little hitch of his breath.

Eliot pulled back with a gasp, pressed an open-mouthed kiss to the head of Quentin’s over-stimulated dick. “Just wanted to return the favor,” he said, his pretty pink lips glistening in the candlelight. “Now how about you turn over for me, hm?”

Manhattan
November 2015

Quentin swallowed around the mountain taking up residence in his throat. “I don’t even know what that means,” he said, clawing at the curve of his own knee with one hooked hand. “Of course time had fucking passed, Eliot.” He took a breath, tucking a scream away neatly under his tongue. “Do you think I didn’t feel every second we were apart?”

Eliot shrugged, like it was easy. Like it wasn’t the heaviest fucking thing in the world. “I didn’t understand how we were supposed to get past it,” he said. “So I—I thought—if I just erased it. If we just—” He shook his head. “If we could just start again. Maybe...”

Quentin’s face twitched. “I would just like to reiterate how completely full of shit you are.”

“You wanted the truth.” Eliot let the words stumble out with a tip of his head. “I’m giving it to you, Quentin.”

Heat flared along the column of Quentin’s spine, a hundred thousand lanterns being sparked to life. “I wanted the truth three goddamn months ago, Eliot,” he said, digging the blunt nails of his fingers into his jeans. “I wanted—” He forced himself to take a breath, near the point of shouting. “I wanted the truth the day you fucking abandoned me.”

Something flashed over Eliot’s face. An oil slick in the firelight. Distantly, Quentin registered that Margo was knocking again, her voice sputtering through in fits and starts.

“Is that how you remember it?” Eliot said, so quietly Quentin had to grasp at the words to hold them inside. “I abandoned you.”

“Yes,” Quentin said, straightening his neck. “Because that’s exactly what you did.”

“You make it sound so simple.”

“Because it is.”

Eliot offered Quentin the saddest hint of a smile. Called his cigarette case over into his lap, and plucked one out, and lit it. “Tell me,” he said, smoke curling out of his mouth in a tangle of vines, offering Quentin the cigarette between the V of his fingers. “Tell me what happened then. Since you seem to remember it so well.”

Quentin took the cigarette. It was a gesture that felt too tender for this moment. Gentle brush of skin-on-skin as their fingers met for the briefest of seconds. Quentin took a drag, meeting Eliot’s hooded gaze. “Everything was fine,” Quentin said, the tiniest stone of sorrow rising up in his throat, smoke sputtering from between his lips. “We were happy.”

“We were,” Eliot said, leaning forward and taking the cigarette as Quentin passed it back. “Go on. Tell me more.”

Quentin gnashed his teeth, slick sound of bone filling his head. “You were there,” he said. “I’m not playing this game with you.”

“I’m not asking you to play a game, Quentin.” A smile tugged at Eliot’s lips as he pressed the cigarette between them, speaking around the filter. “I’m asking what you remember.”

Hey. You wanna hear something funny?

A thick white curtain of smoke obscured Eliot’s face. Quentin sucked in a breath, watched it move. “I said something—you took it the wrong way. I didn’t mean—” He shook his head, bunched his hands into fists. “You know I didn’t mean it that way. You knew, and then—you just—you just fucking left.”

Eliot was quiet for a long stretch of seconds. Cigarette chugging like a smokestack between his fingers. “No,” he said at last, his expression impossible to read through the haze. “No, Quentin, you’re—you’re remembering it wrong.”

Columbia University
January 2014

Quentin had his eyes screwed shut. He was lying on his belly in the middle of the bed. Eliot’s hands were on him everywhere. His back, his ass, sweeping down the slopes of his thighs. Quentin could only lie there and tremble, Eliot’s name bubbling up in his throat, dissolving into a broken whimper when he tried to push it out.

Eliot made a sound, his hands on Quentin’s ass, spreading him apart. “God,” he said, “that is so…” His voice came out all breathy and ruined. “Up on your knees, sweet boy. I wanna see that pretty flower.”

Quentin’s body moved like a current. Face down, hips jutting skyward. Eliot settled back behind the wide V of Quentin’s legs, tracing his fingers around the ridges of the plug. Crash of ocean waves in Quentin’s ears, his blood rushing so quickly it was like he was vibrating from the inside out.

“Sweetheart,” Eliot murmured through the din, his fingers wrapping around the base of the plug, and plucking it out. “Oh…”

The smooth bulb of the plug slipped free from Quentin’s body. Pleasure kissed over every cell, sweeping along the base of his spine like a lover’s kiss. It was all so slippery and warm and perfect. Eliot said something. A gentle word of praise. Something sweet tangled on the air like spun sugar. Quentin couldn’t be sure. Eliot teased the tip of the plug over Quentin’s slick and sensitive rim, pressed it back into the heat of his body.

The world beyond the darkness of Quentin’s eyelids turned to stars. It was the perfect mimicry of Eliot’s cockhead, an unspoken promise of exactly how Quentin’s body was going to be wrecked. Eliot pulled the plug out and fucked it back in slowly. Quentin tried to picture him there, the look on Eliot’s face as he took Quentin apart. His dark mouth hanging open. Skin awash with candlelight, burnished bronze and gold. Flickers of flame kissing him in every space the shadows couldn’t reach. Eliot Waugh becoming fire itself.

He was touching himself, that much Quentin knew. The slick sound of his hand moving over his cock like wingbeats. The scent of him like saltwater. Sticky, damp ocean air. Broken little moans puffing out of his chest. He speared Quentin with the plug and held it there. Blood drummed in Quentin’s ears. One, two, three. The world behind his eyelids alive with a galaxy of flashing lights. The plug slipped from Quentin’s body one last time and Eliot tossed it aside. It landed on the bed with a hollow thud.

Eliot’s fingers began drawing circles over Quentin’s hole. They were slick and dripping, with lube or Eliot’s spit. “It feels so good, doesn’t it, baby?” His words were coming out all slurred, like he was drunk on Quentin’s pleasure. “You’re opening up so well for me.” He fucked his fingers inside with no resistance. “Fuck…” One big, warm hand soothed circles into Quentin’s lower back. “You’re so warm inside. I can’t—” He laughed. “I can’t wait to feel you on my dick.”

Quentin’s thighs began to quake. He could come just like this. It was pathetic, he knew, but it would take nothing more than a few clever crooks of Eliot’s fingers. He was pretty sure every drop of blood in his body had rushed to his dick all at once. He opened his eyes, pressed his face to his shoulder, trying desperately to catch a glimpse of Eliot where he was kneeling. He’d gone entirely still, holding his fingers inside Quentin’s heat, like he was trying to memorize the shape.

Eliot was a blur in Quentin’s periphery. Jumping like a flaming wick. Suddenly, he pulled his fingers free. The image of him shifted into smoke. He was saying something now, the words purring out of his throat. Quentin couldn’t piece them together, syllables slipping over his body in fleeting gasps. Something flickered over Quentin’s entrance. Something slick and fat and throbbing. Fuck. He drew a breath, and held it. It took Quentin a long moment to register that something as the head of Eliot’s dick.

He didn’t push inside, licking over Quentin’s hole in teasing little circles. “Do you know…” Eliot was saying now, coming through clear as a bell. “Do you know how many nights I’ve jacked off thinking about fucking this pretty pink hole?”

Quentin braced himself, hands shaping themselves into claws, into fists. His whole body tensing, heart crawling into his throat.

“Baby,” Eliot purred, his fingers tracing a ridge along the dip of Quentin’s spine. “I’m gonna take you there. I’m gonna take you all the way. But I need you to relax.”

Quentin pushed all the air from his lungs. Instantly, he felt the tension pulling away, lifting from his shoulders until he was weightless. The teasing drag of Eliot’s cockhead stilled. His hands on Quentin’s back, his hips, kneading the flesh of his ass.

“That’s so good, Quentin,” Eliot soothed. “Now how about you turn over for me, hm? I wanna see that pretty face when I put my dick inside you.”

Manhattan
November 2015

“What are you talking about?” There was a high, sharp ringing in Quentin’s ears like distant bells. “I was—no. I was there. I remember every second, every—”

“I was there too,” Eliot said, taking a long drag on his cigarette, puffing out tendrils of smoke. “You’re remembering it the way you need to. I can’t say that I really blame you.”

“Fuck you,” Quentin said through gritted teeth, hands trembling against the lengths of his own thighs. “I am so goddamn tired of you playing with my head.”

Eliot shrugged, stubbed the cigarette out in the ashtray he called over from the table, sent it flying back with a twist of his clever hand. “I don’t expect for you to ever forgive me,” he said, words settling over the press of Quentin’s heart like a thousand ton boulder. “I don’t—” He offered Quentin another sad smile. “I don’t particularly think I deserve to be forgiven. But when I left it was—Quentin, I didn’t want—”

“How do you ever expect me to believe—”

“I’ll take down my wards.” Eliot straightened his back. “I’ll let you in.”

Quentin narrowed his eyes. “I’m not psychic, Eliot.”

Eliot averted his gaze, set it somewhere distant. Into the void beyond the spaces where the firelight reached. “There’s a spell,” he said. “Uh—it’ll let you see—let us both see. The way it really happened.”

Quentin’s pulse pounded in his temples. For a moment, reality stuttered. Double vision, Eliot going all sideways before returning to the center. “No,” he said with a shake of his head. “No, I—” He bit at the inside of his cheek until he saw stars. “How about you just tell me what you remember.”

A long pause. It stretched like hours between them. It stretched like memories. Finally, Eliot fixed Quentin with his gaze, opened his mouth. “Would you even believe me if I did?”

Quentin swallowed. “I don’t know,” he said, voice splintering like bone. “I don’t know what to believe, El, I—” His lips began to quiver. He ducked his head, swiping a tear from his eye. “It doesn’t matter. The damage is fucking done.”

“Right,” Eliot said with a sigh. In his periphery, Quentin watched as Eliot slumped. “No, you’re right. And I mean—you’re getting married.” A little laugh stirred the air. It lanced Quentin’s heart clean through. “So I guess maybe I should just get on with it and give you what you came here for.”

Quentin knitted his brows together. He could hardly remember the thought he’d had only seconds ago, let alone anything he’d been thinking before walking through the door. Let alone—

He lifted his head, watching Eliot though a thin wash of tears.

Tell me it meant something to you.

“It mattered to me.” Eliot said the words so quietly, Quentin could hardly make them make sense. “If you don’t believe anything else—” He shook his head, sincerity flooding every corner of his face. “It was real, Quentin. Every second we were—”

Eliot’s voice withered, like it had been snatched right out of his throat. His gaze settling on the shadows moving somewhere far away. Deep in the hollow of his chest, Quentin felt something break. Like he was being chiseled open. He breathed in deep, the air thick as poison. A haunting silence settled over the room. He let his eyes wander down on the empty palms of his hands.

Quentin spun the ring around his finger. In the dim light, it took on the distinct appearance of a glimmering wound. The sight of it left Quentin feeling severed. He couldn’t stand the weight of it for even a second longer. It felt like a black hole he’d strapped to himself, sucking all the light from his bones.

Quentin tugged it off, tossing it down onto the rug with a careless, empty thud.

Eliot fixed his gaze on the thin band of gold. Quentin felt it watching like a hollow eye. Eliot’s head tipped at a sharp angle, his brows knitting themselves together.

“I’m not—” Quentin huffed, blood turning to ice in his veins. His voice felt too big for the room. “I’m not getting married.”

The silence seemed to grow a voice of its own. Some resonant, full-throated thing. The pulse of air between wingbeats. Eliot raised his eyes to Quentin. And blinked. And then—

Eliot was laughing. The sound of it carrying all the mirth of a head-on collision. Rumble in his throat, the crunch of metal and bone. “You know,” he said, an incredulous smile tugging at his features. “I’m almost impressed.”

“Don’t—” Quentin’s mouth twitched. Acrid sting of bile in his throat. “Don’t act like you have some sort of moral high ground here, Eliot.”

Eliot leaned forward, pinning Quentin with his gaze. “Don’t worry, Q,” he said. “I think you’ve got the high ground covered for us both.”

Quentin straightened his back, immediately began to wither back down. “What the fuck else was I supposed to do?”

Eliot’s head toppled sideways, like it was preparing to roll right off his shoulders. “I don’t know,” he said. “Not fake an engagement to—wait.” He was laughing again. “Were you ever even dating what’s-his-face?”

“James.”

“Right.”

Quentin sighed. “Yes, but I—” He ducked his head. Quentin wanted to be angry, but all he could muster was shame. “He broke up with me on Halloween.”

Eliot settled back into the corner of the sofa, his expression turning suddenly soft. “Well,” he said very quietly, his hooded eyes flicking over Quentin’s face, “I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Don’t do that.” Quentin shook his head, stomach turning sour. “Don’t act like you give a shit about my life falling apart.”

“Is that what he was to you?” Eliot asked, his voice some shriveled, vacant thing. “Your life?”

Quentin drew a breath and shoved it out. “It doesn’t matter.”

“It matters if you loved him.” Eliot let that sit for a long moment. “Did you love him?”

Quentin felt something blow right through him. A breath, or a bullet. The ache was all the same. “Not like—” Quentin snipped his own words off at the root. Not like you. “He was my friend.”

The corner of Eliot’s mouth twitched up, a microexpression Quentin almost thought he’d imagined. “Well,” he said, “I’m sorry you lost your friend.”

“I don’t wanna talk about him anymore.” Quentin sighed. He wanted to melt into the floor, become something different. Something that didn’t have to think. “I shouldn’t have come here. This was a mistake.”

“Don’t say that.” The way the words purred out of Eliot’s chest made Quentin dizzy. “I’m glad you’re here.”

Quentin said nothing, the air thick as oil in his lungs.

“Do the spell with me,” Eliot said after a long moment of silence. “There’s nothing to it, I—”

“If you say you promise I’m going to scream.”

Eliot shrugged. “Fine,” he said. “But you should still—”

“No.” Thick braids of tension pulled all of Quentin’s muscles taut. “No, we—” He took a breath. “Here’s what we’re going to do.” He steeled himself, fingernails biting into his palms. “You’re going to go back to Brakebills. It’s not fair to Margo. She shouldn’t have to lose you too.”

Eliot was gazing down at the floor. “What about you?” He raised his eyes to Quentin. “You shouldn’t have to lose magic because of me.”

Quentin wanted to laugh, but he didn’t have the energy. “We can’t be together,” he said. “And I’m a shit magician without you. So I don’t really see how I have very many options here, Eliot.”

Eliot sighed, shifting a little closer. Quentin could feel the heat of him now, and his magic too. That little unfathomable spark flickering just beneath the surface of his skin. “You’re a good magician, Quentin,” he said, his hand inching close to Quentin’s thigh, like he could only just barely resist the urge to touch. “You deserve to give it a shot.”

“I already gave it a shot.” Quentin’s voice was meek and ruined. “What the fuck do you think I’ve been doing all this time?”

A laugh puffed out of Eliot’s mouth. “I mean without—” He made an airy gesture. “You know. Without our metric fuckton of baggage sitting on your shoulders.”

Quentin’s eyes narrowed to slits. “Do you think that all just goes away because you stopped being a coward for thirty seconds?”

“If you would just do this spell with me, Q—”

“I’m not doing the spell.” Quentin met Eliot’s eyes head-on. The set of his jaw sharp as the edge of a blade. “There isn’t any point.”

Eliot nodded, took a breath. Quentin could see the thoughts turning behind his eyes. “You know what I think, Q?” he said after a long moment. “I think you like being miserable. I think—”

Quentin’s stomach lurched up into his throat. “Don’t.”

“I think it’s all that you know.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.” Quentin’s voice came out vellum-thin. “You don’t get to pretend like you know me just because you used to fuck me.”

A little laugh puffed out of Eliot’s nose. “And round and round we go.”

Quentin wanted to crumble. He wanted to sleep for a hundred years. He wanted to pin Eliot’s body to the sofa and cover him with bruising kisses from head-to-foot. “I’ll go back,” he said, his throat clenching around the words. “Not for me and not for you.” He paused, studying Eliot’s placid face. “If I leave, Julia is going to follow and I—I can’t keep doing this to her.” He sighed, felt it in his whole chest. “I can’t take magic away from her too.”

After a long moment of stillness, Eliot answered with a nearly imperceptible nod. “So,” he said. “Odds that Bambi’s still out there waiting?”

“She’s there,” Quentin said. “Waiting to kick my ass if nothing else.”

Eliot offered the softest smile, his fingers skimming the denim of Quentin’s jeans.

Quentin swallowed down the urge to give him everything, shifting his body away. “Take down the wards,” he said. “Let them in. I just wanna go home.”

Columbia University
January 2014

Quentin was in the mirror again, gazing down at himself on Eliot’s bed. His head nestled into the mattress, a stack of pillows shoved up under his hips to get the angle just right.

His knees were falling back against his chest, his body spread wide open. Eliot was kneeling before him, holding the plug in one hand, a bottle of lube in the other. The moment flicked past in gasps of candlelight, the glass of the plug jumping with sparks of orange and gold.

Eliot grinned, slicking Quentin with the lube and setting the bottle aside. “I’m gonna get you nice and slippery, baby,” he said, slipping the plug into Quentin’s body without any prelude, no teasing. “And then I’m going to fuck you.”

Quentin whimpered, his cock ached, making a mess of his belly. He fixed his eyes on the ceiling. In the mirror, his mouth was hanging open. Eliot worked the plug out of his body and back in again, each pass of the thick bulb over his sensitive rim sending sparks down to his toes.

Eliot raised his eyes, meeting Quentin’s gaze in the mirror. “You like to watch, baby, hm?” He grinned. “If only you could see what I see.” He pulled the plug out and tossed it aside, his eyes falling down to Quentin’s face. “You’re gaping so pretty for me, Quentin.” He was slicking himself with lube now, and when he was finished the bottle seemed to blink out of existence with his clever sleight of hand. “You think you’re ready for this, sweetheart?” He teased the head of his dick over Quentin’s hole.

Eliot swam in Quentin’s vision like a mirage. He reached out a hand, touched Eliot on the chest.

Eliot’s mouth quirked up, he caught Quentin by the wrist. Suddenly, Quentin’s hand was being moved down to Eliot’s dick. “Here,” he purred, locking their eyes together. “I want you to help me put it inside you.”

Quentin pushed a sound out of his throat. Eliot throbbed in the circle of his hand. There in their artificial night, Eliot’s pale skin awash in a rainbow made of fire. Gleaming bright as polished bronze kissed by the sun. Eliot’s lips parted, spirals of his curls tumbling over his brow, dappling his eyes in wisps of shadow. Eliot guided Quentin’s hand, teasing deft little circles over his hole. No pressure, not pushing in. Just letting Quentin feel it there.

“Stay with me,” Eliot said, breathless. “Don’t look away.”

Quentin almost wanted to laugh. As if he could ever imagine looking away from this. He felt like he’d been dipped in stars. Slowly, slowly Eliot started to move, pressing inward. The head of his cock flickering over Quentin’s entrance like the tip of a tongue.

“Relax,” Eliot breathed, one hand pressed to the back of Quentin’s thigh as he tipped gently forward. “I’ve got you, baby. It’s just you and me.”

Quentin blinked, the room around him shifting like churning waters. Amorphous in the way it danced. Down between his legs, the pressure started to build. Eliot’s cheeks darkened with blush, a bead of sweat falling from his brow. For a moment, everything stood frozen. Time itself, the pounding of Quentin’s heart. And then all at once—Quentin felt himself opening to Eliot. The cupped face of a flower drinking in the sun. Warmth spread up along the dip of his spine. The head of Eliot’s dick speared him clean in two. He could feel it drumming there. Quentin’s hole fluttered around it.

Eliot held himself perfectly still, his hand pressed to the center of Quentin’s chest. “Is it too much?”

Quentin shook his head, pulling his hand away from Eliot’s dick, touching him right over his heart.

One corner of Eliot’s mouth quirked up, and he pulled out, and pressed back in again. He gave a fragmentary snap of his hips, and Quentin’s vision flooded with sparks. A cry clipped off in Quentin’s throat. Eliot soothed him through it, sinking in a little deeper. It was only an inch or two, but Quentin felt filled straight up to the brim.

Eliot watched Quentin through the wild fringe of his curls. “God,” he said, pulling back and thrusting forward again. “You feel like heaven on my dick, sweetheart.”

Quentin pawed at Eliot’s waist, his hips, anywhere his hands could find, itching to draw him nearer, to be touched by him, to be kissed, consumed. Willing his body to open, arching up into the act of his own devastation with tears stinging in his eyes.

“Oh—” Eliot sounded on the verge of breaking apart. He hummed beneath the press of Quentin’s hands. “You want it deeper, baby, hm?”

Quentin whined, craning his neck, begging for Eliot’s mouth on his. Eliot drew his bottom lip between his teeth, leaning in the way a shadow looms. Deep arch of his back rising beneath Quentin’s palms. He hovered their lips together. Quentin could feel the tension as it rose, every muscle in Eliot’s body pulled taut as he sank in another calculated inch.

Eliot pecked Quentin on the mouth. “Hey,” he said, nuzzling their noses together.

Quentin wrapped his legs around Eliot’s middle, spurring him forward. A feral, shattered sound falling out of his chest. He stole Eliot’s mouth in a kiss, all teeth and tongues and snarling hunger. Eliot started to move, little stutter-stop motion of his hips, so delicate it bordered on madness. Had he a voice to do so, Quentin would have begged to be ruined. Begged for it until his body no longer made sense.

Eliot broke the kiss, latching onto Quentin’s throat. Quentin’s eyes settled on the mirror overhead, the glass waving like the surface of a pond. Reflecting back so much writhing flesh. Limbs that grasped, tangling and catching like knots. Quentin’s hands pressed up into the hair at Eliot’s sweat-slick nape. Every twitch of Eliot’s hips pushing little sounds out of his throat. Quentin’s dick throbbed between the press of their bodies. He drew Eliot nearer, locking his ankles together—

He didn’t see the moment that it happened. The reflection in the mirror shifted, going dark, flaring white. Eliot had suddenly thrust forward, sinking in until their bodies were pressed flush together. Quentin felt it everywhere, clawing at the base of his spine like greedy little fingers. The pleasure soared down to the soles of his feet, it tingled brightly in his teeth. He felt it in the tips of his fingers, swore he could taste it on his tongue.

Eliot knocked their foreheads together, panting hotly against Quentin’s mouth. “Shit,” he said. “Baby. I didn’t mean to—are you all right?”

Slowly, Quentin nodded his head. For a moment, they lay together, perfectly still, breathing, bodies clasped together like praying hands. Quentin felt like a wound that was coming together. Stitched up with threads of gold, all gleaming and brand new. Like something inside of him was healing, after so many blank and empty years spent shattered in the dark. Like right there, in the quivering fire of Eliot’s narrow bed, Quentin had been reunited with the missing half of himself at last.

“Jesus fucking—” Eliot rocked his hips once, gently, a ruined sob clawing out of his throat. “Do you—do you feel that, baby? Do you feel how much I—do you know how much I—”

Quentin felt the words that Eliot didn’t speak, pressed a kiss into the corner of his mouth, nipping at his bottom lip with hungry teeth. Eliot moved like he was casting a spell. Pleasure surged through Quentin like a fever. He said a silent prayer to any god that might be listening in. Please let this last forever. Please don’t let this ever end. Every minute shift of Eliot’s cock inside Quentin’s body was like a switch being thrown. Pleasure crested in his throat. He could feel himself unspooling, his stitching coming undone.

Eliot babbled nonsense into the crook of Quentin’s neck. It all happened so quickly, Quentin hardly registered the fall. Weightless and sobbing, his fingertips pressing into the flesh of Eliot’s back hard enough to bruise. His cock began to pulse, the fiery rise of his orgasm clipping all the sound out of his throat. Eliot was driving into him now, the faltering pistons of his hips not ceasing for a moment as Quentin shuddered straight through to the aftershocks.

Quentin felt it—the very moment Eliot began to crumble apart inside him. His hole fluttered around the throbbing length of Eliot’s dick. Eliot sucked a bruise into the join of Quentin’s neck and shoulder. Fat, hot tears tumbled from his eyes and onto Quentin’s burning skin, sizzling like rain on pavement. It was like a feedback loop. Quentin swore he was coming all over again. He felt it in the marrow of his bones, he felt it in his chest. His balls were drawn tight as the skin of a drum. His blood was singing in his ears.

When Eliot had spent himself completely, they collapsed into a sticky, panting heap. The pleasure didn’t leave them, hovering over the bed like a shimmering cloud. Neither of them moved for a very long time. Eliot’s softening cock was still inside him. Quentin couldn’t think or speak, registering nothing but Eliot’s sweat-slick body pressing into his.

Brakebills University
November 2015

They walked through the portal together. The four of them, one after the next, hopping from alleyway to hallway with the ache of winter clinging to their skin. Quentin couldn’t bear glancing back at Eliot once the portal sealed behind them. He made a beeline for his room, pushing past Julia without a word and all but slamming the door in her face. He sat on the edge of his bed. He held his head in his hands.

Not a minute later, the lock on the door clicked open. Fucking magicians. Quentin lifted his gaze.

“Jules, I don’t—” The words clipped off on Quentin’s tongue. It was Margo gazing back at him, shutting the door firmly at her back. Quentin sighed with his entire chest. “If you wanna yell at me or kick my ass can it please just wait until tomorrow?”

Margo stepped closer, one hand on her hip. An expression on her face that was impossible to read until she opened her mouth. “Are you okay?” she asked, her body language going soft.

Quentin narrowed his eyes. “Why do you care?”

“Because I do,” she said. “So deal.”

Quentin huffed a breath out of his nose. “You should go be with Eliot,” he said. “We’re like… barely even friends.”

Margo was close enough for Quentin to smell her perfume. “Don’t be a cock,” she said, her gaze sweeping over to the nightstand, the bracelet that was lying there, all but flashing like a neon sign. She ran a finger over the leather before taking it in hand.

“Please don’t touch—” Quentin experienced the moment in slow motion. Margo’s eyes sweeping over the name etched along the inside of the band, her features twisting into something like pity. “I just… really need to be alone right now, okay?”

She set her eyes on him, tossed the bracelet back onto the nightstand. “You really think that’s a good idea?”

A bitter fit of laughter tumbled out of Quentin’s mouth. “Did Julia send you in here to—”

Margo held up a hand. “I’m gonna stop you right there,” she said, taking a seat next to Quentin on the bed. “No one sends me to do squat. That’s something you should probably know about me.”

Quentin turned his eyes to her. Her armor was all the way down. He didn’t see the point in fighting. “Then I don’t understand why you’re here,” he said, voice on the precipice of shattering in two.

Slowly, she reached out a hand, curled her palm around his face. Quentin flinched at the touch. “Because,” she said very softly, “I know that look in your eyes.” She thumbed at his cheek. “I’ve seen it in the mirror.” She let that sit for a long, tense, terrible instant. “And I just wanna make sure you’re not gonna do anything stupid, okay?”

Quentin averted his gaze, brushed her hand away. Setting his eyes on his shoes where they were pressed to the floor. “I’m not going to—if you’re trying to imply—” He took a breath, his heart a sour mass in his throat. “I’m not going to do… that. Just because your best friend is a coward.”

It was like flipping a switch, the way the spiral came for him at once. Some snarling thing that gnashed its teeth. A vortex opening in the floor and threatening to pull him under. It was only the cold shock of Margo’s hand against the back of his neck that pulled Quentin back from the brink.

“Well,” she said, “if you think you’re going to change your mind about that, come find me. There’s a potion. It’ll stop you from getting noose-happy until the urges pass.”

She hopped to her feet without another word, leaving Quentin dazed. Vertigo snatched at his belly with its cold, careless fingers. Margo swayed in his vision as she sauntered to the door, and pulled it open, offering him a glance over her shoulder before stepping out into the hall.

“Get some rest,” she said. “Take some drugs. Fuck somebody you don’t care about. Moping’s only gonna make it worse.”

After she’d gone, Quentin took the bracelet from the nightstand, and held it up to the light, watching Eliot’s name glint along the inside of the leather, shiny as a freshly healed scar. He pressed it to his skin just to feel it. Right over his wrist, the thumping of his heart. His pulse rushed and craved and smoldered. His fingers played over the snaps. His flesh, and Eliot’s name, fitting together snugly as cogs.

Quentin could feel him beyond walls and doorways. He tossed the bracelet down on the nightstand and crawled up onto the bed with his shoes still on. He tucked his knees up to his chest and shut his eyes, but Quentin found no relief in the dark. Behind the blankness of his eyelids, Eliot’s name began to burn.

Columbia University
January 2014

Quentin was laughing. Eliot’s tongue was flicking over his belly, lapping up the remnants of his come, mouthing at the underside of his soft, spent cock. He pressed a kiss to the head, gazing up at Quentin with a grin. “Sorry,” he said. “Does that tickle?”

Quentin swallowed, tried his voice. “Yes,” he said, the word coming out a puff of breath. “It’s okay. I don’t mind.”

Eliot hummed, started nosing his way up the expanse of Quentin’s torso, nuzzling into his neck, sucking a kiss into the center of his throat. “Tell me how you’re feeling,” he said.

A dopey grin spread over Quentin’s face. “Like you just fucked my brain right out of my skull.”

Eliot laughed, kissed Quentin on the mouth. “Oh, sweetheart,” he said, nuzzling their noses together. “Just you wait. Next time…” He kissed Quentin on the cheek. “Next time we’re going to make it last.”

Quentin sighed. “I don’t hate the sound of that.”

Eliot tugged the pillows out from under Quentin’s hips and tossed them aside, settling in between the spread of his thighs. “Let me feed you,” he said, gaze tipping upward, his head nestled over Quentin’s heart. “I know you have to be starved.”

Quentin carded his fingers lazily through Eliot’s hair. “That sounds like it would require getting up.”

“You don’t have to move a muscle, pretty boy,” Eliot said. “Just lie there and let me take care of you.”

Quentin let his eyes slide shut. His whole body hummed pleasantly with the memory of having been fucked. Between his legs, he could feel Eliot’s come dripping out. It was a feeling he hoped would last forever. “In a little while,” he said. “This is really nice.”

“It is.” Eliot drew a breath and pushed it out. “But you need to keep your energy up. We have a whole week until classes start, and I’ve got plans for you.”

Quentin peeked at Eliot through one hooded eye. “Like what?”

Eliot waggled his brows. “Patience, sweet boy.”

“No,” Quentin whined. “Just tell me one thing.”

Eliot was quiet for a long moment. Quentin’s belly flared with anticipation, thinking of all the things their bodies still might do.

“Well,” Eliot said at last, punctuating the word with a kiss right over Quentin’s heart. “For starters, I wanna watch you ride my dick.” He rubbed his face against the dusting of hair on Quentin’s chest. “I want you to fuck yourself on it until you blow your load all over me.”

El,” Quentin breathed, and between his legs his cock began to stir. “Jesus…”

Eliot smirked. “Well, you did ask.”

Quentin’s fingers tangled in the hair at Eliot’s nape. “What else?” he said. “Tell me something else.”

Eliot shifted. On hands and knees, he bracketed Quentin in with his arms. His curls tumbled down in wisps and tendrils, tickling over Quentin’s face. “Ready for another go already, hm?” he said, his lips a hair’s breadth away from Quentin’s.

“I don’t—” Quentin’s head was sinking like a heavy stone, all the way to the bottom. “I don’t know. Tell me—”

“I wanna fuck you from behind with a fistful of that pretty hair while you sob all over my sheets.” Eliot smirked, kissing Quentin on the mouth. “Another?”

Quentin’s dick ached back to full hardness. “Yes.”

“I wanna pick you up and throw your legs over my shoulders and bounce you on my dick until you can’t even remember the sound of your own name.”

Quentin arched up into Eliot’s heat. He was getting hard again too. Quentin could feel it poking into his belly. “More,” he whined, pawing at Eliot’s back. “More.”

Eliot nipped at Quentin’s bottom lip. “I wanna fuck you in your bed for hours. I want your sheets to smell like me for days.”

“Eliot…” Quentin threw his legs around Eliot’s hips, drawing their middles together. “Again. I want it… want…”

Eliot nosed along the shell of Quentin’s ear. “I don’t know how badly you want it if you can still speak, sweet boy,” he purred. Quentin could feel the curve of his smile. “Bet I would slip inside so easily now.” Eliot reached down between Quentin’s legs, teasing fingers over the mess he’d made. “With that pretty hole all sloppy with my come.”

Quentin opened his mouth to beg, but all that came out was a whimper.

Brakebills University
November 2015

Quentin walked into the dining room on Thursday night, and Eliot was there. Pale skin gleaming in the light of the miniature sun that bobbed against the ceiling. He raised his eyes when Quentin entered, looking wan and wilted as the untouched salad set before him on the table.

“Quentin.” Eliot offered a lazy tip of his head, the facsimile of a smile pulling at his mouth. “How can I—”

Quentin had already rounded the table. He registered the scene in fragments, even as he was moving through it. His legs stilled. He was gazing down at Eliot gazing up at him. Taking Eliot by the front of his shirt, ruining the line of his collar. He crashed forward without thinking, crashing their mouths together. Eliot made a sound that Quentin swallowed down into his hungry throat.

It was quick and messy. Quentin drew his teeth over Eliot’s bottom lip as he pulled away, knocking their foreheads together with a sigh. “I’m really fucking mad at you,” he said.

Eliot swallowed. “I know,” he said very quietly.

“Are you mad at me?”

“No.”

Quentin pulled back just enough to meet Eliot’s eyes. They were wide as saucers, pupils dilated. Swallowing all the color in his irises. Quentin released his hold on Eliot’s shirt. “It’s what you deserve, you know,” he said. “For me to be really fucking mad at you.”

Eliot’s mouth twitched in a sad little smile. “I know.”

“And it doesn’t—” Quentin swallowed, shook his head. “It doesn’t matter what happened that night, you know. It doesn’t—it doesn’t justify—”

“I know.” Eliot reached out, thumbed at Quentin’s cheek. “Quentin—”

Quentin brushed his hand away. “Don’t,” he said. His hands were going to Eliot’s shirt again. He wanted to tear it open. “You can’t just fucking gaslight me, Eliot.”

“I know,” Eliot said. “I never meant to—”

Quentin pressed a finger to Eliot’s lips. “I don’t care,” he said. “You fucking did it.”

Eliot’s hands went to Quentin’s neck. Quentin let him do it. Let Eliot push his big, strong fingers up into the hair at his nape. “I know,” he whispered right against Quentin’s lips, pulling him steadily downward. “Kiss me.”

“I don’t forgive you.” The room swirled around Quentin’s head in a daze of lights. Suddenly—Eliot pushed the chair back from the table, and Quentin was climbing half into his lap, straddling the expanse of one thigh. “I don’t…”

“I know,” Eliot said, nuzzling their noses together. “Baby, I don’t expect you to forgive me.”

“Don’t call me that.” Fuck. Quentin was melting. He wanted Eliot to wreck him inside out. “You don’t just get to…”

Their lips slotted together. The kiss was languid and subdued. Little flickers of tongue, for a moment seeking nothing else. After a long stretch of seconds, Eliot broke away and kissed Quentin on the cheek.

“I’m not doing your spell,” Quentin said, blood drumming in his ears, hoofbeats pounding in his chest. “I’m not, El, I mean it.”

“All right.” Eliot’s throat clicked as he swallowed. “It’s okay. We don’t have to—”

“I don’t know what to do.” Quentin knocked his forehead into Eliot’s with a sigh. “Tell me what I’m supposed to do.”

Eliot’s hands started to move, he was drawing Quentin in. “Let me make love to you,” he said.

Quentin threw his arms around Eliot’s neck. “We’re not doing that,” he said, the words scraping out of his throat like pitiful little surrenders. “I don’t forgive you.”

He wondered if Eliot would fuck him on the table. Face pressed downward like a centerpiece, dip of his back made into an altar. He wondered if Eliot would tie his hands with magic rope, or spank his ass until he was sobbing, or spread him open and eat him out until he’d soaked the floor between his feet clean through. He wondered if—

“You don’t have to forgive me,” Eliot said. “I’ll give you my hands.” His palms pressed to Quentin’s back over his shirt. The heat of him seeped in through the fabric, down into Quentin’s bones. “I’ll give you my mouth.” His mouth trailed along the curve of Quentin’s neck, feather-light whisper of his breath. “I’ll give you my dick.” Eliot raised his eyes to Quentin’s. “Don’t forgive me. I don’t deserve it. Just let me make you feel good.”

“No.” Quentin shuddered, pulled back, crashed forward, kissed Eliot on the mouth again. “I don’t want—I don’t want you to…”

It was the greatest lie Quentin had ever told. He wanted Eliot more than he’d ever wanted anything. Desire coursed through his body like a sickness, lodging like hooks in his brain. I want it I want it I want—

“Okay,” Eliot said, his face pressing into the hollow of Quentin’s throat. “It’s okay, Q.”

Quentin’s body flickered in and out, a dial tuning furiously between stations and static. Eliot’s hands were on his ass, Quentin’s hands were on Eliot’s face. They were pressed together from hip-to-chest, melding together like drops of rain. Quentin surged forward, kissing Eliot on the lips. They kissed and kissed and kissed and—

Quentin kissed Eliot until he couldn’t breathe.

When at last they parted, a sob choked off in Quentin’s throat. He was so hard he thought he was going to be sick. Eliot’s hands were pushing up under his shirt, palms like fire, melting Quentin clean down to his marrow.

“You know,” Eliot said, breath coming hotly against Quentin’s lips, “I’d let you use me up. I’d let you do anything to me. I’m yours, Q. I’m—”

“Don’t.” Quentin suddenly wrenched his body away. Stumbling to his feet, knocking back against the table. Shriek of the legs scraping against hardwood. The floor bucked hard under Quentin’s shoes. “What the fuck. We’re not—we’re not doing this.”

Eliot tipped at a hard angle in Quentin’s vision, visibly deflating in his chair. “Okay,” he said. “Q, we can—we can do whatever you want.”

Eliot was reaching for him, hand waving on the air just out of reach. Every animal instinct told Quentin to pounce. To pull Eliot down onto the floor and tear him out of his clothes. To rend his flesh to pieces. To cover his body in bruises and kisses and the blunt points of his fingers. Mark his body like a constellation, every point of his pulse a falling star.

“I don’t—” Quentin ran a hand over his ruined hair, down the front of his ruined shirt. His ruined heart rattled in his ears. “I’m—I’m gonna go sleep at Julia’s.”

“Julia’s with Margo,” Eliot said.

“I don’t care.” Quentin pushed all the air from his lungs. “I just—I need to go clear my head. I need—I can’t be here right now, El.”

Eliot’s mouth shaped itself into a mechanical smile. “All right,” he said. “Goodnight, Quentin.”

It was like walking through quicksand. Quentin forced himself to turn away. He grabbed his jacket and tugged it on and stepped out into the night. He breathed in deep, chilly autumn air filling his lungs. He was still half-hard inside his jeans. Every footstep smarted like an open wound. He trudged across campus to Julia’s room above the library. He clicked on the lamp and kicked out of his shoes, shrugged out of his jacket, curled up on the bed and buried his face in her pillow. The scent of her like middle school sleepovers, calming him at once. Like the scent of all his pillows back home.

It mingled with the scent of Eliot on his clothes, lulling Quentin into a fitful sleep. He lingered between waking and dreams. Nightmares loomed in his periphery, their dark-clawed shadows dancing against the dome of his skull, foaming around his ankles with their black and churning water. It felt like he’d been dead for days when something touched him on the shoulder. Quentin gasped himself awake at once, bolting upright. Julia’s lamplit face swam in his vision.

He fell down onto his back with a heavy sigh, pulse hammering in his neck. “Hey,” he said. “What time is it?”

Julia was perched on the edge of the bed. She ran a hand down the sleeve of his shirt. “Late,” she said. “Sorry I wasn’t here.”

“It’s fine.” Quentin set his eyes on the ceiling. “I just can’t be in the Cottage right now.”

“That mad, huh?”

“Yes.” Quentin pushed out a breath. “No. I don’t know what I am anymore, Jules."

The mattress creaked as Julia shifted her weight. “I don’t know why I’m telling you this,” she said, “but Margo thinks he’s madly in love with you.”

Quentin met her eyes, his throat clenching around the words before he’d even set them free. “You used to think the same,” he said.

She considered him with a tilt of her head, her long hair obscuring half her face in a dark curtain. “That was before he ghosted you for no good reason and left me to pick up all the Q-shaped pieces.”

Quentin sighed, set his eyes on the shadow-washed ceiling. “Do you remember that night? The night he left me.”

“Well, no,” she said, “I wasn’t there. But I remember the morning after. When you called me. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the way your voice sounded on the phone.”

Quentin sat up. Julia crawled up onto the bed and sat beside him. He shivered, and her arm wrapped around his shoulders. When he thought back to that morning, it was like looking through a fogged-over window, the details scattered like leaves in a storm.

“He said I’m remembering it wrong.”

“What?”

He turned his face to her, close enough to see the flecks of color swimming in the amber of her eyes. “He said—I don’t know. Something happened. Or I said something. That I’m not remembering.”

Julia rested her chin on his shoulder. “Something other than the stupid thing you already told me about?”

Quentin nodded. “Yeah. I guess. I don’t know. He said there’s—” He sighed, running a hand over his hair. “There’s a spell we can do. To see what really happened.”

Julia snorted a laugh. “There’s no way you can trust that shit,” she said. “I mean—it’s well established that your memory is garbage, but—come on, Q.”

“I know, I—” Quentin took a deep breath. His shirt still smelled like Eliot. He pulled out of her grasp, fell down onto his back, nestled his head in her pillow. “I know.”

Julia curled up at his side, resting her chin on his chest. “Look,” she said. “Margo might think he’s in love, but I—” She took a breath. “He’s a manipulative asshole, Q. He just wants to control you and play with your head until he gets bored.”

Quentin huffed, his heart curling up inside his throat. “I know, Jules. Do you think I don’t—”

“In addition to your shit memory, Q, it’s also well established that you enjoy being miserable and doing things that are bad for you,” she said. “And I—”

“Jules.”

“I…” She drew out the syllable on her tongue. “Am once again here to be the angel on your shoulder who you’re going to ignore because you can’t help yourself.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He let his gaze flit downward. “Stop looking at me like that.”

“I’m not looking at you like anything.” Her mouth quirked up in a smile. “You’re going to do the spell—”

“I’m not—”

“You are,” she said. “I know you, Quentin Coldwater. I just want it on the record that it’s a bad idea.”

“I know it’s a bad idea,” he said, heart drumming under the press of her hand. “I already told him I’m not doing it.” He huffed all the air from his lungs. “You don’t always have to assume I’m going to make the worst possible choice, you know.”

She snuggled close and shut her eyes. “You smell like him,” she said.

“I do not.” Quentin nearly choked. The scent of Eliot was cloying as perfume. “Stop smelling me and go to sleep.”

“You reek,” Julia said, punctuating her words with an easy sigh. She did a tut behind her back, clicked off the light, plunging the room into darkness. “Goodnight, Q.”

Columbia University
April 2014

They fucked two more times that day, and three times the day after that. Hours shifted and moved. The sun rose, and the sun set. Quentin tried keeping count in his head. Tally marks in grey matter blurring into an endless, pulsing rhythm of again again again.

The week ended. Their final semester at Columbia began. And before Quentin knew it, winter had thawed into a brilliant golden spring.

It was April, and love burst from Quentin like flowers from the earth. Radiant and fragrant and bright. It seemed to always be the thing on the tip of his tongue. I love you. I’m in love. He was always on the verge of letting it slip out when he and Eliot were together. He didn’t know why he didn’t just say it. He was almost certain Eliot felt the same. Maybe he was just waiting for Eliot to say it first. Maybe he was just waiting—

It was Wednesday, Quentin thought, though he could hardly remember what lecture he’d been in that morning. It was a wonder his GPA hadn’t tanked. It was a wonder he was graduating at all. His head was back in Eliot’s room. He could smell him on his shirt and on his skin, tangled in his hair like fingers.

He was sitting across from Julia in the dining hall. She was talking, and Quentin was trying to listen. Between class and Eliot and studying and Eliot, it was the first time Quentin had seen her in days.

“So,” Julia said, eying him over her salad, “how’s lover man?”

Quentin blushed down at his sandwich. “He’s fine.”

Julia hummed, shoving a forkful of leafy greens into her mouth. “I bet he is.” She waggled her brows. “I would ask him myself but—wait. Is there a weird kinky sex reason I never see you two together out here? Like… in the real world.”

Quentin picked up his sandwich to give his hands something to do, though suddenly he didn’t feel much like eating. “I don’t know,” he said. “I guess we just like to be alone.”

Julia laughed, stabbing her fork down into her salad. “Oh my god,” she said. “I mean—I get it. But he can probably stop fucking you for like… an hour. And take you on an actual date. Or, I don’t know—come visit your best friend so she can get to know the future father of your babies.”

Quentin’s chest began to burn. “How do you know he hasn’t taken me on an actual date?”

“Well,” she said with a smirk, “has he?”

Quentin dropped his sandwich back down into its wrapper. “Shut up,” he said. “It doesn’t matter. I’m—” He huffed a breath. “I’m happy. And I like having him all to myself. Stop looking at me like that.”

“I’m not looking at you like anything,” Julia said, her smile shifting into something else, something dark, her mouth a tight, sharp line. “I’m happy that you’re happy, Q.”

They spent the rest of their lunch in relative silence. Quentin only picked at his food. His belly had gone sour, hardened like a stone. He did his best to explain it away. He was exhausted, he hadn’t been sleeping. Julia didn’t know what she was talking about. She was nervous about finals, projecting all of her own shit onto him. Her anxiety didn’t have to be his burden. He and Eliot were happy and they were in love.

Quentin made a beeline from the dining hall to East Campus, fourth floor, Eliot’s room, spent the rest of the afternoon in a blissed-out daze. Eliot put Quentin on his knees, tied his hands behind his back and fucked his mouth for what felt like hours. Quentin came untouched all over the floor. The press of leather against his neck, the glide of silk around his wrists. What the hell did they need dates for anyway? This was it. This was paradise. Quentin wished he’d never have to leave Eliot’s room ever again.

The days grew wings and fluttered past. Quentin’s head was in the clouds. Eliot was ostensibly working on his thesis, though he never seemed to be studying or in class or at rehearsal or whatever it was that drama majors did. If anything, he was more available to Quentin now than he’d ever been before. Quentin didn’t have to call or text or even knock. Eliot was always there, beautiful and ready to show Quentin all the things his body could do.

They didn’t talk about the future. They didn’t talk about what would come after graduation day. They didn’t even talk about what would happen tomorrow. Quentin didn’t think about it. He told himself he didn’t have to. Quentin’s life was Eliot-shaped. Something as trivial as graduating from college wasn’t going to change that most essential element of his heart.

But Quentin didn’t think about it. Because Quentin didn’t have to. Quentin was too busy being happy and in love.

Quentin was too busy falling.

Quentin didn’t think about it.

Quentin didn’t think—

Brakebills University
November 2015

Quentin woke before the sun on Friday morning, trudging across campus back to the Cottage under a haze of early blue-dark. He found Eliot in the common room, still in the clothes he’d been wearing when Quentin left the night before. He was lounging on the sectional on the far side of the room, puffing on a cigarette, looking rumpled but otherwise suspiciously sober.

Quentin was drawn to him like something with wings, the promise of sweet nectar ripe on his tongue. He crossed the distance without registering his own movements, coming to a halt just outside of Eliot’s reach. “Are you in love with me?” he asked, his voice some fluttering thing, etched with longing.

Eliot raised his eyes. “Yes,” he said without a moment’s hesitation, so plainly it nearly caused Quentin’s knees to buckle.

Quentin had to sit down. He perched near Eliot’s feet on the sectional, turning his body inward. A parenthesis seeking its other half. His heart was in his stomach, his stomach was in his throat. “Since when?” There were tears in his eyes, stinging like venom. “I don’t believe you, so tell me when you knew.”

Eliot considered Quentin with a tip of his head. “Freshman orientation,” he said after a long moment of silence.

“Oh, fuck you.” The words came flying out of Quentin’s mouth without a thought behind them. He raked a hand over his hair, huffed a breath out of his nose. “You are such a manipulative—”

“So are you.” One corner of Eliot’s mouth curled up. “But it’s the truth.”

Suddenly, it was very hard to breathe. In his periphery, Quentin could see the sun beginning to rise beyond the big bay window, slats of early morning sun painting patterns on the floor. “I don’t believe you,” he said, his voice coming out all wrong. His thoughts were racing beyond the speed of light, a hundred thousand little pieces strobing in his skull. Thinking back to—

Hey, Coldwater! Wait up!

Halloween 2013. The night everything had changed for him forever. The way Eliot had just been—there. Suddenly. Like he’d been waiting for Quentin all along.

Quentin felt the floor drop out from underneath his feet. “I don’t believe—”

“Do the spell with me.” Eliot swung his legs around. He shifted nearer, leaning in, his hand curving over Quentin’s knee.

Quentin wanted to be angry. He wanted to scream. All he could muster was a tired little sigh. “I don’t see what difference it’s going to make, Eliot.”

Eliot’s hand moved to Quentin’s face. Quentin didn’t push him away.

“It doesn’t have to make a difference,” Eliot said, so close now Quentin could feel the air stirring between their lips. “I only want you to remember.”

Quentin melted into the touch, shut his eyes. “I don’t wanna do it,” he said, the words fluttering out of him on an exhale. “I don’t even—I don’t even know if I can, Eliot. I haven’t done magic in—fucking days.”

“You can.” Eliot was thumbing at his cheek. Beyond the darkness of Quentin’s eyelids, tears swelled at the relief. “You’ll be with me.”

“No.” Quentin swallowed, opened his eyes. Eliot was close enough for Quentin to count every last one of his lashes. “And I want you to stop asking me. I’m—” He shook his head, eyes flitting down to Eliot’s lips “I’m serious, El…”

“Okay,” Eliot muttered. Both of his hands were on Quentin’s face now. “It’s okay, Q…”

Quentin tipped forward, let his lips brush over Eliot’s lips. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end. Quentin felt electrified. All heat and ozone and bursting light. He scrabbled to keep hold, teetering there on the precipice of his own thoughtless desire. Drawing a breath, pulling back a fraction of a second before he was lost. The sun falling through the window now in fat, golden shards.

“I, um—” Quentin hopped to his feet, nearly toppling over, knees wobbling and boneless. “I have class.” He did, it was true, though Quentin had no intention of actually showing. “So I should—I should go.”

Quentin drew a breath, turning away before the open, shattered expression Eliot’s face could make him stay.

He walked right back out of the Cottage, spent hours haunting the campus grounds. Wandering close enough to the wards to feel the magic prickling along the back of his neck like secret whispers. Eating lunch in a hidden corner of the library where he felt certain no one would find him. Shivering in the chill, gazing down into the blank, bottomless abyss of Woof Fountain. He napped in Julia’s room when she was in PA. He ducked around corners and behind trees when he spotted anyone he knew by name. He didn’t want to speak or to be comforted. Quentin just wanted to be cold and miserable and alone.

Evening settled over the campus like a curtain being drawn. Quentin dragged his weary body home with the sun dripping and molten all along the horizon at his back. The Friday night party was already in full swing when he walked through the door. Warm air seeping in through the fabric of his jacket. Music thumping like a pulse. Eliot in the corner, holding court all on his own.

He was beautiful. He always was, of course. But something about the way the light was bouncing off his skin tonight left him illuminated. Like he’d been lit with a hidden fire from within. Draped on his makeshift throne like a showpiece. He’d changed his clothes and fixed his hair. Easily coiffed but not overly-polished, in a button down and a soft cardigan that Quentin wanted to press his face into. Their eyes met across the distance. Quentin’s belly rattled and turned.

Quentin approached, stopping short of taking a seat next to Eliot on his perch. “Why aren’t you drinking?” It wasn’t what he’d been intending to say, but something about seeing Eliot just as bright-eyed and sober as he’d been that morning made Quentin want to fight.

Eliot offered a casual shrug. “Maybe I’m on the wagon.”

Quentin narrowed his eyes. “Everything is a game to you, isn’t it?”

Eliot’s expression softened into a smile. “You know, I didn’t have a single drop of alcohol for all those months we were together,” he said, huffing out a laugh. “Fuck, I didn’t even smoke weed. Even on the nights we were apart.”

“Shut up.” Quentin clenched his jaw. “I didn’t come here to talk about—”

“Quentin, you literally brought it up.”

Quentin groped around his skull, his storm-tossed thoughts bobbing just out of his reach. He shook his head, took a breath. “Tell me about the spell,” he said. “Tell me how it works.”

Eliot perked up at once. “Ever done a probability spell before?”

Quentin squinted. “You know I haven’t.”

Eliot sighed. “Well, if you had—I’d tell you it’s something like that,” he said. “Only instead of experiencing what could be you’ll be living the memory as it was. Like instant replay, no fast forward. Once we’re inside, it’ll feel like it’s really happening until the memory has run its course.”

“So we’d—” Quentin’s heart hammered against his ribcage. “We’d have to live the entire night over again?”

“More or less.” Eliot’s eyes narrowed, soft and dark. “Don’t look at me like that. I seem to recall that night being pretty fucking spectacular.”

“Yeah,” Quentin said, voice like shattering glass. “It was the greatest night of my life until it wasn’t.”

Eliot was silent for a long, tense moment, watching Quentin watching him. And then suddenly he was moving, rising to his feet, long legs crossing the short distance in a few quick strides. Quentin’s gaze tipped upward. Flecks of color danced in Eliot’s eyes like sparks.

“Look,” Eliot said, his big, warm hand on Quentin’s shoulder. Grounding and devastating all at once. “Just come upstairs with me. I have everything we need in my room.”

The party moved around them. Quentin registered none of it. “What if it just makes it worse?”

Eliot’s hand moved to Quentin’s neck. “What if it doesn’t?”

Quentin swallowed, his pulse thumping under the press of Eliot’s palm. “Fine,” he said, suddenly over-warm beneath his layers. “I’ll do it. But I’m still not going to forgive you after, just so you know.”

Eliot nodded, once, and smiled. “I know.”

They sat across from one another on the rug in Eliot’s room. Eliot did a few quick tuts and took down their mental wards. A big brass bowl was set between them, a dozen jars and bottles filled with tinctures and spell ingredients scattered around in a chaotic constellation. Eliot was mixing them together in the bowl. A pinch of this, a dash of that. Quentin couldn’t stop watching Eliot’s hands, the way his fingers moved like dancing.

When the last ingredient had been sprinkled in and set aside, Eliot muttered an incantation. A brilliant blue-white flash jumped out of the bowl, hot like pyrotechnics on Quentin’s face.

“Take off your jacket,” Eliot said. The fire in his eyes made Quentin’s belly twist. “And your shirt.”

Quentin was already shrugging out of his jacket. “Why?”

Eliot gestured to the bowl, the inside of it filled with a thick paste the color of earth-red clay. “Finger paints,” he said, slipping his cardigan off. “Go on.”

Quentin’s whole body flushed with heat. He tossed his jacket aside and stripped out of his shirt. Eliot’s eyes fluttered over Quentin’s bare skin in a thrilling wave. He was shirtless now too, dipping his fingers into the paste.

“Come a little closer,” Eliot said, his voice all soft and low, “so I can put my hands on you.”

Quentin moved without thinking, without breathing, only stopping when there was no more space left between their folded legs and the bowl. Eliot smiled, raising his fingers to Quentin’s temples.

“First,” Eliot muttered, “here.” He dragged his fingers from Quentin’s temples down to his cheekbones. “Then…” He applied a little more paste to his fingers. Quentin focused on Eliot’s mouth, his chin. Anywhere but his eyes. “Here.” Eliot drew twin lines down the sides of Quentin’s neck, straight down to the ridge of his collarbone, tracing the shape of it all the way to his shoulders.

“Um—you, um—” Quentin shook his head, his skin singing in all the places Eliot had touched. “You’ve done this a lot?”

Eliot shrugged. “Bambi and I do it sometimes when we’re bored,” he said, pressing his palm to the center of Quentin’s chest. “Your heart is beating very fast.”

Their eyes met. Eliot was close enough to kiss.

“What does—” Quentin swallowed. “What does that have to do with the spell?”

Eliot smirked, pulling his hand away. “Just try and relax,” he said. “Come on. It’s your turn to mark me up.”

Quentin’s teeth chattered. He dipped his fingers into the paste, grateful at least to have something to do with his hands. Eliot’s temples, the curves of his cheeks. His neck, the tempting rise of his collarbone. Quentin streaked him red with comet tails. Eliot’s skin roiled like a furnace. Quentin wanted to trace his teeth along the slope of his shoulder, mapping out all the places his fingers had been.

Eliot set the bowl aside when Quentin was through, shimmied a little closer, until their legs were pressed tightly together. “All right,” he said, taking one of Quentin’s hands in his. “This is the easy part. All you have to do is shut your eyes while I say the incantation.”

Quentin breathed, his palm slipping against Eliot’s. “That’s it?”

“That’s it.” Eliot reached forward, tucked a strand of hair back behind Quentin’s ear. “Try and focus on what you remember about that night.”

Hey. You wanna hear something funny?

Quentin shut his eyes. He was putty in Eliot’s hands. His blood pounded in his ears like a bassline, tracking the tempo of his heart. Eliot began to mutter the incantation at once, so quietly Quentin could hardly make out a single syllable, let alone what language he was speaking.

Beyond the darkness of his eyelids, Quentin tried to bring the memory of that night into view. That hotel room in Harlem with its unmade bed, its crisp white sheets. The way the curtains were drawn and their clothes were scattered on the floor like shed skins. Caps and gowns a rumpled, forgotten heap in the closet. The way Eliot’s teeth felt dragging over the skin of his neck. The way Eliot’s hands pressed into him, holding him down. The way they crashed together, the way they tumbled apart. The way it felt like forever until suddenly it didn’t. The way the way the way—

Quentin was weightless. Quentin was falling through the floor. The spell took hold of him like hands. He was outside of himself entirely, orbiting his body like a satellite. He opened his eyes to darkness, for a moment feeling nothing but panic. He was in a great, blank void. His heart did a somersault underneath his ribs. Quentin was alone and everything was quiet. And then—

His vision faded in like a sunrise. Quentin was upright, standing on his feet. It took him a long moment to register what he was seeing.

The hotel room stretched out before him, though he wasn’t really in it. It was like watching at a distance, through a window, on a screen. He saw another version of himself sitting on the bed with no clothes on, his phone pressed tightly to his ear. He was smiling, saying something, shaking his head. Eliot, his hair mussed up and wild, was kneeling behind him, pressing an open-mouthed kiss to the back of Quentin’s neck.

Quentin glanced over his shoulder. He was still in Eliot’s room. Like the two spaces had been sliced clean down the middle and stitched together. “What the fuck—” The Eliot who wasn’t on the bed was standing at his side. “You said—you said it would feel like it was really happening. Not—” He gestured wildly at the scene playing out before them. “Not that we were going to have to watch… porn. Of us.”

Eliot ran a hand over the top of Quentin’s head. “Relax,” he said. “We’ll get there. You just have to focus.”

“I am focusing—”

“Focus harder.” Eliot smirked, his hand on the back of Quentin’s neck now. “Do you remember this part? Do you remember what came after? What we did…”

“Of course—” Heat clawed at the base of Quentin’s spine, pulling all his muscles taut. “Of course I remember.”

“Good,” Eliot said, voice soft and dark. “Focus on the details.” He leaned closer, pressing his lips right to Quentin’s ear. “Remember the way it felt when I put you on your knees.”

A flashbulb exploded in Quentin’s mind. The floor dropped out from underneath his shoes, his body crumbled to dust. He was nothing, he was fog. He was a cloud dancing in a storm. For a moment, Quentin was certain he had died. The world around him was nothing but light. It shimmered. He couldn’t feel his face or his hands. And then, all at once—

Quentin was waking up.

He opened his eyes. He blinked.

Quentin was sitting on a bed in a hotel room in Harlem. He shivered, and laughed. Eliot’s breath ghosted over the back of his neck. He reached back, swatted him away.

“I know, dad,” he said into the phone, biting at the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing again. “I’m sorry. I’ll make it up to you, I promise. I’m just—I’m really not feeling well tonight.” Eliot was pressing all along the dip of his back, sucking a kiss into Quentin’s shoulder. Quentin shut his eyes. “Don’t worry. I’ll be fine. I think it was probably just something I ate.”

Chapter Text

Manhattan
May 2014

Quentin tossed his phone down onto the floor and leaned back into Eliot’s heat. “It’s almost like you want my dad to know I’m faking sick so I can stay in and let you fuck me until I pass out.”

Eliot hummed, mouthing all along the curve of Quentin’s shoulder. “You’ll let me do that, hm?” His arms snaked around Quentin’s middle, drawing him nearer. “That’s awfully kind of you, pretty boy.”

Quentin’s hair was still damp from the shower, his skin supple and warm in all the places Eliot’s fingers roamed. He shifted on the bed, pleasantly aware of the plug Eliot had pressed inside him not long after he’d emerged from the bathroom. Spark of it catching his body like kindling. Quentin ached to burn. “I’ll let you—” He drew a breath, he pushed it out. “I’ll let you do… whatever you want. If you—if you ask… nicely…”

Eliot flicked the pad of his thumb over Quentin’s nipple, drawing a gasp from his throat. “And what if I don’t feel like asking, hm?”

Quentin laughed and let his eyes slide shut. He could feel Eliot smiling against the shell of his ear. “Then I guess you’ll just—” A sound tumbled out of him, full-throated and dark. Eliot was sucking a bruise into the flesh of Quentin’s shoulder. “Guess you’ll have—have to take…”

Between the spread of his thighs, Quentin’s dick began to fill, throbbing to full hardness the way a flower blooms. It was madness, really—how quickly Eliot could take him there. How he could go from coherence to crumbling in the time it took to draw a single breath. Eliot rolled his tongue over the mark he’d made, nosing up to Quentin’s neck and starting in on another.

“You,” Eliot purred against Quentin’s purpling flesh, “are such a naughty boy, you know that?” His hand fluttered over Quentin’s belly, nearing the space where his cock stood rigid and drooling. “Lying to your father…” His teeth sank in again, drawing a broken sob from Quentin’s throat. “Just so you can stay here.” His tongue, his lips, his teeth, his hands. Quentin was shattering apart. “And let me fuck you—what was it you said? Until you pass out?”

Quentin drew a breath and held it, reached for Eliot’s hand. Moved it downward as he exhaled slowly. Unbreakable circle of Eliot’s fingers wrapping around the base of Quentin’s dick without resistance. He clucked his tongue against the ridge of Quentin’s ear.

“Naughty, naughty…” He squeezed, just a little. Just enough for Quentin to feel it, and gasp. “Do you really think you deserve to come tonight? After everything you’ve done...”

Clever little flick of his wrist. Eliot stroked Quentin from base-to-tip and back again, the glide of his hand velvet-smooth. He slicked Quentin all the way down to his balls. Quentin keened, arched up into the touch. Eliot was working a space on Quentin’s shoulder between his lips and teeth again, brushstrokes to match the string of dark pearls dotted all along his neck and collarbone.

“This just won’t do.” Eliot thumbed a thick bead of pre-come from Quentin’s slit, raising it to his own lips, and pressing it inside. Rumble of pleasure in his throat, the hard line of his erection poking against the dip of Quentin’s back. “But not to worry. Daddy’s got just the thing.”

Eliot pulled away, tottered to his feet. Quentin felt the cold shock of it move through him like a draft. He had to fight the urge to follow, eyes sweeping over the wide expanse of Eliot’s shoulders, the slope of his back, the curve of his ass like something brought to life beneath the skilled hands of an old master. Eliot crossed to where his duffel had been tossed in the armchair by the window, started rummaging through it, plucking something out and hiding it away in the fold of his palm before returning to Quentin on the bed.

He went down to his knees between the V of Quentin’s thighs. He was holding something up to the light, presenting it like a sacrament pinched between the pads of his fingers. It was a ring, simple and stark black as the bracelet looped around Quentin’s wrist. Quentin felt a shiver travel through him, his dick growing impossibly harder, like a switch had been thrown.

“You know what this is for?” Eliot snatched the bottle of lube from where it was lying near the foot of the bed. He popped open the cap, began the delicate task of slicking the ring all around.

Quentin swallowed, nodded, white knuckling the edge of the mattress.

“My boy’s had a little sex education after all.” One corner of Eliot’s mouth curled up. “Though, contrary to what some amateurs might tell you, it’s not actually going to stop you from blowing your load.” He discarded the bottle of lube on the floor, slipping the soft silicone ring over the head of Quentin’s dick. “But you will last a little longer than we both know you would without it.”

Eliot’s grin, the quirk of his brow. Quentin wanted to swallow him whole. He reached out a hand, curving it around Eliot’s blood-warm cheek. Eliot turned into the contact the way a moth seeks the kiss of a flame, pressed his mouth to the inside of Quentin’s wrist. He lingered for a moment, dark flutter of his lashes dancing over the blushing rise of his cheeks in quiet reverence.

His journey continued without a sound. Eliot worked the ring down Quentin’s shaft with a laser-focused intensity. All the way to the bottom, fitting it snugly back behind Quentin’s balls.

“There.” Eliot snatched his hands away. “How does it feel?”

Quentin sucked in a breath, pressed his hands to Eliot’s shoulders. His eyes drifted down between the spread of his own thighs, his cock standing rod-straight and so red it looked angry. The sight of it made him dizzy, though Quentin supposed that was just as likely due to every drop of blood in his body being funneled to that one central point. And it felt—it felt—

Quentin opened his mouth, tried his voice. “It, um—it feels—” He shook his head, laughing softly. “Really fucking hard.”

A laugh puffed out of Eliot’s chest. He took both of Quentin’s hands in his, pressed a kiss to the center of each of his palms. “Just how daddy likes it,” he said. “Here—” He took one of Quentin’s hands, moved it to his dick. “Touch yourself. Tell me how it feels now.”

Quentin’s lungs filled, and emptied. His fingers curled around the throbbing length of his erection. He thumbed at the slit, slicking himself. He couldn’t remember a time that he’d ever been this wet. Jesus. Pre-come trickled down to his balls in a steady, quivering stream. He stroked himself once, top-to-bottom and back again. A gasp wrenched out of his throat, and he had to fight the urge to pull his hand away. Pleasure so insistent it bordered on agony. Tears prickled in his eyes, clouding his vision like dancing embers. Blood pounded in his ears and down between his legs. His whole body wavered, tipping sideways.

Eliot’s hungry-eyed gaze devoured every little twitch of Quentin’s hand. “Tell me,” he said, voice a dark and tremulous whisper. “Feels incredible, doesn’t it?”

Quentin’s lungs worked like a bellows. The air moved between them in a frantic pulse. He shook his head, pleasure center of his brain lighting up like the Las Vegas strip. “It’s so—” His voice came out all husky and broken. “It’s so much.”

“It is…” Eliot pressed forward, started mouthing at the head of Quentin’s dick. “So much…”

Quentin bucked up into all that wet, perfect heat. Fingers looping around Eliot’s curls at the root. Pleasure strobed along the lengths of his nerves, until he was overfilled with it, teetering on the edge of bursting. Eliot was hardly touching him at all—teasing little flickers of his tongue, clever bow of his lips dragging over the glans—but it was like being touched everywhere all at once.

Eliot pulled back, pink lips glistening in the muted light. “Here,” he said, another ring suddenly appearing between the lengths of his fingers. “Put it on me.”

Quentin took the ring, his gaze tracking upward as Eliot rose to his feet. He was magnificent. Quentin didn’t think he would ever get over it. That Eliot could have anyone, could be anywhere doing anything, and still he chose to be with Quentin, here in this room, promising pleasure until the stars burned out.

Between the spread of his legs, Eliot’s dick stood thick and heavy and proud. Quentin lingered on the sight of it there, eyes flitting up to Eliot’s face as he leaned forward, started mouthing at the tip. For a moment, Eliot let him do it. Deep rumble pouring out of his throat. He melted on Quentin’s tongue like saltwater. Quentin started sinking down, down…

Eliot took Quentin by the nape, tugged him back. “Don’t get distracted, sweet boy.” Eyes dark, cheeks scarlet, hair a forest of wild curls. Eliot was an image plucked right out of a dream. “Go on. Put your ring on daddy’s dick.”

Salty splash of Eliot lingering on his tongue, Quentin drew a breath, and nodded, and reached for the lube. He slicked the ring and tossed the bottle away with a singular focus. A bead of pre-come glinted on the head of Eliot’s dick. Quentin couldn’t resist the urge to wrap his hands around the base, and lean forward, and lick it away. Transubstantiation, the body and the blood.

Eliot’s hand fisted in Quentin’s hair, tugged him back roughly by the roots. “My filthy little cocksucker,” he purred. “You just can’t help yourself, can you?”

Sparks cascaded along the dome of Quentin’s skull, kissing over the nape of his neck, trailing tendrils of golden sunlight down his spine. His cock twitched between his legs in time with the discordant thumping of his pulse. He shook his head, tongue flicking over Eliot’s slit. Subspace had him in its fiery hands. He gazed up at Eliot through fuzzy tunnels. There was no one else in the universe but him.

With great effort, he pulled back long enough to slip the ring over the head of Eliot’s dick, started rolling it down the shaft. Eyes flitting between his hands at work and Eliot’s hooded gaze. Eliot soothed a hand over the top of Quentin’s head in silent praise. Quentin’s chest swelled with an emotion he couldn’t name. Carefully, delicately, he stretched the ring out and fit it back behind Eliot’s balls. The moment passed like he was swimming in molasses. He stroked his hand along the shaft the second he was through, dragging the thick, leaking head of it over the swell of his bottom lip.

Without a word, without so much as a sound, Eliot took Quentin by the hair with both hands and tugged him to the floor. Down to his knees, a jolt of adrenaline hitting Quentin’s bloodstream like a narcotic. It was the most intoxicating thrill, how Eliot had come to learn exactly how much Quentin could take. But not only that—Eliot knew with a practiced ease what Quentin needed. That he didn’t have to be treated like some delicate, breakable thing, some quivering sheet of glass. That sometimes what Quentin wanted more than anything was to be taken apart by fingers that bruised. The snarling, insistent press of hungry teeth.

“Put your hands behind your back.” Eliot stroked a hand along the thick shaft of his cock. With the ring snugly in place, it took on the distinct appearance of a cudgel, something meant to bludgeon. Quentin swore he could see it pulse.

He obeyed at once, without thought, Eliot’s command and his limbs connected by an invisible thread. His wrists slipped together at the small of his back. His knees pressing into the carpet, his cock dripping down between the wide V of his thighs. There was something supercharged between them tonight, all electric heat and ozone. The way the atmosphere sizzles just before a storm. Quentin scented the air, tasting it on his tongue like drops of rain.

“I was thinking of putting your collar on you.” Eliot considered Quentin with a tip of his head. “You look so pretty in leather, after all.” His hand circled Quentin’s neck, stroking along the curve of his throat. Minute press of his palm against Quentin’s airway. Just a taste, just enough. “But I want everything tonight, sweetheart.” He said it like they hadn’t played this game a hundred times before. “I want you to swallow every inch of my cock.”

Quentin leaned forward, press of Eliot’s palm against his throat clipping off his air. This was their most delicate dance. Eliot was never willing to push it as far as Quentin sometimes hoped he would. He wanted to feel Eliot squeeze and never let go, to see the stars going supernova in his eyes and the universe swallowed in dark. His tongue darted out, seeking one more fleeting gasp of heaven on his tongue. Eliot pulled his hand away at once and stepped back, leaving Quentin cold.

“Such a disobedient boy tonight.” Eliot clucked his tongue, hand wrapped around his cock at the base, teasing it just outside of Quentin’s reach. “What am I ever going to do with you, hm?”

A needy little sound bubbled up in Quentin’s throat. He craned his neck, straightening his spine into a tidy, perfect pillar. Eliot overwhelmed his senses. His skin was screaming to be touched, to be ruined. The bruises on his neck and shoulders hummed and sparked. He was weightless, shapeless. His mind a pleasant, buzzing mass of nothing, latched onto Eliot’s every word.

Eliot relented, stepping nearer, his hand beginning to work along the thick length of his shaft. “Open your mouth,” he said, and Quentin did. “Good boy. Stick out your tongue. Yes. Just like that.” His free hand tangled in the damp mess of Quentin’s hair. “Don’t move until I say, or I’ll send you to bed without your supper.”

Pre-come glistened on the tip of Eliot’s cock like the faceted face of a jewel. Quentin watched it quiver in the light. His heart thumped, a stampede beneath the rise of his ribcage. Every muscle in his body wound tight as a spring, his dick so hard it bordered on agony.

“That’s perfect.” The sound of Eliot’s hand moving over his dick pounded on the air like a song. “Good boys deserve a reward, don’t you think?”

Slowly, Quentin watched as that single glimmering pearl began to fall. Tumbling down, down. Manna from heaven. Landing squarely in the center of his wanting tongue. It melted like sugar. Quentin made a needy little sound. Deep rumble in his throat spreading through his body like a shockwave.

One corner of Eliot’s mouth quirked up. Quentin watched it through a watery tunnel. “Maybe this is all I should give you,” he said. “One drop at a time with my ring around your cock.”

A whimper bloomed in Quentin’s throat and died away. Total surrender, his own pleasure some inconsequential thing. There was only this, his tongue pleading for one more taste.

“How long do you think it would take you to blow your load, hm?”

Another drop, splashing over Quentin’s tongue like salvation, connecting their bodies with a glistening string. Quentin swallowed, moaned. His dick jumped like a beating heart between his legs.

“Keep your mouth open. Don’t look away from me.”

Quentin almost wanted to laugh. Even at the end of the world, he wouldn’t have looked away. He could hardly stand to blink. This was it for Quentin. Every joy in the universe distilled into a single, trembling instant. Slow drip of Eliot’s love bleeding into him. A salty pearl splashed over the swell of his bottom lip, and Quentin licked it away.

Eliot hummed, stilled the motion of his hand. “That’s so good, Quentin.” He dragged his thumb over the head of his dick. The pad of it glinted in the light. “Here.” He pressed it into the heat of Quentin’s mouth like he was performing a sacred rite. “Suck.”

A strain of dark music plucked out of Quentin’s chest. He took Eliot inside, taste of him some heady, radiant thing. A single pulse of light in the dark.

Eliot pulled his thumb out with a slick pop. His hand immediately returned to his dick. He stroked himself once, and again. “If I give you a little more, do you think you can control yourself?”

Quentin gave a groggy little nod of his head. Godyesplease. The weight of his hunger nearly folded him in two. Eliot’s cock was only a hair’s breadth away. He could have pressed his mouth against it right then. But Quentin wanted to be good. He craved Eliot’s permission like a drug.

“Good.” Eliot’s fingers knotted in Quentin’s hair. Slowly, he began to trace the head of his dick over the bow of Quentin’s bottom lip. The tip of a brush sketching out its grand creation. “Open. That’s my boy. Just a little. Take it slowly. Daddy’s going to feed you.”

Quentin’s tongue darted out, flicking over the glans. Tremulous, almost tentative. The taste warmed him like sunlight pouring into his blood. Lavishing the slit, tracing patterns, making maps. Eliot’s hand was his guide, parting Quentin’s lips like a doorway. Making love, that’s what this was. Eliot’s whole body trembled as Quentin set his nerves alight. Quentin felt like a god. Like he was being prayed to, being worshipped. Some minor deity finally being given his due. Eliot pressed into him with his offering, honey-smooth drag of it on the altar of Quentin’s tongue.

Supplication, devotion. Quentin felt it in his blood. Eliot took him by the nape, pushed him down. No more than an inch or two before retreating, but to Quentin it felt like he was being flooded with light. He pressed the flat of his tongue to the underside of Eliot’s dick, willing his throat to open. An invocation, a summoning. Quentin was divine.

Eliot thrust forward, working up a rhythm. “Feels so—” His fingertips pressed into Quentin’s nape like searing points of flame. “Feels so fucking good.”

He was losing himself, Quentin could feel it, the mask of Eliot’s control slipping from him like smoke. Quentin sucked a breath in through his nose and held it. A half dozen clever snaps of Eliot’s hips, each pushing him a little deeper than the last. Suddenly, he was tumbling forward, tumbling down, drawing Quentin in. Quentin swallowed, his vision dissipating like mist, going dark.

Quentin was filled and spilling over. His head was deep beneath the surface of the water. His eyes blinked open, gazing up at Eliot from the bottom of the pool. Eliot pulled back, pushed deeper. Quentin took him all the way to the hilt. Sound of his throat working flooded the room with filthy music. His tongue flicked out, lavished Eliot’s balls. Quentin’s breath was leaving him slowly, his head all fuzzy and bright.

He counted the off-kilter drumbeats of Eliot’s pulse, their bodies connected at the heart. Time was slowing, going still. His vision was dripping sideways just as Eliot pulled him off. Quentin made a sound he could hardly register as human. Slick gasp rattling his ribcage as Quentin pulled air deep into his lungs. Surfacing from the bottom of the dark and placid depths. Spit dripped from his chin in warm little rivulets. Down to his neck, rolling over his chest. Quentin was glowing from the inside out.

“Show me,” Eliot said, all heavy-tongued and incoherent, his words a garbled mess. “Show me how much you want my dick.”

A nearly imperceptible nod of Eliot’s head. Quentin’s heart began to flutter. This was his permission. All at once, Quentin’s hands began to move, as though driven by some invisible force, a lever being pulled. Eliot’s hips, his ass. Quentin’s skin prickled and burned with a deep scarlet flush. He circled the thick shaft of Eliot’s cock and nuzzled against the glans.

His mouth parted. Quentin swallowed Eliot to the root.

“Hold it—” Eliot’s voice came through all high and broken. “Hold it ‘til I count to three.”

Quentin’s head bobbed pleasantly in the deep. He could hardly remember a time when pushing himself this far had been its own thrilling sort of terror. Now there was only the thrill.

“One.” Eliot paused. Quentin’s throat fluttered around his length. “Two.” Tears sprang in Quentin’s eyes. He blinked them away. Eliot’s face swam just beyond, like a vision from a dream. “Three.”

Eliot tugged him back by the roots of his hair. Quentin’s skin hummed a fiery tune. He gulped down great lungfuls of breath, points of his fingers digging into Eliot’s bony hips. He pressed a kiss to the head of Eliot’s dick, a deep, resonant sound echoing in the cavern of his chest. Nuzzling into it, fingers circling the base.

This was what he was living for. This was the only thing. To feel the drumming of Eliot’s heartbeat down between his legs. To see his pupils growing wide as saucers, flushing his eyes with black.

Eliot’s hands curved around the back of Quentin’s skull, cheeks blushing a shade so dark they looked bruised. “Again.”

Quentin filled his lungs, and parted his lips, and pressed forward, and speared himself on Eliot’s dick. His palms pressed to the velvet heat of Eliot’s backside. His hands filled, his body blooming, blossoming in the heat of the sun. Over and over again, coming up for air each time slick and gasping, scraped raw straight down to his center. So in love it felt like drowning. One two three one two three one two three one—

Intoxicated, lust-blown stupor. Ripped apart from himself like cinders shooting from a flame. Quentin’s body buzzed with a wild, manic energy. Pleasant little flickers of unreality clouded his vision. He tingled from his head down to the soles of his feet. Quentin dragged his spit-slick mouth over the head of Eliot’s dick, gazing up at him like a ruinous deity. Eliot quivered and thumped in the palm of his hand, his fingertips dragging over the flesh of Quentin’s scalp. Down to the nape of his neck, circling his throat, pressing snugly against the points of his pulse.

Eliot’s face swam past like highway lights. A flurry of color and comet tails. Suddenly, Quentin was being hauled to his feet.

“Kiss me.”

Eliot was practically snarling, arms looping around Quentin’s middle and drawing him in. Quentin threw his arms around Eliot’s neck, went up on his toes, dripping sideways, unsteady as a wounded animal on his feet. He licked into Eliot’s hungry mouth, all tongues and nipping teeth and roiling heat. Eliot’s hands went to Quentin’s ass, squeezing hard enough to bruise. Their centers melded together like a book pressing shut, the ink of their pages all smudging together.

Eliot dragged his teeth over the swell of Quentin’s bottom lip. “Get on the bed,” he whispered, and pushed, and just like that Quentin was falling.

He tumbled down onto the bed and positioned himself all off-kilter in the center, his head not quite finding the pillows. Between the V of his thighs, Quentin reached for Eliot across the distance. All the places where Eliot’s teeth had painted him a brilliant purple-blue seemed to shimmer.

Eliot pressed one knee to the foot of the bed, and paused, and let his eyes flit over Quentin’s body like a kiss. “Spread yourself open for me,” he said, dark spirals of his curls tumbling into his eyes in a wispy curtain, his chest dappled with a deep crimson blush.

Quentin tugged his knees back to his chest and shivered. Hands cupping the flesh of his ass, spreading his cheeks wide for Eliot’s hooded gaze. Thrill of it spiking in his bloodstream, swelling like notes in a song. His dick thumped where it was pressed against his navel in an angry red line.

Eliot ran a hand over his dick, once, from base-to-tip. “That’s beautiful,” he said, words slurring out of his slack-jawed mouth. “Go on. Let me see how pretty you gape.”

Their gazes found each other, swimming in the hazy light. Quentin ran his fingers around the ridges of the plug, its petals made of blushing glass. He loves me, he loves me not. Eliot had slicked him with so much lube, Quentin was dripping with it when he pulled it out. Eliot made a sound. Mad rumble pouring out of his throat. Quentin felt it like a current feeding into his heart.

“God.” The word sighed right out of Eliot’s chest. He half-crawled onto the bed, perching like a hesitant animal, setting his eyes on that one central place. “Do you know what that is, Quentin?” His gaze flicked upward, mouth shaping itself into an artful smile. “Paradise.” He gestured to the plug still clutched in Quentin’s hand. “Fuck yourself with it.” He exhaled, eyes drifting steadily downward. “Do it slowly.”

Quentin drew a breath and held it, teasing the tip of the plug over his slick, dripping entrance. Eliot’s eyes pressed into him like fingertips. He thrust the plug into his body, thrust the air out of his lungs. Pleasure arced up along the dip of his spine, tickling like breath over the nape of his neck. He pulled it out, he pushed it back inside. A moan bubbled out of his throat. Eliot was speechless and unmoving, fixated on the rhythm of Quentin’s hand at work, the way he speared the thick bulb of the plug into his body with no resistance. Pupils fully dilated, eyes twin pools of radiant dark.

“Stop.”

Quentin’s hand stilled at once, the base of the plug pressed flush against his entrance. His heartbeat thumped around it.

“Enough.” Eliot crawled nearer, nearly close enough for Quentin to touch. “Take it out. Let me see you...”

Quentin’s whole body felt illuminated. The plug slipped free and he tossed it aside. It landed on the floor with an empty thud. Eliot pounced, pushing Quentin’s knees back to his ears, folding him clean in two. For a moment, everything was still and quiet. There was nothing but the hollow thumping of Quentin’s blood in his temples. The pulsing, nearly unbearable ache of wanting in his dick. And Eliot’s eyes on him. And Eliot’s hands—

Eliot spit down onto Quentin’s entrance, circling it with the feather-soft tips of his fingers. It moved through Quentin like a tempo. Eliot’s eyes drifted upward, settling on Quentin’s burning face. The moment felt like an exhalation. And then Eliot—god. Eliot actually had the nerve to wink. A gesture that was just as endearing as it was mind-numbingly hot. Quentin hardly had a moment to let it all sink in. At once—Eliot was tumbling forward. Flat of his tongue pressing between the spread of Quentin’s cheeks. He licked a stripe from Quentin’s hole all the way up to the space where the ring encircled his balls. A high, shattered sound leaked out of Quentin’s throat. He reached between the parting of his thighs, clutched at Eliot’s sweat-damp curls.

Eliot pulled back, brushing Quentin’s hand away. “Patience,” he said, equal parts demanding and gentle. “Put your hands above your head.” Quentin did, Eliot grinned. “Good boy.” He nuzzled against the strip of skin behind Quentin’s balls. “God. I love eating your ass.” A laugh. Dark-throated and warm. “I could tongue fuck you for days and never get bored.”

A cry escaped the raspy hollow of Quentin’s throat. All at once, Eliot was lavishing his fluttering rim with open-mouthed kisses. Broad swipes of his tongue, fucking in with the tip. Quentin pawed at the pillows mounded beneath his outstretched hands, the closed fist of his body writhing against the sheets. Love was bleeding into him like medicine. Eliot had found the cure. He kissed licked sucked until Quentin could hardly breathe.

Minutes choked past like centuries. At last, the torturous drag of Eliot’s tongue slowed, and stilled, and withdrew. Quentin’s blood drummed in the column of his neck. Slowly, the tight coil of his body unfolded. Eliot was sitting back on his heels, brushing a thick curtain of hair away from his eyes. Warm cradles of his palms finding Quentin’s hips, and tugging him forward without a sound. Quentin’s thighs draped over Eliot’s lap, twin canopies of flesh buzzing like electric currents.

Eliot’s hand found Quentin’s dick. A feral sound punched out of the dark. Neurons flared like Roman candles, grey matter drowned in celestial light. One stroke, from base-to-tip, and then another, and then a third. Back deeply arched, Quentin’s hand reached forward, pressing right over the piston of Eliot’s heart. Cupped face of his palm catching hoofbeats. Off-kilter rhythm like a hammer striking sparks.

And then—all at once—just like that—just like breathing—

Eliot was slipping inside the slick heat of Quentin’s body. It was like Quentin had summoned him home. Quentin made a sound, a creature howling in the moonlit dark. Hot, insistent press of Eliot’s hand to the circle of his throat. Drag of his fingers over the humming sting of bruises. He thrust forward, once, and held himself there. Quentin opened his mouth to sob, but all that came out was a hollow puff of air.

It was like getting fucked at the bottom of the ocean. The ceiling rippled and blurred overhead, brackish spray of saltwater pouring into Quentin’s lungs. Gasps of color and dancing light. Eliot pulled back and thrust forward again. Quentin felt him moving inside like a brand new heart. Eliot’s mouth was hanging open, but no words were falling out. The rhythm of his hips formed a lexicon. Syllables and syntax all smudged together in the rush.

When Eliot pulled away without warning—it was like a death. Sad little trumpet sounds bubbled out of Quentin’s throat. Had he always been this hollow and this cold? It was like he’d been all scraped out inside, leaving nothing but the empty dark. Eliot was breaking away from him, was breaking him apart. Quentin reached out despairingly with one limp hand. Don’t leave me don’t leave me don’t leave me don’t leave—

Quentin hardly had a second to mourn—his knees were being shoved back to his ears again, and Eliot’s tongue was spearing him open. Disorienting as a choking fog. The lamplight flooding his skin seemed to pulse. They filled the room with pleasure sounds—slick pop of Eliot’s kisses over Quentin’s sloppy hole. Eliot licked him open until he was soaking through the sheets. Quentin flickered beyond the boundaries of his flesh, yet felt more at home in his own body than he’d ever truly been. Punch-drunk, great arc of pleasure rising in his throat.

The image in Quentin’s vision winked away to blue-gray dark, flaring back to life like a Big Bang pulse. Eliot was moving again, unfurling Quentin’s body like a sail, hauling him forward by the hips with those hands that loved as well as they bruised. Legs draping over Eliot’s shoulders, tangles of sweat-slick flesh and jutting bone. Eliot still wasn’t speaking, his face painted a shade of scarlet so dark it rivaled the glassy black of his eyes.

Eliot locked Quentin in the crosshairs of his gaze. They were down in that quiet place together. The one where there could be no thoughts but this and this and this. He fucked inside with one mighty thrust, pressed forward, folding Quentin’s body neatly in two. Their lips slotted together in a ravenous kiss. Quentin sobbed, and Eliot swallowed it down. Eliot fucked like he was carving out a home for himself. Like he was looking for a final resting place in the hollow of Quentin’s bones. Quentin’s prostate seemed to drum, slick tendrils of pleasure licking up to his swollen cock and aching in his balls.

Throb of blood, staccato slap of skin-on-skin. Deep-throated grunts puffed out of Quentin’s chest with every bruising thrust. Eliot kissed him and kissed him and kissed. Quentin’s cock pulsed with the very first whispers of orgasm. It was only the tight circle of Eliot’s ring that staved it off. The way it crested and left him feeling all blurry at the edges. Like his seams were coming undone, and light was spilling from the cracks—

Eliot stopped. Quentin felt it like a kick to the chest. Their foreheads knocked together, and for a moment everything was still. Hot puffs of breath passing between them like unspoken prayers. Thick curtain of Eliot’s curls obscuring the light, until there was only him.

He pulled back, and pulled out, and slipped Quentin’s legs from his shoulders. Quentin’s shivered, his body clenching around the phantom of where Eliot used to be.

“Baby.” The word was hardly a whisper. The first word Eliot had spoken in what felt like days. He was caging Quentin’s middle in with his arms, down on all fours like a hungry beast. His mouth grazed the quivering line of Quentin’s erection. “There you are. Did you think I was done with you already, hm?”

A sound punched out of Quentin’s gut. Eliot was swallowing him down. All the way to the bottom in one go, clever crook of his fingers seeking between the spread of Quentin’s thighs. Quentin’s eyes squeezed shut, his hands groping wildly at the frizzed-out mess of Eliot’s curls. Two of Eliot’s fingers speared into him, and all at once Quentin was sinking, flying, drifting up to the stars.

Eliot played Quentin’s prostate like an instrument. Something shaped to fit the curves of his very own hands, well-oiled and finely tuned. His throat worked Quentin all the way to the root. Quentin keened, back so deeply arched he might have been levitating. Over-warm face sticky with tears. His chest felt shattered open, his throat scraped raw with sobs. It was maddening, the way the pleasure just went on and on.

When Eliot finally relented, Quentin teetered on the cusp of beautiful death. He mouthed along the line of Quentin’s erection, nuzzling into the white-hot flesh of his belly. Gaze drifting upward, a devious grin tugging all his pretty features taut.

“Turn over,” Eliot purred, pulling back, running a hand over his dick. “Hands and knees, sweetheart.”

By some miracle, Quentin got his limbs working long enough to flip over onto his belly. Numbed straight through with hunger, he pressed his face into the mattress and sighed. Up on his knees, thighs spreading wide beneath the steady heat of Eliot’s gaze. His hole fluttered around its own emptiness, longing to be filled.

“Oh…” Eliot spread Quentin open with one hand, two fingers from the other tapping against his sloppy rim like drumbeats. Quentin felt them right down to his toes. “That’s gorgeous, baby. How’s it feel, hm?” He fucked his fingers in without resistance. Once, twice. “You live for this, don’t you? You’d let me fuck you for days, I know you would.” He pulled his fingers free, added a third, and thrust back in. “You’d just let me take it all until you had nothing left to give.”

Critical failure in his operating system. Quentin couldn’t think, he could hardly make a sound. Eliot pulled his fingers out, leaving Quentin dreadfully empty as he shuffled around on the bed. Rustle of bedsheets, the sound of a cap popping open. Smooth beat of Eliot’s hand moving over his cock as he slicked himself. Cold shock of lube streaming over Quentin’s hole, dripping straight down to his balls. Hollow thud of the bottle being tossed away.

Thick head of Eliot’s cock teasing over Quentin’s entrance. Drawing circles, making patterns from the throb of Quentin’s overstimulated nerves. Bruising fingers cutting into the bony jut of his hip. Eliot thrust forward, once, and bottomed out with a dark-throated sob.

His hand fisted in Quentin’s hair as he started to fuck. Quentin had no time to register the shock of it all. Nerve centers flaring pleasure like lightning crashing in the dark. Eliot fucked like a machine. Relentless, mechanical beast. Spring-loaded hips without a mind. Orchestral swells, sharp smack of skin-on-skin.

“Naughty—” Eliot gave Quentin’s hair a single, thrilling tug. Lanterns echoed their light along the column of his spine. Rasp of a grunt punching out of Eliot’s throat. “Naughty boy.” His hand moved away from Quentin’s hip and swatted him on the ass. Sharp smack of it rattling in Quentin’s body like a thunder clap. It echoed in the room like a shout. “My dirty little cock hungry—” Another swat, even harder than the first. Eliot’s fingers yanking Quentin’s hair at the roots. Pleasure-pain cut through him like the tip of a dagger. Hot swell of tears tumbling from his eyes and rolling down the burning valleys of his cheeks.

Words dissolving into mindless babbles. Quentin choked and wept, full-bodied sobs that ripped through him like an act of violence. His cock leaked in a steady stream down onto the bed, but still his orgasm didn’t come. He could feel it lingering there on the other side of a door held firmly shut. It whispered through the keyhole like a haunting. Let me in. It felt like an impossible thing, that one body should be able to feel this much.

Eliot bowed forward, draping the line of his torso all along the dip of Quentin’s back. Pistons of his hips never ceasing, nuzzling against the shell of Quentin’s ear. Hair wrenched back by the roots, blunt points of fingers digging into Quentin’s scalp. Eliot growled. “You’re gonna come on my cock just like this.” Scrape of teeth against the canvas of Quentin’s neck, a fresh mark breathed itself to life. “Wanna—wanna feel you, Q—wanna feel—”

Quentin clenched around the thick shaft of Eliot’s cock, felt the ceaseless drumming of Eliot’s heart spilling into him. A river’s current feeding into the foaming mouth of the sea. Eliot bit into the join of Quentin’s neck and shoulder, and sucked, and lavished the mark with his clever tongue when he was through. The rhythm of his hips began to falter. Wiring in Quentin’s brain overloaded into a great, electric arc. Pressure built between his legs to the point of agony, a champagne cork held steady by a willful, cunning hand.

Slow rise of ocean waves. Pleasure licking at his ankles. The door began to creak open, and the light was pouring through. Quentin’s whole body spasmed. His cock began to pulse. Feral, animal grunts clicking out of his throat. Eliot was driving into him. His cock, his teeth, his fingers. Broken sobs muffled in the nape of Quentin’s neck. Quentin felt every twitch of his cock as Eliot spent himself. Every drop of him sweet as honey. Quentin swore he could taste it melting on his tongue. Shared pleasure connected at the center and looping like infinity. It built upon itself, one stone after another, until it seemed to Quentin that it would never end.

When it was over, Quentin collapsed, brain spilling over with blackout dark. He stayed down in that comforting pool of quiet for minutes or hours, only vaguely aware of Eliot’s presence shifting around him. Warm as a beating heart in the dim. Distantly, a gasp of consciousness registered as his body began to move.

Quentin blinked. Hum of darkness falling like a curtain, giving over to the light. A face swam in his liquid vision, radiant as shards of golden summer sun. Eliot, of course. Quentin smiled. Or he thought he did. He tried to. Every movement was like slogging through the mud. Like some divine lever had been turned, cranking the gravity up to eleven.

Eliot swept the hair back from Quentin’s brow, peppering his skin with kisses. His forehead, the slopes of his cheeks, the blushing tip of his nose. He was saying something, soft and low, but Quentin didn’t hear it. Hollow skull ringing with the clangor of distant bells. Hazy awareness of the ring being removed from around his soft, spent cock and tossed away. After, Eliot cleaned Quentin with a warm, damp cloth, maneuvered his head up onto a pillow.

Eliot stretched out beside him, tugged the covers up over the sated pillars of their limbs. Quentin drifted and slept and dreamed of nothing at all.

When he woke, Quentin was tucked against Eliot’s side from head-to-foot. Face pressed right into the warm expanse of Eliot’s chest, the warm cocoon of blankets hiked up over Quentin’s ears. He stirred—his whole body singing with a pleasant, well-fucked ache—and flipped the covers back from his face, gaze drifting upward with an easy sigh.

Eliot shifted. A little hitch in his breath, the gentlest sound of waking. He gazed down at Quentin with his eyes half-shut. “Morning, sunshine,” he said, voice husky with sleep, pretty bow of his lips curling up in the corners.

Quentin made a sleepy sound of contentment. “What time is it?”

“Early,” Eliot said with a flippant little quirk of his brow. “Late. Non-existent?”

“El—”

Eliot hummed, pressing a kiss to Quentin’s forehead. “I don’t think it’s quite midnight yet,” he said, warm curve of his palm tracing patterns between Quentin’s shoulder blades. “How are you feeling?”

Quentin grinned, a gentle blush sweeping over his cheeks. He pressed his face into the center of Eliot’s chest. “So good,” he mumbled, gaze flitting upward after a long moment of breathing Eliot in. “You’re like… so good at sex it’s stupid.”

Eliot waggled his brows, dragging the swell of his bottom lip between his teeth. “I bet you say that to all the boys.”

Flutter of wings in Quentin’s belly. Only you, he thought, laughing, shutting his eyes, snuggling in a little closer. There will never be anyone but you.

After a long moment of drifting together, Eliot broke the silence. “I didn’t hurt you?” His voice a soothing balm in the stillness, his hands mapping a trail of love along the slope of Quentin’s back.

Quentin shook his head, eyes squeezed firmly shut. “Only in the way that feels really, really good.”

Eliot hummed. “I’ll run you a bath,” he said, groggy voice stumbling out of his throat. “Get you some aspirin.”

Quentin smiled into the darkness beyond his eyelids. “Maybe later,” he said. “You’re so warm.”

Quentin’s whole body delighted in the ache, skin singing Eliot’s name like the holiest of hymns. His thoughts bobbed along in the chasm of his skull. Snatches and fragments of memory, photographs projected out onto a screen and observed at a distance. Half-remembered images whirring past like ghosts from someone else’s life. Columbia was already fading. It was background noise, it was radio static. Quentin could hardly believe it—college had ended, but they hadn’t. As it turned out, he’d been right all along: they didn’t need to talk about the future. They didn’t need anything that wasn’t this. They were a fixed system, an immutable fact. Their future together was certain and bright.

Though once Quentin started to think about the shapeless little beast that was The Future, he found himself unable to think about anything else. Where would they go when the sun came up tomorrow? Who would they be together? Would they stay in the city? Or would Eliot want to—

The realization hit Quentin like a slug to the heart. The thing about not talking about the future is—somewhere along the way you stop planning for anything at all. Which would have been ideal as far as Quentin was concerned if he hadn’t been expected to, well—make plans. Get a job. Grow up. Start a life. Have some prospects of his own that didn’t rely on mooching off his dad’s 401k.

He thought he should probably be terrified, but he wasn’t. Quentin could help but laugh. “Hey.” Gaze tipping upward, a dopey grin spread itself over his face. “You wanna hear something funny?”

Eliot hummed, peeking at Quentin through one half-open eye. “Well, I have always said the best pillow talk is actually a stand-up comedy routine.”

Quentin snorted a laugh out of his nose. “I forgot to apply to grad school.”

Eliot was laughing now too, the softest rumble buzzing in his chest. “Whoopsie.”

“Yeah.” Quentin sighed and shut his eyes, so utterly content he felt stoned. “In my defense, I’ve been a little preoccupied.” A soft puff of laughter spilled out of his nose. “But maybe now that this whole thing is over I can—I don’t know. Finally get my head screwed back on. I can probably still—”

Eliot went stiff as a corpse on the bed, and Quentin’s stomach turned to stone.

A subtle shifting in the atmosphere. It was all hind-brain instinct, the way his skin prickled and his hair stood on end. His empty head seemed to be slogging a thousand paces behind. His own words didn’t register until suddenly they did. It was like the room had transformed itself into a vacuum chamber, and all the air was being funneled out.

Slick, nauseating dread lodged itself in Quentin’s throat. “Hey—no. That sounded—” He was looking up at Eliot, but Eliot wasn’t looking at him. “El, I didn’t mean it like—I just meant, like, college and stuff—”

Eliot shifted, swallowed. Quentin watched the tension rising in the column of his neck. “I think—um—” He met Quentin’s gaze for one fleeting fraction of a second. “I think I need to get up.”

Suddenly he was pulling away. Why was Eliot pulling away?

Warm cocoon of blankets being shoved from Quentin’s shoulders. “El—” A shiver traveled through him like a gust of arctic wind. “El. Come on—” He bolted upright the moment Eliot slipped free from his arms. “Where are you going?” Reaching out, fingers finding nothing but dead air. “What are you—”

Eliot was already stumbling to his feet. “I need a smoke.” A puff of laughter forced its way out of his mouth. The sound of it made Quentin’s heart sink all the way to the bottom. “Ten minutes.” He was tugging his underwear on, eyes flitting between Quentin’s face and the floor. “I’ll be back.”

“Don’t be like this.” In the cavern of Quentin’s chest, a fault line shifted. It was like he’d been living in the dark, and suddenly someone had come along and switched on all the lights. Finally, he could see the terrible thing that had been looming in the shadows all along. “Don’t make this into something it’s not. You know I didn’t mean it like that.”

Eliot already had his pants pulled on. His fingers fumbled with the buckle of his belt. Metallic clink, throb of blood in Quentin’s temples. Quentin’s stomach fisted itself into a sour, leaden knot under his skin.

“I just—I need some air, Q.” Eliot was shrugging into his shirt, moving around the room so quickly it was like he was trying to take flight. “I’m gonna take a walk, okay?”

“No.” Quentin was up on his knees in the middle of the bed. Begging or praying. He could hardly tell the difference. “No. It’s not okay.” Everything is going to be different now. Bile rose in a nauseating wave along the column of his throat. “It’s not okay.”

Shirt buttoned only halfway up. Socks and shoes pulled on. Eliot bounced around the room in manic little flickers. “Well,” he said, his voice some breathless, shallow thing. “I’m sorry it’s not okay.” He had his cigarette case. He was shoving it into the pocket of his slacks. “But I need—I just have to—”

Eliot’s voice clipped off in his throat. Quentin felt the loss of it like a venomous sting.

“What’s, um—what’s happening? I don’t—El, I don’t understand what’s—” White-hot jolt of anger. Quentin’s words sounded like they were coming out of someone else. “You’re leaving me.”

“I just need to clear my head.”

The room whirred around Quentin’s skull like a faulty carnival ride. They were—they were fine. Only seconds ago they’d been—they were so happy—wrapped up together all cozy and warm—and now they were—they were arguing. Is that what was happening here? They were having an argument. Only it didn’t feel the way arguments had always felt to Quentin before. Not that they’d ever—they never fought about anything. They never—how could he—Quentin didn’t mean—

Quentin shaped his hands into fists. “I don’t believe you,” he said. “I can’t believe you’re doing this right now.”

“I’ll be right back.” Eliot said the words like he was trying to convince himself, someone else, anyone but Quentin. He wouldn’t even meet Quentin’s eyes. His gaze was cast somewhere very far away. “I haven’t had a cigarette in hours, Q.”

A thick swell of panic rose in Quentin like the tide. He needed to—what did he need to do? He needed to get on his feet, get dressed—no. He needed to force Eliot to come back to bed. To lie with him again inside the safety of their blanket nest and make him listen to reason. He could do it if he just found the words—he could make Eliot understand that he didn’t mean—

“Eliot.” Quentin couldn’t move. He was paralyzed. Slumped in the middle of the bed like a pile of discarded laundry. “You can’t—you can’t just walk away right now. We need to—we need to talk about—”

“Ten minutes.” Eliot’s face was crumbling, battering Quentin with the ruins. He was standing by the window, his eyes flitting to the door. “I’m coming back.”

Quentin filled his lungs with air and pushed it out. “You know what—” The words came out through the hard grit of teeth. Thoughts strobed along neural pathways so swiftly he could hardly catch a single one. “If you—” High, sharp wailing in his ears like death knells. Like the steep, hollow throat of hell had opened there beneath the bed, and it was ringing out a tune. “If you want to leave me so badly then just get the fuck out.” Blood rushing so quickly it rattled his bones. Sting of tears in his eyes like acid rain. “And don’t ever—” A single, broken sob forced its way out of his chest. He couldn’t stop the words from pouring out. He couldn’t stop. “If you leave—don’t ever come back. Just—just fucking go.”

For a moment—everything stopped. A hush fell over the room like stark white death. Even Quentin’s heart went still as a tomb. Lull in the devastated center of a hurricane. Quentin watched Eliot watching him like he was just a picture on a screen. Thin wash of static making all his features dim. And then—

Oh no.

Why would he have said—

He hadn’t meant to—

He didn’t mean—

Dry click of his throat. Quentin opened his mouth to speak, but the words all broke apart and scattered on his tongue like glass on pavement. It was like his head had been plucked off and screwed back on all sideways. The vision of Eliot suddenly moving streaked past like a throb of cosmic light. Flaring tail of a comet throttling the dark. He was by the window and suddenly he was at the door. And he—Eliot had—

Eliot had his duffel bag slung over his shoulder. And he wasn’t saying anything. And Quentin couldn’t see his face. And Quentin couldn’t feel him anymore. Something had been snipped between them. Severed like a limb at the root.

Trail of bruises on his neck stinging like chemical burns. And his body, emptied. It was all Quentin could register as the door clicked shut.

“Don’t go.”

Quentin whispered the words to the empty space where Eliot had only just been.

But Eliot—

Eliot was—

Eliot was gone.

Brakebills University
November 2015

Quentin was trapped in a shifting pool of endless dark.

No—

Quentin was swimming in a boundless sea of pulsing light. It sloshed around the perimeter of his body thick as oil, thick as blood. He tried to open his mouth to scream, but his throat was spilling over with graveyard dirt. His chest had been packed with sand. He was there for a hundred years or more, drowned in the dazzling blue-white haze.

And then, all at once—

Quentin was waking up.

He bolted upright, gulping down a violent, rasping breath. Feeling only the fuzzy, persistent throbbing of his own two hands. The light in his vision changed its subtle hue. A golden flare blanking him out so intensely it was like he’d been swallowed by the sun.

Someone was saying something. They sounded frantic. Something that felt like hands were pawing at Quentin’s hair and face.

Baby. Oh my god.

Four walls flooded with magic light. A face rippled in his vision, like it was peering up at Quentin from the bottom of the ocean.

“I couldn’t—” The face was saying, its eyes flat black satellites circling a pale silver moon. “You wouldn’t wake up—I thought—Q, oh my god, I thought you were—”

Quentin blinked. His brows knitted themselves together, or he was pretty sure they did. He still felt all fuzzy around the edges, like a flat, blank stamping of himself where a body should have been. And there was—it was the strangest thing. When he cast his eyes away from the face and down into the open cups of his own hands, they were—

They were glowing. Absolutely pouring beams of misty blue light, like he was holding twin Arc Reactors in the hollows of his palms. Thin wash of carbon fire the exact shade of an afternoon sky. And with the light came a sound. Resonant little flickers reverberating on the air and prickling along the nape of Quentin’s neck like fingers. A tuning fork, struck, and then amped up to eleven.

Quentin made a sound—confused little whimper chirping out of his throat—and turned his eyes back to the face without a name. “What—” He looked back to his hands again. They felt like two bells that had been stitched on at the wrist. “What’s happening to me? What is that?”

“It’s—” The face—why couldn’t Quentin remember the name of the person this face belonged to?—sucked in a breath and pushed it out. “It’s your magic. I can—holy fuck, Q, do you feel that?”

Quentin raised his eyes to the face. It was attached to the body of a man who was stripped bare from the waist-up and painted with streaks of red from the slopes of his cheeks down to his collarbone. He was very beautiful. Thick, curly, dark hair that fell over his brow in a devastating curtain. The pretty pink bow of his mouth hanging open as he trailed his fingers through the light filtering up from Quentin’s palms

“I don’t—” Quentin was vibrating like a gong that had been struck. “I don’t understand what’s happening right now.” He flexed his fingers. Light pulsed from his heartlines all the way up to the ceiling. “And can you, um—can you tell me who you are? I don’t remember—do I know you?”

Mystery Man frowned at him intensely. “Okay, so, um—” He shook his head, reaching forward, cradling Quentin’s face in both his hands. “Do you remember who you are?”

Quentin nodded. “Yes,” he said. “I’m—my name is Quentin.”

Mystery Man’s throat worked as he swallowed. “Okay, well—that’s a good start, um—” He pulled his hands away. Quentin immediately wished that he hadn’t. “Do you know where we are right now?”

“Yes,” Quentin said with confidence, and immediately deflated. The space in his brain where the you are here of it all should have been had been replaced with a swarming mass of flies and static. “No?”

Quentin experienced the next, stumbling seconds of his life at a hundred million frames-per-second. Mystery Man raised one of his big, strong-looking hands, and thrust it forward, and pressed it to the sloping valley of flesh where Quentin’s neck met his shoulder. Quentin gasped the instant his hand made contact. Immediate, insistent stab of chemical burns beneath the heat of Mystery Man’s palm. It almost felt like—it was almost as though—there were teeth—pressing into him—teeth painting bruises—a mouth making patterns—

Sonic boom of his heart leaping up into his throat. Quentin recoiled, crying out like a wounded animal. Mystery Man stole his hand away and clutched it to his chest, and all at once—

Eliot.

Flood of memories barreling into him with all the gentleness of an asteroid striking the earth. Eliot Eliot Eliot. Afterimage of his departure burning in Quentin’s retinas like he was viewing the world through the eyes of a ghost. His brain felt like it had been passed through a meat grinder. He didn’t understand how Eliot was here. When only a moment ago he had been—he was—Eliot was—

Eliot was gone.

Quentin touched his neck, anticipating the biting memory of Eliot’s teeth. Instead, he found nothing but the flaking remnants of the same earth-red something that Eliot was wearing like vibrant wounds. No lingering hum of pleasure-pain, no brushstrokes painting him a brilliant purple-blue. His skin just as smooth and unmarred as the day he was born.

“Q—” Eliot was up on his knees, the wilted flowers of his hands lingering just out of Quentin’s reach. “Are you—”

“Eliot.” Quentin said the name like an epiphany. “How are you—”

Quentin blinked, and he remembered. Right. It was 2015. He was at Brakebills University. And Eliot wasn’t gone.

“What the fuck—” Quentin huffed, spilling sideways. His hands were singing like a choir. “What’s happening. Eliot—what the fuck is happening to me?”

Eliot’s hands were on him at once, gripping Quentin by the shoulders. “We need to get you to bed. Or—maybe the infirmary? I—”

“No!” Quentin swatted Eliot’s hands away, nearly toppling over. Dazed to his marrow with hangover spins. “No—I just—I need to—I’ll be fine, I just need to… sit here. For a minute.” He huffed out a breath. “I’m so mad at you.” He shook his head, watching the light bounce away from his hands like he was a mirror ball. “I just wanted you to stay.”

“Look at me.” Eliot took Quentin’s face in his hands. “Hey. We can talk about… what happened.” He swallowed, took a breath, his brows pinching his pretty face into a mask of devastation. “We can talk about that later, okay?” He let his eyes flit down to the blue embers of Quentin’s open palms. “You need to rest.”

“I don’t wanna rest,” Quentin said, tipping forward, leaning in, speaking the words right against the pink bow of Eliot’s mouth. “I just wanna be mad at you.”

“You can be mad at me in bed.” The corner of Eliot’s mouth curled up. He thumbed at Quentin’s cheek. “Q, you literally have glow sticks where your hands should be. Come on.”

Quentin didn’t have the energy to protest. He hardly had the energy to convince his addled mind that it wasn’t still 2014. That he wasn’t still back in the city. That Eliot wasn’t gone.

Eliot helped Quentin to his feet. The light in his hands had dulled to a soft, phosphorescent glow. They stumbled over to the bed and Quentin kicked out of his shoes. Eliot turned down the covers, fluffed the pillows. Quentin crawled in between the silky glide of Eliot’s sheets and sprawled out on his back.

Eliot perched on the edge of the mattress. Quentin watched him, feeling withered, like his strings had been cut. He splayed his hands out over the covers, watching the soft glow as it dimmed. “What does this mean?” It was all he could manage. He let his eyes wander to the miracle of Eliot’s face. His heart was still back in that hotel room. It wouldn’t listen to reason, didn’t understand that Eliot wasn’t gone.

Eliot shook his head. “I don’t know,” he said, swiping his fiery palm over Quentin’s brow. “Maybe we finally charged that battery of yours. Don’t worry about it for now. Rest. We’ll figure it out.”

There was so much that Quentin wanted to say, but he had nothing left to give. His tongue turned to stone in his mouth. His thoughts emptied him like hunger. He shut his eyes, the image of Eliot’s soft gaze and parted mouth and wild hair slipping into the flat, blank comfort of dark.

When Quentin opened his eyes again, the covers were pulled up to his neck, and he was alone. Weak morning sunlight splashed over the bed in shattered gasps of orange and gold. A brief flash of panic washed over his heart. For a moment, Quentin couldn’t place which point in time his body had found itself in, his brain unable to register anything but Eliot and gone.

He shoved the covers away and tottered to his feet, gulping down lungfuls of air until his eyes adjusted to the light. He let his gaze sweep around the room. Eliot’s room with its walls the color of Bordeaux. It’s 2015, he reminded himself. You’re at Brakebills University. Eliot isn’t gone.

The light in his hands had died away in the night, and the streaks of red paste had been cleaned from his body as he slept. He searched for his shirt and pulled it on. Quentin’s whole body seemed to hum. Gentle tingle in his grey matter. Eliot had put Quentin’s mental wards back up. Heartsick and reeling, he opened the door and stepped out into the hall.

Signs of life drifted up the stairway and stirred in Quentin’s heart. Sounds of living: muddled voices, pulse of magic, fits of easy morning laughter. He pressed his hand to the railing. Eliot. Quentin took one step and then another. Eliot. The name called in him like hunger, a beacon throbbing in the marrow of his bones. Eliot. He had to be there. He had to be. It’s 2015. You’re in the Physical Kids’ Cottage. Eliot isn’t gone.

He craned his neck, desperate to pluck that easy, familiar cadence from the din. Moving felt like swimming through mud. Quentin plodded down to the common room in a narcotic trance. Slick, insistent panic surging in his belly, toxic sting of venom curdling his blood. Eliot. Physical Kids he didn’t know or care about littered the couches, sprawling on rugs and draped over chairs like sad little husks. Saturday morning hangovers, standard fare. Eliot. Quentin choked down the urge to sob. Eliot wasn’t there.

He spotted Julia on the sectional, curled up tightly in one corner with her nose buried in some ancient-looking tome. He was ninety-percent sure she was wearing one of Margo’s sweaters. Quentin forced himself to move his leaden limbs, to cross to where she sat without thinking and collapse down at her side.

Julia turned her face to him with a tight-lipped smile, dropping the book to the floor with a resonant thud. “Hey.” Her voice a familiar balm, feather-light over the heavy stone of Quentin’s heart. “Do I wanna ask why you weren’t in your room last night?”

Like a switch had been thrown, Quentin’s pulse began to pound. “I…” He sighed with his entire chest, casting the line of his gaze upward. Cozy, dark wood planks of the ceiling. Bulbs on the light fixture burning in his vision like a wheel of stars. “I maybe fell asleep in Eliot’s bed.”

A little laugh puffed out of Julia’s nose. “Wow.”

“We didn’t—” Quentin fixed her with his gaze. “He wasn’t in the bed with—stop looking at me like that.”

She offered a little tip of her head. “I’m not looking at you like anything, Quentin Coldwater.”

“We did the spell.” He let his eyes drift to the trio of Physical Kids passing a joint around in a tidy triangle formation on the rug. “Go on. Get it out of your system.” He huffed a breath, something like devastation cresting in his throat. “You told me so. I can’t help myself. I’m the most idiotic, useless person to ever live. I like being miserable and I don’t know how to be—”

“Hey.” Julia pressed her hand to his chest, right over the racing of his heart. The heat of her skin seeped down through the fabric of Quentin’s shirt at once. “Don’t do that.”

Quentin’s vision wavered. Arc of tears, flicker-pulse of sparks. “It’s the truth.” His voice came out all ruined and wrong. “And now it—” He shook his head. “It feels like it’s the day after it happened all over again. Like he’s—he’s just gone. Even though I know he—” He sucked down a breath and pushed it out. “He has to be around here somewhere.” Quentin trapped Julia in his gaze, brows knitting themselves tightly together. “He is around here somewhere.” His belly churned, empty and sour as his heart. “Right?”

Julia gave a little nod. “He’s in the kitchen with Margo,” she said, pulling a face. “They’re making breakfast? Or they might be outside getting stoned. They have their own language and I can’t always follow.” She laughed, a puff of air with no mirth behind it. “Well, that and I’m usually too busy focusing on not punching Eliot in the face to pay attention to what they’re actually saying.”

A sickening mix of hope mingled with dread flooded Quentin’s bloodstream. It lodged like hooks in his belly. He was on his feet before he could even register the movement, making to leave and swinging back to Julia a handful of times before his brain caught up with his heart. “I have to, um—” He swallowed, shook his head. “I’ll be right back. Maybe, um—maybe don’t follow me.”

He moved out of the room and down the hall with such quickness it was like he’d teleported. He blinked, and suddenly he was standing in the doorway of the kitchen. Eliot was standing at the center island all alone, casually immaculate with his sleeves rolled up to his elbows, sprinkling something Quentin could only register as green over a mound of scrambled eggs.

“Where’s Margo?” The words forced their way out of Quentin’s mouth. He hadn’t been intending to say that. He hadn’t been intending to say anything at all.

Eliot’s eyes shot up to meet Quentin’s in the doorway, a single perfect tuft of a curl tumbling over his brow. “Quentin,” he said. Quentin had already crossed the threshold, rounded the island, pushed into Eliot’s personal space. Eliot turned to meet him, his pretty pink mouth falling open. “She’s out—”

Quentin took Eliot by the front of his shirt, shoved him back against the counter. Tugging hard, pulling Eliot down to meet him midway as he crashed their mouths together. Up on his toes, arms thrown around Eliot’s neck in an unbreakable knot. He was ravenous, nipping at Eliot’s lips with hungry teeth. Pawing with his greedy hands: the nape of Eliot’s neck; the neatly coiffed forest of his hair; inside the collar of his shirt. A broken moan cracked out of Eliot’s throat, and Quentin clutched it inside his belly. Flaming tips of Eliot’s fingers up the back of Quentin’s shirt. His spine catching like a wick. His body burned and burned.

He broke the kiss, nearly stumbling backward. Holding onto the anchor of Eliot’s body for dear life. Feet pressed flat against the floor, the cool tiles underneath swaying like branches. Eliot leaned down, knocking their foreheads together. Quentin’s hands fumbled uselessly at the front of Eliot’s shirt, and a sound poured out of his chest. Some primitive thing, a primordial rumble. He wanted to press his face into the V of Eliot’s shirt and stay there until his legs gave out.

“I can still feel you.” Delirious, Quentin nipped at Eliot’s chin, nuzzling into the curve of his throat. “I feel you.”

“Me too.” The words spilled out of Eliot like a sob.

Eliot’s hands, and the circle of Quentin’s neck, and their hot mouths crashing together.

“No—” Quentin broke away, crashed forward into Eliot’s chest. Touched his neck, felt the humming of his pulse. “I can still—I can feel your teeth, Eliot—I can—” The sound that stumbled out of Quentin then was a sound of dying, a final throe. “It’s like you were just inside me.”

Eliot’s arms looped around Quentin’s middle, fitting their bodies together like ticking little bits of clockwork. “Let’s go upstairs.” He kissed Quentin on the mouth, deep and slow. “I’ll give it to you deep and hard. Just the way you like it. Baby—” Eliot’s hands circled Quentin’s throat, thumbs pressed against his airway in a feather-light dance. “My boy—”

“Don’t call me—I’m not—I’m not your—” Quentin pulled away, stumbled back until he hit the edge of the counter clean across on the other side. He held onto it like a lifeline, the room slanting at a nauseating pitch. “Why didn’t you—” Eliot wavered in Quentin’s vision, melting like rain on glass. “Why didn’t you ever tell me that you loved me? Why didn’t you just say—”

“Why didn’t you?”

Vacant and adrift, Quentin’s heart stopped cold inside his chest. Eliot swam before him in the watery haze. He swiped a tear away from his cheek. “What are you—” He drew a breath and huffed it back out. “What are you talking about?

Eliot was silent for a long, tense moment. He was a mirage in Quentin’s vision. He was a ghost. “I’m talking about—” He took a step forward, ducked his head, casting his gaze down between his shoes. “You think because—” He shook his head. “You think because I was your dom I had to say it first?”

Quentin blinked. Two perfect tears tumbled down his cheeks. “I never said that—”

Eliot’s eyes shot up, locking Quentin in the crosshairs. “How was I supposed to know you even felt that way?” He clamped his mouth shut, chin wobbling with unshed emotion.

A sudden fit of laughter shook Quentin to the core. It was a limp and lifeless sound. “How could you not?”

Eliot fell silent again. “I meant what I said.” He took a step forward, his expression wrecked and open. “About when I knew.” His gaze a hard line, Quentin felt it like a touch. “Freshman orientation. The first time I saw you—” A smile flooded his face with agony. “I dreamed about you for weeks after we met.”

“Stop lying.” Quentin’s words were air, they were smoke. “Just stop—”

“So many parties—” Sad crack of laughter. Eliot pinched his trembling bottom lip between his teeth. “You were fucking oblivious, Q.” He shook his head, cast his eyes down to the floor. “The night of the Halloween party I told myself—fuck it. This is it. If I can’t get him alone tonight, I’m—” He threw his hands up, fixing Quentin with his watery gaze. “That was it. I was going to let you go.”

Quentin’s knees turned to water. He nearly crumpled to the floor. “I don’t believe you.” He had to force the words to come. “I would have known if you wanted—”

“You didn’t.” Eliot gave a sad little tip of his head. “Years, Q. Years and years—”

“You could have had anyone you wanted.”

“I only wanted you.”

Quentin’s heart hammered against his ribcage, like it was trying to break free. “I don’t see what that has to do with you never saying—”

“When we started hooking up, I told myself it would be enough. To just—to have that. With you.” Eliot’s voice was steady as the hand of a surgeon. “You were basically a virgin—”

“I wasn’t—”

“You were.” One corner of Eliot’s mouth curled up. “And you were excited about having actual sex with an actual person who knew what you wanted for the first time in your life. And I was—” He gave a little shake of his head, his brows knitted tightly together. “I was so happy to be able to give that to you, Q. To be able to give that to you for... as long as you would let me.”

Quentin's heart crawled into his throat. “El—”

“I made a promise to myself that first night.” Eliot blinked. Two fat, perfect tears tumbled from his eyes and spilled down the slopes of his cheeks. “That I would never push you away by pushing you too far. That I would never say—” He shook his head. “I thought about it every second. Every way I could make it good for you. Every way I could make you want to stay.” The set of his jaw was sharp as a blade. “I wasn’t going to fuck that up by trying to make it into something it wasn’t.”

Eliot paused, the line of his gaze set firmly on the floor. Shoulders slumped like he was wilting. Quentin opened his mouth to say something, anything, but all that came out was a sad little click. Total system meltdown, his brain going rotten right down to the stem.

“When I made it out of backwater Indiana,” Eliot continued in a faraway voice, like Quentin was hearing him from the other end of a very long tunnel, “I knew what I was good for.” He took a moment, he took a breath. “I knew I didn’t have much to offer another person, but—hey. I had a big dick, right?” His words clawed into Quentin’s ruined heart, began to fester like a wound. “Love wasn’t really factoring into that equation for me, Q, so—” He shrugged, another swell of tears falling from his red-rimmed eyes. “Sorry if I didn’t get the memo that the guy who ignored me for years and then told me to get the fuck out the second I dared to have an unattractive emotion was secretly in love with me all along.”

Without warning, Quentin’s knees gave out. He let it happen, sliding down against the edge of the counter until he was fully seated on the floor. His head knocked back against the hardwood of a cabinet, his legs splaying out like he’d been shattered. “I didn’t—El, I didn’t—” Total incoherence, grief like pangs of hunger. Quentin pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes and held them there until fireworks burst in the dark. “I didn’t—I didn’t want you to go.” A sob punched out of his throat, some full-bodied thing that wracked him to his marrow. “I don’t know why I said—” He shook his head, swiping the flood of tears from his cheeks. “You just wouldn’t listen. You wouldn’t—”

Across the distance, Eliot had fallen to his knees. He was hanging his head, gazing down into his open hands, pallid face obscured by the curtain of his curls. “I didn’t wanna lose you, Q,” he murmured, voice a shadow of itself. “I couldn’t risk it. I couldn’t…”

Quentin’s chest rumbled like a sputtering engine. It took him a long, disconnected moment to register that he was laughing. Sounds of madness cracking the room wide open. Tears spilled from his eyes like rain from a cloud. “You couldn’t—” He could hardly get a single word to form through the hysterics. “You couldn’t risk it? What the fuck do you think you were risking when you walked out that door and never looked back?”

Eliot set his glassy eyes on Quentin’s face, offered a sad little quirk of his mouth. “I thought—” He shook his head, swiping a tear from his cheek. “I thought you were done with me, Q. I didn’t—”

“You never even tried to make it right.” Anger surged in Quentin like a tsunami. His face felt hotter than the surface of the sun. “You never even—you never even called me.”

Eliot narrowed his eyes. “Neither did you.”

“I called you.” Quentin swallowed around the boulder lodged inside his throat. “I called and you—”

“Do you remember where I was when you called me, Q?” Eliot sighed with his entire chest. “I was in the lobby of the hotel. Because it had literally just happened.”

“You said you would call me back.” Quentin sobbed. It ached in his belly like a gash. “You said you would call—”

“Q.” Eliot turned his palms outward in weary supplication. “You can’t blame me for thinking that it’s what you really wanted.”

“Yes I can.” The words came out through the clench of Quentin’s teeth, all grit and jagged stone. “I don’t care what I said in the heat of the moment when I—when I was out of my mind. You never even tried.

Eliot considered Quentin with a sad little tip of his head. “In all that time we were hooking up,” he said. “Did you ever think about—I don’t know. Asking me on a date?”

“Oh, you have got to be fucking joking right now, Eliot.”

“You didn’t want me to meet your dad. You made that abundantly clear on graduation day.” Eliot offered a tearful smile. It wavered in Quentin’s vision like a hallucination. “I was your dirty little secret, Q.”

Quentin’s face twitched. Every muscle in his body trembled. “You’re one to talk,” he said. “I don’t even know anything about you.” He clamped his mouth shut, and breathed, on the verge of shouting. “And maybe I am just a miserable, oblivious idiot, Eliot. Maybe I ruined everything with my stupid mouth and said things I didn’t mean because I was—fucking terrified. But I wasn’t the one who walked away.” He had to bite at the inside of his lip to keep from sobbing again. “And I wasn’t the coward who tried to pretend it never happened. And I didn’t fuck with your head—”

“Q.” Eliot held the single syllable like something holy in his mouth. “I know.”

“And I didn’t fucking—brand you with my name and then say what I was really afraid of was pushing it too far.” He slumped against the cabinets, a sinking ship too far gone from the shore. “And even if—” He took a breath, and huffed it out. “Even if I believe you—even if everything you’re saying is your own fucked up version of the truth—you can’t take it back.”

“I know.”

“And neither can I.” The words spilled out like a confession, cutting Quentin to the quick. “We’re—we’re fucking broken, El.”

Suddenly, Eliot was moving. A slow crawl on hands and knees to where Quentin was splayed on the floor. “Q—”

“Don’t.” Quentin swatted Eliot’s hand away when it curved around his knee. The flesh under his jeans buzzed, like all his wiring had been exposed. “You were always so worried about me. So worried about—about me fucking crashing. About subspace being too much for my broken brain. About what would happen if you weren’t there and then you just—” His hand fluttered on the air, a broken wing taking flight. “I didn’t crash when you left, Eliot. It wasn’t—fucking subdrop. There are no cutesy words in that lexicon of yours for what happened to my brain after you were gone.”

“You’re angry.” Eliot held his hand to his chest, as though he had been burned. “You have every right to be.”

“Not the word I would use.” Quentin laughed. A bitter, broken sound “I’m right back where I was on graduation night, you know,” he said, a wave of nausea cresting in his throat. “I can feel it in my whole body. That’s what your fucking spell did for me.”

“Tell me—” Eliot reached out, stopping himself just short of touching Quentin’s shoulder. “Tell me what I can do to make you feel better.”

Quentin knew what this was—deep clangor in his bones, limbs so heavy it was like he’d been encased in cement. “I don’t know—” he said very quietly, swiping the sleeves of his shirt over his cheeks. “I’m so goddamn tired, El. I—I can’t think.”

The tiniest spark of hope flickered over Eliot’s sullen face. “You don’t have to think, Q, you can just—”

“You said you would draw me a bath.” The words jumped out of Quentin’s mouth of their own volition, like a secret breaking free from his heart. He tried to feel regret about it, but found he couldn’t muster the energy.

And it wasn’t that he didn’t want—

He wanted it so badly he wondered if he might actually die without it.

“Margo has an en suite,” Eliot blurted, his beautiful face wide open as a night sky blanketed in stars. “And it would not be an exaggeration to call her clawfoot tub Olympic-size.”

“I shouldn’t,” Quentin said, the words coming out dull and slow. “I’m supposed to be mad at you.”

“You need aftercare.” Eliot reached out with one tentative hand, like he was reaching into the mouth of an inferno. It soothed along the top of Quentin’s head, down to the nape of his neck. Quentin didn’t pull away. “It doesn’t have to be anything more than that.”

“I don’t know. I just—” Quentin shook his head, the heat of Eliot’s touch warming him to the bone. “I should be—I should be so mad at you, El.”

“Yeah,” Eliot said. “Maybe.” His big, warm hand was on Quentin’s face now, thumbing at his cheek. “Come on. I suspect we can regain a little of our dignity at least if we get up off this floor.”

Eliot got to his feet and offered Quentin his hands. Quentin spent a long, dazed moment gazing upward, drowning in the watery depths of Eliot’s soft-eyed stare. Quirk of Eliot’s mouth; a wispy, dark curl falling over his brow. Their palms clasped together like cogs, and Quentin staggered to his feet. Tumbling forward until he was pressed all against the broad, solid expanse of Eliot’s chest. Being this close—it felt more natural than breathing.

Quentin’s fingers played along the doorway to paradise that was the open collar of Eliot’s shirt. “You should—” He sucked in a breath and pushed it out, using what little energy he had left to pull his body away. Stumbling back, running a hand over the top of his hair. “You should have your breakfast. I’ll be—I’ll be all right.”

“Not my breakfast.” Eliot reached forward, tucked a stray tuft of hair back behind Quentin’s ear. “I was going to bring it to you in bed, but you can have it in the bath if you want. The tray is charmed so it should still be warm.”

“Oh.”

Quentin’s heart did a somersault. He let his eyes scan over the massive plate that had been placed in the center of the tray: two slices of toast cut on the diagonal; a massive mountain of eggs; enough bacon to feed the entire Welters team. A smaller plate piled with sliced fruit was set off to one side like a colorful satellite. A pitcher of juice the color of fresh peaches sat sweating on the counter next to a glass that had yet to be filled.

Quentin’s belly let out a pathetic little roar. When was the last time he’d had anything to eat? Yesterday at lunch, he was pretty sure. The scent of the food wafted into his nose, and suddenly he was ravenous. “Maybe, um…” He was taking a seat at the island before he could think to stop himself. “Maybe I’ll just… have a little taste.”

He grabbed his fork and speared it into the egg-mountain’s rocky peak. The first bite melted like surrender on his tongue.

Eliot filled Quentin’s glass with juice and set it on the tray. “Is this all right?” he asked, the flat of his palm pressing between Quentin’s shoulder blades over his shirt, rubbing soothing circles all the way up to the nape of his neck.

Quentin’s skin prickled with heat. He gave a little nod of his head, tearing into a strip of bacon with his sharp-set teeth. A little sound of pleasure escaped from his throat. All higher brain function had ceased. Quentin was running on fumes and hunger alone.

Bone-deep comfort—for a moment, so happy he could die. It was easy when he didn’t have to think about it. When he was too busy crashing to care about anything but allowing himself to be soothed. Eliot nuzzled into Quentin’s hair. Soft tip of his nose dragging along the curve of Quentin’s scalp. Strong hands resting against the slopes of Quentin’s shoulders. Quentin’s heart thudded along inside the cabin of his chest. He sighed, and shut his eyes, and bit into his immaculately buttered triangle of toast.

Quentin ate like a machine, devouring every bite. He drained the juice from the glass and swiped the back of his hand over his mouth when he was through. “Fuck,” he said on a sharp exhale, his belly so pleasantly over-filled he felt ready to sleep straight through to spring. “That was incredible.”

Eliot’s fingers carded through Quentin’s hair. They flowed like water. Quentin shimmered like the surface of the sun, his brain malleable as putty inside the hollow of his skull. It was like surfacing from the depths of subspace on an eighteen-month delay. Quentin never wanted it to end. He wished for the pull of it to just go on and on.

“Now,” Eliot purred against the top of Quentin’s head, pressed a kiss into his hair. The heat of it dripped like honey, all the way down to Quentin’s toes. “How about that bath?”

“I really shouldn’t.” Quentin’s words came out like breath. He could already feel his body slipping down into the warm and placid water. “Margo’s gonna kick my ass if I use her tub.”

A soft puff of laughter ruffled Quentin’s hair. “Margo,” Eliot said, “will deal.” He wrapped an arm around Quentin’s shoulders, nuzzled against the shell of his ear. “You can be mad at me, okay? Just let me take care of you. Just until this passes.” He paused, warm breath tickling down the slope of Quentin’s neck. “Just for now.”

Quentin sighed with his entire body, slumping back into Eliot’s embrace. “All right,” he said. “Just for now.”

Margo’s en suite bathroom was easily twice the size of Quentin’s bedroom back home. Stark white everything with shiny chrome fixtures and a shower big enough to fit every First Year on campus. Eliot perched on the edge of the Olympic-size tub, muttering something about Thibadeau's Planar Compression and twenty-four straight hours of casting, Quentin and mountains of cocaine, let me tell you.

Quentin stood at a distance, watching. Eliot turned on the tap and let it run, plucked a pretty glass vial up from the edge of the tub and sprinkled the contents into the water. Heady fragrance, immediate and bright. It tickled Quentin’s nose like wildflowers in summer. Eliot moved around the room with purpose: pulling a stack of fluffy white towels from the linen closet and placing them next to the tub; taking a squat ceramic pitcher out from underneath the sink and setting it next to the towels.

Once the tub had filled, Eliot shut off the tap and did a tut over the water. He turned his gaze to Quentin with a soft little smile. “So,” he said, taking one tentative step in Quentin’s direction. “Do you, uh—” He stepped nearer, his smile fading into a flat, dark line. “Do you want me to go?” He reached forward, slowly, grazing his knuckles along the slope of Quentin’s cheek. “Or do you want me to stay?”

Quentin tipped his gaze upward as Eliot cupped his cheek. “I—” He knew the answer without thinking, but asking for what he wanted had always been the hardest part. “Can we, um—can we just—pretend, uh—just for a little while—” Quentin swallowed, averted his gaze, cheek burning like a five alarm blaze beneath the press of Eliot’s palm. “Can we pretend that we—you know—that it’s—”

Eliot hooked his fingers under Quentin’s chin and tipped it upward. “It’s graduation night,” he said, his voice a quiet rumble in his throat. “What better way to celebrate than giving my boy a nice hot bath.”

Hitch of Quentin’s breath, stutter of his heart. “You didn’t leave?” He whispered the words, he shuddered them out.

Eliot pressed nearer, his palm curling around the side of Quentin’s neck. “Of course I didn’t leave,” he said, leaning over, leaning in. “I’m right here, sweetheart.” Ghosting their lips together, teasing promise of a kiss. “Now how about we get you out of these clothes.”

Eliot did a tut and all the lights in the bathroom faded to a gentle pink-orange whisper. Snap of his fingers, a dozen candles flaring in the dim. Golden flickers, homing beacons. Eliot took Quentin by the hand and led him over to the bath.

Eliot perched on the edge of the tub. “Hold onto me,” he said. “Socks first.”

Quentin’s hands curved around the steady planks of Eliot’s shoulders. Eliot gazed upward, smiling, peeled Quentin out of his socks and tossed them aside. He did a tut and all the buttons on the front of Quentin’s shirt came undone. Quentin braced himself, fingers digging into Eliot’s shoulders through his shirt. Candle wicks flickered, gasping halos of light over the ceiling, casting ghostly shadows over the water in the tub. Eliot’s hands curved along the dip of Quentin’s waist. He nuzzled into Quentin’s navel, nosing along the cavernous rise of his ribcage, punctuating his journey with one hot press of his mouth.

It’s graduation night, Quentin told himself. It’s 2014. Eliot didn’t leave you. Eliot was never gone.

He shrugged out of his shirt and let it flutter to the floor. Eliot’s fingers went to the buckle of Quentin’s belt, working it open with his deft magician’s hands. Quentin’s blood chugged and whirred around inside his heart. Metallic clink of his belt buckle flapping loose. Eliot’s nimble fingers popping open the fly of his jeans. Snick of the zipper, ripple of Quentin’s pulse in his neck.

Eliot worked Quentin’s pants and boxers down to his knees. Gaze flitting upward, eyes glinting in the moving light. They fell the rest of the way on their own, tumbling down to Quentin’s ankles, where he stepped out, and kicked them aside, holding onto Eliot’s shoulders all the while. The moment passed by in winks and flashes. Amorphous candlelight, the warm cradle of Eliot’s hand pressing to the dip of Quentin’s back. Graze of Eliot’s teeth as his mouth found the bony jut of Quentin’s hip. Hot puff of breath moving over his flesh like a kiss.

Quentin was hard, almost embarrassingly so. Dripping down onto the tiles between the spread of his feet. He did his best to ignore it, focusing instead on the trail being mapped up to his navel by Eliot’s clever tongue. The tip of a brush, the point of a finger. His final destination being marked with a kiss.

“Here,” Eliot said, softly as his fluttering touch. He was ignoring Quentin’s erection in such a way that it had to be deliberate. Quentin didn’t know if that made it better or worse. “Let’s get you in the water. Let’s get you warm.”

Quentin stepped back, and Eliot stood. He gave himself over to the guidance of Eliot’s skillful hands. Stepping up over the rim of the tub and into all that blissful heat. The way it hit his bloodstream like a lightning crash. Sinking down into the steaming water, exhaling with his entire chest. Head knocking back against magically-warmed porcelain. It was like something borrowed from the haze of a dream. Eliot’s hands lingered on Quentin’s shoulders as he pulled away, and grabbed the pitcher he’d set next to the towels, and began to fill its wide mouth underneath the tap.

“What are you doing?” Quentin’s voice seemed to echo. In the dim of the firelight, it was like they’d descended down into the hollow, cozy depths of the earth, just the two of them. A little burrow all their own, the rest of humanity entirely forgotten.

“I’m going to wash your hair,” Eliot said with a little quirk of his mouth. “You don’t have to worry about a thing now, sweet boy. Just shut your eyes and let me take care of you.”

It’s 2014. Eliot was never gone.

Quentin let his eyes slide shut. His skin hummed with the promise of comfort. He listened, he breathed. Soft rustle of Eliot settling down behind him, clink of the pitcher being set on the floor. Slow drag of Eliot’s fingers carding through the length of his hair. Quentin felt a shudder move right through him. Eliot’s hands were unhurried, blunt points of his fingertips skimming over Quentin’s scalp like ripples in a pool.

“I just need you to lean forward for a second, darling.” Eliot’s voice came soft and low. “And tip your head back. So I can wet your hair.”

Quentin did so with great effort. Eyes squeezed shut, curve of his throat angled in the direction of the sky. A warm stream of water flowed along the top of his head like salvation, soaking Quentin’s hair clean-through.

“That’s perfect,” Eliot muttered as Quentin settled back in. “You can just drift away now, baby. I’ve got you.”

Quentin felt intoxicated. The scent of the oil in the water, the way the steam rose around him like a cocoon. Nothing bad could ever get in. It would be like this forever. Eliot’s fingers whispered over Quentin’s scalp, working up a lather, massaging in the shampoo. Slow drip of seconds, like time itself had come to an end. Blissful, leaden feeling in his limbs. Muscles dissolving like sugar, like smoke.

Eliot maneuvered Quentin forward and rinsed the lather from his hair. Happy little noises puffed out of Quentin’s nose. Steam releasing from a valve. All the pressure spilling out, all the light seeping in. Quentin’s brain had turned to mush inside the cavern of his skull. Eliot was working his hair velvety-smooth with a palmful of conditioner that wafted on the air like roses. One final rinse, a fluffy towel drying Quentin’s soaking strands. Quentin drifted on a buzzing cloud, his body light as air.

“My boy,” Eliot purred, his hand snaking around to trail along the bow of Quentin’s collarbone. His fingers skimmed the water, lips pressed right to Quentin’s ear. “That’s so much better, hm?”

Graze of Eliot’s teeth along the slope of Quentin’s neck. Tracing the path of bruises Quentin swore he could still feel thumping on his skin in time with his pulse. It moved in him like a tectonic shift. Something monumental. Quentin turned his face to his shoulder, meeting Eliot’s gaze in the ruined light. Their noses brushed in a moment of unfathomable devotion. Eliot’s fiery hand cupped Quentin’s burning cheek.

Their lips slotted together. Eliot shifted, Quentin’s body sloshed in the water. Both of Eliot’s hands had moved to Quentin’s face. Mouths gasping open, tongues finding one another in the velvet dark—

It was over before it even began. Eliot broke away, and drew a breath. A sharp and devastating sound. He knocked their foreheads together, and just like that—like a veil being lifted—an enchantment crumbling beneath the weight of its own unstable magic—

Quentin felt the cold sting of reality moving into him.

He reached forward, bunched the front of Eliot’s shirt in a fist. “It’s not—” His voice rasped out of his throat, just as ruined as the rest of him. “It’s not true, you know.”

Eliot thumbed at Quentin’s cheek. “What isn’t true, sweetheart?”

“You said—” Quentin sucked down a breath and let it fall out of him slowly. “You said you didn’t have anything to offer another person. And it isn’t—it isn’t true.”

Eliot visibly stiffened, a terrible flood of emotion twisting his face in the shallow light. “Q, I don’t—”

“No.” Quentin’s grip on Eliot’s shirt tightened. “If you want me to believe the things you say, then you have to believe me too.”

Eliot answered with a stiff little nod of his head, and plunged the room into silence.

After a long moment, he pushed closer, kissing Quentin on the cheek. “If we’re speaking truths, then I have, um—” He drew a breath, nuzzled his nose against Quentin’s temple. “I have something to say.”

Quentin nodded, waited. His heart jackhammered in the line of his neck.

“I’m—Q.” Eliot’s voice quavered. All around the room, the burning wicks of candles jumped, counting the spaces between one breath and the next. “Quentin.” Something like a laugh came tumbling out. Quentin felt it in his chest. “Baby.” The laughter died away. “I’m—” He shook his head. “I’m so goddamn sorry for what I’ve done to you.”

Quentin made a sound, like his soul was leaking from him slowly. Suddenly, it was very hard to breathe.

“I’m not—” Eliot touched Quentin’s neck, his cheek, the shell of his ear. “I’m not ever going to ask for your forgiveness, okay? I gave up that right a thousand times over when I was too much of a coward to tell you my truth.” He was crying now, pressing in so closely that one of his tears spilled over onto Quentin’s cheek. “But you didn’t deserve—” Eliot’s voice clipped off in a broken little sob. “Baby, it isn’t your fault.”

Quentin’s brain seemed to strobe inside his skull. “I—” He touched Eliot’s over-warm cheek, swiping at a tear. It glistened like a jewel on the pad of his thumb. “I think I’d like to get out of the water now.”

Something shifted, a terrible weight tumbling down. Quentin felt it settle over his shoulders like a heavy blanket.

Eliot pulled back, straightened his neck. Tripwire tension in the set of his jaw. “Of course,” he said, voice like shattered glass. “I’ll, um—” He tottered to his feet, grabbing a towel from the stack and draping it over his arm. “Here.” He offered Quentin both of his big, beautiful, trembling hands. “Can you stand?”

Quentin let Eliot help him to his feet. He stepped out of the tub, dripping and miserable, and a shiver ripped right through him. The air beyond the warm cocoon of the bath seemed to pulse with a deep winter chill. Immediately, Eliot wrapped Quentin up in one of Margo’s oversized towels and pulled him into his arms. For a moment, Quentin allowed himself to be held, to be soothed. But the illusion had already been shattered.

It was 2015. Quentin and Eliot were broken.

He pulled himself out of Eliot’s hold. Quentin couldn’t think in the gloom of their artificial night. He looped the towel around his hips, started reaching for his clothes.

“I’ll get you something clean to put on,” Eliot said to Quentin’s back.

“No, it’s—” Quentin shook his head, snatching his shirt up from the floor. “I’ll be okay. I just—” He straightened his back, and took a breath. “I need to think.” He offered Eliot a fleeting glance, felt it like a stark wind in his bones. “And I can’t… do that. Pretending that the worst night of my life didn’t actually happen.”

Anguished heart battering his ribcage, Quentin gathered up the rest of his clothes from the cold indifference of the floor. He felt like a jigsaw puzzle with all its pieces scattered, mixed up and tumbling through a cold and endless dark. Eliot said nothing as Quentin made for the door, and pulled it open, and stepped out into the light.

Stepping from artificial darkness into the stark, insistent light of day left Quentin feeling like an open wound. He trudged down the hallway to his room and pulled on a sweater and jeans.

Eliot’s apology rattled around inside his skull like stones. Hearing those words—that Eliot was sorry—hadn’t left him feeling how he’d expected them to. Not that he’d really been expecting anything. Quentin hadn’t been expecting an apology at all.

His skin felt marked everywhere Eliot had touched, like Quentin had gotten a full-body tattoo. He wanted to curl up on his bed and sleep for days. Stay wrapped in all that dark until some divine force came down and told him what the fuck he was even supposed to do. Instead, he forced his weary body back out into the hall and down the stairs. Searching every corner of the Cottage until he found Julia outside with Margo, sitting under the veil of a warming enchantment, passing a cigarette between them.

Clatter of Quentin’s shoes on stone as he stepped out onto the porch, two sets of eyes turning to greet him. Quentin felt them like a swift and final judgment. His damp hair tickled the back of his neck, making him shiver.

Margo quirked a brow, taking the cigarette from between the V of Julia’s fingers. “You better not have used up all my good bath oils,” she said with a smirk. “Takes me hours to enchant. Your ass is gonna sparkle for days, Coldwater.”

For a second, Quentin was certain he was about to lose his breakfast all over his shoes. “Can I have one of those?” He gestured to the cigarette, stomach churning. “And I need to talk to Julia. Alone.”

Margo narrowed her eyes, a thin tangle of smoke pouring out from between her lips. She passed the cigarette back to Julia, saying nothing. Quentin could feel the urge to snark spilling from her like a perfume. She reached into her cigarette case and plucked one out, passed it to Quentin, pushed back from the table, hopped to her feet.

“I’m gonna go find El,” she said with an airy little sigh, bending over to peck Julia on the mouth. “See ya later, kitten.”

Julia swatted Margo on the ass as she sauntered away. Grinning like a fool in love, she turned her attention to Quentin. “Hey,” she said, the smile fading from her face as Quentin sank down into the chair across from her at the table. “So. Bathtime, huh?”

“I don’t wanna—” He sighed, running a hand over his cold, damp hair. “So I think I might have unfucked my magic for good.”

It wasn’t what he’d intended to say, but it felt a little easier for now. Magic and all its complicated intricacies paled in comparison to Quentin’s jumbled up utterly fucked heartsick monstrous too-big-for-his-body feelings for Eliot Waugh.

Julia puffed on her cigarette, considered him with a tip of her head. “Tell.”

Quentin shook his head, looking down at the unlit cigarette pinched between his fingers. “It was the spell. I think. I don’t know.” He popped the cigarette between his lips and spoke around the filter. “When I came to I was—it was like I was radioactive.”

Julia pulled a face. “Repressed memories, repressed... magic?”

Quentin lit the cigarette with the tip of his finger. The shock of the magic moving through him was like breathing for the very first time. It flowed like water, it wrapped around his bones with its easy, shimmering hands. “Maybe,” he said, exhaling a thin cloud of smoke, watching it blow itself apart. “I don’t know. Guess it makes as much sense as anything else.”

“Well—that’s good, right?” Julia stubbed the cigarette out in the ashtray on the table. “Now you don’t need Eliot for shit.” The words came out all hollow, like she was only trying them on for size, humoring no one, least of all herself. “Freedom.”

Quentin took a long and decadent drag, his whole body slumping as he exhaled. “He’s in love with me,” he said, meeting Julia’s dark-eyed stare. The simple act of saying it out loud was like cracking his chest wide open. He paused, took another drag, choking down the urge to sob. “I know you don’t believe that, but I do.”

Julia shrugged. “Whatever you saw when you did that spell doesn’t erase months of literal gaslighting, Q.”

Quentin cast his gaze down to the roiling cherry of the cigarette, watching the little fire feed itself and burn. “I never said that it did.” He drew a breath, pushed it out. “But what if I said I don’t even care about that now.”

“Q, you can’t—”

“What if I said—” Quentin flicked the smoldering cigarette into the ashtray, watched it tremble and smoke. “What if I said he told me he’s been in love with me since we were eighteen and that I believe him more than I’ve ever believed anyone about anything in my whole life.”

“Q—”

“And what if—” He couldn’t bite back the tears. They quivered in his eyes, a dam on the edge of bursting. “What if I said that I think he’s just as scared and damaged and fucked up as I am. And that all I want to do right now go back inside and fall down on my knees and tell him that I forgive him.”

Through the thin haze of his tears, Quentin watched Julia’s shake her head. “Do you honestly think you can ever trust him?” Her brows knitted together in a mask of pity that made Quentin’s stomach turn. “After everything he’s done?”

Quentin’s whole body quaked with a furious swell of emotion. A hundred thousand feelings all tangled up together. “I want to,” he said, swiping the torrent of tears away from his cheeks. “I’m so goddamn tired of fighting with myself over this, Jules. It’s fucked up and it’s unhealthy and I—I know I—I need therapy and I need meds and I need to focus on magic and being a fucking person but all I want is him.” His lip wobbled, like it was electrified. Quentin bit down on it hard. “When I’m not with him I feel like a part of me has been taken away. I don’t care how that sounds. I don’t care if you think I’m crazy or an idiot or the most self-destructive person in the world because it’s the truth.”

Julia reached for him across the table, but she was too far away to touch. “I don’t think you’re crazy.”

Quentin dried his eyes with the sleeves of his sweater, inhaling deeply, fighting back another tsunami of tears. “I don’t even know why I’m telling you any of this,” he said. “Maybe I was hoping you’d, like—yell at me or kick my ass or something until I changed my mind.”

“Well,” Julia said, her mouth curling up in a smile, “I would be happy to kick your ass if that’s what you really want.”

Quentin allowed the smallest hint of a smile to play on his lips. “Maybe later.”

Julia leaned back in her chair with a sigh. “You know I love you, right?” she said, her body language all soft lines and surrender. “I just want you to be okay.”

Quentin pressed the half-moons of his fingernails into his palms to keep another swell of tears at bay. “I know,” he said with a voice so small it barely sounded human. “But I don’t know that I can ever be... that. Without him.”

“Well,” she said with a little shrug of her shoulders, “just so we’re clear, I love you doesn’t mean I’m ever going to love him.

Quentin huffed a breath out of his nose. “I know.”

“Or even like him.”

“I know.”

Tolerate would probably be too strong of a—”

“Jules.”

She reached into her jacket, pulled out her half-crushed pack of cigarettes. Plucked one out, stuck it between her lips and lit it. “I can’t believe my best friend and the girl I’m currently having the best sex of my entire life with are both so hung up on the literal worst person I’ve ever met.”

“Clearly you have excellent taste.” Quentin tried a smile on for size, taking the cigarette from Julia’s fingers when she offered it across the table.

“Clearly,” she said with a little roll of her eyes. “So. Should I just assume you’re getting back together with him now and adjust my expectations accordingly?”

“I don’t know,” Quentin said, taking a long drag on the cigarette and letting the smoke tumble from his mouth in a puffy white cloud. “Maybe I’m still thinking about it.”

As it turned out, thinking about it looked a whole lot like sulking on the back porch and smoking Julia’s cigarettes all by himself well into the afternoon. Eliot didn’t come looking for him, and Quentin couldn’t be sure if he was grateful for that, or if the idea of having his boundaries respected only made him feel even worse.

Evening settled in around Quentin the way a hand makes a fist. Golden blades of sunlight trickled into dark, and the waning sliver of the moon pinned herself like a closing eye overhead. Quentin wandered into the Cottage, anticipating party sounds. Tinkling glasses and throbbing music and high peals of laughter shattering into his heart. Instead, he was greeted with silence so dull and all-consuming it left him feeling anesthetized.

Eliot was the only person in the common room. Quentin’s heart skipped up into his throat. The sight of him there, the way his lithe, elegant body was slumped into one corner of the sectional. Legs splayed out like entryways, a joint the size of his index finger lit and chugging away between the press of his lips.

Eliot raised his eyes to Quentin. “Hey,” he said, a sad little smile playing at one corner of his mouth. “Want a hit?”

Quentin let his brain go dark, and opened his mouth. “I want us to sleep together.”

Eliot immediately stubbed out the joint in the ashtray he had balanced on his thigh, set it aside very carefully, and hopped to his feet. “Okay—” He crossed the distance between them at a disorienting speed, long legs working like pistons. “Okay.” He took Quentin’s face in his big, warm hands. “Let’s go upstairs.”

“I mean—” Quentin shook his head, and breathed. “I mean I actually want us to sleep. Next to each other. With all our clothes on.”

“Okay.” Eliot let a nervous laugh puff out of his chest. “But—we, um—we probably still need to go upstairs to do that.”

Quentin nodded, tumbling down into the shimmering depths of Eliot’s soft-eyed gaze. “I’m still mad at you,” he said. “We’re not getting back together.”

Eliot brushed Quentin’s hair back behind his ears, the warm cups of his hands curving around the sides of Quentin’s neck. “Okay,” he said. “Your bed or mine?”

“Mine,” he said without thinking, though he honestly didn’t care either way. His hand found the front of Eliot’s shirt, curled itself into a fist. “We’re not having sex.”

“Okay.”

“I mean it.” He brushed Eliot’s hands away, went up on his toes, kissed him on the mouth. “I’m serious.”

Eliot nodded. “Okay,” he said. “Whatever you want.” Eliot leaned over, knocking their foreheads together. His hands pressed to Quentin’s back over his sweater. “How are your hands? I never asked—”

“They’re fine.” Quentin swallowed, eyes half-shut, tumbling into the warm, placid depths of Eliot’s embrace. “I’m pretty sure the block is gone. Like—all the way.”

“That’s good.” Eliot hummed, nuzzling their noses together. “Do you wanna do a spell with me?”

“No—” Quentin drew a breath, ghosting their lips together. “Go upstairs and put on your pajamas.”

Eliot nodded, not pulling away. “Okay.”

With great effort, Quentin tugged himself out of Eliot’s arms. “Meet me in my room,” he said, his knees a quivering mess inside the denim of his jeans, just this side of turning to dust.

Eliot straightened his back, ran his hands down the front of his shirt. “Okay.”

Quentin turned down the bed and shut off the lights. Between the palms of his hands, he breathed a miniature sun to life, pinning it up over his head with an easy puff of magic. It gasped its illumination over the bed like daylight spilling over the surface of a pool.

He was wearing a pair of black boxer shorts and a threadbare t-shirt. Heart galloping like a race horse as he perched on the edge of the bed, and counted the seconds, and fixed his eyes on the door.

When Eliot entered, Quentin jumped to his feet at once. “Hi.”

Eliot clicked the door shut at his back. His pajamas were a sapphire blue silk that glistened in the magic light. “Hi.” He crossed the distance in a few quick strides, pushed into Quentin’s personal space, kissed him on the brow. “Let’s get in bed.”

Quentin nodded, pulled away, let himself tumble onto the mattress and slip under the covers. Eliot lingered, his eyes catching on the bracelet where it was coiled on the nightstand. He pinched it between his fingers, held it up to the dim magic light. Eyes flitting over the soft etching of his own name hidden inside the band.

He set it back on the nightstand with a quiet reverence, turning his attention to Quentin. “Make room.”

Quentin moved to the far side of the bed, watching with rapt attention as Eliot slid beneath the covers. His warmth seeped across the distance the way a fever spreads. Quentin’s skin prickled with heat. He nestled his head into his pillow, curling his body inward, the face of a flower seeking the light.

Flat on his back, Eliot turned his face to Quentin. “Do you want me to hold you?”

Quentin’s fingers danced in the space between them, itching to reach out and touch. To seek skin the way a drowning man seeks the shore. “No,” he croaked, pathetic little click of his voice crawling out of his throat. “Yes.”

Minute shift of Eliot’s body beneath the covers. He lifted his arm, Quentin’s rightful place opening like a doorway at his side. “Come here.”

“I’m still mad.”

“I know.”

Quentin shuffled nearer, until he was pressed all along Eliot’s side. Silky glide of his pajamas under the cups of Quentin’s hands, the gentle rattling of his heart. Quentin rested his chin on Eliot’s chest, his gaze tipping upward, meeting Eliot’s eyes in the fractured light. “No sex.”

Eliot’s warm palm was pressed to Quentin’s lower back where his shirt was rucking up. “Okay, but, uh—” A full body shudder rippled through him. Quentin felt it in his bones. “That’s—that’s probably not—not going to—” A strangled sound ripped out of his throat in a way that bordered on violent. “Q—”

It was only then that Quentin realized he was rubbing Eliot to full hardness through the fabric of his pants. “Fuck—” He drew a rasping breath and pushed it out. “Sorry.”

Quentin made no effort to move his hand away, craning his neck upward and latching onto Eliot’s throat. Practically straddling him now, thumbing at the glans through the thin layer of silk until the fabric was soaked clean-through. Eliot was putty in his wanting hands. He let Quentin melt into him, he let Quentin devour. Eliot’s hands on Quentin’s ass, under his shirt, points of his fingers like flaming wicks. His heart a metronome, music spilling from his throat.

“Q—Q—” Eliot babbled, puffing frantic little breaths out of his nose, his dick twitching beneath the relentless torrent of Quentin’s fingers. “I’m gonna—you’re gonna make me come if you don’t stop.”

Quentin pushed a strangled sound out of his throat. “Sorry—sorry—” He wrenched his hand away with great effort, resting it on the quivering, silk-covered plane of Eliot’s torso. “I didn’t—I didn’t mean—”

“It’s okay. We just—” Eliot’s fingers played along the dip of Quentin’s spine. “We just need to breathe.”

Quentin filled his lungs, and exhaled. Subspace looming like a phantom. Its firm, familiar fingers dancing along the column of his spine. “We—” He snatched at his own voice by the root, desperate to keep hold. “We should—” He met Eliot’s eyes. They shimmered like portals in the soft magic light. “We should just try and—and get some sleep.”

Eliot nodded his head, his curls tumbling in wild tendrils over the pillow. “Yes,” he said. “We should.”

Quentin’s dick was so hard he felt it with every little hitch of his breath. Shutting his eyes, letting the world slip into darkness. Eliot was a blaze, slick heat of him burning everywhere their bodies touched. Quentin didn’t pull away, their limbs tangling together in warm, easy knots. Quentin’s face pressed into the center of Eliot’s chest, and he sighed. Smooth glide of silk, persistent thumping of his heart.

Slowly, Quentin’s mind began to drift. Lullaby of Eliot’s heart soothing him into something like sleep. Flitting between waking and half-formed dreams for hours on end.

When Quentin opened his eyes again, it was morning. The first gasps of sunlight scattered over the bed like gold-tinged shadows. He blinked, and drew a breath, and turned his face to Eliot in the soft-filtered dim. A single thought itched at the back of his groggy mind, persistent as daylight breaking through the dark.

“Hey,” he said, voice a thick and husky ruin from hours of disuse. “Are you awake?”

Eliot hummed, and shifted, blinking his bleary eyes open halfway. “M’here,” he mumbled, hand pushing up the back of Quentin’s shirt. “Morning.”

“Okay,” Quentin said, giving himself a moment to breathe, ignoring the way his body stirred beneath the coaxing warmth of Eliot’s touch. “I’m still mad at you.”

Eliot’s soft mouth curled up in one corner. “It’s all right,” he said. “I’m not mad at you.”

“I don’t forgive you.”

“It’s okay.”

Quentin’s pulse picked up. It hammered in the line of his neck like it was forging creation. “Okay,” he said. “I want you to take me on a date.”

Chapter Text

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, track