The first time Eliot vanishes, Quentin goes; leaving Margo to contend with the flare-up of ethnic tensions in the Sagefair Hills alone. The hillsmen are only abiding by the ceasefire in the most technical of senses, and the talking beavers—those cocks—are just waiting for one of them to really fuck up, and then it'll be civil war on the Crooked River all over again, and Lord Fresh will send her another seven thousand messenger trout who just mouth at her disappointedly and don't actually provide any solutions, and also, make the courtyard fountain smell terrible. Quentin comes back four days later, looking pale and drawn, with Eliot slumped in a cloak in the carriage; and Margo can't even be mad at them, is the awful part, because Margo'd run into them in the Summer Garden at not-quite-dawn their first week back in Fillory: Eliot curled up in a ball on that fucking quilt with Quentin doing his level best to wrap himself around his back, holding onto him so tightly his arm went pale, and the look Quentin had shot her over Eliot's shoulder had been—
Terrified. He'd been terrified.
So the second time Quentin comes into her bedroom at about fourteen seconds past dawn, while Margo is just getting ready to catch a catnap before the next desperate Fillorian clusterfuck and says, "Eliot's not in the castle," in a flat, emotionless voice; Margo says, "Do you need help?" and Quentin is quiet for a long, long moment before he answers, which is—worse.
"I think I need to take him back to Earth for a while," he says, rough.
And Margo turns towards him, almost startled. Back to Earth: not a particularly sophisticated code, is it? But if any of them should know from institutionalization— "Okay," she says, after a second, "or—we could bring Celi here, if that'd be better"; and Quentin ducks his head.
"Would she come?" he asks; and Margo looks down at her hands, then sets her hairbrush on the table.
"She'd fucking better," Margo says, and turns to ring for her page.
So Quentin goes, and Margo gets Georg to bring her Fen and to send Penny a messenger bunny, so that by the time Quentin comes back, on the sixth day, with Eliot actively unconscious—Jesus—on the floor of the carriage, Celi—LMFT, Ph.D., Brakebills '79; their semi-official post-brainwashing psych consult and also, to Margo's unending delight for what it does to Fogg's blood pressure, a raging and unapologetic communist—has had time set up an improvised isolation ward in the south wing of the Castle. First floor. Margo's in the middle of petitions when they get in, so she doesn't actually see either of them until she stumbles back into her room for a hard-won half-hour breather before dinner, to find Quentin collapsed in the middle of her bed, scruffy and dirty and still smelling like a week on the road.
Spill, Margo had told Celi, in the Armory, when Margo'd finally got her to come down to report; and Celi had said, I'm not your fucking subject, Margo, and I do owe them some kind of confidentiality. Behind Margo, Fen had said, very quietly, Then ask them what you can tell her, and an hour later Celi had come back and told Margo everything: untreated depression (obviously), flaring anxiety (well duh), borderline alcoholism (borderline?), and a raging case of PTSD (no fucking shit); not a suicide attempt, precisely, but not—not a suicide attempt, either: and when Margo'd come back into the throne room she doesn't know what was on her face, but Fen'd turned her face away, eyes squeezed shut, breathing.
Margo sits down at the edge of her bed, looking down at Quentin. He hasn't shaved in long enough he's crossed over from scruffy to actively beardy: never a good sign. Margo puts her hand on his cheek and he breathes in, eyes fluttering open; and then he—he curls up. Just folding his body around hers, hips and ass and legs, so he can press his face in against her hip, and—and God, poor kid: Margo feels staggered by it, suddenly: that it's Quentin that's having to deal with it, because whatever happened in fucking Indiana, Eliot can barely bring himself to talk to Margo anymore, can he? It hurts, of course: of course it does, but Margo's not a fucking idiot, and she's known Eliot for years: if Eliot isn't talking to her, she somehow doubts it's a sign that he doesn't want to. Margo, cringing, puts her hand on Quentin's greasy, tangled hair.
"You ready to give me specifics yet?" Margo asks, after a minute; and Quentin is still for a long, long time, and then he asks, "Can I use your bath?"
Which is how Margo ends up sitting at the end of her bed while Quentin fucking Coldwater strips down in her chambers so he can wash off the road. It's. Really weird. For one thing, it really underscores just how off everyone has been, since they got back: that he can do it, even, without cringing into himself so sharply that he'd practically fall over; but Quentin barely even seems to notice that he's naked in front of her until he's up to his chin in the water, and then his shoulders tense up, and he darts her a scared, Quentinish little expression.
She waves a hand. "I've seen it all before," she reminds him; and Quentin flushes pinker and sinks under the water.
When he comes back up, wiping his wet hair back, Margo levitates the shampoo over, which he accepts and then uses way too much to suds up, which—well, whatever. He's the person who'll end up having to go to Midtown to buy her more, so—fine, if he wants to drown in Bumble and Bumble, let him.
"Is this a Ben thing?" she asks; and his hands still.
"No," he says, finally. "He doesn't remember being Ben"; and she—
It's the closest, Margo is thinking, either of them has come to actually talking about what happened: because they all remember being—someone else. Julia's been working on an elaborate theoretical research project, with Alice grudgingly providing reference materials from the Alexan archives, about the underlying theoretical mechanism of the potions, for which Fogg will probably give Julia a doctorate, because yes, at this moment in time, academic credentials are definitely what they all actually need. It's—not supposed to be revolutionary, the idea that Eliot would remember being Ben: they're all supposed remember being someone else. Margo remembers being someone else—and not in the, like, casual, if cringeworthy way you remember the person you're ashamed you were in high school, but in the juddering, jarring way where sometimes Janet does the Whitespire Castle monthly staff review and then Margo catches herself halfway through and has to go back and make everything about 40% less sweary, and also generally tone down the level of emotional abuse.
"But—you remember Ben," Margo says, after a second; because the last time Fogg had been in Fillory for a consult over the Alexan treaty, Quentin'd said something much, much bitchier than she usually gives him credit for about the underlying psychology of his making Eliot a sexually repressed finance bro with no aesthetic taste. Quentin shifts in the tub, splashing water up over the edge. "Come on," she says, "I know you do, you—"
"Yeah, I do," he says, voice rough, "because Fogg shoved Eliot's actual personality into the fucking basement, the second time he came after us, so Ben and I spent—more time together than either of us really wanted, and then later Eliot and I fucked him and carved him up while we did it"; and then sinks down under the water.
A thud. The hot, sick feeling of Margo's heart, throbbing under her ribs: after a second, she slides up to her feet and goes over to sit on the edge of the bathtub, just as Quentin resurfaces, looking up at her with his big, brown hurt eyes.
"I think you should tell me," she says, very quietly; and he shakes his head, face crumpling. "No, listen." Margo cups his cheek. "All I know, Q, is that he's—even more fucked up than usual, which isn't exactly going to help me have his back, okay? Stumbling around in the dark. And you and I, we're—we're his team, okay? We're the only people who are about one thousand percent on his side."
"He's not even on his side," Quentin mutters.
"No, he isn't," Margo says, flat, "and hopefully Celi's going to help him with that but you and I, we're his backup, aren't we?"; and Quentin—
—Quentin leans his wet cheek on her thigh.
"I'm so tired, Margo," he whispers; and then turns his face against her skirt.
"Yeah," she says, quiet, pushing his wet hair back, "so maybe—just let me spell you, for a while."