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(this is) the beat of my heart

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It’s Quentin who asks, nervously, if they can go to Pride.

It’s been a little over two months since the Monster and the seam, and Eliot’s mostly able to walk again. Every single joint in his body hurts pretty much constantly, but hey, apparently that’s just the fucking price of being alive. He’d maybe be a whole lot madder about that, except being alive apparently came with second chances, and there wasn’t really a price too high for Eliot to pay when it came to getting another whole lifetime with Quentin.

Still, it was shaping up to be a sticky hot NYC summer and Eliot’s body mostly works, and Quentin’s brain works about 50% of the time now, which is a marked improvement. Fillory’s fucked and there’s drama with the hedges and they’re helping when they can but– not all the time. Eliot’s taken to being really fucking aggressive about everyone giving them the time they need to heal.

People have been bitchy about it, and by people he mostly means Kady and Penny. Eliot may have caught Penny muttering something about them being useless and pinned him against a wall, hissing “If I hear you spouting the shit we’re trying to get out of his brain back at him again, I will make you wonder if the real monster was me all along.”

Mostly Eliot tries to be extra non threatening and very un-Monster-like these days, because he really hates watching Julia or Q flinch when he triggers their startle-reflex. But he’s also spent too many days in the past couple months throwing out razors and hiding kitchen knives just in case, coaxing Quentin to eat, and get out of bed because “if everything’s pointless anyway, baby, then just come let it be pointless with me on the couch, yeah? Just come sleep on me while I watch home-improvement shows that you hate.”

It mostly works. They’re mostly doing better.

Spring is warm, the ghost of summer heat already beating down onto the city, but the air conditioning in the condo is truly top-notch, which means they can pile under blankets and figure out how to have bodies and brains again. Kady’s not around a lot but he and Quentin and Julia are, which means they’re mostly in charge of her puppy, who absolutely adores Quentin and occasionally deigns to share him with Eliot or Julia. The puppy, ostensibly named Desdemona but who everyone calls Dessy, is an excellent excuse for things like leaving the apartment and sitting in the the park for 30 minutes. At first, those had been very difficult things to get Quentin to do, even if they always made him feel better.

It’s sitting in the park, Dessy excitedly bringing Quentin rocks and pine cones and sticks like she’s just so fucking proud of her little goddamn self for simply existing in the world, that Quentin turns to Eliot and says, “I think I need to go back on my meds again.”

He’s curled up on himself, knees tucked to his chest, and his hair is too short to fall in his face, but he’s still trying to hide behind it anyway. Even half-numb and scared, Quentin continues to be the bravest person Eliot’s ever met. He’s been rubbing Q’s back for the last 10 minutes, and pauses then for long enough to smooth over his floppy bangs. “Okay. Was there a reason you stopped taking them? Do you need a different prescription?”

Quentin shakes his head, reaching down to scratch the happy puppy behind her ears. She parks her butt down and basks in his attention, blissfully unconcerned with the fact that she’s sitting on a pinecone.

“I stopped taking them when I started at Brakebills. It was a condition of my acceptance, or... I thought it was. Fogg told me to stop taking them. I think he might have been– It might have been him trying to get me ready for the Beast.”

“How the fuck,” Eliot starts, and he doesn’t bother to try to restrain his tone because the more inflection he can put into his words, the less monster-like he sounds. “– does you being catatonic help you get ready for the Beast?

“Well I wasn’t. Catatonic. Then. And besides... Magic comes from pain. You told me that.”

“Well, I’m a fucking idiot. Don’t listen to me,” Eliot mutters, heartsore, sick to his stomach like he gets every time he thinks about how close they keep coming to missing this, sunny Tuesday afternoons in the park with an excitable puppy.

“The thing is though,” Quentin mutters, and he tips over a little to lean into Eliot’s side, overly careful because he’s still fucking worried about breaking Eliot. “Even if magic does come from pain, I’m not... an exceptionally good Magician, and I’m in a lot of pain a lot of the time. I think I’d risk being slightly more middling, to want to be dead a little less.”

He’s only ever this frank with Eliot, doesn’t seem to be able to manage it with Julia, can’t manage to talk about it all with anyone else. But, in a life they never lived, Eliot was the person Quentin talked to about his depression, because Fillory didn’t exactly have therapists. So it was easier, maybe, to get it out when it was just Eliot. It was only the weight of that trust which stopped it from feeling like a ax to the gut, every time.

“Personally, I’m in favor of us doing literally anything that makes you want to be dead less,” Eliot says lightly, and sees the ghost of a smile pass over Quentin’s face, not reaching his eyes. He tips his head onto Eliot’s shoulder, rubbing the material of Eliot’s linen vest against his cheek.

“I really love you,” Quentin murmurs, and it’s so quiet Eliot almost can’t hear it. “I’m sorry I’m so bad at it that I can’t even just fucking– be happy to be with you.”

“Baby Q,” Eliot starts, resting his cheek on the top of Quentin’s head. “I know how fucking hard you’re fighting right now. I love you for that, and that’s all I could ever ask of you.”

So Eliot goes with him to get the little orange pill bottle from some generic CVS near the condo, which is so boringly similar to every other CVS that it feels kind of weird. Like this shitty drugstore should understand its place in this momentous occasion in their lives and be slightly less soulsucking than normal just for that. Q’s nervous, holding himself awkwardly like he’s only just become aware of the fact that he has hands and isn’t entirely sure what to do with them. Eliot solves half that problem for him by taking one of them, holding it loosely at their sides.

The cashier at the pharmacy counter looks bored, but is kind enough and rolls with it when Quentin stutteringly asks, “so um, can I set it up so my boyfriend can pick up my refills? Like, do we have to sign something?”

“No, I’ll just make a note of it.” To Eliot, she says, “I need to see your ID.” He passes it over, feeling monumentally grateful for second chances, and kind of desperately in love.

That night they sit cross legged facing each other in the middle of their bed, both looking at the little bottle of pills set on the duvet between them. The condo is chilly with AC, even in the spring, and it means they can both pile on layers. Quentin likes that, because it’s more for him to hide behind, and Eliot likes it because the pressure helps his achy body remember that it’s supposed to be 26 years old and functional.

Dessy’s on her back next to Q, all floppy puppy trust, and he’s absentmindedly rubbing her belly, staring at the bottle like it might spontaneously combust.

“Okay, so like–” Quentin starts, awkwardly, not meeting Eliot’s gaze. That’s fine, he doesn’t need too. They both watch the puppy instead. “–one of my attempts was after I started new meds, in college. And it was because they were working, because I had the motivation to do things again and the only thing I’d really been planning or thinking about doing was like–” he falters out, but Eliot can fill in the gaps pretty easily. He’s the person who sees Q naked, he knows there’s a reason Quentin rarely wears short sleeves. “Anyway, you should know that, incase it works the same way this time.”

“Have you been planning?” Eliot asks, because he needs to, even though the thought of it makes his stomach curl in fear.

Q shrugs. “Not really, unless you count like... passively letting a Monster nearly kill me for months. I was pretty focused on getting it out of you, anyway. That was taking most of my planning energy. Please don’t apologize–” Eliot, who’d been about to, snaps his jaw shut. “Trying to get you out kept me going. So no, I haven’t been planning.”

“Okay,” Eliot sighs, and then holds out his hand, still weirdly relieved when Q takes it. He runs his thumb over the veins on the back of Q’s hand, tender and close to the skin. “Consider me forewarned and forearmed. We will make good plans of good things for you to be actionable about when you feel motivated.”

Quentin does the ghost-smile thing again, and then sighs, reaching for the pill bottle. He needs both hands to open the safety lid, but Eliot’s reticent to stop touching him, so he ends up kind of petting Q’s knee instead. There’s a mechanical familiarity to the rhythm of open-bottle, tap-out-pill, swallow that speaks volumes to this part of Quentin’s life, and Eliot feels honored to be here, to be given this chance to help.

Afterwards, they curl up on the bed face to face, diagonally the wrong way round. They’re laying diagonally because heaven forbid they move the dog that’s asleep on their bed, but Eliot can’t really complain. Not when they’re face to face like this, and Q’s holding loosely to the front Eliot’s sweater, letting Eliot rub his back.

“I’m scared,” Quentin admits, and Eliot– is too.

“I love you,” he says instead, because his new approach to life is to face fear by telling Q he’s loved, and maybe that doesn’t apply in all circumstances but it’s worked so far.

One corner of Q’s mouth curls into a dimple, and he tugs a little where he’s holding onto Eliot’s sweater. “I’m still not used to you saying it,” he admits, trying to hiding his face in his hair, rolls his eyes when Eliot deliberately strokes his bangs off his forehead. And why would he be used to it, when Eliot went 50 years barely saying it ever.

He’d spent a lifetime acting out his love, and it had been enough for that life, small and quiet as it was. This life was messier, more fucked up and twisted by trauma, and it really needed the words. Now he scoots forward, until he can kiss Q softly and says “I love you, Baby Q, and I’m not gonna let you fight this battle alone.”

“Know any battle magic for this kind of fight?” Quentin quips, and Eliot smiles. He reaches forward to trace a tut against the front of Q’s chest, a simple illusion spell which leaves the imprint of his palm on Q’s chest, and more than anything gave him an excuse to push his own magic into Q’s heart, just for a second. Q shivers, as the magic passes through him, and looks down to watch the handprint fade, then snuggles close with a relaxed sigh.

“What’s something you want to do?” Eliot prompts, going back to rubbing Q’s back.

“I don’t know,” Quentin says, muffled a little into Eliot’s chest. “I want to help Julia figure out how to get her god-ness back. I want to help Margo un-fuck Fillory.”

“What’s something you want to do for you?” Eliot rephrases, because maybe living to help other people was what had kept Q going, but it didn’t exactly seem like a long term strategy.

“That is for me. I want to help the people I love,” Quentin says, stubborn, and it sounds too much like you sacrifice for the people you love, makes that fear coil tighter in Eliot’s stomach.

“I know you love generously, baby, we all know that. There has to be something you want to do for you.”

Quentin’s quiet for a minute. “This,” he whispers, tugging a little at Eliot’s sweater. “You. I– want to go to Pride, I think. This summer. Maybe. I’ve never. Done that. Can we do that?”

He sounds nervous, and if Eliot could kick his past self, he would, for the part he’s played in Quentin’s hesitation. Quentin, who’s always been more self-assured in his queerness than in any other aspect of his life, has also had it used as a weapon against him one too many times. Even now, after months, he sounds hesitant, like Eliot might tell him he’s not queer enough for Pride.

“I’d love that,” Eliot says honestly, smoothing his hand from between Q’s shoulder blades, down to the small of his back and back up. “I haven’t been to Pride since undergrad. I’d love to go with you.”

Q smiles, and it’s small but it’s real. “Yeah?”

“Yeah, baby.”

“Okay. It’s a plan.” He sounds... tentative, and hopeful, and still scared, a little, of what’s coming for him. But he’s responsive when Eliot kisses him, warm and wet and slow, and slotting his body against Eliot’s and holding on.

They do at least remember to get the dog out of the room this time.

So Q has a timer on his phone to remind him to take his meds, and Eliot has a timer on his phone to make sure that Q’s taken his meds, and Julia’s got a timer on her phone to check with Eliot and see if Q’s taken his meds, because they’re fighting this bitch together goddamn it. The first couple days are rough. Quentin’s appetite, which hadn’t been the best to begin with, drops off, then comes back with accompanying constant nausea.

He’s struggling to keep down enough toast that he can take his meds, curled up on the living room floor. Dessy, of course, assumes he’s down there to play with her, has no concept of vertigo because she is in fact, a dog.

“I kind of want to die, but like, for new and exciting reasons,” Quentin complains, looking to where Eliot is sitting nearby, holding the wiggly offended puppy in his lap so she doesn’t climb on Q’s stomach and make him hurl all over the carpet.

“Well, we live for excitement and change,” Eliot replies, looking down at the dog who is now chewing on his finger. “Do you think she knows that if she eats me alive, you’re not going to want to cuddle her after?”

“I think she thinks you taste like bacon.” The bacon had not been a success, in terms of things Quentin could get in his mouth without feeling violently ill. “Fuck, why are bodies the literal worst?”

Eliot, who thinks this at least once a day whenever his own decides to protest doing something complicated like standing for 30 minutes or holding a pencil, scoots close enough to pet Q’s hair. “It’s better to have one than not,” is all he says.

Dessy, now mere inches away from her heart’s dearest desire, barks at him, straining towards Quentin. It takes both hands for Eliot to be able to hold her in front of his face. “Listen,” he says sternly to the puppy. “I know he’s all pretty and available right now, but if you make him Linda Blair on this carpet, then we’re going to be at odds, you and me.” Dessy does not answer, because she is a dog.

“I’d be a lot happier that you think I’m pretty if I felt less gross,” Quentin mutters, then reaches out when Eliot passes the puppy down to him, getting her settled on the carpet near his chest.

“I think you’re pretty always,” Eliot says and lays down next to Q, so his shoulder presses into Q’s back. There’s a twinch-throb-pull in Eliot’s stomach, as his own useless body complains about being horizontal, and he breathes through it. “I’m sorry you feel gross.”

“I’m sorry a baby god monster tore your ligaments to shreds.”

“Yeah, well. At least we can suffer together,” Eliot replies, and it sounds like a joke but doesn’t feel like one. Staring at the ceiling of the condo, Eliot tries to siphon as much misery off Quentin as he can. He wishes pain could be shared through osmosis so he could take some of it into himself.

“Hey,” Quentin says, quietly.

“Hey,” Eliot returns, and the familiar call-and-response feels like I love you.

“Remember how we’re going to Pride?”

Joint pain and nausea be damned, Eliot has to roll over onto his side, carefully spoon around Q’s miserable little body. “Yep. We’re gonna be so there. Like, 100% physically present.”

“So I probably shouldn’t like... die of a stomach ulcer before then, right?”

“That is absolutely step one in the plan, yes,” Eliot agrees, sliding his arm under Q’s and up to hold his shoulder, careful not to jostle his stomach.

“Which means I need to eat before I take my meds, and I need to not throw it up,” Quentin recites, leaning back into Eliot’s chest. “So we can go to Pride.”

“Right,” Eliot agrees, kisses the soft skin at the base of Q’s skull. “So we can go to Pride.”

“Okay, just checking,” Q says weakly, then makes a noise of protest when Dessy starts licking his face.

The nausea fades, eventually, and encouragingly so does some of the numbness that’s been strangling Q for months. The downside to this, of course, is that means Q’s processing emotion again, and holy fucking hell is there a lot of garbage negative feelings leftover to process.

Eliot can’t help but be reminded of the emotion bottles, what it had felt like to have to swallow back down the gaping wound of grief and fear and self-loathing after being without it for a couple hours. He’s got some idea of how this feels, and well. He kind of understands how this particular part of the process might increase risk of suicide.

It means when the shower’s been running for close to 30 minutes and Eliot hasn’t heard signs of movement in at least ten, he decide an over-abundance of caution is never a bad thing and knocks on the door.

“Baby Q, everything alright in there?” No response, and Eliot swallows. “Unless you tell me not too, I’m gonna come in now.”

The knob turns in his hand, clearly unlocked, which is a relief. Even if magic made locks kind of a token protest, it never felt good to force your way in on someone. He expects to get blasted in the face with steam, but the air is clear as he steps into the bathroom. The room they’d claimed as theirs was the downstairs master, and as such it had an attached 3/4 bath, a shower cubicle with no tub. Q’s sitting there now, curled in a little ball in the spray of the shower, shivering with his knees drawn up to his chest.

“Jesus,” Eliot swears, toeing off his shoes and shucking his trousers quickly so he can climb into the shower stall with Q, shirt and underwear be damned. The water is freezing when it hits his skin even through the cloth, and he reaches out to spin the temperature dial to lukewarm, so he didn’t just blast Q with hot water after he’s been sitting in a freezing cold shower for 30 minutes.

Quentin’s skin is cold to the touch when Eliot wraps his whole damn self around Q, as best he can. With Eliot’s body between him and the shower spay, it’s more obvious that some of the wetness on his face is tears, leaking steadily down his cheeks even has Eliot holds him.

“I’m here, I’ve got you,” Eliot whispers, holding the shivering tangle of pain that is Quentin close. Quentin lets himself be coddled, collapsing into the curve of Eliot’s body as the volume of his crying picks up. Like now that Eliot’s there, the last of whatever’s been separating Q from his hurt has crumbled away.

“I thought you died,” Quentin sobs, clutching at the wet collar of Eliot’s shirt. “He told me– I thought you died and I was going to have to kill your body.”

“I’m fine, I’m back, I’m here with you,” Eliot murmurs, soothing Q’s wet hair off his face, because it is all he can do. He wants, viciously, to step into the Seam and rip the Monster apart, shred it like it had done to Eliot’s body and Quentin’s tender soft heart. But he can’t do that, all he can do is hold Q and murmur, “I’ve got you, baby, I’m not going anywhere.”

“I thought I lost you, I thought you died,” Quentin repeats, shaking with hurt even as the shivers faded.

It’s a long, long crying jag. Eliot focuses on nudging the water warmer every couple of minutes or so, until some of the color has started to return to Quentin’s skin. By the time it’s run its course, Eliot’s gone pruney from the water and Quentin looks like he’s about to pass out. He’s compliant, too tired to protest being coddled, when Eliot gets him out of the shower and toweled off, sends him into the bedroom to find clothes and “a blanket, Coldwater, I’m serious. Jesus, did you have to talk your name so literally?”

Digging his phone out of his discarded trousers, Eliot rushes a text to Julia [[Bring in tea and puppy, please. Herbal, maybe honey]] and dries himself off. He smoothes a handful of leave-in conditioner through his curls so he doesn’t absolutely frizz out of control, fuck you baby monster, and follows Quentin back into the room.

Q’s done as instructed, found a pair of pajama pants and a pull over hoodie, and is sitting on the bed wrapped in the incredibly soft microfiber blanket he’s taken to dragging around the condo. Wrapped up like this, he looks young, like a child in a blanket fort, like their child wrapped in a quilt in a different life. Heart in his throat, Eliot stops by the bed to press a kiss to Q’s forehead.

“I’m sorry I’m like this,” Quentin whispers, as Eliot draws away, grabbing the softest clothes he owns that still manage to be un-Monster-like.

“There’s nothing to apologize for,” Eliot says matter of factly, shrugging on a maroon cardigan, and climbing on to the bed next to Q. His knees protest, because they’re bad at being knees, but he mostly ignores them.

“I know I scared you,” Quentin mutters, looking down at his hands twisted into his soft grey blanket. “I’m sitting there all fucked up because I thought you died, and you’re dealing with me talking about– literally, like, every day.”

“I want you to talk to me,” Eliot reminds him, reaching out to take one of his fidgeting hands.

“It’s still not fair to you.” Q’s eyes are serious, still kind of red and puffy from the crying, and he tugs a little on Eliot’s hand. “I’m trying to be better.”

“You’re trying so goddamn hard,” Eliot agrees, reaching his free hand up to cup Q’s jaw, brush Q’s cheek with with his thumb. “You’re so brave, Q, and I’m so proud of you.”

There’s a soft knock on the door, which cuts off whatever Q had been about to say, and then Julia’s opening it cautiously. Dessy, who fears neither gods nor man, throws her whole self through the crack in the door, barreling on her too-big puppy feet over to the bed. “I have tea,” Julia say, and she does in fact have tea, two steaming mugs held in her left hand.

Quentin gives Eliot a suspicious look, which Eliot summarily ignores, instead reaching down to scoop up the little puppy who’s trying in vain to jump up onto their bed and dump her in Quentin’s lap. Q ends up unceremoniously squashed between them, Eliot on one side and Julia on the other, the blissed out puppy flopped over his legs. Julia also brought her laptop, and they end up watching The Lion King on Netflix, because they’re fucking Millenials and growing up was absolutely garbage anyway.

Things get better, mostly. Some days there are backslides.

Alice isn’t around much these days, but she and Q trying to be friends, which seems to be working with about the same ratio of success as Quentin’s brain. Still, she’s in town for a reason which Eliot was probably told and promptly forgot, but has passed off some research stuff for him regarding Fillory, which is helpful. Research, they can do. Well, Q and Julia can do research, and Eliot can try very hard not to fall asleep will staring at a book.

So, Alice is in town, and she and Q have decided to hang out today, get lunch and take Dessy to the park. They come back from a lunch a little earlier than Eliot had expected, Alice holding Dessy’s leash while Q begs off, mutters something about taking a nap and disappears into their bedroom.

“Hello, Head of the New Order of the Library of the Neitherlands,” Eliot greets her from where he’s set up in the kitchen, stuffing kale in a blender like that’s going to make his bones want to be bones again.

“Jesus, you like to hear yourself talk, don’t you,” she snaps, which seems... disproportionately aggressive, given the statement in question.

“...So how was lunch?” he asks, forcing cheerfulness, and doing his absolute best not to wither under her glare. The click-clack of her heels precedes her approach to the kitchen, Dessy following along gamely in her wake. Alice mechanically fills the dog’s water bowl, then lingers by the counter.

“He’s miserable,” she states, her mouth in a pinched downward line.

“Yeah, he’s depressed,” Eliot says hesitantly, looking at her sideways down the counter. “We’re working on it.”

“I thought he’d be better by now,” she sighs, bracing her hands on the granite in front of her and Eliot thinks spitefully this is why you couldn’t keep him, then makes himself put the bitterness in a box and put it on a shelf.

“He is better,” Eliot says, with a patience dragged up from fatherhood in another lifetime. “He’s doing a lot better.”

“But he’s still not–”

“What, he’s not himself? Am I? Are you? Is Julia? Maybe this is what happens when you get stuffed with three years of unending trauma. He’ll never be that kid we met at Brakebills again, and I need you to get on board with that.”

“Or what? You’ll– stop letting him see me?”

“No, Jesus, I’m not his jailer. Is that really what you think of me?” He can tell by the duck of her head and the cut of her eyes that it isn’t what she meant, that she regrets saying it. “But sooner or later he’s gonna get to a place where he stops seeking out things that make him feel bad, and I want you to be on the right side of that equation when it happens. For both of you, because losing you for real would hurt him so much.”

“Why do you care?” She asks, and her voice quakes a little.

“Because I love him, Alice,” Eliot says, quietly, and watches her pursed lips wobble.

“Yeah, well, I do too. And I wouldn’t be so noble about it, if I were you.”

I know, he thinks, and sighs. Busying himself pouring his stupid green-sludge into a glass, he can’t think of a single thing to say to her that isn’t needlessly cruel. “I’m not being noble,” he settles on, ultimately, “I’m just trying to make the best of a second chance.”

She doesn’t stay long after that, leaves them with a stack of books for research and a vague sense of disapproval.

Eliot gives Q two hours, because sometimes life was exhausting and you really did just need a nap, and then goes to check on him. Q’s not asleep. He’s laying on his back on the bed with Dessy on his chest, his hands stroking her fuzzy puppy body mechanically. Dessy, who seems to be experiencing the kind of nirvana buddhist monks spent life times trying to achieve, does not move at all as Eliot settles to sit on the side of the bed, his hip brushing Q’s.

“Wanna talk about it?” he asks, and it’s a coin-toss, really, what the answer to this question will be. He asks anyway.

Quentin shrugs one shoulder. His wide eyes are wet, and despite not actually crying, his voice is tight with hurt when he says, “It’s just sometimes when I’m around her all I can think about is the things I’ve done wrong. You know, all the ways I’m a fuck up.”

Dessy, who is a distress-sniffing-dog, whines a little and starts crawling up Q’s chest on her belly to lick his face. Eliot catches her collar, holding her back so she doesn’t lovingly suffocate him. “You’re more than your mistakes, Q,” he says gently, because goddamn don’t they all need to hear that, sometimes.

“I’m just– tired.”

“I know,” Eliot murmurs, rubbing his hand on Q’s side, because he does know. He knows that ‘tired’ means ‘tired of fighting my own damn brain every damn day,’ has heard it enough to know that. “Come be tired on the couch while I do Lipson’s stupid physical therapy exercises.”

“Eliot–”

“No, come on, I need you to come stare at my ass so I feel validated.”

It takes a little bit of fighting against executive dysfunction, but Quentin does manage to drag himself out onto the living room couch, soft grey blanket and all. He’s mostly listlessly scrolling through his phone, but that’s fine. Shouty people on twitter were honestly the least of their problems, most days. Keeping up his end of the deal, Eliot continues to wage war with his own body, which feels like it maybe has an extra skeleton inside it, and is even more creaky then normal when he bends over.

“If my brain were a text message, it would just be peach emojis right now,” Q says, monotone, and Eliot laughs so hard he falls over. Dessy, of course, takes this as an invitation to lick his teeth.

May gives way to June with a wave of sunlight and heat. The air is thick with pollen and humidity, but even that isn’t enough to lessen the joyful sense of returning life. They spend afternoons in the park more often now, because getting out of the house is starting to feel like less of a battle. The first really hot day of the summer finds Eliot, Quentin, and Julia sprawled out in the sun by mid-day.

Julia and Eliot both surrender to the heat early on, Julia shedding down to her crop-top and leggings, while Eliot rolls up his trousers to the knee and loosens his collar, tie abandoned in Q’s bag. Even Quentin’s given into the heat a little, and the button up overshirt he’d been wearing has been commandeered by Julia to use as a pillow while she sunbathes. Q’s been working his way through the Tolkien catalogue again, and his nose is buried in a book, but even so he looks more relaxed that Eliot’s seen him in a long ass time.

Eliot, who’s been lazily throwing the world’s slimiest tennis ball for the puppy for the last half hour, tosses the ball again. Dessy watches it sail away, and then plonks her happy ass down next to Julia and proceeds to take a nap.

“Really?” Eliot says rhetorically, sighing with all the drama he can muster. When no one else moves, including Lady Desdemona herself, he gives up and drags his protesting limbs up to get the ball. Because he has been played for a fool.

He drops the ball next to Q’s messenger bag, and goes through the complicated process of convincing his body to be horizontal again. It’s worth it though, because he gets settled down with his head in Q’s lap, which leaves him with an excellent view of Q’s sturdy hands and nicely hairy forearms, which are occupied holding the book he’s working his way through.

Eliot reaches up, smoothing his hand along Q’s arm, feeling the muscles flex under sun-warm skin. In this light, you can’t really see the silver-white scars littering the inside of Q’s forearms, only just feel them if you know they’re there. Touching him, gently and almost absently, Eliot spends another moment being grateful for second chances.

“You should pet my hair.”

Quention snorts, tipping his book closed on his fingers to look down at Eliot. “Jesus. Did you turn into the dog at some point?”

But he does it, buries his sturdy fingers in Eliot’s curls, smoothing through them. Most of the product Eliot had put in that morning has given up in the heat and humidity already, and he can feel the last of it give way under Q’s hand. It’s worth it. It’s so worth it, Q’s fingers petting his scalp, gentling through the curls. Jesus, maybe he is turning into the dog.

“Excuse me, I’ve been a slut for getting my hair played with for significantly longer than Lady Dessy’s been alive,” He protests, because it feels like the right thing to do.

“Nice qualifier,” Quentin says distractedly, having turned his attention back to his book.

“My slutty days are over. We slut only for cuddles now,” Eliot says cheerfully, and cracks an eye open just to watch the pleased little flush on Q’s face, the way he’s trying not to smile at it. “We should get matching shirts that say ‘daddy’ and ‘baby slut’ for Pride. I’ve seen them before.”

Julia snorts, saying “That’s way more than I need to know about your sex life–”

–at the same time Quentin says, flatty “Absolutely not.

“Well, we need some kind of statement outfit,” Eliot teases, mostly just because he’s having fun poking at Q, enjoying the sparkle in his eyes, the blush on his cheeks.

“Think more metaphorical statement, and less literal words on our chests,” Quentin mutters, tugging a little at Eliot’s hair.

“Careful,” Julia jokes, and Eliot can hear her sit up, bump her shoulder with Q’s. “He’s going to put you in a crop top and booty shorts.”

“No he’s not,” Quentin says, and then moves his book again to give Eliot a pointed look. “Is he?”

Eliot holds up his hands, innocently, widening his eyes for extra effect. Because no, he would never, ever do that to Q, who wears layers like armor, but that doesn’t mean he can’t go along with the bit. “We will dress sensibly to be in a hot sweaty crowd in late June.”

He hears Julia whisper, “booty shorts.” She’s a delightful person, honestly. Eliot may have judged her too harshly for the whole Hedge Bitch thing.

“Did you ever hear the story of how Q came out to me?” Julia asks.

Eliot tries to twist around to look at her, but something in his neck screams at the volume of a rock concert, and he freezes. Carefully, he realligns his spine and pushes himself to sit up. Quentin's making worried eyebrows at him, which is touching, really. It’s nice to feel loved, but Eliot would much prefer his body to work, thank you. “I have not and you must tell me immediately.”

“You know, I don’t know if I like you two being friends,” Quentin sighs, squinting between them. “You conspire far too much.”

“Do not,” Eliot lies brazenly.

“Oh yeah? Show me your text thread.”

“So we were like 17,” Julia starts, and Eliot mentally translates that into ‘well into the hopelessly in love with Julia phase’ based on his knowledge of teenage Quentin. “And I’m into this guy, right. Like, smart jock kinda guy, like he was in AP Calc with us but he also played soccer, and had like... runners legs.

“Well known to be the best kind of legs,” Eliot agrees, watching in delight as Q literally sticks his entire face into the spine of his book, hiding.

“And this guy went through girls, okay, like I knew that, but I was also like... young and dumb and harbored fantasies of changing him. And I’m talking to this chuckle-fuck over here who’s trying to talk me out of like... Ambushing him at homecoming or something, I don’t even know. So Q’s like well ‘Well, I wouldn’t suck his dick’ and I’m like ‘well, you wouldn’t suck any dick’ and he just turns bright. Red.”

“Oh, Baby Q.” Eliot can’t keep the laughter out of his voice, reaches over to slide his hand across the back of Q’s neck. “Honestly, nothing about this shocks me.”

“Keep talking and your dick is gonna have to suck itself,” Quentin grumbles into his book, which Eliot assumes to be a token threat, but decides not to risk it.

An hour later, when Q’s taking Dessy for a walk in the hopes that she’ll deign to poop on something so they can take her home and crash for the day, Julia bumps her shoulder into Eliot to get his attention. He looks at her, and feels... complicated. There’s a residual impulse that sees her and thinks sister. It’s stronger than any other impulse left behind by the monster, and one he’s kind of willing to roll with. But it’s still uncomfortably something else’s thought.

“I was pretty bad about taking him at his word at first,” Julia says, and Eliot does a couple mental jumping jacks to figure out what she’s talking about. “I thought because he dated girls and was, well–”

“In love with you?” Eliot supplies, and she flushes.

“Well. Yeah. I thought it meant whatever else he was feeling was just– weird projection, somehow. Like he wanted to be those guys and couldn’t reconcile it.”

“Julia, I spent fifty years having sex with him, and when we came back I still couldn’t make myself believe he wanted me for real. I’m not going to judge you. Or at least not judge you more harshly than I judge myself.”

“He’s really excited about this, though,” she says, tilting her head to watch Q try valiantly not to get tangled in the dog’s leash. “It’s nice to see him excited about something.”

“Isn’t it?” Eliot agrees, a little breathless, and it feels weird to give voice to the thought he’s been guarding like a candle flame for a week. “I hope he doesn’t get overwhelmed by the crowd and just end up hating the whole thing.”

“Well, he’s got you to look out for him,” Julia says, and she’s maybe teasing a little, but also not really at all.

They resemble themselves as they pack up to head home, back to the condo that’s theirs as long as Kady has no other need for it and they do her creepy rent-quests for her. It feels weird to have a place that’s not the Physical Kids Cottage, or the Palace in Fillory. Just an apartment, ridiculously lavish thought it may be, but an apartment with a couple roommates who filter in and out, and one roommate who’s mostly in, and Eliot’s boyfriend.

It’s feels weirdly normal.

The only thing that’s missing is Bambi.

Margo sweeps into town in a flurry of taffeta and hairspray two weeks before Pride. She and Josh have a room in the condo, pretty much in name only as they’ve spent a grand total of maybe a week and a half there in since returning to Fillory. Finding the return of magic had fucked things up more than being without it ever could have had kind of put a cramp in their interplanetary style.

But the research Julia and Q and occasionally Eliot had been doing had unearthed one interesting tidbit, which basically amounted to the concept of a tsunami of magic and a resulting rip-tide effect. So Margo and Josh catch the Penny-train back from Fillory to collect information and start talking through the problem.

They’re only staying for a handful of days, but having Margo around is like sunlight returning to the world. Eliot’s missed her, a constant low grade ache, finds himself getting caught in her gravitational pull whenever they’re in the same room. It’s different than it used to be, with Josh and with Quentin around, but he thinks maybe they’ve found a way to have other people and not let it get between them. Or maybe it was a matter of find the right people.

The fact that Josh Hoberman is looking to be one of those right people is still– somehow the weirdest thing currently happening in their lives, but Eliot’s gotten pretty good at rolling with weird. Being possessed made you nothing if not adaptable.

Still, when Margo suggests they take a night out on the town just the two of them, Eliot jumps on the chance. There’s just the tiniest kernel of concern, a twinge in Eliot’s heart at the thought of being out for most of the night.

Because okay. It’s not like he and Q never apart, they’re apart several times a week. But it’s usually during the day, and Eliot is always around for Pill Time, has been since there’s been a Pill Time. Quentin’s an adult, though, he needs to be able to handle the little shit on his own, and Eliot needs to be able to spend a night away from him and not worry what he’s coming home to. Just in terms of existing in a healthy relationship, those are things that need to happen, and Eliot knows that. It’s not like Q’s going to be alone, either, there’s other people in the apartment, Penny and Josh and Julia are all at least in the orbit of it.

“Are you sure you’re good?” Eliot asks anyway, as he’s getting ready, fixing his tie in front of the bedroom mirror. From where he’s standing, he can see Q’s reflection in the mirror where he’s sitting on the bed, holding a bone for Dessy in one hand and skimming through research notes with the other.

“I mean,” Quentin says, hint of sarcasm in his voice, not looking up from his notes. “You’re always welcome to stay here and listen to me and Jules get caught up on Game of Thrones... there’s going to be so much complaining, El.”

“Don’t say that too loudy, or Margo’s going to decide to stay and join you,” Eliot says fondly, turning back to walk over and grab the cufflinks that are sitting on the bedside table next to Q.

“Poor baby, you’re surrounded by nerds,” Quentin teases, looking up at Eliot, and he’s smiling with his eyes that way he does when he’s actually, really happy.

Eliot, who is maybe getting tired of pretending being pretty means he’s dumb, slides his hands down to Q’s neck, thumb brushing gently against his jaw. Q leans into his hand, tipping his face up in that way that says kiss me, kiss me, kiss me. “They’re my favorite kind of people,” Eliot says truthfully, and does.

It’s easy find a bar in midtown which has exactly the kind of cocktail hour vibe he and Margo dressed for, and it’s stretching out a set of muscles they haven’t used in a while, maybe. But they didn’t gain their reputation as the Brakebills party royalty for nothing, and finding the exact right party for the mood is kind of their superpower.

Which means they find a little hipster place with a big, big outdoor patio and honest to god swing dancing under the trendy tungsten lights. There’s a special kind of personal resentment that comes when Eliot realizes he physically can’t dance for more than one song in a row anymore, his jacked-to-hell body won’t let him, but it’s Margo. She’s more than willing to find a little corner of the patio where they can twist together and talk between dances, watch the pretty people in pretty clothes move in pretty patterns in the orange gold light.

“– So I’m trying to fix a problem and also fighting a war with an entire government just to get the chance to even get started.” Margo takes a breath, pausing in her get-him-up-to-speed tirade, like they don’t have two-way mirror calls at least twice a week. “I just- I could really use your help, El.”

“High King Bambi, when have you ever needed a man for anything?” Eliot says lightly, stirring the stem of rosemary in his cocktail.

“I don’t need a man, I need my motherfucking best friend. Who’s the only person who says no to me when I want to declare war, by the way.”

It’s hard to look into her beautiful, vicious face, and not want to follow behind her forever, holding her purse. But– “We’ve been over this. It’s up to Quentin. I go where he goes.”

“I know you love him, Eliot, and I know you feel like you’ve got exactly one chance to not ruin this thing, but... It’s Q. If you wait for him pick a direction, you could be in limbo for a long time.”

“I don’t think so,” Eliot says, and it feels like a risk, voicing this fledgling hope. “He’s getting better about wanting things. I don’t think he wants to go back to living at Brakebills–”

“Can’t blame him,” Margo cuts in, which Eliot understands. After everything they’ve seen and done in the last three years, going back to campus life doesn’t feel like progress.

“–But I don’t think he’s given up on learning magic. I think, as he’s gets back to feeling things besides ‘shitty’ he’s going to want to keep going. Just maybe in a slightly less traditional way. And he keeps saying he wants to help with Fillory. He loves the idea of it as much as we do. If I know him, and I think I know him better than I know myself sometimes, once he’s a little more even keel he’s not going to want to miss the opportunity to help make Fillory what he always wanted it to be.”

Margo makes a face, “And what do you want?”

“I want to help the people I love,” he says, honestly, because goddamn if he and Q aren’t one and the same in their particular brand of self-sacrifice. He forces himself to admit, “But, I wouldn’t accept that answer from Q and I probably shouldn’t from myself, either. I want to go home, back to Whitespire, but I also want to have afternoons in Central Park with Julia and the silly bratty puppy, and I want to love Quentin until I die.”

“Jesus, that’s some like, soap opera level shit. So you’ll, what, commute into work?” Margo, says skeptically, and Eliot laughs.

“Is that an option? Direct train through the Neitherlands?” He shakes his head, and takes a sip of his cocktail. “I’m not saying we’ll never be there to help, Bambi, I’m just saying I can still only just manage to walk half the time, and Q’s not in a place where a change to routine isn’t likely to send him spiralling again. And I’m not making any promises without talking to him first.”

“Okay,” Margo agrees, and her dark purple painted lips twist in a fondly mocking smile. “I’m not trying to be a twat, I just miss you. You’re still one of the only people I can stand.”

“Oh Bambi, I look forward to the day I can try very hard to ignore you telling me about your werewolf sex-capades from within the same room instead of from the other side of a two-way mirror. Never doubt that.”

They roll back into the condo about a half-hour after midnight. It feels both very early for the part of Eliot’s brain that still thinks he’s a 22 year old alcoholic with a lowkey deathwish, and very late to the part that is used to being settled somewhere to wind down by the time his boyfriend needs to take his meds at 10pm.

The condo is dark, lit only by the always-on running lights underneath the kitchen cabinets. But there’s a light on in their bedroom, visible under the door even from the living room. Eliot, who’d been pleasantly tipsy when the left the bar at midnight, now feels mostly sober and a little horny about it, and really hopes Q’s still awake for good reasons and not anxiety reasons. Margo’s still tucked into his side, a familiar weight in his arms, and when he turns to bid her good night, she’s already grinning.

“Go get some,” she says, delighted, and he loves her, so much. God. Kisses her goodnight with a warm, closed mouth press of lips, familiar and dear.

Eliot pushes the door open softly, just in case there’s a chance Q fell asleep with the light on and Eliot can avoid waking him. He’s not asleep though, just propped up on a couple pillows in soft sleep clothes, an open copy of The Two Towers propped open on his chest. Eliot leans his shoulder on the doorframe, letting himself drink Q in, the way he’s clearly been biting at his thumbnail, the little crease in his brow that says he’s still awake because he’s gotten sucked into a book he’s read at least 3 times before. The little dimple in the corner of his mouth, when he looks up to see Eliot leaning in the doorway, might be Eliot’s favorite thing in the world.

“Hey,” Q murmurs, finding his bookmark and marking his place, before pushing himself to sit up, arms around his knees. “You have a good time?”

“Yeah,” Eliot agrees, stepping into the room and closing the door behind him. He sheds his suit jacket, crossing to lay it on the back of the chair near the window, and then gravitates back towards the bed. He climbs on next to Q, nearly sitting on his feet, which makes Q’s smile widen a little. “Definitely going to need the cane to walk tomorrow because my body is a joke, but it was worth it.”

“Good,” Q whispers, his hand coming out to play with Eliot’s tie, and his eyes flicking down to Eliot’s mouth and oh, fuck yes.

The kiss is like sparklers under Eliot’s skin, already keyed up like he is, and Q’s so inviting and sweet and open under him. This, this, this, oh yes, Quentin’s warm wet mouth parting so Eliot can slide his tongue in and fuck him with it, oh. Get his hands in Q’s hair as Q draw in a deep breath through his nose and–

"Stop, stop, stop," Quentin pants, hands suddenly pushing gently but firmly against Eliot's chest. Panic rises in Eliot's throat, but he scrambles away as quickly as he can with his stupid half-functional body, to the other side of the bed well out of arm's reach of Q. Quentin, who's gone pale and shaky looking, has his eyes closed and is breathing in even, measured breaths.

Eliot, feeling nauseous, askes, "Do you want me to leave? I can go get Margo or Julia so you're not alone."

"No," Quentin breathes, and his color is coming back. "No, you just... smell like tequila and sweat, it. Smells like the monster, is all."

"Okay." Eliot forces calm into his voice, forces his hands to still their panicky shaking. "Thank you for stopping me. I'll be right back."

The trek to the bathroom feels about a million years long, and every throb in his joints feels like just punishment. But wallowing in self-recriminations can come later, now he needs to brush his teeth and gargle some mouthwash and also probably put on enough after-shave so he smells like a 12 year old boy and not a bar in midtown. Bracing his hands on the side of the sink, Eliot breathes, and breathes, and breathes, then looks into the mirror and makes himself see a Monster.

Quentin’s sitting cross legged on Eliot’s side of the bed when he walks back into the bedroom. His hair is ruffled still from Eliot’s hands, Jesus, but at least the color has returned to his face. He’s also sitting on top of the blankets, in front of Eliot’s pillow, so it looks like they’re gonna be talking about it.

Which, they probably should do. That’s the grown up, adult way to handle your problems, after all. Not stuff them in a box in your brain not to be looked at again until you’re literally forced to confront them.

Clambering on the foot of the bed, Eliot settles in mirror to Q’s position, face to face and knee to knee. The look Quentin gives him is rueful, apologetic, and Eliot doesn’t want to hear him apologize. Not for this.

“Has that happened before?” he asks, because he has to know. They’ve had a not-insignificant amount of sex in the past couple months, and if this wasn’t the first time and Eliot just didn’t notice–

“Not– No. You don’t usually smell like him,” Quentin says, and his eyes are flicking around, but he seems honest. “I get jumpy sometimes, so maybe if you’re like being really quiet. But that’s not just you, that’s like. Penny too, because he’s really tall. Also the dog scared me the other day. So no, this. I mean, you just smelled like him.”

“So it’s the smell specifically?” Eliot asks, feeling achy, viciously angry with nowhere to direct it. “Tequila and sweat?”

“Yeah,” Quentin agrees, looking down into his lap, then gives a half shrug. “Strongest sense tied to memory, all that.”

“Right.” Eliot thinks of the sweet smell of summer fruit, hanging heavy on the air in the throne room in Whitespire. “Peaches and plums.”

“Peaches and plums.”

Q’s lips quirk in a small smile, and he’s reaching out, taking Eliot’s hand in his. He has to fight the instinct to hold them back, because he doesn’t want to hurt Q, ever. But part of what they’ve been working on is getting Q to want things, so if he wants to hold Eliot’s hand... he can.

The touch is light, Eliot’s right hand cradled in Quentin’s left, as Q traces over the the veins on the back, flips it over the run his fingertips along the lines on Eliot’s palms. He’s wearing two rings on that hand, because he’d been dressed up to go out, and Q spins one of them, then brushes his thumb over the opal ring Margo had given him that Eliot always, always wears.

“I’ve always loved your hands,” Quentin says, and his voice is thoughtful. He cradles Eliot’s wrist in his left hand, spreading Eliot’s fingers, tracing the sensitive skin between them with his own. “They’re elegant and clever. Exactly what Magicians hands are supposed to look like, I think. And they’re big, too.”

Eliot feels a throb of arousal, because fuck, he’s only human and Quentin’s practically jacking off his fingers. But–

“I hate that it touched you with them,” Eliot spits out, and it’s way more venomous than he meant it to be. “That it hurt you with them.”

“Baby, the way you touch me is nothing like he ever did,” Quentin says softly, earnestly, and brings Eliot’s hand up to press a warm, open mouthed kiss to his palm. “And when I asked you to stop, you did. Please don’t stop touching me because there’s a non-zero chance it might freak me out. There’s a non-zero chance breathing might freak me out, and I’m trying really hard to keep doing that.”

“That’s not– funny,” Eliot chokes, because it’s not, but he can’t think with Q’s mouth soft and wet and hot against the ball of his palm.

“I know,” Quentin murmurs, tongue flicking out brush against the pad of Eliot’s thumb, which is just... it’s just–

“Stop me, if I scare you again,” Eliot says, practically begs, and the joints in his hand ache from how still, how stiff he’s holding it.

“I will, I promise. You stopped when I asked. I trust you, El.” He punctuates the statement by sliding his fucking lovely sweet hot wet mouth down around Eliot’s thumb and fuck–

Just fuck, honestly.

Eliot pushes down with his thumb until he brushes the velvety softness of Q’s tongue, then hooks his finger behind Q’s teeth, drawing him forward gently. “I love you,” He says, because it’s what he’s supposed to do when he’s afraid, and it makes Q’s eyes go smile-bright. Then he pulls his finger free and says “help me get naked so I can stop smelling like a bar.”

Q takes to the task with great alacrity, fingers on Eliot’s vest while Eliot handles the complicated knot of his tie himself. The vest comes off, and Eliot pulls away to toss it in the general direction of the chair, since he might as well try and have nice things. This, apparently is an invitation for Q to start on the buttons on his shirt, and then gets completely sidetracked by sucking at Eliot’s collarbones.

“I have been thinking about getting my mouth on you–” Quentin murmurs, fingers stuttering through a tut in the air between them and suddenly every button on Eliot’s clothes is undone. “–since you left. 5 hours ago.

And, oh Jesus, isn’t that a thought, Q watching TV with his best friend and trying not to get all squirmy with how much he wants to peel Eliot out of his suit. “You are killing me, baby boy,” Eliot whines, trying to get his shirt off, off, off before they get partway into this and Quentin gets another whiff of tequila, pants falling to the floor in a crumpled heap. Eliot doesn’t even care.

Stripping Q of his sleep clothes takes seconds, and then he’s naked and pressing his whole lovely little body against Eliot’s, warm soft skin and scratchy hair all along his front. “I want, I want–” he pants against Eliot’s mouth and oh, how lovely it is, Quentin wanting things.

Which is how Eliot ends up flat on his back the wrong way round on the bed, Q curled down between his thighs, trying desperately to think of anything other than how sweet Q’s mouth feels or how much Eliot loves him. Q sucks dick exactly how Eliot likes, messy and wet and eager, and it’s maybe because he literally learned how to from Eliot, which just makes it hotter, honestly. It feels so good, pleasure building in a crescendo inside him, until he’s hovering right on the edge. He taps Q’s shoulder, because words have failed him, and Q pulls off, coming up to kiss Eliot as he pulls him over the edge with his sturdy, clever hands.

They kiss until Eliot’s got his breath back, and the closeness of it, the warmth of Quentin in his arms is so fucking precious. Quentin’s hard, rocking a little against Eliot’s side, because he fucking loves sucking dick. Eliot has no idea how he got so lucky.

“What do you want?” he asks, petting softly at the curve of Q’s spine, and Quentin makes a pleased little sound.

“You hands,” Quentin murmurs back, curling a loose fist around Eliot’s index and middle finger and– yeah. Okay.

In another life, where Eliot’s body wasn’t made of toothpicks, he might have flipped Quentin over and manhandled him exactly how he wanted him. However, Eliot’s body is indeed made of brittle wood and paper mache, these days, so he has to resort to telling Q where to go and how to settle himself. Luckily, Quentin is very good at taking instruction.

Eliot gets him settled on his back, one wet hand wrapped around his dick and two fingers in him, rubbing at his prostate. It wrecks Q, it absolutely wrecks him, little shivers taking his body on every pass of Eliot’s fingers inside him, hips straining between Eliot’s hand on his cock and the fingers in his ass. His eyes are blown, and keep rolling back in his head, but he’s trying so hard to keep looking at Eliot. When he comes, it’s with Eliot’s name on his lips, and Eliot feels–

So grateful, for second chances.

They clean up together, because Quentin is a mess of lube honestly, and because Eliot doesn’t want to have any scent on him that might make Q wake up afraid. The air conditioning in the apartment is strong, but if they pile an extra layer of blankets on the bed, they can sleep curled together, skin to skin, and it’s maybe the best way to sleep in the world, honestly.

Though it is a little annoying, maybe, when the barky yappy puppy alarm goes off at first light, begging someone to let her out to the pee-pad on the condo porch. It means he has to find pants before he heads out to deal with her. There’s maybe one too many people in the condo for him to be comfortable bare-assing it.

The weeks before Pride seem to slip away, as things with Fillory kick into high gear and then go quiet again with the departure of Margo and Josh. Any accusations of mopiness leveled against Eliot are an exaggeration, however. No, the fact that Dessy is suddenly determined to sleep on him at all times is not proof, fuck you Julia.

Still, it is hard to keep being decidedly-not-mopey as rainbows spring to life all over the city. One of the cafes on the way back from the CVS has a rainbow Pride flag hanging in the window, and Eliot can’t help but grin at Q, tug him in by the hand on their way back from a refill run. They get scones and fancy lattes and sit side-to-side on the sidewalk terrace outside of the cafe, holding hands. Eliot feels proud, in a way he never really has before. They go back again the next day, and take Dessy with them. She is delighted, and falls asleep under the table, so Quentin has to carry her home.

The Sunday of the Parade dawns hot and clear, full of light fluffy clouds guaranteed to burn off by mid-day. Eliot’s got a set of matching grey light-linen pants and vest, and a short sleeve shirt patterned with tiny little rainbows, because he understands understatement, thank you very much. For Q, Eliot had found a navy-blue t-shirt with blue-purple-pink script which read ‘pretty fly for a bi-guy’ which seemed both dorky enough for Quentin to love it, and also like a step towards making amends for some of Eliot’s own thoughtless cruelty.

“I thought I said no writing on my chest,” Quentin complains, but he’s actually smiling. When he shrugs it on and looks to Eliot for approval, he’s so fucking cute Eliot actually physically needs to sit down.

They end up running a little late because they get into argument about if they should bring the dog, distracting Eliot in the middle of putting on eyeliner.

“We’re going to be in a crowd for hours,” he says emphatically, waving the eyeliner pencil like that’s going to make his point for him.

“That’s more likely to bother me than her,” Quentin protests, and well. It’s probably true. He’s actually probably less likely to get overwhelmed if she’s with him, if he can pick her up and hold her squirmy little body to his chest when he needs something else to focus on.

“You’re carrying the poop bags,” Eliot mutters, and goes back to trying to fix his fucking face.

So they bring the dog, and Eliot brings his cane because he’s not taking a chance of being the thing that wrecks today. It’s crowded, it’s already crowded everywhere, but they manage a stroke of luck in finding a shaded place with space near the barricade, so Eliot has something besides his cane or Q to lean on.

Everything is rainbows, everywhere, and everyone passing by them looks like them, feels like them, loves like them. Girls and girls, and boys and boys, and people who are proudly neither in infinite combination, wander past, alive on the joy of the day. Lady Desdemona, life of the fucking party, attracts so much attention that Eliot begins to wonder if bringing her was a bad idea just for that. But Q seems happy, seems eager to talk about the puppy who definitely isn’t theirs with anyone who comes up to ask. So Eliot just leans back against the barrier and watches.

He ends up half-leaning on Q anyway, once the parade reaches them. Arm around Q’s waist, they collect beads and flags and bracelets and whistles being passed out by rainbow clad marchers. They cheer together as the Dykes on Bikes group rides by, and never really stop, waving at high school GSAs and community groups and activist organizations alike.

There’s a moment, as a queer families support group passes them by, where time seems to stop. Eliot finds himself watching Q watch a little boy squirm in his father’s arms, an honest to god grin on his face. It’s like the future pulls tight around them, in that moment, and Eliot can see with burning clarity exactly what he wants.

The beauty of all life.

Part two.

He leans in, presses a kiss to Quentin’s temple, breathes in the smell of his hair. How, he thinks, do I deserve two lifetimes with you? It doesn’t matter how. He’s got it now, and he’s never letting it go.

There’s a bit of excitement towards the three-quarter mark, where Dessy decides her moment of fame as come, and tries to make a break for it into the middle of the parade. Thankfully, she is snagged immediate by a tall black adonis with bright rainbow nipple pasties, who returns her to a stuttering Q with a smile and a wink. Quentin, who seems vaguely broken by the interaction, buries his hot face in Eliot’s chest, despite the fact that Eliot is actively laughing at him.

It’s a wonderful day, all told. They decide not to push their luck, with Eliot’s body or Quentin’s brain, and head home after the parade is done. But Eliot’s got his cane and Quentin’s got the puppy, and it’s a nice day to walk through all the rainbows, clasped hands swinging between them. Quentin’s still smiling a little, dimples in the corners of his mouth, and Eliot keeps having to stop to kiss him because fucking hell– how can he not?

“I think I know what I want the next plan to be,” Quentin says thoughtfully, a couple blocks from the condo. “Like. Since we’ve finished this one. We need a new plan, right?”

“Right,” Eliot agrees, because he’s been thing about that too, but figured he’d wait to bring it up until tomorrow. “What’re you thinking?”

“I want to plan how to help in Fillory,” Quentin says, determined, and Eliot’s heart fucking swells, because he knew it, he knows Quentin, ha! “And I know you said the plan should be for me, so like.... They don’t have pharmacies with Zoloft in Fillory, and I don’t think going off meds now that they’ve finally started to work is a good plan. Also Julia’s problems aren’t going to be answered there, either. So maybe we can sort of. Split our time? Or I can, and you can stay there with Margo, if you want. I don’t know. I need to be here long enough to pick up refills at the very least.”

He’s talking himself in a circle, trying to talk down the ask, and Eliot knows that, has seen him do it enough. “Q,” He says, pulling to a stop, and Q stops too, looking up at Eliot with his big brown eyes. “I think planning to get to a place we split our time is an excellent idea. And that might mean a couple days apart here and there, but... You’re my plan, Baby Q. I don’t want to live on a planet without you, like. Ever.”

And maybe he’s talking about moving to Fillory, but he’s also... not, really just talking about moving to Fillory.

“Okay,” Quentin says, and he sounds a little overwhelmed, for the first time all day. Then– “Same, honestly. I tried that, it was pretty fucking awful.”

There’s the familiar pang of guilt, but Eliot lets it go. Swings their hands together and starts walking. “So, new plan. Get to a place where we can spend some time in Fillory. Step one of this plan is taking it easy tomorrow because we’re both gonna be a wreck in different ways, you know that right?”

“Yeah,” Quentin agrees, and sways into Eliot’s side a little, so he can tip his head onto Eliot’s shoulders. “I really fucking love you, El. Thank you for doing this with me.”

Eliot’s not sure if he means Pride, or recovery, or life in general. Maybe all of it. It chokes Eliot up a little, the enormity of what he’s feeling. “Thanks for letting me,” he gets out, squeezing Q tight.

The condo greets them, cold and lavish and familiar, and Eliot feels wrung out in the best possible way. They have the rest of the day to unwind, and they’ll probably get pizza with Julia later and tell her all about Pride. They have tomorrow to recover and center themselves. They have a plan. They have a future.

It feels bright.