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i'll put your poison in my veins

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“Eliot? Eliot. You greasy bitch, are you in there?”

Eliot groans, one hand rising to his forehead, which is pounding viciously. His fingers slide into his hair, which is… thinner than he remembers. He blinks slowly, his heartbeat speeding up as he looks into Margo’s large, brown eyes.

“Bambi?” he asks, his voice sounding strange to his ears. He reaches out, wraps his hands around her thin arms, and then she’s moving, a sob falling from her lips as she launches herself at him, hugging him so hard he falls backwards onto the couch. Which—where the fuck is he?

He cranes his neck (which seems to weirdly lack its usual range of motion) around a crying Margo, relief crashing over him as he realizes he’s not in the Cottage. Not in the place he’s been for months (he thinks? Unfortunately there are no calendars in mind jail), a prisoner in his own body, a so-called ‘happy place’ where his only company was conjured memories and a Fillorian runaway from a time long past.

“Q heard me,” he whispers, hugging Margo closer, his throat tightening. “You pulled me out.” He presses his nose into her shoulder, inhaling deeply, and a lock of hair falls in front of his eyes in an unfamiliar way.

“Not exactly.” Julia speaks from above him, and Eliot looks up into her worried eyes. Her hands are twisting together as she stares at him. “You’re only here temporarily. Maybe a half-hour at best. And you’re not—” She cuts herself off, stepping aside, revealing a body lying prone on another couch across from him. Eliot jerks backwards, Margo pulling away as Eliot gapes at himself lying on a couch a few feet away.

“What the fuck?” he asks, staggering to his feet. A wave of dizziness overcomes him, and he nearly falls back down, but Margo is already standing up, and catches him. He looks from—himself, prone, unconscious, wearing a… graphic tee? With a fucking tacocat on it? With hair that looks like it hasn’t been washed in weeks?—to Margo, and back again. Then he turns again to Margo, frowning— “Did you get taller?” His voice again, is just—not right, even if it is very familiar.

Margo sighs, reaching not-very-high-up to cup his cheek. “No, baby,” she says. “Now don’t panic, but some of your attributes may be a bit smaller than you’re used to. It’s only temporary.”

He looks at her in confusion, then over to Julia, who walks over to him and grabs his hand. As he stands, he glances around, getting his first real look at wherever he is, which is apparently a fancy as fuck West Elm showroom apartment. He opens his mouth to ask who they killed to get in here when Julia places him in front of a tall mirror, where he turns and sees—

Quentin. His Quentin, with his too short hair and wide eyes that had last looked up at Eliot in what felt like only hours ago, when he’d walked through that damn familiar wooden door and onto a playground.

“Fifty years. Who gets proof of concept like that?”

Quentin gaped at him, his mouth dropping open. “What?”

“Peaches and plums, motherfucker.” Eliot shoved his shoulder, needing to do—something, anything—to prove that he was really there. “I’m alive in here.”

Quentin’s eyes lit up, and he stepped forward. “Eliot,” he breathed, and something split inside Eliot’s chest.

Quentin’s hair is shorter than it should be, and his eyes are wide and terrified. He’s wearing a too-big cardigan (is this mine?) and a worn pair of jeans. Eliot presses his fingers to his lips at the same time the Quentin-in-the-mirror does, and he looks down at himself—at Quentin’s body—and stumbles backwards.

“Okay, someone tell me right the fuck now what is going on.” He whirls on Margo and Julia, nearly stumbling again over unfamiliar feet in converse sneakers. “Why am I passed out on the couch? Wearing a reject from Hot Topic’s t-shirt wall, with hair that clearly hasn’t seen conditioner—or even a fucking shower—in far too long? And if I’m in Quentin’s body, then—where the fuck is he?”

Margo sighs, taking his arm and leading him back to the couch. Julia sits in a yellow chair next to him, across from the couch where he—his body—is laying.

“It’s a body swap spell,” Margo says bluntly. “Quinn brought us this book, and Q found the spell in it, Julia figured out how to modify it, and now you’re here, in Q’s body, and he’s—” She cuts off, glancing over at Eliot’s body.

Eliot follows her gaze, and his entire body tensing. “He’s where, Margo?”

“We’re pretty sure he’s wherever you were,” Julia says, glancing down at the-Eliot-that-isn’t. “The monster—your body—is knocked out for at least another hour with what he drank. We weren’t super certain if we would get you or… monster you. But here you are.” She leans closer, staring at him, her eyes so sad and worried it almost makes him forget he’s gone from trapped in his own body to trapped in Quentin’s body. “It is you, right?”

“It’s him,” Margo says. “He’s been here five minutes and he’s already bitching about his clothes and his hair. I give him another two before he realizes he lost a few inches elsewhere.”

Eliot frowns, staring down at his—Quentin’s—hands. The cardigan sleeves are so long the sleeves pull over his fingers. His throat burns with the threat of tears; he’s so fucking close and so far all at once. “Why would you do that?” he asks, looking over at himself. “If you had no idea where Quentin would go—if I would come—”

“Because we’re desperate as fuck, El.” He turns to Margo, his heart melting as he watches those eyes of steel soften in front of him, that chin quivering ever so slightly. “You told us you were alive in there. Any chance we might have to rescue you—we’re taking it.” She looks over at his body, at Julia, and sighs. “Besides, once Coldwater found the spell, there was no way he wasn’t going to try it. And we either help him, or pick up the pieces when he fucks it up on his own.”

Eliot licks his lips—a wider mouth than he’s used to—and nods, trying to force acceptance down his throat. “Okay,” he says, again looking down at his much more compact body. “Well, nice of him to put on one of my cardigans for me to wake up in.” It’s one he rarely wears, but it’s soft and smells familiar. He looks up just in time to catch Margo and Julia exchanging a look.

“Yeah,” Julia says smoothly, standing up and grabbing a book from the coffee table. He recognizes her shift into a more business-like mode, away from the emotion of the past few minutes. “So we’re not sure how long we have you for. The first swap is just for recog, but hopefully next time we’ll do the spell for real.” She sinks down on the couch next to him, flipping pages.

“Next time?” Eliot asks. He looks around, his gaze landing on a foil container sitting on the coffee table. “Is that…?” he asks, his mouth starting to water.

“Mmhmm,” Margo says, smiling. “Thought you could use some comfort food while you’re in the physical realm.”

“You’re a goddess,” he tells her, and Margo smiles as Julia rolls her eyes. Eliot picks up the still-warm bowl and silverware, shoving a forkful into his mouth.

“The man who lectured Q for hours on wasting his taste buds on Taco Bell is brought to his knees by mac and cheese.” Julia smirks as she looks at him with a look so fond Eliot wonders if she’s forgotten who’s really in this body.

“This isn’t mac and cheese,” Eliot says, his affronted inflection sounding too odd in Quentin’s voice. “This is aged cheddar, Gruyere, Gouda, and Scharfe Maxx, baked in a flatiron skillet. Although it tastes… different.” He takes another bite, furrowing his brow as he swallows.

“You are eating it with a different mouth,” Margo says, and Eliot frowns.

“Taco Bell doesn’t sound too bad now, doesn’t it?” Julia says, chortling as Eliot rolls his eyes.

It’s a nice moment of levity, until Eliot’s eyes fall on his own frame, lying prone opposite him. He decidedly turns away from himself, angling his body towards Julia. “I’ll eat. You talk. What’s happened while I’ve been indisposed? And what’s the plan?”

By the time Julia finishes running him through the events of the past few months (months. He’s been gone fucking months) and very quickly explaining their current plan, he’s eaten half the dish. He sets the container down on the coffee table, meeting Margo’s gaze, and sits up straighter as he tangles his fingers together with hers. Julia looks at their joined hands, smirking slightly.

“Sorry,” she says. “Just weird seeing Q with such great posture, holding Margo’s hand like… you would, I guess.”

Margo squeezes his hand, and Eliot gives her a half-smile. “It is weird,” Margo admits. “But I could get used to it,” she says with a smirk.

“Well, don’t,” Eliot says, “Because with your brilliant plan, we’re booting this malevolent toddler god out of Casa Waugh and into the—mirror realm, you said?”

Julia nods. “The seam; we have to go through the mirror realm to get to it. And we still have to find a receptacle that can hold the monster’s soul. It’s all still very—unclear. The book Alice bought us—it’s ancient, and it’s taking a while to decipher it, all while trying to not let the monster know what we’re doing.”

“Alice?” Eliot asks, frowning. “The same Alice that single handedly destroyed our chance to restore magic?”

“The one and only,” Margo says. “She’s been eating some serious crow. She came around all worried about Quentin, and then reappeared with this magical book of monster spells she stole from the library. She’s clearly trying to get back in Coldwater’s pants.” Margo shrugs. “Too bad for her he’d rather choke on your dick.”

“I doubt that,” Eliot says, feeling his cheeks warm for the first time in—years, probably. He looks up when he hears Julia snort.

“Sorry,” she says, laughing. “God, I’m sorry, but it’s true.” She seems to be trying to not grin as she says, “Q did kind of jump on the body swap spell as soon as he found it.”

Eliot nods, clearing his throat. “Well, who wouldn’t jump at the chance to take a spin in… me?”

“Believe me, if the alternative wasn’t getting to sit here and actually talk to you, you’d be staring at this luscious body in the mirror instead of Quentin’s.” Margo leans into him and Eliot smiles at her, even as something tugs at his heart. Being with Margo—the actual Margo, one that isn’t a memory scrounged up from his subconscious, is something he’ll never take for granted again. And he’s thrilled to see her, to be part of this crazy plan they’ve come up with to get him back in control of his own body—but the only way he can be here with her is because Quentin isn’t. Because Eliot is occupying his body—and not in the way he’s fantasized about way too often, from the moment he first met Quentin. And especially ever since they came back from the mosaic.

Those few months after he and Quentin came back from that other lifetime were a whirlwind of fairy drama and Fillorian political drama and musical drama, all culminating in Quentin deciding he was going to spend his life living out Tales from the Dark Side—and there was no fucking way Eliot was going to let that happen. They had a literal god-killing bullet, for fuck’s sake.

And yeah, okay, maybe it didn’t actually kill the god, so much as let it escape into Ora, who then fucking found Eliot and shoved him so far into his own psyche he had to dig through the deepest depths of his own bullshit to even attempt to escape. But the thought of trying to live his life while Quentin was wasting away on the literal flip-side of Fillory—was unthinkable. Because he was stupidly in love with Quentin, and it took possibly losing him forever for Eliot to finally fucking realize it.

He’d always been attracted to Quentin—had a ridiculous crush on him, when they’d first met. Then magic and life had happened, and then an entire life, after which Quentin put himself out there. Only for Eliot to turn him away.

How might things have been different, if Eliot hadn’t turned tail and fled that day in the throne room? Would Quentin still have offered to give himself up to guard the Monster? Or would he, all of them, have worked to find any other solution that wouldn’t take him away from Eliot? If he’d been a stronger man, would the monster still have come out to play, killed and hurt so many people?

They’d never know.

And there’s no use in dwelling. It is what it is, and all he can do is try to fucking fix it.

“So, let me see if I follow,” Eliot says, turning towards Julia. “You found a spell that you think you can modify to throw this… god out of my body. I’m here, which means the body swap probably worked, and if it did, Q is in the monster’s head right now—testing out if he can use magic in there?” Julia nods, and Eliot shakes his head. “I can’t—I don’t think he’ll be able to.” He casts another worried look at his own prone form on the couch. “Will the monster know that I’m not in there?”

Julia presses her lips together, and Eliot gets the impression the answer is ‘We sure hope not.’ “Did he know when you broke out? In the park? He didn’t seem to.”

“I have no idea,” Eliot says. “How did you knock him out, anyway? Can’t you just keep him—me—like that 24/7?”

“Not if we want your body to keep breathing,” Margo says flatly. “We drugged his tequila. Not something we can really do often. Especially since Coldwater went nuclear on him for trashing your body.”

Eliot opens his mouth to ask He did what? when he’s overcome by a wave of dizziness, similar to when he first woke up. He puts a hand to his head, Margo catching him as he pitches to the side. “Sorry,” he says, blinking. “Dizzy spell.”

“Okay, that means we’re losing you,” Julia says, and Margo clutches at his hand. Another wave hits him, and he has to grab onto Margo’s forearms to stay steady as Julia rushes on. “We’ll talk to Quentin when he comes back and compare notes. Figure out our next steps.”

Margo puts her hands on his cheeks, turning his face to hers. Her voice is firm, desperate. “I’m gonna see you again,” she says. The light in the room is fading, Margo’s face blurring as he struggles to keep his eyes open, but her voice still comes through sharp and clear. “I fucking promise we’re gonna get your body back to you and send that shit-for-brains pansy-ass wanna-be-baby-god back to the hellscape it came from.”

“That’s my Bambi,” he whispers, before everything fades to black.



“The Cottage? Why the fuck am I in the Cottage?”

The initial dizziness from the swap having passed, Quentin turns in a circle in the empty Cottage, frowning at the chalk board that is full of writing, pausing when he sees his name with a line through it. He takes a step forward, and then remembering why he’s here—looks down.

“Shit,” he says. He’s in the same clothes he was wearing back at the penthouse—jeans, converse sneakers, henley shirt, and one of Eliot’s cardigans. He rushes to the bathroom on the first floor, flinging open the door to look in the mirror—and nearly cries when he sees his own face staring back at him.

Fuck,” he says, turning and slamming the door. Okay, so the body swap didn’t work. But clearly something did, because I’m here—

“You said that word. When you slammed the door? Did you just fuck that door?”

Quentin nearly jumps out of his skin when he turns and sees the fucking monster in front of him, or rather the body the monster was wearing when he first saw it at Blackspire. The body that Eliot shot and they left to rot on the floor of Blackspire.

“What? No—what—who are you?” He raises his hands in front of him, ready to move into whatever form of defensive spell, and the man frowns at him.

“Where is Eliot?” the man asks, looking around. “You don’t look like any of his other Quentins.”

Quentin lowers his hands, frowning. What other Quentin? “How do you know my name?”

The man raises an eyebrow as he looks at Quentin, his stiff Fillorian outfit crinkling as he turns and sits down on the couch. “You aren’t a memory. You’re really him, aren’t you? How?”

Quentin stares at him for a beat, two, and then decides fuck it. He has no idea how long he has here, and if there’s a fucking—tour guide, then he’ll get as much information as he can out of him. “It’s a body swap spell. I’m here, and hopefully Eliot—”

“Is in your body. Out there.” He looks away from Quentin, a stunned expression on his face. Then he shakes his head, looking back up at Quentin. “I could tell from his memories, how he spoke to them—you—that there was something between you. But to give up your life and body for him, condemn yourself to eternity here. No wonder Eliot was so determined to find the door.” He stands up, nodding to Quentin. “I’m Charlton. I guess this is your happy place too, since it hasn’t changed with the… swap.”

Quentin stares at… Charlton, turning his words over. Memories. Happy place. Condemn yourself to eternity. Quentin thumps down on the couch, running a hand through his hair.

“Okay—Charlton,” he starts, not commenting on the name ‘Charlton,’ because what place does Quentin Coldwater have to tell someone their name is weird? “I’m not sure how long I’ll be here, but it’s not permanent. At least… not right now.” His tongue feels thick as the words spill out, but it’s true, he knows. He’d swap forever if it meant Eliot got to live. “Can you start from the beginning? Who are you? Where is this place?”

Charlton sits next to him and tells him—how the monster possessed his body, and he now ‘lives’ here, in the remembrances of whomever is unlucky enough to be taken over by the monster. How Eliot’s happy place is the Cottage. And how Eliot has been going through his memories, conjuring them up to help him get out.

“Eliot found the door,” Quentin says after Charlton tells him how Eliot found the right memory to open the door. Quentin wonders what it is, but that’s a question that he’ll hopefully get to ask Eliot. “He told me he was alive. But he was only out for a few seconds.”

“Yes,” Charlton says. “It was lucky when he broke out, you were there. And now here.” He frowns, his eyes darting around. “I suppose if the swap is temporary, we’re still technically in Eliot’s remembrances. Confusing.” He turns to Quentin. “You believe you can free him from the monster?”

“I hope so,” Quentin says, looking around the Cottage with new eyes. All of Eliot’s pleasant remembrances, as Charlton had said, live here. And it’s not Fillory, or some other random place Quentin wouldn’t recognize. It’s Brakebills. It makes sense, Quentin thinks. It would be a contender for his own happy place. But ultimately, for him, the Cottage would come in a close second.

He stands up, walking over to the large chalkboard. “Creed concert,” he mutters, eyebrows raising. I knew he was full of it. His eyes drift to the bottom left corner—his own name, crossed out, listed under ‘Javier’ and ‘Sleeping with People’s Boyfriends.’ Memories push his way to the front of his mind, Margo in his lap, Eliot’s hand warm on the back of his neck… had Eliot revisited that night? As his biggest regret? Quentin’s eyes quickly scan over the rest of the chalkboard, looking for anything else familiar—he sees ‘Jailing Margo,’ ‘Nearly Got Everyone Killed.’ But nothing else he recognizes from their time together. Nothing from the mosaic at all.

He mentally shakes his head. You have shit to do, and limited time. He sighs, turning back to Charlton.

“I need to test something,” he says, and Charlton nods. Quentin picks up a glass sitting on the coffee table, and asks, “Can I break this?”

Charlton frowns, but nods, and Quentin lets the glass go, dropping it to the top of the coffee table. It shatters, glass shards flying all over the floor as Charlton startles. Quentin inhales, moving his fingers in a familiar motion, feeling his magic crest within him and then just—stall out. He sighs, trying again, with the same result—no magic. The glass still sits in several pieces on the table and ground.

“Fuck,” he says, letting his hands fall to his waist. “Of course that would have made it too easy.”

“What are you trying to do?” Charlton asks, frowning at the glass. “Do you need to fuck that glass?”

“What? I—No,” Quentin says, taking a step back from Charlton. “I was trying to use magic to mend the glass. It’s the magic that comes most easily to me, so I was thinking if any spell would have the best chance of working it would be a mending spell.”

“Interesting,” Charlton says, his brow furrowing, and suddenly Quentin thinks that maybe he shouldn’t be spilling all of his secret plans to the entity that has lived hundreds of years inside the Big Bad’s mind.

“So,” Quentin says, looking around for a dustpan to clean his mess (it would be just his luck Eliot would come back in and like, slit his foot open and bleed to death inside his own mind), “you’ve met me before?”

“Several of you,” Charlton says, standing up and picking his way over to the wall, where a broom stood in the corner. He starts sweeping up the glass as Quentin picks up the larger pieces. “Different hair. One of you was very old. Always willing to do anything to help Eliot.” He wrinkles his nose. “Which was not the case for the Nickel memory.”

“Nickel?” Quentin asks, looking up at him.

Charlton nods, stopping his sweeping and looking up at the ceiling. “Or Penny? Silver? Some kind of monetary metal.”

Quentin smirks, then pauses as Charlton’s other words catch up with him. “You said I was old?”

Charlton tosses the broken glass in the rubbish bin, wiping his hands. “Yes, very old with long white hair and a very long beard. You were only here for a few moments before Eliot wished you away. I didn’t even realize it was you until he said your name.” He stopped a few feet in front of Quentin. “How were you so old in a memory, but young now, if this is the ‘real you?’”

Quentin swallows, turning away, his eyes falling on the Fillory clock set against the wall. Memories hit him, turning the key inside it, walking familiar paths through the woods over and over again, a warm kiss in firelight. “It’s a long story.” What would happen, he wondered, if he tried to go through it here?

Quentin shakes his head. Whatever would happen, he’s not finding out now. He turns back to Charlton. “So how long have you—” He stops as a wave of dizziness hits him, and Charlton grabs his arm as he stumbles backwards.

“Are you alright?” Charlton asks, beckoning him to sit on the couch. Quentin does, and another wave hits him.

“I think—the spell is ending. Eliot will be back soon.” He turns to Charlton, eyes wide. “Tell him—” I miss him? I love him? Did ‘peaches and plums, motherfucker’ mean anything other than ‘This is the real Eliot?’ And then everything goes black.

When he comes to, he’s back at the penthouse, sitting on the couch with Margo cradling his face. His hands automatically come up to wrap around her wrists, and he pulls away slightly, his heart pounding in his chest. He closes his eyes against another wave of dizziness, and quickly turns to Julia, who’s sitting in the chair next to him.

“I think—on my end—it worked. Did he—” Quentin looks to the other couch and sees the Monster still passed out, breathing evenly.

Fuck yes, it worked,” Margo says, and she wraps Quentin in a hard hug. Tears spring to his eyes as an overwhelming feeling of relief hits him, and then an almost foreign wave of hope. It’s more than just his own emotions; it’s like he’s feeling everything in stereo, and then a wave of irritation hits him right in the middle of it all. Then he hears, almost as if he was in the room, Eliot saying, He was here? Q was here?

“Eliot?” he says, bolting up straight, looking around.

Q? He hears Eliot say, not out loud, he realizes, but—in his head. Where are you?

I’m at the penthouse, Quentin thinks back, and he can feel Margo gripping his arm.

“What the fuck is going on?” she asks.

“I can hear him—Eliot—in my head,” Quentin says, looking around wildly.

You were here? With Charlton? And now we can hear each…

Eliot’s voice grows quieter in Quentin’s head with each word, and then fades out completely. Quentin jumps to his feet. “Eliot! Eliot can you hear me?” he says, and then he turns, bumping right into Eliot.

Or rather, the thing wearing his skin.

“Why are you calling for your dead friend?” the monster asks, with that creepy fucking lilt to his voice, his head tilting as he takes a step forward.

Quentin stares at him, feeling time slow down around him. This is it, he thinks, not for the first or second or dozenth time in the past few weeks. This is when he kills me.

He swallows, looking over to Julia and Margo, who are frozen, staring at him. “I was dreaming,” Quentin says finally. “About Eliot. I woke up, and was—confused.”

The monster stares down at him with Eliot’s eyes, and Quentin thinks again, I hate you so fucking much. He’s sure this is it, he’s about to die and he’ll never see Eliot again, the last thing he’ll have ever said to him was, I’m at the penthouse. He can’t decide if that’s better or worse than an amazed, hopeful Eliot...

Then the monster looks away, stepping back. “I slept,” it says, confused. “I do not like that this body requires it.” It turns to Julia and Margo, and says, “I shall not drink all of the tequila again. Maybe just some of the tequila.” And then it disappears.

Quentin exhales hard as Julia and Margo rush over to him, both talking over each other. Quentin holds up a hand, and they both go silent, Quentin pushing back between them to sit on the couch.

“Eliot,” he says into the silence, waiting. Nothing. “Eliot,” he says again, more firmly. Silence is the only response. Fuck. He falls back against the couch, his hands over his face.

“Talk to me,” Julia says, sitting next to him. “What happened?” Margo sits on the other side of him, her face full of stone.

“He’s in some mind prison—” he starts, only for Margo to cut him off.

“Yeah yeah, he told us all that. Tell us about whatever the fuck just happened with you going all psychic on us. You could hear him?”

“For a few moments,” Quentin says. Next to him, he hears Julia pick up the book and start flipping through it. “Until it woke up.” He gestures over to where the monster last had been. “Maybe that breaks the connection?”

Turning to Margo, he says, “You talked to him? How is he?”

She sighs, her expression turning troubled. “He’s Eliot. He’s surviving,” she says shortly. “We need to get him his fucking body back.” One corner of her mouth quirks up as she looks him up and down. “He was disappointed he couldn’t talk to you. Not too upset to wake up in your body, though I don’t think it was exactly what he had in mind in that respect.”

He gives her his best exhausted side-eye just as Julia pipes up next to him.

“Okay, so the spell we used for the body swap does have some psychic components, and with the ingredients we used, there can be some residual psychic noise…” She mutters to herself as she picks up another book. “Yeah. If we do it more, it could get stronger, too.”

“What do you mean?” Quentin asks.

“You might be able to hear him longer after another swap—and maybe you can swap for longer. And we can anchor it so either of you can trigger a swap, instead of just you, Q. But I don’t know if we want to do that.” Julia smooths her palm over the page, not looking at him.

“Why the fuck not?” Margo asks.

“Because we have no idea if the monster will fucking figure it out,” Julia says. “We can’t fucking drug him again; it’s too risky. And while he hasn’t seemed to notice when Eliot broke out, or that we did the first swap—”

“It’s worth the risk,” Quentin interrupts, ignoring Julia’s frown. “I have to go back, anyway. I couldn’t cast in there, so we’ll need to research, see if there’s some way—”

Julia slams the book shut, tossing it on the coffee table, startling Quentin and Margo. “You know the first thing Eliot asked when he was here?” she asks, her eyes so full of fire Quentin automatically leans back a few inches. “Why we would take the risk of doing this entire thing if we had no idea if it was safe. If he was here—”

“Well he’s not,” Quentin shoots back, standing up, something inside of him snapping. They’re closer than they have been in weeks, and there is no fucking way they’re stopping now. “That’s the entire problem, Julia. And if this will help us get him back, we’re fucking doing it. The end.” He stands up, starting to walk away, not even sure where he’s going, when Julia’s small-but-deceptively-strong hand closes around his arm, yanking him back to face her.

Not the fucking end, Q.” She’s glaring at him for all he’s worth, but he’s not backing down. He can’t; this—Eliot—is too important. “Days ago that—thing—had its hands wrapped around your neck, and you told it to break your bones. That you’re too tired to care anymore.” Tears start to form as she speaks, and he feels something else give inside him, a fresh guilt and hurt swirling together with all the other crap drowning him.

“I’ve heard you say that before, Q, and it’s fucking terrifying.” Tears are streaming down her face now, and she wipes at one cheek. “You’re going to get yourself killed, and Eliot will come back to your funeral.” She chokes on a sob, and Quentin quickly steps over to her, pulling her into a hug.

She cries against his shoulder, and he hugs her hard, exhaling as he meets Margo’s eyes.

“She’s right,” Margo says softly, her arms crossed as she watches them. “We gotta play this right. Pick our moments. And when we have it all set up, we go in and blow the fucker into the Hellmouth.” Julia pulls away, sniffling, and Margo steps closer, wrapping one comforting hand around Julia’s shoulder. She stares up into Quentin’s face, exhaling softly.

“I want him back just as much as you do, but there’s no fucking way in hell that when he’s back in his body, I’m telling him that he’s there because you died. We do this smart. Okay?” She presses her lips together and raises an eyebrow at Quentin, daring him to object.

He wants to. He fucking wants to swap back now, sit around with Charlton for an hour and hear about what it was like to be possessed by an ancient god, and then come back and talk to Eliot in his head. Even if he can only talk to him for a minute, it’ll be worth it to fucking hear his voice, to know that he’s okay from his own mouth. Or brain waves, whatever.

But as he looks at Julia quietly sobbing as Margo pulls her into a hug, he knows they’re right. He’s being reckless, and he can’t afford that right now. Not when Eliot’s life hangs in the balance.

“Okay,” he sighs, and tension seems to pour out of Julia as she sags against Margo. “Let’s get back to researching.”