The Penny of Timeline 23 isn’t the Penny Julia knows, he’s a version of Penny that makes her feel off-kilter. Instead of the hard exterior and quippy anger she expects, he’s gentle and uncertain. He’s awkward around the others, especially Kady, conscious that he’s taking the place of this timeline’s Penny, dead and out of reach.
But with her, he’s soft and sweet, focusing on her when she talks like she’s important, and she catches him watching her like she’s precious. She supposes she would be, to him, if he loved the other Julia and lost her to Fillory and the Beast. He was protective of her in the other timeline, in Fillory, and he almost hovers here, prepared to step between her and danger.
Which she knew because if she focused, she could catch the flavor of his feelings. He believed in her, like Q and Kady and none of the others did, and because she was a goddess now, that belief got broadcasted right into her head. He loved the other Julia, and so to him she was a goddess like she deserved, not a girl who had been stupid enough to summon Reynard and then burned down a forest just because she could.
She knows something had changed when her god-powers broadcasted his feelings right to her, devastated and loving and angry and protective and unwavering belief in her goodness. It made her want to open a bottle of vodka and pour it directly into her mouth, because it wasn’t her. The woman he was feeling all those things about was dead.
It doesn’t surprise her to find out that Kady told him what exactly got her these goddess powers, and she doesn’t have it in her to be annoyed. Kady was all heart under all that pain, and Julia loved her for it.
She's meditating in Q’s room, trying to help people in Fillory who prayed to her, a good distraction and good use of her powers, when he comes to talk to her.
“Julia, can we talk?” She could feel his concern for her. It felt almost..soothing.
“I know Kady told you what happened.” She opens her eyes and shuts out the prayers as best she could.
“I think she wanted me to help you.” He sits besides her on the bed.
“It's sweet of her, to want that. You know the Penny of our timeline dated Kady. She’s still really upset about this whole timeline-version thing.” As if it was something Kady could just get over.
“I can relate to that.” He says, a little wryly.
“I guess you can.”
“You said you’re not her, but you kinda are, you know. You’re not really different. It’s more like if you and I were separated for a while, and you got all your memories of our relationship taken away. You’re still you, just a little tougher, and with god-powers, I guess. Kady shouldn’t have told me what happened before you did, but I’m not sorry she did.”
“I didn’t really want to tell you. Or talk about it. The others all know about it already. It was...nice, I guess, for there to be someone who looked at me and didn’t see all of that. Q and Kady feel guilty and the others don’t really like me all that much. Margo pities me, I think. But you were seeing a different version of me instead of this version, and it was a nice fantasy.”
“It doesn’t change anything for me.” He says, looking her straight in the eye like he did when he said he was coming with her back to her timeline.
“Penny. I’m not her.” She says gently. She wasn’t . He was chasing a fantasy, a girl who didn’t exist anymore. All that was left was half a goddess with borrowed power. And she let him, because it felt good.
“Like I said, erased memories. It’s not that I’m seeing my Julia in you and getting confused. You’re the same for me, just without the memories and with new, shitty experiences. But from what Kady told me, you need someone in your corner. I’m going to do that.” He declares with finality, like he’s decided, like it’s not going to eventually bother him that he’s in love with a dead girl that’s not her. But he seems more certain than she’s ever seen the Penny of her timeline.
“You’re different from the Penny I know. He and I were never close. We only talked a little bit.” An understatement, like saying Q was a little bit nerdy or Eliot was a little bit dramatic.
“Then I feel bad for the poor bastard.” He says, amused. He reaches out and takes her hand in his, and rubs the spot on the base of her thumb that she always loves to have rubbed. A benefit of him dating an alternate universe version of her, she supposes.
He must know her pretty well. It’s unnerving, because she barely knows him. Penny 40, Penny 23, any of him. The only person she knows well now is Q, and it’s been a long time since they had any of that friend-intimacy she misses. It hurts her a little bit now to look at him, since she shoved her shade in him and basically orchestrated his suicide. Not Q-Q, but Beast-Q. The differences of timeline versions are both enormous and negligible. It was still Q, in some way, even if it wasn’t exactly her Q.
But this Penny isn’t the Penny of her timeline. This Penny looks at her all the time with those soft and affectionate looks of his, and believes in her, and it all makes her a little bit twitchy. Twitchy like she needs a cigarette, or when she was shade-less and needed to do something really destructive to feel like a person again, to forget why she felt twitchy in the first place.
She looks down at his hand rubbing hers, and feels something like an electric charge between them. Like the air is heavy and expectant. Oh.
She had seen this between Alice and Q, when she was around when they weren’t falling to pieces. Her and Marina, too, maybe, a little bit. Before thinking about Marina hurt like a hard edge in her ribs. And the Timeline 23 Marina flirted only in that habitual and sarcastically cruel way of hers, and Julia couldn’t look at her without feeling guilty. But this, she’s never experienced this before, not even with Q so long ago. This was different. This must have been what got the other Julia interested in him.
She meets his eyes, and he gives her a look, confused, but open and curious, too. He feels it too, then. It’s not just her. Maybe she’s just a replacement for a dead version of her that was never raped or shade-less, but it’s nice. To feel wanted, even as a replacement. But could she-? She feels a touch of panic and grips his hand fully. He glances down at their joined hands, surprised.
“There’s something I want to do,” She mumbles. “But I don’t know how to ask for it, or if it’ll hurt you, you know, emotionally. Can I...can I just let the shields down a little and you read my mind?”
He looks more surprised, studying her face, trying to decipher what she’s not saying, but he nods. “If you want.”
She concentrates on lowering the shield and showing him what she’s feeling. She doesn’t think he’ll say no, but it’s almost too much to even ask for.
“Oh.” He breathes out. “Oh. No, that won’t hurt me emotionally. If that’s what you want. If you’re sure.” He gives her a grin, cocky and pleased. Then he leans forward, slides his free hand into her hair, and gives her what she wants.
He’s warm and solid, and kissing him wakes up a part of Julia that she had forgotten about, a part of her that still felt cut off even with her shade back and a level up in magic. She's a person, not a victim or a goddess or a monster. A girl who likes to kiss and have sex and read about magic and make miraculous things happen. It feels good, to kiss someone who likes her. She wants to keep kissing him, wants him to kiss her harder, to make her really feel it, and she barely thinks it before he’s doing it, leaning more into her and sliding his hand around to hold her head still and kiss her harder. He’s still rubbing the base of her thumb with his other hand. Then he leans back and grins wider. “Your shields, Julia. I can still hear you,” answering the half-considered question that had drifted through her mind.
“Oh. I hadn’t considered that benefit of a psychic boyfriend.” She muses, a little dazed. A boyfriend who could hear exactly what she wanted?
He lights up, delighted. “Plenty of benefits of hearing your girlfriend’s thoughts when she wants you to,” he teases.
She smiles back tentatively. This is nice, she thinks. He’s nicer than I thought.
He nods, pretends to be solemn. “I can be nice.”
She pulls her shields back into place, uncomfortable with him hearing all her thoughts. She and vulnerability aren't on very good terms anymore. He gives her a look of consideration as she blocks him out again. “Even when you put the shields back, I can still guess what you’re thinking. It really is okay. I’m in your corner.” He says meaningfully. “Your corner, and not just because you don’t remember our relationship. Because you need someone in your corner, looking out for you with all this goddess power you’ve got and this stupid quest.”
“I guess I do.” She mumbles again, nervous to look him in the eyes. He brings her hand up to his mouth and kisses her fingertips, like he’s from one of those old period dramas she used to love. She feels a thrill shoot through her, something she’d half-forgotten coiling in her gut, something that feels good. She leans forward, chasing that feeling.