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Do I Even Dare (To Speak Out Your Name)

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When Brian first meets the strange man who calls him Quentin outside the coffeeshop, he’s too confused to notice the most important thing, the thing that overrides even magic, even what the Monster does to him.



His daemon trots along at his side, docile and silent, her eyes completely blank.



Eirene notices immediately, of course, and she is even more horrified by the Severed/not-Severed daemon than she and Brian are by the blood and the murder. Because it isn’t right, it’s a wrongness that is too much to bear. The rest is a horror movie, Brian never liked horror movies, it’s a nightmare almost too much to be real, but the dead-eyed daemon is - fiction doesn’t dare. Well, visual fiction doesn’t dare, can’t really pull it off, and the written word lets you skip over picturing the worst things.



Living in a horror movie is comprehensible. A daemon like a zombie is just - not.



And when their memories come back, Quentin isn’t sure if he or Ariadne is more horrified to see Cythera like that. It’s worse, in some ways, than looking into Eliot’s eyes and seeing the flat coldness of the Monster there instead. For Cythera to be like that… Cythera, who blithely chatted to any human she wanted, when many daemons prefer to speak only to other daemons, who was always getting into things…



“You can pet her if you want,” the Monster says. “It will feel interesting. It always does, when I touch her, or she touches things. It’s the only time she’s not boring.” Cythera sits at his side, unmoving, eyes staring and empty, a mannequin of herself.



Quentin knows the texture of Cythera’s fur under his fingers but - no. No, absolutely not, not now.



(Not in this lifetime, ever, but he remembers the feel of her fur like the taste of plums on his tongue, like Teddy’s laughter and his daemon flicking shape to shape to shape, like Arielle’s smiles and her daemon’s bright feathers, like curling warm into Eliot’s side at night.)



Ariadne grooms her instead, even though it makes her sick and Quentin’s skin crawls with her horror, because that at least isn’t a violation , and it’s interesting enough to the Monster to stop him from pressing the matter.



“She can’t be Severed,” Julia says when the Monster zaps out to wherever it is he goes, and Quentin sets aside the book he’d had to pick up another, one on exorcisms. They haven’t found anything yet, because whatever the Monster is, he’s not a demon, and they need to find some way to contain him. To banish him back to Blackspire, but the only banishing spells tied to exorcisms aren’t going to do that. Still, they might be able to jury-rig something from all this, maybe add in something from how niffin boxes are created or…



“Can we not talk about this now, Jules?”



“We have to talk about it, Q. It wanted you to pet its -”



“Cythera doesn’t belong to the Monster!” Ariadne snarls, and Julia’s Asterion sighs.



“Course not, Ariadne, but for now she might as well be its daemon, more or less. It can feel things through her, and real Severed daemons don’t - they lose that connection. Julia and I almost lost it, when she was shadeless.”



“I felt it, kind of, but muted,” Julia says, mouth twisting. “And it didn’t matter to me, Rion didn’t matter. The Monster seems to be reacting differently. Most of the possession stuff we’ve been reading says the daemons act Severed, but it’s not quite that, is it?”



Quentin looks up from the book. “What are you getting at? Cythera’s still acting like a zombie, just like Severed daemons usually do. She’s not really Severed, that’s why it can feel what she feels.” He tells himself she isn’t, anyway. That it’s artificial, that it will heal when they get Eliot back. Because anything else is too awful to contemplate. But it matches what he’s read so he tells himself he’s not just denying the worse options. “It’s all about wanting, experiencing, that’s all. Demons, I’m guessing, don’t usually care what they feel in someone’s body so if they did feel it why bring it up? But the Monster does.”



“That, or maybe it’s not as straightforward as a usual possession. Look, it fixated on you from the beginning. It’s still fixated on you. Add in the fact that after Eliot broke through, the vices it decided to explore sound like Eliot’s on overdrive, though you’d know that better than me… I don’t know, Q. But it might be important.”



He doesn’t want it to be important. But if Julia’s right, then what does it mean?



<><><>



Quentin wakes up to his skin prickling.



He squints in the dim light coming through the curtains at the familiar dark shape on the edge of the bed. Eliot - no. No, his brain reminds him as he comes properly awake, not Eliot. The Monster isn’t looking at him, has its head tilted as it looks down at -



Oh God. It’s petting Ariadne.



They used to do that, in their cottage at the Mosaic. It’s not as taboo in Fillory - family, lovers, even close friends will touch each other’s daemons and everyone is fairly up front about that, unlike on Earth where it might be known but never acknowledged. But still, Quentin knows Eliot hadn’t quite managed to take up the habit while he was ruling, and they’d both been startled by Arielle’s ease with it, though by the time Teddy came along being with Arielle and Terciel had gotten them comfortable with it too.



Quentin remembers the first time Eliot reached out, remembers his daemon going still under familiar hands, remembers the way he’d felt it down to his bones, the breathless giddiness of it. It’s the same hands now and he feels it just as deeply but what had been warm and welcoming is -



Confused.



The touch races under Quentin’s skin, pricking him like a million tiny needles but for all that it isn’t the pure horror of a stranger’s touch, it’s dizzying because it jars but it’s not, he can’t explain, doesn’t want to understand why - “Stop,” he says, tense and quiet.



“We had a deal, Quentin. The ants are still there, and you won’t let me take the drugs to send them away. I need a distraction, Quentin.” It scratches between Ariadne’s ears, something she usually loves, and Quentin can feel her trembling, he’s shaking himself.



“This is interesting, I do things to her and you feel it too.” The Monster is watching Quentin now, curious and cold, and it twists Ariadne’s ear until they both cry out. “What would happen if I killed her?”



“You’d kill us both, and then I won’t be able to help you build your body, or find out what the memories are that the gods stole from you,” Quentin says, voice rough with pain. The Monster clicks its tongue, and lets go of Ariadne’s ear.



“What if I kill her.” The Monster nudges Cythera with its foot.



Quentin’s throat starts to close. He swallows hard against the panic, because that won’t help. He remembers the Monster choking him, familiar fingers tightening around his neck with the same ease they once curled round his nape to draw him in. God, he can’t - “We had a deal, like you said. You kill Eliot, and we’re done. Killing her will kill both of them.” Without rage and fear and utter exhaustion to make him reckless, Quentin has to force his voice to steadiness.



Her, he says, like the Monster does. He doesn’t know if the Monster knows Cythera’s name, and Quentin hasn’t said it around the Monster because - he’s not sure. Because the Monster has stolen Eliot, and captured Cythera, but if it doesn’t have her name then that’s one thing, one little part of them that Quentin can keep safe until he can get them back. Stupid thought, really, but he can’t help it. Maybe he needs to think it. Who the fuck knows.



The Monster and Cythera blip out again, and Ariadne scrambles from her usual spot at the foot of the bed to curl up against Quentin’s chest. He holds her tight, stroking her fur until they both calm down. “We can’t keep this up, Quentin,” Ariadne whispers. “We just can’t.”



“We have to get them back,” Quentin insists.



“I know. But how? How , before we go crazy and aren’t any use to anyone?”



That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it?



<><><>



“Here. You keep her.”



The Monster drops Cythera on the couch next to Quentin, where she curls up mechanically. Tucked against his leg with her head on his thigh, Quentin can feel Ariadne flinch. He sets down the book he’d been reading and strokes the top of her head, watching the Monster carefully but avoiding that flat gaze. “I can’t keep her. We explained this, Julia and I. Human bodies have to keep their daemons close. It’ll kill you both to separate any distance.”



“It will not do that now. There are old rituals to go away from daemons. You have to walk over a ravine that’s a dead place. I do not know how places can be dead but that is what they call it. I walked over one, so I do not have to drag her along now. She is inconvenient and boring, and gets in the way. If one of the gods killed her when I wasn’t expecting it I might not be able to find a new body before they caught me. They are tricky and I will not let them be tricky. New part of the deal. You keep her, you deal with her.”



Then he’s gone again.



Quentin’s heard about that ritual, actually. It used to be a rite of passage for all magicians. These days, stretching a bond that far is optional. He and Ariadne already decided against it - she’s an Asian golden cat, not small enough to sneak around unnoticed and she can’t fly so it’s not like she can go long distances at speed. So there’s no practical reason for it.



Also. He might have occasionally gone far enough with certain plans to pick out building options in Midtown, but the thing that always, always stopped him is that he’d kill Ariadne if he did that. She knows it, and so her very first reaction when they’d read about stretching a bond so that distance couldn’t hurt them had been, “Absolutely not, Quentin Coldwater. I am staying at your side where I belong.”



But that aside, he doesn’t know how to feel about the Monster doing this to Eliot’s bond with Cythera, doesn’t know how he’ll explain it to Eliot if - when , it has to be when - he comes back. But it’s safer, almost certainly, so there’s that. And he can’t do anything about it, so he’s just going to focus on that part. Ariadne moves to sit between them so she can press against them both. It bothers her less, with the Monster gone, Quentin can feel it, but still… “You don’t have to,” he tells her softly.



“They’re alive in there,” Ariadne says. “She came to life when Eliot forced his way out, you didn’t see but I did.”



Of course he hadn’t seen, he hadn’t been able to look away from Eliot’s eyes - his eyes again, properly, for at least a moment.



“Fifty years. Who gets proof of concept like that?”



“What?”



“Peaches and plums, motherfucker. I’m alive in here.”



“That doesn’t mean - it upsets you to touch her like this, and you don’t have to. I can’t help the Monster putting its stolen hands all over me but you don’t have to -”



“I’m hoping she can feel it, wherever she and Eliot are with the Monster in control. Maybe she can and maybe she can’t, but the chance is worth me being a little upset, don’t you think?”



Quentin can’t argue with that.



<><><>



The egg mojo hangover is, officially, the worst hangover Quentin’s ever experienced, and yes he’s including the emotion bottles plus alcohol one in that. Granted, he felt like shit before all this, which probably isn’t helping him much.



I was a father, I’m not sure I can ever not be, even if my son’s long dead, even if he never really lived, he thinks when Poppy asks him if he thinks he’ll ever be a dad. “I hope so,” is what he says out loud, because he hasn’t discussed the Mosaic with anyone, and if he did it wouldn’t be with Poppy. Julia, or Margo, yes, but even with them he’s not sure he can bring himself to speak. Especially not now.



He’s a little flattered Poppy declared him godfather, and a lot glad Poppy’s baby isn’t his, because of basically everything. But this mess has made him admit he wants a family again, wants to be a dad again. He wants to be with Eliot and have a family again, but as far as he knows Eliot doesn’t want that.



(Did Eliot repeat Quentin’s own argument back to him just to prove it really was him and not a trick of the Monster, or was he saying he agrees now, he wants the same thing? Quentin doesn’t know, can’t dare to hope for more than getting Eliot back, here, his friend again if nothing else.)



Before his mind can spiral, Poppy says, “So, um, why do you have a humanless daemon curled up by the window?” Her own raccoon sits up next to her, head tilted curiously. She doesn’t sound as unsettled as most people would - to be fair, magicians do get used to seeing the occasional solo human or daemon, given the split ritual is still practiced. Quentin had seen it at Brakebills occasionally, and even if it creeped you out, you learned not to show it.



Also, given the weird shit Poppy explores, there’s probably not much that would freak her out. With Cythera curled up so her eyes are hidden, her blankness isn’t so obvious, and she just looks split, not Severed.



“Her human lives here too,” Quentin says, and technically this is not entirely a lie. “He’s busy with something and she’s safer here.”



“Hmm,” Poppy says, eyeing Cythera. “Well, time for me to go. Good luck with whatever you got for that egg.”



Quentin falls asleep on the couch again not long after Poppy leaves, and he dreams of life in the cottage in Fillory, he dreams that he could stay in the memories forever.



He wakes up to wrong-familiar eyes watching him in the filtered glow of city lights at night, too tired to protest when long fingers trail down his arm, card through Ariadne’s fur. Cythera is motionless in shadow, and Quentin stares at the Monster and doesn’t have enough left in him even to move.



Predawn spills grey light over the floor, and they keep staring at each other, some kind of stalemate in a game left unspoken.



<><><>



The thing is, he can’t leave Cythera alone. Quentin has no idea what an all-but-catatonic daemon might do, left alone. So far, she hasn’t done anything but curl up or sit staring blankly, and sometimes she walks in circles until Ariadne pounces, her smaller but solid form heavy enough to knock a cheetah off balance. But he doesn’t want to risk it.



During the egg mess, they’d put her in a dog cage, but they came back to find her walking into the bars. So when they go to Brakebills this time, Quentin swallows back nausea and, after gloving his hands as a weak final attempt to violate Cythera as little as possible, puts her on a leash.



The symbolism isn’t lost on him.



“Anything new on Enyalius?” Penny says when the search for Binder isn’t going well. “'Cause I got a fresh take on that. Let's find him, get his rock, destroy it before the Monster comes back.”



And Quentin - goes cold. Not with surprise, just numb. Because he knew one of them was going to say it. Julia started to, but leave it to 23 to push it.



“Wow, I love it.” And, incidentally, he would, if it was just killing the Monster. He would love to kill the Monster at this point, he would quite possibly relish it, if he could find the energy. Except. “Except for the part where it doesn't save Eliot.”



He can hear the objections that don’t come, and he almost answers them anyway. What if it were Julia, your Julia, the Julia right next to us, what would you do then? But he doesn’t. He says, “We'll figure something out. We always do.”



“No, bro. Take it from someone from a timeline where you did not figure it out.”



Right now, I envy that me. Without his shade, he didn’t feel a goddamn thing, did he. “We'll find Enyalius first. I'm not talking about this now.” He can feel the look Julia and Penny 23 exchange behind him, he wonders if they’re already figuring out how to pull him from the lineup.



They get back to the Monster and his twentieth kidnapped psychic, and the guy’s dead before Quentin’s brain has entirely caught up to, oh, he’s using psychics to fix his amnesia. Penny 23, a bit faster on the uptake, offers to help. Julia objects to Penny’s plan, and Quentin… knows he should. But he can’t seem to think with the Monster in his space, looking concerned in an almost-familiar-utterly-wrong way, apparently caring that he’s upset.



Until, you know, he takes Quentin along for body disposal. Until they blip back into the loft with the Monster draped over him, Ariadne tucked under the Monster’s arm like he thinks they’re his, his stuffed animals, or something.



Penny seizes but he lives, and Quentin wants to feel guilty but he can’t seem to remember how to do it.



“I saw Eliot in there,” Penny says when he comes around, wild eyed and pretty energized for a guy who just woke up from a seizure blackout, and that can’t be good, that can’t be, but he just said - And here’s the thing. Quentin has half-wondered, in the worst moments, if he dreamed that moment in the park.



“Am I hallucinating?”



“If you were, how would asking me help?”



But this is Penny, who would have no reason to - it’s proof, he thinks dizzily even as Penny tells them Eliot’s poking around in the Monster’s head, switching up the game on him. Even as Penny drops the bomb that it’s never been the Monster’s body they’re collecting.



It’s his sister’s. His sister, who was murdered, while the Monster was locked away.



<><><>



After, Quentin stands under the shower until his skin actually starts to hurt from the hot water, and it doesn’t help. It can’t wash away the remembered roughness of rocks and rope, tying them to a corpse. It can’t erase the sense memory of right/wrong hands on his hair, his skin, his fucking daemon . The Monster wants his sister, not a new body. If this isn’t about his body, then there’s no guarantee he’ll ever leave Eliot, is there, no way Quentin can make him. And he knows, God help him, that Penny’s right. If the sister is worse, they can’t - they can’t -



I can’t bury him again , he wants to say, wants to yell it in their faces until they stop trying to make him, but what good will that do? No one knows about the grave dug with withered hands, and though they might guess at the one in Quentin’s mind after the Monster said “Your friend Eliot is dead,” they don’t know, might not care. Won’t think it’s worth the world, and there’s - he was a philosophy major, he knows the terms for this kind of question, there’s a whole thing about do you risk the world for one life but he can’t remember any of that over the screaming in his head.



He’s fucked the world over before and he swore he wouldn’t again, but it’s Eliot . How can he - how is he supposed to - he can’t bury him again. That’s the only truth Quentin has and he doesn’t know what it will mean, he just. Can’t.



Maybe Julia and Penny 23 will take the choice out of his hands, knock him out to keep him out of the way. Maybe, if he’s lucky, if they do he just won’t wake up from it.



He turns the water cold and sinks to his knees, and at least it can wash away tears. At least the drumming of the water against tile can muffle his sobs, and his fist in his mouth is enough when the sobs turn to screams.



He gets out, dries off and goes back to the books, face set like nothing happened, scraped-out empty inside.



It’s morning by now, he notes absently as he settles back in his place on the couch. He probably should have tried sleeping in a bed rather than snatching catnaps on the couch but he doesn’t want to dream. Cythera sits on his left and stares, Ariadne sits next to her, leaning against her like that might help. Quentin doesn’t look up as he hears Kady take a phone call and rush out, Julia checking with Penny 23 to see if he’s OK before following her, calling that she shouldn’t go alone now. Something about worms feeding on hedge witches, he caught part of it but there’s not enough space in his head to care.



Quiet, for a while, but then a heavy sigh. “Look, Coldwater. I stand by us helping him see this through isn’t the best idea -”



“I’m not going to banish it while it’s in Eliot’s body,” Quentin says flatly.



“Yeah, no shit, you keep on telling us that. Your wards dropped at Brakebills, Coldwater. I know what happened to you in my timeline, what you became. I’m not going to let you tear the world apart again. He’s bad enough, and if I’m right about his sister being worse, we cannot let him bring her back.”



Quentin looks up then, at Penny 23 and his daemon, who is a crowned eagle where the Penny of Timeline 40 has/had a golden eagle. Some distant part of his brain wonders what Jane changed between timeloops to make that happen, a daemon settled differently. Wonders if that happened to the rest of them, here and there. “Do you have a point here?”



“I figure he hasn’t got Enyalius yet,” Penny 23 says, coming to sit on the couch and picking up a book. “So we have time. And I’m guessing that if we keep arguing with you, either you run off to do something stupid on your own, or we knock you out and when you wake up, you still do something stupid. So my best move here is helping you find a way to get him out before we kill him. Hell, for all we know, catching him between bodies will make him weak enough for it to stick.”



Quentin blinks. So does Cythera, her head turned toward Penny as if some bit of what he said actually registered with her.



“Fair deal,” says Ariadne, looking at Penny’s daemon, and that seems to be that for now.



<><><>



Margo and Talaus come back, with an extraction spell and a pair of axes. Quentin… isn’t sure what to make of the axes, isn’t sure he has enough energy left to care. Not when Margo’s first words are, “We have a way to get that thing out of Eliot, we just need somewhere to put it.”



Then, of course, Talaus’ first words are, “Q, Ariadne, why do you both look half-dead and why is Cythera here, on a leash ?”



“The possession makes her act Severed, you know that,” Julia says before Quentin can find the words to explain. “The Monster split them so he wouldn’t have to drag her around, but if we leave her loose sometimes she… walks into walls and things, it’s safer to have her on the leash.”



“With you keeping watch, huh?” Margo asks, eyeing Quentin.



“Trying to, anyway,” Quentin says, raking a hand through his hair.



“OK,” Margo says, and hands Julia a scroll. “Whoever we’ve got, they need to learn that. I need to talk to Q. Bring Cythera.” And with that, Margo grabs him by the wrist and tows him along. Quentin only just manages to grab hold of Cythera’s leash, Ariadne scrambling to catch up. “Where’s your room?” Margo asks, and Quentin gestures at the door. Margo drags him inside, then pushes him back so he half-falls into sitting on the edge of the bed, and she joins him.



“So, the expulsion, it’s gotta be you and me. The rest of the gang can work on the banishing part, but I was told the expulsion has to be the people who most want it to work, and I think it’s pretty obvious you and I fit that bill. It’s not a spell, not that part.”



“You said the spell was an expulsion.”



“No, I didn’t. The spell’s the banishment, that’ll be fine once we have a place to banish it to. The expulsion’s trickier. Awful as it is, it’s… a good thing you have her, because we’re gonna need her. And it is really fucked up, Q.”



“I know that, trust me.”



Margo stops for a minute, narrowing her eyes. “Hold that thought. I have questions, Coldwater. But first, the plan. Can it feel through the bond to Cythera?”



“Yeah,” Quentin says, pulling Ariadne into his lap. She’s a little too big for it, has been since she settled, but the weight of her helps. Cythera sits close to them on the floor by the bed, the loop of her leash around Quentin’s wrist. “It said that the only time she wasn’t boring was feeling things through her. I don’t know - what he did. Ari thinks she does a little better when she cuddles her, I don’t see any difference but we don’t think it hurts. The Monster doesn’t seem to care about that, I guess it’s too normal-feeling, not distracting enough. Why?”



Margo licks her lips. “My axes,” she says, nodding to where she’s set them leaning against the nightstand. “They’re magical, obviously, and while they’ll do damage in a normal fight, one of the ways they’re magical is, you hit a possessed person with one, it doesn’t hurt them, or it heals immediately, he wasn’t clear. But it does force the parasite out, at which point the banishing spell comes in handy. But sometimes it forces the actual soul out too. Add onto that, we need a way to draw the Monster to us…”



Oh. “Margo. You want me to -”



“To touch her, yes,” Talaus says, before Margo can. “We know what we’re asking. But do you really think El and Cythera would think you of all people touching her is more of a violation than what that thing is doing? We don’t think they’ll even object, but if they did, it wouldn’t be by much. Not in comparison. Margo would, we have, sometimes,” he adds, tail lashing, “but she’s the only one who can use the axes.”



“And it’s not like you haven’t done it before,” Margo says flatly, and Quentin jerks hard enough in surprise that he almost falls off the bed. And, for a moment, the world lurches around him, before settling again. Huh, that’s odd. Did he forget to eat again? He’s never hungry anymore, makes it hard to keep track.



“I don’t know what you mean.”



“I’m not stupid, Q. Things went funny with you and Eliot, after the quest you didn’t take to the Mosaic. I don’t know how, but I know I saw you reaching for each other’s daemons a few times.”



Quentin can’t speak but Ariadne can. “The thing is,” she says, careful, leaning forward from her place in Quentin’s lap to lick Cythera’s ears. She keeps trying, Quentin thinks it’s foolish but - but Cythera makes a sound, over too briefly to be a purr but something. A reaction. And then she can’t speak either, for hope that turns to ash when nothing more happens.



“The thing is,” Quentin says when his daemon doesn’t finish, staring at his hands on Ariadne’s fur and remembering Terciel’s sleek feathers, remembering his hands on Cythera and Eliot’s on Ariadne, how they’d compare and contrast the different furs. “We did. Or - we remembered it. Even if you stopped us, it still happened, somehow?”



It happened , Eliot said, but he also said not when we have a choice , and Quentin isn’t sure - Eliot wouldn’t choose him, or he thinks Quentin wouldn’t, or both, or what? Fifty years and Quentin knew damn fucking well when Eliot was lying but the problem is he’s not sure what part of Eliot’s rejection speech was the lie.



“Well, fuck,” Margo says, raising her eyebrows. “And I thought it was losing him that made you finally clue in to being in love with him.”



“No,” Quentin says. “Maybe that would be simpler, but no.” Actually, it wasn't then either, he's not quite sure when, he figured it out before the Mosaic but it was being there that gave him the nerve to act on it. “This will work?”



“I don’t know, Q. But I’m not letting him go, so if it doesn’t, we find a way. You with me on this?”



They can’t destroy the world again, says Quentin’s conscience. But he meets Margo’s eyes as Talaus grooms Cythera, then leans forward to give Ariadne a friendly nudge. He glances at the daemons curled together, tiger and cheetah and golden cat, and he remembers “I bond fast” and “Cats stick together” and days and nights in the cottage with their daemons in a friendly pile. He’d crowned Eliot and Margo had crowned him, “you believe in magic” and “cat people are picky, not solitary” and how the emotion bottles had thrown all three of them together and - maybe in the other timelines when Julia got into Brakebills she came too, there were four and not three, three cats and a falcon. But in this world. In this one.



Margo is the only one who gets it, who gets any of it.



“Of course I am,” Quentin says, and he can breathe a little easier because he’s not alone in this now. Maybe that’ll be the difference between burning the world for Eliot and being able to get him back without that.



Even if Margo would very possibly light the torch faster than Quentin, if it came to that.



<><><>



“Exorcism axes,” Julia says, pink-gold dawn light spilling into the apartment.



“It’s worth a shot,” Quentin shrugs.



“Neither of you are thinking clearly.”



“No,” Quentin agrees. “But Eliot and Margo are - are some kind of soulmate that lands between platonic and romantic and who knows what, and I’m in love with him and I still remember a lifetime where I was married to him, so there is no reality where we do, on this.”



He hears Julia’s mug thunk against the counter. “I didn’t think you’d actually say it. Though I’m a little confused about the details.”



“No, I didn’t either. And - later. OK?”



The light gets brighter, spring sunlight that always seems sharper on Earth than Fillory. That might just be the opium in the air. Cythera’s ears flick when Ariadne leans against her, behind him Julia and Asterion are talking, and for a moment Quentin lets himself pretend things are already all right.



For a moment. And then he sets aside the fantasy, so they can get started on making things actually all right.



<><><>



The surprising part is that everything goes according to plan. They set themselves up somewhere deserted Penny 23 gets them to, and Quentin strokes a shaking hand down Cythera’s back, fingers carding through her fur until the Monster appears. And then Quentin holds on when Margo swings, when he hears Julia, Alice, Kady chanting the spell, Penny 23’s voice a lower counterpoint to theirs.



Quentin holds onto Cythera and as the Monster twists out of Eliot, black smog and hints of flaming eyes, Ariadne streaks across the distance to press close to Eliot as he crumples - and that is their mistake. What Ari wants to do is help ground him, help keep him, but the Monster is still too close, the connection -



It goes more to plan than their ideas usually do, even so.



The sticking point is the part where the Monster tries to drag Quentin with him.



And the thing of it is, even that would be all right, even when Quentin’s world sparks blue as he tries to fight his way free, and the only anchor he has is fingers curling in Ariadne’s fur where they shouldn’t be. One last-ditch way to stop someone from niffining out is to grab their daemon, he read that when he was trying to get Alice back. Distantly, he’s glad - dying is fine, if it comes to it, but he remembers Alice as a niffin, all that was good in her gone, he remembers Julia, shadeless and harsh. Remembers that without his shade in another lifetime he was the Beast.



So he’s grateful even for violation, and he thinks maybe it’s not even that, thinks maybe he knows that hand, but it’s all a jumble and he can’t be sure. It pulls him back, anyway, pulls him free of the Monster and back where he belongs.



The plan works. No one’s dead, the Monster’s gone. For once, everything goes like it’s supposed to.



Except the thing is, Quentin’s been a Monster’s pet and the guardian of a mindless daemon, he’s been pushing himself constantly since Brian was kidnapped by a man with glowing eyes, brutality coupled with almost childlike ways. He’s pushed too far, and he didn’t notice, there wasn’t space in his brain to notice. And no one else knew just how deep it ran.



So Quentin comes back to himself, and all he hears is static before he falls past himself, into the dark.