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when you gonna realize, it was just that the time was wrong

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In one universe, they exist in the same orbit, caught in each other’s gravitational fields but never quite crashing together. Eliot takes Quentin under his wing as his flavor of the week, and both boys are packaged deals. Julia and Margo go to the same parties, the same late nights in the library. Margo is sharp, and though Julia can feel a good heart hidden beneath her layers of bitchiness, she will not let her hurt Quentin. Julia is a chameleon who blends into Brakebills like she’d been waiting her whole life for it - and she had, of course, they all had. They mark each other as threats and they stand on guard, civil clipped conversations and quiet distrust. They got off on the wrong foot and there is no monster to bring them together. They keep each other at a distance and they never know all that they are missing.

Eliot moves on from Quentin by winter break, and Margo misses them both more than expected. She’d grown fond of the boy’s steady optimism, despite his melancholic nature, and Eliot bounced back from him with a tiresome intensity. She didn’t expect to miss trading barbs with his annoying, overprotective friend, but so few people were willing to challenge Margo. It was refreshing to find someone who wasn’t scared of her.

Julia moves into the Knowledge dorm above the library, and Quentin, unsorted, asks if he can go with her. Alice and Julia run into each other a few too many times in the library at 3 am, and this timeline becomes one of theirs. By the time the Beast shows up to slaughter students, they will die hand in hand, and Julia will have no thoughts to spare for the brunette she’d been so antagonistic with at the beginning of the year.

*

In most timelines, they’re friends. They fall into it slowly, most times, sharing fond looks while teasing their boys, wandering campus the four of them in the hours between night and morning. They lie in the grass by the fountain, and when Quentin rolls over and kisses Eliot, the girls laugh and mutter about how it’s about damn time. The campus is quiet and seemingly empty, and time doesn’t feel real in the twilight. They trade childhood stories with ease, secrets somehow weightless in the limited space between them.

Margo will blame it on the drugs in the morning, but there’s something about Julia that draws Margo in. She’s softer around her, and it throws her off balance sometimes, how easily the pair of nerds had fit into the lives of Eliot and Margo. They party and they study and they win Welters with ease. Julia lives above the library but spends half her nights sleeping at the Physical Cottage, an extra toothbrush in Quentin’s room the way it’s been since they were kids.

The four of them fall into different beds together, threesomes and foursomes and one magical orgy with Quentin’s old roommate and his angry not-girlfriend. Julia doesn’t let it mean anything, and Margo has always prefered it that way. They fuck and they drink and they are all friends. And then, one day, they die, the four of them making one valiant last stand against a monster they don’t know they’ve faced before.

*

In the timeline where Margo is Janet, they fall into bed with each other, night after night. Julia wears a different outfit that first day, when Eliot comes to give Quentin a tour, and that’s the butterfly effect that sets it off. Janet looks at her like Julia is a snack, and she’s going to enjoy playing cat and mouse with her. Julia rises to the challenge, never one to play easy to get.

They are not third wheels in this timeline, or spare parts. They are a force of nature, fighting for dominance like leopards in the wild. They never fuck tender and sweet, always a passionate dance for power, a battle for who can top, who can give the other the most orgasms, who can make the other breathlessly submit.

There are no ‘I love you’s’ in this timeline, no heart to hearts or childhood tales. When Julia sleeps over at the Cottage, it is only ever in Quentin’s bed. Janet keeps her rough edges and her cool indifference, and Julia is more in love with magic than she has ever been with another person.

When the Beast comes, Janet clings to Eliot, and her regret in her final moments is not a last minute love confession, but that she could not save him.

*

There’s a timeline where they fall in love, and it’s almost a happy story. They still sit up talking late nights by the fountain, they spend lazy nights cuddled in the Cottage. Margo falls for the way Julia looks small and young and beautiful in one of Quentin’s old Columbia shirts and a pair of boxers. She’s drunk, and she kisses her with more tenderness than Julia expects.

Margo does not do relationships, has never known how to define what she is with someone. It’s why she and Eliot had fallen so easily into the something they would always be. But with Julia, she kisses her softly in the mornings. She picks out a lacy bra not just because she knows it will make her look fabulous, but because she wants to see Julia’s face when she sees her in it. She complains to Eliot about picking out the perfect birthday gift for Julia, and she misses her warmth in the bed beside her when Julia is at Brakebills South.

Julia slips easily into a relationship with Margo. She doesn’t realize she’s falling in love until she wakes up one morning with a mouthful of the other girl’s hair and feels her heart clench at how soft she looks, with her bedhead and her face so relaxed in sleep. She thinks how lucky she is, to have the privilege to see her like this, and she goes downstairs to make them all pancakes, stealing one of Margo’s shirts to wear.

The Beast still comes, and they are not prepared. They die in each other’s arms, desperate dying words of love spilling from both their lips, and they think they will fall in love again the next time. (They don’t.)

*

In the final timeline, the one that sticks, they are not friends or lovers or anything they were any of the 39 times before. They do not fall in love, or in bed, or even get the chance to fall apart. They do not exist in the same orbit. They are enemies, and not the kind that stay civil, the kind that can forget about each other when they part.

Julia does not go to Brakebills, and the package deal she and Quentin have always been is split apart, fractured and broken. Quentin hurts Julia, high off the thrill of magic, and Julia hurts back, desperate and alone and taking things too far. This is Margo’s first impression of her, and instead of Julia being Quentin’s faithful protector, Margo views her as the one he needs protection from.

Julia finds magic her own ways, finds gods and miracles, finds Quentin again and stumbles her way back to Margo. She looks at the photos of Quentin and his friends and wonders what her place would have been, thinks of the possibilities of all the other timelines. When she gets to Fillory, Margo looks down on her with disgust, and brushes it aside. She has a higher purpose, and this girl has never known her. She does not know that so many other Julia’s would have died for Margo, so many other Margo’s would have killed for Julia.

She gets her memories back and she thinks she deserves the way Margo looks at her. She betrays her, watches Margo thrown across the room, and she only steps forward to save Quentin. They run into each other later and throw angry words at each other, hitting each other in their weak spots instead of making each other stronger.

Julia introduced Quentin to Fillory when they were kids, and they should have been rulers together. She envies Margo’s crown, and Margo envies her godhood, and they both view their power as a curse.

They defeat the Beast. Jane dies and the loop is broken, and there will be no more resets. No chance to fix all the ways they are fractured, to live out all the ways this could have gone differently.

In this timeline, they forget each other and do not even register it. Julia clings to her memories of Quentin, making peace with forgetting all the turmoil magic has brought her. Margo loses most of them easily, a fade she barely registers. She feels an ache in her chest at the loss of Quentin, but she rages and rages against losing Eliot.

It's a blessing and a curse that they do not remember the snippets of lives they've lived before. If they could remember the passionate nights tangled in sheets, the days spent trading harsh words without the true weight they have now, the love confessions and quiet early mornings pretending to sleep just for a few more moments in the safety of each other's arms… They might soften towards each other, but it would make living the life they're stuck in harder. This is the life they get to survive and keep living, however that may be. Fractured and hostile, sympathetic and healing. There's still a world, multiple worlds really, of possibility ahead of them, as soon as they remember themselves, and each other.