She knocks quietly, a tap tap tap question of knuckles against wood. For a moment there is nothing, just the hazy hum of late-night New York traffic far below and the twinning murmur of voices where Kady and Julia have settled at the kitchen counter. Nothing moves in the room beyond, no one comes to answer. She knocks again, firmly, and when she still receives only silence she coaxes the door open. It creaks a moment, then swings inwards without further protest.
It’s dark in the bedroom. Through the window the glittering stars of the city’s lights form constellations across the skyline, but nightfall has dampened all the color in the room, turned it blue-black. Bruised.
Her lips purse at the thought, and she enters.
It’s a little thing to draw light into the room, but so long living on the drips and drabs of ambient has her turning to the narrow lamp in the corner instead. The yellow pool it spills when she tugs on the cord is bruised too, faded and wan. She bites the inside of her cheek, swallows a sigh, and turns her attention to things that matter.
They’ve been taking turns watching him. Not because–– because he needs it, because they’ve all checked him, Lipson and Fogg and that Librarian bitch who maybe isn’t quite a bitch given how chatty she and Alice have been lately––and wasn’t she supposed to be in with Kady, or has that changed; pieces keep moving and she doesn’t have the time to take stock again, not really, not when it’s some jenga tower on the edge of collapse, getting more and more delicate each time they make the slightest move.
They’ve been taking turns watching him because Quentin had looked at them all, just outside the door, like even waiting to talk to them in this tenuous moment of equilibrium was too long for waiting, and said, “Someone should be there, right? If, um. When he wakes up. He shouldn’t be alone.”
And his face had been carefully composed even though his eyes shone and voice had been too tight, and Margo had swallowed back a barrage of pointless comments because hell, her eyes were shining too, and Alice’s, and even Julia looked a little soft and a little hopeful, so they had agreed.
(The thing about those nebulous, tenuous moments of peace is that, much like towers made of wooden blocks, they are often one small shift away from crumbling down. In this instance, that shift is Penny-not-Penny’s arrival, which sends them scattering.
So it goes.)
So it is later now, when she finally has the time to sit with him, to be there when (if) he wakes. It’s after Penny who is Penny-but-not-quite drops her off and flickers away again, and after Alice has settled in at the Library, and after Kady and Julia have found a moment to talk at the counter, and after she has had the time to scrub the dirt and dust and blood out of her hair and skin (and god, her pores). After all that, after after after, she lets herself into the room and tugs on the bruised-yellow light in the bruise-dark room and has the time to
stare at the tableau in front of her.
She doesn’t mean to laugh. She keeps it quiet, at least.
Eliot (Eliot, Eliot, and it’s fucked up just a little that she still has to remind herself, except the Monster never slept like that, except the Monster never slept at all, not when he could help it, not while they were watching) has been tucked in carefully. It had been a herculean effort to keep him awake long enough to wash the blood and dirt and sweat away, and he had fumbled unprotesting into the old shirt and too-short sweatpants they’d found for him, and he had fallen asleep before his head even hit the pillow, which was maybe a blessing more than anything else, because none of them had known what to say, and the uncertain silence had been as suffocating as the fear.
That had been hours and hours ago, and still he sleeps soundly, chest rising and falling, hair long-since dried in delicate little waves across the pillow. He looks something princely, a sleeping beauty of his own fairytale, just waiting to awaken.
Next to him, Quentin is a study in contrasts.
He’s spread out on top of the covers, arms folded propped against the headboard as though he had no intention of sleeping, head tilted forward at an awkward angle that makes her neck ache just look at him. He’s still wearing his shoes.
“Jeez, Coldwater,” she says to herself, something to mask the welling whatever filling the fear-hollow spot in her chest, the one she has done her best to ignore these past months. She huffs a sigh for no one’s benefit but her own and shifts him lower on the bed, just enough that he’s not bent over like a puppet with his strings cut. She takes care of his shoes too. She’s nice like that.
He barely twitches through all of it, mumbling something only briefly as she shifts a pillow beneath him, and she mutters a quiet, “Yeah, yeah,” in response that soothes him back to sleep. He’s still all crooked limbs, but a little less of a human pretzel, so it’ll do for now.
Her heart swells then, and her throat goes tight, and she purses her lips even tighter and looks down at her boys.
Her ridiculous, stupid, foolish, better-than-they-know boys.
She drags a chair up, and props her own bare feet up on the edge of the bed, and lets them sleep.
Julia stops in, eventually.
She knocks twice, then pokes her head in before Margo can respond. Her face is haggard in the dim light of the lamp, but who doesn’t look two short steps from death these days? Margo tilts a brow in her direction.
“Come to join the party?” She keeps her voice pitched low, and Julia only considers the invitation a moment before accepting. She wraps one arm around herself, staring mostly down at Q with a worried sort of relief Margo knows inside and out, and that familiarity stills the comment on the tip of her tongue.
That and she’s just so damn tired.
“Are you… doing okay?” Julia asks into that ringing space, eyes sliding off the bed a moment to catch on Margo. The slide back just as fast, like she doesn’t want to take her eyes off him, or maybe like she doesn’t want to face whatever response Margo has. She’d put money on worry, though; Julia Wicker is a lot of things, but meek sure as hell isn’t one of them.
“Fine,” she says, which is a lie but not so brittle a lie as it has been. She’s not fine yet, maybe, but she’s could-be fine. There’s possibility there, potential, energy trending towards fine-ness instead of away.
Julia’s lips twist, that old wry expression that says yeah, sure.
Even the threat of the end of the world can’t change some things.
“I can watch them,” Julia says. “If you want to––”
She nods slowly. “Alright.” And then, “Do you mind if I…?”
“No.” It comes out softer this time. Julia looks at her again, and the wry smile is warmer, less sardonic.
“Okay,” she says, and then she doesn’t say anything else, and Margo doesn’t say anything either, not even when she sits down on the thick shag rug next to the lamp, haggard and hopeful in the wan, bruising light, and Margo rolls out her neck and returns to her vigil. It’s really not anywhere near the realm of okay yet, but they’ve been collectively fucked for gods-only-know how long now, and they’re getting somewhere closer, so. She’s alright with giving it time. It’s nice to think they might finally have some, finally have a moment to breathe and take stock and make things better.
It’s kind of nice to have the company too. Their breathing makes a four-party harmony through the room, threaded underneath all the other faint noises of the utterly mundane night outside the apartment, and it’s almost like being at peace.
Eliot wakes in the small hours of the morning.
Margo herself is… not asleep, not quite, but not wholly awake either; she drifts somewhere between the two, attentive and hazy at the same time, tucked into the quiet lull of the room. She’s halfway aware of Q snoring, and Julia curled up on the thick rug, and the high, intermittent wail of a siren far below, and she’s aware of the shift in it all when Eliot’s breath catches and his breathing changes.
She snaps back into focus so fast it almost makes her dizzy. She sits up straighter.
He’s silent, but his head turns towards her across the expanse of the bed, all lines and shadows in the dim light, and catches on Quentin, huffing quietly in his sleep. He lingers there a moment, expression unreadable, and then his eyes continue the journey on their own, down and over Q and to her, gleaming in the light of the bruise-yellow lamp.
His expression flickers then, and he wets his lips. “Margo?”
“Hey, hey.” She damn near stumbles getting out of her chair, and then she’s around the far side of the bed, perching right next to him, right on the edge, face split open in a smile. “Hi.”
He tries to return it, but the exhaustion bleeds through more than anything, abject and bone-deep and digging lines across his face. She finds his reaching hand and holds it tight with both of hers, presses a kiss to his fingers. That chases away some of the shadows, and his expression eases.
He says, a little breathless, “Hi.”
That’s where she gets stuck. It’s the silence again, the not-knowing. What’s okay to touch, to ask, to say? She doesn’t even know where to start.
Well. That’s never stopped her before.
“Welcome back. You scared the shit out of us.”
“Sorry,” he mutters, then winces, then coughs, thin and dry and shaking. She holds his hand tight as he does, and breathes easier when he eases back against the pillows.
“You need anything?” There’s water on the nightstand, and his eyes follow her gaze, and his expression quirks in a way that is completely unmonstrous and relief sluices through her again all new and fresh and just as overwhelming as the first time, and the fourth, and––
He whispers, “God, yes. I am parched.”
It’s a struggle to get him upright; he moves as though there’s an extra weight to him, as though he doesn’t quite remember the workings of his own limbs, muscle and bone and sinew unwilling to take direction. His hands can’t quite clench around the glass, so she holds it for him, and watches the same fears and worries and uncertainties she has been doing a frankly marvelous job of ignoring flit across his face.
“It’s alright,” she tells him, quiet and fierce enough to shake away her own doubts. “Hey. We fixed fucking Fillory. We can fix this.”
“Right,” he says, and her hand squeezes around his, and his nostrils flare as he sucks in a breath but he does nothing else, says nothing, only drinks a little more.
He manages a few careful mouthfuls before he starts to sink again, and she sets the glass back on the nightstand and helps him down. It’s easier with gravity on their side.
“You should get some rest,” she tells him, as if he’s not already sinking back into the bed.
“You should get some rest,” he returns, any attempt at mulishness or argument utterly ruined by the way his eyelids flutter shut, lashes dark even against the circles beneath his eyes.
She stares down at him a moment, and sighs.
She’ll still be here when he wakes. What does it matter.
“Yeah, alright. Scootch,” she mutters, and he halfheartedly shifts Quentin-wards as she tucks herself next to him, folded against his side. It’s not quite made for three people, this bed, not with Q a heavy weight on the far side and Eliot a tangle of limbs that don’t work like they should, but she’s familiar with this hollow at his side, with fitting into it, with making a space meant for one hold two.
Curled up against him, she can feel the tension slip away as he drifts off again, and it pulls some of the tension from her as well, and she follows shortly after.
“Just… a few more minutes, Jules.”
Snatches of quiet conversation wake her. Or maybe it’s the bright splash of sunlight across the bed; she can’t be sure. Somewhere to her left someone sighs, and Margo keeps her eyes closed and her breathing even as there is rustling, and another sigh––Q this time, heavy and a little chagrined, like Julia has given him one of those looks again.
“You have to take care of yourself too, you know,” she says, quiet and warm and a hundred other things.
There’s more rustling, and footsteps, and the creak of the door, and only then does she open her eyes.
Quentin sits in the chair with his feet tucked up under him. He’s moved it from where she left it, pulled it up close to the side of the bed where Eliot’s arm stretches out toward the edge, and he’s already staring at Margo when she looks over at him. In the daylight he looks a little more whole, a little less frayed. Or maybe that’s just the full night’s rest he finally got.
“She’s right, y’know.”
He sighs, eyes flickering away for a moment. He looks young, then, or younger anyways, like he’s climbed back into the skin he outgrew at some point she doesn’t remember noticing. Funny how they’ve all done that, grown up in their own ways and their own times, come back together as the same but not.
That just makes her feel old, though, and jaded in a not-entirely-pleasant way, so she leaves off that train of thought.
“Yeah,” Q is saying through it all, short and irritable in the way he gets when someone else is right and he doesn’t want to hear it. “I know.”
His eyes fall back on her then, and she props herself up on one elbow. Eliot sleeps on between them, unaware of anything happening around him, orbiting him the way they all do.
And orbiting Quentin too, stuck to his side, all that delicate uncertainty and hope.
“I just,” he says suddenly, and then sighs, folds all that nervous energy back into himself in a way she didn’t know he knew how to do. He looks so tired. Every time she thinks she’s never seen him so tired…
She swallows a sigh. Kid cares too damn much.
“What now?” he asks. Margo considers that.
“Well.” She sits up, and Eliot shifts but doesn’t wake. They both look down at him as he does, with his princely curls and his sleeping beauty sigh, damsel in need of rescue. He always knew how to make that overdramatic shit work.
Margo’s heart swells again, Jesus, when did she become such a sap. She meets Q’s eyes. He’s watching her steadily, folded up in his chair, morning light cutting an uneven block across the bed between them, across Eliot. Less bruising, more burning, but maybe that’s better. Energy, and all that. She purses her lips.
“First, I’m going to find something to wear. Then we’re going to get breakfast, and see who’s ass still needs kicking, and then we’ll kick it. Then we’ll fixed all the fucked up shit that’s left to fix. And then I’m going to take a really long, really hot bath.”
“We’ll fix everything,” she tells him, “that’s left to fix.”
She doesn’t look down at Eliot, and he doesn’t either, but she can damn near see the way all of Q turns towards him anyways, like a flower seeking the sun. She sighs.
“He just needs a little mending, that’s all.”
And then Q’s mouth is smiling but his eyes are still wide and uncertain and hopeful underneath it, like spun glass; too much pressure and it will shatter. Margo untangles herself from the sheets and follows the ellipse path around the bed (around Eliot) to stand next to him.
“We’re gonna do whatever we can,” she says, one hand on his shoulder. “I promise.”
His jaw works a moment. “Alright.”
She knows it’s a fool’s errand to coax him away from Eliot’s sickbed, so she doesn’t bother. “I’ll bring you something to eat.”
“I–– Thank you.”
She spares him quick kiss on the cheek and a long, knowing look. She has a softer glance for Eliot who is (she sucks in a breath) here and (lets it out) alive and (turns to the door) maybe not whole, not yet, not quite, but she is a high fucking king, crown or no; she has bested gods and monsters without flinching.
It’s all just time, anyways, and energy, mendings and healing and bruises turning to sunlight. She can see that through. They can see that through.