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wait for it

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nothing about this

is soft

but we pretend.

— Cara Neel, from “Bukowski,” published in Vagabond City

 

It takes all of them coming together to find a spell that will get The Monster out of Eliot, but getting everything they need is almost as complicated as finding the seven keys was.

“A bottled fairy blessing, two hens’ teeth, a dead mans last thought,” Josh reads from the list, “Jesus Christ, it might as well say; ‘go fuck yourself, and whoever the fuck you’re trying to help’.”

Kady takes the list from him with a raised eyebrow.

“Those are the ones we already got.”

“…Oh. Where was I?”

“That new pot brownie you were trying to perfect,” Penny 23 chimes in, “You were out for like four weeks.”

A grin spreads across Josh’s face.

“Oh, yeah. Good times, my friends. Hey, would you like-”

“Can we focus please,” Margo interjects, rolling her eyes, “As much as I would love to be buzzed right now, I’d much prefer Eliot back.”

She turns to Quentin who is sitting down the long table opposite her position at the head.

“What do we need next?”

Quentin shuffls his papers around, flipping through handwritten notes to find the one that has the accurate translation of the ancient Sumerian scroll.

“Um- it was right here, we ah- um-”

“We need a pure golden moment,” Alice cuts in, sounding impatient from her position over by the window. It escapes no one that she is the only one not seated at the table. There wasn’t even an open spot for her, and no one offered to get her a chair. No one had forgotten or forgiven her yet.

They’d decided to meet in the cottage because it is the most warded place they have access to, and it offered a kind of morale. The golden light, the memories that hang in their peripheral vision. Eliot had been king of this place long before he had been High King of Fillory. There is still a wardrobe of his clothes upstairs, like the house itself was still holding out hope for his return.

“A pure golden moment?” Julia frowns, “What does it mean by that exactly?”

"An orgasm?" Margo guesses.

"Oh, Like in Buffy!" Josh grins and then winces, "Though, admittedly, that wasn't a good thing."

“Yeah, not that,” Quentin says, finally finding his notes, “From what I’ve found it means a happy memory, but not just any happy memory. Your happiest memory ever.”

“Okay,” Margo nods, “Sounds hard to pin down. We haven’t had much reason to be happy around here lately.”

“Is that all?” Kady asks.

“No,” Quentin looks up, “It’s gotta be a memory from the person casting the spell so that would be … me.”

Alice makes a noise in her throat by sinks back against the wall when Julia sends her a look. Margo bites her lip.

“Q, sweetie, tell me you can do this and I will believe you,” she says, shedding her King exterior so he can see her earnest and worried side, as much as it makes her feel vulnerable, “But you know that ‘pure happiness’ isn’t something that … if you would want to delegate this…”

“Margo,” he holds her eyes, “I can do this.”

After a moment she nods, sitting back in her chair.

“Okay. What do you need?”

They set up a Sigle circle, then lay out some objects and bowls of substances that are meant to help coax the memory forth. Quentin sets out a pair of old fluffy socks, a bowl of dried up autumn leaves, one of the Fillory books, and opens it to a particular page-

“The Flying Forest, the-the part at the start where Rupert and Fiona are climbing Rupert’s favourite tree-”

-And then one last bowl filled with peaches and plums.

“Okay,” Quentin claps his hands together and waves everyone over, “The spell requires some, well it translates to advocates but I think it means witnesses. So, you’re all going to be able to see the memory-”

What?” Alice hisses, “That’s not- what if it’s a memory of-”

Quentin frowns at her and she huffs.

Us.”

Josh starts to say something that would have been pervy, no doubt, but Penny 23 claps him on the shoulder and shakes his head.

“Um,” Quentin squints at her, “It won’t be. I promise.”

He gestures for them all to step up to the edge of the circle and take each other’s hands. Margo and Julia leave Quentin’s hands-free and instead clasp his shoulders. Margo gives him a squeeze.

“You’ve got this, Q.”

He nods and starts the ritual to extract the memory.  He starts chanting in Sumerian and moving his hands through the complex positions he had been practicing for the past three days.

The energy begins to build, they all feel it, and they see the objects in the circle beginning to float-

 

-when they are all suddenly standing in a sunlit forest.

“This is-” Kady starts.

“Fillory,” Margo finishes in a reverent whisper, taking in the sunshine and the sweet-smelling air, “We’re in Fillory.”

“Wait,” Alice cuts in, “Where is Quentin?”

The group looks around, but he is nowhere to be seen.

“Q?” Julia calls.

“Maybe he couldn’t come,” Penny 23 suggests, “We are in his head.”

“Yeah,” Josh agrees, “We’re witnesses to his memory. Maybe we are meant to see it without him, be impartial or whatever.”

“Like we're a jury?” Kady frowns. Alice grimaces.

“There was no mention of us having to Judge the validity of the memory in the-”

“Shhh!”

They all look at Margo.

“Listen!”

The Questers all stay quiet and there, under the sounds of the forest they can hear singing.

Theodosia writes me a letter ev'ry day.”

“Is that … Hamilton?” Josh asks.

They all start towards the voice, the fall leaves not crunching under their feet as they run through the woods into a clearing. They step onto the grass and up ahead they see a small house, nothing more than a shack, with various homely items scattered around it, wicker chairs, quilts, tables, what looks like a day bed. Out in front of it is a stone landing, and standing on it is a small child and a tall man, with curly black hair and-

“Eliot!” Margo shouts as they stop just beyond the stone landing.

They all watch as Eliot continues to sing. He and the boy are holding brooms and they are sweeping autumn leaves from the stone. Or they are between singing.

My mother was a genius,” Eliot sings, and then the boy shout-sings, “Genius!”

My father commanded respect.”

“Respect!”

When they died they left no instructions. Just a legacy to protect.”

As they watch Eliot continues to sing and scoops the boy up into his arms to swing him around into a dance.

He looks older than the body they left behind, somewhere in his early thirties. He’s dressed like a Fillorian, but not like he was when he was High King. He’s wearing the dull scratchy fabrics that the peasants wear, a rich blue tunic and black pants that have worn at the knees, they look like they’ve been worked and worn for years. The boy is dressed similarly and is wearing a cap and a vest that has obviously been homemade by untrained hands.

“When was this?” Alice asks, “I don’t remember this.”

“Q and Eliot lived for fifty years in a timeline I stopped from happening,” Margo explains, “Trying to solve that mosaic.”

As they watch Eliot puts the boy back down and they spin away from each other, laughing and dancing with their brooms.

I am the one thing in life I can control,” Eliot sings, laughter in his voice, “I am inimitable, I am an original!”

Leaves scatter up as they dance.

“Wait for it! Wait for it!” The boy laugh-shrieks, obviously taking joy from kicking up the piles of leaves.

I'm not falling behind or running late.”

Eliot falls to his knees and spreads his arms out on a dramatic pose.

I'm not standing still, I am lying in wait!”

The boy flings himself at his chest and they fall back into a laughing pile, singing all forgotten.

“He looks so-” Margo stops as she feels tears spring to her eyes.

“Happy,” Julia finishes for her, “Like I’ve never seen him before.”

“Wait,” Kady says, “If this is Quentin’s memory where is he?”

The group looks around the scene when Penny spots him.

“There!”

Quentin is standing too the side of the clearing, just one step off a well walked path. He looks frozen, a soft, awestruck smile across his face as he looks at Eliot and the boy playing in the leaves. He’s dressed similarly to Eliot, except he is wearing a beige wraparound tunic and brown trousers. He has a hand cart behind him loaded with burlap bags.

“Woah,” Josh grimaces, “Mullet alert.”

On the mosaic Eliot rights himself and the boy, picking leaves from his hair. Then the boy looks around and grins.

“Daddy!” he shouts to Quentin, flinging his arms out, “We’re cleaning!”

Quentin’s laugh is soft, but it carries to them all. The Questers are instantly struck by the sound. They haven’t heard it in a long time.

“I can see that!” Quentin calls as he walks closer, hauling the cart behind him.

Eliot smiles at Q and its as bright and soft as the Brakebills eternal summer light.

“How long were you spying on us, you perv?” he teases.

Quentin ducks his head in a smile as he drops the cart and steps up to the mosaic.

“Did you get my socks?”

“Yes. I got your socks, dear,” Quentin teases back before bending down to kiss the boy on top of his hatted head.

“Did you get me anything daddy?”

Quentin laughs again.

“Yes I did, Teddy. A special dinner, just for being a good boy.”

Teddy cheers, kicking up leaves again.

Eliot laughs and slips his hands up to Quentin's forearms.

“You weren’t using magic.”

“Yes well, we have no tv and I’ve read all three of our books, and wine is so expensive-”

“So so expensive.”

“-so, I need something to fill my day.”

“You can keep going.”

“Sweeping?”

“Singing,” Q laughs, slipping a hand into Eliot’s and the other to his waist as if they are about to dance, “I haven’t heard you sing in months.”

“I sang at the tavern just last week.”

“That’s not the same, and you know it.”

Quentin looks up at Eliot, biting his lip in a failed effort to conceal his smile.  After a moment Eliot sighs and gathers Quentin close. They begin to sway together and after a moment they hear Eliot’s voice sing quietly, his words meant only for Quentin.

Hamilton doesn't hesitate. He exhibits no restraint. He takes and he takes, and he takes, and he keeps winning anyway…”

They sway together as Eliot sings the rest of the song, singing a much softer and slower version. It’s a peaceful scene, a tranquil moment of a life shared between two men who have built a family together. Not one of The Questers remains untouched by the scene.

They sway a few times after the song finishes. Then Quentin leans up and kisses Eliot. It's soft and slow. Its familiar, an everyday occurrence.

A kiss between two people in love.

“Ew!” Teddy breaks the moment, shouting from his perch atop the bed where he was stacking leaves, “Gross, Daddies, gross!”

“Daddies…” Julia breathes a smile spreads across her face.

The two men share a look and then grin as they start to walk over to the bed.

“You hear that, my love. We’re gross.”

“Yeah, I did. Might as well embrace it right?”

“Just what I was thinking.”

They pounce onto the bed, hugging Teddy between them as they lay big smacking kisses all over his cheeks. The boy shrieks in protest and dissolves into giggles, infecting the two men until they dissolve into one big laughing pile on the bed.

It’s beautiful and sweet and wonderful.

Its happy.

 

With a gasp, they all surface from the memory and are standing in a circle again.

Quentin drops his hands and looks up. There are tear tracks down his face.

“Q…” Julia breathes, “I had … I had no idea…”

Q nods and steps forward into the circle where a golden light is waiting, hovering in a shimmering cloud. He holds out a glass bottle and it streams in. He corks it and hangs his head.

No one knows what to say.

So, no one says anything. Instead, Margo rushes forwards and hugs Quentin, her arms wrapping around him so tight it must be painful.

“We’ll get him back, Q,” she vows in a whisper, “And we’ll never let him go again.”

Quentin says nothing. But he hugs her back.

He hugs her back and closes his eyes, dreaming of a small house bathed in Fillory sunlight and the sound of Eliot’s singing.