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i'll put your poison in my veins

Chapter Text

Eliot

“Oh, shit.”

“I’m sorry you’re here, man. But it’s good to see you. Come with me.” And then Penny turns and walks away, not looking back, like he expects Eliot to follow. Eliot stares after him, watching his retreating back, as he tries to digest what the fuck is happening.

Welcome to the Underworld.

The Underworld. He’s dead. Eliot looks down, and yeah, black hoodie, dark-wash jeans, converse sneakers: he’s in Quentin’s body. Because apparently, in the Underworld, you break it, you buy it. For eternity. Which means Quentin should be at Brakebills, in Eliot’s body, with a severely pissed-off Margo, probably losing his goddamn mind as they’re figuring out what Eliot did.

But Quentin can be as full of rage as he needs to be. As long as he’s alive to be angry. Because Eliot did it. He saved Quentin’s life.

And died in the process.

What the fuck, Q? Eliot thinks it, sends it, hoping that maybe their connection is still there.

But even as he thinks the thought, he knows Quentin won’t hear it. When Eliot had finally taken back his body from the monster, when he and Quentin had shared that psychic connection—Eliot had felt it within him. A presence that brushed against his mind, emotions that tugged at him, that he knew weren’t his own but were precious to him all the same. And now, where that shadow of Quentin had been, there’s nothing—just a blank space.

Eliot’s alone. He’s dead.

And there’s no fucking way he’s staying that way.

Even though he knows Quentin can’t hear him, he talks to him anyway. Takes a deep breath and makes a promise to Quentin. To himself. I just fucking got you back. There’s no way in hell I’m losing you again. And as soon as I’m back in my body—we’re going to talk about exactly what the fuck you thought you were doing in that room.

“Quentin!”

Eliot starts at hearing Quentin’s name, automatically looking around for him before remembering that right now, he is Quentin. He’s still standing in the elevator, staring at the hall before him. Penny is at the end of it, watching him, a very familiar, exasperated look in his eye. There he is, Eliot thinks. That Penny will help me.

“I know this is a shock,” Penny says, that gentle tone back in his voice, “but I need you to come with me.”

And since he has no other fucking option, Eliot does.

“Hey, hey, Penny, wait.” Eliot nearly runs behind Penny, almost tripping over his—Quentin’s feet. “Um. So there’s something I need to tell—”

“I know, my man,” Penny says, giving him a calming smile that was so rare when Penny was on Earth. “That’s what’s next—you get the chance to unburden yourself. So you can move on.” His voice is so gentle, and Eliot thinks he’s going for soothing, but he knows Penny. He’s not soothing. Right now, he's fucking creepy.

“I’m not moving on. I’m not—”

“It’s okay, Quentin,” Penny says, stopping in front of a door that has a sign on it that reads ‘Secrets Taken to the Grave.’ Next to it is another, smaller sign that says ‘By Appointment Only.’ “Come in.”

Eliot stops at the doorway, peering inside. It looks like a typical office, albeit a very depressing one, with its light carpet, grey walls, and dim lighting. If Fillory taught Eliot anything, it’s to always be prepared for something to try to kill you at any moment. And even though he’s already dead, that doesn’t mean he should take for granted that everywhere is safe. Quite the opposite, in fact.

He hears Penny chuckle, and he looks up to see him fussing with two mugs sitting on the desk. “You used to be a lot more trusting, you know,” Penny says, glancing at him.

“Yeah well, that was before I died,” Eliot says, slowly stepping inside. A desk sits on one wall, and a small couch and chair are set up around a circular wooden coffee table. Everything is dull and lifeless, and Eliot wrinkles his nose when Penny gestures for him to sit on the couch.

“You’re in here every day? If you even have ‘days’ here.” Eliot shakes his head, reaching out a hand to touch the one plant in the corner of the room. Fake. Of course, no way anything could grow with no natural light. Probably no way anything can grow at all since he’s in the Underworld. “No wonder you’re a pod person,” he says, sitting on the couch. “The decor alone would drive anyone insane.”

Penny turns to him, a saucer in his hand. A mug, full of something steaming, sits on the saucer, and Penny pauses, staring down at him with a quizzical look on his face. He hands Eliot the mug, and the smell of chocolate tickles his nose. Not drinking that, Eliot immediately decides, setting it down on the coffee table. He knows his Greek mythology, thank you very much. Rule #1: You don’t eat or drink anything until you’re back among the living.

“So I know you probably have a lot of questions,” Penny says, sitting down in the chair. “And I’m here—”

“Yeah, that’s great, Penny,” Eliot says, not wanting to waste any more time that could be spent escaping. “You have no idea how very glad I am that you’re here. But I’m afraid I’m not staying. And, to be quite honest, I don’t think you should either.” He gestures to basically, all of Penny. “You must feel so stifled in that ensemble. No color, fully… covered up. Are you even allowed to wear scarves? Do you have a… dress code?”

Penny looks down at his own mug, an almost amused half-smile on his face. “Quentin—” he starts.

“Yeah, about that—” Eliot interrupts, but he’s also interrupted by a new voice in the room.

“That’s not Quentin.”

Eliot turns to see a tall, handsome man standing next to the couch he’s sitting on. He’s wearing a flawless suit in various shades of dark purple, the picture of elegance and class. Eliot instantly wonders if he can get access to wherever Denizens of the Underworld shop, because while Penny’s work wardrobe leaves something to be desired, this man—he knows how to wear a suit.

The man looks down at Eliot, making eye contact, and instantly the hair on the back of Eliot’s neck stands up. He hears Penny inhale sharply, and it’s as if all of the air is sucked out of the room. Whoever this man is—this gorgeous man with dark skin and piercing eyes—he’s powerful. Important. And for the first time since he opened his eyes in that elevator, a tendril of fear starts to unfurl in Eliot’s chest.

“Not his soul, at least,” the man continues, gracefully sitting down in a chair that Eliot is sure wasn’t there before. “Hello, Mr. Waugh.” He crosses one leg over the other, relaxing as he looks at Eliot.

Eliot can feel Penny staring at him, but he can’t look away from this man, whom Eliot knows, can feel in his bones, is the key to getting out of here. “Hello,” he says, his mouth dry. He hears a groan next to him, and he turns to Penny, who’s shaking his head as he looks from Eliot to the new visitor in the room.

“I knew you felt off. Didn’t sound like Quentin. How the fuck—” Penny breaks off, looking back over to the other man, his body tense.

“He’s surprised,” the man says, and Eliot turns back to him. “I don’t often come down here.” Okay, obviously Tall, Elegant and Scary works in the Underworld too. A supervisor, maybe?

“Try never,” Penny says, sitting back in his seat. The man shrugs, his attention turning back on Eliot. It’s intense, having his focus, and Eliot resists the urge to squirm in his seat. Instead, he sits up straight—as straight as he can in Quentin’s body—and adjusts his hoodie, crossing one leg over to mimic the man’s position.

“But when I felt who came into the Underworld, I just had to come down here and see what the fuck you assholes did now.” The man’s tone is light, amused, and he even has a slight smile on his face, but his eyes—they are deadly serious.

Eliot glances over to Penny, who shrugs. Great, he’s as clueless as Eliot is. Perfect inside man. “Excuse me?” Eliot says finally.

“Your group,” the man says, glancing at Penny, “is certainly like no other. I thought Penny was fascinating, but you two—I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone so stubborn in my entire life. You’ve always been that way though, haven’t you Eliot?” He smiles, almost lazily as he speaks, loosely clasping his hands together. “You should thank your father, really. How many times did he tell you that you’d amount to nothing? That you were worthless? And you proved him wrong. Through sheer force of will.”

He suddenly leans forward, his elbows on his knees. “Remember when you helped him fix the barn roof? It would’ve been so easy. You wanted to. Give him just a little push. It was a long way down. He would have died instantly. And you could have said he slipped and fell. No one would have known.”

Eliot’s mouth goes dry, his heart nearly stopping in his chest. Suddenly, he can feel the harsh sun shining down on him, can see his dad standing on the angled barn roof. Can hear his loud, drunk voice as he yells at Eliot to hand him a board to patch up the hole a recent hailstorm had left in the roof. It would’ve been so easy. To get rid of the most hateful thing in Eliot’s life.

But he hadn’t. Of course he hadn’t. Because that’s not who Eliot was. Who he is. And he desperately holds onto that thought, thinking of Quentin, waiting for him up above, as he takes a deep breath.

“Who are you?” Eliot asks. He’s met gods before, has helped kill them, but there’s no way—it’s not possible that the man he’s sitting across from—

“He’s the boss,” Penny says simply, and the man tilts his head in Penny’s direction, meeting his eyes.

“The boss,” Eliot says, clasping his hands together tightly, hoping to hide their slight tremble. Holy fucking shit. “Hades.”

Hades nods at Eliot, giving him a slight smile, and Eliot exhales lightly, clearing his throat. So what if he’s a God? You were a King. Performance of your life—death? Starts right now.

“Well, thank you for such a gracious welcome,” Eliot says, again desperately wishing he was wearing his Fillorian finest instead of Quentin’s dirty, holey hoodie. “I’d say that I’m happy to be here, but it’s probably bad form to lie to a god.”

Hades chuckles. “This is the fortieth time you have been here. Or at least, the fortieth time Quentin has been here, in death at least. Or maybe it’s the forty-first, that other timeline, the only one so far where either of you made it past the age of thirty by the way, always throws me off.” His dark eyes are piercing, glittering in the most uncomfortable way as he stares at Eliot. “And every single time, Quentin has come in asking about you. Always so desperate to either move on to see you, or get back to you. Even when I peeked in on you in life, always the same—both of you circling around each other, but never truly together. And then you would wind up here. Always too late in death, desperate for what you could have so easily had in life.”

A startled laugh probably isn’t what Hades, the God of Death, whom Eliot is having an actual conversation with while he sits in the Underworld in his best friend’s/boyfriend’s/lover’s/whatever’s body, next to his other dead friend who appears to have drunk at least a little bit of the Underworld Kool-Aid, is expecting. And you’d think, after discovering magic is real, becoming High King of a fantasy land, cutting deals with fairies, killing gods, and having his body taken over by a God possibly older than the one he’s talking to right now, Eliot would be more prepared for all the shit that keeps raining down on him.

But hearing that time and time again, he and Quentin not only died, but died being one of the most important people in each other’s lives, is what sticks with him. Forty times. It’s relieving, in a way, to know that no matter what, they’re forever intertwined. Just like it’s horrifying to know that they never made it fucking work.

But that’s not completely our fault, Eliot thinks. Jane and Fogg and their stupid time travel fuckery didn't help.

Hades shakes his head, sitting back in his chair. “And now—here he is again. Or rather, here you are. In his body. Why is that, Eliot?” He seems entirely serious as he studies Eliot. “You’ve had so many more chances than most. You two even had an entire extra lifetime where you grew old together, and still—here you are again. Why can’t the two of you just fucking figure it out?”

At that, Eliot lets out a full-fledged laugh. A legit LOL. He laughs in Hades’s face, not missing Penny closing his eyes as he raises one hand to his forehead. “That,” Eliot says, catching his breath, “is a great question. One I desperately wish I had an answer for.” He looks to the floor, the last traces of laughter fading off his face.

“You’re right,” he says softly. “We’ve had—so many chances. But none of those chances—none of those lifetimes—were truly ours.” He raises his head, meeting Hades’ gaze. “We were pawns in someone else’s game, for so long. You said it yourself—the one time we were left to ourselves, to build a home, to just—” he closes his eyes, fighting back the tears that he seems so prone to in Quentin’s body “—live, we had a life. A long, beautiful life. That we almost didn’t even remember.”

When he opens his eyes, Hades is still looking at him, but his eyes have softened somewhat, and Eliot presses forward. This is his last chance. This is the God of the Underworld, for fucks’ sake. If Eliot can’t convince him, then he’s fucked. Quentin is fucked. Doomed to roam the Earth in Eliot’s long, gorgeous body with his perfect curls and enormous dick. One of us is definitely getting the short end of the stick here.

“I’ve made a lot of mistakes,” Eliot says, his voice breaking. “I know you can see every single one of them. But loving Quentin has never, will never be a mistake. Please. Let me go back. We were so close. Let us live. A real life, without any Chatwins or gods or bullshit against us every step of the way. And I’ll do everything in my power to make sure you don’t see either one of us again for a very, very long time.”

A tense silence hangs in the air, and Hades stares at Eliot for several seconds. Eliot can hear Penny shifting in his seat, wonders if this is something he deals with frequently—sad, remorseful souls begging for another chance.

Eliot keeps his gaze steady on Hades’ face, even as tears finally break away, tracking down his cheeks. Finally Hades sighs, looking away. “A very passionate speech,” he says. “Of which I have heard many.” He clears his throat, looking back to Eliot, and Eliot’s heart sinks at the coldness and finality he sees reflected back at him. “I’m afraid the loops are done. Your own body or not, this will be the last time you pass through my doors.”

This isn’t the end, Eliot thinks as he presses his lips together, squeezing his eyes shut against the tears. Even though it really fucking feels like it is. He leans forward, pressing the heel of his hands into his eyes. Margo and Quentin, he thinks. He’ll just have to hang out around here. Refuse to move on. Until they can kidnap his ass back to the real world. They’d found Alice’s shade. They’ll come for him.

He just hopes they get here sooner rather than later.

He’s so consumed in his thoughts, he almost misses Penny’s sharp intake of breath. He glances over at him and sees him staring at Hades, his mouth hanging open. Eliot turns to him, and is surprised to see someone else in the room—a beautiful woman, with dark skin and glossy, curly hair that tumbles down around her shoulders. She’s wearing a flowing white dress, and Eliot is reminded somehow of Julia, when she appeared in Blackspire and recreated the keys.

Eliot is transfixed, a sense of calm falling over him. He thinks he’s never seen eyes as gentle as hers. They’re trained on him now, and Eliot feels stripped bare, like she’s peering directly into his soul. Still watching him, she says softly, “Maybe not the last.”

“Oh, shit,” Penny breathes.

Eliot can’t stop staring at her; she radiates warmth and concern, and as she smiles down at him, an image of Quentin, firelight playing across his face as he leans in close, appears in Eliot’s mind. Eliot’s suddenly so full of love it’s nearly overwhelming, and he has to close his eyes against the tears brewing again as he thinks that those memories may be all he has left of Quentin.

Besides his body, which, all things considered, isn’t a horrible momento.

“My love,” the woman says, and Eliot opens his eyes, surprised to see that the chair Hades was sitting on has now transformed into a small couch, very similar to the one Eliot is sitting on. She sits down on it, reaching up to lightly drag the tips of her fingers across Hades chin. Hades gazes at her, and Eliot is fairly certain the way he’s looking at her is the same way he looks at Quentin. “When did you become so jaded?” she asks, giving him a playful smile. He smiles back at her like he can’t help himself.

“Any moment when you are not with me,” he replies, and she takes his hand, slotting their fingers together.

It suddenly dawns on Eliot who she is, and he feels light-headed as he says, “You’re—Persephone?”

She turns her smile back on him, and a spark of hope flickers in his belly. “I am,” she says. “Though many know me as Our Lady Underground.” That name, Eliot recognizes, from overhearing Julia and Kady’s hushed conversations last year, and that spark of hope flames up higher.

“You’re Eliot,” Persephone says. “Julia’s friend.”

“I am,” Eliot says slowly, glancing over at Penny, who looks just as clueless as Eliot feels.

“She has petitioned me. Several times, in the past hour. Praying for you.”

“Petitioned?” Eliot asks, making a mental note to buy Julia all the rare books or chocolate or dainty necklaces or anything ever she ever wants. “She can do that without her magic?”

Persephone’s smile drops off her face, her expression turning troubled. “She lost her magic? I thought magic was fully returned to your world.”

“It was,” Eliot says. “But when Julia lost her—goddess powers,” he says awkwardly, “she lost her magic too. All of it. She was hoping that when the siphon was removed it would come back, but—”

“It didn’t,” Persephone says softly, her gaze falling to the floor. She closes her eyes, her grip on Hades’ hand tightening. “Iris. She is bitter. She knows not—” She cuts herself off, shaking her head, turning back to Eliot. “Julia has suffered too much. It is time to end this.” She turns to Hades, her expression firm, and Hades shifts in his seat.

“My dear—” he starts, and then falls silent as she frowns.

“I do not ask you for much,” she says. “But this. I must beseech you.” They stare at each other for a long moment, until Hades sighs, nodding.

“What exactly is happening?” Eliot asks, not liking the sound of, ‘it is time to end this.’ That could mean way too many things—end his time in the Underworld—by sending him back home or forcing him to move on. Kill all of his friends topside, separate them for eternity, and make sure they never bother any god ever again.

“You are the luckiest motherfucker in the universe,” Penny says, sighing, sitting back in his chair. “That’s what’s happening.”

Persephone turns to Eliot again, her dark eyes filled with sorrow and remorse. Instantly his heart goes out to her; it’s like he can’t help but feel her sadness along with her. “Julia,” she starts, her voice quiet, “I ignored her. Allowed terrible things to happen to her. She could have collapsed. But she did not.”

Eliot nods, an image of Julia, curled up on a couch clutching a cigarette, appearing in his mind. “She did, actually,” he says softly. “Collapse. But she picked herself back up. She knew the risks when she made those keys. And she did it anyway.”

Persephone smiles softly. “She’s made some mistakes. But haven’t we all.” She looks down to the floor, guilt flashing over her face. “Her heart is pure. She showed mercy when I asked her to. I tried to repay her once, with magic. And now that has been taken from her as well…” She shakes her head. “I will answer her petition.”

“You mean I will—” Hades starts, falling silent at a stern look from Persephone. He turns to Eliot, who feels like everything is moving in slow motion. Answer her petition. Does that mean—is he—

“Mr. Waugh,” Hades says, looking at him much like one would look at an insolent child, “I will return you to Earth to live out the rest of your days, however long or short they may be. I urge you to remember this kindness. And to thank Julia upon your return.” He turns to look at Persephone. “Apparently she left quite the impression.”

Eliot stares at him, eyes wide, his heart about to beat out of his chest. “That’s it?” he blurts out, unable to believe it. “No quest? No catch, no—I just get to go?”

“Oh my god.” All eyes turn to Penny, who’s sitting forward, his elbows on his knees, staring at Eliot like he’s grown a second head. “Dude. The God of Death just told you he’s bringing you back to life. The universe owes you a break, and you’re the first person that is actually going to fucking get it. Do not question it. Fucking take it and run your ass back topside before something collapses and you’re fucked all over again.”

Eliot glances at Hades, who looks more amused than anything, and to Persephone, whose smile is back in place. “You’re right,” Eliot says to Penny. “I just live under a mountain of deep-seated trust issues.”

Penny leans forward, placing one hand on Eliot’s shoulder, squeezing tightly. “Eliot, you’re an idiot,” he says with a smile. “Go home. Get some therapy. And for the love of everything holy, fucking put up or shut up with Quentin, because I’ve only been back around you for five minutes and I’m already sick of hearing about your will-they-won’t-they bullshit.”

Eliot laughs, his eyes filling with tears again. “I will. Absolutely.” Penny’s smile grows wider, and Eliot wonders how often he smiles like that down here.

Fuck it, he thinks. He knows he shouldn’t press his luck, but no harm in asking, right? “Hey, so,” Eliot says, turning back to Hades, “What about Penny? He’s died almost as much as I have. What’s a few more decades on Earth? Surely his eternal sentence will still be waiting for him?”

There’s a stunned silence for a moment, and then Penny sighs. “Such a fucking idiot,” he says under his breath.

Eliot is watching Hades, who smirks, and then smiles, the one that feels genuine since he appeared in the room. “You really are Eliot,” he says. “Making demands when you have nothing to bargain with.” He glances over at Penny, and then back to Eliot. “I already gave Penny the choice. And as you can see, he is here.”

Eliot’s head swings over to Penny, whose mouth is pressed into a thin line. “Really?” Eliot asks, surprised.

Penny shrugs. “We all have our destinies. Mine isn’t up there. And besides,” he says, sitting up straighter, “I’ll see you again down here. In like 50 or 60 years. Deal?”

Eliot looks at him, nodding. “Okay,” he says simply. He turns back to Hades and Persephone, intending to thank them, but instead he finds he and Penny are alone again. Even the couch they were sitting on has disappeared. “Oh. That’s abrupt.”

“They’re gods,” Penny says. “They have places to be. I don’t ask questions.” He stands, shaking his head at Eliot. “Unlike some people.” He stops and looks down at the coffee table. Eliot follows his gaze and sees two silver coins, a little larger than a quarter, sitting next to his still-full mug. “Pretty sure those are for you.”

Eliot leans forward, picking up the coins and examining them. One has an image of Julia’s face embossed on both sides. The other has his face on one side, and Quentin’s on the other. “What are these?” he asks, turning them over in his hands.

“I am guessing,” Penny says, moving over to the door, “that one will give Julia her magic back. And the other one will put you back in your own body. If Quentin hasn’t already broken it, tripping over your long-ass legs.”

Eliot stares at the coins, watching the light play off the shiny surface. The metal is cool to the surface, and his heart swells—with love, disbelief. And relief. “This is really happening,” he says. “I’m going home.” To Margo. And Quentin. Forever.

“You are,” Penny says softly. “This is the first time I’ve ever seen someone sent back. Enjoy it.”

When Eliot meets Penny’s gaze, the vulnerability and longing he sees there takes his breath away. “Penny,” he says, showing the coins in his pocket, stepping closer and lowering his voice. “Come with me. We’ll figure something out—”

“No, man,” Penny says, stepping away. “Trust me. I’m good.” He looks away from Eliot, to the door. “Come on, let’s get you back home. I have more people to process.”

Eliot stands, feeling helpless as Penny opens the door, but not knowing what else to do. We’ll get him out, he thinks. And then he’s following Penny out of the office, wondering exactly how he’s going to get back home. Will he have to ride the elevator up a million floors to Earth? “Busy day?” he asks, Penny, not knowing what else to say.

“Weird day,” Penny says. “Got promoted. First person I saw was you, my old friend in another old friend’s body. And my second is someone named Charlton.”

“Charlton?” Eliot asks, stopping in his tracks. Penny turns to him, surprised as he stops as well.

“Yeah. A Fillorian. Friend of yours?” he asks, an expression of sympathy crossing his face.

Eliot nods, unsure how he feels about Charlton coming to the Underworld. He seemed ready to move on, but at the same time—he was Eliot’s friend when he really needed one. And now he’s dead. Well, for real dead.

“Yes, he was a friend. I’m glad you’ll be the one to greet him. Can you tell him Eliot says—” He blanks out for a moment, because what do you say to someone that’s about to enter the Underworld? “Fuck?”

Penny blinks at him. “You want me to tell your friend—who just died—fuck?”

Eliot gives Penny a light smile. “He’ll know what it means.”

“O-kay,” Penny says. They continue walking down the hall to the elevator, stopping just in front of the door. “This is where I leave you. Like I said, I’ve never sent someone back before,” he says. “So I’m not entirely sure what’s going to happen. But it’ll drop you off somewhere familiar.” The doors open, and they both stare inside.

Eliot turns back to Penny. “Last chance,” he says, gesturing to the empty elevator. “You sure you don’t want to come with me?”

“Even if I wanted to, man,” Penny says, glancing down to the floor, “I couldn’t. No magic coin with my face on it to give me a body.”

“Minor details,” Eliot says, waving his hand. Penny smirks, and Eliot steps forward, wrapping him in a hug. He can feel Penny’s body tense in surprise, and then he hugs Eliot back, squeezing him hard.

“Good to see you, man,” Penny says.

“You too,” Eliot says, reaching in his pocket, wrapping his fingers around the coins there. “Thank you. So much.”

“Don’t thank me,” Penny says. “Julia’s who you should be thanking. She saved your ass.”

“She did,” Eliot says. “But your face being the first one I saw—helped a lot. In the not-freaking-out part of being dead.”

Penny smiles again, in a way that lights up the room, and he shakes his head. “Man, you were about two seconds away from losing your shit. Can’t say I blame you, though. Hades is—something else.”

“Yeah,” Eliot says. He glances at the elevator once more, and then pulls Penny into another hug.

“Blink twice if you want me to rescue you,” he whispers, and Penny’s shoulders shake with laughter.

“Get on the elevator,” he says, pulling away, and Eliot does. When the doors close, it’s on Penny’s smiling face.

~~~

The doors only stay closed for seconds—Eliot doesn’t feel the elevator actually move at all. When the doors open again, it’s to an unfamiliar hallway. It reminds him of a hotel, with the plush carpeting and decorative paintings of landscapes on the wall. He steps out carefully, looking down at his (Quentin’s) body.

He’s still dressed the same as he was in the Underworld, in the black hoodie and dark jeans Quentin was wearing when he died. Or almost died, Eliot thinks with a shudder. Physically, he feels completely normal, and he’s pretty sure this is the same body that Quentin had, with its Fillorian upgrades. To be sure, Eliot pulls at the neck of his shirt, stretching it so he has enough room to reach in and knock on his shoulder—the one that was replaced with wood at the Retreat. The echo of the wood sounds in the empty hallway, and Eliot lets the shirt fall back into place.

At least he’s returning Quentin’s body back to him in the same condition as when he got it—better even, since Quentin had been in the process of being incinerated in magical hellfire when Eliot decided to take it over. A wave of nausea hits Eliot, and he stumbles forward, pillowing his forehead on his arm as he leans against the wall, barely registering the sound of the elevator doors closing behind him.

He died. Quentin almost died. For the fucking fortieth time.

Why? Why would Quentin cast a spell in that other realm? He’d told Eliot, he knew it was dangerous. But he did it anyway. When he knew he had Eliot waiting for him to come back. Why? If Quentin had been the one sitting in the Underworld, and Hades had spoken to him, offered to return him back to his life—would Quentin have even taken it?

Or is that what Quentin wants? Is everything—the drama, the magic, the fucking beat-down they get handed every other day, just—too much? Eliot’s been there more than once in his life. He’s no stranger to the thought of giving himself over to the unknown oblivion of death. The calm that had fallen over Quentin when he’d made his decision—it will haunt Eliot for the rest of his life. It will be a long time before he’s able to close his eyes to fall asleep at night and not think about how okay Quentin had been with knowing his life was about to end.

Eliot takes a deep breath, standing up straight in the hallway, the nausea slowly subsiding. They have another chance—a final chance. He reaches into his pocket, running his fingers over the cool surface of the coins that are safely stowed there. They’ll figure it out this time. Eliot will make sure of it.

They’ll make this life count.

First step—figure out where the fuck he is. He looks up and down the hallway, which seems vaguely familiar now that he looks at it more closely. “Hello?” he calls out, pushing a lock of hair behind his ear. His only answer is silence. He closes his eyes and concentrates, sending out a thought—Quentin? Can you hear me?

Nothing. He didn’t really expect one; he didn’t feel Quentin’s presence the same way he did right after the last body swaps. But it was worth a try.

He walks over to the window at the end of the hall, recognizing the New York City skyline against the dark night sky immediately. He’d seen it from this angle when he stood on that penthouse balcony with Margo, talking about Quentin and Fillory. That conversation was maybe a week ago. Feels like years.

He turns from the window, walking down the hallway towards what must be the entrance to the penthouse, since it’s the only apartment on the floor. He sees a set of ornate double doors with brass decor that matches what he remembers from those brief visits in Quentin’s body. As he approaches, he hears raised voices from within. By the time he’s close enough to knock, the voices are clear enough for him to recognize Margo’s irate shout—and his own voice responding just as loudly. Realizing he better get in there before they have yet another person from the Underworld (probably Quentin, after Margo kills him for yelling at her), he decides against knocking, opening the door and quickly stepping inside.

The penthouse is still a mess—furniture shoved aside, broken mirrors and other debris scattered around. There is one clean spot, right in the middle of the floor, where Julia sits, a book in her lap. The large room is empty otherwise, save for Quentin and Margo staring each other down in the center of the room as Julia stares up at them. Scattered on the floor around her, are candles, crystals—basically every single magical material he’s ever seen in his lifetime. No one notices him come in, since they’re way too occupied by screaming at each other. Well, Margo and Quentin are. Julia is sitting quietly; even from the door he can see the dark circles under her eyes as she watches her best friend and maybe-girlfriend about to blast each other through the wall.

Margo is still dressed in the outfit she was wearing when she sat with him at the hospital, and relief flutters in Eliot’s chest as he realizes that not much time has passed since his untimely demise. Her arms are folded in front of her chest as she stares up at Quentin-in-Eliot’s body, her red-rimmed eyes blazing with a ferocity he hasn’t seen in months.

“What the fuck were you thinking? I had your back when you suggested this body swap bullshit. I figured once we got El back, you’d use it like a normal person. To literally fuck yourself, instead of fucking yourself into the Underworld.”

Quentin rears back as if slapped, and Eliot’s eyes widen as he gets a better look at him. He looks even worse than Eliot did when the monster controlled his body—his hair is an absolute mess. Quentin’s hands must be living in it, from how tousled and crazed it is, sticking out all over. His eyes are just as red and wild as Margo’s, his cheeks even more tear-stained. At least he’s not wearing a graphic tee, thank God; he’s in the sweater Eliot had woken up in the first time they did the body swap spell. Quentin is tugging at the sleeves, trying to pull them down over his hands (a futile mission, since Eliot’s arms are long enough for the sweater to actually fit properly). Eliot’s heart constricts as he wonders if he would look the same if the opposite had happened. If Quentin had died and left Eliot alone here.

Like he nearly had.

As Eliot watches, Quentin’s eyes narrow, and he gathers himself, nearly stumbling over his feet as he steps closer to Margo, glaring down at her just as angrily as she’s glaring up at him.

I didn’t fucking do this, Margo!” he says, his voice breaking. “This is Quentin, not Eliot, and I didn’t agree to this goddamn swap. If it was up to me, he would be here. Alive. With you. I’m just as pissed as you are that he did this.” His entire frame is radiating anger and sadness, his hands shaking as fresh tears fall from his eyes.

“Guys,” Julia pipes up from the floor, “we have to focus on—”

“Oh, I am well fucking aware of who’s in that body,” Margo says, not even acknowledging Julia’s attempt to intervene. “All anyone’s gotta do is watch you try to walk with legs that are way too long for your short person brain—”

You’re short—” Quentin tries to argue back, but Margo doesn’t even acknowledge it, continuing to talk over him.

“—or watch you try to adjust to the massive dick everyone knows you’re not used to having—”

“Hey!”

“—to figure out that Eliot’s not the one driving his giraffe body.” She pushes in closer to him, and Quentin’s eyes close, his shoulders hunching as he seems to grow smaller in front of Eliot’s eyes. Margo’s voice drops, deadly low, as she says, “I'm also mad at you, you fucking moron.”

“Oh.”

She steps closer, and Quentin retreats back, one hand moving up to wipe at his tears as she continues. “I ask you again: What the fuck were you thinking? We finally get El back after he finally says the three little words you’ve been wanting to hear for-fucking-ever, and you’re what, trying to dip out on him? On us? When we probably have three more apocalypses on the horizon? Both of you are the biggest dipshits I have ever seen.”

Eliot knows he should say something, walk farther in or yell, I’m alive in here, but he’s paralyzed. Watching Quentin, watching himself sob, his shoulders shaking as Margo bears down on him. As Julia watches him sadly.

“It’s a valid question, Q,” Julia says quietly, looking up at Quentin.

And hearing Julia’s voice, the resignation and desperation in it—that gets his attention. The magician that pulled him out of the monster and out of the Underworld. All without using a lick of her own magic.

He’s stepping forward before he realizes it, opening his mouth as Julia turns to him, her mouth dropping open as she sees him.

“I agree,” Eliot says. Quentin and Margo both snap in his direction, their eyes widening. “And it’s a question I’d really love to hear the answer to.”

Time stops for a moment. They all freeze as they stare, shock written on their faces. As Eliot steps forward, he locks eyes with Quentin. It’s not as strange as he thought it would be, to come face-to-face with his body when he’s not in it. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time. But it is the first time he’s seen his body with Quentin controlling it, and it is odd how he instantly sees Quentin, and not himself. He recognizes the way his mouth falls gently open, how his hazel eyes fill with hope as Eliot watches. “Hi,” Eliot says quietly, his gaze shifting to Margo. “I’m happy to say the rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”

Margo’s the first to move. “El,” she breathes, rushing towards him, Julia up and hot on her heels. She stops just a foot away from him, her eyes suddenly narrowing. “Wait,” she says, waving a manicured nail in his face. “Is this Eliot? Or the monster? Or some other fucking bullshit demon wearing Quentin’s face?”

Eliot swallows, glancing from Quentin to Margo. “It’s me.” He searches his mind, thinking of what he can say to prove it’s him. “Um, that one summer when Fogg visited the Cottage, we all had a lot to drink and we—”

“It’s him,” Margo says instantly, throwing herself into his arms. He staggers back from the force of it, pressing his face against her hair. The sweet smell of coconut and flowers hits his nose, and tears prick at his eyes. He raises his gaze to meet Quentin’s eyes; he’s still standing in the same spot, staring at Eliot like he’s the sun and the moon and a first-edition of The Hobbit all rolled into one.

Eliot pulls away from Margo, stepping quickly towards Quentin, who lifts one hand as he approaches. “Eliot—” he starts, but whatever he’s going to say is lost forever as Eliot grabs Quentin’s (his own) face in both hands and pulls him down for a kiss.

It should be weird, kissing yourself. But as he pushes up on his toes and presses his lips against Quentin’s, softly at first, and then more firmly as Quentin realizes that Eliot is not only alive, but he’s here, touching him and kissing him, it’s anything but awkward. The kiss is pure Quentin, his trembling body melting into Eliot’s as he gasps into the kiss, his arms wrapping around Eliot, hands fisting into the back of his hoodie, reeling him in as closely as possible. Quentin’s touch is warm and familiar, full of relief and tenderness, and a choked sob escapes Eliot’s mouth as he slides one hand around to grip at the back of Quentin’s neck.

“It’s you,” Quentin whispers as he pulls back, still so close Eliot can feel his hot breath against his face. Quentin raises one hand to cup Eliot’s cheek, his thumb brushing away the tears that have fallen. “You’re really here.”

“I love you,” Eliot says, the words falling out of his mouth; he’s unable to waste another minute without saying it out loud. He pulls back slightly so he can look Quentin in the eye as he continues, “And I’m so fucking pissed at you.”

Quentin’s eyes widen, his hand resting on Eliot’s waist spasming. “El, I—I love you too,” he says, and Eliot’s body sags against Quentin, his eyes closing as he presses his nose against the bare skin of Quentin’s throat. He doesn’t smell like the Quentin he remembers, but he inhales deeply all the same, thinking deliriously, The only time I can do this while standing without getting a crick in my neck. Quentin’s arms tighten around him again as he continues, “I didn’t—”

How are you here?”

Eliot, unwilling to fully move away from Quentin, opens his eyes and turns his head just enough to see Julia standing just to the side of him. Margo is next to her, tears tracking down her face as she stares at them. “I’m sorry to interrupt your reunion—God knows you've earned it,” Julia continues, “But. How did you fucking escape the Underworld? That’s where you went, right? Alice and Penny, they saw you—or Q—” She cuts herself off, looking away as Margo grabs her hand.

“They saw Quentin’s body fucking disintegrate,” Margo bites out, her glare fully back on Quentin, who pulls Eliot even closer, as if he can shield him from Margo’s wrath. Which might have worked if they were in their correct bodies, Eliot thinks ruefully.

“Alice is a fucking wreck,” Margo continues. “And until two goddamn minutes ago, so were we. Not that I’m not fucking ecstatic to see you, Eliot.” She steps closer to him, her hand falling away from Julia’s as she raises it to Eliot’s cheek. “But enlighten me here. Are we on the run from a skeletal army or what? We need to haul ass to Fillory? ‘Cause you give me two seconds and I can make it happen.”

“No,” Eliot says, gently pulling away from Quentin, still keeping him one hand resting on the side of his neck as he reaches the other into his pocket. “I didn’t escape. They let me go,” he says simply. He turns to Julia, opening his palm to show the coins, “Thanks to you. Persephone heard your petition. And you convinced her. And she convinced Hades.”

Julia’s mouth drops open and she stares at the coins in his hand. “What?” she whispers softly. “She heard me? And she—she let you go?” She looks into his face. “Just like that?”

“Sort of,” Eliot says, thinking of Hades' abashed face as he told Eliot he was getting sent home. He puts the coin with he and Quentin’s faces on it back in his pocket, and holds up the one with Julia’s picture between two fingers. “This one is for you.”

“Is that—?” Julia asks, peering closer, a look of confusion falling over her face. She reaches out and plucks the coin from him—and instantly she gasps, staggering backwards, one hand flying to her chest as the other closes into a fist around the coin.

“Julia,” Margo says, grabbing her arm, at the same time Quentin steps forward, reaching out for her, her name on his lips. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Julia says, a smile forming on her face. “Nothing’s wrong.” She laughs, slipping out of Margo’s grip to throw her arms around Eliot, who again nearly falls backwards at her enthusiasm. “Thank you,” she says into his neck. He can feel her tears against his skin, and he thinks that Alice or Penny or who the fuck ever is going to come in and find them all on the floor, drowned in their own tears before the day’s over.

“Thank you,” he says, hugging her back tightly, Margo and Quentin watching them in confusion. “For all you’ve done for magic. And for us. For asking a God to let me come home.”

“Okay, what the fuck just happened?” Margo asks shortly. “Are we happy or sad or going to kill someone or what the fuck?”

“Happy,” Julia says, pulling away. Eliot immediately grabs Quentin’s hand, sitting down on the couch and pulling Quentin with him. Quentin moves along willingly, gazing at Eliot like a drowning man stares at the shore. Eliot presses against Quentin’s side, and Quentin easily wraps an arm around his shoulder as Eliot slides one around his waist. This is nice, being the little spoon for once.

“Watch,” Julia says. They both turn their attention to Julia, who’s moving her hands in a few simple tuts. Seconds later several colorful balls of light explode a few feet above their heads. “OLU,” Julia breathes, the lights from the brilliant fireworks display playing over her smiling face. “She gave me my magic back. And sent Eliot back to us.”

“Just like that?” Margo’s expression is one of disbelief as she raises an eyebrow at Julia. “No catch? No quest? No crazy impossible thing we have to do that will probably kill us twice over along the way? You said a few prayers and bam, wish granted?” She shakes her head as the fireworks fade away. “Nuh-uh. Too good to be true. I call bullshit.”

“So did I,” Eliot says, his fingers gripping the soft knit fabric of Quentin's sweater tightly, “but apparently Persephone is a really big Julia fan. As am I. President of the Julia Wicker Fan Club. I'll have t-shirts made,” he says as Julia smiles. "Well," he adds, thinking back to the monster's wardrobe, "fashionable embroidered polos."

“Um,” Quentin says, the first thing he’s said in several minutes, and Eliot turns to him. “I’ve had that title for over a decade, so sorry. But you can be my VP.” The corners of his lips are pulling up in a small smile, looking more relaxed, like he’s finally accepting the fact that this is really happening, that everything just might be okay. But he’s still holding onto Eliot so firmly, as if he expects him to disappear at any moment. Eliot relaxes his own grip as he realizes he’s just as tense as Quentin is.

“OLU couldn’t return you to life, though,” Julia says. “At least I didn’t think she—”

“She didn’t,” Eliot confirms. “But she convinced her husband to. Or asked him to. Once. And he agreed. Rather easily.” He smiles briefly at Quentin, and then says, “It was made pretty clear, though, this is the last time I get to pass Go and collect $200. Next time I’m in the Underworld—”

“You ain’t leavin’,” Margo finishes. She turns and sits down on the opposite end of the couch, leaning back against it heavily. “Well how about that,” she says. “Old Hades is just as pussy-whipped as the legends say. Good for Persephone.” She looks up at Julia, smiling, really smiling, for the first time since Eliot walked back in the door. “And good for you, babe. Not that you needed magic to be a bad-ass bitch.” Julia smiles back, sinking down next to her.

Eliot turns to Quentin, reaching in his pocket to pull out the other coin. “This one is for us,” he explains, as Quentin stares down at it. “It’ll put us back in our correct bodies. I assume for good. I haven’t heard your thoughts at all, so I’m guessing the spell broke when you—I—” He tapers off, unable to say the words.

“It did,” Quentin says quietly, his arm still around Eliot’s shoulders, his fingers digging in. “When you swapped us—I could feel when you—” his eyes close tightly as he takes a deep breath. “I could feel that you weren’t there anymore. With me. I knew you—you were gone.” He stares at the floor, his lower lip trembling.

“Q,” Eliot starts, but Quentin interrupts him.

“I’m so fucking sorry,” he says, staring at Eliot. “When I was in the mirror realm, El, my only thought was getting rid of the monster for good and getting back to you. But then Everett appeared, and he—he said your name.” Quentin’s eyes glaze over, and Eliot knows he’s not in the penthouse anymore, but he’s back in that bleak lab, about to cast a spell that will end his life.

“What do you mean?” Eliot prods, dreading the answer, but needing to hear it—and knowing that Quentin needs to say it.

Quentin is silent for a moment, and then he inhales a shaky breath. “I was tired,” he starts. “I am tired; so fucking tired. You don’t know what it was like, with the monster…” He turns his head towards Eliot, leaning forward so his lips graze Eliot’s forehead. “He liked me. Like a kid likes his best friend.”

A wave of nausea washes over Eliot as he thinks of what Quentin’s gone through the past few months. Quentin sounds exhausted, his voice raspy and broken as he clings to Eliot like a life raft. How can Quentin look at him and not see that thing?

“When Everett showed up,” Quentin continues, “he said you were safe. And I knew that was true—for now. But as long as it’s out there, that thing—would never stop coming after you. After me. I think towards the end it—it really thought we were friends. Whatever it’s convoluted definition of ‘friend’ was, anyway.”

Eliot looks over at Margo, who has an arm wrapped around Julia, much like Quentin has his around Eliot. Julia’s head is on Margo’s shoulder, and she’s sniffling as she stares at Quentin. Margo meets Eliot’s eyes, and he can see the raw pain reflected there.

“I had to get rid of it,” Quentin says. “For good. And if I was the only casualty—I was okay with that. I thought it was the only way.”

Eliot pulls away, shoving the coin back in his pocket. He gently reaches up to press his lips against Quentin’s, framing Quentin’s face with his hands as he all but climbs in Quentin’s lap. Eliot can taste his tears on his lips, and he presses gentle kisses on Quentin’s cheeks. “I will never be okay with that,” Eliot whispers fiercely. “Because I love you. And I am never letting you go. And I need for you to not be okay with that. Ever. You are never a casualty. You’re my entire goddamn world and I’m not losing you again.”

Quentin’s hands come up to loosely wrap around Eliot’s wrists, and he kisses Eliot, soft and chaste. “I love you, too” he says. “I—Eliot, being here, knowing that you were—that you’d—” he chokes back a sob. “It was hell. It was pure fucking hell. I can’t imagine putting you through that, if I had—I’m so sorry.”

Eliot pulls him into a tight hug, pressing his face into Quentin’s neck. “Lucky for us,” he says, “we have the rest of our lives for you to make it up to me.”

He pulls away from Quentin, straining up to place a gentle kiss on his forehead. “So,” he says, reaching in his pocket to pull out the coin, “I know you probably want to hold onto that body forever—I mean, who wouldn’t,” he says with a shrug, smirking as Margo rolls her eyes, “but are you ready to switch back? I think this is your original body; still has the wooden shoulder and everything.”

“You didn’t ask for any upgrades?” Julia asks, one corner of his mouth pulling up. “Super speed, x-ray vision?”

Margo chuckles. “I hope not. I’d give Quentin thirty seconds before he accidentally incinerates himself with heat vision, or gets stuck in a wall trying to phase through it.”

“I could handle it!” Quentin says indignantly, and Margo lets out a very ladylike snort.

“You can’t even handle a few extra inches. El, you better switch back now before he breaks a bone; your boy’s been running into walls and leaning to one side from the weight of your massive dick.”

“Jesus,” Quentin says, his cheeks turning red.

“Aw,” Eliot says. “I’m blushing. How often does that happen?”

“Where’s the damn coin?” Quentin says, shaking his head. Eliot holds it out, and Quentin looks down at it. “I love your body,” he says, his cheeks only growing redder. “Like, looking at it. Touching it. Not so much living in it. It’s yours, and I’m very ready to give it back to you.”

Eliot reaches over to squeeze Quentin’s thigh, leaning over to press a soft kiss against his lips. “Okay, baby,” he whispers. He gently swipes his fingers higher on Quentin’s thigh as he says, in a low voice, “If you’re sure you want to pass up the chance to get the full Eliot Waugh experience. It’s a lot of fun, I promise.”

Quentin squirms under his grip, his breath hitching as he says, “I—I’m good. I think.” Eliot pulls back, grinning at him.

“Literally sitting right here,” Julia says, and they both glance over to her. Quentin immediately looks to the floor, while Eliot’s grin just grows wider as Margo laughs.

“I’m not going to lie, I am looking forward to a real shower,” Eliot says, straightening up. He gingerly runs his fingers through Quentin’s curls—“The longest journey starts with a single step, and that single step is going to involve a mountain of luxury hair care products.”

Looking down at the coin, he says, “I’m not sure how this works, but if Julia’s got her magic back by touching it, maybe we both should touch it at the same time.”

Quentin’s hazel eyes flicker up to meet Eliot’s, and he slides his palm over Eliot’s waiting hand, where the coin sits. There’s a surge of magic up Eliot’s arm, a tugging in his belly, and then everything goes black.

When he comes to, he knows before he opens his eyes he’s back in his own body. Even without moving, it just feels right—the way his body sinks into the couch, the feel of the sweater against his skin, and yes, the weight between his legs—all feels more familiar than it had in Quentin’s body.

Quentin is sitting right next to him, inches away, and everything else falls away as Eliot looks at him. Those brown eyes are the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen, and when Quentin’s face crumbles as he stares at Eliot, it’s all he can do to keep his own tears back. Eliot pulls him close, pressing his face into Quentin’s scalp as he lets the tears fall. He inhales deeply, relishing the familiar scent of cheap shampoo and laundry detergent. Beneath it, Eliot can sense the memory of what Quentin smelled like after working a day in the sun on the mosaic.

“Okay,” Margo says from somewhere behind him. “Fuck all this emotional bullshit. We’re getting out of here.” He turns to see her standing up, Julia blinking up at her in surprise.

“Back to Brakebills?” Julia asks, sighing. “I guess we should let everyone know that Eliot’s back.”

“No. We’re going to a hotel,” Margo says, and in that instant Eliot loves her so fiercely it could light him on fire. “We’re ordering all the room service. And we’ll deal with all the real world shit tomorrow.”

“Oh!” Julia sits straight up. “Can I pay for it? Magic a little money from an ATM?” She wiggles her fingers, grinning stupidly at the little sparks she makes fly from her fingertips.

“Sure, baby,” Margo says, reaching over to push Julia’s hair behind her ear. “Whatever you want.”

“I’m in,” Eliot says, turning to Quentin. “You?”

“If you’re there, I’m there,” Quentin says. “And honestly that sounds—”

“Amazing,” Julia finishes, standing up. They all follow suit, Quentin’s hand sliding easily into Eliot’s.

“I would like to make a stop for some clothes,” Eliot says. He looks down at his blood-splattered dark pants, cozy cardigan that absolutely doesn’t match, and worn black sneakers. “And make a pit stop to burn these.”

“Not the sweater,” Quentin says suddenly. His cheeks are pink again as he shoves a hand through his hair. “I just—like that one. And I have some of your clothes here, in my room.”

Eliot nods and turns to follow Quentin to his room, not missing the amused smile exchanged between Margo and Julia. “Oh,” he says, stopping in his tracks. “I did forget to mention. We might have to go back to the Underworld? To rescue Penny.”

Julia’s eyes widen and Margo presses her lips together. “For fuck’s sake.”

~~~

Hardly an hour later, after the best shower of his entire life, Eliot steps out of the bathroom of a one bedroom suite in a Hilton overlooking the East River. Paid for by Margo's daddy’s credit card (Margo promised Julia she could break into all the ATM’s tomorrow, but tonight Mama needed her room service ASAP).

Clad in only his boxers, he rubs at his hair with a towel as he steps in the bedroom. “You look cozy,” he says, smiling down at Quentin, who’s nestled under the bedcovers. His clothes are strewn about the bedroom; it looks like he just stripped on his way to the bed, letting the clothes fall where they may. Eliot sits down next to him on the bed, pretending to peek under the covers. “You naked under there?”

“Almost,” Quentin says, smiling, reaching to thread his fingers through Eliot’s. “Sheets are soft. Feels good.”

Eliot hums, tossing his towel to the floor and climbing over Quentin to the other side of the bed. He slips under the covers, wrapping his arms around Quentin, who turns to him, burying his head in Eliot’s neck. Eliot tangles his legs with Quentin’s, happy to find that Quentin is also down to just his boxers.

You feel good,” Eliot says, pressing his nose against Quentin’s scalp and inhaling. He smells just like he should—like soap and linen, undercut with a musky scent that brings Eliot back to a time of chalk and tiles. “I missed you,” he whispers, and Quentin’s hold on him tightens as his lips press against Eliot’s collarbone.

“I missed you,” Quentin replies, his voice muffled against Eliot’s skin. Then he pulls his head back enough to look into Eliot’s eyes as he says, “I love you.”

Eliot smiles at him, big and bright, leaning down and pausing with his mouth just a breath away from Quentin’s to say, “I love you, too.” Then he closes the gap, kissing him. It’s soft at first, and then Quentin’s tongue darts out to lick at Eliot’s lips, and Eliot opens to him, deepening the kiss. It’s lazy and slow, their hands caressing over bare skin as they kiss and sigh against each other. Eliot’s hand drifts down to play with the waistband of Quentin’s boxers when Quentin pulls back, saying regretfully, “The food should be here soon. I called it in while you were in the bathroom.”

Eliot hums, laying his head against the pillow while his hands roam over Quentin’s torso. His fingers card through his sparse chest hair, teasing over a nipple while Quentin’s hands move lazily up and down Eliot’s back. They lay in silence, content to just touch and be with each other, until Quentin says, “You shaved.”

“I did,” Eliot replies, one hand coming up to touch his smooth chin. “It’s nice to feel like this body is mine again.” He reaches down to touch over his stomach, which has a bit more flab than he remembers—“even if there is a bit more of it than when I left it.”

Quentin smiles, pressing closer, squeezing Eliot’s waist. “You look—like you.”

“Yeah?” Eliot asks, the smile fading as he searches Quentin’s face. “It’s not—I know that being with me—around me, is probably hard, after—”

Quentin is already shaking his head, squeezing Eliot’s shoulder.

“It’s not,” he says. “That thing—it was in your body, but it wasn’t you.”

He sighs, trailing his hand down Eliot’s arm, over his chest—constantly touching, like Eliot might disappear if he lets him go.

“Being with you is all I want. And I’m not going to lie, there might—will—be nightmares.”

Quentin swallows, his expression strained, and Eliot’s heart sinks in his chest as he picks up Quentin’s hand, threading their fingers together.

“He, uh—killed some people. A lot of people. In front of me. Made me do some—horrible things.” Quentin squeezes Eliot’s hand, and Eliot closes his eyes against the tears forming.

“Q, I’m so—”

“I know,” Quentin interrupts, placing one hand on Eliot’s cheek. Eliot opens his eyes to see that Quentin’s staring at him with that same look on his face from when Eliot first walked into the penthouse earlier that evening. Like he just can’t fucking believe what he’s seeing. “I’m so sorry, El. You died. For me. Like, you didn’t even think about it, you just fucking—” He rolls over on his back, pressing his fingers into his eyes. “When I woke up in that hospital room with Margo, and I realized what you’d done, it was—I—” He shakes his head, his face crumpling.

“Hey,” Eliot says, pulling him close. “I’m here now. I’m okay. You’re okay.”

Quentin presses his face into Eliot’s neck again, his tears falling onto Eliot’s skin. “I’m so sorry,” he says again, his body shaking with sobs. “I’m so happy to have you back—and so grateful to Julia—and so fucking mad at myself. I should have done anything else—”

“Q,” Eliot says firmly, pulling away, cradling Quentin’s face in his hands. “I can’t imagine what you’ve gone through the past few months. But it’s over now. We found our way back to each other. And there’s no way in hell I’m letting you go ever again.”

Quentin nods, sniffling as he leans in, pressing his lips against Eliot’s. He pulls back enough to press their foreheads together, his hands still roaming over Eliot’s torso. It feels so good, to be touched like this, to feel so close to someone.

“So,” Quentin says, settling his head on the pillow, his expression less serious, “Did you mean to perfectly time the first time you told me you loved me for right when I couldn’t say it back? For like, the dramatic effect?”

Eliot laughs, looking up at the ceiling. “No,” he says. “Honestly, Q, I didn’t even know I was going to say it until the words were out. But if it all went ‘Red Wedding—’” he shakes his head, looking back at Quentin. “I didn’t want to die never having told you.”

Quentin pushes up on his elbow, his eyes bright, and he says, “Oh! But it was okay for you to die without letting me say it back? Is that how it is? Dick move, El.” Quentin is smiling as he says it, but Eliot can see in his eyes that he’s truly upset.

“I know,” Eliot says, reaching over to touch again, enjoying how Quentin seems to melt into his fingers, “I know. I just—knowing you were going to have to see that memory, I knew it would—upset you, and I thought—” He stops, frowning as he remembers what Quentin said when he broke out. “Exactly what memory did you see, by the way? Because when you came out, you said—something that I didn’t expect.”

It all happened earlier that same day, but already it feels like weeks have passed since Quentin smiled at him with Eliot’s mouth and said, I’m glad you were brave. But I don’t think you learned it from me.

“I saw,” Quentin starts, clearing his throat, “the throne room. After we remembered everything from the mosaic. When you—”

“Were young and stupid,” Eliot says with a sigh. “So you did see that memory?”

“Well,” Quentin says, and Eliot looks at him, “I did—but you were there with me.” At Eliot’s confused expression, he explains, “I watched you watching it the first time you broke out.”

Oh. That was—not what he expected. He thinks back to that moment, when he’d talked to himself, asking what he was doing. Throwing away something good and true. Telling Quentin that when he was brave, it was because of him. And then… “Oh,” he finally says, out loud. He looks between Quentin and the ceiling as he says, “So you saw me—”

“Ask yourself what was wrong with you. Say that I was a little crazy. And that you were scared. And that you weren’t going to be anymore. And then you kissed me. Which, how was that kiss? Was memory me a good kisser? I feel like I would be.”

Eliot chuckles, turning onto his back. “I’m glad you’re getting some enjoyment out of my mortification.”

“Hey.” Quentin nestles in closer, laying his chin on Eliot’s chest. “Your biggest regret is turning me down. Let me enjoy this just a little bit.”

Eliot smiles at him, dragging his fingers up and down Quentin’s bare back. “I’m glad you were brave,” Quentin says quietly. “After you told me that, Eliot, even though you didn’t get to hear me say it back—I would have done anything. To get you back.”

“You did,” Eliot says, and Quentin’s gaze flickers up to his. “You and Julia and Margo and—everyone. Did the fucking impossible. You saved my life, Q. Brought magic back to the world.”

“You saved my life right back,” Quentin says. “I would’ve done anything. To get you out of there. Keep you safe.”

“I know,” Eliot says. “I love you for it. And that’s why I shot the monster in the first place. Because I feel the same.” Quentin’s eyes soften, and it all hits Eliot at once—they’re here. They made it. This is really fucking happening. He wants to spend the rest of his life making sure Quentin knows just how loved he is.

“But I do think,” Eliot says carefully, “that we should probably talk to someone. When you’re ready. When I’m ready. About why you cast that spell. And why I waited until we were almost ripped apart forever to tell you how I feel.” He looks at Quentin, trying to impart all the love he feels to him, and he nearly tears up again when Quentin gives him a small smile.

“Okay,” he says simply, leaning over for a kiss. Eliot slides his hands into Quentin’s hair, pulling him over and on top of him, deepening the kiss. Quentin makes a small noise of contentment as he slides over Eliot, his hands sliding up Eliot’s arms to his neck, his hips lightly—

There’s a knock at the door, and a man’s voice calling out, “Room service!” Eliot groans as Quentin pulls away, grinning.

“I told you the food was coming,” Quentin says, getting off the bed and grabbing a robe from the open closet. Eliot opens his mouth to reply, Something else should be coming, like my dick, but he’s cut off by his stomach rumbling. Quentin smiles, shaking his head as he goes to the door.

Eliot reclines back in bed, watching him go, listening as he thanks the hotel employee.

He’s really fucking lucky. They’re really fucking lucky. It only took a few dozen timelines and dying for them to realize it.

Eliot gets up and grabs another robe out of the closet, slipping it on, rubbing his smooth cheek against the soft fabric as he walks into the front room. Quentin is spreading out the food, of which there's enough to feed a small army.

“Champagne?” Eliot asks, pulling a chilled bottle out of a half-full ice bucket, reading the label.

“I didn’t order that,” Quentin says. “Margo and Julia sent it over.”

Eliot smiles, reading the card. “Try not to die before we see you again,” he reads out loud. “Only half-joking. Love you bitches.” He pops the cork, shaking his head as he pours them each a glass.

“A toast?” Eliot asks, handing a glass to Quentin.

Quentin nods, and says, “Peaches and plums?”

Eliot tilts his head, and says, “A tad overdone. How about… to being brave? And making this one count?” Quentin grins as they tap their glasses together, taking a sip. Eliot sets his champagne flute on the table, and then steps over to Quentin for a long, sweet kiss.

Eliot smiles as they pull apart, and he sits down at the table full of food. “Smells great,” he says as he picks up a bacon-wrapped oyster, taking a bite. “Oh god,” he says, eyes closed, “I missed real food so fucking much. This might be the best thing I’ve ever put in my mouth.”

“So,” Quentin says, leaning back in his chair, crossing his arms, “since we’re talking about being brave.” Eliot’s eyes open and he raises an eyebrow to Quentin, who continues, “what exactly happened that one summer night at the Cottage with Fogg?”

~~~

Quentin

Quentin stretches lazily, extending his arms out over his head. Sunlight is streaming through the windows, and he blinks at it before turning and borrowing in closer to Eliot, pressing his nose into his armpit.

“Mmm, morning,” Eliot says, turning and gathering Quentin in his arms.

“Morning,” Quentin replies, pressing a kiss into Eliot’s neck and slotting his thigh between Eliot’s. “You were supposed to sneak out before I woke up,” he says, continuing to kiss his way up Eliot’s throat.

“Was I?” Eliot says, rolling over, pinning Quentin beneath him. “Whose stupid idea was that,” he asks, smiling as Quentin squirms beneath him, laying soft kisses along his ear.

“Yours, you shithead,” Quentin says, laughing. “You were all about tradition last night.”

“I was also pretty high last night,” Eliot says. “I can’t be blamed for whatever I may have said.” He threads his fingers through Quentin’s, pressing them back into the mattress as he kisses Quentin, deep and dirty.

“Mmph, okay,” Quentin says, pulling away. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but we have to stop. You have to go meet with the planner and make sure all the fucking—blooms are blooming and the centerpieces are centered or whatever.”

Eliot’s head drops to Quentin’s wooden shoulder, and even though Quentin can’t feel it, he knows Eliot drops a kiss on it. He always does. “Ugh,” Eliot says, propping his head up on his hand. His hazel eyes are bright, full of love as he smiles down at Quentin. “Whose idea was it to have a huge, flamboyant wedding in the throne room? Why didn’t we elope? Then we could just skip straight to the honeymoon.” He trails his hand over Quentin’s chest, coming to a rest on his belly, and Quentin can’t help but press closer to him.

“You really want me to remind you?” Quentin says, reaching up to brush that one stray curl off Eliot’s forehead. “Something about making new memories.”

Eliot turns his head, pressing a kiss into Quentin’s wrist, and a familiar curl of heat twines through Quentin’s belly. Have to get out of bed, Quentin reminds himself, licking his lips as Eliot’s eyes turn a shade darker.

“You enabled me,” Eliot says, his gaze locked on Quentin’s mouth.

“I did,” Quentin admits, letting his hand drop to Eliot’s neck. He’s always gorgeous, but right now, lying nude on his bed, the light from the Fillorian sun streaming across his smooth skin—he’s positively ethereal. “I want new memories,” Quentin says, taking a long look at Eliot, thinking especially this one. “And we’ve made so many amazing ones the past six months, but—I’m greedy.” Eliot smiles anew, leaning down for a kiss like he just can’t help himself.

“I want them all,” Quentin continues, once Eliot’s pulled away. “And I’m not gonna lie, getting married to the love of my life at Castle Whitespire in Fillory? Kind of a huge checkmark on my bucket list.” He twists the engagement ring on his finger, looking at the matching one on Eliot’s hand. “Besides, our first wedding was simple and quiet. You know this time around, you want the big bash with all our friends.”

Eliot bites his bottom lip, and Quentin knows he’s thinking of their hand-fasting ceremony under the trees not far from the mosaic. It’s crossed his mind a lot lately, the memories of him and Eliot talking about how much they wished their friends were there.

“I do, I do,” Eliot admits. His expression turns serious as he says, “I wish Ted could be here.”

Quentin’s heart constricts in the same way it always does when he thinks of Ted. “Me too,” he says. “I know he would have loved it. Almost as much as Charlton would have.”

Eliot grins, though his eyes remain somber. “He would have called everyone a cuntwaffle and not understood why no one liked him.”

Quentin laughs as Eliot leans over for another kiss, letting his hand fall to Quentin’s chest. “I love you, Q.” His voice is low and rough, full of the same raw emotion that is swelling up inside Quentin now. Quentin has spent a lot of time over the past six months wondering if this feeling would ever fade at all, if it would settle, or get less intense. Then he thinks of the mosaic, how his love only grew over the decades, until Quentin felt so full of love he sometimes wondered how his heart had room for it all.

Quentin cradles Eliot’s face in his hands, pulling him back just enough so Quentin can stare into his eyes. “I love you, too,” he says simply. “In this lifetime. In any lifetime. I’m yours.”

Eliot swoops down for another kiss, wrapping Quentin up tightly, and Quentin lets him. The past six months have been a whirlwind—constantly traveling between Earth and Fillory, helping Margo get her kingdom back, Alice and Zelda working to forge an actual positive relationship between the Library and everywhere else, while Kady did the same with the hedge network. Things still felt chaotic at times, but the good kind—the kind where no one was dying or fighting, and their drama centered around Fillorian policy or negotiating portal installations between all the various players in the magical world.

The one constant, the one thing that never changed, was Eliot and Quentin. They were a constant in each other’s orbit; even when magical business forced them apart, it was never for longer than a day. Marriage had been all but a foregone conclusion; Eliot had insisted on proposing, though it had been surprisingly simple. He’d managed to find the old mosaic site, and he’d dashed Quentin away for a ‘quick day trip to an ancient Fillorian ruin.’ While Quentin was staring in shock at the remains of the old cottage, he’d turned around to find Eliot down on one knee in the middle of the empty mosaic.

Quentin had cried that day, they both had. And he has no doubt he’ll cry again tonight, when Eliot becomes his husband. But tears are the last thing on his mind as Eliot’s hands start to wander as he thrusts his tongue into Quentin’s mouth.

“Baby,” Quentin says, pulling away gasping as Eliot trails kisses down his throat, “You have to go meet the planner and Margo and I have to go meet Penny and Julia. If I’m late again, Penny will never let me hear the end of it.”

He feels more than hears Eliot’s chuckle against his skin. “Eh, if he’s too bitchy we’ll just call the spare Penny.” Quentin sighs as Eliot drags his tongue over Quentin’s nipple, then he says, almost conversationally, “Isn’t that why we lawyered him out of the Underworld, anyway? So he’d never bitch at us about anything again?”

“I don’t think so…” Quentin says, rapidly losing the thread of what they’re talking about. Eliot slides up, tugging Quentin’s earlobe between his teeth.

“Come on, baby,” he whispers, and Quentin shudders. “One last time with my fiance.”

“That’s what you said last night,” Quentin says, his resolve crumbling as Eliot’s body moves against his.

“You didn’t take much convincing.”

“I never do,” Quentin gasps. Fuck. “Fuck. Okay,” he says, pretending not to notice Eliot’s grin. “But we have to be quick.”

“If I must,” Eliot says, kissing him again. Quentin smiles against his lips, grateful that they have another chance. Another lifetime to live and love each other. Even though so much of their past is full of hard, painful memories, Quentin wouldn’t trade them for anything.

They’re a reminder of what they’ve gone through to be together. Of what they’d sacrifice for each other.

Of how they should always try to be brave when they need to be.

~~~