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(this is not a) Temporary Love

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Eliot waits for Margo to leave the cottage, shutting the door softly behind her--a loud creak that reminds him of the soft, summer evening breeze, children’s laughter, and hands that fit in his like a puzzle piece perfectly made for him. He stares at it for a beat, lets the feeling of ease and comfort it offers wash over him; the first he’s felt of either since before— before. He shakes his head, blinking away the stinging in his eyes, and turns on his heel to head towards the bedroom.

There’s a layer of dust coating everything in the cottage, like nobody’s been here since them. A thick white film, almost the perfect representation of what their lives ended up being. He swipes a finger along the counter as he goes, a thin streak left behind, as he marvels at the fact that it’s exactly how they left it — despite never having actually been here. Even the lines along the doorway to the kitchen, where Quentin had insisted on marking Teddy’s height; Eliot pauses here, to press his nail into the tallest mark, a soft smile dancing along his lips at the memory of Quentin pouting when they finally had the proof that Teddy had officially grown taller than him.

He swallows down a lump and moves down the short hallway. The door to the bedroom is closed, and he hesitates for a moment, before reaching out and wrapping his hand around the knob. He freezes, a memory flashing of Quentin.

‘Stop — Stop. The — Eliot,’ Lilting laughter, broken off moans, desperately clinging to one another, neither quite sure how to let go, or stop long enough to get the door open. ‘Eliot — the doorknob is digging — oh my god —’

He stares at the door as the memory fades away, and then carefully twists and pushes it open. Light floods the hall as he stands there, letting it wash over him as the door stops halfway, a broken barrier between his past and present. The bed isn’t made. It makes sense; he’d died before Quentin. Quentin had always been too lazy to take the time and make it look presentable. It makes a dizzy little smile appear as he shakes his head and finally moves into the room, an unsteady breath easing out of him as he goes. He bumps the door, urging it to open all the way, until it gently collides with the wall and stills.

His gaze sweeps across the room. It’s as small as he remembers it, cozy in a comforting way he never thought cozy could be. Teddy’s decrepit crib is still tucked away in the corner. A haphazard attempt at making it useful after he’d grown out of it ended in it just being used as storage for the crap they never used. That, and — he moves across the room, three easy steps (for him. Six for Quentin) and wraps his hands around the top bar of the crib, heart clenching as memories of this exact position — of watching a sleeping child, fucking petrified that he’d die in his sleep.

Of arms slipping in around his midriff, wrapping around him in the middle of the night, and a rough cheek pressing into his back, a sleep-hoarse voice telling him, ‘he’s not gonna die, El. Come back to bed.’ Because Quentin always knew what he was thinking in the way nobody else ever will.

He shakes his head, blinking away the tears that threaten to escape, and leans in, digging through the junk they should have gotten rid of but never had the heart to in search of —

He doesn’t have to dig far; Quentin had probably done this exact thing after Eliot passed. Had felt so overcome by the grief and the loneliness. Knowing Quentin, he’d sat with the box in his lap in the rocking chair in the corner for days and re-read them all multiple times, trying to relive the days that living didn’t fucking hurt.

If not, well, at least that’s what Eliot’s going to do. Margo can wait.

He wraps his hands around it, leaning in to gain purchase and pull it out of the crib. The bars of the crib bite at the healing wound in his abdomen, but the pain is more welcome than unwanted. He grunts, lifting to his full height, and holding the hefty, wooden box to his chest, as he turns around and heads over to the rocking chair. He stops in front of this, too, remembering gentle nights of a sleeping toddler in his arms. Of Quentin standing in the doorway, watching him read a story to Teddy. Of their sixteenth anniversary, when he’d sat down and Quentin —

He closes his eyes, inhaling shakily and sitting down in the chair, setting the box on his lap. The wood is rough beneath his hands, lacking any of the things on Earth that’d make it easy on the eyes (or skin). He remembers countless, ‘Fuck! . . . Eliot. I got another splinter,’ s. And gentle teasing as he wrapped a hand around a wide wrist, and used a spell to gently pull the splinter out. Thankful kisses that usually lead to the bed. Happy smiles.

He swallows and flicks the lock, which can barely even be called as much, as it’s barely more than a clasp, aside and gazes down on the contents of the box. The letters fill it up, almost all the way to the seam. It’d be full if their hands hadn’t shook every time they picked up a pen around Quentin’s seventy third birthday, and they agreed to just voice whatever the thoughts are rather than write them. He carefully runs his thumb along the edge of the box, before reaching in, nails scraping along the bottom of it — a cringing scritching of a sound — and wrapping his fingers around the stack of letters. They barely fit in his hand, but he manages to pull them out, and, with his free hand, to set the box down on the ground beside his feet.

Biting down on his lip, he sets the stack on his lap and gazes down at it for a moment. It’s so vivid; the memories of sitting down at the table and writing them. Of Quentin slipping one on the table outside as he took a trek down to the village, and of Eliot waiting until he’s crossed the treeline before dusting off his hands and hopping up, impatiently flipping it open and reading it.

Jesus, he’s never been more thankful that neither of them have ever been good at letting things go.

He picks up the letter on the top of the stack; it looks older. Probably one of the oldest. The lines in the folds are cracked, dust gathered in the corners. He carefully unfolds it, tensing up as one corner tears, and then is even more careful as he turns it around and flicks his eyes over the page.

 

Eliot,

So this is weird. But I’m going to the village, and you don’t actually want to talk, so I figured this was as good a way as any to actually tell you this. And if you don’t feel the same way, you can pretend you never saw this, and we can move on with our lives, platonic as we’ve ever been. If you can really say we’ve ever actually been platonic. Anyways.

I’m not overthinking last night. I’ve never overthought it, when it comes to you. You’re the only person actually capable of settling my brain. As stupid as that sounds.

Anyways.

I’m in love with you. I have been for a long time. I think. Even longer than I realized. Because I look at our lives together, not just this, but, back at Brakebills. How I’ve never connected with someone as easily as I’ve connected with you. How you see me and you don’t pity me or judge me or use it against me. How I look at you and somehow I know exactly what you need before you need it. I’m in love with you.

That’s what I was going to say this morning. I wasn’t going to overthink, El. I was going to ask you if you think you could love me, too.

I know

 

The letter stops there, and Eliot stretches his neck out so he can look up at the ceiling, vision blurring. He still remembers the day he found it, because he’d never been meant to. Remembers the mortification on Quentin’s face when Eliot pulled it out from beneath the couch. Him rushing across the room, trying to grab it out of his hands, and Eliot laughing, holding it out of reach as he read it out. The way the laughter faded as the words registered in his head while he read them aloud. His arms dropping, limp, at his sides as he looked down at Quentin wide eyed.

Still remembers the shock and confusion washing over his body; of the seven years they’d been there, and Quentin never saying anything. Because Quentin had let him give up on them, and had found somebody else, but the letter —

Remembers setting the letter on the couch and walking out of the cottage without a word, Quentin calling out after him but not following.

And the silence that followed. Weeks of it, where they only spoke for and in front of Teddy. Where Eliot avoided being around Quentin because he didn’t know what to do with himself, or with what he’d fucked up without even knowing he’d had an opportunity at it. Still remembers the night he wrote the reply on the battered parchment, sitting beside the mosaic, while Quentin slept inside.

He sets Quentin’s letter aside and picks up the next one. It’s in worse condition, already battle worn and clutched and torn.


I just keep thinking about it. Not even just the letter, even though that’s haunting my every fucking thought. Not for the reasons you’re probably thinking, either. But. The look on your face when I read it. I keep asking myself if you never finished it because you realized you were lying to yourself. Or if you realized Arielle could make you happy in ways I never could. If you stopped writing it and then never gave it to me because you realized what we could be together isn’t good enough.

Or if you were just caught up in finally having gotten laid, and the buzz of that faded away and you realized you’ve never loved me.

And the look on your face. I can’t say it’s entirely unknown to me.

Teddy told me he has a crush on a girl in the village, which seems utterly ridiculous to me, but who the fuck knows when Fillorians hit puberty. Who am I kidding? You probably do. You always know. Most of the time, at least. Back to my point. I gave him some Fatherly Advice, and I realized that I’m a fucking hypocrite, which I’m sure is no surprise to you. So, since I read your deepest darkest secret, I thought it only fair you read mine.

Even after all this time. Especially after all this time. And bear with me because I’ve been sitting here for twenty minutes trying to get the words down, but it scares me. You scare me, Q. You have no idea how much you mean to me. You and Teddy. And I’m content in us remaining as we are.

But if you still feel it. After Arielle, and everything that’s happened in the past six years. If you still feel it.

I’ll be down by the river at dawn. If you still feel it, come meet me. If not,  I’ll drop it, and we can continue with our lives as if neither of these letters ever happened.

Unrelated, but I have no fucking clue how I’m supposed to end a written letter, so I’m just going to stop writing.

The end?


The ink’s blotchy in random places, and the masochistic part of his brain thinks it’s probably from Quentin’s tears. Wonders if Quentin cried for him when he died. Is it bad that he hopes so? Because it’s all he’s been able to do for weeks, now. Ever since he woke up and Margo clutched his hand in hers, and told him what Quentin did. The sadistic part of his mind wants Quentin to have cried. To have mourned.

But that’s just because Eliot’s as angry as he is devastated.

He sets the letter aside and picks up the next one.


Eliot.

You’re an asshole. Dawn? Seriously? You can’t just say dawn and then disappear to the fucking village when I don’t show. When did you expect me to get the letter? Jesus christ. Jesus fucking christ, Eliot. I wake up and you’re gone and the carts gone and I —

I am so fucking angry I can’t even think. You’d better think of a good fucking apology before you walk through the door because I spent a good two hours thinking you left me until I saw the supply bag was gone.

And for the fucking record, asshole, I do still feel the same.

Asshole.




A little watery laugh works its way out as Eliot thinks back on returning from the village and finding the note stuck to the door with, of all things, a knife. Like Quentin wanted him to know he was in deep shit before he’d even got his hand on the letter. He swallows, wiping at his watery nose. It’d been so strange. All the . . . grief washing out of him at the last sentence. The way he’d thrown open the door, and Quentin was just. Standing there, like he knew Eliot was back. Which he probably did. Because he’d mastered perimeter spells early on so they’d know if Teddy went wandering off.

He brings the letter to his chest, holding it flat against his shirt. It crinkles beneath the weight of his hand as he closes his eyes and tries to see it. Him standing there, letter in hand, staring at Quentin, and Quentin standing there, staring at him with narrowed eyes. He can’t remember who moves first. All he can see is him reaching out and grabbing Quentin’s face with both hands and pulling him in, and two hands coming up and twisting in his hair as they blindly crashed their way through the cottage, unable or unwilling, or both, to unravel from one another.


Q,

Heading into the village. Don’t be mad I let you sleep in; I did a design for each of us this morning.

Yours,

Eliot.

**

Eliot,

Welcome home. Wake me up. Teddy’s at a friends for the weekend.

Q

**

Good morning beautiful,

I’m outside, wanted to get an early start, and I thought you’d need the sleep. Breakfast is on the counter, Teddy’s at school. Come give me a kiss when you’re done waking up.

El

 

**

Rise and shine handsome,

I didn’t want to wake you up. But I’m hungry. Make me food then come help me with the mosaic. We’re doing a green fish. I have high hopes!

Q

 

(ps. Holy shit if you manage to make orange juice somehow I might reward you heftily. With something great.)

(pps. The something great is a blow job.)

(ppps. You’ll definitely get that either way but let’s pretend not so i can maybe have some magical orange juice.)


——————————-

 

There are dozens of them. Pointless little things left for one another that catalogue a life together. Of every moment spent apart, and waiting to be reunited. A thousand ways to say i love you without actually saying it.

It’s probably his greatest regret. Never actually saying it in a way that meant what he wanted it to mean. Never telling Quentin in the words he needed that he loved him more than he’s ever felt capable of loving someone.

He pauses on a particularly long letter, the pages thick, folded together like an essay. He knows what is before he slides his fingers along the back of it. Knows the rambling mess in the pages that awaits him. And he’s not ready to face it, so he carefully slips it to the bottom of the stack and carries on through them.

He laughs almost as much as he cries. The fights fought through notes because they refused to speak to one another—


Oh, so you are capable of not being an asshole, I’m shocked.

**

One of these days you’ll actually have to grow the fuck up, Eliot.

**

Maybe you’d be happier if you go find a willing woman from the village and fuck her.

**

Better idea: Go fuck yourself, Eliot.

**

I’m sorry.

**

You keep saying that.

**

Please talk to me. I miss you.


——————————-


He goes through them all. Decades worth of little notes, love and otherwise. Let’s them fill him up on memories and hope and loss and everything he knows they could have had again if Quentin hadn’t — hadn’t done what he did. There are even a few from Teddy that Quentin managed to save.


Papa and Dad,

Heading out to the stream to see my friends. I will be back by sundown.

. . . Please keep that in mind.

Love you.

Teddy

**

Papa,

Dad is sick. He’s asleep. Be quiet when you come in, he’s had a hard time falling asleep.

Teddy

ps. if you brought sweets back from the village, you may wake me up.

**

Dad,

. . . We will never discuss what you walked in on last night. It did not happen. Just like the thing that happened when I was six never happened.

Please don’t tell Papa. Please. I don’t need the sex talk.

Please, dad, I mean it.

Your one and only son.

**

Dad,

I AM RUNNING AWAY!!!

YOUR EMBARRASSED EX SON

 

Eliot can’t help but laugh; building up deep in his gut, as he pictures the look on Teddy’s face the day he took him for a walk down the river. Quentin had told him not to, but he couldn’t resist embarrassing him. He’d giddily told Quentin it ‘Is a Parental Right, Quentin Coldwater, and I will not have it taken from me. Don’t be a fascist. Let me have this.’

The laugh fades quick, though, as he moves onto the next letter.



El,

Don’t freak out. I know saying that is enough to freak you out, but Teddy handled it.

I broke my leg. Fell off the ladder this morning. I showed teddy how to do the spell? And he fixed it. I’m fine, now. But I didn’t want to tell you face to face because I knew you’d freak out.

Deep breaths.



He shakes his head down at it, guilt coursing through him and settling in his sternum. He should have been there that morning, but they’d had an insignificant argument—the subject of which he can’t even remember anymore—and he left for the stream to get some air. He swallows, thick and moves on. Skips ahead to the card in the center of the stack, a smile taking over for the grimace as he examines it.

It’s from the grandkids. On Quentin and Eliot’s forty third anniversary. Bright pink from the berries by the clearing, with messy handwriting all but screaming ‘HAPPY ANNIVERSARY GRANDPAPPY ELIOT AND GRAMPA QUENTIN!’ They’d been so fucking proud of themselves, grinning up at him from beneath their messy, blonde curls. Eliot managed not to cry. Quentin burst into tears before they even gave them the card.

They could have had it all again. Anniversaries and grandkids and a long life. He clenches his jaw and sets the card aside, continuing through the stack, skimming these ones. They’re shorter, still sweet, but they reflect the end and he’s had enough of endings. He’s about to put them all back and grab the box so he can go meet Margo outside, when he notices a blue paper on the bottom of the stack that he’s never seen before.

Which doesn’t make sense, considering the amount of reminiscing they did towards the end.

Eyebrows furrowed, he carefully picks it up, and sets the others back in the box without looking away from the blue letter. It’s sealed with Quentin’s favorite letter wax. He slides his finger beneath the fold and breaks the seal, twisting the paper around to read it as he unfolds it.


Eliot,

You’ve been gone nearly a year.

He nearly drops it.

Today’s our anniversary. The real one. I fucking miss you. Sometimes I wake up thinking you’ll be there, but I roll over and the bed is empty and it takes me a moment to realize you’re not playing with teddy or the grandkids or making breakfast. It feels like getting hit by a truck every day I wake up.

I realized something last night. I was sitting in the yard, watching the tomatoes wilt on the ground because you were the one with the green thumb, and no matter what I do they just keep dying. But I was watching them. Staring at them. When I realized that we somehow never managed to talk about it. Us. We lived a whole life together, in love, and we still managed to never talk about it.

I can’t even count how many times I wanted to ask you to marry me, but chickened out. And now it's too late because I let you go without really making you know.

I sometimes think back to when we were at Brakebills. That cool, suave, too-good-for-you thing you had going on. And I think about us. I think you were afraid to give in. To let yourself acknowledge you were happy. And I shouldn’t have enabled that. Shouldn’t have participated—because I was scared too.

But if we. I know we won’t because it’s all over. But if we ever get another chance, I won’t hesitate. I would live another 40 tragic time loops if it meant we’d have more time together. If I could hold your hand, or kiss you, or just. Lie with you in our bed, while you cast that spell you had that reflected the stars up on the ceiling.

All this time, and there’s only one thing I know I can trust. And that’s that you’re my soulmate. Or as close to one as someone can possibly be.

I don’t want you to worry wherever you are. I’ve set everything up so our friends know what happened to us. Not everything, some things are ours.

I love you, Eliot.

I’ll be seeing you soon.

Your life partner and most annoying companion,



He rereads it three times, index finger tracing over soulmates as he goes along. He doesn’t realize his hands are trembling, or even that he’s crying—full, broken sobs. Diaphragm expanding and contracting with each breath, and tear tracks burning down his cheeks and neck—until Margo hesitantly appears in the doorway, her face open and sympathetic in a way he hasn’t seen since the days following the Mike debacle.

“El? You gotta talk to me,” she says, soft, as she moves into the room. For the first time since he first met her, she doesn’t look comfortable. He doesn’t reply, so she takes another step in, and stops, wringing her hand in front of her. “I was exploring outside. Saw something interesting carved into the side of the sandbox out there.”

His chin trembles as another warm tear slips over his cheek, the tendons in his neck going taut as he tries to swallow down the tears fighting to follow after it, and all those that came before it. But it just makes them come faster, and he gasps, swallowing down air he hadn’t realized he’s been rejecting. Margo rushes across the room, and pushes the box aside so she can kneel in front of him and grab his hand.

“Talk to me.” It’s not a request, despite the way her voice trembles when she says it. “Tell me what the fuck is happening here, Eliot.”

He looks down at her, then up at the ceiling. “This was ours,” he manages after a beat, voice thick and wet. “We lived here. Had a life here. It’s all still fucking here.” He swallows, turning away so he doesn’t have to see the confused pity settling in her eyes. “Our letters. Our clothes. Everything.”

“. . . I know you said you didn’t remember much about that life—”

“Please,” He scoffs, the sound less biting and more pitiful drowning than anything, “I remember everything.” He looks down at the letter clutched in his right hand. “I’ve spent the past year reliving it. Thinking we could— thinking it was—” He shakes his head. “I was so fucking stupid.”

“You’re not stupid.”

He finally looks up at her from beneath his, tilting his head. “Sorry to have fooled you all these years,” He says, “But surprise. I’m a fucking idiot.”

She blinks, offers a half hearted smirk. “Well. That’s not really a surprise, El.” She squeezes his left. “I meant you’re not stupid for whatever you thought would happen.”

He laughs coldly and sits back up in his chair. “I thought I’d come back and he’d still be waiting for me after I outright rejected him last year.” Her eyebrows furrow and he nods, the movement jerky and erratic, “Yeah. As soon as we got our memories back. He said he wanted to try again, and I. I was a fucking coward.” She opens her mouth to reply, but he barrels on. “I wanted it. Probably more than most things I’ve ever thought I couldn’t live without. But . . . I was a coward. And I told him we don’t work together. And then,” His jaw trembles as he looks across the room at the crib; at the space where his hand wiped away the dust. “It feels like I only had him for five minutes and I blinked and he was gone.”

“El—”

“I know things are shit, Bambi,” He interrupts, looking down at her, “And I know we need to save Fillory or what the fuck ever. But I need. We need to get him back. I—” He closes his eyes, slouching down in the chair on a long exhale. “I blame you,” he adds after a beat, the words falling in one quick breath like a confession he’s been holding back. He opens his eyes after, adding, “Not just you, obviously, but. Everyone. Who saw him falling apart. You for being happy while he was—” He breaks off, swallowing down the lump forming in his throat. “ . . . and Alice for. Taking advantage of that. Even if that wasn’t what she thought she was doing. Penny for — facilitating it. I blame all of you almost as much as I blame myself.”

She looks away, out the window behind him, eyes going glassy. Her neck bobs as she nods. He makes a face. “I’m sorry. I love you. But I— I can’t just. Move on like the rest of you are.” Moving on would mean he’d have to let him go.

Let him and what he meant go. What these letters represent, and what the stupid crib full of their junk represents. Moving on means none of this ever happened. It means he never had this. A life. A home. A family.

Someone he could give his fucking heart to.

She watches him for a moment, before carefully shuffling to a squat and grabbing his free hand so she can bring them together and squeeze tight. “Eliot,” She says, careful, eyes steely as she looks him directly in the eye. “If you think we haven’t already been working on it, you don’t know me at all.” She nods, mostly to herself, “We fucked up. Monumentally fucked up.” Shrugging, she glances down at the letter in his lap beneath their hands. “But we’re not going to let Quentin just die. Nobody gets to die anymore.” She brushes her thumb along the back of his hand. “And nobodies moving on until we make sure we all get our fucking happy ending.”

His jaw trembles.

“And just so we’re absolutely clear here,” She tugs her hand out from his and reaches up to grab the back of his neck and pull him down to her. “That means you, too, asshole.” He nods, closing the distance between them to press his forehead to hers. Watches as a tear drips down his nose and falls between them, landing on the crevice between their hands. He feels her smile, cheeks brushing up against his. “

Margo finally pulls away when their tears settle, and the tear tracks have left their cheeks feeling sticky and stiff, and nods to the stack of letters. “So,” She says, voice scratchy, “What even is all this?”

“Oh.” He pulls his lip into his mouth and follows her gaze. “It’s us,” he says, carefully pulling his hands out of hers and setting the blue letter down before reaching into the box to pull out the others. He looks down at them, before holding them out to her. “Our life together. Summed up in one quick, two hour read.”

She glances up at him, then down to the letters, before reaching out and taking them with both hands, moving to sit cross legged on the floor in front of him. She shoves her hair over his shoulder, and looks up at him. “Any specific letters I should get excited about?”

“None that I can think of.”

She nods. “All right. You gonna sit there like a creep while I read them all?”

“If that’s okay.”

She attempt a smile, not quite succeeding. “I mean. I do love everything about you. So, I don’t think Creepy Eliot’s going to scare me off.” Eliot nods, once, eyes glued to the stack of letters, and watches as she pulls the first one from the stack. Her nail scratches along the seem, tearing it slightly, and his heart seizes in his chest.

“Wait—” He finds himself saying without really meaning to, reaching a hand out to stop her, “Just— I. How about I read them to you?” He looks down at where her nail is still stuck in the parchment. “They’re fragile. You—” he doesn’t want to say ‘you’re about as fragile with things as a bull in a china shop’ but he just keeps picturing her running rampant, tearing the letters into pieces and throwing them up into the air. She wouldn’t, because she knows they matter. But. They’re fragile.

They’re all he has left.

She looks between him and the one in her hand, before carefully — so carefully, it’s clear she knows what he’s thinking, and for that, he adds another reason he loves her to his list of Reasons to Love Margo Hanson And All That She Is — folding it back up, and holds the stack out to him. She stops, short of settling them in his hand, though, and says, quietly fragile, “You know I wouldn’t do anything to hurt you, right?”

He closes the distance, wrapping his hands over hers. “I know.” He smiles, close lipped and just as fragile, before pulled the stack away and settling them on his lap. “Let Papa Eliot tell you a story,” He says, patting his hand on the top of it. “It’s a love story that rivals those of old.”



——————————-



Eliot,

I’m taking Quentin to the river. He’s been stressed the past few days, so I wanted to help calm his mind down. We’ll see you in a couple days.

Love,

Arielle

Ps. There is a peach pie in the oven for you. I know how hungry you are after a long trip. I expect the whole thing to be gone before we come back.

*

Arielle,

I don’t know what I’d do without you half the time. When you put Quentin to bed, come out to the mosaic. I got my hands on some actual alcohol. You deserve to get drunk.

Love,

Eliot

Ps. Bring snacks I’m hungry.

 

*

Eliot,

Welcome home. Arielle’s pregnant.

Help.

Q

*

 

Q,

I went for a walk. Had to process. I don’t deserve you or Arielle.

I’m scared. The idea of a little human depending on me and of you trusting me not to accidentally kill it when it does eventually arrive. Jesus, Q. I don’t know what to do with all of this.

But I’m not going anywhere. You’ve taught me not to let my fear control me, and I’ll be back in the morning.

El

Ps. Please don’t let Arielle name him something dumb. I know I’ll be there but please take my side on the whole no Fillorian names thing, in case we do ever get to take him to Earth for a visit.

*

Eliot,

Thank you. Again.

Arielle

 

*

Q,

If you wake up before I come back, I don’t want you to freak out. I took Teddy down to the village to get him some toys to help distract him, and he’ll be at Juliana’s for the next couple of days while we work out the funeral arrangements. Arielle’s parents wrote back, the letter is in the kitchen. I didn’t want to open it without you.

I know waking up is hard right now. But I need you to force yourself to get out of bed. Get some breakfast. I premade your favorite. There’s a preservation spell on it, so just follow the instructions and it’ll heat up. Then I want you to take a shower. And if you need to cry, do that, too. I’ll be home by sundown.

Keep the bed warm for me. It’s cold out.

Yours,

Eliot


——————————-


“That one looks long.”

Eliot swallows, setting aside the shorter one to pick up the one he’d skipped earlier. “Yeah,” He murmurs, waving a hand flippantly, while the nail of the thumb of his other hand scrapes at the fraying edge of the page. “You know Quentin.”

“Was he excited or scared?”

He licks his lips. “Neither.” Shugging, he moves it aside and sets it next to the other ones he’s read her. “He was mad. I . . . was an asshole not long after he met Arielle. Even though I’d pushed them together. And I brought a strange man home, and it was. It’s one of the worst fights we ever had. I don’t. Want to read that one.” Didn’t then, didn’t now. He doesn’t think he even got all the way through it when he first found it on his pillow.


——————————-


Eliot,

Our son wanted to write you a letter. Enjoy the gibberish:

Papa i meeks yoo. Dayd sa yer dooen eempertand theengz. Kom holm soohn!!!!

I could translate for you, but I think you got the message. We miss you. Finish up helping the widow and come home already.

Q (and Teddy!!!!!)

Ps, you better be prepared to do all the mosaic work for the next week. Good deeds or not.

*

Papa,

Dad says you’ll be home tonight, and that I could write the welcome home from the village letter. I don’t know what he always says so I just wanna say welcome home and I did three whole mosaics all by myself today even though dad wanted to do it.

I did a yellow dog, a sun, and a green tree (even the trunk!) none of them made any magic, though.

Anyways welcome home we have pie from Mommas momma.

Teddy


——————————-



“You guys,” Margo starts an hour later, sitting up straight, with an odd look in her eyes that Eliot can’t even begin to try and demystify. “You really lived a whole ass life together.”

Eliot nods, gaze darting back over to the crib in the corner, and then to the bed. He can almost see them, here. Eliot in the bed, coy smile on his lips, and Quentin gracelessly flopping into the bed beside him, immediately reaching around to wrap his arm over Eliot’s waist. Can almost hear his laugh. He swallows and looks back down at Margo. “We should go soon,” he murmurs. “The woods get hard to navigate around here at dark.”

She stares at him for a long moment, before nodding, and standing up, holding her hand out for him. “We can go,” She says, “but you’re going to give me the grand tour. I want to know more about this supposed happy life you guys lived.” She shrugs a shoulder as Eliot reaches out and takes her hand, pulling with her whole weight to help him up. “I honestly can’t believe Quentin was anything less than annoying as a housemate.”

Eliot smiles softly at her, turning around to pick up the letters and set them back in the box. He stands back up once it latches shut, and holds it to his chest, wrapping his arms around it. A small sliver of wood digs into the crook of his elbow, but he can’t be assed to care. “He was annoying,” He says, nodding towards the door to motion her out of the room. “But in a way that made me happy.” He shrugs and follows as she leaves the room. “I know that doesn’t make sense to you—”

“It does,” She turns on her heel and looks at him meaningfully. “I may not have lived a life with him, El, but he was my friend, too. It makes sense.” She pauses, hesitating, before, “Don’t diminish it. Not for me.” Her hand comes out and settles overtop his on the box. “Not for me, not for anybody. And when we get him back, not for him, either.”

He blinks down at her, vision going blurry again, before he nods, “Okay.” She smiles, and he nods ahead, down the hall, “There’s not much to see. We had to use a long term spell to make the cottage larger. The only other room is Teddy’s . . .” He trails off, as Margo turns to look at the door at the end of the hall. Imagines the days, after Teddy left to find his own life, and before it became Quentin’s study, that he’d sat in the hall, with his back against the door, waiting for Quentin to let him in. Of resting his forehead against the door, and his palm sliding up the wood, telling Quentin he’s here, he’ll be here when he’s ready to talk.

Thinks back on the days they’d curled up on the bed, imagining they’d finish the puzzle the next morning, and wondering how they’d let him know. If they’d be able to leave, knowing he’s out there. Then sitting on the floor in front of Quentin’s desk, years later, thinking of the two babies Teddy brought with him, both pretending not to cry. Because there was so much at that point, that walking away from it all felt impossible.

“There’s not much to see there,” He tells Margo. “Or anywhere, really. It’s just a house. No photos, or memorabilia or anything.” He looks through the doorway into the living room, where a familiar piece of fabric settled over the back of the couch, dust muting it’s colors, catches his eye. “Except that.” He turns and heads into the living room without making sure she’s following, and sets the box on the edge of the couch to rip the quilt off the back of it. Dust goes flying all around him, particles glinting in the sunset passing through the side window.

“El?”

The dust gets sucked out of the room, and he looks up just in time to see Margo’s arms fall to her sides. She’s watching him with a peculiar look. He looks down. Oh. He’s clutching the blanket to his chest even tighter than he’d been holding the box. His knuckles have gone white in the bits of fabric he’s fisted them in. Licking his lips, he turns to face her fully, and forces himself to hold it out for her. The seams are frayed, dust still clings to it, like it’s become a part of it. His nose stings; whether it’s from the dust or the memories the blanket brings up, though, he isn’t sure.

“I’m not about to get attacked by two hundred year old dust mites,” She explains, closing the distance between them. Her eyes dart around the interior of the living room, settling on every little thing a moment at a time, before she stops in front of him and looks down at the blanket. She reaches up and runs her hand along it, wrinkling her nose. “This thing is raggedy.”

“It was like that before I died,” he murmurs, smiling down at it as he pulls it back against himself. He can almost feel Quentin’s hand, settling it on him on the couch after a long day on the mosaic. Or his back, the warmth radiating through the fabric, as he pushed up against Eliot’s front in the dead of night with less than innocent intentions. “We used it for everything.”

She raises an eyebrow. “Everything?”

He rolls his eyes, twisting his fingers up in the raggedy fabric. “Only the important things,” He says, twisting around to look over the living room. Countless memories here. Most good, some bad — like accidentally hitting Teddy’s head against the kitchen counter when he was a baby and panicking for three hours, until Arielle and Quentin returned to find him clutching a sleeping, and perfectly healthy, Teddy to his chest, while he cried over him, quiet as he could to keep from waking him. Or curling up on the couch with Quentin and Arielle, casting a spell on the ceiling to make it look like they were lying beneath the stars. Or standing at the kitchen counter, while Quetin pulled off a dirty shirt, and, laughing, tossed it across the room to him, a mocking frown on his lips as it landed nearly a foot away from it’s destination.

“El?”

He twists on his heel to look at the kitchen. Imagines a blonde toddler sitting on the counter while he casts a spell to heal his scraped knee, or a middle aged Quentin, leaning against the stove with a mischievous glint in his eyes as he tugged at the ropes of Eliot’s apron. Arielle with a gleaming smile, hiding a pie behind her back and darting away from his reaching hands. A thousand and one reasons to smile.

A tin of pens still sits beside the sink, dust coating them so clearly, he knows if he pulls one out, it’ll go flying like feathers on a frightened bird. He makes his way across the room, and does just that, watching as the dust flutters up all around him. Finds the parchment below the tin, watches as even more dust halos around him, a shadow show created through the sunset’s pink and orange light settling over the countertop. “Just need to do something,” He says, as Margo casts all the dust away with an offended puff of air.

“We can stay,” She says, following after him, her heels clicking quietly on the floor beneath her. “If you’re not ready to go.”

He shakes his head. It’s home. Or it was. But it’s not where he needs to be. “We’ll go. I just need to . . .” He swallows and nods down at the pen and paper. “I know he won’t see it, but.” He shrugs a little helplessly as Margo reaches out and places her hand over his.

“He wrote you a letter when he lost you,” She says, soft, “It only makes sense you’d do the same.”

His chin wobbles, as he turns his hand up to grip hers. “We used to tell Teddy about you, you know,” He says through a new mess of tears. “And Arielle, and anyone who would listen. All about Auntie Margo—”

Auntie Margo?” She tilts her head, like she’s trying to keep herself from reacting, though the twitch below her right eye all but gives her away. It’s always been her tell.

“Well, you are family.” Her grip on his hand is like iron, until she’s rushing around the counter and pulling him into a hug, burying her face in his chest. He hears her sniffle, before he finally weaves his arms around her. They hang onto each other, holding tight enough that breathing grows difficult, until Margo finally pulls away and reaches up to wipe his tears away.

“Write your letter,” She croaks, wobbly smile on her lips, her eyes glistening with tears, “I’ll give you some alone time. And,” She strokes his cheek, “If you ever want to come back here, we will. No matter what’s going on. No matter how fucking dire circumstances are. Just tell me you want to come home, and we will. Okay?”

He offers her a closed lip smile, before leaning down and pressing a kiss to her cheek. “I love you, Bambi. I’m sorry I’m mad at you.”

She returns to the kiss, pulling away. “Don’t be.”

He opens his mouth to reply, but she pats his chest and walks out of the cottage without another word. He watches after her for a moment, the pinks and oranges settling around him, until he turns his attention on the paper, and leans over the counter to write it out.




It’s been so long, I don’t even remember how to start one of these. How do I refer to you? Q? Did I lose that right when I told you we wouldn’t choose each other? Are you Quentin, now? No, now, you're a pile of ash in the mirror realm and I’m more alone than I was the day I rejected you. I’m sorry. Let me start over.

Q,

It’s been eight weeks, six days, and fourteen hours since I woke up and found out you killed yourself. The time might not actually be accurate, because I don’t know how much has passed since we arrived in Fillory yesterday. But the intention’s there. Then again, we both know intention doesn’t mean a god damned thing.

I kind of hate you, right now. Not enough to let you go. But enough that everywhere I look in this stupid cottage, it hurts. Everything good is tinted by what you did. Even thinking about our son, or Arielle, or the good days out by the river.

Though, I don’t know if that’s because I hate you, or if it’s because I miss you.

I think it’s a little bit of both.

I had a plan, you know? When I was stuck in my head, I came up with this grand romantic plan to get you back once you saved me. Because I knew you would. Save me. You’ve always been too stubborn to let a little thing like an unkillable god keep you from getting what you want. Not stubborn enough to realize I was lying when I rejected you. But stubborn enough to risk your life to save mine. Because of course you are. You’re so fucking brave in the face of saving others, but never when it comes to saving yourself.

Both alike in dignity, am I right?

I brought Margo with me. I’m still pissed at her and literally everyone else who saw you falling apart and let you die, but. I wanted her to see. Even if we didn’t bring her together, like we planned, I wanted her to know that we’ve been happy once. That we’re not completely incapable of it.

I still can’t believe our love saved the world and we were still too afraid to admit we loved each other. That’s a lie. I can believe it. I just don’t want to. I have to believe that we still have a chance. That we can still be happy, somehow.

That I can get you back.

I’m not letting our story end this way. I’m finally ready and able to let you in, Q, don’t leave me now.

I’ll be seeing you soon. Not in fifty years. Not when I die. But in this fucking lifetime, in this timeline, in this body. You and me.

Proof of concept doesn’t give in to death.

I love you. See? I can say it. I love you. I love you. I love you.

Come back to me so I can say it to your stupid face.

Love,

Eliot.



He sets the letter on the counter, takes one more look around the cottage, and then walks outside. The suns almost completely set, and Margo’s standing over the pitch of the mosaic, shadow facing west. Her arms are wrapped around her waist, and her head’s tilted, like she’s thinking. He remembers a time that just looking at her, he could read her mind, and know just what to say to make things better. But, these days, since he woke up, at least, things feel different. Like they’re out of sync with each other. She grew while he was gone, and he woke up in the same place he’d been when he pulled out a gun and shot the monster, thinking it’d sold all their problems.

He clears his throat, and she jumps, twisting around to look at him. “You done?” She asks, gaze going soft.

He shrugs. “I don’t think I’ll ever be done, honestly. But, we’ve got a depressed super nerd to bring back to life, so what I want or need right now isn’t even in the top twenty things to stress about.”

“El . . .”

“I—”

“Jesus christ, there you are!”

Eliot he’s snaps around as Alice comes barrelling through the trees, wide eyed and red faced, panting as she comes to a stop on the other side of the mosaic. He blinks at her for a moment, before turning to look at Margo, a thousand questions probably on his face. “Josh said you went looking for some cottage in the eastern woods, but jesus.” She takes a second, raising a hand over her head as Eliot turns, slowly, to look at her again.

He has to admit, the library’s been good for her. No more poorly fit baby doll dresses. Instead, she’s wearing a pantsuit, which, if anyone asks him--not that they will— is much more an Alice look than short skirts that emphasis her chest. If he didn’t want to snap her neck, he’d appreciate it more. “What are you doing here?”

There’d been talk of bringing all their friends here.

But Alice was there when Quentin killed himself. She’d lead him right into his death. And the comradery of being someone who loved Quentin fades fast when the truth of the matter comes out in the light of day. And that truth is that he doesn’t think she deserves to be here. To see a life he was happy. Even though the really disgusting petty part of his brain wants to tell her: ‘Look. Look what we had. He was happy . And he was happy with me . You two could never have what we had.’

But that’s mostly fueled by his self hatred and his being the reason they got back together in the first place.

She stands upright, straightening out her shoulders. Something he’s learned over the years indicates she’s uncomfortable. Her gaze darts between the two of them, before she lifts her chin, and she may be a foot shorter than him, but it somehow still makes him feel like she’s looking down her nose at him. “We figured it out.”

Margo steps up next to Eliot. “Figured what out? We’re really not in the mood for the pronoun game, Alice.”

She opens her mouth to reply, but her gaze slides past them to the cottage. Her eyebrows furrow, creasing together, as she turns and looks down at the mosaic by her feet, then back up to Margo and Eliot. “Is this the mosaic? From the books?”

A part of him hates that she knows. Even if she doesn’t really know anything.

“Yeah, it is.” He shakes his head and takes a step in, blinking rapidly. “Can you just get to the point? It’s getting dark, and we don’t want to get lost out here in the dark.” Even after a lifetime of learning his way around the woods, so much time away meant missing out on all the creatures that moved in when Quentin and Eliot moved out. Shifty questing creatures trying to get their merrit badges by fucking with magicians is one thing, but whatever might have come after them is something else entirely.

She stares at him, jaw clenching before she says, “Kady and I figured it out.”

“You said that already,” Margo says, sounding about as exasperated as Eliot feels. “Figured what out?”

Alice’s brow furrows as she looks back and forth between them. “ . . . How to get Quentin back. Obviously.”

Eliot’s heart seizes up in his chest, and he nods, once, twice, three times, before turning on his heels. “We’d better go back in,” he says over his shoulder, hands twisting around in front of him to cast a cleaning spell. He hears their hesitation in the way their feet shuffle in the dirt, and then Margo’s short strides come rushing after him, and Alice’s follow, slower and more precise.



——————————-



Eliot stands over the wood fire stove while Alice and Margo sit on the couch in the living room watching him. He leans his hands on the counter, balancing his weight on them, and closing his eyes, tilts his head down. His stomach twists and turns, edging between nausea and excitement and an annoying combination of both. SHe’s been talking for nearly twenty minutes, and it’s all a bit confusing and he definitely doesn’t understand — he’s pretty sure she doesn’t even understand.

“We just need to find some of Q’s blood and we can get him back.”

Margo scoffs. “Great fucking plan, Alice. One problem. His body literally—”

“I know ,” Eliot almost finds comfort in the desperation bleeding into the words. She sounds about as desperate as he feels. “I was there when it happened.” She pauses, and he imagines she’s pursing her lips the way she does when she’s thinking. Quentin once mentioned that it was one of the things he found most beautiful about her; how she thinks with every part of her that she can. “We just. Need to get a hold of a necromancer, and go to another timeline and—”

Eliot looks up, shaking his head as another memory flashes. “No, we don’t,” He says. Because he remembers a night, not long into their stay, when Quentin, through a mouthful of mashed potatoes, pointed to the east, and said, ‘Somewhere out there, in the future, there’s a witch with a vial of my blood. And i have no idea what she plans on doing with it.’ He crosses his arms over his chest. “There’s a vial of Q’s blood. Here. In Fillory.”

Neither of them say anything for a beat. He moves around the counter, waving a hand casually, as if none of this matters, when it’s all that matters. It’s all that could ever possibly matter ever again. “When we first came to deal with the beast— Martin. Whatever we’re calling him this week. And he killed us. Q ran off to get help, and a witch asked for a vial of his blood in exchange for her help. When we ended up okay, she kept the blood. Classic Fillory,” He adds, sitting down on the chair opposite them. “Charging a cost and giving shit for all in return.”

“How do you know she still has the blood?”

He rolls his eyes as carelessly as he can, even as his gut screams at him to get off his ass and go find the fucking witch and ask for the blood, and if she says no, just kill her and take it. “Everything that’s happened to us says something’s probably used it for some creepy voodoo to make eating children a fun and easy process. But if I don’t hope now, how will I later?” He shrugs a shoulder, “I don’t even know who she is or where she is. Just that she’s less than a mile from that outhouse otherwise known as the wellspring.”

Alice stands up, quick as a flash, and Eliot frowns up at her. “I have the library. I can . . . go read Quentin’s book—”

“Uh,” Eliot says, raising a finger to point at her as he sits up straighter in the chair, “No you absolutely can not. What kind of invasive—”

“Do you want to bring him back or don’t you?” His hand falls into his lap with a soft plop. “Don’t worry,” She adds, turning to leave, pausing only to look him directly in the eye with the kind of confidence she didn’t have that first year at Brakebills, “I’ll skip the sex scenes involving you.” He’s sure she means the threesome, but there’s something grating in her tone that says no, no she’s already read Quentin’s book, and maybe even Eliot’s, too.

He hates her almost as much as he respects her.

He clicks his jaw side to side as she heads to the door, and calls out, just as her hand wraps around the rope that substitutes as a door knob. “I wouldn’t go out there if I were you. The woods around here aren’t great for people who don’t know them at dark.”

She pauses. Pulls the door open, and walks out without another word.

He looks at Margo for the first time since he sat down, and she raises an eyebrow. “You know,” she says, and he sighs because he knows it’s not going to be what he wants to hear, “Quentin rebounding on her and then using her as part of his suicide plan isn’t her fault, right?”

He shoves up from the chair and heads back to the kitchen, “I know,” He murmurs, reaching up to pull open a cabinet and grab two murky glasses from it’s confines. “But her knowing him better than anyone else, and seeing him in that state and using it to get back together instead of acknowledging that he was spiraling is.” Slamming the glasses onto the counter, he looks back up at her. “She took him to the mirror realm knowing he was reckless. She took him there. Sue me if I blame her a little for him being dead.” He turns back around and reaches into another cabinet, pulling out a magic leather flask. His hands shake as he wraps them around it, and he pauses, letting go with one hand to leverage it on the counter and hold himself up.

“El—”

He flips around, plastering a big, fake grin on his face, and Margo’s mouth snaps shut. “Let’s get drunk, shall we?”



——————————-



“She’s the witch of the Eastern Wood,” Julia says two days later, sitting on the chair Arielle used to singTeddy to sleep on. Eliot remembers long nights where Teddy would cry and cry and cry, and he swore none of them would ever sleep again; until Arielle carried him over to the crib and sang him a Fillorian lullaby.

He almost wants to tell Julia she needs to get up.

Margo’s eyebrow quirks. “Very creative.”

Julia frowns across the room at her. “It doesn’t matter if it’s creative. It matters that we know who she is.”

“And what she’ll want in return for the blood,” Penny adds. “Because we’re not sure we have anything that’ll—”

“Why are you even here?” Eliot finds himself asking from the doorway, where he’s leaning against the frame with his arms crossed over his chest. So much for just observing. “You knew what was going to happen, and you made it happen. So why the fuck pretend to care what happens to Quentin from here on out?” He rolls his eyes, dropping one hand to his hip while the other points lazily, “That’s right. You want to get back on the best friends good side so you can get laid.”

“Eliot,” Margo tries, reaching an arm out for him.

Eliot rolls his eyes and shoves away from the doorframe, “Just tell me what I need to do. Because you all say you care about what happens to him, but all I see when I look at you is what you missed,” he sweeps his gaze across the room, pausing on Alice and Julia, before moving onto Penny, “or what you facilitated.”

Penny’s eye twitches, but he straightens out his shoulders, and picks a book up off the table, glowering all the way as he carries it across the room, and stops at the middle point before holding the book out for him. He waits to speak until Eliot moves in to snatch the book from his hand. Penny holds firm to it, “For the record,” He says, low, “If I had known what your Penny meant when he said to do it, I wouldn’t have done it. So save the self righteousness. Especially considering you’re not innocent in all of this either.”

“Penny.”

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”

“It means," He lets go of the book and takes a step back. “Only one of us pulled the trigger and released the monster,  which I’m pretty sure is what set all this shit in motion.” His hands come together in front of him, and he sets his jaw. “Don’t look like that. If you’re going to play the blame game, you need to be prepared to also be held responsible.”

“Can we stop fighting for five fucking minutes?” Kady asks, standing up from the couch and glaring at them. “We all want to save Quentin’s bitch ass, and blaming each other for his actual suicide isn’t going to get us anywhere. We’re all mad at each other and ourselves, but we need to suck it up because we have to find something that’ll be appease the witch enough to get her to give us his fucking blood.”
Eliot glares at Penny for another beat, before turning to look at Kady. “What does she want?”

She purses her lips and crosses her arms. “Something irreplaceable.”


——————————-



“You get one shot with her. If you don’t offer something she wants, you don’t get to come back with something else later,” Julia says, crossing her arms and narrowing her eyes at the Hansel and gretel-esque cabin across the woods.

“Yes. I was there when we talked about it.”

She shrugs, glancing at him from beneath her eyelashes. “Couldn’t be sure you remembered. Didn’t you finish two bottles of vodka on your own?”

“Ah, perception. Gain that from Quentin’s death, too?” Eliot snaps.

Her face shudders, and she takes a step away from him. “Go fuck yourself, Eliot,” she mutters. “Being angry isn’t going to help any of this.”

“I disagree,” He says, twisting around to eye the cottage. “Being angry is the only thing that’s kept me going through this.” He frowns at the cottage, still unchanged, before flipping back around to face her. “And honestly, fuck you, too.”

“What now?”

“Everyone pities you because you were his best friend. But you weren’t. You were never a good friend to him. You know, he told me stories about your lives together before Brakebills, before you used his own mind against him, by the way. In case you forgot about that, which wouldn’t surprise me, because you never apologized—”

“You’re seriously going to bring that up? Now?”

“Yes!” He throws his hands up at his sides. “When we get him back he needs people he knows will be there for him. You apparently stood by his side all year and let him spiral down the fucking drain. I can’t blame you for letting him go to the mirror realm because you were about as unconscious as I was. But I can blame you for letting him get to that point, while in the same breath calling him your best friend.” He moves in, points a finger at her, “You weren’t his best friend. You were his oldest friend. And you were unwilling to fucking act because you were more focused on your own shit.”

“We all were!”

“But nobody else pretended to care about him, did they?” He shakes his head, laughing a hollow little sound. “You pretended to care. And ignored the signs he’s shown all his life because you didn’t want to deal with it.”

“That’s not fair.”

“Life’s not fair.” He turns back around and nods at the cottage. “She wants something irreplaceable. For something she never actually fucking earned. And if she’s not happy with whatever we come up with, we’ll never see him again.” He looks over his shoulder at her, almost feels bad for the kicked puppy look on her face, but can’t really find it in himself with everything raw and coursing through him. “You all have things,” He says, softer. “People. Projects. Whatever. That could make living without him easy. I don’t. I have him. And Margo, but even she’s not really mine anymore.” His chin wobbles. “He’s all I have. And I’m not going to give up on him like everyone else did.”

She watches him behind glassy eyes for a moment before looking off into the trees behind him. “How did all this happen?” She asks, soft, and it’s clearly rhetorical, but.

“Because Jane Chatwin’s a bitch that makes other people solve her problems.” He’s never been one to turn down an opportunity to talk shit about Jane Chatwin.

“That’s not what I meant.”

He hesitates, turning to look at the ground, and then, “I know.”

“We just kept trying to — to fix things.”

“Yep.”

“But all we do is make everything worse.”

“Preaching to the choir.”

She makes a pathetic little sound low in her throat. “How do we do this without fucking it up?”

He blinks down at her, then shrugs. Because trying to fix things, being the heroes — it never works. So. “Why don’t we go in with the expectation and plan of destroying the world. Least this time when it happens it won’t be a surprise.” He holds a hand out for her, because even though part of him still wants to tear her limb from limb — she matters to Quentin.

“Knowing us?” Her hand comes up and wraps around his, squeezing gently. “We’d still manage to surprise ourselves with just how fucked up we can make it.”

“Maybe we need to stop trying to save the world and focus on saving ourselves.”

“Can’t do that if there’s not a world.”

Eliot frowns. “Shit. I hate that you’re right.” He turns back around, tugging Julia along with him, and motions towards the cottage. “What do we give her that’s irreplaceable? What’s good enough for a witch that asks for blood in return for a favor?”

“I don’t know,” she says after a beat. “But we’ll figure it out.”



——————————-


They settle on a schedule a few days later, each of them with something irreplaceable of theirs that they can give to her in exchange for Quentin’s blood. The plan is to go one at a time, so once they’ve got the blood, they can come back and immediately cast the spell from the ancient book of necromancy that Alice assures is safe and entirely unlike anything she’s ever seen. “Maybe that’s why they had it locked at the back of the poison room. If people knew they could bring back the dead without any real consequences, nobody would let anyone stay dead.”

Eliot volunteers to go first, but it’s quickly squashed, because somebody with a strong connection needs to be there when Quentin comes to, to tell him he’s alive. Which, if they do end up going through all of them, makes little sense because Eliot will have to go eventually. But, fine, he’ll be the first one to welcome Quentin back to the land of the living, and then whisk him away before anyone can volunteer him for any life threatening quests, while he’s at it.

Margo goes first, something tucked in her bag, and a dark look in her eyes.

“What is it?” Eliot asks.

“Something irreplaceable,” She says simply, before turning on her heel, grabbing Penny’s hand, and disappearing. He watches the empty space for a few minutes before turning and heading to the bedroom to go through the items in the crib to distract himself. The others stay in the living room, and he’s happy to have the silence.

An hour later, Margo’s the first to come back without the vial of blood.

Eliot looks up from the pan on the stove just in time to see them appear in the center of the living room, and for her to storm out the front door without so much as a hello. His gaze darts to Penny.

“It wasn’t good enough,” Penny explains. “She didn’t think it was a fair trade.”

There’s an agitated scream, and the sound of something shattering outside. Eliot rips off the apron, and moves to race outside, but Josh is up and outside before Eliot can so much as round the counter. He stands there for a beat, watching through the open doorway, before straightening out his shoulders, picking up the apron, and going back to making lunch for everyone.

“Who’s next?” He asks with forced lightness; the words come out stiffer than he’d like. Nobody replies. He sighs and looks up at them. “The show must go on, children. Who’s next?”



——————————-



Julia, Josh, and Kady go in succession. They all return with matching looks of disappointment and anger. Julia tosses the engagement ring on the counter, mindlessly watching it bounce off the edge and onto the floor. Josh sits on the floor in front of the couch, the pillow he’d taken with him tucked between his legs. Kady’s keychain with ‘NUMBER 1 MOM’ etched onto the front, and ‘LOVE YOU KADYGIRL’ on the back lies forgotten on the couch as she curls up on the couch and downs her third glass of scotch.

Eliot looks down at the list on the counter, picks up a pen, and one by one crosses their names off.

 

Margo
Julia
Josh
Kady
Penny
Alice
Eliot

 

He stares down at the list for a moment, setting the pen down beside it. “This isn’t working,” He says to the paper. “We’re missing something. We only have three more tries, we can’t just keep fucking this up.”

“Yeah, because we’re intentionally sabotaging,” Kady mutters around a piece of ice.

He looks up, bringing his free hand down to clutch the edges of the counter. “I didn’t say that.”

“You didn’t need to. It’s all over your face.”

His grip on the counter tightens so much so that it hurts until he forces himself to let go and back up against the sink. “Did she say anything to any of you? Why your shit isn’t good enough?”

There has to be a reason. Something they’re missing.

“She wouldn’t answer,” Josh says. “Just said it wasn’t good enough and not worth the trade. That’s it.”

Eliot sighs.

“Okay,” He says, waving a hand and shoving off the counter to head down the hall. “Get me when it’s Penny’s turn to fail.” He doesn’t wait for any of them to respond before walking down the hall, bypassing the door to his — and Quentin’s — bedroom. He pauses in front of the second door, hesitating only for a moment, before gently pushing the door open and slipping inside.

He presses his back up against the door once it closes behind him, head thunking back against it as well. His eyes close of their own accord as he inhales once, twice, in and out in deliberate, slow movements, until his hands stop shaking. His legs give out, and he slides down the door, pulling his knees up to his chest. Wraps his arms around his legs and presses his chin to his knees.

“What are we missing?” He asks.

The words disappear into the room, settle down in uneasiness.

He directs his gaze to the drab doll sat atop Teddy’s old bed. It’s almost his turn and he’s suddenly petrified this won’t be enough either. “What the fuck are we missing?”


——————————-


Penny tosses a bracelet on the counter and twists around to take the bottle of tequila as soon as Margo holds it out for him.

“I know I’m the reason he’s dead,” He says after a large gulp. He hands her the bottle. “Was hoping I’d be the reason we could get him back.” As Margo’s fingers wrap around the base of the bottle, he lets go and walks out of the cottage, a, “Let me know when you’re ready, Alice,” called over his shoulder.

Heart pounding, Eliot stares after him, before getting up from the couch, rounding the counter, and carefully and silently crossing out Penny’s name. He stares down at the list for a moment, hands trembling as he sets the pen to the side.

“El . . .”

He shakes his head. “Don’t.”


——————————-


Alice knocks on the doorframe, and he stills the rocking of the chair, looking up from the box of letters on his lap, hope brimming over every nerve. Her jaw is clenched, though, one hand wrapped around her waist, and her eyes are wide and apologetic. And it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what it means.

“Okay,” He finally says around the lump forming in his throat.

She swallows audibly and takes a step into the room. “I—”

“If you’re going to apologize, don’t.”

“I wasn’t.”

“Then, what?”

She hesitates. Takes an unsteady step forward, and then stops. “Okay. I was talking to the others. Trying to find some kind of explainable pattern or something. I — I think I know why it’s not working, but I didn’t realize until after she kicked me out. I — look. It’s not a lost cause. You can do it.”

“How?”

“Necromancy comes at a cost, usually, right?”

He nods, blinking slowly. “Yes. The point, Alice. Get to it.”

She makes a face, somewhere between a glare and a frown and a pout. And it flashes that he’s not surprised Quentin went back to her. They’d be good for each other, the way they’ve grown. Maybe another timeline. Or dimension. “What’s the cost of necromancy?”

“A life for a life.” Obviously. He may not have listened much in class, but he wasn’t an idiot.

She nods. “Rule Number One: Be prepared to pay the price.” Her gaze falls to the box on his lap and back up to meet his eyes. “A life for a life.” It still doesn’t make sense, and she must realize that, because she takes a step closer, and pointedly looks at the stack of letters and then back to him again. “A life . For a life.”

Without meaning to he pulls the box in closer to himself. “Come on,” He says, confused smile spreading across his lips. “You don’t seriously—”

“That’s your life together, isn’t it?”

His brow furrows; wonders if Margo told her, but then remember that she’d read Quentin’s book, and probably his, too, out of curiosity. He straightens out his shoulders, still clutching the box close. “Yeah, but—”

“Pretty irreplaceable, right?”

“I—”

“From a lifetime that never really happened. Eliot, think about it. Give her those and she’ll have something that shouldn’t even exist. And it’ll answer the cost of necromancy. Maybe she’s been rejecting us because she knows what we’re planning.” She takes another step closer, eyes full of sympathy and he wants to throw up. “So — A life for a life.”

“Stop saying that.” He holds the box to his chest and stands up. “By that logic it could be anything in this cottage—”

“But nothing else represents an entire life!” She pauses, wringing her hands together, “And nothing else is so intrinsically linked to Quentin. She — she has to accept them.”

“This . . . is all I have, Alice.”

“Not when we get him back.”

He takes an unconscious step backwards. “So what,” he says, shrugging a shoulder, “you’re saying you’re just going to back off? That’s not like you.”

She rolls her eyes, and he doesn’t miss the way they’ve gone glassy. Or the tears that she tries to swipe away before he can see it. “Honestly,” She says, looking up at the ceiling. “I think we were just biding time. We —” She shrugs, tilting her chin down to look at him again. “Quentin and I have been over for a long time. We were both just trying to find the people we were when we first came to Brakebills. And those people are gone.” She nods to the box. “But those people, the ones that wrote those letters, aren’t. Giving them up doesn’t erase it.”

“Doesn’t it, though?”

She bites down on her bottom lip and shrugs. “It’s up to you, I guess. You think on it, I’m going to go decompress. Let Penny know when you’re ready. He’s outside.” And then she turns on her heel and walks out of the room, gently closing the door behind her.

He stares at the door for a beat, falling back into the chair. It creaks beneath him, and he looks down at the box clutched to his chest. Little splinters of wood dig into the flesh of his arm, and he knows he’s gotten at least a few stuck in the skin, but he doesn’t care. He sets the box on his lap, and carefully flips the latch to pull it open and look through the letters.



——————————-


Quentin,

Welcome home. I missed you. Please come jump into bed and give me a good morning hug.

Eliot.

ps. I know this going down the river to help the villagers thing is supposed to be a nice thing we do every month but being gone a week is unforgivable on my newly monogamous heart, Coldwater.

*

Q,

Remember that dog we got for Teddy? The questing creatures got it while you were gone. If teddy asks it went to the farmers market on earth and decided to stay.

It was the only thing I could think of, considering the rainbow bridge is a real thing.

El

*

Eliot,

You looked peaceful, don’t be mad that I didn’t wake you up.

Q

*

Arielle,

Your husband is an idiot.

Eliot

*

Eliot,

Don’t forget about Teddy’s playdate two nights from today. You’re on toddler duty this time.

Ari

*

 

Eliot,

Happy Anniversary! You’re probably wondering where I am. Don’t panic. Teddy’s in the village with Safiya — she’s a nice girl, shut up. Come to our spot by the river. I have a whole romantic thing set up, because yes, despite everything you’ve ever thought, I am capable of romance.

You don’t need to bring anything but yourself. I have everything we need.

(Yes, Eliot, even the lube.)

Waiting for you,

Q.

*

Q,

No, the tiles haven’t been stolen. I hid them. We deserve a whole day off. Together. Fifteen years of doing this every day. One day off won’t hurt us, I don’t care what you say. No pushy work mentality today, Q. Our son is out for the day. The house is our own. And you can’t work on the mosaic because it’s all hidden. And yes, I am aware I’m repeating myself.

Come to the bedroom when you’re done trying to find the mosaic pieces.

I have a few surprises for you.

Eliot

*

Q,

Happy 50th anniversary, sweetheart. I made you your favorite food, just do the reheating spell and it’ll warm up. Teddy wrote back. He’s bringing the grandkids to visit.

I’m out on the mosaic. Come give me a kiss when you wake up.

El

ps. Sorry for the lack of orange juice. The berries that taste like oranges aren’t in season. But you knew that.

*

Teddy,

If you see this, you’re early, and your father is going to be furious that we missed rushing you with welcome home hugs. In which case, I’m requesting you pretend not to have come home until we return from the village this afternoon. He’s been excited to see you walk through the barrier all week.

Papa

ps. If you didn’t bring a cobbler from that girlfriend of yours, there will be words, young man. Many of them. Few of them pleasant.

PPS. Hi, welcome home. I love you.

*

Eliot,

I hate that you’re getting so old. Happy Birthday. Please don’t die.

Q.

PS. Fuck you i’m not crying



——————————-


He emerges from the bedroom three hours later, eyes puffy despite his best efforts, and moves to the center of the room, the box settled on his hip. “I’m not coming back until she agrees to give me that vial,” He says. “I don’t care how I get it. But I am getting it. This isn’t going to be another failure in a long line.”

Margo nods, brow furrowing as she motions to the box. “I thought you were taking the doll?”

He glances across the room at Alice, before turning his gaze down on the box, and pulling it around to his front with both hands. “It was brought to my attention that there are . . . things that are more irreplaceable than a silly little doll.”

“Are you sure that’s what you want to give up?”

Shrugging, his gaze darts across the room to meet Penny’s. “Some things are more important,” He says, softly. More important than reminiscing. Than being afraid. Than — anything, really. “I’m ready to go.” Penny nods, sets down his glass, and stands up all in one smooth motion. He holds his hand out for him.

“We got this, man,” He says as Eliot walks over and takes his hand.

Eliot lets out a shaky exhale, “I know.”

He doesn’t know who he’s trying to convince, but it’s probably himself.


——————————-

 

The witch isn’t surprised when he shows up. She simply opens the door with a smile, and steps aside, waving a hand to the side in invitation. When he walks through, he finds that the table is set, a warm meal sitting at the center of it. “Please,” She says, “Sit. That box can’t be too pleasant to carry.”

He shrugs, following her direction. “You’d be surprised,” He murmurs, setting the box on the table beside an empty plate, and taking the seat in front of the plate. It’s easy to carry as long as it’s his.

She sits across from him, and smiles again. Her smile isn’t unkind or uninviting. Just . . . Fillorian. If he hadn’t lived the life he had with Quentin, he’d probably feel differently. But she reminds him of Agatha and Isobel from the village down by the river. Who had, upon first look, appeared to be angry, angry old women that Eliot insisted were serial killers, but ended up being two of the kindest people either of them ever knew.

She reaches across the table and plucks a bread roll off the tray and sets it on her plate. “Tell me, Former High King.” She says, reaching for a bowl of what he thinks is the equivalent of Fillorian corn. He recognizes it from dishes the villagers brought to them when they first moved into the cottage. Neither he nor Quentin ever dared eat any of it. “Why should I give you what I rightfully earned?”

Eliot straightens his shoulders out and looks down at the empty plate on the table. He’s not sure anything he says will be worthwhile to her. Resists the urge to argue that it was never really rightfully earned, at all.  

“I could tell you. Our story. What he means to me and what that blood could do for us,” he shakes his head, bringing his hand up to settle it over the top of the box. He looks down at it, brushing his thumb over the rough corner, barely reacting as it sends a spliter up in the crease between his first and second knuckles. He clears his throat after a moment and turns his gaze back on her. “But, somehow, I don’t think that would make you feel charitable.”

She tilts her head, curiously, “Perhaps,” She says, nodding. “But what’s in there will?”

“What’s in here is what you’ve been asking for.”

Seemingly intrigued, she sits up straight, scoots the plate aside, and clasps her hands together in front of her on the table. “Keep in mind,” She says, “You get one chance at this. Are you sure that what you’ve brought to offer is what you’d like to wager?”

He glances down at the box, swallowing thickly, before looking back up and nodding. His lips curl inward, and then, carefully, and entirely reluctantly, he pushes the box across the table. “Do you know about the mosaic?” He asks, as she reaches across to pull it closer to her.

“I do.”

“Quentin — the man whose blood you have — and I are the ones that solved it. We lived an entire life together in that cottage, and then it never happened.” He clears his throat. “Only it did. And that’s the proof.” He watches as she twists it around and fumbles with the clasp on the box. “A lifetime of letters between two people. A lifetime of letters from a life that never really happened.”

She lifts the lid, and reaches in, pulling out a stack of the letters and carefully flipping through them.

He’s trembling, he realizes, when he looks down at his hand, shaking visibly on the table. He brings it down to his lap, but realizes his spine is shaking so hard it hurts. He bites down on his lip to try and gain some control, but his body has a mind of its own.

“Certainly irreplaceable,” She says, setting them down and looking back up at him. “But what makes you think I have any use for them?”

“I don’t think it’s about having use,” Eliot replies, unsure of where exactly he’s going with this. “You’ve had Quentin’s blood for three years. You have a cottage that could lure all the tasty children, but from what I can tell, you’ve never hurt a child. Let alone eaten one.”

Her eyebrows rise up on her forehead and she leans in, resting her forearms on the table. “Then what do you think it’s about?”

“It’s . . . like necromancy. A fair trade. Quentin . . . wanted you to save us. So you took his blood. I don’t know why you didn’t give it back. Maybe you knew someone would want to save him one day. But this is a fair trade, and if that’s what you’re doing, making fair trades, then there’s no reason you’d turn me away.”

“Like I have your friends?” Eliot blinks, leaning away from her, and she smiles, sitting up straight. “I’ll admit, I am intrigued. A life for a life.” His eyes go wide, because how in the actual fuck, but the smile turns mischievous, and she shrugs. “I’m a bit of a seer, dear. Quentin’s dead. You’re planning to use the blood to bring him back.” She moves to stand up, turning her back on him. He uses the opportunity to grab a knife off the table, and hides it on his lap. “I’m impressed. The old books of necromancy were stolen by the library and locked away for nobody to find.” She looks over her shoulder, “Not for no reason, of course.”

“We have connections.”

She laughs, loud and only mildly alarming. His hand tightens around the handle of the knife, as she moves across the room and stops in front of a cupboard. She opens it, and picks up a small box that’s sitting by itself on the middle shelf. “That does not surprise me,” She says as she turns around and makes her way back to the table. She sets the box down in front of him, and tilts her head. “Child, put the knife away. I’m not going to harm you.” His mouth falls open, and she manages to look unimpressed, pursing her lips. “And you’re not going to harm me.”

“Why, because you have Quentin’s blood?”

Her brow furrows, and she looks down at the box and then back to him. “No. Because you have your friends blood.”

His eyes fill with tears before the words even register. He looks down at the box, wide eyed, and then back up at her. “What?”

“A fair trade,” She says, gliding her hand over the letters. “Don’t act so surprised. Witches aren’t all evil.”

“I didn’t—”

“It’s not about hurting people,” She says, stepping back. “Anything I do. It’s about keeping a balance. You’ve balanced it out, and you get the blood. You may go. I’m sure you’re excited to see your friend again.”

He stares up at her, vision going blurry, until he blinks the tears away, and they fall warm and wet down his cheeks. He’s still shaking as he turns his attention on the box. His hands come up, knuckles white from the grip they have on the knife, and he drops it, jumping as it falls with a heavy clatter onto the table top. Standing up on unsteady legs, he grabs the small box, opens it to make sure the vial is in the box, and nearly drops it when he sees that it is. “Is this a trick?”

“No tricks,” She says, soft, almost pityingly. “Only a trade. Go. Save your friend.”

“I—”

“Please, I’ve got a lot to read, and I’d like to get started. Shoo.”



——————————-



He stumbles out of the cottage, the tiny box clutched tight to his chest with both hands, and walks directly into Penny. “We need to go,” He says, quick and quiet into Penny’s shoulder, “We need to go right now.”

“Did you—”

“Yes.”

“Is she d—”

“She gave it to me.”

“Oh.” Penny reaches up, taking a step back, and places a hand over Eliots. “You need to let go with one hand, man. So I can get us back.”

Eliot looks down at his hands, knuckles still white, fingers tense and unmoving, despite their unstoppable trembling, and then back up to Penny. “I don’t think I can,” he says a little helplessly. Penny watches him for a beat, eyes darting back and forth between Eliots, before he nods, and forces his hand between Eliot’s and the box.



——————————-



The celebration ends before it even begins.

Alice is quick to drag all of the items needed for the spell out from under the chair, shoving the small table into the hallway. “It can take up to seventy two hours of casting,” She says, wrapping her arms around herself, and looking at each of them in their places in the circle individually. “So there are a few ways we can go about this. In shifts, which ensures the seventy two hour time span. Or, we cast a no sleep spell and we sit here doing nothing but casting until we feel it work.” She pauses, hesitant, before adding, “There are no guarantees with old necromancy. It . . . depends on what we use to call the spirit, and if the spirit’s willing to come back from the other side.”

“There’s a chance Quentin will ignore us?” Kady asks, eyebrows furrowing. “He killed himself. He shouldn’t get that option.”

“Trust me. I know.” Alice moves to the center of the circle and kneels down to spread out the clothes she’d laid out. It’s not a very Quentin outfit, but it’s not not him, either. Her fingers graze over the bag of herbs over the chest of the shirt, resting where Quentin’s heart should be, and then follow down to the vial of blood settled over the center of the shirt. “That’s why we’re not going to give him much of a choice.” She doesn’t look up as she picks the vial up. “Eliot’s going to read the letter he wrote him.”

Eliot blinks, shuffling backwards. “My—” He shakes his head. “Alice, I gave the witch—”

“I’m talking about the one you left on the counter.” She still doesn’t look up, sounding halfway distracted as she leans up and carefully pours a drop of the blood onto the bag of herbs, and then makes a careful line of it down the front of the shirt.

He stops breathing altogether as they all look at him. “ . . . I thought I. Moved that.” He watches as she continues to spread the blood — down the sleeves of the shirt, out onto the mat, a sloppy shape of a skeleton hand on each side, before heading back down to the pants and following those down to make stick figure legs, and then feet. Finally she goes to the top of the outline, and pours the remnants of the blood out into the small bowl at the head of the whole display.

She looks up at him then, tilting her head. “Why are you just standing there? Go get it. We can’t start until you do.”

“I don’t—”

“It’s in the drawer by the sink.”

She turns away and stands up, brushing her hands on the front of her pants. “What are we doing? Shifts or—”

“I think we all need to do this together,” Julia interrupts, stepping out of the circle, but not into the pile of clothes, as Eliot backs out of the circle and heads into the kitchen. “Eliot’s right. About us all having a part in Quentin’s state of mind towards the end. He needs to know that we’re all fighting for him. That we do care.”

Eliot stops in front of the counter and pulls open the drawer. The letter’s folded up, lying in it, like somebody purposefully set it there. He stares down at it, vision tunneling in on it.

“I agree,” Margo sounds like she’s underwater or far away when she replies. There’s a soft ringing in Eliot’s ears beneath her voice. “We made him believe he was alone before because we were so stuck in our own shit. We can’t risk him thinking we don’t care. Not after everything we’ve gone through.”

“Or what we’ve given up.”

The ringing in Eliot’s ears grows with intensity and depth until it drowns the rest of them out. He grips the edge of the counter with both hands, gazing down at the letter. His breaths come fast and hard to catch, chest heaving.

“Eliot?”

He snaps his head up, wide eyed, and the ringing subsides, as he, shaking, reaches into the drawer and snatches the letter out of it, slamming the drawer shut. He stretches his neck out, tendons going taut, before nodding. “Yep. I have it.” He doesn’t wait for them to say anything else before darting around the counter and retaking his place in the circle.

Margo reaches out and weaves her fingers through his free hand. “You good?”

He offers her a fake smile, all closed lips, “Never better.”

She raises an eyebrow, but doesn’t reply.

Alice steps over the castwork and stops in front of Eliot. “You need to kneel next to everything.  Can you do that for as long as it takes?”

“Should I be in the circle?”

She shakes her head. “You’re going to be the voice that draws him to us. We’ll be in the circle casting.” She raises her eyebrows at him and holds a hand out. He stares at it for a long moment, before gently pulling his hand out of Margo’s and setting in Alice’s. She turns and leads him to the center of the circle, motioning for him to kneel on Quentin’s right side. “The right is for lovers,” She says lightly, before stepping over the spell and taking her place in the circle.

“Alice—” She shakes her head, lips twitching upwards at him, and he stops, swallowing thickly. “What next?”

“Margo, Penny, close the circle.” There’s a shuffling behind him, and he looks in time to see Margo and Penny joining hands. Margo nods down at him, offering a smile, and he nods back, before turning his attention back on Alice. “Did everyone study the spell? Do you have it memorized?” There’s a series of murmurs that all sound like yesses, or variations thereof, and she smiles with a relieved sigh. “Okay. Good. I’m going to cast the spell of Perpetual Sleeplessness, which we can thank Fogg for.”

Eliot turns away from her and looks down at the clothes and all the necromancy bits and pieces he hadn’t been listening long enough to understand. His gaze follows the long lines of blood seeping into the clothes, up to the bowl glistening under the candle glow. He feels the moment the spell works, because his limbs feel free and willing, eyes no longer shuttering every other blink. He feels more awake than he’s felt in weeks.

“Eliot, we’re starting now. Whenever you’re ready, you can start reading.”

The air in the circle grows tight and heavy with the feel of magic coursing in and through him. He looks up, can practically see the bits of magic streaming through them and into the center of the circle, little spiderweb thin strands of magic, thousands of them, attaching themselves to the blood on the clothes. The room grows impossibly brighter as they continue casting, until it’s so bright around him, that he can’t even be sure they’re still standing in the same room.

He picks up the letter, almost thoughtlessly, and turns his head down to read it. “ It’s been so long, I don’t even remember how to start one of these . . .”


——————————-

 

There’s no change for the first few hours, other than his voice growing hoarse, and the letter falling to the floor, almost settling in the blood beside his knees, as he recites it from memory. He’s staring down at the bowl of blood, almost spaced out, as he repeats the letter for the fifty eighth time.

No change.

Come on, Q, he thinks without straying from course, come back to me.


——————————-


Hour eighteen comes with Eliot lifting his head and looking up at the near blinding ceiling. Tears have started streaming down his cheeks, but he can’t say when they started, or if they’ll ever stop. His voice is softer, now, as he recites the letter. Over and over again. “Both alike in dignity, am I right?”

He pauses here, waiting. Nothing happens.

He inhales deep, slow, and carries on.


——————————-


Somewhere behind the blinding light of the magic coursing through them, someone collapses. He watches as the light shifts, never stopping reciting the letter, as it falls, almost like they’re all kneeling now. Still casting — he can see the shadow of their hands, a brief silhouette flashing behind the light, as they move through it.

He doesn’t know how long it’s been, now, lost track somewhere around hour twenty three.

He looks down at the blood. Tilts his head, because something’s different, but he can’t quite identify what it is just yet. But whatever it is, he thinks it’s working.

“—come back to me so I can say it to your stupid face.”


——————————-



The clothes are expanding, like there’s a body building itself beneath them. He tilts his head, blinking down at it. The blood’s seeped into them, but is still wet, if lighter in color.

His breath hitches.

He says the next words with intent. “Proof of concept doesn’t give in to death. I love you. See? I can say it. I love you. I love you.” He pauses, chin trembling. “I love you.”


——————————-


His mind is wide awake, but his body is tired. He slumps over the incomplete body, as it builds itself beneath blood and herbs and clothes. There’s almost an entire body now, almost recognizable, as hair sprouts up beside the bowl which has turned into a head. He can almost reach out and wrap his hand around the one forming beneath the blood at his knees.

He breaks script.

“That’s it,” He whispers, “Come back to me. You’ve almost made it. Don’t give up, Q. Don’t give up.” He takes a deep breath, and recites the letter again. Louder now, finding his voice in the magic, hot and bright in the air around him. And in the hope suddenly coursing through his veins.


——————————-



There’s a whole body now, almost recognizable. He reaches out and grazes his fingers along the side of the hand.

“I love you,” He says. “I need you to be brave one more time, Q. For me.”

 

——————————-


The ingredients from the spell disappear into the body, and Eliot has no idea how long he’s been sitting here, or how long the others have been casting. Just that his limbs are so sleep heavy, he could topple over any minute. His tongue is heavy with every word he sounds out, and he’s worried nothing’s even coming out as words, but rather as exuberant slurs of excitement.

He wraps his hand around the hand by his knee, now so clearly Quentin’s with it’s hairy arm and wide wrist.

He squeezes.

“Proof of concept doesn’t give in to death.”


——————————-


His body gives in to the sleepfulness, and he adjusts to lie down next to Quentin’s body. It’s so clearly his, now. Even the face with his closed eyes, and the hair, floppy and shorter than he remembers it. He reaches up, and carefully tucks a strand of hair between an ear he never thought he’d see again, and scoots in to rest his head against the shoulder.

He whispers the words into the fabric of the shirt, “ . . . come back to me so I can say it to your face.”

And then everything goes dark.


——————————-


He thinks he’s fallen asleep, but he still feels himself mumbling, repeating the same line from the letter over and over again into the warm fabric of the shirt. The entire world is black, and he feels a hand on his back. He flinches away, moving himself closer to the body. There’s a sound from above him, someone asking someone something, he’s not sure. He can barely hear anything over the pounding of his rabbit fast heart in his chest.

Something warm and blooming and familiar wraps around him, light and hesitant.

Someone must lean over him, because there’s a voice, still far off, but very near, speaking. All he hears, “ — reverse the spell, okay?”

He just wants to know if it works.

He tries to ask, but the words are clumsy on his lips.

And then . . .

There’s nothing.


——————————-


He wakes up confused, feeling slightly hungover. He blinks his eyes against the sun streaming through the windows, head pounding, and looks around him. He’s in their bedroom, can’t remember how he got here. Tries to remember what happened before; it takes a minute of searching his memories before it hits him.

But when it does, it hits him like a fucking brick wall.

Quentin.

He sits up, groaning, because his limbs are sore and object to every movement. It’s like he’s gone to the gym and worked every muscle in his body, torn every ligament, and said he wanted to go again. And then did. Carefully, he pushes the blanket aside, tears pricking at his eyes as he swings his legs over the side of the bed. He’s not sure if it’s the pain or the fear that hurts more, but they’re fighting for dominance, and there’s only one way to find out which is going to win out.

His legs pushed over the side of the bed, he grabs onto either side of his hips, and pushes up until he’s standing on unsteady legs. And then he walks, wobbles, his way across the room, one slow step at a time, until he can stop in front of the door. He stares at it for a long moment, just stands here, swaying side to side, staring at the wood of it. His hand finally comes up of his own accord, and he pulls the door open, slow and unsure, until he can step through it and into the hallway.

“How much longer do we let him sleep until we wake him up?”

“Let him sleep.”

“But—”

“He needs his rest. He won’t be able to handle any of this without it.”

He steps into the living room, grabbing onto the wall, and looks out at them. It’s just Josh, Margo and Julia, sitting clustered together on the floor in front of the couch. Margo’s leaning with her head on Josh’s shoulder, and Josh has one hand wrapped around her waist. Julia’s sitting with her knees pulled up to her chest, and her chin pressed to the top of her knees.

They must not see him, because they keep talking.

“I just don’t get why it affected him like that while the rest of us—”

“Alice already said,” Julia murmurs, interrupting Josh, “that it’s because he was at the center of the magic. He put himself right there with it, and it wiped him out.”

“But we were the ones casting for sixty four hours.”

Eliot moves further into the room and clears his throat. Josh jumps, head snapping around to look at him, while Margo and Julia are much calmer when they twist around. Margo smiles at him, unraveling herself from Josh, “Hey. Morning.”

He blinks down at her, barely glancing at the other two. “Quentin?”

Julia swallows, then nods. “He’s in the other bedroom.”

“Is he — did it —”

Margo gets up, “Here,” she says, rushing up to him, and ducking under his arm so he can balance on her. One of her arms comes around, wrapping up against his lower back. “Lean on me.” Her free hand comes up and weaves through his fingers to hold him to her, and then she’s turning them around and guiding him back down the hall. Past the open door, down to the second door at the end of the hall. She pulls away from him, and reaches up to cup his cheek. Her eyes dart between his, until he turns to look at the door. “El—”

He shakes his head, blindly reaching for her hand. “Just,” he pauses to clear his throat, “Tell me what to expect when I open the door.”

“I can’t do that, baby,” she says softly. “Go.”

“But —”

“Trust me.”


——————————-


He waits for Margo to disappear down the hall to open the door. When he does, he keeps his gaze locked on the ground, and faces the door once it’s closed, palm shaking on the doorknob. Something shuffles behind him, and his heart all but stills in his chest, breath hitching; unintentionally waiting for something.

“Are . . . you just going to stare at the door all day? Or can I — can I see you?”

Tears brimming his eyes slip over the edges of his eyelashes, and drip, fast and furious down his cheeks, as he looks up at the ceiling and bites down on his bottom lip. It takes a breath before he can force himself to let go of the door and turn around. He squeezes his eyes shut, pulling his hands up to wrap around himself, like he’s shielding himself in case something goes wrong, because something has to go wrong, it always does.

Suddenly, there’s a warmth, right in front of him, just barely out of touching range. Goosebumps spread up Eliot’s arms and down his spine, the hair rising on end, like there’s electricity shooting all around the room.

“El.”

It’s barely more than a whisper, but it’s like a shout in an echo chamber, the way it resounds in Eliot’s head. The familiarity of the voice, alone, is enough to ease the shaking of his spine. His eyes snap open, and Quentin’s here , standing in front of him. Blurry through the tears, but Eliot can’t miss the messy flop of hair on his head, or the curious crease between his brows. He’s shorter than Eliot remembers, though. Not that it matters.

A broken little sound winds up in his throat and comes out as a half sob as he pulls his arms out from around himself and rushes forward, closes the distance so he can pull Quentin in, holding him tight. His right hand finds that place at the back of Quentin’s neck as easy as if it’s its home, and Quentin’s come up, looping under Eliot’s arms, and coming up to clutch at his shoulders just as tightly. Eliot’s left hand slides along the small of Quentin’s back until it settles there, and yanks him even closer, until near every part of them is touching.

“It worked,” He says, eventually, into Quentin’s hair, voice crackling and muffled.

Quentin nods against his chest, squeezing his shoulders, before carefully detangling them from each other and looking up at him with wide, sad eyes. Eliot’s heart drops because he was right — something’s wrong. But Quentin grabs his hand. “Stop,” He says, eyebrows furrowing, “It — I know you’re. Expecting worst case scenario. Stop.”

“It’s not my fault you look like you’re going to tell me something terrible.” He brings his free hand up and wraps it around Quentins. “Don’t tell me something terrible.”

“I was going to apologize.”

“Don’t.” Quentin frowns, face crinkling with it, and Eliot’s going to start crying again if he doesn’t get a handle on his emotions. “Not yet, at least. I just —” He breaks off, shrugging and looking down at their hands. “I need you to just —” He looks back up, a little helpless, and Quentin nods, and takes a step back, pulling him towards the bed.

“Okay,” Quentin says, “Let’s. Lie down. We don’t have to talk.”

“I want you to talk,” Eliot murmurs, as Quentin sits down on the bed and scoots over to the side pushed up against the wall, scooching down the bed to lie down, all without letting go of Eliot’s hand. Eliot settles on the edge of the bed on his knees and adjusts to lie down facing him, their hands held up in between them. “I missed your voice. Your rambling.” He swallows thickly. “And your face, and hair. And your — jesus, Q, I didn’t. Know it was possible to miss someone this much.”

Quentin shuffles on the bed, until his knees press up against Eliot’s. He brings his right hand up and cups Eliot’s jaw, his thumb brushing along his cheek. “I missed you, too,” he whispers. “I heard your voice when I walked through the door and I — I followed it.” He leans in, squeezing the hand Eliot has clutched tight, “I — I couldn’t not. Penny said I’d go where I’m meant to, and then, there you were.”

“Penny?”

“Our Penny. He, uh. Gave me the grand tour.”

Eliot’s jaw clenches unconsciously, but he closes the distance and presses their foreheads together. “We’ll talk about him later,” he murmurs, eyes falling shut. “How long was I asleep?”

Quentin’s thumb brushes once, a long streak from temple to jaw before he responds. “I was asleep for two days,” he answers. “You were asleep for a day longer than me.” Something wet drips onto Eliot’s cheek. “I lost my mind when I — when they took me to — to our room. And you were just . . . lying there. I thought i’d — I wouldn’t put it past you to —” He breaks off. “You scared me.”

“You broke me.” He pulls back, just enough to blink down at Quentin, offering a little watery smile as he lifts one hand and pinches the bottom of Quentin’s chin gently between his thumb and forefinger. “I love you,” he says, softer than he has any right to be. “I had more than fifty years to tell you before. I’m not going to wait this time.”

“El . . .”

“Let’s just — agree not to freddy krueger each other’s hearts anymore.”

Quentin stares at him wide eyed, before nodding, a barely there movement. “Descriptive,” he says through a wet laugh. “But that sounds fair.” His hand slides down to settle on the side of Eliot’s neck. “Alice and I spoke. While you were sleeping.”

Eliot nods, leaning down to bury his face in the crook of Quentin’s neck and shoulder, nuzzling into the skin there and inhaling. “Yeah?” He asks, “She tell you I was a bitch?” He twists around, lips grazing against the skin there.

“She said she, uh. Could never love me the way you do.” His hand slides across the back of Eliot’s hair and digs into the hair at the base of his skull, twisting a curl around between his fingers. “And that there are no hard feelings. About the relationship stuff. The other thing that we aren’t discussing is a different story.”

Eliot nods again, “That’s nice.” He says, “Are you going to tell me you love me, too, or just leave me left on read forever?”

Quentin shifts back, holding onto Eliot’s hair to make sure he doesn’t follow after him, and looks him directly in the eyes. Darting back and forth between Eliots. “Will you believe me?” He sounds so small, that Eliot’s heart pangs against his chest. “Will you hear me?”   

“Q —”

“Because I do love you. Like. My heart does this stupid little jump anytime I hear your name or see you. Even now, when I have a new heart apparently because my old body was destroyed. I saw you open the door and I haven’t been able to breathe right since.” He yanks at Eliot’s hair. “I love you so god damn much.”

Swallowing, Eliot stares at him for a long moment, until he forces himself to nod, and moves in, closing the distance between them. Quentin must sense where Eliot’s going with this, because he tilts his head just right, and their lips collide — a tragic force of electricity and magic and — and nothing more than him and Quentin, which is too much and not enough all at once. He pulls him in closer, exhaling through his nose, and pressing in closer with urgency.

Eliot pulls away, just enough to for their lips to graze when he speaks, “Say it again.”

Quentin’s lips curl upwards and he presses their lips together in a chaste kiss before pulling back and saying, “I love you.” Kisses him again. “You, too.”

“I love you.” He smiles and moves into kiss Quentin again. It’s slower this time, gentle, like they’re just trying to relearn each other. He winds one arm around Quentin’s back and pulls him into him, while Quentin clumsily reaches up between them and cups the left side of Eliot’s jaw, almost like he’s trying to guide him. “I love you,” he says again without pulling away, “I love you.”


——————————-


They emerge from the bedroom the next morning and make their way into the living room to find the others packing up their things.

“What’s going on?” Quentin asks, looking between them.

Margo stops folding a shirt, and points a finger at him, shirt hanging from her closed fist, “Don’t get any ideas, Coldwater,” She says. “We’ve got a quest but you’re staying out of it.” Quentin’s face falls and she drops the shirt and makes her way across the room, grabbing his by the arms. “You two? Been through some shit. I need you two to take care of each other. Recover for a bit while we go help Fen win a war against some psycho that wants to send Fillory back into the dark ages.” She looks at Eliot with a soft smile. “Take the honeymoon you never really got because you were too chicken shit to admit you were basically married.”

“I—”

She rolls her eyes and drops her hands to her side as she turns on her heel and heads back to the bag on the couch, picking up her shirt on the way. “Common law, assholes. Congrats.”

Quentin’s brow furrows. “Thank . . . you . . . ?”

She looks up from the bag. “If I come back to find either of you dead, I’ll hop in a dragon’s mouth, drag my ass down its esophagus, and drag you motherfuckers out of the underworld just so I can beat your fucking ass.” Her eyes go wide. “No more dying. Got it?”

“You’ll come back,” Eliot says, taking a step towards her. “When everything with Fen and the castle is handled. You’ll come back.”

She grins. “I’ll always come back. So will these idiots.” She nods over her shoulder at Julia and Josh. “And all the other losers that aren’t allowed to die.” She shrugs, then, “Besides, none of us want to hear the sex fest you two are going to have when you actually talk out all the sad feelings. We heard enough of the macking last night. So, we’ll be back as soon as Fen’s rightfully ruling her kingdom again, and you two can control yourselves around others.”

Julia moves in behind her, shaking her head. “Fen needs help from Magicians. We can help her. You guys — both of you,” She looks at Eliot pointedly, like she thinks he’s going to argue with her, which is borderline hilarious, because he has no intention of leaving Quentin’s side. “Need to relax for a while. Take some time to be happy.”

“What about you guys?”

Eliot’s lips twitch upwards, fondness pooling in his gut as he looks at Quentin. “Q, they’re giving us permission to step away from all the trauma for a bit. Don’t ask questions.” He reaches out and takes Quentin’s hand in his. “They might change their minds.”

“You’ve got to think of yourself sometimes, Q.” Julia says. “You need to take some time to heal. Air out all the stuff with Eliot. And then when we’re done helping Fen, we’ll all take a real vacation.”

“I’m willing to bet the Ibiza parties are going to be out of this world this year,” Margo says, grinning.

“Take some time to heal,” Julia repeats, ignoring Margo. “Not just physically. Mentally. We let you get . . . you slipped. Take some time to fortify with Eliot. We don’t know if you’ll revert to the way you were before you died or not. So, it’s best if you’re in a place you can be happy.”

“If you need us—”

“We won’t.”

“But if you do—”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Margo waves a hand, “If we need you, we’ll come get you. Until then, please try and be happy. Deal?”

Quentin looks at each of them, and then to Eliot, before nodding, squeezing Eliot’s hand. “Deal. I guess. I don’t think we have much of a choice here.” He looks down at their hands. “Although, I can’t say I’m not happy to get some time with Eliot.” He glances up at Eliot through his eyelashes. “We have a lot to talk about.”

“Awe,” Margo cooes, “He does learn.”


——————————-

 

Two Months Later

 

——————————-



Eliot opens his eyes, smiling as he presses a kiss to Quentin’s chin. “Are you watching me sleep?”

Quentin grins at him, face scrunching up in the way that usually means he’s actually, genuinely happy, and runs his index finger over Eliot’s bare back. “It doesn’t count if you’re just resting your eyes.”

“Mm,” Eliot hums, digging his chin into Quentin’s chest playfully, before reaching up and pushing his hair out of his face. “Being a creeper is being a creeper no matter the circumstance, dear.” His heart swells as Quentin rolls his eyes and leans down to press a kiss to Eliot’s forehead.

“Coming from the guy who watched me shower last night.”

Eliot laughs, full and boisterous, adjusting to lean up on his elbow. “Now, I was just watching art in progress. How dare you imply I’m a creeper.” He raises his eyebrows, leaning in, “Besides. I know for a fact that you enjoyed that. Immensely.”

“I enjoy you.”

“And voyeurism.”

Quentin laughs, shaking the bed and Eliot in the process, as his face goes into full Scrunch Mode, and Eliot melts, falling back into him and pressing a soft kiss to his collarbone. “You’re an idiot,” Quentin laughs, shaking his head against his pillow.

Eliot nods. “Maybe.” He stretches his neck out and presses a kiss to the divot between his neck and shoulder. “But you love me.” The laugh dies down after a beat, as Eliot continues pressing soft kisses into Quentin’s skin. He pauses at the corner of his mouth, smiling into the skin there. “This is where you—”

“I do love you,” Quentin breathes, turning to press their lips together. It’s chaste, and not at all where Eliot’s trying to take this, and he pulls away before Eliot can ever try to deepen the kiss. “But I am starving.” He raises his eyebrows meaningfully, “And Margo said we need to be dressed when they all get here, because, and I quote, ‘I don’t want to see either of your overfucked dicks before dinner.’ So. Go shower, I’ll make some breakfast—”

“ . . . You’ll make breakfast?”

Quentin blinks, pout forming. “I was going to spell some food together.”

“I knew it.”

“Shut up. Not all of us are somehow good at everything.”

“You’re good at plenty of things, but,” He groans, shifting to sit up properly, and smiling down at him. “I’ll make us some breakfast.” He leans down and puckers his lip, grinning as Quentin immediately stretches up to press a chaste kiss to his lips. “You go shower. Breakfast will be on the table.” He opens his eyes. “I love you.”

Quentin throws the blanket off himself, and grins. “I love you, too.” He gets up out of the bed, and Eliot reaches out to slap his ass as he goes, but Quentin must know it’s coming, because he darts out of the way and looks over his shoulder with a heatless glare. “Behave.”

“Never.”  

He rolls his eyes, head wobbling as he grabs his clothes from the chair. “Fine. But can you check on the rest of the cottage? Make sure the spell that put the second floor and the guest rooms in held up? I was worried about the—”

“I saw your spell work, it was flawless.”

“Yeah, but—”

“Go shower, worry wart,” Eliot laughs, climbing out of the bed and grabbing his robe. “I’m going to go get everything ready. You don’t need to worry about a thing.”

Quentin watches him for a beat before nodding and darting out of the room and into the bathroom down the hall. Eliot watches after him, a little smile finding its way onto his lips.

It still startles him sometimes. Waking up without a weight on his shoulders, or overwhelming, unavoidable terror on the horizon. But, not enough that he’s willing to give any of this up. The easy mornings and long nights. He glances across the room, to the small blue box Margo brought when she came to tell them everything’s almost over, can’t help the way his breath hitches at the thought of the letters hidden within it; Quentin’s written request to start the tradition over, as who they are. The stupid little nothings written back and forth since then, just in an attempt to fill the empty space. The things they can't say out loud but that need to be talked about

He turns his gaze away and wraps the robe around himself and heads out into the hall. Traces his finger along the wall as he goes; still surprised by himself being happy here. But, not really. He doesn’t need glam or electricity or anything (except decent hair products, thank you Alice. And lube, thank you Margo.) from Earth. They’ve got enough magic to get running water, and, really, everything else they need.

He smirks at the bowl of berries on the counter when he enters the kitchen, glancing back down the hall to make sure the shower’s still running, and then sets to start making Quentin some orange juice. He could have Penny go get some when he arrives, but, there’s something about the look on Quentin’s face when Eliot makes it that fills him up in ways he didn’t know he needed filling.

There’s bound to be danger and trauma and whatever else on the horizon now that their friends are returning, and with that he and Quentin will be returning to the real world, in a way, but somehow, for once. Eliot’s genuinely not afraid of what the future might bring.

He might even be excited for it.