The passage of time between Fillory and Earth was arbitrary. A day on Earth could end up being a week, month, or whole year. Quentin recognized that every time he pressed his thumb to the button, it equated to a roll of the dice. To minimize their time away he and Margo had worked out what was basically the real world version of a bag of holding. They had started with Eliot's bottomless flask as a proof of concept, and charmed a backpack. It had made moving dozens of bottles of wine an effortless endeavor. Eliot had converted one of the basement cells into a proper wine cellar, and the three of them had rapidly accumulated an impressive collection.
It was a small indulgence considering how utterly upside down Eliot's life had been turned. Being royalty was nothing like the three of them had expected, Fillory was nothing like he'd hoped, and the role he'd played in trapping Eliot there would haunt him forever. Quentin knew he needed to spend less time on Earth, and he hoped that this last trip would be enough to leave him there for at least a few months without interruption.
Quentin tugged on the door of the high-end antique store, and prayed that he found what he wanted without having to visit a dozen more shops. He wanted to keep this trip under a day if he could, and that meant finding everything – hopefully in working order, and small enough to get through the zippered pouches of the backpack, within a few hours. It was his third shop of the morning; realistically he recognized that his luck had never been good.
Rather than browse through the aisles he headed straight for the counter and talked to one of the clerks directly. When the guy didn't laugh at his face, Quentin followed him towards the far wall and a glass case. It was a little larger, than he'd anticipated.
“How much does it weight?”
“About fifteen pounds.” The backpack would negate the weight, but it was one of the logical questions you asked about this kind of thing.
“Does it work? That's more important.”
“We can move it to the counter, and I'll show you. All of the electronics we stock have been restored to a degree.”
“But this isn't electronic right? It's just the crank?”
“Yes, sir. It's been oiled; there shouldn't be a problem. These were made to be repaired, but considering the age it's become difficult to find replacement pieces. This model is still in excellent condition.” The clerk fit his key into the lock, then firmly pressed against the glass until it slipped sideways. He lifted the box off the table it was displayed on, and Quentin followed him back the register. The item got placed behind the counter, as if it would somehow be easy for Quentin to take a fifteen-pound object and run with it. He disappeared for a few minutes, and Quentin did his best not to fidget, or try to think about how minutes in Fillory were hours, or days, or months, or... thankfully the clerk came back before Quentin could imagine years passing in the blink of an eye.
The demonstration yielded results better than Quentin had hoped for, and he found himself slapping his credit card down on the counter after only a couple of minutes. Earth money had ceased to matter so much now that he was living most of his life in another realm, and the money from selling his father's house had flowered rather nicely once he'd found someone who understood magical investments to help him grow it. Was it more than what he hoped to spend? By a lot, but this was technically for Eliot's birthday, and Quentin was determined to outdo the watch he'd found the year before. Eliot deserved this, he more than deserved it.
Getting the thing out of the shop proved to be tricky. Fifteen pounds was heavy when it was concentrated in the same of a barbell. It became awkward when the weight was unequally distributed and awkwardly shaped. Fantasies of dropping his purchase, and shattering the antique wooden cabinet between his hands played through Quentin's mind as the clerk helped him through the door. The bustle of Brooklyn shoppers did nothing to help his nerves as he headed straight for the closest alleyway.
For the next twenty minutes, he stood with his purchase sitting at his feet as he mentally calculated the proper circumstances to shrink the thing without compromising its functionality. Finally, he took a breath and started to cast. The fifteen-pound cabinet shrank to about the size of a briefcase, and Quentin slipped it into his pack where the spells would keep it suspended and undamaged.
With the main portion of his birthday surprise accounted for Quentin went shopping for everything else he needed. The next three hours were spent browsing through antique stores and wine shops, a grocery, store, and then finally a restaurant. With hopes that he hadn't forgotten anything, he pressed his thumb against the button. The smell of modern city melted into the sweet smelling air of Fillory; the button deposited him in one of the hallways close to the royal suites. Maybe something was smiling on him today, or perhaps this was the calm before the storm and Fillory was quietly waiting for the right moment to jerk them around its newest hairpin turn.
“Finally. I thought you were never coming back. Give.” Quentin grinned sheepishly at Margo, and immediately handed over the button. “Did you get everything you just had to go after.”
“I think so.”
“Well good, because you're not going back for a few months. You need to be here, Q. El did this for you, and you were gone for three weeks this time.” Quentin gripped the straps of the pack digging into his shoulders.
“Where is he?”
“Throne room, I think, Tick has been attached to his ass like well.. a tick, but less disgusting, and hopefully minus the possibility of lime disease. He's got something to tell you too, and it's probably going to be a bit of a shock.”
“What's wrong now?”
“Everything, and nothing, it's Fillory. This whole place is bass ackwards. You've figured that out by now.”
“Can you keep him occupied for like, give me an hour at least, then send him up to our room so I can surprise him.”
“Yeah, I can do that. Your surprise had better have been worth three weeks, Coldwater.”
“I hope it is.” Quentin really hoped it was. With Margo's blessing, he took off at a jog towards the high king suite that he and Eliot shared. The majority of the hour was spent properly enlarging the gift he'd bought, then testing it to make sure he hadn't destroyed it. To his relief it still worked. The rest of his prep time got spent laying out everything else he'd purchased. He set a bottle of good champagne in the wine chiller, then laid out the dinner he'd ordered, with freshening charms to make sure it didn't spoil. Quentin had just finished lighting a few candles in their bedroom when there was noise in the outer antechamber.
“Quentin?” Quentin finished the candles; Eliot met him as he reached the bedroom door. Across the room from them, a heavy occasional table got dragged to block the main door so they wouldn't be interrupted. “You're back.” The excitement for his return didn't seem to reach Eliot's face. He crossed to his desk and dumped the armload of scrolls onto the pile that was already there. A few cascaded towards the floor but hovered in mid-air as Eliot caught them with his telekinesis. He waved Quentin to them as the pile stacked itself; a kiss got pressed to his temple. “Here for three days, then back to Earth for a month and a half?”
“No. I gave Margo the button already.” The lukewarm reception was triggering flashbacks of how his parents had started to act the closer they had gotten to their divorce. Quentin knew he had no one to blame but himself; Fillory was where he needed to be, not Earth. Eliot hadn't even seemed to notice the effort, and the entire trip felt wasted.
“Then it's her turn I guess.” At least Eliot was holding him under his arm like he had no interest in letting him go. Quentin wrapped his arm around Eliot's waist.
“I missed you. I was only gone a few hours.”
“It's okay.” Eliot leaned to kiss him, and Quentin pressed into it, trying to make up for too much lost time. The effort earned him a smile. “You know I haven't been laid in three weeks, right?”
“Yeah, I owe you a few rolls in the hay.”
“Ugh, don't mention hay, we aren't peasants, Q, plus it brings back memories of my parents barn! We're going to fuck on silk, not straw.” Quentin laughed as Eliot swung him towards their bed. It also happened to put Eliot in the line of sight of his gifts for the first time. The pile of leather bound novels was more for both of them, but the gramophone Quentin had found was all for Eliot. “Quentin, it's, does it work?”
“No, I spent hundreds of dollars on the aesthetic. ” Eliot's gaze flitted between him, and it, like he couldn't decide which was potentially more precious. "It works, El," Quentin whispered.
“That's why you went back to Earth?”
“Uh huh. It's been, I know we don't have an exact measure of time here, but for you, it's been almost a year since your birthday. I wanted it to be special since you're trapped here, and it's my...”
“It's not all your fault. I had to agree. Just, let's not, that's the last thing I want to talk about.” Eliot's hand curved into his hair; the kiss was searing, hot, and eager. It melted away Quentin's anxiety that their relationship might have started to fizzle in his absence. “Can I see how it sounds?”
“Yeah!” Together they walked to the waist-high side-board. Eliot's fingers delicately brushed over the flared horn, then over the elegant curve of the horn's elbow. The wooden cabinet that the turn-table sat on gleamed. Quentin felt like he'd found a quality vintage piece.
“How old is it?”
“1912, at least that's how the tag identified it.”
“And you swear that it really works?”
“Yes, Eliot. It really works.” Quentin would figure out how to fix it if it didn't. Eliot let him go so he could slowly shuffle through the pile of thick shallec 78s that Quentin had spent the majority of his afternoon hunting down. “I tried to find as many jazz albums as I could.”
“These are great, Q! You didn't have to go to all this trouble.”
“It wasn't trouble. Fillory is our home now, El. I wanted to give you back part of what you lost.” Eliot slipped a Billie Holiday record from the sleeve and set it on the platter, then cranked the player's handle. Gingerly he rested the steel needle against the record. 'Them There Eyes' crackled to life with a sound that was rich and familiar, with lyrics that were oddly appropriate. If Quentin closed his eyes, he could almost imagine them in their room back at the cottage, before the Beast had turned their lives upside down, and Fillory had dug its claws into his husband with no sign that it would let him go. Strong arms circled him, and Eliot claimed his mouth in a fierce kiss.
“Dinner's not going to spoil right?”
“Nope.” The champagne had floated to them; Quentin watched the wrapper peel away from the top. Eliot nipped his lip playfully as the cork popped. Quentin surged up against him, tangled his hands in Eliot's curls, and ravished his mouth. He loved this man, and it was going to take something potentially world-shattering to force him back to Earth again.