Work Header

Ships in the Night

Work Text:

Quentin honestly doesn't know what he’d expected when Julia and James said that they were going to throw a graduation party.

The glitter everywhere certainly isn't a factor he'd considered; Julia can't stand the stuff, ever since an incident in seventh grade left her finding glitter in her hair and clothes for weeks.

All of the people? Well, James is fairly popular, so the fact that the party had gotten larger than any of them had expected wasn't entirely unexpected. It had happened before. Still, it leaves Quentin feeling crowded and anxious in his own apartment, and he doesn't appreciate it.

Glancing around, he catches Julia's eye; she motions for him to join her and James, but Quentin shakes his head, gestures at his now-empty drink and jerks his thumb over his shoulder in the direction of his bedroom. Julia rolls her eyes, but Quentin pushes himself to his feet and tosses Julia a reassuring smile before he starts making his way through the crowd.

As he skirts the improvised dance floor in their living room, someone bumps into him, knocking him into someone else. Quentin glances up and up until he meets the other guy's gaze, his own eyes wide once he catches sight of the raised eyebrow and smirk that are waiting for him. "Oh, um. Sorry!" he says, pitching his voice just loud enough to be heard over the music and hoping his apology didn't come across as a squeak as he most-definitely-does-not bolt the rest of the way to his room.

Eliot watches him go, and waits until he's disappeared into a room at the back of the apartment before he leans into his companion. "I want one."

Margo rolls her eyes, looking vaguely disgusted. "Of course you do," she says. "Well, you'd better act fast." She points across the room, to where a beautiful brunette is leaving her boyfriend's side to go after Eliot's mystery man.

Eliot makes a sound of vague frustration. "Cover me," he says, "I'm going in."

They move as one, albeit in opposite directions. Margo goes with practiced ease to intercept the girl, touching her arm and turning her back towards the party as she congratulates her on a great night, while Eliot follows the cute boy.

"Knock knock," he drawls, without actually knocking. He lounges against the door frame and takes in the man before him, already relaxing with a book on the bed. "Not interrupting, I hope?"

Quentin startles out of his relaxed state, book held defensively against his chest as his gaze flies to his doorway. He'd half-expected Julia to follow him, but the voice that had startled him was far too masculine. Quentin blinks once, and then again, face flushing when he realizes that the man leaning against his doorframe is the same one he'd bumped into only moments ago. "Uh," he says articulately, realizing he's just been staring at the stranger. "No?"

Eliot smiles. "Good," he says, and sits down on the edge of the bed. "Then you won't mind if I join you."

"I generally do mind people I don't know inviting themselves into my bed." It's far weaker than Quentin would like it to be, but he's very confused, socially exhausted, and anxiety is still simmering in his gut about his upcoming graduate school interview. He supposes he's lucky he's even managed this many words coherently.

"Oh, live a little," Eliot complains. He holds out a hand. "Hi. I think you're hot. Do you think I'm hot?"

Quentin eyes the hand held out his way like it's coated in poison, but after a moment, he reaches out and takes it, shaking the stranger's hand and doing his best to ignore the screaming his mind is currently bombarding him with. "Hi. I uh, I do think you're hot," Quentin admits, somehow manages to make it more than a mumble.

Eliot grins. "Then we're no longer strangers, and we have something in common." He doesn't let go of the hand in his, but rather gentles his touch, strokes his fingertips over the man's wrist. "Maybe we have something else in common, too."

Quentin's heart feels like it's trying to escape his chest through force alone, but he doesn't feel afraid, he feels... Exhilarated. "Something else?"

"That we're not interested in this party," Eliot tells him. "That there are far more interesting things to be done... right here."

Quentin wets his lips, the movement as unthinking as the way he shifts on the bed, moves towards the stranger who's invited himself into Quentin's space without a second thought. "What did you have in mind?"

Eliot smirks. "Why don't I show you?"

This has been one hell of a strange week, Quentin thinks, staring in awe around himself, sunlight warm on his skin, the faint sting of scratches from the branches he'd pushed through soothed by a gentle breeze. Graduating, checking himself into a mental hospital, checking himself out of said mental hospital, the graduation party and the strange man who'd about sucked Quentin's brain out through his dick, who'd let Quentin suck him off with nowhere near the same level of skill... And then the interview that wasn't, interrupted by the interviewer being fucking dead, being handed an old leather folder with a manuscript for a book that didn't exist, following the fluttering page...

Forcing himself to focus, Quentin starts across the lawn, taking in the sight of the building in front of him. It isn't until he's halfway across the lawn that he realizes that there's someone waiting in front of the building, and it isn't until he's about five feet away that he finally places why the man lounging on the stone, cigarette between his fingers, looks so familiar. "You," Quentin blurts, unable to do anything but stare. "You - What the - How - Um." He coughs, tries again. "Is this a hallucination?"

"If this were," Eliot asks, sitting up until he's perched on the edge of the stone, "how would asking me help?" He quirks a smile and flicks some ash from the end of his cigarette. "Quentin Coldwater, I assume."

Quentin opens his mouth and then shuts it, tilting his head in concession. "Yeah, um. That's me. Do I... Do I get to know your name, now?"

"Eliot Waugh," Eliot tells him. He smiles. "Now we really aren't strangers."

"No, I guess not." The laugh that accompanies that sentence might be a bit hysterical, but Quentin isn't terribly concerned about that at the moment. "Where... are we?"

"This is Brakebills," Eliot answers as he hops down from the stone. "And you're late."

"'Late?'" Quentin echoes, hitching the strap of his bag higher on his shoulder as he scrambles after Eliot. "Late for what?"

"The entrance exam, of course," Eliot says, striding across the lawn without any care for Quentin's ability to keep up. He doesn't slow down until they're outside of the exam hall, and then he turns back to Quentin, gives him a sharp smile. "Don't fuck it up, okay? You're interesting."

"I'm- Wait, what?" Quentin's even more lost than ever before, but he doesn't have a chance to try to demand more answers before Eliot shoves him through the double doors.

"He's here," Eliot announces to everyone and no one at once. He finishes pouring a bright pink cocktail into a balloon glass and takes a sip of it before handing it to Margo, who is leaning against the bar across from him. "With the Quinn girl," he continues, more quietly this time. "Figures he's a Physical kid. He's very good with his--"

"His fingers, yes, I know." Margo takes a sip of her drink, rolling her eyes before turning her gaze towards the door. "You've mentioned that several times since Friday."

"Well, he wants to hurry up and get in here," Eliot says, as though he hasn't even heard Margo. He glares at the front door. "I need to know when to start ignoring him."

Margo looks back at Eliot, raising an eyebrow. "Really? You're just going to ignore him after showing him around campus all morning?" Margo clicks her tongue, tutting. "You're going to give the poor boy whiplash."

Eliot shrugs, summoning another glass with an elegant twitch of his fingers. "I just don't want to give him the wrong idea."

"Oh?" Margo asks, affecting an air of innocence as she sips her drink, playing with the rim. "And what idea might that be? That you aren't incredibly interested in the... How did you put it... The shy, highstrung supernerd who's surprisingly good with his hands and mouth for being almost certainly straight?"

Eliot pours a generous measure of Absolut into the glass and summons the cranberry juice while he reaches for the triple sec. "I might find him interesting, but we all know how stunningly fabulous I am," he says. "I don't want him catching any pesky feelings."

"Oh, of course not," Margo says generously, smirking - but then she frowns, sniffs the air delicately. "Do you smell something burning?"

They both look towards the front door just in time to see a hole burning into it. A moment later, a decidedly feminine hand reaches through to unlock the door and it swings open. Eliot groans. "Finally!"

Margo shakes her head as Quentin cheers for Quinn's apparent specialty of phosphoromancy, an indulgent smile on her lips. "I'll leave you to your games, then," she laughs, eyes roaming back to the oh-so prim and proper Alice Quinn blushing under Quentin's congratulations and the gaze of most of the first floor.

Eliot rolls his eyes. "Fuck you," he complains, but Margo is already gone.

Quentin spends the next hour exploring the Cottage and meeting some of the students he'll be spending the next three years with. He can feel the magic in the air, can practically taste it, and... He's never felt so alive. Quentin tries to store everything away for later, to ponder and share with Julia when he sees her again. She had been sorted into the Knowledge discipline, and Quentin had no trouble understanding why, unlike his own lack of sorting. Still, tonight is not the time for confusion.

Tonight, Quentin decides, is the time for getting drunk and celebrating the fact that magic is real and he can do it.

It's with this goal in mind that he finally approaches the bar - Jesus, Eliot hadn't been joking when he'd claimed the Physical kids threw the best parties, the bar looks like something Quentin would expect to see in a high-end club, not a college cottage. And speaking of Eliot, the man himself is manning the bar, tools of the drink-mixing trade floating around him as he whips together a drink for a redheaded girl who salutes him before staggering off with what is definitely not her first drink. "Hey," Quentin says, sliding up next to the bar and just to the side of Eliot. "Didn't expect to see you mixing drinks."

"It's what I do best," Eliot says. "Apart from the obvious. Any requests?"

Quentin considers the expanse of alcohol behind Eliot for a moment before humming thoughtfully. He turns his gaze back on Eliot, looking at him curiously. "What do you recommend?"

"Magic or mundane?" Eliot asks without looking up.

"What the hell, gimme something magic."

Eliot smirks. "You asked for it," he says. His hands dance through the air, summoning bottles and herbs and ice. Some complicated fingerwork sets the glass on fire, and when the flames die down a blood orange cocktail remains, smoking faintly. "I call this the Spontaneous Orgasm."

Quentin may be regretting his impulsive decision, but there's no way he's wimping out when Eliot is looking at him with that gleam in his eyes. "Alright," he says, more to himself than anyone else as he picks up the glass, takes a careful sip. Even that little sip has him gasping, vodka and orange juice sliding down his throat, carrying the electric feel of magic with them. "Fuck," Quentin gasps, gripping the counter to balance himself. "Jesus, I can see why you call it that." Quentin couldn't stop himself from taking another sip if he wanted to, but at least this time he manages to tone down the gasp to a sigh. "That's - really fucking good, Jesus."

Eliot's smirk deepens. "You can call me Eliot," he says. "But you're welcome." He picks up the Cosmo he made earlier and takes a sip, closing his eyes briefly in sheer bliss before he returns his attention to Quentin. "So you're a Physical kid. How does it feel?"

"I don't know, I'm not a Physical kid," Quentin confesses. "I'm just being housed here because I made some cards float and you guys had the most room."

"You're undetermined?" Eliot asks, interested. A girl comes up to request a mojito and he waves her away, already reaching for the mint. "I didn't see that coming."

"Neither did Sunderland, apparently," Quentin sighs. "She seemed pretty damn frustrated, actually."

"Oh well," Eliot sighs. "It just means we'll be graced with your presence for the foreseeable."

Quentin blames his response on the pleasant buzz the drink is giving him. "You don't sound too cut up about that, Eliot. Hoping to see more of me?"

Eliot literally looks down his nose at him. "I enjoy the company of a lot of people," he says. "Fresh blood into the Cottage is always welcome."

Quentin finds the courage somewhere to roll his eyes. "Sure it is. Always on the lookout for the next shiny toy?" The words should be - should be bitter, maybe, or maybe cutting, but they come out way too curious, too fond for that. Quentin's blaming the almost-empty drink in his hand.

Eliot gives him an indulgent smile. "Something like that," he says. "Shouldn't you be off making new friends?"

"I'm really not the most social person," Quentin confesses. "You found me hiding from a party in my bedroom the first time we met, remember?"

"Well, that's still an option," Eliot points out. "A boring one, but. Whatever floats your boat, as it were."

Quentin huffs out something that's not quite a laugh, looking around consideringly. "If you want me to get out there and be social," he decides, glancing back at Eliot as he pushes his hair out of his face, "I'm gonna need at least one more Orgasm. Just, y'know, to loosen me up."

The smile Eliot gives him then is very nearly a full-on grin. He pulls Quentin's glass towards him, the required mixers already settling themselves on the bar top. "Play your cards right," he says, "and you might get another one before the night's over."

And, fuck, there has to be something in the goddamn air, maybe Quentin's getting a contact high, but he grins anyway, reaches out to take the drink and lets himself brush his fingers against Eliot's. "Hope it's from you," he says, saluting Eliot with his refilled glass before he wades into the fray.

Eliot watches him go, and doesn't start mixing his next request until Quentin is out of sight. "Gods help me," he sighs, to no one in particular and also to Margo, who has come up behind him just outside of his periphery. "I'm going to have sex with him again."

"You and your first year boys," Margo sighs. "Give me another one of our signature cocktails, and let me know when you want me to take over so you can go hunt down the poor unsuspecting nerd."

"Bambi," Eliot chides her, "I'll do nothing of the sort. He's going to find me."

Margo arches an eyebrow, casting her gaze out speculatively over the first floor, finding Quentin near the fireplace. "What makes you so sure about that?" she asks curiously, studying the first year with a critical eye.

Eliot takes a mouthful of Margo's drink before sliding it across the bar towards her. He doesn't follow her gaze to Quentin. "I just am," he says.

Quentin ends up spending only half the night in his new room. He's not sure of exactly what he'd said - Okay, no. That's a lie. He'd gone back to Eliot, two drinks in and definitely a little high off of the joint a student named Josh had passed him, and had...

"Stop laughing at me," he mumbles, almost lost into the wood of the table he and Julia are sitting at. They were supposed to meet up at the library to study, but Julia had caught sight of the frankly massive hickey Eliot had left just above his collarbone. She'd actually reached across the table and tugged down the collar of his shirt to get a better look before badgering him for all of the details. "I was high, okay, and I've never been all that smooth to begin with!" Another orgasm, please - either kind, had been a good line, Quentin had thought. At the time. In the harsh light of day and without the buzz of alcohol and magic and whatever the fuck Josh had given him, though, Quentin has to admit it really wasn't that great of a line, even if it had worked.

Julia's laugh is nothing short of gleeful. "And it's the same guy you had sex with at our party?" she demands. "The one who sucked your brain out through your dick? What are the odds, Q!"

"I think Eliot stacked the deck," Quentin grumbles, his face going hot when he glances up at Julia. "Is it bad manners to say he was just as good with his mouth the second time?"

"Absolutely not." Julia seems more excited about this than Quentin is. "Are you going to see him again?"

Quentin shrugs. "I'm living in the Physical Cottage, which is where he lives, so. We'll definitely see each other again but... I don't know about seeing each other again, Jules."

Julia frowns. "Why not?"

"Because we're living in the same space now?" Quentin shrugs. "I don't know, I kinda... From what I've heard, he doesn't really do relationships with anyone but Margo, but they're not romantic or exclusive? I'm not sure what exactly that is between them. But I think I might just be interesting to him because I'm new, and we managed to meet before I came here. He specifically mentioned something about 'fresh blood' last night."

"Oh." Julia is almost pouting. "Then maybe don't see him again? I don't want you to get hurt, Q."

Quentin snorts. "I don't really have any intentions of throwing myself at a guy like that," he reassures Julia, smiling. "It was good - it was really good - but it was just sex, and honestly? Eliot will probably have someone else he's interested in soon enough. He's interesting, and yeah, he's hot as hell, but... I don't know, I can't see him staying all that interested in me for long."

"Then stay away from him," Julia decides. She smiles. "That Alice girl seems cute."

Quentin laughs. "She is, and she's very smart - but I don't want a relationship, Jules. I just found out that magic is real, I want to take some time to enjoy that."

Julia winces. "Speaking of," she says, "I should probably call James."

Quentin blinks, then winces as well. "Shit. That - You're right, you'll need to call him. We'll need to call him, but you're dating, he'll probably want to talk to you first."

Julia laughs uneasily, but makes no move to reach for her phone. "Have you spoken to your dad yet?"

Quentin sighs. "No," he confesses. "We don't... You know we don't talk as much as we used to. I've got a few days before he'll be worried about me."

"I guess I can't really say that about my own boyfriend, huh?" Julia asks.

Quentin's smile is sympathetic, and he reaches over the table to take Julia's hand in his, giving it a comforting squeeze. "No, you can't. And you know James as well as I do, the longer you put it off..."

Julia bows her head. "I know," she says. "I know. I'll call him."

Quentin gives her hand another reassuring squeeze, and the two of them lapse into silence.

Quentin would just like to go on the record as starting that he had just been minding his own fucking business when he'd gotten slammed up against the wall outside of Julia's classroom.

Okay, so he may have been whisper-singing "Shake It Off" under his breath but there was no way he'd been loud enough to be heard over the general clamor of the crowded hallway. And! It wasn't his fault that the song had gotten stuck in his head, alright? So the random stranger grabbing him by the shirt and pinning him up against the wall was entirely uncalled-for and out of left field, as far as he was concerned, and he let the guy know with a strangled, "What the fuck? What is your problem?"

"What's my problem?" the guy demands. "What the hell is your problem? Taylor Swift? Really?"

"It's a catchy song!" Quentin defends himself, trying in vain to push against the guy's grip. "Jesus, what the fuck are you, a geomancer? How the hell did you even hear me, anyway?"

"I'm a psychic, asshole," the guy spits. "I can hear you. So learn to put up your wards, or goddamn you, I will show you how."

"I literally just got here two days ago," Quentin protests, "how the fuck am I supposed to know any wards, you dick?" He pauses, squinting. "You're in like, half of my classes, you should know they haven't been covered yet."

"Well, everyone else seems to have got it covered," the guy snaps. "I know you hang around with a Knowledge kid and those elitist second years. Get your head out of your ass and ask them for help if you can't figure it out yourself."

"Oh, go fuck yourself," Quentin complains, squirming under the guy's hands even more. "Fine, I'll ask them, just get off my dick, Christ."

The guy releases him with a disgusted look. "In your fucking dreams," he huffs, and walks away.

"Asshole," Quentin mutters, with feeling, glaring after the man.

"Ah," Eliot says, half an hour later. "You've met your first psychic." He's relaxing on the sofa in the Physical Cottage, his head in Margo's lap, his gaze on Quentin.

"Surprised it didn't happen sooner," Margo offers. "They're not the nicest of people, and you seem like you'd be... loud."

Eliot smirks. "He is."

Quentin flushes, throwing one of the crumpled bits of notebook paper he's been fussing with at Eliot's face. "Maybe, but he didn't have to be so fucking rude about it," he complains, immediately picking at another piece of torn paper. "No name or anything, just picked me up and threw me against the wall."

"From what I remember, that's not necessarily a bad thing in your book," Eliot says.

"Will you stop?" Quentin protests, exasperated; someone could probably fry an egg on his face at this point. "This is serious! And besides, not - not in front of a hallway full of people, Jesus. If you're not going to be helpful I'll go find Julia or Alice."

"Oh, leave him alone, El," Margo says, giving Quentin a wink as she starts to play with Eliot's hair. "We'll help you, sweetie. What are friends for?"

"Thank you," Quentin says fervently. "I just need to learn enough to keep what's-his-face from being pissed at me. He's a first year, he's in most of the same classes I am."

"His name's Penny," Margo says. When Eliot tips his head back to give her a strange look, she shrugs. "I make it my business to know everyone, and he fits the description."

Eliot sighs and sits up. "Well, whatever his name is, we can't have him wandering around reading your thoughts. You know far too much already. Sit down."

Quentin sighs in relief. "Thanks," he says, heading for the chair across from Margo and Eliot's couch.

They spend about an hour with him, showing him the best ways to keep his mind protected from psychics and anyone else who might want to go poking around in there. At last, when Quentin is just about to reach his limit, Eliot and Margo consider him taught.

"Of course, we can't actually test it," Eliot says. "It looks like your formation's fine, but we'd need an actual psychic to test it for sure." He turns to Margo. "Do you have this Penny's number?"

Margo smirks. "Not personally, but I know someone who does."

Quentin groans, flopping dramatically against the back of his chair. "Does it have to be him?" he asks mournfully. "If you know everyone then there has to be some other psychic who could help us out."

"She's not actually going to call him," Eliot says, shooting Margo a sharp look. "You'll find out soon enough, and we're as sure as we can be that you've nailed it." He shares a smile with Margo. "We are the best, after all."

"Thank fuck," Quentin sighs. Then he grins. "Does that mean if he kicks my ass I get to blame it on you guys?"

"Absolutely not," Eliot says. "Your incompetence does not reflect on us."

Quentin laughs at that, the sound catching even himself by surprise. "Oh, right, of course not," he says, mock-serious and fighting back a grin. "I think I need a drink after all of that, though."

Eliot brightens immediately and springs to his feet. "Excellent," he says, already heading over to the bar. "Requests?"

"The Blue Thing," Margo says. "Put some pop rocks in it."

Eliot rolls his eyes. "Heathen. Quentin?"

"Alcohol," Quentin says fervently. "I really don't give a shit what else is in there, just lots of alcohol, please."

"You're both so disappointing," Eliot sighs, but he sets to his task all the same.

Margo is, unsurprisingly, correct in thinking that Penny is the name of the psychic who'd thrown Quentin up against the wall. He doesn't look happy when he realizes that Quentin's gotten the demanded mental warding tutoring, but Quentin thinks he never looks happy about anything.

Quentin is drawn out of his musing by a touch to his arm. He startles, blinking rapidly before glancing around the Cottage, gaze landing on Julia, who's looking at him with a familiar concern. "Sorry," he says, scrubbing a hand over his face. "I... I drifted off a bit, sorry. What were you saying?"

"Nothing exciting," Julia says, though Quentin gets the impression that it's a lie. "Have you been sleeping okay?"

Quentin shrugs. "I've been sleeping," he says by way of answer.

Julia visibly fights the urge to roll her eyes. "Q," she says. "You don't look like you're looking after yourself."

Quentin hesitates, but when Julia only continues to look at him earnestly, he confesses, "Dean Fogg made me give up my meds."

A fire ignites in Julia's eyes. "He did what?" she demands.

Quentin sighs, leans forward to brace his elbows on his knees, scrubbing his hands over his face. "He said, I was never really depressed. That I was just alone. And that now that I'm a Brakebills student, I'm not alone, and I don't need the medication." He swallows, stares into the fire as he admits, "I thought... At first, I thought he might be right. But I've been zoning out more and more, it's hard to pay attention and I've started having trouble getting out of bed."

"Where are your meds?" Julia asks. "Did he actually take them away from you?"

Quentin nods. "Yeah. I don't know what he did with them, and I don't know if I can go back to my dad's and pick up my refills and find my way back to a portal here."

"Margo came with me on Saturday, when I went to see James," Julia offers. "She wanted to go shopping, and I met up with her later. Could you ask her or Eliot?"

Quentin considers that for a moment. "I could," he says slowly. "I just... I keep thinking he should be right, I should be fine."

"Bullshit," Julia says, not unkindly. "You don't just stop being depressed because you made some friends. That's not how mental health works, Q."

Quentin laughs, barely more than a huff of breath. "I know," he says, pushing himself upright and looking at Julia again. "I know, Jules. You know how my brain gets sometimes, though."

"I know," Julia says, her smile sympathetic. "Do you want me to ask Margo and Eliot to go with you?"

Quentin takes a deep, slow breath. "Yes, please," he says quietly. The smile he gives Julia is small, grateful.

Julia just opens her arms. "Come here," she murmurs.

Quentin doesn't hesitate before letting himself fall over into Julia's embrace, his own arms wrapping around her waist as he sighs. "I love you, you know that?"

Julia squeezes him tight. "I do," she tells him. "I love you too, Q."

Eliot finds him the morning after his dad tells him his prescription is ready. "So," he says. "Miss Wicker tells me we're going on a day trip." He looks as perfect as ever, with his hair artfully coiffed and his hands on his hips. Quentin is still in his pyjamas.

Quentin blinks up at Eliot, spoon halfway to his mouth. "Yes," he says slowly, then frowns. "How the hell are you so put together this early?"

Eliot winks at him. "No rest for the wicked," he says. He drops into the seat opposite Quentin and curls his feet up. "There's no rush, though."

Quentin snorts. "Sure, I don't feel rushed at all with you just sitting there, ready to go," he says sarcastically, smiling at Eliot. "Let me finish my breakfast and throw on some clothes that I haven't slept in, then we can go."

Eliot raises an eyebrow. "I can... leave?" he offers.

Quentin shakes his head. "I'm almost done," he says, tapping his spoon against his bowl before taking another bite. "So, are you just going to follow me around or do you have anything else you want to do out in the city?"

"I'm free as a bird," Eliot tells him. "There's nothing I need to do, but I can entertain myself if you don't want the company."

Quentin considers that for a moment, scooping up the last of his cereal. "You can come with me, if you want," he decides, shrugging as he gets up to put his bowl and spoon in the sink, tipping the bowl to drink the last of the milk. "I trust you."

When he lowers the bowl it's to find that Eliot is giving him a soft smile - but it's gone almost as soon as Quentin registers the shock that it existed. "Then you'd better get a move on," Eliot tells him. "I'll wash up while you're getting dressed."

Still reeling from the (imagined?) smile Eliot had just given him, Quentin barely manages a small one of his own in return. "Thanks," he says, right before beating a hasty retreat to his bedroom.

The portal dumps them onto a busy street, and it doesn't take long to flag down a taxi to take the two of them to Ted Coldwater's house. Quentin had texted his dad to let him know that he and a friend would be dropping by to pick up his antidepressant refill, so he's not surprised that Ted opens the front door before he can even knock. "Curly Q!" Ted cries, stepping onto the porch and hauling Quentin in for a hug. "Classes have kept you busy, huh?"

"Yeah," Quentin says with a slightly-strangled laugh. "You could say that."

Ted grins at him, clapping Quentin on the shoulder before he turns his attention to Eliot, standing just behind and to the right of Quentin. "And who's this?"

"Dad, Eliot Waugh. Eliot, this is my dad, Ted."

Eliot steps forward smartly and offers his hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Coldwater," he says, smiling.

One eyebrow rises, before Ted shakes Eliot's hand. "Likewise," Ted says. "You're a friend of Quentin's, then?"

"Yeah," Eliot says. He glances at Quentin before carrying on. "I'm a year above him at school, but we met on his first day. We've been joined at the hip ever since."

The eyebrow climbs higher, but before Ted can say anything else, Quentin interrupts. "We've actually got a couple of errands to run, Dad."

"No time to chat at all?" Ted asks, turning the raised eyebrow on Quentin, who hesitates, glancing at Eliot.

"Oh, come on, Q," Eliot says. "We've got a little while, haven't we?"

Quentin looks like he's seriously regretting letting Eliot come with him, but he sighs. "Yeah, we've got some time," he concedes.

Ted beams. "Excellent!" He steps into the house, holding the door open. "Come on in, I was just going through the study and re-organizing things."

Eliot follows Quentin into the house, looking around at the trinkets and the family photos. He's smiling when Quentin looks back at him. "This is lovely," he says. "You have a really nice home, Mr. Coldwater." He pauses beside a bowl of potpourri. "And do I detect a feminine touch?"

Ted laughs while Quentin's ears flush red. "No, those were Quentin's idea; we both used to smoke, and couldn't stand the smell after we quit. He came home from the store with four bags full of different kinds of that shit, and we just never stopped using them."

Eliot turns to Quentin, his eyebrows raised. "You used to smoke?" he asks.

"Yeah, quit about a year... Actually I think it's closer to two years ago, now," Quentin answers, shrugging. "The nicotine fucked with the meds I was on at the time."

"I quit at the same time," Ted sighs. "Solidarity, and my doctor had been pushing me more on how it was affecting my health."

"He says that like we haven't caught each other sneaking one after a long day," Quentin snorts, tossing a fond look at his father.

"You should have said something," Eliot says, disappointed. "I wouldn't smoke around you half as much if I knew."

There's something like approval in Ted's eyes, but Quentin shrugs. "It's not a problem; I was never a real heavy smoker to begin with."

Eliot exchanges a knowing look with Ted. "Sounds fake, but okay," he drawls.

Quentin rolls his eyes, reaching out to shove at Eliot's shoulder goodnaturedly. "It was nowhere near as much as Dad did, though. He'd go through a whole pack or more while working on one of his planes."

Eliot makes an interested sound. "I can appreciate a fellow chainsmoker."

Ted laughs. "I'm sure," he says with a grin. "So, Q would never tell me, but how did you two meet?"

"Like I said, we met on Quentin's first day," Eliot says. He smiles. "I was his... campus tour guide."

"Oh, really? And do all first year grad students get a... 'campus tour guide'?" Ted asks, aiming a knowing look at his son.

"Only the special ones," Eliot says with a soft smile for Quentin. "The ones who look lost."

Ted hums thoughtfully, and Quentin jumps in before he can say anything else. “In my case, literally. I stumbled out of the only freaking patch of woods on campus.”

"He needed the help," Eliot agrees, and wraps an arm around Quentin's shoulders. "But now we're best friends, so I guess it's win-win."

Quentin doesn’t like the look in his dad’s eyes at Eliot’s comment, so he steers the conversation away and into safer territory for the rest of the time they spend at his place. It’s only after they’ve left Ted’s house and are back in the city proper that Quentin finds his voice again. “‘Best friends,’ really?”

Eliot gives him a strange look. "What did you want me to say?" he asks. "'Hey, I've fucked your son more than once and now we share a house with thirty-something other people, and I'm escorting him home because if I don't there's a strong chance he won't find his way back'? Doubtful. Besides, we are friends, Q. Jeez."

"I know we're friends," Quentin says, even though he hadn't, "but I think you were laying it on a bit thick. He definitely thinks there's something else going on."

"He adored me," Eliot says, with utmost confidence. "Who cares?"

”Right, of course he adored you,” Quentin says dryly, dodging around a pole. “And when he asks me when my ‘best friend’ is going to come over to dinner?”

"Just give me the date and time," Eliot says primly. "I'll be there."

Quentin rolls his eyes, knows his expression is overly fond. “Well, we’ve still got some time to kill before we technically need to be back at Brakebills,” he observes, checking the time on his phone. “Got any ideas?”

"We could sightsee a little," Eliot suggests. "Or catch a movie."

Quentin considers that for a moment. “I’d rather take our time if we were going sightseeing,” he decides. “Let’s go see what’s playing.”

"Let's pick something dramatic," Eliot says, grinning. "Or a ridiculous rom-com."

”I’m sensing a theme with you,” Quentin laughs. “C’mon, hang a right, here. The theater’s this way.”

Eliot makes the turn. "Do they serve alcohol?" he asks.

”Just wine and beer,” Quentin answers. “The cheap stuff, mostly.”

Eliot sighs and links his arm through Quentin's. "I can work with that."

Margo and Julia are waiting for them when they get back to the Cottage, and Julia goes straight to Quentin, pressing in close for a hug. "Did you get what you needed?" she asks.

"And then some," Eliot tells her, wobbling over to Margo so that he can perch precariously on the arm of her chair. "We're a bit drunk. You need to catch up."

Quentin laughs, shaking his head. "Yeah, we got my refills, and then we decided to go see Pride and Prejudice and Zombies at the Alamo."

"That's great," Julia says, smiling softly up at Quentin, and then she twists in his arms to look at Eliot. "How are you drunk, though?"

"Two words," Eliot answers. "Cheap. Wine."

"They had a bunch of craft beers, but not so many options for wine," Quentin offers.

Margo catches on, laughing and winding an arm around Eliot's waist. "And you obviously couldn't drink any of the beers," she teases.

"Of course not!" Eliot cries, leaning down so he can wrap his own arms around Margo's shoulders in return. "And I couldn't let Quentin, either. The boy needs to be educated."

Margo leans into Eliot, and Quentin rolls his eyes, grinning. "And of course I needed to be taught in a hands-on manner," he teases, keeping one arm around Julia and tugging her with him towards the couch beside Eliot and Margo's chair.

"Exactly!" Eliot beams at him. "So you ladies need to get on our level, because I'm feeling pretty great right now."

Margo laughs, pushing herself to her feet and pressing a kiss to Eliot's cheek as she stands. "Any requests, Julia, or would you like a hands on education yourself?"

Julia looks to Quentin, but when he just shrugs, she laughs. "I guess I'm at your mercy. Do what you will."

Quentin isn't surprised when, after going over his notes from the time when he was off of his medications, he realizes that he hadn't actually absorbed anything from the lectures he had attended. He'd attended them, obviously, and taken notes, but he doesn't remember much of the class itself, certainly not enough to piece together the lessons behind his notes. It takes him a few hours to give up on trying to interpret his notes himself; once he does, he goes in search of help. There aren't many Physical students at the Cottage - which is why he'd been placed there to begin with - but he finds Alice in the main room, curled up in a chair with a textbook open on her lap for one of their shared classes. Quentin hesitates before approaching her, asking if she could help him go over his notes, saying that he was having trouble grasping things outside of class, which wasn't a lie. Alice seems suspicious at first, a bit wary, but she agrees to help him, and the two of them settle in for an impromptu study session.

They've been at it for about an hour and a half when the front door opens; Quentin glances over out of habit, checking the movement in the periphery of his vision, but he does a double take when he sees Julia entering the Cottage. That, in and of itself, is not unusual, but what is is the expression on her face, lost and just a little broken. "Julia?" he calls, worried, as he sets his notes on the coffee table and twists in his chair.

"Hey," Julia says, stopping just short of actually running into his arms. She looks like she's been crying. "Hey, sorry to interrupt, um. Q, can we talk?"

Quentin glances at Alice, who looks concerned as well; she nods, and Quentin pushes himself to his feet, taking Julia's hand in his. "Yeah, of course. C'mon, let's go up to my room."

Julia follows him upstairs, and barely waits until the door is closed behind them before the words burst from her. "I broke up with James."

"Oh," Quentin breathes, moving forward and pulling Julia into his arms. "Jules, that's - I'm sorry."

She just shakes against him for several long moments, and then pulls back, wiping her eyes. "I had to," she says, though it sounds like she's asking for validation. "I was being really flaky, and he knew I was lying to him. I told him..." She bites her lip. "I told him that you'd gotten bad again, and I was looking after you. But he kept talking about Yale, and I... I just couldn't keep it up anymore, Q."

Quentin reaches up, runs his hand gently through her hair. "I know," he murmurs. "I know. You did the right thing, Jules. He would've gotten more suspicious, and James is smart. It would've hurt worse if you'd put it off any more."

"I think he thinks I was cheating on him," Julia admits, her voice thick. "Which, I guess I was. With fucking magic."

Quentin makes a sympathetic noise, runs his fingers through Julia's hair again, scratching lightly at her scalp before he urges her onto his bed, sitting the two of them down. "It's a tough situation," he concedes, one arm still wrapped around Julia, holding her close. "But... You couldn't tell him the truth."

"I know," Julia whispers. "Even if he'd believed me, he wouldn't have accepted it. He's not... This is more important than him."

Quentin sighs, presses a soft, reassuring kiss to the top of Julia's head. "I know," he murmurs. "You shouldn't have been put in that position, having to choose. But if this is more important to you, then for what it's worth, I think you made the right choice."

"So do I," Julia tells him. She cuddles closer to him, trusting him to take her weight. "I'm still gonna miss him, though."

Quentin takes it easily, wrapping his arms more securely around Julia. "I know you will," he says quietly. "And there's nothing wrong with that."

"Thanks," Julia says. She closes her eyes. "I love you, Q."

"I love you, too, Jules."

Quentin convinces Julia to stay in the Physical Cottage for the next few days, and the following Monday they get assigned to the same study group. It's a small mercy, because it's very clear that Julia has no intention of leaving Quentin's side anytime soon. They're joined in the library by Alice, Penny and a girl called Kady, who it's immediately obvious Penny is sleeping with. Kady seems to share Penny's disdain for everything and everyone around her - honestly, they seem like a good match.

The two hours they're all forced to spend together are possibly the longest of Quentin's life, and he's not sure any of them get any work done, but at last they're free to go. Margo meets them outside, however, and announces that the Physical kids are having a party that evening. She all but drags Quentin and Julia back to the Cottage to help set up. Quentin's just glad to leave Penny behind, and endeavours not to think any more about it until he and Julia are alone again.

"Did you see what Alice was writing?" Julia asks.

Quentin frowns, thinking. "Her... notes?"

Julia nods. "She wasn't studying what we were studying. She was looking into... spirit work?"

"Spirit work?" Quentin echoes. "That's... We haven't even started covering that yet."

"I know," Julia says. "I guess maybe she's trying to get ahead?"

Quentin hesitates. "Maybe," he says slowly. "But... We aren't supposed to cover anything with that this semester."

"Well, I'm not going to ask her about it," Julia says. "It's none of our business. I just thought it was weird."

"It is," Quentin concedes. "It's kinda weird. But... I don't know, maybe she is just doing research into a subject she's interested in."

Julia's just about to say something else when Quentin's door bursts open and Eliot walks in, a wine glass in each hand. "There you are!" he laughs. "Why are you hiding in here? You're missing pre-drinks."

"I was just about to confess my undying love for Julia," Quentin says dryly. "One of those glasses better be for me if you're interrupting such an important moment."

"There's one for each of you," Eliot says, handing them over, "I'm not an idiot. But there's no more until you leave this pity party and come down to the real party."

Julia accepts her glass and downs half the contents in one go, before giving Eliot an apologetic look. "I don't think I'm up for a party right now," she admits, "but thank you for the wine."

"Nonsense," Eliot says. "A party is exactly what you need. Both of you. And I wasn't asking, anyway. Get your asses downstairs, now."

Quentin rolls his eyes, a smile twitching the corners of his mouth. "He's not going to give up," he advises Julia. "Come on; I'll stick with you for a while, and if you're still not feeling it then we can come up here and watch a movie or something."

"I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that," Eliot sing-songs. He steps back, holding Quentin's door open so that they can go ahead of him. "Come on, chop chop. Finish those on your way down, there are some excellent cocktails waiting for you on the bar."

Quentin laughs, grabbing Julia's free hand in his own as he heads out of the room and towards the stairs. "Well, if there's more alcohol waiting for us, then what are we waiting for?"

There is, admittedly, more alcohol waiting for them than Quentin had initially thought. He's not complaining, but he is confused - at least until Margo pulls him aside and asks how Julia is handling the breakup with James. Margo and Eliot had asked Quentin about it the day after, having heard about the state Julia was in when she'd arrived at the Cottage. Quentin had just seen Julia out after she'd spent the night, encouraging her to pick up some extra clothes and her toothbrush for when she returned when the two of them had all but pounced on him. Quentin had told them a simplified explanation, but it was enough.

Margo doesn't seem satisfied with Quentin's answer of "Better," and informs him that she is going to ensure Julia has a fun night where she can forget all about James until the sun comes up again. Quentin knows better by now than to argue with Margo, and considers warning Julia - only to catch sight of two newcomers. "Oh, fucking hell," he groans. "What are they doing here?"

"Hey, fuck you," Penny growls. "Trust me, I'd rather be anywhere else."

"Oh, come on," Kady complains, grabbing a glass off a tray floating beside the door. "A party's a party. Thanks for the warm welcome, asshole."

Quentin gets as far as opening his mouth to say something back before he thinks better of it. This decision is only slightly encouraged by the way Margo has shifted her grip on his arm to dig her nails into his skin. "Whatever," he sighs instead, then gestures vaguely in the direction Julia had disappeared. "I'm going back over there, away from you."

Margo digs her nails in harder. "No you're not," she says lightly. "I think Eliot needed you for something. Over there."

"Okay," Quentin says slowly, giving Margo an odd look and ignoring Penny and Kady as they move away, "I guess I'm going over there then."

"I've got Julia, remember?" Margo says, quieter now. "So stay away, or you'll kill the vibe."

Quentin blinks, but nods. "Alright," he concedes, quiet, but just loud enough to be heard over the buzz of the party. "Take care of her, Margo. I'm trusting you with my best friend, here."

The look Margo gives him then actually sobers him up a little. "So am I," she says, and gives him a push. "Off you go."

Quentin doesn't have to go far to find Eliot; he's in his customary spot behind the bar, bottles and glasses moving under his expert hands to mix whatever drink has been requested now. Quentin waits until Eliot's done with the drink he was working on before he moves closer to the bar, leaning against it. "Margo took charge of Julia tonight," he informs Eliot, draining the last of his drink. "She sent me over here to get out of the way."

Eliot gives him a bright smile. "Excellent! What are you drinking?"

It takes Quentin almost too long to respond, attention focused on Margo and Julia across the Cottage. "Oh, uh - Old Glory," Quentin replies. "Sorry, I'm just - not used to having someone else care so much about my friends."

"Of course we care about you," Eliot says, already muddling raspberries that he produced from God knows where. "You're our friends, too."

"Yeah, no, I get that," Quentin says, glancing out over the crowd until he finds Margo and Julia laughing on one of the couches. "It's just... new. And odd. It was just me and Julia for years, and then James, but..."

"Well, you've got us now, and Julia is in perfectly capable hands," Eliot says. "So eyes front. I need attention."

"So needy," Quentin sighs, but his grin is fond as he turns back towards Eliot. "What kind of attention are you looking for?"

Eliot's eyes flash with something that might well be heat. "Why?" he asks. "What kind are you offering?"

Quentin pauses - but only for a moment, and then he leans forward, rests his elbows on the bar and braces himself against them. "Whatever kind you're in the mood for."

Eliot raises an eyebrow, a smirk playing about his lips, and slides Quentin's drink over to him. "Get that in you," he says. "Maybe a few more. You need to loosen up a little for what I have in mind."

Quentin grins, taking the glass and raising it in a toast. "Cheers."

They're both beyond tipsy by the time they stumble into Eliot's bedroom and slam the door behind them. They've been making out downstairs for well over an hour at this point, and they can barely keep their hands off each other long enough to get undressed. Eliot presses Quentin back onto the bed, mumbling that he's been wanting this for weeks, and then neither of them manage to say much of anything for quite some time.

Afterwards, Eliot relaxes back against the pillows, a cigarette dangling lazily from his fingers, while Quentin lies on his side next to him. They're both still naked, and Eliot lets his gaze wander almost hungrily over Quentin for a long moment before he says, "So, that happened. Again."

Quentin snorts. "Well, no one could ever call you unobservant," he drawls, his own gaze wandering over Eliot consideringly. "Was it a bad thing that it happened again?"

Eliot takes a particularly long drag before answering, and turns his head to blow the smoke away from Quentin. "No," he says. "But I think it means it's going to keep happening."

Quentin hums, noncommittal. "I'm not opposed to that."

Eliot looks at him askance. "You can fuck someone and still be their friend, right?"

Quentin shrugs. "Did it with Julia and Blake." He's not going to mention the absolutely ridiculous crush he'd had on Julia before they'd almost literally fallen into bed together. "Jules was a one time thing, but I hooked up with Blake a few times before he moved."

Eliot almost chokes on his next drag, and he twists so he can see Quentin better. "You've had sex with Julia?"

Quentin flushes. "It was the first time we got tipsy at a party. Our clothes didn't come off, but there were orgasms involved. It was only the one time, though."

"God," Eliot says. "I bet that really helped with the being madly in love with her thing."

"No, but the way she shot me down the next morning did," Quentin admits, shifting so he's more comfortable on his side.

Eliot settles onto his back again and raises the cigarette to his lips. "Well," he says, "at least I can see first hand that it didn't ruin your friendship. Not that I'd ever put making friends above getting a blow job, but..." He glances at Quentin. "I've never gotten a blow job from someone who's already my friend before."

"Really?" It slips out before Quentin can catch it, and he coughs, embarrassed. "Well, I mean... If you want another one, give me a few minutes to catch my breath."

Eliot smiles. "Actually, I had something else in mind."

Quentin would like to say he doesn't squirm under Eliot's gaze, but that would be a bald-faced lie. "Something like what?"

Eliot sits up to stub out his cigarette in the ashtray beside the bed and then turns so that he's on his side, facing Quentin. "Well," he says, "you seemed to like it when I let my hands wander earlier." His expression tells Quentin that he knows exactly how much he liked it; Quentin hasn't come so hard in a long time. "I was wondering if you'd be interested in taking things further."

Quentin hesitates, bites his lip before asking, "How much further?"

"However far you want to go," Eliot says. "Have you ever... before?"

"Just fingers," Quentin answers. "But... I'd be interested in doing more."

Eliot gives him a wolfish grin. "Maybe we'd better wait until you're more sober," he says lightly.

"Maybe," Quentin says - but then he pushes himself upright, turns so he can push against Eliot's shoulder and swing his leg over Eliot's hips, straddling him. He leans forward until his face is only inches from Eliot's. "Or we could get started now, see just how much I like your fingers in me, and go from there."

Eliot groans and leans up until he can steal a heated kiss. "All right," he sighs, "you've convinced me."

Quentin smirks into the next kiss. "I thought that might work," he hums. He lets himself run a hand over Eliot's shoulder and down his arm until he can twine their fingers together, squeezing lightly. "Can I tell you a secret?" he murmurs, drawing back just enough that the words ghost over Eliot's lips. "Everytime I see you mixing drinks or casting, I can't help but think about how your fingers would feel in me."

Eliot squeezes back, much tighter. "You're going to be the death of me," he breathes, and flips them so that he's pinning Quentin to the bed. "Let's see if I can live up to your fantasies, shall we?"

By the time Quentin finally stumbles out of Eliot's room and back to his own, he's been forced to concede that Eliot didn't just live up to his fantasies - he surpassed them. Quentin has honestly never come that hard in his life, so hard that his mind went blank and silent for once. He wants to do it again, and again, and -

He wants more. So much more.

Unfortunately, there's not enough hours in the night, and he and Eliot both need to sleep, so Quentin stays long enough to catch his breath and be sure his legs can carry him down the hall before he slides out of Eliot's bed. He grabs his clothes from the floor while Eliot lights another cigarette, doesn't bother getting dressed before he heads for the door, calling a goodnight over his shoulder; last time he did this, he'd been unable to look back, unsure of where, exactly, he stood with Eliot. After their talk tonight, though, Quentin feels better about their relationship than he did before.

Quentin sleeps in, is still a bit bleary-eyed when he meets Alice to go over some notes and work on a popper they'd both been having trouble with. Alice doesn't comment on the extra-large mug of coffee next to him, thank God, just cracks open her notebook and textbook and gets to work. They work for almost an hour before Quentin finally gathers the nerve to ask, "So, what's with those sigils in your notebook? I don't recognize them."

Alice automatically pulls her notebook closer to herself. "You wouldn't," she says. "It's advanced."

"Advanced?" Quentin asks, curious. He hesitates, then says, "Julia thought it looked like something she'd seen in a book about spirit work."

Alice's expression sours. "She shouldn't go poking her nose into things that aren't her business," she says. "This is a personal project, it has nothing to do with school."

Quentin holds up his hands in a gesture of peace. "She just noticed the sigils in your notebook while we were studying yesterday," he says. "She got curious and did some research; she's a Knowledge student. She can't help being curious. If you want me to, I'll tell her to keep quiet about it."

"That would be the decent thing to do," Alice snaps. "Tell her to stay away from me while she's at it."

"Okay," Quentin says, a tense silence falling over them. Quentin lets it stay for a few moments, but eventually he breaks it. "Y'know, there's a few people I'd try to contact, if I knew their email address. Some things that we never discussed, that I never said. It sucks, leaving all that unsaid. But I think it must be worse if they're gone, and you don't even know if they're dead or if they're just missing."

Alice bows her head, tucks some hair behind her ear. "It's my brother," she says after a long moment. "Charlie. He... he died. Here, at Brakebills. I only came here to find out what happened."

Quentin makes a sympathetic noise. "When did he die?" he asks gently.

"Three years ago," Alice tells him. "No one will tell me what happened, so I thought I could ask him."

Quentin hums thoughtfully. "I think... Margo's made it a point to know everyone and everything on campus. She might know something that the administrators or professors won't talk about."

Alice frowns. "Why would I talk to Margo when I could talk to my brother?" She says Margo's name like it's repulsive.

"Margo might be able to get you in touch with someone who was in Charlie's class," Quentin suggests. "They might be able to tell you something to help you prepare for that conversation, maybe give you some resources that Brakebills doesn't have."

"But... it's Margo," Alice says.

"What's Margo?" Margo herself asks as she strolls into the room. "Beautiful, fabulous, stunningly intelligent? All of the above, darlings."

Quentin rolls his eyes, but he's smiling. "And also connected. You said you know everyone on campus, right?"

"Everyone worth knowing," Margo confirms. "Why? I'm not setting you up with anyone, Coldwater."

Quentin rolls his eyes even harder. "I'm not asking for a date, Margo. I'm asking if you might know someone who could help us figure something out. Something that Brakebills administration won't talk about."

"Quentin," Alice hisses, but Margo is already approaching, intrigued.

"Like a scandal?" she asks. "Tell me more."

Quentin is just about to when thundering footsteps herald the arrival of someone else, and Eliot all but races into the room. "Q," he gasps. "Whatever you're doing right now, fuck it, I need you."

Quentin ignores the way Margo's eyes light up, getting to his feet. He's never seen that look on Eliot's face, and it makes him anxious. "What? What's wrong?"

Eliot falters. "I just... need your help with something. And it can't wait. Okay?"

Quentin glances back at Alice. "I'll be back as soon as I can. Margo, please be nice?"

Margo gives him a sweet smile. "I'm always nice," she tells him.

Eliot rolls his eyes and grabs Quentin's wrist, dragging him from the room before he has a chance to say anything else.

Quentin keeps his mouth shut, doing his best to keep up with Eliot's ridiculously long legs until they're alone in the Cottage's library, the door shut behind them. "What's so - " Quentin starts to ask, but he's interrupted by the sound of a box rattling fiercely, and his gaze lands on a shaking box on the table in the center of the library. "Eliot. What's in that box?"

Eliot doesn't seem to hear him. "We have a problem," he says. "A big problem."

"Okay," Quentin says slowly. "How big?"

"It's catastrophic." Eliot starts to pace. "Someone has stolen a book from the Cottage library."

Quentin blinks. "How?"

"Isn't it obvious? Someone went walkabouts during one of our parties and took it."

"Shouldn't there be, I don't know, wards or something?" Quentin asks, confused. "To prevent that?"

"Fucking hell, Q," Eliot snaps, "of course we have wards. Whoever it was was obviously powerful enough to unpick them or fool them into letting them take the book, but that doesn't help us now!"

Quentin bites back his own snappish response, taking a deep breath before he replies, "Okay. So why do you need my help? Wouldn't Margo be the better choice to help you track down the stolen book?"

"I don't want to get Margo involved," Eliot says. "She'd be way too smug. And you're the reason we're in this mess, so you can help me clean it up."

"I'm the reason we're in this mess?" Quentin splutters. "How the fuck do you figure that?"

"If I hadn't been so busy trying to get into your pants last night, I would have been able to stop this."

"And that's my fault?"

"Well it's not just mine!" Eliot cries.

Quentin makes a vague, frustrated gesture at Eliot before he sighs, running a hand through his hair. "Alright. Fine, whatever." He blows a breath, continues, "How are we supposed to track down the missing book?"

Eliot finally stops pacing. "That's where the box comes in."

Quentin eyes the box warily. "What's in the box?"

Right on cue, the box bursts open, and a book literally flies out of it. "That," Eliot says, "is Volume Two. The book that was stolen is Volume One. She's going to lead us to her mate."

"Her... mate," Quentin says flatly, watching the book fly around the room. "Right. Okay." He sighs. "Let's get going, then."

They have to recapture the book first, but once they do, it's easy enough to follow the frantic clattering to the nearest portal and through the streets of New York City until the two of them are standing outside of a small bodega. Eliot proclaims it the territory of hedge witches - those with magic, but not enough to be students of Brakebills - and marches right in the front door.

Predictably, the hedge witches try to deny any knowledge of the book, but that lie is unmasked when, after a great clamor and crash is heard from upstairs, the book they've been searching for bursts through the door. Volume Two breaks out of the crate again, and -

"Well. I can see why you called them 'mates.'"

The hedge witches don't put up a fight about relinquishing Volume One, which Quentin is grateful for, and he steadfastly ignores the rhythmic thumping coming from the box in his hands as he and Eliot return to Brakebills. The books don't settle down until they're back in the library, and Quentin almost immediately throws himself into one of the armchairs by the fire. "Literal fucking books," he announces to no one in particular. "Now I've seen everything."

"Trust me," Eliot says, "you haven't." He sighs. "No one can know about this. It was clearly an inside job, and if the faculty find out..."

"They'd lose their shit," Quentin finishes. "I'm not saying anything, trust me. Especially not when someone - " he reaches out, nudges his foot against Eliot's " - is insisting it's partially my fault this happened in the first place." His tone is too light to be a true reprimand, and he softens the words further with a small smile.

Eliot rolls his eyes. "Come on," he says, "I could use a drink. How do you feel about a Spontaneous Orgasm?"

Quentin considers that for a moment before he nods. "Yeah, alright." He pushes himself to his feet, following Eliot out of the library and back into the common area, sliding onto the couch by the bar while Eliot sets about mixing their drinks. They sit in silence for a moment, broken by the sound of pounding on the door. Quentin frowns in its direction, glancing at Eliot. "Another new first year?"

"Sounds like it," Eliot says. "They designate in waves, to give everyone some time to settle in."

"Right," Quentin says slowly. He runs a hand through his hair. "So, what... exactly would the administration have done if they'd realized that book had been stolen?"

"Well, they'd have started to take a much closer look at our parties, for one," Eliot says. "Which would mean total disaster for the Cottage."

"Oh, of course," Quentin says, mock-serious. "We absolutely could not allow that to happen."

Eliot cuts him a sharp look. "Do you think anything that goes on at our parties is legal?" he asks. "Because it's not."

Quentin blinks, takes the time to think seriously about the parties, the things he's seen at them. "Okay, fair point," he says after a moment. He glances at the door when the banging gets louder, followed by what sounds like furious shouting. "Should we - "

"No," Eliot says mildly, taking a delicate sip from his straw. "She'll work it out."

Quentin reaches for his own drink, taking a sip before he speaks again. "Well, we got the book back, so there's no more problem, right?"

"Right," Eliot agrees, coming around the bar and moving towards the couch. "As long as you stop distracting me during parties so I can catch the fucker the next time they try to steal from us."

"Really, you're still saying that's my fault?" Quentin complains, shifting on the couch until he and Eliot are sitting close enough that their thighs brush, but there's no heat to his voice. "You're the one who dragged me upstairs."

"It was either that or we fucked in front of everyone," Eliot insists. "And I don't think you're into that kind of thing."

Quentin rolls his eyes, taking another, deeper drink from his glass as there's a particularly loud thump against the door. "So, what? You're going to just... not fuck anyone until you figure out who tried to sell that book to the hedge witches?"

"Not at the parties," Eliot qualifies. "But there are plenty of other opportunities." He turns to face Quentin more fully, his gaze dropping pointedly down to Quentin's mouth. "Right now, for instance."

Quentin lifts his glass, watches Eliot's gaze darken as he drinks before he asks, faux-innocent, "Right now?"

"I think we were getting somewhere last night," Eliot explains, leaning just a little closer, like he's drawn to Quentin's warmth. "I'd like to see where we end up."

"Oh, we were definitely getting somewhere last night," Quentin hums, leaning closer to Eliot, halving the distance between them, close enough that Eliot can hear him even though he's barely murmuring. "If you want to pick up where we left off..."

Right on cue, the front door bursts open, and Kady comes storming in. "Thanks for the help, assholes," she spits, and Eliot leans away from Quentin with a sigh.

"Later," he promises, and turns a bright smile on Kady. "Welcome! Would you like a drink?"

Quentin shifts further into the corner of the couch. "I was locked outside for over an hour," he offers, forcing his mind away from the promise in Eliot's voice before he'd turned away. "You got through quicker than I did."

Kady gives him a very obviously fake smile. "I'm not even a little not surprised," she says. "But thanks."

Eliot stands up. "I'll get the scotch."

Quentin excuses himself shortly after Kady's interruption. He heads for the cafe on campus, intending to grab a snack and maybe some caffeine, only to be intercepted by Alice once he walks through the doors. She all but drags him to her table in the corner of the cafe, showing him her notes and research - research on niffins. Alice explains that she ended up taking Margo up on her offer to help, that the two of them had tracked down a woman who had been a student in Charlie's year and had dropped out after he'd disappeared. Emily Greenstreet had told them a sad tale about her falling into ill-advised love and going to drastic lengths to try to recapture that love when it had faded. Charlie had stopped her from killing herself when her drastic measures fucked her up, had tried to fix her fuck up himself and channeled too much magic. It had gotten away from him, burned him away until there was nothing but the magic left.

Alice tells him that she's found a spell that would draw on their connection to bring Charlie back, make him himself again and not a Niffin. She just needs to find him, and for that she has a locator spell. Quentin, worried that Alice may be getting in over her head, agrees to help her fine tune the spell and locate Charlie.

They work through the afternoon and until dark, poring over everything that Alice has on niffins, including instructions on how to make and use a niffin containment box - which Alice has. She says she used part of that spell to design the one she hopes to use to bring Charlie back to himself, but won't elaborate on where she got this box. She is adamant she won't need the box, that she can bring Charlie back, but Quentin isn't so sure. He memorizes the incantation that Alice points out as the one to activate the box, and when they finally get up to leave the cafe, he palms the box itself, tucking it into his pocket as they start the locator spell. It leads them to Woof Fountain, the one that's supposedly bottomless, where Emily had almost drowned herself three years ago.

Alice starts her spell, Quentin braces himself, and -

"I didn't have a choice," he says, hours later. He's in Eliot's room, hadn't known where else to go after what happened at the Fountain. "That thing, there was no humanity left, there was nothing to bring back. It tried to kill me, was going to kill Alice, I had to use the box!"

"Jesus," Eliot says. He rolls over on the bed until he can reach his pack of cigarettes, pulls one out and then offers the pack to Quentin. "You want?"

Quentin doesn't hesitate before taking a cigarette and lighting up. "I just - I'm just glad I took the box at all, but now Alice is pissed at me, and she said she's done - she's leaving Brakebills. She was only here to find out what happened to Charlie in the first place."

"She'll be back," Eliot says. He lights his own cigarette with a snap of his fingers and brings it to his lips. "She might hate you forever, but she'll come back."

Quentin takes a long drag, blowing the smoke out on a sigh. "Maybe, but I don't know. She seemed pretty adamant she wasn't coming back. But... she's alive."

"Which is the most important thing," Eliot agrees. "You didn't do anything wrong, Q. You saved her life."

Quentin sighs again, letting himself fall onto Eliot's bed. "Yeah. I just... I wish she could've gotten him back."

"I know," Eliot says. "But you know as well as I do that she was fighting a lost battle from the start. At least now her brother can't hurt anyone else."

Quentin takes another drag, reaches over to tap the ash off of his cigarette into the tray on Eliot's nightstand. "Yeah, there's that, too." The two of them lapse into silence as Quentin finishes his cigarette, eventually stubbing it out in the tray. He shifts over onto his other side once he's done so, biting his lip as he looks at Eliot. "Do you think she could've done it?" he asks quietly. "If she'd prepared more, do you think... She could've brought him back?"

Eliot thinks about that while he takes a long drag on his cigarette. "I don't think she could have done it alone," he says at last. "She's a smart girl, at least some of the theory was probably sound, but... The kind of power that would take? None of us have that. If her brother hadn't killed her first, she'd have gone the same way as him."

That's not as reassuring as Quentin had hoped it would be, but he sighs, lets himself fall onto his back. "Yeah," he mutters, for lack of anything else to say. He takes a deep breath, savors the rasp and last vestiges of smoke in his throat for a long moment before he lets them go. "Sorry, I just - I overthink things. That's what I do."

Eliot smiles. "You say that like I don't know that," he says. "Why do you think I got you smoking again?"

Quentin laughs quietly. "An occasional cigarette does not mean I'm picking up smoking full time again," he informs Eliot, but he's smiling. "And it's really not that great of a distraction."

Eliot raises an eyebrow. "Then maybe we need to find something better."

Quentin smiles, but there's something uncertain hovering just behind his eyes. "You don't sound very enthusiastic about that."

Eliot sits up a bit, careful not to drop ash all over the bed, and searches Quentin's face. "I'm happy to provide a distraction, if that's what you want," he says. "I'm just not sure that's where you're head's at right now."

Quentin hesitates for a long moment, even goes so far as to lean in towards Eliot before he rolls onto his back with a sigh. "You're right, it's not," he agrees, gaze flicking to the ceiling. "I... don't know where my head's at, honestly. I feel like I need a distraction of some kind, but I don't think I want that kind of distraction from you right now?" Quentin bites his lip, glances at Eliot from the corner of his eye. "I value our friendship too much to risk it with potential regrets like that."

Eliot's surprise registers on his face, but it doesn't last for long. "Well, I'm at your disposal," he says. "We can do whatever you want."

Quentin considers that for a long moment. "Want to play cards?"

Eliot blinks, and then grins. "Sure."

So, they play cards. They play Go Fish and War, until Quentin feels more settled in his skin and his head, feels confident enough to suggest a lightning game of strip poker. He gives Eliot a reassuring smile when he looks at Quentin questioningly, backs it up with his words when Eliot asks if he's sure. "I'm sure I want to do this," he says, confident. "Are you sure you're not just stalling and trying to figure out a way to not get your ass kicked?"

"Oh," Eliot laughs, reaching for the deck so he can start dealing. "It's on."

"Bring it, Waugh," Quentin says, affecting a haughty air as the cards start flying from Eliot's fingers. With only two players, each round is quick and decisive. Quentin narrowly loses the first round, then Eliot loses the second. They trade victories and losses until, finally, the last round goes to Quentin. By this point Quentin is down to his briefs while Eliot still has his ridiculously expensive sleep pants on, and Quentin thinks it's about time to even the playing field. "You know what I want, El," Quentin says, smirking as he reveals his winning hand. "Lose 'em."

"You act like you've won some kind of huge victory," Eliot chuckles, even as he gets off the bed. He keeps his back to Quentin while he removes his pants, but keeps watching him over one shoulder. "But darling, even if I hadn't already seen you naked, those leave nothing to the imagination."

"Maybe I'm just looking for a show," Quentin laughs. He's not laughing for long; as soon as it hits him what Eliot's wearing - or rather, not wearing - he sucks in a sharp breath. "El."

Eliot smirks, and turns to face the bed again. "Q?"

Quentin's gaze is heated when it lifts to meet Eliot's. "Get over here."

Eliot doesn't need to be told twice.

Things continue as normal for the next few weeks. Quentin keeps his distance from Eliot whenever there's a party at the Cottage, but the thief doesn't try to strike again, and they keep falling into bed together anyway. It's always Eliot's bed, and if Eliot happens to fall asleep afterwards he always wakes up alone. It works for them, and it's not something they've ever felt the need to discuss - which is why it's immediately strange when Eliot wakes up one morning to find Quentin still passed out beside him.

"Margo!" Eliot cries, bursting into Margo's room without a care for who or what he'll find in there. "Something's wrong with Quentin."

"Quentin?" Margo repeats, getting out of bed and ignoring the protests of the guy currently burying himself under her sheets. "What's wrong with Quentin?" She's rarely seen this look on Eliot's face, and it immediately raises an alarm. Whatever it is, it must be serious.

"I can't wake him up," Eliot tells her. "It's like he's dead."

Margo swears under her breath. "Put some pants on him while I get dressed," she tells Eliot, already moving to her dresser. "And send a message to Julia and the healers."

Eliot catches her gaze for a second, and they share a long look before he nods. "Thank you," he says, and disappears back down the hall.

Margo doesn't waste any time, getting dressed as quickly as possible before she joins Eliot in his room. Quentin does, indeed, look like he's dead. If it weren't for the faint rise and fall of his chest, Margo would be tempted to think he was gone. She gets to business, checking as many options as she can while she and Eliot wait for Julia and the healers to arrive. When they finally do, Eliot and Margo have a list of things they've checked for to give to the healers, and Margo leads both Eliot and Julia out of Eliot's room when the healers insist they need space to work.

"Brakebills healers are some of the best in the world," she reminds them as she fixes the three of them drinks - sweet tea, both because it's early and because alcohol will do none of them any favors in this situation. "They'll figure out what's wrong with him soon."

"I just don't understand," Julia says. "Was he on something last night?"

"Of course not," Eliot snaps. "You think I'd have sex with him while he was out of his head?"

"He didn't have any trace of any kind of substance in him," Margo cuts in. "That was one of the first things Eliot and I tested for, just in case."

"And since when are you doctors?" Julia demands.

"We aren't, but we've dealt with enough people on bad trips to pick up some diagnostic spells," Margo says evenly, handing Julia her drink.

Julia accepts it without thanks and takes a mouthful before continuing. "Was he not sick at all last night? Did he say anything strange? There must be something you could have done."

"Julia," Eliot says, his jaw tense. "There was nothing, I swear."

"Eliot's always been careful about this sort of thing, and he cares for Quentin, too," Margo reminds Julia. "You heard the healers; our best guess for now is something magical."

"Fuck," Julia whispers, her voice shaking. "Fuck, I can't lose him."

"You won't," Eliot says. He glances at Margo. "It's not an option."

"No, it's not," Margo says firmly, taking a seat next to Julia and laying a hand on her shoulder. "We're all far too fond of Q to just let him go. Whatever the healers say needs to be done, we'll do it."

They don't say much of anything for the next hour, just watch the healers flitting in and out of Eliot's bedroom with increasingly concerned expressions. No one tries to talk to them, to update them on what's happening, and both Julia and Eliot are gearing up to storm in there and demand to at least see Quentin when Penny bursts into the cottage, Kady on his heels.

"Where's Coldwater?" he demands.

Eliot gets to his feet. "What do you care?"

Margo's on her feet in the next instant, standing next to Eliot, her hand on his arm. "He's unconscious," she says. "The healers are trying to determine what's happened to him. Why do you need to know where he is?"

"Because I've spoken to him."

Julia frowns. "What?"

"He's trapped in a dream world. He thinks he's in a mental hospital."

Margo's eyes widen. "You're sure?" she demands, stepping forward.

"Yeah. He called me with his stupid fucking Taylor Swift obsession. He thinks he's been cursed."

"You need to go upstairs right now," Eliot says. "You need to tell the healers what you know."

"Come on," Margo says impatiently when Penny just stands there. "If he has been cursed, then there's no time to waste!"

They all go upstairs in the end, and once Penny convinces the healers of his conviction, they send for Dean Fogg. Thankfully, he understands instantly.

"The spell is called a Scarletti Web," Fogg explains. "We cannot break it. No one can."

"So he's just stuck like this forever?" Kady demands. It's the first she's spoken since she arrived with Penny.

But Fogg shakes his head. "I said no one, not nothing."

"So then what can you do?" Eliot asks, his heart in his mouth.

"We need to summon a Matarese," is the answer. "Which will mean lowering the wards."

Julia seems to understand the full gravity of the situation quicker than anyone else. "That's an extremely powerful demon," she breathes.

Penny's frown deepens. "This demon will wake him up?"

"There are no guarantees," Fogg warns them. "But, if all goes well, yes."

"Then what are you waiting for?" Eliot snaps.

Fogg gives him a flat look. "Some breathing space, for one thing."

Margo reaches out to take Eliot's hand in hers. "What else do you need? Is there anything we can help with?"

"Just let me work," Fogg says. "Don't get in my way."

Clearly, none of them are very reassured, because they only shuffle to one side of Eliot's room instead of leaving. Julia, Penny, a d Kady breathe out soft exclamations when Dean Fogg begins lowering the wards, sigils sketching themselves in silver in the air over Quentin. The silence is tense, broken only by the dean's murmuring as he removes what looks like a scorpion totem and places it on Quentin's chest. More murmuring and sigils, and the scorpion comes to life, moving across Quentin's chest and -

"That is... really gross," Margo murmurs, Julia making a noise of agreement beside her. Eliot is a tense line against her side, and Margo squeezes his hand in a show of comfort as they wait for the scorpion to do its work.

They wait, and... wait.

"Should it take this long?" Penny asks doubtfully once a full five minutes have passed.

"No," Fogg admits. "He's too entrenched in the spell for the Matarese to pull him out. It might be too late."

Eliot's hand spasms in Margo's.

Silence reigns for several long, terrifying heartbeats, and then Kady's voice, barely louder than a whisper, cuts through it. "A psychic might be able to guide him out."

"It's worth a shot," Fogg agrees, looking at Penny. "If you can reach him again."

"Do it," Julia whispers. "Please, Penny."

Penny looks rather like a deer caught in a pair of headlights, but he nods nonetheless, taking a deep breath before he moves to the free side of the bed, sitting down and closing his eyes. Silence falls over those gathered once again as they wait, and Margo can't help the way her hand tightens around Eliot's, a search for comfort and an offer of it at the same time as they wait with bated breath. Penny's expression turns pinched, his breathing labored - and then he opens his eyes, swearing. "There's some sort of cage around his mind, now," he says. "Big old bars of really fucking bright light, I couldn't get past them."

"Fuck!" Julia spits.

Eliot takes a breath. "What now?" he asks.

But Fogg has no answers for them. "Either the Matarese does its job, or... it can't."

"What if you knew the spell that was used?" Kady asks, her gaze trained on Dean Fogg even as the others look at her in surprise. "Could you use that to weaken the spell enough to let Penny in?"

"How would we get that information?" Fogg asks. "We'd have to know who cast the spell to begin with."

"I know who cast it," Kady says - and Margo has to give her credit for standing her ground in the face of everyone's shocked gaze turning to her. "Because - Because I helped them do it."

"What?" Julia snarls, rounding on her.

"That information would have helped an hour ago," Fogg snaps.

"We can deal with her later," Margo says, holding out her other hand in front of Julia. "Right now, we need to focus on Quentin, waking him up is the more important - "

She's interrupted by the man in question; Quentin wakes with a shocked, choked gasp, immediately trying to push himself to a sitting position, only for his arms to give out and make him fall back to the mattress. "What the - Who - What's happening?"

"Q!" Julia is at his side in an instant, dragging him up and into a crushing hug. "Oh my god, it's over, this is real, you're okay."

Eliot remains frozen to the spot, though his hold on Margo's hand is so tight it must be painful.

Margo doesn't flinch, however; she just twines her fingers through Eliot's as Quentin wraps his arms around Julia, still breathing heavily. His gaze flits all over the room, from Julia to Penny to Dean Fogg to Eliot and back to Julia. "What the hell happened?" he asks, voice hoarse. "I thought it was a nightmare, but I couldn't wake up, and then there was this fucking scorpion crawling out of my mouth and I was in a cage and thought I saw Penny..."

"You were under a spell," Dean Fogg tells him. "One designed to trap you in a world that reflects your own worst fears. Very few people wake up from it. And, it seems, you have one of your own classmates to thank for it." He turns to indicate Kady - but she's already gone.

Quentin blinks. "One of - Wait, where's Eliot gone?"

Eliot is already sprinting across the grass outside the Cottage. He's fast, but Kady's got a good head start, and he knows he won't reach her before she reaches the edge of the campus. He stretches his hands out in front of him, twitches his fingers and twists his wrist just enough to throw a block out in front of her that stops her in her tracks. He jogs the rest of the distance between them, his hands still up. "Don't even think about it," he spits. "I'll knock you on your ass if you even try."

Kady's back is straight as she whirls to face Eliot, but her expression is frantic, reminiscent of a frightened, cornered animal. "Why the fuck do you care so much, anyway?" she snaps. "He's alive, he's fine."

"No thanks to you! What the hell kind of sick fuck are you?"

"It was just supposed to be a joke!" Kady cries, gaze flicking behind Eliot, looking for a way out. "It was a spell that got out of hand, that's all."

"You think that was funny?" Eliot demands. "You trapped him in his literal worst nightmare. Was Penny in on it?"

"No! It was another group of students," Kady says fervently. "I didn't know it would trap him in his worst nightmare, I thought it would just knock him out for a while!"

"Try forever," Eliot snarls. "He could have died believing everything that spell told him. And you just, what, thought you'd skip out instead of facing the consequences?"

"I was trying to - " Kady cuts herself off with a frustrated noise, one hand reaching up to tug at her hair. "Eliot, listen, I - "

"No, you listen to me," Eliot snaps. "If you think I'm going to let you just leave and get away with this--"

"Eliot!" Margo's voice cuts across both of theirs. "Quentin's asking for you." She comes up beside Eliot, her own hands outstretched, fingers already moving to cast a restraining spell on Kady, binding her hands together and keeping her from moving. Kady yells in shock and indignation, but they both ignore her.

Eliot falters at the mention of Quentin's name, and he turns to Margo. "Don't let her leave," he says. "And don't let her back in the Cottage. She's not coming anywhere near Q ever again."

"She's not going anywhere but the clean room," Margo says grimly. Her gaze flicks to Eliot, softens briefly. "Go. I'll take care of her, you take care of Q."

Eliot spares Kady one last, scathing look before he takes off towards the Cottage.

Julia and Quentin barely manage to pry themselves apart for the next twenty-four hours. Quentin had asked Eliot for his version of events, and they'd talked briefly before Quentin had moved out of Eliot's room and into his own, exhausted mentally and physically after his ordeal. The only saving grace is that it's a weekend, so there are no classes to worry about missing as he and Julia hole themselves up in Quentin's room for their favorite, time-honored method of comforting each other: rereading the Fillory and Further series to each other while bingeing copious amounts of junk food.

Julia leaves the next day at Quentin's insistence after spending the night; she has early classes on Monday, and needs her sleep. It takes quite a bit of convincing, but eventually she gives in, leaving Quentin with a lingering hug. Quentin's managed to convince even himself that he's okay, but that night makes a liar out of him.

As the clock ticks over to midnight, Quentin finally gives up on trying to sleep in his bed. He throws on a pair of sweatpants, hesitating in his doorway before he makes his way down the hall. He lifts a hand, raps his knuckles against Eliot's cracked door, and calls, softly, "Eliot? You still up?"

It takes Eliot less than thirty seconds to answer the door. He looks like shit. He's wearing checked pyjama bottoms, shirtless beneath a light robe, and his hair is a mass of tangled curls, like he's been tossing and turning just as much as Quentin has. "I'd say something about how I'm always up for you," he says, "but I think it'd fall a little flat." He sighs. "Are you okay?"

Quentin opens his mouth to reply, closes it. He clears his throat and tries again. "No, not really," he says. "I can't sleep, I - I keep thinking I'm going to wake up in that nightmare again."

Eliot sighs and rubs a hand over the stubble on his jaw. "Come in," he says, stepping back from the door. "Do you want to talk about it?"

Quentin hesitates, but only for a moment. "Yeah," he sighs. "I - Yeah, I think that might help."

"Penny didn't tell us much," Eliot says once they're settled across from each other on the bed. "Just that you were in some kind of hospital?"

"It wasn't just a hospital," Quentin says quietly. "It was a mix of Brakebills and - and the mental hospital I spent a week in before we met."

Eliot blinks. "Jesus."

Quentin laughs dryly, fingers playing with the blanket. "Yeah, that... Just about sums it up. It wasn't a bad place, the real thing. I was just in a bad mental state, and that curse... I guess it preyed on that? I don't know, but I woke up in my room here, but I had a roommate, a guy I didn't recognize, and I was wearing the same sort of clothes I wore there, and a medical bracelet." Quentin bites his lip, glancing up at Eliot through the corner of his eye as he continues. "I left my room, and - you were there. Asking me if I had any pills for you, if..." Quentin laughs again, a little more genuine, if slightly strangled. "Said if I gave you pills, you'd 'love me long time.' Then a nurse took you away, and I went to speak with the doctor, the same one I spoke to the day we met, when I checked myself out. She said I was suffering delusions, but... When I tried to show her magic, I couldn't."

Eliot laughs, a strange, strangled sound. "Well," he says, "dream me doesn't sound too different from real me. But the rest..."

"It... wasn't that bad, to start," Quentin confesses, gaze dropping to the bed again. "I've had nightmares where all of this - " He gestures around the room, a broad thing meant to encompass all of Brakebills and magic. " - was just a dream or a hallucination before. Then I started having, uh - Well, a hallucination within a dream. Jane Chatwin showed up in my room and told me I knew how to get out of this. That's... That's when I started worrying."

"How long were you in there?" Eliot asks softly. "I mean, it wasn't even twenty-four hours for us, but it sounds like it felt like longer to you."

Quentin doesn't answer for a long moment. "Almost a week, total," he finally admits, voice soft, pained. "I managed to get through to Penny, but... He left and I didn't feel any different or see him again. And the doctors and nurses got worse, and they said... They told me I - I'd attacked my dad, that I'd hurt him."

"Shit," Eliot breathes. "You didn't... believe it, did you?"

Quentin takes a shaky breath. "I didn't want to," he says. "But I - When he and my mom split up, things were... Things were bad for a while. We were always snapping at each other, and I blamed him for the divorce. We got past it eventually, but. In the nightmare, they showed me what looked like footage of me calling him a monster, like something out of a horror movie and attacking him. Some of the things fake-me said were real. Things I'd said to him before."

"Oh, Q," Eliot sighs. "If I could get my hands on that bitch, I'd wring her neck."

"Yeah, it sucked," Quentin sighs, shifting until he can lean against Eliot's headboard. "And I... Every time I close my eyes I think I'm going to end up back there, and I can't take that."

"You won't," Eliot says. "I know I didn't... help, the first time, but I'm not going to let it happen again. I've been awake for two days straight rebuilding my wards."

It takes Quentin a few moments to put together what Eliot means. Once he does, he reaches out and lays his hand over Eliot's, squeezing lightly. "El, you were asleep. We were asleep. I don't - I don't blame you for what happened."

"Well, regardless, it's not going to happen again. By the time I'm finished this whole Cottage will be like Fort Knox."

Quentin flushes, a small, fond smile overtaking his expression. "That's a great thought, El, but it's not going to be a reality if you're not sleeping."

"Pot," Eliot says, "kettle." He reaches into the pocket of his robe and withdraws a pack of cigarettes, pulling one out and holding it between his lips while he pulls out another and offers it to Quentin. "Yes?"

Quentin shakes his head, that same smile still on his face as he takes the cigarette, lighting it with a snap of his fingers. "I, er, never thanked you for making sure no one saw me naked, did I?"

Eliot laughs. "Thank Margo for that," he says. "I went flying into her room as soon as I realised I couldn't wake you, mostly naked myself, and she told me to go put some pants on you."

"I always knew she had the most common sense of us all," Quentin laughs, taking a drag and feeling some of the tension around his shoulders ease off of him.

Eliot follows suit, watching him closely. "Spit it out," he says. "Whatever's on your mind right now."

Quentin laughs at that, the sound dry and humorless. "You sure you're ready for whatever's on my mind? You do remember that I tend to overthink, right? Like, that's my superpower and my curse, overthinking. Hell, it's the whole fucking reason I checked myself into the mental hospital, because I'd spent so long in my own damn head that life felt meaningless and I probably wasn't going to kill myself but I knew better than to risk it! I checked myself out once I managed to get out of that - that hole I'd put myself in, and then I met you and then I found out about this place and what I could do, and I thought! I thought maybe things would finally start looking up, but no, I'm still fucking depressed, and I managed to get myself fucking cursed before the first break!"

Eliot's expression softens into something vulnerable and aching, almost like he's scared... for Quentin? He takes a long drag from his cigarette and exhales the smoke on a shaky breath before he speaks. "Okay," he says. "I'm going to tell you something deep and dark and personal now. Ready? Good. I killed someone."

Whatever Quentin was expecting Eliot to say, that obviously wasn't it. He blinks, clearly thrown, and breathes, "What? How?"

"I was fourteen," Eliot says. "He was this..." He gives Quentin an awful smile. "He beat me up. So I'm walking down the street, eating a candy bar, 'cause at this point I already ate my feelings at a professional level, and I saw him crossing over." He laughs. "And there was this... bus coming. I barely thought the thought." The smile slips off his face. "Bam. I knew immediately what I'd done. My nose literally started bleeding. Logan Kinear died instantly, and I ruined my favourite button down." He raises the cigarette to his lips. "And that is the story of how I discovered I was telekinetic."

Quentin blows out a shaky breath. "That's... one hell of a way to find out you have magic."

Eliot inclines his head. "Right?" He takes another drag, and the exhale is steadier this time. "But I'm not telling you this because it gets better. It doesn't. I'm telling you this because you are not alone here."

Quentin taps the ash from his cigarette into the tray. "Well," he says slowly, reaching out until he can knock Eliot's foot with his, "if life has to be shitty, at least we're not alone."

Eliot smiles at that, a real one this time. "You're surrounded by fuck-ups, Q," he says. "Get used to it."

They talk for several hours, and when Quentin starts struggling to keep his eyes open, Eliot just guides him back onto the bed and tells him to sleep. It isn't until Quentin wakes up later the next morning that he realises that Eliot didn't join him. Instead, he spent a few more hours breaking down the wards around Quentin's room and rebuilding them to his own standards before Margo woke up and forced him into her own room to pass out. Quentin struggles to express his gratitude when they meet in the kitchen that afternoon, but Eliot just brushes him off, insisting that it was nothing. The dark circles that are still taking up far too much space beneath Eliot's eyes suggest otherwise, but he won't hear another word about it.

Quentin skips class for the day, as does Eliot, but he sleeps much better in his own bed that night, and feels brave enough to return to classes the next morning. He only missed one day, but he still has to head to the library right after his last professor dismisses them in order to catch up. That's where Julia finds him, bent over a pile of books and trying desperately to absorb something - anything. She slips into the seat opposite him and taps the page he's reading until he looks up.

"Hey," she says, her smile not quite reaching her eyes. "Can we talk? I need to tell you something."

Quentin blinks, frowning slightly as he takes in the look on Julia's face, but he nods, marking his page before closing the book. "What's going on?"

"I think it was my fault," Julia blurts out. "What Kady did."

Quentin blinks. "What? Why?"

Julia suddenly looks like she's going to cry. "I think I might have given her some ammunition," she admits. "I was worried about you and your depression, and how you'd adapt to being back on your meds, and I might have talked to her about it, because. Because I've been sleeping with her."

Quentin blinks again. "Wait, what?" he asks, clearly confused. "I thought Kady was sleeping with Penny?"

"She was," Julia agrees. "We... were all sleeping together? Penny won't talk to me about it, but I know he's as freaked out as me."

"You were sleeping with both Penny and Kady?" Quentin says, eyes wide. "That's - Why? That seems like it would be, I don't know, a lot of trouble waiting to happen."

"Come on, Q," Julia says, "I'd just broken up with James, and you were busy with Eliot, and I'd just found out that magic was real and I-- Obviously it was a bad decision, look what she did to you!"

Quentin winces, giving Julia an apologetic look. "Yeah, okay. But... Are you sure she used that information to get to me? I mean, she does live in the Cottage - or, she did, before all that happened. She could've gotten a lot of that information just by watching me, as... creepy as that sounds."

"I was still sleeping with her, Q," Julia insists. "If nothing else, that's literally sleeping with the enemy."

"Jules, you couldn't have known what she was up to," Quentin says, reaching across the table for Julia's hand. "We all thought she was just kinda rude, not that she was planning to curse someone."

"That's not the point," Julia hisses. "Listen, I--"

"Sorry to interrupt." They both start and whirl around to see Alice, hovering uncertainly beside their table and holding a folded up piece of paper, which she offers to Quentin. "Someone called the office with a message?"

"Oh, um, thanks." Quentin takes the paper from Alice, frowning at the name. "It's from my dad." He flips the note open, scanning it quickly - and all color drains from his face. "Fuck."

"What?" Julia and Alice ask together.

"It's - " Quentin swallows, glances up. "He's been having tests done, and just got the results back. It's cancer. Brain cancer."

Julia's hand shoots out to grab Quentin's, while Alice takes a step back. "My god," she says. "I'll-- I'll leave you two alone."

Quentin's gaze flicks to Alice briefly before he turns back to Julia. "I need to go see him," he says quietly. "I - After the nightmare, I need to see him."

"Do you want me to come with you?" Julia asks.

"Yes, please," Quentin answers without hesitation.

Julia nods, squeezing his hand. "Right now?"

"I'm not gonna be able to concentrate until I talk to him," Quentin confesses. "So, yeah. Right now."

Alice is already gone, so Julia just stands up and starts grabbing Quentin's books. "Then let's go."

Julia starts spending a lot more time with Quentin, which means that Eliot hardly sees him on his own. It's fine, and Eliot spends more time with Margo to compensate for how he's been kind of neglecting her lately. But he is starting to worry, especially when they throw another of their amazing parties and neither Quentin nor Julia leave Quentin's room the whole night.

Eliot is cleaning up the kitchen while the rest of the Cottage sleeps when Julia comes down the stairs. He looks up from his sink full of dishes and offers her a smile. "Morning. We didn't keep you guys up last night, did we?"

Julia pauses, raising one eyebrow. "We hardly even knew there was a party going on," she says, watching Eliot closely as she moves towards the fridge. "You guys aren’t slowing down, are you?"

Eliot laughs. "No," he says. "But I set Quentin's wards to block out the noise."

Julia hums, a thoughtful sound. "Nice to know he's got people looking after him over here." She gives Eliot a smile as she pulls out a couple of eggs, grabbing a pan and moving towards the stove.

"Of course," Eliot says. He watches her work for a moment and then dries his hands off on the dish towel and turns to face her. "Is everything okay?"

Julia sighs. "Not really," she confesses. "His dad found out he has cancer. Brain cancer. Quentin's been... having a hard time accepting it."

"Oh, fuck," Eliot sighs. "Is there anything I can do?"

"Be his friend?" Julia suggests. "He just... needs someone to make sure he eats and takes a shower, when he gets like this. Someone to remind him to take care of his body, maybe bully him into it if he's being particularly stubborn."

Eliot smiles softly. "He's lucky he has you."

Julia's own smile is soft. "We're lucky to have each other. Things haven't always been easy, but... I love him, he's my family."

"It shows," Eliot says. "I won't tell him you told me about his father."

Julia smiles gratefully. "Thank you," she says. "Oh! That reminds me, you made quite the impression on Ted. He asked about you when Quentin and I visited him the other day."

Eliot smirks. "I do tend to have that effect on people," he says. "Which is why I'm hoping there's enough eggs for three."

"You're absolutely shameless," Julia scolds, but she's laughing nonetheless. "Yes, there'll be enough eggs for three people."

Eliot grins, the picture of innocence. "Excellent. I'll finish up here then go awaken our Sleeping Beauty."

"Watch out for his morning breath," Julia teases. "It's something awful."

Eliot laughs. "Oh, sweetie, I know."

Quentin seems surprised to find Eliot in his bedroom, but he agrees to come downstairs and eat some breakfast, which Eliot counts as a win. They carefully stay away from delicate topics while they eat, and when they're done Julia announces that she's leaving the boys with the dishes and heading upstairs to make the most of Quentin's shower. Eliot gets up to start collecting their plates, but as soon as Julia is out of sight Quentin reaches out and touches Eliot's wrist, stopping him in his tracks.

"Everything okay, Q?" Eliot asks.

"Not exactly," Quentin says. "What do you - You know about Cancer Puppy, don't you?"

"Cancer Puppy?" Eliot repeats, frowning. "Of course, he's practically the Cottage mascot. Why?"

Quentin takes a deep breath. "I think I might have found a way to cure him."

Eliot's pretty sure his eyebrows reach his hairline. "You want to cure Cancer Puppy?"

"I want to try," Quentin says. "You can look over the spell, but I can't see any downsides to it."

Eliot takes a breath. "Quentin," he says. "This kind of magic is... You can't cure cancer, Q."

"But you can make the symptoms less severe," Quentin argues. "You can make someone's life better. Why can't we take that a step further?"

"Don't take this the wrong way," Eliot says slowly, "but you're a first year. If there was anyone who could do this--"

"I know," Quentin says, sounding slightly desperate. "I know, okay? But I can't - I can't just sit and do nothing, and... It's my dad, El. He’s sick, and I - I have to try to find a way to help him."

Eliot is immediately contrite. "I'm not supposed to know about that," he says quietly.

Quentin blinks, thrown. "Wait, you - you know this is about my dad?"

"Julia told me," Eliot admits. "I get why you want to do this, I just... want to manage your expectations."

"Oh." Quentin's quiet for a moment. "I... I get that. But I think this could work, could... Could maybe at least make his life a bit easier."

Eliot nods. "All right," he says. "I'll let you at Cancer Puppy. But I'm staying with you."

Quentin nods so fast he feels like a bobblehead. "Of course."

Eliot sighs and picks up the plates before turning away from the table. "You can help me with the dishes first, though."


Margo's expression is flat and unforgiving even in the face of Eliot's most impressive pleading face, and she repeats her answer, using one finger to point emphatically at Eliot for good measure. "No. You are not hiding out in here from the boytoy you didn't kick out fast enough. I have my own boytoy that I intend to get more than one round out of, thank you very much."

"But Margo," Eliot whines. "I've got nowhere else to go!"

"Tough," Margo says, merciless. "Should have thought of that before fucking him in your own bed."

"I always fuck them in my own bed," Eliot complains. "Come on, Margo, please? I'll be quiet!"

"Sweetheart," Margo sighs, "if you're in the room, he's not going to get hard. He's so straight it's almost pathetic. But he's cute and good with his mouth."

Eliot shudders. "I hate you."

"But you don't hate Quentin, right?" Margo says, far too sweet. "Go bother him. You know he doesn't have anyone else in his room besides maybe Alice, if those two got caught up in an assignment."

"Oh my god," Eliot breathes, "Quentin! I love you." He hurries away from Margo's room, and down the hall to Quentin's. The wards recognise him, not because he built them, but because Quentin wants them to, and he walks right in without even knocking. "Rise and shine!"

Quentin startles, papers sliding off of his bed and to the floor as he swears. "Jesus, El, where's the fucking fire?"

Eliot pauses just inside the door, taking in the scene before him. "Are you actually studying this early on a Saturday or do you just sleep with your homework now?"

"Oh fuck you," Quentin says, rolling his eyes; the words lack any real heat. "Yes, I'm studying. I've been having trouble with my pronunciation and a couple of the tuts."

"Well, I'm not helping you," Eliot says. He spells the door locked and moves over to the bed, shoving some more paperwork out of the way and climbing beneath the covers. "Not until I've had some sleep, anyway. Put it away and we'll work on it later."

Quentin lets out an exasperated sigh, fingers twitching as he gathers all of his notes and stacks them on his desk. "Sure, make yourself comfortable," he says, droll. "Why are you trying to sleep in my bed, anyway?"

"Because mine is occupied," Eliot tells him with a yawn, already half asleep. "Are you coming?"

Quentin pauses, his face doing something odd at how casually Eliot mentions his - the other person occupying his bed. Then, Quentin shakes his head, rolls his eyes, and shucks his shirt. "Scoot over," he orders, lifting the covers. "You know my bed's not as big as yours."

"Second year privileges," Eliot informs him with another yawn. "Your time will come." He does move over enough to make room for Quentin, but once he's settled beside him Eliot flings an arm around his waist and reels him in until his head is tucked under Eliot's chin.

Quentin freezes, but only for a moment; Eliot is very touchy when he's awake, it figures he'd be just as bad or worse when he's half-asleep. Relaxing against Eliot, Quentin sighs softly. "Night, El," he murmurs.

Eliot presses his face into Quentin's hair with a pleased sigh, and promptly falls asleep.

Life proceeds as normal from there. Or, well. It proceeds as normally as possible for life in Brakebills to proceed. Quentin, Julia, Alice, and Penny continue studying the topics covered in their classes, occasionally 'helped' by Eliot or Margo or both, though the degree of usefulness in their advice often varies. The Physical kids continue to throw the best parties on campus regularly, and almost as regularly, Eliot and Quentin fall into bed together. Sex is, as always, relegated to Eliot's bed, and Quentin still never stays the night. He admits to himself that he'd liked it, waking up late that morning when Eliot had been hiding from his conquest in Quentin's bed. It had been nice, being able to relax in Eliot's arms, against his chest. For such a lean man who is seemingly comprised of nothing but sharp angles, Eliot is surprisingly comfortable to sleep next to. Quentin would like to do it again, but he knows that’s not how he and Eliot work.

The more time their ragtag group spends together, the closer they all become, physically and emotionally. The first time Margo had reached over and swatted Penny's shoulder while laughing, Quentin had thought the psychic was going to implode. Small, simple touches aren't uncommon, and Quentin revels in each one. He and Julia have always been physical, and it's nice, now, being able to reach out for reassurance and comfort when words fail him and knowing that more than one person will reach back. It's still nice even when Penny's preferred method of physical contact with Quentin is a punch to the shoulder; Quentin learns to read the emotions Penny won't name in the strength of the hit.

Of course, when midterms roll around, Margo takes advantage of the fact that Quentin had adjusted his wards to allow their group unrestricted access to his room. He's dozing, binder open on his lap, when she bursts in, face covered in an elaborate mask and wearing extravagant ornamental robes. The laugh - damn near a cackle, except Margo would never be so unrefined - gives her away, when she lunges for a shrieking Quentin and hauls him out of his room for some stupid hazing tradition known as the Trials.

Quentin's not surprised that Eliot is just as dressed up as Margo, and he spends the whole of Eliot's speech about what the Trials are glaring at the second years. The glare only falters when Eliot informs the gathered first years that failure to complete the Trials means expulsion; he'd narrowly avoided that fate after the unfortunate outcome of his experimental cancer cure - rest in peace, Gerald - and he doesn't want to risk expulsion again so soon.

Their first trial, to crack an encrypted spell and cast it by nine in the morning, seems impossible until Quentin convinces Penny to cheat and eavesdrop on the other groups, to gather information about the various ciphers. Their third teammate, a guy Quentin honestly can't remember the name of, refuses to cheat - but when Eliot comes by to appraise their work and congratulate them for thinking outside of the box and doing what was necessary, Quentin barely catches the sour look on the guy's face before he literally vanishes into thin air.

The second Trial seems even more impossible than the first. Quentin finds himself in a forest, standing calf-deep in a stream with a bow and arrow in his hands while Eliot sits - Eliot sits at a goddamn banquet table, dressed like a fucking king, the pretentious ass. He tells Quentin to catch a fish, and then vanishes before Quentin can even get the first word in his angry diatribe out.

He still indulges in it, to make himself feel better.

Penny and Julia are the ones to figure out how to pass this Trial; they gather Alice and Quentin and their tools together, sharing tasks and resources, reallocating them as needed so that those best suited to the task have what they need to complete it. Alice takes the task of shooting a bird that Julia had been assigned to take, and Quentin takes the rope that Penny had been given, as well as the task of capturing a white horse roaming the forest. He and Alice set off together to find their targets, and once they're alone, Quentin blows out a harsh breath. "Y'know, I get what they're trying to teach, or the point they're trying to prove with these Trials," he says, nudging aside a branch and holding it for Alice to duck under, "but why are the upperclassmen giving us the Trials and not the professors?"

"I think it's a rite of passage for them as much as it is for us," Alice says. "They had this done to them last year - it's like they've earned the right to do it to us."

Quentin makes a face. "I'd bet it all got started because the teachers were a bit too hungover after a night at their 'retreat,'" he mutters. "Do you hear your bird yet?"

Alice gives him a sly smile. "I might, if you stopped talking."

That startles a laugh from Quentin, though he's mindful to keep it quiet. "Oh, of course," he murmurs, grinning. "I guess you'd have rather Penny or, uh, or maybe Julia for a hunting companion? They’re a lot quieter than I am. No rambling."

"I don't know," Alice says. She's still smiling. "You're not so bad."

Quentin's face heats, but he's saved from having to say anything else by the sound of hoof beats nearby. Sharing a last wish for luck with Alice, Quentin readies his rope and takes off.

Quentin resolves to find some way of getting back at Eliot and Margo for the massive bruise on his thigh that a fucking illusory horse had managed to leave, but that has to wait. As soon as the four of them are released from the illusion, they're paired up and sent off to complete the last of their Trials. "Well," Quentin says once he finishes reading the instructions left at the rooftop where he and Alice are expected to bare themselves completely to one another. "This is awkward."

"You're saying that to someone who lost her virginity with her clothes on." Alice eyes the bottle in his hand. "Is that whiskey?"

"At least we have that in common?" Quentin tries, offering the bottle to Alice. "Yeah, it is. Figured Eliot fucking owed me after that shit with the horse, and we might need some liquid courage."

Alice takes it from him, unscrews the cap and takes a big gulp. "Ugh," she gasps. "Okay, your turn, and then we need to get naked."

Quentin laughs, taking the bottle back. "First time someone's said that to me when we weren't about to have sex," he jokes before tilting the bottle back and taking a long drink. "Fuck," he gasps. "Okay. Um. Let's do this."

They get undressed, and Alice ties their hands together while carefully keeping her gaze above Quentin's waist. Quentin would like to say that he doesn't look either, but he'd be lying. Alice even catches him, but she doesn't seem to mind; she just reaches for the bottle again, takes another long drink, and hands it back to Quentin. "Okay," she says, "okay. Do you want to go first?"

Quentin blinks rapidly. "Sure," he says, frowning as he thinks. "Er... I've been in and out of mental hospitals since I was seventeen. I've lost count of how many times I had to stay for a weekend, or a week, or... longer."

He glances down at the roads around his wrists, but they remain in place.

"Oh," Alice says, very quietly. She clears her throat. "Um. I forgive you? For what happened with Charlie."

Quentin's eyes widen, and he looks at Alice in shock. "You - Really?" They haven't talked about that night since Alice came back to Brakebills.

"Yeah," Alice says. "It was a lost cause, but I was too blind to see it. I think you saved my life."

"You wanted to save him, that's not a bad thing," Quentin says quietly.

"I know," Alice says, "but what you did wasn't bad, either. So, thank you." She swallows, and looks down, but the ropes are still tied about her wrists. She sighs. "So, umm. Is that something you still struggle with? Your... broken brain?"

"Yeah. It, uh. Got worse after the thing with Kady," Quentin confesses. "But... It wasn't as bad as it could have been. I've never had as many friends as I do now, with you and Penny and Eliot and Margo. It always used to be just me and Julia, and it was never enough."

Alice smiles. "That's really great, Q."

Quentin holds up his still-bound hands. "Not so great for this, though," he says wryly. "Any other secrets?"

Alice lets out a long breath. "I kind of hate my mom?" she offers. "My dad's eccentric, but my mom... She never talks about Charlie, and she won't even let me call her 'Mom'. She doesn't understand me at all, she just wants me to be just like her, and I'm not."

Quentin makes a sympathetic noise. "Maybe she dealt with his disappearance differently?"

"Obviously," Alice says bitterly. "But she still has a kid, y'know? It'd be nice if just once she remembered that she's still lucky to have me, even if her favourite's gone."

"You resent the way she treats you," Quentin murmurs. "It... doesn't sound like she treats you like her daughter."

"She doesn't," Alice agrees - and then she lifts her still-bound wrists. "But that didn't work, so. Your turn."

Quentin lifts his gaze to the stars overheard, thinking. "I really wanted to hate Julia," he says after a long moment. "She - I was in love with her, in high school. We got tipsy, had sex, and in the morning... She said she knew how I felt, told me she thought she could feel the same, but she couldn't. And she - she didn't want to ruin our friendship. I think she actually cried, honestly." He has to pause, fumble for the whiskey, and take another drink before he can continue. "I told her we'd be fine, but that night, when I was alone at home... I really wanted to hate her. All the movies, all the books, they all say that the girl has to give the guy a chance, right? It took a while to get over that. I don't think Julia knows how much it hurt when she shot me down."

Alice's eyes are wide. "What about now?" she asks. "Are you still in love with her?"

"No, I'm not," Quentin says honestly. "I love her, she's family. But I'm not in love with her anymore."

Alice nods. "Well, that's great," she says. "But I don't think we're trying hard enough."

Quentin sighs. "Of course this wouldn't be easy," he mutters. "Alright, deepest darkest truths, round one."

They trade truths back and forth for hours, and it's not until the first stroke of midnight rings out that Alice finally confesses her fear of being alone, of how she buries the truest parts of herself in an attempt to not make herself any more unpopular. When she says that she has no idea what she's capable of - that she's scared of what she might be capable of - her ropes fall away. They go unnoticed by Quentin, who finally confesses the one thing he'd held back. "Julia told me once," he whispers, gaze fixed on the slowly-waving branches of the trees in front of him, "that I couldn't run away far enough. And I - I know she's right. I'm here, in the moment, but I'm always running, I'm always looking for an escape. You'd think literal magic would be a pretty fucking good escape, but I... I'm still running. Waiting for everything to crash down around my ears. I'm, I'm still the same person I fucking hate, the person I've been trying to run away from for years."

He doesn't realize that he's drunk, or crying, or that his ropes are gone until Alice points them out, and even though they're both still completely naked, the hug they share feels like nothing but relief and triumph.

Or at least, it does until a sharp pain wracks them both, their limbs twisting and contorting until they're not two people - they're two geese, and they're called to follow the flock.

"Margo, darling," Eliot sighs, beaming, "you look amazing. Ibiza won't know what hit it, this year."

"Of course it won't," Margo says airily, giving another spin to show off her outfit one more time. "Have you thought about what we're giving the Elders for the regalo this year?"

"We need to make it good," Eliot says. "The bag of dicks last year was... inspired, but it's not going to be enough this time. But I did hear some whispers from the TAs the other day."

"Oh?" Margo prods, clearly interested. "If they were whispering, it must be good."

"Exactly," Eliot agrees with a grin. "Something about magical gin? I wrote down what I heard, but..."

Margo's smile is slow. "Well, let's take what you heard and start researching. You're right, we do need to top last year's regalo if we want a chance at another invitation next year."

"It does mean going to the library," Eliot says. "But I suppose it'll be worth it."

"Of course it will; we'll be the talk of the party all week. I suppose, just this once, we’ll have to suffer in order to earn the attention," Margo says, coming around the table to take Eliot by the hand and pull him towards the door. "Vamanos!"

"It's in Arabic," Eliot says, woefully, when it's already taken them an hour to find the book they needed in the first place. "Fuck."

"Fuck," Margo agrees on a sigh. "I flunked Arabic."

"I got an A," Eliot sighs. "Well, partially because I paid for the exam answers in nipple clamps."

Margo sighs, reaching out to take Eliot's hand, fingers stroking over his wrist. "That bag of dicks is starting to sound really good," she pouts. She opens her mouth to say something else, but is interrupted.

"Copy that."

It comes from a blond man that neither Margo nor Eliot had noticed rounding the corner, and Margo eyes him appreciatively. Strong shoulders, not terribly tall, nice jaw, cute hair... "Whoa," she murmurs, one eyebrow lifting.

Eliot follows her gaze and actually has to force his mouth to smile instead of just dropping open. Whoa, indeed. "She means hi."

The stranger smiles, turning to face them more fully. "You guys need something translated? I actually aced Arabic here, no nipple clamps involved."

"More's the pity," Eliot says, letting his gaze wander all over this beautiful man. "Consider this a cry for help."

The guy laughs quietly, coming closer and settling into the chair across from Eliot. "I'm Mike."

"Eliot," Eliot says, leaning up to offer Mike his hand with a smile. "And this is, uhh."

The eyebrow climbs higher on Margo's face. "Margo," she offers, watching the way Mike seems to be focusing solely on Eliot - and the way Eliot is focusing on him as well. "Nice to meet you."

"Nice to meet you, too," Mike replies without taking his eyes off of Eliot.

Margo represses the sigh that heralds the sudden, sinking feeling in her chest.

It turns out that that sinking feeling was more than warranted. Mike helps them translate the book, but that's just about the extent of his usefulness. He and Eliot spend more time flirting and eyefucking each other over the machine they're trying to build than actually building the machine, and Margo eventually tells them to get lost and get their attraction out of their systems. She isn't surprised when they share a look and a shrug before leaving, only muttering something about boys before she continues working.

Working alone but without the distraction of Eliot and Mike's preoccupation with each other, Margo manages to finish the machine relatively quickly. It takes her all night, but by the time Mike and Eliot finally show their faces in the living room, Margo's already gathered Todd, who had volunteered to hand her tools somewhere around midnight, and is beyond ready for some magical alcohol. She flicks the switch, feeds a spark into the machine, and -

"Well, it's not much," she sighs, removing the bottle. "But hopefully it's strong." She pops the cork out, and - and it's not the scent of gin that greets her, but a cloud of dark smoke that billows from the bottle, coalescing into a pillar in the middle of the living room that resolves into a man with a frankly disturbing expression on his face. He faces Margo and bows, and Margo knows her eyes are wide. "You guys are seeing this, too, right?"

"Hmm?" Mike and Eliot are wrapped up in each other once more, but Eliot puts enough distance between them that he can turn in Mike's arms to look. Mike promptly starts kissing his neck, and Eliot shivers. "Oh. Yes, ahh. I'm guessing I heard those TAs wrong."

"You think?" Margo snaps, glaring at Eliot and Mike. The strange man standing in front of them - who must be a djinn - says something eagerly in Arabic, and Margo's attention shifts back to him. "What?"

"He said if you give him the order, he can make things easier for you," Todd chimes in. "Or, something to that effect. He's got a weird accent.

"You know Arabic?" Margo asks, eyebrow raised.

Todd shrugs. "I'm taking it this semester."

"Right." Margo's gaze slips from Todd to Mike and Eliot, and it's probably uncharitable, but Margo can't help thinking -

The djinn's expression lights up, and before Margo can say anything, he's darted forward and grabbed Mike's shoulder, the two of them vanishing in a plume of smoke.

Eliot stumbles without Mike for balance, and immediately rounds on Margo. "What the fuck did you do?"

"Nothing!" Margo cries. "I didn't say anything!"

"You didn't have to," Todd says helpfully. "You opened his bottle, that created a psychic link. He could hear your wish in your head."

Eliot's eyes are like thunder. "What did you wish, Margo?"

Margo's spine straightens, and she meets Eliot's gaze defiantly. "I wished he would go back to where he came from," she spits.

Eliot explodes. "How dare you?" he demands. "Are you so spiteful and jealous that you can't stand to see me happy?"

"There's something not right about him, El! You never get this attached to people so quickly!" Margo cries. "And whatever happened to nothing and no cock getting between us?"

"Mike's not between us," Eliot insists. "He's... adjacent. And you had no right."

"I still don't trust him," Margo sniffs, lifting her head, shoulders squared. "I don't regret that wish."

Eliot clenches his teeth. "Well, I will make you regret it if you don't take me to him right now."

Hurt flashes across Margo's expression for a split second before she steels herself. "Fine," she snaps. "He'll probably be in the library."

Eliot rolls his eyes. "How imaginative."

They do find Mike in the library - on his knees, giving a doorknob the blow job of a lifetime. Eliot is at his side in an instant, but Mike pays him no mind, even when Eliot grabs his shoulder and tries to shake him. "Stop!" he cries, glaring up at the djinn, who is standing beside Mike with a smile that is far too smug for Eliot's liking. "Stop whatever it is you're doing to him, let him go!"

"He's just carrying out my wish," Margo says, unable to keep from smirking at the sight of Mike. "For Mike to go back where he came from and suck on some other knob." When Eliot just glares at her, Margo sighs and rolls her eyes. "Fine. Todd, you're the expert on djinn, apparently. How do I get him back in?"

"Just, uh, open the bottle and think the order," Todd says, horrified gaze riveted on Mike on his knees.

"Of course," Margo murmurs. She uncorks the bottle, looking at the djinn expectantly. He bows, smoke curling around him before it whisks him out of sight and back into the bottle.

"Oh my God," Eliot mutters, immediately seizing Mike by the arm and dragging him to his feet. "Are you okay?"

Mike blinks, shifting unsteadily on his feet. His gaze is unfocused for another long moment, and then he frowns. "Why does my mouth taste like metal?"

Eliot spends the rest of the day getting reacquainted with Mike, and he's almost forgotten about the djinn and the reason he was created when he comes downstairs the next morning. Reality comes crashing back in, however, when Margo asks him why he isn't packed. "Ah," he says. "See, the thing is, I'm not going."

Margo's brows climb almost to her hairline. "You're not going to Encanto Oculto? After all that trouble?"

Eliot avoids her gaze. "It's not really Mike's thing."

"It's not Mike's thing?" Margo repeats, incredulous. "Of course it's not his thing, it's ours!"

"I know," Eliot says. He sighs, and pulls Margo into his arms. "And it will be again. But I need to do this, Bambi."

Margo goes easily, her arms wrapping around Eliot's waist. "Why, though?" she asks, plaintive. "What is so damn special about him, El?"

"I don't know," Eliot admits, his words muffled by Margo's hair. "He's just important. I've never felt like this before."

Margo sighs, squeezing Eliot tightly once. "Alright," she says quietly. "You do what you have to, El." She pulls back, out of Eliot's arms, and gives him a smile before going up on tiptoes to press a kiss to his cheek. When Margo pulls back from that, she's smirking. "You know," she says lightly, "you are going to miss me so hard, you won't be able to get it up."

Eliot laughs, deep and delighted. "You are absolutely right."

Margo's smirk deepens, and with one more pat to Eliot's arm, she steps to the side, calling up the stairs, "Todd!"

It's slightly pathetic how quickly he appears. "Yes?"

"Can you be packed for a week on the beach in the sun and orgies in less than half an hour?"

Todd's eyes widen comically. "Yes!"

Eliot gives Margo one last squeeze before letting her go and walking right up to Todd. "Make sure she hydrates, wears sunblock, and waxes," he orders. "Margo's down south can get jungly."

Todd's eyes look like they're about to pop right out of his head as he nods enthusiastically. "I'll take care of her."

"So," Alice says. She swallows. Quentin looks at the smooth skin of her back, the soft curve of her breast that's just visible beneath the blanket Alice is clutching to her chest. "Um. So that happened."

"Yeah," Quentin says, voice hoarse. "It did." Unbelievable as it would seem could he not still smell Alice and practically hear her frantic heartbeat, it had happened. Mayakovsky had tossed them out into the freezing cold of the Antarctic and turned them into fucking foxes. Literally.

"Um," Alice says again. "I don't think I've ever..."

"Had a more awkward morning after?" Quentin suggests, a wry twist to his lips.

"Well, that too," Alice agrees. She turns to look at Quentin finally, something vulnerable yet resolute in her gaze. "That can't happen again, Q."

Quentin hesitates for a moment, thinking. "Fucking as foxes, or sex, period?" he asks, seeking clarification.

"Both," Alice admits. "It was nice. It was really nice. But..."


"It wouldn't work between us," Alice says. "Would it? We're too different, and - well. I get the feeling you're otherwise occupied."

It takes a moment for Quentin to realize what Alice is talking about. "You mean Eliot? He's my friend. Yeah, we fuck sometimes, but it's not like that."

Alice purses her lips. "Really," she says. "'Cause that's not the impression I've been getting."

Quentin shakes his head. "Really," he says, firmly. "Eliot and I are just friends; he still fucks other guys, so." He takes a deep breath, gives Alice a small smile. "But either way, I... think you might be right, that we're too different to make anything more work."

Alice doesn't look convinced, but she smiles back. "Good," she says. "Then let's get dressed and find out what that asshole has in store for us today."

The breeze is cool against Eliot's face as he pushes the back door to the Cottage open with one hip, a drink held in each hand. He takes a deep breath, smiling at the scent of smoke and spice on the breeze. His smile widens as he moves towards Mike, manning the grill. "Hey," Mike calls, a smile on his face as he looks up and spots Eliot's approach. "Just threw the burgers on. What're those?"

"Just something I invented," Eliot says, sidling up close to Mike so he can steal a kiss. "Here, try it."

"I'm more of a craft beer guy myself," Mike says, but he reaches for the glass in Eliot's hand regardless. "What's in it?"

Eliot practically purrs. "Well," he says, "I started off with a little bit of--" Movement at the edge of the grass catches his attention, and he turns to see two figures ambling towards them. "Oh look! It's Quentin."

Mike's expression twists, and he turns to see what Eliot's looking at - or rather, who. "Ah," he says, something off in his tone.

"El!" Quentin calls, striding forward, Alice at his side. "Fuck, you would not believe where we were. Or, maybe you would, I guess you did it last year. Mayakovsky's an asshole." His gaze flicks down to the glasses in Eliot's hand, and his expression lights up. "Is there more of that in the Cottage?"

"You know what?" Eliot says, taking the untouched glass from Mike's hand and offering both drinks to Alice and Quentin. "Here. You look like you need it more than we do. Brakebills South wasn't great then, I guess?"

"Not really," Quentin says, nose wrinkling as he takes the drink from Eliot. "It was educational, but..." He glances at Alice, unable to help the way his face flushed when their eyes meet.

"Wait," Eliot says slowly, looking between the two. He finally settles on Quentin, who looks decidedly more guilty. "Why is your face making that face?"

Quentin's face starts doing whatever-it-is even harder. "Brakebills South is a weird place, and Mayakovsky is a weird teacher?" he tries.

The bottom drops out of Eliot's stomach. "You had sex," he realises. "With each other."

Alice flushes a bright red, her face almost as flushed as Quentin's. "I need to get out of these clothes," she murmurs, beating a hasty retreat into the Cottage, and Quentin watches her go before he turns back to Eliot, shrugging.

"I, uh, meant it when I said Mayakovsky was an asshole. He thought Alice and I were having trouble working together because of... And, well, he tossed us out in the snow, turned us into foxes, and some wires got, erm, crossed," he confesses. Quentin seems to realize then that the man next to Eliot isn't someone he knows, because his expression turns apologetic. "Sorry, I didn't - erm, who's this?"

"Oh." Eliot turns back to Mike like he's only just remembered he's there. "How rude of me. Mike, this is my friend Quentin. Q, this is Mike, my..."

"Boyfriend," Mike interjects, giving Quentin a smile that's just a touch too sharp. "Nice to meet you, Quentin. El's talked a lot about you."

Quentin's eyes widen, his chest doing something odd. "Oh," he says, rather dumbly. "Oh, it's, um. It's nice to meet you, too." He clears his throat before continuing, "I want to be back in my own clothes, I'm just gonna - " He gestures towards the Cottage, edging around Eliot and Mike. "Good to see you, El, and thanks for the drinks," he adds, turning and walking away.

”He’s cute,” Mike says, almost thoughtful.

"Yes, he is," Eliot agrees, watching Quentin leave with something like regret. "But I called dibs on him."

By the next party in the Physical Cottage, Quentin has decided he doesn't particularly like Mike. Alice gives him a very significant look when Quentin voices this opinion to her, so Quentin refrains from saying anything else to her on the matter. Julia is busy trying to navigate a reconciliation with Penny and Kady - who, it turns out, had been blackmailed into an a lot of shit, including the curse on Quentin and stealing from the Physical Cottage library - so Quentin doesn't even try to find any sympathy with her. She needs his listening ear more than he needs hers, at the moment.

Quentin really doesn't like how Mike and Eliot are all over each other during this particular party, he decides. That may be part of his motivation in throwing himself onto the couch beside them, but the honest truth is that it's only a small part. "I can't wait for Margo to get back," Quentin announces, careful not to spill his drink.

"Mmph." Eliot struggles to detach his face from Mike's, but he succeeds after a moment, and turns to look at Quentin. "Hi! Are you drunk? I'm drunk. Where is Margo?"

Quentin raises an eyebrow. "She's in Ibiza, remember? You mentioned something about a, uh, week-long orgy? She should be back tomorrow, I think."

"Oh!" Eliot grins. "Excellent. I love Margo. I love--"

"El," Mike interrupts, laughing. "You're about to start rambling, babe."

"Oh, hush," Eliot says, waving a hand without even looking at Mike. "I'm drunk and I'm talking to Q. He's almost as great as my Margo."

"Almost as great as Margo?" Quentin says, laughing and pretending that he isn't taking a certain petty pleasure from the slightly-constipated look on Mike's face when Eliot dismisses him. "That's high praise, El."

"Oh, pssh, you should already know that," Eliot says. "Stop putting yourself down." He twists towards Mike. "He's always putting himself down."

"Really?" Mike asks, clearly struggling for a reply.

Quentin shrugs, takes a deep drink out of his glass. "Downside of depression, low self-esteem," he says, glancing down at the rug. "El's good about reminding me when my brain breaks, though."

Eliot turns back to Quentin, reaching out to tuck a stray strand of hair behind his ear. "I'll always remind you," he promises.

Quentin's dimly aware of Mike's expression darkening, but he's too caught up in the soft look that Eliot's giving him to care overly much. His eyes are wide, and his heart feels like it's trying to escape his chest. "Uh, thanks," he says, voice faltering and barely loud enough to be heard over the noise of the party behind them.


Eliot yanks his hand away like he's been burned, and they all turn to see Alice approaching quickly.

"Oh, good, there you are. I need you to come with me."

Quentin blinks, frowning. "What's wrong?"

"Julia and Kady got into a fight," Alice says. "Penny Travelled out of the Cottage and they've locked themselves in Kady's room to have it out."

"Fuck." Quentin pushes himself to his feet without hesitation. "Alright, let's go."

Eliot waits until Quentin has disappeared upstairs before returning his attention to Mike. "Should we go after them?" he asks. "Kady and Julia are powerful enough to burn the whole Cottage down if they get into it."

"Julia is Quentin's best friend, and Alice is some kind of genius, right? They've got it covered," Mike reassures him, smiling and reaching up to cup Eliot's cheek in his hand, drawing him in closer. "Besides, I think we were busy with something before Quentin interrupted."

"Oh," Eliot sighs, melting into Mike with a pleased smile. "We were."

"So, why are you so concerned with what you wear on your date again?" Quentin asks, watching Eliot digging frantically through his closet. Quentin's sitting cross-legged on Eliot's bed, watching the whole big production with an amused smile. There are clothes strewn about the room, which is far messier than Quentin has ever seen it before.

Eliot doesn't look up. "I am not emotionally prepared for Mike to see me repeat outfits."

Quentin blinks, ignoring the funny thing his chest does, like it's suddenly two sizes too small to fit his lungs and heart inside of it. "O... kay, so, uh, where do I come in?"

"I need your opinion," Eliot says, brandishing two vests at Quentin. "Which one?"

Quentin grimaces. "All vests kinda look the same to me," he says, apologetic. "Plus, you, uh - you make everything you wear look good, so."

"That is not helpful," Eliot huffs. He drops the vests on the floor and turns to go back to his closet.

The corner of Quentin's lips quirks. "I did like that one you had in your hand."

Eliot freezes. "Which one?" he asks, grabbing one of the vests. "This one?"

"No, that one," Quentin says, pointing at the pile of discarded clothes.

Eliot desperately plucks another vest from the pile. "This one?"

"No," Quentin says innocently, pointing at the pile again, "the other one."

Eliot looks back at the pile, trying urgently to follow Quentin's gaze, but then he realises. "Oh, fuck you," he says, launching the vests at Quentin. "I hate you. This isn't funny!"

Quentin can't hold his laughter in anymore, holding his hands up to keep any buttons from hitting him in the face. "You don't hate me," he says confidently, still smiling as he looks up at Eliot. The two of them just gaze at one another for a long moment, Quentin's expression turning thoughtful. "I've never seen you like this before," he observes.

Eliot's gaze flickers to Quentin's and then away again. "I've never felt like this before," he admits.

"'Like this'?" Quentin echoes, gently encouraging.

Eliot sighs. "Like... Like I want him to see the best in me, always. Like I don't want to let him down."

Quentin blinks, surprise coloring his expression. "Y'know, I... don't think I've ever seen you care this much about something," he offers hesitantly, watching Eliot carefully. He seems genuinely distressed over this, worried and anxious, and it takes everything Quentin has not to get off of the bed and pull Eliot into a hug.

"Things usually aren't worth caring about," Eliot tells him. "With some very limited exceptions. Very limited."

Quentin studies Eliot for another moment before turning to the pile of vests on the bed and his lap and digging through them briefly. "Here," he says, holding up a navy blue vest. "This one compliments your hair and eyes best."

Eliot blinks. "It does?"

"I heard Margo say something like that once," Quentin lies.

"Right," Eliot says. He takes the vest from Quentin and holds it to his chest, like it's something precious, or a shield. "Thank you."

Quentin gives Eliot a small smile, resolutely throttling back the anxious, twisty feeling in his stomach. "I'll, uh, I'll let you get dressed for your date," he says, pushing himself off of Eliot's bed and heading for the door.

"Are you seeing this?" Margo hisses into Quentin's ear at the next Physical Kids party. Eliot and Mike are wrapped up in each other, like they always are, full on necking on the couch like they're the only two people in the world. Before their very eyes, Mike pulls back long enough to whisper something in Eliot's ear that makes Eliot giggle, and then they're back to kissing again. "Tell me you're seeing this. Actually, don't. Tell me you're not seeing this and this is all just some fuck-awful nightmare."

Quentin sighs. "I'm seeing it," he says, taking a sip of his drink. "I've never seen El like this, and I'm almost wishing I still hadn't."

"It's disgusting," Margo whines. "We have to stop them."

"Do we?" Quentin asks, but it's clearly reluctant. "They seem happy..."

"They seem fucking insane," Margo spits. "Don't tell me you're falling for this, Q? Look at them!"

Quentin does look, but only for a moment. "The public displays of affection are a bit much," he agrees, "but... El really likes him, Margo. He deserves a shot at happiness, even if we don't really like who he wants to take it with."

Margo glares at him. "The man is a fucking sociopath. You think that's what Eliot looks like when he's happy? I've never seen him like this!"

Quentin worries his lower lip with his teeth. He has only known Eliot for a few months, but... "It does seem odd that Eliot let him in so quickly," he concedes.

"Exactly," Margo says. "This isn't love. This is some crazy infatuation!"

"Maybe, but... Emotions are weird, Margo. Not always rational."

"You got that right," Margo huffs. "There's nothing rational about this. But then what do you suggest we do?"

Quentin shrugs. "Watch to see if he's in danger?" he suggests. "I don't like Mike, but if he's who makes Eliot happy, then we... Well, we don't have a right to interfere."

"I have the right," Margo spits.

Quentin's expression twists. "If you're going to interfere, you should probably find something a bit more solid than 'I don't like him,'" he says, voice dull as he stares into his drink. "Or El's gonna be pissed at you."

Margo goes to argue, but hesitates. "So we just, what? Wait for Mike to fuck up?"

"What the hell else are we going to do?" Quentin demands, helpless. "You told me how he acted with the djinn, you think he'll be any more understanding now?"

Margo sighs. "Fine," she says. "But I am watchin' him like a fuckin' hawk."

Quentin's lips twitch. "Wouldn't expect any less."

True to her word, Margo does watch Mike like a hawk. She doesn't find anything to substantiate the bad feeling that she and Quentin share about the man, but it's certainly not for lack of trying. Quentin shares with her the way that Mike seems to be snubbing him. Quentin's caught Mike glaring at him when Eliot's back is turned, and he seems to be constantly trying to keep Eliot's attention away from Quentin whenever the three of them are together. It only heightens Margo's suspicion, but Quentin, with the memory of Alice's suspicion of his and Eliot's relationship, brushes it off as jealousy - overzealous jealousy, but just jealousy.

Quentin's working on a growth enhancement spell by the greenhouse late one night almost a week later when Mike stumbles across him. He's got a charming smile, a self-conscious laugh to his voice as he claims to have gotten lost, moving closer while asking for directions to the Cottage. Quentin's distracted, turned to point the way, and he doesn't notice that Mike's drawn even closer until it's too late.

He doesn't see the knife until it's already slid into his side, the sharp, scraping sensation telling him that Mike hit bone.

Quentin barely has time to register this before Mike is being thrown violently away from him, and then Eliot comes into view, his hands twisting viciously as he throws blast after blast of what has to be battle magic at his own boyfriend. Mike hits the floor like a sack of bricks just seconds before Quentin does the same; Eliot hesitates only long enough to make sure that Mike won't be getting up again before sprinting to Quentin's side.

"Oh my god," he gasps, falling to his knees, his hands that were so sure mere moments ago fluttering uselessly over the blood beginning to stain Quentin's jacket. "Q. Q, it's okay, it's okay."

Quentin's own hand presses to his side, and he swears at the pain that flares from the touch. His hand comes away wet and red, and he gapes at it for a moment before his gaze lifts to Eliot. "He stabbed me," Quentin says, numb. "He - Fuck."

Eliot grabs Quentin's hand and presses it back to the wound. "Don't let go," he says urgently. "I know, okay? I know, I'm going to get help, but I need you to keep your hand right there."

Quentin fumbles with his other hand, fingers wrapping around Eliot's wrist. "Don't - " He chokes on a gasp, coughs. "Don't leave me."

"Fuck," Eliot whispers. He grabs the back of Quentin's neck with a shaking hand and drags him in until he can press a fierce kiss to his forehead. "I'm not going anywhere, I promise."

He lets go of Quentin completely then, just long enough to send another blast of magic into the sky. If Quentin was paying attention, he might have noticed the magic making contact with an invisible barrier, the impact sending spidery shock lines out along the barrier of the school's wards. He does, distantly, notice the shrieking alarm that sounds moments later.

And then Eliot's hands are back, pressing Quentin's own closer against the blood leaking from between his fingers, his voice urgent and desperate all at once. "They're coming," he tells Quentin. "They're coming, I swear, just don't let go, okay?"

Quentin mumbles something that might be a promise through clenched teeth, but he can't do anything else, too busy focusing on breathing.

Neither Quentin nor Eliot notice Mike stirring, nor do they notice when he struggles to his feet and staggers off in the opposite direction of the approaching healers.

Eliot hasn't moved from Quentin's bedside for over an hour when the infirmary doors open and Julia and Margo burst in. He's sitting slouched in the chair closest to Quentin, one hand clutching Quentin's lifeless one and the other twitching restlessly against his leg. He needs a cigarette.

"What the hell happened?" Margo demands, voice only slightly lowered in a weak attempt to not disturb Quentin.

It takes monumental effort for Eliot to raise his gaze. He only gets as far as Margo's bare midriff before he gives up and goes back to staring into space. "Mike," is all he can find the strength to say.

"Mike?" Julia asks, incredulous. "Mike, your fucking boyfriend, Mike?"

"Yeah," Eliot says dully. "Mike, my fucking boyfriend, Mike."

For a second, Margo actually looks delighted. "I knew it!"

Eliot cuts her a withering glare. "Bambi."

"Right." Margo deflates. "Right, sorry. How is he?"

Eliot sighs. "The healers worked miracles, honestly. He'll have to take it easy, but he'll be out of here by tomorrow."

"What the hell happened?" Julia asks, moving so she can sit on the other side of Quentin's bed.

"He was spelling me," Eliot says. "Or... spelling himself? To make me want him, desperately, more than anything else. I guess he thought Q was a threat, and he wanted to get rid of him."

"But why?" Margo asks, baffled.

"I don't know," Eliot says, his voice quiet, small. He closes his eyes. "Fuck, I don't know."

Julia and Margo exchange worried looks, but before either of them can say anything, Quentin stirs on the bed, groaning. "Shit," he coughs. His hand spasms around Eliot's, grip tightening. "Where - Where 'm I?"

Eliot actually finds it in himself to move, then. He reaches out with his free hand to push some hair back from Quentin's face, and lets his touch linger on his cheek for a moment. "Easy," he murmurs. "You're in the infirmary. Do you remember what happened?"

Quentin's brow furrows. "I was working on the... the spell for Sunderland. Growth enhancement," he remembers. "By the greenhouse. Mike came around the back, and said he got turned around. He, um. He asked me for directions? I turned to point, and then..." His gaze flicks to the bandages around his stomach, swallowing heavily.

"Hey," Eliot says, calling Quentin's attention back to him. "It's okay. You're okay. Fogg's got people out looking for him right now and the entire campus is on lockdown. He can't touch you."

Quentin takes a breath that isn't as deep as he'd like it to be, but he nods nonetheless. It's at that moment he seems to realize that he and Eliot aren't alone. He glances up, catches sight of Julia and Margo, and gives them a small, tired smile. "Hi."

"Hi, yourself, Q," Julia whispers, choked, as she reaches out to take Quentin's other hand in hers. "Campus full of magical dangers, and you manage to get yourself stabbed."

Quentin huffs, wincing. "Don't make me laugh," he warns, though he's still smiling.

"I should go," Eliot says quietly, getting to his feet and pulling his hand free from Quentin's. "You need to rest, and I should try to find out what's going on."

"El - " Quentin starts, hand twitching like he wants to reach for Eliot, keep him from leaving, but Eliot's already out of reach, moving around the foot of the bed and striding for the door. Quentin watches him go, knows his expression is worried as he looks back at Julia and Margo.

Margo just sighs. "Let him go," she says. "He'll come back."

Except he doesn't; almost as soon as Eliot leaves the infirmary, he receives a spelled note from Dean Fogg, requesting his presence at the clean room. Eliot doesn't waste any time making his way across campus, and when he arrives, Fogg is waiting for him. "Mr Waugh," he says, inclining his head. "How is Mr Coldwater?"

"Tired," Eliot answers. "Groggy, fucking traumatised." He takes a breath. "But he's okay."

Fogg nods, a slight relaxation in the set of his shoulders the only sign he'd been concerned for Quentin. "We managed to locate Mr Coldwater's attacker and brought him here; he's proven... surprisingly talkative. He's also asked to speak with you."

"To me?" Eliot asks. "What, so he can put me under his spell again? No thanks."

"He's being kept in the clean room until the proper authorities can retrieve him," Fogg informs Eliot. "I'm sure you know that it's a... magical dead zone. I'm glad you've already worked out that Mr McCormick had managed to bespell you, though from the sounds of things he was not targeting you specifically."

"What do you mean?" Eliot asks.

"He was attempting to increase his good fortune in finding a romantic partner," Fogg sighs. "He miscast the spell he had found, and made it far stronger than he had anticipated."

"And, what?" Eliot asks, his throat raw. "He didn't think, 'Oops', and reverse it?"

Fogg's expression is sympathetic. "No, he didn't," he says quietly.

"Was anything that I felt real?" Eliot asks.

"The spell worked by amplifying the natural attraction of those affected by it," Fogg explains. "It is overruled by stronger, more genuine attractions."

The less said about that, the better, Eliot realises. He sighs. "Do I go in alone?" he asks.

"If you're comfortable with it."

"He has no magic," Eliot says wryly. "What can he do to me that's any worse than what he's already done?" He gestures to the door behind Fogg.

Fogg inclines his head, conceding the point as he steps aside.

The room is as bleak as Eliot would expect the world to be without magic, with Mike sitting on a chair right in the middle of it. For the first time in weeks, Eliot doesn't feel anything when he sees Mike. He crosses his arms over his chest and stares evenly at Mike. "What do you want to talk to me about?"

Mike looks disappointed by Eliot's lack of reaction. "Guess it's well and truly worn off, then," he observes. "I knew Coldwater was a threat."

That makes Eliot feel something. "Don't you dare say his name," he spits. "You could have killed him."

Mike scoffs. "What did you think I was trying to do?"

Eliot grits his teeth. "Why?"

"I told you, he was a threat," Mike repeats, brow furrowed. "Every time he was around, you focused on him, and the spell got weaker."

"So you had to kill him?" Eliot makes a disgusted sound. "Why are you so desperate for a date, anyway?"

Mike's expression twists. "I wouldn't expect you to understand, you've never lacked for company ever since you got out of Indiana."

"Of course you're throwing that in my face," Eliot huffs. "You're pathetic, you know that? You've lost everything."

"It'll still be better than what I had before," Mike says, defiant.

Eliot actually laughs, though it comes out somewhat hysterical. "Which was what, exactly?"

"A life where I was too powerful to be mundane, but too weak to be a Master Magician," Mike spits. "I fit nowhere and there was no one who could keep up with me."

"Oh, boo-hoo," Eliot snarls. "No wonder you needed a spell to get laid. You're a whiny little bitch." He turns away.

"The spell amplified natural attraction, Eliot," Mike calls after him, something vicious and petty in his tone. "What does that say about you?"

"Y'know, I never thought I'd be so grateful to see this messy, headache-inducing place."

"Nearly dying will give you a sense of perspective, I've heard," Julia says, her tone just shy of 'light.' "Come on, up the stairs and through the front door; I made Margo promise not to ward it against you and make you earn you way in."

"Thanks," Quentin says with a laugh, holding onto Julia's shoulder for balance when he wobbles briefly. He's not entirely sure what he'd expected to find on the other side of the door once he's got it open, but he's grateful to see it's just a small gathering of people. Margo, Todd, Alice, and even Penny and Kady are present - there's still some lingering tension with Kady, but having heard about why she had helped curse him, Quentin can't find it in him to be too pissed - but there's one face missing. "Where's Eliot?" Quentin asks, surprised.

Margo shares a look with the others, and offers Quentin an uncertain smile. "He's... a little busy right now," she says, "but he sends his regards."

Quentin's not convinced, but... Well, he saw the look on Eliot's face when he was bleeding out, and then when he woke up in the infirmary. He's not going to try to rush Eliot. "So you all, uh, just happened to be hanging out in the living room when Jules and I were coming in?" he asks, the corner of his mouth lifting in a smirk.

"Yup," Penny says, but he lacks his usual conviction. "What a coincidence. Can I go now?"

Kady elbows him in the side hard enough to make him grunt. "No, you're not going anywhere," she informs him, giving Quentin a look that's too soft to be indifferent, but not so soft that it can be termed a smile. "Good to see you're still alive, Coldwater. Julia was worried about you."

"Of course she was," Quentin says, giving Julia a squeeze before he moves towards the nearest couch. "I was stabbed."

"And you're not going to let that go anytime soon, are you?" Julia asks, laughing with disbelief. "Honestly, Q."

"I'm going to milk it for a little while," Quentin admits, grinning.

"Maybe you should sit down," Alice suggests, gesturing toward the couch. "How are you feeling?"

Quentin does indeed sit down, offering Alice a reassuring smile. "A bit sore, but the Healers said that should be gone soon. I'm not even on any pain meds."

"That's great," Alice says, moving to sit next to him while Julia takes up his other side. "It's so good that Eliot found you in time."

"He was... He actually saw Mike attack me," Quentin sighs. "Eliot threw him off of me with battle magic."

"Battle magic?" Kady repeats. "That's impressive."

"From what I can remember, it was," Quentin agrees.

Penny comes over to perch on the arm of the couch by Julia, and Margo takes a seat on the couch across from them. "El and I learned some at Encanto Oculto last year, and we picked up a few more things since," she says, watching Quentin carefully. "He's always had a knack for the defensive spells."

"Well, I'm glad for that," Quentin says, giving Margo a tired smile. "And whenever he shows his face, I'll tell him that myself. Didn't get a chance before he ran off yesterday."

Margo gives him another of her strange smiles. "You'll get one," she says.

The chance presents itself a couple of hours later. They've just been sitting around, doing little except talking and laughing, but Quentin is starting to flag. He's exhausted and in pain, and he's trying to work out some subtle signal he can give Julia that he needs her to get him out of here when a door slams open upstairs and footsteps can be heard on the landing. A moment later, Eliot appears at the top of the stairs, wearing dress pants and a silk robe and little else. Even his feet are bare.

"Quentin!" he cries, practically tottering down the stairs. "Quentin, you're home."

"Yeah, the healers said I could come back today," Quentin replies with a smile, trying to pretend like every part of him doesn't relax at the sight of Eliot, even though he's obviously drunk. "Where've you been?"

"Oh, y'know," Eliot says, finally reaching the bottom of the stairs. He meanders over to the group and actually topples into Margo's lap. "I've just been... being."

Margo raises an eyebrow, lifting her head to share a look with Quentin. "Being drunk as a skunk, it looks like," Quentin observes.

"Actually," Eliot says, squirming around on Margo's lap until he can reach into his pocket and produce a hip flask, "I've been enchanting this. It never empties!"

"Oh boy," Alice whispers.

Margo takes the flask from Eliot, eyeing it critically before she hands it back with a sigh. "And what have you chosen to fill it with today, El?"

Eliot just laughs and takes a drink from the flask. "Wouldn't you like to know."

Quentin smiles softly, reaching out with one foot to nudge at Eliot's calf. "I missed you," he says, far too lightly for how the words have been weighing on him.

"Me?" Eliot clutches his chest, flutters his eyelashes. "Oh, Quentin, why miss me? I got you stabbed!"

"No," Quentin says slowly. "I'm pretty sure Mike was the one who stabbed me."

Eliot points at Julia. "Mike, my boyfriend, Mike," he repeats. "But you're still alive, so ha! Joke's on him." He drinks from the flask again.

Quentin glances at Julia, who gives a slight shake of her head - I'll tell you later. He glances at Margo, who is starting to look concerned, and then looks back at Eliot. "Well, I'm only alive because of you," he tries, even though he has no idea how much of this conversation Eliot will absorb or even remember, period, when he finally sobers up. "If you hadn't been there..."

Eliot sobers instantly. "Don't," he says. "If you're about to say thank you... Just don't."

"El," Margo says softly, squeezing his hip.

Eliot shrugs her off and gets unsteadily to his feet. "I'm glad you're back, Q," he says. "Now if you'll excuse me."

"El," Quentin starts - but Eliot's already gone.

Quentin feels better with each day that passes, but Eliot doesn't get better. He's never not drunk, often hides away in his room until the latest Cottage party, and he always avoids Quentin. It worries Quentin, and he's not the only one; Margo is doing her best to keep Eliot from completely self-destructing for reasons he won't share with anyone. Margo can only do so much, however, and Quentin can see how much of a toll taking care of her best friend is taking on her. She's getting snappish, short with everyone - including Eliot.

It comes to a head almost a week after Mike attacked Quentin. Their group is in the living room of the Cottage, which is for once nearly completely empty, in that odd time after dinner but before the next Cottage party can get started, and some students are in classes, the others in the dining hall or busy reviewing the day's notes. Quentin is going over his notes from his last Circumstances class, Margo has her own notes spread on the coffee table in front of her, and Eliot is...

Eliot is drunk off his ass, and quite possibly even high, if the smell on him when he came back in from the patio is anything to go by. His hair is unkempt, not the artful tousle he usually wears when it's not slicked back, but truly tangled, even slightly oily. Margo hasn't been able to get Eliot to actually take a shower, has, as she confided in Quentin last night, actually been trying to avoid that, because if he slips and falls, Margo won't be able to catch him. Neither of them want Eliot getting hurt; going on a bender because his then-boyfriend attacked one of his best friends is one thing, but...

"So," Eliot says, interrupting Quentin's train of thought and the rest of the group's conversation about music, "what I'm getting from this is that we need to ask the lizard man what song to play next?"

Beside him, Margo turns to look at him with wide eyes. "Sweetie, what are you on right now?"

"A boatload of tequila, two red pills, and maybe a green one," Eliot laughs. "But, seriously, the lizard man."

Quentin and Margo exchange a look. "There's no lizard man here, El," Quentin points out, careful.

"Really?" Eliot's gaze slides past the group, to stare vacantly at the wall for a long moment. "Oh. Maybe I shouldn't have taken the green."

"Ya think?" Margo spits.

”Maybe you should slow down,” Quentin suggests, concern obvious in his voice. “When was the last time you drank something that wasn’t alcohol?”

"That's hardly important," Eliot says. He shuffles around on the sofa and then leans slowly back into the cushions, his eyes wide. "Tell me. Are my eyes open or closed right now?"

Margo groans.

”They’re open,” Quentin says patiently, if a little sadly. It feels wrong, seeing Eliot like this.

"Okay," Eliot says. He stares unseeingly across the room for a moment longer, doesn't even blink. "How about now?"

Margo actually reaches out to Eliot but stops just short of touching him. She looks devastated. "Eliot, honey, why don't we go and lie down for a while?"

Eliot doesn't seem to hear her.

Quentin hesitates for a moment before he closes his notebook, getting to his feet and approaching Eliot. “I’ll get him upstairs,” he says, reaching for Eliot’s arm and, bracing himself, managing to haul Eliot to his feet.

Eliot falls against Quentin, both arms going around his neck, and he throws his head back and laughs. "Hear that, Bambi? Quentin wants to take me upstairs."

Margo gets to her feet. "Q, maybe I should come with you."

Quentin shifts himself until he can put his arm around Eliot’s waist. “I’ve got him,” he assures Margo. “I’ll get him into a shower, maybe that’ll sober him up a bit.”

"In that state? He'll break his neck!"

"Quentin won't let me fall," Eliot says, turning to look at Quentin with big doe eyes. "Will you?"

”No, I wouldn’t,” Quentin says, looking at Eliot with a critical eye. “But maybe a bath would be better.”

Another sudden peal of laughter has Eliot all but hanging off of Quentin, and Margo looks away. "Just get him upstairs and keep him safe, okay?"

”I will,” Quentin promises, wrapping his arm more securely around Eliot’s waist. “C’mon, El, let’s go.”

It's a struggle to get Eliot upstairs, undressed and into a bath, but Quentin somehow manages it. He props Eliot up as best he can and hovers until he's sure Eliot isn't just going to slump below water level, and then backs off to sit on the lid of the toilet instead. Eliot turns to watch him go, a pitifully befuddled look on his face, and Quentin is just about to tell him that he's not comfortable leaving him alone right now when Eliot speaks first.

"You really just wanted to put me in the bath," he says, his voice small. "I thought you meant..."

"You're way too drunk and high to consent right now, El," Quentin says gently.

Eliot sighs and looks away. "It's only what I deserve," he muses, mostly, it seems, to himself. "I should be lucky you want to be even this close to me."

"El." Quentin's voice is pained; he hates seeing Eliot like this. This is the first time he and Eliot have been alone together since he was stabbed, and Quentin will let himself feel guilty about pushing the issue later, but right now he just wants to know why Eliot has been avoiding him. "Why wouldn't I want to be close to you? You're one of my best friends."

Eliot sniffs. "Yeah," he says. "I know, Q."

Quentin hesitates, but then sighs. "I care about you," he says, "and I'm worried about you. Get washed, and we'll get you into bed afterwards. I don't think you've been sleeping well."

Eliot doesn't say anything, just spends the next few minutes silently doing as he's told. Eventually, though, he hisses in frustration and turns his gaze back to Quentin. "Is there any chance I could push the limits of your charity just a little further?"

Quentin puts his phone down on the countertop, turning to face Eliot. "What do you need?"

Eliot looks utterly miserable. "Could you help me wash my hair?" he asks. "I'm fucking disgusting, but I'm so far gone right now that I can't really feel my hands.”

"Yeah, I can help with that," Quentin says, standing and reaching for the cup on the countertop, bringing it with him as he moves. He grabs what he knows are Eliot's shampoo and conditioner and sits on the edge of the tub. "Sit up for me?"

Eliot does, the water sloshing in the bath as he goes. He tips his head back to let Quentin wet his hair, and keeps his eyes shut tight, even when Quentin sets the cup down and reaches for the shampoo. "Thank you," he whispers.

"It's no problem," Quentin murmurs, squirting some shampoo into his hand and working it into a light lather before he starts on Eliot's hair, fingers firm but gentle as he works the shampoo in thoroughly.

"Mmm," Eliot sighs, leaning into Quentin's touch with a soft smile on his lips. "That feels nice."

Quentin smiles as well. "Good," he hums, taking his time. If Eliot's enjoying this, then Quentin's not going to let himself feel guilty about lingering, not when he hasn't been able to get this close to Eliot in weeks. He's missed the casual touches more than he can say, and it's with great reluctance that Quentin finally pulls his hands away. "Gonna rinse that out, now. Keep your eyes closed."

"Yes sir," Eliot murmurs, a small smile lifting the corners of his mouth for just a moment before it slips right off his face.

They're quiet as Quentin rinses out the shampoo and then works the conditioner in just as slowly as he had the shampoo. "That needs to sit for a minute, right?"

Eliot catches himself leaning into Quentin's touch again and sits a little more upright. "Yeah," he says. "Gotta keep these locks luscious."

Quentin chuckles, lets Eliot sit up, but doesn't let his hands move for a moment. When his hands do move, Quentin lets them drift downwards, over the back of Eliot's neck and over his shoulders, digging the tips of his fingers into the knotted muscle beneath them. "Okay?" he asks, uncertain, hesitant.

"Q," Eliot says, his voice low. "If you keep that up, I might never let you stop."

Quentin pauses; he goes so far as to lift his hands, but then he takes a deep breath and lowers them again, resuming the impromptu massage. Eliot groans and leans forward, his wet hair sticking to his forehead, but he makes no move to push it back. He couldn't move right now if he wanted to.

Quentin lets the two of them sit in silence for longer than the conditioner strictly needs before he rinses it out of Eliot's hair. After that, Quentin helps Eliot keep his balance while he gets out, handing Eliot a towel and draining the tub while Eliot slowly dries off. Eliot seems slightly steadier on his feet as they move down the hall to Eliot's bedroom, though he's noticeably more tired. Quentin picks out a set of pyjamas, helping Eliot into them before he turns towards the door. "Get some rest, El," he says. "I'll bring up some water."

"Wait." Eliot looks impossibly small when Quentin turns back to him, dwarfed by his huge bed and soft comforter. His hair is still damp, curling into his eyes, and he looks young and exhausted and maybe a little bit scared. "Stay?"

Quentin pauses, then turns back. "Alright," he says, moving towards the side of the bed. "I'll stay."

Eliot loses the battle to keep his eyes open within moments of Quentin getting into bed, but Quentin pulls him into his arms anyway.

When Quentin wakes, it takes him a moment to remember what happened, and why the sunlight from the window is hitting his face at a strange angle. The weight of Eliot in his arms, his head on Quentin's chest, is a pretty big clue, and Quentin can't help but press a gentle kiss to the crown of Eliot's head. He stays still for another few minutes, studying Eliot intently. He looks better, after the bath and a full night's sleep, but there's still a gauntness to his cheeks that makes Quentin's heart ache.

Getting out of the bed takes far longer than Quentin had thought it would; Eliot does his best to cling to Quentin, and it takes everything Quentin has to keep from waking him. Once he's out of the bed, Quentin digs through Eliot's clothes for the flask he'd enchanted, tucking it into his own pocket before he slips through the door and heads for the kitchen, intent on making breakfast for the two of them and getting something vaguely healthy and non-alcoholic in Eliot before he starts drinking himself into a stupor again.

Eliot stumbles down the stairs just as Quentin's finishing up, looking more like a zombie than Quentin's ever seen him as he all but collapses into a chair at the kitchen table and drags the coffee pot towards him. "Morning," he mumbles, once he's downed half a mug. "I've never felt like this before in my life."

"I'm sure you've never been that fucked up in your life, either," Quentin says lightly, poking at the bacon sizzling in the skillet and deciding it needs another couple of minutes.

Eliot knocks back the rest of his coffee like he's slamming a shot and pours himself another cup. He doesn't drink this one yet, though, in favour of dropping his head into his hands. "Ugh," he moans, "I hate everything." He looks up after a moment and squints over at Quentin. "And I think I owe you an apology."

Quentin glances over his shoulder, brow furrowed. "What for?"

Eliot waves a hand vaguely. "I have very few solid memories from last night," he says, "but I know I did something inappropriate. Possibly more than one something."

Quentin's brow smooths out in favor of allowing one eyebrow to rise. "What makes you so sure about that?"

Eliot gives him a flat look. "I definitely propositioned you," he says. "If that's not inappropriate, I don't know what is."

Quentin snorts before turning back to the stove. "You've propositioned me before," he points out, taking the bacon out of the pan and setting it aside, grabbing a couple of eggs and cracking them into the pan. "But alright, apology accepted."

Eliot takes another sip of coffee rather than do something absurd like thank Quentin, and clears his throat. "Uh," he says, "if some of that's for me, I... don't know how I feel about food right now."

"You need to at least eat some toast," Quentin says firmly. "I promised Margo I'd take care of you, and I'm not breaking a promise to her."

Eliot rolls his eyes, and instantly regrets it. "Where is Margo?" he asks.

Quentin shrugs, taking the eggs off of the heat and plating them. "I'm not sure; I haven't seen her this morning." He grabs silverware and puts them on the plates before picking up the plates and moving to the table. He slides one plate in front of Eliot, the other in front of the chair across from him. "You need to get some water in you, too."

"I hate you," Eliot bitches, but he picks up his fork.

"No, you don't," Quentin says lightly, fishing the largest glass he can find out of one of the cabinets and filling it with ice and water before he returns to the table. He places the glass by Eliot's plate, slides into his chair and picks up his fork. "Finish that glass and I'll tell you where I've hidden your flask."

Eliot blanches. "You have my flask?"

"Yeah, I do," Quentin says, looking at Eliot with a raised eyebrow. "And you're not getting it back yet. Eat."

"I hate you," Eliot says again, but he does start to eat.

Quentin just smiles to himself, tucking into his own breakfast. They don't talk while they eat - though Eliot does alternate between casting baleful and outright annoyed looks at Quentin whenever their eyes meet - but once their plates are clear and Eliot's glass of water is gone, Quentin gathers their dishes and takes them to the sink. "How are you feeling now?"

Eliot takes a breath. "A little better," he admits. "Like I could sleep for a week, but."

Quentin hums, twisting the handle for the tap so he can start rinsing their dishes. "Well, then how about you go back to sleep and I'll leave your flask in your room?"

Eliot huffs and gets to his feet. "I need a cigarette first."

Quentin and Eliot spend more time together than they have since before Mike came into the picture - and Margo and Eliot spend less time with each other than they have since their Trials. As a couple of days turns into one week and then into two, Margo can't help but feel conflicted. Eliot seems to be doing better; he's more... present than he has been in almost a month. He's still drinking a lot, his flask near-constantly at his hip except for when Quentin steals and hides it in order to force some water down his throat.

And that is where Margo's conflict lies: Quentin. She's grateful for all of his help, for the fact that he seems to be doing Eliot a world of good, but... he's the one doing it, not Margo. He's taking better care of her best friend - of her family - than she could, and that rankles. It makes her shorter with him than she means to be, whenever they talk, and the confusion and hurt on his expression whenever she lashes out only makes Margo feel worse for feeling the way that she does. She doesn't avoid Quentin, but there's a new tension underlying their interactions that's never been there before.

Margo is pulled from her musing when she feels the couch shift under her; when she glances over, she sees Alice sitting next to her. The expression on Alice's face is contemplative, serious, and it rubs Margo the wrong way. "Can I help you?" she asks sharply.

"Sorry," Alice says. She looks away, her gaze automatically finding Quentin and Eliot, who are chatting at the bar on the other side of the room. "I was just wondering. Is everything okay with you and Eliot?"

Margo raises one eyebrow. "Why wouldn't it be?"

"You're not spending much time together," Alice says. "Him and Quentin seem pretty cosy."

Margo snorts, a not-so-delicate huff of air through her nose. "They do, don't they?"

"And you don't seem too happy about that," Alice goes on.

"So I'm a bit possessive, sue me," Margo says dismissively, taking a sip of her drink. "The important thing is that Eliot's doing better."

"I guess Quentin is the best person to be looking out for him right now," Alice agrees. She frowns. "I just hope it doesn't get to be too much."

Margo's frown matches hers. "What do you mean?"

"Well, obviously Eliot is struggling with what happened, but you know that Quentin struggles too, right?"

"Uh, yeah, he got stabbed," Margo says slowly. "It would be a bit weird if he didn't - " She blinks, tilts her head. "Or are you talking about the thing he and Eliot had to pick up medicine for at the beginning of the semester?"

Alice hesitates. "Yes," she says. "I guess so. He told me as part of the Trials. It wasn't his Secret, but it came up."

Margo hums a considering sound, taking another slow sip. "I see your point," she concedes. "But Q's not the one trying to drink himself into oblivion and damn the rest of us."

"At least he's trying to help," Alice says.

Margo cuts her a sharp look. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing," Alice says, the picture of innocence. "I just think he's being a really good friend."

Margo resists the urge to slam her drink down on the coffee table, if only because she suddenly feels like she really fucking needs it. "And you think I wasn't?" she hisses. "I tried everything I could, but nothing worked! Nothing got through to him, but then Quentin just fucking..." Margo tosses back the rest of her drink, gets to her feet. "Yeah, he's being a 'really good friend,' and I'm fucking glad he's helping," she spits. "Doesn't mean I have to like the fact that he's helping where I failed." Margo forces herself to take a deep breath. She tosses her hair over her shoulder, raises her glass to give it a pointed shake. "Now if you'll excuse me, I think I'm going to take a page out of Eliot's book for today. See you later, Quinn." And with that, she turns her back on Alice, Quentin, and Eliot - the latter two still seemingly unaware of Margo and Alice's conversation - and makes a beeline for the stairs.

Eliot's gaze follows her impassively as she storms from the room; his eyebrow raises when Alice gets up too and actually leaves the Cottage. "Wonder what they were talking about," he says, but the words are flat, like he's not really interested.

"I don't know," Quentin says, clearly worried. "But whatever it was about, it really pissed Margo off. She's been a little, er... A little touchy lately? I wonder if that had anything to do with it."

"It's Margo," Eliot says, raising his cosmo to his lips. "She'll get over it."

Quentin frowns, something about Eliot's answer striking him as odd. "Have... you and Margo been fighting?" he asks slowly. "You haven't called her 'Bambi' in... a long time."

Eliot lets out a slow breath. "Honestly, Quentin," he says, "I hadn't noticed."

"Maybe you should spend some time with her," Quentin suggests. "I know she worries about you."

"I'm sure she does," Eliot says. He takes another sip of his Cosmo, and keeps his face turned down toward the bar when he admits, very quietly, "Everything is just so exhausting right now."

Quentin reaches across the bar top and lays his hand over Eliot's, giving it a soft squeeze. "I get that," he murmurs. "But it's less exhausting when you have friends to lean on."

Eliot smiles at that, just a small one, but he's quick to withdraw his hand. "Thanks, Q."

Quentin straightens in his chair, his own hand pulling back to rest in his lap. He watches Eliot closely for a moment, something about his smile striking him the wrong way, before he lets his own lips quirk in a small smile. “No problem,” he says quietly, watching Eliot turn back to his flask.

Something’s definitely up with Eliot.

It takes Quentin some time to become suspicious of the way that Eliot’s acting, the way that he seems sometimes to care about nothing at all, the way that he withdraws into himself when he’s not caring - and the way that he hides himself in his room more often. Margo can’t help him when he finally asks her; she has no idea why he might be acting this way.

Quentin considers the idea that this may be part of Eliot’s recovery, as he works to process everything that happened. He ends up discarding it pretty quickly the night he catches sight of a small, glowing red bottle hanging around Eliot’s neck when he passes Eliot’s open door.

Eliot’s been more social tonight than he has outside of Cottage parties, and Quentin had been hopeful that that meant that Eliot was starting to feel more like himself. When he passes Eliot’s bedroom, he doesn’t think anything of the reflexive glance at the door. He’s surprised that it’s still open - but that surprise quickly morphs to confusion when he sees the bottle hanging off of a small chain around Eliot’s neck. Quentin doesn’t think about it, just walks in, concern flaring to life in his chest, threatening to choke him as he asks, “What the hell is that? I could practically feel the magic on it from the hallway.”

"It's a bottle," Eliot says, his expression neutral. "It's not important."

Quentin frowns. "Then why the hell is it so magical?" he demands, glancing up to look into Eliot's face. He falters at the blankness behind Eliot's eyes. "Are you - Are you okay, El?"

Eliot smiles, but it doesn't reach his eyes. "I'm fine, Quentin," he says. "How are you?"

"I'm really fucking worried about you," Quentin says flatly. "What does the bottle do, Eliot?"

"It holds my emotions," Eliot answers. "For when I don't need them."

Quentin blanches. "And how long has it been doing that?"

"Almost a week, off and on," Eliot tells him. He glances at his pocket watch. "Currently, a little over four hours. Huh. I'm late."


"I'm only supposed to use the bottle for three hours." Eliot grimaces. "I'd rather use it forever, I think."

"No," Quentin says vehemently. "You're not going to - Damn it, Eliot, you put those emotions back in you right the fuck now, or - or - or I'll cram them down your throat myself!"

Eliot regards him lazily for a long moment - but then he sighs, and pulls the chain holding the bottle over his head. "You might want to leave the room," he says.

Quentin shakes his head, expression equally stubborn and concerned. "I really don't want to leave you alone right now, El."

Eliot shrugs. "Suit yourself." He uncorks the bottle, downs its contents in one go - and promptly collapses.

"Eliot!" Quentin cries, darting forward to gather a shaking Eliot into his arms. "Fuck, alright, let's - let's get you into the bed, El, c'mon."

Eliot is anything but cooperative. "Oh my god," he gasps. "Oh my god. My flask, where's-- where's my flask?"

"I don't know," Quentin says honestly, getting his hands under Eliot's arms, shifting so he can bodily haul Eliot to his feet. "C'mon, bed - let's lie down, El."

Eliot moans, in protest or discomfort or sheer distress, but he lets Quentin drag him over to the bed in as much as he doesn't put up an actual fight. Once he's flopped down on top of the covers, though, he turns over, one hand reaching out towards the floor, where he'd dropped the empty bottle when he fell. "Fuck," he groans, "if I can't have the flask, just give me the bottle, please."

"No," Quentin says firmly, even though it tears at him to see Eliot like this. He flicks his fingers, locks Eliot's door so no one else sees him this way, and climbs onto the bed, drawing Eliot back into his arms. "That's not safe, El, you can't do that to yourself two times in a row."

"You don't understand," Eliot says, shaking so hard it feels like he might fly apart. "You-- you don't know what it's like."

"To be overwhelmed?" Quentin says, laughing - though it sounds more like a dry sob. "To feel like there's too many emotions for one person to hold?"

"There are too many emotions," Eliot insists. "All of them, all at once. I can't-- Fuck, I can't--" He wrenches himself out of Quentin's arms and lurches toward the side of the bed, where he yanks the nightstand drawer open and retrieves a pack of cigarettes. He struggles to get one lit, fumbling the lighter a few times when his magic proves too erratic to help him, but at last he manages it, and he raises the cigarette to his lips with a trembling hand. "I can't do this," he says, his voice steadier now, even as he shakily exhales the smoke. "Fuck, Quentin, I need you to leave."

Quentin hesitates, perched on the edge of Eliot's bed. "I still don't think you should be alone," he repeats, quieter this time. "I - I won't talk, if you don't want to talk, but. You literally removed your emotions from yourself, El. That's - " He pauses, swallows, tries again. "I'm just concerned. For you, and... And about you."

"Why?" Eliot asks. He sounds almost annoyed.

"Because I care about you, you dumbass!" Quentin bursts out with. "I care about you, and I don't want to see you destroy yourself!"

"Oh, go fuck yourself, Quentin," Eliot sighs. "You don't owe me anything, so go find another charity case."

"'A charity case'?" Quentin says, mouth dropping open in shock. "Is that - Seriously? After every fucking thing, you - you think I'm here just because I think you're some kind of goddamned charity case?"

"I don't know why you're here," Eliot snaps, smoking furiously. "But I know that what happened with Mike was my fault, and you shouldn't want to be anywhere fucking near me, and the sooner you wake up to that the better."

Quentin gapes at Eliot for a moment, lost for words. "You think - That's - Jesus Christ, Eliot, Mike was the one who attacked me, and I'm pretty damn sure he made that decision himself! Do I have to literally slap some sense into you to get that point across?" he demands. "Whatever the fuck is making you think it was your fault is wrong, okay? Did you fucking tell him to come stab me?"

"As good as!" Eliot can't even look at Quentin now. "Every time I was around you, his control on me slipped a little. He had to get you out of the way if he wanted to keep me."

"That's - Jesus, El, that is beyond fucked up," Quentin says - then scowls, winds up, and socks Eliot in the shoulder. "Why the fuck haven't you said anything about this before now?"

Eliot flinches, hard, and his hand shakes even more when he returns his cigarette to his lips, but he still doesn't turn to look at Quentin. "I guess I didn't think it was important."

"Not important? El, that goddamned bastard made you think you were - you were basically an accessory to attempted murder! Of course that's important, especially when it's been tearing you up like this." Quentin shifts on the bed, tries to put himself in front of Eliot so he can see how absolutely serious Quentin is right now. "El? I... I want you to really listen to me, okay? I'm sorry for hitting you, I shouldn't have done that. But you? You are not responsible for what Mike did, okay? He cast that stupid spell, he decided that I was a threat, and he decided to attack me for it."

Eliot just stares at Quentin for the longest moment, and Quentin thinks he's finally getting it - but then he pulls away. "Whatever," he says. "It doesn't change the fact that it wouldn't have even been an issue if I hadn't--"

Quentin shifts on the bed again, closer to Eliot. He reaches out, lays his hand over top of Eliot's. "None of what happened with Mike is your fault," he says, soft but firm. "None of it, El. I'll tell you that as many times as it takes for it to sink in."

Eliot leans out of Quentin's space once more, but he doesn't move his hand; he only goes far enough to stub out his cigarette before he turns back. His eyes, when he lifts his gaze to meet Quentin's, are shining with unshed tears. "I'm sorry, Q," he whispers. "I never meant for any of this to happen."

"I know," Quentin assures Eliot, twisting his hand and shifting so that he can open his arms and tug Eliot forward. "Come here?"

Eliot sniffles and nods, lets Quentin fold him up into his arms, and even gets his own arms around Quentin's waist so that he can hold on tight. They rock backwards together until Quentin has his back against the pillows, and Eliot could stay here forever, honestly. Neither of them would mind. "Thank you," Eliot whispers.

Quentin hums quietly, giving in to the urge to run his fingers through Eliot's hair. "You're welcome," he murmurs. "Get some sleep, El. I'll be here when you wake up."

Quentin is indeed still there when Eliot wakes up, still wrapped around him and lifting Eliot's hair a little with each soft breath he takes against his temple, like Eliot isn't the taller of the two and the fact that Quentin has him cradled in his arms isn't utterly ridiculous. It awakens something warm and molten deep inside him that he hasn't felt, hasn't allowed himself to feel, for weeks - and that has something like vaguely-muted panic clawing at the inside of his head. He casts his gaze longingly to the floor, to the empty bottle resting innocently enough near the foot of the bed. He doesn't even know where his flask is, but if he can get his hands on that bottle he won't need it.

He's wormed himself out of Quentin's arms and is halfway out of bed when the air shifts behind him, and he knows that Quentin is awake. Watching him. Eliot winces, and turns around. "Good morning."

"Morning," Quentin says softly. His gaze flicks from Eliot to the edge of the bed, and when he looks back at Eliot, there's something a little sad in his gaze, though he doesn't say anything.

It's still enough to have Eliot rolling his eyes and leaning back against the headboard. "I wasn't going to do it," he says, though they both know he's lying.

Quentin shifts on the bed, sitting up as well. "Do you really feel like you need that? How did you even find out about it?"

"Remember I told you I got a blow job from a hedge witch for a spell?" Eliot huffs a soft laugh. "I was talking to him afterwards about battle magic. You know you have to be... emotionally stable, emotionally blank, even, to manage it. The bottle thing came up. I did some research, figured it might be useful. And it was."

Quentin considers that for a moment before frowning. "How did you use battle magic against Mike, then?"

"Honestly?" Eliot shakes his head. "I don't know. I was only there because I was looking for Mike like some pathetic, lovesick puppy. But his spell on me broke as soon as I saw what he'd done, and I guess I just... whited out. For a second there I just didn't feel anything."

Quentin nods slowly. "I guess seeing your boyfriend stabbing someone is pretty bad to begin with... But I'm glad you broke that spell, even if it meant I had to get stabbed," he says in a weak attempt at a joke before he sobers. "I don't think I'm ever going to doubt Margo's intuition again."

Eliot frowns. "What about Margo?"

"She thought there was something off about Mike," Quentin confesses. "And she told me about what happened while we were in Brakebills South. I... I didn't like him, either, but. But I thought - I thought it was just because... because you two had gotten so close so quickly. I didn't think he was actually dangerous."

"Fuck," Eliot groans, scrubbing a hand over his face. "It's not your fault, don't be ridiculous. But Margo."

"She wanted to try to get you two to... I don't know, slow down, or maybe actually break up? I talked her out of it, though. Because, well, we didn't know that Mike had done anything."

"Still not your fault," Eliot says. "Either of you." He sighs. "I need to talk to her."

"I think she'd like that," Quentin says with a small smile. "And if it's not our fault for what happened, then it's not yours, either. You were literally under a spell."

"Yeah," Eliot says darkly, "because I was already attracted to him without the spell. That's why it had such a strong hold on me; it just capitalised on what was already there."

"Shit," Quentin breathes; he doesn't think, just reaches over to take Eliot's hand in his. "That's... really fucking underhanded. And creepy."

"It's something," Eliot agrees. He squeezes Quentin's hand. "But enough of the pity party. I need to talk to Margo."

Quentin glances at the clock on Eliot's nightstand, then grins. "You sure you want to wake her up at just past six in the morning?"

Eliot's already halfway out of bed, but he turns back to give Quentin a small smile. "Trust me," he says, "she's been waiting long enough. I'll see you later?"

Quentin smiles, and for the first time in weeks, it finally feels natural. "I'll see you later," he agrees. "Good luck waking the bear."

There's a nameless, faceless guy in Margo's bed when Eliot lets himself into her room, but Eliot gives exactly zero fucks. "Get out," he says, when the guy lifts his head from the pillow to gaze blearily over at him - and then again, louder. "Get out!"

Margo's head pops up from her own pillow, hair tousled, and she frowns at Eliot - then blinks, eyes widening when she takes in the fact that Eliot is in her room. "You heard him," she says, shoving at - Matt? Mark? It started with an M, definitely - M-name's shoulder. "Sorry, sweetheart, but he's got dibs on my time."

"Oh, fuck," M-name mutters, but he seems to know better than to make any further complaints, because he grabs his shit and gets out of there in record time.

Once they're alone, Eliot gives Margo a tentative smile. "Banging unwitting first years again?" he asks. The words are a little too soft.

"Like you're one to talk," Margo says, a bit too sharply; it's been too long since they've been them, they've lost their rhythm. Margo takes a breath, studies Eliot carefully as she sits up, lets the sheets fall without any regard to her state of undress. "You look like you actually got a good night's sleep for once."

"I did," Eliot admits. "Quentin came and gave me a dose of my own medicine last night, literally. He scraped me off the floor afterwards and put me to bed, and here I am."

Margo frowns. "A literal taste of your own medicine?"

Eliot hesitates, but he knows Margo deserves the truth just as much as Quentin. "I've been... bottling my emotions. Like, in an actual bottle."

"El," Margo says, pained. "That's really fucking dangerous. You - How long?"

"All week," Eliot confesses. "I've been fine, mostly, except last night I ran over on the time limit by like an hour. When Quentin found me I basically had to OD on my own emotions, which... wasn't great."

Margo sucks in a sharp breath, shifting on the bed and gesturing for Eliot to come join her. "Are you okay, now?"

Eliot goes to her with a sigh, but doesn't let himself press up against her the way he really wants to. "No," he admits, aloud, for the first time since Mike happened. "Even setting aside the emotions hangover, I'm... I'm really not okay, Bambi."

Margo studies him for a moment, and then she moves, shifting closer until she can draw Eliot in close. "Tell me about it?"

Eliot lets himself wrap an arm around Margo's shoulders, hides his face in her hair. "I think there's something wrong with me," he murmurs. "The first thing I wanted to do when I woke up today was grab the bottle and put my emotions right back into it. Quentin looked so disappointed, so I didn't do it, but I... I still want to."

Margo wraps her arms more tightly around Eliot. "I'm glad you didn't, those things are addictive," she says quietly. "It's part of why they're so dangerous." She blinks, then pulls back just enough to look up at Eliot. "Wait, Quentin saw you this morning, too?"

"He stayed over," Eliot says. "He--" He laughs. "I can't tell you. I don't think I can handle your judgement."

A slow grin takes over Margo's expression. "Did he cuddle you all night?"

Eliot almost blushes. Almost. "Yes," he says. "It was... nice."

Margo's smile softens. "Good." She hesitates, then asks, "Are you going to use the bottle again?"

"I don't know," Eliot admits. "I want to. Even more than I want a drink."

Margo hesitates, biting her lip. "I know that dealing with your emotions, with what happened... It really fucking sucks. And I don't blame you for wanting a reprieve, but. Using that bottle isn't dealing with your emotions. It's running from them."

"Since when do either of us deal with our emotions?" Eliot asks, but it's weak.

Margo laughs quietly. "I know. But something like this, I... I don't think it's something you should bury in alcohol or hide from, El."

Eliot is silent for the longest of moments, and then he sighs, deep and heavy. "He hurt Q, Bambi," he says quietly. "It was all my fault."

Margo tucks herself back in against Eliot's side. "Why do you think that?" she asks, just as quiet.

"The spell was strengthened by my initial attraction to Mike," Eliot says, "but it was weakened every time I was around Quentin."

"Oh," Margo breathes in understanding. "He saw Q as competition for you. Someone who could break the spell, or help you break it."

Eliot nods. "In the end he did exactly what he was trying to prevent," he says.

Margo blows out a breath. "Well, I'm glad you kicked his fucking ass," she says decisively. "He was a shithead, doubly so for making you feel guilty about thinking anything he did is your fault. Even if the spell worked with natural attraction, that doesn't mean it's your fault that he targeted you or Q."

Eliot shakes his head. "I know," he says. "At least, I'm trying to."

"Trying is good," Margo says firmly, squeezing Eliot affectionately. "Better than ignoring."

Eliot smiles and squeezes Margo in return. "For what it's worth," he says, "I am sorry I've been kind of AWOL lately."

"You going to keep being AWOL?"

"I don't know," Eliot says honestly. "I hope not. Last night was a bit of a wake-up call."

Margo sighs, leans a little more heavily into Eliot. "Let us help you, alright? Before you go back to either bottle. I was... really scared for you."

Eliot wraps both arms around her, kisses the top of her head. "I love you, Bambi," he says. "I don't say that enough."

Margo smiles. "I love you, too, El."

Things aren't miraculously fixed right away. Eliot doesn't think he'll ever be fixed, but that isn't news to him. They do get better, though. Under Margo's watchful eye and Quentin's patient care, Eliot starts to find it a little easier to be more present in the moment, to not slink off to lick his wounds or drown his sorrows in private. He does find himself reaching for his flask with a little more frequency than Margo or Quentin probably like, but he doesn't reach for the emotion bottle anymore, crushed it beneath his heel in the spot he'd dropped it the night before and magicked the shards away while Quentin watched, and he knows they know that he's trying.

Trying, but still struggling. Which is why he finds himself in Quentin's bedroom one night a week after he reached breaking point. Between his two guardians he hasn't spent a night alone yet, but he kicked Margo out to have a good night without worrying about him and Quentin suggested that Eliot might like a night to himself, and Eliot actually agreed. That was four hours ago. Three hours ago, his demons creeping in from the shadows, Eliot realised he wasn't going to sleep without someone beside him. Not tonight. He snuck down the hall to Quentin's room and let himself in without knocking, surprised to find Quentin still awake - and waiting for him? He won't admit it, if that is the case. And now they're both sprawled across Quentin's bed, the dim yellow glow of Quentin's touch lamp the only light as they talk and laugh the night away.

"I haven't seen much of Alice lately," Eliot says, the late hour and the scotch he drank looking for the courage to seek Quentin out loosening his tongue and his good sense. "I did find out what her little spat with Margo was about, though."

"She's been busy," Quentin hums. "And so have I. Classes are starting to really kick our asses. What did she and Margo fight about?"

"Whether or not Margo was being a good friend." Eliot frowns. "Do you need to me to go?"

Quentin blinks. "Why would I need you to go? I've already finished up my homework. Or, well. I've finished most of it." He shrugs, smiling. "You don't need to go anywhere if you don't want to."

Eliot smiles back. "All right," he says. "It's just that it only just occurred to me that maybe it was you who wanted a night to himself."

Quentin laughs quietly. "Jules long ago drilled the importance of asking for what I need into me," he says with a smile. "If that's what I wanted, I would have said. I just... I just figured you might want some time without your, uh, not-exactly-babysitters."

Eliot rolls his eyes. "Clearly not," he says, "if I'm in here with you."

Quentin's laugh is louder this time. "Clearly not," he agrees, shifting onto his side and propping his head on his hand, smiling at Eliot fondly. "It's, ah. It's good to see you again, El."

If Eliot's cheeks go a little pink at that, he can definitely blame the scotch. "I'm sure I don't know what you mean," he says.

Quentin smiles, reaching out to brush a lock of hair out of Eliot's face. "Yeah," he says, his own cheeks heating - but he doesn't have the excuse of alcohol. "I'm sure you don't."

Eliot smiles and catches Quentin's wrist, presses a gentle kiss to his palm. "It's good to be me again," he admits. "If only for tonight."

Quentin's breath hitches, and he reflexively swallows, eyes wide. It takes him a moment to find his voice, though his hand doesn't move except to brush his fingertips against Eliot's jaw, cupping it. "We'll have to find a way to make you feel like tonight more often, then."

Eliot kisses Quentin's palm again and then turns his head until he can slip one of Quentin's fingers between his lips, just for a moment. "This is helping," he murmurs, his eyes dark.

Quentin hesitates, torn. "You sure?" he asks, holding himself still, waiting breathlessly for Eliot's answer.

Eliot's gaze is scorching in its intensity. "If you are," he says.

Quentin doesn't move for another moment, searching Eliot's gaze intently. Eventually, he pulls his hand away - but it's only so he can replace his finger with his lips, pressing them to Eliot's in a heated kiss that's still far too soft, his hand moving until it can curve around his neck, sweeping his thumb over Eliot's jaw. Eliot's breath stutters out of him, soft and surprised, but he makes no move to deepen the kiss. They pull apart after a moment, just to check in, but Eliot shows no sign of discomfort; he just reels Quentin back in, settles back against the bed until Quentin is over him.

"Q," he sighs. And then again: "Q."

They're pressed together from shoulders to hips, and Quentin would be lying if he said he hadn't missed this. When Eliot sighs his name, though, Quentin forces himself back into the moment, humming a question as he pulls back just enough to let Eliot speak.

"I want you," Eliot breathes, when he has the breath to do so. "I've missed you so much, Q."

"I missed you, too," Quentin confesses, ducking in for another kiss. "As long as you're sure..."

"Quentin, stop thinking," Eliot laughs, soft and breathless. "I'm sure."

"I'm sorry," Quentin says, unable to kiss Eliot any more because he's grinning too widely, "have you met me?"

"Oh my god," Eliot groans. He's grinning when he grabs Quentin's ass and pulls him in, but the filthy grind of their hips makes them both moan, Eliot's eyes fluttering closed. "Just shut up and fuck me, Coldwater."

Quentin stills, his eyes flying open as he braces himself over Eliot. "Wait, you - you want me to fuck you?"

Eliot just gazes back at him, his eyes wide and soft. "Yes," he says. "I really want you to."

Quentin stares at Eliot, wonder clear in his expression, and he swears his heart literally flips over in his chest. "Okay," he breathes, dipping in for a kiss that's meant to be shorter than it ends up being. "Alright."

Quentin takes his time re-familiarizing himself with Eliot and his body, touching him slowly and gently. They trade slow, hungry kisses the whole time, breaking apart only long enough to tug their shirts off, shed their pants, and then for Quentin to lean over and dig the lube and condoms out of his bedside drawer. Eliot teases him for it, and Quentin's still flushed red from arousal and embarrassment when he breaks the kiss again, starts kissing a path down Eliot's jaw and neck, over his chest. He brushes his lips over Eliot's stomach, follows the trail of hair from his navel and further down. He bypasses Eliot's cock, smiling at the frustrated noise Eliot makes - and then smirks at the sharp intake of breath when Quentin lifts Eliot's legs, pulls them over his shoulders. Quentin remembers his reaction the first time that Eliot had eaten him out, and he's wondering if he can get the same reaction out of Eliot.

He doesn't.

He gets an even better one.

He works Eliot open with his tongue first, pinning his hips to the bed when Eliot can't stay still. Eventually, Eliot gets impatient, demands more, and Quentin obliges, reaching blindly for the lube and slicking his fingers before settling to his new task. The noises he coaxes from Eliot are beautiful - just as beautiful as the easy way that Eliot opens to him, relaxing into the bed and baring himself to Quentin. When he finally breaks, finally begs Quentin to fuck him, there are frustrated tears in the corners of his eyes, tears that Quentin brushes away with a kiss before he rolls the condom on and gives Eliot what he wants so desperately.

Eliot shudders underneath him, strung taut as the string on a harp, and Quentin keeps the pace slow, rolls his hips to bring them together. He runs his hands down Eliot's arms, seeks out Eliot's hands so that he can tangle their fingers together, squeeze Eliot's hands as he leans in, kisses Eliot softly until Eliot arches underneath him, demands he move. Quentin complies, settles them into a rhythm that doesn't drive them towards the edge so much as coax them towards it. Quentin holds onto his self control by bare threads, reaches between them to ensure that Eliot comes first, and it's only when Eliot has shuddered apart around him, Quentin's name on his lips, that Quentin lets himself go. He follows Eliot quickly, buries his face in the crook of Eliot's neck, bites his release into the skin there, too soft to leave a physical mark.

After they catch their breath, Quentin disposes of the condom, cleans them up with magic and has to practically wrestle Eliot under the covers. As soon as Quentin joins him, Eliot presses in close, and Quentin opens his arms willingly. They fall asleep tangled together, pressed so closely that Quentin can feel his heart settling into the same rhythm that Eliot's finds.

Quentin wakes first the next morning, before dawn has truly broken. There's a soft light to the room, casting faint shadows across Eliot's face, and Quentin can't help but smile, press his lips to Eliot's forehead in a gentle kiss. He settles back into the mattress with a content sigh as Eliot's eyes flutter open, and he can't help but smile. "Morning," he murmurs, the thumb of one hand sweeping across the warm skin at Eliot's hip.

Eliot smiles back, soft and sleepy, and presses even closer to Quentin, one hand settling in the middle of his chest. His fingers play with the fine hairs there almost absentmindedly. "Morning," he sighs. His eyes drift closed again, but his smile doesn't fade. "I have the strangest feeling that it's way too early for this."

Quentin laughs quietly. "It, uh, probably is, but here we are anyway," he murmurs. "How're you feeling?"

"Pretty good," Eliot says. He rolls away to stretch and yawn, but settles right back against Quentin's side after. "Like I could probably be persuaded to go another round, if you wanted."

Quentin hums thoughtfully, letting his hand skim up Eliot's side, fingertips dancing over the curve of his ribs. "I do want to get my mouth on you again..."

Eliot laughs softly, but it sounds more like a moan. "You are very good at that," he allows. "Although it has been a long time."

Quentin's hand skims over Eliot's chest, sliding over his shoulder. "A long time?" he asks gently.

Eliot nods, more than a little distracted by Quentin's touch. His throat works for a moment before he admits, "Like, years."

"Oh." It's barely more than a soft exhale, but... Quentin doesn't miss the implication behind Eliot's confession. He presses closer, tilts his head to kiss Eliot in lieu of everything he doesn't know how to say.

Eliot sighs into the kiss, winding his arms around Quentin's shoulders to keep him close as he all but melts into the mattress. They shift together, Eliot's legs parting to let Quentin settle between them, and when he feels Quentin hard against him Eliot tips his head back with a breathless gasp. "Oh," he breathes. "Oh, yes."

Quentin buries his smile in Eliot's throat, brushes his lips against the racing pulse there, and gives Eliot everything he asks for.

Afterwards, they fall asleep together again; it's a Sunday, so there's no classes to worry about, and Quentin isn't about to pass up an excuse to have Eliot in his bed and his arms for a little while longer. When they finally wake up again, it's because the sunlight from Quentin's window is falling bright across their faces, and Quentin groans, burying his face in Eliot's shoulder. "Time izzit?" he mumbles, arms tightening around Eliot's waist.

Eliot immediately buries his fingers in Quentin's hair, sounding a lot more awake than Quentin feels when he answers. "Just after noon," he says, a fond smile in his voice. "We really tired each other out."

Quentin smirks. "That didn't sound like a complaint," he teases, lifting his head so he can look at Eliot.

Eliot's smile is extremely well satisfied, even a little smug. "It wasn't," he says. "If anything, it was a compliment."

"Well then, compliment away," Quentin says magnanimously, smirking before he leans in for a kiss.

Eliot grants him one, soft and sweet. "I don't want you getting too full of yourself," he teases.

"Oh, you're one to talk," Quentin laughs, giving Eliot's hip a gentle pinch.

Eliot grins and kisses him again, but then pulls away with a sigh. "As much as I'd love to lie here all day," he says, "I really need to shower. And smoke."

Quentin makes a face, groaning as he rolls onto his back. "And I need to finish my homework. I've got a paper due tomorrow that I need to edit."

"Okay," Eliot says. He rolls with Quentin, strokes a hand down his chest. "Why don't we part ways, take care of business, and then meet up later? I could make us a wonderful dinner."

Quentin settles his hand between Eliot's shoulder blades, strokes up the curve of his neck so he can play with the soft strands of hair at the nape of his neck. "That sounds nice," he hums. "Around six?"

"Perfect," Eliot agrees. He closes his eyes, a tender smile playing about his lips. "I'm never going to move if you keep touching me like that, though."

"And that's supposed to get me to stop?" Quentin asks, chuckling. He doesn't move for another moment, but then he sighs, shifts so he can twist his fingers into Eliot's hair, tugging gently in tandem with the hand he uses to cup Eliot's neck. "C'mere," he murmurs, unable to resist drawing Eliot in for one last, lingering kiss.

Eliot lets it go on for as long as he can bear it before he pulls away, a flush high on his cheeks. "You're going to be the death of me, Quentin Coldwater." He sits up, not bothering to take the sheet with him when he gets out of bed. "You should get up, too. You can't spend the day in bed without me."

"Of course not," Quentin laughs, but he does as Eliot says. "Go on, go get your shower. I'll see you later, El."

Eliot lingers just long enough to pull his pyjama pants back on and blows Quentin a kiss as he leaves, the rest of his clothes tucked under one arm.

Quentin has just enough time to start thinking about getting up himself when the door opens again. He sits up, half-expecting Eliot to have come back in for another kiss, and cries out when Julia just waltzes right into his room.

"Oh, shut up," Julia says, not even bothering to avert her gaze. "I've seen it all before, Q."

"Maybe, but you still could've knocked or something, Jules!" Quentin snaps, flushing a brilliant red and resisting the urge to snatch the sheets up and cover himself.

Julia rolls her eyes. "Put some pants on or something, then. We need to talk."

"What about?" Quentin asks, groping around on the floor for his underwear before he slides out of bed and yanks them on.

Julia points toward the door. "About that! You and Eliot?"

Quentin blinks. "What about me and Eliot?"

"Well, you're clearly sleeping together again, for one thing."

The tips of Quentin's ears go red. "Well, I mean. Yeah, we are. We only just started though, he hasn't - He hasn't really been in the greatest headspace, y'know?"

Julia's expression softens. "I know," she says. "But I think this is great, Q. He's finally been opening up to you and letting himself heal, and now this? It's just... so good."

Quentin smiles. "It is good, but... I think you're more excited about this than I am, Jules."

Julia's eyes widen. "Q," she says, "you don't have to downplay this with me. I know how big of a deal this is."

"Jules," Quentin says with an awkward laugh, rubbing the back of his neck. "It's not that big of a..." Catching the look on Julia's expression, he quickly changes course. "Okay, it is a big deal? But we don't want to make a big deal of it. It's what we used to have, just. A little different."

"Okay," Julia says slowly. "Okay, so you don't want a big fanfare about it? I get that, no problem." She smiles softly and touches Quentin's arm. "But I'm so happy for you, Q."

Quentin gives her a small smile, reaching up to cover her hand with his. "I'm happy, Jules, but I'm happier for Eliot. He's been doing so much better, and I - I really thought for a while there that he wouldn't feel like himself ever again." He glances down, then back up, his smile turning into a smirk. "But what about you? Those are the same clothes I saw you in last night."

Rather than being embarrassed, Julia just looks pleased with herself. "Things are getting better with me and Kady," she admits. "I-- You're okay with that, right?"

"I am," Quentin assures her. "Kady and I talked things out after Brakebills South. Things going good with Penny, too?"

"Really good," Julia says. "He's still with Kady, actually, but I left all my material in the library, so I'm just running out to get it." She grins. "Sorry to steal your thunder."

Quentin blinks and frowns, confused. "What thunder?"

"Your relationship thunder, dummy," Julia laughs.

"Rela-" Quentin chokes. "Jules, El and I aren't together."

"What?" Julia asks. She gives him a bemused smile. "But he looked so happy coming out of here just now. So did you."

"Well, yeah, because it was really good sex and we're finally us again. But... You know we weren’t in a relationship like that."

"I know that," Julia says, "but things were different, then. You've both been through so much."

"I know," Quentin murmurs, glancing down at his lap. He sighs, straightens, and gives Julia a small smile that doesn't quite reach his eyes. "It's still not what you're thinking it is, though."

Julia's face falls. "Oh, Q," she says. "I'm so sorry."

"It's not that big of a deal, Jules," Quentin assures her. "I'm happy with what we've got. And, hey, if El ever really wants to try for us, I'll - I'll go for it. But I'm serious, I'm okay with this."

Julia just searches his face for a long moment, but then she nods and squeezes his arm. "Okay," she says. "If you're sure."

Quentin's smile is more genuine this time. "I am," he says firmly. "Now I need to finish up my homework, and you said you were heading out for your own homework stuff."

"All right," Julia laughs. "I just wanted to gossip, but fine. I'll leave you alone."

Quentin laughs, reaching around to pull Julia into a quick hug before she leaves, and he pulls on some clothes before settling at his desk and getting to work.

By the time Quentin finally stumbles down the stairs and into the kitchen, he can recite his entire damn essay by heart. He's distracted from the vague headache behind his eyes by the absolutely divine smells already coming from the kitchen, and when he rounds the corner, he can't help but smile at the sight of Eliot orchestrating pots and pans and other utensils. "That smells amazing," Quentin groans, stepping over to a counter that doesn't seem to be used for anything, unwilling to risk getting in the way of Eliot's rhythm.

"I know," Eliot says, glancing over his shoulder to give Quentin a rakish smile. He looks... stunning. His hair is a little bit longer than he usually lets it grow, cascading in artful curls over his forehead; his shirt is a crisp white, the sleeves rolled up to the elbow, his vest and slacks charcoal grey, and his tie is a deep burgundy; he's even wearing eyeliner. "Be a darling and set the table, would you? The wine will need a corkscrew."

Quentin throws out a lazy salute, turning to rifle through the drawers and cabinets for the required silverware and place settings. He's just finished setting the required corkscrew into place when he catches sight of Margo entering the kitchen, a curious expression on her face. "Hey, Margo," he says, smiling. "You look like you had a fun night last night."

"Thanks," Margo says slowly, her face lighting up as she takes in the scene before her. "So do you. Hey, El."

"Bambi." Eliot spins in place to point at her with a wooden spoon. "Bambi. Get out, you're spoiling the mood."

"Is that any way to talk to your best friend?" Quentin laughs, a bemused smile on his expression. "I can grab another plate if you want to join us, Margo."

Eliot throws Margo a sharp look. "She doesn't," he says. "Stop trying to be polite, Q."

Margo grins. "As lovely as that sounds, Quentin, I really don't want to interrupt your evening."

"You're not interrupting," Quentin insists, completely missing the look Eliot had given Margo. "Besides, El's making plenty of food, we'll never be able to eat all of that - " He gestures behind himself " - by ourselves."

"She can have the leftovers," Eliot says tightly.

"Really?" Quentin asks, turning to look at Eliot with a raised eyebrow. "You're going to make Margo eat leftovers when there's plenty of space for her at the table?"

"Quentin," Eliot says, turning to smile at him through clenched teeth. "I thought we were going to have a night in. Together."

"Well, yeah, but that doesn't mean Margo can't join us."

Eliot might be about to have a stroke. "Doesn't it?" he asks.

Quentin blinks as he takes in the look on Eliot's face; it makes him feel like he's missed a step while coming down the stairs. He glances back at Margo, whose expression is shrewd, calculating. "I, uh, guess it's up to you, then?" he says, slightly awkwardly.

Eliot turns back to Margo, and with his back to Quentin it's impossible to tell what silent conversation passes between them, but suddenly Margo's expression is overtaken by a bright smile. "I'd love to join you, Quentin. Thank you for the offer."

Eliot returns his attention abruptly to the food. "Sit down, the pair of you," he snaps. "Dinner's ready."

Dinner is delicious, even if the conversation is slightly stilted. Margo's attention is evenly divided between Quentin and Eliot, her mind working as she watches them - and she's completely unsurprised when Eliot all but breezes out of the room afterwards, saying that he'd cooked, so Quentin could clean up. He's gone before Quentin can reply, and Margo stays only long enough to help Quentin gather up the dishes and take them to the sink before she follows Eliot.

She raps her knuckles on the doorframe as she strides into Eliot's room, closing the door behind herself and locking it. "That," she announces, settling on the end of Eliot's bed, "was painful to watch."

"Tell me about it," Eliot groans. He's lying face down on his bed, vest and tie discarded on the floor, and his voice is muffled by the pillows. "Just kill me now, would you? I don't think I can ever show my face again."

Margo reaches out and lays her hand over Eliot's ankle, squeezing lightly. "I just got you back, I'm not killing you. And I think it's salvageable, and you're being dramatic."

"Margo." Eliot rolls over to look at her. He's not ashamed to admit that he's pouting. "He thinks we're still fuckbuddies. I bottomed for him."

Margo winces, expression sympathetic. "Then things may be a little more dire than I originally thought," she concedes. "But they're still salvageable. Quentin is... Well, he's oblivious. He's got a good heart, but he's not always the quickest on the uptake."

"No," Eliot says. "Last night was... amazing. If he was interested in taking things further, we'd know by now."

Margo sighs, bending over so that she can slide her shoes off before she climbs up the bed, settling against Eliot. "Maybe," she says quietly. "I really hope it's not that, that he is interested. I know you really like him."

"Not that much," Eliot says, trying his best to sound unaffected. "He's good in bed, but that's about it."

Margo smacks Eliot lightly in the chest with the back of her hand. "Don't lie to me, El, please," she says quietly. "Not about something like this."

Eliot grimaces. "I have to," he says. "If I say it out loud, it's real, and that's not a reality I want to live in."

Margo sighs. "I know," she murmurs, pressing in closer and wrapping an arm around Eliot's waist in a hug. "Just... promise me you'll take care of yourself?"

"Always," Eliot murmurs, kissing her forehead. "Well. Almost always."

Sighing - and making a promise to herself - Margo just holds Eliot tighter.

Quentin doesn't get much chance to socialize with anyone outside of classes the next few days. As they approach the end of the semester, there are more and more assignments due, more study group sessions to attend, and more readings to complete in preparation for finals. He's so busy that he misses his weekly call with his dad, and when he finally finds the time to call him the next evening, he has to put Ted on speaker and prop his phone up on his desk. "Hi, Dad. Sorry I missed your call last night," he says as soon as Ted picks up.

"It's fine, son, I know your busy," Ted says easily. "I'm just glad you can still find time for your old man."

"I'll always find time for you, Dad," Quentin says, smiling, as he pulls out his latest assignment. "Sorry, I might be a little distracted. I've got, uh, homework I need to finish. Professors are really pushing us."

"Then I won't keep you," Ted says. "I just miss ya, Curly Q. I don't want to have to resort to guilt trips, but I really don't know how long I have left on this earth, y'know."

Quentin flinches, then sighs. "I know," he says quietly. "I... How are you doing, Dad?"

"I'm okay," Ted says. "I'm really not trying to guilt trip you. Death is not imminent, I swear."

Quentin snorts. "Maybe not, but it's still there. Doctors still treating you okay?"

"Great," Ted gushes. "They're like angels in Crocs."

That gets a laugh. "'Angels in Crocs,' Dad, really?"

"So nice," Ted insists, laughing, too. "Seriously, you don't need to worry about me. But it'd be nice to see you soon."

"It would be," Quentin agrees. "I've got some assignments due that I need to work on, but things are starting to slow down."

"Well then why don't you come for dinner next weekend?" Ted suggests.

"I'd love to, but I've got a practical exam then," Quentin sighs. He taps his pen thoughtfully against his desk. "I could come for dinner... Maybe tomorrow? No, uh. Day after."

"Sure, Q," Ted agrees easily. "I'll make your favourite, how about that? And bring that Eliot kid."

The tapping stops. "You want Eliot to come?"

"Yeah!" Ted laughs. "He's important to you, and I like him. He seems like a swell guy."

Quentin smiles, though it falters as he remembers the look on Eliot's face at that dinner with Margo. "Yeah, he is," he says quietly. He sighs. "I'll ask him, but I can't make any promises."

"Well all right, then." Ted's grin is clear in his voice. "I'll leave you to your studies, and I'll see you in a few days, okay? I love you, Quentin."

"Love you, too, Dad," Quentin says, smiling.

Quentin spends an hour working on homework before he finally gives up. His thoughts are in too much of a whirl, half-formed disjointed thoughts chasing themselves around his brain. He leaves his room, heading downstairs with the intention of grabbing a snack and maybe looking for Eliot, and nearly runs into the man himself coming up the stairs. "Eliot!" he says, surprised - things have been odd between them since that dinner, but Quentin hasn't had time to try to hunt down Eliot and figure out why. "Hey, I was actually just going to look for you."

"Really," Eliot says, one eyebrow raised. "And why is that?"

"I just got off the phone with my dad," Quentin says. "He invited us to dinner."

"Us," Eliot repeats. "As in, you and me? Why?"

"Yes, you and me," Quentin answers, rolling his eyes. "And because, and I quote, 'He's important to you, and I like him.'"

Eliot chokes on his own spit. "Right," he says. "Okay. Do you want me to come, or should I make my excuses?"

Quentin doesn't hesitate. "I'd like for you to come. I mean, Dad would be pretty disappointed if you didn't come, but. I, er, well... I want you to come."

Eliot takes a deep, fortifying breath - and smiles. "Well, who am I to say no? I'd love to."

Dinner with Ted goes much better than dinner with Margo. Eliot is still a big hit, and the three of them have a really good time chatting over food and the wine that Eliot insisted on bringing. Afterwards Ted refuses to let them wash up even though he cooked, and he sends Eliot into the living room with the promise that Quentin will follow with more drinks in just a moment.

As soon as Ted has his son alone, however, he strikes.

"So," he says, as casually as he can, while he gets stuck into the dishes and Quentin pours more wine. "How long have you and Eliot been together, exactly?"

Quentin swears violently, barely managing to avoid dropping the wine bottle or spilling half of it over the countertop. "What?"

"I'm not blind, son," Ted says. "I saw it when you brought him over a few months ago, and I can see it now. You boys are head over heels for each other."

Quentin carefully sets the bottle of wine down before he turns to face Ted. "We aren't together, Dad."

Ted actually laughs. "Q," he says. "What?"

"We aren't together," Quentin repeats, and wonders why the words taste like a lie. "We never have been."

Ted turns to look at Quentin, then, and he must see the truth on his face because he says, "Well, you need to make your move soon, in that case."

Quentin frowns. "What are you talking about?"

Ted's expression softens. "You know I think you're a catch, Curly Q," he says, "but a guy like that won't wait around forever."

Quentin can't help glancing at the doorway that Eliot had disappeared through. "I know, but... He's not mine to catch, Dad. He's my best friend next to Julia, and I know he loves me, but he - It's not like that."

"Sure it's not," Ted says, shaking his head. "Just think about it, okay? I just want you to be happy."

Quentin smiles. "I know you do, Dad. And I will, I promise." Mostly because now he's never going to be able to stop thinking about it. "We should get out there; El's gonna be wondering what's taking so long."

"You go," Ted says. "I'll just finish up in here first."

"Alright," Quentin says agreeably, turning back to the wine glasses and pouring some into the last glass.

He pretends he doesn't notice the fine tremor in his hands.

"You," Margo says, pointing right at Julia. She's sitting with Kady and Penny in the kitchen at the Cottage, while Alice is making a cup of tea on the other side of the room. All four of them look up when Margo speaks, but Margo ignores their surprise in favour of pointing at Alice, too. "And you. Drop your shit. We need to talk."

Julia shares a look with Penny and Kady before she looks back at Margo, frowning slightly. "About what?"

Margo scowls at them. "Not here," she says, "shit. Library, now."

Another look is exchanged, but one simply does not refuse Margo when she's in this kind of mood. Alice and Julia obey her order, gathering their things and moving towards the Cottage's library. Julia waits only until Margo has locked the doors behind herself before she speaks up. "What's all the secrecy about?"

Margo perches delicately on the edge of a desk and glares at both of them. "Would someone like to tell me what the fuck is going on with Quentin?"

Alice shoots Julia a nervous glance. "I don't know what you mean."

Julia gives Alice a Look, and then sighs. "He disappears into his head sometimes, if he's overwhelmed by something," she offers. "The last time I saw him like this was when he was applying to colleges, but... It wasn't this bad." Quentin has been little better than a zombie outside of classes, absorbed in his own thoughts to the point where Julia has had to actually shake his shoulder more than once to get his attention.

"Okay," Margo says, "so someone needs to stage a mental health intervention. That sounds like a you problem."

"Then what are you asking?" Alice asks.

"I'm asking what the fuck he thinks he's doing, dicking around with my best friend."

Julia winces. "That, I don't know," she admits. She hesitates, biting her lip before she offers, "For what it's worth, I... don't think he's doing it intentionally? He's always been a little slow on the uptake when it comes to relationships and people liking him. There were several girls and a couple of guys who flirted with him through school and he just thought they were being nice."

"Apart from the whole Mike interlude, Eliot's been sucking his dick on a regular basis since before the entrance exam," Margo says. "He slept in his bed the other night, after letting Quentin do things to him that no man has done since first year of undergrad. What's not to get?"

"That Eliot wants to be serious about this?" Julia suggests. "He and Q weren't exclusive before that shitshow with Mike, and Lord knows I love Q, but he tends to assume things have to stay the same way they have been unless someone's obvious about changing them."

"Their whole dynamic has changed!" Margo cries. "Quentin practically stopped him from killing himself, and Eliot bared his fucking soul to him, or whatever. You can't go back to being fuckbuddies after that."

"Maybe he thinks it's like the Trials," Alice says, and Margo shoots her a sharp look. "You know we slept together at Brakebills South. We decided it wouldn't happen again, sure, but it came after we'd made ourselves incredibly emotionally vulnerable with the Secrets magic and then spent several days being psychologically tortured by Mayakovsky. It didn't mean we were meant to be together. It just... happened."

"Well, Eliot would kill me for saying this," Margo says, "but he's incredibly emotionally vulnerable right now. He gave himself to Quentin and Quentin couldn't get him out the door fast enough."

Julia drums her fingers against her knee, frowning thoughtfully. "Quentin told me that he'd be open to trying for more if Eliot wanted to," she says slowly. "I saw Eliot leaving his room, and he looked... He looked like he was on cloud fucking nine. And Q looked just as happy, even though he said that it was just because they'd finally gotten back to being 'them.'" She glances at Margo then. "But he even admitted there was something different between them. I think something must have happened at his dad's to push him into his head, but he hasn't said anything to me."

"None of this is helpful," Margo says, "not now. Eliot's so far up his own ass about this that there's no way he'd risk being up front with Quentin. It has to come from Q."

"We'd have to get him out of his own head first, make him face the - the truth of his feelings." Julia blinks and then looks from Margo to Alice. "Wait. I think I have an idea."

Eliot lasts a little over a week before he seeks Quentin out. A little over a week of over-thinking and definitely overreacting, but not, Margo is pleased to note, over-drinking. That's not to say he hasn't been drinking at all - he has - but he's trying his best not to disappoint the people he cares about anymore. Unfortunately, with Quentin annoyingly close to the top of that list, he seems to be failing.

"Hey," Eliot says, when they run into each other at the library. He knew Quentin was going to be here, actively sought him out, but he's not going to tell Quentin that, especially when Quentin immediately blanches and tries to turn away. Eliot reaches out to touch his arm, ignoring the ache in his chest. "Don't, Q. We need to talk about this."

Quentin hesitates, ignoring the way his heart stutters at such a small, simple touch. "This?" he tries, hoping if he doesnt give away too much Eliot will drop it.

"Don't be cute, Q," Eliot says. "You know as well as I do why things are awkward between us. We can't let it go on."

Quentin sighs. "You're right, we can't," he says, a bit reluctantly. "But - But how do we fix it?"

"We need to stop avoiding each other, for one thing," Eliot says. He glances around, and gestures to a two-seater desk in an alcove. It's as private as they're going to get without going back to the Cottage, and he doesn't want to give either of them that long to back out. "Why don't we sit?"

"Sure," Quentin agrees, following Eliot without argument.

Eliot waits until they're sitting down, and then he takes a breath, and realises he has no idea what he wants to say. He takes another breath. "Listen," he says, "I guess where I need to start is, I'm sorry, Q. I'm so sorry. I never meant to make you feel uncomfortable around me."

"What? No, Eliot, it's not your fault - "

"It's hardly yours," Eliot says. "Look, Q, I've always preferred casual sex. It's what I'm good at. I didn't mean for the boundaries to get... blurry."

Quentin swallows. "It's fine," he says, even as it doesn't really feel like it is fine. "I'm not going to make a big deal of things, El. It's just... I had to get my head around it, you know?"

Eliot nods. "Me too," he admits. "But above all else, our friendship is the most important thing to me. I don't want to lose you over this, Q."

"You won't," Quentin promises. He reaches out instinctively, lays his hand over Eliot's. "It might be awkward for a while yet, but. I don't want to lose you, either."

Eliot smiles, briefly covers Quentin's hand with his own. "Well, I guess I should leave you to your studies." He tries to sit back, and laughs awkwardly when Quentin's hand comes with him. "Or not?"

"I'm not doing that," Quentin says hastily, trying to pull his hand back - but then Eliot's hand comes with his. "What the..."

"Quentin," Eliot says, his eyes wide. "I can't let go."

"I can't, either," Quentin says, bewildered. "What the hell is going on?"

Eliot uses his free hand to point at the book Quentin's holding. "What are you studying? Have you cursed us or something?"

"I haven't cast any spells!" Quentin protests. "How do I know you - "

"We cast it," Margo says, rounding the corner, Julia behind her.

Eliot turns slowly to glower at them. "You did what?" he hisses.

"I'm sorry," Julia says. She even looks it. "But you guys weren't going to deal with this yourselves."

"What are you - "

"You two have been making yourselves miserable," Margo says firmly. "Because you won't admit to anyone, not even yourselves, what's going on. So, now you're stuck until you tell the truth."

"Margo." Eliot is vibrating with rage. "Reverse it. Now."

"We can't," Julia says. "It's a variation on Secrets magic. No way out except to... tell the right secret."

"Jules," Quentin says, betrayed.

"I'm sorry, Q," Julia says, regretful. "Just trust us, okay?"

"Trust you?" Eliot twists his hand beneath Quentin's until he can lace their fingers together, and then he stands up. "Fuck you both. Come on, Quentin."

Quentin doesn't argue, just throws his bag over one shoulder and follows Eliot out of the library. "Where are we going?" he asks once they're out in the sunshine.

"I don't know," Eliot admits, still walking briskly. "Preferably somewhere we can get blackout drunk."

Quentin digs his heels in at that. "Oh, no. No, we aren't having a conversation like this while we're drunk," he says stubbornly.

Eliot stops only when he almost gets his arm wrenched out of its socket, and he turns around to glare at Quentin. "Well I can't have this conversation sober, Quentin, so what are you gonna do? Do you want to hold my hand for the rest of your life? One of us will have to pee sometime."

"I will have this conversation right here in the middle of the quad," Quentin retorts, setting his jaw. "A drink is one thing, El, but you're not getting fucking drunk for this."

Eliot closes his eyes briefly, searching for strength that he can't find. "We'll go back to the Cottage, grab the bottle of scotch from behind the bar, and lock ourselves in the library. I won't get drunk, but I will be drinking."

"Fine," Quentin sighs; it's more than he wants to concede, but he also knows this isn't the battle he should be fighting. "Let's go, then."

They hold hands all the way to the Cottage, and once they've acquired the scotch and have made it into the library, Quentin moves his hand up to Eliot's shoulder so that he can use both hands to spell the door impenetrable. He also unscrews the cap on the scotch and takes a long drink before passing it to Quentin. "Okay," he says. "What the fuck are we going to do?"

Quentin’s drink is nearly as long as Eliot’s. "Start spilling secrets? You heard them, it's our only way out."

"Secrets," Eliot repeats. He takes another drink and leaves the bottle on the table between them. "Right. Jesus, they're both so fucking juvenile."

"They're worried," Quentin sighs. "But also juvenile. We should probably get started."

"Fine," Eliot says. "Go ahead."

Quentin hesitates, thinking. "I hated seeing you and Mike together," he says quietly. "One of my biggest regrets is not trying harder to get you out of that."

Eliot rolls his eyes. "We've covered this already. Margo knew something was up and you think you should have acted on it, which is bullshit." He pauses. "But while we're on the subject, one of my biggest regrets is not being strong enough to break Mike's spell myself, so I could stop him before he could ever lay a hand on you."

Quentin doubts it'll be that easy, but he tries to move his hand away from Eliot - and is unsurprised when he can't. He wracks his brain, tries to come up with something that might work, and settles on trying, "I know it was a big deal for you to let me fuck you. I don't know if you know how much I appreciate that? That it took a lot of trust. But I do. I - It matters more than you know, to know that you trust me that much."

Eliot gives him a tight smile. "Yeah, well. It wasn't exactly my best judgement call, but I don't regret it."

Quentin worries his lower lip, shifts so he can meet Eliot's gaze more directly. "Not your best judgement call?"

"It did lead to this." Eliot shrugs the shoulder beneath Quentin's hand. "And the weeks you've spent ignoring me beforehand. Any decision that makes me almost lose one of the most important people in my life is hardly going to make my top ten."

"I wasn't ignoring you on purpose, or because of that," Quentin says quietly. "After... After you left that day, Julia came in and said she was happy we were together. Then at dinner with my dad... He asked how long we'd been together."

"Shit," Eliot sighs. He takes another drink, and then gestures to the bottle. "You need to catch up. I'm sorry you've had that forced down your throat, Q. I guess things could have been made a little less... obvious."

Quentin doesn't take the bottle. "I'm not sorry," he says, quiet but firm. "It - It was a shock, yeah. But it was one I needed."

Eliot blinks. "You really didn't know until Julia and your dad told you?"

Quentin flushes. "No, I didn't," he admits. "Or, well. I mean, I, uh. I didn't know that it... looked like... That it came across as we both felt the same way?"

That makes Eliot laugh. "I love them both," he says, "but they're clearly fucking blind. Seriously, you need to drink."

Quentin shakes his head. "No, I really don't, and I... think they aren't. Blind, that is." He hesitates, glances away and into the cold fireplace before he looks back at Eliot, determination writ clear on his expression. "The truth is, I've been avoiding everyone, not just you, because I've been stuck in my thoughts. I've been trying to wrap my head around the fact that I really fucking like you, El, and... And that you actually might like me back."

For what might be the first time in his life, Eliot is struck dumb for a moment. His mouth works silently, and when he finally finds his voice, all he manages is a choked, "What?"

"Part of the reason why I hated seeing you with Mike was... because I was jealous. And I only recognized it for jealousy because Alice thought you and I were together - she said something at Brakebills South. Then, well, you know what happened next, all of it. Honestly, I should've taken Jules more seriously, she's always been better at reading this shit than I have." Quentin bites his lip, glances at Eliot. "It might've helped me make dinner afterwards less awkward if I had, y'know, actually listened to her."

Eliot wets his lips, searches Quentin's face. "Why?" he asks, his voice barely a whisper. "What would have been different, if you'd listened to her?"

"Well," Quentin says slowly, a flush creeping up his neck, "I wouldn't have invited Margo to join us for dinner, for starters." He takes a deep breath, opens his mouth - and then closes it, sighs. "I shouldn't have, anyway. You never cook, that... should've been a really damn big clue about what was going on. Or, at least, what I hope was going on? Because otherwise this conversation's just reached a whole new level of awkward."

Eliot somehow finds it in him to laugh, though it comes out hollow. "You were right, before, about... that night. It was different. If I was a blushing maiden, I might even say it was special. Afterwards, I thought something had changed between us."

Quentin swallows heavily, chest tight at the tone of Eliot's voice. "It had, I just... didn't realize how much. And because I didn't realize, I hurt you. And I'm sorry for that."

"Quentin, you couldn't hurt me if you tried," Eliot says. "Not on purpose. I never thought you were being cruel, so much as... letting me down easy?"

Quentin laughs dryly. "I didn't even know that there was something to let you down on. Not really, anyway. But if I had, I wouldn't have been letting you down easy. I'd have, uh." He shrugs. "I'd have done pretty much the complete opposite, actually."

Eliot smiles at that. "That's good to know," he says. "Really good."

Quentin's smile matches Eliot's, and out of curiosity, he tries to lift his hand again. He can lift one finger, but the rest stay resting against Eliot's skin, and Quentin glances up. "I guess that means we've only talked about part of what we needed to talk about?"

Eliot reaches up to lift Quentin's hand off his shoulder and bring it to his lips. He presses a brief kiss to Quentin's knuckles, watching him carefully over their hands. "In the interest of full disclosure," he says, "and to make sure there's no room for misunderstandings - I have feelings for you. And that's kind of a big fucking deal for me, especially after Mike."

Quentin's heart flips over itself in his chest, and he twists his hand until he can lace their fingers together. "Full disclosure, I have feelings for you, too," he says, a small smile curving his lips. "I know Mike fucked you up, El. And I know we haven't gotten off to the greatest start, considering... all of this. But however slow or fast you want to go now? I'm good with it. I want to do this right. For both of us."

"Mike fucked you up, too," Eliot points out. "You almost died because I was falling for you. I'd understand if you had some reservations."

"I almost died because the psychopath who raped you got jealous," Quentin says, perhaps far too blunt, but it's too late to take the words back. "That's on him, not you."

Eliot's hand spasms in Quentin's. "Don't say that," he says, very quietly. "It wasn't rape."

"He took your choice away," Quentin says gently. "I know you said the spell worked on natural attraction, but... It still took your choice away."

"Did it?" Eliot asks, a desperate edge to his voice. "I would've slept with him even without the spell, and I asked for it every time. There was no doubt in my mind, nothing the spell made me push away - not like there was when I was around you. I think I wanted it anyway."

Quentin reaches out with his other hand, unable to not touch. He slides his hand around until he's cupping the back of Eliot's neck, his thumb brushing over his jaw. "You were under a spell," Quentin says, certain. "It doesn't matter what you might have done outside of the spell, Eliot. What matters is what happened, and he took your choice away. He held all of the power, sweetheart. He didn't give you any choice but to say yes."

Eliot lets out a laugh that's more like a shaky breath, and he blinks against the sudden sting in his eyes. "Sweetheart," he repeats. "God. Is this what I'm signing up for, with you?"

"You bet," Quentin says, smiling. "I'm not gonna let you go around not knowing how much I care for you."

Eliot will never admit it, but he sniffles. "I love you," he whispers. "I need you to know that."

Quentin's smile softens. "I love you, too," he says, a quiet promise.

"Oh god," Eliot groans, and buries his face in his hands. After a moment, his shoulders start shaking with laughter. "What a pair we make. We fucking deserve each other."

Quentin grins. "This is all a bit ridiculous, isn't it? If we'd just said something sooner..."

"Don't," Eliot says. He gropes for Quentin's hand and holds on tight when he finds it. "Don't fucking say that."

"Don't say what?"

"What's done is done," Eliot says. "We can't go back, as much as I might want to."

Quentin tilts his head in concession, leaning forward so he can press a kiss to Eliot's brow. "No more not talking, alright?" he murmurs. "Even when we think it's obvious or stupid."

Eliot gives him a weak smile. "I'll try my very best," he says - and then, "Hey. I let go of you just now."

"Oh." Quenton lifts his hands experimentally, smiles when they come off completely. "Well, guess that mean we won't be stuck together by the lips if I kiss you now?"

"Quentin," Eliot says, smirking. "Since when do you need permission to kiss me?"

"I want to be sure," Quentin says, a faint red creeping over his cheeks. "I don't... I want us to be comfortable around each other. So, yeah. That means I'm asking if I can kiss you, and later, whenever we're both ready, that'll mean asking about more. I want us to be different, in a good way "

"Fuck." Eliot pushes himself to his feet and rounds the table, pausing just long enough to find the certainty in Quentin's gaze before he drags him up into a bruising kiss.

Quentin muffles a shocked noise into the kiss, though he gives in to it easily. He wraps his arms around Eliot's shoulders, tangles his fingers into Eliot's hair to ground himself when they finally pull apart. "Shit," he breathes, grinning. "How long have you been holding that in?"

"All fucking year," Eliot says. He sounds wrecked. "Take me upstairs, Quentin."

Quentin leans in for another soft kiss before he pulls back, one hand sliding down Eliot's arm until he can place their fingers together, squeezing tightly. "Alright," he says, letting go of Eliot's hand only long enough to lift the locking spell on the library doors. "Let's go. Your room or mine?"

"Yours," Eliot says. He squeezes Quentin's hand. "I like it better than mine."

Quentin nods, leading Eliot out if the library and up the stairs. They don't speak until they're in Quentin's room - and he doesn't want to consider just why Eliot likes it better than his own just yet - and the door is shut and locked behind them. "What do you want now?" Quentin asks, turning back to Eliot.

Eliot hesitates. "Can we just... lie down?" he asks. "Not that I don't want to fuck you six ways from Sunday, 'cause I definitely do. But I also just want to hold you for a while."

Quentin smiles, pressing in close for a soft kiss. "I think that sounds perfect," he says reassuringly.

Eliot indulges him for a long moment before he pulls away and crowds Quentin onto the bed. They don't get under the covers, but Eliot does grab a thin blanket and throw it over their legs, to give the illusion of cosiness when he draws Quentin into his arms. Settled against the pillows with Quentin's head tucked under his chin, he allows himself to relax for the first time in weeks. He smiles. "They're never going to let us live this down, you know."

"No, they won't," Quentin agrees on a sigh. He's got his arms wrapped around Eliot, and with Eliot's own arms around him, Quentin finally feels settled.

Eliot kisses the crown of Quentin's head. "They won't be in the mood for gloating after I've finished with them, though."

"Oh?" Quentin asks, a questioning hum more than an actual word.

"Aren't you mad at them?" Eliot asks. "I could strangle them both."

Quentin considers the question for a moment. "I am mad," he says slowly, "and more than a little hurt. They didn't even try to talk about this with us, you know? They just went straight to magically tying us together."

"I've had enough magical influence exerted over me to last a lifetime," Eliot says. He gives Quentin a squeeze. "And I think you have, too. They should have known better."

Quentin sighs, conceding the point. "Yeah, they should've known better," he agrees. "And honestly, they deserve whatever you're going to do to them. But... Well, I think it's better to go into that sort of conversation well-rested and with a clearer head." He smiles, squeezes Eliot back. "Besides, we just got comfortable here. There’s no way they figured out that spell without Alice, so we’ll go after the three of them in the morning, together."

"Fine," Eliot huffs, though he doesn't sound annoyed. "And what are we supposed to do in the meantime?"

”Well, my bed is pretty damn comfortable,” Quentin says, shifting so that he can slip his hand under the hem of Eliot’s shirt, resting against the warmth of his skin without pushing. “For a lot of different purposes.”

"Mm?" Eliot shifts a little too, so that he's more curled around Quentin. "Do tell."

Quentin smiles, tilting his head up. “We could get rid of some of these clothes,” he suggests. “See how far we feel like going after that.”

"I suppose I could be persuaded." Eliot shifts some more until Quentin lets them sit up, and then he turns toward him, easily pulling Quentin's t-shirt over his head. He brushes his fingers over Quentin's collarbone, runs a hand down his arm. "I thought I'd never get this again," he admits, so quietly.

Quentin reaches for Eliot’s hand, tangles his fingers with Eliot’s and squeezes. “You’ve got me,” he murmurs, leaning up for a kiss. “Whenever you want me, however you want me.”

Eliot laughs. "Don't say that," he says. "I'll never stop touching you again."

Quentin grins. "I can think of worse ways to spend my life," he laughs, running his hands over Eliot's stomach, fitting his fingers in the spaces between his ribs, firm enough not to tickle. "I think I need to bring you to my grandma's for Christmas; she'll put some meat on your bones."

Eliot's breathing hitches. "You are not getting me fat, Coldwater," he says. "But if you want me around for Christmas, well. Your dad already adores me."

"I want you around for Christmas and New Year's and the Fourth," Quentin confides. "Every holiday you're willing to spend with me." He grins, then, drumming his fingers lightly against Eliot's ribs. "And Grandmom won't make you fat, but maybe she'll get you to the point where I can't play a tune on your ribs."

"Fuck you," Eliot laughs, jabbing his own fingers into Quentin's ribs in retaliation. "I'm not skinny, you asshole, I'm--" The words die a horrible death when his fingertips brush against raised, textured skin, and he looks down. He makes a sound like he's been punched. "Q," he breathes.

Quentin glances down, sees where Eliot’s fingers are resting. “Oh,” he sighs. “I... Yeah, I kind of forgot that was there? It’s healed and doesn’t hurt, so I just - I just don’t think about it often.”

"I should've seen it," Eliot says, "the last time we..." He shakes his head, and gets up on his knees, gently urging Quentin to lie back.

”We were a little focused on other things,” Quentin says gently, moving where Eliot wants him.

Eliot follows him down, crowding him against the pillows. "It's all I've thought about for weeks," he confesses against Quentin's lips. "Apart from..." He literally shakes off the thought. "And the one time I actually should have been paying attention to it, to you, I missed the fucking boat."

"Hey, no," Quentin shushes him, pulling Eliot in close, burying his fingers in Eliot's hair as he presses in for a fierce kiss. "El, you didn't miss anything, sweetheart."

Eliot rests their foreheads together, closes his eyes for just a moment. "Q," he whispers - and then he moves, dipping down until he can press a tender, reverent kiss to the scar.

Q makes a noise like Eliot punched the air out of him, stomach clenching under Eliot's gentle touch. "El," he breathes, blinking back the sting in his eyes as he looks at Eliot.

"Shh." Eliot kisses the scar again, lingers there for a long moment. "I love you," he breathes, right into Quentin's skin.

”I love you, too,” Quentin says, reaching out until he can cup Eliot’s jaw in his hand, sweep his thumb over the skin there. “But if you make me cry right now, it might ruin the mood.”

Eliot chuckles against Quentin's hip. "Well, I could go lower," he offers. "Should we get you out of these jeans?"

”Only if you catch up with me,” Quentin bargains.

Eliot smiles, sitting up so that he can start unbuttoning his shirt. "I think that can be arranged."

They take their time once their clothes have hit the floor beside Quentin’s bed. Their hands roam, exploring skin already imprinted on their fingertips, refamiliarizing themselves with each other. The don't go far, certainly not as far as they're used to going after those first few tumbles, but it's more than enough for them. Quentin relishes in each soft sigh and moan and gasps he draws from Eliot, knows that Eliot does the same as he works Quentin's body like he's long ago memorized how it works, which spots are most sensitive.

Afterwards, they fall asleep tangled together, pressed so close that they might as well be one person. Quentin sleeps without dreams, wakes up at one point to find Eliot's hair in his mouth. Even that makes him smile once he pulls it out, and he falls back asleep with that smile still in place.

Eliot's smiling when he wakes up. Quentin knows this because he's watching him. He gets to see Eliot's nose scrunch up just a little, gets to feel his hand reaching across the bed until he finds Quentin's arm, gets to grin to himself as Eliot smiles, small and pleased, and rolls until he can hide his face in Quentin's shoulder. A moment later Eliot's arm snakes around his waist, and Eliot gives him a sleepy sigh.

"This is why I love your bed," he mumbles.

"Me staring at you while you sleep?" Quentin teases, wrapping his own arm around Eliot in turn, fingers stroking up his spine.

"I mean, that's a little creepy," Eliot laughs, his voice still thick with sleep. "No. Because you're still here in the morning."

Quentin's smile turns a little sad. "I never knew if you wanted me to stay," he murmurs. "I figured, as long as it was just casual..."

"So did I," Eliot assures him. "Before the whole business with the boyfriend-shaped blip who shall not be named, I probably would have freaked out if you'd stayed. But that doesn't mean I wouldn't have, maybe, liked it. A little."

Quentin chuckles softly. "I would've liked it, too. That morning when you hid from what's-his-face, whoever was 'occupying' your bed... I think that was when I started realizing I was pretty fucked, emotionally."

"Me too," Eliot admits. "I'm not sorry for... We weren't exclusive." He swallows. "But only because I was trying so hard to keep you at arm's length."

Quentin runs his hand up Eliot's back, cupping the back of his neck and squeezing. "We weren't exclusive," he agrees. "I don't expect you to apologize for that. And I'd - well, I'd be a hypocrite if I wanted you to apologize for keeping me at arm's length when I did the same after that dinner with my dad."

Eliot lifts his head then. His hair is all over the place, sticking up every which way, and there's eyeliner smudged on his cheek. He's beautiful. "What did he say to you, anyway?" he asks.

Quentin huffs a laugh, reaching to run his fingers through Eliot's hair in a vain attempt to get it under some semblance of control. "He asked how long we'd been together," he admits. "Said he could see we were head over heels for each other. I told him we weren't together, it wasn't like that, and he didn't believe me."

Eliot chuckles. "Was it really such a shock?"

"That I was head over heels for you? Not really," Quentin admits with a laugh. "But the fact that somebody else thought you felt the same... Yeah, that was a shock."

Eliot smiles. "If it helps," he says, "it is completely off brand for me."

Quentin laughs at that, leaning in for a kiss. “Well, I suppose that does help a bit,” he teases.

Eliot melts into him, and they spend several moments just kissing, pressed together but without any urgency. Eliot is just thinking that things might go further when they're interrupted by a furious pounding on the door.

"Rise and shine!" Margo yells from outside. "Time to stop sucking each other's dicks!"

”Fuck off, Margo!” Quentin calls, turning his head so that he’s not yelling directly into Eliot’s face. His arms tighten around Eliot, and he sighs. “I was hoping we’d have some more time before we needed to go talk to them,” he mutters.

"I'd say we should take it," Eliot says, his mouth twisting with regret, "but she won't go away. She'll spell the door away if we ignore her for too long."

"Don't make me vanish this door, bitches!"

Eliot huffs. "See?"

”I’m tempted to let her get an eyeful,” Quentin says thoughtfully, one hand drifting down to rest over the curve of Eliot’s ass, squeezing lightly. “But I think I might be a little too possessive for that.”

"Please," Eliot says, grinning as he reaches down to push Quentin's hand away, "Margo has seen me naked more times than I'd care to count. She's seen me balls deep more times than I'd care to count. There's nothing to be possessive of."

”She’s never seen us,” Quentin counters, letting his hand be moved. “And I’d rather keep it that way, so I think we have to get up.”

Eliot shifts his grip so that he can press Quentin's wrist to the mattress, leaning over him to steal a hard, deep kiss. "You're right," he says, ignoring Margo's angry knocking. "In any case, I'm possessive of you. So find some underpants, at least."

"Eliot, I swear to God!" Margo shouts.

"We're coming, Bambi, fuck off!"

Quentin laughs, reaching up to draw Eliot in for one last kiss. “Alright, alright. You’ll have to let me up, though.”

Eliot releases him with a grumble, though he lingers in bed long enough to get a good look at Quentin's ass before he pulls on his underwear.

"Oh, Q!" Julia throws herself at Quentin as soon as they make it downstairs, Eliot barely stepping back fast enough to avoid getting hit in the face. "I'm so proud of you! Well done!"

Quentin returns the hug briefly, but when he pulls away from the hug, he gets his hands on Julia’s upper arms and puts an arm’s length between them. “Thank you, but honestly? I’m pretty pissed at you right now, Jules.”

Julia's face falls. "But why?"

"Not here," Eliot says, mindful of the other Physical kids that are lingering in the vicinity. "The Cottage library, maybe?"

Quentin nods, then gestures at Margo and Alice. “You two, as well.”

Alice bites her lip, but she looks resigned, like she knows already what Eliot and Quentin are going to say, as she joins them.

"Well?" Margo asks once they're alone. "What's this all about?"

Eliot rounds on her. "It's about the fact that you're a meddlesome little harpy and you, of all people, should have known better."

Julia looks taken aback, but Quentin jumps in before she can say anything. “Eliot and I have both had curses leveled at us this semester. We didn’t need another one, and we definitely did not need one from our meddling friends.”

"It was hardly a curse," Margo says, disdainful. "It was just a helpful push."

"Locking us in a closet until we'd fucked it out would have been helpful," Eliot snaps. "This was something else."

”This left us no choice at all,” Quentin adds. “And we couldn’t even ignore each other or get any kind of space.”

Margo narrows her eyes. "You're together now, aren't you?"

"Yes," Eliot says, breathing steadily, "but--"

"Then what's the big deal? You know you both have huge heart boners for each other, you've kissed, you've definitely fucked. I don't see why we're being yelled at."

"Because, Bambi," Eliot snaps, his voice rising, "the last time someone used magic to manipulate me to their own ends, they did it to rape me!"

Silence falls over them, and Quentin takes a sort of vicious, petty satisfaction at the stricken looks on the girls’ faces as Eliot’s words hit them. He reaches for Eliot, laces their fingers together, and gives his hand a squeeze. “You should have talked to us,” he says quietly, firmly. “If you were so worried about us, you should have talked with us and tried something - anything - else first.”

"El," Margo says. She sounds close to tears. "Baby, I didn't mean to--"

"I know." Eliot is suddenly so, so tired. "But you did."

Alice takes a breath, and speaks for the first time. "You're right, we should have known better. Between what Mike did to both of you and what happened to Q with the Scarletti Web, we should have known not to use magic. I'm so sorry."

Quentin looks at Julia, who looks horrified. “I - I’m sorry, Q,” she whispers. “We didn’t even think, we just - “ She presses her hand to her mouth, swallows hard. “I’m sorry, too.”

Eliot turns an expectant look on Margo, and she takes a step toward him. "I don't apologise to anyone for anything," she says. "You know this."

"I do," Eliot says. He swallows his disappointment, squeezes Quentin's hand.

"But I am so fucking sorry."

The next instant, she's in his arms.

Quentin lets Eliot's hand go, watching in bemusement as the two embrace. He glances over to Julia and Alice, turns to face them more fully. "Are you going to do something like this again?" he asks, careful.

"No," Alice says, immediately and with conviction.

"Not ever," Julia agrees, voice rough with tears. "I love you, Q. I'm so sorry."

Quentin sighs, lets the corner of his mouth quirk up as he takes a step forward, opening his arms. "C'mere."

Julia goes to him, and he wraps her up in his arms. They squeeze each other tight, and then she pulls away, wiping her eyes. Eliot and Margo are still holding each other. "You're gonna be okay, right?" Julia asks, her gaze flickering between Quentin and Eliot.

”We will,” Quentin promises, “but we’re probably going to be a bit mad at you guys for a while.”

Alice gives them a soft smile. "Take all the time you need," she says.

"You know, if you two aren't going to help us, you could at least not be so loud and distracting."

Quentin snorts at Alice's pointed comment, grinning as he looks up at where Eliot and Margo have, indeed, been 'loud and distracting.' Finals are just around the corner, and they, Penny, Julia, and Kady, had gotten together to study, although Eliot and Margo had quickly forgone studying in favor of debating which of the second year professors or students would be most susceptible to bribes. "Or you could at least not talk about bribing teachers or other students with sex toys?" he suggests, grin wide.

"Calm your tits, Coldwater," Margo quips. "It's not like we're bribing them with blow jobs. Well, maybe not Eliot."

"Not this year," Eliot agrees mildly.

"I'd hope not," Quentin says, raising an eyebrow.

"Besides, bribing the answers out of someone wouldn't test whether you actually know the material," Alice argues. "That won't help you once you're out of Brakebills."

Eliot rolls his eyes. "Of course we know the material," he says. "We're brilliant."

"We just like sucking dick," Margo adds.

"I know you do, but I've got dibs on Eliot's mouth," Quentin says dryly. "And on the rest of him, so he's just going to have to get by on his own brains this semester."

Eliot looks at him askance, a smirk curving the corners of his mouth. "Darling," he says, "I've never sucked a dick for a grade in my life."

"Oh, no, you've just bribed the answers out of someone with nipple clamps," Quentin replies, rolling his eyes. "Go talk about your hedonistic ways somewhere else, babe, they aren't helpful right now."

"They would be if you'd let me pay for your exam answers in nipple clamps, too," Eliot says, but he gets to his feet and holds his hand out for Margo. "Come on, Bambi. We know when we're not wanted."

Quentin waves them off, ignoring the looks the rest of the group is giving them as he says, without looking up from his notes, "Don't have too much fun without me."

"Oh my god," Penny groans. "Quit flirting with your boyfriend and help us."

Julia elbows him in the ribs, and winks at Quentin when he looks up.

Despite his and Margo's frankly blasé attitude toward the whole affair, it's Eliot who comes into Quentin's room and collapses face-first onto his bed as soon as finals are over. He's wearing his usual vest, button-down and slacks, but his tie is askew, his top button unfastened, and his hair looks like he's been dragging his hands through it for the past five hours. "I hate everything," he groans. "I want to die."

Quentin chuckles, spinning around in his desk chair so he can stand up and come sit on the bed. "You look like death warmed over," he teases, running his fingers through Eliot's hair, scratching lightly at his scalp. "Your brilliance desert you at crunch time?"

"Of course not," Eliot says, arching into Quentin's touch like a cat. "I aced it. Doesn't mean it wasn't hard."

Quentin laughs quietly, shifting so he can draw Eliot's head into his lap. "Was that your last exam?"

"Yep," Eliot sighs. "Yours was this morning, right?"

Quentin hums an affirmation. "You have any plans for break?"

Eliot tenses almost imperceptibly. "Not really," he says. "I spent some time with Margo last year, and Fogg's pretty good about letting us stay if we want to." He pauses. "I guess you're going home?"

"I'll probably go stay with my dad," Quentin says thoughtfully, playing idly with Eliot's hair while he thinks. "But he lives close enough for me to visit, or you can come visit us."

"No," Eliot says. "You need to spend time with your dad, I don't want to get in the way of that."

Quentin gives Eliot a gentle knock to the side of his head. "You wouldn't be getting in the way, sweetheart. And you know my dad likes you."

"You've barely seen him since you started here," Eliot argues. "Does he even know you were stabbed?"

"That's not the sort of thing you just slip into a conversation," Quentin huffs. "But just because you're there doesn't mean you're stealing time with him from me. You know he likes you, and..." Quentin hesitates for a moment before he continues. "And I think my grandma would like you, too."

Eliot knows where this is going. "Q," he says. "Do you really think that's a good idea?"

”I do,” Quentin says softly.

Eliot sighs. "Quentin, we've been dating for five minutes," he says. "I know we're doing the overly sappy shit early, but we've only known each other a few months. Is it really the right time for Christmas with the family?"

Quentin shrugs. "Maybe? I know I'm sure about you, El. Yeah, we've moved pretty fast, but I know what I feel."

"Yeah, now," Eliot says. "Think about how disappointed they'll be if--"

Hey,” Quentin says sharply. “That’s a problem for the future, if it ever happens. I don’t think that’s a reason to not do something, just because we might break up later.”

"Q," Eliot says again. "A lot's happened this year. Don't you think we should take this break to let things settle? What if you don't feel the same by next semester?"

Quentin doesn’t answer right away, looking at Eliot intently for a moment. “Do you really think I’ll feel different? Or that you will? Or are you just worried?”

"Worried about what?" Eliot asks, the words a little too sharp.

”About me changing my mind,” Quentin says, careful to keep his tone even, expression open. “Deciding that this isn’t going to work, moving on without you... Take your pick.”

"Are you telling me none of those things will happen?" Eliot demands.

”I’m telling you they’re really damn unlikely, because I fucking love you, you dumbass,” Quentin says, reaching for Eliot’s hand and lacing their fingers together. “Just because this has gone fast doesn’t mean that’s not true.”

Eliot lets out a shaky breath, and squeezes Quentin's hand. "I love you, too," he says. "That's why this is such a big risk for me."

"Talk to me," Quentin requests, voice soft as he lays his other hand over their clasped hands. "What's worrying you?"

"I can't," Eliot says. "I can't, Q."

"I can't help you if I don't know what's wrong," Quentin says gently. "And we promised we'd try to be better about talking about things, no matter how obvious or stupid."

Eliot laughs. "Trust me," he says, "this isn't obvious."

"All the more reason to talk to me," Quentin says, lifting their hands so he can brush a kiss over Eliot's knuckles.

Eliot swallows, looks away. "I'm not... good," he says. "With family stuff."

"Oh?" Quentin asks, encouraging.

"I had the typical tragic gay character backstory," he says. "My dad hated the fact that I wasn't a real man."

"Oh," Quentin says again - sighs, really. "That's - Shit, El."

"Yeah," Eliot says. "But that's not the worst of it."

"What's the worst of it?" Quentin asks, grip tightening comfortingly around Eliot's hand.

"Careful," Eliot says. "I've only told two people this since I left home, and one of them tried to stab you."

"Well, he was a bastard," Quentin says fiercely. "He doesn't count."

"He made me feel safe enough to tell him," Eliot says. "Even if it was through magical means. And he... actually wasn't a dick about it."

Quentin reaches up, runs his fingers through Eliot's hair before settling his hand at the side of Eliot's neck. "Still a bastard overall, but..." He sighs. "I won't care, you know that, right? You already told me about Logan," he reminds Eliot softly. "If that didn't change my opinion of you, nothing will."

Eliot sighs, even as he leans into Quentin's touch. "Q, where do you think I come from?" he asks. "What kind of life do you think I had, growing up?"

Quentin considers that question for a long moment. "I'm not sure," he says honestly. "I've never really given it much thought before. If I had to guess, I'd say... Maybe not wealthy, but well-off family?"

Eliot snorts. "I grew up in Indiana," he says. "On a farm."

Quentin blinks. "That's not something I would've guessed," he says slowly.

"I know," Eliot says. "Trust me, I've spent the last several years working very hard to make sure that no one would guess that."

"Well," Quentin says, shifting slightly so he can give Eliot a small smile, thumb sweeping over the bare hint of stubble on Eliot's jaw, "you've definitely succeeded." He pauses, wets his lips, then carefully asks, "Your father... wasn't the only one who didn't approve of you being gay, was he?"

"No," Eliot admits. "It was a small town, I was the only queer kid. My family's attitude just reflected the opinion of the local populace. But I left home as soon as I turned eighteen and started crafting the masterpiece you see before you, so. It all worked out."

"You are a goddamn masterpiece," Quentin says with conviction, leaning in and drawing Eliot closer so he can kiss him. "And I'm glad I know you. Thank you for telling me, El."

"Don't make a big deal out of it," Eliot grumbles, though it's clear he's affected. "If you tell anyone, I'll kill you. I trust you with my life. Whatever." He sighs. "But you can see why the concept of a big family moment might be a little... unnerving for me."

"I can," Quentin concedes, thinking it over. "Dad doesn't want to travel, and his doctors advised against long trips, anyway, so I think we'll be having Christmas at his place this year. I can ask how much of our family is able to make the trip and let you know? If you don't feel up to it, I won't hold it against you, babe."

Eliot smiles. "I don't want to let you down," he says. "I haven't been home once since I left; I don't even remember what a family Christmas looks like."

Quentin hums thoughtfully, his hand returning to playing with Eliot's hair. "Ours are usually a lot of food, catching up on what happened since we saw each other, and teasing each other about anything embarrassing," he muses. "You wouldn't let me down if you came, or if you're not comfortable with coming."

"Get the lay of the land for me," Eliot decides. "I'll work it out from there."

Quentin splits his time between Brakebills and his dad's in the run up to Christmas, and when he finds out that only his grandparents and his mom will be at his dad's for Christmas, he tells Eliot. Eliot, after taking a day or two to think about it, decides to come. Telling his family to expect his boyfriend is equal parts thrilling and daunting, but he's grateful that they take his brief explanation of Eliot not having been to a family gathering in years at face value.

When Christmas finally rolls around, Quentin spends most of the morning greeting his family as they show up. Around one o'clock, Eliot arrives, and Quentin has to race his mom to the door to be the one to greet him - the only reason he wins that race is because he was closer to the door to start with. He opens the door to Eliot standing on the other side; if Quentin didn't know Eliot as well as he does, he'd think that Eliot wasn't nervous at all, standing on the front porch with two covered dishes in his hands. Quentin gives him a reassuring smile, taking one of the dishes and moving so that Eliot can come inside. Quentin makes introductions as they move towards the kitchen, where his grandmother is bustling about, preparing the ham and vegetables.

She takes the dishes with the ingredients for Eliot's roast potatoes and gravy - his contribution to dinner - before fixing Eliot with an intent look, hands on her hips. Ted Coldwater's mother barely reaches Quentin's shoulder, but Eliot still looks vaguely intimidated by the look she gives him. Eventually, she pronounces Eliot as 'too skinny and in need of a good meal' before putting him to work in the kitchen alongside Quentin. Once she's turned back to the ham, Quentin pulls Eliot in for a quick kiss, smiling when they pull apart and get to work.

Eliot's manners and phenomenal cooking skills quickly win over Quentin's family, and by the end of the night, Eliot's relaxed enough to accept Quentin and Ted's invitation to stay until the New Year with minimal fuss. They see Quentin's family off, and when Ted heads upstairs to bed, Quentin settles himself more comfortably against Eliot on the couch in the living room, the television playing a rerun of Last Man Standing in the background as he asks, "So, you regretting the decision to come today?"

"No," Eliot says slowly, easing his arm around Quentin's shoulders. "It was...a lot. But it was good." He smiles. "Your family really love you, Q."

"Yeah, that got a little embarrassing when I was in middle school, but I'm glad of it," Quentin laughs, reaching for Eliot's hand. "I noticed you didn't bring wine this time. I saw Grandmom asking you about the recipe for your potatoes, though."

"I told you," Eliot says, "I'm an excellent cook. And I'm also trying to... not... drink."

Quentin considers that for a moment. "I noticed you've been drinking less at the Cottage parties."

Eliot nods. "I don't think I have a very healthy relationship with addictive substances," he admits.

"I never saw you without a drink at the parties, and even a lot of times outside of them. And He Who Shall Not Be Named didn't help with that," Quentin sighs.

"Well, I'm trying to be better," Eliot says. "I don't want to feel like that anymore."

Quentin hums, pressing closer to Eliot. "I'm proud of you," he says, shifting so he can wrap his arms around Eliot's waist. "Don't know if I've said that, but I am."

Eliot smiles. "Thank you."

Quentin reaches up, slides his hand over Eliot's shoulder and around the back of his neck. "I love you," he murmurs, "so fucking much. I'm glad you came today."

"Me too," Eliot says, his gaze soft and warm. "Are you going to kiss me or what?"

Quentin laughs, tugging Eliot closer to give him the requested affection.

The week between Christmas and New Year's passes slowly but comfortably. It's... easy, having Eliot stay with Quentin and his dad, and Quentin's glad he did stay. Margo is out on a tropical beach somewhere, had left Christmas day, and she'd dragged Julia, Penny, and Kady along with her. Alice had also been invited, but had opted to go home and try to reconcile with her family as much as she could.

New Year's Eve finds Quentin, Ted, and Eliot in Ted's back garden, watching the lead up to the ball drop on Quentin's laptop, glasses of sparkling grape juice in their hands. Ted falls asleep about ten minutes before midnight, lying back in his lounge chair, and Quentin doesn't feel awkward curling closer to Eliot in the chilly night air. "Almost a new year," he murmurs, watching the sky rather than his laptop. "Hard to believe this one's already over."

Eliot wastes little time in tucking Quentin under one arm, and turns his head to press a kiss into his hair. "I know," he agrees, his voice soft. "It's been a fucking awful year. But it's had some really beautiful moments, too."

"Finding out magic is real was definitely one of them," Quentin agrees, lips quirking into a teasing smirk. "Meeting you was a close second, though."

"Meeting you was the best thing that's happened to me since I met Margo," Eliot says, very seriously. "I... can't express what that means."

Quentin's smile softens into something far more genuine. "I think I have an idea," he says, tilting his head and leaning in for a soft, lingering kiss.

Eliot just holds him closer, his other hand coming up to touch Quentin's face. "I love you," he murmurs.

"I love you, too," Quentin says softly. "I can't wait for the next year with you."

"Sap," Eliot says, but his smile is tender. "What did I do to deserve you?"

"Just be your amazing self," Quentin laughs. He glances back at the laptop, nudges Eliot. "Ball's about to drop, babe."

Eliot just sighs, rests his cheek on the top of Quentin's head as the countdown starts. "Any second now."

They lean against each other, and when the countdown reaches five, Quentin shifts, reaches for Eliot. As the ball drops and the calendar turns, their lips meet in a kiss as soft and certain as a promise.