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To be completely honest, Eliot is not keeping up with the plot. He knows they have to steal a vase from the Met. He’s sure they have very good reasons, that it isn’t just a pretty vase, but important and powerful and necessary. He just wasn’t paying attention to why.

Lately he’s been busy with the simple business of being alive. It was touch-and-go for a minute, and he’s still readjusting to having a physical body that responds to outside stimuli. Being alive is kind of a lot of work. Things keep on happening, and he has to process them, and thing’s never stop happening, but sometimes things get undone, and it just. Doesn’t leave him with enough capacity to get excited about art heists.

(Fuck, he’s gotten so old and boring. Better than the alternative, he supposes.)

Q wasn’t alive for two whole weeks, and Eliot is still processing that. He woke up, and Q was dead, and then he went to Fillory with Margo, and it was the future, and it was bad, but they figured it out. They spent a month and a half in the future, and then another three weeks in the present catching up with Josh and Fen. Then they decided to check in on how things were going on Earth, only to find that most of a year had passed on Earth, and Q was alive again.

Which is good, great even, but also what the fuck. The thing about being alive is that things are constantly happening, and really, what the fuck? Why the fuck? How the fuck? Eliot does not understand.

So, they’re back on Earth now, and it’s been three months / ten months since Q died, and Eliot hasn’t figured out how to talk to Q yet, because being alive is just way too much work, especially with this new quest that Eliot hasn’t paid attention to. Quentin is really excited about this quest. In like, a slightly concerning, slightly manic way, but he’s alive, and medicated, and growing his hair out, so that’s fine. Eliot tried to ask about Q coming back to life, and Julia told him not to worry about it, which means Eliot is definitely going to worry about it, but also: Q is alive. And excited. And growing his hair out. And okay with Eliot not letting him out of his sight ever again. So that’s fine.

After a lot of planning and some heated debate about the ethics of taking art out of the public eye that Eliot totally ignored, they’ve reached the point in the quest where it’s time to actually steal the vase from the museum. This means all hands on deck, even Eliot’s hands, which shake when he isn’t holding a cigarette. His role in the plan is to sit on the steps in front of the Met and be ready to cause a scene if Kady signals that she needs a distraction. He likes this plan, because it probably involves him doing nothing. Being alive is easiest when you don’t have to do anything extra.

He’s paired up with Quentin for this, because Quentin is excited about the quest in a way that seems generally unhelpful, and giving him a job where he hopefully has to do nothing is probably a good idea. The reason Eliot isn’t letting Q out of his sight isn’t because he thinks Quentin is responsible and making really great choices. It’s because of, like, the opposite of that, and also the irrational fear that Q will be dead again if he looks away. So much of Eliot’s life now is spent staring, and he’s okay with that.

So it’s a Thursday in June, and Eliot is sitting on the steps of the Met with Quentin, and somewhere inside their friends are committing a totally epic art heist, and all they have to do is cause a scene if Kady gives the signal. Eliot has forgotten what the signal is. He trusts that Q will know.

Eliot is just sitting there, staring at Q’s fingers as he fidgets. When a bird sings what El is pretty sure is the hook from a Nirvana song, and Q springs to his feet.

Eliot just stares at him.

Was that the cue? That must have been the cue. Or maybe songbirds are into grunge now?

“Shit, I thought I knew what I was going to do,” Q says, almost vibrating. “I thought causing a scene without using magic would be really easy, because like, I’m constantly trying to not cause scenes ever, so like. This should be easy!”

Q sounds so upset. Poor thing. Eliot is good at causing scenes, but is feeling uninspired and unprepared at the moment.

“Do you want to have an argument?” Q asks. “Like, a screaming argument right here?”

Eliot answers honestly, which is this new thing he’s trying, which really sucks, but is supposed to be good for him. He says, “The idea of having a screaming argument with you makes me want to throw up,” which is just. True, but why the fuck would he say that? He’s tougher than that.

Q’s face does this thing, this terrible beautiful breaking and pulling together in an instant, which happens because Q loves him, and something about his existence is hurting Q, and it’s the worst face in existence, because he’s so tired of hurting Quentin, but also he loves it because he loves any evidence that Quentin loves him, as fucked up as it may be.

“Not fighting then,” Q says, sounding softer, less panicky. “No fighting, but still, like a grand gesture. A scene. We can make a scene, right?”

“Anytime you want, baby,” El says, again with this honesty bullshit.

Q’s face is just so horrible, with all of these emotions on it. El can’t look away.

“You trust me?” Q asks.

Eliot just scoffs. Stupid question, Coldwater.

“Okay, so this isn’t real — we have a lot to talk about, and if I was doing this for real I’d do a lot better job, but like, we have to start causing a scene like immediately and I don’t have a better idea, so… Sorry.”

In a word: concerning.

Quentin reaches over and takes Eliot’s hand, and pulls the ring off his middle finger, which is rude. Eliot likes that ring. He found it at an antique shop when he was in undergrad, and the fact that he hasn’t lost it yet is a minor miracle. Before Eliot can say, “What the fuck?” Q is doing more what-the-fuck behavior.

He goes down on one knee, and holds Eliot’s own ring out in front of him. “Eliot Waugh, would you marry me?”

Eliot looks down at Quentin. He always winds up looking down at Quentin, because Quentin is small, and fits perfect tucked under his arm, or under him in bed, or sitting on the floor leaning against his legs while they watch TV. Q is smiling a little bit, mischievous, those fucking dimples. Eliot should not have to deal with those fucking dimples.

He’s supposed to say something, because they’re supposed to be causing a scene. He’s vaguely aware of the crowd around them, tourists and hot dog vendors and a living statue standing on bucket and moving when people give him money, a whole world of other people that he ignored in favor of staring at Q’s hands. He could say yes, and it could be a grand romance, and people could applaud. He can already feel the eyes on them, waiting in anticipation. Or he could say no.

He says, “What the fuck?”

Honesty is so overrated, it just messes with everything. But at this point, he might as well go on.

“Seriously, what the fuck.” He stands up, because it’s more dramatic, and they’re supposed to be causing a scene. Fuck honesty, they’re a part of a plan, this has to be captivating. Q is still kneeling, and that’s good too, makes it harder to maintain eye contact, and he’s always liked Q on his knees.

“You propose to me now? After everything that happened?” He raises his voice, because he’s good at this, he’s an expert at causing a scene. He’s out of practice at coming up with a backstory on the fly, and their real life is probably too weird to start shouting about.

“How could you propose now, after my sister found proof that you were having an affair with the dog sitter!” he says, because he always wanted a sister, and he always wanted a dog.

“Wait, I what?” Q says. Q has never been good at these kinds of things.

“Don’t try to deny it now,” Eliot says. “Margo came home early and found you bent in half for that dog-walking home wrecker! In our bed!”

“I’d never!” Q half-shouts back, starting to get on board.

“I saw it with my own eyes! She took a picture! I’d recognize that cute ass of yours anywhere. Don’t even try to deny it, she’d never know to photoshop that birthmark!!”

Maybe that’s taking things a little bit too far, but at least everyone in the area is staring at them. Q seems much too close to smiling for someone whose proposal is being so soundly rejected. El can work with that though.

“I wasn’t going to say anything, because I think it’s important for Titus that his parents stay together, even if you do have to live out the cliche of fucking the nanny. I thought I could look the other way, and get over the feeling of being spurned, but then you had the balls to propose like our whole life isn’t built on a lie!”

“It isn’t a lie,” Q says, spluttering a bit. “It isn’t a lie, I love you. What happened with the sitter was just sex, a moment of weakness. I’ll spend the rest of our lives trying to make it up to you.”

Eliot reaches down to touch Q’s face. “Sweetheart. You can screw around with the dog sitter all you want, just talk to me first.” El puts a sob in his voice. He got so good at faking emotion, because that was easier than dealing with how he actually felt. “Just talk to me first, and we can screw the dog sitter together. That’s what marriage is — you screw the dog sitter together.”

Q is staring up at him, with his big sad eyes, all crinkly and devastating, hair at an awkward length, bitten lips. He was dead for two whole weeks, and won’t talk about it, and when Eliot said “I love you” he said it back, but also said he couldn’t, not right now, and if not now, when? What other time is there? How comfortable does he feel about there being a future, because every moment of being alive takes so much effort, shouldn’t they fill each moment with as much being-alive as possible instead of waiting for later? Eliot went to the future, it was fucked up. It isn’t that hard to stop a future from ever happening. He’s done it at least twice already.

Q takes a deep raggedy breath. He’s a better actor than Eliot gives him credit for. He looks determined, and a bit like he might start crying, but some of that is just Q’s default face.

“Eliot Waugh, would you give me honor of screwing the dog sitter with me for the rest of our lives?” he asks, looking up at Eliot with his terrible beautiful eyes.

Eliot could say yes, and Q could stand up, and they could kiss, and he could pick Q up and spin him around. But they aren’t doing that in real life, and it feels like overstepping to do that for the sake of causing a scene to aid some quest Eliot hasn’t been paying attention to.

Or he could say no, because no-one gets a happy ending, and love is fake.

Or he could just be alive, and continue to be alive, because that’s hard enough.

There’s another bird signing now, and that’s definitely the melody of “Fake Plastic Trees,” and he’s 90% sure he remembers Julia saying that Radiohead meant all clear, which makes a lot more sense if they’re using birds as signals, and it wasn’t just shitty music analysis like he assumed. The bird warbles, sounding unnervingly like Tom Yorke, and Eliot could just walk off, end of scene, but Q deserves better than that, they both do.

“Ask me again later,” Eliot says. “Ask me again when you’ve gotten over all the lies, and I’ll say yes, because I want to say yes.” He wants to say yes so badly, he’s just waiting for Q to ask again. “You’ll always be my family, because that puppy needs both his daddies, but I can’t marry you until we’ve really moved past the thing where we lie to teach other and throw up all sorts of useless bullshit. Honesty is just the wildest feeling, and honestly, I love you, but I don’t think you’re asking me for the right reasons. Someday we’ll be able to screw the dog sitter together, but not today.”

Fuck, he sounds like a magic 8 ball. Sorry, try again. What a boring way to solve the story he started telling. Q’s smiling at him though. That counts for something. He holds his hand out, and helps pull Q to his feet. They can stop being the center of the attention now. All clear, time to leave, time to regroup and do the next necessary thing with the heisted face.

“Let’s go home to Titus,” Eliot says, staying in the story in case anyone’s listening. He takes Q’s hand, and Q lets him hold it, and they start walking to the rendezvous point. What a weird fucking day.