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Ax still in hand, Quentin enters the apartment and spots Margo with her back to him. He braces himself for the next conversation he knows he has to have with her, exhausted from the failure to save Eliot in the Library, from worrying about Julia, from--

Glass crunches under his feet and when he looks down he sees a pool of water on the floor around Margo. It takes him a moment, and then his brain makes the connection and he steps forward quickly, coming to stand beside Margo, his free hand brushing her upper arm. She doesn’t acknowledge him; her face is a steel mask, staring blankly ahead at the wall. Even so, Quentin can see tear tracks marking her face. A dead fish is cradled in her palm.

Josh.

“Fuck,” Quentin breathes. He wonders how long she’s been standing like this.

“I blinked,” Margo says, voice empty of emotions. “I blinked and he just floated to the top of the bowl.”

Quentin can’t recall ever seeing Margo this shell-shocked. Her fingers curl slightly around the fish and her lower lip trembles.

“Where’s Eliot?” she takes a breath in, coming back to herself. “Did you do it?”

Quentin swallows and before he can reply Margo makes a scoffing sound and shakes her head.

“Of course not,” she sneers. “You had one fucking job and you couldn’t handle that, could you?”

“If you think I don’t want him back just as much--”

“I’ll do it myself.”

She sets Josh down on the counter, carefully, then wrests her ax from Quentin’s hands.

---

Despite Zelda’s best efforts, the Library can’t give Kady the cure for the Poison Room sickness. It’s magically-coded to only work on those contracted to the Library and Kady refuses to discuss signing up as an option, despite Alice and Pete both urging her to consider it.

Alice suspects she’s more scared than she’s letting on, but Kady pushes forward and props herself up on a couch in the penthouse, making last-minute calls to hedges and trying to coordinate the rest of their plan to get rid of the Monster and his sister as best she can while coughing up a lung.

“You’re gonna keep up with the whole rebellion bit, right?” Kady asks Alice, as she hangs up with a west coast safe house. “New hedge bitch in charge, that’s you?”

“Of course,” Alice peeks up from the book she’s perusing on cooperative magic. She’s not sure if she means it, but it seems to give Kady a bit of comfort for her to say it, so she figures it’s not a terrible lie.

“Good.”

The others come and go around them, talking plans and making decisions. Penny and Quentin worry over Julia, who is still not recovering from her ax wound, despite the best healers at Brakebills looking over her. Kady doesn’t react to the news outside of a small frown, which surprises Alice, but she wonders if it really should. They’ve already lost Josh and Kady’s dying, perhaps Kady has the same growing sense of dread she has: that this is finally a quest too big for any of them and their dumb luck has run out.

“You’re really committed to this whole waiting for me to die schtick,” Kady says, eyeing Alice. “You can go and finish planning things without me. I’ll be here. Or I won’t be. What’s it matter to you, anyway? It’s not like we’re friends.”

“We almost were,” Alice says and she wishes she had more time with Kady because she thinks she would’ve liked her a lot, now that she was finally in a place to have friends again. “You deserve to have someone with you. No one should die alone.”

“Since you’re here anyway, how about a deathbed confession?” Kady asks and before Alice can respond, she rambles on, “Is it bad that all I can think about is that I might see Penny again?”

“No,” Alice says softly, leaning in toward Kady from her chair. “I think it’s very human.”

“You’ve died before, right? How was it?”

“Bright,” Alice says. She considers leaving it at that, but holding back for a dead woman doesn’t have much of a point, so she favors honesty and adds, “ Painful. I burned myself out with magic. So. It’s not quite the same at this.”

“Guess I didn’t think about the niffin thing as an alternative to death.”

“Can’t say I recommend it.”

Kady laughs, which then turns into a coughing fit that she can’t shake. Alice crouches beside her, trying to steady Kady and Kady’s too worked up to push her away. Blood flecks her lips and her eyes are blown wide. There’s so much pain in them and Alice performs the tuts before she even realizes she’s doing it. Kady goes boneless in her arms, still struggling to breathe but unconscious and not feeling the pain. Alice eases her back down onto the pillows and steps back, guilty that she stole these last moments from Kady.

But it’s not her guilt that matters. She settles herself on the floor beside the couch, takes her hand, and stays. She listens to Kady’s labored, worsening breathing until it fades out altogether.

---

Too much is happening at once and Margo is compartmentalizing like a champ.

Priority number one is Eliot’s gaping stomach wound. Josh is dead (and Kady is dead and Julia is well on her way to being dead), so if Eliot dies, then, well, Margo will be useless forever and then some because this is so, so much worse than Eliot’s corpse being trotted around by some monster, this is her driving an ax into her best friend’s gut hoping it would save him only for it to kill him. No, Eliot dying simply isn’t an option. Eliot dying would mean everything was pointless, every timeline, every stupid act to save magic or Fillory. None of it matters to Margo if Eliot’s dead. So yeah, he’s priority one and taking about ninety five percent of her capacity to care about anything.

Priority two is Quentin, Alice, and Penny journeying into the mirror realm and she really hopes they’ve got things sorted, but she only has about five percent of her capacity to care left and there is one other problem on her plate, so their impending doom garners a comfortable four point five percent of her attention. Enough that she’s genuinely worried, but not enough for her to spare more than a passing thought to them.

The last point five percent of energy is reserved for the fact that she’s dying. It’s at the bottom and honestly it wouldn’t factor in at all if it wasn’t starting to hurt so fucking much. About a fraction of a second before she’d gotten her ax in him, the Monster had noticed her and started moving his hand in that slashing motion. And she’d felt it, in her gut. And then she’d pushed it aside and focused on Eliot. She was so covered in Eliot’s blood she didn’t realize just how much of it was hers until they were in the infirmary and Eliot was being pulled out of sight.

It hits her all of a sudden. She pulls up her shirt, sees the bloody gash there, laughs, mutters “Well, shit,” and collapses onto the floor.

---

In twenty minutes, despite Lipson’s best effort, Eliot dies from blood loss.

In twenty-five minutes, Margo joins him.

---

Penny reads Quentin’s thought, hears him say out loud “Take her. Do it now,” and it all falls into place. He catches Alice by the waist and drags her back, ready to save at least the two of them, hoping Quentin will follow behind them, if he can, but--

Alice elbows him in the nose, which hurts and sends him reeling back, clutching at his face. By the time he recovers, Alice is too far away and Quentin’s spell is refracting across the room in brilliant light. Penny gets one glimpse of the room -- of Everett’s stunned shock, of Alice still running toward Quentin and screaming something he can’t hear, of Quentin’s horrified expression -- before all of them are caught up in the explosion.

---

Julia clings to life, up until the very end. The divine spark inside her refuses to be put out, even with an unquestionably fatal wound.

Penny hadn’t been able to take the choice between humanity and divinity from her, so Julia hangs in between. Not conscious, but she feels the loss of her friends anyway and it mingles in with her own pain. With each life slipping away, it tears at her soul: Josh, Kady, Eliot, Margo. The shock of Quentin-Penny-Alice all at once hits Julia’s system and she seizes. Lipson, exhausted and covered in Eliot’s and Margo’s blood, tries to stabilize her, but there’s nothing else to be done.

Julia joins her friends.

---

The door opens.

“Hey,” Penny says. “Been awhile. Welcome to the Underworld.”

From inside the elevator, eight magicians peer back at him in varying degrees of distress.

---

Since the defeat of the Beast, Henry Fogg has told himself that he’s glad there are no more timelines to deal with, no matter how fucked things have gotten. Magic gone haywire, magic gone altogether, the Library taking over the whole goddamn system. There are consequences to actions and it’s time to live with them. Constant do-overs are exhausting and traumatizing.

But now, with eight of his students dead? And not just any eight, but those eight . The ones who were always so tangled up in the story that he knows them probably better than they know themselves.

It makes him want that damn watch back. He wants Jane to show up with her inappropriate humor and weary optimism and they’ll save everyone this timeline, they’ve figured out the right combination and this one has to be it.

Jane doesn’t show up, but after Fogg pours himself his fifth glass of whisky, Penny appears in his office. He must be very drunk because this is Timeline 40 Penny who has been dead far longer and has even less reason to be in his office than Penny-23.

He’s grateful for the shake up though. Penny-40 is infinitely better than Penny-23, who is one of his least favorite Pennys, always too lovesick in that self-centered way of his. His favorite Penny has always been Penny-10, who wound up dating Quentin in their first year, which resulted in both of them calming the fuck down and generally being less likely to be a pain in his ass. They had died horribly, as they always did, but they’d gotten damn close to killing the Beast. Henry had set them up as roommates faithfully almost every timeline after but it never happened again, much to his disappointment. Always too many factors at play.

“Wait, Julia, I get. But Quentin ?”

Oh. He hadn’t meant to say that out loud. “You were very happy together,” Henry says distantly. “It was a nice change of pace from the constant Alice drama. Or the Eliot drama. Or the Kady-Julia drama, in your case.”

“I-- Do you keep track of our love lives?” Penny asks, then shakes his head. “Whatever. I’m not here about that. Shit’s hit the fan and we have to fix it.”

Henry tilts his head, suddenly wondering if it’s possible this isn’t a drunken delusion but perhaps actually Penny.

“I’m busting everyone out of the Underworld, but I need someone to help out topside. Are you with us?”

There’s an earnest plea in his eyes that makes Henry realize this is real. He pushes his glass aside, sobering. “Of course. Where do we start?”

Chapter Text

The elevator thrums as it continues its descent and Julia can’t tell how long they’ve been like this. There’s no number in the corner indicating what floor they’re on and there’s no buttons to push that would give them an idea of how many floors there are. It’s a uniformly plain and silver interior on three sides, with a door in the remaining one. The door is a good sign, Julia tells herself, it means they’ll have to get off at some point.

She kneels beside Penny where he’s tucked into the corner of the elevator, one hand resting on his knee. Julia feels like she should say something to him; they have a multitude of things they need to say to each other, but she can’t form the words in her head. It’s too foggy, too distant.

“You’d think there’d be music,” Eliot says, after a period of silence lasting somewhere between fifteen minutes and fifteen hours. “This is probably the only time in anyone’s life where elevator music would be comforting.”

“It’s not life,” Alice doesn’t look at him, too focused on Quentin huddled between her and the wall. One hand grips the railing of the cab while he leans into Alice’s shoulder, hunched over, eyes closed. As Alice cards her hands through his hair, there’s tension on his face, but his breathing is steady and deep.

Julia wonders what happened to them, for them to end up here. All of them, really, but her thoughts are sluggish when she tries to recall memories beyond the elevator. Maybe they’ve always been here.

Josh crouches in the middle of the cab, his coat spread out on the floor before him. He’s been going through the pockets looking for a joint for as long as Julia can remember. His motions are slow, more habitual than genuinely searching, but there’s nothing better for him to do so he keeps looking.

Kady stands with her nose almost touching the doors, arms at her sides and shoulders squared. Whatever awaits them on the side of the door, Kady will be the first to face it, by her own design. Julia wants to ask her if she’s okay.

“Alright, you know what?” Eliot draws his hands up, performing the tuts to a spell Julia can’t place. The motions evoke the image of a conductor and she suspects it’s a music spell, but nothing happens. Eliot tries the tuts again, to no effect. He does them once more, movements more frenzied, and Margo catches his hands in hers, swinging herself around to stand in front of him.

“El, baby, it’s not gonna work.”

“It’s too quiet.

“I know. This isn’t how I planned to spend my evening either.”

The ding of the elevator coming to a stop pierces through stillness of the cab and Julia jumps. Josh lets out a yelp, Quentin’s eyes fly open, and Kady’s fingers flex at her side, then one hand closes into a fist.

The door opens.

Penny-- timeline 40 Penny, in his grey library suit-- greets them with a quiet smile, “Hey. Been awhile. Welcome to the Underworld.”

It makes sense, but hearing it out loud is harsher somehow: They’re dead.

Before anyone can respond, Kady surges forward into Penny’s arms, long legs locking around his waist while she throws her arms around his neck. He rocks back on his heels, but stays upright and slides his arms around her.

“I’m sorry you’re here.”

“Fuck you, asshole,” she bites out. She disentangles herself from him and drops back to the floor. “So what’s next? Crossing over the river Styx? Weigh our hearts to see whether we go upstairs or downstairs?”

“Sorry, no,” Penny says. “I’m going off book. Way, way off book, but what are they gonna do, fire me?”

He smiles an uneasy smile that is probably meant to put them at ease, but he’s nervous and it shows. Julia picks herself up from off the floor and pulls her Penny along with her, moving to join Kady and Penny-40 outside the elevator. It’s a too-bright white waiting room with a scattering of padded black reception chairs. A single door leads out of the room.

“There’s a precedent down here,” Penny-40 explains, “for people who are especially willing to call destiny on its bullshit and go their own way. The way I see it, you’re all candidates for the Eurydice Clause.”

“Eurydice?” Alice steps out of the elevator behind Julia. “As in Orpheus and Eurydice?”

“The very same one. Some people come down here and aren’t ready to call it quits. Usually they’ve got help from up top and I’m working on that part for you guys, but you can at least get started on the rest. It’s better than sitting in the waiting room for twenty years, which, given all the paperwork that has to be drawn up for time loop bullshit, would be a low estimate.”

Margo, Eliot, and Josh step out of the elevator. Margo turns to Eliot, still clasping his hand in hers “I know you only read the wiki, but please tell me you know this one: What do we say to the god of death?”

Eliot struggles, opening his mouth and then closing it a few times. Julia beats him to it, grinning, “Not today, motherfucker.”

Margo nods solemnly at her.

“I’m not breaking out without you,” Kady tells Penny and folds her arms, daring him to contradict her.

“Already drank the kool-aid, so it’s a little late for me. But it’s not for you,” Penny looks to the rest of the group. “Resurrections are a bitch to pull off, but I know you all and if anyone can do it, it’s you.”

“What if we want to move on?”

Julia’s head whips around to Quentin, still hovering in the doorway of the elevator. He shrinks under the gaze of all eight of them, then says very quietly. “I’m sorry. It’s just, um, we all died, right? It’s over.”

Julia lets go of Penny’s hand and starts toward Quentin, struggling to think of what to say besides Don’t you fucking dare give up on me, Coldwater but Alice is way ahead of her, “I died and you didn’t let me stay gone.”

“You were a niffin, it’s not-- the same thing. I-- I was supposed to die months ago, right? I already went off-book, maybe this is-- the universe correcting itself.”

“Yeah, so, the books are bullshit,” Penny says. “You haven’t figured that out yet? You’re not the first person to change your own book and you won’t be the last. But you do bring up a point, which is that this is a choice. You can say no and you’re all going to get the chance to say no, if you want. It has to be a decision you make for yourself.”

He steps back a few paces, gesturing to the waiting room around him. Quentin comes to stand beside Alice and the elevator doors shut behind him.

“I’m going to take each of you into my office, one at a time,” Penny says.

“Kinky,” Margo comments.

“We’ll talk things through, you decide what you want, and we go from there. This has to be your decision,” he opens the door, “Figured we’d just go alphabetically instead of picking a number, so first up would be Adiyodi. Other me.”

Penny-- her Penny--  looks over at Julia and she gives him an encouraging nod, letting go of his hand and watching him disappear behind the other Penny into the office.

---

Penny shuts the door, taking in the office space. It’s cozy and much darker than the waiting room outside, reminiscent of a therapist’s office. There’s a short countertop that looks like any office break room countertop, mugs scattered (eight, he realizes, when he counts them) with a keurig and a coffee pot and several boxes of tea. Most of the room is taken up by a large, cushy sofa lined up across from a coffee table and a chair. His Timeline-40 self gestures to the couch and Penny takes a seat, resting his hands on his knees, and waits.

“So,” Penny-40 says, sliding a mug out from under the keurig. “You’re dead. Hot chocolate?”

He  holds out the mug and Penny takes it, then immediately sets it down on the coffee table between them. Underworld keurig hot chocolate sounds frankly terrible. The least they could do is give him a decent cup, with milk and marshmallows and shit, if they’re trying to ease him into the afterlife.

Afterlife. The reality of it has been worming its way into his mind the second the elevator doors opened and it’s not the part where he’s dead that’s bother him, but that he’s also responsible for Julia being dead and possibly Alice. If he’d had a better grip on her, then maybe she wouldn’t have gotten loose and at least the two of them could be up top helping, instead of down here needing to be rescued.

“I’m not a fan of being dead,” Penny says finally. “Let’s get moving onto the ‘escape the underworld’ part of this show.”

“Okay,” Penny-40 says. “What if no one else goes? It could just be you.”

Penny can’t tell what kind of game the other him is playing. How likely is it that all his friends would give up. He doesn’t think it’s possible, maybe Quentin or Kady, but even if they did-- No. They won’t. “I know those idiots and at least one of them is gonna choose to fight, so I’m with them. All of them, any of them. My whole world ended and I jumped ship, you think I haven’t taken every chance I could get at living? I want to take this quest.”

Penny-40 nods. “Good answer. I think you’re ready for the next leg of the journey.”

---

“We’re all doing the quest, right?” Margo asks. “None of you fuckers better cock out on me. If I have to grieve any of you, I’m going to be distracted fighting my way out of here and we all need to be at the top of our fucking games if we’re gonna kill death.”

“I don’t think Penny said we were killing death,” Josh says quietly from beside her.

“Yeah, but it’s the sentiment, babe."

It’s been a few minutes since Penny left and Julia feels uneasy already now that one of them is gone. If they’re going alphabetically, she’ll be the last one left. And Quentin will be next, which worries her with how quiet he’s being. Alice has his hand in hers and has been keeping close to him, but he doesn’t look any more hopeful now than he did in the elevator.

“You heard what Penny said,” Kady says evenly. “If we don’t want to do it, we can’t do it. It's a choice.”

“You’re staying?” Alice asks.

“I didn’t say that,” Kady says. “But Penny’s down here and my time is up, apparently. And Quentin’s thinking the exact same shit as me, so don’t get on my case about it.”

Quentin ducks his head in a gesture Julia recognizes as one that would usually get his hair falling into his face, but it’s too short now and only a few locks fall over his eyes. Not enough to hide behind. He picks at the arm of his chair and shifts in his seat so that his legs are tucked up underneath him.

“Quentin,” Eliot says softly.

Quentin flinches at Eliot’s voice and looks up. Their eyes lock and they both look on the verge of saying something when the door opens.

Quentin bolts up to follow Penny into the office before Penny even says his name.

---

“We both know I’m going to stay,” Quentin says, as soon as Penny closes the door. “But is there any way that me staying won’t fuck up their chances of getting out?”

Penny puts a hand on his shoulder and motions to the sofa. Quentin takes a seat, doing his best not to slump down into it like he desperately wants, and forces himself to sit up, watching Penny step over to the back counter.

“Cards on the table?” Penny glances behind him at Quentin. “I barely know how this works. I saw the eight of you were headed down here, pulled strings I’m not sure I’m technically allowed to pull, and got you fast tracked for a resurrection quest. But it’s vague and theoretical and it hasn’t been attempted in a few centuries and it’s  never been done like this, with all of you being dead. We’re all in over our heads here. So I have no idea whether you staying or going will change things for them. But it will change things for you. So do you want to try dicking over death or do you want to lie down and accept your fate?”

Quentin laughs bitterly, “So it’s hopeless and you’re pushing us along anyway?”

“I couldn’t let you all go without trying something,” he says, turning back around to face Quentin for a moment. There's just pure honesty there, no showmanship for the sake of selling the quest. Not Penny-the-Librarian, but just Penny. “I’m dead, not soulless. But this isn’t about me, this is about you and your decision. This quest is going to be hell. Possibly literally. You don’t have to take it, Quentin, but you can.”

It doesn’t matter if he goes, either way, because this quest is doomed from the start. That brings him some amount of reassurance. It’ll be the same with or without him and at least this way he won’t have to watch them all fail.

“Hot chocolate?” Penny holds out a mug to him, a mountain of whipped cream and sprinkles rising up from the top.

Quentin takes the mug, feeling the warmth of it in his hand. He lifts it up to his lips, breathing the smell in, thinking, holding it there and pondering. It all happened so fast, he hadn’t really thought through anything he’d done. It was just stop the Monster, stop Everett, save Alice. He hadn’t even done that last one, instead he’d--

He’d killed her. It was his spell that refracted. He cast it and she died. All of it was by his own hand, Penny-23’s death, his own death. He hasn’t charted super high on “will to live” in months, it makes sense that--

“Oh god,” Quentin breaths, gripping the mug tighter. “I killed myself. And I-- I didn’t just-- I killed Alice and Twenty-Three too. I thought he was going to get her out but she-- She ran back and I just stood there. That’s the fear, right? That you’ll hurt someone else and that’s why you don’t do it. You think about your family and your friends and you tell yourself that no matter how much you hate yourself, you couldn’t hurt them, even if you think they’d be better off without you. But I guess I finally did it, didn’t I? Was finally that selfish.”

“Or you did something brave and you tried your best to keep the others safe, even if it didn’t play out like you wanted.”

Brave. Quentin doesn’t want to apply that word to himself, for what he did. “I think I meant to, but I don’t-- I mean, I don’t know. I wasn’t consciously trying to kill myself, but I still did.”

“Almost everyone who survives jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge says they regret it as soon as their feet leave the ledge,” Penny says. “You’re way past the ledge, man, but you have a chance to fix that.”

Quentin sets the mug down. “Okay. Okay, so theoretically, will I be at all useful on this quest? Because I’m pretty fucked up right now, head-wise and if I’m doing this, I want it to count for something.”

Penny smiles.

---

They don’t say what they’re all thinking, as the minutes tick past and Quentin’s been in with Penny for what feels like an eternity. They won’t get to know what he chose for awhile and it makes Julia feel uneasy. She’s not sure how to prepare herself to mourn him, if he decides to stay.

It wouldn’t surprise any of them, but dammit, they have a chance to live and none of them have even hit thirty so don’t they deserve that? After all they’ve been through? 

“Margo?”

Everyone jumps a little at the noise, except Margo, who swings herself up out of her chair and strides into Penny’s office.

---

“Did Quentin cock out on us?” Margo asks, folding her arms and dropping onto the sofa.

“I can’t tell you that,” Penny says. “Hot chocolate?”

He offers her a mug emblazoned with “#1 King” in sparkling gold letters. It does smell tantalizing, she has to admit, but she read her share of Persephone retellings in middle school and she’s not an idiot. Drinking or eating in the Underworld when you’re planning on escaping? “That’s gonna be a no from me.”

Penny sets the mug onto the back counter and drops into the chair across from her, grinning. So it was a test. Margo leans back against the couch, resting her arms across the back.

“Look, I got a kingdom to run and so do most of them, so let’s get on with this. I’m doing the quest.”

“Never expected anything less from the High King of Fillory.”

---

Alice winds up sitting next to Eliot after Margo leaves. Julia doesn’t remember seeing her move, but apparently she did at some point and now her knuckles are going white squeezing his hand.

Kady keeps her arms folded and sits a good distance away from the others, projecting a “talk shit, get hit” vibe, so that leaves Julia to try talking with Josh.

“How are you doing with all this?” she asks, watching him. He doesn't seem like he's freaking out, but she can't get a good read on him at all. His expression has been a bewildered sort of neutral this whole time.

“I mean… it’s kind of cool. Not being dead. That's bad. But getting to flip off death is conceptually something I could be into. I’m just not sure how helpful I’m going to be. I’m a natural magics kind of guy and something tells me there’s not going to be a whole lot of life where we're going.”

Julia can’t understand how Josh is so insecure around the rest of them or why the others-- save Margo now, apparently-- seem to tolerate him at best. He’s dweeby, sure, but he’s so genuine you can’t help but gravitate toward him. Like she’s doing now, in this corner of the afterlife where the only thing not freezing is the warmth Josh radiates.

“You might surprise yourself,” Julia says. “I think we need you.”

“I can’t believe you died,” Josh says. “Wasn’t that your whole thing? Not dying?”

The last clear memory she has is of Our Lady Underground trying to save her, before the Sister had possessed her. She’s uncertain how she died, but she suspects memory might be there somewhere, filtered out of her active consciousness by the possession.

“Hoberman?”

Josh gets up, glancing at Julia, “See you on the other side, right?”

Julia gives him a thumbs up.

---

Josh flops onto the sofa across from Penny. “Yeah, of course I’ll go back.”

“No hesitations?”

“Nah. I mean. I know Margo’s going to go back. You don’t have to confirm or deny it, I know. And she’s-- I mean, we just got started.”

“What if she decided to stay?”

“She won’t. But if she does… I’ll be okay. There’s Brakebills and Fillory and-- I love Fillory. I can have a good life there, Margo or not. I’ll just bring a Britta filter next time I want to drink out of a mysterious magic water reservoir.”

“Are you thirsty?” Penny asks, moving to the little countertop and retrieving a mug. “I’ve got hot chocolate.”

It looks like dishwater and Josh can see little pockets of cocoa powder floating at the top. “Um, I’m good, thanks.”

---

Kady gets up and starts to pace. Julia wishes they were friends again and they could talk this through. She’s sure Kady has a million thoughts running through her head and Julia wants nothing more than to ease that and to help Kady make whatever impossible choice she’s setting herself up for, but she knows Kady won’t allow her inside.

Julia joins Alice and Eliot, somewhat reluctantly, taking a seat on Eliot’s other side.

“Kady,” Penny’s voice calls softly and Kady slips into the room.

---

“I want a goddamn library contract,” Kady announces her decision as soon as she enters the room. She’s thought this through now and it’s the only option she can see that-- Well, they all suck. But this one is a little better than the others.

“Okay,” Penny says. “Hot chocolate?”

Penny sets a small caddy down onto the coffee table, little silver containers filled with sprinkles and marshmallows, then holds out a mug to her. Kady knocks the mug out of his hands and it goes flying across the room to shatter against a wall.

He grins at her, obnoxiously, and she kinda wants to punch him.

“What am I doing up top? I’m serious, what the hell is up there for me? My mom’s dead, you’re dead. I’m not at Brakebills. I’ve been spinning my wheels with magic quests and starting a hedge rebellion, but what’s the point? The hell am I fighting for?”

“You’re not alone up there.”

“How am I not alone?”

“You came down here with eight people and you’re going back with those eight people. I’m just hoping you’ll figure it out soon.”

“You can’t know that.”

“Can’t I?” Penny keeps grinning.

Kady sits down on the couch and pulls the caddy to her, picking at a few of the marshmallows, collecting them in her palm and then putting them back, then picking them up again. Penny sits across from her.

“Kady. If I could go with you, I would. It sucks that we didn’t get our time. It’s unfair and it’s bullshit and we deserve better, but we don’t always get what we deserve.”

“I miss you,” Kady says. “Every day. It’s getting better, but sometimes I feel like I’ll never be me again. I’m trying, but--”

“It’s enough. Trying is enough.”

Kady loves him so much it feels like it could crush her. “God, I wish we could-- but it’s the Underworld so I’m sure there’s some rule or--”

He leans over the table and cuts her off with a kiss. Kady slips the marshmallows into the pocket of her blazer and moves both her hands up to cradle his face, pulling him closer to her. The caddy tips over onto the floor as she drags him across the coffee table, but Kady’s too busy getting him onto the couch to spare it more than a thought. She pushes him down and swings her legs over to straddle him, grabs for his tie and starts loosening it. He catches her wrists.

“We don’t have time,” Penny murmurs, apologetic.

“Right,” Kady pushes her hair out of her face, staring down at him, heart aching. She presses her lips together and nods before sliding off him and letting him back up. They sit side-by-side for a moment, shoulders brushing. He leans in and kisses her cheek, then takes her hand.

“Come on. Trust me, you’re ready.”

---

They don’t say anything while it’s the three of them. Alice gets up and paces a few times, but other than that, it’s deathly silent.

The door opens and Penny looks a little disheveled when he calls out, “Alice?”

---

Penny seems flustered as he bustles about the back countertop and retrieves a tall mug for her. It’s standard, cafe-style hot chocolate, at least from the smell and she’s not sure what to think of it when he offers it to her, although she has some suspicions.

“Did Quentin decide to stay or is he going to be with us?” Alice peers down into the mug.

“I can’t tell you that.”

Alice sets the mug aside. “So are you trying to talk me out of it or talk me into it?”

“Neither. I just want to make sure you know what you want.”

Part of her thinks she should stay. This is her second death and cheating destiny so consistently seems like asking for trouble. But also she was starting to get excited about things for the first time in a long while. She had ideas about magic being used for good, she had plans to help Kady with the hedges, she had-- She had a life. One that she actively wanted to live.

“I think--I think I want to live,” Alice says. “No, I know I do. I want the quest.”

She pushes the mug of hot cocoa back across the table to Penny.

“I was hoping you’d say that. Without both you and Julia, I don’t think they have a chance in hell and it’d be shitty for the quest to be over before it begins.”

He gets up and motions toward the door, then pauses with his hand hovering over the doorknob. “Hey, this isn’t really… Um, if Kady made it over, will you look after her for me? Not that she can’t take care of herself, but I’d feel better knowing she had you in her court.”

“Of course.”

---

Eliot flexes his hand when Alice lets go and Julia can see where her nails dug into his fingers.

“And then there were two,” Julia mutters.

He glances at her. “I don’t remember much. But the Sister got you, didn’t she?”

Julia nods.

“I’m sorry,” he says, looking away quickly.

It’s not his fault, anymore than whatever the Sister did in her body is her fault, but that’s complicated and a waiting room in the Underworld isn’t the time for that conversation. Julia takes his other hand in hers and they don’t say anything else until Penny appears again. Eliot tightens his fingers before letting go and getting up.

---

“Did Quentin take it?” Eliot asks, because he realizes that is his only deciding factor as he walks into the room. “You must have read our books, so you know--”

“I know that you have a kingdom waiting for you back upstairs. And a world of magic. And that those are what you need to base your decision on, not anyone else,” Penny says. “But I also know you and Margo are tight, and neither of you would last long without the other. And I know you and Coldwater have some unfinished business.”

As if that even begins to cover it. “If I decide to try this and he doesn’t--”

“You can’t decide based on one person.”

He can’t, but he might. He’s spent so much time trying to get back to Quentin or waiting for Quentin to save him, hoping there’d be time to talk when it was all over. Now it is all over and it ended ugly and bad. He can’t say what he needs to say if Quentin isn’t here with him.

“If I moved on and he moved on-- and I’m not saying I’m going to do that because I’ve got Bambi and Fillory and-- but would we be together? Is that even in the cards?”

“I don’t know,” Penny says. “Maybe for a bit in the waiting room, but that’s not life. And beyond that I have no idea. That’s well above my paygrade.”

“Of course you don’t. So I just make this decision blind then? All my friends could move on and it could just be me and I’ll be stuck on this fucking quest knowing when that I get topside I’ll be alone. I mean, there’s Fillory. And Fen and Fray and-- There’s things still there, I guess, but I-- It’d be so fucking hard.”

“It would, but you could do it,” Penny says. “Hot chocolate?”

Penny offers him a mug but Eliot doesn’t bother looking at it, just waves it away, “No, thank you.”

---

“Julia?” Penny calls.

Julia jumps up from the waiting room to follow him inside, but before she can take a seat on the sofa, he keeps walking straight across the office to the door on the opposite side and opens it, gesturing for her to enter.

“I thought we were going to talk,” Julia says, but she follows through the door and steps into a large room that reminds her a little of a parking garage. There are weird low lights in the ceiling and directly ahead of them is a black arch standing alone in the middle of the space. Penny enters after her and closes the door behind them.

“So you get a different version of this than the rest of them,” Penny says. “Um, I could offer you hot cocoa as a secret test as to whether or not you’re ready for the quest, but, it doesn’t matter if you drink it or not. You’re a literal goddess. Your soul is so tangled up in your friends’ that it followed them all down here, but you’re not dead, so it’s not going to tempt you like it might’ve tempted them.”

“So I don’t get a choice?”

“You already made it when you came down here after them,” Penny says. “Whether you meant to make it or not. Anyway, was there ever a chance you’d want to stay here?”

No , Julia allows. And knowing she isn’t dead feels empowering, somehow, like she can be even more of a help in saving them all. She gives Penny a hug and it seems to catch him off guard because it takes him a moment before he hugs her back. “Thank you for doing this for us.”

“They don’t call me Penny ‘fuck the system’ Adiyodi for nothing.”

Julia pulls back and raises an eyebrow at him.

“Get out there and kick some Underworld ass, Wicker.”

Julia nods and turns toward the arch. It doesn’t seem like there’s anything on the other side, no sneak-peek at what lies beyond. She moves in anyway, takes a breath, and steps through.

Snow crunches softly underfoot on the other side, wet slush soaking through her shoes and sending a shudder through her. Underworld-appropriate footwear hadn’t been a concern when she’d last picked out her outfit, but even if it had been she's not sure she would have anticipated a wintry forest as the kind of climate she'd be running into. She takes another step forward and a little ways ahead two figures huddling shoulder-to-shoulder and watching her.

Alice rushes forward and catches her in a hug, startling Julia. Over Alice’s shoulder, she can see Eliot on the verge of tears.

There’s no one else.

---

Fen is worried.

It's been days and no one has answered her bunnies, of which there have been several. Josh was on death’s door the last time she’d seen him, Eliot and Julia possessed, and the rest of the group about to run some insane scheme to save them all. She expected to hear from them soon after, with exciting stories of their unlikely victory. As time has gone on with no word from any of them, she wonders if something went wrong, so she leaves Tick in charge and portals to Kady’s apartment. The trip is rough and she lands on her hands and knees, disoriented to all hells and back. Traveling across worlds has never fully agreed with her, but this seems like a new low and it takes her a moment to get her bearings.

“Um, who the fuck are you?”

A dark-haired woman tilts her head at Fen, standing across the room at the kitchen island and Fen springs to her feet, drawing a knife from the folds of her dress. “Where are they? Margo, Josh, the others?”

“Oh, the Brakebills kids? Dead, as far as I know,” the woman says, disinterested. “Sorry, I guess. Actually no, I’m not; they were a pain in the ass.”

She sounds so flippant, she has to be joking, Fen thinks. There's no way all of them are dead. "I don't find that very funny."

“Well I can tell you for sure that they’re not here, so get the hell out of my apartment. Or I can make you leave," the woman rounds the counter and her hands come up to start forming a spell. Fen takes a pace back, panicking, but then--

“Marina, that’s no way to treat royalty.”

Henry Fogg stands in the doorway of the apartment, casting a disapproving look at the other woman. Fen can’t recall if they’ve ever been formally introduced, but she knows him from Brakebills and that Eliot and Margo both trusted him, at least to an extent. He wouldn't hurt her.

“Henry,” Marina glares. “What the fuck are you doing here?”

“I was alerted that the portal from Fillory to the apartment was activated and I need Fen’s help. And I need a few things from your apartment before I go.”

Fen glances between the two of them. “My help?”

“Yes,” Fogg says, moving into the kitchen and rifling around through the drawers. Marina gapes at him, indignant. He retrieves a small wooden box. “There you are.”

“Are they really all dead?” Fen waits for him to tell her that Marina was lying or that it was a misunderstanding, but he looks gravely back at her and he doesn’t need to use words to confirm. Fen gasps, hand covering her mouth as she tries to comprehend the loss. All of them? All of them at once, Eliot, Margo, Josh... Her friends.

“I need ingredients from Fillory to help get them back,” Fogg says.

Fen almost laughs because that’s the one thing she’s always been told magic can’t do. Everyone knows that, surely even on Earth. But Fogg seems unconcerned with the impossibility of his task and turns to Marina, who squares her shoulders at him, pressing her lips together, still glaring.

“And I’m going to need Bri’s help, I’m afraid. Is she here?”

“What the fuck do you need with my wife ?”

“She’s the only magician with a necromancy discipline to attend Brakebills in the last fifty years. From what I recall, she was a very dedicated student and this sort of magic would be of interest to her. Whatever your misgivings about assisting us, I'll doubt she'll share them considering this is a once in a millennia opportunity to perform magic like this." 

Marina narrows her eyes, but seems to consider Fogg's words and relents, "I'll talk to her."

“I’m sorry,” Fen interrupts. “How exactly are you planning on bringing them back? It’s impossible. Even children know that magic can’t reverse death, or at least in Fillory they do.”

“They’re coming back on their own. They have friends in the Underworld arranging for their passage,” Fogg says. “Our job is to make sure they all have bodies to come back to.”

Chapter Text

Previously on the Magicians…

Marina: Yeah, honestly, I'm more concerned about what my girlfriend will do if I don't make it back in time for her birthday.

Penny-23: You have a girlfriend? As in a human you give a shit about?

Marina: Yeah, and I'd rather not lose her this time. We were a thing back in timeline 23, and I fucked it up.

Penny-23: You're telling me that you found another one of her in timeline 40?

Marina: Yes. And now that I know what she will and won't put up with, it's going so much better this time.

Penny-23: That's sociopathic.

Marina:  Dude, we're refugees. We deserve any and all advantages that come our way.

---

Marina had no intention of starting her morning off working with Henry fucking Fogg, but life never ceases to offer new surprises around every godforsaken corner. She leaves the resurrection planning party in her living room to go wake her wife, pissed off but begrudgingly acknowledging to herself that Henry had a point. Bri loves her work and the prospect of full-scale reviving eight people will be like Christmas morning for her.

Bri curls up on their bed, her short, dark hair sticking out adorably at odd angles, sheets tangled up around her. Blanket hog , Marina thinks affectionately before crossing the room and nudging her awake, “Sorry, babe, we’ve got company.”

Bri drags the pillow over her face, “Five more minutes, ‘Rina.”

Marina yanks the pillow away, “Henry Fogg is in our home and he’s not leaving until he gets to talk to you about necromancy bullshit.”

She regrets calling it bullshit immediately; Bri frowns and gets that little crease in her forehead that’s cute but also a telltale sign that Marina just fucked up.

“Brakebills Fogg?” Bri sits up, rubbing the sleep from her eyes before retrieving her glasses from the dresser and jamming them onto her face haphazardly. “Okay, I’m getting up.”

She slides herself out of bed and snags her bathrobe off the hook on the back of their door, wrapping it around herself before she catches Marina’s hand and shuffles toward the living room.

Fogg smiles when he sees Bri and Marina mentally goes through which piece of battle magic she knows would most painfully eviscerate him for dragging them into this.

“Brianna, it’s good to see you.”

“I hear you have some necromancy ‘bullshit’ for me?”

Marina pointedly avoids Bri’s look.

“Eight of my students were killed and I have it on good authority they’re attempting to escape the Underworld. But they’ll need bodies when they return and several of them don’t have any. Like Josh here,” he holds up the box. “He was a fish when he died, so that’s an added complication.”

Bri joins him in the kitchen and motions for the box, which Fogg hands over. She peeks inside, grimacing. “That is literally a dead fish. You need to turn it back into a human and also have it stable enough to house a soul?” Bri hands the box back and pushes her glasses up the bridge of her nose before folding her arms, “Sounds insane and impossible. Without my help, of course.”

“Precisely my thoughts,” Fogg says.

Marina can’t believe this shit. Honestly. She’s finally living the dream, has Bri (her actual wife!), has her classy apartment, is slowly regaining her rightful place as top bitch in New York. But of course she can’t have it; the universe is out to fuck her as hard it can.

“Bri, you don’t have to do this,” Marina catches her arm, her voice as saccharine as she can make it. “We can go make some cute cat zombies at the animal shelter. I’d dig up a cemetery for you, but working with Fogg to bring those losers back? Seriously?”

“This is an actual restoration of life,” Bri says, looking seriously at her. “I’ve never done it before; it’s always an imitation at best. This could be the only shot I get at something like this. Come on, I’d be like lesbian Jesus, Rina. Isn’t this half of what being a hedge is? The pursuit of magic? Better, stronger magic? Just because the people we’re bringing back suck doesn’t mean it’s not inherently badass to bring them back in the first place.”

There’s a point to that, but even more, it’s about Bri getting to do the kind of magic she wants to do and so Marina stands down, remembering how much she’d ruined it last time by always prioritizing herself. It’s hard to not do that. She’s naturally selfish, but Bri is worth it. Absolutely. So if she wants to go off resurrecting some dumbasses, well then, count Marina on board for the ride.

---

A blast of warm air hits Quentin when he steps through the archway. He blinks a few times to adjust to the bright light and then registers the wood beneath his feet and the warm interior of a ship’s cabin.

A boating quest. Quentin allows himself a small smile. He scans around the cabin for any sign of Penny, then moves out the door that leads onto the deck of the ship.

The ship outside is big and dramatic, with huge billowing sails and rigging and masts and probably other ship parts Quentin doesn’t know the names of. It’s Fillory-esque but also a ship out of every period drama about the golden age of piracy Quentin’s ever seen (and he’s seen more than a few). The skies are clear and blue ahead, but the sea is a bizarre yellow-tan color. He moves to look out over the side and get a better look and realizes it’s not water, but sand . The ship is sailing on a sea of sand.

He walks up and down the length of the ship twice, which takes a while considering it’s huge. Far too big for him to try to sail alone, even though now it seems to be moving by magic over the dunes. By the second time he rounds the ship, there’s no sign of Penny. Quentin calls his name, but it hits him that Penny must have moved on and it hits hard because Quentin has taken it for granted that if he managed to shake off the impulse to move on, the rest of his friends would have as well. But Penny... 

Hadn’t.

Which meant the others might not.

The door to the cabin opens, Margo steps out, and her eyes lock onto Quentin. She charges across the deck and drags him into a bone-crushing hug. Quentin hugs her back, relieved that he’s not entirely alone here.

“Jesus, Q, I thought you were gone.”

“I did too,” he murmurs, quietly, hoping she won’t hear it, but she hugs him a little tighter before letting go.

Margo looks around the ship, “So what the hell is this?”

“It’s a magic ship that sails on an ocean of sand instead of water. Kind of like--”

“The Wandering Dune,” Margo finishes for him. She quirks an eyebrow at him, “I read the books too, remember?”

“It’s kind of exactly what I pictured, except it’s not in Fillory and we’re dead. Anyway, Fillory has a habit of disappointing so I’m sure the actual Wandering Dune looks different and worse.”

“Tell you what all this sand reminds me of, though,” Margo says, leaning over the railing. “I fucking miss my axes. They were cool as shit and I worked my ass off to get them and now I’m dead and they’re probably rusting somewhere in the cottage. Todd’s probably hung them on the wall. God,” she chokes, “ Todd touching my axes.”

Quentin snorts. Margo loops her arm through his in a deliberate movement and Quentin lets her drag him around the length of the ship again. And again. They head below decks too, which isn’t really impressive. A few hammocks, some barrels that, when opened, are full of something they guess to be hardtack.

“Hoberman’s taking way too long,” Margo wrinkles her nose as the twenty minute mark passes.

They move back up the deck and as the hour mark creeps up on them,  Margo looks almost as anxious as Quentin feels. They’ve stopped talking to each other. Margo dangles her legs precariously over the railing, scanning the horizon, while Quentin sits with his back resting against the side of the ship, watching the door to the cabin, hoping someone will walk through.

Another thirty minutes goes by, Quentin’s fighting back tears, and Margo’s face is a blank mask. No Penny, no Josh, no Kady, no Alice, no Eliot, no Julia.

“There has-- to be something wrong,” Quentin’s voice breaks. “They couldn’t all--”

“It’s just you and me, Coldwater,” Margo says, steel in her voice. But her eyes are soft when she looks at him, “You in?”

Quentin wipes the still-forming tears from his eyes, drags himself upright, and then offers Margo a hand back down to the deck. She takes it, spinning her legs around and sliding off the edge.

The ground beneath Quentin’s feet lurches and he collides into Margo, who just so happens to be falling toward him as well. A horrible grinding shakes the deck and vibrates through the ship and into Quentin’s skull. The ship settles, but Margo keeps grip on his hand and motions toward the door leading down below the decks. Quentin nods his agreement. They start moving, slamming the door open and running down the short set of stairs to find sand gushing in through a crack in the wood of the ship. Quentin bolts forward on instinct to cover it with his hands, but the hole is much bigger and his effort is more or less pointless. Margo tosses the mop out of a cleaning bucket from the corner of the room and begins scooping up sand by the handfuls into the bucket. As soon as she starts, she stops, “This is moronic.”

Quentin drops his hands away from the hole, quietly agreeing with her, but he keeps his eyes on it, thinking. The ship is enormous, but this one broken board is only a few feet across. To fix it would only take a minor mending and, well, that is his talent.

Hey there, he thinks, running his fingertips lightly over the splintered board. What did you used to be? His fingers form the tuts on instinct and he coaxes the wood back together, pushing the sand out of its way and creaking a little as it morphs into its old self.

He smiles, admiring the work. There’s a pile of sand to deal with, but the wood is repaired and it should keep them moving for a bit. Sand can’t be good for the underside of a boat though, he wonders how long before--

There’s a crack from behind and Quentin turns just as sand trickles in through a new opening.

“You mend, I’ll start dumping out what we have,” Margo says, twisting her fingers and commanding the sand to pick itself up and settle into the bucket. The bucket only holds a small amount of the total sound in the room, but she marches upstairs to the upper deck with it anyway. Quentin slides over to the new leak and eases the wood back together again, but this time he can feel the whole of the ship as it repairs, not just the single board. The vessel groans against the sand; it’s all on the verge of splintering after hitting whatever it was they hit back there. There’ll be more breakages soon, a lot more.

“Okay,” Quentin murmurs to the ship. “Okay, we’ll figure this out.”

Two more leaks spring up beside the first as Margo appears at the top of the stairs with an empty bucket, “Seriously?”

“The whole ship is coming apart,” Quentin says. “I don’t know how long it was moving before we got onboard, but it’s rough and hitting that rocky patch or whatever it was back there didn’t help things.”

Quentin turns his attention back to ship, mending the boards and getting into a rhythm with the tuts.

It goes on for hours.

Quentin’s eyes strain in the dim lighting and his fingers cramp. But there’s no option other than to keep going, so he does that. Three spots leak at once now and he’s doing his best to talk to the ship, explain very nicely that it has to remember what it was for more than five seconds, but it’s not cooperating with his request and only seems to be getting worse.

Margo finds a second bucket at some point and faithfully carries it up to the decks and back, reporting that there doesn’t seem to be a particular destination they’re headed for, but they’re still moving at least.

Quentin focuses on the leak in front of him, closes his eyes and lets his fingers move, however stiffly. He botches the last tut and the leak triples in size because fuck you, Quentin, I do what I want . At least that’s what Quentin assumes the ship is saying.

He sits back on his heels and tries not to cry.

“Okay, you’re taking a fucking break,” Margo says, grabbing his arm.

“Just give me a second, I can keep going,” Quentin swipes at the tears in his eyes, feeling a rush of embarrassment. It’s just a stupid leak, he’ll fix it and then he’ll fix the next one and he’ll keep going until they get wherever they’re going or the ship sinks into sand, whichever comes first. He can do this.

Margo doesn’t think so. She gets her hands under his armpits and drags him back away from the wall. Quentin’s legs scramble against the forced movement, but she’s not giving up ground and he’s exhausted from casting for so long. She drags him back against a support beam of the ship and props him up against it.

“Take a breather; I can handle it for a bit,” Margo says, and when she sees him opening his mouth, she jabs a finger at his chest, “Don’t think I won’t knock you out cold, Coldwater.”

She gives him a stern look before gliding back toward the side of the ship, rolling her shoulders and neck, flexing her fingers, then beginning to cast. She doesn’t quite get it the first try, succeeds only in making it smaller rather than completely gone, but on her second try it mends all the way through and from there she seems like she’s got a grip on things. Not as intuitive about it as Quentin (it’s not her discipline, after all), but she’s a damn good magician..

Quentin wraps his arms around himself and leans back, allowing his eyes to close, just for a few minutes at least.

The next thing he’s aware of, Margo is jostling him none too gently back into consciousness. “I need you mending down here, we’ve got--”

Thud, thud, thud, thud.

The rapid, quick thuds from the deck above them don’t sound big enough to be a person, but either way it’s an unknown intruder and just unnerving enough for Quentin to feel like his heart rate is picking up. Except he’s not sure he still has a heartbeat down here; the anxiety in his chest is there, but the familiar hammering of his heart isn’t. It’s odd, but he only has a moment to notice it before the thud, thud, thud gets louder and he clambers up to his feet, eyeing the door to the upper decks.

“Just cast, okay?” Margo says, giving his shoulder a quick shake and disappearing out the door to the deck above.

Quentin takes stock of the room again and sees sand spread out across the entire floor now. Eight different leaks have sprung, all of them larger than the ones that were going when he’d fallen asleep. He steps to the largest of the group and starts the spell, easing himself back into it, listening to the ship. Come on, back together, you remember, he urges it and it does.

There’s a shout above, indiscernible but it doesn’t sound like Margo at least. The door rattles open, Margo sprints in, slams it shut behind her, then looks at Quentin. “We’re fucked.”

She clutches her arm with one hand but Quentin can see blood staining her blouse beneath it.

“What the fuck? Are you okay?”

“Rabbit skeletons.”

“Rabbit--?”

“It’s fucking Pirates of the Caribbean with bunnies up there. They’ve got swords .”

There’s just enough delirium in her voice that she could be dead serious, but she could also be fucking with him. She has to be fucking with him, right?

There’s banging on the door behind her either way and Margo glares at him, “I’m serious, Quentin. I just got shanked by a bunny, you think I’d joke about something that humiliating?”

Quentin keeps mending, “Okay, so what do we do?”

“How’s your battle magic?

“Kinda shitty,” Quentin says distractedly, frowning at another new hole appearing just as he starts casting again.

“God, I carry this whole group on my back, I swear,” Margo huffs. “I still need you up there with me. I don’t care what you cast. Well, don’t mend anything. But seriously, anything will help. There’s a shit ton of them.”

“What about the ship?” Quentin gestures around to the lower decks surely on the verge of collapse.

“If the skele-rabbits kill us all, there’s no point in mending the ship. Let’s go !”

It’s not an unreasonable thread of logic and he knows better than to argue with Margo in the face of certain death by now, so he follows her up to the door. They lean back against it, shoulder to shoulder, both breathing deeply.

Margo looks over at him, flexing her fingers at her sides, “Ready to kill goth Thumper?”

“Anne Bunny,” Quentin offers.

“Oh, I’m so gonna kill you next,” Margo threatens, then kicks the door open and whips around to face the oncoming hoard, “Time to die, you rabbit fucks!”

Quentin hasn’t had enough time to fully process the meaning of skeleton pirate bunnies, but nothing could’ve possibly prepared him for the reality of it. The skeletons lack the distinct ears of bunnies, but are roughly the same size and shape. They have eyepatches and little pirate hats or bandanas and they’d be almost cute, if one of them didn’t have a mouth drenched in what’s clearly Margo’s blood. Margo spots that one and a blast of magic shoots toward it, freezing it to solid ice on the spot. Another spell knocks the rabbit over and it shatters against the deck.

It’s brutal, but the following guttural, raspy scream that comes from the bunnies makes Quentin a little less empathetic. They charge forward and Quentin’s got enough adrenaline in him to start shooting off instinctive battle magic. A magic missile blasts three of them back, but another one jumps-- these fuckers can really jump-- and latches its teeth into Quentin’s shoulder, hanging there, back legs kicking against Quentin’s chest. He’s sure it would incredibly painful, but his shoulder has been wooden for the last few years and apparently it’s still wooden in the Underworld, so he can’t feel a thing. Three more bunnies swarm around his ankles and start biting, nosing past the ends of his jeans and chomping down on flesh and that he feels. It’s what he imagines stepping in a bear trap to feel like, if the bear trap was moving and intentional about ripping flesh from your leg.

He kicks his legs out and most of them go flying back. The few spells he shoots off knock them back even further. He pushes through, toward the middle of the boat, eager to not be backed up against a door and Margo has the same idea. They end up back to back, firing off spells. The entire ship is swarmed with bunnies, like locusts in a wheat field.

Abruptly, the sail above him goes up in flames. He looks to Margo, startled, but she’s unaffected and starting up the tuts again to a familiar spell he’s seen Eliot cast dozens of times before.

“The hell are you doing?”

She gives him a look and it hits him. Burn the field down. If there’s no point in saving the ship if they’re both dead, why bother saving the ship? Quentin starts casting, mimicking Margo’s tuts. He loses track, just finds things to light as quickly as he can. Every sail, the deck, the bunnies themselves. The bunnies scream harsh and low, but Quentin keeps casting, undeterred.

Margo catches his hand, “Let’s go.”

The smoke is making it hard to breathe, but he’s got a good rhythm going now and he shakes her off, trying not to completely break focus.

“Hey, Q, look at me,” Margo forces her way into his line of vision. “We’re good here. Let’s go.”

She’s got a rope from the rigging in hand and gestures toward a narrow strip of non-aflame deck leading to the side of the ship. Quentin stops casting and she drags him along, until they get to the edge, where she climbs up and pulls him next to her. It’s a long drop to the ground and a queasy feeling settles in his stomach, but Margo gets an arm around his waist before he can argue. She smirks, kisses his cheek, and jumps off, taking Quentin with her. They swing into a freefall, Quentin lets out a whoop at the sudden freefall he can feel twisting in his stomach, and he hides his face in Margo’s shoulder until their feet hit the ground with a surprising lack of bone breaking.

Quentin collapses onto the sand in a dazed heap while Margo laughs and flops down beside him, both of them staring at the burning boat above. Margo rolls over toward him, “We just went full Return of the Jedi. I was fucking Luke Skywalker and you-- were so not cool enough to be Leia, but good effort.”

The bunnies’ screams carry as the boat sails past them and out of sight. Quentin wonders if he should be more horrified, but his ankle still hurts and his hoodie is ripped and there’s a chunk of wood missing from his shoulder, so he’s not feeling too big on the empathy.

They decide wordlessly to lay in the sand until a few hours later when night gives way to morning, at which point Margo gets up, dusts the sand off herself, and offers him a hand up. His ankle is all kinds of fucked from being bit and he leans heavily into Margo. She gets an arm around his waist and it’s slow, step by step, but with Margo’s help he walks across the dunes. His ankle gets worse and he leans harder against Margo, which she takes in stride.

Quentin has never taken anything in stride and this is no exception. He trips a few hours into their mindless hike and hits the sand hard enough he’s not sure he wants to get up, even when Margo goes to pull him to his feet again.

“Sorry,” he mutters, but she gets him up anyway and the two of them scan the horizon. The boat is long gone, but there’s something else in the distance now and it’s not moving. A change in terrain. The hills aren’t sand dunes anymore, there’s an actual mountain rising up and a stretch of trees beside it.

“Do you see that?” Margo asks, grabbing onto his shoulder. “Do you see it, Quentin?”

The longer he stares, the clearer it gets and he can tell there’s a dock attached to where the sand ends and the new terrain begins and a larger building of some kind behind it. Quentin gets his second wind and it carries him the rest of the way to the end of the dunes.

---

When Eliot walks through the archway, one look at Alice’s tearful expression is all he needs to know that Quentin didn’t make it. Another quick look around and he realizes Alice is alone, which means none of the others made it. No Margo either. Eliot stumbles  through the snow to stand beside Alice, too numb to let himself think anymore about it until Julia appears as the final piece of the puzzle. It sinks in as Alice rushes forward to hug her and Eliot can’t move from his spot. Out of all of them, he, Julia, and Alice were the only ones who made it.

Margo was gone. Quentin was gone. The others, too, though if he’s honest, his worry for them pales in comparison to the double blow of losing Q and Margo together. How the fuck had all of them moved on? Kady and Quentin made sense, on some level. But Margo? Josh? What would Penny-40 have even said to them that ended in them rolling over to accept their fate? And why had Penny worked so hard to convince Eliot to fight it, knowing damn well Alice was the only person who’d made it through. It’s fucking cruel. Eliot has half a mind to march back through the arch and find out what happens if you try to murder someone who’s already dead.

But the arch is gone and Alice and Julia have their heads together, talking quietly. Alice is saying, “We have to still be in the Underworld, but I don’t know where we’re supposed to go from here.”

“We could just freeze to death in this forest,” Eliot says distantly. “That’s an option.”

Julia glances at him, a sad, pitying emotion in her eyes, but Eliot doesn’t want her pity, he wants Margo and Quentin back. Julia moves past him to the treeline a few feet behind, scanning ahead like there’s a point to continuing on when half their friends are staying dead and they’re going to face insurmountable odds on their own against all the eldritch horrors the Underworld has to offer.

“There’s a path up here,” she says, turning back to Eliot and Alice. “Do you think we could find animal fat somewhere? I’d need it for--”

“Chkhartishvili's Enveloping Warmth,” Alice finishes, a gleam in her eye. “I don’t know. It’s worth looking for. It can’t be an impossible quest; there have to be resources.”

Eliot tunes out as the pair start discussing their next moves and what other ingredients they need for the spell, but they must decide on something because they start walking past him toward the forest. He feels a hand slip into his and it’s Alice tugging gently.

“I know it’s bad,” she says, looking him in the eye. “I’m struggling too, but we can’t do anything to help Quentin while we’re down here. Once we get back, we’ll figure something out. We always do.”

She says it like she knows , somehow. The way she looks at him isn’t concern over a mutual friend.  It’s understanding, as if she knows that whatever he feels for Quentin is close (not the same, as if anyone’s feelings for Quentin could ever truly compare to his own) to what she feels.

He lets her pull him along after Julia into the forest. Once she seems satisfied he’s going to keep up with them, she lets her hand fall back down to her side and keeps in step with him.

There is indeed a trail weaving between the trees up ahead, the rock border visible even through the snow. Alice and Julia stick close to him as they walk deeper into the forest. The trees get closer together the further along they get and the air grows cold enough that breathing burns down into their lungs. None of them are dressed for the weather, Alice least of all. The snow quickly reaches the girls’ knees and Alice’s dress is drenched and freezing to her body. Eliot runs smack into her and it knocks both of them into the snow, sending a rush of cold-wet-cold through Eliot’s thin t-shirt and coat. Eliot pushes himself up in the snow on his hands and knees and knows the bare skin-to-snow contact should bother him a lot more than it does. He can barely feel it, if anything his hands are starting to feel warm.

Julia hovers over them, eyes wide. “What happened?”

Alice lies on her side in the snow beside him, shaking, and Julia gingerly rolls her onto her back. Alice’s lips are turning blue and her vision is unfocused; she barely seems to register either of them are there. Eliot shucks off his coat, once again finding himself unbothered by the snow clinging to the bare skin of his arms, and drapes it across Alice like a blanket.

Julia looks at him, a strange, worried look that he can’t entirely place as being directed toward him or Alice. She doesn’t seem particularly bothered by the cold either, but whereas he’s pretty sure he’s experiencing the fun parts of late-stage hypothermia, Julia seems all-around okay.

Julia realizes this too, “I can keep going, but you two can’t,can you? ”

Eliot shakes his head, slowly. He thinks he should try to get Alice up, but there’s a disconnect from the thought and actually getting his body to do anything. It’s very numb and he’s not entirely sure his brain is connected to it anymore. Julia is saying his name, trying to talk to him, but he can’t focus in on it. Alice looks strangely comfortable in the snow he’s starting to feel a little hot.

“Eliot! Alice! Hey, stay with me!”

Eliot lowers himself back down into the show, closing his eyes. A five minute nap isn’t the end of the world, Julia . They’ve been walking for a long time now.

“Eliot!”

Something’s pulling him, jostling him up out of the snow. He’s conscious for the next bit, but it’s a blur of being dragged and pushed and prodded and by the time he’s fully back into his body, there’s four walls surrounding them and Alice and Julia sit shoulder-to-shoulder from him, warming their hands over a fire. The flame starts to waver, but Julia blinks at it and it flares up again, burning brighter than before.

“What the fuck?”

Julia and Alice both look up.

“Thank god you’re back,” Alice says. “You were really out of it. I don’t know if you could’ve died, but we were both-- it was bad.”

Eliot squints at the room and registers that the walls around them appear to be made out of snow. The whole place is a fucking igloo. Julia had to have built it and damn it never fails to amaze him they didn’t let her into Brakebills. He can’t imagine the shit she could pull off if she had the proper training.

Julia catches on to his musings, “Penny said I was still goddessed-up, power-wise, so I don’t know my limits, but apparently bringing you and Alice back from the brink of hypothermia in the Underworld and creating a warm igloo are in my repertoire now.”

“Thanks,” Eliot says. His clothes are dry and he feels warm, but in a genuine warmth way, not the hypothermia-induced heat flash he experienced before.

“I just wish I knew what happened to the others.”

“They moved on,” Eliot says.

“No,” Julia says. “No, we’ve been talking and neither of us think they did. The longer I’ve been mulling it over, it doesn’t make sense. Q and Kady maybe, but Penny wouldn’t, Josh wouldn’t. I assume Margo wouldn’t either.”

“Penny set us all up to face the idea that we’d be doing this possibly alone,” Alice says. “So maybe we’re all separated from people we actually care about.”

“You wound me, Alice,” Eliot deadpans, but he kind of means it all the same. Even if he hasn’t been friendly with Alice in years and he and Julia were never friends in the first place, hearing it phrased like that sounds odd. He cares about them, in some way. Of course, he cares about Margo and Quentin more, which makes Alice’s point feel like it has some weight.

“Are there any two people you’d like to be stuck with less?” Alice asks. “Think about it. Julia and I fucked you all over more than anyone else. And, on my end, my boyfriend cheated on me with you. Julia fucked us over with the Beast, which I suppose you could argue is why I niffined out in the first place. And Julia-- I don’t know, are we your worst combination of people?”

“Eliot hasn’t done anything to me,” Julia says quietly. She gives him a significant look and he’s reminded of Julia curled into a couch and his attempted words of encouragement. They’re not friends, but now, especially in light of their shared possession trauma, he wonders if maybe they can be. He stand to gain a few more friends.

“The point is,” Alice presses. “Maybe they’ve put us all together in groups that’ll test us. And Quentin and Margo and Josh and Kady and Penny are all fine, they’re just somewhere else.”

It’s stupid hope, but Eliot latches onto it because it might be the only thing that gets him through this next bit. Before long, Julia declares that they need to start moving again. She built the igloo directly onto the path, so all they have to do is walk out the door and they’ll be back on it. In the cold. Eliot shivers.

“We have to find something to cast that spell,” Alice says. “We’ll never make it without it.”

“Do you know any tracking spells?” Julia asks.

Alice shakes her head, but Eliot inexplicably remembers a particularly horrific exercise from his own stint at Brakebills South that culminated in one of their classmates getting too lost in themselves while foxed-out and running off into a blizzard. Rather than behaving like a human being about losing a student, Mayakovsky had challenged them all to track down their classmate themselves, which they had. The student had been transferred back to Brakebills proper and summarily mind-wiped after the experience.

Eliot’s not clear one how Mayakovsky hasn’t been fired yet, but that’s not the point. He’s fairly sure he remembers the tuts for the spell and can cast it without trouble. He tells Julia and Alice as much and they’re more than happy to let him take point. Using a broken piece off scorched log as a rough map outline, he casts the spell, and in a moment several glowing dots pop up on the blackened wood.

“So that’s us,” Eliot points out the small blue light in the middle of the wood. He gestures to the scattering of green lights around them. “Those are all…  alive, I think? I’m not clear on the relevant circumstances of the Underworld, but it’s something.”

“I can get it,” Alice volunteers, takes the map from Eliot, and marches out of the igloo. She returns ten minutes later with not one but three dead squirrels in hand, which looks so strange given that it’s Alice , but then Eliot recalls something about the torture artist when they were on the key quest and oh yeah, Alice is fucking lethal. It’s easy to forget underneath the peter pan collars and pristine schoolgirl aesthetic she keeps that she’s killed things before. Quite a lot of things.

“Anyone have a knife?” she asks.

“I can do a knife-like spell,” Julia offers. “But I’m not sure how helpful that will be, I never really went hunting or--”

Eliot wonders if now is the time to admit he knows how to skin and clean a rabbit and doesn’t imagine squirrels to be much different. It’s very Indianna and he’s not sure either of these women have earned even a small part of his tragic backstory, but they’re dead so what’s the point of holding out? He sits next to Julia, “I can show you.”

Julia gives him a doubting look, but he explains the basics to her and between the two of them, they skin Alice’s squirrels and gather enough fat off them for Julia’s spell. Eliot sits back as Julia takes the fat, turns a medium-sized rock into a small stone bowl, and begins to work.

Alice takes a seat beside him, watching Julia.

“Q and I got back together,” she says, in a rush.

Eliot feels like he’s been sucker punched, even though it makes sense. Why wouldn’t it? Just because he’s been forming a whole plan in his mind about how to explain to Q how much he fucked up, doesn’t mean Q knows that or wouldn’t try to move on. Considering Eliot had rejected him and then got himself possessed.

“But it’s not really in a good place. He isn’t in a good place. I mean, he killed me.” Alice seems to get stuck on that part for a moment, genuine anger in her eyes, which almost surprises him, but it pales in comparison to his shock at what she says next, “And he’s in love with you, so it’s not like it’s going to last anyway, but I thought you should know.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he thinks he sees Julia looking up at them, but he can’t move to verify, he’s rooted to the spot, staring at Alice. “What’s that supposed to mean? Q and I--” spent 50 years growing old together and we’re never going to talk about it ever again because he might be dead and even if he’s not, apparently he’s shacking up with you again .

“I don’t know when or how or anything about it, really,” Alice says. “But when the Monster had you, it seemed like-- I don’t know. I wasn't around a whole lot, but whenever I was he was intense and it scared me. It scared all of us.”

Julia’s looking up again; she seems on the verge of saying something, but she turns her attention back to her spell.

“He seemed pretty cosy with you in the elevator,” Eliot counters.

“He’d just killed me,” Alice reiterates. “And himself. And I’m sure what he feels for you is complicated considering something wearing your body was running around torturing him for months.”

Another emotional punch, one Eliot’s known is coming but one he very much wants to avoid.

“Q was at breaking point,” Julia says, approaching them her stone bowl in hand, an awful-smelling mixture smoking slightly from inside it. “Being around the Monster  was wrecking him, but it was always about getting you back. And he would’ve fucked up a lot of shit if it meant getting you back. He was ready to give up just about anything.”

“I don’t-- Are we done? Because I don’t--”

“Yeah, we’re done,” Julia says, picking up a scoopful of the mixture and smearing it on his face for him before grabbing another scoop for herself. She offers the bowl to Alice and lets her take her own.

It smells awful, but it instantly sends a warmth spreading through Eliot’s body and as they emerge from the igloo into the snow, he can barely feel the chill now.

They take up the path again and this time he barely notices the snow drifts around his feet. He feels genuinely warm inside. The trees start to clear out and the snow gets a little less intense. There’s light up ahead and they move faster.

They pass through the outer edges of the forest and into a triangle-shaped glade roughly the size of the sea back at Brakebills. So, big, but not so big they can’t see all the way around it. On their edge of the triangle is the forest, to the left is a desert, and to the right is the base of a mountain. A tiny cabin is nestled in the center of it and there’s a dock built into line between the glade and the start of the desert. On it sits a solitary figure that Eliot swears is Quentin. Whoever it is wears dark clothes at the very least and it looks like Quentin. He exchanges a look with Julia, who grins at him, clearly thinking the same thing, and without another word the three of them race toward the dock.

---

Kady kind of likes Josh now, maybe mostly because he’s been so strangely chipper the entire they’ve been down here, cracking jokes and getting her to smile despite herself, or maybe it’s just by virtue of him being infinitely preferable company to Penny-23, who Kady will never, ever like.

After she walked through the door and subsequently realized what was left of her friend group, Kady dealt with a multitude of complicated feelings (many of them about Alice, which just fueled more complicated feelings because Kady really doesn’t know why Alice would be on her mind so much, she just is ) and then buckled in for a quest.

Which turned out to be waltzing down a literal yellow brick road. They didn’t link arms, despite Josh’s suggestion, and then subsequently found themselves attacked by flying monkeys and facing down a very large and very high caterpillar that offered them blunts which turned out to be gunpowder.

Now they’re standing in front of a neatly set tea table with a riddle Josh is puzzling over that will tell them which of the three cookie jars to eat out of in order to pass through a very tiny arch at their feet. There’s only one cookie in each jar, which seems to be the part Josh is grappling with. He shoves the riddle card into Penny-23’s hands and kneels down at the table, leaning in, squinting at the jars.

Kady folds her arms and tries to reign her impatience in because she really is starting to like Josh and she doesn’t want to seem like a total bitch. But he read that paper for fifteen minutes straight and now he’s just staring at the jars instead of making a decision. He opens one of them, sniffs it, and Kady can’t keep back her frustrated huff.

“Sorry,” Josh says. “This is some wack magic baking. Um, from what I can tell one of these will instantly kill us, one of them will make us shrink, and the other will make us grow. But there’s only one of each so I don’t know-- Oh. Oh , I got it,” Josh reaches past the cookie jars to the tea kettle, sniffs it, and laughs, “Fuck yeah. Okay, stand back.”

He gets to his feet and stands over the tiny arch with the tea kettle, then promptly drains the contents onto it.

“What was that?” Penny-23 demands.

“We weren’t supposed to shrink, we were supposed to make the arch get big,” Josh gestures to the arch beginning to grow in size, stretching out and expanding upward until it reaches a good foot above Kady’s head.

One by one, they step through it and come out up against the base of a mountain. In the distance they can see a dock, with a small huddle of people gathered on it, and Kady’s jaw drops.

“Is that--?” Josh looks at her.

“Fuck, we aren’t the only ones,” Kady  breathes. “There’s-- Shit, they’re all there.”

They take off running.

Chapter Text

Previously on the Magicians...

Julia: Wait, why are you doing all this, Richard? I know you.

Richard: This is a project. I'm trying to find my son. I don't know where he is, if he's even still here. But he's got to be somewhere. And they won't tell me a damn thing.

Julia: Why not?

Richard: I'm flagged as culpable in his death. There are rules. And friends to help me break them.

---

Eliot nearly goes sprawling in the damp grass as he sprints down the hill, outrunning both the girls, pushing himself until his lungs burn. He was never really the sports-minded sort and he’s pretty sure he’s never moved this fast in his life. Or his death, as it were.

Nothing matters outside of getting as quickly as possible to Quentin. And it is Quentin. Eliot gets close enough to tell and Quentin sees them too. His face lights up and he scrambles up from the dock, says something to the air beside him, then turns to face Eliot.

He’s still wearing his black hoodie, a little worse for wear, but it’s him.

Julia passes Eliot as he slows down on his approach and she throws herself at Quentin, laughing. Eliot can’t hold it against her; he’s her best friend and that carries certain privileges. Privileges he has with Margo, but she isn’t here. But if Quentin made it, maybe she’s out there somewhere too. And Quentin is here , still fighting, and it’s--

It’s the first time he’s properly seen Quentin since the Monster left. Quentin seems to realize it too because as he untangles himself from Julia’s arms and looks at Eliot, he takes a beat. Eliot remembers Alice’s comment about the Monster torturing Quentin and it takes everything in him, but he holds back, manages a smile, telling himself just seeing Quentin is enough. He can live with that.

Quentin crashes into him full-force, hangs on so tightly Eliot’s feet leave the ground for a moment, and all Eliot can think is thank god, thank god, thank god as he wraps his arms fiercely around Quentin. He forgot how much Q’s arms feel like home.

“What’s going on?”

Eliot breaks apart from Quentin at Alice’s voice, turning back to her, “Sorry, I--”

“You both just hugged the air,” Alice looks at Eliot and Julia, unnerved. “And Eliot and Margo completely ignored each other, so what the fuck is happening?”

“What?” Eliot would’ve seen her, but she’s not here . The dock is small and there’s no one else except--

“What are you talking about?” Julia asks. “Can’t you--?”

“Who are you talking to?” Quentin asks, catching his sleeve, looking between Eliot and Julia.

Eliot has no idea what’s happening now, but Julia takes the lead on this one and moves beside Quentin, taking the hand not hanging onto Eliot’s coat and drawing it up to point straight ahead to Alice.

“That’s Alice,” Julia says softly. “She’s right there, Q, can you see her?”

Quentin squints at Alice, but he looks right through her without seeming to notice she’s there, and then drops his hand, “I can’t-- There’s no one there, Jules.”

“Quentin?” Alice’s voice breaks and Eliot feels a pang of sympathy while shifting just a little so Quentin holds his hand instead of his coat sleeve.

Quentin looks to the empty air on his left, past Julia, frowning, “Eliot’s right here, how aren’t you seeing him?”

“Q, is that Margo?” Eliot asks.

Quentin swivels his head between Eliot and the spot to his left, jaw dropping a little, and the joy in his eyes fades. “She’s been right next to me the whole time.”

He drops Eliot’s hand and steps toward Alice, at the same time Alice steps forward toward him and then somehow they step into each other. They’re somehow occupying the same space, morphing through each other like Ellen Page in the X-Men movies. Julia looks as startled and wide-eyed as Eliot feels.

“Um,” Julia says. “So you’re all sort of in each other.”

“Margo and me too?” Eliot asks, going completely still and trying to feel any sign of Margo, any change in the air, just the tiniest evidence she’s there but there’s nothing.

“Okay, please-- Everyone go back to where you were, I hate this,” Julia says, waving her arms a little, and Quentin and Alice both take a careful step away from each other. He tries to feel when Margo leaves, but there’s still nothing there .

“Okay, so, I can see five people. Eliot, Margo, Alice, Quentin, and myself. Am I missing anyone?” she looks around. “Penny, Kady, Josh, none of them are here, right?”

Oh fuck yeah! ” a voice Eliot recognizes as Josh’s calls from behind them and the aforementioned trio jog over from the direction of the mountain. Josh whoops, “Everyone made it!”

He runs to kiss the air where Eliot assumes Margo is now. Kady breaks into a smile and goes in for a hug with a startled-looking Alice, earning a quiet “Oh!” from her.

Everyone ?” Penny asks. “But then where’s--?”

“Everyone?” Julia echoes.

“--Julia?”

“Where’s Penny?”

“Okay. I’m getting a headache,” Eliot pinches the bridge of his nose. “Josh and Kady, how many people are here?”

“All eight,” Kady says slowly, eyeing Julia and Penny with confusion. “What the fuck is happening?”

It’s pure incoherence, as everyone Eliot can see starts talking at once over each other.

“One at a time!” Kady waves her hands to silence everyone. “Alice, what’s going on?”

Julia whispers something to Quentin that Eliot doesn’t catch, just as Alice says, “Q is here, but I can’t see him and he can’t see me and we apparently stepped into the same spot and I had no idea. Same for Eliot and Margo; they can’t see each other. And… Penny and Julia, you can’t see each other?”

“No. Also, Quentin made it?” Penny asks.

“Okay, Penny and Q can’t see each other either,” Alice amends. “Anyone got a working theory?”

“Soulmates?” Penny offers. “Not that it explains why Quentin and I can’t see each other, but-- I mean, it’s me and Julia. Quentin and Alice. And Eliot and Margo got their own weird thing.”

The Margo-Eliot assessment isn’t entirely off, but Eliot bristles a little at the implication Alice and Quentin could ever be soulmates. Even at their best, they’re not exactly-- Well, they’re just not .

“I don’t think that’s what it is,” Kady says dismissively and Eliot’s glad someone else has an ounce of common sense. “Like you said, it doesn’t explain Q. Unless you and Quentin want to tell us something.”

“It’s not what?” Julia asks.

“Soulmates,” Kady fills in. “Oh god, I’m hating this already.”

Eliot hates it too. He also misses Margo and is getting increasingly bothered by the fact that according to all his friends, she’s right here and he can’t see her.

“There’s nothing else on this dock, right?” Julia asks Quentin, who nods. “So let’s just… head to the cottage over there. Maybe it’s another test.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Kady gestures for Julia to lead the way.

Eliot can see a question forming on Penny’s lips, but Kady starts moving and he holds it back. Kady and Josh lead the way, with Alice and Penny right behind them. Eliot falls into step beside Julia and Quentin and the little look Quentin gives to the spot on the other side of Julia suggests that Margo is walking with them as well.

The cottage, upon closer inspection, is a small, two-story brick building that painfully reminds Eliot of the physical kids cottage, if a little smaller. It’s got a thatched roof and the bricks are crumbling, but it’s got a good, homey sort of feel to it.

Kady tests the door and it opens without resistance. As Eliot follows the group inside, he notes it resembles more of a tavern than a house. There’s a long bar set up against the back wall, and the wall itself is lined with rows bottles. To the left is a spiral staircase leading to the upper story. There’s a few scattered tables and chairs and fireplace is set into the wall to the right of them, with two couches surrounding it. Wood floors, dark walls without decoration. It’s plain, but a weird, tavern-coffee house vibe.

Eliot beelines straight to the bar. He expects a standard Fillorian-style tavern with bad booze and worse-smelling mixers, but instead finds it’s a completely modern set-up. There’s no sign of power outlets, but there’s a soda gun and coolers and it looks like an actual bar. Several questions pop into his mind, but he imagines most of them could be answered by “it’s the Underworld” so he doesn’t bother asking them and instead runs over his mental list of favorite cocktails he missed since being possessed by a monster and only drinking happy place memory-drinks (which never lived up to the real thing).

As the others disperse through the room, Quentin joins him, pulling up a stool and watching as Eliot meanders about the bar.

“It’s been far too long since I’ve had a drink,” Eliot says. “Something like… I don’t know, how long was I gone?”

“Six month, give or take. Um, Margo’s right next to you,” Quentin says, then glances just to Eliot’s left, “I’m talking to Eliot; he’s right there, which you probably figured out when you came over to the bar with me, huh?”

Eliot looks to the spot Margo is allegedly standing and an idea occurs to him. He starts grabbing bottles off the back counters and snags a glass, pouring just the right measurements-- cocktails might just be his love language, he thinks-- until he’s got Margo’s favorite rendition of a sidecar. He slides the glass across the bar over to his left and takes a step back.

It disappears in front of him and is replaced with a martini in an electric blue color. His own favorite drink. God he loves her.

“She says thanks,” Quentin murmurs.

Eliot looks across at the open air and his heart clenches.

“Um, I’m so-- so sorry this is happening,” Quentin says quietly.

“It’s not like you have it easy, Q,” Eliot says, attention flicking briefly to Alice across the room. Quentin follows his gaze and hunches his shoulders a bit. Eliot sighs, “Come on. I’ll make you a drink.”

---

Alice sits at a table near Kady. Neither of them say anything, but everything is complicated with everyone and Kady is the only person she doesn’t feel strained to be around. Even thinking about Quentin makes her uneasy, though she’s trying to file that away for closer examination later. Like when they’re all alive again and can presumably see each other to have a conversation.

At some point Margo retires to the couch with Josh. Alice feels agitated watching them, and a glance around the room tells her the others seem to be feeling the same. Literally none of the rest of them can see their partners and it feels like they’re rubbing it in their faces, whether they mean to or not.

Eliot makes drinks for everyone and either remembers her favorite from school three years ago or is just uncannily good at guessing. He brings Alice an appletini and two shots of whisky for Kady, gives Alice an awkward pat on the head, then darts back to the bar.

Kady raises an eyebrow and Alice takes a sip of her martini, not meeting her eyes. Kady shrugs and downs a shot of whisky.

Julia approaches them, radiating discomfort as she nods to Kady before turning her attention on Alice, “Q wants to talk to you. And since I can see both of you, he thought maybe I could relay messages a little.”

Alice glances at Kady, who offers another shrug, and Alice gets up to follow Julia. She guides her over to a spot in a corner of the bar, where she sits on the floor with her back against the wall. Alice kneels to one side, facing to where she assumes Quentin is sitting. She tries to picture the awkward, dorky way he would find to get his legs under him.

“Q, why don’t you start?” Julia asks to the empty spot beside her. She listens, then turns back to Alice. “He says ‘I’m so sorry about what happened in the mirror realm. I wasn’t thinking, I was just doing whatever it took and it got so out of hand. I--’,” Julia’s breath pauses, pressing her lips together before she finishes, “‘just wanted it over’”

Alice loves Quentin and she always will, somehow, in some way, but this is too much. The longer Alice thinks about it, the less okay she’s becoming with Quentin killing her. However accidental, she’s dead because of him, because he couldn’t see another way out. No one had helped him when he was drowning in front of them, except that Alice would have, if he had just let her close enough to try. She developed a whole fantasy around it in her head, during the walk in the woods, the ‘could-have-been’ of it all. If Q had let her close enough when they were fighting the Monster and had confided in her what was really going on instead of leaving them all to guess.

Alice knows what Quentin is like when the person he’s in love with is a possibly-savable monster that’s also torturing him constantly. That had been her, once upon a time. So she knows the reason why this particular enemy hurt Quentin so much wasn’t just because it was Eliot, but because it was Eliot and Quentin is in love with Eliot.

And that’s why everything is so infuriating. The boy she loves doesn’t love her back and he got them both killed and now he’s trying to apologize for it and it’s--

“Alice?” Julia asks softly.

Alice swallows and sits up, looking right at the spot where Quentin should be, “I love you. And this is hard, this is so, so hard, but I--” she tears her gaze away from the empty air, “Julia, I have to end things. It’s not fair to either of us. Not just because we can’t see each other, because-- We weren’t in a good place to try this again. I don’t know if we ever will be.”

“I’m not going to tell him that,” Julia says, then looks back at the Quentin space. “It’s fine. Give us a second.”

“Please, Julia. I can’t-- I can’t do this whole quest like this. I want to have a clear head, I want to--”

Julia looks back at Quentin. “You two have some stuff to talk about when you can see each other again. A lot of stuff. I can’t help with this, I’m sorry.”

She gets up from the floor, leaving Alice staring at the spot where Quentin should be. She reaches out, but her hand passes through the space, empty.

She thinks of Eliot and Margo and their cocktails and it hits her then. It’s so stupid she didn’t think of it before. She starts rifling around the couches until she finds a pen buried in the cushions, then snags a napkin from the bar and goes back over to the table next to Kady.

She writes Quentin, it’s Alice on the napkin, then looks to Kady.“Could you get Quentin to come over here? Please?”

Kady looks down at the note curiously, but doesn’t ask, and calls across the bar, “Hey, Q! Alice is writing you love letters.”

Alice flushes, because this isn’t that at all. Kady gets up, presumably to make room for Q, and the napkin disappears into thin air. When it reappears, Hi Alice is written underneath her message.

Alice takes the napkin back, flips it over, and starts writing in the tiniest handwriting she can manage.

I’m sorry we can’t talk normally. I wish I could see you. Julia’s right, we have a lot to talk about and this is bad timing. But we can’t be together, not like this. We haven’t been in a good place and I can’t think about us right now. It’s complicated and messy and I’m sorry. I love you.

She sets it down and waits.

Quentin doesn’t write back.

Kady circles back around, leaning in, “He just looked really upset. Did you dump him while he can’t even see you?”

Alice nods and feels Kady looking past her to read the napkin.

“Shit, that’s harsh.”

Alice tucks a strand of hair behind her ear. “It’s what needed to be done.”

“I think you need my other shot,” Kady says, sliding the glass across the table to her. Alice downs it, chokes a little, but feels slightly better. Or number, at least.

A few minutes later, she sees Julia and Eliot both talking to the same empty space in the air and tries to tell herself it’s good. She can let go. She needs this.

---

Bri thrives back on the Brakebills campus. Marina hasn’t seen her this excited -- well, ever. At least not this version of Bri.

When they first arrive, Bri spends a few hours raiding the library before Fogg has some lackey (Todd, Marina thinks his name is, but she isn’t really paying attention) escort them down to the locked and warded-up-the-ass basement where four human bodies and a fish corpse are being stored and slowly rotting away. Or rather, three of the bodies (and the fish corpse) are decaying. Julia looks more like a woman having a light nap than a week-old dead body.

Bri isn’t bothered by any of it. It’s the necromancy discipline; she’s never been one to flinch in the face of the morbid. Marina is more than a little grossed out though. While it would be fun to put a new initiate through the wringer down here, it’s not really a place you want to curl up in with your wife for a cup of tea and some research.

“You seriously don’t want to read these somewhere else? It’s bad lighting.”

“Aw gee, Marina, however will a pair of witches solve the problem of inadequate reading light?”

Marina rolls her eyes, but walks through the tuts anyway and generates a small ball of light to float over Bri’s shoulder. Bri gives her a shit-eating grin, then starts casting, generating more balls of light, magicking clean some of the fallen tapestries and restoring them to a place on the wall. She needles Marina into helping her move some tables in, and they get the corpses up on them instead of on the floor and within a couple hours, the place looks like a weird cross between a library and a morgue. Well-lit, sterile tables with bodies on them, but also a huge pile of books and a couch.

Bri seems to sense Marina’s continued discomfort with staring down the bodies and produces some sheets to stick over them, at least for now while they’re not enchanted.

“It looks almost like it did when I did most of my senior thesis project down here,” Bri says, fondly, as she perches the couch with a book in her lap, the lights following her as she moves. “The basement is where they send all the reject disciplines to do their coursework. Necromancy stuff, the sex magics, the religious-y magics, the oracles. We’re all rare and we’re all weird and we all make people uncomfortable.”

“You don’t ever talk about Brakebills,” Marina notes. The Bri in Timeline-23 had never gone to Brakebills, had been a hedge from the start, and it had been a point of bonding between the two of them. That this Bri has been to and successfully graduated from Brakebills always throws Marina off, even if Bri is far from a model alum.

“No,” Bri shakes her head. “There’s not a whole lot to talk about and I’m a hedge now. Unless you want to know…?”

“What was your project?”

“Trying to fully reanimate my childhood dog,” Bri says, casually, like it’s not insane. “Oof, I had to kiss major ass to get it approved by the board. I thought Lipson was going to have a conniption.”

“Did it work?”

“Do I have an immortal rottweiler following me around everywhere? No. I managed to restore most of the body, which was frank genius spellcasting on my part, because my dog had been dead for ten years at that point. My parents were not happy about the giant hole in the backyard when I dug her up. It’s one of the many reasons we’re not invited home for Thanksgiving.”

“And here I thought it was just because you’re a raging dyke.”

“The ways in which I have disappointed my parents are as numerous as the stars in the sky,” Bri says. “Anyway. Restoring the corpse was the only reason I graduated. The rest of it was a total failure. I could maintain a heartbeat for about thirty minutes, a tiny bit of brain activity, but she never woke up. There’s something about that spark of true life you just can’t get back.”

“Do you think you can save them?” Marina nods to the sheet-covered dead students.

“I think I have three bodies to restore to like-new condition, a fish corpse to turn into a person corpse, and three more bodies to build entirely from scratch,” she says it way too cheerfully, like it’s the best thing and not an impossible task. “It could take decades and Fogg made it sound like I have weeks. But I don’t know. If they’re really fighting their way out of their underworld, maybe. I hope so.”

Bri goes back to reading and starts taking notes. Marina finally reaches a point where she has to stop staring at Julia’s body through the sheet and sits herself on the couch next to Bri, holding her hand out for a book. Bri glances at her, gives her a grin, and passes a huge volume over along with a pad of sticky notes.

She explains they’re looking for magic items and ingredients commonly used in basic restoration and healing magic. Marina realizes, slowly, that Bri isn’t just digging up old spells. She’s creating new ones. Bri’s a genius, of course, Marina knew that already. But this is insane levels of magic.

“Well shit,” Bri hisses, several hours into their research. Marina’s been staring at the same page for fifteen minutes.

“What?”

“I need blood. I knew that, I was just hoping there was a way around it. The three that got vaporized? If they want their bodies back, we need their blood. Or other bodily fluids, but blood’s the main one.”

When they take the dilemma to Fogg, it’s Fen, the mousy girl from the apartment and apparently the High King of Fillory, who has a possible answer.

“Quentin might have blood in Fillory,” Fen says. “And Alice has a body buried on the Whitespire grounds. Sorry, I should’ve remembered that earlier, it’s just been a lot.”

“Wait, someone already had two bodies?” Bri asks.

“The body she went into the mirror realm with was from when she came back to life the first time,” Fogg says. “I didn’t realize she still had one in Fillory.”

The first time . These assholes were really testing their luck trying to go for a double resurrection.

“There’s a monument to her,” Fen says. “Well, a partially completed one. We couldn’t get the funding needed to make it-- Anyway. Alice is buried there. And Eliot mentioned Quentin gave a vial of his blood to a witch in the woods in Fillory so that might be an option. I don’t know about Penny, but that at least gets you a start.”

So they’re going to the fantasy fairy tale land of Fillory and Fogg places them under the supervision of Fen. Marina doesn’t think it’ll suit her, but they don’t really have another option (that isn’t “give up” which Marina wouldn’t mind, but Bri will never take).

Marina’s sure Fogg gives Fen warnings about Marina being a duplicitous snake, but Fen doesn’t seem overly-wary of them. Despite the loss of her friends, she’s upbeat and eager to help, shows them maps of where Alice is buried and where they can look for the witch.

Fen is, to the best of Marina’s ability to gauge these things (which is pretty damn good), a lesbian. Marina can tell by the way her gaze wanders over her and Bri and the way she talks about the dead girl, Margo. Whether she knows she’s gay or not is open for debate, though Marina suspects it’s the latter and wonders if perhaps she’s found her own little side project in the closeted High King of Fillory.

---

Quentin falls asleep against a wall with Julia curled into his side, one arm sprawled across his chest. It starts out as a comforting thing, the pair of them sitting together while Julia apologizes for Alice’s shit timing. And then the next thing they know, the door to the tavern bangs open and a cheerful voice shouts, “Good morning, questers!”

Quentin jolts awake, knocking Julia out of his arms, and the rest of the group peeks up from the various nooks and crannies they found to sleep in the night before. Eliot fell asleep at the bar. Margo and Josh crashed on a couch. Kady rubs her neck and grimaces from the awkward angle she fell asleep on top of the table. He assumes Penny and Alice are also around here somewhere.

In the doorway, bright light streaming in behind her, stands a woman. She’s short, slender and wears a business-casual white dress and tasteful heels. Her dark brown hair is pulled back into a neat coil. Despite looking like she’s in her mid-20s, she projects the confidence of an adult who has her actual shit together. Even carries a small, silver briefcase with her.

She looks over the group and her face settles into an easy smile as she steps into the cottage, then pulls up a chair at the table across from a bleary-eyed Kady. 

“Hear you mix a strong drink,” she calls over to Eliot, like he’s any bartender at any bar, not a spirit in the Underworld.

Eliot looks around at the others, baffled, and they all shrug at him in equal confusion and begin to circle in around the woman making herself at home in the tavern.

“Are you here to tell us what happens next?” Kady asks, leaning back in her chair, a little more alert now.

“Oh, shit,” she says. “Sorry. Should’ve let with that. I’m Eurydice, I’m here to get you started on your quest.”

Julia’s eyes widen. “ The Eurydice? From the myth?”

“I’m that bitch,” she says. Eliot slides her a mimosa and cautiously sits down next to Kady at the table. Eurydice takes a sip and nods approvingly. “I’m the guide for those wanting to escape their fate. Sort of a five thousand year punishment for my own failed escape attempt, but it’s not so bad. Every now and then, someone succeeds, although you lot are my first attempt in a century. And there’s eight of you, holy shit. This will be either impossible or infinitely easier and I have no idea which.”

Quentin suspects it’s impossible, but he keeps that to himself.

“What are we supposed to do?” Julia asks. “We got here, but…”

“Oh, that’s part of the video.”

“The video?” Quentin asks. He doesn’t remember seeing any technology on that level around here.

“Well,” she says, taking another sip of her drink and pushing her chair back to prop her feet up on the table. “It’s like this. I’ve been bored for the last century. People don’t even believe in an afterlife half the time, and when they get here it’s all ‘I want to go see Grandma’ or whatever bullshit. So I had a lot of free time and I made an informational video.”

Eurydice downs the rest of her mimosa and gets up from her seat, striding behind the bar and unlocking a back door Quentin doesn’t remember being there before.

She gestures for them to enter.

There’s a solid beat before any of them get up, and then they all do at once, clustering in together to follow her inside.

There’s a rickety TV on a rolling cart that looks like it’s from the 90s set up in one corner, complete with a clunky VHS player on a shelf. Eight folding chairs are lined up in front of it in two rows. Eurydice gestures for them all to take a seat, then inserts a VHS tape with a white sticker label that had “So You Want to Fuck Death?” written on it in blue sharpie.

She fiddles with the remote and it’s almost comical to see someone who looks their age struggling to figure out technology, but she gets it before anyone pities her enough to try to help. The grainy grey screen slowly clearing to a title card sends an automatic pang of nostalgia through Quentin.

“So You Want to Fuck Death?”

The title card fades out and Eurydice appears, with an obvious lavalier mic clipped to her poofy purple blazer.

“Hi. I’m Eurydice and this is Underworld TV with ‘So You Want to Fuck Death?’ Today, I’ll be walking you through the options available to you, as well as discussing the possible immortal consequences of continuing on this path. First, let’s take a look at how we got here!”

Eurydice-on-the-TV smiles brightly and the video wipe-transitions to a bright, minimalist-style animation of people-shape souls floating out of their bodies and descending from the surface of the Earth down into the Underworld below, which mostly looks like the cartoon DMV.

Eurydice’s voice continues to narrate, “Now, the Underworld isn’t anyone’s final stop, whether you’re fighting the forces of fate or rolling over and letting death have its way with you. For those souls that choose to move on, the Underworld is a last pit stop to the beyond. What is beyond? Who the fuck knows! Certainly not me, since I’ve been trapped here for 2000 years.

“Of course, not everyone wants to continue on into the next life, which is why you’re here seeing this video and not the other video. Welcome to Resurrection Quests.”

A neon orange-and-blue title card appears on the screen, then transitions back to the purple blazer-clad Eurydice talking into the camera.

“Now, before we get into your quest options, we need to discuss the consequences of deciding to fight fate, because we here at Resurrection Quests value you and we think you deserve to be fully informed. The most common consequences are extended wait times, solitary confinement, and/or a millennia of servitude to Underworld Authorities. For a complete list of potential sentences, please read your contracts carefully.”

Contracts? Julia mouths at Quentin.

“Now, onto our options! Due to the unique circumstances of each resurrection attempt, we here at Resurrection Quests have felt it prudent to offer a variety of options. But, due to the influx of people wishing to attempt resurrections, we have narrowed it down to three quests for you to choose from. The first quest is, naturally, the Orpheus Quest.”

The little people-symbol animations appear on the screen, this time taking the form of a woman walking up a hill with another woman following behind her.

“The Orpheus Quest requires partners. One will guide the other out, but is not allowed to look back to verify their partner is following. The journey lasts seven days, which you will have to take on foot nonstop through the Underworld to the exit. Make it through, and you’re free and clear.”

Eurydice pauses the video and the group all looks up at her. “Oh, just wanted to let you know, in case you were wondering. As long as you have bodies available up top, it doesn’t matter that you’re all dead. You can still do this quest, if you’re feeling it. I’ve talked to my superiors about this kind of thing a few centuries ago when a couple of lovers died at the same time. They still had bodies to return to, so it was permitted. They, uh, super failed. But there’s a precedent.”

She plays the video again and this time it’s just Euyrdice’s face.

“Our second quest is Inanna Quest and my bosses said I’m not allowed to make an animation for this one. The quester on the Inanna Quest will walk through seven doors, removing a layer of clothing each time until they come to the seventh door. They walk through to face seven judges who will determine if you are worthy to return to life. If you pass, you get to live. If you fail, you’re sort of struck dead, again, and left there until someone comes to get you, which might never happen.”

Eurydice on the tv gives a strained smiled and it cuts over to a new animation. This time of two people standing next to what looks like a venn diagram. Or--

Oh. It’s a series of circles. Quentin thinks Dante’s Inferno just as Eurydice on the tv says, “Our third quest option is Dante’s Quest. Dante’s journey out of hell was not, in fact, hell. It was a quest designed by the best architects in the Underworld. It’s nine circles of increasingly shitty and horrifying tortures designed to slow you down or trap you there forever. Manage to survive through to the center, and you’re home free.”

Back to Eurydice’s smiling face, “Time for some frequently asked questions!

Some generic extra -- a bald man in an ugly green sweater -- appears on screen, asking in a stilted tone, “What happens if I die on the Quest?”

Eurydice reappears, still smiling, “You die. Your resurrection file is terminated and you’ll face consequences for your attempted escape.  Next question!”

A different extra -- this time a woman with curly red hair -- appears, “What if I change my mind?”

“I don’t recommend it. Are there any more questions? No. Excellent,” she stays smiling cheerfully. “That concludes our tour of the Resurrection Quests. Please address any further questions or comments to Eurydice. Good luck!”

The tv goes to static. Eurydice steps out in front of the TV, clearly pleased with herself, bobbing in a little curtsey. “Anyway. So your three choices. You have some time to think them over, of course. Feel free to grab a beer and discuss among yourselves. I’m here to answer any questions you might have.”

Josh raises a hand, “How long did that take you to make?”

“Pretty much the entire 90s,” she says.

“It shows,” Kady says and Quentin has to hide a snicker behind his hand.

The gang filters out of the screening room and back to the bar. Eurydice follows behind, closing the door and then taking up a spot at a table. She sets her briefcase down, clicking it open and beginning to remove stacks of papers

Quentin finds himself between Eliot and Julia again, both looking as bewildered as he feels. They crowd around at the bar with the others. Kady helps herself to the tap and starts pouring pints, slinging them across the bar until everyone has one, before pouring her own and settling down next to Josh and a blank space Quentin thinks is Alice.

“Okay,” she says. “What are we thinking?”

Penny must be saying something, because everyone except for Julia looks toward another empty space at the bar on the other side of Josh.

“Of course Penny wants to do the Orpheus quest,” Eliot says, mockingly, and also for Quentin’s benefit. “Mr. Lovesick Puppy himself, crossed a timeline to find a version of his girlfriend that was still alive. You’re the perfect fit. The rest of us? Not so much.”

Quentin lets out an honest-to-god giggle, which gets Eliot grinning, and then Quentin coughs, trying to recover and sound serious because it is serious. “Sorry. I just-- I know I’m not mentally stable enough to walk in complete silence for seven days either hoping that my partner is following me or hoping my partner doesn’t look back at me. I’d fuck it up on day one. On hour one.”

“Seconding Quentin,” Eliot agrees. “I’m sure Margo wants to do the strip-tease one. Confirm or deny?”

Margo, unprompted, says, “I’m all about the stripping one, but something tells me some of us here are gonna be blushing buzzkills about it.”

“The stripping part is fine,” Kady says. “It’s the seven judges deciding your fate that worries me. Alice has already cheated death once, so that’s one of us already probably not ‘worthy’ and I’m definitely not either.” She glances at Eliot, “Margo said exactly what you thought she’d say, for the record.”

Eliot gives a knowing ‘ well duh ’ sort of look, then says, “I’d rather take the nine circles of hell. At least I get to meet my heroes that way.”

“And in the last circle, you get to climb Satan’s dick to escape,” Quentin adds and Eliot’s face lights up at that information, exactly as Quentin expected. He’s delighted that his reading of The Divine Comedy as a teenager for “fun” finally has a practical use.

“I’m sold, Q. Team ‘Satan’s Dick’ all the way,” Eliot says and at the same time Margo raises a hand and also says “Team ‘Satan’s Dick.’”

Josh and Kady exchange a look before shrugging and raising their hands.

“I should warn you,” Eurydice says. “Dante’s Inferno is the Christianized version of the Dante Quest. There’s nine circles with nine themes that roughly correspond to what Dante wrote, but it’s his explanation of what he saw. Not the reality of it. It’ll be different for you.”

“Anyone else?” Margo asks around at the group. “Stripping, nine circles and a ride on the devil’s broomstick, or solitary confinement torture exercise?”

“I meant literally climbing it. We’re not-- We don’t get to fuck the devil,” Quentin tries to clarify.

“Oh I know,” Margo says. “But like our gal said, that was the 1300s and the perspective of a repressed Catholic poet.”

“Alice is playing for our team too!” Eliot says, high-fiving the air where Quentin expects Alice is. He can picture her reluctant, bewildered half-smile and he wishes he could just ask how she was doing.

Julia raises a hand with a shrug, “Okay, you’ve got me.”

“I think you’re overruled, Penny,” Eliot says.

“Nine circles quest, huh,” Eurydice looks them over. “Honestly, I figured you were all some weird combination of lovers and would be all over that Orpheus Quest shit, but I’m glad you’re not. Solitary confinement torture exercise is a very apt way to describe it.” She gestures to the eight stacks of paper she’s set on the table before her. “You do have to sign on the dotted line, just saying you agree to the consequences, have been fully informed, and were given an orientation by yours truly.”

The group gets up to take the packets. Quentin feels good about it, strangely. It’s not based on his own stamina or some panel of judges. This gives them a chance to help each other; they could actually do this.

“Wait, before we get started,” Julia says. “Can you fix whatever glitch or curse or whatever it is that’s making it so some of us can’t see each other? It’s probably not the best idea going forward, unless that’s part of the quest.”

“Some of you can’t see each other?” Eurydice looks concerned, eyeing the group. “Like, mutually not able to tell the other person is there?”

Julia nods. Quentin feels anxious, suddenly, at the sad, deflated look in Eurydice’s eye.

“Who killed who?” she asks and Quentin’s stomach drops. “That’s what happened, right? Some of you killed others in the group?”

Quentin nods. He casts a furtive glance in Margo’s direction and sees her eyes watering.

“It’s an automatic protection,” Eurydice says. “If you’re flagged as culpable in someone else’s death, you’re not allowed to interact. Keeps things simple, cleaner. Saves victims a lot of grief, usually, though I’m assuming this situation is more complicated.”

“It wasn’t murder,” Julia says. “Eliot and I were possessed, Margo and Penny were trying to save us and it went wrong. And Q--”

Julia stops and glances at the empty space where Alice should be, and Quentin wonders if she’s saying anything. He wonders if he should say something in his own defense or if he should just admit that he killed Penny and Alice and let it be over with. He can’t believe he let himself get his hopes up, even for a second. He should’ve known.

“This isn’t a quest-ender,” Eurydice says, breaking through Quentin’s thoughts. “You just can’t move forward with flags like that in your file. An unresolved murder charge is a pretty huge flag, so it’s above my paygrade, but I know a guy who could help. He’s pretty sympathetic to resurrection cases and can probably get your chargers cleared. If you’re up for a detour?”

The rest of the group murmur their agreement and Quentin finds himself nodding along, even as his certainty of his own guilt settles in. He’s already making plans to just take the charge and settle. It’d make things easier on Alice, at least, as he’s sure she’s not eager to see him again. But he hopes, at least for the others’ sake, that Eurydice is right and whoever it is will be willing to help them.





Chapter Text

Previously on the Magicians...

Eliot: Okay, I'm gonna tell you something deep and dark and personal now. Ready? Good. I killed someone.

---

Penny: Why are you in here anyway?

Julia: I killed trees.

Penny: Seriously.

Julia: That could talk.

Kady: They have talking trees here?

Julia: Not anymore.

---

Alice: I wasn't seeking knowledge. When they died, they made pretty little lights. And when they died slowly, the lights got even prettier.

---

Resurrection Court

Underworld

No. 504-26234134, No. 504-26234135, No. 504-26234136

Hon. Osiris

Alice Quinn and Penny Adiyodi vs. Quentin Coldwater 

Eliot Waugh vs. Margo Hanson

Julia Wicker vs. Penny Adiyodi

 

Representing the Defendants: Kady Orloff-Diaz

 

TRANSCRIPT

OSIRIS: At this time the court calls-- I have three cases, here. Is that right? Three separate defendants? Quentin Coldwater, Margo Hanson, and William Adiyodi.

COLDWATER: Um, here? I don’t-- How does this work, exactly?

OSIRIS: Eurydice didn’t debrief you for this at all, huh? It suppose it has been a good century or two since I’ve been given a case from her. Okay. Simple answer: Just prove that you didn’t do whatever you’ve been flagged for. Which in your case, Coldwater, you’ve been charged with-- Murder-suicide? Holy shit, you? Damn, kid, that’s dark.

COLDWATER: Um, yeah, I guess. So I--?

OSIRIS: Let’s state the other two charges here, for the record. We have Margo Hanson, for murder?

HANSON: Pleading not fucking guilty.

OSIRIS: And Penny Adiyodi, also for murder.

ADIYODI: Not guilty? If that’s what we’re doing now.

OSIRIS: I’m assuming you’re all pleading not guilty if you’re here in the middle of a resurrection quest and are planning on completing it. Mr. Coldwater, go ahead and take the stand.

COLDWATER: Do we have to do the “swear to tell the truth” part?

OSIRIS: It’s the Underworld, kid, you can’t really lie. If there are inconsistencies, we can reference your book. Just make your case. Tell me why you didn’t murder Ms. Quinn and Mr. Adiyodi.

ORLOFF-DIAZ: Okay, I know you said it’s not an American courtroom, but wouldn’t it make more sense for them to have a lawyer to like, ask questions?

OSIRIS: Are you volunteering?

ORLOFF-DIAZ: I mean, I was pre-law in undergrad. I assume that makes me the most qualified person here.

OSIRIS: By all means. But it shouldn’t be that complicated, honestly. All you have to do is show me you all didn’t willfully murder each other. The details can get worked out when you’re back down here for good.

ORLOFF-DIAZ: Right. Got it. Hey, Q, you’re fine, okay? You’re not a murderer, just take a breath.

COLDWATER: Thanks, Kady.

ORLOFF-DIAZ: Can you describe for us what happened in the mirror realm? Just the facts.

COLDWATER: Okay. Um, yeah, I-- We went in right after we got the Monster out of Eliot. Alice showed us where the Seam was and we threw the bottle with the Sister into it. I was ready to throw the Monster in after, but Everett showed up and shattered the mirror. He told us to hand over the Monster and it was a standoff. We couldn’t use magic or it’d refract and kill us all. He knew that, we all knew that. But I decided to repair the mirror with magic to throw the Monster in anyway. I-- I tried to tell Penny to take Alice and go. And then I cast the spell and it refracted. Penny and Alice didn’t get out in time and we all died.

ORLOFF-DIAZ:  What was going through your head, right before?

COLDWATER: I-- I wanted it to be over.

ORLOFF-DIAZ: Jesus, Q.

COLDWATER: He said I can’t lie. It’s going to come out no matter what, isn’t it? I-- I wanted it to stop.

ORLOFF-DIAZ: What to stop?

COLDWATER: It wasn’t like I wanted to die. But I wanted the Monster gone and Everett gone and the whole mess and it just seemed like if I did this, whatever happened, it’d be over. I was so tired of fighting everything all the time.

ORLOFF-DIAZ: So when you cast that spell, did you know it would kill you?

COLDWATER: I wasn’t consciously thinking about it but yeah. I think I knew.

ORLOFF-DIAZ:  Did you mean for it to kill Alice and Penny?

COLDWATER: No. I'd never-- I tried to tell Penny to get them both out. I didn’t mean for anyone to get hurt and I’d take it back in a second. I know they can’t hear me, but I’m so fucking sorry.

OSIRIS: Alright. Thank you, Mr. Coldwater. Next, we’ll be hearing from Margo Hanson.

ORLOFF-DIAZ: Margo, can you walk us through what happened leading up to Eliot’s death?

HANSON: Yeah, I can do that. Um, we were trying to get the Monster out of Eliot. For awhile, we all thought he was gone. But he got through to Q and told him he was still alive in there somewhere. We got a plan together. I had my axes that could break possession. Q and Alice figured out an incorporate bond strong enough to hold the Monster while we got him through to the Seam. We-- I’d seen the axes used before and I knew afterward, Eliot would need some serious healing, but I thought-- I thought we could get him to Brakebills in time. Except when I-- When I got the Monster out of him, the wound was too deep or-- I don’t know. Lipson worked on him, but he didn’t make it.

ORLOFF-DIAZ: So this was all just you trying to save Eliot. You didn’t intend to kill him.

HANSON: Fuck no. He was going to die if he stayed possessed. Quentin told me-- Q said the Monster was a second away from OD’ing out of spite at any given moment. This was our only shot to save him. And yeah, we fucked it up. But we had to try something.

COLDWATER: Margo, are you--?

HANSON: I’m fine, Q. Can we just finish this already?

ORLOFF-DIAZ: Yeah. Um. Eliot would’ve died either way, essentially so you trying and failing to save him had the same end result as if you hadn’t tried.

HANSON: Yeah, that sounds-- That sounds right.

ORLOFF-DIAZ: Okay. No further questions.

OSIRIS: Thank you, Miss Hanson. We’ll see William Adiyodi next.

ORLOFF-DIAZ: So Twenty-Three, what happened in the library?

ADIYODI: Eliot was possessed by the monster and Julia was possessed by the Monster’s Sister. Quentin, Alice, and I went in with Margo’s axes to try getting them back.

ORLOFF-DIAZ: What were they doing in the Library?

ADIYODI: Tearing it apart. Killing librarians left and right. The Sister was going to kill Quentin and Alice, so I hit her trying to save them. Tried to hit somewhere non-lethal because we were-- We were trying to save her. But I guess-- Lipson said the wound was complicated because it was from a magic weapon and Julia was a goddess? I didn’t really understand it, honestly.

ORLOFF-DIAZ: So to be clear, you didn’t intentionally murder Julia.

ADIYODI: No, of course not. I love her.

ORLOFF-DIAZ: Ladies and gentleman of the jury I think we’re done here. The only things anyone here is guilty of are being idiots and loving their friends.

OSIRIS: Ms. Orloff-Diaz, you are aware there is no jury here, yes?

ORLOFF-DIAZ: I’m in the zone, just go with it. Can we move on? Make everyone see each other again and get started on this nine circles of hell we have to claw our way through?

OSIRIS: I’d like to hear from the victims next before I make a final decision. I have Eliot Waugh, Julia Wicker, and Alice Quinn on my list. Is that correct?

WICKER: We’re all here.

OSIRIS: Excellent, I-- Oh my. You lot really can’t do anything uncomplicatedly,can you? All three of you have major flag in your files. You won’t be considered reliable witnesses until those are cleared out too.

ORLOFF-DIAZ: What do you mean flags?

OSIRIS: Uhh, just for starters? Murder, genocide, and torture.

---

Keeping his head down after sending his friends off to an unknown peril takes a lot of effort for Penny, but he’s been managing it pretty well. He can’t risk another astral projection trip up top to get in touch with Fogg and he definitely can’t go frolicking off into Eurydice’s corner of the Underworld to find out how everyone is doing or try to get a message to them. He’s left to stick to his work, which is plenty occupying, except that “Secrets Taken to the Grave” is a shit job. He’s already talked to too many people who let their love go unspoken, their trauma go unaddressed, their passions go unrealized. It’s depressing as shit.

Like right now he’s sitting with some freckled, baby-faced teenage girl named Allie who was hit by a drunk driver on her way to junior prom. Her best friends were in the car too, but they’re both still alive, so she’s having trouble with that part. Well, she’s having trouble with all of it.

Penny’s getting better at not, like, openly crying, but being the very last therapy session someone has before they move on to the Next Great Whatever is so profoundly exhausting and he’s not qualified for it. No fucking way. Understanding that everyone is a human being who deserves to have their story told is just basic human decency (something the Library is sorely lacking). It doesn’t make him qualified for--

“I’m gay,” Allie says, without warning and yeah. This shit is the stuff he’s not qualified for. He has a pamphlet for that somewhere, he thinks, but the kid is still crying and he’s not about to get up to just to get her a useless tri-folded piece of paper she won’t even read. “I was-- I never told anybody. I had this whole five year plan about how I was going to come out after I graduated college. I’d make this cute little instagram post with my college girlfriend announcing we were moving in together or something. And then I’d bring up to Jess as a joke that I used to like her in high school and we’d have a good laugh about it and now it’s like-- I’m dead. There’s no fantasy college girlfriend. Jess will never have any fucking idea I was in love with her. Like. That’s it. What the fuck? Who got to decide that shit? I’m sixteen!”

“It’s not fair,” Penny agrees. “From one dead person to another? It’s complete bullshit. But… the thing that’s helped me is knowing that my loved ones are still out there and they’ll remember me. I know your family and friends will feel the difference you made in their lives for a long time. You were a good friend, a good daughter. They’ll be okay.”

It’s mostly true. He read their books before stepping into the office, in case there was something good he could share to ease the conversation along. Her friend Jess is gay too and those unspoken feelings were returned. She’ll heal from this eventually, after a lot of therapy and meds and moving out of state for college (never to return to her hometown). Meanwhile, Allie’s parents will split in two years after not being able to handle their grief. Her father will never recover, really. Die alone at sixty-five and have a funeral that’s poorly attended because he'd driven most people who cared about him away by that point. Her mother will get super into activism work around safe driving, find love again, have a few stepkids that adore her. Life is so complicated. Too complicated to be resolved in one shitty therapy session with him.

“Look, this is how it goes sometimes. We don’t get to say the things we want to say. There’s no lesson here. I’m just… here to listen. You can get mad, if you want. Throw some shit, kick over a table.”

She picks up the mug of hot cocoa he’d set in front of her earlier and throws against a wall. She’d be a fighter in a resurrection quest, he thinks idly, and has to remind himself he can’t give everyone a get out of the underworld free card.

Penny moves to sit next to her. “Allie. They’re going to figure it out. They have their own path now and this is the path you’re on. You’re onto whatever’s next. Before you do that, is there anything else you want to talk about?”

She shakes her head.

“Okay,” Penny says. “Head through those doors, you’ll find yourself in the waiting room. Just take a number, they’ll get to you when they can.”

She looks like she might start crying.

“You need a hug? Someone to punch? I can do either.”

She shakes her head again. Penny opens the door for her. She clambers off the couch, wrapping her pretty green shawl around her shoulders, hefting up the poofy skirts of her prom dress, and stepping through the door.

Penny closes it behind her and breathes an audible sigh of exhaustion. He drops back down onto the couch, face-first, not giving a shit that he has another ten of these to get through today. He needs five minutes to process.

The door opens and Penny doesn’t bother lifting his head up, “Give me a second,” he mumbles into the throw pillow.

“I’m sorry, Penny. I’m afraid it can’t wait.”

Penny looks up to see his supervisor -- Helena, he thinks her name is, but he’s not sure considering they’ve met exactly once before -- standing in his office doorway looking very displeased. Penny knows immediately that this has to be about the Brakebills gang and honestly he’s just surprised they haven’t tracked it back to him earlier.

“What’s going on?” Penny sits up as Helena pulls up a chair. 

He’s prepared himself for the consequences of his actions, tried to think through every possible bad ending. He hasn’t come up with much, because he’s not really sure what the consequences are when you’re dead. As hellish as the resurrection quests are, torturing their employees doesn’t seem really in the Underworld’s wheelhouse. Worst-case scenario, he figures he’ll lose his promotion for a few centuries. He’ll get over it.

“You must have some idea why I’m paying you a visit.”

“Nope. Can’t think of anything.”

“Don’t play dumb,” Helena says sternly. “Your dead friends were fast-tracked through to a resurrection quest without the proper authorization.”

“Well that can’t be possible,” Penny says, feigning surprise. “The amount of forged signatures, cleaning up a paper trail. You'd have to be some kind of super-genius badass.”

“Cut the shit,” Helena snaps. “We know you let them escape. We don’t have proof, but all we need is your admittance to the forgeries, to hijacking the elevator, to going outside your jurisdiction and initiating contact with the resurrection liaison. We know what you did, Penny. We just need you to sign the paperwork admitting to it. We can shut down the quest and they’ll all be transferred to very nice karmic circles in the waiting area. We’ll even let you keep your promotion.”

“I don’t give a shit about my job and I’m not admitting anything.”

“Penny. You don’t want the kind of demotion we’re offering. Trust me.” The way she says it is far too foreboding for it to be what it sounds like. “Considering the severity of your actions, the only fitting position we could find for you would be at the circulation desk. There’s not many people checking things out from the Underworld branch. It’s pretty dull work, or so I’ve been told. All alone in that room for, oh I suppose a thousand years might give you a good idea of how serious this infraction was. And then we can talk about the possibility of you moving up again, back to full time Librarian work.”

So… solitary confinement. She’s actually threatening him with solitary confinement, holy shit. Penny fights to keep his expression neutral, thinking very rapidly through his choices. But there’s only one choice, really: “No. I don’t have anything to admit.”

“I’ll give you some time to think,” she says. “Though I suspect your answer won’t change.”

“It won’t. You wanna lock me up for a thousand years, do it.”

“Oh, Penny.”

Do it, ” Penny goads.

She sighs, resigned and for a second Penny thinks he’s called her bluff. “Alright. I wish this conversation had gone differently, I really do. I think you’re a smart librarian, Penny. You just need to learn what we all had to learn: that we can’t use our position to give people we know unfair benefits. For some people, the only way to learn that lesson is the hard way.”

She clasps her hands together, looking sadly at him, and then Penny sees her fingers start to move. He blinks and his office disappears around him.

He’s alone, one wrist chained down to a small desk and dinosaur of a computer from the 90s. There’s a little plaque in front of him that reads “Penny Adiyodi, Library Clerk.” The room has no discernible walls, just a black tile floor that’s lit by a single, flickering fluorescent light beam. Where the light ends seems to stretch on forever, just black emptiness spread out ahead of him. There’s no sign of any forthcoming patrons.

He’s already dead, he’s got a million years on his contract, what’s a thousand in a locked dark room in the Underworld? It’s worth it. This is for his friends, for their shot out of here. He can do this, right?

Penny thinks of Allie and hopes whatever comes next for her, it’s something nice.

---

The trial so far is giving Julia a giant cluster of anxiety in her stomach. Quentin and Margo both broke down crying on the stand, which she expected from Q, but seeing Margo so shaken was unsettling.

She, Alice, Eliot are given a moment to collect themselves privately (Julia’s beginning to feel like they should start looking at band names, as often as they’re getting shoved together these days) as soon as it became apparent their own cases were going to have to be resolved before any further progress could be made on their friends’ cases. Alice is clearly keyed up, pacing the conference room they were shuffled off into. Julia feels some amount of pity for her, even if she can’t quite achieve full empathy in light of her breaking up with Quentin while he can’t have an actual conversation with her.

Mostly, Julia’s just staring blankly at the conference table, which seems to be Eliot’s plan too. Just stare and think about the bad shit you did and how to defend it. Julia never really thought about what happened with the trees as genocide, but it’s technically true. She shudders at the thought of what else she could’ve done if she’d been shadeless longer.

“Why the fuck did you break up with Quentin like that?” Eliot asks, out of nowhere.

Alice stops pacing, turning to them both in surprise. “Jesus, why are we doing this now ?”.

“Because we might not get to do it later,” Eliot says. “Did you not think your timing might be kind of shit?”

“I was just-- I wanted to be fair to us both. I didn’t know we were going to turn around and try to defend what happened in Underworld court the next day. I wouldn’t have done it if I thought we were going to see each other again soon.”

“So you are going to defend him?” Julia asks. “I know you’re hurt by it, but if Eliot and I get that Margo and Penny--”

“It’s not the same and you know it. You two both get to defend them knowing that what they did, they did because they loved you and were trying to save you. I don’t get that. I died because Quentin was in a bad mental place and he killed all of us.”

“Do you hear yourself right now?” Eliot snaps.

“I do. And I’m still going to defend him because I love him. And that’s what makes this all so hard. I was killed by the person I love and it was just-- It was meaningless! It was avoidable! He could’ve started running along with us and we all would’ve made it out of there. I could be back on Earth right now, helping Quentin and Penny and Fogg figure something out to save the rest of you, but instead I’m here. Dead. Because of Quentin. Am I really not allowed to feel complicated about that?”

There’s so much hurt in Alice’s eyes; she’s on the edge of tears, lower lip trembling as she stares at the pair of them, imploring them to understand.

Julia wants to be angry at her still, but-- But it is different. She hasn’t been allowing that into her understanding of Alice and it makes sense. Julia can’t imagine being in her position.

Alice retreats into a corner, arms folded, miserable-looking.

Julia watches her a moment and then turns back to staring at the wooden table, trying to concoct her best defense against the genocide charge. But she really can’t, outside of “I was shadeless at the time” which she’s not sure is a particularly strong d efense. She hopes Kady will have something good.

“Do you think they’re counting what the monsters did against us?” Eliot asks. And no, Julia hadn’t considered that element. “I don’t remember any of it.”

“I’ve done plenty of shit outside of what the Monster’s Sister did,” Julia says. “They won’t have to bring that up. What about you?”

She realizes it’s an intrusive question to ask, but somehow she feels like they’re far enough into whatever tentative sort-of friendship that it’s not beyond their level of closeness to ask.

“I killed someone,” Eliot says. For a second, Julia thinks he’s going to leave it at that, but he pushes on. “When I was sixteen, I found out I had magic because I pushed a kid in front of a bus. Um, a bully. He had-- It was bad. But I killed him, even if I didn’t know what I was doing, and he was just a kid. I’m sure that’s what they’re counting against me, if it’s not what the Monster did.”

“Oh,” Julia says. “I don’t think that compares to what I’ve done. Or Alice. I murdered an entire sentient forest. I used my best friend as bait for the monster that raped me. I didn’t give a shit about consequences, I--”

“Didn’t have a shade,” Eliot says. “And Alice was a niffin.”

And Eliot wasn’t. Eliot was Eliot, some scared, probably-closeted kid who just wanted the bullying to end. And somehow she feels like his actions are more understandable than either her or Alice. She moves her chair a little closer to him and they continue waiting together.

---

Resurrection Court

Underworld

No. 504-26234134, No. 504-26234135, No. 504-26234136

Hon. Osiris

Alice Quinn and Penny Adiyodi vs. Quentin Coldwater 

Eliot Waugh vs. Margo Hanson

Julia Wicker vs. Penny Adiyodi

 

Representing the Defendants: Kady Orloff-Diaz

TRANSCRIPT (CONT’D)

OSIRIS: Alice Quinn. You’re charged with-- Let’s see here. Murder, aggravated assault and battery, harassment, burglary, and tax evasion.

QUINN: Tax evasion?

OSIRIS: Yes, I was looking at your files and every single one of you is on here for tax evasion. And bank robbery, actually. Who the fuck are you people?

ORLOFF-DIAZ: Magicians.

OSIRIS: That explains it. Fucking magicians. You always make everything so complicated.

ORLOFF-DIAZ: Can I ask questions now, or--?

OSIRIS: By all means. The only charges we’re really worried about here are the torture and murder ones, so if you can focus on that bit.

ORLOFF-DIAZ: Gotcha. Okay. Alice. That stuff happened while you were a niffin, right?

QUINN: That’s correct.

ORLOFF-DIAZ: Do you remember it?

QUINN: Only bits and pieces. Most of it’s foggy. I don’t think human brains are supposed to remember what it was like to be a being of pure magic.

ORLOFF-DIAZ: The things you did as a niffin, were they things you’d ever thought about before?

QUINN: No. They were entirely new. I can’t really explain why I did them, they were-- I was curious. I wanted things, so I did them. Consequences, other people, none of it mattered.

ORLOFF-DIAZ: And since you came back from being a niffin, that’s not true anymore.

QUINN: Quentin brought me back from all that. I’m not who I was before, but I’m not a niffin. Which is why I’m insisting he not be held responsible for my death. It was an accident, I know that. He’s not a killer and I’m not interested in pressing charges or whatever you want to call it down here.

OSIRIS: I’ve heard enough to clear your flag, Ms. Quinn. And thank you for your testimony on behalf of Mr. Coldwater. You can have a seat.

QUINN: Thank you.

ORLOFF-DIAZ: Jules, you’re up.

OSIRIS: Julia Wicker, your charges-- Well, there’s a lot, but mainly here about the genocide. I don’t know I’ve ever had one on the resurrection circuit before.

WICKER: I was shadeless, at the time.

MS ORLOFF-DIAZ: And you’re not anymore.

MS WICKER: No. Our Lady Underground restored my shade.

OSIRIS: Shades are complicated, but frankly, it doesn’t matter, given that you’re a goddess. I can’t charge you with anything because you’re not even technically dead. You’re just incorporeally following your friends around. So from one resurrecting god to another, best of luck, Our Lady of the Tree. I’ll clear the flag from your file.

WICKER: Thank you.

ORLOFF-DIAZ: And how are you feeling about what Penny did?

WICKER: I know he was trying to save me. I don’t hold him responsible for anything that happened.

OSIRIS: Very good, thank you Ms Wicker. Now, Mr. Waugh. Let’s see. The only concern here is the murder. Which, one murder isn’t really enough to keep you from participating in the quest or defending Ms. Hanson.

WAUGH: So I’m free?

OSIRIS: You’ll have to deal with it, whenever you return to the Underworld permanently. Murders are an automatic flag. I apologize. I should’ve looked closer at your file before now. You can continue, Ms. Orloff Diaz.

ORLOFF-DIAZ: Eliot, do you hold Margo responsible for your death?

WAUGH: Of course not.

OSIRIS: Well. I’m going to go ahead and say that settles it. I’m not really interested in dragging this out. Coldwater, the flag will be removed. No murder charge, but if you fail this quest-- or even if you succeed, when you eventually return here-- you’ll have to deal with what happened. It’s not a clean-cut thing; you cast a spell and four people died.

COLDWATER: I understand.

OSIRIS: Hanson and Adiyodi, you’re all cleared of your charges. Court is adjourned. Tell Eury I said hello and we need to meet for lunch soon.

---

They shuffle back into the cottage together, nearly tripping over each other in anticipation of actually seeing the people they love again. Alice is still feeling complicated, but she wants to see Quentin all the same and starts looking for him the moment she gets through the door.

Penny and Julia slam into each other upon eye contact, hugging tight. Behind them, Eliot and Margo are wrapped up in each other. Eliot cradles Margo’s head and she’s got her whole face buried in his chest.

And then there’s Quentin, sort of awkwardly between the other four. Alice walks over to him.

“Can I hug you?” she asks.

“Do you want to hug me or are you--?”

“I still love you,” she says. “Even if it’s not-- Even if it’s complicated. I’ll always love you.”

Quentin nods and she takes that as consent to step in with her arms outstretched. Quentin’s arms slide up around her easily, his chin resting on her shoulder, the pair of them fitting together so nicely, like they used to, like nothing is wrong.

Alice pulls away, forcing a tiny smile. “Before we went into the Seam, you said we were better together and I thought you meant it. But you didn’t trust me. You made your own decision and tried to get Penny to drag me out while you just stood there. Do you remember that?”

Quentin’s brow furrows. He described it so distantly, before, she wonders if he actually remembers any of it. If he remembers-- “I got away from Penny and I ran to you. I was trying to save you, that’s how I died.”

Quentin looks stunned. Vulnerable, eyes wide and mouth falling open.

“I’m just trying to tell you that it’s complicated," Alice says. "And I feel complicated and that’s just going to have to be how it is for now. Maybe forever, I don’t know, but we’re going to get through this quest together. We’re on the same team here.”

Quentin nods and hugs her again. When they let go, Julia is standing there, wanting a hug of her own from Quentin. Penny looks away, uncomfortable, and Alice wonders how he feels about everything. She hasn’t asked; they haven’t had the time.

“I’m sorry,” Quentin looks at Penny as he steps away from Julia. “I’m-- I’m really sorry.”

Julia watches the two of them, tensed, probably ready to throw herself between them.

“Look,” Penny says. “We’re down here together, so I’m compartmentalizing. I literally do not have the time to be pissed at you for killing me. Up top, that’s a whole different story.”

“So…?”

“So we’ll deal with it then,” Penny says dismissively.

Julia tugs on Penny’s arm and leads him away. Alice exchanges one last glance with Quentin before she finds her way to Kady at the bar. She’s already got a pint ready and slides it her way.

---

Kady’s really starting to get used to the companionable silence thing she and Alice have going for them right now. It’s nice. They just sit and drink for a bit until Alice asks her about law school. Kady relives the weirdest four years of her life where she thought she might actually be going somewhere, before her mom decided to sell her off to a hedge witch and crush those dreams. She’s fine, mostly. Law school would’ve sucked and she doesn’t actually want to be a lawyer. Alice listens attentively the whole time, seemingly actually interested in her story which is... Nice. Sweet, even.

Eurydice shows up before too long with contracts in hands, setting out the eight stacks of paper on a table, “So. Details are all cleared up. You’re free to sign on the dotted line.”

“Does Miss Legally Hedge-Bitch wanna read them?” Margo asks, nodding to Kady. She can't tell if it's meant to be condescending.

Kady hops off the bar and crosses to the documents, picks up the one with her name on it and thumbs through the paper. It’s surprisingly short and mostly just confirms that she’s consenting to the quest and once it starts, there’s no backing out short of “dying,” which has various potential consequences.

Kady signs and holds the pen up to whoever’s next, which turns out to be Margo. Josh follows suit, then everyone else lines in behind. Quentin brings up the rear, but he doesn’t appear to hesitate when signing. He sets the pen down and turns back to the group.

“Alright,” Eurydice says. “Before you go to the first circle, Underworld Resurrection Quest policy states that you’re granted twenty-four hours to ensure you have bodies to return to on Earth.”

“We get to go back?” Kady asks. “Like, as ghosts or--?”

“If you already have a body, you’ll wake up in it. Sort of zombie-esque. If you don’t, you’ll be an incorporeal spirit and can try to find a body. Are you all ready?”

There’s murmurs of confused agreement. Eurydice nods, files the paperwork away in her briefcase, and then the world goes white.

The first thing Kady realizes is that she can’t feel anything. At all. She’s aware she has a body and she can move that body, but there’s a disconnect from the knowledge and the ability to feel things. The white around her is a sheet, she realizes, but she doesn’t feel the weight of it on her body, doesn’t feel the texture against her hand when she pushes it aside.

Someone screams.

Kady jerks toward the sound and spots a woman in the corner of the brightly-lit morgue. She’s late twenties maybe, with close-cropped dark hair, deep brown skin, and a completely stunned expression.

Kady glances behind her and sees Eliot and Margo both appearing from under similar sheets and Kady balks at their appearance. Zombie-esque is an apt description and she wonders how bad she looks. Julia sits up too, but she still looks stupidly pretty, like she never died in the first place.

“How the fuck are you all back so soon? Fogg said we had weeks, but this is like... Three days,” the woman says. She scowls at them like she’s not terrified they’re a bunch of corpses come back to life. More just surprised and annoyed.

“Who are you?” Julia asks. Beside her, blue-white and nearly-transparent shapes start to form in the approximate appearance of Quentin, Alice, Penny, and Josh.

“I’m Bri,” the woman says. “I think you know my wife.”

Chapter Text

Previously on the Magicians:

Eliot: You had a wife. And we had a family.

---

Quentin: You and me. We work. We know it cause we lived it. Who gets proof of concept like that?

---

Eliot: Fifty years… Who gets proof of concept like that? 

Quentin: What?

Eliot: Peaches and plums, motherfucker. I’m alive in here.

---

Somehow, in the midst of grief and losing the people she would have trusted to guide her through the reality of running a kingdom, Fen is a great king. She can see it in the eyes of her council, hear it in the voices of her people as they bring their concerns to her. Their alliances seem to be holding up despite the chaos of recent years. There’s a Fillorian-born king on the throne for the first time in Fillory’s history and it’s what she always wanted.

What she used to want, back before Eliot and Margo and the others stumbled into Fillory. It feels like a lifetime ago and it’s not enough anymore. She misses her friends and the castle doesn’t feel like home without Eliot lounging somewhere micromanaging the details of an ambassador’s gala, Margo giving her stern pep talks, or the smell of Josh’s cooking carrying down the halls. When Eliot was gone, she still had Margo and Josh. And when Margo left, she still had Josh.

Now all three of them are just corpses stored in a basement on Earth.

Bri’s work to restore their bodies is keeping Fen from slipping into the grief spiral entirely. She and Marina remain hard at work trying to track down spell ingredients, darting back and forth between Fillory and Brakebills, sometimes together, sometimes one at a time. For the moment, Marina has elected to remain in Fillory while Bri makes a quick day trip back to Brakebills. She skulks about the throne room as Fen meets with her council to discuss new treaties.

“The new ambassador from Corian’s Land suggested they might be interested in offering their prince’s hand in marriage to you,” Tick says. “And with Eliot... no longer with us, you’re able to take a husband and a wife, if you so choose. It could be something to consider.”

It really isn’t. On a personal level, her marriage to Eliot hadn’t set a good precedent. On the practical side of things, Eliot is coming back and she imagines having a new husband would make things overly complicated.  She could take a wife, but she wasn’t being offered a wife in this case, so dwelling on it is pointless.

“Her Slowness suggests it might be prudent to consider a marriage to a talking animal, if you wish to maintain their support,” Rafe offers. “High King Margo was beloved by them and your usurping of her throne has made many uneasy.”

“I’ll consider it,” Fen lies through her teeth. “Surely we have other matters to discuss?”

Tick launches into some new information about trade agreements and border disputes with Loria and she settles in for the rest of the meeting, putting marriage to the back of her mind.  As the council wraps up, Marina slinks out from whatever corner she had hidden herself in and catches Fen’s arm.

“So beastiality is a thing here?”

“Um,” Fen says. “The talking animals were a huge supporter of the previous high king. Interspecies relationships aren’t common, but we are making strides to acknowledge those relationships in a, um-- respectful manner.”

“You gonna shack up with a sheep?”

Fen can’t tell if Marina is joking or not. “I-- Um, no?”

“Thank god,” Marina says. “I mean, it’d be entertaining, don’t get me wrong. And so long as I’m here, I’m here for the entertainment. But you don’t seem like a sheep sort of gal.”

“No,” Fen agrees, not sure what Marina’s getting out, but it’s definitely something . She has a glint in her eye as she herds Fen toward some unspecified target in the conversation. Fen continues, “Honestly, I’m not really ready to get married again.”

“You were married to one of the dead kids, right? The telekinetic. Really tall, really gay?”

Eliot fits the first two descriptors, but Fen isn’t sure what Marina means by the last one, “Gay?”

Marina chokes on a laugh, “Wait, do you not have the word ‘gay’ in your Middle Earthian vocabulary?” Fen understands about every other word Marina says and feels reminded of overhearing conversations involving Quentin. Marina catches onto her confusion and continues, “Your ex was a guy who pretty much only wanted to be with other guys, right?”

“Oh! Yes, I suppose you could say that.”

“And you don’t have a word for that? Or for when women are only into other women?”

“Do you need a word for it?” She’s never given it much though. In Fillory, things just sort of happened how they happened. There were certainly women who wanted to share their beds with women and men who preferred the company of other men, but it wasn’t something that needed a word.

“It’s helpful,” Marina says. “Saying I’m a lesbian saves so much time.”

“Lesbian,” Fen repeats the word thoughtfully. It’s a nice word; it has a sort of familiarity to it despite her never hearing it before.

Marina’s staring at her, opening her mouth to say something else, but there’s a thundering of footsteps and the door to the throne room swings open.

Bri marches in, followed by--

Fen’s jaw drops and for a moment she thinks she has to be dreaming but no, they’re all really there. Margo, Eliot, Kady, and Julia in their actual bodies-- the first three looking much worse for wear-- and floating behind them are a sort of transparent, blue-white version of Josh, Quentin, Alice, and Penny.

“What the fuck?” Marina asks before Fen has a chance to collect her thoughts.

“They’re here to make sure we have bodies for them before they start their quest. We’ve got all hands on deck, let’s get this shit taken care of.”

Fen shoves past Marina and Bri to throw her arms around Margo.

“Hey, honey,” Margo says, softly, hugging her back. “You okay? Everyone being nice to you?”

Fen nods. “I’m-- I’m great, actually. Fillory’s doing great.”

“Never doubted it,” Margo winks at her.

Eliot is up next and she presses into him as tight as she can, ignoring the fact that he smells like death, that he isn’t warm, and even though her head is right up against his chest, there’s no heartbeat.

“I’m glad you’re coming back,” Fen says. “I missed you.”

Eliot’s hand settles in her hair for a moment before he lets go and Fen goes to hug Josh next. Her arms pass straight through him.

“Kind of Casper-ing this shit right now,” Josh offers as an explanation. “But uh, I missed you too, Fen.”

“Casper?”

“Earth thing,” Josh clarifies, “Listen, when I’m not dead: you, me, bucket of popcorn, and 90s ghost movie marathon.”

She does like popcorn; Josh introduced her to the Earth treat a few months ago, before--

Fen nods and pats her hand carefully over Josh’s shoulder.

“You done?” Marina asks, folding her arms. Fen gives a quick wave to the others and Marina carries on, “Bri and I have been looking for the vial of Quentin’s blood that’s stashed somewhere in the woods, but we haven’t had any luck yet. We’ve mostly been collecting the other ingredients for the spell, but we’ve almost got all of those.”

“Yeah, my check-off list is--” Bri fishes around in the pocket of her leather jacket and retrieves a notebook, “Quentin’s blood, Penny’s blood, Alice’s body, start the fish-to-human transformation process. But honestly, I’m starting to wonder if it’d be a better idea to just build Josh’s body from scratch, which is bullshit because it’s going to be hard enough making two from nothing.”

“I might have another body,” Quentin says.

The rest of the group turns to stare at him, and Fen sees Eliot’s eyes go especially wide.

“But, um can you work a de-aging spell?” Quentin asks Bri, pointedly avoiding the stares of the rest of the group.

Bri gnaws on her lip, thinking, “De-aging? Like, how much?”

“Around fifty years.”

“I can give it a shot. I mean, it’d be easier than rebuilding from nothing. Do you have a corpse of a seventy-five year old version of yourself lying around somewhere?”

“Q, we don’t know if that’s--” Eliot starts, reaching out to touch Quentin, then stops himself when he realizes he can’t actually touch him. Quentin gives him a weird look Fen can’t place at all and Eliot gives him a weird look back and they seem to have an entirely silent conversation, both looking increasingly agitated and emotional. Fen thinks Quentin might be tearing up, but it’s hard to tell when he’s blue and transparent and probably incapable of crying anyway. She’s not sure how the ghost thing works.

“You done eyefucking or do we all need to give you two some privacy?” Margo asks loudly.

Quentin flinches and looks away quickly, “Um, yeah, sorry. I’ll try to track down my, um-- my other body. If I can’t, I think I remember where the witch was. I’ll stop by and see if I can bargain for the blood on my way back.”

“I’ll go with you,” Eliot says.

“You don’t have to--”

“You’re a ghost, Q. If you find it, you’re going to need someone to help you bring it back and I am the only one here who understands what the fuck you’re talking about so unless you want to share with the class...”

“Fine,” Quentin snaps.

There’s too much tension between the two of them, some weird history there that no one else in the group seems to understand either. There’s just confused looks all around, followed by an uncomfortable beat of silence that Alice breaks.

“I’ll need someone to come with me to the memorial to get my body,” she says.

“Yeah, I got you,” Kady raises her hand.

“While you do that, has anyone tried getting back into the mirror realm?” Penny asks. “I know it exploded, but isn’t there a chance that our bodies are still floating around somewhere?”

“I can open it up and go with you,” Julia says. "I might Marina's help with the ritual, though."

“Which I guess leaves me and Josh to work on the de-fishification,” Margo says. “Go team?”

“I love this. It’s like having interns,” Bri says, stashing her to-do list back into her pocket. “You think I could get Fogg to give me actual interns after we finish this?”

Marina balks, “Babe, if you start working for Fogg, I’m taking the cat in the divorce.”

---

Penny, Julia, and Marina head for the nearest mirror in the castle. The mirror realm should be destroyed completely, but it’s worth a shot and it gives him something to do besides go for the other option to get his blood.  Assuming it’s an option at all. Assuming the Timeline 40 version of Penny had the same hang-ups with money that he had and the same idiotic solution. It’s just something he’d rather avoid bringing up entirely, if he can help it, so the mirror realm seems like a great starting place to avoid that.

The large mirror hanging against the hall begins to ripple and rather than reflecting them, it becomes a plain gray color. Marina gives a little shrug and perches on a desk in the corner of the room, gesturing for Julia and Penny to enter.

Penny takes a step forward, one foot through the mirror and then the other, Julia right behind him.

Quentin’s spell did a number on the place. The gray in the mirror is all that’s left. Gray ground beneath them, gray above them, gray void stretching out onward as far as they can see, although Penny finds he doesn’t want to look too closely at it. Quentin did all this with one measly mending spell and there probably aren’t bodies to find.

“Do you see that?”

Julia is pointing ahead to the tiniest disturbance in the gray ahead of them. It’s not clear, but it’s something. Worth exploring, even if he feels a strange tension coiling in his gut the second he starts toward it.

Julia picks up on it immediately and gives him a concerned look, but he shakes his head and keeps walking.

As they get closer, the wooden frame of a mirror soon becomes recognizable and once they’re within a few yards, Penny recognizes it: the mirror portal to the Seam, undisturbed by the destruction that obliterated the world around it. The frame isn't even singed.

This was where it happened.

Q’s spell, Alice’s elbow to the face, the explosion that killed all three of them and Everett. Right here, in this place.

This. Is it.

He died here.

He died--

Alonealonealonealonealonealone

It’s screaming from inside the mirror.

Quiettooquietquietquiettootooquiet.

Two voices.

HelpushelpushelpushelpushelpushelpHELP.

They’re terrified. Loud.

ALONEALONEALONEALONEALONEALONE

So fucking loud and heart-breaking and--

“Penny!”

His hand is halfway into the mirror. Julia has her hand stuck through the middle of his arm, trying to pull him away despite there being nothing for her to physically pull.

He draws his hand back and Julia keeps staring at him, wide-eyed, “What were you doing?”

“It’s screaming . It’s alone and it’s going insane. They both are.”

Julia looks at the mirror and her brow furrows as she makes the connection to what he’s talking about, “They’re the reason we’re dead.”

“I know. I know that, but it’s-- Not trying to get philosophical, but does it deserve eternal conscious torment? Does anything deserve that?”

“We can’t kill it and that was the only way to make sure it stayed put and couldn’t hurt anyone,” she keeps staring at him and Penny realizes how inane he must sound. She glances back toward the way they came, “I don’t think there’s anything else left, your bodies must all have been vaporized.”

Penny gazes back at the mirror. They’re why he’s dead. They’re not-- They’re why he’s dead. They don’t deserve pity. But they don’t deserve that either, “If you could hear them…”

Julia peers into the mirror, at the two bottles bobbing up and down in the void of the Seam. She shakes her head, “We should go. There’s nothing else here.”

She turns, holding out her hand her hand to him as if he could take it and he forces himself to turn away from the mirror and follows her back out.  The color of Whitespire is a welcome sight and the Fillorian air feels different, grounds him back to reality and clear away some of the fog in his mind.

“That was fast,” Marina says, still perched on the desk, now engrossed in some ancient Fillorian tome on her lap, “If you’re done, Bri could probably use your help figuring out shit with fishman. If you want to head over to Brakebills and help there.”

Julia nods, but Penny can still feel her attention focused on him, like she’s worried he might snap and do something crazy. She’s not wrong, he can feel the impulse to run back to the mirror realm and yank the bottles out, but he won't. He won't.

“I’ll meet you all there later,” Penny says, sincerely.

“What are you going to do?”

“I just need some time.”

Julia makes an aborted motion toward him like she wants to hug him or kiss him. She settles for a slow nod, then turns to Marina, who drags herself up out of the chair and leads Julia out of the room back to the portal back to Brakebills.

Penny makes himself scarce. He finds an old room in Whitespire that appears unused. There’s cobwebs and he assumes it smells musty, though he can’t really smell anything. He can’t breathe or feel, but he tries to meditate anyway, practice the motion of breathing. He doesn’t know how the other Penny did this for so long and stayed sane.

The Monster’s sorrow still burrows into his mind.  He was alone too, in Timeline 23. After Julia died, there hadn’t been much to go on for, just a void of grief and no way out. No connections, no hope. Just hermiting away. He wouldn’t wish it upon anyone, but they can’t just let the Monster back out after everything it did. Maybe there's just no good option.

He stays in the room for awhile longer, clearing his thoughts as best he can before he finally heads back to ask Marina for help portalling back.

“I tried to travel, but I’m kind of a ghost so the traveler thing isn’t really working for me.”

“Yeah. Portal’s this way,” Marina says, getting up and gesturing. “You know, I really didn’t sign up for all this shit when I told Bri I’d help with her little body restoration experiment. I figured I’d help haul some corpses around, not actually help you people.”

“How’d you wind up with a necromancer from Brakebills anyway?” Penny asks Marina.

“How’d you wind up with a demi-goddess?” Marina shoots back. “Timeline differences. I mean, she was a badass necromancer in twenty-three, but no Brakebills. She was full hedge back then.”

“And you married her?”

Marina smirks, “With all the shit you morons are constantly unleashing on the world, waiting a reasonable amount of time seemed idiotic, so we eloped after like… a year of dating.”

“Now who’s the moron?”

“I love her,” Marina says simply, stopping in front of a door. “Isn’t that enough? Anyway, having this conversation with you makes me wanna vomit.”

She gestures for Penny to enter the portal. He doesn’t know what else to say to her, so he doesn’t say anything and steps through, b ack to the basement at Brakebills.

He can hear Julia and Bri talking from down the hall and he listens as he approaches.

How are you dating Marina?” Julia asks.

“Opposites attract,” Bri says. “And we’re both talented and hot and ambitious.”

“And you know about… about the timeline stuff?”

“Yeah, of course. Not at first, but we got far enough into our relationship and I told her I wanted honesty and so she told me everything.”

“It didn’t scare you off?”

Penny wonders if he should announce himself as he stops outside the room, but the curious side of him wins out and he eavesdrops.

“It should have,” Bri allows. “Honestly, Julia, it totally should’ve sent me running for the hills but she’s just-- I don’t know. I love her. She cares enough to want to start over and how many people get that chance?”

“It doesn’t feel manipulative ever?”

“If she’d never told me, maybe. But she did and we talk about it and-- I mean the other me died. We broke up before it happened, but the other me is dead. I don’t know who she was or what was different, but-- I’m not entirely her and Marina knows it. But I’m also not-not her. We’re so many different people at so many different points in our lives. If one thing changed, we’d be someone else, but we’d also still be us. So I don’t know. I just know what I feel and I’ve decided to roll with it. It’s weird, but who gives a shit? Magic is real and I’m about raise eight people from the dead.”

“Can’t argue with that,” Julia says. There’s a soft clink of glasses.

“Are you okay?” Bri asks. “You’ve got a timeline-hopper yourself.”

“I do.”

“And?”

“And I don’t know. I feel something for him, but it’s hard to pick apart what that is. And I know every time he looks at me, he has to be thinking about the other me and-- Um, I’ve been through a lot of trauma that the other me didn’t go through. And it changed me. I-- I feel like I died and came back as someone different. And whoever she is, I don’t think she’s very much like the version of me in Timeline 23.”

“All my trauma is childhood trauma so. Universal constant. But I understand what you mean. Have you talked to him about it?”

“No.”

“Maybe do that,” Bri says. “I don’t think Rina and I would’ve made it work if we hadn’t talked about it. It’s such a huge thing to just not talk about.”

“Yo, Twenty-Three,” Margo’s voice carries down the hall in the other direction and Penny startles. “What are you doing lurking?”

She strides past him, several bags of food in hand, and walks Bri’s morgue-library set up. Penny follows her in and Bri and Julia both look up from where they hover over the tiny fish corpse on the table.

“Your ghost boytoy was creeping on you, which seems super fucking healthy,” Margo says, dropping the fast food onto the table. “Also, realized I can’t taste this shit on the way back, but you two enjoy.”

Julia gives Penny a frown and a We’ll talk later look (which, he definitely had that coming), then takes one of the bags from the table.

“Oh god, I missed food,” Julia says around a mouthful of cheeseburger.

Penny decides now is as good a time as any to bring it up, “I’ve got another option for finding my blood, if that’s what you need. Which is gonna be really, uh, weird to admit. Uh, money was tight for a second while I was at Brakebills, at least in my timeline and. You know. Coke isn’t exactly cheap.”

“And…?” Julia’s eyes widen.

“And I might have sold some of my 100% authentic traveler blood to some vampires. Maybe a lot of it. And there’s an off-chance they might still have some because I’d bet money they hoard that shit like it’s gold.”

Margo bursts out laughing, “And you think our Penny did the same thing?”

“I mean, there’s a chance, right?" Penny says.

"Let’s go fight vampires,” Julia sets aside her burger and starts to get up.

Penny shakes his head, “We don’t have enough time. I can’t travel as a ghost and they’d be out in the city. It’d take too long. If it’s going to happen, it’ll have to be you guys after we’re gone.”

He looks to Bri expectantly and she  hesitates, “I’m not really into battle magic. And Marina won’t go for that without some serious incentives. Vampires are no joke. Seven resurrections is still seven more than I’d have otherwise, I'm not-- I’m not a fan of my wife getting eaten. Sorry, Penny”

“No, come on,” Penny snaps. “Don’t make me go through all this bullshit and then not have a body to get back to. I’ve already signed the damn contract, I’m stuck on this quest no matter what.”

“Give us free rides for five years,” Bri says.

“A month,” Penny spits back.

“One year.”

“Six months.”

“I’ll take it,” Bri says. “I’ll talk Marina into it. We’ll get you a body one way or another.”

There's a moment of silence, then Margo asks, " Hey, so are you guys like, monogamous? Because Josh and I haven't had that conversation yet but I just-- That was hot."

"I'm sort a one-woman necromancer, but thanks," Bri says. She looks far too pleased with herself as she goes back to reading a book with one hand and absently picking at her bag of french fries with the other. Penny realizes now this is why she’s married to Marina.

---

Kady watches the group clear out of the throne room.

Fen has a kingdom to run, so she heads off presumably to go do that after she promises to send a staff to show Kady and Alice a way to the memorial. Margo and Josh return to Brakebills with Bri, Marina’s wife, because Marina has a wife now apparently. Marina herself shows Penny and Julia to the nearest mirror; Julia seems convinced her blood will work to open the mirror realm since she’s not technically human anymore.

Eliot goes to arrange for a carriage to take him and Quentin to some unknown destination. Neither of them are giving any details and while Kady doesn’t consider herself invested in Quentin’s shit, there’s clearly something weird there and she’d be lying if she wasn’t curious.

Which leaves her with Quentin and Alice. Quentin quietly asks Alice if they can talk in the hall and Kady’s ready to politely tell him to fuck off, but Alice nods and seems amenable to the conversation, and they slip out together.

Which then leaves Kady alone, waiting for Fen’s staff to show up. She sits on the throne, just for the hell of it, taking in the room around her. The last time she was here, she and Penny were breaking a shadeless Julia out of a dungeon. Fillory has never been her scene, but it feels great. Like if you were off living a quiet life somewhere, it’d be almost impossible to be truly unhappy.

A mousy-looking woman enters the room, dressed in a brightly colored outfit Kady assumes to be a uniform of some sort,  “I’m here to take you to Queen Alice’s memorial?”

Kady hops off the throne and they head out into the hall, where Alice is still talking to Quentin a few yards away.

“Hey, you ready to go?” Kady calls.

Alice jolts back at the sound of Kady’s voice, then pulls herself away from Quentin. Kady gives her a You good? look and Alice nods quickly.

They fall into step next to each other as they follow their guide. Kady keeps an eye on Alice, curious about her reaction to everything. Whatever went down with Quentin, plus the upcoming possibility of seeing her own body. It’s not something they do every day and she can imagine if it was her body, she’d be at least a little wigged out. Alice keeps her face neutral, but she’s definitely thinking.

As they step outside onto the castle grounds, Alice steps a little closer in next to Kady and says quietly, “I’ve never actually seen it. I haven’t spent much time in Fillory at all, which… It’s strange. I was a queen here; this should’ve been my kingdom.”

Kady can picture Alice with a crown, easily. It would’ve been a good look for her, plus she’s whip-smart, “You’d have made a kickass queen.”

“Maybe. I wish I’d gotten a chance to find out. Fillory didn’t mean to me what it meant to Quentin or even to Margo, but maybe it could have.”

“Here we are,” the staff stops them at a small, stone fountain. There’s a plaque on the front that reads Queen Alice the Wise, a brave friend.

“High King Eliot wanted a statue fifty feet tall, but um, our treasury at the time didn’t allow for it,” the staff says.

“He did?” Alice asks, surprised.

“He was hard to persuade out of it. The fountain was the best we could do.”

Alice looks down at the raised dirt bed before the fountain, then kneels in front of it. She puts her hand on the dirt, even though Kady can’t imagine she can feel it, before she draws it up to perform a series of tuts.

Nothing happens.

Alice frowns. Kady suspects it might have something to do with Alice’s current status as an incorporeal spirit, so she kneels into the dirt beside her and repeats the motions.  She doesn’t feel anything and nothing happens. No burst of energy, not even the slightest shift in the dirt beneath their feet. The magic won’t come.

“Looks like we’re doing this the old fashioned way,” Kady mutters. She turns to the staff still hovering on the edges of the garden near the fountain, “Could you bring us some shovels?

The staff scurries off and Kady stands back up over the grass where Alice’s body should be, trying to shake off the jitters. Not having magic, now that it should be back feels like showing up to a gunfight naked with only a pair of brass knuckles. Unideal and far too vulnerable.

Alice watches her, silent, then turns back to the fountain and stares at it.

The staff returns with two shovels in hand, “I’ll ask High King Fen if she’s able to send any more staff to assist.”

Kady takes both shovels and then off he goes again. She sets the spare one probably intended for Alice against the base of the fountain, then starts digging, grateful that she won’t be able to feel any burn her muscles. Being dead has a few perks at least.

Alice moves over to the extra shovel, thoughtful, “I could try to animate the shovel and help. Like Penny did.”

Kady doesn’t comment, though the memory of Penny-the-ghost makes her wince.

“Be the shovel,” Alice mutters, fixating on it. “Simple enough... Be the shovel.”

Kady keeps digging and Alice talks at the shovel. To Kady's credit, she lasts longer than she would've thought before she snaps, “Okay! Give it up! It’s not gonna work. Just--”

She brings her shovel back down into the dirt in frustration and there’s a soft thump as it hits something. She drops immediately, clearing aside as much of the dirt as she can with her hands. It’s unquestionably a casket, intricately carved with flowers and a crown. Alice peers down from above.

“That’s it,” she says, voice barely above a whisper.

Kady works to clear the rest of the dirt from the wood, alternating between the shovel and her hands.  She’s able to reach to the latches on the side of the casket, at which point she undoes them, pushes the lid open, and--

“Where is it?” Alice asks.

Kady stares at the empty coffin. There’s a few scraps of a burial sheet left behind, but there’s no body.

“Maybe they moved it,” Alice suggests unconvincingly.

Kady clambers back out of the hole and nods toward the castle. Alice glances back down at the empty casket again before following Kady in search of Fen.

They find her back in the throne room and she looks apologetically between the two of them before suggesting the body might have been stolen at some point in the chaos of the last few years. There was a peasant uprising, apparently, and it was possible desecrating a grave seemed like a good “fuck you” to the monarchy at the time. She suggests they try to track down what remains of some resistance group and gives them the location of a few old outposts and they’re off on their way.

On horseback.

Alice manages to figure out how to keep herself astride the horse without floating through it (“It’s not as easy as it looks,” Alice insists) and she settles in behind Kady. Kady, who prides herself on her ability to know a little about everything, took a few horseback riding lessons as a kid and feels comfortable enough she can get them to where they need to go.

The first outpost turns up nothing. It’s just a clearing with a few remnants of tents set up here and there and there’s no sign anyone’s inhabited it for quite some time. They’re back to riding out for another few hours until they find the next encampment which is definitely occupied, judging by the smoke rising through the trees and the chatter of voices in the distance.

“Do people in Fillory know you’re alive again?” Kady asks.

“I don’t think so. Why?”

“What if you just posed as a vengeful spirit demanding they restore your body and then threatened to haunt them forever if they didn’t?”

“I don’t know if I-- I’m not very good at acting.”

“Then don’t act. These dickwads stole your corpse . If there’s anything to be mad about, this is it.”

Alice mulls over Kady’s words, “You’re right. You’re right, okay.”

Kady ducks behind a tree and watches Alice float into the camp.

Fillorians United!” Alice shouts, and her voice reverberates around the camp, taking on an unearthly quality.

The scattering of Fillorians emerge from their tents, startled.

I am Queen Alice. You stole my body and desecrated my grave!” There’s real anger in her eyes, though Kady suspects it's more pent-up emotions about other things.

The rebels look among each other. One of them drops to their knees.

I’m willing to show mercy. Give me the location of my body so that I may return it to its proper resting place.

There's scattered murmurs and nods. One man in a dark red shirt approaches Alice, half-bowed, “Alice--”

Queen Alice ,” Alice snaps and a dumb, animal part of Kady’s brain thinks, Hot.

“Your majesty, Queen Alice-- Your-- Your body was removed from Whitespire months ago. We-- Um. We have your crown here. If that’s what you’re looking for. Your-- The body was put in an unmarked grave. A few miles from here. We can show you--”

Put it on a map, I have no need of your company, ” Alice dimisses. “ If you’re lying, know that I will return and the entire camp will never know peace. I will haunt you all and your descendents until Fillory falls into the sea and the gods themselves lay my spirit to rest.

The Fillorians scatter, returning with Alice’s crown, which they lay at her feet, and a hastily drawn map one holds out to her.

Throw my crown and the map into those bushes over there, past the trees, ” Alice says, pointing to where Kady is hiding.

“But your highness--?”

Throw it! ” Alice commands.

The Fillorian throws it off into the bushes and it lands at Kady’s feet. She picks up the delicate silver circlet and slips it into her bag, then surveys the map, making a mental note of the ‘x’ indicating the location of Alice’s unmarked grave.

“I’m-- going to collect my body now. Don’t rob anymore graves, or so fucking help me--”

Alice flashes red-white for a moment, her whole body lit up and glowing brighter than before. Someone in the crowd screams.  Alice floats backwards into the bushes, disappearing from their sight.

Kady raises her hand up in the air for Alice to high-five her. Alice gives Kady a small frown and she remembers Alice is a ghost and therefore cannot touch her. She turns the gesture into pointing in the direction of the unmarked grave and t hey start walking. Once they’re a safe distance away from the camp, Alice lets out a long sigh.

“That was badass,” Kady says and Alice lets out a huffed laugh.

They take the horse a few miles away to a spot near a river. It’s been around a year and a half since the Fillorian uprising, Fillory-time, so Alice’s new grave isn’t easy to pick out, but there’s still a little sign of disrupted dirt.  Kady starts digging and she’s more careful this time, imagining the FU Fighters didn’t bother putting Alice in a new casket. As soon as she feels she hits something with her shovel, she stops digging altogether.

“It’s been at least three years since you died, right? You probably don’t want to see this.”

“It’s my body,” Alice says.

“Alice. Come on.”

Kady steps out of the grave -- it’s too shallow, it’s a good thing most animals in Fillory are talking or she imagines the grave would’ve been dug into by now-- and over to the horse to fetch the shroud they’d brought with them. Alice’s eyes follow Kady’s every action, but she doesn’t move closer to watch.

Kady steps back down into the grave and starts moving dirt aside with her hands, once again grateful she can’t feel anything.  It’s Alice. Somehow three years in the ground hasn’t changed her at all. Which would be magic, of course. Eliot or Margo would’ve done a spell to preserve her body. Kady takes care, lifting Alice to slide the shroud under and around to cover the body complete before tying off the ends. She hefts it -- her -- up into her arms.

Alice-the-ghost hasn’t moved an inch.

Kady settles the wrapped body sideways onto the back of the horse, then slides on up after her. Alice finally moves to squeeze in behind, perched awkwardly between her body and Kady.

They get back to Whitespire after a mostly-silent ride. Fen directs them back through a portal to Brakebills, where the entire group (sans Quentin and Eliot, who must still be off in search of Quentin’s body and/or blood) stand over a large, sheet-covered lump.

“Great news!” Josh says cheerfully, “I have a human torso again. Bad news: I might wind up coming back to life as a merman.”

“Do I want to see what’s under that sheet?” Kady asks, eyeing the strange shape.

“Nope,” Margo says. “It’s an abomination against God Herself. He’s just in a good mood because he spent several hours haunting stoned underclassmen on the Sea.”

“How many times do you get to be a ghost? You gotta make the most of it, since I was going to be useless helping out here.”

“I can get behind that,” Alice says, earning a weird look from the others. “Um, I found my body. Kady did most of the heavy-lifting, though.”

“Literally,” Kady says. “But Alice scared the shit out of some FU Fighters, so I think we can call it a good day.”

“Hey, go Team Kalice!” Josh grins.

“I hate those FU fuckers,” Margo grumbles.

“Me too,” Alice agrees.

“They were scared shitless, it was super hot,” Kady says.

Alice might be a blue incorporeal ghost, but Kady swears she’s blushing.

---

Quentin hasn’t talked to Alice since their rushed apologies after the flags were removed, but he knows he desperately needs to have some sort of resolution with it all. Or at least an actual private conversation about it.

“Hey, can we talk?”

Kady stands behind Alice, folding her arms and giving Quentin a look that makes him reel back a step. Alice waves her off and agrees, following him out into the hall.

“What?” she asks, clasping her hands in front of her, clearly anxious.

“Um. I know I already said sorry, but now that we have more than five minutes, I-- I’m so sorry, Alice.”

“I know.”

“You don’t have to forgive me.”

“That’s good, because I can’t yet. I’m trying, Q, but I didn’t want to die.”

“And you shouldn’t-- you shouldn’t have. I shouldn’t have-- I’m sorry.”

“It’s not just that. People love you, you know,” Alice says. “You’re important to a lot of  people and you can’t-- You can’t just forget about us. I know it’s dark and it’s fucked up and-- And god knows someone should’ve helped you before it got to that point, but I just--”

“It wasn’t about you.”

“It kind of became about me.”

“It wasn’t meant to be.”

“Well, that’s how it ended up. It’s complicated , Quentin. It’s both-- It’s me being angry because I’m dead and I didn’t have to be dead. And it’s my heart breaking because you were in so deep we couldn’t pull you out in time. It’s-- It’s both. Can we just let it be complicated for right now?”

Kady appears in the hall, motioning for Alice to join, and she pulls away from Quentin to follow her.

Quentin’s alone for barely a minute before Eliot appears.

“Carriage is ready,” he says quietly.

“You don’t have to--”

“I kind of do,” Eliot says. “If you want to explain to Julia and bring her with you instead, that’s fine. She’s probably going to ask you about it anyway, since you brought it up in front of literally everyone.”

Eliot doesn’t get the why of Quentin not wanting company, which he supposes shouldn’t surprise him, it’s not like he’s been an open book about it. It’s not that Quentin doesn’t want Eliot with him. It’s that things are complicated and he’s still having-- having trouble, sometimes, looking at Eliot. It hasn’t come up a lot, they’ve been in such big groups together and he’s been keeping a pretty good lid on it, but he’s worried he’s going to slip up and admit “sometimes when I see you, I still see the Monster” which is just a shitty thing to have to admit to someone who’s recovering and probably trying to not feel guilty about everything he did that he doesn’t remember. Quentin hopes he doesn’t remember. He hasn’t asked. Maybe it’s bad that he hasn’t asked, but he actively does not want to know.

He doesn’t see a clear way out of it now, though, so he just shrugs and follows Eliot down to the carriage, where it takes him a minute to figure out how to settle in without just floating through it. He figures it out eventually, if he arranges himself in just the right way and holds on. It’s not exactly flexing muscles, but some sort of incorporeal equivalent.

They take a carriage as close as they can get, then hike the rest of the way together.  When they get closer, it’s like they’re following some internal sense of direction. Quentin can’t remember the details, but he’s got the emotional memory around it.

They stop at a river about three miles away from the cottage and stare at it for a long time, some just-out-of-reach memory nudging at the back of Quentin’s mind the longer he stares at it. He turns to Eliot, “Do you--?”

“Yeah,” Eliot agrees, not taking his eyes off the stream. “I think-- We taught Teddy to swim here. Do you remember?”

He doesn’t. It’s almost there, but it’s not-- He can’t remember it.

“Do you want me to tell you what I remember?”

“You don’t have to, if it’s weird for you.”

Eliot gives him this strange, sad sort of look, and shakes his head, “It’s not. Ted was seven, I think. It was a few years after-- after Arielle. And I can’t remember how we decided, but we decided it was of the utmost importance that he learn to swim. Maybe we thought we’d bring him back with us and sail off together on the Muntjac someday, I don’t remember our logic. But we brought him here and he was terrified and I realized my only swimming lesson was my brothers throwing me into the deep end and hoping I didn’t drown-- and I almost did, so I wasn’t about to do that to our--” Eliot seems to get lost in the narrative until this point, where he stops himself and loses the light in his eyes, just a bit. He continues, but there’s a new level of attention in his tone, “I wouldn’t do that to Teddy. I wound up sitting back on the bank and watched you teach him like it was a swim class at a rec center or something. You were a good teacher.”

Even as Eliot says it, Quentin can’t remember any of it. It’s gone. There’s some emotions stirring in him, the impression of a memory, maybe, but he can’t picture it and it makes him wish he had a corporeal hand so he could punch the nearest tree. In private. Fuck Fillory. “How did you keep all of those memories? I’ve got-- vague stuff. It was there at first, that day at Whitespire. But it keeps slipping away. There’s emotions , but most of the memories are just gone.”

“Recently, I had the opportunity to spend a great deal of time wandering the hallowed halls of my memories. Poked around into all sorts of weird, repressed doors. I still don’t remember a lot, but I remember more than I used to and they were good memories to slip into when-- When it was hard. We were happy , then. And I don’t-- I don’t do happy , very often.”

Quentin fights back the surprise that he counts them as good memories, after he’d been so candid about the mosaic versions of themselves not really being true to either of them. But if Eliot was locked inside his own mind, maybe it made sense that he wanted to go into some unrealistic fantasy life. Quentin can’t begrudge him that. Clearly, it’d been on his mind when he’d broken through in the park.

They spend a few more minutes at the river, but they don’t need the rest. Eliot can’t feel anything and Quentin doesn’t have a body, so they’re mostly just stopping for the weird nostalgia of it. They pick up the pace again, everything settling in more familiar until Quentin knows the path intimately well. It’s overgrown, but it’s-- It’s something.

And then Quentin stops in his tracks and he hears Eliot’s sharp intake of breath beside him. It’s a little worn-down after being abandoned for a century, but it’s there . A brick-outlined square and an overgrown garden and a cottage with a thatched roof.

“It’s still here,” Eliot breathes.

It’s the painful memories that are the easiest to remember. Quentin knows exactly where he buried Eliot, where he hoped he’d have been buried too, if Teddy had followed his wishes, which he would have. Maybe all fathers think this way and maybe Quentin doesn’t have enough memories to provide empirical evidence for it, but Teddy was a good son. A good man.  He would have--

There’s no headstone.

“Q?”

Quentin drops down in the dirt. He knows this spot. He knows it, how could it--?

“It's not here, is it?”

“I buried you right here,” Quentin can barely hear himself, “We should both be here.”

“It was another timeline,” Eliot says quietly, crouching down next to Quentin. “Q?”

Quentin wants to push the dirt away to look, maybe it got buried in the last century, and if nothing else he wants to feel it, see if it jogs some memory that doesn’t exist, but his hands pass empty through the ground. There’s nothing to feel.

“We can still find the witch,” Eliot says. “Come on, we’ll get your blood, we can--”

Eliot reaches to pull him up, but his hand goes through Quentin’s shoulder and he loses his balance, nearly falling through Quentin before he rights himself.

“You were right,” Quentin mutters, not able to look back at Eliot now. “It wasn’t us. It’s-- There’s nothing here. We didn’t live it, it wasn’t-- It wasn’t even real. I can’t remember it anymore. I can’t remember my son’s fucking face and I can’t remember-- I know what I felt, but it doesn’t make any sense so why should we keep pretending it meant something when it--”

“I was wrong,” Eliot interrupts.

Quentin stops.

Eliot looks away from Quentin a moment, and Quentin hears him take a breath. When Eliot turns back, his expression is open and vulnerable in way Eliot never is, though another emotional impression-memory tugs at Quentin.

“I was wrong about it not being us,” Eliot says very quickly, almost choking on the words. “And I lied to you when I turned you down.  I thought I was doing the right thing to protect both of us, told myself I was being selfless, making some big sacrifice for your happiness, but I wasn’t. I was being a stupid, selfish coward, like I always am.”

“But you said--”

“I lied .”

When he said they wouldn’t work. When he said he didn’t think the mosaic was truly them. When he told Quentin I love you but--

“I love you,” Eliot says, looking at him in that way of his that makes Quentin feel so visible . It’s not a half-hearted admission, there’s no reservations when he says it this time. “You were right about everything. It was us. And I know maybe it’s too late and if it is, that’s-- That’s fine. But I needed to tell you the truth and we’re here and I feel like if I don’t say it now, it’ll never be said.”

Eliot stares at him, waiting, and Quentin doesn’t know-- how to respond. This is so much. This is-- This is insane. Literally. He shouldn’t-- just accept it. Eliot turning him down had hurt, but also they went through so much since then. Lost each other to the point they’re both dead. Eliot’s an animated corpse and he’s a ghost and they’re standing on the empty burial grounds of a life they never lived, so just why the fuck not?

“If I wasn’t incorporeal, I think I’d really like to kiss you right now,” Quentin says.

Eliot lets out a watery laughs, “When we’re both dead again. I don’t know what the rules are, per say, but…”

“We’ll figure it out,” Quentin says. “And we’ll fight our way out of the Underworld and then we’re going to get another fifty years. For real this time.”

Eliot looks at him and Quentin doesn’t have a pulse to start racing or a heartbeat to skip, but there’s an unnameable emotion stirring inside him that’s so much and so big he thinks it might burst if he doesn’t get to touch Eliot and he can’t. Literally can’t. There’s nothing to touch him with.

“Let’s go find that witch,” Eliot says.

Quentin nods, “How much time do we have left?”

Eliot glances up at the sky, “I’m not sure when we got here. Not long.”

Another carriage ride through Fillory gets them there, and Eliot spends the time telling Quentin about how he escaped in the park, the repressed memory that unlocked the door, what it all meant. It's overwhelming but Quentin listens all the same and has to fight to stop himself from reaching out to Eliot because all he wants to do right now is touch him.

Navigating Fillory has never been difficult and between Quentin’s geek knowledge and Eliot’s vague political knowledge (“We can’t go directly back to the wellspring, there’s still some anti-royal sentiments in these villages; we should go around.”), they make it to the odd candy house that matches Quentin’s memory perfectly, though there's not much time left.

Eliot knocks and the witch answers, balking at the pair of them. Quentin remembers they’re a ghost and a zombie and probably aren’t an especially welcoming sight.

“I’d like my blood back,” Quentin says.

“You,” the witch says, recognition crossing her face. “What makes you think I still have it?”

Quentin feels the anxiety start to flare up, a clench in his chest at over the thought of all of this being for nothing if he can’t find his stupid blood and get his body back.

But then the witch rolls her eyes, “I do have it. You’re just very presumptuous. Also, why would I give it back? You got what you paid for.”

I didn't, Quentin thinks, but Eliot's already talking,  “We’ll trade for it. We have connections to Whitespire, right now. You can have anything you want. Gold, power?”

“You’re both dead,” the witch says, eyeing them over. “But you’re not staying that way, I take it?”

Eliot shakes his head.

“Okay. While you’re in the Underworld, bring me back a jar of water from the River Styx.”

“I’m not physically in the Underworld. I can’t bring anything back.”

The witch shrugs and starts to close the door on them.

"Wait!," Eliot blocks it.  “I’ll figure something out."

“That’s not very promising,” the witch says. “Alright. But if you don’t, I’m still going to need something from you.”

“Anything,” Eliot says.

“El, no,” Quentin tries to grab for his arm. “Not anything .”

The witch squints at the pair of them, “Blood is useful because it’s personal. Water from Styx is useful because it’s magic. If I can’t have either of those, I want something magic and personal. I want your spell.”

“What spell?” Quentin asks.

“The memory spell. You both have one on you, it’s granting you memories you wouldn’t otherwise have. Very old, very powerful magic. It’d be easy to remove and store for another use. You’d just lose whatever memories it’s currently giving you, which I imagine are rather important. It's why I didn't suggest it in the first place.”

“What are you talking about?” Quentin asks, but he’s already putting the pieces together and he suspects he already knows. He just never thought it could be a spell.

The witch raises her hands and performs a few tuts, concentrating,  "It's patchy in places and whoever put it on you wasn't exactly a skilled magician. But it's powerful stuff. Love magic, I think. Yes. It would've been attached to an object and then transferred through--"

The letter. The peaches. Fifty years of memories rushing back all at once. It makes sense, of course it had to be magic.

"No," Quentin says. "Eliot, don't even think--"

"It's a back-up," Eliot says dismissively.

"No."

"I promise," Eliot says, turning to him. "Q, I'll get the water. It won't come to that."

It's too big of a sacrifice. There has to be another option, something else they can trade--

"Two years of my life," Quentin blurts out.

"What the fuck?"  Eliot stares at him.

"That's not-- a thing. I can't just take time from your life. Three years later and you're still this much of an idiot?" the witch rolls her eyes. "You two need help. Anyway I can tell y our time here is almost up. It's starting to pull you two back to where you came from. If you want the blood and your body to get back to the castle, I’d be heading for that carriage about now. If you still want the blood, you know my terms.”

“I’ll do it,” Eliot says. “The water, if I can get it. Or the memory spell if I can’t.”

“Eliot!” Quentin tries to step between Eliot and the witch, but Eliot’s hand goes through to shake the witch’s. Gold light glows between them for a moment and Eliot pulls back. She hands him the vial of blood, which he takes, then sprints for the carriage.

Quentin follows, but he's slower and just as Eliot climbs up into the carriage, Quentin feels a sharp tug on his wrist, pulling him down. He looks to investigate what it is, but he doesn’t see anything, and when he looks back up, the witch and the cottage are gone.

He’s standing among his friends in Eurydice’s pub, back in the Underworld. He exchanges stunned looks with the others, then stops when he locks eyes with Eliot.

“Sorry, um, I have to--” he pushes Margo and Penny out of his way, marches up to Eliot and--

Eliot’s lips are on his before he’s even come to a complete stop. His hand slides behind Quentin’s neck, holding him still and Quentin catches Eliot’s face in both of his hands and pulls him closer, closer , like it’ll never be close enough. They break for air, staring at each other, breathing each other in. Quentin’s face feels wet and he thinks he might be crying. Eliot definitely is. This is so stupid. Quentin laughs and then Eliot smiles this fucking breathtaking, quiet smile at him and they’re just standing there, hands on each other’s faces, staring at each other. They would’ve probably kept at it, if Quentin wasn’t suddenly aware that they had an audience with no context for anything that just happened between them.

“Um, sorry,” Margo clears her throat, hands on her hips. “What the shit was that about?”

Chapter Text

Previously on the Magicians:

The Monster: You really understand me, Quentin. It's good to have a friend like you.

Quentin: You know, speaking of friends, when you get back what the gods took from you, maybe-- Could I maybe have Eliot back?

The Monster: The one who tried to kill me?

Quentin: Hey, hey, no. No. That was a mistake.

The Monster: You were there. You like him more than me?

Quentin: No, I, I didn't say that.

The Monster: You miss him. You you miss all your friends.

---

Penny 23: Then I guess you don't know that I'm coming with you.

Julia: What?

Penny-23: Your Penny's dead, or, not alive in some confusing way.

Julia: Penny, I don't--

Penny-23: I'm not asking permission.

Julia: Okay. I'm not her.

Penny-23: I know that. It's just, there's nothing here for me. But there? Give it time

---

Eliot settles his arm around Quentin’s shoulder, making a shiver run up Quentin’s spine, “It’s a very long, very private story, which maybe two of you will get to hear later, but the short answer is yes, I did finally succeed in seducing Quentin.”

“That is not how it went,” Quentin objects, though there’s not much force to it as he is still wildly aware that he just kissed Eliot in front of their entire friend group. Eliot winks at him.

Margo and Julia both stay locked onto Quentin and Eliot, but everyone else seems to accept it as enough of a story. Alice moves off immediately to the bar with Kady and visibly relaxes the second her back is turned. A flash of gratitude for Kady hits Quentin as he watches Kady strike up conversation and realizes that Alice has somebody who isn’t him in the group now. She's not alone down here.

Josh gets everyone’s attention a moment later to read a note Eurydice left them at the bar, telling them to take a night to prepare themselves before beginning the quest. So they do that.

Quentin stays tucked into Eliot’s side and Eliot keeps his arm over Quentin’s shoulder, and it’s good. They haven’t stopped touching each other after they kissed. And they’re around everyone else, which has made pushing down the lingering Monster anxiety easy. There’s no danger; it’s just him and Eliot and their friends.

They end up with Margo and Julia sitting across from them on the couches. The two women have their arms folded and wear near-matching looks of irritation, though Margo’s is certainly harsher. Quentin finds himself shrinking back into Eliot.

“Okay, Bambi,” Eliot says finally. “Remember back last year, when Quentin and I died on that quest?”

“You what ?” Julia’s attention darts accusingly to Quentin. He drops his gaze to his lap and lets Eliot keep telling the story instead, which he’s more than happy to do.

“We died,” Eliot reiterates. “I said this was a long story. To get the time key, there was this mosaic puzzle we had to solve in Fillory, in the past. It took us fifty years and we both died of old age and sent Margo the key in the present. Then Margo stopped us before we went in the first place, so it technically never happened, but we remembered it happening anyway.”

“You spent half a century together?” Julia looks at Quentin and there’s so much concern in her eyes and thoughtfulness, trying to empathize with an impossible scenario. “Shit, Q. Why didn’t you tell me any of this? Especially after--”

Quentin feels the ghost of Eliot’s hands around his throat and the weight of the arm across his shoulders becomes heavier. Crushing, actually. Quentin keeps himself perfectly still. Stillness always helped. The Monster had felt so animalistic, it'd been a natural instinct to just freeze up. Move slow, talk softly. And things seemed to go better when Quentin wasn't upsetting it, so this--

Julia's looking at him for an answer. Eliot's eyes are on him too, worried.

Quentin shrugs, “It’s this huge thing and I don’t even remember all of it and it never happened, technically. I don’t know. It just is .”

“Well I need a drink,” Margo says, rocking herself up from the couch. She turns back to Eliot, locking eyes with him “We’re gonna have a long talk about this later, when we’re alive.”

“I know it’s hard to understand--”

“You’re right; it’s beyond me. But I’m-- I am happy for you, El. Seriously,” she says, then sets her sights on Quentin, “You and me have a shovel talk scheduled up top too, understand? Every moment of this quest I’m not fighting for my life, know I’m spending it coming up with a list of what’ll happen to you if you hurt him.”

Quentin winces a little, knowing her creativity.

“This has been fun,” Eliot says, squeezing Quentin’s shoulder, “but I think we’re gonna get out of here.”

He glides up from the couch, grasping Quentin’s hand as he goes to drag him along. Quentin's body follows him instinctively, feels incapable of putting up any resistance. Not that he'd want to resist. It's Eliot, this is-- a little awkward because of how incredibly obvious what his intentions are to everyone in the room, but Eliot grins down at him and Quentin loves him. That's why. The Monster shit can't rule his existence forever. His best friend-- the love of his life, if fifty years' worth of memories mean anything-- wants to be with him and that's-- That's incredible. He might be the luckiest person alive. Or soon-to-be-alive.

At the top of the stairs, they head straight to one of doors in the hopes of finding a bedroom behind it. Quentin doesn’t get a good look at what’s in the room once they're inside, besides the rough idea of a bed and dresser, because as soon as the door closes, Eliot turns and crowds into Quentin's space, hand slipping behind Quentin’s neck and dragging him in, kissing open mouthed and warm and it should certainly be their best kiss in this timeline.

Should be.

Quentin’s heart rate skyrockets and not in a fun, sexy way. But nerves make sense. If this is headed where Quentin expects it to head, this will be the first time they’ve been together like this in this reality. Quentin doesn’t remember much from their threesome with Margo, but he knows it didn’t get further than him blowing Eliot. And the Mosaic had never happened, technically, and his memories are too distant and blurry to recall specifics.

So this is a first time, technically, and there’s nerves. That tracks with just about every one of Quentin’s other sexual encounters. Although, considering they’re dead and, despite all physical sensations indicating otherwise, don’t have actual bodies…

“Does this count?” Quentin asks aloud. “We’ve got a drunken threesome and-- ahh-- ” Eliot kisses part of his neck just so , “a bunch of times in a deleted timeline. And now we’re both dead.”

“Save the overthinking for when we’re alive,” Eliot suggests and goes back to kissing his neck, stopping when he reaches the neckline of Quentin's shirt. He grasps at the hem, sliding his hands under it to glide over Quentin's stomach as he pulls it up. Quentin closes his eyes and presses his face into Eliot's shoulder, which earns him a laugh.

“Q, you do have to-- Your arms?” Eliot’s hands move from his stomach to settle on the back of his neck and Quentin stumbles a bit at the touch. Then pushes himself to lean back into it. This is good; this might be their last chance to do this before they’re too fucked up from whatever the quest has in store for them. It’s good, it’s good. His nerves will ease up.

He raises his arms to help Eliot rid him of his shirt and then Eliot guides him around and backward until the backs of Quentin's knees hit the edge of the bed.

“This is all okay?” Eliot murmurs, concern flashing across his eyes.

Quentin needs to be okay. He catches Eliot's face in his hands and draws him into another kiss. It feels frantic and a little shaky on his part, but he's trying to keep it in check and Eliot doesn't seem to notice, instead opting to ease Quentin back down onto the bed. Quentin shuffles up a bit so his legs aren't dangling off the edge and Eliot climbs on top of him, straddling Quentin’s hips and bending over to cover Quentin with his body while his hands wander and-- 

Monster.

The moment the thought enters his mind, Quentin stops breathing. Stops moving altogether; he can just wait it out, it’ll be fine even if-- there’s still a body over him, still hands roaming his body while the -- Eliot’s -- Monster’s tongue is in his mouth, and Quentin can’t move at all, can’t kiss or push or fight.

The -- Eliot, it’s Eliot-- Monster stops, weight disappearing from over Quentin.

“Q, what’s--? Are you okay?”

Quentin doesn’t get up, still coming back to himself. He gets in a lungful of air now that-- Eliot. It’s Eliot, it’s not-- is off him, and chokes out, “Sorry.”

“No, you don’t-- Q, are you okay ?”

Quentin manages to turn his head a little, enough to see Eliot’s hurt expression. Quentin made him look that way because he can’t keep his stupid--

“What just happened?” Eliot asks. “Please just talk to me; you’re scaring the shit out of me.”

He’s still too close, stretched out against Quentin’s side, one hand on Quentin’s hip with that easy tactileness he always has about touching Quentin. The tactileness the Monster mimicked.

“It’s the Monster,” Quentin digs the heels of palms into his eyes, wishing he could disappear. “I couldn’t-- I couldn’t get it out of my head.”

Eliot hand drops off Quentin’s side immediately and Quentin squeezes his eyes shut against his palms, trying to stop picturing the hurt in Eliot’s eyes.

“Jesus, Q,” Eliot breathes. “What the hell did I do to you?”

Quentin pushes himself up a little, resting his back against the headboard and he looks over, sees too much warmth in his eyes for it to be anyone other than Eliot, “It’s not your fault. It didn’t-- It’s hard to explain.”

“What’s hard to explain?” Eliot’s voice is barely above a whisper and all his attention is focused on Quentin. It makes Quentin want to bolt.

He can’t explain that the worst part was never getting his arm broken or the Monster throwing him across the room or choking him. It was the moments that were completely absent of violence that felt the most violating, the moments the Monster would touch him casually, softly, like it had every right in the world to do so, like it couldn’t understand that Quentin hated it more than he thought he was capable of hating.

“It’s not your fault,” is all Quentin can think to say. “It’s just my brain hasn’t gotten the full memo that you’re you again.”

Eliot is silent, still waiting for more. He must want an explanation and Quentin doesn’t think he’s going to be able to form the words right now. He draws his knees up to his chest and rests his chin on his arms, thinking, stomach tightening as he manages to get out the next words, “I’m sorry, I don’t think I can do this right now.”

“Okay,” Eliot says. He pauses, shifting back on the bed and frowning down at his hands in his lap. Then he groans and looks back down at Quentin, “Wait, no. Fuc. I’m trying to do this right and get better at things, which means I have to-- ask. I’m not clear; do you mean ‘this’ as in sex or ‘this’ as in you and me?”

Eliot looks as if he might be in physical pain from having to communicate directly and Quentin could laugh if his heart wasn’t still pounding in his chest. He scoots in closer and puts his hand over Eliot’s. Eliot’s hand twitches a little, like he wants to pull away now, but he doesn’t and Quentin gives it a careful squeeze.

“I mean sex,” Quentin says. “Just for now, while I’m still figuring out how to stop seeing it when I see you. Um, if that’s alright?”

It feels like a lot to ask. Eliot could say no. Maybe he should say no; Quentin isn’t sure how long it takes to recover from possession-related trauma and what if it was years? What if there’s no coming back from it? But Eliot doesn’t say no. Instead, he says, in a tone that’s almost too kind of Quentin to bear, “We’ll have time when we get back. However much time we need.”

Quentin nods. He looks down at his hand over Eliot’s and brushes his fingers across Eliot’s knuckles.

“I think--” Quentin keeps staring at their hands. “I think if I-- Not sex, but we could sort of-- Um, if I was holding you, instead. And could let go and push away if I had to. I think it’s being trapped, that’s...”

He trails off and there’s a question in Eliot’s eyes. He worries Eliot’s going to ask it, but he doesn’t. His tone is warm, and he teases, “So really you just wanted to be the big spoon?” 

Quentin snorts and Eliot smiles, then leans a bit toward him. Quentin can see he’s holding himself back, and it’s enough that Quentin has to close the distance between them, which he does. He kisses Eliot once, carefully. Eliot hums against Quentin’s mouth and then they shuffle around until Eliot curls into Quentin and Quentin drapes a tentative arm around his middle, pulling him close. It feels like Eliot.

“Q, I--” Eliot starts to say, then he stops. “I fucked this up once and I’d like to not do that again, if I can, but I’m historically not great at this sort of thing. So you have to tell me when something’s wrong. No martyr bullshit.”

Quentin’s not sure he can keep the promise if he makes it, but he nods against Eliot’s shoulder and hopes it’s enough.

---

Alice watches as the remaining two couples slip upstairs while she tries to figure out how to excuse herself so she doesn’t wind up gawking at Kady all night or thinking embarrassing thoughts so loud Penny-23 is sure to pick up on no matter how great her wards are.

There must be wards on the rooms upstairs, as it’s been quiet even though Quentin and Eliot headed up a good twenty minutes ago, but that doesn’t stop her from being hyper-aware that there are six people having sex a floor above her while and she and Kady sit on the couch together.

Alice straightens her glasses and smooths her skirt out, ready to make her escape, when Kady says, “Look, I don’t even know if you swing that way, but--”

Kady gestures vaguely between the two of them. Alice’s eyes widen.

“Do you want to have weird ‘last night on earth’ sex or not?” Kady huffs, like she can’t believe Alice is making her say it out loud. Yes, you do have to say it out loud, we haven’t talked about this, Alice thinks. The weird whatever between her and Kady the last month or so hasn’t really been addressed and when Kady died she hadn’t even thought they were friends, so to now want to have sex is--

“That’s not very romantic,” Alice says, but she turns her whole body toward Kady, watching her lips, thinking how much she absolutely does want this. Previous lack of clear signals be damned. She wants Kady.

When Alice kisses her, Kady is softer than she imagined, and she had imagined it a few times over the past few weeks since she and Kady started to spend what seemed like most of their time together.

Kady kisses her back, tentative, exploring the way their lips fit together, then the way her tongue slides into Alice’s mouth as she pushes Alice back onto the couch. She keeps kissing her, slots their legs together, Kady’s thigh between Alice’s legs, and Alice feels her heart speed up at the closeness. Kady slips a hand onto the back of Alice’s neck, while the other grasps at the back of her dress, trying to find the zipper and Alice remembers how difficult it is to get her clothes off her.

Alice breaks their kiss and mutters, “There’s a spell?”

“Do it,” Kady breathes, then pulls back a little, catching Alice’s gaze, “We’re in the living room, which I’m cool with, but in case you forgot--”

“No one’s going to come back down tonight,” Alice insists and starts the tuts. The rest of her clothes peel off her body and settle into a neat, folded pile beside the couch, leaving her sitting in her bra and underwear. Kady’s clothes have done the same-- she’s left in boxers that hang low on her hips and a black sports bra. Alice isn’t sure what she expected, but Kady looks stunning.

Kady pushes herself back on top of Alice and catches Alice’s face in her hands, kissing her roughly, less tentative now. She sucks on Alice’s lower lip while Alice grabs her sports bra and starts tugging it up, forcing Kady to break the kiss long enough for Alice to guide it clumsily over her head. She sit back for a second and just-- revel in Kady. Finally, Alice thinks.

If she’s completely honest, Quentin was the first and only guy she’d been with. Girls, on the other hand, Alice knows how girls work. Not that her previous sexual exploits were what anyone would categorize as good, per se, or healthy but--

The point is, as Kady starts to move her hand down to the line of Alice’s panties, Alice’s brain helpfully reminds her she knows exactly how this goes. She grabs Kady’s hips and flips, with a bit of difficulty given their space, so that Kady is under her. Kady’s eyes light up, surprised, but she doesn’t argue and lets Alice slide her hands over Kady’s body, trail over her stomach, just… feel Kady, warm and smooth and soft beneath her.

Alice kisses Kady again, catches Kady’s lower lip between her teeth for a moment before she starts kissing down Kady’s jaw, down to her neck, then down to mouth at her breasts. Her hand slides underneath the band of Kady’s boxers and Kady’s breath hitches. Alice knows the rest and Kady’s eager to tell her to move, how to move, what feels good, until she’s rocking into the rhythm of Alice’s fingers as she comes.

She drops back, breathless, laughing, “Fuck, I didn’t know you could--”

Alice catches her mouth in another kiss, and Kady kisses back, briefly, before Alice gives her hair a little tug and thinks my turn almost impatiently, wanting Kady’s mouth on her.

Kady kisses her way down Alice's body much faster than Alice did and pauses only to strip Alice’s underwear off entirely before she just goes for it and Alice has to stifle a gasp when Kady’s tongue brushes across her clit.

Kady’s efficient. By the end of it, Alice is just lying back against the couch, blissed out. She pulls Kady back up to her and kisses her again, tasting herself on Kady’s lips. They could go again, and part of Alice wants to, but she’s not sure how long of a night they have. Kady seems to settle in before Alice can ask her what she wants, and they doze off in a tangle of limbs, a scratchy blanket from the back of the couch draped over them.

“Oh my god?”

Alice opens her eyes to see Josh standing frozen, halfway down the stairs, gaping at them.

Alice yelps loudly and startles off the couch, landing awkwardly on the floor, still very naked. Kady wakes, sees Josh and seizes the blanket around herself. Josh slams his hand over his eyes.

“What’s going on?” Margo walks down a few of the steps, leans out to look, spots Alice naked on the floor and Kady clutching the blanket to herself, and she groans, “ Fucking Christ , now I owe Eliot double.”

“I-- I’m going back upstairs,” Josh says, trying to push his way up around Margo, just as another voice -- Quentin’s -- asks from out of sight, “Is everything okay?”

Alice grabs the pile of clothes on the ground and gets her arms through the sleeves of something-- shit, it must be Kady’s blazer-- then pulls a pair of shorts -- nope, boxers, she’s just going to wear Kady’s boxers too-- up over her hips.

Quentin makes it through the staircase traffic jam and takes in Alice’s state of dress and Kady tastefully wrapped in a blanket and it’s very obvious what happened last night.

“Oh!” Quentin says.

Can you give us a minute ?” Alice asks hysterically.

Josh shoves Quentin and Margo back upstairs and they go, Quentin more willingly than Margo. Alice hands Kady a handful of assorted clothes, grabs the rest in her own arms, and they escape to the bathroom to change.

They look at each other and burst out laughing.

“Um, we should--” Kady gestures to the blanket wrapped around her.

“What, you don’t think it suits me?”

Alice sticks her hands in the pockets of Kady’s blazer and fans it out, grinning. Her fingertips brush against something oddly textured in one of the pockets and she pulls it out to investigate.

Five marshmallows nestle into the palm of her hand.

“Where did you get these?” Alice slowly raises her gaze from the marshmallows to Kady, who looks utterly panicked. She reaches for them and Alice draws her hand back on instinct.

“Don’t tell anyone,” Kady pleads.

Alice considers the marshmallows a moment, then realizes where they came from, “You want to stay behind with Penny, don’t you?”

“If I wanted to stay, I would’ve eaten them already,” Kady snaps, grabbing for them again.

Alice holds them away and backs over to the sink, “So if I throw them out, it won’t matter?”

She clutches the marshmallows in hand and holds them above it, starting to open her fingers to let them shift down in her hand to the tips of her fingers, where she could let go and let them fall down the drain. She wills for Kady to remain unphased, to let her throw them away and then forget about the whole thing, just a stupid blip, and not--

Kady hesitates and Alice’s heart to drop to her shoes. She draws her hand back, closing her fingers around them and holding it close to her chest, shaking her head, “Why?

“Just give them back,” Kady says. She catches Alice’s wrist and tugs, gently. Alice’s fingers tighten around the marshmallows for an instant before she lets them fall into Kady’s hand. Kady pulls them back quickly, away from Alice and Alice scoffs, stripping off her blazer and shoving it into Kady’s arms before she turns her back to remove the rest of Kady’s clothing. She fishes around for her tights and shoes in the pile of clothes on the floor and stays focused on dressing. Kady tosses Alice’s dress in her direction and Alice picks it up mutely, struggling with the zipper in the back. She feels Kady’s eyes on her, but she refuses to ask for help, manages to get it zipped, and strides out the door without another word.

The rest of the group has gathered around the tables. Margo’s smirking. Julia stares at her intently and Alice can’t look at her for more than a second before she has to turn to someone else. Eliot looks smug, but why he’s smug is up for debate. It could be from being informed about the hook-up. Or it could be whatever bet he had going with Margo. Or maybe it's just his own delight over winning their apparent love triangle with Quentin that Alice didn’t know she was part of until it was over. Quentin, for his part, is avoiding eye contact altogether.

Eurydice perches on the bar, watching over the group, still in her white dress and looking as businesslike as ever, “Are you all decent finally?”

“Decent’s a strong word,” Eliot says.

Eurydice rolls her eyes.

“Let’s get going,” she hops off the bar. “We’ve got a boat to catch and time’s a-ticking.”

She marches to the front of the cottage and the group shuffles after her. Outside, the scenery has changed. Gone is the glen, replaced with a riverbank with a dock, where a small steamboat awaits them with a dark red canopy. Eurydice leads them to board the boat and Alice finds herself squished between Kady and Julia while the others file in around them. Eliot peers down at the river, a leather waterskin that he must have taken from the cottage clasped in his hand.

“This wouldn’t happen to be Styx, would it?” Eliot asks.

Eurydice glances back at him as she starts the boat, “Yeah, it's the river right before limbo. Why?”

Eliot pops the cap off the waterskin and dunks it into the river, shooting Quentin a reassuring look, “See? Nothing to worry about.”

Eurydice shakes her head, “You’re already dead, I’m not sure what good that’ll do you now.”

The engine hums to life and the boat starts to move across toward the opposite shore. Kady shifts in the seat beside her and Alice angles herself away from her, folding her arms tight across her chest. Kady seems to be doing the same thing, irritated at Alice’s irritation.

The opposite shore comes into view as the minutes drag on. A dock forms a ‘U’ shape to create a protected beach area. There’s some sort of large wooden sign a little ways away from the dock, back on the shore, and behind it looks to be the start of a trail leading into the trees. It’s what she thinks summer camps are supposed to look like, not that she ever attended one. Once they’re close, “All Hope Abandon, Ye Who Enter Here” becomes legible on the sign. Someone makes a half-hearted quip, but Alice doesn’t catch who and no one laughs.

The boat sputters to a stop on the dock and Alice’s first impression was correct. It looks very much like a campground ahead of them. Kady offers Alice her hand as she steps onto the new dock, but she ignores it and walks on her own.

“The entrance to the next circle is through a cave up there,” Eurydice points to a mountain rising out of the mess of trees ahead of them. “You have to walk through the camp sites to get there. Just stay on the path, ignore everything else.”

There’s murmured agreement. The trail that starts a little ways from the shore and leads up into the forest looks like it’s just a trail, which makes Alice uneasy. She’d like to know what she’s up against, but there’s no indicator what Limbo has in store for them.

“Thank you,” Julia tells Eurydice. “For everything.”

“Just give me something to celebrate, okay?” she looks at all of them, a sadness settling in her eyes, “I could use a win, to be honest. It’s been awhile.”

She steps back into the boat, restarts the engine, and peels away from the dock. The group starts walking off into the trees. There’s something about the trees that immediately draws Alice’s attention, though she can’t articulate what it is. As they walk, she finds herself staring less at the trail or the people around her and more at the different colored leaves. Some of them are bright purple or blue and most of them are peculiar shapes. Alice think she can feel the magic coming off them.

The trail widens out and Alice keeps walking, her attention drifting from one tree to the next, following the pattern.  It's only when the thick line of trees against the trail is interrupted by the appearance of a campsite and Alice comes back to herself.

It’s empty. Just a firepit and a cleared space to pitch a tent, but it’s enough that Alice forgets about the trees for a moment and takes in her actual surroundings. Kady stands a few feet away, but there’s no one else.

Kady realizes this too, looking distant and foggy as she asks, “Where’d everyone else go?”

Alice shrugs.

“Jules! Josh! Twenty-Three!”

“Quentin!”

There’s silence, just trees rustling in the wind.

“The trees--” Alice says. She wonders if the others were looking at different trees and wandered off down a separate trail. Or if there was something else they were following.

“Don’t look look at them,” Kady advises, turning her eyes down to the trail itself. Alice does the same and is grateful when there’s no emotional tug from the plain, brown dirt beneath her feet.

“We’re all headed to the same place,” Alice says. “We should keep moving. If they were split up, they’ll be looking for us too. It’s probably part of the test.”

They walk. Alice folds her arms and tries to speed-walk ahead of Kady, but Kady’s got longer legs and keeps up just fine. There are more campsites, she can tell, even as she’s trying not to look up for more than a few seconds. Most of them are empty, but then, after they’ve been walking for well over thirty minutes, there’s one that isn’t.

Alice can smell smoke from it and when she dares herself to look fully, Daniel Quinn looks so much like himself it hurts. Roman toga and glasses and a campsite that’s not so much a campsite as it is an elaborate magical glamping display. It’s exactly what she’d expect from her father. Daniel sits at a table in front of a multi-colored tent, cleaning some bizarre-looking tropical fish with a spell Alice can’t remember the name of, but knows she’s seen him use before.

“Dad?”

He looks up at Alice’s voice and his face breaks into a smile. He looks happy. More happy than he usually did when he saw her in life and it throws her off, a little, but rushes toward him-- ignoring Kady’s cautious “Alice?”-- and throws her arms around him.

“I’m so sorry for what happened,” she blurts out.

“I know you are,” he says. “And we can talk about that later, but why don’t you--?”

He motions for her to sit and she does, settling in beside him, watching him methodically clean the fish. It brings to mind the rare moments of companionship between them, when she’d been young enough to still find magic fascinating and he showed her a few odd tricks or let her watch him work. She hadn’t wanted that with him in a long time, but now, she’s full enraptured. And she wants to hug him tight and apologize over and over again until he tells her it’s alright.

“I’m sorry you’re here, Alice,” he says quietly.

“Do you hate me for what I did?”

“Alice, I don’t think this is real,” Kady's voice comes distant from the trail, but Alice Alice doesn’t look away from her dad.

“I just wanted to know if-- If you hated me. I’m the reason you died, I had the lamprey after me, I was the one who shocked you even though it told me that you had a bad heart, I just assumed it was lying or didn’t--”

“Alice, Alice, hey,” he puts a hand on her shoulder. “Let’s not get into all that now. We’ll have time to catch up. Now that you’re here, we can move on and we’ll have all the time in the world to talk about it.”

“Just tell me you don’t hate me,” Alice says. “Or tell me you do hate me, either way, at least I’ll know.”

“I’m not going to tell you that now. I think we need some time to process before--”

“Alice, let’s go,” Kady’s hand is on her arm now, fingers digging in almost painfully and pulling Alice back. “Come on, it’s messing with you to try to get you to stay. It’s not your dad.”

Alice turns to her, locking into Kady’s eyes. The pull of the campsite disappears and Alice slides to the edge of the bench.

“Alice, wait!” Daniel calls.

Alice stays locked onto Kady, who pulls her away from the campsite, back to the trail.

“Thank you,” Alice mutters, pulling her hand out of Kady’s.

“Yeah, whatever,” Kady says. “Just don’t want you to die. Or stay dead, I guess.”

“Me either,” Alice says and can see Kady’s brow furrow, trying to figure out whether she’s referring to Alice or Kady. Alice isn’t sure herself.

They go back to walking, this time not straying quite so far away. Alice is sure if her dad is here, there’s something for Kady and she’s right. They come across another occupied camp site, this time with a much smaller tent and a little fire going. Alice doesn’t recognize the woman, but Kady--

“Mom,” Kady breathes. Alice turns sharply and sees a longing in her eyes, a moment where guard goes down. And then the woman-- Kady’s mother-- turns around and it goes right back up again.

“Kady!” Kady’s mom beams at her. “You made it!”

“You’re not real,” Kady says evenly.

“Why on earth would you think that, Kady?”

“Come on, let’s go,” Kady marches past Alice. “If I’m staying, it’s not for her.”

“Kady, it’s okay if you want to talk to her, I’m here, I can pull you--”

“No,” Kady looks back over her shoulder, to where her mother stands watching after Kady, her eyes impossibly sad. “I don’t care. She-- it doesn’t matter. Let’s go.”

Kady shoves past Alice and keeps walking up the trail.

---

At some point, Eliot realizes it’s just him and Quentin. The others wandered off or something happened to them and now the path behind and ahead of them is empty. No sound of branches snapping underfoot off the trail, no other voices. They're alone. They worry over it for a few minutes before deciding the only real option to keep moving.

Quentin stays a few feet away from Eliot, either walks on the far side of the trail or slows down his walk so Eliot is in front of him. He probably thinks he’s being subtle about it, never letting himself get too far away, but they’ve got fifty years of scattered memories and emotions together. There’s not a lot Quentin can successfully hide from him.

There’s a part of him that wonders if he should end it now, before he fucks up and hurts Quentin. His body makes Quentin have panic attacks. The Monster hurt Quentin, really hurt him, in ways Quentin might never be able to talk about and Eliot wishes somehow that the Monster was still around just so he could kill it himself. Or if it can't be killed, at least look it in the eyes and hurt it.

“El, there’s smoke,” Quentin’s voice pulls him back and Eliot follows Quentin’s pointing finger to a rising plume of smoke not too far ahead of them.

They follow it. Eliot imagines it’s probably Julia who came up with the most obvious solution to get them all back together; he wonders why he didn’t think of it first.

But then it’s not Julia.

“Dad?” Quentin stops dead in the trail at the sight of someone Eliot assumes to be Ted Coldwater sitting pleasantly at a small campfire.

“Q, wait, Eurydice said--” Eliot cautions, reaching out for him, but Quentin’s already sprinting off the trail. Ted gets up just as Quentin slams into him, hugging him tightly.

“Hey, Curly Q,” Ted says.

“I’m sorry. God, I’m sorry I wasn’t-- I’m sorry,” Quentin pulls back and looks at Ted, then glances back and motions toward Eliot. “Um, Dad this is-- This is Eliot.”

“Hi,” Eliot says uncertainly.

Ted narrows his eyes at Eliot over Quentin’s shoulder and Eliot knows something is very wrong. Not that he’s ever been popular with parents, but he can’t imagine the version of Quentin’s dad he’s heard stories about reacting that way to anyone, even Eliot. Besides, he hasn’t even gotten to know him yet. There’s lots of reasons to dislike him, from a parent standpoint, but almost none of them are apparent on first glance.

“Q, we should go,” Eliot grabs his arm. Quentin full-body flinches away from Eliot and the fear in Quentin’s eyes makes Eliot drop his hand instantly.

“What’s so important I can’t spend another few minutes with my son?” Ted asks accusingly.

“Literal life and death. Q, you--”

“In the book, there were real souls all along the way and I know it’s just an interpretation but it’s-- it’s my dad,” Quentin looks desperately at Eliot, pleading, “Just let me have five minutes.”

Eliot relents, but he doesn’t take his eyes off Quentin as Quentin turns his attention back to his father.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t there when you died. I should have gone back to check on you as soon as I got back to-- back to being me. It’s a long story. I couldn’t see you for part of it, but after-- I should have. And I didn’t.”

“It’s okay. We’re together now, that’s what matters. We can move on.”

“Move on? Dad, this is my quest out. Eliot and I and our friends, we’re escaping the Underworld.”

“No, it’s-- It was your time. That’s how I rationalized what happened to me and it’s true. We get one life, that’s how it goes; why are you trying to fight that?” Ted sounds calm and rational as he says it but Eliot feels his stomach drop all the same.

“Q, we really need to go,” Eliot reaches for Quentin only for Quentin to pull back, again, not acknowledging Eliot.

“Dad, I have a lot-- There’s stuff I didn’t get to finish,” Quentin says.

“And I didn’t have things I couldn’t finish? I never got to see you get married or have grandkids or-- We’re family, Quentin,” Ted says earnestly. And then, in a tone far too light, he says, “I mean, you’re the reason I’m dead, the least you could do is help me move on.”

“I-- I didn’t--”

“Q,” Eliot says more firmly.

He grabs Quentin’s shoulders and starts to pull him up, but Quentin twists in his grip and then shoves Eliot back, hard, “Don’t fucking touch me, Eliot, I can’t do this right now.”

Eliot staggers away, reeling more from the look on Quentin’s face than the strength of the shove. He has to get Quentin out. They have to leave and he can’t touch Quentin without hurting him.

“Dad, I’m sorry,” Quentin starts rambling at Ted, ignoring Eliot. “I’m sorry, you’re right, it’s my fault, I-- I did this bad luck spell and I got the call that you-- That you’d died. Right in the middle of it. It’s my fault, I shouldn’t have been so selfish, I should have--”

“This isn’t your dad,” Eliot says evenly, forcing himself to keep his distance despite all instinct telling him to just bodily drag Quentin away. “It’s not Ted. It’s something that wants to keep you here and it’ll say anything to do that.”

“Come on, Curly Q, don’t you think your friends would be much better off you if weren’t around to put them in danger? You made magic disappear and people died, you brought magic back and people died. You tried to save a friend and you killed your other friends instead. Maybe the problem here is just you, kiddo. Take some responsibility.”

“Fuck you,” Quentin says. It’s quiet and there are tears in his eyes, but it’s also angry.

“I’m sorry,” Ted says, gently. “I know that’s harsh, but I just-- I want what’s best for you.”

“Quentin, you can’t take responsibility for any of that shit,” Eliot says. “You saved Fillory. You saved magic. You saved me. You died because you were saving me. That’s not selfish. You can’t always save everyone and sometimes people get hurt, welcome to being alive. But we need you. You’ve never been alone, you’ll never be alone, now please come with me.”

Quentin looks over at him, wiping the tears away from his eyes.

“Curly Q--”

“I love you,” Quentin tells Ted. “And I’m sorry that I couldn’t save you. But I tried and I-- I’m sorry. That has to be enough.”

Quentin gets up, turning his back to Ted and walking straight toward Eliot. He locks his hand around Eliot’s wrist, “Walk. Don’t try to touch me, just walk me out of here.”

Eliot starts moving and Quentin’s grip on him is so tight it hurts, but he’s letting Eliot lead him away. Eliot keeps silent the crackling of the fire starts to fade as they move further. Once they’ve been walking for what feels like twenty minutes but is probably a lot less, Eliot trusts himself enough to speak, “You did it, Q. You shook it off, you didn’t let it get to you.”

“It did get to me; you pulled me back.”

I didn’t do shit because you’re still terrified of me, Eliot thinks. They lapse back into silence for awhile and keep walking, slow and steady. Quentin drops his hand away from Eliot’s wrist, but he falls into step alongside him so it’s easy to bite back the jolt of worry.

“Do you not have anyone?” Quentin asks, as they begin to near the base of the mountain. There have been scattered tents as they’ve walked, but no one seems to be inside any of them.

Eliot shakes his head, “Everyone I care about came with me or isn’t dead. There’s not much anyone could say to make me want to--”

As they round a corner, Eliot’s heart stops and he can’t breathe, the wind knocked out of him entirely. A young boy sits in the dirt at the next camp site, dressed in Fillorian peasant garb.  He looks up as they approach and waves, face lighting up.

“Pops!”

It’s not the oldest version of Teddy Eliot remembers. This is Teddy at around eight or nine, a few years after Arielle had passed, but it is unquestionably Teddy. Quentin tries to catch onto his sleeve, but Eliot pulls free, clears the distance between him and his son, and catches him up in his arms.

“You’re here!” Teddy shouts and his arms tighten around Eliot’s neck. “You’re here! I thought you couldn’t find me!”

Eliot pulls back and sets Teddy back down, kneeling right there in the dirt to be on eye-level, looking him over. He brushes Teddy’s hair back from his eyes, smiling at him, “Hey, kiddo.”

“Eliot--” Quentin’s voice is choked behind him. “El, it’s not--”

How can it not be Teddy? It feels like him, sounds like him. He has that sweet dimpled smile and Quentin’s eyes and--

“Don’t let me get lost again,” The joy of seeing Eliot fades from Teddy’s eyes and he becomes serious, “Please. I’ve been here for so long, just waiting for someone to find me.”

“Of course,” Eliot says. “Of course. I’ll take care of you. Me and your dad, just like always.”

He looks back up at Quentin and can’t understand why Quentin isn’t here with him. It’s their son. He’s right here, after all this time.

Quentin looks on the verge of tears. “Eliot, we have to--” His fingers tighten on Eliot’s sleeve and he makes an aborted motion to pull Eliot away, but he can’t seem to do it and his hand falls. “Teddy .”

Teddy’s eyes fall on Quentin and he smiles, “Hey, Dad.”

“Q, we have to help him.”

“He’s not real. El, he’s not--”

“Dad?”

“Eliot, we have to go.”

“Dad!”

Quentin turns back around, grabs Eliot by the shoulder and pulls up, hard, back away from Teddy. Eliot tries to turn back, but Quentin hangs on, catches Eliot’s face in his hands and turns Eliot to face him.

“It’s like with my Dad. He’s-- He’s here to make you stay. He’s the person who could make you stay.”

It’s Teddy.

“You love him and you miss him, that’s why he’s here. He’s not real. None of this is real, we have to go. Please, El, I can’t-- We have to go or I’m not gonna--”

His gaze slips over Eliot’s shoulder, back to Teddy. Eliot can see the longing in Quentin’s eyes before he looks back to Eliot and starts tugging.

“Pops? Dad?”

“Walk with me,” Quentin pleads, still looking into his eyes.

Eliot forces his feet to move, to follow Quentin.

“Just walk,” Quentin says, looping his arm through Eliot’s. “Keep walking. We can--”

“Don’t leave!” Teddy cries behind them. “Wait!”

Eliot doesn’t look back and once his voice fades the reality of it hits Eliot. Of course it wasn’t Teddy.

Quentin’s still locked into his side and Eliot disentangles himself quickly, “I’m sorry you had to do that.”

“If you were the Monster, I couldn’t have pulled it away like I pulled you away. That’s how it made sense to me anyway so I wasn’t freaking out anything. I knew it was you.”

“I don’t know why I didn’t realize it wasn’t him.”

“I’d forgotten what he looked like,” Quentin murmurs.

Quentin slips back into Eliot’s side, sliding his hand into Eliot’s. Eliot takes care not to hold on too tight, but the warmth of Quentin’s hand feels good, feels tethering.

---

Penny sees Julia.

He’s been aware of the fact that he’s walking alone for the last twenty minutes or so, after getting distracted by a particular line of bushes leading up a trail. And then Julia is there at one of the campsites, sitting on a log like she’s been waiting for him.

“Hey!” he rushes over to her and she jumps off, eyes going wide. He pulls in for a hug, grateful she’s there, “Did you get separated too? I’ve been walking for ages trying to get back to the group. This forest is wack.”

When he pulls away, she looks puzzled, peering up at him, putting her hand on his cheek, “I’ve been waiting for you.”

It’s her eyes. They’re different. Maybe a little brighter or maybe it’s just he knows them better, but it’s unmistakable. It’s not this reality’s Julia. It’s his Julia, the Julia of Timeline 23.

“Holy shit,” he breathes, then draws her back into his arms again, needing the touch to prove she’s real. Her arms slide easily around him, fingers rubbing tiny circles into his back, and he wonders how long he could reasonably hold her. Forever, probably. He’s not going to let her go easily, not after everything. The sob rising up in his throat surprises him, and Julia draws back, concerned.

“Hey, hey, it’s okay, sweetheart,” she says, lacing their fingers together, pressing a gentle kiss to his lips. “I’m here, it’s all going to be okay.”

Penny lets his hands rest on her waist and he takes a breath before looking at her, “How are you here right now?”

“It’s limbo. It’s the in-between place. We’re just waiting to move on, once the people we love are here with us. And that’s you, you’re here.”

She draws a hand up to his face again and brushes her thumb across his cheek, her smile warm and kind. This is the girl he’d fallen in love with a lifetime ago, the girl whose echo he’d followed across worlds.

“I wish you hadn’t made it down here so soon,” she takes his face in her hands, looking him over, concerned. “You’re-- How long has it been?”

“It’s a long story, but I--” he stops and kisses her again. “I missed you.”

“Penny?”

It’s Julia’s voice, but it’s not from Julia. Penny stares at her, puzzled, then realizes it came from behind him.

Julia-40 stands on the trail, watching, then starts towards him, hands out in front of her prepared to cast.

“She’s an illusion or something,” Julia-40 says. “It’s me, I’m here.”

Penny finds himself turning, putting himself in front of Julia-23.

“Penny, what’s going on? Why is there another me?” Julia asks behind him.

“She’s--” Julia-40 stops, trying to look around Penny. Her face falls as she realizes, “She’s the other one, isn’t she?”

“The other one?” Julia-23 asks.

“I--” Penny looks between the two of them. “Can I have a minute?”

“With who?” Julia-40 stares at him, indignant.

“She’s-- I lost her, okay. Give me a fucking minute to talk to her.”

It comes out harsher than he means and Julia-40 flinches. He opens his mouth to apologize, but she’s already turning away to walk back up to the trail, arms crossed.

“I don’t understand what’s--” Julie-23 stops herself, seeming to realize, “She’s another timeline’s Julia. You found her?”

“I did but she’s-- She’s not you. I mean she is, but she’s not-- She’s a different person, she’s been through different things, she barely knows me. I’ve been-- Is that fucked up? That I missed you so bad when I found another version of you I-- I followed you.”

“It’s a little fucked up,” Julia says, but there's a warmth in her eyes. “I’ve been waiting here for you. I was hoping it’d take a lot longer than this, but if you’re here-- We can go on, together. Whatever comes next, I want it to be you and me.”

“I’m not moving on,” he says. “I’m-- I’m escaping. We’re doing this quest to get out and--”

“But we can be together,” Julia squeezes his hand. “Don’t-- Don’t leave me down here.”

She moves in closer and he steps back. This Julia flinches too, betrayal stinging in her eyes. Penny hates it; he can’t do this without hurting someone and it’s not-- It’s a fucked up situation and he can’t seem to get a grip on it.

Julia murmurs, “Do you love her more than me? You found a better Julia, is that it?”

“It’s not-- It’s complicated. You would’ve wanted me to move on.”

“I don’t know if fucking another me is moving on.”

“We haven’t--” he stops. Their last-night-on-earth rendezvous had literally been them falling asleep. Julia had been so strangely quietly about it and Penny hadn’t wanted to push her, not after the overheard conversation between her and Bri. So they’d just sat there in bed, not talking, and it had been kind of awful, in all reality. But it was one night and when they get back, they’ll have plenty more. They’ll figure it out, even if everything feels like a mess.

“Penny, you lost me. And now I’m here, so why are you running off after some other me who isn’t even me? I’m right here, baby.”

Julia catches his face in her hands, pleading, and Penny’s resolve fades.

There’s a hand on his arm.

“Penny,” Julia-40 intones, “This is the quest trying to get to you. We have to go now.”

Julia-40 pulls and he nearly loses his balance as his feet drag a few inches away.

“Let go, just give me a few more minutes,” Penny tries to push her off, but she stays locked onto him, refusing to let go of his arm and dragging him away. Physically dragging him; when did she get so strong ?

She keeps dragging until they’re back up at the trail and with the distance, Penny’s mind starts to clear. Julia-23 never would have asked him to stay. It couldn’t have been her.

“Thank you,” Penny mutters.

“Yeah,” Julia nods and starts walking.

He follows after her and notices the tension in her shoulders, the rigid way she holds herself as they walk. He keeps trying to catch up and walk in line with her, but every time she speeds up.

“Okay, talk to me!” Penny demands.

Julia stops so suddenly he nearly runs into her. She stands there a moment before turning around, eyes red and hurt and on the verge of tears.

“I was so stupid thinking this could--” Julia shakes her head. “There aren’t rules for this kind of thing. But I’m not her and she’s not me, not anymore. And I can’t be your replacement for her. I thought maybe it would be different, that you could see that I’m someone else, but you love her . Not me.”

“Julia--”

“I care about you,” Julia says. “And we’ll get out of here together, but this, between us? I can’t do it.”

“Can’t we talk about this? We’re not even-- is there an ‘us’?”

“Not now.”

She keeps walking.

“Who did you see?” Penny asks.

Julia ignores him.

“What, we’re not friends? I can’t ask what you just went through?”

“Kira.”

“Who's Kira?”

“A friend,” Julia says. “But I didn’t know her that well. It wasn’t hard to figure out it wasn’t real, there wasn’t a whole lot she could say to get me to stay anyway. I don’t have a lot of people down here. Just lucky, I guess.”

They keep walking. The trail leads up to the mountain and finally up to the mouth of a cave, where all the others are already gathered. They look unsettled, but they’re here which means they all got through the first circle. One down, eight to go.

“You made it,” Quentin says, pushing past Penny to hug Julia.

“Yeah. You...?”

Quentin nods, “Eliot got me through it.”

Julia’s eyes flick to Eliot for a moment and she gives him a tiny nod of gratitude.

“Everyone okay?” Penny asks, eyeing the rest of the group. The longer he looks at them, the more exhausted they seem.

“We’re all good,” Josh says, despite looking especially pale. Margo slips her hand into his and gives Penny a short shake of her head, out of Josh’s line of sight. No, not good.

The group moves into the cave without really talking about it. It’s dark inside, so Eliot and Julia tut out a spell that creates a glowing blue ball of flame in their palms, illuminating the cave as much as they can. In the very back, the ground appears to give way and Margo pushes through the group to stand on the very edge, leaning over.

“It’s a ladder. Looks like it just goes straight down. I don’t see an end to it.”

“No other exits?” Kady asks, glancing around the cave.

There aren’t. At least, not that they can find, so down the ladder they go. Penny loses track of the order, keeping his attention on the ladder rather than on who’s above or below him. It starts out wooden at the top, but as he’s climbing down, it seems to transition to metal. The darkness of the cave gives way to grey rain and they climb down from the cave and into clouds. Penny tries not to think about it too hard.

When he finally reaches the bottom, he realizes at some point it transformed into a fire escape attached to an apartment building. The group is now clustered together outside a cement apartment building on a city street, though from a quick glance around it doesn’t look like there’s anybody on the street besides them.

“Where’s Julia?” Quentin asks.

Penny glances up the ladder, but it’s empty and te group around them numbers only seven. Julia isn’t here.