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It takes a year and a day. The monster is quieted. The library is under new management. Magic is free. A year and a day after Quentin woke up as himself again, instead the shell of a man named Brian, and they’ve finally reached something like peace, which will hopefully last long enough that he can catch his breath.

There are still so many things left to do. The void left by the Library will have to be replaced with something that actually helps people. Fillory is stumbling towards a constitutional monarchy with actual Fillorians making decisions. Brakebills is as fucked up as it ever is, and someday someone should really step in and ask what functional magical pedagogy would really look like, but not Quentin, not today. Quentin needs a fucking break.

A year and a day after he woke up as himself again, standing in what had been the the Neitherworlds Central Post Office and is now a pile of smouldering rubble he pushes his hair out of his face, and says, “I need a fucking break.”

Eliot, standing next to him, says nothing. He continues to look at his hands, like he’ll find answers in the ash and blood and ink they’re streaked with, or maybe in the ragged cuticles below. Eliot must hate that. He’s picky about his fingernails; something Quentin learned in a life that didn’t happen. The state of his hands is evidence of how Eliot hadn’t been himself until the day before yesterday.

Quentin takes Eliot’s hand, because he wants to, and because he can, because Eliot is Eliot, and he’s himself, and it looks like maybe things will be alright.

Quentin kind of loses track of what's happening for a while after that. He remembers Penny taking them all back to Whitespire. He remembers not wanting to let go of Eliot’s hand, but doing it anyway to go in different directions to different bedrooms. He remembers all of them sitting around the table to talk about what to do next, but he can’t remember what he said. He remembers Julia being there, her presence filling the room. He remembers her asking him what he wants, but he can’t remember how he answered, if he answered.

He doesn’t remember making the decision to get an apartment in New York City with Eliot, but he’s pretty sure that’s because it was decided for them, not because he forgot. He remembers Julia saying, “there are still some things that time can heal better than I can.” He remembers Margo saying, “You guys go be boring for a while, leave protecting the magical universe to the rest of us.” He remembers that Alice not meeting his eyes across the table. He knows he should take a more active role in shaping the course of his life, but mostly he was tired. He’ll figure out what he really wants later, assuming there is a later, and not just another catastrophe about to hit them.

The apartment is in Chelsea. A new building with a view of the Highline, marble countertops, a sinfully large bathtub, and too much light coming in all the windows. It looks like something Margo would pick out, too cold and elegant for Quentin’s tastes, but to be unhappy with it he’d have to care more. There’s a moment where Eliot stands framed in the window, looking out at the city, where he looks like a king, and Quentin can see how he could come to love this place.

But then Eliot turns, and his hair is still too long, unkempt in a way that reflects a lack of interest, not debauchery, and Quentin doesn’t know if he’ll ever be able to love anything again. Or maybe he’s just tired.

Whatever Quentin thinks of the apartment, at least the bed’s good. There’s a California king in the master, with soft dark sheets, and too many pillows. There’s another bedroom, but Quentin and Eliot have been sharing that bed. They didn’t talk about it, they haven’t talked about it, but their first night here, still tried from all the fighting and the Fillorian jet leg, Quentin passes out in the master, and woke up with Eliot is next to him, too much space between them.

Quentin wants to reach out, touch the bruised looking skin under Eliot’s eyes, but he doesn’t. He gets up to shower and brush his teeth. He runs down the street to buy eggs and milk, and by the time Eliot is awake there’s rubbery over-peppered scrambled eggs waiting for him in the pan, and a latte in a paper cup spelled to keep warm.

Eliot eats the eggs, and doesn’t insult Quentin’s cooking, (which shouldn’t hurt, but does), and then he goes to stand and stare out of the window some more. It’s fine. They don’t have to talk about sharing a bed. Quentin is fine with not talking about it as long as it doesn’t stop.

They aren’t talking about anything. They spent a lifetime together in Fillory, and they still haven’t talked about it. Quentin meant to, but they were busy. There was the quest, and then he had his memory wiped, and Eliot was possessed by a monster, and they were all just very busy. They could talk about it now, but Quentin doesn’t know what he’d say. The life they had together never happened. The family they made never existed. Quentin shouldn’t be so used to the lines coming in around Eliot’s eyes, shouldn’t remember how Eliot moves as an old man, shouldn’t remember what it felt like to dig Eliot’s grave.

But he does. He remembers all that, and a thousand other things that never actually happened: a child that was never born, a wife who never died, a home they never built. None of it ever happened, and he remembers it at a distance, faded, like his mind couldn’t handle an extra fifty years shoved into his long term memory without degrading the quality. He remembers enough to miss it, enough that it hurts. They’ve never talked about it, so he doesn’t know if Eliot feels the same way. He thinks so — he hopes so — the Eliot he knew so well, the Eliot he grew old with, would have felt the same way. But they’ve never talked about it, and this Eliot might have felt differently, even before the monster, and now, who knows. Quentin isn’t going to ask.

Eliot spends most of two weeks moodily staring at the city, slowly pulling himself together, and then he decides that he’s bored, and it’s time for them to do things. Quentin spends this time mostly staring about Eliot, and overthinking where they should order takeout from. It’s boring, but he likes that. It’s boring on his own terms, not like Brian’s crushingly small life. It’s still a novelty that no one is actively trying to kill them. He’ll take boring, especially when he wakes up with Eliot in bed next to him.

Eliot’s first act of ending boredom is taking them to get library cards — “Ordinary New York Public Library Cards, not like those authoritarian assholes we had to beat into submission.”

Quentin actually has a library card, that he hasn’t used since before Brakebills, and he has to pay a sixty dollar fine before they let him take anything else. Once they get started, they read a lot. Quentin can’t go back to the Fillory books, but he rereads Harry Potter, and the Chronicles of Chrestomanci, and Lord of the Rings, and seven whole Redwall books before he remembers every Redwall book is the same, which is less enjoyable when you aren’t twelve and desperately bored.

They scour used bookstores, and Quentin slowly replaces the books that he’d left in his childhood bedroom, which were donated when the house got cleaned out after his father died. Quentin would have saved them, but he was still Brian then. One of the first thing he did after he got his memory back was visit the grave, to try to make it seem real, but now he has time to go back, and sit, and say some of the ten thousand things he wishes he could have told his father before he died.

Eliot comes with, because Eliot doesn’t like being alone, and Quentin doesn’t like leaving Eliot alone. Quentin sits on the ground, while Eliot paces and smokes, far enough that he can’t hear what Quentin’s saying. He wishes he could have introduced Eliot to his dad. He doesn’t know what they would have made of each other, doesn’t really think they would have got along, but he knows they would have both tried, to make him happy. Eliot sits close to him on the train back into the city. He smells like smoke and cologne, magic and expensive shampoo. Quentin closes his eyes and listens to Eliot turn the pages until they’re almost home.

Eliot reads Christopher Isherwood, and Edmund White, and romances where the title in in an illegible font over the male models on the cover. He runs his hand over the cover of Berlin Stories and says, “I read this for the first time when I was fourteen, after hearing about Cabaret. I didn’t see Cabaret until college, but I knew it existed, and that it was full of things I’d like, and that it was based on a book that I could check out from the library. My mother liked that I read a lot. She liked that I got good grades. She worried about me, but she didn’t blame the reading, unlike my father. She was proud that I was smart, and would drop me off at the library in town while she did her shopping. She had no idea what I was reading, and would have stopped me if she did, but she didn’t care enough to be nosey, thank god.”

Quentin has known Eliot for a lifetime and a half, but he’s never heard that story. They’ve never lived in a world full of used bookstores without any world ending disasters keeping them busy.

When they’re done, Quentin suggests they switch books, but Eliot says he’s lived enough epic fantasy, he doesn’t need to read it. Quentin reads The Beautiful Room is Empty, because Eliot left it on his nightstand, and he wants to ask Eliot when he read it for the first time, but doesn’t, because they’ve gotten in the habit of not talking about things, and it’s working well enough so far. If he doesn’t ask, then he can imagine Eliot at nineteen picking this up and using it as a guide for how to turn his childhood hurt into a style, and he likes that idea so much, it doesn’t really matter if it’s true or not.

They go to the movies — lots of matinees where they’re the youngest people in the theater by decades. Eliot has a list of every best picture nominee since they first went to Fillory, and they work their way through that. Quinton falls asleep during The Post. He leaves the room in the middle of Manchester by the Sea. He doesn’t watch A Star is Born because Eliot knows the ending, and Quentin shouldn’t watch movies that end like that, but he gets to live with Eliot singing “Shallow” in the shower for a weeks, which he complains about as a matter of principle, but really enjoys. Eliot has a lovely voice. Anything’s better than quiet. His life as Brian had been very quiet. Quiet and bad; quiet and empty.

The fifty years in Fillory with Eliot had been quiet too, but in a different way — full; hushed and precious. There weren’t as many things in Fillory, just the two of them, and the mosaic, for years. Eventually there was Ariel, and Teddy, and neighbors, and memories, habits, everything a life needs to feel full. But there weren’t Oscar movies, or books they read as teenagers, or their friends.

Margo and Josh spend several straight days on their couch catching up on Game of Thrones. Eliot refuses to learn any of the characters names, (or at least refuses to admit that he has), and eight episodes in Margo casts a silencing spell on him. As bitchy as Eliot and Margo get they don’t usually fight each other, and Quentin’s worried for half a second before he realises that Eliot’s shaking with silent laughter.

It’s just… It’s all disarmingly pleasant. There isn’t any urgent danger, there isn’t any fresh trauma to process. Quentin knows the McAllisters are still out there, he doesn’t really expect their lives to stay this safe and dull. But he wants to enjoy it, for as long as it lasts. He wants to hang out, and relax, and catch up on the boring parts of life.

It’s interesting — they haven’t been drinking, which Quentin doesn’t even notice for a while. He never made a decision about that. At first it was an executive function thing, where making sure they were eating was hard enough, and he was already numb enough that drinking didn’t seem important. Quentin didn’t realize it was a thing until they started having a life, where Eliot plans menus for them to cook, and they go out to eat sometimes.

This tapas place opens around the corner, and Eliot wants to try it, and Quentin agrees, because he’s all about Eliot wanting things, even though it looks trendy, like the type of place that would make him anxious. But they go, and it isn’t as bad as he thought it would be, mostly because Eliot is in his element, a little bit dressed up and absolutely charming. They sit across from each other, knees knocking under the table as they read the menu. And then Quentin orders a drink and Eliot doesn’t.

Which is odd enough that Quentin misses the waiter asking what he wants to eat, so Eliot orders for both of them, and the food is great, and it’s a good night. It’s odd enough that Quentin remembers, starts noticing that Eliot isn’t drinking, not to excess, not at all. Which is odd, because this is Eliot. This is the first time in two life times that Quentin has seen Eliot not drinking.

Quentin is aware that this is probably something they should talk about, but it’s hard. How is he supposed to start that conversation, like, oh hey, I know we never talked about how you were a mostly functional alcoholic, but I’ve noticed that’s changed, what’s up? Quentin doesn’t know how to have that conversation.

He tries bringing it up one night, after they get home from going out to dinner, where he had two glasses of red wine, and Eliot had sparkling water. They’re standing on the balcony, and it’s too cold, and they’re standing too close together for it not to mean anything. Eliot is smoking, and Quentin is trying not to stare at his hands.

“You haven’t been drinking,” he says, completely unrelated the conversation they had been having about Roma

Eliot doesn’t say anything at first, and Quentin figures he’s probably fucked everything up. But then Eliot shrugs, and says, “I’ve had enough of doing things that I’m not consciously deciding to do for a while,” not looking away from his cigarette. Quentin watches the smoke drifting into the night.

They don’t talk about the monster.

If talking about Eliot not drinking seems hard, talking about the monster seems impossible. What is there Quentin could say? If Eliot wants to talk about something, he’ll talk about it, that’s how Eliot works. Or at least that’s how Eliot worked before the monster. If that’s changed, Quentin doesn’t know what to do. There are lots of things that are too big for him to solve, and the monster is one of them.

Quentin starts going to a therapist for the first time since he was in undergrad. He gets a referral from Lipson to a magician who decided to get a psych degree as well, and cornered the market on fucked up magic users in the tri-state area. He takes the subway to her office uptown once a week, and while he didn’t consciously miss riding the subway and reading a book while he was off being a king and saving the world, he’s glad once it’s back in my life. Sometimes El goes with him, and sits in a coffee shop down the street for fifty minutes, and then they spend the rest of the afternoon wandering around the Met. Eliot knows which artists were actually magicians, and which were gay, and has lot of opinions about everything, of course. Quentin likes listening to Eliot have opinions, more than he’d be willing to admit. And he likes how Eliot holds onto his wrist so they don’t get separated in the crowds.

Early into the mosaic they started a conversation about abstraction versus representation, and somehow that conversation has never ended. It used to trail of into Eliot getting lost in some point about abstract expressionism that he could never make Quentin understand, and then getting frustrated trying to remember a Frank O’Hara poem that he thought would make his argument for him, that he couldn’t look up, because they were in Fillory, in the past.

But in New York City, in the present, things are different. The poem Eliot thought he meant was O’Hara’s “Why I Am Not a Painter,” but really he was thinking about “The Painter,” by John Ashbery, and Eliot says, “It shouldn’t matter, they were friends, they were trying to get to the same thing, just in different ways.”

Quentin still doesn’t understand abstract expressionism (he isn’t convinced Eliot does either), but that’s alright. He likes getting dragged through museums, working to keep up with Eliot’s long legs. They go to the Frick, which is out of another O’Hara poem, and Moma, where O’Hara worked, and Quentin doesn’t like any of the abstract expressionists, and neither does Eliot, not really, only in principle, not in practice, but they’ve been having this conversation for a lifetime ago, and now that they’ve picked it up again, Quentin doesn’t want it to end.

(Yes, there other things they should be talking about. The monster, and their life in Fillory, and exactly what they think they’re doing right now. But those conversations are harder, and Quentin’s happy now, or, at least as happy as he can realistically imagine being, and why would he bring up something that could change that?)

Quentin doesn’t know what day it is, not the number, not the day of the week, but he thinks it’s still February, he knows it’s cold out. He wakes up on the couch to the credits of Dunkirk, which is the second movie about the Operation Dynamo he’s fallen asleep in the middle of in the past week. He tries to sit up, but Eliot’s fingers are tangled in his hair, and their legs are tangled together, and he doesn’t actually want to move. He’s happy here, half asleep and pressed against Eliot’s warm body.

“How was the movie?” Quentin asks through a yawn.

“Technically proficient but lacking any human element. I supposed I understand why it was nominated. Not enough Harry Styles.”

“Never enough Harry Styles,” Quentin says. He had paid enough attention at the start of the movie to realize that it would be too much work to tell all of the non-Harry Styles people apart before drifting off.

“And I don’t know why Nolan insists on covering up Tom Hardy’s face. Frankly, it’s homophobic.”

Quentin runs his foot up and down Eliot’s ankle. He’s still half asleep, asleep enough to have that as an excuse, if he needs one. They keep on waking up like this, but the last time they had sex they were old men in Fillory, and Quentin wants… everything… but possibly not as much as he doesn’t want to disturb their equilibrium.

“We should go to bed,” Eliot says, and that’s what they do — fall asleep next to each other, with a foot of space between them that will be gone by morning.

Maybe they’ll stay like this forever — that wouldn’t be a bad life. If Quentin gets to grow old again with Eliot, his life will turn out better than he imagined. If they grow old together, never leaving this weird liminal state of intense friendship and unacknowledged more-ness, Quentin will consider himself incredibly lucky.

They get groceries, and cook dinner, and re-watch Battlestar Galactica, and talk about how they should go to more plays instead of staying home and watching crap on Netflix, but never actually get it together to get tickets for anything. Eliot has opinions about plays, and opera, and ballet. And like, Quentin has opinions too, he knows what he likes, but at some point Eliot went out and made himself into the sort of person who has opinions about these kinds of things, and Quentin doesn’t remember when he first realized that, but it’s something he loves.

He always knew Eliot had a very specific aesthetic sense, because like, he’s seen Eliot wear clothes, but he didn’t really realize how deep that went until they were in Fillory, working on the moisiac, arguing about abstraction versus representation, and like, what art meant to them. Quentin was an undergrad philosophy major, so he’d had that conversation a hundred times before, but nothing anyone else had to say was as interesting as listening to Eliot.

Eliot is just made up of art. It isn’t a question of style versus substance, because the style goes all the way down. He made caring about appearences a fundemental part of who he is, because that was a way to escape the world he grew up in, and there are definitely reasons to critique that as a coping strategy. But it more or less worked. And it made Eliot who he is, impossible and beautiful, holding on tightly to a certain aesthetic vision for himself in every situation.

He loves seeing Eliot care, because the monster didn’t give a fuck about aesthetics, didn’t give a fuck about art, not for its own sake. Getting very worked up about how ugly the throw pillows are is an Eliot thing, all Eliot, nothing else, and Quentin loves that so much that he gets very distracted and accidentally agrees to redecorating in a style Eliot is calling “baroque thaumaturge chic.”

That isn’t really Quentin’s style, but he likes the process, because it’s lot of Eliot making choices, being hot and bossy. They go shopping, and practice their painting spells, and Quentin knows whatever ridiculous scheme Eliot comes up with will feel more like home than the chilly magazine spread it had been when they arrived.

It starts out rough though: Eliot picks out curtains that are, on first impression, the ugliest things Quentin has ever seen. The color is weird, a gradient traveling from ochre to dried blood red, with a lot of shades in between that Quentin can’t name and doesn’t like. Sitting in a pile on their floor it seems like they’re going to be ridiculously voluminous — they’ve got big windows, but this is a lot of fabric, he doesn’t know how it’s going to work out. He considers objecting, but knows it’s an argument he’d loose, and is willing to trust Eliot knows what he’s doing.

He mostly stays out of the way. There’s a whole thing about sourcing the right rug that Quentin doesn’t try to understand. It seems to take a lot of loud conversations on the phone, and ends with Eliot suddenly opening a portal to someplace warm, coming home hours later covered in dust, with a satisfied look on his face, and a rolled up rug on his shoulder.

One afternoon he does get roped into helping out, because even with telekinesis, getting the Fillory clock from Brakebills into their heavily warded apartment is something of an ordeal. When they finally get it up stairs they collapse on the couch and stare at it. When Quentin was a kid, he could not have imagined a cooler piece of furniture to own, but now the rams head clock seems out of place in the middle of their living room. That clock brought them to the Mosaic, and Quentin doesn’t know if that should make him love it or hate it, but it’s definitely something. The carving is a reminder of what dicks Ember and Umber were, and how Quentin fucked everything up by killing them. It’s such an ostentatious piece of furniture, and it looks bizarre reflected in their windows, the double vision of the clock hovering over the city outside. Quentin’s so tired, but he can’t look away.

“Don’t worry, the whole space will make sense by the time I’m done,” Eliot says, and Quentin doesn’t believe him about the space “making sense,” (because he doesn’t know what that means), but he believes by the time Eliot is done things will be better.

Eliot redecorating is Eliot in his element, and Quentin has a lot of big mushy feelings that are getting harder and harder to ignore. It was one thing to play house when they were both wrecks, but this is getting too domestic, getting too close to everything Quentin wants, and they still haven’t talked about it properly. Not unless you count the ten minutes they had the day after Eliot got his body back, the day before the final showdown, which Quentin doesn’t, because it didn’t seem real.

They were regrouping at Blackspire, which made sense because the Monster wouldn’t look for them there, but really sucked because it was the last place Quentin wanted to be. Everyone was trying to rest up before the battle, or at least that was the idea. Mostly they were sitting around the fountain, pretending they couldn’t hear Margo and Josh fucking in the next room.

Quentin slumped against the wall and closed his eyes. He couldn’t believe the first half of their incredibly shitty plan worked. He didn’t believe that they’d be able to next part off, but at least they’ll get a chance to kill the monster without killing Eliot too. Unless, of course, the monster just killed them before they get close enough to do anything, which seemed likely.

He was half asleep when Eliot slid down the wall to sit next to him. He knew it was Eliot without opening his eyes, something about his smell, or the heat coming off him, or the fact that everyone else was mad at him and wouldn’t sit so close. He didn’t open his eyes, just leaned against Eliot, too tired to remember why they weren’t doing that anymore. Eliot didn’t seem to mind — just the opposite. He put his arm over Quentin’s shoulder, pulled him closer. Quentin felt safe for the first time in a year, too tired to think about how dangerous their life was, and how loving Eliot only made it worse.

“It’s so weird to think that Bambi and Josh are a thing now,” Eliot said. “It helps actually, because it’s a little bit hard to believe this is all real, but I know my imagination wouldn’t come up with that.

Quentin made a murmuring noise in agreement.

“Margo and I used to say we’d never fall in love, and I think I meant that, but it was such a long time ago, I don’t know for sure. I know I did. Fall in love.” Eliot said this very quietly, but Quentin was close enough to hear clearly.

“If we get out of this — when we get out of this — that’s all I want,” Eliot said. “You and me. I’m not scared anymore. There’s been too much shit to stay scared of being in love.”

Quentin loved that he could sit this close to Eliot without being afraid. Nothing would hurt him here, with Eliot’s arm over his shoulder. Nothing could hurt them until tomorrow. He knew he should say something back, but stringing together words seemed beyond him. Eliot had to know, right? Quentin tricked a monster to get him back, Eliot had to know Quentin loved him.

Eliot started humming something Quentin couldn’t quite place, a Fillorian nursery rhyme he couldn’t remember the words to. The melody resonated through Eliot’s chest, and drowned out everything else. Quentin let himself relax, let himself forget, for a moment. He drifted to sleep with Eliot’s fingers running through his hair. In the morning they left Blackspire to kill the monster, and haven’t talked about their relationship status since.

They should. Just like they should talk about the monster, and his dad dying, and Eliot not drinking. When they were young — which is just a couple of years ago, or a lifetime away — it was surprisingly easy to talk to Eliot about uncomfortable things. One of the first things he realized was that Eliot might call him a nerd, and judge him for his clothes, and his haircut, but never judge him for what he felt, or mistakes he made. At the time, Quentin chalked it up to Eliot’s hedonism and loose morals. At the time, that might have been all it was. But they grew up, and it only became easier to trust Eliot with his secrets, and they built something Quentin believed in more than anything.

But then time folded back on itself, and they were young again, and the monster happened, and they still haven’t talked about it, not the way they probably should. Maybe they don’t need to talk about it — not when it’s so automatic to trust what they have, even if the details haven’t been debated and decided. Why would Quentin want to talk about their life, possibly upsetting its delicate balance, when so far it’s working fine to just live?

They’re living. They’ve found an equilibrium that’s closer to happy than Quentin ever hoped for, and he doesn’t want to get stuck in a conversation, he just wants to continue to be alive, which historically hasn’t always been true, so no, he isn’t going to try to interrupt that. He’s going to live with Eliot in their “baroque thaumaturge chic” apartment, and life will be good, until the next disaster. (It is always just a matter of time.)

Of course, because re-decorating is one of Eliot’s projects, there has to be a grand reveal. Quentin heads out for therapy with the instructions that he isn’t allowed home until after five, so after his appointment bums around for a few hours. He walks through the park, finishes his book, gets off the train a stop early and walks the rest of the way so he can be just on time, unlocking the door and letting himself through their wards.

He steps inside, and it’s just… It’s home. It had been home for a while already, because it’s where he spends all his time, and where Eliot is, but now it looks like home too. It doesn’t look like their ramshackle shack next to the mosaic, and it doesn’t look like Whitespire, and it doesn’t look like the physical kids cottage, and it doesn’t look like the house he grew up in. It just looks like home — their home, his and Eliot’s.

On first glance it’s opulent — all of Eliot’s decaydance, all of his flourishes. Everything is impeccable, old or expensive or both. But it isn’t unapproachable. Quentin doesn’t feel like he’s going to break anything if he looks at it wrong, and he won’t seem out of place in his shabby sweaters. He looks at the room carefully, taking in every detail, because he knows Eliot would have put thought into every choice. It’s the same grey sectional, but covered in new pillows and a soft looking throw spread across it. There are dark wood shelves, and all the books they’ve accumulated look at home, properly put away instead of haphazardly stacked on end tables in ever-growing piles that Quentin knocked over at least once a day. The new coffee table’s top is covered in square tiles, and it reminds Quentin of mosaic, but not enough to hurt. The Fillory clock is tucked into a corner, not the center of attention, but still there, a reminder and a portal for their friends to step through.

The curtains Quentin has been so skeptical of don’t look bad. They’re actually pretty nice, the different shades fading into each other, warmed by the sunlight, framing the city outside, making it glow. Quentin has loved New York City for as long as he can remember. When he was a kid in sad suburban New Jersey this was the promised land, and he’s never really gotten over that, even after four years of undergrad in Manhattan. It was always the place he wanted to be, but not always the place where he belonged, although that’s changed lately, slow enough that he didn’t notice it happening. He feels sure now that this is where he’s supposed to be.

“El, this is…” Quentin doesn’t know how to say it. Eliot made them something permanent, something that can last. This is a home for growing old together, a home for a family. “It’s beautiful.”

“It’s a start,” Eliot says, which doesn’t make sense. He’s never been one for false modesty, and there must be something Quentin is missing.

“It’s just space,” Eliot says, answering a question Quentin was about to ask. "Just rooms full of things, and while they’re very excellent things, perfectly arranged, what’s more important is what we do here. Together. Because I know we’re going to do it together. You keep on choosing me — even when you shouldn’t have, when I wouldn’t have chosen me, when it was dangerous. You kept on choosing me, and I’ll always chose you. So, like—” Eliot cuts himself off, because expressing so many earnest emotions in a row doesn’t come easily to him. “So I built you a house. Or, um, decorated our apartment. To give us somewhere to grow old together again. Because I want that with you. This speech sounded much better when I was rehearsing it in my head, but that doesn’t matter, because I’m saying it, and I know you don’t care how it sounds, it just matters that I say it, that you hear it, because — I love you.”

Quentin doesn’t say anything. He takes three steps forward, and pulls Eliot down into a kiss that isn’t awkward even though Eliot clearly wasn’t expecting it. They fit together. It’s automatic how Eliot’s hands comes up to rest on Quentin’s hip and cradle his face.

The world has slowly been shifting back into focus, and this is the last big piece. Quentin doesn’t all of the sudden feel like a new man, he knows this isn’t fixing them. But their world makes more sense now, and he has better understanding of how their world will continue to exist. Quentin feels giddy with the knowledge that there’s a way forward, a future, giddy from how nice it is to kiss Eliot. It’s the kind of kiss that can only exist with the knowledge that it will be followed by many other kisses. A kiss with meaning, with love, with heat, but not a kiss that needs to say everything there is to say.

Quentin gets so caught up in the kiss, and the way Eliot is crowding him, the perfect amount taller, taking his breath away — that he takes a step backwards, and walks into a coffee table. It’s a new addition to room, and he noticed it, he liked it, but hadn’t internalized where it was. Eliot’s mouth so very distracting. He stumbles, and Eliot pulls him in, turning a fall into a graceful descent. They still wind up on the floor, Quentin more or less sitting in Eliot’s lap, which isn’t a bad thing at all.

“Who put that table there?” Eliot asks.

Quentin smiles. “You did.”

“Oh. Well. It’s a much better table than the one that was in here before. Even if it did interrupt our moment.”

“Were we having a moment?” Quentin asks.

“I like to think that was a moment,” Eliot says. “It was my best attempt at a honest romantic moment. I could have tried for something more impressive, but it wouldn’t have been as honest, and that seemed more important.”

Quentin wants to say thank you, but that seems weird, so he doesn’t say anything, just leans in to kiss Eliot again. That says enough. Eliot kisses him back, which is the only answer he needs.

They kiss until it’s too much, and Quentin has to lean away, and take a deep breath, and tuck his hair behind his ear because it’s getting in the way.

“Do you want to have a more of a conversation about, like, our relationship status, and how much I love you, and how I’m collossually fucked up at expressing non-bitchy emotions?” Eliot asks. “Because we can do that right now, if you want.”

They should probably have that conversation, but maybe not right now, not when Quentin feels so purely happy. “What’s my other option?”

Eliot pretends to think about it seriously, and maybe he isn’t even pretending, this is a serious conversation they’re facing. But when Eliot starts to talk, Quentin can tell he’s trying not to smirk, and what he says is, “Well, when I was picking out this rug, one of the my considerations was whether it would be a good rug to fuck you on.”

Quentin laughs, joy bubbling up out through his chest. “That’s a little bit presumptuous.”

“More like hopeful,” Eliot says, and they share one moment of sincere adoration, before Eliot goes on to say, “Also, I know you’re kind of easy for getting fucked on a nice rug.”

Quentin could argue, or they could like… do that, which sounds better.

They defile the new living room rug, and then the bed they’ve been sharing for six sexless months, and then, in the morning, the large glass doored shower.

Clean, and mostly dry, the talk they needed to have unfolds in the kitchen. Eliot makes omelettes, Quentin makes coffee and toast. And then they sit down to eat breakfast and talk about what the fuck is they’re doing.

They talk about monogamy. They talk about marriage. They talk about Teddy. They talk around the Monster, which is more than they usually manage. They talk about family as an abstract concept, and as something aspirational, and as something that they have, even if they don’t usually call it that. They talk about Margo, and Arielle, and Fen, and Alice. They talk about their parents. Eliot says he’d like to meet Quentin’s mom someday (which is alarming, and not something Quentin realized he wanted desperately until Eliot suggests it). They talk about Indiana, which is honestly more surprising than if they had managed to talk about the monster. They talk about how they should talk more, instead of relying on how they’re mostly pretty good at understanding each other without putting anything in words. They talk about depression, and addiction, and how they both tend towards self sabotage. They talk about how nice it is to be in love, even though being in love can’t fix the whole world.

They spend so long sitting at the table, talking, that they forget about lunch until three in the afternoon, and by that point they’re so sick of the kitchen they have to get up and walk to a cafe for sandwiches just for a change of scenery. Then they wind up just walking around the city, because the weather’s nice, and it’s nice to walk around, hand in hand. They find a new little bookstore, and Quentin finds a Samuel Delaney book he hasn’t read yet, with a trippy seventies sci-fi cover, and Eliot finds a black and white photography book by someone neither of them have ever heard of, but it’s beautiful, and only three dollars, and they have plenty of shelf space now.

They go home, and have more sex, and forget to eat dinner until eleven at night. They heat up frozen Trader Joe’s fried rice, which is the least depressing of Quentin’s depression-meal go-tos, but tonight it’s different, tonight it’s delicious, because talking about your love is weird like that. It makes all the simple boring things better.

The only real thing that’s changed since yesterday is that they’re talking about it. They were this in love yesterday, this in love the day before, this in love for a long time. But talking about it makes it real, and if it’s real then it’s easier to accept that it’s beautiful.

Things don’t change dramatically. They have a lot of sex, and they’re getting better at talking about things, but other than that, things are more or less the same. They read books, and go to the movies, and cook dinner. They watch Call Me By Your Name three times in two weeks. They can’t get over how Amy Adams wasn’t even nominated for Arrival. They read a review for a play that sounds good but never get around to buying tickets.

Now that the apartment is done, Eliot decides they have to throw a party to show off. “A dinner party though, not a rager. Because we’re all grown up now, and so are our friends. Nothing casual, an amazing dinner party, the best dinner party imaginable, but still. Refined. Almost subdued.”

Quentin has no idea how long he’s known Eliot, because the way they live time is really hard to keep track of, but in all those years, Eliot has never managed to do produce something that could be called “subdued.”

But Quentin nods, and agrees to help throw a subdued grown up dinner party. Scheduling it is a nightmare, considering their guests are living in three different worlds, and time works differently on all three. (Although the last time they saw Margo she said she was working on fixing that, because apparently Fillory’s seasons being so out of sync with Earth makes shopping for clothes super annoying. Or at least that was her excuse, but really they all know it’s about wanting to make it easier to stay in touch with Eliot. If anyone can change how time works throughout an entire world, Margo’s going to figure it out.) Eventually a date is calculated, and Penny agrees to play chaufer in exchange for getting to pick what they’re having for dessert. Eliot has a minor hissy fit about having to re-plan his menu so it can end with molten chocolate cake (“the most pedestrian of gourmet options”) and still have “narrative integrity” which is not a thing Quentin knew menus were supposed to have. This is why he’s only trusted with kitchen grunt work and cleaning spells.

On the day of the dinner party Eliot is nervous. Quentin is probably one of two people in the multiverse that could tell, from the subtle change in posture, from the speed he’s talking and the length he’s giving his pauses, that Eliot is nervous, and trying not to let it show. Quentin doesn’t plan on saying anything — that isn’t what they do.

But maybe it should be. Maybe he shouldn’t wait for Eliot to let him in, maybe he should ask, make a pre-emptive show of support, instead of letting it all go unsaid. Maybe. He doesn’t know. So he stands at the counter, chopping vegetables to Eliot’s exact specifications, and thinks about what he could say if he’s going to say anything. He should probably say something.

Talking more is a lot more appealing as an idea than a practice.

You can’t just say, “I love you” a hundred times and leave it at that.

“You know it’s going to be a great party,” Quentin says.

“Of course it’s going to be a great party,” Eliot says, totally dismissive, but Quentin can tell he’s bluffing. “I could throw an excellent party in my sleep — I have thrown an excellent party in my sleep. It’s just…” Quentin watches Eliot face, sees how he’s fighting the instinct to reveal anything that could leave him vulnerable. “I’m not the same person that I was before…” Before the Monster, but neither of them like to say that word. “Which is fine — I’m better. Better with you.”

Which is not where Quentin thought this conversation was going, but it’s always nice to hear.

“I love you too,” he says, because sometimes that is the only thing you have to say.

“You know what’s wild?” Eliot asks. “This is the first time I’ve ever thrown a party sober. This is the first time I’ve attended a party sober since I was like, sixteen.”

“El…”

“I’m not looking for sympathy about my shitty midwestern adolescent proto-alcoholism. This is just — a very strange experience. I have… a partner, and we have friends, who we’re inviting into our home. I never expected to get this old and domestic, even if it already happened once already.”

“This isn’t what I expected either.”

“It’s nice though,” Eliot says.

“It’s really nice,” Quentin says, trying not to get overwhelmed by how inadequate those words are to describe everything he’s feeling.

“Okay. Enough sappy shit. You need to finish cutting that stuff up so I can get to the real work. Just because I could half-ass it and still throw a world rocking party doesn’t mean I’m going to.”

Quentin smiles, and gets back to work.

Julia is the first to of their guests to arrive. Penny drops her off, with a muttered complaint that he isn’t anyone’s fucking Uber, that is only a mutter, and half hearted at that. Julia kisses him on the cheek before she lets go of his hand and he pops off to the next stop. Julia isn’t even really company, Quentin knows he doesn’t need to impress her, and Eliot must understand that, because her arrival hasn’t tipped him over to Extraordinary Host Mode. He’s still in the kitchen, singing under his breath and preparing things that Quentin isn’t allowed to touch.

It’s nice to have ten minutes to just sit with Julia without anything to worry about. They talk about the last few worlds Julia has visited, and the last few books Quentin has read. There was a time, not too long ago, where this conversation would make Quentin unhappy with how small his life is, but now he knows better, knows that this is what he wants. Soon enough they get caught up trying to think of the title of some movie they saw together in middle school and only vaguely remember. They’re never going to figure out what it was called, and it doesn’t really matter — it’s just nice to sit with his best friend and talk about nothing without worrying that the world is about to come crashing down around them.

Everyone else arrives at once. Penny pops in with Kady and Alice, who are still in the middle of what seems to be an argument about card catalogs, based off the two sentences Quentin overhears before the clock opens.

Margo knows how to make an entrance. She comes through in a burst of light and a cloud of opium infused Fillorian air. Fen is a step behind her, looking slightly less kingly, but still very grand. Josh seems out of place following their splendor, wearing Earth clothes and carrying a large tupperware container.

Eliot comes rushing out of the kitchen to hug Margo, and there’s a swirl of activity — showing off the apartment, fixing everyone drinks. There are impeccably crafted mocktails, because even if Eliot is off alcohol, he’s still Eliot, and he has to show off. Quentin has spent the past two weeks playing guinea pig as Eliot developed the recipe, and he thought the first glass Eliot put in his hand was pretty great, and he didn’t see how what they were drinking four days could be improved, but he has to admit, the end result is perfection. Everyone acts properly impressed, and Eliot makes a big deal about refusing to divulge his secret ingredient.

Josh has brought h’ourderves, even though they told everyone not to bring anything. Eliot pretends to be displeased about the disruption to his perfect menu, but he eats four of Josh’s tiny puff pastry confections, and forgets to scowl by the time he’s biting into the second.

The night wears on. They sit around the table, and Eliot calls plates from the kitchen, floating out with an elegant flick of his wrist. Their are courses, because this is Eliot showing off. Everything is delicious, and Quentin knows how to pronounce most of the dishes. It would be wrong to say the food doesn’t matter (Eliot would be pissed if anyone said the food doesn’t matter). But the food doesn’t matter as much as the company, or the conversation, the simple fact that they’re all here, gathered around a table, talking over each other and telling horrible jokes.

It isn’t a subdued grown-up dinner party — it’s much too fancy for that, and much too fun. A subdued grown-up dinner party wouldn’t spend so much time speculating about the sex lives of lizards, or devolve into viciously quoting Taylor Swift lyrics at each other. This only vaguely resembles what Quentin imagines being grown-up would be like. It’s much messier, he’s less certain about the world than he thought he would by this age. It’s good though. He wouldn’t want to change it.

When he was young he thought what was missing from his life was a larger purpose. He thought he’d find something he could accomplish, and that would make him happy. He doesn’t know where he got this idea — maybe it’s something he learned in school, or he got it from a movie, but at the time it made sense. The value of life is determined by the value of the thing you accomplish, and because of the stories Quentin grew up on he always had bold and seemingly delusional ideas about what constitutes a good use of a life.

Bold ideas that he was actually able to put into practice, because magic is real, and Fillory is real, and he’s been able to do more than half the things he dreamed of doing when he was twelve. He’s gone on quests. He’s been a king. He’s killed a couple of gods. He thought that was what was missing from his life — he thought fulfillment came from the hero's journey, but fuck Joseph Campbell, and fuck that. That isn’t any way to live — that’s just something to survive.

He doesn’t believe in happy endings, too cynical, too used to clinical depression. And there aren’t enough stories with other endings — it’s happily ever after, or it’s oblivion. He’s tired of all that — he just wants a quiet life, where he feels safe more days than not, so he’ll be ready for the next time everything starts to fall apart.

Right now, tonight, this very moment, he’s outrageously happy. Tonight is a good night. It won’t last. Tomorrow will be something different, and it might rain, or he and Eliot will fight over what movie to watch, or the old guard librarians they left alive out will come for them, or Brakebills will explode, or a lemur will tell Fenn that the stars will go out if they don’t collect nine perfect pearls from nine different oceans. Who fucking knows. That’s tomorrow’s problem. Maybe nothing will happen at all, but his brain will tell him that things are worse, so things will feel worse, even if everything around him is the same. That happens sometimes.

But right now, that doesn’t matter. What matters right now is that it’s time for dessert, and Eliot might have complained about Penny’s choice, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to serve anything that’s less than delicious. This is what dessert is supposed to be — decedant, with rich chocolate that is the perfect degree of melty. The perfect way to end a meal.

At some point the party will be over. At some point they will have to do the dishes — Quentin didn’t know they owned so many dishes. (They didn’t before yesterday). Their friends will leave, off to three of four different planets (he’s lost track of where Julia and Penny are headed next), and he and Eliot will be stuck with the clean up, which really means he’ll be stuck with the clean up, and magic only goes so far. But that’s something for tomorrow.

They leave the table, and sprawl across the living room, which is inviting, and fits them all comfortable. Eliot explains his design choices to Margo (who immediately understands what “baroque thaumaturge chic” is supposed to mean), and Fen (who’s agreeable) and Josh (who’s trying). Julia and Alice are talking about the details of some spell that’s going completely over his head. Kady and Penny are talking about some band he’s never head of.

Quentin closes his eyes. It’s loud with everyone talking over each other, and the music Eliot has playing in the background, and the clock tick-tocking beneath everything, and he can’t focus enough to follow what anyone is saying, but it doesn’t matter. Julia is laughing. He’s tired, and warm, and full, and happy. It won’t last, but that doesn’t matter. No one he loves is currently possessed by a creature with godlike power. This is perfect.

He isn’t actually going to fall asleep right here, tucked against Eliot’s side, with Julia sitting on his feet. He isn’t ready for the night to be over. He wants to keep listening, keep talking, keep up with the friends they’ve gathered together tonight. All together, no danger directly ahead of or behind them. All together without the fate of the universe in question, together just to eat food and hang out. It’s ridiculous: he loves these people, even when he hates them. At this point they’re family, even if Penny would probably punch him if he said that outloud. (He still has shit wards — Penny almost certainly knows.) This is his family, and this is his home. He’s sitting between his partner and his best friend, and he’s happy, and that won’t last forever, but that doesn’t make this moment any less important. Tonight — their failed attempt at having a subdued grown-up dinner party — is just as worthy as any feat of heroism.