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He stumbles across Jane Chatwin’s little clearing in the Fillorian woods shortly after being crowned king. The crown dangles from his fingertips, vague memories of it resting atop his father’s head flitting across his mind the closer to the tips of his fingers it gets, as he crosses the barrier. He only recognizes her because his family had described her and their heroics practically all his life. Remembers his father, former High King of Fillory, sneering at the ground and proclaiming her, “The ultimate anti-hero.”

And when she looks up at him with shining eyes and a gentle smile, his other Dad’s words ring even louder. “Anti-hero or not. She’s the only reason we’re alive. So we’re thankful, El.”

He can practically hear the two of them bickering as if they were standing right beside him, facing their past with him. But, of course they’re not. He’ll never stand side by side with them again. The crown in his hand, digging into his fingertips, is an unwelcome reminder of that fact.

Jane clasps her hands in front of her. “Well,” she says, “Royalty . To what do I owe this honor?”

He nearly scoffs. Honor? He’s only king because the rest of the Royal court was murdered, and he’d been off doing some meaningless task he can’t even remember. He’s only king because he’s the only option left. What honor does that belie?

She tilts her head after a moment. “I see.”

“I didn’t say anything.”

“You didn’t need to, Todd.”

He blinks, unable to help the step back he takes. Forgive him if he’s wary of strangers, whether or not they’re heavily featured in his family’s stories, but said family was recently slaughtered by a group of well informed assassins. “You know my name?”

She nods. “You needn’t be afraid either. I wouldn’t harm you.”

“Why not?”

Shrugging, she turns her back to him and heads towards a plant in the back of the clearing. She hums thoughtfully as she picks up a pair of shears. “Because who else is going to fix this mess we’ve found ourselves in?”

“I... I don’t understand.”

Her shoulders rise and fall with a heavy sigh as she turns to face him again, the shears held at her side, “My dear. You’re going to save your family, obviously.”

His heart practically stops in his chest as he rushes forward in three quick steps. He falls short, though, stopping suddenly. His family’s dead. Magic can’t turn back time.

“That’s not possible.”

“Of course it is.”

“How?”

“Honestly, it’s as if nobody’s told you who I am.” Before the week he’s had, he’d have laughed at the genuine offense she’s emanating at the thought of not being featured in his family’s stories. He used to laugh a lot. Kind of misses laughing at his father's and his aunts and uncles making petty, fond jabs at each other.

He shakes his head, rolling his hands until the crown is sliding into the palm of his hand, the heavy stones each digging into the grooves of the skin there. It’s almost as if it’s trying to remind him that he’s not supposed to be king. That this isn’t his crown. Like the crown has its own mind and wants him to drop it, lest he wants to face its wrath.

“You’re Jane Chatwin. The Watcher Woman,” he pauses, taking a moment to look down at the crown. His thumb runs over the largest stone, and he swallows thickly as he looks back up at her. “My father used to talk about how much he hates that you went for a pun. In your name.”

She waves a hand, “The High King has a very limited imagination, is all.”

“Had.”

She tilts her head, hand moving up to rest on her hip. “I’ve met many people over the years, stumbling across the clearing.” She looks up at the sky through her eyelashes for a moment, before she snaps her gaze back to him, “Most of them speak kindly of the crown Prince’s infectious optimism. Why is it that I seem to be the only person missing out on it?”

His hand forms a fist around the crown, and he nearly relishes in the sharp pain the gems shoot through his fingers. “Could have something to do with everyone I’ve ever loved being assassinated less than two days ago. Could also be the fact that I wasn’t even given time to mourn them before I was hounded by every member of the royal court insisting it’s ‘time to take the crown, Prince Todd.’ But you’re right.” He loosens his grip on the crown and takes a deep breath, before letting the all too familiar Royal Smile (trademark pending, of course) settle on his lips with ease. “I’m the king now. I should be playing the part of the happy king. I apologize.”

She purses her lips before taking two steps forward and pointing at him. “Todd, my darling. Might that smile be real if I told you I’m going to send you back?”

“To the castle? Probably not. They’re still cleaning blood off the throne room walls.”

“No,” She pauses, furrowing her brow and dropping her hands to her sides, “Can’t they cast a spell to clear it up?”

“The castles alive. It doesn’t want to let them go.” And neither do I.

“I imagine you relate to the castle in that respect.” She clears her throat and continues on, “Back to the topic at hand. I’m going to send you to the past. Earth’s past, specifically.”

“I’ve only been to Earth once,” He says, without meaning to. It’d always been a point of contention between him and his family. He wanted to see where they came from, but they couldn’t go back, and wouldn’t risk him not coming back. “After Margo died, none of them saw any point to returning. Why would I go there? They died here.”

“The answer to your families fate isn’t in Fillory, Todd. The answer is in the past, on Earth. You’ll be a spy for the future. Look for who they upset, who they fight. What shortcuts they take to save the world. All of that.” She pauses, before offering him a soft smile, “You’ll get to know your mother.”

“I knew my mother,” He mutters, bringing his other hand up to the crown, and rubbing at one of the larger jewels with his thumb.

Jane clicks her tongue. “Dear boy. She died when you were a toddler. I —“

“My father's made sure not a day went by that I didn’t learn something new about her,” He interrupted, voice hard as his thumb nail scraped over the face of the jewel. “And I won’t stand here and have you beseech her memory. Or theirs for that matter.”

Jane stares at him for a few long moments, her fingers tapping at her waist, before she nods, once—perfunctory. “Well,” She says, “If there were any question as to which of them were blood, that’s certainly gone.”

“What?”

“Eliot. You and he share a temperament.”

His thumb slides off the crown and to the side, digging into the rough edge of it. “You think I’m like him?” He asks, soft.

“It’s uncanny, really.”

His chest tightens but he nods once, chin tilting down so he can look at the crown. “Thank you.”

“Of course.” She claps her hands together, and he jerks his attention back to her, his thumb clumsily sliding off the smooth jewel and scraping against the side of the crown. “Now. I’ve already alerted Henry to your arrival—“

“Wait—I’m. I’m going now?”

“Obviously.”

“But I’m king. I can’t just—I have to prepare my people. And I—I don’t know anything about earth! Or about those times! I won’t fit in and I—“

She moves forward and gently grabs him by the shoulders, eyebrows raised high. “Quentin’s anxiety is infectious,” she says, “But best not let it overwhelm you. You’re going back in time. Whatever happens, if you do what you’re meant to do, will all be erased. When you come back, your family will be alive.”

“All of them?”

“All of them.”

“Even my mother?”

She makes a face, before shrugging. “Possibly.”

“And Uncle Penny and Aunt Julia and—“

“And Kady, Alice, Josh, and everyone else. Your family’s death,” She pauses, her mouth settling into a thin line as she looks away, shaking her head.  “Was not meant to happen.” She lets go of him and takes two steps backwards. “If you want to set things right, you have to do it now. They’re coming for you. We have to send you back before they find you.”

“They?”

She nods. “Can’t tell you too much, I don’t want to affect anything. But if you don’t go now, you’ll die. And you won’t be able to save anyone.”

He watches her, swallowing thickly. Part of him is ready to turn around and head back to the castle. Wait for them—whoever they are—to find him. Let them kill him so he can find his family in the underworld. So he can be with his dads and his mom. If he lets them kill him they can all be together again.

But that wouldn’t make his family proud.

And that’s the catch, isn’t it? Being torn between having them all again and making them proud.

If he does this, goes back and watches their lives from the sidelines to try and see who killed them, he could screw everything up. Ruin it all. He could get them killed sooner. He—

He could be the reason they die.

But he’d also get to meet his mom before she got sick. Watch her become high king. Make her proud, too. He can’t do that if he’s dead. If he lets himself get killed, he’ll run into her arms in the underworld as a disappointment.

He clenches his jaw and drops the crown. With it, the weight bearing down on his shoulders and chest eases and he squares them, defiant. “How’s this going to work?” He asks. “What do I need to know?”

She smiles, glancing down at the crown sinking into the grass. “No affecting anything, unless otherwise stated by Henry—“

“Right,” He nods, then pauses, “Who’s Henry?”

“Dean Fogg?”

“Oh. My family has complicated feelings about him.”

“I can imagine.” She nods to herself before continuing, “If there’s something you’re meant to do, he’ll let you know. Otherwise you’re not meant to actively be a part of their lives. Listen closely. Pay attention. Use your training to be King to your advantage.”

His heart drops. “I can’t talk to them?”

“I can’t stop you. But it’s not recommended.”

So he’s going to talk to them. Talk to her. “Okay. What else?”

“Pretend you belong.”

“I don’t even know how people on earth dress—“

“Henry will have clothes for you.”

“--or how they talk—“

“Exactly like your parents.”

“Oh.”

She laughs, soft and takes a deep breath. “Are you ready?”

“I mean, no. Absolutely not. But we’re on a clock. So I don’t think I have a choice.”

She nods again, chuckling as she moves forward and cups his jaw. “One day you will make a spectacular king. But not today. Today you get to be a child.” She raises her eyebrows before leaning forward and pressing a kiss to his temple. “Good luck, Todd.”

And before he can even pull in a breath to ask how everything’s going to happen—the world around him starts spinning until he falls to the ground on something soft. Warm, and soft.

His eyelids flutter open, blink rapidly as he tries to collect himself. A bright light shines down on him from the left, and he lifts his hand to block it out until his vision clears up and his surroundings aren’t blurry.

When everything eventually comes into focus, he pauses, his hand slowly falling to his side as he pushes up on his knees. He glances down, eyebrows furrowing at the sight of a blanket, and the feel of the cushioning of the bed beneath it. Not the ground, then. He looks back up again, quick, as he recognizes the room he’s in and takes a fast breath as he stumbles off the bed, crawling through the blankets. He takes a step off, his leg tangled up in the blanket, and falls face first onto the ground with a loud crash.

He jumps back up, huffing out a breath, and continues his way across the room, barely able to even register the searing pain of his entire face. His hands come up to rip the curtains open, sneaking in through the gap that the sunlight bleeds through, and jerking them apart so fast the bar almost comes out of the window.

His hands fall to his side, as all the air he hadn’t realized he’s been holding in eases out of him, slow. His heart pounds frantically in his chest.

It’s Brakebills, in the distance. He’d only ever seen photos before, but he’d recognize it anywhere. When you spend your entire childhood dreaming of a place, it’s hard not to recognize it.

His dads would be so pissed if they knew.

Turns out there’s a benefit to being orphaned: no getting in trouble.

Without meaning to, he reaches up, fingers grazing against the smooth glass of the window. He’s within reach of Brakebills. He’s so fucking close, he could cast a spell and be there.

Technically, he’s already there, though, isn’t he? He’s in the physical kids cottage.

He turns around, as he remembers exactly where he is, and his heart starts pounding against his chest again as he steps away from the window. His legs go wobbly as he looks back at the blanket, now tangled and half hanging off the bed. He’s seen it before. In pictures. Oh god.

Oh god.

He’s not sure he’s ready for this.

And obviously, like everything else in his life, because he’s not ready—the door bursts open. The girl—the woman—stands there, glowering eyes moving from him, to the mess of her bed, and back to him. Her head tilts, slow and cautious as she narrows her eyes and points a perfectly manicured nail at him.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” She asks, finally stepping into the room. Her movements remind him a predator stalking her prey.

“I—Uh—I. Got. Lost?”

Her eyes narrow even further, which shouldn’t even be possible—but she’d been a king for a reason, and it wasn’t because she was all sugar and sunshine and rainbows. “And getting lost equals fucking up my bed, how?”

“... panic?”

He’d always imagined getting to talk to her.

Her hating him hadn’t ever been a part of what his mind made up for him.

Eyes burning, he takes a step back as she advances. He wills himself not to cry. He can’t. This is his mother. She’s alive, and she’s not just well. She’s—

She’s fucking beautiful.

“Are you new?”

He blinks. “Y—Yes,” He says, nodding emphatically, “That . . . is what I am. I’m. New.”

To this school. To this world. To this time.

Nobody can say he lied to his not technically dead, but actually dead mother, that’s for sure.

“Well, new kid,” she finally stops, crossing her arms over her chest and cocking a hip, “I’ll generously give you five seconds to get the fuck out of my room.” She pauses, pulling one hand away and raising it in the air, “1.”

Todd takes a careful step closer to her.

“2.” A second finger pops up beside the first.

She’s shorter than he imagined. Angrier. Still beautiful. She’s somehow more than he’s spent the majority of his life imagining. She’s got a ferocity he hadn’t expected—even if both of his fathers had gone on about it incessantly anytime she was brought up in conversation. And Uncle Penny’s numerous drunken exclamations of how wondrously bitchy she was — which was always said with a fond smile, and a far off look in his eyes.

None of it could have prepared him for how absolutely regal she is. And she’s not even royalty yet!


“3.” The third finger conjures a brief memory, fuzzy and barely there at all, from when he was a toddler, maybe four? She’s older. Staring down at him. But her lips are quirked, like she finds whatever he’s doing humorous.

And just as quick as it’s there, it’s gone.

He moves faster, barely makes it to the space in front of her before she shakes her head and drops her hand to her side. “Hang on,” She says, taking a step back, and flicking her gaze over him. “What the fuck are you wearing?”

He frowns, looking down over himself. Fuck.

Why hadn’t Jane let him change out of his coronation clothes?

He looks back up, making a face as he pulls his arms around himself self consciously. He finally gets to actually meet his mother, and he’s wearing the ugliest, itchiest clothes the royal cabinet could find for him. Abigail and the rest of the cabinet suck, so hard. He clears his throat and shrugs a shoulder. “I’m . . . not from here.” A king he may be, but there’s a reason he wasn’t done training before the massacre.

It’s because he’s an absolute shit liar.

Jane didn’t think this plan through, at all, did she?

“Alright, not from here, where’s your accent?”

“Not everywhere has an accent?”

She watches him for a moment before rolling her eyes. “Okay. Where were we? 4?”

He nods, once, and darts out of the room, flinching as she slams the door shut behind him with a wave of her hand. Taking a deep breath, he leans against the wall and lets his eyes slide shut.  His hands tremble at his sides.

Even if he had any intention of abiding by the ‘don’t talk to them’ rule, that’s a little difficult when he crash lands in his dead mother’s bed, isn’t it? He opens his eyes and looks up at the ceiling, narrowing his eyes. His first interaction with the woman who gave birth to him in sixteen years, and he’s wearing a ridiculous smock of an outfit, and she has no idea who he is.

He shoves away from the wall and clenches his hands.



*


Dean Henry Fogg is an asshole.

When Todd appears in the doorway of his office, Dean Fogg sighs heavily, motioning for him to come in with a lazy, albeit reluctant, wave of his arm. And as Todd takes the seat across from the desk, Fogg pulls out a flask of whiskey and takes a long, impatient drink from it. He screws the cap back on and shoves it in a drawer in his desk and glares at Todd like he’s not quite sure what to do with him.

“Do you know,” He says after a few moments of heavy, awkward silence, “how many times I’ve had to live through these delinquents’ failures?”

“Sorry?”

“40 times,” Fogg continues, as if Todd hadn’t spoken at all, “And now I learn that on top of the time fuckery I’m already dealing with, I get a call from Jane to tell me that there’s another layer—except this one’s from the goddamned future.” He picks up a pen, grips it in his hand tight like he’s trying to force all his anger and frustration at life into it. “I’m getting real sick of your family.”

Todd blinks once, twice, before nodding and shuffling uncomfortably in his seat. “I’d give anything to have 40 lifetimes with them,” He pauses, furrowing his brow, before adding, “Sir.”

Fogg doesn’t even seem to realize the implications of the statement. “Look. Todd. It is Todd, isn’t it?”

“Yes. Todd C—“

“I don’t care. Can you do magic?”

Todd clears his throat and nods. “I—have a limited knowledge? Aunt Julia tried to teach me to the best of her ability, but Dad and—“

“Still don’t care about the details, Todd. Odds are they’re not even going to succeed this time. None of it matters.”

Todd blinks again, shifting forward in his seat, and tilting his head. “I’m sorry. But I’m from the future, remember?” He squints his  eyes, making a face, “In my future, they succeed. They defeat the beast, and a number of other magical, and non—magical foes. They become legends. All of them. They’re heroes. And—disasters, as my father would say. They’re imperfect, but they—“

“Alright. I get it. You can stop waxing poetic about the bumbling buffoons I’ve watched fail over and over again.”

“You don’t speak of them in that way,” Todd hisses, anger rising like bile. “You’ve made your fair share of mistakes as well, sir. I know all about it. You do not get to talk about them as if they’re the only ones to make mistakes. My family risked everything to save magic. To save everyone. Including you.” He pushes up from the chair, and the tone of his voice falls, deeper, and more regal than he even realizes he’s capable, “ It would be wise to remember that .”


Dean Fogg only raises an eyebrow before barking out a laugh and leaning back in his seat. “You’re Waugh’s kid, aren’t you?”

“I thought you didn’t care.”

His lips quirk, as he bobs his head, “Well. She did say I’d be dealing with a king.” He tilts his head, then, frowning. “Though in the past Fillorian kings have been…”

“Useless and an unjust burden placed on my people?”

“Both of your parents are from Earth.”

Todd nods. “And this is only my second time here. I am Fillorian, no matter my heritage. My people are in Fillory.”

“Then why are you here?”

“My people,” he says, soft as he leans back in his chair, “Have my spirit. I will give all that I need to, to ensure not only their survival but their happiness. But my family,” he swallows, thick, and lowers his gaze to the top of the desk as his fingers fidget in his lap. He can almost feel the crown in his hands again. “My family have my heart,” he adds, after a moment. “And no true king can rule without his or her heart.”

Dean Fogg stares him down, before he laughs again. “I take it back. You’re nothing like your parents.”

Todd’s gaze snaps back up. “What?” His stomach flips as he pushes out of the seat, shaking his head. “You can’t take that back. You said I’m like them. You can’t—“

“I meant that you’re actually smart. But sure, get offended.”

“My parents are—were… are? Are. They are smart.” He sniffs, his eyes starting to burn. “What is with all of you. Or—What is with you and Jane Chatwin talking about my family as if they are nothing more than pawns on a board you’ve placed? They are more than pieces you move to treat you whims. They are people. Incredibly loving, smart, people. And they don’t deserve—“

“Enough.”

Todd’s mouth snaps shit, and his lip twitches as he points a shaking finger at Dean Fogg. “I am the King of Fillory. You will not—“

“Not here you’re not. Sit the fuck down.”

So much for doing what his parents do whenever someone crosses a line they shouldn’t.

It makes sense. He’s not as intimidating as his father.

His dad says it’s because his eyes are too kind, that people can see the good in him.

At the thought of Quentin, a sharp pang of regret fills his gut. He regrets pushing him aside to follow Eliot around. Quentin was a good dad, too. But he wasn’t the High King. And all Todd wanted was to make his father, the High King, proud.

And in the end, he’d abandoned him again, in search of being something more than he is.

When he saves his family he’s got to tell Quentin he loves him. He misses the kindness. Misses his dad. Of course he misses Eliot, too. He’s spent his entire life idolizing him. Memorizing the way he walks, and talks. Learning to be just like him.

But now they’re gone, and Todd’s afraid only one of his parents knew he loved them.

He falls back into the chair with a soft plop and stares up at Dean Fogg. Neither of them say anything for a few long minutes. But he leans back in the seat, exhaling long and slow to ease the guilt and says, looking up at the ceiling, “Now what?”

“Now? I’ve got a shit load of paperwork, and you’re going to help. Then we’ll get you situated.”

 

**

 


The first time he sees him, is from a distance. His arms are overloaded with books Dean Fogg threw at him because “you’ll need these if you expect to learn anything” or something. He’d tuned him out in order to look over the covers of them as they were piled up. In fact, he’s gazing down at the cover on top of the stack, when he here’s a familiar laugh in the distance.

His head snaps up, just in time to see Eliot walking backwards, facing Margo and someone Todd’s never seen or heard about, grinning as he waves his arms around, probably telling some extravagant story he’s retold a thousand times.

Something in Todd’s chest pangs and he nearly drops all the books to run across the grass to pull them into a hug. His vision goes blurry, and all three of them turn into watery blobs until he can blink the tears away.

As he flips around to walk side by side with them, Eliot lets out another laugh, loud and boisterous and more than Todd could have hoped for. He takes a step towards them without meaning to, swallowing thick. “Fuck,” He breathes, turning his gaze back on the books.

Not yet.

Not until he can look at them without crying.

 

**

 

Quentin Coldwater has almost died – as far as Todd can tell – at least six times in the three months Todd’s been lurking around on the Brakebills campus. Which would be fine. Really. Okay, not really. Todd may know the future, but how many times does he have to hear second hand news of, ‘Did you hear what happened to Coldwater today?’ or ‘You will never believe what Coldwater did!’ before he stops having heart attacks? There’s only so much he can take of thinking his presence in the past has somehow altered everything so drastically that his dad is dead.

Ten years before he’s even been born .

And don’t get him started on having to see Quentin fawning over Aunt Alice.

If he ever gets back to the present, and his family is alive, he’s going to have to ask them why the hell nobody bothered mentioning that particular affair. Look. He’ll admit as much as any other human being who’s ever met her, Alice is beautiful. And inspiring.

But she’s his aunt.

And Quentin’s his dad .

It’s just weird, okay?


**

 

There’s a lot Todd expects when he walks down the stairs. His mother. Dressed in nothing but a bikini and chains. 

So, so incredibly not one of them.

Like. At all.

His heart still jumps, when he sees them laughing and smiling together. Beats frantically in his chest, because this is the life he’s always wanted. The two of them. He knows how close they were. And he knows how deeply it wrecked Eliot when Margo died. And this is before most of the real troubles in their life begins.

So, when Eliot stands up wearing a goofy hat and ridiculous sunglasses, he can’t help but laugh.

Because he has never, in all his life, truly seen his father so absolutely, resolutely carefree. Even in halls of the castle, with Quentin. Even on trips, when he gets to pretend he’s not king, and he and Todd and Quentin just spend a few days out at sea, being a family. It’s a part of his father he’s never seen and it’s--

Well. It’s a get out jail free card for the future.

It’s also hilarious.

And he’s been here for four months. And they’re staring at him now. Eliot looks disgusted. Margo just looks bored. For a moment, he thinks, this is it. This is what it feels like to be on the outside of his own family. But, he’s smarter than people give him credit for, and if they find out he’s just eavesdropping trying to figure out who they’ve pissed off that’ll attack them thirty three years from now, he’s doomed.

So, he uses his eavesdropping to escape certain death. Okay, not death, because though they’re regal, they aren’t royalty yet. And Eliot does not have the ability to make that particular execution order, thank god, because his glares are terrifying-- a fact that does not change in the future-- and Todd does not doubt that he’d make the call without hesitation.

He grins, wide, and says, “Hey, so Ibiza!”

“Is a place.”

“That we’re going to.”

And it’s so clearly a ‘leave us alone’, but Todd’s stubborn. Thank his parents.

“I'm hearing Encanto Oculto this year is gonna be, like,” He pauses. What’s a phrase people of this time use? Oh! Right! “ Off the chain . But you have to be invited by people who've been... and you guys have both been.” He’s not exactly sure at all what he’s talking about. It’s just clips of conversation he’s heard over the past couple days.

“Twice,” Eliot says, tossing his hat on the table.

Todd knows the frown on his face. But Todd is a king. And King’s aren’t scared of frowns. Even if his entire body is urging him to run back up the stairs and hide until they’re gone. He turns his attention to Margo, instead of darting out of the firing zone, and swallows. “Margo . . . you look so beautiful.”

She’s his mother. He can say it. It’s not creepy.

She smirks, glancing him over, until Eliot starts spluttering. And she says, all smooth, careful, “I got this.” Like she’s had to bat a thousand guys away every day for as long as Todd’s been alive. Which, considering the year, isn’t long at all because he’s technically not actually alive. She turns her attention back on him, blinking, “Tell me your name again.”

He supposes he should be thankful she doesn’t remember. He touches his chest, “Me? T--Todd.” He wants to remind her that she’s the one that named him, but holds that much back, at least. Because it’s not a reminder if she doesn’t already know.

“Todd,” And he can’t help the smile that eases across his lips at the sound of her saying his name, “Here’s the thing. Encanto Oculto is a solid week of sun, drugs, and magical art. Time stops, reality bends, and you fuck five times a day.”  

. . . Okay. He doesn’t need to know about his mother’s sex life.

Oh god. Please no mental images.

“On a bad day,” Eliot adds.

And that is somehow so, so much worse.

He’d walked in on Eliot and Quentin once.

He knows his parents have sex lives.

He just doesn’t need to know about them.

He laughs awkwardly anyways, because if he does manage to get on this trip - because apparently that’s a thing he now wants - he gets to spend time with them. Which is something he does actually want. “Sounds awesome!” So long as he doesn’t have to see, hear, or acknowledge any sex they have.

“It is, Todd. It is awesome. But honestly, you'd end up in a corner alone. Bitter. Bumming everyone out. Like last year at the bacchanal.” He’s not sure what she’s talking about entirely, but it does kind of sting, how quickly she dismisses him.

As a child, he’d always known her to be kind. Patient. She was a great mother. Even when she was sick, she’d pull him up onto her bed, and run her fingers through his hair while she read a story, or used a spell to bring the words of a storybook to life. It’s one of the few real, tangible memories he has left of her.

It’s just jarring that that’s not who she’s always been.

She turns her attention back on Eliot. And he continues for her. “Poor… wait. What was his name?”

“Hmm… Todd.”

Todd! How weird is that?” ”

He’s almost shocked by how in sync they are with each other. But his entire life has been filled with stories of how Margo was Eliot’s soulmate, from literally everyone who knew them.

So, it’s not so much shocking as it is terrifying to be on the side that gets beat mercilessly.

He doesn't even know what’s about to happen. Just that, he’s definitely going to end up walking away with tail between his legs.

God, there’s a reason he wasn’t ready to be King.

“Todd,” Eliot repeats, this time to pull Todd’s attention towards him. Speechless, and so unsure of what the hell is actually about to happen, Todd obliges,  “You don’t want to end up like the other Todd.”

“What . . . happened to him?”

Eliot looks down like he feels bad, and before Todd can even think that oh, maybe this isn’t going to go how he expected, Margo picks up the invisible baton and carries on. “He just wasn’t meant to be there,” Right, okay. No mercy for the living, it is,  “He moped and whined and brought everything down.” He’s not sure he feels about his mother thinking he’s anything like his fictional alter ego, but he doesn’t say anything, just lets her go on, “Okay, we were a little wrecked, and for fun, someone --Someone not us…”

“No. Not us.”

God, they’re terrifyingly sinister.

“--turned Todd into a pig.”

“And we ate him.”

Todd pauses, expecting them to laugh. But they don’t. And an unexpected, confused, awkward laugh bubbles out of him. But they stay stoic and scary, and suddenly he doubts that they’re lying to him at all as he grabs onto the banister. “Wait--are you guys messing with me right now?”

Margo--his mother , should the world need reminding--looks him over. Like he’s a piece of meat.

Unsure of what else to do, or say, because his parents are actually terrifying and no amount of Royalty is going to make him any less terrified that he’s going to actually get eaten before he’s even been born, he says, “Okay . . . I’m just. I’m going to… I’m…” And darts up the stairs before they actually decide to murder him.

At the top of the stairs, he hears them burst into laughter, as he falls against the wall and holds his hand to his chest.

Maybe this is the real reason Jane told him not to make contact. 

Because his mother is somehow more terrifying than both his father's combined.

 

**

 

He’s not sure how he gets into helping Margo with the Gin, all he knows is he walked by a hall closet, heard something he prefers to have not heard, and was dragged into the livingroom by a livid, frustrated Margo Hanson.

And she may be snappy and irritated, but he catches glimpses of his mother.

So when Eliot and he-who-is-definitely-the-beast appear and Margo says, “Todd was more helpful than you,” he thinks this is the moment that he can finally become a part of the group. But he’s barely taken two steps when she looks at him, deadpan, and says, “Don’t.”

Which, fair.

But then, the Genie takes Eliot’s boyfriend -- who Todd is still debating telling them all is definitely the beast, because wow the trauma that unfolds from this particular thread is a hefty load, and a story his family doesn’t exactly like retelling, for obvious reasons -- and Todd finally gets to claim his place.

Because his family is smart. And they made him learn a whole lot in preparation of becoming a king.

And Arabic may not be his best language, but it does have Margo dragging him along to help. 

Is it weird that his mother actually wanting his company, even if to use him for something, is the best part of his year?

 

**

 

“You wished my boyfriend away!"

“Boyfriend? He’s random cock!”

… And that is Todd’s cue to go find beast-boy because any talk of cock from his parents is so far out of his league it may as well be 33 years ahead of even his future.

Stumbling across the beast giving a doorknob the equivalent of a blowjob, is somehow simultaneously the most hilarious and confusing moment of his life. He wonders if his family ever realized, after discovering the truth, that they’d made the beast give a door a blowjob.

When he saves them he has to figure out a way to let them know. Like, maybe, “Hey your life was shit at this point in time, but did you ever consider the hilarity of the fact that the beast was trying to murder you, and in doing so, ended up humiliating himself?”

But then again it did send Eliot down a particular downward spiral that makes it onto the list of Things We Must Never Mention.

Like Margo’s death.

 

**

 

“Todd!”

Shit. Shit. Shit. They know he’s eavesdropping. He just needs to play it cool. He walks into the livingroom, thumbs tucked into his pockets. That’s casual, right?

“It’s your lucky decade. Pack a swimsuit.”

What?

“Seriously?”

She nearly rolls her eyes. “Ground rules: you need to fit in, so don't talk.” He can’t really argue with that. He’s still getting the hang of figuring out how people talk on Earth. In this time.

He opens his mouth to respond, but Eliot’s rushing forward, and grabbing onto Todd’s shoulders. He flashes back to the first meeting with the kingdom Loria, when both Eliot and Quentin had pulled him aside to tell him no matter what happens they’re proud of him and how far he’s come. Wills himself not to get emotional. “See that she hydrates, wears sunblock, and waxes. Mama's down south can get jungly.”

… Nope.

If his parents don’t stop giving him mental images he does not need, he might actually burst into tears. And for once, not the my life sucks and I’m traumatized tears, but more the, oh god the images won’t leave my brain , tears.

“And you’re in charge of the genie,” Margo adds, tossing him the bottle. He nearly drops it in his haste to catch it, but it’s okay.

Because he’s going to spend time with his mother.

 

**

 

It takes two days in Ibiza for him to fuck everything up.

Margo’s drunk, but calm and relaxed, lounging on the beach, staring out at the ocean, a cocktail in her hand, and a man fanning her with a giant leaf. Todd should be doing literally anything other than what he is doing. Which is, effectively, just gazing at her from his towel. Admiring her.

He assumes that when he was a baby that she had days like this. Days where she could just be . He doesn’t doubt that at some point in his childhood, he got to sit with her. Maybe on her lap. Maybe they watched a Fillorian sunset or two together. As mother and son. Maybe she ran her fingers through his hair, and pointed out things on the horizon. Maybe he got to have real moments like this.

But he doesn’t remember. He was too young. All he has are the memories of when she was sick. Of nights in the dark, and days in the castle staying by her side. Or of healers ushering him away.

Of her final days.

Eventually, she notices him staring. And really, that’s when it all goes to hell.

She sighs, dramatic, and pushes her sunglasses up so they’re resting atop her head. She raises her eyebrows, all drama -- which he’s learning is her default -- and lifts one shoulder. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

His eyes dart left to right. “I’m . . . not looking at you in any particular way.”

She scoffs. “You’re looking at me like I kicked your dog or something. What’s the deal?”

“No deal. I’m--I feel bad for the leaf waving guy.”

“Seriously?” She asks. He nods, and she rolls her eyes, shuffling to sit up. She waves one hand lazily, and the guy fanning her with the leaf sets it down and walks off. “Has anyone ever told you you’re a terrible liar?”

Yes. Literally everyone he’s ever met. Including King Ess of Loria. But that’s irrelevant. Mostly because his opinion is irrelevant to every topic known to man.

He’s probably the only person less ready to be King than Todd and he’s been King two years longer than Todd has.

“Nope. Because I’m honest. Like a beaver.” He’d met a beaver once. Apparently it’s a part of their moral code to never tell a lie.

She narrows her eyes, before leaning to the side of the lounger and picking up the bottle with the Djinn in it. “That’s not an expression. And I’d suggest telling me the truth. Or I can make you. It’s really up to you.”

“Is it, though?”

“Nope.”

He huffs, nodding to the jar. “Shouldn’t you have given that to someone by now?”

“They didn’t want it.”

“Oh.”

She raises her eyebrow, “Come on. Out with it. You should be out fucking everything that breathes. Instead you’re staring at me. Which is usually fine, I am a sight to behold, but you’re not supposed to be sad when you stare at me. It’s creepy.”  

Oh. Well, at least she’s blunt. “I wasn’t trying to be creepy.”

“I got that. Doesn’t mean you’re not.”

He lets his gaze drop back down to the sand, fiddling with the towel. “I’m sorry,” He says, softer. Sometimes it’s hard to pretend. He can’t help it. It doesn’t matter that he’s been here close to half a year. Doesn’t matter that he still hasn’t come in direct contact with Quentin or most of the rest of his family. Doesn’t matter how many times his mother and father both push him aside and remind him that they’re not his parents yet.

“Oh for--” She cuts herself off and he looks back up to find her shuffling to the end of the lounger. “What the fuck is wrong with you?”

“It’s nothing. Really.” He offers a grin, waving a hand lazily, “Just homesick.”

She narrows her eyes until their thin slits, and taps one nail against the bottle, a sharp clink sounding between them. “I’ll give you one more chance to tell me the truth. I really don’t have the patience to play games.”

“I am—“

She scoffs, shaking her head, and pulling the bottle up into her lap and popping the cork in on fluid motion. If they weren’t surrounded by magicians on a private beach, he figures she’d have hesitated. But the genies appears, and a few people around them coo with jealousy, but nobody really reacts .

She stares at him, and the Djinn turns to him slowly.

“Come on—“ But the Djinn grants her silent wish, snapping his fingers as he appears, standing beside him, arms crossed.

Todd’s mouth falls open.

Did she seriously—

“If this actually works, you can’t lie to me.” She leans forward, resting her elbows on her knees. “What’s really going on here? Out with it so we can go back to having fun.”

Jane’s going to kill him. But Todd’s only so strong. Because the Djinn reaches down, touches Todd’s shoulder, and the words come tumbling out; “It’s just jarring how much you’re like her, while not being like her at all.”

She tilts her head. “Explain.”

“My mother.”

“Why is me not being like you—do you have some kind of weird incest thing? Is that why you haven’t found someone to fuck?”

“No!” He exclaims, pushing up to his knees, only flinching a little as the Djinn’s fingers dig into his shoulder. “God, no!”

“Then what the fuck are you talking about?”

He tries. He really does. He clamps his mouth shut, swallowing the words that will themselves to the top of tongue, down. If he can’t not tell her the truth, then he can just opt for silence.

Which, apparently not. Because the Djinn’s grip tightens, nearly breaking skin, and instead of crying out in pain, he finds himself blurting it out;

“You’re my mother! Okay? You’re my mother ! Ow! Fuck! Let—“ he struggles against the Djinn until it let's go and he jerks away, crashing into the sand on his side. He stares down at the sand beneath him, willing himself not to cry.

Because there’s no doubt that he’s just ruined everything .

Not only is he not going to save them in the future, he’s probably going to get them killed in the Now.

His fingers dig into the dirt as he swallows down the limp in his throat, fists filling with sand. He expects her to yell at him, maybe call him delusional. But she’s completely silent.

Only after he realizes she’s not going to say anything does he look up. Her elbows are still on her knees, but her arms are crossed at the wrist, dangling in front of her, and she’s staring at him with an inscrutable look on her face.

He sniffles, chin trembling as he turns his attention away from her.

“That’s not possible,” she finally says.

He shrugs a shoulder, silent.

There’s shuffling, and he can see movement out of the corner of his eyes, but he doesn’t realize she’s moved until she’s sitting on the towel next to him. “How’s that possible? My wish was that you had to answer my questions honestly. So you’re not lying.” She clicks her tongue and pokes him, roughly in the side. “Tell me how that’s even remotely possible.”

He shrugs again, shuffling in the sand to sit up straight. “Maybe I’m just a really good magician and can —“

“Cut the crap, Todd.” She hisses, “What the fuck is going on?”

“I can’t tell you,” he whispers. “I can’t, Margo. Just—please.” Finally, he turns to look up at her. He can feel the tears streaming down his cheeks, and he’s sure he looks as much of a lost child as he is, but he doesn’t know how to fix this. “Please, trust that I’m not here to do anything—anything bad. I just can’t tell you.”

Her gaze softens, but she clenches her jaw and shakes her head, waving a finger in his face. “No fucking way is that going to work on me. What the fuck? You think you can just say that I’m—that you’re—“

“I didn’t want to!” He says, desperate, twisting and turning until he can kneel in front of her hopelessly. “You’re not supposed to know. None of you are!”

“None of—“ she breaks off, shaking her head with a furrow of her brow, “None of who ?”

His mouth falls open. “ I—can’t .” It comes out as more of a sob than anything, broken and aching. “Please.”

She purses her lips for a moment, staring him down before shoving herself up, sand scattering around her, and holding her hand out to him. “Get up,” she says, shaking her hand at him. “Now.”

“Margo—“

“You said I’m your mother,” she whispers, callous, “So you have to listen to me. So. Get the fuck up.”

“That’s not fair.”

“Life’s not fair, Todd. Get up.”

Dejected, he takes her hand, a memory of her taking his hand to walk through the garden flashing across his memory as she pulls him up. It’s gone in a beat, as she turns on her heel and drags him across the beach towards a booth. She opens it, shoves him in, and it’s only as he stumbles into a hotel lobby, does he realize it’s a portal.

“Damn it, Margo,” he says, flipping around to glare at her, “I—“

“Nope.” She grabs his hand again and pulls him through the lobby, into an elevator, and then down a hall until they get to a room, and she slams the door shut behind them. She locks it, turns to him and points at the bed. “Sit.”

“I—“

Sit .”

He opens his mouth to respond, but she raises one eyebrow and he sighs. Turns around and sits on the edge of the bed without a word. Even before she’s his mother she’s commanding.

On the bright side, he’s finally getting the parenting from her he never got to experience.

She nods, once, to herself and moves to stand in front of him, crossing her arms and staring at him expectantly. “How am I your mother? How is it even remotely possible? You’re only a year younger than me.”

He stares up at her. Watches the crease between her eyes deepen.

And honestly. What’s the point of lying anymore? He’s already fucked it all up.

“I’m—I won’t be born for another ten years.”

“I have a kid when I’m thirty three? That is—“

“You’re technically the surrogate. But you’re also my mother. You guys—it was. It’s hard to explain. It’s not normal here, I think.”

She blinks, falling back to lean against the dresser behind her, her hands cupping the space between her hips and the wood of the dresser. “None of this is normal,” she says. “Like, fuck .”

“I know.”

She closes her eyes, takes a few deep breaths. Which, he can’t really blame her. He’s freaking out, too. Just, less.

Because he has no idea what to do.

Because Jane Fucking Chatwin sent him into the past without a map, or a way to keep this exact thing from happening. He keeps expecting to find himself back in the clearing. But on the edge of the bed he remains. No wonder why Eliot called her an antihero. She’s the most morally grey, asshole of a hero he’s ever met. And he was born and raised in a fictional land full of people setting out to be heroes.

“How—,” she breathes, “Why?” She opens her eyes, and for once he’s not the only one misty eyed and confused.

But somehow being the person to make his mother cry? Not something he’d like to add to his list of achievements.

In fact, he’d like to go back in time again just to make sure she doesn’t cry.

“Something happens,” he says, looking down just so he doesn’t have to see. He wrings his thumbs in his lap. “I have to figure out why, and how to stop it.”

“What happens?”

He shakes his head. “No,” he says. “I can’t—won’t— can’t .”

She does say anything for a long moment. But when she does, it’s no surprise. He knows she’s smart. Smart enough to figure something as small as this out. “Does someone die?” He nods, once, and she lets out a heavy, stuttering breath. “Shit. Is it me?”

He jerks his head up, eyes wide. “What?”

“What do you mean, what?” She scoffs, shoving away from the dressing and walking a path between the door and the bed, turning to walk it again as she reaches the end. She points an accusatory finger at him, “You’re the one who’s been staring at me all sad and shit. What the fuck else am I supposed to think?”

Can he tell her her actual fate? Can he even tell her what really happens?

Clearly he’s already said too much. He’s in too deep. But can he actually stomach telling her she’s dead ?

He swallows and looks back down. “I can’t tell you what happens. It might affect the future."

“If you think you’re leaving this room without answering my questions, you’re too dumb to actually be my kid.”

He flinches. She’d hit a little too close to home, there.

She stops pacing. “What was that?” She asks, moving to stand just a few inches away from him. “Why’d you make that face?” He shrugs.  And she huffs angrily, moving forward to kneel in front of him, narrowing her eyes. “Why. Did you. Make that face?”

His jaw trembles as tears flood his eyes again, and he forces himself to look away. He can’t stand this. How could anyone expect him to? This is his mother. All he has of her are his memories. And Jane honestly expected him to come to the past and not screw it all up over his love for his mother? Or his fathers’? Or his family? They’re all dead. What the fuck did she expect from him?

He doesn’t realize he’s said it all out loud, or that he’s sobbing, until she’s pulling him into her, her arms wrapping tight around his back. The tips of her fingers dig into the back of his neck, and her breath hitches as she tugs him impossibly closer.

He’d never been given the chance after their deaths to respond. It’s all been a series of “What next?” Since the massacre. Of people guiding him to the next post, telling him who he needs to be and where he needs to go. A sea of numbness blocking out the trauma.  

Even at the funeral, he’d been forced to play the stoic king.

And ever since he walked into Jane Chatwins clearing, he’s been playing the part of a stranger in his families lives. He’s had to watch them walking around, living their lives, unable to tell them. Unable to approach Quentin—too ashamed of how he treated him, even though this isn’t even his Quentin. Too scared to disappoint Eliot—despite this Eliot not being the doting, always-expecting King.

It’s too much.

It’s too fucking much.

Margo pulls away just enough to make him look at her. She tugs at the hair at the base of his skull, raising her eyebrows. “You’re not doing this alone,” she says. “We’ll figure it out together.”

“You—you can’t—“

“Fuck anyone who tries to stop me.” And she pulls him back in. “You’re my kid, Todd,” she says, “And when you calm down, you’re going to tell me everything. And then, we’re going to fix this shit. Because there’s no way on god's green fucking earth I’m letting you suffer this much. Not my kid.” She shakes her head, nails scraping against his neck. “ Fuck that .”

“You don’t even—“

She pulls away again, squeezing his shoulder. “I have a son in the future,” she says, “And I know I put out some serious I don’t give a fuck vibes. And that right here, right now, I don’t actually know you.” She pauses, clicking her jaw, “But I have a god awful family, Todd. I have literally been left standing in the dust by my family. I’m not abandoning you. Whatever happens in the future, right now. I’m gonna be your mom.”

“You don’t have to—“

“Did you come out of my vagina?”

He grimaces. “I—“

“Well?”

“Yes…”

“Then you’re stuck with me. No future spawn of mine is going to suffer alone. So,” she nods to him, “Cry it all out. Because when you’re done we’re figuring this shit out.”

He stares at her. Tears brimming his eyes, and she goes all blurry as he nods, once, before nodding again, more erratic. He pulls her in for the hug this time, finally allowing himself to breathe her in.

“I missed you,” he says, soft, as he closes his eyes.

Her only response is squeezing him tighter.

He’s fucked everything up.

But he can’t find it in himself to care. She’s younger, and more brash and reactive, but his mother is holding him.

Nothing else matters.

Not even the future.

For now, at least.

Chapter Text

They try to warn him. But the looks on their faces, and the tight draw of their shoulders has him shoving past them and through the throne room doors before they can even open their mouths to explain. He’s still looking back at Tick, but as soon as the doors crash against the wall and he turns his attention on the room before him, he stops. The glare falls, and his mouth drops open, hands stilling in front of him in mid-air, as if he’s being controlled by unseen puppet strings.

The first thing he notices is the smell. Strong, and wafting through the air. Iron and tragedy mixed with wine. It overwhelms the senses. Floods through him and drags him down as he staggers further into the room, legs wobbly as he sidesteps the body of a guard. There’s blood everywhere. Flaps of skin in places skin shouldn’t be. Pieces of people ripped and pulled apart and strewn across the room like garbage. He starts shaking, beginning at the base of his spine, and all the way through to his fingertips as his hand, trembling, reaches up to cover his mouth.

To cover his shock.

A ragged, angry breath stutters out of his chest as he stops in the center of the room and spins, slow, to take in the carnage. It takes a moment. Takes a full rotation and a half before he see’s him. He nearly trips over himself, as he falls out of the circle, stumbling forwards, a broken gasp retching itself from his mouth.

“Dad?”

He rushes forward, foot catching on the corpse of an unknown guard, and he falls forward, crashing to the ground. He outstretches his arms in front of him, but the floor is slippery with blood and champagne, and he slides down until he’s face first on the ground. The scent of iron pulses around him as he pushes up clumsily, like a newborn doe trying to take her first steps, until he’s on his hands and knees as he frantically crawls over bodies until he finally reaches his dad’s. At Quentin’s side, he shoves up until he’s on his knees, hands shaking so hard he’s not sure they’re even in his control anymore as he pats at the air around his dad’s chest, unsure of where to touch. Unsure of what to do.

There’s a large gash across Quentin’s chest, deep and seeping blood into his clothes. A choked off whine erupts from Todd’s throat as he finally sets his hands down. Because it can’t be real. Not this. Not this.

Not this.

But the blood is sticky and cold and Quentin’s chest isn’t rising or falling.

Todd looks up, mouth open, panting breaths forcing themselves in and out of him as he looks around frantically. He’s not sure what he’s looking for until he see’s it. Not even a foot away.

The High Kings crown.

Which means Quentin’s not the only one.

It’s then, as he spots his fathers familiar curls, hidden in a pool of coagulating blood, that he sees the rest of them. All up by the thrones, as if they’re a sacrifice to the gods, splayed out for all to see. Julia, a hole carved into her chest, opening up to a seeping empty space that Todd imagines used to house her heart. Alice, and her once golden hair, shining under the Fillorian sun, crimson and burning. The sun doesn’t seem to be aware of what happened during the night. Shines down on the throne room as if it were any other day. Lights the crime scene as if a fairy tale come to life. A harsh juxtaposition to what it shines down on.

Todd falls back on his haunches as his gaze sweeps over the rest of his family. Penny and Kady—Kady overtop Penny like she’d been trying to protect him. Fen. Oh god—he can’t. She’d always been so kind and fair to their people. He’d always gone to her when he had nightmares. She’d practically defaulted to be his defacto mother.

Now she’s bound to be the highlight of his latest nightmares. He’s not even sure where the bottom half of her bodies gone, and he’s too frightened to wonder. He swallows thickly, chin trembling as he finally focuses in on the king himself.

He can barely look at him before he’s turning around and throwing up on the ground beside a face he’s sure to have seen a thousand times before but can’t remember to save his life. He sits there, heaving in breaths, hunched over this familiar strangers body, until somebody appears, wrapping a soft hand around his bicep.

“Your majesty,” They say, voice far off or underwater, or both. Todd can’t be sure. Everything’s going red around the edges, and he’s not sure he can breathe. His stomach is twisting and turning, angry bile churning as he reaches up to wipe at the tears streaming down his cheeks. His hand comes back even stickier, tears mixed with blood sliding between his fingers. “Let us get you away from this,” The stranger continues, pulling in a silent urge for him to stand.

He lets them pull him up, squeezing his eyes shut, even as feels somebodies blood clump up against his eyelashes from where he’d brushed up against his cheek with his hands. Lets them guide him out, slow and careful, silent commandments as they direct him around the room so he doesn’t step on anyone else or trip over them. He stops at the edge of the room, his hand coming up to brace himself against the doorway, a bloody handprint left in it’s wake.

He clenches his jaw, opens his eyes, and looks back once more.

Because this is all he has of them, now, isn’t it?

“Come, your majesty,” The guard urges, gently squeezing Todd’s arm. His chin trembles again as he closes his eyes and nods, once, barely at all, and allows them to pull him away.

 

**

 

He’s barely given twelve hours before they come into his room. He’s sat up against the headboard of his bed, his knees pulled up to his chest, as he stares blankly into the darkness of his room. When his door opens, slowly and creaking so loud it pulls him from his head, but not enough to make him look to see who it is, he just pulls his knees tighter against himself.

Tick introduces himself with a pointed clearing of his throat. When Todd doesn’t respond, he takes a step further into the room, and clears his throat again.

Blearily, Todd shifts until he twists his neck, head heavy and somehow floating all at once, until he can turn his blank stare on him. For the first time in his life he truly understands what his parents meant when they implied that Tick’s name is more literal than it appears. He’s blood sucking and thirsty. Even like this, so empty and so cold, Todd can see it in his eyes.

He opens his mouth, tongue heavy and fuzzy, and says, voice a hoarse whisper, “What is it?”

“First, I would like to offer my condolences—“

“Don’t bother,” Todd turns his head until he can stare at the wall again. “You’re dismissed, Tick.”

But Tick doesn’t leave. Instead he shuffles in further. “Majesty,” He says, his voice clipped and lacking any real emotion. If he had the energy, Todd would yell at him. Scream at him. Tick’s known his parents for longer than Todd’s been alive. He’d been so integrated in their lives, he was practically family—albeit, mostly estranged and unwanted, but family nonetheless. And now he’s standing here, like they haven’t all been murdered.

Because he wants something.

Todd closes his eyes. “Tick.”

“I understand you are in mourning, and that is all very well—“

“Then leave me alone.”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

Todd closes his eyes, his head dropping down until he can rest his forehead on top of his knees. When he replies, the words come out muffled. “I just want to be alone.” He doesn’t mean for it to sound so desperate, but it’s the lie behind the statement itself that comes out, seeping into the words, and the air in the room around them.

Because he doesn’t want to be alone.

For the first time in his life, he doesn’t want to be alone at all. He wants them all around, plucking jokes from the air around him, tweaking his clothes, or telling him how they think he should live his life. For the first time since he was a child, he wants them piled up in his bed, alternating between them, lines of a story they’d come up with just for him. He doesn’t want to be alone. He just doesn’t want Tick’s company.

He wants his dads. Or his aunts and uncles. He wants warm embraces and cautiously optimistic smiles.

Instead all he has are flashes of corpses on the throne room floor every time he closes his eyes. Every attempt for escape from whatever hell he’s woken up in, just sends him reeling further into it.

“I understand,” Tick says, moving even further into the room. If there were any energy coursing through his veins, Todd would ask his what makes him think he has the permission to enter his room. But he doesn’t. Just like Tick doesn’t understand. “But the council has come to a decision regarding our … Situation.”

That has Todd lifting his head again, blinking blearily at him. “Excuse me?” he asks.

“The council—“

“—can go jump in a fucking Fillorian river for all I care,” Todd sneers, stretching his legs out in front of him, the weight of everything shifting into something more tangible than grief. Something he can use. “Whatever decisions they make can wait until my family—“ and just like that, it collapses all around him. Like a sudden burst of power, stripped from him, and he breaks off with a choked off sob, as he pulls his knees back up to him. “It’s not even been a day,” He says, instead, after a moment.

“While this is true,” Tick moves even closer, until he’s standing at Todds bedside. “There is still much to do. You have a kingdom at your disposal.”

Todd scoffs. “Take it,” He mutters, shuffling down the bed until he can curl up on his side, knees still pulled to his chest, and his back facing Tick. He pulls his pillow in close, inhaling deep, because it’s not his, and he’d barely managed to grab it from his father’s room before managing to drag himself to his own. “I know you’ve always wanted the throne. It’s yours, Tick. Just… Take it.”

Tick laughs awkwardly. “I’m afraid that ship has sailed, Todd,” He says. And if there’s a bite of regret or anything to the words, Todd doesn’t hear it. Doesn’t care to. “Quite literally, actually. But that is not the matter at hand. The council has made a decision as to what to do. Fillory needs a ruler.”

“Take a portal and go to Earth and find a new one, then.”

“Let’s not be a petulant child,” Tick tuts, and if Todd could force any energy to do it, he’d jump out of the bed and — well, he’s not actually sure. Violence wasn’t at the top of his families list of things to teach their son. “Your family has ruled here for decades. And though I did not always believe so, they have been excellent monarchs.”

“That’s great.” He doesn’t care. His families dead. Why does it matter anymore?

“And the council believes their reign should continue.”

Todd scoffs. “Good luck. I dont know if you missed it, but—“

“—with you, prince.”

It takes a moment for the words to register. But they do, eventually. And Todd moves show, and careful until he’s sitting up, facing Tick. He stares at him, unwavering, blinking. And then he lets out as close to a laugh as he possibly can. “My family—“ He breaks off, shaking his head. “You all have some serious nerve,” He tries, “To pull this just hours after they—“ He cuts himself off again, and holds a shaking hand out between them. He stares at Tick, pointing, before he nods, once, to himself. “No,” He finally says. “I won’t do it.”

“I’m afraid that is not an option.”

Of course Tick’s unfazed.

Todd’s lower lip twitches. “Fuck you.”

Tick nods. “The coronation will be at dawn. The council wishes to know what kind of flower you wish to represent—“

“I’m not going to be king!”

“We’ll go with your mothers favorite, then,” Tick says, as if Todd hadn’t even interrupted. He turns on his heel, and starts to leave. “You have much to do, prince,” He says, over his shoulder, “It would be best to shower.”

**

“How old are you?”

Todd looks up from his suitcase to Margo, where she’s sitting on his bed, one leg crossed over the other. She quirks an eyebrow, as his face twists in confusion. “Huh?”

Her eyebrow falls and she frowns, pushing up from his bed, and taking her purse with her. “How old are you?” She repeats, turning her back on him as she heads towards the other bed to her suitcase. “Simple question.”

He scratches awkwardly at the back of his neck. “If I tell you you won’t let me drink anymore.”

She pauses mid-movement and looks at him over her shoulder. “You’re not twenty three like us?”

“No, I am.”

She turns to him, fully now, “Why would I not let you drink?”

“Because…you’re my mother, and you might feel protective—“

She waves a hand, turning back to her suitcase. “Please, Todd. I got blackout drunk for the first time when I was sixteen, and spent three nights in a jail cell in Canada waiting for my dad to come get me.” She shrugs a shoulder without turning back towards him, “When he didn’t show, I talked the guard into letting me out, and I snuck back across the border undetected.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be.” She clears her throat and turns back to him, pointing a finger, “You’ve never had to worry that we’d come for you, did you? You could always depend on us? Before whatever happened, happened.” He nods, and she smiles, soft and not at all familiar in this time. “Good.” And she flips back around, reaching for a shirt atop the bed to fold.

He watches her for a moment before turning back to his own suitcase. His fingers play along the hem of a shirt before he says, quiet. “Dad always made sure I felt loved. Even when everything was stressful and people expected things of me because I was the prince. He … He always took the time to pull me aside and tell me that no matter what happens, he’s proud of m—“ He breaks off, shaking his head.

This isn’t permanent. He just needs to remember that. He’s going to save him. All of them.

She sits down beside her suitcases, a soft crunching as she shuffles a bag of chips aside, and faces him. “Which one is dad?” She asks.

Swallowing, he looks back at her, “I’m not sure I—“

“Please, Todd,” She gives him a look that all but screams ‘cut the crap’, and leans back on her elbows. “I want to know about my family. Who’s dad?”

“You’re not even really friends yet.”

“Oh god,” She sits back up, eyes narrowing to slits, “I swear on my fucking life—“

“Please don’t say that,” He blurts, shoving up from the chair so quickly it almost falls down behind him, as he raises a hand between them. Her eyes go wide, and he falls back into the chair with a soft plop. “Sorry … it’s just—Please.”

She nods. “Okay. Just tell me it’s not Penny,” She sneers, “I swear. If it’s Penny, sweetheart, I regret to inform you, your existence is a total fluke.”

Despite himself, it pulls a laugh out of him, and he shakes his head. “No, it’s not Uncle Penny.”

“Un—Uncle Penny?” She stands up, waving a finger at him, “Uh-uh. I don’t—I don’t even want to know how that happened.” She makes a face, eyes nearly going cross-eyed as she sticks her tongue out like she’s disgusted. “He’s so…”

“Aunt Kady and Aunt Julia are the only people he’s ever actually nice to,” Todd agrees, grinning. “Sometimes he gives me advice about how to prank dad. Or he’ll tell me exactly what people are thinking during important royal meetings or weddings, and gets me into trouble. He’s the best.”

She stares at him for a moment, a bit like she thinks he’s a lost cause before she sits back down. “I can’t believe this shit,” She mutters, grabbing a shirt from beside her and folding it petulantly. “My future son idolizes Penny Adiyodi. What in the actual fuck happens to my life?”

“A lot.”

Staring at the shirt in her hands, she nods. “I can see that,” She murmurs, glancing up at him briefly. “Who’s my baby daddy?”

“Dad isn’t my father.”

“That’s not confusing at all.”

“I call them both dad. Unless the cabinet is in, then he’s simply Father or Majesty—“

Excuse me?”

“Abigail demands we respect the roles of our elders and higher ups when the cabinet is in session.”

“Who in the donkey fucking hell is Abigail?”

“A sloth.”

She drops the shirt in her lap. “You’re actually fucking with me now.” His lips curl inwards as he makes a face and turns back to his own suitcase.

He’s tempted to tell her. But, “Wouldn’t you like to know?”

He is her son.

**

“Bug,” Aunt Julia says, wide smile on her face as she motions for Todd to come to her from the doorway, “Come on. We’ve got to get you ready for the ceremony.”

Todd shakes his head, making a face. “I don’t want to go to the ceremony,” He says, closing his book and turning in his chair to face her. “Dad’s going to cry. Dad’s going to pretend he’s not crying. They’ll both be a mess. And I don’t even know how the rest of you are going to act.”

Her eyes crinkle as she makes her way into the room and ruffles his hair as she passes him to lean up against the wall opposite him, her arms crossed easily over her chest. “Come on, bug,” She says, “You’re the first prince in Fillorian history. They’ve got everything all ready for you. And, there may or may not be a few surprises.” She raises her eyebrows, smirking, “And we all know how much you like surprises.”

“I just want to stay in. Just once, Aunt Jules.”

“And you can.” She pushes away from the wall, “After you get crowned prince.” She grins, holding her hand out for him. “Quentin’s got a present for you, and Eliot’s promised not to cry until after everyone’s gone. And don’t get me started on what the rest of them are up to.”

He sighs, all drama and no finesse, because he’s only twelve and he’s learned nothing from his father yet, before pushing out from the desk and taking her hand. “If dad cries, he’s gonna be in so much trouble.”

She nods, humoring him, as she squeezes hand. “Oh, absolutely, bug. I’ll even help you get your revenge.”

He grins up at her as she leads him out of his room. “Hide the champagne?”

She nods, leaning down with comically wide eyes, and whispering conspirationally, “Oh yeah. And we can lock him in the library.”

Todd gasps. “He’ll have to read! He’ll be furious!”  

She nods again, standing up, and pulling his hand to her, “And it’ll be hilarious.”

**

“You’re telling me you know every bad thing that happens to us. But you won’t tell me what they are.”

“I can’t risk… changing anything more than I already have, Margo. I’m sorry.”

She scoffs, picking up one of her shirts and slamming into her suitcase. “So, what?” She says, turning her narrow eyed gaze on him, “We’re dropping the mom, now?”

He blinks, affronted. He hadn’t expected her to actually care about that. “I mean, yeah. Nobody can overhear—“

“What’s the point in that?” She turns back to the suitcase and adjusts the shirt until it’s lying flat and reaches for another one, gingerly folding it. “We’re going to tell El and Quentin when we get back.”

“Uh, no. We’re not!”

She stops, dropping the shirt before she’s even finished folding it. “Yes, we are.”

Standing from the chair, he shakes his head adamantly. At least he knows where his stubbornness comes from now. “The place they’re at right now… it’s. It’s bad. It’s going to get worse. They can’t know. They won’t be able to handle it.”

She makes a face, pursing her lips, before turning back to the shirt. “If I knew what they—“

“If you knew you’d try to change it. And if you change it, then… I might not exist in the future. All the bad stuff that happens… as awful as it is, it’s what makes it possible for you to be happy.” For you to be my mom.

She scoffs again, eyes focused on the shirt as she folds it. “And then it leads to a future so horrible my sons pulling a Marty McFly to fix it.” She looks at him from the corner of her eye. “Sounds fucking magical.”

“I… don’t understand that reference. But—“

She huffs. “It’s a crime against humanity that you’ve never seen back to the fucking future.”

“Mom. Please.”

She sets the shirt down and frowns at it. “Okay, yeah. That’s not fair.”

“What?”

“When you call me mom I feel compelled to listen. Let’s drop that shit otherwise I’m gonna pull the genie out of the bottle and figure all this bullshit out, and you won’t have a choice but to tell me everything, and let me fix it.” She huffs, looking up at him, “And I don’t want to make you fade away.”  

He makes a face before turning back to his suitcase and pulling it shut. The last thing he needs is to experience that particular loss of control again. Or for her to find out what’s coming in the next few weeks. He shudders internally, zipping the suitcase up. He hadn’t really thought about the fact that he’s going to have to witness what’s to come. It’s one thing to hear it in stories. It’s going to be something else entirely to be there for it all. He makes a face down at the suitcase, forcing that particular worry down, before looking to her. “Is the portal ready?”

“Not for twenty minutes.” She says it quietly, almost petulant, and he sighs, because the only way she’s going to stop complaining or asking for hints of what’s to come in her future is if he actually tells her something.

What’s something relatively unimportant that wouldn’t really affect anything?

Shit. Of course.

Who’s the one person she’ll be close to no matter what happens?

“It’s Eliot.” He murmurs, sitting back down in the chair, and fiddling with his thumbs in his lap. “He’s the king. And … he’s my father.” Glancing up at her from beneath his eyelashes, he smiles, close lipped. She doesn’t move. The shirt in her hands, held in front of her, sways slightly, as she listens. “Nobody knew for a long time which one was my blood relative.” Her head snaps over to him, and he nods. “You guys didn’t want to have to … Make that decision. You let fate decide.”

Her eyes slowly rise. “Are you saying,” She asks, turning to him fully, then, as she sets the shirt down, half of it dangling off the edge of the bed. “That to determine who your father is, there was a threesome?”

He nods. “I try not to put too much thought into it, but yeah.”

“And the mysterious third party was?”

He sinks into his chair as far as he can, wincing. He knows exactly how she’ll react, because he’s been paying far too much attention. He knows all about conversations behind closed doors that he shouldn’t have heard.  “You’ll freak out.”

“I’m not going to freak out. Unless it’s that creep from down the hall.”

“It’s not the creep from down the hall.” But she’s still going to freak out.

She smirks, tilting one shoulder up. “Great. Then I won’t freak out.”

Yes she will.

“Even if I tell you you both love him, but in different ways, and would risk literally anything in the world to save him?” That the three of them have killed to protect each other? And that if they could have killed someone to keep her from dying, they would have? He can’t tell her that. But that’s more because it gives too much away, than it just freaking her out.

But it’d definitely freak her out, too.

“Todd.”

Sighing, he lets his head drop down, and says quietly, truly unsure of how she’s going to react, except for the fact that she is absolutely, without a doubt going to freak out in some way or another,  “It’s Quentin.”

Coldwater?”

**

Uncle Penny leans forward, wrapping a hand over Todd’s shoulder from behind and grinning as he turns his head just slightly, to look at him. “On a scale of one to ten,” He whispers, “How much do you hate this?”

“Only one to ten?” Todd replies, a little louder than necessary. The guard from Loria turns to glare at him, and he shuffles back in his seat, flinching. He turns to look at Penny, eyebrows creasing almost painfully. “Is eleven an option?” He’s sure the despair is evident on his face, but he can’t help it. What fifteen year old could possibly find this fun?

“For this?” Penny nods, squeezing his shoulder. “Fuck yeah.” But he wiggles his eyebrow and leans in closer, grinning. “You wanna leave?”

“Dads will kill me.”

Penny shrugs. “Scale of one to ten, how mad will they be if you ditch a wedding?”

“Dad will probably forgive me right away but…” His eyes dart up to Eliot, sitting at the front of the room, all regal with perfect poise, his attention unwavering on the couple getting married. “I don’t think I can say the same for both of them. I might be executed, without trial, if I disappear.”

Chuckling, Penny lets go of his shoulder, and leans back. He says, though, just loud enough for Todd to hear, “Worth it?” Todd barely has the chance to turn around and nod before Penny reaches forward and clasps his hands on both of his shoulders, and they’re both suddenly in a field just beyond the castle borders. Todd grins up at him as Penny drops his hands to his sides. “Alright, kid royalty. Let’s go get you into some trouble.”

**

Todd’s setting his suitcase on his bed in the physical kids cottage, with Margo standing behind him, pacing back and forth. “You’re seriously trying to tell me that Quentin Coldwater ends up being Eliot’s one true love?”

Sighing, he slides his suitcase to the side of the bed and allows himself to fall face first into the comforter in an attempt to drown her out, his legs dangling off the edge at his knees. He knew she’d freak out. They’re not even friends yet. And Quentin’s in love with Aunt Alice which is still all kinds of wrong. So of course she’s freaking out. He just wishes she’d freak out internally.

He loves his mother.

But when she freaks out, she goes all out.

As a toddler, he hadn’t had a chance to learn that particular tidbit about her.

Would’ve been nice if Jane had warned him.

“He’s so far up Alice’s ass—“

Groaning, Todd shoves up until he’s on his elbows and cranes his neck around to level her with a glare. She keeps pacing, muttering to himself, until, he twists his back and says, “Mom!” just loud enough to catch her attention.

She stutters to a stop, and turns to look at him. Her face falls. “He was just supposed to bang it out and that’d be it.” It almost sounds like a whine. “Quentin’s—he doesn’t fit with us, Todd. You’re confused. He’s whiney, and he’s so … So… Quentin!”

“Yes,” He nods, slowly, “And you all come to love each other.”

“Sounds fake.”

He rolls his eyes and lies back down, burying his face in the blanket. “Give it a few months,” He garbles out between mouthfuls of fabric, “You might be surprised.”

She scoffs, and then he hears the distinct click, clack of of her heals, until he feels the side of the bed dip down. He lifts his head just enough to find her lying on her back next to him, staring up at the ceiling. She turns to look at him, pursing her lips. “What about Mike? If El and Quentin are going to fall in love what’s going to happen with—“

“Nope,” Todd moves until his hands are beneath himself, and pushes up, shaking his head. “I can’t talk about Mike. Or anything involving him, or how he has an affect on your lives or anything even remotely in the same field as Mike.” He stares down at her. “Mike is … He’s important. I can’t tell you anything about him. Or why.”

“Does he—“

“No.” He says it more forcefully than he intends, but he climbs off the bed and keeps shaking his head. “This is important, Margo. I’ve told you so much. Don’t make me tell you this. Don’t make me make you involved.”

She sits up, her arms outstretched behind her as her eyebrows furrow. “Involved in what?”

His mouth opens and closes, and he waves his hand in between them before he shakes his head once more. He can’t lie to her face, and he can’t tell her. So, he does the only thing he can think to; he pulls open the door and walks out without another word.

Because he knows she’s not going to chase after him. Margo, here and now, doesn’t chase. She’s like a predator animal. Stalking her prey until it’s unaware. And then she’ll pounce.

He just has to keep from being unaware.

**

Todd walks into the throne room, fully prepared to get yelled at. His hearts racing in his chest, so fast he thinks he might faint, but when he stops just inside the doors and looks up because nobodies yelled out his full name like he’s on trial—his dads haven’t even realized he’s there.

Eliot’s standing over Quentin, who’s sitting in his throne, staring down at the ground in front of him. He has one hand on Quentin’s shoulder as he leans in, whispering something Todd can’t hear from his place across the room, a little smile on his lips as he moves forward and nuzzles his nose against Quentin’s temple. He nods, and Quentin closes his eyes, leaning into the touch, with a small nod of his own.

Todd can’t help smiling.

Which is, of course, when Eliot opens his eyes and looks up. The soft smile on his lips, and the relaxed set of his shoulders fade away so fast Todd’s not sure they were ever really there, as Eliot jerks away from Quentin and rushes down the steps and across the room, his eyebrows raising high on his head.

He’s so dead.

Behind Eliot, Quentin stands up as well, his body snapping up just as quickly as Eliot’s.

Before he can really even cower against the wall behind him, Eliot’s reaching forward and grabbing at Todd’s shoulders, yanking him in as he looks at him, eyes darting over Todd’s face like he’s searching for something. And then his lips curl inwards, and he’s pulling him into a hug, his arms wrapping around him so tight, Todd worries he’s going to suffocate. Eliot tucks his chin overtop Todd’s head, breathing deeply as he holds him.

Quentin appears behind him, staring at Todd with wide eyes.

“You’re okay,” He says, soft, like he’s not even sure he’s right.

Todd furrows his brow, opens his mouth to respond, but Eliot pulls away, and holds him at arms length.“We thought—I don’t know what we thought. We were worried sick,” He says, swallowing as he looks him over.

This … is not the reaction Todd expected.

He’d snuck out of the castle nearly three days ago to go explore one of the nearby villages. To see what it was like to be a normal kid in Fillory. And he’d gotten carried away living a life as a nameless stranger without obligations. But, three days in the village showed him exactly why his obligations and lessons and everything his family made him do make sense. So, he came home.

Ready to be murdered by his family. But, also ready to accept who he is and what his life is leading him to. Ready for his future. Not quite ready to take the title of king, or any of that responsibility, but ready to stop fighting it.

Ready to learn.

“I’m sorry,” He says, “I … I had to get away.”

Eliot clenches his jaw, but Quentin places a hand on his arm and steps forward. His eyes are soft, and Todd tries to ignore the red rims lining them. “And do you still need to get away?” He asks, as Eliot’s hand comes up to rest overtop Quentin’s.

Todd shakes his head. “No. I—I figured everything out.”

Quentin nods, once, before moving forward and pulling him into a hug. He tucks his head in the crook of Todd’s neck, and runs a hand through his hair. “I’m glad you’re okay,” he breathes, squeezing him tight before pulling away.

“Aren’t I … in trouble?”

Which, dumbest question he could possibly ask.

Eliot lifts his head, tilting his chin up, “No,” He says, “But if you ever run away again without so much as a word, Todd—“

“I won’t.”

The corners of his mouth quirk up and he nods. “Good. It’s nearly dinner. You may want to go tell the others you’re back. Otherwise it’ll be an … eventful dinner. Starting with Fen crying. And then everyone’ll be mad that you made Fen cry.”

Quentin strokes a hand over Todd’s shoulder, smiling up at him. “Check in with Kady and Penny, too. They might not admit it, but you had them scared out of their minds.”

“Apologies all around then.” Todd nods, “I’ll get on it.” He turns to leave the throne room, and Quentin’s hand slips from it’s place on his shoulder, but he stops after only two steps and turns back to them. Their eyes widen a fraction but they stand quietly, and wait for him to speak. “I’m sorry,” He says. “For fighting everything. For—for worrying you.” He looks at Eliot. “It won’t happen again.”

Eliot watches him. And then he smiles. “Enough of that,” He says, waving a hand. “Go say hello to your aunts and uncle.”

**

The first time Todd runs into Quentin Coldwater is an accident.

Look, he’s spent months working up the nerve to talk to him. He’s kept up on all the Coldwater gossip, and kept track of every near death experience, or rumored near death experience. Which, there are a lot. But one thing he’s never been able to keep track of, is exactly where his dad is going to be at any moment in time. But, last Todd checked, Quentin was at Brakebills South.

Except, apparently he’s back.

He turns the corner out of the kitchen, sandwich in his mouth, and both hands full, when Quentin appears out of nowhere, and they nearly crash into one another.

Slowly, and so awkwardly, he opens his mouth, and lets the sandwich drop onto the plate in his right hand. Quentin watches him with furrowed eyebrows, and an inscrutable look on his face, before he, even slower, takes a step around Todd and makes his way into the kitchen without so much as a single word.

Todd looks down at the plate, and his sandwich with a bite mark at the center of the crust, and sighs. “Damn it.”

It’s not his finest moment.

And he’d wrestled a talking porcupine when he was fifteen.

So, there’s that.

**

Tragedy strikes right on time.

He’s sitting in his room in the physical kids cottage, watching the clock. Because he knows what’s happening. Knows exactly how it’s going to play out, and how it’ll affect them all. This is only the beginning. He curls up on his bed, knees pulled up to his chest, and stares up at the ceiling, willing himself not to show up at the infirmary.

Not to find Margo and tell her everything else that’s about to happen.

But of course, only a few seconds after he thinks that particular thought, his door gets blasted open, and his mother stands there, fuming, with wild eyes and even wilder hair.

He knows it’s not because Penny’s the one that’s hurt.

She may not be willing to admit it, but she cares about Quentin. And Eliot’s boyfriend had tried to kill him.

She enters the room, and Todd forces himself to sit up, wiping at his eyes so she doesn’t see just how hard it is not to change everything.

“You knew,” She says, clear and to the point, and all he can do is nod. She stares at him for a moment, before all the anger drains out of her face and body, and she moves across the room to lay down on the bed next to him. He looks down at her, and her eyes dart to his face. “Just tell me if this is the worst of it.”

He swallows and shuffles until he can lie on his back beside her.

“I wish I could.”

She doesn’t say anything for a few long moments, but he feels her nod, hears the shuffling of her hair against the pillow. And then, “I know.” It’s quiet, and far from an agreement, but she doesn’t ask.

And for that, he’s grateful.

**

Alice sits down on the bed beside him, smiling softly as she leans forward and settles the back of her hand against his forehead. “How’re you feeling, kiddo?”

He groans, and curls in, towards her. “I want my dads,” He says, bordering on a whimper, as he looks up at her through puffy and swollen eyes. “Please aunt Alice, I think I’m dying.”

She lets out a soft little laugh, and moves until she’s kneeling beside the bed, leaning in until her face is only a few inches from his. She reaches up and tangles a hand in his curls. “I know, sweetheart,” She smiles softly, “They’ll be back any day now. And you’re not dying. You’re sick. Everyone gets sick.”

“Mommy died when she got sick.”

Her smile falls only slightly, before she nods, scraping her fingers against his scalp gently, “I know,” She says, “But that’s different. Your mommy was sick in a different way. You just have the flu. You’re going to be just fine after you get plenty of sleep. And take your medicine.”

“I don’t wanna.”

“Don’t be a brat,” She says, leaning forward to press her forehead against his, “We all want you to feel better. That way we can take you to the market. You like going to the market don’t you?” He nods, almost imperceptibly. “If you take your medicine and get lots of sleep, you’re gonna feel as good as new. And then we can take you to the market. And before you know it, your dads are gonna be home.”

He looks at her through his eyelashes, before he sighs the sigh of every six year old. “Okay.”

“That’s my boy.” She grins at him, pulling away only far enough that she can lift up and press a kiss to his burning forehead. “So, what story should we read tonight?”

**

He’s not sure how he knows when it happens, but his eyes snap open and he stares into the darkness. Margo’s still asleep beside him.

He shakes her awake.

“You need to find Eliot,” He says when she looks up at him through bleary eyes.

She watches him for a moment, before nodding once and climbing out of the bed. Without a word or a look back, she rushes out of the room. He watches the empty doorway until he hears the door downstairs open and slam shut. His gaze moves until he’s staring up at the ceiling.

It feels like an eternity before the front door opens again, and he hears the quiet footsteps of Eliot walking up the stairs on his way to his room.

And maybe it’s not actually an eternity. But, he knows, as Eliot’s bedroom door opens and closes, with a soft click, it’s going to feel like it for his family. Eliot’s started down the path that leads him to king. And the rest of them haven’t even started down their own paths of unimaginable misery.

Somewhere across the city, he imagines Aunt Julia, finding her god. It’s only a matter of time before she joins Eliot on the list of people heading towards their future.

He swallows thickly at the thought.

How Jane thought he could handle all of this without trying to change anything, he’s not sure he’ll ever know.

But he’s not going to fail his family.

No matter how hard it is.

**

Todd approaches aunt Fen in the court yard, where she’s reading a book on her favorite bench. She looks up as she hears his footsteps, and before he can even blink, she’s grinning as she sets the book down. And next thing he knows, he’s got an armful of his aunt as she rushes at him with a hug.

“You’re home!” She exclaims into his chest.

He laughs, hugging her back. “Hey, Auntie.”

She pulls away, reaching up to stroke his cheek. Fondness gleams in her eyes as her smiles widens impossibly. “How did it go?” She asks, dropping her hand from his cheek to grab his hand and pull him towards her bench. “Was it beautiful? Did you fall in love? You must tell me everything!”

Todd laughs as he lets her tug him along. “It was great, auntie.” He squeezes her hand, and sits down on the bench as she turns so can give him her full attention. “I didn’t fall in love. If I did, I think dad might have a heart attack—“

“Let him have a heart attack!”

He laughs, shaking his head, and carries on, “But it was very beautiful. The Muntjac was even more mesmerizing than I imagined it’d be. And … It was nice. Exploring the kingdoms. Getting to know our neighbors, and our people.” She wraps both hands around his, grinning, and he squeezes her hand before bringing his free hand up to rest it atop hers. “I did miss my family, though.”

“And Eliot? How was spending time with him?”

He feels a soft smile ease itself onto his lips as he nods. “He was great,” He says, surprising even himself. “I expected him to make it all about preparing me to be King. But, we spent time together. He told me stories of Earth, and of his youth, and of my mother. When we went to the unclaimed territories, he let me take the lead.” He pauses, licking his lips. “He told me he’s proud of me.”

Her lips curl inwards as her eyes go all shiny, “Of course he did,” She whispers, pulling one hand away from his so she can reach up and cup his jaw again. “What isn’t there to be proud of? You’re an exceptional young man.”

“Thank you, Auntie.”

She rolls her eyes, “Oh, don’t thank me. You’re the one—“

“I just mean. For always believing in me. Even when I fought the whole king thing.”

“Well. Just because you’re uncertain of your abilities,” She says, leaning in, “Doesn’t mean I am. I always knew you’d be an amazing king. Even if you weren’t.” She makes a face, “Though I was worried Penny would have a negative affect on you for a while.”

He laughs, squeezing her hand and leaning into her touch. “I love you, auntie.”

“I love you too, bunny.”

**

Two days after Mike’s death, Todd walks into the living room and finds Eliot passed out on the couch, an empty bottle of whiskey laying halphazardly on the floor beneath Eliot’s open hand. Carefully, and quietly, Todd reaches into the study nook and pulls out a blanket. He turns and stares at Eliot for a moment, a lump forming in his throat.

It feels wrong, seeing him like this.

All Todd’s life, Eliot Waugh has been regal and kind, and strong. He’s been the example that Todd’s always strived to be. He’s known about the past. The trauma they all went through, because when his family told him stories of the past, they emphasized the point that everything they’d done, and were put through, made it possible for him to become the people they are.

Every death. Every loss. Every wound.

It all added up to something.

Hearing vestiges of the past, is so incredibly different than living it.

Seeing the man he’s always wanted to make proud lying on the couch, drunk and doped up out of his mind, is probably the hardest part of this all. Even more so than keeping from warning them whats to come. Because he knows none of them can pull him out of this. Know’s they’re all too preoccupied trying to save their lives and magic, to even try.

He makes his way across the room, blinking away the tears brimming, and shakes out the blanket until he can carefully lay it over his fathers sleeping body. He kneels next to the couch, picking up the bottle as he keeps an eye on Eliot’s face to make sure he doesn’t wake up.

“It’s temporary,” He says, soft, “You’re going to be okay.” He watches him, clenching his jaw, before nodding once to himself and standing back up, clutching the bottle to his chest. “It’s always darkest before the dawn.”

He stands there for a moment more, before forcing himself to turn around and head to his room. Because he doesn’t belong here. Not yet.

Not for a long time.

**

“Okay—“

“I’m tired,” Todd whines, flopping onto the ground with his legs outstretched in front of him. “I don’t want to practice anymore.”

Kady stares him down behind narrowed eyes before she sighs heavily and moves to sit down beside him. “Alright,” She says, “Then we’ll stop. You don’t have to practice if you don’t want to.”

His eyes go wide. “Really?”

“Sure,” She looks down at the sword he’d dropped between them and shrugs. “I’m sure you won’t mind getting stabbed to death when someone comes at you with a sword, and you don’t know how to defend yourself.” Her eyes snap back up to him, “I’m sure it’ll be fine.”

His mouth falls open.

She moves to stand up, groaning as her knees creak, and holds a hand out for him. “Come on. Let’s go do something you’ll actually enjoy. Protecting your life isn’t that important.”

He stares up at her hand, before sighing, and grabbing the sword, grumbling, “You’re the worst,” And using it to push himself up. It sinks into the grass, but does the job.

She smirks at him, motioning behind them with her head. “If you can knock my sword out of my hand we’ll take a break and bother your dad. All he’s doing today is reading to the village kids.” She raises her eyebrow, “We can embarrass him. But only if you knock the sword out of my hand.”

“Deal.”

She grins, backing up and holding her sword out in front of her. “There’s the prince I love!” She exclaims with a laugh as Todd advances.

He can’t help his own laugh that bubbles out of his mouth as he raises the sword and rushes forward to attack.

Chapter Text

Battle magic.

He’s not surprised they need Kady for it. He is surprised, though, when they all literally bottle up their emotions. When Eliot follows them outside, Todd emerges from his place in the dining room, and watches after them, swallowing thickly. Part of him wonders if this is how Eliot manages to do everything he does as king.

 

**

 

When they return to the cottage and swallow their emotions down, the part of his brain that thought as much dwindles down to nothingness as Eliot sidesteps Margo in favor of ignoring it all, despite the pain practically emanating off of him.

 

**

 

“Todd,” Eliot says from the doorway.

Todd looks up, grinning at him, “Hey, dad.”

Eliot doesn’t smile back, instead he nods. “You’ll be joining us in the throne room today. War is brewing in two of our neighboring kingdoms. It’s time you sit in on the meetings. You’re old enough now. And you need to know how to handle something like this for when you’re king.”

The smile slowly falls. “Uhm,” Todd breathes, huffing, as he twists around so he can swing his legs over the end of the bed, “Okay. Now?”

“Now.”

So much for a birthday party. Todd nods erratically, clenching his jaw. “Okay. I just—have to get. Dressed.”

He expects Eliot to walk away, instead he shakes his head. “No need. They know you weren’t expecting to join us. Come along.” He offers a closed lip smile, and turns without another word and leaves the room. Todd stares at the empty space in his doorway for a long moment, before sighing and climbing off the bed to follow after him. Of course, Eliot’s already turning down the next hallway and disappearing.

Did his family seriously forget his birthday? What the fuck.

Todd follows the halls to the throne room, wondering if Penny will travel him somewhere far away and leave him alone there for a couple hours so he can decompress all the teenage rage building up within him. And drink away all the sad that accompanies it.

When he gets to the throne room, Eliot hasn’t even bothered to leave the door open for him.

He stands in front of the door, glaring up at the towering frame of it. Look. He knows war is a pretty big deal. But he’s fifteen now. He didn’t realize being a teenager means no longer having an hour or so with his family and no responsibility. He sighs, eyebrows pushing together, and shoves the doors open, ready to face three kingdoms generals, and two kings who’ve forgotten his birthday.

Instead, just as he realizes there are balloons from earth, and cake, and music, a room full of family and friends screams, “Happy birthday!”

At the center of them all, once the confetti settles, Eliot’s standing there, grinning at him with a rare, easy smile on his lips. Quentin stands beside him, his smile softer. It’s more in his eyes than anything. The rest of his family crowds around him, pushing and pulling him in different directions because they all have something they want to show him. But no matter where he’s lead, he keeps his eyes locked on his parents.

They’d fucking shut down the government during war to throw him a birthday party.

They expect a lot of him, and sometimes it’s a bit much.

But, god, he fucking loves his family.  

 

**

 

You slept with them !”  Todd shrieks when he finally gets a moment alone with Margo.

“And it was great. What’s your point?”

His mouth opens and closes, before he flips around and paces to the other side of the room, running a hand over his face despairingly. “Did this happen before I told you about the future?” He turns to face her again, “Or did this happen before? Is this how you guys decided to—“

“You need to calm down.”

He shakes his head, moving to sit down on the window seat, and stare up at the ceiling instead of at Margo. “I don’t want to Marty McFly myself,” He says, soft, leaning his head against the window, and finally letting himself look at her again.

“You finally watched Back to the Future?”

“Yeah.”

“What’d you think?”

“It was good,” He mutters, rolling his neck to look out the window. “But now I don’t know if I should have come back.”

She doesn’t say anything for a few minutes, which he’s starting to realize is her defense against any actual real emotion. But then she sighs, all drama and inflection, before moving to sit next to him on the window seat. She reaches forward and knocks his foot sideways. “I think you’re doing fine. And you’re not evaporating.”

He blinks away the tears that seem convinced they control themselves and shrugs a shoulder. “I guess. But somethings happening right now.” He curls his lips in and glances at her from beneath his eyelashes. “I don’t—i don’t know exactly what it is. But Julia’s suffering.”

“Why don’t you know?”

“She wouldn’t tell me. None of you would. They just said it was something terrible. And it sent her down a really dark path. But then she became a—“ He stops, eyes widening a fraction. “Can’t tell you that. That would have been bad.”

Margo chuckles, and leans forward. “It’ll be fine,” She says, squeezing his right arm over his chest. “Whatever it is. It’ll be fine.”

“I don’t know if it will.” Todd shakes his head, clearing his throat, and blinking rapidly before offering her a halfhearted, fake smile. “Sorry. I didn’t mean—“

“Don’t. You freaked out. I get it.”

He nods. They sit there for a few long moments. “You know,” He says, later, just as she moves to get up. She looks at him, raising one eyebrow. “I don’t think whoever it is that does it is here, yet. I—I think Jane sent me too far back.”

“She does have a habit of fucking shit up.”  Margo jokes, but when he doesn’t laugh, she sighs, leaning down to cup one hand on his temple. “It’ll be fine,” She breathes, pressing a kiss to the top of his head. “You’ll figure it out. But I have to go. Penny wants to talk to all of us.”

He nods. But just as she moves to walk away, he reaches up and gently wraps his hand around her wrist. She sighs, but doesn’t move to pull away. “Please be safe,” He says.

Her lips quirk upwards and she lifts one shoulder as he lets go. “Always am.”

She walks away, and he can’t help but to call out after her, “Take the gun.”

She stops in the doorway. “What?”

“Just—trust me.”

She doesn’t respond, but she straightens her shoulders and walks out of the room without another word, and he knows she’s going to take it.

 

**

“This is important—“

Todd scoffs, “I am doing everything you’ve asked of me!” He exclaims, “I have embraced what I am. I—I seriously thought you’d be on my side about this, Dad.”

Quentin flinches, shaking his head, and staring at him with wide, apologetic eyes. “I know. But—it really. It is for the best. For your people—“

“I. Am. Not. King. Yet!” He punctuates each word with a pause as the they echo around the throne room.

“But you will be.”

“I know that!” He shoves out of the chair, leaving Quentin to stare at his back, as he runs a hand through his hair. “I will give my people everything they need when its time, dad. I’m not king. I won’t marry some stranger for your convenience!” He whips back around and glares down at him. “How could you even ask that of me?”

“I wouldn’t if we had any other option—“

“Fuck you!” Quentin recoils like he’s been slapped and Todd barrels on, “You can still marry a second person. You’re the king. Not me!”

Quentin slowly, shakily, stands up from the chair. “I’m sorry, Todd. But—“

“If it were you. Would you let them force you into a marriage?”

He smiles. It’s sad, and his eyes crinkle with it like it’s taking everything in him not to burst into tears. “I tried to volunteer a—a long, long time ago, Todd. Instead Eliot had to make that sacrifice—“

“Why isn’t he asking me?”

He looks down at the table, “He and I—we. We have different opinions. On this particular subject.”

Todd laughs sardonically, “That’s fucking great,” He spits out, before turning to leave the room. He stops after only two steps, but doesn’t turn back to face him as he says, “You’re supposed to be the one that fights for me.”

“I am—“

He goes on, as if Quentin hadn’t spoken at all, “But when it comes to the one thing you know that’ll actually fucking hurt me—you just don’t give a shit. About me, or my future. And that’s fair, because honestly, dad, I don’t give a fuck about you, either.”

And then he storms out of the throne room, to his room to pack a bag.

He knows he shouldn’t have said it. And he sure as hell hadn’t meant it. But he wants what they have. He wants to fall in love.

So, fuck them. He’s going to go fall in love.

To hell with the kingdom and his dad. To hell with them all.

He doesn’t need them.

Or the crown.

 

**

 

When his family disappears, he knows exactly where they’ve gone. But, just because he knows, doesn’t mean everybody else does. There’s a certain lack of Eliot’s . . . flair , around the physical kids cottage. Everyone’s sober, angry, and miserable. Which, is probably all just a side effect of the magic. And Dean Fogg’s inability to find a way to level that shit out.

But, Todd, despite everything that’s happened to him in recent . . . and future, is an optimistic little shit. And his father would not stand by while everyone at this school suffers.

And god damn it, he’s a king . Until he fixes everything, at least.

And he may not officially be a student at Brakebills, but as far as they’re all aware, he’s their people, and they’re his.

What’s the cardinal rule of Royalty?

A King takes care of his (or her) people.  

Look, he doesn’t mean to replace his father, or become the ‘new Eliot’ as some of the younger kids call him. It just, kind of happens. He makes a cocktail for a random kid who’s got the midterm studying blues, and the next thing he knows the music is bumping, people are chanting his name and placing an actual crown, that somehow doesn’t way nearly as much as the last one, on his head—

And then his mother and father are just standing there, in the entryway of the cottage.

His eyes go wide, from where he’s standing on the back of the couch as he sees them. “Oh,” He says, “Hey… you guys.” He jumps down from the couch and heads over to them.

Margo levels him with a look that almost makes him feel bad, but he’s been doing good, and he’ll explain that to her eventually. “You’ve made a lot of friends, huh?”

“I—uh. Thought you guys were dead. So I threw this… massive rager,” He glances at Eliot, hoping he’ll be proud of him, or actually smile, “in your honor—“

“The fact that you just called it a rager sickens me.”

Fuck. “Thing is…” He looks between them, settling on Margo and giving her a look. “It. Went great? And…everyone had so much fun. I kind of…” He trails off, wide eyed because he doesn’t know how in the hell he can actually explain any of it, considering it doesn’t even make sense to him.

“Became the new me.” And the fact that Eliot actually looks hurt at the idea, kind of stabs Todd directly in the center of his heart. But he pastes an awkward smile on his face, and nods. He’s not sure what to say, but for a moment, he thinks he’s saved, because Eliot’s eyes glance down, and he says, “Todd?”

His heart picks up, and he gives him his full attention.

“Answer truthfully. Are you wearing my vest?”

Picture a rollercoaster, plummeting from the highest peak. Because Todd’s picturing his heart is currently seated in the front seat of one of the ones in Florida Penny told him about, and all the anxiety and fear that comes with it is pounding through his veins, pulsing around him as he screams internally. “I…am. Wearing your vest.” He nods, reaching up blindly to unbutton it, because he can’t even begin to explain that wearing the vests has been the closest he’s come to hugging his father since before he died.

But Eliot makes a face and shoves past him, muttering, “Keep it,” under his breath, like it physically pains him to even be near him.

And Todd has no fucking clue what to do with that knowledge.

Margo gives him a look before darting off after him.

Todd follows behind at a safe distance, because being murdered by his own father isn’t exactly in the plan of things that’ll keep him on his quest of saving his family.

“New plan. I give up on Fillory and dedicate myself completely to destroying Todd.”

Ouch.

“It’s just Todd.” And there’s mom, fighting for him.

God, he loves her.

Just Todd? He’s usurping me. My entire kingdom’s at stake!”

And Margo, ever the no-bullshit wonder, says, “Your actual kingdom is actually at stake.” She gives him that patented You’re An Idiot look, too. Which is nice when it’s not pointed at Todd.

“There are some things more important than saving an entire world.”

Todd resists the urge to scoff, because it’s been made clear to him many times, over the course of two decades, that that’s not true. The irony would be a masterpiece if his father were alive, so Todd could rub it all up in his face. Like, hey dad, so turns out you didn’t care about Fillory once, and you got mad at me how many times for not wanting to be king? Still love you, but I’d like you to take a big ol’ bite of that irony pie.

“I’m gonna go out on a limb, and say this isn’t really about Todd.”

Eliot turns to walk away from her, mumbling something Todd can’t hear. What he does hear, though, is his mother, leaning back and yelling, “No killing Todd!” Maybe she doesn’t notice him watching her, but she shakes her head to herself as Eliot keeps watching, a small little smile on her lips. “Fucking Todd.”

He’s not entirely sure how to take that one.

 

**

 

“How did you find me?”

“I am the one who set your course, majesty.”

“Okay. And why are you here?”

“Something’s happened. We need you to return to Whitespire. Immediately.”

“I’m not going back unt—“

“There’s been an incident. Regarding your family.”

“. . . My family?”

“It is quite dire, majesty.”

“How dire?”

“It really is best if you come with me.”

 

**

Eliot is cheating on Quentin!

Okay, not really because they’re not together yet, but that doesn’t stop Todd from nearly darting across the room and beating the shit out of the jack ass flirting with his father. Which, Margo must realize because she pulls him aside and locks the door behind them, before turning around and glaring at him with her arms crossed over her chest.

He holds a hand out in front of him, motioning to the room outside, “Let me out, I have to stop Eliot!”

She raises her eyebrows. “You have to stop him? From?”

“Sleeping with—with that home wrecker !”

Blinking once, she drops her arms to her sides, and takes a step towards him. “Todd,” She says, in that soft tone that says she’s kind of judging him, but only because it’s her go to habit, “Tell me what year it is right now.”

He knows where she’s going with this, because he’s not an idiot, and because they’ve had this conversation more times than he can count at this point. He drops his arm and huffs, petulant. Why can’t she just let him be dramatic about something? Just once? “I get it—“

“Tell me the year, and I’ll drop it.”

He falls back until he’s lying on the bed behind him and glaring up at the ceiling as he brings his arms up to cross them over his chest. “I can’t help that my first response is—“

“Yes, you can. You don’t go running up to him telling him he’s your father. You don’t even approach Quentin, like. Ever. If you can resist crying at them, then I think you can resist ruining Eliot’s one chance of fucking a hot dude.”

His back practically snaps in half as he sits up, making a face, “Ew!”

“You’re the one who brought this on, Todd. You can hardly blame me.”

“You’re the one who took it there !”

She tilts her head to the side and rolls her eyes. “You’re so dramatic.”

“Gee,” Todd mutters, shuffling until he’s sitting on the edge of the bed, staring up at her. “I wonder where I got that particular trait?”

 

 

**

There’s a new face in the cottage.  

He’s younger than Todd remembers, though his memories of him are vague and barely there at all. He’d only been in Todd’s life a short time before disappearing. He looks happier, now.  

Todd approaches him.

It’ll be good to get to know the real him.

 

**

 

“Look, they want him. Let them take him. It’s the only way to protect ourselves.”

Kady scoffs, shooting a glare at Alice, taking a step to the center of the group. “We can protect him, and ourselves,” She says, turning her glare on Eliot and Quentin. “Why did you even bring him in here?” She asks, “He doesn’t need to hear this shit, Eliot.”

“He’s going to be king some day,” Eliot mutters, running a hand through Todd’s hair. Todd leans into it, his eyes fluttering closed. He’s sleepy, as it is. The sun hasn’t even risen, yet. He’s not even sure where he is. Maybe the castle. He’s too tired. “He needs to know that it involves difficult decisions.”

“He’s five years old,” Julia says, and Todd hears the clicking of her shoes as she takes her place next to Kady. “He’s a long way away from being king—“

“Not if we don’t deal with the current problem.” There’s silence following Penny’s statement, and Todd opens his eyes again to see him staring pointedly at Kady. It’s almost like they’re having a silent conversation. Part of him wants to say friends don’t keep secrets, but the tired part of his brain just has him curling in closer to Quentin’s chest, and nuzzling his head against Eliot’s hand in his hair. “I know he’s our friend,” Penny finally says, living his gaze up to Eliot and Quentin. His gaze stutters on Todd for a second, before he continues. “But there’s a kid in the equation, now. We have to consider the risk.”

“Risk?” Kady scoffs, turning her back to Todd. “He saved my life. If you think I’m going to let you guys give him to them—“

“They’ll keep him from killing anyone!”

“You’re right,” Julia says, “They’ll kill him instead.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Eliot mutters, untangling his fingers from Todd’s hair and sitting up straight. His voice is low and gravelly, and it vibrates through Todd’s sternum. “They want him because they can make this transition easier on him. Everything we’ve all been through, do you really think letting him go through this without a proper plan in place is the way to handle it? It’s too dangerous. And as much as it pains to me to say as much, I agree with Penny.”

Alice nods, stepping forward. “I don’t care what happens to me. But I do know that if we don’t tell him there are people who have the means to help him get through this, it’ll crush him. He’ll hate us if we don’t take him to them.”

Quentin sits up in his seat, shuffling Todd just slightly in order to do so. “Guys,” He says, soft. It’s the first time he’s spoken since he woke Todd up. Since they all started arguing over what they need to do. “Whatever you think, they know what’s happening to him. And they know how to help him through it. I know—i know we don’t trust them. They’re sketchy as hell. But . . . They can do for him what we can’t. And don’t we owe it to him to make sure he doesn’t suffer through this?”

Kady whips back around. “You’re seriously taking their side on this?”

“No,” He says, setting his shoulders and pulling Todd in closer to him, his arms tightening around his back. “I’m taking his side. This is already torturing him, Kady. He’s going to suffer—“

“We’ll cast a no pain spell, then!”

“Yes, because that works so well on this kind of thing,” Alice snipes.

Kady’s lip twitches. “We’re not giving him to them.”

Penny sighs. “Kady—“

“No. I’m not—we’re not talking about this anymore. Do you really think I’m going to let the person I love die? Again? Seriously?”

“We’ll fight their terms, then,” Eliot says, shuffling. “They can have him, but not if we can never speak to him again.”

“And if they don’t accept those terms?” Julia asks.

Todd cranes his neck around to look at his father.

“Then we’ll figure it out for ourselves.” Eliot looks around the room, eyes stopping on each of Todd’s aunts and uncles one after the others. “Deal?” He asks, stopping on Kady.

Kady sighs, and Todd turns his head to look at her. She clenches her jaw, tilting her chin up and staring Eliot down for a long moment. She glances up at the ceiling, before nodding, once, and turning on her heel. “Deal,” She says as she walks out of the room.

 

**

While they’re gone, he decides it’s time to actually start looking into everyone. He’s got no doubt Jane sent him too far back. Their only real enemy right now is the beast. And they haven’t even come face to face with the Library as far as he’s aware. But, Jane Chatwin must have her reasons.

So, he looks into every. Single. Person. On the Brakebills campus.

He meets his first suspect when Dean Fogg realizes he’s not attending any classes, and literally drags him to a class to participate in. Blames, “If you’re not in any classes they’ll be suspicious you god damned idiot,” as the reason. Todd thinks it’s more along the lines of him not wanting to continue spending every moment with him.

But nonetheless.

Sunderland is suspicious.

She’s clearly seeing three different students in a romantic manner. And she’s taught practically everyone in his family. But they never mentioned her during Todd’s childhood. Not once.

And okay, the way he goes about all of this probably isn’t considered moral. Or, if it is, it’s more likely that it’s morally grey than anything. But, he has questions, and he has a hunch she’s not one to answer questions she doesn’t like. So.

He steals a truth serum and slips it in her drink.

And it turns out . . . she just likes sex.

And considering she’s not some vicious murderer, he’s pretty sure she’s not the big bad of his families life. A sex addict?

There’s no doubt.

But his families makers?

Not likely.

 

**

 

Josh makes him go to a party off campus. He gets high for the first time. Follows it up with so much alcohol even Eliot would be impressed.

 And suddenly, they’re friends.

 That doesn’t mean he’s not on Todd’s suspect list.

 

**

Josh’s name gets crossed off the list nearly a week later. He’s too happy, too high, and too fun to ever be a threat. And Todd’s family saved Josh’s life.

 Does that sound like someone who’d commit an actual massacre?

No more so than a sex addict professor.

 

**

Maybe he’s just paranoid. Or maybe, Dean Fogg’s detestment of Todd’s family is so strong, it makes Todd suspicious. Either way, Dean Fogg’s off on some retreat with a few teachers, and Todd’s sneaking into his office to investigate.

 He’s the only one who hates literally everyone in Todd’s family.

 Todd doesn’t find any proof that Dean Fogg somehow plans on ever making it to Fillory, but he does find a diary outlining each and every timeline he and Jane created. The plan to investigate the rest of the campus goes to the back of his head, as he takes a seat at Dean Fogg’s desk and reads through it.

 The first page has a death count.

Quentin: 39

Eliot: 26

Margo: 34

Julia: 23

Alice: 12

Penny: 8

 Todd’s fingers run over the page, grazing against the ink over Quentin’s number. His future is the only timeline that Quentin survived. And it ended in him not only being brutally murdered, but with his son telling him he doesn’t care about him.

 He swallows, clearing his throat and moving on.  

 He wonders why Aunt Fen isn’t on the list, but guesses she’s part of the reason they finally defeated the beast. He can’t imagine there being any other reason.

 

**

 

The following week is spent reading through the timelines.

It’s not helpful, but it is interesting how many times Quentin and Eliot fall in love with each other. If not at first, then over time. Right up until it’s too late, that is.

 Even more interesting is how the rest of his family split off romantically in every lifetime. He’s not surprised to see both Kady and Julia have had relationships with each other as well as with Penny. Together and separately.

Reading over their deaths is the one thing he can’t stomach. He can barely graze over the words ‘the beast’ in Quentin’s first death, before he’s flipping twenty pages to get to the next lifetime. He accidentally reads through one of Eliot’s more brutal deaths, then, and decides, yeah. Break time.  

Break time and then back to figuring out how to keep them from experiencing this shit again.

 

**

 

Margo sits down on the edge of Todd’s bed and stares him down until he finally closes his book and looks up at her. “Aren’t you supposed to be in Fillory?”

She shrugs one shoulder. “As far as anyone else is concerned, I am.”

“Why the covert mission?”

“I was thinking.” She rolls her neck and looks down at the bed spread, before nodding to herself and looking back up at him. “We had a Djinn.”

“Yeah...”

“We could’ve wished for a reveal. To find out who kills everyone in the future.”

He closes his eyes. “Margo...”

“We could have made this real easy, and you could stop mourning—“

“I’m not mourning—“

“Oh?” She perks one eyebrow and reaches across the bed to grab the book from his lap. Lazily, she tilts it until the cover falls forward and faces up towards the ceiling. She blinks down at it twice, before slowly sliding her gaze to Todd. “Then why are you reading Fillory and Further?”

“Because I enjoy reading them.”

“Don’t lie to your mother.”

“That.” He stops, furrowing his eyebrows with a small pout, “That’s not fair.”

“What’s not fair is sitting alone in your room on your fathers birthday. Reading his favorite book to quench your guilt.” She drops the book to the top of the bed and stands up, wiping her hands over the front of her dress. “The future is decades away, kid. Don’t mourn something that hasn’t happened yet.”

He goes to nod, but stops, lifting his hand to point an accusative finger at her, “You’re mourning it, too!” He says, “why else would you be thinking about how we could have used the Djinn—“

She leans forward, resting her hands on the edge of the bed and leveling him with a glare, that to this day—to future day?—is spoken among monarchs as truly demanding, “I am not mourning. I’m thinking. About how I can help you go home. To ease the guilt for whatever you think you did. You’re miserable. No matter how hard you smile to hide it.”

He watches her for a moment before sighing with a soft nod. His shoulders slump forward, and he looks down at the book lying between them. “Without... giving too much away,” he says, “I should feel guilty.”

“Why?” He opens his mouth to respond, but she stands up straight and puts one hand out between them, “Without giving too much away.”

He swallows. “A few months before... everything happened. Dad and I—“

“Which dad?”

“Eliot.”

She waves a hand. “Got it. Go on.”

“We went on a quest. To visit the outer kingdoms. Introduce me as the heir, and to make alliances with them. I... met someone.”

Her lips quirk upwards as she crosses her arms over her chest. “I’m listening.”

“I didn’t tell anyone. I even lied to aunt—“ he pauses, glancing up at her. He’s not sure they’ve met Fen yet. Or if they have, there’s no way they love her yet. He clears his throat again. “I lied to my aunt. I didn’t—we both knew. Talking about it would be this big thing. That it couldn’t—that we couldn’t—“ he pauses again, inhaling shakily, “we agreed not to do anything about it. When we were together we were together. When I returned to castle whitespire... I returned alone.”

Margo moves forward to sit down on the edge of the bed again, the quirk of her lips slowly falling. “How does that make you guilty?”

“Two weeks before—before it happened.” He closes his eyes and reaches down to pull at the hem of his pants. “Dad and I got in a fight.”

“Eliot?”

He shakes his head. “Quentin.”

“What about?”

“He wanted me to marry someone for convenience.” He opens his eyes and looks up at her through his lashes, “To unite two kingdoms. I—“ he breaks off and looks up at the ceiling. A knot forms in his chest and he clenches his jaw. “I refused. I told him I expected it from—from Eliot. Not from him. And I said he didn’t care about me, and that’s fine because I didn’t—Uh. Care about him. Either.”

“Oh.”

“I left. I told them I didn’t want the crown. And I went back to the island.”

“Back to —“

“Yeah.” He finally lets himself look at her again. “When—when the messenger came. I thought they were coming on my dads behalf. To make me come back.” His lips curl onwards and he shakes his head, tears stinging his eyes.

Margo shoves up from the bed and rushed around the side of it to him, wrapping a hand around his shoulder and and arm around his waist. “It’s okay—“

“I told them to leave,” he chokes out, as she pushes him back so she can climb up onto the bed. “That I—I don’t. That I wasn’t going back—I was finally happy—“ he breaks off again, the sob stuck in his throat finally unfurling out of him, as Margo tightens her hold on him.  “I was falling in love, and they—they were—“

“Shh,” Margo breathes, nosing her head into his hair and pulling him in as close as she can. Her body rocks as he sobs, full and broken against her. His own arms finally come up to wrap around her. “It’s not your fault,” she says into his hair, rubbing one hand up and down his back. “And if I were there, I’d fucking kill Quentin, too, for pulling that arranged marriage bullshit.”

“Mar—“

“Shhh,” she says again. “You need to cry. Let it out. Afterwards,” her voice gets softer, “You’re gonna tell me all about the person you love.”

“I—“

“Shut up and cry, Todd.”

 

**

 

“Todd, are you ready to go?”

Todd looks up at Julia, nodding. “Yes. Is momma coming?” He reaches up to take her hand, and she makes a face as she squeezes her fingers around his.

“Todd...”

“She not in bed! So she can come with us to the party. She’s all better!” But Julia only stares at him with the same look, and he tilts his head. “Auntie... okay?”

Her mouth pinches together, and she looks both ways down the hall before closing her eyes and sighing. “Shit.” Her eyes open and she kneels down in front of him, pulling his hands in close, and squeezing them tighter. “Bug,” she says, “Margo... can’t go to the party.”

“But shes better now. Not in bed.

She nods shakily, “I know—she’s not in bed. I. God, bug, you’re really going to make me say this, aren’t you?”

“Say what?”

“Jules,” a new voice says, from above. Todd looks up to see Quentin standing over them both, one hand on Julia’s shoulder. “I got it.”

She looks back at Todd and then to Quentin. “Are you sure?”

“It’s me or Eliot. And we both know Eliots—that’s. That’s not gonna happen for a while.”

“I can—“

“No you can’t. Go ahead. Penny and Kady are waiting for you, anyway.”

She stares at him for a moment before nodding and twisting back around to face Todd. “I love you, Bug,” she says, pressing a kiss to the top of his head and letting go of his hands, “We all love you, okay?”

“Love you too, auntie!” He grins, rushing forward to smack a kiss to her cheek. She lets out a soft chuckle, and wraps him up in a hug. “Can we play castle with Momma later?”

She lets go of him and pulls away, nodding. She blinks rapidly and reaches up to wipe at her eyes before standing up. “Of course,” she mumbles, turning to Quentin.

He smiles, close lipped at her, and turns his attention down on Todd. “Hey little one,” he murmurs, kneeling down in front of him, taking Julia’s place. “You look so handsome in your suit.” He smiles, reaching forward to straighten out Todd’s tie.

“Think momma will like?”

His chin wobbles as he nods, “of course. Momma likes everything about you.” His hands slides over to Todd’s shoulder, squeezing, as he gazes at him with something Todd can’t understand in his eyes.

Todd reaches up and taps the creases in Quentin’s forehead. “Okay, papa?”

“I’m okay,” Quentin whispers, nodding, as he blinks and a tear escapes. He reaches up with his free hand to swipe it away before it gets far. “But we need to talk.”

“Talk?”

He nods again. “It’s important. So you need to pay attention, okay?”

Todd nods, all seriousness as he reaches up and mock salutes Quentin. “I pay attention good, papa.”

Quentin closes his eyes. “I know,” he murmurs, “You’re a good boy, Todd.”

Todd beams. “Love you, papa.”

“I love you, too, little one.” He leans forehead and presses his forehead to Todd’s. “You’re my whole world, you know that?”

“The world is big. That’s what auntie Alice says. Lots of world. Can momma and I go see it all?”

Pulling away, Quentin swallows so loud Todd can hear it and moves to sit down on his haunches. He pats his lap, “Sit down. This—I need to talk to you about something important.”

Todd sits down without a moments hesitation, and grins up at him. He reaches up and tugs at Quentin’s lose hair. “It’s okay, papa. No sad. Momma is better now.”

“That’s the thing, little one.” He wraps his arms around Todd’s waist, and squeezes him, as he buries his face in Todd’s hair. “Momma... can’t come to the party. It’s for her.”

“Momma birthday already?”

“No.” He inhales deep. “Momma was really sick, Todd.”

“I know,” Todd frowns. “No playing. Momma had to stay in bed. But she’s not in bed anymore.”

“Sometimes. When people get sick, they go away.” Quentin furrows his eyebrows and pulls away. He looks at Todd with an expression Todd can’t decipher. “Because they can’t get better. They go somewhere new. Somewhere we can’t. See them. Or talk to them.”

“Momma left?”

“Not by choice,” Quentin says. He reaches down and wraps his hand around Todd’s. “She tried to stay as long as she could. She fought really hard. And—and sometimes—“

“Sometimes fighting isn’t enough.”

Todd and Quentin both look up, to find Eliot standing over them. His eyes are sunken in and swollen, and he’s swaying slightly. Todd reaches his arms out for him, and Eliot’s chin wobbles as he glances at Quentin. Todd feels Quentin’s soft smile against his cheek. “Yeah,” Quentin says, letting go of Todd with one hand, and holding it out for Eliot as well.

Eliot stares down at it for a long moment, before he moves forward and all at once he’s sitting down next to them and pulling Todd into his lap. He holds him with one arm, while his free hand reaches out and grabs at one of Quentin’s. He looks down at Todd, and smiles softly at him with watery eyes. “Todd,” he says, “Momma couldn’t win. She was too sick.”

“Too... sick?”

“Sometimes when people get sick,” Quentin says, “They can’t get better. They get worse. And we have to—to—“

“To say goodbye.”

“Goodbye?”

“Like when someone goes away.”

Todd frowns, twisting to look at Quentin. “Momma went away?”

He nods, reaching forward to place his free hand overtop Todd’s. “Not because she wanted to.”

“Because she didn’t,” Eliot adds. Todd looks back at Eliot. “She wouldn’t leave you. Not ever, if she had a choice.” He let’s go of Quentin’s hand and reaches up to cup Todd’s jaw. “Margo loves you more than she’s ever loved anything in her life, Todd. You know that, don’t you?”

“I... am. Confused.”

“I know.” Eliot looks at Quentin. “So am I. But we have people who love us. Who will help us through this.” He turns his gaze back on Todd, “And even though Margo’s gone, we have each other, still. And I am never,” he squeezes him, “Not ever. Going to let anything happen to you.” His eyes slide back over to Quentin again. “Either of you.”

“Mommas . . . gone? Forever?”

Eliots air of calmness falls away so fast, as if it hasn’t ever been there, and his face scrunches up painfully as he nods twice and pulls Todd in for a hug.



Chapter Text

He’s standing in the center of the throne room. He’s not entirely sure how he found himself here. Or how long it took them to wash the blood from the walls, just that they suddenly glistened again as if they’d never bore witness to a slaughter.

There’s a figure slumped forward in one of the thrones, too. Todd feels himself take a step closer, neck creaking as he tilts his head. Long hair slinks over the sides of the persons face.

“D—dad?”

The figure looks up, slowly. And it’s him. Not the him that’s fighting gods and evil in the past. It’s him. Aged and with hair much longer and familiar wrinkles that line the corners of his mouth and eyes. Him. Wearing the same outfit as the day Todd walked away from him and set his fate.

Him.

“Hey, kiddo,” he says, voice deep and raspy, just like Todd remembers it. “What’re you doing in here?”

Something wet glistens beneath his eyes. And it doesn’t take a crown prince to realize there are tears clinging to his eyelashes.

“What—you—“ Todd’s mouth opens and closes before he rushes forward three more steps, and stutters to a stop again. “How are you—“ He’s not even sure what to say. What he can say. This is his father. His father exactly as Todd remembers him. As sad as he often thinks he was that day.

“I miss you.”

A lump forms in Todd’s throat. “I—I miss you, too—“

“How could you leave?”

He’s pretty sure his heart stops. It’s the only thing that explains the sudden cold enveloping his chest and stomach. “I—I don’t—“

“I told Eliot you’d come back. Why haven’t you come back? Did I really fail you that badly?”

“No!” And, finally, he forces his forward until he can kneel at the base of the throne. “Dad—I. You—you never—“

“What kind of son breaks his fathers heart?”

Todd’s hands fall to his sides.

“Dad—,” he tries, cutting himself off. There’s no excuse. He killed his family.

“How could we raise such a coward?”

It’s so unexpectedly cold. Not like being told he’s going to be married off. Worse, somehow. Quentin’s always been the good cop. Excluding one instance, obviously. Any coldhearted comments, tough guy, bad cop, ‘get-your-ass-in-line’ speeches have always been reserved exclusively for Eliot. Todd’s spent most of his life convinced the word coward doesn’t even exist in Quentin’s vocabulary.

And, yet. There it is. Floating in the air between them.

It’s somehow worse than any punishment Todd could ever think up.

“I—“

“You left us to die.”

“No—I—I didn’t—“

“I died thinking my son hated me. I died thinking i’m a failure. I died right here on this throne, Todd.” He slowly inches himself out of his seat, as blood starts to seep out of his clothes. He gestures down at himself, “I died. How could you not be there?”

Todd curls in on himself as Quentin stands until he’s towering over him. His blood slides down the length of his body, until it’s dripping on the floor. A soft plop-plop of blood hitting blood echoes around the throne room, and it’s all Todd can focus on.

When he finally forces himself to look up again, the walls have been painted red, and his father is lying on the ground not far from his throne. The building shakes, and he’s sure he’ll fall through the floor—

“—alk about a good high!” A muffled voice calls out, as Todd blinks his eyes open. His head is splintering, and the world looks and sounds as if he’s dunked his head underwater. But it’s clear Josh is the one leaning over him, grinning. “You were so gone, man!”

Todd blinks blearily, stomach twisting and turning. “What—“

Josh helps him sit up. “You good?” The excitements faded fast, and he’s kneeling down next to the couch holding an arm out between them. “You don’t look so good.”

“I—I’m.”

Firey nausea burns up his trachea and he—

He leans over and vomits on the side of the couch.

“Jesus. Not a good high, then,” Josh notes, nose wrinkling as Todd falls back against the couch and lets his neck loll to the side to look at him. “What happened?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

Josh stares at him for a moment before he shrugs with a quick nod, “Yeah, fair. I’ve had my fair share of dont-wanna-talk-about-it moments. Like that time I accidentally slept with a werewolf.” He laughs to himself before falling back on his haunches, “Not so much regret as confusion, but you know.”

He really doesn’t, but his body is so heavy and his mind is so hazy with the image of his father staring down at him, that he can’t be bothered to respond.

He lets his eyes slide shut.

God, it’d felt so fucking real.

 

 

*

 

“So... I guess this is goodbye.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Kady mutters, “It’s just until they get control of what’s happening to you. And then you’ll be back in the castle making pancakes for Todd like nothing ever happened.”

Todd smiles, burying his face in his uncles shirt. “We can have lots of pancakes,” he says, the sound muffled.

A hand comes down to pat his head. “I do like pancakes.” There’s a slight pause as he ruffles Todd’s hair. “Are we sure this is the only option?”

“Would I have agreed to it if it weren’t?”

A sigh. “No.”

“Hey.” She reaches out, and the edge of her shirt grazes against Todd’s cheek. “You know I don’t do the sappy shit. But...we’re a family. All of us. And we’re not going to abandon you because of some shit you can’t control. So, just remember. This isn’t us abandoning you.”

Todd looks up, “Aunt Kady says bad words.”

His uncle laughs, nodding down at him. There’s something off about the way he’s looking at him, but Todd can’t quite place it. “You’re right. Aunt Kady should be better at censoring herself by now.”

“Huh?”

He laughs again, setting down the bag he’s been holding so he can kneel down next to Todd. “You know,” he says, raising his eyebrows, “She’s going to need someone who can look after her while I’m gone. Think you can do that?”

“Mama says aunt Kady need no man because she’s a strong in... ind...in,” he huffs, wrinkling his nose, “I...”

Kady chuckles behind him. “Independent,” she says.

Todd nods, frowning up at his uncle. “It’s a yucky word.”

Grinning, his uncle nods, “I know right? Everybody needs somebody. Listen little man,” he leans in conspiratorially, “Aunt Kady is pretty upset. Even if she won’t admit it. Think you can give her a hug whenever she looks sad while I’m gone? I would but my arms are too short.”

Todd looks over his shoulder at Kady, where she’s standing with her arms crossed and one eyebrow quirked. He blinks up at her twice before turning back to his uncle and grinning. “Can I hug Now?”

“Oh, man. You read my mind! How about a group hug?”

“Is that such a good idea—“

His uncles smile falls as he turns to look up at her, “I can control myself long enough to hug you, Kady.”

Todd pulls away and claps his hands. “Hug!” He follows his uncles gaze to look up at Kady. “Pleaaaaaase Aunt Kady?”

She narrows her eyes down at him before pointing an accusing finger, “Julia is never going to be forgiven for teaching you how to pout. It’s fu—freaking irresistible.” She kneels down with a roll of her eyes and holds her arms out for them. “Come on. Before your dad finds us.” Todd runs into her arms and wraps his around her as tight as he can.

“They really didn’t want him saying goodbye, then?”

Her voice rumbles against him as she responds, “They’re just worried. But he insisted.”

Todd pulls away and looks back at his uncle. “Hellloooo,” he says, waving his arms at the space next to him in between Kady's legs. “Hug time, not talk time!”

“God it’s terrifying how much like Margo he is sometimes.”

“Which is why you should probably get in on this.”

He huffs out a laugh before he moves over to wrap his arms around the both of them. They’re barely settling into the hug when they hear a familiar voice.

“What the fuck?”

Todd unburies his face from his aunt and uncle, peaking through Kady’s armpit to see his father standing at the end of the hallway. “Papa!” He exclaims, wiggling until they let him go so he can run across the hall to him. “You’re back!”

Eliot leans down just long enough to catch him, and pick him up. He presses a quick kiss to his forehead with a soft,“Yes, I am,” before turning his attention on the two adults standing behind Todd. “Need I repeat the question?” Todd pouts, wrapping his arms around Eliot’s neck and turning to look at his aunt and uncle as well.

“He wanted to say goodbye,” Kady says, nodding at Todd. “And I’m as helpless to his pout as you are.”

“Don’t bullshit a bullshitter, Kady.” Todd giggles, looking down at the ground as Eliot starts walking, closing the space between them. It feels a bit like being a giant, when Eliot's holding him. Or flying. He nuzzles his head against the crook of Eliot’s neck. 

“So what? You wanted him to wake up and wonder where he went?” She moves in, her voice cold, “Like when Margo died? Just another person he loves vanishing.”

Eliot's arms tighten around him. “We’re not discussing this right now,” he hisses. He lifts his chin to look behind her. “They’re waiting for you in the throne room.”

“You’re the one who started this conversation!”

“Kady, stop.” His uncle steps forward, placing a gentle, shaking hand on her shoulder, and shaking his head. Todd watches them silently. “He’s just worried.”

She scoffs. “Please. Like you’d ever—“

“Stop. Not in front of the kid.”

Her shoulders slump and she looks back over at Eliot and Todd before she sighs. “Fine.”

He offers her a closed lip smile, leaning forward to press a kiss to her temple. “It’ll be fine,” He says, just loud enough for Todd to hear, “They’re going to help me get through this, and then I’ll be back in no time, to make you wonder why you even bother with me.”

“Don’t say that—“

“Stop acting like I’m going to die, jesus.”

“You could—“

“Literally incapable of dying, Kady.” He smiles at her again, but it's more pained than anything. Then he's pulling away and nodding at Eliot. “Let’s go, then. The sooner I’m gone the better, right?”

Eliot takes a deep breath, straightening his shoulders out, which tussles Todd a little. “The sooner you’re gone, the safer everyone is, so, yes.” He leans his head back to look down at Todd. “If I tell you to go to bed, are you going to listen to me?” Todd blinks up at him. “Of course not,” Eliot sighs. He looks across the hall back at Kady. “Think you can handle taking him to his room and making sure he goes to sleep?”

“Of course I can,” She snaps.

“Forgive me for doubting that you care about his safety,” Eliot responds, voice equally cold. “Just take him to his room. Please.”

She moves forward and holds her arms out for Todd. “Come on, kid. I’ll read you your favorite bed time story.”

Todd grins, turning his attention on her. “Really?”

Her face softens and she nods. “Of course.”

He lets go of Eliot and reaches for her so quickly, Eliot nearly loses grip of him.

 

*

 

They’ve kidnapped a senator.

Honestly, if he ever gets back to the future and see’s them again, he’s going to give them so much shit for all their law breaking. He could barely get away with hanging out with a  couple talking beavers, and his aunt and uncle kidnapped a senator.

He’s curious.

But, Julia’s not herself, and Penny’s scary when he’s not being Todd’s cool uncle, so he’s just going to stay out of it.

Even if it is kind of bad ass.

 

*

 

“He’s what?”

“Don’t worry what he is, you need to stay out of it.”

“I’m sorry,” Todd says, not sorry at all, as he rounds Dean Fogg’s desk, pointing an accusatory finger, “You just told me my father is dying because his dead girlfriend,” —he can’t wait to find out how the hell Alice becomes de-niffined, by the way, because what the fuck— “Is currently possessing his body and literally sucking the life force out of him. And you’re telling me—“

Fogg sighs like Todd’s a life force draining entity, too and slams his pen on the table, as he looks up and levels him with a glare that is only half effective with his glasses on. “Have you done anything that could affect this timeline so far?”

Todd frowns. “What?” Is he seriously trying to blame him for this? He’s already killed his family once, he can’t seriously think Todd’s done anything to do it again.

“Have you,” He pauses, teeth grinding together, “Done anything to affect the current time line?”

“No!”

“And have you started fading from existence?”

“What? No, I—“ He stops, because oh.

He see’s where he’s going with this.

“Then why the fuck is this your business?”

His shoulders slump and he takes a defensive step backwards. Damn it. “I just—“

“Stay. Out of it.” Fogg picks his pen back up, pointing at him with the end of it, “And why don’t you get back to work on figuring out what you were sent here to figure out? Or are you so inept that you’ll be stuck here until they die all over again?”

Todd’s jaw falls open, and he involuntarily takes another step back. “That’s not—“

“Fair? Save it for someone who has the time or patience to care. Go figure your shit out, and leave me to deal with your family. You’re not a part of this. Any of it.”

Todd clenches his jaw, before taking in a deep breath, turning on his heel and storming out of the office

Just because it hurts doesn’t mean he’s wrong.

God, he’d really like to punch him, though.

 

*

 

Todd grabs onto the blanket hanging over the edge of the bed, and uses it to tug himself upwards. He stands up on his tips toes, peeking over the top of the bed, and grinning. There’s a pair of familiar, tired brown eyes, blinking at him, amused. “Need some help?”

He shakes his head stubbornly, grinning as widely as he can at his mother. “I’m a big boy!” He proclaims, fingers fisting around the fabric, and pulling. He doesn’t move, except side to side, as he swings helplessly, his toes grazing against the floor. “Mama?” He asks, after a moment. “I think I’m stuck.”

Margo laughs softly, scooting closer to the bed, and holding her hand out for him. “Come on, baby,” She says, “Take my hand.”

He looks down at the blanket, and up to her hand. “But I’ll fall.”

“I won’t let you fall.”

“Promise?” 

She smiles at him. “I promise,” She quirks an eyebrow, and shakes her hand slightly, “Come on, take my hand.”

He lets go with one hand, barely noticing that his feet reach the floor entirely, as she wraps her hand around his, and carefully pulls him up over the side of the bed. His legs scramble over the top, and he grins breathlessly at her. “I’m a big boy!” He exclaims.

She laughs, pulling him in close and burying her face in his hair. “Yes. You are.”

He wraps his arms around her. “How feeling?”

She pulls away so she can lie back down on her side, and he adjusts so he can lie down facing her. She reaches up and brushes his hair out of his face. “I’m great,” She says. “How was spending the day with your dads?”

“Tick made papa leave.”

“He did?” Her eyebrows furrow, “I’ll kick his ass.“

“Mama!”

She stops, pausing to smile at him. “Mama’s allowed to cuss. Perks of being a mother.”

“No fair.”

She chuckles, leaning in and resting her forehead against his. “You get to do the same thing when you grow up and have kids of your own.” She takes a deep breath in, “But don’t do that too fast.”

“How come?”

“Because I love you.”

Todd grins, “Love you too, mama!”

She pulls away, then, frowning as she moves to sit up, coughing into her arm. The coughs are deep and hacking and Todd scrambles away, watching her, unsure of what to do. The coughs get longer and deeper, and before long the bedroom door is slamming open, as Eliot and Quentin rush in.

Quentin picks Todd up, hands cupping him beneath his arm pits, and pulling him up to hold him against his chest, as Eliot moves around the side of the bed and grabs a cup of water off the bedside table.

“Come on,” Quentin whispers to Todd, his gaze unwavering on Margo, “Let’s get you to your bed.”

“But, mama—“

“Papa’s taking care of her.” He finally turns around, as Eliot nods up at them. Todd looks over Quentin’s shoulder. Margo’s turning to Eliot, shakily taking the cup of water, and something else that he’s holding out for her. “You should be in your bed. Where I left you twenty minutes ago.”

“Wanted to sleep with mama,” Todd mumbles, finally twisting his neck back around.

“I know,” Quentin murmurs, “But mama can’t be too active right now.”

“I sorry, daddy.”

Quentin hushes him, rubbing at his back gently as they walk out of the room. “Don’t be sorry,” He says, “It’s not your fault. We just need to give Margo some time to heal. Once she’s all better, then we’ll have a big cuddle party. We’ll just sleep on top of her.”

“Really?”

“Would I lie to you?”

Todd smiles, nuzzling into Quentin’s chest and shaking his head. “Daddies don’t lie.”

“Exactly.” Quentin squeezes him, and Todd can feel his heartbeat pick up from where he has his ear pressed up against his chest. “Let’s get you to bed.”

“‘Kay. Love you daddy.”

“I love you too, kiddo.”

 

*

 

He’s been studying the journals and literally everything about the current timeline as much as he possibly can. His brain hurts. His eyes may be permanently dry.

He needs a break. And everyone’s been gone for weeks. Even if they aren’t his actual family, he misses them. Misses seeing their faces, and getting a glimpse into their lives. Misses getting to know them.

Luckily, he knows someone who has something that can give him a much needed break from the endless research, and based on his last experience with drugs, can provide him a glimpse at his own family.

“One for twenty, three for fifty.”

Todd leans forward. “Which . . . gets you the highest?”

Josh is probably a terrible influence. Good thing he's in need of a terrible influence.

 

*

 

His face itches. Everything itches. The world is an itchy irresistibly beautiful place. And the book in Quentin’s hands looks like the perfect cure. He reaches down and snatches it up. Before he can even think, he rubs the spine of the book up against his cheek, and it’s pure ecstasy. “So scratchy,” He breathes. So, good. No more itchiness.

Quentin looks up at him, and says maybe the first thing he’s ever said to him; “Go away, Todd.”

Todd nods, the world is wavy and he hands the book back in favor of walking over to the window. Something is strange about it. The itchiness has faded. But he finds himself tasting the air. It’s so funny—something’s not right about it. Something’s . . . off about it. He turns back around and wanders back over to Quentin. “Hey,” He says, “Is this place real?” His eyes dart across the room.

Oh, hey, it’s Julia.

“No,” She says.

Oh, shit. It’s not? Where the fuck has he gone now? He looks back to Quentin for an explanation.

“You’re hungover, Todd,” He says.

Todd frowns, and wanders away again, but there’s a word that catches his attention, and he finds himself being pulled back in like he’s a rubber band. “Oh, yeah, shades,” He says, leaning his elbows on the chair next to Quentin’s head. Quentin looks at him strangely. Almost like he doesn’t want him there, which is ridiculous.

“Nobody talks about shades, there must be a reason,” Julia says.

“I know, right?” Todd responds, thinking back to the few conversations he’s had with Fogg. They’re usually when he’s too drunk to hate Todd. “ I mean, when Fogg talked about 'em the other day,” He stands back, and grabs on Quentin’s shoulders like Eliot used to always do, and moves around to the side of the chair, “it was the first I heard about 'em.” Which says a lot about how much his family keeps from him. Quentin gives him a weird look. “What?”

Suddenly he’s being manhandled, and next thing he knows he has a bottle of water in one hand, and a giant bowl of chips in his lap, and his dad is looking at him like he’s important for the first time since before everything happened, and Julia’s actually paying attention to him. The world gets clearer by the second, and he remembers they’re not actually his family, not yet, but it is nice to have them paying attention to him.

To be talking to Quentin.

Which is a lot easier than he thought it would be.

 

*

 

 

“Please,” Todd begs, slumping down in his throne and rubbing the palms of his hands up against his eyes, “Please for the love of all of Fillory tell me that was the last one.”

Eliot laughs, standing up from his own throne, “Come on, it’s not that bad—“

“You’re right,” Todd nods, dropping his hands beside him and turning his head to look at him, “It’s worse. So much worse.”

Eliot watches him with a  quirked eyebrow for a long moment before he breaks and laughs again, “You’re right,” He says, “But your torture’s over. That was the last one.”

“Oh thank god.” Todd breathes out, folding himself over, “‘How many farmers angry with the fairies can there possibly be?’ I said, ‘This’ll be so easy,’ they said. Everyone’s a liar. Everyone’s awful. I hate everything and everyone.”

“My god,” Quentin says, “I think our sons finally a teenager.”

Todd looks up long enough to give him a halfhearted glare, before folding back in on himself. “I feel like my brain is going to burst out of my eyes. Or my ears. When that one farmer started arguing with the fairy about proper mud distribution?” He looks up again, despairingly, “What does that even mean? Mud distribution? Why are they fighting over mud!”

They ignore him. Eliot looks at Quentin and nods. “Definitely a teenager now.”

“I’ve been a teenager for a year! And you say that every time I hate something!”

Quentin attempts a fake sniffle, and moves to stand next to Eliot. “They just,” He sniffles, wiping at fake tears, “Grow up so fast!”

Eliot nods, pulling him in and placing his hand on the back of his head, “Shh, I know. It’s awful.”

Todd sits up and glares at them. “You guys are literally the worst.”

Penny walks through the door, then, grinning as Quentin and Eliot pull apart, “I don’t know what I missed, but I’m glad to see the kids finally starting to catch on.”

“Oh come on, Penny,” Quentin says, “You love us.”

Penny scoffs, but doesn’t disagree as he nods at Todd. “You ready to go?”

“Go?” Eliot asks, “Where is he going?”

“You did your thing,” Penny says, “Now it’s my turn. I get Todd time, too. Besides, nobody wants to hang out with their dads.”

Eliot looks ready to argue, but Quentin places a hand on his arm, “Don’t even think about it,” He says, “You and I have plans of our own.” He raises his eyebrow, and Eliot gives him a look. “Very. Specific. Plans.”

“What a—oh.” He swallows and looks at Penny and Todd, “Have a great time doing whatever it is you’re doing.” He stops, before furrowing his brow and pointing a finger at Penny, “Have him back before midnight.”

“No promises.”

Quentin rolls his eyes and grabs Eliot’s hand, “Don’t argue with him, you know he’ll have him back before midnight, El.” He tugs on his hand and starts for the doorway. When Eliot doesn’t move, he tugs a little harder, “Our plans, Eliot.”

“Now?”

“Now.”

Suddenly Eliot’s halfway across the room, and the one tugging Quentin along.

Todd watches after them, even after the throne room doors slam shut. “What . . . Just happened?” He asks, finally turning to look at Penny.

“They’re going to have sex,” Penny says.

Todd scrunches his nose up, “Ew!”

Penny laughs, holding his hand out for him, “You won’t feel that way when you’re older. Let’s go. We’ve got places to be.”

 

 

*

 

Okay. He doesn’t have a problem. It’s just . . . Twenty minutes ago he was being chased down an alley by a pack of werewolves that were protecting a certain clan of hedge witches, and as much as he’d love to explain how he got in that particular situation—something, something, trying to figure out if the hedge witches were responsible for his families death somehow, something, something—he’s got a bong in his hand, and his father just materialized in the physical kids cottage out of nowhere.

Last he’d heard from Margo, and based on a recent near-death, Eliot shouldn’t even be able to leave Fillory.

So, either Josh labeled the weed wrong before he left, or something awful has happened.

“Dude,” He says, standing up. “I thought you were off, like, being the high king of Fillory.” A place the hedge witches think is a fictional place in a kids book series.

Which, effectively, and painfully, eliminates them from his lists of suspects. A list that continues to shrink.

Pretty soon, he’s going to be out of suspects and ideas.

Eliot looks confused. Which, damn, Todd can definitely relate. “I am.” He pauses, eyebrows furrowing, “I was. I think I just got kicked out.”

Todd watches him for a moment, before nodding and turning around to make him a drink.

This feels like the kind of situation that requires a drink.

He knows what’s happening. Had heard it mentioned once or twice, that Umber had decided he was a boring king and banished him, before they fixed everything and took the throne back. But it does still make him feel a little homeless. Even if he has a bed upstairs, and he’s technically not yet the future king of Fillory.

It’s a part of the proper timeline.

But, damn.

 

*

 

“Todd? What are you doing?”

He looks up from where he has his face buried in the pillow, to find most of his family standing in the doorway. Fen’s the first one to step in the room, her eyes wide and worried as she looks around the room. “Why are you in here?” She asks.

He unclenches his hands from the blanket, and shrugs, burying his face back in the pillow.

“Todd . . .” Quentin breathes, moving into the room then. He can hear each of them enter, their footsteps echoing against the walls.

He knows they know why he’s here. Why else would they all be here?

The bed dips down, and he looks up just enough to see that it’s Julia sitting down beside him. “Hey, bug,” She says, smiling close lipped, “Mind if we join you?” He shrugs again, and turns his face back into the pillow.

It doesn’t smell like her anymore. It hasn’t for years. But it’s still the only place that feels like her.

Julia moves until she can lie next to him on the bed. One of her arms comes to rest over his waist. Before long, the rest of his family is moving to lie down with him, as well. The bed dips and levels out as each of them join him. And then there are six hands settling on him; two in his hair, scratching gently at his scalp.

They all lie silently for a few long minutes, until Todd finally turns his head, and says, soft, “I miss her.”

Quentin’s the one lying on this side of him, and he pulls him in to him, two pairs of hands sliding off him as he does so. “I know,” He breathes into his hairline, “So do I.” He wraps one hand around the base of Todd’s neck, and holds him tightly, like it’s all he knows how to do. Todd doesn’t fight it, but he doesn’t hug him back, either.

“Today’s her birthday,” He says.  He’d completely forgotten. But he’d gone into the village, and they were celebrating her. The anniversary of Fillory’s greatest king. Villager after villager stopped him to give him their condolences.

It’s stupid, because he barely remembers her. Just has vague memories of a woman he loved that vanished in the night. And today’s her birthday. Thousands of villagers remember her. Get to have memories of who she was. Villagers got to know her. Experience her, and remember her.

He’s her son, and he’d completely forgotten her birthday.

“We know,” Eliot says.

“I don’t remember her.” Quentin inhales shakily, and tightens his hold on him. “I . . . can’t remember her voice. How she spoke. What I loved about her. How can I forget that?” He pulls away from Quentin to look at them. “Am I a bad son?”

“No,” Julia says, “Absolutely not. You were just a toddler when she died, Todd—“

“Nobody expects you to remember,” Fen interrupts, “It’s okay.”

“It’s not. All the villagers and everyone remember her. But I didn’t . . . I didn’t even remember her birthday. I just wanted to go on with my prince stuff, and they all . . .” He trails off and looks over Quentin’s shoulder at Eliot helplessly. “I’m sorry, dad, I just—“

Eliot reaches forward, “Don’t you dare apologize,” He says, squeezing Todd’s forearm. “Margo never apologized.”

Penny nods, “Ever. I don’t think I ever heard her say sorry.”

“Even when she definitely should have,” Fen adds, looking vaguely haunted. “But, I have to admit I admired her ability to stand by her actions.”

“One time she stabbed a guy,” Penny says, “She looked like she felt bad, but she didn’t apologize.”

Todd looks at him, “That’s a good thing?”

“Oh, definitely not,” Julia says, as Kady shoves Penny.

He blinks, before closing his eyes. “You guys are really bad at this.”

They’re all quiet for a moment. But then there’s one chuckle, and then a chorus of them as they all start laughing. The bed shakes, and Todd can’t help the smile that tugs at the corners of his mouth. “We really are, aren’t we?” Eliot says, once they’ve all calmed down.

“To think, the council chose to make Eliot king.”

Quentin shuffles to roll over on his back. “I can’t believe it’s been four years.”

“I can’t believe Todd is eight,” Fen says. “Last time we were all in this bed, you were four.” Todd lifts up to look over Kady and Julia at her. “You were so tiny.”

“And hyper,” Kady adds, raising her eyebrows. “Nobody could keep you in bed.”

“Margo could,” Eliot offers, “Anytime she told you to do anything, you listened without complaint.”

“More often than not, we’d find you curled up in be with her, here,” Quentin agrees, nodding. “When she got sick, we had to keep making you leave. She always yelled at us. But when it got bad, she couldn’t even argue.”

“The last few weeks, we stopped making you leave. We actually joined you.”

“All of you?”

Julia shakes her head, “No. Just Q and El. We . . .gave you guys some time alone, towards the end.”

“But you’re family, too.”

Fen rubs his arm, “It’s different,” She says, “Margo’s your mother. And we didn’t want to take away from your time with her.”

“And I don’t even remember any of it.”

Eliot sits up, then, and looks down at him seriously. “Then ask us,” He says, “Anytime you want to know something. Anytime you wish you remembered. Anything you want to know.” He leans over Quentin to grab onto Todd’s hand, “Anytime you have questions about Margo. No matter what. If we’re in the middle of a council meeting, or with other monarchs, if you have a question about her, you ask the question.”

“Ess would definitely have a couple things to say about her,” Fen says. “Everyone who’s met her would.”

“Honestly,” Alice says, from her place behind Eliot, “Good or bad, people love talking about her.”

“It’s true,” Penny murmurs, “I’m sure the council would even answer your questions.”

Todd looks at each of them individually before nodding, mostly to himself. “Yeah,” He says, “Okay.”

“You wanna start now?” Quentin asks.

He takes a deep breath before nodding. “Yeah,” He breathes, “Can I?”

“What do you want to know?”

“Anything. Everything.”

“Oh, we should tell him how she got elected King.”

Eliot points at Fen, “That’s perfect.” He grins and looks back down at Todd. “You remember Frey?”

“My kind-of sister?”

“That’s the one. Anyway…”

 

*

 

He’s officially out of suspects.

Like. Entirely, wholly, completely, and without reservations, completely fucking out of suspects. He’s back to square one; sitting in the Brakebills library, a stack of 39 journals in front of him. Actually, no. He’s not back to square one. He’s further than that. Because, his brilliantly stupid family is officially the enemy of the gods.

That’s right.

The gods turned off magic.

Because his dad is an idiot. Okay, that’s not fair, because he knows not to kill a god because of this exact reason. He knows not to because his family killed a god and got magic shut off. He’s literally living history.

But god damn it.

They couldn’t wait until he found their killer?

He takes a deep breath and finally picks up the first journal. They’re not even in order now, he’s flipped through them so many times. This one is, he flips to the first page, apparently the fifth timeline. He shudders and sets that one aside. Too gruesome. Just as he reaches for the next one, Quentin appears in the doorway, looking about as much like a kicked puppy as he does every time Todd see’s him lately, and looks him over.

“What are you doing?”

Todd looks up at him, partially grateful that the journals aren’t actually labeled on the outside, and shrugs. “Looking up some of Fogg’s notes on spells. They’re boring, but it’s better than sitting around doing nothing.”

“Thought that was your favorite pastime.”

Todd blinks. “Ouch.”

Quentin shakes his head, blinking, “Sorry,” He says, “I don’t know why I said that.”

“It’s fine. We’re all temperamental.” Quentin morso than usual. But that probably has more to do with Alice disappearing than anything else.

Jesus, there’s so much his family left out when they mentioned the past.

Like the fact that they all kind of hated each other. Or, you know, that Alice and Quentin have so much history.

Which is still so, so weird.

Quentin stands there for a few more moments before nodding to himself, and rubbing at the back of his awkwardly. “Right,” He says, “I’m just . . .” He starts backing away, “Gonna go.”

Todd shrugs, “You can stay. If you want.”

Shit. Why did he say that?

Why the fuck did he say that? He’s literally sitting here with a stack of books that gruesomely detail his every death thirty nine different times.

And to think. The council thought he’d make a good king.

Idiots.

“No, it’s fine. I’m just . . . going to find Julia.”

Oh thank god. “Okay,” He says, ignoring the way his heartbeat picks up in the relief. “See you later.”

“Yeah.”

He walks away and Todd looks back down at the journal. He stares at it for a long moment, before sighing and flipping it open.

Timeline twenty three.

At least Quentin kind of lives in this one.

 

*

 

“Mama?”

Margo turns her head, eyes fluttering shut as sweat glistens on her forehead. “Hmm?”

“Can sing a song?”

She inhales, the breath crackling as she wheezes the air in. “Mama’s . . . too tired . . . to sing, ba . . . by.”

Quentin looks at Eliot. “Papa can sing,” He says, nudging him enough that it rustles Todd. Todd looks over his shoulder at him with stubborn, sleepy eyes that refuse to close. “Right, papa?”

Eliot looks between the three of them before nodding, “Of course. Q you can sing, too. It’ll be a duet.” He rubs a hand over Margo’s forearm as she rolls to her side and coughs. “What should we sing, Todd? Something mama’ll like.”

“The sun song!”

Eliot hums thoughtfully, as he watches Margo with furrowed eyebrows. “The sun song. I’m not sure I remember. Q. Think you can start it?”

“Beatles?”

“Think . . . so,” Margo rasps.

“Do you need anything, Bambi?”

She shakes her head. “Just . . . my . . . boys . . .” Her eyes flutter open, “Drugs . . . might . . . nice, too.”

Eliot nods and turns to lean over the bed, “Start the song, Q,” He says, as he grabs the bottle of pills off the bedside table and shakes two out of it. As Quentin moves to cast a spell, he rolls back over and helps Margo as she takes the pills. “Do you need water, Bambi?” When she shakes her head, and swallows the pills, his jaw clenches and he wraps his hand around her wrist.

“Sing,” She says.

Quentin nods, finishing off the spell as music plays softly through the room. “Here comes the sun,” He sings, poking Todd in the stomach, “Do-do-do-do. Here comes the sun and I say it’s all right.”

Todd smiles and curls up against Margo’s side. Her hand is clammy when it comes to rest on Todd’s shoulder.

“Little darling,” Eliot sings, settling down beside them, “it’s been a long cold winter…”

Todd curls in even closer to Margo, his eyes fluttering shut as his fathers sing to them. Every now and then, he offers up a, “do-do-do-do,” because it’s his favorite part of the song. Quentin runs his fingers through Todd’s hair, gently scratching at his scalp, and they keep singing until sleep finally takes Todd.

Not long after, something else entirely takes Margo.

Chapter Text

“You’re not actually leaving.”

Todd looks up from his bag, frowning as Eliot enters the room. “I am.”

Eliot's jaw clenches, Which is a clear sign that he’s close to yelling at him. The good news is Todd currently doesn’t give a fuck. “You need to go apologize to your father, and then we’re going to talk about this like adults—“

“No.” Before today, he wouldn’t have dared interrupt his father. Not when he’s using his king voice. Which is a thing. A scary, resourceful parenting thing he has, that usually kicks Todd’s ass into gear.

Not today.

He turns away from the bag, shaking his head. “I’m actually glad you found me, though.”

“Oh?” Eliot asks, eyes narrowing as he takes a step further into the room, careful and regal. He lifts his chin slightly, like he’s appraising a potential threat to the kingdom. “And why’s that?”

Todd sets his shoulders. “Because I am officially renouncing my claim to the throne.” Before Eliot can react, he nods towards his dresser. “You’ll find the crown in there.” Tucked away. Turns out it’s not quite the ball and chain Todd’s spent his entire life thinking it is.

By the time he turns his attention back to his father, the kingly neutral look has faded, and in its place is something a lot closer to grief. His eyes are wide and unguarded for once, mouth open in a soft ‘oh’ shape. Todd called his bluff, and Eliot’s got no response.

He takes a step closer, this one more shaky than those that came before it. “Don’t be ridiculous—“

“I am also,” Todd interrupts, swallowing and looking away. Somehow, even after what just happened, this is harder to get out. At the very least, he won’t be able to look Eliot in the eyes when he says it. “Cutting all ties with the royal family.”

Eliot stumbles back slightly, a choked off sound following in its wake. “Todd—“ He says his name like it hurts.

Todd turns back to his bag and picks it up. “Have a good day, majesty.”

He moves to leave, but Eliot reaches out and grabs his arm. “Don’t do this,” he says, voice soft, yet shakey and moist. “You’re our son —“

“Maybe,” Todd mutters, tipping his arm out of Eliot's grasp and moving far enough away that he can’t reach. He still doesn’t look at him; gaze fixed on the ground. “But I’m also a person. And I won’t be used as a pawn in some fucking war game.”

There’s an undignified squawking, like Eliot’s trying to make himself say something but unable to, but Todd doesn’t look back.

Not this time.

 

*

 

Whatever’s going on with the quest to get magic back? Yeah, Todd’s planning on staying the fuck out of it. They managed to find their way around this shit fest without him once already, and knowing the way things have been going? Him getting involved will just lead lead to disaster.

. . . Except.

The world, and the people in the world, all seem to have different plans for him.

He realizes this, as he walks into his room and finds a bunny staring up at him from his bedspread.

“Are you still there?” It asks. Todd blinks down at it, taking a hesitant step into the room. “Are you still there?” It repeats.

He spins around, peeking out into the hallway, expecting this to be some twisted prank. The bunny continues repeating itself behind him, like a broken record with no end in sight. But, just as he furrows his eyebrows, and slowly turns back to the bed, another bunny appears out of thin air, and stares up at him as it flops down on his duvet.

“It’s margo,” It says. “It’s Margo. It’s Margo. It’s Margo—“

He tilts his head, taking a step closer, lips pursed. “Margo? You’re a—“

Before he can finish the thought, another bunny appears. “Not the fucking bunny. Not the fucking bunny. Not the fucking bunny. Not —“

His shoulders slump. It’s definitely Margo.

And these, upon closer inspection, are definitely Fillorian bunnies.

Another bunny plops down, and repeats the same question as the first. “Are you still there? Are you still there? Are you still there? Are you—“

He stares down at them helplessly. He knows what messengers bunnies are, obviously, the royal guard uses them to pass messages along covertly during times of high stress. But, he doesn’t know how to use them. Let alone reply to a message on one. He swallows, “I’m still here,” He says, voice slightly choked off.

He’s known she’s not dead, because if she were he would have faded out of existence. With or without magic, in whatever world, if Margo dies, it’s the one thing he’ll be certain to know about instantly. That doesn’t change the fact that it’s a relief to know she’s okay. Clearly not suffering, if she’s able to send messenger bunnies without magic. She must be with Eliot, working on the quest.

“Fairies are assholes,” A new bunny says, twisting over on it’s belly to glare up at him, “Fairies are assholes. Fairies are assholes. Fairies are assholes. Fairies—“

That elicits a chuckle, as he finally moves to sit next to the bunnies. There’s a cacophony of sound, each of them repeating themselves with no end in sight, but it doesn’t matter. One of them hops into his lap, and he pets it gently, laughing to himself. Not even being separated from most of her friends, being controlled by fairies can temper her attitude.

It’s clear he’s going to get dragged into this somehow, but right now it doesn’t matter. He won’t do anything purposefully, but he won’t walk away from his mother if she needs him. For now, a world without magic is all he’s got. Well. That, and a quest of his own that he’s still yet to make any progress on. Which is a lot, isn’t it?

The smile falls as he looks down at the bunnies.

“Damn it,” He mutters, just loud enough to hear his own voice over the chorus of bunny voices.

 

*

 

He’s known Penny’s been in a rough place for the past couple months. He has. It’s just. That’d been in barely there glimpses of him as he collected debts from magicians on campus, or as he was called to Earth by Kady for a short visit that Todd wasn’t welcome to be a part of. He didn’t look good. Obviously. Death didn’t look good on anyone.

But.

And, okay—right here and now, Penny’s a raging jack ass. If Todd didn’t know who he becomes, god, he’d literally never hate anyone more. It’s obviously a front to protect whatever feelings he’s got buried in him (there’s a lot), but Todd’s got a lot of his own secrets to keep, and trying to go digging for Penny’s secrets in an attempt to make him nicer? Seems kind of idiotic considering how spiteful he is; and how likely he is to be the one to go digging in someones brain for dirt. But, that doesn’t change the fact that in the future?

In the future Penny is Todd’s uncle.

Todd’s insanely cool, always there to help him get out of a situation he doesn’t want to be in, Uncle .

And apparently he’s dead.

Which, if this happened before Todd came back, nobody ever mentioned it in the future.

As in, Penny Adiyodi is very much dead when he should be literally anything else right now.

He backs out of the room slowly, leaving Kady to her feelings—mostly because he’s the last person she’d want coming to comfort her—and runs down the stairs. His heart pounds painfully loud in his chest as he looks into the dining room and then back to the living room. There are magic-less magicians everywhere, none of them dead. Nobody else seems to even think anything’s amiss.

He swallows, before looking at the door and running through it, in a desperate attempt to find Dean Fogg because he’s done something. He’s done something so outrageously wrong that he’s fucked up the future worse than it already was.

And he has no fucking clue what he even did .

 

*

 

“There’s going to be a meteor shower tonight,” Quentin says from Todd’s bedroom door. He’s smiling for the first time in days, and his shoulders are slumped inwards like he’s protecting himself from something.

Todd sets down the book Penny brought back from Earth for him, and looks up at him. It’s been a few days since Quentin’s even left his room. But he looks freshly showered, hair only barely damp, and he’s not as pale as he has been the last few days. “Cool,” Todd says, sitting up straighter as Quentin carefully makes his way into the room. Apparently this is a ‘pretend nothings been wrong’ kind of day, then. “Are you and Dad going to go see it?”

Quentin shakes his head, stopping at the edge of the bed and reaching out to pick a piece of lint off the blanket. “No,” He murmurs, soft. He stares down at the lint for a moment, before glancing up at Todd. “I was thinking you and I could go. We haven’t spent much time together lately.” Todd raises his eyebrows as Quentin looks back down at the lint, rolling it in between his index finger and thumb. “Of course if you’d rather not, that’s fine, as well. I just thought—“

“That’d be cool,” Todd interrupts. Quentin’s gaze darts back up to him. He thinks maybe Quentin’s trying to play it cool, but he looks all kinds of hopeful, and he’s never had much of a poker face. But, Todd’s not so much of an asshole as to point it out. Instead, he mimics Eliot’s best play-it-cool look and says, “The last one was before I was born, right?”

He nods. “A few weeks before you were due, yeah.” He takes a step closer, smiling softly. “I’ve never seen Margo so excited for something.”

“Really?”

“She once mentioned she’d met with a psychic,” He rolls his eyes, but it doesn’t seem like he thinks of it as much of a joke as he’s pretending, “They said the apex of her life would be met with the sky falling around in her in burning fire.”

Todd balks. “What?”

Quentin nods again, chuckling as he looks behind Todd out the window. “She threatened to kill the psychic, if I recall correctly,” He clears his throat and looks back down, “But then she got pregnant, and the meteor shower—she kind of figured it wasn’t as shitty an omen as it sounded. Maybe meant nobody had to die for her to be happy for once.” He shrugs a shoulder, and twists the lint around between his fingers. “She was right. You were born, and Fillory continued to prosper under her rule.”

Neither of them mention that someone did die.

“I’d like to see it, then,” Todd says. “When does it start?”

“In a couple hours,” Quentin says, relieved smile starting to form, “But it’s easier to see a few miles out. Think you’re up for a carriage ride to the country?”

Todd’s mouth falls open as he straightens his shoulders out. “Outside the castle walls?”

“Outside the castle. Outside the village. No responsibility, or people to impress. Just you and me.”

He throws the book aside and moves to stand up, shuffling his shoes on as Quentin laughs, open and unabashedly. “Dad,” He says, breathless, with one shoe haphazardly hanging off his foot, while he hops around on one foot, “I have never been so happy to hear the sky is falling around us.”

Quentin nods, reaching forward to help steady him before he falls, “Me neither, kid,” He says, smile in his voice as Todd finally gets the shoe on and stands up straight to grin. “How do you feel about getting a pie from the village we visited last month?”

“Peach pie?”

“Is there any other kind?”

Todd blinks up at him. It’s jarring, how quickly he can bounce back from his episodes, but he’s buzzing. “What are we still doing here?” Todd asks, nodding towards the door, “Don’t we have a pie to eat?”

Quentin nods, grinning. “You go pick out which horses you want to pull the carriage, and I’m going to go let Eliot and everyone know where we’ll be.” He wrinkles his nose, reaching up to ruffle Todd’s hair. “The last thing we need is people thinking we’ve gone missing.”

 

*

 

When Eliot reappears, Todd’s standing in the kitchen, watching them all work through what they’re supposed to be doing. He doubts they even know he’s there. It doesn’t stop him from nearly stepping through the doorway, though, and looking after Eliot expectantly; waiting for Margo to follow after him. The doors shut, but that doesn’t mean she’s not right behind him.

Except it does, because Quentin’s rushing across the room and they’re embracing each other like lost lovers, and nobody seems to care what’s happening on the other side of the door.

It takes him a moment, once the disappointment fades, to see the two women standing behind Eliot. He recognizes them instantly, and a warm familiarity flushes through his chest, and he finds himself making his way into the living room. He catches himself in time to make a beeline for the bar, pretending not to notice any of them.

Aunt Fen and Fray. Fray who is his sister, but not really. He glances up at them out of his peripheral, swallowing down the need to rush them with a hug, with a biting shot of tequila. He looks down at the shot glass as he sets it back down and clenches his jaw.

He’s surrounded by his family. And none of them give a single damn that he’s standing there.

He grabs the bottle of tequila and pours himself another shot.

“Todd.”

He looks up, blinking, with the glass halfway to his lips, to see Dean Fogg staring at him expectantly. “Yeah?”

“Don’t you have more important matters to handle?”

Todd meets his gaze defiantly after a long moment, and downs the tequila without breaking eye contact. He slams the glass back down on the bar counter as he swallows it, and storms out of the room, grabbing the bottle on his way.

If Fogg can be a useless drunk, so the fuck can Todd. It’s not like he’s going to make any more progress sober than he is drunk.

Everything’s a lost fucking cause, anyways.

*

 

“Aunt Fen?”

She looks up from the flowers, smiling down at him. “Yes, bunny?”

“How come you call me bunny?”

Her eyes glaze over for a moment, before she swallows and kneels down next to him. She smiles, close-lipped and kind eyed, and runs a hand through his hair. “‘Cause you’re my little bunny,” She says, adjusting so she can sit down next to him. She glances down at the mess of the grass he’s made, but doesn’t appear to be upset.

“Yeah, but, how come?”

She stares down at the grass a little longer, before glancing up at him through her eyelashes. “I suppose you’re old enough to know, now, aren’t you?”

“I’m gonna be ten. I’m old enough for a lot.”

She smiles, teeth showing, but it slowly falls as she nods. “Alright, then,” She breathes, picking at the grass near the mess he’s made. “A long time ago, your dad and I were husband and wife—“

“Really?”

She chuckles, nodding, “Things were really crazy for a long time.”

“Dad likes girls?”

She looks up at him again, shaking her head, and pointing at him, “You’re so smart, bunny,” She laughs, “No, he doesn’t. Not always. Not often. But . . . He made sacrifices for his friends, his family. He married me to protect the people he cares about, even if it didn’t make him happy.” She shrugs and turns her attention back down on the grass, “I didn’t think about how it affected him. We both made a lot of mistakes.”

“I’m sorry.”

She shakes her head, moving so she can grab his hand, “Don’t be,” She says, eyes locked on the grass beside their hands. “I . . . Had a baby.”

“You do?”

She squeezes his hand so tight it almost hurts. “Not anymore,” She murmurs. “Not for a long time, now.”

“What happened?”

She sniffs, finally turning to look at him again. “Do you remember Frey?”

“Yeah! She’s married to the bear!”

She laughs, nodding, as she reaches up to roll one of his curls between her fingers. “She did, yes. For a little while, I thought she was my baby. But . . . my baby.” She pauses, eyebrows furrowing like she’s not sure how to explain. Her chin tilts downwards as she bites down on her lower lip. “My baby died, bunny.”

“Like mom?” She nods again. “Oh. I’m sorry aunt Fen.”

She sniffles, shaking her head and letting go of his hand so she can reach up and wipe at her eyes before any tears can fall. “No, don’t be sorry,” She says, “He didn’t suffer. That’s all that matters. But . . . For a while, I kind of lost my mind. Because I thought the fairies took him.”

“The fairies?”

“Remember. They haven’t always been our friends.”

“I know, Aunt Alice is teaching me about the almost war.”

“Good.” She takes a deep breath and sits up straight. “I was so excited to be a mother. And then, I wasn’t. I even imprinted on a log.”

“A log?”

She nods, wide eyed. “A log.”

“Whoa.”

She chuckles, “I know. But then . . . there were messenger bunnies. They were the right size. And they were soft, and comforting, and I could hold them. And they felt like babies.” She quirks an eyebrow, “I got better,” she reaches up to poke him on the nose, “but then you were born. And you were the size of a bunny, with a whole head of hair. And every time I held you, it was like I was holding my bunny.”

“Like I was your baby?”

“It’s a little different, but yes.”

He stares at her for a long moment, before letting go of her hand and moving to climb onto her lap. He wraps his arms around her, hands clasping together around her back. “It’s okay, Aunt Fen,” He says, as her arms come up to hug him back. “I’ll be your bunny forever. Even when I get taller than you.”

He expects her to laugh, but she tightens her hold on him and nods. “Of course you will,” She breathes, pulling away just enough to look at him. “And you’ll never get taller than me, mister. I forbid it.”

He blinks. But then they both start laughing as she pulls him back into the hug.

“I love you, Aunt Fen.”

She doesn’t say anything for a beat. But then she’s cupping the back of his head and nodding. “I love you, too, Bunny.”


*


He’s starting to get emotional whiplash with the amount of dead, not-dead. Hi universe, he thinks, staring defiantly at the stupid truth key and the singing fish, if people could stop dying and then undying that’d be great.

In fact, if everyone could just stay alive, that’d be even better.

“What’re you doing?”

Todd, whips his head around, blinking slowly as he tries to focus on who’s talking to him. He may be too drunk, at this point, because his vision isn’t clearing up, and he thinks he might fall. Or has he already fallen? Does it matter?

He shrugs, unsure of if the motion even follows the command his brain sends, and turns back to the fish; to the key hanging above it.

He wonders if touching the key could be the clue to solving his own mystery.

“Come on,” Someone says from beside him, wrapping a hand around his bicep and carefully leading him towards the couch. He stares blearily after the fish and the key, until they turn a corner and it disappears entirely from sight. “Are you okay? I mean, usually,” The person pauses, groaning as they help heave Todd onto the couch, “I’m all for a little letting loose sometimes, especially considering everything. But you’re captain positivity. This is weird.”

He stares up at them as they lean over him.

Long, dark hair cascades in rivers around them, and he smiles lazily, reaching up to tug at the ends lightly. “Magic,” He says, listlessly.

She tilts her head. “Todd?”

His smile falls, “Fuck magic,” He says instead, the words slurring into the air, and ruffling her hair. “Magic is stupid,” He narrows his eyes, smacking his lips together, and trying to force himself up. The person leans in closer, and he can finally see that its Julia. “What—what’s the point if it—if it can’t—can’t solve,” He pauses, furrowing his eyebrows as the words disappear. “Oops.”

She tilts her head. “I have no idea what you’re saying.”

“Me neither,” He says after a moment, letting himself fall sideways on the couch, crushing his arm beneath his torso.

“Shit—“

“‘M okay,” He says, holding up his free hand, making a lazy fist in the air, “Always okay. Dunno why I’m always o—okay.” She sets her hands on his shoulder and his hip gently, and the world goes fuzzy, and he’s so tired. He closes his eyes, as his hand falls and lands on his hip. “‘M tired.”

“Sleep, Todd.”

“ . . . ‘Kay.”


*


“You want me to what.” He doesn’t even ask it as a question, because this is clearly a prank. It has to be. Because Eliot, despite everything, would never in a million years ask Todd to look after his wife and daughter. Even if in the future neither of them are either of those things. Or they are and they aren’t, all at once.

Maybe it’s not even Eliot. There is a history of possession in his family.

“Just—keep them distracted. Show them the city or something, I don’t care. I just need them not here right now.”

“ . . . You want. Me. To do that? Me ? You hate me.”

“I don’t . . . hate you.”

“You don’t like me.”

“I don’t not like you.”

Todd blinks. And then shrugs. “Okay.”

Eliot looks taken aback for all of five seconds before he’s straightening his shoulders out and nodding. “Okay. Good.”

Todd nods, turns on his heel and grins wide for Fen and Fray, because like hell he’s going to let them have a bad time. They’re clearly dealing with enough shit on their own right now. Even if Fray is a lying liar, and tricking Todd’s favorite aunt. And his father. But Eliot’s kind of a dick to Fen, and Todd doesn’t find that he minds Fray lying to him too much

Okay, that’s not true.

But, he can pretend for a little while if he damn well likes.

Which, for once, he kind of does.


*

 

Fen runs ahead of him, ecstatic and wild, “Eliot!” She screams, rushing around the corner, grinning.

Todd takes a deep breath, picking up his pace to follow after her. “Hey guys!”

She heads straight for Eliot, Fray right behind her, and he takes a step back, let’s them have their family moment. In the past few days it’s become clear that he’s not family. It’s been clear since the beginning. But this is Eliot’s actually family in the here and now. “We had the most wonderful adventure,” Fen says. Todd grins, nodding. Margo looks at him from Eliot’s side, and the smile falls a little as he looks down and adjusts the liberty crown atop his head. “We went to the square of time, where no one sleeps. And it’s always light!”

Todd nods, grinning, but then, Fray, says, “A man urinated next to me.”

And, okay, that’s true, but it’s not Todd’s fault. His not sister is terrible at following directions, even when he explicitly said the alley’s were off limits to otherworldly not-fairies. He’d learned the lesson not long after coming to the past, in an almost identical mistake. But, nobody listens to him anyways. Why should the lying not-daughter of his future father?

Eliot glances at him, and he takes a deep breath. Time to prepare for more ‘why are you such an annoying failure’ speech from him, it is, then.

God. Why can’t he do anything right?

Was he this much of a mess before he came to the past?

It doesn’t matter. He keeps smiling. Keep it all in. That’s his new motto. Drink it out when everyone’s gone, and then keep it all in when they’re all staring at him like he’s not supposed to be here. He’s done staying away. He’s done with that not-battle. He just wants to go home. And this is as close to home as he’s going to get.

Even if he’s the outsider.

“Then we saw bards performing on your famous Broad Way.”

At least they had fun doing one thing.

“You call it "Cats," but it's just humans in cat greasepaint.” Honestly, Fray in the future complains a lot. But nowhere near as much as Fray when she’s lying about who she is. And in the future, Todd’s the kid, and she doesn’t get to complain when she visits.

“And we tried a delicacy called pizza at an eatery that was ‘Family Style.’” Which really just meant it was a dimly lit, pizzeria in time square with a pool table in the back room, and peeling wallpaper and that charged six dollars for a slice of pizza.

Remind him to borrow some more money from Fogg.

“Well,” Eliot starts, “I am so glad that you two had some bonding time,” He continues on a bit quicker, “Hi, Todd.”

Todd’s head jerks up. “Hi dad— Eliot .” He swallows as Eliot’s eyebrows furrow, and repeats the name quieter this time, looking down and avoiding all eye contact with anyone else. Idiot. Idiot. Idiot.

Fucking idiot .

“Uh,” Eliot jerks his attention to his daughter, “Fray, did you enjoy anything at all? Earth? Or the . . . Square of Time ? I do want you to like things, you know.” Which is a message a whole lot different than he had the last time Todd saw Eliot interact with Fray.

Which means . . . which means they’ve gone through the clock already.

God, he misses all the cool shit in the past and gets stuck with all the terrible, nightmare fueled awful things.

He completely missed Quentin realizing he’s in love with Eliot.

“I can tell you want to be a good father. It's sort of sweet. I think I might grow to despise you less. With time.” Todd looks up, then. Is this really how she treated him? She’s the one lying about who she is. And, okay, it’s all part of her deal with the fairy queen—a particular person he’s not certain he wants to meet at any point in time, ever—but, she doesn’t have to jam the knife so far in Eliot’s chest.

But he’s not really one to talk. Considering how far in Quentin’s back he shoved a similar knife, right before leaving him to die.

Fen laughs, gleeful, like Fray’s said something beautiful and amazing. And Todd thinks, yeah. Fen’s in a terrible place right now.

Eliot takes a deep breath. “Yeah. Let’s go with that.”

Which is when Margo finally speaks. “Not to interrupt this hallmark moment, but Todd,” He looks up at her, “You got a sec?”

His eyes go wide, as he nods silently. “Y-yeah.”

Please don't tell him she’s told everyone everything. Please don’t tell him she’s told everyone everything. Please—


“Wait,” He says, squatting down to look in the study nook with feigned shock, “fairies are real ?” He’s sure the tone he uses gives away that he knows the truth, but she doesn’t call him out.

He may have told her a whole lot more than he should have, but like.

She doesn’t need to know what happens with the fairies. He has lines.

Especially when his life is a constant ‘oh shit she’s going to tell them’ battle. The last thing he needs to do is reveal the whole entire future and ruin everything. Even though he’s probably fucked up a considerable amount of it already. Everything feels like a cycle of ‘tell, no don’t tell’ and ‘fake it til you make it’. If he ever gets back to the future, and it’s all miraculously fixed, he’s never going to lie or pretend anything ever again.

He looks around the room, with a big, goofy grin on his face. “I thought . . . Fray was just nuts.”

Because, unlike Todd, Fray can’t keep a secret.

. . . Okay. He can keep secrets better than she can, at the very least. They both blab. But she blabs it all. He’s a selective blabber, thank you very much.

“I mean,” Margo says, rolling her singular eye, “she is , but yeah, they're real and they're raging dicks, so I'm gonna need you to keep an eye on these.”

God, he feels so much love for his mother, even when she’s kind of scary, that his heart might burst right out of his chest. Scary Margo is the best Margo, he thinks.

“Is someone going to come looking for your weird eggs?” He asks. He knows what they are. In the future there are dozens of laws protecting Fairy eggs. Even places spelled specifically for the perfect conditions for them to hatch.

“Just make sure Fray doesn't see 'em, and if you don't hear from me by tomorrow night,” She closes the door and smirks up at him, which is a clear indicator of danger, “I’ve got another job for you.”


*

 

“Majesty and Prince, welcome to the isles.”

Todd smiles, all proper respect and kindness as Eliot shakes the mans hand. “Thank you for having us, Alrec,” Eliot says. “We truly appreciate the opportunity to make peace with the isles.”

Alrec nods, eyes closing for a moment as he lets go. “It is our honor to welcome you,” He says, smiling. His smile isn’t as fake as Todd’s feels, but it doesn’t seem entirely genuine. The man nods at Todd politely, but clearly has no intention of paying him anymore mind, as he steers Eliot away. Eliot glances back at him, nodding. It’s a quiet, barely there action, but it speaks volumes. Todd nods back, taking a deep breath and squaring his shoulders. Make the rounds, Eliot’s look said, get to know the people as their future king.

His gaze slides across the woods, until he spots a woman carrying two buckets of water across the the horizon. She has long blond hair, and seems to have no difficulty with the water, even as it sloshes over the sides of the bucket and wets her shoes.

Something draws him towards her, a slow smile spreading over his face; less regal and more boyish as he says, “Hi!” and she looks up at him, a confused lilt of a smile on her lips as she narrows her eyes to see him past the sun. “Need some help?”


*

“Oh, shit.” Todd stops. Frays standing in front of an open study nook, furious sneer on her lips. But all he can think is, “Margo’s gonna kill me.” And, oh, he voiced that aloud, didn’t he?

“You knew about this?”

“I thought I made it very clear not to look in the cubbyhole!” Just like he made it very clear not to walk into the alleyway. Damn it, Fray.

Damn it, Todd. He’s got one person in the world who cares about him right now, and he’s somehow managed to fuck that up. Just like he fucks up everything else in the world.

“You were. That’s why I looked.”

Disobedient, insolent, fucking child .

Okay—yikes. That sounded bizarrely like Eliot did that time Todd almost started a war. Scary Margo is fun—unless it’s directed at Todd. Scary Eliot is not . No matter who it’s pointed at. Mirroring scary Eliot is frightening. Even if it is just a thought .

“Fray?” Fuck! He throws a small temper tantrum, arms flailing as he turns away and Fen approaches. Fuck, fuck, fuck ! “What are those?”

“Fairy eggs.” Fairy eggs. “That Father and Margo took.”

Fen sounds remarkably calm when she responds. “You don't know that.”

“Just when I was starting to think humans aren't all bad, they steal babies?” Okay, that’s technically fair, but there are reasons.

“The Fairy Queen stole you from us.”

“No, you bargained me away.”

The calm seems to evaporate at the air in the cottage grows three degrees colder. “I did no such thing.”

“It was a fair deal.” Fray argues, “This is kidnapping.” She squares her shoulders. “Unlike you, we have honor.”

. . . Is the lying McLieFace seriously trying to claim she has honor?

“You're not a fairy, Fray.” Fen takes a step closer to her, and this is more like the Aunt Fen Todd knows than he’s seen in all the time they’ve spent together so far. “Do you honestly believe the Queen will ever see you as anything but a human? Because she won’t.”

“That's not true.”

Todd steps forward, because this is ridiculous. He’s a fuck up, but he’s not an idiots and somebody has talk sense into her. He’s already fucked up the future as it is, what more could this do? “Um, didn't you say she named you Frail Human? That's pretty cold.” Not as cold as having you pretend to be someones missing child, but, he’s not got a lot of standing ground here.

“Humans are complicated. Sometimes good people can make bad decisions.”

“Yeah,” Todd nods,  “like, I once donated a kidney to this girl I really liked. Only, it turned out she didn't actually need it for a transplant—” Thank god for magic, and thank god his parents found out, and he didn’t manage to get his entire bloodline cursed.

“—No matter what you think,” Fen interrupts, “I know who you truly are. My daughter, and Eliot's. And you just need to trust he did this for a very good reason. Family is about loyalty, my love.” She’s said this very thing to Todd once or twice. Every time Eliot got caught up in being king over being Todd’s father. Every time he contemplated running away in his youth. Or when he did run away, and returned to find her sitting in his bed. It’s a great speech, that she’s perfected over the years.

Too bad, right now, Frey is neither family nor loyal. And Todd’s too shit at even existing to be good at either thing.

Maybe he and Frey are lot more alike than he’d like to admit.

*


Todd taps on Eliot shoulder, once, twice, three times, illuminated only be the moon shining down on them. It takes one more poke, before Eliot’s blindly swatting at the air with a soft groan. “Nnhh. . .”

Todd taps his shoulder again, rougher, “Dad,” He whispers, voice choked off as he wipes at his runny nose with his free hand. “Dad! Wake up!”

Eliot’s eyes snap open, then, probably hearing the terror in Todd’s voice, and he sits up, panickedly turning to face him. His hands come up to cup either side of his face, twisting and turning him in every which direction. “What—“ He stops, seeing no immediate trauma, eyes searching Todd’s, “What’s going on? Are you okay?”

There’s a howl in the distance, the sound seeming to come from just off the castle grounds, and Todd whimpers, rushing forward and wrapping his small arms around Eliot’s knees. He buries his face in Eliot’s legs, entire body shaking as the howl echoes through the night. “Scary,” He mumbles, the words barely recognizable, muffled in Eliot’s sleep pants.

Eliot’s breath hitches, as his hands slide down to rub at Todd’s back gently. “Shh,” he breathes, as Todd sobs into his lap. Something warm seeps into his pant legs. “Come on,” He murmurs, leaning over and tucking his hands in Todd’s armpits and pulling him up and into his lap. Todd curls up, pressing his head into Eliot’s chest. “You’re okay, button.”

Todd shakes his head, the sobs deep enough to wrack his entire body.

It’s enough that Quentin is suddenly leaning over sleepily, running a hand over Eliot’s shoulder, “What’s going on?” He asks, voice sleep rough.

“Wolves,” Eliot says, moving so he can lie down with Todd between the both of them. “Howling.” Quentin looks up at him, then down at Todd. Todd opens his eyes, reaching up to wipe at his eyes with his fists. He’s still crying, but it’s calming down as quentin scoots in closer. “You know what we have to do, Q.”

Quentin stares down at him for a long moment, before adjusting his weight onto his side so he can reach down and wipe at the tears sliding down Todd’s cheeks. His jaw clenches as he nods. “Yeah,” He breathes, gazing down at him. “You’re gonna sleep in here tonight, okay?”

Todd nods, face red and puffy as he reaches out for Quentin.

Quentin pulls him in closer, holding him to his chest. He looks over him at Eliot and nods again. “We’ll do it in the morning.”

“Kady won’t like it.”

Quentin scoffs, stroking his hand through Todd’s hair. “I don’t give a fuck,” He mutters. “I’m not letting him live life fucking petrified of something that we can fix.”


*


Okay. There are . . . a lot of experience in his life he wishes weren’t real.

But a demon kidnapping him?

Closer to the top than most things. And that’s including his experimentation with the talking porcupine when he was sixteen. Especially when it locks him in a closet with a gag and a silly straw leading to a magically refilling cup of water and no way to deal with all the water he’s drinking.

What the fuck even is the past?


*

 

It takes them longer than he’d like to admit to find him. But when they do, they let him sit in on their conversation. And he gets a little drunk. Just a little. He’s tipsy, at most. What can he say? His life sucks, and Dean Fogg is a terrible role model, and he hasn’t worked on his own quest in weeks. And despite maybe, possibly, being a bit of an alcoholic, he’s got a brilliant idea.

He walks, stumbles, really, over to the table, looking over the keys. He thinks he knows which one is the truth key. If he just picks it up and has a quick look around, he’ll know who the killer is, and he can go home and save his family, and everything’ll be just fine. His fingers graze clumsily along the edge of the dining room table. Which number was it? Two? Three? Definitely not five. He tilts his head down at the keys and the numbers carefully attached to each of them.

Okay, he might be a little more than tipsy.

But he knows exactly which key it is. He tilts his head the opposite way and purposefully, pointedly reaches for the key.

“Todd!” Margo exclaims, “No!”

But it’s too late, because his fingers have already wrapped around the key, and just as the final syllable bursts from his mothers lips, and he looks up at her, a figure appears behind her. He knows himself pretty well. Has seen his reflection in the rivers in Fillory and the mirrors here on Earth a fair amount of times.

He knows his reflection.

He blinks once, swallowing as his gaze flickers between his reflection and Margo. “I—“

“Give me the key, Todd.”

The others seem to have realized somethings happening, because they’re all turning to look at them, wide eyed. “Margo, stop—“ Quentin starts, taking a step closer to her, “It’s the depression key—“ And, oh. That’s good to know. Great. Just another thing he’s managed to fuck up.

Jesus, he can’t even get numbers right anymore.

“You don’t think I fucking know that?” Margo hisses, shooting him a glare before turning her attention back to Todd. “Give it to me,” She demands, holding her hand out to him.

Instinctively, he pulls his hand back until it’s pressed to his chest. Behind her, his reflection tilts its head.

Go ahead, Todd ,” it says, “ Give your mother the key. Make her suffer before you let her die in the future .”

“I—“

“It’s just Todd,” Kady says, “He’ll be fine.”

“No he won’t !” Margo turns back to her, simmering with anger, to shoot her a glare before whipping back around and moving in closer to Todd. “Give me the fucking key, Todd.”

What’s it like, Todd? Being here, around them. Looking them in the eye and knowing exactly how they die? Knowing the harm you cause by not saving them. By abandoning them .”

Something thick forms in his throat and for every step closer Margo and his reflection get, he takes one step back. “I—I can—“

“Margo, Todd’s never been depressed in his life, I think he can handle—“

“Fuck off,” She growls without turning to them this time, taking two insistent steps closer to him, “Give me the god damned key, Todd. Or I will make you give it to me. Don’t think I fucking won’t.”

Julia steps up, then. “Margo, you shouldn’t—we can figure it out after we solve the quest. Todd will be fine—“

“I’m not letting him live with that fucking monster in his head!” She screeches, looking back at them, “You don’t know what the fuck he’s had to live with. He won’t survive it. He’s barely fucking hanging on as it is.” She twists her neck back around to Todd, “Give me the key. If you don’t you won’t be able to do what you came here to do.”

You won’t do what you came to do anyways, Todd. Think about it. How often have you disappointed your family ? How many more times can you fail them?

“Bambi, why—“

“— Don’t you think about how Jane put her faith in the wrong person? Maybe she should have left you to die when you showed up. At least you’d have only fucked up the future, then. But, no. You had to let her send you here. Can you even count how many times you’ve fucked up? No? Then why don’t you tell them. Tell them the truth, Todd. Tell them they’re dead. And it’s your fault.

“I didn’t mean for it to happen,” Todd whimpers. He backs into the wall and slides down it, feeling the familiar weight of the future pressing down on his chest.

Tell them all about how you were more focused on yourself, than you were on being there for them when they needed you .”

God, he could have stopped it if he hadn’t been so stuck on himself. He could have seen them approaching on the land—could have seen them, should have seen them, planning this all along. The threats. The warnings.

Margo whips back around, and screams at them. “—because he’s my son !” It takes a moment for the words to register, but when they do, her mouth falls open as all of them stop moving in on her and come to a stop.

Todd’s reflection keeps moving, though, until it’s mere inches from Todd’s chest. It tilts it’s head, and looks over it’s shoulder as his family while they all stare at Margo in confusion. Her gaze is locked on him, chest heaving and mouth set in a straight line as she closes it.

Now you’ve done it, ” The reflection says, “ Now they know who you are. How could you be so stupid ?”

“Uh,” Eliot says, taking a hesitant step forward, “Bambi, I think you’re a little confused—“

“Oh fuck off, Eliot,” She growls, seeming to remember herself as she turns her frantic attention back on Todd. “Give me the key. Please , Todd.”

He looks from her to the others. They’re all flickering their gazes back and forth between him and Margo. His attention slowly slides back to his reflection, kneeling down in front of him. “ Think this’ll ruin everything ?” It asks, “ Did you just seal their fates ?”

“I—I don’t—I—“

She drops to her knees in front of him. “I am telling you to give me the fucking key.”

“I c—I can’t—“

Sure you can, ” The reflection whispers, suddenly beside him, and hissing into his ear, “ She dies a painful death. And then everyone she loves dies a few years later. Let her suffer a little more. You know you want someone else to suffer for once. You’re selfish, Todd. No use in pretending otherwise .”

“Oh for—“ Julia stomps through them all, sidestepping Margo and holding her hand out for him. “Give me the key, Todd. You don’t want to give it to Margo, that’s fine. I don’t care. Give it to me.”

Like hell. He has a pretty clear idea of everything she’s been through, and everything he’s dealt with is nothing on it.

He holds it tighter to his chest.

And she—

She leans down and grabs his wrists, yanking them away from his body and tries to pry the key from his hands.

Let go, Todd. Let go of the key. Let go of everything. You’re not going to save them. You can’t .”

He doesn’t mean to let go. But his hands are clammy, and her grip is sure and sober. One second he’s fighting to keep the key in his hand, tugging his hands back to himself, and the next he’s grasping at thin air and Julia is disappearing out of the room.

Kady trails after her, “Let us know what the fuck is going on,” She says before disappearing through the doorway with Julia.

The reflection smirks triumphantly at him as it slowly fades away, and Margo clambers through it until she’s grabbing onto his wrists and looking him in the eyes. “Are you okay?” She asks, wide eyed. “What are you thinking? Don’t even think you’re about to do anything idiotic, Todd.”

“I’m fine,” He mutters, pulling his hands out of hers and looking down at the ground between them. “I’m always fucking fine.”

Why can’t he just be the one to deal with the pain for once?

Why’s it everyone he cares about?

Why does he always leave it to them to suffer through his stupid fucking idiotic actions?

“Uh,” Quentin says, raising a hand and pulling Todds attention back to him. “Can someone explain the whole ‘he’s my son’ thing? Because, as far as I’m aware, Eliot and I are the only ones who had a crazy alternate timeline life. And Todd’s been here since I started going here . . .”

Margo scoffs, adjusting to stand up and crossing her arms. “You seriously think I can have a son—“

“Bambi, come on,” Eliot says, “The only person other than, me,” He says it like it’s obvious, “That you’d maybe freak out over having the key is Q. And . . . I’ve never seen you . . . So. Adamant—“

“I’m always adamant. In everything.”

“But not like that,” Alice offers. “I mean—“ She stops, shaking her head. “Since they’re clearly not going to tell us the truth,” She stans up straight and makes her way across the room. She looks at Margo pointedly once more, before shrugging a shoulder, “If you’re telling the truth, you won’t mind if I just,” She lifts up a key by the number tag and blinks innocently; knowingly. “Use this.”

Margo’s jaw clenches. “Don’t be fucking stupid—“

Alice uses her free hand to grab the key by it’s base. She doesn’t do anything for a few long moments, but watch the two of them.

And then she drops the key like she’s been burned and takes three steps back.

“What—“

“Holy shit.” She holds a hand over her stomach, and looks at Quentin. “Pick it up,” She says, nodding towards the key. “Pick it up right now.”

Quentin raises his eyebrows. “Uh,” He looks down at the key and then back up at Alice. “Not for nothing—“

“Stop being a little bitch and pick up the key, Q.”

He blinks, taken aback, before sighing and kneeling down to pick it up. His hand hovers over it for a long moment, before he glances up at Eliot. “If I freak out, just, like. Knock me out, or something. Okay?” Eliot nods, though he looks less like he wants Quentin to do this than Quentin does. But Quentin’s fingers finally wrap around the handle of the key, and he looks up through his hair and eyelashes at Todd and Margo.

His mouth falls open. And he drops the key even faster than Alice had. But, he doesn’t move. He stays there, staring at them.

“You’re not from here,” He says, after a few long minutes of silence. “You’re Fillorian.”

Alice nods. “You missed the best part,” She adds.

“You’re from the future?”

Margo’s hands drop to her sides, and she heaves in a deep breath before turning to Todd. “Well, there’s that.”

He shakes his head up at her. “I don’t—“ He shuffles to his feet frantically shaking his head and his hands at them. “You guys—you’re. You’re confused.” He can’t do this. He can’t have them know who he is. Not them. Not now. No. “I’m—I’m Todd . Your classmate that annoys you. I’m not . . .” He trails off, mouth falling open as Eliot makes his way across the room and plucks the key up from the floor with the kind of grace only a natural born king can possess.

And he looks at Todd. But, unlike Quentin and Alice—he doesn’t drop the key. His eyebrows furrow and he moves in, slack jawed and wide eyed as he approaches Todd.

Fuck. Fuck, fuck, Fuck.

It’s starting to feel like that’s the only word he knows anymore.

Fuck.

He stops beside Margo and blindly hands her the key. He keeps his gaze locked on Todd. “Start talking,” He says. His jaw clenches, and Todd’s will fucking evaporates with them all watching him.

He falls into the chair nearest him and cups his forehead in his hands, his elbows resting on his knees as he digs his palms into his eyes.

And then . . .

He starts talking.




Chapter Text

“You guys are, uh,” Pausing, Todd closes his eyes to give himself a moment to level out. “You’re my family.” He opens his eyes and looks down at his lap. Somehow saying it out loud still doesn’t release the pressure building on his shoulders.

“What?”

He’s not even sure who asks it. He just sits, staring down at his knees, unable to focus on anything but the slight tremble in his voice and the words he’s speaking. “I... can’t go into detail. Because it’d risk the future—“ he pauses. It’d risk them . He’s already risked too much. He heaves in a deep breath and continues,“Just. Something terrible happens, and I have to stop it.”

“What happens?”

“Why you?”

“When?”

They’re all speaking at once and he’s pretty sure the walls in the room are closing in around him. But he shakes his head, clenching his fists in his lap. “I can’t . . . I can’t tell you what it is. I just have to find a way to save you. I thought I fucked everything up somehow by telling Margo as much as I have when Penny died—“

“Wait—does that mean Penny’s alive?”

That makes him pause again. He hadn’t even realized Kady had come back into the room.

He wonders if the Kady he grew up with is the same one that feels as much anguish as he knows she has now. Or if it’s all new, and just more he can add to his list of ‘how I fucked up everyone’s lives’.

He nods after a long moment. “In my future. Yes. I mean. I—I haven’t gone back since I got here.” He furrows his brow, glancing up at them all, “I’m not even sure how—how to get back if I figure everything out. But. Yeah. He’s—he’s alive.”

She takes a wary step towards him, and part of him worries she’s actually going to hurt him. “If he’s alive,” her tone doesn’t make him worry any less, “Why the fuck are you trying to change things?”

He blinks.

Kady may be the most dangerous person he’s ever known—past and future—and he may be genuinely fearful of her physically harming him. And he may be shaking like a chihuahua, but. He feels himself rising from the chair, hands still clenched into fists so tight it hurts, and facing her head on. “Because,” he says, voice still a desperate tremble, “he’s going to die anyways if I don’t. All of you are . I can’t—“ he shakes his head, rolling his shoulders and turning his attention on his fathers. “I can’t let that happen.” He wonders of the desperation in his voice is as blatant as it feels, as he turns his gaze back to Kady. “Jane—Jane said it wasn’t supposed to happen.”

Quentin steps forward. “Jane? As in Chatwin ?”

Todd moves to sit back down, nodding. “Yeah.”

“No...” Eliot says, “Janes dead.” There’s an odd lilt to his voice but Todd can’t bring himself to look at him again.

He shrugs a shoulder instead. “I mean . . . Yeah. But not really. Margo knows that.”

“The time bubble,” She says, like it’s the most obvious thing of all.

“Oh.”

“Am I the only one worried this is another ‘oh I’m your kid—sike’? Like. That literally just happened—“

“Let’s not talk poorly about Fray right now,” Eliot interrupts. “Let’s...” he trails off, and for a long moment nobody says anything. “Alice,” he finally says, “how can we prove he’s telling the truth?”

“Why prove it?”

Todd’s head snaps up as Julia enters the room. She . . . looks fine. Not at all like there’s a depression monster looming nearby.

“Jules? What—“

“The key doesn’t work on me.”

“But the other one—“

“My Magic’s stronger now.” She smiles softly at Quentin, gently squeezing his forearm, before turning her attention on Todd. “Why do we need to prove he’s telling the truth?”

“Because he’s a fucking stalker,” Kady hisses. “And if he’s lying I’m going to make him wish he were dead.”

Todd blinks. Does she really not realize?

“Kady,” Julia murmurs, turning her gaze on him, “If he’s telling the truth, he comes from a future where Penny’s alive. Which means Magic’s alive. Right, Todd?”

He blinks up at her again. She’s right, but he can’t seem to find his voice to reply to her. She’s made up of parts of his aunt and the past. But there’s something so much deeper to her now. Probably has something to do with the fact that she’s a goddess.

He wonders if this is all what makes her the woman who raised him.

“He’s telling the truth,” Margo says, “He told me when he had no choice.”

“What does that even mean?”

“It means I used a genie and literally made him tell me the truth because he was being a suspicious little fuck.” She stops, turning to him, “Sorry.”

“It’s fine. I was.”

“A genie—“ Eliot breaks off, making a choked off sound of disbelief, “You’ve known since—“

“Look,” She interrupts with a glare, “When he cries it’s really hard not to listen to him. It’s like when Q cries.” She waves a hand and glances back at Todd, “Probably got that from him, didn’t you?”

Quentin’s the one to choke this time. “What—what does that mean?”

“Are you—“

“Is Quentin—“

Alice starts laughing; the sound slightly manic. She shakes her head and giggles out a quick, “Oh my god,” before turning and heading for the bar.

“Okay,” Kady says, “You two are going to need to explain this shit a whole lot better than you have been.”

Eliot sighs, “I need a drink,” and turns around, following after Alice. He reaches up lazily and grabs a bottle of scotch off the countertop, unscrews it, and downs three large gulps. Then he holds it out in front of him, motioning for someone else to take it. “Any takers?”

*

Eliot lets his hand extend over the side of the couch, eyeing Todd carefully where he sits in the jean chair across the room, knees pulled up to his chest. The ice in Eliot’s glass clinks quietly. “Let me get this straight,” He says, deadpan, “In this possibly not even real future you come from--”

“It is real.”

“Right, yeah,” He waves his hand, “Absolutely. In the future. Quentin’s your dad, Margo’s your mom, and we’re all one big happy family?” His gaze flits across the room, stopping on each of Todd’s aunts and uncles before sliding back on over to Todd. “Forgive me, but this sounds less realistic than the ‘daughter grew up overnight’ cliche.”

Todd’s eyes fall to his lap and he shrugs. “It’s the truth.”

“Then give us some details,” Eliot says, sitting forward and setting his tumbler on the coffee table. The condensation along the bottom of the glass makes it slide across the tabletop a few inches, before it slows to an unstable stop towards the edge. “Give us something other than nothing .”

Licking his lips, Todd moves his gaze to the corner of the table, where the condensation is going to inevitably start seeping over the ledge. It shouldn’t surprise him that Eliot’s--all of them, really--apprehensive. It’s what makes him a great king in the future. It’s what makes him a good father, even if Todd couldn’t admit it until it was too late. “Margo believes me,” He says, because he’s not sure what else he can say.

He’s almost certain that she’s the only reason they haven’t physically ejected him from the house.

She nods from her place next to him, rubbing his shoulder as she shrugs her own. “He literally couldn’t lie when he told me.”

“That’s great,” Quentin chirps. Todd glances up at him from beneath his eyelashes. He’s sat on the couch, not far from Eliot, his knees pulled up on the couch, and his sleeves pulled over his knuckles, where his hands are tucked in between his legs. “Can we get back to the fact that Margo and I somehow have a kid together?”

Margo rolls her eyes, flipping her hair over his shoulder. “Calm down, Q. Eliot’s little swimmers are responsible.”

Todd’s mouth falls open as he turns to glare at her. “Margo!”

She barely glances down at him. “It’s true.”

“ . . . Then why did he--”

Alice starts laughing again. “Oh my god !”

“What the fuck is your deal?” Kady asks.

“I just--” Alice waves a hand, leaning against the bookcase, and bringing her glass back to her lips, “Forget I said anything.” She waves her hand again, lips curling downward like she’s trying really hard to keep from laughing. “It’s just that I definitely called it.”

And she’s definitely drunk.

Todd’s eyes flit back over to Eliot’s glass longingly. He’d like to also be drunk, please.

“Todd.” He swallows and looks up to where Julia’s standing in the corner of the room, watching him carefully. “If I said there’s a way for us to all forget. Would you tell us everything?”

He blinks.

Would he?

He glances back at Quentin, who looks more lost and confused than he probably knows how to properly handle.  “No,” He says, letting his gaze fall back to the table.

They already hate him. The last thing he needs is them knowing how exactly he fails them in the future. He knows he got them killed. He doesn’t want them knowing he got them killed. They’d kill him before he has the chance to fix everything. Then again, he’s had plenty chance, he’s just a fucking failure who can’t even save his own family.

Maybe he should tell them, and let Kady kill him for letting the two people she loves most die in front of her thirty years from now.

He can practically feel the weighted silence on his chest, pressing down as they all look at him.

“ . . . Alright,” Julia says after a moment. “Then, we’re going to put a pin in this.” He glances back up, eyes widening a fraction as she turns to Fen, “You and I have somewhere to be in twenty minutes, anyways.”

“Uh--no,” Eliot says, shakily pushing himself to his feet, “No. We are not putting a pin in this. What the--”

“He’s from a  future where everything works out,” Julia says, glancing back at him. “We can either risk erasing him entirely and us never learning anything, or we can get on with the quest, and once we bring magic back, make him tell us everything. And then, maybe feel a little guilty afterwards if he is who he says he is.”

Eliot stares at her for a long beat, before narrowing his eyes and turning to point a finger at Todd. “This isn’t over. You--” He lifts his chin in a familiar show of authority, even if it’s less experienced and regal than Todd’s used to, and adds, “You’re grounded.”

“You can’t--”

“Technically he can,” Margo murmurs, “He’s your father.”

For the second time, Todd’s mouth falls open as he turns to look up at her. “Who’s side are you on?”

“Yours.” She smiles, close lipped, and stands up. “I think we all have things we need to do.” She looks down at him. “Todd, stay here.”

Then, one by one they all leave.

Quentin’s last, lingering by the door frame. He opens his mouth like he wants to say something, but closes it again and tucks his hair behind his ear before turning and leaving Todd by himself.

Todd stares after him, heart hammering in his chest. They’ve still got months to go before they fix everything. So many more challenges to face before they finally make the move to Fillory. But he doesn’t doubt they’ll find time to make him talk.

He pulls his knees in closer, wrapping his arms around his legs.


*

He’s hungry. There’s nothing to eat in the cottage. His eyes flick to the front door, and he finds himself standing up and grabbing his keys. He’s just going to go get some food, and he’ll be back before anyone even realizes he’s gone.

*

“You.”

Todd looks up, from his place at the kitchen counter, and drops the bag of chips. He recognizes her from the stories. Skin as white as death, hair . . . even whiter. She's a predator in a world full of prey. His eyes dart left to right as he points at himself. “M—Me?” What the fuck could the fairy queen want with him?

“Yes.” She strides across the kitchen, tilting her head. “You don’t belong here.” And she stops right in front of him, a towering force to be reckoned with. Except . . . she doesn’t look like she wants to murder him. She just looks curious.

He blinks, swallowing. “I don’t know what you’re—“

“You are Fillorian.” She narrows her eyes.

Oh, shit.

“No . . .” He says, “I don’t know . . . what you’re, uhm. Fillorian? I’m Canadian. Which I guess makes me foreign? But nope, definitely not Fillorian. Never been there. Or heard of it. What even is a Fillorian? A way to pay for things?” She takes a step closer to him and he flinches backwards, “Oh god. Please don’t kill me .” Yep. Definitely king material, isn’t he?

She looks unimpressed, which, fair. “I am not going to kill you,” She says, leaning in. “You are of the future.”

Okay, not fair. How the fuck did she even figure that out in one guess? “I . . .”

“How else would you be able to see me?”

He lets his head drop, and his eyes close. Damn it. He’d completely forgotten that only people who have made deals can see the Fairies in the past. They’re just regular citizens in the future. Not hidden. Not relying on deals to survive. Just . . . people doing their own things. And he feels a bit like an idiot for forgetting that it’s so different now, especially with how much his family’s been talking about them. How they can’t see them, or how it’s weird that they can.

Okay, the part that makes him feel stupid is that he doesn’t really think about the fact that he can see them. Because he’s always been able to see them.

She doesn’t wait for him to respond. “Why are you here?”

“I, uh. Like . . . learning about history hands on?”

“What happens in the future? What changes? What deal have you made?”

He swallows. Deal? He’s never made a deal. Except with his aunts and uncles to get candy before bed. But he stopped doing that when he was ten. “I don’t . . . I’ve never made a deal with a fairy.”

Her mouth falls open slightly before she wraps a hand around his bicep and drags him to another room. He kind of just . . . lets her take him, because there’s no way in hell he’s actually going to try and fend her off. And she’s not actually hurting him. Well, her nails are kind of sharp, but he doesn’t think that’s intentional pain. Once the door closes behind them, she turns her attention on him and lets go of his arm.

“Has your family made a deal with the fae?”

“I mean, yes, and no? Like. Once. But all deals were canceled out.”

She stares at him for a long moment, and he starts to think that maybe, oh, shit she’s definitely going to kill him. But then she takes a step back and gives him an appraising look. “I think we can be of assistance to one another,” She says.

“What? How?” How can a fairy queen that’s long dead in the future be any help to him?

“You’re here because something’s happened, are you not?”

“I—“

“Something you wish to prevent.”

He swallows. Fuck, is he really that easy to pin down? “I don’t . . .”

“How long have you been here?”

“I just got back from the store. You literally saw me walk into the kitchen.”

She frowns. “How long have you been in the past.” She doesn’t even phrase it as a question. He has a feeling he’s starting to irritate her.

“Here’s the thing,” He starts, but she raises a hand and shakes her head.

“Don’t bother. Tell me the truth, or I’ll,” She pauses, pretending to look thoughtful for a moment, “Probably just torture it out of you, in all honesty.”

And, okay. That kind of pisses him off.

She thinks she can torture it out of him? Does she have any idea what he’s gone through to get to this point? What he’s lost? If she thinks he’s never been tortured, she’s got another think coming.

For fuck’s sake, ” He says, a little more than exasperated with the past than he’s really willing to let on, and points a finger at her, momentarily forgetting his fear. “Listen here, lady. I don’t care if you’re the queen of the universe , let alone the fairies. I really couldn’t give less of a single flying fuck on any world. I have run out of suspects, I have been cursed out, shut down, and locked out of the house by every single person I love in the past few months. I walked in on the bloody, mangled corpses of my entire royal court, and I was crowned king the next god damned day .” He takes a step closer to her, setting his shoulders. “So if you think you’re going to intimidate me into doing whatever the fuck you want me to,” He pauses, chest heaving, “Come fucking at me.”

He kind of hopes she doesn’t call his bluff, because she could obliterate him without even breaking a sweat.

She opens her mouth to respond but he shakes a finger at her. “Don’t even fucking think about it!” He exclaims, advancing on her, in the hopes that this will somehow prove that he’s in total control here. And, because at this point? His filter’s gone. “Do you have any idea what it’s like to lose everything? To watch everyone you love and care about stripped of themselves? To lose everything because of something out of your control? And to have no fucking way of fixing it? Do you !” He scoffs, “Because I really don’t—“

She waves a hand, effectively cutting him off as his words die in his throat, like a choked off fire. “How very regal,” She says, dully, before moving to sit on the edge of the bed in the center of the room. “How long have you been holding that outburst in?” She doesn’t wait for him to point out that he can’t actually respond before she continues on, holding her hands overtop her knee. “It’s of no consequence. To answer your question, Future King of Fillory, I do know.” She gives a bitter smile and motions for him to sit next to her. He stares at her for a long moment before sighing and taking the seat next to her.

He can’t talk or run, so what other choice does he have?

And the angers kind of faded as fast it appeared.

And he’s kind of worried she’s actually going to slit his throat when she’s done talking.

“We are slaves to humanity. To our deals.” She looks up at the ceiling. “They cut up my people and ground them into dust. Hunt us like wild animals.” Her gaze slowly slides back over to him. “But it appears that is not the same in the future. Your future.” She squares her shoulders, “I will make you a deal.”

He opens his mouth but huffs, pointing at it, until she sighs and waves her hand. He takes a moment to stretch his jaw out before glaring at her and saying, “I don’t make deals with fairies.”

“In the future, no. But you are not in the future.”

“Let me repeat myself,” He says, sitting up straight, just as he’s seen Eliot do time and time again when dealing with a particularly difficult visiting monarch, “I don’t make deals with fairies. It’s immoral. And disgusting.”

“What other choice do you have? You’re out of suspects, as you just said. And, this is more to my benefit than yours.” She stands up, then, moving to pace across the room. “I think we have encountered one another for a reason.” She glances at him, “I can help you discover the truth behind what happened to your friends and family. And you can help me find a way to protect mine.”

He blinks. “But I come from a future where you’ve already done that. Me telling you anything will just change things.”

“Not if you tell me exactly what I did.”

“Won’t that create some kind of paradox?”

The corners of her mouth quirk up before she turns away from him and faces the window. “It’s fairy magic,” She says. “Perhaps this has always been the proper timeline. Somebody made a mistake, and you’re course correcting it from the other end.” She glances back at him, “Either way. Do you want to go home? To a family that actually loves you? To a future not tinged with blood?”

“The future is tinged with blood, though. It’s drowning in it.”

“And you’ve already come to the past to fix it, have you not?”

“I . . . I have, but—“

“Then let’s make a deal.” She turns her attention back on the window, “Tell me what I have to do to protect my children and all future fae, and I will show you what happens. An unfiltered view to the fate of your family and the royal court.”

He’s tempted. He has no leads, no suspects, no way out of the past. His family is so close to bringing magic back, and he’s so tired. He’s so unbelievably tired . Tired of eavesdropping and pretending. Tired of crying alone in an unfamiliar bed and falling asleep unfamiliar sounds. Tired of the cold, muggy air on earth. Tired of closing his eyes and seeing his family dead on the throne room floor over and over again. She can just snap her fingers, or whatever it is she does, and he’ll know.

He’ll know, and he can stop it and go home . Not that he knows how the whole going home thing works.

But he can, if he takes her deal.

It’ll all be over. All he has to do is say yes.

“How?” He asks, “How can you show me a future that hasn’t happened yet?”

“It’s in your essence.” She finally turns back to him, offering him a tired smile of her own. Maybe she’s as sick of fighting a battle that can’t be won as he is. “The future clings to you. I can use that to send you there. You’ll be a ghost; a projection in the future. You’ll need to keep your mind on finding out what happened, and the spell will take you through it. Every decision, every action, every breath that lead to your tragedy. And then you’ll know what you need to do to fix it.”

If I can fix it.”

She chuckles. “I truly doubt you’d have been sent to the past if there were any doubt as to whether or not you can fix it.” She must sense his hesitation, because she moves to the doorway and pulls the door open, leveling him with a  look. “You may go,” She says, “But consider one thing.”

“What?”

“What have you got left to lose?”

He looks between her and the open door. Just get up, he thinks, get up and do this. Walk out. Walk out. But she’s right. Because there’s nothing left to lose. He knows what’s going to happen, and in all honesty, what future can he go to that’s worse than the one he came from?

Damn it.

He looks down at his feet. “Close the door.”

*

He’s not surprised how well she takes it when he tells her. In his timeline, it’d always been her idea to sacrifice herself for her kind. He knowsit’ll fuck everyone over for a few months while the library does their thing trying to be the biggest assholes they possibly can, but if this all goes according to plan, he’ll be back in the future. The future where his family manages to save themselves, again, and return to Fillory.

A future where everything’s different, as much as it is the same.

“Lie down,” She says.

He blinks up at her, “What? We’re doing this now ?”

“Better now, than when I’m getting cut into pieces on a table, wouldn’t you think?”

He blinks once, twice, and then nods. “Yeah, fair.” He adjusts until he’s lying with his back on the bed. He’s not even sure who’s room their in, or if they’ll mind that they’ve kind of commandeered it, but he doesn’t really care either. He’s laser focused on one thing right now.

“It won’t be pleasant,” She murmurs, as she leans over him.

“It hurts?”

“Not that.”

Oh.

Yeah, he’s already figured that part out. Watching everything unravel is going to suck. He’s smart enough to guess that much, thanks. “It’s okay,” He tells her, swallowing and squeezing his eyes shut. “I’ve already seen the result of it. It can’t be much worse than that.”

“If you say so,” She says, sounding When I say, take a deep breath. Remember that nobody can see, hear or touch you. You are a ghost. A vestige. And there will be moments of confusion, but remember not to panic. Clutch the crystal in your pocket to center yourself. Some of the things you see, places you go, you’ll probably not recognize. It’s everything. Not just the obvious.”

“Okay.”

“Are you ready?”

He with a jittery nod. “Yes.”

“Inhale, deep and slow. When you exhale, open your eyes as the last of the breath leaves your lungs. And remember, don’t panic.”

He does as he’s told, eyes shut tight, and fingers clutching the crystal. The question, a silent chant in his head;

Who killed my family? Who killed my family? Who killed my family?

*

He must have done something wrong. If there’s anything he can be certain of; it’s that. Because of a few immediately recognizable things:

  1. He’s still on Earth in the past.
  2. He’s in the physical kids cottage, in a different room.
  3. And there’s a couple of very sexually active, horny Brakebills students getting it on beneath a blanket on the bed at the far side of the room.

And 4. More important than anything, no matter how hard he claws at the door, he can’t get the fuck out of this room. Or mute the moaning.

God, if he turns back around and finds out this is when his parents had their threesome, he might actually find a way to ghost kill himself. Because if that’s what this is, he’s never going to get back to the future. Because there’s clearly no future to get back to.

He lets his legs give out so he can sit, facing the door, begging silently for somebody to storm in and interrupt the duo. Instead, the moaning increases in quantity and volume, until it’s replaced by a steady, heavy breathing, and the rustling of blankets.

And then a familiar voice.

His heart stops. Or, at least, it feels like it does, as he turns his neck to look at the bed. A head pops out from beneath the blanket. A pretty blonde girl, grinning, as she pulls the blanket down to cover her from the chest down—which, thank fuck, because he does not need to accidentally peep on some poor girl—and then the face that matches the voice appears next to her, dopey grin on his face.

And, just as he thinks he’s definitely done something wrong, he blinks, and finds himself standing in a studio apartment with bland walls and even blander furniture. The same familiar face is standing in the center of the room, hands tucked in his pockets and shoulders hunched over.

“So, uh,” he scratches at the back of his neck, “Why exactly did you bring me here?”

The same girl from before appears from behind a wall and holds a cup out for him. He takes it, hesitant, and she smiles a little guiltily. “I realized something after I left. We—didn’t use a condom, did we?”

Is this a sex talk?

Where the fuck has the fairy queen sent him? Jesus christ.

“Are you trying to tell me you’re pregnant? Because I think it takes longer than—“

“No, stop.” She flops down on the couch at the center of the room and looks up at him. “I wasn’t completely honest with you. When I said I was an alumni.”

“Okay . . .”

“I can’t even do magic.”

“Then how—“

“My pack protects a clan of hedge witches. Marina talks—sorry, talked . She used to talk about Brakebills a lot, before she died. Even when she went on about how much she hated it, it always had this kind of, impossible lure to it.”

“So, you just wanted to confess to using me to get on campus? What’s the got to—wait, did you say pack ? Like, werewolves ?”

The corners of her mouth quirk up. “You are smart,” She murmurs, before nodding. “Yeah. Like werewolves.”

“So, you’re saying—“

“You may want to get tested for lycanthropy, Josh.”

He remembers Josh mentioning it once or twice in passing, but hadn’t really thought much of it. Josh isn’t violent, and a case of sexually transmitted lycanthropy? It’s not that serious. Except . . . Except.

Where else has he heard this story? Josh had it once before. He—

Twenty three.

The twenty third timeline. The Quickening. Everything’s fine until it’s not. They control it with medicine, but discover that he’s allergic to it. His body attempts to fight off the lycanthropy, instead it eats away at his humanity, until all that’s left is wolf. It’s slow, and painful. He’s the last one to die in the timeline, other than Quentin. When he does, he’s old and scarred, and barely human. And is shot to death by a hunter on Earth.  

But he’s not even around in the future, Todd would remember . What the fuck does any of this have to do with his families slaughter?

Before he can hear anything else, he’s transported again. This time, he knows he’s done something right, he’s just not sure how. But he’s back in the castle. Can taste the opium in the air. A sweet fixation, as he turns and finds his family all sitting together in a room.

“I don’t know what we’re supposed to do.”

“I told you, there’s a pack of wolves that know what’s happening with him—“

“Eliot, stop.” It’s Margo, sitting at the headboard of the bed, looking pained. Todd moves in closer, and finds that he’s there, too. He’s at most three years old, lying curled up on the bed between her and Fen, sleeping peacefully. Todd can’t even remember the last time he had a decent night's rest, he realizes. He smiles softly down at himself in between Margo and Fen.  “We don’t know anything about those wolves. We can take care of him, just like we’ve been doing.”

Eliot scoffs. “Like hell we can. I am not endangering my son !” Todd, the little him—which, hey, he was a cute kid, despite the ridiculous amount of curls atop his head—shuffles in the bed, curling in tighter to Margo’s side, and Eliot falls silent, watching him, until he stops moving. “Josh almost killed two guards yesterday alone, Bambi,” He says, much softer now, “It’s been advancing for years. We have to do something.”

“I don’t like agreeing with him, but he’s right,” Penny says, shoving away from the doorway and crossing his arms. “Let’s just hear them out. He keeps getting worse, even when we up the dosage on his pills. At some point they’re going to stop working altogether.”

Julia sighs. “Margo, with as much blood as you cough up . . . Do you really think it’s a good idea to have—“

“Weren’t you on his side, just yesterday?”

“That was before he lost control. It’s getting scary, especially with a toddler running around.”

“He hasn’t turned into a full wolf,” Alice points out, “And yesterday could have been an isolated incident. Because of the full moon. If we can lock him up during the full moon, I think we can keep everyone safe. Without having to let go of him.”

“And how long is that supposed to last?”

“I don’t want to lose another child in this castle,” Fen says, before anyone can argue. “But Josh is a friend . There has to be a way to protect everyone, including him.” She looks down at Todd, running a hand through his hair, and without looking up, adds, “I say we go with Alice’s plan. And in the future, should it come to it, then we explore our options regarding the wolves.”

Eliot stands up, shaking his head. “And if he doesn’t agree to it?”

“He will.” They all turn to look at Kady, where she’s sitting with her arms crossed. “He’s scared. And he doesn’t want to go anywhere. He’ll do whatever he has to. And if he doesn’t, I’ll make him.”

He watches as they all fade away, and he’s transported to the front of the castle grounds.

“We need to call a meeting.”

“Eliot—“

He stops, and turns to look at Kady. “Don’t. We’ve held off for two years. Todd is getting attached to him. It’s going to hurt him as it is saying goodbye. But it’ll hurt even more if Josh kills anyone else, and I have to call for an execution !” Wait, Todd’s what?

Because Todd has no recollection of any of this.

“You wouldn’t—“

“He’s killed four people, Kady. He can’t control himself, and if we don’t call in the wolves, he’s going to go rabid. He needs help, and we can’t help him . We’ve tried. Call a fucking family meeting while I clean up your boyfriend’s mess.” Her what ?

Suddenly, he’s standing in a doorway as a group of five stands in the throne room, staring up at the thrones with almost scary smiles on their lips. They’re all wearing black, which, if they’re the villains is annoyingly cliche. And it must be them. Because Josh is too kind to be the kind of person to ruthlessly slaughter his friends.

Even if he has apparently killed people.

It’s weird seeing him like this. Standing beside the thrones, looking down at the ground with his hands chained together in front of him. Todd barely remembers him at all from the future. He was just an uncle nobody talked about when he was around. But he was clearly there. Clearly a large part of their lives—until, whatever this is.

Kady looks furious, where she’s standing next to him. Which makes sense, since she’s apparently his girlfriend .

Fen, Quentin, and Eliot are standing in front of the thrones, staring down at the pack of wolves. Todd wonders if they’re hoping a last minute rescue will crash through the doors--if they know this somehow leads them to their deaths.

“Your majesty, we thank you for finally taking the time to see us.”

“Yes, we have vested interests in your poor, rabid, wolf.”

Their words are pleasant, but the look in their eyes isn’t.

Josh isn’t the killer, Todd’s sure of it. They are.

“You remember our deal.”

The man in the center of them nods, once. “Of course, majesty. It is in both of our interests to uphold such a deal.” He smirks up at Josh, before adding, “If everyone’s said their goodbyes—“

“For now,” Kady and Julia snap. They glance at each other for a brief second, before turning back to the wolves. Kady takes a step forward. “Goodbye for now .”

The man nods again. “Yes. Goodbye for now. Has everyone said their goodbye for now ? I understand there is also a child—“

“Mention my son again and I will personally rip your throat out,” Quentin hisses.

Todd blinks as another wave of guilt rushes over him at how resolutely and without hesitation Quentin is protecting him, even in the face of werewolves.

But . . .

If even they don’t trust these guys, why the hell are they sending their friend off with them? Especially when there’s a perfectly good pack of disturbingly protective werewolves roaming the streets of New York?

“Apologies, your grace.”

Josh’s eyes flash a bright red, before he’s stepping down the steps towards them, “We’ve all said our goodbyes,” He says, “I think it’s time we leave. Now .” The end of the statement comes out as more of a growl than anything, and Todd doesn’t miss the way his family all stiffen around him. Or the way the wolves seem to lean into it, expectant .

He’s halfway across the room to see just how invisible he is, when the scene before him transforms, and he finds himself walking down the walkway of a dark, musty cave. He’s still in Fillory, can still taste the sweet hint of opium in the air. His steps are still a little lighter than they are on Earth, and there’s no way there are any caves this large and preposterously villainous in appearance in New York City.

Maybe in Jersey. He’s not really sure, it’s just everyone at Brakebills talks about how awful New Jersey is, so he just assumes.

He breaks through their dungy main entrance and finds. . . more ugly, humid cave to explore. Awesome. He’s not even sure where to go from here. Has no doubt that the cave is a system of caves, because these assholes seem exactly the type to want to have the upper ground in case anyone comes looking for them.  

. . . Which is ironic. Because they’re underground.

He winces. His family would probably all murder him if he even dared to make such a terrible joke in their presence. Maybe not Quentin. Quentin would give him a pity laugh so he doesn’t feel bad.

God, he’s a terrible son.

He starts to turn left, when he hears an inhuman scream. He stops, looking down the hallway, unable to really see anything. And then it echoes down the halls again, and before he even realizes what he’s doing, he’s darting down the hall, following the sound of the screams. He can’t tell if they’re made up of agony or anger, but it’s at least somewhere in between.

He finally finds the room, after who even knows how much running because any amount of running is too much, and is leaning into the doorway, eyes closed as he tries to force the air back into his lungs. His hand grasps at the rocky surface of the doorway, and he uses it to steady himself upright as he opens his eyes. His hand promptly slides off, and he tumbles further into the room. He barely notices, though.

Because, there, in the center of the room, is a fully wolfed out Josh Hoberman, screaming as these . . . monsters prod at him with a fucking spear.

He may not know post personal-tragedy Josh, or even remember him being in his life—

But he remembers Brakebills Josh. Brakebills Josh is the single nicest person Todd’s ever met in his entire fucking life. And then some—he wants to call her a bitch, because hello , but Margo would actually murder him—some woman comes along and infects him with a virus that there’s no cure for. And suddenly he’s here? In a cage being tortured?

Where the fuck is the justice in this?

And where the fuck is his family?

He barely blinks when the scene transforms again. He’s in the same room, but it’s different now. There’s a bed. It almost looks like someone actually lives here instead of whatever it was he just saw. He turns around just fast enough to dodge out of the way as Josh storms into the room, growling angrily. “They can’t just keep canceling!” He bites out, his teeth snapping together in a way that actually sounds painful.

“We’ve tried reaching out. They won’t let us through.”

Josh whips around, pointing a scraggly claw at the man following him, “Try harder !” The man stares at him, unimpressed, before nodding and strolling out of the room, like he’s not even remotely scared of Josh. Josh watches after him, snarl on his lip, before he turns around and throws something at the wall and storming out of the room.

Todd looks after him, but then back to the smattering of glass and paper on the floor. If one thing is less terrifying than the other, it’s currently in the room. He makes his way across the floor, and then looks down once he’s standing over the mess.

It’s a photo.

He kneels down, his finger grazing against the the glass without really doing anything but disappearing through it. It’s their whole family. Even Frey and her bear. Even him. And Margo. It looks like it’s not long after he was born, because Eliot and Quentin are holding him, and he’s bald and he’s definitely a baby. The only real signifier that it’s him, is the large T sewn into the front of his shirt.

They’re all smiling, too. Quentin’s looking down at him, like he’d forgotten they were taking a photo, and one of his hands in pressed overtop Todd’s bald head. Eliot’s looking at the camera, but his head is tilted in a way that makes it look like he’d been seconds away from looking back to his husband.

One second he’s gazing down at the photo, the only existing photo that he knows of, of his entire family, and the next he’s staring at the battle planning table. Behind him, there are footsteps, loud and angry, pacing back and forth.

“I don’t understand!” He turns around to see that it’s Kady and Julia. “It’s been a year, and he hasn’t even tried to reach out—“

“He probably just wants to be better before he tries to come near Todd. You know how bad he was,” Julia reasons. “Kady, sit down. You’re going to be too tired for your training session today if you keep stressing about this.”

Kady stops, looking up at the ceiling, before spinning around and clenching her jaw. “Are you fucking kidding me right now?” She asks, her voice deathly quiet, “Julia.”

Julia stands up and grabs her by the elbows, all gentle movements, “Kady,” She says, letting one hand slide up to cup her cheek, “You have to breathe. Josh is going to be fine.”

She shakes her head, pulling away. “You heard what Eliot wants to do.”

“I have.”

“And?”

Julia looks down. “It’s a good idea—“

“Are you insane?”

She looks up, shaking her head. “Kady, Todd . . . He’s gone through a lot more than necessary. And after that last day in the courtyard—“

“It was an accident !”

What the fuck happened in the courtyard?

It appears he’s under the influence of a defective spell that forgets important bits of info. That’s fine. It’s not like he’s trying to find his families murderers or anything.

Oh, wait.

“Todd wakes up from nightmares about him nearly every night, Kady,” Julia murmurs, stepping in close again. “It’s really the best option.”

Todd does what ?

“Yeah, because erasing someone’s memory has worked out so well for us every time it happened to us , right?”

. . . Did his family do what the spell is implying they did?

“That’s different.”

“Oh, yeah? How?”

“Todd is a child . Having nightmares about a monster that used to be his uncle . . . It’s for his own peace of mind.” His own peace of mind? What the fuck?

What did they do to him?

“Yeah? Isn’t that what Fogg thought? For our own good, right?”

“Kady, stop. We’re going in circles—“

“Josh is going to come back! And he’ll be devastated—“

The scene transforms again, and jesus, he’d really like to actually get some closure on any of the shit he’s seeing. Especially because he’s gone from the brightly lit throne room back to Josh’s dingy room in the caves.

It’s homier now, Todd notes. Photos. Not of his family, though. The wolves.

Josh walks in, then, and moves to sit on the edge of the bed. “The laws are bullshit,” He says to a figure that finally enters, too. “The fae can do whatever they want, and we’re secluded to the woods. We’re stronger than all of them. And can control ourselves better than they can even dream of.”

The woman that followed him in nods, taking the place next to him on the bed. “That’s what I’ve been saying,” She says, leaning in and resting her head on his shoulder. “If you get us in the castle, we can talk to them.”

“We established years ago that they want nothing to do with me. And at this point, I’d rather them choke than see any of them.”

The woman smiles. “Then, why don’t we make them choke, Joshy?” Joshy? What the fuck is a Joshy ? “Sixteen years. They let you go through all that pain, and then refused you when you tried to tell them you were better.”

“They broke every fucking promise they made.”

The woman nods, and Todd’s really starting to hate her, whoever she is. “Especially that woman.”

“I can’t believe she married them. She said she was over him.”

She picks her head up and reaches up to turn his head towards him. “Worry not. You have me. You have pack. You don’t need them.” She turns back around and rests her head on his shoulder again, “Earth children are a plague on this world. It makes sense to eradicate them.”

“Like, kill them?”

“All they do is hurt people, Joshy. They hurt you. Over and over again.” Her voice is quiet, and it’s almost haunting the way it fills the room around them. “Don’t you think you deserve the chance to hurt them, too?”

He’s quiet for a long moment, before he nods.

Todd stumbles back a step.

“Yeah,” Josh says. “I do.”

He can’t just turn his back on them like this. He can’t be behind everything. It can’t be Josh . This can’t be right .

“Then let’s talk to Jasper. We can plan this.” She pulls away and stands up, turning to face him, with her hands held out between them, waiting. “We can kill the royal family, and take the crown. Fix the laws. Let the wolves out of the woods. Give us rights . Send the fae back where they belong. What do you say, Joshy?”

He stares down at her hands. And for a moment, just a brief, barely noticeable moment, Todd thinks he won’t do it. Thinks he won’t take her hand. That he won’t have any part of it.

But then he reaches up with both hands and grabs on. Allows her to pull him up and out of the room.

Todd stares after them, slack jawed. He can’t tell if it’s more cruel or kind of the spell to leave him there to stare after them, into the darkness. To let the shock sink in. He’s not even sure what he’s supposed to feel. His parents had apparently taken his memories of Josh from his childhood. But he has Brakebills. He has that, now.

Josh was an immediate no. He was his friend . That first day Todd met him, he took him off the suspect list. Because he’s a fucking naive, useless idiot .

And now Josh is walking down the halls to plan how they can kill Todd’s family. To kill his family.

His heart pounds painfully in his chest, as his legs give out and he falls to his knees in the center of the room. Everything goes dark. It’s a long while before things finally come back. He’s not even sure how long it is. Minutes? Hours?

Either way, he’s staring at himself outside a small hut, smiling at a beautiful woman he recognizes instantly. He’s still on his knees behind them, staring up helplessly.

“Go back.” He breathes, turning his attention on the sky. It’s just as sunny out now as it was the day he abandoned his family.“Go back,” he repeats, louder, panic rushing through his veins like the suns forced the energy back into him, as he suddenly pushes himself up and moves around them, waving his hands in front of his face. “You idiot . Go back and warn them !” The words rip from his throat, heavy with desperation and rage.

But they ignore him. Because he’s not really here.

“What—what are you doing here?”

“I’ve renounced my claim,” This other him. The real him. The him that walked away from his family in their darkest hour. He has a grin on his face. “I hope you still want me.”

“You—what? Why—Todd, your family . . . You can’t just—“

“My father wanted to wed me to a stranger from a neighboring kingdom. All I could do was think of you,” He reaches forward and carefully brushes her hair behind her ear, smiling at her with so much love.

He doesn’t even remember loving her so deeply. He knows he did.

But he doesn’t even remember love anymore.

He leans against the doorjamb and slides down, until his knees are pushed up to his chest, and his forearms are crossed overtop them. He stares up at them.

He’d loved her so much.

“You . . . You’re the crown prince. You can’t just—“

“I can. I did. If you want me, Sofia, I’m yours. Wholly. Completely.” His hand slips down her shoulder and arm until he can lace his fingers through hers. “Will you have me?”

“You’re a fool.”

Todd nods. “I am.”

“What if you change your mind?”

“I won’t.”

“And if you do?”

“Then we’ll see. But I think you would make an excellent queen.”

Her eyebrows furrow, “Todd, I—“

“I renounced my claim. You really needn’t worry about any of that. Just you and I while we’re together. Remember?”  

He remembers this. It’s more like a dream, now. Especially as he watches it as an outsider. He was such a lovestruck fool. What the fuck was he thinking? His family loved him with everything they had in them. One argument with his father, over a woman he’d been too ashamed to introduce to his family, let alone tell them even existed, and he abandoned them.

He wants to yell at himself again.

But then they disappear and he’s sitting on the floor in the middle of the throne room.

Quentin’s alone. Sitting on his throne. Staring down at the space in front of him. Not even the sound of the doors opening is enough to make him look up. Nor does the sound of Eliot’s footsteps as he closes the distance between them.

“Q,” He says. “You can’t keep sitting there forever.”

“If I stay, he’ll come back.”

Eliot chest rises and falls quickly before he closes the last of the distance between them, and kneels in front of him. “Q,” He repeats, “You had an argument. And he’s rebelling. He’ll be back once he feels bad for what he said—“

“He shouldn’t feel bad,” Quentin snaps, jaw clenching. “You were right. I shouldn’t have tried to force it on him . . .”

“You were trying to prevent a war.”

“I should have found a way to get them to accept me.”

“You can’t seriously blame yourself for this.”

Quentin finally looks up at him. His eyes are bloodshot, and tears stream down his cheeks almost as if they haven’t stopped since Todd walked out of the castle. “He doesn’t think I love him, Eliot.”

“He doesn’t think that.”

“I don’t think that.” Todd finally forces himself to stand up and move to stand beside his fathers. He knows they can’t hear him. Knows this is is a pointless fight. But there’s nothing else to do. Nothing else he can do, but wait for them to die. “I know you love me,” He breathes, stopping next to Eliot and gazing down at Quentin. “You gave up everything for me. I’m so fucking sorry .” It’s just another unheard apology that means nothing.

Quentin’s going to die like this. Miserable.

It’s always been there. Todd’s just been really good at ignoring Quentin’s depression. Eliot’s usually able to distract him, or comfort him through his episodes. And when Todd was a child, all he had to do was curl up with him in bed, and everything would be okay. The day he walked out, he hadn’t even considered how it’d affect him. Didn’t even consider that it might send him spiraling.

His family deserves so much better than a selfish, worthless child who does nothing but hurt them.

Quentin scoffs, looking away and wiping at his eyes roughly. “Easy for you to say. He admires you, El. Always has. For him, you’ve hung the stars and moon. You—you’re his everything. I’m. I’m nothing. I’m not even his father .”

“Q . . .”

He doesn’t get the chance to continue, because the doors burst open again and Kady comes rushing through. Eliot opens his mouth and closes it, before closing his eyes in resignation and turning his attention on her. “Now’s not a good time, Kady.”

“It’s Josh,” She says, sounding somewhat manic. “He reached out.” There’s a quirk to her lips. “He’s not dead.”

Quentin looks up, surprised. “What? Why now?”

She shrugs. “Maybe he heard that Todd’s missing. Maybe he wants to help. I don’t care why. I invited them to dinner.”

“Them?” Eliot asks, pushing himself to his feet. “Who is them ?”

“His pack.”

“Say no,” Todd breathes, looking back down at Quentin. “Tell them you’re not up to it. Say no. Come on, dad. Just say no. One word. Stand up for yourself. Just this once.”

Quentin nods. “Let the kitchen know,” He says. “I’m just . . . going to get some sleep before they get here.” He stands up from the throne, patting Eliot’s arm as he reaches out for him, and walks out of the room, swiftly. Todd tries to follow after him, but when he walks out of the doors, he only walks back through them to find a hundred or so people joyfully eating their food.

This is it.

He’s not sure what he expects. Maybe some playful chatter. Some kind of build up. But no sooner than he’s walked through the doors, is a werewolf growling and another’s leaping across the room and shoving his fist through Julia’s chest and ripping her heart out like plucking an apple from a bucket of water. Like there’s no resistance or difficulty to it. The rest of the room barely has time to react as another wolf forces the doors shut, and three more leap across tables, each for a different person Todd loves.

He’s unfortunate enough to look to the right just in time to see two wolves rip Fen in half.

His mouth goes dry, and his legs give out beneath him again, as he sits in the center of the chaos, unable to look away or stop any of it. Blood splashes on him, but goes right through and lands on bodies and floor. His chin trembles and his eyes burn, and he can’t stop himself from looking back up at the thrones to see Josh and two other wolves approaching the last three standing. He’d completely missed them getting to Kady and Penny, but they’re lying on the ground, exactly how Todd remembers finding them.

His whole body shakes as Josh reaches forward and slits Eliot’s throat with one of his scraggly claws before Eliot can even think to stumble backwards a step. He doesn’t even hesitate. Almost looks like he revels in it.

“No!” Todd screams, the sound ripping out of him. But nobody hears him, or turns away from Quentin and Alice. He hunches over, shaking his head as the other two advance on Alice and Quentin.

“Alice,” Quentin says, “ Run !”

But it’s too late.

Of course it’s too late.

It’s barely been thirty seconds since the first wolf attacked.

The wolf is kinder to Alice. He snaps her neck as she turns to run. She collapses to the ground, falling like there’d never even been any life in her at all.

The last wolf looks at Quentin.

“Should I let him live?”

“No,” Another wolf says, “No witnesses.” He turns to Quentin, “Where’s the prince?”

Quentin spits in his face.

And then a hand full of claws cracks his chest open, and exposes his beating heart to the room.

No !” Todd screams again, the word breaking off into a sob, and ricocheting through his lungs, as he finally looks away, burying his hands in his hair and rocking back and forth on the ground. One of his hands comes down to steadying himself on the ground, but he rocks back and forth, hunched over himself and the body of a guardsman he doesn’t recognize.

“Find the prince,” A wolf says as Quentin finally collapses, “And kill anyone else that’s still alive.”

“Why do we need to find the prince?” Josh asks.

“Because the council will want to make him king. He needs to die if we wish to make any changes to the laws.”

Todd looks up, still shaking. Tears run down his cheeks and his head pounds painfully as he looks up at him.

“You didn’t tell me Todd had to die, too.”

Todd’s chin trembles, eyebrows furrowing painfully as the tears slip down the ridges of his cheeks. It’s his fucking plan, how could he seriously not realize his pack would want Todd dead, too? Todd wraps his arms around his waist tighter, squeezing himself in a sick mirage of a hug.

“Why does it matter?” The wolf challenges, moving in, “He’s not your family. We are.”

He shouldn’t be surprised when everything goes black without any notice, but he is. He’s still staring helplessly at an empty space in front of him. But instead of the wolves and the mangled corpses, he blinks to find himself staring up at Jane Chatwin, with soft dewey water seeping into his jeans instead of warm, sticky blood, as the sun beats down on him, blinding and ominously kind.

She turns around, and stops, gasping. “Oh!” She stumbles backwards a step. “Didn’t I just send you back?” She furrows her brow when he doesn’t respond. He’s not sure he can. His tongue feels like lead in his mouth, and his body feels like stone.

For a moment, he wonders if he’s dead, too. Cursed to stay in his body unmoving for eternity as his family’s death plays over and over in his head.

“No,” She breathes, dropping to her knees and placing her hands on either side of his face. “You’re older. Where have you been?” She leans side to side like she’s trying to gauge what’s wrong with him, and pats his cheeks. “Come on, Todd. Let’s move past the shock. Come on, dear. Let’s wake up now.”

He blinks.

How is she touching him?

She smiles, “Ah, there you are. What’s happened? How are you here? You shouldn’t be back until you fix everything. And you should hardly be here . . . like this .”

“How,” He chokes out, his tongue sandy and heavy, “How are you—“ He pulls away slowly and achingly, before reaching up and gently wrapping his hand around her wrist. He can actually feel her. And she can definitely feel him. “You shouldn’t be able to—“

“You’re a ghost,” She says, eyes narrowing, “Why, Todd, have you made a deal with a Fairy?”

He shakes his head, and lets go of her arm. “Want . . . to go back,” He says, swallowing thickly as the haze of shock starts to fade. He looks side to side, trying to find a way out, “I can fix it.”

“How?”

“It’s Josh,” He mutters, something icy settling in his heart. He stops moving and focuses in on a patch of grass between them. “Just . . . If I kill Josh it’ll stop it.”

She scoffs. “If it were that simple, I’d have told you to go back to the past and kill Josh before you befriended him.”

He pauses, then looks up at her. “How do you—“

She smiles softly, reaching up to wipe at the tears clinging to his eyelashes. “My dear,” She says, tilting her head. “I know everything. I’m certain we’ve been over this before.”

Something hollow and broken wretches itself out of his throat, “What the fuck do you want from me?” He asks, grabbing at the edge of her shirt and pulling himself in closer to her, “Why are you doing this to me? Why don’t you just let them kill me, too? I want my family back, Jane. Let me go back to them.”

“You know I can’t do that.”

“Why the fuck not !”

“Well, for one, you’re not really even here.”

“I . . .” He trails off, gaze falling the ground again. “Please, Jane. I can’t—“ He stops, taking a deep breath before looking back up at her. “Please just kill me. Please . Reunite us.”

She slides her hand up to cup the back of his head. “I can’t do that. But you can still stop this. You know what causes it. It’s just a matter of preventing it, now.”

He shakes his head, falling forward. He’s almost surprised to find her catching him, as he grabs fistfuls of her shirt and sobs into her chest. “How?” He asks through his tears, “How can I—killing him won’t—I don’t— understand .”

“Shh,” She breathes, holding onto him, “You do know. You are a King , Todd. I sent you far enough back that you could find everything you need to save them. To give you a chance to get to know your mother. To be strong enough to fight for her, and your family. You are strong enough. And if you open your eyes, you’ll see that for yourself.” She pats his head, “Come on, Todd. Open your eyes. Fight for them. Fix their mistakes. Save them.”

“I can’t,” He chokes out, “I’m—I’m the reason they’re dead!”

“No,” She says, “ They’re the reason they’re dead. You’re the one who’s going to change the future. You’re going to be the reason they’re alive.” She pulls away, and he can feel her looking down at him, even as he squeezes his eyes  shut tighter. “If you hadn’t run off—if not for that argument that day, Todd. You’d have been at that dinner. And you’d be dead, too.” He inhales shakily, and she continues on. “It is, and always has been, your destiny to save your family. So do as the universe knows you can.” She pauses, before pulling away from him entirely. “Do what your family knows you can. Open your eyes.”

His hands reach out for empty air. “I’m—I’m scared, Jane.”

“Good. You’d hardly be human if you weren’t. There are bloodthirsty wolves on the hunt, after all. Open your eyes.”

It takes him a long moment to gain the courage. But then, slowly, he opens his eyes, tensing up. He’s not sure why, but he expects to see their corpses again as soon as he opens his eyes. But he doesn’t. Instead, he finds himself staring up at the ceiling in the Physical kids cottage again. The fairy queen appears, leaning over him.

“Did I not tell you not to panic?” She asks, as she holds a hand out to help him up.

He lets her pull him up until he can swing his legs over the side of the bed. For a long moment they sit in silence while he catches his breath. Until finally, he says, “I didn’t expect it to be so . . .”

“Inclusive?”

He shakes his head. “Detailed.” He inhales slowly, reaching up to wipe at his forehead. His skin is clammy. “How long was I under?”

“Somewhere around five minutes.”

He nods, then furrows his eyebrows and looks at her, “Wait, what?”

“How long did you think you were under?”

“Hours. Days? I don’t know. It—it felt unending.”

“You were immersed.”

“Yeah.”

“So. Have you gotten your answers?”

He looks back down, hand coming down to fist in the fabric of the blanket beneath him. He’s not even sure what he got out of the whole experience. “I know who did it,” He says after a moment. “I know . . . I know how they did it. Why they did it.”

“And how to stop it?”

That’s the question, isn’t it?

How is he supposed to stop it?

Jane said he’d already found everything he needed. That sending him back as far as she did hadn’t been a mistake.

It’s his destiny to save his family. But how?

How can he save Margo, and keep Josh from going rabid psychopath werewolf on his family—

Oh, fuck .

He needs to talk to somebody who actually knows something about werewolves. He needs to talk to a pack . A pack that already can’t stand him for sticking his nose somewhere it doesn’t belong.

For fuck’s sake.

And here he’d been planning to never come face to face with a werewolf, or Josh for that matter, ever again.

He looks back up at the fairy queen, as an idea strikes him. There’s someone who can get the wolves to talk to him, without maiming him first. “Can I ask a favor?” She tilts her head. “There’s . . . someone else. Not from this timeline. I need to find her.”

“I suppose I can be of assistance,” She says, “Once more, before I sacrifice myself for my children.”

He’s honestly not sure what surprises him more; the fairy queen actually willingly deciding to help him without asking for anything in return, or the fact that his hands have finally stopped shaking. He moves to stand but she shakes her head.

“Rest for a while longer. You’re weak. Regain your strength and then we’ll search for your fellow time traveler.”

Chapter Text

“Were you serious about there being a way to tell everyone everything without them remembering later?”

He shouldn’t be surprised that Julia doesn’t even jump when she rounds the corner and he jumps up to talk to her. She just appraises him carefully for a long moment, before nodding. “Yes. Why?”

“I think—I think I have to tell you guys. I don’t. I don’t know how not to. Not anymore.” Maybe he was never supposed to keep it to himself. But after the experiment with the fairy queen, there’s no way he can keep it to himself. Not when so much of fixing everything involves the rest of them.

She furrows her eyebrows at that. “Why? What happened?”

“I talked to the Fairy Queen.”

Blinking, she stares at him for a beat, before nodding slowly. “Okay . . . You go to the living room. I’ll get everyone together.” She purses her lips, pointing a finger at him, “And this time, please don’t run off and go talk to potentially dangerous beings, yeah?”

He smiles morosely, “No promises?”

Another thing that doesn’t surprise him: she doesn’t smile.

 

**

 

“He did what.”

Eliot doesn’t even phrase it as a question, as he looks over Julia’s shoulder at the entryway to glare ominously at Todd. He perfects it by the time Todd’s a teenager, but as it is now; it’s still pretty threatening. And Todd feels himself shrink into the couch further, as he turns away to face the cubby. His gaze drops down to the table, where  seven potions sit out. He’s not sure how Julia had time to make them, but he’s not going to question it.

They’re going to forget everything in a few weeks anyways.

That doesn’t help.

Eliot finally rounds into the room, and leans against the bookshelf, too cool—too angry—to sit down, and continues glaring at Todd. If what Jane said is true . . . Then maybe it’s his destiny to help Eliot master his glare before Todd’s even born. So when he’s a teenager, he doesn’t need to work on it at all. Todd’s the master of his undoing.

What the fuck is he even—

“Can we get this shit started already?” Kady says, from her place in the corner of the room.

Penny—not Todd’s Penny, he has to keep reminding himself—pushes away from the wall and moves to sit down on the jean chair. Definitely not Todd’s Penny. He plops down, and glances up at Kady. “Maybe you should get comfortable. You might be less angry.”

She purses her mouth, shooting him a glare, before sighing and moving to one of the couches. “Maybe you should stop talking. Permanently.”

“A lot less intimidating when—“

“Guys,” Quentin interrupts, walking in from the kitchen, “Stop—stop arguing. We’re not here to fucking argue, okay?”

Julia moves to the center of the room as Alice walks in and sits down. She looks at them, each individually, before her gaze finally stops on Todd, and she raises her eyebrows at him. “Todd is ready to tell us everything.” She nods to herself, once, and then moves to sit down next to Quentin and Kady.

All of their attention is suddenly back on him. His throat tightens up, as he moves to push off the couch and stand up in front of the potions. He rubs at the back of his neck nervously and clears his throat, once, twice, nodding as he inhales in a rush. “Yeah—okay.”

“Any day now.”

“Shut up, Alice.”

“I’m just saying, we all have places to be. And, I’m sorry, but nobody wants to listen to Todd’s fairy tales. He just wants to be a part of everything—“

“I’m the reason you all die.” It comes out in a rush, all one breath that blurts out of him like a gust of wind.

That stops their bickering, as their gazes turn curious.

“I thought we were your family?”

He clenches his jaw and nods, his gaze falling back down to the potions. “I—yes. Before—Before I tell you anything else. I, uh. I need you to agree to drink the potion on the table a—after. To. To, uh, preserve the future.”

Behind him, Margo leans forward and wraps her fingers around his wrist comfortingly. “I don’t think we’ll have a problem with that. Right?” A soft chorus of reluctant agreement follows, and her thumb brushes softly against the vein on the back of his wrist, before she pulls away entirely and he’s left alone to stare at his expecting family.

“Right. Okay.” He clears his throat again and moves around the table to stand where Julia stood before him, directly in the center of the room. “I’m going to. Tell you everything, now.” He lets himself look at Quentin, and then Eliot, and back to Quentin. “Just—know that. I’m. Doing everything I can to fix what I did. And that I am so, so sorry. I’ll never be able to make up for what I did, even if I manage to change the future.” Quentin furrows his eyebrows, and looks like he’s going to say something, but Todd turns away and focuses on the one person he knows won’t interrupt him.

Penny furrows his eyebrows, but it’s not Todd’s Penny. It’s not Todd’s Penny, so it’s okay. This Penny can’t hate him.

It’s a small comfort.

But it’s enough as he finally, finally, lets the anvil sitting on his chest float away, and tells his family everything. Somehow lighter, and heavier, all at once.

 

 

**

 

 

When he finishes, he doesn’t leave time for questions, quickly moving around the table to sit back down next to Margo. She doesn’t move in closer, like she usually does. Doesn’t wrap an arm around him to comfort him. Doesn’t even look at him.

It shouldn’t surprise him that they all hate him.  Even Margo. Especially Margo.

He was supposed to take care of his family when she died. Instead, he got them all killed.

She’s probably considering never having a son in the first place. Saves them all from suffering in the future. Maybe she’s thinking of who else would be a good option. And, now, as she looks up at Quentin and Eliot, she’s probably realizing, that its Eliot’s sperm that creates their disappointment of a child, and that maybe if Quentin’s the dad, this shit won’t happen.

Maybe if they try earlier they’ll end up with a son that’s actually worth a damn.

A son worthy of being king.

A son worthy of them.

“Wow,” Penny says, breaking the tender silence. Everyone looks at him. “Wow,” He repeats, like he doesn’t know what else to say.

“That’s one way to put it,” Josh says, wide eyed. He slumps forward, resting his elbows on his knees and glances sideways at Eliot. “Jesus.” He exhales slowly, and sits back up, swallowing. “I can’t—“ He stops, furrowing his eyebrows. He probably doesn’t feel any better than Todd does.

Todd may have gotten them all killed. But Josh is the actual perpetrator.

Quentin’s gaze slides across the room to Todd. It feels like the anvil that was on his chest before has suddenly been replaced with one ten thousands times as heavy. Quentin’s eyebrows are furrowed, like he doesn’t know what to say. Like there are a thousand thoughts running through his mind, but he doesn’t know which one to pick.

Margo finally turns towards him. He closes his eyes, waiting for her to tell him he’s worthless. To tell him she regrets ever being his mother. He knows it’s coming. Knows she’s regretting every moment of kindness she’s offered him. Regretting the nights spent on the kitchen floor, or in his room, sitting and talking. Regretting getting to know her son. Regretting letting him get to know her.

She’s probably going to tell him he’s a piece of shit, and that she should have let him hold onto the depression key long enough that he’d have no choice but to kill himself.

He’d do it, too. If his family weren’t depending on him, he’d have done it a long time ago. He’s not sure what he was planning that day, when he walked into the woods. But he doubts he would have walked back out. As much as he loved his people. King or not. He doubts he would have survived the week, if Jane hadn’t sent him back.

He doesn’t think he should have survived.

He should have said no. At least they’d all be together in the under world.

“Todd.”

He shakes his head, jaw clicking as his teeth clench down. He can’t make himself look up from his lap. Can’t bear to see the look in her eyes. In any of their eyes. His eyes sting, and something wet drips down into his lap.

“Look at me.”

She’s using that voice. Her commanding, regal tone.

His chin trembles.

Nobody says anything for moment, but her hand appears in front of him, as she reaches forward and unclenches one of his fists to wrap her hand around his. She holds tight, squeezing like she’s trying to give him something else to focus on. She squeezes so tight it starts to hurt. He locks his gaze on their hands, and she squeezes tighter still. Her nails dig into the palm of his hand, stinging brutally. His chest is heaving. He hadn’t realized, but he can’t breathe.

His back feels like fire runs through his every vein, the muscles suddenly taut and angry as the breaths come in hazy and rushed. She moves around until she’s kneeling in front of him, and wraps her hand around his free hand. She squeezes just as tightly, letting her nails bite into his skin so hard they break through. He can feel his hands shaking in hers, but focuses in on the pain. Everywhere hurts, but her hands in his are different.

He can’t breathe.

Oh, god, he can’t—

Distantly, he hears footsteps rushing across the room, but they sound far off and underwater, and his muscles are so stiff, and his face tingles, and he can’t move. He can’t breathe, and he can’t move. He doesn’t—

A cool hand presses gently into the back of his neck. Someone nearby says something he can’t hear or understand. Or maybe they don’t. He’s not sure. He can’t focus. Can’t breathe.

His lips tingle like they’ve fallen asleep, and his breath rushes out over them like a harsh wind in winter, angry and brash and too quick to catch.

A warm presence leans over him, breathes something in his ear, a soothing tone that he can’t quite comprehend. He wants to ask them what’s wrong with him. What’s happening? Is this them deciding he shouldn’t be born? Is this what being erased from existence feels like? God, he’s so—he’s so scared. He’s ready to die. But does dying like this mean he never gets to see his family again?

He doesn’t want to never see them again. He doesn’t want to cease to exist.

Oh god.

Please, he thinks, please don’t erase me. Please. I love you—please don’t erase me.

“I’m sorry,” He chokes out, the sound angry and hoarse, wheezing out with his breath. He’s not even sure it actually comes out as words, his lips are numb and tingly, so are his cheeks and ears. He’s not even sure he’s still here, but he needs them to know before—oh god. He can still feel Margo’s fingers wrapped angrily around his. She holds tighter, and a larger hand appears, pressing harder, squeezing, squeezing, squeezing—

Somebody whispers something, a soft hand pressing to his chest. A careful calm at the center of the storm, and he wants to jerk away, wants to stop them from erasing him, but the edges of his vision go black, and he’s barely able to gasp in the next breath before his world fades away entirely.

 

 

**

 

He opens his eyes to the sun shining down on him. He turns his head to the side, neck screaming at the movement. He’s laying on the couch in the living room. Margo, Julia and Quentin all stare down at him. Julia’s eyes are wide, but more like she’s looking him over.

He’s still here.

He inhales once, shakily, and Margo moves forward to help him up. Quentin moves in, too, taking his other arm, until he’s sitting upright. They’re all still here, watching from their places across the room.

What just happened?

Nobody says anything, though, and he doesn’t think he can, either. His throat feels like someone’s stabbed a spike through it. A hot, fiery spike. Julia must realize this, because she leans in and presses a hand to the front of his throat. For a brief, terrifying, moment, he thinks she’s actually going to strangle him, but something cool envelopes his throat, and slowly the fire fades.

“Thank you,” He murmurs, when she pulls away.

She nods, and moves to sit on the edge of the coffee table.

“Are you okay?” Margo asks, raises her eyebrows as she moves to sit next to him. “You scared us for a minute there.”

He scared them?

Quentin sits down next to him as well, but he doesn’t say anything. He just watches him quietly, which is almost as unnerving as Eliot’s gaze from across the room.

“So—“ Not Todd’s Penny says, “The Penny that’s married to Kady and Julia. Is that me?”

Todd shakes his head. “No. I don’t know what happens to you.”

Penny nods. “Right. Good to know, I guess.”

Kady raises a hand. “Can we go back to the part where I’m somehow dating Josh? What the fuck is that?”

Josh huffs. “What’s that supposed to mean? I’m a catch.”

“You also murder us all.”

Josh frowns, huffing. “Yeah, well, Alice. How many times have you betrayed everyone?”

“I haven’t brutally murdered anyone.”

“That we know of,” Eliot corrects.

“Guys,” Julia hisses, glaring at them, “Now’s really not the time to argue.” She turns back to Todd. “You only told us because you have a plan. Right?”

He nods.

She opens her mouth like she’s going to ask him something, but Quentin leans forward. “Jules,” He says, “He just had a panic attack. Give him a minute.” Todd’s heart skips a beat as he turns to look at him incredulously.

Is he seriously defending him? After what he did?

He’s starting to think Quentin Coldwater never changes.

He’s always been too good.

“As much as I’d love to advocate for post-panic attack calmness,” Eliot says, finally pushing away from the wall. Todd’s heart can’t take all the start-stop his families causing. “We’ve got bigger fish to fry. He’s here trying to keep Josh from killing us. And I’d like to assume that he told us everything because he has a plan?” He directs the question at Todd.

Todd blinks up at him, before realizing and then nodding, once, frantically. “Oh—uh. Yeah. A plan. I have that.” He tilts his head. “Kind of.”

“Kind of?” Josh squeaks, “No—not kind of. You need to keep me from killing everyone, otherwise I’m not taking that Jedi mind erase potion.”

“Do Jedi use potions?”

Quentin shakes his head, “No. They don’t.”

“I didn’t think so.”

“Not important!” Josh exclaims, glaring, and waving a hand at Todd, “What’s the plan here?”

Todd attempts a smile, but it falls prematurely as he shrugs a shoulder. “I think there are wolves that can help you. That aren’t murderous psychopaths.”

“Think?”

“Well, uh. I’ve met them. They didn’t—they chased me away all growley. One of them almost bit me.” He frowns at the memory, and takes a shaky breath. “You and I have to go alone. They uh—they’re territorial. Especially around magicians.”

“Oh great,” Eliot bites, turning on his heel and glaring up at the ceiling, his hand running through his hair shakily,“Yeah, let’s just leave you two alone.” The sarcasm is almost poignant.

Which. Ouch.

Todd swallows and pushes up from the couch, ignoring Margo reaching back out for him. “I’ll—I’ll be outside. Josh—you, uh,” His gaze darts around the room, desperately avoiding eye contact as he stumbles through the living room towards the entryway, “When you’re—,” He stops, and staring at the door, reaching out and wrapping his hand around the handle, “Just. Meet you out there.”

And then he pulls the door open and rushes out.

He barely hears Margo’s angry, “Eliot you fucking idiot—“ before the door closes behind him.

 

 

**

 

 

They’re just outside the wolves territory when Josh finally speaks up. “Everything that happens,” He says, “I think I owe you an apology.”

Todd shrugs a shoulder, “You didn’t kill me.”

“No, but I killed everyone you love.”

“You only killed one of them.”

Josh scoffs. “Yeah? Is that why you haven’t looked at me at all since the fairy queen showed you what happened?”

Todd stops, staring down at the ground in front of them, before closing his eyes and turning towards him. He inhales, once, slowly, before opening his eyes. “It’s my fault,” he says, “I’m the reason they sent you away. I’m the reason they erased you. I’m the reason you believed the wolves were your family. I’m,” He pauses, speaking slowly and carefully so Josh understands, “The reason you were brainwashed. I—I hate you for what you did. What you do. But I can’t blame you.” He shrugs and turns away again, “So don’t apologize to me.”

“You seriously think it’s all your fault?”

“Because it is.” He moves forward, “Are you coming or not?”

“Wait—“ Todd whips around, glaring and Josh frowns. “What?”

“We don’t have time to argue about who’s to blame. Who has more to be guilty for. You weren’t there. You aren’t the you that did what you did.” He pauses, frowning as he thinks over the sentence. He nods to himself once, deciding that yeah, it makes sense, and continues. “You have nothing to be guilty for, Josh. We’re going to talk to these wolves, they’re going to tell us how to stop the quickening, and then you’ll be free and clear of everything.”

Josh blinks at him, before sighing, he takes a step forward, nodding. “Fine. But you need to realize that once you fix everything, they won’t die. So you have nothing to be guilty for, either.”

Todd scoffs, and turns around to start walking.

He knows the second they step into the wolves territory. If the angry growl coming from behind a dumpster is anything to go by. And if not, the three jacked hairy guys that emerge from the alley and glare at them, teeth bared, is definitely something he can use as an identifier.

“Hey guys,” He says, drawing out the hey, “Good to see you again.”

The largest of them steps forward. His arms are almost the size of Todd’s head. Instinctively, Todd takes a step back. “Magicians,” He says, “Thought we made it clear you aren’t welcome here.”

Todd nods, as Josh takes a step back as well. “Yeah,” Todd says, nodding again, “See—thing is. I, uh. See.” He glances at Josh, before turning back to them, wide eyed and pointing a shaking finger at Josh. “Quickening.” He frowns, eyebrows furrowing, because he’s not sure that makes sense. But.

One of the wolves’ eyes go wide. “What’d you just say?”

“The—the quickening? He’s going to—“

The wolves look at each other, before the largest one sighs, deep and agitated. “All right,” He says, jerking his head to the side in a ‘follow me’ motion. “Let’s go.”

“Me too?”

The wolves roll their eyes, and Todd takes that as his permission to follow.

Josh doesn’t move. “Didn’t we agree I shouldn’t just follow after random wolves—“

“Shut up and come on,” Todd says, barely glancing back at him. “This is how we save everyone.” He turns his attention on the wolves. “Thank you, by the way.”

The smaller of the three looks down at him. “Don’t thank us yet,” He growls.

Todd nods. “No—yeah. Totally. Not thanking.” He purses his lips as the wolf turns his attention forward again. Now’s probably not the best time to ask, but. “I just—I have one more request?”

“We aren’t helping you.”

“Right, yeah. Obviously. Just. A friend of ours. Rumor has it she’s here.”

They all stop, turning to glare down at him. “Stop. Talking.”

Todd nods again. “Yeah,” He says, shaking his head, “I would love to. But I have this panic reflex, where I just—when people make me nervous, I mean. I just—“

“Who’s the friend?”

“You aren’t seriously—“

“It’ll get him to shut up, won’t it?”

“Her names Marina.”

The large wolf slams his mouth shut, and turns his attention on Todd. “What?” he asks, eyes widening like he’s surprised. “You know Marina?”

“I mean, yeah.”

“You’re a Brakebills Magician.”

“Yep. Well. Kind of. Not really. But, yeah. Mostly? Some.”

“How do you know Marina?”

Todd blinks. “Oh. Well. I don’t. Our friends do. She—tell her Julia sent me? And she’ll say she knows me. Well. Not me, me. But—“

“We get it,” The mostly quiet wolf says, holding a hand out between them. “Stop talking, and follow us. I’ll see if Marina wants to speak to you.”

 

 

**

 

Marina blinks at him from her place across the table. “Why are you here?” She asks. “I don’t know you,” her gaze darts over to Josh, “And he’s clearly far off from the quickening.”

“You know about the quickening? And you know me?”

“Don’t get all doe eyed on me, Josh,” She mutters, making a face, “You’re practically my really annoying little brother where I come from. This,” She motions to him, “Is weird.”

His shoulders slump. “Okay.”

She rolls her eyes, turning her attention on Todd. “Explain.”

“I’m from a different time line. Like you.”

“Which one? I’m told there are, like, forty of them.”

He makes a face. “This one. But. The future.”

She raises her eyebrows, before leaning in and crossing her arms over the table. “All right,” She says, “Now I’m interested. What’s happening in the future? Am I still alive?”

Todd blinks. “I—I don’t know. I’m not from Earth. I just—“ He glances over her shoulder at the wolves watching them, “I thought you. Would be able to get the wolves to accept Josh into your pack.”

“I’m not in the pack. Because I’m not a wolf.”

“No. But the hedge witches. They protect them. They protect you. Even though you’re not their Marina.”

She smirks, her ponytail swaying behind her as she sits up straight. “Doesn’t matter what timeline you’re from. When you garner respect, and come back from the dead, people—and wolves—respect that shit.” She crosses her arms over her chest. “Julia really send you?”

“I didn’t exactly tell her I would run into you here.”

“But you do know her.”

“Yeah. She’s—she’s kind of a goddess now.”

She looks surprised for a moment, before a slow smirk forms and she nods. “Yeah. That sounds about right.” She looks over her shoulder and motions for one of the wolves to come over. “Jesse, we need your help over here.” Turning back around to face Todd, she adds just for him to hear, “Don’t do anything stupid. He’s nice, but he doesn’t tolerate a lot of stupidity.”

“Or any,” a man—presumably Jesse—says, sidling up next to her and taking the seat. “I’m Jesse.” At least Todd’s right about some things.

Todd smiles. “Hi. I’m Todd, and this is Josh.”

Josh waves. “Hi.”

He’s being so remarkably quiet that Todd wonders how he hasn’t forgotten he’s there. Oh, he leans back and glances down. Josh’s quaking leg is why. He doesn’t know why he’s so nervous. He’s a wolf. He’s welcome here. Todd’s the one who should be shaking like a Fillorian rat.

Jesse looks them both over. “All right,” He says, after a long moment. “When were you bit?”

“Oh, straight to business then, got it.” Josh laughs nervously, “This guy doesn’t mess around, does he?” He asks, elbowing Todd’s arm.

“No,” Jesse says, “he doesn’t.”

Josh’s smile falls. “Okay, that’s fair. I wasn’t bit.”

“Sexually transmitted?”

Josh nods. “Sexually transmitted.”

“How long ago?”

“Maybe six months ago?”

“Any symptoms?”

“Only during the full moon.”

Todd looks at Marina as they continue their back and forth. “They all get into trouble again in the future?” She asks, tilting her head. “Or is there another reason you’ve travelled to the past?”

He shakes his head. “I—they all die. I’m trying to save them.”

“Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why’s it on you to save them? Sorry, but I’ve never even seen you before. Never heard of you, or anything. Everyone who runs with that group ends up on some magical creatures radar. Not you, though.”

“That’s because I’m solely from the future.”

“Who are you to them?”

“Family.”

She narrows her eyes, leaning in. “Yeah. But who’re your parents?”

“Does it matter?”

“No. But I’m curious.”

He swallows. “Margo. And Eliot.” She raises her eyebrows, “And Quentin.”

Before she can really question what that means, Jesse turns towards them. “He’s got a slow case. But I think we can help them. If you don’t mind him being around a lot.” He shoots a glance back at Josh, “I do mean a lot.”

Marina looks thoughtful for a moment, before sighing dramatically. “I guess we get to be heroes today, huh?” She shrugs. “Lets do this. But I do want to talk to Julia at some point.”

“I think we can do that,” Todd says, smiling, “Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me yet. Jesse’s gotta go over everything about the quickening with Josh. You can either stay or go. I know how to find Brakebills to bring him back.”

He thinks back on Eliot and the others at the cottage and shakes his head. “No—I’m. I’m okay here. If that’s all right.” He looks at Jesse hopefully. “With you, I mean.”

Jesse stares at him for a long moment. If you don’t talk, you can stay.”

“Deal.”

Josh scoffs. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard him not talk.”

Todd frowns. “You’re one to—“

“Starting now.” Todd nods, miming zipping his lips and sitting back in his seat. Jesse looks at Marina. “Is this something I’m going to regret?”

She shrugs one shoulder, “Probably.”

“Great.” He takes a deep breath and focuses solely on Josh. “All right. What do you know about wolves?”

“Wolf wolves or—“

Werewolves, obviously.” He already sounds like he’s regretting this.

“Uh. Just that on the full moon I really, really want to go run through the wolves and eat raw meat.”

“Okay. Do you shift yet?”

“Not completely, no.”

“That’s good. Do you know anything about the quickening?”

“Other than the fact that I’m going to be super dangerous and need the help of a pack to keep from murdering everyone I know and care about?”

Jesse blinks. “Right,” he draws the ‘i’ sound out, before settling back in the chair and crossing his arms over his chest. “The Quickening is basically an extreme allergic reaction. Some wolves react very quickly. Turning into a rabid wolf within three to four years after getting bit. Others . . . Like you. Take longer. It’s a slow devolve. Kind of like dementia, or Alzheimers. You know you’re fading away, but you can’t do anything about it.”

What?”

“The good news,” Jesse continues, as if Josh hadn’t spoken at all, “Is that with the right help, you won’t go rabid, at all.” He looks him over, appraising, “Would you be willing to give someone the bite?”

“Like—turn someone into a wolf? And them maybe end up like me? Hell no!”

The muscle in Jesse’s jaw jumps. “No. The Quickening only affects sexually transmitted wolves. You give someone the bite, they just become a wolf. No chance of going rabid. Unless they fight the wolf instincts.”

“Why would I—“

“It’s a cure.”

“Turning someone into a wolf is a cure? How?”

“You have a disease. Sexually Transmitted lycanthropy works different than that transmitted through the bite. You’ve got all this extra—“

“You’re a horny, rabid wolf, who needs release,” Marina interrupts. Jesse looks at her and she shrugs again. “What? It’s true!”

“Okay . . .” Josh breathes. “But, isn’t it cruel to—to turn someone into a wolf?”

“If a longer lifespan, immunity to most diseases,” Todd’s head jerks up, eyes widening as he continues, “stronger senses, and overall better mental health is cruel, then sure. Absolutely.” Jesse uncrosses his arms and leans forward. “There’s a lot of stigma about wolves, but it’s intentional. We saw the vampire craze that shook the world after Twilight, and we thought, yeah, let’s make sure being a wolf continues being seen as this awful thing—because the last thing we need is a bunch of 13 and 14 year old girls storming our territory.”

“Seriously?”

“Seriously.” Todd raises a hand, and Jesse sighs, rolling his eyes. “Didn’t I say no speaking?” Todd nods, but holds his hand up, waving it slightly. “Fine. One question.”

“The bit about immunity to most diseases. Does—does that apply to diseases that are already there? That—that aren’t active yet?”

“What?”

“If, say, someone who is going to die in the future from a disease gets the bite. Could that maybe, possibly, save them from dying in the future?”

Jesse watches him for a beat, before nodding like he understands. “If their body accepts the bite, and they turn? Absolutely.”

“So if we have someone—“

“He said one question, you’re going to get us both killed,” Josh interrupts, hissing.

Jesse holds a hand up, “No. Go ahead.”

Todd nods. “If we have someone who is destined to die from some mysterious illness in the future. It’s like cancer, but magical? If we know someone like that. Could—could Josh choose to bite them? And that’ll save them? And him?”

“Providing they’re healthy enough to survive the bite, and the body accepts it. Yes.”

“What if their body doesn’t accept the bite? Does it revert back to the quickening?”

Jesse’s lip twitches, like Todd’s asking all the right questions, and it kind of feels nice to not have all the hate in the world directed at him. “No. It doesn’t.”

“Why wouldn’t just biting a hunk of raw meat work?”

“The virus needs to spread. Can’t spread if the flesh is dead.”

Todd’s mind goes wild. It sounds too good to be true.

Is this how he does it?

Is this how he saves them all? He swallows thickly. Josh just has to join this pack and bite someone. Someone who might die anyways. Someone Todd loves. Someone he didn’t think he’d be able to save.

“Your heartbeat is all over the place,” Jesse notes, “Do you know something we don’t?”

“I think I have the perfect person for the bite.”

“Hold on—I didn’t agree to biting anyone!”

Todd stops, turning his entire body in his chair to glare at him. “You were just whining about how fucking guilty you feel outside,” He says, feeling something dark and angry coiling in his gut. “You can’t seriously say you feel guilty and refuse to make this—it’s not even a sacrifice. You can save everyone by doing one simple thing!”

“You want me to turn someone else into a werewolf! Do you not get how fucking crazy that is—“

“Not just anyone. Margo.”

Josh’s eyes go wide, eyebrows rising high on his forehead, “Oh fuck that,” He says, pointing a shaking finger, “You have got to be kidding. She’s dangerous enough just as a magician. Do you have any idea how dangerous she’d be as a fucking wolf?”

“I don’t care how dangerous she’d be!” Todd exclaims, standing up and slamming his fist into the table as he glares down at Josh, “I care that she’d be alive!” Josh’s mouth closes slowly. He stares up at Todd. If Todd didn’t know better, he’d think he looks a little . . . Scared.

“Oh.”

“We can save everyone,” Todd continues, calmer, as he sits down and looks at Jesse and Marina, who are both watching him with equally shocked faces. “We can save everyone. Why wouldn’t we?”

“Margo doesn’t seem the type to let someone bite her.”

“Margo’s the type that doesn’t want to die.” Todd murmurs, looking down at his hand. The aching burn in his knuckles finally registers as he twists his hand around to look at them. They’re bright red and pulsing. The knuckle above his middle finger has a small gash that’s starting to bleed.

Marina looks down, sighing. “I’ll go get some alcohol and bandages for that,” She says, before getting up and disappearing through a door.

Josh watches after her, before turning to Todd. “Look—I get it, man. I do. I’d want to save my mom, too. But—“

“There are no buts.”

“No, there are.” He nods, mostly to himself, “Mainly that she dies when you’re really young, right?”

“Yeah.” He doesn’t look away from his knuckles, oddly transfixed by the blood.

“You don’t know what could change if she lives longer than that, man. This could just be stepping on one too many butterflies—“

He finally breaks away from the blood and looks up at Josh. “It’s my future,” He says, “Your entire future is changing. You don’t know what’s coming. It’s my future I’m changing. I don’t care what you think about it, Josh. I’m telling you right now that you’re going to bite Margo. You’re going to save my mother. And in turn, they’ll help you save yourself.” His gaze darts across the table at Jesse. “Right?”

Jesse narrows his eyes, like he’s thinking about his answer, before shrugging. “Seems to me that saving a life is a fair cost for not going rabid.”

“You can’t be serious,” Josh says, snapping his own eyes over to Jesse, “You don’t know Margo—“

“Do you want to go rabid?”

“No!”

“Then I think you’ll do what the kid wants.”

“I thought you were in charge here.”

Jesse chuckles, glancing at Todd, and shaking his head, “You know,” He says, “I thought so, too. But he makes a convincing case.” He nods down to Todd’s aching hand, “And anyone willing to bleed for their cause, has a lot to fight for.”

“What?”

“I have a feeling if we don’t agree to what he wants, he’s going to drag you around to a bunch of other packs. Packs less friendly than ours.” His gaze slides back up to Todd’s, “And I have a feeling that’s how he ended up in the past in the first place.”

Todd nods. “There were mistakes made.”

“Then lets not repeat them.” He turns his attention on Josh. “I’ll make you a deal. This Margo chic decides she doesn’t want the bite? That’s fair game. We’ll find someone who does. But, why not give the kid a chance to save his mother?”

“Because she’s supposed to die.”

Todd’s shoulders go taut.

“How do you know that?” Jesse asks. “You’re not from the future, too, are you?”

“No, but she dies before—“

“She dies because she got sick, and didn’t get the bite. Everyone else died because you went rabid.” He glances at Todd, “That’s right, right?” Todd nods, heart hammering in his chest, and Jesse turns back to Josh. “For all you know everything happened because you didn’t bite her.”

Josh’s mouth opens and closes a few times, before Marina finally comes back into the room with an ice pack and some bandages.

“Think on it,” Jesse says, scooting his chair back and shooting Todd a look. “Ask her if she’s down. If she is, then the only way you don’t go rabid, Josh, is if you bite Margo.” He shrugs, glancing behind him at a few onlookers, “We’re going to get everything ready. I have a feeling this one’s not going to take no for an answer.” He smirks down at Todd. “You’re not so bad.”

Todd blinks. “Neither are you?”

“I know.” He pats Marina on the shoulder, and turns around, walking away without even a look back.

“This is fucking insane.”

Marina huffs out a breath through her nose as she pulls Todd’s hand towards her, “You’re a werewolf magician, hanging around a time traveler. And giving Margo the bite to avoid going rabid is the insane part?”

Josh slumps back in his seat. “Yeah. It is.”

“I liked you more when you were a bad ass,” Marina murmurs, focusing on bandaging Todd’s hand. “You’re kind of pathetic now.”

 

**

 

 

When they get back to the cottage, everyone is, miraculously, still waiting for them. Quentin’s the first one to notice when they walk through the door, standing up awkwardly, and brushing his hair behind his ear. “You’re back,” He says, swallowing and stepping side to side like he’s not sure what to do.

“We’re back.”

“What happened to your hand?” Margo asks, taking a few steps closer to them.

Quentin looks down at Todd’s hand as well. “Is there—is that blood seeping through—“

“It’s not important,” Todd says, moving to the center of the room, and dragging Josh along with his free hand. “We know what we have to do. To save everyone.” He looks at Margo meaningfully.

She quirks one eyebrow. “Is that so?”

He nods. “Everyone.”

She tilts her head and sits down on the nearest surface. “And how’s that possible?”

“Josh is—Josh is going to give you the bite.”

“The bite?”

“To become a werewolf.”

“I think the fuck not,” Eliot says, storming across the room with intent, stopping to stand in between Todd and Margo. “You must be out of your already deranged mind.”

Todd’s chin trembles but he straightens out his shoulders, lifting his chin in the way he’s seen Eliot do ten thousand times, and does what his entire upbringing taught him not to; he talks back to his father. “Do you want Margo to do?” He asks, standing his ground. “Because if Margo doesn’t get the bite, she’ll die. And then not long after, Josh is going to kill the rest of you. This is how we save everyone.”

Josh clears his throat. “There’s a way I don’t kill anyone that doesn’t involving biting Margo—“

“Does that involve saving Margo?” Quentin asks.

“No, but—“

“Then why are we even considering it?”

Todd whips around, eyes going wide as everyone follows his path to look at Quentin. “We aren’t,” He says, as Quentin’s gaze slides from Josh to him. “I told the wolves Josh bites Margo, or Josh bites nobody. And they agreed.” He swallows, turning his attention back on Margo. “Unless Margo decides she doesn’t want the bite.”

“Margo doesn’t want to be a werewolf,” Eliot says.

Margo furrows her eyebrows, turning to look at him. “Since when does Eliot decide what Margo wants?” She asks.

His eyebrows rise, “Are you kidding?”

“No. I’m not kidding. What is wrong with you?”

“You seriously want to become a werewolf?”

“No, but I want to be dead even less.” She crosses her arms over her chest. “Unless you want me to die a thankless death. In which case, Eliot. Please let us all know before anyone does anything stupid, like saving me.”

His face falls. “Bambi, you know that’s not—“

“Then what the fuck is the problem?”

“He is!” Eliot exclaims, pointing at Todd.

Todd’s heart falls, and he takes a step away from Eliot.

“How the fuck are we supposed to trust him?”

“I thought we were passed this, Eliot.”

“Passed what? Him lying to us and everyone eating it up?”

The last thing Todd expects is for Quentin to speak up for him, but. “El,” He says, moving towards them all. “He’s not lying to us. He’s your son.”

“I’ve played this game already—“

“No you haven’t.” Quentin makes a face. “Frey turned out not to be your daughter, but you still look at her like she’s your kid. What’s different this time? He’s from the future, which is a little ridiculous. But our lives are—our lives are insane. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility. We lived an entire lifetime together, and here we are. The same age we were the day we walked through the clock.”

Eliot makes a face, stepping away from them. “I’m not falling for this. I’ve never—“

“Jesus, El,” Margo mutters, “He even looks like us. How—“

“No. He doesn’t.”

Todd moves to stand against the wall and out of the way. “I’m sorry,” He says, shaking his head, “I shouldn’t have—I should have found a way to do this on my own. I didn’t want to create more problems. I just—I wanted to fix what I did.”

Eliot scoffs. “If any of this is real, how can you act like you care about anyone but yourself? You cared the minute everyone died. And you only care because you blame yourself.”

Margo’s mouth falls open. “Eliot!”

“At least in that aspect we’re one in the same,” Todd snaps. He shakes his head, wiping angrily at his burning eyes, “I spent my entire life trying to make you proud. And yeah, I failed on every fucking aspect because your expectations are so insanely high that nobody could reach them. I know you didn’t.” His chin trembles as he moves around the room, glaring at Eliot. “You had them erase my memory because you thought I was too fucking weak to handle the truth. What kind father does that?”

“You’re seriously yelling at me for something I haven’t even done yet.  That I don’t even know I will do!”

“No. Fuck you,” Todd shakes his head. “What I did was awful. And I will never forgive myself for it. Because I got you all killed. But I won’t act like I did it out of the fucking blue. I snapped because Quentin’s the one that came at me, asking me to marry my life away. My entire life I was sure of one thing; and that was that I could count on one of my parents to love me. Most nights I questioned whether or not you loved me. Every day was about earning your favor, becoming the king you wanted me to be.

“Hiding the woman I loved because you wouldn’t approve. I idolized you. And you saw me, not as your son, but as the heir of Fillory. You loved the son that doesn’t even exist from a timeline that never happened more than you loved me! And I’m actually your son!”

Eliot’s mouth falls open. Something flashes behind his eyes, and he stumbles back a step. “How—How do you know about Rupert?”

“We haven’t told anyone about what happened in Fillory,” Quentin breathes. “Not everything, at least. Not. Not that.”

“Yeah, well,” Todd throws an arm up, “You never let me forget about him.” He keeps his gaze locked on Eliot as he clenches his jaw. “That enough to make you believe I’m not fucking lying? That I couldn’t live up to the son that probably doesn’t even exist anymore?” Eliot’s face falls, eyes softening several degrees as he looks around the room at the rest of Todds family. Todd scoffs, turning his attention on Margo. “Do you want the bite or don’t you?”

He tries to ignore the way her eyes are watering, because he knows she doesn’t want anyone to comment on it, but it still tugs at her heart. She shouldn’t have to see any of this. She reaches forward, and grabs his arm by the elbow with both hands. “You’re damn fucking right I want the bite,” She says, shakily straightening her own shoulders out. “Someone has to keep these idiots from being idiots.”

He nods, once, and pulls away. “Okay. I’m going to call Marina. Set it up. Everyone’ll live, and none of this nastiness will have happened.” He glances back up Eliot again, swallowing down the tears that want to well up in his own eyes, along with everything else he never had the chance to say because he was too afraid. “Don’t worry,” He says, pointedly, “I’ll go back to being the respectful heir when you’re alive again.”

“Todd—“ Quentin starts.

Todd shakes his head, turning back to him. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I know you’re not you right now. But I’m sorry. You didn’t—don’t deserve what I do to you. And I will spend the rest of my life when everything’s fixed making it up to you.”

“Todd, I—“

“How long does the potion take to kick in, Julia?”

Julia inhales quickly, standing up from the couch, “About forty eight hours. And nobody will remember until they see you again. Not baby you. This you. Nobody’ll remember until you go back. It’s like Quentin and Eliot’s alternate life. We—we won’t remember the death or any of that. Just you being here.”

“Okay.” He takes a deep breath of his own and shrugs. “Everyone should take the potion now. I’ll tell them they need to do everything as soon as possible. If it works—“

“Are you going to just disappear?” Alice asks. “How does it work; you going back?”

He shrugs. “I don’t know. I’m winging it.” He resists the urge to mention that he knows Eliot hates when he does that. But Eliot’s already dragging his feet across the room to grab himself a drink at the bar. 

Kady huffs, standing up. “All right,” She says, “Can we finish with this emotional shit, handle everything, and get back to finishing the actual quest? This Todd shit isn’t the only shit going on in our lives right now.”

Todd nods. “I’ll go call now.” He looks around the room one more time, before nodding and turning towards the front door, pulling the phone Fogg gave him, out of his front pocket as he crosses the threshold.

Jesse’s enthusiastic and agrees to set up everything for early the next morning. He’s not sure why, but telling them as much feels like a goodbye. Even more so when he heads up the stairs and closes the door to his room behind him.

He rests his forehead on the wood, letting his eyes fall shut. If this doesn’t work, nothing will. If curing Josh and saving Margo doesn’t fix everything—nothing will. He pushes away from the door and heads over to the bed, pulling the blankets up and over himself once he lies down.

Not much later, he hears his door creak open, and feels someone lie down next to him.

Margo pulls the blanket down enough to motion for him to move over. When he doesn’t, she rolls her eyes and shoves him over, and forces her way under to blankets. When he just stares at her after that, she sighs dramatically, and pulls him into his, wrapping her arms around him.

“Whatever happens tomorrow,” She murmurs, “I know I’m not your mom yet, and it doesn’t really count yet. But, I want you to know that I love you, and I’m going to make sure you’re loved. Okay?”

“Margo—“

“Julia’s going to cast a compulsion to make sure we all take the potion, so you don’t need to worry about that, either.”

“I—“

“Go to sleep, Todd. We’ll figure everything else out in the morning.”

He wants to object, but he’s tired, and sore, and she’s warm, raking her fingers through his hair, and the objection dies on his tongue. He closes his eyes and curls up against her, inhaling deep.

 

 

**

 

 

He shouldn’t be surprised when he wakes up alone.

His bed is cold, and itchy, and he feels like he hasn’t slept in a century. Part of him wants to stay in bed, let them go handle everything alone. But he sighs sleepily, and forces himself out of bed, barely blinking as he heads across the room to grab some fresh clothes. The sun beats down on him through the open window, brighter and clearer than it’s been in days.

There’s something sweet and familiar in the air, but he’s too tired to think long on it. Maybe someones cooking breakfast. Blearily, he reaches into his dresser, somehow seemingly taller than it was the night before, and pulls out some clothes.

Huh.

The silky material rolls over his fingers, bright and beautiful. Nothing like the itchy cotton he remembers being in his dresser drawer.

He blinks down at it, thinking it might be his coronation robes. But they’re a different color. Softer, like they’ve recently been washed. Not like the angry, itchy fabric pulled down from storage he wore during his coronation.

He furrows his eyebrows and looks through the drawer. Everything in the drawer is silky and beautiful.

He turns around, frowning. It’s too early for pranks.

Of course, that’s when he realizes what the sweet taste in the air is. Why it’s so familiar. He takes a careful, testing deep breath in, eyes falling shut at the familiarity.

Fillory.

He drops the clothes, letting them carefully fall to the floor with a soft fluttering. Reaching up to rub at his eyes, he spins in place, and realizes that this isn’t his room at the cottage. The cool marble floors beneath him shine, glimmering around the room as the sun reflects off them. This is his room in the castle. He looks towards the window, and rushes across the room, sliding half way when he slips on the silk blankets that fell to the floor when he got up.

He crashes into the railing, mouth falling open, he looks out on Fillory. Green for miles, disappearing into the horizon.

He spins back around, heart hammering painfully in his chest, and stares, wide eyed at the door to his room. Swallowing thickly, he lets go of the railing and takes a step towards the door, and then another. One after another until he can reach out and wrap his fingers around the handle and yank it open.

It creaks loudly as he lets it gently bounce against the wall in his room and drift closed, until it hits his shoulder. He listens for footsteps, but hears nothing, so he leans out of his room and looks left, then right. The halls are empty. No soldiers or guards walking around. No sound echoing from any of the other rooms.

He stares for a long moment, before finally allowing himself to step over the threshold and into the hall. He holds his breath until both feet are out of the room. Opens his eyes; hadn’t even realized he’d closed them. And follows the familiar path leading to the throne room.

Each step that takes him closer makes his heart skip. Part of him isn’t sure he’ll even make it there. He’s had nightmares like this before. Dreaming of waking up in Fillory and finding his family laughing together over breakfast. Each step is a nightmare relived.

But unlike his nightmares, the hallways get shorter. And he can turn the corners. With each step, he actually makes progress. Each step brings him closer to where he’s supposed to be.

Each step leads him right up to the throne room doors.

He stands in front of them for a few long minutes, just staring up at their looming height. He’s torn between shoving them open, and just staying right here. Living in a fantasy that he fixed everything. A good dream, for once. If he doesn’t open the door he can’t puncture this bubble. If he lets the doors remain shut and looming, he doesn’t have to face whatever reality is on the other side.

But his fingers twitch. Which reminds him—he brings his hand up and looks it over. His knuckles are still bruised and battered. His heart skips a beat as he reaches up with his other hand and gently grazes his fingers over the bruises. He hisses as pain shoots up his arm, and inhales quickly as his gaze darts back up tot he door.

Don’t they say you can’t feel pain your dreams?

His stomach flips. And before he knows what he’s doing, he’s moving forward and pushing the doors open. As soon as they crack, he hears a chorus of murmuring, clanking plates and forks. He steps through, careful not be too hopeful. His eyes close of their own accord, and he stops, just inside the doorway, letting them clink shut behind him.

The murmuring stops, the sound of forks falling to plates echoing around the room. He can practically feel them all staring at them. But who are they? Wolves? Or his family?

“Todd?”

It’s Fen. It’s Fen. That’s Fen. He knows her voice. And she sounds half shocked, half relieved, and it—

He—oh god.

“You’re back.”

He opens his eyes, feels the tears fall before he can even think to catch them.

“Welcome back. How was your vacation?” Alice says, grinning. “Don’t look at me like. It’s just a good thing we have plenty of breakfast. Sit down.” It’s so . . . Her. To ignore what he’s done, and just set the motion is everyone moving on. Now that he knows her past, it kind of makes sense.

“Are you okay?” Julia asks, pushing her chair back. Her eyebrows are pursed curiously, and the closer she gets to him, the faster his heart races.

Because she’s older, and she’s his aunt. And she actually looks happy to see him. It’s a harsh contradiction to the past year.

“No, yeah. I’m—I’m—“ His chin trembles, and he can’t stop himself from running across the room and wrapping his arms around Julia as tight as he can. She pauses, tensing up, but then laughing softly and wrapping him up in the hug.

“Well, good morning to you, too.” She chuckles into his ear. The chuckle is less humorous, and more breathy and worried like she’s not sure what to think. And he can’t blame her. As far as she and everyone else is concerned, he took a trip, renounced his claim to the throne, and said he wanted no contact with the royal family. Leaves room for a whole lot of confusion. “Are you okay?” She asks, softer. “Did something—"

Eliot starts to say something from his place at the table, but stops mid word. At the exact moment, Julia jerks away, stopping to hold Todd at arms length. Her eyes go wide, and her mouth falls open. Todd looks passed her, to see that everyone else at the table has a similar look on their face.

“Todd?” Quentin asks, voice soft. So much softer than Todd knows what to do with.

The potion must be wearing off now that he’s back. That’s what she said would happen, isn’t it?

Todd looks around the table, his heart pitter pattering excitedly in his chest like it doesn’t know what to do right now. Josh is sitting next to Alice, who’s sitting next to Penny, who’s sitting next to Quentin—

Then there’s Eliot, and Fen, and—and.

Where are Margo and Kady?

He doesn’t realize he’d said it out loud until Julia swallows thickly and lets go of him. “Uh,” She says, swallowing again and tucking her hair behind her ear. “Kady’s walking the grounds with your nephew.”

There’s a lot to unpack there. “Nephew?”

She looks mildly alarmed for a minute, before her eyes widen and she nods shakily. “Yeah, she’s his godmother. Josh has a meeting later today, and his mother’s off volunteering in the village. So Kady volunteered to watch him for the day. Did you really—”

“I have a nephew?”

Her eyebrows shoot up, and she nods. “You have a nephew.”

He smiles to himself, feels something warm and fuzzy work its way down his spine as he moves in closer to the table. Julia grabs his hand, lacing her fingers through his and her free hand around his arm. “But where’s Margo?” He asks, as they close the distance between them and the table. “I want to—“ He stops himself at the look they pass each other. “What? What’s going on?”

“Maybe . . . you should sit down,” Fen says, placing a hand on the chair next to her and motioning for him to come over.

“Yeah, eat some breakfast. You must be starving—“

Todd shakes his head, stopping. “Where’s Margo?” He asks. “What’s going on?”

“At least now I know what she said I forgot,” Eliot murmurs with a deep sigh. “Come sit next to me, Todd.”

He furrows his brow. “Do—you remember what I—“

Eliot nods. “Yeah. I do. But only, like. Thirty seconds ago.” He shrugs, “Much more poignant than that is the fact that I love you, and that I need you to come over so I can hug you and make sure you know that.” He raises his eyebrows, and nods once, “So. Come give me a hug.

Todd stares at him for a few seconds before a pitiful sound works up through his throat and he closes the distance between them to wrap himself up in his father. Eliot’s hold around him is tight and sure, his hand carefully gripping the back of his head and holding him to him. He breathes him in through his nose. This is the scent he knows. Not that of cigarette and alcohol and grief he grew to know in the past. But this. His father.

This is his father.

It’s not long before a new set of hands appear. “I think it’s my turn,” Quentin says, soft. “Unless you’re going to hog hugging him, Eliot.”

Eliot lets out a wet chuckle, and it takes him pulling away from Todd to realize he’s crying. He reaches up and swipes the tears away. “Kings aren’t supposed to cry, remember?”

“Fuck that,” Eliot says, voice slightly choked off. “Hug your other father and let me be emotional for once.”

Todd laughs, his own vision watery as he turns to Quentin and is immediately pulled into a wrought iron grip. Quentin’s hair tickles his nose, but he doesn’t care. He wraps his arms around him as tight as he can. “I’m so sorry,” He says, the words coming out muffled against Quentin’s chest.

Quentin pulls away, just enough to look him in the eyes. He raises his eyes, and makes sure Todd’s looking him in the eye. “Don’t you dare,” He says, “Don’t apologize to me, Todd. Not now. Not over this.”

“But—“

“Stop.” He smiles, his own tears slipping over his smile wrinkles, “I don’t care what happened. I love you. And you did nothing wrong.” He squeezes Todd’s shoulders, “None of it happened. We’re all here. Because of you.”

“I still left. I said—I said awful things—“

“You didn’t say anything you didn’t have a right to say,” Quentin interrupts. “Stop trying to apologize. You’re here, that’s all that matters.”

“Is Mar—mom, mad at me?”

Quentin’s eyes dart away, face falling. “Listen—“

“I just want to see her, you know?” Todd continues, “Even if she is. I’ll make it up to her. I just—I never got to see her grow old before—“

“Todd,” Julia tries.

Todd ignores her, barreling on. “And that last day—I think I may have disappeared without saying goodbye. So she’s probably peeved about that. Even though it meant that—“

“Todd, stop,” Fen says, leaning across the table to grab his hand. “You’ve got to stop, bunny.”

He frowns. “What? Why?” He looks around the table, but they’re all looking at him with the same, strange sad look on their faces. “Why are you—“ Fen’s lips twitch, and he jerks away from the table. “Why are you looking at me like that?” They just keep staring at him, and he stumbles backwards another step. “Don’t—don’t look at me like that. Stop it.”

Quentin stands up, holding a hand out between them. “Todd, it’s—“

Where is my mother?”

“Todd—“

“Where the fuck is my mother?”

Quentin moves in closer, like he’s approaching a wild animal. “Just come sit back down and we’ll—“

“No. Because she should—“ His gaze darts around the room. Across the table, to the thrones, and back. “She should—“ He points at the throne, “That should—“ He stops, hands dropping to his side, and face falling as his looks at his fathers. “It should have . . .” His mouth falls open and he doesn’t even realize his legs have given way until Quentin rushes forward and catches him before he falls.

Quentin holds most of his weight as they fall to the ground. His arms wrap around the entirety of Todd’s body, holding him from shoulder to shoulder.

“It didn’t work.”

Quentin shakes his head against him, “No,” He murmurs, “I’m sorry, Todd.”

“I don’t understand.”

The rest of his family slowly pushes away from the table, and move to kneel on the ground around them, Eliot taking the empty space to his left while Quentin stays on his right. Fen and Julia each reach out and take one of his hands from their places. Alice, Josh and Penny take up the empty space around him.

“I bit her,” Josh says, “When you weren’t there in the morning, we all kind of assumed that meant this was the right way to do things.”

“That or you ran away.” Eliot adds, bumping his shoulder against Todd’s, “But Margo made it clear that you’d been through too much to give up when we were so close. So we kept the appointment with the pack.”

“And I bit Margo.”

“We thought it worked,” Julia says, “But not long after that, we had some . . .  other major stuff to deal with it.”

“I know that,” Todd mutters, leaning into Quentin. He feels a little faint. “That doesn’t explain why  it didn’t work.”

“Once we were all back to ourselves, we didn’t know what we’d done—“

“Except Margo,” Julia interrupts, “She made me exclude her from the compulsion.”

Todd sits up, jerking his gaze over to her. “What?”

She shrugs a shoulder. “She made a strong argument about if these things don’t work, she wanted to still have the opportunity to be there for her son. I was a goddess at the time . . . I couldn’t deny her that. A mothers love for her son is the strongest magic. At least I think I remember thinking that.”

“We didn’t know we needed to try again.”

“And she got sick.”

Quentin nods. “And she got sick.”

Before he can reply, the throne room doors burst open, and Kady crashes through with a toddler on her hip. “You will not believe what I just re—“ She stops short, staring at them from the other side of table. “Either you all remembered what I just remembered, or you’re just real high today.”

Todd looks up at her, and the blonde boy on her hip. “Is that my nephew?”

She takes a deep breath and nods. “Well that answers that,” She says. “And the question of why the hell I just remembered everything all at once.”

“I’m so glad you know whats happening,” Penny says, staring up at her a little helplessly, “Because I have no fucking clue what’s going on right now.”

“Oh shit,” Josh chirps, sitting up, and leveling him with a stare. “You were dead when everything went down.” He looks back at Julia and Alice, adding. “It’s probably a good thing he doesn’t know that I almost killed everyone.”

Penny’s eyes go comically wide. “You did what.” And Josh flinches like he knows he should have said it out loud.

“It’s a long story, we’ll talk about it later,” Julia says, settling a hand on his shoulder gently. “It’s why we’re not screaming at Todd for running off after Quentin was a jack ass.”

“I was wondering why nobody tried to kick his ass when he walked through the door like nothing happened.”  He harrumphs, “He said he was severing all contact with the royal family. He’s just lucky I didn’t—“

“Okay, Penny,” Julia chastises, squeezing his shoulder, “We all know you’re an emotionless rock, you don’t need to prove yourself.” She raises one eyebrow as he frowns, before a smile tugs at the edges of her lips. Penny rolls his eyes, and reaches around to wrap an arm around her waist.

Todd laughs halfheartedly with his family, letting Quentin and Eliot hug him to them. At least he has this. All of them, together. Laughing and joking. Eating breakfast like nothings happened. It makes sense.

Because, to them, Margo died more than a decade ago. Nearly two.

But for Todd? He can still feel her pulling the blanket up and over them and forcefully telling him to go to sleep. For him, it was less an hour ago.

 

 

**

 

He finds her where he left her.

The token spot in the royal tombs. Apparently, before she died, she told anyone and everyone that listened that she’d better be cremated. He remembers Eliot saying she was too pretty to rot, anyways, but that he wasn’t going to not grant her one dying wish. She still has a spot in the tombs, though, at the center of Coldwaughson legacy stone. A plaque made of some of Fillory’s finest gems, and rarest metals, raised above the stone.

He stands in front of it, ignoring the tears that slip over his cheeks.

Somehow he feels like he’s failed her. She’d probably punch him, if she were here. No, there’s no probably about it. She’d tell him to stop crying, and then when doesn’t, she’d just punch him in the arm. She’d say she’s pissed about being dead, but that they got to know each other. That he shouldn’t be so sad.

She’s been dead almost his entire life. It shouldn’t hurt this much.

But he can still see her, clear as day in his memory, laughing at Quentin, or stressing about Eliot. Pretending not to care, and curling up under the blankets when it all gets to be too much.

People say he’s like Eliot. A perfect reflection of his father. And he’d believed them. Because he didn’t know her; didn’t know he could be like her.

He’s as quick to a temper she was. Quick to judge, and even quicker too, to care about people. Scared to show it, even. Full of love, unsure of how to express it. That’s one of the big takeaways, he thinks. He’d known she was the best monarch Fillory’s ever known. He knew she loved her family deeply. He knew her from his families memories, so his memories of her were tinged with their own bias’. Of which, there were many.

She was too brash. Too argumentative. Too sexual. Too demanding.

For every person in his family, and even out of it, Margo was always too much something.

Maybe it’s different for him. Maybe it’s because she’s his mother.

But Margo wasn’t too much anything. She was loud, and opinionated. Kind and courageous. Everything he always imagined she’d be. Her hugs were warm and sure. And even at the darkest moments, she didn’t leave him to fend for himself. Even when she couldn’t even be sure he was who he said he was.

“I thought I’d find you in here.” Todd sniffles, clearing his throat and looking over his shoulder. Eliot smiles apologetically. “You okay?”

Todd shrugs, turning his attention back on the plaque. God, he’s not ready for a moment alone with him.“I don’t know,” He murmurs. “I—I did it. But I still feel like I failed.”

“I figured as much,” Eliot says, soft, as he moves to stand next to him. He holds out an orchid, “Do you want to replace the old one for me? I’m getting old, and reaching up so high is just too much work.”

It’s a weak lie, but Todd looks at the purple orchid for a long moment before nodding and shakily taking the orchid with one hand, and wiping at his nose with his other. “I know I should be happy,” He says, as he turns away from him and plucks the decaying orchid from the landing and replacing it with the fresh one. “But it just. Feels like I don’t get to be happy. Like I can’t—“

Eliot places a hand on his shoulder, effectively silencing him, and gently takes the old orchid from his hand and sets it down on the table with the candles. “Let’s sit down,” He murmurs, turning him around to lead him towards the bench not a foot away. Todd follows silently, and sits down when prompted.

They sit in silence for a moment, staring up at Margo’s headstone.

“When your mother died,” Eliot finally says, “It was during the happiest time of our lives. We didn’t think she’d actually die, because it’s Margo, and god, does she endure whatever the universe throws at her.” He shrugs a shoulder, and Todd almost misses the tears in his eyes as he looks away. “We thought we were at the high point. Our kingdom was finally thriving, and we had a family. We had you. And for once, there were no magical, or nonmagical, threats trying to take it away.”

He pauses, taking a few deep breaths, like he’s trying to level himself out and be strong for Todd, before finally turning his gaze back on him. “The day your mother died, felt like my soul had been ripped in half. Like I could never be whole again.” He reaches forward and cups Todd’s cheek. “I know I’m terrible at showing it, Todd. But you and Quentin. You stitched me back together. You are my entire world, kid.”

“Dad—“

“No, let me—just. Let me.” He twists on the bench so he can cup both of Todd’s cheeks, and looks him in the eye. “I remember what you told me, the night before you disappeared. And I am so, so sorry that I’ve made you feel like you’re not enough. Because, trust me, please, Todd. Trust me when I say, you are more than enough. You are twice the man I could ever be—“

Todd’s chin trembles, and he reaches up to wrap his hands around Eliot’s wrist. “I—no. Dad. I was just—“

“Stop talking for a second, god,” He forces a smile with a roll of his eyes, which is muted by the tears it forces down and over his cheeks, “You talk so much, half the time I think you’re Quentin’s.”

Todd makes a choked off sound that’s part laugh, part sob, and squeezes Eliot’s wrists tighter.

“You don’t know how proud I am of you.” Eliot nods, holding on tighter as Todd tries to pull away so Eliot doesn’t have to see how close that brings him to breaking down. “Of the man you’ve become. Of your strength, and your courage.” He brushes his thumb over Todd’s cheek, swiping away the tears there. “Of everything you’ve done. I am so fucking proud of you.”

Todd breaks then, because of course he does. And he pulls away, just enough that he can separate them so he can bury his face in Eliot’s chest. The tears come fast and heavy, blanketed with sobs as Eliot holds him. He knows he’s not the only one crying, though, because his shirt grows damper by the second, where Eliot’s face is tucked into on his shoulder.

“I’m sorry dad—“

“Stop apologizing,” Eliot chokes out, sound muffled by the hoarseness of his voice, and Todd’s shirt. He pulls away, holding Todd by the shoulders. “I need you to know something else.” He nods, once, like he’s serious. “Margo? She wouldn’t want you to be sad. Because you know what she’s doing right now, Todd?”

“What?”

“She’s probably making all the dead guys in the underworld worship her on their knees, and taking as many suitable lovers as she wants.” He nods, as Todd makes a face, “She’s probably the new ruler of the under world at this point. Honestly. Hades who?”

“God, that’s gross.”

Eliot just laughs through his tears, nodding. “Maybe for you. Honestly, I’m rooting for her. Her favorite vibe died on her thr—“

“No!” Todd exclaims wide eyed, “Please dear god, don’t finish that sentence.”

Eliot closes his mouth, before grinning, and pulling Todd back in for another hug. “I’m glad you’re home, kid. We missed you.”

Todd swallows, wrapping his arms around his waist and nodding into the crook of Eliot’s neck. “I missed you, too.”

 

 

**

 

By the time he gets done meeting his nephew, and updating Penny on what exactly happened—and getting crushed in a hug so tight, he fears his ribs will bruise from Penny—the suns set, and his aunts and uncles have retired to their own rooms. Luckily, not much has changed in that respect.

Kady’s still married to Julia and Penny. Her relationship with Josh hadn’t been as explosively important as the vision quest the fairy queen sent him on made it seem. Them falling out of love with each other didn’t really affect anything. It just opened the door for one big polyamorous family. Josh met a girl from the village that, unlike a lot of Fillorian’s, didn’t see a problem with his lycanthropy. That’s the biggest change. The three of them sharing a tower in the castle with their toddler, Alex.

Everything else is exactly as he left it.

Which is why he isn’t surprised to find Quentin sitting alone in the armory reading one of the Fillory and Further books.

“Weren’t you the one that told me reading in the dark is bad for your eyes?” He asks, stepping through the doorway, hesitant. He’s not really sure how to act around him anymore.

But Quentin looks up, and his gaze is no different than it’s been all of Todd’s life. The only difference now, is that Todd takes the time to appreciate it. To bask it in. How had he been so naive before? It’s so blatant and clear how much Quentin loves him. It’s practically settling in the air.

He offers a tired smile. “I’ve got old person eyes. It doesn’t matter if my vision goes bad.” He scoots to the side and motions for Todd to sit with him. “Because when I inevitably go blind, I have a son who can do all my reading for me. Right?”

Todd nods, smiling softly as he takes the seat next to him. “Anytime you want.”

Quentin closes the book, and stares down at the cover for a long moment. Neither of them speak for a few minutes, until Quentin let’s out a shaky breath and breaks the silence with, “I owe you an apology.”

Todds head jerks up. “What? No—you definitely don’t.”

Quentin shakes his own head, turning to look at him. “I never should have made such a ridiculous demand, Todd.”

“But I—“

“You had every right to react the way you did.”

Todd stands up, flipping around to face him. “No. I didn’t.” He holds a hand out between them. “Stop, dad. Listen to me.” He kneels down in front of him, and stares up at him. “My entire life . . . I. I have taken you for granted.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Todd.”

“No. I have.” Quentin opens his mouth like he’s going to respond, but Todd shakes his head. “Stop. I’ve—I’ve never appreciated all that you’ve done for me. So, you can’t apologize, because I’m apologizing.” He nods mostly to himself, “So, yeah.”

“Alright,” Quentin says after a loaded minute, before nodding as well, and holding his hands out. “Get up. We have to do something.”

“Huh?”

He stands up and continues holding his hands out. “Up, Todd. Today.” Todd takes his hands and allows himself to be pulled up, raising an eyebrow at Quentin. “You, me and Eliot have a trip to go on.”

“What?” He frowns, taking a step back. Maybe all the niceness is a ploy to get him out to the middle of nowhere and abandon him, like he abandoned them—

“Stop thinking crazy things,” Quentin chastises, bumping against the back of the head playfully, “Nobody thinks you abandoned them.”

“I didn’t say I—“

“You didn’t need to.” He smiles and turns towards the hall, “Come on. Eliot’s already on the Muntjac waiting for us.”

“Where are we going exactly?”

Quentin shrugs, not bothering to look back. “Well, you’re the one with a secret girlfriend out there, so I’d imagine you’re going to be setting the itinerary.”

“Wait,” Todd stops in the doorway, “What?”

“No time to waste, Todd. Come on.”

“We can’t just—show up!”

“Sure we can,” Quentin glances over his shoulder at him. “You love her don’t you?”

“I mean—yeah. I just. Don’t you think—that I should. Just be around my family right now? Considering, you know—“ He waves his arms around frantically, “Everything?” Not to mention he’s not even sure he ever loved her, if his reaction to seeing her during the vision quest is anything to go by.

He nods. “You could do that,” He murmurs, “But there’s a box of letters from your mother that we were explicitly told not to give you until we meet the woman you love when you’re twenty three.” He furrows his eyebrows, looking thoughtful. “I think you’re twenty three, and in love, now, aren’t you?”

A box of letters? From Margo? “You can’t—“ He splutters, “That’s—that’s extortion!”

“Is it?”

“Yes! And It’s illegal!”

Quentin nods again. “Maybe,” He murmurs, turning his attention forward and continuing down the hallway, with a careful, “But we are the royal family,” called over his shoulder.

Todd blinks. Before letting his head hang for a moment and then following after Quentin.

Better sooner than later, he guesses, on figuring out if he actually loves her, or it was some stupid defiant bullshit on his part.

If it’s the latter, he’s just going to feel worse for dragging his parents halfway across the world.

 

 

**

 

He shouldn’t be surprised that they’re all waiting on the Muntjac, and not just Eliot.

But, somehow, he is.

And they shouldn’t be surprised when he’s so overcome with emotion, that he bursts into tears as soon as he sees them.

He doesn’t think they’re all that surprise, though. Because they envelope him in a weather tight hug that fills him to the brim with warmth.

 

**

 

 

He’s not sure why it surprises him when he dreams of their deaths the first night on the Muntjac. But he wakes up to Kady shaking him awake, while the rest of his family stares on worriedly. It takes him a few minutes to realize that this is real. That his dream was the lie.

That they never died.

They all sleep on the floor after that, a big pile of bodies with Todd at the center.

 

 

**

 

Two days later, he stands on the dock, staring across the village with shaking hands. He thinks he might throw up. Eliot settles a hand on his shoulder and grins down at him. “Lead the way, kid,” He says. Todd looks to his right, at Quentin, and takes a deep breath.

He doesn’t have to lead them far, though.

Because, like a cruel twist of fate—

He crashes into her as she’s chasing after her little sister through the market. He looks down at her, heart stopping and restarting as she opens her eyes and looks up at him.

One glance. That’s all it takes for him to remember he loves her. Actually—truly.

It washes over him fast and violent; a tsunami of love that he’s going to drown in if he isn’t careful.

“Oh. I’m so—“ She stops as she pulls away, slow realization dawning. Then, she shoves him backwards, glaring as her eyebrows furrow angrily. “You absolute—you—“ Her eyes go wide, mouth slamming shut so hard and fast that he can hear her teeth clank together as she moves backwards a step. “Your majesty,” She breathes, bowing slightly. “I can explain—“

Todd frowns, slightly, before realizing how this must look to her and moving forward.  “Sofia—stop. You don’t need to—“

She doesn’t stop bowing, but she does open her eyes and look up, defiant. “You disappear after—after—“ Her eyes dart to his family, all crowded around them, and then back to him, locking her eyes on his. “After what you said. How shall I be expected to behave, crown prince?”

He winces. “I can explain.”

“You are royalty,” She says, finally moving to stand again, “We all know royalty isn’t expected to explain themselves.”

“I like her,” Kady says from behind him. “She’s feisty. Won’t take any of his shit.”

Sofia’s eyes dart behind him, flicking between him and his family. “What’s going on?” She asks after a moment. “Why—Todd, have you brought the entire royal court here?”

He shrugs a shoulder. “Yeah. They, uh. They wanted to meet you.”

Her eyes go wide, as she finally zeroes in on him. He can see the confusion settling in them. And the slow, cautious realization as she straightens out her shoulders. The anger’s still there, sizzling beneath the surface. “You told them about me.” It’s not even a question. She’s too smart.

God, he loves her.

“Kind of?” He says. She tilts her head, and he cautiously takes a step closer to her. “Something happened, and I had to—to fix it. And that meant—“ He pauses, frowning. “I don’t really know how to—“

Penny moves through his family and leans in, “He traveled back in time to save us all from a really shitty death.” He glances at Todd, “You’re welcome.” And then he disappears as Kady and Julia yank him back, muttering something Todd can’t hear. One of them slap him upside the back of the head. He’s willing to wager that it’s Kady.

Sofia stares at them for a long moment. “I—don’t know what I’m expected to say to that.”

“Nothing,” Todd says, shaking his head and taking another step towards her. She doesn’t back away, which, he hopes, is a good sign. “I want to say something, though.” He holds a hand out to her. She looks down at it, and back up to him, before sighing and taking it. Todd smiles. “I’d like to introduce you to my family.”

“Didn’t we agree—“

“I was an idiot.”

“Perhaps. But I’m still not—“

“I’m not asking you to. I just—I want you to be a part of my life. And to be a part of yours.”

She huffs, rolling her eyes. “That was gross.”

He scoffs. “Says the woman who—“

“You wouldn’t dare--“ She starts, narrowing her eyes dangerously.

Behind him, he hears someone laugh, and he’s reminded of where they are. He pulls her into him, ignoring her shocked gasp, and holds her to him. “There’s—Sofia,” He says, “I really want you to meet my dad.”

“I’ve already met your father.”

He shakes his head. “No,” He breathes, turning them both around so he can face his family. “I want you to meet my dad.” Quentin’s standing beside Eliot, smiling softly. Oblivious. He glances at Eliot, nudging him with his shoulder. Eliot raises his eyebrows, corners of his mouth twitching as he looks down at Quentin. “Sofia,” Todd says, locking his gaze on Quentin. Quentin frowns, looking behind him, and then back. His mouth drops open slightly, as Alice pushes him forward. He stumbles a step before straightening out and stopping in front of Todd and Sofia. “This is my dad, Quentin. Dad,” He smiles, “This is Sofia.”

Quentin looks between the two of them.

His chin dimples like he’s trying not to cry, and he pulls his lower lip into his mouth, wrapping his arms around his waist and nodding. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Sofia.” It sounds like he’s trying to remain regal, but his voices pitches halfway through the sentence, and Eliot moves forward to wrap an arm around his waist, lacing his fingers through Quentin’s at Quentins hip.

Sofia smiles. “It’s a pleasure to meet you as well, your majesty.”

Quentin sniffles, shaking his head, “You don’t need to call me majesty. Just—you can. You can call me Quentin.”

“I’d be honored.”

Quentin’s eyes dart over to Todd. “I like her,” He says.

Todd grins. “So do I.”

Sofia looks up at him, rolling her eyes. “All right,” She says, “This doesn’t get you off the hook—“

“Trust me,” Todd replies, “I’m well aware.”

“Good. Then I’d like to invite you all to dinner.” She turns back to them, “It’s not exactly food fit for a king, but I’m told my fathers stew is the best in the village.”

Quentin and Eliot grin at her, “We aren’t picky,” Quentin says. Eliot makes a face, but Quentin subtly elbows him in the ribs. “We’re just happy to get to know the woman Todd loves.”

Sofia looks back at Todd, smile tugging at her lips. “I like the sound of that.”

He stares down at her, something warm and kind tugging at his heart for once, nodding. “So do I,” He repeats, reaching down to lace his fingers through hers. “I’d also like to talk to your sister, before she takes it upon herself to throw rocks at my head for disappearing.”

“I think that can be arranged.” She glances back at his family, “Follow me. Father will be pleased to have guests.”

 

 

**

 

 

Later, when his belly is full of stew, and Sofia’s off talking to Alice and Fen, gathering stories from Todd’s childhood, he makes his way to the beach to stare across the water.

He wonders if he’ll ever forget what happened.

Part of him wants to.

Wants to erase their deaths from his memory entirely. Forget the vision quest the fairy queen sent him on. Forget his family hating him for a year. Forget the hopelessness. Forget walking into the throne room that day. Being crowned king. Meeting Jane in the woods. He just wants to leave it all in the past, and pretend he never went back. To be the Todd he was before his family died and he brought them back.

But there’s another part; stronger and smarter that knows he needs to keep it with him. Hold it close to his heart. Not just because he got to know his mother. Not just because he learned her quirks and bad habits, and actually felt her love coursing through him. Or because he finally got to Earth. Or because he met Jane Chatwin. Nothing so obvious.

He has to keep it. Has to hold onto the memories, like his dads did with their separate timeline, because it changed him. Sure, it broke him down, and took everything good in his life and crushed it to dust. But it changed him. For the better.

His family won’t admit it. Not even Penny. But, before, he was selfish. Spoiled.

Before, he only put himself first.

Before, he didn’t even care about Quentin, not really. Not in a way that counted.

He didn’t know how to. Didn’t know he needed to.

He didn’t know a life without their unconditional love.

Now he does. He knows what it is to be on the outside. To bare the weight of the universe on his shoulders. To watch his family die.  To have his mothers love. And to be the one they can count on.

He looks over his shoulder at his family. They’re talking and laughing with Sofia and her family. He can’t believe he doubted loving her; not when she’s standing so near, smiling. Not when they’re looking at her like she belongs. Like she could one day be his bride.

He swallows thickly, smiling to himself, and looks back across the beach to the water.

A few days ago, he’d have sworn he’d never be happy again.

It’s going to be a while before he heals completely. Before he stops having nightmares. Before he stops waking up, shocked to find his family laughing and smiling and alive. Before he can really believe it’s all over.

But, at least right now, he can admit to himself that he’s going to be okay.

They all are.

Chapter Text

He stumbles across Jane Chatwins clearing shortly before being crowned king. Deja Vu dances around the clearing as she turns in place and smiles at him. He hadn’t intended to come here, but he realizes, as she stares at him all ease and pride that there’s nowhere else he could’ve meant to go. He resists the urge to roll his eyes at her lack of humility as he rolls the edges of the crown in his hand. His thumb presses up against the stone at the front of it, easing over the coarse edges.

It’s strange being back here. He can almost feel the grief from before in he air around them. It’s disconnected this time, no longer a part of him. No longer his. Just another fragment of time stuck in the bubble of timelessness with Jane.

After so long it’s strange reuniting with it. Even stranger still, coming face to face with her.

It’s not that he never searched for her, or her clearing, it’s just that before today, it had never crossed his mind that it’d still be here. Like his other life never lived, part of him just assumed Jane Chatwin would fade away.

Of course it didn’t. Of course she didn’t.

He and Jane have their insurmountable ability to survive no matter the odds in common.

“Well,” Jane says, setting her shoulders and clasping her hands together in front of her. “It’s certainly taken you long enough to come for a visit.”

He nods ruefully. “Yeah. Sorry.”

She shakes her head, waving one hand and turning around, “Care for a cup of tea?”

“No, thank you. I, uh, don’t have a lot of time.”

She looks over her shoulder at him, “Is that so?”

Nodding, Todd takes a step closer to her. Everything he should have said more than a decade ago washes through him. “I owe you a thank you. And an apology. And, god, my life. I wouldn’t be standing here today, while my family loses their minds around the castle trying to make sure my coronation is perfect.”

“Please. It was what needed to be done. You needn’t apologize. Or thank me, for that matter. It was years ago now, Todd.” 

“Not for you.”

She finally turns to face him full on again, and nods once. “No, not for me.”

 

**

 

Quentin pulls him aside when they finally return to the castle. The rest of the family shuffles off to annoy the woman he loves, and the sound of their chattering disappears entirely as Quentin closes the door behind them and motions for Todd to sit on the bed at the center of the room.

“What’s going on?”

“I wasn’t lying when I said your mother wrote you letters. I thought you might want to be alone while you read them.” He rushes across the room clumsily, shooting a spike of fondness and relief through Todd’s heart, and throws open his closet door. Falling to his knees, he mumbles frantically to himself as he digs through the mess of clothes on the floor. They’re definitely not Eliot’s clothes—Eliot would die before he let his clothes touch the floor.

Or develop a wrinkle, for that matter.

Todd feels a secret little smile dart across his lips as Quentin throws a shirt over his shoulder and yells, “AHA!” Like he’s made the discovery of a century. He crawls out from the tunnel of clothes he created and huffs out a breath tonforce his hair out of his face as he turns to face Todd.

There’s a small, wooden chest, emblazoned with glimmering stones and glistening with a protection spell in his arms. He holds it out to him, smiling softly. “There’s a blood spell on it,” He explains, pushing up to his feet and moving to sit beside him. “It’s going to prick your thumb when you try to open it. And because you’re the one meant to open it, it’ll work.”

Quentin holds the chest out to him, nodding encouragingly for him to take it. Todd reaches up, hesitantly wrapping his fingers around the base of the chest, and looks up at him. “Why is it—“

“Your mother was a bit paranoid.” He shrugs a shoulder and looks down at the chest with a sad smile. “The day she gave that to me was one of the most confusing days of my life.”

 

**

 

“In a few hours, they’re going to crown me king.”

“Oh?”

He laughs, a little wild, and holds the crown out in front of him. Gazes at it like it’s everything he’s ever waited for. “It’s kind of funny, you know.” He says, without looking away from it. “He last time I was here, holding this crown. It felt like an anchor, dragging me down. Felt like I wasn’t ever meant to have the honor of wearing it.”

“I remember.” She pauses, let’s the moment pass comfortably, before she asks, “And now, Todd? What does it feel like?”

“Like it was made for me.”

“I imagine that is because it was. This is your true destiny, after all.”

He nods, mostly to himself. It’s been years, but it stills rings brightly in his mind. The memories are true, even if the timeline wasn’t. Part of him thinks it’s a gift, as much as it’s a curse. Because while he lost so much, he’d also gained time with his mother. Got to know her, after a lifetime of wondering.

 

**

How so?”

Quentin chuckles, shaking his head. “It was, one of the last days. She was weak, but it was Margo, so like hell she’d let anyone really see just how weak she was.”  His eyes go glassy for a moment. “I always thought that if she had some kind of dying wish, she’d go to Eliot.”

“But she didn’t.”

“No, she didn’t. She came to me.” He reaches up and wipes at his eyes quickly. “Called me to her, actually. I—was worried she was. I don’t know actually. But she pat the bed next to her, and hugged me.” He laughs to himself. “I think it was the only time she ever admitted she loved me out loud.”

“Dad—“

“And then she told me that one day I was going to fail you. I didn’t realize she had actual knowledge about the future. I just thought she knew I’d fuck you up somehow without her around. But she told me it couldn’t be helped and that it’d all be okay. But she needed me to do her a favor.”

“What?”

“She asked me to love you endlessly. No matter how stubborn and like her you are. I remember looking at her like she was crazy and asking how the fuck she could think I’d feel any other way about you. She said she didn’t, she just wanted to make sure I knew she’d be watching from beyond the grave and that if I ever stopped loving you, she’d resurrect herself and kill me.”

“Yeah... that sounds like Margo.”

Quentin laughs, “Even at the end she was resolved in making sure everyone knew she was the biggest, baddest bitch around.”



**

 

“Are the rumors true?” Jane asks.

He looks up at her. “What rumors?”

“Of an impending wedding?”

He feels himself flush. He’d asked her right after his father announced his and Quentin’s retirement. He’d known for weeks, of course, what his families plans were. And despite all the arguments; despite her fear of being a queen—he didn’t want to do it without her at his side. He waited until they stepped down. And then, he too, stepped down from the thrones, knelt down on one knee below her, and promised her a world of happiness if she’d give him the honor of being his queen.

She’d cried. They’d argued.

And then, mercifully, she said yes.

“Two weeks from today,” Todd says. “On the first full moon of the year. The advisors claim it to be good luck to marry on a full moon.”

“They’re not wrong.”

“Really?”

“Really.”



**



Quentin smiles and closes the door behind himself, leaving Todd with his mother.

He takes a deep breath, and moves to open the chest. Quentin had been right about the blood magic, because there’s a quick prick to his thumb, and then the chest is opening. There’s a rush of smells.

One that he remembers distinctly as his mother’s perfume. It settles in the air around him like the guy of a ghost, as he reaches into the chest with shaking hands, and pulls out he letter at the top of the stack. The face of the envelope has only his name written on it; but he recognizes the handwriting as his mother’s. The loop of the T matches many of her written declarations.

Warmth shoots down his spine and he flips it over to rip it open.

He’s never been a patient person.



**

“I believe it is customary to give a gift to the betrothed.”

Todd shakes his head, gripping the crown tightly in his fist as he takes a step closer and holds a hand out between them, “No, no, no. Jane—you’ve already. You’ve given me a gift, already.” He glances down at the crown, dropping his free hand to his side and holding the crown up between them. His gaze dances between it and her for a moment. “I—you gave me this.”

“No, dear. That is a gift from your father.”

“No.” He shakes his head, furrowing his brow. How can he explain it? “You, uh. You gave me my family.” His gaze darts back down to the crown. “You gave them back to me. There’s—there’s no other gift I could need.”

“That wasn’t for you,” Jane says simply, “That was for everyone. Because they were never destined to die in the first place.” She shrugs and turns on her heel to walk the edge of the circle. “My gift for you, is actually not only mine.” She pauses, to glance up at him from beneath her eyelashes, “An old friend came to me. Years ago. Long before you were born. And asked a favor of me.”

 

**

 

He closes his eyes as he flips the letter over and unfolds it. Takes a deep breath to calm his nerves. His fingernail scrapes along the edge of the paper, snagging before continuing on.

And then, before he can convince himself otherwise, he opens his eyes and starts reading.

 

**

 

An old friend?

He drops his arm, flinching slightly as the crown hits the side of his thigh. “What are you talking about?”

“We cast a spell, my friend and I.”

Is she taunting him? It feels like she’s taunting him.  “Your friend?”

She smiles secretly, and continues walking the edges of the circle.

It’s then that he sees her fingers twitching at her sides. Almost like she’s casting a spell.

 

**



Todd,

Feels a bit weird addressing you like this. By now you’ve probably figured out that I didn’t take the potion. I don’t know if they remember, but I told Eliot not to give you this letter until he remembers something major he’s forgotten. So, hopefully he didn’t forget something else as major as his son coming to the past to save his life. And you’re reading this exactly when you’re supposed to.

(I had to specifically say something life altering, because the man’s done so many drugs in his lifetime, I don’t doubt there’s a lot he’s forgotten.)

The bite didn’t work.

You probably figured that out already, too. I’m sorry, kid. Josh even tried biting me again. Turns out I have a little gift. I’m immune to the bite. Fun, right? Karma had to hit me with some bullshit one last time, I guess. It’s okay, though. I’m as much at peace with it as I can be, because I was prepared. I’m told it’s going to be painful. But I think the bite attempts postponed it, at least a little.

Maybe you’ll remember me this time.

Don’t blame yourself, either. I know the way you think. You’ve done more than any son should have to do for his family. Josh is still here, with us. He heads back to Earth every now and again to meet with his pack. But it seems like their cureall is still pretty damn affective. So, he’s not murderous or anything. Win for team Todd, loss for team werewolf.

. . . Speaking of the Fillorian Wolves.

I took care of them. You’re probably staring at this stupid letter like you want to go back in time again and give me a piece of your mind, but as your mother, I’m going to have to go ahead and forbid it. Because you’re done suffering.

Do you remember Ibiza? The Djinn? I convinced Fogg to give me the recipe for it again. I wished the wolves away.

That’s a lie.

I actually don’t know what I wished. I just know that the entire pack disappeared, and their cave collapsed. The fairies helped us uncover it, and there weren’t any bodies.

I wish I felt bad for whatever it is I did. But I can’t and I don’t. Even if they never actually, technically, did what they did.

I don’t know if you’re actually going to remember anything when you get here, either. I don’t know how this time traveling shit works. All I know is I’m watching you learn proper etiquette. You absolutely hate it. It’s hilarious. I keep thinking of rescuing you from it, but Quentin’s been looking forward to this for weeks for some ungodly reason, and if you ever tell him this, I will vehemently deny it, even from the grave—it’s nice to see him smiling.

I know after everything, you know he loves you. And I know you doubt he knows you love him. No matter what happens between now, and when you come back. He knows, Todd. Trust me. If you don’t trust yourself, trust your dead mother.

If you can’t trust your dead mother, who can you trust?

I’m sure I have more to write. And maybe I will. I’ve only been given my death sentence today. I might miss your next birthday. And every one after that. I’m thinking of writing you a letter for each birthday so you don’t forget about me. It’s sappy. I blame Quentin. Idiot’s been rubbing his feelings all over the place, and I think I may have caught them.

And, Todd?

I swear to god if you don’t bring that girl you love around, and introduce her to the family, I’ll find a way to come back to life and do it myself. Be happy. Be in love. After everything you’ve been through, you deserve it.

I love you. I think I love you more than I ever thought I was capable of loving anything. Thank you for being my son.

Your Mother

That was horrible. Let me try again, without that stupid Quentin feelings nonsense.

I love you, you ridiculous little man.

Margo (The Best High King Fillory’s Ever Known)

P.S. Tell your dads I love them.

P.P.S. And your aunts and uncles. But be meaner about it.

 

**

 

“I’ll admit I was hesitant. But some people are much too persuasive to refuse.”

 

**



He realizes he’s crying when his tears drop down onto the page and smear his mother’s name. He reaches up with one hand to quickly wipe the tears off, and gently sets the letter to his side.

And then he reaches back into the box and pulls out the next letter. There’s a large stack, almost like she had actually stuck to her word and written a letter for every birthday she knew she’d miss.

He makes sure to hold it out far enough that his tears won’t destroy it.

 

**

 

What are you talking about?”

She continues her path around the circle, but she doesn’t reply. He watches her, spinning so as to not lose sight of her; almost afraid of her vanishing.

But she doesn’t vanish.

Instead, at the center of the circle, in front of him, a box appears.

 

**

 

He’s on her sixth letter when the door creaks open and Eliot peeks his head through.

“You okay?”

Todd looks up at him, oblivious to the tear tracks and snot on his own face. He takes in a stuttering breath and nods. “Yeah.” His chin trembles and Eliot tilts his head.

Just as a broken, happy sob, bursts from his chest, Eliot rushes in and wraps his arms around him.

One of the letters flutters to the floor beside their feet.

 

**

 

“Uh—Jane. What’s that?”

“Perhaps you should open it.”

She doesn’t look at him, and she doesn’t stop casting.

 

**

 

It’s not long before Quentin joins them, weaving himself into them. It’s not as easy as it was when Todd was a child, but he still feels warm and safe as they clasps their hands tightly together, holding him as if he were still that little kid scared of wolves.

Even if technically he never was that little kid.



**

 

He stares at the box for a few long moments.

“Todd,” Jane says, finally stopping so she can stare at him in exasperation. “I have been waiting to give you this gift for nearly twenty years. Please open it.”

“What is it?”

“You’ll never know if you don’t open it.” She sighs when he doesn’t move. “You don’t need to fear it. You know the friend that had a part in it’s creation.”

“Who was it?”

“Open it and your questions will answer themselves.”

 

**

 

He takes the chest of letters to dinner with him and takes his seat in between his fathers, while Sofia sits across from him. Den and Julia sit on either side of her, smiling encouragingly. Alice, Penny, Josh, and Kady all take up the rest of the seats at the table.

“I, uh,” Todd clears his throat and scrapes his fingernails against one of the jewels on the side of the chest. “I thought everyone would like to read the letters. She talks about all of you.”

Fen straightens up in her seat. “All of us?”

Todd grins at her. “Yeah. She—she really loved you guys.”

“Really?” He doesn’t blame Penny for sounding skeptical.

He takes a deep breath and lifts the lid on the chest. “Let me show you.”

 

**

 

“Some memories are stronger than death,” Jane says, moving to stand behind Todd. “Some memories are like the wind, or the trees. They remain, even when what brings them is gone.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means,” She says, placing her hands on his shoulder and gently pushing him towards the box. “There are ghosts all around us. It just takes a little magic to bring them home.”

Frowning, he turns his head to look at her. “What are you saying?”

“I’m saying, open the damn box, Todd.”

 

**

 

Later, he finds Fen sitting alone on their favorite bench, watching the night birds. He walks up to her silently, taking the seat next to her.

They sit in the silence for a few long minutes before she finally acknowledges him. Her gaze moves from the sky and settles on him. Her right hand comes up to cup his jaw, and he smiles, leaning into the touch.

“Oh, bunny,” she says, soft. “You’ve been through so much.”

“Nothing I can’t handle.”

“Well I know that.” She smiles, dropping her hand to his. “You’re stronger than all of us combined.”  She reaches up with her free hand and plucks at one of his stray curls. “And thank goodness for that.”

“Auntie I think you’re stronger than me.”

“No,” she breathes, turning her gaze back to the sky. “You’re going to be a wonderful king one day. And I can’t wait to bow to you.” She glances back at him. “I can’t wait to see how you lead our people.”

“Auntie . . .”

“Shush, bunny. Let me be proud of you. Otherwise I’m going to worry about you. And I don’t want to worry about you.”

“You don’t need to worry about me.”

She shakes her head and squeezes his hand. “You are just like your father, Bunny,” she says. “So stubborn. So resilient.” She pauses. “So brave. Even when you shouldn’t have to be.”

“Actually—“ She opens her mouth to interrupt but he squeezes her hand and barrels on. “I think I’m more like you.”’ Her mouth snaps shut and she tilts her head. He smiles at her. “Auntie, without you, I wouldn’t be who I am. None of us would be. I wouldn’t have been strong enough to do it if I hadn’t had you to teach me to be strong. To be brave. To withstand everything awful the world throws at me.” He squeezes her hand again, and tries not to react to the tears brimming in her eyes. “You’ve been through so much pain, and you’re still you. You’re stronger than any of us.

“Braver than any of us.”

“Bunny...”

“I just think you deserve to know how much you mean to me. How much you inspire and teach me. You’re just as much my mother as Margo.”

She breaks, then, and rushes forward to pull him into a hug.

 

**

 

Reluctantly, he takes a step closer to the box.

 

**

 

“You don’t think you get to skimp out on lesson because you saved the world, do you?”

Todd opens one eye to find Alice standing over him, one demanding eyebrow quirked. He feels a sleepy grin break out across his lips as he shakes his head. “Never,” he says, voice hoarse with sleep. “I did hope I’d get to sleep in.”

She shakes her head and pulls his blankets off him, “Come on, kid. Knowledge rests for no man.”

He laughs, letting the morning sun sear the sleep away and sits up. Alice smirks knowingly, but he reaches out and wraps his arms around her. She freezes for a moment before exhaling slowly and wrapping her own arms around him.

“What’s this for?”

“For being my aunt.” He pauses, pulls away to look at her. “And because I know what all you went through to get to this point. I’m glad you’re here, aunt Alice. I’m glad you never gave up on them.”

She rolls her lips together, and for a moment he thinks she’s going to cry, but she sets her shoulder and pulls away, ruffling his hair. “Me too. But don’t think that’s going to get you out of lessons today. I’ve got a new spell I want to teach you.”

It’s then that new memories start appearing, stronger than the old, lost memories. He starts to see magic. Feels it pulsing in the air in more than the taste of opium in the air.

He grins up at her. “I wouldn’t dream of trying to get out of lessons.”



**

 

“Should I be afraid?”

“What could you possibly have to be afraid of?”

“The ominous box at the center of a timeless clearing is coming to mind as top of the list of things to be afraid of, Jane.”

She laughs. “You needn’t be afraid. You fought evils much greater than anything I can manufacture.” She urges him forward again. “Besides. It’s a gift. No harm has ever come from a gift.”

“The German word for poison is gift.”

She huffs behind him. “Open it. I wouldn’t wish any kind of harm on you.”



**

 

“You ready, bug?”

He looks up from his packed bags, and grins up at Julia where she’s standing in the doorway to his room. “Yeah. I think I am.”

She grins back at him, holding her hand out. “Penny and Kady are waiting in the courtyard. They’ve both got places in New York they think you absolutely have to see.”

He wonders if an alley behind a magic shop is one of those places. But the thought fades fast. As the months go by, the memories of the world he erased get easier to push down. Easier to ignore. They don’t fade, but they don’t punish, either.

Julia must sense it, though, because she takes a step into the room, and her smile falls marginally. “Bug,” she says, “If anything hurts too much, Penny will travel us away before you can even say ‘let’s go’. You have nothing to worry about.”

Except the wolves, he thinks without meaning to.

But the thought disappears just as quickly as the fear. In this world the wolves are their friends.

“Can we go see moms favorite place again?”

She nods, eyes glistening. “Of course. I’m sure Sofia will be happy to see it, too.”



**

 

He kneels in front of the box and leans over it. His fingers dance along the edges of the lid, and he takes a deep breath before he lifts it off.

 

**

 

Josh closes the portal door behind him, and grins at Todd. “Do you think they’ll remember you?” He asks.

Todd shrugs a shoulder, as four people come through the door, chattering aimlessly about something. They stop altogether when they see Josh and Todd have arrived. Todd feels his heart stop for a moment. Feels a flash of fear course through his veins.

But the largest of them shoves through and says, “I’ll be damned.”

And he rush a forward and wraps Todd in a big, grizzly bear hug.

“Welcome home pup,” the wolf says into Todd’s hair.  “You guys can’t stay away too long.”

Behind them a familiar figure moves through the door. “Wolves are much too attached to family to go so long without seeing one another. We’ve been over this, Josh.”

Josh laughs nervously, as the wolf lets go of Todd. “A lots gone down. Sorry.”

The figure moves out into the light and smirks, her long ponytail swaying behind her. “Guess he finally came back from the future, huh?”

“You knew?”

Marina scoffs. “Of course I knew. I can keep a secret you know.”

“That explains why the pup smells afraid.”

Jesse shakes his head from where he’s moved back to his place by Marina. “It’ll past,” he says, “All things pass.”

Josh nods. “That’s why we’re here. I wanted to help him see how big his family is. How good came out of what he did.”

And he does. Because not twenty minutes later he’s being ushered to pack dinner with dozens of wolves who call him Pup and treat him as if he’s part of the pack.



**

 

He doesn’t realize his eyes are closed until he hears Margo’s voice.

“He looks so old.”

“Well, it did take him a considerable while to arrive. I was starting to think he’d never show up.”

He opens his eyes and looks up.



**

 

“Yes!” Todd cheers as Kady stares up at him, dumbfounded, from her place on the ground.

“Did you just disarm me?” She asks, blinking.

“I think I did.”

A slow grin works its way across her lips before she shoving to her feet and pulling him into a hug. “Yes!” She echoes, squeezing him tight and pulling away to smirk down at him. “Look at you, all grown up.”

“Aunt Kady I’m—“

“An adult, yeah yeah whatever.” She takes a step back and crosses her arms smugly. “Remember when you loathed training?”

He doesn’t admit that he wants to be ready next time tragedy strikes.

“Times change. People change,” he says with a shrug.

She shakes her head, smile falling. “Don’t think of it like that. You’re growing. You haven’t changed.”

“Haven’t I though?”

“No. You’re still the rambunctious brat you’ve always been. Now,” she leans down and picks her sword back up. “Let’s go again.”

His competitive side beats out everything else as he takes first position—ready to win again.



**

 

It’s her. Well. A version of her, flickering in and out, like a hologram. He stumbles to his feet, wide eyed and stunned.

She smiles at him. “Hey little man. You’re looking rough.”

“How—why—you’re—“

She shrugs a transparent shoulder. “Jane helped keep a part of me here. For when you came back to her.”

“I—“ His jaw snaps shut and he turns to look at Jane. “Is this—“

“Why are you talking to me when your mother is standing right there?”

He flips back around to face Margo. “I—mom. I—we—“

She rolls her eyes, “I love you, too.” His heart swells and the air around him goes hot and humid. He might faint. “We don’t have a lot of time. From the moment you opened the box—Jane was only able to give us five minutes.”

Oh.

He nods. “A chance to say goodbye.”

“No.”

“What?”



**



“Todd, wake up.”  A hand shakes his shoulder roughly. “Come on, kid royalty.”

Todd’s eyes snap open, an angry painful inhale breaking his vocal chords as a scream rips out of him. Penny grabs his shoulders. “Hey—I got you. You’re awake. It was a dream. Look at me.”

His muscles feel like stone, they’re so tense. His nightmare holds him like a statue. “I—“

Penny nods, “I know.” He lets go with one hand to cast a simple spell, and theair starts to flow easier in and out of Todd’s lungs. And slowly, so slowly, his muscles release the tension, until he can finally collapse into Penny’s chest.

It takes a few minutes for it all to fade. For the echoes of memory to stop flashing beneath his eyelids. For the walls to stop running red. For Penny’s chest to feel warm and real and alive. But when it does, Todd finally pulls away.

Penny’s looking at him without a single shred of judgment. He raises his eyebrows. “You good?”

Todd thinks on it for a long moment before nodding. “It—“ his voice is hoarse and his throat is dry, “It was the first. One in months. I think—it’s getting better.”

Penny doesn’t look convinced, but he does pull Todd in for another hug. “Whatever you say, kid royalty.”

It’s true though. The nightmares are less frequent now.

But when they do come, it’s like he’s reliving it all over again.



**



“I don’t understand.”

“I came to Jane, a few months before I—croaked, I guess.” She steps through the grass towards him. She’s nothing more than dancing lights reflecting into a form, but it’s still so jarring. His heart clenches. “I asked her what your future held for you when you came back to it.” She sets her jaw and shoulders, glancing at Jane. “Bravery and misery, is what I eventually got out of her.” Her gaze flits back over to him. “She told me you’d hurt for the rest of your life but you’d pretend to be okay. You’d put on a brave face and wouldn’t let anyone know how traumatized you were.”

“Mom—“

“No. Quiet.” She points a perfectly manicured nail at him. “Limited time, remember?” She doesn’t wait for him to answer. “That’s such a bullshit Eliot move, Todd. I can’t tell you how furious it made me.”

“She punched me,” Jane input. “Quite the right hook, if I’m honest.”

Margo smiles slow and predatory, “Thank you,” before turning her attention back on Todd. “Anyways. I told queen of the clocks over here that that shit ain’t gonna fly. And that she was gonna help me figure out an alternative for you.”

“I’m... not following.”

She frowned. “You spend too much time with Quentin. He’s gonna turn you into some kind of simpleton.” She waves a hand. “That’s not important. What’s important is that.” She points at his chest with the same hand.”

“My...shirt? I’m going to change before the ceremony—“

“Not your shirt.” She moves forward and holds her holographic hand flat, barely an inch away from his chest. “Your heart.” She brings her free hand up, and points it at his temple. “Your mind.”

God, he’s still so confused.



**

 

“I’m going to ask her to marry me.”

Sofia’s off to the islands are to visit her sister and father, and Todd’s sitting between his own fathers, eating dinner with the family. They all stop eating, each with mimicking looks of surprise and joy on their faces.

“I’d like to bring her family to the castle if they’re willing.” He looks at Quentin, then to Eliot. “If that’s all right.”

Eliot nods once.

And then he bursts into tears.

It takes barely a moment for Todd to realize they’re happy tears. But the moment is long enough for him to panic.

He needs them to know he’s never going to leave again.

“Of course it’s okay,” Quentin says from his other side. “It’s more than okay.”

Todd feels Quentin’s arm snake around and grab Eliot’s hand to hold it.

Eliot lets out a quiet wail. “I’m going to be a grandfather!”

“Jesus, no—no. Not—not yet!”

Eliot’s bottom lip trembles as he looks at Todd. “Soon?”

Todd laughs and nods. “Hopefully.”

Eliot starts crying again, and Todd doesn’t miss the way the sniffles seem to travel around everyone at the table.



**



“No good mother could die knowing her son is going to spend the rest of his life suffering.” She takes a step back. “And I’m not just a good mother. I’m a fucking great mother.”

Todd looks between her and Jane, settles on Jane. “Can you tell me what the hell shes talking about?”

“I’m talking about erasing it, Todd.”

His head snaps back around to stare at her wild eyed. “What? No!”

She frowns. “I thought you’d be happy—“

“To lose the only memories or I have?” He scoffs and take a step back. The crown dangles on the tips of his fingers. “No. No—absolutely not. You don’t get to make that decision.”

Her gaze softens. “Not everything. The fear. The trauma. We’re going to erase that for you. You need to be able to enjoy your life—“

“I need—“ he pauses, words catching in his throat, “What I need is to know what I almost lost. I need to remember to never risk it, leave it, or endanger it. If I don’t—if I don’t remember what I lost, what was it all for?”

Jane takes a step closer, and he stumble back, pointing a wary finger at her. She stops. “It was for saving them. Your life went the way it did before because of mistakes—“

“Mistakes I can keep from happening again! History is doomed to repeat itself if you forget!” He heaves in a breath. “If I forget.”



**

 

He’s standing in the courtyard with Sofia, watching his nephew guide his niece through a little magic made shrubbery maze. Sofia is telling him a story about going down to the market, and he’s laughing. He’s laughing because he’s happy and becaus for once everything’s okay.

But then, just off the castle grounds comes the howl of a wolf.

And he freezes.



**

 

“You can’t spend your life traumatized. I won’t let you.”

“You’re dead! You can’t stop me!”

She blinks, a translucent silhouette of an action. And then she shakes her head. “You seriously underestimate what the dead can do when they’re determined, kid.”

And then she looks at Jane, and before he can even think to move, they’re both casting a spell he’s never seen before.



**

 

Memories shift, dance around in his head.

Things change. People change.  But the world never does.

His family never does.

His love never does.




**

 

“Todd Coldwaughson, son of former High King Margo, and of current High King Eliot. First Crown Prince Of Fillory. Do you swear to protect your people? To defend them in times of war, to guide them through hardship. To love them no matter the tragedy?”

“I do.”

“And do you sweat to dedicate your life to serving the people of Fillory?”

“I do. Wholly.”

“Completely?”

“I do.”

“And do you, High King Eliot, willingly pass down the crown to your son?”

“With pride, I do.”

“And do you, crown prince, accept this gift?”

Todd inhaled slowly; all ease and confidence.

He glances over his shoulder, grins at his family.

He’s ready.

He turns back to the front. “I do accept this gift.”

Eliot turns to face him, and kneels so Tick may remove his crown. He stands once it’s off his head, and steps down the stairs to stand side by side with Quentin and the rest of Todd’s family. Someone passes a child to him. And Todd kneels in front of Tick as the child giggles.

When the crown settles on his head, heavy and filled with burden, it doesn’t scare him. Doesn’t work with gravity to drill him into the ground. It assures him.

He grins as he pushes back up to his feet.

“Long live the king!” Penny yells.

He starts to laugh, but the rest of the court echoes the sentiment, and soon he hears the calls ricochet through the air as the crowds outside he castle repeat it, until it’s drifting in the wind.

He turns to face the crowd.

Josh’s pack is here, so are their families. Marina is braiding Julia, Kady and Penny’s daughters hair, but even she grins up at him knowingly.

This is how it was always meant to go. His fathers standing side by side, pretending not to cry. Eliot’s face buried in Josh’s second sons hair. Quentin holding Sofia’s hand like his life depends on it. Alice and Kady staring smugly, like they’ve known all along what he’d become.

He doesn’t remember leaving the woods. Doesn’t remember saying goodbye to Jane or Margo or what they did to him. But he feels it. He feels the goodbye as warm and tight as hug around his heart.

And for once, he’s not afraid of what’s to come or what has passed.