During Alice’s first months as an immortal, she spent a great deal of time with Julia, discussing theories. Alice knew magic, was quite skilled in her field of study, had created innovative new portal techniques that would surely alter the course of the entire specialization… but she had never encountered anything as fascinating and impossible as whatever she had now become.
Julia had a million theories, so many things to teach, to explain, slide decks and entire reference books filled with notes and diagrams, but she didn’t have any real answers either.
There was the immortality itself, the way their bodies processed energy, continuing to function long past the point when they should have shut down. There was the way magical injuries interacted with their healing abilities differently from mundane ones. If they lost a finger, it would grow back. If they lost a head… they didn’t know. No way to test it safely. They kept living, survived things that should have been impossible, and never aged a day as far as they could tell by any measurable metric.
But beyond the longevity and the healing, there was the psychic bond between them all. The dreams that introduced them to each other, the way Alice had learned so much about her new family. They didn’t last, fading away after the first couple of weeks of immortality. But it went beyond that, too. They could find each other, they had some innate way of sensing one another anywhere in the world. When Alice had banished a Niffin to a random place in the multiverse, her portal had popped open with a direct view of Penny, a man she’d never met, a man whose magic was already entwined with her own by virtue of a mysterious bond that none of them understood. When Margo, Quentin, and Eliot had first dreamed of Julia, a thousand years earlier, they’d known they had to cross the Atlantic to get to her, without knowing how they knew it.
Julia had her theories about all of this as well, things about neural networks and psychic matrixes. All fascinating, all worthy of further study and thought… but none of it could answer the biggest question of all: Why?
Alice was not a big believer in fate, but the more she learned about their entwined destinies, the way they had all found each other and loved each other despite every practical consideration to the contrary, it was hard not to feel like they were chosen.
It was embarrassing, of course, but Alice had to admit it at least to herself. When she’d shown up in the others’ lives, she’d seen two couples supernaturally devoted to one another: Quentin and Eliot; Margo and Julia. And then there’d been Kady, alone. And she’d thought… what if she’s for me? It had been too overwhelming to focus on for long, and finding out about Penny had put a damper on the forbidden wish. She’d felt awful for contemplating herself as a replacement for a man who had clearly meant so much to them all. But maybe immortals came in pairs, maybe something in magic itself drew them to one another, maybe Alice and Kady could become to each other what Quentin and Eliot were, or…
Even before she’d learned that Penny was still alive, even before she’d gotten to meet Penny, and had the transcendent experience of actually falling in love with the guy, her original theory had fallen completely to pieces.
Because Quentin and Eliot were one thing, Julia and Margo were something else. They weren’t two pairs of unshakable soulmates, they were four individuals all of whom loved each other in complicated ways. She’d learned that Penny had not only been married to Kady, but had been in… a relationship? An arrangement of mutual satisfaction? With Q and Eliot for years. She’d woken up some mornings to find Margo exiting El and Q’s bedroom in the Scottish cottage, instead of the one further down the hall she usually shared with Juila.
The point was, there was no symmetry, no easy pattern into which she could find her place. She wasn’t destined to become a bonded pair with Kady, forming three couples in perfect harmony with one another. She also wasn’t destined to be cast aside as an unneeded extra, when Penny came back and reunited with Kady at last. It was all more complex than any words could account for.
“It’s not a stupid thought, though,” Julia mused one day, when Alice had begrudgingly admitted some of these more fantastical, romantic theories. “The idea that we’re all destined for each other. Has it occurred to you that we might not actually be the only immortal people in the world?”
The thought had occurred, although Alice had dismissed it, taking for granted that the psychic link and the immortality went hand in hand. She’d sort of thought that if there were other people out there like them, they’d all know it as a matter of course.
“You mean… maybe the seven of us are connected, through space and time, and there are others who aren’t?”
“Who have their own little codependent family, parallel to us, but disconnected entirely.”
Alice looked at her, trying to decide whether Julia was messing with her. “You really think that?”
“No,” Julia said. “But I also don’t not think it.” She offered Alice a sweet smile, tinged with the edges of humor. “All I’m trying to say is, you’re not the first of us to assume something cosmic is to blame for bringing us all together.”
Alice thought about what little she knew of Eliot’s early life, and then the sweet surrender of finding Q after centuries of loneliness. He’d taken it for granted that what he felt for Quentin was love, right from the start. Quentin had resisted it, afraid to allow fate to dictate his choices, afraid to succumb to some sinister bigger plan that neither of them could see. But whether their love for each other was an inevitable consequence of magic, or something else… it didn’t actually change the facts. Humans didn’t understand love in the scientific sense, so why would Alice ever need to? “Destiny doesn’t matter,” she said. “Whether it’s true or not, it’s all beside the point.”
“It’s not fun, the not-knowing,” Julia said, but she sounded like she agreed.
“The fact that this happened to me, it could be part of some bigger plan, or it could be the randomness of a lightning strike,” Alice said. She had to do it, sometimes, say the thought out loud to be sure it was the truth of how she felt. And the truth was, she liked to learn, but some things went beyond the need for concrete data. “Either way, I don’t care. I’ve chosen where I want to be, and it’s right here with all of you.”