The witch is significantly shorter than Eliot, but the way she’s still somehow able to look down her nose at him reminds him of the very first time he got off the bus in New York City and not in a good way.
“Yes, I still have the vial of the late king’s blood,” she says, slowly.
“Well, we need it,” Eliot says, trying to keep any hint of strain or frustration out of his voice. They’ve come this far. They found the spell; they’ve got the components. Even the lock of fairy hair, “freely given,” and that one was not easy to come by with their history.
Quentin Coldwater’s actual blood is the last piece they need before they can cast the spell and make their petition. Eliot is prepared to do just about anything to get this one final piece, but he’s determined to ask nicely first, despite Margo’s first instincts.
“Not for what you’re going to do with it.” The witch scoffs at them. “What you intend to do—bartering with gods over life and death—is dangerous work. No, I can do better. Come back in three days’ time. You will like my results better, I think.”
“Look, bitch,” Margo starts, “we aren’t here to—”
“What do you mean: ‘your results?’” Eliot interrupts her. The witch hums at him, and takes a turn around her garden, plucking a few sprigs of lavender up and twirling them between her fingers. “What makes you think you’d do any better?”
“My heritage. Legends. This and that.” She smiles at him. “In exchange: there’s an old lute in Castle Whitespire that my great-great-grandfather gifted the previous generation of monarchs. I’d like it back, please.”
“In exchange for what, exactly? Precisely?” Eliot asks, and the witch shrugs at him.
“The king brought back into life, obviously. That’s what you intend to do with the blood, is it not?”
Margo shoots Eliot an uneasy look, and then shouts over her shoulder at Bick, patiently waiting with their horses at the edge of the clearing. “Bick—you know the lute?”
“Oh, yes, your Majesty,” he answers. “The red one? With the little flowers? It’s displayed rather nicely above the mantle in the Dayspring Conservatory. Or is it the Eventide Conservatory?”
There’s a lot for Eliot to process there. Eliot didn’t even know they had one conservatory at Whitespire, let alone two. The description of the lute is especially distracting. It stirs up thousands of memories all at once, but he tells himself red is a common color, flowers are a common decoration. It’s the witch’s now, either way. It doesn’t matter. He isn't about to let himself get sentimental if it’s the thing that will buy Quentin back.
He struggles against thinking about it too much and keeps his attention on the witch. There is something about the way the witch is watching him back that calms him more than seems rational. He tries to shake off the feeling, focusing on what she is offering.
“I’ve only heard it described,” the witch says to Bick, “but yes, that fits. Three days. If you don’t like my results, well...I suppose you could undo my work and regain the blood and attempt your plan still. Nothing lost, nothing gained.”
There is something familiar in the witch’s eyes that makes Eliot feel it just might be safe to take the risk she’s offering.
They’ve come so far, and so much could still go wrong. Even waiting three days, though, they’ll have a full twenty-four hours before the circumstances will be right for the spell to summon a god that they could petition for Quentin’s life back. They’ve never had such a wide window before.
Eliot exchanges another silent look with Margo. He knows Fillorian magic can be dangerous—so drastically different from their own, but powerful in its own right. They’ve done crazier things than trust Fillorian witches. They’ve done crazier things in preparation for this spell, even.
Margo shrugs at him; it’s his choice.
If the witch’s spell does work, he’s certain Julia will be more comfortable with it, at least.
Eliot tries to stay calm. He tries to not tip his hand, just in case. But they are so close. He feels like his relief is about to come bubbling out of his mouth in hysterical laughter. “Okay. Okay. So, you do your thing. In three days, if we don’t like it, we undo—whatever you’re going to do—and then we still get the vial of blood. And you get your granddaddy's lute.”
“Good.” The witch gives him a smirk. “I look forward to seeing you then, former High King Eliot Waugh.”
Quentin hears the strumming of an instrument first. It reminds him of when Eliot would ask Quentin if he missed any Earth songs. No matter which song Quentin named, Eliot would simply nod and start plucking away at his lute, humming wordlessly to himself, and within a few days, Eliot would sweetly sing it for him after dinner, smiling softly the whole way through the song.
Why does he always have to wake up to thoughts about the mosaic?
Then he remembers: he isn’t asleep.
Feeling comes roaring back to him. A straw mattress pokes his back through a scratchy blanket, sweat trapped between his hair and his pillow and his neck. He wiggles his toes. He’s coughing, hacking, filling his lungs with sweet Fillorian air.
He’s warm again.
That isn’t supposed to happen.
The place reminds Quentin of their cottage at the mosaic. It’s one large room, with a small stone hearth and some cupboards making up the kitchen along the opposite wall. There’s a large, cluttered table taking up most of the center of the room. Herbs and flowers hang from the rafters drying, and there are long shelves along the back wall with probably hundreds of glass bottles and wooden boxes and paper envelopes.
Quentin immediately recognizes the woman sitting next to him, strumming her lute. He’s not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
“Welcome back to the land of the living, Quentin Coldwater,” the witch sets her lute aside and moves from her chair a few feet away to sit on the edge of the bed. She places her fingers against his wrist checking his pulse—against what he can’t imagine since she has no wristwatch or clock on her walls. She places the back of her hand against his forehead and wrinkles her nose in disapproval.
“You shouldn’t be awake yet, but here you are, I suppose. We’ll have to keep an eye on that fever.”
“What am I doing here?” Quentin asks. He shifts and tries to sit up, but he doesn’t have an ounce of strength to resist as the witch just gently pushes down on his shoulder. He falls back on the bed with a grunt.
“Right now, you are resting, is what you’re doing here.” She wipes her hand on her apron. “I brought you back to life with an ancient Fillorian spell. Far better than dealing with gods, especially where you’re concerned.”
“That doesn’t tell me anything,” he says between gritted teeth.
“You were dead. Now you’re alive.”
Quentin expects he’s supposed to feel something at such a pronouncement: perhaps gratitude or relief. What he really feels is dread. “What’s the catch?”
Without missing a beat, she smirks and says, “You must affirm your life in copulation with your true love within a fortnight, or you’ll return as you were.”
“So you mean. Just. With anyone? Or…”
“Umber’s balls, no. True love. Reciprocal, faithful, pure? Gods. Do they not teach you anything about magic on Earth?”
That’s a loaded question if Quentin’s ever heard one.
“But that sounds. Um.” Quentin runs a hand through his hair as he tries to think of something. He knows he is grasping at straws, but that can’t be all if he’s going to stay alive. “Shouldn’t it just be like...true love’s kiss or something?”
She looks genuinely offended. “I just brought you back from the dead, Quentin Coldwater. Why would you ever think a simple kiss would be enough for a spell such as that?”
“Right.” Quentin sucks on his teeth. “Of course.”
“The current and former High Kings should be here in two days’ time,” she says as she pats his shoulder. She stands and moves across the room to her kitchen. “I suppose we can give you time to adjust to being alive. Walking, moving your bowels, making sure it’s all working. I’ve got a kettle on. Tea?”
“Excuse—the uh. The High Kings?”
“Yes, High King Margo has been restored to her throne and former High King Eliot—he was High King during your rule, was he not?” she asks, drawing the words out suggestively. She is already across the room and pulling two teacups down from a cupboard along with a tin tea keeper.
Quentin feels panic starting to spread through his veins. A mere two days to figure out how he is going to greet Eliot after...everything...seems unfair at best and cruel at worst. Two weeks to figure out how to find and seduce a false true love convincing enough to trick old Fillorian magic into letting him stay alive certainly sounds intimidating, but doable by comparison.
“Tea sounds...nice,” Quentin mutters and tells himself his stomach is churning because of being brought back to life. In actuality, he knows it’s because he’s going to have to find the loophole in “reciprocal.”
Eliot’s not entirely certain how he’s supposed to be feeling. The entire horse ride to the witch’s hut his guts have been twisting like he’s about to be sick. He’s been obsessing over the question of if he's doomed them all to failure over and over again since the last time they’d been here. He can’t stomach the thought that he might have failed Quentin.
Now, standing in front of the witch with Margo and Bick once again, he feels calm. It’s insane to think, but that’s the only word he has for the feeling washing over him as if the opium in the air is coaxing him into acceptance of something he doesn’t quite grasp yet.
“The lute, if you please,” the witch says lightly, holding out a hand to Bick. He hands it to her, still in its sheepskin covering. She doesn’t even look to see if it’s as she expects before tucking it under her elbow.
Margo clears her throat and starts in on the witch, "Now, where’s your results you were so—"
Eliot stops her, clutching her by the shoulder. Quentin shuffles out of the witch's hut. He’s shading his eyes, even though the trees around them block most of the direct sunlight. His hair is shorter than Eliot remembers, but he is dressed in loose Fillorian clothes that look familiar—right, even—on him. Eliot is about to step forward when Margo throws a hand out in front of him.
"How do we know this isn't some bullshit Fillorian trick?" she asks. Her head is held high, her voice is as firm and commanding as the High King she is, but Eliot can feel her hand trembling against his chest where she’s holding him back.
Quentin looks a little uneasy, but he clears his throat. He shakes his head a little as if it hurts. But he blinks up at Eliot and says with a dry, cracking voice, "Um. If you’re hallucinating, how would asking me help?"
Eliot shakes Margo off and is wrapped around Quentin in the time it takes him to take another breath. Relief floods him as Quentin slips shaky hands around his back and buries his face against Eliot’s chest, right where he’s supposed to be.
It feels like every cell in his body is about to explode, and Eliot fleetingly wonders if this is what it feels like to niffin out. They did it. They got him back. They got him back. Quentin is alive and maybe not well—not yet, but he will be—and Eliot is holding him, right where he’s supposed to be. He’s not crying—he knows he’ll be sobbing as soon as he’s alone—but for Quentin, he can be strong and composed. Whatever Quentin needs him to be he’s going to be for the rest of his life.
They got him back.
“Welcome back, baby. I lo—Q?” Eliot whispers against his hair. Quentin twists his head back and forth, his eyes closed; his entire weight is resting against Eliot as if he can barely stand. He tries to shift his arms around to better support his weight, but Quentin just squeezes him tighter.
“Sorry. Just. Not quite steady yet,” Quentin mumbles. “But she um. Yeah. It’s me. She did the thing. Or whatever.”
Margo’s asking the witch questions, demanding answers. From Margo’s tone, she doesn't like what she’s hearing, but Eliot trusts Margo to take care of that part.
Eliot makes sure to sound reassuring, gentle—everything Quentin will be able to rely on him for—as he says, “Let’s get you home, hm?”
Quentin can tell he’s in a soft, comfortable bed. He also knows he is roughly seventy percent of the way towards vomiting everywhere.
“Hey, Q.” Julia. So, he knows Julia’s with him, wherever that is, so that’s maybe a good thing. It’s probably a good thing. “We’ve got you. The witch said this might happen. Just try to sleep, okay?”
So, he sleeps. If Julia says he can sleep, he’ll sleep.
He’s sitting on a pier, fishing with his dad, but that’s not right. His dad is dead. He had been dead, too, but he isn’t anymore.
One minute he’s dead and the next he’s alive again. He can’t say how he knows the difference, only that this time it’s like breaking water in a pool that has the cover closed over it. Something is keeping him half-submerged and he wants to scream for help, but he can’t.
He can’t open his eyes, but he can hear Alice and Eliot fighting. Their words are muffled at first. He can tell they’re talking about him though. They keep saying his name. He tries to push his eyes open; his mouth open; tries to let them know he’s there.
"You could acknowledge that the rest of us care about Quentin, too, you know,” Alice snaps. “Some of us can be trusted to watch him without your supervision.”
"I've more than exceeded any requirement for acknowledging you care about him."
The pool sucks him back in.
He’s in a well-furnished office. Penny’s sitting next to him in his stuffy Librarian suit, glaring at him.
“Penny, what’s going on?” he asks. It’s a dumb question. He knows he sounds dumb. He feels like he’s supposed to know what’s happening but he can’t even remember where he was before this.
"Shut up man. It's bad enough I have to sit through this with you."
A man in a finely tailored suit comes in and sits behind the desk across from them. Power rolls off of him like too much cologne.
"Now, let's see here, Quentin Coldwater. Aren't you a fun one?"
"Hades, sir,” Penny starts in immediately, “I swear I had nothing to do with this."
"Oh, I'm aware, William. I'm well aware."
Quentin feels dread in his gut and hopes the answer to his question isn’t too bad.
Something uncomfortably thick is covering Quentin’s face when he wakes up. It feels like a layer of plaster and smells like rancid sewage. He can feel in his bones it’s been days, but he’s finally really awake and his mind is finally clear.
He glances around and immediately recognizes his old bedroom in Whitespire—the one that belonged to him for his short reign as king. Not much has changed, however much time it’s been since then. The dark, cherry wood furniture is all in the same place; the walls are the same rich, sandy brown. He’s glad no one has changed the dark blue ceiling, with the spell he and Alice constructed so he could watch the Fillorian constellations in motion overhead.
The spell seems less impressive, now that he has memories of falling asleep under the real twin moons and the real stars every summer evening for a lifetime.
When he notices Eliot sitting in a chair next to him, slumped over the side of the bed near Quentin’s hip, he feels lit up with relief, and trepidation, and fondness, and sorrow, all at once. He wants to reach out and run his fingers through Eliot's hair, but he doesn't know if it's welcome. He wants to tell him, ask him, plead with him for another chance, but he knows that wouldn't be.
Instead, he just watches. Eliot’s arms are folded together on the bed, with his face scrunched up and pressed into his elbow. He’s going to wake up with a crick in his back and he’ll complain about it for days.
“Eliot,” Quentin croaks, and Eliot jerks awake. His hands flail until he catches hold of Quentin’s arm. His eyes look wild like he’s forgotten where he is for a moment, but then he sighs and straightens. He gives Quentin a bright, exhausted but happy smile.
“Hey, Q.” Eliot’s eyes light up a little more as he says Quentin’s name and Quentin feels reality sliding sideways. He can tell that a headache is starting, and he has to fight against the lump forming in his throat.
He tries not to think about the last time he actually saw Eliot looking at him, and not some other being.
Eliot helps him sit up, pulling pillows behind his back with telekinesis until Quentin can sit up on his own. Eliot brings him a glass of water, and it feels heavenly over his scratchy, dry throat.
“What reeks?” Quentin asks once he’s drained the cup. Eliot’s ready with the pitcher to refill it for him.
"The witch recommended a mud mask if you started to get a fever: griffin urine mixed with mud from the Torrent.” Quentin chokes on his drink and Eliot gives him a pitying look. “We can probably clean it off. You feeling awake?”
“Why...um. Why?” Quentin asks as he nods along, dumbly. The dry stretch of the mud against his skin is starting to itch as he thinks about what’s actually on his skin.
"You passed out pretty quick after we got there,” Eliot says as he stands up. “It’s been two entire days since we got back. The fever...well, it’s gone now. You should be safe now.”
Quentin watches him as Eliot moves to gather up a few things near the washbasin in the corner of the room. From the way his hair is unkempt and the way his shoulders slump in his wrinkled shirt, he can tell Eliot is tired. When Eliot turns around, he looks stunned to see Quentin staring at him. Whatever surprises Eliot about it, he hides it quickly with a small smile.
Quentin holds out a hand for a wet washcloth but Eliot ignores him. Instead, Eliot perches on the edge of the bed and sets about cleaning Quentin up himself. He moves carefully like he’s afraid he is going to rip Quentin’s skin if he presses too hard. It feels overly familiar, and Quentin lets his eyes slip shut so he doesn't have to watch Eliot watching him.
“You could just spell it away,” Quentin mutters. Eliot just makes a noncommittal hum and keeps cleaning the mud away with deliberate, meticulous wipes and dabs.
The smell lingers, but it isn’t as bad once Quentin’s skin is clean. The bed dips as Eliot stands again. Quentin watches as Eliot rinses his hands at the washbasin. Eliot takes a moment to rub the back of his neck, looking at himself in the mirror on the wall. His lips are drawn in a grimace; his eyebrows pinched together. Something’s bothering him.
Eliot notices Quentin watching in the reflection and gives him what is probably supposed to be a reassuring smile.
He just looks worn down and tired.
“How do you feel?” Eliot asks as he moves to sit in his chair again. “Are you hungry?”
“We should talk,” Eliot says softly. “I think it’d be...good. For us to talk." There is an uncomfortable beat of silence. “But I should also probably let everyone else know you’re awake.”
Quentin glances to the side. The heavy blue curtains along the far wall are drawn so he can’t tell what time of day or night it is. The only light in the room was from a few candles lit on the bedside table, and the sconces near the door.
“What time is it?”
“No idea, but no one’s going to care.”
Quentin closes his eyes and tilts his head back against the pile of pillows behind him. “I’m not sure I’m up for...everyone.”
Eliot coughs. He is no doubt trying to gauge how open Quentin is to negotiation. Quentin finds himself wishing, a little bit, that they didn’t know each other so well.
Quentin isn’t feeling open to negotiation in the slightest, but he can already feel himself getting ready to agree to Eliot’s counter-proposal. He just feels exhausted; he’s barely been awake for twenty minutes and he already feels exhausted. He’s definitely too tired to argue with whatever Eliot is going to suggest.
“I should probably at least find Julia,” Eliot says. “She’ll want to know you’re awake. I can tell her to come by in a few hours?”
"El…" Quentin sighs and looks at him again. Eliot meets him with a level of broken openness in his expression that suddenly makes it difficult to breathe. “Yeah, sure. Okay. Just Julia.”
Quentin realizes he doesn’t even know who he is excluding, but he knows if he can only barely stand the thought of being around Julia right that moment, he isn’t going to be able to handle anyone else. Eliot helps him get comfortable again and makes a show of propping his feet up on the end of the bed, tilting his head against the chair back—presumably to make sure Quentin knows he isn’t leaving.
Quentin isn’t sure if he’s supposed to feel comforted or patronized, but all he really feels is tired.
It’s been seven days since Quentin was brought back to life, only about half of which he can remember, between the fever and recovery, and his initial groggy days in the witch’s hut. Every day it’s the same routine: he wakes up to either Julia or Eliot watching over him, every evening at sunset, he immediately falls asleep. Every night he spends in the Underworld; every day he spends with all the people he’s going to miss.
It isn’t lost on him that if he has fourteen days to make the return to life permanent that he’s running significantly behind schedule. He tries to not be overly dramatic thinking that it doesn’t matter since he never did figure out if there was a loophole to what defines true love.
It is nice, Quentin thinks, that he’ll get to say a proper goodbye. Nice in the way that it’s nice for people with terminal sickness, he supposes. It’s nice that he gets to say goodbye to so many of his friends: Eliot and Julia, Margo and Fen, Josh, Penny and Alice. Everyone has things to do around the castle—besides Julia and Eliot, who seem to be his round-the-clock nursemaids and keepers—but they all always gather to have meals together. It’s nice to all be together. Nice to eat together. He likes it; he’s glad that his last days in life get to be spent like this, rather than how it was before.
From what he’s pieced together from Eliot and Julia, they’ve all gone above and beyond on the quest to bring him back to life. He is grateful to see everyone; he is grateful he can say goodbye, but there is a deadline, and it’s coming up fast.
They’re gathered for breakfast in the royal council chamber as Quentin is thinking about it. He’s picking at his breakfast, despite Julia’s gentle nudges that he needs to eat while he thinks about it. He’s thinking about it—and especially not looking at Eliot while he’s thinking about it—when he realizes, perhaps belatedly, that he probably should have told his friends that he had an expiration date.
Josh is the one to bring this to his attention as he proclaims, “I propose a party to celebrate Quentin’s return.”
Honestly, it would probably be a shitty idea even if Quentin wasn’t going to be in the Underworld full-time again within a few days, given the coma he falls into every night at sundown and general tired state during the daytime.
“Agreed,” Margo says, enthusiastically, “I’m all for getting shitfaced in your honor. We haven’t had a decent rager in ages.”
“Guys…” Quentin clears his throat. Julia is looking at him out of the corner of her eye like she can already tell something is more wrong than normal.
“Yes, let’s celebrate your ascension to mortality,” Eliot tips his drink in Quentin’s direction. Quentin can’t look at Eliot while he tries to sort out if he has to admit everything or if he can make excuses around it.
“We should throw a ball!” Fen says. “The court would love another ball.”
“Guys…” Quentin is grasping at straws. He can’t even think of what to say—how to say it. “I don’t think we should—”
“Are you thinking dinner party or passed hors d'oeuvres?” Josh is already asking Eliot.
“Guys! It’s not permanent!” Quentin shudders as everyone in the room finally flips their attention to him. “The witch...it’s like. Only for two weeks. Less, now. Two weeks from when she did it.”
He stares at the center of the table. He can’t look at Eliot, or Julia, or anyone, but he can hear chairs scraping on the stone floor.
Margo’s the first one to say anything. “What do you mean it’s only two weeks, Quentin?”
Her voice is too soft. It’s not like Margo to ask him anything so softly, and he hates it.
He turns his eyes up towards her, but she isn’t even looking at him. She’s looking across the room, and Quentin follows her gaze. Eliot and Julia are standing at the long table set up on the side of the room. Eliot is shifting through a handful of papers, frantically looking for something. Julia is right at his side, holding up a thick book, comparing what she’s reading to notes he keeps passing to her. They’re talking in hurried whispers, pointing at different things, seemingly arguing about something on one page in particular in hushed tones.
“Why...what’s wrong?” Quentin asks.
“We had another spell,” Alice says, visibly shaking and clearly pissed off. “We had another shot and Eliot—”
“Don’t you even start.” Margo rounds on Alice instantly. “The best you came up with was pulling his shade to bits so don’t you—”
“Stop,” Quentin says. He wishes he could pull the knowledge back. Let his friends enjoy whatever damn party they wanted to: fuck the spell, fuck true love. “Guys...I don’t...What other spell?”
No one says anything; they’re all waiting for Julia and Eliot.
A few minutes more—another book checked and cross-referenced, and Julia places a hand on Eliot’s shoulder, clearly resigned to whatever they found. She walks back to the table and sets her hands flat on the table. Her hair hangs in front of her face as she says to the tabletop, “We missed it. I think we’d most likely get some minor weather god now. Fuck knows what say they have over death. We probably couldn’t even guess at who.”
“The witch said we could undo it. Get the blood. So, what are we waiting for?” Margo stands up and Julia looks up at her with a sigh.
“Even if we undid the witch’s spell now and waited...it’d just...be a really long time before we’d get to try again.”
Alice snips something about circumstances and Julia and Margo both start shouting at her. Quentin only vaguely follows what they’re arguing about. He’s busy watching Eliot, who is still standing on the far side of the room, his hands braced against the table and his head hanging down.
It makes Quentin’s heart break in a different sort of way than he’s used to when thinking about Eliot, and he hates it.
Later, a little past midnight, Eliot is poring over books in the cabinet chamber when Julia joins him. He immediately jolts upright in a panic. Half the sheaves of paper in his lap cascade to the floor.
“Who’s with him?” he asks. “Who’s with him?”
“Relax,” Julia waves a hand at him, and pours herself a glass of wine. “Alice is watching Quentin, and Penny is watching Alice.”
Eliot opens his mouth, ready to protest the arrangement but she levels him with a look that makes him snap his jaw shut again. “El, you know Twenty-three is the most opposed to her using Quentin’s shade out of any of us.”
“Fine,” he agrees. “I think Margo left off in the Chevalier. Volume...whatever. The blue one. Here’s what we got so far.” He hands her a spiral notebook: a running list of spells the witch might have used.
In all their research getting ready, they had found one spell that could bring someone back to life permanently, but they had found plenty of spells that could make for a temporary resurrection. Eliot is kicking himself with every page he turns that no one had bothered to compile a listing of those as they went—not that any of them even remotely remembers a spell where the blood of the deceased was used to bring them back during the day and send them back to the Underworld as they slept at night.
Julia gives the list a cursory glance and tosses the notebook to the table. “Eliot, I think we need to consider that we might not figure out a permanent solution in time.”
“If you’re not here to be constructive, you’re welcome to leave.”
Julia sits down and pointedly wiggles her ass in her chair. “Fuck off, of course, I’m here to help. I just mean: have you talked with him?”
“He doesn’t know what spell the witch used or how to make it permanent. He was pretty out of it. Even if she told him, he probably wouldn’t remember.”
“Not what I meant.”
Eliot looks over the pieces of parchment still in his hand. It’s a history of another group of Kings and Queens of Fillory—after the Chatwins, but before their time. One of the Queens had gotten sick, and the rest had to find the cure from one of the questing creatures. It isn’t especially helpful, so he leaves the papers that fell on the floor, and tosses the rest of them down to join them.
“Why? Why ‘now?’” Eliot glares at her.
He regrets telling her, for a moment. They’d been up late; it’d been months into searching for an answer; they’d decided to just take a break and get drunk. Julia had said to him, I know why I’m trying so hard—why are you?
She’d asked before, but never so pointedly. It’d been weighing him down so much—he hated Alice, not because of anything she did, but because she got to talk about missing Quentin in ways he didn’t, even though fifty years of stories compared to four was laughable. So, he just opened another bottle of wine and told her: the whole damn thing. He hadn’t even told Margo the whole damn thing, but he’d found himself able to confide in Q’s childhood best friend.
Julia glares right back at him. “Because if anything is going to motivate him to try and remember what the witch told him it’s you. This morning when he woke up he asked for you. Yesterday morning when he woke up he asked for you. He’s going to ask for you again tomorrow morning. Why do you think he’s asking for you?”
“Because I was there when he first woke up and he imprinted on me like a duckling?” Eliot drawls, and Julia huffs at him.
“You and I both know Quentin might have imprinting tendencies, but he also doesn’t give up as easily as you seem to think he did.” Julia sits up a little straighter and stares him down, daring him to refute her.
“You didn’t see how he looked at me after.” Eliot looks down at his hands. She isn’t impressed with his answer, and he doesn’t have to look up at her to know it. This isn’t the first time they’ve had this conversation. He wonders if it will be the last if they don’t find a way to keep Quentin.
The familiarity of her argument is a little comforting, though. He relaxes his shoulders a little and remembers that deep down, this is why he told Julia. She and Margo are both equally able to call him on his bullshit, but Julia is the one who has all the facts. Bless Margo for going on a walkabout through the Wandering Desert, but Julia is the one who was there; she’s the one with the evidence.
Julia was the one—before they even became friends—asking why Quentin looked at him the way he did in the park. She’s the one that made him listen to all the stories of how Quentin fought to get him back from the Monster and kept asking him why. Now that she knows, she’s the one that reminds him that it’s okay if their love story is absolutely batshit insane, and it’s okay to still want more, and it’s okay to hope.
“Julia, if I have a choice between spending an hour trying to keep him here, or an hour talking about a future we won’t have? I’m not going to take the chance that that hour might make the difference. Can we please…” Eliot runs his hands over his face and sighs. He raises his eyebrows at her, hoping she won’t make him elaborate more than that.
Julia gives him a curt nod, pulls the blue volume of French Magician Jean Chevalier’s treatise on the Underworld into her lap, and cracks it open.
He’s so grateful for her. He’s reminded for the millionth time why someone like Quentin would gravitate towards her, and why he himself needs her so much. He’s eternally grateful for her friendship on his own, but he also knows if he and Quentin ever do find a way to their happily ever after, it’s probably going to be because of Julia Wicker.
Tonight, in the Underworld, Quentin gets to visit Arielle and Teddy. He sobs over each of their shoulders. He’s so happy to see them. Life in Fillory was the best time of his many lives and he doesn’t even have to see what happened in any of the others to know that.
But someone’s missing.
Quentin wakes up with a start and moans against the headache he feels building behind his eyes. He closes his eyes again and rubs between his eyebrows.
“El? Can you get me some water?” he asks, and he gets a high-pitched, angry grunt in return.
“Here you go, man,” Penny sets a glass of water on his nightstand as Alice storms out of the room.
Quentin had been hoping for a quiet breakfast, but Alice is seated at the long table down the middle of the kitchen, with a plate of bacon in front of her. Quentin finds the non-herbal basket of muffins—clearly labeled, he’s grateful—and sits down beside her.
“How are you feeling, Q?” she asks. Her voice is too light and too airy. He can’t blame her for being mad at him. They've barely spoken to each other since he woke up. He knows Eliot has been monopolizing his time and if his time was unlimited, he would have spread it out more. Maybe. But the truth is his time is limited—very limited—so even if Eliot doesn’t love him, he’s still going to be the person Quentin will choose, every time, over anyone.
It’s probably supposed to feel a certain way for him to realize that about himself—maybe he’s pathetic, maybe he’s selfish, maybe he’s cruel. Those things are probably true, but that’s not how he feels about it. All he feels is glad that he at least gets those scraps of time with his best friend before he’s sent back to the Underworld.
“Fine,” he answers. Alice is clearly unimpressed.
Quentin feels a panic rising like bile in his stomach. He should be able to talk with her. He should be able to say something to her. Anything would be better than silence. It’s making it worse, the longer he doesn’t say something. He’s an idiot, he should have just asked her how she’s feeling. Reciprocity—that’s a thing people do when they’re friends. Quentin opens his mouth to ask her and—
“Quentin, just tell me: is there something between you and Eliot I should know about?”
He blinks at her, and she stares back.
Quentin thinks about telling her. He really does. He tries to picture it in his mind and all he sees are ways it could go wrong. Alice getting angry at him for a million justifiable reasons; Alice storming off and demanding Eliot sleep with him; Alice deciding she knows better than the witch and better than Quentin and better than the entire fucking cosmos and deciding she was going to be the one to keep him here.
Alice lifts her eyebrow in a way that’s far too niffin-like for his comfort. Quentin looks down at the half-eaten muffin on his plate. He doesn’t say anything more, and neither does she.
Later that day, Fen subtly mentions over dinner that Penny took Alice back to Earth and that he hadn’t mentioned when he’d be back. Quentin exchanges a look with Eliot, expecting to see confusion—or maybe even pity. He sees—he doesn’t know what he sees, exactly. But it makes him think that maybe he can try.
He might as well if it’s his one shot at staying alive. If Alice believes it enough to leave without saying goodbye, he should at least try.
Quentin thinks about trying over the course of the next four days, which he feels is supremely impressive, considering how long it took him to kiss Eliot at the mosaic.
Eliot isn’t in the council room with Julia and Margo, and he isn’t in the courtyard with Fen, and he isn’t in the kitchens with Josh. On a whim, he tries the Armory, though he’s sure most of the books must have been taken to the council room by now, and he’s right.
He does find Bick in the throne room, though, who points him to the Dayspring Conservatory—which Quentin had never heard of in the Fillory books or his time spent in Whitespire—but sure enough, he finds Eliot there. He’s lounging on a low-sitting couch, surrounded by various plants and potted flowers. He’s staring at a stone fireplace, set between two glass walls.
The way the light is streaming through the windows on all sides sends Quentin back to days when they lounged around on the daybed, putting off work on the mosaic, or resting after a long day of tile shuffling. Eliot was beautiful then and he’s beautiful now.
Quentin clears his throat and Eliot turns to smile at him. “C’mere, Q. What’s on your mind?”
“I didn’t know this room existed.” He moves to stand at the front of the couch but doesn’t sit right away. He knows if he sits too far away, it might make it look like he doesn’t want what he’s going to ask for. If he sits too close, it might look like he’s blatantly ignoring Eliot’s rejection. He needs a nice, easy middle ground—not too close, not too far. He’s about to sit when Eliot looks up at him.
His eyes make Quentin forget everything he practiced saying. He sits down hard, angled towards Eliot, and Eliot angles towards him, and their knees are touching and Quentin almost forgets how to breathe.
“Neither did I, until a few days ago.” Eliot leans back, bracing himself on one hand. With his other hand, he traces over the neckline of his shirt, down his vest, smoothing out all the lines and wrinkles of his outfit. Quentin follows the path, thinking about running his own hand right after, and then flicks his eyes back up to Eliot’s.
Eliot is calm, not putting on any sort of show; he just looks happy to see him, if not a little sad. Quentin wonders, for a moment, if his limited time is part of that sadness, and he likes to think he knows how to fix it.
“I’m sorry, Q, you’re probably wondering why I’m in here and not working with the others trying to figure this situation out. Just a brain break. Trying to see if nature will inspire. Should we head back?”
Quentin turns forward, pulling his knees away from Eliot’s. With his elbows on his knees, he runs his hands through his hair and tries to remember it was what he meant to say.
“I, um. I think I need a break myself. This sounded like a good place.”
“It is.” Eliot pats him on the shoulder twice and leverages himself up using Quentin’s shoulder. Quentin could reach out and grab his hand, stopping him from leaving, but he doesn’t.
“I’ll see you in the council room once you’ve cleared your head?” Eliot asks.
Quentin glances up at him. He’s so tall, so handsome. Quentin doesn’t know what he’s supposed to say, or how he’s supposed to say it. “Yeah, I’ll...be there.”
He tells himself it isn’t his last chance to try. He tells himself he’ll try later, after dinner.
He doesn’t try again after dinner. Or after breakfast the next day.
Quentin tells himself he’ll keep trying, but no matter where they are or who’s around, he can never quite seem to bring himself to tell Eliot he still wants to give it a shot, no matter how much it’s true.
Without Penny or Alice, their research team is down to him, Eliot, Margo, and Julia. They slough through two more days, then finally, it’s the day. Day fourteen: the last day he has to spend with his friends on Fillory, alive and well.
It’s early morning, and the four of them are gathered around the council room, still trying to find the solution in the eleventh hour. Quentin has a neat stack of books in front of him, whereas everyone else has a scattered pile of books open for reference and review. He picks up the one on top and opens it to the spell that’s been bookmarked days before as a potential spell for them to meta-comp into something else.
The spell has something to do with keeping butchered meat fresh. They really are scraping the bottom of the barrel.
Quentin watches Eliot for a minute. His hair is pulled back into a messy bun that’s only half staying in place, and he has bags under his eyes. He’s scribbling something on a piece of parchment, then narrows his eyes, rechecks the book he’s looking at, then crumples the parchment up and tosses it over his shoulder.
They have nothing.
Quentin snaps his book shut. “We need to get out of here,” he says. He stands up and slams his book on the table to emphasize his point. “We haven’t found anything. We aren’t going to find anything. So, let’s just. Call it. Let’s spend the day outside, doing something—anything but this. Guys—you’re my friends. I don’t want my last day to be stuck here trying to find an answer that just isn’t...here.”
“Quentin, what are you saying?” Julia narrows her eyes at him. Her hair is all sorts of askew, and he’s fairly certain she hasn’t slept properly in days.
“I’m saying if today’s my last day alive, I want to spend it with you three. But not...just...getting frustrated that we can’t keep me alive. Is that so terrible?”
Julia shakes her head at him. “Okay, but if there’s another option—”
“There isn’t another option, Jules!” He shouts it louder than he means to, but it pulls the three of them out of their books and papers. Margo crosses her arms over her chest.
“So, you want to just, what, give up?” Margo asks. “You want to just throw in the towel?”
“No, it’s not...giving up,” Quentin stumbles over the words. “It’s being...realistic.”
Julia and Margo exchange a look, but they don’t say anything.
Quentin swallows hard and then chances a look at Eliot. He isn’t looking back at him. He’s looking down at his hands, open and empty in his lap.
“I can’t do this,” Eliot says, softly.
Eliot pushes his chair back, stands up, and marches out of the room. Quentin feels the finality of the moment as the door clangs shut behind him.
Eliot hadn’t even looked back at him.
Julia clears her throat. When Quentin doesn’t look at her, she stands up and steps between Quentin and the door he’s still staring at, pulling his attention back. “Hey, I’m not giving up. You’re not giving up.”
“No, Jules, Eliot’s…” Quentin gulps for air. “Eliot’s right. If there’s no way then we shouldn’t kid ourselves. Tonight’s the last night and it sucks but it’s...reality.”
“Fuck that,” Margo snaps at him. “Where’d we leave off, Wicker?”
The two of them dive back into the pile of books spread out over the table. Quentin pretends to read for about half an hour before he tells them he’s going to the kitchens for a snack. They barely acknowledge him getting up from the table. They’re too determined, too sure they’ll find the answer.
For the shortest moment, he considers telling them. He thinks about how it would feel to tell them the entire story, from key quest to now. It’d be a relief, almost. It’d be a relief to get their sympathy, their understanding. Maybe Julia would get angry at Eliot like he sometimes wishes he could. Maybe Margo would pat his shoulder and tell him Eliot’s an idiot.
In reality, he knows the relief wouldn’t last long. Margo would tell Eliot to take one for the team. Julia would tell him to not be such a proud martyr that he wouldn’t ask his self-proclaimed hedonistic best friend for one sexual favor. And Eliot would take one for the team. And it might keep Quentin alive, but he also can’t think of a worse method of torture.
Quentin looks back at Margo and Julia before he quietly shuts the door behind him. He wishes he had gotten a better goodbye; wishes that they didn’t have to spend the last hours together looking for a solution that didn’t exist; wishes Eliot hadn’t left.
He would have liked to have said goodbye to Eliot.
He knows Margo and Julia’s dedication should make him feel loved, or cared for, or at the very least cared about, but there’s not much feeling he can muster at this point. He walks down the long corridors of Castle Whitespire slowly. He drags his fingertips over a few walls and corners as he goes, trying to savor the texture as much as the air he breathes into his lungs.
When he reaches the ground floor, he turns towards the stables instead of the kitchens.
Eliot doesn’t have the faintest idea how to count the years of his life anymore, so he can’t say for certain how long it’s been since he’s entered the Darkling Woods in search of the White Lady. He hadn’t found her, obviously. This time, it doesn’t matter who he finds. He’ll take any of them or all of them, and he’s prepared to pay whatever price they demand at this point.
He pushes past some brush and stumbles into a clearing—out of the shadows of the trees and into the brilliant noonday sunshine.
“Ah, former High King Eliot.” The Great Cock is seated at the head of a long marble table, set with a great feast. “I trust you found your way much easier this time?”
“Enough,” Eliot says, slipping into the velvet upholstered chair to the Great Cock’s left. “I see you have upgraded.”
“You seek another quest?”
Eliot bites the inside of his cheek. He doesn’t have time for a quest, he needs solutions now. “I already have one,” is the answer he goes with, and he hopes it’s true enough. “The witch on the other side of the forest granted it.”
“You’ve met Catalina. How pleasant. She’s always been one of my favorites. The sweetest girl, growing up with all those brothers. She still brings me sugarplums when they’re ripe.”
“Yes, well. Sweet might be subjective.” Eliot shakes his head. “I’m afraid I find myself in need of your guidance again, your...sexiness. I need your secret sauce that can...well, her spell’s a little lacking.”
Preening at the compliment, the Cock says, “It’s fairly rudimentary magic: just old. Uncommon nowadays. I highly doubt she botched it.”
“But it’s only temporary.”
“Because former King Quentin has to complete his task before he can regain full rights to mortality? Did your last quest teach you nothing?”
The Cock keeps talking as if Eliot hadn’t said anything. “Besides, he should have an entire fortnight...but perhaps a beast such as myself cannot quite understand your human...rituals.”
The way he says rituals reminds Eliot of the skeezy part of Encanto but he pushes past it. “It’s a fortnight today. Tonight. And we...Quentin never said anything about a task. If Quentin doesn’t know and there isn’t a single book anywhere we can find with this sort of spell described, how are we supposed to complete the ritual? And I’ve—We’ve. We’ve come so close. I can’t…”
“Of course Catalina would have told him,” the Great Cock says with a distressed caw. “I can’t imagine anyone would guess at that sort of thing. Could be anything!”
“So, what is it then?” Eliot asks, grinding his teeth together.
“Consummation between true lovers,” the Cock says, with a soft smile and a flourish of his wings.
“Well, that just seems—” Eliot snaps his mouth shut. He clears his throat, trying to be calm and composed. “Like it’s brimming with potential loopholes.”
The Great Cock blinks at him and turns towards the food on his plate. He hums thoughtfully as he takes a bite of something that looks unsettlingly like a turkey leg. “For the average person, perhaps. But I already told you, years ago, didn’t I?”
Eliot grips his hands together in his lap to keep himself from upending the table as the Great Cock gingerly lifts his teacup and takes a small sip.
“You’re parts of a whole. Did you forget?” the Cock asks him with a pointed lilt to his voice.
“So, to be clear,” Eliot starts and then chokes on air. He heaves a breath; shakes out his shoulders out; steels himself against the anger and hope vying for his attention. “If Quentin just finds his...true love and hooks up with them within a fortnight, he stays?”
The Great Cock levels Eliot with the same look he remembers from when the Cock told him the keys were his destiny. “No one has to find what they never lose, my dear Eliot. You know that. Does Quentin?”
The witch is kneeling in her garden, pulling huge red radishes from the dark earth. She stands when Quentin clears his throat, announcing himself outside the wire fence surrounding her vegetables. Dusting off her apron, she greets him, “To what do I owe this pleasure, now?”
“I couldn’t think of anywhere else to go,” he says simply. The horse he rode here whinnies and he absentmindedly pats its neck. He doesn’t know what will happen to the horse, once he passes on to the Underworld for good, and he realizes he probably should have thought of that before borrowing it.
The witch squints her eyes at him and steps around her fence to get a better look at him. She pinches his shoulder between her fingers and turns him one way, then the other.
“You didn’t seal the spell,” she says, with a flat, unimpressed voice.
“It’s impossible,” Quentin defends himself with a scowl, “the...thing. To make it stick.”
“What exactly do you mean impossible?”
“I mean I can’t do it. There’s no use trying. I can’t. There won’t be any copulation. It’s useless to try. Alright?”
“The spell wouldn’t have worked from the beginning if there wasn’t a way to seal it, Quentin Coldwater,” she spits his name out like it’s vinegar. “What makes you think it’s impossible?”
The witch is still standing so close to him, Quentin takes a step back and glances off to the side. He wraps his arms around himself and tries to piece together an argument in his head that won’t sound pathetic. When he doesn’t answer, she clicks her tongue at him and takes a step towards him, countering his retreat.
“You know who you need, don’t you?” she presses.
“I—yeah. I know,” he whispers.
“So, I’ll ask you again: why do you think it’s not possible?”
Quentin starts pacing away from her. He’s nothing to her. She shouldn’t care. There’s no skin in the game for her, so there’s no reason for her to be pestering him about it. He shouldn’t have even come here—he doesn’t even know what compulsion led him back to her little hut.
“Look. It’s just. It isn’t.” He turns on his heel, pacing back, his arms crossed tight over his chest, resolutely not looking at her, not wanting to give her the satisfaction of the real answer. “And there’s nothing I can do about it so just...accept it. Accept it, like I have.”
“Isn’t there?” she says as if he’s slow.
He stops pacing. He feels exhausted. He’s exhausted from returning to the Underworld every night. He’s exhausted from being pulled into “researching” what will make the spell stick. He’s exhausted from pretending he doesn’t know.
He’s exhausted from a lot of things.
“It’s not possible,” Quentin says enunciating clearly, daring her to argue back, “because he doesn’t love me in this timeline!”
Quentin doesn’t realize how hard he’s breathing until the witch looks at him with a self-satisfied smirk. He expects her to say something—maybe even hoping she’ll refute him in some way. She knows Fillorian magic, maybe she knows something.
She doesn’t though. She just puts her hands on her hips and raises an eyebrow at him in a way that makes him feel small and pathetic.
Quentin clears his throat and looks away from her, so he doesn’t have to feel her judgment on top of everything else. There isn’t anything more to say, nothing to help it. He lets his shoulders fall, lets his chest cave in on itself. With a heavy sigh, he finally lets himself feel the actual weight of the truth. He knew it would hurt—it already hurt. Admitting it out loud doesn’t lessen any of it.
The truth of it is, he can’t stay because the person that makes him feel alive doesn’t want him back.
“In my family, there’s a story about our forefathers,” the witch starts suddenly. “Hundreds of years into my family’s past, our two fathers—two monarchs of Fillory and Children of Earth—gave up everything for a great quest. And they did what they set out to do. They worked hard, with honor and valiance, and whatever else you might expect from heroes. But—and this is the thing every generation of my family is always taught to remember—they were successful because they loved each other. So much so, that the magic of Fillory itself acknowledged their love for each other as a true, pure, beautiful thing.”
Quentin can feel his hair on the back of his neck standing on end. There’s tears prickling at the back of his eyes. It’s unfair. He keeps his eyes averted. He can’t look at her, not when she’s being so cruelly unfair.
“Look me in the eyes and tell me that story is not true, Quentin Coldwater!”
Her exclamation startles him into looking up, and that’s when he notices. His mother had always said you can pick Coldwater eyes out from any lineup. His grandfather, his father, himself—they all have specifically identical, light brown eyes. Looking at the witch now is like looking into a mirror; like looking into his father’s eyes, or his grandfather’s eyes.
It’s like looking into his son’s eyes.
“My name is Catalina Coldwater-Waugh. You speak of timelines as if they are linear—as if this timeline is linear. If you believe that, Grandfather Coldwater, you do not understand time.”
“Teddy didn’t have a daughter named Catalina,” Quentin says, slowly.
She actually rolls her eyes at him. “Well, I’m not about to sit here and figure out how many ‘greats’ you need.”
Turning on her heel, she marches into her house for a moment. Quentin glances around the forest as if some talking squirrel or bird will tell him if he’s supposed to follow her. When she emerges, she’s holding one of the most precious things he’d never thought he’d see again: it’s the red lute Eliot had pinched and scraped and saved to buy, just so he could play for their family. Eliot had taught Teddy how to play it. Teddy had taught his children.
Its paint is a little faded, but the strings look fresh and taut.
He remembers Catalina playing a smaller, simpler lute when he first woke up.
“Runs in the family?” he asks, taking the instrument from her gently.
“Ask him to play for you. Tell him my name. Do whatever you have to. Your story is not over yet, Grandfather.”
“Right,” he presses his hand to the strings, not strumming them, just holding the instrument that had survived so much time as unquestionable, improbable evidence, “I’ll—”
“Right,” he laughs and presses the heel of his palm between his eyebrows. “Um. Thank you. I’ll tell him. About you—that the family still plays. He’ll like that.”
“My brothers and I would love to play for you both sometime,” she smiles sweetly and turns her attention towards the forest, “but only if it’s the both of you.”
“Point taken. I’ll make sure we—”
“Quentin Makepeace Coldwater!” Eliot shouts as he stumbles over a group of ferns on the edge of the woods. Eliot probably should be paying attention to where he’s placing his feet, as he seems to be struggling to find his footing, but Eliot’s focus is entirely on Quentin. He looks disheveled and unkempt like he’s clambered through the underbrush of the Darkling Woods to get the witch’s cabin. He looks pissed and frantic and—
He looks stunning. He looks stunning and handsome and ravishing in a way that Quentin knows he’ll never get over—because he never did get over it, in that other lifetime. He looks like everything Quentin tried to ignore the first day they met, but never could their entire time at Brakebills. He looks like everything Quentin remembers from their other life—their real, beautiful, happy life. He looks like everything Quentin felt slipping through his fingers the day they remembered the mosaic and everything that’s felt out of reach since the day he came back to life.
Quentin steps towards him, handing the lute back to Catalina without looking. “Eliot, you’re not going to believe—”
“You. Fucking. Asshole. You think you can just. What the actual fuck, Q?” Eliot walks right up to him and takes Quentin’s face in his hands. He’s out of breath, and he’s obviously livid about something, but Quentin doesn’t care. He's lost in his eyes and the need to tell him. He needs to tell Eliot everything; the hope that Catalina just gave him is practically burning his tongue.
Eliot presses his forehead against Quentin’s and whispers, between gasping breaths, “What the fuck?”
"I'm—okay, El?” Quentin gently places his hands on Eliot’s wrists, and rubs his thumb along Eliot’s pulse, trying to help calm him down. “I don't know what's got you this mad but I know—"
"Bullshit, Coldwater. She told you. And you just—I just had to go tramping through this fucking forest looking for a questing creature, first of all, and could have been an easy conversation back home—any ol’ damn time that you pleased, past two weeks, but no. And then you’re here, so I have to come after you—not exactly a direct path, from there to here, let me tell you."
"And you’ve known. This whole stupid time?" One of Eliot’s hands starts to shake as he lifts it to push some of Quentin’s hair out of his face, even though it’s too short to tuck behind his ear.
"She's like our infinity-something great-granddaughter, El."
"You think I give a fuck? I don’t care, Quentin.”
It’s then that Eliot kisses him, and it dawns on Quentin why Eliot might be mad at him.
Eliot holds him by the nape of his neck, and has his other arm wrapped around his back; Quentin stretches his arms up and around Eliot’s shoulders and buries his fingers into his hair. The roll of Eliot’s tongue against his and the stretch of Eliot’s body against his are the same as he remembers.
Neither one of them wants to let go. They’re living off of the taste of each other and sips of air they merely happen to catch as their lips shift around each other. Quentin knows this feeling. He knows he shouldn’t have doubted it. He knows he remembers what it’s liked to be loved by Eliot Waugh and he feels so utterly stupid that he ever doubted it.
Quentin remembers the time when he and Eliot separately bought duplicate copies of five different books from the bookseller that came to town. Quentin didn’t quite get to unpacking them from his bag, but Eliot wrapped his set up in brown parchment and left them on the table with a flourishing ‘To Q, From El’ across the top, the next morning. Just because. When Eliot found the duplicates hidden under a loose floorboard under their bed a year later, he just shook his head and kissed Quentin on his forehead.
Quentin remembers the time he complained about not having proper tortillas to make tacos. There was also the time he complained about not being able to have a shower instead of a bath. And there was the time he complained about not having popcorn. He remembers all the times he complained about not having this modern convenience or that modern convenience. Each and every time, within a few days, Eliot would have found some Fillorian equivalent or would have invented something entirely unique that replicated what Quentin missed as best he could—be it tacos or a hot shower or popcorn. The best thing was always his music—Eliot was always making sure they had music in their home.
Quentin remembers the time when he tearfully asked Eliot why he didn’t love him back. They’d been sleeping together for months at that point. It had been two weeks since Quentin had said it—out loud, words and all, accidentally, but not untruthfully—and Eliot still hadn’t said it back. The day Quentin broke down in tears over it, Eliot had looked at him, stood up, and just walked outside. He said he’d “be back,” whatever that meant. It felt like Eliot was gone for hours. Quentin had been so terrified of what Eliot was going to say when he got back, he hadn’t been able to get a single thing done.
Of course, Quentin didn’t have to be; he shouldn’t have been. Eliot returned with a huge, gorgeous bouquet of wildflowers. He held a finger up for Quentin to wait while he pulled a pair of gold rings out of his dresser drawer. Eliot hadn't even hesitated before dropping down to one knee.
I was sure you knew. Of course, I love you; I want to marry you, Coldwater.
And Quentin realizes that Eliot—here, now, kissing him with a desperation that he’s never felt from anyone but always feels from Eliot—has done even more for him. This Eliot has spent months trying to find a spell to bring him back to life. He’s spent the last fourteen days trying to find a way to keep him from the Underworld. And now, he’s kissing him the same way he remembers from that life they lived together.
"I mean, you should maybe care a little," Quentin says as he pulls away, trying to be cheeky, though he feels a little sobered by the way Eliot is looking at him.
"Not if I don't have you," Eliot says the words softly against his lips. "Quentin. You said it yourself. We work. And I know I fucked up. I fucked up beyond words. Multiple times. But please, Q, don't..."
"Hey," Quentin smooths his hands through Eliot's hair and tips up on his toes to brush his lips over the corner of his mouth. "Hey, listen. I um. I love you, too?"
Eliot starts laughing, wet with emotion, drowning in obvious relief. Eliot wipes his thumb under his eye before wrapping Quentin up in his arms to hold him against his chest. "Yeah. That's what I meant."
"I know that's what you meant,” Quentin tilts his head up and kisses the underside of Eliot’s jaw. “I just needed a...reminder.”
"It is true though." Eliot sighs and strokes Quentin’s back a few times. "Now, will you please let me take you home and tenderly rail you before sunset?"
“My brother owns an inn on the other side of the river,” Catalina offers, brightly. “That might be closer. Hours dwindling, and all that.”
Quentin can feel embarrassment burning from his neck to his ears, while Eliot perks up and starts asking for more details.
Eliot locks the door behind them and watches Quentin taking in the room their however-many-greats-grandson the innkeeper helpfully offered to them for however many nights they decide to stay. There’s a bed, there’s a fireplace, there’s Quentin. It’s less attention than he’d normally spare the decor but there’s Quentin.
“I wanted to tell you. I wanted to be brave, and I wanted to tell you.” Eliot leans back against the door and sucks in a deep breath. “It was always supposed to be the first thing I told you when we got you back. I didn’t want to give myself time to back out of it, but then there was your fever. And then there was...If it was only temporary, it didn’t feel very brave if I already knew the outcome was losing you anyway.”
“What were you going to say?” Quentin asks, twisting his fingers together. He sits down on the bed and grips one of his hands around his other wrist.
Eliot is still leaning against the door. He has to pin his hands behind his back to keep himself from reaching out for Quentin. But, Quentin asked, and he deserves to hear it all, and then he should get to decide if it’s enough. “I was supposed to start with saying that I love you. That I’d choose you, every time. That I should never have pretended I don’t know that. That you’re right and I was wrong and that I do want to try again. I loved that life we had, and I want it again.”
“I thought it was me who wouldn’t choose you?”
“It’s been brought to my attention that you’ve...um. Proven. That you would.”
Quentin raises his eyebrows in question.
“Julia,” is the only answer Eliot gives before Quentin is nodding.
“I...could have been more forthcoming. About the spell. I should have been.”
“No shit.” Eliot grins when Quentin screws his face up, trying to think of a defense. “Baby…c’mere.”
Eliot pushes himself off of the door and Quentin is in his arms before Eliot can count the seconds. They wrap around each other as tightly as they can. He slips his fingers into Quentin’s hair and starts gently massaging his scalp. It pulls the softest sigh out of him. Eliot feels a familiar swoop in his stomach as Quentin lets go of the tension in his body and sags against him. Quentin is always so tense it usually doesn’t even register for Eliot until Quentin lets go of everything and lets himself just fall into him. When he does, though, it makes Eliot feel like he’s fulfilling his life’s purpose.
“I missed you.” Quentin sighs the words against his neck, where his skin is just barely exposed by his shirt’s neckline. Eliot can feel his lips moving against the edge of his collarbone. “I missed you so much, El.”
“Me too, baby. Me too.” He kisses the top of Quentin’s head and Quentin runs his hands over Eliot’s vest.
“Now, I don’t know about you,” Eliot murmurs against the top of Quentin’s hair, “but I’m not feeling inclined to give this spell an ounce of wiggle room on this one.”
“And what do you mean by that?” Quentin tilts his head back and looks up at him with a thoroughly knowing smirk. Eliot leans in to kiss him again, this time sensuous and slow; promising. Quentin sighs again as he opens for Eliot; moans as he slides their tongues together; palms Eliot’s ass as Eliot cradles Quentin’s jaw in his hands.
“I want you to fuck me,” Eliot whispers against Quentin’s ear as he steps back just far enough to shed his brocade vest and discard it on the floor.
“Okay, but like, you definitely promised me a very tender railing.” Quentin grabs Eliot’s wrist and pulls him gently as he moves back toward the bed.
“That, too.” Eliot tugs at Quentin’s brass-buttoned jacket. Once it’s off, Eliot brushes a hand through Quentin’s hair and drops another kiss on his temple.
“Can I suck you off first? Just a little?”
“The day Quentin Coldwater gives ‘a little’ bit of head is the day—” Quentin cuts Eliot off by sliding his hands up and underneath his linen shirt, pulling on it until Eliot bends at his waist and lets the shirt fall over his shoulders. Quentin’s grinning at Eliot when he stands up straight again.
“You love how I give head,” Quentin says with a sly smile. He steps close to Eliot again, letting his hands drift over Eliot’s bare torso, dragging fingers through Eliot’s chest hair.
“It’s one of your greatest talents, and I will be the first to say I have personally benefited from it many, many times.” Eliot captures Quentin’s chin in his hand and kisses him again, quick and soft. “But we’re on a deadline since someone didn’t own up to what was needed.”
“Yeah, but we’re here now.”
“We’re here now.” Eliot licks his lips and starts pulling at the laces of Quentin’s breeches. “And your pants need to be elsewhere.”
The way Eliot’s body remembers Quentin’s is more than enough to prove to him that they belong together. They don’t waste any time on anything where a spell can substitute, but when the head of Quentin’s cock presses against him, Eliot feels like he’s going to combust. It’s fast and hot; the more Eliot’s body gives way to Quentin, the more hungry they become for each other.
It’s over fast, too. Eliot devolves into laughter between showering kisses across Quentin’s brow, his lips, his beautiful cheekbones, and his perfect jawline. Quentin squirms underneath him as Eliot flips him over. He can’t believe he gets to have Quentin again; Quentin can’t believe he gets to have Eliot again. They’re giddy with it, both of them, and they keep babbling at each other like they’re losing their minds.
Once they catch their breath, they’re both still smiling. Eliot can’t remember the last time he smiled this much. They’re together again, which is more than he could ever have hoped for, but he’s also in awe that he gets redemption from the worst decision of his life. There are other things he needs to say; other things Quentin needs to know. So, Eliot slows down: slower kisses, gentler hands, softer eyes.
He starts his apology.
Eliot whispers variations of “I’m sorry” over and over again between long, languishing kisses across Quentin’s collarbones. Quentin responds by saying “I know,” “I’m sorry, too,” and “I love you,” over and over again. They’re both crying when Eliot leans up and kisses Quentin open-mouthed and searching for words that he’s sure don’t exist. He needs Quentin to know how much he’s missed him, and how much he needs him, and how much he never wants to repeat the pain it cost the both of them again.
When they part, Quentin just takes Eliot’s face in his hands and kisses his tears away murmuring, “I know, sweetheart. I know.”
“I love you,” Eliot says, choking on his breath.
“I know that, too. I love you, too,” Quentin breaths out and pulls him in for a long, deep kiss of his own.
Eliot keeps kissing him, and kissing him, and kissing him. He never wants to stop kissing Quentin, and he realizes that he doesn’t have to, so long as they do this right.
“I want to take more time for this,” Eliot says, trailing his lips over Quentin’s jawline again. “But I can’t chance it, Q. I can’t.”
“I know,” Quentin hums. Eliot sucks a bruising kiss into the hollow of Quentin’s throat and the sound Quentin makes is exactly as Eliot remembers from their life before. “Just...need you—I need you.”
Eliot twists his fingers together and calls more lube to his hand. Quentin tilts his head back, eyes blissfully closed, and moans loudly as Eliot reaches down between them. “I know, baby. They aren’t taking you. Christ, you feel good, Q. Feel so good right here.”
“That’s it, Q,” Eliot whispers as he strokes him, coaxing him along gently as he gets harder and harder. He rolls his hips, rubbing his own half-hard cock against the underside of Quentin’s. “You feel that? I’m gonna be hard for you in seconds. That’s how bad I want you, Q.”
Quentin lets out a whine and pushes his hips up into Eliot. Quentin’s hands are everywhere—over Eliot’s chest, scraping his nails over Eliot’s back, in his hair, against his shoulders, down his arms. They breathe hard against each other’s mouths, rocking their bodies against each other. Eliot’s hand moves over Quentin’s cock drawing out every moan and sigh Eliot knows how to make him give up.
“I want you, always.” Eliot licks up Quentin’s neck and wraps his entire hand around both of their cocks—both finally hard and leaking over each other. Quentin gasps and shifts his hips up, pressing against Eliot with desperation. “Never gonna stop. Never have stopped. I swear, Q. I never stopped loving you.”
“Please,” Quentin breathes the words out. “Please, El, I need you to do something.”
“What’s something, baby? Tell me. Could be anything.” Eliot laughs dark against Quentin’s hammering pulse. He starts pumping his fist over their cocks faster, just to play with him. “Tell me.”
“Get...inside me. I need you.”
“Is this what you want?” Eliot lets go of them and slips the tip of his finger down further. He traces a firm finger down behind Quentin’s balls, teases at the muscle there, and then slides it back to press against the furl of Quentin’s asshole.
“Yes, yes, yes,” Quentin spreads his legs out wider for him, inviting him in with a groan. “Please.”
“Tell me, baby. Tell me what it is you want.”
Quentin growls, just a little, but it turns into a pleading whine as Eliot lines his cock up with Quentin’s entrance. Eliot just smiles, and carefully rubs every drop of precum he can over him, without so much as a hint of pushing into him. He leans forward and lavishes several long kisses across Quentin’s chest and flicks a finger back and forth over one of his nipples.“C’mon baby, I want to hear it.”
Quentin tries to move his hips; tries to roll his body to coax Eliot inside him, but Eliot just keeps passing the head of his cock back and forth, so close to where Quentin wants him.
“Eliot, please fuck me,” Quentin finally relents, and before he can even finish the final word, Eliot's pushing inside of him.
Eliot had already spelled Quentin open and wide, waiting, perfectly prepared for Eliot to slam into him and not let up. Quentin’s screaming for him before long, with needy, pleading sounds. Eliot is more than capable of fulfilling everything Quentin might want from him, and he does—hard, and fast, and powerful. They’re sweating together, panting together, moaning for each other as Eliot cants forward and Quentin meets him, wanton and desperate.
They last longer this time, but not by much. Covered in Quentin’s come twice over, Eliot stumbles to the window and throws open the shutters. It’s still light out—just barely. Eliot sighs with relief, and falls back into bed, kissing Quentin ravenously.
“They’re not taking you,” Eliot says, almost more to himself than to Quentin. “You’re mine.”
“Yours,” Quentin confirms, comforting them both with it. He brushes a hand through Eliot’s hair and groans into his mouth as their tongues slide together again.
Quentin struggles to stay awake as he starts drifting to sleep. He has Eliot's chest to his back and Eliot’s arms settled securely around him, but he wants to stay awake as long as he can.
They’re both well and thoroughly fucked. If the powers that controlled Catalina’s spell had any question, Eliot loves him, and he loves Eliot, and they’ve consummated that fact several times over. It’s long past sundown, so they know it worked—they’d well and thoroughly celebrated that as well. He knows he’s not about to be reclaimed by the Underworld. There’s no reason for him to be afraid of falling asleep, and he’s not, really.
It’s just been a really, really long time since he fell asleep in Eliot’s arms, and he wants to savor their first night together again as long as he can. He wants to remember it, in case there’s ever another time he forgets how Eliot shows he loves him.