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The Next Quest

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Back in a world he's not ready to call real, Quentin lasts two weeks at his parents' house before slipping away to Europe. He does not look for buttons; he's learned better than that. Fillory may be his heart's home, but this world is where he belongs. This is his quest now.

Josh's palazzo awaits him in Venice, gorgeous and comfortable, with a readymade network of spies and amateur magicians. He keeps Eliot's watch under his pillow, and falls asleep to memories of Fillory and the ticking of time. During the day, he teaches the itinerants and amateurs: not about Fillory, but about magic generally. He knows what's important now. Nobody else must be driven to emulate Julia and her friends. Magic must be available; it has to be open to anyone with the talent for it.

The dreams start a year after he leaves. In his Venetian bedroom, he starts to wakefulness with his lips still tingling from Eliot's touch.

It's not as if they haven't kissed before. There was the night he tries not to remember, because of Alice, and there was their last farewell in Fillory.

You were kissing everybody else. Eliot had said that as if in apology. And he'd cried, but he hadn't stopped Ember from throwing Quentin out, because that was the way things worked.

Anyway, they had kissed, and he figures that the dreams are just his brain processing shit. He misses Eliot and he misses Fillory and it's all muddled up inside him like the Neitherlands.

The next time, Eliot's soft hand is at his collar. Q, he murmurs, and his lips drifting down Quentin's neck leave a hot trail of desire in their wake, we need you. I need you.

More processing-of-shit, he reasons next morning. And the next, and the next, until he barely notices what happens to him during the day; the nights are where it's at, with Eliot unwrapping him, pleasuring him, leaving him exposed and longing. It takes a new girl -- an Aussie nothing like Poppy, a crime for which he dislikes her unfairly -- to point out that he's losing his grip on reality.

This isn't the real world, he wants to tell her. Fillory is.

That's when he flees Venice. Maybe if he goes somewhere new, he'll stop thinking about the past. Maybe if he finds someone in this world, he'll forget the way Eliot tastes to him. The way Eliot tastes in his dreams, that is, because he doesn't know, does he? He doesn't remember how Eliot tastes in real life.

In Provence, he runs into Anaïs, doing some research for the Luxembourg welters team. One of the girls she's training has dark hair and gentle eyes, and he sleeps with her because she reminds him of Alice. He tries to lose himself in her soft curves, but it doesn't work.

When Eliot calls his name as he's fucking the girl, he knows it doesn't matter what he does.

Through it all, the watch ticks. He spends his nights in a turmoil of Eliot's warm breath and hard angles, but when he wakes, he can reconstruct only fragments: Eliot's groan of want, the soft fuzz of his stomach, his own sense of loss just after he comes.

After another month, he's cool with it. So he's having an affair in his head with his oldest friend, who is in another reality. If that means he can get on with the rest of his life, so be it.

Because he is getting on. In Brussels, he tracks down Professor van der Weghe and fills her in on what her former students have been up to. Unlike Dean Fogg, she accepts the story without question -- after all, she set Penny on the track of the Neitherlands. He also tells her of Julia's adventures in god-bothering, which she finds a little less credible. Still, she offers him contact with the colleges of magic, and it feels like he has a purpose again. He meets with professors all over Europe, does what he can to convince them to open their gates. It's important: no more Julias. No more interference from the gods.

At night, time ticks into nothing and Eliot comes to him (and for him and under him, when he's in the mood for stupid wordplay). There's enough pleasure there to keep him going through the days of frustration and bureaucracy. How do you persuade people who think they're better than everyone else to open up their secrets? How do you convince the arbiters of magic that they are not the arbiters at all, only children in a game of the gods?

Eliot is always tugging him, always whispering, We need you, Q. Fillory needs you.

No, he tells Eliot, no, Fillory's over for me, remember? I have to make a go of things here.

The day he persuades the French college to change its admissions policy is the night he stops dreaming of Eliot.

Next morning, with the watch ticking in mockery, he realises that Eliot has been fading for a while. He didn't notice because were just dreams, after all, and what did it matter as long as they happened? He never really bothered about the quiet desperation in Eliot's voice, or the hopeless but determined grip on his consciousness.

He never asked Eliot about the others, and now it's too late. They're gone; he is gone, and Quentin is alone again.

It surprises him how much he minds. All this time, he's been telling himself it's just his brain doing weird stuff, as if there's no relationship between the dreams and his emotional life. And now, when he should be feeling good about his achievements, he just feels bereft.

Does Eliot feel like this? But no, they were just dreams; Eliot is the High King of Fillory, and he's probably almost forgotten Quentin now. Except...except there's the memory of Eliot's hand, pulling him in. I need you, Q.

Melanie van der Weghe makes contact with the Neitherlands, and Quentin is struck by the way Penny always turns up at the worst times. He's still pushing the monkish mystique, his condescension for Melanie not quite masking his desire for her.

Quentin barely notices. Now that they've ceased, the dreams have coalesced into lucid memories that he knows don't exist; can't exist. They're confabulations, fantasies.

Fantasies in which Eliot's tongue slides over his skin, Eliot's mouth closes around him in a world of pleasure, Eliot's voice whispers into his neck. I need you, Q.

He leaves Penny and Melanie to their research, Eliot's watch in his pocket. He shouldn't go to Cornwall, but he does. He shouldn't find the boy, Thomas, but he does -- two years older, and still angry at being abandoned by them all at that drunken party. Thomas's parents are even less pleased when they find him in their son's room, and he's lucky to make it out intact. There's some sort of stupid surveillance equipment on the field just off the garden, which activates when he runs, almost like a magic detector. And then there's a dazzling light, and when he can see again, he's running through the ridiculously lush meadows of Fillory, right near Castle Whitespire, and Eliot is riding toward him, and the watch is ticking loudly in his pocket.

It's only now that he really considers what they've been doing. They were just dreams; they didn't hurt anyone, or so he thought. Except that now, he recognises the way Eliot's lips part, notices that faint flush, and he knows that Eliot knows. They've both been complicit in this.

Which means that he's responsible, kind of, because he's the -- well, the not-gay one; he's the one who likes girls, right?

And Eliot. He likes Eliot, sliding out of the saddle as gracefully as ever, except that now Quentin knows that little hitch to his hips, knows exactly what's under those immaculate robes, and damn, he wants what he had in the dreams.

When Eliot reaches him, it's natural to kiss him, as if they'd parted only hours ago. Eliot's face is unreadable except for the small smile on that misshapen, beautiful mouth, because Quentin left Fillory for Julia, but he's come back for Eliot.

Oh, yeah. Oh, yes, he has.

"Good to see you," Eliot says, and there's barely a quiver in his voice.

Quentin nods. A grin is threatening to break through his defences, but so are the tears. "It is...damn, it's good to be back."

This time it's Eliot kissing him, tentatively, checking for his reaction. Quentin takes his hand. There's plenty of long grass in this meadow; he could do with re-enacting one of his dreams right about now. But he has to know. "Was there -- is there something I need to do? A quest?"

Eliot's fingers convulse around Quentin's hand. "I think," he says and looks into Quentin's eyes, "I think maybe you finished the quest."

In his pocket, the ticking has stopped.