“As it bore down on them he’d had a moment of worry: what if centuries had passed, what if Eliot and Janet really were dead, and the Muntjac was the last survivor of the Brakebills era, and he was going home to a court of strangers?”
- The Magician King, Lev Grossman
Quentin and Eliot stared at the Tesla Flexion.
“And you say this’ll work?” Eliot said.
He poked experimentally at the thick tarp and eyed the various strings of lightbulbs suspiciously.
“Yeah, uh, I’ve used it before. It’ll be fine.”
Although that was before magic was gone, so, who knew really? Quentin fidgeted in place; being at Brakebills without magic just felt wrong, it was like standing in front of fluorescent lights in the pitch dark. The colors were dulled and washed out and you had to squint against the blinding light.
“Q, are you sure you want to be the one in there?” Eliot looked at the huge magic machine with a queasy expression. “I’m perfectly happy to go in myself.”
“It’s my quest, El.” Quentin shrugged, hoping it came off as nonchalant. “It has to be me.”
Eliot looked away.
Quentin couldn’t see his expression, but the line of his shoulders was tense and drawn. He looked poised to strike or poised to run. He took a shuddering breath.
“If this is about-“
“It isn’t,” Quentin cut him off. He ran a hand through his hair and sighed. This couldn’t be about them. Not now. Not when Eliot had made it so very clear where they stood with each other. This was about magic and getting it back. For better or for much, much worse. Quentin parted the tarp.
“Just what I have to do.”
Quentin was nursing a headache, gin-and-tonic, and a bad attitude. That last part, he mentally argued, he couldn’t be blamed for. It was midnight or past it, and they’d been up for hours. Thomas, the poor sucker kid they’d roped into this mess, had fallen asleep on the floor. Quentin and the rest had commandeered the rocket bed, all crammed together and ragged, and were stubbornly finishing a game of High C’s.
Julia kicked his foot.
Quentin flicked the spinner and missed. How do you miss a giant arrow? He wondered if this was punishment on top of everything else. Accidentally step out of Fillory and lose the easiest kid game in the multiverse. He flicked again, a little uncoordinated, but made it this time and moved forward two waves. Hooray. He squinted at the board; it was a little blurry in the low light. Josh was winning and it was his turn.
“Caw!” Josh said. “Caw! Caw!”
“Seagull,” they groaned in unison. Quentin set down his drink and rubbed his forehead. Josh spun again. Poppy’s back was warm against his, she was radiating heat. Quentin felt his eyes start to get heavy.
“Caw!” Josh said again.
Quentin frowned with his eyes closed.
“Seagull,” he said.
“Caw! Caw! Caw!”
“That’s not me, man!” Josh said.
Quentin’s eyes snapped open.
Could this be it? He looked up and…yes! The ceiling was dissolving, changing into fluffy, picturesque clouds, and below them, the sound of the ocean. Quentin could feel himself gearing up to cheer, cry out. But then, he felt a jolting sensation, a tug. The noises, the sweet noises of Fillory echoed and echoed and disappeared. Quentin landed on the floor with a thump. He had been left behind. He blinked against the bright light and looked up. He’d missed his chance, missed Fillory, but he’d been taken all the same.
He stumbled to his feet; balance wrecked from the alcohol. Quentin watched stupidly as tarp curtains were pulled aside -was he in a circus tent or something? - and a figure stepped inside. And Quentin- Quentin knew that wiry frame anywhere.
Light flashed and Quentin dropped.
Whatever he had fallen on rocked savagely, threatening him with a future of vomit and motion-sickness. He blinked rapidly. Maybe the light was a side-effect of going into the Tesla Flexion a second time? If that could happen? He hadn’t been sure what to expect. But Quentin knew one thing, and it was that whatever had happened, had one hundred percent gone wrong. When you went into a Tesla Flexion you didn’t teleport, or at least, only the person you were pulling to talk to did. It wasn’t a switch around thing.
“This is bad,” Quentin muttered. Saltwater sprayed in his face. Whatever this was, wherever he was, he was out of his depth. Not great. Quentin sighed. Must be a day ending in “y.” He blinked again and squinted at the horizon. He was definitely on the water, surrounded by it actually. Again, not great. A blonde-haired woman was…swimming? Trying to get somewhere, away maybe. Quentin could commiserate. He closed his eyes and felt the heat of the sun on his face. He could figure this out. This was his quest after all.
There was a splash and whatever he was laying on rocked bodily. That blonde woman must have swum back. Someone cried out. The heat of the sun on his face disappeared. Quentin sat up. A huge boat – no, it was a ship – cast her shadow over him. A thick rope ladder dropped, its edges just kissing the sea. Quentin could see a man peeking overboard; he had olive skin and a clean-shaven face and was reaching an arm down.
Well, wherever he was, Quentin wasn’t going to refuse a rescue. He would rather have stable footing before he explained to these strangers who he was and where he had come from.
“What the fuck,” Eliot said.
And okay, that was not exactly the warm welcome Quentin had hoped for. He’d only been gone three days but seeing Eliot again it felt like ages.
His hair was longer, curling at the neck, and he was sporting some stubble. Quentin felt himself smile despite everything, a somewhat new development, but if Eliot was here, they were probably in Fillory or Fillory adjacent and Quentin could work with that.
“Eliot,” Quentin said. “I was on Earth. For three days .”
Eliot didn’t say anything. In fact, Eliot was looking at him like he had grown another head.
“What?” Quentin laughed nervously. “How long have I been gone?”
Eliot stepped forward, his eyes searching.
“Your hair…” He murmured. “It’s…white.”
“Of course, it is. Eliot, are you alright?”
“Am I alright? You’ve suddenly grown like six inches. I mean, we’re eye-level.” Eliot said. He was looking Quentin up and down, taking in the silver crown on his head and the pale ensemble he had coveted from Josh’s palazzo wardrobe.
“Suddenly?” Quentin said. “Please, Eliot, we’ve always been the same size. You even lent me your spare uniform jackets before I had any.”
Quentin could list several times they had lent each other clothes. The time Josh roped Quentin into cooking at the stove and his sleeve caught fire. When Alice had walked into Eliot in the hallway because she was too busy reading and consequently spilled a whole glass of Cabernet onto Eliot’s shirt. Their whole stint in New York, why, Eliot had practically lived with him and Alice. The closet had been, for all intents and purposes, free real-estate. Eliot stepped close to him, so close they were almost nose to nose. Quentin and Eliot hadn’t been this face to face since, well. It had been a while.
“Are you done with your survey?”
Eliot’s eyes were unreadable.
“Is this-“ he started. Eliot stepped back hurriedly.
“I thought the Tesla Flexion was supposed to- I’m sorry, I just-“ He ran a hand through his hair. “Q, I thought you said you’d used this before.”
“Used a…” Quentin paused.
“Yeah, no.” Quentin said.
It sounded like something his old professor Mayakovsky would have invented. Quentin had had suspicions about that man for a while. What did he do, trapped for half a year by himself in the Arctic? He was probably some kind of magic super genius - a master magician or something – tinkering away in a little workshop. An anti-Santa, making pretty toys and inventions for his eyes alone.
“Eliot,” he asked. “Where am I, exactly?”
But Eliot didn’t answer. Instead, the man was pacing and casting furtive looks at Quentin every now and again. Assessing.
“What were you doing before you got here?” Eliot asked, eyes flashing. Quentin tugged at his light hair, feeling cognizant of it for the first time in years. Eliot’s gaze was piercing.
“Trying to get to you- get to Fillory.”
He could feel himself wanting to squirm under the other man’s gaze but held fast. “Julia and I met up with Josh? He’s got this huge palazzo in Venice now- sold the button for it, actually. Ended up having to talk with one of the dragons that lives in the canals. It was pretty badass. But, uh,” Quentin tugged his hair again. “We went to the Chatwin house. Julia, Josh and I. Oh- and Poppy, she’s Josh’s friend. We looked for a way back and… I think we found it.” He dropped his hand and laced his fingers together. “I got pulled away at the last second though. This…” He gestured up and around him at the Tesla Flexing thing. “Pulled me away. To you.”
“Well,” he said. “This is interesting.”
Quentin felt himself gathered into a strong-armed embrace.
“Where have you been!” A familiar voice laughed. “You ridiculous, ridiculous man. I was starting to think you were dead.”
It made no sense that Eliot was so glad to see him. The tension between them the past few days had been…charged, to say the least. After the throne room, Quentin felt like a kicked dog. Eliot had pulled away. They spoke, but nothing of substance. They didn’t talk about how Margo had saved them, and what that meant. They didn’t talk about the Mosaic, not about Arielle, never about Teddy. Quentin’s heart had been torn in two that day twice over. Remembering had been like waking from a long hazy dream to stark reality. He had twice-fold memories; of aches and pains and magic and loss and life. So, so much life lived. He couldn’t stand it. He was bursting with knowledge, he felt like a book begging to be read, consumed. But Eliot had snapped him shut and tucked him away on the shelf. He had to accept it. There was nothing else he could do.
So, Quentin melted into Eliot’s embrace and let the taller man stroke his hair and felt his chest expand with warm chuckles against him. He would have this, just for a second. Unexplained but not unwelcome.
“I don’t think I’m your Quentin,” he said, muffled by Eliot’s coat.
It made sense, considering he’d gone into the Tesla Flexion unprepared. Everything was unpredictable without magic. Things that were supposed to work didn’t and things that shouldn’t, did. Quentin sniffed, half from the cold ocean water, half from contained emotion. He could smell sweat and saltwater on Eliot. He forced himself to pull away.
“I think I’m in the wrong timeline,” he said apologetically.
Face to face with Eliot. This other Eliot. Quentin was struck by subtle differences. His hair was a tad darker and wind-tousled, his eyes a bit greener and he had dark stubble prickling all over his face. His coat was a deep blue, embroidered with silver thread, rich and expensive looking, though also a smidge sun-bleached and soaked from the ocean salt and spray. He had a coppery crown on his head. Leave it to Eliot to look the part of a King, no matter when or where.
“Oh,” Eliot said. Ah. His teeth were a little crooked too. Quentin smiled, despite himself. Eliot’s eyes seemed to darken for a second, then he inclined his head.
“We should talk about it.”
“In private?” Eliot said.
He wasn’t sure if his fellow rescuers had noticed he wasn’t…their Quentin yet. Best to break the news when at least someone had the whole story.
Eliot grabbed Quentin and tugged him along. Hand in hand, Eliot led him below decks.
There Quentin grabbed a change of clothes and collapsed onto Eliot’s bed with a sigh. He picked at his white linen sleeve wonderingly. This was probably the first time he’d actually worn Fillorian clothing. It made him ache for his neglected Kingship. He’d never really gotten the chance to rule Fillory. He’d left that to Eliot and Margo, and they were a spectacular pair, yet his heart still panged with his shirked responsibility.
He sat up to find Eliot watching him. It reminded him of that moment when they had first met. Quentin, confused and stumbling through the bushes and the grass, just to come across a man splayed across the Brakebills sign, smoking without a care in the world, appearing like magic.
“Well,” Eliot said finally. “This is interesting.”
Quentin huffed. “You don’t say.”
Eliot shrugged and joined Quentin on the edge of the bed. “I’ve certainly been in stranger situations. Being out at sea- I’ve seen lots of crazy shit. I’ve definitely gotten less phased this year.”
“Out at sea?” Quentin said. “Are you on a quest?”
Eliot licked his lips. Pink tongue darting out just for a second. Quentin looked away.
“Yep. Grand ole thing. Courtesy of the various Questing Beasts of Fillory. And you. Well, not you. ” Quentin made a noise of agreement.
“Yeah, not me. That’s funny, though.”
Eliot raised an eyebrow. “Oh, funny? Why, pray tell?”
“Well,” Quentin said, “I’m on a quest of my own.” He felt his chest swell with pride as he said it. Here he was, Quentin Coldwater, on a quest. Back in time and now sideways somewhere else. Saying it out loud was pretty cool, if he didn’t think about all the baggage that came with it.
Eliot knocked them shoulder to shoulder and chuckled.
“You’ve always been one for noble pursuits,” he said, more to himself than Quentin. “I’m glad that isn’t too different.”
“Oh, well…” Quentin trailed off.
Eliot’s voice was full of a quiet confidence; Eliot, this Eliot, seemed more soft-spoken. With a pang, he realized Eliot sounded a bit like himself when he praised Eliot. They’d had enough years together to know every tone, every quip, every quaver of the voice. He knew that tone of voice because he’d used it, right before getting shot down.
He turned and grabbed Eliot’s hand, hoping for... what?
“Your relationship with your Quentin… Is it…?”
Eliot startled and looked down at their clasped hands.
He didn’t pull his hand away, but it was clear this had never happened before.
“He’s my best friend.”
Quentin squeezed his hand and looked down too. They sat in silence together on Eliot’s bed, the gentle rocking of the ship and the soft sound of the open water their only company. Eliot squeezed back and their eyes met.
“And your Eliot…?” he trailed off, leaving the question hanging in the open air.
Quentin smiled sadly.
“He’s my best friend too.”
Eliot nodded and matched Quentin’s sad smile.
They didn’t say anything for a few moments, just sat together, hands joined. Quentin enjoyed the feeling. He’d missed it.
“I’ve always hated irony.” Eliot said, not letting go of his hand. “But I know when to appreciate it- no matter how frustrating.” Quentin huffed a quiet laugh. They kept sitting together, shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand.
“So, you and him-?”
“Just the once. An unfortunate event at that. I don’t regret it, mind you, but it…” Eliot looked past Quentin at the porthole in the wall. The water sloshed outside. “It wrecked some things that weren’t mine to wreck.” Eliot went silent again. Quentin shifted.
Eliot cleared his throat. “And you?”
Quentin looked up at the ceiling, it was crossed and knotted wood, an intricate almost Celtic-knot pattern of weaving boards. He closed his eyes. He hadn’t told anyone about it. Hadn’t spoken with anyone but Margo and Eliot. But, keeping secrets from Eliot, any Eliot, had never been his forte.
“Um, we were on this quest,” he began. Quentin swallowed against the lump in his throat. “And we ended up, uh, back in time. We couldn’t leave. We had to solve this Mosaic and-” he swatted at his eyes uselessly.
“We were there for a long time. A long , long time.”
“Fifty years,” Quentin said quietly, and felt Eliot’s hand tighten in his.
“Jesus Christ…” Eliot murmured. “And we…?” Opening his eyes, he looked at Eliot, this different Eliot.
“We had a family.” He said, even quieter.
I think we always were , he didn’t say.
They looked at each other, their gazes charged with electricity.
“How’d I look at eighty?”
Quentin barked out a watery laugh.
“As handsome as you did the day we met.”
He couldn’t help himself. How could he not? Here was Eliot, warm and inexplicably vulnerable with him. He could tell they were mirrored in this. How strange it was, to see the other side of it. Eliot’s lip wobbled as he smiled. It was a gentle expression. Their hands were still clasped.
“What a pair we make,” Quentin laughed.
“What a couple of idiots we are.”
Quentin dropped his head onto Eliot’s shoulder and chuckled.
“You can say that again.” They grew silent once more, lulled by the ship.
“We’ll find a way to get you back,” Eliot said, voice firm. “Yours and mine.”
“Thank you.” Quentin said.
It was a marvel, how Eliot could always be so brave.
“Yours and mine.” He repeated softly. With only a slight hesitation, Eliot kissed his forehead once and stood.
“Come on,” he said, eyes bright. “Come meet the crew.”
“Who the fuck is this beanpole?”
An angry, eye-patched woman stared up at Quentin. She wore a dark scowl and a delicate golden crown, a stark contrast, since this woman was anything but. Quentin felt his face contorting into a grimace, the kind of expression that he only wore in the presence of Janet Pluchinsky. But this woman wasn’t Janet. Her name was Margo and she was intimidating the hell outta him.
“Well?” she said, quirking her visible eyebrow. “Can you talk, sweetheart, or am I gonna stand in these heels for six hours in complete silence? Wouldn’t be the first time.”
Maybe being back in Fillory was fucking with his head.
Eliot had dragged Quentin out of the Tesla whatever to the Physical Kids Cottage of all places. Quentin had been shocked to learn he’d been pulled from Fillory to his good old Alma Mater. The last time Quentin had set foot at Brakebills had only been two days ago, but so much had happened in between he was having trouble keeping track. Inside the Cottage, Eliot had produced a key and slotted it into a great grandfather clock. It had reminded Quentin of the clock illustrations from the Fillory books. He had always liked the matching Rams heads and the image of Martin, Helen, Rupert, Fiona, and Jane all joining arms and stumbling inside. Eliot had grabbed his wrist and pushed him quite unceremoniously through the clock. Then, he had stumbled through, just like the Chatwin children, into Fillory.
The High Queen stared him down, waiting for an answer.
Quentin cleared his throat.
“I can talk,” he said, though his voice decided to crack against his will right then and there.
He glanced at Eliot, who was watching with a mix of second-hand embarrassment and… pride? He looked sorta smug and it made Quentin wanna punch him. Just a little.
“My name’s Quentin Coldwater.”
Quentin raised his eyebrows.
“I’m lying about my own name?”
“Honey, I know Quentin, and trust me, you’re not Q.”
Quentin crossed his arms and looked down his nose, trying to appear unshakable. Surprisingly hard to do when you hadn’t really slept for three days straight and were constantly traveling.
“Oh? How are you so sure?” he said.
Margo rolled her eye.
“For one, my Q isn’t as much of a cock.”
My Q. Quentin had never been anyone’s. Not really Janet’s, never Alice’s. The only time anyone had assumed, it had been Eliot. Sure, he had never really denied being one of Eliot’s boys- but still. My Q. Margo said it with such a protective edge. It almost made him feel better about the cock thing.
“I really don’t know how to respond to that,” he said.
“And,” Margo continued, as if he hadn't spoken at all, “you look like you’re thirty something and Quentin’s twenty-five. Plus, you’re a six-foot fucking giant with white hair. Also, you’re wearing an Armani suit and my Q doesn’t have an iota of fashion sense.”
“Okay, well, rude. I’m twenty-eight. The suit I got from Josh- what is it with you both and my height? I’ve always been this tall, ever since I was a teen. Plus, Eliot knows me. If he didn’t, he would have just left me there at Brakebills. Eliot-“ Quentin turned, arms outstretched, to look at him pleadingly. “You remember? The day I took the exam- you were smoking a Merit, leaning against a tree on the Sea.”
Eliot’s face twisted. He looked confused, hopeful, and pained at all once.
“They’re the only cigarette I can stand.” He said haltingly.
Quentin grinned triumphantly, as if to say “there, see! I do know him, and I can prove myself too!”
“This is suspect as hell.” Margo grumbled. “It’s bad enough we’ve got her Gaudiness parading around Whitespire like she owns the place. And your kid too. I don’t need a third plot twist in the convoluted-knock off- Once Upon A Time episode that’s my life.”
“My lady!” A shrill, pre-pubescent voice called out.
“Oh crap. I forgot about him.” Margo groaned.
Quentin turned around and looked down at a young boy -definitely fifteen or something- who was leering past him, staring directly at Margo.
“My precious stone, you’ve not yet come to our marriage bed.” The little twerp licked his lips.
Quentin frowned. He stepped in front of the kid.
“Excuse me, we were in the middle of a conversation.”
The kid frowned back.
“A conversation with my wife. ” He circled Quentin, looking him up and down, taking in the crown in his hands and the pale suit.
“I am Prince Fomar. What is your name, servant?”
Eliot coughed loudly.
“My name is…Surendra, your Highness.”
Quentin swept into a bow, white hair falling in front of his face. God, he hadn’t thought about Surendra in years or anyone outside of the Physical Kids for that matter. Quentin wondered what he was doing post-grad, or what Gretchen was doing. His student life at Brakebills seemed so far away from where he was now.
Fomar sniffed self-importantly.
Jesus Christ, what an unfortunate name.
“Your conversation with my Queen cannot be as important as her wifely duties to me.”
Quentin raised an eyebrow.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Wifely duties and marriage bed…Well, that sounds like an awful lot of work for a Queen who I’m sure has a lot on her plate.” He stepped next to Margo and willed himself to appear more like Janet, fierce and unyielding. “Bother her some other time.”
It probably helped that he was more than a head shorter than Quentin.
Quentin could see Fomar considering whether to come back later. This was likely one of the first times the kid had been refused something. But Fomar gathered his resolve, probably deciding Quentin wasn’t all that and a bag of chips. And yeah, that hurt his pride some, that a literal teenager wasn’t intimidated by him but Quentin had a work around. Fomar began talking again, this time ignoring Quentin turning to the High Queen, complaining about how he had “observed all her Earth rituals but she still refused him her maidenhead” and that “it was rightly his and she had no choice but to relent.”
He quietly began prepping a spell he’d learned his third year. One of those stupid prank ones Josh had gotten from Lovelady as a joke that actually worked. It was pretty easy, a couple swipes of both pinkies and a complicated gesture that involved threading some crossed fingers in and out of each other while repeating a word three times in Croatian. Quentin did this quickly and quietly under his breath while Fomar complained to Margo.
Then he snapped.
Fomar’s face contorted suddenly and he yelped. Quentin shook out his hands quickly and looked up and away, right at Eliot.
Their eyes met.
Fomar was crumpled in on himself, cupping his crotch. What Quentin had discovered about Lovelady’s spell when Josh had jokingly cast it on him, was that it made you feel like your privates were being pummeled. Essentially putting your dick in a twist. Right now, Quentin did not envy him. Fomar looked between Margo and Quentin, sputtering, his face red with pain and frustration. He opened his mouth to say something- but didn’t. Instead he turned tail and limped away.
When he was finally gone, Margo burst into laughter.
“Shit, Coldwater, that was impressive,” she said, wiping at her eye.
“So, you admit that I’m Quentin? That I’m not lying?”
She leveled him with a soft look.
“You’re definitely a Quentin. Just not ours.”
“Where did you learn that?”
Eliot had come up next to him, looking at him wonderingly.
“My third year,” Quentin said, feeling himself flush. Probably from the rush of doing the spell.
“Third year- you made it to third year?”
“Of course? It’s a five-year program,” Quentin laughed. “I’m just glad I graduated.”
“Graduated.” Eliot repeated, looking flabbergasted.
“Wait a goddamn minute!” Margo said. “I was so caught up- Quentin, you cast a spell!”
Quentin frowned, confused. “Uh, yeah? I did?”
Was that a problem? Quentin did not want to get like, arrested for magic use or something. The Magician’s Court had some confusing rules, but they didn’t apply on Fillory- his Fillory, at least. Maybe this Fillory had a no magic thing since the whole of Fillory was magic?
“Magic’s gone, dumbass.” Margo smacked him. “And you just cast a spell. ”
“Oh,” was all he said.
“Yeah, oh, is right. You’ve gotta-“ Margo turned to Eliot. “Did you tell him about the key quest?”
“No, Bambi, I was a little busy bringing him to you.”
Margo rolled her eye.
“You could’ve brought him to Wicker or something. She’s got magic too.”
“We only just found out about this. He didn’t cast before this!”
“Um.” Quentin said. “You guys are on a quest too?"
“Okay, how did we all miss this?”
Josh waved his hands back and forth around Quentin.
“Uh, I mean, we were in the middle of the ocean. It’s like, fine.” Quentin scratched himself sheepishly.
A good portion of the Muntjac’s crew were staring at him. Josh rubbed at the bridge of his nose. His hair was lighter, almost blond, and his skin was a little pinker.
“See, th-is - ” more waving “w - as why I didn’t want to get sucked along with you guys! Shit gets complicated too quickly for my taste.”
“I am sorry. I know this is not what you expected.” That was Julia.
She was different, just like Eliot and just like Josh. Julia’s hair was dark and long, longer than he’d ever seen. She wore all black and a burnished golden crown. She looked like a freckled Wednesday Addams. Quentin smiled at her.
“Like I said. It’s fine. Plus, this is kind of my fault,” he looked up at the sky, watching the clouds. “We were trying to pull another me from a different timeline- to see if they had a way to help turn magic back on.”
“Magic is gone, where you’re from?” Poppy -the blonde woman who had been swimming- asked. She was pretty in an aquiline way and had a high voice, which was accentuated by her Australian accent.
Quentin grimaced at her.
“Yeah… It’s my fault actually. But we’ve been trying to fix it- we’ve been on a quest for uh, seven keys, and they’re supposed to unlock this backdoor that’ll bring it back. I, uh, there was a book that had instructions for the quest, but I think it’s back there. Where I came from.” Hopefully, Eliot had grabbed it.
God, Eliot. Was he okay? Was he all alone at Brakebills? Was he- the other Quentin- there instead?
“I have to get back as soon as possible,” he said. “Is there – I don’t know – someone I could talk to who knows about interdimensional travel or something?”
“Below decks.” The tan man who had helped Quentin up from the ladder stepped forward.
“Bingle,” said the man. Quentin assumed that was his name.
“Follow me, sire.”
“Oh, uh, okay.”
Quentin followed Bingle below decks, eyeing the sword at the man’s hip. It was long and sheathed in a unique looking scabbard. This guy was obviously the King’s guard or something. It was weird to be called sire again, after only spending just a little time as a King in Fillory. It certainly was a small ego boost. Bingle led him down, down below decks into a dark room. If this were the time for an assassination, this would be it. Bingle handed Quentin a lantern from a hook outside the door.
“Is there, uh, a reason I have to go alone?”
Bingle looked apologetically at him.
“I can’t stand the smell,” he said.
“That’s all?” Quentin said.
Bingle shrugged. “I’ll be outside, never fear.”
Quentin grumbled, but gave him a thumbs up.
The room did smell awful, which, yeah, he had been warned. Quentin sniffed. The wet smell of hay, salt and furry creature filled his nostrils. It was kind of like being in a very damp petting zoo. He stepped forward, the lantern raised. Hanging upside down, was a sloth. He stared at it, wondering if he should bow or if it could even talk. The track record of talking animals on his Fillory was a little spotty. He knew Questing Beasts could communicate, but for talking animals it was more of a “interpret what you could, guess what you couldn’t” kind of deal.
“Uh, hi?” he said.
The sloth blinked slowly and tilted its head.
“It’s nice to meet you, um-“
“Abigail,” said the sloth.
Quentin knew there was an Abigail in his Fillory, she was a royal advisor in Whitespire’s court.
“It is good to see you, Quentin.” Abigail said. Her nails clacked loudly against the beam she was holding as she flexed her paws.
“Rafe will be excited to hear of you.”
“Rafe?” Quentin said.
That was a name that sounded familiar. Quentin cursed inwardly, wishing he’d spent more time as a King at Whitespire. Was this Abigail the same as the one in his world? It was an outlandish thought, but magic and Fillory was tricky like that. Plus, didn’t Bingle say Abigail knew something about interdimensional travel? Quentin couldn’t afford to discount anything at this point.
“Yes, my partner. He translates for me when I preside at Whitespire.”
Yeah, okay, so she definitely traveled between worlds.
“How can I get back?” Quentin asked, side-stepping all the questions about Abigail he wanted to ask. “You clearly have a way of traveling. Is it something I can- something a human can do? Or is it just an animal thing. Or a sloth thing.”
Abigail blinked again slowly. Silence reigned and Quentin felt himself fidgeting with the lantern in the half-dark.
Finally, she spoke.
“A sloth spends its life between worlds. We suspend ourselves between the earth and sky, touching neither. Our minds hover between the sleeping and the waking world. We, in a sense, live on the border between life and death. This border extends further beyond, past the known universe, multiplying and branching further than you could ever conceive. It is easier to slip between worlds when you are barely conscious of the change. For a sloth, it is like reaching for a nearby branch, barely a strain.”
Abigail paused; dark eyes huge on her small face.
“A human has greater difficulty. You’re more tied to this world. Only some have the ability to slip between. You humans call them Travelers. In a sense, a Traveler is just two branches away from a sloth.”
Quentin snorted. Penny would love that comparison.
“For you, a human who cannot Travel, it is more difficult. I’m afraid you must simply wait until you are called back to your own world. Unless you find a tool that could aid your journey.”
Great. So, nothing he could do except wait.
“Thank you,” Quentin said. “Uh, tell Rafe I say hi?”
Abigail inclined her head. Quentin flipped a pair of awkward finger guns at her and left quickly.
Back above decks, the midday light was blinding. Quentin and everyone else had been rescued early and now the sun beat down his back, hot and steady. He took a seat on a nearby barrel and began to think. It looked like he had two options: wait until someone figured out what went wrong with the Tesla Flexion and got it to work again, hopefully bringing him back, or find something that could bring him back manually.
As much as he trusted Eliot, he wasn’t sure he had been one hundred percent on how the Tesla Flexion worked and seeing as how it had fucked him over anyway, he wasn’t clear whether that would be a reliable option. That left finding something to get him back. Quentin scanned the deck and spotted this world’s Eliot. He was pouring over a map with a dour looking teenager. Hadn’t Eliot said he was on a quest too? Maybe it was the same one, or similar? Timelines always echoed each other, why wouldn’t an alternate universe do the same? Yes, okay, if they were both on a key quest, maybe one of their keys could work as a portal? It was a hare-brained idea, but Quentin didn’t have anything else.
He continued to watch Eliot. The other man had stopped with the map and had begun relaying orders. He smiled and joked with the men, sharing inside jokes and personal quips. Quentin watched Eliot gather some rope and even help with the rigging, arms flexing with cultivated strength.
This was an Eliot in his element like he'd never before seen. An Eliot who ruled and loved it. Quentin knew it was in him, that spark of leadership, and here was that potential realized. Their eyes met and Eliot flashed him a smile, crooked teeth glinting in the sunlight. His dark hair curled in the salty sea air, and his deep blue coat cut a dashing figure. He looked spectacular. Quentin smiled back and crossed his legs as discreetly as possible.
Oh God. Did it count as an affair if you weren't doing anything with them but looking?
Eliot. His Eliot had said what they had wasn't them. But Quentin, for a fraction of a second, wanted it to count.
He wanted to act.
Eliot jogged over to him, a bemused expression on his face.
“Been busy thinking, Coldwater? Or were you just enjoying the view?” He said, his mouth curling.
“A bit of both actually,” Quentin laughed, feeling bold.
Eliot grinned, his jaw jagged.
“I talked to Abigail,” Quentin continued. “I think my key to getting home is to help you all with your quest. I mean-” He ducked his head. “If you’ll have me?”
“Have you?” Eliot laughed.
He bowed a little, the midday sun glinted off his crown, shining and bright.
“ King Quentin , I would gladly have you. In fact, I may never let you go.”
Quentin swallowed and flushed in the midday sun.
“Good to know.”
How Quentin had been roped into this, he had no clue. But, being forced to go on a quest with alternate reality versions of his friends was probably one of the least traumatic and weird things he’d experienced in his life.
So, it was fine.
What wasn’t fine were the weird looks he’d been getting from the crew. More than one person had either assumed he was some older relative of the High King’s or that he was wearing a wig. It was severely pissing him off. It didn’t help that Eliot had been giving him weird looks since they’d started out at sea. The man couldn’t seem to decide whether to trust Quentin or not, which was why he’d come along with him on the Muntjac.
It was perfect, High Queen Margo had said, Quentin had magic and they needed the next key to restore theirs, so of course he was going to get it for them, it wasn’t like he had anything better to do. Quentin traced a pattern in the wood grain on the railing. Nothing better to do… It wasn’t like he needed to get back to his Fillory, Quentin grumbled. Oh no, top priority was their magic quest. But maybe this was better- maybe the point of his quest was with magic dying too. Of course, magic wasn’t just, poof gone, where he was from but considering they still hadn’t been told what the key quest was for, Quentin was pretty fine with hedging his bets on this one.
This world’s Muntjac was smaller than his own, sleeker and more streamline in the way that came with being a smaller ship. It made Quentin miss his own Muntjac with her black boards and white trim, the creaking sounds of her boards and the heady anticipatory feeling he got in his gut from being at the helm. As if to make up for her size difference, this Muntjac was bigger on the inside. Going below decks felt like he was entering the world’s coolest TARDIS. There, the Muntjac’s consciousness was personified. A tree grew from the center of the ship. The Muntjac’s roots ran all over and the answering rumble and rustle of her planks and boards were a constant comfort.
Quentin wandered the ship, feeling the keen and alien reminder of what he was missing on his own Muntjac. Though the literal muntjac skeleton at the prow was pretty cool, he had to admit.
Often, he found himself walking the deck, turning over the stuff in his pockets and feeling the sun beat down on his white head, listening to the beat of the waves and the caw of seagulls, homesickness and a strong hand clutching his heart.
On one such day, Quentin found something in his pocket he’d almost forgotten about. It was the passport the little girl from After Island had made him. Eleanor. Quentin had almost forgotten about her. He wondered if she was okay, all alone at home without her mother, Elaine, to keep her company. He turned the passport over in his hands, the name KANG KWENTIN was written in bold crayon. Both K’s were backwards. Quentin smiled.
Eleanor was a tenacious child, but neglect was a hell of a thing to experience. Quentin could attest. He carefully folded the passport and returned it to his pocket for safekeeping.
There was another strange thing about this world and that was the appearance of Benedict. He was older and shorter than Quentin – though everyone was usually shorter than Quentin – a huggable looking young man. No floppy emo-looking hair to be seen, this Benedict had short combed hair and a collection of finely pressed tunics. Quentin approached him five days after they’d cast out. They were well out to sea by that point, the morning mist and evening stars their only true companion. Benedict had been sitting on the poop deck, sketching out details on a huge parchment map.
Good old Benedict. Quentin didn’t know how he’d cope if he hadn’t been a mapmaker. He sidled next to him, looking over Benedict’s shoulder as he took a seat.
The map on his lap was impressively intricate. It was the West of Fillory in all it’s charted and numbered glory. Ridges on mountains and grass on hills seemed to rise up and dance in the wind. The Clock Barrens were a twisting bramble of inked brass and wood and Quentin swore, if the world had magic, they would’ve ticked. The ocean too, was rolling and magnificent. Expertly shaded, the water rippled when you turned the parchment this way and that.
This wasn’t just a map; it was art.
Benedict turned and yelped. He’d finally noticed Quentin.
“S-sire!” he stammered. Benedict performed an awkward bow that almost sent him tumbling to the ground. Quentin caught his arm at the last second.
“Benedict,” Quentin said, staring at the map. “That’s amazing.”
Benedict followed his gaze.
“Oh!” He said and picked up the map where it had fallen. Benedict took the compliment like Quentin had just told him it was Christmas day and Santa had eaten the cookies he’d left out. Benedict’s wide brown eyes grew incomprehensibly wider and he beamed.
“I- Thank you, sire. It’s just a simple chart of the Outer Islands and beyond- for topographical reference. Wouldn’t want to run aground by accident.” Benedict laughed, embarrassed.
“You drew this whole thing?” Quentin said. Benedict rolled the map up nervously.
“Um, yes. I did,” he mumbled.
Quentin’s heart clenched. It wasn’t his Benedict, but it was Benedict all the same.
“You’re doing great, you know,” he said softly.
He thought of Benedict- his- that young boy he’s sought to mentor. God, would he come back to find him older? Wizened and withered and barely remembering his own name? Quentin shuddered...
Focus, he told himself. You’re on a quest, another one, but a quest that could get you home. He pushed the thoughts away and smiled at this Benedict, as genuine as he could make it.
“We’d probably get lost without your expertise.”
Benedict’s eyes widened.
“Really-? Thank- thank you, sire,” the smaller man stammered. He tucked the map under his arm and nodded to Quentin, eyes shining.
Quentin sighed and looked out into the night, wondering about Eliot, about Julia, Josh and even Poppy.
He wondered how he’d get back.
If he’d get back.
Helping with a quest was good in theory, but not nearly so in practice.
Quentin had no experience on boats or ships of any kind. He felt embarrassed, constantly getting in the way of the crew. He’d even accidentally tripped over a man - Admiral Lacker - while he was crossing the deck, important looking instruments, and compass in hand. Eliot had sat Quentin down about a week in and told him to calm down. Citing that, as quests typically went, you just had to wait until the right moment.
Apparently, this Eliot had a whole CV of quest experience after being out at sea on the Muntjac for the better part of a year.
It was impressive.
He laughed sadly to himself, Quentin of course, had him beat. But it wasn’t Eliot who asked about Quentin’s life in his own world. No, instead it was Julia.
Quentin didn’t really know how to approach her. This Julia was a darker and more sullen person than the one he’d grown up with. She spoke without contractions and very clearly. It reminded him of his Eliot’s descriptions of his brief foray into undergrad theatre. Lots of sharp T’s and D’s.
There was also the thing with her eyes. They were almost blacked out, the pupils wide and all consuming. It was more than a little unsettling.
“You are surprised,” Julia said one day. She flicked her fingers back and forth, gently guiding a small sprout out of its seed.
“Surprised?” Quentin said, watching the sprout grow like one of those sped up David Attenborough documentaries.
“That we have magic and that you have it in turn.”
Quentin looked down at his hands.
It was true, he did have magic again. It was that familiar spark in his blood, spurring him forward and onward. He hadn’t noticed it when he first arrived because he’d been so occupied with the sea, but it was there. He’d realized all at once when Eliot had improvised a compass rose to help that teenager, Benedict, with a drawing on his map. He’d curled those long, elegant fingers and twisted them, pulling some early morning sea mist into his hands, and shaping it. Quentin had felt stunned and then unsurprised. Of course, Eliot would have magic, for wasn’t Eliot made from magic himself? To Quentin, at least, it always seemed like he was.
Quentin flexed his fingers into the beginning of Popper-26 and then stopped, just to feel the energy shoot through him. He shook his hands like he was ridding himself of some last drops of water. Julia handed him the sprout; it was already a couple inches tall.
“What are you exactly, Jules?” Quentin asked, stroking the sprout’s single leaf. “If that’s not uh, a weird question.”
Julia’s placid expression did not change.
“I am becoming something new,” she said, feeling the word in her mouth as she said it. “I am no longer Julia. I am her and not. I believe I am growing into something else entirely.”
Quentin watched the sprout quiver in the sea breeze.
“Is this something else- this new you, is it good?”
Julia smiled softly at him.
“I do not know. I hope so.”
Quentin glanced at her. She seemed to grow a little in the sunlight.
“Land ho!” Came a cry from the crow’s nest up above. Benedict waved wildly at the crew, at Quentin and Julia. They turned together.
It was an island.
They found her clinging to a huge board.
Quentin was a little bit ashamed of it, but his first thought was: this is all very Titanic. The red-haired woman, sadly no Rose, was passed out and completely soaked. They pulled her on deck and brought her down below while Eliot called the cook to make some soup and told Benedict to bring in some hot towels.
Quentin hovered on the side, not knowing what to do. He peeked at her sleeping face. She was pretty, sharp, and somehow familiar. She had on the practical clothing of someone used to getting their hands dirty and there was a patch on her shoulder that was all too familiar to Quentin: Brakebills.
He tapped Eliot’s shoulder. The man startled.
“Christ!” he hissed. “God, Q- Quentin, just- Make some noise, will you? It’s bad enough we’re eye-level.”
Quentin pulled his hand back.
“Sorry,” he said. “but the girl- woman. She’s a woman. She has a-“
“Oh shit! Did you guys rescue me?”
Eliot and Quentin turned. The red-haired woman sat upright, wringing out her hair with the edge of her blanket. Quentin heard Eliot wince. She smiled at them, bright and sharp.
“Poppy Kline. Dragonologist, Postgraduate Fellow and Field Researcher.” Poppy waved. Quentin blinked.
“Yes, that’s my name,” she quirked an eyebrow.
“Do you know Josh Hoberman by any chance?” Quentin asked.
If this was Poppy, she might know a thing or two about getting out of this place. The Abyss had been fine the first couple of days but sailing in complete darkness was really putting a damper on things. It wasn’t just the general depressing-ness of the Abyss; Quentin sorely missed his world. At least, when he’d accidentally gone to Earth, he’d had Julia, and then they’d found Josh and met the other Poppy. They’d bonded! Here Quentin was the only one of his kind. A transplant and a faulty one at that. His usefulness extended to fixing the odd loose board or cracked windowpane and that was it. He just wanted to go home.
Poppy gasped, unaware of the pathetic monologue in Quentin’s ever self-pitying brain.
“You and I are officially best friends!”
She got out of bed, leaving a huge damp spot behind.
“Careful with the-“ Eliot pinched the bridge of his nose. “Why do I even bother…” he mumbled.
“So, are Brakebills grads all Kings and Queens now?” Poppy asked, coming right up into Quentin’s space.
He touched self consciously at the crown on his head. It was a little conceited, he knew, to keep wearing his crown even though he wasn’t technically royalty here, but he was a King, dammit! And Quentin liked how it looked.
“Only the lucky ones,” Quentin said.
Eliot cleared his throat.
“How did you end up out there?”
Eliot jerked a thumb to the window. The black sea sloshed beyond.
“Oh, we-ll,” Poppy sauntered over to him. “Pour a girl a drink and maybe I’ll spill.”
Eliot smiled; it didn’t reach his eyes.
“Sure,” he said, honey sweet.
Eliot stepped away towards the Muntjac’s bar – because of course it had a bar – and got out a glass. Poppy glanced to the side, her expression darkening.
She stared at the dead air, her eyes wide and frightened. Then, she looked back and caught Quentin’s eye.
Quentin almost cried when they made landfall.
After god knows how long on a rocking ship, the feeling of steady earth beneath his feet was a foreign one.
First, they scouted, and everything seemed…alright. The beach was peppered with shells and fine white sand that reminded him of every travel agency poster he’d ever seen. Beyond it was a dense overgrown forest. The trees were twisted and twirled around each other like they’d been frozen in dance. It had taken most of the afternoon to come ashore and now they stood at the edge of it all, looking out.
“It’s all so beautiful,” Poppy said. She stared starry eyed out across the tangle of trees.
“Do you think anybody lives here?” Josh asked, picking at his nails. He’d taken to the ship better than Quentin and looked almost anticipatory to get back.
Eliot pursed his lips and shook his head.
“I don’t think so… We’re two month’s sail out from Castle Whitespire, further than anyone’s ever been. We might even be the first ones here.”
“Wow.” Quentin said. A whole island for themselves… Only if it were uninhabited of course. He’d read enough history not to be an idiot about certain things, colonialism for one.
Julia hummed and kneeled on the ground right where the sand met the grass. Like a clip from a nature documentary, grass sprung up around her, wriggling and stretching in the sun.
“This is good soil,” she said raspy and soft. She circled her finger digging out a little hole and stuck it into the ground. Everyone else watched her awkwardly. Julia hummed and stood up, brushing the dirt from her black dress.
“We will find what we seek.” Her black eyes flashed in the sun. “Let us set up camp.” She walked past them back towards the crew.
“Okay, yeah, wow,” Josh said. “I never know what vibes I’m getting from her.”
Eliot shrugged. “Obviously, she’s got a feeling about this place. I’m inclined to trust her on it.”
They followed Julia back to camp. Between the five of them they managed to get a decent bonfire going. The sun sank beyond the horizon and the crew began to settle on the shore. It seemed now that they were all on land, no one was especially enthusiastic about returning to the ship. Especially when the hunting party came back with two wild goats between them. The sky changed from a deep orange to plum purple and stars began to peak out from behind their clouds.
Around the bonfire, Quentin found himself squeezed between Benedict and Eliot.
He closed his eyes and enjoyed the flickering heat on his face. In the darkness of his eyelids, it was almost as if he was in another time, another memory. If Quentin inched to his right, he knew he’d feel the dig of tile against his back, the soft orange blanket he’d bartered for at the market and a warm hand fitted over his own.
Quentin blinked his eyes open. Eliot was looking at him, the flickering light of the fire making his eyes shine. Quentin looked down and saw Eliot’s hand in his own.
He left it there.
Poppy was a strange one.
For one thing, Quentin hadn’t realized just how weird it would be to hear her speak without an Australian accent. He entertained the idea of asking her to do one, just to hear how that would sound, but thought better of it.
Eliot, after making Poppy’s drink, lounged against a desk that was bolted to the floor, nursing his own indulgence. The Muntjac rocked quietly in the night. Quentin sipped his own drink and looked between them. Poppy and Eliot stared at each other silently. The ice in his drink rattled.
“So,” Quentin said. Awkward silence hung in the air, stifling all of them. He felt like he was back at one of James’ high school parties, moping in the corner nursing spiked lemonade and wishing Julia loved him back.
“Poppy, how exactly did you end up cast away in Fillory?”
“Oh, you know,” Poppy purred. “Spring break.” She accentuated the “k” with a click. “Josh – sweet guy, very good lay – and his girlfriend, Victoria, found out Fillory was real and ended up inviting almost the whole class to come tour the place. It was fun, but centaur orgies get boring after a while, so I kinda broke off from the group. Then some really tragic stuff happened. A lot of people died actually,” she laughed. “I thought Josh did too, but if you know him, he’s probably fine. So, anyway, I was on my own, lone wolf style, trekking it in the Fillorian wilderness and wouldn’t you know it I ended up on the coast! I ended up sailing with basically a pirate ship – totally Pirates of the Caribbean – and I’ve been with ‘em ever since. Two years now!” Poppy knocked back the rest of her drink. “Although ‘them’ is technically now just me.” She smiled at both of them and shook her glass at Eliot. The universal sign of more, thank you.
Eliot made a face like he had sucked on a lemon.
He poured her another drink.
“And what about you guys?” Poppy slurped her drink loudly. “Mr Anderson Cooper over there,” she pointed at Quentin. “What’s your story?” Quentin choked a little on his drink.
“Me? I’m just uh-” he glanced at Eliot. “Part of the crew.”
“But you know Josh Hoberman.”
“Well, yes.” Quentin said, sweating. Poppy’s gaze pinned him where he stood.
“So, you’re not Fillorian.”
“More of a naturalized citizen?”
God, why did he have to be such a fucking idiot sometimes?
“Quentin’s just nervous.” Eliot smiled, placing a firm hand on Quentin’s shoulder. “He’s just another Earth kid here for his Spring Break, you know. It’s his first time on the ship and-” Eliot leaned in, hand conspiratorial beside his mouth. “It’s kind of a kink for him. The cosplaying.”
Poppy nodded in apparent understanding.
Quentin flushed. What a dick.
He plastered on a weak smile and took a step back, brushing off Eliot’s hand.
“I have to go talk to Benedict about something,” he said, extremely aware of his literal backing out of the conversation. “Just gotta-” he wagged his finger at the ceiling. “You know. Stuff to do.”
“Very busy!” Quentin said, and ran up the stairs at an appropriate speed that did not convey the very obvious “I’m being stupid and my presence here won’t help anyone” vibes he was giving off at every given second.
Above decks it was still night and the Fillorian constellations were sparkling in their full glory. Quentin watched the two moons hanging high in the sky; it was funny how weird it seemed to him, two moons instead of a single Dreamworks style sickle. It made him ache for his Fillory and his home. He loitered around on deck for a while, idly mending a board or frayed rope when he found one, animating small figures out of moonlight, and even levitating a rat. (He threw it overboard. If it was a talking rat… oh well, some things had to be done in the name of hygiene.)
Finally, after exhausting all his restless energy and taking more than a couple long walks around the deck, he braved the below decks.
Eliot was alone. He looked up when Quentin walked in.
“I leant her your room, just so you know.” Eliot said matter-of-factly.
“Oh.” Quentin said. He leaned against the bar and fiddled with the edges of his coat, feeling more than a little bit guilty.
“What did you guys talk about?”
“After you left?” Eliot said. His voice was dry.
“Yes…” Quentin said.
Eliot sighed, a put-upon sound. “She asked about what I was doing here, and I countered with questions about her crew. Apparently , they got caught in a storm. Then I mentioned we were looking for keys and she gave me this,” From his pocket, Eliot produced a golden key. It was worn with a minimalist design at it’s end that if you squinted almost looked like an owl. It wasn’t too dissimilar to the keys Quentin had ended up looking for. Eliot swung it around his finger once and dropped it back into his pocket. “Quest done, I suppose, for this one at least.”
He started to straighten his shirt and paused. Eliot’s eyes darted to the corner of the room and he sucked in a breath.
Quentin turned; there was no one.
“Are you-?” Quentin began but Eliot spoke again: “Sleep in a chair or share the bed with me; I don’t care which. I’m going to sleep. I’ll write to Bambi in the morning.”
“O-kay.” Quentin said, frowning. Eliot glanced again to the corner of the room, eyes lingering. Quentin turned all the way around; maybe he’d just missed it? But again, there was no one.
“Night, Quentin.” Eliot said.
“Night...” Quentin replied, and watched Eliot go, a strange feeling in his stomach.
When Quentin woke up it was still night.
Okay, actually it was the edge of early morning, but the stars were still peeking out from behind the evening clouds and the crescent moon was blue and high in the dark sky. The sun had not yet raised her weary head and a thin layer of mist chilled his ankles, covering the ground like a thick soupy blanket. Quentin did a little hop-step to wake his limbs up and scrubbed at his face.
He really needed to pee.
Squinting through the early morning darkness, he made his way towards the forest, yawning as he went. Quentin stepped over loose roots, kicked pebbles out of the way, and swatted the occasional draping vine away from his head. He was pretty far away, but he figured as long as he could see the Muntjac it would be alright. Plus, he didn’t really want to be caught pissing in the woods if he could help it.
It was something he’d hated the first couple years of the Mosaic. Sure, they’d found a nice little cottage with a bedroom and kitchen and whatever, but it hadn’t had a fucking bathroom. One year of awkwardly running into the cluster of trees behind the cottage had been one year too long, and after interrogating his memory he’d managed to write up a carpentry spell. Eliot had gone into town – he’d been reluctant to leave, their relationship had been so new – and bartered until he’d gotten an old axe and hacksaw. Within three days they’d had an outhouse. It had taken them longer than it should only because they’d been so wrapped up in each other.
Once the walls were up, Eliot had pinned Quentin against one and gone down on him, calling Quentin: mine.
Quentin shook his head and dropped his pants.
God, how pathetic was he? Getting misty eyed pissing against a tree? That was definitely a new low.
He sniffed bitterly.
“Jesus Christ!” Quentin yelped.
It was a giant ram. Bigger than any creature he’d ever seen in his life, it had curling black horns and a shaggy woolen coat. It’s eyes were square and piercing, much more intelligent than your petting zoo goat. When Quentin had read the Fillory books – over and over again – he’d always had a specific image of the gods Ember and Umber; when he and Julia had actually gone to Fillory, he’d been a little disappointed to see that Ember was more of a satyr than a wholly wild creature. There was no doubt, however, that Quentin was now face to face with the Ember he’d always imagined: big, imposing, regal and animal…. and his dick was out.
Quentin frantically tied his trousers back up.
Ember flicked His head, turned around, and began to take long strides into the deep of the forest. Quentin stumbled after Him. After fifteen minutes of following the ram-god in silence, Quentin realized they were moving uphill. The underbrush was studded with small unfamiliar flowers and smooth rocks, the remnants of an island that had once been under sea.
Just how different was this world’s Ember to his own? Maybe He was a dick in ram’s clothing and Quentin was just the poor sucker who’d finally indulged His assholery. It wouldn’t be the first time Quentin’s good intentions had gone awry. How much did this Ember know of the other worlds, or timelines for that matter? Did He know Quentin had killed His counterpart? That was the thing Quentin began to dread most, climbing that hill. Could you be charged with divine murder if it hadn’t happened in the same universe?
All at once, they reached the top of the hill. Quentin looked out at the island below: the forest, a thick tangle of trees, the beach, growing whiter in the morning sun, and the Muntjac so far away it looked like a toy, rocking away in the bay. It reminded Quentin of the map from Peter Pan where the Jolly Roger floated picture perfect in Neverland’s Mermaid Lagoon.
“My child,” Ember said. His voice was low and resonant, a deep bass that made Quentin’s toes curl and his whole-body shiver. It felt like the moment when Simba got an afterlife message from Mufasa.
“We do not meet by chance. Nothing happens by chance.”
“No, uh, I guess not,” Quentin said. He scratched his arms awkwardly. “How did You know where to find me?”
“Fillory is my realm, child. I am everywhere, and therefore anywhere.”
“Oh, okay, that makes sense,” he said, and it sorta did. Quentin’s grip on his arms tightened. “I’m sure You’ve noticed I’m not Your Quentin?”
Ember’s great horned head leaned down and he bit on some grass. Quentin watched him chew. “Can You do anything about that? Take me home?”
“I cannot,” the god said.
Quentin turned to Him.
“Why not? Abigail said to find aid on my journey – you can take me home.”
And yeah, he was aware the sloth had said “tool” not “person” to aid him but what Ember didn’t know wouldn’t hurt Him.
“I cannot.” Ember repeated. “There is Deeper Magic at work here, my child. Even the gods must bow to it. That is the way.”
Like the kind he’d killed back in his own world; like the kind this world was clearly losing. Quentin sat on the grass, it was dewy, and it soaked his trousers.
“I just want to go home,” he said softly. He pulled up a blade of grass and twisted it between his fingers. “That’s all I want.”
Ember blew air from his nose and shook his woolen head. Quentin wondered if divine flies followed him around. Divine ticks?
Beyond the hill, past the small figure of the Muntjac, the sun was rising. The stars petered out and the crescent moon rose higher into the sky, making way for its twin.
“There are things that a man must do, that a god may not. He who completes a quest does not merely find something. He becomes something.”
“But what does he become?” Quentin stared down at his hands, young and soft. The hands he had before a lifetime of work and toil and love. He’d already become something. He wasn’t the same Quentin who’d killed Ember, nor was he the same Quentin that’d gone to Columbia. He was someone else, someone older.
He’d become so tired.
“A hero,” the god said.
Ember began to walk again, Quentin followed.
The Muntjac carried on through the Abyss. Black waters rocked against and sloshed alongside the ship, licking the wood with a salty fervor. The sky was utter darkness, no stars twinkled above; the only light they had was that of torches and the small orbs Quentin could conjure up at will. Apparently, it was a little hard to turn a ship around when you’re sailing in complete darkness, even if said ship housed an awesome and powerful magician, the only magician to currently have magic.
“Do you have any idea how far this goes?” Quentin asked a disgruntled Benedict.
It turned out that he had pretty bad eyesight and the constant darkness had made everything worse. Quentin was also having suspiciously similar problems, but he shrugged it off. There were worse things than being near or short sighted, like being lost, which they currently were.
“No, sire, I don’t know. This whole place is far beyond any mapped region of the world.” Benedict tucked his pencil back into his pocket and began rolling up the map he’d been trying to sketch. It was mostly a big heavily shaded black blob, so not very topographical.
“It gives me the heebie-jeebies.” Quentin said.
The sea rippled ominously in the endless night.
“The Hee Bee Jee Bees?” Benedict said, pronouncing every bit of the word separately, like he was going to memorize it.
“Uh,” Quentin scratched his neck awkwardly. “Makes me uneasy, you know?”
Benedict nodded seriously. “Oh yes, the Abyss gives me the Hee Bee Jee Bees as well.” As if to punctuate his point, Benedict took a step back from the ship’s side. “I’m not made for seafaring,” he laughed self-deprecatingly.
Quentin thought of his own Benedict, young, self-conscious, and just a little starry eyed. How excited he had been running up to the Muntjac bags upon bags of cartographic materials in hand. Quentin swallowed. Thinking about Benedict just made him think about himself; how stupid and self-absorbed he’d been at seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, God at twenty and beyond. How he hadn’t noticed other people’s problems; he was the main character, the hero. What does the hero get in the end anyway?
He thought of Alice.
Poor, brave Alice.
She had been a hero.
Was she alive here in this other world?
Had she become Queen of Fillory and been better at it than he ever would be?
He could see it; Alice in a silver crown working through Whitespire’s libraries like the ravenous bookworm she was. It made his heart ache, thinking about it.
These days, he avoided thinking about her.
It was almost three years now.
Before Alice, Quentin had never had any real kind of personal loss: maybe he’d had a goldfish die or something but that was it, nothing actually tangible, nothing real. Quentin sniffed and scrubbed at his eyes.
His face was wet.
“Sorry I-” Quentin began.
He looked around the deck; Benedict had left him alone.
Ember was gone.
Quentin cursed loudly.
The god had disappeared just as suddenly as He’d appeared, leaving Quentin alone in His wake. Quentin looked around; he couldn’t recognize a single landmark. Not that it mattered, the island was uncharted after all. The kid, Benedict, had gotten excited about charting it, telling him how once before he’d charted an island that changed as he drew it. Quentin hoped this island wasn’t as changeable as the one Benedict had mapped. He pulled his sleeves and hair up into a small bun and surveyed the area. The island was a sprawling jungle, and he was the unlucky Tarzan trapped within.
He squinted up at the sky, hoping to spot the sun and figure out a way back. Junior Cowboy Camp couldn’t have been for nothing, after all. Quentin shielded his eyes and climbed very unsteadily onto a smaller boulder. The sun and his shadow were long and in the opposite direction. By some magic – maybe Ember’s own – or by his sheer obliviousness, it had become sunset. He slid off the rock with a thud, tripping a little over his own feet and only catching himself at the last moment.
“Ugh.” He brushed himself off, only succeeding in spreading dirt further across his silver and blue tunic.
Great. Just great .
He grabbed a nearby stick. If he could make an approximate map of the island maybe he could find his way back to the Muntjac. It was a spell Sunderland had taught in PA long, long ago when Quentin still took notes at lectures and was actually taking classes at Brakebills instead of going on insane quests with his friends. He twisted his fingers and stuck the stick deep in the earth. A small light flickered valiantly for a second then disappeared.
“Fuck,” he cursed. The map wasn’t accurate enough for the spell to take. Quentin sighed. He turned back to the trees. If he walked far enough, he’d come out the other side, right? Of course, right. He trudged into the unknown with as much courage as he could muster. In the jungle, the foliage was thick. Quentin pushed past leaves carefully; they were heavy and curved, the thick kind like you’d find on a rubber tree or loquat. One snapped back and hit him in the face. Quentin took a deep breath and carried on.
When he was thirteen, Quentin and Julia had got it in their heads to plan a huge backpacking trip. They had just been on the school D.C. trip and excitement hadn’t left them just yet. Ravenously, they raided their school library, pulling all sorts of books about different countries off the shelves. Then, they hit the local library and Julia brought home a stack of different travel dictionaries. Together, they wrote up a list of places they would go, what currencies they would need, and a timeline for the trip. It had been an ambitious plan, spanning the entire globe. Privately, thirteen-year-old Quentin had wished the trip would involve Fillory but, well.
They never went on the trip.
Julia had law school. Quentin had Columbia and his, okay, maybe a little useless Philosophy degree. It had been a nice dream.
Quentin wondered where Julia was now.
She was the only one with magic in his universe, real magic. They still didn’t know why.
It made sense though, that it was Jules. There was no one else he’d trust with magic if he had a choice in the matter. She would know what to do. He had faith. This universe’s Julia was so different from his own. Small, hard, and pensive. It was like she was a seed waiting to be planted.
He wondered if-
Suddenly, he lost his balance and fell backwards with a yelp. He glanced back to find a sword protruding from his shoulder.
“Shit!” he cried and staggered back to his feet. He winced and grabbed the hilt, pulling the sword out with a loud creak. Luckily, he’d been hit on his wooden shoulder. There was a gaping slit now, the living wood that was usually covered by fake flesh was half exposed, a dark mahogany color stark against his pale skin. Fuck, now his tunic was ruined. Quentin fumbled with the sword, swinging it wildly as he turned around. His assailant was a large, towering mass of muscle that cracked his knuckles menacingly despite the fact that Quentin was the one with the sword. He waved the sword in question wildly, feeling all of his five foot and three inches and record lack of P.E. participation in the moment.
The man smirked and darted forward, agile, and bloodthirsty. Quentin ducked and rolled, almost cutting himself on the sword in the process. The guy was wearing light blue armor; it glinted in the blood-orange light of the setting sun. Behind him, just beyond the trees, was a castle and vague noises echoed in the distance. He was its bodyguard, a tank. Quentin tucked his left hand behind his back and began tutting the beginnings of Stanislovsky’s Squeezing Spell – most of Brakebills called it the Body Bind since it locked the limbs like that spell from Harry Potter – where a person’s limbs become bound like there was a ball python giving you a very deadly hug.
But, fuck , the hit to Quentin’s shoulder had effectively numbed his left arm, making it harder for him to bend his fingers and feel out the spell. In his distraction, the man rushed him and the two of them wrestled. They grunted and writhed each trying desperately to trip the other. The soldier squeezed Quentin’s wrist with a sickening pop and stole back his sword.
“Fuck!” Quentin cried out. Giving him no time to recover, the man lunged at him. Quentin twisted with all his might, but it wasn’t enough. The sword slid into his side like a hot knife cutting cold butter. It was searing pain, tempered only by the throbbing of his wrist and the numbness of his arm. Quentin hissed and sucked in air through clenched teeth. The sword was still lodged into his side, thankfully it hadn’t gone all the way through. Body shaking and heart thumping wildly, Quentin laced his fingers and shot a Force Blast over his shoulder. The soldier launched backwards, hitting a tree, and sinking to the ground. Quentin stared at him tiredly, and did the Body Bind for good measure.
Quentin dropped to his knees, overwrought with adrenaline. Was he supposed to take the sword out? He vaguely remembered reading somewhere that taking out a puncture wound was the equivalent of getting stabbed a second time, but what else was there to do? He couldn’t leave it in, he had to get back to the Muntjac. Obviously, this guy was part of the other universe’s key quest and had gone for an easy target A.K.A. Quentin. Well, ha, Quentin thought, not so easy after all. Sweating, he took hold of the handle of the sword.
At least it hadn’t hit anything important.
He tossed the sword and ripped the rest of his tunic away at the shoulder, packing it against the now freshly bleeding wound. He wheezed.
“Okay, okay…” he murmured to himself, stumbling to his feet with all the grace of a newborn deer. The sound of cannon fire echoed from what he suspected was West. His eyes widened.
The Muntjac was in battle.
He stumbled in the direction of the sound, hands pressed against his side, eyes forward.
“Has anyone seen Eliot?” Quentin rounded the deck, torch in hand. A deck hand looked up from his rigging and shook his head.
Quentin sighed; for such a smaller ship, this Muntjac was a lot more confusing to navigate. He cursed every feeling of admiration he’d ever had for Doctor Who, fuck being a companion when you couldn’t even find the bathroom, let alone your only semi-acquaintance.
He wandered below decks to the heart of the ship. The thick trunk pulsated with eerie red light. It reminded Quentin of those small flashlights you could get that flashed emergency signals. He rested his hand on the trunk; it was warm.
“Have… you seen Eliot?” Quentin asked, feeling ridiculous.
At least, when he’d spoken to Farvel that talking tree had had a mouth. The Muntjac’s heart pulsed.
Quentin swore and left the tree’s room, heading down the long hallway to the inner bedchambers where they’d left Poppy some nights before. He jogged up to the royal bedchambers.
“Shut up. You don’t think I know that?” Eliot’s voice said. Quentin’s hand stilled above the doorknob. Morally, he knew eavesdropping was wrong, but, well. Quentin put his ear to the door. Silence, then “fuck off, you asshole,” and silence again. He strained his ears and leaned closer, making the door creak; was that Poppy talking to Eliot? Or someone else? He couldn’t imagine it was poor Benedict. That man was too timid and friendly for his own good. “No, no. ” Eliot sounded pissed. A servant maybe? An assassin? He leaned closer to the door, it creaked louder. “Quentin never wanted that he-”
Quentin stumbled into the bedroom, gangly and embarrassed. The door creaked, the weight of him swinging it open on it’s hinges.
“Shit, sorry, uh-” Quentin began, brushing the white hair out of his eyes and fumbling to gain his balance. He looked around the room.
It was just Eliot.
“What do you want?” Eliot said, frustrated. His eyes were heavy and dark circled. Was the Abyss weighing down on him that much? The lack of sun was disheartening, that was true, but they’d been able to keep their spirits up so far; spirits being the main benefactor of the crew’s contented mood. Eliot’s hair was messy too—a far cry from his usual coiffed appearance. It reminded Quentin of his own Eliot, that rare moment of stillness and breathless silence they’d shared after the decimation that was fighting through the halls of Ember’s Tomb.
“I said,” Eliot repeated. “What do you want? ”
He glared at Quentin, tired, sad, and pissed.
“Uh,” Quentin said elegantly. What did he want? Home, he thought, I want to go home. But he wasn’t Dorothy, he couldn’t click his heels and fuck off to his Fillory.
“I wanted to ask you about your quest,” he said instead. “Or well, specifically the keys.” Eliot turned away from Quentin and made a “go on” motion. He busied himself with the decanter.
“Uh,” Quentin looked at the bed. Should he even sit? Back turned to him, Eliot noisily poured himself what looked like brandy. Quentin’s stomach churned. He had a feeling this was going to be New York all over again.
“The keys in my world, they didn’t really have special powers. Sure, they opened up a door to another world – Earth – but aside from that, not really that interesting. So, I was just wondering… do the keys here have a purpose? Aside from… unlocking the back door to magic?”
At least, that’s what he thought he remembered High Queen Margo had told him about it. Eliot knocked back his glass, not even swirling the liquid around to get the smell of it – something Quentin’s Eliot loved to do – and turned.
Eliot wiped his downturned mouth. “Yeah, the keys all have different powers. So far.”
Quentin perked up. “Oh, great,” he said. Maybe the key they’d gotten from Poppy could send him home? He mentally crossed his fingers that one of the keys was for interdimensional – otherworldly? – travel. Eliot’s slender fingers traced the rim of his glass; it made a high-pitched tone, musical and light.
“The first key was all about illusion- makes you see whatever you fear the most.” Eliot laughed, bitter. He grabbed the decanted again and refilled his glass. “I saw my dad.” Eliot drank.
“The second reveals the truth, helps you see things that are hidden like ghosts or whatever. The third key-” Eliot stopped and looked past Quentin with a glassy expression that spoke of something. Quentin couldn’t place it. It was like someone had pulled Eliot aside, whispered into his ear and momentarily distracted him.
He had a faraway look, the kind Quentin recognized in himself when he thought too hard about life at Brakebills before the Beast, before Fillory. Those precious few months at the beginning of his first year that he’d spent lazing on the Hudson with Eliot and pulling all-nighters with Alice and – ugh – Penny.
Quentin walked up to Eliot, gently taking the glass from his hands. Eliot startled and raised his gaze. Their eyes met.
“The third key?” Quentin asked softly.
“Time.” Eliot said, equally soft. “It took our time.”
Quentin capped the decanter.
“And this one? What does it do?”
“Oh,” Eliot took a step away from him. “It does nothing at all.”
Quentin flicked away the sweat in his eyes. The whole of his left arm tinged with static, like he’d been lying on it for too long and it’d fallen asleep. His side pulsed, his body’s heartbeat a loud and punctuating rhythm against where he pressed against his wound. Quentin was avoiding looking at it, for a number of reasons, but mostly because at this point, if he even saw his own blood, he might pass out. His skin tingled where it had been sliced; he could feel the semi-halted blood flow beneath his hand, and the body yearning to be knit back together.
Maybe stupidly, he put his sword beneath his arm and began to cast with one hand. It was difficult mending anything with one hand – usually, to mend something completely you needed both to channel the energy to take several pieces and fuse them back into a single object – but not impossible.
Vaguely, Quentin could remember a mandatory health class at the beginning of his first year. Along with a very painfully rendered lecture from Dean Fogg about sexual health and transferable curses, there had also been a demonstration on how to heal small wounds.
Quentin had utilized it a lot when Teddy had finally learned to walk. The kid loved to crash all over the place and he’d constantly gotten scraped and cut, much to the mortification of his parents. Quentin could still remember the time Teddy had insisted on helping Eliot in the kitchen and had grabbed the “big boy” knife by mistake. It had been an incredibly stressful day.
Quentin shook his head.
Now wasn’t the time for nostalgia, he needed to focus. He crooked the fingers of his left hand - cursing their slight numbness – and began to mutter in Arabic. He pressed against his wound and hissed in pain, but the spell had done it’s trick. He could feel the skin knitting back together. It wouldn’t be a perfect fix – the stab had been deep – but this way, he would stop bleeding all over the jungle. Still, he kept his bundled shirt packed against his side, just in case. At long last, Quentin pushed through the leaves out onto the beach. Resisting the urge to fall to his knees, he stumbled forward.
The scene at the anchored Muntjac was chaotic. Crewmen ran about, unsheathing their swords and manning the cannons. Some were running into the underbrush - presumably to the castle Quentin had glimpsed in the jungle - and some were retreating closer to the Muntjac’s lowered plank, to protect her entrance. Glancing around, Quentin noticed men running from the jungle, dressed just like the dude he’d fought; it was clear they were other guards from the castle, maybe even henchmen. Quentin staggered towards the Muntjac, the boom of cannon fire and the sounds of yelling and sword upon sword loud in his ears. From the water, a man rushed at him screaming at the top of his lungs. Quentin yelped and dodged him, sending a force blast in his wake which propelled the man right back into the sea.
“Fuck!” Quentin cried out, hoarse. He could feel the loose knit skin tugging where it had been haphazardly healed, it ached, making his side feel heavy and sluggish. He reached the gangplank with a solid thud as his body half collided half slumped against the wood. Quentin breathed shallowly, the sound of his heart echoing between his ears. He wheezed and stood again, half pulling himself to the top of the plank and staggering to his feet. He glanced back at the jungle and saw another fighter from far off, knocking a bow determinedly.
He was aiming at someone behind Quentin.
Quentin’s eyes widened and he whipped around to look behind him at whoever the man was aiming at. Young Benedict – fresh faced with a shaved head, still shorter than Quentin in this world – was coming down from the deck, sword in hand.
“Benedict!” Quentin yelled. The kid startled, eyes wide, but the sound of the arrow whistling through the wind proved it was already moving.
In a moment that felt like a film in slow motion, Quentin cast faster than he’d ever in his life. He lurched forward, hand open, and with a burst of emotion and frantic power, snatched the arrow that flew towards Benedict’s throat out of the air. Quentin fell on the deck, the arrow clutched in his hand.
His shoulder hurt like crazy, fucking hell. He needed some aspirin or maybe some morphine because holy shit.
Benedict dropped his sword with a clatter, eyes wide as dish saucers.
“Jesus Christ,” he said, grabbing Quentin’s hand and helping him up. “I could’ve- Jesus Christ, you just saved my life!”
“Uh,” Quentin said, lightheaded from, well, everything. “You’re welcome.”
“What does the key do?”
“Hmm?” Poppy said. She adjusted her feet and began to fold into downward dog position. Quentin glared at her, crossing his arms, and hoping his height would be all the intimidation he needed.
“The key. The key you gave Eliot. You had it long before us and dealt with it obviously. Now that Eliot has it, he’s been acting like he’s Frodo carrying the One Ring, so, tell me what does the key do?” Poppy leaned back on her heels and stepped in place. Quentin looked up at the ceiling to avoid catching a glimpse of her ass.
“The key,” Poppy grunted, moving from downward dog to a stand completely folded over with arms hanging loose,“has a power. It uh.” She unfolded slowly and cracked her neck when she was done. “Takes the darkest parts of you and creates, well, basically a depression monster, I guess. It looks like you, talks like you and just sorta shits on you.”
“A depression monster.” Quentin repeated. “And you just gave it to Eliot? What the fuck.”
“He’s fin-e.” Poppy said, waving a hand. “It can’t actually hurt him unless it gets in his head and convinces him to hurt himself.”
“Why the hell did you give it to him?” Quentin said, his voice rising.
Poppy moved past Quentin and grabbed some wine.
“Honestly? He was pissing me off. But, hey, listen, he’s strong so it’s whatever. He’ll just have to wait until we get back to – what was it? – White spiral?”
“Whitespire.” Quentin muttered. “And you can’t just give depression keys to random people because they annoy you! Jesus Christ….”
“Look,” Poppy turned around and leveled a flat expression at Quentin. “If he can’t take the heat, he can just pass it along to someone else. The key’s magic stays with the last person who touched it. That’s what we did.”
“We?” Quentin said, something cold curling in his gut.
“My former shipmates. After we got the key, we passed it along, person to person until, you know,” Poppy talked out of the side of her mouth, half-remorseful half-amused.
“How many of your crew survived the key?” Quentin glared at her, feeling keenly the difference between the Poppy he had only just met in his own world and this one.
“How many? ” Quentin hissed.
“Uh, maybe like half?” Poppy swirled her wine and sipped it; eyebrows raised.
“The key made half your crewmates kill themselves and you just gave it to Eliot because he pissed you off?”
A spike of anxiety shot through him, cold, sinking to the bottom of his stomach and settling there. It would be just like New York, Eliot drowning himself in liquor and drugs, ever the lush but diving past the border into more dangerous waters where words like addiction and overdose rose up from the deep and pulled you down, down into the depths. Quentin didn’t know this Eliot well, only a few weeks now, but he knew Eliot, and it couldn’t happen again.
He wouldn’t let it happen.
The air crackled with energy and Poppy startled, the hairs on her arms stood up, alert and anticipatory. Quentin flexed his hands, dispersing the energy at his fingertips with a shake. That was the benefit of being the only Magician with magic: intimidation. Poppy took a step back, glass clutched in her hand. Quentin sighed. She wasn’t worth his time; he needed to check on Eliot. Here’s hoping he was still in his quarters. He glared at Poppy one more time for good measure, turned on his heel and left.
That night, the crew of the Muntjac built an even bigger bonfire than the day before. Quentin sweated over it a little, worried about the unnamed island’s resources, but Julia simply put a hand on his shoulder and told it him it was alright. His wound had been tended to; Josh, despite being a physical kid – which was a surprise; multiverses, man – was surprisingly good at healing and medicinal magic.
“I’ve traveled to all kinds of worlds, man,” Josh said, holding his thick hands a half inch above the shoddily healed gash in Quentin’s side. “Not to mention the Neitherlands. You learn to take care of yourself. There’s all kinds of unsavory situations you can end up in. Once, I was hooking up with this chick – she was basically a banshee – and she scratched the shit outta my back. I was bleeding like hell and all torn up and let me tell you, I did not want to end up looking like Jamie Fraser in Outlander, no matter how hot Sam Heughan is. S-o, I took it upon myself to learn some complicated healing shit – Alice and I took the basics as an elective fifth year – and magicked myself better. Voila, all the sex appeal of Sam Heughan without the disfiguring back scars.”
Quentin nodded absently, not really listening to him. Instead, he was looking straight past Josh towards the raging bonfire where Eliot stood talking to Admiral Lacker, back straight, curls tousled, and crown glinting in the firelight. He was clipping the key he and Julia had recovered from the castle Quentin had seen in the jungle. Quentin had passed out after saving Benedict, his cocktail of stress, fear, adrenaline, and magic had finally hit him; leading Quentin to feel like he’d drunk eight red bulls in a row and had been hit with the full effect of an 888-milligram caffeine crash. Now, as Josh carefully sutured his side, he was finally recovering from his unintentional nap on the deck.
Poppy sidled over and handed him a cup of something that smelled fruity. “Where did you get to this morning?” she asked, sipping her drink. Poppy looked pristine surrounded by the tired and battle-weathered crew. Not a scratch on her. Pretty impressive.
“Oh, you know,” Quentin said, taking a swig of his drink and choking, which in turn made his side ache. He wheezed and wiped his chin. “Talking to, um, a god.”
“Oh.” Poppy said, wide-eyed. “One you…know?”
“Sort of?” Quentin winced as Josh finished his suturing. “Ember. He- I knew Him in my world too, but He was, uh-”
“A giant dick?” Josh asked, shaking out his hands.
“No, He was that in my world too. More like… a giant goat?”
“Isn’t that what He’s like in the books?” Poppy asked, tilting her head. “A mysterious ram who dispensed wisdom or some shit?”
“Yeah, something like that…” Quentin finished off the drink. “It was all very cryptic. Mostly I got lost.”
“Sounds like Ember.” Eliot said. He had crossed over to them without Quentin noticing. His skin glowed warm in the firelight. He looked as handsome as any fairytale prince, but this was no prince, this was a King.
Poppy stood up and took Josh’s arm.
“Poor Bingle pulled something in his shoulder earlier. Let’s go look at it together.” She winked at Quentin and left with Josh on her arm calling back to him to not stress himself too much.
“Hey.” Eliot said softly.
“Hey,” Quentin replied, equally soft. Eliot shifted on the sand, long legs folding under him.
“Benedict wants to talk to you later. He told me you saved his life today.”
Quentin ducked his head, feeling a flush rise to his cheeks. “Oh, well, um, yeah.” He scratched his neck. Fillorian coat collars were so high and scratchy. The rough texture distracted him from the appearance of this Eliot, with his dark hair, too green eyes, and dashing figure. “Just, um, you know, doing my part. He’s a good kid.”
Quentin hadn’t talked to this Benedict that much. They’d had a few conversations about the weather and the quest and once he’d commented on the construction of one of Benedict’s maps, but other than that, Quentin didn’t know him that well. But he seemed like a good kid and that’s what he was: a kid. No goddamn way would Quentin ever let a kid die.
“It was brave.” Eliot said. His eyes trailed down Quentin’s chest, all the way down to the gash in his side, sutured and sealed with magic and care.
“May I?” he asked, his voice almost a whisper. Quentin glanced down at Eliot’s long fingered hands, the hands he’d come to know for an entire life. He nodded, not trusting himself to speak. Eliot’s fingers ghosted over the gash, feather light. Quentin felt his flush spread from his cheeks to his neck.
“This will scar.” Eliot murmured, still running his soft hands over Quentin’s side. “I have ointment to help with that... in my quarters.” Eliot’s eyes met his own. “If you’d like to come.”
Here it was, the invitation. Quentin could feel the anticipation in his bones, it threatened to spill over, flooding the island, and sinking them all into the sea. It felt like the night was holding its breath and Eliot was too. Quentin looked at him, the man that was and wasn’t his and knew his decision had already been made.
“Lead the way,” he said.
Eliot wasn’t in the cabin.
Quentin cursed and ran back out into the hall. The Muntjac barely rocked; it was a still night. Quentin scrambled above decks. His heart pounded in his ears, ricocheting and bouncing off the walls of his insides, slamming the panic button behind his ribs over and over again in an unceasing rhythm of stress and anxiety. The night air – or was it morning? He couldn’t tell anymore – was colder now and his frantic breaths came out in puffs of white, crisp and clear against the dark sky.
Quentin squinted, eyes darting around the empty deck and at last spotted Eliot, sitting off the edge of the ship, feet dangling precariously close to the calm water. Quentin crept forward, soft-footed, towards Eliot, like he was Steve Irwin approaching some unknown mammal for the first time.
“If you could shut up for five minutes, I could enjoy the view.” Eliot spat, talking to nothing.
Talking to a depression monster. Jesus Christ.
“The Abyss isn’t endless, dipshit. We’ll get out soon, I know it.” Eliot leveled a flat look to his left. Empty air. Quentin weighed his options: continue sneaking up on Eliot and maybe get, who knew, tossed into the dark ocean where he would drown a horrible death, or wait until he was noticed and awkwardly act like strolling out on the deck in pitch black darkness was a regular thing he did for fun. Both sounded awful in his mind. But he didn’t have to choose because Eliot turned and said: “Will you shut up? He’s not my boyfrie-” And stopped.
“Hey.” Quentin said, feeling gangly and awkward and chock full of stress and sweat. He dropped down next to Eliot, folding his legs under him. “How’s everything?”
Eliot stared at him wide-eyed and then laughed. “Everything’s fuckin’ peachy.” He discreetly wiped away a tear. “Nothing like complete darkness to get into your thoughts.”
“Do you need help?” Quentin said. “With your thoughts.” Eliot smiled, rueful and sad, like he was remembering something bittersweet. His eyes glassed over, and he looked past Quentin and frowned.
“No,” he said, mouth souring. “I don’t need your help, Coldwater.”
Quentin bit his lip. “The key,” he said.
“The key, you said it does nothing. you lied.” Eliot looked away, past Quentin at whatever was haunting him - whoever.
“Maybe I did.” He squeezed his eyes shut and let out a shuddering breath. “It’s none of your business what I do or don’t do,” Eliot leveled a cold gaze at Quentin. “So, kindly fuck off and leave me alone.”
“What is it saying to you?” Quentin said, grabbing his arm. Eliot startled and his frown deepened. “There has to be some way to make it go away.” Quentin rattled his brain for ideas. Maybe it was a Harry Potter thing where you had to think happy thoughts to banish it, or whatever the hell they did. They could toss the key overboard! But, no, then they’d just be down a key and literally negating the whole point of this stupid sailboat voyage.
“I could try Brahm’s Reversal to remove the magic like old paint, uh, or we could stomp on it a few times, really hit it with feeling.” There was no way Quentin would allow Eliot to hand it off to anyone, and he didn’t think Eliot would part with the key if he knew its entire effect. Eliot, no matter which world, was a self-sacrificing bastard on a good day and a stubborn one on a bad.
“Stop trying to help me like you care!” Eliot hissed. “I won’t sit here and be patronized by some bleach blond carbon copy of my best friend who doesn’t give two shits about my life. I can’t stand it!” He fumbled to his feet, grasping the ship’s rail so tight his knuckles turned white.
“First of all, fuck you.” Quentin stood, meeting Eliot, eye to eye. “You think just because I’m not your Quentin I don’t give a damn about you? Well, newsflash asshole, you’re not my Eliot but I still care! You think I would’ve gone on this fucking boat quest if you and Margo hadn’t asked? You think I want to be here? Everything’s the same but it’s not. Benedict, the Muntjac, Whitespire, fucking Fillory! It’s all different. And you- you’re not my- you’re not him. Eliot. The Eliot who knows me. The Eliot who I lo-”
Quentin covered his mouth with a snap. He stepped back, mortified.
What the hell had he almost said?
Did he love-?
“Fucking incredible,” Eliot muttered bitterly. Quentin snapped from his thoughts and watched as Eliot dug into his pocket and pulled out the key.
That damn key.
“Maybe they should just call this one the truth key,” he said, turning it between his fingers. “All you get is the clear, unclouded truth.” Eliot looked cocked his head, listening.
“Eliot.” Quentin said warily.
How much time would it take for Eliot to get over the rail? Eliot was ignoring him, instead he was staring at the key contemplatively, watching it shine in the firelight.
“You know,” he said, still looking at the key. “I killed someone. Two someone’s actually.”
“Oh.” Quentin said. Not much more to say to that. He took another wary step closer to Eliot.
“I’ve killed and I regret it. But somehow-” Eliot laughed, it was a painful sound, rough and raw and so, so drenched with hurt. He rubbed a hand down his face. “Somehow, the thing I regret the most is rejecting you.” Eliot turned; his face twisted with emotion. Quentin stared at him, wide eyed.
“Isn’t that stupid? I had something- someone good and true who loved me and I just- threw it back in his face because- because I’m a coward. I was afraid and I ran away. ” On his last word, Eliot let out a great sob.
“Eliot,” Quentin said, soft.
What more was there to say? Never in his life had he seen Eliot cry; now that he had, Quentin was determined for it to never happen again. He approached him slowly and their eyes locked. Quentin pulled him close, away from the edge of the ship. Eliot hugged him back, tight, tight like he would leave, tight like he would die.
Then, Eliot kissed him.
Quentin closed his eyes, gentle surprise and a blush dusting his cheeks, and leaned in. It lasted a minute, maybe less, but to Quentin it was all the time in the world. They pulled away in silence. Quentin reached down and ever slowly, ever gently, unclasped Eliot’s hand from around the key and took it for himself. He tucked the key into his pocket, and it sat, heavy with ill intent.
Eliot blinked, eyes still red and wet from tears, and looked around. Quentin looked too, searching the ship with bright eyes, and tingling lips, bracing himself for his own monster.
He braced and braced, but-
It didn’t appear.
It was just them.
No one else.
The door shut behind them with an echoing click.
“I wasn’t lying, you know. It’s in here somewhere.” Eliot said, reaching into his bedside cabinet and loudly pushing around the things inside. Quentin sat on the bed tentatively.
This was such a dumb idea. So, he had almost died – so what? That happened like, every two weeks in his own world. Still, the rush of it, and the immediacy, trailed him like a long shadow. He felt like a wet dog in need of a good shake. He wanted to touch something, to feel his skin against skin and the raw thumping mess of his heart, alive, pounding between his ears. It was a weird kind of feeling, like he was teetering still between awareness and sleep, half floating through space, untethered from his surroundings. Quentin needed something to ground him.
The person who’d always done that- was a whole world away.
And... Eliot didn’t want anything to do with him.
Yet here he was, miraculously, different and the same, standing right in front of Quentin, offering to care, with all his heart. Eliot sidled up to Quentin on the bed, popping open the cork of his tincture with a practiced flick of the wrist.
The bed was longer than the one in Quentin’s own Muntjac. It was clearly made for Eliot’s tall and lengthy physique. Quentin felt dwarfed by it.
“Take off your shirt.” Eliot said softly. With only a small amount of wincing, Quentin did as he was told. His nipples pebbled and his chest tingled in the cold cabin air. He self-consciously crossed his arms. Just how different was he from the other Quentin? He knew he was smaller, stockier, and apparently had darker hair; what was the extent?
Quentin flushed as Eliot mapped his upper body with his bright green eyes. Eliot reached out a hand and ran it over the gash in Quentin’s shoulder. He’d forgotten to mend it in the aftermath of everything and it stood out, unnatural and sharp against his pale skin.
“Wooden shoulder…” Eliot murmured. His fingers traced the grain of the living wood that joined Quentin’s collarbone and humerus. Quentin watched him, quietly surprised this Eliot noticed the difference at all. The false skin the centaurs had applied was basically imperceptible unless you looked closely.
Quentin remembered – God, it felt like years ago now - when he’d woken up at the Retreat and afterwards when the Winter’s Doe sent him home, staring at the skin on his left shoulder and running his fingers over it. The shoulder there didn’t feel like the rest of his body did, it was dulled and soft, like when you listened to music through a neighbor's wall. Sometimes he forgot it was even there - the paint job being so well-done - but every once in a while, Quentin would touch his shoulder and feel it, the ever so slight raise of wood fused to the rest of his body.
When he’d turned seventy-six, he’d noticed it the most. The wood had stiffened throughout the years, making it harder to turn and bend. Eliot had helped him through it; massaged him, carried things for him, and taken more turns at the Mosaic. The last one, Quentin got on Eliot’s case about. By the time Eliot was in his seventies he’d had more and more trouble with his knees.
What an old pair they’d made.
Quentin startled, something cold touching his side. He looked down to see Eliot’s slender hands touching his sealed injury, massaging the ointment carefully into his skin.
It felt… nice.
Eliot’s long fingers traced the rough skin, warming him in the cool room. A consistent and soft pressure bloomed in Quentin’s side, a relief from the ache in his side, steady and strong. He leaned into it, letting his eyes fall closed with a contented sigh.
“Feels nice.” Quentin murmured, enjoying the push and pull moving from his side to his back. He relaxed into Eliot’s capable hands as the man moved behind him. His head lolled and he opened his eyes. Blinking away the dark, Quentin found himself looking up at Eliot. His heart stuttered. Eliot’s hands stilled.
They looked at each other in silence, heat, and energy crackling between them.
“Are you sure?” Eliot whispered, soft and so, so gentle.
Was he sure?
Quentin didn’t know.
He nodded anyway.
Then, mustering all the courage and strength in his heart, he closed his eyes, leaned in, and kissed him. Their mouths met each other like long lost lovers, passionate and sweet with a delicacy that spoke of liaisons past. Quentin found himself pushing upwards and pulling Eliot down at the same moment. He caught his head with his hand and kept him close as they moved together. Eliot smiled into the kiss, his crooked teeth clacking against Quentin’s in his enthusiasm. Quentin didn’t mind it; he met Eliot’s passion with his own, licking into his mouth, and savoring the taste of him. Eliot’s hands wandered, mapping Quentin’s body like every raised scar, cut and freckle was a tiny perfect thing. His large hands caressed Quentin’s chest, pinching his hard nipples with delight. Quentin moaned into Eliot’s mouth and bit down on his bottom lip. Eliot pinched harder.
Suddenly, Quentin was impatient. He reached down to Eliot’s waist and rucked up his tunic, cursing the universal constant which was Eliot in layers. Eliot laughed and did the best he could to help, mouth and hands mostly occupied.
After a bit of wiggling, Eliot was free from the confines of his shirt and enthusiastically pressed kisses into the corner of Quentin’s jaw. Hands hooking underneath his armpits, Eliot reseated Quentin onto his lap with a low noise. He settled there contentedly. Quentin stroked his face and kissed him again with fervor, memorizing the odd curve of his jaw and the softness of his skin. They broke for breath and Quentin rested in the crook of Eliot’s neck, breathing in the scent of him. Saltwater, sweat, and just the hint of oak. He bit Eliot’s shoulder and pressed lips to skin, marking him.
Just beyond, Quentin could see the thick lines of a tattoo spanning the whole of Eliot’s back. He snaked his hand around Eliot’s torso- touched the ink and felt power. It was a pentagram. Wholly different from the monogrammed Q on his own back. Another difference. Eliot nipped at his ear; Quentin groaned, shifted. Eliot chuckled, breathy and soft.
“Alright?” he asked, kissing a sloppy line from Quentin’s jaw down to his nipple. He laved his tongue and sucked hard.
“Uh. Uh-huh-” Quentin responded intelligently. He writhed and arched, each part of him lighting like a beacon at Eliot’s touch. His dick strained against his pants, trapped, and rubbing against the thin fabric. They shifted again and Eliot slid off the bed to his knees, nosing down, down, down, pressing kisses to Quentin’s stomach. Eliot stopped at the ties and licked his lips. He looked up, eyes shining.
“May I?” Eliot asked.
Quentin could laugh- and he did, bright and giddy, flushed in the face.
Eliot raised an eyebrow.
Quentin nodded, feeling ridiculous and oddly flattered.. “Yes. Yes, of course, you can suck my dick, Jesus Christ.”
“Just me, darling,” Eliot winked.
Quentin rolled his eyes, exasperated and smiling.
Eliot undressed him soundly, wasting no time at all to get Quentin naked like the day he was born. Quentin’s dick, free of all pant-related entrapments, stood proud in the cabin air, thick, average, and just a little bit red at the tip, beaded with pre-come. He could swear Eliot’s eye’s glinted.
“God, Quentin-” Eliot said, taking him in hand. “Look at you.”
Look at you , he wanted to say, feeling for all the world: tongue-tied.
Eliot: all curls, lightly tanned, rugged, muscled from work on the ship, and soft lipped. He licked along the underside of Quentin’s shaft slowly, like he was savoring his first taste. Quentin huffed. He didn’t know how long he would last- this body, his body, hadn’t lived through fifty years of Eliot’s tongue and hands and dick.
“Ah,” he whined as Eliot kissed the head of his dick, sensitive and slick.
Eliot made a contented noise and pressed another kiss to Quentin’s aching dick, then shirtless and kneeling, Eliot swallowed Quentin’s cock with ease, taking him deep into the wet heat of his mouth, hallowing his cheeks and laving his tongue along the length of him.
“Good- ah.” Quentin moaned. “Feels good - fuck - s’perfect.”
Eliot hummed, the vibration setting off signals in Quentin’s brain that almost made him snap his hips forward with reckless abandon. Obscene, wet sounds filled the room; Quentin groaned, loud and breathless.
“Can’t believe- you’re so perfect. Hngh, E- Eliot.”
Eliot quickened, head bobbing faster. The pleasure at the base of Quentin’s dick started to build. He knew he could come just like this.
“I want-” Quentin stuttered, “w- want you inside.” Eliot slid off his cock with a wet sound, spit and pre-come dripping from his lips and rose to meet him, thrusting his tongue inside and kissing Quentin soundly. Quentin moaned into Eliot’s mouth, tasting himself on his tongue.
“On your front or back?” Eliot asked, not at all sounding as breathless as Quentin felt, the bastard.
“I wanna see you,” Quentin kissed at Eliot’s jaw, pawing at his torso, desperate to touch every inch of him.
“Okay,” Eliot kissed his check. “Alright, darling.” Quentin scooted back, away from the edge of the bed to settle himself while Eliot grabbed a pillow and slotted it under his hips. Quentin’s eyes wandered down to Eliot’s crotch; there was an unmistakable rise straining against his pants. He reached out and tugged. Eliot chuckled and kissed him again.
“I wanna see you.” Quentin repeated, finally freeing Eliot’s dick from its confines. Curving a little to the left and standing tall, Quentin grasped it and gave an experimental pump, his mouth watering. Eliot shuddered against him, sloppily kissing his collarbone. “Another time, darling,” he murmured, petting Quentin’s side gingerly. Quentin made a disappointed sound but nodded. They kissed again, losing themselves in it for a while, grinding against each other with satisfaction.
“I’ve got-” Eliot said between kisses. “a prep spell-” Kiss. “if you-” Kiss. “want it.” Kiss.
Quentin bucked his hips and thought about it, something that was proving difficult to do at the moment. There was always a strange feeling to the prep spell- distracting. Quentin shuddered. Inside , his mind said. I need him inside me. No time to wait.
“Yes,” he said, arching his back and baring his neck. “Yeah, ah, I want it.” Quentin said, kissed and covered, caressed, and cared for.
“Alright,” Eliot murmured against his skin. “Hold tight for a second.” Eliot murmured in Greek and made a half-twisted motion.
The curious part of Quentin’s brain that was currently sitting in the corner enjoying the show recognized that Eliot had done a meta-comp version of the spell to include protection.
Quentin’s heart ached. The rest of him ached too; he could feel the spell taking hold and loosening him up. A cold rush traveled through him, light and airy like a gust of cool air on a warm day. Quentin groaned and pushed up with his hips, desperate for some friction. Eliot kissed him soundly one more time and made a one-handed motion: his hand glinted in the candlelight. He slicked himself with an impatience Quentin felt.
“Ready?” Eliot asked, lining himself up to Quentin’s empty and puckered hole.
“Uh huh,” Quentin nodded.
Eliot slid into him with a grunt and Quentin shuddered. All at once he felt filled to the brim, like a cup about to spill with water. He could feel the warm heat of Eliot inside him, gentle, careful. Eliot knocked his forehead with Quentin’s resting inside and taking deep huffing breaths.
Then, he began to move. Quentin whipped his arms up to support himself against the headboard and whined, high and loud. Eliot snapped his hips against him, bucking in time to a rhythm of his own. He was talking too, low murmurs of “Perfect,” “Yes,” “So good,” and more incoherent, guttural noises that seemed to punch out of him suddenly without a moment’s notice. Quentin squirmed, pleasure in his body sparking like a match every moment Eliot’s cock dragged against his prostate.
Eliot shifted and drove deeper, pounding against the little bundle of nerves relentlessly. Quentin moaned. His dick was trapped between their bodies. The friction rubbed and rubbed and rubbed at him, sending shockwaves upon shockwaves of pleasure throughout him. Quentin shut his eyes, taking staccato breaths in time with Eliot’s thrusts, feeling every inch of him inside.
He thought then, of Eliot, his own Eliot, far, far away. Quentin shook his head and pushed upwards, catching this Eliot’s mouth in his own. If he couldn’t have one, he’d have the other.
The pressure mounted inside him, building up and condensing. Quentin pushed down against Eliot, relishing the snap of skin against skin. Their teeth clashed as they kissed, sloppy, wet, chaotic. Quentin sucked at Eliot’s tongue and shuddered.
“Close,” he gasped as Eliot sucked a dark bruise on his collarbone. “I’m gonna-” his breath hitched.
Pressure mounted in his body, clenching and releasing, and rising higher and higher. Quentin let out a high whine as his muscles contracted, feeling an intense wave of pleasure move through him, as strong as an ocean wave. The pressure released and Quentin came on his stomach with a cry; hot, white streaks of come spilling onto his chest and painting his skin. Eliot grunted, his hips snapping more and more erratically until he pulled out at the last second and came too, shaking and weak-kneed on Quentin’s stomach, adding to the mess Quentin had made on his own. Eliot collapsed beside him with a heavy sigh. Quentin stared up at the intricate ceiling of the cabin, breathless. Eliot summoned a pack of cigarettes – Merits – from somewhere and offered one. Quentin took it. They smoked in companionable silence next to one another, touching just a little. He turned to Eliot, this Eliot, with a wry smile.
“I feel really gross,” he joked.
Eliot held his cigarette between his teeth and tutted the sticky mess on Quentin’s chest away. “Sorry,” Eliot said, glassy eyed and faraway, not looking sorry at all.
“S’Alright,” Quentin murmured, taking another drag. “Thanks.” Quentin closed his eyes and let the familiar burn and taste overtake him.
He felt like a hollow glass, designed to drain when overfilled, dripping with red wine but empty all the same. Quentin blew smoke from his lips and watched it rise in the air. An ashtray floated in front of his line of sight. Quentin stubbed out his cigarette and watched the blackened bit of it crush under his weight, flattened and destroyed.
His body ached and he had the wonderful feeling of being well fucked. Yet, even with the delightful soreness of his ass, the swollen feeling of his lips, and the marks on his neck, all he could think was: Eliot.
God, I miss Eliot.
Quentin watched Eliot tentatively eat a spoonful of soup. He’d threatened to turn the cook into a frog – something he was too stressed out to cast properly, but what they didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them – and gotten a bowl of tomato chicken soup, brandy, and some macaroons for his efforts. He’d steered Eliot past the room where Poppy was staying – probably doing evil yoga or something – and deposited him, much less weepy and more composed, in the galley.
Quentin resisted the urge to pace, focusing instead on the small slurping noises of Eliot trying to elegantly eat soup. Why hadn’t the so-called depression monster appeared? Poppy hadn’t been lying about it because well, after some light consideration it was pretty fucking obvious that when you’re talking to air, it’s probably something.
Was Quentin just…. too depressed for the key?
Quentin scoffed aloud.
No, it couldn’t possibly be that.
Then maybe… Could it be because he was from another universe-world-whatever?
He slumped onto the dining table and groaned. Nothing was making sense. Not the key and not… Quentin pushed his face into the table self-pityingly.
Did he love Eliot?
The obvious answer was, well, of course.
Eliot was his friend, his co-king.
And that was it, wasn’t it?
Eliot was more than that.
More than anyone else, more than Julia, more than Janet, more than Josh, and hell, even Poppy, Quentin missed Eliot.
That had to mean something, didn’t it?
And here was the meaning, beaming straight like a 5000-watt flashlight and blinding him.
He loved Eliot.
He loved Eliot as a friend and… more.
Quentin grabbed a macaroon and shoved it in his mouth mournfully.
Why couldn’t he have his “hey you’re in love with your best friend” revelation somewhere else? Not less than five feet away from the alternate universe version of said best friend, who was also in love with you, but the alternate version of you.
Quentin grabbed another macaroon. If he was eating his feelings tonight, then dammit, he was going to commit. Quentin wiped his mouth. Why hadn’t it been obvious? All the other times Quentin had been in love he’d known it, labeled it love. L-O-V-E. Four letter word. Simple, easy.
The answer poked at him annoyingly.
You know why you didn’t notice, his garbage brain said. You didn’t look.
Quentin groaned again.
God, this was so inconvenient, he just wished Eliot were here.
Speaking of Eliot, Quentin looked over at the alternate man in question. He was staring, eyebrows raised at Quentin.
“Are you done?” he asked. “I’m trying to eat.”
“So am I,” Quentin said, stuffing another macaroon in his mouth, perfectly aware he was acting like he was fucking six or something.
“You’re definitely doing all kinds of things.” Eliot slurped his soup pointedly.
“Sorry to interrupt your food; I’m just kind of going through a romance crisis.” Quentin pulled the plate of macaroons to his chest. “Also, I’m taking the rest of these.”
“Romance crisis,” Eliot laughed. “ You’ve got a romance crisis?”
“Yeah, okay, whatever, sorry, I just realized I’m in love with my best friend, it’s no biggie.” Quentin rolled his eyes. These macaroons were really good. Eliot swallowed and looked down at his lap.
“I’m-” his face dropped into a frown. “Sorry.”
“Hey,” Quentin said. He cleared his throat. “Do you wanna, um, talk about what happened up there? Since you….uh…” Quentin made an awkward kissy-kissy motion.
“Not really,” Eliot sighed. “But I have a feeling you’d make me anyway.” Quentin shrugged. Eliot straightened his tunic and pushed his dark hair out of his eyes; he looked like even the suggestion of talking about his feelings made him want to puke.
“So, you kissed me.” Quentin said.
He pushed the plate macaroons back towards Eliot. They stared across the table in silence. Eliot pursed his lips and took one.
“So, I kissed you,” he repeated.
“And you also… said some stuff.”
Quentin was steadily realizing that he was maybe not equipped for this level of emotional problem solving.
The last time he’d had to mediate a relationship… It’d been his own and that had ended… badly.
Even before that, he’d been the third wheel to James and Julia. They’d never… sorted out their issues in front of Quentin, and with good reason. As time went on, Quentin was feeling more and more convinced that at seventeen he’d had the emotional intelligence of a wet sock.
“Stuff.” Eliot repeated. He laughed ruefully. “Yeah, stuff, you could call it that.”
“Look,” Quentin said. He fidgeted a little and pulled his crown off his head. He rolled the bronzed metal between his fingers, feeling the weight of it in his hands.
“I don’t wanna sit here and pretend to understand all your baggage. I’m not- I’m not your Quentin. I am-” Laugh. “Very aware that I’m not him. You and everybody else point it out all the time. I’ve noticed and uh, that’s saying a lot.” He looked up. “And I know you’re not my Eliot. The difference is clear. So, uh, basically, you can level with me. I won’t get pissed or, or, upset or something because I’m a different person. If you – I don’t know – tried to kill me or some shit I’d probably be less understanding, obviously. But you didn’t. You kissed me. Once. And talked about some clearly personal and um,” Quentin searched for a word. “Affecting stuff. And I just think, maybe… you should clear the air about it.” Quentin shrugged. “And who knows, maybe your emotional… fulfillment… will satisfy the key or something and I’ll be able to go home.”
Eliot slowly took a macaroon from the plate, he looked like he wanted to say something but to do so would mean dying a slow and uncomfortable death.
Quentin waited, watching him.
Eliot opened his mouth, once, twice, and sighed.
“Okay, fine.” Eliot said, and ate the macaroon. “Where do you want me to start?”
Did it count as a walk of shame if both parties did the walking?
Quentin and Eliot had stayed the night on the Muntjac, sleeping slotted against each other and not saying much. The tension wasn’t exactly awkward, but it wasn’t comfortable either. There was a strange, charged energy in the air, like a buildup of static electricity when your fuzzy socks sparked along the floor, a single touch becoming a jolting zap of pain. Their touches were electric and- wrong. That’s all it was, honestly.
It just felt wrong. Like a betrayal.
And no matter how much they tried to push it, rectify it, it remained that way.
They returned to the beach in the early morning. There was still a final key, Eliot had explained. One that had been lost when Quentin – his Quentin – had gone through a door with Julia. Julia hadn’t had it, so it was assumed the other Quentin had it, or it was lost entirely. Quentin hoped it wasn’t. It seemed like the key was maybe the key – insert half-hearted laugh here – to getting home.
Quentin kicked the sand, wondering not for the first time, just how much longer he would be here, in this parallel place.
Eliot cleared his throat. “Quentin, I want you to know that I had a great time last night. Some things weren’t… ideal and I know that- well, I know we were both thinking of… you know, other people. But, still,” he brushed imaginary dust off his coat. “Thank you, I guess, is what I’m trying to say? I think.”
Quentin looked up at Eliot, his silver crown glinted in the morning sun. “Um, you’re welcome? I’m sorry I wasn’t- just, um, thanks. Also.” He smiled at him, soft and sad. “It was nice.”
“Yeah, it was.” Eliot smiled back, just as sad, just as soft.
“And um, Eliot-”
“Uh, excuse me?”
It was Benedict.
Wide eyed and fidgety, he clutched a map in his hand like it was a lifeline.
“Quentin, can I- can we talk?” Quentin blinked. He couldn’t think of anything Benedict would want from him.
“Sure, uh,” he turned back to Eliot. Eliot shrugged, a wry smile turning his mouth.
“Go on, we can talk later.” Quentin nodded and watched Eliot take his leave, joining the rest of the crew. Benedict pulled Quentin away from the others. His feet, though booted, burned on the white sand.
“I never said thank you,” Benedict said, nervously rolling his map between his hands. “You saved my life yesterday and I- I don’t know how to thank you for it. I just- it feels so stupid, thinking about how, I was just walking up there with my sword out like I was some, some knight in kid’s story ready to charge into adventure. I could’ve died right there on the deck, just like that. But you stopped it. So, just, thank you. Thank you so much.”
Quentin ducked his head, heat rising to his cheeks. “I’m just glad you’re okay, Benedict.”
Quentin turned to go; Benedict caught his arm, firm.
“Wait- um, there’s more,” he bit his lip and let go of Quentin’s arm. Stuffing his map underneath his armpit, Benedict reached down into his pant pocket.
“I didn’t know what to do at first but - you seem, I don’t know - I trust you. And basically, um, after you- after King Quentin and Queen Julia went through the door, I picked it up when no one was looking. I don’t know why. I didn’t know how to give it back. I thought maybe I’d pretend to find it.”
In his hands, was the golden key.
“I’m sorry,” Benedict said sheepishly. “I wanted to be a hero.”
“Benedict,” Quentin said, looking between the young man and the key in his hand. “I- You trust me?”
“Yeah,” Benedict said, he shifted back and forth on his feet. “Like I said, you saved my life. That’s a pretty big, uh, debt.”
Quentin stared at the key. It was a burnished sort of gold, rough and dented in some places; it was different from the keys from his world, simpler. There was an undeniable energy to it, a sort of small gravitational pull. Quentin had only seen the other keys in passing - Eliot kept them on a key ring in his coat pocket – yet he’d never felt anything like this.
Unless you find a tool that could aid your journey. Abigail’s raspy voice echoed in his mind.
Was the key the tool? It had taken the other Quentin once, stolen him and Julia away to Earth, it could take you to other worlds, who’s to say it couldn’t cross universes?
Quentin took the key gingerly like it was made of glass, liable to break and shatter. He ran his hand over it curiously, feeling the grooves and shape of it. Simple and small.
All at once, he felt a tugging sensation. Quentin lurched forward, key in hand.
“Is this normal?” he asked, his hand darting around in the air, half of its own accord.
“No…?” Benedict said.
“Cool,” Quentin said.
He stumbled forwards with Benedict following him anxiously.
Back towards the camp. Back towards Eliot.
The key was definitely tugging him somewhere.
Quentin hoped it was home.
“Wow, okay, that’s a lot.” Quentin said.
The plate of macaroons was empty and so was the soup. Around the time Eliot mentioned a Mike, the brandy had been opened, and they’d been drinking it ever since.
Eliot snorted. “That’s one way to put it.”
“Like, Jesus Christ, man, you have boatloads of trauma. A whole boat. An ark- like Noah’s ark levels of trauma.”
“Little pairs of animal bullshit.” Eliot cheered his glass and knocked it back with a gulp.
Quentin hiccupped. “It seems to me that- that- you need to talk to me, him, Quentin, about this.”
“No-o,” Eliot moaned, sliding down in his chair. “I’d rather die.”
“You did that though,” Quentin pointed out. “A lot.”
“Shut up. You look like you’re sixty.”
“Explain to me why your hair’s like that, Snow White.”
Quentin sniffed. “Happened when the centaurs healed me.”
“Didn’t happen to my Q.”
“Maybe it did,” Quentin tugged at his hair. “Maybe it was just his pubes.”
“Nope.” Eliot popped the “p.” “It didn’t.”
“It’s literally just you,” Eliot murmured.
“But it’s not- it’s weird.” Quentin grumbled. “Give me that.” He clumsily stole the bottle from Eliot, sloshing some of its contents on the table.
“So, you lived a whole life, like, fifty whole years and you guys raised a kid and had grandchildren.” Quentin belched softly.
“Yeah.” Eliot turned the glass in his hand, watching the firelight catch the crystal at odd angles.
“You did all that, with minimal relationship drama and had several anniversaries.” Quentin added pointedly.
“Yes.” Eliot sighed.
“Then Queen Margo undid the thing that got you there: dug up the corpse of…Jane Chatwin.” Quentin winced. The memory of a young Jane Chatwin swam to the surface of his mind, braided hair, a freckled-round face. How awful to think of her dead.
“Ye-s.” Eliot slouched even lower, setting the glass on the table with a soft thud.
“But then you remembered your whole life- all fifty years.”
“Give or take some memories but yeah.”
Quentin dragged a hand over his face. “And after all that remembering you told your Quentin that it wouldn’t happen - that it was real but also it wasn’t - not when he had a choice?”
Eliot nodded mutely.
Fucking hell, is this what it was like to talk to him? Quentin made a mental note to make Julia a gift basket if he ever got back – and Janet too.
“You do see the flaw in your logic, right?” Quentin made the brandy float out of the glass. Eliot watched the alcohol do lazy circles in the air. Quentin sent the brandy flying back into the bottle with a splash. He spoke a word in Polish and drew the shape of a siphon in the air. Quentin grimaced as the feeling of cold water drenched over him, bringing him to clarity. His pulse beat loudly between his ears and he blinked rapidly to dispel the painful tears in his eyes. Hangover spells always hurt like a bitch. Eliot blinked tenderly in the candlelight. Quentin wrapped his knuckles against the table sharply, making them both wince.
“Well, do you?” Quentin asked.
“What’s there to logic? It was undone. We remembered it but that’s all it is. Memories.” Eliot said bitterly, slouched and sad.
Quentin groaned and reminded himself that this Eliot never finished his second year at Brakebills.
“It’s basic time-travel, dumbass,” he said, walking around the table to pull Eliot up from his slouch. “If you took more than a single Horomancy elective you’d know it’s like Doctor Who, whatever’s happened has already happened. If it didn’t Jane would never had had the watch. No time loops in the first place. It’s like self-determinism, I think. Actions determined by itself. If you and other me hadn’t solved the Mosaic, Jane would’ve never had the means to get you guys involved with the Beast, meaning, the quest wouldn’t have happened.”
Eliot frowned, pushing his curls away from his face. “What are you saying?”
“I’m saying the whole-time shit’s like a tree and your quest was the seed. The reason for all the rest of it. If it hadn’t happened, it seems like nothing else would have. So, basically, it had to have been real for it to work out at all. It was real.”
Eliot’s eyes widened and he stumbled to his feet.
“Real,” he repeated. “You’re sure?”
Quentin nodded and sniffed. “I’m a magical genius, of course I’m sure.”
“That’s pushing it.”
“Maybe,” Quentin said.
“Maybe,” Eliot repeated, rolling his eyes. Then, he swallowed thickly, his exasperated expression melting into something anxious.
Quentin sat on the table, watching Eliot. He fidgeted under his gaze.
“What’re you going to do about it?” Quentin asked.
“What?” Eliot blinked; he flexed his large hands nervously.
“What will you say to me- other me? What you said up there on decks, I don’t have a lot of….experience or expertise, but that sounded a lot like a love confession.”
Eliot swallowed, his face pale, his curl’s almost wilted. The toll of the key, even after such a short time, was apparent. Quentin slid his hand into his coat pocket and touched it, feeling cold metal against his fingers. Nope. He glanced around. No depression monster.
“You’re…..right.” Eliot said, his voice solid and clear despite the uncertainty on his face.
It was as if something had finally clicked in place inside him; he stood taller, more confident, proud. Like a King. In that moment, Quentin was so painfully reminded of his own Eliot, his heart twisted in his chest, aching and raw.
“It was a love confession. I-” Eliot took a deep breath. Out.
“I love Quentin, and I know he loves me.” Eliot rubbed a hand over his face. “Oh God,” he said, voiced laced with cool dread and daring hope all at once. “What do I do now?”
Quentin beamed. “Talk to him, when he gets back… lay it all in the open. Tell the truth.”
He thought of his own Eliot, tall, sad, and perfect.
“Tell the truth,” he said to himself. Because, in the end, that’s all you need between two people: the truth.
Quentin knew what he had to do.
All at once, in his pocket, something pulsed. He pulled it out: the key. It tugged him forward, towards Eliot, with a strange amount of power. At last, the key had done something: made him trip over his own feet. Pull, pull, pull: the key dragged Quentin all the way to the inner wall of the cabin. He looked back at Eliot, who looked equally confused.
“I think this might be it.” Quentin said as the key directed his hand to form a door. The construction of it was similar to a portal – like the ones Josh made – neat and rectangular with no rough edges. Though this portal glowed.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t much help.”
Eliot shook his head. “No, you’ve helped me with the most important thing of all. So, thank you, Quentin. It means a lot.” Quentin nodded, his throat tight, caught with all the words that had been muddling around his head for weeks. Quentin’s hand slid the key softly into the lock. The wall clicked open.
“Thanks for kissing me, I guess?” Quentin said.
Eliot laughed. “I might just miss you.”
“Only just.” Quentin turned towards the portal, well, really it was a door.
“I hope everything works out on your end.” Eliot said. “Take care of….me. I’m a keeper.”
“I know that.” Quentin smiled to himself, feeling for the first time the potential of…. everything. He twisted the key and the door opened with a click.
“Eliot!” Quentin said, the hot sand burning his thin boots.
The key dragged him forward, Benedict trailed behind. Quentin stumbled to a stop. The key slotted into the air with an effortless click. Tentatively, he waved a hand around the key, but felt nothing. Quentin had a feeling that would change if he turned it. He flexed his fingers but didn’t let go. He didn’t know what would happen if he did – there was no point risking it.
“It is time,” said a voice. Julia. She stood and walked up to him. She was eye level now, a little taller actually and her skin had just the barest tint of green.
“You are going.” Julia caressed Quentin’s cheek, her dark flooded eyes soft and compassionate. “Take care.” She hugged him, tight and strong. Quentin nodded, eyes stinging.
He’d miss this strange Julia with her jet-black hair and gothic disposition. Quentin’s gaze wandered over her to the crew of the Muntjac, people he’d come to know and care for. Josh looked like he was going to burst into sniffles; Poppy patted his arm soothingly and smiled at Quentin, giving him a little thumbs up.
“Be safe, man!” Josh said, struggling to his feet and clapping Quentin on the back with a tearful force. “You better tell that other Josh how awesome I am.”
Quentin laughed. “I will.”
Benedict stepped forward, nervous. “Uh, thank you again,” he said, scratching behind his neck, “Thanks.” Quentin nodded and smiled at him.
One by one the crew of the Muntjac said their goodbyes, quipping, snarking and crying with Quentin as he stood, key poised in one hand. Then, there was just one more person to say goodbye. Eliot stepped up, his face a cocktail of complicated emotion.
“You should tell him,” he said with an assurance and ferocity that surprised even him. “I think I’d- he’d want to hear it, Eliot, I really do.”
Eliot smiled sadly at him. “And what about you?”
What about me? Quentin had no idea how long he’d been gone. He’d refused to think about it. What kind of ground had he to stand on? All the foundation he used to comfortably stand on had been shaken away the moment he’d kissed Eliot in the firelight. Probably even before that. He could love from the sidelines. He was almost sure of that.
“I’ll be fine,” he said instead.
Eliot frowned, but didn’t say a word. He leaned down instead and wordlessly pressed a kiss to Quentin’s forehead. Quentin closed his eyes, memorizing the feeling with all the power he could muster. Then, he knew, it was time to go.
“Um, bye.” Quentin said, feeling awkward and overwhelmed and full, full of emotion. He turned the key with a click. The air swung inwards and Quentin felt himself dragged forwards, the key tugging him back, back home.
Beyond the door, Quentin could see a cabin, dark and firelit. His world. His home. Quentin stepped through. Another man stepped forward too, as if they were mirrored. He was a taller figure: older, white haired, and crowned.
It was him.
The other Quentin.
They locked eyes, just for a second. It was strange, how alike and how different they were, just in disposition. Quentin wished they had the time to speak with one another, but he knew, just as the other Quentin did, that this was probably the only window they’d get. They nodded to each other, an acknowledgement. I will carry that other place with me, I will always know I was here , Quentin thought. He knew the other one was thinking it too.
And with one final look, Quentin Coldwater stepped forward and was gone.
Quentin squinted at the sky. The bright sun shined down on his head and for the first time in weeks he began to feel warm. He was back. He was back this time, for good. Quentin could feel it, even if he wasn’t on the mainland, he knew, this was Fillory. He felt like kissing the ground, he was so giddy. Quentin stumbled into someone’s arms and blinked rapidly, his eyes adjusting to the light.
God, the light! They’d been in the Abyss so long; he’d begun to worry that he wouldn’t remember the sun – ending up like some tall, twisted version of Gollum. But no, he could feel the sun beating down on his back, the bronzed metal of his crown was starting to heat up, and the strong hands of whoever was holding him were grounding him, the touch warm, solid, and familiar.
“You-” Eliot started and stopped. He crushed Quentin against his chest, tight and secure. Quentin squeezed his eyes shut and hugged back just as fierce.
God, how long had it been? Fillory’s timing was already so unreliable, what would another universe do to change that? Had it been years? Quentin shuddered in Eliot’s arms. He was almost afraid to look.
Eliot stroked his head, saying nothing. It seemed they were both too scared to let go.
“What?” Quentin joked weakly. “Did you miss me this much?”
Eliot chuckled and released him. He was sea-weathered and striking against the sand. The sea had been good to him, his dark hair was a little bit longer, his skin a little bit tanner. He looked like a pirate king, rugged and handsome. Quentin flushed.
God, how had he been so oblivious before? He wanted to thump past-Quentin for missing out this specific brand of eye-candy he’d had at his disposal 24/7.
“How long have I been gone?”
“A year and several weeks.”
“God. It was only three days on earth.”
“You know this makes me two years older than you now. How do you think that makes me feel? How was it?” Eliot’s eyes shined, the only betrayal of strong emotion on his face.
“Earth was the same. And… it was different.”
“Different?” Someone said. Poppy said. Wow, he never thought he’d miss that accent.
“I went to another world.” Quentin shrugged, trying to exude all the cool he never felt. “It was alright.”
“Did you bring me back anything?” Eliot laughed.
“What,” Quentin smiled, looking sidelong at him. “Am I not enough?”
Somewhere Josh snorted.
Eliot shook his head, beaming like a kid on Christmas. “Come on, Coldwater, I’ve got so much shit to tell you.”
Five minutes ago Quentin had been adrift at sea and heartsick, now it was bright and warm and there was his heart, leading him along. Love surged in his chest and stuck there, ridiculously tender, and ever beating in his heart.
Quentin would tell Eliot.
Tell him everything.
He just needed to find the words.
Quentin hoped he could.
Quentin stepped out of the portal onto the wooden floor of the Muntjac. He lurched; the ship rocked along its course – wherever that was. The air was heavy with the smell of torch-smoke and brine. Magic could only do so much for the smell of the sea.
A lone figure sat at a table, dressed in an intricately embroidered tunic, and hair longer than before: Eliot. Quentin started towards him… and tripped. “Fuck!” he tried to cast a spell to cushion his fall and, well, fell. Quentin groaned, his shoulder stinging. Eliot rushed over to him and helped him up, gentle with his shoulder.
“Hey,” Eliot said softly after he’d checked over Quentin for any more self-related injuries.
“Hey.” Quentin replied.
God, how he’d missed him.
The last time he’d been looked on with such tenderness, Quentin had just finished making dinner – the Fillorian equivalent of eggplant parm made with talking goat’s cheese and an eggplant substitute – and Eliot had smiled at him, his wrinkles and smile lines accentuating his happy expression. Quentin had kissed him on the cheek, and they’d ate, happy and content. That next day Eliot had died. Quentin swallowed.
“I went to another world,” he said, gently pulling away from Eliot’s firm hand.
“I know. Your twin came to visit.” Eliot said. He stood with a sigh and helped Quentin up.
“How weird was it?” Quentin asked.
“Super weird.” Eliot sat by the table and patted the seat next to him. Quentin joined him.
“Oh, you know, he could cast magic. Which I’m still confused about, honestly. He fixed some stuff on the ship for us. Small things: boards, ropes, broken crockery.”
“Oh?” Quentin looked around the room as if he could spot all the places the other Quentin had touched and mended.
“Do you think that’s my discipline, then?” he said, more to himself than Eliot. “Mending things?”
Quentin could recall years upon years of broken dishes and cracked wooden boards; the click and the flow of two pieces torn apart and returned, the break merely a memory. His fingers twitched to do magic, in this place where magic had died.
“Q,” Eliot said, soft.
He turned towards Quentin. Eliot’s face opened with an expression Quentin couldn’t quite place. Sadness? Regret? Or maybe it was nerves?
“Q,” he said again, stronger with more conviction. “I need to tell you something. I meant to- or well, I knew I should’ve said it earlier, but I didn’t.”
“Okay…?” Quentin said. Was Eliot rejecting him twice? Was the other Quentin just that impressive? He paled at the thought.
“Actually,” Eliot said, standing. “I just need- follow me?” Quentin frowned, but nodded. Eliot looked for all the world like a fucking kicked puppy, sad, small. Together, they climbed to the upper deck.
Quentin flopped on Eliot’s bed with a long sigh.
“A-nd they made me do all their little chores while I was there, even though I definitely had more magical experience and like, prowess.” He took his crown off and flipped it in his hands, watching the metal’s reflective light on the interior of the bright cabin.
“Poor baby,” Eliot replied flatly.
Quentin flipped him off.
“Be glad you didn’t come across a cannibal or something. Josh’s told me some wild stories about his trip through the Neitherlands.” Eliot sat at the foot of the bed. He pulled at the end of his tunic subtly, Quentin blinked, recognizing one of Eliot’s few nervous tells.
“Well, it was fine… I met another you, you know.”
Eliot’s gaze snapped around. “Another me?”
“Yeah, uh, parallel universe or whatever, so it was a given.”
“What was I- he- like?”
Quentin closed his eyes, remembering. “Lighter hair, lighter eyes. Not much else, honestly. He was kind of a bitch though.”
Eliot laughed. “I hate to break it to you, Quentin, but…”
“Yeah, yeah…” Quentin threw a pillow at Eliot, who batted it away with a loud bark of laughter.
“I just think you’re due for a little perspective-”
Eliot flopped back onto the bed laughing and let out a sigh.
They laid together in silence, both staring at the ceiling of the Muntjac’s cabin.
Quentin swallowed. He felt like the cowardly lion, wishing for all the courage in the world.
“Eliot,” he began, staring at the ceiling. “You know, you’re the very first friend I had at Brakebills. The very first. You were my introduction to magic, in a way, and I dunno, that’s pretty amazing.” Eliot hummed.
“I’m flattered; where are you going with this?”
Quentin shushed him, not looking. “You weren’t my first time, uh, or like, my first kiss or anything. But you kissed me, in the other world.” Eliot stilled beside him. “And it wasn’t you, not really. But it got me thinking about…stuff and how um, you maybe haven’t been a first for much in my life, but I want to experience the rest of my firsts with you? Fuck, uh, I guess what I’m trying to say is - spending time away from you, well, the heart grows fonder, right? – I just, you are…” Quentin trailed off, a lump lodged in his throat, his heart pounding. He squeezed his eyes shut and faced Eliot, dark and unseeing, safe, if only for a moment, in his confessional. “I realized that I love you. That I’m in love with you. And, um, I have been, probably for a while? And before you say anything about Alice-” Quentin faltered. He knew they both were thinking about her: the niffin shaped elephant in the room. How could he explain the love he had for Alice versus the love he held for Eliot. You couldn’t compare a crackling flame to a tumultuous sea. They were two different elements, both precious and important, but serving different purposes. He opened his eyes. Eliot stared back at him, face unreadable.. Quentin cleared his throat. “Alice is- was different. There are different degrees of loving someone, I think, and I just know I love you,” he nodded to himself. “Yeah. I love you, Eliot. Er- romantically.”
Quentin looked away again, this time at the headboard. It was intricately carved; the Great Bird of Peace flapped its wings in relief, light shining and spattering off it, touching the edges of a flat Fillory. Quentin resisted the urge to scooch up and touch it. Mostly, Quentin just resisted the urge to fidget. Eliot was silent, thinking about Quentin’s words, or maybe preparing a “sorry, but I don’t feel the same way speech.” Quentin could feel himself start to sweat.
“I slept with the other you.” Eliot said finally, making eye contact. “Just so you know.”
“Uh.” Quentin said.
So, was this the speech? Sorry, I fucked your alternate universe self and I liked him better, so I don’t wanna get with you. Quentin didn’t know whether he wanted to burst into hysterical laughter or cry.
“I slept with him because I thought you didn’t feel the same way I do. And honestly, it was great, really emotionally charged and just what I needed in the moment. But after? I felt like shit. Which is stupid because it wasn’t like- like we were dating or anything. I’ve never had a committed relationship in my life, yet I felt like I was betraying the most important one I had.”
“Okay…” Quentin narrowed his eyes, confused. If this was Eliot’s way of making him jealous, he was succeeding. “I’m not sure I follow…”
Eliot’s face broke into a warm grin. His eyes crinkled and his jaw twisted up, up, in the way that Quentin loved. Eliot shook his head fondly and laughed, bright, loud, and happy.
“You idiot, idiot, man. I’m trying to tell you that I love you.”
“Oh,” Quentin blinked. “Good.” He broke into a grin of his own. “Kiss me?”
They kissed like they were men dying of thirst. Quentin felt almost manic with excitement and desire, it bubbled warm and bright in his chest and repeated: mine, mine, mine. Eliot kissed back just as hungrily, his stubble scraping Quentin’s lips and face, leaving red evidence on his cheeks. Quentin pulled Eliot in tighter, running greedy hands over his torso and mapping with delight.
Quentin could barely remember the last time they’d been together; it was mostly a blur.
This was a first all over again.
And Quentin wanted to savor it.
Eliot mouthed at his neck, pressing wet kisses underneath his ear, and sucking dark marks on his neck with enthusiasm. Quentin laughed, breathless and fond.
“That tickles,” Quentin said, squirming under Eliot’s attack. His breeches were starting to get very strained. Eliot hummed and smirked up at him, eyes lidded.
“You like it,” he murmured, and bit down on Quentin’s neck.
Quentin moaned and flushed, embarrassed. Eliot tugged Quentin’s pants down with practiced ease. Quentin pulled Eliot’s down with less success, snagging his knees and blushing as Eliot guided his hands down. Quentin pressed closer to him; Eliot’s warmth was like a beacon in a dark night. He couldn’t decide whether he wanted to lean into Eliot’s touch or wiggle away. Eliot laved at Quentin’s neck and collarbone, unaware of his internal dilemma.
After several playful nips to his chest, Quentin’s brain kicked back into gear and made a decision. Looping a leg over and using what little brainpower he had that wasn’t dedicated to sex, Quentin straddled Eliot’s legs with a huff. He ground slowly down against Eliot’s obvious hard on, shivering with delight at the slightest bit of friction. Their hard cocks slid together, the movement sending sparks of pleasure up Quentin’s body. Eliot slotted his hands around Quentin’s waist, his light eyes blown black with desire.
“I like you up there.” Eliot said, hands happily exploring the shape of Quentin’s ass, caressing and gripping the cleft of it. Quentin shuddered as Eliot’s hands explored his lower half. Every press, every scrape of nail, he felt. “I love seeing you. God, I imagined it but I never thought…”
Quentin nodded and leaned down, kissing Eliot with fervor. “I know,” he said when they broke away. “I know - I love you – I love you like this.”
Eliot pulled him down sharply and kissed Quentin again, tongue darting into his mouth, hot and wet. “I love you too,” he rasped. “God, I love you too.”
They kissed and kissed and kissed again. Quentin would have been content to kiss Eliot forever, if they had the time, but his dick, stiff between his legs, begged for attention. Stiff and trapped against his stomach, leaking between them, Eliot snaked a hand down and stroked him with a practiced hand. Quentin shuddered, mouth falling open.
“I want- you need to fuck me. Eliot, fuck me.”
Eliot kissed him open mouthed and nodded. “Do you want- the spell? Or-?”
“Fingers. I can-” Quentin contorted his hand and summoned some lube, the slick coating his fingers, sticky and wet. It had been a long time since he’d done this. He kissed Eliot again and got to business, working himself open with all the exact precision of a magician well versed in complex spellcasting. Quentin shuddered against Eliot’s open mouth and added another finger, the slide becoming easier with each thrust. Eliot bucked upwards, dick sliding against Quentin’s, hard and aching.
With a final thrust of his fingers, Quentin took Eliot’s cock in hand and centered himself above it. Legs shaking, he sunk down onto Eliot with a satisfied groan. A delicious burn worked its way through him as Quentin’s body stretched to accommodate Eliot’s cock. Quentin closed his eyes, a happy noise escaping his lips. It was perfect, Eliot inside him, like a key fitting into a lock, Eliot fit into Quentin. There was no way just sitting on a dick could feel this good, could it? Quentin shivered and shifted, full to the brim. Like grooves cut in wood, Eliot left marks on Quentin’s sides, gripping tight.
Up and down, up and down, Quentin worked himself on Eliot’s cock, pounding down against his hips with relish. The slide of it thrilled him and his legs quivered as Eliot hammered upwards into him; it was tight, it was hot, and it was so, so good. Quentin found himself pawing at Eliot’s chest, looking for purchase as his breath staccato-ed with the rise and fall of Eliot’s cock inside him. They met each other’s eyes. Eliot’s gaze was electrifying, sending shivers down Quentin’s spine. It was like he had been cracked open and all the love and emotion in his heart was spilling out, just for Quentin to see. Quentin had had sex before but never like this. He crushed their lips together, biting at Eliot’s lip with force, almost drawing blood. God, he loved him. Eliot thrust into him, deep. He planted his feet with a huff, thrusting to meet Quentin as he bear down on him. Quentin cried out as Eliot’s dick finally found the bundle of nerves deep inside him. Eliot snapped his hips with practice, pulling Quentin down onto his cock.
“Good, ah- do you feel it?” Eliot said, cupping Quentin’s cheek.
Quentin bit down another moan and leaned into the touch. Still bouncing on Eliot’s dick, Quentin opened his mouth and sucked on Eliot’s fingers, savoring the feeling of pressure on his tongue and the slide of Eliot’s long fingers, spit soaked, in his mouth. He laved his tongue in and around and shuddered, feeling full on both ends. Eliot thrust faster, his eyes dark and heated.
“You’re doing so good, darling.” Eliot said breathless. “So good for me.”
He felt like he could float away. In fact, they were, floating, that is. In the little bit of brain Quentin had left, he vaguely remembered that sometimes magicians would levitate during sex. Well, they must be doing something right. He gasped as Eliot moved against his prostate once more. Quentin shuddered, feeling a familiar pleasure build inside him. His dick throbbed, red and leaking, against his stomach, bouncing with the force of Eliot inside of him. Quentin whined, a high pitched, embarrassing sound as he felt pressure build inside of him. He felt like a shaken bottle of soda, ready to explode at any moment.
“Eliot, I’m going to-” he broke off with a moan.
“I know, I’m- me too. Go on,” Eliot replied, sweating with exertion.
Quentin nodded, feeling the pressure grow and grow and grow.
Stars burst behind his eyes and Quentin cried out, as pleasure rocketed up his body like a live wire; his whole body twitched as he came, untouched and aching, spurting all over Eliot and his own shirt.
Seconds later, Eliot groaned and came inside him. They floated back to the bed and collapsed together. Sticky, sweaty and tired, Quentin nuzzled his face into Eliot’s chest, feeling - well, for the most part - very sore. Sighing contentedly, Eliot pressed his lips, gentle, against Quentin’s sweaty forehead.
“I’m gonna have to get a new shirt,” he mused. Quentin laughed and smiled sheepishly; Eliot’s tunic was rucked up and stained beyond belief, streaks of come were drying on the fabric and the shirt was wrinkled to all hell.
“Oops,” Quentin said. “Sorry.”
“No, you’re not,” Eliot laughed.
“No, I’m not,” Quentin agreed, grinning like a loon.
He kissed Eliot soundly, biting his lip for good measure.
“I love you,” he said, the words rolling off his tongue as natural as anything. It was like they’d been locked away under lock and key, but now they were free, they wanted to soar out of his mouth as often as possible.
“I love you.” Eliot smiled, and kissed Quentin back.
Quentin closed his eyes, smiling still. There’d be time in the morning, to clean up, talk about the quest and all the responsibilities and lost time.
But for now, in Eliot’s arms, Quentin slept.
It was dark and chilly above decks. Quentin shivered and wrapped his arms around himself; he had been dressed for the tropical beach and his soft linen shirt was doing him no favors in the cool darkness. In front of him, Eliot paced murmuring to himself in a strained hushed voice, all veneer of calm and collection dropped in favor of a tight-strung, bouncing sort of energy. It was making Quentin nervous.
“Well,” Quentin said, rubbing his hands together. “What was it you wanted to tell me?”
Reject me and get it over with , he thought morosely. I can’t stand being strung along like this any longer.
Eliot stopped and took a deep breath, centering himself.
“Quentin, I…” he faltered. Eliot cursed and ran a hand through his hair. “Christ, why is this so difficult?”
Quentin frowned. He’d never seen Eliot this frazzled. Even when Teddy had almost set the cottage on fire, he’d never been this stressed. This had to be worse than rejection. Maybe that alternate Quentin had actually been a ghost or something – which would explain the white hair – and Quentin only had like, six weeks of time left?
“What?” Quentin said, snapping out of his thoughts.
“I said,” Eliot repeated, his face twisted with remorse. “I was wrong.”
“Oh…?” Quentin said, confused. “Wrong about what…?”
Eliot swallowed and stepped forward, enveloping Quentin’s hand in his own. Unthinkingly, their fingers laced together. Quentin closed his eyes and lost himself, just for a moment, in the familiar sensation of Eliot’s large calloused hands. He’d held those hands for half a century. He’d never gotten tired of it, even now after all this time. Eliot squeezed Quentin’s hand three times, steady and firm. Quentin’s eyes snapped upwards, meeting Eliot’s steady gaze.
“I was wrong.” Eliot said again softly. “Talking to other you made me see it- Quentin, you… you went out on a limb and sure it was a little crazy, but… but, I knew, I knew, it truly mattered but when the time came-” Eliot swallowed, his lower lip trembled, and his eyes shined with unshed tears. “I just snuffed it right out.” Quentin stared at him, hope and fear and joy and grief swelling and bursting out of his chest all at once. “You were right. Proof of concept. God,” Eliot laughed, wet and thick. “Fifty years of proof.” He brought a hand up and caressed Quentin’s cheek, eyes soft. “I love you, Q, and that was us. It is us. I’d choose you again and again and again.”
Eliot’s words hung in the night like a neon sign: I love you.
I love you.
How simple those words were.
How simply could three words rock the steady ground beneath Quentin’s feet.
His heart raced, thumping like a drum in his chest, loud and resonant.
Eliot loved him.
Eliot loved him.
“I…” Quentin started and stopped.
As much as he wanted to run back into Eliot’s arms – and he wanted to, oh how he wanted to – his heart still faltered. He’d carried the hurt and the rejection so firmly inside him, now that there was a chance for relief, he didn’t know how to let go.
Eliot looked at him hopefully, silently, waiting for Quentin to speak, to respond. Quentin looked down at their entwined hands. Eliot’s ringed fingers glinted, the firelight shining dappled reflections onto his own hand. His heart was trapped in a vice, thumping, thumping, conflicted and nursing its hurts in the dark. Now, there was an opportunity to let the light in: he only needed to open the window. Quentin looked up and met Eliot’s gaze. Eliot, waiting patiently, nervously, for his answer.
“Are you sure?” Quentin asked, quiet, like he was sharing a secret.
And maybe it was.
The most important secret.
“More than anything,” Eliot nodded.
Quentin smiled, small and soft. “Okay,” he said and took a shuddering breath. “Okay.”
Slowly, he unlaced his hand from Eliot’s and brought it up to his face. They stared, holding each other.
Then, leaning down with all the care and conviction in the world, Eliot kissed him.
Quentin melted into it, the soft slide of Eliot’s lips more familiar to him than anything in the world. He’d kissed these lips for a little over fifty years, and now that he had him, Quentin was determined to kiss them for fifty more.
He pressed back with intensity. Quentin could feel it, the overwhelming desire to be enveloped. He wanted Eliot over him, on top, around, on his sides, and behind. He wanted to be eaten whole. Quentin pulled him as close as possible, stretching his shirt and clacking their teeth together. Eliot laughed and gripped Quentin’s neck happily, guiding him in his mouth and sucking on his tongue contentedly.
Quentin stumbled backwards, hands fumbling until his back hit the tall, rigid mast of the ship with a gentle “oof.” Eliot pinned him there, kissing the corner of his mouth and the span of his cheek with joy. Quentin palmed Eliot’s cock, hard through his pants, and felt the weight of it. Eliot grunted and attacked Quentin’s mouth roughly; making Quentin’s head spin and his knees go weak. He felt like he could float up and away, content on kisses alone, enthralled as he was in Eliot’s presence.
Eliot tore open Quentin’s collar, almost breaking the buttons in his enthusiasm, and stopped at the sight of Quentin’s neck. Dark marks, stark against his pale skin, stood out on his neck and collarbone; the remnants of the day before that was now a world away. Quentin flushed, meeting Eliot’s surprise.
“Was this…” Eliot started, and stopped.
“Yeah.” Quentin said, he took hold of Eliot’s hand and laced their fingers. “Would you-?” Quentin asked, hesitant.
He didn’t really know how to explain it. Probably he could just say “I fucked an alternate version of you, but it made me sad.” But that wasn’t sexy.
“Make your own?” He said instead, running his thumb over Eliot’s, touching one of the cold metal rings that Eliot wore. Bejeweled, just as ever a King.
Mark me , he thought. Make me yours again.
“Are you asking me to give you even more hickies?” Eliot said, ghosting his free hand over Quentin’s bared neck.
Eliot smiled a wicked smile. “I would be honored.”
He assailed Quentin’s neck with zeal, sucking and biting at the pulse point and further, grazing his teeth and leaving dark marks in his wake. Quentin shuddered hands running wildly up and down Eliot’s back, grasping the fabric of his shirt in a way that would definitely leave it wrinkled by the time they were done. Eliot moved away from Quentin’s neck, pressing wet kisses down, down, past his collarbone towards his pebbled nipples, pulling the collar of his thin shirt down. His hand snagged, almost popping the buttons yet again and Eliot made a sweet grumbling sound as he quickly worked the shirt over Quentin’s head. Quentin shivered as Eliot lapped and sucked at him contentedly.
It occurred to him for maybe the first time that night that they were very much out in the open on the deck of the ship. His heart pulsed and he arched into Eliot’s mouth, the rough-hewn wood of the Muntjac’s mast hard and solid against his back.
Quentin pulled Eliot back up with a jerk, crashing their lips together in a wet slide of saliva and tongue.
“God,” Eliot panted against Quentin’s mouth. “I love you.”
Quentin kissed his cheek softly. “I love you too.”
Abruptly, Eliot swept his hands underneath Quentin’s ass and lifted, pinning him against the mast. Quentin clasped his arms around Eliot’s neck and nuzzled his cheek, flushed and only lightly squirming as Eliot worked his pants down to unveil his dick standing tall against his stomach.
“Q,” Eliot said, pulling down Quentin’s pants and underwear with enthusiasm. “Just look at you. You’re so-” Eliot swooped up and kissed Quentin’s nose.
“So?” Quentin asked, breathless, hard, and wriggling where he was caught between Eliot’s long legs and the mast.
“I could look at you all day, baby.”
“All day?” Quentin moaned as Eliot rocked against him, the slide and friction just right.
“Mhmm. So pretty, my good boy.”
“All yours.” Quentin echoed head full of blissful static.
He nosed back to Eliot’s jaw and pressed a kiss there, smiling. Eliot slid a hand down between them, smearing their precum between them, sticky and slick. With a consistency that knocked the breath out of Quentin’s lungs, Eliot worked his hand up and down the length of them. Faster and faster, he moved; Quentin’s breath quickened, he writhed against the mast, pinned and caged by Eliot and his enveloping presence.
Sparks of pleasure ignited inside him, pinging his nervous system, making his squirm. They kissed, their breath fast and strained, the slick sounds of Eliot’s hand working echoing on the open deck.
All at once, Eliot came with a laugh, streaking hot white come over Quentin’s chest. He shook all over but stood steadily, hand faltering for only a second.
Closer and closer, Quentin teetered towards the edge of orgasm until, with one final pull, he came, twitching and moaning, onto Eliot’s hand. His muscles clenched and released, and his legs shook.
Slowly, Eliot let him down and kissed him on the forehead for his trouble. Quentin pulled up his pants, almost tripping, and steadied himself. His shirt was halfway across the deck, rumpled and dirty. He ran a hand along his chest delicately: sticky.
On a whim, he put his finger in his mouth: salty. He looked up to find Eliot, dressed once more, watching him heatedly.
“I can’t believe you,” he said, looking incredibly fond. “You’re so gross. I love you.”
Quentin blinked, then beamed. “I love you too.” Eliot tugged him forward and spun them together, pulling Quentin to his chest.
“El, no, your shirt-” He said anxiously. Eliot shushed him. “It’s fine, just- stay here for a sec.”
Quentin paused, but rested his head on Eliot’s chest, sighing. He sniffed and caught the familiar whiff of Eliot’s sandalwood aftershave. Something he hadn’t smelled in so long. He smiled and looked out at the sea.
“Oh!” Quentin pointed at the horizon. “It’s the sunrise.”
Eliot’s eyes widened. Then, he laughed.
“It is,” he grinned down at Quentin. “It’s beautiful.”
“Yeah,” Quentin said, looking up at Eliot, his Eliot , his heart full. “It is.”