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“Q, you have to stop,” Eliot said, clutching Quentin to his chest so hard he couldn’t tell which of them was shaking more. He tried to keep Quentin away from Alice the body but he kept losing his grip every time his own eyes peeked at the immobile corpse of someone he once knew. “Help me get him up,” Eliot mumbled to Margo when Quentin’s fighting grew weaker and his chanting of Alice’s name faded into a series of deep sobs instead. “Quentin, come on,” Eliot ordered gently, nose still buried in Q’s hair, their bodies so close it was as if they were connected. Like Eliot believed if he could get himself off the ground and his eyes off of Alice, he’d infuse Quentin with the same strength, like a puppeteer controlling the limbs of something that couldn’t move otherwise.

Why are her eyes open? Why do her eyes have to be op-

Margo.”

Margo jumped at the sound of El’s voice. She’d been frozen in her own thoughts, frozen by the simple horror of the moment. Why do people become things when they die? Why can’t Q get up? She hated the sight of him like this, hated that she wasn’t crying too. Hated that she was fighting it.

She grabbed Quentin’s wrist and gently moved his injured arm over her shoulder, grimacing with him as a hiss left his mouth from the movement. She watched his eyes, glassy and distant and deep; they stayed on Alice like he was waiting for the joke to be over. Like he was waiting for her to draw in a huge breath of air and blink—if she could just blink.

“Come on, Q,” Eliot murmured, swinging Quentin’s other arm over his shoulder. “Quentin,” he said again when Q didn’t respond. He paused to take in the same vacant face Margo had and some heavy feeling fell on his chest. Together, he and Margo dragged Q to his feet. Eliot shifted so he took the bulk of the weight. “Shit. Q, walk for me, please. We have to go. You’re hurt.” Eliot started off walking and hoped Q’s feet would follow. Quentin took a few lazy steps, his legs weak and unsure as he started to cooperate, his neck still craning behind him the farther he moved from Alice.

“Alice,” he started, his voice gritty. His eyes were low, his face pale, and it was obvious whatever The Beast hit him with was starting to get worse. His wound was red and wet, flecks of dirt and twigs in it here and there. From crawling to her. The cut was so deep you could see bone and tissue, wet things, minute detailing of human anatomy you should never see. “We can’t leave her-”

Fuck,” Eliot spat. The body. He wasn’t any good at this. Whatever this was. “Margo, stay with her. I’ll- I’ll go get help,” he suggested, wrapping an arm around Q’s waist and pulling him away from Margo.

“What?” Margo asked, her voice strangely quiet, a small panicked look in her eyes. She could see Eliot’s face was starting to catch Quentin’s distant stare like some contagious devastation had passed between the two. She really wanted to cry.

Alice or no Alice, people cried with shit like this.

“I’ll see if the horses- the men who dropped off Q and Al- Maybe they waited. Wait here.”

“Shouldn’t I go with you or you leave Q-”

Fuck, Margo, I don’t know!” Eliot responded irritably. He drew in a breath and wet his lips, trying to force some coherent thought into his mind to beat out the panic and guilt that was rising.

“Fine, El. I’ll stay,” Margo agreed quietly, noticing the shaking of Eliot’s legs as he held up their friend. His knuckles were white from the grip he had on Q’s wrist and around his waist, like he couldn’t pry his fingers off even if he wanted to. “I’ll stay with…” She cut a look to the body and stopped short. “I’ll stay.”

“Thank you,” Eliot murmured. Margo nodded, a moment passing between the two. Some transference of strength and indescript guarantee.

Eliot started off again, practically carrying Q as the injured boy tried to help but shook with every move he made. A hard shivering started up in him a few minutes into their journey and Quentin mumbled small things to himself that Eliot couldn’t catch. A few times he heard her name but Quentin’s words seemed more a conversation with himself.

“We’re almost out,” Eliot said to Quentin. “Come on, left, right,” he instructed. Q was getting worse, his weight bearing heavier on Eliot’s shoulder as his legs got weaker. And his arm; with every step Quentin took, it swayed lazily at his side like he’d forgotten it was there. Eliot could see the main road through a patch of trees and adjusted Q’s weight, forcing himself to push on.

“Hello!” he called out. He cleared his throat. “Hello! Is anybody there? High Kings need help!”

King. Some king.

“Hello!”

He should have apologized sooner. Whatever Alice ever was to him didn’t matter, she was a something to Quentin and he was a part of the downward spiral that made her last days shit, made Quentin’s last days with her shit.

He pinched his eyes shut for a moment to quiet the guilt. Like closing the blinds on something you didn’t want to see.

You don’t even really care.

“Anybody!” he yelled louder, trying to drown out the voice in his head.

You’re jumping from one panic to another, it said to him. Solve your addictions with Fillory. Fillory is fucked. Trade Fillory issues with The Beast. The Beast is dead now. Try to escape the fact that there was nowhere you belonged but now there’s one place you need to be, have to be, and you don’t even deserve it or know how to deserve it. Some king.

Bet you thought you were gonna die before you had to step up. Bet you hoped-

Fuck,” he swore, his lip shaking as he fought the wetness brimming at his eyes. They’d reached the main road. There was no sign of anyone anywhere, just green. Fallen logs, a dirt road and moss all over. “Here,” he whispered to Q, helping him into a sitting position, his back leaned against a tree trunk. Eliot pushed hair from Q’s eyes and felt the heavy sweat there.

“Should have been me,” Eliot heard Quentin say quietly, so quiet he almost thought he’d imagined it. He convinced himself he did.

Q was half unconscious, his eyes practically shut, his limbs limp, a soft groan escaping him every now and then. Eliot started pacing, panicking. “Please,” he started softly. “Anybody, help!” A twig snapped somewhere and he stiffened.

Stiff.

Margo kept staring at Alice’s chest, willing it to move with the telltale sign of breathing. She hugged her arms around herself and couldn’t stop thinking about how wrong it felt feeling alone when someone was right there.

Alice didn’t blink. Margo noticed it.

I tried to be her friend.

We could have been friends. If we were friends, I’d be crying.

“Fuck, Eliot, where are you?”

She glanced again at Alice and took a step back, jumping when she felt the bark of a tree dig into her back. She hadn’t even realized how far away she’d moved from the body. “God.

She swallowed and started towards her, an air of forced nonchalance in her movements as she went. Margo stared down at her for a long time, taking her in, waiting to understand the image. Waiting to cry. She should cry.

“I’m not going to apologize for you and Q,” she said aloud, arms still wrapped around her body. “It wasn’t my fault.” She stopped and stood just over the body like she was daring herself to get as close as possible.

Alice’s eyes seemed to move to her and Margo stepped to the side so they couldn’t bore into her, instead gazing into the sky. Why can’t you just blink or breathe—it’s so simple.

“I tried to be your friend,” Margo forced out, her voice growing weak. “So, it’s your fault.” Her fault for what? Dying? That you can’t cry? Just cry.

She kneeled down beside her and went back to waiting. Just blink, she thought and she made herself watch the wide, still blue eyes of the body, refusing to be the first to look away.

She didn’t even feel it coming, didn’t feel a thing except the sudden hot heat of something singular, small and wet sliding down her face.

Alice wasn’t just the body, she was the reality of all this.

Margo squeezed her eyes shut as it all fell down on her. Quentin and Alice and the guilt and time wasted and the pressure and the promises and the deviation forced on her. What the hell was this moment? None of this was supposed to happen. This wasn’t her life. She was just-

“Margo!”

Eliot hopped out of a horse-drawn wagon and started briskly her way. She swiped away the tear before he could see, getting to her feet. An unfamiliar young woman in tattered brown clothes held the reigns on the wagon pulled by two black horses and became transfixed with the body Alice as well.

“We have to go, come on,” Eliot said hastily.

“Where’s Q?”

“He’s in the back of the wagon. She’s giving us a ride, come on.” Margo moved out of Eliot’s way as he folded Alice’s arms across her chest and started to try and lift her.

“Be careful,” Margo said quietly as Eliot drew the body into his arms.

“Where are we going?” Margo questioned later as Eliot helped her up into the now cramped bed of the old wooden wagon. It creaked under their weight as the horses started galloping.

“Centaurs. She says they can fix Q.”

They shared a look full of worry and fear and hope and then laced their fingers together tightly, each convincing themselves they were only offering comfort for the other.

Alice and Quentin lay side by side, Eliot and Margo grateful Q was too out of it to experience the disturbing scene that they couldn’t look away from.

Q lay shivering beside his dead love, eyes closed, lips moving every now and then with silent words. Eliot and Margo stayed quiet and unmoving for a long while before Margo slowly leaned over and closed Alice’s eyes.