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(Not Exactly) According to Plan

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The first morning after a heat is always a strange one. It takes time to reach full wakefulness, sleep still heavy like a thick, syrupy blanket. Muscles feel pleasantly sore, and every sense is heightened: the sheets feel impossibly soft; the sounds of the house coming alive are comforting in their familiarity; the scent of a satisfied omega is heady and wonderful. Eliot Waugh opens his eyes with a smile already playing about his lips, and stretches languidly, disturbing the arm that's resting over his waist. The wind is still howling outside of the windows, Brakebills' scheduled White Christmas still well underway, but it's warm in his bedroom, in his nest. It always is, but especially after a heat. Warm, and cosy, and safe. Eliot feels so good.

Beside him, Margo makes a disgruntled noise, the kind that tells him he's disturbed her enough that she's awake now. He rolls over to smile into her scowling face, and arches his body against hers, though without the driving force of his heat there's no intent in it. "Good morning," he says, very pleased with himself. "Sorry for waking you."

"Bastard," Margo grumbles, curling in closer, nosing against the scent glands under his jaw. "You smell like you're finally done."

"I am," Eliot confirms, his voice a low rumble of pleasure all the same. "Thank God. Any longer and I don't think I'd be able to walk after."

He can feel Margo's smirk against his skin. "That's how you know it was good," she purrs. "I really had to work at it this time; you were insatiable."

"Are you complaining?" Eliot asks.

"About several days of very enthusiastic and acrobatic sex? No," Margo snorts, setting her teeth against Eliot's neck and biting very gently, a tease and admonishment in one. "I am complaining about the fact that my knot wasn't the only one you were begging for, while I was knotting you."

Eliot freezes. He can feel himself blushing, a fact which is mortifying in and of itself. "What?"

Margo shifts, her arm settling back around Eliot's waist as she looks up and meets his gaze. "El. Honestly; I know you didn't say his whole name, but 'Q' is still pretty... specific."

Eliot's eyes widen, and a disbelieving little laugh escapes him. "Oh, God," he says. "That doesn't sound like me."

"I wasn't the one nearly out of my mind with heat," Margo reminds him.

"Which should tell you that whatever I said can't be taken seriously," Eliot counters.

"I'd believe that if you hadn't been staring at Quentin's ass for the past three months, and if you hadn't hugged him like that when he left for his dad's," Margo informs Eliot.

Eliot would absolutely put up more of a fight than this, but he's still warm from his heat, still loose and relaxed and thrumming with endorphins - and really, Margo isn't wrong. "Fine," he says. He presses himself against her. "Then I'm sorry. That's not very good heat etiquette. You were perfect, Bambi, as always."

"Of course I was," Margo huffs, rolling her eyes, but Eliot can smell how pleased she is at the compliment as her arm tightens around his waist, a comforting squeeze. "I suppose I won't hold it against you since it's Quentin's knot you were asking for; he is cute, and he's ass over tits for you."

Eliot huffs a gentle laugh. "I wouldn't quite go that far."

”He’s been staring at your ass ever since he got here,” Margo informs him. “And he always looks pathetically pleased when you touch him. At the very least, he definitely wants to fuck you.”

Eliot really must still be under the influence of his heat, because he wrinkles his nose and says, "But I want more than that."

Margo raises an eyebrow. “‘More’?” she echoes.

"Yeah," Eliot says, with mild horror. "I think I want to fucking date him."

You want to date someone,” Margo repeats, sounding incredulous. “And not just anyone, Quentin?

"Don't judge me," Eliot complains, some of the happy warmth leaching out of his scent. "The heart wants what it goddamn wants, I guess."

”Alright,” Margo says, her hand running up and down Eliot’s side in a soothing motion. “I won’t judge.” She’s quiet for a moment, clearly deep in thought, and then she nods once, firmly. “I think you’d be good together. He needs a bit more backbone, but he’s never been a knothead.”

"I like him," Eliot says, relaxing against her once more. "I guess we'll just see what happens after winter break."

"You should start trying to woo him," Margo decides. "Get a feel for what you have to work with."

"I've got some ideas," Eliot admits, smiling. "He won't know what hit him."

Quentin comes back to the Cottage on New Year's Eve, just in time for the party Eliot has been planning for weeks. Eliot intercepts him at the door when he arrives with a suitcase in tow, the darling, and pulls him into a hug. His heady alpha scent washes over Eliot, overwhelming after so long without it, and when they pull apart Eliot preens at the way it warms at the sight of him. He knows he looks good, but what's more, he smells good, too - and Quentin is definitely appreciative.

"Welcome back," Eliot says, smiling down at him. "Did you have a good break?"

"Pretty good," Quentin says, grinning. "I missed this place for some reason, though. Can't imagine why."

"Mmm, I have no idea," Eliot teases. He wraps an arm around Quentin's shoulders and guides him further into the Cottage. "Still, I hope you're ready to ring in the new year with us. We've all missed you."

"I'll be ready once my stuff is back in my room," Quentin promises. "I'll come get a drink and you can tell me all about your break."

"Don't be too long," Eliot warns him. "I have a lot to tell."

"Guess I'll have to wait to unpack until tomorrow, then," Quentin laughs, wrapping his arm around Eliot's waist and squeezing him close, just the once, before he steps away. "Have a drink waiting?"

"Of course," Eliot says with an indulgent smile, making a shooing motion. "Hurry up."

Quentin sticks his tongue out at Eliot before disappearing up the stairs, his suitcase in tow. Eliot turns towards the bar, ingredients and glasses already lifting from the bartop. He squeezes and pours and mixes, and by the time Quentin reappears, he's got two glasses of Blue Thing waiting, one in his hand, and one sitting in front of the seat Eliot's glared more than one person away from. Quentin settles into it without waiting for permission; it's his usual seat, after all. He picks up the glass and takes a long sip, sighing in satisfaction as his shoulders loosen. "No one makes a drink like you do," he says happily.

Eliot doesn't purr, but it's a near thing. "I know," he says, smug, "but it's nice to know my efforts are appreciated."

"If you weren't so good-looking, you'd be insufferable sometimes," Quentin informs him, but the soft set of his mouth makes the teasing clear. "So, what did you and Margo get up to over break?"

For a second, Eliot almost considers changing his tactics - but no. He needs to see Quentin's face when he tells him. "What didn't we do?" he muses, with a filthy smirk. "I think we worked through the entire Kama Sutra."

Quentin freezes with his glass halfway to his lips, looking at Eliot with wide eyes. "What?"

Eliot's smirk deepens, and he leans over the bar toward Quentin, his smirk low and conspiratorial. "My heat, darling."

"Your - Oh." If it weren't so crowded, if they were alone, Eliot could hear Quentin swallow. As it is, he can see the way Quentin's throat works, can smell how he's captured Quentin's attention - and his interest. "Well, that's, um. Convenient." Quentin finishes his sip, and then fiddles with his glass, a familiar nervous tic. "That it was over break, I mean, not like. During finals or something."

"Very convenient," Eliot agrees, trying very hard not to laugh. "My next one comes right after finals, too. I find it's a very nice way to celebrate."

"I'll bet," Quentin manages to get out, shifting in his seat. "My, um - " Quentin pauses, wets his lips, and tries again. "My rut's gonna be close. To finals, I mean. Might have to get a medical note to take the finals some other time."

Eliot waves a blithe hand. "Just tell Lipson," he says. "She'll hook you up."

Quentin blinks. "Really? Just like that?"

"Yeah," Eliot says. "Brakebills makes things awkward for a lot of people, but they're surprisingly not sexist."

"Well, that's... good to know," Quentin decides, and then shakes his head briefly before giving Eliot a smile. "I know your heat didn't last all break, though - what else did you and Margo get up to? You were the only ones in the Cottage, right?"

Eliot wastes no time in launching into one of the many stories of the antics he and Margo got up to when they weren't fucking each other's brains out - but it soon becomes apparent that this isn't really the time or the place to chat. The party is livening up, and within minutes of Quentin claiming his seat there are people all around the bar, clamouring for drinks and for Eliot's attention in equal measure. Eliot sees Quentin's fight or flight instinct kick in, sees him eyeing escape routes and withdrawing into himself, and knows he has to do something before Quentin disappears up to his room for the rest of the night.

He finishes the mojito he's making for a slight ginger Naturalist and the old glory for the handsome Illusionist who has been trying to catch Eliot's eye, and then waves everyone else off in favour of returning to Quentin's side. He slides one hand over the bartop to cover Quentin's where he's tapping against the wood, and smiles when his warm, jittery gaze flicks up to meet his own. "Hey," he says. "Wanna get away for a bit?"

"Um, yeah, but - You've got the bar to take care of, I was just going to - "

"I am not letting you skip out on this party before midnight," Eliot interrupts him, his smile soothing the sting of his words. "I didn't spend all break missing the bar, or any of these people. Come with me?"

Quentin blinks, but nods. "Sure."

This may be the literal party of the year, but Eliot asked Quentin to come back early from New Jersey for a reason - so he has a quiet corner carved out just for him, with soft cushions and low, relaxing lighting, and muffling wards acting as a buffer between him and the rest of the crowd. Eliot leads him over and pulls him down onto the biggest, plushest cushions, and settles in against his side. "Is that better?" he asks sweetly.

Quentin lets out a slow breath. "Yeah," he says, and some of the unhappy bitter notes start leeching from his scent. He gives Eliot a smile, and relaxes back against the cushions. "This is a lot better."

Eliot smiles, and he knows his own scent is overwhelming with his pleasure. "Good," he says. "I want you to have fun tonight."

"This will help," Quentin assures him. "Are you... going to stay?"

"I was planning to," Eliot says. "Is that okay?"

"Yeah," Quentin says, still smiling, his scent going happy and pleased. "That's... more than okay."

"Good," Eliot says. "Now tell me about your break."

"It was pretty quiet," Quentin says. "It's just me and my dad, y'know? My mom's not... really in the picture, after the divorce. Julia came over Christmas Eve, though, that was nice."

"That sounds lovely," Eliot says, and he means it. "It's good that you're close with your dad, at least."

”Yeah, I don’t know what I would’ve done without him or Julia, honestly,” Quentin confides. “When I was younger, I mean.”

"You're lucky," Eliot tells him, very softly, leaning into his side. "You've got good people around you, and you always will."

"Yeah," Quentin says, taking Eliot's weight and leaning into him, as well. "Including you and Margo. I'm glad you were the one waiting for me at that sign."

A little shiver of pleasure runs through Eliot at that. "Me too," he murmurs. "You have no idea."

They stay in that little nook, nursing their drinks and talking quietly under the blanket Eliot summons for them, even as the party gets rowdier and rowdier outside the muffling charms that Eliot had carefully layered over the space. Eventually, however, with five minutes to go until midnight, Quentin gives Eliot a gentle nudge. “If we’re going to toast the new year, we need refills.”

"Shit," Eliot says, pushing himself to his feet. "You're right. We need champagne."

”You’re the alcohol expert,” Quentin says agreeably. “Champagne sounds fine to me.”

"Fine," Eliot scoffs, rolling his eyes, but he takes Quentin's glass and steps smartly over the barrier between their corner and the rest of the party.

The music is immediately deafening, the heat of the crowd oppressive, and for the first time Eliot finds it all... a bit much. He pushes through the throng of people to the bar, where he avoids everyone suddenly desperate for a drink only long enough to pull two fresh champagne flutes and a perfectly-chilled bottle of bubbly from the secret cubby behind it, and then he heads back to Quentin.

In sharp contrast, the blissful calm when he steps back inside the muffling charm is sheer perfection, and Eliot sinks back down beside Quentin with a happy sigh. He hands Quentin a glass and pops the bottle, pouring a generous amount for each of them as, beyond the wards, the partygoers start to count. "Just in time! Are you ready?"

”Ready,” Quentin confirms, taking the glass that Eliot hands him. He lifts it up, gives Eliot a small, fond smile as the counting grows louder. “Happy new year, El.”

Eliot clinks his glass against Quentin's, beaming. "Happy new year, Q," he says, and leans in to press their lips together.

The cheer from the rest of the party can barely be heard through the muffling wards, but Eliot’s too preoccupied with the way that Quentin goes still and then kisses back to notice. The kiss is over far too soon, Quentin pulling away with a brilliant flush to his cheeks and an odd note to his scent. “Really, a new year’s kiss?” he asks, presumably aiming for teasing but landing somewhat short of the mark.

"A little cliché, perhaps, but I wanted to," Eliot says, honest. "I've been wanting to."

”Oh,” Quentin says, that strange something getting stronger as he takes a sip of his champagne. “Well, um. I’m flattered, really.” He takes another sip, and another, larger this time, draining his glass. “I think I need to go upstairs, though.” Quentin gestures vaguely towards the rest of the party, which has gotten impossibly more chaotic outside of their wards. “I - need some time to decompress after all of… this.”

Eliot falters - but really, what did he expect after forcing Quentin to socialise all night, even party-adjacent? "Okay," he says, with a tentative smile. "Do you want company?"

”Any other time, I’d say yes, but I think I really need to just - go bury myself in a book or something,” Quentin confesses.

Eliot nods. "Okay," he says again, his gaze intent on Quentin's face. "I'll see you tomorrow?"

Quentin's smile is genuine. "Of course."

Eliot watches him head towards the stairs, and once he's alone he considers rejoining the party - but he's not really feeling it. Instead he curls back up on the cushions, burrows beneath his blanket, and sips champagne while he watches everyone else have a good time. It feels good, to know that he had a hand in crafting this excellent party, to know that he's the reason the students of Brakebills are seeing out the year in such style.

Margo finds him a couple of hours later, as he's dismantling the wards. The party is still going, but it's dying down now, and Eliot is ready to call it a night. From her mussed hair and smudged lipstick, it's clear that Margo is far from done, but it's nice that she took time out to come to him anyway.

"Happy new year, Bambi," he says, dipping down to kiss her softly on the mouth. "Having a good night?"

"Very good," Margo says, clearly pleased with herself. "What the fuck are you still doing down here?"

"Not getting laid," Eliot says. "Though you don't seem to be having that problem."

"Do I ever?" Margo asks, lofty, before her expression settles into something more serious. "What happened? I saw you and Coldwater all - cute and shit, and then I come over here and you’re doing housework, with Coldwater nowhere around."

Eliot shrugs. "We kissed," he says. "He bolted."

Margo raises an eyebrow. "I think I need a little more context than that."

"I think I came on too strong," Eliot says. "I scared him off."

”He is skittish,” Margo muses. “Like a mouse.”

"He's wonderful," Eliot says. "He's a gentleman. He's probably not used to omegas being so... forward."

Margo snorts. “He’s not used to omegas, period,” she counters.

Eliot quirks a curious eyebrow. "Explain how you extrapolated this hypothesis," he tells her.

Margo grimaces. “You’re not nearly drunk enough to excuse using words like that,” she informs him before shrugging. “Well, look at his friends. Me, you, and Wicker. Maybe Quinn. But Wicker and Quinn are betas, I’m an alpha, and you’re an omega. I don’t know if his dad was the omega or his mom was, or if they were both betas, or what, but I’ll eat my favorite lipstick if he’s ever interacted with another omega beyond like, schoolwork, before.”

"That doesn't mean he's never dated an omega," Eliot argues.

"He has no idea what to do with you, El," Margo says, exasperated. "He never has. And he's never hung out with any of the other omegas on campus, either. Pretty big point in my favor."

Eliot nods, conceding her point. "Well," he says. "If he doesn't know what to do with an omega, maybe we should show him."

Margo's eyes glint. "What do you have in mind?"

Eliot smiles. "You'll have to wait and see."

Quentin doesn't see Eliot for most of a week. To be fair, he doesn't see much of anyone outside of his classes for most of that week; coming into his second semester, the professors all decided to hit the ground running. Between Arabic, Basic Alchemy, Astrological Circumstances, and Intermediate Warding, Quentin barely has time to eat, drink, and take a shit when he isn't sleeping.

Friday, thankfully, is his lightest day - Astrological Circumstances meets in the evening, and only twice a week- and Quentin takes advantage of that time to curl up in the nook that Eliot had set up for the New Year's party. He puts up the muffling wards again, spreads his notes out, and starts reviewing, quickly getting sucked into his work.

He's barely moved for a few hours when he feels something disturb the wards, and then a warm voice says, "Earth to Quentin."

The only reason Quentin doesn't jump out of his skin is because he recognizes that voice - would recognize it anywhere, in fact, and that's something to examine later. Sure enough, when he looks up, he sees Eliot standing over him. "Oh, hey, El. What's up?"

"Just thought I'd check on you," Eliot says. He has a tray in his hands, though he's holding it high enough that Quentin can't see what's on it. It smells good, though. "You worked through dinner."

Quentin blinks. "Shit, did I?" He gives Eliot a sheepish smile. "I didn't even realize."

Eliot raises an eyebrow. "I figured," he says. "Do you have time for a break?"

Quentin nods, gathering his stuff into a messy pile and pushing it off to the side. "That smells really good; what is it?"

"Comfort food," Eliot says, setting the tray down in front of him.

Quentin pulls the tray closer, stabilizing it over his lap. "This looks great," he says, staring in awe at the near-overfilled bowl of pasta with what looks like chicken and spinach and something that might be onion? "What's it called?"

"Fuck if I know," Eliot says, laughing. "Creamy lemon butter chicken? It's good for you. Probably."

Quentin laughs with him, and then hesitates for just a moment before glancing up. "Are you - Do you want to stay?"

"I can," Eliot says, "if you want me to."

”I mean, I’m never going to say no to spending time with you,” Quentin points out. “And you did just bring me dinner. Did you make it yourself?”

"What do you take me for?" Eliot asks, folding himself gracefully onto one of the cushions beside Quentin. "Of course I made it myself."

"Just asking," Quentin says with a laugh. He picks up the fork and takes a bite, and is barely able to hold back what would have been an embarrassing moan. He chews and swallows, and then goes in for another forkful. "This is amazing, holy shit."

Eliot gives him a smile that is nothing short of smug. "I thought you'd like it," he says. "Do you need anything else? A drink?"

”Maybe a bottle of water or something?” Quentin says, sheepish once more. “I really didn’t plan on getting stuck here all afternoon, didn’t bring any supplies.”

"Wow," Eliot says, "not even a glass of wine? I don't know what I see in you."

Quentin rolls his eyes, but he's smiling. "Yeah, yeah, I don't, either," he says, and does his best to make it sound like he's teasing, not like he's serious.

Eliot grins back, and a bottle of water sails through the wards to land beside Quentin's plate. "You have class later, right?"

"Not tonight, no," Quentin says, reaching for the bottle, cracking the lid and taking a sip. "My Circumstances class only meets on Mondays and Wednesdays this semester."

"Of course it does," Eliot says. "Then you'll be coming to the party tonight?"

Quentin hesitates. "If I can keep these wards up," he decides. "I don't think I'm up for another full Physical Cottage party just yet."

Eliot's concern shows on his face. "Did I push too hard last time?"

Well, that kiss... Quentin doesn't finish the thought, instead giving Eliot a smile. "It's more that I was out all evening, not that there was like, any one thing that happened.”

Eliot still looks unsure, but he seems mollified for now. "Well, of course you can keep this corner," he says. "I put it together for you in the first place. Whatever makes you comfortable."

Quentin feels his smile softens, and he ducks his head. "Thanks," he says, more to the bowl in his lap than to Eliot. "I didn't know if it was like, a one time thing or what."

"Anytime you need it," Eliot promises. "I'm a gracious and accommodating host."

Quentin snickers. "Until someone pisses you or Margo off."

"Obviously," Eliot says. "Or you. I'm very territorial when it comes to my people."

Something in Quentin's chest warms at that easy declaration, how naturally Eliot says it, claims Quentin as one of his people. "Well, maybe I'll stick around for more parties, then; this is almost as good as my room."

"Better, I'd say," Eliot says breezily. "You don't have me at your beck and call in your bedroom."

Quentin chokes on his next mouthful, and after an extremely undignified coughing fit, manages to find his voice once more. “Yeah, I, uh - I suppose that’s a good point.”

Eliot smiles at him. "Well, I need to start getting ready for tonight," he says. "Don't work too hard. My parties are a no-study zone."

Quentin snorts, but he's smiling. "I wouldn't dream of disrupting the vibe that badly."

Quentin sees a lot more of Eliot after that. Part of it is, he makes more of an effort to be around the main areas of the Cottage, to be available, but Eliot also finds him in the Cottage library or in his room, if he's been holed up for more than a few hours. He often shows up with a drink or snack of some kind, and usually manages to drag Quentin's attention away from whatever he's been hyperfocusing on for a little while. Not long, but long enough for Quentin to have a mental soft reset, of sorts, so he feels better when he goes back to studying. Sometimes, if Quentin is in the Cottage library and there's no one around, Eliot will even work on his own class work next to Quentin; those are his favorite times.

Well, his favorite times next to all of the times Eliot physically drags him away and to the kitchen or living room for snacks or cuddling. The former isn't a new development; Eliot likes feeding his friends, and had done much the same on several occasions last semester.

The cuddling, though. That's new - or at least, the frequency of it is. Eliot is very tactile with the people he cares for, and Quentin had come in for his fair share of Eliot hugs and drunk-cuddles last semester. This semester, Eliot's very nearly as physical with him as he is with Margo, which is saying something, since they've always been practically joined at the hip. Eliot will find Quentin wherever he is, and if he determines that Quentin's either been studying for too long or isn't doing anything important, he'll either drop onto Quentin's bed and curl up close, or he'll drag Quentin into the living room and wrestle him onto the couch before joining him. Quentin, obviously, just goes with it; what else is he supposed to do, when one of his best friends - who also happens to be an extremely attractive omega - wants to be affectionate? He's only human, and if the alpha part of him preens, just a little, at the extra attention that Eliot is paying him... Well, he's neither confirming nor denying it.

Quentin's also noticed that Eliot likes to be helpful. Oh, he doesn't like to be thanked for being helpful, more often than not, but that doesn't stop him from doing helpful things. He'll bring Margo new raunchy romance novels when he notices that her to-read stack is getting low - she hides it in her room, but Quentin may or may not have noticed the pile on the bottom shelf of her night stand the night, last semester, she'd dragged Quentin into her room to 'fix that cute face of yours up properly' before a party. Quentin also noticed the book tucked under a plate on a tray that Eliot had taken to Margo after a particularly rowdy party, and may have recognized the cover.

In his defense, he was a bi teenager who had just discovered the joys of masturbating, and there was a very handsome shirtless alpha on the cover, and he had a library card and a stack of other, more innocuous books to hide that particular one in from his dad's knowing gaze.

Anyway, the point is, Quentin knows that Eliot likes to be thoughtful, he like to take care of his people; it's how he expresses affection. Quentin's just a little surprised that Alice is one of those people, apparently. He didn't think they even spoke much, but when he hears Eliot's voice in the Cottage library, Quentin pauses just outside the door. He feels a little guilty for eavesdropping, but he was about to meet Alice for a study session, since they hadn't seen much of each other yet this semester(and they were nearly a month in at this point; Quentin feels a bit guilty, but he's been busy, and then there's, well, Eliot).

" - thought you were allergic to large quantities of books?" Alice is asking as Quentin refocuses; she's amused, but Quentin can also hear the wary note to her voice, the same note that had been there when Quentin had approached her after the incident at Brakebills South and asked her to be friends.

"Oh, I am," Eliot says easily. "But I happened across this, and I had some vague recollection of you talking to Julia about your latest research project. I thought it might be useful."

There's nothing for a moment, and then: "This is a restricted book." Alice sounds vaguely surprised. "It isn't even supposed to be taken out of the library."

"I'm very resourceful," Eliot says. "Just take it. It can't be traced back to you."

”Well… Alright,” Alice says after another moment. “Thank you, Eliot.”

"Don't mention it. Just enjoy." The door opens in the next instant and then Eliot is there, looking as perfectly put together as ever and not at all surprised to find Quentin eavesdropping. He smiles down at him, his scent warm and pleased. "Oh, hey Q," he says, and pats Quentin absently on the arm. "Good to see you." And then he's gone.

Quentin watches him go for a moment, and then shakes his head and ducks into the library. “Hey,” he says, offering Alice a sheepish smile. “Sorry, I couldn’t help but overhear that; I didn't want to just. Barge in.”

"It's fine," Alice says. "Maybe you can explain what the hell just happened?"

Quentin shrugs one shoulder. “I don’t know. Eliot thought the book would be helpful, so… He got it for you?”

"But why?" Alice asks. "Am I now his friend by proxy because I'm your friend?"

Quentin feels his cheeks heat. “Maybe? I don’t know, maybe he just likes you.”

Alice rolls her eyes. "Don't be purposefully obtuse," she says. "You know that's not true."

"You're perfectly likable," Quentin argues, and then tries to change the subject. "Weren't we meeting for a reason?"

"That's not what I meant," Alice says, shaking her head. "But we're here to study, so we should probably do that."

"Right," Quentin says, not not bothering to try to hide the relief in his tone. "Yeah, studying."

The end of January comes and goes with little fanfare except for the weather changing. Brakebills magically controls the climate on campus, and they have been in the dead of winter; now, they're moving into spring sooner than the rest of the state. It's nice, even with the melting snow making walking off of the concrete paths hazardous for the less-graceful students. Quentin ends up with mud ground in so deep on the ass of his pants that magic can barely lift the stain within the first day, and resigns himself to wearing a flannel or something tied around his waist when he wears these pants until the stain finally washes out.

The turn of the weather and the approaching Valentine's Day - in the middle of the week this year - prompt yet another Physical Cottage party. Eliot's been running around all morning, making sure everything is perfect and not cliche for an early Valentine's rager. Quentin had been providing moral support and a willing ear for Eliot to bitch at, parked on the couch with a copy of Mister Monday, until Eliot had grown tired of bitching, and was nearly satisfied with the decorations. Then, he'd practically flopped onto the couch, his head in Quentin's lap, and demanded Quentin read to him so he had a distraction until dinner. Quentin, bemused, had complied.

That's how Julia finds them at almost five o'clock; she'd promised to swing by and hang out a bit before the party, but Quentin... had forgotten. So, Julia lets herself into the Cottage, and walks right into the living room to see Quentin's book abandoned, carefully bookmarked, on the arm of the couch, one elbow resting on the back, and his other hand carding through Eliot's hair as they talk. "I'm not taking a bet on how many people Margo's going to trip into bed," Quentin is saying, laughing. "I lose no matter what answer I give."

"True," Eliot says, chuckling. "Too low and you underestimate her. Too high and you're calling her a slut."

"How the fuck are you two even talking about this?" Julia asks, amused.

Quentin startles, just barely managing to catch himself from yanking on Eliot's hair. "Jules! Hey, sorry, I didn't hear you come in."

Julia raises her eyebrows, her gaze keen as she takes in the two of them. "Clearly," she says. "Sorry if I'm interrupting, Q, but we had a date."

"Oh," Eliot says, reaching up to untangle Quentin's fingers from his hair so that he can sit up, "you're not interrupting anything."

"Doesn’t look like it," Julia says, all kinds of sarcastic.

"I was just keeping him from bouncing off the walls and redecorating the Cottage for the fifth time today; wipe that look off your face," Quentin complains good-naturedly, a flush to his cheeks and a mild note of embarrassment seeping into his scent.

"What look?" Julia asks, blinking innocently.

Eliot takes pity on him. "Okay," he says, getting to his feet. "You two enjoy the rest of your afternoon. Wicker, I'm counting on you to make sure he has fun tonight."

"And you think I can't have fun by myself?" Quentin demands, mock-outraged.

Eliot turns a sympathetic look on him, and reaches out to ruffle his hair. "Sweetheart, you struggle."

"Rude," Quentin says, scowling, as he bats at Eliot's hand without any real force. "Come on, Jules, we can go hang out in my room for a bit, away from this asshole."

Eliot's laughter follows them up the stairs.

Quentin shuts the door firmly behind them, and flops dramatically onto his bed. "He's such an ass," he sighs. "Good thing he's a great bartender."

Julia follows him at a much more sedate pace, and settles down on the bed beside him. "What even was that?" she asks, sounding all kinds of delighted.

Quentin glares at her half-heartedly. "Just Eliot being Eliot, and being a dramatic bastard."

Julia reaches out to pinch Quentin's leg. "You know that's not what I meant."

Quentin yelps and jerks his leg away from Julia, rubbing the spot she'd pinched while giving her a baleful look. "Then what the hell did you mean?"

"I meant," Julia says, "that you were all over each other when I walked in. You were petting him. Q, come on."

"He's just physical," Quentin counters. "You've seen him and Margo, right?"

Julia scoffs. "It's hardly the same."

Quentin frowns. "How is it different?"

"He doesn't look at Margo like that," Julia says. "Margo doesn't look at him like that."

"Like what?" Quentin demands, exasperated now.

"Like you're interested in each other."

Quentin flushes. "He's not interested in me."

Julia is on him in a flash. "So you admit you're interested in him?"

Quentin swears, but he knows better than to try to deny it. "I mean, you have seen the guy, right?" he tries, hoping she'll let the subject drop with that.

"Of course I've seen him," Julia says, with a roll of her eyes. "But you're a catch, Q, it's not impossible that he might be interested."

Quentin huffs. "It kind of is," he says, trying not to sound bitter. "I'm not the kind of alpha that omegas like him go for."

Julia doesn't look convinced, but she doesn't push. "Let's just get ready for the party," she says. "I don't want to ruin the mood before it even starts."

"There you are," Eliot says, three Friday night Cottage parties later, from Quentin's doorway. His wards hadn't offered up any resistance when Eliot walked in, which he's trying not to think about too closely. "I thought I'd find you hiding up here. Not feeling it tonight?"

Quentin offers Eliot a slight smile from where he's curled up at the head of his bed. "Hey. Yeah, I'm just - taking a night for myself. It's been a hell of a week."

Eliot steps further into the room, gently closing the door behind him. "Do you want to talk about it?"

Quentin sighs. "It's just been a lot of tests, a lot of reading, a lot of homework... just, y’know. A lot, period." He gives Eliot a slight, sheepish smile. "I just don't have it in me to be downstairs around all those people tonight."

Eliot's smile is soft in return. "The party's dying down now anyway," he says. "I just wanted to check on you, see if you needed any company. If you were just heading to bed, though..."

"I can stay up for a bit," Quentin says, his smile turning more genuine. "Long as it's just us."

"Well, I can't guarantee that," Eliot teases. "Your wards seem to be letting just about anyone waltz through these days."

Quentin rolls his eyes, but his smile never dims. "No, I just set them to accept you, Margo, and Julia."

"Wow," Eliot says, grinning now. "What an honour. Can I sit with you?"

Quentin snorts. "Where else are you going to sit? On the floor? By my desk? You'll breakout into hives, being so close to a textbook."

"Someone's feeling sassy tonight," Eliot says, but he steps further into the room to join Quentin on the bed. "What are we doing?"

Quentin holds up a joint. "Josh gave me a couple of his really good ones, after I told him about the week I've had."

"Ooh," Eliot says, reaching out, his fingers already curling. "Allow me."

Quentin obligingly holds the joint out to Eliot, smiling as the tip ignites. He lets it burn for a moment before lifting it to his lips, taking a deep drag. Eliot knows the smoke from this particular strain is sweet, hot and heavy in the mouth and lungs, and Quentin relaxes back against his pillows, sighing. "That's some good shit," he says happily, smoke curling around the words as they fall from his mouth. He holds the joint out to Eliot in invitation.

"Don't mind if I do," Eliot says. He accepts the joint with a coy smile and takes a hit of his own, sighing out what feels like all the tension in his body along with the smoke. He practically melts against the pillows beside Quentin, and turns his head to give him a lazy smile.

Quentin returns it before letting out what sounds like a wistful sigh. "I hope Josh passes his secrets to someone; don't know what I'll do in third year if he doesn't."

Eliot passes the joint back with a chuckle. "Something tells me he won't go far."

”Oh yeah?” Quentin asks, lifting it to his lips. “I guess he does have a pretty big client base here.”

"That man can and will create a client base anywhere," Eliot laughs. "But he won't be able to try out his weird experiments in the real world. He'll have to use us as his guinea pigs before he can sell to people who aren't desperate students."

Quentin snorts, smiling. "Yeah, good point," he laughs, lifting the joint for another hit. "College students are the only ones desperate enough."

"And we get a wicked discount," Eliot says wisely.

”Wicked discount, and free samples if you look pathetic enough,” Quentin agrees, lifting the joint like he’s lifting a wine glass for a toast before passing it back to Eliot. They work their way through the rest of that joint and the other that Josh had given Quentin, and by the time the second is almost gone, they’ve gone from sitting propped up against Quentin’s pillows to lying down all the way, tangled up together so thoroughly that Eliot can’t tell where he ends and Quentin begins. They stopped talking a little bit ago, too absorbed in enjoying the high and their closeness, so it’s a little startling when Quentin speaks up. “Think it’s probably close to two in the morning,” he mumbles from where he’s got his face tucked against Eliot’s shoulder. “Y’going back to your room?”

Eliot's answering chuckle rumbles through him. "I don't even think I have legs anymore."

Quentin lifts his head. “No, you still got ‘em,” he says, letting his head drop back to Eliot’s shoulder. “Very nice legs.”

"Please," Eliot says, "tell me more about how nice my legs are. Or any other part of me."

Quentin attempts to smack Eliot in the chest, but ends up kind of... petting his loosened tie instead. "You don't need me to tell you you're pretty," he informs Eliot, sounding half-asleep. "You already know I think you're really fucking attractive."

"Everyone does," Eliot says, dismissive. He's sleepy himself, and he can't decide if he's saying too much or too little. "Doesn't mean it means anything."

Quentin hums a tiny noise, settling in more heavily against Eliot. "You smell nice, too," he mumbles. "Like it when your cologne wears off."

"Mmm," Eliot agrees vaguely. He settles more comfortably against the bed, and winds up wiggling down until they're sharing a pillow, their foreheads are pressed together. "Love the way you smell."

Quentin smiles, his arm settling warm and heavy over Eliot's waist. "Night, El," he sighs, eyes sliding closed.

"Goodnight, Quentin," Eliot breathes back, and then he's away.

Saturday is quiet, for once; Eliot and Quentin wake up mid-morning, closer to noon than to sunrise, and spend a good hour working themselves up to the prospect of leaving Quentin’s warm, comfortable bed. It’s not as comfortable as Eliot’s bed, of course, but it’s perfectly good for a lie-in. Eventually, Quentin’s stomach forces them out, and Eliot whips up a brunch for them and Margo, who’s sitting in the kitchen waiting expectantly for Eliot to fix her food. The three of them spend the rest of the day lounging around the patio, enjoying the first bits of proper spring sunshine. The rest of New York is still subject to freezing temperatures and icy rain, if not outright snowstorms, but for Brakebills, it’s practically April despite being the middle of February.

Eliot spends that night with Margo, curled up in his own bed with a bottle of very good red wine, reading one of Margo’s favorite bodice-ripper novels and making fun of it until Eliot has to levitate the glasses and bottle out of his nest to sit on the nightstand before they fall asleep. When he wakes up Sunday morning, Margo’s already up, and playing with his hair, nails scritching against his scalp. “Morning, Sleeping Beauty,” she hums.

Eliot sighs, smiling, and pushes his head into her hands. "Good morning," he yawns.

Margo makes a face, pushing at his with one hand. "Don't yawn in my face, you cretin," she complains. "Coldwater might not care about your morning breath, but I do."

"Whatever," Eliot says, unaffected. "Quentin thinks I smell good - at least while he's stoned."

Margo snorts. "I heard Josh gave him some of the good shit; that's where you two were Friday night, I assume. Part of your plan to seduce him?"

"No," Eliot admits. "Quite the opposite, actually."

Margo frowns. "Explain."

"I'm going to back off," Eliot says. "He's not interested. We're better off as friends."

Margo's frown deepens. "You're sure he's not interested in you?"

Eliot shrugs. "He's aesthetically attracted to me, but who isn't? And he's too polite to fuck me just to fuck me, even if he wants to."

Margo's frown becomes more thoughtful, her hand slowing over Eliot's hair. "He doesn't seem like the kind of alpha to do hookups," she concedes. "Doesn't mean he's not actually interested in you and too worried about offending you or fucking things up by asking you on a date."

"I spent an entire night in his bed, Bambi," Eliot says, flat. "He's not interested. And I'm more interested in his friendship."

Margo huffs. "Fine," she sighs. "I think you're giving up too soon, but fine."

"Good thing it's not up to you, then," Eliot snipes. "Now stop being bitchy about it, or I won't make you breakfast."

”Rude,” Margo retorts, fingers tightening just enough to catch in Eliot’s curls, a light tug that’s nowhere near painful, but more chastising than affectionate. “I’ll drop it if you make me French toast.”

Eliot hisses in discomfort, but he's smiling. "Deal."

Eliot is careful not to change his behaviour towards Quentin. He doesn't want to clue him in to his change in outlook, and besides, they are friends. Even if they'll never be anything more, it still feels good to be close to Quentin, to be attentive and physically affectionate, and to receive his affection in return. So the next few weeks are more of the same, just with less overt pining on Eliot's part. If Quentin notices anything odd about his scent or the way he's acting, he doesn't show it. So Eliot thinks they're good. Even Margo has been keeping the judgey looks to a minimum, giving him room to cuddle Quentin and cook for him to his heart's content. Win.

But then Eliot's birthday rolls around, and Eliot doesn't want to be around anyone. Unfortunately, it falls on a Friday, and it would bring more attention to him than he can handle right now to call off the party or just not show up at all. Only Margo knows, and she does her best to distract him, keeping him busy at the bar and plying him with alcohol and more exotic substances in equal measure. He's well on his way to wasted when her constant hovering starts to chafe. He's supposed to be above it all, he's supposed to be normal - but the kid gloves she's treating him with are just making him feel out of place. Eventually he snaps at her that he doesn't need a babysitter, and she flounces off in a huff, probably to fuck the cute Illusionist who's been eyeing her up all night, and then Eliot is alone.

He takes off as soon as the crowd around the bar thins, and heads out to the patio to smoke in the cool night air. People are rarely out here on a Friday night, preferring to be in the thick of the revelry inside the Cottage, and usually Eliot is just like them - except for times like now, when he craves a quiet place to smoke and to think in private.

Of course, Quentin finds him eventually.

He’s alerted to Quentin’s presence by approaching footsteps, and Quentin’s voice calling his name quietly, pitched to carry but not draw attention from the madhouse that is the Cottage. “El? Everything alright?”

Eliot glances over at him only briefly. "Yeah," he says, with an exhale of smoke. "Just getting some air."

There's a pause, and then Quentin moves closer. "Don't blame you," he says, lowering himself into a nearby chair. "Margo seemed pretty intent on... making sure you were having a good time, I guess."

Eliot shrugs. "Pretty sure she's knotting that Illusionist alpha as we speak, so I'm off the hook."

Quentin snorts, smiling softly, before he looks at Eliot again. "Are you sure you're okay? Margo's not usually that..." He clearly debates his choice of words for a moment before deciding on, "All over you."

Eliot gives him a wry little smile. "You're not usually this nosy, Quentin," he says lightly.

Quentin huffs. "You're my friend, and something's clearly going on if Margo's acting like this. She was almost smothering you; I saw that - that argument, where I guess you told her to knock it off."

Eliot chuckles. "All right," he says. "You really want to know?"

"Yes," Quentin says, honest and open. "If it's bothering you, I want to know, and - and help, if I can."

Eliot takes a moment, taking a long drag on his cigarette while he thinks it over.

Margo only knows out of necessity - but it probably wouldn't hurt to tell Quentin. He already knows all about Logan Kinnear, and he took that well. This kind of pales in comparison, really. But it's also something that Quentin should know, which means it comes with the risk that Quentin will decide the fact that he doesn't know says something unsavoury about their friendship. It doesn't, at all. Rather, the fact that Eliot is considering telling him at all says a lot about how deeply Quentin has burrowed himself under Eliot's skin. Hopefully he can make Quentin see that without letting him see... other things.

So Eliot exhales his smoke slowly, and deliberately doesn't look at Quentin when he says, "It's my birthday."

Quentin, to his credit, seems to realize immediately that this information should not be met with a 'happy birthday.' Instead, he frowns slightly, and shifts in his seat. "You obviously don't want a fuss about it," he says, a gentle prompt.

Eliot barks a laugh, and taps his ash onto the ground. "No," he says. "No, I don't. I hate my birthday. I usually like to spend it getting as fucked up as possible."

"Bad memories?" Quentin guesses.

Eliot nods. "I have worse," he says, "but the sheer volume of bad birthday memories counts for something."

Quentin hesitates, and then Eliot feels his foot nudge against his, a careful gesture of comfort. "If you want to talk, I'll listen. Or we can sit out here and smoke, whichever you need."

Eliot smiles, and nudges Quentin's foot right back. "I much prefer door number two," he says, "but I know you're not a big smoker, and talking about feelings is way more your bag than mine, so I get it if you'd rather be elsewhere."

"I could also just keep you company," Quentin suggests. "Summon a book and sit out here with you for a while. Or..." He hesitates, but then forges on. "Or we could go up to my room. Less chance of random people interrupting your brooding."

It's suddenly on the tip of Eliot's tongue to make a counteroffer, to suggest they go to his room instead - but no. He takes another drag of his cigarette to steady himself. "Okay," he sighs. "You've convinced me. But let's grab a bottle of something on our way upstairs."

Quentin grins, like he’s absolutely delighted that Eliot wants to spend the rest of the evening with him. “Deal.”

So Eliot spends the rest of his birthday getting drunk with Quentin. He doesn't spend the night this time, at least manages to make it up to his own bedroom, but it's good. It's nice. Quentin has always been remarkably easy to open up to, but Eliot is especially glad that he chose to let him in this time. He can tell that Quentin is pleased to be trusted, to have this solid confirmation that he's one of Eliot's closest friends, perhaps almost as close as Margo, and it... does things, to their friendship. It does things to Eliot.

So much so that when, two weeks later, Eliot barely scrapes a pass in a test and somewhat unpredictably freaks out about it, he knows where he has to go. Margo is off partying in the city by the time he reaches breaking point, having scoffed and called him a wilting cock when he declined her invitation to join him, but she would probably be a bad choice anyway. Margo has absolutely no patience for academic crises at the best of times, but least of all on a Saturday night when she could easily be getting her clit sucked instead. And Eliot has a new confidante now, besides. He doesn't need Margo right now - he needs Quentin.

He doesn't have to look far. Quentin is in the living room, chatting to Alice and Julia and Kady. Eliot hopes he doesn't look too much like a hunted animal, though he knows his scent must be sour with his distress. He clears his throat to announce his presence, like they didn't smell him coming. "Hey," he says, feeling awkward and raw. "Q, can I borrow you?"

Even Kady looks vaguely concerned, but thankfully no one says anything as Quentin gets to his feet. "Yeah, sure," he says, stepping around the coffee table to come to Eliot's side. "Want to go upstairs?"

This time Eliot doesn't hesitate. "Yeah," he says, and turns abruptly for the stairs.

Quentin doesn't say anything until they've reached the beaded curtain at the bottom of the stairs to the top floor of the Cottage, out of earshot of everyone else. "What happened?" he asks, drawing closer to Eliot, every part of him practically radiating concern now that they're alone. "You smelled pretty freaked, but it looks... pretty normal up here."

"It is normal," Eliot says, fully aware that he's still radiating anxiety. "I just. Sometimes I'm not the calm, cool, and collected omega you're used to, and sometimes I just need." He breathes out harshly through his nose, frustrated. "I just need someone. And you fit the bill. Will you--?" He glances pointedly at the curtain, which twitches aside enough to reveal the stairs to the attic. "Will you just come upstairs?"

Quentin's eyes widen, but he doesn't hesitate before he nods. "Okay," he says. "Lead the way."

Eliot doesn't waste any time. He trots up the stairs, something settling inside him at the sound of Quentin's clumsy footsteps following him. A careful twist of his wrist unlocks the door, which swings open ahead of them, and then, heart in his mouth, Eliot leads the way into his nest.

Quentin follows him in with only a moment’s hesitation, and then he stops just inside the door. "Oh," he breathes, voice clear with realization. It's normally a big deal for an omega to allow anyone into their bedroom, their space, much less the smaller room - more like a shoe closet - that is the nesting space provided for omegas in dorms. For Eliot, however... Eliot's entire room is his nest. He likes to spread out, to be surrounded by comfort, and quite frankly, that nesting closet is too small for him; he's always felt cramped in it. So, when he'd been given the attic as his room in the Physical Cottage, Eliot had ensured the bed was the most comfortable mattress he could find, covered in the most luxurious sheets, with soft blankets of various weights, and many, many pillows, making the bed perfect for curling up inside for days on end - or for getting fucked out of his mind in for days on end. He’s also rigged up a canopy of soft, gauzy sheets around the bed, enclosing the main part of his nest. With the low lighting, every part of the room looks soft.

Eliot stands in the middle of the room, wringing his hands nervously and still not looking at Quentin. "Is this okay?" he asks, even as his hindbrain whispers, What do you think? Do you like it?

”It’s… perfect,” Quentin says, voice soft. “Very you.” Eliot can hear him moving closer, see him moving into Eliot’s line of sight before he hesitates, one hand twitching like he wants to reach out but isn’t sure if Eliot would welcome the touch. “What do you need from me?”

Eliot hesitates too, but only for a second before he grabs Quentin's hand and pulls him over to the bed, the heart of his nest. "I need you on me," he says. "I want." He swallows. "I want it to smell like you."

Quentin's eyes go wide again, but he doesn't ask if Eliot's sure, doesn't protest. He just nods, and squeezes Eliot's hand. "How do you want to do this?"

What Eliot wants is to tell Quentin to take his shirt off and rub himself all over Eliot - but that's not smart. That's not what a sensible omega would ask of their strictly-platonic alpha friend. So he just climbs into the middle of his nest, acutely aware of how strong his scent is here, still mingling with a little bit of Margo that he hopes won't make Quentin uncomfortable. "Shoes off, and get in," he says. "Just. Make yourself at home."

Quentin nods again, bending over to tug at his shoelaces, yanking his shoes and socks off without any finesse and with only a slight wobble as he swaps feet. Once that’s done, he slides onto the bed, hesitating for only a moment before he settles in close against Eliot’s side. “Do you need more, or is this good?” he asks, voice low and intimate, one arm cautiously sliding over Eliot’s waist.

"No," Eliot says, too honest. He grasps Quentin's wrist and tugs. "On me."

"Oh," Quentin says, understanding dawning, and then he shifts again, lifts himself onto one elbow, and then drapes himself over Eliot like a living blanket.

All the breath leaves Eliot like a deflating balloon, and he melts into the mattress beneath Quentin's weight. "Yes," he slurs. Some deep, animal part of him wants to start fucking purring, but he manages to hold it back.

He can feel Quentin's smile against his collarbone, and Quentin shifts, getting his arms around Eliot as best he can and tangling their legs together. He doesn't quite actively scent Eliot, but he doesn't shy away, either, lets himself and his scent cover Eliot as they lie there for a long time. Eliot's honestly not sure how much time has passed before Quentin finally speaks up again, still a low murmur. "What brought this on?"

Eliot just chuckles beneath him, more than a little self-deprecating. "I almost failed a test," he says.

Quentin's hands rub almost absently over Eliot's wrists. "Yeah?" he asks, a quiet encouragement.

Eliot sniffs. "It's not the first time," he says. "I barely scraped a pass. I just... I'm freaked out."

"About what, exactly?"

Encouraged by the solid weight of Quentin above him, and his heady alpha scent already settling about the nest, Eliot sighs. "I know I act like I don't give a shit about school," he says, "and I don't, in some ways. But I need to come out of this with a good degree. Omegas can't just walk into the kind of job I want like alphas and betas can. I need to be more attractive to employers than anyone else."

"Makes sense," Quentin hums. "Lot of the world is still stupid about that."

Eliot nods against him. "So I know it's stupid," he says. "It's just a few tests. But I got in my head about it." He huffs. "You should know what that's like."

Quentin nods. "I do," he concedes, shifting so that he can look up at Eliot. "What kind of job do you want after you graduate?"

Eliot laughs. "I don't even know," he says. "Something fabulous that makes me tons of money. Something I have to fight tooth and nail for. I've had to fight for everything else in my life - and." He swallows. "I want to be able to support myself, and whoever else might come along."

Quentin's smile is soft. "I really can't see you as a stay-at-home omega," he muses. "I bet you'll make it work; employers care more about the fact that you have a degree than about any individual classes." He falls silent for a moment, expression turning thoughtful. The tip of his tongue darts out, wets his lips, and then he ventures, "So, who are you planning to include in your, um. 'Whoever else might come along'?"

Eliot tenses. He's only ever told Margo about the Plan - but Quentin is here, in his nest, and he's done nothing but prove he's worthy of Eliot's trust. "Well," he says, "a mate, of course. And a baby."

Quentin, for his part, doesn't tense, and only seems a bit surprised when Eliot mentions a baby. "Just the one kid?" he asks, mildly curious, like if Eliot decides to quit answering, or to deflect, Quentin won't push the subject any further.

Eliot just nods. "Just the one," he says. "By the time I'm twenty-nine. Mated for at least two years, own my own house, rolling in cash. Not a moment before."

"If anyone can own their own house before they're thirty, it's you," Quentin says, smiling softly. One hand shifts, finds Eliot's, and laces their fingers together, squeezing gently. "Thank you for trusting me."

Eliot smiles and squeezes back. "Thank you for letting me," he says. "And everything else."

Now that he’s been invited into Eliot’s nest once, it’s like Eliot’s suddenly eager to have him in there all the time. He keeps finding Quentin with excuses - or outright demands - for time spent lying on top of each other in Eliot’s nest, even though Quentin always leaves before he can spend the night, after Margo’s pointed comment about Eliot’s nest smelling like another alpha one day. Eliot might be bucking the usual omega attitude around his nest, but Quentin doesn’t want to cross that last line, because…

Well, it’s selfish, and a little bit stupid. But he wants this illusion that maybe there’s - there’s something between them. Something more than what Eliot and Margo have. And Quentin can’t help but feel like, if he spends the night the way that Margo does so often, then that possibility… goes away. He’ll be as close to Eliot as Margo is, yeah - and he’s not complaining about that at all - but he’ll never dare try for more. At least this way, he can think, Someday.

The semester continues passing in a blur; Quentin’s distracted with his classes more and more often, and doesn’t have time to obsess over what his relationship with Eliot might or might not be. He barely has time to eat, as finals loom ever closer, and he knows that Alice, Julia, Kady, and Penny are just as busy as he is, and he’d thought that Margo and Eliot would be busy, as well.

So, he’s rather surprised when Margo latches onto his arm as he’s coming back from the library two Saturdays before finals, and drags him out to the backyard. She pushes him into a chair on the patio, and Quentin blinks, glancing from her to Julia, lounging on the low wall against Penny’s shoulder, and then to Eliot, standing by the grill, fingers twisting in an elaborate fire-starting spell. “Um. What’s going on?” he ventures, finally, as Alice and Kady come through the door to the Cottage, plates and glasses in hand.

"We're having a barbecue," Eliot drawls, shielding his eyes from the sun with one hand so he can look over at Quentin. "Obviously."

"Fuck finals," Margo adds. "We all need a break before the shit hits the fan."

"So... a barbecue," Quentin repeats, looking around. "Okay. Just us?"

Margo pulls a face. "Duh, who else?"

Quentin snorts. "Fair. What do I need to do?"

"Relax," Julia calls, laughing when Quentin flips her off.

Eliot grins. "Just sit there and look pretty," he says. "Daddy's got this."

Quentin, used to Eliot's habit of calling himself 'Daddy' anytime he can get away with it, just rolls his eyes. "Alright, fine," he sighs, affecting a put-upon tone. "I suppose I can handle that."

Eliot winks. "If you're very good, I'll get you a drink."

Their group settles into the afternoon of drinks and food and good company easily. Quentin's still amazed, really, that they'd come together like this; he and Julia weren't a surprise, though Quentin had been overjoyed when he'd found out that she had made it into Brakebills, too. Eliot and Margo had adopted Quentin almost immediately; Julia and Kady had been roommates before they were sorted into their discipline housing, and had quickly become friends. With Kady had come Penny, and things had somehow grown from there. Alice had been Quentin's friend first, after working together in a few classes and then being partnered for the Trials - and Mayakovsky's stupid fox enchantment that had resulted in them cuddling, naked, for warmth through their last night at Brakebills South.

Somehow, they all... fit. There were arguments aplenty, especially with Margo, Julia, Alice, and Kady's personalities, but at the end of the day, they were still close. Some more than others, but they were all friends. Quentin's never had this many friends at one time, but he hopes they'll manage to stay together for a long time yet.

They bicker and fuss at each other as Eliot cooks, going so far as to smack Quentin with the handle of his tongs when Quentin tries to come over and help. He does get a drink, but takes the hint and lets Eliot do his thing until he finally announces that the food is ready, bringing the plates over with an easy wave of telekinesis. Penny, Julia, and Kady follow the food over to the table, and they all settle in. "This looks great," Julia says appreciatively. "Almost as good as Ted's Fourth of July barbecue."

"Who the fuck is Ted?" Penny spits, unnecessarily vicious.

"Down, boy; Ted is his - " Julia jerks a thumb at Quentin " - dad. He's the best with a grill."

"We'd get the entire neighborhood in our backyard on the Fourth," Quentin agrees, smiling. "Huge potluck every year, and tripping over the kids."

Penny pulls a face. "Sounds awful."

"Sounds like someone's jealous," Eliot quips.

Penny scoffs. "Get a life."

"I like a man who can cook," Kady interjects with a shit-eating grin. "Maybe you should ask him for some lessons, really impress us, Penny."

"Wash your mouth out," Penny spits. "I don't need to impress anyone."

"What do you think, Quentin?" Eliot asks, cutting smoothly through the others' bickering. "Can I compete with your dad?"

Quentin hums thoughtfully. "Close," he says finally. "You might have magic, but he's got experience, so I think he wins."

"I'll have to up my game, then," Eliot says.

"Or you could just take him home, Q," Margo drawls. "I'm sure he could learn a few things from the Coldwater men."

Quentin couldn't stop the flush rising to his cheeks if he tried. "I don't think Eliot would find my family very interesting."

"Beg to differ," Margo says, leaning towards him. "The people who raised Quentin Coldwater? Fascinating."

Quentin raises an eyebrow. "Why?" he asks, amused.

But Eliot cuts in before she can answer. "Margo, stop playing with the boy. Quentin, do you need a refill?"

"Uh, sure," Quentin says, handing over his drink. "Think telling her to stop playing with us is a futile effort, though."

Margo scoffs. "He can try."

"Territorial, much?" Alice asks dryly.

Quentin laughs, a little strangled, but rather than deny it Margo just flips her hair over one shoulder and says, "Can you blame me?" She points at Eliot. "This one's nest reeks of another alpha these days. It fucks with your head."

Quentin rolls his eyes, and catches Julia whipping around to stare at him, incredulous. "Oh, don't give me that look," he complains. "El invited me every time, okay? I'm not that much of an asshole."

Julia rolls her eyes. "No, you're just that much of a dumbass," she huffs. "Honestly, Q."

Kady has that smirk that means she's just stirring up shit as she leans forward, one arm around Julia's shoulders, and points out, "An omega can invite whoever they want into their nest, babe."

Quentin nods, gesturing emphatically with his fork. "Exactly."

Julia rolls her eyes harder. "Sure, Q," she sighs, heavy, like she's thinking of the past few arguments they've had about Eliot's behavior lately. Quentin's just glad that she's not actually detailing those arguments for the whole group.

"Anyway, I'm sure there's a spell you can use to filter out my scent, if it offends your delicate sensibilities, Margo," he says, a little too brightly, in an effort to get the conversation moving again, preferably right on past the topic Margo had tripped them into.

But Margo, never one to make life easy for someone else, just smirks. "Oh, I didn't say that," she says. "It's kind of hot."

Quentin flushes, and Julia, Alice, and Kady manage to roll their eyes in sync; it would be impressive, actually, if Quentin didn't kind of feel like the butt of some joke he's not sure exists right now. "Right, well," he says, a bit awkwardly, and turns pleading eyes on Eliot.

Eliot is already looking at him, something unreadable on his face; he isn't quite as quick on his feet as he usually is, but he comes to the rescue all the same. "Oh my god, this is all fascinating, I'm sure," he says, "but can we shut up and eat? I didn't slave over that grill for nothing."

"As fun as it is to tease Quentin," Alice agrees, giving Quentin a smile and a gentle nudge with her foot, "I'm starving, so I'm with Eliot."

Quentin doesn't say anything, just digs right into his burger.

After that barbecue, they all buckle down, throwing themselves into studying for their upcoming finals. Even Margo and Eliot seem to be taking them seriously this semester; they don’t study anywhere near as much as the first years in their group, but they do join Quentin, Alice, and Kady in the Cottage library more often than they have the rest of the semester.

Actually, Eliot seems to just be joining Quentin more, period; he’s become a lot more physical lately, and he’s even started sitting next to Quentin more than he does Margo. Margo looks vaguely miffed, but also knowing, which is kind of her default look anyway, and Eliot acts like the change in behavior is perfectly normal. Like being all over Quentin to the point where even Quentin’s freshly-washed clothes have a vague lingering scent of Eliot is normal. Like it’s no big deal that more than once, he invites Quentin up to his nest, makes sure Quentin is settled, and then leaves him there to go fetch food before they settle in.

Quentin’s never interacted with many omegas before, and never to this extent, but he’s starting to think maybe Julia’s on to something, when she insists that this abnormal-friendship-behavior-for-omegas is actually something… more.

Of course, he doesn’t get much time to ponder that, as his rut is rapidly approaching. He does take an afternoon to go see Lipson, who shows him a spell to use to determine how close his rut is, and how long it will last. This time, apparently, he’s going to miss the first day of finals. Worse than last semester, when he’d just managed to get his rut in before finals, but not unmanageable; Lipson does, as Eliot had said she would months ago, write an explanatory note for Quentin to give to the professor of the final he will miss. He takes that note to the professor, who reads it over, nods sympathetically - she’s an alpha, too - and they work out a date and time for Quentin to take the final after his rut is finished while he’s there in her office.

All that’s left then is to prepare for his actual rut.

It’s supposed to start the Friday before finals, sometime that night, and it should last all the way through Monday, so Quentin starts washing his clothes and bedsheets, and stocking up on lube, because magic, even to clean or conjure lube to help himself through rut, is going to be difficult to concentrate on. Kady gives him a knowing look when she catches him hauling a load of laundry up the stairs, but she doesn’t say anything, just gives him a brief pat on the shoulder that Quentin thinks is supposed to be sympathetic.

He also stocks up on food and bottled water, as well; he’s not stupid enough, or enough of an asshole, to leave his magically-sealed room until his rut - and the accompanying hormones and overwhelming scent - is over. So he resigns himself Friday morning, grabbing the last load of food, to only bottled water and non-perishable foods for the next few days. It’s not like he hasn’t survived on worse, when he was in undergrad, but it’s still just. Not pleasant.

Quentin’s attention is caught by an odd scent as he closes a cabinet door, a box of Cheez-Itz in hand. He immediately recognizes it as Eliot’s, but there’s a weird undertone to it, something he can’t quite place. Sure enough, when he turns, Eliot’s standing in the entryway to the kitchen, and Quentin blinks at him before waving with the hand not holding his pilfered snack. “Hey, El. You okay?”

"I'm good," Eliot says, and he smiles, but the strange note to his scent doesn't change. "What about you? Got everything you need?"

Quentin nods. "I should," he says. "Just grabbing some extra snacks and water bottles."

"Is there anything I can do?" Eliot asks.

Quentin stomps on the urge to ask Eliot to come upstairs with him; his rut is starting to come on strong, now. "I think I'll be okay? I should have plenty of food, water, and, um. Everything else I need. I tend to overstock, because I'm paranoid about running out of anything and then like, needing to get more of it."

The smile Eliot gives him now seems just as odd as his scent. "Well," he says, "if you find that you do need anything, you know where to find me."

Quentin couldn't stop the slight flush that rises to his face if he tried - and he tries, because he knows Eliot didn't mean it like that. "I appreciate that," he says, a little too late, scooping all of his loot into a plastic bag so he can carry it more easily up the stairs. "I'm gonna - head up now. I'll see you Monday?"

"Sure," Eliot says, and steps aside to let him past. A small smirk curves his lips. "Have fun."

Eliot might be losing his mind. Quentin has been out of rut for a week now, finals over for a few days, and things are... different. Weird. But above all else, things are still. Quentin has barely looked him in the eye since he emerged from his sealed room the day after finals started, flushed and smelling satisfied and like Eliot. He hasn't acknowledged the shirt Eliot tucked away in his room with a note - in case you miss me - while Quentin was gathering supplies, but he very clearly used it. Eliot can tell he's embarrassed, but since his eyes were opened at that barbecue a few weeks ago, he can also tell that he's... interested.

Quentin keeps his distance, but he also can't keep his eyes off of Eliot. He steals glances at him when he thinks Eliot isn't looking, and then flushes and looks away when Eliot catches him. He always smells warm and pleased whenever Eliot walks into a room, and especially when Eliot offers him food or a drink, despite the fact that their intimacy levels have dramatically reduced since finals began in earnest. He's very careful not to engage Margo at all.

So he's definitely interested - but he's not going to do anything about it.

Thanks to his inconvenient rut, Quentin finishes his finals a day after everyone else, and it takes Eliot all of twenty-four hours after that to reach the breaking point. His heat is coming up, he can feel it simmering beneath his skin even if he wasn't regular like clockwork, and he can't stand to be near Quentin and not touch him for another minute.

So, okay, he kind of ambushes him in the middle of the living room. Quentin is sitting on the couch, for once mostly upright in an almost-normal position, reading a book. No one else is around, but that absolutely does not factor into Eliot's decision making when he walks into the Cottage to see him sitting there, bathed in late afternoon sunlight and smelling all kinds of content and delicious. Eliot's hindbrain takes the wheel, and the next thing he knows he's pushing the book out of Quentin's hands and climbing into his lap.

Quentin startles, but he doesn't throw Eliot to the floor. He also doesn't touch Eliot, his hands hovering in the air between them as he looks at Eliot with wide eyes. "Um, hello?"

"Hi," Eliot says, low and sultry. His own hands slide over Quentin's shoulders until he can cup the back of his neck. "I have a proposition for you."

Quentin swallows heavily, his pupils already blown wide. "Okay?" he prompts, gaze flicking from Eliot's eyes to his mouth before snapping back up.

Eliot smirks. "My heat is coming up," he says. "Maybe you've noticed."

Quentin flushes. "Kind of hard not to."

Eliot clucks sympathetically, cards his fingers through Quentin's hair. "Have I been getting you all worked up, baby?"

Quentin bites his lip, but clearly can't stop himself from leaning into Eliot's hand. "Maybe a little. Ever since I realized you left that fucking shirt..."

"Yeah?" Eliot coaxes. "I hoped it would help you through your rut. I wanted you to knot your fist and think of me."

Quentin's tongue darts out, wets his lips. "I did," he offers, voice quiet even though they're the only ones around. "Been thinking of you for a while."

A thrill of arousal dances through Eliot, heightened by his approaching heat, and he knows Quentin can smell it. He leans in until their lips are almost touching. "Then how would you like to return the favour?"

Quentin lets out a shaky breath. "You want me to spend your heat with you?" he asks, just to be sure.

Eliot squeezes the back of Quentin's neck. "If you think you'd like that," he murmurs.

Quentin's hands finally settle onto Eliot's hips. "There's not much I'd like more," he says, and Eliot can hear, can practically taste the honesty in those words.

What the fuck is Eliot supposed to do now, except give in to the desire he's barely kept in check since he met Quentin, and kiss the breath from him?

Quentin makes a soft noise against Eliot's lips, not quite surprised, but he kisses back readily, eagerly, and his fingers tighten on Eliot's hips as he presses closer. They kiss until they can't anymore, until they pull apart panting for breath, the scent of their arousal saturating the air around them. Eliot's hand in Quentin's hair tightens until it's almost tugging, and Eliot bites at his lower lip.

"Come to my nest," he purrs. "I think we need a trial run."

"Fuck, okay," Quentin breathes, shaky with arousal, his hands kneading Eliot's hips. "Need to - to let me up."

Eliot obligingly climbs off of Quentin's lap, and holds his hand out to him. "Take me upstairs, alpha."

As it turns out, the trial run really isn't necessary. The sex is phenomenal, just like Eliot thought it would be. In an unexpected display of alpha dominance, Quentin refuses to knot him until he's in heat and begging for it, which Eliot finds just-- so hot, honestly. They fuck until they can't anymore, and then Eliot curls himself around Quentin and they pass out deep in the heart of his nest.

Eliot's heat feels closer when he wakes up the next day, so they spend most of it in a flurry of activity. Like Quentin before his rut, Eliot needs to gather enough supplies to sustain himself - and his alpha - for the next week; they need to perform a cooperative contraceptive spell; he has to tell the inhabitants of the Cottage not to miss either of them for the duration; he has to tell Margo that her company won't be required this time.

He's kind of dreading that last part, so he's rather relieved when she finds him herself while Quentin is off procuring extra gatorade. Eliot is in his room, rearranging his nest. He stole into Quentin's room early this morning and left with his arms full of Quentin’s shirts, his blankets and sheets, some miscellaneous items directly from his laundry basket, and now he's at work weaving the new materials in amongst his own. The softest of the blankets has been given pride of place in the centre of the bed, most of the rest are being used to reinforce the structure. The whole room smells like them, and it's enough to make Eliot a little wet, even what must be a full day before his heat.

So Margo catches him red-handed, and between the scent of his nest, his oncoming heat, and Eliot's own excitement, it's not like she doesn't know immediately what's going on. But she doesn't pass judgement, or gloat, or even say anything - she just raises a single, perfect eyebrow, and walks back down the stairs. Eliot lets out a breath he must have been holding for at least twenty-four hours. That's not the end - they're going to talk about it - but it can wait until after his heat. They're good.

Quentin comes back with the gatorade and Eliot intercepts him at the door, insisting they go downstairs for dinner before they lock themselves away in his room for a week. When they come back upstairs, and Quentin realises the extent of the work Eliot has put in today, the wait is worth it. Quentin shows his appreciation for Eliot's efforts again and again, and when they finally fall asleep they're even more sated than they were last night.

But it isn't to last, as Eliot discovers the next morning when he wakes with a groan. His heat has begun.

Quentin wakes almost immediately, obviously disturbed by Eliot’s shifting, since they’re tangled so closely. His hand, which had been resting over Eliot’s chest, slides down, his palm skimming over his stomach. “Heat started?” he asks, a murmur against the back of Eliot’s neck.

Eliot presses back against him with a salacious moan. He's already hot and slick between his thighs, and he knows Quentin can feel it. "You tell me."

Quentin smiles against Eliot's neck, the hand on his stomach sliding around until Quentin can nudge his hip. "Get on your stomach, please."

"So polite," Eliot sighs, but he does as Quentin asks, rolling away from him and onto his stomach, his legs spreading as his cock hardens against the cool sheets.

Quentin shifts to follow him after flinging the covers away. He presses a kiss between Eliot's shoulder blades, and Eliot can still feel his smile. "If you wanted bossy, you should've stuck with Margo," he chuckles, working his way down Eliot's back until he can drag his teeth ever-so-lightly over one side of Eliot's ass.

Eliot hisses against the pillows, oversensitive already. "Don't tease, Q."

"Sorry," Quentin says - and he sounds contrite, but the illusion is shattered when he digs his teeth in more firmly, almost hard enough to bruise, his hands tightening around Eliot's thighs where they had previously been caressing.

Eliot gasps, and then moans. "Quentin."

Quentin's smile turns into a smirk, but he doesn't say anything else, just shifts his attention to where Eliot wants - needs - it, and drags the flat of his tongue over Eliot's hole in one long, smooth motion. Eliot all but melts into the mattress, his cunt twitching against Quentin's tongue. He's already soaked, he knows, and an absurd part of him hopes that Quentin likes the taste - but then his mind completely whites out when Quentin licks into him in earnest. Quentin's enthusiastic, even if he isn't exactly skilled, and he seems completely intent on wringing at least one orgasm out of Eliot before he gets his cock - and his knot - in him.

It doesn't take long. Eliot writhes on Quentin's tongue, fists his hands in the sheets, muffles his moans into the pillow - and then, finally, comes. He shouts something that might be a curse or Quentin's name or both, and spills his release onto the mattress beneath him, the first of many. Sure enough, even as he's coming down he feels no real relief. Instead, his heat is burning worse now than ever.

"Okay," he pants, when Quentin is finally done licking him through it and pulls his face away from Eliot's cunt. "You've had your fun. My turn."

"I'm not doing it right if you can still talk," Quentin laughs, pulling away, but only so he can slide up Eliot's body. He presses a kiss to the back of Eliot's shoulder, his cock a long, hard line against Eliot's cunt, and he nudges Eliot's knees just a little further apart. "Ready?"

"No," Eliot sighs, already moving. "Wait." It takes a moment, his body slow with the need coursing through him, but he gets his knees beneath him and arches his back. He may be in the midst of his heat, but he knows how to present perfectly.

Quentin makes a noise like he's been punched, and his hands fall to Eliot's hips, grip tight. "Fuck," he breathes, awed and appreciative, one hand moving from Eliot's hip; a moment later, he feels the head of Quentin's cock nudging at his hole. "God, you're gorgeous; I'm gonna fuck you so good, El, I promise."

Eliot huffs a soft laugh and rocks his hips back. "Fucking get on with it, then."

Quentin, probably sensing that Eliot's patience is about to snap, does exactly that. He pushes forward, and with the heat and his first orgasm, Eliot is loose - and wet - enough that Quentin can fuck inside easily, seating himself almost fully in Eliot on the first thrust. He doesn't give Eliot much time to adjust, however, before he pulls back and fucks in again, harder and impossibly deeper.

Eliot already knew that Quentin fucks like a dream, but this is something else. He finds that spot inside Eliot perfectly, and the way he moves is enough to drive him wild. "Fuck," Eliot groans, fucking back onto Quentin's cock as best he can. "God, yes. Don't stop."

Quentin doesn't stop; if anything, he fucks Eliot harder, all but fucking him into the sheets. He works Eliot's body unfairly well, for only having fucked him for a few days. He pushes Eliot closer and closer to the edge with every thrust, and himself as well; Eliot can feel the base of his cock starting to swell, just a little bit. God, he wants that knot, wants it so bad he doesn't even realise he's speaking.

"Give it to me," he gasps, practically a sob. "Come on, Q, fucking knot me, please, please, alpha--"

"I've got you," Quentin soothes, the gentle words at odds with the hard pace he's set, his hips snapping against Eliot's ass. "I'll knot you, El, don't worry, I've got you. I'll take care of you, I promise, just let go."

"Please," Eliot whines. He's gripping the headboard for dear life now, and he's loving every minute of it. "I can't, I can't without you, please--"

Quentin makes a wordless, soothing noise, and fucks into Eliot once, twice, three more times - and then he stills, curling over Eliot's back with a hoarse shout as he comes, knot swelling to lock them together.

That's all it takes. The pressure of Quentin's knot against the neediest place inside him is enough to push him over the edge with a desperate cry. Quentin fucks him through it with shallow thrusts that are more rolls of his hips than anything else. It makes his knot tug against Eliot, a delicious tease that keeps him coming until he's fully spent. Quentin gathers him in close, laying them down to the side of the rather sizable wet spot, and wraps an arm around Eliot's waist, pressing up snug against his back and nosing gently against the back of Eliot's neck.

"You're so good," he murmurs, scent swelling with pleasure. "So good for me, El, presenting so beautifully - love the noises you make, and you feel so good around my knot."

Eliot glows with pride, and clenches around Quentin's knot just for the fun of it. "Plenty more where that came from," he sighs.

Quentin huffs a quiet, breathless laugh. "You'll have plenty of chances to show me," he assures Eliot, arm tightening around his waist.

Eliot might never have had a more satisfying heat. It's half-over, but Quentin has taken exceptionally good care of him. Eliot is never left unsatisfied, even if Quentin does like to tease him. Quentin also makes sure they eat and stay hydrated, and even insists on cleaning Eliot up with wet washcloths sometimes instead of just relying on cleaning spells. It all makes Eliot more certain than ever that he made a good decision, choosing Quentin.

If he could articulate this, he would have before Quentin started teasing him again. Quentin loves using his mouth, and this time he's sucking Eliot's cock, fucking him with his fingers as he drives Eliot close to the edge and then backing off, teasing him over and over. Eliot is tossing his head against the pillow, trying to fuck up into Quentin's mouth or down onto his fingers, but his other arm is thrown over Eliot's hips, and he can't get any leverage. It's maddening. It's not enough.

"Fuck," Eliot gasps, panting up at the ceiling. "Fuck, Q, if you don't get your cock inside me right now, I'm going to--"

Quentin pulls off of Eliot's cock, swapping his mouth for his other hand as he grins up at Eliot. "Going to what, El?" he asks, not meanly. "What are you going to do if I don't fuck you right this instant?"

Even half-delirious with need, Eliot isn't too fucked out to rise to the challenge. He bats Quentin's hand away from his cock and sits up so that he can crowd into his space. "I'll do it my fucking self," he growls, and pushes Quentin onto his back.

Quentin goes easily, the scent of arousal spiking as his back hits the mattress. “Yeah?” he asks, hands falling to Eliot’s hips, kneading firmly. “Gonna fuck yourself on my cock, omega?”

Eliot actually snarls at him. The time for presenting prettily for his alpha is over; instead, Eliot plants one hand in the middle of Quentin's chest for balance, and reaches behind himself with his other hand. "You're a fucking tease," he grits out, even as his fingers curl around Quentin and he starts to lower himself onto his cock. "You may be the alpha, but you're-- Ah, not the one in charge here. Oh, fuck."

Quentin bares his teeth at Eliot right back, but there’s no anger or anything unpleasant in his scent, only arousal spiking ever higher. “Are you in charge?” he asks, challenges, even as his hips roll beneath Eliot, not a full thrust, but enough to tease Eliot even more.

Eliot's eyes flutter closed, his lips parting on a breathless moan - but just for a moment. "You're damn fucking right I'm in charge," he says, and starts to ride him.

Quentin throws his head back against the sheets, a moan falling from his lips as he holds onto Eliot - but he doesn't try to control the pace, lets Eliot take what he wants - what he needs - from Quentin. And Eliot does. He rides him to within an inch of his sanity, setting an almost punishing rhythm and driving them both higher and higher. Desperate, bitten-off, beautiful moans spill from his lips, and he tosses his head, his curls flying everywhere as he takes his pleasure and wrings Quentin's from him.

His rhythm starts to falter as Quentin's knot begins to swell. Quentin tries to help him, gripping his hips and fucking up into him, and it's-- "So hot," Eliot groans. "You're so fucking hot, putting me where you want me. You gonna knot me again, alpha?"

"Yes," Quentin bites out, hips jerking beneath Eliot, fucking up into him desperately. "That's what you want, isn't it? What you need me to do? Knot you up nice and full, take care of you?"

"Yes," Eliot hisses through his teeth. His cock is flushed and hard against his stomach, but it goes ignored as he grinds his soaking cunt against the swell of Quentin's knot. "Come on, come on, do it."

Quentin does, pulling Eliot down at the same time he thrusts upwards, his knot sliding home in Eliot's cunt and swelling as Quentin comes with a shout that damn near echoes through the warded space. Eliot isn't far behind, spilling completely untouched over Quentin's chest as his knot locks them together. They stay like that for a long moment as they catch their breath. Eventually, though, just as Eliot's calf starts to twinge, Quentin shifts, his hands sliding from Eliot's hips to his legs, encouraging Eliot to stretch them out.

"Before you cramp up," he murmurs. "We didn't think this part through very well."

"I'm not complaining," Eliot sighs. "We could probably roll over, if you want to be on top?"

"I like it when you're on top," Quentin hums. "Pretty damn hot. You can lie on me while we wait for my knot to go down?"

"Oh, twist my arm," Eliot teases. It takes them barely a minute to get comfortable, but even in that short time the heat that had receded with Eliot's orgasm has begun to burn again. He shivers in Quentin's arms, presses a hot kiss to his throat, and clenches around his knot. "You'd better be ready to go again soon."

Quentin hisses when Eliot clenches around him, but he still reaches up, winds his arms around Eliot's waist. "I don't think that'll be a problem."

Eliot smiles and hides his face in the crook of Quentin's neck. "Rest first," he decides. He closes his eyes, just for a little while.

The second half of Eliot's heat is slower; he's no less needy, but the frantic, must-be-knotted-now edge is mostly gone, and he can focus more on enjoying what's going on. Quentin seems perfectly happy to shift focus, too. He lets Eliot set the pace, and seems to like it the most when Eliot lets him spend hours working Eliot over with his mouth and hands.

The last day of Eliot's heat, they fuck slow and intimate, ending with them on their sides, Quentin pressed up against Eliot's back, their fingers entwined as Quentin rocks into him. Quentin knots Eliot one last time before they fall asleep, still tied together.

Eliot wakes the next morning to find Quentin already awake, his fingers carding through Eliot's hair. The motion stops when Eliot stirs. "Morning, El," Quentin murmurs, soft.

Eliot stretches languidly. He feels pleasantly sore, no longer burning with need. "Morning," he sighs. "I think it's over."

"Shame," Quentin sighs. "How are you feeling?"

"Pretty great," Eliot says, laughing. "Tired and sore and... so great."

Quentin gives him a small smile, and Eliot can smell how pleased that admission makes him. "Well, good," he hums.

"What about you?" Eliot asks, twisting to look at him. "I didn't wear you out, did I?"

"Not for lack of trying," Quentin chuckles. "I didn't know you'd be that intense."

Eliot peers at him, thoughtful. "I'm not, usually," he says. "I mean, heats with Margo are always a wild ride, but..." He shrugs. "Have you ever spent a heat with an omega before?"

Quentin shakes his head. "No, this was the first time."

"Then maybe it's you," Eliot says. He flashes Quentin a cheeky grin. "Or maybe it's us, our insane chemistry - and the fact that I've wanted you since I laid eyes on you."

Quentin's eyes widen. "Wait, really?"

"Yes," Eliot says, with a roll of his eyes. "Seriously, Q, I haven't been subtle."

"No, you really aren't," Quentin concedes, and now there's an odd note to his voice, to his scent. "Did you do the same sort of stuff with Margo, last time? Bet she loved the wooing."

Eliot snorts. "I didn't woo Margo."

"Oh," Quentin says, and that weird scent gets stronger. "I guess you don't usually need to woo people into bed with you, especially for your heat."

Eliot blinks. "I've only ever spent my heat with Margo," he says. He can't keep the edge of defensiveness out of his tone. "And now you."

Quentin frowns, like he does when confronted with a particularly tricky spell that he's trying to master. "But you just said you didn't do all of the - the cooking, and the touching, and the inviting into your nest with Margo... But that's what you two are like every day."

Eliot sits up so that he can face Quentin more fully. "Q, I didn't want to woo Margo," he says, very slowly. "I didn't need to. It was obvious from the start what we were going to be to each other."

Quentin sits up, too. "And, what? You had to woo me because I wasn't picking up on whatever mind-radio-whatever frequency you guys operate on?"

Eliot's mind races to catch up to wherever Quentin has taken them. "What does that mean?" he asks. "You think this is, what, the same as what I have with Margo?"

"What else would it be?" Quentin asks, and now he sounds defensive.

Eliot fights the urge to grind his teeth. Seriously? "As you've so generously just pointed out, I'm not short of options. Have you ever seen me try to woo anyone else?"

"... No."

"I don't fuck anyone in my nest, Q," Eliot says. "Hardly anyone on campus has seen it. But you've been coming up here for months. The whole room smells of you." He plucks one of Quentin's shirts, woven into the structure of his nest. "I've been fucking courting you."

Quentin couldn't look more shocked if Eliot had hit him upside the head. Whatever Eliot was expecting him to say or do, however, it wasn't to fall back against the pillows with a heartfelt groan and cover his eyes, moaning, "Jules is gonna hold this over my head forever."

Eliot somehow finds it within himself to laugh. "What?"

Quentin doesn't move his hands away from his face. "After she saw us on the couch before that party near Valentine's Day, she tried to convince me you were interested," he says, muffled. "I told her there was no way you were actually interested in me."

"Jesus fuck," Eliot says. "Are you blind?"

"I've never been friends with an omega before!" Quentin cries, moving his hands so he can give Eliot a half-hearted glare. "I knew what all the textbooks and - and rumors said, that what you were doing should have been a big deal, but it was the same sort of stuff you did with Margo!"

"Bambi is not up for discussion here," Eliot says. "She is the exception to every rule. But do you see any of her shit in here?" He glances around, and immediately spots a sheer lavender scarf that makes up part of the canopy, and a pair of her discarded yoga pants woven in near the foot of the bed. "Okay, some of her shit is in here, but do you see as much as yours?"

Quentin sits up on his elbows, looking around. "No," he concedes after a long moment.

Eliot can't fucking take this anymore. He crawls into Quentin's lap, wraps one hand around the back of his neck, presses his entire body against his. "I want you," he says. "Not just to see me through my heat; not just for casual hookups. I want you."

Quentin's breath hitches, but he reaches for Eliot just the same, wraps his arms around Eliot's waist. "I want you, too," he confesses. "I have for a while, I just - I didn't think - "

"Well think," Eliot says, smiling. God, this boy. "If you want me, I'm yours."

"I do want you," Quentin says without hesitation. "Not just for a heat, or for a hook up. I want - I want everything that courting means."

Eliot's smile brightens. "Then kiss me," he says.

Quentin smiles, and closes the distance between them to catch Eliot's mouth in a kiss.

They spend a little while longer in the nest, enjoying their newfound closeness, but they're too tired to do anything except kiss and scent each other. It isn't long before basic needs kick in and the call of the kitchen is impossible to resist. Quentin pushes himself up, fully prepared to go out and fucking provide for his omega, but Eliot kisses him back into the pillows and tells him to get some rest. He's done plenty of providing lately; it's Eliot's turn.

So he gets dressed in the yoga pants he only wears after a heat and a sheer robe, and leaves the safety of his warded nest for the first time all week. He hasn't even showered. He knows he smells of Quentin, of satisfied omega, of smug omega; he knows he's covered in hickeys and his eyes are bright and his bedhead is fucking magnificent. He doesn't care. He wants the Cottage, the entire campus to know what he and Quentin have been up to.

He doesn't account for Margo making coffee in the kitchen when he saunters in, though.

Margo gets one whiff of him and immediately smirks. "So, guess you decided to seduce Quentin after all?"

"Like you didn't know," Eliot says, his nose turned up.

"I did know, and I very graciously held off on gloating until you two got done banging each other's brains out," Margo says primly. "Now, however... I fucking told you you quit too soon."

Eliot shrugs and opens the fridge door. "Maybe you did," he allows, "but here we are."

"There's no 'maybe' about it," Margo scoffs. "Please tell me I can quit watching you two be pathetic over each other now."

Margo may not be able to see his smile, but Eliot knows his scent tells the story for him. "I'm pretty sure you can," he says, and ducks out of the fridge with his arms full of just about every breakfast food he could get his hands on. "It was touch and go there for a second, but. We're good."

"What happened?" Margo demands, suspicion clear in her tone.

"He thought I was just asking him to see me through my heat," Eliot tells her.

Margo stares at him for a moment before letting out a slow breath. "I assume you corrected this mistaken assumption," she sighs. "So I'll ask: how the fuck did he come to that conclusion?"

Eliot laughs. "He thought I wanted him for something like what we have," he says. "And then he called me a slut, so."

Margo isn't so amused. "He what?"

"Not in so many words," Eliot allows, "but he did imply that. Well. I sleep around a lot, so why should this be any different?"

"You sleep around, but you don't fuck random people in your nest, or for your heat!" Margo exclaims, frustrated.

Eliot shrugs. "He's an idiot." He smiles. "But he's mine."

Margo makes a disgusted noise. "You two deserve each other," she declares. "And I deserve breakfast for putting up with you."

Eliot rolls his eyes. "Obviously."

"So," Julia says, as she appears from fucking nowhere and drops down beside Quentin on the couch later that afternoon, perfectly timed with Eliot getting up to get them a drink from the bar. "You and Eliot, huh?"

Quentin jumps, but doesn't bother trying to hide his smile. "Yeah," he says. "Me and Eliot."

Julia grins. "How did that happen?"

Quentin shrugs one shoulder. "I mean, you do remember where I spent the last week, right? We, um. Had a lot of time to talk."


Quentin flushes. "And it turns out he had... been... trying to court me."

Julia's grin waltzes straight past 'delighted' and into 'shit-eating' territory. "Oh," she says. "So he's been courting you? Who'd have thought?"

"Yeah, yeah," Quentin sighs. "In my defense, he was acting a lot like he does with Margo, and I've never interacted much with omegas before, you know that."

Julia pats his arm, not the least sympathetic. "I know, sweetie," she says. "Nothing about Eliot is 'typical omega'. But I think that'll be good for you."

Quentin glances at her with a raised eyebrow. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Well, you're not a typical alpha," Julia says. "Do you think you'd do well with someone quiet and reserved, someone who's happy to hide out in the shadows with you? You need someone to bring you out of your comfort zone."

Quentin considers that for a moment, gaze falling on Eliot, caught up talking with Josh. "Maybe you're right."

"He'll be good for you," Julia says, decisive. "As long as you don't let him jerk you around by your knot."

Quentin snorts. "Yeah, no, that's not going to happen. Maybe if he was more like Margo... But not El."

Julia smiles. "Good," she says. "I'm glad you're happy, Q."

Quentin's smile softens as he catches Eliot's eye. "I am happy."

With the semester well and truly over with, Quentin and Eliot have plenty of time to explore just what this new relationship means for both of them. Naturally, that includes a lot of fucking - in a lot more places around the Cottage, once everyone but Margo clears out for the summer - and a lot of time spent in Eliot’s nest or in Quentin’s room, curled around each other, trading secrets and scents. Quentin talks about how he felt growing up, the loneliness and the depression, the shit his brain said - and still says, sometimes, even after he got back on his meds after Julia found out Fogg had convinced him to go off of them. Eliot, in turn, tells Quentin a bit more about his life before Brakebills and Margo; most of it is about his life in New York, running with hedges, but he tells Quentin a little bit about growing up in Bumfuck Nowhere, Indiana.

It’s that last that keeps Quentin from feeling hurt when Eliot declines to go with Quentin into the city for dinner with his dad; Eliot never said it in so many words, but Quentin’s pieced together a pretty good picture of what Eliot’s parents - particularly his father - were like. Growing up like that is bound to give anyone issues with meeting parents, so Quentin lets it go after Eliot says no. He does tell Eliot that he’s not going to try to hide Eliot’s scent on him, so Ted is going to know right away that Quentin’s seeing someone, but that seems to please Eliot more than anything else, knowing that his scent will be all over Quentin.

Sure enough, Ted immediately asks him about the change in scent as soon as they’re seated. Quentin tells him that he’s seeing someone, and Ted presses for a few details - including how they got together; Quentin doesn’t bother trying to omit his own obliviousness, because his father knows him - but is satisfied with Quentin’s brief warning that Eliot didn’t have the best parents, and doesn’t press to meet him yet. He does tell Quentin that he’s happy he found someone, and sees Quentin back off to campus with a hug so tight Quentin can still feel it when he slips into bed with Eliot.

The rest of summer passes in a wonderful haze; mostly, it’s quiet, but sometimes he and Eliot will take a trip to the city, wandering around, seeing a movie or two, joining a local event - once, Quentin even manages to drag Eliot into a bookstore for one of their events, and Eliot enjoys himself, even if he does complain showily the whole time he’s there.

The highlight of summer, though, is when they take a week and use the portal to Margo and Eliot’s favorite London pub every day. Margo and Eliot indulge Quentin, letting him do all of the typical touristy stuff with only mild complaining. They see the Tower of London, tour Buckingham Palace - and Quentin and Margo get into a bitchfest about the monarchy that lasts practically the rest of the day afterwards - and even visit the Natural History Museum, and the magical exhibit there. Margo teases him for practically having a nerdgasm, but Quentin frankly doesn’t care; he’s not a Knowledge student like Julia is, but he will never be over the fact that magic is real.

They also go to the West End, which is, as Quentin understands it, basically London Broadway; Eliot is practically in raptures after getting to see Wicked live, and doesn’t even complain when they visit a street festival the next day, wandering around the shops and enjoying the sights.

There’s only a few weeks left of summer by that point, and their attention starts turning towards the upcoming semester, even if they don’t really talk about it until a few days before the new semester starts. They’re in Eliot’s nest, clothes gone, and resting in each other’s arms after an evening of slow, intimate sex, when Quentin brings up the subject. “You’ve got that meeting with Sunderland tomorrow, right?” he murmurs. “To talk about your courses?”

"Mmm." Eliot presses his face into Quentin's hair. "What about it?"

”Just wondering how it’ll go,” Quentin says, smiling as he toys idly with Eliot’s chest hair, hand sliding up to curve around Eliot’s throat, thumb stroking the scent gland tucked under his jaw. “Gonna be a busy year for you.”

Eliot shivers against him, his scent going rich and sweet. "Yeah, I guess," he sighs. "And for you."

Quentin groans theatrically. “Don’t remind me,” he mock-complains. “I might die from course-related anxiety.”

"You'll be fine," Eliot tells him. "We just might not see much of each other for a while."

Quentin sighs. "That's what I was afraid of," he grumbles. "I've really liked this summer."

"I know," Eliot says, and gives him a squeeze. "Me too, sweetheart. But we'll see each other in passing - and I hope we'll spend at least some nights together."

"Absolutely," Quentin promises. "I'm not giving this up."

Eliot fucking purrs, through no design of his own. "Good," he says. "I should think not."

Quentin chuckles, sidling a bit closer and tucking himself under Eliot's chin. "This is my favorite time of day," he confesses. "Getting up here and just... relaxing. The sex is good, but I really like this."

"Yeah?" Eliot asks, smiling. "Do you like my nest, alpha?"

"I like you," Quentin says, a playful growl to his voice. "You smug bastard."

Eliot chuckles, and presses a kiss to the top of Quentin's head. "I was so nervous when I first brought you up here, you know."

"Not just because of that test you nearly failed?" Quentin guesses.

Eliot rolls his eyes. "I was upset about that," he concedes, "but obviously I was interested in you, so I was worried you wouldn't like it. Like. The dumbest omega parts of me were worried it wouldn't be up to your standards. Which is clearly ridiculous. My nest is magnificent."

"It is magnificent," Quentin agrees easily. "Besides, I didn't have any standards, remember? Never been with an omega before, much less in their nest."

"Even more reason to impress," Eliot sniffs. "Make sure you don't go looking in someone else's nest."

Quentin chuckles quietly, pressing a kiss to the hollow of Eliot's throat. "Not likely, when I can be here with you in yours."

Eliot breathes out a happy sigh into Quentin's hair. "Then stay," he murmurs.

Quentin stills, and then carefully shifts so he can look up at Eliot with wide eyes. "That sounds a lot like you're asking me to move in with you, here."

Eliot's eyes are wide too, for once no trace of arrogance on his face. Some of the warm contentment bleeds out of his scent, to be replaced by something sharp, less sweet. "Maybe I am," he says.

Quentin searches Eliot's expression intently, and after a long moment, he smiles. "If you are," he says slowly, softly. "Then I'd be honored, and happy to stay with you."

That sharp note to Eliot's scent is chased away immediately by a full, blooming happiness that swells until it fills the room. "Yeah?"

Quentin's smile grows. "Yeah."

Eliot beams. "Then move in with me," he says.

The first Friday after classes start, there's a party. Of course there is. And it feels like every person on campus is in attendance, with the exception of the new first years who very much aren't invited. The Cottage is crawling with students, the music is loud, drugs are in abundance - Josh couldn't resist coming back for the first party of the year - and Eliot is in his element. He's behind the bar, naturally, mixing drinks and making sure everyone's having a good time. Margo played host with him for as long as it took her to catch the eye of a beautiful beta, so now he's on his own.

Well, except for Quentin. He's sitting on the other side of the bar, nursing a mojito and doing his best to keep up with Eliot's chatter in between taking orders. There's nothing he can do to help, especially not with the party so loud and full of new scents. He'd kind of gotten used to how quiet the place was over the summer. This abrupt shift is a little bit jarring.

Eliot must be able to tell he's out of sorts, because he rounds the bar with a fresh mojito, steals the one Quentin’s been drinking for the past hour or so right out of his hand, and bows his head to kiss him. "Hey gorgeous," he says. "Having a good night?"

Quentin leans easily into the affection. "So far," he hums. "Bit overwhelming after having the place to ourselves."

Eliot tuts sympathetically. "Well," he says, "not that I'm ever one to advocate for insobriety as a coping mechanism, but you might feel a little better if you actually finished a drink. This one's basically just ice water now."

Quentin snorts quietly. "I got caught up talking to you and people-watching," he informs Eliot. "I'll try to finish this one a bit faster, then I think I'll need to get something to eat."

”You’d better treat this drink right,” Eliot says, giving Quentin a stern look.

Quentin rolls his eyes, his smile fond. "Go take care of your guests, El."

It's probably not the smartest decision, but Quentin stays by the bar for most of the night. There's people coming and going, picking up drinks and dropping off glasses - because plastic cups would never dare be seen in the Physical Cottage - but even that crowd isn't as intimidating as the crowd in... pretty much the rest of the Cottage. Eliot takes breaks whenever he can, comes around the bar to kiss Quentin and try to soothe his frazzled nerves, but there's only so much he can do. When the crowd finally begins to thin for real, sometime on the other side of midnight, Quentin slides off of his stool and starts working his way through the people still pressed against the bar, the edge of the unofficial dance floor still too close for comfort, until he can stop by the other end of the bar and catch Eliot's attention, pointing upstairs meaningfully.

Eliot's face falls, and he immediately shoves what even Quentin can tell is an incomplete daiquiri into the hands of a pretty omega so that he can round the bar to Quentin's side. "Hey," he says, his big, warm hands falling easily to Quentin's waist. "Don't disappear on me now. Come on, I'll leave the drinks for a bit and we can hang out."

Quentin hesitates. "I don't know, El," he says slowly. "There's just... a lot going on down here right now."

Eliot winds his arms around Quentin, pulls him close. "What about our quiet corner?"

Quentin considers that. "I could do that for a little while," he offers. "Not very long, though."

Eliot smiles, and ducks down to scent Quentin, right there in the middle of the crowd. "I'm sorry," he murmurs, low enough for only Quentin to hear. "I've been neglectful tonight. Let me make it up to you."

"You've been busy being a good host," Quentin counters, softening - if not quite relaxing - in Eliot's arms. "But if you had something in mind..."

"I want to spoil you for a little bit," Eliot tells him warmly, "and then maybe, if you're up for it, we could go upstairs?"

Quentin smiles. "I like the sound of that."

"Good," Eliot says. "Come on." He gets an arm around Quentin's shoulders, and draws him away from the bar.

Quentin goes easily; the noise and press of the crowd doesn't exactly diminish, but it is easier to bear when he's got Eliot nearby, acting as a buffer as they make their way across the Cottage to their corner. Quentin settles gratefully onto the cushions as Eliot puts the wards back up, and sighs when the noise of the party fades away to more manageable levels. "That's better," he says, as Eliot sinks down beside him.

"I thought it might be," Eliot says. "I'm sorry for keeping you out there so long."

"It's the first party of the semester; I know how important that is," Quentin counters.

"I know," Eliot says, "but this year is going to be a tough one, for both of us. I want to put you first as much as I can."

Quentin smiles. "I appreciate that," he says honestly, leaning against Eliot. "But don't go sacrificing the rest of your social life. Margo would kill us if we became That couple."

"I can do both, baby," Eliot says. He rubs his cheek against Quentin's hair, scenting him. "I'm a man of many talents."

"You are," Quentin agrees readily, even if he still can't quite fully relax under Eliot's hands; there's too many people staring at them beyond the wards, looking at them and then whispering to each other. "Very talented. But I don't mind heading to bed early some nights, you know."

Eliot grins. "I bet you don't."

Quentin rolls his eyes, unable to help his smile even as he thumps Eliot lightly on the chest. "That's not what I meant."

Eliot chuckles. "It's what I meant, though."

Quentin shakes his head, smile growing more fond. "You're ridiculous."

Two weeks later finds their little group out in the city on Friday night instead of hosting another party at the Cottage. It's been one hell of a week for everyone, and Margo had declared that she unequivocally did not have the patience to be a host this weekend. Julia had suggested going to the city, Eliot had suggested a club he and Margo like, and the plan had been formed.

Quentin had stuck by Eliot's side until they'd gotten the first round of drinks and claimed a booth, and then he'd sent Eliot off with Margo and a kiss. Alice was in conversation with another phosphomancer she'd spotted at the bar, and Kady had dragged Penny to the dance floor after Eliot and Margo, leaving Julia and Quentin alone at the booth. Quentin's not mad about this; he hasn't had nearly enough time with Julia lately. "So, how's that whole thing going?" he asks, gesturing to where Kady and Penny currently commanding the attention of the half of the dance floor not preoccupied with Eliot and Margo.

Julia flushes, but she's grinning. "It's... going," she says.

Quentin grins, too. “Gotta admit, I’m surprised you’re managing to work out a relationship with an alpha and an omega; you’re as territorial as any alpha, and Kady’s worse.”

"I think that's why it works," Julia admits. "We don't see each other as a threat."

Quentin's grin softens into a smile. "Well, good. I'm glad you found them, Jules."

"And I'm glad you found Eliot," Julia tells him, her gaze wandering over to where Margo is grinding on him in the middle of the dance floor. Even as they're looking, Eliot spots them and gives Quentin a wolfish grin. "It's clear he really likes you."

Quentin shakes his head, expression fond, and waves at Eliot. "Yeah, he does. I really like him, too."

"No shit," Julia giggles. "Just... always look after yourself first, okay?"

Quentin snorts. "You know I can't promise that," he says, glancing up in time to see Eliot making his way over. "But I'll take care of myself. And if I don't, then I have you."

Julia smiles. "You'll always have me, Q."

Eliot reaches them before Quentin can respond, and holds his hands out to him. "Hey gorgeous," he says. Even within the busy club, Quentin can smell the sweat on him, the joy, the desire. "Come and dance with me."

Quentin eyes the crowd dubiously, but he lets Eliot pull him to his feet regardless. "Alright; not in the middle of everyone else, though."

"The edge then," Eliot agrees readily, already drawing Quentin towards the dance floor. "I'll make it worth your while."

"Oh really?" Quentin laughs. "How so?"

"Well," Eliot says, pulling Quentin in close and guiding him into something like dancing, "I was thinking maybe we'd cut out early."

"Oh?" Quentin asks, unable to help his smile as he focuses on the feeling of Eliot's arms around him instead of the crowd five inches to their left. “And do what?”

They're definitely dancing too slow for the music, and not at all as filthy as Eliot and Margo were just dancing, but Eliot doesn't seem to mind. "We could go to this little place I know," he goes on. "Smaller crowd. Very intimate."

"How intimate?"

"A little underground club," Eliot tells him. "It's very exclusive. Only those who have been given the right sigils can even find the door."

Quentin raises an eyebrow. "Sounds fancy," he comments, stepping in even closer, pressing himself against Eliot's front as the crowd on the dance floor shifts closer to them. "Not for too long, okay?"

"Fine," Eliot sighs, soft and indulgent. "I just want to wrap myself around you. Show you off a little."

Quentin chuckles quietly. "I suppose I can put up with being shown off a little bit."

Eliot grins, and pulls him into a kiss. "Perfect," he says. "You're perfect."

Eliot does show Quentin off that night - and every following night, every chance he gets. It’s like he wants to rub it in everyone’s face, the fact that he’s claimed Quentin, that they’re fucking regularly - like the scent of them all over each other isn’t enough. Quentin put up with it with good grace, but it’s starting to grate on his nerves now, just a little bit. It’s not even so much what Eliot’s doing, really. He’s physically affectionate, everything he was before they got themselves sorted out dialed to eleven, and Quentin would be more than okay with it if it weren’t for…

Well, if it weren’t for the looks, and the whispers, that constantly follow him now.

Tonight, for instance, two weeks after that night out at the club, Eliot had abandoned the bar early in favor of curling up with Quentin in their corner, draping himself over Quentin almost as dramatically as he’d draped himself over the Brakebills sign that very first day. Quentin’s playing with his hair with the hand not occupied by his near empty drink, and he can’t hear the whispers, but he can see the looks they’re getting. A particularly nasty one from a psychic alpha makes him down the rest of his drink, and then he nudges Eliot gently. “Hey, sweetheart. I need to go to the bathroom. And I should probably eat something after all the drinks you made me.”

"Oh," Eliot says, immediately attentive. He sits up and twists to face Quentin with a smile. "I'm sure I can pull something together."

"You don't have to," Quentin says, a little awkwardly. "That wasn't, like, a hint or anything."

"It's no trouble," Eliot assures him. His scent goes warm with pleasure. "You know I like taking care of you."

Quentin smiles despite himself. "I know, but I don't want to take advantage of that. Seriously, though, I really need to go piss. Those last couple of drinks are hitting hard."

Eliot laughs. "Okay," he says, and pulls Quentin in for a kiss. "I'll wait for you."

Quentin smiles at Eliot's dramatics as he pulls away, bracing himself before stepping out of their wards. The sounds of a Physical Cottage party in full swing hit him full-force, nearly making him stagger as he heads for the - thankfully unoccupied - bathroom. He can still hear the whispers through the crowd, though, can see the looks that range from amused to curious to pointed to outright hostile. Everyone, it seems, has something to say about him and Eliot -

" - can't believe that Waugh chose him," one beta says to her friend as Quentin ducks through the door to the bathroom, pausing on the other side to listen despite himself, morbid curiosity keeping his ear to the wood.

"I know, right? God, it's sickening, how much he's making Eliot suppress himself; he barely stayed at the bar for an hour tonight."

"What I want to know," the first one says, "is how the hell Coldwater got his attention in the first place, and how the fuck he's keeping up with him."

"There's your answer," her friend snorts. "He must be incredible in the sack; only reason an omega acts that way over an alpha is if they've got a big enough knot, and know how to use it."

"Big knot, maybe, but there's no way that wallflower knows anything about how to use it," the beta argues. "I guarantee you - "

Quentin activates a soundproofing ward before he can hear them continue. His stomach is in knots, his mind racing as he takes care of his business running on autopilot. He maybe hides in the bathroom a bit longer, trying to gather his composure, but when he steps out... Well, the beta and her friend are gone, but now that he's listening, Quentin can hear the same sentiment repeated over and over, can read it behind every look.

How did he catch Eliot Waugh?

Quentin blinks and is across the room, standing in front of Eliot once more, it seems like, though he knows it definitely took longer than a couple of seconds to cross the Cottage. "Hey, El, I'm gonna head upstairs," he says, somehow managing to get the words around the lump in his throat. "I need an early night tonight; not feeling up to being around a crowd."

Eliot's brow furrows in concern, and he gets to his feet. "Okay," he says. "I'll come with you."

"You don't need to," Quentin hastens to reassure him. "Stay down here and be social for a bit; I know Margo's been complaining about me hogging you on party nights. Just because I'm out of social energy doesn't mean you need to leave with me."

Eliot hesitates, and for a moment Quentin thinks he's going to argue - but then he smiles. "All right," he says. He leans in to kiss Quentin, scent him a little. "I'll see you later, okay? I'll try not to wake you when I come up."

"Sounds good," Quentin says, giving Eliot a smile. "I'll see you in the morning."

Eliot does spend some quality time with Margo, and he enjoys it, but he's glad to get away from the party and curl up with his alpha when he makes his way up to his room a few hours later. He's pleasantly buzzed, not wasted by any means, so it doesn't take him long to notice there's something wrong. Quentin isn't here. The air still smells of both of them, but their scents are slightly stale, like the room has been left undisturbed for several hours. The blankets are cold, and not slept in. The whole room - the whole nest - feels... empty.

Maybe Quentin just went to his own room to grab a new book and got stuck reading, or perhaps he caught Alice on his way past her room and they're talking downstairs. It didn't sound like there was any noise coming from Alice's room when Eliot himself walked past it on the way up here, and the light wasn't on beneath Quentin's door either, but... He'll be along in a little while. It would be weird if Eliot went looking for him; Quentin's his own man, he can do what he wants. But he'll be back soon. Especially once he realises that Eliot himself has turned in.

Except that he doesn't come back. Eliot wakes early the next morning, alone in a cold nest. When he realises he's slept alone all night for the first time since the summer, for no reason that Eliot can easily discern, a part of him just wants to curl deeper into the blankets and never come out. But the rest of him is just. Pissed.

He forgoes a shower, doesn't even bother getting dressed, just pulls on sleep pants and a robe and storms downstairs. If anyone is disturbed by his stampede, they know better than to stick their heads around their doors and find out what's going on. Even Margo's door remains closed as Eliot stalks past it to rap sharply on Quentin's door and open it without waiting to be admitted. At least his wards still recognise him and let him through; Eliot could probably tease them apart if they didn't, but it would require more effort and patience than he has right now.

He slams the door shut behind him and hesitates just long enough to throw up a silencing ward before he rounds on the just-stirring lump in the middle of the bed. "Oh, so you did sleep in here," he spits. "Can I fucking ask why?"

Quentin's head pops up over the blankets, and he frowns as he spots Eliot. "This is still my room? I read for a bit and decided to just sleep here."

Eliot glowers. "And what's wrong with our nest?"

"Nothing!" Quentin says, sitting up more fully. "I just slept here for one night, Eliot. It's not a bad thing if we get some space every once in a while."

"So you wanted space from me," Eliot says. God, he sounds crazy. "I thought you were being weird last night."

"No, I wanted space from everything, El," Quentin sighs, reaching up to run one hand through his hair. "I just - I just needed a night to myself."

"Oh," Eliot says. He takes a halting step back. "Right. Fine. I just... A little warning might have been nice. It wasn't great, going up to an empty nest."

"Yeah, sorry, I should've - I was just in my head, after hearing a bunch of shit last night." Quentin freezes, like he hadn't meant to say that last part.

Eliot freezes too. "What kind of shit?" he asks.

Quentin swallows hard enough that Eliot sees his throat work, but he doesn't try to dodge the question, at least. "About how you've... been all over me. Why we got together, and how you've spent so much time with me that people have... noticed."

"Well, why shouldn't they notice?" Eliot asks, frowning. "We're dating, aren't we? Of course we act like a couple."

"Yeah, but you've been going... a little crazy with the scenting. And always offering to do things for me. And leaving the bar or the party entirely early just because I need to head out."

Eliot blinks. "So?"

"So, it's a little much, sometimes, all the... the PDA, and even other people can see it," Quentin finally admits.

The bottom drops out of Eliot's stomach. "Right," he says. "Well, you should have just said something. I'm proud to be with you. I didn't realise you weren't."

Quentin's expression twists, and he fumbles with the blankets, flinging them to the side so he can stand up, take a step towards Eliot. "No, El, that's not what I meant. I am proud to be with you, I just - I'm not used to that much affection where everyone can see, I'm used to it being private, and it draws attention, then everyone staring at me - at us - and whispering, and I'm not good at being the center of attention."

"Yeah," Eliot says, "I've noticed."

Quentin's face falls. "I'm sorry, El. I should've said something sooner, I know, I just... didn't know how to. That doesn't make it better, but I am sorry."

"I don't know what to say," Eliot admits. "I can... tone down my shit, but this is who I am. I spent a long time growing up suppressing the shit out of my instincts. I've spent a long time here just, playing a part. I want to have a nest the size of my entire room. I want to have an alpha that I..." He swallows. "That I really care about in it. I want to show him off and be affectionate and territorial and proud. I want to be shown off and loved on in public and I want everyone to know that I belong with him, that there's nowhere else I'd rather be. Because that's true, Q. I love what I do here, I love the parties and the bartending and everything else. But I also just. Love you."

Quentin's eyes widen, and he takes another step forward. "I love you, too," he says, something a little desperate in his voice. "That's the most important thing. I love you, too, and I don't want to make you tone yourself down, or suppress your wants or your instincts. I've never been a really, publicly affectionate person, I don't know how to be. But I can try, I can try to be more comfortable at least letting you be affectionate with me around other people."

"I can't ask you to change yourself, either," Eliot says, frustrated. "I just. I don't know, Q. Maybe I'm just too much."

"No," Quentin says, surprisingly vehement. He moves forward, until he reaches out and carefully takes one of Eliot's hands in his. "You're not too much, Eliot. I wasn't struggling with what you were doing, I was struggling with how everyone else reacted to it, because anxiety is stupid. I love when you scent me, and I love spending the night in our nest."

"Just not when I'm affectionate in public."

"No, that's my issue," Quentin says firmly. "My problem, because of my anxiety, and because I didn't say anything to you sooner. And I promise I'll work on that, on not paying attention to what other people say, and communicating better, but I don't want you to feel like you have to make yourself smaller to fit in my life."

Eliot's mouth twists, unhappy. "There has to be some middle ground," he says. "Maybe we should just take some time while we figure that out."

Quentin bites his lip, expression clearly considering. "I'm... not really the kind of person to show off what - or who - I have," he says slowly. "But what if I - What if I marked you up a bit? When it was just the two of us, in places where you can show the marks off."

Despite himself, Eliot's eyes light up with interest. "What about me?" he asks. "I walk around with your marks on me, but I keep my distance in public?"

Quentin smiles. "No, that'd be cruel," he chuckles. "Just... keep doing what you've been doing - I really liked it - and maybe check in if I haven't said anything but you think I'm acting weird again? And I promise I'll try to pay more attention about where I'm at in my head, and less attention to people who aren't even involved in our relationship."

Eliot gets a little thrill at that, the same thrill he felt when Quentin was just his friend, and told him he liked his nest for the first time. "You liked it?" he asks. "I thought PDA wasn't your thing."

"I'm not a fan of everyone whispering about us, but they'll never stop if we don't make this like, a usual thing," Quentin reasons. "Something not worth gossiping about. But you all over me? I'll never say no to that unless I'm like. In a full-body cast."

Eliot smiles, and finally steps closer to Quentin. "Say it again," he says, soft and intimate.

"I love you," Quentin says quietly, sincerity clear in his voice. "And I love it when you're all over me, and I love being in our nest."

Now that he's close enough Eliot slips his hands into Quentin's, reels him in. "I fucking love you," he says, and kisses him.

Quentin kisses back immediately, releasing one of Eliot's hands to wrap an arm around Eliot's shoulders, pulling him in closer as the kiss deepens.

Eliot moans into his mouth, his own hand sliding around the back of Quentin's neck and squeezing. "Upstairs," he gasps. "I want you, in our nest."

"Okay," Quentin says, breath hitching. "Okay, yeah. Sounds perfect."

Eliot smiles, and presses himself against Quentin. "Mark me up, alpha."

Quentin is relaxing on the couch, ostensibly reading a book. It's a Tuesday afternoon, most people's classes are done for the day, and the Physical kids are just milling about the Cottage, doing their own thing. Eliot is across the room fixing them a little pre-dinner tipple. It's all very innocent, except for the fact that Eliot's shirt collar is open, his tie nowhere to be seen, revealing a scattering of unmistakable hickeys decorating his throat and upper chest. So Quentin really should be reading - but he kind of... can't stop looking at him.

"So," Margo says as she drops into the seat next to him, making Quentin jump out of his skin. "That's new."

Quentin has to take a moment to dislodge his heart from his throat. "What are you talking about?"

"You know exactly what I'm talking about," Margo says. "Our boy doesn't usually show off that much skin. He doesn't usually have a reason to."

Quentin couldn't stop the flush if he tried. "Well, no. But he wanted a reason."

Margo smirks. "I bet," she says. "But don't sit there and act like it's not doing things for you."

Quentin feels his flush deepen. "I'm not!" he protests. "Jesus, Margo, you know that I think he's stupidly attractive any time, but..." His gaze drifts from Margo over to the bar, where Eliot is nearly finished with their drinks, putting the garnishes on with a flourish. The move also makes the collar of his shirt move, exposing a particularly dark hickey Quentin remembers biting into Eliot's skin.

Margo laughs. "Wow, you're like. Super horny about it," she says. "I bet he loves that."

"Yeah, well, I'm sure you'd be smug about someone showing off your marks," Quentin counters weakly. "And he's shameless."

Margo frowns. "Does it actually bother you?"

"What he does? No, it doesn't bother me. But it does kinda... put me in the spotlight. And that's what makes me kind of uncomfortable."

Margo just blinks slowly at him, like a cat. "So why the hickeys?"

"He wanted me to claim him," Quentin says, voice quiet. "He wanted to show me off, and be shown off, himself, but. I couldn't just make myself do what he does, just... be all over him in public. So we compromised."

"But are you okay with that?" Margo asks, blunt. "Eliot deserves to be shown off, but he's also a bit of a diva. If you're not comfortable with what he's doing, you need to pussy up and tell him. Even if that means you're not as compatible as we all thought you were."

"I'm working on ignoring everyone else's gossiping," Quentin assures her. "Trust me, I am more than okay with the idea of him showing me off, and showing off the marks I leave on him."

Margo searches his face for a long moment, and then sits back with a smile. "Good," she says. "Because otherwise I'd be worried your alpha parts were broken."

"Whose alpha parts are broken?" Eliot asks, appearing beside them in an instant. He's carrying two glasses, with a third floating alongside him. He hands the two he's holding to Quentin and Margo. "Sorry I took so long; I saw Bambi had joined us and made extra." He plucks the third glass out of the air and rounds the sofa to settle himself into Quentin's lap like he just belongs there. Quentin is starting to think that maybe he does. "What are we talking about?"

"Margo was just not-exactly implying that there's something wrong with my alpha parts because I'm not acting like a possessive knothead," Quentin informs him, wrapping an arm around Eliot's waist.

Eliot purrs, a happy omega rumble deep in his chest, and leans in to scent Quentin a little. "Oh, but you are possessive."

"Well, yeah," Quentin says easily. "I just don't go around acting like ninety percent of the alphas in the world."

"And we love that about you," Eliot says, sitting up so that he can sip delicately at his drink. "Don't we?"

Margo raises her glass in a toast to Quentin. "Fuck yeah, we do. I was just sayin', seeing your omega walking around covered in your marks does shit for an alpha. Sometimes that's all the possessive behaviour you need. God knows El is possessive enough for the both of you in public."

"What gave that away?" Quentin asks dryly, smiling as he sips his own drink.

"You love it," Eliot says. He kisses Quentin full on the mouth, and pulls back with a happy sigh. "You tolerate me."

"Only for the drinks you make me," Quentin teases, reeling Eliot in for another kiss. "And maybe because I like you, too."

"You two are disgusting," Margo complains. "And you stink. I liked it better when you just smelled like you wanted to fuck all the time."

Quentin turns to look at her with a raised eyebrow. “Are you saying we don’t smell like that anymore?”

Margo pulls a face. "I'm saying the sickly stench of adoration is overwhelming the rampant lust."

Eliot sways closer to Quentin. "Rampant lust," he says. "I like the sound of that."

”Of course you do,” Quentin says fondly. “But I’m not doing anything about it right now. Dinner first.”

Eliot pouts, but his scent doesn't sour with disappointment. "Fine," he sighs. "Guess I'll get started on that, then."

The rest of the semester passes far too quickly for Quentin’s liking; he wants to savor all of the time he has with Eliot, now, but it seems like life doesn’t want them to spend more than a few hours together every week. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, maybe, but not much. Eliot’s been busy working with Sutherland on his thesis - something incredibly technical to do with his telekinesis and how, exactly, it works and affects physical objects. He, Alice, and Julia can go off on hour-long conversations about it that get so detailed it all goes a bit over Quentin’s head, frankly, but Quentin’s glad to see that Eliot’s actually engrossed in the work. Quentin himself is busy with classes and midterms and study sessions with Julia and Alice in the library most weeks, and even a lot of the weekends.

Quentin can feel his depression trying to creep back in around midterms, and he’s been here often enough that he makes sure to tell Julia and Eliot what’s going on well before he starts turning into a hermit. They do their best to be there for him, support him however he needs, but unfortunately, this is one of those times where the only thing to do is wait it out.

He’s not surprised when he doesn’t have a rut before finals this semester, then; it’s happened before, his depression throwing off his body’s natural rhythm. He is a bit surprised that it’s only a week off, though; it will overlap with Eliot’s heat, as a matter of fact. He’ll go into rut right in the middle of Eliot’s heat, if the predictive spell is correct.

With that in mind, he and Eliot make sure to over-stock their nest; alphas in rut who are sharing a heat with their omega tend to go a bit… overboard on the need-to-provide instinct, and the last thing either of them wants is to run out of food or water and have to call Margo for emergency supplies.

They’re as well-prepared as they can be when they lock themselves in Eliot’s attic room and set up all of the wards they’ll need. They’re especially careful with the contraceptive spell this time; no sense in taking any chances with an overlapping heat and rut. They fall asleep in their usual tangle of limbs, and when they wake up, Eliot’s heat has started.

This heat is better than the last, mostly because they know where they stand, now, and after six full months of fucking, they know how to work each other’s bodies perfectly. Quentin doesn’t bother trying to keep track of how many times he knots Eliot, each one making his own blood run hotter, his rut looming closer; all he pays attention to is making sure that his omega is as well-fucked - and well-loved - as he can be.

Quentin’s rut starts the third day of Eliot’s heat, and it starts off strong. It’s never been this strong before - but then again, he’s never spent a rut with an omega, much less an omega in heat, who he’s also in love with. It’s almost overwhelming, the urge to fuck Eliot, keep him knotted and sated and loved, but Eliot, deep in his heat, is more than accommodating. He’s demanding, nearly insatiable, and extremely willing to go wherever Quentin puts him.

This time, at the peak of his rut, Quentin practically manhandles Eliot onto his stomach, pressing in close and unable to help the way his hips jerk, fucking himself against Eliot’s ass, but not pushing in just yet. “Fuck,” he groans, long and drawn-out, hands moving restlessly over Eliot’s sides, unable to settle. “Fuck, El, I need - I need to knot you, wanna fill you up, let me fuck you, please - “

"Fucking-- let me--" Eliot whines, mindless with it. He writhes beneath Quentin until he can get his knees under him, present as best he can. His face pressed into the pillow does nothing to stop him from trembling, he wants it so bad. "Do it," he sighs, rocking back against Quentin. "Fuck me, please fuck me, Alpha--"

Quentin couldn't deny Eliot if he wanted to, not when Eliot begs like that. He shifts on his knees just enough to get the right angle, and then presses forward, fucking into Eliot with slow strokes. Beneath him, Eliot moans, long and low, like Quentin is hitting all the right places inside him. Quentin knows he is; he can feel it, in the way Eliot's breath hitches in his chest; in the way his cunt milks Quentin's cock, already begging for his knot. It's perfect, and Quentin settles into the well-established rhythm of fucking Eliot to orgasm, ignoring the way his own pulse pounds in favor of focusing on his omega.

He leans forward, bracing himself on one hand while his other arm wraps around Eliot's waist, pulling them together as he fucks Eliot harder and faster. "El," he gasps, moans against the back of Eliot's neck, the scent of Eliot's heat, their sex, filling his senses. "El, El, El, fuck, I love you, I love you, come for me, baby, come on - "

Eliot screams as he comes, his cock spilling onto the sheets completely untouched and his cunt clenching around Quentin so tight it might be painful if it weren't for Quentin's own rut. Quentin comes with a hoarse shout, his hips jerking, knot locking them together, as he moves on instinct, biting down on the back of Eliot's neck. He tastes blood, and his rut spikes higher, blood running hotter, even as a distant part of his brain registers blood as a bad thing during a heat.

Even still, it takes Quentin a moment to get control of himself, to make himself relax his jaw, and he sits up, already apologizing. "Shit, El, I'm sorry, I got carried away - you aren't hurt, are you?"

"No," Eliot gasps, reaching behind himself to press his hand to Quentin's bite. It comes away bloody, but only a little, the wound barely a graze. He laughs, breathless. "Fuck, it's okay. I'm okay. God, that was..."

Quentin shifts, wrapping his arms around Eliot and pressing a gentle kiss to the side of the bite. "That was something else," he agrees. "Here, c'mon, let's lie down."

"Yes, please," Eliot sighs. He lets Quentin manhandle him onto his side, and purrs as he's wrapped up in Quentin's arms, arching against him like a contented cat. "Mmm, you okay?"

"Yeah," Quentin sighs, nosing against Eliot's shoulder. "Got a little bit of time before the next wave. Think it's gonna slow down from here."

"Feels that way," Eliot agrees. "Think we have time for a nap?"

"A short one," Quentin sighs, arms tightening around Eliot. "Love you."

Eliot hums, soft and pleased. "Love you, too."

"You look far too chipper," Eliot complains, scowling at Quentin as he sits down opposite him at the kitchen table. He was alone when he woke up in their nest today, but given that it was the wrong side of noon, he can't be too annoyed. "Don't you feel like shit? I feel like shit." He passes a hand over his clammy face, and knows that he looks pale and pathetic. "I haven't felt this bad after a party in a long time."

Quentin gives him a sympathetic look, reaching across the table to press the back of his hand to Eliot's forehead. "You don't feel like you've got a fever, but you did drink a lot last night, when you and Margo got going."

Eliot pushes his face into Quentin's touch. Fever or no, his hand is blessedly cool. "I regret everything," he says, woeful. "You really don't feel bad? Where's Margo?"

"I feel fine, but I also didn't drink like, half the bar," Quentin says, smiling. "I haven't seen Margo this morning. Do you want me to make you a... really late breakfast-slash-lunch?"

Eliot takes a moment to think about it, to test the appeal of food against the roiling in his stomach. Food wins. "Yes please," he says. "That would be lovely."

"Something simple?" Quentin suggests, standing up and moving around the table, pausing to drop a kiss to the top of Eliot's head before going to dig through the fridge.

"Simple is pretty much our only option, if you're cooking," Eliot teases. "Make whatever, I'm easy."

Quentin snorts. "You really are not, in any sense of the word," he teases right back. "How about scrambled eggs, toast, and sausage?"

The mere mention of breakfast foods opens the gaping pit that is Eliot's hangover stomach. "Throw in some bacon and I'm down."

Quentin smiles. "Alright, I think I can manage that."

Eliot nurses that hangover for a good few days. Margo, who was fine when she woke up two hours after Eliot, calls him a wilting knot at least twice, though Quentin is as sweet and attentive as ever. He finally wakes up on Wednesday feeling nowhere near as nauseous as he has been, and gets ready with all of his usual flair, which has been sadly lacking the last few days. He left Quentin asleep in their nest, but by the time he's finished showering and indulging in his very thorough skin- and haircare regimen, the nest is empty, Quentin likely having rushed out to class. That's fine. Eliot has a good hour until his own first class, which leaves plenty of time for breakfast - and maybe even mimosas.

Except that it seems that Margo has beat him to it. He gets downstairs to find her at work in the kitchen, and immediately recoils. "Jesus fuck, what are you cooking?"

Margo looks at him with a raised eyebrow. "Chorizo," she says slowly. "I had a craving, and I can cook, you know. What the fuck is up with your face?"

"It smells like you've killed something," Eliot says. He takes another tentative sniff, and wrinkles his nose. "Jesus, Bambi. Was it in date?"

Margo rolls her eyes with impressive flair. "Of course it's in date, you pansy. I don't feel like dealing with food poisoning."

"Well, good luck with that," Eliot scoffs. "I'll be somewhere not here."

Margo gives him an odd look. "You love my chorizo," she says suspiciously. "What's wrong with it this time?"

"I don't know," Eliot says, honestly. "I just... I'm not hungry, I guess. Maybe I'm coming down with something?"

"Maybe," Margo says, though she doesn't sound convinced. "Weird, though, that it would affect your nose."

"Everything always smells and tastes weird when you've got a cold," Eliot argues. "Right? It can't still be the hangover."

"I'd be really fucking concerned if it was still the hangover," Margo says bluntly. "If this keeps up, you need to go see Lipson."

Eliot waves an impatient hand, though the only thing he's impatient for is his departure from this room. "I'll be fine," he says. "I'll see you in Advanced Composition, yeah?"

"Sure," Margo says, still watching him suspiciously. "Eat something before you go if you're not having any of this."

"I will," Eliot says, though he has absolutely no intention of doing so. Maybe he does need to see Lipson.

The smell thing also seems to be a taste thing, as Eliot discovers at lunch. It's not so bad that he can't eat, but then the nausea returns with a vengeance, meaning he barely eats anything at dinner. It doesn't seem to be going away, either. Quentin, sweetheart that he is, doesn't notice, and Eliot is grateful for it. He doesn't want to go see Lipson. He's sure it's just a weird bug; it'll pass soon enough.

He's tired over the next few days, but he sees that as a good thing. The body needs to rest in order to heal, right? So he indulges himself as much as his body demands it, sleeping in late when his schedule allows and even on a few occasions when it doesn't, and disappearing sometime most afternoons for a nap. Quentin does notice this, and so does Margo, but he just blames the late nights they've been having, either partying or fucking or both, and they seem to accept it. Honestly he's not sure how long he can keep this up for, but he's hoping that whatever this is will work itself out of his system before it becomes a real problem.

Things definitely seem to be looking up two weeks after that fateful party, when Quentin wakes him up from one of his afternoon maps to tell him that dinner is ready. Eliot makes a happy, rumbly omega sound and rolls over to where Quentin is sitting in the nest. It's no effort at all to grasp Quentin's arms and pull him until he's over Eliot, close enough that Eliot can arch his body up and rub himself all over him. "Mmm, hello," he purrs. "I missed you."

Quentin lets out a surprised laugh. "You just saw me at lunch," he points out, smiling even as he lets his weight settle a bit more heavily over Eliot.

Eliot rolls his eyes, his smile sharp against Quentin's jaw. "That's not what I meant."

"It's not like we've been celibate for weeks," Quentin points out, but Eliot can hear the smile in his voice as Quentin shifts, one hand running lightly up Eliot's side.

Eliot sighs sweetly, kicks one leg free of his blankets so that he can wrap it around Quentin's waist. "Are you complaining?" he asks.

"No, I'm just saying... You should eat something. Haven't eaten much the last few days."

"Oh, you've noticed that, have you?" Eliot sighs, a little less sweet this time. "I'll eat, I promise. But maybe I should work up an appetite first."

"Oh?" Quentin asks, shifting to press a kiss to the corner of Eliot's mouth. "Guess you've got an idea?"

"Many," Eliot promises him. "Some of them even involve eating."

"I worry about the way your mind works sometimes," Quentin laughs, reaching up to tap Eliot gently, fondly, on the center of his forehead.

Eliot rolls his eyes, and his hips, unable to contain his smile. "Then shut me up," he murmurs. "Fuck me, alpha."

Eliot finds Quentin in the middle of a study session with Alice and Julia in the Cottage living room. Margo is lounging nearby, but he's only barely aware of that; he feels wrong in his skin somehow, and it doesn't settle much even when Quentin registers his presence and looks up at him. God knows what he smells like. "Hey," he says, and points vaguely at Quentin's chest. "Sorry to interrupt. I just need that."

Quentin’s brow furrows, and he follows the line of Eliot’s finger. “My… hoodie?”

"Yes," Eliot says, deadly serious. "I need it."

Quentin raises his eyebrows - Eliot vaguely registers the others doing the same - before he shrugs. "Alright," he says, reaching up to tug it over his head. "Here."

"Thank you," Eliot says. He takes the hoodie and hugs it close to his chest; the scent of his alpha, strong and fresh, soothes him almost immediately. "I'll get out of your hair. Don't work too hard, gang."

"'Gang'?" Julia mutters under her breath, exchanging a look with Alice and Margo as Eliot turns.

Eliot just walks away like he hasn't a care in the world, like nothing in that exchange was the least bit out of the ordinary, though his heart is racing by the time he reaches the stairs. What the fuck is wrong with him?

Quentin doesn't see that hoodie again - and it's not the only thing to go missing, either. Some of his sleep clothes seem to have disappeared, along with one of his favourite sweaters, a scarf Eliot wrapped around his neck and insisted that he wear for a day, and one of the blankets from their nest. There seem to be less fairy lights strung up above the nest, come to think of it, and there are a few robes and sleep shirts of Eliot's own that are usually in regular rotation that he hasn't seen for a while. It's more than a little weird, and Julia seems to think so, too, but he doesn't know how to bring it up with Eliot. Maybe it's part of some elaborate surprise, or even a prank, or maybe it's just an omega thing that Quentin doesn't know about. Eliot is as unapologetic about being an omega as it's possible to be, but he can get defensive and in his head about that if someone questions certain things too much. So Quentin decides not to push, or even bring it up. When Eliot wants him to know, he'll know.

But then it gets weirder. Eliot has been... not clingy. Quentin would never be so stupid as to call him clingy. But he's been around a lot, the past few weeks. Whenever neither of them have been in class or otherwise engaged with study groups, Eliot has been glued to Quentin's side. So much so that Eliot even begged off the party last night to spend the evening curled up in their nest while Quentin read and Eliot dozed. He's been pretty tired lately, and Quentin certainly isn't complaining that sleepy Eliot wants to use his alpha as a full-body pillow. It must just be the pressure he's under as a third-year. Eliot has never been publicly known to take his academic career very seriously, but Quentin knows him well enough to know that he's freaked out by the very unrealistic prospect of not graduating this year with an excellent GPA and an impeccable thesis. Stress would definitely contribute to Eliot's lack of energy, and his decrease in appetite, as well as his desire to seek comfort from someone close to him like Quentin himself. It would also excuse the odd note to Eliot’s scent; he’s never been so stressed for so long, at least not while Quentin’s known him.

Third-year stress might not necessarily explain this, though.

It's the morning after the party, and even though neither of them are hungover Eliot is lying on the sofa with his head in Quentin's lap. Quentin has a book in one hand and is playing with Eliot's hair with the other, perfectly content to waste away the morning with a lapful of warm, content-smelling omega. But then Margo walks in, and though he doesn't move or even open his eyes, Quentin feels Eliot tense against his legs.

"What's up, losers?" Margo asks brightly, hesitating in the doorway. "Don't tell me you two stayed up late getting wasted in your room without me. Last night was so boring I woke up practically chipper this morning; it's fucking pathetic."

"We just read," Quentin says, his hand never moving from Eliot's hair. "Well, I read to him, rather."

"Then why do you look like you've been hit by a truck?" Margo asks. "Hello? I'm talking to you, Eliot."

Eliot grinds his face against the couch cushion. "Go away, Bambi."

Margo scoffs. "Fucking what?" she demands, coming closer. "Since when do you want me to go away?"

Quentin frowns, scratching gently against Eliot's scalp. "It was kind of a late night," he says slowly.

"No," Margo says, "he's been weird for days. Weeks, even. You hear that, Eliot? You're being bitch."

"Fuck off, Margo," Eliot snaps, and Margo laughs, harsh and cold.

"Whatever," she says. "Good luck with that, Coldwater."

She reaches out to give Quentin a conciliatory pat on the shoulder, and the next thing they know, Eliot is bolt upright, his teeth bared, a deep, warning growl ripping from his throat.

Quentin's eyes widen, and he reacts instinctively, shifting away from Margo and towards Eliot, reaching out to brace a hand against Eliot's chest. "Eliot. What the hell?"

Eliot flinches back, and almost falls off the couch. "I-- I don't know. Margo, I'm so--"

"Don't you fucking tell me how so sorry you are," Margo fumes. "Who the fuck do you think you're growling at, asshole?"

Eliot glances between them both. He looks shaken; he looks scared. "I don't." He swallows hard. "I don't know. I don't know what happened, I just. I didn't want you to touch him."

Quentin's expression softens, and he shifts, his hand moving to Eliot's shoulder instead of his chest. "Okay," he says, as calmly as he can manage. "It's alright, El, you just startled us."

But Eliot pulls away, and gets to his feet. "I'm sorry," he says again. "Bambi, truly. I... I have to go."

He's gone before Quentin can do anything but blink at him. He turns, catches Margo's eye, and knows he looks as baffled as he sounds as he asks, "What the fuck?"

"Don't ask me," Margo says, somewhere between incredulous and infuriated. "Get after him. I'm not dealing with that."

Quentin doesn't even bother rolling his eyes before he gets to his feet, following Eliot up the stairs and to their room. When he gets in there, it actually takes him a moment to locate Eliot. Their nest is just as he left it this morning, blankets rumpled and slept in but still cosy-looking and inviting. The whole room is suffused in that warm orange glow that Eliot loves so much. The walls are still hung with blankets and scarves, cushions and more blankets scattered across the floor making the entire room as well as just the bed an extension of the nest. But there's one small disturbance, exactly one thing out of place. The closet at the back of the room that Eliot generally uses to store his shoes is just ajar, and something about it seems... different.

Quentin edges closer, and nudges the door wider still. The sight that greets him is... difficult to explain - but at least he knows where all his clothes have been going. Inside, it seems that Eliot has finally used the crawl space for its intended purpose. He's built a nest, much smaller and closed in than their actual nest, but a nest nonetheless. It's actually much closer to what Quentin always thought an omega nest would be, before Eliot invited him into his own. It looks cosy, lit by the fairy lights Eliot must have pilfered from the larger version, dense with blankets and Quentin's hoodie and sleep shirts and Eliot's robes. The scent of the two of them is even stronger in here than it is in the rest of the room. Even as he realises that this is weird, Quentin feels himself relaxing, wanting to crawl inside and den down for however long his omega needs him to.

And buried in the heart of this little nest, looking impossibly small and sweet and vulnerable, is Eliot.

Quentin shifts, settling down on his knees just to the side of the door. "El?" he calls, quiet and careful; he's never seen Eliot like this before, even the first time he stepped foot in Eliot's nest. "Sweetheart, what's up?"

If it's possible, Eliot burrows even deeper into the nest. "Go away, Q."

Quentin sucks in a breath, shock and pain lancing through him. "Baby - "

"It's fine." Eliot doesn't snap; he just sounds defeated. "I'm fine. I just need to be alone."

"El, you growled at Margo," Quentin says gently. "Something's going on; I just want to help, but I can't if you don't let me."

"I don't know what's going on with me," Eliot moans. "It's like I'm on a bad trip, except I haven't taken anything, because I can't keep anything down. So you can't help me, Q. I just want to stay here where it's safe."

Quentin takes a deep breath, every part of him screaming to fix whatever is making his omega so desperately sad right now. "Okay," he says quietly. "Do you want me in there with you? Or should I keep everyone away so you have some time to yourself?"

Eliot hesitates, clearly thinking it through, but then shuffles over to make room in the already cramped nest. "You can stay," he says. "It'll be safer with you here."

Quentin's heart does something odd in his chest, but he ignores it for the moment in favor of giving Eliot a soft smile. "Okay," he says, crawling into the small nest and wrapping himself around Eliot in a move that feels as natural as breathing. "I've got you. I love you."

"I love you," Eliot sighs, and closes his eyes.

Quentin doesn't dare to leave Eliot for several hours, some long-buried protective instinct telling him to guard his nest warring with his desire to help Eliot, however that might be achieved. But eventually Eliot stirs enough to admit that he might be hungry, and so Quentin leaves him tucked up safely in the nest and heads downstairs in search of a snack.

He finds Margo in the kitchen, perched so casually on the kitchen counter that he just knows she's been lying in wait. "So?" she asks, sounding perfectly disinterested despite the sharpness of her gaze. "What's the verdict? You two fuck it out and now we're all good?"

Quentin sighs. "Whatever's going on with him is... bad, I think," he says slowly, casting a soundproofing ward to make sure they can't be overheard. "He's built a nest in that little space in his closet."

"That tiny little closet?" Margo demands. "That fucking insult to a nesting space? The one he keeps his shoes in?"

Quentin shrugs helplessly. "He's cleared it out and filled it with our blankets and clothes."

Margo's entire expression slackens with shock. "Holy fuck," she says. "He's pregnant."

Quentin blinks, and then blinks again, trying desperately to follow Margo's leap of logic. When he fails, he asks, "What?"

"He's pregnant," Margo says again, just as nonsensical as the first time, and then raises her hand to count off her points. "He's being sick; his senses are all out of whack, he's tired all the time; he's pissing like a leaky faucet; he's getting territorial and growling at other alphas; and he's literally denning down in small, easily-defended places. You've fucking knocked him up."

Quentin feels his jaw drop. "No, that's - There's no way he's pregnant, we were careful with the contraceptive spells!"

"Because they always work a hundred per cent of the time," Margo says, rolling her eyes. "Oh my fuck, Quentin, he was going through a heat and you're basically a virgin, not to mention a first year. You don't think one of you might have fucked it up?"

"We did the spells before he was in his heat," Quentin insists. "Eliot doesn't want to be pregnant now, there's no way he'd risk fucking those spells up."

"Well something is fucked up with him," Margo says, "and if it's not that, then I have no fucking clue. But either way, he needs to see Lipson."

Quentin takes a deep breath. "You're right, he does," he concedes. "This is all just... weird."

"Then go do something about it," Margo says. "For fuck sake, Q, knot up!"

Quentin rolls his eyes. "I will," he promises. "But first I have to go convince Eliot to come out of the nest." He grabs the snacks he'd come downstairs for originally, and gives Margo a smile that isn't as reassuring as he wants it to be. "I'll take care of him, Margo."

"You'd better," Margo warns him. "You'll have nothing left to satisfy him with if you fuck this up."

"I'm sorry," Eliot says, white-knuckling the arms of the chair he's sitting in. Why is he even here? Quentin said he was worried - not about the nesting and the clinginess, he promised Eliot that, but about the being sick and the no appetite and the fatigue. It made sense, somehow, when Quentin talked about it. Maybe there is something wrong. But what Lipson just said... "Can you repeat that, please?"

Lipson's expression is sympathetic. "You're pregnant, Mr Waugh."

Eliot-- laughs. Even to his own ears, he sounds hysterical. He looks at Quentin, expecting him to be laughing, too, but he falters when he sees how serious they both are. "No," he says. "No, that's not possible. We were-- we've been careful. I know how to use contraception spells, Lipson."

"I know you do, Mr Waugh - and I know that you made sure that Mr Coldwater does as well. But there are... certain circumstances which can overwhelm them, or perhaps 'cancel out' would be the better term."

"What circumstances?" Eliot demands.

Lipson gives Quentin a meaningful look. "Circumstances such as a new mating bond."

Quentin pales, looking from her to Eliot and then back again. "No, that's - That sort of thing needs a really deep bite, doesn't it?"

Lipson sighs. "In many cases, yes. For Magicians, however - especially two Magicians who are incredibly close, emotionally speaking, and whose magic resonates so strongly... Drawing blood would be enough."

"That's ridiculous," Eliot says, immediately. "We didn't mate. I'd know."

"Apparently not," Lipson says dryly. "Mating bonds are meant to be placed during a heat - if you were in heat, and Mr Coldwater was in rut at the time he bit you, that increase in hormone production would cancel out the contraceptive spells, and lead to a chance of pregnancy."

"And that's what happened," Eliot says blankly. "You're telling me that I'm... in pup."

"Yes." Lipson's expression gentles. "I understand it's quite a shock, Eliot. But you aren't alone, and whatever you need, medically, I will do everything I can to assist you."

Eliot turns again to Quentin, and he lets the hysteria creep back into his voice as he asks, "Are you even going to say anything?"

"I... don't know what to say," Quentin admits. "This is - " He reaches up and rubs the back of his neck. "It's huge, El, both of these things are, and totally unplanned."

Eliot, who had been thinking of reaching out to his-- his mate, God, tucks his hand safely into his lap instead. "Obviously," he says. He turns back to Lipson. "I don't know what I'm supposed to do now."

Lipsons expression settles, becomes more professional. "Well, in regards to the mate bond, I can give both of you the titles of some helpful books, and answer any questions you might have. As for the pregnancy..." She takes a deep breath. "You have options. You're almost six weeks along now. The safest time to abort, if that's what you decide to do, would be before you're twelve weeks along. We can still do it after then, of course, but it becomes slightly more risky. If you decide to keep the pregnancy, to raise the pup yourself or to give it up for adoption, then I have resources for that, as well."

"Do I have to decide now?" Eliot asks. His mind is spinning.

"No," Lipson assures him. "In fact, I strongly advise against it. You have time to absorb this and think about what you want to do - both of you," she adds, glancing at Quentin, who still looks shell-shocked. "I'll answer any questions you have at any point, but you should take some time and think for now."

"Okay," Eliot agrees. He feels shaky, like he's getting over a fever. "I think I want to leave now."

Lipson nods, and Quentin shifts closer, hovering a bit awkwardly. "You know where to find me if you have any questions," she says.

"Thank you," Eliot says, and gets to his feet. "I'll... be in touch, I guess." He leaves without looking back.

He doesn't wait for Quentin to get his shit together and scramble after him. He uses his head start and longer stride to put enough distance between them by the time Quentin makes it out of the Infirmary that he has no hope of catching up. He beats Quentin back to the Cottage easily, and heads straight upstairs to Margo. It's like she's waiting for him, poised and perfect on the bed, not even a bottle of gin in sight. She knows, Eliot realises, a dead weight in his gut. She knows. He closes the door behind him and activates the wards that only he can get through before he turns to face her.

"I guess I don't need to tell you what I just heard from Lipson," he says. "Can we just skip to the part where you tell me what the fuck I'm supposed to do about it?"

"I'm bossy, but I'm not that bossy," Margo says, shifting on the bed so there's room for Eliot to come curl up next to her. "Your body, your decision, baby."

"That is of absolutely no use to me," Eliot complains, and does exactly that, curving his long body around Margo's tiny one, and finding that he feels gangly for the first time in years. He hides his face in her hip. "I don't know what to do."

"That's what I'm here for," Margo says, voice softer than it usually is as she reaches down and starts running her fingers through his hair, nails scritching against his scalp. "Talk to me, El. I can't help you if I don't know what's going on in your head."

"Well, that makes two of us," Eliot says, bitter. "I don't know what to think. I have a mate, and I'm having his baby. What the fuck, Margo?"

Margo's hand pauses. "Back up a step. A mate?"

Eliot laughs, and there's that hysteria again. "Oh, didn't you see that in your crystal ball? We're fucking mated. Apparently when Magicians fuck during a heat and their fucking vibrations are aligned or whatever, that's something that just happens. Which is also why our contraception failed."

Margo blinks. "Well, fuck. That's new," she says, her hand returning to its previous motions. "Let me guess, Coldwater just stood there gaping like a fish out of water the whole time?"

Eliot closes his eyes. "Pretty much. He didn't say a word the whole time."

Margo snorts. "Wilting cock," she scoffs. "We'll deal with him later." She takes in a deep breath, lets it out on a sigh. "I know you have a whole plan for your life, El. A baby isn't supposed to happen now."

"I know that," Eliot moans, because of course he does. It's his fucking plan. "I was supposed to be out of school before I was even mated. I wanted a house and a good job and to know that it was the right time. Now I'm mated to an alpha who's never even been with an omega before."

"Mating bonds aren't permanent," Margo points out. "And you don't have to keep the pregnancy."

"I know that," Eliot says. "And if it was immediately obvious that that's what I wanted to do, I wouldn't be here."

"Okay," Margo says slowly. "Are you thinking about changing the plan?"

"Do you think I'm thinking about anything right now?" Eliot demands.

He can practically hear Margo rolling her eyes. "Alright, prickly. What do you need from me? Can't exactly get you so drunk you forget about your problems."

Eliot groans. "Oh my God," he says. "I got so drunk a few weeks ago. I thought my morning sickness was an endless hangover. That can't have done good things to the-- to the baby."

Margo tugs lightly at his hair. "We all thought the spells held," she reminds him. "Don't go beating yourself up for that."

"But what if I decide to keep it?" Eliot asks, desperate. "God knows what damage I've already done. Margo."

Margo seems to abandon words for the moment, instead gathering Eliot in close with surprising strength. She holds him tight, one hand returning to his hair. "Eliot. You can't change the past. Focus on getting through right now; right now, Lipson would have told you if you'd irreversibly fucked that kid up - she knows what we're like most weekends."

Eliot squeezes his eyes shut against the burning behind them, but the tears are coming and there's fuck all he can do to stop them. "I'm scared," he admits. "I'm so scared, Bambi."

Margo holds him tighter, tucking him under her chin. "I'm here, El," she murmurs. "I've got you."

Eliot has a cry, and then a nap, all in Margo's arms. At one point the wards shimmer as someone disturbs them, and they hear Quentin's plaintive voice calling Eliot's name. They ignore him until he leaves, and he doesn't try again - but Eliot knows he has to face him eventually. It takes him a good few hours to pull himself together, but for all that he feels safe in Margo's room, he doesn't want to sleep here. He wants his nest. He wants his alpha.

So he gets another hug from Margo, and has another cry, and then he takes his leave, trudging up the stairs to his attic room like there are lead weights tied to his feet. He half expects Quentin to not even be in here, but there he is, looking woeful curled up all alone in the middle of their otherwise empty nest. Now that Eliot can think through the fog of his fucked-up hormones, he can see how strange the nest looks, bereft of some of its best materials after Eliot pilfered them for his tiny closet-nest. That isn't where he wants to be right now, even though he can sense that the comparatively expansive space his usual nest takes up won't feel safe for long.

Quentin glances up when he closes the door, but he doesn't speak. Eliot steels himself to break the silence. "Hey," he says, very quietly. "Room for one more in there?"

Quentin swallows, and nods, shifting over in invitation. "I'm sorry for how I acted in the infirmary," he says, equally quiet, his tone serious.

Eliot strips out of his clothes, certain he's imagining a certain softness to his stomach, and crawls into the nest naked. It's warm, and when he presses himself into his arms, Quentin is warmer. "It must have been a lot for you, too," he says finally. "It's my body this thing is growing in, but it is half you. Not to mention the other thing."

Quentin sighs, arms tightening around Eliot. "It is a lot, but I could've handled it better. Like you said, your body's the one on the line, here. An accidental mating bond is... still big, but it's secondary to that."

"You must feel something, though," Eliot presses. "This isn't just about me."

"I'm worried," Quentin murmurs. "That's what it comes down to. Mostly I'm worried about you; I know you didn't want to be pregnant, or mated, yet, but I still bit you and started all of this. We hadn't even talked about whether this might last past Brakebills, let alone getting mated."

A wave of anxiety crashes through Eliot, and he hates that Quentin can probably smell it. "You think it won't?" he asks.

Quentin makes a wordless, soothing sound, running one hand up Eliot's spine in a gentle caress. "No, I do think we’ll last," he reassures Eliot. "But it wasn't something we'd talked about, and I didn't - I don't want to take your choice away from you."

"Right," Eliot says. He forces himself to take a breath. "You know about the plan. You know this isn't the plan."

"Yeah," Quentin says quietly, his hand coming to rest between Eliot's shoulder blades, thumb sweeping over the skin just below the nape of his neck. "I love you, El. And if we'd talked about this - about being mated, at least - beforehand, and we were on the same page about wanting it to happen, I'd be... I'd be ecstatic, to know we're so compatible. But we didn't talk about this, we were nowhere close to even thinking about being on the same page, and I know we can break the bond if we decide it's not what we want, but..." He sighs. "I feel guilty, for doing this to you, even if we didn't know it was a possibility, and because of how much it's fucked you over already."

Eliot knows it isn't a fair question to ask, especially considering he doesn't even know the answer himself right now, but it comes out anyway. "Do you want to keep the baby?"

Quentin doesn't answer for a moment. "That's... complicated," he says slowly. "On the one hand, yes. I've always wanted to be a dad, and lately, I've wanted to be a dad with you, but. On the other, more important hand, you don't want to be pregnant now, and we hadn't talked about this before. I want you happy more than I want a kid right now."

Eliot just nods. "I don't have an answer right now, Q," he says. "I don't want anything except to run away."

Quentin hums a quiet, sympathetic note, and presses a kiss to Eliot's temple. "I get that," he murmurs. "But we've got time to figure this out."

"Please don't tell anyone," Eliot says, very quietly. "You can-- You can talk to Julia, obviously. Or your dad. Or both. But I don't want anyone else to know."

Quentin nods. "I won't tell anyone," he promises. "If I do talk to Julia I'll make sure she doesn't say anything, either. I… don’t think I should bring this up to my dad; not really his business, unless we keep it."

"Thank you," Eliot murmurs. "I love you."

Quentin squeezes him, just a little bit tighter. “I love you, too.”

Quentin and Eliot spend most of the rest of the day in their nest, including a few hours in Eliot's closet-den before Quentin coaxes him back to the big nest to sleep for the night. They don't talk about the bond, or the pregnancy, or about anything at all, really; they just... waste the time together.

Eliot disappears into Margo's room the next morning, and Quentin doesn't let himself feel hurt by that; he knows how important Margo and Eliot are to each other. Instead, Quentin ventures across campus to the Knowledge dorm over the library, and when he doesn't find Julia in the common room, checks her room, sighing in relief when he sees her there, hunched over her desk with notebooks and pens and other supplies scattered about. "Hey Jules," he says, rapping on the doorframe with his knuckles and trying desperately to look like he's not about to vibrate out of his skin. "Got some time to talk?"

"Actually, Q, can it wait? I'm right in the middle of--" She glances up to take him in, and stops short. "Holy crap, you look fucking awful, what?"

Quentin steps into her room with a rueful smile that's, truthfully, more like a grimace. "You've got soundproofing wards, right?" he asks as he closes the door. "This is - really private."

Julia literally drops everything and turns to face him fully. "Yeah, I have soundproofing wards," she says. "What's going on?"

Quentin takes a deep breath and rips the metaphorical bandaid off. "Eliot's pregnant, and we're bonded, and neither of us had any idea."

Julia's jaw literally drops. "What?"

Quentin sits down heavily on her bed. "My rut and his heat lined up," he says. "And I - In the middle of it, we got carried away, and I bit him, but it barely drew blood, and nothing felt different. So we thought we were okay, but. You know how he's been acting weird the past several weeks?"

"Uh-huh," Julia says, her eyes round with dawning comprehension.

"Apparently, if two Magicians' magic... resonates, I think Lipson said? Basically if they're really compatible, magically, it doesn't take a deep bite to make a bond. Just... drawing blood." Quentin scrubs a hand through his hair. "And then, the new bond triggers like, a flood of hormones? And that can, apparently, overwhelm contraceptive spells."

"Holy shit," Julia breathes. "Fuck, Q. What are you going to do?"

Quentin shrugs helplessly. "I have no idea. About either thing, really. I mean, Eliot has final say on the pregnancy, because it's his body, but he had like. This whole plan for his life, and being mated and pregnant wasn't supposed to happen for years yet for him. I just... I needed to talk to you; El has Margo, I have you, and Lipson knows, obviously, but no one else does, and Eliot doesn't want anyone else to know."

"How does he feel about it?" Julia asks. "Does he want to keep it?"

Quentin shrugs again. "He doesn't know. This was... completely out of left field, Jules."

"Wait, when did you find out?" Julia asks.

"Yesterday," Quentin admits. "Margo finally talked me into convincing him to go see Lipson."

Julia just gapes at him. "I can't-- even begin to... Where is he now? Do you not want to be with him?"

Quentin shakes his head. "I do," he assures her. "But he needed some time with Margo. They're as close as you and I are, and I guess he kind of needed the same thing I did, to talk to... someone with an outside perspective."

Julia nods slowly. "What can I do to help?" she asks. "Is there anything?"

Quentin sighs. "Just... I don't know, let me come think and worry out loud over here sometimes?"

"Of course, Q," Julia says, nodding. "Literally anytime."

Quentin gives Julia a tired, grateful smile. "Thanks."

The next week seems to drag on, and yet pass all at once. Quentin and Eliot don't really talk about the recent revelations, and they don't... Well, they don't talk much at all, period. They still sleep in the same nest, still see each other every day, but Quentin feels like Eliot's pulling away. He tells himself he's being stupid, that it's only natural they'd take a while to find their footing after the two bombshells they had dropped on them, but...

But then, at the party the next weekend, Eliot stays behind the bar, and Quentin doesn't feel like going to their corner by himself, so instead, as the clock ticks over past midnight, he slips into the Cottage library. He probably shouldn't be surprised when Julia follows him less than two minutes later, but he still tries to head off her worry with an unconvincing, "I'm fine."

"Bullshit," Julia says. "I could cut the tension between you two with a knife, and you smell awful."

Quentin sighs, sinking into a nearby chair. "We haven't talked much this past week," he confesses.

"Seriously?" Julia asks. "He's literally your fucking mate. You can't get through this without each other."

"I know," Quentin says miserably. "But he's been... I don't know, distant? Like he just isn't talking to me, or even... registering that I exist, outside of our room."

"What's it like then?"

Quentin shrugs. "A little better? We talk, but just about our days, and the one time I tried to ask how he was doing, with... you know, he shut me down hard."

Julia scowls. "Maybe I should talk to him."

Quentin shakes his head. "No, don't. I'll talk to him if he keeps this up, I promise, but - You pushing him isn't going to help anything, Jules."

"Well, someone needs to push him," Julia says. "Not to make a decision, of course he should take all the time he needs. But going through this alone isn't smart. Is he at least talking to Margo?"

Quentin nods. "That's the only reason I haven't pushed him more."

Julia frowns. "Maybe he just needs time," she says. "But my main concern is you. Is there anything you need? You can come hide out in my dorm if you want a break from the silent treatment."

Quentin gives her a grateful smile. "I might take you up on that," he says. "I..." He hesitates, debating with himself, but then sighs. "Could I actually spend the night tonight, and we can hang out tomorrow?"

"Of course," Julia says. She jerks her thumb toward the door. "Do you want to get out of here now?"

Quentin nods. "Yeah," he says. "Let me just go let El know where I'm going."

"Sure," Julia agrees. "I'll meet you outside."

Quentin gives her a smile and pushes out of his chair, following her out of the library and through the Cottage. Julia heads for the door while Quentin makes for the bar, slipping through the crowd easily and catching Eliot's attention as he finishes up a martini for a Naturalist. "Hey, El," he calls. "Need to tell you something real quick."

Eliot, ever the attentive host, turns immediately to the sound of his name. His expression doesn't falter when his gaze lands on Quentin, but that doesn't make Quentin feel much better. "What is it?" he asks, mild as ever.

Quentin gestures over his shoulder to the door. "I'm going to spend the night with Julia," he says. "Just wanted to let you know so you didn't worry."

"Oh," Eliot says, and he shrugs, careless. "Okay. Have fun."

Quentin's briefly grateful for the fact that it's a party night; there's enough people around that nobody probably caught that flash of hurt in his scent. He gives Eliot a smile, tries to make it as casual as possible. "I will. I'll see you tomorrow, El."

"Yeah, sure," Eliot agrees, already turning to take another order. "See you, Q."

Quentin swallows down another stab of hurt, and turns from the bar; he suddenly really needs a night with his best friend.

Eliot looks up when the wards to his nest trip, and swallows down the sharp stab of disappointment when he sees that it's Margo in the doorway, not Quentin. Knowing that she won't be able to smell it anyway, he's careful to keep it off his face, and instead treats her to a sunny smile. "Hello, my dearest," he says warmly. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"

"Thought I should check up on you," Margo says lightly, coming closer and crawling into the nest next to Eliot. "Since Coldwater's off having a geek day with Wicker."

Eliot accepts her easily, shifting so that they can curl around each other more comfortably. "Did you have anything in mind?" he asks mildly. "Or do you want to just lie here all day?"

"I thought we could just nap, maybe chat a bit," Margo hums.

"Chat," Eliot repeats, dubious. "About what?"

"Maybe about the pathetic way you and Quentin are looking at each other?" Margo suggests. "You don't smell miserable, but he does - and you both look like shit."

"I shouldn't smell like anything," Eliot says. "We're going through some shit, we're fine."

"You're not fine, Coldwater slept somewhere else last night, and don't think I don't know you were hoping I was him," Margo warns. "You're going through some shit, but you aren't going through it together, are you?"

Eliot bristles, defensive. "We're doing the best we can," he says. "We both need time and space to figure out what we want."

"Judging by Quentin's face last night, you two are taking that a bit too far," Margo retorts. "Have you talked about any of this shit?"

"We talked about it plenty when we found out."

Margo raises an unimpressed eyebrow. "Really. And what was the conclusion you came to then?"

Eliot matches her expression. "That we have no fucking clue what to do, and that we need space to figure it out." He gestures to the otherwise empty nest. "Hence."

"Oh come on, El," Margo complains. "It's been a full week. You aren't thinking, you're distancing. And Quentin knows it."

"Well, so is he," Eliot argues. "Do you see him? He isn't exactly chasing me."

Margo looks about half a second away from trying to literally shake some sense into him. "You do remember the whole cluster fuck that was you assuming shit before you two got together, right?" she bites out.

Eliot sets his jaw, stubborn. "I'm not assuming anything," he says. "This is what I need to do, Margo."

Margo lets out a gusty, dramatic sigh. "Fine. But if you two don't quit looking so godawful by next week because you're still avoiding each other, I'm taking matters into my own hands."

Eliot fights the urge to roll his eyes. "Okay, Bambi," he says. "Whatever you say."

Eliot does talk to Quentin when Quentin gets back from his day with Julia, but the conversation isn't any more fruitful than it was the last time. They're still in this awful limbo, but mindful of Margo's threat of meddling, Eliot does make more of an effort to act normally. It makes Quentin relax a bit, but it doesn't fix things, and they chug along for another two miserable weeks.

This week's party is larger than any yet this month; midterms are next week, and all of campus is looking for some stress relief, something to take their minds off of it. The Physical Cottage gladly obliges, and Eliot is kept busy behind the bar from the moment the first partygoer arrives. Quentin drifts in and out of Eliot's orbit, checking on him and getting refills for his drink, but it's during one of those times that a Naturalist girl - Eliot's seen her at a few parties in a row now, always with a martini - comes up to the bar right as Eliot finishes mixing his own drink.

"Didn't think you knew how to mix a virgin drink," she calls just loud enough to be heard over the noise of the party.

Eliot checks at that. He isn't used to people watching him so closely as to notice, but it's not like this alpha has been watching him all night. "Just taking it slow," he says lightly. "I pride myself on being an excellent host, which means I can't get wasted too early."

"You've been more careful about that the past few weeks, though; never cared about it before,” she points out, her tone turning teasing. “What's going on, you pregnant or something?"

It's like the world slows to a stop around him. So she has been watching him all night - and for longer, apparently. He'd be annoyed by the stalkerish behaviour if he didn't think he was on the verge of passing out. Has the music stopped? Is everyone looking at him, or is he just imagining it? Where is Quentin? For the first time all night, it bothers him that he can't smell Quentin nearby; that Quentin's scent has faded from his own skin completely. He's on his own. He has to deal with this on his own.

From somewhere deep inside of him, he pulls a laugh. "Fuck," he says. "No. No, absolutely not. Way to be a creepy alpha weirdo, though. Good job." He doesn't wait for her response, or anyone's. He just rolls his eyes, slides the drink he's been making down the bar in what he hopes is the right direction, and steps back. "If you'll all excuse me, I seem to have run out of simple syrup."

He doesn't bolt. He doesn't. But he gets the hell out of there as fast as he can.

He loses a bit of time then; the next thing he knows, Quentin's scent is suddenly strong in his nose, stronger than it's been in... far too long, worry lending it a bitter undertone. He hears Quentin's voice then, from right outside - Oh. From right outside his closet nest. "Eliot? El, sweetheart, what happened?"

"Q?" Eliot croaks, and he realises for the first time that his throat is tight; it's burning.

"Hey." Quentin's voice gentles. "Can you breathe for me, El? Just one deep breath, in and out, to get you started."

It takes considerable effort, but Eliot finally sucks in a deep, shuddering breath, and lets it out as slow as he can. The whine that comes with it is completely unexpected, and all the more pathetic for it.

"That's it, El," Quentin says, encouraging. "Can I come in? I'd really like to hold you right now, help you calm down."

Eliot screws his eyes shut, his whole body locked tight. "Yeah," he whispers.

He hears rustling, and then the blankets shift, and then Quentin is folded around him, his hands finding Eliot's and twining their fingers together. "I've got you," he murmurs, lips to Eliot's temple. "Breathe, baby. Just breathe for right now, okay?"

Eliot nods, and a sob rips out of him. "Oh," he gasps. "Oh, God."

"All the wards are up," Quentin murmurs, holding Eliot closer, tighter. "Let it out, sweetheart; I've got you."

Held tight in his alpha’s arms, Eliot lets himself break. He sobs, harsh, jagged things that leave him trembling in Quentin's arms, barely able to breathe, let alone think. The stress of the past few weeks crashes over him all at once, and when it finally passes, he's exhausted. And still, Quentin's there, holding Eliot close, one hand petting through his hair while the other grabs a water bottle from the stash they keep in their room; he must have summoned it. "Here," Quentin murmurs, the hand in Eliot's hair pausing just long enough to crack open the top.

Eliot takes the bottle and sips gently, the cool water immediately soothing his raw throat. "Thanks," he rasps. He feels empty, like everything inside of him has been ripped out, leaving him hollow. "I'm sorry. I don't... know where that came from."

"You looked pretty freaked when you left the bar," Quentin says gently.

"I was," Eliot says. "I am." He laughs, and that sounds hollow, too. Why is every part of him empty, except the part that counts? "I've been freaked out for weeks."

Guilt sours Quentin's scent for a moment. "I'm sorry," he says. "I thought you were talking to Margo about it, and the last time we tried to talk..."

"I know," Eliot says. "Don't be sorry. If anyone should be sorry, it's me."

He can hear the confusion in Quentin's voice as he asks, "What do you mean?"

"I got us into this mess," Eliot says, miserable. "I'm the reason everything's ruined. Lipson gave me scent suppressants so no one could smell it on me, but people are still working it out." He shudders, buries his face in his hands - whispers, "I don't want the baby, Q."

He feels Quentin freeze - but only for a moment, and then he lets out a slow breath. "It takes two to make a baby, El," he points out gently. "And I'm the one who bit you, otherwise the spells would've worked fine." He takes a deep breath, deep enough that Eliot can feel his chest rise and fall. "Are you saying you don't want the baby just because of tonight, or...?"

"Are you going to hate me if I say no?"

"El," Quentin breathes, pained. "No. I would never hate you for making a choice about what to do with your body."

Eliot shudders again, and doesn't stop this time. "It's just not right," he says, like the words are being ripped from him. "It's not the right time. I'm still in school, I have no plans for after, no way of supporting myself, let alone a child. I don't have anywhere to live other than the Cottage, I have a mating bond but it was an accident with an alpha who has no idea what he's getting into--"

"Hey, hey, hey," Quentin soothes, gathering Eliot in close again and - and rocking him, just a little bit. "It's alright, Eliot, those are all good points - I'm confused about the last one but that can wait - but if you don't think this is the right time, then it isn't, and I'll support you, all the way. This is your body, your life, and your decision."

It takes several more long moments for Eliot to quiet again, and then he deflates against Quentin, utterly spent. "I won't ask you to come with me," he says quietly. "I just--" He sniffs. "Can you maybe take your things out of the nest while I'm gone? I don't mind if you mess it up, I can put it back together afterwards."

Quentin stiffens. "Wait, what? Why do you - Are you breaking up with me?" He sounds... utterly gobsmacked, and more than a little upset.

"Come on, Q," Eliot sighs. "We both know how this ends."

"Obviously not!" Quentin retorts, still upset. "I get it if you want to go to Lipson by yourself, but why do I need to take all of my stuff out of our nest?"

"Because it's over!" Eliot snaps. "Because it's only a matter of time before you realise that you don't want to stay bonded to the first omega you've ever fucked, especially an omega like me. I'm sorry, Q, I wanted to give you time, but I can't fucking abort our baby and then come home to a nest that still smells like you, with you in it, and just wait for the other shoe to drop."

Quentin couldn't look more shocked than if Eliot had physically slapped him. "So you just decided that I was going to leave you?" he demands. "Without asking me - or even talking to me about it? I know you, Eliot, and I know you can be a real goddamn dick sometimes, but I love you."

"You know I love you," Eliot says, because he can't not. "But there's a difference between love and 'this is the person I spend my life with'." He lets out a shaky breath. "I know you wouldn't choose me. And that's okay, Q."

"Why the hell wouldn't I choose you?" Quentin asks, tone fierce. "Nobody's perfect, El, but I think we work pretty damn well together. I was trying to give you space, to think about what you wanted to do with the pregnancy without feeling like I was - was pressuring you one way or the other. But that was the wrong thing to do if it made you think I'd just drop you - us - the second I got a chance to."

"That's not what I think," Eliot says, trying to soothe him. "I just think. We've been forced to consider the longevity of our relationship sooner than we thought. I don't want to break this bond and stay together, and I don't want to keep it just to lose it further down the line. You don't deserve to be tied down. You have so many options."

"You're the option I want," Quentin retorts. "If - If you don't want to stay with me, then that's. That's your choice, and I'll respect it. But don't... Don't make my decision for me."

"That's not what this is," Eliot insists. "Of course I want to--" No, too much, he's given too much away. He passes a shaking hand over his face. "I don't want you to feel like you're stuck with me because we bonded and I got pregnant. I'm not even staying pregnant, so there's your out. However you need to take it. I'm not keeping your pup. How will you stand to be around me, after?"

Quentin sighs, and seems to deflate a little bit behind Eliot, though his arms never loosen around him. "El, sweetheart, I told you from the start - This is your body, and your decision, in the end. I want a family with you, yeah, but I want it only when we're both ready for it, and honestly? If you wanted to keep the pup now, I'd do whatever I could to make things work - but you're right, the timing for a pregnancy is pretty terrible, because neither of us are out of college or have a job to support ourselves, let alone a pup. Ending this pregnancy won't change the fact that I love you, and I still choose you, if you'll choose me."

Eliot lets those words sink in, lets himself finally start to believe them. It's warm in here, he realises, and safe. The scent of them together still seems so right. Why is he trying to push Quentin away, if Quentin is so determined to stay? He takes another breath, swallows hard. "I would choose you," he confesses, very quietly. "But that's not everything."

"What else is there?" Quentin asks, quietly encouraging.

"What if this is my only chance?" Eliot asks, voicing the fear that's been at the core of him this entire time, one he hasn't even breathed to Margo. "I'm already bonded and pregnant way too early for my plan. What if nothing else works out? Everything could go to shit after Brakebills, we don't know. What if this is our one baby, and I don't keep it?"

Quentin runs one hand over Eliot's shoulder arm in sweeping gesture. "Then we adopt," he says softly. "When we decide we're ready, if we can't have one ourselves, then we can adopt. I'm not saying it wouldn't be hard, to learn that, but. Worrying about a 'what-if' that's years away shouldn't make an impact on your decision now."

Eliot knows he's right, but to hear it come from someone outside of himself - from his mate - is steadying in a way his own reasoning could never be. He sniffles, finds a smile from somewhere. "Since when are you the one who has his shit together?"

Quentin snorts, but he's smiling, too. "I don't have my shit together at all," he assures Eliot. "I've just spent the past few weeks freaking out to Julia whenever I had a spare moment."

Eliot flinches. "God, what must she think of me?"

"She thinks we're in a really tough position," Quentin soothes. "She doesn't really approve of how distant we've been lately - but that's on me, too, not just you - but it's not like struggling with this has like. Lowered her opinion of you or anything."

Eliot has little choice but to accept that at face value, so he nods. "Did you want to keep it?" he asks.

"Kind of," Quentin admits. "It's ours, and I want... everything, with you. But you were so freaked out, and I want you happy more. Then... Well, Jules brought up the same points you did, about us still being in school, with no financial support. Dad would let us stay with him without hesitation - He'd probably insist on it, actually, come to think of it. But that wouldn't be our space, and I still have a year left at Brakebills, so you'd be the only one working, or depending on Dad's charity, and that's just... not fair. If the stars aligned, I'd love to keep this baby, to start our family a bit earlier than we thought, but." He shrugs. "The stars aren't even close to being aligned for this right now."

Eliot blinks at him. "Were you..." He clears his throat. "Were you already thinking about this, before?"

Quentin blinks. "Being bonded with you?" he asks. "Yeah, I... Yeah. For a while. I was already pretty gone on you before you started trying to woo my oblivious ass."

Eliot smiles, small and shy. "You know, your life would probably be ten times easier if you picked a more normal omega," he says, but he's mostly teasing, now.

"It'd be pretty damn boring, though," Quentin counters. "And I wouldn't be nearly as happy."

"I love you," Eliot says abruptly. "You're my fucking-- best friend. And I do want a family with you. But. Not yet."

"Okay," Quentin says easily. "Not yet. We'll be more careful with your heats, just to be safe."

"I'll ask Lipson for some advice," Eliot decides, "after..."

Quentin nods. "Do you... still want to go by yourself?" he asks carefully.

The sound Eliot makes then is halfway between a laugh and a sob. "Fuck, no," he says. "If you can stomach it, please come with me. If not, I'll ask Margo, it's fine. But I'd like for you to at least be here afterwards."

Quentin presses a kiss to Eliot's temple. "I'll be there," he says firmly. "Just let me know when."

Eliot sighs, and lets himself lean against Quentin like he isn't considerably taller than him. "Thanks," he says quietly. "I'll talk to Lipson, but... Maybe we just stay here for a little while?"

"It's the middle of the night; Lipson is probably asleep right now," Quentin points out, sounding amused. "We can stay here as long as you want, El."

Eliot huffs. "I know she's asleep," he says. "I just don't want to go back down there. It's safe here."

Quentin chuckles quietly. "Fair enough," he concedes. "Want to stay here, or are you up to moving to the actual bed?"

Eliot takes in a long, slow breath while he thinks about it. "Here for now," he decides. "Bed later."

He can feel Quentin's smile against his temple. "Alright. Go to sleep for a bit, El; I've got you."

"Mmm." Eliot rubs his face against Quentin, scenting him for the first time in weeks. "I know."

Eliot goes to talk with Lipson the next day - Sunday - and Quentin goes with him. They talk for an hour or so, both Eliot and Quentin asking questions about what will happen, what to expect afterwards, how to prepare themselves. Lipson answers every question they ask patiently and in detail, and when they finally leave, with an appointment the next morning - and a promise from Lipson that she'll make sure they're excused from classes for the day - Quentin and Eliot feel about as prepared as they can possibly be.

They spend the rest of Sunday in their nest, scenting each other and taking comfort in claiming each other thoroughly. It never escalates to sex, neither of them in the mood for it, but by the time they fall asleep, they smell more like them than they have in weeks, ever since the day Eliot growled at Margo.

Quentin wakes the next morning to find Eliot already awake and downstairs in the kitchen, whipping up a lavish breakfast for them and Margo, who doesn't have a smart remark for once. The atmosphere is quiet, serious, and once they've eaten, Margo walks with Eliot and Quentin across campus to the Infirmary. Lipson has a room set aside for them, and Margo reluctantly leaves for her own classes, promising she'll stop by afterwards.

Quentin doesn't know how non-Magicians get an abortion, but for Magicians, it's a simple procedure. Lipson has Eliot change into the usual hospital smock, and then lie back on a table with his feet in some little stirrup-type things. Quentin sits next to him, holding Eliot's hand while Lipson works; first, an anesthetic spell over Eliot's lower half, as a preventative measure. Then, the abortion spell itself, a series of complicated tuts and poppers accompanied by Arabic. Eliot swears as she finishes - more startled than pained, and Lipson does something with a small device between his legs. Quentin recognizes it as the device she'd said would be used to contain and dispose of the tissue from Eliot's uterus; since it isn't safe to simply destroy tissue magically when you can't see exactly what you're doing, the abortion spell detaches the pregnancy tissue and expels it.

And then, after a quick spell to check that everything is okay, that there were no side effects, that's... it.

Lipson makes them stay in the Infirmary for an hour afterwards - "Just to be safe," she explains. "Sometimes the body can react unpredictably after a procedure like this." Once they have the all-clear, though, Quentin and Eliot take their leave, heading back across campus and to the Physical Cottage, and their nest.

They had already stocked up on food and drinks the night before, so once they're safe in their nest, the door locked and the wards up, curled in each other's arms, Quentin summons two bottles of water and a plate of little finger foods that Eliot had put together. "Here," he murmurs, opening one of the bottles and passing it to Eliot. "Should drink something at least, stay hydrated. Up to eating?"

"Maybe," Eliot says, accepting the water and taking a few tentative sips. "I feel a little nauseous, but I don't know if that's just in my head."

"Maybe try a few of the crackers?" Quentin suggests. "Get something easy in your stomach."

Eliot nods. "Yeah," he says. "I'll try."

He does manage to get some crackers down, and Quentin leaves the issue be for now in favor of settling in more comfortably with Eliot. "How're you doing?"

"Okay," Eliot says quietly. "A little sore? A little sad, too."

Quentin hums a quiet, sympathetic noise. "Talk to me?"

"I don't know," Eliot says. "I was pregnant; now I'm not. And I don't want to be pregnant right now, I don't regret it, I just... It feels weird."

Quentin hums quietly, nose tucked into the curve where Eliot's neck meets his shoulder. "I get that," he murmurs. "Especially since it was so quick, I can see where the change can be a little weird."

"How do you feel?" Eliot asks, peering up at him with big eyes.

"Mostly worried about you," Quentin says, because it's true - but it's not exactly what Eliot’s asking. "Maybe a little... wistful? For the what-if. But I don't regret doing this; I know it was the right choice."

Eliot treats him to a sweet smile. "We're going to have a family one day," he says. "This baby just... wasn't ours."

"Yeah," Quentin agrees, ducking in for a kiss. "I'm okay with waiting, though. At least until we've got our feet under us."

Eliot hums, presses in for another. "We'd better hope I get a kickass job straight out of this place," he teases.

"You are going to be flooded with job offers," Quentin says confidently. "You're an amazing Magician and any company would be lucky to have you."

Eliot's scent warms with pleasure, though it still isn't as strong as Quentin would like it. The suppressants are working their way out of his system now that he has no need for them, but not quickly enough. "I still have to decide what I even want to do," Eliot reminds him. "Something tells me I'm not going to impress Alice's aunt this year, either."

"You never know," Quentin hums. "You're pretty damn impressive. And you'll figure out what you want to do. Could always open a bar yourself."

Eliot chuckles. "Oh yes," he says. "Forget that I'm a literal Magician with more raw power inside me than I care to think about most days. Mixing drinks is my true talent."

"This Cottage will never have a Blue Thing as good as yours ever again when you graduate," Quentin says solemnly, though he can't quite stop his lips from twitching. "You should keep the legacy alive."

"Maybe I'll be like Josh," Eliot teases. "Come back every weekend just to tend the bar."

Quentin laughs. "You'd make a killing on the catering bill," he snickers. "Everyone would happily chip in to pay you."

"Oh," Eliot says, grinning, "I doubt that. A diva like me, coming back to campus like I still own the place? I bet most of them can't wait to see the back of me."

"Not when you're so good with the drinks," Quentin counters. "You know we only get such big parties because of you and Margo."

Eliot smiles. "We do our best," he says. "Even if you don't appreciate it all that much."

"I'm not a party person," Quentin reminds him, chuckling. "But you love me anyway. Besides, most of the rest of campus appreciates it plenty."

"I do love you," Eliot says, serious now. "More than anything."

Quentin's smile softens. "I love you, too," he murmurs, pressing in for a kiss. "Just as much."

Eliot closes his eyes. "Thank you," he whispers. "For today, but also just. For everything."

Quentin presses a kiss to Eliot's temple. "You don't ever need to thank me for being here for you, or loving you."

They spend the day in bed, neither of them leaving for anything but trips to the bathroom. Margo joins them for a bit that afternoon, sliding into the nest so she and Quentin can bracket Eliot between them for a long nap. By the next morning, Eliot and Quentin feel up to being apart from each other for long enough to go to classes, and Quentin walks Eliot to his. Luckily, nothing terribly important happens in his classes, because Quentin can't stop worrying about Eliot, the more alpha parts of him focused on nothing but his omega.

He's startled by his professor dismissing the class. The sound of everyone packing up and leaving knocks him back to reality from his head, and when Julia pauses by his desk, he gives her an apologetic smile. "I, um. Might need to borrow your notes from today's."

"Yeah, no shit," Julia says, not unkindly. "You were miles away today. Do you want to walk and talk?"

Quentin nods, shoving his things into his bag without any real attempt to keep them organized. "Yeah, that - would actually be really great."

Julia waits until they're out of the classroom before linking her arm through his. "How did it go yesterday?" she asks. "I'm assuming that's what's on your mind. How's Eliot?"

"It was quick," Quentin says. "Honestly she kept him longer to make sure his body didn't react poorly to the spell or its effect than it took for her to perform the spell. We spent pretty much the rest of the day in our nest; he's doing... as well as anyone can expect."

Julia winces in sympathy. "Did he make it to classes today?"

Quentin nods. "But he's... Well, I would say he's probably as distracted as I was, but he's also really fucking determined to graduate with honors, so..."

"Oh," Julia says. "Really?" She tilts her head, thoughtful, her hair brushing Quentin's arm. "I didn't see that for him."

Quentin frowns. "I mean, he's smart, and a powerful Magician, he just... also has an image he's worked hard to create."

"Well, he must be a very good actor," Julia says, skeptical. "But I'm mostly worried about you, honestly."

Quentin's brow furrows. "Why?"

"Because you're my best friend," Julia says. "Of course I feel for Eliot, but you're always my main concern. And the--" She lowers her voice; "--pregnancy has been dealt with, but you still have the bond to consider."

Quentin eyes Julia dubiously. "What are you talking about?"

"Well, are you going to keep it?" Julia asks. "You're still very young, Q, and the longer you leave these things the worse it is when you come to break them. If you really think you're still going to be together in a few years, you could always re-bond."

"We're keeping the bond," Quentin says, still frowning. "It's... We want to stay bonded, even if it is early, and we're young, because we've talked and we want to stay together, even after we're out of Brakebills."

"Are you sure, though?" Julia asks. "No one's saying you can't stay together, or that you won't - but isn't it better to be safe than sorry? Break the bond now, and re-bond later, when you're sure."

Quentin just... stops and stares at her for a moment. "Maybe that's what we would've done if the bond was the only thing we had to worry about," he says lowly, mindful of the fact that they're still in public, even if no one's nearby just now.

Julia frowns. "What does that have to do with anything?"

"He just had to go through one really emotionally-upsetting experience, he doesn't need - or, more importantly, want - to go through another," Quentin hisses. "If the bond was the only accident and we weren't sure that we'll last, that would be one thing. But it wasn't, and we are."

"So you're staying with him out of obligation," Julia deduces. Her eyes narrow. "Goddamn it, Q, of all the stupid--"

"You're missing the point, Julia!" Quentin says, exasperated. "I'm not staying with him out of obligation, Jesus. I'm staying with him - and staying bonded with him - because we are confident in our relationship, and we would have gotten bonded anyway, so why add the stress of breaking the bond on top of what we've already been through?"

"I'm just saying," Julia goes on, just the wrong side of condescending. "He's the first omega you've ever been serious about. How do you know for sure--"

"Julia. Stop." Quentin's shifted from a heavy frown to an outright glare. "Eliot might be the first omega I've been with, but I know how I feel, and I trust Eliot to know how he feels. We don't need to basically break up just to figure that out."

For a horrible moment, Quentin thinks she's going to keep arguing - but then she just sighs. "I just worry about you," she says. "I want you to be happy more than anything."

”I know,” Quentin says, softening. “And I appreciate you worrying about me, but Eliot makes me happy - happier than I think maybe I’ve ever been. I love him, Jules.”

"I can see that," Julia allows. She squeezes Quentin's arm with her own and they start walking again. "So what's it like?" she asks after a moment. "Being bonded. Does it feel different?"

"Yes and no?" Quentin frowns, thinking. "It... I already felt like I could read him like a book, but now that's... more concrete. It's easier to tell when he's overwhelmed, in a good or bad way, and it's just. I feel settled in my skin, not exactly like I'm whole, but like. He grounds me."

At this, finally, Julia smiles. "That sounds really nice, Q."

"It is," Quentin says, smiling. "And I do the same for him; I ground him, and just... We made each other home, the place where we can be completely ourselves and never worry about impressing professors or alumni or other students."

"He seems good for you," Julia says. "I've known that since the beginning. I just didn't want you to feel trapped by such an awful situation."

"I get that," Quentin says quietly. "But honestly, he wouldn't have let me stay if I just felt obligated."

"It would be terrible for both of you," Julia agrees. "It would leave you stuck, and it wouldn't be fair for him. Oh!" She starts so hard that she almost pulls Quentin’s arm off, and then she's bouncing in her step, and waving with her free hand. Kady and Penny are heading towards them.

Quentin catches his balance just as the other two reach them, and rolls his eyes at Penny's not-even-barely concealed smirk. "Hey Kady, Penny," he says, offering them a smile. "How's it going?"

"Good," Kady says, pulling Julia from Quentin's side with a sly smile. "Weird to see you outside. Seems like you've been glued to Waugh's hip for days."

"Like you and Penny aren't as bad," Quentin retorts, smiling. "We like spending time together, nothing wrong with that."

Kady rolls her eyes. "Well, do you guys have plans or what? Far be it for me to stop you from stretching the umbilical cord, but we were kind of looking for Julia." Her gaze slides meaningfully to the woman in question. "Just Julia."

Penny laughs. "No danger there," he says. He gestures to Quentin. "This one is just about dying to get back to his beau. We saw him earlier, he looked only marginally less like shit than you feel."

Quentin scowls. "Get the hell out of my head," he grumps. "Thought I had my wards up. What do you mean El looked like shit?"

"What I said," Penny snarks back. "I don't know why he looked like shit, because unlike some people, his wards are iron-tight."

Quentin flips him off, turning back to Julia. "I'll see you later, Jules," he says, giving her a smile. "I don't even want to know whatever these two assholes are planning with you."

"Trust me," Penny says, sneering. "Not even in your wildest dreams could you imagine. And I should know."

Julia snorts and shoves at him. "Leave him alone," she says, but her laughter takes the sting from her words. "See you tomorrow, Q."

Quentin rolls his eyes, but he's still smiling as he waves at Julia. "See you, Jules."

It doesn't take long to get back to the Cottage, and when Quentin doesn't see Eliot or Margo on the first floor, he feels pretty confident in guessing where they are. Sure enough, he opens the door to his and Eliot's room to find them curled up in the middle of the nest, under so many blankets all Quentin can see of Eliot is his curly hair from where he's got his face mashed into Margo's chest. "Hey," Quentin says quietly, slipping inside and shutting the door behind him, the wards closing behind him, ironclad. "Penny and Kady said he looked pretty bad."

The look on Margo's face is unreadable. "We've been better," she says bluntly. "He got through classes okay, but it took a lot out of him."

Quentin nods, dropping his bag by the desk before sliding into the nest, curling up against Eliot's back and wrapping an arm around his waist. "I was in my classes, like. Physically. Didn't actually absorb anything, though," he confesses.

"Mmph," Eliot agrees into Margo's cleavage. He flings an arm back to pat clumsily at Quentin's hip, drawing him closer.

Margo pets his hair. "You want me to go now that your boy's back, baby?"

But Eliot makes a sound of protest and burrows deeper into her.

Quentin hides a smile behind the kiss he presses to the back of Eliot’s neck, over the place where he can just barely make out the scar from their bond bite. “I’m fine with you staying,” he says to Margo, shuffling closer as Eliot none-too-subtly demanded. “Long as you want.”

Margo graciously doesn't comment on the fact that it's really not Quentin's decision. "Why don't we all take a nap?" she suggests. "And then I'll go find us some food."

Quentin sighs, settling in more comfortably. "That sounds good."

Eliot knows Quentin is behind him before he even sees him. He doesn't know if it's the bond or some other weirdness, but it's like a sixth sense: he always knows when Quentin is nearby, and when he wants attention. So he finishes serving the pretty beta Illusionist her mojito with a smile, and then turns to find his alpha hovering near the end of the bar. "Hello, darling," he says, moseying over and leaning across the bar to steal a kiss. "You ready to cut and run?"

Quentin relaxes with just that one kiss, and gives Eliot a smile. "To our corner?" he suggests. "I can spend some more time down here if you don't want to leave yet."

"Yes please," Eliot says, abandoning his post without hesitation, even as a cry of protest goes up from the other hopefuls surrounding the bar. He rounds the counter and wraps an arm around Quentin's shoulders, pulling him against his side with ease. "I'm not too hyped to join the party, but I feel like I should show my face for a little longer."

Quentin grins. "Margo would bitch you out if you left so early," he agrees, leading the way to their corner. "But she'll be happy with you over here."

"She'd better be," Eliot says, even as he catches Margo's eye. She quirks one eyebrow, and he nods; she smiles and turns back to the alpha she's been flirting with all night. Eliot puts the wards up around their corner and sinks down onto one of the big cushions beside Quentin. "How's your night going, anyway?"

"Pretty good," Quentin says, curling into Eliot's side. "Just haven't been hanging around the parties much lately."

"Well, me neither," Eliot says with a smile. "This is only my second party since..." He sighs. "But I feel good. I like doing this. I just also like doing this." He gives Quentin a squeeze.

Quentin laughs quietly, his own arms winding around Eliot's waist. "This is pretty good," he hums. "Kind of the best of both worlds, huh?"

Eliot hums in agreement, and kisses the top of Quentin's head. "Yeah," he murmurs. "This is perfect."

They escape the party before long, slip away to their nest where they can be alone. Once there they strip down and climb into the heart of the blankets, the fairy lights twinkling over their heads as they fall into each other's arms. They don't go far tonight, kissing and touching each other like it's all brand new, and maybe it is. They certainly don't feel like they did the last time they did this.

They continue to take it slow for the next few days, but eventually the dam breaks. Eliot has been feeling less sexy than he's ever felt in his life, but he blossoms under his alpha's attention, and Quentin does the same under Eliot’s attention. When it happens, late the following Tuesday night when Eliot really should be working on his thesis and Quentin really should be getting some sleep for his early start tomorrow, they don't mean it to. It's all the better for it.

This time is not the same as it was during that last heat; it's not even really the same as any other time they've fucked outside of heat. Quentin is gentle with him, tender, but not so much that Eliot feels chafed and coddled. He feels loved. So he gives as good as he gets, touching Quentin all over, murmuring sweet nothings into his ear, wrapping his legs around Quentin's waist to pull him even closer when he finally presses inside. It's bliss. It's beautiful. Eliot never wants it to end.

But it must, eventually. They come one after the other, with a gasping cry from Eliot and a more muffled one from Quentin, since he has his teeth on Eliot's throat. Afterwards they barely have the wherewithal to clean up their nest before they fall asleep, curled together and sated by their renewed intimacy.

Quentin is still asleep when Eliot wakes up, and he takes a moment just to look at him. He's gorgeous, his face soft with sleep, a soft pout on his lips, his hair falling into his eyes. He looks young. Sweet. And like he's begging to be kissed awake.

So Eliot does just that.

Quentin wakes a quiet, endearing noise, already reaching for Eliot and kissing him back before he’s fully awake. Once he’s awake, he smiles, tugging Eliot in close and nosing under his jaw. “Morning,” he murmurs. “You smell good.”

Eliot laughs. "I smell like you spent hours last night, staking your claim," he teases, but he doesn't sound too mad about that.

He can feel Quentin's smirk against his skin. "You saying I don't smell like you were doing the same?"

"No I'm not," Eliot says, pressing his whole body against Quentin's. "I love it."

Quentin grins, pulling back just enough for a soft, lingering kiss. "Much as I'd love to do it again," he sighs when they pull apart, "I do have an early class. Should probably get up and get ready for that."

Eliot heaves a great, put-upon sigh. "Fine," he says. "I suppose I can get up with you. Do you have time for breakfast?"

"If you're cooking, I always have time for breakfast," Quentin grins, stealing another, quicker kiss.

Eliot pushes him away, laughing. "Go and get in the shower," he says. "But use the unscented bodywash."

Quentin laughs in kind as he rolls out of the nest. "Love it when you get possessive," he tosses over his shoulder, heading for the dresser to dig out some clothes and snag a towel. "I'll see you downstairs."

"Love you," Eliot calls, just as the door swings shut behind Quentin, and flops back down against the pillows. Just five more minutes rolling around in their scent, and then he'll get up.

He finds Margo in the kitchen, grumbling into a coffee cup and looking flawless despite the early hour. He ropes her into making more coffee with the promise of French toast and sausage, and has everything ready when Quentin comes downstairs. His hair is still damp from the shower, whatever he says about his lack of self-confidence, and he looks tired but pleased with himself. Eliot has never loved him more.

Margo, seated once more at the kitchen table, has her back to him, but as soon as he walks in she scoffs into her coffee and sets it down in disgust. "Oh my God, Coldwater, I thought he said you were going to shower."

Quentin rolls his eyes, moving towards the coffee maker. "Yeah; guess he didn't say that he told me to use the unscented body wash," he retorts, smiling.

Margo treats Eliot to an unimpressed look. "You're fucking disgusting."

Eliot grins, unrepentant. "I've also made you breakfast, so shut up and put up."

Margo pulls her plate towards her in response, and waits until both Eliot and Quentin are seated and tucking in to their own food before she speaks again. "So," she drawls, "it took you long enough to start fucking again. Congrats. As long as it was good and appropriately kinky."

Quentin nearly chokes on his bite of French toast laughing. "You'd have puked," he says, grinning despite the flush that reaches to his ears. "Don't think it would fit your definition of 'appropriately kinky.'"

"That's a shame," Margo sighs. She points at Quentin with her fork. "Has he fucked you yet?"

"Margo," Eliot warns, but she takes no heed.

"You should let him," she says. "He's really good at it."

Quentin gives Eliot a considering look. "I'll take that under advisement," he promises Margo.

Eliot feels himself flush, and ducks his head to hide his smile. "Shut the fuck up and eat before you're late for class," he says, with absolutely no heat at all. "Both of you."

The days keep passing one after the other, and before anyone quite realizes, it’s the week before finals. The seniors are going bananas over their theses, rushing to get them done and edited one final time, while the lowerclassmen are worrying about final exams, perfecting poppers and tuts and pronunciation.

Quentin has barely seen Eliot for the past three days when he decides enough is enough. He asks Margo to pull a couple of strings, which she agrees to once he explains his plan, and once everything is ready, he doesn't even bother to pretend that he isn't lying in wait for his partner to step through the door to the Physical Cottage. He doesn't have to wait for long; Eliot is coming back from his morning class, and Quentin knows he doesn't have any afternoon classes. Quentin technically does, but he can miss one, Julia will help him go over anything he misses.

So, the moment Eliot walks through the door, Quentin pounces, grabbing Eliot by the arm and tugging him towards the stairs. "Dump your shit and get changed," he says, unable to contain his excitement, "we have plans for this afternoon."

"Plans?" Eliot asks. His eyes are wild. "Darling, I know I like to pretend that I don't give a shit about this place, but I was kind of hoping to look over my thesis again before dinner. And after dinner."

"That thesis is just about fucking perfect," Quentin says firmly, not letting up as he drags Eliot up the stairs. "And besides, taking one night off will let you look at it tomorrow with fresh eyes. Come on, you're gonna want to dress nice."

Eliot seems to focus on Quentin anew then, finally intrigued. "How nice are we talking?" he asks, a smile on his lips.

"Like, 'Margo pulled some strings,' nice."

Eliot's eyes go round. "Oh," he says. "So, very nice." They reach the attic stairs and he lets Quentin lead him up them, but pauses outside the door to their nest so he can reel him in for a kiss. "How long do I have to get ready?"

Quentin checks his watch. "An hour, maybe an hour and fifteen minutes," he says. "Want to make sure we get to where we need to be with some time to spare."

"You're a tough master, Coldwater," Eliot complains, but he's grinning as he opens the door and slips inside. "Leave me to work; you'll only distract me, and I have to look nice."

"I'll be timing you," Quentin reminds him, pulling Eliot in for one last kiss. "One hour, remember."

"You're a menace," Eliot calls after him. "I love you!"

"I love you," Eliot says, his eyes round with awe, his scent sweet with delight. "I love you." He kisses Quentin soundly, and then pivots on the spot to kiss Margo just as hard. "Romeo and Juliet? At the Globe? You absolute fucking goddess."

"Yeah, yeah." Margo pushes him off her, but she can't hide her smile. "Just hope it's worth it." She presses two tickets into Eliot's hand, and he's not surprised at all, but he still pouts.

"You're not coming?"

"Fuck no," Margo drawls. "If it was Macbeth, maybe. You two nerd out over your cute little nerd shit, and I'll be saving you a table at a very exclusive cocktail lounge when you come out."

Quentin smiles, leaning in to kiss Margo's cheek. "Thanks again for this. Don't have too much fun until we get back."

Margo scoffs, tosses her hair. "Don't bank on it," she says. "Later, losers."

And then they're alone, Eliot and his alpha, taking a break from one of the most stressful weeks of his life, it feels like, to go on a date in London. Eliot loves him, so he tells him again, and kisses him for good measure. "This is amazing," he says. "This is exactly what I needed, thank you."

Quentin smiles, smelling warm and pleased, maybe even a little bit smug, from where he's pressed against Eliot's side. "Figured you could use a break, and seeing Shakespeare performed at the Globe would be right up your alley," he says. "Come on; those tickets are for the good seats, Margo promised."

Eliot grins and loops his arm through Quentin's. "Remind me to get her a really nice present when all this is over," he says. "You can collect on yours tonight."

The night is amazing, both the part spent in London and the part spent back at the Cottage, wrapped up together in the middle of their nest - but reality comes crashing in with the sunlight the next morning. Eliot barely stops for the rest of the week, working on his thesis and helping Margo with hers and trying - sometimes failing - to resist the urge to self-medicate and drink the stress away. Quentin himself is busy with his own finals, and Eliot thinks he remembers to wish him good luck before all of them, but he's sure he misses a few. Quentin doesn't seem to give a shit, though, so maybe he's off the hook just this once.

And then it's over. Eliot hands his thesis in at noon on the day of the deadline, and Quentin's final exam should get out around three. They should be celebrating. The entire Cottage is set to blow up with the biggest party of the year tomorrow night, once everyone has had a chance to sleep off the stress of the preceding weeks, but Margo is flat out in bed, literally snoring, and Eliot just wants to spend tonight with Quentin in their nest. He hopes Quentin won't mind.

So he's waiting for him when Quentin finally gets back to the Cottage, actually closer to four than three. That's fine. It's given Eliot more time to prepare. It's warm on campus today, so he's dressed in a loose linen shirt and comfortable slacks, his hair curly and tumbling down into his eyes without its usual product keeping it rigid. He feels good. He knows he smells good, tired but relieved and so, so happy. He's actually right by the door when Quentin walks in, by pure coincidence, so he grabs Quentin's hands as soon as he gets through the door and pulls him into a kiss. "Hello, sweetheart," he says, warm and bright. "How did it go?"

Quentin groans. "I think I passed," he says, winding his arms around Eliot's waist and pressing in closer, "but that's all I'm confident about."

"That's all you need right now," Eliot assures him, and kisses his forehead for good measure. "Are you hungry? Or do you just need to pass out?"

"I could eat," Quentin decides after a moment. "And then maybe go pass out in our nest?"

"Sounds perfect," Eliot says with feeling. "Grilled cheese?"

"With ham and spinach?" Quentin asks hopefully.

Eliot smiles. "Anything your heart desires, love."

Quentin smiles, leaning in for a soft, lingering kiss. "A sandwich and curling up with you in our nest sounds like heaven right about now," he sighs, still smiling.

Eliot just smiles and leads him into the kitchen, sitting Quentin down at the table and fussing over him for a moment, making sure he's comfortable, before moving to the fridge. He makes Quentin his sandwich, busies himself tidying up while Quentin eats, and when Quentin is done, he leads him to the stairs. Quentin, belly full, is now starting to drag; Eliot has to tug him along to keep him moving at more than a trudge, but it's endearing more than anything else. Quentin drops his bag without looking by the desk, gaze focused on the nest as he strips down to his boxers before practically face-planting into the material with a satisfied-yet-exhausted groan. "Smells good," Eliot hears him mumble as he wiggles towards the middle, getting comfortable while Eliot strips down a bit less haphazardly than Quentin had. "Might sleep for a week."

Eliot's chuckle is warm and fond as he joins Quentin in the nest, pressing up against him and inhaling his scent. "Your body might have something to say about that, sweetheart."

Quentin grumbles something that sounds like 'stupid biology' from where he's got his face mashed into the pillow. He shifts, though, turning to face Eliot and tangling their legs together. "Think they're gonna sync up again."

"Probably," Eliot agrees. He can't feel the simmering of pre-heat just yet, but he's always been regular like clockwork, and even with everything they've been through this semester he and Quentin are closer than ever. "How do you feel about that?"

Quentin hums thoughtfully. "Gonna have to be careful," he says. "Maybe talk to Lipson, make sure the spells will work, or if we need to learn some new ones, maybe."

Eliot audibly pulls in his breath. "You want to spend it together?" he asks.

Quentin stiffens in his arms. "You... didn't?"

"No," Eliot says quickly. "No, of course I do. It's just that last time was... a lot. I wasn't sure you'd want to risk it."

Quentin searches Eliot's face for a moment before he relaxes. "It was a lot," he concedes, "but... You're my mate. And I'm yours. I want to spend my rut with you, help you through your heat. I just think we should double-check what sorts of precautions we need to take beforehand, this time."

"Oh," Eliot says - and smiles. "Okay then. Yeah. Me too."

Quentin returns the smile, one hand coming up to card through Eliot's hair. "Yeah?"

Eliot leans into his touch with a soft laugh. "Yes, darling," he says. "Let's talk to Lipson tomorrow, before the party."

Quentin smiles, tugging Eliot in for a soft kiss. "Tomorrow," he agrees. "Tonight, I just want to sleep right here, with you beside me."

Eliot's scent goes sweet and warm and pleased. "I have absolutely no complaints."

This heat is perfect; Lipson does have another, stronger cooperative spell for Quentin and Eliot to use for contraception, and they make sure they have it perfect well before Eliot’s heat starts. This time, neither of them have any reason to hold back their instincts, and maybe it’s the bond, maybe it’s just in his head, but Eliot has never had a better heat. Even the others with Quentin can’t compare.

The next few weeks are a whirlwind for Eliot and Margo - and the other third years, but he doesn't care about them, really. The results from their theses are due in pretty soon, and graduation is right around the corner. Several parties have already been planned, with the final theme to be settled on only once they know how high their final GPAs are. The last one, scheduled for two nights before they move out of the Cottage, they're sure will be remembered for years. And it's this that's giving Eliot pause.

They've found somewhere to live, at least at first. A swanky New York City apartment that they definitely wouldn't be able to afford without magic, that's close enough to Margo’s apprenticeship with Alice’s aunt Genji, and is exactly what Eliot always dreamed of when he was a lonely baby gay in Indiana. They're going to establish a portal between Eliot’s room at the apartment and the attic room at the Cottage, which Quentin will keep. It's great. It's an exhilarating change, and an important life goal reached and surpassed. But it's only temporary.

In the long-term, of course, Quentin will graduate next year and then he and Eliot will want to find a place together. But in the short-term, who knows where Margo's job will take her? They've only signed a three-month lease on the apartment, with a view to moving on if necessary, together or otherwise. Margo turned her nose up a little when he told her, but Eliot knows he won't want to stray far from Quentin, with or without portals. And on top of that, Eliot still has no idea what he's going to do.

Oh, he's receiving job offers by the dozen, from Magicians in the entertainment industry, in the creative arts, in marketing, in events - even in the business sector. Apparently even recovering from an abortion and all the shit that came with it, he managed to impress enough people at the last alumni event that he has his pick of all the careers of his wildest dreams. He should be over the moon; he should have diagrams and chalk boards and endless lists of pros and cons - salary; perks; job satisfaction; bragging weight; enough flair to make him feel fabulous every single day? If only these kinds of jobs were still the things he dreamed about.

He's always had the life plan that he told Quentin about all that time ago, the one that was almost shattered this year, but actually putting that plan into motion, even in the small way they've managed so far, has already changed so much.

So when the best possible offer gets literally dropped into his lap, he knows what he has to do. He finishes smoothing product into his curls, lines his eyes, and grabs the letter. He finds everyone downstairs. Most of the Physical kids are outside, enjoying the heat and freedom of summer, but Quentin, Margo, Julia, Alice, Penny and Kady are all hanging out in the living area. Eliot wasn't expecting quite an audience, but they do have big plans for a barbecue later on today, so he supposes they had to arrive sometime.

Quentin smiles when he spots him, makes room on the loveseat beside him, so Eliot strides across the room to take his place with as much dignity as he can muster. This may very well be excellently received - or it may go down like a lead balloon. There's only one way to find out.

He and Quentin share a sweet kiss, and for a moment Eliot almost relaxes into the cushions, lets the conversation continue around him - but he can't. Instead, he raises the letter in his hands, the one that just materialised out of thin air just like all the others while he was sitting at his vanity, and attracts their attention easily. "Guess what I just got."

Margo raises an eyebrow. "Another job offer?"

"Another one," Eliot confirms. "This time to be a curator at an art gallery."

"Pretentious and well-paying," Alice says, smiling. "I think that would be right up your alley."

Eliot laughs. "Thank you," he says. "It was actually my dream job for a long time."

Quentin's brow furrows, but Margo speaks before he can. "'Was'?" she demands.

"Things change," Eliot says breezily, "people change."

"Oh my God," Penny groans. "Your wards are better than his--" He glares at Quentin; "--but they've still been shit this whole semester. Just spit it out."

"Seriously," Kady sighs, "we all know you're a dramatic ass; no need to demonstrate it again."

Eliot rolls his eyes. "Fine," he says. "I've been thinking about it and, well. All of these jobs definitely get points for the aesthetic, but are they really me?"

"Dramatic and creative and completely over-the-top?" Julia asks, grinning. "Sounds right up your street."

"Thanks," Eliot says. "Honestly, what I think I want to do ticks all of those boxes as well." He slides his gaze to Quentin, a soft smile teasing at his lips. "I got some really good advice recently, that I should do something I enjoy, that will make me happy. So." He grins. "I think I'm going to open a bar."

There's a beat of silence, broken by Margo. "A bar?"

"Yeah," Eliot says, lightly, like he hasn't just tensed up, hackles raised as he braces himself for criticism. "A bar for Magicians."

"It does fit you," Alice concedes, a small smile about her lips.

Quentin curls an arm around Eliot's waist. "I think it's a good idea," he says, smiling.

Eliot leans into him gratefully, but he keeps his gaze trained on Margo. "Well," he says, "I've already started looking into premises, but it seems like it'll take a while to all come together. I might have to scrounge off of you for a while."

Margo huffs. "You better not settle for anything but the best," she warns, but there's something about her eyes that softens the serious words. "I'm not living with someone who runs a damn dive bar."

Eliot scoffs derisively. "Do you know me at all?"

"Just making myself clear," Margo says imperiously.

Quentin rolls his eyes, pressing a kiss to Eliot's cheek. "I think we all know that Eliot would spontaneously combust if he ever set foot in a dive bar," he teases. "I'm sure this place will be nothing but classy."

"At least one of you has faith in me," Eliot sniffs.

Quentin grins while Margo protests, kicking off a round of bickering among the rest. As they snipe at each other, Quentin leans in, kissing Eliot's cheek again and catching his attention. "Hey," he murmurs, just loud enough for the two of them to hear. "I'm proud of you."

Eliot's scent blooms with pleasure all around them, but if the others notice, Eliot doesn't care. He smiles softly, and kisses Quentin on the mouth. "I'm trying to do this thing," he says quietly, "where I'm brave about the things I want, and the things I love. It's something I learned from this alpha I know."

Quentin's own scent goes warm and pleased. "Yeah? Seems like you're doing a good job."

"Well, he's worth it," Eliot confides. "He's pretty great."

Quentin's smile widens, and he kisses Eliot again. "You're pretty amazing, too. I love you."

Someone somewhere makes an exaggerated gagging sound. Eliot just laughs, and rests their foreheads together. "I love you, too."