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i'll put your poison in my veins

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Eliot

“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.

~~~

Quentin

“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.”

~~~

Chapter Text

Eliot

Time crawls. Eliot spends nearly every moment waiting. He doesn’t sleep where he is, not really, but he fucking wishes he could, just to make the minutes tick by faster. Sometimes, he lies down to close his eyes, hoping that when he opens them again, it’ll be Margo’s gorgeous face in front of him. And not Charlton’s confused one.

Eventually, he feels it again. That same dizziness nearly knocking him over. He grabs Charlton’s arm as he basically falls onto the couch saying, “It’s happening.” And then blackness descends.

When he opens his eyes, he’s back in that huge, fancy apartment, with Julia and Margo—and Penny, Kady, and… Alice. His gaze lingers on her for a moment, remembering how she’d snuffed the keys they’d worked their asses off to get—including the one he’d lived and loved a lifetime for—out of existence. With hardly a blink. Her eyes flicker up to his, and then to the ground as she shifts in her seat.

Everyone’s gaze is focused squarely on him. It’s a lot, to be surrounded by everyone again, the real them, and his breath hitches as a familiar hand wraps around his own.

“El?” Margo asks, and Eliot turns to her. Her skin is more tanned than he remembers, her hair loose and long, and her eyes wide and hopeful as she stares at him. Julia is sitting close beside her, a book open in her lap. Like before, he can feel magic buzzing in the air, the familiar rush as his own magic surges through his veins. Well, Quentin’s veins.

“It’s me,” he says, “Eliot.” Margo breaks into a smile so big it’s like the sun bursting through the clouds, and he can’t help but smile back. Then he looks down at his body—black hoodie, plain black henley, jeans, converse sneakers. At least he’s not in a nerdy t-shirt. “How long has it been?”

“A few weeks,” Julia says. “We’ve made some headway. I don’t know how much time we have, and there’s a lot, so I’m gonna jump into it.”

Eliot watches as Margo lightly rolls her eyes and thumps Julia with her shoulder. “What, not even time for a quickie?”

“We talked about this,” Julia says under her breath, but her annoyed tone is in contrast to the slight smile on her face. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Penny, shirt unbuttoned halfway to his navel, as usual. As Eliot watches, he rolls his eyes and stands up from the couch, wordlessly stalking into the kitchen.

“I guess not everyone is happy to see me,” he says, wondering what he ever did to Penny. Well, that Penny, the transplant from 23.

Julia clears her throat as Margo smirks. “That’s not you, babe. Some people can’t deal with being beat out by the better woman.” Eliot notices Margo’s hand on Julia’s thigh, and his mouth drops open as he shoots Margo a look, silently asking, Really?

She gives him a smirk and an arched eyebrow, wordlessly communicating back, Oh yeah.

“God, that’s weird.” He turns to see Kady with a small frown on her face as she looks at him. “You’re Quentin, but you’re also Eliot, and it’s just—weird.” Next to her, Alice smooths her skirt over her knee and nods, staring at the floor.

“Okay!” Julia says a little too loudly. “So we’re almost ready to go. We have the bottles that can probably hold the monster once we cast it out.” She gestures to two ceramic jars sitting on the coffee table.

“Is it here? Unconscious again?” Eliot looks around, looking for—himself.

“It’s not here,” Julia says. “It was, but it left not long ago, to do god knows what, and we—we can’t wait any longer; we have to get the plan moving. So if it pops up, just… act like Q.”

“Okay,” he says slowly, mentally preparing himself to babble adorably and fidget with his hair. “So we’re just going for the ‘hope it won’t notice I’m not in it’s head anymore’ play?” At Margo’s shrug, Eliot says, “Great. So,” he turns to the bottles on the table. “You’re gonna stick it in a jar? How is that going to hold it?”

“It’s a demon bottle,” Margo says crossly, in a tone that tells Eliot he shouldn’t question this part of the plan (probably any part of the plan, from the look on her face) again. “And I had to wash sand out of my cooch for a week to get it. Along with two sweet-ass axes that I better not have to fucking use.” She sighs at Eliot’s questioning look. “Long story that I’m not repeating again right now, but basically I went on an epic quest from my birthright lizard, and the legendary loot at the end were two axes that could cut the god out of you, and a bottle to hold it. And several musical memories that you are going to be very upset you didn’t get to witness.”

Eliot frowns, and Alice says from her spot on the couch, “We put an incorporate bond on the bottle. Q and I—” She stops, her eyes darting between Eliot’s and the floor, like it’s hard for her to look at him. A bead of jealousy forms deep in his belly, and he swats it away—he and Quentin are just friends. Have been ever since Eliot drew that line very solidly between him. If he and Alice did whatever, it’s not his business.

Besides, no matter what Quentin is to Alice, it probably is hard for her to look at Eliot right now, since he’s currently possessing her ex (current?) boyfriend’s body and all. Awkward for everyone, basically. Except Margo, who has no trouble squeezing his hand.

“We were able to get the spell for it and it should hold the monster in there. Until we get it to the seam.” Alice’s eyes are downcast as she finishes, and Kady sends a sympathetic glance her way.

He knows he should listen to the rest of their plan, but he has to ask about what he’s been thinking nearly every second since he was last here. “Last time, after I swapped back, I think I could hear Q—talk to him. In my head. Was that real?”

Margo and Julia exchange a look, and he hears more shuffling from a few feet away. He turns to see Alice getting up and walking to a small study off the main room, Kady watching her go with a sigh.

“Yes,” Julia says, and something floats inside Eliot’s chest. It was real; he wasn’t hallucinating. He talked to Quentin, and he might be able to do it again.

“It’s a side effect of the spell,” Julia continues. “When you swap back after this, you’ll probably be able to do it again. Maybe for longer since we anchored the spell; we don’t know.”

“You anchored it?” Eliot asks, trying to keep up. He needs to focus on what they’re saying, try to absorb every piece of information they’re throwing at him, but his brain is still stuck back on, you’ll probably be able to do it again.

Julia’s mouth presses into a thin line, and she looks back at the book in her hand. The tension in the room has been high ever since he blipped in, but it seems like every word out of his mouth just cranks it up more. He watches Margo squeeze Julia’s thigh as Margo says, “Yeah. Wicker figured out how to anchor the spell so either of you can trigger the swap. It takes a shit ton of power, though—bringing you here, and getting Q back into his body later will use almost all of the ambient we have available. And since you can’t use magic in the monster, whoever is out here will have to be the one to trigger it.”

“Right,” Eliot says softly, his mind whirling. Charlton had told him about Quentin’s visit—well, Eliot had demanded every single detail Charlton could possibly provide. Charlton had been excited, to not only talk to someone new that wasn’t pulled from Eliot’s head (even though he’d already met nearly a dozen iterations of Quentin before), but to hear that there was a plan to put the monster away, possibly for good. Eliot was relieved, hopeful, and jealous that Charlton had gotten to see Quentin and he hadn’t, but he was also full of guilt.

“I don’t know what will happen to you, Charlton.” Eliot sighed as he took a sip of wine, too mentally exhausted to do much else than pour something out of a bottle. “If this plan works.”

Charlton shrugged, a neutral expression on his face. “I’ve been in here so long, I hardly even remember much of my life before. I hope I’m able to—move on. To wherever that may be.” He took another gulp of soda (he was more delighted by soda than any form of alcohol Eliot introduced him to, which Eliot attributed to the fact that Charlton couldn’t get drunk in here anyway), and leaned forward. “If there’s a chance to get out of here, you have to take it,” he said. “My family is long dead. Yours are out there, fighting for you. We should all be so lucky.”

“You figured it out?” Eliot asks Julia. “How to cast from within the monster?”

He watches Julia and Margo exchange a look, and out of the corner of his eye, he sees Kady lean back on the couch, her arms crossed. “Not exactly,” Julia says. “Which is what we need to talk about.” She pauses, exhaling, and continues, “We need you to break out again.”

Eliot frowns, looking between Julia and Margo. Charlton had told Quentin about how he broke out the first time—but not exactly what triggered it. The thought of going back to that memory again makes Eliot’s pulse spike, his heart sink deep within his chest. Eliot has never visited any of his memories twice—he has enough daddy issues and dicks without having to relive his worst moments a whole ass second time over.

“I don’t know if I can,” he says hesitantly. “I think it was a one-time trip.”

“It’s our only shot,” Julia says. “And we need Q to be in your body when it happens.”

That idea makes Eliot’s heart tumble to the floor, and he stares at Julia for a moment before a near-hysterical laugh crosses his lips. “That’s not going to happen,” he says bluntly, turning his body away.

“It has to,” Margo says. “Look, I get that whatever you have to relive to get out is painful as fuck. But it’s the only chance we have. We literally have one shot.”

Eliot turns to Margo, taking in that familiar cold steel glaring back at him, and he glares right back. The idea of Quentin watching—that, reliving getting rejected all over again makes Eliot gut twist, and his body nearly shudders as those familiar walls Quentin and Margo have spent years knocking down try to snap back into place.

A tense silence settles over the room, until Julia quietly explains further. “It’s a cooperative spell,” she says, “the biggest one ever attempted. We think we can harness the monster’s energy, and use it to blast it out of you—and rip off the siphon that’s throttling magic all at the same time.”

Rip off the siphon. Of course. It all makes sense—the urgency in everyone, the anxiety in the room. Why Quentin’s body feels so exhausted now, why the hair that falls in front of Eliot’s eyes right now is so greasy. Saving Eliot is just a bonus prize on the way to the real trophy—opening up magic to everyone, instead of whoever the Library thinks should have it. Which makes sense. Margo would move heaven and earth to bring him back, and while he knows Quentin would fight for him, too—this is a whole other level of effort and worry. One that he’s not worthy of.

Eliot stares at Julia as Margo gives her a proud smile, squeezing her thigh again, and a flash of annoyance flares up in Eliot’s chest. He’s thrilled that Margo’s found a new infatuation and is getting laid in between research sessions, he really is, but focus, Bambi.

“I’ve been working with Kady and Alice,” Julia continues. Penny clears his throat, and she adds under her breath, “And Penny. Once Quentin breaks out, we’re going to simultaneously cast with—basically every magician we can get across the globe. Quentin—and the monster—will be at the center of it. Kady’s been working her hedge connections, and Alice with Fogg to get the other Magicians’ schools on board.”

“Fogg?” Eliot asks. “The same Fogg who sold us out in the first place?”

“Long story.” Alice speaks softly from behind Eliot, and he turns to see that she’s returned to the room. Penny is standing behind the couch, arms crossed as he listens. “But we can do it. If we time it right. We can use the monster’s magic against it.” If you do what we need you to do. She doesn’t say it, but Eliot can practically see the words floating out of her mouth as she stares at him, her eyes flat and mouth one thin line. You’re one to lecture me on doing the right thing, he thinks, even though she’s literally done nothing of the sort. As if she can read his mind, her face softens slightly, and she looks away.

Shoving Alice out of his mind, trying to regain his footing, Eliot turns back to Julia. “Why does Q have to do it?” he asks. “Can’t I break out and cast with the rest of you?”

“We’ve been coordinating this for weeks.” Kady finally speaks up, leaning forward, elbows on her knees. “One chance to get full use of our magic back.” The look on her face is the epitome of ‘sorry not sorry’ as she continues, “The power within the monster is key. I’m not going to have the guy leading the charge coming in cold. Quentin’s been practicing the spell; we all have. You can’t.”

Eliot looks at her, irritation flaring, and then at everyone else in the room. They’re all staring at him—some fondly, like Margo, others irritatedly, like Penny, and some indifferently, like Alice. Eliot inhales, closing his eyes and rubbing his palms over his thighs. The heavy denim is harsh against his fingertips, and he wishes he was in his own body, in his own clothes. But he’s not. He’s in Quentin’s, and Quentin is stuck deep in Eliot’s psyche, probably explaining all of this to Charlton while Eliot is out here, bitching about their plan to rescue him.

If I ever get out of here, Q, know that when I'm braver it's 'cause I learned it from you.

Shame rolls over Eliot like a violent wave, and he has to close his eyes as something hot and sharp pierces his heart. This is it, his first chance to do something scary, something that matters, and he’s scrabbling at the walls, desperate to hide or to get the fuck out.

So what if Quentin has to witness his biggest regret? So what if he gets to see that Eliot is so fucked up that the presence of any real, live emotion makes him turn tail and run away like his ass is on fire? So what if Quentin will get to see the scar that formed on Eliot’s heart that day in the throne room? The one that throbs with every inhale he’s taken every day since.

This is bigger than him; it’s bigger than both of them.

“Okay,” Eliot says in a small voice. “Yeah, I’ll uh—let’s do it.” He looks down to the floor, and he swears the entire room exhales in relief. “I’ll talk to Charlton, and I’ll make sure there’s a distraction set up so when Quentin comes back, he’ll—go right to it.” He swallows thickly, and asks, “When?”

“A week,” Kady says, standing up, pulling her phone out of her pocket. She nods to Alice, who gets up and follows her. “I’ll start making calls.” They go over to the small study off the main room, and Penny follows them.

He turns back to Margo and Julia, who appear to be having a silent conversation of their own. He clears his throat, and when they look at him— “How much longer do I have? Here?”

“That’s up to you,” Julia says, one corner of her mouth quirking up. “You have magic here, so you trigger the swap. I am worried that the monster will be able to tell it’s not really Q in there, so—I wouldn’t hang out too long. As much as we want you to,” she adds with a soft smile as Margo squeezes his hand. “I’ll show you the movements. You’ll need the incantation to activate it.” Margo gets up, walking over to the kitchen as Julia holds her hands out towards him.

“Um,” Eliot says, his body lighting up just at thinking about casting, a familiar rush surging through his veins. He hasn’t cast a spell in—he has no idea how long. “One sec.” He looks around the room, his eyes settling on a blue vase sitting on the coffee table. He holds up his hands, his magic bubbling under his skin, and before he can really even form the thought, the vase is levitating across the table and into his waiting hand.

It’s relieving and fulfilling to finally use his magic again, but still really fucking weird, casting with Quentin’s body. Magic is wafting through him, and it’s his magic, he knows it as well as he knows his own dick, but the way his fingers move through a tut, or how the words roll around his mouth is foreign and new.

Julia watches him, an unreadable expression on her face as he sets the vase back down on the nearest edge of the coffee table. “You okay?” he asks her as he turns back towards her.

“Yeah,” she says, clearing her throat. “Just don’t do any more spells; we need the ambient to switch you and Q back.” Her gaze darts between him and the vase as she says, “I still haven’t been able to use magic since that day at Blackspire.”

Eliot’s mouth drops open as guilt overwrites every other emotion echoing throughout his body, for needlessly wasting magic and for what Julia must be going through. He’d hated Julia when he first saw her—for what she did to Quentin, when she’d trapped him in his own mind. But the image of her on that couch, months later when he’d gone to her for the amulet to help with saving Fillory, so small and fucking desolate, trapped in her own darkness, stuck with him far longer than any betrayal. And she got up, put on some pants, and did her best to help them. And she came through again when it counted, literally giving up being a goddess for the greater good. Yeah, maybe she’d burned a few trees down along the way, but nobody’s perfect. And now, without any magic of her own, she’s rewriting spells and walking Eliot through casts she can’t even do herself.

“You’ve done all this spellwork without being able to cast yourself?” Eliot asks, hoping his face doesn’t betray how shocked he feels.

She nods and sighs, setting aside her book. “I know the theory and have the knowledge, I just—need other people to put it into practice. I’m hoping that when the siphon comes off… maybe magic will come back to me too.” She straightens up, giving him her best fake smile as she holds her hands out. “Ready?”

Eliot nods, getting the message that Julia is done with that topic. As she walks him through the tuts, her movements sure and smooth, he thinks he can see what Margo sees in her. He has no idea what’s going on between the two of them (though he fully intends to find out ASAP), but Margo did always like a nerd with a big brain.

Only one of many things he has in common with her.

A few repetitions later, Eliot feels comfortable with the spell, and when he’s ready, he’ll speak the ancient Sumerian to give Quentin his body back.

And then hopefully talk to him. Speaking of—

“When Q and I switch back—you said I should be able to talk to him again? Do you know for how long? Did that change since you anchored it?”

Julia looks up at him, and it’s suddenly apparent how exhausted she is. There are dark circles under her wide, worried eyes, and her hair is loose and limp over her shoulders. When Margo pushes a steaming mug into her hand, she accepts it gratefully.

“I’m not sure,” Julia says. “Last time it ended when the monster showed up; this time it may end when all the ambient is gone, but really—I have no idea. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” he says simply. “Thank you. For—everything.” He stares down at her hands wrapped around the mug as he continues, “I know what you gave up to save magic, and you’re still here, working for Q—”

“Not just for Q,” Julia says, inhaling deeply from the mug. “For you. All of us, everyone. We all deserve magic.” She smiles at him as she says, “And you don’t deserve to let your body be run into the ground by some ancient god. All you were trying to do was save Q. And that’s a cause I will always get behind.”

He smiles back at her then, his first real one ever since he swapped back. Julia’s eyes suddenly water, and the smile drops off his face. She waves him away— “Sorry,” she says. “You just—Quentin hasn’t smiled like that in a while.”

Margo smiles at him, and then pushes Julia’s hair off her shoulder. “Go lie down,” she says softly. “Take a nap. I’ll wake you later.” Julia nods, reaching up to squeeze Margo’s hand before she gives Eliot one more small smile and goes to an upstairs bedroom.

“Come on,” Margo says, extending out a hand. Eliot takes it, and she leads him out to the balcony.

He blinks against the waning sunshine as they walk out, staring out at the city sprawling before him. They’re in the penthouse suite, and he walks up to the low cement wall that surrounds the balcony, which spans nearly the entirety of this side of the apartment. There’s a table and a few small chairs, as well as various plants decorating the space. The city is alive all around him, noise drifting up from the streets below, the smell of fresh air, real fresh air invading his nostrils. Although he probably shouldn’t inhale too deeply, after all. This is fucking Manhattan.

It’s chilly, dusk fast approaching, fall in the city, he thinks, and he pulls his—Quentin’s hoodie tighter around himself. It’s soft against his skin, and he raises his shoulder, pressing his nose into the fabric and inhaling. It smells like grime and potato chips, but just underneath he can detect that delicate undertone he can only describe as Quentin. His eyes close for a moment as he exhales.

“Don’t you look like the most lovesick bitch I’ve ever seen.” He opens his eyes to see Margo leaning against the balcony, a joint in her hand. She lights it, the old-fashioned way with a lighter sitting on the ledge, and takes a drag. Eyes still on his, she extends it out to him in offering. He takes it, looking back out at the city.

Again, taking a hit in Quentin’s body isn’t—quite right. He inhales and tries to hold it in and winds up nearly coughing a lung out while Margo smirks at him.

“You need to shotgun it?” she teases, and he rolls his eyes.

“Different lungs,” he says. The next hit goes better, as does the next. He takes a swig of the Gatorade Margo had brought out with her—yellow, not his favorite, but Quentin’s.

“This place is amazing,” he says, deliberately not addressing her lovesick comment. Deliberately not asking why the sight of Quentin smiling drove Julia to instant tears. He’s not sure he can deal with the answer. “Can’t believe you ripped it off Marina.”

Kady ripped it off Marina,” Margo corrects. “She might just kick us all out after we fix all this shit.”

He looks at her, frowning. “You’ll go back to Fillory,” he says, and his gut twists at the sad smile that forms on her face.

“A lot’s happened in the past few weeks,” she says. Keeping her eyes forward, Margo says, her voice strained, “I’m not King of Fillory anymore. Fen is. She overthrew me.” She absently rubs at her wrists, covered by the long sleeves of her sweater.

Eliot can feel his eyes nearly pop out of his head, his mouth fall open as he stares at her. “Fen. Fen. Overthrew you?”

“I kind of made her,” Margo admits. “Fillory needs a ruler, and… I have other priorities right now.” She’s still not looking at him, and tears spring to his eyes. Fuck.

He reaches over, slotting their fingers together. “Bambi—” he starts, and she shakes her head.

“No,” she says sternly, turning to face him. “Don’t tell me I shouldn’t have done that. And don’t fucking cry. I’ve seen Quentin cry too fucking much this past month, and Julia, and you—” She shakes her head, squeezing his fingers with one hand and yanking the joint out of his hand with the other. She takes the last drag and says, “Fen is doing fine. She has Josh and fucking DickPick, and she sends bunnies and she’s fine. I’ll go back. When I’m ready.” She looks at him out the corner of her eye. “And I don’t want to hear another fucking word about it.”

He doesn’t say another word. Instead he tugs on her hand, pulling her into a tight hug. He’s too short; she doesn’t fit under his chin like she should—but she feels just as solid, warm, and safe as she always does. He presses his chin against her temple, squeezing his eyes shut against the tears.

“Thank you,” he whispers, tightening his arms around her, and she hugs him back just as hard. A dry chuckle escapes his lips, and he says, “But you can’t blame sticking around here on me when you know it’s just so you could get into Julia’s pants.”

She chortles, pulling away and wiping her eyes, leaving one hand on his waist. “El, you have no idea. She’s…” Margo shakes her head.

“Tell me everything,” Eliot says, leaning forward. The familiarity of this—a gossip session with Margo where they get drunk and/or high, trading stories about their latest conquests, right before they go off and save the world—is filling him a light he hasn’t felt in ages.

“She’s fucked up,” Margo says, her lips twisting into a conspiratory smile, “in the best way. I don’t even know how it happened, we were talking and crying about you and Q because you’re a goddamn prisoner in your own head and Q is—a fucking mess, and then we weren’t talking. And then we didn’t talk again the next night. And most nights since.” She’s grinning, like she can’t even help herself, practically glowing from within. He hasn’t seen her like this in—a long time.

Her mood is infectious, and normally Eliot wouldn’t resist breaking into his own answering grin. But the words I’ve seen Quentin cry too fucking much this past month and Q is a fucking mess are rolling around in his head now, and all he can muster is a small smile. “You like her,” he says softly, and the smile fades off her face as she looks at him.

“I don’t dislike her,” she says shortly. “It’s hard to dislike anyone that makes you come so hard you black out. But there’s no time for that right now. It’s just—”

“Bambi,” Eliot says softly, tugging her in close again. “It’s okay if you like a person. It happens to the best of us.”

She hums softly in response, and they just stand there for a moment, holding each other. It’s growing darker on the balcony as the sun sets. How long has he been here? Should he be worried about wearing out his welcome in Quentin’s body? What’s Quentin doing in his head, anyway? Probably talking to Charlton about ancient Fillory, Eliot decides. Nerds.

“Lots of changes,” Eliot says, trying to focus on here, with Margo. He’ll have his time with Quentin. He hopes. “Alice is back in. Kady’s a Hedge Queen. You’re not a king.” She stiffens, and he adds, “In formal Fillorian name, at least,” and she relaxes. “At least Penny still has his tits out. Would be really upsetting if that changed.”

Margo laughs softly, pulling away again. “If Penny covers up his titties, we’ll all know the apocalypse is nigh. Like, for fucking real this time.” She pulls out another joint from a little tin, her eyes flickering between it and him. “So tell me,” she says, lighting it, “why your first response to breaking out again was telling the whole room to go fuck themselves.” She takes a drag, looking at him expectantly.

“I hardly—” he starts, and he shuts his mouth at the look Margo gives him.

“I know you, El,” she says softly, handing him the joint. He takes it, inhaling deeply. He’s starting to feel the comforting haze of the high descend on him, making his (Quentin’s) body more relaxed and fluid. He looks up at the sky, at the stars starting to twinkle above. It’s never dark in his happy place, always daytime. He should try to make it night so he can stare up at the stars. Like he and Quentin used to do at the mosaic.

“Even with Q’s face and those fucking puppy dog eyes, I know you,” Margo says, and he slowly tilts his head down to look back at her. “You’re scared. Tell me why. You know I don’t push normally for this shit, but right now—your life is on the line.”

She’s giving him that look, the one that takes him apart piece by piece, leaving him feeling naked no matter how many layers he has on. He desperately wishes he was wearing a vest and tie and not an old hoodie and jeans, no matter how much they smell like Quentin. Anything to help him hide from this conversation.

Just fucking do it.

He takes another drag, then sets his hand on the balcony ledge, slowly twirling the joint between two fingers. “So,” he starts, a near hysterical giggle falling from his lips, “you know how I have to break out? Quentin told you?”

Margo nods. “Yeah. Worst regret. You watch it, open up the door, bam, you’re back in amongst the living just long enough to throw out some cryptic shit that tells us Eliot’s a real fucking boy. What is it? What’s the memory?”

Eliot looks out over the city again, the one he’d dreamed about living in for so long. “Do you remember—” he starts, and then he clears his throat. “When you had to dig up Jane’s body to get the key? That letter that said that Q and I had died?”

She stares at him for a moment, and he can’t help but feel trapped, pinned down by her gaze. He can’t look directly at her; it’s so much to even talk about it, let alone see her reaction when she hears what he has to say.

“The mosaic,” she breathes, and it’s like the balcony flips sideways for a moment, his heart beating so fast it’s as if he’s hanging off the ledge, grasping at air to pull himself back on his feet. He fully turns to her, his eyes widening, mouth falling open.

“You know—?”

“Yeah, I fucking know,” she says, her eyes narrowing in an all-too-familiar anger. “And I had to find out about it from Quentin. When I got back from the desert, where I got the axes and the bottle, I made him fucking get drunk with me. Him and Julia. Because we all fucking needed it. Same night she and I got together, actually. He told us the whole story.” She shakes her head, her lips pressing into one thin line. “Fifty fucking years? Grandkids, El? You dumb cunts got married? And not a word to me? No wonder Quentin is walking around like a goddamned widow. He basically fucking is.”

Eliot exhales shakily, his stomach dropping through the floor, all the way down through however-many-fucking-stories up they are, to the ground. Every new piece of information he gets about Quentin drives another stake through his heart, and buoys him all at the same time. Like a goddamned widow. If Quentin is suffering this much, then maybe he still—stop it, he tells himself. Focus. “I’m sorry, Margo, I just—it was a lot,” he says quietly. “It still is.”

Her small hand wraps around his arm, squeezing it as her other hand gently extracts the joint from between his trembling fingers. She takes another drag. “I’ll think about forgiving you,” she says lightly. “So what is it? You fuck him over or something? Cheat on him?”

He lets out another laugh, shaking his head. He’d fucked around with several different people during that lifetime, before he and Quentin figured out exactly what they were. But once he’d realized Quentin wanted what he wanted—that was it, for him.

“Not quite,” he tells Margo, watching as smoke escapes her full lips. “Did Quentin tell you what happened when he and I got back? In the throne room?”

She frowns, looking out over the city as she searches her memory. “No,” she says finally. “Just that you two didn’t remember until he saw the letter he left for me.”

“Yeah,” Eliot whispers. He takes the joint from her and swiftly takes another drag, taking it down nearly to the nub, which he hands back to her. She rolls her eyes at it, and he exhales harshly, dull grey smoke blowing into the twilight air. “So. He asked me to give it a shot. Him and me. Together, in real life. Here. This lifetime. And I—”

“You turned him down.” Her voice is flat, and he can feel her gaze burning into him as he looks out at the city again.

“Yeah,” he confirms in a low voice. “We’d just gotten those memories back, fifty years injected into our veins, and I didn’t—didn’t trust it. It didn’t feel—real. You know?”

“I don’t,” she says, taking a step closer to him, one hand resting on his back. “But I can fucking imagine.”

“Turns out it was the realest thing in my life. Both my lives. And I just fucking—brushed it away. Like it was nothing.” He tries to step away from her, away from any comfort that he doesn’t deserve, but Margo’s always been stronger than she looks, and she holds on so tight he can’t move. “He terrified me,” Eliot admits, tears stinging at his eyes again. It’s gotta be Quentin’s body doing it, he thinks. I never cry this easy. “Still does.”

Margo takes a deep breath, and he wraps an arm around her shoulders, tucking her into his side. It takes some adjusting; she doesn’t just fit like she should, but they manage. She has both arms wrapped around his torso when she says, like it’s an ordinary thing to say, like she’s telling him that it’s about to rain or that they’re out of pinot, “He’s in love with you, El.”

He shakes his head slightly, chuckling in an achingly familiar way, because it’s Quentin’s chuckle, and she pushes on, “I can’t believe I didn’t see it before. He’s a man possessed. We have to force him to stop researching, to sleep and eat, when the fucking monster isn’t hauling him around.”

Eliot stiffens, his fingers tightening on Margo’s shoulder. He turns his body, staring down at her— “Hauls him around? Does he—”

“No,” Margo interrupts, turning to face him, her hands joined behind his back. “Quentin’s seen some shit, because of that thing. And the monster is touchy feely, but he’s like—a kid, I guess. It’s weird and creepy as fuck, but. Q knows. That’s not you.” She stares at him with shining eyes, and then it’s like a dam breaks and she starts just—laughing.

Jesus, El. I thought you were going to tell me you had to relive killing Mike or that first Encanto trip where you got way too dehydrated or fucking—putting me in jail, you dick. But your biggest regret is not letting the guy who’s literally trying to fight a god to save your pathetic ass know you like him back?” She laughs again, not joyful, but frustrated, disbelieving. Exhausted, delirious. “Grow a fucking pair. Let him watch the memory; I’ll bet he’ll jerk off to it for ages knowing it ranks high enough on your regret meter to warrant breaking out of a celestial jail.”

Eliot squeezes her shoulder. “You always know how to put things into perspective,” he jokes. “I don’t—” Eliot breaks off, looking away. I don’t want to hurt him again. I don’t want to remind him that I’m a total dick. I don’t want to give him any reason to think I don’t want him. “I don’t want to lose him.”

“Then don’t,” Margo says simply. She reaches out, lightly grasping his chin to turn his face to hers. “Swap back. Talk to him. Tell him how you feel. Do the thing, and come back to him. To me. In your body. Then fuck him so hard he forgets all about how you cocked out. Trust me,” she says, her hand moving up to sweep his hair behind his ear. “He needs to hear it. Just as much as you need to say it. And hear it back.”

Eliot nods, swallowing hard. Margo pulls him into another tight hug, and he knows this is it. The last time he’ll see her before—the next time. When he’ll be standing by in Quentin’s body, watching everyone work to save his ass. “I love you,” he says softly.

“I know,” she says, and he rolls his eyes, feeling her shoulder shake as she laughs.

“I know I look like Quentin, but that doesn’t mean I’ll get your stupid geek references.”

“You got that one, you whiny bitch.” She pulls back, framing his face with her hands and placing a light kiss on his lips. She feels the same, tastes the same, even if she’s kissing Quentin’s lips and not his. “I love you too. I’ll stay out here long enough to make sure Quentin is okay, and I’ll leave you alone to talk.”

Eliot nods, and hugs her one last time. He’s just pulling away when she goes, “Oh! There is one other thing that happened that I forgot to tell you about.”

He hums, his fingers twitching, so ready to cast the swap and hear Quentin’s voice. You can hear it now, he thinks, just keep talking, and he might be higher than he realized.

“I’m a werewolf.” Margo shrugs as she says it, again, like she’s telling him they’re out of garlic. “I had to bone Josh so he wouldn’t kill someone. It wasn’t completely horrible.”

What?”

~~~

Quentin

When he comes to, one of his hands is clasped in Margo’s, and they’re sitting in chairs on the balcony of the penthouse. He shuts his eyes, blinking against the dizziness still in his brain, and a familiar fog that seems to seep throughout his entire body. He raises a hand to brush his hair out of his face, and it’s moving slower than it should be, almost as if there’s a little trail in the air behind it, like his body is lagging. When he opens his eyes, Margo is watching him with a smirk on her face, and her eyes are sparkling more than they should be.

“Am I—high?” he asks, and he knows the answer when Margo cracks up.

Um. Yeah. Sorry?

“El?” he says, the haze clearing immediately, his pulse going from relaxed to exuberant in two seconds flat. “Can you hear me?”

Yes, he responds, his voice full of relief in Quentin’s head, and Quentin’s eyes shut as he exhales a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. Margo squeezes his hand, and he opens his eyes just in time to see her smile at him before she steps back into the penthouse, closing the door behind her.

“God,” Quentin says, out loud, not sure if he needs to or if he can just, like, think things at Eliot, but not caring enough to find out. “It’s so fucking good to hear you. Are you okay?”

There’s a pause, and he swears he hears Eliot chuckle. I mean, for someone trapped inside their own beautiful mind... now that I’m talking to you… yeah, Q. I’m okay.

“El—I—” he pauses, his mind racing, and he wonders if Eliot can hear all of that, all of Quentin’s noise blaring at him all at once, and he focuses on one thought, pushing it out, imagining beaming it through the night sky to Eliot. I really fucking miss you.

Yeah, Eliot says, his voice cracking slightly. I miss you too.

Quentin laughs, elbows on his knees, hands in his hair, head bowed. “I don’t know how much time we have,” he says. It’s easier to just talk, then try to focus thoughts. “I’m going to get you out of there. I’m sorry it’s taking so long.”

Stop, Eliot says immediately, and Quentin’s mouth snaps shut as he squeezes his eyes closed. Please don’t apologize. Q… thank you.

“For what?” Quentin asks. “Getting you stuck in a monster when you were only trying to save me from myself?”

Thank you for working so hard to save me, Eliot says. And for leaving me this delightful chalkboard full of swear words. You and Margo have definitely been spending too much time together.

A startled laugh falls out of Quentin’s mouth, and he imagines Eliot sitting on the couch in the Cottage. Is Charlton there? Quentin spent the last hour and whatever talking to Charlton about:

  • The monster
  • Their plan (It had the ‘Charlton fuck of approval,’ which Quentin just nodded and silently accepted before moving on.)
  • Ancient fillory. For someone who claimed to not remember much of his life, Charlton sure knows a lot about Fillorian lore and history, which was fascinating.
  • Card tricks. Charlton had lamented never being able to do magic at all, and Quentin had offered to show him a few simple card tricks. Charlton was fascinated and Quentin is sure Eliot will appreciate all the card tricks coming to him in the very near future.
  • The etymology of modern curse words. Quentin is also sure Eliot will be impressed when Charlton calls him a cock-sucking dickwaffle at some point; that had been his favorite of all the possible word combinations Quentin had written out for him on the chalkboard in the Cottage (which had been wiped clean when he swapped in there).

The time had passed much faster than Quentin had thought it would, and when he’d felt the dizziness come along to send him back to his own body, Charlton had grabbed his shoulder, steadying him, and said “I look forward to when we meet again, Quentin.”

“Charlton and I had to talk about something while I was waiting for you to catch up with everyone,” Quentin says, sitting up and leaning back in the chair. He tilts his head up to the sky, staring up at the stars. He and Eliot used to stargaze a lot in Fillory, in that other lifetime. He suddenly misses Eliot so much it’s like a physical ache, one that throbs all the way down to his bones.

Q, Eliot says, and hearing that familiar inflection in Eliot’s voice takes Quentin’s breath away. Please don’t blame yourself for this. You have to take care of yourself. Margo, she said you— Eliot pauses and inhales, and before Quentin can open his mouth, Eliot continues.

It’s my own fault I’m in here, Eliot says. I should’ve talked to you instead of deciding I knew better. Going off and shooting the monster, consequences be damned—we wouldn’t be here if—

“I would’ve done the same for you,” Quentin says, and Eliot’s silence rings through their connection. “Eliot, you—I—” He swallows hard, forcing his mind to go blank, not wanting any big, scary thoughts to fall through and freak Eliot out. He blinks once, and decides fuck it and just starts talking.

“I don’t know how long I have you for. But you—you’ve always saved me. When I first started at Brakebills, helping me when I was freaking out over getting expelled. When my dad got cancer. At the mosaic, when Arielle died you fucking—kept me alive. For months, taking care of Teddy. Making sure I didn’t—do something stupid.” He hears Eliot’s sharp intake of breath, and he keeps on going, letting the words spill out. “You stepped in front of battle magic for me. And when I tried to martyr myself, you wouldn’t let me. Now it’s my turn. To save you. Bring you back. And I know it’s a long shot, but—”

I love you.

Quentin stops breathing; surely he heard him wrong. Then he exhales all at once, a startled laugh falling from his lips. “What?”

I love you. I have for a—long fucking time. And I’m sorry this is how I’m telling you, when I’m… He hears Eliot’s frustrated sigh, and wishes with everything inside him that he could touch Eliot, wrap his fingers around his arms and reel him in, look into his eyes and say ‘I love you too.’

I know I should tell you when I see you, but Q, I—if this doesn’t work—

“It’s going to fucking work,” Quentin says, standing up. “You’ll tell me—” He chokes on a sob, nearly stumbling over to the balcony, hands gripping the cement ledge. “El, I—”

Don’t.

You can’t tell me what to do, Quentin thinks, and he hears Eliot’s startled laugh as Quentin realizes he heard that. Quentin closes his eyes, inhaling deeply, the words on the tip of his tongue. “I—” he tries again.

Q, please. You’re going to have to go into my memories—to make this plan work. Charlton will lead you there. Whatever you want to tell me—please wait. Until…

His voice is fading, growing softer at the same time Quentin registers the magic in the air dimming, slipping away until the Library deems it time to refill their allotment. This will be the last time he’ll get to talk to Eliot until the day they do it—they have too much shit to set up, too many spells to cast to use any more magic on swaps.

“Eliot,” he cries, tears falling down his cheeks. “I love you. Do you hear me?”

His only answer is a silence that feels as empty as the dark sky above him.

~~~

Chapter Text

Eliot

“So that just happened.”

Eliot stares blankly ahead, at the chalkboard covered in words like ‘cockstain’ and ‘twat rocket’ and ‘dingleberry.’ Really, Q? Dingleberrry? One palm is resting on his thigh, fingers digging in so tightly his nails might rip the fabric of his trousers.

The couch creaks lightly as Charlton shifts in his seat, a few feet over from Eliot, and he can feel Charlton’s worried eyes on him, sending a tingle down the back of his neck.

“What just happened?” Charlton asks calmly. “Do you mean Quentin switching back to his body and you coming back here? Or you having a conversation that I assume was with Quentin, because to me, it looked like you were talking to the chalkboard? Or, after that conversation ended, you not saying a word for the next thirty seconds and staring into space? Because all of those things just happened.”

Eliot closes his eyes, exhaling slowly, forcing himself to relax his grip on his thigh. “The part where I said ‘I love you,’ right before the powers that be decided to drop the cell signal. That part.”

There’s silence in the Cottage, although there’s plenty of noise in Eliot’s head. What the fuck is wrong with you? He’d spent over an hour with Margo and Julia, listening to them tell him over and over again how fragile Quentin is, how vulnerable he’s been, how close he is to collapsing. And now, his first real conversation with Quentin, the last one they’ll have before Quentin has to lead the charge to save all of fucking magic, again, Eliot just fucking—word vomits his feelings all over him.

“That did also happen,” Charlton says carefully. “Although you did say a few more things before you got cut off. I distinctly remember you saying ‘Don’t’ very emphatically, and then you proceeded to tell him about the memory he would have to view, and then you said his name several times before you sat there and stared at the wall. Until you asked if that just happened.” Eliot finally turns to look at Charlton, who is, for some reason, holding a deck of cards as he glances from Eliot to anywhere else. “And now we’re here. And you are very distressed. I take it Quentin did not respond in kind to your statement of affection?”

“I think he tried, but I—told him not to.” Eliot pinches the bridge of his nose as he exhales.

There’s a delicate pause, and Charlton asks, just as Eliot knew he would, “Why would you—”

Because, Charlton,” Eliot says, standing up and whirling on him. “Because he’s exhausted and drained and has been through so much and he doesn’t—” Eliot shakes his head, turning away. “I don’t want him to say something he may regret later.”

“Eliot,” Charlton says delicately, as if he thinks Eliot might break, “I just spent the last hour with Quentin. We talked about a lot of things—Fillory, our families, how colorful vocabulary has become—but mostly we talked about you.” Eliot stares at the chalkboard, the words blurring in front of him, and he blinks quickly as his heart starts to pound against his chest. “I have met many—many versions of Quentin from your memories. And each time, I thought that surely, you were exaggerating his devotion to you, that you had somehow embellished the connection the two of you had in your memories. But after spending only a few hours with him, the real Quentin, I know now—your remembrances don’t even come close to fully encompassing how much Quentin truly loves you.”

Eliot exhales slowly, looking to the floor. Charlton, Julia, Margo—they keep saying that. Quentin loves you falling out of their mouths like it’s a fact. One Eliot wants to believe it.

But he wants a lot of things. Actually gets very few of them.

“I don’t believe there is anything in your memories that could make him feel otherwise,” Charlton continues, and Eliot turns to look at him, his brow furrowing as he sees Charlton holding a deck of cards in his hands, shuffling them in a very familiar fashion.

“Where did you get those?” Eliot asks.

Charlton smiles sheepishly, and he attempts to shuffle the cards again, smoothly, in a way Eliot has seen Quentin do too many times, but he isn’t nearly as well-practiced as Quentin. The cards somehow slip up and out of his hands, shooting out across the floor.

“Um, it was here in a drawer,” Charlton says, rushing to pick them up. “Quentin knew where they were. He showed me a few tricks.”

Eliot can’t help the smile that forms on his face as he shakes his head, bending down to help Charlton pick up the cards. They’re old, weathered—and familiar. His chest tightens as he recognizes them as the deck Quentin always carried around with him that first year at Brakebills. So many weekend parties Eliot would look over at him sitting on the couch, idly shuffling the cards, or practicing tricks the ‘muggle’ way. Even when he could make half the deck disappear with a flick of his wrist, he still kept practicing it without magic. When Eliot or Margo would tease him, he said it kept his mind clear. And that just because he can do actual magic doesn’t mean he should get lazy on doing it the hard way. It could come in handy someday.

Like when you have to entertain yourself in your best friend/ex from another lifetime’s consciousness.

“I can show you one of the tricks,” Charlton says eagerly, standing up, and Eliot lets out a bark of laughter. “Quentin said I have to practice.”

“I’m sure he did,” Eliot says, a smile spreading on his face, his earlier anxiety and sadness momentarily fading. Only an hour in his mind space, and Quentin found all the right ways to leave a lasting impression. “But, as I’m sure Quentin told you, we have some work to do.”

“Ah,” Charlton says, looking back down to his cards, clumsily trying to shuffle them again. “Revisiting your memory to attempt to break out again. Are you going to go back to it right now?” His brow furrows, and he nearly drops the cards again.

Eliot reaches over and takes them, walking over to set them on an end table. “No,” he says shortly, tugging on the bottom of his shirt, straightening it. “We’ll go to a different one that we already visited. You can pick.”

Charlton’s eyes shoot up in surprise. “Me? Why do I—”

“Because right now, I have the brain power of Margo after that party where she tried to snort her body weight in cocaine. Exhausted, strung out, and trying desperately to hold on to that tiny bit of euphoria that is slowly getting smaller and smaller, fading into weird, relentless jaw clenching. So, where to?” He gives Charlton an expectant look.

Charlton’s eyes dart around the Cottage, over to the chalkboard, and then land back on Eliot. “I wouldn’t mind going back to that Creed concert.”

Eliot nods as he presses his lips together. “Of course you wouldn’t. Fine. Let’s revisit the time before young Eliot figured out that less is more when it comes to eyeliner.”

“The music is actually pretty catchy—”

“Mmhmm.” It’s as good a memory as any—the night when sixteen-year-old Eliot had been so desperate to get his hands on dick, any dick, that he’d not only agreed to go to a Creed concert with a random college student he’d met at a bar—he’d lied about his age to boot. The night that ended with Eliot, without his pants, calling his brother from a pay phone an hour away from home. “Let’s go see if this works.”

“And if it doesn’t?” Charlton asks.

Eliot sighs, looking back at that old deck of cards sitting next to the couch, and then to the chalkboard. “Then, we’ll invite all my old memories over. I’ll conjure up enough liquor and drugs so we all forget who and where and when we all were or are, and we’ll fuck until the world ends.”

Charlton stares at him for a beat, a frown forming on his face. “You know you can’t really get drunk here, you’ve tried—”

“Oh my god, Charlton; let’s go.”

~~~

It works. Eliot’s able to hear ‘Arms Wide Open’ again (for what better be the last time), reliving the same memory with the same charp clarity he did the first time. When they return back to the Cottage, Eliot sinks down on the couch, letting it all wash over him.

It can happen. It’s going to happen. He’ll wake up in Quentin’s body, and Quentin will get to watch himself get rejected all over again. Remember why Eliot isn’t worth half the heartache he’s put himself through. And then Quentin will come out fighting. Eliot knows he will; when he has a mission, something he truly cares about, no one can stop him. One only needs to look at Alice, who shouldn’t be human right now, to know that.

Eliot can only hope that everyone comes out alive on the other side.

Time doesn’t crawl by this time as Eliot waits for the final swap to happen. Maybe it’s because he keeps replaying his conversation with Quentin over and over in his mind—Eliot, IDon’tYou can’t tell me what to do. Maybe it’s because every moment that ticks by brings him one second closer to this plan failing spectacularly, and Eliot’s body being used to kill all his friends. Maybe it’s because Charlton spends ten hours a day practicing those fucking card tricks.

Either way, when it finally happens, he puts a hand to his head, reaching out to Charlton as that wave of dizziness hits him. He hears Charlton’s sharp inhale, and Eliot says, “I’m going. Remember, Charlton—”

“I will,” he hears Charlton promise. “I’ll make sure he gets there.” And then, just before it all goes black, “Good luck, Eliot.”

Until he opens his eyes, blinking at a blank ceiling above him. He’s laying down on a soft mattress, and he jerks up with a gasp. Margo is sitting on the bed next to him, and she immediately envelops him in a hug.

He presses his nose into her shoulder, inhaling her familiar scent. “Margo—” he starts.

“Listen,” she says, pulling back, gripping his arms tightly. “Shit’s fucked. Well,” she says, glancing over, and Eliot follows her gaze to see Julia standing by the closed door, her hand on the doorknob, “fucked more than usual.”

“What’s wrong?” Eliot asks, scrambling to his feet, tripping and catching himself on the bedside table. Quentin’s body is just not made for normal things like walking.

“Oh,” Julia says, opening the door an inch and peeking out, “you know. We have a pissed-off god that’s older than time itself trapped in the living room. Half the library is helping us, the other half is trying to kill us. We’re trying to get thousands of magicians all over the world to cast the same spell at the same time. And our success heavily relies on Quentin watching his crush-turned-husband-turned-pining-whatever tell him he’s just not that into him.” She closes the door softly, exhaling hard as she leans against it. “Typical Tuesday.”

Eliot turns to Margo, who’s picking up two axes, one in each hand. “You told her?” he asks, and Margo glares at him, then rolls her eyes.

“Yeah, I fucking told her. Don’t worry, Q has no clue. Julia was worried if he knew what was coming, he might flip his shit extra hard. Like that’s possible.” She sighs, setting an axe on each shoulder as she walks up to him. “Nice job on the declaration of love, by the way. Definitely put a smile on Quentin’s face once we convinced him you didn’t mean like, as a fucking friend.” Then she smiles at him, and in her tight black pants and top, long smooth hair with an axe slung over each shoulder, she’s the best fucking thing he’s seen in months.

Eliot smiles back at her, a lock of hair falling into his face, and he brushes it back behind his ear. “It did?” he asks. “He was okay? We got cut off—”

“I’m sorry,” Julia interrupts, and Eliot and Margo turn to her, “I know you’re concerned about Q—we all are—but we for real do have a very pissed-off god held in a very fragile status field, Everett and his goons could show up any time, and babe, you gotta get downstairs. We both do.” She’s speaking to Margo, who nods.

“Who’s Everett?” Eliot asks, knowing there’s no time, but desperate to know what the fuck is going on.

“The latest plot twist the writers of this shitty arc pulled out of their assholes to fuck us over,” Margo says. “I’ll explain it all later. For now, I’m sorry El, but you need to stay up here. We’ll come get you when it’s clear.”

“What?” Fuck that. “Fuck that,” Eliot says. “I’m going down there. I’m helping. I want to be there when he—”

“You can’t,” Julia says. “Eliot, I get it. Trust me. But when Q breaks out, he has to go straight into the spell—and if he sees you, if the monster figures out you’re not him—” she breaks off, looking at Margo. “We don’t want to go to Plan B.”

Eliot looks between them, frowning. “What’s Plan B?”

“These bitches are.” Margo hefts up her axes, smiling proudly. “Meet Sorrow and Sorrow.” Eliot halfway expects her to kiss each one as she gazes at them, and he catches Julia’s look of exasperation out of the corner of his eye. “If the magic doesn’t blast the monster out of you—I have to take a chunk out of you with one of these.” Eliot’s eyes widen, and Margo hurries to reassure him, “Don’t worry, I’ll stay above the belt. Won’t hit anything important. I’ll go for an arm or something.”

“I need my arms, Bambi,” Eliot says, his voice a higher pitch than he thought Quentin was capable of. “Both of them!”

“Look, it won’t come to that if we get downstairs right now,” Julia says through gritted teeth. She gives Eliot a nod, and then opens the door, slipping out, leaving it slightly open behind her.

Margo turns to Eliot. “I promise,” she says. “We got this.” Then she turns to go. Just before she walks through the door, she tosses a quick wink to Eliot over her shoulder. And then she walks out, leaving the door open just a crack behind her.

Eliot stares at the door, trying to slow his racing heart. Margo knows him nearly as well as he knows himself, and she knows there’s no way he’s staying behind while everyone else fights. He looks down at himself, at Quentin’s body as he tries to give Margo and Julia enough time to get downstairs. Dark wash jeans, black shirt, black hoodie. Remarkably similar to what he’d been wearing the last time Eliot had seen him,

The last time Eliot saw Quentin, really saw him, before that glimpse in the park, they’d been hurtling towards what Eliot thought was the end, riding the final drop on the emotional rollercoaster they’d boarded when they walked into Blackspire. The day was full of twists and turns, starting with Quentin being angry at him for shooting the monster, the devastation of the keys being destroyed, followed by the joy of turning magic back on, and finally the terrifying unknown of the library taking over, and not knowing if they were going to survive long enough to leave Blackspire.

He remembers how they’d been paralyzed by Irene McAllister, brought to their knees, about to have their memories wiped, about to lose everything that made them them, and Eliot had locked eyes with Margo, and then Quentin, his pulse racing in fear, thinking, We’ll find each other again, just before everything went black.

And that moment is so fucking close, they’re inches away, and he has to close his eyes, smoothing his hands over his hoodie, pretending it’s his favorite vest as he exhales. Don’t fuck this up. And then he silently opens the door, slipping out on his way to help and totally not fuck anything up.

He steps out of the bedroom and onto the landing that overlooks the first floor. The first thing that hits him is the magic—the apartment is full of it, so much more than his prior visits, even more than ‘normal’ times at Brakebills. The air is thick with it, and the hair on his arms and back of his neck stand up as magical energy licks at his skin.

The second thing he registers is the noise—Fogg’s deep timbre, angry and snapping from below, and a melody of synchronous voices chanting in rhythm. And, rising and snarling, his own voice—menacing in a way that makes him freeze in place, his chest tightening as he listens. After a moment, he steps forward, wrapping a hand around the bronze railing along the edge of the landing as he stares down at the chaos on the first floor.

The furniture has been shoved out of the way—he sees the couch he’d woken up on the last time shoved against the window—and there are people scattered around the perimeter of the room. Kady, Alice, and Penny are standing by the large windows, their hands moving in unison, and Fogg and the tall, slender librarian that Eliot remembers banishing him from the Library are on the other, also casting, but a different spell. A handful of other people Eliot doesn’t recognize are also down there, some casting, some watching. Everyone looks tense and worried.

And right in the center of it all, surrounded by three heavy mirrors that radiate some kind of hazy barrier, is the monster. Eliot. He looks… fucking horrible.

He’s sweaty, unshaven, his hair stringy and knotted, and not even the horrible baggy graphic t-shirt of a raccoon playing pool can hide the extra ten pounds Eliot knows he wasn’t carrying when he went into Blackspire that day so long ago. But his face—twisted, snarling, eyes glowing as he stares daggers at Fogg, and then at Julia and Margo as they step into view. It’s not him, nothing close to him, and he feels light-headed as he realizes that Quentin, Margo, Julia, everyone’s been dealing with this thing parading around in his body for months.

“This will not hold me.” It sounds calm, bored even, but Eliot can hear, can feel a tense undercurrent in it’s voice. His voice. It’s scared.

Margo crosses over to stand next to Zelda and Fogg, an axe in each hand, fucking smirking at it. Eliot inhales sharply as he watches the monster focus on her, and something roars inside of him at the thought of it getting anywhere near Margo.

“I don’t know why you insist on trying; you’ll only destroy this body before you get rid of me. Which, you can’t,” the monster says, tilting his head as he looks from one person to another. It keeps moving it’s hands and fingers, waving them, frowning when nothing happens. Eliot realizes it’s trying to cast. And failing.

“Yeah yeah yeah,” Margo says, setting the axes down, looking at Fogg and Zelda, and then joining them in casting. The monster’s eyes close briefly, one hand reaching to his chest, and Eliot thinks that whatever they’re doing is what’s keeping the monster weak. If Zelda is here, she must have convinced the Library to give them enough magic to fuel their spells. Or she’s just stealing it, if the Library is also trying to kill them...

“Keep talking, dipshit,” Margo says, her hands moving in practiced movements. “Won’t be long now—you’ll be nothing but dust in the wind.”

The monster’s eyes open, and it glares so hard at Margo that Eliot knows if it had any power, Margo wouldn’t be alive right now. His grip on the railing tightens, he takes a step towards the stairs, and then he’s staring straight into his own eyes.

“Quentin,” it says, and a chill goes down Eliot’s back as it smiles at him. “You’re back. Come to play with your friends?”

Eliot hears Julia curse softly, and he sees Kady roll her eyes from where she stands, her hands still moving. Alice eyes briefly meet his own, her concentration never faltering even as she frowns up at him. Penny doesn’t even glance his way.

“Oh,” Eliot hears, and he looks back to the monster, who is staring up at him, his mouth hanging slightly open, his eyes narrowing. “Not Quentin. It’s you.”

Eliot swallows, and catches Margo’s eyes, who keeps casting, looking between him and the monster. She gives him a slight nod, and he looks back to the monster.

“Me,” he says simply, turning and descending the staircase, slower than he would normally because spiral staircases are probably like kryptonite for Quentin’s body. But though he may look like Quentin right now, he’s Eliot fucking Waugh through-and-through. If keeping this thing distracted until Quentin breaks through is the best way he can help—then that’s what he’ll do.

“I’d say nice to meet you, again,” Eliot says as he steps onto the bottom floor, approaching the monster, looking directly into its eyes, “but that would be total bullshit. Instead I’ll just say I hope you enjoyed your time in that body, and you will be expected to pay in full for any damage incurred while it was in your care.”

If the monster appreciates his stellar wit, it doesn’t show it. Instead, it simply tilts its head and takes a step towards him, all of its attention focused on Eliot. “Curious. I can feel you and Quentin—both here,” it says, gently touching it’s temple, “and there.” He points to Eliot, and his eyes briefly flash gold. There is still some power within him, then. Just not enough for him to break free of this mirror prison. Eliot wonders how long it’ll hold. From the way everyone is glancing at each other, and how Julia keeps muttering, “Come on, Q,” underneath her breath, probably not very long.

“When this falls,” he says, looking at the barrier formed by the mirrors, “And it will, I’ll kill you. And all of your friends. Just like you tried to kill me.” The monster looks around again, moving it’s hands, repeatedly trying to make its power work—and out of the corner of his eye, Eliot sees Fogg grimace, sparks flying out of his fingers as he struggles to keep moving.

“Tell me,” Eliot says, stepping to the side until the monster looks back to him. The monster stops moving his hands, staring at him with wide eyes. “Why? You told everyone I was dead. Why didn’t you kill me? Why even give me a—happy place—a total misnomer, by the way.” The monster watches him as he steps closer, right up to the barrier, and he hears Margo hiss his name softly. “What are you trying to accomplish? And for the love of God, if you’re going to use my body, why couldn’t you crack open my closet? Or borrow some of Quentin’s shampoo? Granted, I’m sure he still uses the 2-n-1, but even that would be better than all of—this.” He gestures to the monster, who frowns at him, his brow furrowing.

The monster stares back at him, and Eliot wonders if his eyes ever look this empty when he’s occupying his body. There’s a flash of gold, and the monster gives him a small smile that feels like a cold hand gripping his heart.

“When I found this body, I was very pleased. It’s so much better than the last one. But,” he says, stretching his hands out in front of him, studying them, “this body—needed Quentin. I knew he would help me. And he did. He’s my very best friend. He didn’t need you. No more Eliot, same number of friends.”

“Don’t talk about him,” Eliot spits out, anger flaring wide and hot in his belly. “You don’t know anything about him.”

The monster grins, it’s face—Eliot’s face—so predatory and alien that it sends a wave of nausea through Eliot’s gut. Is this what Quentin sees when he looks at Eliot? What he’ll see every time he’ll look at Eliot? Eliot swallows down the bile building in his throat.

“I know the sounds he makes when his bones are broken,” the monster says, and Eliot has to close his eyes, unable to look at it anymore. “What he looks like when he cries for his dead father. I taught him the break-everything-until-it-feels-better game. And I know for some reason, he would die for you. And everyone here.”

Eliot’s eyes fly open, and he stares at the monster wearing his face, a cold feeling dripping over him, like static running down his spine. “Ted died?” he asks in a low voice. How much will Quentin have to deal with before this nightmare is over?

The monster ignores him, or maybe he doesn’t hear. It doesn’t matter, because his attention is still on Eliot. “I put you away so you wouldn’t bother me,” the monster says. “You led me to Quentin, and then I buried you. Where you should have stayed until you rotted away.” He sighs and shakes his head, as though Eliot were an annoying fly that he couldn’t manage to swat. “I let myself feel it once. Why you—needed him so desperately. What you felt. It was—like drowning, but like you didn’t mind. It was too warm, too—much. I think you humans call it love... Blech,” it says, rolling its eyes. “Boring.”

Eliot’s fingers flex, and he inhales sharply. “You’re not capable of love,” he says, and he hears Julia say his name. He looks over to her, and she’s staring at his hands—sparks are flying out from his fingertips, overload from the magic in the room and emotions swirling through him.

When he looks back at the monster, it’s still looking at Eliot with a sad smile on his face. “I am capable of many things.” It looks down at his hands again, and Eliot wonders what he sees when he looks at them. “More now, I think,” the monster says, almost to itself.

Then it’s eyes close, and it stumbles backwards, one hand to its chest. It sways in place for a moment, and when its eyes open, they immediately search the room, locking onto Eliot’s. The way it’s looking at Eliot, mouth falling open slightly, brow furrowed, fingers shaking slightly, eyes so open and fucking shining in a way Eliot hasn’t seen—

“Eliot,” Quentin breathes, stumbling forward, nearly tripping over his too-long legs. He catches himself just before he pitches into the barrier formed by the mirrors, head jerking up to look at Eliot again.

“Q,” Eliot breathes, his face heating up, tears rising in his throat.

Quentin stares at him for a moment, with Eliot’s eyes, and while he may be in Eliot’s body, the smile he gives him is 100% Quentin Coldwater, through and through. “I’m glad you were brave,” Quentin says. “But I don’t think you learned it from me. It’s all you, El.”

Eliot’s jaw drops, and it’s like he can’t breathe as he stares back at Quentin. He barely has time to gasp out, “What?” before Quentin’s hands are moving as he turns to look at the others, and Quentin calls out, “Now!”

~~~

Quentin - 15 minutes ago

When Quentin wakes up in the Cottage, his adrenaline is at an all-time high. They’ve made it this far—set up the spells, trapped the monster, distracted the (less) evil half of the library, and they’re so close he can taste it. This dizziness has hardly dissipated when he’s springing to his feet, turning to Charlton who’s already standing next to him, a relieved smile on his face.

“Quentin,” Charlton says. “Pleasure to see you again.” He has a deck of cards in his hands, and Quentin smiles as he shuffles them expertly.

“You’ve been practicing,” Quentin says, one corner of his mouth pulling up and Charlton nods. Then Quentin sighs, looking around the Cottage. “I wish I had time to—”

“I know,” Charlton says, and he walks over to the front door. “Eliot set everything up, and the memory should be ready for you behind this door.”

Quentin approaches it slowly, his adrenaline giving way to a familiar anxiety. The past week, since he talked to Eliot—since Eliot said three little words that tilted Quentin’s already-angled world onto its axis—has been a blur of activity. Setting up wards in the penthouse to hide from Everett, getting their hands on the materials for the mirror prison, Alice convincing Zelda to swing over to their side (thank God; they never would have been able to get the mirrors without her), figuring out how to get the monster into the mirror prison, and coordinating magicians across the globe to cast the spell to bring it all together had left him hardly enough time to eat or sleep, let alone obsess over what was going to happen once he was back in here.

Or what would happen when it was all over.

He’d had exactly one short conversation about what Eliot said with Julia, who’d turned to him with a near murderous look in her eye when he’d asked if she thought maybe Eliot meant, ‘love you like a best friend.’ She’d pressed her lips into a thin line and said, “No Quentin, I do not think he meant, ‘love you like a best friend.’ Now please eat so you can get back to sorting the crystals.”

And now, it’s like time slows down as he approaches the door. Every step takes him closer to having to not only witness some horrible thing Eliot had to go through, but the culmination of this huge-ass plan they’ve nearly killed themselves multiple times over to pull off. A spell that he’s at the center of. And he can do it. He knows he can be what they, what the entire fucking world needs to bring magic back as it should be.

What Eliot needs to bring him back to them. To Quentin.

But there’s still the rather large possibility that he’s gonna fuck it up. Kill their only chance to restore magic back to what it should be, and all his friends in the process.

“So I just open the door, and the memory will be there?” Quentin asks, suddenly desperate to stall, the ball of anxiety in his belly growing larger by the second.

“Yes,” Charlton says carefully. “Eliot wanted me to tell you,” Charlton starts, and Quentin’s attention snaps over to him, his heart leaping in his chest.

“Yeah?” Quentin asks, tugging the sleeve of his black hoodie down over his fingers.

“He said he’s sorry he didn’t let you say what you wanted to say. But he’ll be happy to hear it in person.” Charlton gives him a small smile, and Quentin exhales, mirroring Charlton’s smile. He can’t wait to see Eliot again, the real him, both of them in their own bodies. To be able to talk to him, face to face, touch his hands, his arms—and they’re so close. So fucking close. All he has to do is watch whatever’s behind this door, cast the most powerful spell ever conceived of with a shit-ton of other magicians, hope it all works, and they’re home free. Super easy.

He starts to thank Charlton when Charlton adds, “He also said that if it were possible, he’d push the Eliot you’re about to see down the stairs.”

Quentin chuckles, looking back at the door for a moment. When he turns back to Charlton, he sees him playing with the cards in his hand, a sad smile on his face. Quentin’s gut twists as he suddenly realizes this will probably be the last time he sees Charlton.

“Hey, Charlton,” he says, wanting to hug him, but not sure if that would be welcome, “Thank you. If you weren’t here, this would have been so much harder.”

Charlton nods, still looking at the floor, and Quentin continues awkwardly, “If there was any way—”

“It’s okay,” Charlton says quietly. “Eliot and I—we’ve said our goodbyes.” He lifts his head, and Quentin is struck by how old he suddenly looks, how tired. “I’ve been here a long time. I don’t really even remember—whatever came before. For me. It would be nice to move on.”

Quentin nods, sighing. “I hope you get to.” He nods to the card deck. “Quick one for the road?”

Charlton lights up, and thirty seconds and one circus card trick later, Quentin is standing in front of the door, his hand on the doorknob, trying to tell his heart to calm the fuck down, everything will be fine.

“Good luck,” Charlton says.

“You’re not coming?” Quentin asks, not even sure if he wants company for whatever the fuck is about to happen.

“No,” Charlton says, setting the cards down. “Normally Eliot would send another memory elsewhere as a distraction, but since he’s not here, I will fulfill that role.” He gives Quentin another nod. “It’s been a true pleasure, Quentin.”

Quentin nods, and then turns back to the door. He has no idea what he’s about to see—some horrible memory from Eliot’s childhood? A catastrophic experience at Encanto Oculto? That time Eliot decided Teddy was old enough to walk down to the lake by himself, and he came back very traumatized after a conversation with the talking squirrels that had seen way too many of Eliot and Quentin’s ‘private’ dates at the lake?

Quentin can hope it’s something they’d all be able to laugh about later, but from the tone in Eliot’s voice as it had faded away, the fact that he wanted Quentin to see it before he—they—

Quentin exhales firmly, shaking his head. Enough. Everyone is waiting for him. And—like Eliot said—Quentin will tell him. In person.

Quentin steps forward and grasps the doorknob, turning to give one final good-bye to Charlton—only to find himself alone.

Okay. Here we go.

He turns the knob, pulling the door open and stepping into—a castle hallway. He instantly recognizes it as Whitespire, and he takes a few steps forward, the door clicking behind him. He turns back, and sees only the smooth castle wall.

“Guess it’s a one way trip,” he says under his breath, turning back towards the end of the hallway.

So—whatever Eliot’s big regret is, it happened in Fillory. Current Fillory, and not at the mosaic. Which makes sense, he thinks. Eliot has said that Fillory saved him, but so much shit rained on him here. It’s where he became High King, got married, lost his child, lost his crown, and almost got married again. Maybe his regret is about the baby he and Fen lost. Or not marrying Idri. Or some big blowout with Margo. Or leaving to go to Blackspire, where he’d been turned into the monster and started this whole mess.

Only one way to find out. Quentin steps forward, and he can hear low voices ahead of him. Squaring his shoulders, he walks towards them.

It’s weird, being back here. It’s only been a few months, but with all the shit he’s waded through, it feels like a lifetime since he boarded the boat to Blackspire. And as he turns the corner into the throne room, catching sight of the arch full of flowers, the late afternoon sunlight streaming in, the piles of gifts off to one side, he’s thrown even farther back in time. He nearly gasps out loud as he stops in his tracks, staring at the scene before him. One he’s replayed in his mind hundreds, thousands of times.

“Did it happen?”

“Fifty years.”

He’s looking at Eliot, forever gorgeous Eliot, with his bright amber eyes, in that damn blue shirt and vest that he wore until it came apart at the scenes. And then they made it into rags, along with the tattered remains of Quentin’s hoodie. That Eliot, from all those months ago, is holding a peach in his hand, staring into space, not seeing the castle walls, but rather a lifetime of love, laughter and frustration playing out in his mind’s eye. Sitting just a foot away is past Quentin, who’s staring at a piece of paper, with no idea that he’s about to get his heart broken. Both of them have expressions of awe and confusion on their faces, like their world’s just been turned upside-down.

And it had been. They’d been right in the middle of the key quest with no magic and hardly any hope, when a basket of stone fruit and a letter written in familiar, shaky handwriting had completely upended what they thought of as life. Their life. One that had already been ripped into separate pieces and possibilities by Jane Chatwin was now fractured even more, like shards of glass strewn across the floor.

But these pieces—were so much more beautiful than any others Quentin had seen, of any timeline, including the one he’s living in right this second. And as Quentin watches the emotions play out on his past self’s face, a stab of pain hits him in the chest at what he’s about to witness. And a flicker of hope as to why this memory might be the one that unlocks everything for Eliot.

“It was sort of beautiful.”

“It really was.”

Quentin hears a soft inhale next to him, and he turns to see—Eliot. His Eliot, in the same tan vest and dark grey shirt he’d been wearing when Quentin last saw him in Blackspire. Eliot is staring straight ahead, watching the Quentin and Eliot of the past, and Quentin stumbles backwards in surprise.

“Eliot,” he says, hopeful and devastated all at once. If Eliot’s here, then—what the fuck happened out in the real world?

Eliot doesn’t have an answer for him, as he doesn’t react to Quentin at all. Quentin tries again, saying more firmly, “Eliot,” and stepping into his field of vision, but still nothing—not from Eliot, and not from the memory playing out behind him. Eliot is staring right through him, focused intently on the pair from the past sitting on the platform. Quentin reaches out a tentative hand out to touch Eliot’s shoulder, and withdraws it at the last second, afraid that he’ll disrupt the memory, ruining this attempt to get out.

What the fuck is going on? Quentin glances behind him, hearing his own voice in his ears, saying, “We know it ‘cause we lived it,” and he looks back to Eliot, current Eliot, or maybe not-so-far-into-the-past-Eliot as he visibly swallows, his gaze darting between the floor and the conversation in front of him. Quentin steps back, his head swinging between Eliot and the pair having a conversation that Quentin’s kicked himself over so many times in the past several months.

We were just injected with a half-century of emotion, so I get that maybe you're not thinking clearly.”

Quentin presses his lips together, his gut twisting as he realizes how much he never wanted to hear those words again. He looks over to the Eliot that’s watching the memory, sees him close his eyes and bite at his bottom lip. He’s upset, Quentin realizes. Biggest regret...

And suddenly it all makes sense. He’s in Eliot’s memory, he didn’t miss that mark—but he’s in the memory of when Eliot broke out of the monster the first time. He’s not sure if Eliot meant to bring up this version of this memory, or if it’s some kind of fuckery with Quentin being in Eliot’s brainscape—but he’s here, and all he can do is hang on for the ride. This conversation, for some reason, is the moment that resonates so hard with Eliot, the shameful thing he doesn’t let himself think about, and Quentin is witnessing Eliot facing it.

Why? Quentin thinks. Why is this moment, out of everything in Eliot’s entire life, the one that’s so painful, so meaningful that it’s the key to his escape? Because it’s the biggest regret of his life, whispers a little voice in his head that sounds suspiciously like Margo.

Then Eliot’s words from their last conversation come back to him. I love you. I have for a—long fucking time.

Whatever you want to tell me—please wait. Until…

He stares at Eliot with new eyes, that flicker of hope in his belly flaring up into a white-hot flame. Quentin takes in how distressed Eliot looks, how he keeps closing his eyes like he can’t bear to see what’s coming.

But he has to. And so does Quentin.

Quentin focuses back on the memory, watching himself fumble for words, trying to articulate what he was feeling in that moment—it was crazy, Quentin thinks. He can recall perfectly how intensely those decades worth of emotions had swelled up inside him, the overwhelming love and contentment he’d never felt in this lifetime, a rightness that was so rare, he had to grab it before it slipped through his fingers.

Quentin feels it cresting in his chest again, just from watching that Eliot, so incredibly beautiful in the afternoon light, when he says “I—I know you and you aren't—”

“What’s that matter?”

And just like it had that day, the hope flaming inside him starts to wither as Eliot says, more firmly, “Don’t be naive. It matters.”

Quentin sighs, wanting to turn away, look anywhere else, but he forces himself to watch. He knows what’s coming, remembers it way too fucking clearly. But there’s a reason he’s here. There’s a reason this is the moment that Eliot considers to be the biggest fuck-up of his life. And if he keeps watching, he’ll get the chance to ask Eliot. His Eliot, in person.

“I love you, but you have to know that that's not me and that's definitely not you, not when not when we have a choice.”

Okay, yeah, that—that still fucking stings. He watches his past self look away as Eliot’s words sink in, as he realizes that Eliot doesn’t want him. Not here. Not when he has a choice with someone, anyone else. And Quentin has to close his eyes, it’s hard enough to hear how small his voice is, let alone see his face when he hears himself say, “Okay. I—Okay.”

He’d wanted to push back on Eliot. Say—he doesn’t even know what. Don’t you remember? How every day, you told me you loved me? How we fucking got married and raised a kid together? I had a choice in that world, and I still picked you—

But Quentin had realized—Eliot did remember all of that. And he didn’t want it again, not in the real world, full of so many other people and possibilities. At the mosaic, Quentin had been his only option, and back here—he had so many more.

He remembers what happens next. They sit in silence for a few moments, until Quentin makes some excuse and leaves as fast as his legs could carry him. He finds the nearest enclosed space and stays there for an hour, turning over memories in his head, trying to sort out the emotions and adrenaline still surging in his system. He falls asleep in his old bedroom, and the next day he and Eliot go back to their version of normal. They never talk about the mosaic again.

Until one sunny day in a small neighborhood park.

Quentin’s so wrapped up in his own memories, he forgets who else is there, and nearly jumps out of his skin when the Eliot watching the memory says, “What the hell is wrong with you?”

Quentin stares at Eliot, unmoving, as Eliot says to his memory, who’s slowly lifting his head, “And what the hell are you doing?”

Quentin turns to the memory—Eliot is watching while memory Quentin is staring down at the paper in silence. This isn’t how it went, Quentin thinks. But then again, back then there wasn’t a memory-Eliot from the future talking to them, so who knows how the fuck any of this is going to go? What should happen is that any second now, his past self will mumble something and get up and walk out.

But he doesn’t. The memories just sit there as Eliot continues talking. Quentin turns his attention back to that Eliot, the closest thing he has to the one waiting for him in the penthouse, and listens.

“Someone good and true loves you,” Eliot says, gesturing to memory Quentin. The expression on Eliot’s face is—utter regret and disdain for this past version of himself that rejected Quentin. And all at once, that waning flame of hope in Quentin’s chest bursts into a raging inferno.

“And he went out on a limb,” Eliot continues. “And, yeah, it was a little crazy, but you knew.” Eliot steps closer to his memory, pointing accusingly at his past self. His voice is angrier now, upset. “You knew this was a moment that truly mattered and you just snuffed it out.”

The memory Eliot looks… guilty. Is he influencing his past? Quentin thinks. Memory Quentin is still sitting there, like the sad sack he is, and memory Eliot is looking between the floor, memory Quentin, and the Eliot that is now looking straight at memory Quentin.

“Q, I'm sorry,” Eliot says, and Quentin’s eyes shut briefly. He’s gone over this moment so many times—it’s become a permanent marker in his life. When he catalogues events, he has to think, Was that before or after the mosaic? Was it before I had an extra fifty years worth of life to haul around with me? Before I got rejected by the man I’d thought I’d spend any lifetime loving? His lives were separated into timelines, and now this lifetime is split into chunks—before the mosaic. During the mosaic. And after.

And now, maybe, there’s a new marker. After the monster. After Eliot told Quentin, showed Quentin, that his biggest regret in life was turning him down.

As Quentin watches, his past-self lifts his head, and looks at the current Eliot. He doesn't speak to him, doesn’t react, just simply watches. And listens.

“I was afraid,” Eliot says, and Quentin can tell by how his eyes are darting around the room, by the slight tremor in his hands, that he’s scared. Terrified. Why would you ever be afraid of me? Quentin thinks. Eliot continues, “And when I'm afraid, I run away.” Then he takes a few steps forward, gets down to one knee, and kisses him. Kisses the memory Quentin that is sitting there, soft and tender, one hand sliding into his hair, thumb swiping over his cheekbone.

Quentin’s mouth drops open, and he swears he can feel Eliot’s thumb as if it were on his face, feels that familiar hand gripping his neck. He wants it to be real so badly, and he raises a hand to his lips, wishing he could feel the pressure of Eliot’s kiss against them.

Then a shimmer catches the corner of his eye, and he looks up and sees—a door. A very familiar fucking door. A door he mended once, after Eliot broke it because he was so pissed off, he slammed it with a little extra magical oomph. A door Eliot had tried to stain with Fillorian paint, but it never took like it should. A door he still sees in his dreams more often than he would like to admit.

The door that will lead him the fuck out of here, and back to his Eliot. Who’s waiting for him. Along with all his friends.

Eliot’s voice draws his attention back to him. He’s leaning back from memory Quentin, speaking softly. Quentin can just hear him say, “If I ever get out of here, Q, know that when I'm braver it's 'cause I learned it from you.”

Quentin can’t stop the startled laugh that falls from his lips. I love you, he thinks. He hears those words in Eliot’s voice, echoing in his head. And now, as he and Eliot look at the door that unlatches on it’s own, beckoning them to walk through it, he understands why Eliot pushed him away that day.

And that he’s showing Quentin that even though he’s still scared—he’s ready to be brave.

Quentin follows Eliot as he walks up the platform to the door, his hand on the doorknob. He takes one last glance at the memories, which are still sitting down, confused expressions on their faces.

“It’ll be okay,” Quentin says, and they glance up at him as he speaks. “I mean what’s coming next is gonna suck, but… I think things will work out.” Then he turns, and follows Eliot through the open door.

~~~

It’s not unlike waking up, when Quentin realizes he’s made it out. There’s no dizziness, no bright lights—just one moment he’s walking through that old wooden doorframe, and the next he’s staring at his own face.

The air is still thick with magic, just as it was when he left it, and out of the corner of his eye, he can see that things are at least kind of still going to plan—everyone is still casting, and most importantly, Eliot is right there in front of him. Julia and Margo were supposed to keep Eliot upstairs, but Quentin is so grateful that he’s the first person he sees when he comes back to reality.

“Eliot,” he breathes, stumbling forward, nearly tripping over legs that are way too long for him. He manages to not fall flat on his face, and he meets his own eyes again, searching for Eliot in his own brown eyes.

“Q,” Eliot breaths, his voice cracking on the syllable, his eyes widening.

And just like that, Quentin knows. Eliot’s here, he’s safe, and this is going to fucking work. He can’t stop the smile from forming on his face, even as voices are calling out behind him to fucking go go go cast, and he says, “I’m glad you were brave. But I don’t think you learned it from me. It’s all you, El.”

He holds Eliot’s gaze for a moment, sees his face drain of color, his mouth drop open, and then Quentin’s hands start moving, magic surging in his veins as he calls out, “Now!”

He can tell almost instantly it’s working, it’s going to fucking work—the energy surging through his body is unreal, the strongest he’s ever felt, and his eyes never leave Eliot’s as his hands keep moving. He can hear voices yelling, but the blood rushing in his ears is too loud to make out what they’re saying. Magic is moving through him, so powerful his knees want to buckle, and he has to focus on keeping his fingers steady as he continues through the movements. He’s practiced them so many times that his muscle memory takes over, and he sends a thankful prayer Julia’s way for her insistence on so many late-night hours of practice.

As the seconds tick by, sensations are warring within his body—he can feel the monster, angry and raging, fighting against its own power being used against him, adrenaline from finally being at this moment, and anticipation for when it’s all over. But most of all, he can feel every magician that is casting with him, their power joining, combining and interlocking, so similar to when he casts a mending spell. It’s fitting, he thinks, that he’s the one to lead the charge. Minor mending my ass, this is some major fucking shit.

He has to close his eyes, not wanting to break the link he has with Eliot, but he has to focus—on the siphon, buried deep in Blackspire, and the monster, giving everything it’s got to break back out. Quentin channels every ounce of energy he can into blowing both of them both into the fucking stratosphere.

He’s not sure how long it takes, maybe seconds, minutes, or hours, but the yelling around him grows louder, and he can hear his own voice a few feet away, his tone desperate and terrified, the energy within building to a force so strong nothing can hold it, and he’s floating and sinking all at once, and then—

Everything goes black.

~~~

His first thought is, Fuck, my head hurts.

The second is, Where’s Eliot?

Even before he opens his eyes, Quentin knows he’s back in his own body. It’s his hand reaching up to press to his pounding temple, and his arm that he tries to push up on, stalling out when a wave of dizziness washes over him.

He’s lying on the floor of the penthouse, and he squints against the bright sunlight filtering into the apartment. Voices are murmuring around him, and he swallows around a thick tongue as he forces himself to sit up.

Eliot. Fuck, even going slowly is too much, and he wobbles as he croaks out, "Eliot." A hand wraps around his arm, keeping him upright, and he turns and looks into Julia’s red-rimmed brown eyes.

"Q," she says, concern all over her face. And, Quentin thinks worriedly, more than a little bit of sadness. “Are you okay?”

“Dizzy,” he says, holding onto her arm, shutting his eyes again as the room tilts to the side. He’s about to ask about Eliot again when another voice to his left says, “We did it, Q. You—you did it."

Quentin opens his eyes to see Alice, a rare smile shining across her face.

"I did?" he asks, and he looks around the room. People are hugging and celebrating, even Fogg is smiling, but all Quentin can ask is, "Where's Eliot?"

And then he sees him, Eliot, splayed out on the floor. Margo is next to him, her hand against his cheek as she speaks to him. Julia’s hand tightens on Quentin’s arm, and Margo turns to look at him, her gaze wide and desperate. Quentin half stumbles, half crawls over to them.

Eliot’s face is pale, his eyes closed, mouth slightly parted. Fear stabs Quentin in the chest, and he leans over Eliot, touching his face. It’s cold under his fingers, and his mind is a symphony of No no no no no.

"Eliot," Quentin says, grabbing his shoulder, hovering over him. "Eliot," he says again, his fingers pressing into Eliot's neck, half-sobbing in relief at the strong, steady pulse he feels.

Q, he hears, in his head, just as Eliot's eyes open. Margo grabs his shoulder, leaning closer, calling his name.

“Oh, thank fuck,” Quentin says, relief flowing through him. “I thought—”

It didn’t work. I’m back in the Cottage. Eliot’s not speaking out loud, only in his head, his voice full of anguish and fear. Quentin stares down at the Eliot below him, his body, just as Eliot’s eyes flash golden up at him. Oh fuck.

“It didn’t work,” Quentin repeats, his heart breaking in his chest, and a small hand grasps his arm, squeezing tightly.

“Q,” Julia says, sniffling, pulling him back hard, her voice firm. “Back up.”

He can’t move. He’s a boulder, heavy and frozen in place, staring down not at Eliot, but at the thing that’s going to kill him. Kill all of them. The monster is gazing at Quentin, with a dazed look in its eyes as it lays on the floor, and the corners of his mouth move up into a small smile.

“Quentin,” it says, in that same fucking tone that Quentin will hear in his nightmares for the rest of his life, “Did you really think I would leave you that easi—”

The monster is cut off by an axe burying itself in its shoulder, and it gasps out loud, it’s eyes closing as it’s body spasms. Blood flies from the wound, splattering across it’s shirt, the floor, Quentin’s clothes. Quentin cries out, his brain knowing that it’s the monster, he always knew this could happen, they talked Plan B to death, but his heart isn’t getting the memo, seizing in his chest as he stares at the blood starting to pour out of the wound. Julia pulls on his arm again, and this time, he falls backwards on his ass, his eyes wide as gold dust leaks from the wound.

It’s pretty, he thinks crazily, as the dust glistens in the sunlight, dancing almost merrily through the air, being drawn right into the bottle Penny is holding. Alice is next to him, casting the spell to trap the monster within. Once all of the dust has floated in, she caps it, nodding at Penny.

“El,” Quentin says, scrambling back to Eliot’s side. Margo pulls the axe out, tossing it aside as Julia moves in, putting something over the wound to stop the bleeding. Quentin grabs Eliot’s hand, his other moving to help Julia, who swats him away.

“Penny, go get Lipson,” Julia tosses over her shoulder. Quentin isn’t looking at Penny, but he hears him balk.

“We gotta get the bottle to—”

“Fucking get Lipson here, you pussy-faced twat, or I’ll make it my personal goddamn mission to ensure you never get laid again.” Quentin glances up to see Margo’s face full of fire as she glares daggers at Penny. He turns his attention back to Eliot, but he hears Alice say softly, “Go get her. Q won’t leave until he’s okay, and we need him to get to the Seam.”

Right. He has to go with them to the Mirror Realm. The bond will only hold the monster in the bottle for so long—and since he and Alice cast the bond on the bottle, they need to stay with it so it won’t pop early. And Alice is right—there’s no fucking way he’s leaving this room until he knows Eliot is okay.

And right now, with a gaping axe wound in his shoulder, his eyes closed and body unmoving, Eliot is definitely not okay.

“Eliot, please,” Quentin says, squeezing Eliot’s hand, tears forming in his eyes. “Please.”

“Eliot,” Margo says, grabbing Eliot’s other hand, reaching for his good shoulder as if to shake him into consciousness. “El. If there's a tunnel with Grandma, tell her to piss off and come back to me, you selfish fuck! Get back here!”

Was she always this dramatic? Quentin lets out a startled laugh at hearing Eliot’s voice in his head again, tears starting to fall down his cheeks as Eliot opens his eyes, smiling softly at Margo. His eyes are hazel, soft, and full of affection as he gazes at her.

“Well, when you put it so sweetly, Bambi,” Eliot says, and Margo lets out a choked sob. Quentin feels Eliot squeeze his hand, and as Margo hugs Eliot, he hears in his head, I’m okay. I’m back in my own body and I’m with you and we’re both fucking alive. I’m the best I’ve been in months.

“I can still hear you in my head,” Quentin says, squeezing Eliot’s hand back, leaning over him as Margo pulls back. It’s crazy how, even though he’s wearing the same clothes, has the same face, he’s so much Eliot now. That’s Eliot’s smile shining back at them, Eliot’s eyes meeting his own, Eliot’s hand clutching his own so tightly. More tears fall down his face; he can’t seem to hold them back. Happiness and relief cascade over him, so overwhelming it’s all he can do to stay upright.

“Me too,” Eliot says, his voice raspy. “Guess we’ll get to eavesdrop on each other’s thoughts a while longer now that magic’s back at full-throttle.” Quentin thinks Yeah, and as Eliot’s smile grows wider, a warm, safe feeling spreads through Quentin’s chest. Eliot’s smile quickly turns into a grimace, though, when he tries to push himself up, and Quentin reaches for his right shoulder as a stab of pain runs through it. “Oh fuck,” Eliot says, releasing Quentin’s hand to reach up to his injured shoulder. “I guess we had to go to Plan B?”

Quentin frowns at his shoulder, the pain dissipating as quickly as it came, and pushes it out of his mind for now—he has too much to worry about as it is. He places his hand on Eliot’s thigh, not willing to not be touching him, needing proof that he’s really there. I’m so sorry, he pushes through his head.

Don’t be, Eliot sends back, even as he hisses in pain. You got me out of there.

“Don’t worry,” Margo says reassuringly, “I hit the right shoulder. You can still jerk off unimpeded, no matter if you lose the arm or not.”

“Not so reassuring, Bambi,” Eliot says, grimacing as Julia applies more pressure. Again, Quentin can feel a throb in his right shoulder, and he glances at it. The psychic connection must be more solid now.

What? Eliot sends, and then they’re both distracted by Lipson’s voice. “Okay, let me get to the actual patient to assess him, please.” Quentin looks up to see Julia moving back to allow Lipson to take her place, her lips pursing as she surveys the wound. “What the fuck happened? It looks like someone hacked into you with an axe.”

“Someone did,” Eliot says, exhaling, his eyes fluttering shut. “All for my own good, of course.”

“I need to get him to the clinic,” Lipson says, her fingers moving over the wound, magic cascading into the cut. “This will help with the pain, but I need my tools to close it up.” She glances up at Penny, who’s rolling his eyes.

“I’ll go with you,” Quentin and Margo say at the same time, then then both stare at each other as a hysterical giggle escapes Eliot’s lips.

“Now, now, plenty of Eliot to go around for everyone. Wait until I’m healed to fight; I don’t want to miss any of it.” Eliot’s eyes are still closed, his breathing easing as a small smile plays on his lips. You’re so pretty, even with that haircut, Quentin hears in his head, and he frowns down at Eliot’s form, even as that same gentle warmth blossoms in his chest.

It’s Brian’s hair, he thinks. Not much time for a haircut these days.

Who the fuck is Brian? Eliot thinks back.

“The spell will make him a little loopy,” Lipson says, standing up. “Nothing he’s not used to.”

“Look,” Penny starts, turning to Quentin. “You can have your sappy reunion later, after we get this bottle to the Celestial Trash Dump.” Alice stands next to him, holding the bottle at arm’s length as she glances at it nervously. “If this thing blows it’s lid, this is all for jack shit. So let’s go before Everett finds us and we have to come up with Plans C, D, E, and whatever the fuck else.”

“That would be Plan F,” Lipson says. Penny rolls his eyes again, and he grabs hold of her arm and Eliot’s uninjured arm. Margo firmly holds onto Eliot’s hand, and Penny looks at Quentin, who’s hand is still firmly set on Eliot’s thigh. Quentin ignores Penny, staring right at Eliot, who slowly cracks his eyes open.

I can’t leave you, Quentin thinks. I just got you back.

Eliot smiles at him then, big and broad, flexing the muscle under Quentin’s grip. You’re not leaving me, he sends, and a new tenderness floods Quentin’s chest, soft and forgiving. I’ll hear you. Like this. And you’ll be back soon?

“Coldwater,” Penny says, more insistent. “Are you fucking hearing me?”

“One goddamn second,” Quentin says, glaring at Penny, irritation flaring in his belly. He looks back to Eliot and says, “Yeah. It should be fast—we’ll chuck the jar in the Seam and come right back.”

Eliot nods slowly at him. “Okay,” he rasps out, his eyes closing again. “I—” he starts, and then he stops, looking at the people around him. I’ll be waiting, he says.

Quentin heart speeds up at what he thinks Eliot may have meant to say, what he should say right now, but—a bead of nervousness hits him, and he glances up to see Margo’s smug smile. Then Alice says his name, low and nervous, and Quentin shakes his head. He lets go of Eliot’s thigh, and hardly a second later he, Lipson, Margo, and Penny disappear.

Quentin stands up, looking to Alice, around the apartment—it’s a mess. Debris is strewn everywhere, furniture knocked over, and magicians are still celebrating, casting random spells just for the fuck of it. There are little fireworks exploding in the air, things levitating, all kinds of random shit going on.

“What happened?” Quentin asks. He remembers the sensation of powerful magic surging up inside him, but nothing after that.

“When the spell reached its peak, it basically—exploded out of you,” Alice explains. Her hands are shaking, and Quentin reaches out to take the bottle from her. She lets him, a grateful smile on her face. He can feel it vibrating with power, as if the monster were banging on the walls, demanding to be let out. “Most of us could hardly stay on our feet, but we knew immediately—it worked. I’m not sure why the monster was able to hold on,” she says, still looking at the bottle.

Penny reappears then, grasping both their hands. “Ready?” he asks. Before they can respond, he travels them away, to the entrance to the mirror realm.

~~~

Eliot

Q? Can you hear me?

Eliot shifts in the clinic bed he’d appeared in, his eyes drifting shut as the morphine Lipson sent into the IV that had magically appeared in his arm took effect. Say what you will about Lipson, but she’s fucking efficient. His wound is already closing up as she hovers over him, muttering under her breath. Margo is planted on one side of him, furiously texting.

Yeah, Quentin responds, and Eliot exhales in relief. He feels before he sees Margo’s look of alarm, and he explains, “I can still talk to Q. In my head.”

Margo raises an eyebrow, still focused on her phone. “Better hope it’s not permanent,” she says. “God only knows what the fuck is rolling around in that head of his.” She finally looks up from her phone, adding, “You better share the good shit.”

Eliot chuckles, relaxing into the bed, enjoying the warm tingles flowing through his body as Lipson’s magic does it’s job. There’s also a steady warm contentment, separate from his own relief, but present all the same. It’s as if it brushes against his happiness, letting him know it’s there, but not overwhelming. It’s nice, even if more than a little fucking weird.

He’s able to hear Quentin talking to Alice and Penny, but it’s muted and low, almost as if the magic knows it’s not meant for him to hear. How are you doing? Quentin asks. Margo with you?

Yes, Eliot sends back, looking over at her as she frowns at her phone. Where exactly are you?

In Brakebills, the library, Quentin responds. Alice knew how to get to the Seam from her Niffin days, and we opened a mirror portal to get there. We’re staying quiet; Everett shouldn’t be able to get through the wards, but he keeps fucking surprising us.

Who’s Everett? Eliot asks. Margo had said he was a bad guy, but Eliot has no idea why or where he’s from.

Library dipshit, Quentin says. Wants the monster's power for himself. There’s silence for a moment, and then Quentin says, We can’t use magic in the Seam. I don’t know if we’ll be able to communicate, so don’t freak out if I don’t respond for a few minutes.

With all the drugs in my body right now, freaking out would take an amount of effort I don’t think I’m capable of. He hears Quentin chuckle, and that same soft affection blossoms in his chest that can’t be attributed to the morphine. Thank you, he sends over. For—

Thank me in person, Quentin sends back. I have— He stops, and Eliot can hear him sigh, while a new touch of apprehension and gratitude nestles alongside the contentment he’s been carrying. Along with another, stronger feeling that extends out from his chest, through his torso, into every limb. Love. He smiles, remembering Quentin’s stray through from before—about the psychic connection being more solid. Maybe he’s right, now that they’re both on the same plane, he can experience Quentin’s feelings. It’s a lot, especially since they’re feeling very similar emotions—relief, gratitude… love. Everything is multiplied, tangling together with Eliot’s own emotions.

I have a lot to say to you, Quentin finally sends, and apprehension swirls through Eliot, and he tries to press back against it with a wave of comfort.

I can’t wait to hear it, Eliot sends, and he’s rewarded with a wave of affection and relief.

Okay, we’re going in, Quentin says. And then silence. He can still feel Quentin with him though, a comforting buzz of awareness in the back of his head.

Eliot looks up at Lipson, who’s pulling off her gloves. “Okay,” she says, pushing back on her little rolling chair. “I think you’re good. I want you to stay here overnight, make sure we got all the bad mojo out of that thing. And we’ll keep the pain meds rolling at least a few more hours.” She stands up, shoving the chair in the corner. “Try not to get possessed by any more evil gods during my tenure here, okay? Your little group has kept me busier than an entire first year class.” And then with hardly another look, she’s gone.

Eliot watches her go, glancing at his shoulder. It’s magically stitched up; there’s a warm haze glowing over it, knitting the skin together as it cleanses out the magic. At least he’ll have a cool scar. He turns back to Margo, who’s still texting on her phone.

“Who are you talking to?” he asks.

She sighs, setting the phone aside and reaching for his hand, slotting their fingers together. “Julia,” she says. “Her magic didn’t come back when the siphon came off.”

“Oh,” he says, frowning. Of course one of the people that worked the hardest gets the shaft. We’ll get it back, he silently resolves. To Margo, he says, “Any idea why she lost it in the first place?”

Margo shrugs, her gaze troubled. “Goddess bullshit,” she says. “We don’t know. I’ll add it to the list of shit to figure out, right under ‘getting my goddamn kingdom back.” She sits back in her chair, squeezing Eliot’s hand. “Good to have you back, El. Next step—a fucking shower.”

It’s the lab. Why?

He jumps at hearing Quentin’s voice in his head, not prepared. It’s as loud and clear as when Quentin sends to him, but Eliot gets the feeling that wasn’t meant for him. Q? he sends back.

Yeah, Quentin responds, and the anxiety within Eliot starts to increase. We’re in the Seam. It looks like the lab at Brakebills. Maybe it takes the form of wherever we were. Then, in a tone that tells Eliot isn’t not meant for him, Quentin says, That’s it.

You found the place to toss the bottle?

Yes. Anxiety is still pulsing beneath Eliot’s skin, but it’s slowly starting to dissipate, and he relaxes his muscles, not even aware he’d tensed up so completely. Quentin’s voice is still in his head, Okay, let me get it—

And then suddenly, a huge wave of anxiety and panic rushes in, making Eliot sit up straight in the bed. He hardly has time to ask Quentin what’s going on when he hears Q say, Everett.

“Q?” Eliot says out loud, feeling Margo’s hand grip tighter on his own. Eliot’s heart is slamming against his chest, apprehension and fear surging through his veins. He has no idea what’s going on, but whatever it is, Quentin is freaking the fuck out. “What’s going on? Everett’s there?”

“What the fuck?” Margo says, leaning closer. “What’s happening?”

“I don’t fucking know,” Eliot says. “He’s not saying—”

He broke the mirror. Fuck.

“What mirror?” Eliot asks. He turns to Margo— “Q says he broke the mirror.”

“Who broke the mirror? Everett? What fucking mirror?” Margo’s back on her phone, texting furiously.

Eliot sits completely still waiting, and getting nothing but silence. Finally he says, “Q, fucking talk to me.

You tried. Quentin’s voice is in Eliot’s head, but in that distracted way that tells him Quentin isn’t talking to him. Probably to Everett, or who the fuck ever. You’ll become a God.

“Bambi, ask Julia—”

“She doesn’t fucking know any more than we do,” Margo says, clutching his hand again. “She’s on her way, but she has to take the slow-fuck portals.”

Eliot sits in a tense silence, Margo’s hand a steel grip on his own as he waits. And fucking waits. He’s just about to call out for Quentin again when the anxiety and fear suddenly starts to ebb away, replaced with a sense of calm. A surge of affection that Eliot knows is meant only for him wraps around him, along with a cold pang of regret.

Okay. Okay, I get it. Okay. Quentin’s voice is calm, scarily so considering how fearful he was just moments ago. “Q—” Eliot says, pulling his hand from Margo’s, sitting up in bed, and whatever he was going to say is cut off by Quentin sending, Eliot. His voice is firm, clear, and so full of sadness Eliot’s eyes flutter shut, as if he can’t look at anything while Quentin is this fucking sad. I love you. I have for so long. I’m sorry I won’t get to tell you like I want to.

At that, Eliot’s eyes fly open, and he stares at Margo with wide eyes. “No,” he says, not knowing what the fuck is happening but knowing it can’t. It fucking can’t. “Quentin, whatever you’re—”

Take her. Do it now.

Quentin’s voice is firm and calm, and again not directed at Eliot, whose heart is beating so erratically that the healer out in the hallway darts in the room, worry all over his face. At the same time, Eliot is filled with that bright warmth of love that’s been wrapping around him ever since he woke up, so effusive and complete he can’t believe Quentin hid it from him for so long.

Quentin’s voice echoes in his head again—Just a minor mending—and then, directly to Eliot—I’m so sorry.

“Fuck that,” Eliot says, his hands moving before he even makes the decision. He’s only cast this spell once, but he only needs one for the important shit. He barely registers Margo yelling at him, grabbing his arm, the nurse gaping at both of them as he’s saying the Sumerian that completes the spell. The last thing he sees is her expression of horror before he’s dumped into a world of black and white, sparks flying all around him and pain searing up through his body.

~~~

There’s no dizziness when he comes out of it this time. One second he’s in that weird-ass film noir lab at Brakebills, and the next he’s in an elevator. He looks down and he’s in Quentin’s body, which means—it worked. Quentin is safe. And he’s… wherever the fuck this is.

The elevator dings, and the doors slowly part to reveal—Penny. But not the disgruntled Penny that traveled him to the clinic, Eliot realizes. But the Penny that had his hands cut off, the Penny that hates Taylor Swift (he caught Penny 23 jamming out to ‘Delicate’—more than once), the Penny whose death they all grieved months ago.

He looks very unPennylike, with his sad stockbroker ensemble and grim face as he stares at Eliot. “Hey,” he says, his voice low. Resigned. “Been a while. Welcome to the Underworld.”

Eliot’s mouth drops open, and the anxiety and fear swelling up in his stomach is all his own.

“Oh shit.”

~~~

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.

~~~