Quentin doesn't mean to fall asleep.
He's been waiting to see Eliot alive and himself again for so long.
But he does fall asleep, curled up in the chair in the corner of Eliot's room, and he sleeps- he sleeps what feels like is his first real rest in years. Decades. Forever.
When he does wake up, yawning and stretching and- shit- almost falling out of the chair, he glances over to the bed to check on El and-
Steady eyes, staring back at him, with a hesitant smile underneath.
Margo's sitting on the chair right next to the bed but when she realizes Quentin is awake, she says, quietly, “I'll let you two catch up,” and kisses Eliot on the forehead before she leaves the room.
It's strange, but after all that fighting to get Eliot back, Quentin can't think of any possible way to start the conversation. Anything would either be too much or not enough, so he just stays where he is, knotted up on the chair, not able to take his eyes off Eliot's face.
Eliot shifts sideways. It looks painful. He pats the now-empty side of the bed next to him.
Quentin pads over to the bed. Sits down.
Pulls his legs up and wraps his arms around them, not feeling ready to reach out and confirm reality. He'd felt this same way back in the forest, terrified to touch Eliot or talk to him. As long as he doesn't interact, he won't ruin the illusion that this is really Eliot.
“Hey,” Eliot says, gently.
Quentin flinches, draws into himself more. He opens his mouth to respond. Shuts it again.
“Bambi tells me you spent the most time with... with the monster,” Eliot says. His voice is so soft. Quentin had forgotten-
Quentin nods. He scoots ever so slightly closer to Eliot, still not touching.
“She also-ah. Told me you're on something of an unofficial suicide watch right now,” Eliot adds. Quentin blinks a little, surprised. He goes back over the last couple of days in his head. None of the others had objected at all to Quentin staying in the corner of Eliot's room while they took turns in the chair next to his bed. The only times he'd been alone had been- been the bathroom, honestly. Eliot is still watching, cautiously. “You didn't know?”
Quentin shakes his head.
“Bambi says you almost got caught up in a magical blast from a spell you cast in the mirror world?” Eliot's voice is quiet and calm, and Eliot always was good at being kind to people, when he wanted to be. “You told Penny to take Alice and run, but he didn't listen and grabbed you, too. Does that sound right?”
“Yeah,” Quentin says. His voice is... creaky. It reminds him of-
-of being an old man. Of aching, hazy memories he doesn't have the right to keep going over and over in his head.
Eliot doesn't want that. Eliot doesn't- focus on the good things. Eliot is alive, which is- which is everything. Quentin is alive, which is-
-something, he supposes. Anyway, it's all worth it to see Eliot's face again.
He studies Eliot's face, carefully. Eliot lets him.
Eliot's hair has been washed, at least, and styled somewhat, though it's too long. Margo's doing, no doubt. She would have been the one to wash his face, too, with his fancy expensive facial soaps and creams. He's paler than he should be and looks like he could use a few more solid meals to make up for all the ones The Monster skipped.
He's still the most beautiful person Quentin has ever seen, so there's that.
“You-” Quentin's voice sounds like shit. He clears his throat, starts over. “You woke up while Margo was here, huh? That's good timing.”
“I have always been blessed with an impeccable sense of dramatic timing,” Eliot says, and it's something The Monster could never have said, not in a million-billion-trillion years. “Quentin, forgive my bluntness, but did you try to kill yourself?”
Quentin looks down, at his hands. They're covered in tiny cuts, the only remaining physical evidence of what had happened in the mirror world. His hands would hurt – just a little – for the rest of his life, every time he cast a spell, Lipson had told him. They wouldn't ever fully heal but if he hadn't been pulled away in time, it would have been much worse.
“I'm not sure,” he says, because being honest with Eliot is still- still something he always wants, even when Eliot doesn't want to hear it. And maybe Eliot does, this time, about this, at least. “I wanted my life to mean something, I guess.”
“And how long-” There's an unsteady breath, then Eliot asks, “Q... did you already feel that way when you volunteered to stay with the monster in Castle Blackspire?”
Quentin shrugs. It's hard to remember that far back, honestly, but- “I- uh, well, yeah. I mean. It would have been-”
“-okay,” Quentin settles on. “I said- um. At the time? I'd said that it was what the quests had been- been preparing me for, to take Ora's place. And I- I mean- I meant it. I was the person- I was the one who could- who didn't have any-um. Obligations.”
There's a silence that feels... uncomfortable, almost raw, in a way that Quentin usually never feels around Eliot. He takes a risky glance back up at Eliot's face which-
Eliot's trying to hold it back, but he's crying.
Quentin reaches out, can't stop himself, gathers Eliot into a careful-careful hug, making sure not to move him too quickly or jolt his still-healing wound.
“I'm not mad at you for shooting The Monster,” Quentin says, in case that's what's upsetting Eliot. “After- um. After spending more time with him, I don't really think- I don't think anymore that I could have spent all of eternity babysitting him, so. Things probably worked out for the best. For- uh. Me personally. I mean.”
Eliot wraps his arms around Quentin and that's- he's missed that so much. He buries his face against Eliot's neck, feels Eliot's chest rise and fall, feels the warmth of his body under Quentin's hands, listens to him breathe, and he even smells like Eliot again, crisp and fresh and welcoming.
And Quentin keeps expecting Eliot to- to break out of the hug, to maybe laugh and turn the conversation in a lighter direction, but... but Eliot just holds onto him, says, “You're really good at hugging. Have I ever told you that?”
Quentin clutches the words to his heart, tightens his grip, not enough to hurt, and closes his eyes.
“I missed you,” Quentin confesses, in a whisper, against Eliot's skin. “I missed you so fucking much, El.”
Eliot pets through his hair and Quentin melts into the touch. And that- that does feel like the most true word – he melts, can almost feel the hard, protective ice he'd built up around himself over the last year flaking off, leaving him unprotected again. It's- dangerous to be vulnerable around Eliot sometimes, who can be so kind when he wants to be, but incredibly cruel when something hits too close to his own soft spots. But Quentin even misses that, misses the ugly parts of El almost as much as the pretty ones.
“Hey, Q? I'm about to be- be monumentally selfish, okay?” Eliot's voice is strained and serious. Quentin pulls back – not out of Eliot's arms entirely, now that he's finally touching El again, he doesn't really want to ever stop, but far enough to see Eliot's face. “Because I made myself a promise, when I was stuck in my own head.”
“About me?” Quentin asks. He doesn't mean to sound so doubtful, and it makes Eliot's mouth twitch down unhappily. “Um. What was the promise?”
Eliot takes in a steadying breath, says, “I'm pretty sure Bambi mentioned that you and Alice are back 'on' again?”
Quentin shrugs, best as he can while still all wrapped up in El. “We said we'd try. You know, give it a shot, at least.” That makes Eliot wince. “Why?”
“In order to keep my promise to myself, I have to break a promise I made to someone else, once upon a time,” Eliot says, cryptically. He reaches forward and brushes at Quentin's hair. “It's so short. You hate it like this.”
“Didn't seem to matter much,” Quentin says. “Short is easer to take care of. Brian – the, uh, fake personality Fogg gave me. He cut it. I guess I just-” He'd gotten it trimmed again, right before everything with Alice. It had felt- right? Appropriate. Not having the comfort of his longer hair. He's not entirely sure why, anymore. “-didn't care enough to change it, maybe.”
Eliot nods, thoughtful.
“I'm in love with you,” he says, and-
He says it almost casually, like it's obvious. Oh, the sky is blue, water is wet, and Eliot Waugh is in love with Quentin Coldwater. He says it as though he's said it a thousand times before, but he never has. Decades together and he's never-
“No, you're not,” Quentin says. Argues, really, his tone more combative than he wants it to be, because-
Because he is mad at Eliot.
He is incandescently, overwhelmingly furious at Eliot.
Quentin breaks out of Eliot's arms, darts toward the open door, turns back at the last moment.
Paces the room.
He feels like someone jammed a downed power line under his skin. He feels-
“You are not,” Quentin says, again. “You love me. As a friend. But not as- you said, El. You said you didn't-” His skin feels too tight, all over.
“I lied,” Eliot says, folding his hands over each other in his lap. “I was scared, so I lied.”
Quentin presses a hand to his chest, tries to calm his racing pulse. He wants to- to run out of the room, find the tallest building nearby and just scream into the sky. He wants to rip at his skin, tear out his heart, throw it into the nearest lake. He wants- he wants-
“You broke my heart, you fucking asshole,” he says, and his voice is fluttery and cracked. “Do you have any – any – idea what it would have- how much I wanted-” How much work it has been – to tuck away his hope, strangle his dreams, to stay Eliot's friend when it has hurt so much not to have – how painful it has been to... to bury his love and smother it under their friendship, because that's all he can get. To make it enough.
As mad as he is at Eliot, Quentin feels the rage double around, backlash against himself because- because he should have known better. Fuck, he was with El for over fifty years. Of course, El's reflexive habits of self-sabotage came into play when they were young again, overwhelmed with feeling all those years of emotions.
“Why didn't I fucking push you on it?” Quentin asks, bleakly. Instead, he'd just... rolled over, taken the hit, swallowed the pain.
Because Eliot isn't the only one who runs away when he's hurt, when he's scared.
Because- because asking the first time had used up all of Quentin's courage, so he'd shied away from more because... better to be Eliot's friend than Eliot's nothing.
Quentin breathes out a heavy sigh, drops his body into the chair next to Eliot's bed.
“We're both cowards,” he says, ruefully. Then- “Shit, I have to talk to Alice.”
“So, you still...” Eliot's voice is elaborately cheery and bright. “...you know?”
Quentin gives him a withering look.
“Yes, I still you know, fucking christ,” Quentin says. He fumbles for Eliot's hand, pulls it up, kisses the knuckles. “I cannot believe the man I love is this colossally dense. Fuck. I want a refund.” Eliot relaxes at his words and Quentin rolls his eyes. “Do I still,” he mutters again, to himself. “Unbelievable.”
And he will- will go talk to Alice. Soon.
But first, he'll just sit for a while and hold Eliot's hand and let himself be incredibly, astonishingly grateful that they are both here, together.