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Reaching in the Dark

Chapter Text

 

Glancing down at the crumpled slip of paper in his hand, Eliot read the address that was hastily scribbled there one more time before shoving it in his coat pocket. It’s not like he hadn’t memorised it days ago. He resisted the urge to pull out his phone to check that he was going the right way – he’d spent the last hour of his flight making sure he knew the quickest way.

He could see the suggested route with his eyes closed.

It had been three months since the Library had given them new lives and separated them across the country. He’d spent the first two weeks fumbling through the day to day of his new life, trying to figure it out without the benefit of his supposed new memories, thanks to the Emerson’s Alloy that he’d swiped before they’d put the memory spell on them. ‘Bar owner’ hadn’t been too hard to figure out, at least, but he lived in fear that someone from the Library would come and check on him. He wore the crystal under his shirt where he could feel it against his skin.

When weeks had passed with no one spying on him – that he could tell, anyway – and no one calling him out on it when he ‘forgot’ something that his memory-potioned self should have known, he set to work. He didn’t have anything to go on. No one had been told who their new selves would be before they were separated. His bartender persona might have suggested that they were being put into lives that fitted their existing personalities, but he certainly had nothing tying him to Chicago.

He didn’t have any names. He didn’t have any photos. Searching for any kind of magic usage was useless – with magic guarded so strictly by the Library, there’s no way that any of them would have it, considering they weren’t even supposed to remember that magic existed. He spent his nights working the bar, his days searching whatever he could think of that might lead him to one of his friends, and got very little sleep in between.

And all right, sometimes he drank so much that he couldn’t move. The more time that passed without any progress, the more often that seemed to happen.

Sitting at a table near the counter at the café around corner from his bar while he waited for his coffee on a morning like any other, he’d rested his chin against the heel of his palm and let his eyes drift to the television hanging off the wall. The volume had been down so as not to interfere with the soft music that was playing and Eliot had watched the news idly, not really paying attention to what was on the screen but just looking at it out of habit.

When a familiar face flashed across the screen he’d sat upright so quickly that his shoulder hit the back of his chair hard, but he barely felt it. The face was gone after just a moment. “Patricia?” Eliot had called hurriedly, scrambling to his feet and stumbling backwards to the counter, not wanting to take his eyes off of the TV for even a second. “Patricia, can you unmute the TV?”

He could feel her reproachful eyes on him as the café owner grabbed the remote from behind the counter and turned the music down and the television volume up with two quick presses of her finger. “Please,” she said sarcastically.

“Please,” he whispered, his hands balling into fists to stop them shaking, terrified of getting his hopes up. The news presenter was talking about a school in Boston – no, a college – where one of the teachers had just won an award for writing… something. He held his breath as they showed shots of the campus, a stack of the journals where the article in question had been published, another shot of the author’s face, and another one of her with a handful of other professors.

And there he was. Standing to the right of the author with his arm around her shoulder, smiling awkwardly at the camera, was Quentin.

Laughter falling from his lips, he had turned to Patricia, who was waiting for him with his coffee and a curious look on her face, and leaned over the counter to kiss her cheek. “Thank you,” he told her, his voice thick with feeling. He couldn’t rein in his excitement and relief if he’d tried. “Thank fuck.” Pressing too many notes into her hand and smiling wider at her surprised look, he grabbed his coffee and ran back to the pub.

He’d locked himself in his office with the threat of death if anyone even tried to disturb him, and logged onto his laptop with fingers shaking so much that he’d had to type his password in three times. It only took a few minutes to bring up the bios of the professors who worked at the college, and then he was staring at Quentin’s face.

Brian. Whatever.

He’d wanted to book a flight then and there, but caution had caught up with him before he’d pressed confirm on the flights. Just because the Library weren’t watching him in person didn’t mean they weren’t watching his finances.

Against all of his instincts, he’d waited. He started withdrawing cash rather than using his credit card all the time, and put most of it aside until he had enough for a plane ticket. Then, not knowing what the future held but knowing he couldn’t use his card in Boston at all if the Library were keeping an eye on it, he saved more cash.

When he hadn’t been able to take it anymore, he’d told his manager that he’d had a family emergency back home – which was LA, apparently? – and had to take a leave of absence. He’d grabbed the bag that he’d packed two weeks ago, gave his manager his credit card to pay for work expenses so it would look like he was still in Chicago, and took a cab to the airport.

He was filled with so much nervous energy that he felt nauseous, but rather than pushing it away, he embraced it. Wrapping his fingers around the strap of his bag, he picked up his pace. Quentin’s apartment was two blocks away.

Picturing the route in his head, he turned the corner and almost walked into someone walking out of a bookshop. He had a coffee in one hand and a big pile of books under the other arm, and when he jumped back to stop himself from falling into Eliot he fumbled them. Eliot reached out to stabilise them automatically, an apology on his lips, but when he raised his eyes to the man’s face the words caught in his throat. “Quentin,” he gasped instead, relief flooding him.

Quentin’s brows knit together in confusion, and Eliot immediately recognised his mistake. “Sorry,” he said quickly, reaching out his hand to steady him again and then drawing it back, thinking better of reaching out to him. From the puzzled look on his face, Quentin had no idea who he was, and certainly didn’t know he was Quentin. “You look like someone I know,” he said, aware that his voice sounded giddy but unable to really care. He was just – he was just so fucking happy to see him.

His hair was shorter, most of it hidden underneath a grey beanie, but still somehow managing to fall into his eyes. And he… he was smiling at him.

The carefully crafted mask that he’d worn most of his life and that had helped him survive the last few months was gone in an instant, completely torn to shreds by the reality of Quentin standing before him, a little frazzled, sure, wearing a god-awful button up brown sweater, but happy and healthy and here.

Quentin.

Somehow, he managed to not throw his arms around him and pull him close, but it was a near thing.

“Oh,” Quentin said, and he felt another part of him click back into place at the sound of his voice. “Um. Sorry?”

It was such a Quentin reaction, such a Quentin thing to apologise for nothing, and Eliot couldn’t keep the grin off of his face. “Don’t be,” he said. Unable to touch, his eyes darted all over him, drinking him in like a man tasting his first drop of water after being stranded in the desert. Same warm eyes, same hesitant smile, same way of holding all of his nervousness in his shoulders. Clearly he felt Eliot’s hungry gaze on him from the way he met his eye, looked aside, then looked back to him. The soft blush that rose to his cheeks, the uncertain and then sceptical smile, the way his skin crinkled around his eyes all told him his attention wasn’t entirely unwanted, and Eliot just couldn’t help it.

Reaching out, he straightened the pile of books in Quentin’s grip, brushing his fingers against his wrist as he did so. Accidentally. “I’m sorry for running into you,” he said, fully aware that he sounded anything but.

If Quentin took his excitement for flirting, then that was no fault of his own. It had not been his intention at all. The colour in his cheeks deepened a little, and it took everything that Eliot had not to stroke his fingers across the reddening skin. Stop being ridiculous.

But when did he ever listen to himself?

Quentin shifted from one foot to the other, and Eliot realised he was still staring. “I’m Eliot,” he said quickly, holding out his hand.

Giving his head a little shake, he secured the books more firmly under his left arm and moved his coffee to his left hand, taking Eliot’s with his right. “Brian.”

Checking himself, Eliot took a breath. Brian. Right. But still… Squeezing Quentin’s hand, he shook it once before stilling his arm, tracing his thumb over the back of his hand before letting it drop.

After a moment, Quentin cleared his throat, tugging on the edge of his beanie before moving his coffee back to his other hand. “Well,” he said, looking down at the books and them back to him. “I had better go.”

Biting back his protest, Eliot cursed himself silently. He’d been too shocked by running into him – literally – that it hadn’t really occurred to him that he had no actual plan. He’d been so caught up with the idea of getting here, of finally seeing him again, that he hadn’t actually figured out what would happen afterwards. Maybe a part of him had hoped that simply seeing a familiar face, seeing him, would be enough to break the spell, but that clearly wasn’t the case.

Quentin smiled his awkward ‘yep, leaving now’ smile and started to turn away, and he couldn’t let him go, not yet. He needed something more, just a little. “Brian,” he said, the name tasting foreign on his tongue, but Quentin turned back, and his eyes were eager. “I, ah, I just got into town today,” he said, jumping on the first thing that came to mind. Honestly, it’s something he should have thought about already anyway. “Please tell me there’s a hotel somewhere close that’s not going to bankrupt me but that’s also not going to give me pubic lice.”

Quentin laughed, and Eliot’s heart soared at the sound. “Yeah, sure. The, um, the Oakridge Hotel is okay. Four blocks down, on the corner,” he said, gesturing back the way Eliot had come. “I’m fairly sure they clean the sheets regularly.”

“Thanks.”

He nodded, started to turn, then paused and turned back again. Eliot could actually see the wheels turning in his head. “Also, if you need coffee… You drink coffee, right?”

He screwed up his face obligatorily. “Everyone drinks coffee.”

“Yeah, well. Right. If you want a good coffee, they make a great one at Miller’s Café, two blocks that way,” he said, pointing with his cup in the direction that Eliot had been heading. Lowering his hand, he paused. “I live in one of the apartments above it, so, um – I, well – I know. How great the coffee is.”

Tilting his head slightly, Eliot considered Quentin curiously, his interest piqued. He’d already been heading to Quentin’s apartment, the scrap of paper with his address burning a hole in his pocket, but Quentin didn’t know that. And he’d just told him not only where he frequented, but where he lived, with a whole butt-ton of fluster and nerves.

Damn, Brian was flirty.

Still as tongue-tied as a virgin on prom night, but flirty.

“Um, well I better get going,” Quentin said, shifting the books under his arm awkwardly. Eliot tried to keep his disappointment from showing before he realised that it might work in his favour.

He pouted at him playfully, then let the corner of his mouth drift up roguishly. “I’ll see you around though, won’t I?”

Quentin grinned broadly then tried to straighten his face in a semblance of composure, looking down at his feet, off to the side and then back at him. Eliot bit down on his lip to stop himself from smiling too widely in return, and the knowledge of how inviting that would look only made it harder to keep his face in check. Ah, there’s the nervous ‘can’t believe people are attracted to me’ Quentin that we know and love.

“Yeah, um, sure.” Looking him up and down with a touch of disbelief one last time, he turned and headed off down the street in the direction of his apartment.

Eliot watched him walk away, giving himself over to the relief that he’d tried not to show in front of Quentin, knowing that he’d have to way to explain it. He let it flood through him now. Okay, so he had no idea who he was and had no idea who Eliot was. But he was okay, and they were in the same city. It was a start.

And it looked like he was still attracted to him, which wasn’t important and shouldn’t matter but of course it really fucking mattered.

And his ass looked so damn good in those tight jeans as he walked away.

It was a lovely sight, but after a moment his smirk faded into a grimace. He could joke about it all he wanted, but the fact remained that he had absolutely no idea how to get Quentin’s memory back. They were still royally fucked like a Targaryen on their wedding night.

He held onto the image of being bent over by Khal Drogo, and then sighed ruefully. He knew he should go and find that hotel and bargain for the cheapest room they’d give him for cash, but he waited at the corner like the impressively attractive male lead in a romcom as Quentin walked away down the street. He couldn’t help it – he’d been stuck living a life that wasn’t his for the last few months, and seeing someone that he actually knew felt like fresh air had been breathed into him for the first time in so, so long.

A few metres away now, Quentin drained the rest of his coffee and veered towards the trashcan on the edge of the sidewalk, dancing awkwardly around a woman who stopped in her tracks on the path. Quentin kept walking, not noticing that she was staring at him. A moment later she caught sight of Eliot and her brows rose in a way that he would have found comical if he hadn’t been distracted by the swell of anger and irritation that was starting to roll through him. She glanced quickly at Quentin’s back as he walked away, and then turned back to him in bewilderment.

“What the fuck are you doing here?”

Yeah, this wasn’t the help that I was hoping for. Thanks, universe. Sighing heavily, he waved his hand half-heartedly. “Hello to you, too, Alice.”

Chapter Text

Alice stared at him, her eyes wide until they narrowed at Eliot suspiciously. “No, seriously –“

She had the nerve to be distrustful of him? Fuck that noise. Scowling at her, he walked over to her quickly, anger rising in him but not enough that he wanted to make a scene on the sidewalk. Just. “No, seriously yourself,” he snapped at her, and felt a moment of satisfaction when she straightened her shoulders, taken aback. “What the fuck yourself, Alice? Why the fuck are you here, after everything you did to screw us over?”

Drawing her brows together, she opened her mouth, then visibly bit back her retort. The tension seemed to fade from her shoulders – some of it, anyway. “I didn’t know this would happen,” she said earnestly.

Eliot honestly could not give a fuck. She was the reason they were in this whole situation. After spending what felt like a lifetime trying to get the keys and getting fucked over repeatedly in the process, they’d been close, so damned close to getting magic back, to getting a semblance of control back.

And then she’d gone and fucked it up for everyone.

“No,” he said, taking advantage of his greater height to look down at her condescendingly. “You just didn’t think you’d have to deal with the consequences.”

Dropping her head, she crossed her arms underneath her breast. He watched her nails dig into the skin of her elbows and felt not a shred of sympathy for her. “I’m here to fix it.”

“Yeah, well, good luck with that,” he said, lifting his eyebrows and smiling at her fakely before turning on his heel. She could do all the fixing she wanted, and she could do it away from him.

He made about two steps before she called his name, and he stopped reluctantly, rolling his eyes as he turned back to her. “What?” he asked tiredly.

When she didn’t speak for a few seconds, he shook his head and started to turn again. “Wait! Okay. I need your help.” At least she had the grace to look uncomfortable.

“With what?”

“With… everything! And you’ll probably need my help, too,” she said, gesturing to him. “I know things from my time at the Library, and I’m sure you know things if you have your memories back. Like, how to get your memories back, for instance? I’m guessing it’s not so simple if you haven’t fixed Quentin already. And… you remember the Monster that you shot in Blackspire? Well, it’s not dead.”

“I shot it with the god killing bullet,” he reminded her. Nothing could survive that.

“Yeah, and it left the body you killed and went into Ora’s. I don’t know if they locked up Blackspire properly before they look us away, but I do know that they didn’t leave anyone there to guard it. And who do you think it’s going to come after if it gets free?”

“Quentin,” he said immediately, frowning. It was a being that simply wanted, and Quentin was one of the few faces that it new.

“I was thinking you, actually. You shot it, remember? But yes, also maybe Quentin.” She paused, looking up at him pleadingly. “Even if it’s still stuck there, we have the memory thing. You know it’s senseless to work this separately.”

Against his better judgement, he considered her words; considered her. Or maybe it was because of his better judgement that didn’t just tell her to get lost. He didn’t want to work with her, didn’t trust her as far as he could throw her, but she was right. She would know things that could help him, and his distrust didn’t outweigh his desire to help Quentin and their friends.

Taking a deep breath and praying that he wasn’t going to regret this, he nodded his head in the direction that he’d tried and failed to make his grand exit. “Fine. Do you have somewhere to stay yet?” She shook her head, glancing down at a large duffel bag on the ground by her feet that he hadn’t noticed until now. “Neither do I, but I have a recommendation. I’m not carrying that for you,” he added.

Without argument, she bent down and hoisted the strap over her shoulder, grunting quietly when she straightened back up again. It looked heavy, and its contents clanged around when she hurried forward to walk beside him, ignoring his questioning look.

At the next corner, the bag slipped from her shoulder and, when she hoisted it back up with obvious difficulty he took it from her, shaking his head in wordless irritation. It was fucking heavy, but carrying it was better than listening to her struggle with it.

Almost.

The Oakridge Hotel was on the corner a few blocks down. It was an old building but not run down, so that was a start. He dropped the bag on the ground outside the door and ignored Alice’s wince. “All right. How much money do you have?” he asked her bluntly.

“Not much,” she admitted, because of course. “I have a car parked a few blocks from here, but it’s old so it’s not worth much to sell and we might need it anyway. That bag is full of magical devices and artefacts that I stole from the library,” she said, gesturing to the duffel bag, and he looked down at it in surprise. Maybe he shouldn’t have treated it so roughly. The look in her eyes was all rebuke and he knew she was thinking the same thing. “None of it works without magic, but there might be collectors or antique shops that will buy them. But until I sell them I don’t have a lot. Don’t you have your pay from the bar?”

He frowned at her. “How do you know about that?”

“I know about all of you,” she said distractedly, completely oblivious to the way his breath caught in his throat. “Well, we –“

“Is Margo okay?” he asked quickly, reaching out to grab her upper arms. “Is everyone?”

Alice paused, her matter-of-fact nature softening slightly. “She’s fine. She’s a fashion designer in New York. Everyone is fine.”

Taking a long, shaking breath, he let it out slowly, relief loosening the tension that he’d been unable to let go for months. She’s okay. She’s… thank god. Realising that he still had hold of Alice’s arms, he smiled at her apologetically and stepped back.

“Anyway,” she said after a moment. “If you don’t have much from your bar, we should probably share a room. It’ll be cheaper.”

And just like that, his mood dipped again, but the knowledge that Margo was safe kept a little bounce in his step. “Oh, goodie,” he said weakly, ignoring the exasperated look she sent him. Grabbing the duffel bag, he followed her into the hotel and over to the reception desk.

Alice organised a room for the two of them, and he’d have laughed at her emphatic insistence on separate beds if he hadn’t been about to say the very same thing with the same amount of feeling. “How many nights?” the receptionist asked them, looking between them with a generic customer service smile.

“A week,” Alice told her.

“Are you sure that’s long enough?” he asked her quietly, aware that the receptionist could hear every word. “Our – ah, our work is probably going to take longer than that, considering the circumstances."

“The circumstances are exactly why it can’t take longer than that,” she told him firmly. “A week,” she insisted to the receptionist.

“Very well. Who’s credit card are we using?”

Here we go. Reaching for his wallet, he opened his mouth to tell her that they didn’t have a credit card but could pay for the week upfront in cash, but before he could speak Alice was handing over her plastic. “I thought you didn’t have any money,” he muttered to her under his breath as the receptionist keyed in the numbers on her card. “Do you really think it’s wise to use that?”

Alice leaned a little away from the counter. “The limit isn’t very high, so I’ll have to top it up if we use it too much. The Library doesn’t know about it, so we’re fine. I’m assuming you had the presence of mind not to bring the one they gave you here with you. Or your phone, for that matter.”

“I got a burner – I’m not stupid,” he said.

Claiming a key card each, they took the elevator to the fourth floor. Alice opened the door, and Eliot followed her into the room, lowering her duffel bag and his messenger bag onto the floor by the door before having a proper look around. Not that there was much to look at. A door immediately to his left presumably led to the bathroom, and a short way in the room opened up into the main area. Two single beds were side by side against one wall; a television, two chairs and a small table along the other. “Cozy,” he said with faux-cheerfulness.

“Yeah, well, it’s not for long,” she reminded him, and he didn’t argue the point. If she wanted to think this would be easy, then more power to her. Eliot had given up on thinking anything would be easy years ago. Alice grabbed the strap of the duffel bag and dragged it further into the room, lifting it onto one of the beds. “Now, will you tell me how you got your memory back?”

Maybe that has something to do with why she thinks this isn’t going to be hard. “I never lost it.” Pulling the Emerson’s Alloy out from underneath his shirt, he swung it back and forth before tucking it back close to his skin. “It doesn’t need magic to work, apparently, unlike your magic bag of tricks there.”

Unzipping the bag, Alice rummaged through it. Eliot peered over her shoulder but didn’t see anything he recognised. It mostly just looked like old junk. After a moment she seemed to find what she was looking for, turning back to him with a small velvet bag clutched in her hand. She looked down at it for a few seconds, then raised her eyes to meet his. “I have something special, too.” Tipping the contents onto her palm, she adjusted her grip until it was held between her thumb and her forefinger. It was a small glass vial on a silver chain, containing a clear liquid that seemed to shimmer in the late afternoon sun coming in through the window.

Eliot stared at it blankly, then raised his eyebrows at her. “Are you really going to make me guess?”

“It’s water from the wellspring,” she said, like he should have known. “It’s a single shot of magic. For when we figure out how to bring everyone’s memories back,” she said, pulling her hand back when he reached out for it. “I assume we’ll most likely need magic to do it. Did you have a plan?”

He didn’t want to admit that he didn’t, but he also had nothing to offer her. “Not specifically. I was more worried about getting here and seeing what we were dealing with first. You?”

“Not really,” she admitted. “But I’m going to start with selling some of this stuff so we have some money. I passed an antiques shop before I ran into you that should still be open so I’ll start there.” Taking a smaller bag out of the duffel she filled it up carefully. He saw an old clock, a sextant, a set of scales, and wondered what about them had been of interest to the Library. They did look both old and in good condition, so maybe they were actually worth something to somebody outside of whatever dormant magical properties they might possess. “And I’ll bring us back something to eat.”

Eliot was alone for five whole minutes before he ventured out of the hotel and was back in another five, a bottle of whiskey in hand. There was a pair of glasses above the mini bar and he took one over to the small table by the window. Pouring a drink, he tossed it back in two mouthfuls, then poured a second. Taking a sip, he slumped in his chair, leaning back and staring up at the ceiling.

He felt… a lot of things. As much as it made sense to work with Alice, he was still angry about her betrayal and her part in their current predicament. Which was most of it, in his opinion. He hadn’t had anyone to rail against once he’d been placed in his new life, and now the only person who could help him was the person who’d caused this. Agreeing to help each other figure this out didn’t mean that he wasn’t going to be cautious around her, and he already felt exhausted at the idea.

But on the other hand, he’d finally had news of Margo. A fashion designer – that would suit her perfectly. He smiled at the thought of her terrorising poor innocent interns a la Miranda Priestly. Wait, no, she was an editor, not a designer… but same-same on the terror. She must be having so much fun. At least he hoped so, that she was enjoying this new life and didn’t have a care in the world.

And speaking of not having a care in the world… Eliot’s eyes slid closed to better see the smile bloom on Quentin’s face on repeat in his mind. He couldn’t quite believe the depth of emotion that had flooded through him when he’d realised who he’d run into. The uncomplicated happiness on Quentin’s face from a brief encounter with a stranger was almost pure enough to heal all of the pain of the last few long, unknowing months.

He’d really fucking missed him.

He’d considered going to see him, to try and run into him again – he had told him where he lived, after all – but he didn’t want to completely freak the guy out. He wasn’t entirely sure yet how Brian would take a stranger showing an active interest in him. There would be time for that later. Like, tomorrow.

He wasn’t sure what time it was when he heard the sound of the door opening, but the sun had disappeared behind the buildings on the opposite side of the road and he was a little bit tipsy. He’d turned the television on and was half-watching old reruns of Buffy, belligerently sitting on the bed that she’d claimed earlier. “Are you serious?”

The smell of hot food reached his nose, and he reluctantly pushed himself off of the bed, taking the whiskey with him as he walked over to the small table. “Less judgey, more foodey,” he said, patting the empty table in front of him and nodding toward the bag that the smell was wafting from.

Shaking her head, Alice deposited a different bag onto the bed, clicked the TV onto mute, and then brought the food over. He hadn’t realised how hungry he was until she’d walked in, but now he helped her unload the Chinese she’d bought for them. “Are you seriously wasting the money we have on alcohol?”

“This is better than wasting it on the mini-bar, and honestly it’s one or the other.”

“You could, just, not drink,” she said, taking the other seat.

Eliot smiled at her, shaking his head and patting her hand tolerantly. “Oh, honey. No.”

Pressing her lips together, she just looked at him for a long moment before reaching for one of the containers. “Well, I’m cutting you off for tonight. I managed to get a good price for some of the items, so we’re not running out of money this week, and there’s plenty more to sell if we need to.”

“Enough to get a separate room?”

Her eyes narrowed slightly, and he shrugged in an almost apology. She should be happy that he was drinking – it had lifted his mood enough that he was happy to just irritate her rather than be completely uncivil. “I’d rather not waste it, just in case.”

“I thought we were going to be out of here in a week?”

“So I also had time to go to the public library,” she continued instead of responding to him, which was probably fair enough. “I got some books on memory loss, and after we eat you’re going to go through them with me.”

Well aware that he had stayed in the room and drank and daydreamed while she was out actually being productive, he agreed readily. Once they finished eating and had put aside the leftovers, Alice pulled a stack of books out of her bag and put them on the table between them. Taking the one off the top, Eliot busied himself reading up on different types of memory loss, their causes, symptoms and how they were sometimes reversed.

Unfortunately, nothing about Quentin’s brand of memory loss was the usual kind. Sure, spontaneous recovery from retrograde amnesia was a normal thing, but as far as he was aware, none of the information in the textbook he was reading was based on a magical potion that replaced your memories with new ones. Eventually, he closed the book, blinking at Alice with tired eyes when she looked up at him. “I’m done for the night. And to be honest, I don’t think this is getting us anywhere in general.”

Closing her own book and putting it on the pile of others, Alice stretched her neck from side to side. “I think you’re right. I just don’t really know what else to do. Without magic, anyway, and we only have enough for the doing, not the figuring it out.”

“Yeah, that can be tomorrow’s problem. I’m not avoiding it,” he added quickly at her reproachful look. “I just can’t think about anything logically right now. It’s been a long day.”

“You’re right,” she allowed. “Fine. Let’s get some sleep and tackle this again in the morning.”

Alice disappeared into the bathroom to change into her pyjamas, and Eliot stripped to his underwear, folding his clothes and placing them carefully over the back of one of the chairs. He only had a few changes of clothes with him and intended to buy a few more now that he had the impression that they might be here for a while, but didn’t want to alert Alice to that fact yet if she was happy believing this would all be over in a few days. Leaving the lights on for Alice, he slid under the covers of the bed closest to the window, eyeing the gap that was left between the curtains and the wall and feeling grateful that the sun would rise on the opposite side of the building, at least.

A few minutes later, Alice reappeared from the bathroom, and shortly after that she turned the lights off and slipped into bed. Between Fen in Fillory, Quentin in the past and sometimes Margo just randomly, he was used to falling asleep to the sound of someone breathing beside him, but it felt different for it to be Alice. To be fair, he didn’t really expect her to stab him in his sleep in order to offer his body up to the Library or something ridiculous like that, but things between them had never been… comfortable. Not really, and especially not lately. Despite his earlier weariness, he suddenly felt wide awake.

From the way Alice was tossing and turning, she was having the same problem. Eventually she stilled, and he thought she’d finally fallen asleep until she spoke, her voice quiet but clear of sleep. “How did you get the Emerson’s, anyway?”

He considered feigning sleep, but what was the point? “I stole it,” he told her, looking up at the dark ceiling. “They separated us when they first took us to the Library, and apparently they were out of cells or dungeons or whatever, because they locked me in an office. I got bored. I found this in the bottom draw of the desk, locked in a wooden box.” With the tip of his finger, he traced the edges of the crystal idly. “They brought us together to say goodbye before they gave us the potion. I was going to give it to Quentin but they only gave us about a minute, and they were watching us so closely that I couldn’t risk slipping it to him. I didn’t want to risk losing it all together.”

“Why would you try and give it to Quentin rather than keeping it for yourself?” she asked, sounding confused.

To him, it was the least confusing thing in the world. “Because he would be so much better at figuring this out that I am,” he said, suddenly not ashamed to admit a failing in front of Alice. Because it wasn’t a failing – it was just fact that Quentin was good with this kind of thing. At quests and problems and saving people. He had absolute faith that he would have figured it all out by now. “He’d probably have gotten us all rounded up already and figured out how to fix all of our memories. And fixed magic. And saved you from the Library in the process.” He glanced across to Alice’s bed, making out her covered silhouette in the faint light from the window. “How did you get out, anyway?”

“They left my door unlocked by accident. The rest was just a lot of luck, really. No one recognised me to stop me. The stuff I stole was newly acquired, and the Traveller who’d brought it left it unattended, so I just took it. The Librarians were collecting vials of the magic, I don’t know, to use as bribes maybe? Or payment for… I don’t know, something. Whatever it is they want. There’s always something. Anyway, I swiped one on my way out, then jumped through a portal back to Earth.”

Eliot hummed in response, but didn’t really have anything to say. They could use a hell of a lot of luck now, but he wasn’t sure things would be so easy.

“Eliot,” Alice said after a while. “What you said, about Quentin. About him being good at this type of thing. Is that why you came here? Instead of going to Margo, I mean?”

Closing his eyes, he took a long breath in through his nose. “I was looking for anyone,” he said quietly. “Quentin was just the first person I found.”

He wasn’t going to think about what would have happened if he’d had the choice. Quentin was the man to go to for the heroics and the saving of things and all that jazz, but Bambi was… well, Bambi. He could do anything if they were together. He missed her so fucking much. But he’d missed Quentin too. The absence of both of them had caused a hole in his heart that no amount of drugs or alcohol had been able to fill, and he felt a little bit guilty that the hole felt smaller after seeing Quentin earlier today.

There was only one solution, really. Find a way to fix Quentin’s memory, then they would go and retrieve Margo together.

It was all going to be fine.

Sleep was still a long time coming.

Chapter Text

 

“I still don’t know if this is a good idea.” 

Suppressing an eye-roll, Eliot held the door open for Alice and then followed her out onto the street. “He wouldn’t have told me about this place if he didn’t want me to go there and run into him,” he told her pointedly.

Alice looked up at him sharply as they started walking down the street. “That’s not what I mean.”

When they’d woken up this morning, Alice had had a plan. Which was great, because all he had was a headache. She knew a few people in different cities from when she’d run amok as a niffin, and although none of them were experts in memory altering, maybe someone knew someone who would be able to help. He’d been worried about revealing themselves to the Library but Alice had just scoffed at him – the types of beings that she’d dealt with during that time were mostly not the type to respect authority.

He didn’t love it, but he was also willing to try anything.

Some Tylenol and coffee later, the two of them jumped in her car, which turned out to be a beat up old Ford, and went hunting for her old contacts. She knew three people in Boston and managed to track down two of them, which frustrated Alice but he thought was actually a pretty good success rate considering the time that had passed. He let Alice do most of the talking, and his begrudging respect for her increased a little at how easily she was able to convince them to help her and keep quiet about it. They had a name of someone who was out of town at the moment but would be back in a few days, and a promise from the other contact that she’d put feelers out in her circle about anyone who had information on memory spells.

As the day wore on, he called her plan for the day and introduced her to his plan. It was nearing the time when Quentin would probably be finishing work, so they would go and hang out at the café until he showed up and then pretend that they’d just accidentally ran into him. His plan didn’t go any further than that, not in detail, but he just needed to see him again, needed to see him safe and happy and alive.

He hadn’t expected Alice’s hesitation, and when she’d expressed her worry about the Library catching them all together he’d shut her down. Politely, but still. He needed this. They both did.

Well aware that this was what she was talking about now, he sighed dramatically. He’d thought that this conversation was done with. He certainly wished it was done with. But, trust Alice to not let something drop when she had an opinion.

Knowing that she was just as likely to throw that back at him if he said it out loud, he went with logic instead. “They’re clearly too busy to keep an eye on us personally, otherwise they’d already have tracked me down here.” They waited at the intersection for a car to cross the road, and he took the opportunity to look down at Alice beseechingly. He understood her worry, he really did, but he was pretty sure that Alice was almost as anxious to see Quentin as he was. “Are you telling me you don’t want to spend some time with him?” he asked knowingly, and the way that she glanced up at him out of the corner of her eye and then straightened her shoulders told him he wasn’t wrong. “And besides, the best way to keep an eye on him is to actually, you know, have a reason to be around him. Stalking him from afar is probably not the right way to go.”

Narrowing her eyes, she looked up at him again as they crossed the street. “And impossible, now that you’ve gone and introduced yourself to him.”

He raised his eyebrows at her. “That was an accident.”

“And this?”

He shrugged nonchalantly. “Is an accident,” he said, his tone making it clear that it was an entirely different thing. After a pause he grinned down at her. “Come on, Alice. If you don’t loosen up a little then you’ll just scare him off, and that defeats the purpose.”

She was quiet for a few minutes. They passed the corner where he’d bumped into Quentin yesterday, and shortly after the café came into view. He slowed, looking at the windows in the building above and wondered which one was Quentin’s apartment. Wondered what his view was like, what kind of life he was living now, what kinds of people he had.

Did Brian like the life he had? Would Quentin?

“You have to be careful.”

Closing his eyes for a moment, he looked down at her reluctantly, aware that he’d been caught in his own head. “Hmm?” he said lightly, and from the look on her face, she was not fooled.

We have to be careful,” she clarified, looking awkward but meeting his eyes determinedly. “It’s not smart to get too attached. Yes, it’s Quentin, we know it’s Quentin, but it also isn’t, really. I get that you want to be near him. I do, too. But until we figure this out, getting too close is just going to get… messy.”

He didn’t want to think about messy. He just wanted to fix this whole thing, and if that wasn’t an immediate option then he just wanted to be close to one of the few people who he really gave a fuck about. Plastering a neutral expression on his face, he gestured toward the café. “One conversation won’t hurt,” he said, and didn’t wait around for a response.

The café wasn’t too busy at four o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon, thankfully. A couple waited by the counter for their order, a few of the tables were taken, and in the corner… Quentin sat in a booth, several stacks of paperwork strewn out on the table before him.

Alice peeked around his shoulder, her hand touching gently at his arm. “I thought he wouldn’t be here yet, that we were waiting for him to get here.”

“I was just guessing his schedule, I don’t know,” he muttered.

“Okay, well… Why don’t you get us some drinks, and I’ll go over and say hi –“

He looked at her askance. “Yeah, except you haven’t actually met Brian yet, so how’s that going to work?”

“Well, I could just –“

“No,” he said, grabbed her arm and dragging her over to the counter. “There’s only room for one meet cute in this movie. Now, let’s order,” he said sweetly, nodding toward the barista who smiled up at them pleasantly, “and then we’ll both go over and say hi to our new friend.”

Resisting the urge to glance over his shoulder to where Quentin sat, he ordered his coffee, waited for Alice to order hers and then paid for both the drinks. Too impatient to wait for the drink first, he indicated Quentin’s table to the barista and then headed over, ducking down into Quentin’s line of sight, waving his hand to get his attention. “Brian?”

Quentin blinked up at him, a disbelieving smile lighting up his face, and there was nothing false about the grin Eliot gave him in return. He’d intended to up the charm a little – or a lot, whatever – when he met Brian again, but in that moment he couldn’t think past how good it was not just to see Quentin, but to see him happy, and happy to see him. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d looked so carefree.

“Eliot? It’s, um, it’s Eliot, right?”

“Right,” he said slowly, giving himself a moment to just drink in the sight of him. After a second Quentin’s smile became a little self-conscious, his eyes darting to the side, and he realised he’d been staring a moment too long. Belatedly, Eliot remembered they weren’t alone. “This is Alice,” he said, gesturing at her with as much neutral pleasantness as he could muster. “She’s a… friend of mine. Alice, this is Brian.”

“Hi,” Alice said, her voice a little skittish, and Eliot glanced at her sharply.

Like he could talk, but, you know.

“Hey,” Quentin said, looking between them for a moment before dropping his eyes to the table in front of him. “Do you, um. You guys could sit. If you wanted.”

Taking his bottom lip between his teeth, Eliot trailed his finger along the edge of the table. “Oh, I’d never want to interrupt,” he said, watching him through his lashes and making sure he knew that he meant the exact opposite.

The way Quentin’s eyebrows jumped toward his hairline was entirely worth the exasperated sigh Alice gave as she slipped into the booth across from Quentin. “Thank you,” she said, as though Eliot hadn’t spoken. “As long as we’re not bothering you,” she added, looking down at the paperwork spread out across the table. Eliot considered sitting beside Quentin but thought that might be pushing the familiarity a bit too far, so he sat next to Alice on the bench seat.

There were several piles of papers, some with notes scribbled over them, some without, and Quentin began gathering them up into one stack, pushing it to the side. “It’s fine. I’m just grading papers, it can wait.”

“You’re a teacher?” Alice asked.

Quentin had a way of smiling like he was both pleased and embarrassed at the same time whenever anybody showed interest in him, and causing that smile was one of Eliot’s favourite pastimes. Now, he turned that smile to Alice. “Yeah, I teach finance.”

Somehow, he had no clue how, he managed to turn his grimace into an interested smile. “That sounds fascinating,” he said, and ignored Alice’s knee knocking hard into his under the table. What? He’d cut at least eighty percent of the sarcasm that he’d normally have used. Quentin would have just rolled his eyes at him and ignored him, but he knew that Brian wasn’t used to his remarkable charm and wit and he didn’t want to overwhelm the poor boy, so he was keeping it tame.

If Quentin thought he was teasing him, he gave no sign, and Eliot resisted the urge to knee Alice’s leg right back. Quentin looked to him, and the thought fled his mind entirely. “Did you find the hotel okay?”

“No bed bugs, as promised,” he said with a wink, and felt something in him relax at the way Quentin’s eyes crinkled in the corners when he smiled.

They were interrupted when the barista brought over his and Alice’s coffees. Eliot nodded his thanks, noting that Quentin smiled up at the barista with familiarity. So he did frequent this place often – part of him had wondered if he’d made sure to be there just because he’d mentioned it to Eliot, but that was, of course, ridiculous. He opened his mouth to thank him for the tip regarding the hotel, but stopped, horror slowly filling him when he noticed just how much sugar Alice was pouring into her drink.

After a moment she raised her eyes to meet his, her pour not wavering in the slightest. “What?” she said defensively, and he just shook his head, unable to find words for just how appalled he was.

“So where are you guys from?” Quentin asked, drawing his attention away from Alice and the monstrosity she was about to drink.

“Chicago,” Eliot told him, their pre-arranged story ready on his lips. The best lies were based in truth, and what were their other options? Magic school in New York? A magical kingdom in another world? An evil library in between worlds? Indiana? He suppressed a shudder at the thought. “We own a bar. Some bigwig here wants to throw some money at us to open a second.”

Quentin raised his eyebrows. “Someone in Boston wants to invest in your bar in Chicago? How’d you manage that?”

He shrugged. “Well, we haven’t, yet. She still needs a bit of convincing, so we thought we’d come and sweet talk her a little. Plus, she’s a friend of a friend, so it’s not that big a leap.”

Looking suitably impressed, Quentin drank the last of his coffee, and Eliot remembered his. As he brought it to his lips, Quentin looked to Alice. “You’ll have to make me a drink sometime.”

Eliot choked on his drink. The other two both leaned forward in their seats, concerned, but he waved them away, laughing when he had control of himself. “After you just saw the way she has her coffee? Please,” he scoffed. He could also remember how bad her taste and her tolerance with alcohol were, and started to regret going along with her suggestion that she worked at the bar with him. “Alice mostly does the paperwork. I’ll make you a drink that you’ll never forget,” he promised, his tongue darting out to wet his lips.

Quentin’s eyes stayed on his for longer than he’d expected, and when they finally dropped to his mouth Eliot had to fight to stop himself from smiling in triumph. He couldn’t help smirking a little, and gave up entirely when Quentin looked away, rubbing at the back of his neck and pressing his lips together in his own attempt not to grin.

“So how, um, how long are you here for?” Quentin asked the table in front of him. Eliot leaned back in his seat as Alice gave him the answer they’d agreed on: maybe a week or two, depending on how things went with their investor.

Content to let Alice talk for the moment – this was the first time she was seeing him again, after all, and he was feeling generous – he let his eyes rove over Quentin, allowing the sight of him to heal some of the wounds that the last few months of worry had worn in him. He wasn’t wearing that ugly sweater, at least, just a regular grey shirt with the top button untucked and his tie loosened.

Quentin laughed at something Alice had said, and Eliot closed his eyes, both to better enjoy the moment and to keep it to himself. He might have to share this reunion with Alice, but he wasn’t going to share just how much it meant to him, and Quentin certainly wouldn’t understand it. When he had his emotions in check he opened his eyes and watched Quentin as he animatedly told them about something that had happened in his class a few days ago. Eliot had missed the start of the story but honestly he didn’t care much past the way it lit up Quentin’s face and put warmth in his voice. His persona might have been a creation by Henry and the Library, but his enthusiasm felt real.

He did feel a little different, though. His Quentin would have felt awkward at having the attention of two strangers on him with nothing to talk about except whatever they wanted to. He’d have questioned their reason for talking to him, either aloud or to himself. Maybe he still felt like that and was just better at hiding it. Maybe Brian had a thicker skin.

Some things hadn’t changed, though. Alice pushed her empty mug away, accidentally brushing Quentin’s hand on the way back, and Quentin stiffened, pulling his hand back. Eliot could almost him clutching his hands together beneath the table. So, Brian might act a little more confident, might smile a little more, but he was still the awkward, easily flustered guy who he’d always been.

Interesting that both he and Alice were making him flustered.

Jealousy spiked inside him – not a large amount, but more than he’d expected. Sure, sometimes he wanted to keep Quentin all to himself, but he wasn’t a jealous person as a rule, not when he knew how he stood with a person. He’d always known where he stood with Quentin; they’d never had to spell it out, they’d never had to even think about it, through all of their years in Fillory and afterwards. They’d certainly never been monogamous.

But right now, he didn’t want to share his attention with Alice anymore. He couldn’t figure out if Quentin was flirting with him or Alice or both, and his open demeanour was throwing Eliot’s gauge a little. Was that broad smile just friendly Brian? Was the way he tried to tuck his hair behind his ear despite it being too short just a nervous tick from meeting new people?

Surely the way he looked at him was flirting. Surely.

Either way, sitting there worrying about it wasn’t going to get him anywhere. Quentin was talking about his work, his face animated, his eyes warm, and Eliot felt that warmth spread through him. He didn’t know what Brian liked, what he dreamed about and craved, but the passion colouring his voice was so familiar that it caused a pang of longing in his chest.

He’d really fucking missed him.

Feeling pretty confident that he knew one thing Quentin would be passionate about when it came to his work, he asked about his students, and was rewarded with Quentin’s focus and a wide smile. Any version of Quentin would have to relish the idea of helping other people, and it was entirely unsurprising to learn that this was his favourite part of the job.

In one way, though, it was apparently the wrong thing to ask. After a few minutes Quentin’s eyes dropped reluctantly to the hastily stacked paper on the table to his side. “I don’t mean to be rude, but I really do have to grade these before tomorrow, and I’m also meeting a colleague for dinner, and then I –“

“It’s okay,” Eliot said gently, reaching out to cover Quentin’s hand with his own. His words had started running together, and his interjection had been an automatic reassurance that he wasn’t offending them to calm his obvious stress. Quentin stiffened under his touch and he drew his hand back quickly, worry sparking in him that the casual touch was a touch too far, but he didn’t miss the way his fingers stretched after his for the barest moment before he pulled both of his hands into his lap. Maybe not too far, after all. “We don’t want to get in the way of your work. Today, anyway,” he added with a wink, and took reassurance in the hint of a blush he saw on Quentin’s cheeks.

“I’ll leave you two to it,” he said, his eyes flicking in all directions as he reached for his papers.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Alice said firmly. “You were here first.”

“Yeah, but –“

“We should be going anyway,” she insisted, knocking her leg against Eliot’s under the table until he took the hint and slid out from the booth. Straightening, he turned and leaned against the back of the bench seat as Alice joined him. “It was really nice meeting you, Brian,” Alice said and god, she had that twinge in her voice again. She was going to be terrible at this.

“You, too,” Quentin said, smiling at her with genuine warmth. That warmth stayed when he looked to Eliot, and Eliot wasn’t sure if he saw something more there or if he was just projecting. “And it was good to see you again, Eliot.”

“The pleasure was all mine,” he said, affecting a small bow that earned him a chuckle.

“Maybe we’ll run into each other again while you’re here.”

He’d have lingered longer, found a reason to draw it out, if it weren’t for Alice’s firm grip on his elbow practically pulling him from the café. He glanced over his shoulder before they walked through the door, and from the amused look on Quentin’s face, his reluctance to leave was obvious. Fucking Alice. “Jeez, could you get us out of there fast enough?” he grumbled, pulling his arm free of her grip once they were on the sidewalk.

Alice looked entirely and characteristically unapologetic. “We don’t want to overwhelm him,” she said, looking up at him like it was the most obvious thing in the world and he was a fool for questioning her. So, you know, the way she usually looked at him. “He doesn’t know us, remember?”

He rolled his eyes so high that his head moved with it, just to show her how exasperated he was. “I know.” But…

But when had he ever been subtle?

“I need to visit the little boy’s room.”

“Eliot, the hotel is ten minutes away!” Alice said, frustration clear in her voice, but he’d already turned and ducked back through the door of the café. Mights and maybes weren’t good enough for him. He wasn’t going to leave it up to chance.

He had noticed a bathroom sign on the other side of the room but he bypassed it completely, walking straight back over to Quentin’s table. He had spread his papers out again but his eyes were staring ahead, and he appeared lost in thought until Eliot slipped into the booth beside him. Jumping slightly, Quentin pulled back slightly before seeing that it was him and relaxing again. Eliot wasn’t sure whether that delighted him more, or the obviously pleased smile that he gave him. “Hi,” he said softly, twisting slightly in his seat to look at him a little more squarely, and when that movement left his knee pressing against Eliot’s thigh Quentin didn’t pull away.

“Hey,” Eliot said. “Can I see your phone?”

Quentin looked up at him, his big brown puppy eyes curious but trusting, and Eliot almost felt bad about lying to him about who he was. Almost. Quentin pulled his phone from his pocket and handed it over, and Eliot sighed dramatically when he saw the lock screen. “Okay, so this was supposed to be charming and witty, but you’ve ruined it.” Holding the phone back out to him, he looked at him steadily. “Unlock.”

Quentin huffed a laugh, typing in his code, and Eliot took the phone back, quietly relieved that he’d taken it to be the joke that it was. “You’re not setting me alarms for three in the morning, are you?”

“Not quite,” he said, but it did give him an idea. He’d intended to just put himself into his contacts, but instead he went to his calendar. Creating an event for the following night, he labelled it drinks and put his phone number in the notes, grateful that he’d bothered to memorise the new number. “Thank you,” he said cheerfully, exiting out of the app and handing Quentin his phone back. “And you’re welcome,” he added with a smirk, squeezing his hand around the phone gently before pulling back and leaving the café.

Outside, Alice looked at him as though she was seeing right through him, but he didn’t care in the slightest. He was pretty sure she’d watched him through the window. “Are you sure that’s a good idea, Eliot?”

At least she sounded concerned rather than judgemental or annoyed. He shrugged, starting back in the direction of the hotel. “You can’t tell me you don’t want to see more of him,” he said, not bothering to look back to make sure she was following. “At least now we don’t have to be creepy stalkers who casually run into him all the time.”

“Yeah, let’s just be creepy stalkers who now have his phone number.”

She sounded almost affronted, like she was offended for Quentin’s sake, but he was feeling too good to let it get to him. “Now you’ve got it,” he said, grinning back at her. She sped up to walk beside him, her arms crossed beneath her breasts, and he softened a little. She should be enjoying this as much as he was. “Come on,” he cajoled her gently, shouldering her lightly as they walked. “Don’t pretend this isn’t the best you’ve felt in months. You’re allowed to feel good after seeing him.”

He certainly did. The utter relief that had encompassed him when he’d first run into him the day before had been different, had been about seeing that he was alive and in one piece and able to smile. Today, he felt exhilarated and warm, revelling in the comfort and excitement of actually spending time with Quentin after so long.

It wasn’t until they were back in the hotel room that his phone buzzed in his pocket. Only two people had his new number, and one of them was sitting in a chair across the room, untying the laces of her boots. He didn’t mind Alice knowing that he’d have contact with Quentin, it was unavoidable, but he wanted to keep the messages just for him. Sitting on his bed and shuffling back to lean against the headboard, he took the phone from his pocket casually, unlocking it and opening up the new message.

So the strangest thing just happened.

Eliot’s eyes flickered over the words eagerly. Before he could respond, another message displaced the first one.

Apparently I’m having drinks with someone tomorrow night.

Biting on his lower lip to hide his smile, he relaxed against the headboard. A part of him had worried that Quentin would make an excuse or be busy, or just flat out not want to spend time with him. He hadn’t felt this anxious about asking someone out since, well, ever. Usually he wasn’t the one doing the asking. Actually, usually there was no asking, not really – just alcohol and lips and tongues and hands.

Oh? Anyone interesting?

Pressing send, he stared down at his phone and waited for a response, filled with nervous energy. Thankfully, Quentin responded quickly.

I guess we’ll find out. Meet me out the front of your hotel at 8.

Grinning widely now, Eliot read the message over again, a little surprised that it had been so easy. Usually Quentin would dither and stress over a response, whether he was interested or not. He definitely seemed interested.

I’ll be there.

Eliot added the phone number to his contacts, then hesitated before changing the name from Quentin to Brian. He didn’t expect Quentin to be snooping around in his phone, but better safe than sorry. Setting the phone on his bedside table, he laced his fingers together behind his head, wondering where Quentin might take him. Considering the dismal state of his wardrobe, he’d have to find a reason to sneak off and do some shopping at some point tomorrow. He wanted to look good for his date.

His date, with Brian the professor.

Closing his eyes, Eliot smiled to himself.

Chapter Text

 

Nodding his thanks to the bartender, Eliot took the two drinks in front of him and headed back to the quiet seats that he and Quentin had claimed. Quiet… well. Quieter. The two small armchairs, turned slightly toward each other and separated by a small coffee table, were on the opposite end of the bar from the dance floor, and the busier area of the small building. A few people were dancing, a lot more milling around the bar itself, but when he walked back to Quentin the noise wasn’t quite loud enough that they struggled to hold a conversation. 

And so far the conversation had just been so easy. Being with Quentin was easy. He should have been worried about slipping up and saying something that he shouldn’t have, but the lies and half-truths came almost frustratingly smoothly and Quentin didn’t have any reason to think he’d be lying. Whenever he felt like he was getting close to something that he couldn’t think of an explanation for or didn’t want to make up, he just veered the conversation back to Quentin, who seemed surprisingly comfortable talking about himself.

He got the impression that Brian hadn’t repeatedly been made to feel like he wasn’t good enough. He liked that about Brian. He also had to constantly fight the urge to hug that feeling out of Quentin.

Passing Quentin his drink, he lowered himself into the opposite chair and brought his own to his lips. They’d been here for a little while now, maybe an hour, and there was a pleasant burn in his veins that hinted at tipsy. “How was your dinner last night?” he asked, relaxing into the chair and resting his glass on the arm. Quentin hadn’t talked about any friends yet, and despite the potential to make things messy, he suddenly had to know that he had people who loved him.

Quentin shrugged, taking a drink and then setting his glass on the table between them. “It was fine. I thought I was going to be late but she was later and we both had to work today, so we didn’t really stay out long.”

Turning his glass in his hand, Eliot did his best to look casual and was aware that he probably looked anything but. “Date? Or…?”

Quentin’s eyebrows lifted in surprise, then drew down in confusion before his face seemed to settle on amusement. “No, just a friend from work. Actually just a friend from work,” he clarified, and Eliot was caught between feeling a little embarrassed for being so obvious and being pleased that Quentin had so obviously wanted to make himself clear. “Um.” Suddenly Quentin looked nervous, his eyes dropping to the table in front of him, and Eliot tried not to smile as he reached forward for his drink and took a large mouthful. “I was going to ask… about you and Alice?”

Having just taken a drink of his own, Eliot struggled to swallow before he spat his whiskey. He laughed, and louder when he saw the look on Quentin’s face. “Me? And Alice? Me and Alice? Oh… Brian. Oh, Brian,” he repeated, trying to cover the way he’d struggled to get his tongue around the name for a moment. Quentin didn’t seem to notice. “No,” he said firmly when Quentin continued to look at him with a cautious half-smile, like he didn’t understand the joke or the answer to his question.

“She just seemed, I don’t know… disapproving?” Quentin said defensively. “Of you – talking to me the way you do.”

His interest piqued and all traces of humour gone, Eliot leaned forward in his chair, his fingers digging into the armrest but the rest of him relaxed. They were close enough that he could reach out and touch him if he stretched, but he chose to leave the moment in Quentin’s hands. “Oh, really?” he said boldly, the corner of his mouth turning up into a smirk. This was a game he knew how to play. “And how’s that?”

Quentin met his dare, lifting his chin slightly and clearly trying not to smile. He could never hide it in his eyes, though. “Flirting,” he said simply.

Thoroughly enjoying the fact that Quentin was flirting by talking about his flirting, Eliot grinned at him widely, leaning back into his chair again, crossing his legs. He was having way too much fun with this and couldn’t bring himself to rein it in. Not a single part of him wanted to, and he couldn’t care less what Alice thought about it. “Alice just doesn’t want me to be distracted while we’re here,” he said, admitting the truth of that to himself but then brushing it aside as unimportant. His mind returned to Quentin’s original question. “Besides, she’s not exactly my type,” he added. He let his eyes roam freely over Quentin, pulling his lower lip between his teeth as he blatantly drank him in. He expected him to squirm, to go all jittery and awkward under his obvious appraisal, but instead he only sat up straighter in his seat. He thought his cheeks tinged a little pink, but it was hard to tell in the dim light.

Eventually, Quentin did glance away for a moment, clearing his throat, and he felt a small pang of relief that awkward Quentin was still in there somewhere. “It, um – it seems like you have some history though?” he said, his inflection making it a question.

It wasn’t really one that Eliot wanted to answer. What could he possibly say that was truthful and wouldn’t scare him off completely? “You don’t want to hear about that,” he said, draining the last of his drink and making to stand, but Quentin reached out and put his hand on his knee, keeping him in his seat.

“No, it’s my buy next,” he said firmly, taking a deliberate mouthful of his drink. “And now I do want to hear – it sounds juicy,” he added, waggling his eyebrows in a way that made Eliot smile despite himself.

“Well,” he said, then hesitated, his smile faltering. But he had insisted, and he had a feeling that refusing to talk about it would only put him off more. He stared at his empty glass for a moment, turning it in his hand, before raising his eyes to meet Quentin’s, not letting himself hide from the truth. “I fucked her boyfriend at the time,” he said light-heartedly. “So there’s that. And recently she fucked up my life, and the lives of everyone I care about, in a monumental way. So I guess we’re even.” Well, maybe not even. And maybe not okay, not yet. But at least they were working together somewhat cordially.

He probably shouldn’t have just blurted all of that out – it wasn’t one of those slip ups that would put doubt on who they were, but it was the kind of thing that would make most people keep a distance. Pressing his lips together, he watched Quentin as he processed, fully expecting him to cut the night short, or at least look uncomfortable. He swallowed his surprise when Quentin just blinked at him. “And you’re still working together?”

Eliot shrugged, still trying to gauge Quentin’s reaction. “Yes?”

Quentin laughed, shaking his head and looking perplexed – not judging, not disgusted, just amused. “You two must be great at compartmentalising. Either that, or you’re both really forgiving people.”

Or we’ve both just been through too much shit to bother trying to do this ourselves. “Maybe,” he said noncommittally. “I guess we’re kind of just stuck with each other and trying to make the most of it.”

“That’s all really anyone can do, I think,” Quentin said, grimacing sympathetically. He raised his glass. “To making the most of it,” he said, his face softening and it was enough to soften Eliot’s rough edges a little before Quentin’s brow furrowed again. “Shit, you finished your drink, didn’t you? Wait –“ Bringing his glass to his mouth, he tossed back the remainder of his drink, coughing a little afterwards.

Eliot chuckled despite himself at Quentin’s eagerness, leaning forward and thumping him on the back, more out of support than because he needed the help. Well, and as an excuse to touch him, but anyway. “Don’t go dying on me, now,” he said, rubbing his back firmly, then quirking his eyebrow, leaning into the lighter mood. “At least until you’ve bought me the next drink, anyway.”

Laughing, Quentin cleared his throat and then reached forward to grab Eliot’s empty glass. With Eliot’s hand still on his back, it brought him awfully close – if Eliot leaned forward just a little more, he could press his lips into Quentin’s hair. If Quentin tilted his head up, his mouth would be so close to his.

Supposedly oblivious to Eliot’s distraction, Quentin moved back and he dropped his arm. “Same again?”

Eliot forced a smile. “Thanks.”

A few minutes later Quentin returned, three glasses balanced between his hands. He set two of them on the table and then resumed his seat with the other. Eliot looked from the Quentin to the drinks and then back again, grinning. “Are you trying to get me drunk, Brian?” he asked, putting as much playful scandal in his tone as he could.

Quentin snorted. “More like giving up trying to match you drink for drink. You’ll finish both of those before I finish this one, I bet.”

“I have a high tolerance,” Eliot said nonchalantly, but made a note to slow down a little. He didn’t need to get wasted tonight, and he was pretty certain that Quentin would have to work tomorrow. Taking one of the drinks, he took a sip and then rested it on his knee. “Thanks.”

“So, um.” Quentin did that thing where he tried to tuck his hair behind his ear but it slid right back out again, just a touch too short. “Tell me about this second bar that you’re going to open.”

Eliot took a drink to buy himself a moment – so much for slowing down. But, when he lowered his glass, he found that he didn’t really have to think about it that hard. He’d managed the bar for months, and even before this life he’d known his way around alcohol. “The details aren’t finalised yet,” he said slowly, giving himself room in case Alice decided to say something to contradict him later. “But I’d like to open a wine bar.” A cautious smile spread across his face, and he was a little surprised at how genuinely he meant that. “I mean, I love my bar,” he added quickly. “It’s a great place to get fucked up. But I’d love to have somewhere where people gave a shit about what they were drinking.”

Quentin was watching him with warm eyes. “And you know about wine?”

“I know a little about wine, yes,” he said. The drinking of it and the tasting it, sure. He would have been more than happy to never drink Fillorian champagne again in his life, but at the same time he was still determined to make it happen if he ever got back to Fillory. That counted as experience, right?

“Well, it sounds like a great idea,” Quentin told him. “Elegant.”

Eliot scoffed. “My bar is perfectly elegant, thank you very much. I don’t do inelegant.”

Quentin’s eyes darted over him quickly, and Eliot smiled smugly at his obvious appraisal. He was glad he’d found the time earlier to go shopping, and the new fitted vest that he’d found was both one of his new favourites and on sale. “I believe that.”

Leaning back in his chair, Eliot stretched languidly, milking the praise for all it was worth. “I’m eternally graceful, like…” He tried to think of a nerd reference that Quentin would appreciate. “Like Galadriel, or her hubby… what was his name?”

Quentin stared back at him blankly and then shrugged apologetically. “She was in Lord of the Rings, right?”

What?

“You haven’t read Lord of the Rings?” he asked in disbelief.

“No.”

Straightening in his chair, he set his drink down on the table and rested his elbows on his knees, leaning forward to better look at him. “Seen the movie?”

Quentin smiled uncertainly. “I’ve seen one of them. I think it was the first one?”

It shouldn’t have been this alarming, but Eliot was alarmed. “What about Harry Potter?” he asked urgently, and Quentin just shook his head. “Game of Thrones? Narnia? Star Wars?” Quentin shook his head each time and Eliot paused, not really wanting to ask the last one but knowing that he had to. “Fillory and Further?”

One of Quentin’s shoulder lifted in a half-shrug, and Eliot realised that the look on his face was discomfort. “I’m guessing you’re a fan of the above?” he asked, and Eliot’s heart sank at the cautious reservation in his voice.

What, did he think he was going to walk if he was a fan of something that Brian wasn’t? It was more ridiculous for the fact that Eliot wasn’t more than a passing fan of any of the things he’d just listed. “Only kind of,” he said quickly. “I guess I just haven’t met anyone who hasn’t read or seen at least something there.”

The tension slowly seemed to leave Quentin’s shoulders. “I do read. A bit, actually. I guess I just can’t really get into something that I can’t relate to.”

Oh, Brian. “Magic seems more trouble than it’s worth, anyway,” Eliot said with forced enthusiasm, earning him a laugh.

He couldn’t stop his mind going back to the books. It must have been the effect of the memory potion. It hadn’t just taken Quentin’s memory of magic, but had removed it completely from his life. How fundamentally did that change a person who had lived and breathed magic and fantasy since he was a child? Now that Eliot knew what the difference was, he could see it as clear as day. Brian was a little more serious, a little more confident, a little more grown up. But he also felt less whimsical, less hopeful and earnest.

It didn’t change how intrigued by Brian he was, or how much he was attracted to him, but he suddenly felt overcome with longing for Quentin. Quentin, in all of his nerd glory. It wasn’t his greater wealth of knowledge, but the hope of a greater world, the wonder of magic and what it could do, real or fiction, which had profoundly changed him. He hadn’t realised how inexplicably the two were tied.

He was never going to jokingly give Quentin shit for his love of fantasy again.

Okay, he’d give him a few weeks, at least.

Curious about what else was different about Brian, Eliot finished his drink, picked up the other one, and leaned sideways on his elbow. “So, I told you about my ex. Let’s hear your painful stories.”

Quentin screwed up his face. “Um, I’m pretty sure you told me about Alice’s ex.” Eliot didn’t back down, and thankfully Quentin huffed a laugh, shaking his head slightly. “Not too much to tell. Mostly I kept to myself in high school. On-again-off-again girlfriend first half of college, serious boyfriend second half. He moved away so we broke up, but we’d been growing apart anyway. You know, a couple dates with different people here and there. Nothing too exciting.”

He sounded actually not fussed about the whole thing. Eliot looked at him incredulously. “Sounds like your heart hasn’t been broken too seriously,” he said, and wondered if a lack of idolising other people was another side effect of a magic-less life.

Quentin shrugged. “Not yet, anyway,” he said, then pressed his lips together firmly as though he could take back the words.

Eliot tried to smother the curiosity and the triumph that flooded through him. It was entirely inappropriate; he wasn’t here to get Quentin to fall in love with him. This was only the third time they’d met for fucks sake. But despite all of that, despite how dangerous he knew this slippery slope could turn out to be, it mattered that there was something, that Quentin felt enough of a potential something to let a thought like that slip.

Reaching out, Eliot cupped Quentin’s cheek with a gentle touch. He drank in the way his eyes widened, his breath catching, and locked the moment safely in his mind. “Oh, ye of little faith,” he said softly, tracing his thumb lightly along his jawbone as he drew his hand away almost as quickly as he’d touched him. Grabbing the empty glasses from the table, he left for the bar, needing to give himself a minute to calm his racing heart.

Dropping his elbows on the bar, he took a deep breath as he waited for the bartender. He shouldn’t push this too far, he knew. He was having trouble toeing the line between someone who loved Quentin, and someone who’d met Brian two days ago.

In other circumstances, he’d happily seduce Brian without a moment’s thought. He was over thinking it, he knew he was, but that was because his urge to just pull Quentin into his arms and kiss him within an inch of his life was one that was getting harder to deny.

There might be plenty of differences between Quentin and Brian, but Brian pulled at his heart the same way that Quentin did.

He just had to be careful.

He absolutely meant about not doing anything to force them apart because of the mission, and not because the intensity with which he craved being near Quentin scared the fuck out of him.

Nope.

Fuck.

He returned with their drinks, and made an effort to keep his hands to himself. Quentin gave him a look when he scooted his chair back an inch but didn’t comment on it, and thankfully didn’t seem to take it personally. Not wanting to keep on the deep and meaningful track that they’d apparently started going down, he veered the conversation to some light commentary on people watching, relieved when Quentin joined in with only an eye roll and a grin.

He quickly relaxed back into the moment, letting himself just do what he was here to do – befriend Brian to keep him close (and satisfy some of his need to be close to him). A few more drinks later and he wasn’t thinking about anything other than how good it felt to have Quentin’s smile directed at him. Their glasses were both empty and it was Eliot’s buy, but he pulled out his wallet before he bothered going up to the bar, fairly certain after the last round that he’d paid for that he was out of cash and true enough, the few singles left weren’t going to get them very far. He’d stashed most of his cash in the hotel room, not wanting to carry so much around with him when he couldn’t ward it against thieves. “Well, looks like I’m out,” he said lightly, trying to hide his reluctance at the thought of calling it a night.

Quentin was eyeing his open wallet curiously, and he realised belated how odd it must look; a few notes, his ID, his hotel card, and nothing else. “I didn’t see you as the not-trusting-the-banks kind,” he teased.

Eliot snorted. “Long story,” he said dryly, then caught his bottom lip between his teeth. “What are you going to do, Mr Finance Professor? School me on it?”

Yeah, so the toning down of the flirting was going well.

“Maybe later,” Quentin said, standing up and pulling Eliot to his feet as well. His hand was warm around his, and when Quentin didn’t let go, neither did he. “Right now, we’re going back to my place.” Eliot’s eyebrows flew up, surprised, and Quentin’s shoulders dropped a little. “I… I just figured… I have alcohol at home, and it’s quieter, and I wasn’t – unless you want –“

Part of him could listen to Quentin be a rambling mess all night, and the other part of him wanted to shut him up with a kiss. He compromised, using his free hand to press a finger to Quentin’s lips, silencing him immediately. “Lead the way,” he said simply, nodding to the door.

He didn’t miss the way Quentin’s tongue darted out to taste his lips after he’d removed his finger.

Fucking hell, Coldwater.

The night wasn’t as cold as he’d expected, or maybe it was just the alcohol fooling him. They were both a little drunk, and Eliot hooked his arm through Quentin’s to keep them both steady. It wasn’t a long walk to his apartment, and the three flights of stairs to his door where the worst of it. “Jesus, why don’t you live somewhere with an elevator?” Eliot whined, as Quentin thumbed through his keys.

“You get used to it,” he said with a shrug. Eliot knew that to be true – he’d lived in a bloody castle, for fuck’s sake, but that didn’t make the staircases any more fun after he’d been drinking. And to be fair, he hadn’t lived in Fillory for a while now.

Eliot had caught his breath by the time Quentin found the right key and unlocked the door. The inside of the apartment was nothing like what he’d expect Quentin’s home to look like, and probably exactly what he’d expect from Brian – after what he’d learned tonight, anyway. Without the clutter of a variety of book and movie and game collections, everything looked clean and neat. A bookcase stood tall against one wall, but from a quick glance it seemed to hold as many textbooks and nonfiction books as it did novels, and those appeared more the crime kind. The main area was separated from the kitchen by a breakfast bar, one end of which was piled with folders – presumably more tests or papers or whatever. The other end was home to half a dozen bottles of spirits, of varying levels of emptiness.

Even if Brian spent too much time working, at least he could drink while he did so.

Eliot admired that.

Aside from his work, the space was neat and clean, and he wondered whether it was usually like this or whether Quentin had tidied on the chance that he’d have company. He was still looking around curiously when Quentin reached the kitchen and turned back to face him. “So… drink?” he asked.

Stepping further into the apartment, he shucked his coat and carefully folded it over the back of a chair. “Sure.”

Turning toward the kitchen, he found Quentin watching him, his lips pressed together as though he were trying not to smile. “No, I meant… Could you…”

A grin spread slowly across his face as Eliot got his meaning. “Oh, so you want to put me to work?” he asked, not quite believing it but also kind of really loving his audacity. Quentin shrugged with an unapologetic smile and Eliot laughed, rolling up his sleeves. “All right, let’s see what you’ve got.”

What he had turned out to not be very much of anything, when it came to mixers, anyway. There was a choice between a bottle of Coke that didn’t fizz when he unscrewed the top, and a half empty bottle of orange juice. He didn’t think something that was just straight alcohol was a good idea, not with the way Quentin swayed on the spot every now and then.

Presenting his finished drink with a flourish, he waited as Quentin looked at it blankly. “That’s just vodka and orange juice,” he said, his twitching mouth ruining what Eliot thought was supposed to be a disappointed look. “I wanted a cocktail.”

Okay, yes, but that was beside the point. Lifting his chin, he waved his hand in another dramatic flourish over the glass. “It’s a screwdriver.”

“You mean, a vodka and orange juice.”

“I mean,” Eliot said good-humouredly, picking up the glass and leaning in close, holding the glass high between them, “that I can only create with what I’m given. Drink the goddamned cocktail.”

His eyes alight, Quentin wrapped his hand around the glass, his fingers brushing against his for a moment before Eliot let his hand drop. Still standing close, he watched closely as Quentin raised the glass, parting his lips and taking a long sip. Humming in appreciation, he placed the glass on the kitchen bench beside him. “It does taste good,” Quentin allowed, and then smirked up at him. “For a vodka and –“

There was no way he was going to let Quentin shit on his drink and continue to drink his drink. Eliot moved forward to steal the glass but Quentin moved faster, cutting off his own words as he pressed his lips to Eliot’s. Eliot’s hands grabbed Quentin’s forearms automatically when he came towards him but then he froze, stunned by the soft touch of lips against his. Quentin’s lips against his lips.

He couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t even think lest something break this moment. Which was apparently the wrong move because after a few seconds Quentin stiffened a little, pulling away. He could practically feel the start of his muttered ‘sorry’, but Quentin’s movement startled him out of his shock and he tightened his grip on one of his arms to stop him from pulling away, his left hand wrapping around the back of Quentin’s neck as he chased after his lips. When he found them, when he kissed Quentin, he sighed out all of the loneliness that had smothered him for the past few months.

Quentin responded immediately, parting his mouth over his and, satisfied that he wasn’t going to try and pull back again but needing him closer, Eliot wrapped his arm around his waist and pulled them bodily together. Quentin’s hands squeezed his shoulders briefly before his arms hooked around his neck, pulling him down to deepen the kiss. He tasted like orange juice and Eliot, overcome with joy and longing and a sense of coming home, laughed softly against his lips, slipping his tongue past them to taste him better. Quentin’s answering sigh thrummed right through him, setting his blood on fire.

Shifting his hand to cup the back of his head, Eliot flexed his fingers through his hair, lamenting the fact that there wasn’t as much to tug on but there was still enough to twist between his fingers. Quentin’s mouth stuttered against his as he moaned at the sensation but then redoubled his efforts, his hand raking down his back, settling on the small of his back. He stepped back and for a moment Eliot thought that he was pulling away before he noticed that he was pulling him with him. Pressing into him and finding resistance, he realised that Quentin had backed himself against the kitchen counter. Kissing him firmly, Eliot rolled his hips and felt what was unmistakably a growing erection trapped beneath his jeans, swallowing Quentin’s moan. Shifting his position slightly, he rocked forward again and groaned loudly when his own half-hard cock rubbed against Quentin’s hip.

Quentin’s hands dropped to his hips, circling round to cup his ass and Eliot finally broke the kiss, struggling to catch a full breath. Who needed oxygen anyway? Quentin’s mouth trailed along his jaw, pressing hot, open mouthed kisses down his neck. Eliot melted at the attention, his skin tingling under the light scratch of stubble combined with the soft pressure of his mouth. Starting to feel desperate, he took Quentin’s head in both of his hands and pulled him back so he could pour every inch of himself into kissing him again. One of Quentin’s hands shifted lower, following the curve of his ass, his fingers pressing against the seam of his pants and, and, “Fuck,” he gasped into Quentin’s mouth, then he groaned reluctantly as he finally recalled who he was with. Or who rather, who he was with thought he was. Fucking hell. “Wait.”

Quentin stilled immediately. Eliot pulled back far enough that his lips weren’t brushing Quentin’s with every word, but he could still feel his heavy breaths against his face. Resting his forehead against Quentin’s, he opened his eyes and looked down into eyes so familiar he could map the flecks of colour in his sleep.

“What is it?” Quentin breathed, his hand moving up to cup Eliot’s face, and he leaned into the touch instinctively, his eyes sliding closed.

And better so, because he couldn’t bear to see how Quentin’s eyes changed when he backed off. “You’ve had a bit to drink,” he reminded him, forcing the words out reluctantly. Every part of him cried out in protest, screaming at him to draw him closer, pull his mouth back onto his, tear off every layer between them, but he muffled that voice with more self control than he thought he could ever possibly have.

Quentin’s thumb brushed over his cheek. “I’m not that drunk,” he said, a touch of humour in his voice telling him that he wasn’t offended.

But that wasn’t really the problem. Well, sure, a little bit, but what was happening here was so much more than just a random drunk hook up between almost-strangers. Eliot squeezed his eyes shut tighter, trying and failing to block out the guilt that flooded through him. What if Quentin wouldn’t want this? This was Quentin and yet not, and he had no idea of knowing whether, once he got his memories back, Quentin would feel happy or disgruntled or used at the idea of Eliot being with Brian. Would he understand that it was because he missed him so much that he was desperate for whatever part of him that he could get? And besides all of that and despite his protest, they had both drunk their fair share tonight. That felt like the perfect reason to do this, and a perfect reason to stop it.

He couldn’t fuck this up. It was so fucking important not to fuck this up. His flexed his hands where they’d dropped to Quentin’s hips, fighting the urge to pull him closer. If he pushed too hard, if he pulled too hard, he could break this fragile link to being able to see him, to keeping him close, to keeping him safe.

He wanted this too much for it to be a good idea.

“That’s something a drunk person would say,” he pointed out.

Quentin pulled back far enough that he could get a good look at him, and not only were his eyes clear but they were full of so much wanting that Eliot felt like he could drown in it. “No, I’m not that drunk,” he insisted, and he sounded both firm and coherent. After a moment, he seemed to deflate a little, pulling back as far as he could against the counter. “But… but if you don’t want…”

Unable to stand the thought of Quentin even considering the fact that he wasn’t good enough, and unable to deny him anything when he looked at him with so much need, Eliot surged forward to cut off his words, wrapping his arms around him and pulling him as close as he could and still keep his mouth on his. Quentin’s grunt of surprise was quickly swallowed and replaced with gasps of pleasure as Eliot pressed against him. “I want,” he told him firmly, his mouth barely lifting from his, his lips sealing the words against Quentin’s. “More than… Just… Yes, yes, I want.”

He wanted, more than he was willing to think about consequences, more than he was willing to think about ‘later’, more than it would make sense for Eliot to want Brian, so he closed his eyes and pulled him close, kissing him deeply so he wouldn’t see the desperation on his face. He just… he needed… Quentin’s hand started fumbling at his tie, and yes, that’s exactly what he needed. Less clothes, more skin. He needed to feel close. “Why don’t I show you around the rest of the apartment?” Quentin murmured, as Eliot moved his lips to his neck. “Like the – fuck – like the… the bedroom.”

The last word was barely audible, fading into a moan as Eliot curled his tongue around his earlobe. “The where?” he teased, pressing lightly with his teeth.

“Shut up and… oh, fuck, yes.”

Chapter Text

Eliot woke to an unfamiliar bed, an unfamiliar amount of light penetrating his eyelids, an unfamiliar pillow.

But oh, the scent in that pillow…

He’d lived with that smell for decades.

Without opening his eyes, he reached out across the bed, and when his hand encountered nothing between the top sheet and the bottom he reached for the other pillow instead, pulling it on top of his and burying his face in it. The scent in this one was stronger – slightly different than he was used to, maybe a different shampoo, but Quentin through and through. He breathed in deeply through his nose, fortifying himself.

“If you’d wanted an extra pillow you could have said something.”

Eliot’s eyes flew open, and he took a moment to compose himself before rolling over to see Quentin standing in the doorway. He was fully dressed, unfortunately, but the smile playing around his lips told him that he probably hadn’t seen Eliot’s less than casual attempt to inhale his pillow. Still shaking off the last vestiges of sleep and grasping at some attempt at sexiness, Eliot stretched his legs beneath the sheet that hung around his waist, well aware that his lower half was well outlined by the thin material. There had been a quilt, but at some point in the night it had been kicked to the bottom of the bed, their shared body heat being more than enough. Relaxing again, he smiled languidly up at Quentin. “Morning.”

Just as he’d intended, Quentin’s eyes trailed along his body, and Eliot felt a twinge of gratification as he watched him pull his lips between his teeth. “Good morning. Um.” And with that, he turned and walked out of the bedroom.

Okay…?

He stared after Quentin for a moment before he slowly relaxed back into the pillow. He shouldn’t be surprised by a morning after freak out – it was Quentin, after all – but he didn’t like the knot that quickly formed in his stomach. He’d never been in the position where he’d regretted spending the night with someone because of the chance that it might endanger their relationship… And that was a part of the problem – he didn’t regret it. Not even a little bit. Not even in an ‘I could have fucked this up forever’ kind of way. He knew he should, but just he couldn’t.

He’d missed Quentin more than he could describe, and not just because of their most recent forced separation, not just because of the false memories that currently kept them apart (or not). They hadn’t really had any time together since their years in Fillory, not the kind of intimacy they’d shared last night, and he’d missed it more than he’d felt allowed, considering they’d been caught up in their, you know, quest to save magic and all.

Rubbing his hands over his face and then raking his fingers through his hair, Eliot let out a sigh. His body felt more relaxed than it had in a long time, but Quentin’s sudden departure was worrying him. He wasn’t sure what the right thing to do was. He hadn’t heard any doors closed so he was presumably still in the apartment, so should he go find him? Should he leave, or wait until he left? Was Quentin just too nervous to kick him out?

But he hadn’t imagined that smile when he’d first woken.

He was about to get up and start hunting for his clothes when he heard footsteps and looked up to see Quentin step slowly into the room again, this time with a takeaway coffee in hand. “I have to go to work, but, I – I got this for you,” he said, rushing over to put the cup on the bedside table. His cheeks were starting to redden and he was looking everywhere but at Eliot as he hovered by the bed. “I don’t know what you like in the morning, but I figured… and there’s some croissants on the kitchen counter if you want…”

Fighting back a grin, Eliot sat up in the bed, shifting so that his shoulders rested against the headboard. He didn’t miss the way Quentin’s eyes darted to the way the sheet pooled around his hips, and was a little disappointed that it hadn’t fallen down further. He’d have loved to see how nervous-morning-after Brian dealt with that.

Reaching out, he took Quentin’s closest hand in his, squeezing it gently, stroking his thumb over his palm, trying to calm him. “Thank you,” he said, smiling when he finally met his eyes.

He’d hoped that Quentin would relax but instead his brow furrowed, his throat moving as he swallowed. “I, um –“ Cutting himself off with a low sound in the back of his throat, he moved forward quickly, fingers tightening around his as he closed the distance between them. Eliot sucked in his breath in surprise when Quentin’s mouth pressed against his but he didn’t pause to question it, grabbing the back of his neck and holding him close, kissing him earnestly.

The bed dipped beside him, and Eliot let go of Quentin’s hand to grab onto his hip, humming when Quentin’s hand cupped his face, slipping into his hair. His other grabbed his shoulder for a moment before smoothing down over his chest, and Eliot’s muscles tensed when his fingers brushed over his stomach before settling on his waist. Quentin’s knee was on the bed, and Eliot pulled on his hip, intending to guide him on top of him but Quentin resisted, breaking the kiss with a groan. “I have to –“

“I know, I know,” Eliot interrupted, kissing him again, relieved when Quentin’s lips parted on his. He didn’t want to make him late, but also he didn’t give a fuck and he was going to live in this moment for just a little longer. Still, when Quentin gave in to his tugging and slung his leg over his thighs, straddling him, he made sure to keep a little space between them. It took everything he had not to raise his hips into Quentin’s, but somehow he managed to keep himself in check, despite how erotic it was that he was barely covered by a thin sheet while Quentin was fully dressed above him. He didn’t want to push too hard – everything between them was in Quentin’s hands, even if he didn’t realise it.

He didn’t resist when Quentin slowed the kiss. When he pulled back slightly, foreheads touching, noses brushing, Eliot dropped one hand to rest on his waist and the other occupied itself playing with one of the buttons on his shirt. “Have a good day at work,” he murmured, feeling Quentin’s lips softly against his with every word.

Quentin kissed him gently and then a little less gently, his hands smoothing up over his bare chest, and Eliot was on the verge of tugging him closer again when he pulled back with a shaky laugh. “How can I not, with this in my head?” he said, his eyes wandering over him. “God, I’m not going to be able to concentrate all day,” he groaned.

“Good,” he said, quirking his eyebrow at him.

Quentin’s hands slid down into his lap, and he dropped his eyes for a moment before looking back up at him with hesitant eyes. “I’m sure you have stuff to do, but you can hang here as long as you like. I can call you later, right?”

Grinning, Eliot leaned forward to give him one more quick kiss. “I’ll be waiting.”

With a gratifying amount of obvious reluctance, Quentin climbed off of him, straightened his clothes and glanced over his shoulder at him one more time before disappearing through the bedroom door. A minute later he heard the main door open and close, and then he was alone in the apartment. Sliding down the bed until his head hit the pillow again, he closed his eyes, letting his body relax.

Thank God I didn’t fuck it up.

He’d have loved to just lie in Quentin’s bed all day, but the fullness of his bladder was starting to get too much to ignore. After a few minutes he sighed, slipped out from under the sheet and went looking for the bathroom.

Returning to the bedroom, he smiled at the dishevelled state of the bed, and wider when he saw the coffee still sitting on the bedside table. He felt oddly pleased that Quentin had thought to get him something as well. The coffee was starting to cool but not so much that it was unpleasant, and he downed half of it before he started hunting for his clothes.

His underwear was on the floor just beside the bed so he pulled them before catching sight of his shirt crumpled on the other side of the bedroom. Slipping his arms through the sleeves without bothering to do up the buttons yet, he picked up his trousers, checking that the Emmerson’s Alloy was safe in his pocket and then pausing when he felt the shape of his phone through the material. He may have accidentally forgotten to let Alice know that he wasn’t coming back to the hotel last night.

But that wasn’t a big deal, he reminded himself, scoffing as he pulled his phone from the pocket. She wasn’t his keeper.

His conviction faltered when he saw notifications for half a dozen messages and twice as many missed calls. Maybe she was just worried, he thought, trying to ignore the dread rising in his chest. He skimmed through the calls, noting times from the last two hours, before opening his messages.

(11:47)  I guess you’re not coming back tonight.

(11:53)  Don’t you dare fuck this up for us.

(6:56)  Answer your phone jackass

(7:01)  Eliot!

(7:03)  Lydia has a friend who says she knows something about memory spells. She’s catching a flight at 9 but she’ll talk to us while she waits so we have to get to the airport. Right now.

(7:11)  I can’t wait any longer.

“Fuck,” he muttered, his heart sinking when he saw the time was just before eight. Pressing the call button, he held his breath as he listened to it ring, and let it out in frustration when the generic voicemail message started up one and a half rings in. Fuck.

Pulling on the rest of his clothes, he drank the rest of his coffee in two gulps and tossed the empty cup in the trash. He was halfway to the door before he turned and grabbed one of the croissants that Quentin had bought – it would be rude not to eat it, after all.

Alice still wasn’t picking up her phone and there was no way he’d get to the airport before her contact’s friend had to board her flight so he headed back to the hotel. He wasn’t surprised to find the room empty. Turning up the sound on his phone, he showered and changed his clothes, then sat at the table. The pile of books from the library was still sitting there so he pulled one over and flicked through it idly, not really expecting to find anything useful but unable to sit there and do nothing.

It was a little after nine when the door finally opened, and Eliot closed the book, pushing it away and straightening his shoulders as Alice walked into the room. She stopped just inside the door, looking at him with a blank face. “Oh, so you are alive.”

Eliot bit back the irritation that spiked within him. He’d known that she would be angry, had expected it, and he reminded himself that he deserved it. He couldn’t care less what she thought about him staying out the night – if she was upset about that it was bullshit – but there’d been a lead and he’d missed it. “What did she have to say?” he asked, hoping they could skip past the worst of it.

She pressed her lips together for a moment, before stepping further into the room. “A lot about curses but not much about potions. She thinks that if we knew the ingredients of the potion then she might be able to help.”

“Which we’ve already ruled out. We can’t risk contacting Henry.” They couldn’t chance contacting the person who’d done this to them in the first place. They didn’t know how closely he was involved with the Library, and couldn’t risk drawing attention to themselves since Eliot was supposed to not have his memories and Alice was on the run. “So we’re no better off after all that.” Deflating against the chair, he rubbed at his eyes.

“That’s beside the point,” Alice said, and he raised his head to see her looking down at him, her hands on her hips. “It’s still a big deal, Eliot! What if she’d known something and we’d had to act on it straight away? Am I just doing all of this by myself now? I thought we were supposed to be working together.”

“My phone was on vibrate,” he said. She just raised her eyebrows as though to say ‘so what?’ and he narrowed his eyes at her. “And you know what? Fuck it. It’s not like I’m slacking off. It’s not like I’m not trying to help. It was an accident.

As if on cue, his phone dinged with a message, and he resisted the urge to look over to where it was charging between the beds. Alice glanced over at it and then back to him, sneering. “Well, good to know it still works.”

God, he needed a cigarette. “Don’t be fucking cute. You know I tried to call you.”

She ignored him. “I don’t even need to ask who that is, do I? I don’t need to ask where you were last night. Good to see that Brian’s just as good as keeping his dick in his pants as you and Quentin are.”

He was on his feet before he realised it, scowling down at her from his full height. He wrapped his hand around the back of the chair to quell the urge to reach out and strangle her with it. She raised her chin at him defiantly, but he paused when he saw a flash of something in her eyes. Was that hurt? Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath to try and find some calm before he regarded her once more. The hurt was already hidden, but he was confident that it had been there. “This isn’t about me not being there to see what’s-her-name’s friend, is it?”

She crossed her arms over her chest defensively. “Of course it is,” she said quickly, her eyes glancing quickly away and then back again.

Eliot scoffed. “Yeah, maybe a little, but not really. It’s about Quentin.”

He knew he’d hit his mark when her brow furrowed. She dropped her arms, her fingers forming fists and then flexing at her sides. “He’s not Quentin, Eliot! Don’t you realise that? Don’t you see how weird it is, that he doesn’t remember you, but you’ve got no problem having him suck your dick anyway?” He raised his eyebrows pointedly at her audacity, but didn’t think it was a good idea to point out that it had been the other way around. “How do you think he’s going to feel when we wake him up and he realises you’ve been fucking each other when real Quentin can’t have a say in it?”

He wasn’t going to admit that he’d worried about the same thing – he’d already dismissed it, but the worry over how Quentin would take it had crept up on him more than once over the last few days. He knew how Quentin felt about him. He knew that Quentin knew how he felt. It would be fine. Right? “To be fair, he did give me permission once to seduce him if his memory was wiped, so I’m just operating under the assumption that that still counts.”

She screwed up her face in disbelief. “That’s bullshit. How can you not see –“

“No, you don’t see,” he snapped, letting go of the chair and taking a step toward her, straightening his shoulders. “You have no idea. He never told you, did he?”

Her eyes darted between his nervously. “Told me what?”

“About how we got the third key in Fillory.”

Alice’s mouth opened and then closed again. “He told me that you lived out your lives there,” she said slowly. “He didn’t really seem like he wanted to talk about it.”

Neither did he, and yet here they were. Fucking hell. “Yeah, sure, we lived out our lives there,” he said sarcastically. She really had no clue at all just what that meant. He’d told Margo the truth, or as much of it as he could bring himself to, but aside from that they’d had some sort of unspoken agreement that their time together was just for themselves. “We lived and loved and grew old together. We buried his wife together, raised our son together, woke up together every day for seventy years. He’s my family, Alice, and I’m his.” And how dare she imply that she knew best for him after all of that? He heard his voice getting harsher but couldn’t bring himself to care. “So you don’t get to try and tell me how he’s going to feel about this, and you definitely don’t get to fucking tell me that I don’t give a shit about saving him.”

The shock on her face was clear, and he simultaneously felt glad to have thrown something at her that she didn’t expect and irritated with himself that he’d just blurted out this important thing that he held so close to his chest for the sake of getting her off of his back. Well, it was too late now. Alice stared up at him with wide eyes as the silence stretched long between them. “Shit, Eliot,” she said eventually.

Sighing, he turned away from her, rubbing at the back of his neck. Suddenly his head was pounding. “Yeah.”

“That was a different time, though, right?” she asked, her voice small.

He didn’t know what she was really asking, or what kind of answer she wanted. Sure, it was now an alternate timeline or whatever, but the memories were burned into his brain. And it still had to exist somewhere if those events had led to Quentin giving Jane the key so Margo could take it for them. Fuck, he missed Margo. He missed having someone on his side. “Twice over,” he said bitterly.

There was some Tylenol in his bag, and he downed two with a mouthful of whiskey, wishing he had something stronger. He heard Alice shifting behind him and closed his eyes, wishing this could all be over with already so he could have some god damned space to feel – or ignore – his feelings. “I still think it’s stupid to get involved with him while all of this is going on. You don’t want to –“

“I know.”

She paused. “And you have to be careful about –“

“I fucking know, Alice.”

There was a huff, and without looking at her he couldn’t tell how much annoyance she was hanging onto. Honestly, he didn’t care. “Just keep your phone on,” she said, stalking past him into the bathroom.

Just keep your phone on,” he imitated silently, pulling a face at the back of her head before the bathroom door closed behind her. Scowling, he walked over and picked up his phone, sitting on the bed where the charger would still reach.

(9:18)  Just so you know, it’s kinda hard to concentrate on numbers when I can’t stop thinking of you naked in my bed.

Closing his eyes, he rubbed his hand over his face, letting his breath and his anger out slowly. Alice could think whatever the hell she wanted. He wasn’t forcing anything, he knew he wasn’t, and he knew that he wasn’t doing anything Quentin wouldn’t want. And he wasn’t going to turn Brian away, not when it was safer to keep him close. Reading his message again, Eliot thought back to waking up in Quentin’s bed and felt a smile tugging at his lips. Sucking his bottom lip between his teeth, he typed out a reply.

(9:31)   Funny, I can’t stop thinking about being naked in your bed either.


Leaning his shoulder against the bus window, Brian stared at the buildings as they went by, not seeing any of them. He was utterly distracted by Eliot.

He thought back over the last few days, trying to convince himself that they had actually happened. A week ago he’d been just living his life, visiting the bookstore on his way home from work on an ordinary Monday, when he’d literally walked into the man who had occupied almost his every waking thought since then. Now it was Monday again, and he was rushing home to shower before meeting Eliot for dinner.

After spending the night together last Wednesday, he’d fully expected to wake up and find him gone in the morning. Feeling like a romantic sap, he’d still got an extra coffee and something for breakfast just in case, and he couldn’t really believe it when he saw that he hadn’t bolted as soon as he’d woken. Not only that, but he’d looked at him as though he was surprised that he wasn’t kicking him out, but Brian couldn’t think of anything stupider than kicking out the man who’d given him two mind-blowing orgasms the night before.

And so started their routine for the next few days. Brian would go to work, unable to focus on anything but Eliot, Eliot would go about his business in town during the day, and they’d spend their nights together. Eliot had to meet someone Saturday night, but he’d woken to a message at 2am asking if he was still awake, let him in, and they’d barely left his bed from then until this morning. He’d woken early and would have gone back to sleep, but he’d gotten lost in staring at Eliot’s sleeping form, tracing idle patterns on his skin until he’d woken, and there was no more sleep after that.

He was exhausted.

He’d never been happier.

Caught up in the sound that Eliot had made when he’d wrapped his mouth around his cock, Brian almost missed his stop, but he barely felt the eye roll the driver gave him when he had to ask him to open the door again. Stepping onto the sidewalk, he adjusted the way his satchel sat over his shoulder before starting off in the direction of his apartment. He had a bit of time – he’d gotten a message from Eliot on his lunchbreak telling him that something had come up and he’d have to push their dinner by an hour, so he wasn’t having to rush like he would have had to meet him at the original time.

He was trying not to think about how every meeting put Eliot one step closer to going home to Chicago.

Of course he wanted Eliot to get the deal. Whenever he talked about what he would do with this new bar, if his investor would give him the money to open it, his eyes lit up with a hesitant excitement, like he didn’t want to get his hopes up for something that he truly cared about. He wanted it for Eliot, he really did.

He just wanted him to take his time in getting it, and that made him feel really, really shit.

Probably about as shit as he felt when he thought about Eliot leaving.

So he steadfastly refused to think about it, because he knew that that bubble would have to be popped at some point, and he was going to revel in this crazy, unexpected happiness while it lasted.

There was just… something about him, something that was unlike anyone Brian had ever met, and he couldn’t place just what it was but he knew that he liked it. Eliot was interesting, and funny, and carefree in a way that Brian knew he could never be. He listened to him ramble about his work without looking bored, and asked him questions about his life as though he really cared. He had a presence that should have been intimidating, whether he was in a crowded bar or standing in his kitchen in his underwear, eating cold pizza out of the box, but somehow he made him feel secure. Not to mention just how stupidly attractive he was, and there was that thing he did with his fingers…

Shaking his head slightly, he smiled to himself as he crossed the road, well aware that it was a little ridiculous to be so infatuated with someone that he’d just met, but it was just like that when you met someone new, right? Thinking about someone new, he remembered Eliot’s friend Alice. Well, work-friend, or maybe not even that at the moment. Eliot had closed up when he’d mentioned Alice after their first night together and had gone quiet anytime they’d talked about her since then, so he figured they’d had some kind of argument or falling out.

He’d run into her Friday morning when he’d visited the café before work, but he didn’t know her well enough to feel comfortable asking her about it. Overall, she’d been friendly enough towards him, so he hoped that he wasn’t the cause of whatever was going on between them. They’d only talked for a few minutes while he was waiting for his order, but it was long enough for him to get the impression of a sharp mind and a slightly cold attitude. That had thawed quickly, however, and when she’d smiled brightly at him it had lit up her whole face, and he’d been momentarily struck by the thought of whether he’d be as distracted by her if he hadn’t met Eliot first.

But when he thought of Eliot… well. He remembered how it had felt that morning; the tender way Eliot had touched him, how he’d held him so close, how he’d kissed him so slowly, the look in his eyes that had been full of such feeling and promise.

It was too much, they barely knew each other. It was ridiculous.

He wanted more.

Feeling his phone buzz in his pocket as he neared the curb, he pulled it out and felt something in him lift when he saw Eliot’s name on his screen. Stepping down onto the street, he opened the message.

(5:12)  What do you think about –

Something hit hard against him, forcing the oxygen out of his lungs and sending him flying backwards into the air. He was vaguely aware of a hard force against his back, pain erupting in his leg and his head before it flowed through his whole body, and then even that faded into black.

Chapter Text

Closing the door behind him, Eliot stepped into the hotel room and dropped his bag on the bed, rolling his shoulder to ease the ache he felt before sitting on the edge of the mattress. The bag was light now, but he’d carried it around for two hours before he’d managed to get the right price for some of the artefacts that Alice had stolen from the Library and offload some of the weight. Eventually he’d found someone who knew their worth, and he couldn’t imagine Alice would turn her nose up at the wads of cash he’d returned with in exchange.

He’d thought she’d be here, but despite his success, the empty room was a relief. They’d managed to avoid each other for the last few days. He’d spent every night at Quentin’s place since their argument, and it had been too easy to find things to occupy themselves separately during the daylight hours. Their communication had reduced down to brief updates on their progress, which so far had been insignificant. Eliot had found a hedge safehouse and exchanged one of the lesser trinkets for information, but that information had ended up useless and the desperate look in the hedge’s eyes had unnerved him. They were all feeling the loss of magic.

Alice wasn’t doing any better with her contacts, which he enjoyed with a good amount of spite but which also worried him more and more as each day passed. On one hand, it felt validating that Alice Quinn was struggling as much as he was, but it was hard to let himself get too carried away at her failure when that failure meant Quentin was still stuck with his wrong memories.

None of that mattered right now, though. He’d called Quentin earlier to push back their dinner, and he didn’t think he was going to make that time now either. He was going to have to make it up to him. Smiling to himself, he was reaching for his phone when he felt it start to buzz in his pocket, and he brought it to his ear without bothering to check the caller ID. “Hey, I was just about to call you. I’m on my way now –“

“Eliot.”

“Alice?” He should have let it go to voicemail. “What do you –“

“It’s Quentin.”

Something in her voice made him stop cold. Slowly, he leaned forward on the bed, gripping the phone tighter. “What’s Quentin?” he asked, a knot of dread slowly building in his stomach.

“We’re at the hospital,” she said quickly, and he felt physically ill at the strangled tone of her voice. “He –“ He heard an increase in the background noise but couldn’t make out what it was. “Shit, I can’t talk. Just get here, okay?”

The line went quiet, and he dropped his hand to see she’d hung up on him. He stared at the screen in disbelief for a few seconds before what she’d said truly hit him. She was at the hospital. With Quentin. Oh, fuck.

Panic swept through him so suddenly that he was unable to move, his mind spinning through every terrible thing that could have happened, the thoughts getting darker and darker until he couldn’t breathe. Was it the Library? Was it the monster? But surely if they’d had an encounter with them that they couldn’t handle they would be fleeing… unless Quentin was hurt too badly.  You should have been there. You should have… He didn’t know what, because he didn’t know what had happened. The anxiety in Alice’s voice left no doubt that something had, but he didn’t know how badly hurt he was, or – or if he… fuck.

Alice’s car keys were on the table and he grabbed them before racing downstairs. Finding her car in its usual spot in the car park, he opened the door and slid behind the wheel, cursing when it took him three tries to get the keys in the ignition. Finally turning the ignition, he twisted his fingers in his hair, forcing himself to take a deep breath. When he put them on the wheel they were only barely shaking.

The hospital wasn’t so far away from the hotel, but every minute that passed felt like a dozen, and he’d worked himself back up into a state of panic by the time he reached the information desk. “I’m looking for Quentin Coldwater,” he said urgently to the man sitting behind the desk.

The man looked up at him disinterestedly. “Hmm?”

Anger spiked in him and he smothered the urge to reach across the counter and shake him. “Quentin Coldwater,” he snapped. “Where is he? Which department, which room?"

Rolling his eyes and muttering something about patience, the man typed something into his computer. After a moment he shrugged. “No Quentin Coldwater on record here.”

Breathing in slowly, Eliot held it for a second before letting it out. He didn’t have time for this. “What do you mean you – oh, shit.” He wasn’t thinking straight. “I mean Brian –“

“Eliot!”

His head snapped up at the sound of Alice’s voice. She stood halfway down the hallway and he closed the distance in a few short steps. “What happened? Where is he? Is he okay?”

“He’s okay,” she told him firmly, and the relief that flooded through him made his head spin. Her hand closed around his arm just above his elbow to keep him steady. “Eliot. He’s okay. He almost got hit by a truck. He hit his head and it knocked him out but only for a few minutes, and the doctor says he has a minor concussion but it’s not serious. And they thought his ankle was broken, but he’s just come back from getting an x-ray and they say it’s just a sprain.”

He stared at her wide-eyed, trying to push down the sickening swell of worry and relief enough to take in the details. “He’s already had an x-ray? How long has he been here?"

“Not too long. Maybe an hour before I called you.” The corner of Alice’s mouth twitched uncertainly. “I may have… bribed the doctor to move us up the queue. I used the last of the cash I had.”

Eliot shook his head dismissively. Money was the furthest thing from his mind. “I sold enough today for us to get by.”

There was that awkward smile again – the one that said she had something to say that she knew wouldn’t go over well. “That’s not all,” she said carefully. “I…” Glancing around at all of the people within earshot, nurses and visitors and patients alike, she made a sound of frustration and tightened her grip on his arm, pulling him down the hall and through a door into a supply closet that looked exactly like every single supply closet in every single medical drama he’d ever seen. Closing the door behind them, she turned to face him, setting her jaw firmly. “I used the magic.”

It took a moment for the impact of her words to really hit him. The magic from the wellspring, their one true hope of restoring Quentin’s memories – gone. “To heal him?” he said weakly.

Alice shook her head slowly. “He was right in the way of the truck, Eliot. He would have been taken out if I hadn’t pushed him out of the way. I told him that he was actually hit by the truck, and he seems to believe it.”

Her voice had gotten steadily louder and shriller, and it only fed into his quickly growing frustration. “So you used the only magic we have, and he still ended up hurt?”

She looked at him incredulously. “Better a sprained ankle than a broken body, Eliot!”

She wasn’t wrong, but he couldn’t believe that she could be so unbelievably blasé about this. How could she just shrug it off when, after having gotten absolutely fucking nowhere in the last week, this was the one thing that they could hold on to that could help them? They had fuck all leads as it was, but everything had hinged on the fact that they had a single use dose of magic to help them once they figured it out. “That was our only way to save him.”

Scoffing, Alice crossed her arms over her chest. “And how were we going to save everyone else afterwards?”

What did that have anything to do with it? They could only deal with one dilemma at a time. “We would have figured it out,” he said, brushing it off.

“And now we’ll figure this out,” she said, like it was the easiest thing in the world. Pressing her mouth into a hard line, she raised her eyebrows challengingly. “Would you rather he be dead?”

Oh, fuck you. That very worry was so fresh that he felt her words like a knife in his gut and he scowled at her, too furious at that suggestion to find the right words to throw back at her. But he didn’t have to stand around and listen to this bullshit. He moved forward, intending to walk past her to the door, but stopped short when she stepped into his way. He was looking down at her imperiously, strongly considering forcibly moving her when her face softened. “I’m sorry, but I mean it,” she said quietly. “We’ll work it out. But I couldn’t just let him die.”

The mix of love and sadness in her eyes felt all too familiar, and he felt his anger slowly start to seep away when he remembered that, when it came down to it, they were in this together. They were both here because they loved Quentin, and everything they did came from a need to protect him. Suddenly all he felt was tired. “You’re right,” he admitted. “It was the right thing to do. I just don’t know where we’re supposed to go from here. Every lead we chase takes us nowhere. Apparently, if the Library doesn’t find us here then we still have to find a way to protect Quentin from oncoming traffic.” Squeezing his eyes shut, he took a deep breath to gather himself. “I just feel like our last hope just slipped through our fingers,” he said bitterly.

“We’re not out of options yet,” Alice said, her mouth twitching into an awkward half-smile. “Now, I told him I was going to the bathroom but really I just didn’t want to pay off that doctor in front of him. I should get back. And you’ll feel better when you see him.”

Surprised by that thoughtfulness, he nodded silently and followed her out of the closet and down the hallway. A few corners down, she paused at a door and gestured for him to go in first, and he quickly stepped inside. It was a large room with maybe eight beds, but he stopped taking in the scenery when his eyes found Quentin.

He was in the second bed on the left, and the relief that he felt to see him sitting upright, fumbling with the foil on a jell-o cup, was overwhelming. He stopped at the end of the bed, struggling to hold some of it back because the raw emotion flooding through him felt like far too much.

Quentin looked up, surprise and then happiness lighting up his face when his eyes landed on Eliot. “Hey, what are you doing here?” he asked, and the easy smile that spread across his face eased a considerable amount of the tension that Eliot still held onto.

“Alice called me,” he said. He opened his mouth to make a joke about being stood up, but the words got stuck in his throat when he caught sight of Quentin’s leg propped up on top of the blanket, a tight bandage around his swollen ankle. He realised he was wearing a hospital gown and felt something twist in his stomach. “What’s with the get up?” he said, trying and failing to keep his voice steady. He turned to look at Alice, who had walked past him to take the seat by Quentin’s bed. Did that mean they’d admitted him for the night? How long did he have to stay in for? “I thought you said it wasn’t that bad?”

“It’s not,” Quentin said reassuringly, and how the hell it did happen that Quentin was the one trying to comfort him? Eliot turned back to him, feeling torn between affection and worry and relief. “They just want to keep me until the morning because of the concussion, but it’s just a precaution. My clothes got a little torn up from when I hit the ground, so I figured this was an upgrade. At least until I realised how gaping it is at the back.” He paused, his smile fading slowly. “Um, that’s the part where you say something dirty that makes everyone in the room uncomfortable except you.”

The uncertainty in Quentin’s smile snapped Eliot out of his hesitation. He reached the bed in two quick steps, sitting on the edge of it and pulling Quentin into his arms. Quentin stiffened, making a small sound in the back of his throat, but his arms came around Eliot quick enough that he couldn’t pull away. Adjusting his grip until Quentin relaxed into him, Eliot closed his eyes, pressing his face against the top of Quentin’s head and breathing him in.

He was holding him too tight, he knew he was, but he couldn’t rein it in anymore. From the way Quentin’s arms only tightened around him, he knew that he wasn’t the only one feeling a little overwhelmed. “I’m okay,” Quentin said quietly, his voice muffled against his chest. “I’m more hurt from when I hit the ground than when the truck hit me, and even that’s not that bad. Just a few bruises and a sprain. It’s nothing."

Shaking his head, he pressed his mouth against Quentin’s hair. “Just… thank god you’re okay.” And not just okay, but being the stable one in the situation. Taking another deep breath, he finally managed to pull himself together. He could do better than this. He never liked to disappoint. Clearing his throat to make sure his wavering voice wouldn’t ruin the moment, he let his hand drift down Quentin’s back, slipping inside the opening in his gown. Aware of his bruises, he touched him only lightly as his fingers traced a line down his skin. “So, about this gaping gown.”

Quentin huffed a laugh and then winced. Eliot pulled back quickly, and caught the pain on his face before he smoothed it over. “Tell me they’re at least giving you the good drugs. And that you’re telling them it’s twice as bad as it is so you can save some for later,” he added with a quirk of his eyebrow, trying to get another smile out of him.

Alice made an exasperated sound, and he twisted to look at her innocently. Surprisingly, she didn’t look quite as disapproving as he’d expected, but he went with it anyway. “For the pain when he gets home,” he insisted, holding his hand over his heart as though he were horribly offended before turning back to Quentin and winking at him. Quentin shook his head at him affectionately and he couldn’t hold onto the bluster, smiling and taking his hand, squeezing it firmly.

The patient in the bed next to Quentin was asleep, so Eliot took his chair and set it on the opposite side from Alice’s, the two of them settling in to keep Quentin company. Quentin seemed a little awkward with Alice at first, glancing between the two of them like he expected to be caught in the middle of something at any moment, but Eliot’s desire to pick a fight with her was steadily dissipating. He thought back to their conversation in the supply closet just before, and felt sick remembering that he’d yelled at her for pushing Quentin out of the way of a moving truck. Now that he was here, sitting with a banged up and yet still high-spirited Quentin, he couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

At one point, Alice left to get them something from the cafeteria and Quentin jumped at the opportunity. “So what happened to all of that hostility between you two?”

Eliot’s lip twitched in reluctant amusement. He’d tried to keep his thoughts about Alice to himself, hadn’t wanted to skew Brian’s opinion of her or sour their time together,  but he’d known that he’d been less than subtle. He shrugged, deciding the truth was the best option. “It’s hard to stay mad at her when I’m busy being so angry at some driver who wasn’t looking where they were going.”

A sheepish look wasn’t what he’d expected in return, and yet there it was. “Actually, it was my fault. I wasn’t watching where I was walking.” He opened his mouth as though to say something else but then apparently thought better of it. “I’m glad you’re being civil,” he said instead.

“Civil… well.” Quentin was looking at him hopefully, and he was still feeling a little too raw to dwell on feelings like hope or friendship and all that bullshit. “Let’s see what she brings me for dinner before we talk about ‘civil’.”

The ham salad sub she returned with wasn’t the most disgusting he’d had in his life but it wasn’t far off. The appreciation on Quentin’s face when he smiled his thanks at her after swallowing his first mouthful was almost worth it.

The two of them spent the next hour working together to distract Quentin from the ache in his body and the damage to his ankle. He didn’t notice the nurse standing by the end of the bed until he cleared his throat. “Visiting hours are almost over.”

“Oh, I’m going to stay,” he said casually.

The nurse’s smiled at him pleasantly. “I’m sorry, but that’s against our policy.” Eliot met his eye evenly, unfazed. He wasn’t going anywhere. After a few long moments the nurse’s self-assuredness faltered – he glanced at Quentin and Alice for help, then around at the other beds. “We have the wellbeing of our other patients to consider, sir.”

Eliot shrugged. “They don’t mind.”

“Actually, I –“ a voice said from across the room.

“See, everyone’s fine with it,” he said, smiling warmly.

The nurse frowned but Eliot was already turning his back on him. Quentin regarded him with equal parts fondness and exasperation, and when he reached out to take his hand, his grip was firm. “El, it’s okay.” Eliot’s protest caught in his throat. He hadn’t called him that before, and his hand tightened in Quentin’s at the familiar term. “I’ll be fine,” he continued. “I’m just going to be sleeping, anyway. And besides, I could use someone to get a change of clothes for me to go home in tomorrow.”

He glanced across at Alice, who just shrugged. He wasn’t getting any help from that corner. It didn’t matter that this hadn’t been caused by any of the things that were usually out to get them – the thought of leaving Quentin alone while he was hurt made his stomach twist into knots. He could at least protect him from any magical interference. “Fine,” he relented eventually, reaching inside his shirt and pulling the chain holding the Emerson’s Alloy over his head. Christ, he’s either going to think I’m stupid or crazy. “I’ll feel better if you wear this,” he said, avoiding Alice’s eye with determination and meeting Quentin’s only hesitantly. “It’s, well, good luck, I guess. But if you tell anyone that I’m superstitious, I will kill you.”

Quentin sat still when he slipped the chain over his neck, then picked up the crystal and looked at it thoughtfully. “I just kind of assumed you liked really gaudy jewellery.”

Eliot scoffed, covering up his discomfort the way he knew best – with bravado. “Please. I have impeccable taste.”

Holding up the crystal, Quentin looked at him askance. “Yeah, apparently.”

“Shut up,” Eliot said, and couldn’t quite believe that he could feel so warm despite the amount of stress constantly churning inside him. “Just wear the stupid thing. And no getting hit by moving vehicles while we’re gone.”

Smiling widely, Quentin pulled him down to kiss him and Eliot went willingly. “I’ll do my best,” he said when Eliot pulled away, before turning to Alice. “Thank you again. For being there, and for staying.” He looked between the two of them. “Thank you.”

“We’ll be back in the morning,” Alice promised.


Unlocking the door to Quentin’s apartment with his borrowed key, Eliot pushed it open and nodded for Alice to go inside, following close behind her and closing the door behind him. They’d decided to get Quentin’s things on their way back to the hotel so they could go straight to the hospital in the morning.

Alice walked through the apartment slowly, her eyes darting over the space, and he realised that she hadn’t seen Brian’s place before. He walked past her into the kitchen, opening cupboard beside the fridge to get a plastic bag before heading to his bedroom. He resisted the urge to pack Quentin’s best clothes and went to the draw that held his comfortable clothes instead. He’d have the opportunity to play dress up later.

The sound of footsteps followed him through the apartment, and then stopped. Without looking behind him, he opened the draw, pulling out a pair of sweatpants and rolling them up to put them in the bag. “You really know your way around here, huh.”

Picking up a t-shirt, he grimaced. “Don’t you know, it doesn’t count as immorally seducing your ex-lover unless you know where they keep all of their belongings.” He couldn’t help the words, not after carrying a week of hurt and anger toward her, but he kept his tone light and that was kind of an olive branch, right?

When she didn’t respond, he looked up to see her standing in the doorway. She was looking at him with an odd expression on her face. “I was thinking about magic,” she said hesitantly. “Maybe Julia’s the answer.” Frowning, he pushed the draw closed and slowly turned around to face her properly. He couldn’t figure out where she was going with this. “I know she used all of her goddess powers when she made the new keys –“

“After you destroyed the old ones,” he said before he could stop himself.

Tilting her head, she pressed her lips together firmly. “Really?”

 Rolling his eyes, he waved his hand in her direction. “I know, go on.”

Taking a few steps into the room, she twisted her hands together. “Maybe it’s come back,” she continued. “Her powers built up slowly the first time, right? Maybe we should go and see if Kim has these weird magic powers that she doesn’t understand.”

“Kim?”

“Yeah, that’s what she thinks her name is.”

Dropping the bag on the bed, Eliot turned away, needing to take a second. It was a good idea. It was a great idea. Julia had emptied her own personal well, so to speak, but that didn’t mean that her power wasn’t going to regenerate. If she had magic, then that would more than make up for the single use shot that Alice had used.

With the strength that Julia had at the height of her power, he was pretty sure that they wouldn’t need any spells to fix Quentin’s memory. Goddess Julia had wanted something and it had just happened.

But he couldn’t let go of how Quentin had looked, lying in the hospital bed with a bruised body and a brave smile. “I don’t want to leave Quentin when he’s hurt,” he said eventually, turning back to meet Alice’s eyes. Or at all, really.

“I can go,” she said, holding his gaze and there was more understanding in that look than he would have liked, but it also meant that he wouldn’t have to fight her on it. Or feel guilty for wanting to stay here with Quentin while she sought out help. “She’s working in Seattle as an architect, so by the time I fly there and then convince her to come back with me I might be gone for a few days.” She paused for a moment before looking away awkwardly and when she continued her voice was strained. “I know I warned you against getting too close, but now is probably a good time to ignore that advice.”

Closing his eyes, he rubbed at them with his thumb and his forefinger. The last of his anger, the tiny part that he’d been reluctant to let go of completely, unknotted and dispersed, leaving behind a sense of kinship. Sinking down onto the bed beside her, he clasped his hands in his lap and grimaced at the floor. He was bad enough speaking his emotions with people he was close to, let alone with whatever weird partners-in-crime/semi-friend thing Alice was to him now. “Look, here’s the thing. I’m sorry if my being with Q here is uncomfortable for you. I didn’t really think – or, well, care – about what that might be like for you, considering your past together.”

He could see her staring at him out of the corner of his eye. After a moment she sighed. “I love him,” she said, and he felt his gaze drawn to her despite himself. “And I know he loves me. That’ll always be there for both of us.” She smiled at him sadly. “But we were a mess, Eliot, and we haven’t had anything nice or easy or good for a very long time. I don’t blame you for being the right guy for him, in this life or the last one or the next one. I just hope he doesn’t freak out when he gets his memories back.”

“Me, too,” Eliot admitted. Reaching across, he gave her shoulder a quick squeeze before using it as leverage to push himself to his feet. “But let’s focus on waking him up first, before we get bogged down with how he’s going to feel after.”

Because if he thought too hard about the possibility that Quentin might resent him for how he’d gone about this, he felt nothing but unease and dread.

Chapter Text

Opening the door to the backseat, Eliot reached past Quentin to grab the crutches, leaning them against the car before turning back to take Quentin’s arm to help him to his feet. The tight fingers around his forearm belied the frown on Quentin’s face. “I can stand up by myself, you know.”

Great, so we’re going with the ‘I don’t need any help’ thing. Eliot wasn’t having any of it. “Cool, would you like to get up those stairs by yourself, too?” he asked pleasantly, making sure that he was steady before letting go of him to close the car door. Quentin rolled his eyes at him, smiling despite himself and Eliot couldn’t help himself either, he leaned forward and kissed his cheek.

“Don’t forget this.” Alice came around from the other side of the car and handed Eliot the bag with Quentin’s belongings in it, and he looped the handle around his wrist to keep his hands free. “All right, well…” She paused, glancing at Quentin before turning back to him. “I’m going to leave my car at the hotel in case you need it and just get a cab to the airport. I’ll leave the keys in the room.”

“Wait,” Quentin said, getting his crutches properly under his arms and leaning forward. “You’re leaving?”

Eliot would have laughed at the open disappointment in his voice if he wasn’t worried about the lie. What’s one more lie at this point? They could hardly tell him that Alice was flying across the country to try and convince an apparent stranger to come back with her to try and bring his memory back. He exchanged a look with her, then tried to look casual as she explained the story they’d come up with last night as they’d both lain awake, unable to sleep. “Something’s come up at the bar. Some money’s gone missing while we’ve been away so one of us has to go home to deal with it.”

“Is it serious?” Quentin asked.

“That’s what I need to find out. Either way, I’ll be back in a day or two.”

“It’s nothing she can’t handle,” Eliot added, not liking the worried frown on Quentin’s face as he glanced between them. His eyes stopped on him and he looked like he was going to say something but then he pressed his lips together and turned back to Alice to say goodbye.

They made it up the flights of stairs with little trouble but a very tired Quentin by the end of it, so Eliot was quick to open the door and help him to the couch. Dumping his bag in the bedroom and grabbing the pillows off the bed, he returned to the living room and prodded Quentin until he leaned forward and so he could put them behind his back. “Do you want something to drink?”

“Maybe just some water,” he said.

Heading into the kitchen, Eliot poured a glass from the jug in the fridge and then took an icepack from the freezer. Wrapping it in a tea towel, he returned to the couch and handed it to Quentin, placing the glass on the coffee table in easy reach. “All right, what else do you need?”

“Nothing. You to stop fussing.” He said it with a smile but when it didn’t quite reach his eyes Eliot faltered, not sure what was wrong. Was he being overbearing? He didn’t think so, but that was the same hesitation that had been in his eyes since Alice had said she was leaving. He gathered himself to ask what was wrong but before he could get the words out there was a knock at the door and he looked up in surprise.

“Expecting anyone?”

Quentin was frowning. “No.” Putting the icepack aside, he pressed his hands against the couch to push himself up.

Eliot jumped forward, gently but firmly pushing him backwards. “Don’t be stupid,” he said, replacing the icepack on his ankle. “I got it.” Promising himself that he would question Quentin’s mood afterwards, he went to answer the door, fully expecting it to be Alice and so he was surprised when a man was on the other side of the door. He was tall but not as tall as him, dirty blond hair brushed neatly, dressed in a shirt and tie and with a paper bag in hand. Eliot looked him up and down quickly, and then started to close the door. “Sorry, we don’t want any, thanks.”

“Andrew?”

Looking over his shoulder to see Quentin stretching to see through the door, Eliot sighed and let it fall open. Andrew looked at him curiously – assessingly – before walking past him into the apartment. “Hey,” he said to Quentin, perching himself on the arm of the chair right behind Quentin with a casual familiarity that made Eliot bristle. “I had a free period first up so I thought I’d stop by to see if you were home yet.”

“Oh, but…” Quentin glanced at the time on his phone. “I only called work like an hour ago.”

A work colleague, then, Eliot thought, closing the door behind him and slowly walking over to lean against the breakfast bar where he could watch them in profile. He wasn’t sure what the dynamic here was and wanted to see what was happening without him interfering. He knew that Brian had friends, but he didn’t know that his friends were so good looking or that they stopped by his apartment before work.

He wasn’t jealous, just… curious.

Andrew’s hand clapped onto Quentin’s shoulder, and Eliot curled his fingers into his palms. “Yeah, and Cindy messaged me straight away to ask how bad it was. I told her you were okay, then thought that I better come over to make sure that was actually the case since my best friend didn’t bother to tell me he got hit by a car yesterday.”

Okay so now they’re best friends. Eliot’s mind was working quickly, trying to figure out if he’d mentioned an Andrew, but he was coming up with nothing. Quentin grimaced, adjusting the ice pack on his ankle. “Sorry. I – I didn’t even think. It’s been a crazy time.”

Quentin was still looking at the ice pack, so he didn’t notice the way Andrew glanced up to him, his eyes full of something that looked like hostility. “I can imagine.” Eliot straightened his shoulders, raising his eyebrows in challenge because what the hell was that supposed to mean? But Andrew was already looking to Quentin again, holding out the paper bag. “I brought you some donuts. I’m not sure if you’ve eaten yet.”

Taking the bag, Quentin peered inside before reaching over to put it on the coffee table. “We have, but I still appreciate it. We – oh!” Turning his head one way and then the other, he relaxed when his eyes landed on Eliot. “I didn’t even introduce you. Andrew, this is Eliot. Eliot, Andrew.” He smiled warmly at him before turning back to Andrew. “He’s been a big help, actually. His friend Alice was there yesterday when it happened, and they just brought me home.”

Andrew’s smile was so pleasant that he almost thought he’d imagined the warning look he’d given him just a moment before. Almost. “At least you’ve got yourself a babysitter,” he said, and Eliot narrowed his eyes at him.

He wasn’t going to take the bait. He wasn’t… Raising his hand, he picked at his nails idly and smoothed his face into boredom, making it clear that he wasn’t worth his full attention. “Yeah, we’re all set here. We wouldn’t want you to be late for work.”

Andrew’s smile stiffened slightly, and Eliot bit back his answering smirk when he stood up from the couch. “Let me know if you need anything, all right?” he said to Quentin. “Any time.”

“Thanks,” Quentin said. “And thanks for coming by.”

“No problem. I’ll speak to you later.” He nodded to Eliot as he headed for the door. “Eliot.”

Eliot lifted his eyebrow slightly. “Andrew.”

He waited until the door closed before turning back to Quentin, feeling both completely unapologetic but also a little nervous about what his reaction might be to him snubbing off his friend, but Quentin only looked amused. “Wow, fighting over me already.”

He looked at Quentin closely but didn’t see anything that resembled annoyance, and he let himself relax to know he wasn’t taking it seriously. He really didn’t want to be fighting with Quentin. “He started it,” he said, waving his hand dismissively. Pushing off from the breakfast bar, he walked slowly across the apartment, accidentally-on-purpose knocking over the bag of donuts as he sidled between the couch and the coffee table. “What’s his problem, anyway?” he asked, sinking into the couch beside Quentin’s feet and resting his hand on his good ankle. It felt good to be close right now. He definitely wasn’t feeling threatened. “Some unrequited feelings, perhaps?” Please let that be all there is.

Nudging him with his toes, Quentin scoffed. “Hardly. He’s just looking out for me.”

He wasn’t sure he believed that, but he let it drop, stroking his thumb up and down over Quentin’s skin underneath the hem of his sweatpants. “And am I someone you need looking out from?” he asked casually. If Quentin was right to brush off the suggestion of interest, he wondered just what he’d told Andrew about him to put him on the defence so quickly. He really couldn’t remember hearing about an ‘Andrew’, but that didn’t mean that he hadn’t talked about him in a ‘my friend said this’ kind of way.

It didn’t matter anyway – hopefully Alice would be able to convince Julia to come back with her, and even if she had a scrap of the magic she’d been able to harness before that would be a huge breakthrough. He tried to remember the story about Prometheus. He knew that he’d been killed while he was vulnerable, but had that been because he’d burned himself out completely, or because his enemies had attacked before he could recharge? There was no way to find out, not without drawing attention to themselves. They’d find out either way soon enough.

Realising that Quentin hadn’t answered him, he frowned, looking at him sideways and squeezing his leg gently. “Brian?”

Quentin’s sigh gave him pause. “It’s just that... your bar… why didn’t you go with Alice to sort out this money thing?”

That’s what he was worried about? Eliot shrugged, unperturbed. “She can deal with it.”

Furrowing his brow, Quentin pulled his leg away and leaned forward. “I’m sure she can, but this is your work, Eliot, your – your passion,” he said earnestly, and Eliot felt his brief moment of relief quickly start to fade. “You have a whole life waiting for you in Chicago. And what happens when you close this deal with your investor? You’re not going to be hanging around after that, and –“ He cut himself off, his mouth twisting like he was struggling with the words. He seemed to sink in on himself, dropping his gaze to his lap. “And where does that leave us, then?”

Oh. He moved quickly, slipping off of the couch to kneel in front of Quentin, touching his hand, his shoulder, his face, turning his head to make him meet his eyes. “Hey, we don’t have to think about that right now,” he said, gently, brushing his thumb across his cheek. He didn’t want to think about it at all because it wasn’t even a factor – the ‘deal’ wasn’t done until they got Quentin’s memories back and then it wouldn’t matter, but the uncertainty and pain in Quentin’s eyes made it feel all too real.

“I think we do.” Quentin turned his head again and Eliot let him, dropping his hands but Quentin took them firmly in both of his, squeezing them tightly even though he wouldn’t look at him, and Eliot clung onto him in return. He could tell that he had more to say so he waited, a knot tightening further in his stomach with every moment. “With the way I… the way I’m starting to feel, I think we do.”

The tremor in Quentin’s voice was more than he could deal with and Eliot couldn’t help himself. Quentin raised his eyes just as Eliot moved, closing his mouth over his, breathing in deeply through his nose as he kissed him firmly. Quentin’s hands tightened painfully around his before he let go but then his hands were grasping his shirt, pulling him closer. Leaning into him, Eliot’s right hand slipped around his waist while his other sunk into Quentin’s hair, tilting his head to deepen the kiss and his heart broke a little at the way Quentin’s lower lip trembled beneath his. Fuck, he loved him so much, and he poured every inch of that into the way he kissed him instead of letting the words fall because there were no half measures with how completely and utterly he was in love with Quentin.

All he wanted to do was to say the words, to throw caution to the wind and ignore the fact that it was far too soon to feel this much, and the knowledge that he could wreck this beautiful thing was the only thing that held him back. Still, he could show him in the caress of his hand on his neck, in the press of his body against his, in the slow, tender way he moved his mouth against his.

Quentin’s declaration rang in his ears, making him soar in a way that he wasn’t ready for. With all of this so new, he’d been so afraid of being too much. All of his life he’d been too much – for his parents, for the other kids at school, for his friends. For everyone except Margo, and then Quentin. And maybe… maybe he wasn’t too much for Brian.

Eventually Quentin pulled back but Eliot didn’t let him go far, moving both hands to cup his face and stroking his thumbs over his cheeks. His cheeks and lips were red, his eyes wide and full of a yearning that Eliot felt mirrored in his chest. “I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said, his voice thick. “I don’t know how it’s going to work. But I’m not going anywhere until you’re better and even then…” He faltered, knowing that from Quentin’s point of view, this wasn’t something that would magically fix itself. “I don’t know, we’ll figure it out, but I want you in my life, Brian. Somehow. We’ll make it work.”

Quentin took a deep breath, his eyes falling closed for a long second. When he opened them again and met his gaze, he looked a little steadier, and he brought his hand up to cover one of Eliot’s on his cheek. “I thought this would just be some easy, casual thing, but I…” He trailed off, offering him a sad, helpless half smile instead.

Eliot’s thumb moved to trace the curve of his lips, wanting more than anything to somehow turn that into a true smile. “I know. Me, too. You took me by surprise, Brian,” he said, laughing softly at the truth of his words.

Quentin’s smile did widen a little and then he was tugging on his arms, shifting forward on the couch and pulling Eliot up behind him. Eliot adjusted the pillows that softened the hard arm of the chair against his back and then wrapped his arms around Quentin as he settled between his legs, leaning back against his chest. “How am I supposed to fetch and carry for you from back here?” he complained lightly.

“You’ve been promoted from fetcher and carrier to snuggle buddy,” Quentin said, pulling his arms more tightly around him and relaxing more fully against him.

Closing his eyes, Eliot pressed his lips to Quentin’s hair, knowing that there was nowhere else he’d rather be. “I think I can manage that.”


“We could just get pizza delivered.”

Finally finding the seasoning that he wanted in the back of Quentin’s cupboard, Eliot sprinkled a generous helping over the potatoes just as the light on the oven turned off to indicate it had reached temperature. “You’re supposed to be on the couch,” he said, keeping his head down as he raised his eyes to look at him.

“Sitting on a stool so I can watch you cook isn’t hurting my ankle.”

“But it’s not keeping it elevated.” Opening the oven, he put the tray of potatoes in and then turned back to Quentin. “And you can’t watch me cook if we get pizza delivered.”

Quentin smiled at him ruefully. “It’s just that you’re doing a lot,” he protested half-heartedly, and Eliot walked around the breakfast bar to put his arm around his waist and kiss his temple.

“I like cooking, and I like looking after you.” I’ve had some practice, after all. “So best get used to it.”

There was no worry about later in the way that Quentin looked at him when he pulled back, and he hoped that his promise of something, somehow, was enough to keep that worry out of Quentin’s thoughts until they could fix his memory.

“Yes, sir,” Quentin said softly, his eyes alight.


 

Fighting against every instinct that he knew, Eliot grabbed Quentin’s hand before it slipped into his underwear, swallowing hard against his want. “Are you sure this is a good idea?” he asked, his voice thick.

Firm fingers pried his away from his wrist, and his breathing hitched when his underwear was tugged down his thighs. “Giving you a blow job isn’t going to hurt my ankle, Eliot.”

“Maybe, but –“ he paused, groaning lightly when Quentin’s hand wrapped around him. “But are you going to be able to keep it still when I – when I return the favour?”

“We’ll find out, won’t we?” Quentin said, sounding utterly unconcerned, and then he stopped talking and Eliot stopped thinking.


“How about this?”

Eliot looked away from Netflix to see the DVD that Quentin was holding up and then looked at him incredulously. “Seriously?”

Quentin shrugged, dropping season two of True Detective back onto the pile. “What? Andrew gave it to me. You know I like crime shows, and season one was really good.”

Rolling his eyes to show him exactly what he thought of the fact that Andrew had bought it for him, he shook his head with a sigh. Watching Quentin geek out over Harry Potter was a lot easier than watching him get excited by crime. “Exactly. Season one was good. And if Andrew likes season two then that takes him down at leave four notches in my opinion.” Not that he’d seen it himself, but Josh’s scathing reviews had been memorable.

Leaning back on his hands, Quentin looked up at him wryly. “So what, that puts him at… negative four?”

Eliot smiled at him innocently. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”


Carefully removing the bandage from Quentin’s leg, Eliot placed it on the bathroom counter and then started unbuttoning his own shirt, his hands faltering under the surprise on Quentin’s face. “Problem?”

Quentin blinked up at him. “I can… I’m sure I can cope with a shower,” he said, a faint blush rising in his cheeks.

Eliot didn’t bother to hide his scepticism. “Brian, you are one of the clumsiest people I’ve ever met. In my life. How do you think you’re going to go standing on one leg in the shower?” Quentin dropped his eyes and he decided to take pity on him, quickly undoing the last of the buttons on his shirt and dropping his voice as he took a step closer. “And besides,” he said, “do you not want my wet slippery hands all over you?” Watching Quentin closely, he pushed his shirt back off of his shoulders and let it fall to the ground, smirking at the way Quentin’s throat bobbed in response. “That’s what I thought.”


Rearranging the tiles on his rack, Eliot glanced up at Quentin, who was taking his sweet ass time. “Whenever you’re ready, Mr College Professor,” he teased, looking pointedly at the Scrabble board on the bed between them.

“I do numbers, not words,” Quentin muttered, his brow furrowed in concentration and Eliot just shook his head, unable to point out just how ridiculous that was coming from him. Even without his fascination with fantasy and magic, Brian was still a book nerd and, you know, just a nerd in general. After another minute or so he straightened, leaning over to make his move.

When he pulled back, revealing the word suck, Eliot nodded in appreciation. “Classy,” he said as Quentin drew new tiles, and then paused when he saw something in his own letters. Glancing up at Quentin, he made sure that he was watching him as he put his letters down, playing the work cock off of Quentin’s k.

Quentin’s eyes lit up immediately, and he quickly played two tiles to spell now. “That’s a triple letter score on the w,” he said, his eyes fluttering closed as Eliot shoved the board aside and slipped his hand into his pants.


Pocketing his change, Eliot tucked his new purchase under his arm, hoping that Quentin would like the books that he’d bought him. He knew next to nothing about crime and suspense and thriller except for maybe movie versions of the classics, but the owner of the bookshop apparently knew Brian and his taste in fiction, so he was fairly confident with his choices.

He hadn’t gone out intending to spoil Quentin, but he’d needed to top up his cash from the safe in the hotel room, and had paused when he’d seen the bookshop on the way back, caught in the memory of his first run in with Brian. That was only a week and a half ago, and yet his life felt like a different one now.

Or rather, it felt like an old, familiar one. He’d stayed at Quentin’s apartment since he’d come home from the hospital three days ago, and they’d spent their days watching television and having sex and cooking and eating and playing board games, and it reminded him almost painfully of their days in Fillory when they’d spend their days making up stories and having sex and cooking and eating and doing the mosaic and… raising Teddy. A hard lump formed in his throat at the thought of their son and he forced it down. Maybe one day he’d be able to think about their boy without feeling the pain that he wouldn’t see him again, but he wouldn’t trade those memories for the world.

Spending aimless time with Quentin had made him feel at home in a way that he hadn’t in a long time. He’d felt a little guilty at the thought that he was enjoying himself so much while Alice was off hunting down Julia, but that guilt had faded when Alice had called him earlier that morning to tell him that she and Julia were on the next flight to Boston. Apparently Kim didn’t quite believe that she was really supposed to be a hedge witch slash goddess named Julia, but she had been doing some weird funky shit that science couldn’t explain more and more frequently over the last few weeks. They weren’t sure how they could use that to break a memory spell if Julia didn’t even understand magic, but they finally had a spark of hope to hold onto and that was enough to heighten Eliot’s already fabulous mood.

It did mean that today was the last day that he’d have Quentin all to himself, and he was going to make the most of it. He was almost a block away from the apartment when he felt his phone buzz in his pocket. Shifting the books to his other arm, Eliot pulled out his phone and smiled at the familiar name on the screen before bringing the phone to his ear. “Did you miss me that much in the last hour?” he teased.

“Shut up,” Quentin said, and Eliot could hear the smile in his voice. “Do you want anything from the café?”

Eliot laughed. “Why, is that your way of asking me to get you something?”

“No,” Quentin said slowly, and for the first time Eliot noticed the amount of background noise on the line. “Now, don’t be mad…”

He groaned, knowing exactly where this was going. “You’re supposed to be resting!”

“Yeah, and I have been. Quite thoroughly, for days. And now I wanted to stretch my legs and too late because I’m already here, so do you want anything?”

Waiting for a car to pass before crossing the road, Eliot sighed in exasperation, making sure it was loud enough for Quentin to hear through the phone. “I’m two minutes away, Brian, I could have picked something up for you.”

“Too late,” he said cheerfully. “What do you want?”

“Just my usual.” He paused. “Um, Brian? You went downstairs on your crutches, right?”

“…Yes.”

Eliot grinned. “So… how are you going to carry everything upstairs?”

The line was silent for a few long seconds. “So, um, how far off are you again?”

Shaking his head and laughing, Eliot told him he was just around the corner and hung up the phone, picking up his pace. A minute or two later he was opening the door to the café and he looked around the room for Quentin, finding him eventually sitting in their usual booth on the far side of the café while he waited for their order, his crutches leaning on the back of the bench seat. A woman was standing beside the booth, and he couldn’t tell by Quentin’s smile whether he knew her or if was just talking to her to be polite. She was smaller than him, her long dark hair braided down her back, and he paused when it occurred to him that she looked vaguely familiar.

Quentin glanced up and waved when he saw him, and the woman turned to follow his gaze. She smiled at him too, but there was something to it, something feral that unsettled him and he stiffened when it hit him where he’d seen her before – in Castle Blackspire, she was the keeper. She looked different, dressed in normal clothes instead of chainmail, but it was her, he was sure of it. He started over to them, dread filling him when he couldn’t think of a not-terrible reason why she would be here in Boston, talking to Quentin. Had she told him who he was? Had she told him who Eliot was?

What the hell is she doing here?

And then her eyes flashed with fire and his heart stopped in his chest. He’d seen that before, too… in the eyes of the Monster before he’d shot it.

Cold fingers gripped his heart and he darted forward, desperate to get it away from Quentin, who was just sitting there smiling, completely oblivious to the danger that was so close. “Quentin!” he cried, panic flooding him as the Monster’s smile widened into something wicked, reaching over to place a small hand on Quentin’s shoulder. “No!” He threw his arm out as he ran forward but he wasn’t close enough, and he barely had time to register the confusion on Quentin’s face before he and the Monster disappeared.

Chapter Text

 

Groaning lightly, Brian straightened his neck, wincing at the stiffness it held after lolling forward against his chest. Had he fallen asleep at the table? The hard back of a chair dug into his shoulders… but he only had stools. Rolling his shoulders, he lifted one of his arms to rub at the back of his neck – or tried to. It remained firmly pressed to his side. Blinking his eyes open, he squinted despite the dim light of the room, staring dumbly at the ropes wrapped around his waist and his chest, holding him tightly to the back of the chair.

He kicked out his feet experimentally. Pain burst immediately in his ankle and shot up through his leg, strong enough to make him gasp and his eyes water. The pain from the fracture had faded over the last few days but it was back in full force now, the pressure of the rope around his ankle causing a steady ache even when he held still. Closing his eyes again, he tried to breathe through it and eventually it subsided enough for him to think.

And for him to panic.

What the fuck is going on?

He remembered going downstairs for coffee. He remembered calling Eliot and then placing their order. He remembered sitting down in his usual booth to wait, and a woman approaching him. She had been practically wringing her hands in excitement, but her whole demeanour had changed when he’d seen Eliot by the door and waved him over. Things got fuzzy after that, but he could clearly see the fear etched into Eliot’s features as he darted between tables to –

To what? That was the last thing Brian remembered before waking up. Desperation to know where he was warred with the worry of what he’d find if he looked around, but after a moment he couldn’t take the not knowing anymore and he opened his eyes again and stared into fire, just inches from his face.

The fire faded, and he found himself looking into regular, brown eyes, and his breath caught when he recognised the woman from the café. She was standing right in front of him. He might have missed her in the room when he’d first opened his eyes before, but she certainly hadn’t been standing just a foot away, and he was sure he would have heard her footsteps. None of this is important. “Where are we?” he asked, and was surprised to find his voice hoarse. How long had he been asleep for? No, not asleep – unconscious. He wanted to look around, to try and take in more of his surroundings, but he didn’t want to look away from the woman. How had she made her eyes do that? “What do you want with me?”

Slowly, she reached forward and Brian flinched back but couldn’t move far enough to stop her from trailing her fingers down his cheek. It was an oddly affectionate gesture for someone who had knocked him unconscious and tied him up. And how had she knocked him unconscious? His memories just stopped in the café and now he was here. Maybe his concussion was worse than the doctors had thought.

Maybe this was all some extreme hallucination.

Pain seared through his leg again, and reminding him just how real this was.

“I’ve spent a long time looking for you,” she said, pouting at him. The tone of her voice combined with the look on her face made him feel like she was toying with him, teasing him before forgiving him for an inconvenience for her. Was he supposed to know who she was? Dropping her hand, she stepped back from him, tilting her head as she looked him over. “I was really looking forward to us playing together. We could have had so much fun, playing pretend and hide and seek and – oh, the card tricks! I was so excited for you to teach me card tricks.” Her whole face lit up with a wistful longing. He was one hundred percent sure that she was full on nuts. “They took you away, but it was going to be okay, because I got out, they didn’t lock up properly so I found a way out, and then – it took me so long, but I finally found you!”

He didn’t feel better for being right. He wondered what facility she’d escaped from. Her eyes darkened, and he shrunk back in his chair at the furious look that came over her. “But then I find you – finally – and you’re with him.” As quickly as it had changed, her demeanour changed again, and surely they couldn’t be tears in her eyes? “He tried to kill me. Does that mean you want to kill me, too?”

“What?” He’d never even thought of killing anyone, not in his life. Maybe he’d come close when Lucas Greene had sabotaged his science project in freshman year, but this woman wasn’t Lucas and that was hardly something to kidnap a person for. And – some had tried to kill her? Who could he possibly know who had tried to kill someone? What the fuck? His chest was getting tighter and it was making it harder to take a full breath. Was a case of mistaken identity from a random crazy lady going to get him killed? “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, his throat tightening around the words and making it hard to push them out.               “Who tried to –“ he couldn’t even say it – “hurt you?”

She looked at him like he was the one who was crazy. “The man in the coffee shop,” she said, curling her lip like just thinking about him put a bad taste in her mouth.

“The man… Eliot?” He stared up at her in shock. She expected him to believe that Eliot had tried to kill her?

He watched her whole body tense, and she scowled at him darkly. “Eliot,” she said derisively.

He tried to imagine Eliot killing somebody, actively trying to hurt somebody, and he just couldn’t. He couldn’t see the intelligent, witty, kind-hearted man who had taken care of him so diligently over the last few days hurting anyone. He couldn’t even picture him getting his hands dirty, let alone anything like attempted murder. Eliot’s face swan in front of his eyes; the tender way he looked at him when he thought he wasn’t watching, the smile that was ready when he was. She must be mistaken. She thought she knew him, so obviously she’d gotten Eliot mixed up as well. His Eliot wasn’t capable of that.

His Eliot… That soft look on his face was replaced with the image of terror and desperation when he’d seen Brian with the woman in the café. He’d recognised her, he realised belatedly, the knowledge causing his breath to catch in his throat. Eliot knew who this woman was, and he’d rushed towards them with his arm outstretched like he’d known that she was going to do something. And he’d… he’d called him Quentin – he remembered that clearly. He remembered that name – Eliot had called him Quentin when he’d first run into him outside the bookstore.

Who the fuck was Quentin? What the fuck was going on?

Maybe Eliot wasn’t who he said he was. A tight knot was forming in his stomach and growing larger, tighter, twisting so hard he wanted to vomit. Maybe Eliot was a killer, or an attempted killer. And what do you really know about him? a tiny voice inside his mind said, growing louder and louder with every word. You’ve known him for all of fifteen minutes. He could be literally anybody. You’ve let literally anybody into your life.

No. Not anybody. He knew Eliot, he knew he did. It didn’t matter that they had only met a short time ago – Brian felt like he’d never had anyone in his life understand him as well as Eliot did. Not his parents, not his friends, none of his ex-partners. Eliot saw inside him in a way that no one else had ever done before, and he was sure that he could see exactly who Eliot was as well.

The woman was watching him speculatively. He considered the fact that she hadn’t actually done anything to hurt him yet, aside from tying him up in a way that put strain on his sprained ankle. Twisting his arms underneath the ropes, he held his palms open to her in supplication. “Please,” he said. He’d noticed how quickly her moods could change, so maybe he could lull her into enough calm to get her to free him. Whether what she was saying had any truth to it or not, it didn’t sound like she was the one she wanted. “No one wants to hurt you,” he said carefully, looking up at her beseechingly. “Please just let me go.”

She regarded him silently for a few seconds, as though she were trying to size him up. Maybe she was thinking about the easiest way to kill him. “We’ll see,” she said eventually, then just like that her mood shifted again and she was grinning at him from ear to ear. “But first we’re going to have some fun.”


 

Eliot’s whole body tensed when he heard footsteps out in the hallway, and he didn’t relax when they bypassed the hotel room door. His arms were wrapped around his stomach as though if he held on tightly enough he could hold himself together, chewing on his lip so hard that every now and then he tasted blood. It had been an hour – the longest hour of his life. Alice and Julia were on their way, and all he could do was wait.

Fuck.

His body knew what he normally did with high levels of stress flowing through him, and stressed didn’t come close to the panic that he felt right now. A fist had closed around his heart at the realisation that the sight of Monster with Quentin and it hadn’t loosened at all since then. He felt like a knife was twisting hard in his guts. He felt like he was going to be sick.

He really wanted a fucking drink, but he knew he had to stay focused. He’d already gone through his supply of cigarettes. Rocking forward, he buried his face in his hands and then his hands in his hair, fisting them tightly and pulling on the strands until his eyes watered. Well, he certainly wasn’t focused like this. Pushing off of the bed, he crossed the room in three steps and unscrewed the lid from the bottle of scotch on the table. His hand shook when he poured, amber liquid sloshing over the edge, and he squeezed his eyes shut as he tossed back the alcohol, hoping the familiar burn in the back of his throat would calm him, regretting it almost as soon as he swallowed.

He was restless, jumping out of his skin and there was nothing he could do. The Monster could be literally anywhere, doing literally anything, and all he had was… all he had was nothing, no magic, no ideas, nothing. He had a hedge witch turned goddess who, from what Alice had told him on their hurried conversation when their plane had landed and she’d seen his barrage of texts, could manage a party trick or two but who was freaking out about the small amount that she could do. He should have been glad that she could do anything at all, but it was not going to be enough. If a god killing bullet couldn’t kill it, then Julia Wicker without her memories wasn’t going to get them any further.

He couldn’t sit still but pacing felt stupid. An unusual need to break something swarmed inside of him. The few times that he’d gone dark – really dark – he’d lashed out with his magic without intending to, relishing the false sense of control that surrendering himself to the full unpredictable power of his magic had given him, and he craved that feeling now more than he’d ever craved any drug. Without that outlet, his desperation morphed into the need to hit something, but the thought of his hands wrapped around the Monster’s throat just made him angrier. That anger turned to fear when he thought of Quentin, completely defenceless against the most evil of things and not even believing in magic, let alone knowing how to use it.

He thought of the last few days that they’d spent together, of Brian’s easy smile and his warm laugh and the lightness that he carried with him. Quentin knew darkness, he knew evil and malice and dark magic, but Brian had never had to deal with anything like this before. He would be completely unprepared for anything the Monster could throw at him.

Had it found Quentin because he’d let it to him? Had it been Alice? It might have just found him on its own, but he’d never forgive himself if it was here because of him. If it hurt him… The worst possibilities ran through his mind, one image immediately followed by another and he doubled over, fighting the urge to vomit. Sucking in his breath, he tried to push the thoughts away, trying to calm himself at least a little but the thoughts wouldn’t leave him alone. The longer it had Quentin, the worse damage it could do, and he was just sitting here waiting.

I swear to God, Alice, if you don’t hurry the fuck up –

Eliot heard the swipe of a key card in the door and looked up to see Alice stepping inside as though she’d been summoned by his desperation. He was on his feet instantly, stepping forward to meet her halfway across the room and the small part of his mind that could be aware of anything other than the immediate was surprised at the iron grip with which she grabbed his arm. She was hardly a hugger, but he felt a combination of fear and comfort in the tightness of her fingers. “What happened?”

Julia stood a few steps behind her, and he’d never thought he’d be happier to see Quentin’s friend than he was right then. The urge to brush off Alice’s question was extreme, but he pushed past it. Kind of. “Exactly what I told you. It was with him, and then they were both gone. It was in the jailor’s body. It must have jumped into Ora after I shot it. What can you do?” he directed to Julia without pausing.

She met his eyes evenly, her shoulders straight and her head high, but there was something in her eyes that didn’t seem so calm. At least she didn’t try to ask him what he was talking about – Alice must have updated her on the way here. “I healed a few cuts and bruises,” she said, clearly unsure whether it was a big deal or not. “I made a plant in my apartment grow after nearly killing it. I caught a bottle of wine in the air before it hit the ground.”

The knot in his gut grew larger, and he struggled against the thought that their last hope could do nothing for them. “You have no idea what we're up against, do you?” he said weakly. He turned his head to look at Alice. Why hadn't she told him that's all she had? Instead of waiting for them, he could have been… he didn't know what. Something. “We don't have time to baby her through this right now. It has Quentin, Alice. It was a good idea when things were simpler, sure, but if Julia can do fuck all then we have to try and figure out how to find him ourselves.”

He looked back to Julia to see her frowning but he didn't have time for niceties, not while Quentin was in danger. He could smooth things over later if he had to, but he had more important things to worry about than Kim's feelings. Julia opened her mouth, clearly about to protest, but Alice got there first, stepping into his line of sight. “She can do fuck all, sure, but I think it’s just because she doesn’t know how to use it,” she said earnestly. “Or she hasn’t tried. When I found her, she was freaking out over the sparks flying from her fingers. She thought she was going crazy, and if her attitude towards magic is anything like Quentin’s right now then she’s probably been trying to pretend it isn’t real. She has power. She just doesn’t know what to do with it.”

That didn’t make him feel the slightest bit better. “Quentin said that the first thing she could do last time was make sparks. If she’s not any further along than that then she’s useless to us, especially if she has no clue who she is.”

“I know who I am,” Julia said quickly, apparently determined not to let them dismiss her so easily. She hadn’t lost that, at least.

“You wouldn’t have come if you didn’t think I might be telling the truth,” Alice told her pointedly before looking back to Eliot. “I think if we can get her memory back, she’ll know what to do with that power and she can help us find Quentin.”

Her words were full of logic and forethought, but he could see the anxiety in her eyes as she stared up at him. She was struggling just as much as he was. Apparently she was better at focusing it – he was too worked up, his body wanting to pull in all different directions. He couldn’t believe that they were just standing here talking while Quentin was in danger. But what could they do without magic? They genuinely had nowhere to start. And as much as it pained him to not have the unending supply that he’d foolishly let himself hope for, he knew that any small amount of magic could help, especially if wielded by someone who knew what to do with it.

If anyone loved Quentin enough to move heaven and earth to save him, it was Julia. But this wasn’t Julia – this was some architect who had been reprogrammed without magic. The thought of trying to teach a location spell to someone who struggled to believe in magic even when she was using it was beyond his frantic mind.

Maybe she was struggling to accept what she could do, but whatever she could do was more than they currently had, and he’d take any small amount of magic if it would help him find Quentin.

Thoughtfully, he looked back to Julia, who was watching him and Alice almost warily. After a moment she shrugged, grimacing at him ruefully. “Look, I don’t know if I can even help you. Alice told me who you think I am, but it’s not like I have a rough patch of memories over real ones. I can remember vacations with my family when I was a kid, art projects, Christmases. I remember a whole life. Maybe you’ve got the wrong person and all of this is just random, or – or in my head.”

She might remember a whole life, but he knew who she truly was. Somehow, her uncertainty just solidified Eliot’s resolve and he stepped up to her, reaching out slowly so she could see what he was doing when he took her hands. Slipping his palms around the backs of her wrists, he raised them in between them and looked down into her big, dark eyes. The colour wasn’t so far from Quentin’s, and he forced down the spike of impatience caused by his never ending fear. They needed her. He nodded to her, and caught the moment when she realised what he wanted. Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes, her brow furrowing slightly and almost immediately golden light sparked from the tips of her fingers into the air between them.

And he could feel it. Just the tiniest bit, like an itch that he wasn’t sure he could even place, but it was there and he was filled with such longing that it overtook anything else. It only lasted a moment, and then he pulled his too-tight hands from Julia’s wrists, turning away so she wouldn’t see his reaction.

It wasn’t just feeling magic again, even peripherally. The strength of the magic he’d felt had been overpowering, and to feel a force like that behind such a small spell meant that she must have a hell of a lot of it flowing through her. Alice was right. She might have only managed a little, but it was only because she didn’t know what to do with it.

Hope surged through him, despite his intentions to keep it at bay. Maybe they could actually do this.

Straightening his shoulders, Eliot pulled himself together before turning back to face the others. “Okay fine,” he said, his voice wavering just a little but neither of them called him out on it. “She’s a regular old ‘Alice Quinn: the Early Years’. But we still don’t have any idea how to get her memories back, and we don’t have time to teach her enough to be useful.”

“I’ve been thinking about that, too,” Alice said, determination setting firm on her face. “The power she wielded as a goddess was different from how we use it as magicians. Quentin told me she didn’t have to do any of the Poppers or incantations or anything like that; she just wanted things, and they were. It probably won’t be that easy with her not knowing what she’d doing, but maybe if we can get her to find out what’s wrong, she’ll somehow know how to fix it.”

He raised his eyebrows at her dubiously. “That sounds appropriately vague.”

Julia shifted a little, drawing his attention to her. Her brow was furrowed slightly in thought, but she looked like she was keeping pace. She must have been royally fucked up by the random magical shit happening to her, if she was so ready to take all of this on board. “It makes sense. Kind of.” At least she wasn’t doubting whether it was real anymore, aloud at least. “If you can tell me about Julia, about who I’m supposedly supposed to be, then maybe I can find those things and… I don’t know, fix it?” she said with an awkward shrug. “I could feel the magic when I used it just now. If I can feel the edges of the spell around my personality, maybe I can reverse it.”

It was… an idea. Which was more than he had, and felt better than standing there arguing about it. His skin itched with inaction, and he was desperate to try something, anything that might put them on the path to finding where the Monster had Quentin. Despite all of that, he knew how utterly unprepared they were for this. “Q is the one who knows Julia,” he pointed out.

Alice lifted her chin stubbornly. “Yeah, well we need Julia to save Q, so she’ll have to make do with us.” She grimaced. “Come on, Eliot. We have to try.”

There was no way that they weren’t trying. He just wasn’t sure that what they had would be enough, if the idea was even strong enough to work at all.

Alice didn’t wait for his opinion, grabbing Julia’s hand and pulling her over to the pair of chairs on the other side of the room, turning them so they faced each other. He was surprised when she didn’t throw a barb at him for the open bottle of scotch on the table beside them, dropping into the chair with her back to him and guiding Julia to the one opposite her. Both women sat with their backs straight, and Julia gave him a long look before she focused on Alice. “Okay,” she said steadily. “What do I do?”

Alice’s shoulders rose and fell in a deep breath. When she spoke, she sounded a lot more confident than Eliot thought she was. “Just listen, and try and feel it. Believe that it’s real, and… You know that electric feeling that you get when you’re doing magic?” Julia nodded cautiously. “Focus that inward, use that to try and find the truth. It’s in there somewhere, we just need to unlock it.”

Julia looked at her dubiously. “How do I know Kim’s not my real life and you’re doing this to override me with Julia?”

He could just imagine the cold exasperation Alice sent her way. “Seriously?”

Holding up her hands defensively, Julia gestured for her to continue. “Fine, I get it. Tell me who I am,” she said, her tone just a little too flippant for him to think that she actually believed anything would come from this.

“Okay.” Alice straightened her shoulders when Julia closed her eyes. “Okay. Well, you’re stubborn.” Eliot rolled his eyes, despite neither of them looking at him. She’s not wrong, but Jesus, great place to start. “You weren’t accepted into Brakebills because of Jane messing with the timeline, but you knew that you were born to know magic and you did anything you need to in order to make that happen.” She hesitated for a moment, fidgeting in her seat. “But you also have a really big heart, even before you started becoming a goddess. Or maybe it’s because you had a big heart that you could grow that spark.”

She glanced over her shoulder at him, but he was focused on Julia. Her brow was furrowed in thought, but he could tell from the twist of her lips that she was doubtful. These weren’t things that Kim could relate to, and Kim had to believe them in order to find the difference between the truth and the spell.

“You gave me magic when I was desperate for it,” she continued, “and helped me when it almost killed me. You brought back my shade instead of your own. Well, that was probably more for Quentin than for me, but it was still –“

“You always got your growth spurts first, and when you could reach the higher shelves you always shared the best snacks,” Eliot said quietly, ignoring Alice's questioning look when she spun around in her chair. “Quentin’s dad would always pretend to be annoyed to find his stash gone, but he knew exactly what you were doing. You'd always get so mad whenever any of the bullies at school picked on your friends, and they learned to stay away from you pretty quickly. One time you, Quentin and James found a stray kitten and brought it home even though you're allergic, and somehow kept it hidden for a week because you couldn't bear the thought of it being out in the cold.”

Julia had opened her eyes and was staring up at him in surprise. “How long have we known each other for?” she asked, her voice a blend of confusion and wonder.

Walking slowly over to Alice's bed, he lowered himself to sit on the end of it, just out of reach of the women. “Not long,” he admitted with a faint shrug, making sure to hold Julia's eye. She had to understand how important this was. It suddenly made complete sense to him that Quentin might be the solution to finding her memories. “But Quentin's known you almost his whole life. You're probably the most important person in the world to him. And he to you,” he added, and thought he saw a flicker of something in her gaze. Maybe it wasn't recognition, but she definitely felt something. “And right now,” he continued, the lump in his throat making his voice strained, “the most evil thing that's ever existed has its hands on him.”

He saw her steeling herself in the set of her shoulders and the spark of determination in her eye. Glancing at Alice, she took a deep breath before looking back to him. “Okay,” she said, nodding solemnly. “Tell me.”

And so he did. He knew so much about her. When they'd first realised that their stay in Fillory was for the long haul, it had been too hard to talk about their old lives and their old friends, too painful to think about all of the people they loved and would most likely never see again. Eventually, when it didn't feel like the loss was going to break them quite so much, it had started to come out in fits and spurts; a fond memory here, a funny, embarrassing story there. He was pretty sure he’d heard every story about Quentin and Julia growing up that existed and they poured out of him now, one after another.

He told her about how she and Quentin would play Jane and Martin for hours on end, exploring their backyards as if they were finding Fillory anew every time, and about how she'd fallen off the swing from laughing so hard when she'd talked James into pushing both her and Quentin at the same time, running back and forth between them. He told her about the numerous times the two of them had stayed up into the early hours of the morning, finishing projects in a mad rush because they'd been too busy at the movies or at the arcade. He told her about the time Quentin had fallen into a slump right before the summer holidays, so she'd convinced her parents to take him with them on their trip to Italy.

Through it all, she sat there in silence, eyes closed, and every now and then pulling her lower lip between her teeth as she took it all in. He was talking about the plays in school that she and Quentin had done tech for when her whole body stiffened, her mouth falling open with a quiet gasp. “Wait,” she breathed. “I can feel something.”

Eliot leaned forward intently, his fingers itching with the need for this to work. “Do you want me to keep talking?” he asked urgently.

“No, just let me…” She trailed off, and he held his breath, caught between not wanting to disturb her focus and a gripping impatience. Come on, Julia. “There’s definitely something there. It’s a wrongness, it’s… it’s almost seamless, but it’s wrong. Guys… I think you were right about me,” she said, her voice trembling just a little. “I think – yes, there – that’s it. If I just…”

Her eyes flew open with a flash of golden light, and when it faded she was staring at him with understanding and shock. “Oh, shit,” she said, leaning forward to rest her elbows on her knees, sinking her hands into her hair. “Oh my god.”

Alice turned to look at him with wide eyes before leaning forward to wrap her hand around Julia’s arm. “Julia?” she said, her voice full of hope and relief. He wished he could have felt relief, but now that they had a Julia who knew what to do with the power she commanded, his mind was already jumping ahead to the next thing. He tried to stop his mind immediately turning to what could have happened to Quentin in the time that had already passed, but then it was all he could think about.

“Yeah, it’s me,” Julia said, straightening up again quickly, and what he saw in her face told him that she was on the same track that he was. Her eyes were pure determination. “Now, let’s get Quentin back.”