It took months to find Quentin. Months, but not long enough.
Eliot was as careful as he could be to think about anything other than what he knew about Q. He never let himself wonder where Dean Fogg might have sent him after his memory got wiped. He didn’t dare worry about the kind of trouble Quentin would get into on his own.
Instead of any of that, Eliot, trapped inside himself with the monster of wanting, become a master of misdirection: “You know what might be fun for someone who’s been locked in a dark tower for hundreds of years? Theme parks!” “You can’t skin that kid for walking across your path. Because if you skin him, he’s dead and he doesn’t care anymore. Let’s pants him in front of that girl instead. That’s a lifetime of self-torture right there.” “Quentin? I don’t know. He’s probably an accountant in New Jersey by now. That’s boring, and I want to do more lines.” “Quentin? I don’t care. Shots?” “Quentin? For fuck’s sake, who’s that?”
But no one could keep a secret forever, especially not with a god crawling around in their mind. Eventually Eliot slipped up, thought he spotted someone who looked like Quentin leaving a bookstore in the Village, and that was that. The monster of wanting had a lead, had an idea. It wanted to chase Quentin down, to the ends of the earth if necessary, and with just that hint of guidance from Eliot, it could.
It was good to see the real Quentin, in a way, after months of not letting himself remember Quentin’s face. Eliot couldn’t help but be glad that he looked relaxed for once. Happy. His smile came easy when the monster called his name, even though he thought the name was wrong.
Best of all, there was a lovely light in Quentin’s eyes when he thought that Eliot stopping him was just an interesting case of misidentity. It was like old times, when Quentin might have been charmed by him, may have smiled at any of Eliot’s ridiculous schemes or rants.
But the monster of wanting took that gladness, took the charm, and made them foul.
It stalked Quentin into the alley with its mind full of ideas of what to do with him now that it had caught him. Eliot had never wished harder to be out of his own body. He had never fought harder for control of himself, not even in the first moments of the monster’s possession, all in the hope that he could give Quentin a chance.
He had never wanted something the way he wanted Quentin to escape the monster.
“I think anything is more fun when you do it with a friend,” the monster said playfully, and to Eliot, the sound of his own voice was like a knife scraping a bone. It reached for Quentin with the good cheer a total lack of humanity could bring, but Eliot flailed and scratched at it, writhing, pinned under the weight of another consciousness in his head.
Quentin reached out to fight back too, throwing his hands forward instinctively. There was magic brewing in the gesture, even if Quentin didn’t realize what he was doing.
The push of it sent Eliot stumbling backwards for a few uncoordinated steps. The monster loved having control of Eliot’s tall and generally graceful body, but it was still new to the idea, sometimes uncoordinated and awkward. It hit the wall opposite Quentin with a solid smack of head to concrete.
“Q, run!” The dizzying jolt to his head gave Eliot a second of control, a moment back behind the steering wheel of his own body. He crouched, made himself small and awkward and off-balance, to give Quentin a little more time. He could only buy a second or two by forcing the monster to compensate for his position but Quentin was fast; he ran fast, he cast spells fast, he—
Quentin didn’t run. He hovered across from Eliot, concerned about this asshole who had creeped him out and stalked him, and Eliot had never hated him or loved him more.
The monster was a god. There wasn’t much Eliot could do inside himself to fight it, once it got over the knock to his head. He felt it crawling back over him; it forced Eliot down, dragging him tooth and nail and dagger into the pits of his own consciousness.
Quentin took a step forward. “Are you okay?” he asked, his hands held up in front of him defensively. “I didn’t mean to hurt you. I didn’t realize I had pushed you so hard.”
The monster looked at him for a moment, then sorted out Eliot’s limbs and stood. “Why didn’t you run?” it asked with the curiosity of a child and the lustful greed of an incubus. This time when it stepped closer to Quentin, it brought its magic with it. Its long arms, Eliot’s long arms, reached out, gold light flaring between them. Quentin’s eyes widened. He finally, finally turned to run, but the monster was on him.
The monster of wanting overcame Eliot’s despair, and Quentin's resistance; it folded around Quentin, breathing in his ear, whispering. Quentin went limp, knocked unconscious by a spell.
Pleased with itself, the monster wrapped Quentin up in magic like a spider spinning silk around its prey. It hugged Quentin in Eliot’s arms. It held him, too hard, it hurt him; it wanted to hurt him.
And all Eliot could do was scream in silence.
The monster took them to an abandoned warehouse, a location it had plucked from Eliot’s memories; he had been to a rave there, years ago, gotten drugged and left on the floor in a puddle of his own vomit when the lights came up.
Dust choked the air and cobwebs laced the corners, but the monster cleared a wide circle of concrete floor and laid Quentin down in it. It snapped its fingers, and a soft, golden light flared overhead, illuminating Quentin almost lovingly.
Q was unconscious, limp, easy to spread out with his arms and legs akimbo. The monster flicked its fingers, and Quentin’s wrists and ankles were bound in thin coils of brown rope staked to the floor. It twisted its hand and Quentin’s clothes peeled themselves off his body, not very gently. Buttons popped, a hem ripped. Quentin would have marks later.
And the entire time, the monster talked. It said crossly to Eliot, “I'm doing what you want, I'm giving you what you want. Aura wanted a child, so I was a child. You want this.”
Its anger, its disappointment, were a dangerous, powerful force. Eliot shushed it, frantic in his attempts to soothe it as it roughly handled Quentin. “You're not wrong,” he said to it inside his own mind. “I want him, you know that, but not this way. Can you feel what I feel?” and he tried to remember every moment of affection between him and Q, their long life in Fillory, the speech Quentin gave and the joy of his earnestness as he crowned Eliot a king of Fillory—
The monster roared up like a wildfire. “Yes, the crown, the crown,” it said, excited. “This is why you called to me! This is how you killed me! No matter the bullet, an ordinary magician couldn’t have done it.”
“I am an ordinary magician,” Eliot said. He hesitated, then amended his statement more honestly: “Mostly.”
The monster shook its head. “No no no,” it said. “You are the king, the high king by blood and magic in the castle of Whitespire; I am the captive, the low king by blood and bile in the prison of Blackspire. Two sides of a coin, two parts of a whole.”
“I want no part of you,” Eliot said, and the monster beamed at him.
“Too late. Too late, from the moment you were born. What you want, I want, I want, you want, do you see, do you stop fighting—"
It pushed him under, and Eliot sank like a stone.
The potion wiped their memories, but Dean Fogg made them separate before it had fully kicked in.
“I don’t trust you not to find a way to remind each other who you are, if you come into contact with each other after the potion has done its job,” he said. “Take a moment to say goodbye, while you can.”
With that kind of warning hanging over their heads, it was easy for all of them to cling to each other, mostly silent, sometimes whispering. Eliot held Margo so tightly it felt like his heart would break if he let go. She pulled him down for a brief, hard kiss to the lips, then turned, wordless, and went to Penny and and Kady and Julia.
Eliot turned to Quentin, standing alone, watching Alice walk away.
“Do you remember when I promised you that I would find you, and seduce you, and lift your spirits?” he asked Quentin, wrapping an arm around his tense shoulders.
“I’m almost mad enough at you to not say goodbye,” Quentin said.
“I don’t want to say goodbye.” Eliot pulled Quentin closer, tugging him into a hug, gentle but insistent when Quentin batted at him irritably. “I want to remind you what I said, and tell you that I meant it. Don’t worry. I will find you.”
Quentin held himself stiffly for a moment, then relaxed with a sigh. “And seduce me?” he mumbled into Eliot’s chest, and Eliot nodded, resting a hand on the back of his neck.
“Life will sparkle,” he promised solemnly. “Whatever else we forget, let’s agree to remember that.”
“We won’t remember we forgot,” Quentin said. Eliot leaned back, took his face in his hands, and kissed him until Dean Fogg made them all leave at once, seven magicians disappearing through seven portals, into a world with magic they couldn’t use and friendships they couldn’t hold.
“No,” Eliot said, when the monster that had stowed away inside him whispered him back into the memory of himself. “Oh, no. Please. Get out.”
“But I’m comfortable here,” the monster said. It stretched him out, long and lean, over the beige couch in the beige apartment of Eliot’s beige new magic-free life. “You know how to want things, Eliot. You certainly do. You always have, haven’t you.”
It snapped its fingers, and in a flash, Eliot saw his entire life stretching back, endless attempts to fill a deep empty hole somewhere inside him; attempts to feed the monster of wanting, who slipped inside him in Blackspire but had also always been a part of him.
“You were waiting for me,” he said, dazed, lost.
“I was always with you,” the monster said. “And you were always too weak to resist me. Try it now, try as hard as you can. But you’ll see. You’ll see.”
Quentin stirred. His head tossed on the concrete floor and he groaned, long and low.
The monster of wanting crouched beside him, smiling, delighted; Eliot inside the monster was almost sobbing with fear, frustration, the memory of seeing himself through the monster’s eyes.
They watched Quentin wake up enough to take in his own nakedness, his vulnerability, as he sprawled across the floor. Quentin jerked his hands and feet, feeling the weight of the ropes that bound him. His dark eyes skimmed the empty warehouse as he licked his lips, afraid.
The monster said, "I want you to play with me."
Quentin looked up. Eliot did his best to shove forward past the monster, to show himself in his eyes. Quentin had to know he had an ally in this, that Eliot had his back as best as anyone could, that they would survive this.
“I’m not allowed to play with strangers,” Quentin said politely, after a long, searching moment.
The monster shook its head and beamed, delighted. “Oh, but we are not strangers,” it said in its affected way. “I know you very, very well. I have seen you do your magic tricks, Quentin.” Its voice dropped as it playfully tapped Quentin’s cheek with the back of its hand. “I was promised your magic tricks,” it said. “I want them.”
Quentin’s ribcage heaved with panting breaths, but his voice was calm when he said, "Sometimes we can't have what we want without hurting someone else."
The monster's joy bloomed. It said, “Yes, yes I want to hurt someone,” pleased that Quentin had finally understood.
The fear in Quentin’s eyes went deep. He turned his head away. Although Eliot fought inside the prison of his body, desperate to free himself from the monster’s grip, it barely seemed to feel him; it was getting stronger inside him, better at being the one in control. It reached out and grabbed Quentin’s chin, turned his face back, and smiled down at him.
“I don’t know why you’re worried,” the monster murmured, stroking the back of its hand down Quentin’s cheek. “We’re going to have so much fun.”
The monster of wanting sat down beside Quentin. Its long legs crossed tailor-style and it leaned forward eagerly. Eliot watched his own fingers brush around Quentin's torso, dropping sharp pinches at random, felt the upswell of magic that made his own eyes flash at Quentin's every wince.
Quentin had begun to try to plead his way free. "I don’t want to play this game," he murmured, voice soft and friendly, still speaking to the monster as if it were a kid. Eliot had felt it lose its odd naivete, its almost-innocence, more and more every moment it had possessed him, but its mannerisms were still bright and uncaring in the way of a child. He could see why Quentin would relate to it that way, even as it hurt him. "My name is Brian. I'm a grad student at Yale, I've, I have depression, you know, but I've worked hard, so hard. Things are good, they're getting better. Please, I'm boring. I won’t be very fun to play with."
The monster listened attentively for a while, then pinched Quentin’s mouth closed. Quentin stilled and the monster pressed harder, fingers digging into Quentin’s skin.
“You still don’t realize that you’ve taken an amnesia potion,” the monster said crisply. “But I want you to know what you are. I think it will make our time together better if you understand why you are not boring.”
It leaned forward, avid eyes on Quentin’s face. “You're magic,” it whispered. “You've helped create a goddess and a niffin, you've fucked a king and a queen, you’ve killed a god, you've learned the beauty of all life and you've died dozens of bloody deaths. Do you remember?”
“None of that sounds like me,” Quentin said after a long moment. His voice trailed off, absent. His eyes were distant and considering.
The monster smiled brightly and sat up straight, lifting a hip to dig in its pocket. “I was just planting a little seed. We’ll try again later. For now, give me what I was promised. Show me a card trick. I want one I’ve never seen before." It set the stack of cards down on Quentin's chest and looked at him expectantly.
"I'm not…." Quentin said, still far away. He was spellbound. Eliot could see something stirring inside his mind, deep down, and he felt hope for the first time since the monster had dragged him out of his own fog of forgetting and shoved him, screaming, down inside himself.
Quentin shook his head and looked down his chest at the cards. "I can't. Even if I could, my hands are tied."
"Ohhhh," the monster said, delighted. "Do you want your hands?"
Quentin nodded, obviously trying not to be too eager, and Eliot was already screaming ”No!” as the monster manifested a saw.
Fighting the monster hurt places inside of Eliot that he had forgotten existed. It hurt the place that wanted his mother to hold him. It hurt the place that wanted his father to love him.
It hurt the place that wanted what he loved to stay alive; farm animals he had cared for and adored, sent to slaughter; the ancient horse that draped its head over his shoulder and whuffled green slime down the back of his shirt in its contentment, which his father put down with a bullet between the eyes; Margo, dead in so many timelines, sometimes her blood on his hands; everyone else; Quentin, Quentin. Fighting the monster hurt in the place that wanted Quentin. It hurt in the dark place where everything hurt, the place he wanted to cover up with sex and drugs and silk. It hurt.
He fought it anyway, harder than he ever had before.
His physical body lurched around the room, roaring, punching and scratching at itself as he scrabbled for control of it, won and lost it in quick, painful flashes. Inside, he was trapped in the battle; his confused senses told him that the monster had a physical form, long and slimy and burning hot and bitter cold, gold and red and black, and he hurled himself at it over and over.
The monster knocked him down, crouched over him, enraged but interested. "Why do you fight what you want, magician?" it asked him curiously, dripping the question into him with the slobber running down its thin muzzle.
Eliot didn’t answer. There was so much that he wanted. He'd always been like that, greedy and empty and wanting to be full, or full and wanting to be empty. Magic helped, magic made it all so much easier, but he knew now that monster had been born with him, within him. Why do you fight--
"Oh," the monster said, "oh, you are the other half of me, you are. Come play," and it had control back, it had everything. It knelt over Quentin again, Eliot’s body trembling with exhaustion and exertion. Quentin had struggled while Eliot fought himself, and the monster’s deck of cards was strewn around him, his chest slick with sweat, his wrists and ankles abraded.
Quentin’s frightened eyes met his and Eliot tried to pull himself together. “All right, all right, I'll play,” he said. He stopped struggling. Pleased, the monster of wanting loosened its grip on him, and he slid out of its hands and into control of his own body.
"Q," he gasped, his hands flying to Quentin’s cheeks, fingertips to his temples. "Quentin. You have to remember. You don't have a lot of time."
Quentin banged his hands against the floor with a frustrated noise. His breath sobbed out of his chest. "My name is Brian."
Eliot almost laughed. "You're so stubborn," he said, smiling. His hands flew and magic loosened the knots on Quentin's wrists and ankles, but they were magicked. The monster was strong, so strong, already clawing him apart inside as it dragged itself back into control. "Every time you give up, you come back, you change everything. Remember--please. I can't hold him back much longer, he's going to get what he wants. I'll do what I can but I need you to remember who you are--" and the monster came roaring up inside him.
Eliot sank back into the darkness of everything he had ever wanted and never got.
"Thank you," the monster said. The empty spaces inside of Eliot vibrated with the sound of its voice inside his mind, his heart. He was locked down much more deeply than before. He couldn’t see out of his own eyes. He couldn't feel anything with his hands. His body was beyond him.
He didn't reply.
"I didn't expect you to fight this part." The monster sounded intrigued. Eliot could feel its delight coursing all through him. It burned, but Eliot stayed perfectly still and quiet inside himself, refusing to give the monster anything more.
The darkness shimmered, and the monster was there before him. It had chosen to wear his own face. Eliot looked it in the eye, and it grinned at him. Its teeth were dull with blood and ichor. Its pants were wet. It smelled like shit and piss and cum. Its long bare feet were incongruously clean.
"That was very fun," it told him, approving. "It gave me a great idea! Will you play a new game with me? Here are the rules: I'll let you go whenever I want, and you'll fight me, and we’ll take Quentin together."
Eliot shook his head. "I don't want to give you what you want anymore."
"That's very boring, and I don't want to be bored." The monster took a step closer. It tucked its finger under Eliot's chin, looked curiously into his eyes. Eliot had looked into a mirror so long that his scalp crawled and he had to look away from himself or lose his mind, but nothing was like looking into the eyes of the monster with his face.
It kissed his nose and pulled back. "You don't want me to be bored," it said. "I'll make confetti out of your friend and throw a parade. That'll be fun."
It loved the idea. Eliot could feel this new want shining brightly inside it, threatening to replace the other things it wanted: to take off Quentin's hands and see if he could still do magic tricks, to slit his throat and draw with his blood, to fuck him; to do all of those things before it got hungry and murdered everyone in a restaurant while it ate the food off their plates.
Eliot closed his eyes. He could see nothing, inside or outside of himself, in a way that living humans weren’t meant to see nothing. He could feel death waiting for him in what he couldn’t see. He could choose it and die, disappear from inside the monster that was inside of him, and never know what it had done. He could escape. It would be easy. He wanted to escape.
Eliot opened his eyes. He looked at the monster. He said, "How do we play?" and watched himself beam, bloody and pleased, as the monster said, "Why don't we make up the rest of the rules as we go along?"
The first thing Eliot had done when he discovered telekinesis was learn to fuck himself.
Well, technically, he'd done whatever work was required of him--for almost the first time since his acceptance to Brakebills, his initiation as a Physical Kid. But then he lost a few weeks to the magical art of masturbation, first hands-free with his usual dildo, and then with increasingly exotic toys, until he was adept enough to forego them entirely and just use magic to create whatever shape he wanted inside himself, or around his own cock, or both, or both plus a few more.
Margo burst into his room just as he was about to refine his technique one step further: telekinetic vibrators. She stood over his bed, her arms crossed over her chest, her nose wrinkled adorably, and she hissed, "Stop this."
"Aww," Eliot said. "Are you worried about the hair that's going to start growing on my palms?"
"No, you abraded dickhead," Margo said, looking down at his cock with her eyebrow raised; Eliot had to agree that his telekinetic lubrication skills did need some work. "I'm worried that the smell of your room is never going to come out of my clothes. You need to take a shower, put on some pants, and take your little one-man band on the road, Eliot, because I'm tired of the sound of flutes."
Eliot fluttered his lashes at her but, when she was unmoved, sat up in his bed and draped his sheet over his lap. It was becoming a bit...crusty and malodorous in his room, he had to admit. A quick cleaning spell would handle the worst of it.
"No," Margo said, shaking her head at him. "You can't clean this smell out of your soul. You have to go out, Eliot. Talk to another human, maybe fuck 'em, I don't care. I'm not going to have you turn into some unsociable boner, do you hear me? You need to go out."
"I don't want to," Eliot said, and the memory fragmented; he was back inside himself with the monster. His hands--he had his hands on Quentin, a Quentin who didn't know him. He looked into Quentin's eyes and they brimmed with tears as Quentin bit his lip.
Then the corners of Quentin’s mouth curled up and trembled.
"You're back," Quentin whispered. "You're here. You were trying to tell me--the last time it was you, you were going to tell me your name."
The last time. Eliot closed his eyes for a moment. The last time the monster had let him surface and take control, he had wasted more of his time trying to untie Quentin. There had been a saw, right? Maybe he could saw through the ropes--no, maybe he didn't want the monster to surface and find a saw in its hand.
Quentin made a frustrated noise. "Your name, tell me your name."
The monster could take control at any second. He didn't have much time to find another way to free Quentin. But if he couldn't free him physically, maybe he could free him mentally; maybe Quentin, with knowledge of himself and magic, could free them both.
He opened his eyes. Quentin looked frantic, but the tension in his face eased a little as they looked at each other.
"I'm Eliot," he whispered. "Eliot Waugh. Your name is Quentin Coldwater. In another lifetime, we were functionally married and we joked about changing our last names to Coldwaugh. You would be Quentin Coldwaugh. It made us laugh so hard we almost screwed up a very complicated mosaic. Do you remember?"
"Eliot Waugh." Quentin smiled a little. He had a bruise on his cheek in the shape of a bite. He had bitemarks all over, and other bruises, larger and smaller. "Eliot Coldwaugh. Quentin Coldwaugh. That's better than Brian Smith, sort of. And Quentin Coldwaugh was...a magician."
"You're a magician," Eliot said. He leaned over Quentin, his hands hovering over marks they had made, and he tried to heal them. The damages done by a god-level power were hard to undo, but Eliot couldn't stand the sight of them, what they meant, what he'd done in a monster's name. "Please, please Q, remember that you're a magician."
Only half the bruises were healed but Eliot could feel something changing, something tearing at him inside. The monster. He sat back and held his hands up for Quentin to see, taking him through the motions as slowly as he could. "This is what you'd do to untie the ropes. This is what you'd do to make yourself run faster. Run if you get any chance at all."
The monster ripped to the surface. Eliot fell under it, but this time it held him close, preventing him from going back into the dark place of memories, of plans.
"Watch this!" it said, chipper, as it fitted Eliot's thumbs to the hollows of Quentin's hipbones and dug his nails in. Quentin groaned through gritted teeth, and although Q couldn’t hear him, Eliot whispered, “Remember. Quentin, you have to remember.”
Eliot got bored with fucking himself and others eventually, grew more selective about who he took to bed, practiced more magic but without the dedication he'd given to the magic of sex. He wanted something else.
He wanted everything else, all at once.
He could feel his own enormous power, but channeling it was work. Refining it was work. Wasn't magic supposed to be a snap of the fingers and hey presto, less work?
Then Quentin Coldwater came to Brakebills, and suddenly everything was challenge, effort, quests; everything was kingship, and death, and the warmth of Quentin tucked under his chin. Quentin's stubbornness, Quentin's shoulder against his, Quentin's cock in his mouth, Quentin praising Eliot with a crown in his hands, Quentin's son in their arms. Eliot poured all of his magic, all of his life, into Quentin Coldwater and his quests; Eliot worked.
"And for what?" the monster asked him. It bit the swell of Quentin's pec, and Quentin jerked underneath it. Eliot had bit Quentin like that a few times himself, during their long years in Fillory, back before the monster had crawled inside him and found itself at home. "For what?"
It had Eliot under its control. He couldn't answer it; it didn't really want his answer. It bit Quentin again and, with Eliot's teeth still set against Quentin's skin, it said, "To bring yourself to me. To unite yourself with me. To play with me."
“For him,” Eliot said, and he took back control from the monster, wresting himself free of it with a pained gasp.
Quentin was breathing hard. His eyes had glazed over, his focus turned inside himself. Eliot stopped biting him, placed the gentlest kiss over his heart, then pressed a hand to his cheek, lightly shaking him.
"Come out," he said. "Quentin, I need you to come out. Come back. Please, Q. Do it for me."
It took another moment, time they didn't have to spare, but Quentin came back. He looked up into Eliot's eyes and breathed out, slow, then back in again, and there he was. His eyes--Eliot had seen so much in them over the years, over their lifetimes; he was so open in a way Eliot could rarely convince himself to be. Quentin was afraid, and brave, and when Eliot nodded, reassuring Quentin that it was him and not the monster, his eyes softened. He didn't know Eliot as anything other than one half of the monster torturing him, but he still found some kindness for him.
Christ, no wonder the monster wanted him; no wonder that Eliot wanted him, had wanted him, would always want him.
"If you can't remember," Eliot said, "can you trust me? It's going to come back, and it isn't going to goof around much longer. I don't want it to be in charge when--"
His voice was ground out by the pressure inside him, the distress.
"It's going to fuck me," Quentin said, and even that was a kindness, saying it himself when Eliot couldn't.
"It wants to," Eliot whispered. "That's what it does. What it is. Just...want. Pure, unfettered. Terrible."
Quentin wheezed a laugh, almost under his breath. "When I first saw you, I thought you were hitting on me," he said, and Eliot jerked, startled; did he mean today, or their first meeting at Brakebills?
"The first time I met you, I was mean to you," Eliot said. He rested his hand on Quentin's cheek. "You looked like you'd dressed in the dark, from the bottom of an ancient laundry mound, after a week of not showering. I thought about throwing you in my shower, then following you in. I'd have fucked you until we'd used up all the hot water in the tri-state area."
Quentin swallowed. His pupils widened. "I'd have let you," he whispered. He must have been thinking of the bookstore. Quentin at Brakebills would have fractured into a thousand fragile pieces if Eliot had flirted one degree too hard that first day. Eliot brushed his hair back from his forehead, leaned down to kiss his temple, to kiss his mouth with the weight of a thousand memories Quentin didn't share.
"Will you let me?" he breathed against Quentin's trembling lips. "Quentin--Brian--will you let me be the one to do it?"
"Please," Brian whispered, and Eliot rested his forehead against Brian's, felt his panting breaths, and used that feeling to hold the monster down a little longer, just a little longer.
Eliot had done this so many times that the magic for it was ingrained; if he hadn't been taken by the monster, if he had really settled into the mundane life Dean Fogg had given him, he probably still would have reached for some of these spells during sex. A lubricant, warm and relaxing. He slipped his fingers inside of Quentin--Brian--and kissed him as he gasped, narrow hips jumping slightly sideways, an aborted attempt to escape the pressure.
The monster stilled. It was getting what it wanted: to fuck Quentin, to make this mark on him, to please Eliot in some sick way. It had wanted to make Aura happy too, to make her love it and stay with it and keep it safe and fulfilled always. Eliot focused as hard as he could on the pleasure of slicking Quentin up, and there was pleasure, there was always pleasure in touching Quentin. For the moment, that kept the monster quiet and satiated, buried just far enough down to give him some control.
The last time he had fucked Quentin was the first time, the only time, with Margo, and all he'd gotten to do was take Quentin apart with his mouth. No, the last time he had fucked Quentin was in Fillory of the past, just one of a thousand times they had spread each other out by the Mosaic, or in their bed, or the river behind the cottage; both of them old, both of them laughing as they creaked their way through it. Or maybe he had never fucked Quentin; he had died in dozens of timelines, and never felt Quentin underneath him, never touched him, never loved him.
He put all of that into the magic. All that was and never was, all that had been and could have been. He held himself over Quentin--Brian, he had to think of him as Brian, a stranger who needed Eliot's care but would never feel about him the way Quentin would have, the way he wanted Quentin to feel about him. Eliot slid slick fingers inside him, and the inside of Brian's thighs trembled against him.
Brian tipped his chin back and swallowed. He looked so much like Quentin in that moment. His hair fell back from his face, tousled and tangled. His arms were spread out wide and tied down against the floor, his belly taut, his hips rising up to meet the pressure of Eliot's hand before sinking away from it, rising back. The constant push and pull of him was so familiar. So extraordinary. Eliot felt the monster exult in it.
Eliot shaped the space inside of Brian with magic, whispering in more lubrication, more relaxation, until everything was slick and loose and pliant, almost frictionless. Brian's cock had taken an interest, half-rising from the curls of his pubic hair. Eliot kissed it, held the head on his tongue.
“Bite bite bite,” the monster whispered. Eliot let Brian's cock fall out of his mouth, bit his inner thigh, giving the monster some of what it wanted, pretending he didn't know all of what it wanted. It accepted his offering, staying in check, allowing him to proceed. Its curiosity and interest were disgusting and twisted, but they were safety, for the moment.
"I'm going to fuck you," Eliot whispered in Brian's ear, feeling him shiver. "I'm going to be as gentle as I can. If I disappear, things will change. I’m sorry."
"Do it," Brian said, and Eliot pushed his thighs up and out as far as they could go with the monster's magic knots around his ankles, palmed his cock, and slid inside him with one controlled, careful thrust.
Brian groaned and Eliot kissed him, shushing him. "You're all right, you're okay," he said, reassuring. "You're ready. I made sure you were ready."
"Oh," the monster said with Eliot's mouth. "Are you sure you could prepare him for this?" and the next thrust, fast and cruelly deep, was his.
Eliot howled, furious; the monster had shut him out, locked him down. He could feel its pleasure in the act of fucking Brian, in the fact of hurting Brian, in satisfying its curiosity about the act of sex, in containing Eliot. But he couldn't touch it. His hands flew, instinct guiding him; there must be a way, something that would free him, something that would bring the monster to him. Some magic in a deep place that could help him.
He'd kill it. He'd murder it inside himself and damn the consequences.
"I hear you," it said, coalescing in the darkness. "You're awfully annoying for someone who ought to want to stay on my good side. Especially now that we’re fucking your friend. Don’t you want to keep fucking your friend?"
It let him free, wrenched him out of the dark put him back in control of his body. He shook his head, disoriented, then whispered frantically for more lubrication, pressing his forehead into Brian's shoulder.
Brian gasped and shuddered. "It's you. Eliot. I can tell when it's you."
Eliot wrapped slick fingers around Brian's cock, stroking it gently. He thrust the way he wanted to; to the base of his cock but careful, his hips meeting Brian's ass, cupped against him. "I'm here," he murmured, voice deep; it had always done something for Q when Eliot talked to him that way, and Eliot had liked to use his voice to make Quentin shudder.
"It's going to kill me." Brian's hands scrabbled at the floor and Eliot dropped his cock, pressed it between their bellies as he stretched his arms out, wrapping his fingers through Brian's. Brian looked up at him, the dark eyes so much like Quentin's, his panting mouth so familiar.
"It won't," Eliot promised. "I will tear it apart myself. I will tear myself apart if I have to, I will—"
"Hey, no," Brian said, and stretched his head up for a kiss. Eliot, remembering their other life, slid a hand under Brian’s neck and let himself pretend, just for a second, that Brian remembered too.
And the monster used his distraction to take back control.
Eliot faced it in the darkness.
"You're weaker now," it pointed out. It sounded dissatisfied. "How am I going to use you to do what I want, if you're getting weaker every time we have one of our little wrestling matches?"
"I've fought you for too long," Eliot said. He let the words drip with disdain, disinterest, as if the monster were Todd. "I've been fighting you my whole life. Frankly, it's getting kind of boring."
The monster paced closer. It tossed its head and Eliot thought, is that what I look like when I do that? Christ, no wonder the boys fall at my feet. The thought almost made him smile.
It paused. "You're weaker, but you're still defiant. We could have so much more fun if you would just play nice. We could really draw this out. Don't you want to draw this out?"
Eliot shrugged. "I've fucked him before. Adding you to the equation was interesting for a while, but now I know what you're going to do. You're just going to keep tossing me in the game and pulling me out, which is moderately frustrating, and then you're going to kill him. What's the point?"
The monster stalked him, inching closer, head tilted curiously. "You don't want to see how I do it?"
"I've seen him die dozens of times in dozens of timelines," Eliot said. "I don't want to watch a repeat."
"I think," said the monster, baring its teeth, "I can find a way to make it new."
Eliot found himself in control again; one more time, one last time. He must not have been gone long, in real-time. Brian kissed him as if he hadn't noticed a difference between him and the monster.
"Hey," he said, echoing Brian, echoing Quentin. "Listen, I know you're not my Q, I know you don't remember. But believe it or not, the monster was right about this. You should know that you are him, and that--"
Brian's eyes were open. He looked up at Eliot with all the fearlessness Quentin was capable of mustering, all the wry certainty that a thing was going to happen, and it was going to suck, because sucky things happened. All the warmth, the kindness, even when Eliot didn't deserve it.
"The happiest I ever was, was with you," Eliot said. The monster stirred inside him, bored, ready to move on to the next phase of its plan. Eliot ignored it and gave himself a little space, wrapped his hand around Brian's cock again, fingers closing snug against the sweet line of it. Brian swallowed hard and Eliot nodded, encouraging him. "And I was the best I ever was because of you, and the strongest; strong enough to live a whole lifetime in one tiny cottage, working on the same puzzle, over and over again. If you knew me, you'd have a sense of how unusual that was. How unusual you are."
He'd held his hips still, focusing on Brian's cock, but his body demanded movement. Eliot thrust, angled up just the way Quentin had always begged for, and Brian gasped, his eyes wide. He was beautiful in the solid way of a fairy tale hero in a story too real for Disney, pretty, bruised, helpless, strong.
Eliot felt Brian tremble in just the right way, the way that signaled Quentin was about to come, and he said, "You were everything. Everything I wanted. You made me everything I wanted to be. It was always you, Quentin," and Brian came, breath huffing out of him, thighs drawing up as much as they could, his body spasming around Eliot's cock, his wide eyes locked on Eliot’s face.
Eliot let himself go and Brian, and Quentin said, "Oh, I know you, I loved you--"
The monster roared back into control, the feel of it a flood of desperation and desire and pain and the hope for an end to pain that rose up in Eliot, drowning him, even as Eliot came.
Eliot opened himself up to it, to everything he'd ever wanted, to every way he had tried to satisfy himself, to the monster, to Quentin. It hurt--it hurt like nothing he'd ever felt before, a white-hot blaze that took him out of his body.
The monster was with him. It scrabbled at him, catching at his eyes, burying its mouth against his neck to bite. It howled, wordless, and Quentin screamed with it but spread out his arms, caught it close, and held it against him.
The monster lashed out. The howls had become sobs. The claws dug into Eliot’s sides. It held on desperately, a child afraid to lose its parent, afraid of being banished, as the monster had been banished, from the only security it knew.
Eliot knew every dark, disgusting thing the monster wanted. He knew it wanted safety. He knew everything he had ever wanted, and everything he had been afraid to want, so much of it the flipside of what the monster wanted.
And he heard Quentin’s voice, offering him the perfect magic bullet, capable of healing a god: “I loved you—”
He held that too, held everything in his arms, until it melded together inside him. He could feel it all, small and heavy and old and new, darkness at the core but the lightness of confidence around it. He took control of it, and let go of the fear of it. He breathed out its last breath.
The blaze died down.
And finally, Eliot was back in his body, alone inside himself, but complete.
His body, inside Quentin's body, held by him.
Eliot slumped over Quentin, shaking, for a long, silent moment. He could feel Quentin’s heart racing but the rhythm was slowing, settling down below the jackrabbit rate of orgasm and fear. His own heart settled too, following Quentin down. When the shaking eased, he braced himself over Quentin, not pulling out of him just yet, but needing to see his face.
“Eliot,” Quentin said, looking up at him. He blew his hair out of his eyes. “I remembered.”
“It took you long enough,” Eliot murmured. He shifted his weight to one hand and brushed his knuckles down Quentin’s cheek, his jaw, the line of his neck. Quentin’s lashes fluttered. In Fillory, that had been one of his favorite post-coital caresses, affectionate without being too cloying. Eliot liked that it worked in this timeline too. He wanted to do it again.
He wanted, but it felt good. Clean. Healthy. He repeated the movement, and Quentin turned his head to kiss his knuckles, and that felt good too, like the aftermath of a fuck with fifty years of loving each other behind it, and nothing desperate or greedy underneath.
Then Quentin asked, "Did you know that would work, or did you just want to come?"
That startled a huff of laughter out of Eliot. Quentin raised his eyebrows, his lips pressed together in a questioning smile.
"A little of both," Eliot admitted. He brushed Q's hair back from his forehead, cupped his cheek. Quentin tipped his head, rested more of the weight of it in Eliot's hand, trusting; Eliot bit his lip, almost overwhelmed by the depth of feeling that simple movement woke in him. "He was all wants, Quentin. But I am too.”
“Not the way he was,” Quentin said, urgently, earnestly. “You know that, right?”
“The flipside of the way he was.” Eliot shrugged. “It gave me an idea, anyway. I had to keep it hidden as long as I could, but that was the best thing I had to work with. And if there’s one idea that I’ve taken away from my life as a farmer, magician, and king, it’s that you've got to work with the tools you've got."
"Tools like...my dick." Quentin's eyes started to gleam.
"Oh, I'm a master with that kind of equipment," Eliot breathed, ducking down to kiss him. "I've trained long and hard."
"I noticed," Quentin said. He moved his hips, and his wince was only half playful. Eliot kissed him again, apologetically, and pulled out of him as gently as he could. The spells to untie him worked this time, and Eliot helped him sit up, then stand.
They stood together, leaning against each other, Quentin naked and Eliot still mostly dressed.
"That was not the fun you promised me in that alley," Quentin said, and Eliot smiled against his hair, tucking him closer, feeling Quentin's arms wrap around him.
"I'll take you to every alley in the world and keep a promise in each one," he said.
"After we find and wake up our friends," Quentin said, pulling back; Eliot looked down at him and pouted, saying, "But I want--"
He stopped himself. "Got you, monster," he murmured. Quentin shook his head, and Eliot smiled.
"I want to make you more promises after we find and wake up our friends," he said smoothly, and helped Quentin find his clothes, mending what was broken as he handed it over. But he couldn't resist leaning in as he took Quentin's hand to lead him out of the golden-lit room. "Filthy promises," he said.
Quentin blushed and ducked his head, a sly smile curving his lips. "I wouldn't expect any other kind," he said.
Eliot grinned and tugged his hand. “Oh, you should expect the other kind too,” he said archly. “I have a few in mind--tell me, do you know your ring size? Or wait, I know a spell--” and he led Quentin, laughing, out of the warehouse and into the clear light of day.