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Variations on a Theme

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It was the music that woke him. He scissored his legs in tangled sheets, sighing as he saw the top sheet had all but been pushed off the side of the bed, most of it already pooling on the floor. His dad had always joked that he looked like he had wrestled with alligators in his sleep. He didn’t recognize the song. It was very faint, and he couldn’t tell where it was coming from. It sounded almost human, but not quite, like if a human voice and a violin and something magical were singing in unison. The melody was odd, a bit haunting and melancholy, but at the same time a little joyful. He got dressed and headed downstairs, eager to find the source.

What he found instead was Eliot standing in the common room, hands on hips, staring up at the ceiling. Quentin wasn’t even sure he noticed him until he was addressed. “Do you hear that?”

“Yeah.” He felt the immediate relief when someone else saw or heard something strange as well, never quite losing the fear that he really was crazy. “Where’s it coming from?”

Eliot dropped his hands to his sides lightly and turned to look at him then. He shrugged, all casual nonchalance that just made Quentin aware of his own awkwardness. “I have no fucking idea.” He began a spell that Quentin quickly recognized as a reveal charm. Nothing changed. He then made a square with his fingers and looked through. “Nope.”

The thick, peaty smell of pot proceeded Josh down the stairs, sucking on a bong and blowing out a long plume. “What’s shakin, bacons?”

“Do you hear that?” Quentin gestured around him with his arms.

“Uh, hear what?” He was looking around the room, trying to see what Quentin was indicating, but clearly he didn’t hear anything. Quentin found himself more drawn into the music, which seemed to be coming out of the air around them. Josh snapped his fingers a few times at him. “Hey, Ziggy Stardust. Hear what?”

Eliot was clearly confused, a long line formed between his eyebrows. “Music. A song,” he murmured distractedly.

“Uh,” he held up his bong. “You sure you guys haven’t been hitting this?”

Quentin rolled his eyes. “Yeah. No. At least I haven’t. I just got up.”

“Me neither.” Eliot sighed. “It’s like…I can almost make it out, but…can’t.”

Josh chuckled, holding up his bong in an offering. “Well, maybe you guys should try some of the old jazz cabbage. That could be the solution.”

And just like that, the music stopped. “It’s…gone.” Quentin was looking around the room, trying to trace where it went.

“Huh.” Eliot stroked his chin and shrugged again, regal elegance settling back over his shoulders as he straightened. “Alright, then.”

***

Quentin heard the music several more times over the next couple of days, almost like someone was trying to play it, but couldn’t get it quite right, as the song would start in the middle of a verse, or would end as soon as it began. More of a minor nuisance than anything else.

The next time the music came back full force, he was in the middle of a Potions exam. One that he hadn’t prepared enough for, he realized with a sinking feeling, looking around the room at the others. Why did everything seem to come so easily to Alice? Her potion turned a bright blue, which he guessed was the correct color, since she was dismissed. His was a dull green, looking like that horrible liquid medicine he had to take one time for strep throat when he was a kid. He would have to completely start over. As he walked over to the sink to dump out his mess, the music came back, louder and definitely more insistent, and he almost dropped the flask, juggling it a bit in his hands.

“Smooth move, dumbass.” Penny stepped widely around him before dumping his own failed potion down the drain.

The music got fractionally louder, like someone had nudged the dial up a little, so Quentin just ignored Penny, and instead dumped the potion, setting the flask in the sink. He hurriedly made his way out into the hallway. He knew he needed to find Eliot, to see if he was being affected as well, but he had no idea what his schedule even was, or if he even went to class. Luckily, as he ran into the hallway, Eliot was waiting there for him, visibly annoyed. “What the hell, Q?”

“I have no idea.” He sighed, throwing his head back and shoving the palms of his hands into his eyes. “Pretty sure I just failed my Potions exam.”

Eliot regarded him coolly. “Well, I was in the middle of getting a particularly juicy piece of gossip from Bambi.”

Quentin pointed towards himself. “I left in the middle of an exam.” Eliot sighed and rolled his eyes, crossing his arms across his chest. “Wait, what gossip?”

Eliot smirked at him, leaning in conspiratorially. “Apparently, Josh banged a werewolf chick.”

Quentin scoffed. “Seriously? Gross.” The music got bumped fractionally higher.

Eliot blew out a long breath, looking to the ceiling. “Fine.” He slapped his arms against his legs. “We get it. We can’t ignore you.” He eyed Quentin. “Any ideas, gorgeous?”

Quentin felt a blush creep up his neck, so he rubbed the back of it, trying to cover. “Uh, should we tell a Professor? The Dean?”

“Suit yourself.” Eliot was rolling the sleeves of his dress shirt with a practiced ease. “I would rather try alternative methods than having my head shrunk for the rest of the afternoon, thank you very much.”

“What did you have in mind?”

“Something our little Lycan-loving friend mentioned earlier.” He clapped his arm around Quentin’s shoulders, leading him outside. Eliot’s invasion into his personal space was something that had come to be as natural as breathing. He never had a male friend be so affectionate with him before. Truth be told, his only close guy friend had been James, and James was many things, but touchy-feely was not among them. Rather than fight it, Quentin had determined early on better to just to go with the flow. “Let’s see if we can shake him down for some prime Kush.”

Josh was more than willing to share, and the three of them ended up on their backs in the common room, heads pointing towards the center, like they were parts of a giant pinwheel. Apparently, Eliot’s theory was wrong, even though they were all high as fuck, the music was still there.

Eliot had cast something Quentin didn’t know, and was tracing the music in the air with his fingers, almost as if writing out the words of a spell. Quentin thought this was important, somehow, but couldn’t really remember which part. Instead, he was staring entranced as Eliot wove his fingers, almost painting with sparkles. Quentin, unbidden, reached out to touch the colorful bursts of light, but they just disappeared as soon as he came in contact, causing him to laugh in delight. The movement had caused Quentin to roll towards Eliot, and Eliot looked over to him with eyes wide, pupils blown. “Well, hello there.”

“Hi.” Quentin started giggling then, not even sure what was funny other than every fucking thing, staring dreamily at Eliot drawing sigils in the air.

“You guys still hear music?” Josh had turned around on his elbows, watching Eliot now as well.

Quentin gasped at a particularly beautiful flourish Eliot made on an up note, and Eliot turned towards him, winking. Clearly that little display was for his benefit, which somehow made him feel warm inside. He pointed at the lights, something dawning on him. “Eliot, I feel like I know it.”

Eliot rolled his head over again to look at him. “Yeah, me too. Like it is just on the tip of my tongue.” He jabbed an index finger into his forehead. “Or on the surface of my brain, but I can’t get it out.”

Josh giggled. “That’s what she said.” He lifted his head. “Or, he said. Or, gender non-binary individual said.”

Just then, the doors burst open, emitting a furious Margo who stormed over to them, standing over Eliot. “Are you fucking kidding me, El? You left class to come and smoke up with these two asshats?” Her sheer anger towards them was just about the funniest fucking thing Quentin had heard in his life, and he burst out laughing, Josh and Eliot following suit.

Eliot lifted himself up onto his elbows, eyes aglow with laughter, reaching for Margo and pulling her down bodily into his lap. “Come on in, Bambi. The water’s just fine.”

He was still giggling and she was still genuinely pissed, probably mostly due to her being left out of the fun, because she reached out towards Josh, silently asking for the bong, while simultaneously elbowing Eliot in the ribs. “You couldn’t have waited until after class?”

Josh, ever the consummate gentleman, held it out to her. “My queen.”

In the midst of all of the commotion, Quentin realized that the music had stopped. He almost mourned its presence this time, and glancing over at Eliot, he could see the same reflected on his face as well.

Shit. He was definitely going to fail his Potions exam.

***

They actually tried researching music and song spells, but found nothing matching the exact Circumstances. Eliot tried, and failed, to recreate the song with the same tiny lights as before, but without the music, he just could not remember enough to record anything meaningful. Dean Fogg had suggested both of them go talk to Dr. Meyers, and Quentin knew Eliot had been right. He had spent enough time speaking with therapists about the state of his mental health over the years, and self-medicating sounded a like a much better option at this point.

The party was pretty mild, if judging by Eliot and Margo standards, but still a bit of a rager. The two hosts were curled around each other in a corner, which was surprising. Rarely had he been to a party at the Cottage where Eliot wasn’t holding court in the center of the room. He was pretty sure they were both staring at him and Alice.

For his part, Quentin was currently attempting to flirt with her, which consisted of him drunkenly gaping open-mouthed at her extraordinary breasts. He really should say something, that was typically how flirting worked, but really all he could think was if they were his, he would never leave his room again and just stare at them in wonder forever and ever. Alice sat on her knees with her feet tucked under herself facing him. Apparently, her idea of flirting was to swipe at his arm, and when she laughed, her chest heaved up and down delightfully. Wow. They were both completely terrible at this.

Then the music came back. Much louder this time, invading all the spaces in the room, even over the thumping house music. Quentin threw his head back against the couch. “Goddamit,” he swung himself up off the sofa, looking down at Alice. “Sorry. I have to…” he pointed towards the stairs.

He was swaying a bit, hanging on the railing as he made his way up to his room. He flopped face first onto his bed, pulling a pillow over his head in an attempt to drown out the sound to zero net effect.

He heard his door snick shut and he pulled the pillow from his face. “This is getting ridiculous,” Quentin said to Eliot as he sat on the edge of his bed. Eliot took a long pull from his beer. “I definitely know this fucking song, I just don’t know where from.”

He swung his legs over so he was sitting next to Eliot. He carefully watched Eliot lick his lips, finishing his swallow. He eyed Quentin from the side. “They really are magnificent, you know?” Quentin squinted his eyes in confusion, but Eliot just held the bottle to his lips, about to sip, smiling. “Alice’s tits.”

He scoffed. “Uh. I didn’t think…” he gestured broadly. “I didn’t know that was your kind of…thing.”

Eliot huffed a laugh. “Like any great work of art, I can see the mass appeal.” He took another swig of beer, then bit the corner of his tongue, thinking. He turned to look over at Quentin, and caught him just staring, so he smirked knowingly at him. Bastard.

Quentin ran a hand through his hair. “So, what do we do about this damn music?”

Eliot licked his lips again slowly, deliberately. “Well, I’m pretty much out of my bag of tricks at this point. We’ve tried magic, drugs and booze.” He set the bottle on the ground, then reached over with one smooth movement and cupped Quentin’s jaw. “Just the one trick left.” He ducked his head, trying to gauge his reaction. Quentin didn’t move away, and in fact, seemed almost helplessly moving towards him. He smiled at him again. “For posterity’s sake,” Eliot said as he leaned in for a kiss.

As soon as their lips came together, Quentin felt something shift, inexplicably like coming home. He felt the music swell upwards, and everything was so loud and yet still at the same time, and then it felt like his head was being split open, and filled with thick, viscous light. He vaguely thought this should hurt, but he didn’t feel any pain. He felt like he was being filled to the point of bursting.

Then he was blinking his eyes open, no longer in his warm room at the Cottage, but instead sitting on a cold, dirty floor in a house he did not recognize. Eliot was seated cross-legged across from him, holding both of his hands in his. Julia was kneeling beside them, a hand over each of their chests. Light was coming from her hands and eyes, but was slowly being extinguished. She turned to look towards him, the motion making her fall a little to the side, so he reached out and caught her. “Jules? You ok?”

She sighed tiredly, smiling. “Q.” She touched his face. “It’s you.”

He scrunched his brows together in confusion. “Um. Yeah. Who else would it be?”

Penny came from behind and was gently helping her to her feet. “You ok?” Penny only had eyes for Julia.

“Q.” He swung around towards Eliot, realizing just how fucking wrecked he looked for the first time. Eliot lunged forward and hauled him into a quick kiss, then immediately wrapped him into a tight hug. Quentin looked up at the rest of the room over his shoulder, taking in Margo, Kady and Josh standing next to Penny who was cradling Julia from behind, faces all wearing various stages of exhaustion and relief. Apparently, he had missed some shit. To his horror, Eliot began shaking in his arms, and he realized he was crying. He threaded his fingers through Eliot’s hair, trying to calm him.

Fuck. He felt an icy dread fill his stomach. “Oh Jesus, who died?”

He felt Eliot huff a laugh against the side of his face, almost in relief. Eliot pulled back and looked at him, eyes shining. “No one.” He cupped his chin, running his thumb along his jaw. He then stood suddenly, holding a hand out to Quentin, levering him up off the ground.

As soon as he stood, Margo plowed into him from the side, and he tucked her under his chin, looking back at Eliot in confusion. Eliot just smiled at him. Margo had begun shaking as well, and he felt genuinely afraid now, gently stroking her hair. “Fuck!” She pulled back from him, angrily swiping at her eyes. “I’m not crying for you.” She gestured towards Eliot. “I’m crying because he has been a miserable twat ever since we finally found you again two weeks ago.”

He stepped back. “Two weeks?” He tugged at his hair. “Will someone please tell me what in the actual fuck is going on?”

So, they did. They told him why they were in the safe house, hiding out from the monster that Eliot had accidentally released, the monster that had held Eliot prisoner, inadvertently returning his memories in the process. The monster who was now riding around in Dean Fogg, hell bent on taking magic back from the Library. The rest had found one another, and Julia had helped to restore their memories. Except that “Brian” had escaped, fleeing from people he didn’t understand were actually his friends.

At some point, Eliot had drifted over towards him, gently stroking the fine hairs on the base of his neck, like he couldn’t stand not touching him. Some of this could be explained by what happened, but not all. He was acting like they did back at the mosaic during their lifetime together. But when they had returned back to their lives, their real lives, they had never really acknowledged it. Quentin had just immediately gone back to the quest while Eliot remained consumed with all things Fillory. Apparently, they needed to talk. He glanced back at Eliot. “So, wait. What’s the deal with the song?”

“You were always going to be the hardest.” Eliot squeezed his neck. “So many memories.”

Quentin closed his eyes, understanding.

“Fucking drained the shit out of Julia, by the way.” Penny informed him.

He flicked his eyes back at her, searching her face guardedly. She just smiled softly at him. “It’s ok, Q.”

“We needed something familiar to lead you through.” Eliot muttered gently, lightly tracing the shell of his ear with his fingers.

“I voted for Taylor Swift, but Eliot was too big of a drama queen and insisted on singing his own fucking song,” Penny said with some rancor, and Quentin realized this must have been a familiar argument.

Eliot rolled his eyes and shook his head.

“So, what was it?” Quentin just stared at him for a few moments before Eliot cleared his throat and began singing the first few bars of the song. His heart squeezed painfully in immediate recognition. It was a popular Fillorian lullaby, one that Eliot would sing every night to Teddy before bed. He swallowed thickly, and reaching up, took Eliot’s hand, pulling it down between them. He gently smiled at him, and Eliot gave him a lopsided grin in return.

“OK, eyefuckers. You can have a celebratory bone when this is all over.” Margo clapped her hands together. “Now that you’re back, Q, we have enough magicians for this collaborative spell that will really fuck up the Library, but good.”

Apparently, Kady had found a rare spell that could somehow meld all of their magic together, causing something close to a supernova that could destroy the Library and hopefully the monster in the process. They even had a plan to get Alice and Penny out before this happened.

Quentin took a deep, steadying breath and regarded everyone in the room. He felt his resolve returning. Frankly, he was tired of them always ending up the Multiverse’s proverbial whipping boy. He could feel the others gearing up as well, at the ready. They needed to end this. He smiled tightly and squeezed Eliot’s hand once more. “Let’s go to work.”