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all that will come in between

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The metro card Penny handed him looked beat up and almost old, Quentin thought, running his thumb along its side. He wondered, distantly, his mind still miles and miles away—up Above with Kady, and Julia, and Alice, and Eliot and god, even Dean Fogg—if they got recycled as souls came and went. Reduce, recycle, and reuse. A sustainable Underworld for a modern day! He didn’t know where that thought came from, but there it was, popping into his head like an advertisement.

In front of him, Penny was watching him, that strange look still in his eye. The personality switch working for the Underworld branch had sparked in him had left an ageless glint of knowing in his dark eyes. And sympathy, which was perhaps an even stranger look for his once-upon-a-time roommate. “Goodbye, Quentin,” the Traveler said, lifting his chin towards the white doorway behind Quentin.

Quentin supposed he had been standing here long enough, and turned to go, palming the card flat in his hand. “Bye, Penny,” he murmured, unable to raise his voice much louder than a whisper. He took a step forward but paused, his fingers catching on something on the underside of the plastic in his hand. Quentin glanced down, puzzled now, and saw that the back of the metro card had an old brass key taped onto it. Written in small, familiar handwriting below it were the words, “For later. -P”.

Quentin glanced behind him, but his friend was walking away already. “Good luck, Q,” Penny called, and with those ambiguous words, the Librarian disappeared into darkness. Good luck? That made no sense. Wasn’t he going to eternal rest? What kind of luck did he really need?

Well, he supposed, turning back to the white doorway, he had an eternity to figure out the mysteries of Penny Adiyodi, Librarian of the Underworld branch. The room around him was going black, as the lights blinked off one at a time, and he knew it was time to get going. Steeling himself, Quentin took a deep breath and took the three steps necessary to cross the white doorway.

White light blinded him as he passed the threshold, stopping him in his tracks as he blinked the spots out of his eyes. The painful white owfuck of looking directly at a light bulb after being in pitch black took a moment to clear away, but when it did—oh when it did—

“Dad!”

The view in front of him was as familiar to Quentin as his own face in the mirror. Perhaps, more so even, given that he had spent over five decades in this small corner of the Fillorian woods. Even though he’d buried the memories as deeply as he could for a while—the painful whisper of That’s not me and that definitely not you… still echoing sometimes—he couldn’t hide the remembrances when he slept. And those pieces of recollection were in front of him for the first time in what felt like an eternity.

The Mosaic, with tiles spilled around it, a small picture he didn’t remember designing being formed at the center of it. The lavender plants that Arielle grew in her small garden and used to help the headaches that he and Eliot would get as they stared at the small squares of color for hours and hours on end. The smell of ripened peaches from the basket sitting on the table, ready for Arielle to start her day. The bottle of Fillorian wine—bad as it was—that Eliot couldn’t help but indulge in sitting on the chair.

Quentin felt as though someone had kicked him in the stomach as he took in the little cottage at the Mosaic in which he had lived out a lifetime. His heart froze in his chest—and wasn’t that an odd feeling, considering he was dead—as he saw them sitting in the sand. His beautiful wife, looking as young as she had been before she had gotten sick, smiling up at him with that mischievous look in her eyes. And Teddy, handsome, lively, youthful, and looking much like the day his oldest child—Marbam—had been born. His breath escaped him in short bursts as he moved towards them, broken and stumbling, like a zombie. He reached out the hand not already holding the metro card for them as they both scrambled to their feet. “Arielle,” he gasped, “Teddy.”

Their arms went around him, and he felt their sobs of joy as much as his own. The joy at seeing this part of his family—the part that he never thought he would get to have again, shaking him to his very core. He was just feeling so much: joy and sadness and anger and shock and awe. So goddamn much his body couldn’t contain it. The fading voices of his loved ones Above were still playing in his ears as he hugged his wife and child, and he mourned for a second, that Eliot wasn’t at his back hugging them too. But for the moment, he let that ache go, wrapping his hands in Arielle’s read curls, and letting the plastic in his hand fall to the ground to grip the back of Teddy’s neck, pulling both of them closer to him, as if he could bring them into his very being by proximity.

It was a long time before the three of them parted, although they stayed within reach of Quentin, as though they feared that he would disappear if they let him go too far. Arielle, wiped at her face with a handkerchief she kept tucked away in her dress—always have clothing with pockets, Ari! It’s vitally important! Eliot’s voice supplied in the back of his mind. She handed the cloth to Quentin when she was finished, and Teddy just wiped at his face with his shirtsleeve—always the little heathen, Eliot’s voice laughed.

Arielle laughed wetly as her smile turned to a playful glare. Putting her hands on her hips, she teased, “You certainly took your time, didn’t you, Quentin Coldwater-Waugh?”

Quentin felt that kick in his chest again, as she called him by his full name. A name he hadn’t laid claim to since Margo had rewound time and Eliot’s voice: Not when we have a choice… “Sorry,” he choked out heart aching, but not refusing the name they had all shared. “It’s been… crazy.”

“Sure, Dad,” Teddy said, his eyes still glistening, despite their redness. “Papa’s bad habits have apparently rubbed off on you.” His son’s voice was deep, and Quentin rejoiced at the chance to get to see the man his little boy had become again. Teddy shook his head and then continued, “You better have all sorts of new stories to tell.”

“I hope they’re good ones,” Arielle added, reaching for Quentin’s hand. Her eyes gleamed: ever looking for a piece of adventure his wife. “It’s quiet here in the afterlife. Needs some livening up.”

Quentin took her hand, small, and rough from her gardening, in his. He bent down and picked up the metro card from where it lay in the grass and slipped it into his pocket. The key and words on the back a question for another day—time—later, however things worked when one was dead. He gripped Teddy by the back of the neck and pulled his son to his side as the three of them made their way into the cottage. “I have so much to tell you two about.” His mind reached forward, imagining quiet days and family and warmth and love and peace. With these two, he could wait for the others Above to join them here. He was looking forward to eternity.

*

*

*

Or, well. Maybe not.

 

TBC

Chapter Text

In the years he had lived without his wife, Quentin had forgotten a number of Arielle’s quirks. The way her eyes would crinkle when she was pretending not to be amused. The way she’d raise her left eyebrow—never her right—when she was questioning the veracity of the elaborate stories of Earth that Eliot and Quentin would tell. The way she would gnaw on her bottom lip until the entire thing was red and rub her fingers together, longing for her bow as she contemplated problem.

What he had not forgotten was her propensity for getting herself into trouble.

*

Days—years—a lifetime had passed since Quentin had walked through the door and found himself looking at Arielle and Teddy again. It was impossible to track the passage of time when the sunlight was entirely at-will. He’d shared all the stories he could remember, and Teddy had told him of what had happen after he and Eliot had both died in the Mosaic timeline.

Teddy told Quentin about his kids—Marbam, Julia, and Thom, and their partners. He told him about his grandchildren’s children, and all of the trouble that the kids got into—they shared their family’s magical talents and their habit of getting involved in problems bigger than themselves. Teddy explained that he had been incredibly surprised when Quentin’s great granddaughter Elia had come home one day and spoken about the new High King in Whitespire that she was working for—Rupert Chatwin—and his shock that apparently Quentin and Eliot’s stories were true. Both Arielle and Teddy expressed embarrassment at their quiet, continual disbelief of their stories.

Quentin had laughed it off, although he was pleased and slightly vindicated to learn that he and Eliot had eventually been proven to be telling the truth. They had known that their family hadn’t believed everything that the two Children of Earth had claimed. Of course, they had bought that they were Children of Earth, but the fact that they also came from the future of Fillory? That was a little more far-fetched as far as the family was concerned.

In return, Quentin told his stories to a captive audience. He told them of the rest of the Quest for the keys, what happened at Castle Blackspire, about the Hedges and the Library. He told them, with grief in his voice, about what had happened to Eliot, and later Julia, and how he hadn’t gotten to say goodbye to either of them. He even reached into the recesses of his mind and told them about the fake life he had had as Brian. He told Arielle about Alice and his desire to reconcile with her after everything they had gone through, and how they had eventually decided to give them a shot again—and about how she had watched him die. He told them about the way his story had ended, and his beautiful family held him as he cried again, questioning his actions, questioning his hesitation in the Mirror World. Arielle and Teddy didn’t judge him, but rather shared his grief. He told them of his friends around the fire, throwing in objects that had meant something to him, and how they had sung. And he told them about Penny and discussing Secrets Taken to the Grave. He told story after story after story until finally, his stories ran dry and the words just stopped coming.

When they ran out of tales to share, the family took to exploring. Apparently, Quentin learned, the afterlife was separated based on what you imagined your happily-ever-after to look like, but that didn’t mean that you were completely cut off from others who had died. The three of them visited their extended family—both their descendants and ancestors.  Quentin took quite a lot of pride in introducing his father to Arielle and Teddy. But his father’s sadness at seeing his boy in the Underworld so soon broke his heart. When he first hugged Ted, the way his father had whispered “Oh, Curly Q” had nearly shattered him. Despite the bizarre passage of time, Quentin somehow knew that his father knew he hadn’t lived much longer than the older man. The three of them spent a while with the oldest Coldwater, but eventually even that lost its appeal, and with a promise to eventually return and bring more of the family with them, they headed off for Teddy’s wife and kids.

Having his daughter-in-law and grandchildren to hug again was a wonderful opportunity that Quentin had never expected. He had been certain that the timeline had been erased when Margo had stopped him and Eliot from stepping through the clock. But he had a whole family here in the Underworld, so he imagined they must exist Above somewhere too. He wondered, distractedly, if Eliot and Margo would come across them in Fillory someday. They still have your nose, Q and Ari’s hair, he could almost hear Eliot say. They have my sense of style, though. Thank fuck.

Teddy’s wife, a disgraced Lorian spitfire, named Veva had always reminded Quentin endlessly of Arielle and her propensity for adventure. While visiting with her was lovely, even exciting and somewhat-newly-dead Dad Q couldn’t keep her attention long. They stayed with her and the kids for a while before everyone except Marbam and her wife, a nymph named Bria, went their separate ways.

*

“I still have trouble believing that you went and became a Healer, Mars,” Quentin laughed, tucking a leg underneath him. They were sitting around the kitchen table back at the Mosaic Cottage. His oldest granddaughter had been something of a clumsy disaster growing up. Constantly climbing trees and then falling out of them. Falling into rivers and brooks and getting cut up by rocks. He and Eliot used to laugh that every time they had seen the young girl, she had had some new injury on her person.

“To be fair, I didn’t exactly have much of a choice. Someone had to patch me up and Mom was always terrible at Healing, and you and Grandpapa El never taught Dad. In the end, it could only be me,” the young woman responded, taking a drink of the wine they were sharing between them. “Also—this is disgusting. How in Ember’s name did Grandpapa El drink this?” It was strange having three generations sitting together, with all of them looking about the same age. But the afterlife was weird that way, Quentin had come to realize. It didn’t bother any of his family, so he had been trying his damnedest to not let it bother him either.

From the small kitchen, Teddy laughed at his daughter’s words. “Papa didn’t exactly have a choice. That was the only wine we really had in this area when I was growing up. Honestly, we could probably get something better here in the Un—”

“Don’t,” Quentin found himself interrupting. He didn’t want anything better. This wine was the wine they drank during this lifetime, and it was only fitting that they continued. “Besides it’s not that bad.” He took a sip of his own and gagged. “Okay, maybe it is that bad. Fuck knows, El probably had destroyed his taste buds with everything he smoked, or took, or-or drank over the years, though.”

The others laughed a bit, even Bria, who Quentin was quickly coming to like. His granddaughter had picked a good life partner, and the story of their meeting was something he looked forward to telling Eliot—whenever the man eventually arrived in the Underworld and joined them.

In the kitchen, Arielle and Teddy were fussing with something in a big pot on the stove, and while Quentin didn’t know what it was, he knew it smelled delicious. He also knew better than to try and get involved. His wife, had she been a Brakebills’ student, would have been in the Nature Discipline, and like Josh, that carried over into her cooking capabilities. Teddy had inherited a lot of those skills, although he had always been more of a Physical kid like his Dad and Papa. Quentin still, even after all the years he had tried to learn to cook, burned water, so his housemates always kicked him out of the kitchen when they could.

Eventually, the Cottage fell silent, and Quentin found himself tapping his fingers on the table. They all seemed to be finding themselves trapped in silence more often than not these days. Repeating stories, and thoughts again and again. While exploring was possible, nothing unexpected happened, and even Veva on her adventures had repeated her quests time and again, Teddy told them. He had joined her the first few times, but found himself mostly uninterested. Veva hunted monsters, which wasn’t something he loved in the same way. He typically found other things to occupy his time, which is why he let her go on her way and had joined his mother in the Cottage, waiting for Quentin and Eliot.

The silence in the Cottage seemed to grow heavy as the five occupants all searched for something to say that hadn’t been said before. Quentin found himself getting jittery, waiting for something to happen or the silence to break. He wished, not for the first time, to know how his friends Above were doing. The last—and only—glimpse he had gotten of them had been with Penny, but he’d been dead long enough that a significant amount of time had to have passed Above. But those who had died lost the ability to know what was happening in the land of the living, and so they were trapped in a state of uncertainty.

For lack of a better thing to do with his hands, Quentin fished the Underworld Metro card out of his pocket. Despite all the time that had passed, he still didn’t know what it was for, or what the key opened, or even what Penny’s message “For later. -P” meant. He hadn’t been able to get back to Penny to ask him, and his friend hadn’t come to find him to explain either. He flipped the card around his hand, falling back into his old nervous habits.

The sound of silence was broken by the clattering of a wooden spoon against the pot on the stove. “What are you playing with, Q,” Arielle asked, walking over to stand behind him, apparently finding his actions just as distracting as Quentin did.

Teddy abandoned the stove too, seemingly content to let their meal simmer, and took a seat next to his daughter. “I’ve seen you holding that before,” his son mused. “When you first got to the Underworld. Did you bring it with you?”

“Yeah, its my Underworld Metro card. Penny gave it to me,” Quentin replied, stopping what he was doing and placing it on the table to show his family. “It was what got me here, I guess. He gave it to me just before I stepped through the door that brought me to the Cottage.”

Arielle hummed a quizzical note behind him as Bria, Marbam, and Teddy exchanged surprised glances. “That was your travel parchment?” Teddy asked, as Bria’s spindly fingers tapped out a rhythm on the table. “It should have disappeared when you came through the doorway. Ours all did.”

Quentin frowned. “Weird.” He glanced down at the dirty old thing. “It was definitely still in my hands when I came through. But—um—that’s actually not the weirdest part.” He reached over and flipped the card so that the key and the message were both visible. “I actually forgot about this for a bit—but Penny didn’t exactly explain what this was all about.”

Arielle leaned over his shoulder to grab the plastic off the table. “’For later. -P,’” she read. “P… is your friend, Penny, right? The Secrets Taken to Your Grave Librarian? No, he wasn’t particularly forthcoming, was he?”

Quentin found himself surprised again, as he turned to look at his wife. “Wait, how-how do you know Penny?”

“I had a secret that I took to the grave, love,” she replied, rubbing her thumb over the writing on the card—Sharpie, Quentin though distractedly.

“Yeah, but he wasn’t dead when you died.”

“Time works funny in the afterlife, Granddad,” Marbam interrupted. “It doesn’t flow in a straight line. Everything is just kind of…”

“Wibbly wobbly,” Quentin finished for her, a small smile on his face. At the perplexed looks of the others he shook his head. “Nevermind, it isn’t important. Anyway, I still don’t know what it’s supposed to mean. I mean—he said—he said ‘good luck’ before I crossed over. And I still have no idea why.”

“It starts with the key, I imagine,” his wife replied. “Finally. Something new. I’ve been getting bored.”

“Bored?” Quentin found himself asking. “It’s the afterlife. Eternal peace. How are you bored?” He agreed with her, though, even if he’d been dead for less time than her. It was awkward just how bored he found himself. And how anxious. He thought dying would have helped that to go away, but now he found himself worried about his friends Above. But bored was a good place to start even if he didn’t want to admit it himself.

Marbam laughed and took another drink of wine. “Aren’t we all, Grandma?” she asked, her voice almost bitter. She looked at Quentin. “She was just the first person to admit it, but we’ve all been bored to tears. You showing up has been the only interesting thing to happen in ages.

Bria laced her fingers around Marbam’s and took the glass of wine from her wife, her own empty. “Things have been exceedingly dull,” she agreed. “Maybe this key and the message are for something exciting?”

Arielle slipped around Quentin and sat on his leg, still fiddling with the card. “We need to figure out what this key is to first, and then maybe we’ll have something to do!” she sounded excited.

“Woah, hold on. Whatever this is, Penny didn’t just wish me “luck” for the hell of it,” Quentin interrupted. “And you need to slow down, Ari. The last time you jumped into something without actually knowing what you were doing you spoke in rhymes for a month.”

His wife had the decency to look a little abashed. “I fixed it eventually,” she retorted, her cheeks going a little pink. “I eventually hunted down the little sprite that cursed me!”

“Still—” Quentin started, but Arielle was on a roll now. Without warning, she pulled the key off of the metro card, ripping the masking tape that held it in place. She yelped as the card disappeared in her hand in a short burst of blue fire, Penny’s message and all.

“What the fuck?” Quentin exclaimed, his eyes going wide. “Ari—wh-what did you do?”

“Nothing!” she protested, turning the key over in her hand. “But… what now?”

Teddy reached forward, “Can I see the key, Mom?” he asked, biting his lip in a mimicry of his mother’s curiosity look.

Arielle reached over to hand the key to their son but didn’t get the chance to actually pass it off. They were interrupted by a pounding on the door. Marbam jumped up to answer it, but the door opened of its own accord.

“About fucking time, you moron,” Penny growled from the doorframe. “Seriously, how long does it take you do anything? We have to get this show on the fucking road already. There are things you need to be doing Above.” The Underworld Librarian glanced at the Coldwater-Waughs gathered around the table and then over to the side. “Also, your pot is boiling over. You should probably check on that.”

 

TBC

Chapter Text

It took only a quick spell or two for Arielle and Teddy to get the pot on the stove cleaned up, but the meal was ruined. They settled for a basket of fruit in the middle of the table, set beside the old brass key that seemed to have summoned Penny—Librarian Penny—to their little cottage.

There was more energy to his friend this time than the last time they’d seen each other, Quentin reflected, watching his hands move as he talked. The passion and fire of the Penny Adiyodi that he’d known at Brakebills had come back, although there was still something different about the look in his eyes—still that knowing glint, despite the annoyance that had seeped its way back into his voice.

“I can’t believe it took you this fucking long to take the key off of the damn card, Coldwater,” Penny growled. He’d taken Marbam’s seat, as she’d taken up residence on Bria’s lap. “I expected to you to do it right away, but no. You had to go and pussy out.” He grabbed one of the peaches sitting on the table and took a bite, his eyes going wide, distracted for a moment. “Damn, that’s good.”

“They always are,” Quentin replied, rolling a plum between his hands, always quick to support his wife’s ability. “Also, I have no idea what you’re talking about. You weren’t exactly forthcoming when we were in your office. I didn’t know you wanted me to do anything!”

Bria’s eyes hadn’t come off Penny’s figure since he’d entered the Cottage. “And it was Arielle who finally removed the key, not Quentin,” she said, her voice light. “What is it for?”

“You’re shitting me,” Penny laughed humorlessly, gazing in something like horror at Quentin. “No, who am I kidding. Of-fucking-course you weren’t the one who did anything! I knew I should have found someone else for the task.”

Quentin felt his anger rising. “What are you talking about, Penny?” he burst out, jostling Arielle, who was still perched on his knee. “You didn’t say anything before I got here, so how could I have possibly known that you wanted anything from me? I thought this was supposed be eternal rest—peace—whatever!”

Penny looked up at the ceiling, almost desperately. “No, you idiot. I was trying to be subtle—I thought you would have picked up on the cues! ‘For later,’ ‘good luck.’ What did you think was saying? I’m being watched—I couldn’t exactly come out and say—hey! This is a key back to Above, because I need you to go back to being alive and help me overthrow some evil Old Gods!”

You could have heard a pin drop in the silence that fell over the Cottage at the Librarian’s words. After a moment Quentin recovered his voice enough to spit out, “W-what? What the fuck?

Penny ran a hand down his face. “Exactly what I said. The key I gave you is a key back to the world Above that Hades left with me before he fucked off cuz’ Persephone is dead and the Old God that has invaded his space is out for his blood.” He put his hands on the table and leaned forward, deathly serious. “I need your help and your family’s help because I can’t go back Above because I’m under almost constant surveillance from this guy’s lackeys. The only reason I can talk to you now is because he’s not invested in the afterlife itself because he thinks he has it neat and orderly and under his control.”

Quentin’s head was spinning. He had seriously thought he was done. Peace, and quiet, and the afterlife—the boring, repetitive afterlife. But still. He had been so tired. “I’m still confused. What does this have to do with us? I thought it was time to ‘move on’?”

“You thought I was serious?” Penny’s voice was shocked and horrified all at once. “Of course not! I just needed to get you into the afterlife so we could have this conversation! God, our friends Above still need help. You really want to just pass time down here while they’re fighting for the safety of worlds up there?”

Quentin opened his hands as he leaned into Arielle’s back, seeking comfort from her proximity. “You told me that they would be fine! And that it was okay to rest! I was ready to rest!”

Penny let out a heavy sigh. His next words were quiet enough that he almost didn’t seem to want Quentin to hear them. “You have got to be fucking kidding me. I can’t believe I’m the one—Q, seriously?” his voice got louder by the end of the statement. “Yeah, they’ll be okay. But no one—no one—is better off without you in their life! Not Julia, Eliot, Alice—hell, not even the other me! That’s not how it works. They’re in mourning up there—suffering, and you really just want to sit down here with your thumb up your ass as they struggle and try to process your loss? Fuck, dude. Don’t be stupid.”

The rest of his family stayed quiet, like they were pretending that they weren’t sitting in the middle of this conversation, and Quentin loved them for that. But he was still focused on Penny. “You said—you said that I wouldn’t have chosen to leave them—that it was okay to—”

“Yeah, I did,” Penny interrupted him. “But again, I really needed to get you somewhere we could talk about what was happening with this bastard who’s decided on universal domination. I probably shouldn’t have worded that how I did. But now, I guess we have to talk about this. Listen—what you asked me in my office—those things aren’t mutually exclusive. You hesitated, Coldwater—at the Seam.” He flexed his fingers in frustration. “I’ve read your fucking book, Q! Until you cast the mending spell in the Mirror World you still had chapters left! After you and Alice changed your fate in the park that afternoon—you had so much of your book left. And then you fucking hesitated when you were faced with that fuckface and it just ended. But you’re not done now. You have people Above who need you—who are suffering, and they need your help.

“Right now, none of them are at their best because they’ve just been faced with a worse-case scenario. Eliot finally comes to after being possessed for months and finds out that you—and I’ve read both volumes of both of your books, I know all about this part of your lives,” he swept a hand around to encompass the Cottage, “ and what you meant to each other— finds outothat you died. That you let yourself die. And Hanson had to be the one to tell him, and damn, I didn’t think that woman was even capable of that much emotion. You made Alice watch you let yourself die in front of her. She’s not dealing with that well at all, dude, trust me. Your best friend—the Hedge Bitch Goddess—lost magic, her agency, and you. She’s pissed at the other version of me for making decisions for her and needs you, but as far as she knows you decided that letting yourself die was a better idea. You idiot, she knows all about your past. You really think she doesn’t know? That she isn’t blaming herself for not being there for you?”

Quentin felt his heart breaking as he listened to Penny’s words. He hadn’t thought about so much of this. And had he—had he really...? “I’m sorry,” he found himself whispering.

“Don’t be sorry, Coldwater,” Penny replied immediately. “I get it. You have shitty shields, always, even now that you’re dead. I get it—I know that you were tired, and suffering—and I…I get it. But don’t let that stop you from doing the right thing now. From helping Earth, and Fillory, and the Underworld.”

Arielle’s hand laced over his and she squeezed, no longer pretending that she wasn’t listening to this conversation. Quentin appreciated her support even as he felt awkward that his wife, son, granddaughter, and granddaughter-in-law all were listening. And that it was Penny of all people saying this. “Okay,” he swallowed tightly. “You’re right. I can’t just sit down here and do nothing if there is something happening up Above that I can help with.”

Penny sighed in relief, clearly happy that he was done playing unexpected therapist. “Halle-fucking-lujah. Okay. I have to explain this quickly because the people who are watching me think I’m just on a coffee break.” He glanced at a watch on his wrist which almost seemed to shimmer and made Quentin’s eyes cross as he tried to focus on it. “I have no idea what the fuck is going on Above. I have no idea how much time has passed on Earth or in Fillory. I think a lot more in Fillory than on Earth based on who’s come through my office, but I have no idea. They’ve cut off access. I haven’t been able to visit or see what’s happened since you and I, Q, watched what happened at Brakebills.”

Marbam interrupted him there. “We should be able to see what’s happening too, shouldn’t we? Something is going on down here. Things have felt off lately.”

Penny nodded. “Yeah. The guy who has come and taken over is obsessed with order and control. Like Umber in Fillory but on steroids. He wants the Underworld docile—even you, Coldwater, should have realized that things are little too…repetitive down here. Boring.” At the nods from the others he continued. “That’s this Old God’s doing. He doesn’t want any trouble, and he suspects that if the dead knew what was going on, they’d want to help. They’d want to Continue.”

Even Quentin could hear the capital ‘C’ that Penny used. He opened his mouth to ask, but Penny must have caught the thought and explained. “This isn’t the end all, be all,” he told them. “There’s more after this, more that souls are supposed to do. It’s why time is so weird down here. But this guy has frozen that process. Everyone is just kind of…stuck. He’s completely messed with the way time is moving and stopped everyone from Continuing. The only reason the five of you recognize that things are weird is because you all came through my office and I knew we’d need help, so I left kind of a…an idea in your subconscious. So that you would recognize that things were messed up.”

Quentin glanced around, surprised to find that all of them would have had a Secret Taken to the Grave. He wondered what they could have been—but knew that it wasn’t his place to ask. Suddenly the rest of his family’s weird desires to continue their routines despite how boring they were made sense. If they were being messed with—the fact that his father hadn’t wanted to go and meet his descendants, for example… he should have questioned the oddities more.

Penny reached forward and grabbed the key, holding it up. “Hades left this with me before he went to ground. It’s a one-way, one-time-only trip back Above. You guys will use it to go wherever it leads—and I don’t know where that is. Fillory or Earth—I’m not sure where he’s started.” Penny set it back down and leaned forward. “Apparently the Old Gods weren’t totally unaware of what was going on with the Monster and his sister. They knew and most of them didn’t care. But for this guy—this guy who has decided to start fucking with us—it was enough to put Fillory and Earth both on the map. Up until now, they didn’t care about our worlds. Now he does. And not in a good way. I can’t get out of the Underworld. With Hades who-knows-where, someone needs to keep things working and fight the fight down here, and that has—for some unknown-fucking-reason—that seems to have fallen to me.”

Quentin nodded. “Okay. I’ll go. Of course I’ll go.” He looked around at his family. “It’s up to—”

“Don’t be stupid, Dad,” Teddy interrupted him. “We’re helping too. It’s been boring down here anyway, and if we can help our family—even if we’ve never met them—of course we’re coming.”

Marbam smiled a little. “To be quite honest, I’ve always wanted to meet my namesake. And it would be nice to see Grandpapa El again.”

Quentin looked at Penny, suddenly, a thought striking him. “Are they even still alive? Eliot, Margo, Alice, Julia…? Have you seen them?”

Penny’s face fell. “I don’t know. I only know who has come through my office. They’ve cut off access to people’s books for most of the Underworld staff. I haven’t been able to touch any of them in ages. I think they probably are still alive, but I honestly don’t know for sure.”

Arielle stood up abruptly. “I’ll get my bow,” she said, “and gather food and supplies for the trip. I’m sure we’ll need them.”

Penny shook his head. “It doesn’t work like that. When you step through the door, you’ll only have what was on your person when you died. You can’t bring anything else with you.”

Teddy frowned. “How will we look?” he asked worriedly. “I died when I was very old—I won’t be much help if I go back to being an octogenarian.”

“I’m not certain, but I think that will reflect more what you see yourself as—so what you look like now.” Penny replied, but then emphasized, “I think. This is all new to me, and Hades didn’t exactly leave any kind of fucking manual.”

Looking at him, Quentin could see the stress tugging at the corner of Penny’s eyes. He felt bad for his friend. This couldn’t possibly be easy for him right now. “We’ll figure it out. It seems like you have your hands full. We’ll take care of Above.”

“And we’ll figure out where Hades has disappeared to,” added Bria, suddenly, gesturing to herself and Marbam.

“We will?” Marbam asked, turning to look at her wife. “I mean—of course we—wait we will?”

Bria nodded, her hair catching the light from outside and shining green in a sun’s rays. “We will. The Underworld is his responsibility, and unless he intends to leave the running of it to Penny someday, then he should be helping fix the problems this interloper is creating.”

Marbam nodded, even as Penny seemed to splutter at the idea of running the Underworld. “You have a point,” she said. “He’s probably somewhere Above as well. You were always almost as good a hunter as Mom, Bria. I’m sure we’ll find our wayward god in no time.”

Penny looked surprised, but suddenly thankful. “That would…actually be super helpful. You should start in the Library—not necessarily on Fillory or Earth.”

Arielle stood up. “Teddy, Quentin, and I will start trying to fix whatever trouble has been wrought in Fillory or on Earth,” she said. “It would be nice to see my other husband again. I have some words for him,” she added, tapping her fingers on the table almost ominously. “Besides I have been bored. Overthrowing an Old God sounds like fun.”

Penny looked over at Quentin and grinned. “Damn, Coldwater. Your wife has a stronger spine than you do. You don’t deserve her.”

Quentin looked around at his family, ready to throw down with Old Gods and save multiple worlds at a moment’s notice. “No, I don’t,” he replied.

“Oh, fuck, don’t get maudlin on me now,” Penny groaned. “I thought we were past that.” He stood up. “I have got to get going before they realize that this is a really long coffee break. Good luck, you guys.” He walked to the door and then paused. “And Q, a favor?”

Quentin joined him at the door and looked at his former-roommate expectantly. “What’s up, Penny?”

“Kady,” Penny began, but Quentin interrupted. “I’ll give her your love, of course, Penny.”

The Librarian shook his head. He paused for a long moment, uncomfortable, either with the topic or with the fact that he was discussing it with Quentin. But today seemed to be the day for awkward heart-to-hearts between the two of them. “No, not that—Well that too. No, tell her that she needs to stop risking her life unnecessarily. We’ll be together again. Tell her… I read what she said about what she wanted to be and that, while I appreciate the sentiment—it’s not her. She’s so much more. She should be kicking ass and taking names, not worrying about me. Just… tell her that for me, yeah?”

Quentin nodded. “Yeah, man. I can do that.” He went in for a hug, like they had done when standing near the fire at Brakebills, but Penny held up his hands. Quentin laughed and stuck out his hand instead, a little awkwardly, but serious. “Good luck down here, Penny,” he said. “And, um… thanks.”

Penny took his hand but rolled his eyes. “Don’t get sentimental on me, Coldwater. We’ve got shit to do.” He let go and opened the door to the Cottage. “And good luck to you guys, too.” He crossed the threshold and disappeared, no hint that he’d ever been there remaining.

Quentin stood there for a long moment, looking out at the Mosaic that even now had an image formed at its center—something that looked familiar from the innumerable designs that he and Eliot had created—something like a sun. His thought strayed Above, though, even as he stared out into the afterlife. He hadn’t expected to get another chance at being alive. That he was going to get to possibly see his friends again—to see Alice, and Julia, and Eliot again made his heart sing. Nevertheless, there was a voice at the back of his head that taunted that he was going to fuck it all up somehow. But that voice was overshadowed by another voice that sounded like Eliot, telling him that you’re going to be amazing, Q. You can do this. And somehow the imagined words of his—well, of his Eliot—drowned out the anxiety that nagged at him for the moment.

His musings were cut short by Arielle’s voice behind him, laced with amusement and uncertainty all at once. “Well, we might have a problem,” she called. “Your friend somehow never actually answered the question of how we use this key.”

Quentin closed his eyes for a long moment. “Of course he didn’t,” he replied. “The asshole probably thinks it’s funny.” He turned back to his family. “Okay, time to start digging through our books for a matching spell.”

 

TBC

Chapter Text

“Let us out, let us out, let us out!”

Josh winced from his place on the only bed in the small dungeon room as Fen pounded and kicked at the door that locked them in. “I think if they’re out there they already heard you.,” he commented, flinching at her next kick.

“Then they need to let us out of here!” Fen screamed, wincing as she kicked the door again, her foot landing differently. She began to hop up and down, holding her injured limb. “Ow, ow, ow! Those weren’t my wooden ones!”

Josh made a face in painful sympathy and patted the bed next to him. “You’ve been shouting for hours,” he told her. “Why don’t you sit down and take a rest. We can start kicking up a fuss again later. Maybe they’ll actually bring us some food and we can overpower them or something…” he trailed off, staring at the wall. Any food they brought them would probably be garbage. His fingers itched to be back in the kitchen and he’d only been out of it for a few hours. He’d been this close to figuring out a way to combine Fillorian spices with Earth spices to make the perfect spice cake that tasted like sitting by a warm fire drinking tea. It was supposed to be a present for Fen for her birthday, but now he was trapped in the dungeon.

Fen threw herself onto the bed at his side and fell backwards. “I just don’t understand what is going on,” she cried, lifting her head up and dropping it back down onto the mattress. “They are locking us up in our own castle! I’m the High King! They shouldn’t be able to do this!”

Josh patted her knee sympathetically as he looked at the door, trying to figure out the best way to break them out. Waiting for food was probably the best option, but they’d been looked in for about three hours and hadn’t seen anyone yet. His stomach was starting to growl. “We’ll be fine, Fen,” he said, trying for soothing. “We’ll get ourselves out of here and save the day—don’t worry.”

The High King sat up abruptly and looked at the Naturalist despairingly. “I’m sick of fending for ourselves!” she said suddenly. “That’s all we’ve been doing for the last year and a half! We don’t even know if Eliot is okay—or Margo—or our other friends. It’s been a year and a half of fending for ourselves, and saving ourselves, Josh. I just want them all back,” her voice cracked on the last word and he watched a tear slip down past her cheek.

He reached up and brushed it away, his heart going out for her. He missed them too, their friends. He and Margo had really only just gotten to the point of talking about their feelings—Margo. Talking about her feelings. He wondered sometimes if it had all been a fever dream sparked by being a fish. On top of that, he and Fen still didn’t know if the Incorporate Bond had even worked. Despite trying to send messenger bunnies and trying to use magic to get back to Earth, nothing had worked, and they’d spent a year and a half trying to keep Fillory together as magic finally made its way back. “I do too,” he told her, a beat too late. “But… we won’t be able to do anything if stay locked up in here.”

With those words, Josh stood up: it was his turn to try and figure out how to get them out of their own dungeon. He walked over to the door to try the handle, even though he knew it was pointless. He’d barely applied any pressure when suddenly the door flew open. He yelped and jumped back, hands up and ready to protect himself and his High King.

Framed on the other side of the door frame was a young man. He was in his mid-twenties, Josh figured, with short, dark hair and a familiar nose. He was dressed in typical Fillorian homespun clothing, colors muted and subtle. He looked rather surprised to see Josh and Fen both standing on the other side of the door and held up his own hands to fight. “Who are you?” he asked sharply.

Fen had risen to stand beside Josh. “Who are you?” she demanded, and Josh almost cooed. Margo would be so proud of how imperious Fen had become. She was taking after her role model.

The man frowned and glanced up and down the hallway. “I asked first,” he responded, “make it fast or I’m leaving you here.”

“You’re in my castle,” Fen retorted, hands itching for her waist where she normally kept her knives. “You talk first.”

The man’s forehead creased in confusion. “Last time I checked,” he began slowly, “this castle was under the authority of the Dark King—and has been for around three hundred years. So, unless you’re High King Fen and Josh, the Fresh…” he trailed off as he really looked at them. “You’re High King Fen and Prince Josh,” he said, “of course you are.” He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “How are you still alive?”

Josh raised a finger to interrupt, opening his mouth. Then he stopped, closed it, and opened it again. He had no idea where to start with that statement. Finally, he just decided on, “What?”

Fen’s hands were on her hips in a moment. “We’ve been stuck in this room for hours,” she told the man, “and it has been awful—”

“And they haven’t fed us,” Josh added, his stomach choosing to let out a hungered growl.

“And they haven’t fed us,” Fen agreed, “but we haven’t been locked up in this room for three hundred years. That isn’t possible!”

The man shook his head, “The whole reason I was down in this part of the castle was because the spell I was using identified a strong source of magic coming from this exact location,” he told them. “I think you have been here for three hundred years, but you didn’t experience those years. But anyway, it’s not important. We can figure it out later. Right now we need to get out of here before the Dark King’s guards come and find us.” He held out his hand, ushering them out of the door. “I assume you want to take back your throne?” he asked. “Because, if so, you should probably get out of here with me and join the cat force.”

Josh blinked. “The cat force?” he repeated. “I know we’re playing the Princess Leia to your Luke Skywalker right now, but now we’re talking about the Force? And cats? Where did the cats come from?”

“I honestly have no idea what you’re talking about,” the man replied, rolling his eyes when neither Fen nor Josh stepped forward to leave the room. He glanced both ways up and down the hallway and continued speaking. “My name is Ted, not Luke Starcrawler, or whatever you said. And the cat—Q. A. T. Force. We’re a group dedicated to wresting control of Whitespire and all of Fillory back out of the hands of the Dark King. Since you’re the legitimate High King, Your Majesty, I suppose that means we are trying to get it back to you.”

Josh and Fen exchanged looks. Over the almost two years that they had been managing Fillory on their own they had become very good at speaking without words and anticipating each other’s thoughts. It made ruling a lot easier—as well as fucking with visiting dignitaries. Without speaking, they came to the decision to trust this man, Ted, for the time being. If they could help them regain Whitespire, well, at least that would be some place to start.

“Do you have any weapons,” Fen asked abruptly, turning away from her eye contact with Josh. “I’m not a Magician, but I know my way around a knife pretty well.”

Josh laughed at the understatement, as Ted’s expression turned thoughtful. After a moment, he nodded and pulled a small dagger out of his boot. “Will this work for now? We have more at our base, but this is all I have at the moment.”

Fen took the blade from him and tossed it up and down a few times. “This works,” she replied. “Thank you.” She used the hand not holding the weapon to wave at the door that she and Josh had still not approached. “After you.”

“Since, you clearly have a better idea of what’s going on,” Josh jumped in to ensure that it didn’t sound like they were planning to attack him the moment his back was turned, which, well, it kinda sounded like they were considering.

Ted regarded them both with some suspicion, but ultimately seemed to judge them trustworthy. Which he totally should have, Josh thought. They both had such safe faces, and they were both definitely trustworthy people. Not the back-stabbing kind. Well, usually. “Come on, we have to grab Dad and then get out of here,” he told them and slipped out of the dungeon room, with Josh and Fen on his heels.

*

Following a stranger through their castle that was no longer their castle—but was still their castle, dammit—was honestly not how Josh expected his day to go when he had woken up this morning. In fairness, apparently the last time he had woken up was three hundred years prior, but well, what have you. He was still trying to wrap his mind around the fact that so much time had passed while he and Fen had been kicking the door and screaming in their little cell.

If he hadn’t believed Ted before, he certainly did now, though. Whitespire suddenly seemed three times more massive than what he was used to. While he and Fen had organized some construction during the two years that they’d been on their own, it had not been anything of the magnitude they were experiencing now. Three turns in to their escape, Josh had officially lost track of where they were in relation to anything in their home, and he’d sought comfort in Fen by grabbing the hand not occupied by the dagger Ted had given her. She took comfort in the small gesture as well and squeezed him reassuringly, as she held out her weapon defensively in front of her.

For the most part, Ted managed to lead them away from any guards of this so-called Dark King, although there had been about three times where they had had to press close to the walls to hide from the sight of a passing patrol. Beyond that though, Josh was impressed with his seeming knowledge of the routes these guards were taking, and he wondered how long the man had been spying on the castle.

Their luck wasn’t to last, though.

All of a sudden, they rounded a corner and came face-to-face with a man dressed in the heavy black clothing of one of the King’s guards. Josh threw his hands up, ready to tut out a defense, and Fen slashed forward with her knife, ready to attack.

“Whoa!” the guard hissed at Ted, his hands going up to defend himself and prove himself unarmed. “It’s just me!”

Josh took a beat to make out the other man’s face and then grabbed Fen by the shoulder to pull her back. “Wait! It’s Q!” he told her in whispered surprise. Ted grabbed all of them and pulled them back into the hallway they had just exited. Josh grinned widely at his friend. “Q, buddy, it’s so good to see you!”

Quentin’s eyes were wide as he took in Josh and Fen, probably just as surprised to see them as they were to see him. “How are you guys—I thought—people said that the Dark King…” he trailed off and then let out a startled “oof!” as Fen threw herself into his arms. “Hi, Fen.”

“You’re okay!” she cried sotto voce, her arms tightening around his neck. “We had no idea. None of the messenger bunnies were working!”

Josh reached forward and gripped Quentin by the shoulder, “Yeah, man. We didn’t know if the Incorporate Bond worked. We thought maybe the Monster and his sister had killed you both. It’s been like two years since we heard anything from Earth.”

“Three hundred years,” Quentin contradicted quietly, carefully unwrapping Fen’s arms from around him, avoiding the knife that was still in her grip. “And—I’m glad you both are okay, but we need to get out of here and then we can talk about the fact that you both are alive—which how?”

“I have a theory!” Josh told them, raising a hand. “Ted here said that there was some kind of powerful magic coming from the dungeon room that we were trapped in. I wonder if it was some kind of localized time dilation spell? Sort of like what SG-1 got trapped in their ship at the end of the ser—” he trailed off as he realized that the others—even supernerd Q—were staring at him in confusion. Heathens, he thought sadly. “Nevermind. I think it was what happens between Earth and Fillory but on an even smaller scale: the room and the rest of Fillory.”

“Okay, fascinating as this all is,” and Ted actually did seem intrigued by the discussion, “we really do need to get out of here.”

Fen nodded in agreement. “Didn’t you say you had to find your father?” she asked. “We should do that before we leave.”

Josh was about to open his mouth and suggest splitting up when Ted waved a hand at Q. “We already did. Let’s go,” he told them.

Fen and Josh exchanged looks of confusion. “Wait, your dad is Quentin?” Fen said in surprise.

“Now I’m really confused by how time has been working,” Josh added. “But let’s go. I don’t want to get trapped in another room and lose another three hundred years.”

They managed to make their escape without meeting any other familiar faces. Ted only had to cast two illusion spells to get them out a servant’s door that Josh and Fen had never seen before and out into the lands beyond the castle. They trekked without speaking to the carefully wooded area, their footsteps muffled by a silencing spell that Quentin cast as they looped back towards the tree line.

Josh was about to ask why they were heading back towards the place they’d escaped, when suddenly he noticed a woman crouched between two bushes, a compound bow in her hands, eyes trained on Whitespire. He raised his hands, absolutely no idea if she was an ally or an enemy; he was so confused about what was going on. Fen held her knife in front of her when she noticed Josh prepared to go on the offensive. They were in tandem still, thankfully not thrown off by the circumstances.

Quentin kept walking forward towards the woman, even as Ted stopped, with Josh and Fen stopping to his right. Josh noticed Quentin dismiss the silencing spell, and suddenly the woman stood abruptly and turned her bow on his friend. “It’s just us!” he whispered urgently. “Don’t shoot!”

The woman, a pretty redhead dressed in functional breaches and tunic, lowered the bow and smiled. “I’m glad you’re both okay,” she said with a smile. “Any…trouble?” she asked, casting a quizzical eye over Fen and Josh.

“Not as such, Mom,” Ted replied stepping forward to embrace the woman. “Sorry it took longer than expected.”

Josh’s head was spinning. “Mom?” he asked. “Like Q is Dad? Are these codenames or something? Because to be honest, you’re way too old to be Q’s actual kid.”

Quentin turned to look at them and bit his lip. “No, actually not—not codenames,” he replied wincing.

“Are you going to introduce me, Quentin?” the woman asked, bumping Quentin’s hip with her own.

Quentin ran his hand through his hair and scratched at the back of his neck. “Oh, this is awkward,” he murmured, clearly not intending on the others hearing him. “Yeah. Um, Ari, this is High King Fen and—what were they calling you, Josh?” he let out an awkward laugh, “Josh Hoberman, the Fresh Prince of Fillory?” Josh offered her an uncomfortable smile as Fen gave an awkward little wave from next to him, her right hand still gripping the knife that Ted had given her. “They were, um, a lot less dead then we were led to believe, I guess.”

“They were trapped in a dungeon room that was the source of the magic that I identified,” Ted added. He seemed amused, if the smirk on his face was anything to go by. Clearly, whatever his relationship with Quentin, he was taking some degree of pleasure in Quentin’s discomfort.

“Yeah,” Quentin nodded, “that. And um, Fen, Josh…” he looked supremely uncomfortable as he rubbed his hands together. “This is Arielle and Teddy, my, um. Well,” he took a fortifying breath. “My wife and son.”

Josh felt his mouth opening and closing, not for the first time today. He was pretty sure he bore a resemblance to the fish that he had been once-upon-a-time as he stared at Quentin in confusion. “Wha-who-how… Huh?”

Arielle laughed at their flabbergasted expressions. “I’ve heard a lot about both of you,” she smiled. “It’s nice to finally meet you both properly.”

“Remember how Eliot and I ended up trapped in Fillory’s past to get the time key,” Quentin asked. Josh vaguely remembered hearing something about the way that Margo had saved them both from winding up dead somewhere in Fillory’s history. “Well, we were, um, there for the entirety of our lives. Eventually, we had a family—and that’s where Arielle and Teddy are both from. That timeline.”

Fen nodded slowly, a strangely understanding look on her face. “I know something about suddenly having a grown child,” she said. “I’m sure you were rather shocked when they appeared.”

“That’s not—it isn’t exactly—um, you know what, let’s just go with that,” Quentin finally managed to spit out. He shared a glance with Arielle, who just looked supremely amused. “We should probably get back to base,” he commented, and waved his hand towards the woods. “We’ll get you guys better caught up on the way.”

He, Teddy, and Arielle took point, and as Fen and Josh slipped behind them, he wrapped an arm around the High King’s shoulders and pressed a kiss to her forehead. If Fen was even half as confused as he was, she was certainly doing a better job of hiding it. Either way, the proximity helped him calm down. If Quentin was alive, then their other friends were too, right? Margo would be alive. He’d have to talk to her—but surely she’d understand. It had been almost two years and Fen and Josh had been kind of each other’s only support system. Besides, Fen basically worshiped the ground Margo walked on—a lot like him, actually. She’d have to understand.

God, he hoped she’d understand.

Up ahead, Josh heard Arielle comment to Quentin, “Aren’t you forgetting something?”

Josh strained to hear his response, but his friend was just too quiet. The woman—his wife—replied back, ambiguously, “Oh no, I’m not judging you, love. This is going to be hysterical.”

 

TBC

Chapter Text

Margo slumped into the seat across to Eliot, setting two pints on the table in front of them. She was so fucking drained her entire body felt like jelly. They’d been in Fillory for about a month, running around, trying to figure out exactly what had happened during their apparent three-hundred-year absence. Unfortunately, it felt like every time they found out something new about the status quo, they found out that something else they had learned was outdated or wrong. One step forward, two motherfucking steps back.

Eliot picked up the pint of shitty beer that she had brought over and toasted her causally with it. “Well, Bambi?” he asked, taking a drink and making a face.

Margo leaned forward, resting her elbow—rough, homespun, boring, dirty sleeve and all—on the table to move closer to Eliot. “Nothing much new,” she said under her breath. They were trying to keep themselves on the down-low, out of sight and out of mind from the new administration. “Apparently the ‘Dark King’,” she spat out the title, and then glanced around to make sure no one was listening, “that’s in power now is the same cocksucker who killed Josh and Fen.” So much for some—how had she put it to Eliot, one long month ago?—white hot grief banging? Her fish-werewolf-boyfriend was as dead as Coldwater now. And Fen—which had definitely happened more than once in a dream—was long gone as well. “People are saying that he somehow wiped out the population’s memory of how to use magic, and because of that, no one outside of Whitespire has any magical education whatsoever.”

Eliot sighed and played with the head of his cane, still reliant on it even after a much time recuperating. Margo had intended to drag his ass to the centaurs and have them work their healing on him once they retook their places on the thrones, but the Dark Cock had managed to throw a wrench in those plans as well. It majorly sucked that neither of them had ever had an aptitude for healing. With the amount of ambient magic that permeated the air now that the fucker in the Library wasn’t hoarding it anymore, they could have healed Eliot ten times over. But Margo tended to blow things up when she tried anything harder than a hangover remedy, so they weren’t taking any risks. “So, nothing new then,” Eliot drawled.

Margo bounced her head back and forth in a universal ‘well-kinda’ motion. “The bartender did have some idea about who we should talk to.”

“Oh?” There was a familiar spark in Eliot’s eyes at those words; a spark that Margo hadn’t seen in what felt like forever. Her best friend was floundering like he had been before they had found Fillory. Between losing his throne, losing the election, being possessed, and losing Quentin—and damn she had not seen that coming somehow—he had lost his lust for life again. Having a goal would help, she hoped.

“Yeah,” Margo gulped down the rest of her beer and gagged a little. She missed the cocktails from their parties before everything had gone to shit. “Apparently there’s a counter-Dark King force. Bartender called it the… oh hell, what was it… The dog…no kitten…?” Eliot’s expression turned to one of complete confusion as Margo grasped around in her memory to try and find the name the bear had given her. “It was something weird… Oh! Cat. The Cat Force. Apparently, they’re the one’s trying to retake Whitespire, like some kind of future—well, modern day—Fillorians United.”

Eliot blinked slowly, his brow crinkling in confusion. “What is it with Fillory and having completely bizarre names for their organizations?” he asked rhetorically. “First the FU fighters and now the Cat Force? Is this one headed by some kind of lion?”

Margo let out something of a bitter laugh. “Not quite. Get this—it’s actually why I think this whole thing is too good to be true—apparently, this organization has Children of Earth at its center.”

“Bullshit,” Eliot muttered and shook his head.

She agreed with his assessment. They’d spent the last month trying to send bunnies to Earth, or trying to go back themselves, and all they’d gotten were a lot of messages of “return to sender” and a lot of migraines. If they couldn’t communicate with Earth despite actually knowing how, it seemed unlikely that anyone else from Earth had come over. “Exactly. But, if Bumblehum—or whatever-the-fuck-his-name-is is to be believed, these Children of Earth are using this cat force-thing to reteach magic to the native Fillorians. And run an insurgency-slash-rebellion. And help the peasants reestablish productivity of their fields.”

Eliot sighed and finished his drink. “Too good to be true,” he agreed, and leaned back in his chair. The spark that had been in his eye dulling significantly.

“Yeah, probably.” Margo fished around for something to say, but she was growing just as weary with everything as Eliot was. “But, El. He said that there’s someone who is, I guess, part of this group who comes here once a week to trade for supplies. He said I should try to talk to this guy, and he might have more information.”

“At the very least, he might know what started the rumors…” Eliot added thoughtfully.

“And rumors usually have at least some basis in fact,” Margo finished, smiling. “We might actually be one step closer to getting our fucking thrones back!” She slammed her hand on the table, causing him to jump and the patrons around them to look over in surprise. She made what she thought might be something of an apologetic face and then turned back to Eliot. “So, worthwhile to actually track down this fucker. The bear-tender said that he should be coming in today, and to keep an eye out for some asshole in a green cloak. Real specific.”

Eliot looked up from his glass, and his eyes widened in surprise. “Like that green-cloaked-suspicious-looking person?” He gestured towards the door behind Margo, where someone was leaving the pub with a rough-hewn bag in hand.

“Fuck!” Margo exclaimed and bolted out of her seat to chase after the man. She was suddenly thankful, as she dodged in between chairs, tables, and patrons, that she wasn’t wearing one of her elaborate Fillorian gowns, and that her still slightly-less maneuverable Earth outfit was tucked away in the bag at her side. She and Eliot had gone undercover and done some small magical fixings to make a few coins and buy local clothing. They were nowhere near as good at minor mendings as Q—fuck it still hurt to think about the stupid nerd—was. But they were fine enough that they were able to successfully pass off their work as nonmagical and make some petty cash here and there.

With Eliot following a few feet behind her, Margo dashed out of the building and followed the man in the green cloak as closely as she could. “Hey! Wait! I need to—fuck—“she tripped over a branch on the side of the road, barely catching herself before she fully face-planted, “—fucking wait up! I need to talk to you!”

Putting on one last burst of speed, she caught up to the figure in green and reached out to catch their arm. Before she could close her hand around their forearm, though, they spun around, daggers in hand. “Back off!” they cried in a distinctly feminine—and distinctly familiar—voice.

Margo felt her eyes go as wide as the two full Fillorian moons. “Holy motherfucking shit sticks,” she whispered, stopping dead in her tracks like a deer caught in headlights. “Fen?”

The woman’s hood had fallen down, and Margo could make out her face in its entirety. She was almost as wide-eyed as Margo was. Her mouth fell open and the daggers fell from her hands as she matched Margo’s voice for shocked and whispered awe. “Margo…? Is that—oh my gods, it’s you!”

Suddenly the other woman threw herself at the Magician, her arms going around her neck. The tactility of the other former High King of Fillory wasn’t what truly surprised Margo, however. Rather it was the fact that, instead of burying her face in Margo’s shoulder as she usually did when she as overcome with emotion, Fen’s face came right at Margo’s and she planted a solid, emotion-laden kiss on her lips. Never one to shun off a beautiful person, Margo let herself slide one possessive hand up into Fen’s hair and kissed her back, her eyes falling shut. What the hell, she thought, going for it. A thought which was promptly followed by a much more confused, What the hell? as her eyes shot open.

She pulled away from Fen abruptly and glanced behind her to see if Eliot had followed and had seen what had just happened. He was about five feet behind her and when he saw her turn to him, put up the one hand that wasn’t holding on to his cane. “Oh, no,” he teased dryly. “Don’t stop on my account.”

Fen’s voice from behind Margo made the woman jump. “Eliot!” she cried, and ran towards him, throwing her arms around him middle.

“Oof!” he groaned, as Margo was sure his stomach wound pained him. “Fen?” he gasped out in shock.

“I can’t believe you’re alive,” the Fillorian woman’s voice was muffled by her face pressing into Eliot’s chest. “I can’t believe you’re here.”

Margo put her hands on her hips, not letting her shock at Fen’s greeting throw her off for long. “I see how it is, Fen,” she teased. “Kiss me and grope El. Have Fillorian greetings changed that much in three hundred years?” 

Fen pulled herself back from Eliot and turned to look at Margo. “I don’t understand,” she whispered. “How are you here?”

“How are you alive?” Margo tossed back. “We heard that you and Josh were killed like three hundred fucking years ago.

“We were trapped in a stasis spell. We just got out of it about two months ago,” Fen replied, her eyes bright with tears as she looked back and forth between Margo and Eliot, as if unable to believe that they were standing in front of her. “He said you were both okay as far as he knew, but none of us knew for sure, because it had been so long. But you’re here now and—” she brightened up considerably. “You have to come with me! They’ll be so excited to see you!”

Margo felt as though her head was going to explode. She shared a look with Eliot and made a face. “Fen, dear,” she began slowly. “Who are you talking about?”

Fen opened her mouth to answer and then glanced around at the woods they were standing in. “I actually probably shouldn’t be talking about this outside the wards,” she said, her voice dropping suddenly. “Come with me! We can talk safely when we get back to our base.”

Eliot spoke up finally, his voice dry. “We’re actually looking for a group, Fen,” he told her. “So we can’t go with you right now.”

Fen looked around, conspiratorially. “You’re probably looking for us,” she whispered. “Are you looking for the cat force?”

Margo threw her hands up in the air. “Your kitten club is real?” she exclaimed, annoyed for some reason. “Who the fuck am I kidding, of course it is, and of fucking course you’re a part of it. You were a FU Fighter too, weren’t you? Rebellion groups are like your crack or something, aren’t they?”

“Sh, Margo!” Fen hissed, glancing around again. She squatted down to pick up the daggers she’d dropped when she’d first realized who was confronting her. “Nixay on the talk-ay.”

Eliot actually burst into laughter, clutching at his stomach as he bent nearly in two. Margo didn’t know if it was hysterics or if he was genuinely amused. “That’s not how pig Latin works, Fen,” he finally gasped out, straightening. “But we’ll talk more when we get where we’re going.”

Margo rolled her eyes. Fucking idiots, all of them. “And you can explain how cats come into play,” she added, still somewhat annoyed by the weird names. She was so ready for things to be normal, and to just rule and make Fillory a saner place instead of jumping through hoop after hoop after fucking hoop.

Fen looked over at her, confusion alight on her cute face, and shit, now she was calling Fen cute. The other woman kissing her had totally thrown off her jive. Better to keep her mouth shut now. “What cats?” she asked.

“That’s our question,” Eliot answered, walking forward to stand beside Margo, bumping his shoulder against hers. Knowing El, he could probably sense her inner turmoil.

“No, really,” Fen countered. “What cats? I don’t understand.”

Margo lowered her voice, “They called it the…” she glanced around and got even quieter, because apparently they were talking about a rebellion, “the cat force. Is it headed by a lion, tiger, or house cat?

Fen blinked, a crease forming between her eyebrows. “Oh! No! Not “cats” cat. Q, A, and T.” She tucked her daggers back into her waistband and reached over and grabbed one of Margo’s hands and Eliot’s free hand with each of hers. “Come on, we need to get going.”

With those words, she began to tug the two of them behind her. It was such a Fen thing to do, grabbing them and dragging them along like they were children behind her. She laced her fingers with Margo’s, and the Magician felt a flush of warmth sink into her belly. She’d missed the brat, she thought fondly. Spending the last month thinking that both she and Josh were dead had been… well, painful was putting it mildly. Well shit, she thought, her stomach sinking, I’m catching feelings. Honestly, she didn’t know who was gaining more comfort from the handholding: Fen or Margo and Eliot. Either way, Margo found herself squeezing the fingers interlaced with her own as the three of them slipped off the beaten path and into the woods. They approached a large tree that Fen seemed to identify easily, and that sang with magic through Margo’s fairy eye.

“Here,” Fen whispered, letting going of their hands, and pulling a key on a chain from around her neck. “We got the idea from the portal between Fillory and Earth.” She put the key near the tree’s trunk and a keyhole appeared suddenly, shining with power. “There’s a few of these located all around Fillory.” She put the key into the tree and a shimmering portal appeared. Fen began to step through and turned to look back at them. “Come on.”

Eliot and Margo shared a look. There was one, brief moment where Margo feared that all of this was some kind of trick, or some kind of hallucination. Maybe there’d been something weird in the beer they’d had at the bar and this was all some kind of bad trip. It would at least explain why Fen had kissed her.

Lost in her musings, Eliot slipped ahead of her and crossed the portal. Well, there went any caution, she supposed, and followed him through. On the other side of the tree was a collection of small buildings, gathered together in a clearing. In the center of the clearing was a table with two people bent over some sheets of paper. “Josh!” Fen cried as they came into view. “Look!”

One of the two people at the table turned to look at them as they made their way towards the center of the clearing. Margo felt as though someone had stolen the breath from her chest as she saw Josh Hoberman in all of his unexpected adorableness standing there. “Oh, hell,” she found herself whispering. She couldn’t possibly be this lucky—things didn’t work out this way for her. To have lost him only to have gotten him back. This had to be some kind of bad trip. She reached out to grab Eliot’s hand—seeking comfort from the one person who had always come through, but his hand was shaking and he seemed frozen where he stood. “El?” she whispered, momentarily distracted from Josh and Fen—who, she noted, had slipped into each other’s space. A problem for a later moment.

As Margo stepped closer to Eliot, she realized that his whole body was shaking as his wide eyes took in the clearing. He seemed drawn back to the pit of sand that the table was resting on, and the cottage that stood in the middle, but he seemed shocked by everything. “El?” Margo whispered again. “What’s wrong, babe?”

Eliot’s eyes closed for a long moment, and she watched his throat move as he swallowed. “Why here?” he finally whispered, his voice broken.

Fen made an aborted move towards him, her hand reaching, even as Margo rubbed up and down Eliot’s back. Margo was missing something—something big. And it was right. There. “Baby, what are you talking about?”

“Because it’s home.” The second person who was standing at the table finally spoke up. Eliot’s eyes flew open, and they focused in on the unknown figure. The cane slipped from his shaking fingers, and for a moment Margo was afraid he was going to completely shake apart. The figure had turned to face them and lowered the hood that had been hiding their features from view. A pretty redhead with bright eyes, Margo noted, who seemed to glow with some quiet form of magic. “It was the easiest place to for a base,” the woman continued, taking two steps towards the two Magicians and past Fen and Josh. “I’m sure you can guess why, Eliot.”

Margo felt her hackles rise and her eyes narrow. “How the fuck do you know his name?” she demanded, gripping Eliot’s arm, looking to ground him, even as he seemed to shake harder.

But then, her friend surprised her, by letting out a whispered, “…Ari…?” Margo tightened her fingers around Eliot’s arm, because now she was seriously fucking confused.

The redhead closed the distance between them. She drew to a stop in front of Eliot, and slowly lifted her hand to his cheek. “Hello, love,” she said quietly, sliding her fingers against his face. “We’ve missed you.”

Eliot suddenly seemed to collapse—like a marionette with its strings cut—and he fell into the woman in front of him. Much to Margo’s ultimate surprise, he had started sobbing into her shoulder. “Is anyone going to explain what’s going on?” she demanded.

While she hadn’t been looking, Fen and Josh had made their way over to her, and they each grabbed one of her hands. “Q will,” Josh said. “Probably. Maybe. Or Teddy. Somebody will, later.”

Margo felt a chill rush up her spine. They wouldn’t know. “Q’s… Q’s dead,” she told them, her voice ravaged still when she thought about it. Her stupid little nerd.

Fen’s head tilted in a cute little show of confusion. “No he’s not.”

“He died in the Mirror World, throwing the Monsters into the Seam,” Margo explained. “God, I didn’t even think—of course you guys wouldn’t know about that.” Eliot was still desperately grasping at the woman, and both Fen and Josh were squeezing her hands like lifelines, and Quentin was dead, and Fillory was three hundred years in the future, and she was just so tired. She found herself honest, in a way that she tended never to be. “I missed you,” she admitted, pulling the words from the place she never let anyone see.

Josh let go of her hand and wrapped his arm around her shoulder. “We missed you too. There are things we need to talk about,” he said, exchanging a look with Fen, who was biting her lip and looking concerned. “Come on, let’s get you something warm to drink.” Suddenly he lit up, slipping from quiet concern to excited and bright, “and food! I was just experimenting with a new cake recipe with Ari—I think you’ll like it!”

The two of them began to lead Margo away from Eliot’s crumpled figure and the stranger who was holding him up. But Margo had abandoned Eliot once for Josh already and look how that had turned out. “Wait,” she said, yanking herself out of their grips. “No. I need to figure out what’s going on with El.”

“Margo—” Fen began, but Margo cut her off by storming over to her best friend and the other woman.

“Eliot, baby,” she said, peering into the face he was hiding in the woman’s shoulder. “Are you okay?”

Eliot made some kind of broken sound, and the woman laughed a little. “Stand up, love,” she told him, and then let go of him. He stumbled a little bit but didn’t go down completely. The woman turned to Margo. “You must be Margo Hanson,” she said with a smile. “I have heard so much about you.”

“And I have absolutely no shitting clue who you are,” Margo responded bluntly. “What the hell did you do to my Eliot?”

The woman glanced over at Eliot, who had awkwardly bent down to get his cane. “You didn’t tell anyone about me, either?” she teased. “I’m feeling neglected and hurt.” She turned to Margo again. “I’m Arielle,” she said with a smile. “I’m so glad to finally meet you. Quentin and Eliot spoke of you so fondly, I feel like I know you already.”

“Bambi,” Eliot spoke over the roaring in her ears at the mention of Q again. “Arielle is…a friend,” he said quietly. The woman in question shot him a puzzled bordering on annoyed look and threw up her hands. “She and I need to talk, I think.” His voice was ragged. From crying. From distress. From the emotions that she knew lived in his chest even if he was trying desperately not to address them.

Margo huffed. “Fine,” she bit out, and then lifted a threatening finger at the woman—Arielle. “If you sho much as hurt one single fucking hair on his head,” she warned, knowing her eyes promised murder as much as her voice, “there will be more pieces of you scattered throughout the multiverse than there are worlds in it, you hear me?”

To her surprise, the woman’s face broke out into a delighted grin. “You’re everything they both said you were, aren’t you?” she asked. “Don’t worry, Margo. I may be pissed at my husband, but I still love him. We just need to talk.”

Margo felt her jaw drop. Husband? Oh what the hell now? “You know what… tell me later.” She shook her head. She was missing so much and honestly? She was too tired to care. She glanced over at Fen and Josh, who were watching her, both with open adoration and joy in their eyes. It was almost gross.

Almost.

“Yeah. Fine. I apparently have my own conversation to have.” Margo turned to her boyfriend—and…well whatever Fen was. “El, babe,” she said not looking at him. They were going to have to talk eventually too, because apparently her other half was keeping things from her. “Shout if you need me.” She’d reached Fen and Josh and she took their offered hands in a show of weakness. “Or don’t, actually I might not be able to hear you over whatever is about to happen.” She looked her lover and the woman that she was pretty sure was about to join her bed up and down, feeling all of her fucks given flying away. “Lead the way, you two,” she told them, and let them drag her towards one of the small cottages.

 

TBC

Chapter Text

Margo let Fen and Josh lead her only as far as indicating the building that they were headed towards. As soon as they reached where they were going, though, she pulled herself back into control, and yanked Josh forward, pushing him against the door. She continued to grip Fen’s fingers in her own, because what the hell, and slid her other hand out of Josh’s grip and into his hair. She yanked his face down to hers and slipped onto her toes to close the last few inches between them.

She felt Fen’s fingers spasm in her own as she poured her relief at seeing her boyfriend into him through their connected mouths. Feelings sucked, she decided, thinking of the despair she had felt up until five minutes prior, but kissing with feelings was nice. And if good feelings felt like this, that was okay.  Fuck, she felt like a walking cliché, but who got to be lucky enough to actually get their boyfriend back after he had supposedly died three centuries ago. Certainly not her. She was the queen of fucking up everything usually. So this was something she had to seize and seize hard.

Speaking of. “Hm,” she murmured, pulling away, “did you miss me, too, big boy?” She glanced down just enough to know that she got her point across to Josh.

He looked like Margo had just taken all of his breath away. “M-margo,” he gasped out. But she had already slipped away to look at Fen, leaving him hot and bothered with nothing to do.

Margo waved her hand at the door. “Why don’t you let us in, Hoberman,” she said, imperiously. She tilted her head as she observed Fen, still clasping her hand. The other woman’s cheeks had tinged completely pink, and—well shit, her pupils were completely blown. “Oh, Fen,” she teased. “Did you enjoy that?” She reached up her other hand to stroke the woman’s cheek as Josh opened the door behind her. “I do think there is something you both need to tell me, hm?”

Without further ado, she let go of Fen and stalked past Josh and into the cottage. She took in its studio-apartment-one-room glory and noted that besides the three of them it was completely empty. It was also, if Margo was being honest, pretty cute. There were flowers in the window sill and herbs hanging from the ceiling over what she assumed was the kitchen. A fireplace sat tucked into the corner, with a couch and a chair, and it was towards that that she made a beeline.

She practically threw herself into the chair, suddenly feeling antsy. For all of her bravado moments earlier, and her control of the situation… she still wasn’t completely pleased. Yeah, they’d all been caught up in the heat of the moment—but what if… Her feelings had one-eightied, and she felt her hands getting jittery. Fuck, feelings suck, she thought as Fen made her way over to Margo and the fireplace, and Josh side-tracked himself to the kitchen.

Fen perched on the couch facing Margo. She sat straight and uncomfortably, and then began to play with her hands in her lap. The anxiety about whatever was hanging over their heads was clearly taking its toll on both of them—if not Josh who was humming and banging away at some-fucking-thing in the kitchen.

“Margo,” Fen began finally, her face having paled the moment she sat down across from the Magician, “I’m really, really, really glad you’re alive.”

Margo felt the amusement that must have been present on her face. “Three ‘really’s,” she drawled, “how…emphatic.” She tucked her still antsy hand between her knees as she crossed her legs and leaned back. “I somehow got that from the… unexpected… hello outside of the tavern.”

Fen’s paled cheeks burst with color again, and Margo let out a laugh. She was almost worried about the girl’s blood vessels if they kept up this constant switching. “Um, yes. About that.”

“About what?” Josh asked, walking over jauntily. He handed Margo a cup and medium sized plate. The drink smelled richly of hot chocolate, although she swore they didn’t have that in Fillory. Next to the cup was a slice of dark cake, not quite chocolate, but damn if it didn’t smell good. “The drink’s the closest thing I’ve found to chocolate since I’ve been here,” he told her. “And Ari and I have been experimenting with the cake—it was supposed to be a present for Fen’s birthday, but the time dilation screwed with the date, and I missed that completely, so now—here! I think we’ve come close to getting the mix of spices perfect, but I can’t be—” he cut himself off, as if he realized he was rambling, and looked abashed. “Um, yeah. Tell me what it makes you think of?”

There were so many other things on Margo’s mind, but honestly, she’d never turned down anything Josh had cooked. He was really fucking talented with his hands—in and out of the kitchen. She broke off a piece of the cake and popped it into her mouth. She savored it for a long second and felt a sense of warmth flood through her as the flavor hit her tongue. Margo felt her eyes flutter shut, as she let out a moan of delight, suddenly back in the Physical Kid’s Cottage, sipping on a cocktail, Eliot’s head in her lap. For a long moment, she was sitting in front of a fire at Brakebills, not a care in her mind. And then it was gone, and she licked her lips, reopening her eyes. She was back in Fillory with Josh and Fen both staring at her, mouths slightly parted as they watched her tongue lick the flavor from her lips.

Josh cleared his throat, looking distracted. “Um… how—how was it?” he asked, his voice hoarse.

Margo smiled, knowing exactly how she looked. “Ex-quis-ite,” she enunciated slowly, and leaned forward to set the plate on the small table next to her.

“Eh-huh,” Josh nodded slowly, and slipped to the ground at Fen’s feet. She was pretty sure she had turned his legs to jelly at some point, and she was fucking proud of herself. “I’m glad…?”

Margo leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms, somehow feeling better and back in control of the situation. Neither of the other two had taken their eyes off of her, and she could almost feel the power going to her head. “Now,” she said, “are we going to talk about whatever is going on here?” she waved her hand at the two of them, still in each other’s space.

“I’m sorry!” Fen exploded, the tension finally breaking her silence, and the entranced look on her face turning into one of despair. “It’s just… we didn’t know if you were dead and it was just us for two years and I’m sorry. I’m such a bad friend! And you should never—”  

Margo’s heart jolted in her chest. “Fen, honey,” she interrupted, leaning forward again. “What are you talking about? Slow down.” She felt herself start to reach out to the other woman, and then caught herself. She felt bad, but she was pretty sure that Fen had fucked her boyfriend, so she was pretty sure she was in the right here.

“We’re not sure how long its been for you,” Josh started, after sharing a look with Fen and patting her leg. “But, at least from our perspective it’s been about two years since the Incorporate Bond. And then the three hundred years we were apparently trapped in time as Fillory moved on without us. And then another six months since we got out of Whitespire.”

Margo swallowed tightly, suddenly feeling the entire situation weighing down on her. Fuck fuck fuckity fuck nuggets. Sometimes being right sucked more than being wrong. “Are you saying that…” she trailed off.

“It was almost two years, and magic came back so strong,” Fen continued. “And you never came back, and every messenger bunny we tried to send—”

“Came back ‘return to sender,’” Margo completed for her. “Mine and El’s too,” she told them. “And we’ve only been back in Fillory for about a month.”

“We didn’t know what had happened, and I was still the High King,” Fen picked back up, wringing her hands again. “We thought you were all dead, and we were just waiting for the boots to fall—”

“Shoe to drop,” Josh corrected her, running his hand up and down her calf in an effort to calm her.

Fen was looking at Margo desperately. “And I was so worried. About you and about Eliot, and I don’t know. It just… it just happened. One minute, we were trying to figure out what to do about the Southern Marshes—about a year and a half after you went to Earth and never came back—and the next… well…”

“You started macking on my boyfriend,” Margo finished for her, annoyed, but also, sympathetic. Shit sticks.

“I’m sorry,” Fen wailed, leaning over and covering her face.

“Hey, hey,” Josh gripped her leg, and tried to pull her hands away from her face. He turned back to Margo. “Don’t be mad at her,” he said, almost accusingly. “I’m the one who should have—who shouldn’t have…”

“It takes two to tango, Hoberman,” she countered and sighed deeply. Fuck feelings, she thought again. They fucking sucked. “That still doesn’t explain the way you attacked me in the woods, Fen.”

“I’m sorry,” Fen cried again. “I was just… it was—it was you.” She couldn’t seem to get words out in any coherent form. “I had thought you were dead, and then you were standing there, and you were alive, and for a second I thought you were a figment of my imagination, and it was—emotion, and I thought—if it was you what if I never got another chance—and I shouldn’t have, but I did, and now I’m sure you hate me—and consent, but—I’m sorry!”

Meanwhile, Josh’s head swiveled back and forth between the two women. “Wait, now I’m lost. She attacked you?” he asked, confused.

Margo let out an unamused laugh, her thoughts swirling and a mess from Fen’s confusing as fuck explanation. “With her mouth.”

Josh let out a groan and looked up at the ceiling, even as Fen let out an adorable—no, not adorable, fucking stop it, brain—squeak. “And I missed it?” Josh complained.

“Whoa, horndog, much, Hoberman?” Margo teased dryly, trying to regain as much control over the situation as she could. At least some things don’t change, she thought almost fondly. This discussion was all over the place, much like her own thoughts and feelings and—really, this is why she hates those pesky things. To ground herself, she reached over to try the drink that Josh had brought over to her.

“It’s just… ugh,” Josh groaned. “A, I’m sure it was hot as hell,” he started, “and b, fuck, the two women I love kissing, well isn’t that just—” he cut himself off, his eyes going wide as he realized what he said.

Margo choked on the drink—which really did almost taste like hot chocolate. “I’m sorry, fucking what?”

“Shit,” Josh whispered, now burying his face in his hands. Margo’s brain had short-circuited though, the anger rising up in her.

Two women. Of course. She was an object. That could be easily paired with other women as a sex-dream, and fuck men and their ‘two women’ desires and fuck everything. Josh fucking Hoberman is as much of a fuckering fuckface as the rest of them.

Hot as hell.

Two women. Hot as hell—

That I love.

That I love.

Love.

Fuuuuuuccckkkkk.

She let out a heavy breath. Fucking feelings, she thought. But I can work with this.

Across from her, both Josh and Fen looked distraught, not making eye contact with her or each other. This was something she could do, though. This was familiar territory—and if all parties were willing, well. She could do this.

She had this.

She rose to her feet, suddenly. Smoothly. Taking the step and half to stand in front of them, she slipped one hand into Josh’s hair, and ran her fingers over Fen’s cheek. Margo leaned forward, bringing her face towards the other High King’s, not quite touching their lips or noses together, but almost. “Threesomes…” she began slowly, lowly. Loud enough to be heard by Josh, who she had quite comfortably close to where she was ultimately going to want him as she bent over to face Fen. “I have…ample… experience with those.” She rubbed her nose slowly against Fen’s and watched as the other girl’s pupils grew wide and her breathing grew shallow. “Love…that one’s new to me. A girl might need your help with that one—both of your help.” She was carpe fucking diem-ing the shit out of this. She pressed her lips to Fen’s hard, and then pulled back, cocking her head to the side even as she tightened her grip in Josh’s hair. “Tell me, Fen. Have you ever been with another woman?”

Josh’s face pressed into her hip, as Fen swallowed tightly. The other girl shook her head jerkily, and Margo felt a predatory smile cross her face. “Do you want me, Fen. Want this?” At Fen’s frantic, and unquestioningly adorable nod, Margo licked her lips. “Well then, honey,” she drawled. “Allow me to show you some things.”

Below her Josh let out a painful moan and Margo pressed her way back into Fen’s space.

*

Margo shut the door to the small cottage behind her as quietly as she could. She had left both Fen and Josh passed out on the couch, covered up with a blanket she had stolen from the bed. They were both such amateurs, she thought fondly, as she made her way to the table set in the center of the clearing. The woman with whom she had left Eliot was standing there, bent over the table, examining papers that lay a top it. Good, she thought firmly. She had a bone to pick with this woman.

“Where’s Eliot?” Margo demanded, making her way over to the other woman. She had entrusted her best friend to the stranger, and if anything had happened to him—well. There would be hell to pay.

The woman—Arielle—looked up at Margo as soon as she spoke. “Asleep. We talked, and cried, and his injury tired him out.” She glanced back down at the papers in front of her—maps, Margo noted. “I’m gonna have my granddaughter check him out whenever she shows up,” she said ambiguously, and then waved her hand at one of the buildings. “You can go and check on him if you don’t believe me.”

Margo was tempted to do exactly that, but if Eliot was sleeping, she didn’t want to interrupt. He needed it too much. Instead, she slipped her fingers into the poppers for Axelman’s Alarm, and sent it in the direction of the cottage that Arielle had indicated. That way, if Eliot woke up and was in any kind of distress she would know. For now, she needed to talk to the woman who had caused her El to cry. “Alright,” she said, slamming her hands down on top of Arielle’s maps. “Time to talk, lady.”

The redhead looked at the Magician, tilted her head, and smiled. “You’re right. It is certainly time for us to have a discussion.” She waved her hand to a blanket and pillows spread out at the side of the clearing by the tree line. “Let’s talk, Margo. I think you have questions and I’m fairly sure I have answers.”

Margo, never one to let a situation slip out of her control if she could help it took the lead over to blanket and settled down before Arielle had the chance to walk around the table. Margo tapped her fingers on her leg impatiently, which, instead of instilling discomfort in the other woman as she had intended, just made her smile. “You really are everything Eliot and Quentin said you were, aren’t you?” she laughed as she made her way to join Margo. She curled her legs underneath her and pulled a pillow into her lap. “I really can’t begin to express how pleased I am that I finally get to meet you.”

“Alright, cut the cryptic bullshit, lady, and start making some fucking sense. How in the high holy hell do you know Eliot—and Coldwater—and, for that matter. Me?” Margo’s blood was starting to boil. She was in charge—she was High King, okay, well actually Fen was…or had been…or whatever. This woman, whoever she was, could get to the fucking point.

Arielle smiled, not bothered in the least by the venom in Margo’s voice, which to be honest, was really pissing her off. “I’m not sure how much you know,” she began. “From what I’ve gathered, neither Eliot nor Quentin opted to tell you much about the timeline they spent here, did they?” She waved her hand around the clearing, indicating the cottage with the red awning in which Eliot slept and the sandpit that sat beneath the table with maps. At what Margo was sure was her own confused agreement, she continued. “This is where the Mosaic of the Beauty of All Life is located,” she told her. “Our boys lived out an entire lifetime here.”

Margo bristled at the phrase ‘our boys’ because fuck no, they were her boys—but then the meaning of Arielle’s words caught up to her. “But that timeline never happened because I stopped them from going on that Quest,” she corrected, a sinking feeling settling in her stomach. Maybe she had a bigger bone to pick with Eliot than she thought. And, fuck—Q was dead, or she would have some choice words for her supernerd too.

“Just because you stopped them from going on the Quest that time, doesn’t mean that it had never happened,” Arielle explained. “I don’t claim to understand it completely,” she said, squeezing the pillow in her lap and leaning back. “Temporal magic has never been my strong suit. The boys always called me a Naturalist—like your Josh—I understand plants and nature much better than forms of Physical magics. But, from what I understand—what they’ve told me—just because they didn’t live the lifetime they spent solving the Mosaic, doesn’t mean they don’t remember it.”

Margo felt her stomach drop, horror filling her. Holes she didn’t know existed were starting to fill themselves in. Why Eliot had been so adamant about Q not staying in Blackspire; Q’s single-minded determination to get Eliot back—which she had shared but had been distantly curious about Quentin’s passion; the sheer, unadulterated heartbreak on El’s face when she had had to tell him that their nerd was dead. The horror was replaced with fury almost as soon as it had arrived. “Those fuckers!” she exclaimed. “They never told me jackshit! How could they!”

The way she had acted towards Q at the end, unsympathetic, so caught up in her own distress and determination. And then her discovery of her feelings towards Josh—all those things had taken a front seat and she ignored the friend that had rapidly slipped into place as a surrogate little brother. She hadn’t noticed—hadn’t known to notice—Quentin’s spiraling deeper and deeper into his depression. The way his obsession in saving Eliot had started to limit his sleeping and eating. Had noticed it all only after the fact—only now that she knew. The tears that had begun and ended in the hospital room at Eliot’s side when she had to tell him that, “Q isn’t coming, baby. He’s gone,” welled up in her eyes again. Fuck him. Fuck Eliot. How could they keep something like this from her? Wasn’t she their friend? Wasn’t she fucking Eliot’s partner in everything?

So caught up in her own emotions, she didn’t realize that Arielle had reached out and grabbed her hand until she squeezed and felt a comforting squeeze back. “Our boys aren’t very good at explaining themselves, or seeking help,” she reminded Margo. “Don’t blame yourself, and do try to look past their idiocy, Margo.”

Margo took a deep breath and used her free hand to wipe away her tears. Fuck, her makeup was ruined. “I’ll think about it,” she bit out, still furious. But—her mind caught on something else—something that rang with something Arielle had said before. “Earlier you called Eliot your husband—which, bullshit, Eliot’s married to Fen, still—and now you’re calling El and Q ‘our boys.’ Explain.”

Arielle smiled, squeezed her hand again, and then let go. “Time gets a little funny here, and so do relationships,” she admitted. “Technically, I was only married to Quentin.”

Margo felt her mouth fall open at the thought—her little Q, married? And wait—“Technically?”

Arielle nodded. “It was the three of us though, always. And so, we eventually did our own private ceremony, just the three of us. Not recognized by any official authority, but we made the vows to each other—and then from my understanding, the boys reestablished them about ten years after my death with our son as the witness.”

“Wait—what the fuck?” Margo said. “Your death?” Just as she had felt herself approaching more of understanding, the redhead sent her head reeling again. “And your son?”

“I take it no one explained any of what we’re doing here to you?”

Margo threw her hands into the air, frustrated. “No, sorry we were a little busy!”

“And, come to think of it,” Arielle said ponderingly, “I’m not entirely sure that even Josh and Fen know the whole story. They’re both just so passionate about the fight, I don’t think they ever really questioned how it started—they just went with it.” She uncrossed her legs, and recrossed them with the other leg on top, distractedly. “I guess it’s up to—”

Mom!” a man’s voice rang through the clearing and the periphery of Margo’s sightline lit up with magic through her fairy eye. “Are you here? We’re back!”

“Over here, Teddy,” Arielle called. She turned to Margo, her eyes going wide suddenly with a thought. “Oh—brace yourself, Margo,” she suggested.

“What are you—” Two men were making their way over to where the women sat. One in the heavy, black clothing of the Dark King’s guards, Margo recognized, the other in what amounted to camouflage in Fillory—the browns and greens that blended in with most of the forests. It took a moment, perhaps because Margo wasn’t expecting it, but suddenly, like a punch to the gut, she recognized the floppy dark hair that hung underneath the black cap of the first man.

Oh fucking fuck. Shit, hell cocksucker.” Margo shot to her feet, because either her eyes were playing the biggest motherfucking trick on her, or Quentin Fucking Makepeace Coldwater was making his way over to them. “Dickmuncher. You’re fucking alive?” she cried. “How the fucking hell are you alive, Coldwater?” Fury was warring with joy was warring with shock all rolled up into one ball of righteous feelings in Margo Hanson. She had mourned him. She had cried over him. And Margo Hanson did not fucking cry. Distantly, in the back of her mind, she noted that both of the men—Quentin and the unknown guy in camouflage—were both glowing with that same subtle magical note in her fairy eye that Arielle was, but she didn’t care.

Quentin’s eyes were wide as he saw her marching towards him, her arms held stiffly at her sides. “Margo?” he gasped. “Holy hell.” Seeing her anger, he braced himself ready for the punch she was ready to throw, but then, just as she wound up to sock him in the shoulder—or across the face, she hadn’t decided—she found herself throwing her arms around him and squeezing him.

Without knowing how she got there, Margo found herself actually sobbing into Coldwater’s chest, furious with herself, and with him, and with the who damn world. But she couldn’t stop, and she couldn’t let go. He was alive, and in her arms, and fuck if Arielle was right and she had missed all the warning signs and he had been suffering in silence for the literal-fucking-months before he had died. Shit, she couldn’t stop. She just squeezed him so tightly that she thought he might explode in her very arms and that was an awful thought, considering how Twenty-Three had said that he died—and fuck that set her off again.

“Margo,” Quentin was whispering, his face buried in her hair. “Margo, it’s me. It’s okay.” He was rubbing his hand soothingly up and down her back. “I’m here. I’m alive. I’m sorry. I’m so so sorry. It’s okay.”

Something about hearing him say he was sorry finally seemed to break her of her sob-fest, and she pulled away. Now she knew what she wanted. She reached over and slapped him across the back of his head, the fury back as strong as it had been moments ago, but somehow unwilling to do any substantial physical damage. “What. The. Fuck. Coldwater. How could you do that to us?”

Quentin looked apologetic. “I’m sor—”

“Sorry doesn’t cut it, Q,” Margo interrupted. “You died. You made me tell Eliot. That. You. Died. You made Alice watch, and you made us all mourn, and you made me cry. I don’t fucking cry, Coldwater.” Her hands were tightened into fists at her sides again. “I don’t know how you’re alive, and I do want to know eventually, but you better damn well understand that you have so much groveling to do that it is going to take you ten fucking lifetimes to make up for all the hurt you put us through.” She was on a roll now. “There is always another way, Q. Always. Have the shitshows that we’ve been through not taught you that? You don’t get to sacrifice yourself because we always find another way. And you do not get to hurt me and Eliot like that. Never again. Do you understand me. Not. Again.”

Quentin’s eyes were bright, and she knew that despite how hard she was trying, they matched her own. “I get it, Margo. I really do.” He reached out, hesitantly, and then stopped himself as if he felt he didn’t have the right, but fuck, Margo loved this stupid, emotional, disaster of a supernerd.

She was really using that word too much today. She needed to stop. But, well, it was apparently a day for feelings—ugh. She reached back out to him, and wrapped herself around him, less full of fury, and more just full of relief, and joy, and confusion. “I don’t know how, Quentin, but I’m so glad you’re back with us.” She tucked her face into his shoulder and let the material of his shirt swallow her words. “You’re the little brother I never wanted, you buttmunch,” she confessed, half hoping he wouldn’t hear her. “You’re not allowed to do this to me again.”

“I love you too, Margo,” Quentin whispered into her hair—and so much for him not hearing. “I’ll try not to.”

Taking a fortifying breath, she pulled back. “’There is no try,’ you fucker,” she quoted, trying for the levity and devil-may-care that she was used to. She gestured to the space between the two of them. “And you speak of this to no one—do you understand?”

Quentin laughed, wetly, wiping his own tears away. “Ma’am, yes, ma’am.”

As Margo came back down from the emotional high she had just experienced, she realized that Arielle and the stranger were trying desperately not to watch what was happening between them. Fuck, there went her hope that she could just threaten away the fact that this conversation had ever happened. She made eye contact with the redheaded woman, who smiled sympathetically and rolled her eyes. Men, she mouthed to Margo. And the Magician felt herself smile.

The reminder of men sent a thought flying through her mind. She spun to look back at Quentin, who was slipping off the hat and jacket of the guard’s uniform—which thankfully was black because she was sure it was covered in her makeup now. “You should go into that cottage,” she told Quentin ambiguously. “Pretty sure there’s a Sleeping Beauty who could use his Prince Charming to kiss him awake.”

She watched as Quentin’s entire body straightened up. “Margo—you—you don’t mean…”

Arielle laughed from her place on the blanket. “Go, you silly man. Eliot’s been waiting long enough for you.”

Quentin looked between the three of them in the clearing, wild-eyed. Margo watched as the same number of emotions flited across his face in the split second he locked eyes with her as she had felt in the hours since she and Eliot had encountered Fen. Feelings, ugh. She thought again, as Quentin leaned forward, pressed a kiss against her cheek, whispered, “I missed you, Margo,” and then turned and bolted for the central cottage.

Margo took a deep breath and turned back to Arielle and the man sitting on the blanket. “Two things. First, I think you have more to tell me about what the fuck is going on in this place, and second, I don’t suppose you have anything that passes for a mirror in this place? I need to fix my makeup.”

Arielle smiled and patted the spot next to her. “I’ve got you,” she told Margo, “but only if you teach me how to get your eyes like that. You could gut a man with lines that sharp.”

Margo grinned back, feeling shark-like. “Oh, honey. I really do think we’re going to be great friends.”

 

TBC

Chapter Text

“We should talk,” Arielle told Eliot, her hands on her hips. She wasn’t looking at him, instead watching Fen and Josh drag Bambi over to a building on the other side of the clearing. “There are some things I think we need to discuss.”

Eliot’s eyes were gritty and still filled with tears from his breakdown moments ago. Seeing this place again—seeing it being used as something other than home had hurt him somewhere deep inside. But then to have Ari standing there, speaking, and not being a figment of his long forgotten and buried memories had opened up a floodgate. He tried not to do emotion—not as much as Margo tried not to do emotion, but still. Sometimes feeling things hurt, and right now his chest felt like it was going to burst, and his stomach wound ached with every breath he took. He found himself speaking, voice hoarse and painful. “Only if we can sit. I’m not the young man I used to be.”

Quentin’s wife finally turned back to look at him. “How would you put it?” she asked. “Horseshit?” She tilted her head towards their Cottage and swept her hand in an after you fashion. “But let’s go inside.”

Eliot limped after her into the home that he had known for fifty-plus years. He could hear in his memories the echoing laughter of Teddy and Quentin and Arielle humming as she chopped up the herbs that used to hang over the wash basin. The sounds of their life meshed with the smells, meshed with the pain coursing through him—both from his physical injury and his turmoil.

The Cottage was largely the same, Arielle had clearly done a lot to try and recreate the aesthetics that their home had once held. Even the blankets were the ones he remembered. He followed her to the bed and sat down near the foot, leaning his cane and himself against the wall. “How—how are you here, Ari?” he found himself asking even before she got herself settled.

She slipped off the light outdoor shoes that she wore so that she could tuck her feet beneath her crossed legs as she settled near the head of the bed. “It’s a long story. We’ll get to that later,” she replied with a wave of her hand. “Honestly, I only understand so much of it—but know that I am here, and I’m not going anywhere. This time, I’m on the Quest with you.” She reached over and placed a hand on his knee, rubbing slowly. “There are other things we need to talk about, to be quite truthful.” Her voice had grown harder by the end of the sentence, and Eliot felt a coldness rush through him at his realization that Quentin’s usually easy-going wife was mad.

“Ari,” he began, but she pulled her hand off of his knee and held up a finger.

“No,” she said, “I’m going to talk. And be grateful that all I’m doing is talking. I very well could be screaming or smacking you I’m so upset with you right now. But I’m not.” She took a deep breath and reached her hands up to fiddle with her braid. It had always been one of her tells, playing with her hair—she did it when she was angry or upset—which honestly tended to come hand and hand. “You remember us, right? Our family? The years that we lived here and the little boy that we raised?”

Eliot felt himself draw back, surprised at the line of questioning. “Of course I—”

“Then explain to me, Eliot Coldwater-Waugh, what in Ember’s name you were thinking when you told our husband that being with him wasn’t a good idea!” Her voice had risen with every word, until by then end it cracked.

Eliot felt a stone sink into the pit of his stomach. Fuck. This isn’t what he wanted to talk about. He honestly never wanted to think about this mistake again. He had managed to avoid dealing with it, barring the one-sided conversation he’d had with memory-Q and memory-Eliot by actively not telling anyone—not even Margo—about this lifetime. But here was Arielle calling him out on it. “I—I—Arielle,” he drew out. “It’s…” he closed his eyes and buried his face in his hands. Finally, after a long moment broken by nothing but their breathing, he spoke. “I was afraid,” he admitted. “I was so fucking scared of hurting myself and hurting Q that I took the coward’s way out.” He had promised Q that he would be brave. And now Q was dead, but he could be brave with the woman that Q had loved.

That he had loved.

Arielle didn’t respond for a long moment, and when Eliot finally steeled himself enough to uncover his face and look at her, he noticed that her eyes were red. He hadn’t meant to make her cry—he had only intended to admit to his own shortcomings. “Ari—I—”

“I thought you knew,” she whispered, interrupting him. “I thought you understood how much we both loved you.” She reached out again and took his hand in both of her own. “We were never conventional, you and I, I know. But we loved each other in our own way.” They had discussed thits before, the strangeness that existed between them. Eliot had loved her, but had made no claims to her, really. They had made vows to care for each other—years after she and Quentin had been married, and honestly, he loved her dearly, in much the same way he loved Bambi. He had wanted to see her happy, and cared for, and protected. But he had never truly expected it in return. He didn’t deserve it—never had. It was her and Q. They were the ones who had stood before the priest in the village. They were the ones who everyone recognized. Just because he had loved both her and Q with every fiber of his being hadn’t meant that he had really expected it back.

“You foolish, foolish man,” she chided. “Quentin and I both loved you. We shared a home, a name, and a son.” Eliot’s heart broke for a moment at the thought of Teddy—their beautiful boy. “You knew all of this, but you still claimed it wasn’t you and it wasn’t Q.” Arielle pressed a kiss to the back of his hand. “You’ve been hurt, I know—” And she did, Eliot remembered talking about it, one night, when Q had fallen asleep on the daybed outside, curled around Teddy and it had just been Arielle and Eliot sharing a drink on the Mosaic, enjoying a moment of quiet. “—but you knew that you were vital. We wouldn’t have been us without you. And if—” her voice cracked, and he reached up to brush a tear away from her cheek, “—if we failed to express that to you, I’m so sorry.”

“No!” Eliot cried, and his heart panged, because no, that wasn’t it at all. “I just… I didn’t think—if anyone had a choice, why would they…” he was dragging the words out of a place he tended to avoid thinking about. “Why would they choose me?”

“We would,” Arielle told him, leaning forward to press a kiss to his cheek. “Quentin and I would, and did, and would again. We love you.” She kissed the other cheek and then pressed a brief kiss to his lips.

She pulled back after a second and yanked her hands away. The steely glint that he was so used to was back in her eye as she regarded him. “I assume this preposterous feeling of inadequacy was why you felt the need to introduce me to Margo—Margo Hanson, who I might as well know already as I have heard so much about her—as your ‘friend’?”

Oh no, Eliot thought, the sinking feeling back in his gut, Arielle was pissed about that too. “Sorry?” he offered, trying for the sad eyes that had never worked as well on him as they had on Quentin—not that either of them had ever been particularly successful in using them on Ari. Only Teddy was ever effective. The thought of Q and their son sent a spike of sadness piercing its way through his heart. At least they’re together, he thought distantly.

“Hmph,” Arielle grunted, and crossed her arms. “It also turns out that you haven’t spoken of me to anyone, hm? Me or Teddy, or our lives here?” She raised her eyebrow—her left, never her right, he remembered suddenly—and looked at him expectantly. “I expect you will rectify all of this, yes?” she asked. “Explain to your Bambi why she can trust you with me?”

Eliot nodded, almost frantically, and then found himself yawning, suddenly exhausted. “Of-of course,” he told her, biting back another jaw-cracking yawn. “I really am sorry, Ari.” He grabbed her hand tightly in his own.

She squeezed his fingers. “It looks like you need some sleep, darling,” she said. She took her free hand and brushed the back of it against his forehead. “You are a little warm,” she told him. “Sleep for now. We can talk more when your energy comes back.” She ran her fingers soothingly through his hair.

Eliot found himself suddenly longing for comfort. He remembered sleeping in this bed, once, when he had caught the Fillorian version of the flu. Both Q and Ari had gotten over it by the time he had hit the highest point, and he’d slept bracketed by the two of them, safe and warm and loved. He found himself longing for that now. “Stay?” he asked, his voice an almost pitiful whisper. “Please?”

“Of course, love,” Ari replied, and shifted herself so that he could lay down, between the wall and where she sat, his head nestled on the pillow. She kept her hand wrapped around his and stroked his head, quietly humming a familiar Fillorian folk song. Just as he finally felt himself drifting off to sleep, he heard her whisper something about Healing, and then he slipped into blackness.

*

Eliot came back to himself slowly, reaching towards that place of consciousness as if swimming through water. His senses started to come back to him little by little—first his hearing, then his sense of smell, then touch, and eventually his awareness that his eyes were shut. The last thing he remembered was Arielle brushing a kiss against his forehead, but he had forgotten the context. His body felt heavy in a way that it only ever felt after a thorough emotional purge, so whatever it was, maybe it was a good thing he didn’t remember it.

He laid still, eyes still shut, letting the sounds and smells and feelings of his surroundings sink into him. He could hear the rustling of the trees outside, and distantly, he was fairly certain he could hear the laughter of his wife. While her voice was too faint to make out, her laughter carried through the air as it always did, and that made his lip twitch into a smile just a bit. The smell of her peach trees was tickling his nose, as were the herbs that he and Ari kept hung over the stove. The only thing missing was the smell of chalk—Quentin must have done some cleaning spells while he was sleeping to remove that omnipresent scent. The familiar feeling of the sheets and pillows beneath his cheek had him burrowing deeper into the mattress he lay sprawled upon, pulling his hands up to his head to slip underneath.

Or at least, he tried—only one hand came. He realized, sluggishly, that the other hand was being clasped between someone else’s. Large enough that it had to be Quentin’s because Arielle’s was far too small, and Teddy’s—their little boy’s—were even smaller. He felt himself smile, as he felt the fingers against his hand still for a moment, and then resume their soft strokes, and he let himself finally open his eyes.

He distantly knew that he was still dreaming—had to be dreaming, because the dark and awful part of his mind remembered that Q was dead and gone and wasn’t coming back. But Eliot got to enjoy looking at this figment of his imagination for a long moment. Dream-Quentin looked like the Q from those distant memories of the Mosaic, reminded him of softer days, and slices of life, and the quiet time away from Quests. But he was gone—and while Ari had been dragged into this timeline and disaster, he knew he wasn’t lucky enough to get it all.

He used his own thumb to stroke the back of Dream-Q’s hand and let himself gaze at the man who had at one point been his husband. “I wish you were here,” he whispered, his voice hoarse from emotion kept bottled up inside. “I wish I got the chance to see you again and be brave.”

Dream-Q leaned forward, a frown marring his handsome face. “El,” his voice broke and his eyes shone with tears. “El, it’s me.” He let one go of Eliot’s hand with one of his own and reached up to brush the hair out of Eliot’s eyes.

Eliot breathed in deeply at the contact. “Oh, Q,” he murmured, letting his eyes drift shut. “In my dreams its always you. But you’re always gone in the morning.” He slipped his hand over the one that Q had rested against his cheek. “I wish you stayed ‘till the morning. I wish I got to tell you the truth.”

Eliot.” Dream-Q’s voice sounded wrecked which wasn’t okay. Dream-Q was always supposed to be happy. His wife and son were playing outside, and if the sunlight pouring through the windows was an indication, his mind had decided that it was going to be a sunny day. Dream-Q shouldn’t be sad. Eliot must have said some of this aloud, or the figment of his dreams could read his mind, because Dream-Quentin let out a sob, and leaned forward and pressed his forehead against Eliot’s. 

Eliot opened his eyes again and was so happy to be in this quiet remembered moment. He had spent so much time trapped in his own mind, but he had onlybeen in the Physical Kids’ Cottage for most of it. His memories of the Cottage at the Mosaic were so much softer and kinder than the ones of Brakebills.

Dream-Quentin’s eyes were inches from his own, and they were so vivid it was as if—“It’s as if you’re real,” he whispered, refusing to break the silence more than that. “God, I wish you were real.”

Dream-Q blinked, and Eliot, confusingly, felt hot tears land on his cheeks. “I am, Eliot. I’m really here. You’re alive, and I’m alive, and I’m back, and I’m so so so sorry.”

Eliot felt something hot start in his fingers, moving its way up his arms and into his chest. He flinched his body away from Dream-Q, because that’s all it could be. He didn’t get that lucky—he didn’t—he didn’t—it wasn’t. It couldn’t be. He took a deep, shuddering breath as Dream-Quentin pulled himself back away. “That’s not possible.”

“It is, El,” the maybe-real-Q ran a hand over his face, brushing away his tears. “I’m really here. It’s a long story, but I’m so glad that you’re here. I missed you.”

Eliot struggled to bring himself to an upright position, because no. He had to be imagining this. He couldn’t get both Arielle and Quentin back. This was some cruel trick—he wasn’t. Maybe the Monster is still in control, his traitorous brain supplied. Maybe this is all your imagination. “You’re dead,” he gasped out. “You died and it’s all my fault and you died thinking that you weren’t—that I didn’t—” He had really thought he was all cried out. He had done the emotion-dumping on Ari, but apparently his exhausted and still healing body had more emotions buried deep down inside of him. “It’s all my fault. And I lied and I was a coward and I hurt you and you can’t be here but I wish you were so I could fix the mess I made and the things I broke and the hurt I caused.”

The words were escaping him in one long rush and he felt himself hyperventilating but he couldn’t stop it. The mantra that had been pounding its way through his head for the last untold weeks had taken up its drum beat again. All your fault. All your fault. All your fault.

His chest was seizing in its effort to bring air into his lungs, and that was sending twinges of pain through his still healing stomach, which caused greater difficulty in breathing. A vicious, vicious feedback loop of pain, accompanied by the awful repetition in his head.

“It’s okay, El. Breathe. Come on, El. Breathe with me.” He didn’t know when it had happened, but he was pressed against another body—a solid body. His ear against a chest, under which he could hear a heart beat thumping along steadily. Ba-dum. Ba-dum. Ba-dum. “Come on, Eliot. Match my breathing. You’re okay. I’m here and you’re okay. You’re not in your head. We’re both sitting here, and you’re going to be okay.”

Eliot felt like he was pulling himself back through molasses, and his mind was working about as quickly. It wasn’t possible, was it? Could Q really be…? When his breath was under control enough to actually manage words, he tried his favorite word of all—just a letter. “…Q…?”

“It’s me, Eliot. I’m here.” The chest he was rested again vibrated with the words, and Eliot almost felt himself lose it again. But maybe, just maybe.

He had to see him. He had thought he was looking at a dream and as such hadn’t taken in a visual fill, but if Quentin was real—

He pulled back away from the warmth of maybe-not-a-dream-Q and looked at him. He looked different, hair a little shorter than it had been in Fillory, but also longer than it had been the last time he’d seen him—for that brief moment in the park. His clothing was darker than he had worn it at the Mosaic, and more uniform-like, and his eyes were red and swollen from tears. This wasn’t the Quentin he would dream. It had to be—“You’re real?” his voice was almost inaudible. “You’re really here?”

Quentin grabbed his hand and lifted it to his lips. “I’m really here. I’m alive again. I’m sorry—so sorry—there was ever a time when that wasn’t true.” He pressed one—two—three kisses to the back of Eliot’s hand and then let go.

But Eliot wasn’t going to let that be the case. He had made a promise. Sure, it had been to a figment of his imagination while he was trapped in the confines of his own mind, but still. He twisted his fingers so that it was his turn to clasp Q’s hand in his own. “If you’re real—you need to know.”

Quentin’s adorable face scrunched into confusion. “El, what—”

Eliot lifted their joined hands and pressed one finger to Q’s lips. “Sh, darling,” he hushed, and then pulled their joined hands to his own mouth, the words he needed to say spoken directly into their entwined fingers. “I love you,” he admitted, the fear at his own words, the guilt from his cowardice, and the joy at getting to finally say this to a Quentin who wasn’t a memory all lacing his words. “I was afraid, because I ultimately mess everything up, but I love you. And I know I fucked up and lied and told you it wasn’t me—wasn’t us. It was us and is us.” He closed his eyes for a second as the bubble of joy faded slowly. “And I know—I know things changed and your feelings changed, but I needed you to know that I am so fucking sorry for lying and hurting you. For being a coward who couldn’t handle the possibility of getting hurt and for letting that fear hurt you.” He pressed a kiss to their joined hands and then let them fall to the blanket beneath him. “But I love you, and you don’t have to return that, it’s okay, I get it—but I needed you to—”

His words were cut off by the feeling of a mouth pressing against his. Closed lips—chapped lips—lips bitten raw in places. Nothing perfect, and yet so perfectly real. And a nose brushing against his own. A hand that slid along the side of his face, stroking. And then—Quentin pulled back, and Eliot felt his eyes drift open slowly and he took in the mix of emotions on Quentin’s face. “Eliot,” he whispered, but then stopped, swallowing down the other words that looked to be trying to make their way out.

“Why did you do that?” Eliot asked, his voice pin drop silent, but still hoarse from the tears dried on his cheeks and the emotions threatening to burst from his very chest.

Q let out a laugh—short and somehow not quite amused. “Honestly?” he asked, rhetorically. “Because, quite frankly, I’m—I’m—I’m furious with you. And because I love you. And because you needed to stop. And because I’ve wanted to do that so badly since we sat on that alter and you told me no. But I couldn’t and now you’re making it sound like I could have and I thought—I thought what the fuck? I’ll do it now, because chances are—I won’t get to again!” Quentin’s voice was rising—for the first time in this conversation the sound reaching over the whisper they had both tried not to break.

There had been more words, Eliot realized, and he had heard them, and he would process them in a moment, but he was stuck. And because I love you. I love you. I love you. It was a nice change to the mantra that had been pounding away in his head before this. “I love you,” he found himself saying again—matching Q’s words—the ones he was caught on at least.

The other man let out a wet laugh—still clearly angry, but also—tired? –and dug his fingers into the back of his own head. “Jesus, Eliot,” he said, sounding as exhausted as Eliot suspected. “I need to know where we stand. I can’t keep doing this.”

“I love you.” Now that he had said it, Eliot found he couldn’t stop saying it. “I love you, and I don’t care if you don’t love me back. I can live with that as long as you’re alive. I don’t know how to be without you anymore,” he admitted.

“And I don’t without you!” Quentin exploded, suddenly. “I was a mess—the whole time you were possessed and as far as I knew you didn’t love me back. But now you’re here, and you’re telling me that you’re sorry—but I—I—I—fuck.” He ran a hand down his face. “I was dead. I was dead, and so things were easier, but Eliot, I had been trying to move on.”

Eliot suddenly recognized the elephant that had stomped its way into the room—a certain blond genius elephant. “I know about you and Alice,” he admitted quietly, soberingly, and slipped his hands around Q’s.

“I can’t do this until I talk to her.” The words seemed to drag themselves from the bottom of Quentin’s chest. “If she’s still alive—I honestly don’t know—but I can’t do that to her again.”

“She doesn’t deserve it,” Eliot agreed, the pain he remembered on her face when she realized what her so-called-friends had done with her boyfriend.

Quentin sighed. “I don’t… I don’t know what I’m going to say to her—what I feel about her, but Eliot…I do love you. Please don’t doubt that.”

Eliot lifted their hands again, this time flipping Q’s so that he could press a kiss into his palm. “And I love you.” Once-twice-three times, he brushed his lips against the other man’s skin. “But…we’ve done this whole process so backwards, it’s okay if we take this part a little more slowly.” He met Q’s eyes and smiled, feeling whole and light and like there was a truly terrible weight off of his shoulders and off of his soul. “And, now, by some miracle, we actually have time.”

 

TBC

Chapter Text

It doesn’t matter how many times Julia sets foot into the Library, there is still something about it that gives her the heebie-jeebies. Everything about it feels more washed out, gray, and cold—there’s always a chill to the air that manages to keep her just below comfortable. But this is where she needs to be—looking for clues to help her regain her godhood.

“And you want me to—what?”

Plus, there’s the whole need-to-fix-the-infrastructure-and-broken-system thing. Everett had left the Library in shambles, and now the Order had come to Alice looking for help. And Alice had refused to come without backup, proving that she was, in fact, capable of making a decent decision now and again. Not that Julia would have let her go alone. The other girl was still utterly destroyed from watching Q—from watching what had happened in the Mirror World. And Julia still ached at the mere thought of—at the mere thought, so it was best that they stayed together.

Kady leaned against a bookshelf. “You want back-stabbing-little-miss-two-goody-two-shoes to play Head Librarian for you guys?” she laughed, waving her hand towards Alice who was standing in her typical straight-backed awkwardness in front of Zelda. “I mean,” she scoffed and cocked her head, “I guess it’s your funeral.”

Julia leaned over and pushed lightly on her friend’s shoulder. “Be nice,” she whispered, silently amused but still aware of Alice’s feelings. The girl was trying, even if she had fucked up royally so many times that Julia wasn’t sure she’d ever be able to fully earn back anyone’s trust.

“This is me being nice,” Kady reminded her, rolling her eyes and tightening her arms a little bit. Kady had only come with them because Julia had insisted, and the Hedge wasn’t letting Julia too far out of her sight.

It had been…a rough month and a half to put it mildly. Margo and Eliot had flounced back off to FIllory without even a by-your-leave—not that Julia had ever expected one out of either of them—about two weeks after—well after. Then it was just Alice, Julia, Kady, and Twenty-Three left in pain and struggling to stay afloat—and to be honest, she was avoiding him as much as she could. He was still mega uncomfortable around Kady so having Kady attached to her hip had the added benefit of making Penny stay the fuck away from her.

Julia had drowned most of her sorrows—at losing Q and at having her decision-making autonomy taken away from her again—in a lot of booze and some really fascinating drug concoctions that Todd had come up with. In fact, there was a solid chunk of the last month and a half that she just didn’t remember. Some of those nights had resulted in Kady and Julia waking up together in strange places, which, at least they had been together, even if neither of them remembered exactly what had happened.

Alice, on the other hand, had taken to her suffering in silence, and after three weeks disappeared to her family home, even though Julia had only learned that much later on. Apparently, mother and daughter had a lot of issues to work out, but Alice hadn’t felt comfortable staying at Brakebills so she’d fled.

“What is it exactly that you need from us?” Julia asked Zelda who was doing her usual Anne Hathaway-White Queen-hands-in-the-air-thing and looking uncomfortable.

“Well,” the older woman replied her face looking pained, “we really only require Alice.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Kady bit in. “But let’s be real, none of us actually trust the Order and as much as I can’t stand blondie here, we’re not about to let her get hurt because we trusted her with you.”

Alice looked over in a puzzled surprise that almost made Julia smile. “I’m not sure if that was supposed to be a compliment or an insult,” she admitted, her voice quiet.

Julia offered her a half-smile back, her head deciding at that moment to restart its angry hangover drum beat. “Just assume both,” she suggested and then looked back at Zelda. “Kady’s right. We aren’t leaving Alice to possibly get hurt by you all—you’ve done enough, and I don’t think we’re ever going to trust your ‘good intentions’ again. So—” she crossed her arms in an unanticipated mimicry of Kady, “—you’re getting all three of us.”

Zelda brought her hands up to her mouth and took a deep breath. “Very well. I supposed I should inform you of some of what we are dealing with then.”

“Finally,” Kady growled, pushing herself off of the bookcase forcefully—which made the Librarian wince. “What shitshow has the Order gotten us into this time?”

Julia and Kady moved over to stand beside Alice’s left side, offering, in their own way, a show of support for the blond genius. The girl was still looking a little lost and confused, although that tended to be par for the course with her.

“We haven’t done anything, but we are dealing with a few problems,” Zelda admitted. Lifting a finger, she continued, “With that being said, we are dealing with them. We really just Alice to help the Order as a whole.”

Julia exchanged a glance with Kady—cryptic pains, all of them. “What kind of problems?” she asked, starting the Librarian down.

“Well,” Zelda started and sighed. “To begin… you know time passes differently among different branches of the Library, correct?” Alice, Kady, and Julia all nodded. Time was funny with the Order, but that much Julia was vaguely aware of. “Well, for the last several months by our reckoning, we have been—well that is to say—we haven’t been able to contact the Underworld branch.”

“Shit, fuck,” Kady swore next to her. Without thinking, Julia reached down and grabbed the other girl’s hand tightly in her own. “Penny,” she whispered.

“You understand, of course, that this is largely problematic for a number of reasons, but most predominately because we don’t know whether or not everything is proceeding smoothly down there,” Zelda told them. “Our attempts to contact anyone in the branch have failed, and the team we have working on the problem have, as of yet, been unable to identify the location of either Hades or Persephone—the Underworld’s gods,” she clarified unnecessarily.

Julia closed her eyes and breathed deeply, remembering Our Lady Underground’s last moments when she had tried to—“O.L.U is dead,” she told the Librarian, and Kady squeezed her hand back. “I don’t know anything about Hades, though. We’ve never met him.”

“I doubt it, but—does the Library have books on the gods?” Alice asked, piping up from beside Julia.

Zelda shook her head, “No, and that is one of the reasons I believe they are having trouble locating him.” She pursed her lip as she looked at Julia, “I’ll inform the team about Persephone’s death. That should go into any of their calculus.”

Kady had taken a fortifying breath and pressed on. “Okay, so the Underworld is radio silent—that’s one problem. But you made it sound as if there were more than one.”

And, oh, Julia just wanted to rest. One day where they weren’t dealing with Quests, or vengeful gods, or monsters—or apparently missing gods again. Was that so much to ask?

“We’ve also lost contact with Fillory,” Zelda admitted. “We had a few Librarians searching for answers there, but they haven’t responded to any contact in several months. Almost as long as we’ve been unable to reach the Underworld.” She made a face, “In addition… all books whose occupants are in Fillory have simply ended. Not like the Great Blank Spot, but just…ended. We don’t know why.”  

Julia let out a heavy breath, her headache thumping away in her skull. “Shit,” she whispered, mimicking Kady’s earlier words. “Eliot and Margo are in Fillory,” she murmured and rolled up her head to stretch her neck. “We can help try to find Hades,” she offered. “Kady and I have…” she paused, uncomfortable, “better luck than others in locating missing gods.”

Kady let go of her hand and swatted her shoulder. “Thanks for volunteering us,” she growled.

“You know it’s true,” she reminded the other woman. “Alice—it’s up to you what you do—but we’ve got your back no matter what.”

She glanced over at the blonde woman, who was shifting from foot to foot. “I think… I’ll try to help the Library with rebuilding for now,” she began slowly. “I can help with any spellcasting or whatever you need, but Zelda’s right about needing to get the entire system changing.”

Kady threw up her hands, and turned to Julia, “And where do you suggest we begin?” she asked, not even waiting for Zelda to accept their help.

Julia frowned, the gods didn’t have books, but maybe… “Is there a place where we can identify a god’s followers?” she asked, turning to the Librarian. “Hades might not have a book, but his followers should. Maybe there’s something in those that have an idea of where he might have gone.”

Zelda’s eyes went wide, and she nodded. “Yes of course. Follow me.”

*

Alice and Zelda left Kady and Julia after helping them to identify some of the most recent Hades followers. The moment the other two were out of sight, Kady turned on Julia, arms crossed in her typical stance of self-protection. “Seriously?” she asked, annoyed. “Thanks for volunteering us. I thought we were just going to keep an eye on things, not start another fucking Quest!”

“We don’t know that this is a Quest,” Julia told her, and began to walk down the aisle that the book they were looking for were in. “Besides, I know you want to know what’s going on in the Underworld—I can tell you’re worried about Penny.”

“Hmph,” Kady grunted from behind her. “I thought you didn’t have your goddess-empathy powers any more—shit sorry.”

Julia flinched at the reminder; she was doing better until she really thought about it. “I don’t,” she said, focusing on the first part of her friend’s comment instead. “But, let’s be real, I know you. Of course you’re worried about Penny.”

She trailed her fingers along the spines until she reached the book she was looking for: Brandon Thinell. She pulled the book off of the shelf and handed it to Kady. “Here’s one. Let’s go find the other three.”

Kady took it and was about to open her mouth when they heard a voice from a few aisles over curse. “Ember’s balls!”  

The women exchanged a glance, surprised and a little concerned. “Did that sound like a Fillorian curse to you too?” Julia asked. At the other woman’s nod, they both rushed out of the aisle and towards the source of the voice.

Three aisles down, they turned to face where they had heard the curse and found themselves looking at two Librarians, both of whom were looking down at a book, with another two on the floor beside them. “I really wish Uncle Penny had been more specific than just, ‘Hades has gone missing,’” one of the women ranted, her voice carrying down to Kady and Julia.

The two Magicians looked at each other. “Hades?” Julia asked, just as Kady’s eyes went wide and she said, “Uncle Penny?”

The two Librarians seemed to have heard them and looked up abruptly, making uncomfortable eye contract with the two other women. The one holding the book slammed it shut, and began to speak, “Um, I’m sorry. We were speaking rather loudly—I hope we didn’t distract you.”

There was something about the woman who spoke that seemed to remind Julia of someone—or something. She couldn’t quite place it. Next to her, Kady began to walk towards the other two, both of whom took a sudden step back, as if confronted—which, Julia thought, was definitely the vibe Kady was giving off.

“Are you two Librarians?” Kady asked, letting her hands fall to her sides, and seeming to try to let off a more friendly feeling, although that seemed to fail.

The second woman nodded. “Yes, yes we are.” She bent down to pick up the books that were on the floor. “And if you’ll excuse us, we have to be going. Sorry for disturbing you.”

The two women went to walk past Kady and Julia, but the Hedge stepped to the side to block their path. “What branch are you from?” she asked, “I don’t recognize you.”

Clever, Julia thought as the first woman responded, “The Underworld branch. Now if you’ll excuse—”

“Funny,” Kady interrupted her, and shared a glance with Julia, who nodded in support. “Considering we were just told that the Underworld branch had been incommunicado for the last several months.” She crossed her arms again, having caught them out in the lie. “I’d say try again, but last time I checked, green hair wasn’t typically allowed by the Order, right, Jules?”

Julia hadn’t even noticed the glimmer of green in the second woman’s hair. She had been so stuck staring at the first, trying to place what was so familiar about her. Caught off guard, she sputtered, “Um—yeah, right. Not in the handbook.”

“Ember’s tits,” the first woman groaned. “What now, Bria?” she asked, looking at the green haired woman.

The second woman—Bria—shrugged, her arms still laden with books. Abruptly, the first turned back to look at Kady and Julia. “Wait—” she said. “Did you say her name was ‘Jules’?” she asked. “As in short for Julia? As in Julia Wicker?”

Julia felt her eyes grow wide. “Yeeeessss,” she drawled out, nodding slowly. “How do you know my name?”

The woman ignored her and turned to Kady. “And you said—you were surprised by ‘Uncle Penny’—are you Kady?”

Now it was Kady’s turn to flinch. “How the hell do you know that?” she asked harshly, her hands rising slowly, ready to start throwing magic around if push came to shove.

“It’s a long story,” Bria replied, and bumped the first woman’s shoulder. “We should get somewhere private, Mars.”

The first woman, Mars—although that was odd, and Julia wasn’t sure if she hoped the woman was the war god or not—nodded. “I saw a conference room just that way,” she pointed beyond Kady and Julia, although both refused to turn, afraid that Bria and Mars would have disappeared if they took their eyes off of them.

“Lead the way,” Kady said, her voice demanding, not suggesting, sweeping her hand in an after-you gesture.

Exchanging a look, Bria and Mars walked past the Magicians and led the way to a room just a few aisles away. Once inside, all four women set down the books they were holding and took up stances on opposite sides of the table. “Okay,” Mars started, putting her hands up. “So… I know that we come off as suspicious, and that is really not intentional.”

Julia laughed, an unamused sound even to her own ears. “It never is,” she replied. “Now who the hell are you both, and why are you sneaking around the Library?”

Mars smiled at her, though, unthreatened for some reason. “You know, it’s really an honor to meet you,” she started, but Kady cut her off.

“If this is about the Our Lady of the Tree thing,” she threatened, quick to jump to Julia’s defense, which honestly, the former goddess appreciated.

“No,” Mars said with a smile, and Julia was struck again by how familiar the woman was, but she was sure she had never seen her before. “It’s just… I actually have a sister named after you,” she admitted. “So, it’s… nice… to meet her namesake.”

Julia was fairly sure that both she and Kady had identical looks of disbelief on their faces. “Okay—what the hell?” Kady started, but Mars kept talking.

“I have to look familiar,” Mars continued, as though Kady had never spoken. “Everyone says I share a lot of features with my granddad.”

Julia shook her head in confusion, still coming up blank—something that annoyed her to no end. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Mars and Bria looked at each other and they seemed to have an entire conversation with the quirks of their lips and the movement of their eyebrows. Julia was almost impressed more than she was annoyed.

Almost. “Seriously—who the hell—”

“You are Quentin Coldwater’s best friend, aren’t you?” Mars asked and Julia felt as though she had been doused in—ironically—a bucket of cold water. The throbbing headache at the base of her skull chose that minute to restart its pounding and she had to swallow against the sudden dryness in her mouth. The pain of Q’s—of Q hadn’t lessened at all yet.

“Was.”

Bria, who had leaned against the wall, tilted her head, a quizzical look on her rather sharp features. “Pardon?” she asked.

“I was Quentin Coldwater’s best friend,” Julia clarified, and it hurt it hurt it hurt. Because she had never wanted that to be a claim in the past tense, but it was because he was deaddeaddead and the last six weeks of pain were building up in her chest again. “Q is dead.”

“Was.”

Mars’ single-word response silenced every thought in Julia’s mind, because what the fuck?

Kady took the words out of her mouth: “What the fuck are you talking about?” she demanded, and Julia felt her head spin, still caught off guard.

“Quentin Coldwater-Waugh isn’t dead anymore,” Bria said, and walked forward to take a seat across from Julia and Kady. “He’s been brought back, as has his wife, son, and the both of us—his granddaughter and granddaughter-in-law. Your Penny—he is the Librarian, correct? He had a Quest for us.”

Julia could barely make out the words that Bria was speaking; there was a rushing in her ears that seemed to overpower everything else. But even as she looked at the two other women, she knew it had to be true. The features on Mars’ face that were familiar to her were Q’s. His nose. His smile—she would know that anywhere. But she hadn’t known to look for it and so had missed it.

Quentin Coldwater-Waugh isn’t dead anymore. Isn’t dead anymore. Dead anymore. Julia felt a sob tear its way out of her chest, and suddenly hands on her shoulder were leading her down into a chair and for that she was grateful because she honestly didn’t know if she could keep standing. Q isn’t dead. He’s alive. He’s alive.

The pounding in the back of her head and the roaring in her ears were making it hard for her to think, and the sudden rush of emotion that was coursing through her was making her vision go black. She felt hands—one stroking her head, and the other rubbing her back, and could barely make out the sound of someone going “I’m sorry—I’m sorry!” but all she was focusing on was the fact that Q wasn’t dead.  

Julia leaned her head against Kady’s side—because that was who was holding her, no doubt about it—and then pressed away, bringing herself as much into the present as she could. “We’re going to address all of the pieces of that eventually,” she said, her voice weak but growing stronger. “But first, we’re going to grab Alice, and then we’re going to go somewhere that is properly warded and not the Library and talk about this Quest that Penny has apparently sent you on.” She lifted her head to make eye contact with Mars, who was still standing and looking pleased for some reason.

Kady squeezed her shoulder and suggested, “Brakebills? The PK Cottage? Or do you think the penthouse is a better idea?”

Julia wasn’t sure she could stand to be in either of those places, but the resources at Brakebills were better, if not by much. “The Cottage,” she suggested. “Let’s go grab Alice and see if…Twenty-Three… can give us a lift.”

*

“So what you’re saying is that alternate me brought you all back from the dead somehow?” Penny asked Bria and Mars, crossing his arms and leaning back in his chair. “I gotta say that sounds really fucking farfetched.”

Julia was sitting on the window seat, as far away from him as she could. It was making her uncomfortable, being in the same room as him. She was still trying to get over the fact that he had made an important decision for her when he could have easily used his psychic powers to let her make the decision herself. There was a part of her that understood it, but for the most part it still hurt like a deep throb in her heart. Until today it had been largely overwhelmed by Q, but now, with Bria and Mars telling them that apparently Q wasn’t—that Q was alive, her issues with Penny had come back explosively.

“Leading a revolution against the Old Gods does sound like something Quentin would join, though,” Alice offered from where she was standing by the fireplace. “I wish there was some kind of proof though—because, no offense,” she shot an apologetic look towards the two women who were claiming to be related to Q by blood and marriage, “Twenty-three is right. Too good to be true.”

Kady rolled her eyes. “There are spells to do heritage tests in the library here on campus,” she suggested. “That should at least verify—”

She was interrupted by the sound of the front door opening, and Todd stumbling in. He looked pleased, and probably a little high, although that was nothing new. He glanced over and saw the group gathered in the main room and grinned. “Hey guys!” he exclaimed happily. “I thought you were in the Library!”

“Change of plans,” Julia told him, offering a small smile. She didn’t know him well enough to be annoyed about him to the same level the others were, but still—they didn’t really have enough time to re-explain everything.

“Who is this, now?” Bria asked looking up from the couch and raising a sharp eyebrow.

“Oh, go away, Todd,” Kady ordered, waving her hand in Todd’s direction. “Or, better yet—make yourself useful and go find Bridelbaumer’s Compendium of Family Spells.”

Todd didn’t reply though. He was staring at Bria and Mars with his jaw hinged open, as if he couldn’t believe what he was seeing.

“Todd?” Kady said, urgingly. “Go—fetch.” At his failure to respond she rolled her eyes. “Come on, Todd.”

Bria and Mars were both staring back at the male Magician, identical looks of puzzlement on their faces. The staring contested ended when Todd finally seemed to gather his wits back about him and a look of recognition took over Mars’ face.

Great Aunt Bria?” Todd’s voice was laden with confusion. “I thought you were dead?”

Almost instantaneously Mars grinned widely. “You’re Thom’s grandson, aren’t you? Eliot Todd?” she laughed warmly, and Julia was struck by the look of fondness that had covered her features even as the woman’s words registered. “The little boy always running around after my brother and asking for Grandpapa El’s and Granddad Q’s stories of Earth? Glad to see you finally made it out of Fillory, nephew.”

Kady’s voice cut through the resulting shocked silence summing up the awe that Julia was feeling as she stared between the two formerly-dead Fillorians and the Brakebills student. “Fucking Todd.”

 

TBC

Chapter Text

“I can’t decide if this is worse or better than the other dreams I’ve walked in on with you.”

Quentin lifted his head from where he was laying down with one arm curled around his wife and the other around his husband. He was sandwiched in the middle of them both, cozy, with Teddy sprawled across their feet. The boy had been afraid of the pounding rain and occasional thunder and lightening the night before and curled up in his mother’s arms. Eventually he’d migrated down to the foot of the bed as he tended to, and starfished across all of them.

“Penny?” Quentin whispered, keeping his voice low to ensure that he didn’t wake up any of the others in bed. “How are you—what?”

Penny leaned against the wall, where he stood looking down at the sleeping family, and crossed his arms. “I don’t have a lot of time, so if you wouldn’t mind…”

Quentin stared at him in confusion. How in the world was Penny here? He and Eliot hadn’t seen any of their friends from Brakebills in years. They were in Fillory’s past—how had Penny even gotten—

“Dude, you’re dreaming.”

Quentin blinked, confused for a moment, and then sat up abruptly. Eliot, Arielle, and Teddy all vanished as though they had never been there at all. Quentin ran a hand down his face and then reached up to run the same hand through his hair. “Right. Um. Yeah. Sorry. Good memory—I got caught up in it, I guess.”

Penny pushed himself off of the wall. “You really like this old cabin, don’t you, man?” he asked, rhetorically, heading for the kitchen table. “I guess all of our conversations are gonna happen here, huh?” He plopped down into the chair nearest to the window where the morning light was filtering in. He gestured at the seat ahead of him, “well?”

Quentin got out of bed, suddenly happy he was wearing pants, even if not a shirt. Between his two—often three—bed buddies, he was rarely cold between the sheets. He slipped into the chair across from Penny and put his hands on his legs. “What are you doing in my dream, Penny?” he asked.

“Playing the messenger, apparently,” Penny replied, drumming his hands on the table. “I don’t have long. Sleeping is rare in the Underworld, but even we take naps, and I kinda needed to talk to you guys. But I have to be quick about it or else Dingle will take notice.”

Quentin’s eyebrows crinkled in confusion. “…Dingle?” he asked slowly.

“Sorry,” Penny shook his head. “Your granddaughter is actually entertaining. I mentioned I didn’t know the Old God who took over the Underworld’s name and she suggested I call him Dingle.” He shrugged. “It works, I guess.”

“You’re talking about Marbam?” he asked, surprised. When had Penny had a chance to touch base with his granddaughter?

“Yehp,” Penny’s lips smacked the ‘p’ and he nodded. “Apparently, its in your blood to have shitty shields. I could hear her all the way from my office. Made it easy enough to find you.”  His hands continued to drum out an unfamiliar tune. “Okay, I have to make this fast. I just wanted to catch you up since communication between all of the realms has been weirdly tricky.”

Quentin nodded in agreement. “We haven’t been able to reach Earth since we’ve been on Fillory and Fillory is running three hundred years ahead of where it should be.”

Penny’s hands froze and he closed his eyes for a moment. “That explains the complications,” he said after a moment. “Fuck.” He sighed and then continued up tapping. “Okay, we’ll deal with that later.” He reopened his eyes and leveled a look at Quentin. “So, here’s what’s going on elsewhere. The Library has—for all intents and purposes—hired Alice to be their new head Librarian and Julia and Kady have decided to help, and that now includes trying to find Hades. Marbam and Bria ran into them at the Library, caught them up on everything, and now they’re working together to try and solve the problem. They’re having trouble finding Hades, even though they’re pooling their resources. They’re also working to try and get ahold of Fillory, because I guess they’re worried about Margo and Eliot? And also Josh and Fen?”

“They’re all okay as of now,” Quentin said. “Fen and Josh were trapped in Whitespire by the Dark King for those three hundred years, and I just ran into Margo and Eliot today.”

Penny shrugged. “Not like I can tell them that. As soon as I’m done talking to you, I have to wake back up or I might have a problem. But that’s good to know. How are things in Fillory besides the three-hundred-year problem?”

Quentin bounced his head back and forth. “Not great, but manageable,” he replied. “The Dark King trapped Fen and Josh and has been ruling for three hundred years. And we’re pretty sure he’s a follower of—what did you call him? Dingle?” Quentin allowed himself to smile a bit. That felt like Marbam—and he wasn’t surprised Penny was going along with her ideas; she had something about her that may people just want to play along. At Penny’s nod, Quentin continued, “We’ve been trying to figure out the weak spots of his hold on the castle and the people.” He lifted his hands into the air, gesticulating as he tended to do when he started to get excited. “Gods are powered by people’s belief in them, right?” he asked rhetorically. “So, we figured if we could get rid of the Dark King and then end the people belief in this Old God as much as possible, it might lessen the-the hold that he has on the Underworld, right?”

Quentin watched as some of the tension in Penny’s shoulders dropped away. The other man seemed exhausted and less sharp than usual, and Quentin couldn’t help but wonder why that might be. “Penny…” he started uncertainly. They didn’t have the kind of relationship that tended to elicit unprompted concern, but Penny… “Dude are you okay?” he finally asked. “You look…a little rough.”

Penny glared at him, but even that was lacking in most of its steam. At first, Quentin thought it might be because they were in his dream, but at the same time, that had never held him back before. “Gee, thanks, Coldwater,” Penny retorted, rolling his eyes.

A bit abashed, Quentin opened his mouth to defend himself, but Penny continued with a flap of his hand. “I’ll be fine,” he said. “With Hades gone, for some reason everyone has decided to start coming to me with their problems.” The Librarian sighed and slumped into the chair and ran a hand over his face. “I don’t know why they decided I had all the answers—Hades definitely didn’t say anything to anybody. But they just all universally decided to come to me. It’s just been…”

“I’m sorry,” Quentin said quietly, lacking in anything much more substantial.

“I’m not looking for pity,” Penny snapped.

Quentin flinched at the sudden emotional response, but before he could say anything, Penny sighed. “Sorry, I get it. I know—I’m just…tired.” He looked up at Quentin and narrowed his eyes. “Don’t you dare say anything to anyone. Fuck, I don’t even know why I’m admitting this to you.”

Quentin’s heart reached out for his kind-of-friend. He and Penny had never been close, but he definitely felt sympathy for the man who had never really wanted to be a Librarian in the first place. “You’ve got this, man,” he said instead, the words feeling trite, but true. “Stop worrying about us for now,” he suggested. “Focus on the Underworld? I think we can handle what’s going on above for the time being.”

Penny gave Quentin a look. “Really? I think you’re all about ten minutes away from falling apart.”

“Gee, thanks, Penny,” Quentin retorted. “And also—you’re a hypocrite.”

The Librarian waved a hand. “Yeah, yeah, whatever.” He sighed and got to his feet. “The rest of the group are looking for a way onto Fillory, so don’t be surprised if they show up soon. I’m pretty sure they’ve raided the entire Brakebills’s library, the Library’s library, and I think they’ve gone to bother Marina too. She was certainly annoyed to see them. Between your granddaughters and Todd, though, I think they threw her a loop.” He leaned back, stretching. “I’ve got to go before I start making someone suspicious. Good luck, Coldwater.”

Something in Penny’s last few sentences caught Quentin off-guard. “Wait, what about Todd?” he asked, but Penny had already blinked out of sight, and Quentin felt himself begin the slugging through mud feeling of waking up after an emotional rest.

*

Quentin awoke to the feeling of long thin fingers stroking his face and he found himself, instinctively, leaning into them. He loathed to open his eyes, lest the soft feeling of resting in the Cottage, wrapped up in the arms of the man that he loved break. He hummed in contentment as the hand that was stroking his face and hair slipped away to begin tracing light and swirly patterns on his forearm and over his hand. He hadn’t woken up to these gentle feelings in so long.

Finally, he accepted the fact that he would need to open his eyes and face the world one way or another, and decided to just do it, and found himself gazing into eyes that twinkled familiarly down at him. He had been curled up next to Eliot, but the other man must have woken first, and shifted him, so that he could peer down at Quentin’s face, which rest on Eliot’s lap.

“You’re hurt!” Quentin exclaimed, reminded suddenly of the fact that there was still a serious injury inches away from where he rested his head. He was about to shoot himself upright and off of Eliot, but the other Magician held him still with a hand on his shoulder.

“I’m fine,” he said, his voice still quiet, a small smile slipping its way onto his lips. “Did you sleep okay?”

Quentin smiled back up at him, and reached up to grab one of Eliot’s hands with his own and laced their fingers together. “I did,” he replied. “I was having a very nice dream—a memory. Until Penny showed up, at least.”

Eliot began to play with Quentin’s fingers although he refused to let go. “Our Penny?” he asked, his voice still quiet. “Or Twenty-three?”

“Ours,” Quentin replied. He was tracing patterns on Eliot’s hand now, having slipped his remaining hand into Eliot’s. “How’d you sleep?” he asked, concerned for Eliot’s healing wound, and the emotional drain he was sure both Arielle’s reunion and his own had placed on the man.

“Wonderfully,” Eliot admitted, almost reluctantly. “I forgot how well I slept next to you.” There was some kind of sheepishness on his face, and Quentin wasn’t entirely sure where it was coming from. At Eliot’s words, there was a familiar spike of frustration that shot its way through his stomach.

Although he didn’t voice the thought, Quentin couldn’t help but think that Eliot’s lack of remembrance was his own fault—he had been the one to say it’s not us.

He shook his head. That was a discussion for another time. “I’m glad,” he responded. “Something tells me you probably needed it.”

Eliot nodded. “Margo would say the same.” Eliot bit his lip, and they laid in silence, just holding each other’s hands in the darkness. It had fallen into night while they had been lying on the bed, it seemed. Quentin was fairly confident it was still early. It had been one of the Dark King’s magical changes to Fillory—an earlier nightfall to instill something of a curfew on the people. After a moment of quiet peace, Eliot spoke again. “I thought…I thought I was dreaming when I woke up,” he admitted quietly. “I woke up to you in my arms, Q, I was sure that it was all just a beautiful dream. I thought that before too.”

Quentin smiled softly. There was a huge part of him that was still so annoyed with Eliot and his dumb decisions, but at the same time, there was an even larger part that just loved him so much, that he couldn’t even find it in him to be annoyed. The two parts of him were largely at odds at the moment, but in Quentin’s mind, that was nothing new. “I know, El,” he whispered. “You said so earlier.” He reached up, and even from his position on his back, with his head in Eliot’s lap, he found himself seeking to give comfort as much as receive it. He slipped his hand up to frame Eliot’s face and stroked his cheek, much as the other man had done for him earlier. “But I’m here, El. I’m really here and I’m not going anywhere.”

“We have so much to talk about,” Eliot told him, sliding his hand to encompass Quentin’s on his face. “Good and bad.”

The slightly younger man smiled and then let go. He sat up and through the window could see the others gathered around the firepit. “We do,” he agreed. “Good and bad. But not now. We can take our time.”

“We have time,” said Eliot, and his voice seemed full of wonder to Quentin’s ears. Truthfully, Quentin found himself much the same way. He hadn’t expected to have time with Eliot again. It was wonderful to know that they did now.

“We do,” Quentin repeated, and after arching his neck back in a stretch, he slipped off the bed and offered his hand to Eliot. “Why don’t we go and sit with our friends and family?” he suggested. “They have a fire going and I have some new information from Penny to pass along.”

*

There was something that Quentin had forgotten to mention, and his brain blank lasted up until the moment that he and Eliot appeared at the firepit. The minute he laid eyes on the figure sprawled out on a blanket next to Arielle, he remembered though and hissed out Eliot’s name.

Unfortunately, it was a moment too late. Eliot had noticed Teddy at the same second that he did, and the taller man stumbled as Teddy jumped to his feet. “Papa!” Teddy exclaimed, somehow still sounding like the excited little boy he had always been despite the age that he had settled in to. Quentin’s son bounded over the other two men and caught Eliot up in his arms. While Eliot had a few inches on the Teddy, the last year of experiences through which Eliot’s body had been put left him less than hearty—something that Quentin knew everyone in this field was going to be working to rectify.

As he slipped away to give Eliot and Teddy a moment to themselves, Quentin made eye contact with Arielle, who was watching them with both eyebrows raised in expectation. He gave her a soft smile, reassuringly, and moved to sit down on the ground beside her—

Only to find himself yanked down onto the ground half sprawled on top of Margo. The other Magician had disentangled herself from Fen and Josh and used her not-insubstantial strength to divert him from his path towards his wife. Quentin heard Arielle muffle an undignified—and if Quentin was being honest, much beloved—snort from the other side of the fire, and he sighed heavily. These two meeting might actually end up being the death of him—again.

From Margo’s other side, her two other cuddling companions let out sad sounds and Quentin watched Margo roll her eyes. “Cool your tits, you two,” she snapped. “Let me have some Q-lovin’.”

This time Arielle didn’t even bother to try to hide her laughter and Quentin found himself choking a bit. “Um—okay, Margo…” he flailed around, awkwardly, as nerds like him were wont to do, until he mostly got himself into a partially sitting up position. Margo quickly took advantage of this to crawl in between his legs and lean against him. “Do I get any say in this?”

“Shut up, Coldwater,” Margo growled, grabbing his hands and wrapping his arms around her. “Don’t act like you’re not enjoying this.”

Next to them, Fen and Josh giggled, mollified somewhat by Margo’s manhandling of Quentin. He resigned himself to being Margo’s puppet and decided not question in. On his right, Teddy was helping Eliot settle into the gap between Quentin and Arielle and slipped himself into his Papa’s side. Eliot hadn’t let go of Teddy’s hand, which he seemed to be holding in a white-knuckle grip instead of his cane from earlier. Quentin watched as Eliot pressed a soft kiss to Arielle’s temple, and felt Margo hum in contemplation from where was plastered to his front.

After a moment of silence and stillness all around the fire, Margo eventually gripped Quentin’s hand more tightly. He felt her long nails bite painfully into his palm. He flinched a bit, and wondered what warranted this harshness, and opened his mouth to complain, when suddenly Margo spoke up, her voice a whisper, even if it carried around the silent clearing. “We have some more talking to do, you bitch,” she said, her voice strangely thick despite its quietness. “About things that you neglected to tell me.” She snapped her head over to look at Eliot to their right and her voice rose a bit. “And don’t think you get out of this conversation, either, you asshole. There were plenty of times you could have mentioned remembering all of…this.” She used their conjoined hands to make a wave around the clearing, and encompassing both Ari and Teddy as she did.

Quentin noticed Eliot flinch a little, and over Eliot and Teddy’s head he met Ari’s eye. She looked extremely unsympathetic. Margo and Arielle meeting was rapidly becoming a nightmarish reality.

Margo’s voice slipped a bit as she went back to speaking to Quentin specifically. “But… I didn’t notice how badly you were slipping. How badly the Monster was tormenting you—or why it might be affecting you—”

“Margo, it’s not your—”

“Shut up, you prick,” Margo interrupted, her nails practically drawing blood. He realized that it was her way of grounding herself. She was upset—really upset from what he was gathering. “I don’t do the apology thing. Ever. But… I should have noticed. But I was…” she took a deep, fortifying breath, and fuck. Margo was… apologizing? This was officially confusing as hell. “I was caught up in a lot of my own bullshit. But that doesn’t—I should have—I guess I’m sorry you didn’t think you could confide in me.”

Okay. Margo was kind of apologizing. But, at the same time, he knew her well enough to know this was the only recognition of her feelings about the situation he was going to get at this time. “I’m sorry I didn’t,” Quentin replied. “I was so caught up in everything myself I didn’t think I could reach out.”

“And that’s the problem,” Arielle piped up from across the fire. “Everyone in this family is terrible at admitting when they need help. And considering the fact that this family just keeps growing,” the Naturalist gestured to Margo and Fen and Josh with a small sweep of her hand, “we need to get better about that.”

There were somewhat of communal groans from around the fire as everyone realized that her pointed remark was aimed at literally all of them. Quentin rolled his head and then settled his chin on top of Margo’s head—she was surprisingly willing to let him take unusual liberties, it seemed. “I guess in the efforts of full disclosure, then,” Quentin started, “Penny showed up in my dream.”

Josh piped up from where he was sitting curled up with Fen to their left. “Our Penny? Or Twenty-Three?”

“Ours. In the Underworld. He said that Mars and Bria have made contact with our friends at Brakebills. They’ve joined forces with Kady, Alice, Julia—and I think…Todd?”

Margo and Eliot let out joint groans of annoyance.

Teddy frowned, looking between them. “I recognize some of those names. I thought they were friends?” he asked.

“In a manner of speaking,” Eliot replied for both himself and Margo. “But…ugh. Why Todd?”

Quentin reached over and pushed at Eliot with his and Margo’s joined hands. “Honestly, don’t complain so much,” he said, oddly forceful. “Todd’s not that bad and based on what Penny’s said about the situation, we probably can use all the help we can get.”

“Let’s not focus on how Todd is surely going to Todd things up,” Margo chimed in. She finally let go of his hands and reached out and with a few deft twists of her fingers, pulled some parchment from the table to her. “Tell us what Penny told you. And let’s work on this motherfucking coup.”  

 

TBC