“Forty other timelines, huh?”
Eliot's words are smoothed with his typical nonchalance, but something about them make Quentin’s stomach turn.
He shifts from where his head is pillowed in Eliot’s lap. He glances up at him, the seemingly unattainable Eliot, burdened with good looks and sharp, witty confidence. First-year Quentin could not help but stumble over his words in the mere presence of such Brakebills royalty, or at least, that's how Eliot always tells it. Quentin likes to think he was a bit more eloquent than that.
But now he's here.
They’re on one of the couches in the Physical Kids’ Cottage, having spent their day lounging around and enjoying the peace and quiet that came with the first week of summer break.
Even the Cottage’s usual occupants were out for the day; Kady and Julia were off on some romantic date and Josh had dragged Alice, Penny, and a reluctant Margo to the new Cajun place downtown.
It's a peaceful night, if Quentin’s ever seen one (and it’s been a long semester since he’s seen one).
Eliot’s looking better. Sober, Quentin’s mind supplies.
It's something Eliot had come to him about a few months ago, after they had first defeated the Beast. Everyone had been supportive, even Penny, who really didn’t have a stake in the lives of the group of mostly Physical Discipline students who accidentally got him stranded in Fillory, had been empathetic in Eliot’s endeavor of quitting drinking cold turkey.
Something about being chased for months by a guy with moths for a head through what they all had thought was a fictional world bonded them together. They weren’t all best friends by any means, but the whole experience had at least warranted getting together for dinner every once in a while.
This is the point in the story when they're supposed to get their happily ever after. Still, Quentin thumbs at the envelope in his pocket.
He hears Eliot snort above him. “Are you still holding onto it?”
He gives a noncommittal hum as a reply, playing with the buttons on Eliot’s shirt sleeves. As much as he gets teased for carrying the beat up, blood-stained letter around with him, Quentin doesn’t want to imagine where they would all be without it.
“It’s weird,” Quentin murmurs, tugging on Eliot’s hand and linking their fingers together. “To think we don’t remember anything before this timeline.”
“If what the time travel lady—”
“Jane Chatwin,” Quentin interjects.
Eliot shoots him a fond look before continuing. “If what Jane Chatwin says is true, about us dying horribly over and over again, then I think it’s probably for the best we can’t remember.”
He reaches around to pull the creased envelope from Q’s pocket before he can protest.
The smudged To Quentin Coldwater Before He Went To The Seam stares up at them. The handwriting had been familiar when the letter had first dropped in his lap a few months into his first year at Brakebills. They never figured out what exactly The Seam was.
“This”—Eliot waved the letter between them for emphasis—”Is the only thing we ever need to know about our past lives.”
As much as they'd hate to admit, receiving a letter from the future detailing exactly how their lives would play out up until Quentin’s untimely death isn't something easily forgotten.
They wouldn’t have defeated the Beast and ensured Fen as the rightful ruler of Fillory without the letter, Quentin knows this, but what they hadn’t known was that they would be essentially resetting the timeline for the fortieth time.
When they’d met Jane Chatwin, between Quentin’s initial fangirl reaction and Margo threatening her with a gun, she very explicitly told them not to fuck this one up; this was their last try, not that they’d remembered the thirty-nine others to begin with.
Quentin frowns. “You don’t think we would have been able to defeat the Beast sooner if we’d known more?”
You don’t think we’d be able to guarantee we all make it through whatever else magic and Brakebills and Fillory throws at us? Quentin wants to say, but can’t get the words out.
Eliot sets down his Shirley Temple on the end table with a soft thunk. He looks down at Q and uses his now free hand to smooth the crease between his brows.
Quentin relaxes, though he hadn’t even realized how tense he’d been.
It was moments like these that he was sure, more sure than anything else in his life, that some pieces of them from their previous lives must have slipped through the cracks. There was no timeline that Eliot’s touch wouldn’t be able to soothe him.
“I think,” Eliot says, slowly, deliberately, “Whatever went wrong in those forty other timelines led us here. I think we’re lucky to have had thirty-nine other chances at this. That’s more than anybody else gets.”
He runs a hand through Quentin’s hair. “I ended up with you in this timeline, and that’s all that matters.”
Quentin stares up at Eliot, framed by the light streaming in from the open window. It astounds him that every time he looks his way, his heart still leaps in his chest.
It isn’t that their relationship hasn’t taken work, all relationships do. There had been fights, especially in the beginning. Shared trauma may have helped bring them together, but it wasn’t enough to erase everything that trauma has done to them altogether.
Through it all, however, every glance toward Eliot still took his breath away like their very first meeting.
It all led us here, Quentin repeats in his head.
“Yeah,” he agrees, his voice low and sleepy.
Eliot chuckles, warm and fond. “Yeah?”
Quentin nods. “I don’t need another timeline or another life, as long as you’re here with me, in this one.”
Eliot stares down at him, visibly trying (and failing) to keep the smile off his face.
“You’re such a fucking sap, Coldwater.”
“You love me, though.”
Quentin sits up and Eliot meets him halfway, sliding a hand around the back of his neck like that’s where it’s always belonged. They kiss just as they have a hundred times, and just like they will a hundred times more: soft and sweet and filled with so much love.
Eliot pulls back, an unabashed grin spread across his face. “I love you, though.”
Quentin kisses him again, and again, and again, and again, because it’s Eliot, and that’s all he really needs.