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No Better to Be Safe Than Sorry (Alternate S4 Ending)

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It had been five days since Julia had started her journey to goddesshood and passed out. In that time, Penny had only left her bedside at the Brakebills infirmary once to travel Alice and Quentin to the Seam. The fact that only he and Alice had returned from that journey only deepened his resolve to never leave Julia's side until she woke up. You never knew when people might be taken from you forever. He had already lost Julia once, and he was not going to lose her again. He knew that her eventually becoming a goddess would make things different, but he would stay by her side through it all.

But she might not want him anymore.

The thought kept creeping up on him, especially at night when he was so tired but refused to let himself sleep for fear of missing Julia waking up.

Having some conscious company in the infirmary the last three days had helped him not fall asleep - Margo was playing sentinel for Eliot just like he was for Julia. And while she wasn't the best conversationalist (and that was putting it mildly), it did help that Margo was able to share some very useful spellwork: how to stay awake, how to make food appear, how to not have to pee. All very useful.
He'd also tried to help by trying to read Eliot's mind, but it was so messed up from being possessed for so long, he kept getting kicked out and was afraid to push further without accidentally hurting Eliot.
Margo was pissed when he'd reported back nothing, but she seemed a little less gruff towards him after he’d tried.

Needless to say, he'd tried every day, sometimes multiple times a day, to read Julia's mind. But ever since he'd first read it and understood clearly that she wanted to become a goddess rather than permanently human, and the Binder initiated the transformation process, all Penny could see when he tried to explore inside her head was this warm golden light. It wasn't unpleasant, but it also didn't let him communicate with Julia, which was unsettling.

He had so many questions that the Binder just couldn't answer….

“How long will it take for her to become a goddess?”

“The Binder knows not of the duration of said transformation.”

“Will she wake up or will her body die when she becomes a goddess?”

“The Binder understands either of those scenarios to be equally possible.”

“Is there anything you can tell me about this process that you do know?”

“The Binder tires of this constant questioning and reminds Penny that the Binder's energies are best spent helping Julia with her transformation rather than responding to irritating questions.”

At that point, Penny had begun swearing loudly, and the Binder completely ignored him.

Thankfully, the Binder finished whatever his part was in the process of Julia's transformation in the first day and then insisted he return to his book and hadn't come back out in his human form since. Kady and the hedges were guarding the book, since the Library was still a mess after Everette had been destroyed and no one trusted anyone that had anything to do with the Library very much at all.
But the more time went on and Julia's condition remained unchanged, the more Penny worried whether or not he'd made the right call. Honoring Julia's wishes was one thing, but keeping her safe was entirely another. He'd prioritized what she wanted, deep down in her subconscious: to be a goddess again. But was it worth honoring her wishes if it risked her safety when neither of them, and apparently not even the Binder, knew the risks it involved?

But there was no going back now, that was one thing the Binder had made crystal clear.

Penny sighed, absentmindedly rubbing the back of Julia's hand with his fingers. Her skin felt colder to his touch the last few days somehow. He was sure of it. But the magical medical staff had found nothing wrong with her every time he begged them to check again.

The room was nearly dark around them, the sun setting behind the campus clocktower. The last time Penny had tried to read Julia's mind had been that morning. Despite Margo's magic anti-sleeping spell, staying up for a 6th night straight was going to be a challenge, so now was as good a time as any to try to read Julia’s mind again before his energy dropped even further.

Penny gently clasped Julia's small, cold hand into both of his and closed his eyes, focusing his energy on the woman lying in front of him.

Again, he was met by that familiar warm, golden glow. Nothing new. He was about to leave her mind again, blink his eyes and be back in the infirmary, alone, sitting next to Julia’s body lying in bed, when he saw her. It was as clear as if she was standing right in front of him, dressed all in white, floating against the golden void around them both, smiling her beautiful smile, her eyes vibrant and alive…
"Julia..." Penny breathed her name out loud, and reached out a hand to her. He moved forward towards her, but soon found that no matter how many steps forward he took, Julia's form was always just beyond his reach.

Julia looked at him calmly, that familiar warm smile still on her lips, "Hi Penny"

"Uh, hi." Penny replied awkwardly. This was not the reunion he was expecting, but if it was all he got, he was gonna roll with it. "Are you ok? How are you feeling?"

Julia laughed softly (and it really was her laugh), "I'm fine. More than fine, actually. You don't have to worry about me anymore. In fact, that's what I came to tell you, Penny. Well, that, and to thank you. I know it could not have been easy to blindly trust in my wishes, when the outcome was so uncertain, but you did, and I will always be grateful."

"Julia?" Now Penny could feel panic rising in his chest, something he always tried to avoid but right now could not stop it: this did NOT sound like Julia at all, this apparition or whatever it was.

"Oh, sorry" Julia said, obviously not needing him to reply vocally but reading his thoughts this time, "I don't mean to sound weird. This whole transformation is showing me so much and, well, language itself doesn't have the same meaning as it did before, so it's hard to remember how Julia used to talk."

Not bothering to speak this time, Penny just allowed himself to think the thought: Does this mean she’s not Julia anymore, or that she won't be?

"A part of me will always be Julia. But now I will also be so much more. I will take a new name, not sure what yet but I swear to you it'll be totally badass - that’s something old Julia would say, I think."

Penny’s mind kept racing and he directed his thoughts to her: Will you wake up in your old body? I've been here, waiting for you and, oh God Jules, I just don't know what to do -

"Penny," her voice was even, but not condescending, more like she just wanted to be absolutely sure he understood what she was about to say next, "That Julia is gone. A true goddess has no need of a body. That is why I wanted to appear to you here. When your mind returns to your body, I will be gone, and I didn't think that was right to leave you without first saying goodbye."

Wait - leave? Say goodbye??! What the fuck?! Jules, I can't lose you again - you have no idea - I did this for you! I thought we had more time! Please - you have eternity to be a goddess, so why can't you stay one measly lifetime with me? This is all so goddamn unfair - I mean you're a goddess now, can't you just make the rules? Don't you want to stay with me?

That last part he probably would not have said aloud if they'd been talking, but with her reading his thoughts, it was all out there in the open.

"Penny, goddesses, by nature, cannot live and dwell among humans. That I can't change. But I do not intend to be just another aloof goddess that makes humans completely fend for themselves. You better believe that I will change some fucking rules around here, just you wait and see.”

Penny could feel the tears in his eyes before he could even try to stop them. He couldn’t think anything, it was all just too much, so he just stared at Julia’s glowing form as she continued trying to explain to him.

“I chose this as my destiny, and it honestly always was, even before you came along and tried to replace what you had lost with me. But I am not that Julia. I was never your Julia. And you're right - it isn't fair. But unfortunately life rarely is."

Penny felt something snap inside him and he began to sob uncontrollably. His thoughts were a jumbled mess of anger and hurt, and he wished she couldn't hear them, but knew she could.

"Oh, Penny. I did love you, and I still do. I will always be with you, but not in the way that you think you need."

In his desperation he tried another tactic: if it wasn't him she would stay for, then what about their other friends. They needed her. Kady was trying to help Hedges safely remove Reid's mark, now that the Library was in shambles. Magic wasn't being siphoned off anymore, but there was no telling if the Library might go back at it once it rebuilt. Eliot might never wake up, and if he does who knows what being possessed for a few months will have done to him. And Quentin…

For the first time since she appeared to him, Julia looked sad. Her face fell and her glow dimmed slightly as she replied.

"I know about Quentin. And it makes me so sad, even though a goddess should know better than to value any one individual human life, I find I can't help myself. Quentin was my best friend."

But you can change it can't you? - Penny thought quickly, hoping that even if it was for Quentin and not for him, maybe this could bring her back to Earth. - I mean you're a fucking goddess - change some rules and bring him back!
"Penny, I would be lying if I said I hadn't thought of that. But I can't. I did however check to see where his shade ended up. And I found something curious, which I wanted to tell you so you can tell the group. It's not in the underworld."

Wait what?? So he's alive?! Penny's thoughts raced.

"Unfortunately not necessarily so. His body may very well be dead, but his soul, his shade, has not reached its final resting place yet. I will continue doing what I can to search for it, but the magic explosion in the Mirror World has made it nearly impossible to trace without knowing where to look. All I can say is that I'm certain Q's not in the underworld: his shade has not passed on. And if he is in fact dead, Quentin's soul deserves to be at peace. I will do what I can to find out anything more, but for now, that's all I know."

Penny gritted his teeth, not ashamed of hiding his angry thoughts anymore - But you still refuse to stay? You'll keep trying to help Quentin, but you won't just stay with me?

"Quentin's death was connected to an explosion in the Mirror World that may have other implications for magic for everyone. And no one deserves to die without being able to truly rest. You are a perfectly healthy Traveler, who suffered greatly, found a way to help others despite that suffering, and then decided for some reason to attach your self-worth to the love of a woman who always had a bigger story. I feel for you, I do. But you will survive and you will thrive and you will find things in yourself you didn't know possible. And I did love you, so please don't ever doubt that. Goodbye Penny."

Wait! No! Don't go yet - please!

But the golden image of Julia, or the goddess that used to be Julia, had begun to fade from Penny's mind.

He tried to memorize her smile, her eyes, everything and anything he could before she disappeared completely.

"Remember, I'm never far. And please get some sleep and eat something, if not for yourself, then do it for me."

And suddenly Penny was back in the dark infirmary ward, his hands grasping nothing but fistfuls of empty bedsheets.

Julia's body was gone. Penny was alone.