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Brittle, Fickle, Bittersweet

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Through the process of her transition from Magician to goddess, Julia had experienced sorrow and despair, and she had become intimately familiar with bargaining. It amazes her what people will bargain and promise in hopes that something will intervene. What she suddenly feels is something entirely different from all of that. Julia hasn't been a goddess long enough to experience the tipping point where someone loses their faith in her, so the first time it happens, it takes her breath away.

There are only a handful of people with intimate knowledge of what she's become so to feel one of those connections fade and sever grabs her full attention. She doesn't even realize she's teleported from Iris' pocket dimension until she's standing in one of the bedrooms of the cottage again.

“Get out.” Eliot is sitting in the middle of his bed with a dangerously empty bottle of something alcoholic, which Julia hopes wasn't full when he started. Being so close to him lets her feel the full force of his anger, but the ire is only the top layer, there's a profound sense of loss, of grief, and hopelessness. It's not momentary hopelessness; it's the bone-deep kind that's been compounded over the years and cemented in place with each new disappointment.

“I don't understand.” Julia can't fathom why all his pain is focused on her. She can't think of anything she might have done that would actively make him hate her.

“Of course you don't.” Eliot brings the liquor back to his mouth, and the bottle distorts the drunken giggle into a miserable sound. Eliot rests the bottle so it leans against the inside bend of his leg. “Why are you still here?” He demands. Julia doesn't have an answer, except that she doesn't want to abandon him to whatever is going through his head.

“El, your one of my best friends...”

“You're a damn goddess now, Julia! We aren't friends. You have like,” He waves his hand aimlessly towards the ceiling. “Cosmic level concerns now, and I'm so tired of the people I love getting fucked over by gods.” The comment makes Julia spread her senses wide; she can feel all her friends throughout the house. No one seems to be unaccounted for, though Quentin seems more distant than she has become accustomed to, his emotions are muted. Julia isn't sure if he's actively trying to block her, or if Eliot's feelings are just that much louder and are drawing all of her attention.

“I'm sorry I can't finish the quest with all of you. I know we were supposed to do it together.”

“Fuck the quest,” Eliot whispers. “And fuck magic.” Those words are even softer. His fingers interlock, and he leans his forehead against them. “I think I would have been happier if it had never touched my life.” It's not a wish, or a prayer, just a whispered statement. Despite knowing that he would rather she go Julia moves to sit on the edge of the bed.

“You never would have met Margo or Q.” She points out.

“You can't mourn missing someone you've never met. Leave, I know you want to help, but you aren't making anything better.”

“Do you want me to get Quentin? Does he know you're this upset.”

“No.” There's a finality in the singular word. Eliot's eyes squeeze shut, and Julia realizes he isn't going to say anything else to her. They sit in silence until the door swings open and Margo half steps inside. Her eyes narrow, and Julia shrinks a little under the withering glare. Margo's emotions are a tightly controlled swirl of rage. Julia still isn't exactly sure what she's done wrong, but she's guessing from the way the two of them are acting that Quentin's at the center of it. He's the only one who would draw this much emotion from both of them.

“You can go now,” Margo tells her in a tone that has more authority than Eliot's demands had managed. Julia stands, and steps out into the hall as Margo widens the angle of the door for her. It snaps closed again as soon as she clears it, leaving both of them in the shadowed darkness where the light can't reach. Margo moves, placing herself as an immobile gatekeeper in the frame of the door.

“Margo, what happened, why is Eliot so upset?”

“Ask Quentin.” Margo's eyes tick down to the floor, and Julia feels a brief well of sadness that's quickly overwhelmed by the smaller woman's anger. Margo's arms cross over her chest; her gaze stays fixed on their shoes. The few words she's said to seem to be all she has to say, or more likely, all she'll allow herself to speak.

“Okay...” Julia draws the word out, and searches for Quentin in her mind's eye, he's downstairs, and the others have left him alone. All her friends seem to have isolated themselves in preparation for the upcoming trial. She heads for the stairs and reaches them when Margo's voice stops her.

“Make sure you tell him that it isn't the same and that Eliot doesn't have to forgive him.” Julia wishes she would stop being vague, but she says nothing and heads downstairs. She finds Quentin on one of the couches, his gaze fixed on the ceiling above him.

“Hey, Q.” His eyelids slide closed; his body goes limp against the cushions. He's lost the glow from the magic she had given him, and Eliot's anger towards her makes a little more sense. That spell should have been saved for the castle, and Julia wonders how he wasted it.

“You aren't supposed to be here, Jules. I'm sorry, I didn't mean for you to feel everything going on in my head.”

“I didn't.” Julia crosses the room and brings her arms up to guard her chest. “Eliot's, I felt what he is going through. What did you do, Quentin? After everything you two lasted through, what's going on?” Quentin finally sits and leans forward. His arms wrap around his waist; he stares at the hardwood as he answers her.

“I used the magic you gave me to incept the knight – um the castle guardian. I just wanted to know what we were up against so we would be prepared. She told me we wouldn't even be able to get in from the outside, but that she would open the door for us if I agreed to take her place.”

“Quentin...” Julia hears her voice waver in disbelief, no wonder Eliot was upset.

“I thought Eliot would understand. He made the deal to stay in Fillory, so we could defeat the Beast. I have to do this so we can save magic.”

“It's not the same thing, Q. Eliot was forced to become king, and he did it knowing you and Margo were going to help him. This... he's never going to see you again. You realize that right? He loves you, Quentin, and you're taking away your future together if you do this.”

“I killed Ember, Julia. This is the price I have to pay for that, to get magic back this is what has to happen. I know it hurts, but El has to understand that everything we went through was building to this. We got our lifetime together when we did the mosaic in Fillory. There has to be a sacrifice; it has to be mine.”

“No, it doesn't. Use the bullet. Free both yourself and the castle knight.”

“I promised her no tricks.” Quentin covers his eyes with one hand. A shiver ripples down his back.

“Is having magic more important to you that he is?” Quentin's head snaps up and he stares at her.

“Of course not!”

“That's how you seem to be framing this.” Julia tries to be both gentle, and firm. Quentin has to see that he can't force Eliot to accept all of this in less than a few hours. He needs to realize that Eliot might not forgive him at all. “This isn't fair to Eliot, Q.”

“I know, fuck, you think I don't realize that? We've been together almost since this time-loop started; he was my husband for a lifetime in Fillory. I hate that I had to make this choice.”

“So you're giving up all that potential the two of you have left to save magic?”

“It's what I have to do, Jules.” Quentin pinched his fingers against his nose, then rubbed his hand under his eye. “I don't want him to hate me for trying to fix what I broke.”

“Q...” Julia pauses, then plows on, she can't stand here and argue with him. “Your experience with magic is different than Eliot's.” She finally chooses to say. “For you, it was the start of something wonderful, but for him, it started as a nightmare. His telekinesis, his magic – it was a curse, not a gift. He'd trade them, for you, every time.” Quentin sniffs; his knuckles rub under his nose.

“Okay.” The gravity of his choice, and what it's probably going to cost him seems to be finally settling in. Julia can feel his emotions battling against the shield he'd thrown up between them. “I thought he would understand. I thought... I just wanted him to be okay with this, but he's not, he won't, will he? Shit! I never wanted to hurt him.” Julia sees a flicker of something at the edge of her vision, a silent warning that her visit has taken too long.

“I wasn't trying to make things harder; I thought you would save the spell and use it against the monster, not... not like this.”

“That's what I told him too.” Julia isn't sure how long Margo has been watching and eavesdropping. Julia doesn't want to leave Quentin at the smaller woman's mercy, but she knows she can't stay any longer. Giving Quentin a second power-up feels like it will only add fuel to the fire.

“I have to go back.”

“Be a dear, and let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.” Julia wants to roll her eyes at Margo's snark, but she senses that the attitude is the only thing hiding the pain of watching the relationship between her two best friends shred before her eyes.

“This isn't your fault, Jules. I know you were trying to help.”

“Damn right it's not. If someone had saved the spell it might have been useful.” Quentin's head thumps against the back of the couch. Julia feels a pull near her middle, and starts heading towards the kitchen, so she doesn't disappear right in front of them. The world blinks, and she finds herself back in Iris' lab.

“Did you learn anything?”

“That my best intentions will have unforeseen consequences.” Julia rakes her hand back through her hair.

“It's a good lesson to learn early. I'm sorry about your friend. The first few hurt the most.”

“The first few what?”

“Defections, a month or two from now you won't even notice when someone stops believing in you.” Julia's gaze flits at the splendor around her, and she wonders if her powers are worth the pain they've already caused. The seed was supposed to be a good thing in her hands, a negative turned positive, but the first tastes of godhood are already turning to ash in her mouth. Maybe Eliot's right, and she has transcended her mortal friends. If that's true, it doesn't stop her from feeling their pain.