The man-person was strange.
After the weeks that they had spent in his company, that was the only conclusion that they had come to. The man-person, Quentin, as his...friends called him...was a strange man. It didn’t make sense to them that this person was helping them even though the look in his eyes was clearly one of hatred--they had seen that look before, they knew--but yet still, Quentin--Q, as the lady-friend who seemed to be the most trusted of his friends--called him still helped.
Was most helpful.
They suspected it has something to do with the person-friend that Q called Eliot. The person-friend that Q had asked for after they had killed false-Enyalius. Quentin had asked so nicely that they were--interested--about why this particular flesh garment had meant so much to them.
A friend, Q said.
...Because clearly, while Q considered Eliot a ‘friend’, in their experience, most people would still kill their friends. Eventually. When the friend got in the way. And they were not stupid, they knew that Quentin’s other friends planned to terminate them. Even if it meant terminating the Eliot-body that Quentin was so fond of. As memories began to trickle back into their mind, they could see, and understand, more and more. They could understand the abruptly-shushed whispers. The fleeting, silent glances behind Quentin’s back, behind their back.
That was what the other friends planned. They knew it, because they had been betrayed before. A cloud of red-hot anger filled their chest, and for a moment, they wished to break something. Kill something.
Apparently, patience was also something coming back to them. A good thing to have, all things considered. Quentin could still be useful, but would not be, if the friends died.
But they wondered…
Did Quentin know?
They turned to the man-person now, sitting on the couch, reading one of the large tomes they had stolen from the library. He looked to be concentrating on the foreign, archaic, inked words, but his eyes flitted around at every stray noise. It gave him away. He was not concentrating like he should. He was not helping like he should.
Maybe they should just kill the friends. Maybe just one. To make a point.
The thought felt satisfying, and they felt their mouth feature flicker into a smile. Yes. Yes, one would do, would make Quentin see the importance of what they, together, did. Were doing.
Then the thought: No.
They frowned. It was not like them to be indecisive about such matters. Indecisions was for humans, frail little meatsacks that they were.
Suddenly, they felt sad for Quentin. This was what sad was, it made your lips move downwards and your eyes hurt. Quentin would be sad if they killed his friends.
The feeling subsided.
Sad made them want to touch Quentin. They walked over to Quentin and laid their hand--gently--on the top of his head. Quentin startled underneath, then stilled.
Like a rabbit knowing its neck was about to be snapped.
Something again in them did not like that notion. It made their chest feel--heavy.
“Oreos?” they asked, ignoring the disruptive thoughts. Sad also made them hungry, and the sweet-food called Oreos were particularly delicious.
Quentin jerked his head away from their hand. This also, again, made them sad--and also, a little relieved--which now meant they was confused. And confusion led to the bloom of anger, once again.
“They’re in the kitchen. Top of the counter. Next to the microwave.” Quentin met their eyes, briefly, then they flitted away again, Like a hummingbird. Hmm. Like they could not bear to linger on the Eliot-body. Curious, since they said Eliot-body was their friend.
Nevermind, though, this body wanted food.
“Yeah, the machine that heats our food up.”
“Ah.” They nodded. “The heat box. Yes. Thank you.”
Better to eat the Oreos than to snap any necks.
At least for the moment.
The afternoon waned. Time passed so slowly on this plane. There was no caretaker to play games with, and much to do, and much waiting. It made them itchy, just like the feelings in their body did. So many different sensations, and so many of them related to Quentin.
They ate the Oreos until the package was empty, absentmindedly noting that too many of the Oreos made their stomach hurt. And that stomach ache was different than the one they had now when they looked at Quentin.
Quentin. Quentin. Quentin. All this mind wanted to think about was Quentin; all this body wanted to do was touch him. It was...discomfiting. They did not like it. But. Maybe.
Maybe touching Quentin would help. They stood up from the couch and crossed over to where Quentin sat on the chair. They had noticed that, of late, Quentin did not sit anywhere but the chairs. Maybe so that they could not sit next to them. That thought hurt.
Quentin met their gaze reluctantly, “What do you want?”
Quentin let out a sigh, closed the book and stood up.
They were close. They could feel the heat coming off of Quentin’s body, and they could feel, almost, the nervousness in Quentin. His breathing was rapid and his fingers fidgeted. Curious. It both pleased them that Quentin was afraid and displeased them.
Then, and only then, did they think that maybe--maybe--they had gotten it wrong and maybe--maybe--Eliot-mind was in there.
The thought caused the anger again. They flexed their hands into fists.
No, not possible. It was just remnants of Eliot-mind and Eliot-body that wanted to touch this person. And they would quell it by touching them. Then the distractions would stop.
Quentin hadn’t moved, not a muscle, standing still and motionless. Again reminding them of prey caught in the predator’s gaze. He positively quivered.
Their mouth quirked again. They moved their hands to Quentin’s chest, placing them lightly right below the clavicle.
Ah, they liked this. Quentin’s warmth emanated from him, and below their hands they could feel the rise and fall, the breath that signaled blood flow, right beneath their hands. This stirred something in them, both in the chest and somehow inside his stomach. It felt like pleasant little flips and tugs. Their genital appendage stirred, too, a pleasant sensation of heat and tightness. The Eliot-body liked this, the Eliot-mind seemed...quiet, and they thought they finally understood the odd little human craving for touch. So simple but so powerful, somehow.
They hummed in the back of their throat. Slid one of their hands up Quentin’s chest until their hand cupped Quentin’s neck. Quentin still wasn’t meeting their gaze, but he was staying still. They didn’t mind, it was enough to use Eliot-body’s large palm and long fingers to grip Quentin’s neck.
At this simple gesture, Quentin jerked away, breaking free of their touch.
Quentin held up a hand, the other one shoved his hair out of his face. “Stop. Stop, I can’t.” His voice sounded...sad. Upset.
His hands moved to his eyes, wiped what they assumed to be tears away. Weak. “Let you touch me.”
“I assume you let Eliot-body touch you.”
“Because you are not Eliot.”
“But I have his body. And you like his body. So why not?”
“It’s not the same.”
“Because there is no Eliot-mind?”
Quentin blanched. “Right. So it’s not...you’re not the same. You’re not him. So it doesn’t...it’s not the same”
They tsked. “Pity. This body likes touching you.” It briefly flitted into their mind that they could make Quentin touch them, but that...didn’t feel right. Anger, again, oddly. Why were they angry, there was nothing to be angry about? “Oh well. Back to work?”
Quentin nodded. “Sure. Sure, back to work.”
Memories, for Quentin, were landmines. And fifty years, a lifetime, meant that memory shaded everything.
The orangey dusk that bled through Marina’s apartment windows reminded him of the spring twilight in Fillory. The sound of their little boy laughing at one of Eliot’s tall tales during bedtime. He could still feel, in his bones, the pause that came while Eliot tucked Teddy in, then the low murmurs of a lullaby that followed. And how Eliot always closed the door softly. It became nightly ritual for he, and Eliot, and Arielle, to sit at the table, share a drink, talk about the mosaic, or Teddy, or village nonsense.
There were memories in the kitchen, things as innocuous as summer fruit and ham. One of the biggest fights between he, Eliot, and Arielle had been about who took the last of the ham? They had been relying on it to eek out one last meal before the next round of fruit harvest.
Spoiler: none of them. A witch literally lifted it out their kitchen window, and had gleefully come by just mere hours later to brag about it. They ended up being friends, and she even took a turn poking at the mosaic with them.
Quentin’s lips quirked. Such was Fillory.
But reminiscing was dangerous. Dangerous even before monster/Eliot, because Eliot had rejected him, and even more dangerous now. Because now it was too easy to catch a glimpse of Eliot’s lanky frame in a doorway and feel his heart seize. To see how that same orangey dusk haloed the dark curls and gilded his patrician profile, and to remember. Remember how golden firelight glinted against Eliot’s skin as Quentin moved his lips down Eliot’s long neck, over that spot that made him gasp, just a little, every time. Quentin would smile, lips flush against Eliot’s skin, feel powerful that he, Quentin Coldwater, noted basketcase and raw nerves disguised as a person, could make Eliot Waugh moan, sigh, come.
Now, he felt anything but powerful. The being that moved around him, that touched him and taunted him and demanded everything looked and sounded like Eliot--and as the days passed the way the monster touched, what they said, how they said it, sounded more and more like the actual Eliot. And it was driving him fucking insane.
Quentin hated the creature, but he wanted Eliot. He missed him, he loved him, and fuck, yes, he wanted him. Nothing in his life had been like the feeling of Eliot sliding his arms around him, pulling him close, gently pressing his lips to the top of Q’s head. Or gripping the back of his neck with those hands, kissing him hard then pushing him down to his knees.
Except now, every touch had been inverted.
The monster, too, put his hands on Quentin’s chest. Cradled him once. Gripped his neck, in a gesture so similar to Eliot’s that Quentin felt a blush of desire turned into a sickening nausea.
The worst part was….and Quentin could barely admit it to himself....even just approaching the thought made his eyes prick with hot, stubborn tears.
...But Quentin was beginning to believe that Penny and Julia were right. That there wasn’t another way to stop the monster from bringing back his sister, to complete whatever plan they had obviously set in motion. Revenge? Apocalypse? Most likely the latter. And Quentin knew that Eliot wouldn’t want him to literally let the world burn to save him, but…
He and Eliot had fifty years together, and it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t this life, it had been erased, damn it! He wanted to hold Eliot one more time, to kiss him, to fuck him, to tell him all the things that he had held back. There was so much left to say, to do, and as the possibility of Eliot--however much he didn’t want to think it--grew, so did his desperation. None of it had been enough.
An idea popped into his mind, an idea that he hated. One that started as a small whisper several days ago, nothing more than a mere cognition attached to a physical impulse. But as they ran out of options and the Monster gathered the stones, the mere discordant note of a thought became a clamor.
Just once more. You could do it, you have the spell. It wouldn’t take much power, no one would notice. A simple mind glamor. Just enough.
“Don’t be stupid,” he whispered to himself. “Focus.”
The images blurred before him. His knees felt staticy with all the sitting he had been doing, his brain felt swathed in wool and at the same time his nerves felt on fire. All he wanted was a a solution, god fucking damnit. It not a solution then a mere fucking possibility would do.
But there was nothing. No history fit. No myth fit. No plan, no theories, nothing. Nothing fit their situation. So they were stuck with monster/Eliot, and real Eliot alive and trapped, and nothing to fucking do about it.
“Shit!” Quentin slammed the book, the last in the current stack pilfered from Brakebills, and shoved it to the floor. It landed with a loud thud, hitting the coffee table and knocking down several stacked mugs. He briefly looked up, saw monster/Eliot looking back at him, perplexed with one eyebrow barely lifted.
“Quentin,” they said with their particular cadence. “You are frustrated?”
Quentin looked away. Decided to stare at the marble fireplace. Maybe he could count the veins of grey. “Yes.”
“Being frustrated isn’t good for progress.”
Quentin sighed. “I just need a break.”
The monster always surprised Quentin with how fast they could move. While he stared at the fireplace, monster/Eliot had moved to stand in front of him.
“Maybe you need food. Food, then work.”
Quentin reluctantly dragged his gaze up to monster/Eliot’s eyes. “No, I need real rest. Humans sleep, we told you that.”
“Yes,” they admitted reluctantly. “A true inconvenience.”
Quentin shrugged. He wanted to stand and get the hell away from them, but monster/Eliot didn’t move. Instead, their mouth lifted into that approximation of a smile.
“This body wants to touch you.”
“I already told you--”
“Sometimes, when they do not think anyone is watching, Hoo-lia and Percy like to touch. It seems to...relieve them.”
Shit. Quentin dropped his head into his hands. Way too much information, and all of it perfectly designed to pick-ax at his weaknesses right now.
Almost wheedling, they said, “You know that this body will not last after I am done with it? Eliot is dead. I will use its power, then it will die. I know this...upsets you. But nothing will change that.”
The certainty of it hit Quentin full on in the chest. He gasped for air and must have looked truly alarming because monster/Eliot, placed a hand on his shoulder and patted him.
“There...there. I have told you this. It is good that you now truly believe me.”
When Quentin regained is breath, regained the feeling of his body again, he closed his eyes. It was wrong. He knew, in some way, it was wrong to do this. But if...if...if it was over, if monster/Eliot was right, if there was no way out and nothing else to do, then maybe…
Maybe there could be one more memory. Maybe, he thought wildly, this could even help. Right? It couldn’t hurt to try. To try and draw the real Eliot out, somehow?
Quentin knew it was stupid. But what he wanted right now were excuses, not ethics, not morals. He wanted Eliot, one last time.
Quentin cleared his throat. “You know how...a few hours ago you were trying to touch me?”
“Yes. You did not like it.”
Quentin licked his lips. “Why don’t we...why don’t we try again?”
Monster/Eliot’s eyebrow lifted. “How surprising!” Then immediately, suspicious. “Why?”
“I just--if you are going to kill this body, I’d just…” God it burned his face even to say it, but what did he care? “Like another memory of Eliot, I guess.”
“Humans are weird,” Monster/Eliot sighed. “Just like you and your dad’s planes. One last memory.” Their tone was lightly mocking.
“I know, so weird,” Quentin murmured.
Monster/Eliot assented, but more than that, the particular way he moved brought back Eliot so clearly that Quentin blinked. The shift was so sudden, so startling, so Eliot.
Quentin, don’t do this. Don’t put yourself through this. Was that voice his, or what Eliot would say to him?
Either way, it didn’t matter.
Quentin closed his eyes, mentally boxing up his reservations and shoving them into a corner clearly marked Trauma to Deal with Later. When he opened his eyes, he let himself believe that the eyes he stared into were Eliot’s.
The Monster--no, not the monster, Eliot, for these ten minutes, Eliot’s--hands were on his shoulder. Quentin leaned down, let his cheek rest on the top of Eliot’s hand.
For the first time in weeks, Quentin was able to exhale. In that exhale, he started the spell. Quietly flicking his fingers, matching the rhythm to the words in his mind, a quick flex of the fingers and shift of the palm and--there.
The mind glamour slid into place. They were still in Marina’s apartment, but the haze of Quentin’s memories filled his mind, so thick it felt real. The glimmering air of Fillory, the smell of late summer flowers, heady and sensual, redolent in the evening breeze.
Quentin knew this particular memory inside out. It was one he returned to often, both in Fillory and since they returned. It was their second year. The summer was unusually hot. He and Eliot worked only in their breeches, and their skin had started pale in the spring, then reddened, and finally, when the peaches and plums hung heavy on the trees, they had both tanned a golden brown. Eliot’s hair had grown out, curling down past his shoulders, clubbed back in a leather wrap. Quentin’s hair was perpetually in his face no matter how long it was, something Eliot continually teased him about. The one with the floppy hair, Eliot would say, fond.
Frustration would come and go throughout their years in Fillory, but at this point it was at an ebb. That summer was particularly magical, and they had magical summers, magical years together. It was just the two of them, working on the mosaic, discovering each other, the first blush of love and lust. Worry about their friends would poke through, but what was there to do but keep working?
Quentin felt himself smile, both him in the present and him in the memory. In this particular memory, it was the first time they had given themselves a full day off. No mosaic. No work.
We eat leftovers and drink to the bottom of this cask, Eliot proclaimed. It’s been two years, we deserve it.
It had been a whole day of doing just that--and fucking alongside it. They started in bed, Eliot easing him open with his long fingers. Eliot had started fucking him so slow that the anticipation of coming made Quentin ache, but then the atmosphere changed. Quentin could feel it, shifted his head to look at Eliot.
“Tell me you want me,” Eliot clenched Quentin’s face in his long fingers, holding their gaze together, the slow rhythm speeding up.
“Fuck, Eliot, yes, I want you.”
The snap of Eliot’s hips grew faster, harder. “Say it again.”
Eliot flipped Quentin over, roughly pulled him down on his cock. Quentin groaned, tried to sit up. Eliot pushed him back down to the bed. “Say it again.”
He did. Over and over until Eliot came inside him, and he came on Eliot. Eliot drug a finger through Q’s come, gave Quentin a cat-got-the-cream smirk as he licked it off.
Quentin swallowed thickly at the memory. Desire clenched painfully in his lower belly.
“Eliot?” He whispered.
Then, suddenly, the memory-glamour crashed. The images crumbled before him and the gentle haze turned into smokey vapor.
“Shit, shit, shit!” Quentin shoved monster/Eliot away from him.
Monster/Eliot shoved back. “Quentin. You. As you say. Fucked with. My mind.”
Quentin clenched his fist, holding himself back. Now was not the time. “Not yours. Just mine.”
“But I felt--I felt--” Monster/Eliot turned away, anger and--something else, fear? Quentin couldn’t tell--radiating off them.
The monster shook their head, walking in circles. “No. No. Not possible.”
But Quentin spoke to air. Just like that, he blinked, and the monster was gone.
Quentin slowly sank back into his chair. He was alone, alone with his thoughts, with his memory. Alone, knowing that might be the last bit of Eliot he ever got.