“He made it through surgery, he—”
“Don’t give a shit about the details, Lipson, just tell me if he’s gonna fucking live or if I’m going to two wakes today.”
“He will. Recovery will be long, probably definitely excruciating. But he’ll live.”
There are two people taking up beds in the infirmary; one first year who fucked up a simple spell and now his right arm is quintuple the size and length it should be, and then Eliot. The first year tries to talk to Margo exactly once before she succinctly orders him, “Shut the fuck up, it’s quiet time.”
Eliot looks like hell.
He’s looked like hell for months—Eliot has a skin-care routine that takes no more and no less than twenty-two minutes (he has it down to an exact science and claims it's the closest non-magical cure for the inevitable march of time) and of course, his hair is a point of pride. “An ever so thin line between messy and artful, Bambi,” he used to say, back before everything went fucked.
When— if —he wakes up, he’ll be furious with the state of himself. Sallow sunken skin, gaunter than she’s ever seen him, hair long and limp and so near approaching what Q’s hairstyle had been when they first met him that it would be really fucking funny if Q wasn’t really fucking dead .
He’s so pale she’s surprised she can’t see through him. He lost a lot of blood. Comes from being bordering-on disemboweled with ice axes. She doesn’t feel a trace of guilt for it, though. As long as he wakes up, she doesn’t give a shit. She would’ve chopped him into pieces if it meant she’d get him back.
There’s nothing she wouldn’t have done.
Logically, she knows he will wake up, and probably soon—the anesthesia’s due to wear off. Lipson doesn’t seem to have any doubt he’ll be coherent and talking before the sun sets. But she’ll believe it when she fucking sees it, because if she lets herself have that hope, and he dies in this bed, that’s it for her. It really is.
She’s a tough bitch, but she can only take so much. Like gathering grains of black sand one by one in oppressive desert heat, there is a breaking point. Even she has one. And Eliot is hers. Because if she loses Q and Eliot in the same day, well.
She buries her face in her hands, wondering what she wants more—a shower, an Ambien, or a bullet between her fucking eyes. Not literally in regards to the bullet, but for everything to simply stop , stop for the first time in goddamn years , she’d really enjoy that. Scratch that, maybe just more Ambien could achieve the same effect.
“You have to wake up,” she says into her hands, her voice muffled. “You have to wake up, El. I need you. I was there when you needed me. I went through the big heroic quest bullshit and everything, so now you need to wake up, because it’s your turn to start pulling some weight in this friendship, alright? Because when shit like this happens, you just...you know what to say. Because you’re the only one I ever believe when you say something. Well. You and Hoberman. That’s a whole thing. Need to fill you in on it. Juicy details. If nothing else you need to wake up for that .”
Eliot’s face is still peaceably still.
It occurs to her for the first time that he doesn’t know about what happened to Q—and she lifts her head, stomach roiling. Oh fuck. I have to be the one to tell him, don’t I?
She doesn’t want to. Jesus, she’d happily pass that job to any of the others—but none of them are close to Eliot. None of them are really close to each other period anymore, are they? 23 and Julia have their weird thing, she and Josh have theirs, but beyond that...it’s almost funny, how little they know each other. How if the universe hadn’t been shitting the bed around them for so long, chances are none of them would be knocking down each other’s doors to hang out.
Q has been their keystone. The thing that holds them all together.
She doesn’t know what’ll happen now. Maybe they should have thought of this before they all unanimously elected the floppy-haired Fillory-fixated emo nerd as their fearless leader.
She never thought for a second she could miss Quentin Coldwater this much, but here she fucking is, steadily building tears in her eyes at the knowledge that he’s gone, and worse yet, that Eliot’s waking up to a world that he isn’t in.
And Eliot and Q were close. She’s not one to speculate (who is she kidding, yes she is) but there was some homoerotic subtext going on there. Alice could drift moodily in and out of Q’s orbit as much as she wanted, but Eliot was always there for Q, and vice versa. And Eliot was just mum enough about their key quest together that she knows something must have happened, and it must have been something that involved feelings , because otherwise he would’ve told her in a heartbeat. Nothing to be shy about, they did spit-roast the guy together, even if she doesn’t really remember a lot of the intimate details.
“I take it back, stay the fuck asleep, because I’ve got something to tell you when you wake up, and I really don’t wanna say it,” she amends, head still buried in her hands. “Seems pretty unfair to eviscerate you and break your heart in the same day.”
“...are you breaking up with me, Bambi?”
Margo lifts her head so sharply there’s a pain in her neck, but she doesn’t give a shit. Her attention flies to Eliot, and those pretty brown eyes of his are slowly fluttering open. “El?” she chokes out.
“The one and only,” he murmurs, and his eyes manage to open and stay open, albeit at half-mast. He turns his head just enough to look at her. “You look like hell.”
“Oh, and you’re such a fucking vision, half-dead in a hospital bed,” Margo shoots back, suddenly and without consent succumbing to a full-body tremble. She puts her hand on his cheek, and his skin is cool to the touch. “You fucker .”
He lifts his hand weakly, placing it over top of hers. Smiles. “I missed you too.”
She just shakes her head, barely trusting her voice. “I thought I lost you.”
“You did. For a little while. But you got me back.” His smile broadens, and she guesses he’s still a little doped up from the anesthesia. “I’d expect no less of a King.”
Oh, yeah, he still needs the download on all of that, but that can be saved for later. Or Fen can tell him—she’ll probably get a kick out of it.
“Jesus, El,” she breaks, and leans her forehead against his, letting herself cry for the first time since that night in the Wandering Desert. The hand not holding hers comes up to cup the side of her face. “Never again,” she says fiercely. “Never FUCKING again, do you hear me?”
“Wasn’t exactly consensual on my part,” he says, voice still faint.
“I’m not letting you out of my sight. I can pop this fairy eye out, you know that? I’ll hang it on a fucking necklace like the fairy bitch did and make you wear it.”
“That is somehow so very disturbing and so very sweet at the same time,” Eliot replies, grinning, gaining a little strength back in his voice, though his movements are still tremorous. He sweeps up and away from her, kissing her forehead, then her cheek, then lastly a chaste brush against her lips. “My hero.”
Eliot pulls back, falling against his pillows, seeming exhausted already. Their hands slide from each other’s faces, but she wastes no time in grabbing his where it lies on top of his thin hospital sheets. They lace their fingers together, and she feels like she’s home for the first time in too fucking long.
“The monsters,” Eliot manages. “Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Diabolical. Are they…?”
“Well, you can’t kill ‘em, but they’re gone.” She pauses, bracing herself for what has to come next. “Quentin made sure of it.”
Eliot’s grin is so wide and proud that she feels it rip her chest open. “I knew he would.”
“Right.” Margo purses her lips, and that single mannerism seems to be enough to set off warning bells in Eliot’s head.
“What’s wrong?” he asks immediately. “Did we kill another Penny?”
She tries to open her mouth, but she can’t find the words. And fuck, she’s still crying. Unacceptable. She furiously swipes at her eyes, takes a deep measured breath, and begins, “I don’t know how to tell you this and I don’t want to be the one to tell you this, but—but when the chips were down, Quentin—”
“Don’t,” Eliot interrupts, voice as loud as she’s heard it since he woke. His eyes are wide, terrified. On the monitor next to his bed, his heart-rate and blood pressure spike so dramatically Margo worries she might need to get Lipson back in here. “No, no, Margo, don’t—”
“He’s dead, Eliot.” No point in cocking around with it. He deserves the truth, and fast. She's ripping the band-aid off. “He died in the Mirror World, chucking the monster twins through the Seam. Somewhere they’ll never be able to get out of. He saved the world. And you. And all of us. He died a hero.”
Eliot’s hand grips hers so tightly she knows she’ll lose feeling in it soon. Or he’ll break her fingers. A little painful distraction would be welcome, so she doesn’t withdraw.
“No,” is all Eliot manages. “No, he—” he lets out a dry sob, shaking, and his other hand flies to his stomach.
“Take it easy,” she says, trying to be soft, something she’s unaccustomed to, but Eliot won’t have any of it.
“Take it—?” he laughs, half-manic, “take it easy ? Q’s dead and you want me to take it easy? ”
“I’m telling you to take it easy so you don’t rip your fucking stitches.”
Eliot ignores her, shaking his head hard. He tries to sit up. “There’s got to be something we can do—”
“El, he did magic in the Mirror World. That’s insta-death, okay? If there was anything we could have done, we would have done it. And if Quentin was here right now he would tell you to lay your happy ass down and recover so you don’t end up killing yourself and kind of rendering his whole heroic sacrifice bit null and void.” She presses into his shoulder with two fingertips, and he goes flat, though with clear reluctance.
Eliot’s mouth twists in a bitter smile, and he lets go of her hand. “He always wanted to be a hero. What a wish come true. He’ll be so happy. Maybe Penny 40 will throw him a party when he reaches the Underworld.”
Eliot manages to hold that smile for eight seconds before swinging out his arm and knocking over everything on his bedside table, letting loose a strangled scream of, “Goddammit!” quickly followed by his hands in his hair, pulling tightly, and, “Fuck!”
Margo doesn’t make any move to stop him. Eliot doesn’t handle loss well—probably because he’s experienced it very little in his life. He’d grown up mostly without friends, and if both of his parents died tomorrow he’d be more likely to throw a jubilee than shed a tear. The Mike-but-actually-Martin situation had left him comatose on every upper and downer he could get his hands on for months, and they’d only been a few steps up from a fling.
But Quentin...Quentin is Important.
Eliot laughs again, that same crazed one from before, and says, “I guess it was my turn, wasn’t it? He watched me die, now I have to...have to…”
Then the tears started pouring, the gulping sobs, and she holds him to her, because she doesn’t know what else to do. There’s nothing she can say to make this better, and she respects Eliot too much to waste his time and hers with platitudes and bullshit.
“I’m sorry, El. I’m so sorry.”
He holds onto her desperately, and it’s a long time before he stops crying.
“We’re all taking something of Quentin’s. Gonna toss it in the fire...I don’t know, it was Julia’s idea. She knows him better than any of us so I figured, why not.”
They stand together in Quentin’s dorm room—though ‘dorm’ and ‘room’ are both used loosely, as dorm would imply Quentin has so much as attended a single class in years, and ‘room’ would imply he has been living in it recently, which he hasn’t been, according to Margo. There is a thin layer of dust over everything, but a quick check of the drawers confirms that sans some of his clothing and his Fillory books, almost all of Quentin’s things are still here.
“What are you taking?” Eliot says in a dead, hoarse monotone, voice wrecked from his earlier complete loss of anything approaching composure. His gut aches like—well like his best friend gored him with two very large axes—and he has already successfully ripped out one stitch just getting to the Physical Cottage.
Margo goes for something on the shelf above Quentin’s bed, and unsurprisingly takes the crown he wore as High King of Fillory.
“I was the one who crowned him,” she remembers. “Seems like the thing to light up.”
Margo is holding it together remarkably well, but he knows her deeply enough to be aware that she’s a step away from collapse. They both are, but leaning against each other in this morbid den of nostalgia keeps them standing.
That’s how it always is, isn’t it?
Eliot limps around the room, assisted by a cane Lipson gave him after Margo convinced her to allow him to at least walk the grounds. Every step over to the Physical Cottage had been pure agony of course, his abdominal muscles screaming, stomach roiling. He’s never been in so much pain in his life, come to think of it, but compared to whatever hellish Cirque-du-Soleil is going on his head, it seems a trifle in comparison.
Quentin. Dead. Worse than that—gone. And gone is so much worse, so much more final.
Eliot goes through Quentin’s things, struggling to find something that he attaches enough meaning to that it might be worth bringing to the wake, but doesn’t. Nothing sticks out to him because everything seems so precious, now. Every article of clothing, every notebook, every photo, every keepsake—some of which he knew the story behind and some he didn’t—might as well have been made of gold.
Because Quentin’s gone, and this is all that’s left.
Nothing matters, the importance of nothing.
It strikes him how disgustingly, tragically unfair it all is that Quentin should die, when he's fought harder than anyone else Eliot's ever known in his life to stay alive, in spite of everything in his head screaming for years upon years to do just the opposite.
He decides that it really doesn’t matter that Quentin’s body is out of reach. Because he’s buried here, in his dorm. In Brakebills, in the Physical Cottage, in Fillory, in the Mosaic, in all of them, Julia, Margo, Alice, Penny, Kady, Josh—in Eliot, so deeply rooted that he feels like Quentin can’t be dead, because he’s there, he’s in him, he’s been there for so long—
“Don’t cry over his sock drawer, don’t cry over his sock drawer,” Eliot orders himself under his breath, still rifling. “Hey, these are mine,” he says, hands settling on a pair of his own socks buried in the back of the drawer, feeling a vague sensation of irritation quickly overrun by the fact that it’s no fun to be irritated at Quentin anymore.
In a time long past he would have strode out of the room and found Quentin, bounced the socks off his head, perhaps with a proclamation of, “We have a klepto in our midst,” and then would have proceeded to periodically steal and hide different articles of Quentin’s clothing over the following weeks to annoy him.
But that’s not how it is anymore. Now he’s just a miserable, usurped king with his guts cut up, about to sob over socks.
Margo’s dainty hand settles on his shoulder. “We don’t have to do this."
“I don’t know what to bring,” he murmurs. “Everything that was special to both of us was in…”
Margo tilted her head to look up at him. “Do you need a trip to Fillory? 23 ain’t doing anything important, other than keeping Julia from going full-blown Girl, Interrupted over Q. We can go. Josh would be happy to see you.”
“Not that Fillory.”
“El, sweetie, what the hell are you talking about?”
“The quest,” he tells her, and he doesn’t know why he didn’t tell her before (you know exactly why you didn’t tell her) but it seems purposeless to hide it now, from the only person in the world he has left that’s his. “The key. We...spent fifty years together, in Fillory’s past. We grew old together. Raised...raised a son together.” He forces his thoughts away from Teddy, because if anything will send him spiraling again, that will. “This might sound strange, but...I think Quentin Coldwater was the love of my life.”
Margo stares at him, eyes near comically wide. “You did the marriage, baby-in-a-baby-carriage shtick with Q for half a fucking century and didn’t think that was worth mentioning?”
“Wasn’t so cut and dried as that, but, yes. It was worth mentioning,” he replies dimly. “But it hurt mentioning.”
Margo softens immediately. “Jesus, El. I never…that’s a lot. Is that what you meant earlier? When you said he had to watch you die?”
Eliot nodded. “He outlived me. I guess it’s my turn.”
How can fifty years not be long enough?
He thinks of a million things. Of the goddamn Mosaic. Crisp autumn mornings and tea, discussing placements. Late nights looking up at the stars, those beautiful and strange Fillorian stars. Holding Quentin tightly to him as he mourned at his wife’s grave. Holding him in a different way later, the feel of their rough-worn sheets under them, Eliot’s face buried in Quentin’s neck, gasping. Listening to Quentin hum while rotating a dinner of freshly caught rabbit over the fire. Washing together in the river near their home during the summer, a slow and aching process as they aged, but something that usually devolved into them half-drowning each other in a splash-fight when they still had their youth. Bent over the table in their small kitchen, teaching Teddy how to read with books they’d traded some of their harvest from the garden for.
An entire lifetime of memories.
Peaches and plums, motherfucker.
There hadn’t been much to do, trapped in his own head for as long as he had been, other than to rifle through the few memories of interest the Monster had. And he’d crafted over and over and over again a speech to Quentin, begging for forgiveness for rejecting him, pleading that they try again, insisting that Quentin was right, he was RIGHT, they had the proof with them, in their hearts and their minds that they work, they work so well and they always have and they always will —
“Scratch that, actually,” Eliot whispers. “I don’t think he was the love of my life. I know he was.”
He slams the drawer shut and steps away. Performs a quick spell—his first in so long, and it feels so good to have magic back, but the cost isn’t worth it— all of magic isn’t worth losing Quentin —and he summons a peach from the kitchen downstairs, and it falls into his waiting hands.
Margo blinks. “You hungry? Thought the Monster kept you pretty well fed.”
“No, no...it’s…” Eliot fumbles, “it’s something that would make Q smile, if he was watching.”
Margo wraps her arms around his middle, so small compared to him yet so enormous and incredible inside. He rests his chin on top of her head, and he feels those fifty years now, in a way that renders him ancient.
“He loved you too, Eliot,” she says quietly. “The way he fought to get you back, he loved you.”
“I know he did. Never came into question.” He winces, knowing that Quentin never had that surety for comfort once their quest was over—never knew so irrevocably and so deeply that yes, Eliot loved him back.
Regret didn’t quite cover it. Regret seems too small a word to describe how badly he wishes he could go back, and say, “Yes you’re right, let’s give this a shot, because it’s not really trying anything new, is it? It’s not uncharted territory. It’s always been you.”
There’s so much he would say. Should have said.
Wild thoughts fly through his head—grabbing Quentin from another timeline, trying to go back in time to change things, trying to find some spell or questing creature or something that could bring Quentin back to him.
But Quentin will hate him for it, if he does that. Because Alice Quinn is proof enough that resurrecting someone never comes without a price. All magic comes with a price. Love does, too.
“Are you ready?” she asks after a long stretch of time, and the sun has set over Brakebills. Eliot pulls back, palming the peach in his hand.
“No,” he says honestly. “But let’s go.”
Margo walks out of Quentin’s dorm first, and Eliot follows, but halts in the threshold, swallowing with difficulty.
“Nobody gets this room after him,” Eliot tells Margo firmly. “No one. And we’ll go to Fillory, and—we’ll build a statue for him.” He pauses. “No, no. A boat. We’ll build a boat and name it The Coldwater.” He laughs, and the tears are back in his eyes. “He loved boats, that weird little nerd.”
If he has to settle for only fifty years living with Quentin, he’ll spend the next fifty burying him. Burying him in every place he can, spreading the non-existent ashes of him over Earth and Fillory alike. In memories and in places, in stolen socks and peaches, in the sails of ships and disused dorms.
Margo laces her fingers through his. “It’ll be the biggest fucking boat Fillory’s ever seen.”