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What Else Can I Do?

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The sky is a bright blue, never changing much except for the days they allow clouds in to create cool shade, a gentle breeze blowing through the campus trees. Quentin sits alone under a tree, eating his lunch and rereading the fifth Fillory book. It was like sweet torture, eyes skimming over familiar words that brought back memories of exactly what he had been forced to give up. He loses himself in his favorite world, but unlike his younger self, he can visualize it clearly.

 

The beautiful flora, the air smelling crisp and intoxicating, the castle Whitespire, and most importantly the people who ran it. Quentin drags his fingers over the softened parchment, well-loved and taken care of, picturing the faces he saw in dreams and pictures. He kept a picture with him, just to remind himself they were real and alive, just worlds away.

 

He picks up the small picture, placing it in the crease of the book and gazing at it sadly. It was old, too old, it didn’t look like them anymore. Quentin looked wide-eyed with hope, a naïve little nerd with no idea what would happen to him in the upcoming years. Margo and Eliot both looked pristine, not war-torn or plagued with distress like they had been the last time he laid eyes on them.

 

“W-What do you mean?” Eliot’s lips were trying to smile, he thought Quentin was joking.

 

“I have to make a sacrifice, to get magic back. I’m… I’m sorry, Eliot.” He could still remember how devastated the older man looked, eyes wide and horrified.

 

“Professor?” He looks up, finding one of his students standing before him. She had books clutched to her chest, eyebrows drawn together in mild worry. “Are you all right?” She asks, awkwardly, Quentin feels the slow drip of a tear and reaches up to wipe at his face, realizing he was crying.

 

“Yeah,” He clears his throat, sniffing to clear his sinuses. “Just uh… Sad book, is all.” He closes the book shut, the girl continues to stand before him. “Need something?” He questions, she shakes her head and continues to stare at him a moment.

 

“Dean Fogg told us you saved magic,” She says quietly, Quentin pulls his knee to his chest and wraps his arms around it, sighing.

 

“I was the reason it disappeared, it’s only fair.” He smiles, but it’s nothing more than a mask. The girl can’t seem to think of anything else to say, they stare at one another. He glances down at his watch, humming under his breath and slowly gathering up his things. “I have a class, I’ll see you tomorrow.” He says with a nod of his head, standing up as fast as possible and hurrying away.

 

He can practically hear the echoes of Margo and Eliot giggling at his awkwardness, the fond teasing they put him through that he missed more than anything in the world.

 

He cost the world its magic, it’s only fair he suffers for what he did.

 

-

 

Two years after his return to Brakebills, Quentin fails his first ever suicide attempt. He supposes it’s fitting, that he can’t do anything right, not even kill himself. He wakes up in the med bay with Dean Fogg at the window, a few cards on a table nearby.

 

“It’s rather sad when I have self-absorbed college students noticing one of our professors is depressed.” The man says, voice clipped and almost scolding.

 

“I warded the door,” Quentin mutters, slowly sitting up against the wall behind him. He’s lightheaded, his stomach is sore, they probably forced the medication from his body with magic. Not for the first time, he curses the existence of it.

 

“The first years were concerned, they got a fourth year with expertise to break them down.” He explains, turning his head slightly. “I thought magic was your life.”

 

“That was before I knew what really being alive was like,” It sounds cliché and ridiculous, something out of an edgy romance novel, but it’s true.

 

“We appreciate your noble sacrifice, feel free to take time off if you need it.” The Dean stalks out without another word, Quentin rubs at his face and sighs.

 

-

 

“Professor, could you tell us about how you saved magic?” One of his second years cautiously asks during his weekly scheduled study group with the kids. He was one of the only professors that went out of his way to help them, saw the struggle they went through and wanted only to ease their worries. They should be kids a little longer, in any way he could help.

 

“That’s… A long, sad, story.” He doesn’t look up from his book, flipping a few pages.

 

“Please, professor Q?” Another pleads, he sighs quietly and digs his nails into his palm.

 

“I’m not sure what the Dean has told you, but it’s not true. I’m not a hero, I’m a royal fuck-up.” He looks up at all of them, finding wide eyes and shock written across their faces. “The only reason magic needed saving was because of me, that’s not brave, it’s just doing the right thing.” He grumbles, glaring down at his book and flipping another page.

 

-

 

Julia travels between worlds, visits on occasion, when she’s not busy with the fairies and other creatures of Fillory. He can never decide if he likes these visits or not, not all of them end well. When she storms into his quarters with a scowl on her face, he merely sighs and closes his planner, knowing it’s not going to be the best visit.

 

“Hey, Jules.” He greets quietly, glancing away from her and over to a space of wall between his dresser and bookshelf.

 

“I come here to check in, and Fogg tells me you tried to kill yourself,” She says, voice soft and shaking with anger. He pushes his hair back and rubs under his nose, eyebrows twitching in a sort of ‘continue’ expression. “What the fuck, Q?” She walks over to his bed and sits down facing his chair, he turns and hangs his arm over the back of it.

 

“Not everyone can have such a willful psyche like you,” He mumbles, turning away.

 

“I know you miss them, they miss you too, we all do.” Julia insists, Quentin slowly shakes his head.

 

“There’s… nothing we can do.” He opens his planner and picks up a pencil, starting to read mindlessly.

 

“Eliot and Margo are pissed off, they’re worried to hell about you, and you’re sitting here in a state of complete disassociation and indifference.” Julia says in frustration, Quentin feels his own irritation building in his stomach.

 

“What else can I do?” He snaps, staring up at the wall behind his desk. “What the fuck else am I supposed to do?” He says, voice quieting with emotional turmoil.

 

“Look for a way back,” Julia tells him, her hand touches his shoulder. “Don’t just give up, that’s not the Quentin I know.” She releases his shoulder and he glances back, finding her already gone.

 

“Sure, easy for the all-powerful goddess who can travel through worlds with the snap of a finger like it’s nothing.” He says under his breath, when he turns to his planner once more, there’s something drawn in his margins. It looks like a sygil, he frowns, peering around the room.

 

-

 

It happens pretty fast, the ritual and spell backfire spectacularly and he’s flung across the room and into some of the desks with a deafening explosion. He only rouses to a fourth year shaking his shoulders and worriedly shouting over his shoulder for help. He looks a little like Todd, and Quentin scoffs under his breath as he sits up.

 

“I’m fine,” He grabs onto a desk that isn’t shattered to pieces and hauls himself up. Vertigo hits him immediately, and it’s like someone’s knocked his knees out from beneath him. He topples forward into the young man’s arms, the smell of burnt hair and clothes fresh in his nose.

 

How could he be so stupid?

 

He’s lowered back onto the floor, some staff members come to assist and a hoard of students watch as Quentin is half-dragged from the room towards the medbay. He keeps his head down, unable to face the worried and confused looks from his students. The worst part is, if this were just a stupid accident at Brakebills, Eliot and Margo would be waiting for him at the edge of the crowd to whisk him off for drinks and comfort.

 

He misses them more than he can stand.

 

He receives a warning from the Dean, that trying to open portals and doing risky magic will only end in the same way his first year did. He hates the scorn in the man’s voice, but he hates more that he knows the man is right. He’s angry with Quentin, rants about responsibility to all magic users, to the universe. He had to keep his nose clean, or the gods might return to crush them again.

 

He retreats back to his quarters in the evening, the tips of his hair singed what one of the healers promised was temporary deafness in one ear. Even after it fades, he has a mild ringing sometimes that reminds him. It’s almost like an alarm, begging him to wake up and do something.

 

He ignores it, the rest of his third year back at Brakebills passes quietly.

 

-

 

Quentin hears the explosion rather than sees it, the noise of what sounds like the universe being ripped open. He turns his head, ready to locate the area it’s coming from and tear a student’s ass up for doing weird shit. But he sees a light instead, all the way across campus, a bright light. For a moment, he smells something crisp and intoxicating, and there’s an electricity in the air that is all too familiar as well. The students are mumbling warily, he drops his books and they all look to him.

 

“Eliot,” He takes off running, through the grass and down the pavement, across the campus until he reaches the physical kid’s cottage.

 

There are people milling about, but there’s a large burn patch in the grass and two people standing in the middle of it talking excitedly and looking around. He starts to weave through people, and when he’s about ten feet away Eliot’s eyes meet Quentin’s, and then they’re both sprinting at each other.

 

They collide roughly, forcing themselves against one another as hard as possible just to feel one another’s physical presence. Quentin fists his hands in the royal garment he’s dressed in, on his toes with his arms around the older man’s shoulders. Eliot spins them around, lifting him off the ground and making a sob of a noise, they collapse together on the pavement.

 

“Is this real?” Quentin can’t help but ask, having had dreams before of his return to Fillory or Eliot’s return to Earth. “Please let this be real, oh god.” He dives forward again, clinging to Eliot for dear life and hoping that consciousness doesn’t tear this from him.

 

“It’s real, Q.” Eliot promises, voice shaking as he holds the younger tightly in his arms. Quentin glances up when someone approaches, he leans back from Eliot and immediately Margo drops down onto him. He falls back against the grass with the sudden force, arms wrapping around the lithe body of his friend.

 

“We missed you, you stupid nerd.” She says, and she sounds strangely choked up. He squeezes her, burying his face in her hair and taking in a slow inhale.

 

They were back.

 

-

 

The staff almost attack Eliot and Margo, Quentin steps in front of them the moment battle magic is casted and he thrusts his hands out in a practiced gesture to cast a defensive shield. It launches back at one of the teachers, sending her twirling through the air and landing roughly on the ground.

 

“Wait!” He snaps, pointing a finger at the others. “They’re from here, past students of Brakebills, they’re visiting from Fillory.” He insists, and the staff warily glance from one to the other before slowly lowering their hands.

 

“Quentin, we can’t stay long. We have someone covering for us right now.” Eliot says quietly, Quentin turns around, eyes already burning. They were leaving? They didn’t even get to talk, to catch up, it wasn’t fair!

 

“Y-You can’t…” He shakes his head slowly, reaching out and taking Eliot by the arm. “Just a little longer, please?” He whispers, and Eliot’s lips slowly stretch into a small smile.

 

“You think we’re leaving without you?” He demands, Quentin’s eyes widen.

 

“The only people qualified to watch out for your stupid ass is us.” Margo says with a jerk of her thumb towards Eliot.

 

“Eliot, Margo.” They turn their heads, Dean Fogg’s presence parts the crowd.

 

“Dean,” Eliot greets with a small nod. “We’re just leaving, had to pick up something to go.” He wraps an arm around Quentin’s shoulders, Margo appears on his other side and slides a hand in his.

 

“Is it worth risking magic?” The man asks, calm and collected.

 

“We have fairies and a goddess on our side now, where we’re going, magic is the least of our worries.” Margo says with a small smirk, she looks regal in her royal outfit, her crown.

 

“Q, we only have a few minutes. Go get your stuff, okay?” Eliot presses a kiss to his head, Quentin nods slowly and hesitantly allows the man to release him.

 

“C’mon, little king, I’ll go with you.” Margo smiles at him, still holding his hand.

 

They head through the crowd and towards the quarters, Quentin packs his things in a hurry while Margo looks around. She doesn’t seem too impressed with the room, but Quentin wasn’t really either, it wasn’t much. He packs some clothes, his Fillory books, and notes that one is missing.

 

“Professor?” A knock comes at the open door, a young man steps in with Quentin’s papers and the final Fillory book in his arms. “You dropped this,” He holds them out, Quentin takes them with a smile.

 

“Thank you, Richie.” He says gratefully, taking the book and putting it into his suitcase.

 

“Who’s the guy in the crown?” The young man questions.

 

“He’s an old classmate, so is she… High King and Queen of Fillory.” He says, wistfully, Margo leans over his suitcase from her seated point on the mattress to pinch his cheek.

 

“Like the books?” Richie inquires curiously, Margo nods.

 

“The very same,” She agrees, standing up. “And your professor is the second King of Fillory himself. King Quentin Coldwater.” She says with a purr, she saunters over to the dresser and picks up a picture of Eliot and Margo posing dramatically for the camera. “You’re so smitten with us, baby.” She says with a chuckle, Quentin blushes as he takes the frame from her and puts it in his bag.

 

“You broke through the fabric of the universe to come get me,” He reminds her, she rolls her eyes and sighs.

 

“Because without us, nothing would ever get done!” She insists, Quentin nods his head in silent agreement and looks to Richie, who still stands in the room looking almost sad.

 

“Are you coming back?” He asks, Quentin sighs.

 

“I don’t think so,” He admits, the young man nods and glances down at the floor. “But I’ll find a way to send letters or something, to keep you updated.” He assures, behind Richie, Margo taps a finger to her wrist in warning.

 

“Goodbye, professor Q.” He says forlornly, Quentin smirks and pulls him into a hug.

 

“That’s King Q,” Margo says as they let go, Quentin laughs and grabs his bag, taking the woman’s hand. They rush across the campus, where Eliot is waiting impatiently.

 

“About damn time, let’s get this show on the road.” He says, pulling Quentin close. “Hold onto me tight, if you slip there’s a likelihood of you getting caught in a black hole.” He wraps his arm around Quentin’s waist, then the other around Margo.

 

“Bye everyone!” Quentin calls as everyone stands around at a safe distance, holding up a hand to wave.

 

“The royals have left the building!” Eliot says with a grin, just as Margo moves her hands in an intricate spell, fingers twisting and gliding smoothly.

 

Just like that, there’s a flash of light, and the feeling like he’s been lifted off his feet. When his feet touch solid ground it’s like he’s been falling forever but didn’t even know it, his legs buckle beneath him and his senses are assaulted by the wonderful smell of opium laced air. He opens his eyes as the light fades, finding himself kneeling in the throne room with Margo and Eliot still at his side.

 

Quentin drops onto his back, a grin on his face as he gazes up at the ceiling. He lets out a terrifyingly manic giggle, reaching hands up through his hair and taking a deep breath. His first exhale feels like letting go, it feels like relief and all he can do is smile.

 

He’s home.