after one long season of waiting
after one long season of wanting
i am breaking open
After what feels like months of living through every embarrassing, shameful memory he can think of, Eliot is out of ideas. He’s almost out of friends, too, Margo and Fen long gone, and only his memory of Quentin remaining. Memory!Quentin is not particularly helpful, but Eliot never really thought he would be. He’s more - well, eye candy is a stretch, honestly, but Eliot is enjoying watching him stand around, all befuddled and chalky.
“You just have to figure out what the memory is, and then I’ll make a distraction and you can go there,” Q says, still determined despite witnessing so many failures.
Eliot feels unutterably fond of him right then, thinks, wryly and with only a little self-loathing, an imaginary best friend.
“I know you’re just a memory,” he says, “but you’re a very generous one.”
“Well, you sacrifice for the people you love,” Quentin tells him, more matter-of-fact than defensive, and Eliot - Eliot remembers.
He runs towards the door to his worst, most shameful memory, and memory!Q follows him inside. Hovers right next to him as they watch Eliot do the stupidest, cruelest thing he’s ever done, and turn Q down. Not only turn him down - imply that Quentin didn’t even know what he wanted, that what they’d had hadn’t meant half as much as it did mean.
“What the hell are you doing,” he asks himself, and the memory of Quentin - not the one he’s rejected, the one next to him, puts a hand on his arm. It’s comforting, and thus the last thing he deserves. He shakes the hand off with a precise, practiced shrug. The memory jerks away from him, takes a few steps back, and he brushes back the instinctual hurt and focuses on the - well, not the real Quentin, but the one that really matters right now. He just has to get through this, and then maybe - he barely dares to hope it, but maybe he can see the actual Quentin. He doesn’t deserve that either, but oh, he wants to.
He’d actually been coping okay with the whole ‘trapped in his mind’ thing. Okay, that’s a lie. But he’s been coping, sort of - he kept it together enough to let Q know he was alive, let him know that he loved him, and that was the important thing. But now that that’s done, and he’s had a taste of actual air and sunlight on his skin, his own mind feels more confining than ever.
He wanders upstairs with the vague idea of trying to sleep, just to see if he could, and opens the door to his room to find Quentin sitting on his bed. Unlike light and air, his memory of Quentin still looks crisp and accurate after seeing the real thing. Too accurate, even - the memory now has Quentin’s short hair and bruised eyes, and it’s wearing that powder blue button-up that Quentin had been wearing.
It’s all a bit much.
“I was planning on taking a nap,” he tells the memory. “Alone.”
“Oh,” Q says, “I can go.”
Yes, he doesn’t say, please do. The words are on the tip of his tongue, but - any rejection of Quentin, even this sending away of a figment of Eliot’s own memories, feels unbearable right now.
“Don’t bother,” he finds himself saying, “I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep, anyway. I don’t think I can.”
“You should try,” Q says, “You need it.”
“Well, if my own mind thinks I need it,” Eliot mutters, and Q’s brow furrows inexplicably.
In the end, he does get some indeterminable amount of sleep. He’d expected it to be restless, thin, the type of sleep where you’re half-aware of everything around you, but instead it’s deep and dreamless. When he wakes up, memory!Q is gently petting his hair with one hand and reading a Fillory book.
It could almost be Brakebills, except for how none of it is real.
He isn’t exactly hoping that the memory of Quentin will disappear, but after some time, he starts to wonder why it’s still here. Margo and Fen hadn’t reappeared, and Eliot has a sinking feeling that if he tried to make them, they wouldn’t, so he doesn’t try. But Quentin, who hadn’t been thrown to the beasts lurking in Eliot’s head, has yet to go anywhere.
He doesn’t follow Eliot around, not exactly. It’s just that the cottage is only so big, and so Eliot keeps entering rooms and finding Quentin doing mundane, Quentin-y things in them. Curled up in the reading nook in the living room, doing card tricks in the bedroom, even making himself a cup of tea in the kitchen. He’s living in Eliot’s head rent-free, quite literally, and Eliot -
Eliot likes it. Maybe it’s just that Charlton is terrible, judgmental company, or maybe it’s that he likes Q, alongside being deeply in love with him. Whatever it is, Quentin’s presence makes Eliot’s current predicament feel a little more like - well, still like house arrest, but more bearable. More temporary, somehow.
This memory of Quentin is more comfortable in his own skin than the one he thought he’d remembered, too. He touches Eliot constantly, and looks at him with an uncomfortable amount of understanding when Eliot makes rows of cocktails that he doesn’t drink and then dumps them all in the sink and throws the glasses against the kitchen walls.
He kisses Eliot, sometimes. Not on the mouth, but on the cheek. Casual, dry little kisses that remind Eliot of being old and in love. It’s - too much. Sometimes he wonders at his mind’s refusal to make this Quentin vanish, when his heart is so pained by his presence.
“We need to do something,” Quentin announces. It’s - look, Eliot still has no idea how much fucking time has passed between one moment and the next. It is some amount of time after he’d broken through, and Quentin is standing in the living room looking determined.
“I’ve read all the books,” he says, “every single one. Even the really horrifying werewolf erotica in Margo’s closet.”
Eliot sits up from where he’d been reclining on the couch with a kind of practiced louche grace, and asks, “Oh, did you read the one where the werewolf has two -“
“Two dicks? Yes, El, I read them all. Even that one,” Quentin says despairingly. “There has to be something else to do here.”
“Well,” Eliot says, and he’s about to say I have some ideas, but. This is a memory of Quentin, and fucking him would probably be fantastic until two seconds after it was over, and then Eliot would be filled with some blend of shame and despair that he’s already very familiar with. He’s not that desperate. Yet.
“Look, you’re a memory,” he tells Q, “So just - disperse. You can go back into my box of Quentin memories, or wherever it is you came from.”
Quentin shifts his weight from one leg to the other, looking a little uneasy, which makes Eliot very uneasy.
“Here’s the thing,” he says, “I’m not exactly a memory.”
“Oh, a mystery,” Eliot drawls, because what else is he going to do, in the face of what is probably - what, the Monster? Or one of the thousand other lesser monsters, masquerading as Quentin just for kicks? He doesn’t have magic, Charlton is somewhere upstairs, probably looking through Margo’s werewolf porn and feeling guilty about it (Catholicism doesn’t exist in Fillory, but Charlton’s as close to accidentally culturally Catholic as anyone Eliot’s ever met). Eliot has nothing and, given this whole Q situation, no one. He’s going to die.
“I mean, I’m sort of a memory,” Q says, seemingly oblivious to Eliot’s racing thoughts. “But I’m mostly just me.”
“You,” Eliot says cautiously, a little tension slipping away, “And who is that?”
Quentin looks at him incredulously. “It’s me. Quentin.”
So, here’s the thing. Some time ago - more measurable time, pre-possession, pre-Mosaic, only slightly post-fairy invasion, Eliot had met the Great Cock of the Darkling Woods. The Great Cock had said a lot of things, most of them unfortunately relevant, a few of them less so. Among the latter had been his comments on Quentin: Eliot’s “brother of the heart.” Two parts of a whole. Etc. Standard quest language, Eliot had thought.
As it turned out, not quite so standard.
“Soulmates,” Eliot repeats slowly. “We’re soulmates. And you’re a piece of Quentin’s soul, that’s in me. Because we’re soulmates.”
“That’s a huge oversimplification, but yes, basically,” Quentin - real fucking Quentin, apparently! says. He’s so casual about it, like the fact that Eliot stomped any chance of a relationship with his actual soulmate into the dirt means nothing.
“I - how? Why? More importantly, how? Most importantly, does the rest of you know?”
“Probably magic, not sure, again, probably magic, and…maybe,” Quentin says, coming over to sit on the couch next to Eliot.
“How are you not sure? Don’t souls like, know things?”
Eliot is not not freaking out about this, but really, who wouldn't be? It’s a lot to deal with.
“Not like you’re thinking,” Quentin says. He nudges a foot against Eliot’s leg like it’s nothing. “I mean, we know feelings. Facts, the whys and the wherefores, not so much.”
“Feelings,” Eliot echoes weakly. “So all this is-“
“- is feelings,” Quentin finishes. “Well, yeah. Soulmates usually have feelings for each other.”
“Right,” Eliot says, getting up from the couch and going over to the bar. “I think I need a minute.”
He goes upstairs with a drink he couldn’t name if he tried, and sits in the enclosed glass balcony off a room that belonged to some first-year. The balcony had clearly been enchanted into being years before Eliot had arrived, and would’ve made the room prime real estate if there’d been any kind of ventilation. As it was, sitting on the balcony was akin to being slowly baked alive, with the added bonus of being able to see out of the oven. Eliot misses the sun more than he ever thought possible, however, so he sits, and bakes, and thinks.
Soulmates. It’s not unheard of, in magical history, for souls to be linked. Uncommon, yes, but there were stories about the greatest cooperative magic being achieved by those with ‘souls intertwined.’ He remembers coming across it in a book once while idly considering that year’s gift for Encanto Occulto, and thinking that he and Margo, maybe -
Quentin, though. It makes sense that it would be him. It must’ve been the Mosaic Quest, Eliot thinks. The time key - he’d been dead already, as Quentin had explained it, but somehow, the years that they’d put into it together must’ve linked them.
It’s not that he’s freaking out, it’s just that. The idea of his soul being part of Quentin’s, the thought that that might not be a bad thing for either of them…he needs time.
He laughs to himself. He has nothing but time, now. And Quentin. Nothing but time and Quentin.
As though summoned by Eliot’s thoughts, Quentin steps out onto the balcony.
“Jesus, it’s hot out here,” he says, squinting through the glass to see the grounds of Brakebills. “Weird to see it so empty.”
“I guess,” Eliot says, shrugging. “I stayed here over the summer, between first and second year, and it was like this. Quiet. I liked it.”
Quentin sits down on a hideous wicker chair, bringing his knees up against his chest.
“I can see that,” he says, still looking out through the glass. “I miss the quiet too, sometimes. This world is so loud.”
“The city is loud,” Eliot corrects, “when you grow up in fields…”
He trails off, shakes his head in disbelief that he’s nostalgic over any part of his childhood.
“It’s okay to miss it,” Quentin says.
“Oh, so you’re psychic now,” Eliot says, maybe a tad defensively.
“No, but I know feelings,” he says, turning to look at Eliot fondly. “I know you.”
Eliot looks away.
“And I know that you’re freaking out about that, which is why I’m up here,” Quentin continues. “Freakouts are my forte, Waugh. Save your overthinking for when you’re back out there. You’re gonna have to explain all of this to me, you know. Regular me.”
“Oh god,” Eliot groans, “Do I have to? Shouldn’t you, y’know, know?”
“Shouldn’t you know?” Quentin replies, which, point.
“Honestly, I think I did,” Eliot says. “At least a little. It’s part of why I was so fucking terrified.”
“I know,” Quentin says gently.
Of course he does.
They sit out there for awhile longer, Eliot quietly delighting in being able to mark the passage of time by the increasing shade of pink that Quentin’s face is turning. Inevitably it becomes too hot to be tolerable, and they retreat, sun-sleepy, to Eliot’s bedroom by unspoken agreement. Eliot stretches out across the bed and Quentin curls up beside him.
“We can fuck,” Quentin says, and something about the words make Eliot choke a little on thin air. “But you should know that it’ll be really intense. It might be too much to handle, right now.”
Eliot wants to reply with something indignant or suggestive, make a joke about just how much he can handle, but instead he finds that he’s grateful for the out. Quentin wriggles closer to him, close enough that Eliot can only see the details of his face instead of the whole. The sweep of his eyelashes, his heavy brow. Eliot’s grateful for that, too.
“Can you - do you know if he’s okay? If you’re okay?”
Quentin doesn’t answer right away, just lays a hand on Eliot’s ribs, rubs his fingertips against Eliot’s vest.
“He’s better,” he says, shrugging a little. “Things were bad for - a long time. I can’t really explain how, it’s just that everything feels lighter now. He’s hopeful.”
Now, Eliot hears. He’s hopeful now. Hopeful again. He tilts his head against Quentin’s and closes his eyes, a weak defense against the thought that Quentin had been out there, hopeless. That he’s still out there, alone.
“I wish there was something I could do,” he murmurs.
“You’ve already done a lot,” Quentin tells him. Eliot can feel his breath as he speaks, comfortingly warm and human. Real, in a place where nothing is really real.
“There has to be something else,” Eliot says, “We’re going to think of something. After we nap.”
“After we nap,” Quentin agrees, shifting even closer and ducking his head under Eliot’s chin.
Eliot misses Quentin, fiercely, even as he wraps an arm around him and lets their legs tangle together. He’s grateful for the piece of Quentin that he has, all gentle understanding, perfectly made for his arms. He misses the rest of him, just as perfectly made, but rough around the edges and full of hurt and determination inside. This is a gift, he realizes, something he will probably never deserve, but that he desperately needs.
He thinks about telling this to Q, but just before he starts, Quentin begins to hum some pop song against his shoulder, quiet and off-tune, only barely familiar. Right, Eliot remembers. He doesn’t have to explain anything.