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by night, beloved, tie your heart to mine

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It didn’t happen the way Eliot expected it to. He dropped the letter into the mailbox, and pain blossomed in his abdomen so brightly it was like he’d gone supernova.

And everything went dark.

Margo’s voice was the first thing he registered other than the pain. “What the fuck just happened?! Eliot! What the fuck did you—”

There was a high, whining sound in Eliot’s ears that swallowed up her words. Margo’s hands pressed to his abdomen, but they kept slipping in the blood gushing from his wound. He opened his eyes, but already the world was slipping away. Going white. Going dark.

For a split second Eliot saw him, there across the distance, his fluid magician’s hands moving like water. Their eyes met in the space of a single gasping breath, and Quentin nodded, or at least Eliot thought he did. He couldn’t actually be certain. Everything was fading, fading… gone.

Eliot woke to the mechanical beeping of a heart monitor, and a bag of someone else’s blood dripping into him. Margo was at his side, arms crossed over her chest, eyes wide open and fixed on him the second Eliot blinked awake. The world outside the windows was dark.

Eliot’s throat clicked when he tried to speak, and Margo got up from her chair, poured a little water in his mouth, the set of her shoulders tense when she sat back down. “You did something,” she said.

Eliot swallowed, his voice croaking out of him. “What are you talking—”

“Don’t lie to me, El.” She leaned forward, her eyes all rimmed in red. “You had all Jane Chatwin’s timey wimey bullshit. What I can’t figure out is how I remember any of that right now if you went and hit reset.”

Eliot fixed his eyes on the monitor ticking out the rhythm of his heart. “I used a stamp,” he said. “I didn’t think it would send us back here.”

“Everett killed Kady,” Margo said. Under the thick bandage wrapped around Eliot’s middle, a throbbing hot-cold pain began to spread. “And the librarian. Zelda. They were trying to hold him off.”

The room started to spin. Every beat of Eliot’s heart was pure agony. “Is he—”

“Quentin’s alive,” she said. “Magic’s gone. Everett took it all. Every last goddamn drop.”

The monitor beeped. The blood dripped. Eliot’s shame burned as brightly as his pain. “I had to try, Bambi. I couldn’t just…”

Margo stood up. She wasn’t looking at him anymore. “We’ll talk about this later,” she said. “Since you decided to hurtle us into the past, I guess that means I have to go see what’s what on the Dark King, and saving Josh and Fen. Again. Don’t you even think about dying while I’m gone.”

She left him, and he rested, and when Eliot woke again the bag of blood had been replaced with a clear liquid, and someone else was sitting in Margo’s chair. Eliot’s heart jumped at the sight.

“Quentin,” he said. It didn’t feel like he thought it should. There was the relief, of course, but underneath there was something else. Sorrow, bone-deep guilt. Something sour in his throat.

Quentin clutched something in his hands. He shifted his weight, leaning forward in the chair, his eyes darting between Eliot and the letter. “I, uh, don’t know if you remember sending this.”

“I remember,” Eliot croaked. “I don’t know how, but I do.”

“Um…” Quentin took a breath. Eliot didn’t think he'd ever seen him so tired. “I died.”

“You died.”

Quentin sniffled, wiping at his eyes. “Did I do the right thing? Doing what you said?”

“You’re here,” Eliot said, and there was a finality to it. Like nothing else mattered, only this. He knew it was god awful and narrow-sighted and selfish, but Eliot never claimed to be anything but.

“But Kady’s not.” Quentin set the letter down on the little table next to the bed. “Was she—when I…” He pushed all the air from his lungs. “Did she die because of me?”

“Kady died because Everett killed her,” Eliot said, like saying the words would somehow make it simple. Like they both were just passive players in this fucked up game of death and time.

“She was only there because I knew.” A tear fell down Quentin’s cheek, and then another. “I knew he was coming and—”

“We can talk about this later,” Eliot said. “You look like you could use some rest.”

Quentin was quiet for a moment, knotting his hands together in his lap. When he stood, it was like he didn't know which direction to turn. If he should run to the door, or collapse down onto the bed with Eliot. “I have a lot of questions,” he said. “This doesn’t feel right, Eliot. I—”

“You’re alive,” Eliot breathed. “We’ll figure the rest of it out… after you’ve slept.”

“I don’t think I can sleep,” Quentin said, and then he started to move, turning back to Eliot when he reached the door. “In the letter you, um… you said.” He swallowed, averting his gaze. “You meant… what you said?”

Eliot’s heart skipped, stumbled. His wound throbbed, little tendrils of pain spreading out to the rest of him. “Every word,” he said.

Quentin nodded, looking at him one last time. “Okay. I’ll, um… I’ll come back later.”

“Okay,” Eliot said, and Quentin disappeared beyond the doorway.

Eliot drifted between waking and dreams. At some point, Professor Lipson checked in, checked his vitals, checked his wound. She said something about the risk of infection, about medicine, about there being no magic. The heart monitor droned on and eventually she left. Beyond the windows, night had yet to give itself over to morning.

He adjusted the bed upright just enough to reach the letter where Quentin had left it on the table. It hurt to move, to stretch, tugged at his wound in a way he knew he probably shouldn’t be risking, but with no one around to stop him, Eliot couldn’t be bothered to care. He sat back with a groan once he had it, his vision all prickly at the edges from the pain.

He didn’t even know why he wanted to read it. He’d written it himself only hours ago—or a month from now. Whatever. His weak fingers pulled the folded letter out of its envelope, and Eliot’s heart drew tight as a fist. The paper was rumpled, one of its corners torn clean off, a crosshatch pattern of creases marring the page, like it had been folded and unfolded dozens of times.

Eliot took a breath, and let his eyes scan over the words.

Dear Q,

There’s no easy way to say this, so I’ll just say it: if you go into the Mirror World unprepared, you will die. You will die, and I will not know how to go on without you. Everett will be coming, stop him if you can. Move quickly, lock the door, don’t use magic. You are the bravest person I’ve ever known, but right now I need you to be smart.

I know I said we wouldn’t choose each other in this life, but it turns out I’m entirely full of shit. I was a coward. I was wrong. I’m sorry. Please don’t die. Let me make it up to you.

—El

Eliot read his own words over until his eyes began to ache, then tucked the letter back into the envelope, folded the envelope down until it fit neatly in the pocket of the sweatpants he’d been dressed in. He was in a tremendous amount of pain, but didn’t want to ask for any drugs. If Quentin came back, he wanted his mind to be clear. He slept a little more, had a nightmare that Quentin’s flesh kept turning to water and running through his fingers every time they touched. When he woke again, he was covered in a thin layer of sweat, and Margo was back in the chair beside him, and outside the sunrise was painting the clouds in shades of pink and gold.

“I went to Fillory,” Margo said. “Thank fuck for Twenty-Three, ‘cause the portal is jacked without magic.”

“What, um…” Eliot’s heart beat a little faster, and he ached down under his bandage. “What happened?”

“Well, it’s not three hundred years in the future for one.” She blinked, and Eliot could see the exhaustion in all the tense lines of her body. He wanted to demand she take a nap. “And as far as I can tell, no Takers. No Dark King.”

Eliot sighed. “Maybe I un-fucked the past after all.”

“Fillory’s still fucked,” she said.

It hurt when Eliot tried to laugh. “Isn’t it always?”

She glared at him. “It won’t survive without magic again, El. And we’re back to square-fucking-one. Everything we did, the Monster… all for squat.”

Eliot took a shallow breath. “Quentin’s not dead,” he said. “Doesn’t feel like squat to me. We’ll figure out another way. We always do.”

Margo rose to her feet, her whole body radiating I’m too pissed to even say mean things to you right now energy, but she kissed him on the forehead anyway, then disappeared through the doorway and down the hall.

Lipson came back soon after, asked him how his pain was, and Eliot lied and said he was fine. Her face said she knew he was full of shit, but she didn't say a word. She had another healer in tow—Eliot thought her name might have been Faye—who wasn’t much help without any magic, but together they checked and redressed his wound, hooked him up to medicine to stave off infection, offered him something stronger which he promptly refused.

The first time around, after Quentin died, magic had come on full blast and they’d healed Eliot up quickly. This time, Eliot knew it was going to be a long and utterly fucking miserable process for his body. There was still magic thrumming in his wound from Margo’s axes, and he couldn’t tell if it was making the whole thing better or worse. Sometimes it felt like it was trying to tear itself back open, but Lipson said it looked fine, and the biggest concern now was keeping it clean, and keeping him comfortable, and making sure he got plenty of rest.

“And take deep breaths if you can stand it,” she told him. “Don’t need you getting pneumonia on top of everything else. Sure you don’t want anything for the pain?”

“I’m sure,” Eliot said.

“Suit yourself,” she shrugged. “But without magic, it’s gonna be a bitch of a recovery. No reason for you to suffer anymore than you have to.”

Eliot averted his gaze. “I’m fine.”

“Well, we’ll see how you feel in a couple hours when we get you out of that bed.”

Eliot groaned. “Thought you said I had to rest.”

“You do. But too much rest, and it’ll be worse in the long run. Believe me.”

They left the room, but not long after maybe-Faye came back in rolling a TV on a cart, like the ones they used to show bad movies on in school.

Eliot laughed so hard it pulled at his stitches. “Seriously?”

Maybe-Faye gave a little smile. “Thought you might be bored.”

“Fogg finally let us get Netflix now that the wards are down?”

“Not exactly. But there was an old DVD player in the faculty lounge. Lots of scripted dramas from the early aughts. You like Six Feet Under?”

Eliot didn’t have the heart to tell her he just wanted to sleep. “Who doesn’t?” he said, and she popped in a disc and handed him a chunky old remote.

Eliot hadn’t made it through the first twenty minutes of the first episode before he started to doze, and when he opened his eyes again the DVD menu screen was playing on a loop. And Quentin was standing across the room, gazing out the window with his back turned. Eliot’s pulse immediately began to pound.

“Hey,” he croaked, clicking off the tv and tossing the remote aside.

Quentin turned around. Exhaustion tugged at every one of his features, and Eliot doubted he’d slept, but he looked marginally less miserable at least. “Hey,” he said, walking over to stand beside the bed. “Lipson said you need to get up.”

Eliot sighed. “Have you ever seen a baby deer try to walk for the first time, Quentin? Because that’s going to be me if I try to get out of this bed right now.”

That earned him a smile, and a warmth spread through Eliot’s chest at the sight. “You should at least try,” Quentin said. “Just from here to the window.”

Eliot watched Quentin’s fingers playing along the edge of the bed's guardrail. If he sat up just a little more, he would be so easy to touch. “She send you in here to blackmail me into moving?”

Quentin smirked. “I volunteered.”

God. Eliot had missed that face. He wanted to keep staring at Quentin forever. “I should warn you,” he said after a long stretch of silence. “I’m a terribly uncooperative patient.”

Quentin just smiled at that. “Come on,” he said. “Sit up. We’ll take it slow.”

Quentin’s presence in the room had dulled the pain in Eliot’s abdomen to a flicker, but as he started adjusting himself upright in bed it came roaring back full blast. Sitting up was nothing short of agony, and he was beginning to think maybe being thrown back through time had fucked with his already questionable judgment. Why had he refused those painkillers again?

“This is a bad idea,” he said, Quentin’s hand on his back steadying him as he swung his legs around to dangle over the side of the bed. “Like, doing bath salts bad.”

Quentin gave him a soft look. This close, Eliot could feel his warmth. It seeped through the back of the too-big t-shirt they’d dressed him in. “Just… try and stand up, okay? If it’s too much you can sit right back down.”

Eliot groaned. “I’m gonna knock you over.”

“I’ll be okay,” Quentin said, his hand moving in soothing little circles over Eliot’s back.

“My legs feel like hot dogs suspended in aspic.”

Quentin huffed out a small laugh. “You’re being kind of ridiculous right now.”

Eliot leaned his head against Quentin’s shoulder. He smelled just how he remembered. It hadn’t quite hit him yet, that Quentin was alive, but it was starting to, a little more with each passing second. Sure, everything was entirely fucked, but he could wallow in it later. Right now, Eliot just wanted to be close.

“El…” Quentin said, very softly.

Eliot shut his eyes. “I’m here,” he said.

“Stand up for me.” Quentin’s free hand stroked through his hair, gently. “Come on.”

“You’re here.” Eliot reached up, clutching at Quentin’s shoulder.

“I’m here.” Quentin nuzzled against Eliot’s temple “El, we should…”

Eliot breathed in deep, and it hurt, and it helped bring him back down to earth. He pulled back, opened his eyes. “Yeah. Sorry. Okay. Um… this is going to suck.”

Quentin laughed softly. “You should have let Lipson give you something for the pain,” he said, knitting his brows together. “Since when do you refuse drugs?”

“Believe me, Q, you don’t want me stoned right now.” He shimmied a little closer to the edge of the bed with Quentin’s help. And it hurt, everything just… fucking hurt. The pain throbbed from his belly down to his toes.

Quentin had him firmly by the hip, and Eliot could feel him bracing to bear the brunt of the weight. “Come on,” he said. “I’ve got you.”

I’ve got you. Eliot thought those might be the three most beautiful words ever placed one after the next. And I’ve got you too. Eliot let himself slide from the bed to the floor, landing on his feet as pain seared through his belly. Quentin pressed himself to Eliot’s side, wrapping both arms around him firmly.

Quentin asked, “Are you all right?” and Eliot laughed.

“No,” he said, his legs wobbling, but maybe not as much as he’d been expecting them to. “But I’m upright. So… that’s something.”

“Yeah,” Quentin said. “You wanna try and take a step?”

“Not particularly.” He laughed again, and the pain nearly stole his breath away. “I don’t… think I have a choice, do I?”

“Not if you want to get better.”

Eliot took a step, and it sucked, but amazingly he didn’t fall over. His pulse drummed wildly in his neck. Another step, then a third. Quentin was stronger than Eliot remembered, and hazy memories from years back came flooding back through the halls of his mind: Eliot drunk out of his skull, Margo on one side and Quentin on the other. The three of them tumbling down into bed…

They stopped halfway to the window. Eliot leaned on Quentin hard. “A truly pitiful attempt,” he said with a sigh. “But I think I’d like to go back.”

“You’ll make it to the window tomorrow,” Quentin said.

Turning around sucked even more than walking, but they made it back to the bed without incident, and Quentin got Eliot tucked in under his thin blanket. He pushed the hair back from Eliot’s damp brow when he was through, and gave him a little smile. When he pulled away, Eliot caught his wrist. Their hands clasped together, their eyes met. Quentin gave his hand a squeeze.

“You should rest now,” Quentin said, softly. “Lipson said, uh… we can move you to your room at the cottage once you’re okay to take the stairs.”

Their hands lingered. Eliot let his thumb brush over the point of Quentin’s pulse, the thumping of his blood the most beautiful music. It whispered, I’m alive, I’m alive, I’m alive. “Don’t go,” Eliot said. The pain had dulled to a gentle flicker. There was only Quentin’s skin on his skin.

Several bodies barged into the room just as Quentin parted his lips to speak. Professor Lipson, Alice, Margo. Quentin snatched his hand out of Eliot’s grasp, taking several steps back, looking not unlike someone who’d just committed a crime. The pain in Eliot’s belly throbbed back to life at once.

Alice approached the bed, holding something in her hand. Eliot thought they might have been coins. “I think we might be able to heal you,” she said.

Eliot frowned. “You find an emergency supply of magic or something?”

“Actually, yes,” she said. “Kady must have left these behind.”

She held out her hand. A half dozen silver dollar-sized coins were nestled in her palm, each of them etched with a different face, all wearing the same stoic expression.

Eliot frowned harder. “What the fuck are those?”

“Deweys,” Alice said.

“What the fuck is a Dewey?

“Our emergency supply of magic,” Margo said, appearing next to Alice. “Lift up your shirt, we’re doing the spell.”

Professor Lipson squeezed in between the two of them. “Enough power in those coins for me to heal you right up,” she said.

“Okay, hold on.” Eliot winced as he shifted on the bed. “If you somehow found a stash of power somewhere, you’re not wasting it on me.”

Margo touched his shoulder. “El, I really need you to not be yourself right now and just let us—”

“No.” Eliot shot her a hard look. “Bambi, I’ll be okay. Right now you should be focused on Fillory and Everett and saving fucking magic.”

Quentin stepped closer, reaching for Eliot’s hand. “El,” he said softly. “Please.”

His fingers skimmed over the sensitive flesh of Eliot’s wrist. Suddenly, he felt entirely exposed. Their eyes met, and Eliot’s face grew hot. It felt too intimate for the others to see. More intimate, somehow, than if they’d started fucking just then. Eliot turned his attention from Quentin to Alice. In the split second before she averted her gaze, betrayal burned hotly in her eyes.

“Compromise?” Lipson cut in, blissfully breaking the tension. “I should only need one of those coins to get your healed up enough to get you out of that bed by tomorrow. Maybe even by tonight.”

Eliot sighed, knocking his head back against his pillow. “Still seems like a waste.”

“It’s not,” Margo said, hard. He knew fighting her on this one was going to be futile, and honestly, Eliot just didn’t have the energy.

“Fine,” he relented. “Just one. Put the rest away for when we actually need them.”

Margo glared. Quentin pulled his hand away. Everyone cleared out to one corner of the room and waited while Lipson rushed around gathering supplies, a mound of crystals and a monstrous brass singing bowl that she set at his bedside.

Lipson adjusted the bed until Eliot was lying entirely flat. He shut his eyes and breathed and thought about how much he deserved this pain. He’d gotten Quentin back, and Kady had paid the price for his selfishness. And now here he was, using her last stash of magic for his own gain. Lipson lifted up his shirt, and he had to bite back the urge to tell her to stop. When she peeled away the dressing from his wound, Eliot forced himself to look.

Margo’s axe had cut him deep, his mangled flesh angry and red where the stitches were holding his belly together. “This is going to hurt like a mother,” Lipson said. “You want something to bite down on?”

Eliot considered her with a smirk. “Kinky,” he said. “But I think I’ll pass.”

She shrugged and went to work, placing a line of crystals all along the seam of Eliot’s wound. She placed the Dewey underneath, and reached for her singing bowl, and Eliot shut his eyes again. The singing bowl rang out. Eliot felt the vibrations down into his marrow. When Lipson placed her hands gently over the crystals, the pain that seared through his body was so absolute, Eliot felt paralyzed.

It was like his body was trying to purge itself not only of the physical trauma, but of every rotten thing festering inside. It hadn't been like this that first time around, when they'd had enough magic to heal him completely. Every muscle clenched tight as a fist, and for a moment Eliot thought his heart had stopped. He opened his eyes, and the whole world went white, turned to stars, then black as a void. A tunnel. Someone was touching his arm but he couldn’t see who, couldn’t even make out the shape of their hands, and then—

Everything stopped. The pain ended as quickly as snapping his fingers. The ringing in his ears faded to a gentle hum, and the world around him came into focus, a little fuzzy around the edges, but he could just make out the faces of everyone gathered at his bedside. Professor Lipson. Margo. Quentin.

Distantly, he was aware of the Professor plucking the crystals away, and shooting him a smile. “How do you feel now?” she asked, and it took Eliot a moment to remember how to get his tongue to work.

“I don’t know,” he slurred. “Feels like… I mixed the wrong pills and my head is stuck underwater.”

“Yeah,” she said, stepping aside to let Margo move in closer. “Sounds about right. Give it a couple hours, that should go away.”

Margo’s hand went to his shoulder. She smiled, then leaned in to speak right into his ear. “You’re lucky that worked, El,” she muttered. “If I’d lost you this time around I was fully prepared to storm the Underworld and kick your rotting corpse’s ass into the ninth circle.”

She wasn’t smiling when she pulled away. Eliot cast his eyes downward to his belly, his rucked up shirt exposing the work Lipson’s magic had done. The stitches had dissolved away, and where the wound had been angry and red and oozing now lay a supple pink scar.

“Does it hurt?” Quentin asked, and Eliot looked up to see hope sparking in his eyes.

“No,” Eliot said. “I don’t think so. At least… not like before.”

“You need to rest now,” Lipson said, heading for the door, “for at least a couple hours. Don’t try and walk until you’re feeling a little less swimmy. You should be fine to go wherever after that.”

When she left, suddenly the room felt too quiet and small. Alice was still over in the corner, shuffling the Deweys around in her hands. Quentin went to her, and she shoved the coins down into her pocket, and they talked in hushed voices that Eliot couldn’t make out over the rush of white noise still filling his ears.

Quentin kissed her on the forehead, and Eliot had to look away. He turned his eyes to Margo instead. She still wasn’t smiling, but it was different now. Softer. Like she understood exactly what he was feeling. He’d never spoken a single word to her about remembering the mosaic, or his feelings for Quentin, but sometimes he swore she knew.

“All right,” Margo said, directing her attention to Quentin and Alice, “you heard the Professor. Sleeping Beauty needs to rest if we’re ever getting his ass out of this bed.”

Quentin nodded, his eyes moving from Margo to Eliot. “We’ll come back later. Okay?”

Eliot nodded back, their soft eyes lingering on each other for just a moment too long. His gaze drifted to Alice as they exited the room, the sour sting of guilt clawing at his throat. Margo sat down at his bedside once they were gone. He knew what she was going to say before her mouth even opened.

“Why didn’t you ever tell me you were in love with Coldwater?” Eliot blinked, and she gave him a heavy smile. “And don’t even think about lying to me after what you did. What the fuck happened between you two?”

Eliot breathed deeply, slowly. “It’s not what you think, okay?”

“I don’t know what I think,” she said. “Just like I don’t know what you were thinking when you sent that letter.”

“I was thinking I wanted Quentin to not be dead,” he said, a little bubble of anger rising in his throat. “The same reason you sent those letters to Josh.”

“Sending letters to Josh didn’t kill another one of our friends in his place.” Her words came out flat and slow. “Or resurrect a psychotic librarian-god drunk on every last drop of magic in the universe.”

Eliot shut his eyes. It would have been easier if she were angry, but she only sounded sad. “Lipson said I—”

“Yeah.” The chair creaked as she rose to her feet. “I know what Lipson said.”

There was nothing after that. No snark, no promise to return. She just got up and walked out of the room. Eliot was grateful at least to have no energy for true misery. Every last one of his muscles felt withered and useless, like he’d just run a marathon and topped it off with scaling the world’s tallest mountain for the hell of it. His head was an overfilled balloon. It didn’t take long for the world to slip away.

Eliot slept like he was dead. When he woke the sun was setting, and he was still all alone. He stretched himself awake slowly, feeling marginally less like a dozen severed parts stuffed into a skin suit, a little more like a person. He could pull himself to his feet without assistance at least, so he figured that was a win.

He frowned down at the baggy t-shirt and oversized sweats hanging from his body like empty husks. Walking wasn’t fun, but he located the filthy shoes his body had been wearing when the Monster took it for a ride and slowly made his way out of the infirmary. He made a beeline for the Physical Kids’ Cottage. The warm glow of the windows from the outside set his heavy heart at ease, if only for a moment.

When he pushed inside, everyone was gathered on the couches in the common room talking loudly, but falling silent when the door clicked shut. Quentin was the first to his feet.

“Hey,” he said. “We were just about to go check on you again.”

“Here I am,” Eliot said with a lazy flourish of his hands. He trudged over to the sectional, collapsing down next to Margo. “Don’t everyone stop gossiping on account of me.”

Quentin lowered himself back down into his chair, but his gaze stayed fixed on Eliot.

Julia shot him a smile, looking drained but determined. “We’re talking about what to do with the Library dick who thinks he’s a god.”

Eliot’s heart picked up a little. “Did Everett come back?”

“No,” Margo said. “But that fucker stole our magic. Now we’re gonna steal it back.”

Eliot’s brows knitted together. “Is going after a god-powered librarian really the best idea right now? How would we even defend ourselves? He has everything.”

“We have five Deweys,” Alice cut in.

Eliot huffed a laugh. “How are you going to fight a nuclear bomb with a Duracell?”

“The Deweys aren’t for fighting,” Margo said. “They’re for drawing him in. Then the cock gets my axes.”

“Margo.” Eliot gave her a hard look. “This is my fault, you shouldn’t put your—”

“How is any of this your fault?” Julia asked. “You were possessed. For months.”

Every eye in the room turned to Eliot. It occurred to him then that even if they all knew about the letter, he’d neglected to mention the part where Quentin took Everett out when he died. Whoops.

Margo nudged him in the hip. “Not now,” she said through gritted teeth, and Eliot fumbled to recover.

“I just mean… I shot the Monster,” he said. “Maybe… maybe none of this would have happened if I’d just…”

“Let Quentin stay in Blackspire forever?” Julia narrowed her eyes. “Come on, you were just trying to save our friend.”

“Right,” Eliot said, fighting back a sudden swell of nausea. “Okay. Go back. How are you going to draw him in using your little magic coins?”

“If he wants all the magic for himself,” Alice said, “he might come to collect if we trick him into thinking we have more than we do.”

“That’s a lot of ifs,” Eliot said.

There was a long stretch of silence. Eliot allowed himself the indulgence of basking in Quentin’s attention. Their eyes met, and Eliot held his gaze for a long moment. He imagined going to him then, crossing the room swiftly and crawling into his lap, burying his face in the warm skin of Quentin’s neck, breathing him in. His whole body clenched at the thought.

Penny Twenty-Three broke the silence. “I don’t like it,” he said, and Margo shot him a tense smile.

“Then stay out of my way,” she said. “We’re doing it.”

Eliot let out a long sigh, and turned his eyes from Quentin to Margo. “Look, we don’t even know that your axes would work,” he said. “Gobbling down all the magic is a little different than being possessed.”

“He’s not wrong,” Quentin offered, giving Eliot the smallest of smiles.

Margo shrugged. “You got a better idea, I’m all ears.”

Everyone went quiet again. Eliot eyed the bar across the room. A drink sounded fucking phenomenal right now. “Maybe,” he said finally. “Maybe we just… sit on it for tonight. I doubt any of you have slept much. We can’t dive into something like this half-cocked.”

Julia was all too eager to jump to her feet. “Research,” she said, already heading for the door. “Then rest. Maybe.”

Penny jumped up after. “Anyone needs a ride,” he said. “I’ll be with her.”

Margo got up next, and Eliot caught her by the wrist. “Bambi,” he said quietly. “Don’t be mad at me.”

“We’ll talk later,” she said, wrenching out of his grasp, trailing off in the direction of the kitchen.

Across the room, Quentin fidgeted in his seat. Alice’s eyes were fixed down on her own hands. Without the buffer of the others, a tight fist of awkward tension began slowly closing in around them. Eliot decided it was time for that drink. He hobbled over to the bar and poured himself a scotch, no frills. He didn’t have the energy.

Eliot held up the bottle when he’d finished filling his glass. “Anyone?”

“No thank you,” Alice said. “I think I’ll try and get some rest.”

She went upstairs without another word, and Eliot sat down with his drink.

“You’re better now?” Quentin asked. “I mean… the spell worked?”

“The spell worked,” Eliot said. “My muscles feel like they were gnawed on by a very large, very angry dog, but… I’ll be okay.”

“That’s good.” Quentin got up from his chair and moved to the sectional, sitting next to Eliot at a distance. “How, um—before you sent the letter. How did you heal?”

Eliot’s pulse picked up. He looked away, sipped his drink. “We, uh… we had magic. So…”

“Oh,” Quentin said. “How?”

Eliot’s glass trembled in his hand. “Everett died,” he said, meeting Quentin’s gaze. “You, uh…”

Quentin swallowed, the realization dawning slowly on his face. “I stopped him.”

“Yes,” Eliot said, his voice quavering terribly. “And then you died.”

“You’re telling me I saved magic.”

“I’m telling you that you died, Quentin.”

“Maybe I was supposed to.”

Eliot shook his head, his heart slowly winding its way up the column of his throat. “No,” he said. “No, you—you don’t know what it was like. Losing you—”

“I imagine it was about the same as having to watch a monster ride around in your body for months,” Quentin said, swiping at a tear when it fell from his eye.

“Yeah…” Eliot shot back a mouthful of scotch, reveling in the burn. “And what were you willing to do to try and save me?”

Quentin’s expression was equal parts anger and misery. “I didn’t rewrite your destiny, Eliot.”

“Since when is destiny not bullshit,” Eliot spit, and then finished his drink, turning away from the sorrow in Quentin’s eyes.

“I think...” Quentin tottered slowly to his feet. “I think I need to be alone for a while.”

He all but ran for the stairs, and Eliot felt his absence as brightly as a blade to all his softest parts. He swore for a moment he could feel Lipson’s spell reversing, the axe-blade shaped scar returning to its mangled former self, his flesh splitting open wide, a cold gust of air moving into his body in its wake.

Eliot didn’t know what else to do, so he drank. Because fuck sleeping for another twelve hours, even if his body was demanding it. It was the principle of the thing. He was tired of lying in bed, aching and alone. Drinking and alone was much more his style. Or maybe just the drinking. Eliot didn’t actually want to be alone, but since his best friends—his only friends—were no longer speaking to him, he didn’t figure he had much of a choice.

But as Eliot slipped further into the blissful haze of oblivion, a little bubble of doubt started forming into his mind. And the drunker he got, the more that it grew, until he was absolutely convinced he’d made a mistake. They would try to get magic back, and Everett would kill them—all of them—and this all would have been for nothing.

I could have found another way, he told himself, another mouthful of scotch burning its way into his belly. I could have summoned a god. I could have stormed the Underworld and sang for Hades. It would have been romantic as shit.

As it turned out, alcohol and the aftermath of a healing spell were a truly vile combination. Eliot went sideways on the sofa, and the next thing he registered was something sharp and determined nudging him in the shoulder.

“You’ve gotta be shitting me,” Margo said the moment he blinked awake.

“Good morning, Bambi,” Eliot slurred. He had no idea how long he’d been out, but he was definitely still under the influence.

“You are not gonna cock out on us after what you just did,” she said, flopping down and attempting to push Eliot upright. “Get up. Sober up. We’ve got a wannabe god to axe.”

Eliot pulled himself up to a sitting position with a groan, the room tipping like a carnival ride all around him. He looked to Margo, her face going all swimmy in his vision. “I’m here. I’m fine. I thought we were waiting to kill the librarian.”

“We’re going as soon as we’re ready,” she said, her expression hard but her eyes going soft. “And I need you whole when we get there. You understand me, El?”

Eliot’s heart clenched under his hideously baggy shirt. “I hear you, Bambi,” he said. “Are you still pissed?”

“I’m fucking livid,” she said. “But I’ll get over it. We’re in the shit now so we’re just gonna have to deal.”

Eliot swallowed down a swell of emotion, reaching for her hand, which she let him take. “I wasn’t trying to fuck us. I just…”

“I know,” she said, her voice a little softer now. “Love makes morons of us all.”

“Yeah…” Eliot took a breath, looked down to where their hands were tangled together. “Does everybody know? About the letter?”

“Coldwater told them Everett was coming,” she said. “I don’t think he told anyone how he knew. It doesn’t matter now. Everybody knowing what you did isn’t gonna help us fix our shit or get magic back.”

Before Eliot could open his mouth to respond, Julia came through the front door with Penny in tow, the circles under her eyes so dark they looked bruised, her arms overflowing with books.

“Find anything?” Margo asked.

Julia shrugged. “I don’t know. My eyes are going cross if I try to read more than one sentence at a time.”

“You need to sleep,” Penny offered. “We all do.”

“Thank you,” Eliot mumbled under his breath. The alcohol/healing spell combo was definitely still kicking his ass.

“Right.” Julia said. “Where’s Q?”

Eliot pointed in the general direction of the stairs. “With Alice,” he said, the words a sour sting on his tongue.

Julia deposited her books onto the coffee table and went upstairs, reappearing soon after with Quentin and Alice trailing closely behind. Quentin wouldn’t meet Eliot’s eyes. He clutched the strap of his bag in one hand, Alice’s hand in the other.

Less than a minute later, they were all joining hands, and in a blink they were standing in the pitch dark of the penthouse. Eliot’s legs felt like they were made entirely of water. Someone did a tut and turned on a light. Eliot made a beeline for the living room, collapsing down onto the sectional and curling up on his side.

The drone of hushed voices gathered around him like distant music. Footfalls on the staircase, doors opening and clicking shut. Then, a tremendous sigh of silence. Eliot shut his eyes and fell into something that might have been sleep. An endless reel of nightmares looped and stuttered through his brain: the letter turning to ashes in his hands, Quentin lost to him forever; Margo taken by some unseen force, swallowed up in screams and folded into dark; Eliot’s body wrenched away and fed into a black and churning ocean.

Eliot bolted upright gasping for air, his filthy t-shirt soaked straight through with sweat. It was morning, and there was commotion in the kitchen. The clank of dishes, the hum of running water, voices muttering low. Eliot had to force himself to breathe. On the coffee table there was a bottle of water, and next to it a stack of clothes. His clothes. Eliot’s pulse fluttered in his neck at the sight.

He was, at least, able to stand up without his legs giving out from under him. He drank the entire bottle of water, bundled the pile of clothes in his arms, and stumbled to the bathroom. First, Eliot took the folded up letter out of his pocket and stowed it away in the cabinet under the sink for safe keeping. Then, he peeled the oversized t-shirt and sweatpants from his body, and took a shower so hot his skin was supple and pink all over when he was through. He stood in front of the mirror, studying the fading line of the scar on his belly. Lipson’s magic had still been working. He could feel it inside now, how much it had healed him, his flesh all stitched back together as though it had never parted.

He dressed in his own clothes, a pair of black slacks and a deep purple oxford, a belt and matching shoes, forgoing the vest and tie for now. He dried his hair and tied it back. When he was finished, what he saw in the mirror almost resembled the man he knew himself to be.

Everyone was gathered in the living room when Eliot emerged. He sat down next to Margo on the sectional, and she pushed a bagel into his hands that he devoured with shameless abandon. Quentin was sitting in the gold chair across from them, and for a single fleeting moment Eliot caught his gaze, tried to hold it, but Quentin turned away.

“So… I have an idea,” Julia said as Eliot was brushing the last of the bagel crumbs from the front of his shirt.

“You found a spell?” Eliot asked.

“No,” she said. “Not anything that wouldn’t eat up all the Deweys at once. But I got to thinking, and a simple flash spell is probably gonna get us the most bang for our buck.”

“That’s actually a really good idea,” Alice said, perking up a little in her seat. “It wouldn’t even take a whole Dewey to cast.”

“Good,” Margo said. She had her axes cradled in her lap like an infant. “Let’s axe this mother.”

Eliot sighed. “I thought we were waiting.”

Margo narrowed her eyes. “Sitting around holding our twats isn’t gonna get us anywhere. We got a plan, I say we do it.”

“And what’s that plan exactly?” Penny cut in from across the room.

Margo rolled her eyes in his direction. “Don’t you start.”

Eliot turned to face her head-on. “So we... what? Do a little light show, wait for the nuclear bomb in a suit to show up, and then ask politely if he’ll stand real still while we murder him?”

“We’ll trap him,” Julia offered, her face falling as she spoke. “Or, the rest of you will. I can’t do magic even with the coins. We should have just enough if the flash spell works.”

Eliot slumped down in his seat, feeling utterly trapped in a nightmare of his own making. “We do it,” he said. “On one condition.”

Margo narrowed her eyes. “Which is?”

“I do the spell,” Eliot said. “I set the trap.”

Every eye in the room bored straight through him. Even Quentin was looking at him now. Margo nudged him in the thigh with an axe handle. “El,” she said tensely. “Honey, you’re still recovering, remember? Maybe you should—”

“No.” Eliot met her gaze with equal intensity. “We don’t all need to put our lives in danger.”

“Why you?” Alice cut in, sounding genuinely upset, her expression tight and hard.

Eliot’s stomach wound up tight enough to snap. “Because that’s how it’s going to be,” he said.

The room went very quiet and still, like someone had paused the movie of their lives mid-frame. Slowly, Eliot pulled himself to his feet, and went to the kitchen, and made himself a cup of strong black coffee while his friends all sat in silence.

Eventually, someone hit play and everyone scattered, up the staircase, out onto the balcony. Quentin came into the kitchen, and sat down next to Eliot at the island. “What are you doing, El?” he asked, his voice a balm to Eliot’s aching spirit. It didn’t matter what he was saying, it only mattered that he was speaking. That they were apparently still on speaking terms.

“I’m drinking coffee,” Eliot said, forcing a smile that Quentin didn’t return.

“You don’t get to sacrifice yourself because you feel guilty,” Quentin said, his lip quivering a little when he spoke.

Eliot sipped his coffee. “I fucked up, Q,” he said. “I wanted you back so bad, I…”

Eliot rested his hands on the counter, shutting his eyes, and breathing. Just breathing. Slowly, Quentin covered one of Eliot’s hands with his own. “El, you were just…” He gave Eliot’s hand a squeeze. “I would have done the same. For you, I would have, I—”

Eliot opened his eyes. It would have been the easiest thing in the world to lean in and steal Quentin’s mouth in a kiss. To kiss him breathless, until they both were quivering and clinging to one another. Instead, Eliot knocked their foreheads together, and sighed, and knotted their fingers together loosely.

“If you die,” Quentin breathed, nuzzling into Eliot with a sigh, “I’m gonna do something really stupid to bring you back. Just so you know.”

A smile tugged at Eliot’s mouth. “Does this mean you’re not mad at me anymore?”

“I don’t know,” Quentin said, knocking his head against Eliot’s shoulder. “I just know that I can’t stand it when you’re not around.”

Quentin lifted his head, meeting Eliot’s eyes. So close, so close. He leaned in, slowly, his breath coming quickly against Eliot’s lips, and Eliot forced himself to pull away.

“Q, we…” Eliot swallowed around the lump in his throat. “We can’t. It’s not fair to…”

Quentin frowned, ducking his head. “I know. Sorry, I just…”

“I know,” Eliot said, forcing a laugh that quickly faded. “You should talk to her. After, um… after we finish this thing.”

Quentin nodded, fidgeting in his seat, tucking his hair back behind his ear. “Yeah, um… I will.”

They sat in silence then, their knees knocking together while Eliot finished his coffee. There were so many things that Eliot wanted to say, but none of it seemed like enough. It was the same feeling he’d had when he was writing the letter. How could I possibly condense my love for you in words, Eliot had thought. How could language ever express the infinite ways my heart is filled with you.

Eliot got up, washed his mug in the sink, eyed Quentin from across the counter. Just seeing him there felt impossible. He was everything Eliot had ever wanted, but how many people would have to suffer for that dream to become reality? His love for Quentin had killed Kady, and put everyone else in danger. Unleashed a brand new god on the universe that had taken all the magic.

Suddenly, it was very hard to breathe.

“Are you all right?” Quentin asked, and Eliot shook his head.

“No,” he said. “I’m not.”

“Yeah,” Quentin said. “Neither am I.”

Eliot gave him a sad smile. Julia and Margo came into the kitchen, looking weary but determined. Margo was still wielding her axes like a goddamn warrior king, and Eliot’s heart swelled with so much love and pride he thought he might fill with it until he up and floated away.

“Here,” Julia said, and dropped a single Dewey into Eliot’s palm.

“Thank you,” he said. “You know, if you all just wanted to leave, Margo and I can—”

“No,” Quentin said at his back. “We’re not going anywhere.”

“Shield charm works better with three people casting together,” Julia reminded him. “You don’t have to martyr yourself for us, Eliot, not after what you’ve been through.”

Eliot bit the inside of his lip hard. “Right.”

“So,” Margo said, resting her axes on the counter. “You do the flash spell, and when the dick shows up Quentin and Alice help you trap his ass while I go full Xena Warrior Princess from behind.”

A cold fist of dread closed around Eliot’s throat. “Am I the only one who has a terrible feeling about this?”

“It would be really weird to have anything but a terrible feeling about this, El,” Quentin said.

Eliot turned and locked eyes with Quentin. He wanted to kiss him so badly it nearly made his knees buckle. He wanted to run away, to escape with Quentin forever. Find some corner of the multiverse that could be just for them. He swallowed down the urge, forcing his mind to focus. “Julia, you, um… you can’t do magic, so... go somewhere safe. We’ll call you when it’s over.”

“I’m not just walking away from this,” Julia said firmly. “Even if I can’t do magic.”

“Okay,” Eliot said, clenching his little magic battery tightly in his fist. “Guess there’s nothing left to do but summon Darth Librarian right into our living room.”

It was easier if Eliot deluded himself, if he played it like a game. Roll the dice, hop the squares, one step after the next. Pass go, collect $200. Restore magic, save the world, the hero gets the guy of his dreams. The entirely attainable goal of a win without a blood sacrifice. Happily-ever-fucking-after. As if there had ever been such a thing.

Penny and Julia tucked themselves into the alcove off the living room. Margo ducked behind the sectional with her axes, like somehow the god-powered master magician might be thwarted by a sofa. Quentin, Alice, and Eliot gathered together in the center of the room, each of them with a single Dewey somewhere on their person.

Eliot looked between the two of them like he was waiting for permission. “So, I’ll just…”

Alice nodded. “We’ll be ready the second he shows up.”

“If he shows up,” Quentin said.

Eliot took a breath and pushed it out. “Right.”

Now or never. Eliot did the flash spell before he lost his nerve. The world in his vision burst open like a firework. After, everything was quiet and still. No one moved, no one breathed. Five minutes passed. Eliot counted them off on the clock on the wall.

Nothing happened. Behind the sofa, Margo sighed. “For fuck’s sake, El, do it again.”

Eliot took a breath and cast again, and again, sparks strobing from his hands and lighting up the room until he’d drained the entire coin. And still nothing happened. Julia poked her head out from the alcove and said. “You wanna try with another?”

Eliot sighed and flopped down in the gold chair. “No. We need a better plan that doesn’t involve blowing the rest of our load making sparklers.”

Margo jumped up from behind the sofa. “Wicker,” she shouted. “How much magic to do an actual summoning?”

“Way more than we’ve got,” Julia said, trailing out into the living room. “Besides, Everett isn’t actually a god. I don’t think praying to a juiced-up librarian is a thing.”

Margo tossed her axes onto the sofa. “Fucking great.”

“Maybe he doesn’t care,” Alice offered, turning a Dewey over in her hand.

“Yeah,” Quentin said, running a hand through his hair, looking more than a little devastated. “He probably doesn’t.”

They spent another hour sitting around in relative silence before deciding that was it. Everett wasn’t coming. At least they still had four Deweys. Maybe they could magic themselves up a party so grand Eliot might almost forget what he’d done. How he was the reason the world—every world—would never know magic again. And how, deep down, he thought it was probably worth it. To have Quentin back. He knew in his bones he’d give up anything for that, even magic. Everything.

As the day gave itself over to night, they collectively decided alcohol was the only solution. Eliot figured the healing spell was probably out of his system, and he made himself the filthiest martini he could fathom and curled up on the window seat in the kitchen, content to sulk and gaze into the middle distance for the remainder of the night.

A half hour hadn’t passed before Eliot felt it, a presence at his side. Then, the overwhelming hum of magic distorting the air in the room. He’d never actually seen Everett before, but the moment Eliot laid eyes on him he knew. The way he flickered like bad reception on an old television set. And his eyes, electric blue, like the whole of the Wellspring might come bursting out of him at any second.

Eliot’s martini glass shattered to the floor, and the penthouse went quiet as a tomb.

“You know,” Everett said, his voice hollow and distant, like it was coming through the receiver of a telephone, “I wasn’t going to come at all and then I thought. This one…” He pointed to Eliot casually. “This one is going to be a problem. He’ll just keep trying, and eventually… well. Why wait right? Carpe diem and all.”

“Okay,” Eliot said carefully, shooting a glance beyond the kitchen to see Margo ducking around a corner, axes drawn and ready. “Let’s just talk about this.”

Everett tucked his hands into his pockets, rocking on his heels. “I’ve read your books, Eliot. Both of them. Do you want to hear how volume two ends?”

“Never did care much for books.” Eliot rose to his feet, his shattered martini glass crunching under his shoes. He took a single step in Everett’s direction. Anything to keep his attention, if only for a moment. “But sure. Why not?”

Everett smiled, gazing wistfully into the distance. “Eliot approached carefully, thinking if only he could buy his friends a moment or two, they might still stand a chance. At the new god’s back, Margo Hanson stood with her axes drawn and ready to strike. With only a thought, the god took care of her first. Eliot lunged for his friend, but it was too late. Everything went black, thus ending the story of Eliot Waugh.”

His chest was so tight it hurt to breathe, but Eliot knew what he had to do. He was going to be brave. He glanced beyond Everett, beyond Margo, reality slowing to a flicker as he locked eyes with Quentin where he stood frozen in the living room. He would have given anything in that moment for just one last taste of his lips. One last blissful second standing in the light of his warmth.

Everything came roaring into focus then. Eliot looked to Everett and laughed, taking another step in his direction. “Like I said, never did care for books.”

Margo was halfway into the kitchen, moving silently as a kitten at Everett’s back. Eliot met her eyes for a fraction of a second, and an entire conversation passed between them. Everything that came after that happened in slow motion. Eliot reached out, taking Everett by the lapels of his offensively boring suit jacket and wrenching him close.

“You want me, asshole,” Eliot said, a mile-wide grin spreading over his face. “Come and fucking get me.”

A flash of surprise washed over Everett’s face. He lifted his hand, and an unseen fist started closing slowly around Eliot’s heart. Eliot went to his knees, but he stayed holding onto the librarian's cheap suit for as long as he could manage. Margo went down a second later, but in that split second that Eliot had bought them her axe had already been thrown. It hurtled through the air for what seemed like an eternity. And Eliot laughed, even as the life was draining out of him, and the world was turning to dust.

Margo’s axe landed with a sick thud. Everett’s eyes went wide and the light there flickered away. The last thing Eliot registered before everything went dark was Everett dislodging the axe with a flick of his wrist, and the electric blue wave that began pulsing from the wound. Then, Julia running into the kitchen, her mouth open in a silent scream.

And the wave moving into her. Her body transformed into a brilliant blue flame.

Eliot was in the dark for a very long time. The sound broke through before the light, a chorus of muffled voices he didn’t recognize waking him from his slumber. It was warm in the dark, and everything was easy. Eliot didn’t want to leave, but then a single familiar voice carried in over the din.

Eliot’s eyes shot open. It was like being underwater, the way the colors rippled in his vision. He thought he saw a face, and then another. Dark hair. He felt someone’s hand curling around his shoulder, maybe. He couldn’t be certain, the lines of his own body far too fuzzy to discern.

And then his name, the shape of it on the air cutting clean through the fog. That same familiar voice. The one Eliot would know anywhere.

“Eliot,” Quentin said again. Pleaded, really. His face came into focus first.

Then Julia. Alice. Penny. Everyone but—

Eliot jolted fully awake. “Bambi,” he mumbled, sitting up with Quentin’s help. “Where’s—”

“Gonna take a lot more than some musty old cock in a bad suit to take me out,” Margo said, and then he saw her, kneeling on the floor behind Julia, looking a little pale, but very much alive.

“I thought you were dead,” Eliot breathed. Quentin was clutching his hand so tightly it started going numb.

“I was,” she said flatly. “So were you.”

“I don’t…” Eliot looked to Quentin. “What happened?”

Quentin swallowed. “Julia, she um—”

“Julia fucking Wicker went full goddess on his ass,” Margo said. “And she ripped us straight out of Hades’ asshole for good measure.”

Eliot looked around at the faces of all his friends, feeling so delirious he couldn’t help but laugh. “You gobbled down all the magic,” he said, turning his eyes to Julia.

“Yeah,” she said. “And then I let it back out. But apparently I’m still a goddess. So… double win?”

“Magic is…” Eliot gave Quentin’s hand a squeeze. “Magic is back?”

Quentin laughed. “Magic is back.”

An old familiar dread began stirring in Eliot’s belly. “No,” he said, pulling his hand away. “No, this is too easy.”

“We literally just died, El,” Margo said. “Doesn’t sound easy to me.”

“And Julia... brought us back.” Eliot’s words came out absent and hollow. For a moment, he felt like he might leave his body again. “I think I, um… I’d really like to get up off this fucking floor, please.”

Penny and Quentin helped Eliot stand. Quentin’s hand lingered on Eliot’s back once he was upright, warming him deeply, but making his stomach turn when he caught Alice’s eye. He wobbled over to the drink cart alone and poured himself two fingers of good whiskey, shooting it back like he was back in undergrad and he’d just discovered Smirnoff. He slammed the glass down on the cart, ignoring every person who tried to speak to him as he tottered across the room, opened the door to the master bedroom, and shut himself inside.

Eliot kicked off his shoes and collapsed into bed over the covers. He stared at the dark, blank canvas of the ceiling and did a tut, watched as rainbows bloomed in a brilliant flash of color and then died away. He turned the bedside lamp on with a flourish of his hand. The magic was flowing freely through his body now, and he should have felt good about that. He should have been fucking ecstatic. Somehow, Eliot only felt worse.

An hour passed. Eliot ached all over with the aftermath of having been dead. It was like he was smaller now, and inside his soul couldn’t quite fit itself back into place. The penthouse was silent and still beyond the walls of the bedroom, and the sound of the door creaking open gave Eliot’s heart a start. He propped himself up on his elbows, watched as Quentin stepped inside, then shut and locked the door firmly behind him.

And then, before Eliot could open his mouth to speak, Quentin was crossing the distance, all but diving onto the bed, crawling on top of Eliot, straddling his hips and pushing him down into the mattress. The shock of it all was a little more than his body could handle, but Eliot didn’t care. He wanted Quentin more than comfort, more than air. He anticipated a hot mouth being pressed to his, but it didn’t come. Instead, Quentin buried his face in the crook of Eliot’s neck, holding onto him tightly, trembling and just… breathing him in.

After a long moment of this, Eliot wrapped his arms around Quentin, began rubbing soothing circles into his back. “Hey, hey. It’s okay, Q. Hey, look at me.”

Quentin lifted his face slowly, his eyes welling with tears that had yet to fall. “You can’t keep doing this to me, Eliot,” he croaked, the devastation in his voice like a kick to Eliot’s heart.

“Q, I’m—hey.” Eliot gave him a little smile. “I’m okay.”

“No.” Quentin shook his head. “You—you died.”

Eliot reached up, brushing Quentin’s hair back out of his eyes. “Julia brought me back. I’m alive.”

It was like Quentin didn’t hear him. A single tear fell from one eye and tracked slowly down his cheek. “And before…” His brows knitted tightly together. “Before. When we got the Monster out of you. El, there was so much blood.”

“Q…”

“And before that.” Quentin’s lip quivered like he was only just barely holding it together. “The Monster he—he told me you were dead.”

“I’m not.” Eliot touched Quentin’s face, gently. “And I wasn’t.”

“What you did,” Quentin said, his eyes locked intensely with Eliot’s, “is exactly what you sent that letter to try and stop me from doing, El.”

“I know.” Eliot ached deep under his bones. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean—I was just trying to keep you safe.”

“I can’t lose you.” Quentin’s words came out all broken, catching thickly in his throat. “Do you understand? Not before—before I—”

It all happened so quickly then: Quentin surging forward, and their lips crashing together. He licked into Eliot’s eager, pliant mouth, and Eliot just… melted, the heavy press of Quentin on top of him a constant reminder he was alive. Eliot whimpered, his fingers pressing deeply into Quentin’s back over his sweater, craving skin and heat and Quentin’s body devastating every part of him.

Quentin broke the kiss, pressed his mouth to Eliot’s cheek, his jaw, his neck. “I just want you,” he said, a little whine crawling out of his throat. “El, I want…”

Eliot met his eyes for a split second before Quentin dove back in, getting his lips on the flesh exposed by the open collar of Eliot’s shirt. “Q... Q...” he mumbled, pawing at Quentin’s back, the heat of his mouth more potent than any drug Eliot had ever smoked, snorted, or otherwise ingested. “Hey, did you, um… did you talk to Alice?”

“I will,” Quentin said, punctuating his words by sucking a kiss into Eliot’s collarbone. “Later. I need you now, Eliot. I can’t wait.”

Eliot took Quentin roughly by the hips and drew their bodies together. Quentin’s mouth went to Eliot’s throat, his tongue like a little hungry flame. Quentin was hard, and it was just occurring to Eliot that he was too. All the guilt he knew he should have felt was swallowed up by the sight of Quentin’s lust-dark eyes, his pretty mouth falling open, his elegant fingers fumbling with a button on Eliot’s shirt. This, right here, was what Eliot had risked everything for, what he’d literally died to save.

Quentin looked down at Eliot, hair falling into his eyes. “Is this okay?” he asked, shooting Eliot a soft look. “You’re not hurt?”

Eliot shook his head. “I’m okay. I mean… it does sort of feel like my insides got into a fist fight, but...”

Quentin frowned, easing his weight off a little. “That doesn’t sound okay.”

“I’m fine.” Eliot laughed, and every muscle clenched in response. “We can just… we can take it slow.”

Quentin lifted up and settled down at Eliot’s side, curling around him softly. “Maybe we’ll just kiss,” he said, sliding a hand into the half-open front of Eliot’s shirt. “If you want.”

“Yeah,” Eliot said. “I want.”

Quentin leaned up, pressed his lips to Eliot’s forehead gently. Eliot shut his eyes, and Quentin kissed each one, then each cheek, his chin, all along the curve of his jaw. Finally, their mouths came together again, slowly, achingly soft, lips parting, hot and languid, their tongues gliding together velvet-smooth.

Quentin’s hand tracked down his body, and Eliot thought of rebirth, of being touched for the very first time. Quentin broke the kiss with a little moan and pulled away, sitting back on his heels at Eliot’s side, getting the rest of his buttons undone. Eliot lay there in silence. Watching, breathing, happy to let Quentin do… anything. Anything at all that his heart desired.

The front of Eliot’s shirt flapped open. Quentin’s hand went to his belly at once, tracing a finger along the faded white scar that was even fainter now than it had been this morning. “Does it hurt?” Quentin asked, meeting Eliot’s eyes.

“No,” Eliot said. “It doesn’t hurt.”

Quentin turned his eyes back to the scar, to the flat plane of Eliot’s belly. “The Monster, it… when it had you. It did terrible things with your body, El. And to it. And to me. And I—”

“I know. Baby, I’m... ” Eliot reached out, curled a hand around his shoulder. “I’m sorry.”

Quentin frowned and shook his head. “You have nothing to apologize for, El. He did those things. Not you.” He pressed one hand to the center of Eliot’s chest, right over his thumping heart. “This is your body. Yours.” He laughed, a sound that was as somber as it was joyful. “Yours.”

Quentin bent over, pressed his lips to the scar. He kissed his way up Eliot’s body, dragged fingers through the hair of his chest, swiped his tongue across each of his nipples, but didn’t linger. He mouthed at Eliot’s collarbone, his shoulder, up behind his ear, like he was trying to memorize every part of Eliot with his lips alone.

“Is this okay?” Quentin muttered, nosing along Eliot’s jaw on his way back to his mouth.

“It’s okay,” Eliot croaked, gripping the arm of Quentin’s sweater. “It’s good.”

Quentin kissed Eliot’s lips softly. “You smell like you,” he said when he pulled away. “He didn’t smell the same.”

“Come here,” Eliot said, turning onto his side and pulling Quentin close, their bodies curving together. “Don’t stop kissing me, baby.”

And Quentin didn’t. He kissed Eliot until their lips were blushing pink. Until they were so tangled together Eliot thought they might never be parted. Both of them hard, neither of them doing much of anything about it. It made Eliot delirious, like a teenager too afraid to ask to get to second base. Eventually, they had to come up for air, and Eliot pulled Quentin tightly against his chest, pressed a kiss into his hair.

“We should try and sleep,” Eliot said, still a little breathless. Honestly, sleep was the furthest thing from his mind, but if they didn’t they were going to fuck, and Eliot knew he didn’t have it in him, even if his dick was insisting otherwise.

“Yeah,” Quentin said, snuggling closer. “Sleep sounds nice.”

They rested for an hour or two, there above the covers with their clothes on, their limbs clasped around one another tightly as fists. When they woke it was still night, and Quentin smiled up at Eliot all bleary-eyed and beautiful.

“I wanna make you breakfast,” he said, and Eliot smiled back.

“Okay.” Eliot kissed Quentin’s forehead. “Make me breakfast.”

They pried their bodies apart and Eliot buttoned his shirt, then trailed behind Quentin out of the bedroom and in the general direction of the kitchen. Margo was sitting in front of the fireplace in one of the armchairs, glaring at Eliot as he walked past. Quentin went to the fridge and started rooting around inside. Eliot took the chair next to Margo’s, watching Quentin out of the corner of his eye.

“You can’t be serious,” she said in a low voice, and all that guilt Eliot hadn’t felt earlier came swooping in like an old friend.

“It’s not what you think,” Eliot said. “You got any smokes?”

“No,” she said flatly. “You promised you wouldn’t betray her again.”

The guilt twisted like a cold blade under Eliot’s skin, clawing up under his ribs. “That was years ago,” he said, voice sounding too small for his body. In the kitchen, Quentin clanged a pan down onto the stovetop.

Margo shook her head. “There a statute of limitations on not thinking with your dick?”

“This isn’t about—” Eliot sighed. “I thought you understood.”

She huffed out a little laugh. “Sending the letter? Yeah, that I understand. But jesus fuck, El, his girlfriend is sleeping upstairs.”

“We didn’t even…” Eliot let his eyes drift over to the kitchen, to Quentin cracking an egg on the edge of a mixing bowl, cursing under his breath, reaching for a fork. When he turned back to Margo, she was lighting a cigarette. “Since when do you care so much about Alice?” He gestured to the wisp of smoke billowing from her mouth. “Hand it over.”

She took the cigarette between her fingers, tipping her head to the side. “No,” she said after a moment. “And this isn’t even about Alice. It’s about all of us. The last thing we need is for things to go all Jerry Springer up in here ‘cause you’re dickmatized. We’ve been through enough and I’m fucking tired.”

Eliot let that sit a minute. He thought he resented the insinuation that he couldn’t control himself around Quentin, even if that was definitely true. In the kitchen, the eggs sizzled as Quentin poured them into the pan.

“Shouldn’t you be in Fillory?” he asked. “I mean, isn’t that what you were fighting for?”

Margo gestured with her cigarette. “I don’t wanna think about Fillory right now. And I don’t wanna think about librarians or gods or dark kings or the fact that we both just fucking died.”

“Bambi.” Eliot reached for her across the distance, but she pulled away.

“I said I don’t wanna think about it.” She passed him her cigarette and jumped to her feet. “I’m going back to bed.”

Eliot took a single drag and ditched the cigarette in the ashtray. Whatever. Feeling terrible about Alice and Margo and his dick could wait until after he ate. He went into the kitchen and took a seat at the island just as Quentin was plating the eggs.

“Hey,” Quentin said, looking a little distressed. “I, uh, don’t think these are going to be very good.”

The laugh that rolled through Eliot made every muscle in his body ache. “I’m sure they’re perfect,” he said, giving Quentin a soft look, letting his eyes slide down to the plate that was pushed in front of him.

The eggs were definitely burnt, and bland, and weirdly rubbery between Eliot’s teeth. Still, that first bite was like a miracle. Eliot’s hedonist heart thumped faster. This was better than gourmet cuisine. Better than sex, drugs, the very first night of Encanto Oculto. Better than anything. Because Quentin was alive to make his terrible eggs, and burn the toast, and watch Eliot from across the counter with a smile tugging at his mouth.

“Good?” Quentin asked, a little pink coloring his cheeks.

Eliot speared another bite with his fork. “They’re fucking spectacular,” he said.

“Good. That’s good.” Quentin ducked his head, tucking a tuft of hair behind his ear. “So, um…”

“So…”

“So I was thinking, um… you know, just for now that I should, uh…” Quentin fidgeted with a butter knife on the counter. “I should maybe go back to sleep upstairs, with um…”

“Right,” Eliot said, his stomach turning sour. “Of course.”

Suddenly, the night beyond the windows felt darker. A coldness crept into Eliot’s bones and settled in. The artificial light burning overhead felt too harsh for his weary eyes. He somehow managed to finish off the rest of his eggs while Quentin cleaned the kitchen. A fire had been stoked between them in the happy little cocoon of the bedroom, and now Eliot could feel it choking out. The flame of his hope growing dimmer, until there was nothing left but smoke.

Quentin rounded the counter and touched Eliot on the shoulder. Eliot wanted to pull away, but not from Quentin. From himself. From the twisting, greedy, inconsolable thing inside that understood little more than need and hunger. The thing that didn’t want Quentin to go crawling into bed with someone else. With someone who’d had him first. The thing that wanted to drag Quentin back into their warm little nest and kiss him breathless until the rest of the world withered and died away.

“I’ll see you in the morning,” Quentin said, his hand moving from Eliot’s shoulder to the nape of his neck. It felt possessive, starved. Eliot couldn’t help but lean into the touch. “Is that okay?”

“Yeah,” Eliot said. “I’ll see you in the morning, Q.”

Quentin pulled his hand away. “Okay,” he said very quietly. “Good night, El.”

Eliot forced a little smile, a chill creeping over the place where Quentin’s hand had been “Good night.”

After Quentin had gone, Eliot went and retrieved the letter where he’d stowed it under the bathroom sink, then crawled into bed and curled up with it under a pool of yellow lamplight. He smoothed out the creases with the palm of his hand, ran his thumb over the stamp in the corner. Its magical load had been entirely spent, nothing more to it now than ink and glue and paper. He traced Quentin’s name with the tip of one finger, thinking of the agony he’d known in the weeks before deciding something had to be done. How every night he’d drank himself into blackout sleep with Quentin’s name curling on his tongue. And in his dreams, how Quentin had left him haunted.

He set the letter on the nightstand, forced himself to his feet to strip off his clothes, then crawled under the covers and pulled them up to his ears. He did a tut to turn out the lights but didn’t sleep, he just lay there in the dark for hours. Every now and then, he ran a shivering hand over the faint scar tissue on his belly, or blindly felt for the letter on the nightstand beside him. He very pointedly did not think of Quentin curled around Alice in their bed upstairs. He thought about dying instead. How it had felt the first time, and the second, the third.

At the first hints of sun, Eliot pulled himself out of bed and put yesterday’s clothes back on. He brushed his teeth and tried to do something with his hair, but it was a lost fucking cause at this length, so he just tied it back again. Some of the others were already awake, he could hear them moving around the apartment. Doors opening and shutting, the sigh of sleepy voices, the sizzle of something hitting a hot pan. Eliot didn’t care who it was. He was in no hurry to show his face to anyone this morning.

He wandered between the bathroom and the bedroom, opening drawers and poking around inside. In one of the nightstands, he found an expired bottle of hydrocodone with Marina’s name printed on the label. He fidgeted with the cap, almost tempted, before tucking it back into its drawer and sliding it shut. He had just sat down on the bed and pulled out his phone to thumb through the Instagram he hadn’t used in ages when a sharp noise startled him back to his feet. The sound of glass shattering somewhere beyond the bedroom door.

Eliot’s blood ran cold.

It hadn’t occurred to him until that moment that he’d never actually seen Everett’s body. He hadn’t bothered to ask what had happened, or what Julia had done. Honestly it had been the furthest thing from his mind. He’d been dead, and then he wasn’t, and somehow against all odds they’d been presented a win on a silver fucking platter. It had all been a bit much for his fragile mind to take.

Eliot walked to the door slowly, curled his trembling hand around the knob, too terrified to actually turn it until a shout from Margo spurred him forward. He wrenched the door wide open, nearly tearing the thing from its hinges and all but running out. His heart was racing a hundred thousand miles a second, and it took him a moment to register what he was seeing. Everyone was gathered in the living room: Quentin, Alice, Margo, Penny Twenty-Three, Julia. And Kady Orloff-Back-From-The-Fucking-Dead-Apparently-Diaz. She was holding Julia’s hand, looking a little rumpled, but otherwise unfazed.

“Um.” Eliot took another step closer. “Hi… Kady.”

“Our Lady of the Fuckin’ Tree,” Margo exclaimed.

“Something like that.” Julia beamed, letting go of Kady’s hand. “Turns out Hades is MIA, so I figured why not jailbreak my best bitch now that I’m a full blown goddess again?”

Eliot’s vision went all fuzzy. He turned away from his friends and trudged over to the kitchen, sat down at the island and put his head in his hands. He had that horrible feeling again. The one he’d had last night when magic had returned and he knew Everett was gone. Another win with zero blowback. It couldn’t be this easy. There was always a catch. Always something. Dread, thick and heavy, pooled in Eliot’s stomach. For a moment, he thought he might be sick.

A hand pressed to the small of Eliot’s back and he flinched, then settled. Margo. He would know her touch in total darkness. “Hey,” she said. “You all right?”

Her voice was as soft as her touch, and it made Eliot want to curl into her arms, bury his face in her neck and breathe in her sweet-smelling perfume and tell the crushing weight of reality to fuck off to someone else’s shoulders for a while. Eliot lifted his head when she took the seat next to him. “I’m fine,” he lied, and the look in her eyes said she knew it.

“Turns out you didn’t screw the whole universe after all,” she said quietly, nudging him in the shoulder. “Cheer up. Everybody lives. We’re like four for four on resurrections here so it’s time to fuckin’ celebrate.”

Eliot frowned at her, then down at his own hands. “Since when do we get to win like this?”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“You know exactly what I’m talking about,” Eliot said. “Margo, just look at how—” He laughed, because if he didn’t he was going to cry. “Look at how easy this all happened. It doesn’t make any sense.”

She put her hand on his shoulder, looked him deep into his eyes and touched his face. “We’re not gonna do this, okay? We deserve this, El.”

Tears pricked hotly in Eliot’s eyes. “Yeah,” he said, turning away, his voice sounding like a phantom of itself. “Sure. That makes me feel better, thank you.”

Margo sighed, wrapped herself around his arm, rested her head on his shoulder. “Come to Fillory with us.”

Eliot leaned in, kissed her on her forehead. “I’ll think about it.”

“Don’t be boring,” she said, nudging him gently. “I miss my best friend, El.”

“I’m right here,” he said, sounding just as miserable as he felt.

Margo separated herself from him slowly, then pushed her elegant silver cigarette case into his hand. “Don’t keep me waiting,” she said, kissed his cheek, then went back into the living room with the others.

Eliot pulled out a cigarette and left the case on the counter, went out onto the balcony and shut the door. He sat down in one of the chairs and watched the sky, lit the cigarette, had it smoked halfway down before the door opened and Quentin stepped outside.

“Hey,” he said, taking the seat next to Eliot and lighting a cigarette of his own. “How are you feeling?”

It took Eliot a moment to realize Quentin definitely meant physically. He’d been so focused on the mental torment of it all, he'd nearly forgotten that his insides felt like they were made of razor blades. “Not great,” he said. “But I’ll manage. How are you?”

Quentin took a drag and laughed out a plume of smoke. “I honestly have no idea.”

“Cheers to that,” Eliot said, raising his cigarette high and proud, forcing a sad little smile.

A moment of silence passed between them. Quentin said, “I’m sorry about last night,” and Eliot swallowed down a sting of bitterness.

“Don’t be sorry.” The sound of Eliot’s voice was nothing short of pathetic. “I hope you had a good sleep.”

Quentin leaned in close, speaking right into Eliot’s ear. “I didn’t really sleep,” he said. “I, uh… couldn’t stop thinking about you.”

He pulled back, put his cigarette between his lips, and heat licked at the back of Eliot’s neck. He allowed his mind the luxury of a momentary fantasy: leaning in, ripping the cigarette away, pressing a kiss to that mouth. The sounds that Quentin would make—

Eliot took a breath, reminded himself where they were. Who was standing on the other side of the door. He butted out his cigarette. “I couldn’t stop thinking about you either,” he said, because really, there was no space for anymore bullshit between them.

Quentin smiled around his cigarette, took a drag, blew out a pretty little wisp of smoke. “Are you going to Fillory?”

“No,” Eliot said. “I don’t think I’m going to Fillory. Are you?”

Quentin shrugged. “I don’t know. Doesn’t really feel like there’s anything there for me anymore.”

An ache spread over Eliot’s heart. “Yeah,” he said. “I know the feeling.”

Quentin butted out his cigarette, a little smile tugging at his mouth. “It’s good though,” he said. “That, uh… you’re not going. Since you’re, you know, not feeling well.”

“Yeah,” Eliot said, a little bubble of anticipation rising in his throat.

The look in Quentin’s dark eyes was unmistakable. A blush pinked his cheeks, and Eliot wondered if that alone would be the thing to do him in. Rest in pieces, Eliot Waugh. Sent to his grave by the most adorable boy in the world before he’d even touched his dick.

“I think, um…” Quentin looked away, fidgeting in his chair. “Everyone else is going, but I could, uh, you know, stay here. If you needed someone to—if you needed anything. I could be here, and, you know...”

Eliot cleared his throat, rubbing at the back of his neck. “Yeah,” he said. “If you want to stay, that would be… good. I think.”

Quentin’s blush only deepened then. “Okay.”

Eliot decided this whole thing would be easier if he were honest with himself: he was alone with someone else’s boyfriend, and he fully planned on having sex with him. Or, well, as much sex as his broken body would allow. Maybe just hand stuff. Whatever. They were definitely going to fuck.

Last night, what had happened between them felt like an inevitability, something both of them were helpless to fight. A heat of the moment coming together after one of them had literally died. But now, after having stood in the living room and watched Quentin kiss Alice goodbye, Eliot could see this for exactly what it was: a choice. He was choosing to sleep with Alice’s boyfriend. Alice’s boyfriend was choosing to not end their relationship before sleeping with him.

Quentin sat on the far side of the sectional, peeling an orange with delicate little tuts, his fingers working precisely as a surgeon’s. His pretty, strong magician’s hands. Eliot couldn’t look away. When he was finished with the peel, the perfectly round spiral of it pulsed on the air like a beating heart, then picked itself up and settled into the bowl in Quentin’s lap.

With a few more tuts he sliced the orange into perfect, juicy segments, and floated them down into the bowl next to the peel. When he was finished, he raised his eyes to Eliot with a smile. “Hungry?”

Eliot laughed softly. “Are you trying to seduce me with citrus fruit, Coldwater?”

Quentin crossed the distance quickly, setting the bowl on the coffee table and taking a single orange segment between his fingers. “And what if I am?” he said, kneeling at Eliot’s side with a smirk.

Quentin pressed the segment to his lips, and a kick of desire warmed Eliot down between his legs. Citrus fruit seduction fucking complete. Their eyes locked together as the orange passed from Quentin’s fingers and into Eliot’s mouth. Eliot sucked on the pad of Quentin’s thumb before he pulled it away, and was rewarded with a pretty little sound slipping out of his throat. Quentin gripped Eliot’s shoulder, touched his neck as he swallowed. Eliot had time to take a single breath before their mouths were crashing together.

Quentin tugged at the little knot Eliot had fashioned his hair into until it came undone, then tangled his fingers up into his curls. Eliot locked his arms around Quentin’s middle and pulled him into his lap, a move that took a tremendous amount of energy, but was definitely worth it to be so close.

Quentin panted against Eliot’s neck. “I don’t wanna hurt you,” he said with a laugh, gently straddling Eliot’s hips, pulling back to meet his eyes. “Are you okay?”

“It doesn’t hurt.” Eliot grabbed Quentin by the nape and pulled him closer, closer. “Kiss me again. Please.”

Their mouths came together again, all heat and breath and wanting, their hands pawing at one another wherever they could reach. When Quentin finally broke the kiss, it was to press his lips to Eliot’s jaw, his neck. He sucked a kiss into the point of Eliot’s pulse and moaned.

“Will you—can I—” Quentin breathed against Eliot’s shoulder, strong fingers digging into his back. “Please…”

“Say it, baby.” Eliot pushed his hands up under Quentin’s shirt. “Say it.”

“Will you just let me…” Quentin laughed, nuzzling against Eliot’s ear. “Let me get you off.”

Eliot trailed his hands up Quentin’s back under his shirt. It felt like fire dancing in his palms. “Q…”

“Do you think you can, you know, if I…” Quentin pulled back, his focus drifting downward. “Just my mouth?”

Eliot rested his hands on the curves of Quentin’s waist and kissed his mouth again, quickly, just once. Just to get a taste. He tried to speak but the words wouldn’t come, so he nodded instead, and Quentin smiled, gripped Eliot by the hair and tipped his head back, going for his throat. His fingers fumbled with the buttons of Eliot’s shirt, and Eliot shut his eyes, his dick so hard between his legs it made him dizzy.

Eliot knew Quentin well, understood how if you worked him up just right he’d turn into some feral thing whose only desire was to please. Eliot sometimes thought the sense memory was built into him like a reflex: putting Quentin on his knees, sliding into all that wet, perfect heat, taking the line of his throat. Turning him over, driving his body into Quentin’s body until they were panting and howling like animals.

So when Quentin slid down Eliot’s body, kissed his collarbone, his chest, it sparked something primal in Eliot’s blood. A hundred memories of the mosaic wheeled through his mind as Quentin dropped to the floor between Eliot’s parted thighs. He opened the front of his shirt with a tut, then put his hands on Quentin’s blushing face.

Quentin turned into the touch, kissed Eliot’s palm, the tender flesh of his wrist. “You’re so hot,” he said with a laugh. “God, Eliot, do you even know…”

“Hm, I don’t think that I do.” Eliot grinned, his pulse picking up a little more by the second. “How hot am I, baby?”

Quentin tugged at Eliot’s hips until he moved closer, began fumbling with his belt. “You’re so… you’re—god.” His fingers were shaking too much to make any progress on the belt. He started pawing at the front of Eliot’s pants instead, and mouthing at his erection through the fabric. “You’re the hottest person I’ve ever seen.”

“Q. Fuck—” Eliot gripped Quentin’s hair tightly, gave it a little tug. “More…”

Quentin’s hot mouth soaked the fabric straight through, his tongue tracing the rigid line of Eliot’s erection. “I think about you so much, El. So much, I… I missed you.”

Eliot’s dick throbbed against his zipper. He tugged Quentin back and did a tut, got his belt buckle loose. “I missed you too,” he said, popping open his fly as Quentin’s hands pawed at his thighs, his hips. He leaned down and kissed Quentin on his pretty mouth, then thumbed at his bottom lip. “And I missed this. Help me get these off.”

Fumbling—and laughing—together they got Eliot’s pants down and off. His underwear went next, followed by his shirt, tossed carelessly over Eliot’s shoulder. He sat back with a smile tugging at his mouth, wrapped one hand around his dick. “This,” he said, watching the lust bloom darkly in Quentin’s eyes, “just won’t do.”

Quentin swallowed. “What?”

Eliot gave himself a single languid stroke. “Stand up,” he said. “And let me see you. All of you.”

Quentin swallowed, nodded, slowly began rising to his feet. Eliot did a tut to help with the buttons of his shirt, and Quentin laughed as he shrugged out of it. He pressed his hand to Quentin’s erection over his pants, all blood-warm and twitching in his palm, and a high, whining sound rang out of Quentin’s throat. Eliot got his belt loose, then his fly, and tugged his pants and underwear down around his knees.

Quentin held onto Eliot’s shoulders as he kicked them off, stepping back when he was finally free of all that pesky fabric. Eliot let his eyes scan over Quentin’s body slowly. He was perfect, really. Soft and lean and strong. Surprisingly buff for his build. Eliot didn’t think he could have created a man more his type with all the magic in the universe.

Quentin brushed his hair back from his face and smiled, almost bashful. “Is this what you wanted?” he asked, in that vulnerable little way of his. Like he had no clue he was a fucking wet dream come to life.

“Oh, baby…” Eliot scanned his body again—his chest, the flat plane of his belly, his pretty, perfect cock—and circled a hand around Quentin’s wrist, tugging him forward. “This is… this is everything.”

Quentin trembled under his touch. Eliot pressed a kiss to Quentin’s hip, pointedly avoiding his erection. Quentin gripped Eliot’s shoulders, touched his neck. “Let me take care of you,” he said, a little breathless, then lowered himself to his knees.

Eliot touched Quentin’s hair, his face, thumbing at his cheeks, his lips, his chin. He pressed forward and crashed their mouths together, kissing him deeply, like he was trying to swallow him whole. When Quentin broke the kiss, his lips were so pretty and pink and tempting Eliot had to fight the immediate urge to dive back in.

“Sit back. Relax. Come on,” Quentin breathed, and Eliot went all pliant in his hands.

He let Quentin position his body exactly as he pleased. Eliot ended up nestled into the generous curve at the far end of the sectional, a half dozen or so throw pillows gathered all around, his thighs spread wide with one leg up on the cushion, the other falling down. The moment Quentin was finished he was on him, kissing his way along the curve of Eliot’s inner thigh, ghosting lips over his erection. He kissed Eliot’s stomach, his chest, his nipples, his throat, tracked his way back down slowly and then went for his hands.

He sucked on the pad of Eliot’s thumb and took it into his mouth. Eliot fucked it over Quentin's eager tongue, watched as his pretty eyes fluttered shut. His heart was beating so quickly that his whole body shook. He’d never wanted anything more than this. He popped his thumb free and Quentin went for his index finger, teasing with his lips and tongue. And when he was finished there he sucked kisses into Eliot’s wrist, gazing up at him with eyes blacker than the darkest parts of night.

And it hit Eliot right then, what the great loss of this entire ordeal would be. It wasn’t that getting magic back had to be hard. Killing gods was easy. An Underworld jailbreak was nothing to a freshly re-powered goddess. But this? This was the most impossible thing. The catch to beat them all: to have this, and to keep it. To know that Quentin was his, and would never be anyone else’s.

Eliot did his damndest to shove those thoughts away. Bury them deep, salt the earth and never look back. He took a breath, touched Quentin’s face. Just be here. Just be with him.

Quentin’s mouth shaped itself into a frown. “Are you okay?”

Eliot ran his fingers through Quentin’s soft hair. “I’m perfect, baby,” he said. “Is this how you want me?”

Quentin nodded, his eyes flitting between Eliot’s face and his dick. “Yeah. You’re—this is… really good, El. Fuck.”

Eliot hummed, locking eyes with Quentin as he thumbed a bead of precome from his slit. “You wanna taste me, baby?” he asked, ghosting it over Quentin’s mouth.

Quentin’s throat worked as he swallowed, his eyes fixed on the glistening pad of Eliot’s thumb. He nodded slowly, eyes fluttering shut as Eliot pressed it in between his lips. Quentin sucked, rewarding Eliot with a pretty little moan as the taste of it splashed over his tongue.

Eliot pulled his thumb free with a slick pop. “That’s a perfect boy,” he purred, stroking a hand over Quentin’s head, gripping himself with the other. “You want this?”

“Yeah. I—fuck, El. Yeah.” A little laugh shuddered out of Quentin’s chest. “Are you sure you’re okay to, you know…”

“I’m good, baby, yeah,” Eliot assured him. A sting of something awful rose up in his belly for a fraction of a second, and Eliot immediately shoved it down. “Just go slow, okay? Take your time. Make it last.”

“I can—” Quentin swallowed, fixing his eyes down between Eliot’s legs. “I can do that. Yeah.”

Quentin pushed Eliot’s hand away from his dick and replaced it with his own, stroking him once, twice, the glide of it perfectly slick from how much he was dripping. Eliot rocked his hips up into the touch, and Quentin parted his lips, sinking down slowly, slowly. Wet heat surrounded him in an instant. It was too fucking perfect to be real. An animal sound cracked out of Eliot’s chest, so utterly overwhelmed he had to fight the urge to hide his face.

But he couldn’t bear to look away. Not from this. Eliot gathered Quentin’s hair up in a fist and held on tight. Quentin’s gorgeous, filthy mouth was a miracle. Eliot rocked up into it with shallow little thrusts, giving him just an inch or two while Quentin’s hand worked in tandem on his shaft. His pulse fluttered wildly in his neck, and for one perfect moment he teetered on the edge of oblivion. His body tensed, his balls drew so fucking tight—

Eliot tugged Quentin back by his hair. “Fuck. Fuck, baby, just…” He couldn’t help but laugh, his heart hammering away like a piston. “Just—I just need a minute.”

Quentin pulled his hand away, looked up at Eliot with his soft doe eyes. “Is everything all right?”

“Yeah. I’m… yeah.” Eliot breathed, releasing his hold on Quentin’s hair, then touching his face softly. “You’re so good, Q. You’re—fuck. It’s perfect, I’m just…”

“It’s been a while for you,” Quentin said, giving Eliot his hand again, slowly. “You’re... sensitive.”

Eliot gasped when Quentin thumbed over his slit. “Yeah,” he breathed. “Yeah… I am.”

“It’s okay.” Quentin smiled, blushing straight up to his ears. “I want you to… you know…”

That he would be bashful now—with Eliot’s dick in his hand—was something beyond intoxicating. Eliot’s blood pumped faster as Quentin parted his lips and sank down. All that heat—so wet so slick so perfect. He took the head of Eliot’s dick into the velvety pocket of his cheek and held him there, moaning like he could feel it too. Like everything he did to Eliot was also happening to his body. Like at any moment he might come just from this—giving pleasure. Holding Eliot in his mouth like communion.

Quentin slurped at the head of Eliot’s dick and a sob punched out of his chest. It was so fucking sloppy, he was dripping straight down to his balls. Eliot was certain he was going to pass out before this was all over. He was going to fucking implode, turn to dust. Nothing left of him but a pulsing wave of pleasure where his body had been. Quentin popped off, stroking him with one skilled hand, nuzzling at his balls, lavishing them with his tongue. Eliot spread his thighs a little wider, canted his hips, inviting, and Quentin dropped his tongue lower, going for that sensitive strip of skin just below with a hunger.

And—oh fuck. Yes, Eliot was definitely going to die. Again. He didn’t care at all. Fucking end me, he thought. Let this be my end. Let him suck me dry and drink me into his body, my afterlife flowing on the heavenly warmth of his tongue.

Eliot’s head felt like it was underwater. Quentin’s mouth went back to his dick, and he took Eliot deeper, deeper. In the haze of it all, he could feel the magic buzzing as Quentin did a tut on the line of his throat. A simple numbing spell that would open his body like a flower. The moment Eliot slipped deep inside it was over. He was done. Quentin’s throat fluttered around him like a prayer, like a song, and Eliot let out a sound that was nothing short of feral.

Quentin’s tongue lapped at the underside of his shaft, down to Eliot’s balls as he pushed himself as far as he could go, and Eliot’s orgasm spun through him like a hurricane. It really, truly felt like dying. But not like all those other times he’d died before. Not that black death that had squeezed suddenly around him with its cold and lifeless claws. No. This death was air and light and color. Eliot sobbed into the crook of his arm, one hand frantically pawing at Quentin’s hair as he milked every last drop from the well of his soul.

Eliot’s face was damp with tears, his whole body quaking as his softening dick fell from Quentin’s mouth. The whole world had spun itself into something soft and light. For a moment, Eliot couldn’t feel the lines of his own body. He was melting, he’d turned to water. It was only when Quentin pulled himself up to kneel at Eliot’s side that he forced himself back to reality.

Quentin’s eyes welled with tears, his cock so red it looked angry. He touched Eliot on the arm and whimpered, like he couldn’t find the words to ask for what he needed. He was dripping so much it looked like he’d already blown his load. And Eliot just… didn’t have it in him. His body was fucking wrecked. He could hardly stand to move. But the thought of just leaving his sweet boy like that, so desperately in need of relief… Eliot couldn’t conceive of such a thing.

Mustering every last bit of his energy, Eliot pounced, pushing Quentin down onto the cushions and spreading his thighs. He settled down between them and had his mouth on Quentin’s dick in the space of a single breath. Eliot swallowed him to the root, and Quentin fisted his hair tightly, tugging until it hurt, fucking into his throat with an agonizing whimper. Two thrusts. That’s all it took before Quentin was coming. Babbling, sobbing, consecrating Eliot’s name. A holy sound, a choir of angels. That’s what Eliot heard when Quentin dropped his head back with a moan, the last drop of his release melting over Eliot’s tongue like goodbye.

Eliot used his final spark to crawl up and settle in between the spread of Quentin’s thighs. He pressed his ear firmly to Quentin’s frantic drumming heart, and Quentin wrapped Eliot up tightly in his strong arms, carding fingers through his sweat-damp hair. Eliot had no hope of keeping his eyes open, he couldn’t even speak. It was like the fabric of the universe had come undone and pulled him under, and he slipped into dreams feeling so utterly whole, it was like he’d never once been broken.

He might have been out for an hour or a day, but when Eliot woke it was to the gentle push-pull of Quentin breathing underneath him, golden beams of evening sunlight falling over their bodies like arrows. Eliot shifted, and Quentin gently gasped himself awake, blinking one eye open and then the other.

“Hey,” Quentin said, voice thick and groggy with sleep. “You okay?”

Eliot rested his chin on Quentin’s chest with a smile. “I’m so good, baby,” he said, and immediately groaned when he tried to move. Every muscle in his back was on literal fire. “Well, I feel like I got run over by a stagecoach, but other than that I’m… great.”

Quentin frowned, petting Eliot’s hair. “Why don’t you let me run you a bath.”

Eliot considered him for a moment, then pressed a kiss right over his heart. “That sounds… like we would have to get up.”

Quentin laughed. “Yeah. But it’ll be worth it. I promise.”

Eliot groaned, and nuzzled into Quentin’s chest, and shut his eyes.

Quentin sighed, rubbing circles into Eliot’s back, his shoulders. “I’ll wash your hair,” he said, trailing fingers up along Eliot’s nape. “Tell me you don’t like the sound of that.”

Eliot whimpered. “You’re so warm.”

“Come on.” Quentin nudged him, then pressed a kiss into his hair. “I’m supposed to be taking care of you, remember?”

A grin spread over Eliot’s face. “Isn’t that what you just did?”

Quentin blushed, a smile forming on his lips. “El,” he said, the softest of pleas. “Come on.”

“Fine.” Eliot sighed hard, all his joints protesting at once when he lifted up to let Quentin untangle their bodies. “Just… hurry.”

Quentin stumbled to his feet, all that tempting bare skin making Eliot shiver, aching for its warmth. “Don’t be a brat,” he said with a smile, then turned and walked away.

The sight of his cute little ass momentarily made up for the loss, but the second Quentin was gone Eliot’s stomach started to turn. He forced himself into a sitting position, his bones feeling not unlike they were made of shattered glass. He sat with his head in his hands for what felt like hours, a nagging little voice growing from a whisper and buzzing around the back of his skull. One that insisted on speaking Alice Quinn’s name, reminding him what this really was.

He’s her boyfriend, it whispered. At best, you’ll get to share him until she finds out. You were right all along. He would never want to keep someone like you. Not really. Not for good. Don’t be an idiot, Waugh.

Eliot tried to shake it off. He was not fucking doing this now. There would be plenty of time for self loathing when he was alone. He lifted his head, and Quentin was standing there, looking so inviting and soft. Eliot’s heart instantly drummed a little faster.

“Hey,” he said, stepping closer. “All ready. Do you need help standing up?”

He offered Eliot his hands, and Eliot took them, the still whispering voice dimming the moment their skin made contact. They walked to the bathroom together, slowly. The sight of the tub almost brought tears to Eliot's eyes.

“Enchanted the water,” Quentin said. “Temperature should be… just how you like it. Nice and warm.”

Eliot could feel his heart inching up into his throat. And for a flash he saw it, there in his mind’s eye, clear as the first day they’d stepped into their little cottage at the mosaic. That old copper tub, the one they’d filled with water from their well and warmed with their magic. The one they’d bathed in together for decades. He looked to Quentin for a moment, and knew at once that he could see it too.

Eliot dipped his feet into the water as Quentin held him steady and, yeah, it was fucking perfect. He moaned as he sank down into all that gorgeous heat. Quentin had thought of everything, like he’d been planning this all day: the lights dimmed to a perfect golden glow; a bottle of wine aerating next to two empty glasses; a stack of fluffy white towels on the counter; bottles of shampoo and conditioner and one of Margo’s bath bombs lined up on the edge of the tub. There was even a pitcher of water waiting to rinse his hair.

If that voice in Eliot’s head had still been whispering, it was dead-fucking-silent now.

Quentin dropped the bath bomb in and knelt down next to the tub. “Better now?”

The water fizzed in shades of purple and pink, and the scent of roses wafted up into Eliot’s nose. “What did I ever do to deserve you?”

He said it without really meaning to, his tongue as loose and relaxed as the rest of his body. Their eyes met in a moment of gentle silence, and Quentin reached for Eliot’s hand. He brought it to his lips, pressed a kiss to each of Eliot’s knuckles.

“You’re you,” Quentin said, nuzzling the back of Eliot’s hand. “That’s more than enough.”

And something truly miraculous happened then: Eliot didn’t question his words, or this gesture. He didn’t question this one perfect moment they were sharing together. The terrible whispering voice didn’t come back. Eliot shut his eyes, and sank a little deeper into the water.

Quentin pulled away, and a moment later his voice came softly from behind. “Lean back,” he said. “I’m gonna wash your hair.”

Quentin poured the water slowly over his head and Eliot thought of baptism. He fell into a trance when Quentin started to shampoo his hair, fingertips lingering and dragging delicately over his scalp. It was almost as good as sex. Almost as good as that life affirming blow job Quentin had nearly killed him with. Almost. Quentin’s hands knew him well, a half century of muscle memory telling him exactly where to touch.

Quentin rinsed his hair, massaged the conditioner onto his curls, rinsed again, and toweled it off. Eliot was utterly boneless when he was through. Quentin moved back to the side of the tub, took one of Eliot’s hands in his, and started massaging little circles into his palm.

“You don’t have to do that,” Eliot mumbled, and though he couldn’t be bothered to open his eyes, he could feel Quentin smiling.

“But I want to,” Quentin said. “Relax. You want some wine?”

Eliot hummed. “Maybe later.”

“Okay,” Quentin said. “Let me know.”

He pressed a kiss to the center of Eliot’s palm, then his wrist. Eliot’s blood warmed, and his body reacted, but he didn’t think he had the energy to actually do anything about it. When Quentin pulled away, Eliot reached for him blindly. His open palm found Quentin’s face, and he was rewarded with another kiss, and a sigh.

“Do you, um…” Quentin was breathless. Eliot’s hand had gone to the slope of his neck. “Do you think you, uh…”

“You know I’d give you anything, right?” Another unintentional slip. Eliot didn’t care. He meant it. Felt it deeper than a promise.

“Do you wanna fuck me?” Quentin blurted, and Eliot swore he could feel every synapse in his brain misfiring all at once.

When Eliot’s eyes shot open, Quentin was blushing deeply, already turning away. “Just, um… forget it,” he stammered, touching his hair. “Do you want that wine now?”

“Q, it’s—” Eliot touched his shoulder. “Baby. You don’t have to hide from me.”

Quentin was silent for a long moment. “I know,” he said finally. “I know. I just—”

“I want to.” Eliot reached down and circled Quentin’s wrist with his fingers, feeling the frantic thumping of his pulse. “I just think it might actually kill me right now if I tried.”

“Right. Of course.” Quentin laughed softly. “You should, um… you should be resting.”

“Maybe,” Eliot said with a smirk. “Or maybe I’ll just let you kill me.”

A smile pulled at Quentin’s lips. “No more dying,” he said, pulling himself to his feet. “I’m gonna get you some wine.”

Quentin poured them each a glass, and Eliot couldn’t help but smile. The sight was truly something to behold: Quentin Coldwater, naked and pouring his wine. Eliot felt ridiculously giddy. Eliot felt like a fucking god.

“You wanna get in here with me?” Eliot asked when Quentin handed him his glass, their fingers brushing on the stem. “You look cold.”

“You know I run hot,” Quentin said, kneeling down with his own wine clutched between his fingers. “And maybe I like to watch.”

“Kinky.” Eliot sipped his wine. It was actually a decent Syrah. He was impressed. “Thank you for this.”

“Of course,” Quentin said. “It’s why I’m here, remember?”

They sat in amicable silence for a stretch of minutes, sipping wine and holding hands and sharing the softest glances. But after a while, Quentin’s warming enchantment started to fizzle and die away. The water turned cold quickly after that, and Eliot started to shiver. Quentin helped him up out of the bath and wrapped him in a fluffy towel, then led him out of the bathroom and over to the bed.

Eliot sat down and pulled Quentin into his arms. “I miss that pretty mouth,” he said, “Come here.”

Quentin was hard when he crawled into Eliot’s lap. He took Eliot’s face in his hands and kissed him deeply, possessively, moaning when Eliot’s hands went to his ass. Eliot truly did not have it in him to fuck tonight, but couldn’t help the way his hands wanted to roam. He fluttered his fingers over Quentin’s hole, and Quentin gasped against his mouth, his whole body tensing in Eliot’s lap. Maybe they couldn’t fuck, but they could still do… other things.

“El,” he whined, then laughed. “Don’t tease me. You said…”

“I know,” Eliot purred, kissing Quentin’s jaw. “But maybe you could ride my fingers. If you want…”

Eliot felt Quentin’s dick twitch where it was trapped between their bodies. “Okay. Yeah that sounds… really nice.”

Eliot kissed Quentin’s mouth, his neck. “Just stay right there. I’ll do the spells. And then… you just take what you need, sweetheart.”

Quentin knocked his head against Eliot’s shoulder. Eliot had to adjust a little to get his hands in position, but he fired off the spells as quickly as his fingers and the mechanics of magic would allow. The first for hygiene, the second for stretch, the third for lubrication. Each Ancient Greek incantation felt clunky on his tongue—it had been too fucking long—but they got there eventually. By the time Eliot was finished, Quentin was purring like a kitten in his arms, his dick so hard Eliot could feel it pulsing against his skin. One, two, three.

“I forgot how…” Quentin took a breath, and then another. “I forgot how intense the spells can be.”

“Yeah,” Eliot said, planting a kiss behind Quentin’s ear. “You feel my magic, baby?”

“Yes,” Quentin whimpered. “I feel you.”

“Good,” Eliot said with a smile, teasing two fingertips over Quentin’s dripping hole. “You ready for these, hm?”

A broken sound ripped out of Quentin’s throat. “Godyesplease,” he whimpered, and sank down onto Eliot’s fingers without hesitation, giving over, giving in, letting his body work. He clung to Eliot tightly, trembling like he was about to blow apart. The trappings of his flesh couldn’t contain him. He was coming undone, unstitched, unglued. All those lovely soft things inside of him rattling at the cage of his bones.

Quentin buried his face in the crook of Eliot’s neck, biting down when Eliot crooked his fingers. “That’s it, baby, that’s it,” Eliot said, gripping Quentin’s ass with his free hand, easing him along in his frantic sprint to the end. “Oh, my beautiful boy.”

His hips faltered suddenly, and Quentin shuddered violently in Eliot’s arms. He came sobbing against Eliot’s shoulder, his cock pulsing between the press of their bodies. Eliot soothed him through it, rubbing little circles into Quentin’s back as the last of the aftershocks bloomed and died away.

After, they held onto each other for a very long time. Until Eliot’s own erection quieted, and Quentin’s body regained the ability to do something other than shudder and cling. “You’re amazing,” he breathed, touching Eliot’s face. “You’re, El, you’re...”

“Baby…” Eliot nuzzled into him, fingers dragging along the dip of his spine. “Let’s get under the covers. Come on.”

Eliot’s joints creaked and his muscles burned when they separated. Quentin stumbled to his feet, and Eliot got the towel out from underneath himself, and they helped to get each other clean. When they were finished, Eliot got up and they turned down the bed. Quentin crawled in first, opening his arms, and Eliot tucked himself in under Quentin’s chin, making himself feel small, folding their bodies together completely.

They fit perfectly together, Eliot thought, even like this. Even with Eliot’s ridiculous legs tucked up and tangled with Quentin’s. Two halves that had been wrenched apart that had now, finally, mended. Eliot fell easily into sleep, tucked warmly against Quentin’s body. For the first time in a long time, he dreamed of the mosaic, the two of them stacking tiles up in a neat little column. Like they were trying to build a ladder all the way to heaven.

Eliot woke a few hours later, his mouth so dry he could hardly stand to open it. Quentin whined when he pulled away, and Eliot kissed the top of his head. “I’ll be right back, baby,” he said, then began the slow struggle to get to his feet.

The air outside of their little cocoon was terrible, and Eliot immediately went to the closet looking for something to pull on. He picked through clothes that looked like they belonged to at least three different people, finally coming upon a pair of soft gray linen pants folded on the top shelf that looked like they might fit. When he pulled them on the legs were just a bit too short, but it was better than wearing nothing.

He opened the bedroom door to the sound of voices, and Eliot’s heart shriveled inside his chest. Julia, Kady, Margo, Alice, Penny. Everyone was back, all gathered in the living room still wearing their Fillorian garb. When Eliot pulled the door shut gently behind him, their faces all turned to him at once.

“Hey,” Eliot said, approaching as quickly as his aching body would allow. “You’re… back. Already.”

“Yeah,” Kady said, reaching for a slice of pizza from the open box on the coffee table. “It’s been like two weeks in Fillory and the food there sucks, so…”

“Right,” Eliot said. In his lovesick haze, he’d forgotten about the unpredictable wonky time shit that could happen going back and forth. He very pointedly did not look at Alice. He turned his attention to Margo instead. “Bambi. Hey.”

“Eliot,” she said, pulling herself to her feet and shooting him a hard look. “You look like you need a smoke, hm?”

“You… are not wrong,” he said, turning away from the others immediately, popping into the kitchen for a bottle of water before joining her out on the balcony.

“So,” Margo said the moment the door was shut. “Looks like you wasted no time playing house while we were gone.”

He could feel her eying the bite marks on his neck, and Eliot shivered in the cool night air. “I thought… I thought we probably had longer. The time shifts aren’t exactly consistent.”

“As if that’s at all the issue here,” she said.

Eliot narrowed his eyes. “Who the fuck are you to judge me anyway, hm? Like you’ve never slept with someone else’s boyfriend before.”

“Oh, I have.” She plucked a cigarette out of her case and held it between her elegant fingers. “But those someones were never my friends, El. And we’re not talking about me.”

Eliot snatched the case and took a cigarette for himself, lighting it with the tip of his finger. He blew out a long stream of smoke and plopped down into one of the chairs. “Whatever. What she doesn’t know isn’t going to hurt her.”

Eliot’s own words tasted bitter on his tongue. He took another drag, hating himself completely.

Margo laughed out a plume of smoke. “It looks like a fuck tornado went off in there, El. She knows.”

Eliot turned his eyes away from her. He watched the washed out black of the sky instead. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do, Margo,” he said, sounding more than a little pathetic.

“You stop,” she said, taking the seat next to him. “Until the two of them work out whatever the fuck they are to each other, you keep your cock in your pants.”

“He’s the love of my life,” Eliot croaked, turning back to her with a swell of tears forming in his eyes. “I can’t just flip a switch and turn that off, Margo. Not… not anymore.”

The set of her shoulders softened at once. “You know, you still haven’t told me what happened between you two.” She reached over and placed a hand on his arm. “El. Honey, tell me.”

Eliot looked to the door leading back inside. Soon, Quentin would be growing restless, wondering why Eliot never came back to bed. He stubbed his cigarette out and chugged down half his bottle of water, took a breath, and met Margo’s gaze head-on.

“It was the mosaic,” he said, and he swore, for the briefest of moments, that he could almost smell it. Woodsmoke and wet earth. Chalk and sweat and wildflowers. “Where we got the third key.”

“What are you talking about?” Margo’s eyebrows knitted together. “I saved your asses before that ever happened.”

“Yeah, well…” Eliot gave her a sad smile. “Turns out it did happen. Another timeline. But... we remembered.”

Margo narrowed her eyes. “And you never thought to tell me?”

Eliot shrugged, blinking away another swell of tears. “I pushed him away,” he said. “He wanted to... be with me. We’d just been flooded with all these memories and I... did what I always do. Talking about it wasn’t really an option at the time.”

“Hey,” she said softly, stubbing out her cigarette and taking his hand in both of hers. “El, I’m sorry.”

“Imagine loving someone for fifty years.” Eliot’s chest filled with every emotion he could name. It was all too big, too much. “And then starting over. And not being able to forget.”

Margo squeezed his hand. “That’s a hell of a lot for one person to carry.”

“Yeah,” he said, choking on the weight of it all. “But I know it’s not an excuse for doing this to Alice. Okay, I know. But I… I don’t know how I’m just supposed to let him go.”

“Who said anything about letting him go?” She leaned in and touched his face softly. “Come to Fillory with me. Give them a chance to talk. Give us… a chance to be us again.”

Eliot pulled back. “Not really feeling up to Fillory right now,” he said with a sigh. “Maybe—I don’t know. Come to Brakebills with me?”

“And do what?” She gave him an incredulous look. “Drown our sorrows in cock and cocaine?”

Eliot shrugged. “How is that not being us again?”

Margo sighed hard. “Fine. But only because I don’t trust you being alone right now.”

Eliot gave her a little smile. “Thank you.”

Margo stood up and kissed him on the top of the head before going inside. Eliot sat there for another moment feeling miserable and cold before following. Inside, everyone had cleared out of the living room. Eliot did a couple tuts and gathered his and Quentin’s clothes from the floor into a neat stack and carried them into the bedroom.

Quentin was sitting up in bed, rubbing at his bleary eyes. “Hey,” he said. “I was just about to come find you.”

Eliot tossed the stack of clothes onto the bed and sat down next to Quentin. “Um, so…”

Quentin’s warm hand curled around Eliot’s freezing shoulder. “What is it? God, you’re cold. Come here.”

Eliot swallowed, looking deep into Quentin’s eyes. “Alice is… out there.”

Quentin pulled his hand away as though he’d been burned. “Oh.”

“Yeah.”

“Shit.”

Eliot sighed. “Yeah.”

“What are we, um…” Eliot could see the panic spinning in Quentin’s eyes. “What should we do?”

“I am...” Eliot carefully separated himself and got to his feet. “Going to give you some space.”

“El.” Quentin tossed back the covers and staggered up after him. “Don’t go.”

The pain in his voice made Eliot’s knees tremble. The idea of walking away from him now was honestly unbearable. He turned around slowly, took Quentin by the shoulders. “Just until you work this out with her, okay?” He thumbed at Quentin’s cheek. “Just for now, baby, not forever. A couple days...”

Quentin’s lip started to tremble. “I’m going to tell her, okay, I just—it’s not easy.”

“I know,” Eliot kissed Quentin’s forehead before pulling back. “That’s why I need to go.”

Quentin sat down on the foot of the bed, watching while Eliot changed out of his borrowed pants and put his own clothes back on. “I can’t lose you again,” he said after a while. “I can’t.”

The acrid sting of guilt tore at Eliot’s heart. He understood that feeling. That irrational little voice that said if they parted again, this time it would be for good. “You’re not losing me.” Eliot curled a hand around the back of Quentin’s head, pressed a kiss into his hair. “I’m just going to Brakebills.”

“Eliot.” Quentin caught him by the wrist when he tried to pull away. “Please.”

Eliot dropped to his knees at Quentin’s feet. “This isn’t the end.” He took Quentin’s face in his hands. “Talk to her, then call me, text me, whatever. Just… handle it. You have to if we’re going to make this work.”

“Do you regret what we did today?” Quentin asked as Eliot rose to his feet. “Do you think—”

“I don’t regret it,” Eliot said with a shrug, a sad smile pulling at his lips. “And if that makes me a terrible person I don’t care.”

Quentin nodded slowly. “I, um… I love you, Eliot.” His expression was happy and sad all at once. “Sorry, I... just wanted to say the words.”

“Don’t be sorry.” Eliot was elated and terrified. He thumbed at Quentin’s cheek, bent down to kiss his forehead one last time. “I love you too.”

And in that moment Eliot realized, loving Quentin was easy. It was the easiest thing in the world. This time, it was the running away that was hard. More stricken with terror than he’d been even in death, Eliot headed for the door.

Eliot and Margo arrived at the Physical Kids’ Cottage to find it empty and quiet. Under normal circumstances, it would have been Eliot’s exact idea of paradise. Just the two of them and all the booze their bloodstreams could hold. Talk about a dream.

But circumstances were anything but normal, and Eliot’s body was too broken to allow him the enjoyment of a proper drunken stupor, and he was utterly fucking miserable, so. Eliot sort of felt like he was walking into a nightmare instead.

He anticipated their separation to last for twenty-four hours tops. Eliot could do a day. He could definitely nap for at least that long. He didn’t allow himself to panic. He lounged around with Margo and drank as much gin as his broken body could tolerate. Everything was going to be just fine.

Then, three days went by without a word—not a phone call, not a bunny, not an enchanted mirror or paper airplane or text—and Eliot’s bright anticipation turned to a cold, sinking stone of dread.

Margo passed him a smoke and rested her head in his lap. “You wanna talk about it?”

“You already know the answer to that,” he said.

“Give him a little time,” she said. “Shit’s complicated right now.”

“Yeah.” Eliot took a drag on his cigarette. “Don’t I fucking know it.”

Eliot let another four days of misery drip by before picking up his phone. Just tell me that you’re alive, he texted, then counted off each anxious second waiting for a reply.

Ten whole minutes later his phone lit up: I’m alive. Then, Sorry.

Eliot’s heart fluttered like an anxious bird. What happened??? he pecked out, with fingers that wouldn’t stop shaking. He chewed on his bottom lip waiting for Quentin’s reply.

Thirty seconds later it came: I just need a little more time, followed quickly by, I’m sorry. I’ll explain when I can.

Eliot tossed down his phone and reached for a bottle of bourbon.

He gave it another day before texting Quentin again. This time, there was no reply, not even a read receipt. That night—with the encouragement of a smidgen of cocaine—Eliot caved and called Alice.

She answered on the second ring.

“What do you want?” Her voice was equal parts miserable and furious.

“Is he there with you?” Eliot sounded pathetic. He knew he sounded pathetic. Whatever. There was no coming back from this with her anyway.

“No,” Alice said flatly. “I figured he was with you.”

“Alice,” he said, taking a breath, cursing the tears that were threatening to form. “I’m really sorry about—”

“Did you need something else?” Her voice cut him straight to the quick. He wished that she would yell at him, or call him something terrible. He deserved so much worse than cold indifference.

Eliot cleared his throat. “No, um. No, I—”

“Goodbye, Eliot,” she said, and then the line went dead.

Another week passed before Margo convinced Eliot to go to Fillory. “I’m going,” she said. “With or without you.” So. That was that. Eliot didn’t want to be alone. Off to Fillory they went

He wasn’t thrilled about it. Really, Fillory was the last place he wanted to be. Too many memories of Quentin, too many reminders of his failings as a husband and as High King and as a man. When they arrived at the castle, he pointedly avoided the throne room and made a beeline for the solitude of the nearest stone corridor instead. The one that used to be their only safe haven from the all-seeing eyes of the Fairy Queen. No better place to gaze into the middle distance all alone for hours feeling terrible.

There was only one problem: someone was already in there. Harsh sunlight streamed in through the window and obscured his vision, but the moment the face came into view Eliot’s knees went all wobbly, and his heart sank down into his shoes.

“Quentin.” The name fell from his lips all high and broken. “What are you—”

Quentin jumped up out of his chair. “Eliot.” He took a step, hesitated. “Hey.”

Eliot approached him very slowly. “Have you been here this whole time?”

“No I, uh…” Quentin rubbed at the back of his neck. “I was at my mom’s when I texted you, but… going there was a terrible idea, so.”

Eliot came close enough to touch, but resisted. He lowered his aching body down into a chair instead. There were so many words that he wanted to say. Eliot could remember none of them.

There was one other chair in the tight space, and Quentin sat down in it. “El, I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to just leave you.”

“But you did.” Eliot hadn’t realized until that moment how angry he was. “Why didn’t you tell me you were coming here?”

Quentin shrugged and shook his head. “The night you left, uh, Alice and I had a fight. A bad one. She knew. She, uh… how could she not?” He let out a sad, tired laugh. “After she broke up with me I… I don’t know. Seeing you felt impossible even though it’s all I wanted. So I left, and... went to my mom’s. I don’t know why. I think I was out of my mind.”

Eliot’s insides felt entirely hollow. Like someone had reached in and scooped out his heart, then laid it bare and pulsing on the floor. “And then…”

Quentin stared down at his own hands. “And then, I don’t know. I did what I always did when I was a kid. I ran away to Fillory.”

Eliot took a shuddering breath and pushed it out. “If you didn’t want to be with me, you—”

“I want you,” Quentin said firmly, looking up with tears in his eyes. “El, that isn’t what this is about.”

All this misery, it felt so pointless and stupid. Eliot almost wanted to laugh. “Then what the fuck is it about, Quentin?”

“I don’t…” Quentin swallowed, looking away. “I don’t deserve to be rewarded for hurting Alice like that. Again.”

The hollow in Eliot’s chest ached, hard. “That’s what I am to you? A reward for good behavior.”

“El, I didn’t mean—” Quentin reached for him across the short distance, but Eliot wrenched away, staggering to his feet.

“I think I… need to be alone right now, Quentin.”

“Eliot, please. I’m sorry,” Quentin called after him, but Eliot was already out in the hall.

He had to steel himself then, not allowing even a single glance back over his shoulder. Eliot knew that if he looked, he was going to lose his nerve, and crumble at Quentin’s feet. He didn’t want to feel this anger. He wanted to be soft. He wanted to pull Quentin into his arms and kiss his warm mouth and touch him everywhere.

And Quentin—god. Quentin didn’t make it easy. He followed Eliot out of the corridor and walked quickly after him down the hall. “Eliot. Please look at me,” he begged, sounding so tender and so sincere that Eliot wanted to cry. “Eliot.”

Quentin caught up, touched his shoulder. Eliot wrenched himself around with his jaw clenched tight. “I can’t be your second choice,” he choked out. “I can’t—fuck, Quentin, I can’t be… the thing you’re left with because Alice pushed you away.”

“Eliot.” Quentin held his name softly. “You’re not. You’re—El, for fuck’s sake, you’re the love of my life. You have to know that by now.”

Eliot couldn’t hold onto his anger. There was no point in even trying. He gripped the front of Quentin’s shirt, trembling like the first time he’d ever been touched. “Were you going to come back to me?”

“Yes. I swear.” Quentin reached up, touching Eliot’s face very softly. “I was punishing myself, Eliot. I never… wanted to be away from you. But it’s what I thought I deserved.”

“It’s not what I deserved,” Eliot said, and it felt like a triumph. To declare his worth out loud.

“I’m sorry.” Quentin’s eyes were spilling over with terror and with love. “I never meant to hurt you. I… I never meant to stay away for this long.”

Eliot shut his eyes, and folded Quentin into his arms. “I missed the way you smell,” he said, pressing his face down into the crook of Quentin’s neck. He wished he could just stay like that forever, breathing him in. Soaking up his warmth like the sun.

Quentin shuddered in Eliot’s arms. “If you don’t kiss me right now I think I might die.”

A silent laugh rolled through Eliot’s body, and he forced himself to pull back. “No more dying,” he said, touching Quentin’s face.

They just stared at each other for a long moment, and then Quentin smiled, and Eliot wanted to kiss him so badly he could hardly stand another second where their mouths weren’t pressed together. Quentin leaned up to meet him, sighing contentedly into a kiss that was unhurried and soft, almost chaste.

When it was over, Eliot knocked their foreheads together with a sigh. “God I missed that,” he said, and Quentin smiled, pressing another tiny kiss to Eliot’s mouth.

“So does this mean I’m forgiven?”

Eliot hummed, nuzzling against Quentin’s cheek. “I forgive you on one condition,” he said. “Promise to kiss me every day for the rest of our very long lives.”

Quentin pressed his face into the hollow of Eliot’s throat with a sigh. “You’ve got yourself a deal.”

That night, when the twin moons rose over Fillory, Eliot and Quentin went out to the harbor overlooking Whitespire Bay. They sat on the dock and let their legs swing out over the edge, their feet not quite touching the water.

Quentin was holding the letter that Eliot had sent him, gazing down at his own name on the envelope. “I don’t think I ever told you this, but… I didn’t believe it at first. That this was really from you. I thought it was the Monster fucking with me. Like maybe he’d tapped into your memories.”

Eliot rested his head on Quentin’s shoulder. “When did you know it was real?”

“I don’t know,” Quentin said. “I was just a feeling. Like… I could feel you in the words. Like that day in the park. I just knew. That probably sounds dumb.”

“I don’t think it sounds dumb.” Eliot lifted his head and kissed Quentin’s cheek. “Just means I cracked the fucking code.”

“Yeah.” Quentin smiled, and pushed the letter in Eliot’s direction. “I think we can call this quest complete. You wanna help me do the honors?”

“Only for you, my love, would I engage in such a gauche act of symbolism,” Eliot said with a smirk, taking one edge of the envelope in his hand. “Count of three?”

Quentin nodded, and together they counted. One, two, three. They tossed the letter out into the night. It floated on the air for a moment, then settled down onto the water. And as it was sinking down, down into darkness, Quentin threaded their fingers together.

“I really am sorry, you know,” he said, resting his head on Eliot’s shoulder now.

Eliot kissed Quentin’s forehead. “You don’t have to keep apologizing, baby. I am well-versed in the art of running away.”

“Yeah,” Quentin sighed, “but I don’t want this to be that. I don’t want us to keep fucking up and hurting each other and running when shit gets hard.”

Eliot gave Quentin’s hand a squeeze. “Then we won’t be fuck-ups anymore.”

Quentin huffed out a laugh. “You really think it’s that simple?”

“No,” Eliot said. “We’ve done a ton of questionable, immoral, and hurtful shit to get here, Q, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try to be better.”

Quentin lifted his head, meeting Eliot’s eyes in the soft silver moonlight. “What if we started again?”

Eliot rubbed his thumb across the back of Quentin’s hand. “How do you mean?”

“I mean…” Quentin’s smile lit up his whole face. “Go out on a date with me.”

Eliot laughed so hard his stomach ached. “You’re asking me… out on a date?”

“Yeah,” Quentin said, holding his head up high. “I’m asking you out on a date.”

“Okay.” Eliot nudged him in the shoulder playfully. “Where are you gonna take me, Coldwater?”

“I don’t know. Maybe it’ll be a surprise.”

“I always did like a man of mystery.” Eliot sighed, and reached over to touch Quentin’s face softly. “It’s a date.”

“Good.” Quentin smirked. “But I should warn you, I generally don’t let guys get to second base until at least date number three.”

Eliot slung an arm around Quentin’s shoulder and pulled him close, speaking right into his ear. “Guess I’d better learn to behave myself then, hm?”

“Yeah,” Quentin said, and Eliot could feel a shudder moving through him. “You’d better.”

Quentin pushed Eliot down onto the dock, and straddled his hips, and kissed him until he could hardly remember the sound of his own name. They made love right there next to the water, the unblinking silver eyes pinned above the sole witnesses to Eliot crying as he sank into Quentin’s body. After, they lay side-by-side and talked about nothing at all, saying silly things to make each other laugh.

Later, when they were all wrapped up together in bed, Eliot lay awake listening to the sound of Quentin’s breathing, the miracle of his steadily beating heart. Gods were dicks, but he thanked them anyway, then took it back a moment later and thanked magic, then Jane Chatwin. He made a mental note to have a bouquet and a good bottle of wine sent to her in the Clock Barrens very soon.

Life would always be messy and hard. They were certainly not done fucking up. Eliot thought, bring it. They could do anything now. He shut his eyes, pulled Quentin a little closer, and kissed his perfect sleeping face there in the stillness of the dark.