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Less than a week.

Less than a week had passed, and nothing felt different.

Margo had gone back and salvaged the blackened crown from the ash the next morning, before anyone else had woken up. She was keeping it in the drawer of the desk in her bedroom at Kady’s apartment.

There was such a weird energy around the place—Margo had been half-glued to Eliot’s side, jolting every time he moved, fawning over him with any caring energy she had in her. He was getting borderline restless and agitated with her. She knew she was being a little much, but she couldn’t help it.

She’d glossed over her friends’ pain before. She was never making that mistake again.

So what if being a caretaker type didn’t come easily to her? Fuck it, maybe making Eliot tea and pestering him into going to sleep at a reasonable hour would be what made the difference. Who fucking knew, right? Who could fucking tell what would help anyone?

Maybe nothing would help. It didn’t matter. Margo couldn’t do nothing.

Not doing nothing, however, meant being overbearing with Eliot whenever possible. Including early in the morning, the second she heard the sounds of him waking up.

Really, they’d both been reaching their limit of Margo playing caretaker.

“Bambi, darling, I love you,” Eliot said, an edge in his voice. “But I’m really quite capable of getting out of bed by myself. Please, for the love of tequila, let me get dressed in peace.”

Margo crossed her arms, trying not to feel wounded. “Fine, whatever. If you fall, just press the fucking Life Alert, grandpa.”

She spun around, walking briskly out of the room and closing the door a little too hard behind her.

So maybe Eliot wasn’t the only irritable one, but whatever.

It had been less than a week.

Everything was raw.

She got to the kitchen and froze in her tracks.

Alice was there, casually stirring a mug of tea.

Their eyes connected for a moment, the tension tangible.

Throughout this whole shitshow, they’d kind of had a general truce. All the different fights and betrayals and whatever else were put on the backburner. Margo wasn’t exactly the most forgiving person—she, at least, still hadn’t forgotten when Julia fucked with their plan to kill the Beast, which is what ultimately led to Eliot signing his life away to be High King in the first place.

She hadn’t forgotten that Zelda had been complicit in all that Library bullshit. She hadn’t forgotten the way Jane had toyed with them.

Margo’s memory was impeccable, and she was not a forgiving person.

“Hi, Margo,” Alice said, her voice soft.

Except Margo wasn’t thinking about when Alice destroyed the keys in front of them, erasing all their pain and work in a moment of reckless selfishness. No, she wasn’t thinking about Alice’s betrayal. She wasn’t stubbornly clinging to those feelings of shock and anger and contempt.

That would just be simple spite and rage, a type of feeling Margo was plenty familiar with.

She was thinking about a different moment, a much more complicated feeling.

She was thinking about the way Alice’s hand had reached for Eliot’s at the bonfire.

The way their fingers had locked together in a quiet understanding, the way they seemed to hold on like they needed the anchor. The looks they’d shared since. The way they had been both magnetically drawn to one another this past week and seemingly trying hard to avoid it. The way they seemed to own the allotted grief in any given room.

She thought about that mug Alice had thrown, and that peach that Eliot had thrown.

Memories and connections that she had no part in. Sentimental objects that she couldn’t understand. There was a meaning in those objects that she couldn’t feel, not in any way that mattered.

As compared to the crown she’d been keeping in that drawer. The crown from the coronation, that memory everyone had seen.

Margo wasn’t sure how it made her feel.

Defensive, maybe. Angry for sure. Hurt, sad, frustrated. Left out. Alone, ignored.

All of the above.

“Alice,” she greeted, her voice tight.

Alice looked down quickly, her shoulders tensing. Margo felt a twinge of guilty satisfaction. It was easy to want to share the bitterness and frustration, easy to want to focus on the emotions and tensions she could handle.

Everyone was fucking miserable, and yeah, okay, maybe the moments where the misery came from literally anything other than the goddamn elephant in the room were a bit of a solace. There was a certain kind of comfort in being able to be hurt or angered by something other than the enormous weight of the worst thing.

The worst thing being, well—

Not something Margo wanted to think about, really.

“So you’re still here,” Margo said flatly, crossing her arms over her chest and jutting a hip out. She lifted her chin a little, giving a challenging glare.

Alice cleared her throat, looking into her mug. She traced a finger down the handle. “I don’t really have anywhere else to go, do you?”

Margo clenched her jaw. Did any of them have anywhere else to go? Their lives had been sent adrift. “Just waiting for Eliot to be ready to go back to Fillory.”

Alice actually looked up, on eyebrow raised. “You really want to go back there?”

Margo didn’t say what the pull was. She didn’t say that she needed Fen and Josh; she didn’t say that they seemed like the only people who might truly recognize the way her own heart had been cracking open. The fact of the matter was that Eliot and Alice and Julia all had the kind of grief that took over a room, seeping into corners and climbing the walls.

Margo didn’t admit it—that she needed Fen and Josh, who might actually see her.

Not even Eliot could pull himself away from his own pain and recognize Margo’s.

There was also, well, the small matter of—

Margo hadn’t been the only person who loved Fillory. And she felt like now, all she could do is cling to that one thing. She couldn’t go back in time, as much as she wanted to. All she could do was try and protect Fillory.

“I hear you’re going to work for the Library,” Margo said pointedly.

Alice frowned. “I haven’t given them an answer.”

Which, in and of itself, was a kind of answer. Margo’s blood got hotter. “So you’re considering it.”

Alice gave a small, noncommittal shrug. She almost looked sheepish.

“No, whatever, it’s fine, go work for the organization that got Quentin killed,” Margo said, letting her voice get sharp.

At that, Alice shot a glare, looking more niffin than she had in a while.

“Maybe that’s why I’m considering it, have you thought of that?” Alice raised her voice slightly, talking faster. “Maybe the institution can change, maybe I can help prevent the power-hungry people trying to take advantage. The Library doesn’t have to be fascist, it doesn’t have to take choice away from everyone.”

“Sure, you’re a great person to give choice back to everyone,” Margo snapped. “You’ve never royally fucked anyone over by making their decisions for them.”

Alice pressed her lips together. “I regret that. You know I do.”

“Makes a huge difference, doesn’t it?” Margo said, her voice getting darker. “Regret it all you want, kittycat, you can’t change what happened.”

Alice gave a slight terse nod, looking away. “Are you talking about the keys or Quentin?”

“Take your pick.”

“That’s not fair and you know it.”

“Yeah, and this whole thing is so fucking fair, ain’t it?”

It was all of it, really—

Margo couldn’t stand anything that had happened.

She couldn’t stand to see Eliot’s grief, and she couldn’t stand to feel her own. She couldn’t stand the way Alice and Eliot shared looks. She couldn’t stand 23’s awkward presence, his forced, performative sadness, the secondhand grief he’d borrowed from Julia.

She couldn’t stand anything.

Here was the worst of it: Margo couldn’t remember the last time she and Quentin had really talked. Sure, she’d told him the story of getting the axes—but then they’d been caught up in saving Eliot. They’d been caught up in everything else.

They’d been friends, he’d been her best friend outside of Eliot—and she couldn’t remember the last meaningful interaction they’d had.

Maybe that was why it itched at her skin every time she thought about Alice’s mug, how she’d been there when Quentin found out his discipline, how Alice had a last moment with Quentin.

Margo felt a swallowing pit of anger, directed straight at Alice rather than at herself.

Why didn’t she have anything better than that stupid fucking crown?

That stupid fucking crown she’d had to dig from the ashes because she couldn’t bear to let go of it. The remains of Eliot’s peach and Alice’s mug were still lying in those ashes—presumably because they had other mementos to turn to.

And what did Margo have?

Nothing sufficient. Nothing good enough. Not for Quentin.

Because Quentin was good, he deserved something meaningful. Meaning and sentiment wasn’t exactly Margo’s strong suit.

No, they were Quentin’s strong suit. That’s why she had the crown in the first place to hold onto—because Quentin had turned this awkward, obligatory moment into a ceremony. He’d turned something stifling and confusing and terrifying into something beautiful. It was a rare talent, a trait Margo hadn’t seen matched.

“Whatever, work for the magic-hoarding fuckers, see if I care,” Margo said, waving a hand dismissively as she brushed past Alice towards the coffee maker.

“I could make a difference,” Alice replied, her voice lowered like she was saying it half to herself.

Margo shrugged slightly. “Or we could be fighting you next, when you can’t handle the power.”

“Quentin cared about making things better.”

“Yeah, well. Quentin’s dead.”

“Jesus, Margo.”

“What?” Margo snapped, spinning around to glare. She put her hands on her hips. “Not saying it doesn’t make it any less true, Quinn.”

Alice stared back at her, eyes hard and guarded.

A long beat of tense silence passed between them

Margo, for once in her life, blinked first. She rolled her eyes and turned back to the coffee maker, feeling the prickling agitation at her skin that hadn’t gone away since the moment she’d heard the news.

It just felt so wrong.

Snapping at Alice and doting on Eliot didn’t exactly help, but it was all Margo could do.

Footsteps came from the hallway and Margo knew without turning who it was.

“Hey,” Eliot’s voice came, gentle.

“Hi,” Alice replied. Her voice had softened the way it only did with Eliot these days.

And Margo clenched her jaw.

She loved Quentin, too. She missed him, too.

“Coffee, El?” Margo said, her voice a little lighter.

“No, thank you,” Eliot replied. “I’d rather have tea.”

“I made a pot,” Alice piped up.

“Oh, excellent.”

Margo resisted the urge to smash her mug on the ground.

She’d have to mend it, anyway, and that was the last spell she wanted to use.

Why couldn’t she remember the last real thing she’d said to him? Why couldn’t she remember their last real conversation?

She thought they’d have time, after all the fucked up shit they had to get through. She’d taken it for granted that there would be other opportunities. To ask him if he was okay, to ask him what it was like to be with the Monster, how he’d survived. To ask him what the deal was with him and Alice—why he had wanted nothing to do with her and suddenly decided he had feelings for her again.

There was so much they were supposed to have time to talk about.

And she missed him.

“I’m drinking my coffee on the balcony,” Margo said sharply, flitting away without sparing a glance for Eliot or Alice.

All she had was that fucking crown.