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Quentin pulls his knees close to his chest. Tucked up as he is between the wall and the bed frame, he’s certain that he can’t be seen with the pillows and blankets arranged just so. He draws in a deep, shuddering breath and fights to hold onto it. It escapes as a choked sob that fills the room with his pain. Squeezing his eyes shut, he takes another breath and then struggles to push the air out of his lungs, to make himself as small and unnoticeable as possible. A few tears leak from his eyes, burning hot tracks down his cheeks.

The wooden floor in the hallway creaks, and Quentin sucks his breath back in. His heart is pounding now.

The door handle jingles.

Quentin bites his lip hard enough to bleed.

A whispered spell unlocks the door, and the dancing red fire is extinguished, blanketing them in darkness.

“Quentin?” Eliot whispers.

Quentin knows he’s been made, but the urge to stuff himself under the bed is strong. Like a rabbit cornered by the hound, he waits. But instead of Eliot’s boots clicking purposefully across the bare floor, Quentin hears him lower himself to the ground.

“I know you don’t want to be found. But I’m not sorry for using a tracking spell. You’ve been gone for hours. I was worried. Even Margo made a comment, and you know how much it takes for her to say something like that.”

Eliot’s words hit Quentin like a handful of knives to the gut. Of course he’d worried his friends. He couldn’t even remove himself from the equation without fucking that up, too.

Unbidden, a sniffle gives away his position. Drawing in his breath like he’s sucking it through a straw, Quentin prepares for Eliot to leap up and grab at him like a hunter snaring his prey. But Eliot remains still in the darkness, even as Quentin’s ragged breaths grow louder. He can only contain his sobs for so long. It embarrasses him endlessly to think that Eliot is just sitting there listening to him cry.

Is Eliot going to take this story back to Margo so they can have a good laugh about him over margaritas later?

Quentin prepares himself to tell Eliot to fuck off, but all that comes out is another miserable sound.

“Can I come closer? Or do you want me to leave?” asks Eliot.

Quentin can’t answer. He shakes his head back and forth, smearing snot and tears across his knees.

“You’re killing me, Quentin.”

Quentin wants to say, I know. It would be better if I was just dead.

“I know things haven’t been the same since we got back from the mosaic. I’ve wanted to talk to you ... Q, I’m sure I feel as lost as you do right now. I’ve lost my throne, my family, my life—twice, and now you. Please don’t shut me out. You’re the only person who knows how it feels when one minute you’re sitting down to eat and the next you realize you have the perfect idea for tomorrow’s mosaic pattern. But there is no tomorrow for the mosaic. We finished it, and we grew old, and Teddy got married, and now we’re back to this life—our new life, our old life, and it’s just so confusing. I don’t know who I am anymore. It’s like...”

“It’s like I’m playing myself on TV, and, and I wake up and I don’t know who I’m supposed to be.” Quentin doesn’t even realise he’s standing as excitement fills him until he takes a step forward and catches himself. “That’s exactly what it feels like.”

“Come here, mon amour.” Eliot holds his arms open.

After a moment of hesitation, Quentin walks into the embrace.

Eliot rubs his nose across Quentin’s cheekbone, smooths his lips over the hair tucked behind one delicate ear with all the reverence due a lover.

“You’re shaking.”

“Trembling.” Quentin huffs out a laugh. “It’s what I do when I’m nervous. Not that I’m nervous. I just...”

Eliot cups Quentin’s cheek. “I know. I get it. Believe me, I get it. We lived our whole lives—“

“You died.” Quentin’s voice breaks. “You died, and I was all alone in Fillory in the past, and when that happened, I—I didn’t even care about finishing the mosaic and the gold tile appeared and we got the key and we were back and you were back and—“

Suddenly, Eliot’s arms are around Quentin’s body, and he’s murmuring comfort into his ear. “I’m here, I’m here, honey, and I’m not leaving you.”

None of the others can understand how hard it is for them. They’ve lived an entire life—together. They had a wife and a son and a long, beautiful experience. Now, they’re back in their 20-something bodies with their additional 70 years. It’s more than a little difficult to adjust to simultaneously remembering yesterday and the days before Jane Chatwin’s yesterday. They’re back to the quest and Margo and Julia. And Alice. They’ve given up so much and lost so much for this quest—for magic.

“I’m just tired,” says Quentin.

“So you’ve decided to hide in one of the cottage’s unused rooms? We can take a nap. In my bed. Silk sheets and freshly dusted.”

“No, I mean...” Quentin laces their fingers together. “Mentally. Doesn’t being back here make you sort of anxious?”

“What, with indoor plumbing and electricity? I’m kidding. I know what you’re saying, and I guess I agree, but aren’t you glad to be home?”

“That’s the problem. I feel like I was. You know that all I’ve ever wanted was to live in Fillory.”

“But we can. Hello, High King. And you’re King Quentin the Spectacular. Once we finish the quest, we’ll restore magic and live happily ever after in Fillory.”

“We already did. That’s what I’m saying. It’s all so confusing and jumbled in my brain.”

“So what can I do?” Eliot’s thumb strokes over Quentin’s cheek.

“Uh, you could, uh. Start by kissing me? I guess.”

“With pleasure.”