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He keeps expecting the doors to the throne room to burst open and for Quentin to stand there, huffing and puffing as he yells, “Stop the wedding!”

But Eliot says I do, slow and cautious, with his eyes locked on the door rather than on his soon to be husband.

Idri squeezes his hand and pulls him closer, gazes at him in the way Eliot just wishes Quentin would allow himself to. It’s not even sweet, not really. Maybe it’s loving. But Eliot can’t be assed to care. Isn’t sure he could even identify if he did care. “I do.”

The doors remain shut as the audience applauds their royal marriage. Hurrah. Eliot forces a grin as he leans in and presses a chaste kiss to Idri’s lips. Ignores the pounding in his chest that resembles something shattering inside him. They turn to the audience, and bow.

Fillory and Loria are united.

Eliot's eyes flit across the room and meet Margo’s. Her jaw is set, and before he can even offer a nod in her direction, she’s storming out of the throne room. Maybe she’s off to kill Quentin. Part of him is pleased at the idea. But the dumber part . . . God. The idiotic part of him is still hopeful the doors will smash open, and Quentin’s just late. Late is okay. Late means he tried but something stopped him.

Late means he cares.

It almost feels as if he’s underwater as they make their way across the dance floor. The sounds of the music pump through him, but they’re far off and fuzzy, as Idri pulls him close and smiles into Eliot’s jaw, whispering dirty little nothings that Eliot would have enjoyed in another life, Eliot keeps his eyes locked on the doors. Before the alternate timeline this would have been perfect. This would have been everything. After he and Quentin walked through the clock and lived their lives—after they formed a family—Eliot honestly doubts anything will ever amount to even a fraction of what he and Quentin had. But, he gets to have sex with someone that actually arouses him. What a fucking prize.

In the past, it would have been.

He closes his eyes and whispers back to Idri, pretends to be a loving husband, talks about perfect wedding planning and gorgeous center pieces. How happy he is. Even still, though, every time he’s spun or they turn, behind his eyelids he can still sense the formidable structure of heavy wooden doors that remain closed.

He was so sure. Quentin seemed to finally understand what was going on with that giant overthinking brain of his. It seemed like he was finally willing to admit it. What he felt in the past life—what happened after Eliot died. He’d started opening up. His feelings were more on his sleeve than tucked away in his messenger bag. He’d smiled at Eliot every time he entered a room, the way he used to look at Alice. He’d held his hand beneath the dinner table. He’d been so openly and blatantly jealous when Idri proposed their nuptials resume.

Fuck. He’d even kissed Eliot not even twelve hours ago.

Every kiss, Eliot could count all the important ones on one hand, every single one had been Quentin kissing Eliot. Last night, he’d practically shoved Eliot up against the tree and kissed him like it would replace the words he couldn’t get out past his stuttering.

Why didn’t he come?

Why didn’t he stop the wedding?

Why does Eliot keep letting himself get hurt when it comes to Quentin Coldwater?

He sighs, deep, and opens his eyes. It’s because he loves him. From the moment he lost his words when Quentin stumbled up to him that first day; to the day he died in Past Fillory. Even now. After Quentin continues to do everything but choose him.

All Eliot’s ever done is choose Quentin. Drunk, stoned, or even as a clay version of himself. Quentin runs through Eliot’s blood. It’s like the great cock said: they’re brothers of the heart. Quentin holds Eliot’s heart, and he squeezes and he squeezes until it practically maims Eliot. Over and over again, until all that’s left is dust. And then Eliot’s heart rejuvenates, and the whole cycle starts up again.

And the worst part is Quentin doesn’t even realize it. Doesn’t realize just what he’d give up if it meant another stolen kiss beneath a hidden tree at the edge of the castles property line. If it meant watching him with their grandchildren one more time. If it meant...

If it meant the man holding him right now were him. Idri is a wonderful man and will no doubt be a fantastic husband. But.

Eliot’s been, for all intents and purpose, married to the man he loves already. And he’s already in one unhappy marriage.

One unwanted marriage.

And now here he is with another.

He’d been so certain that Quentin would stop the wedding.

Why hadn’t he?

There’s a tap on his shoulder. He frowns, turning with the tune of the music, “Julia?” He asks, stopping, “What’s wrong?” She opens her mouth to say something but stops, glancing at Idri where he still has his hands on Eliot’s waist. “What’s going on?” Eliot shrugs away from Idri, “Excuse us,” he mutters, but he’s already dipping away before Idri can respond, “Why do you look like death warmed over?” It’s true. She’s clammy, her clothes are disheveled, and if the smell emanating off of her is anything to go by—she may actually be death warmed over.

“You need to come with me. Back to Earth.”

He raises an eyebrow. “Is that so?” He asks, “I’m not sure you’re aware, but this is my wedding,” He outstretches his arms to emphasize the point. Part of him wants to scream at her. She’s Quentin’s real best friend, isn’t she? She could explain why he’s such a fucking bastard. “That I have very carefully, and with an immense amount of effort planned—“

It’s Quentin.”

Eliot pushes his shoulders back and lifts his chin. Of course it is. It’s always Quentin. Quentin is Eliot’s life. Quentin who didn’t care enough to stop the wedding. “You mean the Quentin that decided not to come to my wedding?”

She makes a face, unimpressed, “He couldn’t.”

Two can play at that game. Eliot crosses his arm, doubly unimpressed. “Oh? Enlighten me. I’d love to hear his excuse for this one—“

“He almost died. Actually—he did die.” She shrugs a shoulder, “I brought him back.” Jesus—his heart can’t even figure out whether or not to crash out of his chest or if everything’s okay. Talk about emotional fucking whiplash. He’s torn between wanting to rip her hair out of her scalp and hugging her.

She did bring him back. Maybe no hair pulling. For now. “From the dead?”

“From the dead, Yeah. Are you coming or not?”

He considers it, relaxing his shoulders. He tries to tell himself that it’s okay. Quentin’s not dead. Anymore. God, when did magic get so fucking complicated? “How did he—“

“The Neitherlands. We found another portal and—we were attacked. He was shot with a fucking arrow. The cannibals were hungry or something. I don’t care, to be honest.”

Eliot swallows, thick, and forces himself not to imagine sharp arrows piercing through Quentin’s fragile little body. Oh, but there they are. Like tiny little needles at his brain. “How did you—,” His voice cracks and he looks away from her. Cant take whatever signature Julia look she’s giving him. “How?” He tries again.

“Does that really matter? He’s alive, but he keeps asking for you.”

He clenches his jaw and nods, “Let’s go.” Glancing back across the dance floor, where his new husband is talking with Tick, Eliot decides its probably for the best if he doesn’t announce that he’s leaving. “Out the back,” He adds, nodding towards a door separate from the rest of the room.

They make it out without too many interruptions, and back to the neitherlands in near record time. “Aren’t the fountains frozen?”

She nods. “But not when I touch them.” And as if to prove her point, she leans forward and delicately places a hand overtop the frozen water. And it all starts moving again, shimmering in the fountain as if it’d never been frozen in the first place. She starts to move over the water, “Come on.”

He looks up from the water at her. “How are—“

“I’m a goddess, apparently. It’s not really the subject at hand. Can you just—“

Eliot sighs, so much of his life is unexplained. He’s learned by now to just roll with the punches no matter how banged up he gets. So he steps over the side of the fountain and dives in.

 

**

 

Quentin’s lying on one of the couches, hand tossed over his eyes, chest heaving like he’s in a ridiculous amount of pain. “Why is—“

Julia shakes her head and rushes to his side, dropping something to the ground beside him, “Come on, Q,” She says, soft, “Wake up.” Oh.

Nightmares.

Quentin jerks awake, hand slamming into the side of the couch with a soft thump. He flinches as his other hand goes to wrap around his stomach. That must be where the arrow hit him. Eliot stands at the edge of the living room, unsure of what he’s expected to do, other than watch. And wonder.

Had Quentin been coming to stop the wedding after all?

Or was something more important?

When Quentin calms down, he seems to finally realize he and Julia aren’t alone, as his gaze slowly rakes up Eliot’s body, from his shoes all the way up to his face. “Eliot,” He breathes. His voice is even hoarse. God, all Eliot wants to do is wrap him up and never let go. Hang onto him and keep him from ever getting hurt again. He starts to push up from the couch, but Julia puts a hand on his chest to hold him down. “You’re not dead but you’re not fully healed. Don’t try to get up.”

“But—“

“Q, I don’t even know how I saved you the first time. Don’t ask me to risk not being able to do it a second time.” Quentin sighs, nodding silently as Julia stands up and points a finger at Eliot. “I’m going to leave alone with him, but if he dies while I’m gone—“

“Like I would let anything bad happen to him,” Eliot retorts, tone a little more biting than he intended. She may have brought him back, but she was there . . .

“Good.” She turns around and walks out of the living room without another word and Eliot turns his attention on Quentin.

God, what is he even going to say to him? I’m sorry I hated you for not coming to the wedding when you were dying? I’m sorry I kept thinking about how much harm you bring to me instead of all the good? How cou

“You’re thinking louder than me,” Quentin muses, “That’s. That’s a feat.”

Eliot can’t help it, he chuckles before moving to sit on the edge of the coffee table. And when Quentin reaches out his hand, he doesn’t hesitate to lace their fingers together. “You are the reigning champion of overthinking,” He murmurs, as he looks down on their hands. It’s like they were made to fit like this. Idri’s hands are large, almost as large as Eliot's, which makes hand holding clunky and awkward. But Quentin’s are just a little smaller, calloused and warm and the perfect fucking size to fit in Eliot’s.

Quentin heaves a sigh, and Eliot turns his eyes up to his face. He’s pale. A little clammy. “I missed it, didn’t I?” He asks, voice barely above a whisper. “The wedding?” Eliot opens his mouth to say it’s okay, but Quentin squeezes his hand and barrels on, “My chance.”

And Eliot swears his heart stops in his chest. “What?”

Quentin makes a face, turning his eyes up towards the ceiling. His jaw trembles. “I had a plan. I was— I was going to fix this. Break down the doors and beg you not to marry him. I just—,” He pauses, turning his attention back to Eliot, eyes glistening. “Eliot, I’m so sorry I realized too late. I— I should have realized. I shouldn’t have been so afraid back then. We raised a child—we. We were perfect. Together. And I—i was scared. And I had the chance to—to maybe make it right. But I fucked up and got shot by a fucking flying arrow and—“ He breaks off with a shake of his head.

Eliot watches him for a few long moments, heart racing.

Fuck.

Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Come on Eliot, you can hold it in. Don’t cry. Don't—

“El . . .”

Fuck.

He pulls his hand away to wipe at the tears welling up on his eyelashes. “I’m—“

Quentin reaches up and grabs his hand again, pulling it back to him, right over his chest and holding onto it with both hands. “I swear I wanted to be there, Eliot. I—I just needed a plan. And I had one.”

“A plan wouldn’t unite two nations, Q. There’s nothing you could have done.” It’s true. Even if Quentin had burst through the throne room doors and screamed, ‘Stop the wedding!’ at the top of his lungs, it wouldn’t have changed anything. The wedding wasn’t about love. The wedding was about uniting two nations. Making their kingdoms stronger. Actually stopping the wedding probably would have resulted in a war. Especially after Margo accused Ess of an attempted assassination and threw him in the dungeon without so much as an hasta la vista.

“Margo was going to marry Ess,” Quentin says. “She—I talked to her about it after I kissed you. She was going to marry Ess. I just had to show up and stop the wedding, and she was going to do the rest. But I fucked up,” He makes a sound disturbingly similar to a whimper, “I finally stop overthinking and get shot with an arrow because of it. I’m so sorry, El. I’m so, so—“

Eliot swoops forward and presses his lips to Quentin’s temple. “It’s okay,” He whispers into the skin, “It’s okay. This isn't your fault—“

“Stop that.”

“What?”

Quentin pushes him away, it’s gentle but it still stings. “Every time I fuck up, you—“

“I what?”

“You forgive me.”

Eliot shrugs a shoulder. “It’s usually not your fault.” Quentin raises an eyebrow, and okay. It usually is. Practically every bad thing after Quentin came to Brakebills has been Quentin’s fault. But, “That’s love,” Eliot murmurs, “I—“ He shrugs, because there’s no other way to put it. That’s what it is. He loves Quentin, for better or worse. “I can usually find a defense for everything you do.”

Even when it came to Quentin pushing him away after they got together in their past life.

“El…”

“We’re going to figure this out.”

“How? You can’t divorce—“

Eliot shrugs, pushing off the table to kneel by the couch and rest his forehead against Quentin’s. “I don’t know. But we will.” He pulls away just enough to look him in the eyes, “We always do, don’t we?” When his wife left him, they figured it out. When they had to raise a child, just them, they figured it out.

When they got stuck in the past trying to solve an impossible puzzle— they figured it out. Every problem that’s come their way, be it caused by Quentin or some stupid God being a dick, they figured it out. They always find a way. That’s who they are. They don’t give up, no matter how much they want to, because they have each other, and then depend on one another.

Now that he knows for sure, he’s not going to stop until he figures out a way to get out of this marriage and finally get a chance with Quentin. To finally get the life they deserve.

Just as he’s about to say as much, Margo crashes through the front door. How? He can’t even be bothered to ask.

“What the actual horse shitting fuck, Coldwater?” She screams as she storms into the living room. “What the fuck were you—“ She stops at the sight of Eliot, “El. Everyone’s looking for you back at the castle.” He’d figured as much. “But that’s not the point.” She turns her glare back on Quentin, “We had a plan you fucking overthinking, selfish weasel!”

“You shouldn’t have to marry someone you don't want to, Margo.”

She rolls her eyes and turns back to Eliot. “Honey, I’ve done it once. And he’s dead now. Do you really think I can’t handle Ess? He’s much easier to control. A little sex here and he’s done for the next three days. I’m not worried about him.” She turns her attention back on Quentin, eyes squinting accusingly. “Why do you look like shit?”

He died.”

I died.”

She stares at them for a few long beats before groaning, and looking up at the ceilings, “Can my friends please stop fucking dying?!” It really says something about the sorry state of their group that she doesn’t question how he’s still here if he’s dead.

 

They eventually make it back to Fillory. Margo’d had the key, which allowed her to get to Earth, but even still, time had once again moved a lot faster in Fillory than it had on Earth. The wedding decorations and guests have all disappeared. In fact, the only sign that anything that happened actually had happened, is the extra seat in the throne room for Idri. And many of Idri’s belongings in Eliot’s room. And, obviously, Idri, waiting for them is a big indicator.

“You’re back,” He says, though there’s no shock or even indignation. “Come, let’s talk.”

Eliot squeezes Quentin’s hand once before letting go and following after his husband. God. His husband. That’s somehow worse than him having to get used to saying his wife.

Wait, no.

No, it’s not.

They go out to the balcony in the throne room, and look out over Fillory. Neither of them say anything, not at first. Eliot, though he’ll never admit it, is too afraid to be the first one to speak. Too unsure of how to go about saying ’this wedding was a mistake and I hate that I went through with it and I hate that I can’t get out of it’ in a way that won’t send their two kingdoms into instant war.

Idri looks at him, thoughtful, and sighs. “The king. You love him.”

With a short, sardonic laugh, Eliot nods. “Yeah. I do.”

“And you’ve only just realized this?” When he doesn’t respond, it’s Idri’s turn to nod as he turns his gaze back on the sweeping view of the land surrounding the castle. “The wedding?”

“Obligation.” It’s the truth. There’s no point in lying anymore.

They go on in an uncomfortable silence as Eliot looks down at the ground beneath them, his arms crossed over the side of the balcony. “Tell me,” Idri says, finally, “Have you tried being with another, besides your wife, since magic disappeared?”

“Th—“ He cuts himself off. Because no, not in a world without magic. But in the past. Where there was magic. But technically Fen hadn’t been born yet. So, theoretically, it made sense that that night with Quentin was possible. They’d never really even thought to question how they’d done it. They were too busy, well, doing it. “No,” he settles for. Because how does he explain that they traveled through time, then didn’t, but still remembered everything that technically didn’t happen? Easy—he doesn’t.

“I did some research after it was clear you were probably not returning.”

Eliot frowns, turning to look at him, “I’ll always come back. Fillory is my home—“

“Returning to me, Eliot.”

“I’m—“

Idri holds up a hand. “Without magic, there are no spells or entanglements. No one thing binding two people together for as long as they live.” He smiles softly, almost sad, “Without a god, any spell he cast on the people of Fillory or the castle—it’s like it never existed. The world he created lives on. But the magic of it is gone.” He raises his eyebrows meaningfully and looks out over the grounds again. “I told you about my first love, when we first met. Love is not something one gives up. Not without a fight.”

Eliot takes a slow breath in, the words sinking in as the air settles in his lungs. No spell means no forced eternity. No spell means—

“W—what are you saying?”

Turning his head just slightly, to look at Eliot out of the corner of his eye, Idri asks, “Would your high queen willingly marry Prince Ess?” Each word is slow to settle. Slow to morph into something with meaning. Eliot can’t even think to answer. Can’t even begin to try to find the words to express his confusion and gratitude and god, the confusion is the strongest of them all.

“I—“

“Our kingdoms alliance is important,” Idri adds, turning to face him full on. “But forcing you into a marriage that will separate you from the person you love? I wouldn’t do that. I couldn’t. I imagine the two of you have been through so much already to get you to this point. And, though, the idea of you and me sounds… explosively magnetic. I won’t ask you to make another sacrifice. Love is sacred. I wouldn’t ask you to give that up. Not when you don’t have to.”

As amazing as this all sounds, “We’re already married, though. Divorce doesn’t even exist here.”

“Divorce?”

“Exactly!”

“There’s a ceremony of sorts. No practitioner or anything required.” He looks down with a half smile and reaches into his pocket, “It’s quick, and simple.” He lifts his hand, and in it is the cloth that was wrapped around their wrists during the wedding. “Together, we must rip it in half. The bond will be broken because there’s no magic holding it together. And then, you’ll be free to be with the man you actually love.”

Eliot’s mouth falls open as he stares down at the cloth. Days of stressing and working up the courage to have this talk, and it’s all as simple as breaking a piece of cloth? Days of holding Quentin at arms length for fear of not being enough? And all they have to do is rip a cloth?

It can’t be that simple.

Their lives are not that simple.

“I don't understand why you’re doing this.”

Idri laughs, gently, closing his fist around the clothing, “Because nobody wants to be miserable for the rest of their life, when happiness is just a few steps away. But I need to be clear—we can only do this if our kingdoms are still united.”

“Margo and Ess.”

He nods. “Margo and Ess.”

That was part of their plan. And she thinks she can handle Ess. Thinks it’s not a big deal. But he can’t ask her. He can’t make her make that decision for him. Eventually she’ll come to resent him—

“I’ll do it.” What? He flips around, eyes wide as Margo stands in the doorway, blinking innocently with a knowing smirk on her lips. She rolls her eyes at him and nods at Idri. “I’ll do it. I’ll marry your infuriating, son,” She offers a shrug, “Maybe even teach him a thing or two about being a decent human being.”

“Bambi—“

She narrows her eyes at him, “El, sweetheart. You made a sacrifice once already for everyone when you married Fen. And you did it knowing you’d never be able to leave Fillory. You did that shit knowing you’d lose practically everyone and everything and any chance at a decent boner,” She takes two careful steps towards him and pokes him directly at the center of his chest, “It’s my turn to be the good guy. You’ve filled up your quota.” And in true Margo fashion, she doesn’t even allow him a chance to say no before she’s turning to Idri, “Alright, king sexy. Let’s rip up that cloth and get this marriage train on the tracks. I may need a new dress, though, my other one’s covered in blood.” She scrunches up her nose, “And maybe a new bed, as my now deceased husbands throat was slit by his mother while we were sleeping, and there’s a whole lot of blood stains.”

Idri smiles at her and opens his fist, offering the cloth to Eliot. “Shall we?”

“Don’t we need scissors or—or something?” Idri shakes both his head and the hand holding the cloth, “It’s—we can do it right here, right now?”

Idri glances back at Margo, “Do I have your word that you will marry Prince Ess?”

“Swear on everything important to me. Which is really just Eliot and Quentin. I’ll marry Ess.”

“Then yes,” He looks back at Eliot, “Right here, right now.”

“And how will people know—“

“I’m sure the marriage announcements will make it clear what’s happened, Eliot. Please,” He motions towards the cloth, “Don’t doubt your ability to be happy.”

Margo, less kindly, adds, “Seriously, El, if you don’t take that fucking cloth—“

Eliot reaches up, moving faster than he even knew he was capable, and Idri holds tight to his end as Eliot pulls at it with every fiber of strength in his body. The cloth rips almost too easily, and he falls backwards, crashing against the side of the balcony. His breath whooshes out of him as he collides with the wall, and something heavy lifts off his chest that he hadn’t even realized was there. He looks across the balcony at Idri, who seems to realize the same weight’s lifted, but he doesn’t seem as surprised.

Margo smiles sympathetically. “Happens when a vow is broken, El. I felt it when — well. You know that story already.” When her husbands throat was slit while she slept beside him. Yeah, he knows that story well enough.

Idri smiles at them. “Now that our business is concluded,” Eliot can’t help but notice that he’s also a little breathless, “Margo, we need to go speak to Ess. And Eliot . . . I believe you have good news to share.”

Margo scoffs, “Q and I were listening in on this whole thing. He knows everything already. He’s just waiting to be polite.” The ‘and to give Eliot the opportunity to change his mind’ goes unsaid.

There’s a small sigh and a quiet, indignant, “Damn it, Margo,” from just outside the doors, and then a sheepish Quentin peeking his head out with a guilty smile. “… Hi.”

Laughing, Margo presses a kiss to Quentin’s cheek with a quiet, “Don’t fuck it up!” And pulls Idri through the throne room and out of sight.

Quentin chews on his lower lip as he steps onto the balcony. He’s staring down at the ground in front of his feet, like he’s suddenly frightened of anything and everything Eliot might say. So Eliot breathes out through his nose, and huffs. “Well,” He says, “You’d better not miss the next wedding, or it’ll be horribly embarrassing.”

Quentin’s head jerks up, “What?”

“What, what?”

“No—El—what?”

“We’re obviously getting married.” He smirks down at him as he takes a single step closer, waiting for Quentin to make the next move. And Quentin does. He takes one step, as well, cautious and careful until Eliot moves again. And so the game goes until they’re standing inches apart, Quentin gazing up at him with those stupid doe eyes and his lower lip sucked into his mouth. “I can’t have you running off with some other debonair High King.”

His lower lip pops out of his mouth as he smiles and looks away, towards the throne room and back. A slight pink tints his cheeks. “I don’t know,” He says, moving in, closing the few inches between them, but still so far because he’s so god damned short. “You just got out of a relationship—“

Eliot’s hands move of their own accord, until he’s got one wrapped around the back of Quentin’s neck, and the other on his lower back, “Q,” He whispers, leaning down, so close he can feel Quentin’s breath on his eyelashes. “Shut up. And say you’ll marry me.”

He pretends to think about it for a moment, “I can’t do both of those things— it’s shut up or say yes. Which is it?”

“God, you’re a loser.”

Quentin grins up at him, his arms coming up to wrap around Eliot’s waist, “A loser you’re about to spend a second lifetime with.” The corners of his lips twitch as he unwinds one arm, to reach up and wipe at a tear from Eliot’s cheek. God, since when does he cry? And why is it happening without his knowledge or control? “Happy tears?”

Eliot lets out a small, choked up laugh and nods, “The first of the kind.”

“I mean you kind of sobbed when Rupert got his first girlfriend.”

Shaking his head, Eliot narrows his eyes, “You promised to never mention that.” But he can’t help the smile that follows the statement, and decides he can’t help leaning down to press his lips to Quentin’s, either. It hadn’t been too long ago that Quentin had pushed him up against a tree and kissed him like it was all he knew to do, but somehow it felt a lifetime ago. And then there was the kiss. The perfect kiss that actually was a lifetime ago.

Quentin pulls away, his thumb stroking the damp skin beneath Eliot’s eye. “Happy anniversary, Eliot.” The words that started it all.

“Get out of my head, Coldwater.”

Quentins quiet for a moment before he swallows audibly and leans up, on the balls of his feet, and says, right up against Eliot’s lips, “Never.”

He wonders for a moment, why he loves this man.

But then, he remembers a moment both lifetimes and yet only a few years ago, of a fresh faced, confused student, stumbling into his life, and staring up at him with big brown eyes, and a bag full of books. And he doesn’t have to wonder anymore.

They’re always been Quentin and Eliot. Even before they knew each others names. Some things are stronger than death and misery, and gods and magic. Some things are stronger than destiny.

Some things defy the odds.

They just happen to be one of those things.

And considering their outrageously terrible luck—“We’d better get married sooner rather than later.”

That’s one of those things Eliot doesn’t want to push.

Quentin laughs and pulls him in for another kiss.