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The Art of Giving

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Alice stroked the grey and white lop behind the ears, crowded on her desk as it was. Come to Penthouse, Eliot. The bunny croaked on repeat with a voice that sounded like a twenty packs per day habit. Maybe? The little bastards were chain smoking fiends.

She sighed, but continued the petting; something calming in the repetitiveness. Come to Penthouse, Eliot. Jesus. Did they have an off switch? She picked him/her up gently, and looked directly into those beady little bunny eyes. “Got it, ok?” The bunny just twitched its nose in the bunny way, but didn’t utter another word. She set it back down on the desk. She should send a reply--but. The fuck was she supposed to say?

Eliot, Jesus. She knew that idiot had probably gone and found some way to try and rescue Quentin; some impassable, totally in vain shit. Even after she told him it was impossible. I-M-P-O-S-S-I-B-L-E. Quentin had moved on, taken the great metro car in the--ground, or whatever. Penny, their Penny, Penny Underground. He’d explained, patiently at first, and then after the bargaining stage of grief kicked in which had her begging, had flat out told her in no uncertain terms. Not unkindly, but like kinda extra firm about it: there was no way. No way.

She had talked with Eliot. After whatever fucked up shit happened to him and Margo and Fillory; it involved time travel and rescuing Josh and Fen, and Margo staying to un-fuck things. But, Alice had her own shit with the Library, and really. That wasn’t her story. Not anymore.

But, Eliot. Had come to find her as soon as he'd wrapped up that chapter. Or, rather, the ghost of Eliot. Clearly broken. They were never friends, not really. For reasons that should have been obvious at time, and well. Probably always were. But. Even she could see there was an essential Eliotness that had been completely amputated. He still dressed the same, but somehow darker. Definitely not the Monster, but replaced with something illogically terrible instead. His big doll eyes shining and unfocused; a hard edge where none had been before. Because, Eliot, for all of his faults and foibles, always, always had kind eyes.

He had just barged into her office one day, moving slightly better than she had seen him before, but still. Kind of folded his giant body down into the chair in front of her desk. “So.” He had a (banned) bottle of rye in between the fingers of one hand. “You have something we can drink this from, or are we going to take direct hits from the bottle?”

And, so. They'd talked. His opening, beyond pointing out the fine, lead-cut crystal glasses that had been Everett’s, Jesus, on the shelf behind her head. She didn’t even know they were there. After downing a few fingers and refilling, he took a deep breath. “You read my book? I just want to save us some time, if you have.”

She hadn't. Actually, she was quite mortified by the whole book ordeal, even though it had proved useful, the knowing. Not in the end, though. Not when it counted. She was working to get them all classified, on a need-to-know basis. Like world-ending, need-to-know. No one’s business, really. Meddling assholes. Well, now they’re her meddling assholes. But, that meant she had to listen to Eliot break his own heart open like a goddamn egg; insides spilled all over the floor. Good thing they were drinking; she was teetering near drunk by the time the story had led to its awful, inevitable finish.

She felt the weird need to present an indefensible case for her own love for Quentin being more, but that was. Just mean spirited. At this point. And, she had to admit, in the face of this, of their, (pointedly not her), story. It probably, maybe, awfully, wasn’t. This wouldn’t have been the first time she considered the possibility of what would have happened to them if Quentin had lived. Because, clearly. Now, of course. Hindsight 20/20 and all that. But. Quentin had not been okay. For, like, a really long time. When she first came back to him, he hadn’t even cared if he lived. And, she had overheard him in Brakebills library. Just. His sole focus, his center. Aligned with Eliot’s. Even when Eliot wasn’t there. And, she hated that; wished she could banish the thought forever. But, here was Eliot. Sad, shattered Eliot. Reinforcing what she knew all along.

So, all she did was sigh. “I’m sorry.” Because, what more was there to say? Then they had both gotten shit-faced, swapping stories about Quentin being a complete dumbass at all the times. And, how scary it was to just trust that his heart had so much love to give. They ended in a pretty awful crying jag; clinging to each other and weeping on the floor until they fell asleep. It was embarrassing, frankly. The next morning had been horrific--the ground had clearly done Eliot no favors--he could barely walk; she felt like her insides had been swapped out with wobbly, cheap imitations. But, Eliot still pulled her into an awkward sideways hug before limping away with a promise to keep in touch. That had been almost three months ago.

Alright, bunny. The adorable little thing just sat there, watching her with that circular twitchy mouth. She picked up the ball of fluff. “I’ll be there.” Which, fuck it, really. Why the fuck not? Other than the million and one things she needed to do at the Library, and it would be a waste of time, and set her back through the stages of grief once again, most likely. When she finally had reached the very fragile edge of acceptance, but actually, had she really? When even the smallest, most remote bit of hope still existed in her heart? Maybe this wasn't even about Quentin at all. Maybe Eliot just wanted to hang out. Sure.

***

So, she found herself at an H&M in Manhattan, for some reason the need to de-Librarian herself was important; it also gave her more time to reacclimate. She picked up two lattes from Starbucks, and headed to the Penthouse. Where she found Eliot, frenetic energy, still limping but noticeably moving better, and he just looked at her, eyes wild. But, at least, not hard. “Fucking finally!” He smiled over the mounds of paper and books spread everywhere. So, this was about Quentin.

Caffeine was probably not a good idea, given Eliot looked as coked out as could be, gesturing wildly. He took the cup from her anyways.

“So?” She frowned, because nestled within the mess of pages and pages spellwork, sitting atop “The Divine Comedy”, was incongruously, a DVD case. “The Wrath of Khan?” Alice gave him kind of a confused smile. “Didn’t take you for a Trekkie.”

He laughed a little frantically, running his fingers through his hair, which was, well, in wild loops and whorls, and like, totally worked on him. Of course. “Um. So, not, exactly. We were down to googling “Resurrection” stories. And, that was Ms. Wicker’s choice, leaning hard into Q’s penchant towards nerdiness. But. Alice.” He was doing that doe-eyed, solemn thing. Like slowing time around him or some shit. “It gave me an idea. I think--maybe--”

She sighed, sinking down onto the sofa. The stupidly, overly expansive sofa. “Eliot.” She could tell he heard the reproach in her voice by the way he shook his head at her, and well, yeah. Maybe she’d been in the Library a tad too long. Or, maybe that was her default setting when it came to men. Or anyone, really. She took in a deep breath, brushing her hands over her skirt, forcing herself to look back up at him. She was aiming for kindness, these days. New leaf, and all that. “Ok. What did you find?”

He sat next to her on the couch, eyes shining, and maybe Eliot had swapped despair for mania. She wasn’t quite sure which one was easier to take. “Have you seen the movie?”

She sighed, shaking her head.

He shook his head right back. “Yeah, no. I hadn’t either. But, ok, so Spock dies saving the crew. But, split a bit of himself off so that when his new body got back--” He waved a hand dismissively. “That part of the story isn’t as important. I mean it is. But--his soul was fragmented. Something his, uh, species could do, or whatever.”

She couldn’t help the hysterical giggle that escaped. “Is this your way of telling me that Quentin was a Vulcan?”

He held up his hand in the Vulcan greeting. “Yeah. No.” He pulled over a book entitled “Augmented Reality and the Mirror World”, the pages marked with those little Post-It flags. Eliot had been a busy boy. He opened one of the tabbed pages, twisting it around to show her.

“Shards? I know what they are, Eliot.” She tried to check her tone, but did he really think he had gone down a road she hadn’t considered already? “But, Quentin’s--uh--circumstances, the way in which he--” Yeah. No. Still even saying it was too much.

By the way Eliot reared back, eyes bright, he felt the same. He seemed to hesitate, just a second. To center himself and push past the grief. She knew that routine. He swallowed thickly. “Right. Right.” He pulled out a notebook, a messy amalgam of hand-worked spells, outline of notes, book references, running a hand through unruly curls. “So, this plan has two steps.” He laid the notebook down, eyes staring straight ahead. “First, we need to get his--uh. Body.” He bit at his lip, taking in a deep breath, checking the spellwork. “Spock had a new body grown. But, we just need to rebuild Q’s body--”

Her throat felt thick just watching him, the jerky motions like he was having to deliberately think about every move. She placed a hand over his own, and he twitched a little. “Eliot.”

His eyes got shiny but he kept nodding, plowing ahead. “See. I thought about living clay, of course. Making a golem. You know. But--there has to be a body, a living uh, person for the--for the magic to anchor to. So--.”

“Eliot.” She took in a shaky breath.

His mouth fell open, and he seemed to slouch downwards a little, like a puppet whose strings had been cut. He tried several times to talk around the tears that were so clearly there, finally giving in and closing his eyes. One tear slipped through anyways. “See. Here’s the thing about me, Alice.” He was aiming for flippant, but it was just this side of carefully crafted to really sell it. “If I stop--” He closed his eyes again, taking a breath through his nose. “If I stop--” and at this, his voice went up. “I will fucking break completely apart, and I’ve been working on not being utterly broken and useless, and--”

“Eliot.” She could hear the strain in her own voice. “I’m not trying to stop you--but. There is no body.”

The look her gave her could most accurately be described as an entire body eye roll. “Of course there's no body. Yet.” The manic flash was back in his eyes. He flipped the notebook around to show her.

They were mentions in the notes to the Mirror World book, so she flipped it open, matching the references, beginning to understand. The plan, actually, was quite simple. And, she had to admit, pretty genius. If they had a bit of Quentin’s blood, they could use it to open a bridge to the Mirror realm and just recreate his body by performing a binding spell to the bridge. Reuniting the shards, as it were. Only one problem. There was literally nothing left of Quentin to--

Eliot plucked something out of his breast pocket; a vial of blood. “One step ahead of you.” His tone that oddly, forced cheerfulness like “Have a nice day” that a cashier might say to you but actually meant “Go fuck yourself.”

She eyed the vial suspiciously. “That his?”

Eliot’s grin was all Cheshire cat. “Yep.” And he explained, again not failing to emphasize Quentin’s utter stupidity and lack of self-care when it came to sacrificing for his friends. Yet again.

And, then a pitch black thought wormed its way in. “What’d you trade in exchange?” When he didn’t answer for a long beat, she knew. “Jesus, Eliot. Who knows what she’ll do to you?”

He laughed a little at that. “Like I care what she’d do to me?” He closed his eyes again, letting out a sharp huff of a breath. “Like I wouldn’t die to--” He stretched his head around his neck. “Histrionics will get us nowhere.” Softly. Directed at himself. “Now, where were we?” He gave her another of those bland, empty, awful smiles. “So, yes. We’ll be needing your fancy brand of bendy light magic for the binding spell, and 23 already knows how to make a mirror bridge, so he can use Q’s blood to open it. But first, we need a giant fucking battery for magic. So, you don’t, you know, blow yourself up.” He regarded her silently. At least he had the decency to actually look sorry.

She felt a wave of panic rush through her, remembering the last time she had tried building a body for Penny. But the panic was soon replaced by anger, realizing that Eliot had everything planned out. Including her part in it. He was that sure she’d be willing to help.

He took another deep breath, giving her what she guessed he thought as a small, reassuring smile. It looked more like a grimace, but she figured he was pretty out of practice.

“Lucky for us, Julia knows of a giant battery at Brakebills--something about Fogg’s memory wipe spell. She and 23 are there getting it now.” He waved a hand around vaguely. “Will be asking your help in filling it, what with the flow of ambient being controlled by chez vous and everything.” At that, he gave her a small glance of contrition.

She rolled her eyes again, annoyed. And, something like dread started to settle in her belly. “Eliot. What you would be bringing back? It would just be a body, right? Like his spirit, his soul? That has moved on. Penny told me. No matter how many times I asked. I’m sorry, Eliot--but--”

He was back to the frantic nodding again. “Right, you are, Alice.” He reached for Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

And, dear fucking Lord.

“Part two of the plan.” He waved the thick tome at her.

She crossed her arms across her chest and sniffed at him. “So, you're going to lead him out of the Underworld?” And, Eliot would be exactly that arrogant enough to--

At that, he let out a hysterical laugh. “Nope. Trying a slightly different route.” He flipped open to a tabbed section, effortlessly translating from the Latin. Alice was begrudgingly reminded that Eliot was not, in fact, a complete idiot.

“See, this part here--” Eliot pointed to a section where Persephone was begging Hades to grant Orpheus the chance to save his love. He rooted around for the Virgil, opening another tabbed page. “See--it's the same. Well, close enough. The way Eurydice died was different, but still, it was Persephone who persuaded Hades, so.” The excited verging on the frenzied vibe he was giving off was just so jarring.

Alice pulled down her eyebrows in confusion. “But--didn’t the Monster’s sister kill Persephone?”

Eliot nodded. “Yep. But then, you and Q avenged her.” He shrugged. “So. I feel maybe Hades would grant him a favor. Besides, Julia’s in on the plan, and she was Persephone’s very special--” hand wave again.

And, there was that worry again, settling around her shoulders, wrapping around her gut. She sighed, not wanting to pick a fight, but. Quentin wasn’t here to defend himself. “Eliot. This plan? Maybe it could work? I mean. But. There’s lots of moving parts. How are you even going to find Hades?” She took in a deep sigh, trying to keep steady. She softened her voice. “And, Eliot. Have you ever considered that maybe Quentin doesn’t want to come back?”

At that, the cut marionette thing. Staring at the ground, huge eyes unfocused. He had several aborted attempts before he could formulate an answer. When he did, his voice was thick and barely above a whisper. “Well, then I’m just that spectacular of a bastard. Because what if I don’t want to live in world without Quentin?” His voice cracked and she could almost see the break around the words. “Can’t.”

And again, that urge to scream at him You’re not the only one who loves him! But, maybe he was just that much more broken than she, or maybe his baseline was less, or maybe she’d dealt with more death in her life, or maybe maybe maybe. Maybe this was never gonna be a fair fight. Any further thoughts were cut off by Penny and Julia blipping back in.

***

The battery was huge and that did give her a little bit of comfort, but still. Penny had just plonked the massive thing on the couch where it bounced a little before settling.

Julia regarded her cooly. They had reached, well, something nearing a detente in the days following Quentin’s death, but they were never going to be BFFs or anything. Apparently, whereas Eliot’s grief had tipped over into mania, Julia had leaned hard into the hard, dull edge of pain. “She up to speed on the plan?” Julia directed the question at Eliot.

Alice stood, putting hands on hips. “Yeah she gets the gist.” She shot an irritated glance towards Julia.

Penny, for his part, shot her an apologetic glance and shrugged, looking between Julia and Eliot. What’re you gonna do? She guessed he’d been on the receiving end of these two’s planning efforts for the past few months and was just leaning into the path of least resistance at this point.

“You get the thing for the dragon?” Eliot turned towards Penny.

Penny pulled out a steampunk looking boxy thing. “Had to swipe it. Stoppard’s an ass.”

Alice didn’t recognize it. “What is it?”

“Timeline jumping device. Runs on Deweys.” Penny indicated towards Julia. “Think the dragon will trade for it?”

“She’d better.” Julia’s tone brooked no argument.

“Wait.” Alice stepped forward. “If this is a timeline jumping device, can’t we just use it to grab Quentin from another timeline?”

Eliot let out a sigh, looking at the floor. “Wouldn’t be our Quentin.”

Your Quentin, she thought bitterly. But then considered. Who knew which bingo card Jane would have dealt them on whatever ride around the merry-go-round. Quentin could have been with literally anyone. Or no one. It could be a timeline where they hadn’t even met.

Julia turned to face her. “So, are you clear on what you need to do?”

Eliot cleared his throat. “Actually, Alice. Can I have a word?”

Julia shot him an annoyed glare.

Eliot held a hand out, placatingly; Alice got the sense this was an old argument. “Just let me--”

“Whatever, dude.” Julia slapped her hands against her sides. “Sort your shit. We’re burning daylight here.”

So, she followed Eliot into his bedroom.

***

As soon as the door closed behind her, he spun around immediately. “Look, Alice. I wanted to say this before, but. I uh--well. Phosphoromancy isn't my discipline. But--I wanted to do something--” He ran a hand through his hair. “Needed to.” He sank onto the bed, like he was weighed down.

“Eliot, I don’t-” She took a step towards him.

“I think it should be you, Alice. Who petitions Hades.” Eliot dropped his head, studying his hands. When he looked back up, his eyes were wide and glassy.

And, Jesus fuck. She felt her stomach bottom out, and she took in a deep breath before slowly walking over towards Eliot, sitting next to him on the bed. She was struck by the thought that he was the better person. She was pretty sure she wouldn’t have been that generous, had it been the other way around. “Eliot.” She sighed. “I’ve had a lot of time to think. About what you told me of your lifetime with Q.”

He groaned, rubbing a hand over his face. “Alice. I shouldn’t have done that. I was being a selfish dick, and I--”

She reached over, taking his hand. “No. I’m glad that you did. Because it helped put into context what I was seeing. What we all saw.” She squeezed his hand gently. “Because although I don’t think Quentin wanted to die, I also don’t think that he cared if he lived. Which may not actually be mutually exclusive. But. The only thing that mattered to him was saving you. Now I know why.”

He shook his head bitterly. “But, you’re the known entity here. You know that Q loves you.”

At that, she did feel a spike of irritation pierce her chest. But, taking in the raw, naked anguish on Eliot’s face, she shoved it down. She had the power to really hurt him, if she wanted to. But, she was so damn tired. And. Eliot looked fucking exhausted. “Honestly, I don’t know why he got back together with me, in the end. I’ve turned it over in my mind, and I think, maybe, he was just so alone and hurting and was looking for something, anything. I know I was.”

He let out a little sob. “Alice, you don’t have to--”

She squeezed his hand once more. “What I do know is, and God, I still don’t know if we are doing the right thing.” She glanced over at him; his wide eyes trained on her. “But, I miss him, too. And, that may be selfish of me, but.” She sniffed. “So, you are going to go down there, and tell Hades your love story, and convince him to let Q go, ok?”

He just stared at her, opening and closing his mouth several times before deciding what to say. He took in a deep, shaky breath. “Yeah. Ok.”

***

The spellwork itself was pretty involved, and she and Penny needed to be completely in sync. They didn’t have a lot of time; there wasn’t a lot of blood to work with, so they needed to be focused, tight. Something about the spell, though, just felt very right. She could feel the power flowing through her; the magic was stronger than she should have been able to handle, but the battery connected her, grounded her. In no time at all, the glowing matter flew together like it wanted to be reconnected. She gasped involuntarily when the tiny lights started to take the form of a very familiar body. “Holy shit!”

And Penny just reached through the mirror bridge and pulled the body through.

“Oh, my God.” She took an instinctual step back from the body. And, that was what it was. It wasn’t a person. There was no there there.

“Well, that’s--creepy.” Penny was looking at the body sidelong. He waved a hand in front of its face. No reaction.

“Yeah, um.” She reached a hand out towards it, but then pulled it back. “Uh--maybe we should move it--”

“Good idea.” They both took an arm and gently guided the body towards the room she had been staying in. It seemed to have autonomic functions, breathing, heartbeat. Just not actually a person, which was kind of worse. They steered it to sit on the bed.

“So, um. Do you want a minute, or whatever?” Penny had his hand on the doorknob.

“I. Yeah. Thanks.” And, she looked at the body fully for the first time. Of the Quentin-shaped thing. She sat next to it on the bed, and took its hand. It looked down at where there hands were joined, but otherwise made no reaction. She pulled her hand back quickly and jumped up, all but running out of the room.

“You ok?” Penny had poured two glasses of something amber, holding one out to her.

She took a deep gulp, sputtering at the burn. “I don’t really know.” She took in a calming breath, pressing her hand across her stomach, before sipping again. “Are we doing the right thing?”

Penny just chuckled, glancing down into his glass before sipping himself. “The can’s kicked pretty far down the road, at this point.”

She slid onto one of the kitchen bar stools, cradling her drink with both hands. She glanced up at Penny. “What would you do? If you could bring back your Julia?”

He sighed, leaning over the bar. “Well, I could’ve used the Stoppard cube to grab her from my timeline.”

A possibility she hadn’t even considered. “Why didn’t you?” She was more than a little afraid of the answer.

But he just sighed. “Thought about it. But, I’m trying to make things right with this Julia, so.” He drained his glass, then brought the bottle back over for a top off. “Our lives are so fucking weird.”

She gave a little mirthless laugh. “Yeah. That’s one way to put it.”

He looked at her thoughtfully. “Look. I know I don’t really know this timeline’s Quentin all that well. And, I pretty much hated the version from my timeline. Way before he was the Beast. But I do know he was completely devastated when you broke up with him.”

She closed her eyes. “Why did we? Break up, I mean?”

He snorted out a breath, shaking his head. “Because he’s an idiot. You caught him cheating on you.”

And, there it was. Of course. “Eliot?” Her voice sounded a little hysterical.

“Yep.” He regarded her silently for a moment, then clucked his tongue. “Happen here, too?”

She nodded, then drained the rest of her glass, holding it out for a refill. “Um. Add Margo, too, and--”

Another short laugh. “Jesus. For such a nerd, he sure got a lot of ass.” At the look she gave him, he immediately reproached. “Sorry.”

Any further response was cut off by Eliot and Julia portalling in. They both looked wrecked; eyes puffy and red. But, Eliot was cradling a ball of light in his arms, holding it like it was the most precious thing in the world. Which, of course, it was.

No one said a word, although both Eliot and Julia let out gasps when Alice led them in where the body was. Eliot looked over at Alice and she just nodded once. He said a phrase in Farsi before pushing the ball of light into the body, which shuddered before its eyes slid shut. Time seemed to freeze, and they collectively held their breaths; waiting, waiting.

Julia took in a breath. “Did it work?”

And, Quentin opened his eyes, training them on Julia. “Jules?”

She let out a little sob, then fell forward, hauling him into a tight hug. “Q? Oh my fucking God, Q?” She sobbed into his shoulder, squeezing tightly.

“Hey, Jules. It’s me. It’s me.” He was rubbing circles on her back, unaware of anyone else at the moment.

Julia sat back to look at him, eyes bright. “You complete asshole. Jesus fucking Christ, Q.”

Alice shifted, and she knew the moment Quentin saw her, his eyes going wide. “Alice?”

Julia moved a little to the side, giving her room.

Alice hesitated a second before settling on his other side, pulling him into a surprisingly easy hug. Solid, and warm, and so achingly alive. “Hi, Q. I’m so glad you’re back.”

“Alice, Jesus. I--” Then he froze. And, she knew without looking that he had finally noticed Eliot. She pulled back, and he was just staring and staring in wonder.

“Hey.” Eliot tilted his head to the side, eyes shining.

Quentin took in a soft gasp, swallowing thickly. “Hey.”

Julia stood. “Well, I could use some coffee. Anybody else want to get some coffee?” At that, she looked pointedly at Alice.

Alice fought the urge to roll her eyes into the back of her head. “Yeah. I uh--” She looked over at Quentin, but he still only had eyes for Eliot. “Ok.”

***

Alice froze in the doorway, taking in the tableau in front of her. Because there was knowing, and then there was knowing. Quentin and Eliot sat together on the couch, both hands entwined, foreheads tilted against one another. They had clearly been crying, and were just staring at one another. She felt her stomach drop, feeling all of the fight drain out of her. Because she knew with great clarity that even in the best of times, Quentin had never, ever looked at her like that. A look honed over a lifetime of love. She felt like she was losing him in pieces, but now, more than ever, she knew what she needed to do.

As she had stopped suddenly, Julia ran into her from behind. Their commotion alerted Quentin and Eliot of their presence, and she watched as he guiltily peeled himself away from Eliot, but not before shooting the other man a concerned look.

Julia broke the reverie, walking around Alice with purpose, Penny following in her wake. She held out a cup towards Eliot. “Hey. We got you both coffee.”

Eliot took the cup from her hands, then stood awkwardly, movements stiff and careful. He gave Quentin an inscrutable look before nodding once. “Thanks.” His eyes never left Quentin’s face. “I’m going to go out for a smoke.” He then did look towards Julia. “Wanna join me?”

“Sure.” She tossed her head towards Penny indicating he should follow, and they all made their way out onto the little porch.

Alice tapped her finger on the lid of the coffee she had for Quentin, then walked over to sit by him on the couch. “Here. Got you one, too.”

He took the coffee from her, toying with the edge of the cardboard ring around the cup before placing it on the table, untouched. “Thanks.” He ran his fingers through his hair, clearly a nervous tic. He smiled at her, but it was tense. Still a little bit of a dimple though. “I mean. Thanks. For everything.”

She smiled back, just as tense, hands clasped in her lap. She looked down, then back up at him. “I really missed you, Q.”

“Yeah, uh--” He cleared his throat. “Me too.”

“How’re you feeling?”

Quentin took in a shaky breath. “I don’t--actually know?”

She felt her mouth lift oneside into a smile. “Yeah.” She licked her lips, feeling the question she most wanted to ask heavy on her tongue. Are you in love with him? But, then she remembered that quote that she had seen cross-stitched on a pillow at her great aunt’s house, perched atop the plastic covered sofa. If you love someone, set them free. If they come back they're yours; if they don't they never were. At that moment in time, she had been reeling from the recent death of Charlie, and such platitudes felt hollow. She let Great Aunt Helen just know how stupid she thought the sentiment was, much to Stephanie’s never-ending mortification. Which was part of the fun. But, now she wondered if there was some wisdom in the midst of that fabricated bullshit.

“Hey, you ok, Alice?” And with that, the soft way he asked, Quentin broke her heart into a million pieces.

“I uh--” She angrily swiped at her eyes. “Yeah.” Another deep breath, then she shook her head and sat up straight. “Did, uh--did Eliot tell you? I got a new position. Co-Head of the Neitherlands Library.”

A bit thrown by the change in the conversation, Quentin leaned back to get a better look at her. “Oh, Alice. That’s--” He huffed a laugh. “That’s, great, actually.”

She was nodding. “Yeah. It really is. I have lots of ideas, Q. About reforms. I think I’m--I don’t know--but I feel like I’m making a real difference. It feels--good.”

And he was smiling genuinely at her, his eyes shining a bit. “Well, I’m very glad to know that we've got you on our side.”

She felt a swell of pride rise up in her, and she brushed her hands on her skirt before standing. “So, you know, I uh--well. I have to get back, Q. Being the boss and all.”

He hopped up; hurt and confusion flashing across his face. “Wait? You’re leaving?”

She smiled sadly at him. “I’m just a bunny away. And, I’ll be back. But--” She shrugged. “Duty calls, so--” and was thrown when Quentin surged forward, pulling her into a tight hug. She allowed this, for just a moment, before pulling back.

“But, I just got here.” He sounded so plaintive her heart twisted in her chest.

She looked over his shoulder at the small crowd on the porch. At Eliot, doing his level best to pretend not to watch. Eliot Waugh might be a great many things, but subtle was not among them. She stepped back, giving Quentin’s arms a squeeze. “You’ll be ok.”

His eyes were sad and he licked his lips slowly, squeezing her right back. “I’m gonna miss you.”

She nodded tightly again. “I’ll miss you, too. But, you’re gonna be ok.” She quickly formed the tuts for the portal to the Library, trying to outrun her resolve. The portal shimmied open; she could see the stacks just beyond. She turned back around. “Hey, Q?” And, shit. He looked like he was about to cry.

“Yeah?”

“Do me a favor?” He nodded at her, not even hesitating. “Make sure you remind him to be brave for you.”

His eyes went impossibly wide and his mouth fell open; at a loss for words.

“I’ll be seeing you.” She didn’t let him respond, just turned and walked into the portal, feeling it close behind her.