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"First tattoo?"

"Um, yeah," Quentin said, wondering when the right time was to bring this up. He leaned in a little. "Um, I heard you can do, um..."

He raised his eyebrows, but the artist just waited patiently, eyebrows slightly raised and a faint smirk on his lips. He was going to make Quentin say it, here, in public. "I'm interested in lung capacity," he murmured, as quiet as he could manage and still be sure the artist would hear.

"Oh, sure," he said easily, at normal volume. "I figured there was a fifty-fifty shot you wanted that or were just being really weird about a butt tattoo. Here, I'll show you the designs that have that worked in. If you don't like any of them, we'll come up with something."

The guy did not look anything like Quentin would expect a tattoo artist to look like. There was maybe a hint of punkiness in the shape of his hair, it sort of put Quentin in mind of a rockabilly thing, almost? With the height and the artfully dangling curls and all. But his long, lanky form was wrapped in a crisp white button-down and tan waistcoat, and as he came out from behind the counter to show Quentin to a binder, he revealed matching slacks. For a pop of color, he was wearing a forest-green tie that brought out the green in his eyes.

Not that Quentin had been looking, or anything.

The artist -- Eliot, that was his name, which Quentin had forgotten but fortunately the binder was marked with it -- flipped it open to a particular page on the first try. "This and the next four pages," he said. "Wave me over if something catches your eye."

Quentin nodded, grateful not to have Eliot hovering over his shoulder, watching him react to his work. That would surely have ended with him poking at something random and ending up with a design he hated because he needed the torment to stop. As it was, he could take his time. It was easy to see, after looking at a few, what the shapes were that made up the spell, and it was interesting, the different ways the art either camouflaged or highlighted them. Here a kind of messy, cross-hatchy portrait of a noir detective leaning out of the shadows, the shapes only discernible in how the silhouette matched all the others; here, an impressionistic cubist kind of thing, stylizing the shapes so they stood out in stark black against colored backfill.

After a couple of minutes flipping between the pages, Quentin found himself coming back to one particular design over and over, and decided it was as good as any other. He looked up to wave Eliot over, and was a little perplexed to see him nowhere.

"He went outside for a smoke," said the unfriendly woman behind the register, not looking up from her magazine. "You can take the binder out to him."

"Oh, um, thanks," he said.

She didn't react, and he could see a tall silhouette through the painted storefront, so he picked up the binder, marking the page with his finger.

Eliot turned and smiled when he saw Quentin, which, like, kind of made his chest flutter, but like, it was fine. "Decided?"

"Um, I think so." He opened the book, showing Eliot, and pointed to a design of flowers. "Um, I was thinking like...if the lines on this were thicker?"

Eliot nodded thoughtfully, taking a drag from his cigarette. God, even that looked elegant. "I don't think the colors would work for you either. How would you feel about pure white? It won't be white white once it heals, but it'll make it stand out more."

Quentin thought about that, the skin not white, but paler inside the tattoo, and nodded. "Yeah, that sounds really nice."

Eliot nodded, looking pleased. "We'll do that, then. Let me just..." He took a step toward the trash can with the sandpit in the top, cigarette extended toward it.

"Um, you can finish," Quentin said, pulling his own pack out, tucking the binder under his arm. "Probably help relax me for the, uh...procedure, right?"

Eliot smiled at him, and with a glance around, clicked a flame onto his fingertip to light Quentin's cigarette for him. It was small, easy, dumb really, something Quentin had learned in his first week in the Physical Kids cottage. But it was charming, meeting it out in the wild like this, and it made him smile.

"This one has to go over your ribcage, you know that, right?" Eliot said. "That's a pretty intense place for a first tattoo."

Quentin took a nervous drag, because that sure didn't help him relax. "Well, it's, um...I mean, yeah, probably. But." He shrugged. "It's what I need, so."

"Not my business, so I won't ask what it's for. But I'll do a little line with no ink first, so if you're not gonna be able to take it, we can figure something out."

Quentin nodded. That helped, actually, a chance to back out before he was committed. "Okay. Yeah, that'd be great, thanks."

They chatted about nothing of real consequence for a few minutes, finally discovering that they both were watching The Crown and could discuss that. Quentin found himself laughing, as comfortable with the guy as he ever was with someone new, and that felt like a good sign. Not having to be socially awkward would help him relax a little, probably, right?

Eliot took the binder from him and went to do something in the back while Quentin paid at the cashier. The girl -- Quentin definitely couldn't remember her name, something with an M? -- was chilly, looking him up and down like she hadn't decided if he was worth her time yet. Like Eliot, she didn't really look like she belonged, in a shirt and skirt that were probably high fashion and perfectly styled hair. The only hint of alt about her was the stud through her lower lip. He was looking closely at her eyebrow, trying to decide if that was a scar from a former piercing, when she nudged him with the keypad.

"Oh, uh." He typed in his PIN.

"It's standard to tip fifteen to twenty percent, just like a waiter," the cashier said, her tone surprisingly gentle now. Not, like, gentle gentle, but no longer outright prickly. Maybe she was taking pity on him. "You can put it in now, give it to him in cash, if you have it, or I can swipe your card again when you're done."

"Um. I'll just...now, yeah," he said, nodding and hitting twenty percent. He had the money, and Eliot had been nice enough during the conversation to deserve it. If he turned out to suck at the actual tattooing, well, lesson learned.

"Thanks," he added, as he handed the pad back. "You, uh, saved me some embarrassment. I wouldn't have known."

"I figured," she said. "You've got that look. Bay three," she said, nodding toward the cubicles that lined half the space. They were each marked with a number above the door in a different style -- bay three had the same cross-hatching as the noir detective, but in bright colors.

Quentin pushed through the thick beaded curtains and tried not to think of the chair as looking like a dentist's chair. Surely this was more akin to a barber than a dentist, right? Okay, like, more blood than a barber, that was a mark in the dentist column, but this was cosmetic, not medical. Then again, cosmetic dentistry was a thing -- wasn't that basically what most braces were?

His train of thought was interrupted by the curtains rattling behind him again. "Shirt off and sit," Eliot prompted cheerfully, nudging past him. Suddenly, with his presence, the seat seemed a little more welcoming. There was a small table -- probably a TV tray -- near the door, with nothing on it, so Quentin stripped off his t-shirt and left it in a pile there.

He slid into the chair, and it definitely felt more dentist than barber, but like, that was probably not the worst thing ever. Easy disinfecting, and whatever. Barbers also didn't need to lay people flat on their backs comfortably.

Eliot set down several individual needles in autoclave-blue packages, along with a piece of paper with the design for the tattoo on it. He sat down and started rolling his sleeves up, and...oh, shit. That was where it was all hiding. Both arms were covered in sleeves, similar in style with brilliant colors. Quentin could hardly pick out individual elements in the dense designs, but he could definitely see hedge stars worked elegantly in.

He glanced up to catch Eliot catching him staring. Eliot just smiled and gave him a wink, and Quentin blushed. It felt like...like a secret, like Quentin was seeing something private, in seeing these tattoos. Something private and...dirty, in the good way, like Eliot had taken his dick out (and Quentin was man enough to admit that would definitely be dirty in a good way at this point, okay, the guy was hot, and he had correct opinions about The Crown).

Get it the fuck together, what is wrong with you, he told himself.

Sleeves rolled meticulously to his elbows, Eliot rolled the stool over to the sink in the corner and washed his hands thoroughly with something Quentin could smell from over here.

"Guess I don't have to worry about hygiene," he said, nose twitching.

"I do everything to a high standard, above what the health department requires," Eliot assured him. "Those needles are brand new," he said, nodding to the table, "and I just sterilized them myself while I got the design ready. There's one for the test line, two for the lines, two for the shading, and an extra in case I decide it needs some finessing at the end. That's a sterile surgical drape covering the table. The soap I'm using is the same stuff surgeons use to scrub in."

Quentin nodded, both reassured and interested in the nuts and bolts. "What are the packets?" he asked, nodding to them. They'd come out of a bulk package of some kind, silvery in color with flat orange lettering.

"Just Vaseline. Mostly used to soothe your skin as we go, but they help me stick ink cups to the table, too. They're small, you'll see," he said, turning the water off with his elbow. He dried with a paper towel that came from a closed dispenser, then snapped on a pair of black rubber gloves.

"And this is how we keep ink sterile," he said, pulling a few tiny cups out of another dispenser and holding them up -- they really were tiny, measured probably in single-digit milliliters. He opened a packet and put a smear of the contents on the table, then squeezed the rest onto the back of his gloved hand. He stuck each cup into the smear, then pulled down a bottle from a shelf above his head.

"Ohhhh," Quentin said, watching Eliot squeeze black ink into three of the cups. "I was wondering how you kept from double-dipping ink without wasting a lot."

"Yep!" Eliot closed the bottle and replaced it, then grabbed white. "And in case you're wondering, I never touch any of this stuff with ungloved hands, but I also spray it down with disinfectant at least a couple times a day."

That honestly seemed like an overabundance of caution to Quentin, but he appreciated it. The more commitment to like, not letting him get an infection, the better.

"Okay, for this to be most effective I have to put it on the side of your weaker lung," Eliot said, doing a series of tuts Quentin didn't recognize, then holding his fingers up in a frame, peering at Quentin's chest.

"I have a weaker lung?" Quentin asked, mildly alarmed.

"Everyone does. Usually the left because it's smaller, to make room for your heart. It's normal, don't worry."

"Oh, okay," he said, watching Eliot roll his stool and the tray -- which he was just now realizing was a rolling tray, like at the dentist -- around to Quentin's other side. For the first time, Quentin noticed a squeeze bottle and a disposable razor. "Uh, I don't think there's a lot of hair on my ribs."

"Everyone's got peach fuzz," Eliot said easily, squeezing the bottle onto a paper towel and wiping at Quentin's side. "And you'd be surprised. Trust me, I've never nicked anyone," he said, giving Quentin a grin and another wink. "It also helps me get your skin cleaner."

"I guess that's good," Quentin said, putting his arm up over his head so Eliot could get at him better.

The shaving was quick, and Eliot had him put his arm down again so the tattoo would look natural and not distorted as he wet Quentin's skin again, then pressed the paper onto it, ink side down. Quentin could see that it had left a stencil behind, but Eliot held up a mirror.

"Good?"

"Um, I guess so."

"We can still move it. It'll take Bambi two minutes to make me another stencil. We want you to be happy with this, it's for life."

He was almost sure Bambi was not the name he'd been given the first time. "Um, it's good. If you say this is where it should go, then I trust you."

Eliot gave him a look he couldn't decipher -- almost curious? -- but he smiled and nodded. "I'll take care of you," he said, then turned away, discarding the paper that had had the ink on it. "Test needle incoming."

He turned back, holding the tattoo gun, and kicked over a set of pedals by the cord until they were in reach. He stepped on one, and the buzz was a little louder than Quentin was expecting, but tolerable. He was more ready, the second time it fired up, and Eliot leaned over his side. Quentin made himself take a breath out, suddenly panicky, but the sting was...

He blinked at Eliot when he straightened up. "That was it?"

Eliot laughed merrily. "That was it," he said, letting Quentin watch as he ejected the needle from the gun and pushed it into a red container under the tray, hard plastic and marked with "sharps" and biohazard symbols.

"That's, like, way less than I was expecting," Quentin said, settling with his arm behind his head again, so Eliot's access was unimpeded.

"I mean, it'll be worse when I go over particularly sensitive areas," Eliot said. "But yeah, for various reasons, people hype up the pain of a tattoo way more than it deserves. Either to dissuade you or to convince you how badass they are. I have got to tell you, the biggest, butchest biker types? Biggest crybabies in that chair."

The comment made Quentin curious. "When I walked in, which did you think I'd be?"

Eliot turned back, giving Quentin a thoughtful look as he adjusted to the best position. He had the gun in one hand, loaded with black ink this time, and some kind of thick paper napkin in the other. "Not a hundred percent sure," he said. "But I was pretty sure you'd take it well."

I take other things well too, his brain said, but fortunately his mouth was not on board. He just blushed, and swallowed, and nodded. "Hopefully."

Eliot set to work, and it was definitely, like, annoying, but Quentin had had worse pain. He closed his eyes and focused on breathing evenly. Eliot worked slowly, rubbing the ointment across where the ink had gone in at frequent intervals. It was actually kind of zen, after a minute. The buzz faded into white noise, and the pain was steady, centering.

For awhile, anyway. Eliot had been working from the top down, so most of it had been over a muscle so far. Then he hit the edge of a muscle, the needle vibrating down over skin and bone. Quentin winced, but didn't gasp, letting out a slow breath from his stomach, keeping his ribs as still as possible.

"Good boy," Eliot murmured, voice low and distracted.

Quentin kind of...froze. Oh god. Oh god oh god. He made himself take another measured breath into his abdomen, then let it out. He just got called...oh god.

Eliot glanced up at his face, which must be bright red. "Doing okay?"

Quentin cleared his throat. "Yeah. You, uh. Bone. Worse. Yep."

Eliot smiled at him like he was cute, but kept his attention on the tattoo. "Some people find it easier to watch. Know when to expect it. But if you're good up there, that's fine too. We've got the lines maybe a quarter done already."

That...did not sound like very much of the tattoo, but was admittedly more than Quentin was expecting, for the amount of time they'd been at it. "Cool," he said, and took another breath, easier this time. He'd been keeping his eyes on Eliot's face, trying not to get distracted by how goddamn gorgeous he was -- where did anyone get off having a pretty nose? -- but he closed them again, trying to let his emotions and his dick settle. It wasn't, like, the first time in his life he'd been called a good boy. First time it was anyone so hot, though.

Fuck. It was changing the feeling of the pain, too. Another sharp spike came as another bone was gone over, but Quentin exhaled again, and the pain felt...a little bit good. Not as good as like, a spanking, or something else that he was more into than he was into needles, but he could see getting pleasure from this. He could see letting himself go soft and quiet and submissive, letting Eliot take care of him and call him a good boy.

Whoa. Quentin forced his eyes open. He was absolutely not going to sub out in this fucking tattoo chair, thank you.

"Hmm?"

Quentin blinked down at Eliot. "What?"

"You said whoa."

"Um, it's just." No big deal I'm just a gigantic sub who was right about to let my brain fall out here on your lovely checkerboard-linoleum floor. "Uh, it's not bad, it's just, a lot? Like...it's unrelenting."

"It can be a lot mentally," Eliot agreed. "Let me know if you need a minute to get level."

"Um. I think I do, yeah. Please."

Without question, Eliot lifted the tattoo gun and turned away, setting it down on its side on the table surface. "You're doing pretty well at not whining or anything. Wanna see it so far?"

I want to show you how pretty I can whine. "Sure."

Eliot picked up the hand mirror and held it up again. Quentin nodded, taking a breath. "Little weird to think this is forever," he noted.

"As much as anything is," Eliot said, shrugging. "There's always removal treatments."

"Fair, I guess. Unless it scars. I heard that's a thing?"

"This won't scar," Eliot said with a shake of his head. "I mean, unless you scar really easily. Scarring is caused by being really heavy-handed, though, which isn't my style."

"Oh. Okay, I guess that's good to know."

"Ready to keep going?"

Quentin nodded, and Eliot picked up the gun. Gun? Machine? Needle-vibrator? Oh god, don't think about vibrators.

He watched Eliot inspect the needle, then dip it in the ink and bring it to his skin again. "So what do you do?" Eliot asked casually.

"Oh, uh." A question much more loaded than it sounded, because the answer didn't...always go over well, in hedge spaces. He took the leap. "I'm, uh, a professor at Brakebills?"

"Is that right?" Eliot asked, glancing up at him with a raised eyebrow, but he didn't seem overtly hostile about it. "Surprised you're not getting one of your friends to do this."

"Well, uh. There is an ink magic guy on staff. But I don't know. I'm not, uh. Particularly well liked? Plus, I mean, just because your magic isn't, like...all magic is valid, you know?" he said. "If it works it works, 'works' here meaning 'and also doesn't have any dangerous side effects,' so why shouldn't I expand my horizons a little?"

He could feel himself working up to a rant and made himself stop, but he'd at least made Eliot smile. "Well, I'm sure this'll make it easier to speechify in class," Eliot said, dabbing some blood off the tattoo with the napkin and swiping ointment over it before resuming.

"Uh huh." That was definitely the reason he was getting this, and also a reason he'd thought of at all. Yep. (He was right, though, the ability to talk for longer without pausing was a benefit.)

"What is it you teach?" Eliot asked.

"Minor Mendings," Quentin said. "That's my discipline, too. Do you know yours?"

Eliot smiled like something was funny. "We don't really, uh, subscribe to that model. I'm telekinetic, though," he said, glancing to the side. Quentin looked, and saw one of the ink bottles rising up from the shelf.

"Hope your telekinesis is sterile," he joked, immediately full of anxiety that the joke was too stupid or obscure. But Eliot laughed, bright and happy, and let the bottle float back down.

"I'll make sure and spray it extra once you're gone."

Quentin laughed, trying not to let his ribs twitch too much, and laid his head back against the headrest, trying to think of something to talk about other than Brakebills.

"I can be quiet if you'd rather just zen out on it, by the way," Eliot offered.

"No, um, talking is helping. Distracting me from it."

"Yeah, you seemed like you were struggling against it." He had no idea how close he was to the truth. "Tell me something about the Crown. I'm sure you know about some factoid they got wrong."

Quentin blushed a little, because he was being called out and he did not care for it, but in fact, he knew several. "Um," he said. "Did you know that they basically made up everything Margaret did in season four?"

Eliot made an interested noise. "Tell me about that."

Given things to chatter about, the rest of the tattoo flew by, even when Eliot paused to change needles and ink colors. A few final touches at the end and he held up the mirror again.

"Want a picture to show people?"

"Um, sure," Quentin said, even though the white parts were just, like...kind of alarmingly hot pink, mixed with his blood and raw skin.

Eliot took his gloves off to take a picture with his own phone, then Quentin's, then washed his hands and gloved up again. He washed the tattoo with the same bottle that had been used to shave him earlier, then smeared a whole packet of the petroleum jelly onto the raw skin. He tore open the paper package of a dressing Quentin hadn't noticed before, clear film in the middle with a kind of pad all the way around it, and carefully pressed it over the tattoo.

"I'll give you another one of these, just in case, but don't take it off for about four days," Eliot said, taking the gloves off again and tossing them into the trash, then starting to gather up the various packages he'd opened. "Only replace it if it gets damaged or peels or something. Don't submerge it completely, but you can shower. After four days, take it off, wash your skin thoroughly, and then moisturize anytime it feels tight or itchy. Lotion, ointment, whatever, as long as it won't irritate you." He'd piled everything in the middle of the table drape, which he now gathered up and threw away. "Margo will give you an aftercare sheet with all this written down. Any questions, in the meantime?" he asked, rolling the tray back to its original position, kicking the cord and pedals along with him.

Quentin shook his head, finally moving to get up from the chair, slowly. Holding one position for so long had him a little stiff. "Don't submerge, take off after four days, ointment. Got it."

Eliot floated his shirt over to him from the little table, which made Quentin look up and smile at him. Eliot smiled back, rolling his sleeves back down, hiding his ink.

Good, said a voice in Quentin's head. Let that just be for me.

Ridiculous, because surely everyone he tattooed saw them, not to mention people who might see him socially, live with him, or have sex with him. Dipping sleeves in someone's open wounds would be unsanitary, not to mention ruinous for the sleeves. Quentin hid his blush at Literal Nothing by pulling his t-shirt on, taking it a little slow so as not to upset the irritated skin.

"This is yours," Eliot said, patting another packaged bandage he'd placed on the table where Quentin's shirt had been. "Take your time if you need a minute, I'll be out there."

With that, he disappeared back through the beaded curtain, leaving it rattling in his wake. Quentin let himself lay back on the chair again, taking a few breaths, then stood up and stood in front of a full-length mirror in the corner, lifting his shirt to look again.

He took a deep breath. It just seemed to keep going and going, further than his chest could physically expand, but he was still inhaling. He let it all out again and smiled.

~

"I'm in love."

"Gag me."

"I'm serious. I rolled up my sleeves for him, Bambi."

"You should be doing that anyway."

"You know the gloves cover them just fine. But I did it anyway. And he liked them."

"You've known the guy for like three minutes. I think you're jerking off with very little material, here."

"Come on, he's a high-strung super nerd. We love those."

"Ugh. He's not that cute."

~

With a few weeks to think about it, Quentin decided he didn't hate the feeling of the tattooing. Actually, he kinda liked it? He could see this becoming a weird addiction.

(More importantly, he liked Eliot, but if you were happy with someone's work you should go back to them, right? It was normal for people to visit the same hairdresser all the time, why not tattoo artist? He was like, almost a hundred percent sure this was a thing.)

Eliot was behind the counter this time, looking up with a bright smile. "Quentin!" he greeted happily. "How's it going? Healed up okay?"

"Oh, uh, yeah," Quentin said with a shy smile. "Do you wanna see?"

"Of course!"

Quentin turned to the side a little and lifted his shirt. "Oh wow, that came out great," Eliot said, smiling and nodding at him. "It looks like you took good care of it. Not shiny or tight anymore?" he asked, craning his neck a little to see angles.

"No, um, all good. Thanks."

"Do you like how the white looks? I think it's just stunning, with your skin."

Quentin's plan had been to say that he wanted to do another layer of white, or ask about it, to make it pop even more. Maybe he could just keep layering until it was like, actual stark white. Would that even work? It would let him keep seeing Eliot, anyway. But Eliot said it with so much passion and conviction -- stunning -- that Quentin couldn't bear to suggest changing it.

"It's everything I wanted, honestly," he said, letting his shirt fall. The big smile Eliot gave him was gratifying.

"Can I get a picture, for comparison? I'll put them on my Insta together, fresh and three weeks healed."

"Oh, uh, sure," Quentin said, glancing around. He backed up against a blank wall, for a neutral background, and lifted his shirt again.

"And while we do this, why don't you tell me what brings you back?" Eliot asked, coming around the counter and pulling his phone out of his pocket.

The shirt was a dark color today, sort of...teal, Quentin guessed, with a lighter blue design on it. It took a minute to realize it was some kind of plant motif, leaves and flowers in outline. His pants and vest were black, his tie a bright gold, startling and beautiful against the dark colors.

He wanted to say something that would make Eliot feel the way stunning had made him feel. Instead -- "Um, I like your tie."

"Oh, thank you," Eliot said, looking pleased and smoothing it down as he tucked his phone back into his pocket. "So what brings you back?"

"Um, well..." Fuck, his original plan had been blown away already. "Um, well, I, uh...keep thinking about...um, okay, there was this..."

Eliot reached out and put a hand on Quentin's shoulder, making him stutter to a stop. "Take a breath and start over, darling."

He was right -- Quentin had panicked and gotten himself all twisted up. He took a breath and tried again, having managed to think of something during all his stuttering. "Um, it's not...obviously I don't, like, need the spell again, but one of the designs I keep thinking about? And I kinda wanted something like it, maybe?"

"Okay, show me which one."

Quentin exhaled as he headed over to the binders. Eliot just...flustered him so much? It was sort of annoying, but also...exhilarating, in a way. God, this was all so stupid. He hadn't even meant anything by fucking calling Quentin a good boy and Quentin was being stupid and creepy and should never come back after this because it wasn't like he could leave now and-

His spiral was cut off by a warm hand on his shoulder as Eliot opened his binder to the lung capacity designs. Quentin licked his lips, then turned the page so he could point at the noir detective, his eyes standing out in cross-hatch shadows.

"Ah, Roger," Eliot said with a smile. "I mean, there's nothing about the design that would hurt you if I put it on your back or something, but maybe we can come up with something unique for you. What do you like about him?" he asked, bending to rest both elbows on the countertop, arms crossed and looking at Quentin.

"Um, I like the cross-hatching," Quentin said. "And I like that it's like...organic? It's sort of messy and wild and uneven, like, um..." He trailed off. He'd been about to say 'real art,' but that implied that tattoos were something other than real art. That seemed insulting.

"Like a sketch?" Eliot suggested.

Quentin nodded, though that didn't quite capture it. "Like, um...like a traditional medium, I guess," he said, glancing apprehensively at Eliot. He nodded understanding, and Quentin relaxed a fraction. "It's just a little more...like...unique? It's a little more...like, art-y, in the sense of like..."

Eliot nodded again. "A little more expressionist than traditional tattoo styles."

"That!" Quentin declared, snapping his fingers. Eliot had finally said something to make it click. "It's untraditional, for a tattoo, but sort of characteristic to not-tattoo art. It's unexpected."

"Yeah, cross-hatch tattoos aren't that uncommon, but they're usually very neat? Which is great and looks beautiful on a lot of people, but I guess I like the drama of a more organic style," Eliot said with a smile. "So, the aesthetic of the style. Anything else about Roger specifically?"

"Um, I like him specifically I guess also because he's sort of, moody? Like there's more dark than light about him, he looks like he um..." Quentin bit his lip, blushing a little and feeling silly about this. "Has a secret."

"Oh, he totally does," Eliot said with a big smile. "I've got a whole story about him in my head. So, the art style and the moodiness. Are you attached to this face specifically? Or a person, specifically? Moody can look just as good on any living creature."

"Not his face specifically," Quentin said, cocking his head to the side in thought. "I guess it would depend what other creature you're thinking of?"

"Cat's a classic, for moody," Eliot said. "I could make it work with a dragon, maybe. Or a bird, like, a white raven? I think the shadows are gonna be easier to pull off on something light-colored."

"Yeah, probably," Quentin agreed. "I'm not against a person. Maybe like a young girl? Is that weird?"

"Dichotomy of innocence and darkness," Eliot mused, nodding thoughtfully. "I like it. Okay, let's go over here and I'll sketch something, I think I've got a reference that will work."

Quentin followed him over to a desk in the corner that was behind a short wall, the right height for Quentin to cross his arms on top of. He peered over it and watched Eliot put a piece of paper over a lightbox. "Before I start, where are we putting her?" Eliot asked. "I need to keep the contours in mind as I draw."

Quentin considered the question. "What do you think?"

Eliot toyed with his pen thoughtfully. "Well, you seemed okay with the pain level last time, so I'm not worried about that. On a scale of 'no one sees this until we're married' to face tattoo, how visible do we want it?"

"Like...a four?"

"Shoulder blade?" Eliot suggested. "You don't seem like you go shirtless much."

"No," Quentin agreed. "Shoulder blade seems good."

"Turn around and lift your shirt, so I can see it?"

Quentin obeyed, and heard the shutter sound of a phone camera. "Okay, we're good." He turned back around to see that Eliot had set the close-up photo of his shoulder blade off to one side, glancing frequently at it as he started to sketch.

He didn't seem to mind being watched, so Quentin crossed his arms over the wall again and rested his cheek on them, observing as Eliot made a rough sketch, more of a map than a real drawing, then picked up an ink pen.

"You're really good at that," Quentin said, words slightly distorted by his cheek squishing against his arm.

"Thanks," Eliot said with a smile. "Kinda comes with the job, can't just do flash forever."

"Flash?" Quentin asked.

"That's the art you see on the walls, the stuff anyone can point at and get. Technically the flowers are flash, even though we changed them a bit. They're the bulk of what most artists do, but what we really build a career on is the custom pieces. I'm not gonna draw her out entirely," he said, gesturing to what was currently some pencil reference marks and some cross-hatching. "I'm leaving myself some room to improvise, so I can make sure she fits with your anatomy, but I've got a pretty clear idea of what you want, so I can promise it'll be good."

Quentin nodded. "I trust you."

Eliot gave him this sharp little upward glance, and Quentin immediately felt self-conscious. Did he say something weird? Was that a bad thing to say to a tattoo artist? But then he smiled. "Thank you."

Quentin rubbed a hand across the back of his neck and looked back down at the drawing, but Eliot flipped off the lightbox. "This is good enough, I think. I don't have any appointments today, so luckily I'm free to do this now," he said, brandishing the drawing at Quentin as he stood up.

"Lucky me," Quentin said, unable to help a little smile as he followed Eliot to his booth.

Once inside with the curtain drawn, Quentin went to take his shirt off, and got stuck. Damn it, he knew this shirt was too long, why would he wear it to get a tattoo? Well, because he was an idiot, clearly, and now he was just panicking and struggling instead of-

"Sweetie, sweetie, stop," Eliot said, laughter in his voice, and put his hands on Quentin's bare ribs. Quentin stopped moving, more out of startlement than because of the order, but it let Eliot tug the t-shirt up past his head and then peel it off his arms.

"Um, thanks," Quentin said, able to feel the tingle in his cheeks that signaled a blush.

"No worries," Eliot said with his usual charming smile. "I'm gonna go get the needles, be right back."

"Oh, um. Am I not. Supposed to pay now?"

"No no, since it's a custom design it's charged by time spent. Can't do that until we've spent the time. Go ahead and sit on the edge there, I'll be right back."

Feeling a little awkward about just sitting here with his shirt off, Quentin nevertheless obeyed. He tried not to think about how Eliot's voice just sort of made him want to obey any order given in it. It was definitely, definitely weird to have a crush on your tattoo artist.

Restless, he'd gotten up to look at his existing tattoo in the full-length mirror when Eliot came back, so he went and sat back down. Eliot rolled up his shirtsleeves and did the shaving of his back like before, then applied the stencil to his shoulder blade, such as it was. Quentin spotted him in the mirror, frowning and shaking his head, and then the cold, damp paper towel was wiping it away again.

"Bambi!" he called out. "Can you remake me the thing on my box?"

"Oh I'll make your box all right," she called back lazily. A couple of minutes later she poked her head in and handed the sheet over. She glanced down at Eliot's hands or forearms, rolled her eyes, and stepped back out.

Quentin frowned a little. What was that about? What about this could she be disapproving of? He tried not to think about it, preferring to focus on Eliot's hands, reapplying the stencil. This time, he nodded.

"Okay, turn and straddle the back," Eliot instructed. "Lean forward against it."

Quentin got up and awkwardly swung a leg over it like he was mounting a...a horse. Yes.

Anyway.

He scooted forward so he was close to the back, and leaned forward. Eliot gently pressed him to lean in against it more, until his chest was pressed to the leather, making his heart race. Quentin swallowed and let the arm of the shoulder that was being tattooed rest in a natural position against his side, since Eliot was freehanding it, and tucked the other arm up under his forehead, so he had some clearance from the chair to breathe.

"I'm gonna put some music on this time," Eliot said, setting up the needle and everything at the side. "It can be harder when you can't see what's happening, so I want you to just try relaxing this time, okay? You fought it last time, but just lean into it."

"I, um." Well. Like. Quentin should probably. Clarify, what relaxing was going to look like? And also that he already had a huge crush on Eliot so it was like, even moreso going to be that thing that he shouldn't allow himself without...consent? Eliot just thought Quentin was going to be zoning out but that was not at all what...well, or was it? Like, what was really the difference between subspace and zoning out? Was any difference meaningful?

In the end, Quentin kept his mouth shut even though he probably shouldn't have. He just swallowed and nodded a little. "Okay. I'll try."

"Good." Quentin heard the soft electrical sounds of magic being done, and music started to drift from a speaker somewhere. Pretty good quality, and the song was nice. It was chill, clearly a more pensive sort of song, but lively and interesting enough not to just fade into the background. A perfect pop-rock ballad, really.

Quentin took a deep breath and heard the buzz of the tattoo gun, a few staccato little beats of it as Eliot tested it. A moment later, a hand on his back, then the buzz, then the pain.

He took another deep breath and just let himself melt. It wasn't actually hard. He wasn't good at a lot of things, but he knew how to sub the fuck out, right? And honestly, Eliot's presence just made him want to. There were people it was easy to go under for, and people it was hard with. Alice had always made it so goddamn difficult, not for any reason that was fair to hold against her, she just had all these...rabbity anxiety vibes even when she was in total control. James, on the other hand, had been sort of dumb, but his expectations and wants were simple, and he was happy to have Quentin in puddle form. James understood the simple, easy power of a big, warm hand on the back of the neck. Quentin felt himself relax a little just thinking of it.

Eliot shifted a little as he moved to a new section, and Quentin could feel the artist's breath on the back of his neck. He suppressed a shiver, his thoughts floaty and indistinct as he thought of Eliot behind him properly, getting up on this chair with him and breathing down his neck for a better reason...

The needle hit the edge of the real bone of his shoulder blade and Quentin couldn't suppress a little whimper, clenching the fist up on the chair back, but he let a breath out slowly. "Good," Eliot murmured, and Quentin whimpered a little again. That wasn't the whole thing, he thought plaintively. Wasn't he a good boy?

"Pause," he managed to say, and the pain eased as the needle lifted away. Quentin lifted his head and shook it, and felt like the whole world swung around him. "Shit," he murmured, pressing the heel of his free hand into his eye socket.

"Hey," Eliot said softly, touching his back with the backs of his fingers, not wanting to pollute the glove. Smart. "You okay?"

"Um. I think maybe. Uh. Relaxing is not. Fuck. Fucking...fucking words, I-"

"It's okay," Eliot said, tone soothing. "Relaxing is not...good?"

Quentin nodded. "I'm, um. Relaxing. Too much. Can't...talk."

"I mean, you don't really need to talk," Eliot reasoned. "If it takes you a minute to recover at the end, that's okay too. We're about halfway through."

Quentin lifted his head again, startled. "Really?" he asked, brought up a little more by surprise.

Eliot was nodding and smiling as he looked around. "You were really out of it, but I don't mind. It was keeping you good and relaxed, which is ideal working conditions for me. It's safe to feel whatever you feel in here, okay?"

Tears sprung unbidden to Quentin's eyes, and he became aware at the same second that, horrifyingly, he was pretty hard in his jeans. God damn it, this was going to hell. He managed to shake his head.

"Okay," Eliot said, still soft and gentle. "That's okay too, Quentin." He lifted a hand and the music shut itself off. "Tell me about a book you've read recently."

"Um." God. What had he read recently. "I. Uh. I re-read. A lot. There's, um. I just re-read The World in the Walls?" Words were slowly starting to make more sense the more he tried. "I re-read my, um, favorites? A lot. It's about, um, these...these English schoolkids. They go through a grandfather clock in this sprawling country manor and get taken to a magical land called Fillory."

"Sounds like Narnia," Eliot commented.

"Uh, sort of? There's definitely um...um, surface similarities in the stories, but I mean, um, it's like, it's like, it's like it's because they were both based on something that was happening to a lot of kids at the time, you know? Like a lot of kids from London were getting shipped to the country, it was like a whole program, there are still, like, English elderly people walking around Wales or Scotland or Cornwall or whatever because they were shipped away from London as kids during the Blitz. But it's really just the framework because the Fillory books are way way lighter on the Jesus metaphors and they're, um, sort of surrealist, so there's this witch, right? The Watcherwoman."

Words were flowing more easily now, and Quentin let himself get a breath before continuing, chattering to Eliot about Fillory. It was harder, and it made the tattoo hurt more, but it felt safer.

~

"I dunno, I mean, I guess there's this one guy?"

"Oh?? Well don't hold back, spill the details!"

"There's not really any details? Not yet. I've just met him twice."

"Well you mentioned him in the first place."

"Yeah. He just...like, is it stupid to say his vibe is nice? I dunno, he's just...comforting. Anyway, he's my tattoo artist."

~

This time, Quentin had the forethought to make a real appointment. Fortunately, he talked to the girl on the phone (Margo, that was her name, he wondered if it was her real name or short for Margaret) and not Eliot, so he didn't embarrass himself too badly in this process. She assured him he was on the calendar.

So when he arrived, Eliot looked up and smiled at him, like he was happy to see him. Which, why not? Quentin was paying him, so it made sense and all. That was probably it, right? Quentin was just being his weird, clingy, fucking...parasocial self by thinking it might be anything else.

"Uh, hey," Quentin said, giving him a little wave and an attempt at a smile.

"Hey, handsome. What are we up to today?"

"Um, nothing much," Quentin said automatically, before realizing that was...maybe not the right answer. "Um. Uh, well, I had heard tattoos were addictive," he said with a little laugh. "I didn't really expect to be an addict. But, uh. I kinda can't stop thinking about how I'm, like, totally unbalanced, and need some stuff on my arms and legs. I was thinking maybe a thigh piece? I've seen some really cool-looking ones of those."

"Totally," Eliot agreed. "We thinking about another face? More botanicals? Or something different?"

"Um. Well, I was thinking about, uh...an object?" Trying not to think about it too hard, Quentin took a folded, slightly crumpled piece of paper out of his pocket and handed it over. Eliot unfolded it and flattened it with a quick tut -- hey, that was handy, Quentin would have to ask if there was any internal component or Circumstance so he could do it -- and looked it over.

"I see," Eliot said, tone perfectly neutral in a way that was...a little too studied. Oh god, Quentin had totally overstepped, this was weird and gross. "So what is it about this that you want to have on you forever?"

"U-um." Quentin cleared his throat and stepped around so he could look at the picture with Eliot. God, what had he been thinking? He was basically sexually harassing his tattoo artist now. "I-it's just, um, a symbol? Of...other things? Of like, a category? And I think it's a beautiful one," he said, gesturing to the graceful swoop of the flogger's tails. "It's not even, I mean...It's not like a personal..."

"You got this off the internet," Eliot supplied.

That wasn't what Quentin had been going for, but it was a lot less embarrassing, so he nodded. "Yeah."

"Okay," Eliot said, still with that studied neutrality. "So it's...not the flogger itself, but what it represents," he said. "And you want it on your thigh, which for men is a fairly hidden spot."

Quentin nodded. "No one will really see it unless they're seeing me in boxers. Can you, uh...I mean, not...is it, I mean..."

Eliot touched his arm to stop him. "Start over, honey."

Quentin gave himself a second to think about how to say this without being insulting. "Should I have like, let you know ahead of time? So you could, I dunno, draw something? I don't want it, like, perfectly photorealistic or anything, I want you to like, put your own spin on it, you know?"

"No, I can work from this. Let's go trace it so I have a map," he said, nodding toward the booth with the lightbox in the back. "We thinking front of thigh, or outside? Back is an option but tends to hurt more."

"Um, front, probably, but outside would work too. Actually, uh, now that I think about it I guess outside. Do you...I mean, is it...like, a bad tattoo to get?"

"What makes you ask that?" Eliot asked, giving him a quizzical look as he sat down in the chair. Quentin crossed his arms over the wall, like last time.

"Well, I dunno. I mean. I was asking myself that," he admitted with a little laugh. "Also like, the comment about it being hidden."

Eliot winced. "I'm sorry. It wasn't my place to say something like that."

It hadn't even occurred to Quentin to think of the comment as rude, but...okay, yeah, he could see that. "I mean." He scratched his cheek. "I value your opinion, and stuff. Like, you know way more about this than me, you know? So, uh, if you. Want to tell me what made you say that, I'm. Interested. And I won't think you're rude."

Eliot looked hesitant, but then he tilted his face down toward the lightbox and started tracing. "It's just very...overt? I mean, I don't know you, not really," he said, which was true, but made Quentin want to frown sadly for some reason, "but a flogger is pretty recognizable. Like, even people who don't know what kink is can recognize a flogger or a whip. You don't really strike me as the type of person who wants to be in-your-face about things like that, so I guess I was sort of reassuring myself that you won't be showing this to anyone you don't want to see it."

Quentin considered all this. "Well, you're right. I'm not. I'm more, the, uh. What's the term? Lady in the streets, freak in the sheets?"

Eliot laughed so hard he had to lift the pen off the tracing paper. "Honestly I wouldn't have even expected that, but that's fair."

"No one told you it's always the quiet ones?" Quentin asked, grinning.

Eliot laughed at that again. "Okay, okay, I believe you. Anyway, it's not my job to protect you from bad decisions, if bad they may be. It's my job to put good work where you tell me to, so."

I'd much rather you were telling me what to do. Blushing at the thought, Quentin nodded. "Well, I appreciate the...thoughtfulness, I guess, even if it's not your job or whatever. Um, is there a different thing you think might be less...overt?"

Eliot shrugged, but didn't stop drawing. "You tell me. Rope?" he suggested.

"I thought about that. But I don't want people to think I'm like, a sailor. Or a serial killer. You have to admit I fit the profile."

Eliot laughed once more. "Oh, but he was such a nice young man, we never expected to find parts of nineteen women in his freezer!"

"He was so quiet, never bothered anyone," Quentin said in a wistful tone, then laughed. "Except when he had screaming loud bondage sex that one time."

Eliot's grin seemed a little forced or strained now, and Quentin felt the bottom drop out of his stomach. Oh no, he made it weird. But Eliot was holding up the page now. "So what I'm thinking is a more American Traditional style for this. American Traditional is exactly what you think it is, with the bold lines and shading," gesturing to the nearest page of flash on the wall. Quentin saw what he meant, and nodded. "I'll do some fades here in the handle to suggest leather, maybe some white for emphasis? Your skin color is honestly perfect for white ink, as we've seen, so it'll look good. And then I was gonna do a darker fade in the tails, and then some filler in the background just to make it look like a more complete piece."

Quentin nodded. "Can the filler be in your cross-hatch style? Would that look weird, with all the fades?" he asked, looking over at Eliot, who even leaning far over like this was at eye level.

"It might, because it's a combination of two styles. This is going to feel more like the flowers than like Missy."

Quentin couldn't help smiling. "Oh, is that the name of the girl on my back?"

"She's very happy with her home," Eliot informed him, then grinned. "Tell you what, if you give me twenty minutes I can do all the shading on this and do versions with different backgrounds for you to pick. Or we can just go with this and I'll do what's best, and you can trust me."

"I trust you," Quentin said, before he could even consider the words. "Um, I mean. Yeah, you know. I, uh."

"Hey," Eliot said, before he could get into a spiral. "You don't have to justify it, if that's your worry."

Quentin nodded, biting his lip. "Okay. Then. Yes, I trust you."

Eliot smiled. "Let's get those jeans off, then."

Quentin was still blushing when he climbed onto the tattoo chair in boxers and socks. He'd had the sense, at least, to wear a pair with a button in front, so his dick wasn't just going to flop out, even if he got hard, which was apparently a thing he just had to deal with if he was going to be getting tattoos. Actually, what the fuck was he thinking, getting a thigh tattoo when he knew tattooing might make him hard?

An echo of Eliot's hand on his arm shimmered through his mind, and Quentin stopped himself. Maybe there was a way to deal with this.

"I'm gonna lay this out flatter and you turn on your side, okay?" Eliot said, stepping on pedals on the chair to make it move.

"So uh," Quentin said, trying to sound casual as he shifted on the chair, getting comfortable. "You talked about, um. I mean. For my first one. You mentioned the different reactions people have? I've been, um, curious what kind of reactions you've seen."

"Oh, all kinds of stuff," Eliot said easily. "I mean, we try to discourage screamers because it's disruptive, but if they're a magician, I can throw up a sound ward and let them go to town," he explained, now shaving the side of Quentin's thigh. "There's criers, laughers, moaners. People like you, who just get really quiet."

"Moaners?" Quentin asked, grasping for the lifeline. "Like...like they sound like they're having sex?"

"Some of them, yeah," Eliot said, with a smile like it was no big deal. "It can get you some weird looks when you come out, but I prefer them to screamers. Sometimes they sound like they're fucking, but just as often they sound...wounded, I suppose?" He was going over Quentin's thigh with a second razor now. That didn't seem weird; Quentin was pretty hairy.

"Does anyone, like. Actually get turned on? Or, like, physically show...you know, signs?"

"Sometimes, sure," Eliot said easily. "Bodies react to intense sensation in different ways. I'm a professional, I see a lot of private and personal shit. It doesn't mean anything if someone gets hard or whatever from getting a tattoo."

Quentin tried not to obviously sigh in relief. Eliot was still talking, but Quentin had heard the part he needed. "Yeah," he said, when Eliot was quiet. "Makes sense."

He felt the paper tack onto his skin, then be peeled away. "You left your phone in your pocket, do you want it before I scrub up?"

"Oh, yeah, please," Quentin said, and held out a hand for it. Eliot placed it in his palm, and Quentin took and unlocked it, opening his text messages. Maybe he could keep himself more...conscious, if he had something to focus on without having to talk about a book or a tv show. He opened up a game while Eliot did whatever prep remained to do. Quentin didn't bother watching or worrying about whether Eliot was taking care of him; he trusted that he was. Which was kind of notable on its own. It made something in Quentin's chest twinge. Maybe he should go to a club or something.

The thought filled him with dread. He'd always been terrible at the club scene unless he went with someone he was already playing with. Maybe he should just, like, find one of those "vampire prince ravishes you, his lovely pet" ASMR tracks instead. Gender neutral, of course.

"Ready?" Eliot asked. Quentin looked back over his shoulder to see Eliot sitting, gloved up, ink-filled needle held near Quentin's thigh. He nodded, and turned his attention back to the phone. The pain of the needle starting to dig into his skin made him sigh contently, but he made himself think about the brightly colored dragons instead.

A text came in from Julia, and he tapped to open it, closing the game. Hey, where are you?

He pressed the button on the side to bring up the voice assistant and spoke quietly to it. "Tell Julia: I'm getting a tattoo, period. What's up, question mark."

He heard a soft chuckle behind him. "What?"

"Nothing, don't worry about it."

Quentin frowned. "What?" he insisted.

"The way you said period and question mark was cute."

Quentin was still frowning. "I mean, you have to say it or it won't put it in."

"No no, I know. I'm just saying it was cute."

Julia had texted back. ooooOOOOOOooooo

Quentin rolled his eyes, regretting telling her that he had a crush on his artist. "Tell Julia: Can I help you, question mark?"

Eliot cracked up again. "Good to know you sass everyone in your life."

Do you want to have dinner?

Quentin turned his head. "Um, am I gonna want to like, go home and take my pants off when we're done, or will it not be that bad?"

"I mean, it'll be that bad but it should be fine with the Tegaderm. Wearing jeans won't damage it, but you might make it hurt more."

"Tell Julia: Sure, period. Usual, question mark."

No I'm bored of it. Same time, new kbbq place? Invite the artist!

"Oh my god," Quentin muttered under his breath, gathering the phone closer to his chest, even though Eliot was obviously looking at his leg, not his phone. "Mind your- I mean, shit, tell Julia: mind your business, period."

After some sass from the phone about not understanding and making him repeat what he said, the text finally sent. "Sister?" Eliot asked.

"Best friend," Quentin said. "Since we were nine."

"Wow," Eliot said softly. "That's really cool. You're lucky to have someone you've been with that long."

Quentin smiled a little. "Yeah. I am. She's a magician, too."

People make friends with their tattoo artists all the time, it's not weird, Julia had texted. I'll see you there

"Oh wow, lucky. I met Bambi when we'd both already come to magic, so you're double-lucky that you both turned out to have the gift."

Quentin pressed the button again. "Tell Julia: See you there. Yeah," he agreed over his shoulder. "I mean, we fight as much as any two people who've been around each other a long time, but I love her, you know?"

Eliot hummed. "Ever tried to date her?"

Quentin cringed a little. "Well, I got a crush on her in high school. Hormones, you know? I got over it, though."

"Probably for the best," Eliot said sagely.

"What about you and Margo?" Quentin asked. "You mention her...like, not a lot a lot but you're obviously close."

"Margo is...Margo," Eliot said. "Margo and I can't really be categorized."

"I get that," Quentin said, even though he didn't, really. He tucked the hand with his phone up against his chest and closed his eyes, letting the pain drift over him. "Fair enough."

"That's right, just relax," Eliot murmured, quiet like he was only half conscious of it. Eliot pressed down harder on Quentin's knee with the hand not holding the tattoo gun, shifting him a little. Entirely unbidden, all the thoughts he'd managed to suppress so far came roaring into his head with a vivid fantasy.

Relax for me, sweetheart, Eliot would say, pushing Quentin's legs up to expose his ass more, get him in position for wet fingers tracing over his hole. Quentin would curl up more, bring his legs forward to encourage this, make a needy sound as fingertips breached him...

In real life, Quentin bit his lip hard, trying not to let out a real whimper. "Um, can we stop a sec?"

The needle left his skin immediately. "You doing okay?" Eliot said, all concern. "This spot shouldn't hurt as much as other ones you've taken."

Quentin was a piece of shit, getting off on this totally innocent thing. He was going to leave here and go back to his apartment and shamefully jerk off over the pain and how hot Eliot was before going out for dinner with Julia. Even knowing it was wrong, knowing he was being a big huge weirdo, he was going to. He couldn't just stop, though. He was stuck here until the tattoo was finished.

"Um...how much longer?" he asked, rubbing a hand over his face.

"Well, we've only just started, really. With all the shading, maybe an hour and a half?"

Quentin had taken worse pain than this for longer than that, but it sounded like torture. "Um. Okay. If that's what it takes."

"Hey, what's wrong?" Eliot asked, and the concern in his voice just made Quentin curl up more. Gross gross gross, he was so gross. "I...I want to help, if I can?"

"Let's just...get it done, okay?"

There was quiet for a moment, and Eliot's voice was soft when he spoke again. "Okay. No problem. Sorry." The machine started buzzing again, and pain bloomed on Quentin's leg.

After a minute, Quentin started crying, but Eliot didn't try to talk to him. They obviously both fucking knew he was crying up here, but Quentin was kind of grateful for the...privacy? For Eliot not commenting, anyway, for being allowed the space to cry over literal nothing. Quentin certainly didn't know what the fuck was going on, so surely he was crying over nothing, right?

When he trailed off, a roll of paper towels came floating over in front of him, one unrolled and hanging loose from the rest. "Thanks," Quentin muttered, and tore it off, ungracefully blowing his nose.

"You wanna tell me what that was about?" Eliot asked.

Quentin sighed. "It's not...you," he said. "It's me. My brain just...breaks. I don't know. I'm kind of tired out now," he admitted. Getting upset could do that to him.

"You might want to cancel whatever plans you made with Julia," Eliot suggested. "I have a feeling you might want to veg out with some ice cream after this."

"You're probably right," Quentin sighed. He texted with his fingers this time, bringing down the arm that had been cushioning his head. Apparently this tattoo is gonna hurt a lot. Change of plan, bring takeout over?

Sure thing, Julia answered.

Quentin tucked his phone down against his chest again. "I think I am gonna try. Um. Not talking. If that's okay."

"Of course," Eliot said easily.

"I might, um. I don't know. If I get weird, will you...try to make me talk?"

There was a bit of hesitation, which Quentin chalked up to just concentrating on the art. "Sure," Eliot agreed after a moment. "But I mean, it's fine if you get loopy or fall asleep or whatever. As long as you're staying still, weird doesn't really register, you know?"

"I guess that's fair," Quentin said, closing his eyes. "Still."

"If you get weird, I'll wake you up," Eliot said. "Or whatever. Promise."

Quentin didn't mean to fall asleep, but it seemed like only a few minutes before Eliot was gently shaking his shoulder. "Hey. We're done. Quentin? Wake up, buddy."

Quentin inhaled and squinted up at Eliot, then twisted around to try to look at his leg. "S'done?"

"Yeah. Here," Eliot said, and gave Quentin a hand mirror. He held it out to look at his leg, Tegaderm already applied, but the tattoo visible through the plastic. The background was full of sparkles and stars.

"Wow," Quentin said softly. "I love it."

"I'm glad," Eliot said, grinning. "I also gave you..." He took the hand that was holding the mirror and took it so Quentin was looking at his own wrist.

"This isn't a tattoo, I just drew it on with a brush and ink," Eliot said. "It has your blood in it though, technically. But that just makes it work better. It'll help you sleep," Eliot finally explained. "Since you were napping I didn't want you to, like, have trouble sleeping tonight or anything, and you honestly seem like...well, uh, anyway, if you don't want it I can wipe it off right now, I just thought, it maybe wasn't worth waking you up, so..."

"Thank you," Quentin said, looking up at him. "This...like, if I keep redrawing this with a sharpie will it keep working?"

Eliot grinned. "I mean, yes, but it's addictive, so you should probably let it wear off naturally. Safe enough for a few nights, though."

"Oh, okay. Um, thanks. Do I owe you...?"

"Nothing at all, just for the tattoo," Eliot said. "Consider it a gift."

"Oh. Um. Thanks."

"My pleasure," Eliot said, beaming.

~

"What?"

"I didn't say anything."

"You said it with your eyes, bitch."

"Maybe you need your eyes checked, bitch."

"How dare you? My vision spells are impeccable."

"Really? Then how come you can't see the fucking puppy eyes that one keeps giving you?"

"Don't be ridiculous, Margo."

"My point exactly."

"Seriously, just...don't, okay? Just don't."

~

It took Quentin two months to go back, this time. It was now the dead of winter in New York. It was a little bit jarring, going from the lively autumn leaves of Brakebills to the cold, bare hardscrabble when he commuted every night, but at least the days were starting to get longer again.

Quentin decided to just...act like it was fine. He emailed Eliot from the website, asking about more ink magic and what some other spell options were.

Hey, good to hear from you! I can construct spells if you have something specific in mind, but here's my basic menu:

Night vision
Enhanced hearing
Dull or enhanced taste
STD protection (not effective for curses, use a spell)
Antiviral
Enhanced strength/agility/endurance
Organ resilience (one tat = one organ but can stack a few)
Clarity of mind (recommend trying temporarily first)

I can show you the designs I have if you let me know which one you want, or I can design something for you if you;ve got something in mind. Let me know!

-El

Quentin exhaled. Everything seemed fine. Eliot wasn't acting weird. The email was professional, not overly effusive, but friendly. Quentin also reminded himself that Eliot had given him that sleeping design last time as just, like, a gift. Sure, it had probably taken him two minutes with materials he was already using up, but it was still something, and that had been after all of Quentin's...weirdness.

Anyway, he was going to bring Julia this time. She'd agreed to come on the premise of being interested in the magic aspect, and she could either talk to Quentin to keep him present, or talk to Eliot about the magic and distract him if Quentin got all subbed out. Although it wouldn't be so bad if he just slept through it again. At least he hadn't woken up with a boner.

El,

Strength and antiviral both sound good. What does organ resilience entail? Like protection from disease? Would skin resilience prevent skin cancer, for example?

-Q

Eliot explained that organ resilience was more about preventing damage than other diseases; it could prevent cirrhosis of the liver, or weakening of the heart with age, but would have only a small effect on his chances of getting lung cancer, or a heart attack from a blocked artery.

El,

Let's do antiviral, then. Getting fewer colds sounds awesome.

-Q

When they arrived, Julia looked around with interest. "Nice place! I mean, not that I thought it wouldn't be," she said casually. Quentin glanced at Margo behind the counter, who was already shooting them an imperious look.

"El!" she called out. "Your boyfriend's here!"

Julia elbowed Quentin in the ribs with a furtive grin as he was peeling his jacket off, making him jump, but he gave her a warning look. Eliot was looking exasperated as he emerged from his booth. He turned toward the door, starting to smile, then stopped in his tracks.

"Hey," Quentin said with a little smile. "This is, um, my friend Julia. Julia, this is Eliot."

"Big fan of your work," Julia said with a smile, stepping forward with her jacket and scarf over one arm. "That thigh piece is-" She clicked her tongue and winked, giving him an 'ok' hand gesture.

Eliot's brief confusion seemed to disappear as quickly as it had come, and Quentin watched him pull a bright, friendly smile into place. "The famous Julia! This one wouldn't stop texting you last time," he said, extending his hand for hers, then kissing her fingers like some eighteenth-century dandy. Quentin tried not to stare, because, like, who the fuck even did that?

"I, um, I hope this is okay," he said, suddenly realizing he should have mentioned this in the email. "Julia's interested in, um, seeing it, so I figured it would be fine if she came."

"Of course," Eliot said easily. "Interested in ink magic?" he asked, gesturing them both to follow as he headed back to his booth.

Quentin let them chatter about theory as he followed Eliot into the booth, taking his shirt off and settling down in the chair without being told. They'd already chosen a design and a location over email, so there was no discussion needed. It occurred to him to notice that the leather wasn't cold as he settled against it. Maybe Eliot had some sort of warming or comfort charm on it? Or maybe someone had, like, just been here. For some reason, the idea made him grouchy.

"Well, I see you're familiar with the tattooing process," Eliot commented, gesturing to Julia's hands as he pulled a stool out for her.

"Oh, yeah," she said, holding one up to show one of her finger tattoos. "I got into it in college, but that was before I knew about magic. If I'd known ink magic was an option? Oh my god. I'd have no real estate left," she laughed, and Eliot chuckled too, now scrubbing his hands.

"I know what you mean. I started out just doing stars for people, and things just sort of escalated. I became the ink guy, then decided I wanted to do Muggle tattoos too."

"Well, your work looks great. I really like the effect of the white ink, in the flowers?"

"You're too kind," Eliot said, and Quentin could hear him smiling. "I had a great canvas."

Quentin glanced over at Julia quickly, not wanting her to make any comments, but she was just glancing back at him without giving anything away. "So which antiviral spell goes into this?" she asked, and Quentin tuned back out.

This one was most effective over any spot where a few lymph nodes were collected, so they'd chosen the middle of his chest, and a cool-looking sword design, the curves and contours of which had pleased Quentin's eye. More importantly, it was shaded with Eliot's signature loose cross-hatch. He closed his eyes as Eliot shaved his chest and applied the stencil, letting the sound of two voices he liked wash over him.

"...my nipples re-pierced."

"Jesus, Jules," Quentin said, opening his eyes, startled.

"You are not about to complain," she said, narrowing her eyes at him. "I spent three hours on your couch staring at a fresh flogger tattoo on your leg!"

"I just wasn't listening and it was weird to hear out of context!" Quentin defended. "You can get your nipples re-pierced all you want!"

"Bambi mostly does piercings," Eliot said, grinning. "Margo, at the desk? I bet she could take you right now while I finish with him."

Julia looked between them a couple of times, obviously unsure. "Well, I did want to see the magic applied."

"Honestly nothing fancy goes into the application," Eliot said, while Quentin was noticing that he was scrubbed and gloved, but he hadn't rolled his sleeves up. Weird. Had that ever happened before? Quentin didn't always notice the details of Eliot's outfits, but he was reasonably sure that for the three tattoos Quentin had received so far, Eliot had rolled up his sleeves and not rolled them back down until they were done.

Quentin missed something while he was thinking about this, but soon Julia was being shooed toward the curtain by Eliot. "Well, it shouldn't take very long, so I'll be back in like, fifteen, okay?" She was looking at Quentin with a touch of concern, nodding to him, making sure it was okay to leave.

Quentin nodded back. He could handle fifteen minutes. He'd explained to her some of the nature of the reaction to tattooing that he was trying not to have, but fifteen minutes probably wasn't long enough to have a crisis. Maybe there was another Netflix show they could talk about.

"Ready to go?" Eliot asked, rolling his chair up with the tattoo machine in hand and wow, uh, he was. Close. God, Quentin was dumb.

"Uh huh," he said, nodding, and Eliot smiled down at him. God, Quentin could just lean up and kiss him. He shouldn't, while Eliot was holding a tattoo gun over his heart, but he could. He closed his eyes instead, avoiding the awkward.

"Julia seems nice," Eliot said, starting on the first line. "I get why you've been friends so long."

"Nice might not be the word," Quentin said, smiling a little. "But she's good for me. We bonded over Fillory stuff as kids. We used to...plan the adventures we were gonna take."

"Yeah?" Eliot asked, and Quentin could hear him smiling. Could almost feel it, he was so close, his voice intimately quiet. "What did you want to see the most?"

And just like that, Quentin had something to chatter about. He didn't know if it was Julia's presence and the knowledge that she was coming back, or if he was just getting more comfortable with Eliot, or if Eliot was getting more comfortable with him, or what. But whatever it was, the tension and fight of previous sessions wasn't here so much. He was able to relax without slipping underwater, and Eliot did actually seem interested in what he was saying. (Probably he was just good at faking it, but Quentin didn't mind.)

He was just finishing telling Eliot about the Chankly Bore when Julia came back in, wearing her shirt, but holding her bra. "Ooh, are we talking about Fillory?"

"Sort of," Quentin said. "I was just kinda rambling. You know. So I don't get too quiet." He gave her a significant look.

Julia nodded, her face telling him that she understood what he meant. "Well, Margo was really quick at it, so I'm here until you're done."

Quentin lifted a hand to give her a thumbs up, and Julia came to lean over him, getting a closer look at what Eliot was doing. "So it's really just the angles, huh?" she asked. "Nothing but geometry."

"Maybe a little bit of intent, but pretty much, yeah," Eliot said, giving her a brief smile in the middle of his concentration. "You can do more complicated stuff with tuts or additives to the ink, but that tends to make the tattoo itself lower quality."

Julia took her seat and continued to ask questions, which Quentin took as permission to close his eyes and let his head empty out. He felt much safer with her here. Someone he knew and trusted to bail him out.

"Oh, hey," she said toward the end. "Are you cold? Here." Julia set her jacket in his lap like a blanket without disturbing Eliot, and Quentin noticed in the same moment that he was definitely on the way to a boner.

"Thanks," he said, tugging it into place a bit and trying not to blush.

"He was about to start shivering," Julia explained to Eliot. "Probably bad for what you're doing here. What were you saying about the moon?"

And like that, the problem was handled without drama. Quentin exhaled and let himself stay chill and easy, until he heard the shutter sound of a phone camera going off. He opened his eyes to Eliot's smile.

"All done," he said. "Let me get you cleaned up and I'll go wait out there while you get dressed."

Quentin nodded, unable to help his eyes slipping closed again. Julia's hand, small and cool, was familiar and soothing over his bicep, rubbing gently as Eliot put the Tegaderm over his chest.

He heard the rattle of the beaded curtain, and Julia's hand came up to brush some hair off his forehead. "Wow. He really puts you out, huh?" she said softly.

Quentin nodded, letting his head roll toward her hand. She obligingly cupped his cheek, then put her hand on his shoulder. "Yeah, you're gonna need me to hang out awhile once we get you home. Wake up for me so we can get back to your place, okay?" she asked, giving him a gentle shake.

Quentin heaved a sigh, but knew she was right. "I'm comin'," he said. "I'm getting there. The pain's just...mm, really good," he said, blushing at the admission.

"Yeah, I could tell," she said, and he opened his eyes to see her fond smile. "There he is. Ready for your shirt?"

Quentin nodded and started sliding forward on the chair, and Julia got his shirt for him and helped him get it on without pulling at the raw flesh. She got his jacket on him, too, and then they approached the counter to pay.

"Should we stop and get some ice? Frozen peas?" Quentin asked, pushing his card into the chip reader.

Julia frowned at him. "Why would we do that? It's like, negative ten outside."

"For your..." He gestured to her chest, now carefully covered with her jacket. "Don't they like...hurt? Or swell? I don't know."

Julia rolled her eyes. "Did you buy frozen peas when you had yours done?"

"I mean, I assume yours are more sensitive," Quentin reasoned, typing in his PIN to the little machine. "We don't have to buy frozen peas."

Quentin heard a throat-clearing behind him, and turned. Eliot was there, holding out a wrapped bandage. "Forgot your replacement," he said, and gave a forced smile.

"You okay?" Quentin asked, frowning as he took it. "You look kinda...pale."

"Just fine," he said, and gave another forced smile, then turned and went back to his area. Quentin looked at Julia, baffled.

"You know," she said, in a voice that seemed louder than necessary for the distance between them. "If you were gonna get another piercing you should get your tongue done again."

"Mmm, that'd be a good idea," Quentin agreed, writing this off as some kind of weirdness he didn't care about. "Maybe there's a spell so it can heal fast, or like, not close up?"

He heard a clatter from bay three that made his head whip around as he was trying to fumble his card out of the beeping machine. "Seriously, is he okay?"

When they got outside it was still cold, but the wind had died down, at least. They walked half a block before Julia stopped suddenly and swore.

"I forgot my scarf," she said. "I have to go back."

"All right," Quentin said, tucking himself into the alcove of a door and pulling his cigarettes out of his pocket. "I'll wait."

"I'll be right back," she promised.

Quentin's head was still a little soft from the day he'd had, so he didn't really think about the fact that it took her almost ten minutes to retrieve her scarf.

~

"Q, you can't just keep getting tattoos."

"I know! It's stupid! I'm fully aware of that!"

"Just ask him out!"

"I can't! That's like, a total abuse of power! I'm a customer, he's at work!"

"Quentin. I promise you, you will not be abusing your power. I promise it will be okay."

"..."

"Don't look at me like that."

"Anyway I'm getting my dad's name."

~

In actuality, Quentin went back and forth on his next design, but he landed on a night vision one. The days at Brakebills were nearing their shortest, and it would be nice to be able to keep reading unimpeded when the sun went down without him noticing.

This one goes on your wrist, Eliot wrote him. Trickier, so all your options are basically a variation on swirly lines, but I can make them work with your anatomy. Pretty painful, but you can take it. Up for it?

Smiling, Quentin wrote back. You know I am. Winter break at BB is coming up, so my availability's open for the next, like, two weeks. When's the best time to come?

Eliot commented that the Brakebills time shit was so weird, but set their appointment for the last hour of his day on Monday. Quentin ate first, bolting down a sandwich on the subway as he hurried through crowds to get there by seven.

He arrived just in time, shaking snow out of his hair as he came through the door. Margo didn't even look up from her magazine at the counter.

"Come on back," Eliot's voice called, and Quentin headed for the now-familiar curtain. The shop was busier tonight than normal -- apparently everyone came in after work -- but he tried not to think about it.

"Hey," Eliot said brightly once Quentin stepped inside. "I'm gonna do a sound ward, since it's so noisy out there," he said, and was already doing it before Quentin could voice his thoughts. That was fine, he just focused on taking his jacket off. Whatever Eliot thought best was okay with him.

"It's easier for me to freehand and improvise this one a little," Eliot said as Quentin got in the chair. "If that's okay with you?"

Eliot was rolling up his sleeves as he talked, and it was not lost on Quentin. "Sure," he agreed, nodding. "That's fine."

"Great," Eliot said. "We can do a color if you want. Black looks good, but it doesn't matter for the spell."

Quentin mulled this over, looking up at Eliot's ink bottles. "Is there one you don't get to use a lot but wish you did more?" he asked.

Eliot huffed a little laugh at the question. "Mmm, not really, most of the ones I use less are just accent colors. I mix colors a lot, anyway."

Quentin nodded. "Does it have to be a solid color, or can we do multiples?"

"Multiples is fine."

"What about...pink, purple, and blue?"

"Sure, I can make that work," Eliot agreed. "Any particular reason?"

Quentin shrugged. "Bisexual pride flag. Seems as good a combination as any."

There was a pause. "I see," Eliot said after a moment. "That's cool, though. Making it meaningful since we can't change the design much. Do you want me to try and fade it in the order of the flag, or just sorta mix them all in?"

Quentin shrugged again. "Whatever you think looks good."

Eliot sat down in his stool nearby, and Quentin turned his arm over so his wrist was exposed. "Works for me," Eliot said with a smile, and picked up the squeeze bottle and razor.

Quentin found that he wasn't freaking out so much this time. Maybe there was just, like, a lingering sense of safety from Julia being here last time and showing him that it wasn't so scary. Maybe he was just getting used to Eliot. Maybe maybe maybe. Maybe he should stop throwing out so many pointless goddamn maybes and chill the fuck out.

He sighed as Eliot ran the razor over his wrist -- already bare, but he was sure he didn't want to see the effect of a stray hair caught under a tattoo needle. He watched with interest as Eliot poured ink into cups, mixing until they more or less resembled the bi pride flag colors. Quentin wasn't especially surprised that Eliot knew the colors in question given his whole, everything, but like, that aside, tattoo artists probably got asked to tattoo these things a lot.

Once it was all prepared, Eliot looked at Quentin's wrist for a moment, careful only to touch the clean part of Quentin's skin to turn it a little bit, frowning in concentration. After a moment, his brow relaxed and he nodded. "Okay, just making sure I had a plan for what I'm doing. Ready to go?"

Quentin nodded and let his head rest on the chair, already feeling a little softer. "Let's do it."

The machine buzzed, and the needle touched his skin, and Quentin inhaled, flinching. Eliot had been right, his wrist was sensitive. It seemed even more so than his ribs had been. Quentin was a little glad to be fully clothed for this one and for the sound ward separating them from the rest of the shop; he wanted the protection this time. He let out a little whimper, and bit his lip.

"Shhhh," Eliot soothed. "I know, it hurts. You can do it," he urged, tone gentle and soft, but strong.

Quentin exhaled as the needle moved up, toward the middle of his forearm. "Hurts less there," he commented.

"Yeah," Eliot said, a little closer to a normal tone with Quentin talking back to him. "It'll hurt more the closer we are to the pulse point or your elbow. We can take breaks if you need."

Quentin nodded. "M'okay right now."

"Good boy," Eliot murmured, and it made Quentin blush, but he didn't say anything. He just laid his head back down and thought about his breathing, eyes on the needle's progress.

He faded out the line he was working on and turned to load the needle with the purple, fading it into the same line so they blurred together, creating a gradient instead of a hard border. The pain of the needle over a spot that had already been tattooed made him shiver, another whimper falling from his mouth.

"Shhh, you're okay," Eliot said, with the soft tone again. "Good boy, you're okay."

"Eliot," Quentin murmured, feeling like he was moving through molasses.

"Yeah, sweetheart? Need me to stop?" Quentin shook his head, and Eliot's free thumb brushed over his arm. "You're doing so good for me."

Quentin was approximately aware that this had flown right past the boundaries of 'appropriate behavior' for one's tattoo artist, but he didn't care anymore. His brain was jelly, his bones were water. Appropriateness didn't matter, all that mattered was that Eliot said he was doing well.

"Feel okay? Still with me?" Eliot asked.

Quentin sighed. "Hurts," he murmured.

"I know it does," Eliot said, turning to load the needle with blue. "I know it hurts, b- Quentin, but you can still take it, right? Is it okay other than that?"

Quentin nodded slowly, watching the needle touch him again. "Feels good."

"Yeah?" Eliot asked, and even completely spaced out like this, Quentin could recognize the gleam in Eliot's eye as he glanced up. "Can you tell me what about it feels good?"

Quentin licked his lips, letting the words come at their own pace. "It's just...mm, doesn't stop." He whimpered again as the needle approached his elbow, making the pain spike, his hand clenching into a fist involuntarily. That thumb stroked his skin until he relaxed again, but the needle kept at its job. "And you're...um, in control. You control it so good."

"Yeah? You like it when someone's in control?" Eliot asked, glancing up again.

Quentin nodded slowly again. "If someone else is in control I don't have to think," he said. "Make decisions, be a person. It's exhausting."

Eliot grinned wide at that. "Well, I hear you there. You need it a lot, though, huh? I didn't want to make you uncomfortable," he said, turning to add more ink to the needle. "But you go right down in this chair, huh? No being a person. Just a little thing for someone to hurt."

Quentin bit his lip and nodded, feeling like he was going to cry.

"Hey," Eliot said, soft, reaching up to brush the back of his gloved fingers against Quentin's cheek. "It's okay. I'll take care of you and make you feel good. I promise. Trust me?"

Quentin sighed, feeling the last of the tension run out of him. "Yeah," he murmured, almost a whisper. "I trust you."

The tattoo didn't get any easier. The delicate skin was reacting to the trauma, getting red and sore and sensitive, swelling up a little. Eliot got him through it, though, murmuring that he was doing so well, and he could take just a little more, couldn't he? Quentin nodded every time, telling himself that in another minute, he'd call for a break. In a minute, he'd stop, but every time he found that, in Eliot's hands, he could go a little further. He was only a little aware that he was achingly hard in his jeans, enough that he could feel a wet spot on his boxers. The pain just turned him on more and more.

"We're almost done, baby," Eliot murmured, his voice like a beam of sunlight penetrating deep water. "Almost there, you're doing so good."

"Hurts," Quentin said, pitching forward a little in the chair. "Hurts a lot."

"C'mere, baby." The back of Eliot's hand touched his head, encouraging him further forward. Quentin ended up with his head on Eliot's shoulder, smelling his cologne. "That's it," Eliot murmured, and his hand went back to Quentin's arm. Quentin drew his knees up, relieving a little of the pressure of his jeans against his cock. "Good boy. Take it for me. Daddy's got you."

"Daddy," Quentin breathed against his neck, picking up the cue with no trouble.

"I know, baby. Just a little..." The needle kept buzzing for another little bit, Quentin's sense of time was totally blown, and then the pain eased. "There you go, baby, we're done. Just let me clean you up, okay?"

Eliot managed to move without dislodging Quentin's head from his shoulder as he wet a paper towel, wiped the excess ink and blood away from the new tattoo, and pressed a bandage over it. Then he stripped his gloves and tossed them aside as he stood up, gathering Quentin into his arms to lean against his chest.

"There we go, baby, all done," he murmured, fingers in Quentin's hair sending tingles down his spine. "You were so good for me, so brave, such a brave boy. You did so good. I've got you, sweetheart."

"Daddy," Quentin murmured again, bringing the un-tattooed hand up to clench in Eliot's waistcoat, probably wrinkling it and lacking the sense to care.

"That's right, baby, Daddy's got you. Daddy took care of you. Come back to me now, baby, that's it."

Quentin frowned sadly. This felt nice, he didn't want to come back. But the command set him on an inexorable path, and he sighed as he started to put his mind back in a semi-functional order. The pain started to morph from a pleasant buzzy feeling to just being pain, though somehow...less intense than it had been a minute ago. He exhaled slowly, turning his head so he could smell the antiseptic smell of the shop again and not just Eliot.

"There we go. Little better, now?"

This was categorically not better. But reluctantly, Quentin nodded, knowing what he meant, and sat back a little, releasing the waistcoat from his grip.

Eliot gave his hair one last stroke, then stepped back, ejecting the needle from the gun and pushing it into the sharps container, starting the cleanup routine like he always did. As he watched Eliot move around, he sort of...froze in the chair.

Oh god.

Oh fuck.

Oh, shit.

"Um." Quentin swallowed against the panic attack that was trying to rise. His boner was rapidly wilting in the face of terror. "Um. So do I. Um. Pay? Now?"

"Sure," Eliot said casually, dumping the surgical drape and all its contents into the trash. "Or we can skip that, and you can come to the play party I'm going to right now? Might be cheaper for you if we just fucked."

Oh.

Oh fuck.

"Um?"

Quentin wasn't sure if he blushed fiercely or went utterly white, but Eliot just laughed. "You're a good boy," he said with a grin, reaching over to ruffle Quentin's hair. "Come on. I can't wait to show you off. I know some people who are gonna love the ink I've put on you."

"Oh." Blushing. He was definitely blushing now. "Okay."

"I know a spell to remove ink you regret, by the way," Eliot added with a smirk. "Works on anything done in the last year, so anything I've given you can be fixed."

"Thank you," Quentin sighed. "I'm...almost definitely gonna take you up on that."

"I figured," Eliot said, taking a jacket off the hook and pulling it on. "You coming, or what?"

"Right." He'd been invited out. "Um, yes. Yeah, I'm coming," he said, scooting to get up from the chair. Eliot offered him a hand, which made him blush, but he took it.

Eliot swanned out of the bay ahead of him, and Quentin followed, feeling like an ugly duckling in his wake, yet intensely pleased to have been chosen anyway. "Bambi, I'm leaving!" Eliot called as they headed for the door.

"Bye, sluts," Margo called without looking up.

Once they were outside, Eliot put a cigarette in his mouth, lighting it with a tut as he wrapped his other arm around Quentin's shoulders. "So level with me," he said around the smirk. "What did you actually want the lung capacity for?"

Quentin smirked a little. "Guess you're gonna have to find out, huh?"