Actions

Work Header

Shoulder to Shoulder With You

Chapter Text

The oddly time semester break had seen almost everyone abandon campus for their summer. That was all right with Eliot, while not being, at the same time. The mass exodus happened at every break, and he was used to it after two full years. He had spent every school break and holiday since he had been enrolled alone. He knew it wasn't the healthiest option, emotionally speaking, but it was better than awkwardly appearing at his parents' home for a day or two before he was being driven away again. Theoretically, he could have tagged along to LA with Margo, she would have welcomed him, but that situation presented its own challenges.

The shower was blissfully warm – bordering on scalding – as he tried to wash away the last of his hangover. His clothes for the morning included a short sleeve henley, and because no one else was around, a pair of day old jeans. No prying eyes meant no need for hair gel either, so he brushed the wet locks into a neat style as he puzzled over whether he'd eaten actual food the night before. The truthful answer was that he had no idea, He'd been determined to hide how much he dreaded being alone for the break, and alcohol had sufficed.

The house was silent as he made his way down the stairs towards the kitchen, so quiet that the sudden rustle of pages turning almost made him jump. The couch squeaked as he spun to face the sound.

“Hey.” Quentin was seated in the middle of the sofa with a second-year textbook open in his lap. The other man waved at him, before nervously tucking loose hair behind his ears.

“I thought you went home with everyone else.” Eliot leaned over the tallest chair in the room and watched the younger student absently flip through pages.

“I was going to, but I didn't want to explain the weird time school, schedule, thing to them – again. It's summer, not, what just after Christmas or something?”

“They do need to fix the wards.” Eliot agreed. “The time difference keeps getting worse every year.” He stood straight and clapped his hands together. Quentin's presence had lifted his spirits to a point they hadn't reached since prep for finals had started. “I... am going to make waffles.” He announced. It was better than the cereal and bourbon chaser he had planned

“You do know, it's like 2 in the afternoon right?” Quentin's tone was equal parts amusement and concern. Eliot hadn't realized it was so late, but he shrugged it off.

“You don't have to eat.” He pointed out

“I can eat, I didn't say I wasn't hungry.”

“And I thought I had the cottage to myself, so it didn't matter when I got up.”

“Point taken.” Quentin tucked the loose hair behind his ears again, then collected his book and followed Eliot towards the kitchen. “Are you pissed that I stayed?” Eliot spun to face him, doing the best he could to keep the sudden worry that Quentin could still leave out of his face.

“Why would you think that?”

“I-I just feel like, I don't, know, like I messed up your plans somehow.” Eliot grinned at the awkward admission.

“There was no plan, Q. It's just usually me, here alone, for the breaks and holidays.”

“That – that, sounds really horrible, honestly.”

“It's not so bad.” Eliot defended his actions blindly because admitting the breaks were lonely as fuck was absolutely out of the question. “I do most of the reading for the next year, learn the handwork, and cruise through the first semester.” He shrugged like it really was just that easy. He'd learned a thing or two during his time with Mayakovsky, like how silence and isolation were really the best circumstances to learn magic.

“So I am messing up your plans.” Quentin offered, he looked flustered, and Eliot buzzed around the kitchen, gathering the ingredients for waffle batter and a cinnamon whiskey syrup.

“Tell you what. I'll tutor you. I already know the material.” Eliot brought a knife and a carton of strawberries to the table and whisked Quentin's book to the side with a wave of his hand. “Cut those, into quarters. Once you know what you're doing, you can just spend the semester drinking with me.”

“I don't think my liver can keep up with you.” Quentin joked as he obediently started slicing the fruit into even quarters. “How many of these do you want me to slice?”

“Half a carton or so? There's this fortification spell, for your liver.” Quentin gave him a look that hinted his disbelief.

“You'll have to teach me that one first, I guess.” Eliot gave him a crooked smirk and tried to ignore the fluttery feeling in his stomach. He doubted that any amount of drinking would make Quentin interested in him. It would have happened already if it were going to. Falling in love with anyone – especially the best male friend he had possibly ever made, was more outrageous than admitting he hated to be alone for the summer.

Quentin finished the fruit and went back to his book. An easy companionable silence settled between the two of them that was interrupted only by the clatter of kitchenware and the slight brush of pages as Quentin read. Eliot made himself a mimosa as batter sizzled in the waffle iron and brought plates to the table when everything had finished.

The bottles of orange juice and champagne floated towards the table so he could refresh his glass and Eliot noted how Quentin watched them with a rapt attention that a year of magical education hadn't been able to drive from him. It was refreshing. Quentin couldn't see how tainted his powers were. He couldn't hear the crunch of bone or smell phantom traces of blood that wasn't there. Not for the first time, Eliot wondered what it would have been like to discover he had magic in his early 20s instead of the traumatic way it had presented itself at fourteen.

“Is there something on my face?” Eliot blinked, and brought the refilled glass to his lips, downing half of it, before setting it down.”

“It's nothing, Q. Eat.” He started spooning strawberries onto his plate, then pulled the plate closer and cut into the waffles. Beside him, Quentin made a small pleased groan as he chewed.

“So where would we start with this tutoring thing?”

“The front of the book I guess. The faculty teaches the curriculum in almost exactly the same format every year, to keep things as safe as they can. It makes test answers frighteningly easy to get if you want them.” Eliot sponged up the syrup with a dry piece of waffle. He definitely hadn't eaten the night before and was almost ravenous now. Silence lapsed between them as they finished and Quentin collected the dishes while Eliot retreated to his room to get some of his course work from the previous year.

They met again in the living room and cleared the floor so they could draw on the hardwood with chalk. The spell work they started with was the more advanced Popper's exercises. For hours they sat facing one another, close enough to touch so Eliot could adjust Quentin's fingers when they bent wrong or overlapped incorrectly. They killed two bottles of wine and a platter of sandwiches through the course of the afternoon and evening. The sun had gone down when they finally stopped.

“We should stop for the night.” Eliot finally confirmed as they sat shoulder to shoulder against the sofa. He brought the bottle to his lips and frowned as the last swallow raced down his throat.

“Yeah.” Quentin looked spent, but pleased, as his head lolled against the cushion behind him. “This is nice, El. I'm glad I stayed. Eliot squeezed his knee and settled more firmly against the younger man. Secretly he reveled in the contact he would normally only get from Margo.

“We can't do this every day, you'll forget half of it.” He watched Quentin idly flip pages of the textbook he had been lent.

“I guess.” Eliot hummed in agreement as flames sparked against his fingers. Fragrant herbal smoke filled his lungs as he inhaled. The silence stretched between them.

“Why do you smoke?” Quentin asked finally. “Knowing what it can do?” Eliot stared at the swirls of smoke as they curled through the lamplight. He suspected that the question was born out of Q's experience with his father's cancer.

“How's your dad?” He deflected.

“Worse, he won't get better because he's not being treated.”

“You didn't want to see him, did you?” Eliot murmured. That had been the real reason Quentin had stayed.

“I didn't want to watch him get worse,” Quentin admitted. His long hair shadowed his face like he was trying to hide from Eliot's judgment.

“Maybe you should go for a day or two, just to say goodbye while he's still a man worth remembering. Make peace with it now, instead of letting it drown you.”

“I thought letting it drown me was what I was supposed to do.” Quentin ground out bitterly. He leaned forward to start gathering his books and Eliot silently mourned the loss of warmth against his side. “Maybe I should go.” He admitted.

“Not if you really don't want to. Look, Q, there's always going to be the pain of his death. You don't want to pile guilt on top of it, though.” Eliot snuffed his cigarette, then levered himself off the floor to gather the plates and wine glasses while Quentin organized his books.

“I guess I could call him tomorrow and see if he wants company.”

“Go for it, full support and all that.” Eliot left the plates in the kitchen and headed for the bar. “Cocktail?” When he'd prematurely snuffed the cigarette he'd apparently also decided that refraining from smoking in front of Quentin was a good idea, now he needed something to occupy his hands.

“I'm good.” Quentin took the pile of books to his room and returned a few minutes later. The younger man threw himself onto the couch beside Eliot. “How are you still drinking?”

“Practice.” Eliot stared quietly into the acid green cocktail in his hands.

“El, you okay?” Quentin lifted the glass from between his fingers, but Eliot made no move to take it back. When Quentin saw he wasn't going to protest, he set the drink aside.

“I think we overdid it.”

“With the alcohol, or the hours of practice?”

“Both.” Eliot gave him a lopsided grin and tried to stand. A raging headache had blossomed in his skull in the few moments Quentin had been upstairs. He swayed haphazardly enough that it brought Quentin to his feet. The shorter man's arm settled around his waist, and he leaned into the hold. With the help, Eliot had enough mobility to make it upstairs, where he collapsed into the nest of soft silk sheets and pillows that made up his bed. The pillow was cool under his cheek.

“Do you need anything?”

'Stay' made it dangerously close to slipping past Eliot's lips, but Quentin wasn't Margo. He doubted the younger man would indulge him the same way she did. Besides, Margo was safe, in ways Quentin could never be. There was never going to be anything sexual between him and Margo. She was his best friend, akin to a sister. “I'm good.” He said instead.

Quentin's fingers brushed gently over the curve of his shoulder blade, or Eliot imagined they did, he wasn't quite sure. Then the man was gone. He was back a moment later with a glass of water and a bottle of painkillers. Eliot watched out of his peripheral vision as both were left on his bedside table.

“Night.”

“Thanks, Q.” This time he was sure the touch to his shoulder was real. The lights went out a moment later, and Eliot slept, dead to the world, until sometime around eleven the next morning. The water and pills were a welcome sight, and he returned the favor for Quentin before heading for the shower.

Chapter Text

Pills, water, and a long shower cleared away the worst of Eliot's headache, but they didn't clear his head. He tried to start his own reading while Quentin was still asleep, but after reading the same page, or parts of the same page, three times he gave up. He heard the shower kick on above him and Quentin joined him a short while later.

“No spells today,” Quentin told him, Eliot nodded, silently relieved.

“Are you going to call your father?”

“Yeah, hey, would you like to meet him?” The suggestion sounded almost eager.

“I don't know, Q. I doubt he wants some stranger in his house.” Eliot hoped that would be enough to end the idea before it went any farther. He didn't expect for Quentin to look quite so crestfallen though.

“You're, yeah, you're probably right. I was just thinking that – um, it might put him at ease, meeting a friend or two. I told him about the whole magic thing. I just thought it would be nice to drive home that I'm in a good place, so he's not worried about all my issues. But I hadn't thought about it, like, how, about what you said.” Quentin stumbled through the awkward backtracking of an idea he'd clearly been excited about and Eliot, despite his better judgment, caved.

“Ask him I guess.” He relented. “But I won't be surprised if he says no.”

“We won't stay more than a couple of hours,” Quentin promised him.

“Q, it's fine. He's your father If you need to stay longer, I can come back on my own.”

“I don't think he'll be up for a long visit.” Quentin got up and found his tennis shoes, then disappeared out the door to make his call. While he waited, Eliot made lunch.

“It's all set,” Quentin announced as Eliot was working a corkscrew into the stopper of the bottle of wine he'd chosen.

“You mean he wants me to come?” Eliot didn't try to hide his surprise. He'd assumed the man would want to see his only child, not accommodate one of his kid's odd friends.

“He claims it's good timing. His doctors adjusted his medication to help with the nausea, so he feels better. He's not – obviously, but, you know, at least he's more comfortable.” The cork popped free, and Eliot filled the glass that had been sitting near his elbow.

“That's good at least.” Eliot agreed. He passed the bottle to Quentin so he could finish their meal.

“Jesus, El.” At least Quentin was smirking, and he was making his way to the cabinet to get a glass. Eliot let the light rebuke slide off his shoulders. Quentin had known him for a year if he was still surprised by how much he drank then he was beyond hope.

The two of them passed the day either reading or dicking around the cottage. Despite their mid-morning agreement not to practice any spell-work, they hadn't been quite successful.

“Your father isn't going to assume that I'm like – your boyfriend is he?” Eliot asked as they lounged on the patio together, well he was lounging at least. Quentin was working on a spell that needed more space than the cottage allowed. “Adjust your left thumb and right index finger.” He watched as Quentin tried again. “Right pinkie needs to point downwards more.” The spell failed a second time. “Jesus look at my hands.” He lightly reprimanded.

“Why would he think we're together?” Quentin's hands mimicked Eliot's hands as Eliot led him through the spell motion by motion.

“Well if I was dying, and I had kids, heaven forbid, and one of them brought home some random guy, instead of someone like say – Alice, or some other girl, I'd be curious.” The house plant Quentin had been trying to magically grow sprouted by nearly eight feet as Quentin finally got the hand motions right.

“Why would I take Alice? She's barely spoken to me since we got back from Brakebills South. She - she didn't even tell me she was leaving for break, she just took off after our last final.” Quentin flipped his book closed. Eliot leaned forward against the table and rested his cheek on his fist as the younger man paced to the other end of the patio.

“I thought you two slept together.”

“That, we – yeah, Mayakovsky... he um...”

“Turned the class into foxes?” Eliot finished, a smirk crept along the corner of his mouth. Quentin was clearly uncomfortable, and he didn't want to make it worse.

“Um yeah, uh, how did you know?”

“It's part of the curriculum, Q. He did it to my class too. The hormones help break everybody out of the shock of being isolated and mute for months.” A shiver raced down Eliot's spine at the memory. He had hated being trapped in his room for weeks. He'd hated being unable to speak, save for the words of a spell he'd had to learn a hundred different way. Most of all he'd hated being alone. His gaze tracked towards the plant Quentin had managed to grow, and the silence stretched between them. Eliot rubbed his forehead and dropped his gaze to the wood of the patio. “There's a reason nobody talks about it when they get back.”

“So it really doesn't matter that we slept together? It was just a side effect, of, like the hormones and shit. Just like Alice said it was.” Quentin dropped into the chair across from Eliot, a look of defeat contorting his features.

“If there wasn't chemistry between you two already you probably would have found different partners,” Eliot told him. He hated that look, and that he'd helped put it there. After a moment, Quentin laughed softly.

“Maybe.” He agreed. His despondency seemed to dissipate a little, and curiosity crept into his tone. “So, did you sleep with anyone when you had your little fox brain?”

“Oh fuck no! The whole group played together for a bit, and then people started pairing off, and I bolted. I snuck back into the house and hid in my room until the spell wore off.”

“So you and Margo have never, you know.”

“Margo's my best friend, Q. She knows I don't want anything like that, though she was generous enough to offer a couple of times while we were stuck with Mayakovsky.” He nudged Quentin's leg with his foot. “You know, you and Bambi would probably make a cute couple.” He teased.

“Margo would eat me for breakfast.” Eliot laughed, a grin spreading across his face. It took Quentin a moment before he realized what he had unwittingly suggested. He blushed. “Not what I meant! S-she's so out of my league. I mean Alice is too, honestly, but I wouldn't last a day dating Margo! Between you and her, I would never be sober.”

“Sobriety is overrated anyway,” Eliot informed him. “Look, don't put your life on hold forever for anyone.” He leaned back in his chair and stretched, then adjusted the sunglasses he wore. It was advice he needed to take himself, but probably wasn't going to. “You're a great catch, Q. If Alice can't see that than someone else will.” Secretly he was elated that Alice didn't have quite the hold over Quentin he had believed she did, but he wasn't going to gloat.

“I'm trying to get past it. I don't want to pine over Alice the way I did over Julia.”

“Julia, wait, you mean the hedge bitch? You can do so much better.” Eliot told him immediately; he did nothing to hide his disdain for the dark haired woman.

“She was my best friend.” Quentin defended, though his tone made it clear that things had changed, at least a little since she had inadvertently almost killed him with the Scarlatti web.

“Enough of this melancholy bullshit, Q. Come on.” Eliot stood in a quick fluid motion and dragged Quentin from his seat, then into the house. Together they headed for the billiards table. Two cues floated to meet them, and the balls racked themselves according to Eliot's telekinetic commands. The gratuitous show of magic didn't really help Eliot's headache, but Quentin was smiling as he took one of the cues. “Go ahead and break,” Eliot told him. He wanted to memorize that face. FUCK – he wanted to be the sole reason Quentin made that face.

Chapter Text

Limiting the amount of nicotine in the days before meeting the dying father of one of his closest friends was not the brightest idea Eliot had ever had. It had occurred to him that maybe the headaches weren't a symptom of magical fatigue like he first believed, but a sign of nicotine withdrawal. The thought was at least theoretically confirmed as he sat in the window of his bedroom and lit a cigarette.

Margo would be a little irritated that he'd smoked one of the herbal cigarettes they had rolled together, but the damiana leaves tasted better, and the herb was supposed to help with nerves – something he had in abundance. The calming effect the leaves were supposed to supply probably would have worked better if he'd brewed some of them in a cup of tea, but feeling the rolled paper between his fingers and smoke in his lungs was familiar.

He left the window open and crossed to his closet. The cigarette stayed perched between long fingers as he stared at his clothes. Eliot had no idea what to wear to meet a terminally ill parent. Silvery smoke drifted through the air around him. Full formal was too much; then there was the issue that it was Summer at the school and early January in Connecticut.

“El?” There was a light tap on his bedroom door, and it pushed open a few inches. “Hey, you are up.” The cigarette snuffed itself, almost without Eliot having to think about it, and he walked to the bed to return the unused portion to the case that lay on his bedspread. “You know I'm not trying to make you stop. Right?” The younger man shifted from one foot to another as he stood in the doorway. His gaze was fixed on the floor, and guilt practically radiated from him.

“I know.” Eliot's gaze shifted over Quentin's clothes, taking visual clues on how to tailor his own outfit. Jeans, tennis shoes, a long sleeve thermal with an open button down over it. There was no formality to it at all.

“I just – I, don't want, I'm not, You don't.” Quentin racked his hand through his long loose locks.

“I don't what?” Eliot prompted. Quentin's rambling was adorable, but there was a point he was trying to make, and it had piqued Eliot's interest. The silence stretched for a few long seconds, and he thought Quentin might let the subject drop, but when he spoke again the thoughts were composed.

“I don't want you to change yourself because of a stupid question I shouldn't have asked. I mean if you want to stop, more power to you. Just... I don't, I guess what I'm saying... do it because you want to stop, and not because I pushed you.”

“Maybe I need to be pushed,” Eliot told him. He crossed to his closet and pulled a hanger holding a white button-down shirt from the racks. He waved the garment in Quentin's general direction. “Use magic to press this for me.” He purred. Quentin looked grateful for the reprieve and nodded, accepting the shirt as Eliot went back to his clothes. A form fitting pair of black jeans ended up being the pants he picked, and he'd pulled a white undershirt over his head before Quentin passed back the button-down. He finished the look with a gray vest and draped a checkered scarf around his neck before dropping onto the bed.

“I need to smoke less.” He consented, as Quentin crossed the room to sit beside him. “And I figured it would be better to try and stop now when everyone is gone, and there aren't any parties.” He leaned down to grab a pair of shoes from under the bed, slipped his foot into one, and brought his knee up against his chest so he could tie the lace.

He was hyper aware of Quentin beside him. All he'd need to do was change the angle a little, and he'd be able to lean in and kiss him. In an ideal world that would be all, it would take. One kiss and he'd be able to push Quentin down into the mess of pillows and silk sheets. They could forget the trip to his father's and spend the day, hell, the rest of the summer in bed together. But, ideal didn't exist, at least it never had for him. His love life had become an arm long list of names that had all ended in abuse or disappointment.

“That's a good plan, I guess.” Quentin shifted beside him; maybe he was hyper away of their proximity as well, most likely he just didn't know what else to say.

“Is your father going to care if I bring my flask?” Cigarettes he could manage without, but not alcohol. Quentin laughed.

“We are both going to need it.” He informed Eliot lightly, as though it was the most obvious thing in the world.

“I love how you think.” Eliot finished tying his second shoe and bounced up off the bed. He caught Quentin's hand and pulled him up as well. He wasn't eager to meet Quentin's father, but waiting for it to happen was worse. The night before they had used the single computer on campus to search for the house Quentin's father owned.

Google maps had made portal creation a thousand times easier than it had ever been in the past, and having the GPS coordinates had been the last bit of information Eliot had needed to construct one. Portals had never been something he was great at, of all the physical kids he had known Josh had done it best before he'd disappeared along with the rest of his class. He was confident he could at least get them close, though.

They walked outside, and Eliot set to work. He had memorized the spells he needed until they flowed from his lips with ease, and his hands worked through fast symmetrical patterns. Sparks flew when he finally tried to pry the doorway he'd created open. Cold air swept through the widening gap to greet them. A yard and house appeared as the portal opened farther. He could feel the portal fighting against the wards of the school; he wouldn't hold it open long.

“I didn't realize you would be able to get us into the actual backyard!” Eliot hadn't realized he would get so close either, at least they wouldn't be walking for blocks or miles to reach the house.

“Curbside service is one of the many services I offer,” Eliot told him as Quentin stepped through. He followed as quickly as he could, and the portal had already closed when he turned back to it. Where the doorway had been, he stood to face the peeling blue paint of a toolshed door.

Everything felt like it had been drained of color. The warm browns and reds had been replaced by cool blues and grays. There was a thin layer of slushy snow covering the grass, and the trees were barren. Quentin led the way across the lawn and up onto the weathered deck. He knocked and waited. A minute passed, and then the door opened as far as the chain latch would allow.

“Curly-Q, hey.” The door snapped closed again, and they heard the chain rattle. Quentin blushed at the childhood nickname, and Eliot felt the biggest, most honest grin he'd felt in years spread across his face.

“That is adorable.” He gleefully purred as the door opened and they were ushered into a modest kitchen. Quentin's father hugged his son, briefly. It was evident that neither was entirely comfortable with the exchange before Quentin awkwardly tried to make introductions.

“Dad, Eliot. Eliot, my father.” Eliot resisted the urge to remind Quentin that it was too early for him to be calling the elder Coldwater 'dad'.

“Call me Ted.” The older man told him.

“Sorry. Eliot this is my dad Ted.”

“Relax, Q. I'm the one who is supposed to be awkward, not you.” Eliot offered his hand to Ted. “It's nice to meet you.” He murmured politely. Ted waved them towards the living room as their hands dropped apart.

“Did you try the front door and I not hear?” He asked as the three of them walked. Quentin dropped onto the portion of the couch closest to his father's chair, and Eliot sat beside him. The couch was small enough that they were almost touching.

“Eliot built a portal into the back yard,” Quentin explained. The reality must have sounded absurd to a non-magic user, but Ted seemed to take it in stride.

“It's amazing what you boys can do. Where is this school of yours exactly?”

“Upstate New York.”

“Like the X-Men mansion?” Quentin laughed, and Eliot let a small smile crack across his face. He wasn't sure if Ted was as big a geek as his son, or if the man had picked up a reference or two from living with his child for over twenty years.

“Kind of.” Eliot agreed.

“So are you boys on break? Is that why you had time to come? It seems like such odd timing.”

“Eliot can probably explain it better than I can,” Quentin admitted, and his gaze shifted to Eliot as though he expected Eliot to be able to account for the mass of complicated wards powerful enough to slide the school off its proper time axis. Eliot did his best, explaining that the school existed in a sort of pocket space that was warded to keep it safe and that those wards had altered how time passed.

He explained how it was summer inside the bubble and winter outside. He even illustrated the point by talking about how the school sat on the Hudson, and if you took a boat out onto the river, you would eventually pass through the wards. It would be winter after you left the wards, but once you paddled backward, it would become summer again.

“I wouldn't mind trying that,” Quentin admitted as he finished explaining.

“I'm not nearly in good enough shape for anything resembling that much physical exertion.” Eliot reminded him.

“If you succeed in smoking less you could be.” Quentin offered. Eliot hated him, just a little. Now that the idea was in his head it would act as an incentive. He wanted to see Quentin's face as they passed through wards a few times.

“At least it explains why you missed Christmas, not that I'm upset about you missing Christmas,” Ted told Quentin. “I have a couple of small things for you.”

“Dad that's not necessary.” Eliot could tell from the uncomfortable way that Quentin tensed that he deeply regretted not having something to give in return.

“I'll be back in a minute, Q. It's no big deal.” The older man got up to get his gifts, and Quentin turned to Eliot with a panicked gaze.

“What do I do?” He demanded softly. Eliot allowed his eyes to sweep the room and his eyes settled on a pair of empty tea mugs. The plain cups floated close enough for Eliot to take and he pushed them into Quentin's hands. “What are these for?” Quentin hissed softly.

“A gift,” Eliot told him in a sharp, crisp tone like it should be obvious. He started to cast, and the shade of the first mug shifted from plain white to a bright glossy navy. One of his hands disappeared into his pocket to fish out a charcoal pencil. Once he had it, Eliot took the colored mug and started to sketch the school's bee and key logo. He murmured another spell, and the design turned to gold. A third spell outlined the logo in black. Eliot ran his thumb over the finished design and handed it back to Quentin; it was then that he realized he'd captured more than Quentin's rapt attention. Ted had been watching him too.

“That was incredible, are you going to do the second one as well? And would you mind if I watched from the beginning?”

“Of course not.” Eliot waited for the older man to settle before starting the process over. He turned the second mug a glossy gray, before repeating the process of sketching the crest and making the logo permanent.

“Dad, do you have another mug? I think I've got this figured out.”

“Of course, hell Quentin. The two of you can alter every mug in the cabinet if you want to.” Ted stood and disappeared, then came back with a third glass. Quentin took it and set to work. His mug turned a dark ruby, and he started to sketch. The lines weren't as neat as Eliot's, but the resemblance was passable, and Ted was beaming as Quentin handed him the finished product. “It's amazing that you learned to do that just by watching it.”

Eliot had been sitting on the edge of the couch since they had started casting, but now he settled back against the cushions and looped his arm around Quentin's shoulders. The hug was meant to be momentary, and congratulatory, but when Quentin leaned into the embrace and smiled at his father's praise, Eliot found himself unable to let go.

“He's pretty talented when it comes to repeating a spell he's only seen once,” Eliot told the older man. He let Quentin go when Quentin's father presented his son with his missed Christmas gifts. There was nothing spectacular in the mix. A couple of new hoodies, an expensive leather-bound planner, and an Amazon card with a hefty balance that had come from both parents. There was also a thin package that the older man held onto for last.

“I got this from a charity estate sale,” Ted told him as he passed the final gift to Quentin. “There's a certificate of authenticity inside the box.” Eliot watched with new interest as Quentin pulled away from the bow and opened the small box. An unassuming pen set lay inside, and Quentin picked out the card.

“Dad, I can't take this. These must have cost a fortune.” Eliot took the certificate and read it, finding out as he did, that the pen set was something the Plover estate had sold in their most recent charity auction.

“They weren't that expensive. I don't think Plover ever used that set when he was writing the books so that probably drove down the value. Other items went for much higher, but I know how much those books mean to you. I wanted to get you something that... well, something you would remember.” Eliot ran his hand down Quentin's back as the younger man's gaze dropped to the floor. They both had caught what the man was subtly implying. This was the last time he'd get to give his son a gift, and he'd tried to make it special.

“These are incredible, dad. Yeah, I don't, this means more than I can put into words. Thank you.” Quentin managed a weak smile as he got up to embrace the man. The gift wouldn't be forgotten, it was something Quentin would hold onto for the rest of his life.

Chapter Text

Eliot leaned against the weather-worn porch railing and whispered a spell over his fingers to keep them warm. As he sipped from his flask, he wished he'd taken the extra minute to grab his gloves from his dresser drawer. Margo had spelled two sets of leather driving gloves, one brown and one black, as a Christmas present and Eliot loved them. The fit was perfect, and the fleece that lined the fingers was soft. Despite the spell, the metal of the flask was cool between his fingers.

He wished he'd brought a coat as well. Connecticut in January was colder than he had expected and he suspected that he looked ridiculous in the black zip up sweatshirt Quentin had shoved into his hands. The thing would have been large on Quentin, on his slim frame it felt enormous. Then there was the issue that he hadn't worn a hoodie in years

He heard the kitchen door open behind him, and he twisted until his back was against the rail as Quentin walked to join him. “That didn't take as long as I expected.” Eliot had stepped outside so father and son could talk about Ted's will and funeral plans. Quentin shrugged, he had grabbed the second of his new hoodies to ward off the cold.

“He already has everything planned. Dad just needed to give me his lawyer's information, his banking information, and his safe deposit key. The funeral home and casket have already been picked out. A gravesite and stone are already arranged, and mom knows what outfit he would like to be buried in.”

“Jesus.” Quentin nodded and dropped his gaze to the graying deck boards. Eliot could see the younger man's eyes rapidly blinking away moisture, and he shifted in the uncomfortable silence that stretched between them. Indecision ate at Eliot's mind. He was barely capable of taking care of himself, let alone a friend who had reached the acceptance stage of grieving while his father was still alive. The way he looked at there were two choices. He could offer Quentin the flask or raise his arm and see if Quentin wanted physical contact. The bottle traveled to his lips, and he took a sip of scotch before capping the container. “Come here.” He murmured softly.

He had expected to sling one long arm around Quentin's shoulders and hold him against his side, but both of the younger man's arms wrapped around his waist instead. Quentin's face rested against his chest, and Eliot awkwardly rested his hands on Quentin's shoulders. A shudder rippled through Quentin's whole body; Eliot could feel moisture soaking through his vest. Without thinking, he let his arms settle more naturally around Quentin's shorter frame. When Quentin shook again, he tightened his hold and rested his cheek against Quentin's soft hair

“You aren't going to face this alone.” His words surprised him. He wasn't one to such quiet reassurances.

“Okay.” Quentin's voice was muffled and nasally. He didn't sound like he believed him. Eliot could feel the muscle below his fingers shift as Quentin sniffled.

“You've got people that love you, and we're going to make sure this doesn't bury you.” It didn't matter if Quentin realized that 'we' meant 'he'. Eliot was reasonably sure the others would be supportive. Lumping himself in with the rest felt like a safe way of saying exactly what he meant while hiding the truth in generalities.

“Thank you for coming with me.” Quentin murmured. They stood against one another for a few minutes longer before he reluctantly stepped out of Eliot's hold.

“Drink.” Eliot offered him the flask, and let him take a couple of swallows before gently prying it from his hand. “We can get drunk back at the cottage.” He assured Quentin as he slipped it back into his vest pocket.

“Yeah, I think I need it.” Quentin's voice was hoarse. He rubbed his fingers against his eyes and sighed. “I must look like a wreck.”

“Nothing magic won't fix, or hide.” Eliot flipped his fingers through a couple of quick motions and let the tingle of magic warm the digits. When he brushed his thumb under Quentin's eye some of the puffiness receded. He murmured another spell and pinched Quentin's nose to clear his sinuses. A weak smile split across Quentin's face. “Almost as good as new.” Eliot's hands dropped to Quentin's shoulders

“Thanks, El. I guess we should head back in. I doubt dad wants us to stay much longer. He was looking tired.” Eliot nodded and looped his arm around Quentin's shoulders as they walked across the deck.

Ted was in the living room with a game show ending on the TV. Eliot tried to remember the last time he had sat and watched one of them. The only TV he usually had access to were the ones in bars when he and Margo went out. Eliot hoped he only imagined it but the man seemed older, and he looked exhausted.

“Are you alright, Q?” Ted asked. Quentin squeezed the man's shoulder to reassure him.

“Just a lot of stuff I hadn't thought about.” He explained softly. Eliot tugged him down onto the couch beside him and kept his arm around his shoulder. Who gave a fuck what anyone thought, if Quentin wanted to break the embrace he was perfectly allowed, but he seemed to be making no effort. The show ended, and for a moment Eliot expected Ted to ask them to leave. The older man certainly looked like he needed to rest.

“They are going to run two episodes of Jeopardy,” Ted said instead. “Stay for those, and then I think I'm going to need to lay down.”

“I can stay the night if you want me to.” Quentin offered quickly.

“I think you need to go home instead,” Ted told him, with a gentle firmness that left little room to argue. “If you would make me some tea, though, that would be appreciated.” Ted picked up the ruby mug Quentin had modified and held it out. “Make enough for all of us. There's some chamomile in the cabinet beside the stove.”

“Of course, dad. Anything you need.” Quentin gathered the mugs and disappeared.

“Thank you for coming with him,” Ted told Eliot once Quentin had gone.

“I'm glad he convinced me to come. It's been nice meeting you.” Pleasant conversation failed them, and Eliot shifted awkwardly. This was what he'd dreaded, the inevitable moment where he'd been left alone with Quentin's father. Now was when all the accusations would start, and the harsh words would start flying He'd met more than one parent that thought he wasn't a good influence on their child.

“I'm glad he found people that love him.” Eliot, to his credit, did not blush, or gawk in surprise.

“He found where he belongs. Q's a talented magician.”

“It seems so.” Ted hesitated for a moment. Then reached down towards a tray of pill bottles that sat beside his chair and picked one out, then tossed it to Eliot. “I don't think Q will take those with him if I try to give them to him.” Eliot glanced at the label to see the script had Quentin's name printed on the label. “I hope he never needs them, but I'd feel better knowing he has them and doesn't need them. The last thing I want is for him to need them and not have them.”

“Of course.” Eliot spelled the bottle so it wouldn't rattle and slipped it into his vest pocket beside the flask. On TV the contestants were being introduced.

“Quentin used to watch this all the time,” Ted told him. It was was of the only things that he'd pull his nose out of those Fillory books Did you know this is the first time I've seen him without one in years?

"I had no idea," Eliot admitted.

"They helped with his depression. Anyway, I was talking about Jeopardy. I used to keep his score and joke with my work buddies that if I ever needed money I'd just stick my kid on Jeopardy. He would have cleaned house.” Eliot laughed as Ted smiled at the fond memory. Quentin sounded like every kid that eventually got accepted into Brakebills. Each of them was too smart. Smarter than the kids around them and in most cases the teachers themselves. In most cases, they were miserable because of that intelligence too. Quentin returned with the tea as the first round of categories was being announced.

“Your dad was telling me he used to score you when you watched this.” Eliot teased as he bounced the tea bag up and down in the cup.

“You would have outscored me,” Quentin told him. Eliot dropped his gaze at the subtle praise.

“I can score you both.” Ted offered. He had produced a small pad of paper and pencil from somewhere, and there was an eagerness to do something light hearted and fun with his son before they parted ways for a final time.

“Sure.” Eliot agreed. “Q? You in?” Quentin sipped his tea, then set it on the table in front of them.

“Fuck it, sure, I mean I guess.” Their tea was forgotten as they settled on the edge of the couch and started calling out answers. Ted, for his part, seemed perfectly happy writing down scores and occasionally scratching out the totals when a rare miss occurred. He'd gotten what he wanted, a visit that was going to end on a high note.

Chapter Text

Quentin lay on his back and walked his hands through the motions of Finnigan's Floating Canopy with careful precision. Above them, rain pattered against an invisible tarp and ran in rivulets towards the edges of the spell. He could hear the water slapping against patio stone on all sides of them. Eliot for his part, sat mostly untouched by the rain, with a glass of dry white wine in his hand and the bottle it had come from a few inches from his knee. There was a spell-book in his lap and the rows of Christmas lights strung overhead illuminated the patio enough to read.

“Just refresh Finnigan's every half hour or so, and we should stay dry.” He told Quentin as he flipped a page.”

“Or we could take turns casting it,” Quentin suggested as he dragged a throw pillow under his head. He saw Eliot smirk against the lip of his glass.

“You've got this, Q.”

“Uh huh.” Quentin turned his attention back to the canopy. There was just enough light to track individual droplets of rain as they fell towards him. A chill breeze drifted through their makeshift tent, and he zipped his hoodie higher to block it. If he turned his head just right, he'd get a fading whiff of Eliot's cologne from when Eliot had worn it at his father's. The scent seemed to linger, or maybe he had caught the scent once and was hallucinating it now. Phantosmia was the technical term for smelling something not present, his brain supplied, and it was usually a symptom of some underlying illness.

Quentin turned his attention from the rain and let his head loll against the pillow until he could see Eliot. The cottage door leading onto the patio was open and smokey post-war jazz lilted to their ears from somewhere inside. They were a couple of weeks into the Summer, and Quentin had learned pretty quickly that Eliot liked to have music in the background whenever he could, which didn't bother Quentin at all. It made the long silences when one or both of them was reading less empty – not that things were awkward by any stretch.

If he was being truthful Quentin was more comfortable with this than he'd been at any other point in his life. There was an easiness between the two of them that Quentin had only ever grasped for with anyone else. He was dreading the start of the school year. Margo would be back to monopolize Eliot's attention. The quiet afternoons of eclectic alt rock and evenings of jazz, early Sinatra, and Billie Holiday would be replaced with the frantic pace of club music and all night parties. The quiet melancholy of what they were listening to now seemed to fit Eliot so much better. Alice would be back too, and that would be its own special hell

Quentin might dread the parties, but he got why they were necessary. The pace Brakebills expected its students to keep was mind numbing without a way to relieve the stress, and drinking till dawn made it bearable somehow. He also sensed that maybe Eliot thrived on being the center of attention when the house was full of people. The quiet reservation Quentin saw now was something he couldn't imagine Eliot letting just anyone glimpse, especially not some of the guys who fell into his bed. Sidney Bechet's version of 'Summertime' started to play, and Quentin watched Eliot's hands as they flipped a page. A moment later Eliot set the book down and began to work on the lines of a spell.

“The canopy is starting to drip, Q.” Eliot reminded him without stopping.

“Yeah.” Quentin's mouth felt dry, and he started to whisper the words as his hands worked through the sharp motions. Above them, the canopy shimmered as it was renewed before disappearing again. Quentin sat up long enough to finish the glass of wine he'd started and smirked at Eliot as the bottle between them raised and tipped as he extended his glass to have it refilled. The wine slipped down Quentin's throat, and he set the wine glass aside before laying back down again.

The idea of kissing Eliot had become a pesky nuisance buzzing around the back of his brain. The urge to do it now, when the mood was set so perfectly for it burned in his mind. Regardless of desire, he knew it absolutely couldn't happen. Eliot was the best friend he'd ever made, and ruining that bond was unthinkable. He had already screwed up things with Alice; he wasn't going to add a second mark in that column. Then there was the obstacle of never having kissed another guy, not even on a dare. He barely knew how to handle a relationship with a woman... though after Alice even that was left in doubt. Eliot deserved a guy who knew what he was doing – not someone like Quentin, who he'd have to walk through every kiss and touch.

Quentin shifted his eyes back skyward and started to track individual drops again. Without fail each slammed into the invisible barrier and broke apart, then reformed with the droplets around it before running off the canopy. In a weird way, he empathized

“Would you like to go to New York with me tomorrow?” Eliot asked out of the blue. He'd closed his book and was watching Quentin with unreadable eyes.

“What are you going for?” Quentin asked as he levered himself onto his elbows.

“Just to get out of here for the day. There are some great bookstores in Brooklyn and a few antique stores. Magical trinkets turn up here and there on occasion, and it's easier to spot them with help.”

“That sounds fun.” Quentin agreed. He hadn't set foot in either a bookstore or antique shop since he'd started at Brakebills, and getting away from campus for the day was something he'd kinda wanted to do, but he hadn't had a reason. Half-formed ideas of what sorts the magical items they might find pushed the thought of kissing Eliot to the back of his brain where it belonged. Realistically he knew they would probably find nothing.

“Just lemme know what time you want me up, so I can be ready.” Eliot smiled at his eagerness.

“Early? Let's try to leave around 9 or so.” Quentin nodded in agreement and watched as Eliot tipped his glass against his mouth and finished the wine. He refilled it, then fit the cork back into place in the bottle neck. “Maybe a wine shop or two as well. I want to see if I can find another bottle of this. It's good.”

“Sure. However, you want to spend the day.” He heard Eliot hum in confirmation. The elder student retrieved his pillow and stretched out beside Quentin. He bent one arm and tucked his hand under his head. The pace of the rain had started to slack. Sidney Bechet's clarinet had been replaced with Sinatra's dulcet tones, and Eliot was almost close enough for Quentin to touch. The scent of cologne was certainly real in such close proximity, and Quentin wanted the other man closer. He dropped his hand against the patio stone and worked his fingers through a counter spell. Eliot's half of the canopy flickered. The older boy's dark eyes widened, and he had just enough time to grab his things and roll against Quentin's side before a sheet of water impacted the stone where he'd been laying.

Quentin should have thought at least another step ahead. Now that Eliot was curled against him there wasn't an explanation for his actions. He wished he was brave enough to lean down and kiss him.

“If you wanted to cuddle, Quentin, you could have just said so.” Eliot teased. He seemed unfazed by the proximity.

“Maybe you should have taken your turn recasting Finnigan's Canopy.” Quentin teased back. He was close enough to hear and feel Eliot shake with laughter. Eliot rolled until they were facing and rested his cheek on Quentin's shoulder.

“This is okay, right?” In the year Quentin had known him there had been very few times where anything Eliot had done or said could be described as timid. It gave Quentin a sense that if he said 'no' right now, they would close the door on a million maybes.

“Of course this is fine.” Tension that Quentin hadn't realized was there leaked out of Eliot's frame. He pressed closer and relaxed against Quentin's side. A soft content little noise made something inside Quentin's chest tighten. He wasn't sure how much longer he was going to be able to ignore the pesky nuisance in his head.

Chapter Text

Quentin was going to regret when the summer break was over and he actually had to get up early for classes again. In the two short weeks, he'd spent with Eliot the pair had developed a late to bed, late to rise strategy – meaning neither was normally up before noon. It was nearly impossible to roll and face the alarm when it rang at 8. He slapped at the glowing numbers to silence the sound and hissed when his fingers brushed against a steaming mug. What the hell? He blinked at the cup and pushed himself into a sitting position, realizing as he did that Eliot must already be up and about.

The smell of coffee coaxed his sleep addled brain grudgingly towards wakefulness, and he took the glass and held it in both hands as the steam drifted towards his face. It was too hot to drink just yet, but the warm porcelain felt nice between his fingers. How cold was it going to be in New York, what time of year was it in New York? It had been early January when they had gone to his father's. Middle or late January seemed like a safe assumption, so it was probably bitterly cold.

Quentin took a sip of the sweet dark liquid and set the mug back on his bedside table as he shoved the blankets away and swung his legs out of bed. He took another drink of the rapidly cooling cup and started gathering his clothes for the day. The coffee mug traveled in his hand as he headed for the shower and he finished what remained as he waited for the water to reach an acceptable temperature. Ten minutes later he was heading downstairs with dripping hair and a towel around his shoulders to wash the mug out in the sink.

“Morning, Q.” Quentin had made it halfway to the sink before Eliot's greeting, and he turned to glance at his friend. Eliot had dressed for the day, but his face was weary, and the circles under his eyes seemed darker than normal.

“Rough night?” Quentin asked. He refilled his mug instead of washing it and added sugar to his liking. It took a beat or two longer than Quentin expected for the other man to answer.

“Yeah. Some nights you just don't, or can't, sleep.” Quentin frowned at him.

“Did you... was last night one of them?” Quentin carried the new cup of coffee to the couch and sat. His knee knocked gently against Eliot's in silent encouragement.

“I got a couple of hours.” There was an open fifth of whiskey sitting on the coffee table in front of them. Quentin wasn't sure if Eliot had added whiskey to his coffee or coffee to the whiskey.

“If you don't...” Quentin took a breath and started over. “We can wait to go if you want to try to go back to sleep.”

“No,” Eliot assured him. “I need to clear my head, brooding around here won't do it.” A million thoughts raced through Quentin's mind, chief among them worry that he might have done something wrong the night before. Eliot had seemed fine when he'd gone to bed; maybe he hadn't been. The thoughts must have shown through in his expression somehow. “It's not you Q. You're the best...” The sentence seemed to hang unfinished, but Eliot stopped there. He finished what was left of his coffee, then poured about a finger worth of whiskey into the mug and threw that back. Quentin took the bottle before he could do it again.

“If you're going to be drunk all day I'm not going. You know you can talk to me right?” Quentin was silently proud of himself for getting the words out without tripping over them, he meant them, and something was obviously wrong. He reached and squeezed Eliot's leg, and gently rubbed his thumb in a soothing circle against his knee. He could feel the tension in the muscle. Eliot's larger hand settled over his and Quentin spread his hand so their fingers could interlace.

“I really want you to go,” Eliot told him.

“Okay.” Quentin ran his hand through his damp locks, then rubbed the towel through his hair. “Lemme finish getting ready.” He set his mug between Eliot's fingers and took the whiskey back to the bar, then headed back upstairs to find his wallet and shoes. He was yanking gloves down his hands as he returned to the common room. His hoodie was where it had landed when they had come inside the night before, and he tugged it on. It smelled pleasantly like petrichor and Eliot's cologne.

“How cold is it going to be, do you think?” A ghost of a smile spread across Eliot's face as he worked on turning part of the wall into a portal. He'd finished the coffee and donned a coat and scarf while Quentin had been getting ready

“I'll just throw open a window and ask a passing bird.” The portal opened around the edge, and a blast of frigid air met them. “The bird says it's brisk.” The lines of his face still spoke of exhaustion, but he was trying for humor. Quentin grabbed his jacket and tugged it up his shoulders.

“There's an extra scarf on the table if you think you'll need it.” Eliot offered. He had thrown a brown calf leather map bag over one shoulder and was waiting for Quentin so he could close the portal behind them. Quentin moved to grab the offered garment and waited until he had stepped through into an alley to wrap it around his neck.

“Where are we?” He asked as they started to walk.

“Somewhere in Brooklyn, a little farther out than I had wanted to portal in, but you can't always be as precise as we were when we went to your dad's.” Their breath fogged in the cold and Quentin shoved his hands in the pockets of his jacket as he tried to keep pace with Eliot's longer strides. It got easier when they got out of the alley, and Eliot was slowed, somewhat, by the throngs of people. He still flowed through them with an ease Quentin found difficult to match. Until Eliot started to window shop Quentin was constantly a step or two behind him.

“Don't walk so fast.” He grumbled as Eliot's eyes scanned the window and the shop beyond it. Nothing seemed to catch the other man's interest, so they moved on until he found a place that did. He knew they were going in when Eliot's hand slipped into his, and he was pulled inside. He was released once they had crossed the threshold of the second-hand shop and Eliot started to weave his way towards bookshelves that lined the back wall. Quentin took a moment to appreciate how easily Eliot's tall, lanky frame flowed through the narrow aisles of the overstuffed store. He'd been built for this type of urban spelunking. If Quentin had tried to follow his path, his coat would have caught on something, or he would have knocked over a pile of haphazardly stacked crates.

He found his own path to the books and watched Eliot out of the corner of his eye as they worked their way down the row. Long fingers hovered just above the spines. Occasionally they would extend forward and pull one free, then Eliot would pause to flip through it for a moment before putting it back. The exercise continued in silence for a handful of minutes before Eliot tucked a book under his arm and glanced at him.

“Did anyone tell you I did my undergrad at Columbia?” Quentin put back the book he'd picked up. No one had said anything about Eliot before Brakebills save for Eliot himself. Margo might have known, but she was just as protective of Eliot's secrets as he was. Quentin shook his head, and Eliot had his undivided attention. He had applied to Columbia when he'd been looking at schools, but it had proved a bit more cost prohibitive than he had expected.

“What department?” He asked. He couldn't imagine Eliot studying something as mundane as business or law.

“Classics. The program was a mix of literature and languages; there were only about a dozen of us.” Eliot pulled down another book and flipped through it. He seemed almost nervous like he expected Quentin to be put off somehow. Quentin laughed, relieved that Eliot hadn't tried to force himself into some box he wouldn't have fit.

“What's funny?”

“I was trying to picture you sitting in some business class, and I just couldn't imagine it.” The unease in Eliot's expressive features retreated a bit, and he smiled.

“Yeah, hell no.”

“Columbia must have cost your parents a small fortune.”

“Zero parent contribution.” It was a phrase Quentin had seen when he'd been researching the school. Columbia didn't offer academically based financial aid when they did offer it the assistance was based on family income.

“So your parents made less than...” Two of Eliot's long fingers pressed to his lips.

“Let's just keep that to ourselves, please.”

“Yeah, right. Of course, I just never would have guessed.” Eliot hummed in agreement and went back to the books with an urgency that hadn't been there before.

“Not many people would.” He murmured after a moment. A second book got tucked under his arm. A dozen questions raced to the fore of Quentin's mind, but he wasn't sure if he should ask any of them, so they piled on top of one another unasked. He had to search through the wreckage to find one that he deemed acceptable.

“You said classics, which part did you, was it, what were your favorite classes?” A bitter chuckle escaped Eliot's throat.

“I didn't think it would bother you so much.” Quentin's hand shot out, and he grabbed Eliot's arm, and he didn't let go until Eliot faced him. The last thing he wanted was his best friend thinking he disapproved over something as petty as money.

“I don't care if they made $2 or 2 million. You're my best friend, El. Money doesn't change that. Nothing about your family is going to change that.”

“There was this series of classes on Indian literature; I learned Sanskrit well before I started Brakebills.”

“It sounds like you breezed through the written exam.”

“It was easy enough, I guess. There was no way they weren't going to take me unless I'd been high enough to flub the exam completely. That was a very real possibility.” They had reached the end of the books, and Eliot's fingers traced down Quentin's arm. When they found his hand, Quentin found himself being pulled towards a stairwell. “Come on; you won't believe the size of this place's record collection.”

Quentin let himself be dragged, first downstairs, where the entire floor was filled with shelves of dusty vinyl, then back up, where Eliot paid, then back onto the street and into the next store. The bitterness that Eliot had been harboring early in the morning had lifted, and any awkwardness that their conversation had created had gone with it. It was enlightening listening to Eliot as he talked about how he'd filled his electives with art and history.

Subconsciously Quentin had known for a while that there was more to Eliot than the lush, slacker, and serial partier that most of Brakebills got to see. Now he got to see it on display. It was a side of the man that maybe only Margo had glimpsed, one that was bright, sensitive, and damaged. Quentin got a sense that someone had hurt him, badly, and it had led to the Eliot they all knew. He also got the impression, though Eliot never said anything specific, that whoever had hurt him had done it while he was at Columbia.

Chapter Text

Quentin was glad for the opportunity to sit down for a little while when Eliot pulled him into a Turkish cafe around lunchtime. He hadn't walked for so long since he'd started school and the frequency and amount that all of them drank was starting to have an impact. He didn't consider himself overweight, or unhealthy, but he could definitely benefit from more routine exercise.

The day had stayed clear and crisp, and Eliot's mood had remained high since the first store they had visited. He seemed to have a knack for picking out obscure pieces. Quentin hadn't seen him buy anything expensive. A couple of old books here, new to him albums of music Quentin was rapidly developing a taste for and carefully selected bottles of wine. Quentin had never seen Eliot pour over something as diligently as he did wine labels. There was a career in that if Eliot was ambitious enough to pursue it. Good wine sommeliers were always in high demand.

Quentin suggested as much after they had exited the second wine shop of the morning, that Eliot should look into what was required to be certified for that sort of thing. Eliot had to do something after he graduated, why shouldn't it be related to something he had a passion for? The suggestion had earned him a speculative look. Quentin wasn't sure if the thought had ever crossed his friend's mind. A part of Quentin hoped the idea stuck. Eliot seemed like the kind of guy who could lose himself quickly if he wasn't grounded somehow.

At lunch both of them ordered brick oven baked pide, and finished lunch with desserts. At Eliot's insistence, Quentin tried a spoonful of Eliot's kazandibi, a form of Turkish pudding. They paid separately then headed back outside to continue shopping. It had warmed a little, so the two of them window shopped until Eliot found a shoe store, where a pair of boots on display in the window caught his interest. As Eliot's fingers slipped into his Quentin hoped the afternoon wouldn't turn into hours of shopping for clothes.

The shop they ended up walking into was nothing like they expected. Quentin felt magic shimmer over them as they stepped into a cluttered curiosities shop. The colors inside seemed richer than the ones on the street and the lights cast everything in a warm glow. Most of the stuff wasn't magical, but there was magic, it was the kind that had seeped into everything in the cottage after years of students practicing.

“I think we found Loveland's shop.” Eliot was grinning like a fiend, and he dug into his bag until he produced two pieces of looking glass. Quentin brought the piece Eliot handed him up against a pile of books. They were enchanted with weak preservation charms that students in their first month at Brakebills could do.

“Who is Lovelady?”

“He's a peddler, most of the crap he tries to pawn off is junk, but he hits pay dirt often enough to keep a store. The trick is finding it."

“Have you been looking for it all day?” Quentin asked as his fingers brushed against over the glass enclosure of an animal skull. He wasn't good enough at anatomy to know which animal.

“Not specifically. I figured if we did you would love it, but the door moves around too randomly.”

“Where's the shoe store? Or was that a facade?” Eliot pointed to the side wall, where a door was partially hidden by piles of books. There were books everywhere, but none seemed to be spell books. It was like a hedge mage had enchanted every book they owned, and that collection had passed on to Lovelady's shop somehow.

“I think it's through there.” Quentin didn't have to ask if Eliot wanted to check. What they had found was much more exciting than shoes, and they set to exploring every inch of the store with vigor. There were a few things that caught Quentin's eye, but he doubted there was more than residual magic in any of it. He was especially wary of the jewelry, and the charms each piece boasted.

Eliot stopped in front of a vintage clothing rack to slide each hanger down the bar, but nothing seemed to jump out at him, so he abandoned it and ended up in front of a locked cabinet filled with medicine jars and vials. Some of them were ancient, with faded yellow tags boasting snake oil remedies. Some Quentin recognized as having seen widespread use before they had been disproved. Quentin stepped beside him and picked up a shadowbox of preserved butterflies, then put it back when he thought of moths. He moved to Eliot's other side and continued to browse.

They were working their way towards the back of the store, where a gaunt man in an ill-fitting suit was reading. Quentin guessed that must be Lovelady. He waved to them as they got closer.

“If you want to see anything up close just ask.” The two of them nodded and went back to browsing. They didn't find anything worth their time, that was any kind of serious magic until they reached the cases closest to Lovelady's register. The charms and jewelry in those cases might actually boast the enchantments they claimed. There was a whole case filled with jars of dried potions ingredients, ready to be measured out and sold. An old fashioned candy scale sat on top of the case. The next section of the case was filled with spell components. Jars of incense lined a shelf behind the counter. Quentin glanced at Eliot, who had again been drawn to an assortment of glass jars.

“There's no way that's actual truth serum.” Lovelady abandoned his chair and walked to the case Eliot was looking into. Keys jingled as he opened the back of the of it. Quentin watched as a vial of brown glass, with an eye-dropper top, was picked from the case and put on the counter. Eliot studied it with his piece of glass.

“I still don't think it's real.”

“You can test it,” Lovelady told him.

“Isn't truth serum toxic?” Quentin asked.

“If you take too much, but 3 or 4 drops, in a bottle of wine, makes for one hell of a game of truth or dare. Almost the whole cottage played the night Margo, and I were assigned our disciplines.” Quentin couldn't imagine that. Eliot was such a private person, Margo too, to a lesser degree. He wished he could have seen it.

“Are you going to buy it?” Quentin asked. Eliot grinned at him.

“If it works.”

“So you want to try it?” Lovelady glanced between the two of them, then focused on Quentin. “Are you going to keep an eye on him if he does?” Quentin felt a sinking feeling in his gut.

“Relax, Q. I'll be fine,” Eliot assured him. He held out his hand and fully extended his pointer finger. Lovelady shrugged, apparently eager for the sale, and started to screw off the cap. He depressed the top of the eye-dropper until it was empty, then shook off the remaining fluid that clung to the glass and brushed the residual liquid against Eliot's finger. It was barely a drop.

“Ask me something ridiculous, Q,” Eliot told him once he'd licked the serum off his finger. “Something you don't think I'd share otherwise, so we know if it works or not” Eliot seemed fine, and Quentin racked his brain for a question he could ask. He didn't want to humiliate Eliot if he admitted something he normally wouldn't. Quentin felt like he'd been dumped in the middle of a minefield, and that stepping in any direction could set something off, so he decided to go a different route. He took a moment to phrase a two part question in his head, then pulled Eliot off to the side.

“I don't know if that shit worked or not, El. I don't want to hurt you.” He started. “Eliot smirked at him.

“That's sweet, Q. It is, but I feel fine. I trust you.” That should have been proof of concept for Quentin because he'd never heard Eliot admit to trusting anyone but Margo. He went ahead with the question he'd planned anyway because Eliot was going to be like this for hours, and Quentin needed some solid footing if he was going to deal with him.

“Tell me, in the fewest words possible, the thing in your past you want to talk about least.” Eliot's face pinched in pain, but his response was immediate.

“Alex, my ex-boyfriend.” Quentin could tell that just saying that name pained him; there was hurt in every line of Eliot's expressive face. He pressed his hand over Eliot's mouth before he could continue.

“Then we aren't going to talk about him. I don't want to know, El, okay?” Eliot took a breath that hitched, and closed his eyes for a moment. Finally, he nodded, and Quentin moved his hand, which he cupped gently against Eliot's cheek. He felt horrible but knew now that asking Eliot about anything related to his former boyfriends was absolutely off limits. “Now tell me what are you comfortable talking to me about?” He asked Eliot when his friend could look at him again. He got a weak smile in return.

“Almost anything.” Eliot leaned into the hand against his face. “Thank you for asking that way.” He whispered softly.

“You can't lie to me. I didn't want to hurt you. Are you going to buy that serum anyway?” Eliot nodded and stepped out of his embrace.

“I said I would if it worked. You never know when it will come in handy.” Quentin couldn't think of any occasion when it would. He still wasn't comfortable that Eliot had taken as much as he had.

“Do you want to head back to the cottage so that stuff can wear off?” He asked when Eliot had finished paying.

“I'm okay,” Eliot assured him. “And I don't want to go back.” Quentin supposed that considering the circumstances both statements must be true and that Eliot wasn't going to be swayed.

Chapter Text

Eliot on truth serum was Eliot without a filter, and Quentin felt like he was taking advantage of his friend's lack of verbal inhibitions. As the early afternoon wore towards dinner, he learned more about his best friend than he had in a year. Eliot's claim that he was comfortable talking to Quentin about almost anything rang true with surprising clarity.

Quentin tried to steer as much of the conversation as he could towards generalities. He learned that Eliot's parents had a farm in Indiana and that he had three older brothers. He had expected all four of them to be close in age, but he found out that Shawn, the youngest, was older than Eliot by seven years. Shawn was also the member of Eliot's family that Eliot was closest to, even if he hadn't seen him since the older man had visited for his 21st birthday. He hadn't seen either of his parents since he'd been seventeen.

“You should have heard them at my graduation party.” Eliot had told him shortly after they had left Lovelady's shop. “They were proud that they got to boast about one of us going to an ivy league school. They weren't proud, or happy, for me.”

As Eliot described them, Quentin tried to imagine the type of people who would put their seventeen-year-old on a plane, alone, to a city he had never visited before. He couldn't imagine what that must have felt. Eliot described it as 'terrifying, and liberating,' and he'd started looking for a way to stay in New York over the summer as soon as his first term as a freshman started.

“Clearly, you found a way, what did you do? Stay with friends or something?” Quentin asked as they walked out of their third wine store of the day. Eliot's shoulder bag had some kind of spell on it because nothing that disappeared into it made the sides bulge or the weight change.

“I moved in with Alex,” Eliot told him quietly as he'd pushed open the door to an antique store.

“Was it just for the summer?”

“No,” Eliot said softly. Silence lapsed between them as they walked through the shop towards rows of glass display cases that filled one side of the store. Quentin knew he'd overstepped. This guy was a subject they had agreed not to talk about. Eliot stopped in front of a case, then formed his fingers into a box so he could study the jewelry inside. When he failed to detect enchantments, he moved on.

A case of action figures drew Quentin's attention. Sprinkled among the classic Star Wars, He-Man, and G.I. Joe were newer pieces from franchises like Power Rangers and X-Men. It was surreal seeing toys he had owned starting to show up in places like this. “Are you counting how many you had as a kid?” Eliot's asked; Quentin hadn't realized he'd gotten so close.

“Yeah. I have a bunch of these.” Quentin pointed to the knot of X-Men that were standing near the middle of the case. “And all of those.” His finger gestured towards a small selection of Fillory figures that were piled in a box on the bottom shelf of the case. Eliot laughed, and Quentin felt the other man's hand settle against his back.

“Of course you did.” His tone had turned from sour to fond. They moved along the row of glass cases together.

“Do.” Quentin corrected. “They are at dad's somewhere.”

“That's one of the things I love you for Quentin. You don't hide what has brought you joy in your life.” Quentin blushed, sure that Eliot meant love in a platonic sense, but the other man had stopped. He'd shoved his hands into the pockets of his coat and was staring at the bottom of the cases.

“El, I...” Quentin was going to tell him how he felt, how he'd been so close to kissing him the night before, but Eliot continued and raised his gaze so he could look Quentin in the eye.

“Alice isn't right for you, Quentin.” The conviction with which Eliot said it dissolved whatever conflicted feelings Quentin still had. If Alice had wanted to be with him, they would have at least tried to talk about things before she had left.

“I know.” Eliot seemed surprised he had made headway, surprised that Quentin had listened to him at all.

“I'm not right for you either.” He murmured softly. Quentin was stunned.

“That's bullshit, Eliot!”

“I'm so fucking damaged I don't think I'm right for anyone.” This wasn't a conversation Quentin wanted to have in the middle of an antique store, especially when Eliot was, by all accounts, high. The truth serum was still active in his body.

“El, stop.”

“You know it's true, Quentin. I've been throwing up red flags since you met me.”

“I get that you think it's true.” Quentin raked his hand back through his hair in frustration. “Look, El, come on. I know...” Quentin wasn't sure how to phrase how he felt. “You know what... fuck it. That idea is ridiculous.”

“You don't know what I've been through.”

“Everybody is damaged somehow, El. Gods know I am. My own brain isn't even wired correctly. There are days I believe I don't deserve anything I have. There have been days that I felt so undeserving that I wanted to kill myself. The last time I admitted myself to a hospital I told the therapist that I felt like I was the most useless person who ever lived. I told her I couldn't eat or get out of bed, and that I felt like I didn't belong anywhere.” Quentin glanced around them. They were the only ones in the aisle, but it still made him uncomfortable to talk about his depression so openly, no matter how quiet he tried to keep his voice.

“Q...” Eliot's hand cupped Quentin's cheek. “You goddamn idiot.” He murmured an instant before he pulled Quentin into a proper embrace. “You're my best friend. If you hurt yourself, I'll kick your ass.” He whispered fiercely. “You aren't useless, and you belong with us.”

“I know where I'm supposed to be now. I figured that out when I started school, but it doesn't change that my brain is broken.” Quentin rested his cheek against Eliot's chest and wrapped his arms around his friend's waist.

“That's what pills are for,” Eliot told him. Quentin couldn't stop himself, he laughed.

“I guess so.”

“Don't listen to Henry. If you need meds, just take them. I don't want to lose you.”

“I am not going anywhere, and I'll be nice and not tell Margo what you said.”

“I can have more than one best friend, Q. I love you both, and she knows how I feel.” His cheeks colored a little. “I've been pining for you since I met you. I've wanted to kiss you since I watched you walk across the lawn the day you took your exam.”

“I almost kissed you last night, but I lost my nerve.”

“Fuck, why didn't you?”

“I didn't want what happened with Alice to happen with you. She and I kinda got forced together as friends because of the whole Beast thing, but you welcomed me as soon as you met me. I didn't want to screw it up.”

“Can I kiss you now?” As much as Quentin wanted to say yes he really didn't want to be told how awkward a kisser he was, which was likely to happen as long as Eliot was compulsively telling the truth.

“You can kiss me once we get back to the cottage and that shit you took is out of your system. I'd prefer not to be told how much my kisses suck.”

“Okay.” Quentin was sure Eliot was disappointed, but he was going to hold firm. He would have been equally reluctant to kiss him if Eliot had gotten drunk and they'd had this conversation. His friend's hold on him shifted, and the taller man's arm ended up looped around his shoulder. “Shall we finish here? There's a bookstore I want to visit before we head back. It's going to be an hour or two yet before the truth serum wears off.”

“Whatever you want to do.” Quentin agreed. He settled his arm back around Eliot's waist. If this was what their new normal could become he was happy to welcome it.

Chapter Text

The first sign that the truth serum was finally wearing off was the thirst. It hit Eliot shortly after he and Quentin sat down to dinner. His mouth went dry, and his throat felt tight. Until that moment he hadn't realized just how much he'd talked throughout the whole of the afternoon.

“El? You're pale. Are you alright?” Eliot picked up his water glass and drained what remained of it, which helped, some. He caught a piece of ice between his teeth and let it melt against his tongue. “Here.” Quentin had set his water glass in front of him and was wisely moving the wine glass at Eliot's elbow out of his reach. Their waiter passed their table, and Eliot saw Quentin wave the man down. “Can we get water refills and the desserts we ordered to go instead?” The man nodded. He returned with a pitcher.

“It will be a few minutes on the desserts.” He told Quentin as he refilled the glasses.

“Thanks, look, bring the check too. We'd appreciate it.”

“Of course.” Their server left them, and Eliot rubbed the bridge of his nose. A headache was starting to blossom behind his eyes.

“I feel hungover, and I've barely drank today.” He lamented.

“Are you going to be sick?” Quentin asked.

“I don't think so.” Eliot sipped his water and stared at the table. “Maybe.” He murmured.

“If you don't feel up to building a portal back to campus we can find a place to stay tonight.” Despite how he felt Eliot smirked at him.

“That would be one way to get you into my bed.” Everything he had said during the last few hours was pressing to the front of his mind in a chaotic mass. He was reasonably confident he'd slipped up and told Quentin he was in love with him.

“Not if the room had a double bed.” Quentin pointed out. “Or if I made you sleep on the floor.”

“You wouldn't be so mean to me,” Eliot whined softly. He rested his elbows against the edge of the table and leaned his forehead against his thumbs and pointer fingers. His eyes closed against the semi-darkness created by the remaining digits.

“No, probably not.” Quentin agreed. “Uh, thank you.” Eliot heard the rustling of a paper bag as their server returned, and listened as Quentin shifted in his seat to get his wallet out.

“I can pay.” He offered. He lifted his head and let his hands fall against the table.

“Don't worry about it.” The server had already disappeared with whatever cash Quentin had given him. “We can leave whenever.”

“You don't need change?” Quentin shook his head. Eliot nodded and slid towards the edge of the booth seat. He silently prayed that the world didn't tilt when he tried to stand. It did, a little. Things spun for a handful of seconds until he got his bearings again. If he had taken more than a drop or two of the truth serum, he might have been in real trouble as it wore off. Quentin handed him his coat and bag, and Eliot led the way to the bathroom. It was a small two-stall unit that was mercifully empty. A cursory glance of the space failed to reveal a camera, so he warded the door and made a portal.

The cottage was cool and blissfully silent compared to the hot, noisy press of the restaurant. Eliot shed his scarf, coat, and bag onto an empty chair and lay down across two-thirds of the couch with a quiet groan. He closed his eyes and tracked Quentin by the sounds he made as he settled in. The younger man's tennis shoes squeaked on the hardwood, then on the tile of the kitchen. Eliot heard the refrigerator hum as Quentin opened it to put the food they had brought back away. Ice clattered against a glass, and he heard the faucet running, then the squeak of shoes on tile and wood as Quentin came back. Quentin set the glass on the coffee table.

“Did you fall asleep?”

“Not yet.” Eliot felt the cushions and springs below him dip farther as Quentin dropped onto the unoccupied portion of the couch. He made a pleased sound when Quentin's hand stroked through his hair. The younger man's gentle fingers worked to separate the strands that were still trapped in knots of gel. “Fuck, Q, keep doing that, and I will be.” He murmured.

“Would you rather fall asleep down here, or up in your room?”

“How are you going to spend the rest of the evening?” Eliot forced his eyes open and twisted his head enough to look at Quentin for a moment. The other man had grabbed a book before sitting down. He realized quickly that even the lowlights of the cottage were overwhelming. “Shit, shit, shit.” He closed them again and rested his cheek against the cushion.

“Head upstairs. You need to get some rest, El. You were exhausted when we left this morning. The truth serum apparently didn't help.”

“I'm fine here.” Quentin's fingers had returned to his hair and were gently combing through the loose curls. Eliot didn't want to be anywhere that Quentin wasn't. After everything, he'd talked about during the day he doubted he'd sleep for more than an hour or two. Despite Quentin's best efforts to avoid heavy conversational topics, the truth serum had dredged up too many bad memories.

“If you say so.” Quentin shifted until he was sitting cross-legged, then settled his book in his lap and started to read. Content that Quentin wasn't going to make him move Eliot finally dozed off. He startled awake less than an hour later, but the dream that had woken him was already fading. “Go to bed, El,” Quentin told him quietly.

“Why? I'm not going to sleep any better upstairs than I am down here.” Eliot sat up and raked his hand through his hair, then undid the buttons of his vest. He shrugged it off his shoulders and tugged his tie loose, then reached for the water Quentin had brought him when they had gotten home.

“Is there anything I can do to help?” Eliot set the empty glass back on the table and reached down to unlace his boots.

“Come lay down with me, Margo and I share. Sometimes it helps.” He knew it was early, Quentin probably wasn't ready to go to bed.

“Sure.” Quentin marked his place and stood, then stretched. Eliot stared at him from his spot on the couch. Had it really been as easy as asking? Nothing was ever that easy. He gathered his clothes and followed Quentin upstairs. “I'm going to brush my teeth and change. I'll be there in a minute or so.” Quentin told him as they passed his room. Eliot nodded and disappeared into the private bathroom connected to the room he'd claimed. He brushed his teeth and stepped back into his space, then stripped to his boxers and lifted the covers to crawl under them. He left the lights on for Quentin to turn off. Those lights flipped off a couple of minutes later, and Eliot rolled into Quentin's hold once the younger man had settled beside him.

“Thanks, Q. You didn't have to do this.” He murmured as he rested his cheek on Quentin's shoulder. One of Quentin's arms tightened around him. The other hand brushed his hair back, and a moment later Quentin's lips pressed to his forehead. Eliot whined and squirmed close enough to press his mouth to the column of Quentin's throat. He looped his arm around Quentin's torso and nuzzled there.

“For fuck's sake go to sleep already.” The rebuke was affectionate, not sharp or angry, and Eliot smirked. He closed his eyes and settled against Quentin's shorter frame. The familiar, comforting scent he'd come to associate with Quentin, combined with the feeling of a friend's arms around him, lured him toward sleep.

Even with the other man's presence, he doubted he'd sleep solidly till morning, and he was right. He woke up twice more. The first was because a dream he couldn't remember, but the second time the memory of strong hands on his hips and rough kisses against his mouth kept him awake for almost half an hour. Determined to go back to sleep he pushed the thoughts down into his subconscious where they belonged, pressed a kiss to Quentin's jaw, and tucked his face back against Quentin's throat.

Chapter Text

When Eliot woke up again at least there was light streaming in lines through the awkward slants between his blinds. Quentin was still soundly asleep, and Eliot lay curled against him until the absolute need to shower overtook the urge to stay put. He was half afraid that if he moved Quentin would wake up as well, and that this would be the only time this... whatever it was, happened.

With painstaking slowness, he untangled himself from Quentin's limbs, and the layers of covers tucked around them. He was half out of the mess when Quentin stirred and murmured something incoherent. Brown eyes blinked open, and Eliot's pulse raced against his throat.

“Hey, ” Quentin brushed his hand back through his hair, then pressed the heel of his hand against his mouth to muffle a yawn. "Did you sleep through the night?"

“Most of it.” Eliot left the blankets bunched low on his hip and settled back against his pillows.

“Most is, uh, most is good though right?”

“Most is great.” Eliot agreed. He felt more rested than he had since Margo had left, and he needed that to refresh his wards. He was sure if Penny was around the traveler would be loudly complaining about the state they were in. Quentin scooted closer, and the smaller man's hand settled against his throat. Concern flitted across his face.

“What's wrong?”

“I don't know what happens now,” Eliot admitted. His passing interactions with love had left him woefully unprepared for this, for the unexpected force of his feelings for Quentin. He was terrified that Quentin's feelings would be fleeting, that as soon as Alice came back, Quentin would remember how he felt about her. He didn't want to be the guy Quentin kissed to figure out if he liked guys. He'd been someone's experiment in his eight grade year, and seeing the kid he'd made out with kissing a girl less than a week later had broken something that had never fully healed.

For an instant he considered trying to encourage Quentin to hook up with someone else first, to see how he felt about being with a guy, but he knew that wasn't fair. When someone tells you they want to kiss you, then you didn't make them jump through hoops to do. You embraced what they were willing to give, and prayed that it lasted. Plus the thought of Quentin with anyone else made his stomach churn with jealousy.

“What's happened in the past?” Quentin asked. Eliot laughed before he could stop it, had he ever had a serious relationship that had lasted past a month or two?

“Everything has been either one-sided, or it fizzled within weeks. Eventually, I just stopped trying for anything more than a hook-up.... I'm clean though.” He added the last bit in a hurried rush. He'd been with a lot of partners, but that didn't mean he didn't try to be safe.

“Was...” Quentin frowned and shifted closer again, so he could settle his arm around Eliot's waist. He licked his lips and seemed to be searching for the best way to ask whatever was on his mind. “What were you, fuck nevermind. It's none of my business.” Eliot had a feeling he knew what Quentin wanted to ask about, and if there was a moment to lay his cards on the table, this was probably it. He rested his forehead against Quentin's chest and sighed.

“If you want to ask go ahead. You probably deserve to know” Eliot murmured without raising his head. “I mean, Margo knows part of it, so I should at least share that much.”

“What was Alex? A one-sided crush, or someone you thought you loved?”

“One-sided, on his end. He's older, but he's the first magician I met who wasn't a hedge, and he agreed to help me learn to control my telekinesis.” Eliot paused and let a shuddering breath escape his lungs.

“You don't have to tell me any of this, Eliot.” Quentin's arms shifted around him, and Eliot let himself be resettled until his cheek and ear were pressed over Quentin's heart. The smaller man's hand gently carded through his hair.

“I tried to bottle it, Q. I treated it like some tainted part of me that would eventually just go away, but it only got stronger, and I was terrified of it. Then my control started slipping when I was drunk, when I was high, when I tried to sleep. That's how we met. He was at the bar when I lost control and shattered a whole rack of glassware. Alex found me in the alley afterward. He told me I'd kill someone if I didn't learn to control it. I knew there would be strings, but I didn't want to kill anyone else, so when he told me he wanted me I let him...” Eliot's voice faltered

“El, stop. I can fill in the blanks.”

“I let him... it was just sex, and he started teaching me magic. Then when I didn't have a place to go at the end of my first year, he let me move in with him. It was all casual for a while, but I wasn't prepared for how quickly he got possessive, then when he realized I wasn't falling for him, he started getting abusive.”

“Then why did you stay?”

“By the time he got abusive, I was nineteen and an idiot. He'd convinced me to give up my dorm room. I couldn't afford to live by myself, and I was finally figuring out what I was. I finally had some control over this part of me I hated.” Quentin's hand traveled through his hair a final time, then down the side of his face and under his chin. Gentle fingers tipped his face upward.

“I get it.” Quentin murmured quietly, and Eliot didn't hear the condemnation he expected to hear, in its place were tones of acceptance and sympathy and warmth. Eliot squirmed higher against Quentin's body and slipped one arm around his waist. Their mouths crashed together in a kiss that was all messy, awkward angles. Their noses got in the way, and Quentin clearly wasn't ready for the brush of another man's stubble against his jaw because he pulled back first.

“It's okay if you don't like it.” Eliot forced the words out. It wasn't, and if that were the only time, they kissed it would gut him. He sat up, intending to slide out of bed. He'd go shower like he'd planned and hide under the spray until he'd cried himself numb. Before he could get up Quentin caught his arm and crawled across his lap. One of his hands settled below Eliot's shoulder blade and the other cupped his face. The younger magician licked his lips, tilted his head, and leaned in again.

This time the angle was perfect and Eliot curved his hand around the back of Quentin's neck, then arched up as he pulled Quentin down. For Quentin, it seemed that the shock had been momentary because this time the kiss lasted. Both of Quentin's hands laced into his hair and Eliot felt the younger man's thumbs press behind his ears. Their mouths broke apart when they needed to breathe.

“Wow.” Quentin's eyes were closed when his forehead rested against Eliot's and Eliot smoothed the unmanageable locks of Quentin's long hair back behind his ears. It fell loose again almost immediately. They both smiled. “It's not going to stay.” Quentin pointed out.

“I don't care,” Eliot repeated the motion and leaned in for a shorter, sweeter kiss. He loved the feeling of the smooth, silky strands between his fingers. One of Quentin's hands traveled down the backside of his neck.

“I'm worried I'm going to disappoint you,” Quentin admitted. Eliot pulled back so he could see Quentin's whole face, and this time it was Quentin who tucked back his hair. His gaze had shifted down, so it was focused somewhere in the middle of Eliot's chest.

“Why? Q?” Eliot gripped his chin and guided his face upward. “How could you possibly disappoint me?” Quentin blushed, Eliot could feel the heat of it against his fingers.

“I'm not, um as experienced... as you might be used to, or like um, at all really.” A bright peal of laughter escaped Eliot's throat, and he pulled Quentin into a long, thorough kiss.

“I love you.” He murmured. “And, yeah, I want to be with you, but not till you're ready to be with me. I want it to be right for both of us. I want it to last.” Eliot shifted backward as best he could with Quentin in his lap and settled against the pillows and the bed's padded headboard.

“I've never seen you care so much about anything.” Quentin sounded slightly awed by his conviction.

“Most things aren't worth caring about, Q.”

“But you think I am?”

“I know you are.” Both of Quentin's hands tangled into his curls, and Eliot leaned into the insistent press of Quentin's mouth. He parted his lips and groaned as Quentin's tongue brushed against his own. The younger magician wasn't as unskilled as he pleaded to being, and pacing their relationship, instead of demanding what he wanted right this second, scared him a little.

He'd lived by a code of instant gratification for so many years now. Maybe he needed this too. Perhaps letting Quentin set the pace was the best thing that could happen to them. “I want to take you on an actual fucking date.” He murmured. “Dinner, drinks, dancing, the whole works. I know the perfect place.”

“I'd like that.” Quentin agreed. “Just tell me when.”

Chapter Text

“Your nice clothes suck,” Eliot informed him as he stood in the open door of Quentin's closet.

“They are fine,” Quentin told him as he stood with his shins against his bed. His jeans, fresh from the dryer, were piled in his laundry basket and he was folding the best pairs into the small suitcase in front of him. Somehow, what Eliot had first proposed as an 'actual fucking date' in New York had morphed. First, it had been just the date, then the idea to stay in a hotel that evening had been agreed to, and now they were going to stay a whole week, which meant he actually had to pack more than a single change of clothes.

Eliot had found them a hotel room at a place he claimed was fantastic but had refused to let Quentin chip in on the cost. Quentin suspected that the older might be planning to trade something magical to offset the price of the room. He'd seen both Eliot and Margo do it more than once. Quentin had considered complaining, then decided that if Eliot wanted to spoil him for a week before the first of their classmates started to straggle in ahead of the new term, then he wasn't going to complain too loudly. He loved the cottage, but there was something about the idea that anyone could waltz in on them at any random moment that was holding him back.

“Q.” Quentin turned his gaze to the closet and found Eliot holding up the red and navy tie he'd worn when he'd taken his entrance exam. “I'm burning this,” Eliot informed him. He looped the tie over the pull knob on the closet door and continued to rummage through the clothes.

“Are you ashamed of the way I dress?” Quentin asked. The idea offended him a little, but then Eliot dressed so well, that it might very well be a thing.

“Don't be silly! I'm not complaining about your everyday clothes, just your 'good,' and I use the term lightly, ones. I'm burning this too.” Eliot told him as he added the shirt Quentin had worn for his exam to the tie.

“You know you met me in that outfit right? There must have been something you saw that you liked.”

“I liked you, and the idea of taking off both the shirt and tie and burning them.” The reply came from inside the closet, but the muffled words were light, and Quentin laughed. Eliot left almost everything hanging inside the small space as he stepped out of it and he brought both the shirt and tie to the bed with him. He dropped them onto a pillow, got out his cigarette case and lit one with his fingers. He took a drag, breathed out a lungful of silvery smoke and reached for the tie. A smirk spread across his face as Quentin's eyes widened.

“You aren't burning my clothes, especially not when you're holding them over my bed.” Quentin caught one end of the slippery fabric, Eliot's long elegant fingers wrapped around the other end, and they tugged the cloth between them. Eliot's smirk twisted into a grin. He took another drag from the cigarette, snuffed it with his telekinesis, then floated what remained to rest on the dresser. He stopped trying to actual wrestle the tie from Quentin's grasp and let Quentin's momentum pull him partway across the mattress.

A matching grin spread across Quentin's face as he figured out the new game. He continued to pull the tie towards him until Eliot was kneeling in front of him. Once they had reached each other Eliot finally let the endangered garment go. His arm settled around Quentin's neck, and Quentin let the tie slide from his fingers onto the floor as he rested his hands on Eliot's narrow waist.

Eliot's hand curled into his hair as he leaned in to kiss him. The man's other hand slipped between them, and Quentin's stomach muscles twitched as long deft fingers opened the button of his jeans and worked the zipper down. Those fingers then slipped under the elastic of Quentin's boxers.

“Shit, El, don's stop.” Quentin panted as arousal flooded his brain with dopamine and norepinephrine. He felt hyper aware of everything Eliot was doing, and his hips jerked as Eliot's hand twisted around his hardening cock. He realized that he should be, at least trying to return the favor, and brought his fingers to the buttons of Eliot's shirt. He worked each one free as quickly as he could with Eliot distracting him, then tugged the silk free from Eliot's slacks and went to work opening his belt. He pushed the pants down to give his hand more room then teased his fingers through the sparse trail of dark hair leading into Eliot's underwear. Muscle tensed under the gentle caress and Eliot groaned against his mouth as his hand traveled lower.

“Don't tease me, Q.” The soft whine was enough encouragement for Quentin. He wrapped his hand around Eliot's erection and started to slide his hand against it. This wasn't the first time they'd given one another handjobs, and Quentin was starting to figure out what kind of touch Eliot liked. It still felt like a race he had no chance of winning, Eliot had years of experience he felt he couldn't hope to match

Almost to prove the unspoken thought the older magician's mouth moved from his own and latched onto his neck. Quentin shivered as the combination of Eliot's lips, tongue and teeth worked up the column of his throat. Long fingers smoothed the damp hair away from the skin, and Quentin's breath hitched as Eliot's mouth hovered just below his ear. He could feel the quick inhale and exhale of breath as Eliot panted

“If I leave a mark where.. fuck, do that again...”

“This?” Quentin brushed his thumb across the head of Eliot's cock and grinned as Eliot whined in pleasure. “What were you asking?”

“I want to mark your...your.” Eliot took a moment to shallow. “I want to mark you., if someone sees it will.. will it bother you?

“No!” Quentin assured him, meaning it wouldn't, but Eliot hesitated. “I, yes, go ahead if you want..” He clarified as he arched his neck to emphasize his point.

“Fuck, Q. You're beautiful.” Eliot breathed, then his mouth dropped against the skin. Quentin panted and stroked Eliot's length faster. For about twenty seconds or so he could barely form a coherent thought, then Eliot's teeth gently nipped the spot he'd marked, and Quentin came. Sticky warmth spread across Eliot's hand, and the older man rested his forehead against Quentin's shoulder. “So close, Q.”

“Say please.” Quentin purred. He combed the hand that wasn't down Eliot's boxers gently through Eliot's loose damp curls. Sweat had left Eliot's thin silk shirt clinging to his narrow frame.

“Please, Q?” Quentin tightened his hand around Eliot's member and slowly dragged it upward. The touch was enough to send Eliot tipping towards his climax. His body jerked as he shuddered through his release. He leaned, content and boneless, into Quentin's embrace.

“Lay down; I'm going to get a washcloth.”

“Just use magic,” Eliot complained, but he was shuffling backward towards the middle of the bed. Quentin wiped his hand against his stained boxers, shucked his jeans down his legs and headed for the bathroom. As he wet a cloth with warm water, he brushed his hair back to see the hickey Eliot had left. With his hair as long as it was it wasn't that visible. He wrung the cloth between his hands, then headed back to the bedroom.

Eliot was where he'd left him, and Quentin took a moment to admire just how disheveled he looked with the open shirt and pants pushed down to mid thigh. He wondered if their housemates would believe that he'd put the normally unflappable third year in that state. Quentin moved his suitcase and laundry basket off the bed, stripped off his shirt and boxers, then climbed into bed to join Eliot.

“Roll on your back, El.” He pulled the slacks and boxers the rest of the way down Eliot's legs and dropped them off the bed before using the cloth to wipe Eliot clean. Long fingers met his as he finished and Eliot twisted onto his side to return the favor. The blankets were bunched near the foot of the bed, and Quentin tugged them up to cover them once Eliot had finished.

“You haven't saved that tie.” Eliot murmured as he curled along Quentin's side. “Or that shirt. They've just earned a reprieve.” Quentin slid one arm under Eliot's side and curled it up under Eliot's shirt. His other hand curved around Eliot's hip, covering the single hedge star that was tattooed there as well as a carefully etched ward that was scarred into the skin. He could guess the purpose of the star, but he was still clueless about the ward. He figured Eliot would tell him if he ever needed to know.

“Why is this suddenly so important to you? You know I don't care about my clothes.”

“I don't care what people on campus think.”

“But you care what people who don't know us think?” Quentin felt a tick of irritation bubble inside him.

“I want people to be jealous, Q.”

“Jealous?” The tick of irritation turned to curiosity because jealous was the last thing Quentin had expected Eliot to say.

“I want people to see us together and wonder how the hell I scored a guy like you. I want other guys to be envious that you're my boyfriend and not theirs.” Quentin grinned at the praise.

“I think you've got it backward, El. They'll wonder how long I had to beg before you caved and took pity on me.”

“Not after I'm done with you,” Eliot assured him.

“If we go shopping you aren't overhauling my whole wardrobe.” Quentin bargained. “And no vests, vests are your thing.”

“Deal.”

“So,” Quentin tightened his arm around Eliot's back. “I'm your boyfriend now?”

“If you don't want to put a title on this yet, it can wait. I wasn't trying to... I'm not rushing things.” Quentin pulled Eliot's mouth down against his own because rambling like an idiot was his thing, not Eliot's.

“I like boyfriend. I get to use it too right? You're okay with me telling other people we're together?” He expected Eliot to at least smile, or laugh, but he got a shiny-eyed nod instead.

“Yeah, please. I'd like that; I'd like it a lot.” Eliot seemed shocked that anyone would want to shoulder the responsibility that came with that particular title. Quentin couldn't claim he wasn't intimidated. He could barely take care of himself when his depression was at his worst, and now he was shouldering Eliot's emotional well being on top of that. The one thing he'd learned since starting at Brakebills though, was that nothing rewarding came easy, and the best things were worth the effort.

Chapter Text

“I'm never going shopping with you again,” Quentin complained as he dropped the handful of shopping bags into the bottom of the hotel closet and threw himself, face down, onto the king sized bed. A mirth filled chuckle drifted from Eliot's direction, and Quentin closed his eyes. The air conditioner hummed, plastic rustled, and metal clinked against metal as Eliot started to rescue the clothes most likely to wrinkle from their bags and hang them.

“It's not such a chore when you are just buying a piece or two, but we started from scratch.” Quentin rolled his eyes. He admitted that his formal clothes had never been perfect, but they had worked well enough. “And your ass looks so much better in tailored jeans,” Eliot added. Quentin laughed and rested his cheek against the duvet. He brought one hand to his head and brushed the long hair from his face. He couldn't see Eliot from his current angle, but he could see his shadow as it moved against the wall.

The new jeans were nice. They weren't the skinny jeans Eliot would have chosen for himself, but they certainly fit better than his old ones he had. He watched Eliot set up a blue tooth speaker on the bedside table and adjust the setting on a phone he used almost exclusively for his music collection. He set the music app on random, and the bed sank as Eliot joined him.

“I'm exhausted,” Quentin complained as Eliot's long arms curled around him. He burrowed into the hold and sighed. “You should have told me you were taking me out for Valentine's day.” Arriving in New York and realizing that the holiday had snuck up on him proved that he needed to keep better track of how time passed outside of Brakebills.

“It's just dinner; the date is hardly relevant.”

“The date isn't important?” Quentin rolled onto his back and raked one hand through his hair. He raised the other and started ticking off a list with his fingers. “It's our first date, our first holiday together, it's the first time people are going to see us together as a couple, and it's... it's Valentine's Day, and you've put all this effort in, but I haven't done anything for you.” One of Eliot's hands circled the one flailing in the air and gently pushed the digits back down.

“My god, stop freaking out. It's dinner. Turn off your brain off already.”

“My brain is broken. It overthinks, El. It's what it does, all the time.”

“Which is why I conveniently kept so many little details to myself.” Eliot settled on top of him and pinned him against the mattress. Amber eyes met brown as he leaned over Quentin's shorter frame. “All I want is for you to go out with me and enjoy yourself.”

“I just feel like I'm not putting in enough effort.” Quentin rested his hand against Eliot's neck and brushed his thumb across his cheekbone. “I should be showering you with candy and flowers and giant stuffed animals.”

“I'll never say no to expensive chocolates and a good bottle of wine. Flowers die, Q, and do you really want a giant stuffed bear watching us fuck?” Quentin made a face at the thought, and Eliot leaned down to kiss his mouth. The kiss was short, then Eliot shifted over Quentin so he could rest his face against his neck. “You want to be here, that's enough.”

“So chocolates and wine,” Quentin said. He settled his arms loosely around Eliot's waist and let his eyes close. “What time is our reservation?”

“Not till seven. We have time if you want to take a nap. I'll get you up when I take my shower.”

“A nap sounds good. I didn't know shopping for clothes could be so exhausting.” The soft bed below him and warm weight of Eliot on top of him were already luring him to sleep. The room suddenly got darker as Eliot used his powers to pull the curtains closed. Quentin didn't realize he fell asleep until Eliot's phone chimed around five. It zipped from the table to Eliot's hand so he could silence it, and Quentin groaned as Eliot sat up and stretched. Quentin could tell he'd slept as well from the way his hair was tousled and his clothes were askew.

Eliot shifted to sit on the edge of the bed, and Quentin watched his back as long, lithe fingers undid the buttons of his vest and shirt. He shrugged both off and stood to undo his belt. He stripped to his boxers, dumped the armload of clothes into the seat of the desk chair and padded on silent feet into the bathroom. The shower taps squeaked as Eliot twisted them and Quentin listened to the water drum against the tub. When he was reasonably sure that Eliot was under the spray and wouldn't hear him Quentin rolled towards the nightstand and raised the hotel phone.

He pressed the phone to his ear and dialed the concierge desk. As the phone chimed, he dug out his wallet. Someone answered by the third ring and Quentin placed his order and then listed off the digits on his card. Eliot was paying for almost everything already, and he didn't want his small surprise added to the bill for the room.

He returned the phone to its cradle and rolled onto his back. He felt better having done SOMETHING, even if the gesture felt minuscule in comparison to everything Eliot had probably planned. Quentin folded a pillow under his head and let his eyelids slide closed. In the semi-darkness of the room, it was easy to lose track of time.

Eventually, the shower stopped, and Eliot rejoined him. He dropped onto the edge of the bed with a blow dryer and a brush in one hand and nothing but a towel knotted around his narrow hips. Quentin sat up, rubbed the sleep from his eyes and leaned close enough to kiss droplets of water off of Eliot's bare shoulder. The mix of shower fresh skin, plus Eliot's cologne, soap, and shampoo was intoxicating, and Quentin slid across the bed when Eliot turned his head to kiss him. Quentin tasted fresh mint as Eliot's mouth opened against his own and he laced his fingers into the wet curls of Eliot's hair to pull him closer.

“If I'd realized you were going to ravish me as soon as you woke up I'd have waited to shower, something you still need to do, by the way. Now shoo, daddy's hair won't finish itself.” Quentin chuckled softly and leaned in for another long kiss. He grunted when one of the hotel's neatly rolled towels flew from the bathroom and thumped against his chest.

“I'm going, for fuck's sake.” Eliot gave him an innocent smirk and scooted to the corner of the bed so the cord of the dryer would reach the outlet. Quentin stood and tugged his t-shirt off, then tossed the shirt into Eliot's lap.

“You're stalling. You can strip for me later.” Quentin blushed, but not as deeply as he might have before they had started to date. He unfolded the towel and draped it over his shoulder, dug a fresh pair of boxers from his bag, and headed into the bathroom. The floor was still damp, and he groaned when his socks wicked up the moisture. As he adjusted the flow of hot and cold water, Quentin noted and filed away for later that the tub was probably large enough to accommodate both of them. He stepped under the spray and poured a pool of body wash over the shower sponge and lathered it across his skin. While the shower rinsed the suds away, he started on his hair, then rinsed that as well. He closed the taps and dried off, then pulled the clean underwear up his thighs and headed into the bedroom.

“Do you trust me to dress or are you picking my clothes for the night?” Quentin asked as he tossed himself back onto the bed. He wanted a few minutes to let the water evaporate off his skin, so he wasn't getting dressed and sweating it off.

“Must I do everything, Q?”

“Where are we going, anyway? You never did tell me.”

“This club I bar-tended at before I took my Brakebills exam.”

“So you know most of the staff?” Quentin raised himself onto one elbow and rubbed the towel through his damp locks.

“I'll probably know some of them, the owner for sure if she's around. The bar staff, if it hasn't changed too much. It's been a couple of years so it might be an entirely different crew.”

“Did you like working for them?”

“Well enough. Perrette likes me; she let me work the behind the bar before I was legally allowed to do it. The tips were fantastic.”

“Is she the owner?” Eliot hummed in acknowledgment. He'd finished his hair during Quentin's shower, and now he crawled across the bed and straddled Quentin's thighs. Doing so sent the towel around his hips riding high, and Quentin rubbed his hand up the exposed skin of Eliot's thigh. Eliot's elbows rested on either side of his head as he leaned down to kiss him. “We aren't going to leave the room tonight if you're going to do that,” Quentin warned him.

“Just a little preview for later.” Quentin settled his hand against Eliot's neck and pulled his boyfriend's mouth down against his own. For a moment he considered moving his hand into Eliot's hair, before deciding that Eliot might just hurt him if he messed up the neatly styled locks so quickly.

“I need to finish getting ready, El, unless you want to risk losing our table.” Eliot rolled off of him and got off the bed, then walked to the desk where his suitcase sat open. The dryer was still plugged in, so Quentin moved to sit and finish his hair. Once he finished he headed for the bathroom to brush his teeth. Beside his toiletries was the small bottle of cologne he and Eliot had decided they both liked. Eliot had informed him in no uncertain terms that the cheap commercial body spray he tended to overuse had to go, and when Quentin thought about Alice and Penny's negative reactions, he'd agreed.

When he returned to the bedroom he noticed that some of his clothes had been subtly separated from the rest. There was only one pair of pants, but there was a choice of shirt and tie. Eliot had already started to dress, having chosen a pair of gray-blue slacks and a light gray silk shirt with a faint pinstripe pattern for himself. Quentin's mouth felt dry as he watched nimble fingers fasten the line of pearl white buttons.

“Close your mouth and start getting dressed,” Eliot told him without looking up. A tiny smirk quirked at the corners of his mouth as he looped his tie around his neck.

“So much for picking my clothes on my own.”

“I have no idea what you're talking about.” Eliot finished knotting his tie and slipped one arm into a navy vest that was darker than the pants he'd chosen. A jacket that matched the vest still hung in the closet. Quentin shook his head and smirked. He supposed being given choice of shirt and tie counted as choosing his clothes. Quentin picked the skinnier of the two ties and the shirt that best complimented Eliot's look, then fastened his watch around his wrist.

“Do I need a jacket?” He asked as he inspected himself in the full-length mirror that filled the whole closet door. He wouldn't admit out loud how much better a pair of pants and shirt could look when they were appropriately tailored.

“There's the one that matches the pants.”

“I asked if I needed it. Is this place going to kick us out if I show up without one?”

“You'll be fine without it.” Eliot slipped his wallet into his back pocket and smoothed his hands down the vest as he studied his reflection for a moment. “I'm ready, I think.” Quentin grabbed his wallet and nodded. He felt nervous that he would somehow ruin the evening.

“Are we taking a cab or...?”

“Portal,” Eliot told him before he could finish the question. He closed the closet door and started waving his hands through the exercises to transform the glass. The surface rippled then changed, and Eliot gestured for him to go first. “Relax, Q. It's just dinner.” Quentin nodded and stepped through the portal into a lobby milling with people. Eliot followed a step behind him, and their portal closed.

The wood panel wall behind them was lined with more than a dozen identical mirrors. Each one stretched from the floor towards the ceiling and was capped in art deco paneling in tones of wood, cream, and gold. A mirror a few feet from them shimmered to life, and a couple stepped through. Apparently, the club had forgone typical doors in favor of a more grand entrance. Quentin could practically smell an undercurrent of old magic. The floor was mosaic tile laid in a pattern of tan rectangles and black squares. Low back sofas in white chesterfield leather lined one wall, and vintage bronze light fixtures with frosted glass cast everything in warm light. The wall opposite the sofas was occupied by a bustling bar that ran the length of the lobby.

“Wow.” Quentin managed to say. A grin had spread across Eliot's face, and the taller man's hand settled against his hip.

“We should move away from the entrance.” He suggested. His voice was just loud enough to carry over the bustle of people and the live jazz that echoed from further inside the club.

“Uh, right.” Quentin wrapped his arm around Eliot's waist and let Eliot guide him through the press of people. They ended up in the small line of couples gathered near the hostess stand. As they waited their turn Quentin started to pay more attention to the people around them rather than the club itself. Small inconsistencies began to jump out immediately because many of them weren't human. He noticed more than a handful of Pixies, couples with small horns, and more than a few with oddly colored eyes or misshapen teeth. Eliot's hand pressed against his side and Quentin moved with the pull until Eliot's arm was curved around his back and he was facing his boyfriend's chest.

“Stop staring.” Eliot murmured.

“It's, I've never. Right, right. I'm being rude.”

“I don't think anyone had the chance to notice,” Eliot reassured him. The last couple ahead of them was motioned further into the club and Eliot guided him forward. “We have a 7 o'clock reservation for Eliot Waugh.” He told the pixie acting as host.

“Give us just a few minutes to make sure your table is ready, Mr. Waugh.” The man handed them a small pager, which Eliot slipped into the pocket of his slacks before leading Quentin towards an open spot at the bar. They ordered Manhattans and had barely enough to be served and pay before being summoned back to the hostess stand and lead towards the dining room.

Quentin had never been in or seen; a club designed quite like they one they were visiting. The place had a decadent pre-war vibe to it, but there were elements of modern flare as well. He and Eliot stopped at the top of staircase overlooking the club to properly take it in.

It was larger than Quentin had expected, and had been modeled in curved tiers leading downward towards a stage and dance floor. Each layer was lined along its back edge with circular booths padded with dark leather. Wrought iron balcony rails with symmetrical deco patterns lined the forward edge of each level.

Their host lead them down the central stairwell until they were two levels above the open dance floor and directed them to a booth that was off to the right. Menus produced themselves from thin air as they got closer to the table. Quentin felt Eliot's hand slide into his own and squeeze. They settled in the booth, and Eliot's arm slipped around his shoulder.

“Do you like it?” He asked, and Quentin sensed a hint of quiet desperation in the soft words like Eliot had laid all his cards down in hopes of impressing him while still expecting to fail despite all his effort.

“It's incredible. How did you find this place?”

“Doesn't matter.” Eliot brought his Manhattan to his lips and finished what remained. Quentin was starting to learn the silent bits of code that Eliot used to avoid things he didn't want to talk about. Alex had probably brought him here, more than once, and Eliot loved the place, but there was a bittersweet memory for every good one.

“El, this is amazing.” The amount of effort Eliot had put in to planning what was shaping up to be one of the best nights of Quentin's life was mind blowing. It made the small gesture Quentin had planned for when they returned to the hotel feel small in comparison. “I haven't done anything for you.” He lamented. Eliot's hand curved into his hair and Quentin tasted bourbon and cherry when Eliot kissed him.

“Must you obsess about reciprocation?” Eliot asked. Long fingers dragged the menus closer to them, and Quentin felt the cool plastic under his fingers.

“Always,” Quentin muttered. He saw Eliot's hands quickly flick through a spell and when he opened the menu nothing had prices. “El...”

“Please, Q. One night, no second guessing, just order.” Quentin sighed, then gave in. He could see from the set of Eliot's jaw that he wasn't going to budge. He decided on his order and reached for the wine list. He was learning the barest basics of what foods were best for a red wine and what was better with white, but the subtle differences in flavor would forever escape him.

“Pick something that would pair with this.” He told Eliot after about a minute of staring at the list that might as well have been written in ancient Estonian. Eliot's cheek pressed against his hair as he studied the selections.

“This one.” He declared as their server arrived to take their orders. Quentin listed off his picks, and the wine Eliot had chosen, then waited in silence as the man jotted down Eliot's preferences.

“Are all the staff pixies?” Quentin asked when the server was out of earshot.

“Perrette's a pixie, so she tends to hire her own, but she makes exceptions, usually for magicians. Once I started getting my telekinesis under control, it proved useful, and she likes useful.” The melody the band had been playing winded down and the lights surrounding the stage dimmed. A single spotlight focused on the corner and applause ballooned through the audience as a dark haired pixie dressed in a bias cut gown of pale green silk walked towards the center of the stage. “That. Is Perrette.” Eliot told him. Quentin heard the level of quiet admiration that Eliot seemed to hold for the woman and he clapped along with the crowd until the commotion died down so she could speak.

Perrette didn't talk for long. She thanked everyone for joining them that evening before waving a shorter man onstage with her. Perrette introduced him as the first live entertainer of the night as a free standing Continental Carbon microphone was raised to the stage level via a tiny platform. Perrette took her leave, and the band started to play the opening of 'Fly Me to the Moon' before transitioning into 'Deep Purple'. The set list that followed rotated through the standards. Sinatra, Armstrong, Sammie Davis Jr, their appetizers arrived during a rendition of Cole's 'Love me Like There is No Tomorrow' and their server brought their entrees during a version of 'Blue Skies'.

Eliot's arm settled around his shoulders as their empty dinner plates were taken away and Quentin curled into the hold. They fit together. He noted as Eliot's long fingers played with a lock of his hair. The vocalist ended his set with 'Unforgettable' and Perrette reappeared at the corner of the stage as thunderous applause echoed through the club. She kissed the man's cheek, he took a little bow and departed the stage. Perrette waved the crowd to silence and introduced the evening's headliner. An African American pixie with prominent ears joined her and Quentin guessed by the crowd reaction that she was someone who performed frequently.

The melody for Etta James' 'At Last' started off the set, but Quentin wasn't truly impressed with her until she started mixing Billie Holiday covers into the song rotation. A dessert menu had appeared along the edge of the table, and Quentin leaned out of Eliot's embrace to reach for it. Eliot took the opportunity to stretch his arms above his head and roll the sleeves of his shirt up past the elbow. He leaned to read the menu over Quentin's shoulder; their waiter, with the impeccable timing he'd displayed all evening, reappeared to check on them almost as soon as Quentin laid the menu back down. Eliot ordered a chocolate mousse and a cognac that paired with it, and Quentin followed his lead. He ordered the same cognac but diverged by picking a chocolate tuxedo cake instead.

“Come on, dance with me.” Eliot's fingers slipped into his as he started to slide around the curve of the booth's bench. The dance floor below them hadn't been empty during the evening, but it had started to fill since the pixie had taken the stage. Quentin took a moment to wonder if she was part siren, coaxing the crowd from their seats, before giving in to the pull on his hand and sliding out of the booth.

They reached the floor as the pixie finished her version of 'Black Coffee'. The band transitioned into 'I'll be Seeing You', and Quentin again compared her to Billie Holiday. Eliot's hand settled against his waist, and Quentin rested his hand against Eliot's side. He let Eliot lead through the next few songs until the vocalist finished the first half of her set and the clarinetist took her place at the mic.

From the first notes of the song, Quentin swore that Eliot had somehow planned it. Memories of the night on the patio, when he'd been chasing the faint scent of Eliot's cologne, and the idea of kissing his best friend had been just a pesky nuisance flashed through his mind. He glanced up at Eliot's face and saw that same unreadable expression he'd seen when Eliot had asked if he wanted to join him in New York for a day.

Everything had shifted with that trip. He knew how Eliot felt about him now, and he wasn't going to waste a second perfect moment. He pulled his hand out of Eliot's, wrapped both arms around his waist and leaned up to kiss him. One of Eliot's arms tightened around him while the other pet back through his hair. The kiss didn't end until Quentin broke it to breathe. He closed his eyes when Eliot's forehead rested against his own.

“Q..” The song started to wind down, and building applause took its place. For a dizzying moment, Quentin thought the applause was for them before he realized that Perrette had returned to the stage. He turned in Eliot's hold and pressed back against the taller man's chest. Eliot's arm locked around him as Quentin clapped along with the rest of the crowd. Long fingers brushed the hair from his neck and Quentin shivered as Eliot's mouth found the tender spot he'd made there. “So is that 'our song' now?” Eliot asked when he could be heard again. Perrette was informing the crowd that the band would be switching out and that this would be the ideal time to renew their drinks. “We still have desserts waiting at the table.” Eliot reminded him.

“If you want it to be.” Quentin agreed. The idea of having something that was theirs made him feel warm inside. He wanted the small shared secrets that only a relationship would give them. As they walked up the steps to their table, he noted that the interior of the club had changed. There were fewer dining tables. High top tables and stools had taken their places, and long bars had appeared.

The crowd had transitioned as well. The group of middle age magic users they had arrived with had shifted to one closer to their age group. There were young, magically inclined couples of at least moderate wealth crowding against the bars and leaning against the railing along each tier. Their desserts were under small domed lids at one of the few remaining tables.

The band took a few more minutes to switch out and when the pixie returned she had changed. The floor length ball gown she had worn had been switched for something shorter and more modern. Her set was also livelier, with songs that were more swing than jazz.

Quentin finished his cake, stretched his arms across the back of the booth and watched as Eliot sipped from his snifter of cognac. His hair was starting to fall loose from the gel, and he sat leaning forward with his cheek resting against his hand. There was a look of rare quiet contentment written in the lines of his face. Quentin reached to brush an errant lock of hair back into place. Eliot leaned into the touch as a cat would arch into a pet. He finished what remained of the snifter and settled against Quentin's side. Quentin groaned as his lips mouthed lightly up the column of his throat and his eyelids fluttered closed as Eliot's mouth found its favorite spot under his ear.

“Well well.” The unexpected interruption jerked Quentin out of his pleasant stupor, and he blushed when he found Perrette standing at the edge of their table. A burning cigarette sat in the long holder between her fingers; there was a martini glass in her other hand, and she let her face twist into a bright smile. Eliot laughed against his throat and sat up.

“Perrette.” Eliot swung one arm up and rested it on the top of the booth as the woman slid in beside him. She tapped his cognac glass, and it refilled

“El, darling. It's been years.” She scolded. Eliot turned his head to give her better access when she moved to kiss his cheek.

“Just two. I still have one year left at Brakebills.” The woman's smile dropped away, and a deeply-seated frown twisted her features, she apparently didn't believe him. “Perrette?” Concern colored Eliot's tone, and he sat a little straighter.

“I'm sure, almost positive, it's been longer than that.” Her hand cupped his cheek, and she tipped his face this way and that. “But you don't look like you've aged more than a year or so.” Some of the ease shifted back into her features. “The years seem like the blink of an eye when you live as long as I have.”

“I'm committed to aging well, and time is relative.” Eliot agreed. “It does seem longer than two years.” He quietly admitted after a short lull in the conversation. “Quentin, this is Perrette Durand, Perrette, my boyfriend, Quentin Coldwater.” Quentin sat up and offered Perrette, his hand. She took it and pressed her lips against the knuckles.

“Quentin.” Her eyes tracked between the two of them for a moment, and Quentin felt like she already knew about him. There seemed to be something she wanted to say and was deciding if she should or not. Quentin's anxiety made him wonder if Eliot had brought him here on their first date so the woman might give him her stamp of approval. From what little Eliot had told him about his parents he doubted he'd ever meet them; perhaps Perrette had somehow filled their role. Eliot cleared his throat, and Quentin gave him a sheepish smile. He hadn't meant to get lost in his head. Perrette's sweet, soft laugh was clear, like a bell. “He's adorable, Eliot.” Eliot's hand found Quentin's, and he brought his refilled glass to his lips.

“He's better than I deserve.” He murmured softly, before taking a drink. Quentin opened his mouth to argue because it was clearly the opposite, but Perrette tore into Eliot before he had the chance to get in a word.

“Stop pretending you like being miserable. Let yourself be in love with someone for once in your life.” Eliot's hand squeezed harder against Quentin's.

“I'm am.” Perrette's gaze shifted between them, and Quentin again got the impression that she had things to say that were being left unsaid.

“Well, that's something, then.” Her gaze focused on Quentin.

“Keep him out of trouble.” Eliot laughed and gave Quentin a sideways glance. Quentin wrapped his arm around Eliot's back.

“Yes, ma'am.” Quentin didn't feel at all confident that he was capable of doing anything of the sort. Both of Perrette's hand's found one of Eliot's.

“If you don't have a job lined up when you graduate, you can always work for me. We'll have you certified as a wine sommelier in no time.” Quentin and Eliot shared a surprised look, both of them wondering how she knew that it was something Eliot was considering.

“I'm considering it. Quentin suggested it, actually, but how did you know?” Perrette set her jaw for a moment like she'd dropped the wrong cards, and was looking for a way to save the rest of her hand.

“You knew more about wine when you were twenty than most of my staff did. It seems like a natural fit.”

“I've always been incredibly talented for my age.” Eliot boasted. “I'll be in touch if nothing falls into place by the end of the year.” She nodded, patted his hand a final time and moved to slide out of the booth. Quentin leaned closer once she was out of earshot.

“Was that as awkward as I thought it was?” He asked quietly. Eliot took another drink from his snifter and leaned in to nuzzle his cheek. He took a moment where he seemed to be replaying the conversation in his mind.

“I don't want to think about it. Now, where was I?” He breathed against Quentin's neck. Quentin groaned softly when his lips finally settled against the skin. They were both riding the edge between pleasantly buzzed and drunk, and the more Eliot teased him, the more aroused he was getting.

“We should pay and go back to the hotel,” Quentin suggested. Eliot's answer was a pleased hum of agreement that sent chills racing down Quentin's back. They flagged their waiter at almost the same moment and laughed.

“Can I get you anything else?” The pixie asked as he approached their table.

“Our bill,” Eliot told him. He'd already fished his wallet from his pocket.

“Perrette has asked me to relay her message that your bill is on the house this evening.” Eliot counted a small handful of twenties out regardless and handed them over.

“Then at least let me tip you. Tell her we appreciate her courtesy.” The pixie accepted the cash and put it into his pocket.

“Enjoy your evening.” He said, before leaving them. Eliot finished the cognac, then slipped out of the booth and offered Quentin a hand up. They settled against one another as they walked up the stairs towards the lobby. The two of them had to wait for one of the mirrors to become available, and Eliot pinned Quentin against the wall. Their tongues danced in an open mouthed kiss that tasted like cognac and chocolate, and Quentin decided that it was late enough in the evening that he didn't care if he messed up Eliot's hair or not.

When it was their turn, Eliot somehow managed to correctly cast their portal without letting go of him. Long nimble fingers were loosening the knot of his tie and Quentin was already undoing the buttons of Eliot's vest as they stepped together into their suite. Eliot's fingers abruptly stilled, and Quentin glanced up to find Eliot's gaze fixated on the champagne and chocolate strawberries he'd ordered earlier in the day.

“Q,” Quentin hadn't expected the quiver in Eliot's voice, or that something so small would bring him to tears. For an instant Quentin floundered, wondering how he'd screwed up, before realizing that Eliot just never expected anyone to go above and beyond for him. “Thank you.”

“So you like it?” Quentin brought his hand to Eliot's face and brushed his thumb across his cheek.

“It's perfect.” Eliot's hands were moving again, with more urgency. Quentin grinned, relieved that he'd not only managed to surprise Eliot but awe him as well. They made quick work of each other's shirts before Quentin turned them and gave Eliot a push backward onto the mattress. His knees spread Eliot's legs apart as he climbed over top of him.

“I love you. And I want you.” He told Eliot bluntly as he freed Eliot's belt from its buckle. “I want this, I want us, for as long as you'll put up with me.” Eliot's hand curled around his neck, and Quentin's hair fell free around their faces as he was pulled into a kiss. The evening had cemented everything in stone for him, and he wasn't letting Eliot go without a fight.

Chapter Text

Trying to figure out something Eliot might like for his birthday was something Quentin was determined to do while they were in New York. He knew that once they got back to campus, and the new term started it would be harder to slip away without Eliot noticing. The task had been complicated by how little shopping they had done. Quentin had expected the majority of the week to involve drifting in and out of obscure shops.

To be fair there had been plenty of that because Eliot seemed to know every tiny book shop and antique store, but there had also been the day when they just hadn't left the hotel room, and the day after that when they had arrived at The Met before Quentin realized it opened. Eliot had booked an EmptyMet tour for the morning, and they spent the early hours of the day as part of a small group on a guided tour of empty galleries. They ate lunch in the Balcony Lounge because Eliot was a paying member and he'd be damned if he didn't use the perks that came with it. They didn't leave until the museum closed in the evening.

They had gone to dinner before returning to their hotel, slept in the next morning, and spent the afternoon shopping for books. The desk in their hotel room held a slowly growing pile, and the room had adopted the faint scent of aging paper. The pillows smelled like a mix of their cologne. Saturday they had an early breakfast and browsed a handful of antique stores before going to the matinee at the Gershwin Theatre. Quentin briefly wondered how much Eliot had paid to get side-by-side seats on such short notice, then decided it was best not to ask, or care, so long as they both were enjoying themselves.

He hadn't realized how well Eliot could sing until they left the theater and Eliot was quietly singing one of the pieces from the show. A faint blush had spread across his cheeks, and he'd stopped as soon as he'd realized Quentin was watching him. Quentin had slipped under Eliot's arm as walked along 8th Avenue towards West 52nd. They had spent the rest of the evening at the Russian vodka bar on the corner.

Now it was Sunday morning, and Quentin lay on his side as he watched the even rise and fall of Eliot's bare back. The curtains were half open, and natural light cut a wide swath across the room. It fell across the pale skin of Eliot's lower body, where the rumpled sheets met skin. Eliot's dark curls were tousled and he slept with one arm tucked under the feather pillow.

Quentin was intent on not disturbing him, so he sat up slowly, and tucked a pillow between his back and the headboard. He settled a second-year textbook against his thighs and practiced poppers exercises until Eliot stirred. Long legs dragged the sheets lower as Eliot stretched and blinked at him. A sleepy smile spread across his face as Quentin put the book aside and lay down with him. Quentin tugged Eliot's pliant form against his own. The other man sighed against his mouth as Quentin's hand pet down his side and over his hip. Quentin traced razor thin lines of raised scar tissue with his thumb until Eliot groaned and long arms wrapped around him.

“Fuck me, Q.” The words were more a pleading whine than anything else, and Quentin rolled him onto his back. Eliot's legs wrapped around his waist and Quentin smirked as a thin tube of lube dropped onto the bed beside them. Quentin had found out following their date that Eliot preferred to bottom and he was still getting used to the idea. He wondered, but would never ask, if Eliot had always preferred it or if he'd been pushed to learn to like it by partners who had been years older and hadn't cared.

Quentin slicked his digits, gave his fingers a moment to warm the lube, then pressed one inside Eliot's body. He quickly added a second and started to scissor them as Eliot bucked down against his hand. Topping with Eliot, when Quentin was still learning what he was supposed to do, made a small knot of anxiety grow in his belly. It wasn't enough to ruin the experience. Quentin just wanted to ensure he didn't hurt him while he figured out what worked and what didn't.

“Tell me when you're ready, El.” He slipped the third digit in with the others.

“Please, Q.” Quentin flipped the top of the tube open with his thumb and slicked himself, then replaced his fingers with his erection in one quick thrust. He held still as Eliot lay seated against his hips until Eliot groaned and squirmed below him. Quentin kissed him and settled his hands on Eliot's hips to keep him still as he started to thrust. He knew he'd found the right angle when Eliot threw his head back and his body tensed. Large long fingered hands tangled into Quentin's hair and Quentin reached between them to wrap his hand around Eliot's cock.

Quentin tried to find a rhythm of sliding his hand down as he pulled out, and then back up as he pushed in but he lost it more quickly than he found it as need replaced anxiety and he quietly worked to bring both of them off. They collapsed together a couple of minutes later. Eliot's arms wrapped around his middle as they rolled to spoon on their sides. His lips briefly pressed to his shoulder; then his hands flipped through a fast spell that left them clean. The taller man snuggled tighter against his back, and Quentin felt a content breath against his skin.

It took about ten minutes, then Eliot's arm went slack around his waist as Eliot drifted back to sleep. He jerked awake forty-five minutes later, rolled onto his back and rested his arm over his eyes. The hand against the bed shifted into a fist, then flashed quickly through the motions of a one-handed spell.

“El?” The arm over Eliot's face dropped away, and he rubbed the palm of his hand.

“Promise me something?” Eliot asked quietly.

“What?” Eliot flexed his fingers, then tucked his hand under his head as he rolled to face Quentin.

“Never use a word as bond spell.”

“I don't even know what that spell does, El.”

“A lot of magicians use them as a way of signing contracts, business deals, that kind of shit. They work well if there are good lawyers involved and everything gets written out, so everyone knows exactly what the terms are.”

“Okay.” Quentin raked a hand back through his hair. He was curious why Eliot was rambling about this now. “What do they do exactly?”

“They magically force both parties to follow the agreement, either until the terms of a deal are met, or until one of the people involved dies.” Quentin frowned at him.

“Did you make a bond with someone?” He could tell Eliot was chewing the inside edge of his lip, then he sat up, and performed the single handed spell over his palm, then held his palm out for Quentin to see. It looked like someone had painted the lines of a spell on the muscle below his thumb with henna ink.

“I thought the deal was just going to last a year, and some of it did end, but the other parts are going to be there for the rest of my life.” Eliot flexed his hand, worked a spell, and the ink faded as he reapplied a glamor to his palm.

“Who was the deal with, what was it supposed to do?” Eliot stared down at his palm as they sat beside each other on the bed.

“Alex and I used them for our leases when we lived together because I thought that was how all magicians did business. The first one was all right. It was generic, and it faded when it was supposed to at the end of the year, but Alex filled the second one with loopholes. I figured out after we signed the bond that whenever he asked I had to tell him where I was going and when I wasn't coming home. I wasn't allowed to install locks on my door because I wasn't the property owner. We had started to fight over little shit during the first year, so we made a deal about sitting down and talking things through, which he abused the fuck out of. We agreed to never use magic against each other.” Eliot dragged his pillow into his lap and leaned over it as he held it. “I couldn't leave until the second lease was up, and I still can't use magic against him.”

“Fuck, El. Come here.” Eliot curled into him, and they ended up lying on the bed together. Eliot hid his face against Quentin's throat, and his body shuddered.

“I've had a nightmare since I left him that I'd see him again, and every spell I know fails because I can't use them. Then after I met Margo, it shifted, and I couldn't protect her from him either.”

“And now I'm there too?” Quentin guessed. Eliot nodded emphatically against his shoulder. His face pressed so tight to Quentin's throat that Quentin could feel the brush of damp eyelashes against the skin. “Margo and I would still have our magic, El. It's just a horrible dream, like the one the hedge witches trapped me in. I know how realistic a nightmare can feel.” Quentin started to pet his hand through the soft wild swirls of Eliot's hair. He didn't stop until Eliot calmed. “You talked for an hour about a brunch spot with a great view last night.” He reminded Eliot. “Get cleaned up so we can go, yeah?”

“Yeah. Thank you, Q.” Eliot's lips pressed to his jaw before they detangled from one another, and Quentin didn't stop him when Eliot grabbed the quarter bottle of champagne that sat listlessly in an ice bucket of room temperature water. He downed half of what remained and carried the rest into the bathroom.

Quentin gathered clean clothes for himself while the shower ran and was ready once the bathroom was free. Eliot's eyes were red-rimmed as he stepped into the bedroom. He tossed the empty bottle into the trash with one hand as he towel dried his hair with the other

“I'll be out in a few minutes,” Quentin assured him. He hoped the bright, casual setting of a brunch cafe would lift his boyfriend's spirits, and hopefully, they would go shopping afterward so he could try to find a birthday gift Eliot would appreciate.

They were ready to leave their hotel by 10:30, and they used a portal to get to Brooklyn. It was crisp for February, so they walked close together as the wind whipped at their jackets. The air pulled strands of Quentin's hair free from the loose ponytail he'd pulled it into, and Quentin was continuously brushing it from his eyes. The lobby of the restaurant was packed, and Quentin grinned as he watched Eliot's hands snap through a few quick lines as he whispered under his breath. When they approached the hostess, Eliot was all smiles.

“We have a reservation for Waugh.” He told her. Quentin laughed softly at the confused faces of people who had probably been waiting an hour as they were escorted to a table five minutes later. They ordered and were sipping fresh mimosas when Quentin felt a hand timidly touch his shoulder.

“Q?” He turned to find Julia standing a few inches from him. An older man with neatly brushed brown hair stood with her.

“Great, and now we get to deal with the hedge bitch that almost killed you. The morning just keeps getting better.” Eliot murmured.

“El stop. Hey, Jules.” Quentin was going to be polite, a restaurant full of people wasn't the place he wanted to have a fight with Julia.

“Q, what are you doing here? I figured you would be at your mom's.”

“El and I have been in New York since Wednesday. Wait, why would I be at mom's?” Julia's face twisted through emotions he recognized well. Sadness, and sympathy, pity, and empathy. She sat down in the extra chair at their table and grabbed his hand in both of hers, and when she squeezed Quentin knew what she had to say wasn't going to be good news.

“Quentin, Q, you're dad had a stroke in his sleep. Your mom called mine to tell her that he was gone, and mom called me. I can't believe you hadn't heard yet. I'm sorry.”

“Did I miss the funeral?” Quentin could feel the beginning signs of a panic attack starting to build in his chest. He and Eliot had been in New York for days. They hadn't left any contact information with the school. He absolutely could have missed the funeral in that amount of time.

“What? No! Q, it just happened yesterday morning. You didn't, no. Fuck no.” A relieved breath escaped Quentin's chest all at once. His chair slid closer to Eliot's as Eliot used his telekinesis to pull it around the circular table. Long arms curled around him and Quentin fisted his hand against Eliot's vest. He completely missed the confused look Julia gave them as she tried to figure out if they were just friends or more, and the look of surprised understanding that flashed across her features when Eliot's lips pressed first to his hair and then his forehead.

“I need some air,” Quentin told them both when he stood up a moment later. He awkwardly shifted through the lobby crowd until he was outside and he had a minute or so before Eliot and Julia caught up with him.

“Q?” Eliot's soft voice grounded him some, and he tucked into Eliot's embrace when Eliot offered to hold him. “We shouldn't have stayed a week, I'm sorry.”

“Stop it! He was sick. I knew he was sick, and you don't get to blame yourself when I wanted to be here too. It's not our fault this happened.”

“Q?” Quentin glanced up from Eliot's chest to see she was holding her phone out. “You should call your mom, let her know that you're okay.”

“Yeah, that's I should... um...” Quentin glanced down the block and cocked his head towards a bench. “I need to... I'm going to sit.” He took the phone and walked to sit down. Eliot's arm circled his shoulders as the taller man dropped down on one side of him and Julia's hand squeezed his knee as she sat down on the other.

“Julia, I'll meet you back at your place later tonight, or tomorrow, call me and let me know.” Quentin had forgotten about her friend that had been with her.

“Yeah, thanks, Richard. I'll let you know.” Julia stood briefly to kiss him goodbye, then rejoined Quentin and Eliot on the bench.

“New boyfriend?” Quentin asked as he stared down at the phone between his fingers.

“Looks like I'm not the only one.” Julia pointed out. “When did this happen? How long have you two been...” She pointed between Quentin and Eliot.

“Like two? Two and a half weeks?” Quentin looked to Eliot for confirmation. He was trying to calm down, and the off topic discussion of something not related to his father was helping.”

“I took him out for the best Valentine's Day of his life,” Eliot informed Julia. Both of them seemed to have realized what he needed from them, and Quentin hoped that as unfortunate as the circumstances were that he and Julia might be able to put the incident with the wedge witches behind him.

“You should have seen the club we went to,” Quentin told her. “Incredible deco architecture and their performers were the best live jazz I've ever heard.” He dialed his mother's number and brought the phone to his ear.

“Hello.” His mother sounded frazzled and exhausted. It made the truth real.

“Mom?”

“Quentin?” Relief flushed through her voice.

“Yeah, I was in New York for the week. I'm using Julia's phone.” He listened to her for a moment. “Yeah, don't worry I'll be there as soon as I can get there. Do you need me to do anything, or bring anything? I know everything for the funeral is already arranged.” He listened again. “A couple of hours, sometime today.” He assured her. “Yeah, I love you too. I'll see you soon.” He ended the call and tried to hand the phone back to Julia.

“Keep it; I'll retrieve it in a couple of days when I come for the funeral.”

“Thanks, Jules.” Quentin leaned to hug her. “I'm glad we saw you this morning.” He felt Eliot's hand trace down his back.

“Can I do anything?” He asked softly. Quentin slipped Julia's phone into his pocket and sighed. He had no idea. He wanted Eliot to go with him, but he didn't want to spring the news that he was dating another guy on his mother two days after his father's death either.

“I have no idea.” He admitted softly.

Chapter Text

Quentin draped his suit for the funeral over his shoulder and knocked on the front door of his mother's house before bringing his hand back to catch the hanger. He let the curve of the metal dig into his palm as he waited. Even though he'd grown in this house, he and his mother had drifted so far apart that Quentin didn't feel right just trying the door and walking in.

He glanced up and down the quiet suburban street and sighed. It felt entirely too nice outside considering the circumstances. Quentin glanced at the sky and debated how powerful he would need to be to make it swirl with thick dark clouds the way Storm could in the comics. The sound of the rattling door chain brought his attention back to the porch he stood on, the door he waited in front of, and the presence of his mother on the other side.

“Quentin!” Her smile was warm, if somewhat brief, and she let him step inside. Quentin's eyes flicked quickly around the entry hall until they landed on the coat rack.

“Hey, mom. Let me just, um.” He stepped away from her to hang the suit from one of the hooks. He dropped the duffel bag with the rest of his clothes against the wooden foot of the stand. His fingers raked the loose hair from his face as he turned back to her. “I'm sorry.” He apologized. “We were in New York; I didn't take a phone. It was, we didn't think...”

“Quentin it's alright. You're here now.” Quentin didn't agree, but he fell silent and hugged her when she stepped into his embrace. Quentin felt her tears soak into his shirt. He worried that he didn't have any of his own yet. He still felt numb, and he worried that he'd spend the next couple of days showing too little emotion, or that he'd break at the worst time and slide into inconsolable depression.

“I just, I should have been here sooner.” His mother's hands gripped his and squeezed.

“No one expected him to have a stroke so suddenly. He died in his sleep, and his nurse found him the next morning. The physician said it was quick.”

“That's good, I guess, at least he's not suffering anymore.”

“Exactly.” His mother wiped her eyes. “We had everything planned already, so at least there's that. I still feel overwhelmed, there are so many little things you don't think about.”

“We talked about most of the funeral details when I went to see him last month. Can I help do anything? I have some time before classes start back up.” His mother shrugged, then waved him towards the living room so they could sit down. Quentin dropped his messenger back against the side of the couch and sat down on it as she dropped into her favorite chair.

“There are just a million little things to do. I have to handle his credit cards and get his mail canceled. Your dad's house needs to be cleaned out so we can get it listed.” She blinked away fresh tears, and Quentin leaned forward to squeeze her hand. He could help with a lot of that stuff, especially when it came to the house. Magic would make packing everything so much easier, especially if he could con Eliot or Julia into helping him for the day.

“Part of the stuff the house is mine. If you want I'll take care of packing up everything at the house. I'll see if I can get El or Julia to help me.”

“That would be a huge weight off my shoulders if it's not too much trouble. There are boxes at the house already.”

“As long as I can get the help I think I can handle it.” Quentin didn't want to tackle the project alone. “Do you have his credit cards here? I can make some calls now.”

“I don't want to pile everything on you, Quentin. You deserve to grieve too.” His mother pointed out. Quentin didn't want to admit to her that right now he just felt numb, or that he felt an overwhelming need to do something productive to make up for not being at her home sooner.

“If I need to stop I will.”

“Please don't push yourself.” His mother told him as she stood. A couple of minutes later she was back with a folder and her cell phone. Quentin took it, and thumbed through the contents, then got up and took everything to the kitchen table so he could spread it all out. His mother disappeared into the kitchen and came back with a wine bottle and two glasses. “You drink right?”

“Yeah, of course.” Quentin accepted the glass of melon chardonnay she passed him and sipped it as he arranged everything into piles.

“The tennis girls, you remember them right? They were going to come for a late lunch around two. I'll call and cancel now that you're here.”

“No!” Quentin told her quickly. “Mom you need your friends. I don't care if they come over.”

“Are you sure? What about your friends? Are any of them coming for the funeral?” Quentin sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose.

“Yeah, Eliot and Julia are both going to be here. Everyone else is still on break.” Quentin was reasonably sure that at least Margo and Alice would want to support him if they were around, but he wasn't going to interrupt what remained of their summer for his father's funeral.

“Is Eliot the one you took with you to your dad's?” Quentin looked up at her in surprise.

“Ye – he's um, I'm surprised you two talked about that.”

“Your dad liked him. He went on about how he was good for you, and how happy you seemed to be.” She folded her hands on the table, then unfolded them, and took off her glasses. She cleaned them against the fabric of her shirt. “Will you get upset if I ask a personal question?” She asked as she placed them back over her nose.

“Of course not.” Quentin had a feeling he already knew what she wanted to ask, and he was worried how she might take it.

“Are the two of you dating? Because your father was sure, you would be. He warned me I shouldn't be surprised if that were the case.” Quentin blushed a little, surprised that his father had been more observant to the affection between him and El than he had been.

“We've been together less than a month. Wait? Did dad think we were together when we saw him?”

“No, but he said you would be. It was just a matter of time.” His mother was smiling a little like she was relieved. “I was worried he'd imagined it if I'm honest.” She blinked away tears and drank about half of her wine. “This has all been very difficult Quentin. We stayed close, but we've been divorced long enough to have our own lives, and it was hard finding out about all this after he'd already accepted everything.”

“I'll help get everything sorted out if I can.”

“His lawyer is handling anything related to money. I've talked to him a couple of times. There's a life insurance policy he took out a few years ago. He was always so worried about you, and what would happen if he wasn't around.” His mother stopped to refill her glass. “He left almost everything in your name. We settled our financial debts during the divorce. ”

“I'm doing well right now,” Quentin assured her. He was probably the most emotionally stable he'd ever been in his life. Whatever money came from the insurance would probably be eaten up by the funeral costs, but there might be a financial windfall in selling his home. Quentin saw his father's legal contacts listed on a sheet of paper and set it aside so he could call them later. “Do you have a laptop I can use?” He asked.

“Sure.” She got up and returned with a slim silver case a few minutes later. She opened it, typed in a password, and handed it over. “If you want your boyfriend to come sooner, later tonight after the girls are gone, he's welcome to.”

“I didn't want to spring it on you,” Quentin admitted. “I didn't know Dad had already outed me.”

“He didn't tell anyone else.” His mother assured him. “Please don't be mad at him. He was trying to help... Maybe he should have left it to you and your discretion.”

“He did, I guess, help I mean. You're certainly taking it well, better, or you seem to be, maybe you were angry or upset earlier.” Quentin laughed softly and shook his head. He was a bit amazed she was reacting so well.

“I was surprised.” His mother admitted. “But I'd like to meet him if he can come early.” Quentin nodded and dug Julia's phone out of his pocket. One of the few things they'd done before he'd left New York was make sure Eliot had a phone that could receive a call or text. They probably wouldn't keep the plan for more than a month, as there would be no need for it at Brakebills. He left a text, asking if Eliot could come around 6, and the address again, even though he'd already written it out before he'd left.

He set the phone on the table and pulled the laptop close. He started organizing what he could of his father's affairs with the post office and making sure his father's mail was properly rerouted. He left a call with his father's lawyer and gave the secretary the number of the phone he and Eliot had set up, plus an email contact he could check on campus.

By the time his mother's friends arrived Quentin had started to wear himself down. He was relieved to put everything away and eat lunch with the four women. The whole group moved from the dining room to the living room where Quentin left them. He wandered upstairs to the library, found a spare Fillory book tucked on one of the shelves and headed back downstairs. It didn't feel childish to read it. After hours on the phone, it was honestly rather soothing.

His mother's friends stayed until about five, and she put on a movie. Quentin continued to read. He'd gotten a text from Eliot when he'd been settling his father's loose ends, confirming six. Quentin wondered if he would arrive slightly early, right on time, or a few minutes late. Julia's phone buzzed a few minutes before six, and Quentin got up and walked towards the foyer. The doorbell chimed when he was midway there and Quentin smirked at Eliot's impatience, or maybe Eliot had done it for his mother's benefit so she would know a stranger was entering her home.

Quentin twisted the deadbolt and noted the tiny tremor in his fingers as the door chain jingled and scrapped against the track. Eliot looked less than perfect like he'd spent the afternoon worrying about him as he'd packed up their hotel room. He held a nice suit over his shoulder, which Quentin took and hung with his own. Eliot's hands tangled into his hair as soon as they were facing each other again. Quentin could taste wine and cigarettes in the kiss. He wrapped his hands around Eliot's wrists to hold his hands where they were and leaned up into the insistent press of his boyfriend's mouth.

“I missed you,” Eliot told him. Quentin realized that it was the first time they had been apart since the start of the summer. He wondered if this was the kind of kiss he was always going to get whenever they had been separated. He hoped so. Quentin didn't want to reach a point with Eliot as his parents had with each other, where they had lived together but passed one another like ghosts.

“I missed you too. It's been a rough day.” It was only starting to settle in just how much talking to his father's creditors had drained him. Quentin dropped his hands away from Eliot's wrists and wrapped himself around the taller man's middle. He pressed his face into the soft cloth of Eliot's shirt so he could breathe in Eliot's cologne.

“Q.” Eliot's arms wrapped around him at the first sniffle. Realizing how easy it was to cry in Eliot's embrace when he hadn't been able to at all in his mother's made Quentin see how far he'd pushed her away in the years since the divorce. Maybe he could remedy a little of that while they were here.

“I'm glad you came tonight,” Quentin confessed.

“I need to thank your mom for inviting me. I was worried about you. I didn't want you to face this by yourself.” Quentin stepped backward half a step and wiped his eyes. A light tap against the plaster made him turn around, and he saw his mother patiently waiting in the mouth of the hallway that led towards the living room. He wondered if she'd watched the whole exchange.

“Hey, mom.” He waved her towards them and stepped away from Eliot to wrap his arm around her shoulder. “I'd like you to meet Eliot, El; this is my mother, Barb.”

“It's nice to meet you. Ted thought very highly of you.” Quentin could see a slight awkwardness in Eliot's posture. He probably thought that one visit wasn't enough to judge his character.

“I wish I could have met him more than the one time. I'm sorry for your loss.”

“We had been divorced for a while. It's difficult, but I appreciate your sympathy.” Quentin felt her arm tighten around his waist. “I'm sure it's worse for Quentin.”

“Thank you for inviting me. I'd have come with Q earlier today, but we didn't want to make you uncomfortable.”

“It's fine. Look, why don't the two of you take your things upstairs. Have you eaten? Everyone has brought food. I'll lay a few things out, most of its desserts.” She let Quentin go and gave him slight push in Eliot's direction. “Quentin knows which ones are the guest bedrooms, go ahead and pick out one the two of you like.”

“Food would be lovely, whatever you want to put out.” Eliot shifted the bag that still lay across his shoulder, and Quentin heard the clink of glass against glass. “I figured everyone had brought food, so I bought a few bottles of wine instead.” Eliot lifted both their suits off the hooks. Quentin grabbed his bag from the floor.

“Thanks, mom.” They had only just eaten with her friends hours before, but Quentin knew this was his mother's way of inviting Eliot into her home. People bonded over food. “Come on, El.” They walked upstairs together, and Quentin opened the door to an upstairs bedroom about a minute later. He cocked his head towards a second door. “That one's the bathroom.” He told Eliot as his fingers slid up and down the smooth plaster until they found the light switch. Eliot crossed the room to hang their suits in the closet.

“Your mom is handling this well.” He offered. Eliot set his bag on the bed and lifted out a pair of wine bottles. A minute of silence ticked away as he examined the labels then held out one for Quentin to take. “That one is good for dessert.” He picked out another and wrapped long fingers around the slender bottleneck.

“My dad kinda tipped her off, I guess.”

“Your dad?”

“I guess he saw what I hadn't yet.” A sly little smile crept across Eliot's face. He took both bottles and set them on the bedside table, then looped his arms around Quentin's neck. “I wasn't doing much to hide it. I was very hands on.” Quentin hummed in agreement and leaned up to kiss Eliot's jaw.

“You might hate me, but I kinda volunteered to clean out dad's house.”

“Q! Why?” Eliot's face twisted into a pout. “I suppose you expect me to help.”

“I was hoping I could get both you and Julia to help. It could take weeks for mom to do it by herself. I figured three of us with magic could knock it out in a day or two.”

“Probably.” Eliot agreed.

“Besides, everything got left for me, so the sooner it gets listed, the shorter amount of time I have to deal with it or pay a lawyer to deal with it.”

“You have a point.” Eliot grudgingly agreed. Quentin rested his cheek against his chest.

“I've been dealing with it all day. I felt like I had to.”

“We'll get everything sorted out,” Eliot assured him. “Your mom is waiting.” He reminded after Quentin had a moment to relax in his embrace.

“Yeah.” Quentin reached for his bag and combed his fingers across the books in search of something to read that wasn't a Fillory novel. “Let's go.” He muttered a moment later. Eliot collected the bottles, and they trooped down to the kitchen together. His mother had laid out a spread of desserts. She gave them a nervous smile as if her best wouldn't be good enough to satisfy them somehow. “This looks great, Mom,” Quentin assured her. He stepped into the kitchen and found her wine corkscrew, because she already seemed uncomfortable, and he doubted letting Eliot rummage through her drawers would help.

The combination of good wine and sweet food relaxed all three of them. When Eliot encouraged his mother for embarrassing stories, Quentin groaned and hid his face in his arms. He'd heard most of the ones she told him a million times already, but listening to Eliot react to them was different from hearing her tell the stories to her friends.

Eliot was invested. After a story or two, Quentin realized that Eliot was internalizing them, that every small detail helped create a more complete picture of him in Eliot's mind. Quentin envied him a little because he doubted he'd ever have a similar experience with Eliot's parents. The two of them helped his mother put everything away when they had finished eating, and Eliot opened a second bottle of wine as his mother brought out an ancient scrabble set.

“English words only,” Quentin told Eliot as they were selecting their first tiles.

“Spoil sport. Don't be jealous because my ancient Hebrew is better than yours.”

“At least I didn't pay for the answers to my Arabic final.” They both laughed until Quentin noticed the confusion clouding his mother's face and remembered that she still thought he had gone to grad school to study finance.

“Did you switch programs?” She asked as she moved around the tiles in her tray.

“Yeah, he joined the linguistics department a couple of weeks into his first semester,” Eliot told her. The half-truth rolled so easily off his tongue. “What was it you started in, Q? Finance? Then the two of us talked about all the state department jobs available for translators.” Quentin let a relieved smile cross his face.

“Yeah, I think it was a good move. I'm certainly a lot happier.”

“That's all that matters I guess.” She agreed as she laid out her first tiles. The three of them played two games; then they moved to the living room. His mother had stopped drinking after her third glass of wine, but he and Eliot had almost finished the second bottle. Quentin left what remained for Eliot. He leaned into Eliot's hold as his mother picked out a new movie. A whine escaped his throat as Eliot leaned to reach for a nearby pillow. Rather than settle it behind his head, Eliot dropped the thing into his lap and patted it. Quentin didn't need a second hint. He stretched out on the portion of the couch Eliot wasn't using and rested his cheek against the cloth. Quentin had lasted through about half the movie before the feeling of Eliot's fingers combing his hair lured him to sleep.

Chapter Text

Three days after his father's funeral Quentin followed Eliot through a portal into his father's back yard. It was early, earlier than either of them had been up throughout the whole summer. Quentin wasn't looking forward to cleaning out the house so quickly, but he recognized that there was both a financial and physical time crunch. Brakebills would resume classes in a couple of weeks, and there wouldn't be a chance to work on the house when he had class work that needed his attention. The longer he put everything off the more money he would be pouring down the drain trying to maintain the property.

“Hey, Q, Eliot.” Julia waved to them from her seat on the back porch and held up a tray of coffee.

“At least one of us is a morning person.” Eliot murmured to him. “Those had better be Irish.” He called to Julia, who laughed. The two of them walked up the steps to join her on the porch, and Quentin noted that the second step felt weak. He needed to start making a list of small repairs that needed doing.

“You're a saint,” Quentin told Julia as he took the cup she offered him. “Hey, uh, why are there four cups?”

“Oh, I figured an extra pair of hands wouldn't hurt, so I conned my roommate into coming .” Julia got up and walked to the edge of the patio then leaned over the railing. “Kady! Hey, Kady, they're back here.”

“Wait, Kady? Brakebills Kady?” Quentin heard the crunch of dry leaves, and the scratch of tennis shoes on the concrete walk as Kady came around the side of the house a moment or so later.

“Hey, losers.” She walked up to join the three of them on the porch and reached for the half-empty coffee that remained. “Julia told me about your dad, Q. My mom died recently, it sucks,” Quentin noted that Julia's gaze dropped to the deck as Kady spoke. “So how much work is there to do?” Kady a asked as she stood with one arm crossed over her chest.

“I rented a van, like we talked about at your mom's,” Julia told him. Quentin glanced at Eliot, then shrugged.

“Thanks, Jules. I reserved a storage locker from the place a mile or so from here.” Quentin turned his attention to Kady. “I don't know.” He admitted. “We haven't been over here yet.”

“Jesus, so this is the first time you've been here since he died?” Kady asked. Quentin brushed his hair back behind his ears.

“Um, yeah. Pretty much.” He tried to smile, but it fell off his face pretty much immediately. “So I guess we should...” There was a pause as he dug into his pocket for his keys. “We should, um... just take a look at what we're dealing with, I guess.”

“Q, no one is going to blame you if you aren't ready to tackle this,” Eliot told him.

“Yeah, Q. This can wait.” Julia agreed.

“I wouldn't blame you,” Kady added.

“No! No, no, thank you, all of you, but I need to do this today. I at least need to start it today.” His keys came loose with a loud jingle.

“Okay.” Eliot's fingers touched his shoulder then traveled down the short sleeve of his t-shirt. “But we don't have to do it all today. Right?”

“Yeah.” Quentin nodded. “Yeah, you're right.” He fit his key into the lock and twisted it, then turned the knob. The urge to call for his father to let him know he'd come into the house build in his throat purely from the force of habit, but he choked it down.

The kitchen was silent and dark, the rooms beyond equally so. A couple of boxes had been taped together and sat open on the kitchen table. Another sat on the counter. His father had been in the process of packing.

“Well, this is going to be fun,” Eliot muttered. Quentin glanced at him in time to watch him slide off his sunglasses and rest them on top of the messy curls he'd brushed but not styled. Julia flipped on the kitchen light.

“So, where do we start?” She asked.

“I guess we walk through everything and see how much he got done,” Eliot suggested. “Q?” Quentin swallowed, then nodded. He noticed a pad yellow legal paper and walked to get it. It took a moment to find the pencil that had fallen to the floor.

“I'll start a list of what needs to be done, then we can divide everything up.” He scribbled a note about the porch step, then followed Eliot out of the kitchen. His father's things were in various stages of packed in every room. Additional boxes leaned against the walls or were piled in small stacks in the corners.

“This is surreal,” Kady commented as the group walked through the living room. Quentin agreed. It felt like his father had started to pack to move, and would walk through the front door at any moment.

“He hadn't started any of this when El and I were here,” Quentin admitted. He made a couple of notes as they moved as a pack down the hall. Someone had removed the mattress from his father's room, which Quentin would be forever grateful for. He couldn't have dealt with that, and he wouldn't have asked any of his friends to tackle it either.

“One of us should start laundry,” Julia suggested. Quentin wrote the suggestion down on his list. The room he'd used before going to college had been boxed up since he'd left. His father's study, however, was practically untouched. Quentin pulled that door closed quickly and rested his hand against the wood.

“We'll work our way up to that.” Eliot murmured as his arm settled across Quentin's chest. Quentin leaned back against him and wrapped his hands around Eliot's forearm. Julia and Kady had gone back into the kitchen.

“I don't know where even to start, El.”

“We stick to the plan we came up with at your mom's. Box up everything we can donate, load it into the van and run it to a donation center, then box up everything that needs to go into storage, hire someone to come get the furniture, and then do whatever repairs need to be done.” A weak laugh escaped Quentin's throat.

“There's no way this is getting done in a day.”

“No, but your dad helped us get a good start. There's a lot less in here than I expected, and we have an extra pair of hands.”

“It is kinda nice to see Kady again.”

“So let's put her to good use.” The arm across Quentin's chest was joined by another around his waist. The two of them stood in the semi-darkness of the hall for a few minutes as Quentin worked up the nerve to face whatever the rest of the day would bring.

“We shouldn't keep them waiting.” He finally admitted. Quentin scanned the list he'd made and reluctantly took a step out of Eliot's hold. Together they walked into the dining room where the girls were seated.

“I can work on the laundry,” Julia told him as Quentin dropped into a chair. The coffee she had brought was still warm, and she'd had it sweetened just like he preferred. “We're donating all his clothes right?” Quentin nodded.

“There were at least 2 of those wardrobe moving boxes in his bedroom, and there are laundry baskets you can use for the stuff that won't hang. The rest of us will start in the kitchen I guess.” Julia nodded and disappeared down the hall. The three of them headed into the kitchen. Kady loaded the dishwasher while he and Eliot started going through the cabinets to see what had expired. They packed anything that they could donate into grocery sacks. When Julia rejoined them, she began taping together additional boxes.

For almost a half an hour there was minimal conversation, then Eliot brought out his phone and plugged it into an outlet on the empty counter top. He thumbed through the music library, picking songs that were upbeat, then setting the playlist on random. Julia switched the wash to the dryer and started the second load. Any receipts or personal paperwork that they found got dumped into a single box that they could burn later.

“Why does your dad have all these Brakebills mugs?” Kady asked as she unloaded the dishwasher and started to pile clean plates into a box. Quentin picked up the red cup and brushed his thumb across the school's crest.

“El and I came to see him a few weeks ago. He had Christmas gifts for me, and I didn't have anything for him, so we let him watch the two of us do magic. Dad loved it.” Quentin put the mug down and brushed the tips of his fingers around the rim of the blue mug Eliot had made. “Hey Jules, let me have one of those boxes. I'm sure I'm going to find a few things I want to keep. I might as well start a box of it now.” Quentin wrapped the three mugs in bubble, then labeled his name across the side of the box with a marker.

With four of them working the kitchen was packed quickly. Kady and Eliot ran the bags of food and boxes of dishes to the van while Julia disappeared to continue the laundry. Quentin started making new boxes for the dining room. By lunch, Quentin was surprised at the amount of progress they had made.

The van was close to full, so Julia got her keys, and she and Kady headed outside to make a run to the nearest food pantry and local Goodwill. Quentin gave the two of them money to buy lunch for the four of them while they were gone. When he came back inside, he dropped onto the living room couch beside Eliot.

“You seem to be handling this well,” Eliot told him as he curled his arm around Quentin's shoulders. Quentin glanced around at the half-packed living room and nodded.

“Having all three of you here to help makes it easier. If there's anything, you want you're welcome to it.”

“I thought we might add some of the books to the cottage library.” Eliot glanced down at his shirt and wiped at the streak of dust that cut across the black Brakebills polo he was wearing. A couple of unpacked books floated from the shelf to his lap. “There are some solid history texts that would make excellent additions.” He flipped the cover of the top book open to glance at the table of contents.

“Sure.” Quentin kinda liked the idea. It was better than dumping all his father's books in a storage locker or trying to sell them at a used book store. Eliot shut the book, then got up. He packed the books that had been on his lap into a new box and labeled it 'cottage'. When Quentin tried to get up to help him, he felt the gentle pressure of Eliot's telekinesis push him back.

“Sit down for five goddamn minutes.” Quentin sighed dramatically and flopped back against the soft cushions. Over by the shelves, Eliot was flipping through books and sorting the ones he liked best into his cottage box. When it was full, he started a second. “Don't try to lift those.” He warned when he'd finished the shelves.

“There are more in dad's study,” Quentin told him.

“We'll look in there later, or we can do it now while the girls are gone.”

“We might as well look now.” He joined Eliot by the shelves, and they walked down the hall together. Quentin twisted his hand around the doorknob and let out his breath as they stepped inside. “When the girls get back with the van maybe you, and I can run down to the storage facility where I rented the locker. If we're lucky, we'll be able to open a portal on one of the walls and just run everything through.”

“That would save a lot of time.” Together they stared at the contents of his father's office. “Does his lawyer have all the paperwork he needs? I was thinking he could drag that fire-pit out into the middle of the yard, set some chairs around it and burn whatever you don't need to keep.”

“That would be quicker than shredding everything.” Quentin walked to the bookshelves so he could look at the titles. His father had been a textbook editor before his cancer had sidelined him. There were a few of the books he'd edited in a line on the middle shelf. He picked out a couple to keep for his collection.

“I can add them to your box.” Eliot offered. He slipped the books from between Quentin's fingers and disappeared, evidently intent on giving him a few minutes to grieve in private. A shuddering breath built in Quentin's chest. He walked around his father's desk to sit in the chair. For a wild moment, he entertained the idea of what if his father hadn't been his father? What if his birth father was a powerful magician? What if his father had magic all along and had just never shared it?

Quentin shook his head and tried to clear away the thoughts. The ideas were ridiculous. If his father had been gifted with magic and had been keeping it a secret, he would have opened up and told him the truth when he'd told him about Brakebills.

Quentin rubbed the moisture from his eyes in frustration. There wasn't some grand secret waiting to be discovered. He could tear the whole office apart looking for one, the entire house if he felt like it. The power had been ebbing and flowing inside of him since his father had shared his diagnosis. More tears replaced the ones he'd wiped away, so Quentin rested his arms on his father's desk and hid his face against his forearm. A quiet sob shook his shoulders. He'd been too numb by his father's sudden death to cry private tears until now. It had taken a few moments of sitting alone in his father's untouched study to bring them out.

Gentle fingers combed the hair back from his forehead when he finally started to calm. Quentin wondered how long Eliot had silently been leaning against the desk beside him. With a sigh, Quentin pressed backward in the office chair. Eliot offered him a handkerchief.

“Better?”

“Yeah. Thank you for getting me to come here earlier this summer. I'm glad I had a chance to say goodbye. I'm glad you met him.” Quentin wiped his eyes again.

“It's nice knowing he liked me.” A small smile quirked along Eliot's mouth. “I don't think any of the other parents I've met have liked me.”

“Other parents? Oh, of guys you dated?” Eliot nodded.

“I always got blamed for being the reason their kids were gay.”

“Were you?”

“Maybe?” Eliot laughed. “Who gives a fuck if I was? We were kids. Hopefully, I opened their narrow little world views a bit. So what about the books in here?” Quentin saw that he had returned with boxes.

“Whichever ones you want to add to the library you can have. We'll box up the rest. We should flip through them and make sure dad didn't hide anything.” Eliot started to lay the books out on his father's desk. When he'd filled the available space, the covers lifted. Quentin could feel the air move as the pages fluttered all at once.

“I know you only wanted me to help because my telekinesis would make this easier.” The words were light and teasing.

“The thought might have crossed my mind.” Quentin watched the books fall closed. A few rose off the desk and stacked themselves in one box. The majority piled into others before Eliot started the process over with a new set. As the boxes began to fill Quentin taped a few more together. “We are going to be able to move these right? Actually physically lift them?”

“Maybe.” Eliot walked behind him. Long arms circled his shoulders. “You should try moving a few to find out.” Quentin rested his head back against Eliot's collarbone and glanced up at the taller man's face. Warm amber eyes were full of mirth. “Of course we can move them. Even Julia with her little twig arms can move them.” The new boxes Quentin had taped filled with books and Eliot moved to lay out the final set. Once all the books were packed the boxes Eliot had reserved for the cottage lifted off the floor and floated after him as he headed for the living room. “I'm going to run these to the school.” He called back to Quentin from the hall.

Quentin glanced around the office, silently amazed at how much work had gotten done in so little time. He taped together a new box and started going through his father's desk drawers. There wasn't much to find that he didn't expect, though he did find an envelope of photos from his high school graduation that had gotten buried under the paperwork. He laid those with the other pictures that sat on the corner of his father's desk.

There were bottles of water for both of them in Eliot's hand when he returned. Quentin accepted the bottle he was passed and spun in a lazy circle as he sat in his father's chair. He hoped they would be able to open a portal directly into the storage locker he had reserved. It would save them hours.

“Quentin! We're back.” Julia's voice echoed from the dining room. Eliot offered him a hand up, and they walked down the hall. The girls were laying out lunch as they dropped into side by side seats at the empty dining room table. The next few minutes were nearly silent as all of them ate. The conversation started slowly and focused mostly on what was left to do, until Kady's curiosity finally won out and things turned more personal.

“So what happened between you and Alice?” She asked as they were picking at what remained of their sandwiches. Quentin glanced at Eliot and shrugged.

“She wanted space when we got back to Brakebills, to figure out what her feelings were and what was fox.”

“Fox?” Julia asked, confusion written across her face.

“Fox hormones.” Quentin clarified, Eliot snickered, and Quentin blushed.

“That doesn't answer her question, Q.”

“One of our professors turned our class into Arctic foxes,” Quentin explained. The flush on his face deepened. Across the table, he could see Kady grinning. “Alice and I liked each other.”

“So when they got turned into foxes all that was left were hormones and instinct.” Eliot finished, leaving Julia's mind and the blush on Quentin's face to fill in the blanks.

“So you were together as foxes?” Julia asked.

“Uh, well – as people too. When we got back to campus she told me to give her time to figure out what she wanted; then classes were dismissed for our summer break. She left without talking to me.”

“So is she still figuring things out? Or was she just embarrassed?” Quentin frowned at Kady if Alice had been still figuring things out then the two of them were going to have an awkward conversation when she got back. Beside him, Eliot was gathering the wrappers and bags together to throw away. He doubted that Kady knew Eliot well enough to see that there was a silent well-masked anxiety in the movements. When they got a moment alone, he was going to have to reassure him that nothing was changing. If Alice had wanted more time, then she should have found a way to communicate that to him, not silently expected him to know what she needed.

The chance to talk to Eliot didn't present itself until later that evening. Julia and Kady had left with the van and the promise to 'be back in a bit'. Where they had gone and what they had gone after was a mystery to Quentin.

“You know things aren't going to change, right?” It was twilight, and the two of them had dragged his father's firepit to the middle of the yard. The boxes of receipts, old bills, and newspapers sat between the chairs. Quentin had laid a blanket on the grass so he could sit on it and feed the paperwork into the fire.

“What's not going to change?” The flames reflected along the side of Eliot's flask as he brought it to his mouth.

“I'm not going to break up with you when Alice gets back.”

“Q.”

“Don't, El. I can tell it's bothering you. You've been acting weird since Kady asked about her at lunch.”

“I don't want to ruin one of your friendships,” Eliot told him.

“And I don't want to ruin what we're building. This feels special to me El.”

“Quentin...” Eliot slid out of the low lawn chair so he could sit on the blanket with him. Quentin scooted into his lap. Once he settled, he tipped his head to kiss Eliot's chin. A grin spread across his face when Eliot dipped his head to give him a proper kiss. It only lasted a moment, then Eliot was kissing near the corner of his mouth and along his neck to the spot he liked to mark. Quentin groaned as Eliot's arms wrapped around his waist and his teeth nipped at the skin.

“Fuck, can you two love-birds be more saccharine?” Kady called as she and Julia walked along the edge of the yard.

“When did you turn into such an exhibitionist, Q?” A pair of plastic bags hung from Julia's fingers. She dropped them into Quentin's lap as Kady took one of the chairs.

“I'm a bad influence,” Eliot told her. “Oh s'mores! I haven't made those in years!” Quentin took everything from the bags and peeled away the plastic surrounding the thin metal sticks Julia had purchased to melt the marshmallows. He passed a pair of them to Julia then tore open the bag of fluffy white candy. Kady fed a new pile of paper into the fire so it would flare.

The renewed flames highlighted their faces in contrasting light and shadow. Eliot's chest was warm against his back. His long fingers were busy opening the wrapper of a Hershey bar. When Eliot offered him two of the nibs he'd broken off Quentin took the chocolate with his teeth and let it melt against his tongue.

It occurred to him that despite losing his father, he still had a family. The evidence of that was sitting around him. His two best friends had given up their time to help with what he'd looked at as an impossible task. Together they had gotten more of it done in a day than there was left to finish.

Chapter Text

The hallway was quiet as Quentin raised his hand to knock on Julia's apartment door. He'd brought coffee for himself and the girls. The door pulled open a moment after he'd knocked and Kady reached to pluck her coffee from the tray in his hand as she waved him inside. It looked like she had just woken up. The oversize t-shirt hung asymmetrically off one shoulder and was almost long enough to cover the short-shorts she was wearing for bottoms.

“Julia, Q is here! She's almost ready.” The woman dropped down onto the couch and propped her bare feet on the overflowing coffee table in front of her. Doing so dislodged a pile of printed pages which fanned across the floor as they hit the ground. Quentin set the coffee tray aside and dropped to his knees to start picking them up. As he did, he couldn't help but notice that paragraphs had been highlighted.

“Who is Our Lady Underground?” He asked as lay the pile of printouts on the cushion beside Kady.

“A pagan goddess, kind of a mother earth or Gaia figure.” Kady dropped a pillow over the printouts so they wouldn't scatter so quickly again.

“Why the interest?” Quentin's eyes darted around the apartment, and he couldn't help but notice that there was an increase in religious iconography that he would never have associated with Julia or Kady, come to think of it.

“The Free Traders, the group that Julia and I are learning magic from, approach magic a little differently than Brakebills. The school looks at magic like it's math and science, but this group, they have a more faith-based approach.” Quentin reached for his coffee as she spoke. He could only imagine what Eliot's response would be to the idea of a 'Christian magician.'

“It's gotta be better than fighting for magical scraps like the hedge witches seem to do.”

“It is. It's a lot better. Richard is willing to share everything Brakebills taught him. Marina wouldn't dare share enough to risk letting someone get stronger than her.” Kady set her coffee aside, then crossed her arms over her chest and looked at her lap for a moment, then she looked back at Quentin. “You know that Marina cut her off right? After Julia tried to help save your life?”

“No, I had no idea. Jules and I only reconnected because of my dad's funeral.”

“She never wanted to hurt you.” Quentin nodded; it was nice to have a more clear picture of what had happened to Julia following the incident with the scarlatti web.

“Why did you leave?” He asked.

“My mom died unexpectedly, and the school was going to expel me. That book that you and Eliot found in the hedge witch bodega? I was the one who stole it. The school finally found out.” Quentin had so many questions, but he held his tongue. “So what are you and Julia going shopping for?” Kady asked. The abrupt shift in topic let Quentin know that she'd told him all she had to tell.

“A birthday gift for El.”

“Oh, so that's why he isn't here. I was starting to think you two were glued at the hip.” Kady raked a hand through the wild frizzy curls of her hair. She laughed. “You two are cute. I could tell when I was living in the cottage that he liked you, that you liked him too.” A smile spread across her face. “I think I might have cock-blocked him at least once.”

“When?” Quentin didn't remember a moment that she might have interrupted.

“You two were on the couch in the living room, and nobody would let me in. I blew the door off the hinges.” Quentin laughed, he did remember it now. There had been a gleam of something in Eliot's eyes as he'd leaned to fill his glass, and then Kady had ruined it when she'd thrown herself between them. Quentin wondered what would have happened if Eliot had kissed him then when the house had been full. Would the two of them have had a one-night stand only for things to fizzle?

“I'm glad you did. I'm not sure we would have dated for long if EL had kissed me so quickly.”

“Hey, Q.” Julia joined them from her bedroom. “I'm ready when you are.”

“Great, oh, coffee. I brought it.” She smiled at him and walked around the table to lift the remaining cup from the tray.

“So do you have any idea what you are looking for? What Eliot might like?” Quentin raked his hand back through his hair. He had no idea, and he hadn't dared ask because he wanted whatever he found to be a surprise.

“I'll know it when I see it.” Julia gave him a bemused look.

“So we're just browsing and hoping you find something.”

“Pretty much.” A sheepish smile spread across his face. He knew how much Julia preferred to have a plan. She would be much happier buying from a gift registry and get exactly what someone wanted than she would be trusting luck and whimsy. “Just help me until lunch, if I haven't found anything by then, I'll shop by myself.”

“Q, it's fine! We'll find something.” Julia sipped her coffee, only setting it down long enough to pull on a jacket.

“If you want to meet us for lunch we'll text you.” Quentin offered to Kady.

“You know, I just might take you up on that. Call me. You're paying right?”

“I still owe you for all the help with the house,” Quentin promised her. Julia was waving him towards the door, and Quentin awkwardly backed into the hallway.

“I don't know what to look for, Jules.” He lamented as they walked together towards the elevator. “El's so hard to shop for.”

“Well, you know him better than I do.” The doors slid open, and the two of them stepped into the compartment.

“Yeah.” Quentin pulled out his phone and thumbed through the picture gallery. He had been covertly taking pictures of wine labels, trying to figure out the trends of what Eliot liked to drink most. Maybe he should just wait until Margo got home to buy anything alcoholic; she would immediately know what he'd like best.

Together he and Julia walked out onto the street. It was early March outside of Brakebills and still surprisingly cold. He had used Google maps to find a few shops that sounded promising, and he handed the device over to Julia so she could see the addresses. Once they had decided where to start, they walked towards the nearest Metro entrance. After nearly a year it was both surreal and familiar to sit in a subway car beside Julia. He couldn't say he'd ever look at his father's death as a genuinely positive experience, but somehow it had helped him salvage his oldest friendship.

-----------------------------

It took Eliot a moment to recognize what had woken him up. Spending the summer with Quentin had made him immune to the everyday noises of his boyfriend's routine. It barely registered with him when Quentin got up to the bathroom, or to shower. He knew what Quentin's steps sounded like when he was barefoot, and how they were different when he was wearing tennis shoes. You could tell a lot about a person from the speed or heaviness of their gait. It was how he'd known as a kid to keep his head down when his father had been drunk, and how he'd judged Alex's moods when they had lived together.

The noises downstairs weren't ones that Quentin would make, which meant someone else had come home early. He huffed a tired sigh against the soft pillowcase below his cheek and tossed the sheets back to slide his legs out of bed. A pair of silk pajama pants lay inches from his foot, so he caught the cloth between two toes and dragged it upward. He pulled the bottoms on, threw on the matching robe without bothering to close it, and wandered out of his room and down the hall.

The sharp clunk of block heels, and of someone struggling with a year's worth of luggage was more audible in the hallway. Eliot knew it wasn't Bambi. While he expected Margo back any day, she would have demanded his attention the moment she walked through the door. The odds were high that it was Alice he would find as he swept down the stairs. Sure enough, the cottage door stood wide open, and the blond was struggling with the last of her luggage.

“I thought I heard a mouse down here.” Alice yelped in surprise and dropped her bag. One square heel scrapped against the wood floor as she spun to face him.

“Eliot! You scared me.” She smoothed one hand down over her skirt and used the other to tuck her hair back behind her ear. “I didn't expect anyone to be here.”

“I stayed for the summer,” Eliot explained. A grin threatened to spread across his face. “I didn't try to scare you.”

“Oh.” Alice twisted her hands almost nervously. She played briefly with the ring on one finger then reached for her bag again. For a moment Eliot considered snapping the door shut with his telekinesis, just to mess with her. It would have entertained him to no end, but he reminded himself that she was going to be plenty pissed at him when she found out about Quentin. The open robe loosely flowed around him as he moved to push the door closed with his hand instead.

“Did anyone else stay?” Eliot turned back to her to find her holding the small suitcase with both hands. She shifted from one foot to another and Eliot heard her heels click as she turned to keep her eyes on him as he walked towards the bar.

“Just Q.” Alice's face brightened, and she almost bounced in excitement.

“Is he still asleep? I'm sure he won't mind if I wake him up. We have so much to talk about.” Eliot reached for the tequila bottle that sat under the bar-top instead of the wine bottle he'd planned to grab. He slapped a shot glass down on the bar and filled it full.

“Quentin is in New York for the day. He'll be back sometime this afternoon.” The disappointment that clouded her face was almost palpable. Eliot reached for a second shot glass and filled it halfway. “I know you're a bit of a lightweight.” He told her as he pushed the half-shot gently in her direction.

“I spent most my break it at my Aunt's retreat. All anyone did was drink, so I might surprise you.” The faintest blush spread across her cheeks as she bragged about what Eliot was sure was a fractional increase in her alcohol tolerance. He laughed softly. Her awkwardness was endearing in its own way. He could almost see what had attracted Quentin. His fingers closed around the shot glass, and he leaned against the bar

“Well welcome back.”

“Yeah.” Alice mimicked him, and they threw back the shots at the same time. The look that twisted her face was priceless; it instantly betrayed her boast of an increased tolerance.

“I still have so much to teach you.” Eliot mused as Alice fanned her hand at her mouth as though it might help wash away the taste of straight tequila. There was a spare bottle of water behind the bar which he passed to her.

“So why did Quentin go to New York?” She asked after she had drunk a third of it.

“He's spending the day with a girl-friend from college. They were going shopping for something.” Eliot knew he shouldn't tease her, but he'd passed up the chance to mess with her once already, and the urge to throw her slightly off balance was too tempting. Plus he wanted to test how she might react to the idea of Quentin seeing someone else. If he'd really wanted to test her, he would have let it slip that Q had gone shopping to find him a birthday gift. Alice's stance changed slightly, and her arms came up to cross over her chest. She became more guarded.

“Female friend, or actual girl-friend?” The toe of her shoe skated along the edge of one of the rugs.

“Someone he's been friends with since grade school. He and Julia patched things up at his father's funeral.” Alice's eyes widened and her gaze shot up in disbelief.

“Q's father died?”

“He had cancer, remember?”

“I remember, Eliot. I didn't realize it would happen so soon.”

“Well, I'm sorry it didn't occur when it was convenient for you. Ted had been sick for a long time, Alice. He wasn't letting anyone treat him.”

“I just thought I would be here, for Q, you know. Why didn't he call anyone? I would have come back.” Eliot stood with his hand on the bar as she walked to a chair and sat down with her hands clasped in her lap. “Since when were you on a first name basis with Q's dad?”

“Q didn't want to go to see him by himself. I was here, so I went with him.”

“Oh.” Alice's fingers pulled at the hem of her skirt. Her shoulders slumped a little and Eliot took pity on her. It was nice that she had wanted to be around for Q's sake.

“Look, it all happened really quickly. Ted had a stroke in his sleep, and he'd already made his funeral arrangements. Q didn't want to interrupt everyone's holiday, or overburden his mom with a bunch of new people.”

“How's he doing?”

“Surprisingly well.” Eliot poured himself a second shot and threw it back. “He asked Julia and I to help clean out his dad's house so he could get it listed. He handled that really well, considering how difficult something like that can be.” Alice's shoulders had slumped further.

“It sounds like you two spent the whole summer together.”

“Pretty much, we were the only ones here though, so it was all kind of unavoidable.”

“It seems so.” Alice was playing with the ring again and shifting in her seat like she was uncomfortable. Eliot wrapped his fingers around the neck of the tequila bottle and let it hang between the digits as he walked around the bar.

“I'm going to go shower. Would you like help getting your luggage up to your room?”

“I can manage, I just had to lug it around campus until I found the cottage again. Why did the school have to move it?” The first stair creaked as Eliot rested his foot on it. He grinned back at her.

“That bit of brilliance was Bambi's idea. We got drunk before she left at the end of our first year and decided to move the cottage to fuck with everyone, so now it moves every year on its own.”

“You're kidding.”

“It moved didn't it?” Alice's lips pursed in a thin line.

“Yes.” Her tone was icy, and Eliot's grin widened. He brought the bottle to his lips and took a swig.

“Q should be back sometime this afternoon.” He called as he headed up the stairs. His room was quiet as he dug through the rumpled sheets for his phone. He thumbed through the music library and walked into his bathroom. A bath sounded more appealing than a shower, so he twisted the taps with his telekinesis. The bottle of tequila got set on the edge of the sink before he moved back to his room to find an empty tumbler. He rinsed the glass, filled it a third of the way full, and sipped it as he watched the water level rise.

When he'd chosen this room, the tub had been barely large enough to accommodate his long legs. As soon as he'd learned the spells he'd changed it. Now it was a free-standing clawfoot tub that was big enough for two and shoulder-deep. When the water was about waist high, he added a couple of cap-fulls of citrus oil and gave it a moment to dilute before stepping into the water.

A book zipped from somewhere in his room once he had settled. Alice could have free run of the cottage until Quentin got home. Eliot knew the more time he spent with her, the more tempted he'd be to tell her the truth. She deserved to hear about their relationship firsthand from Quentin more than she did from him.

Chapter Text

Darkness was already falling as Quentin crafted the portal that would lead him back to Brakebills. He'd realized early in the afternoon that it would probably be his last chance to spend a full day with Julia before the new term started, so he'd stayed. The morning marathon of shopping had ended with a pocket watch Quentin loved. He hoped Eliot would at least like it. They had met Kady for lunch; then he'd gone back to their apartment and spent the afternoon watching sappy romance movies.

The portal deposited him on the opposite side of campus from where he needed to be. As the regular world moved into April there wasn't as much of a temperature difference between New York and Brakebills You could still see the time discrepancy in the sky, though. The days were longer inside the bubble, and it hadn't gotten dark yet. The path he picked to take him back to the cottage took him along the edge of the new hedge maze, and he stopped a moment to stand on the overlook where he and Eliot had sat earlier in the summer.

The June morning when Eliot had dragged him out of bed to watch the topiary animals eat one another was a warm, fond memory, and Quentin ruminated on it as he jogged towards the cottage. He'd learned a spell to open the front door without the doorknob, and he flipped his hands through it as he went up the steps of the porch. The door swung inward, and he'd crossed the entrance hall and was two steps up to the second floor before he was stopped dead in his tracks.

“Quentin?” Alice stood with her hands behind her back and a shy smile on her face.

“Alice, you're home.” Quentin floundered, he knew what he had to say. “Um,” He pointed up the steps, and waved in the general direction of his room. “Give me like five minutes so that I can put my stuff away. Then we'll talk.”

“O-okay.” She smoothed her skirt and Quentin raced up the stairs, his throat constricting tighter with each step. His palms felt sweaty, and he felt a crushing feeling of guilt for having stayed in New York all day. Eliot's door was closed, which compounded the feelings. He'd told him he'd be back in the afternoon, and Eliot had probably waited to eat or was worried because he hadn't returned, or angry because he'd had to deal with Alice for most of the day.

He was hyper-aware of the seconds ticking away as he yanked his sock drawer open to hide Eliot's gift. If he dallied too long she might come upstairs, or Eliot might cross the hall, or both would happen, and Alice would find Eliot in his room before he'd gotten to tell her. There was a light tap on the door.

“Q?” Quentin shoved the sock drawer closed with a loud scrape, making it shut unevenly. In an ill thought decision, he parked himself in front of the drawer, as though he'd hide that it had been shoved closed too quickly.

“You can come in, El.”

“Did you have a good trip?”

“Alice is downstairs.” Eliot looked like he'd spent most of the day in bed, or at least in his room.

“I know.”

“I have to go downstairs to talk to her.” Eliot hummed in agreement. A look of amused curiosity settled on Eliot's face as his boyfriend realized why he wasn't moving.

“Would you like me to go down with you?” Quentin shook his head. Alice owed him an honest conversation, and he wouldn't get that if Eliot was with him. She'd clam up as soon as she saw him.

“I can handle it.”

“I told her about your dad when she came home earlier.”

“Thanks, that's good. That's, great, did you... um.” Alice had been smiling at him; there was no way Eliot had told her. Eliot's forearms rested lightly on his shoulders, and Quentin found himself backed against the dresser.

“I didn't tell her, but I might have left her thinking that you spent the day with a girlfriend from college.” Quentin felt the dresser drawer move against his back as Eliot's telekinesis drew it out enough to set it back on its track. Quentin pressed it closed again with his hands. “So did you find me something nice?” The anxiety that had exploded in Quentin's chest was receding. He kept both hands against the dresser drawer to steady himself as he arched up to kiss Eliot.

“Maybe, but what makes so sure that I didn't go shopping for myself?”

“I suppose I might be a bit presumptuous.”

“I'm sorry I, I was, I told you I'd be, and I should have been. I was gone all day, and I'm sorry.” The babbled apology, which Quentin hadn't planned to ramble through, but still had felt was necessary, seemed to bother Eliot more than him being gone had.

“Q, why are you apologizing to me?” Eliot's arms lifted off his shoulders and crossed over his chest instead. “You don't need my permission to change your plans. You know that right?”

“Y-yeah, of course, but Alice came back, and I should have been here.”

“Did you know Alice was coming back today?”

“Well, no, obviously, but.” Eliot's brought a finger up to his lips to shush him, and Quentin shut his mouth with an audible click of teeth. A smirk had crept at the corner of Eliot's mouth.

“Then stop obsessing over it; if you hadn't come home, I'd have started to worry. I'm not mad you spent a few extra hours with other people.” Eliot's thumb tipped his chin up. “Unless you're moonlighting on me, then I might mind.” The thumb curved up his chin and along the curve of his jaw.

“I wouldn't do that to you. I really need to go talk to Alice.” The hand had continued traveling until it had come to rest against the back of his neck. Eliot's other arm still lay across his chest.

“Are you sure this is what you want?”

“Eliot!” Exasperation replaced anxiety, and Quentin hooked his hand around the back of Eliot's neck to pull his head down into a short insistent kiss. He felt Eliot's fingers squeeze. “I have to go downstairs.”

“I'll only come rescue you if she freaks out.” They walked out of his room and parted in the hall. Alice was waiting near the bottom of the stairs as he came down, and she opened her arms to hug him.

“Eliot told me about your father.” Her voice was regretful and soft, and Quentin indulged the hug for a moment before letting her go to move behind the bar. Turning his back to her made him miss the faint, disapproving wrinkle of her nose as she breathed in the scent of the cologne he and Eliot had chosen. Quentin found a bottle of wine he liked and twisted the corkscrew into the top. One hard pull later and the cork popped free so abruptly that the bottle almost spilled. It clacked hard against the bartop as he sat it down to hold it steady.

“I knew it was going to happen soon, but I didn't think he'd have a stroke and just be gone.” Alice's fingers gently brushed against the surface of the bar as she came closer to him.

“Why didn't you call me? I'd have come back. I wanted to be here for you when it happened.”

“Dad died in his sleep. I went straight to mom's as soon as I found out. I didn't try to contact anyone. El was with me when I found out, and Jules was the one who told me.”

“Oh.” Alice's fingers absently twisted against one another.

“Dad had already arranged his funeral so things would be easier for me. I knew El wanted to be there, so he stayed with me at my mom's until the funeral.” Frown lines were creasing across Alice's face. “Oh, Kady says hello. I saw her when she and Julia helped with my dad's house.

“So how are you handling everything? If you need more help with his house, I can come along next time.”

“Things are great, I mean, it's hard that he's gone. I'm coping though. El and I finished the house already. His lawyer listed the house for sale last week.” Quentin briefly wished for Eliot's telekinesis as he reached for a pair of wine glasses. The effort would have looked elegant and effortless instead of feeling clumsy and forced.

“You're nervous.” She pointed out, and Quentin laughed. If that wasn't the boldest understatement of their friendship, he didn't know what would top it.

“We put off this conversation for months, Alice.” Her hands clasped together, and she rested her forearms on the bar between them.

“I'm nervous too. I didn't know what to say to you when I decided to leave.” Her hands fell apart, with palms laying upward. Quentin poured two glasses and slid one to her. She frowned down into the dark red liquor.

“Eliot did the same thing when I got home.”

“What same thing?”

“He stood about where you are, and poured us both shots of tequila.”

“I'm not sure how that matters, Alice.” Quentin brought the glass to his lips.

“It's just, well it's, it's weird, Q. The similarity is weird. I know you weren't home, so you didn't see it. But you not seeing it compounds how odd it is.” As much as he liked having the bar between them, Quentin relinquished the spot and walked to sit on one of the couches. He set the bottle where he could reach it and brought the glass to his lips to inhale a long swallow.

“El is most comfortable when alcohol's involved. You and I are both nervous. I think the similarity ends there.”

“I shouldn't have left, Q. I shouldn't have pushed you away when we got back from Brakebills South.”

“But you were right.” Quentin interrupted. “We both needed space, Alice. I just didn't see it then. What happened at Brakebills South was a mix of circumstance and pheromones. We were stressed out and lonely. I'm glad you gave me time to figure out that there was a difference.”

“What difference? A difference how?” Alice demanded.

“A difference between us reacting to what we were put through and us actually being in love with one another.”

“Quentin I do love you! I just needed time to separate my feelings from what I felt as a fox.”

“Then you should have told me that! You didn't even try to communicate with me. You asked for time apart, and I indulged you because I didn't want to be the asshole who couldn't accept that he'd been rejected. I would have been perfectly happy to continue what we'd started.”

“So what changed?”

“You left! I thought you were sending a pretty clear message with your silence so I let everything between us go so I wouldn't be bitter when you came back home.”

“We can still have what we had at Brakebills South, Q.”

“No – it's, Alice...” Quentin finished his glass of wine and poured another. The momentary pause gave him long enough to figure out how to continue with what he needed to say. “Alice we had a beautiful moment, and a real connection, but we passed up that chance, and everything is different now.”

“Q our feelings haven't changed! You're just; you're upset I didn't talk to you for months.”

“El and I started dating in June.” The blunt statement brought Alice to abrupt silence, and Quentin struggled to find concise words that summed up what Eliot had come to mean to him. “That's what the difference is. I care about you Alice; you're one of my closest friends. I want to keep our friendship if I can, but my feelings for El are deeper than the ones I have for you. He's been my best friend since I met him and I'm in love with him.”

“And you really think he's in love with you? This is, it's, it's Eliot, Quentin. He's a – a self-indulgent flirt!” Alice's voice was steadily rising. She'd gotten up to pace while she lectured him. Quentin stood as well, because he wasn't going to sit and be scolded. “How many guys was he with last year? Six? Eight? At least? He wasn't serious about any of them.” She stopped in front of him with her arms wrapped around her chest. “You talk about how we were lonely. Did you consider that Eliot's only interested in you because he was lonely and you were convenient?” The idea that she saw Eliot as that shallow pissed Quentin off.

“Are you done?”

“No! Quentin, don't you see it? He'll have his eye on someone new before the next first-year class has even finished their exam.”

“If you're going to call me a slut I'd really prefer that you say it to my face.” A glass floated from the bar and Quentin felt the wine bottle tug against his fingers. Both shot towards where Eliot stood at the bottom of the stairs. His voice was even, and the lines of his face were impassive. Quentin could tell he was angry; he couldn't say he really blamed him. “Go ahead.” Eliot challenged.

“I think if you benefit then you don't care if you use people.”

“Nobody I dated last year wanted more than they got from me, Alice. No one wanted a lasting connection.”

“Lemme guess, that all changed once you and Quentin got together.”

“Alice stop it.”

“Q's my best friend. Of course it means more!”

“I know you two are friends, but I think you used that friendship to your advantage as soon as you were alone for the summer. I mean, come on, everyone knew you had a thing for him.” Quentin resisted the urge to sigh. Had he been the only one blind to Eliot's affection?

“Stop pretending you know how I think, or what I feel. Who cares how long I've had feelings for him, obviously it's mutual, or we wouldn't be together now.”

“Why are you acting like this?” Quentin had known as soon as he'd seen her that she would be angry, but this was ridiculous.

“She's jealous, Q.” Quentin could see the lines of Eliot's face shifting from impassive to hurt, and he hated that his boyfriend had been dragged into his argument with Alice.

“If it was mutual then why didn't you get together sooner?” She snapped at him.

“Because I thought I would fuck it up!” The vulnerability Quentin heard in Eliot's tone pulled hard at his heart, and trying to salvage things with Alice when they were both furious was pointless. He'd try to fix things when she had calmed down if he could, but he wasn't going to let her tear Eliot down any more than she already had.

“You're way out of line!” He told Alice.

“He manipulated you, Quentin! Why can't you see that? He knew how much your father's illness was upsetting you and he exploited your vulnerability when he died.” Both Eliot and Quentin stared at her in stunned silence.

“Fuck you!” Quentin spat softly once he found words again. “El and I were dating before dad passed away, and the only reason I handled his death so well was because he was there for me. I asked him to be there. He didn't try to force his way in where he wasn't wanted.” Quentin glanced between the two of them. Alice seemed to be realizing how thoroughly she had pissed him off and Eliot had foregone the glass to drink directly from the bottle.

“Q, I...” Quentin cut her off.

“I'm not done.” Quentin gave that a moment to set in. “You can insist he used and manipulated me all you want, but he's given me every chance to end things with him – all on the off chance that I'd changed my mind about being with you. You two are my closest friends. I...” Quentin stumbled mid-tirade because he hadn't wanted this conversation to go this badly. “I never meant to hurt you, Alice. The last thing I wanted was to be forced to pick a side, but if it has to be you or Eliot, then you've made it an almost effortless choice.”

“I shouldn't have used your father like that.” Alice lifted her glasses from her nose, sniffled, then quickly wiped at her eyes. Quentin wished he could hug her, and assure her that they would work through everything, but the comments about his dad had cut deep and he was still angry. The wine bottle clacked against the bar as Eliot set it down, and Quentin was relieved to lean into his hold when his arm settled around his shoulders.

“We'll try to work this out later, Alice,” Quentin told her. “When we're both less angry.” He let Eliot guide him towards the stairs and up to his room.

“I wouldn't have interrupted if she hadn't started screaming at you.” Eliot murmured. The door clicked shut behind them. A ward shimmered into place. Quentin crawled into the rumpled sheets of Eliot's bed and curled up there. He pulled Eliot's pillow to him and buried his nose against the fabric. Cologne and shampoo invaded his senses and calmed him a little.

“You wouldn't have fucked it up.” The words were muffled by the cloth and mounds of feathers.

“Yeah, I would have. I still don't think I deserve you, just give me time. I'll fuck it up.”

“Stop it, Eliot! It's not your fault she's angry. You didn't do anything wrong.” Springs squeaked as Eliot joined him. Long fingers cupped over his shoulder; then pillow was pulled loose.

“Real thing's better.” The whispered words coaxed a small smile from Quentin, who rolled onto his side and beckoned Eliot into his embrace. The taller man settled with his forehead pressed to the top of his sternum. The dark curls of Eliot's hair were soft between Quentin's fingers.

“I love you.” They were words neither of them said to the other enough, but when he'd boldly proclaimed them to Alice, he'd meant them. Eliot lifted his head, and Quentin brushed his thumb along the curve of Eliot's cheekbone until Eliot shifted higher against him and leaned to kiss him.

“I love you too.” Eliot tucked his head back down and Quentin continued to gently pet his hand through the curls of Eliot's hair. Outside day had finally transitioned to night. The bedroom window was open and Quentin could hear the faint buzz of nocturnal insects in the woods behind the cottage. He was cautiously optimistic that Alice would calm down and see reason, if she couldn't then it was just further proof that they had never been well matched from the beginning.

Chapter Text

Avoiding someone, when you shared a living space as small as the cottage with them, was a more laborious task than Alice had imagined. She'd only been back on campus for a couple of days, and it was proving nearly impossible to figure out Eliot's schedule because he didn't seem to keep one. She had assumed he would always sleep late because he and Quentin tended to go to bed late, so when she came downstairs to find him making pancakes around 9 one morning, she was surprised.

“Do you ever sleep?” She sniped before she thought better of it.

“A lot less than I would like to.” Alice could see the faint circles starting to stand out against his pale face. She watched him press his hands against the top of the kitchen island between them and lean towards her. “This is ridiculous; you know that right? Q isn't a goddamn prize. He chose who he wanted to be with, so stop punishing him.” Alice crossed her arms under her breasts and fixed her gaze near the bottom of the refrigerator.

“I thought we had something special.” She said.

“Maybe you did, and maybe if you hadn't run away from it, you two would be together. I certainly assumed you were until Q told me otherwise.”

“Oh.” Alice shifted from one foot to another. The tile of the kitchen was cool under her bare feet. Eliot turned back to his pancakes as they sizzled on the grill and started to flip them. She considered slipping out of the kitchen while his back was to her.

“You know I don't expect you to forgive me right?” Alice hesitated. How was she supposed to respond to something like that? She watched Eliot pick up a tumbler of what was probably vodka that was sitting near the stove, and he brought it to his lips as he turned back in her direction. His narrow hips rested against the cabinet behind him.

“For what?” Alice finally asked.

“For stealing your boyfriend, or whatever you want to blame me for. You can quietly hate me all you like, for as long as you like. I don't give a fuck. Quentin cares about you, though. You're one of his closest friends. He really believed that you would have talked to him before you left if you wanted to stay together.” Alice pursed her lips.

She knew from watching her parents that a successful relationship required two people who communicated. Maybe she and Quentin were lucky that things had fallen apart quickly. It would have been infinitely harder to forgive him if they had limped through years together and had a child or two. She wasn't ready to forgive him entirely yet, but maybe she needed to start moving in that direction. Quentin would share classes with her, after all. They would probably have to partner as the year progressed.

“Maybe I was too quick to leave.” She admitted. The look that crossed Eliot's felt made it clear that there was no maybe, but he turned and flipped his pancakes again. A few of them got shuffled off the griddle and onto a plate, and new batter got poured to fill the empty spots.

“How would you like yours?”

“My what?” The answering sigh was overly dramatic on purpose.

“Your pancakes, Alice.” The plate floated from one counter to the other and Alice's gaze dropped down to the circles of lightly browned batter.

“I didn't ask you to make me breakfast.”

“Well despite your supremely low opinion of me, I'm sometimes a nice guy, and I mixed too much batter. So chocolate chips, whipped cream, powdered sugar, fruit, we have just about everything.”

“I uh, chocolate chips I guess.” A cabinet door snapped open, and a bag dropped off the shelf into Eliot's hand. He dumped a few morsels into his palm and sprinkled them over the pancakes that had cooked the least. It was no secret that Eliot was telekinetic, but Alice had seen him use it so rarely that she had never realized how precise his control could be.

“When is Margo coming back? I've never seen the two of you apart for so long.” Eliot shrugged, the timer on the oven trilled and a mitt floated to his hand before he pulled the door downward. A wall of warm bacon scented air rolled out of the oven. Alice's mouth watered. The oven snapped closed, and Eliot rested two trays on the stovetop. A spell lit up around his hands and a bubble of heated air formed between his fingers; then the bubble was zipping out of the kitchen and up the stairwell. “What was that?” Alice asked.

“Q's wake-up call.” Eliot looked reasonably proud of himself. “Bambi will hopefully be home later today, or tomorrow. She tends to be rather lax about communicating during the summer.”

“So she doesn't know you two started to date?”

“Not yet.” Eliot picked up his glass. Alice was correct that it had been vodka, because he added more than topped it with orange juice, and flipped the cakes a final time. The ones sprinkled with chips shuffled onto one plate and dropped in front of where Alice stood. “I don't know how much bacon you want if you even eat it.”

“Everyone eats bacon,” Alice assured him. He was busy moving all the strips off their trays onto a proper plate. Not wanting him to do everything himself, Alice walked to the fridge and took out the can of whipped cream. The stairs squeaked as she spread a liberal portion over her breakfast. Quentin was still in the t-shirt and shorts he'd slept in, and he yawned as he walked in to join them.

“You made bacon; I could smell it upstairs.” He mumbled to Eliot. The bubble that Eliot had sent upstairs had been trapped air rich with bacon scent. As Quentin woke up more, he quickly realized the two of them weren't alone. “Alice.” His tone was neutral edged with unease, like he expected her to explode at one or both of them at the slightest provocation.

“Good morning, Q.” She watched him cross the kitchen, take the tumbler out of Eliot's hand and lean up to kiss him. That close there was no way he could have missed the alcohol.

“It's really early.” Alice heard him whisper.

“Rough night.” Eliot took the glass back, took a final swallow, and did something Alice had never dreamed he'd do. He dumped the rest in the sink. “Eat, before it's cold.” They stepped apart and gathered their plates, then carried everything to the table. Alice got a glass for herself, filled it with juice, then followed them. Breakfast was a mostly quiet affair. Eliot looked exhausted, Quentin seemed concerned that he was exhausted, and Alice didn't know enough about what might be wrong to give her two cents.

“I'll take care of the dishes.” She offered as the three of them took everything back into the kitchen.

“I'd appreciate that,” Eliot said. She watched Quentin shepherd him upstairs then she started whispering spells to get the cleanup underway. She didn't see either of them again until Quentin appeared around lunch.

“Was Eliot all right this morning?” She quietly asked as he came down the stairs.

“Yeah. He's been asleep since we went back upstairs.”

“Is this because of what I said?” She fidgeted on the couch as he watched her in silence.

“No, well maybe a little, but on the whole, no.” Alice got the impression that if she pried any deeper, Quentin would shoot her down. Eliot's issues weren't her business. Quentin seemed to have become somewhat protective of him, and it reminded Alice of how he had always come to her defense when people had made comments about her. Maybe he was in love with him.

“I am sorry about the other night.”

“Forget it.” He murmured. “Look, I'm going to figure out lunch. You're welcome to join me.” He headed for the kitchen. Alice wasn't hungry, but she carried her book with her and watched him prepare a sandwich. The afternoon progressed, Eliot must have eventually woken up. There was movement above her, twin sets of footprints, then the shower in Eliot's room started to hum.

Alice thought she imagined the music at first. There was no way either Eliot or Quentin listened to Margaret Whiting, but it continued, and she crept up the stairs to hear it better. She had no way of knowing if the boys had picked 'My Foolish Heart' at random or if it was some subtle jab at her that they were playing just loudly enough for it to project through the quiet cottage.

She stopped at the first bend of the stairs. 'Take care my foolish heart; there's a line between love and fascination that's hard to see' If they were trying to send her a message through the song they had picked especially apt lyrics. Alice turned away and went back to her book. She supposed she had been let down as gently as she could be considering the circumstances. Admitting that to herself didn't stop it from hurting, but pining would net her nothing.

The song changed, but the tempo didn't. The artists varied, but the playlist was a mix of pre and post-war jazz that was surprisingly easy to study to. Alice convinced herself that the first song hadn't been a personal jab and got lost in it. Enough so that she jumped when the cottage door thumped open and Margo blazed in loaded with more luggage than one person would need for a year.

------------------------------

Margo quietly cursed to herself over the stupidity of charming her home to move on its own and dumped all of her bags across the cottage floor

“Eliot! I'm home!” The range of her voice fell somewhere between a sing-song and a bellow and she didn't bother to look around her until she's already yelled for him. Alice was giving her an annoyed glare from the couch.

“You didn't have to scream.” The petite blond admonished.

“Well, I felt like it,” Margo told her. There was movement above them, quick steps muffled by the upstairs hall runner, then Eliot came into view on the upper landing. He had to duck a little to see her properly; then he grinned at her. Margo rested his fist on her hip and beckoned him down to join them. “Get down here, pretty boy!”

As he cut the distance between them to hug her, Margo marveled at how good he looked and silently compared what she saw now to what she had come home to the summer before. He'd taken better care of himself this time around. He hadn't lost as much weight and she probably imagined it but he seemed mostly sober. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed was the last thing she had expected from El after a summer by himself.

The hug he gave her was smothering, for about five seconds, then he was spinning her around. She was going to reassess that assumption that he was sober. He'd taken something. It had to have been a pill of some kind, as she could barely smell tobacco on him and he was right on top of her. His hand slipped into hers and he was pulling her back towards the stairs.

“Whoa there, El! Reign in the horses, Love. I have baggage, literal baggage.” She gestured to the pile of luggage that had still lay where she had dropped them.

“Oh fine!” Eliot stopped, stood with his back straight and raised his hands. They came together in a series of quick claps. “Everyone upstairs, double time now.” The suitcases lifted via his telekinesis and bobbed in an uneven line as they floated up the stairs. After the last one had passed him, he gave an exaggerated little bow and gestured up the stairs. “After you, my dearest.” He teased.

“What's gotten into you, you idiot?” Margo ruffled his hair as she passed him and followed her luggage up towards her room. She got to the upstairs hall and couldn't resist a delighted little chuckle. Quentin had flattened himself against the wall to make room for her bags. He waved to her as the line shuffled past him.

“Hey Margo, welcome back.” She watched him tuck the hair back behind his ears with one hand. The other clutched around a thick textbook. If Quentin had been home for a couple of weeks that explained why Eliot was in such high spirits.

“Hey, Q. How long have you and Alice been back?”

“Well, um, Alice has been back a couple of days, but I uh...” The hall was mostly dark so that Margo couldn't get an unshadowed view of his face. She swore he was starting to blush. Eliot's hands fell on her shoulders and squeezed.

“Q stayed all summer, Bambi.”

“Well, that was good for you. Wait, was that great for you? Did you two idiots form a rainbow connection when I wasn't here to see it?” She seized his wrist and dragged him down the hall to the spot Quentin waited. The smaller man was clearly blushing. “You did! Finally, it only took you two a goddamn year!” She purred.

“I guess you could phrase it like that.” Eliot agreed. Quentin took a step away from the wall, which put him close enough for Eliot to reach out and cup his cheek.

“Does Alice know yet?” Quentin nodded.

“She's not very happy with either of us at the moment.” Margo could see the hint of guilt in the way Quentin's eyes darted to the floor.

“Screw her.” Margo let her tone hold all the vehemence it wanted. Eliot seemed elated, and Quentin was grinning this adorable sheepish little grin. They were over the moon for one another and Margo wasn't going to let anything get in their way. “I'm so happy for you two! But you...” She turned her attention to Eliot. “If I catch you giving some first year so much as a sideways glance I will castrate you myself. Am I clear?”

“Abundantly clear!” Eliot assured her.

“And you.” Margo swiveled to glare at Quentin. He had been good for Eliot so far. “If you break him again, I'll kill you.” Quentin's smile fell away, and he gave her a grave little nod.

“Okay.” He agreed.

“Jesus, Margo. Don't scare him off!”

“He's fine,” Margo assured him. She reached for one of Quentin's hands and pulled the shorter man closer to them, then handed him off to her best friend. “Here, kiss him and make him better.” Both men laughed. Margo swore she was going to vomit. She took a step back to watch them.

“Is that an order?” Eliot asked her.

“Yes! For fuck's sake, kiss you're goddamn boyfriend!” Nothing could prepare her for the way that Eliot stared down at the smaller man in his arms. It was indelible. Margo had never seen him in love with anyone before. She had seen him show semblances of happiness, but what she was watching right now might actually be the real thing. The unease she had sparked in Quentin's face melted out of his expression. Eliot's hand tangled in Quentin's silky hair then he was dipping his head to kiss him. There wasn't an inch of space between them as Quentin's arms wrapped around him. Margo wondered how long it would take them to come up for air.

“Okay, enough, enough. Keep it up and you're going to float off the floor.” She was happy for them, elated. Eliot couldn't have found a more perfect soulmate if soulmates were even a real thing. She herded the two of them down the hall towards her room. “You can read while Eliot and I plan our start of term party.” She told Quentin. Expecting him to leave was out of the question. “I have so many new outfits to show you!” She said to Eliot. Her luggage had formed a neat pile in the corner. Quentin sat cross-legged on her bed, while Eliot dropped onto the floor facing her closet. His forehead rested against Quentin's knee but his attention was on her. Their duo seemed to have seamlessly become a trio and Margo was thrilled with the addition.

Chapter Text

The Physical Kids really did throw the best parties. Penny took the cocktail Eliot offered him, one of the signature drinks of the night, which Eliot had named a 'Summer Sunset,' and sipped it. The thing was layers of swirled orange and yellow and white. It tasted like an orange creamsicle and was a bit too sweet for his taste, but it was free, and delicious, and had he mentioned free?

All the liquor the party had to offer was free, yeah there was a tip jar, and yes Penny had shoved a twenty into it, but that was more a courtesy than anything else. He could quickly drink forty or fifty dollars in liquor at a party like this and not one of the magicians surrounding him would bat an eye. It seemed like the whole campus had turned out for the soirée. Penny had picked out kids from every discipline, and the inside of the cottage seemed to be slowly expanding to accommodate people as more showed up.

Penny took his drink off to the side and let his gaze skate over the crowd. The music was loud, and the furniture had been shoved along the walls to make room so people could dance. A group of the second year psychic students were doing lines of coke off the coffee table, a knot of knowledge students argued theory in the relative quiet of the kitchen. Eliot was playing host to perhaps the second largest party he'd ever throw. Penny had no doubt that the end of term party would somehow top it. There would be a new first-year class added to the mix, and it would be the last party Eliot and Margo hosted before they graduated.

Crowds normally weren't Penny's thing, but he needed to be around people again after the way he'd spent his 'Summer'. As soon as Brakebills had released them for the extended holiday Penny had traveled back to the South Pole. Mayakovsky was the only professor who actually seemed interested in helping him master his 'gift'. Sunderland wanted him to study theory, and clearly intended for him to astral project until sometime in the middle of his third year. Penny couldn't wait that long. Her voice was getting louder, and Penny wasn't sure how much longer he would be able to wait before he attempted a half-cooked rescue mission.

He'd spent most of the Summer doing one of two things. The first half had been spent helping Mayakovsky build magical batteries. Once Penny finally got brave, and asked what the things were for Mayakovsky had handed him a bottle of his infamous lichen vodka and shown him his pet project. The man was meticulously mapping the magical ley lines that crisscrossed through under the South Pole.

The Professor had shown him years worth of data, and from the man's calculations, it appeared that the ones surrounding the South Pole were getting progressively weaker. The research had piqued Penny's interest, and he had spent the rest of the summer traveling around the world performing a spell Mayakovsky had cooked up to see if the same was true for other magical hot spots. If Mayakovsky was right than magic was dying and no one had any idea why.

Penny held his drink in one hand and studied the back of the other. As a reward for aiding in his research, Mayakovsky had tattooed the spell that would let him travel with another person across his knuckles. The marks were still new, and they hurt like hell, but if they helped him save that girl before magic died out, Penny would at least be able to say he'd used his powers for something worthwhile.

His gaze skated over the gathering again. Aside from Mayakovsky he'd spent so much of his Summer around people who couldn't hold a mental ward worth a damn. It was nice being around magicians who could. Everyone at Brakebills had some degree of mental protection. Penny's eyes landed on Quentin, who sat sideways and cross-legged on the couch he and Margo shared in the far corner of the room. Even Quentin seemed to have picked up a mental trick or two. His surface thoughts were quieter than they had been the year before, and something had prompted him to start building barriers around his deeper thoughts. Penny respected privacy too much to try and dig to see what Quentin wanted to hide. The form those defenses had taken did make Penny smirk though.

He'd dipped into enough minds to know that every individual's mental defenses were shaped differently. Quentin had leaned on his love of fantasy and subconsciously picked castle walls. His mental shields seemed to be built of interlocking white stone bricks. Surface thoughts, currently related to the conversation he was having with Margo about an exhibit at the New York Met, darted around like castle sentries.

Penny's eyes momentarily slipped to Margo. The woman's surface thoughts were a mix of amusement and... annoyance. Her wards manifested like a wall of blinding ice and snow in the back of her mind. The momentary annoyance seemed to get dismissed almost as quickly as it popped up. She laughed, and brought the electric blue cocktail Eliot had made her to her lips. She blew off the thin layer of smoke that somehow generated from the drink's surface and Penny got the impressions of Raspberry and something sweet as she swallowed.

Movement on Penny's left caught his attention and he watched Eliot cross the room. Penny would never admit it aloud, but if he outright admired anyone's wards Eliot would win that prize hands down. Only Kady's wards were on par with his. Even when the guy was flat out drunk or high off his ass he managed to keep most of his thoughts trapped inside a smooth orb of smoke colored glass, glass that was so fucking cold it would burn you if you tried to touch it. Penny had only gotten a couple of glimpses into Eliot's mind. He had seen enough to know that Eliot had suffered a massive trauma as a kid, and abuse as he'd gotten older. Penny didn't have enough details to describe either in detail.

The couch bounced as Eliot dropped behind Quentin. One arm snaked around the shorter man's middle and Quentin twisted enough to meet the kiss when Eliot's hand cupped his jaw. Something warm pulsed behind Eliot's wards. He pressed tight against Quentin's back as the kiss deepened. Quentin unfolded his legs to properly turn. His arm wrapped around Eliot's waist, then he was pushing Eliot back so they were laying together on the couch. Quentin's hair fell to shadow their faces as they continued to make out.

Margo huffed, and Penny understood why she had seemed annoyed. It clouded the forefront of her mind. She was jealous that she had to share her best friend with his new boyfriend. She got up, patted Quentin's back with a fondness that stood in stark contrast to the jealousy and walked towards the bar. A bundle of emotions clouded her mind as she crossed the room.

“It's not polite to stare.” She told him as she got close enough.

“When the fuck did that happen?” Penny asked. He finished what remained of his liquid creamsicle and followed her to the bar. Quentin and Eliot had stretched out to occupy the space she had abandoned. Penny glanced at them again as Margo made them both new drinks. Eliot's long fingers were playing with the hair behind Quentin's ear.

“The lovebirds had the cottage to themselves for the whole Summer.” Margo explained.

“And,” Penny prompted.

“And they fell in love with each other.” Margo waved her hand towards the couch. “They're idiots. I love them both, but they've lost their goddamn minds.” Penny grinned at the mixture of fond vehemence Margo managed to lace into her tone. Being simultaneously pissed off and proud as fuck was something only she could pull off. She rested her forearm on the bar and pushed his drink forward with well-manicured nails. This one was more to Penny's taste. It tasted like alcohol.

“So when you say love...?”

“I mean, to the disappointment of every guy on campus, Eliot Waugh is now off the market. I've lost my wingman, my partner in crime." She paused, and Penny followed her gaze to the two young men on the couch. "If Quentin breaks him again, I'll kill him.” She continued. Penny had a feeling that was a promise and not a jest. He wondered what Alice thought of all this and realized that he hadn't seen the blond at all.

“Is Alice not back yet?” He asked as his eyes swept the room for her familiar blond hair and dark glasses.

“Oh, she's back. She and Quentin aren't on the best of terms, but if she had really been interested in him, she should have made more of a play for him.” Penny had to admit that he'd been a little baffled by her behavior when they had gotten back from Brakebills South. He had expected Quentin and Alice to be inseparable, but Alice had held Quentin at arm's length and Quentin had given her the space to do it. “Quentin tried to get her to come down for the party but she's been holed up in her room all day.”

“Huh.” Penny reached across the bar for an unopened bottle of Bacardi. With Kady gone Alice was probably the closest person he had to a friend on campus. “I should at least go say hello.” He tossed back the remainder of his drink and headed for the stairs. It was quieter on the second floor, and Alice's door was the only one closed. He tapped on it and waited, then tapped again.

“For the last time, Quentin, I'm not coming downstairs!” The angered shout, of a woman who was perhaps at least tipsy, didn't deter Penny. If anything it hardened his resolve. Alice needed a friend.

“I'm not the hopeless supernerd, it's Penny.” He waited in silence, then heard the lock click. The door swung open about half an inch, which he took for an invitation. “Hey there.” He offered as he closed the door behind him. She waved from where she stood, and Penny had been right about her drinking. A partial bottle of triple sec was clutched in her hand. He held up the bottle he'd brought. “I saw Quentin and Eliot downstairs. I thought you might like booze, or company, or both.” Alice's wards manifested as walls of smooth, slick, opaque glass. Flashes of light, her thoughts, still guarded but just barely, danced behind the frosted panes. Her arms crossed over her chest.

“I can't believe them.” She complained. Her voice held hurt, but Penny sensed that she was closer to acceptance than she wanted to admit.

“Sure you can!” He smiled at her. “Hell, Alice! You dodged a bullet.” Alice cocked her head at him, and brought the bottle to her lips; it was empty enough that the angle wasn't enough to actually bring alcohol to her lips.

“How so?” The bottle lowered.

“Those two have flirted and danced around each other since they met. It was more a matter of time than anything. You're lucky it happened over the Summer. Imagine how much more it would hurt if they had gotten drunk some evening and woken up together.”

“I guess.” Alice reached for the bottle cap and screwed it into place. “What did you bring? It has to be better than this.” Penny twisted the Bacardi bottle to show her the label.

“It's probably not.” He handed her the bottle. “Give me a minute.” He blinked out of sight and returned with glasses of ice. Alice was sitting on her bed. She had twisted off the seal and the cap, and she lifted the bottle to pour each of them a shot or so.

“Maybe you're right.” She agreed as she took her glass from him.

“About what?” Penny threw back his drink and poured himself another.

“That I dodged a bullet.”

“I don't know what you saw in him anyway.” Penny admitted.

“He was the first friend I made here, and he was willing to help with my brother. We all know what a disaster that turned out to be. Maybe I thought it was fate. Then Mayakovsky turned us all into foxes, and it just felt so forced.”

“That was bullshit.” Penny agreed. “He does that to every class.” Penny watched her lips as they pressed in a disapproving line. She downed the shot and poured another. “Forget Quentin. I mean, he's still your friend, right?”

“He says he wants to be if we still can be.”

“Than that's the best outcome you can hope for.” Penny grinned and leaned close to her. He hated telling secrets he picked up from people's minds, but he had a feeling this one wouldn't be a secret all that long. “Promise not to say anything.” He whispered. Alice tensed, and curiosity crept across her face.

“What?” She demanded.

“Margo's jealous.” Alice laughed softly. The breath was warm against his cheek.

“That wasn't a secret, Pen.” She giggled, and Penny had an overwhelming urge to kiss her. He hadn't had a partner since Kady had left, maybe they both needed someone for a night to get over having their hearts stomped on. Penny skimmed through Alice's surface thoughts. A small blush spread across her cheeks, and he leaned in to press his lips against hers. A small noise escaped her throat, and he leaned back to search her face. “Do that again.” She murmured. The second kiss was deeper. Maybe this would be a one night stand; maybe it would be something better.

Chapter Text

Quentin shut his bedroom door behind him and dropped the towel from around his waist and the bundle of clothes tucked under his arm as he started to get dressed for his morning classes. The temperature on campus seemed to have steadily dropped since the start of term. It wasn't quite overcoat weather yet, but he'd had to switch from t-shirts to sweaters more quickly than he had expected. Eliot seemed to be loving it, because the colder weather meant the opportunity to layer and accessorize. Quentin hadn't realized just how many scarves his boyfriend owned until the bin where they were all neatly folded had been dug from the depths of Eliot's closet.

The door banged open as Quentin was yanking the sweater over his head and he almost pushed his hand through the material instead of up through the sleeve as he swung to face that direction. Margo stood in the entrance way, with an amused smirk on her face.

“I don't know why you are still keeping a room for yourself.” She complained as she crossed her arms over her chest. Quentin adjusted the hem of his sweater and raked his hand back through his hair. He glanced around the floor through the clutter of piled books and discarded clothing until he spotted a black hair tie. He dropped to one knee to scoop it up and tied back his hair as he stood.

“I haven't moved all my stuff because El hasn't made the offer yet.”

“You're basically living in there.” Margo pointed out. “

“No, I'm just sleeping in there.”

“And showering, and studying, and fucking him in there. You've barely moved anything.” If Margo had said those exact words to him a month before Quentin might have blushed, but she was right. The only things that had made the transition from one room to another were his toiletries, some books, and whatever clothes he wore during the day.

“El will ask when he's ready.”

“Or he'll wait till he thinks you are ready. If you don't start giving him hints it's never going to happen.” Quentin grabbed his book for botany, and the recipe book for his potions class, and turned in a circle as he looked for his messenger bag. “You're bag is in El's room, Sweetie.”

“Right.” Quentin shoved his feet into his shoes. “What did you want anyway?” He asked her as she silently watched him. The door snapped closed, and Margo twisted her fingers through a quick locking spell, then a privacy ward.

“I want to know what you got him for his birthday.” Her arms had crossed over her chest again. “You have gotten him something, right?”

“What? Oh, uh course I did! I doubt he'll like it though.” Quentin brushed back the hair that had already fallen loose from the low tail he'd pulled it into. He'd realized just how many watches Eliot already had after he'd bought his gift. There were enough that he could interchange them depending on what he was wearing on any given day.

“He's going to love anything you give him, Q.”

“That's not something you should promise. Why do you care anyway? How do I know this isn't something he put you up to?”

“Look, I get it. I know you want to impress him. I'm not going to ruin your surprise. I just want to make sure we don't overlap.” Quentin sighed. He hadn't thought of that. The dresser drawer scrapped as he pulled it open and he took a moment to dig through his socks until he found the jewelry case.

“Here.” He held the flat narrow box out to her.

“Look at you, a real big spender, jewelry before the six months anniversary.”

“It's not really jewelry, its more, an accessory, I guess.” Quentin focused on the color of Margo's nail polish as her fingers curved around the top of the case so she could open it. She set the box on his desk, then lifted the watch out so she could open the face. When she had stared at it in silence for longer than he'd hoped she would, he reached to take it back. “I'll find something better.” He offered lamely.

“No, Quentin, Q, it's beautiful. Eliot will love it!” She laid the watch back in its box with careful fingers, closed it, and passed it back to him.

“You're not just trying to make me feel better, right?” Quentin tucked the box back in its hiding spot and shoved the drawer closed.

“If I thought it sucked I'd tell you.” Quentin nodded. He was talking to Margo, so he supposed that was true.

“I was hoping you, and I could go wine shopping, or at least to a liquor store. You know what El prefers better than I do.”

“We can go tonight if you want.” Quentin quickly shook his head.

“I have an astronomy lab in the observatory.”

“Tomorrow?”

“I'm free if we can convince Eliot to stay here.”

“I'll handle Eliot!” She assured him. “The bar needs a refresh anyway. The start of term party put a bigger dent in our supplies than we anticipated. We've kinda been limping along the last couple of weeks, and El's been getting adventurous and experimenting with what's left.” Quentin laughed.

“I assumed he was just getting bored with the same overdone cocktails.”

“Worse things have been done out of necessity. I'll get him to make a list for us.”

“That sounds great. I can pick up the tab this time, if you want.” He offered. His father's house had sold about three weeks into the semester. The money from that, combined with the leftover money from the life insurance policy would leave him with financially set for the foreseeable future. It wasn't a fortune, but if he managed it well it would last for a few years. He was learning that magicians had ways of turning a little money into a lot rather quickly.

Quentin glanced around the bedroom in search of his phone. He had decided to keep the one he'd bought following the funeral because it had a great camera, and Eliot was photogenic. There were several shots of them he'd become especially fond of.

"What are you looking for now?"

“Have you seen my phone?” He asked her. That was the problem with splitting his time between two bedrooms. Little things had been getting lost or misplaced.

“Oh no, you too?”

“Me too what?” Quentin frowned at her.

“I think one of the new first years is a klepto. They steal shit for fun, then drop it back off somewhere random. My lipstick was gone for almost three days. I felt practically naked without it. I was ready to cut whichever bitch had taken it.” Quentin smirked at her.

“Couldn't you just have used a different color?” The look that crossed Margo's face was akin to him having said something scandalous. She dug into her pocket and pulled out a vintage lipstick tube. The bright brass colored metal was covered in a pattern of quilted diamonds and raised dots.

“I only have one tube, Quentin! It's a vintage Avon case from the 70s. Eliot charmed it, so it never runs out, and I charmed it to do a whole host of things. It changes color, lasts all day, and won't smudge.”

“And you felt naked without it. I get it now.” Quentin leaned down to shift through a pile of clothes. He grabbed a pair of jeans to check the pockets.

“I'm sure it will turn up. It's your phone; it's not exactly something small.”

“Yeah, I know.” Quentin took down the spells she had cast on his door. He'd check Eliot's room before he freaked out. As long as he found it before they went off campus it wasn't a big deal. Margo followed him into the hall and down to Eliot's room. The bed was empty, and Quentin heard the shower taps squeak through the wall as Eliot shut them off. Quentin found his messenger bag leaning against the wall by the door and caught the strap between his fingers. He rested it on a low table and switched out the books inside with the ones he needed. Eliot bustled into the bedroom in nothing but a towel.

“Good morning, my lovelies.” He purred at the two of them. Quentin wasn't sure how he was up already. When he'd fallen asleep at two Eliot had still been wide awake.

“Morning, El.” He murmured. Two of Eliot's long strides brought the taller man against him, and Quentin ignored the water droplets soaking into his clothes as Eliot leaned down to kiss him. Quentin tugged his hand through the wet locks of Eliot's hair, pulling just enough to encourage a deeper kiss.

“Ugh, PDA!” Margo teased from behind them. “The rest of the cottage is ready to ban you two from the common areas.”

“Well this is our room, you don't have to watch,” Eliot told her. He did step back though, then he murmured a spell in French and snapped his hands through a fast spell. Quentin's clothes dried. His back was to Margo, but Quentin could imagine her rolling her eyes and dramatically throwing her hands in the air. He could hear a soft, breathy laugh from her.

“Get dressed, El. Professor March gets irritated when we are late for practicals.”

“If one of you will be nice enough to make my coffee we might be on time,” Eliot suggested.

“We all need coffee, come on Q.” Quentin slipped the strap of his bag up his arm and over his head.

“I'll see you at lunch.” A pair of boxers floated to Eliot's hand, and Quentin got to the door before he stopped. “Hey, is there any chance you've seen my phone?”

“I'm sure it's around somewhere, we'll find it tonight,” Eliot promised him.

“Quentin! Coffee, breakfast! Let's move.” Margo called from down the hall.

“Jesus, I'm right behind you.” Quentin jogged down the hall to join her. The common area was deserted when they reached the lower level. The coffee pot in the kitchen had been charmed to stay full for a certain number of hours each morning. Quentin retrieved three travel mugs from the cabinet and passed them to Margo so she could start filling them. She poured often enough to know to leave space in his for creamer, and room in Eliot's for a shot or two of whatever alcohol he planned to add. The mug sat open until Eliot joined them, and Quentin watched him slip his flask from his vest pocket.

There was a bit of chill in the air as the three of them walked across campus together. The closer they got to the main buildings the more students there were. Quentin got a quick kiss before they parted so they could go one way while he went another. Alice and Penny were already seated when he arrived, and the knowing smirk they shared had Quentin rolling his eyes. He hadn't expected Alice to rebound with Penny, but they seemed to suit one another, and Alice still spoke to him. He had Eliot, she had moved on, it was the best outcome Quentin felt he could ask for.

Sunderland started her morning lecture, and Quentin lost himself in his classwork as the day droned on. Eliot's tutoring from the Summer was helping, but once they had started to date, neither of them had gotten through the amount of work they had planned on. The morning passed into afternoon, and Quentin found Eliot taking inventory of the bar when he got back from his last afternoon class.

“Is there anything special you would like for yourself?” He asked as he dropped his bag against the foot of the couch.

“Well, the point would be to surprise me. I assume that's why I'm not allowed to go.”

“I just want to get it right.”

“Bambi is going. She won't let you get it wrong.” Eliot assured him. Quentin felt a telekinetic pull against the front of his hoodie and moved with it until they stood against one another. Long arms curled around him. “Stop worrying so much about trying to please me.” Quentin hooked his arms around Eliot's waist and leaned up to meet his mouth. “I have everything I want right in front of me.”

“I love you too.” Quentin was still getting used to hearing such fond endearments flow from Eliot so freely. He had expected that the more people there were to hear them the fewer of them there would be, but the opposite seemed to be happening. “How much more do you have to inventory?” He asked as he reached to pick up Eliot's list.

“I just have a few more things to write down.”

“I'm going to go put my stuff away and look for my phone.” Quentin grabbed his bag as he passed he couch again and headed upstairs. He started with his room and worked into Eliot's.

“Still nothing?” Eliot asked as he came up to join him. He'd made a drink for himself from whatever was left of the bar supply, and it sat between his fingers. Quentin shook his head in frustration.

“Margo thinks one of the first years is a klepto. She said something about her lipstick this morning.”

“Oh god, don't remind me! She was so pissed!” A frown spread across Eliot's face as he glanced around the bedroom. “It has to be somewhere. It's your phone.”

“Books were disappearing about this time last year.” Quentin reminded him.

“Yeah, but now we know that was Kady.”

“There could be another hedge witch.”

“It's your phone. It doesn't have any personal significance to anyone outside our group.” Eliot sat on the edge of the bed and sat what remained of his cocktail on the nightstand. “It will turn up.” Quentin nodded and sat beside him. A book floated to Eliot's hand and he lay back on the bed as it floated open above him. “You have an astronomy lab tonight, right?” Quentin lay back beside him and nodded.

“I should study for it.” The book dropped beside them, and Eliot rolled to kiss his neck.

“Don't let me stop you.” Quentin nodded and got up to get his star chart. He spread it out on the floor as Eliot continued to lay on the bed. By the time of his lab his phone still hadn't turned up, and it was still gone when he, Eliot, and Margo left for class the next morning, but when returned from his last lecture of the day he found it peeking out from under the edge of his bed.

“Hey, you found it! Where the hell was it?” The mattress bounced as Eliot dropped onto the mattress beside him.

“It was under the edge of my bed.”

“I looked there!”

“We both did.” Quentin pressed the power button and sighed in relief when the display flickered to life without damage. The display distorted for a moment, but he'd come to accept that as a side-effect of the campus wards. He thumbed through his photos, it seemed like there were fewer than he remembered, but none of the shots he really cared about were gone.

“Quentin!” Margo's shout from downstairs had him jumping off the bed.

“I guess she wants to go now.” He muttered. “Last chance to tell me if you want anything special.”

“Kiss me goodbye?” Eliot was leaning backward and supporting himself with his arms

“I'm spoiling you,” Quentin muttered.

“But darling, I deserve only the best.” Quentin chuckled and leaned to push him back onto the mattress.

“Quentin, I swear, if I find you sticking your tongue down Eliot's throat instead of getting ready to leave I'm going to drag you downstairs by the ponytail!” Quentin sat up and grabbed his phone and wallet as they floated to his hands.

“See you in a couple of hours.” He grabbed his sweatshirt as he exited the room and pulled it on as he headed down the stairs. Margo was standing ready to start building their portal. A small handbag crossed one shoulder.

“Finally.” She griped. Her eyes landed on the phone that was peeking out of the corner of his front jean pocket. “I guess somebody brought your phone back.”

“I think you're right about the klepto; it was under the edge of my bed when I got back from class. Both Eliot and I looked there.”

“Did they break it?”

“It seems fine.” Quentin followed her into an alley adjoining one of the biggest liquor stores he had ever laid eyes on.

“We should both grab carts,” Margo suggested as they neared the entrance. “Here.” She tore off the bottom half of a list written in Eliot's neat handwriting. “We've been here dozens of times, and he's organized everything by type, so if you start at one end, and I start at the other, we should be able to meet in the middle.”

“What are we going to get Eliot that's just for him?” The wheel of the cart Quentin had chosen squeaked.

“We'll find a couple of bottles of wine once we get the bar supplies. You have the list half with all the vodka; there's a lime vodka made by Hanger One. Grab a bottle of that.” She inclined her chin a little and smirked. “And I got him a bottle of twenty-five-year-old Glenlivet.” The pride in her choice was obvious

“That's brilliant, Margo!” The idea of getting Eliot a bottle of something as old as he was hadn't even occurred to him. Quentin glanced at his list as he started walking down the aisles towards the far end of the store. Nearly a half an hour later he'd worked through his half and still hadn't met Margo.

When he did find her, she was leaning against a support column flirting with a guy in his early 30s. He was only a couple inches shorter than Eliot, but broader. Dark hair was thick and trimmed short; facial hair lightly dusted a strong jaw. A white, tailored, button down was open to mid-chest, and the sleeves had been loosely rolled to his elbows. He wore gray slacks instead of jeans. Green eyes landed on him, and a charming smile crossed the guy's face.

“Hey Margo, do you want me to finish the list?” Quentin offered.

“I didn't realize you were here with your boyfriend.” The guy interrupted before Margo could answer.

“Oh! He is not my boyfriend. Margo stepped away from the column. “But he is taken, so you can stop eye fucking him anytime.” A faint blush spread across Quentin's cheeks, and he tucked his hair back behind his ears as the guy laughed. “Let's finish up and get out of here, Q.” Margo seemed irritated that the guy was apparently flirting with both of them. Her cart bumped gently against his, and they followed one another back into the main aisle.

“I didn't mean to interrupt.” Quentin apologized.

“It's fine; he seemed like an asshole anyway.” A mischevious smirk spread across her face. “When the hell did you become a man magnet?” She teased. Quentin blushed again.

“I'm not telling Eliot about this.” He told her. She laughed again.

“That's probably a wise idea!” She agreed. The two of them chatted as they finished the list, and Quentin watched the tab tick upward as they checked out. They walked the carts back to the alley and Margo cast featherweight charms on the boxes as Quentin lifted them from the carts. Eliot met them as they stepped through the portal.

“You two took forever.” He complained as he took one of the boxes from Quentin's arms. Quentin set the second one he'd carried on the couch and lifted out the bottles he'd had bagged so Eliot wouldn't see them. He dropped onto the sofa beside the box. The guy who had flirted with him was already fading from his mind.

Chapter Text

The whole campus knew what week his birthday fell during, but only Quentin and Margo, and perhaps Alice and Penny, knew that his birthday fell on Thursday this year. Anyone else who had asked had been randomly given a different day of the week. Eliot liked things that way. For one it generated a whole week of attention, and secondly, only his friends were likely to mention it was his birthday on his actual birthday. It made a day that he saw mostly as a reason to get drunk fractionally more meaningful.

It was still dark outside as Eliot propped himself against his fist and brought his flask to his lips. Quentin lay stretched beside him, and Eliot watched him in the low glow of the bedside lamp. He'd shaded the thing to keep it from waking Q up. Eliot capped his flask with his telekinesis and reached to brush a few strands of loose hair behind Quentin's ear. What he had finally done right to deserve him still escaped him. Eliot half expected his fingers to pass through Quentin like he was some specter of smoke but the strands of hair were delicate and soft. When his finger brushed Quentin's cheek, the skin was warm.

The last birthday he remembered enjoying as a kid had been his eleventh, then Shawn had left for college, and he'd kissed another boy for the first time when he was twelve. He'd stayed with his parents until he'd gotten early acceptance to Columbia, then lived in New York for less than six months before he'd made the worst mistake of his life. He hadn't enjoyed the day again until the year he'd met Margo. He uncapped the flask and tipped it back against his mouth. After he'd taken a swallow or two, Eliot replaced the cap and floated the bottle to the table on the other side of Quentin.

His arm was starting to go numb, so he dropped his chin away from his fist and curled down onto his pillow. Eliot drew a slow breath through his nose and closed his eyes. He had been pleasantly buzzed when he'd gotten back to the cottage from a party with the psychic students. Somewhere he'd crossed a line though, and whatever they had smoked had started to make him feel sick. His eyelids felt heavy and he closed them. Quentin's alarm chirped what felt like minutes later, but it was morning when he dragged his eyes open again.

Quentin squirmed closer to the nightstand to silence the alarm and Eliot looped his arm around his boyfriend's middle. He rocked his hips against Quentin's and made a needy little noise, which urged Quentin to turn and face him. Eliot tightened his hold and rolled with Quentin until he'd settled on his back with Quentin atop him. The smaller man fit neatly between his spread thighs.

“Happy Birthday,” Quentin whispered. The sleepy mumble made Eliot smile a little. Quentin's cheek rested against his chest. He yawned. “Are you going to your morning classes?”

“I think I'm going to skip the first couple.”

“How hungover are you?”

“Less than I expected to be.” Quentin's hand rested on the mattress, and he used it to lever himself upward so their mouths could meet. It was a short kiss, then Quentin ducked his head to kiss his throat. Eliot whined and arched, baring the column to give Quentin better access. He'd started encouraging Quentin to mark him once word that they were dating had been given a couple of weeks to circulate the school. Nothing Quentin had left so far would last for long, but Eliot was pretty sure Quentin wasn't ready to sink his teeth into his shoulder and leave something permanent. Quentin's mouth traveled slowly down his chest, and Eliot squirmed below him. He reached with his telekinesis until lube a long knot of silk tie in solid black dropped beside them. “Tie my hands.”

“El?” Quentin picked up the tie and stretched some of it between his hands.

“I have my telekinesis. I can end it if anytime I want.” Eliot caught Quentin's face between his hands and guided it back up so their mouths would meet again. “It is my birthday.” He pouted. Quentin laughed.

“It is your birthday.” Quentin agreed. The indecision slid from his face, and he nodded. “Arms up.” The words were almost, not quite an order, but they made a knot of need form in Eliot's belly. He wiggled downward, so he had enough room to stretch his arms above his head. Quentin cast silencing charms to keep anyone from hearing them, and put a ward on the door, then Quentin's hand circled his wrist. His thumb pressed and rubbed along the inside. For an instant, Eliot flashed to the memory of larger rougher hands that hadn't held a fraction of Quentin's gentleness, and silk ties that had been embroidered with spell wards. He licked his lips.

“Double the tie in half.” He told Quentin. “And bring both ends through the loop.” Silk slipped around his arms, and Eliot groaned. A tent was already forming in his boxers. By the time he finished walking Quentin through the process of tying his wrists without cutting off the circulation he was panting, and a wet stain had started to spread from where his shorts had rubbed.

“Fuck, you're beautiful like this.” Quentin breathed. He sounded awed, and Eliot grinned at the praise. Quentin's fingers rested against his palm and Eliot squeezed them, assuring Quentin that he wasn't tied too tightly. “What do you want me to do to you?” Quentin asked.

“Whatever you want.” Quentin's fingers trailed down his bare belly, and Eliot gasped. His hips jumped, and he spread his legs wider, silently begging for Quentin to touch him. The other man got up, and Eliot watched him shuck his sleep pants and boxers. When Quentin climbed back onto the bed and settled between his legs again, he whined at the friction between them. It wasn't fair that Quentin was naked while he wasn't.

Kisses rained down his torso, and Eliot pulled lightly at the restraints. He wanted to grab handfuls of Quentin's hair and push him lower. His boyfriend's tongue reached his navel and Eliot couldn't stop the desperate, needy cry that escaped his throat. He tugged at the silk again and dug his heels into the sheets.

“Lie still.” The short two-word order made him freeze. His breath escaped from his lungs in fast pants. His muscles trembled as he tried to lay still and slow his breathing.

“Please, Q.”

“I'm going to take care of you. Trust me.” The promise was low and firm. Eliot rested his head back against his pillow, closed his eyes, and tipped his face into his arm. Tears came out of nowhere. He'd done things like this with a dozen partners over the last few years, but he'd never placed explicit trust in any of them. He'd always relied on his telekinesis to get him out of a situation that didn't go the way he liked. He'd never really trusted the partner not to put him in that position where he wouldn't need it. “Eliot?” Quentin sounded unnerved, which was fair, considering that he'd been fine a moment ago. “What did I do wrong?” Eliot shook his head, and Quentin leaned back over him again. A hand cupped his face. “Talk to me, or I'm going to untie you.”

“Don't. You didn't do anything wrong. It just hit me that you're...” Eliot turned his cheek to kiss Quentin's palm. “I've never trusted anyone I've been with as much as I trust you.”

“Oh, El.” The kiss Quentin gave him was open mouthed and searing. Eliot panted as it broke, and Quentin's breath was hot against his throat. The smaller man's teeth nipped gently against the skin, then Quentin started a new trail of kisses and teases down his body. By the time Quentin's mouth wrapped around him Eliot was writhing against the silk again. Quentin's hand pressed against his hip to hold him still, then his boxers finally got pulled down, and Quentin's mouth was back. It didn't take much more than a minute or two after that. Eliot bucked against him, shuddered hard and lay limp. His mind buzzed contently as Quentin dragged the boxers the rest of the way down his legs.

Generously lubed fingers stretched him, and Eliot groaned as Quentin started prepping him. Fingers trained to hold impossible positions bent and curled inside him. Eliot bucked down on them to push them deeper. His back arched as Quentin's fingers found all the right spots. Quentin shifted closer to him, removed his hand, and filled him.

“Look at me.” Eliot snapped his eyes open to meet Quentin's gaze. A desperate whine escaped his throat as Quentin's arms hooked under his knees and he started to move. They held each other's gaze until Eliot shuddered through his second release and Quentin finished inside him. Quentin blanketed him as they lay together. Eliot had almost fallen asleep again when Quentin moved to get up. A warm cloth wiped him clean, a spell took care of the sheets, then Quentin started releasing the knots tied in the silk. Eliot moaned as the top knots came free from the headboard and his shoulders were allowed to relax. Quentin made quick work of the doubled loops of silk and started to rub feeling back into his wrists. “Are you alright?”

“I feel amazing.” Eliot wrapped himself around Quentin and nuzzled his face into his throat. The urge to sleep was already narrowing his mind. If he had his way, neither of them were going to class until sometime after lunch. Quentin seemed to realize the same thing because he settled as well. When Eliot woke up again a small black box with a silver bow had been placed in his line of sight. Strips of silver ribbon crisscrossed over the middle. He could feel Quentin sitting behind him, probably so he could study. Eliot reached to pick it up and sat up so he could open it. “I can open this now right?”

“If you want.” Eliot turned the gift over to pull the piece of tape that held the narrow strips of ribbon tight and set the bow aside. The watch Quentin had picked was one by Dalvey, a Scottish watchmaker. The case was stainless steel and came with a stand. Eliot opened it to stare at the face. The numerals were Roman and set in striking silver against the black mother of pearl.

“Q, it's...”

“I know you already have like half a dozen.” Eliot turned to frown at him. Was Quentin actually apologizing before he could even thank him? Before Quentin could ramble out another apology, Eliot leaned to him and claimed his mouth.

“Shut up. It's beautiful.” Quentin sighed in relief and leaned into a second long kiss. “It's beautiful,” Eliot repeated. He loved it. The effort Quentin had put into picking it was obvious, the effort Quentin had invested in him stunned him. “It's the best thing anyone has ever given me.” Quentin laughed weakly. Eliot could tell he didn't quite believe him. Sure, it wasn't the most expensive gift he'd ever received, that had been a laptop his brothers had given him when he'd graduated high school, but that had been given more out of necessity than affection. “I guess we should get up.” He suggested. Eliot reached for the taps in the bathroom with his telekinesis and plugged the tub so it would fill. By the time the two of them made it into the washroom a tub of warm, fragrant water waited for them.

They made their way downstairs as Margo was coming back to the cottage following her morning classes. She walked to hug him, and Eliot melted into her embrace.

“Happy birthday.” She told him as she leaned up to kiss his cheek. “You'll get your present later tonight.”

“You're both spoiling me,” Eliot told her. He leaned to peck her cheek and followed her into the kitchen as all of them looked for something for lunch. After they had eaten Quentin disappeared to get a book he'd left upstairs. Eliot wrapped his arm around Margo's shoulders to show her the watch. “He did so well.” He praised.

“He was worried you would hate it,” Margo admitted. “Did you ask him to move his stuff?” They settled on one of the couches together, and Eliot sipped the martini he'd mixed for himself.

“I'll hint about it tonight.” They heard the stairs squeak as Quentin came back down. Eliot leaned his head against the back of the couch. He knew Q had to leave. Quentin bent over him, and they shared a quick kiss before Quentin was out the door. Margo had gotten a magazine, and Eliot rested his cheek against the couch. He watched her read until they left for class.

The rest of the day got spent wondering what Margo might have come up with, but no amount of needling or pouting would coax her into giving him hints. Eliot resigned himself to waiting until they got back to the cottage that evening. Quentin and Alice were studying from the same textbook when they got back, but Quentin leaned back to sit with him as he dropped beside him. Alice reached down to the floor and came up with a bottle of champagne. She passed it across Quentin.

“That's from Penny and I, Happy Birthday.”

“That's so sweet of you!” Eliot cooed. He took the bottle to study the label.

“I made Penny pick it out, because I didn't know what to buy, and I felt like I owed you something good after the way I acted before term started.” Eliot wasn't sure his birthday was the right moment to give him an apology gift, but he appreciated the sentiment, and Penny had picked good champagne.

“There was never a grudge, Darling. Tell Penny he has good taste.”

“I will.” Eliot leaned into Quentin and kissed near his ear. Margo walked from the bar with three glasses.

“Come on you losers.” She told the two of them. She started to saunter towards the stairs. Eliot slipped his hand into Quentin's and dragged him off the couch. Margo gestured them down the hall towards his room while she ducked into her own. Eliot pushed his door with his telekinesis and flipped the lights. Someone had left a gray envelope on his pillow, and he reached to pick it up. He'd been getting birthday cards all week, but none had shown up randomly in his room.

“Who is that one from?” Eliot reached to pick it up. The envelope hadn't been sealed, and the card was primarily tan, with gray and white balloons on the front. 'Happy' was centered in one balloon 'Birthday' was centered in the other. He flipped open the card, but it wasn't signed. A third balloon was centered on the inside. 'Happy 25'. The print was the same factory script as the front.

“I have no idea.” Eliot slipped the card back into the envelope and tossed it onto the pile of other cards he'd received. It pissed him off that someone had come into his room.

“Soooo, are you ready to try this?” Margo's singsong tone drew his attention to her, and he found her holding a long box wrapped in silver out to him. She'd chosen a black bow, and Eliot smirked as he reached to take it. Clearly, Margo had bought the bow Quentin had used so everything would coordinate. He sat on the edge of the bed to tear away the paper.

“You bought me twenty-five-year-old Scotch?” He lifted the bottle out in disbelief. It had to have cost hundreds of dollars. “Margo...” Her finger pressed to his lips, and Eliot passed the bottle to Quentin when she moved into his lap. She pressed a kiss to his cheek as he hugged her.

“I love you, baby.” She purred. Her tone turned scolding for a moment. “The three of us are the only ones who get to drink that.” She told him.

“Yeah, no shit!” Eliot agreed. She got out of his lap, took the bottle from Quentin and lined the three glasses up in a row on the table. She poured each of them about two shots then handed the drinks out.

“Toast!” She declared. Eliot clinked his glass against Margo's, then Quentin's, and sipped it.

“That's amazing.”

“It had better be.” Margo raised hers to her lips. They all took drinks. “So Q...” Eliot could practically hear the mischief in her voice. “El wants you to move your shit in here.” Quentin didn't blush, he just nodded.

“We can move it Saturday before the party.” He offered. Eliot laughed, and Margo's gaze fixed on him.

“He's been waiting for you to offer, idiot.” She scolded. “He's practically been living in here already.”

Chapter Text

Other than his clothes, and books, of which there were a lot, there wasn't much from Quentin's room that needed to be moved. Eliot stood in the middle of his space and turned in a circle. In his head, he mentally calculated how the room needed to change so it would accommodate both of them.

He had an idea, but he wasn't sure he'd be able to push the cottage into accepting it. The house, in theory, was similar to a Tardis. It looked smaller on the outside, but internally it expanded and changed as the needs of the physical classes dictated. When new bedrooms were needed, they popped into existence with ease, when there was a party the house expanded to accommodate. Eliot wanted to see how much he could purposefully broaden a single bedroom without making it appear any larger on the outside.

His fingers flowed through a ward to keep Margo and Quentin out until he'd finished then Eliot started to cast. He'd taken the first level course in inter-dimensional architecture magic as a second-year elective. The theory for this kind of thing was all based on math. He'd used the school's limited internet access to print a handful of blueprints. Those would act as his base, and they lay spread across his bed so he could reference them as he worked. A small grin spread across his face as the wall holding the doorway warped farther away from him. Hopefully, Quentin would love what he'd come up with for them as much as he did.

----------------------------

Quentin didn't feel that he owned a lot of personal possessions. At least he hadn't thought he had. As he stood in his partially packed bedroom, he wondered how he had accumulated so much stuff in a year's time. There was no way all of it was going to fit in Eliot's already overstuffed space.

“There is no way it's all going to fit.” He lamented to Margo. A lot of the accumulation had come from his father's house when he'd cleaned it out. Quentin supposed he could move some of his things into the storage locker he continued to rent.

“El is working on making his room bigger.”

“What can he do though? Add a few shelves and expand the closets? We are trying to fit two rooms into one.”

“There won't be two beds.” Margo pointed out.

“Aside from the bed, obviously.” Quentin pried the lid off a small plastic tote. His series of Fillory action figures had been one of the things to make the move from his dad's, and they lined a shelf of his bookcase. He started to lay them along the bottom of the bin. They could easily go into storage again. Quentin doubted Eliot would want toys sitting around his room. “Thanks for helping us.”

“I want to get this done before his party.” Quentin nodded. Eliot's birthday had been Thursday, but the party that the majority of campus had been invited to was that evening.

“If there's something you need to do to get ready I can handle this myself.” Quentin watched her stack books into a box. She shook her head. “Margo it's cool.” He assured her. “I know you're a perfectionist and it's El's birthday.”

“I'll help you do this, then both of you can help me. Deal?” She bargained. Quentin was quick to agree. She held up a timer. “I'm baking cupcakes, but I know when I need to go back downstairs for a bit.” Quentin laughed and nodded. He'd never known Margo to bake anything. The kitchen was usually Eliot's domain. He glanced around the room and counted how many empty boxes he had left. He'd hoped to progressively fill and empty the few that had remained from his father's house, but Eliot had spent nearly two hours 'renovating' his room.

“How long does it take to expand a closet?” He asked Margo.

“Oh, I did much more than expand the closet!” Eliot had appeared in the bedroom door, almost as if he'd been waiting in the hall for one of them to start complaining. “Come. See. Now. Please.” He crossed the room to grab Quentin's wrist and proceeded to drag him into the hall. The door to Eliot's room was closed, and he whipped out a silk scarf.

“El, really? Is that necessary?”

“Let the boy have his theatrics, Q. You're lucky he isn't scooping you up in a bridal carry.”

“Don't give him ideas!”

“I could,” Eliot offered. The scarf wrapped around Quentin's eyes. Eliot's hand was warm against his back. Darkness hung over his vision until he heard the door open, but there wasn't an influx of light like he expected. He heard a sharp intake of breath from Margo. Eliot's fingers brushed his ponytail to the side, and the man's lips pressed briefly against the back of his neck. “I thought we needed a bit more space than just a bedroom. “Take two steps forward.” Quentin followed the instruction, then Eliot's hand dropped away, and the scarf was allowed to land loosely around his shoulders.

“You...” The room hadn't expanded much in width, but it had more than doubled in length. What would have been the bedroom was now a small living area. Eliot had added with a loveseat and a chair. A low table had been morphed into a coffee table. Another table, about waist high, held Eliot's record player and stereo. His vinyl collection had been arranged below them. A small bar stood on the wall opposite the door.

The shelves were half empty and alternated. Eliot's books filled one level, but the one below it had been left blank, and so on. The bathroom had remained roughly where it had always been and stood out in a long block. When combined with the walk-in closet beside it Eliot had created a short hall that led into the sleeping area. Quentin could just see the foot of Eliot's bed. What had been only a bedroom now felt more like a small hotel suite.

“If you had done this two years ago we never would have had to use the common room,” Margo complained. She dropped onto the loveseat and crossed her arms over her chest. She seemed miffed that Eliot had gone to so much trouble.

“Oh, Bambi don't be jealous.” Eliot tutted at her as he settled his arm around Quentin's waist. “Does it work for you?”

“Yeah, I assumed you would just add to the closet, and I'd get a bookshelf and a dresser drawer or two. This is perfect for us.”

“I figured you would keep it through next year, and then you would move in with Bambi and me into whatever apartment we've found.” Margo made a little noise of disbelief, and it drew their combined attention to her. Her timer trilled, and she hopped off the little couch to push past them. “Bambi?” Eliot tried to catch her arm. “What the hell?” Quentin heard him mutter.

“Go after her; I'm going to go finish packing my books.”

“You can fill the empty shelves however you want.” Eliot called to him as he headed down the hall. His flask floated to his hand, and he took a swig as he headed for the stairs.

----------------------

Margo patted her finger against the tops of the cakes to make sure they had baked through then dumped them onto a cooling rack and started laying empty liners into the pan. She pulled the bowl of cooled cake batter from the fridge and was filling them when Eliot's arm circled her. His flask hovered inches from her face.

“Take a drink and talk to me, Bambi. Tell me why you're upset.” Margo stood in his hold and pursed her lips as she continued to fill the cupcake pan. Eliot let her go long enough to get it into the oven. “Margo, please.”

“When did you start thinking two or three years ahead?” She snapped at him. Her finger pressed against his chest and she glared up him. “We don't even have a place to live yet, and you're already promised part of it to Quentin.”

“Well, what did you think would happen?” Margo stared up at him. What had she thought? That was part of the problem. She hadn't thought about any of it. Their graduation was almost a full school year away, and they would be allowed to stay in the cottage through the Summer following that. She took the flask and drank from it. There had been a point when Eliot wouldn't have thought about any of it either, and it unnerved her. She took another drink. His train of thought had switched from a him and her mentality to one where Quentin had taken center stage. Margo didn't hate him for it, but she definitely hadn't adjusted to it.

“I just hadn't thought that far ahead.” She admitted as she capped the flask. She rested it on the counter beside them.

“Do you not want to live with us?” There it was, on full display - 'US' had come to dominate Eliot's thinking. She wasn't sure how Eliot had undergone such a thorough transformation in thinking in less than three months. It worried her, more honestly it scared her. If something happened to Q, she was afraid that it would break him and he might hurt himself.

“Of course I want to live with you! I just hadn't realized that we were less than a year from living anywhere but where we are now.” It felt like the cottage had been home for all of their adult lives. “Oh god! We are going to be adults; we have to find an apartment!” She lamented. Eliot laughed, and his hands settled low on her back.

“If you're jealous of Q, you can say it. I've practically been neglecting you, haven't I?” A frown stretched across his handsome face. “We need to schedule a spa day, just us. Q has friends in New York he doesn't get to see, he'd probably love the chance to spend a day with Julia.” A spa day sounded like heaven to Margo.

“Are you sure he won't mind?” Eliot's arms closed around her, and she found herself pressed tight against his chest.

"Quentin won't mind! Honestly, I think Q expected the opposite of what's happened, that I wouldn't have time for anyone but you.” Margo closed her eyes and leaned into his embrace.

“He suits you.” She told him.

“So this is a yes to the spa?” Margo leaned up to grip his chin.

“Of course this is a yes to the spa! You goof! I haven't had my nails done since the term started, and I needed a massage two weeks ago!” He chuckled.

“I'll call them Monday morning.” He promised her.

“Fine, now that we've settled my drama go help your boyfriend pack.” He started to step back from her, but she decided at the last moment to stop him. Her hand reached to catch the front of his tie. “Wait, try this first.” She reached for the piping bag that lay on the counter and pressed a neat circle of icing onto one of the cakes. “Taste.” She ordered as she rolled down the foil sleeve so he could bite into it. The urge to smear it in his face was almost unavoidable, but she resisted. A pleased hum escaped his throat.

“It's delectable, a little piece of heaven. You are going to make me fat.” He complained as he took the remainder of the cake from her. Margo couldn't stop the laugh that built in her throat.

“I'll be up to help again as soon as the next batch is in the oven.” She assured him. When she found them the two of them Quentin was arranging his Fillory books onto one of the empty shelves. A model plane had been given a prominent spot on the other end of the same shelf. “Where did this come from?” Her fingers got close to it, but Quentin's hand caught her wrist before she could give it even the most delicate of touches.

“That was my dad's.” He explained. “It's kind of delicate, I've already broken it once.”

“Oh!” Margo pulled her hand away. She got that, and she wasn't going to touch something important. She looped her arm around her neck. “You could have called me for the funeral; I would have come back.” She told him. He leaned into her.

“It's fine. Alice told me the same thing. It worked out how it needed to.” He continued to load books onto another empty shelf.

“Where are these going, Q?” Quentin looked to see Eliot with the box of figures he'd packed.

“I was thinking into storage.”

“Or we could make you a small display case.” A blush crept across the corners of Quentin's cheeks.

“If you want.” He finished arranging the last of his books the way he preferred. “I'm going to start moving my clothes.” He whispered. Margo couldn't stop the smile that spread across her face as he disappeared.

“It's adorable that you are indulging his inner nerd boy.”

“It's his room too!” Eliot defended. “I like the action figures. They are part of who he is.” Margo watched his eyes dart around the room for something he could use for the base of a transfiguration spell.

“I'm going to help with his clothes.” Margo told him. When she and Quentin returned, Eliot was mounting a slim display case to one of the walls.

“Is it centered?” He asked as Margo walked past with a laundry basket piled high with Quentin's sweaters.

“It looks level to me.” A triumphant grin spread across Eliot's face as he stepped away from the case and it stayed secured where he'd placed it. A tiny lock and key had been configured from a pile of pennies and Eliot opened the case's glass front.

“You can rearrange this later, Q.” He told him as he opened the box. The figures that got lined on the narrow shelves were mostly Fillory figures, but a few other franchises had made it into the mix as well. Margo carried the basket back to the bedroom and started laying Quentin's sweaters into an empty dresser drawer. Her timer trilled again, and she headed back downstairs. By mid-afternoon, everything that Quentin had to move was moved. His old bedroom sat vacant, and the three of them were taking advantage of the suite's small living space. Eliot's long legs were resting on the coffee table as Quentin drowsed against him. Matching lamps cast the area in warm light, and Eliot's phone was hooked up to the stereo.

“I need you to help me pick out an outfit,” Margo told him.

“Sure.” Quentin blinked awake as Eliot shifted, then he stretched out into the space left behind. Eliot trailed behind her to her room. He checked the time using the watch Quentin had given him. Margo hadn't seen him use a different one since Thursday. “Should we match?” She teased him.

“If you want.” He agreed. In the end, they did end up matching, but only with hints of color on his part. It was subtle, but as the party stretched into the evening, it earned them compliments. Quentin headed upstairs around midnight, and Eliot caught her wrist around one. “Have you seen my flask?” He asked her. His pupils were blown, and he clung to her.

“Go to bed baby, check on your boy. Maybe he took it upstairs.”

“I can't find it.” He babbled. A giggle bubbled from his throat as he leaned against her.

“Have you looked?” She asked. The last time she remembered seeing it was when he'd given it to her in the kitchen, but that had been early in the day. Surely he'd moved it.

“No, no Bambi I literally can't find it. Like, I'm reaching for it right now, and nada.”

“Baby, how high are you?” It took Margo a moment to realize that he didn't mean reaching with his hands, but with his telekinesis. She walked towards the small dessert bar they had put together and moved the last two cupcakes off the platter and onto a plate. “Here, take Q something sweet, and celebrate with him before you crash.” Eliot was getting high enough for his telekinesis to misfire, and that never ended well.

“Bambi...” The whine was soft.

“My love, you are high off your ass. Go to bed before something gets broken.”

“Bambi, please.” The pout was almost adorable. Margo pushed the plate into his hands.

“Go on now.” She ordered gently. “Q is upstairs by himself.” She pointed out.

“But my...”

“Your flask is here somewhere.” She assured him. “It probably just got stuck somewhere, like under a couch cushion, and someone is sitting on it.”

“Maybe.” He reluctantly agreed. He sighed and leaned down to kiss her cheek. “You're probably right.” He admitted. Margo hooked her hand into his arm and escorted him up to the first landing of the stairs. “Goodnight.” He told her. Margo waved him off as she watched him disappear down the hall. If someone had taken it was going to murder them, hell Eliot might kill them. He'd had that flask for years.

Chapter Text

“Margo! Hold up a second.” Margo stopped and moved towards the side of the crowded hallway. She rested her hand on her hip and did her best to look bored as one of the admin secretaries weaved her way towards her.

“What's up?” She asked as her eyes landed on the half sheet of yellow legal paper gripped in her hand.

“Be a dear and pass this along to Eliot, please?” Margo took the note and unfolded it, then frowned at the phone number and unfamiliar name scrawled above it.

“Who the hell is Shawn?”

“One of his brothers, I think. I didn't take the message, I merely got tasked with passing it along, but you'll most likely see him before I will.” Margo pasted a false smile on her face and folded the note again.

“I sure will.” She agreed. Margo didn't want to laugh in the woman's face, but the likelihood of Eliot willing calling anyone in his family had at least a negative thirty percent chance of happening. “Well, message delivered, tata.” The secretary rolled her eyes as Margo unzipped her purse and unceremoniously shoved the note inside. It lay forgotten under the rest of her things until she dug for her nail file the next evening.

“Well shit.” She muttered as she pulled it free.

“Well shit what, Bambi?” The low utterance caught Eliot's attention from where he sat on the floor. His long legs were stretched under the coffee table his books lay on top of, and his cheek rested against one fist. The other hand lay extended across the table and had only moved when he had to turn the page.

“One of the admin secretaries caught me between classes yesterday, and I was supposed to give you this.” Margo passed the wrinkled half-sheet over to him, and Eliot leaned back against the sofa as he unfolded it.

“Shawn called the school?”

“Shawn? Your brother, Shawn?” Quentin sat up from where he'd been stretched on the couch to look over Eliot's shoulder. Margo ignored the little hint of jealousy she felt over Quentin immediately recognizing the name when she hadn't. Eliot's family had always been an off-limits topic, even when they had been secrets partners Eliot hadn't said much about them

“Well, that's an Indiana area code.”

“If you want to take my phone you can call him when you guys go to the spa in the morning.” Quentin offered.

“That would probably be easier than trying to use the pay phone here.”

“Wait? Are you seriously gonna call him back? Why?” The gazes of both men turned to look at her.

“Why wouldn't I?”

“I thought you hated all of them.”

“Well most of them, yes. But Shawn's my youngest older brother. He ended up looking after me more than my mom did. He's the only one who ever came out to New York after I left for college.” Eliot folded the note as he spoke, then lifted his hips a little to slide his wallet from his pocket. “Calling him won't ruin our spa day.” He assured her. “It'll probably be a five-minute phone call.” He shoved the folded note down into one of the billfold sleeves. He left the wallet laying on the table beside them as he settled again. His flask floated to his hand and took a drink, then grimaced in distaste.

“Did it switch again?” Quentin asked. The flask had stayed gone for almost a full day; then they had finally found it near one of the fountains on the other side of campus. It seemed like it was okay until they realized it wasn't. Margo hadn't thought there was a liquor Eliot wouldn't drink, but whoever had taken it had switched the endless alcohol it produced to a gin Eliot didn't like. It been randomly changing back every other day or so for almost a week. Eliot capped it, then lay it on the table in front of him and performed a spell he'd invented. When he took a second taste, it had apparently switched to something he did enjoy.

“I think I'm going to have to strip all the enchantments off it and start from scratch. Or make a new one.” Eliot leaned back and rested his head against the couch. Quentin's fingers brushed loose curls backward from his forehead.

“What time are you two leaving in the morning?” He asked as his fingers continued to play with Eliot's hair.

“As early as I can drag him out of bed.” Margo proclaimed. She leaned from her chair to poke lightly at Eliot's chest. “He's taking me to brunch; then I am taking full advantage of my spa day.” Eliot lifted his head to smirk at her.

“Are you sure you don't want to go with us to New York, Q? We can portal you in with no problem.”

“I'm up to my ears in class work, I swear, they are trying to cram five years of work into three. ”

“It does feel that way sometimes.” Margo agreed. “But you can't let it bury you either.”

“I'm not; I have plans to meet Jules for dinner, I'm just going to stay here for the morning and get a little caught up.” Eliot yawned and sipped from the flask again, which Margo took as her cue to head back to her room for the night. She stretched and started to gather her books.

“I guess that's better than nothing.” She stood and leaned over Eliot to brush her lips against his forehead. “I'll see you in the morning.” She told them as she let herself out of their bedroom.

-----------------------------

Quentin was content to continue lying on the couch, but when Eliot continued to drink, and eventually yawned again, he decided they should probably head to bed.

“Come on; Margo will blame me if you aren't bright eyed when she tries to get you up.” He told Eliot. He helped his boyfriend stand and didn't protest as Eliot's hands slipped up under his shirt to push it higher. They kissed once it had been pulled over his head and tossed towards the couch. The walk to their sleeping area was used to shed the rest of their clothes.

“What do you think your brother wants?” Quentin asked as they lay in bed together.

“I have no idea.” Eliot rested his cheek against Quentin's chest. The two of them drifted to sleep rather quickly, and it felt like minutes before the bed bounced, and Margo was shaking Eliot awake.

“Up and into the shower.” She ordered as she straddled his lap.

“Stop being so bossy, Bambi.” Eliot sleepily whined.

“We both know you like your tops bossy.” She playfully purred as she cast a sideways glance at Quentin.

“Go shower, Eliot. So I can go back to sleep.” Quentin ordered as he played his expected role of bossy top. He rested his cheek back against the pillow and smirked at Eliot's little gasp. “Now.” He added. Eliot must have pouted because Quentin heard Margo laugh. A moment later the other side of the bed bowed as Eliot moved towards it. Quentin rolled to watch him walk to the bathroom. It still felt like a small miracle that Eliot had stayed with him into the school year, and that they weren't showing any signs of tiring of one another. Quentin still worried that he couldn't be everything Eliot needed in a partner. He'd certainly never pictured himself as anyone's dom. He heard the shower, then grunted as he rolled onto his back. Margo hadn't left their bed and was staring at him. “What?” He grumbled.

“He listens to you. It's cute!” Quentin didn't think it was quite so cute, but he doubted Margo knew as much as he did about Eliot's other long-time partner.

“I just want to take care of him.”

“Well he seems content, so you're doing something right,” Margo assured him. She crawled close to kiss his cheek. Her arm settled around his waist, and he dozed.

“Oh I see, you just wanted the warm spot in my bed so you could make a move on my man.” Eliot's tease woke him again, and he found the taller man standing at the foot of the bed. He'd showered and dressed, and his hands rested on the bed's foot-board as he smirked at them.

“I would never make a move on your boyfriend without your permission, baby,” Margo told him as she sat up. Quentin blushed as long nails combed against his scalp.

“I know you've been with several of the guys I've slept with.” Eliot reminded her. Margo pressed her hand to her chest in fake hurt.

“Not until after you were done with them!” Both of them grinned, and Quentin rolled his eyes.

“You're going to miss your brunch reservation, maybe even your mani-pedis, or whatever you two have planned for the day.” He reminded them. He was going to sleep in once they left, then write an essay he'd been putting off, before meeting Julia for dinner. “If I'm not here when you get back I'm probably still at Julia's.” The mattress sank as Eliot crawled into bed to straddle him. “Don't forget to take my phone so you can call your brother.” He looped his arms around Eliot's neck to pull him down. “Have fun.” They shared a kiss, then Eliot and Margo were moving again. The room was quiet once they had gone and Quentin went back to sleep.

----------------------------

The cafe Eliot had picked for brunch was the same one he'd tried to bring Quentin to the morning they had found out about his father. He hoped he and Margo would actually get to eat without a disaster falling into his lap. Quentin's phone lay at his elbow, where he'd placed it when they had sat down, and he'd been trying to convince himself to call.

“You don't have to call him, El. I don't know why you're even considering inviting your family, any of your past, back into the life you have now.”

“If it was anyone but Shawn I wouldn't bother with it,” Eliot smirked at her. “Maybe its good news, and I'll found out our father got run over by his tractor or kicked in the head by one of the horses.” He knew it was petty to wish for the worst, especially on a man he hadn't seen since he was seventeen.

“Eliot...”

“They were horrible people, Bambi. They treated me like dirt. The last five years I lived with them were miserable.” Eliot reached for his mimosa and drained half of it. “I'm not going out there if there is a funeral, but at the same time I deserve to know if something happened.”

“I guess you do Just call him already. I don't want this hovering over our whole day.” Eliot got the paper from his wallet, and smoothed it against the table, then picked up Quentin's phone and dialed. He sighed in frustration when it went straight to voicemail, but he left a message anyway.

“Hey, Shawn, it's El. This number is for my boyfriend's phone, but I have it for the day so that you can call back whenever. Here's the number.” He saved the message and hung up. Margo reached across the small two person table they shared and squeezed his hand. “Now I get to wait for him to call back.” Eliot murmured. “Huzzah.” He finished the mimosa and flagged their waiter to bring him another.

“I'm sorry, Baby. If I'd given it to you sooner, you could have called already.”

“It's fine.” Eliot's larger hand settled over hers. “This isn't a big deal, Margo.” Their server brought them fresh drinks, and they ordered. Shawn hadn't called by the time they got to the spa, and Eliot pushed it from his mind as the two of them sat in robes while stylists fussed over their nails. Margo seemed to be in heaven, which had been the point of scheduling the day. He'd have to plan something like this with Quentin, maybe this could become a monthly thing, and he'd just rotate which one he brought with him.

His brother didn't call him back until the middle of their hot stone massage. Eliot was so sedated he was almost asleep when the phone silently buzzed against the table beside him. He reached for it with his telekinesis and held it against his ear with his powers as he continued to lay on his stomach.

“Hello?”

“Eliot?”

“Hey, Shawn.”

“Did I wake you up, Kid?”

“No.” Eliot reached for the stone closest to his neck with his telekinesis and moved the piece basalt back into the water bath so it could warm again. With it gone he was able to lift his head and move his arms. The massage therapist working on his legs made an annoyed sound as Eliot properly took the phone in his hand and rested it against his ear. “Bambi and I are at the spa for the afternoon. What's up?” He hadn't been a kid in years, but he supposed that he'd never outgrow the title considering the age difference between himself and the rest of his brothers.

“I'm going to be in New York for about a week next month. It's a college frat thing, but since I'm going to be there, I thought I'd see if you wanted to have dinner. I know your birthday isn't until September, but you'll be twenty-five, and that's worth celebrating if you want to go.”

“Just the two of us?”

“If you want, but I figured your boyfriend at least... so long as it isn't still the same prick you were dating a few years ago.”

“No!” Eliot assured him quickly. “I haven't seen him in like five years. You'll love Q, and Margo too if you don't mind there being three of us.”

“Well I want dinner to be my treat, so no more than that.”

“I'm not letting you pay my bar-tab.” Eliot quickly informed him. He glanced around the room and pulled a small pad of paper and a half pencil to him. The therapist was getting irritated at his distraction because the squeeze to his calf was a little rougher than he expected. “Tell me when you're going to be here, and I'll rent an apartment in the city for that weekend.”

“Aren't you living in New York? I don't want to inconvenience you.”

“I'm living upstate while I finish my grad school program. Margo and I will be moving back to the city as soon as we finish.”

“Your student loans must be astronomical,” Shawn responded.

“They aren't as bad as you think.” Non-existent in fact, but Shawn didn't need to know that. Eliot almost gasped as his therapist continued to try and bully him into ending the call. He scribbled down the dates of Shawn's trip then hung up. He shut the phone off and collapsed back on the table with a groan.

“I'm sorry, Arron, but I'd been waiting for that call all day.”

“Do you need me to work out your shoulders again?”

“You might as well.” Eliot groaned in pleasure as the warm rock was reapplied just below his neck and oiled hands started massaging the tension that talking to his brother had built back into his muscles.

“What did he want?” Margo's sleepy voice came from beside him.

“He wants to take me for dinner for my birthday,” Eliot told her. He closed his eyes as Arron rubbed his shoulders. “We'll talk about it later.” He promised her as he closed his eyes again. Quentin needed this as much as he and Margo did. They were coming as a group next time.

Chapter Text

The apartment Eliot had rented had a private terrace, and Quentin hadn't entirely wrapped his mind around the view that was spread out before him. They were high enough to have an unobstructed view of the Empire State building, and Quentin knew it would be even better once they got back from dinner and it had gotten dark.

His phone vibrated in his pocket and thumbed across the button on the side. His lock-screen blipped as he dragged his thumb across the screen. He had assumed that the magical interference would stop when he wasn't on campus, but it didn't seem to make a difference. He'd gotten a new text message, and he opened it, then walked towards the terrace door. He pulled the sliding glass open and walked down the two steps to the dark hardwood that lined the floor.

“Hey, El?” He called into the kitchen. “Your brother wants a picture.”

“A picture of what?” Eliot came to join him with wineglasses in hand. Quentin took the one offered to him and passed Eliot the phone.

“Of you, ya big dummy. Shawn hasn't seen you in four years.” Margo told him. “And don't take this the wrong way, Sweetie, but four years ago I don't think you were nearly as fabulous as you are now.” She had an identical wine glass in one hand, and what remained of the bottle in the other. She dropped down onto the padded cushion of the dark leather sofa and leaned forward to set down the bottle. Her neatly manicured nails brushed across one of the slate squares that had been pieced together to form the table's surface.

“Why would I be offended, Bambi? You took an unfinished canvas and helped make me a masterpiece.” Eliot looped his arm loosely around her shoulders as he sat beside her and she brought her wine glass up to clink it against his. Quentin smirked at them. He'd retrieved his phone and pressed his thumb against the camera icon.

“Smile.” He told Eliot as he held it up to frame both of them on the screen. His boyfriend smiled, but the normal charisma that Quentin expected didn't really materialize. He took a pair of shots anyway because he doubted Shawn would know Eliot's real smile from a forced one. He sent the better of the two and walked around the coffee table to sit on Eliot's other side. “Are you that nervous?” Eliot finished the wine in his glass and held it out for Margo to refill.

“I wasn't in a great place last time we saw it each other. I was in my last semester of college, living by myself for the first time in this horrible rat trap of an apartment, and I think I was either high or drunk the entire time Shawn was here.” Eliot slouched down on the couch with his refilled glass and settled under Quentin's arm.

“I guess I'm going to have to cut you off at some point, so you aren't wasted for half the evening.” Eliot leaned to glare at him.

“You wouldn't!”

“Sure he would, and if he won't, I will,” Margo told him. Eliot pouted at both of them. “Now you're both just being mean.” He complained. Quentin reached for the other man's chin and turned his face so he could hold Eliot's gaze.

“Everything is going to be fine, and if something goes wrong, we'll just come back here without him and get as drunk.” One of them would need to put up a spell around the edge of the terrace if they did come back to get wasted. He tugged Eliot's face in so he could kiss him. “Fair warning, I'm going to all but beg him for embarrassing stories.”

“That's not fair!”

“It is completely fair! You got to meet both my parents and mom told you tons of stuff she shouldn't have!”

“I suppose there are a few he could tell.”

“There had better be.” Margo slid down the couch enough to pin Eliot between them. Quentin's phone vibrated again, and he lifted it out of his lap to read the new message. Shawn wanted one of him too, so he would know what they all looked like when he was trying to find them at the restaurant. Quentin thumbed through his photos till he saw one of him and Eliot he liked and sent that one.

“What was that one for?”

“He wanted to know what we all look like,” Quentin explained. The three of them had debated at length between meeting Shawn at the restaurant or the rental apartment and had picked the restaurant. Quentin wanted Eliot to have an escape if things went badly and if Shawn didn't know where they were staying, he couldn't follow them back here. Eliot hummed as he reached for the bottle. He refilled Quentin's glass then rested his cheek against Quentin's hair. The TV remote floated to his hand.

“Tell Shawn to send one of himself.” Eliot finally suggested. When a minute of channel surfing didn't net him anything of interest, he passed the remote to Margo, who promptly settled on a Project Runway rerun. “We've already seen this one, Bambi,” Eliot complained.

“Then you shouldn't have handed me the remote.” Margo shoved the remote down between the arm of the sofa and the cushion she sat on. They both knew it wouldn't keep Eliot from getting it if he really wanted it, but he shrugged and let it be. Shawn sent the photo and Quentin held it up for both Eliot and Margo to see. He could see a faint family resemblance between Eliot and his brother. Their hair color matched but Quentin could tell that Shawn was shorter. The older man had a weathered element to his complexion that Eliot's pale face lacked.

“He's handsome enough, but you were the pretty one,” Margo commented. Eliot laughed and took the phone to look at the picture.

“He hasn't changed much.”

“How old is he?” She asked as Eliot passed the phone to her.

“Thirty-two.”

“Damn, so you really are the baby brother. I didn't know there was that much difference.” Margo leaned over him, and Quentin reached to take his phone back from her. He remembered Eliot talking about the seven-year age difference the day they had spent in New York, so he wasn't surprised. He tapped out a text to thank Shawn for the picture.

“Who wins this season?” He asked as the three of them continued watching the rerun.

“We don't know yet, but that guy, and....” Margo waited until the show cut to a designer interview. “That guy. Should go to Fashion Week.”

“He's a hack, and you only like him because he's hot,” Eliot complained.

“I would wear his clothes!” Margo defended.

“And you would look like a hot mess.” Eliot teased, mirth danced across his face as he pressed away from her and further into Quentin's space to avoid the hands that swatted at him. Quentin wrapped his arm around Eliot's shoulders and rolled his eyes at their bickering.

“I can make anything look like a million dollars.”

“Even if it was made from garbage and $50?”

“Yes!” Margo proclaimed.

“I'm going to go take my shower,” Quentin told them as he tried to extract himself from Eliot's embrace.

“But you'll miss the runway. El, make your boyfriend understand that the runway is the best part!” Eliot's arm tightened around his waist to pull him back down before he could fully stand.

“The runway is the best part. You would know that if you watched more of our shows with us.” Quentin had been trying to leave what little time the two of them took to watch 'their shows' to just the two of them, so Margo had something that was just hers and Eliot's.

“If you both want me too.” He settled again. The episode didn't have much longer till it ended. There would still be time enough for all of them to shower and change.

“They are running the whole season. The three of us could just sit here all night.” Quentin shared a glance with Margo. That was avoidance. He knew because he tended to be an expert avoider.

“El, if you don't want to go it's not a big deal.”

“No, Shawn made an effort. I have to try and match it.”

“Like hell you do! This isn't a tit for tat situation Eliot!” Margo reached for his chin and turned his face, so he was watching her as she spoke. Quentin didn't think yelling at him was going to help.

“Margo stop.” Quentin raked his hand back through his hair and sighed.

“I want to try and match it.” Eliot tried again

“Well, that's different. Have to and want aren't the same thing, Baby.” Margo's voice was softer. She reeled him into a hug; Quentin rested his hand on Eliot's back. They settled into a lopsided pile as the episode continued. Once it had ended, he left them to take his shower. A clean towel got tossed into Margo's lap when he walked back into the living room.

“Your turn.” Eliot sat so she could move, and Quentin took her place. His boyfriend's head settled in his lap; Quentin tangled his fingers in soft dark curls. “What's the challenge this time?” Eliot grinned at him; his hand lifted to cup his cheek, then curved around his neck as Eliot leaned up to kiss him.

“I want him to like you.”

“It's not going to change anything if he doesn't, though? Right?”

“Fuck no. Never. Nothing is going to change how I feel about you.” Eliot sat facing him, with his long legs stretched down the couch.

“Does he have a reason not to like me?”

“Not that I can think of.” Eliot smiled a little, leaning in to kiss him again as he did. “You're perfect.”

“I'm not perfect, El.” Quentin tucked the loose hair back behind his ears and dropped his eyes to his lap.

“Perfect for me.”

“Maybe.” Eliot leaned in to kiss him again and sighed against his mouth.

“Did Shawn ever meet...” Quentin let the sentence trail off without finishing the thought; Eliot would know who he was asking about. Amber eyes darted down.

“A handful of times. They hated each other. Shawn doesn't know about my magic so he doesn't understand that I couldn't leave.”

“Hopefully it won't get brought up.” Eliot was about to respond when a towel got tossed over his head. Margo's hair was twisted above her head in a fluffy white wrap, and she wore nothing but a robe. She shook a bottle of nail polish between her fingers

“Get moving, El,” Margo told him. A soft giggle came from under the cloth, and Quentin reached to lift its edge. He arranged it around Eliot's shoulders.

“You heard Margo. We need to get moving.” Eliot huffed but shifted his legs off the couch to stand.

“You two had better have left me enough hot water.”

“Don't take forever and you just might get lucky.” Margo rested her foot on the edge of the coffee table and fit a foam spreader between her toes. The smell of nail polish permeated the living room once she opened the bottle. “Shooo.” She waved Eliot towards the bathroom. Quentin refilled their glasses with what remained of the bottle. He sat sipping it as Margo finished her toes.

“I'm going to get dressed.” He told her as the show broke for a commercial. The apartment had three bedrooms, and Quentin found their clothes where Eliot had hung them in the room with the biggest bed.

“Aren't you glad I took you shopping already?” Eliot asked as he sailed into the bedroom with dry hair and a towel around his hips. Quentin hummed in agreement. Eliot started to lay out his clothes, and Quentin frowned at the one-note color. He didn't usually see Eliot wear a single color three-piece suit. The dark gray tone would look amazing, but he had expected more of a mix. Eliot's nerves were reflecting themselves in a subdued color pallet.

“What about the blue one?” He suggested when Eliot started to unbutton a plain white shirt.

“This one?” Eliot reached back into the closet for a shirt of lake blue silk, then laid it against the gray. “That would work.” The white one got returned to the closet via Eliot's telekinesis, and they finished dressing.

“Wow, Q, when did you start dressing like a real boy?” Margo teased as she appeared in the doorway. She'd chosen a plum dress with an asymmetrical skirt and off the shoulder top. A small clutch purse matched the dress, and she fixed long dangling earrings in place as she stood in the doorway of their room.

“I took him shopping over the summer.” Eliot proudly told her.

“I wondered where all the properly fitted jeans came from. It didn't seem like an initiative he'd make on his own. Are we ready?” Eliot slipped his flask into one of the pockets, his wallet into another, and checked the time on his watch.

“I guess I'd rather be early than late.” The two of them followed Margo into the living room.

“One of you has the apartment key right?” Quentin asked before they stepped through the portal she made. The four of them would be coming back in an Uber, not a portal, and getting locked out of the rental would be something the three of them would be stupid enough to do if they couldn't use magic. A key ring zipped to Eliot's hand from where it had been dropped on one of the tables.

“Good save, Q.” Margo stepped through the portal, and they followed her. Early Summer air replaced the air-conditioned coolness of the apartment, and they walked down the street together. Eliot's arm settled around his shoulders as the crowd thickened. The restaurant Eliot had chosen was moderately priced with an upscale feel. The four of them would be able to have a conversation without screaming at one another over insufferably loud music. If the evening went well, there was a jazz club that Eliot had mentioned the possibility of visiting.

“Are we getting drinks?” Margo asked as they milled around the lobby. Eliot's eyes had rapidly darted around the waiting areas for his brother only to come up empty.

“We might as well.” Quentin followed the two of them up the steps into the bar and stood against it as Eliot pulled out a stool for Margo. Cocktails really only helped the three of them relax to an extent. Eliot took the seat beside Margo when it came available, and Quentin watched him cycle through different releases of nervous energy. His knee bounced, then he started tapping his fingers against the bar top, next he was playing with the straw in his drink or one of the rings on his finger. Quentin felt himself at a loss for how to help.

'Do Something.' Margo mouthed the words to him as Eliot continued to fidget.

'Like what?' Quentin mouthed back. Margo tilted her chin towards the dance floor. Quentin would have preferred it to be a little more full than it currently was – only a handful of couples were currently dancing, but the idea was better than letting Eliot silently fuss. “Come on. You're driving Margo crazy.” He urged as he pulled Eliot out of his seat.

“Where are we.. Oh.” Quentin hooked his thumb towards the floor.

“Only if you want.”

“No, that's a good idea.” Eliot offered his arm for Quentin to hook his hand through.

----------------------------

Margo sipped her martini as she watched her best friends mingle with the small group of couples. Eliot finally seemed to relax when his attention was solely focused on his boyfriend. Long arms rested against the shorter man's shoulders. It wasn't the first time they had danced together; Margo found herself feeling a little robbed. She would have loved to watch her boys try to navigate the earliest days of their relationship.

The two of them swayed so Eliot's back was to her and her gaze dropped back to her drink. She ordered a second one and flirted with the bartender as he mixed it. A hand tentatively tapped her shoulder.

“Excuse me, Miss?” The midwestern drawl drew her attention more than the tap; Margo turned in her seat and rested her arm on the seat back. “I'm meeting my brother and his friends, is your name, Margo?”

“It might be.” Her new drink got set in front of her; she brought it to her lips. A smirk formed on her face as he tried to puzzle out if he'd approached the wrong person. “Yes, that's me.” She assured him as she gestured to Eliot's empty barstool, and moved his drink closer to her own. “It's Shawn right?” She offered him both the seat and her hand.

“Yes ma'am, it's nice to meet you.” He told her. The hand that shook hers was rough, used, in a way that Eliot's weren't.

“Charmed,” Margo replied.

“So where is...”

“Eliot? He and Q are around here somewhere.” The floor had filled a little; it was harder to pick out the pair immediately. “Would you like a drink?” She asked as she raised her arm to flag down the bartender again. He came back to them, and she pointed to the man beside her. “Add his drink to my tab.”

“Just a beer, whatever you have on draft.” Margo shifted closer to the bar and worked a single-handed spell under the counter, one that would hopefully pull on Eliot's suit jacket enough to get his attention and bring them back to the bar.

“Q?”

“Short for Quentin.” Margo elaborated.

“That's the guy Eliot is dating right?”

“They've been dating a couple of months.”

“Are they close?” Margo could see he had more questions, but he seemed to decide to wait to ask them.

“They adore each other. It's sweet.” Relief flitted across the man's face. Margo glanced back towards the dance floor and spotted the pair as they weaved through the crowd. Quentin had looped an arm around Eliot's waist while one of Eliot's had settled around the shorter man's shoulders. “There they are.” The suit Eliot had chosen really did look sharp on him; the black buttons contrasted just enough against the combination of gray and blue. Shawn's gaze followed her hand as she pointed them out to him. The boys made it up the short steps to the bar before both realized they were being watched. Quentin blushed and ducked his head under the scrutiny; there was a half-beat where Eliot hesitated. “El, we need to claim our table soon.” Margo encouraged. She held up their drinks to try and bait them closer, which thankfully worked.

“Hey, Shawn.” The pair got close enough for Eliot to speak without having to raise his voice while still managing to keep just enough distance that one of them would have to move to touch the other.

“You look great, Kid.” Margo wasn't sure how many times they had seen each other since Eliot had started at Columbia. Apparently, it had been enough for Shawn to judge how well his younger brother was doing at a glance, or maybe there was just that much difference between this time and the last time.

“Thanks.” Eliot's fingers tucked a loose curl behind his ear. “I'm sure Bambi has already introduced herself.”

“I did!” Margo agreed. She dropped off her stool to take her friends their drinks. Quentin looked utterly grateful to have something in his hand. Eliot twirled the half-empty martini between his fingers then looked down at Quentin.

“So that just leaves Quentin to introduce. Q, this is my brother Shawn. Shawn this is my boyfriend, Quentin Coldwater.” Eliot's fingers hooked under Quentin's jaw enough to draw his face up. The kiss that followed was short but warm. It got Quentin to forget his nerves long enough to smile, which coaxed a grin onto Eliot's face.

“It's nice to meet you.” Shawn offered a hand for Quentin to shake. The drink Quentin held meant that Quentin had to relinquish the hold he had on Eliot's waist; Margo took the opportunity to trade places under Eliot's arm.

“It's a pleasure. El met my mom a couple of months ago. It's nice... I, um, I didn't think I'd ever get to meet any of his family.”

“Bambi was right about us needing to claim the table,” Eliot interjected as Quentin started to falter. Margo could see how obvious it was that Quentin appreciated the save. He brought his glass to his lips so he wouldn't have to say anything else and the four of them walked as a group to the hostess stand. The table they were shown to was a half-booth along one of the walls. Quentin and Eliot took the side that was booth so they could sit against one another and Margo smiled in delight as Shawn pulled out the chair for her.

“At least someone in your family has manners.” She teased at Eliot.

“Well, I was raised in a barn.” The rare joke about his childhood surprised her, but it had the benefit of coaxing a brief smile from Eliot and a laugh from Shawn. Maybe the evening wouldn't be the disaster she had expected.

Chapter Text

It wasn't until the four of them had started the second bottle of wine that things began to slide off the rails. The early part of dinner had consisted of a somewhat straightforward conversation about the state of affairs in their family. Eliot had been perfectly happy to look at the pictures of the nieces and nephews he never planned to meet, especially when they were Shawn's kids – of which there were two. The girl had just turned two, and her infant brother was five months. Their older brothers had a parcel of seven more between them. There were enough that Eliot felt that the quota of grandchildren for his parents to dote on had been more than filled.

“It will sneak up on you.” Shawn had told him as they shared an appetizer of oysters.

“What will?” Eliot had asked as he'd brought his wine glass to his lips. He'd shed his suit jacket early, and the sleeves of his shirt had been rolled past his elbows.

“Figuring out you want a family.” Eliot had put his glass down to protest, to get angry, then Shawn's hands had shot up in a calming gesture. “I'm not saying you'll want to marry some girl, El. I think that ship never had a chance. I just mean you and your partner, your husband if you ever get married, be it Quentin, or some other guy might find yourself wanting kids one day. You won't plan on it. It'll just happen.”

“I'm not good parent material, Shawn.” Quentin might be, if he could put some of his depression aside, but Eliot had decided early that he never wanted them.

“I think you would be.”

“Right, because I had such a great example.”

“Dad wasn't so bad.” Eliot blinked, stunned.

“Not to you, maybe.” He finally managed to mutter.

“El...”

“No. Please don't try to defend mom and dad, either of them. They planned the three of you. I was the surprise they got seven years later.” Quentin's hand wrapped around his knee and squeezed. It was a gesture meant to calm him, but Eliot wasn't in the mood to be as calm as Quentin wanted.

“Sure, I give that they were strict, and they could have been more affectionate, but I don't remember it being that bad.”

“That's because it wasn't bad until you left! You left for college, and it was just me. I wasn't like the rest of you, I didn't play sports, so dad didn't bother to bond with me! All the chores got piled on my shoulders, and everything I did got compared to how you, or Rob, or Kyle would have done it better.” Eliot finished his glass of wine, and Margo picked up the bottle to refill the glass before he could reach for it with his telekinesis. “And then I started dating.” A dark laugh bubbled free from his throat. “And dad figured out I liked boys. It was just... just downhill from there.” Eliot let his gaze drop towards the floor.

Once he'd come out the bullying had started at school, culminating in Logan's death, then his parents had almost lost their home when the housing bubble had collapsed. All the stress had left their father abusive and angry. Eliot rearranged his remaining silverware and folded the napkin in his lap to hide how his fingers shook.

“I should have paid closer attention.” Shawn murmured.

“No.” Eliot forced his gaze up. “It isn't my fault that he hit me. It isn't yours either. The only person you get to blame is our father.”

“Well maybe if someone had stopped him you wouldn't have been so afraid to come back home when your boyfriend started hitting you.” A gasp of disbelief caught in Eliot's lungs.

“I'm not going to sit here all night and debate if Alex or our dad treated me worse.” Eliot rested his hand over Quentin's, interlocking their fingers in the process. “There isn't a contest.”

“Sorry. I shouldn't have mentioned him.” The older man's gaze darted around the table, across each of their faces. Margo looked about ready to pounce on him if he so much as moved a toe any farther out of line than he already had. “Tell me about your grad program,” Shawn suggested. Eliot swallowed, that was almost an equally dangerous minefield. The only part of the program he could really talk about without mentioning magic was the linguistics portion.

“Well, Q's Asian languages suck.” He teased, trying to bring some levity to the situation.

“But I make for that by excelling in Eastern European dialects. My Slavic is excellent.” Quentin bragged. His hand flexed under Eliot's, returning the squeeze.

“So none of you have specialties? It's just a mix of everything?”

“Well, we all have disciplines.” Margo tried to explain. The three of them laughed. Her suggestion oddly fit.

“Do you have any idea what kind of job you'll end up having once this is all done? It feels like you've been taking college courses for as long as I can remember.” Shawn's gaze swung between the three of them again.

“Well, I actually do have something lined up, if I want it. I saw Perrette over the Summer, and she offered to take me back if I needed a place to work.”

“Who is Perrette?” The question came from Margo, and Eliot realized that he'd never actually taken her to meet Perrette in the years that they had known one another.

“So you've spent almost six years in school to bar-tend when you finish?” Eliot sighed, it sounded so disheartening when Shawn phrased it like that. His brother had never met her, but he'd already been working for Perrette the last time Shawn had visited.

“She offered to train me as a wine sommelier.” Margo was looking at him like he'd grown a second head.

“Well, I'm glad you've kept me in the loop.” She muttered as she lifted her wine glass to her lips.

“I haven't decided for sure, Bambi. It's just an option.”

“I think it's a good one if my opinion matters.” Quentin's voice was quiet and was offered as a way to break the extended silence that stretched across the table.

“Of course it does, you were the first to suggest it.” Eliot bumped his shoulder against Quentin's and leaned to press a quick peck on Quentin's lips.

“Oh I like the idea, I just hadn't realized the option was on the table,” Margo told them. She set her glass down as their waiter approached the table with their entrees. The four of them ate in silence for a few minutes, until Shawn decided to attempt a revival of the conversation.

“So, Quentin's strongest language group is Eastern European, what group do you focus on, Eliot?”

“Well most of my European languages are strong, my Asian is certainly better than Q's. I suppose I'm a bit of a prodigy.”

“Sorry to point out the fly in your ointment, but your Arabic sucks! You had to pay for the answers to our final.”

“Well I shared them with you, so well done, Pot.”

“Kettle.” A shared smile graced both of their faces.

“You had better still have that answer sheet. I still have to take that final.” Eliot laughed and wrapped his arm around Quentin's shoulder.

“Oh, Darling, for you, of course, I'll share!”

“They give the same test year to year?” Shawn asked in disbelief.

“It's a very... standardized core curriculum.” Eliot elaborated.

“It's um... like, kind of how you teach history?” Quentin talked with his hands as he tried to bullshit his way through an explanation of the Brakebills curriculum without mentioning magic. “Different language groups have an origin, and then they spread, and change and the school tries to teach things from the origin... outward... I guess. Or something like that. You learn the... the... roots of the language group first, then all the dialects.”

“Kind of what Quentin said.” Margo agreed. The three of them could see that Shawn didn't get it at all, or got it, but only in the vaguest sense.

“Do the three of you share an apartment upstate?” Shawn asked as he tried to shift the conversation yet again.

“Yeah.” Eliot grinned at the two of them, having decided that the simplest answers were probably the best. “Bambi and I were sharing, then Quentin moved in once we realized how we felt for each other.” Quentin's arm settled around his waist as Eliot brushed back loose hair to kiss him. “So far its been one of the best things to happen to me.”

“The lovebirds are still in their honeymoon phase.” Margo joked to Shawn. “And what do you mean 'we,' it's once 'Q' figured out how he felt for you.” She pointed to Eliot. “You were smitten with him from the second you met him. I had to put up with your pining for a goddamn year!” Eliot glanced sideways at Quentin as his boyfriend's face flushed a little. Eliot rested his cheek against the smaller man's hair. “You still haven't told me how you convinced him to start dating you.” Her attention turned to Shawn. “I left these idiots by themselves to go home for break, and they've been glued at the hip since I came back.” Eliot laughed, that sounded about right; he shared a glance with Quentin.

“Should I tell her the truth?” Eliot felt the urge to laugh bubble in his stomach, but he struggled to keep a straight face. He felt Quentin's shoulder roll under his arm as he shrugged. It was the silent consent Eliot had hoped Quentin would give him.

“Well let's hear it.” Margo leaned towards them; eagerness painted across her face. Eliot watched her bring her glass to her lips; then let Quentin go and leaned in like he was about to tell his best friend one of the secrets of the universe.

“Truth serum.” He deadpanned. Margo coughed, and her eyes went wide. Beside her, Shawn laughed, because to him it was clearly a joke. Eliot leaned back, pleased with managing his composure, and looped Quentin back into his hold. Margo put her wine down.

“You idiot.” She muttered as she glared daggers at him.

“We were here in New York, and I was pretty much drunk. I told Q I loved him. I told him I had been in love with him since the day I met him.” Eliot trailed off for the space of a few heartbeats. “I told him I didn't deserve him.” He continued more quietly.

“Which I told you was bullshit,” Quentin interjected. “We were standing in the aisle of an antique store when he told me he wanted to kiss me. I wouldn't let him do it until he was sober again.”

“Which was torture! It was just the worst, Bambi.”

“You're both idiots.” She murmured; her chin rested on a closed fist as she watched them. The fondness in her gaze was unmistakable.

“Why wouldn't you deserve him?” Eliot sighed at his brother's question.

“I got very candid that afternoon. I had to tell him what I thought, and at the time I believed I didn't deserve him. I hadn't had a serious relationship since Alex; I wasn't sure I could handle one.” The four of them were in various stages of finishing their entrees; for the next moment or two, they all ate in silence. Eliot was about to try and pick up the conversation again when a cacophonous crash echoed from the bar. Panicked shouts rose from that part of the restaurant as patrons streamed down the steps. Eliot's hand found the edge of the table, and he gripped it as bile rose in the back of his throat.

“What the hell happened?” Shawn had stood, and was peering towards the bar.

“It sounded like something fell.” Margo stood as well and walked closer to the chaos in hopes she might get a better glimpse.

“Eliot?” Quentin's voice broke through the unexpected anxiety that the sound of breaking glass had triggered. One of the other man's hands moved over his, but Quentin didn't try to make him let go of the table. “El, was that....” The question of whether that had been his telekinesis or not didn't need to be finished.

“No!” Eliot whispered an emphatic reassurance. He slowly flexed his fingers free from the wood. They felt stiff under Quentin's touch.

“Are you okay, Kid? You're awful pale.” Shawn had returned to his seat even as Margo continued to investigate. Shawn leaned across the table to tuck a curl behind his ear; Eliot ducked away from his fingers.

“It just surprised me.” Eliot rubbed at the corner of his eye in frustration. “I'm going to go to the restroom.” He told them. His legs felt rubbery as he stood. The path took him past the bar, and he got a glimpse of the collapsed shelves before doubling his pace. The only occupant of the multi-stall unit left as he entered, which Eliot might have considered strange if he weren't so relieved. He used the stall, then stood at the sink to wash his hands. Breaking glass echoed in his mind, and he gripped the lip of the sink with both hands; letting water race down the drain unused. He closed his eyes as he tried to stop his heart from racing.

A hand reached to squeeze his shoulder, and Eliot's gaze shot up. In the mirror, Eliot could see Alex standing behind him. He didn't think that it might break his fingers; he just spun and swung his fist towards the other man's face. The force he put behind what should have been a connecting blow threw him off balance when his fist passed through empty air. The restroom appeared as empty as it had been when he'd entered.

“What the fuck?” He gasped aloud. There was space between the sinks for him to rest his back, so he pressed tight against the wall. For a few seconds, he felt lost. Water continued to gurgle down the drain. If Alex was there than magic wouldn't work to his advantage. He cupped his hand under the spray and tossed the largest handful he could manage into the air. The droplets traveled unimpeded until they hit either the floor or the stall doors with wet slaps. The breath exploded from his lungs; he sank down into a crouch with his hand over his face.

A quiet sob escaped his throat; for one moment he'd been positive a hand had been there, now he couldn't say if it was real or part of his panic attack. The water tap got twisted closed with his telekinesis when he finally forced himself to stand. His hands came up to cast a spell on the mirror, but before he could form the motions, the restroom door swung open and two more men joined him. The complexity of performing proper memory charms was currently beyond him, so he abandoned the spell and headed back into the restaurant. Paramedics had arrived in his absence and were tending the injured arm of one of the bartenders.

“El? Hey, you were gone for almost, like fifteen minutes. Are you okay?” One of Quentin's hands slipped into his as Quentin met him halfway to the table. “Fuck your hand is freezing. El?” The hand in his squeezed, while Quentin's other hand came to his face. His gaze was turned away from the bar and down until he was looking at his boyfriend's face. “Um, take a deep breath, okay?” Eliot did as he was told, and the tension ran out of his shoulders as he let it out again.

“Can we leave? Please?” He pleaded.

“Yes, yeah. We already got the checks. They comped part of the bill as an apology. I'll, um, just order us an Uber.” Quentin whipped out his phone and started tapping on the screen. Once they reached the table Eliot plucked up Quentin's wine glass; it didn't reach the table again until he'd emptied it.

“Eliot are you alright?” Eliot's gaze flicked to his brother.

“No, I just want to get out of here.” Margo handed him his suit jacket with concern written across her face.

“Five minutes.” Quentin listed off the license plate as the four of them walked towards the front of the restaurant. Shawn stopped at the coat check long enough to get the jacket and small bag he'd brought with him The lights of an ambulance flashed outside and distorted through the glass doors. Night had fallen and the temperature with it. “It should be uh, oh, cross the street.” Quentin hooked his thumb towards a waiting car, and the four of them darted towards it. Once the rental was moving Eliot let out a breath and sagged against Margo. His brother had been given the front seat, and Margo's small frame had netted her the spot between himself and Quentin. Her hand rubbed up and down his thigh. The driver seemed to sense the heaviness between the four of them and the ride to the apartment building was almost silent.

“This place seems expensive.” Shawn commented as Eliot unlocked the lobby door.

“It was a bit more expensive than I'd planned, but you'll love the view.” Getting away from the restaurant, from the broken glass, the flashing lights, and the insecurity of not knowing what exactly had happened in the bathroom had slowly somewhat relaxed him. Eliot thumbed the elevator button, and they rode upwards in silence. “I assume we're all going to change.” He murmured as the group trailed him into the apartment. He shrugged his suit jacket down his shoulders as the words left his mouth, and Quentin tagged after him as he headed for the line of bedrooms.

“I guess I'll just be the one to show Shawn where's he's sleeping.” Margo's sarcasm made guilt flush through his belly; he was ruining the whole damn evening. The door snapped closed behind Quentin with a push of his telekinesis.

“El, what the fuck happened?” The undercurrent of worry to Quentin's words almost brought him to tears. He tried to sit on the edge of the bed, but missed and ended up sliding down its side to the floor. His fingers struggled with the buttons of his vest until Quentin knelt and straddled his legs. Smaller hands forced his to be still. “You're scaring me.” Eliot bit his lip; he couldn't meet Quentin's gaze. “Eliot, talk to me.” There was a faint pitch to the last of Quentin's words that cut through the fog shrouding his brain. That was what he wanted from his partner; he responded to even that little hint of sharpness. Eliot forced his gaze to meet Quentin's; his hands squeezed Q's smaller ones.

“I'm not sure.” He confessed in a choked whisper. “The glass, I had a panic attack, and I'm not sure about anything after that.” Quentin's hand cupped around the back of his neck in a gentle squeeze.

"Do you want Margo and I to get rid of your brother?" Eliot quickly shook his head.

"I want to try and salvage this mess. I missed him Q, way more than I thought I did."

Chapter Text

“I guess I'll just be the one to show Shawn where's he's sleeping,” Margo called as Eliot shrugged off his jacket and he and Quentin left her and Shawn standing in the living room. Her only answer was the snap of a bedroom door that was too sharp to have been a regular push. Mild irritation bubbled in her stomach as she found herself in the unexpected role of hostess. She barely knew Shawn.

“What the fuck happened at the restaurant?” He asked as she turned her attention back to him. “Is Eliot alright?” Margo sighed and brought her fingers back to release the pins that held her hair back in its twist. It fell free around her shoulders, and she shook it out. She hated giving away any of Eliot's secrets when he wasn't there to hear her, but maybe if she gave Shawn a detail or two, it would save the situation and keep it from exploding in their faces.

“Come on; I'll show you your room so we can both change.” She told him as she waved for him to follow her.

“Margo, I appreciate that you are trying to step up, but I feel like I should leave.”

“No!” Shawn leaving would desolate Eliot, and Margo wasn't going to let him be hurt any more than he already had been tonight. She circled him to block the main door. Her hand came up, and she waved her index finger back and forth. “Nu-huh, no way! El will blame himself, and it will only make things worse. Look. ” She sighed, it seemed a secret or two was going to be necessary. “When El was in his first year of college a group of them went out, and part of the bar fell. The shelves weren't anchored correctly, and he was right in front of them when it happened.” She watched understanding blossom across the older man's face. Shawn didn't need to know that Eliot's telekinesis had been the reason for the collapse, or that it had been the first night he'd met Alex.

“So he had a panic attack?” Shawn asked.

“I don't know what happened exactly, but I think so. Please stay.” He nodded.

“You should there was somewhere I could change?” He asked.

“Yeah, this way.” She led him down the hall to the unoccupied bedroom. He set his bag on the bed as she hovered in the door.

“Thank you for telling me.” He told her as he shrugged off his jacket.

“He'll be alright,” Margo assured him. She shouldn't be making a promise like that, not when she wasn't sure how Eliot was coping. “Q's in there with him. He will take care of him.” That sounded a little more genuine. “Just don't make a big thing about it, okay?” She lingered in the door for a moment more, then decided she might as well say what else was on her mind. “And for fuck's sake don't bring up his ex unless he does? Capisce?”

“Yes, ma'am.” Shawn immediately agreed.

“Great! I'm going to change, I'll meet you in the kitchen, and we'll get drinks. El and Q might be a few minutes.” She reached the pull the door closed to give him privacy, then stepped into the room that was beside his. Her back pressed against the wood after she closed it and she hung her head. Margo hated being on the outside when Eliot was so upset. She hadn't seen her best friend so rattled save for a handful of times, and none of those had been recent. She worried that Q might not be able to calm him down.

A frustrated sigh escaped her throat, and she tossed her clutch onto the bedspread. The zipper of her dress slid easily, and Margo let the dress fall down her arms to crumple in a heap at her feet. She stepped out of it and her heels, then caught the material with the tip of her toes so she could hang it. A tank top and a light overshirt with jeans seemed appropriate for the temperature outside.

Her fingers dug through her purse until she found her lipstick, and she added a thin coat of gloss. By the time she'd changed Shawn had perched on the edge of the couch in the living room. His jeans were well worn and thin, the t-shirt's neck had been stretched. The button-up plaid shirt hung open. He looked much more comfortable than he had in the sports jacket and trousers he'd worn to dinner. Battered hiking boots completed the ensemble. Margo smirked. The contrast between brothers amused the shit out of her.

“What's the smile for?”

“You, and how different from your brother you are. Follow, I need a drink. Eliot bought beer for you.” A little mischevious grin spread across her face. “Feel special; he won't buy beer for anyone.” Shawn followed her into the kitchen, where he leaned against one of the counters. Margo handed him a chilled bottle and picked a wine for the three of them. A magnetized bottle opener hung on the door of the freezer and Shawn leaned to pop the cap with practiced ease.

“Eliot only drank beer if he had to.” A fond smile crossed the older man's face. “I used to bring a six pack home for him whenever I visited. I should have seen it, how dad was treating him. Those last three years he was a different kid. I guess I know why now.” Margo brought her glass to her lips and let Shawn continue to talk. She knew why Eliot had changed, but she was positive his brother didn't know what had actually happened to Logan. “Did you know he didn't even tell me he'd applied for early admission? I couldn't believe it when mom told me they were letting him go to New York before he was eighteen.” Shawn chugged half the beer, then wiped his mouth with his forearm. “It's so hazy, I swear we had a graduation party, but I barely remember it. Some days it seems like he just disappeared in the middle of the year.” Shawn finished the beer, and Margo opened the fridge to hand him a second one. The way Shawn talked about the series of events made it sound eerily like how Brakebills handled its admissions process, but at seventeen Eliot would have been way too young for the grad school.

“Maybe it was for the best because it got him away from your dad.” Shawn stopped with the bottle resting against the bottle opener; then he popped the second cap in a quick fluid motion.

“No, it wasn't.” He brought the bottle to his lips, took a long swallow, and walked closer to her. “I know you told me not to talk about that guy he dated, but Alex wasn't better.”

“I know.”

“I didn't get to see El before our parents bought him his plane ticket, the next time I did was when I came out here at the end of his first year to help him move home. He'd already given up his dorm, and I found my baby brother was living with this guy the same age as me.”

“I'm sorry.” Margo watched Shawn rake a hand back through his hair. She felt a little guilty listening to Eliot's brother when Eliot had never told her some of these details. Alex had always been described with the indefinite age of 'older.'

“I couldn't understand why he wouldn't leave him, but I guess if he was that afraid of our dad it makes more sense. It still doesn't justify the two years he threw away with him. He could have found a great guy sooner, one who wouldn't have abused or hit him, and saved himself so much pain.”

“Q has been oddly perfect for him, and he'd never hurt him.”

“They seem like a great match.” The two of them finished their respective drinks in quiet silence. “Are you sure I shouldn't leave?” Shawn asked as Margo lifted the bottle to pour herself a new glass. The sound of footsteps in the hall, then of the terrace door sliding open interrupted Margo before she could say anything more. Quentin slipped into the kitchen and opened the fridge to fish out a bottled water. Margo found a clean glass and poured for him.

“How's El?”

“Um, better.” Quentin's hand raced back over his hair, which had been pulled back in a loose bun. He'd changed into jeans and a t-shirt. He fingers wrapped around the wine stem, and he brought it to his lips, drank a third of it, then tilted it for her to refill.

“El was worried you might not stay.” He told Shawn.

“Margo wouldn't have let me leave.”

“Damn right.” Margo and Quentin shared a smile.

“If Eliot wants me to go I will.”

“No! None of us want that! Please, that would, that would suck. El would be, well he's already upset for ruining, his words, not mine, the night so far.”

“It's not his fault this happened.”

“I told him that.” The water bottle turned in Quentin's hand. “I'm going to head outside too; you guys are welcome to join us.”

“Of course we're joining you! Shawn hasn't seen the view yet. It's to die for.” Quentin took his glass and the water and headed towards the back of the apartment.

“I have a present for him. Do you think this is a good time?” Shawn asked. He collected a third beer from the fridge as Margo was gathering her glass and the wine bottle.

“I think that would cheer him up immensely! I can't believe you were holding out!”

“I guess I'll get it for him.” Shawn followed her from the kitchen, and they parted as Margo walked out onto the terrace. The walls surrounding the outdoor space were lined with seating, which Quentin was taking advantage of and Eliot was not. Her best friend's narrow frame had been partially swallowed by one of Quentin's oversized hoodies, and he sat on the terrace floor with his back against the bench and his cheek against Quentin's knee. He was twisting the cap off the water as Margo came out to kneel in front of him.

“I'm sorry, Bambi.” She brought her hand up to cup his cheek.

“It's colder down here, Baby. Are you warm enough?”

“I'm alright.” Margo took her hand away and worked her fingers through a minor warming charm. She pressed her hands to the stone; the spell shimmered across the terrace surface. She felt it warm a few degrees.

“Better?”

“Yeah.” Quentin's fingers gently tangled back through Eliot's hair, tucking loose curls behind his ear in the process. Eliot tilted his head and leaned into the pet. “Where's my brother?”

“He said he had something for you and went to get it.” Eliot craned his neck to look past her towards the terrace doors. She could see curiosity replacing some of the anxiety. “Can I sit down here with you?”

“Of course you can.” Eliot lifted his arm so she could tuck herself beside him. Margo could tell why he'd chosen the hoodie; it smelled like its owner. Quentin's cologne and shampoo had left their mark on the dark fabric. The patio door slid open, and Shawn came out with a small wrapped package.

“Are you okay?” He asked as he came to a stop in front of them. He didn't bother to question why she and Eliot had foregone the more comfortable seating above them.

“I feel better. All that falling glass triggered a panic attack. I didn't mean to ruin dinner.”

“Don't blame yourself for something out of your control.” Shawn extended the hand clutching the package. “I'm not sure if I should have wrapped this, but I didn't know what to get you, and I knew you would want this.” The arm Eliot had curled around her shoulders was lifted free as Eliot leaned forward to take the gift. He sat cross-legged on the terrace floor with the lighting casting his face in half shadows and tore off the paper. The blu-ray case with multiple discs seemed unmarked, but a leaflet inserted inside fluttered free as Eliot opened it. Eliot left the case setting open in his lap as he tilted the list to read it better.

“Shawn...” There was a faint quiver in Eliot's voice that made Quentin lean forward to look over his shoulder. The younger man's hand settled soothingly against the back of Eliot's neck. “How did you get copies of all of these?” Eliot closed the case, and Margo took both that and the list from him. She had to remind herself not to use magic to see better as she skimmed over the list of easily recognizable theater titles.

“Are these your high school performances?” Eliot nodded. Margo was sitting close enough to him to see his eyes watering.

“A couple of them I got from the school, the rest took a little effort and aren't the best quality. I paid a buddy of mine to clean them up as best he could and put them all in the same format.” Eliot stood actually to hug his brother.

“I want to see your Valjean! Right now.” Margo declared once they had let one another go.

“Bambi...”

“No buts.” She stood, and grabbed her best friend's wrist to drag him back into the apartment. The four of them needed something light to wash away the bad taste the evening had left them.

---------------------------

Eliot was a little reluctant as Margo pushed him down onto the couch, but her excitement was somewhat contagious. Quentin handed him the bottled water he'd started to drink on the terrace as the smaller man joined him on the couch.

“Is this going to embarrass you?” He asked in a low voice. “I'll tell her no if it will.” Eliot stretched out along the portion of the couch that formed a chaise lounge and settled into the leather cushions. He rested his cheek against Quentin. His eyes tracked Margo as she bustled into the kitchen; the microwave buzzed, and the telltale pop of kernels drifted through the apartment. When she returned, it was with the overflowing bowl and a fresh round of drinks.

“Maybe a little, but look how excited she is.” He admitted to Quentin as Margo started to set up the TV. “And it's a good distraction.” He yawned. “I'm not sure I can stay awake though.” He confessed. The panic attack had exhausted him, he was warm, and more than a bit tipsy.

“Than go to sleep in the middle, none of us will care.” Eliot hummed as Margo crawled into his lap with the remote. Their proximity had left most of the couch for Shawn, who smirked at the pile the three of them had made. Eliot thought there might be approval in the lines of his brother's face.

“Shawn get the lights.”

“Don't be bossy, Bambi.” He told her, even as Shawn moved to do what she'd ordered him to do. Margo navigated through the menus and started the show. It was one of the better performances that had been filmed by the school and sold to parents. Eliot couldn't stop the blush from creeping across his cheeks; he'd been a baby when this had been made. He wasn't sure if he'd been sixteen or seventeen; it felt like a million lifetimes ago that he'd been so young.

“This was before you grew another foot, you were a twig at that age,” Shawn commented as the camera focused inward towards the stage.

“I lost an unhealthy amount of weight in two years.” Eliot agreed. He was a better singer than he remembered. “At least I'm not humiliating myself.”

“Do you still sing?”

“Sometimes.”

“Not often enough.” Margo ribbed at him. Despite the familiarity of the musical Eliot found himself dozing against Quentin more quickly than he had thought possible. When his boyfriend woke him up again, the performance had ended, and Quentin was coaxing him into wakefulness so they could go to bed.

Chapter Text

Eliot finished washing his hands, then cupped his hand below the faucet to bring a handful of water to his mouth. He swished it over his tongue, then headed back into the club and towards the bar. Before he could even flag the bartender a double shot of whiskey neat was placed in front of him; the countertop felt cool under his fingers as he sipped from the glass.

The crack of plaster snapped his gaze upward, and he watched, horrified, as the mountings of the top shelf of glassware broke free and crashed into the shelf below it. The extra weight took out the second shelf, and the third below them. All three crashed into the line of coolers at the bottom; people screamed as bits of glass flew in all directions.

“Fuck,” The guy beside him cursed. “Shit, El some of it must have hit you.”

“What?” Eliot felt numb, terror was starting to claw at the bottom of his stomach, and his eyes scanned around the bar to see if anyone was injured. He brought his fingers to his face, and they came away shining red. It wasn't the river of blood he'd experienced when Logan had died, but a steady thin stream was leaking from one side of his nose.

“Here, El, kid you okay?” The guy asked; napkins were forced into his hand. Eliot nodded. “I can't believe they didn't anchor those shelves better.” Alex speculated. It hadn't just been the shelves. Moonlight cascaded across the bar from where the entire brick wall had been pulled down. Eliot brought his drink to his lips and realized that there were bits of glass in the amber liquid. People jostled around them as those closest to the bar tried to get away, and those in the back tried to get a better look. Eliot threw back what remained of his drink, glass and all. A gap seemed to open in the crowd, and Eliot darted through it, straight through the doors that should have led to the street but opened into the side alley.

“Eliot?” The napkins he'd held against his nose were sticky when he pulled them away. His skin felt like it was on fire, but the cold left him shivering. A wave of dizziness made the world spin, and he tucked himself beside the steps that led into the bar's kitchen. He curled too long arms around too long legs and rested his forehead against his knees as his body trembled. The hold he had on his telekinesis had been slipping since he had started at Columbia, but this was the first moment it felt uncontrollable.

“Well, that was impressive.” A shadow fell over him, blocking what little light there was in the alley and Eliot tried to shrink smaller against stairs that seemed to be growing taller.

“What was impressive?” Eliot felt like he could barely hear his voice over the pounding of blood in his ears.

“That unhinged display of telekinesis in the bar.” Alex slipped a cigarette case from his back pocket, removed two, and lit them with a flick of his fingers. Twin dots of warm orange cast shadows across a handsome jaw. The steps had continued to grow, closing off the alley and cutting off the light. One of the cigarettes was offered to him; fragrant herbal smoke filled his lungs as Eliot inhaled. He rested his head back against the brick and let out the breath slowly.

“You can't prove that was me.”

“Who would believe me?” The guy blew a mouthful of smoke towards the wall that had blocked them in. He watched Eliot from the corner of his eye. “You could kill someone if you don't get it under control.” Eliot tensed and hung his head. He wrapped an arm around his waist and let the cigarette hang between his fingers. The end glowed as it slowly burned to ash.

“Please go away.” He whispered.

“You have to start using it.”

“I just want it to go away.”

“It's part of you, as natural as breathing.”

“I never asked for it!” A line of trashcans materialized behind them, and every one of them rattled.

“Fuck, Kid. How powerful are you?”

“I don't know.” Eliot let his chin fall back to his chest and brought his knees up against his torso as tight as they would go. “It's out of control.”

“Then you need to get it back under control.”

“It's getting stronger, and I'm scared of it,” Eliot admitted.

“It's getting stronger because you're scared of it.” The guy corrected. “Come on, let's go for a walk.” Eliot laughed.

“Why would I go anywhere with you?”

“Why are you afraid?” Why was he afraid? Eliot knew there had to be a reason. He rolled the question around in his brain as he levered himself up from the ground. Together they walked down the narrow corridor, and Eliot shoved his hands deep into the pocket of his jeans as the alley opened into a moonlit park.

“Where are we going?” He asked as they walked along one of the paths. It was getting colder, and he'd left his jacket in the bar. The older man's hand settled against his lower back.

“Are you cold, Baby?”

“A little.” Alex's arm wrapped around his shoulder and Eliot found himself tucked against the older man's muscular frame.

“Why are we here?”

“So you can practice.” A kiss pressed to his temple.

“What am, how am I supposed to do that?” Alex picked up a stone.

“Just think about what you want it to do.” He tossed the rock upward. It hovered above their heads as Eliot thought about holding it aloft. Alex tossed another one. The first one fell as Eliot concentrated on holding the second one up. “You can do better, Kid.” Alex picked up the first stone. “Hold both of them.” He tossed it upward, and both floated. “Now add another.” Eliot closed his eyes and tried to imagine the rocks floating in his mind's eye. He imagined them weightless, then made a mistake and imagined himself weightless. “Fuck, Kid, get down!”

Eliot's eyes shot open to see dozens of rocks floating around him. His toes had lifted off the ground, and he hung inches in the air. There was the clatter of falling stone, but panic swept through him as he realized that he didn't know how to get himself down. The thought that he might continue rising sent his body shooting almost a foot higher before Alex grabbed him around the waist and yanked him back down. Eliot collapsed against the older man's chest with a sob and trembled in the embrace until his chin was tipped and the other man's mouth pressed insistently against his The kiss wasn't unpleasant, but it wasn't entirely welcome either. Alex's hand laced into his, palm to palm, and the magic of a spell as bright as daylight burned his hand. Light slipped from between their fingers.

“What the...? What did you do?” Eliot brought his hand up to see the word as bond branded across his palm. Alex's hand gripped in his hair and this time the kiss was demanding and dominating; he tasted like gin. Eliot tried to yank free from the embrace; he hit the ground, then scuttled backward. For an instant, it felt like the grass disappeared and he was falling. He woke up on the floor of the rental apartment. Quentin's head peeked over the edge of the bed as his boyfriend stared down at him.

“El?” The smaller man threw the covers aside and scrambled down onto the floor with him. Quentin's knees bracketed his hips, and Eliot leaned to press his forehead against Quentin's shoulder. Gentle fingers combed the unruly curls of his hair until a sob finally worked itself free from Eliot's throat. “It was a dream, Love. Shh, I know you're upset.” Quentin whispered; the hand not smoothing his hair rubbed circles on his back. Eliot shifted closer to him and buried his face against Quentin's t-shirt. He drew a shuddering gasp into his lungs.

“I need some air.” He whispered once he'd calmed a little.

“I'll come with you.” Quentin offered.

“No, just, just go back to bed. Try to get some more sleep. I need some air, where's my flask?” The flask zipped to his hand, but Quentin took it from him before he could even get the cap open.

“If you want to go get some air, go get some air, but you're not going out on the terrace to drink by yourself.”

“Q!”

“I said no! El, it's like, like...” Quentin reached for the clock on the table and fumbled to turn it so he could see the red numbers. “It's five in the morning. I don't want one of us to find you drunk or passed out in a couple of hours, especially when it could be your brother that finds you.”

“Q, please.”

“It's too early for this, El. I already said no. Go outside if you want, but you don't need to be drinking this early.” Quentin moved to let him up, one of the smaller man's hands pressed hard over the flask to keep it pinned against the floor until he'd left the room.

The apartment was silent, and Eliot padded into the kitchen on silent feet to make coffee. The wood floors were cold against his bare feet if he'd given the idea of going outside more thought he would have grabbed socks first. The terrace stone was even colder as he carried his coffee outside. Magic flickered around the edge of the patio, and he set the drink down long enough to form a box with his fingers. He could see the ward Quentin had formed along the patio edge and wasn't sure if he was touched or offended that Q was concerned enough to put one up.

Local sunrise in the Summer months was anywhere from 5:24 to 6:22 am, so he had a little over half an hour to wait before light peeked along the edge of the horizon. He was still outside forty-five minutes after that when the patio door slid open, and Shawn came out. Eliot shifted and tucked his feet under him.

“Still an early riser?” Shawn asked, and Eliot remembered mornings where he'd dragged himself out of bed before dawn to do morning chores before school.

“More like a chronic insomniac. I made coffee earlier. I need a refill.” He stood and grabbed his mug, then headed inside before Shawn could protest. Margo had left a fifth of whiskey on one of the kitchen counters, and he filled his cup a third of the way full, then topped it with coffee. After he'd filled and sweetened a second mug for Shawn, he headed back outside.

“That's how you used to drink it, I think.” He told his brother as he handed off the second cup. Shawn took a sip; he nodded.

“That's about right.” The two of them sat in silence for a few minutes, before Eliot decided that he was the one who needed to make an effort to strike up a conversation.

“Thank you for not making a big deal about what happened at the restaurant.” He murmured. Eliot brought the mug to his lips, wishing as he took a drink that he'd added more whiskey, while at the same time feeling horrible that he'd added any at all. Anxiety was starting to twist in his belly. Quentin had explicitly told him, no, and Eliot wasn't sure what the consequences would be for not listening. Their relationship was slowly falling into a pattern that felt almost routine to him, but for Quentin, it was new territory, and inherently unfair. Eliot was sure the dynamic that was developing between them was the last thing Quentin had expected.

“Margo told me why it upset you,” Shawn explained.

“Yeah, well it was the first night I met Alex, so it's, I try not to think about it.”

“Oh.” Shawn turned the cup between his hands. “She only told me about some bar shelves falling; I hadn't known it was the same night.” Eliot silently cursed himself for being an idiot and oversharing.

“I was right by the bar when the top shelf came loose and took out everything below it. There were fragments of glass everywhere. I ended up with some in my drink. I was so repulsed I shoved the glass off the bar. I don't remember any of it hitting me, but my nose was bleeding. It was this mad crazy press of people, and I bolted out of the bar and into the side alley as soon as I got free of the crowd. Alex followed me out to check on me. It made me feel kinda special.”

“He took advantage of your vulnerability,” Shawn muttered.

“He seemed like a decent guy, Shawn. I didn't know he'd turn out to be such a fucking bastard.” Eliot took another drink and sighed. He set the mug on the patio wall and rested his elbow beside it. The heel of his hand pressed against his forehead. “I made a mistake, okay? Dear fucking christ, stop punishing me for it!”

“I'm not trying to punish you.”

“No, you just take every opportunity to remind me how badly I fucked up my life.”

“You spent two years together, El! I'm sorry I have such a hard time wrapping my mind around it.”

“Well, it's been over for five years. I finally figured out how to move past some of it. I know you've only known them for a few hours, but Q and Bambi are family to me. Q has only been my boyfriend a few months, but I know I'll never find anyone better.”

“I hope you two stay together! I want that for you, Eliot. You deserve an amazing guy; you can be a wonderful father too if you ever change your mind.” Eliot resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Just because Shawn had kids, he thought everyone should want them, and that just wasn't a realistic case to make.

“The circumstances would have to change a lot.” The patio door slid open, and Eliot felt a pit open in his stomach when he realized that Quentin carried a coffee mug in each hand. In one fluid motion, Quentin put down one of them in front of him, scooped up the one he had been drinking from, and emptied it over the side of the terrace. The disappointment practically radiated from him; that Quentin didn't say a word made it worse.

“Margo and I are going to start breakfast,” Quentin told him as he turned to head back inside. Eliot felt frozen to the spot where he sat.

“Q...” The patio door slid shut again without a response.

“What the fuck?” Shawn asked. Eliot gripped his hands against the edge of the bench.

“I had a dream bad enough that I couldn't go back to sleep. Q didn't want me out here by myself trying to drink it off, but when I got us coffee, I filled a third of my cup with whiskey.”

“And that pissed him off?”

“He's more disappointed than pissed. He's been trying to get me to drink less, and it's been working, but last night kinda set me back. I should; I need to go fix.” Eliot left the new cup where Quentin had set it. The apartment was warm following almost two hours on the terrace. Noise drifted from the kitchen, and Eliot walked to stand in the opening of the narrow room. “Q?”

“What Eliot?”

“Can we talk about this, please?”

“We will later.” 'Later' in Eliot's experience had always turned out worse than addressing something immediately.

“Please, Q!” Margo glanced at him, then elbowed Quentin to get his attention. Quentin finally looked at him; the anxiety must have been written across his face. The smaller man's posture softened a little.

“I'm not mad at you, El. I'm just; I don't know what you want from me, okay? We need to talk about some shit, that's all.” Eliot nodded.

“I'm sorry.” He whispered as he crossed the kitchen to rest his hips against the countertop beside Quentin.

“You can give him a better apology than that, Eliot,” Margo told him from the opposite side of the kitchen.

“I'm sorry, Sir,” Eliot whispered.

“That's better, baby. Right, Q?” Eliot wondered if they had talked about the whiskey and how to handle it before Quentin had ever come outside. He couldn't tell if Quentin was comfortable being called 'Sir' or not. He'd put down the knife he'd been using, and his hands were pressed against the counter. The posture had led to his hair falling free over his face. Quentin finally raked it back; a sideways glance got cast in his direction.

“Yeah.”

“Q? We're okay, right? Overall? We just need to set a few boundaries and make some concrete rules? You're not going to break up with me are you?” Words born from the anxiety that he might have damaged the best relationship of his life spilled from him as they continued to stand side by side without touching.

“Eliot.” Quentin stood straight again; his hand beckoned him close; Eliot stepped into the embrace. “We're fine. This is a little thing. It would take so much more than this for me to consider leaving you.” Quentin lifted himself up to kiss him.

“Find something to do so we can eat sooner,” Margo told him as Quentin dropped back onto his feet.

“Yes, ma'am.” Eliot agreed. Some of the anxiety was still there, and it would stay there until he and Quentin talked, but he was calmed that he hadn't made a relationship ending mistake.

Chapter Text

Quentin threw himself down on Julia's couch and watched his best friend out of the corner of his eye as she took a seat in the chair across from him. Her hands clasped and unclasped in her lap, and Quentin rolled his eyes towards the ceiling.

“I shouldn't have talked to you about it.” He whispered. His visit was supposed to have been a light-hearted catch up; it had only turned sour when Julia had asked him what was wrong. Quentin had spent the last ten minutes unloading everything that had happened that morning to her. Now he had to contend with the horrible feeling that he'd betrayed Eliot's trust. “It's not your relationship, I shouldn't have... talked about it, I guess.” Quentin rested his fingers against his temples. He'd only wanted to vent the confusion and fear that had been building since the night before

“No, Q, you can talk to me... and I'll keep your confidence. I just don't know what advice to give you.” She reached for one of the wine glasses that sat between them. Silence stretched for several long moments as Quentin continued to stare at the ceiling through his fingers.

“I feel like I messed up.” He told her. “I'm afraid I'm going to bungle through this half-blind and hurt him.”

“Maybe you need to tell him this isn't the kind of partnership you want. It's not going to be easy, Q.” The blunt words were enough to make Quentin finally raise his head.

“I don't want to lose him.”

“And I'm sure he doesn't want to lose you either, so the two of you will have to make some compromises.” She took a long drink, set her glass down, and got up. She returned with her laptop and handed it to him. “Here, go online and look up some pointers.” A grin spread across her face as she dropped back into her chair. “Who knows, maybe learning a thing or two about how to be the dominant partner will help your confidence.” She winked at him. Quentin set the laptop on the couch and reached for his wine. He could feel his cheeks flushing as she teased him.

“Maybe,” He admitted as he opened the computer. Julia's search browser was still open after he'd typed in her password and he frowned at the series of summoning ritual tabs.

“Jules? What are you thinking about doing?” He turned the laptop to show her, then caught her wrist when she tried to reach and close the window. “Julia, tell me what's going on!” They sat frozen like that, with him holding her wrist until she slumped back in her chair.

“See?” She laughed. “You've learned something already. Pre-boyfriend Q would have never grabbed my wrist and demanded an explanation.” Quentin wasn't going to let her distract him with misdirection.

“Julia, please. Tell me what's going on.”

“So you can lecture me about how your Brakebills education is better than my hedge-witch one?” She demanded.

“NO! Screw who learned what from where. Julia, a summoning is dangerous!”

“Like you would know!” She spat. Quentin set the computer aside, hopped up, and braced his hands against the arms of her chair. The proximity pressed Julia backward against the cushion and Quentin met her unforgiving gaze.

“I know because my first year four of us tried to do a summoning. Kady was part of that group; she can confirm this. Our professor died! The dean of the school had his eyes plucked from his skull and every bone in his hands broken! I almost got expelled because we tried to summon what we thought would be a ghost and something more powerful hijacked the spell. We gave this... this monster direct access to the school despite all the wards that should have kept it out!” Quentin let go of the chair and crossed his arms over his chest. His voice wavered when he continued. “We were trapped in that classroom, fr-frozen to our desks, for... it felt like hours.”

“I'm sorry, Q.” Julia got up, and Quentin melted into her hug when she embraced him.

“I don't want something to hurt you, that's all.” He whispered into her hair as he hugged her back. “I want you to have magic, Jules. I'm not trying to take that away from you. Just be smart about it. Okay?”

“I will be.” She promised him. Quentin stepped away from her and dropped bonelessly onto her sofa again. Julia sat beside him and closed out her tabs before handing the laptop back to him.

“We're still researching the ritual we want to perform. We won't perform it until we know everything we can.” She told him. “So your problem is more pressing.” Quentin adjusted his fingers over the home row of keys and typed in a couple of words that earned him more videos and pictures than information.

"Jesus." Julia wasn't using a content filter; a crimson blush spread across his cheeks and earned a delighted giggle from Julia.

“Only you would manage to stumble into a sexual dynamic you know nothing about.” She teased as she leaned over him to type in a new search. She filtered it so only articles would show, then patted his knee as she stood. Quentin read through the list of material tailored for a new dom and sighed in frustration as he clicked on the first one.

“You have good virus software right?” He called to Julia. A laugh came from the stove where she stood waiting for water to boil. “No seriously, I have no idea what I might find. I don't want to fuck up your computer.”

“It will be fine, Q. Just read whatever you think will help. I'm going to order pizza in a bit, and maybe we can watch a movie before you leave.” Quentin nodded as skimmed his eyes down the article he'd opened. Once he'd finished the first one, he pulled out his phone and saved the same piece so he could view it offline when he was on campus. He did the same with several articles over the next hour or so. Realistically he knew there was only so much he could learn through reading, but hopefully, the influx of information would help enough to keep him from making the same mistake he had that morning.

------------------------------

It was evening by the time Quentin got back to the cottage. His brain felt like it was overflowing with everything he'd read, but one theme had seemed to rise above everything else. He and Eliot had to communicate. It was a term that filled him with anxiety because he (they) sucked at communicating – though he would admit that when it was just him and Eliot talking seemed more natural somehow. The party he walked into wasn't the typical physical kids' rager. The common room was crowded but not overflowing, and Margo was presiding over the festivities. Eliot was nowhere to be found.

“El is upstairs,” Margo told him after he'd checked the kitchen then stepped out onto the patio to see if Eliot was smoking.

“Why? Is everything okay? Is he okay?”

“He's anxious, Q. The longer you were gone the worst it got. He was bringing down the mood, so I sent him upstairs to wait for you to get home.” Quentin blinked at her. After everything that had gone wrong over the weekend, he couldn't believe that she expected Eliot to isolate himself and still be okay. Then there was the implication that she'd ordered Eliot upstairs once she had decided she no longer wanted to deal with him.

"Margo..." Eliot was his sub, not hers. The vehemence of that thought stunned him; Quentin wasn't sure how to react to the mix of protective possessiveness he suddenly felt. Margo had continued to talk, and Quentin pushed the thought aside so he could listen to her.

“I know this is your first rodeo, and the first time you've seen him like this. I get that it's freaking you out, but this isn't something new. He's been dealing with what his ex did to him for years. Give him a day or two to shake it off; he'll be fine.”

“Or he'll just bury everything and pretend he's okay.”

“Umm, this might be news to you Coldwater, but that's how most people cope with their fucked up trauma.” She finished the drink that hung in her hand. “Don't pretend you suddenly have all your shit together, or that you don't do the same fucking thing.” Quentin raked both hands back through his hair and interlocked his fingers behind his head. The messenger bag bumped against his hip as his posture shifted. She was most certainly right, but he felt that Eliot had opened more to him than he ever had to her. Backtracking from that openness seemed like the last thing they should do. He wanted Eliot to talk to him more, not less.

“Yeah, well. Let's, let's um, say that you're right. I just... we're his best friends Margo. He shouldn't have to bury or hide anything from us, especially from me.”

“He's allowed to have secrets, Quentin.” The words had him rolling his eyes. Of course, Eliot was allowed to have secrets!

“Stop putting words in my mouth. I wasn't implying that, and you know it.” Margo crossed her arms over her chest and dropped her eyes, so she was staring at the empty tumbler. “I just want him to talk to us when he's in trouble, and not bury everything under a river of alcohol.”

“Yeah.” She whispered. “You should go make sure he's okay.” Her back turned to him, but she wasn't in such a hurry that she didn't hold the patio door for him. They walked through the cottage in silence and Quentin took the stairs two at a time once they parted. The downstairs noise melted away as he opened their bedroom door, then silenced entirely once it closed behind him. The sitting area was empty. Quentin dropped his bag onto the couch, then shed his jacket.

“El?” He called as he walked towards the sleeping area. The lights were on, so he doubted Eliot was asleep. The taller man was wearing the same skinny jeans and polo he'd changed into that morning and sat cross-legged in the middle of their bed. A book was open on his lap, and his head snapped up as Quentin watched him.

“Hey.” Eliot's shoulders dropped. Anxiety displayed itself in every movement of his hands. Seeing it, and knowing he'd caused it made an uncomfortable knot tighten in Quentin's chest. He toed off his tennis shoes, then climbed into bed to face his boyfriend. He closed the book, moved it to the bedside table, and slipped one of his hands into Eliot's. The squeeze was hard; Quentin hoped it was reassuring. He brought his other hand up and swept it through Eliot's hair, then leaned in to kiss him. Tension leaked from Eliot's muscles as he relaxed a little. Quentin cupped his hand around Eliot's neck to make the kiss deeper.

“I love you. I think I was right to suggest that you not drink, but I think I overstepped when I made it an order. Where I know I went wrong was asking Margo what to do when I found the whiskey.” A ridiculous little grin born from nerves and his history of inappropriate emotional responses spread across his face. “This is our thing, so I shouldn't have let her impact the severity of my reaction.”

“We should have made rules sooner,” Eliot whispered. “I just, I – I.”

“El, relax. It's me; I'm nervous too. More nervous, probably. At least you've done this before.” Eliot lifted his head.

“I never got to make the rules last time.” Quentin dropped his hands to rest on his thighs.

“I know, so... um.” Quentin stopped to wet his lips. His mouth felt dry. “I guess we make them together this time, and if something doesn't work, we make changes. I think that needs to be the first rule.”

“What do you mean?”

“First rule, the golden rule if you want to be biblical about it.” Eliot laughed; a grin was slowly spreading across his face.

“Nothing about this is biblical, Q!” A matching smirk spread across Quentin's face.

“I guess not, anyway, just hear me out. First rule, number one, unbreakable, unchangeable. Be honest with me. If we do something and you hate it I have to know so we don't do it again; if there is something that you love and want to repeat I want to know that you enjoy it. If I'm not comfortable doing something I'm going to say it.” Eliot was nodding, which made Quentin feel a little braver. He felt his cheeks flush a couple of shades. “I'm not saying I'm not open to stuff, but I don't know a lot about... toys, or gear, or how to do much more than the basic hand tie you already showed me.” The words got faster as he blurted them out. “I'm willing to learn though.” He added; Quentin felt like his cheeks were on fire as Eliot's big hands cupped his face.

“You adorable nerd.” He murmured as he pulled Quentin into a long kiss. “Teaching you is going to be fun.”

“So we agree on rule one?” Quentin's voice was a whisper as their foreheads rested against each other.

“Absolutely, what's rule two?” Quentin wet his lips again; he feared that the second might be a little more controversial.

“You're mine.”

“I think that goes without saying, love.”

“No, I mean... look I talked to Margo before I came up here, and she made it sound like she ordered you up here to wait for me to get home. Did she?”

“Kinda.” The word was little more than a whisper.

“I respect that she's one of your closest friends, but she's not your... dom, I guess.” The word was such a foreign idea to him that it took a moment to make it roll off his tongue. “I want to be the only one who tells you to do things.”

“Yes, sir.” The agreement came more readily than Quentin had expected.

“Let's limit that to when we are playing for now, okay? Eliot's head bobbed in a fast nod. Quentin shifted to dig his cellphone from his pocket. He thumbed open one of the bookmarks he'd made, and started going through the list of suggestions. “What's our safe word going to be? Do you want more than one?”

“Did you research this while you were at Julia's?” Quentin could feel the blush creeping back into his cheeks.

“Yes.” He turned to show Eliot the list of bookmarks he'd made. A new grin was broadening across his boyfriend's face. Quentin leaned forward to press a light kiss to Eliot's mouth; the older student's arms circled him, so Quentin moved with the pull until they lay together. The new position allowed Eliot to unfold his legs. Pins and needles prickled over Quentin's calves and feet from sitting on them for so long.

“You're amazing,” Eliot told him as they held one another. “I know we can find plenty of things we both enjoy.

“We're not done making rules yet.” Quentin reminded him.

“I know.”

“So we need to talk about what happened this morning.” Quentin reluctantly broached the topic that had put them where they were now.

“Holding onto my flask was the right thing to do. At first, I just made coffee; I didn't add the whiskey to it until Shawn joined me outside. He would have found me trashed if you hadn't said no. I need someone to tell me to stop. I suck at impulse control.”

“So if I decide you've reached a limit, I have permission to tell you to stop, and you agree to listen?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And what if you don't listen?” Quentin rolled to sit against the headboard. His hands rubbed absently against his thighs. The idea of punishment was what made him feel the least comfortable. Eliot stretched, then levered himself up to sit as well.

“What you did this morning brought me to heel really fast. That passive aggressive disappointment cut straight me. I was so upset I'd disobeyed you. I only got scared when you told me we were going to wait to resolve things.”

“Why? All I wanted was to give myself time to calm down.”

“I know that now, but with... when Alex would wait it was always worse.”

“I don't want you to be afraid of me. If you're afraid you don't trust me, and if you don't trust me this will never work. I didn't know waiting would upset you..”

“That's why this is my fault too because I didn't tell you what my triggers are. We should have made rules as soon as we started sliding into this dynamic.”

“Okay, so, here's my thing...” Quentin sought out one of Eliot's hands. “Right now I'm not comfortable disciplining you in front of other people. I would rather wait until we are alone, is that too long to wait?”

“Well I don't like being humiliated, so I'd prefer if we were alone. Just don't make me wait days for a punishment when we can handle it a couple of hours later. A relieved sigh escaped Quentin's throat. He was thrilled that they saw eye to eye about keeping a low profile until he'd grown more comfortable.

“We still need a safe word. I need to know what the rest of your triggers are, and I want to see what toys you have.” Quentin listed off each suggestion with taps to his fingers. He wasn't sure how many guidelines they would set today, or how rigid they would be, but he felt like they had covered the most looming issues. Eliot seemed to have relaxed, and they both seemed to feel better. There were sure to be bumps as things evolved, but for now, Quentin couldn't see any more hills for them to climb.

Chapter Text

Even with a watch capable of controlling time Jane still found it nearly impossible to manage the time differences between Earth and Fillory. Sometimes a day would pass on Earth, and it would be a month in Fillory, in other moments it would be a week, in rare instances the passing of time in one would be equal to the passing of time in the other. Honestly, the passage of time was all up to Ember's whim. The inconsistency made managing her group of students at Brakebills a headache. The longer a loop ran, the more things slipped out of her control.

Timeloop 40 had somehow run its course for just over two years. She had started the loop with Henry accepting Eliot and Margo; the pair had been given a year to bond before Quentin and his year of friends had joined them. Considering that her brother had attacked within the first weeks of Quentin's term, it had seemed like the loop would be one of the shortest. Somehow it had dragged through an entire Summer and into Quentin's second year. Martin was biding his time; he was waiting for something, and Jane feared that the upcoming absence of Henry and his staff during the first year trials might be used as his opportunity to attack.

It was with this thought in mind that she walked across campus. She was dead set on convincing Henry that this was the year to abandon the idea. Brakebills was safer with him there. The loose sleeves of her pale pink capelet coat allowed the crisp fall air to flow in through the open seams. It had been warm in Fillory. It was warm outside the Brakebills bubble; so the contrast was rather startling. She neared the main building where most of the classes were held just as students were starting to flow down the stairs. She spotted Quentin waiting on one of the benches near the fountain and decided that it wouldn't hurt to touch base with her pet project before checking in with Henry.

“Why hello, Quentin!” She called as she crossed the grass to stand in front of him. Brown eyes flashed up from the book he'd lost himself reading.

“Eliza? Hey.” He gave her a half wave before dropping his hand back down. It slipped to join the other underneath the book he held. Words seemed to fail him, and Jane floundered. She supposed her unexpected approach was a little awkward. They hadn't sat face to face since the afternoon he'd nearly been expelled.

“I just wanted to see how you were getting on; you've stayed out of trouble haven't you?”

“I'm not on probation anymore, if that's what you're asking.” One hand came up, and he tucked the hair on one side back behind his ear.

“That's wonderful, Quentin! I knew I made the right decision by recommending they not expel you.”

“Yeah, thank you again. I appreciate you convincing them to give me a second chance.” Quentin's gaze came up to meet hers.

“I saw so much potential in you when I recommended you for the exam. I didn't want to see it all go to waste.” Before Quentin could respond Eliot, who Quentin had apparently been waiting for, slid down the bench. The two boys settled against one another and leaned in to kiss one another. Jane felt a bit stunned. She was sure she'd meddled enough during Quentin's first year to keep this from happening again; he and Alice should have still been together. Quentin's thumb brushed along the curve of Eliot's chin as they pulled apart a little, then Eliot leaned in for another long kiss.

“El, I'm talking to someone.” Quentin's chided as the second kiss ended

“Sorry.” Eliot sounded chastened. His arm curved around Quentin's back to hold him close.

“It's fine; I'm sure Eliza doesn't mind.” Quentin set his book aside to bring his arm around Eliot in a matching hold “Eliza, I don't know if you've met my boyfriend, Eliot Waugh.”

“Charmed.” Eliot offered her the hand that wasn't curled around Quentin.

“Charmed,” Jane repeated, silently hoping that limiting her responses would be enough to avoid betraying the annoyance she felt. She reached to squeeze the gloved hand that he offeres to her.

“Eliza is one of the freelance recruiters for Brakebills.” Quentin was telling Eliot. “She recommended me to Dean Fogg.”

“Speaking of Henry, I'm due for a meeting with him. It was nice to meet you, Eliot. It was good to see you again, Quentin. Keep out of trouble now, alright?” Jane adjusted her coat and started to walk across the grass without giving either student the chance to respond. Internally she fumed. The loops when the two of them dated always seemed to end in spectacular failures, and if they ever lived past the defeat of her brother Eliot had a fate that didn't lend itself well to romantic entanglements of his choosing; Fillory came first. They balanced one another, so pulling apart their tightly knit relationships was always tricky. It was unfortunate, but Jane had stopped thinking of Quentin and his friends as anything but pawns sometime after the loop had failed the first twenty times.

Jane kept her back arrow straight as she walked up the steps; she was reaching for the handle when it swung outward. Penny and Alice charged down the steps arm and arm and ignored her presence entirely. They stopped at the foot of the stairs long enough to kiss one before popping out of sight together. Jane stood dumb-founded, wondering how Penny had gotten traveler's tattoos so early in his second year.

The halls had mostly emptied, and Jane felt hyper-aware of the clicking her heels made as she walked towards the dean's office. She hadn't planned to stay away from campus for so long, but her brother was hedging his bets this time. He was careful, and she had remained in Fillory trying to figure out her motivations longer than she had planned. How Henry had let things get this far from center was beyond her. The door to his outer office slammed open with a small burst of magic, and she sailed into his inner office without much thought. Thankfully the man was alone.

“Hello Eliza,” Henry poured himself a generous helping of either whiskey or scotch and downed about half of it.

“What the fuck, Henry?”

“It's always such a pleasure to 'see' you too, my dear.” Henry deadpanned. Henry finished what he'd poured, and made himself another drink. “I could hear the clack of your heels down the hall.” He tapped one ear. “It's amazing how the other senses enhance to compensate when one of them is damaged.

“Don't play games, Henry. We have to reset.”

“We are not wasting a perfectly 'good' loop. Despite the early term.... disturbance that cost me my eyesight, and nearly my hands, The Beast has been comparatively quiet. This is the farthest we've made it through one of these loops in a very long time.”

“They are out of control, Henry!”

“I refuse to babysit them, Eliza!” Henry's hand smacked hard against the wood of his desk. “Who chooses to fuck who is none of my fucking business, and don't think for a second that it's yours either!” The door to his inner office slammed shut with enough force to make Jane jump.

“They need to work together, Henry! This, this – thing between Quentin and Eliot has never worked out.”

“And here I thought I was the blind one; they love one another,” Henry put his fingers together, then slowly drew them apart as he continued to speak. “If you put half the effort into stopping your brother that you spend pulling those two apart we might have actually gotten somewhere by now. It's bullshit, Eliza. A waste of time and effort over something that seems inevitable. I don't understand your obsession.”

“No,” Jane crossed her arms over her chest. “You wouldn't..” She hadn't shared what lay beyond the eventual defeat of her brother. She feared that Henry wouldn't continue to help her if she knew intended to play his students into a more significant game once Martin was out of the way. Henry's elbows rested against the wood of his desk, and he interlocked his fingers as he leaned forward.

“Don't you think it's time you enlighten me?” He inquired. “I'm far from stupid, Eliza. Let me take this moment to remind you that while their loops together seem to fail, they go far better than the ones where you put so much distance between them that they aren't even friends.” Henry's hands moved to pour more alcohol. “I for one don't know how you failed for foresee this... with Julia gone who did you think Quentin would lean to?”

“Well, I had hoped Alice.” Henry's laugh was both amused and boisterous.

“Please, your attempts to force them together were amateurish at best. They were akin to banging two wooden puppets together, or trying to force a square peg into a round hole!” He smiled a cruel smile. “Yes, there is affection there, but we've only seen it truly blossom in a few loops. This time though, it felt contrived from day one! At least this time the split was amicable! Quentin stayed the Summer with Eliot, they had the cottage to themselves and when Alice returned she started to date Penny almost seamlessly. For the time being, they are all still speaking to another, leave well enough alone.” He threw back another shot, and Jane threw hands into the air in frustration.

“Will you stop?” She demanded.

“NO! You've waltzed into my office uninvited, to tell me you intend to use your watch to play god yet again. We'll have wasted two damn years for nothing!” Henry shot from his chair, upending the empty glass in the process. His fingers steepled against the desktop to balance him as he leaned forward. “We reset when they are dead, Eliza! Not before!”

“You're drunk!” Jane spat.

“And you're power mad! You look at them like they are pawns, unfeeling and unmoved because you're planning a chess game fifteen moves ahead when you can't make it past the first three! I'm done!” The words had an air of finality that sent chills down Jane's spine.

“What do you mean done?”

“If you reset before its time your fucking brother won't be the only one I ward off my campus!” Henry spat. With surprising accuracy, he swept the glass off the desktop and hurled it at the wall behind her head. Jane flinched. She had watched Henry's fury grow over the last few loops, but this was the first actual explosion she had witnessed.

“I know you're sick of watching them die.” She tried to console. Henry was the only ally she had made in years. Despite her attempts to take it away from him, he was the only one who shared the burden of memory with her.

“I'm sick of your meddling,” Henry muttered. He collapsed back into his desk chair and rubbed his temples. “Tell me what the fuck you came to tell me!” He ordered as he lifted the glasses from his nose. Bloodshot blank eyes fixed her with an empty stare.

“The upcoming trials,” Jane whispered. “I think Mar – The Beast might try to attack when you and the professors have gone away.”

“What evidence led you to this theory?”

“He has to be planning something, Henry! It's been too long, even if Kady's battle magic damaged him more than we believed he'd had months to heal.”

“I've already arranged additional wards for the school; they will be enabled before the staff and I leave.”

“You shouldn't leave at all!” Jane insisted.

“If I cancel the faculty retreat I'll have to explain why, to both my staff and the upperclassmen. I want this Beast thing kept under wraps as much as possible. It's already disruptive enough.”

“You're foolish, Henry! The lives of the whole campus could be at risk.”

“And you're overdramatic!” Henry growled. He fumbled across his desk for a moment before remembering that he'd hurtled his tumbler at the wall. “Since we added new wards during Quentin's first year they've worked more effectively than all the wards in the last five. They will continue to hold in my absence.” Jane let her shoulders slump in defeat. Despite the urge to reset, she couldn't risk that she might lose Henry's support in the process; more importantly, she couldn't risk losing access to campus.

“Will you at least tell me how Penny ended up with traveler tattoos so quickly?” Henry laughed again.

“Mayakovsky! Can you believe it? He spent the entirety of his break at the South Pole, and the old codger was generous enough to give him the patterns and ink the spells before he returned to campus.”

“What if he finds a way to the Neitherlands or Fillory early?” Jane pressed on. “We need a traveler, Henry! If Penny gets himself killed he won't have a choice but to reset!”

“I have his professors caution him. You have easier access the library than I do, perhaps you can get a book or two on the dangers of interdimensional travel. Threatening that he might travel into a volcano, or wake up at the bottom of the ocean didn't seem to have much effect last year.”

“I'll see what I can find.” Jane murmured. She leaned forward to rub her forehead. A tension headache was rapidly blossoming behind her eyes, and it felt like someone had wrapped a band too tightly around her skull. “I guess I should be going.” She whispered as she stood. Henry didn't get up to follow her to the door. He had reached for the bottle and moved it, so it sat in front of him. Jane's hand had circled the knob before he spoke again.

“Quentin's father died over the Summer.” He informed her quietly. Jane heaved a giant sigh; her back straightened, and she squeezed the knob a little tighter. “The magical cancer you gave him caused him to have an unexpected stroke. Don't come back unless I invite you back.” Jane squeezed her eyes shut and hung her head. The man's death would make Quentin stronger, just as so many other little things she and Henry had put into play would make each of them stronger in their own ways. “Get out,” Henry ordered when she refused to offer a verbal response.

Chapter Text

When Eliot waltzed into their room with an armload of flowing brightly colored fabric Quentin's first thought was Halloween, then he picked out the combination of green and gold that Eliot had worn during the first year trials and recognized the similar cloaks that the other upperclassmen had donned. Eliot dumped the pile on the foot of their bed and grinned at him.

“What color?”

“What color for what?”

“The Trials, Q.” Eliot leaned over the end of the bed, then brought a knee up. The air trapped in the pile billowed towards the ends under the pressure. Long fingers spread against the sheets to brace himself as Eliot started to bring his other knee to join the first.

“Shoes,” Quentin told him. “Don't use your hands.” Eliot laughed and ducked his head. His hands stayed pressed to the sheets, while his knees rested among the mounds of fabric. His shins balanced against the flat bedrail as he worked the laces of his shoes loose with his telekinesis. Once the second shoe had hit the floor Quentin set the textbook he'd been reading aside; two fingers flexed as he beckoned Eliot up to join him. “What choices do I have?” Eliot's hand dove into the pile, and he yanked a dark blue cloak from the bottom. He dragged it under his hand as he moved up the bed.

“I was thinking blue.”

“Well if you had already picked, why did you give me a choice?” Quentin curved his hand around the back of Eliot's head to reel the taller man into a kiss. His thigh was between Eliot's legs; his boyfriend's hands settled against his hips. The blue cloak lay forgotten alongside them. Long fingers slipped upward, then under his t-shirt.

“I brought the whole pile in case you didn't like the blue.” Eliot's hands moved along his sides, riding the shirt higher.

“The blue is fine, are you going to be the 'grandmaster' like you were last year?”

“Grandmaster? Oh! Am I going to be the one explaining to the first years why we dragged them out of bed? Probably.” Eliot grinned as he leaned in for another kiss. “I am one for the theatrics.” A snort of laughter bubbled from Quentin's throat; he leaned forward so the shirt could ride up his back. The laugh became an eager groan as Eliot's thumb brushed across his nipple. Once the garment had hit the floor, he grabbed Eliot's narrow hips and rolled Eliot onto his back. The thigh between Eliot's legs pressed against his groin.

“You wear too many layers,” Quentin complained as he opened the vest. There wasn't any heat to the complaint, expecting Eliot to change the way he dressed to give him easier access wasn't something Quentin wanted.

“Would you like help unwrapping me?” Eliot offered. His fingers moved to the top button of his shirt after Quentin had loosened the knot of his tie.

“I got this.” Quentin dropped the tie off the edge of the bed, then started opening Eliot's shirt. Silk parted to reveal pale skin. The way he had Eliot pinned prevented Eliot from working the material down his arms without sitting, and Quentin wasn't interested in letting him sit. His boyfriend whined, and Eliot rocked his hips against his thigh as Quentin sucked at a spot below the collar of his shirt. “I wonder if I can get you off just by letting you ride my leg.” Quentin mused. He could feel the gasp as it rapidly built in Eliot's chest. “Let's do that. My hands aren't going to go any lower than here.” Quentin illustrated his point by dragging his hand down Eliot's chest to the line of his unopened jeans. “Deal?”

“Yes, sir.” Eliot arched and wiggled his hips against his leg to create more friction. To help him Quentin ducked his head and swiped his tongue against one of Eliot's nipples. The bud peaked under the attention. A mischievous smirk formed on Quentin's lips. He inhaled, then gently blew the air across the swatch of wet skin. A pleased cry, combined with Eliot throwing his head back against the pillow as he writhed encouraged him to repeat the action.

“You're so pretty like this.” He praised as he rained kisses along the column of Eliot's neck. “I love it when you make so much noise for me.” Eliot had brought the knee not restricted between Quentin's legs up to brace himself so he could piston and swivel his hips more easily. Sweat beaded on exposed skin. Eliot's breath grew more ragged, and Quentin had to make himself hold his thigh still so we wasn't helping. “I know how close you are.” He encouraged after Eliot had rubbed against his leg for a handful of minutes. “You can do this.” Quentin rubbed the nipple he'd licked. His hand traveled down Eliot's chest to swirl around his navel.

“Fuck, Q!” Eliot ground against him in motions that were wanton until his whole body tensed as he climaxed. He collapsed against the sheets, and his chest heaved as he tried to catch his breath.

“Beautiful.” Quentin murmured. His fingers gripped in the silky damp locks of Eliot's hair as he kissed him. He slipped his arm under Eliot's back so he could clutch him close. “And all mine.” Eliot shivered in his arms.

“You need to come too.” The words were absent-minded, almost sleepy, as Eliot's hand popped the button of his jeans and yanked the zipper down. Quentin groaned when long fingers wrapped around him; Eliot riding his thigh had left the job half done already, so the effort needed for him to finish was minimal. Quentin reached for the wipes on the bedside table to clean himself up.

“When are the trials?” Quentin asked as they lay together. Eliot responded with a yawn first.

“They start Wednesday evening.” He buried his face into Quentin's neck. “The ones that make it through should be flying to Brakebills South Friday morning. The staff will be gone through the whole weekend. We should go out as a group, all of us.” Quentin played with a curl of Eliot's damp hair. Margo would be easy enough to convince, but Alice and Penny would take effort.

“Sit up for me.” He told Eliot. The suggestion earned a discontent whine, but Eliot obediently untangled himself to sit. Quentin stripped the open vest and shirt down his arms, tossed them away, then released the buckle of Eliot's belt. “Lift your hips.” He peeled the stained jeans and boxers down Eliot's legs, reached for a wipe, then tugged Eliot back down with lay with him once he'd finished. The faint, pleased little noise Eliot made as his face nuzzled to his throat again made Quentin smile; he rubbed his thumb in slow circles across the lines of scar tissue on Eliot's hip. “You can go to sleep now if you want.” The mumbled response might have been words, but Eliot was already drifting. Quentin tossed the blanket across his boyfriend's bare hips. Reading was pretty much impossible with Eliot wrapped around him, so he napped. The abrupt snap of the bedroom door opening woke both of them up.

“El, you had better be decent! You were supposed to bring the pile back after Quentin had picked.”

“We picked the blue,” Quentin told her as she rounded the corner. He gestured to the mounded fabric at the foot of his bed. “You can take the rest of them.” Margo crossed to the bed; her arm started to slide under the pile, then she grinned and leaned to tickle the bottom of Eliot's foot. Eliot squirmed away from her fingers, drawing his leg up so quickly that he almost kneed Quentin in the balls.

“Bambi stop!”

“You were more fun before you got a serious boyfriend.” She complained lightly as the pile got scooped off their bed. Eliot groaned and rested his head back on Quentin's shoulder. “Did you pick what you are going to wear?” She asked Eliot.

“The same thing I wore last year, I guess.”

“How original.” Came the dry response.

“I was telling Quentin we should all go out once the first years are gone, Penny and Alice too. Maybe if we blackmail them by telling them, your birthday is coming up and you'll just die if we don't all go...”

“Hmm, maybe.” Margo shifted the armload of material, so it was draped over her shoulder. “I'll plant the suggestion when I make them pick their cloaks. Hopefully, it won't take them as long as it did the two of you.”

“Well, the decision wasn't what took the time.”

“No details! Jesus, I know enough about your vanilla sex life as it is!”

“Vanilla!” Quentin grinned at Eliot's indignant scoff. “Q is a surprisingly fast study!” Margo rolled her eyes, then swatted playfully at Quentin's foot.

“I'm going to finish passing these damn things out.” She proclaimed before turning and disappearing.

-----------------------

To all of their surprise, Alice turned out to be much easier to convince than any of them had anticipated. She had a handful of conditions though, one was that Margo help her choose an outfit, and the second was that the group not abandon her at the club. Penny, on the other hand, was adamant that he was not going. The four of them were still trying to convince the psychic that he could manage a couple of hours in a club setting when Wednesday afternoon rolled around.

“I already said no,” Penny told Eliot as the taller man fell into step with him as he exited the main campus building. The sun was sinking towards the horizon. The staff had quietly taken their leave, and the excitement of the upperclassmen had charged the air with an undercurrent of magical energy that was almost palpable.

“We don't expect you to stay out with us all evening, just come out for a couple of hours. Indulge your girlfriend, then bring her back and have fantastic sex.” Eliot told him. “Think about it! The first years will be gone; there aren't that many second or third year physical kids. The two of you will be able to be as loud as you want!”

“That's what silencing charms are for,” Penny muttered.

“Sometimes it pays to be adventurous.” Eliot continued to press.

“I don't think any of you guys realize that people out there are loud. They don't know that psychics are real, and can hear every mundane thought. Two hours of listening to a bunch of drunk mother fuckers silently chanting 'sex, sex, sex' isn't my cup of tea.”

“Alice seems excited about the idea. Think about it.” Penny's strides lengthened in a feeble attempt to outpace him. Abruptly he stopped.

“If I think about it will you go pester someone else?”

“Of course!” Eliot grinned at him. “Are you helping corral all the psychic first years tonight, or are you going to sit and sulk while everyone else has all the fun?”

“Oh, I'm helping! I got dragged onto the lawn in my pajamas in the middle of the night same as everyone else!” A grin spread across Penny's face. “I've been looking forward to this.”

“Q said Alice was ranting that this whole ritual is just short of hazing.”

“It kinda is, but flying south was worth it... The shit afterward with Mayakovsky, not so much.”

“Yeah.” Eliot wouldn't admit it, but at the time he wished he could have stayed a goose. His emotional hangups had melted away. His head had been clear because his substance abuse hadn't been an issue. He'd felt free and almost weightless, then he'd crashed back to Earth in human form, and it had all piled on his shoulders again. The thought of months isolated and mute made him shiver.

“Eliot, hey.” Penny's fingers snapped three times in front of his nose. “You went away for a second there.”

“Sorry.” Eliot hooked his thumb in the vague direction of the cottage. “I need a drink. I'll see you in a couple of hours.” He turned to jog away and tried to ignore the eyes that seemed to be burning into the back of his head as Penny watched him. The cottage was empty when he reached it, and he dumped his bag as he headed for the bar. He was half-way through the martini he'd mixed, and the magazine he was reading, when someone darted down the hall. The person had gotten dressed early; the rustle of billowing fabric gave them away. A low chuckle blossomed from Eliot's throat. He got up to refresh his drink, then headed upstairs. Quentin joined him as he was retrieving their cloaks from the hangers in their closet.

“Are you ready for this?” Quentin asked as he changed.

“This is a lot of fun when you aren't on the receiving end.” He assured Quentin as he reached for the pair of masks that lay on their coffee table. His hand curved around the back of Quentin's head and he hauled the shorter man in for a kiss before laying the mask over Quentin's face. “Shall we?” His voice was muffled by the layer of gold. The door swung as he reached for it, and Eliot grinned as he found Bambi's small frame on the other side. “You look lovely, my darling.” He purred at her. She'd chosen purple this year, and coordinated the rest of her outfit accordingly. A muffled giggle betrayed the excitement that her mask prevented him from seeing. Together they crept down the stairs and out of the cottage. He hunted first years with them for about an then they parted ways. Mentally he rehearsed the speech he had to give once everyone had been gathered. He wanted it to be different from the one he'd given to Quentin's group, while still being transparent enough to portray the importance of the trials.

As he was skirting the edge of the hedge maze, the branches of the slow-moving topiary shook. He heard cloth rip and the pounding of feet. A first-year chased by two upperclassmen barreled straight into him as he waited by the exit. The girl in his arms shrieked, and the two illusion students who had been chasing her laughed as they raised their masks. Eliot pointed across campus, where the first years were being gathered but didn't speak or lift his veil to give away his identity. He grinned as the three walked in the direction he'd pointed.

A branch snapped behind him, and Eliot spun. A male upperclassmen darted out of the maze and jogged away from him. Maybe he'd lied to Quentin a bit. This part was fun when you had a partner in crime, but not so much when you were alone in the dark and couldn't tell who anyone was. It made his skin start to crawl a little; as the night progressed, Eliot began to feel an inescapable feeling of being watched.

“Hey.” Penny's unexpected voice made him jump. “They've got all the first years gathered up.” The psychic held out a hand, and the two of them traveled across campus. It was the first time Eliot had been on the receiving end of Penny's rather convenient power; it left Eliot feeling a little envious. There were moments in his life he would have given anything to escape with a thought. Torchlight reflected off the gold covered faces of the upperclassmen flanking the first years as he walked up onto the stage.

Five minutes later he'd given his explanation, and the students were being herded towards their first trial. He found Quentin, and Margo handing out team names. Alice prowled through the tables as she waited for everyone to find their seats. The blond had volunteered to help check answers as each team finished. The next few hours were exhausting. Seeing students blink out as they gave up or failed was as hard to watch in his third year as it had been in his second. Thankfully there wasn't a first-year he was attached to as he had been to Quentin.

The last group finished, and the ones who had passed were dismissed to get some rest before their second trial started. The feeling of being watched had never really gone away, even after hours in a room full of people. Quentin was helping Margo clear off tables, so Eliot used the opportunity to head back to the cottage. His flask stood upright on the coffee table in their room, and he swept it up into his hand; he smelled the gin as soon as he twisted off the cap.

A frustrated noise ripped its way from his throat as he threw himself down on the couch. His hands twisted through a long series of spells as he chanted. After a few minutes a nebulous web of spell work formed around the flask. He'd spent weeks trying to chase down the errant line of magical code that kept forcing the container to switch. A frown formed on his face as the same unfamiliar symbols started to jump out.

“El?” Eliot let the magic fall away as he looked up.

“I don't know why it keeps switching.” He complained. Quentin shrugged helplessly.

“We've only got a couple of hours before the next trial. We should get some rest.” Eliot stripped off his robes as he followed Quentin back to bed. They were up again with the morning light. Sleep had helped dispel the discomfort Eliot had been struggling to shake, and he was excited to dress Quentin to the nines before they headed into the woods. A group of baffled first years awaited them, and Eliot was eager and deliver them even more confusing instructions.

The group of five the two of them had been assigned figured out that they had to trade tools rather quickly. Eliot felt like a pleased parent as he and Quentin worked the cooperative spell to reveal the path back to the cottage. The speed of their group left their afternoon free, and they were pleasantly tipsy when Alice and Margo trudged into the cottage almost three hours later.

“They were so stupid!” Alice lamented as Eliot got up to make them drinks.

“Well the three of them weren't. If the other two hadn't been so stubborn, they would have finished over an hour ago.”

“Did your group pass?” Quentin asked.

“By the skin of their teeth. I was getting worried I was going to have to call time on them.” Margo intercepted the drinks Eliot brought them and handed the second one off to Alice. The pair clinked their glasses together. Penny appeared on the couch half a minute later and leaned down to kiss Alice's cheek.

“You look pretty.” He complimented as he rested his hip against the back of the couch.

“All my doing!” Margo boasted. Penny rounded the couch to sit; Alice rested her hand on his thigh.

“Are you going out with us?” She asked. Eliot could see a faint flush on her cheeks.

“I'll make her look even better than she does now!” Margo promised. Eliot laughed softly; he could see Alice flushing for real.

“Don't scare them away, Bambi!” He teased.

“If it's overwhelming we can come back.” Alice offered.

“Fine!” Penny finally consented. A delighted squeak of excitement escaped Alice's throat before she could stop it, and she blushed crimson. Penny chuckled softly and wrapped his arm around her. “I can't promise I won't hate it though.” He told her as he pulled her closer.

“Please tell me this isn't the first time he's taken you out!” Margo proclaimed.

“What? No! We've gone to dinner a few times, but this is... well it's,” Alice's hands played with the hem of her skirt. “It's not something we would do, just us, but if its a group it might be better.”

“It'll be a blast!” Eliot assured her as he brought Penny a drink. “It's a great bar; they have a huge dance floor.” He had considered taking everyone to Perrette's before deciding on a place in New York instead. “You'll both love it.” He promised as he dropped beside Quentin.

Chapter Text

“I need a refill,” Eliot told Quentin as he slid out of the booth they had commandeered almost immediately upon arriving at the bar. They and their friends had been at the club around forty-five minutes, and he'd rapidly burned through the overpriced cocktail he'd purchased. So far everyone seemed to be having a good time, even Penny had relaxed a little once Alice had dragged him towards the corner of the dance floor closest to the table. Margo had found a handsome boy to worship her, and Eliot had used the excuse of holding the table to make-out with Quentin.

“Want me to tag along?” Eliot glanced towards the packed bar, considered how long it had taken to get their first round of drinks, then shook his head.

“We'll lose the table; it shouldn't take me long at all to slide up there by myself.” He leaned across the table to collect a quick kiss from his boyfriend and his boyfriend's empty glass.

“Refill? Or something different?”

“Refill is fine.” Quentin's hand cupped the curve of his face; Eliot briefly rested their foreheads together.

“Back in few minutes.” He promised before standing straight again. The crowd thickened as he got closer to the bar. Eliot turned sideways to shoulder up to the lip of the counter. The glasses in his hands got placed on the inner edge of the table. The bartender who had served him earlier waved, and Eliot smiled back. He knew they were busy, so he settled against the bar to wait. Beside him, someone dropped a coin. Eliot watched as it rolled closer and spun against its edges; it lay flat an inch or so from his hand. The crowd surrounding him thinned enough to give him room to rest his forearms on the counter. Eliot tapped his fingers in time with the music. His server walked right past him like he'd forgotten he was there and Eliot frowned. He'd tipped well when he'd brought the group their first round.

He straightened and tried to wave the guy back, irritation flashing across his face before he wrestled it back down. It was possible the guy was putting together several drinks at once, but the man passed him a second time with a handful of beers and headed for the far end of the counter to help someone else.

Eliot leaned across the counter to call him back and had just opened his mouth to speak when an arm wrapped around his waist. He was pulled against the chest of a man about his height but broader, and the guy was either drunk enough or confident enough to kiss his neck without permission. Before he and Quentin had started to date, Eliot would have eagerly welcomed the attention of any drunk, cocky, well-built man that wanted to kiss him. Now he just wanted out of the creep's embrace before Quentin saw them and got the wrong idea.

“Look, Sweetie, I know I'm pretty, but you can't just grab me out of the blue. There's this thing called personal space.” Eliot tried to dislodge the arm without using his telekinesis because he didn't want to break the arm of some drunk misguided frat boy. “I'm here with my boyfriend. Let me go.” He snapped when he wasn't immediately released.

“I saw him. Quentin's cute, El.” Eliot stood frozen in the embrace until one of the other man's hands circled his wrist and forced him to turn. Eliot bit back a cry as his arm was folded behind his back and his hand was pressed up against his shoulder blades. His shoulder ached as it was pushed almost to its breaking point. “It's been years, El. Don't ruin this. I will break your hand.”

“Let me go.” The arch of the bar dug into his back as he was pinned between it and the other man's broader frame. Alex's hand curved almost reverently around his face, then back into his hair. Eliot's heart raced in his chest. He formed a flame against the fingers of his free hand, but the word bond branded across his palm flared a brilliant angry orange when he tried to press the fire against his ex-boyfriend's skin. The spell turning back on him hurt enough to make Eliot yelp.

“You knew that wouldn't work, come on now El. Don't worry; no one's going to interrupt us.” Adrenaline surged through Eliot's muscles, but with Alex pinning him he had nowhere to go. His legs shook as the little things he'd been denying or rationalizing away for months started to line up.

“Let me go, Al--” The words got cut off as Alex claimed his mouth. The taste of the gin that had always been Alex's favorite was heavy on his breath. Eliot tried to turn his head away, but the hand in his hair tightened to hold him in place. When Alex let him breathe again he saw that the bar stools immediately surrounding them had been abandoned; the music sounded far away. Eliot realized that the bartender hadn't been ignoring him and that Alex hadn't been bluffing when he'd said no one would intervene.

“I missed you so much, El,” Alex told him. His forehead rested against Eliot's and the hand in his hair settled around the back of his neck. The grip on his arm was tight enough to bruise, probably as a reminder that he still had leverage, as if Eliot could forget with his wrist continually pressed to the middle of his back.

“How did you find me? My ward--”

“Was never really a good one.” Alex finished. “Did you really think it would somehow make you invisible to me? It never worked against cameras. I've kept track of you since you left. You were still going to your classes; you were working for Perrette, and then you started at Brakebills. I met a Brit shortly after they accepted you, a real dapper dresser, the two of you would probably hit it off. He helped me figure out a counter-ward for the part of your spell that did work. I've been using my alumni key to come and go from campus for months. I should have said hello sooner.”

“Stop it! N-” The hand against his neck gripped harder and pulled Eliot forward into a second kiss. He felt more vulnerable now than he had been when he'd left Alex when he was twenty. Eliot shoved hard against the bigger man's chest with his free hand and turned his head away as their mouths broke apart. Doing so left his neck open, and Eliot shivered as Alex's mouth pressed insistently along his throat.

“I was going to wait until you graduated to see you again, but then you and Q started dating. I get why you like him so much. Quentin seems like a great guy; the two of you are cute together. Has he learned to dom you the way you like yet?”

“You took his phone, my flask, you left that birthday card... you were in our rooms.” Eliot felt like ice was pumping through his veins.

“Margo's too, did you tell her about me when you were her secrets partner? I met both of them when they went shopping for your birthday.” The more Alex talked, the farther Eliot spiraled into a panic.

“Please leave them alone. I'll do whatever you want.” He whispered. “Just don't hurt them.” He felt like he'd been cornered without even putting up a fight; it was humiliating. Eliot blinked away tears, readying himself to force out words he knew he had to say. “We can leave now if you want.” He offered.

“Hey, now, none of that. Don't cry.” Alex finally released his wrist so he could cup his face with both hands. As his face was tilted back up Alex's thumbs brushed gently at the corners of Eliot's eyes. “I missed you, Baby. It'll be better this time.” The man's arms circled him; Eliot formed his hands into fists to stop himself from trying to cast a spell that would only backfire. Alex kissed him again; the man's tongue forced its way into his mouth. Behind him, Eliot heard the pop of glass as his forgotten martini glass exploded. The glass shards bit into his skin as he flinched into Alex's hold. Strong arms tightened around him, the kiss deepened, and Eliot did nothing to resist as tears continued to streak down his face.

“What the ever loving fuck, Eliot?” Penny had somehow gotten around the spell keeping everyone else away. His furious shout caused Alex to break the kiss. Eliot clapped his hand over his mouth to stifle a quiet sob. His thoughts raced unrestrained by his normal wards; he knew what Penny probably thought, that he was cheating. “You sick mother fucker.” Eliot jerked in surprise as Penny hauled Alex away from him, then Penny's fist collided with Alex's face. Alex hit the floor and rolled back to avoid a kick that swept towards his stomach. He scrambled to his feet “Stay away from him you prick.” Eliot's gaze shifted between the furious traveler and his ex-boyfriend as the three of them stood in a lopsided triangle.

“You just had to ruin it, didn't you!”

“Yeah, I fucking ruined it! There was no way I was standing back while you molested one of my friends!” Eliot's gaze snapped to Penny in disbelief.

“Penny...” The traveler wasn't one to call anyone a friend casually. Taking his eyes off Alex was a mistake. Eliot knew from experience that Alex could move with surprising quickness. Eliot felt the back of Alex's hand crack against his face before Penny even realized that Alex hadn't been talking to him. The swipe broke his cheekbone, probably his nose too, and sent Eliot stumbling into the bar. He rested there as pain radiated from the tip of his nose to his ear There was a scuffle behind him, and Eliot glanced up just in time to see Penny grab Alex and disappear.

Bittersweet relief washed through him as blood leaked down his face; blindly he groped for a handful of napkins. Whatever spell Alex had cast was still keeping him isolated; the brief fight seemed to have passed unnoticed. Eliot was grateful. Right now he couldn't handle the claustrophobia that would accompany dozens of people crowding around him to help. His gaze flicked down to the coin that had rolled close to his fingers. A ram's head stood out in stark relief on the coin's surface and a script he couldn't read, despite all his years of studying language, curved around the edge. That had to be the source of the spell. He picked it up, wrapped his hand around it, and sank to the floor of the bar with it tight in his grip.

-----------------------------

The stink of swamp air invaded Penny's senses seconds after he grabbed handfuls of shirt and traveled. The ancient pier he'd escaped to hundreds of times during his stint in Florida's foster care system creaked under their combined weight. Alexander Forest's gaze flitted around the moonlit swamp in shocked wonder, but Penny didn't give him more than a few seconds to get his bearings before shoving him off the pier into the water.

“Come near him again, and I'll kill you.” He told Alex once the man had bobbed back to the surface. The man's hand gripped the edge of the rotting wood and Penny took a half step forward to rest his fingers over the digits.

“What the fuck you asshole? Are you trying to kill me now? There are alligators down here!” He tried to slide his fingers from under Penny's boot, but Penny didn't have it. He casually moved his shoe along the wood to follow the hand. “Don't!”

“Why shouldn't I? You were going to break Eliot's hand!”

“He would have been fine!”

“You don't get to walk into his life and ruin it!” Penny ranted. “He worked so hard to move past everything you did to him.”

“Don't act like you know anything about our relationship!” Alex spat. Penny levered his foot harder against Alex's hand; he dropped to one knee.”

“Psychic, Motherfucker.” Alex's fingers tightened on the wood as his other hand darted forward to try and grab Penny's ankle. The attempted attack was all the incentive Penny needed to shift his weight to the front of his foot. The bones of three fingers crunched. Alex flailed as Penny relieved the pressure, and Penny watched him struggle around the edge of the dock to shore. Once the man had reached dryer land, Penny left him there and traveled back to the bar.

The chaotic whirl of Eliot's unguarded thoughts made him grit his teeth and close his eyes. When Alex had kissed him Eliot's wards had cracked, then wholly fallen. His ordinarily quiet mind had been so loud that it had momentarily drowned out the voices of everyone in the bar. Penny hadn't had much choice but to take it all in. Finding out that Eliot had accidentally killed someone with his telekinesis was one thing. Seeing how he'd let some asshole damage him time after time because of it was another.

Eliot was curled on the floor in the same spot where Penny had left him, and Penny went to his knees in front of him. As gently as he could, he smoothed Eliot's hair back. The right side of his face was a rainbow of color, one eye was swollen shut, and the handful of napkins were soaked with blood. Penny yanked off his scarf as he stood and quickly dumped as many empty glasses of ice into the cloth as he could reach. He twisted the scarf into a make-shift ice pack and leaned back down to press it to Eliot's face gingerly. The older boy flinched away from the gentle contact as Penny passed him a handful of clean napkins.

“We're going back to the cottage.” He told Eliot as he rested his hand on the taller man's shoulder. A second later they were on the floor in the bathroom of Eliot and Quentin's room. Eliot clutched the ice to his cheek and buried his face against his knees. Small broken sobs made his frame shake. “El. let me see.” Penny whispered. The shortened form was something usually restricted to Eliot's closest friends, but Penny was going to try to heal as much of the injury as he could. He wanted Eliot to trust him. “I know you don't want to go to the infirmary. Let me help.” Eliot's wards were still wrecked, Penny could hear every thought as they loudly flitted through his mind; mentioning the infirmary sparked a frenzy of them. The staff was still gone, and Eliot didn't want to tell one of the healing students how this had happened, or for them to see evidence that it had happened before.

Eliot shifted; his knees dropped to sit cross-legged on the tile. Penny got a sideways glance out of the eye Eliot could see through, then the other boy jerked his head in a quick nod. With permission granted Penny started to work his fingers through the fluid motions of a healing spell. Eliot whimpered as the swelling decreased and the bones straightened. Healing had never been Penny's forte; there was still an impressive bruise spread across Eliot's cheek when he finished. Penny wet a hand towel and handed it to the older boy, then lifted what remained of the ice back to Eliot's cheek.

“I'll get more ice; then I'm going back to the bar to get Quentin.” He told Eliot as he started to stand. An onslaught of panicked thoughts and Eliot's hand latching onto his wrist stopped him. Apparently, Eliot didn't want Quentin to see him like this. “Bullshit, you can't hide this from him.”

The flurry of unspoken thoughts he got in response was almost maddening. Silent whispers of how Eliot didn't believe he deserved what he had, of how severely damaged he was, and how he was sure Quentin wouldn't want him anymore flitted through Penny's mind almost too quickly to process. It was all bullshit. He grabbed Eliot's chin and forced his gaze up.

“Eliot, stop it.” He ordered; purposefully pitching his voice in a tone, he now knew Eliot would respond to. Penny knew it wasn't fair to prey on Eliot's submissive tendencies, but he was panicking, and Penny just wanted him to be calm. Eliot went still in his hold, and Penny stared into tear-filled amber eyes. “Quentin loves you. Have you told him about this asshole?” Eliot's chin jerked a quick yes against his hand. “Then he's not going to dump you. They love you, Quentin and Margo both.”

“I don't want them to get hurt.” Penny sighed in relief because at least Eliot was using words. He cupped his hand against the unbruised side of Eliot's face. The older student soaked up the gentle contact like he was starved for it.

“I know, I know, man.” He adjusted what remained of the ice-pack and sighed. “I'm getting more ice. Can I leave you alone?” It took longer than Penny liked to get a verbal answer, and sorting through the other magician's chaotic train of thought was exhausting. “Eliot?”

“There's ice in my mini-fridge.” Penny briefly grinned at him, of course, there was. He got up and walked into the central living space. A large zip-lock bag packed with ice took up the majority of the small freezer; Penny grabbed the bag, and the bottle of orange juice that sat on one of the shelves. He twisted the cap off, to make sure the liquid wasn't doctored, then took it back to the bathroom.

Eliot had moved enough to rest his back against the wall when Penny returned. He offered Penny the sopping scarf, dripping drops in varying shades of pink across his clothes and the tile in the process. Penny grimaced as he ran the scarf under the water; a trail of red raced down the drain. He balled the cloth and pitched it into a nearby waste bin, then wrapped the bag of ice in a clean towel and handed it to Eliot. “Please go get Q” Eliot pleaded.

“Can I leave you alone for that long?” Eliot had never answered the question the first time. “Eliot?” Thoughts flitted across Penny's mind as he stood at the sink and tried to scrub blood from his fingers. “Give me a verbal answer, Eliot.”

“I won't... I won't do anything stupid.” Eliot finally relented, he'd drawn long legs up to his chest again. Waves of fear that Alex might come back brought Penny to Eliot's side and down to one knee. He raked his hand back through the soft curls of Eliot's hair.

“I don't think he's stupid enough to try something here on campus.” Penny tried to sooth. The disjointed memories he got as a response made no sense. Eliot seemed to have stopped talking again. “I'll be back with Q in a few minutes.” He promised.

“Okay.” Eliot rested his forehead against his knees. Penny hated to leave him there, but he knew that Quentin would do a better job calming Eliot down than he ever would.

Chapter Text

Penny was so focused on finding Quentin quickly that he traveled almost on top of the other man as soon as he returned to the bar. Quentin yelped as Penny appeared inches from his face in the quiet alley where the group's portal had deposited them when they had first arrived. Hands instinctively flailed at his chest before Quentin got his bearings and shoved him farther away.

“Where the hell did you go?” He demanded. Concern layered on top of the fear already swirling in Quentin's mind. Penny rubbed his temples with both hands “Alice said you grabbed your head, then traveled without an explanation, and El disappeared. I came out here to make a portal back to campus.” Penny locked his hands behind his head and turned his back to Quentin. The alley was quiet, mentally speaking, even with Quentin's mind quietly buzzing a foot or two from him. He needed a minute. “Pen--”

“Just shut up, Coldwater. Give me a minute, half a minute, even, of relative peace.” Quentin crossed his arms over his chest. He seemed to get the hint that Penny craved mental silence as much as physical; his mind quieted as much as his worry would allow. A minute ticked past, then another thirty seconds, then Quentin started to fidget. He kicked a loose piece of stone hard enough for it to ricochet off the brick. It skidded down the alley.

“Penny, please.” Penny racked his hand through his hair, then scratched the back of his head. He took a long step towards Quentin to grab the smaller man's arm. In the space of a second, they stood in the woods a few feet from the cottage. The drone of the city was replaced with the buzz of nocturnal insects and the quiet whisper of the breeze in the branches overhead. When Penny looked up, he could see stars through the crisscrossing shadows. It was fall, and cool.

“How much has Eliot told you about his ex-boyfriend?” Quentin tensed in his hold; his mind buzzed like a swarm of angry bees. Penny couldn't get more than aborted flashes of memory.

“Mind your own business.” Quentin tried to yank his arm free, but Penny resolutely maintained his hold. Quentin needed to know what he was about to walk into, or he'd panic. The calmer Quentin was, the better it would be for Eliot. His hand shifted down to Quentin's wrist, so he could yank the smaller man closer to him.

“How much did he tell you, Q?”

“Enough to know how bad it was; he was controlling, abusive, manipulative. He found ways to keep Eliot in their relationship for two years.” Quentin shivered, his eyes fixed past Penny, at the cottage behind him. “What did he do?” He whispered. “Where's El? Is he okay?” The bricks of his wards were starting to crumble as he imagined increasingly worse scenarios.

“Quentin!” The smaller man's attention snapped back to him.

“Stop trying to spare my feelings and tell me what happened!.”

“Alex was there tonight... I don't know if it was a coincidence or if he coordinated it somehow, but he had this... enchantment, and he used it to isolate Eliot once he went to the bar by himself. I got past it because I could travel directly to them. He had Eliot pinned up against the bar. Whatever he did, or said, royally fucked with Eliot's head; his wards are wrecked. He's terrified you'll leave him.”

“I'd never do that!” Dry leaves crunched under Quentin's tennis shoes as he walked a few angry paces towards the cottage. He stopped and turned back to Penny. “Why would he think that? Does he think I'm that shallow?”

“Eliot's scared Quentin, and hurt; he isn't reasoning rationally.” Quentin had paled.

“Hurt?” He parroted. “Hurt how?” His mind had started to race again. Penny closed the gap between them.

“Alex backhanded him across the face.” Penny brought his hand to his cheek to trace the line of it. “It broke this bone and his nose. I brought him back to the cottage, used a healing spell to fix what I could, but his face is still pretty bruised.”

“You should have taken him to the infirmary!”

“He doesn't want to go!” Penny rubbed his hand through his hair. “The staff is still gone remember? He doesn't want a bunch of student interns seeing what that piece of shit did to him. Fuck man, he doesn't really want you to see it.” Quentin rubbed his fingers around the orbit of his eye socket.

“Okay, so let's just... head inside I guess.” Penny reached to squeeze the smaller man's shoulder. He could feel Quentin's pulse racing under his fingers.

“You aren't going to help him if you panic when you see him.” Quentin's shoulders slumped in misery.

“I know.” Quentin kicked at some of the piled leaves. “Why didn't you take me straight to our room?” He demanded suddenly.

“You needed to know what happened. How you react is going to determine how well Eliot copes.” Penny shrugged. “It seemed like the best thing to do, for him.” Quentin was giving him a quizzical look, and Penny threw his hands into the air. “I saw a lot, okay! Eliot's wards are fucking trashed; he's been through way more shit than I'd have ever guessed.”

“So you're what? Protective now, or something?”

“I guess.” Penny squeezed Quentin's arm; they seamlessly shifted from the leaf covered floor of the forest to the hard-wood of Quentin's room. “Bathroom.” Penny cocked his head towards the en-suite bathroom. Quentin jogged to the door and knocked.

“El?” He waited for a response he didn't get, then twisted the handle. Penny followed him, to make sure Eliot was still where he'd left him. Amber eyes flashed up to them, fixing on Quentin, but Quentin's eyes flitted around the bathroom with growing panic. “What the hell Penny?”

“He's right there.” Penny shouldered past him, took a step or two, then felt the magic of the spell ripple over his skin.

“Penny?” He could see the movement of Quentin's lips, but not the sound they produced.

“He can't see us can he? It's this; I can't, I don't know how to turn it off.” Panic was creeping into Eliot's voice, and he fumbled with a gold coin. His fingers finally brushed frantically over the raised letters; the effect was like a bubble bursting. Penny heard Quentin's sharp intake of breath. Eliot flinched at the sound and curled in on himself. The coin spilled from his fingers and bounced. Penny dropped to one knee to pick it up.

“Where the hell did he get this thing?” Penny had never seen a spell, or coin, like it. Invisibility spells were major arcana. They took a lot of power, to bind them to an object in a way that the effect could be controlled at will took even more. Quentin hovered beside him for a moment. His gaze fixed on the coin. After a second his face scrunched as if he might recognize it, then his gaze shifted back to Eliot.

“We'll figure it out later.” He whispered. “El?” Penny watched as he crept across the tile to sink to his knees on Eliot's left side. Eliot had buried his face against his legs. Quentin reached to close the gap between them; one arm wrapped around Eliot's waist and the other around his shoulder. Eliot let himself be pulled to his boyfriend's chest. “I've got you; I'm not going to leave.”

“Q...” Eliot's fingers clenched in the fabric of Quentin's button down shirt; he buried his face tight to Quentin's chest. Quentin pressed a kiss to his hair. Penny could mentally hear Eliot silently babbling rambling apologies that Quentin couldn't hear. He shoved the coin in his jeans pocket, then crossed to the pair.

“Eliot.” Quentin bristled protectively at his dominant tone, but it brought Eliot's face up off Quentin's chest as soon as he spoke. Penny went down on one knee. His fingers curved around Eliot's cheek. “Quentin isn't psychic.” Penny waved his other hand around his head. “He can't hear anything going on up here. You have to actually talk to him.” He let Eliot's chin go. “I'll handle the girls when they get back. You got him, Q?”

“Yeah.” Quentin moved the arm wrapped around Eliot's shoulder upward so he could turn Eliot's face back to his chest. “I've got you, Baby. I love you so much.” He whispered. Penny rose, and walked back towards the bathroom door; it got closed behind him. He'd never pictured Quentin as the dominant partner, but whatever dynamic the pair had fallen into seemed to work for them. That Quentin wasn't outwardly panic-stricken and stumbling over every world was some small miracle. Penny knew that inside was a different story, but for now, he seemed in control enough to navigate Eliot through the worst of the emotional storm.

---------------------------

The click of the door closing behind Penny was like a spike slicing through Quentin's chest. He was trying to be calm, but with Eliot now quietly sobbing in his hold that was hard, and only getting more difficult. He blinked away tears of his own.

“I love you so much, El.” He repeated. A sense of failure was creating a leaden weight in his chest. There should have been something they could have done, steps they could have taken, to stop this from happening. He had so many questions, but he doubted Eliot had, nor was in any state to give him the answers. “What happened, El? You can tell me.” Quentin slowly shifted himself off his knees, doing his best to disturb Eliot as little as possible in the process. He ended up with his back to the wall for support and Eliot clutched to his torso. The bathroom door quietly clicked open, and Penny tossed him one of his hoodies.

“What? He's cold.” Penny explained. He'd raided their liquor supply, and brought a tumbler of bourbon to his lips. His face pinched as he listened to whatever was going through Eliot's head. Quentin spread open the sweatshirt and wrapped it loosely around his partner.

“Say thank you.” He coaxed. Eliot raised his head to glance at the door.

“Thanks, Penny.”

“It's nothing, Man.” Penny finished the bourbon in his hand. This time he left the door just slightly ajar. Quentin hooked the curve of his index finger under Eliot's chin to guide it up.

“You could have told me you were cold.”

“I didn't want you to move.” Quentin ghosted his thumb across the bruises on Eliot's cheek. From the way he flinched even the lightest touch seemed like too much.

“Is there any way I can make this better?”

“Penny fixed it, it's just... bruised from being broken; It'll be fine in a few days.” One of Eliot's hands loosened from his shirt long enough to tug the hoodie into a different position. It hid the bruise as he rested his uninjured cheek back to Quentin's chest. The silence crept into minutes. “He just walked up behind me, grabbed my waist to pull me against his chest, then kissed my neck as if he owned me.” Eliot trailed into silence again. Quentin waited, hoping he'd continue without prompting. “Alex threatened to break my hand if I tried to run. He pinned me against the bar and I just, I, I let him kiss me. I let him force his tongue into my mouth.” Eliot shivered. “The ward on my hip stopped working.”

“This one?” Quentin curved his hand over Eliot's hip. He couldn't feel the lines of scar tissue through the material of Eliot's slacks, but the shape was intimately familiar.

“He said it never worked like I wanted.” Eliot's voice was small, broken. “He knew where I was the whole time.”

“El, I'm...we will try to find something that will protect you.” Quentin tipped Eliot's chin up. “Can I kiss you? Or would that be too much right now?”

“I trust you.” It was a longer kiss than Quentin expected Eliot to allow; he curved his hand under the sweatshirt to hold Eliot's neck.

“We'll figure it out.” He hoped the words were soothing, and not as empty sounding as they felt. “What made him hit you?”

“Penny found a way past the spell on his coin. He hauled Alex off me, punched him in the face. Alex backhanded me; he blamed me for Penny's interruption.” Quentin silently fumed. He was going to kill him if he ever got his hands on Alex. He'd do anything if it saved Eliot from going through this again. “It's not Penny's fault,” Eliot whispered. “It's mine; all this is my fault.”

“Stop, El. The only one who did something wrong was Alex. I'm thankful Penny protected you.” Quentin pushed the hood back; his fingers gently combed through Eliot's hair. “Are you still cold?”

“Kinda? Yeah.”

“Would a bath help warm you up?” Quentin had been doing his best to ignore the blood dripped across Eliot's clothes, but Eliot needed to change.

“Maybe.” The taps twisted open, and the door snapped closed again. Quentin listened to the sound of the water drumming on the bottom and sides of the deep free standing bathroom fixture.

“Sit up.” He urged as the tub continued to fill. Quentin tugged the tie loose, then unbuttoned the vest and shirt. He balled everything together, tossed it all into the corner behind the bathroom door, then gently pushed at Eliot to stand. By the time he had Eliot had undressed his boyfriend was shivering, but steam rose off the fragrant foaming water, fogging the mirror. Eliot had added a heavy dose of scented something to the water, mint and maybe eucalyptus. Quentin watched the water climb to Eliot's shoulders as the taller man sank into the tub. Water swished around him as he dragged his knees up to his chest. “Better?”

“A little.” Quentin unbuttoned his shirt, tugged his undershirt over his head, and unbuttoned his pants. His clothes fell away until he stood in just his boxers.

“Scoot.” Quentin braced his hands against the sides of the tub as he raised his leg. Warm water lapped at his ankle, then his calf and knee. Eliot's cheek came to settle on his shoulder once he was seated. Together they relaxed against the slanted back of the tub. “Better now?”

“Much.” Quentin gently raked a wet hand through Eliot's hair. Water steamed around their faces, slowly cooling until Quentin cast to bring the temperature back up. Eliot's legs entwined with his; he might have even started to doze when there was knock on the bathroom door. Quentin groaned as El startled.

“El?” Eliot slumped against him in relief as Margo's small frame slipped through the door.

“I'm sorry, Bambi.” Eliot turned his face into Quentin's shoulder.

“It's okay, Baby. Penny brought me up to speed. Just FYI, I'll rip that rat bastard's tongue out if I get a hand on him.” Margo raised her leg, elegantly balancing on one heel while she took off the other. She tossed both into the corner and walked to sit on the edge of the tub. Manicured nails scrapped against the porcelain when she braced herself. Her fingers dipped into the water. The damp digits rubbed back through Eliot's hair. Eliot leaned into what equated to a pet. “You're still fucking fabulous.” She told him as she tilted his face. “When you feel up to it we'll find a way to cover up that shiner until it heals.” An exhausted chuff of laughter escaped Eliot's throat.

“You're my angel.”

“Is there room in there for little old me?”

“We've been in here long enough for the water to go cold once. I'm starting to prune.” Eliot seemed a little more animated for Margo. Quentin wondered how much of it was reflex and facade.

“Can you get us some clean clothes?” Quentin asked her.

“And Xanax, there's some in the drawer,” Eliot added before Margo could move.

“Of course.” Margo brushed her fingers through the limp curls of Eliot's hair again, further dampening and smoothing the messy locks away from his face. She did it again like she was reluctant to move or leave him. “I'll be back.” She padded out of the bathroom on quiet feet, leaving the door wide, letting a draft of cold air sweep away the warmth that had generated from the bath water. With Eliot pressed against him Quentin felt the shiver.

“She can stay right?” Quentin was surprised. He was pretty sure there was no way to make Margo leave.

“Of course she's staying.” Quentin stood, and reached for one of the towels. He shucked his wet underwear down his legs, then dried himself. Margo returned with clothes and handed Eliot a tablet. Together the two of them got Eliot out of the water, dried off, dressed and into bed in a matter of minutes. Eliot lay on his side between them with Margo pressed to his back and her arms around his middle. “Get some sleep, if you can,” Quentin told him as he tried to coax his boyfriend into resting; his fingers were gently playing with a loose curl of damp hair. “Your safe with us.” The Xanax was already effecting Eliot's exhausted body and mind. The words Quentin got in response were mumbled.

'Not safe with me.' was what Quentin thought he heard, but Eliot was already drifting towards what Quentin was sure to be a fitful slumber at best.

Chapter Text

It had been over a week, and Eliot knew that his cheek wasn't healing as he'd expected. The bruises that had lingered following Penny's healing spell were still as tender as they had been the evening they had formed. His fingers shook as he reached for the bottle of concealer and poured a small amount onto a make-up sponge.

With deliberately delicate strokes he spread the liquid evenly across the bridge of his nose and under his eye. Even when he'd finished blending in the thin coat, it only hid so much. There was still a puffiness to one side of his face that he would need a glamour to hide. Practiced fingers flipped through the motions before dropping to grip the edge of the sink.
As soon as he'd slipped out of bed, he'd taken pain medication, but it hadn't kicked in yet. He groaned softly and walked on silent feet into the front area of their room. A sterling silver ring lay on one of the end tables, and he flipped open the false top to reveal the compartment below. He slid it onto one of his fingers, then pulled open the end table drawer for the baggie of cocaine. Having the ring on his finger helped keep the narrow opening steady as he filled the space with small white grains. When he'd bought the ring in college, it had only held a small amount, but now it held several times more. Eliot pressed the black opal stone closed, then returned the ring to the table, the cocaine back to the drawer, and stretched out on the couch. A hand on his shoulder shook him awake about an hour later.

“El?” Eliot blinked blearily at Quentin. “Why are you out here again?”

“I can't sleep.” Eliot let his eyelids slide closed. The cover of the throw pillow was rougher than the silk one on their bed. “At least one of us should rest.”

“You can wake me up, El. I can tell you're exhausted, maybe if you talk to me about what happened at the bar, I can help, or it will help you.” Eliot had been trying to avoid thinking about the night in the bar, much less talking aloud about it, but he supposed that Quentin deserved something.

“H- he made me feel vulnerable, Q.” Eliot swung his legs off the couch as he sat. “I hadn't seen him in so long that I'd built up all these layers. I thought, no, I believed that there was a chance I'd never see him again, and then he was there – right up against me.” Quentin's fingers tucked back a loose curl of his hair, then curved down the column of his neck. His boyfriend had gotten the hint not to touch his the right side of his face after the first few dozen times Eliot had flinched away. Quentin hadn't seemed to realize just how much bruising remained; Eliot intended to keep it that way if he could.

“Would counseling help?”

“I don't want to talk about it with you! Why would I open up to someone else?” Eliot snapped. The words were cruel, born from exhaustion, and Eliot regretted them. Hurt spread across Quentin's face, and Eliot felt the regret twist into a swirling well of self-loathing. He had been so open to Quentin over the Summer, and all he wanted to do now was push him as far away as he could before Alex hurt him. Hearing Alex calling Quentin cute haunted his nightmares, knowing that Alex had been close enough to his family to take their things terrified him. He'd seen all of their pictures and knew so many of their most intimate details. Eliot half expected to wake up one night to find Alex watching them sleep

“Why are you suddenly shutting me out?” Quentin demanded, and Eliot pulled himself out of the downward spiral of his thoughts long enough to shrug.

“Because I'm scared for you.” Eliot's gaze dropped to his lap. Quentin went to his knees in front of him; a gentle hand cupped the left side of his face.

“I'm not scared of him, Eliot. I can protect myself, so can Margo. We talked about this months ago.”

“Months ago it was just a fucking dream, Quentin!” Eliot tipped his face away from the hand, and shot to his feet. He stepped around Quentin to pace across the living room. His bare toes curled in the fibers of the rug. They had their first classes of the morning in a couple of hours. Eliot rubbed his wrist. Alex's fingers had held tightly enough to leave bruises that still hadn't completely faded. The fall chill allowed him to wear a sleeve long enough to cover them, but sleeve of the t-shirt he'd tried to sleep in was short. “We were all there, Q! What if he'd gone after you or Bambi? He could have used that coin to wait until you went to the restroom, drugged you, dragged you through a portal. He could have done anything!” Eliot paced backwards until his back hit the bar; he slid to the floor. The paranoia was part real fear and partially the due to the cocaine he'd started taking to keep him awake during his classes.

“El...” Quentin had risen from the spot in front of the couch, and now he sank down in front of him again. “None of that happened.”

“But it could have.” Eliot dragged his hand through his hair. “I don't even have a picture of him to show you.”

“Would Shawn have one?”

“Maybe.” Eliot dug the heel of his hand against his eye. He didn't want to drag Shawn into this, or tell his brother why he needed the photo. “I don't want him to know, Q.” He pleaded softly. “He left thinking things were good. I don't want to tell him I saw him again.”

“Then don't, just tell him I asked if you still had a picture.”

“I doubt he does; he was never fond of Alex.”

“He might have kept them if you were in them too.”

“Maybe.”

“Or I can ask, and tell him you don't know anything about it.”

“Whatever you want to do. You have Shawn's number. Call if you want.” Eliot thumped his head back against the bar. “You should get ready for class.”

“Aren't you going?”

“I'm going to keep sitting here. I'll take a shower after you.” Eliot watched him stand, and listened for the shower to start before pulling the ring to his hand. He debated flipping it open, and bringing it to his nose, but the cocaine high just didn't last long enough to bother. He would need the stimulation more as the day dragged. What he needed was something to keep him awake for hours. Meth was out of the question. Eliot wondered if there was a prescription med for narcolepsy that he could start taking. The faint drumming of water lured him into a light doze.

“El?” Quentin's hair was still dripping.

“I'm moving.” He wasn't yet, and it took another couple of minutes to lever himself off the floor with the bar for support. Once he got in the shower, he was careful not to get his face wet. He'd already applied concealer once; the idea of repeating the procedure was loathsome. A couple of spells made his hair presentable. Quentin had already gone downstairs by the time he was dressed.

“Eat something.” Margo pushed a toasted english muffin piled with jam in his direction when he dropped into one of the chairs at the table. Eliot could hear Quentin in the kitchen.

“I'm really not hungry.”

“El...” Margo's hands braced against the tabletop. Eliot forced his gaze up to meet hers, a non-verbal plea for silence written across his face. “You're going to hurt yourself if you don't stop.” Her voice was low, carrying just enough for both of them to hear.

“I'm fine.” Eliot interlocked his fingers and rested his forehead against his thumbs. He watched her take half the muffin off the plate.

“Eat the other half.” It wasn't quite an order, or a plea. It fell somewhere in between. He sighed, but reluctantly indulged her.

“Happy?” He murmured as he pushed the empty plate in her direction.

“No.” Despite himself, a quiet laugh escaped his throat. Quentin carried a bowl of cereal and a glass of orange juice with him when he found himself a chair. The glass got set in front of him.

“There had better be vodka in this.” Eliot did his best to make his tone chipper.

“Sorry, fresh out.” This time the laugh was real; there were probably two dozen bottles of vodka spread throughout the cottage. Eliot could see a cheap plastic fifth of the stuff from where he sat, but he wasn't lowering himself to drinking Popov.

“That's a sin, Q.”

“We'll make sure Todd does penance,” Margo told him. Eliot stared into the glass. He heard more than saw Quentin stirring the dry flakes of his cereal with a spoon. It was apparent that they weren't moving until the glass was empty, so Eliot picked it up and brought it to his lips. Being double-teamed wasn't fair, even if Eliot knew the concern was coming from a genuine place. The cocaine he kept slipping had already started impacting his weight. Eliot listened to the dry crunch of Quentin's cereal as he leaned back in the chair.

“Are we going to class or not?” He asked before they could force more food on him.

“I'll see you two around lunch, I guess.” Quentin swirled the spoon through the bowl, gathering what remained of the flakes onto one side so he could bring the plastic edge to his lips and shovel what remained into his mouth. Margo's books sat in the bag at her feet, and she slung it over her shoulder as she stood. Eliot waited on his side of the table as she walked around to join him.

“Talk to you later.” He told Q as he followed Margo towards the living room. He pulled on his coat, and wrapped a scarf loosely around his face. The chill outside was almost biting, and his breath puffed in the cold.

“How's your cheek?” Margo asked as they crossed campus together. Eliot shoved his hands into his pockets, and let his naturally longer stride carry him a pace or two ahead of her. “Eliot!” He heard the dry crunch of leaves as she jogged to catch up with him. Her small gloved hand caught his elbow. “You can hide it from Quentin all you want, but I can tell you're using a glamour. The cold isn't touching that 'perfect' complexion you're sporting.” Eliot allowed his shoulders to slump, of course, she would notice.

“Bambi, I'm fine. It's healing!” He assured her. The dull strum of pain under the layers of glamour, make-up, and opioids told a different story.

“You're so full of shit.” She muttered before releasing his arm and marching past him. Eliot kept his pace short so she could keep an artificial difference between them. Maybe it was okay if she was mad at him. As fiercely as he loved her and Quentin, as much as it scared him to try and push them away, he felt that he needed to do it. Outside of Shawn, they were the only two people in the world he considered family. If Alex hurt one or both of them it would break him. He cared about them too much to let them be swept up with him as his life fell apart.

A small part of him wished he'd never met them. Alex had known they were going out to the bar that night. Eliot was pretty sure Alex had known about the dinner with his brother too. It no longer felt like a coincidence that the shelves had fallen as they had, or that he'd triggered into a panic attack so quickly as soon as he'd been alone. He felt like Alex had a way of knowing whenever they left campus and Eliot hadn't figured out exactly how he was doing it. The pieces were all there, but he hadn't put them together in a way that made sense. The uncertainty of all of it was what cut him the deepest. Alex had been furious when Penny had interrupted; the traveler dumping him somewhere would have only made it worse, and Eliot feared his ex might go after his friends instead of him.

Chapter Text

It took a minute or two for Eliot to recognize where he had woken up. There were too many windows for it to be the common room of the cottage, light streamed into the room from all directions, and the scent of flora was overwhelming. Gingerly he touched his fingers to his cheek. Heat rose from the remaining bruises, and he hoped that his glamour had held up through the night. Whatever concoction the naturalist students had cooked up had left him blissfully numb; he'd fallen asleep on their couch. Q and Margo were probably furious.

He rolled onto his back and dug out his pocket watch. The silence of the house should have tipped him off to how late it was; he'd already missed his first class. Reluctantly he swung his legs to the floor, then shoved his feet into his shoes. His coat flew to him courtesy of his telekinesis. The inside of the naturalist house was almost greenhouse-like, so stepping out into the cold knocked the breath from his lungs.

The hike across campus to the physical cottage was exhausting, and Eliot half expected Quentin and Margo to be waiting with crossed arms and identical looks of disdain when he stumbled into the common room. Thankfully they had both gone to class, a fact that was confirmed when he stepped into his silent bedroom. For half a second Eliot considered just going back to bed and burying his face in Quentin's pillow, but he had a lecture with Henry and Henry noticed when people missed. His cheek ached closest to his nose, and he worked for his hands through the motions to drop his glamour actually to look at it. His eyes were rimmed with exhaustion, and the injury had started to swell during the night. It made sense as he'd been too out of it to make sure he hadn't applied pressure to that side of his face.

With a groan, he reapplied the glamour, then brought his ring to his nose. A sharp inhale sent cocaine racing through his sinuses. He changed, then grabbed his bag, and headed for class. Walking to the cottage and getting ready had taken up most of his second period, so he headed for his third and milled around in the hall. With fifteen minutes more to wait, he stepped into one of the bathrooms and took a second hit. A shiver raced down his back as he leaned against the bathroom wall. His skin felt sensitive; the door swung open with a screech that was loud enough to make him jump. He escaped into the hall, which had started to fill with students and weaved through the chaos to his lecture. He was one of the first ones to slide into a seat, and the click of Margo's heels seemed unusually loud as she joined him a few minutes later.

“What hole did you finally crawl out of?” The low hiss of her voice made him wince.

“I fell asleep on the couch in the naturalist's house.”

“Are you kidding? You couldn't take fifteen minutes to walk back to the cottage?”

“They had made these pastries; I couldn't feel my body.” Eliot threw his hand up over his head, the motion was animated, and he grinned at her. “I swear, it was like I was floating up here somewhere. I actually slept for a few hours.” Margo leaned in her seat, manicured nails grabbed his chin and dug in a little as she turned his face. Eliot had to hold in the flinch and the whine.

“Baby, you're burning up.” Her thumb gently brushed across his cheek; Eliot hissed. “El, is this still bruised? It's been like two weeks! I don't want to sound like your mother, but just go to the infirmary and let them fix it already.” The class was starting to fill, so Eliot leaned back in his chair.

“It's fine.” He assured her. His knee bounced as he rested his elbows on his desk. He could feel his pulse racing as he dragged a notebook from his bag and flipped it to a blank page. The base of his pen tapped erratically against the paper; he could already feel the high draining from him. Henry started talking. He leaned over the paper, and zoned, occasionally scribbling notes and briefly looking up to jot down spell diagrams. Pain that was almost blinding lanced across his cheek. He barely noticed the first drops of blood splattering across the white sheet.

“Fuck me sideways!”

“Huh?” Eliot's head shot up at Margo's curse, then the room tilted. Dizziness made his stomach clamp as he collapsed from his desk. “Eliot?” Margo's frantic shout barely registered, but he did feel the soft fabric of her slacks as his head got lifted into her lap. He was vaguely aware of Henry dismissing the rest of the class, and he felt Margo's fingers in his hair as her hand pet through his curls. Thick fingers pressed to a pulse point.

“Eliot? Can you hear me?” Eliot blinked at Henry blankly. He could taste copper in the back of his throat as his nose continued to bleed. He heard something about the infirmary as his vision started to black around the edges.

----------------------------------

Margo saw her best friend waver as a bright red stream raced down his face. Her curse was loud enough to draw everyone's attention as she surged out of her chair. Unfortunately, she wasn't fast enough to catch him, and he blinked at her with blown pupils as she brought his head into her lap. Dean Fogg barked something at the class, and there was a fast, quiet rush, as everyone scurried out of the lecture hall.

“Eliot, can you hear me?”

“El?” Margo brushed her hand through his hair as the Dean's fingers pressed to Eliot's neck. The glamour hid it, but she could feel his face burning. She was almost afraid to undo it.

“Do you know what he might have taken? We should get him moved to the infirmary.”

“Cocaine? Maybe, god only knows what else. He's been on a bit of a bender.” Margo swept damp bangs back from his forehead. Her thumb skated along his cheek and elicited a tiny choked whimper. “I'm sorry, Baby.” She soothed; her words were a partial apology for hurting him, and part apology as she brought her hands up. She twisted them through a spell to counter the glamour he'd cast. She wasn't ready for the mix of molted color and swollen skin that spread from his cheek to his nose. Exhausted clung to the angles of his face, and his comment about having slept suddenly made more sense.

“What happened?” A series of colorful curses flew through Margo's mind. Telling the Dean any of Eliot's secrets felt tantamount to treason, an attack on the foundation of their friendship, she was supposed to keep his secrets.

“We went out, and some guy made a move on him when he went to the bar. I didn't see it happen, but he backhanded Eliot across the face.” Her hand swept the damp curls back again. “We thought it had healed; I had no idea it was still this bad.” She heard the door open, then the scuffle and scrap as all the desks were pushed aside with a wave of the Fogg's hands. Professor Lipson knelt beside Eliot; her fingers almost immediately found a pulse point.

“Eliot?”

“He fell unconscious a couple of moments ago.” Margo watched the healer's hands twist through a rapid series of complicated spells. The shaded colors across Eliot's cheek faded, and his nose stopped bleeding.

“Who broke his cheek, and who did the patch healing job? It certainly wasn't one of my students.”

“Some guy.” Both professors glared at her, and Margo pressed her lips in a line. “I didn't see it happen!” That part at least was true; she wasn't going to tell them it was Eliot's ex-boyfriend who had hit him. “Penny was the one who healed it.”

“Well, Penny is a shit healer.” Lipson's hand smoothed across Eliot's face.

“What does that mean?” Margo demanded. “He's going to be okay right?” She sat back on her calves and watched at Lipson pulled a multi-lensed tool from her pocket. She skimmed the different lenses over Eliot's skin, then settled on a spot near his nose that was among the most bruised.

“Penny missed some of the bone fragments.” She skimmed the tool farther along Eliot's cheek. “This isn't the first time these bones have been broken either. “We should wake him up and move him to the infirmary.” Margo smoothed the hair back from Eliot's forehead again. Beside her Lipson cast. Eliot's eyelids fluttered to reveal blown pupils. Margo dug into her purse for tissues and pressed one under his nose.

“Bambi...”

“Hey there, Hansome. You passed out. They are going to move you to the infirmary and fix your face. The Harvey Dent look really doesn't work for you.” Eliot's cheek turned into her lap.

“That's a joke, Q would make.” He murmured.

“We'll all make jokes about it when you feel better.”

“You won't be mad?” Margo smoothed his hair, both she and Quentin were already plenty ticked. Quentin was upset because he hadn't known where Eliot had ended up the night before, finding out that Eliot had hidden something like this from him wouldn't help. “ 'M so tired, Bambi, I just want him to leave me alone.” He mumbled into her leg. He seemed not to have realized that the two of them had an audience of professors.

“El, hey, shush. I'm not mad at you, let's get you to the infirmary, okay?” She shifted her hands under his shoulders to help him sit. Her arm locked around his waist as she helped him stand. She wasn't tall enough for this shit. “A little help here!” She snapped at Fogg. The man finally moved to assist her, but seemed none to happy that Eliot was high, like it was somehow her fault for letting it happen. For Eliot's part he seemed to realize that he had to help them as much as he could. Lipson was nice enough to gather their things, and with her as forward escort the four of them walked to the infirmary. Eliot let them go to slide down onto the edge of one of the beds with a relieved groan. The exhirtion had worn off some of the high as Margo peeled him off his coat, and vest, then knelt to divest him of his shoes. He swung his legs onto the bed, then lay back. Professor Lipson walked to the edge of his bed and leaned over him with a different set of lenses.

“Do you know why you passed out?” She asked Eliot.

“My recreational drug habits haven't exactly been so recreational of late?” The quip made Margo smile a little. She squeezed his hand.

“Not quite, while that problem needs addressing, this...” She rested the lens over a dark spot near his nose. “Is the problem. There are a couple of small bone fragments lodged in the muscle. This one broke free and moved into your sinus. It's why your nose started bleeding.

“Can you get them out without surgery?”

“I think so. It would have been easier if it had been taken care of all at once, instead of being given weeks to heal.” Margo slapped her hand against Eliot's thigh.

“Told you so.”

“That does not help matters, Miss Hanson.” Margo huffed at Lipson's criticism and dropped her eyes to Eliot's hand. She wasn't going to apologize, but she would be quiet.

“So what do we do?” Eliot asked. It seemed like he was going to ignore her telling him that she had been right.

“We'll numb your face, and I'll perform a few spells. Hopefully, I won't have to reset any of the healing Penny did properly.” Eliot shivered.

“He was just trying to help.”

“I understand, but it would have been better to let me or one of my students look at it. When did this happen?”

“When the staff was gone; the weekend the first year class had their trials. I didn't want any of the students to see it. Can I sleep through this? Or do I have to be awake?”

“It might be easier if you are asleep.” Eliot squeezed his eyes shut and gave her an emphatic nod.

“That would be better.”

“Margo, let's give Professor Lipson some space.” Margo rolled her eyes.

“I'm good here thanks.” She flipped her hair and tipped her chin in a challenge towards the Dean.

“Miss Hanson, now please.”

“It's fine, Bambi. I don't need you to babysit my unconscious ass.”

“You've been lying about being fine for two weeks!” She snapped at Eliot. He sighed.

“Can we not do this now? Please?” Eliot raked both hands back through his hair; the heels of his hands rested on his forehead. Margo reached to squeeze his thigh.

“Yeah, get better. I'll let Q know what happened.”

“Shit.” Evidently, Eliot hadn't really thought about how his boyfriend was going to react to all this. “He's going to be so pissed isn't he?”

“I can handle, Q.” Margo stood, leaned over him to rest her forehead against his, and rested her hand on his good cheek. “He's just worried about you. It's going to be okay.” She patted his face and leaned away. “We'll both be happy to see you feel better.” She told him as she followed Fogg towards the waiting area. As she passed a printer, she stopped long enough to pull the paper tray out and grab a clean sheet. A jar of pens sat waiting, and she took one. Once she had found a seat, she scrawled Quentin a note, then folded it into a small bird. A spell sent it lifting off her hand and out of the room.

“Do you want to tell me what is going on?” Margo glared in Fogg's direction. The Dean had found a spot of wall, where he leaned with arms crossed over his chest.

“Some. Guy. Attacked. Eliot. In. A Bar. Do I have to spell it out for you?”

“And that's all you know? Eliot's telekinesis should have made him more than capable of defending himself.”

“Look, Penny and Quentin were the ones who handled it. I didn't know he'd been hurt until after Penny had brought him back to the cottage. Talk to them if you want better answers, kay?” Margo crossed one leg over the other and brought her hand up to study her nails. She wasn't telling Fogg anything else, so an uneasy silence settled between them.

Quentin bursting into the infirmary in a flurry of nervous motion broke the quiet tension. Margo stood to intercept him before he could interrupt Professor Lipson.

“What the hell happened?” He hissed at her as she led him to the side of the room farthest from the Dean.

“Eliot's cheek never properly healed.”

“What??” Quentin's gasp was almost a squeak. “It looked fine!”

“He was using a glamour, Q. It's why he wouldn't let you touch that side of his face.”

“Why did he lie about it?”

“I think he thought it would heal fine, but Penny missed a couple of bone fragments.”

“Which kept his face from getting better,” Quentin concluded. His shoulders slumped, and his hand gripped the strap of his bag. Margo rested her hands on his shoulders and squeezed.

“When was the last time he slept, Q? I mean really slept, like went to bed with you, and woke up when you did?”

“I...” Quentin tugged a hand through his hair, then rubbed his eye. “I don't know; it's, I don't know. I should have realized something was wrong.

“No, hey, stop it.” Margo leaned up to cup his face. “He hid this. It isn't your fault, okay?” Quentin pulled away from her to have room to shove his hands into his pockets; his gaze landed on his shoes.

“I'm not sure what I did wrong.” He lamented softly. Margo threw her arms around him.

“Nothing, Q! We're going to figure this out.” To her relief, he hugged her back.

“Quentin.” Margo almost growled in frustration. It should have been evident that this wasn't the best moment to grill Quentin about Eliot's injury.

“Sir?” Margo twisted to slide under Quentin's arm.

“Margo told me that Eliot was attacked in a bar the weekend of the trials.”

“Yeah, he went to the bar to get a drink, and when he hadn't come back, and I couldn't find him, Penny found me.”

“So you didn't see his attacker either, and the one I should talk to is Penny.”

“No, sir.” Margo squeezed her hand against his side. “I mean, I um, I didn't see it happen, but Penny did, so um, yeah, talk to Penny.”

“Thank you, Quentin.” The older man squeezed his shoulder. “Eliot should be fine.” He assured him. “Professor Lipson is an experienced healer. She's certainly seen much worse.”

“Thank you,” Quentin whispered. He leaned into her; Margo felt his cheek rest against her hair.

“Come on.” Margo guided him away from the Dean and towards a nearby couch. She smoothed a loose lock of hair back behind his ears. Henry left them alone, presumably to hunt down Penny, and Quentin slumped into her embrace.

“I don't understand why he didn't trust me.”

“Q, this isn't about trust. El thought this would heal, and when it didn't, he slid back into all the old ways he's coped with shit like this in the past. It's not you, Quentin. He adores you.”

“Quentin, Margo.” They both sprang to their feet as Professor Lipson addressed them.

“Is Eliot alright?”

“Yes, it was a bit tricky, but he'll be fine. He's still asleep, and I think he needs that, so why don't the two of you head back to class and I'll send you messages when he wakes up.

“I'll let him sleep, but I'd rather stay,” Quentin told her.

“There's no point in both of us sitting here if you need me send me a message.” Margo leaned up to kiss Quentin's cheek. He squeezed her hand as she moved away to collect their things.

“I'll leave his coat.” Margo dropped the garment on top of Quentin's bag, then headed for the infirmary's exit with Eliot's bag slung over her shoulder.

----------------------------

Quentin watched her go with slumped shoulders, then gathered his and Eliot's things and headed from the waiting area to the infirmary. Eliot lay curled on his side, even from a distance, Quentin could see the exhaustion lining his sleep slack face. He'd known El hadn't been sleeping well, but he hadn't realized it had gotten so bad. Quentin dumped everything on a spare chair, then moved to sit on the bed. He gripped his fingers against the side of the mattress. Eliot needed to sleep, and if he woke up now, he probably wouldn't get any more rest.

Being close enough to touch was too tempting. Quentin forced himself up again and locked his fingers behind his head as he paced across the room. After two short circuits around the room, he threw himself down into a chair. A frustrated grumble escaped his throat after he had rifled through his books – the one time he needed the distraction of a Fillory book only not to have one. He pulled out a spell book instead and sat crossed-legged in the chair with it open in his lap. Almost two hours passed before Eliot stirred. A small whimper escaped his throat; then he thrashed in his sleep. A glass of water that had been set out for him vibrated off the table with a smash. Quentin could feel small vibrations through the floor as he tossed the book aside and darted to the bed.

“Eliot, wake up!” Eliot startled to wakefulness and flinched away, rolling and curling with his back against the rail on the opposite side of the bed.

“Quentin... I”

“El, it's okay, I'm not mad, but you're scaring me.”

“I don't know what he's going to do next, Q. I don't know how to cope with it any differently.” Eliot moved away from the rail enough to draw his legs up. “I can't sleep, and the cocaine only helps for a little bit.” Eliot sniffed, and rubbed his hand under his nose. Quentin was stunned, wondering if Margo had assumed he already knew. “I don't want you there if he tries anything. You can't be in the middle of this. Please understand, I need some space until I figure this out.”

“Some space,” Quentin repeated blankly. Eliot wasn't looking at him, his boyfriend's eyes were fixed on the bed near his feet. “El this isn't fair!” Eliot rested his forehead against his knees; a shudder rippled down his back.

“I know.” Eliot lifted his head and scrubbed a hand under his eyes. “It's not you, your perfect. You're too good for me.” He sniffed. “I feel broken, and I don't want you to watch me fall apart any more than I already have.”

“We can work this out, El. I know you're hurting, I'm sorry I didn't see it! I should have paid closer attention.” Quentin rested his hands on the mattress so he could lean closer. “I'm not going to sit back and let him keep hurting you.” He whispered. Something flinty passed into Eliot's eyes, and Quentin felt the push of Eliot's telekinesis shove at him.

“I need some space, Q. I'm not asking.”

“You're serious? I love you, Eliot. I don't want to watch you fall apart while you force me to stay at arm's length.”

“I love you too! Which is why I have to do this! I can't...” Eliot's voice faltered. “I can't let him hurt you. I don't have anything else he can take from me.”

“This is what he wants you to do; you know that right?”

“He knew we made plans with Shawn, Quentin! He knew about the bar the weekend of the trials, and I don't know how! Please, just, just give me some space until I figure all this shit out okay?” Quentin couldn't believe that he was going to agree to this.

“Fine.” Quentin raked his hand back through his hair in frustration. “Fine, we'll do this, I guess because it's not like, like you're giving me much choice. Can I at least hug you before I go?”

“Yeah.” Quentin felt the light pressure of Eliot's power fall away and he surged closer to Eliot in its absence.

“This is bullshit, El. You had better figure this out before the Ibiza trip.”

“I'm not going to go,” Eliot whispered into his shoulder.

“Margo's been planning this for months; you can't drop out after all the work she's done!”

“I'll tell her.” Eliot's arms tightened around him. “I'm ruining everything, I'm sorry. You two should still go, please?”

“I don't know if she'll go without you.”

“Then you have to make her.” Eliot murmured. He tried to pull away, but Quentin wasn't ready to let him move that quickly.

“El, stop.” He hoped that Eliot would still listen to the pitch of his tone. To his relief, Eliot melted into his embrace.

“I'm sorry, Q; you're so good to me. I don't deserve this, you, Bambi.”

“Yes, you do. We'll figure out how he knows so much. It's going to be okay.”

Chapter Text

Margo was annoyed, and the feeling grew when the front door of the cottage slammed inward, and it was only Quentin who walked through. He took the stairs at almost a run, and she heard a bedroom door slam somewhere above her. When the front door continued to hang open, and Eliot didn't follow, she got up to shut it, then headed upstairs. The entrance to her best friends' shared bedroom was closed; not in the mood to give Quentin privacy she twisted her hand through an unlocking charm. The lock clicked, and she turned the knob.

The younger man sat on the small couch with a tumbler of whiskey clasped between the fingers of both hands. His brown eyes were fixed in a thousand yard stare as he glared at the space of wall across from him.

“Earth to Quentin.” His eyes regained focus, and he shook his head. The whiskey came to his lips, and he downed a significant portion of it in a series of fast swallows.

“What, Margo?” He rubbed the end of his nose with the back of his hand, set the tumbler down, and leaned backward.

“Is El still in the infirmary?”

“No, Lipson released him. He's fine.”

“He's fine? Bullshit! He lied to both of us for two weeks. Why didn't he come back with you? Where did he go?”

“I have no idea,” Quentin admitted. He dragged his thumb across his nose as he sniffed. “We're um,” He repeated the movement, sniffed again. “We're, he and I, we're...” His eyes had started to water at the corners. “We're going to take a break.”

“You broke up with him?” Margo breathed in disbelief. Her hands jerked; she almost reached to grab Quentin's shirt, so she could drag him off the couch and wring his neck. They balled into fists.

“What? No!” His gaze met hers for the first time since she had stormed into the bedroom. “It's Eliot; he told me he wanted to take a break. He didn't make it a choice.” Margo needed a few seconds to process that, so she walked into the bathroom and returned with a roll of toilet paper. She handed it to Quentin and watched him tear off a length to blow his nose. “Something's really wrong, Margo.” He whispered as she dropped onto the couch beside him. “He said his ex, that guy Alex, knew about the night we met Shawn, and that he knew about our plans to go out the weekend of the trials. I don't think anything that's happened has been a coincidence.” His elbows rested on his knees. One hand formed a fist, and the other rested on top of it. Quentin's forehead pressed against the digits on top. Margo reached to rub his back.

“And we have no idea how he figured all this shit out?” Margo deduced as she gently worked at a knot of tight muscle.

“Not a clue, the coin maybe, I don't know.”

“What coin?” Instead of responding Quentin bounced up off the couch and headed for the bedroom. He returned with a large gold coin between his fingers.

“Stay there.” He told her as he rubbed his thumb along the foreign script. Margo wasn't sure what she expected, but for Quentin to disappear wasn't it. She sucked in a surprised breath. “It makes anyone inside the radius invisible.” His voice came from behind her, and Margo jumped in surprise and twisted to stare at him. The younger man had used the coin to cross the room and had reappeared near the bedroom door. “He used it the night we went out; it's why I couldn't find El when I went looking for him.”

“So the fucking prick has been stalking him?” The implications made Margo's skin crawl. She watched Quentin take one of his Fillory books off the shelf as he walked back to the couch to sit down again. For a moment she wanted to slap it out of his hands. Burying himself in his pathetic children's fantasy wasn't going to help any of them. Quentin handed her the coin, and she flipped it over in her hands. The script wasn't like anything she'd ever tried to read before, but the ram's head struck her in a way that was familiar. Beside her, Quentin was flipping pages with an expertise that made it painfully obvious how well he knew the text in his hands. He smoothed the pages and held the book up so she could see one of Plover's crude illustrations. The coin in her hand was a life-sized model of the simplistic drawing on the page. “Quentin...”

“I recognized it the first time I saw it, but I didn't say anything to Penny and Eliot.”

“Q.” Margo could almost see the gears in his head spinning madly. The 'what if Fillory is real' hung right on the cusp of being said, and wouldn't that be his every nerd fantasy come true? “Q.” She took the book out of his hand and closed it so the spine wouldn't be bent. “You know this is probably that guy's idea of a cruel joke right? If he's stalking El, if he's watching that closely, he knows how much you love those books, and this is his way of trolling you.”

“I thought about that already.” Quentin's shoulders sagged a little; he reached to take the coin back. “Then where did something like this come from? This wasn't easy to make, Margo.” She agreed with him there. Invisibility spells were complex on the most basic level, bending light, masking the sound. She worked a spell and formed a box between her fingers. The coin radiated magic so brightly she had to look away before she could discern a pattern.

“Did you show it to Alice? Phosphomancy is kinda her jam. Come on, let's find her.” Margo grabbed his wrist and dragged him off the couch before he could protest.

“Not tonight, Margo.”

“Yes, now, right now.” Margo had every intention of tracking Eliot down, and she wasn't going to do it until she had passed Quentin off to someone who would watch him for a couple of hours. She tugged the reluctant man into the hallway, then worked a single-handed unlocking charm on Alice's door.

“Fucking Christ, get out! Knock next time!”

“Margo, what the fuck?” Alice and Penny weren't naked yet, but Penny's hand had been up his girlfriend's shirt, and Alice's bra hung from the bedpost. Alice blushed crimson as her t-shirt pressed against erect nipples. She threw her arm across her chest as if neither Margo or Quentin had ever seen such a thing before. “Knock first!” She squeaked.

“No time.” Margo snatched the coin out of Quentin's hand and tossed it to Alice, who stopped protecting her breasts long enough to catch it.

“What am I supposed to do with this?” She snapped at the two of them.

“You're the light bending super genius. Tell me how that thing does what it does.”

“What does it do?” Alice asked. She lay the coin on the bedspread and performed the same spell Margo had tried. She dropped it almost as soon as it was cast, and blinked away spots just as Margo had.

“That's the coin from the bar isn't it?” Penny asked. He picked it up and rubbed the script; he and Alice were close enough to disappear together. They flashed back into existence a moment later. Alice's mouth hung open a little in awe.

“It's incredible.” She breathed. “I've never seen anything like it; I mean, I can do this.” She turned her hand as her arm faded to the middle of her forearm. “But an area of effect that large is challenging.”

“Well....” Margo rested her hand on Quentin's back then shoved him farther into the bedroom. The sudden movement left him pinwheeling to catch his balance. He flushed in awkward embarrassment. “The three of you work on that, while I track down Eliot and knock some sense into his idiotic ass.”

“What did Eliot do?”

“He's decided that he and Quentin should take a 'break.'” The work break came complete with air quotes.

“Margo!” Quentin spun on her, fury written across his face, and Margo felt a little pinch of guilt. He'd wanted to stay in his room and drink away his feelings, and she was forcing everything into the light without his permission.

“Wait, what, so Eliot broke up with you?” Rather than address Alice's question Q tried to push past her to storm back down the hall to his room, but Margo shifted to block him.

“Margo, move, just let me go back to my room.” He pleaded softly.

“Q, you can stay,” Alice told him; Penny huffed in annoyed disbelief.

“See. Stay.” Margo gave him another little push, then reached for the door and swung it shut. She cast a ward; the frame shimmered, trapping Quentin inside. Her boots clomped against the wooden floors as Margo marched towards the stairs, and then down to the common room to find her coat. A fresh layer of snow crunched under her boots as she stepped outside. Icy white flakes landed on her dark hair. She yanked her gloves from her coat pocket and dragged them down her hands. Where the hell would Eliot have gone in this weather?

Margo dropped to one knee, grimaced as water melted through her slacks, and started mounding snow together. When she had collected enough, she brought her hands together and chanted in Russian. The mound took on a specific form, molding into legs, torso, tail, and snout. It barked, silently because she hadn't given it vocal cords, then sniffed at the snow and took off. Margo followed the trail of paw prints across campus. She should have just asked Penny to find Eliot psychically, and then forced the other student to drop her off.

Her snow-dog lead her to the observatory, then fell apart again as she watched. Margo groaned, already dreading the endless spiral of stairs that would lead to the trap door at the top. As she climbed higher, she was relieved that the air got warmer, instead of colder as she'd expected. Her hands pressed at the trapdoor, then she pulled herself up through. Eliot sat crossed-legged against one of the walls. At least the healers had done their thing. The bruises had healed nicely, but a couple of hours of sleep in the infirmary hadn't done much to chase the exhaustion from his face. Margo wondered if he'd eaten at all when she and Quentin hadn't been there to make him. His flask hung suspended in front of him, and he stared at it unblinking, as his fingers plucked at a spell she couldn't see.

“You can just go back to the cottage.” He finally told her. The flask dropped to the hardwood with a metallic bang. Eliot rubbed his fingers against his eyes, first one, then the other, perhaps undoing a spell he'd used to enchant his vision.

“It's snowing, and I just walked across campus.” Margo could feel the annoyance she'd been battling with growing into outright anger. “Quentin told me what you did. What the ever-loving fuck, Eliot!” He flinched and curled in on himself.

“You don't understand.”

“No! I do, I get it. Some twat waffle you used to date is messing with you. El, I love you, you're my best friend. You can't let him do this to you. I know that he was abusive; I know that you're scared, but isolating yourself will make you vulnerable.”

“I don't want the two of you to get hurt.” Margo pursed her lips and set her jaw as she stared at him.

“But it's okay if he hurts you?” She demanded.

“Why are you mad at me for trying to protect what I care about?”

“Because its what Alex wants, Eliot! Why can't you see that this is exactly what he expects you to do? It's insane! He wanted to put a rift between you and Quentin, and you let him. It's not fair to Q!”

“I know.” Eliot rubbed his temples in exhaustion. “I just asked for some space until I figure all of it out. I don't want to lose him, Bambi, you know I don't! I can't.”

“Tell me what, exactly, there is left to figure out?” Margo paced across the observatory, letting the frustration she felt bleed out through motion. “He was stalking you with the coin, but Quentin still has that. He showed it to me. Your ex played his hand, and now that we know he's watching you we can figure out a better way to keep you safe.”

“But where did he get it? What if he has more than one?”

“Did you even try to look at the enchantments on that thing? I've never seen anything like it. I doubt he could churn something like that out by the dozen. He probably got lucky, found it somewhere, and has been getting his jollies by using it to make you miserable.”

“He had help from someone; my ward doesn't work anymore.” Eliot thumped his head back against the brick.

“The one I saw when we did our trials?” He nodded and leaned forward over his lap. His hands raked back through his hair.

“I hadn't seen him in five fucking years, and he knows so much about my personal life that he shouldn't. He took Quentin's phone and saw all of our pictures.” Margo tried to cross the room towards him but frowned at the telekinetic push that kept her at a distance.

“Stop with the fucking games, Eliot. It's not funny.”

“I need space, Margo. From you, from Quentin. You can hate it all you want, but I don't want either of you around me. I don't want him watching you guys too.”

“No.” Margo crossed her arms over her chest. “I'm not going to sit on my hands while you let some ass-hat manipulate you.”

“Just fucking stop, okay? Let me win, for once!”

“This isn't a fucking win, Eliot! This is you, making yourself as miserable as possible – on purpose. Quentin and I aren't going to sit with our thumbs up each other's asses and watch him hurt you!” The force bubble pressed her backward. She hated how easily his powers made it for him to push people away literally, why couldn't he do this to his ex? Margo narrowed her eyes at him; the realization that there was a missing piece somewhere filled her mind. Why couldn't he do this to his ex? “What did he do to you, El?” Rather than answer, he worked a spell over his palm. He held it up so she could see it from across the room; the force bubble shrank so she could walk closer.

“What the hell?” He still wouldn't let her close enough to touch him. “Is that a word-as-b...”

“Yes.” Eliot rubbed tears out of his eyes.

“And you've had this the whole time I've known you, and you never bothered to tell me.” That hurt far more than him trying to push her away.

“Yes.”

“Why? How did this get left out when we were secrets partners?”

“It's not my guiding circumstance. I hadn't seen Alex in three years; I'd done my best to put it behind me. I told you about him, but I didn't have to dredge up all the shit he had put me through. You didn't need to know.”

“But Quentin did?” Margo already knew the answer.

“It's a different set of circumstances, Bambi. Q's not some random cock; he's the only guy I've ever fallen in love with. I had to tell him everything, or all my emotional baggage would have wrecked us.” He'd let her get close enough to touch her fingers against his palm. Margo ran her thumb across the spell brand.

“What does it do?” She whispered.

“It did a lot of things when we were still living together, but now it really only keeps me from using my magic against him.”

“I thought a word as bond spell couldn't change.” The anger had rolled out of her as soon as he'd started trying to define his relationship with Quentin. The younger man had become her best friend's partner, and there were things that he was privy to that were intimate secrets between them.

“It was the seal on our lease when we lived together. Certain parts were designed to expire after a year, but he wrote carefully worded loopholes into the contract, and they became permanent.”

“Jesus, El.” He pulled his hand back and reworked the spell on his palm. Margo still wasn't close enough to hug him, and the bubble was pushing her away again.

“I'm not going to go to Ibiza, Margo, so take Q, and have an amazing vacation, please?” She huffed at him in disbelief.

“That trip is our last hurrah before we graduate! You have to go!”

“Why, Margo? So Alex can ruin that too? Like he ruined the night with my brother, and the night out at the bar? We'll both take Q next year, and it will be that much more amazing once I can put this behind me. I want to enjoy it, not look over my shoulder for the whole trip.” Margo let her hands form into fists at her sides. She was furious, angry at Alex for pushing this far, and angry at Eliot for sitting back and letting it happen.

“Fine.” She sniped furiously. “You can have all the space you want, but you're letting him control you; isolating yourself is exactly what he wants.” Eliot was staring at the floor, and the flask dragged across the wood planks to his hand. He twisted off the cap and grimaced at whatever unpleasant taste raced passed his lips.

“I'm sorry, Bambi. I am, I love you both so much. All I want to do is protect you from all the mistakes I've made.” Margo sniffed and rubbed her nose. She hated watching him hurt. "I feel trapped right now." He confided quietly. Margo blinked away tears. How much he hated to feel trapped was something they had talked about at length during their trials.

“I know you do; I know you hate it." Margo wiped her nose. "Don't sleep up here; it was snowing when I walked over.” She muttered as she walked towards the trap door.

“Okay.” Margo took the steps down and pulled the door shut with a bang. The shallow paw prints of her snow dog had filled as she trudged through the crystalline drifts between her and the cottage. Snow clung to her boots and the hems of her pants as she stood in the living room and stamped off the snow free.

“Are you okay?” Quentin, Alice, and Penny had moved downstairs while she had been gone. Margo sniffed.

“Of course.” Quentin poured her a drink from the bottle of whiskey he'd claimed, and brought it to her. He silently herded her towards the stairs, then down the hall to her room. Margo sniffed again once the door clicked closed.

“You don't have to take care of me.” She muttered.

“I want to; El would want me to.” Margo wanted to pound her fists against his chest and scream at him. He was taking all of this with a ridiculous grace. She was the strong one; this was supposed to work the other way around.

“He showed me his word-as-bond.” She whispered. Quentin took the drink from her hand and tugged her against his chest. She wanted to make loud angry accusations; Margo wanted him to know how jealous all of it had made her feel. She wanted to lament on how unfair it was that Quentin had found out one of Eliot's most closely guarded secrets first.

“He told me over the Summer. You can be angry at me if it helps. There's nothing we can do about it.” Margo rested her cheek against his shoulder.

“We could kill him; not El” She added quickly. His arms tightened around her, to her surprise, he didn't rebuke her or offer a counterargument.

------------------------------

Alice watched Quentin herd Margo towards her room and wondered what the hell could be going through Eliot's thick, alcohol-addled brain.

“Come on, let's head back upstairs before Margo forces Quentin on us again.” Alice smoothed her skirts and shook her head.

“You can go. I'm going to wait for Eliot.”

“Alice you don't have a dog in his fight.” He told her gently.

“Q's my friend, Pen!” His arm looped around her and Alice leaned into his hold.

“I don't want you in the middle of this. That guy that backhanded Eliot over nothing; he's a piece of work. I'd kill him if he so much as looked at you wrong.” Alice rested her hand on his thigh and used it to steady herself as she leaned to kiss him. She appreciated his zeal, but she was perfectly capable of defending herself.

“Don't you have a test to study for?” She reminded him.

“It would help if I had an incentive.” He leaned to kiss her again; gentle fingers combed through the soft straight strands of her hair. “Come upstairs with me, please. You don't even know if Eliot is going to come back tonight.”

“If he hasn't come back by one I'll come up.” She gave him her best coy smile. “Maybe I can quiz you and award you with some extra credit.” His warm laugh made her smile. It was so odd; she'd always pictured Penny as the stoic, angry loner. She had held no illusion that his powers might eventually drive them apart, but for now, they clicked.

“It's the only way I'll ever pass.” He kissed her again. His face turned serious. “Give Eliot some slack, okay? This hasn't been easy for him. It's all the bad parts of his past blindsiding him at the same time. The guy's allowed to be a lot messed up.” Before she could respond, he disappeared from his spot beside her. Alice reached for her textbook.

It was shortly after midnight when the cottage door finally swung open again. Eliot was shivering as he shrugged off his coat. Dark circles underscored his eyes as he headed for the kitchen. Alice hadn't seen his face when it had been injured, and from what Quentin had told her Eliot had been using both glamour and make-up since that night. It was no wonder they hadn't noticed that something was wrong sooner.
“Eliot?” She followed him into the kitchen and watched him poke through cabinets.

“Are you going to lecture me about my bad choices too?” He asked as a skillet floated to his hand. That had been Alice's plan, but seeing him now she thought better of it.

“Are you okay?” She asked instead.

“No.” She watched him crack eggs into an oversized measuring cup, then whisk them until they were smooth. He spread the mix into the pan.

“Quentin showed me the coin.”

“Good for him.” The eggs had started to fluff up as Eliot moved them around in the pan.

“Eliot I want to help! The two of you are my friends; I hate watching this.” He'd pulled the refrigerator door open, and stood staring at the contents.

“I don't want anyone else involved.”

“We're all involved! Penny's involved; he told me that he laid your ex out that night at the bar.”

“I wish he hadn't done that.”

“Really?” Alice let her voice get as high and mighty. He expected a lecture, she'd give him one. “You really would have preferred that no one interrupt what he was doing to you?”

“I didn't mean it like that!” Eliot added a liberal amount of cheese to the eggs, then spooned salsa over the mix. He let everything cook through as a plate floated to his hand.

“Then what did you mean?” She followed him out to the table. The porcelain clattered against the wooden tabletop.

“Look Alice, Alex, my ex, he's patient, and he holds grudges. I hadn't seen him since I was twenty, but he kept just enough of a distance to know all about my life. He's not just stalking me; he's following Quentin and Margo too. I don't want him to add you and Penny to the list.”

“How?” Alice demanded.

“He has an alumni key; he was a student here years ago. I don't even have a picture to show any of you.” Eliot really wasn't eating so much as he was pushing the eggs around on the plate.

“Wouldn't he be in a class photo or a house photo?” There were pictures of almost every recent class somewhere in the cottage.

“Maybe.” His flask zipped to him from the living room, and he twisted the cap to sip the contents. A tired sigh escaped him. Alice watched his shoulders slump as he rested his hands in his lap.

“Do you really want to help?” He asked.

“Yes!” He passed the flask to her.

“Then tell me what he did to this. I took all my spells off, but I can't figure out what he cast on it when he stole it.” Alice turned the thing over between her hands, then laid it on the table so she could enchant her vision. Magic runes were interlocked like a net around it, one spell fed into another by using keys that are identical in both.

“There's more than one spell here, Eliot,” She told him.

“Wait? I thought it was one big net.”

“That's what it's meant to look like, but there's...” She brought her hands up, flexing them, and picking gently at the threads of invisible magic in front of her. Her eyes narrowed as she studied the magical knots. If Eliot had been looking at it like a single large spell no wonder he hadn't been able to make heads or tails of it. “I think there's, a um, like a bottomless charm, and some kind of a consistency spell.” Now that she realized there were three spells it was easier to figure out what they were. It felt like a lead ball had been dropped into her belly when she finally figured out the third one. “Eliot, I think there is tracking charm on here too. I've never seen this version before, but that's what it looks like.” His pale face was ashen when she looked up at him.

“Alice? Are you okay?” Alice glanced between Eliot and Penny. Apparently, the rapid fluctuation of her emotions hadn't gone unnoticed by her boyfriend.

“Um...” She shoved the flask down the table to Penny.

“Alex put a tracking charm on my flask.” Eliot had leaned to rest his forehead against one hand and wiped at his eyes with the other. “I think he did the same thing to Quentin's phone and Margo's lipstick case. He picked items to charm that each of us always carries; it's how he knew Quentin and Margo went off campus before my birthday.”

“So we can take them off, right? Bang, done.” Penny suggested

“Sure!” Alice agreed, she could do it in a matter of minutes.

“No!”

“Eliot you can't leave them there!”

“We have to figure out a way to move the spells to something else.” Eliot raised his head to give her an imploring look. “You wanted to help, so help me figure out how to do that before Quentin and Margo go to Spain.” Alice shared another glance with Penny, then reluctantly nodded. She could kind of see where he might be going with this. Without the coin to spy on them, if they moved the spells, Alex might not realize that Quentin and Margo had left campus at all.

“If we can't figure it out before they leave you will tell them.” She wasn't going to let Quentin and Margo leave campus unaware that their possessions had been bespelled.

“Okay.” Eliot rubbed his temples in frustration. “So where do we start?”

Chapter Text

Penny had expected the tracking charms to be a more difficult problem to solve than they turned out to be; Alice had figured out the first two within a couple of days. The net of spells had been so carefully designed that it couldn't fluctuate in size without becoming unstable, on a whim she had tried to shrink Eliot's flask until it was only an inch tall, and a quarter of that wide. It had dropped through a space in the spell matrix into her palm, and Eliot had used his telekinesis to put a different one back. The pair had 'borrowed' Margo's lipstick for an hour and repeated the same trick.

Quentin's phone, however, proved to be a problem. Enchanting anything technological was a process reserved for only the aptest students. It wasn't something that was a specialty for any of them. When she studied the unique set of charms Alice had decided that two people had worked on them together; there weren't enough fingers on the human hand to craft the primary spell Alex had used.

As Ibiza had crept closer without progress Eliot had come up with his own solution. He'd gone into the city and bought Quentin a different device – the newest model, with a better camera. Convincing Quentin to take it with him, and then to set the thing up so he could use it, was probably the longest amount of time the pair had spent together since the night Eliot had broken up with him. That the separation had started to take a toll on both of them was obvious. Quentin was moody and sullen; Eliot exhausted himself to sleep for a handful of hours. He'd moved a spartan set of belongings from his bedroom, into the room Quentin had been using at the beginning of the year.

Margo had made one final attempt to get Eliot to go to Spain with them on the night before she and Quentin had left. The pair was going to be gone for a ten-day trip; it was two days in, and Penny could count the number of times he'd seen Eliot on a single hand. His reclusiveness irritated Alice.

“I think you should just go talk to him.” Alice murmured as Penny reset the chess board that sat between them. Penny had hoped that a strategic game or three might draw his girlfriend's attention away from what she saw as a problem. Eliot was an adult; if he chose to be miserable, it wasn't their issue to fix.

“This isn't fair to any of us Penny. Go talk to him, maybe you can convince him to go join Quentin and Margo.” She folded the board and spilled the pieces into the box. “Go talk to him.”

“And what am I supposed to tell him?” Penny grumbled.

“That this isn't protecting them. You know the right words to say better than anyone.”

“I'm not his therapist, Alice!”

“You're his friend!” She insisted. “He needs that more than therapy.”

“Eliot needs a fucking decade of therapy.” Penny muttered. “He has friends; he won't talk to either of them. You're his friend too! You go talk to him.” Penny saw the line of her girlfriend's jaw tighten, she'd made up her mind, and the only way out was through the middle. Her feelings on the matter were set; he was doomed. “I'm not saying it will work.” He griped.

“Just try, Pen, please?” She leaned to kiss his cheek. “You know better than anyone what Alex did to him.

“I wish I didn't.” Penny sat back against the headboard as Alice got up. She walked to her desk and returned with a pair of heavy photo albums.

“Take these with you, maybe Eliot can find a picture or two of his ex.”

“Yeah, sure, because I'm sure that's the first person he wants to see or think about.” Penny sighed again, then scooped up the albums and traveled.

------------------------------

When Penny randomly appeared in his room Eliot rolled onto his side, putting his back to the traveler, and hopefully ending the pep session before it could start. When two heavy books landed near the foot of the bed, Eliot couldn't stop himself from flinching. He squeezed his eyes shut.

“Can we not do this? Whatever it is, please?”

“No. Because Alice has got it in her head that someone has to talk sense to you, and that the someone has to be me.” Eliot rolled onto his back. He waved his hand weakly through the air.

“I absolve you from that responsibility. You don't have to do this, Penny. Tell Alice I appreciate her concern, everything she's done. I'd have never figured out those charms by myself, but right now I really don't feel like talking to anyone,”

“I don't want to talk either! Look, Eliot, I'm not your therapist, but I think we're friends.” Penny held up the baggie of white powder he'd gotten from the stash in his room. “I say we hang out in here for a couple of hours and pretend we talked. Alice won't know any different.” Eliot stared at the bag dangling from between Penny's fingers. His lips were chapped when he wet them. Eagerness for the high swirled in his belly; he'd already burned through all the cocaine he'd recently purchased. He levered himself upwards onto his elbows, then pushed with his hands until he sat against the headboard.

“Is it a clean batch?”

“I've liked what I used so far.”

“I can pay you back for it.” Eliot offered.

“Not this time, if it becomes a regular thing, maybe we can switch off.” Eliot felt a ghost of a smile tug at the corners of his mouth. The end table drawer yanked open, a pair of small round mirrors shot upward to his hand.

“I could do that.” Eliot studied the edge of a razor blade that floated towards him, and the pair of short metal straws that followed it. He plucked everything from the air, then carried the lot into the bathroom to make sure the equipment was clean. Eliot offered him the blade, and one of the mirrors. When he didn't immediately take them Eliot clucked his tongue gently. “You've provided the evening's entertainment, the least I can do is provide the appropriate accouterments.” A soft laugh escaped Penny's throat as he accepted the items. Eliot almost managed to smile. There wasn't a lot of powder in the bag, about enough for three lines apiece. Without preamble, Eliot started dumping a third of it onto his mirror.

“Hey!” Penny's irritated growl almost broke his concentration. Eliot held up a single finger,

“Relax, Penny.” He soothed. The pile shifted in shape. The top sharpened and the sides smoothed until a perfectly symmetrical four-sided pyramid had formed. Eliot let the mirror hover as he floated the disc in Penny's direction. He gave it a quick spin; then the pyramid started to come apart. Individual grains raced down the sides to drag across the mirror's surface until a pair of linear column had formed.

“How.” The awe in Penny's tone almost lifted Eliot's spirits. He floated one of the short tubes to Penny. It was only fair that Penny took the first hit.

“I'm a naturally gifted, abjectly miserable telekinetic.” Eliot reminded him as he watched Penny snort his line. The mirror got passed back to him, and Eliot took his hit. The grains raced through his sinuses. He closed his eyes and leaned back against the headboard as he waited for it to affect him. “You can sit here if you want.” He patted the mattress beside him. A spare pillow fluffed itself to make the bed more inviting.

“I've just never seen you use it like that.” With his eyes closed, Eliot only felt the dip of the bed as Penny sat. The springs creaked under his weight. “It was like the individual grains were magnetized together or some shit.”

“Or some shit,” Eliot repeated softly. The last person who had been similarly impressed by his powers was Quentin. Thinking about the early weeks of the summer was like a white hot knife through his chest. The cocaine was already starting to raise his heart-rate; he felt warm. He rolled the sleeves of his henley up past his elbows, then leaned over his lap. For the next few minutes, they were both quiet as the high started to hit them.

“Your control really is something amazing.” Penny commented as they sat together. Eliot felt pleasantly floaty. He'd tried to keep his substance abuse quietly contained since the night in the bar; it was nice to not be alone for a change.

“I wish it didn't have to be.” Eliot kept his eyes closed as he reached across the room with his powers. One after another small knick-knacks and personal items started to float, until everything light enough to lift hovered. Penny's breath hitched at the display. Eliot's temples were starting to pound so he set everything back, as gently as he'd picked it up. He felt dizzy from the effort, or maybe it was because he'd barely eaten that morning. He levered himself down against the silk sheets and pillowcases, then curled onto his side, so he faced Penny. “I hate my powers.” He murmured. The high already seemed to be receding. Beside him, Penny still seemed to be enjoying his. “Q is the only one who managed to make them feel special.”

“He loves you.” Penny told him.

“I love him too.”

“What you're doing to him isn't fair.” Penny reached to take back the mirror.

“I thought we weren't going to talk.”

“Your wards are fucked, Eliot. I can hear everything in your head. I'm just responding to what you won't say.” Eliot took a sharp breath through his nose, then exhaled it slowly. Pushing everything going on in his head back into its normal bubble seemed impossible.

“I can't stop remembering, Penny. I'm sorry, I know what you're seeing. I know it sucks.”

“What you're doing isn't going to protect them.” The words were gentle.

“Penny, please.”

“If Alex really wants to hurt them he will. He knows that they mean the world to you. This ruse isn't fooling him.” Penny used the razor and started to arrange the second set of lines. Eliot sat again as Penny passed the mirror back to him. The silence was comfortable, it lasted longer. “I know you miss Quentin.”

The phone Alex had cursed floated to Eliot's hand. There were dozens of pictures, knowing that Alex had seen all of them had him blinking away tears as he scrolled through them. Penny took the device from him and pressed at the buttons until the phone turned off. The traveler's arm curled around him, and Eliot found his face pressed to Penny's shirt as he got tugged close. He gripped his hand into Penny's scarf.

“If you get snot on my shirt.” Penny warned. Maybe it was the cocaine, but Eliot couldn't stop giggling. He nuzzled his cheek against the fabric; the cashmere was soft. “Jesus, Eliot.” The rebuke wasn't angry; it might have been the closest the traveler got to affectionate with someone other than Alice.

Penny's hand swept back through his hair and Eliot leaned into it. He'd been feeling contact starved for weeks, and was intent on soaking it up now. How much he missed Quentin and Margo had blossomed to a raw ache in his chest. The back of Penny's hand rested against his flushed forehead, then pulled away. The other man's hand tugged through the unruly locks of his hair.

“Do you want me to take you to Spain.” Eliot squeezed his eyes shut, memories of the year before, when he and Margo had gone to Ibiza, flashed through his head. He could almost feel the warm sand between his toes. Did he want to go? Yes! Could he? No! He wanted Quentin; he wanted to fix things before he ruined everything for good. Eliot wanted to bury his nose in his boyfriend's neck and cling to him. “Stop lying to yourself. You can go. Just go.”

“Penny...”

“Fuck this, Eliot. Stop letting your ex-boyfriend control you. Otherwise, he's never going to stop. Look, take a shower, pack a bag. While you get ready, I'll take two of those fucked up tracking charms to some lux Florida resort. I'll bury the damn things near the pool, then go back and get them when the three of you get home.”

“Okay.” The word was hesitant on Eliot's lips. He rested his forehead against Penny's chest; a shiver cascaded down his back. “That sounds nice.” He admitted.

“I know they miss you as much as you miss them. Come on, get moving.” Eliot rolled away from Penny and reached for Quentin's phone. If Penny was dumping the thing in a shallow Florida grave, he wasn't leaving the memory card and their pictures inside. His eyes landed on the books Penny had brought with him. He knew what he was supposed to look for as he picked the first one up. A suffering sigh escaped his throat as he flipped the book onto its back and started going through the more recent pictures. He got halfway through the album before he found the first photo, the next few pages netted three more. That was enough. He pulled the last one free from the old glue binding it down.

“I don't even want to look at these.” He confessed as he turned them over. Three of the four were dated, and he frowned at numbers that just seemed wrong. He didn't know exactly when Alex had been a student, but he'd made a guess based on their ages, and the dates he saw now didn't match. Maybe someone had put the book together later and mismarked the pictures, that was the only explanation he could think of that made sense. “I trusted him.” He whispered to Penny. Eliot rubbed his thumb across the back of one photo. “He was the only teacher I had. I was terrified of my powers; he probably saved my life.”

“Eliot.”

“I'm not trying to romanticize him. What he did, what he's doing, it's wrong.”

“You have to tell Quentin and Margo.”

“I will.” Eliot slowly swung his legs out of bed. The first step or two he tried to take were wobbly, but he found his balance. A towel floated to his hand as he headed for the door, then down the hall to his normal room. Penny tagged after him in silence.

---------------------------------

While Eliot prepped to take his shower Penny collected the lipstick case and phone he was taking to Florida. He dumped the items in an empty box and teleported. The temperature contrast between Brakebills in late fall and Florida in mid Summer was stunning. It was Spring break too; no one noticed him as he lurked around the pool of a five-star resort in Port St. Lucie.

When he returned to campus he found Eliot in the middle of packing his bag. He'd changed into shorts and a polo shirt, appropriate considering that he was vacationing on the Spanish coast. A pair of sunglasses sat perched on his head; they held the damp curls out of his face. His pupils were still partially blown from the cocaine.

“I think I've got everything.” He murmured as he zipped the bag closed. Penny doubted he'd packed thoroughly enough for a full week, but he supposed that being a magician meant that home was only a handful of portal jumps away. There was also always the option to shop for whatever he might have forgotten.

“Are you ready?”

“I hope so.” Penny offered the taller student his hand. Mental images the hotel Margo had chosen flitted through Eliot's mind. They were detailed enough for Penny to imagine the pair of them standing in the lobby. Recirculated hotel air with an undercurrent of salt water filled his nose. Eliot dropped the sunglasses down over his eyes to mitigate the brightness of the hall. Penny followed him to the check-in counter, then towards the elevators. He hoped that coaxing Eliot into coming hadn't been a mistake.

Chapter Text

Margo had only just managed to coax Quentin out of bed and into the shower when there was a hesitant tap on the hotel room door. In all likelihood it was housekeeping, but the possibility that Quentin might have woken up long enough to order room service during her shower prompted Margo to throw a cover-up over her bikini and check. She didn't bother with the peephole as she pulled the door open as far as the metal hook would allow. It only took a second or so to realize it was Eliot. Margo closed the door to move the hook back, then opened it wide. Behind Eliot, Penny stood slouched against the far wall. He raised his hand and gave it a little turn in greeting.

“Bambi...”

“Are you ready to stop acting like a dumb-ass?” Margo crossed her arms over her chest and glared at him.

“Yes ma'am.” Margo raised her hand to cup his cheek. He nuzzled into her touch; his lips brushed briefly to her wrist. “I'm sorry, Margo.”

“It's okay, Baby,” She soothed, she wasn't stupid. There was more happening than he'd admitted to either her or Quentin – something had spooked him. They both agreed that punishing him when he was already doing it to himself was counterproductive. She looped her arms up around his neck, using the chance to hide her face in his polo shirt and breathe in his scent. Long arms clutched her close; a kiss got pressed to her hair. “You're scaring us, El. You have to tell us what's wrong.”

“I know.” His arms shifted around her, a big hand cupped the back of her head. “I'm going to. I missed you both so much.” Margo rested her cheek against his chest. His heart-rate was rapid.

“You know where you are right?” He huffed a soft laugh that tickled her scalp.

“Yes ma'am.” He whispered.

“Good.” Margo lifted her chin and pressed a gentle kiss to the underside of Eliot's jaw before stepping free from him. “Thanks, Penny.” She called as she tugged Eliot into the hotel room. The door swung shut with a soft click once they were clear. The room was dark. Quentin was still in the shower; Margo pushed Eliot towards the bed. “Sit.” She ordered. He obeyed, when he started to speak, Margo cut him off with a gentle finger against his lips. “Later.” She murmured as she finished gathering everything she needed for the pool. With her bag slung over her shoulder, she twisted the handle on the bathroom door. “Get moving, Coldwater. I'll be at the pool.”

“Can't you wait?” He pulled back the curtain to glare at her. Margo smirked as she watched him rake wet loose hair from his face.

“I'll be easy to spot. Just look for the crowd of star-struck onlookers.” She heard his soft laugh as he pulled the curtain closed again. She grabbed the suntan lotion that sat on the counter, then pulled the bathroom door shut behind her as she left.

“Margo.”

“Later.” Margo cupped her hand against his cheek as she passed him. “Be good for Quentin.” Rather than give him time to stop her she headed for the door. Penny hadn't gone back to campus as she'd expected.

“Let's get drinks.” Margo told him as Penny trailed her down the hall.

“Was leaving him like that such a good idea? He's messed up.” Penny asked as they rounded a bend of the hallway.

“Quentin will take care of him. He'd better, or I'll kick the sorry nerd's ass.” Penny chuckled softly.

“I imagine you will.” She heard him mutter.

-------------------------------

Eliot sat on the edge of the bed and pushed the sunglasses back into his hair. The shower drummed as he fidgeted. Once it stopped, he listened to the sound of wet feet smacking on the tile as Quentin rushed to catch up with Margo. The door swung open, causing Eliot to blink against the brightness. A plain white t-shirt, damp from the residual water of the shower clung to Quentin's torso. The pool had been their plan for the morning because Quentin was wearing a pair of baggy red swim trunks.

“Eliot.” His name escaped Quentin's lips in a surprised breath. Eliot twisted his hands in the blanket, mentally weighing Margo's order to sit versus his urge to stand.

“Quentin, I – I'm,” Quentin walked across the carpet, cutting the distance between them to step between Eliot's knees. Small hands cupped his face, tilted his chin up, then Quentin's mouth crashed into his. It was a hungry, desperate kiss that somehow conveyed all of Quentin's worry and love for him. Quentin's forehead rested against his after it had broken; the younger man's thumbs brushed gently across his cheekbones, then under his eyes.

“I've been worried about you.”

“I missed you.” Eliot told him.

“Are you ready to talk to me? Please, El. I can't do this. We can't keep secrets like this and stay a couple. Tell me what he did, or what he said. Please.” Eliot leaned to press a chaste kiss to Quentin's mouth.

“I'm sorry I hurt you.” He moved back a little and reached for his duffle bag. The pictures he'd found were right under the zipper. “Alex talked about you. When he grabbed me, I didn't realize it was him. I told him to let me go, that I had a boyfriend. He said that he'd seen you, that you were cute.”

“Oh, El.”

“He knows everything about our relationship, Q; he's seen all of our pictures. He knew you had become my dom.” A stunned expression had spread across Quentin's face.

“How?”

“A combination of his alumni key, that fucked up coin, and a mess of charms on your phone.”

“That's why you bought me a new phone, when did he...” Eliot watched comprehension dawn across Quentin's face as he put all the pieces together. “He took my phone at the beginning of the year.”

“He took something from each of us. He was in our rooms. He was...” Eliot trailed off so he could swallow the lump that had formed in his throat. “I didn't put the pieces together until I asked Alice to figure out what he'd done to my flask.”

“She figured out why it kept switching to gin?”

“Yeah.” Eliot rubbed his hand back through his hair. He fixed his eyes on Quentin's stomach, where the damp t-shirt clung to the muscle. Quentin's fingers tipped his chin back up.

“Tell me what he did, El.” Eliot inhaled a breath through his nose.

“He put a tracking charm on it. We found another one on Margo's lipstick case, and he'd enchanted your phone too. Alice was able to figure out how to move the ones for my flask and Margo's case, but we think he had someone help him enchant your phone. Alice had never seen anything like that spell, Q. There was no way he cast it alone."

“Jesus.” Quentin tugged his damp hair back into a loose ponytail and used the band around his wrist to keep it back. Eliot pulled the pictures from his bag and handed them to Quentin. He pointed Alex out in the top one.

“He was following us when we left campus, Quentin. Do you recognize him?” He watched Quentin slowly shuffle through the photos. “He's older now, in his early thirties, shorter hair, same build.”

“Fuck.” Quentin breathed. His thumb dug into the pile of photos “There was a guy when we went to the liquor store for your birthday. He was flirting with Margo. When I found them he hit on me; we thought he was a creep and laughed it off.” Eliot rubbed his hands against the course material of the blankets.

“I'm sorry, this is all my fault.”

“El, no. Hey, come here.” Eliot moved back to the edge of the bed so he could wrap his arms around Quentin's middle. The sunglasses got lifted off his head and tossed onto the bedspread. Eliot sighed as Quentin's hand brushed back his hair. “This guy is crazy, Eliot.” Eliot let a shuddering breath escape his lungs. “None of this is your fault, Love.”

“He could have hurt you.”

“Watching you try to handle this by yourself hurt me, but we're done with that right? The three of us are going to tackle whatever he tries to do next together. Okay?”

“Yes.” Eliot whispered. He was so tired of being alone. “I missed you both.”

“We missed you too.” The silence they lapsed into was comfortable. Eliot closed his eyes and rested his cheek against Quentin's torso. “Do you want to meet Margo, or do you want to stay here?”

“Margo won't mind if we stay here, I want to be with you. I want you to make me forget everything that's gone wrong the last couple of months.” Eliot watched Quentin wet his lower lip; he could see nervous apprehension building in Quentin's face.

“Do you have something specific in mind?”

“Whatever you want.”

“What if I make things worse.” Eliot could feel a knot of frustration expanding in his chest. He knew that Quentin meant well, but right now he needed his partner to step up and know what to do without being guided. He reached for Quentin's hands and squeezed them.

“I trust you.” Maybe if he gave Quentin a place to start the other man could carry them the rest of the way. “Look, um,” Eliot leaned towards his bag and pulled the zipper down the track. “I brought a few toys.” He gave Quentin the most impish smile he could manage. “You can tie my hands.” Eliot leaned closer to Quentin and stretched to kiss near his ear. “And get creative from there.” He sighed as Quentin's hands tangled in his hair and his mouth was guided into a second fierce kiss.

“Tell me if what I try doesn't help.” A hint of authority had crept into Quentin's tone. Eliot rested his hands on Quentin's shoulders and stood. They stood flush against one another as he ran his hands up Quentin's throat. They shared a pair of messy, playful kisses as Quentin rucked the polo shirt up his stomach, then over his head. Quentin's hands raced down his sides; Eliot shivered under the touch, suddenly conscious of how much weight he'd lost in a relatively short amount of time. “El..” Quentin's hand seized his jaw to force eye contact.

“I know.”

“You have to stop.”

“I know.” Eliot squeezed his eyes shut as a shudder rippled down his back. “I don't know which way is up, Q.” He confessed.

“I think you're close enough to the bottom to land on your feet. Lay down. I'm going to take care of you. I promise.”

“Yes, Sir.” Eliot sat long enough to take off his shoes, then turned, and crawled towards the middle of the king-sized bed. He sank into the mattress a little once he'd rolled onto his back. The silk sheets felt soft against his cheek. The bed barely dipped as Quentin climbed up after him to straddle his hips. The smaller man's hands circled his wrists; then his arms were pulled above his head and bound together. Eliot gave the silk ties an experimental tug.

“Is it too tight?”

“Not right now.”

“Good.” Quentin's fingers traced down his forearms in featherweight brushes, Eliot resisted the urge to shiver. The two of them hadn't been together since the trials, so even small touches felt amplified. He heard Quentin rummaging around in his bag and tried raise his head enough to see. “Close your eyes. No, hold on, I have a better idea.” A blindfold got secured over his eyes; Eliot's breath hitched. A tiny sliver of panic formed in his throat. “Eliot? What color?” It took Eliot longer than it should have to realize that Quentin was asking for permission to proceed. The concern made him relax enough to let out a breath; his whole body felt looser.

“Green.”

“Are you sure?” Eliot's senses were trying to compensate for the temporary loss of his vision.

“Green.” He repeated; his voice was more confident this time. Quentin's hand curved around the back of his head. The smaller man used the hold to guide their mouths together.

“Now what am I going to do with you?” Eliot heard him purr. The rustle and clink of toys against his clothes sounded louder. Without warning something brushed along his ribs. He jerked away with a gasp, but between the ties and Quentin's weight pinning his hips, he could squirm so far. The tip of a long feather followed him, randomly brushing and tickling. Blindfolded he had no way of knowing where it would land next. “Hold still, Baby.” Eliot sucked in a breath as the feather brushed against his nipple. Holding still against the incessant tickle made his muscles quiver. The breath escaped in a rush as the feather lifted from his skin. “Just focus on lying still. I'm so proud of you.” Quentin praised as the feather brushed along the inside of his knee. Eliot dug his heel into the sheets before forcing his leg to relax. He took another steadying breath.

For the next twenty minutes or so his body felt strung like a violin until gradually it wasn't anymore. His breathing turned deep and even, and he started to relax to the point where he barely felt the feather. The burn in wrists, shoulders, and back melted away. The silk sheets and soft mattress were comfortable below him. Even though he couldn't see him Quentin was a familiar warm weight on top of him. He felt safe for the first time in months, and it was such a relief.

Quentin's lips pressed to his throat, and Eliot realized that his boyfriend had abandoned the feather in favor of stretching out against him. Light kisses peppered down his neck and chest. One of Quentin's hands slipped below his shorts and into his boxers. Eliot made a needy little noise as Quentin palmed his shaft.

“Easy, Beautiful. Just relax. I'm going to take care of you.” Quentin sounded more confident than when they had started. The arm that wasn't down his pants wrapped around his waist. Eliot felt the brush of the feather along his ribs again as Quentin lured him back into the relaxed non-verbal state he'd fallen into. Lying blind and bound in Quentin's embrace was the closest he'd felt to blissful in ages. Quentin kissed his mouth, then his shorts and underwear were pulled down his legs. Quentin moved between his thighs; slick generously lubed fingers pressed inside him. Eliot whined at the intrusion. The fingers slid free. “El, tell me a color.”

“Green.” Eliot breathed. “Green, green, green.” His brain was too far away to form a full sentence. A soft laugh, breathed against his abs, and accompanied by a row of butterfly kisses, turned the litany into a small pleased cry. Quentin's fingers pushed inside him again; he was bounteous with his prep, mindful of their time apart. Eliot felt like they were linked, Quentin seemed to know exactly what he needed. Warm hands gripped his hips as Quentin lined up against him, then Quentin filled him. Neither of them needed or wanted, a marathon. It was enough to be together again, to make love to one another for the first time in months.

Quentin collapsed against him when it was over, Eliot could feel the warm fast huffs of breath against his chest as his lover recovered. Eliot let himself lay boneless below him, content, safe, and pleasantly drifting until Quentin moved. There was a hint of light as Quentin walked to the bathroom; then darkness and a warm damp cloth wiping him clean. When his arms were released Eliot curled onto his side. He whined in contentment as Quentin started to massage his hands and wrists.

“Roll onto your stomach” Once he'd obeyed Quentin's hands, covered in skin temperature oil, continued the massage up his arms and over his shoulders. “How do you feel?” Eliot responded with a pleased mew. He wrapped his arms around Quentin when he found him and clung to him. Quentin's lips pressed to his forehead. “You need to sleep.”

“Yeah.”

“Will the blindfold help?”

“I think so.” Eliot felt like it would be a good way to keep him connected to their scene and stop his mind from starting to race again. He'd needed real sleep for weeks; the quiet safety of the hotel room presented a better opportunity than his room on campus. “Don't leave me.”

“I might get up, but I won't leave the room.”

“That's okay.” Eliot pressed his lips to Quentin's throat. “Thank you, Q. I missed you; I needed this from you.”

“Get some rest.” Eliot breathed in the mixed scent of Quentin's sweat and shower soap. Hidden behind the padded cloth, he let his eyelids slide closed

Chapter Text

It was bordering on two in the morning, and Margo was pleasantly tipsy as she unlocked the door to the hotel room. The broad flat screen that monopolized the majority of the dresser top bathed the room in soft soundless light. Quentin was up, and he ducked his head into the bedroom with a toothbrush hanging from between his teeth. Margo ushered him back toward the sink with a wordless wave, devoid herself of her heels, and crawled into the middle of the king-sized bed. Eliot seemed soundly asleep as she lay facing him until Amber eyes cracked open.

“Bambi.” The twin syllables of her nickname were sleep soft; he'd probably only woken up because he'd heard the door.

“Go back to sleep.” Margo tucked a wild curl back behind his ear and cupped her hand against his face. His eyes had already closed before she finished the sentence. Margo gently brushed her thumb across the sharp line of his cheekbone, then tucked back another curl. He'd already relapsed into slumber, and Margo silently railed at the unfairness. Eliot was the sweetest guy; he deserved better than the unconscious layers of paranoia that some creep had literally beaten into him.

Behind her, the bathroom light flipped off, and Quentin joined them in bed. Margo leaned back into his embrace when his arms circled her. A chaste kiss got pressed to her hair.

“Sunset Boulevard doesn't seem like your cup of tea.” The black and white classic shaded the room in gray-scale as it continued on mute.

“El picked it, and fell asleep fifteen minutes after it started.” There was a pause as they silently enjoyed the embrace they shared. “He's going to be okay.” Margo let her emotions boil over a little. Her vision was suddenly blurry. She brought the back of her hand up against her mouth to stop herself from making a noise that might become a sob, then wiped at her eyes. “Margo.”

“What are we supposed to do, Q?” His arms tightened around her.

“I don't know.” Margo twisted around in his hold until the two of them lay face to face. She propped her cheek up on her hand.

“You two are okay, right?” The flickering light from the television highlighted his face as it scrunched in confusion.

“Why wouldn't we be?”

“Relationships end over stupid shit; I don't want him to lose you. He's at his best for you. I saw it the day I got home.”

“I'm not going to leave him, we talked; he told me what happened at the bar.”

“Finally,” Margo leaned into his hand as Quentin's fingers brushed her hair back. “Is he going to start taking care of himself again. It's like he just... just doesn't care unless one of us makes him.” She rubbed her under her eye, silently thankful for the no run mascara she preferred.

“El cares, Margo. He's just... using the same destructive coping techniques he used the first time this guy wrecked his life because they helped when he didn't have anything else.” Quentin's arm tightened around her, and Margo rested her forehead against his sternum. One of Quentin's arms lay around her shoulders while the other curled around her hips. Margo wouldn't admit aloud how nice it was to have someone hold her as he held her. She and Eliot had never been romantically involved, but they spent plenty of nights bed-sharing for the comfort of it. She'd lost that when she'd come back from summer break to find Eliot in the arms of a steady boyfriend. Quentin gave her a few uninterrupted moments to vent quietly, then caught her chin to tilt her face up. “He's got us this time. We're going to make sure he's okay, right?”

Margo should have settled for a quiet affirmation, or a pledge of solidarity, instead she lurched upward to kiss Quentin hard on the mouth. Her arms slithered around his neck, and she clung to him even as his body tensed. The push away was gentle, but firm.

“Margo,” Quentin's hands pressed more firmly, but without anger at her shoulders. Undeterred Margo leaned forward to claim the second kiss.

“We're El's best friends, Margo. We aren't hurting him like this.” Margo wet her bottom lip with a swipe of her tongue. Before she could come up with a counterargument, the sheets rustled behind them. To have Eliot catch her making a move on his partner made her heart hammer in her chest. The stupidity of what she'd done slammed into her; Margo suddenly felt terrified he'd make her leave, or worse – get angry at Quentin when Q hadn't done anything wrong.

“It's... El, it's not what it looks like, we're not, um, it's...”

“I'm kinda drunk; it's not Quentin's fault.” Both she and Quentin blurted out their apologies in the same breath. Margo squeezed her eyes shut; Eliot was going to be furious. To her surprise, a soft laugh escaped Eliot's throat. His arm slipped under and up around her waist; a gentle kiss got pressed to the back of her head. He must have beckoned Quentin closer with the hand Margo couldn't see because Quentin leaned for a kiss. Eliot's hand curved into his boyfriend's hair, holding him in the lip-lock until Quentin relaxed a little.

“It's okay.” Eliot was holding Quentin's gaze when spoke, so the words were solely meant for his boyfriend's benefit. “If the two of you want to screw around a little I don't mind. Just... tell me it's happening. Don't hide it. After the way I've been treating you two, if you started something without me, I don't have grounds to be mad.”

“We didn't; I'd never, it's not, we're not...” Quentin stumbled from one two word starter to another until Eliot hauled him into a second kiss. Margo watched the smaller man's eyelids flutter closed.

“I trust you not to hurt me, Quentin.” A mischievous smile curved across Eliot's face. “The two of you can do whatever you like, as long as I get to watch.” Margo felt a gleeful smile spread across her face when Quentin blushed.

“What happens in Ibiza stays in Ibiza, Q.” Margo reached to drag her finger down the center of his chest. His breath hitched as her fingers slipped under his t-shirt to twist in a circle around his navel. She rolled onto her back, so she lay between them. “If I let you watch while I ride Quentin; I get to watch while he fucks you.” She bargained to Eliot. Quentin made a strained noise in the back of his throat. “Unless Quentin isn't into this.” She added.

“He's right there. Talk it out with him. I don't mind an audience.” Margo rolled to face the younger man.

“So, Q, what's the verdict? Are we doing this.” Quentin looked mildly stunned, like a deer in headlights. “Sweetie, we don't have to do anything. I'm sorry I kissed you.” Sincerity colored Margo's tone, she did mean the words, Eliot could have easily been furious or hurt, and she hadn't wanted that.

“I don't want it to be weird after,” Quentin confessed.

“We're all adults. It'll only be weird if we make it weird.”

“I,” The base of Quentin's hand rested against her hip, his fingers extended towards Eliot. Margo resisted the urge to shiver when Eliot's long digits laced into them. Their hands were warm through the fabric of her skirt. “Are you sure you're into this?”

“It'll be fun.”

“El.” They were both silent for a moment. Lying on her side as she was, Margo could only try to read Quentin's face, half of which was cast in the black and white shades of the silent bedroom. A little worm of jealousy borrowed somewhere deep inside her. Margo wanted what they had for herself. She wanted someone who could read the lines of her face the way Quentin was reading Eliot's, someone who knew what she needed without an exchange of words.

Their hands broke, then Eliot's fingers swept her hair back, creating room for him to kiss her throat. Margo gasped at the tenderness of it, at the gentle scratch of his stubble and occasional flicks of his tongue. She arched her neck and curled her toes as his lips moved upward towards her ear. On her other side, Quentin shifted closer. When he kissed her mouth, his hesitancy seemed to be gone. The hand that had rested on her hip skated down the curve of her leg, then under the fabric of her loose wrap skirt and back up her thigh. The knot at her waist unraveled, pulled apart by Eliot's telekinesis. With the skirt gone, and more access granted to his hand, deft digits brushed along the line of her panties, then Quentin's fingers were rubbing slow circles against the material covering her clit. Margo shuddered and rolled onto her back. The position gave him better access, and Margo mewed with pleasure as his whole hand slipped into her underwear.

Eliot's hand settled against her cheek to turn her head, so their lips met. It wasn't the wild, drunken, passionate kiss she'd imagined them having and regretting. The one they shared was slow, exploratory, and in its own way apologetic. It was Eliot's way of telling her he loved her, but he wasn't in love with her. She cupped her hand around his neck when their foreheads rested together. Quentin's fingers had stilled, but not moved away.

“Bambi.” His eyes slid closed.

“I get it, El.” Their noses brushed together. Margo felt a grin tug at the corners of her mouth. “I didn't tell you that you could stop, Coldwater.” Margo tipped her head to glare at him, only to find his mouth quirked in a delighted smile.

“I was trying not to interrupt your moment.” Margo appreciated that she really did, but at the same time, she wanted his fingers rubbing against her.

“Don't keep the lady waiting, Q.” Eliot encouraged; one of his hands traveled down her chest to unhook the front clasp of her bikini top. Her underwear had started the morning as her bikini bottoms, but they had proven too uncomfortable for the party she had ended up attending. She and Eliot shared their second kiss as his hand palmed her breast. Quentin's fingers were moving again. The combination was enough to make her squirm. Eliot's fingers teased her nipple, and she moaned. “I'm going to help Q wreck you.” He purred before his mouth settled back against her throat. The laugh that bubbled from her chest turned into a soft cry when his teeth nipped at the skin. Silk skimmed down her thighs when Quentin pulled her panties off; two fingers slipped inside her as his thumb continued to rub vigorous patterns. Margo tangled a hand in the soft locks of Quentin's hair; a rough tug brought his mouth to hers.

“I wasn't bluffing about riding you.” She told him as she twisted in his direction. Her nails skimmed down his chest until her hands found the hem of his t-shirt. She hiked the material upward until he sat long enough to pull it off; before he could lay down again, Margo pressed her hand to his chest to shove him onto his back. She straddled his thighs and reached between them to palm the tent that had formed in his boxers. “Eliot, get a condom.” An unopened packet zipped to her fingers; Margo opened the wrapper with her teeth. Quentin's legs bent under her so he could work his boxers off, unhindered by the cloth his cock sprang free. Margo rolled the condom on, cast a contraceptive charm on herself as an added precaution, then lowered herself onto his length.

“Margo!” Her name sounded almost like a prayer once she was seated against his hips. He seemed afraid to move as he might tip over the edge from that alone. Margo would murder him if this were all it took.

“Easy, Q. Breathe.” He sucked in a long breath and exhaled. She could tell when he seemed a little more centered. Margo rolled her hips slowly, grinding against him, building the sensation between them. His hands briefly fondled her breasts, then traced down her sides to hold her hips. Her eyes ticked sideways to Eliot, whose gaze was fixed on Quentin's face. He seemed enamored with the emotions displayed in his boyfriend's expressive features. Margo grinned and leaned over Quentin. They shared a long messy kiss. Together they shared a sideways glance at Eliot. “I thought your boy was going to help.” She purred against Quentin's ear. Her tongue swiped liberally over his throat.

“El.” It was little more than a choked moan. His fingers stretched across the sheets. Eliot caught his hand and kissed the top of it. A positively impish smile spread across his face

“Oh FUCK!” The first experimental brush of his telekinesis against her folds dragged a shout from Margo's throat. Her back arched, and she clenched around Quentin. His eyes squeezed shut in an effort not to lose himself in that second. “Warn a girl, Eliot. Fuck that feels amazing!”

“Does it?” Eliot moved closer to them, and Margo reached to tangle her hands in his curls. They shared a fevered kiss; his hand was warm against her back. Quentin's fingers dug into her hips.

“If you stop I will make sure you don't come tonight.” The ghostly pressure of his powers was unpredictable. Quentin's whine as she squirmed was loud enough to draw her attention. Her thighs flexed as she lifted herself up, then sank back down. She had promised to ride him. His hips arched to meet hers, and she combed the sweat-damp hair that stuck to his forehead back from his face. Margo had planned to savor and draw out their time together for as long as she could, but Eliot seemed to be experimenting. Sooner than she had expected he had pushed her to her edge and over. Her back bowed, and her body tightened; a strangled shout got ripped from Quentin's throat as her orgasm triggered his.

Margo swore she saw stars as she collapsed against Quentin's chest. His heart thundered under her ear as the two of them sucked in lungfuls of cool recirculated air. She shifted to pepper small kisses along his throat and down his chest. Beside them, Eliot still had his boxers on, and a satisfied smirk on his face. Margo had planned to find her pleasure, and then let the boys have one another. She could see the tent in his shorts, and it made her feel a bit guilty that Eliot had mostly gotten left out so far.

“Eliot is still dressed.” She pointed out, a breath of laughter puffed against her forehead. Quentin found Eliot's hand and brought it to his lips.

“I need a few minutes.” A wicked smile curved across Margo's face. Her lips found the lobe of his ear, and she teased it gently with her teeth. “You could suck him off.” She suggested playfully. Quentin's head fell to the side, putting Eliot back in his field of vision. Margo shifted off of him, so Quentin had space to remove the condom. A trashcan floated close enough for him to dispose of it. “Thanks,” He still sounded spent. Tissues had been moved to one of the bedside tables, and Quentin snagged a few to clean himself up a little. Finally, he rolled onto his side to scoot closer to Eliot. His hand curved around Eliot's neck. The taller man melted into the touch of his hands and the pressure of his lips. Margo kinda wanted them to get to the action, but the next ten minutes or so were just the two of them making out, which she supposed Quentin needed considering he'd already come.

She could see the shift when Quentin started getting his wind back. His hands slipped under the band of Eliot's shorts to push them down, then left them laying at Eliot's feet so he could use his telekinesis to drop them onto the floor. Quentin's hand found its way back around Eliot's neck, but it wasn't the slow, thorough kisses they had been sharing. This time he was intent on to ravishing his boyfriend's mouth; the hand that wasn't holding Eliot where he wanted him trailed down his stomach, then wrapped around Eliot's cock. Eliot had started to go soft while they had made out, but Quentin clearly had a method in mind to make him flag again. His mouth trailed over Eliot's jaw, then down his neck to a pulse point. Eliot bared his throat and moaned as Quentin's lips latched onto the spot.

“Q – Quentin,” Eliot threw his head back, his hands fluttered weakly at Quentin's shoulders then down his back. “Fuck!” His chest rose sharply, and one heel dug into the sheets as Quentin sucked at the skin. A bruise blossomed into a livid mark that would last for days. Quentin lifted his head to inspect his work, then licked the flat of his tongue over it. Finally, his lips puckered to blow a narrow column of air across the irritated skin; Eliot's whole body shuddered. “God, Q!” Eliot's gasp of his name was practically keened.

An appreciative smile spread across Quentin's face. He moved, so he was kneeling between Eliot's spread thighs. His hair hung in damp strands around his face, and he took a moment to rake it back. Margo grabbed the hair tie that lay near the tissues and stretched it across her fingers.

“Sit back for a minute.” She shared a languid kiss with Quentin as she pulled his damp locks into a tail. The hand that wasn't slowly pumping Eliot's cock cupped her breast. His thumb pinched her nipple. “Better, right?”

“Much.”

“Good, now stop teasing him and get to work.” He laughed at Eliot's whine of agreement. When Margo moved to lay back down, she settled right alongside Eliot. They shared another tender kiss together as Quentin alternated licks and kisses down Eliot's sternum and belly. A strangled cry burst from Eliot's throat when Quentin nipped the inside of his thigh. His hips bucked as Quentin finally took him into his mouth. “I still want to watch him fuck you.” Her sultry whisper got an eager half nod from Eliot; he might have agreed verbally had a pleased gasp not stolen his voice.

Months in a relationship had taught Quentin what Eliot liked most. Rather than watch Quentin, Margo found herself fixated on her best friend's face. Long lashes fluttered closed. Quentin did something obscene with his tongue that made Eliot's back bow; it was Margo's chance to slide her arm under Eliot's waist. Her lips brushed a chaste kiss against the hickey Quentin had made. She felt his neck and shoulder tense as a groan escaped his throat. Amber eyes fluttered open, and he pressed a kiss to her temple.

“Bambi. Shit, Q, I'm so close.” Eliot rested his elbows against the mattress and levered himself up a little so he could watch. The grin that spread across his face was one of adoration for Quentin, but Margo could see in his eyes that he was getting tired. The slight tremor in his hand as he reached to comb his fingers through Quentin's hair confirmed it.

“Let's wrap this up, Coldwater. We've all been at this a while now.” Margo brushed her hand through loose ringlets of Eliot's damp hair, sweat stood against his skin. Quentin's lips were red and swollen when he lifted his head to look at them. Eliot gave him a little nod; words weren't necessary.

“Yeah.” Eliot's fingers combed through Quentin's hair again; Quentin caught his wrist to kiss his palm. A frown of confusion twisted Eliot's face when Quentin moved upward instead of ducking his head to finish. It melted away just as quickly when Quentin's hand found its way into his hair. He claimed Eliot's mouth in a hard kiss. Moving higher had put him into a position to line up their dicks so that they could finish in tandem under the ministrations of Quentin's hand.

“Q!” Now that she was listening for it Margo could hear an undertone of relief in his voice.

“Let go.” Eliot's chin twitched in a vigorous nod. His legs shifted restlessly to give Quentin the best angle. Neither of them lasted against the pressure and slide of Quentin's hand and the friction it created. Watching the lean lines of Eliot's body tense as he came was something breathtaking. His weight had remained resting on the elbows, and his neck arched backward as his hips jumped against Quentin's fist. Quentin kissed the underside of Eliot's jaw as Eliot's chest heaved. When Quentin glanced at her his hair had fallen back into his face “Margo can you get me a warm washcloth?”

“Of course.” Margo swung her legs out of bed to follow Quentin's directive. To give them a moment or two of privacy she took the time to clean herself up before returning with the hand-towel. Her absence had given the boys the chance to whisper to one another. Eliot lay boneless and spent on the sheets, but he caught her hand and squeezed it after she'd passed Quentin the towel.

“You can watch us some other time, Bambi.” His lips pressed to her wrist; Margo twisted the digits to cup his face as she moved to kiss him. There was no passion to it, just a tender reassurance. That they were willing to invite her back into their bed made her feel warm. It also made her nervous, the more it happened, the more she feared she'd grow to expect something they couldn't give her.

“If it happens, it happens. If not, that's okay too.” Margo was hyper aware that she'd dodged a bullet. The three of them seemed ready to walk away from this as friends. She reminded herself that kissing Quentin could have gone horribly south. Quentin tossed the towel away when he was finished, then fumbled for the TV remote. The monotone flicker of images ended, and the room plunged into darkness. The three of them shifted around until they were comfortable and loosely tangled in each others' embraces. Margo kissed Eliot between his shoulder-blades once his breaths evened and slumber had claimed him. “We're good, right, Q?” With the darkness of the room and Eliot between them to act as buffers Margo finally felt safe asking the question.

“It worked out, no hard feelings.” He sounded as tired as she felt. No further discussion was necessary; Margo let her eyelids fall closed in relief.

Chapter Text

When Margo woke up, she realized that the three of them had only slept for a couple of hours at best. For a moment or two, she let herself lay in silence and take stock of the room. The loose tangle the three of them had fallen asleep in had separated during their slumber. Eliot had rolled farther into Quentin's hold and lay sprawled against the smaller man. His cheek rested under Quentin's clavicle, and one arm lay loose across Quentin's middle.

Neither of them stirred as Margo eased out of bed. There was just enough pre-dawn light filtering through the blinds for her to find Eliot's abandoned polo shirt. Even with Eliot's height the tailored shirt barely covered her butt, and Margo padded on silent feet to her suitcase. A moment of rustling produced a pair of silk sleep shorts sporting a vibrant print of tropical floral. Dressed enough to go out onto the balcony she opened the mini fridge for the jug of orange juice and the bottle of chilled champagne. Her fingers found an empty champagne flute as she passed the dresser. She tucked the bottle and jug under her arm, opened the patio door with her free hand, and stepped out onto the balcony.

The beach owned by the hotel shared a border with the ocean. The sky was still dark but lightened to a blue-gray pre-dawn the closer one's eyes tracked to the horizon. A pair of Chanel pilot sunglasses with pink-gold mirror lenses lay on one of the small tables. Margo settled into the lounge chair and fixed her mimosa before delicately resting the glasses against her nose.

She'd only lounged for a minute or so when the patio door slid. The robe Eliot had found didn't fit him; it cut off at his elbow, and it didn't even reach his knees. The sunglasses he'd arrived in were perched on top of his messy curls. He wore both pieces with an effortless confidence that would seem genuine to anyone who didn't know him. Margo knew him better than anyone. The circles under his eyes weren't as dark as they had been the morning before but she knew he was still exhausted. She wondered when he'd had his last hit.

“Hey, Bambi,” There was a hesitancy to his tone, as though he wasn't sure if he was welcome to join her. Margo sat up, and reached for the empty flute that hung between Eliot's fingers. She filled a third with alcohol, and the rest with juice – the opposite of his preference, then moved to make room for him in the lounge chair. Eliot sat on the edge of the chair, swung his legs up onto the weatherproof cloth and leaned against the lounge back. Margo passed him the glass, then clinked hers against his. While she sipped her drink, Eliot finished his in one long chug, then used his telekinesis to make a second. Margo half expected him to drink all of it as well, but he rested the glass on the table beside him. “We're okay, right?” He finally asked. His gaze flicked to her face and the mirrored lenses. He held her eyes as if he were looking straight through the glass and not at a distorted reflection of his face.

“El.” That he would think to ask that question, even for a second, broke her heart. Margo pushed the frames up. Her hand pressed into the canvas so she could support herself on her arm as she sat up straighter. “We're...” A myriad of platitudes and reassurances were ready to fall from her lips. She wanted to tell him that they were golden, that nothing could touch them, but that wasn't exactly true. She had almost wrecked everything without thought of the consequences. “We're okay.” They stared at one another for a long moment as she worked up the nerve to apologize. “I should have respected boundaries better, and while I'll admit that shouldn't have kissed Quentin without your permission, I...” She trailed off; the momentary pause gave her a minute to sort out her mixed feelings. “I don't regret last night, El. I think the three of us shared something special.”

“Me too.” Eliot levered himself up, so they were both sitting; he drew one of his knees to his chest and stared down at his bare toes. His fingers moved to cover her hand. They didn't immediately say anything else to one another. Eliot broke the silence again. “I woke up while you were talking.” He told her. His hand tightened around hers. “I never meant to let things get this out of hand.” Margo wrapped her arm around his waist and pulled him back into the chair with her. Without the padding of his winter layers, it was impossible to ignore just how 'out of hand' things had gotten.

“Its gotta stop, El.” For a second she considered suggesting that he try rehab, but she just wanted him to stop using cocaine like a crutch before it killed him. They had too much fun drinking together for her to ask him to get and stay clean. “It's not just us anymore.” There had been a point where trying to curb his drug use wouldn't have a glimmer in her eye, but now that Quentin was an inseparable part of their lives she felt compelled to put more effort into helping him stop. “What if you OD and Q finds you?” Curled together as they were she felt the shiver.

“Margo.”

“Don't say it can't happen. He'd be devastated.”

“I know.” Faint pinks and oranges had started to dye the line of the horizon that met the ocean. Eliot flipped his sunglasses down over his eyes. He brought his mimosa to his lips and drank part of it, leaning on the liquid courage to help say whatever he had to say. The colors bled into white, then pale blue, navy, and midnight. A smattering of stars was still visible in the darkest circles of color. “Alex knew exactly what to say to make me feel afraid, Bambi.” Margo watched the lines of his face pinch as he squeezed his eyes shut behind the lenses. “Alex talked about both of you, about how he was in your rooms, about how he took your things, about how he followed the two of you off campus.” When Eliot sniffed; tears ran down his cheeks. “I would have left the bar with him that night as long as it meant that the two of you were safe, then Penny interrupted, and everything went sideways. Afterward, I couldn't sleep because I was so paranoid, and all the cocaine has done is make me feel worse.”

“That's an understatement.” Margo moved to straddle Eliot's lap. His stubble was scratchy against her skin when she guided his face against the junction of her neck and shoulder. His arms wrapped around her; she rested her cheek against his hair and let him cling to her. One of them was going to kill him. Margo didn't care whether it was her or Quentin who did it so long as Eliot got a chance to heal after Alex was gone. The collar of his shirt was damp by the time he calmed down.

“I found a few pictures of him.” He told her. His hands had found the sunglasses again, and he rubbed the lenses dry using the bottom of the shirt she wore.

“Where are they?”

“On top of my bag.” He settled the frames on the bridge of his nose.

“I'll get them.” Margo swung her legs out of the chair as she spoke. Going back into the room gave her the chance to grab the flask she'd tucked away in her pool bag.

“Margo?” Quentin lifted his head to blink at her as she rummaged through Eliot's bag for the handful of pictures. “Is everything okay?”

“That creep followed us off campus, Q!” She fumed. The gravity of Eliot's explanation was finally starting to set in.

“El told me.”

“He,” Margo resisted the urge to crumple the images in her hand before she even looked at them. “I'll kill him.” She whispered vehemently.

“Do you want me to come back out with you?” He offered.

“Go back to sleep.” Margo did her best to gentle her voice a little. Quentin had already gotten his turn to listen while Eliot explained everything. It was her turn to hear all of it. She pulled the door open and padded back to the lounge chair. A quarter of the sun had peaked over the horizon, and she reached for her sunglasses as the light bounced and reflected against the ocean waves. Eliot handed her a refreshed mimosa; she handed him the flask. “Drink some of that.”

“Of what?” He twisted off the cap to sniff the contents. “Oh. Do I have to?”

“Yes." Margo decided to let playful bluntness color her tone. "You know I love you, El, but when you come down from a bender you're an annoying bitch, and I want to enjoy the rest of my vacation. ” She weighted the pictures down with the filled champagne flute so the ocean breeze wouldn't catch them and blow them away. Eliot made room for her in the lounge chair; his arm looped around her as she settled.

“We have to find a way to make this taste better.” He complained as he tilted the flask of their hangover remedy to his lips. “I'm not upset you kissed Q.” He assured her after a moment of comfortable silence. “I meant it if you two started something while I was acting like an asshole I can't blame you.”

“We didn't, and he wouldn't! We love you, El. Kissing him was impulsive, neither of us knew it was going to happen until I'd already done it.” She watched him nod, seemingly content with that answer. “I'm glad you joined us.” She told him. The first two days of their trip hadn't been unbearable, but they hadn't been the same experience she'd enjoyed in years past. “Q was worried about you.” A small smile twisted on his face.

“I think I was driving Alice and Penny crazy. Alice forced him to intervene.” Margo laughed as she imagined the at times forceful blonde pressuring the reluctant psychic on Eliot's behalf.

“I guess Q and I need to figure out a way to thank them.”

“Yeah.” Eliot's lips briefly pressed to her temple. “I thought I was doing the right thing, Bambi. Outside of Shawn, you and Q are the only family I have. Trying to protect you wasn't a mistake.”

“When did he follow us? Was it the weekend your brother visited?”

“The night you went to the liquor store for my birthday, that was the night he mentioned at the bar. It probably happened more than that.” The sun was over halfway past the horizon; there was enough light to see as she reached for one of the pictures. She had to tilt it a little to see it better. Her eyes scanned the faces of the strangers in the shot until they landed on the one she'd seen before.

“Is that him?”

“Yes.” Eliot finished his drink and rested the back against the chair.

“How did he know we would be there?” Margo wasn't sure she wanted the answer.

“Tracking charms, that's what he did to my flask. It's why our things kept disappearing near the start of term.”

“So my lipstick case has a...” Margo couldn't force her mouth to form the words tracking charm, the gull of all of it made her sick.

“Had.” Eliot corrected almost immediately. “Alice figured out how to remove them. Bambi, Margo...” He caught her chin and pushed her sunglasses up. “I wouldn't have let you leave campus with that case if it still had a charm like that on it.” Margo raked a hand back through her hair.

“But you had to replace Quentin's phone, that was why you bought him a new one.”

“We couldn't figure out how he enchanted the tech,” Eliot explained. “We still haven't. Alex had to have had help.”

“This is crazy.” Margo found herself whispering. It was no wonder Eliot had been so upset. Now that he'd explained his reasoning she could almost understand why he'd felt that distance was the safest option. Fortunately, none of it made her any more willing to continue sitting on the sidelines. “You have to tell the Dean what's going on when we get back to campus.” Eliot rolled his gaze towards the sky.

“What makes you think Henry will help?” He muttered as he tugged his sunglasses off. He tossed them onto the table to pinch the bridge of his nose in frustration.

“Alex has been using his key to mentally abuse you for months! He physically assaulted you once already. He's proven just how dangerous he is.” Margo cupped his cheek with her hand. “I know you were unconscious, but Fogg was visibly rattled when I took off that glamour you were using to hide the damage to your face. He was pissed when Penny and I wouldn't tell him everything. Maybe he can suspend Alex's alumni key.”

“What good will that do?” Eliot muttered. His gaze had dropped to the canvas.

“If he can't get to you he can't hurt you, Baby.” Margo raked her hand back through his hair.

“It won't do anything but piss him off, Margo. We graduate in a semester.” He reminded her. “We have to move off campus by the end of the Summer. It's a temporary fix at best.”

“At least it would buy us time to figure out a permanent solution. If you don't go, then Quentin, Penny and I will.” The thought of Alex being in her room and going through her things made her skin crawl, that alone was reason enough to go to the Dean.

“I'll try anything once,” Eliot whispered. She could see in his face and hear in his voice the doubt that Fogg would do anything but make the situation worse. His cheek nuzzled against her hand. “What did you bring as a gift for the Regalo this year?” He asked in a deliberate attempt to change the subject. Margo laughed. He'd missed that mini adventure.

“So, I found this recipe for what I thought was magical gin.” Eliot hummed in encouragement as he sipped his drink. “And you know my Arabic is shit, so I made Todd translate it.”

“Uff, Todd? Really, Margo? Did you throw all your standards out the window when I wasn't around?

“What? Todd can be useful, if for nothing else. Anyway, Todd helped Quentin, and I build this contraption in the common room, and it ended up summoning a djinn.”

“You're kidding!” It was nice to see genuine delight light up his face for a few minutes. The potion she'd made him take seemed to be already having a positive impact.

“It could read my mind, and would only listen to me because I was the one who opened the bottle we trapped it in.”

“Too bad you had to give it up.” Eliot's nose buried against her hair. “I missed both of you.” He whispered. They lapsed into silence. The sun had crept entirely past the horizon and behind a thin layer of cloud. The sky was dyed a brilliant mix of color and shadow. Neither of them moved when they heard the patio door slide open. Quentin's forearms rested above them on the top of the chair.

“I'm going to order breakfast; I figured I should ask if either of you wanted anything specific.” Eliot lifted his arm to interlace his fingers with Quentin's; Quentin kissed the back of his hand. Thin, nimble fingers reached down to slowly pet back Eliot's messy curls. “Do you feel better now that you've talked to both of us?”

“Yeah.” Eliot tilted his head back to meet his boyfriend's eyes. “Thank you.”

“We're going to tell Dean Fogg what's going on when we get back to campus.” Margo watched Quentin's fingers slowly comb back Eliot's hair again.

“Hopefully he won't just sit on his hands.” The younger man muttered. “El, breakfast? Anything special?” Eliot shook his head.

“Just order a mix, and I'll figure something out when I see it.”

“Charge it to the room when you order, Q.”

“Yeah.” Quentin seemed more fixated on playing with Eliot's hair than he did in going back inside. Eliot's eyes had drifted closed; his face was relaxed and content as he basked in the attention. Rather than feeling left out, Margo felt special that they continued to let her see them like this, so soft and unguarded.

Chapter Text

Eliot shifted on the molded pillar below him and rested his forearm against the bar as he waited for his drink. Sun-warm chlorinated water lapped and swished around his waist in subtle waves; the sun beat down on part of is lower back even as his torso was shaded by the overhang he sat beneath. Magicians close to their age crowded the pool and fanned along the edge of the swim up bar that was built into the poolside. Margo sat on his lap, her already golden skin kissed a shade darker from relaxing in nothing but a bikini. Quentin, using a shade spell, had claimed a lounge chair far enough back from the pool edge so he could read without getting soaked every time someone threw themselves into the water. Lively EDM played through the speakers at a volume loud enough to be heard over the thrum of the crowd.

“So when are you meeting your artist?” Eliot asked as he rested his chin on Margo's shoulder. His best friend hummed contently and brought the straw of her drink to her lips.

“Later tonight. He's paying for dinner, and then we are going back to his place. The two of you will have the room all to yourselves.”

“We won't know what to do with all the space.”

“Oh, I'm sure you'll find something to keep yourselves occupied.” Margo teased. The bartender set Eliot's drink down, and Eliot slid him a damp bill as a tip. He wrapped one arm around Margo's waist and brought the spiced rum cocktail to his lips. “Are you actually feeling better, or are you fudging the truth so we would let you out of the room?”

“We all knew I was going to crash, Bambi. It was just a matter of how severely. The potion helped more than I expected.” Eliot felt mildly proud of himself. He'd been in Ibiza almost three days and hadn't done anything worse than drink. Eliot couldn't claim that he hadn't wanted to, that he didn't still want to, especially when exhaustion had set in and all he'd wanted to do was sleep. Passed out in their room was hardly the way he had wanted to spend the first days of their vacation. “I'm sorry I ruined our trip.”

“You haven't ruined our trip.”

“Yes, I have.” Eliot pressed his lips to her cheek. “The last few days would have been an endless rager if I'd been feeling up to it.”

“Well, maybe that's not what the three of us needed. We still have a few nights left, and there will be parties galore. There was nothing wrong with you resting. You've been stretching yourself thin for weeks; Q and I both understand.”

“Yeah.” Eliot sipped his drink. He didn't think Quentin and Margo quite got it. They didn't understand how violated everything Alex had done had left him feeling. Brakebills had been the only home he'd had in his adult life, and now he didn't feel safe there. “I wish I didn't have to go back.” The thought slipped out in words, instead of staying a mental whisper. Margo twisted in his lap.

“What are you talking about, El?”

“Nothing.”

“It's something. Spill.”

“Margo...”

“Don't shut me out. Talk to me, tell me what you're thinking.” Eliot finished his drink, then set the empty glass on the bar. He caught the attendant's eyes long enough to tap the top of the glass, silently indicating he'd like another. His mind raced as he tried to sort out what to say.

“I know Alex was in my room, and I just, I haven't had to deal with that since we lived together. He could have sat in the corner and watched us, and we wouldn't have known he was there. I don't feel safe, I guess.”

“That's why you have to go to the Dean. He'll do something; there's no way he can ignore this! I'm not letting you drop out, El. We only have a semester left; you'd lose your stipend money.” Margo's hand cupped his cheek. “I know you think this would be easier, but it won't help, plus Quentin would be like a kicked puppy twenty-four-seven.” Eliot laughed.

“We can't have that.” He quietly agreed. He'd forgotten about the stipend money in his worry over everything else. A refreshed drink got set in front of him. Eliot traced his fingers down the side of it, leaving trails in the condensation. Margo's arm wrapped around his waist and she rested her temple against his chest.

“I get that you're paranoid.” She whispered. Eliot ducked his head to press a kiss to the top of her head.

“It'll all turn out fine, hopefully.” He murmured. There was an exhilarated cheer as the music transitioned to a popular club song. The track was an earworm, the lyrics were repetitive, and Margo hated it. Eliot considered whispering the words against her ear simply to annoy her.

“I swear to god, if you start singing I will freeze your swim trunks to the seat,” Margo warned. Her tone was light, playful, but full of promise; Eliot shivered at the thought.

“I think I'll pass.” A wave of water rolled high against his back as someone threw himself into the pool a few feet from them. Margo finished her drink.

“I'm done with the pool for the day. I'm going to go to the spa and primp before my date.” She extracted herself from his lap; Eliot watched her wade through water that reached her breasts. A death glare and a raised finger stopped the same sopping wet boy from jumping into the pool again until she was safely out of his range. Eliot turned on the round seat to rest his back and elbows on the bar. He searched for Quentin from where he sat. His partner sat with headphones in, and a book in his lap effectively tuned out from the frivolity surrounding him. Eliot wondered if he would even notice if his chair started to float. The idea was too tempting not to try, and it wasn't like he'd ever let Quentin get hurt.

Plan in place Eliot thought about the chair slowly lifting off the ground. It was about four to six inches up before Quentin noticed. His head shot up, and his eyes darted around the pool. The magicians closest to Quentin had fallen into a hushed awe of excited whispers; a few were looking around to see how was casting. That was part of the inherent beauty of his telekinesis, the anonymity of it.

“Eliot! El, put me down!” Eliot grinned. Quentin's hands were gripping the brackets of the chair. Quentin's yelp broke the hush; the excited murmurs got louder as more people started to watch. The chair had risen high enough to float safely over the ones in front of it, then towards the edge of the deepest water. Quentin's eyes finally found him; Eliot waved, his grin widened. He made Quentin's book and phone dart back towards the safety of dry poolside.

Q, for his part, seemed to realize that he was about to get dumped. His hands released the frame and bent through a casting as the lounger started to tip. The crowd burst into a mix of delighted whoops and disappointed groans as Quentin landed on a thin pool raft he'd managed to conjure. Eliot returned the chair to its spot on the deck, then swam to the side of Quentin's float. Quentin splashed a wave of water in his direction as he got closer.

“You, dick! I'm going to to make you sit in a corner when we get back to the room.” Quentin murmured, the threat was probably a serious one, but Quentin was grinning so Eliot doubted it would be a lengthy punishment. His hand laced into Eliot's hair once Eliot bobbed alongside him. They shared a kiss that was more tender and playful than angry. Eliot climbed up onto the float; their combined weight was making the middle buckle and allowing water to spill into their laps. Quentin yelped in surprise, then laughed, and leaned to kiss him again.

“If I'm going to get punished I really should do something to have earned it.”

“What? Wait, Eliot, no!” Eliot pecked Quentin's lips a final time, then grabbed the edge of the float and tipped them. They rolled into the water to the sound of Q's girlish shriek. Quentin's hair hung in his eyes when he bobbed back to the surface. Eliot raked his own out of his face, then did the same for Quentin before yanking him forward into an eager kiss.

“I wasn't joking about the corner,” Quentin whispered.

“I'm counting on it. I'm in a mood to play.” He could handle it as long as Quentin didn't leave him, and took care of him afterward. Quentin's arms wrapped around his neck as Eliot kicked his legs to keep them afloat.

“So what you're saying is that we should get our stuff and go back to the room, like now?” Quentin's legs wrapped around his torso as Eliot's toes found the edge of the shelf that delineated the deep and shallow ends of the pool. With his feet under him again he was able to walk them towards the broad steps at the top of the pool. Eliot shifted his hold as the pool got shallower so he could actually support Quentin's weight with the help of his telekinesis.

“Like now, now would be good.” He agreed. Quentin's towel dropped over their shoulders, the strap of Quentin's bag hooked over the top of that. Once he'd gathered everything, Eliot carried Quentin towards the lobby. A few people who had watched them from the beginning clapped or whistled as they passed. Quentin mouthed and kissed his neck as they crossed the hall towards the elevator. They were the first ones into the confined car. Eliot pressed Quentin's back into one of the corners, where the car's rails formed a narrow 'V' that could support most of Quentin's weight. Quentin's ankles hooked around his waist to keep him close as they continued to make out. Water pooled around his bare feet as it dripped from their clothes. Eliot pressed the button for their floor with his powers. The car surged, and he had to brace his hand against the wall beside Quentin's cheek to stop himself from sliding on the slick floor.

“Should I walk?” Quentin asked as the elevator ground to a halt on a floor that wasn't theirs.

“I really don't want to drop you,” Eliot admitted. He would have loved to carry Quentin down the hall, but the prolonged use of his power was starting to take its toll. With a sigh, he smoothed his hand back through Quentin's hair. He felt lucky. How many partners would have forgiven almost everything he'd done wrong in the last few months as effortlessly as Quentin had? “Thank you, Q.” Quentin curiously tilted his head as Eliot pressed his hand through the wet strands. The elevator hummed and swayed as it climbed higher.

“For what?”

“For not giving up on me, for welcoming me back without a thought after the way I treated you. I could have wrecked this, and so far you haven't let me.” Quentin's legs tightened around his hips; one hand curved around his neck. Eliot pressed tight into the hold.

“I'm not letting you go without a fight.” The doors chimed as they slid open. “It's our floor.” Eliot took a step back to let him slide down. They balanced against one another as they crossed the elevator. Plush carpet crushed between their toes as they walked down the hall to their room. Eliot couldn't help but feel grounded by Quentin's declaration. That Quentin was willing to fight for him made him feel loved in a way he'd never experienced.

Chapter Text

It probably hadn't been the wisest idea, but he and Margo had each dropped a tab of ecstasy before the start of the beachfront rave on their last night in Ibiza. The naturalist selling the drug had given them a choice of colored tablet and promised a moderate magical effect with each dose. The green that Eliot had chosen had been imprinted with a rainbow; the orange Margo had taken had been stamped with a butterfly. She had disappeared with her Lasaro before her tablet had kicked in and Eliot was a tad disappointed she wasn't around to describe the effects. On his end, those effects had been both pleasantly and disappointingly mild. The drug made exposed skin glow different colors, but under the pulsating lights of the party tent, the effect got mostly lost.

A secondary side effect was that he could hear a song that he was pretty sure no one else was hearing. There had been a siren-song-like hum undercutting the club music for over an hour. He'd been able to ignore it until he'd escaped the crowd to get some water, but now a plastic bottle hung half empty between his fingers, and he was following the melody away from the rave towards a dark stretch of deserted beach. It was a dumb idea, especially considering what had happened the last time he'd isolated himself during a party. Thinking about the night in the bar made him shiver. He still wasn't sold on returning to campus in the morning, especially since Lasaro had convinced Margo to stay an extra week.

The phantom melody didn't seem to get louder or closer as the din of the rave bled away. The breeze off the ocean carried the smell of salt water. The moon was high and full and reflected off the waves as the tide slowly started to creep inward. Realizing that it was pointless to continue following the song Eliot dug his hand into his pocket for one of his handkerchiefs. He shook it out, then dropped it onto the sand to transfigure it into a proper towel. He untied his shoes, tucked his phone, flask, and wallet into one of them, then walked barefoot down the beach towards the water. The tide was still low enough for him to find a patch of level ground big enough for the towel. He sat for a couple of minutes, then burrowed his toes into the warm sand.

Watching the ocean ebb and flow was peaceful. Eliot hummed the siren melody and rested his arms against his knees. He hadn't noticed the faint glow of his own skin under all the lights, but now that he could see it he was fascinated by the blend of teal, pale yellow and cream that rose off his arms and legs. Eliot guessed he'd probably been sitting for about twenty minutes when a handful of flower petals swirled around him. At first, he was confident they were another side effect of the ecstasy. He reached to touch them as they circled him again and felt their velvety soft surfaces skate over the back of his hand. Quentin dropped to his knees in front of him as the petals twirled low enough to finally settle on the sand.

“Is everything okay?” Worry pinched the younger man's face, and Eliot silently scolded himself for being an idiot; he'd wandered off without a word, leaving Quentin to assume the worst.

“Yeah.” Eliot wiggled his toes free from the sand to sit cross-legged on the towel. Quentin knelt with his back to the water and his loose hair was being been blown forward into his face. The swirl of color rising off Quentin's skin was identical to his own. Eliot liked that they matched and briefly wondered if they matched only because his brain wanted them to, or if the magical effect on the tablet was showing him something more complex. “Hi.” He breathed the word as he rocked forward enough to brush his lips against Quentin's. Soft locks of hair tickled his face, errant strands had stuck to Quentin's lip and impeded their kiss. Eliot grinned as he brushed them free with his thumb to try again. His fingers curled back to grip Quentin's scalp as Q leaned closer to him. “I didn't mean to scare you.” He murmured after Quentin had dropped on his heels again.

“It's fine, the crowd was getting a little overwhelming anyway. Can I sit?”

“Of course.” Eliot moved backward to make room on the towel. Quentin turned, so he faced the water, then scooted back until the two of them sat flush. Eliot wrapped an arm around Quentin's waist, then buried his nose in Quentin's hair. His eyelids fluttered closed as he tried to memorize the combination of Quentin's scent blended with sand and sea air. The siren song that had lured him to the beach still echoed in his mind, and he resumed the low hum he'd started before Quentin had joined him.

“What's the song?” Quentin asked after a handful of quiet moments. His hands brushed absently down his legs to free them of loose sand. Eliot laughed.

“I have no idea.” He sheepishly admitted. “But I've heard it in my head since I dropped that green, and it's nice.”

“So it's been a good trip?”

“It's been a little milder than I expected, I can see colors glowing off people's skin.” Eliot tilted his head to kiss the sensitive skin below Quentin's ear. “You and I match.” He whispered. They matched so perfectly that with Quentin sitting so close he couldn't tell where Quentin's aura ended and his own began.

“So what colors are we?” Eliot hooked his other arm across Quentin's chest as he searched for the proper adjectives. He wanted to paint the same picture he saw in Quentin's mind. Blue, yellow, and cream were too general, and he didn't want Quentin's geeky brain flashing to the garish color scheme of Wolverine's costume from the 90's animated series. Their colors were paler and softer than that, like they had been water-colored or sun-bleached.

-----------------------------

As Eliot rambled about shades of sun-bleached banana and teal Quentin relaxed into his boyfriend's embrace and let the tension leak from his body. The short-lived panic of realizing Eliot was gone had fled as soon as he'd found him. The rave was far enough way to be a roar on the edge of his hearing. The crash of the ocean almost drowned it out. The breeze flowing off the water felt good after the numbing press of dancing bodies. It was probably the drug, but Eliot seemed relaxed to a point that Quentin hadn't seen since the summer. He almost wished he'd taken a tab himself, but Quentin didn't trust his broken brain enough to not screw it up.

“It sounds beautiful.” Quentin agreed as Eliot finished describing the invisible swirl of color surrounding them. He rested his cheek against Eliot's chest and looked up to see the profile of the other man's face. Loose curls waved gently in the breeze. When Eliot moved to kiss him, Quentin twisted his body to meet him. Water lapped up the shoreline until it was about a foot away from their spot.

“It is, I wish you could see it.” They lapsed into a comfortable silence, interrupted only by the low melody Eliot couldn't exorcise from his head. A wave rolled within inches of the towel's edge.

“Should we get up before we get soaked?” Quentin asked.

“We're staying right here, just don't move too much.” Eliot nibbled gently at his throat, which had the opposite effect of keeping him still. “You're moving. This won't work if you move.”

“What won't work?”

“Just sit still.” Eliot's voice had taken a positively mischevious tone. “I need to concentrate.” Quentin's gaze fixed on the low wall of water creeping towards them. It rolled over their feet, but Quentin could feel a pocket of air between his toes and the water's surface. He wiggled them to see if they felt wet, but their bare feet and the towel below them were dry when the sea rolled back out. Eliot let out the breath he'd been holding in a controlled exhale. Quentin glanced at the other man's face to find Eliot's eyes fixed on the water, tracking it as the tide climbed higher. The second wave jumped almost to their knees and Quentin could see the line of the invisible barrier as the water swirled higher.

“El,” He breathed in awe. Eliot grinned at him. The peck against his lips was positively impish. He seemed enlivened and emboldened by his success.

“Lay down.” Eliot twisted his body to lay on his side. Quentin rolled to press against him, hoping he'd help by making the bubble Eliot wanted to create as small as possible. His hand instinctively tightened against the thin layer of breathable cotton covering Eliot's waist as the water rolled to their shoulders. That wave wasn't quite high enough to cover them completely; the next one was.

Quentin squeezed his eyes shut and flinched into Eliot's hold as the wave crashed over them. Eager to see what had happened when they weren't immediately drenched he forced them back open. A thin layer of water hung two inches above their heads. He could see the distorted moon through the swirl of displaced sand and sea foam. Dim light filtered through the layer and danced against their skin in refracted patterns. Quentin glanced to Eliot's face to find it as awed by what he'd managed to do as Quentin felt getting to watch it. Too quickly the ocean ebbed back out to sea, and the effect was broken. The tension Eliot had been holding in his body released as he went mostly limp against him. A thin trail of blood crept down his cheek. For an instant, Quentin worried that he had passed out.

“We need to move, or we're going to get soaked.” Eliot sounded exhausted. Quentin's only response was a nod as they both scrambled to stand. Water licked at their heels as they raced up the beach to their shoes. The towel they hadn't managed to rescue billowed as water slipped under it to reclaim the dry sand below it. Eliot was giggling as he dropped to sit again, he didn't seem to mind the small bit of blood that had spilled down his face. He'd at least noticed it, because he wiped it away with a spare tissue. “I can't believe that worked!” Quentin couldn't believe it had worked either. He lowered himself to straddle Eliot's thighs, tangled his hands in Eliot's curls, and kissed him. Eliot kissed back, but his hands found Quentin's wrists as Quentin tried to push his shirt up. “Not on the beach, Q. Beach sex sucks; sand gets places it shouldn't. Save that for our hotel room. We'll both thank me.” Quentin laughed, realizing Eliot was right. They didn't have lube and just the small amount of wet sand sticking to the bottoms of his feet was annoying. His nose wrinkled in disgust as he imagined it chaffing between his thighs or butt cheeks.

“So should we go back?”

“I'd like just to keep sitting here,” Eliot admitted. A water bottle floated to Eliot's hand, and he offered it to Quentin after he'd taken a drink. Quentin took a sip large enough to cleanse his pallet before handing it back. Eliot's phone had reached them; Quentin watched him thumb through his music library in search of something specific. The chaos following the trials had almost made him forget that they had 'a song.' He didn't recognize it from the first notes, but the melodic wail of Bechet's clarinet brought back fond memories of their first date.

“Have you thought any more about working for Perrette?”

“I need to go see her to make sure the offer still stands. I haven't thought about much of anything lately. My head has been such a mess; I've barely started on my thesis.” He sighed; his arms wrapped around Quentin's waist. “Do you ever wish you could just... reset your life and only keep the good parts?” Eliot's fingers wiped absently below his nose, but the bleeding had stopped. Apparently, it bothered him more than he had let on. “I'd keep you, and Margo and wipe away the rest of it, give myself a clean start.”

“What about magic?” Quentin asked. He'd be the first to claim that magic had saved him, but for Eliot, it was rooted in so many of his problems.

“Fuck magic.” Eliot's fingers were warm on Quentin's temple as they brushed the hair back from his face. “I think if I'd met you in a bar, or coffee shop, or a bookstore, that we would have connected. I think I would have fallen in love with you over the most mundane things, regardless of magic.”

The towel washed high on the beach and lay in a sopping heap a few feet from them. Quentin got up to get it. He lifted it off the sand to wring out most of the water. Quick drying and warming charms had it feeling dryer fresh. He wrapped it around their shoulders as he straddled Eliot's lap again.

“I think I would have fallen in love with you too.” He twisted his hand into Eliot's polo shirt to tug him into a long kiss. The best things in their relationship might have been enhanced by magic, but they weren't inherently magical in and of themselves. Quentin couldn't say he'd ever want to give it up completely, but he could see why Eliot might covet the chance to change a few things.

Chapter Text

It was nearing the end of a rather quiet day, of what had so far been an uneventful semester break when there was a knock on his inner office door that was almost timid. The first year class was still off with Mayakovsky, and most of the older students fled campus as soon as they were given the opportunity. For a few seconds, Henry silently debated who might have interrupted him and if he wanted to be disturbed.

“Come in.” He called when his visitor didn't announce themselves. The door didn't budge, but he heard a pair of hushed voices before the shadow of the door swung open, and one of his taller students stepped partway into the room.

“Can I talk to you for a few minutes, Henry?” Eliot. Henry didn't need his eyes to recognize the voice. Eliot had never had much use for his title, and he was one of the few that Henry indulged enough to let it slide.

“What's this about, Eliot?” Henry rolled his chair closer to the desktop and clasped his hands against the surface. “Who else is out there with you?”

“Just Quentin.” The door swung wide enough to admit them. The pair stood close to one another. Eliot's hands were buried in his pockets; his head was tipped down, so his gaze was probably fixed on the floor. The young man had drawn into himself since the weekend of the trials; Henry was no closer to figuring out the truth of that weekend than he had been the day Eliot had passed out in his lecture. “We can go if you don't have time.” Eliot offered.

“El, talk to him, please.” Quentin's quiet imploration seemed to have the desired impact, Eliot's shoulders dropped in defeat.

“What's this about?” Henry tried the question a second time.

“I need to talk to you about what happened at the bar the weekend of the trials.”

“Why don't you sit down. Quentin, will you give the two of us some privacy."

“But...” Quentin's protest was immediate.

“I've already heard your version of what happened, Quentin. Now, I would like to hear it from Eliot.” The last thing Henry wanted to listen to was the two boys stumble over one another as they tried to tell him varying perspectives of the same events.

“It's fine, Q.” Eliot sounded less than okay, but he rounded one of the chairs to sit. He made himself small, with his elbows tucked inward against his thighs and his hands clasped against his knees. His back bowed over his lap.

“El,” Henry could hear the undercurrent of distress in Quentin's tone.

“If you wait in my secretary's office you can stop anyone from interrupting us,” Henry suggested. He'd watched Quentin, and his friends struggle through forty time loops. Even without seeing them he could read Quentin's overt protectiveness, that there wasn't an immediate threat made him feel apprehensive.

“Ok.” Henry watched the shadow of Quentin's arm reach to rub Eliot's back. Once the door had clicked closed Henry got up to lock it. Moving around gave him the opportunity to watch Eliot from different angles. The loss of his eyesight made it impossible to read the micro-expressions of Eliot's face, but the posture was one he'd seen between twenty to thirty times before. He'd been forced to relive it whenever the loop was reset to points that predated Eliot's entrance exam. Eliot always sat as small as he could make himself in the chair, eyes fixed on the floor, afraid that he was about to sent back to whatever non-existent home he had.

Henry hated it. He'd hated it from the first time he'd ever seen it -- when an otherwise bright seventeen-year-old had sat down in his office with a black eye and bruised ribs, scared of his powers but more terrified of the abusive father that waited back in Indiana. That first moment felt like a lifetime ago before Quentin had been accepted at the start of Eliot's third year and the first time loop had begun.

It was a look that Henry had hoped never to see again when he'd reluctantly agreed to let Jane change Brakebills from a five-year preparatory academy to a three-year graduate program. They had already failed eighteen times at that point. He'd been willing to try anything to guarantee a success. How she had managed such a shift was beyond him; with infinite control over time, it seemed that nothing was impossible.

Their hope had been that with a few more years of experience under their belts that Quentin and his friends would be more prepared to face down the Beast. Instead of hopeful teenagers, they had gotten emotionally devastated twenty-somethings. Eliot had been broken in a way his father had never quite managed. So far, the group had limped through twenty-two additional loops with rapidly worsening results. Henry just wanted it to be over, but Jane insisted that it was this group and only this group, that had a chance of succeeding.
Henry lifted an unopened bottle of wine from the rack behind his desk. His hand twisted over the neck, resulting in a pop that echoed loudly enough in the silence that it caused Eliot to jump. He poured two glasses, sat one in front of his student, then found his desk chair. Eliot's eyes flashed upward, shifted to the glass, then to the bottle.

“Thanks, Henry” Eliot reached to take the glass, but he didn't shotgun it. The stem twisted between his digits as the glass slowly spun.

“You wanted to talk about what happened in the bar.” Henry prompted.

“My ex-boyfriend assaulted me.” Henry had expected to have to coax the details from him, so the blunt statement caught him off guard.

“Was this someone that you dated in the time that you have lived here on campus?”

“No.” Eliot finally brought his drink to his lips. “No.” He repeated. “He was...” The words were softer. “I met him when I was at Columbia, my first year; then I lived with him during all of my sophomore and junior years.” The pieces to an unfinished puzzle that Henry had long wanted answers for were finally falling into place. Figuring out what had happened to Eliot during his years at Columbia was something Henry had lacked a way of finding out without invasive questions, ones that would've indicated a familiarity between the two of them that shouldn't exist.

“Why would you move off campus so quickly?” He had tried, with the best intentions, to set Eliot up for success in an environment where he might flourish, but something had evidently gone wrong in those lost years of transition.

“I didn't want to go back to my dad's,” Eliot rested the remaining half glass of wine on the desk, then dragged his fingers across the bridge of his nose and under his eyes. “I just wanted my powers to go away, so I didn't use them, but they kept getting stronger, and I started losing control.” Henry had a sinking feeling he knew where things had all gone wrong because he'd lived through it during Eliot's first year as a student. There had been an adjustment period between Eliot bottling his telekinesis when he'd lived with his parents to learning the limit of it when he'd started to use it once he lived in the dorms. That it had been chaotic wasn't quite an apt enough description. Eliot's powers were so responsive that they had been unpredictable. He should have foreseen that they would get out of hand when Eliot lived on his own without guidance. Henry felt a creeping sense of his own failure rising up his back.

“Was your partner a magician as well?”

“He wasn't my partner!” The rebuttal was immediate, and the rapid pitch of Eliot's tone implied just how unsettling the suggestion was to him. “But, he is a magician. Alex was the first Brakebills student I met.”

“Alex....” Henry let the name hang unaccompanied, hoping Eliot would give him a surname.

“Alexander Forest.” Henry knew him. He owned a security company; Irene McAllister regularly boasted of his talent as a ward designer. She had tried to get him hired as a contractor to work on the school's wards, but with the Beast after his students, Henry had rejected every attempt to take the school's defenses directly out of his control. They had met face to face multiple times since the start of the school year as Alex continued to petition for the job. The man was in his thirties; Henry already disliked the picture that Eliot was painting for him.

“How did the two of you meet?”

“He followed me into an alley after I'd lost control of my telekinesis in a bar. He offered to train me; I was scared I'd hurt someone, like I did Logan.” Eliot's voice dropped an octave or two. “So I said yes.”

“Did this start as a monetary arrangement that grew into something more?” Eliot's arms tucked low against his waist, and he leaned forward. Henry almost lost him entirely in the shape of the larger chair.

“No, sir.”

“Eliot...”

“I let him use me. I let him do whatever he wanted because I didn't have anywhere else to go. He offered to let me move in with him before the end of my first year. We tested if we could live together through the first summer, then I signed a lease before classes started again.”

“Why didn't you go back to the dorms for your sophmore year?”

“Alex convinced me it would be easier to continue training me if we lived together. His apartment wasn't that far from campus, and there was less of a chance of someone noticing my powers if I slipped up. His apartment was private, a safe space to practice, and he let me read anything in his library.” Henry silently tried to pick the best way to ask his next questions. Eliot had already implied that a sexual relationship between the pair had begun early.

“Was the sexual relationship between the two of you an exclusive one?” It took nearly a minute for Eliot to answer.

“I didn't want it to be.” The younger man's hands gripped the edge of the chair's seat. Henry heard the faint creak of the wood.

“Was Alex aware that you were seeing other men?”

“We fought about it when he first found out, then more and more as the school year ended. He got possessive of my time and didn't like not knowing where I was. He hated that I wasn't in love with him the way he claimed to be with me.”

“Was he physically abusive?” Alex would have been in his mid-twenties during Eliot's early college years. The idea of Eliot having fallen into the hands of someone so predatory, in part because of his decisions, tied Henry's stomach in knots. He had intended to give Eliot the opportunity to blossom away from his father; from what he heard now it seemed he'd only had stumbled into something worse. Eliot's hand rubbed under his nose. That gesture, combined with the heavy silence was a more damning confirmation than words could be.

“Not until after we signed the second lease.”

“If the first year was so miserable why would you stay?” Eliot's head rose a little; Henry could almost imagine a defiant glint in his eyes as if the answer was obvious and the question unnecessary. It only lasted a moment then Eliot's chin tucked towards his chest again.

“I didn't have anywhere else to go. It was the closest place to a 'home' I had. When I told him I didn't want to stay Alex promised things would be better. He drew up a whole page of amendments to our lease that sounded like they would work in my favor. He suggested we never use magic against one another, which I thought was a great idea because he knew so much more about it than I did.” Eliot rubbed under his nose again, this time the soft sniffle was audible.

“Eliot...”

“I was so fucking stupid to sign that paper, Henry. I didn't know that a word as bond is unbreakable, I didn't realize he'd worded the new amendments so that they were permanent. Alex bond my powers so completely that I still can't use them to protect myself, and I had agreed to stay a full year before I could move out of his apartment. I gave him levels of control I never wanted him to have.” Henry fixed his gaze on the outline of Eliot's form. They sat in a silence punctuated by Eliot's soft sniffs as Henry tried to process how his intentions had been turned so utterly upside down.

“May I see it?” He requested softly. Eliot sat a little straighter in the chair, then heaved a miserable sigh. His arm moved, there was a whisper of magic as whatever glamour he had designed fell away. Henry didn't need full use of his eyes to see the faint white lines of the magical brand standing out against Eliot's palm when he held it up. He leaned across the desk between them to grab Eliot's wrist so he could get a better look. Without the paperwork, there was no way to know what restrictions still existed. Eliot's arm quivered in his hold, and Henry released him.

“There's nothing I can do about the bond, Eliot.”

“I know.” Eliot slumped back into the chair. “He was in our room in the cottage, Henry. It took Quentin's phone near the start of the year and kept it for days. When we were in the bar together, he talked about following Margo and Q when they were off campus. He tried to ruin the weekend my brother visited for my birthday. I had designed a ward to keep him away from me, but he said he'd found someone to help him nullify it”

“Are you suggesting that he's stalking you?”

“He told me that he is. He boasted about hacking cameras at Columbia, about watching me when I was a bartender after I finished my undergrad. He knew I'd been accepted here. He knows Margo was my secrets partner, that Quentin is my boyfriend. Alice and I found tracking charms on the items he'd stolen from our rooms.”

“My God.” Henry breathed. He'd assumed Alex's recent visits to campus had only been related to his attempts to get hired by the school, but he'd used them to mask his visits to the cottage.

“I'm scared he'll hurt Q, or Bambi. I can't.” Eliot leaned forward to rest his forehead against his clasped hands. “I don't know what to do, Henry. They're the only family I have, and I can't do anything to protect them.” Henry pushed his chair back to walk around his desk; his hand found and squeezed Eliot's shoulder. Tension was strung through the lean muscle.

“Do you have any idea how no one noticed him in the cottage?”

“An enchanted coin with a complex invisibility spell.” Eliot's hands patted his pockets. “Q has it.” The whisper was almost apologetic

“Then I suppose I'll have to let him back in won't I?” It might have been a risk, but Henry reached to brush the hair back from Eliot's forehead. He'd been tactile and starved for affection from the days when he'd still been a boy, and he leaned into the contact with an eagerness that hadn't dimmed. “I'm sure we can find a solution.” He assured Eliot as he walked to the door. A fast flex of his fingers released the lock, and he tugged hard on the knob. Quentin had been trying to eavesdrop because he stumbled without the support of the door. Henry could imagine the flush creeping up his neck. It almost made him smile. Eliot's shadow had perked a little. Quentin straightened his clothes in embarrassment, then crossed his office to settle on the arm of Eliot's chair.

“Henry wants to see that coin, Q.” Quentin's hand dove into his pocket; Henry felt the weight of a heavy gold coin against his fingers a moment later. He traced his thumb over the raised ram's head, knowing instantly from the weight and the markings that he held a Fillorian gold crescent. A ball of ice formed in his stomach. There was only one way it could have arrived in Alex's possession.

“How did you get this from him?”

“There's a massive invisibility charm on it,” Quentin explained. Eliot's temple now rested against his boyfriend's thigh; Quentin's fingers rhythmically smoothed the loose curls. Henry pinched the bridge of his nose. His other hand tightened around the coin. He didn't need Quentin telling him something he'd already known.

“He dropped it on the bar before he grabbed me. The invisibility effect kept anyone from seeing us to interfere.” Eliot's words were soft; his face had tucked more completely against Quentin's leg. “I hadn't seen him since I left at the end of our second lease; he threatened to break my hand if I ruined our reunion. It was still on the bar after Penny found us and Alex backhanded me.”

“What are you going to do about him?” Quentin demanded. Henry considered telling the younger man to either keep his mouth shut or leave again. The conversation had been much more productive when Eliot could take his time responding, though it was nice to see Quentin growing a bit of a spine.

“Q... You're not helping.” The shadow of Quentin's shoulders fell in defeat.

“S-Sorry, I...” Quentin's nerves reasserted themselves; he trailed to silence.

“I understand why you are upset, Quentin,” Henry reassured him. It took all of his composure not to reveal how enraged he was that this was happening. His hand tightened around the coin. He debated if he should show it to Eliza. “May I keep this?” The boys across from him shared a glance he couldn't see to read.

“If you need to.” Eliot finally relented. He sounded less than happy to let the thing out of his sight. Henry silently decided that once he'd shared it with Eliza, he'd give it back to them. “Is there anything you can do, Henry?”

“I can have Alex's alumni key suspended, but it will take a day or two to clear it with the trustees.”

“You can't just... do it now?” A bitter chuckle ripped itself from Henry's throat. “The number of things I want to do immediately, but cannot, number in the thousands. Anyway, informing the board is mostly a formality. They've always deferred to my judgment with similar matters in the past, and your case is hardly one of 'he said, he said'. I should have good news for you after tomorrow's board meeting.” Eliot's shoulders slumped in stark relieve. Henry wished he could share in it, but suspending Alex's alumni key if the Beast was actually involved was a stop-gap at best.

“Thanks, Henry.” Henry wasn't quite sure he deserved praise. His failures seemed to be displaying themselves on every level.

“When you see Penny, inform him that I'd like to speak with him.” If nothing else had gone right this loop, at least the five of them had formed a bond tight enough that they were willing to lie for one another. None of them had given him any hint that the incident in the bar had been caused by a jilted ex-boyfriend.

Chapter Text

It was mid-morning when Penny landed in the grass a few feet away from the pool of the Port St. Lucie hotel where he had buried Quentin's phone. It was raining, and the massive resort loomed large and mostly silent behind him. Fat raindrops dripped through foliage and echoed as they fell. His boots squished deeper into the mud as he walked towards the isolated flower bed where he'd buried the shoe-box he'd brought to Florida a week before. Water soaked into the knees of his pants as she started to dig through the weeds and mulch. The box was where he'd left it, but now it was coated in a slimy layer of grime that made his fingers slip when he tried to tug it free. The wet sucking sound was the only warning before the thing slid loose and Penny found himself toppling backward. His heart sank as what should have been two solid objects sliding against one another sounded like more.

Before burying the box he'd cast a handful of charms, the ones to keep water and mud out were still active, but someone had tampered with the rest. He lifted the lid and glared down at the pile of broken glass and plastic that greeted him. A post-it note with a broad smiley face had been pressed against what remained of the shattered screen. Penny didn't bother to stand. He traveled from where he'd landed, straight into the Dean's outer office. The man's assistant shot from her seat to peer over the desk.

“Dean Fogg had a board meeting this morning.” She informed him when she realized that Penny wasn't harmed. “Come back later.” She didn't seem very happy that Penny was dripping muddy water onto the hardwood below him.

“I'll wait,” Penny muttered. He sat the box between his feet, then wiped his hands down his arms. His hands were filthy enough to leave tracks of mud on his damp but otherwise clean top. The woman's annoyance only seemed to grow as she snapped her hands through a series of poppers. Suddenly clean, Penny grabbed up the box and shot to his feet. Before she could protest, he marched into the Dean's office, threw the sodden thing onto the man's desk, and dropped into a spare chair. He would wait, thank you very much.

------------------------

“Irene, may we speak for a moment,” Henry called as the meeting adjourned. Around him, the other board members gathered their things while he remained seated. He was able to track the woman initially by the clack of her heels, then once she was close enough by the growing proximity of her perfume. Henry pushed his chair back and balanced on his cane as he stood. His elbow crooked in her direction. “Walk me out.” He told her as they fell in sync together. Henry could guess by the way sound echoed that the room had mostly cleared.

“Don't try to butter me up, Henry. I still don't agree with you.”

“Fortunately the rest of the board does.” Henry muttered, his tone was dark, the slight irritation more than warranted.

“I think you are pushing for this suspension merely because Alex annoyed you with his aggressive push for a security position with the school. I'll admit, his constant requests have gotten on my last nerve as well.” One of Irene's arms had hooked through his elbow; now her opposite hand patted his wrist.

“He assaulted one of my students, Irene. I have four students who can confirm his identity.” Henry kept his voice low as he elaborated. When he'd explained his decision to the board, he had told them that there had been threats, but not an attack and that his actions were merely a precaution until a full investigation could be launched. He felt the tug on his arm as Irene stopped.

“Alex would never...” She seemed slightly unnerved.

“Well, I know he did!” Henry snapped at her. “Professor Lipson treated the injury when one of my male students was attacked in a bar off campus.” He heard Irene huff in annoyance.

“We've dealt with false accusations before, you know! There was a rash of them a few years ago.”

“Hence my willingness to inform the board before I took unilateral action.” Henry let his tone be gruff, annoyed, even a shade angry. “I'm following the protocol if I find out I've been misinformed my decision is reversible.”

“But the resulting damage might not be! Magical security is such a delicate business, Henry. No one is going to hire him if they think he's untrustworthy. You could ruin Alex's career.”

“He's not trustworthy, Irene! He's using your connections to the school, your faith in his good name, to stalk one of my students. He's been doing it for years, since the student he attacked lived with him and subsequently left him. The severity of the situation has reached a point where it has boiled over into threats and physical violence.” He gripped her forearm and spun her to face him. “I'm not playing a game with my student's life. Am I clear?”

“When did this happen? You're so certain it did. What were the details?”

“The weekend of the trials.”

“Those were almost two months ago!” Irene's disbelief made Henry roll his eyes behind the blackout lenses.

“And I only got the full explanation of what truly happened yesterday.”

“You're rushing this, Henry.”

“I am most certainly not.” Henry tightened his hand on her wrist when he tried to pull away. “He backhanded one of my boys across the face hard enough to break his nose and cheekbone. Another of my students broke three of Alex's fingers when Alex tried to attack him after he came to the first student's defense.” Irene's arm went slack in his hold.

“That's how he broke his fingers?”

“You knew about that?”

“Of course I knew, Henry. He maintains some of the wards on my family's properties. It took time for him to recover the proper flexibility to cast.” She sighed. “He disappeared last week, and when he returned his fingers were healed as though the injury had never happened. I had thought it was just the recovering that had made him so unreliable of late. He's been nothing but irritable and short-tempered every time we've spoken.” Henry leaned closer to her and pitched his voice low.

“I would find a new wardsmith if I were you. Do a full inspection, even if it's only as a precaution.”

“I might.” She sighed, this time, when she tugged her arm to try to free it, Henry released her. He watched the lines of her shadow as she raised her hands to dig through her purse. Her phone was clutched in her grasp when she dropped the bag back to her side. “I have some calls to make, Henry. Do whatever you're going to do, but I'm sure Alex will ask for an appeal. It's the protocol that we review his request when he does. I'm sure you understand.”

“As long as there is a credible threat to my students I won't change my mind.” She laughed softly.

“I do not doubt that.” She started typing a message, but Henry had no way of seeing who the recipient might be. “I'm sure we will be in touch again before the next board meeting.” She told him.

“I look forward to it.” She laughed at the acrid tone, and Henry listened to the clack of her heels as she walked away from him. Irritation bubbled restlessly in his belly. He didn't like that she had objected to his decision, but he hoped that she had some idea of the severity of the threat that had presented itself to them. Using his cane, he guided himself towards the door, and then through the rest of the administrative offices. With most of the staff still enjoying the last days of their break there was no one to stop him until he reached his outer office.

“Penny is waiting in your office, Henry.” Henry glanced in his assistant in confusion. He and Penny had spoken at length about what had happened with Alex just the day before. “He's been here over an hour, and insisted on waiting until you got back.”

“Thank you.” He swept the cane across his path as he made his way into his office. Penny sat up straighter as he rounded his desk. His frame nearly vibrated with nervous energy. Henry could smell something earthy and wet as he sat down. His hands moved to rest of his desk but encountered the damp cardboard box instead. “Did you bring me a gift?” His voice was dry, wrung of all good cheer.

“Fuck no!” Penny shot to his feet to pace.

“Penny?”

“What did the board say when you told them about suspending that creep's key?”

“There was a hold-out or two, but the majority of them agreed to leave the matter up to me to resolve.” Henry watched Penny pace to the edge of his desk. The younger man's hands rested on the surface for balance as he leaned forward.

“Then do whatever you are going to do, and do it fast.” Henry rested his hands atop the box. His fingers found the edge to lift the lid. His hand reached downward until the pads of his digits were able to trace over edges of the shattered plastic and jagged glass.

“What is, more correctly, what was this?” He demanded.

“That's what's left of Quentin's phone, the one with the tracking charm that Eliot and I told you about. Alex knows that Quentin and Margo didn't go to Florida. He's lost his goddamn mind, and someone is going to get hurt.” Henry continued to explore the box with his fingers until they brushed the edge of a paper note.

“Penny?” He lifted it out. His first intention was to have Penny read it aloud but he held it upward toward the ceiling light. The lines of ink were wide enough to create a contrast that he didn't need his full vision to see. “Have you shown this to Eliot or Quentin?”

“Do I look that stupid?” Penny snapped.

“When you return to the cottage please tell Eliot that I will have the wards altered by morning.”

“Why is it going to take that long?”

“Because there are a lot of them!” Henry slapped his hand against the table in frustration. “And most of the staff is still gone, so I have to do everything myself!” Penny's hands shot into the air as he took slow steps back away from the desk.

“Peace, I wasn't trying to piss you off.” Henry crumpled the note; a breath escaped through his nose.

“I'm not angry at you.” He assured Penny in the most measured tone he could manage. “I'm sick of being played with; I don't like having the safety of my students threatened, or the order of my campus fucked with.” Penny's hands dropped, and his shoulders sagged. Henry tugged off his glasses, tossed them onto his desk and rubbed his eyes.

“Can I help?” Henry wondered if Penny was starting to put the same pieces together that he had.

“Not with the wards.”

“Can I do anything? These are my friends that he's targeting.” Despite the anger and frustration brimming inside of him, Henry had to resist the urge to smile a little more broadly than he should. It was rather nice that at least one thing was going right this loop.

“Don't let Eliot go anywhere alone.” He was confident he could amend all the wards by morning, but he couldn't work on the wards and keep Eliot on a leash at the same time.

“I'm going to regret this, I just know it,” Penny muttered. “Fine, I can do that, but you had better hold up your end.”

“I will handle 'my end' as quickly as possible,” Henry assured him. When Penny didn't bother to respond Henry was confident he'd already traveled. With a sigh, he sank into his desk chair. The crinkle of paper rose to his ears as he smoothed out the crumpled post-it note. The lines of the smiling face stood out in stark contrast when Henry held it back to the light.

Chapter Text

Penny

The week in Ibiza, combined with the news that the school board had agreed to let the Dean suspend Alex's alumni key had lifted Eliot's spirits considerably. The guy was still twitchy, the insecurity was still there, but at least his mental wards were no longer the leaky wreck they had been when Penny had taken him to Spain. Penny balanced on the edge of one the weathered Adirondack chairs that had been dragged out into the woods. Inside the Brakebills bubble, it was warmer than it had been in weeks; enough so that Eliot had insisted on taking advantage of the weather.

The three of them had ended up at the edge of the woods behind the cottage under the rows of string lights where the school had set up some of its telescopes. Quentin and Eliot had spread out a blanket, and the three of them had been passing a rapidly diminishing wine bottle around. The neck of its twin jutted out of Quentin's messenger bag, ready to replace the first when they decided they wanted it.

Penny wished he hadn't agreed to keep an eye on Eliot until the wards were finished. While neither Quentin or Eliot was drunk just yet, they had reached the point where they would rather have their hands on one another than keep them to themselves. There was only so long he could reasonably tag along as an awkward third wheel before one or both of them wondered why he wasn't spending the evening with Alice. Penny didn't want to tell either of them about the shattered phone until after the wards were finished. He'd been bearing the brunt of Eliot's unspoken mental angst for weeks, and the reprieve was welcome enough that Penny wasn't going to ruin it.

On the ground in front of him, Eliot rolled to rest his cheek on Quentin's shoulder. A content hum, both verbal and mental, echoed in Penny's ears and mind. Quentin smirked and brought his fingers up to play with the loose twirls of hair that his digits could reach. Penny tipped the last of the bottle to his mouth as he slid backward in the chair. Despite the uncharacteristic warmth, it was still relatively early, the sun had already gone down, and it would probably get cold rather quickly. He could see a smattering of stars through the trees.

Somewhere in the darkness beyond their immediate circle of light, a branch crunched. It wasn't the light snap or rustle that a deer or similar forest life might have caused, he wasn't even sure if deer could get past the barrier at all. If Penny had been a little less tipsy the smart thing to do would have been to slide to the forest floor to grab Quentin and Eliot. He could have traveled all of them to the cottage in the space of a few heartbeats. Instead, he slid out of the chair and walked towards the edge of the trees.

“Penny?” Both Quentin and Eliot had sat up when he'd stood. Their heads all swiveled towards the sound when another branch cracked off to Penny's right. Penny ignored Eliot's question in favor of working a spell on his vision. The darkness lightened a few shades, enough that he saw the shadow of someone standing in the trees, moonlight highlighted off pale hands that were already casting.

“Shit!” The battle magic spell Quentin had tried to use against him in their first year hit him with all the power that only a thoroughly trained and disciplined magician could muster. Penny didn't have time to think before his body shot backward across the clearing. His back and head absorbed the force of the blow when he landed against a tree trunk.

“Penny!” Eliot shouting his name was the last thing Penny heard as black closed in on my vision and his eyelids got heavy.

------------------------------

It all happened so quickly. One minute the three of them were enjoying the quiet evening, then Penny had surged out of his chair and was stalking towards the woods. There was a ripple of magic, and then Penny flew past them into a tree.

“Penny!” The pair of them scrambled to their feet to check on him, but Eliot froze as branches continued to pop and snap just outside his field of vision. “Q, get out of here.” He hissed urgently.

“Wha- No!” Quentin stopped halfway to Penny and spun to face him; his hands formed determined fists at his sides, but his face was twisted with fear and hurt.

“Quentin!” Couldn't he see that this wasn't up for a goddamn debate?

“I – I'm not leaving you out her-” There was a rush of air as the same spell that had incapacitated Penny lifted Quentin off his feet. Eliot sucked in a breath as panic swirled in his belly and tried to use his telekinesis to mitigate Quentin's fall. It helped, while the smaller man still landed hard, he was well short of the tree he'd been launched toward once he rolled to a stop. The impact winded Quentin, and Eliot heard a miserable groan, but Eliot didn't dare take his eyes off the line of shrouded underbrush for more than a second to check on him. Below his ribs, his heart hammered as he silently prayed that Quentin would take the fucking hint and run.

“Leave my friends alone, Alex!” His voice wavered enough that Eliot silently cursed himself. For a crazy moment, he considered setting the woods on fire to flush Alex from his cover, but he wasn't sure how quickly it might spread. With Penny unconscious, and Quentin hurt, the thought that he might trap them if the blaze got out of control made him immediately reject the plan. “Alex, please. I know you're pissed about what happened at the bar.” Eliot reached with his telekinesis for the blanket of dead leaves that carpeted the forest floor and threw as many of them into the air as he could at once, hoping that he would at least get some idea of where the older man was. All they did was block his vision, and the noise they made as they rustled and swirled probably worked more in Alex's favor than his own. It was with some great reluctance that he let them fall again. A darker shape blinked against the treeline; it made Eliot wonder if Alex had somehow gotten the coin back from Henry and was fucking with him, or if he'd had to make a less powerful one that wasn't working as well.

Alex's form blinked out of sight again, but the carpet of loose leaves did one thing in Eliot's favor. When Alex rushed him he had to disturb them; it gave Eliot enough time to try and brace his body before he was tackled. It wasn't enough, maybe if he'd played football like his brothers, he would have known how to fend off the advance, but even then Alex's height and weight would have worked against him. It hurt along every line of his body when he landed on his back with the bigger man on top of him. Instinct and desperation made him throw a punch toward Alex's jaw, but Alex deflected his arm before it could gain the momentum to be a damaging blow.

A hand clamped over his mouth to stop him from screaming, running low on options, Eliot tried to sink his teeth into the skin. What should have been flesh was hard, like biting into a wooden bit. Something that tasted like pine oil coated his taste buds and made his stomach roll. Fear that Alex would kill him, then move on to hurt Penny and Quentin made his vision blur as tears streaked down his face. He tried to struggle free, only to have Alex push his head back towards the forest floor. The hand not gripped against his face reached for something, and Eliot froze as a knife flashed in the dim glow of the string lights. It hovered about half an inch from the taut muscle of his throat. When Alex leaned over him Eliot saw that his ordinarily green eyes were glowing an eerie blue; Eliot gulped, wondering what the fuck the older man had done to himself. The hand cupped over his mouth curved up his face, with the back of Alex's fingers brushing below his eye then up his temple. Soft sobs escaped Eliot's throat as the man's hand tugged through his hair.

“Alex snap out of it, please!” With the knife so close he didn't dare move.

“Eliot! Hey asshole, get the fuck away from him!” Eliot squeezed his eyes shut at Quentin's shout, both relieved and disheartened that Quentin hadn't left. He was going to wring the younger man's neck if they both survived this. The cry got Alex's attention; the man even sat up to turn his gaze in Quentin's direction, thankfully the knife moved far enough away that Eliot felt safe trying to grab the older man's wrist. He dug his fingers into the muscle in an attempt to force him to drop it, but whatever was wrong with Alex had too deep a hold. Alex barely seemed to notice the pain. He, on the other hand, wasn't so lucky. When thick fingers wrapped around his wrist and squeezed it hurt, then his arm was forced down against the carpet of leaves.

Eliot had two options left, and he used them both in rapid succession. He braced his feet as best he could, then tried to buck Alex off. The bigger man went nowhere, and he was still pinned. The only option he had left was to try magic, which he'd hoped to avoid because of the word as bond. He pushed at Alex with his telekinesis; his hand burned, then the pressure of his power was pressing back on him. The downward force knocked the air out of him, and he went limp as he struggled to catch his breath.

“What a useful little shell, I'll admit he's got a bit of a single-minded in his obsession with you, but he'll get the job done.” It was the first time Alex had spoken since he'd rushed out of the woods, but the speculative words weren't spoken in Alex's voice. The man's grip on the knife changed, then it was plunging towards his chest. Eliot used the last on his strength, and his braced feet, to try and push up to twist free; he got high enough that the blade caught him in the side instead of the chest. It felt like he'd been punched. There wasn't enough pain to make him scream until the knife got yanked free again.

Without warning Alex's weight was pushed off of him; the knife dropped from his hand an inch from his ear as Alex got thrown across the clearing. Eliot turned his head to see both Quentin and Penny on their feet again, but he wasn't sure which of them had cast. His hands went to the wound as blood gushed between his fingers; warm stickiness had already soaked through the layers of his clothes. He could hear someone crashing through the leaves, then Quentin was dropping beside him. The smaller man's hands pressed to his side; then he leaned back to struggle out of his hoodie. The balled up jacket got pressed back to the wound as a pressure bandage. Eliot didn't think it was going to make a difference.

“El?” Quentin's voice quivered with emotion

“You should have run.”

“N-, no way, no fucking way. I wasn't...” Quentin's hands were shaking. “I'm not, we're... Penny! Help me, now!”

“Q.”

“Just shut up, okay? Please? Please, don't talk. I know what you want to say; I'm not letting you say it. You're not dying on me, not because of that bastard.”

“Q--.” Eliot turned his face into Quentin's knee to muffle a quiet sob. His side hurt, and he was freezing. His eyelids felt like weights, so he let them slide closed.

-------------------

Quentin

When Eliot went limp, Quentin pressed blood slick fingers to his pulse point. The precious seconds it took to find and count his heart-rate sent his anxiety soaring. Penny finally stumbled to them, when Eliot had screamed they had both managed to cast, but doing so had taken more out of Penny.

“Can you travel?” Quentin demanded as the other man dropped to his knees beside them.

“I...” Quentin glanced up to see that the thin stream of blood that had leaked from his ear.

“Eliot's going to bleed to death, Penny! Please. You have to try.” Penny licked his lips and nodded.

“None of you are going anywhere.” Their heads shot up as one. Alex had picked himself off the ground and had his hands up to cast; his eyes glowed an ethereal blue as he took measured steps in their direction. Quentin was done; he just wanted it to be over. The tips of his fingers glowed red as he brought his hand up, he twisted them a little. There was a crunch and then a pop, then Alex crumpled.

“Quentin...” Penny breathed his name in shock. Quentin squeezed his eyes shut; he didn't feel guilty exactly, there was more relief than guilt. All his emotions were tied in knots.

“Please try, please, Penny please.” Quentin didn't want to think about what he'd just done, about what it might cost him, about how it might all be for nothing if they didn't get Eliot the help he needed. He sniffed, then scrubbed the sleeve of his shirt under his nose. His hands were bloody, and he didn't know where that spell had come from. It had just been there; he'd known exactly what it would do. Penny leaned over Eliot to pick up the knife, and Quentin wanted to scream at him because the knife wasn't important and they were wasting time. “Penny.”

“They might need it. Hold onto me. If I get this wrong, it's going to kill all of us.” Quentin looped his arm around Penny's elbow and leaned into him. One second they were in the woods, surrounded by the smells of decaying leaves and pine needles, the next the sharp odor of antiseptic and healing herbs filled his nose. Penny tugged out of his embrace to stand, then he was yelling for help. Blood seemed to be streaked everywhere; it had gotten all over his clothes, then Lipson and her medical team were swarming them. Quentin was vaguely aware of Penny's arm circling him, then holding him in place when they moved Eliot to rush him into surgery. After that there was quiet, just he and Penny kneeling on the floor of the infirmary.

“You saw his eyes right?” In the moment Quentin was confident that they had been glowing, but now he wasn't sure.

“They were fucking blue.” Penny agreed. “They were green that night in the bar.” The confirmation made Quentin sag in relief. Knowing that it hadn't been just him was a relief.

“He would have killed all three of us if you hadn't done that,” Penny whispered. “You did the right thing, Q.”

“What if they expel me?” Quentin scrubbed his hand under his nose. What if Eliot woke up and he was gone.

“You are not getting expelled, Quentin. Let me be the first to reassure you.” Quentin snapped his head up to stare at the Dean. If Penny's arm hadn't tightened around him, he might have launched himself at the man.

“Sir, I...”

“You are not getting expelled, Quentin. You are not going to be punished for protecting yourself and your friends.” Quentin wondered how much he already knew. “I promise.”

“Your promises don't mean shit!” Penny snapped at him. “You were supposed to stop that bastard from getting back on campus!”

“Goddamn it, don't you think I was trying?” Fogg snapped at them. “I felt the disturbance when he arrived because I was actively working on the wards, but I couldn't find him quickly enough to stop him.”

“Then how did he find out this was going to happen?” Quentin was glad that Penny was angry because he didn't have the energy to shout and make a scene.

“Someone on the board must have told him.” Fogg sighed and tugged off his glasses to clean them. “Can you travel, Penny? I need to see where this happened.” Quentin could feel their eyes on him. Penny's arm squeezed tight around him. The knife had disappeared with Lipson and her team.

“Go,” Quentin whispered. His tongue felt thick in his throat. He wrapped his arms around his middle and leaned over his lap. “I'm not leaving.” Penny hesitated. “Penny go.” He whispered.

“I'll bring some clothes back,” Penny promised.

“Yeah.” Quentin hadn't needed the reminder that he needed to change. “Just go take care of it.” It, the body, Alex's body, Quentin still felt more relieved than guilty, and the Dean's assurances that he wouldn't be kicked out bolstered him. It was over, the months-long nightmare, years-long for El, was over. It wouldn't be an easy recovery, but if El made it out of surgery, he'd be safe from that bastard for the rest of his life.

Chapter Text

That the body was right where they had left it was all Penny had time to confirm before the world spun and his stomach turned. He stumbled away from Dean Fogg, dropped to his knees, and promptly threw up.

“Penny?” A warm hand rubbed against his back. “Are you alright?”

“The bastard came out of the trees firing off battle magic like it was nothing; he slammed me into a tree before he went after Eliot.” Penny dragged his forearm across his mouth and grimaced at the wet trickle he could feel oozing down the side of his neck. “I smacked my head against the trunk hard enough to pass out.” Penny searched the ground until he found a single orange leaf and tried to keep his gaze focused on that spot. Above him, he heard Fogg hum in understanding as a faint glow brightened the clearing The magic of the healing spell was warm, and Penny rocked back onto his heels when the world finally stopped spinning. He brought his hand up and gently raked his fingers against the back of his skull. There was a tender spot or two, but Penny had lived through way worse.

“You should have told me you were injured.” The older man's voice was stern; leaves crunched under his shoes as he crossed the clearing toward Alex's corpse. Penny watched the man's foot brace against Alex's shoulder, then Fogg pushed, turning the body. “At least Quentin was efficient.” He muttered quietly.

“Yo, do you want to tell me what the actual fuck is going on?” Penny demanded as he got to his feet so he could storm across the clearing to stand beside Fogg. “Somebody just tried to kill me, and the guy was either on something or possessed by something.”

“Possessed?” The suggestion brought the older man's gaze up to his face without a moment's hesitation+-.

“His eyes were glowing... this eerie bullshit tricked out fucking blue. Both Quentin and I saw it; I'm pretty sure Eliot did too.”

“I see.”

“So wanna share your theories on what exactly we're dealing with?”

“It would be unwise of me to hypothesize without evidence. As far as I know, Alex wasn't possessed, at least he wasn't the last time we saw one another.” Penny twisted his hand into a fist at his side.

“And how long ago was that?” His tone was snide and irritated, finding out that Fogg had known the older man, that he'd spoken to him recently made him uneasy.

“Shortly before the trials; he levied for a position with the school, no doubt so he could be closer to Eliot without Eliot's knowledge. I interviewed him as a courtesy because he had a friend on the school board, but there was never a chance that I was going to hire him.”

“Penny?” The light crunch of leaves made both of them spin towards the cottage, just in time to see Alice clear the thin line of trees. She squeaked in shock at the sight of the corpse as Penny traveled to intercept her.

“Alice, please go back to the cottage. Penny will join you shortly.”

“I'll just take you back inside.” He murmured.

“You're bleeding.” Alice's face twisted into a stubborn mask and she waved him off as Penny tried to collect her against his chest to travel her back to the house. Her hand moved towards his ear, hovered in hesitation for a moment, then gently pressed against his neck. The touch lasted an instant; then she pulled her hand back to cast with both. Penny felt the same warm rush of healing magic that the Dean had used before he caught her hands.

“Alice, I'm fine.”

“What happened? Whose body is that? Where are Quentin and Eliot; I thought all of you were here together? Are they hurt, is Q hurt?” Penny squeezed her hands.

“Quentin is fine.” He assured her.

“But Eliot's not? I can read between the lines, Pen. Is that his ex-boyfriend?” She tore her hands lose from his and side-stepped him to march towards Fogg. Penny couldn't help but smirk at her tenaciousness when he poked a finger at the older man's chest. “I thought you were going to suspend that fucker's alumni key.”

“I didn't have enough time, Miss Quinn. I assure you, I understand the role I've played in this debacle better than you will ever grasp.” Penny couldn't help but wonder what the man meant by that, but his wards were as tight as they got, not even a whisper escaped as he walked to the pair. His hands settled gently on Alice's shoulders.

“You don't need to be out here.” He murmured to her.

“Can I help?” She demanded.

“You can go back to the cottage and stay out of the way,” Fogg grumbled. “I need Penny for a bit longer; then he will join you.”

“You can take Quentin some clothes,” Penny told her because there was no way Alice was going to go and sit alone in the cottage.

“Yes. That's exactly what you should do. What an excellent suggestion, Penny.” Penny didn't know if the Dean agreed because it was actually a good idea, or simply because it would make Alice leave. “He shouldn't be alone right now anyway.”

“Come on.” Penny squeezed her shoulders and traveled with her before Fogg could comment. They jumped from the woods to the silent suite that Quentin and Eliot shared. Alice almost whipped him in the face with her hair when she spun to face him.

“What happened?” She demanded.

“It felt like he was playing with us,” Penny muttered softly. He left Alice where she stood as he moved to yank the bathroom door open. He wet down a hand towel and pressed it to the side of his neck. “Alex came out the trees firing battle magic. I got knocked out quick, but I guess he attacked Eliot with a knife. I didn't get to see how bad it was, bad enough that they rushed Eliot into surgery as soon as we got him to the infirmary.”

“Oh my god.” Penny walked back into the bedroom to find his girlfriend's arms crossed over her chest. “Well, what does Dean Fogg still need you for?” She demanded, she seemed uncomfortable being in their room, so Penny headed back to the bedroom to find the change of clothes. He dug through Quentin's drawers, pointedly ignoring the poorly hidden sex toys that were tucked here and there, as he gathered whatever Quentin might need to change. He wrapped everything, along with Eliot's flask, in one of Quentin's other hoodies then carried it out to Alice.

“I have no idea what Fogg has in mind. Here.” He pushed the clothes into her arms, then moved to hug her. “He was right though, Q was pretty upset, he really shouldn't be alone if he doesn't have to be.” On an afterthought, he stepped into the bathroom to grab Quentin's shampoo.

“What happened to Alex?” Alice asked. Her voice was soft, her eyes sad. “Which one of you...” She didn't finish the sentence. Penny pursed his lips. There was a moment when he considered lying to her, and telling her he'd done it, but there was no way Quentin could hide the truth.

“Quentin snapped his neck. Eliot was already unconscious, and Alex was trying to kill all three of us.” Alice's back straightened a little, and one arm tightened around the bundle as she wiped her eye with her fingers.

“Good.” She sounded more grounded than he'd expected. Penny moved to hug her, nothing about this was good.

“Good that I didn't do it?”

“Good that someone who cares so much about Eliot did it.” She laughed weakly, then wiped the heel of her hand against her cheek. “Saying it like that must really make me sound like a bitch, huh?”

“Not at all.” Penny was honestly a little relieved that it was over, unless they were right about the possible possession. If that was the case, they had a whole new set of problems, and Fogg didn't seem ready to give any of them answers. “Want me to take you to the infirmary?”

“It would be quicker.” Alice agreed. Penny nodded, and the world shifted around them. Cool air nipped at their skin as he leaned to kiss her. “I need to go back to Fogg.” He told as he stepped away.

---------------------------------

The kiss was still lingering on her lips as Alice walked through the doors of the infirmary with Quentin's clothes bundled tight against her chest. It felt unnaturally quiet, and she had to remind herself that the majority of the student body wouldn't be back until another day or so. She found Quentin apparently right where Penny and Fogg had left him, kneeling on the tile with his arms around his waist and his head bowed. He didn't seem to realize anyone was watching him as she stood in silence to take in the scene before here. Blood coated Quentin's hands, more of it was streaked across his clothes and the tile in front of him. Alice dragged her teeth across her bottom lip as she considered what to do; once she'd decided she dropped Quentin's clean clothes into a nearby chair.

“Q?” He either didn't hear her or was determined to ignore her, as she crept towards him. She wasn't trying to be quiet because she didn't want to startle him. “Quentin?” She brushed her hand against his shoulder gently only for him to flinch. He ducked his head a little farther and wiped his nose with the back of his hand. His hair hung in a half tail that curtained his face; Alice slowly ran her hand down his arm as she knelt beside him. “Penny told me what happened.”

“Alex was trying to kill all of us.” His words were soft.

“You did the right thing, Q.” When Quentin didn't yank free from her grasp, Alice awkwardly wrapped her arm around his shoulder. It felt weird to hold him again after the months of not dating one another, then Quentin sniffed. His shoulders shook, and she reached for him to guide him closer to her.

“I don't want to ruin your clothes, Alice.” Alice's huff was a mix of amused disbelief; while she minded that there was blood, her squeamishness was secondary to helping him through the moment.

“There's a spell for getting blood out of cloth, Quentin.” She didn't care if her tone took the same one it adopted when she lectured. His head lifted enough for his gaze to meet hers', and his eyes flicked over her as he silently assessed if she actually minded being hugged. When his eyes watered, Alice reached to rub her thumb against his cheek. As she watched grief and fear war on his face, Alice tried to imagine what he must be going through mentally before realizing that she couldn't. She tried to tug at him again, not giving up until he broke and melted into her embrace. A sob shook his body once he'd hidden his face, then another. Alice let him cry until he'd exhausted himself. “I have clothes for you.” She told him once he'd dropped his weight back onto his heels. His hands flexed aimlessly in his lap, until he raised one to wipe his face with his wrist.

“Okay.” Alice got to her feet and offered her hands to help him up. Quentin hesitated, clearly still self-conscious about wrapping his hands in hers while they were stained.

“Q.” She flexed her palms in encouragement until his digits tentatively slipped into hers', then she pulled him to his feet. Their hands squeezed against each other. “I think the showers are this way.” It took a hard tug against his hand to get him moving, but once he got his bearings, he silently let her lead him back to the bathrooms.

--------------------------

Alice didn't leave him alone until he'd stripped and was under the warm spray of a showerhead. While a small part of him was irritated at her pushiness the majority of him was grateful. Without a push, he probably would have continued to sit where he'd landed on the infirmary floor until someone else had made him their problem. For the first few minutes he just let the water beat down on him, then he pumped a generous amount of soap into his hands. When he realized that his digits were leaving watery pink trails on every surface he touched he tried not to grimace. El would be okay; he had to be, Quentin couldn't fathom how he'd move forward from this if El wasn't... if he didn't.

The lump that formed in his throat almost felt too big to swallow. It felt like hours since Lipson and her team had rushed Eliot into surgery, but he knew that timeframe was unrealistic. With a grunt, he scrubbed harder at his hands and sighed in relief as the magically charmed soap helped lift the blood from the pores of his skin. Faint pink suds swirled around his feet to race down the drain.

Once his hands and forearms were clean, he mimicked his hands through the motions of the battle magic spell he'd tried to cast half a dozen times before he'd actually managed to get it right. If he'd only been faster, if he'd gotten it right the first time he might have thrown Alex far enough away before he'd gotten the chance to attack. Margo would have gotten it on the first try... Margo wo-, Margo, Margo... fuck. Margo was still in Spain.

Quentin spun to push at the shower door and almost landed on his ass when his feet slipped on the slick tile. His fingers locked around the door's handle as he reached for the shower shelf with the other. For a few seconds, he stood frozen like that until he'd calmed the racing of his heart.

“Q?” Alice's voice echoed through the door. “Are you okay?”

“I slipped.” Quentin sucked a shaky breath into his lungs and opened the door a little. Alice had either been told not to leave him alone or was concerned enough about him not to have left the men's room. “Where's Penny?”

“He was helping the Dean, why?” Quentin let his shoulders drop, and his head hang.

“Margo's still in Ibiza.” He raked his hand back through the wet locks of his hair.

“Shit.” A weak smile tugged at the corners of Quentin's mouth. He had no idea if Margo had continued to keep the hotel room after their departure, or if she was staying with her new fuck-buddy.

“Something like that, yeah.” Alice's eyes closed; her face scrunched a little, and a moment later Penny appeared. Quentin jerked the shower door shut out of instinct and rested his forehead against the glass.

“What the fuck, Alice? I heard you across campus!”

“Margo's still in Spain.” Alice's voice was meek, apparently a sharp contrast to whatever psychic call she'd mustered on his behalf.

“Can you go get her? I know it's asking a lot.” Quentin wiped his hand through the condensation on his side of the glass, but the opaque shading didn't really let him see Penny any better than he had before.

“Fine, but then I'm done for the night. I'm not a fucking taxi service.”

“If Dean Fogg still needs your help it can wait.” Quentin couldn't stop his shoulders from slumping a little. “I can make a portal and get her myself.”

“No, I didn't mean it like that! I'll get her, but I'm not getting anybody else. I just got done interrupting the last day of Sunderland's vacation. She was not happy.”

“Thanks, Penny.”

“Yeah, whatever, it's nothing. Alice and I will be in the waiting area when you finish.”

“Yeah, that's thank, I'll just be --” Quentin heard the bathroom door squeak open then glide closed before he could stumble through the rest of his sentence.

------------------

Penny let the door swing shut behind him as he absently rubbed his temples. Beside him, Alice was murmuring spells and flexing her hands through the motions to lift the stains from her clothes. When she'd finished he looped her into an embrace.

“Don't scare me like that again!” He admonished as they walked towards the infirmary's seating area.

“It was the quickest way to get your attention.”

“Well, it scared the fuck out of me. I thought, you know that Eliot had... you know. God, this is such bullshit!”

“I'm sorry.” To her credit, Alice did sound appropriately mournful. She dropped onto one of the couches, leaving just enough room for Penny to sit cross-legged beside her.

“I'm going to try to find Margo with astral projection first, so I'm not jumping all over the goddamn island.” Penny watched Alice nod, then closed his eyes and tried to center his mind, silently hoping that Margo was staying in the same damn hotel Eliot had taken him to the week before. He propelled his astral self towards that spot. The infirmary melted away, and he found himself in the hallway of the lux beachfront hotel where his friends had vacationed. Without a thought, he walked through the door of the suite they had occupied. Margo's things were strewn about the hotel room, a trail of men and women's clothing led from the entrance to the bed. Penny slapped his hand over his eyes at the sight of her riding some dude. The jump back into the hallway was both mental and physical, as he pulled his body to join him into the safety of the walkway.

“Margo!” He pounded on the door without trying to open it, giving both the woman and her boy-toy the chance to be decent. “Open the fucking door, Margo! I don't have time to stand out here all day!” He could hear angry cursing in Spanish, from both Margo and her friend, then the rustle of sheets. He was ready to pound the door again when he heard the slide of the locks, then the air around him dropped about ten degrees. Penny reminded himself never to get on the girl's shit list as the smaller woman's eyes settled on him. One hand clutched the sheet closed around her body as the fabric pooled around and trailed behind her.

“This had better be good, assh – wait, Penny? What the hell?” Her anger dropped away as she processed who he was and why he might be there. Whoever she had expected it apparently hadn't been him.

“You need to get your stuff together and come home.”

“Margo, my love?”

“Lasaro, you need to go. I'll call you, but...” Margo's eyes ticked between Penny and her weekend beau. “Something happened at home, and I have to go back.”

“I'll go with you!”

“No!” Margo adjusted her hold on the sheet. “I'm sorry, I didn't plan this, just get your stuff. Now please.” The man seemed to realize that this wasn't the moment to argue with her. He collected his clothes in silence, then kissed her cheek before fleeing down the empty hall. The door slammed shut as Margo stormed back into the bedroom. She threw herself down on the bed with a huff.

“So spill it.” She snapped quietly after a minute, or two of silence had stretched between them. Penny shifted, finding himself both nervous and annoyed to be on the receiving end of her glare.

“Alex found out the Dean was going to suspend his alumni key and attacked Eliot before Fogg could finish editing the wards.” Her face twisted in shock.

“Is El okay?” The sheet slipped as she reached to wipe her eye.

“He was in surgery when Quentin asked me to come to get you.”

“Surgery...” The word rolled off her tongue in a whisper. “How's Q?”

“He's... Q killed him, Margo. The three of us were together when Alex attacked us, and Quentin snapped the guy's neck with battle magic.” Her sharp intake of breath betrayed how deeply the news affected her.

“He's... are they going to expel him?” When she looked up, there were tears gathering in her eyes. “They can't; I'm not letting it happen.” She shot to her feet and paced across the room. The sheet billowed around her legs with each step.

“Fogg told us he wasn't getting expelled, not for self-defense, the guy was trying to kill all three of us so there wouldn't be witnesses.” Her shoulders slumped in relief as she dropped into a chair. “So let's get your shit together and go home.”

“Right.” Margo's gaze dropped down at the layers of cloth draped around her. “Can you give me a couple of minutes?”

“Sure.” Penny stepped into the bathroom and started collecting her things while she got dressed in the bedroom. With an efficiency that surprised him, they had the room stripped of her possessions within minutes. Penny scooped up all of her bags as Margo rested her hands against his waist, then he traveled with her. They appeared in the corner of the infirmary's waiting area. Quentin had joined Alice in the time he'd been gone. “I'll take your bags back to the cottage. Alice, let's give them some space. All four of us don't need to be here.” His girlfriend's gaze darted between the three of them before she leaned to give Quentin a tight hug.

“Send us a message when you know how Eliot's doing.” Quentin's chin bobbed in a wordless confirmation as Alice left the couch to join him.

---------------------

“I feel like I let him down, Margo.” Were the first words out of Quentin's mouth once Penny and Alice had disappeared with her things. Quentin fidgeted in his seat as damp strands of hair fell forward into his face, and Margo's heart broke to watch him. If he'd failed, then Eliot wouldn't have made it to the infirmary at all.

“How do you mean?” She crossed the room to kneel in front of him.

“I couldn't get the spell right quickly enough, if I'd been faster, Alex might not have had the chance to hurt him again.”

“Q, baby... You did not fail him.” Margo smoothed the wet locks of his hair back behind his ears. “Battle magic is hard. It's not something you're supposed to be able to do on command unless you've trained to do it.” Her hands cupped his face as she rubbed her thumbs under his eyes. “So the fact that you managed it at all is something special. More importantly, that piece of shit is dead, and El is going to be so relieved when you tell him.”

“Or he'll hate me for it.” Margo stared at him in shocked silence that he could think Eliot might be so hypocritical floored her. Strangely, she wasn't angry with him. Grief and fear could manifest in the oddest ways, and that was obviously what was happening now.

“Eliot is never going to hate you, Quentin; not for that, not ever for that. This is going to bring the two of you closer... because he knows.” Margo blinked away her tears, and let her voice drop an octave or two lower. “He's been here, Q. El's not going to let it destroy you the way it did him.”

“I don't really feel guilty about it,” Quentin confessed quietly.

“There might be a point when you do, and El's going to be there for you. Both of us will.”

“Thanks, Margo.” Quentin's hands gripped the edge of the chair, and he leaned forward so their foreheads could rest against one another. “Thank you for coming back.” Margo pressed a reassuring kiss at the corner of his mouth.

“Of course I was going to come back!” Margo brushed her fingers under his eyes. She wanted to reassure him, but she didn't dare promise that Eliot would pull through and be alright. Eliot's flask lay near Quentin's knee, and she reached for it; she would have preferred something other than whiskey but let a drink of it burn down into her belly regardless. Quentin's hand patted the cushion beside him, and Margo moved to tuck herself under his arm. “Thank you for making Penny come to get me.”

“You're Welcome.” They passed the flask back and forth until Quentin lagged against her with a miserable sigh and capped the thing. “This is driving me crazy.” He murmured.

“Me too.” Margo would have preferred to be doing something, anything other than waiting in silence. You wanted to yell at someone; she wanted a way to vent the slowly building frustration. The sudden swing of the infirmary door made them both jerk in surprise.

“Ahh, good. I'd hoped you would both be here.” Margo squeezed her arm around Quentin's waist as Fogg strolled into the waiting area.

“Is Eliot still in surgery.” Being right against him let Margo feel the tension that rapidly coiled in Quentin's back and shoulders.

“He's in recovery.” Quentin sagged in relief with a small relieved cry as he hugged her.

“Can we see him? Or are you going to make us wait out here?” Margo demanded.

“He's still unconscious, and probably will be under for at least a couple more hours. The two of you may come back for a few minutes, but Professor Lipson would prefer that only one of you stay.”

“That's not fair!” Quentin jerked out of her hold to stand. “We both deserve to be here!”

“I understand your frustration, Quentin, but Professor Lipson is considering Eliot's welfare first. The knife puncture is deep; she's worried about the stitches getting pulled and the wound reopening. Once Eliot is awake and stable, the parade of well-wishers can begin in earnest.” Margo slid her hand into Quentin's and squeezed.

“It's okay, Q.”

“You can stay if you want.” He offered. If the circumstances had been any different Margo would have insisted that she be the one to stay, but Eliot would panic if Quentin wasn't right there when he woke up. Quentin needed to be the one to tell him about Alex.

“I'll go back to the cottage. It's okay.”

“The two of you can follow me.” Fogg didn't wait for them as he headed back toward the recovery unit where the hospital beds were clustered. “He got fortunate that the knife missed anything vital.” The older man continued. Margo almost wished she'd waited to see Eliot once he'd woken up. Seeing her best friend's pale face lax, bracketed by dark limp curls, made the vulnerable part of her ache.

“I've seen him look worse.” She joked. An anemic laugh burst from Quentin's throat. He walked up behind her so he could circle his arms around her and Margo leaned back against his chest.

“He's going to be okay.” There it was, that annoying little ray of hope that Quentin always seemed to muster, even when the situation didn't really call for it. She envied him for daring to say the words that she didn't dare think. She wanted him to be right, but pessimism had always gotten her farther than optimism ever had.

“I hope so.” She reached to squeeze Eliot's hand, then got a little bolder and leaned to pet his hair back from his face. “You have to be the one here when he wakes up, Q. He needs to know that Alex didn't hurt you or he'll panic, and if they are worried about him pulling the stitches that's the last thing he needs.”

“Thanks, Margo.” She turned in his arms to hug him, then pressed a kiss to his cheek. She was relieved it was over, now they just had to help Eliot through whatever came next.