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Title: both her terror and her gentleness
Author: [personal profile] templemarker
Fandom: The Magicians
Rating: Mature
Length: 1700 words
Content notes: No warnings apply.
Author notes: Takes place during 4x12 "The Secret Sea", during the scene where Alice, Penny, Quentin, and Plover are in the Drowned Garden. I wanted to dig into Alice's perspective on, well, everything in the episode. For [community profile] fan_flashworks challenge #260 - Cave, and my [community profile] fan_flashworks bingo card square "step".

Summary: On her better days, Alice can believe that she once understood the world, enough to live in it like a person, a person with a soul. The person she was before she was a Niffin, before she cursed her friends to obscurity and herself to the Library's imperfect incarceration.

On her better days, Alice can hear herself when she talks, she can distinguish when to keep silent and when to speak out. She's gotten a lot better at determining the right thing from the wrong thing (but she knows she has a ways to go). On her better days, Alice can believe that she once understood the world, enough to live in it like a person, a person with a soul. The person she was before she was a Niffin, before she cursed her friends to obscurity and herself to the Library's imperfect incarceration.

On the more typical day, Alice crouches down in the Drowned Garden, taking in the artificial light source in the otherwise dank cave, the self-renewing soil in the bedrock-carved flowerbed. That's some nice work she thinks, admiring; Martin Chatwin may not have been classically trained, but he must have gotten his hands on a copy of Blackthorn's Herbiary to set and sustain these renewal spells. It's almost like a automated mechanical, she could probably figure out the operating intervals if she had a day to observe. She reaches out and fingers one of the purple blossoms, feeling the petal swell with vitality and then, more slowly, fade, before coming off in her hand. Half a minute later there's a new bud in its place, and Alice idly rubs the shriveled petal between her fingers, until it crumbles to dust, more compost for the garden.

"D'you find anything yet?" Quentin's voice startles her, but she's used to the lag in processing she hasn't been able to shake since she was reconstituted into three-dimensional matter, her soul shoved back into newly iterated mass. She blinks, once, but doesn't waver.

"Not yet -- you can tell this is Martin's work, I realized he always left a signature in his spells -- see that little tail on the horomantic matrix? That's complete nonsense, it doesn't have anything to do with the spell, but it shows up all over Fillory. There's always a kind of flourish on it in the curses."

Alice looks up, meets Quentin's eyes; he's staring at her, a little blankly, and she's self-conscious: did she say the wrong thing? Is he regretting their kiss in the kitchen? Was she -- oh.

Probably she shouldn't be so open with her appreciation for Martin's work. Probably she shouldn't be appreciating it generally.

That's the kind of thing a Niffin would do, after all, peer into a dark corner of the universe and ruthlessly assess whatever is there, maybe tweaking the lines of fate one way or another in approval or disfavor. Admire the work, dismiss the animal doing the work, flit off to the next fascinating little morsel of reality.

"I mean--" she starts, then stops; she's been working so hard to think before she speaks, and one fucking curse-ridden time-play spell-craft is enough to throw her off her game.

"Yeah, I see it," Quentin says, slowly, like he's not sure what exactly he should be saying here but is unwilling to break their new truce by taking a wrong step. She doesn't think he actually sees it. That's not how Quentin looks at things: he takes them away to be considered in the privacy of his own mind, tugged and poked and spun around until he comes back and delivers the results of his analysis. It takes forever. It drove Alice nuts.

She wishes, sincerely, that it still drove her nuts; instead she tries not to bite her lip, a giveaway for her mental state that she's never been able to drop, and stands back up from her crouch.

Penny comes in with Plover -- god, can nothing kill him? Those clumsy, scarred bindrunes have magic crawling all over them, pure magic essence poured into the lines of the bindunes themselves; it will never matter how much ambient there is, because Martin Chatwin built those sigils to torment his tormentor for eternity. There's another curse laid down like a fine sheath over them, on Plover's skin -- if anyone tried to remove them, something similar would carve itself onto their skin, sucking down ambient to fuel the deathless spell. Plover's so deaf and blind to real magic, genuine masterful magic, that he probably doesn't even know the secondary detonation spell even exists, much less how to perceive it.

She goes to stand at the mouth of the cave with Penny, who's watching everything with a look halfway between "what are you people even doing in this timeline" and a clear, genuine concern for Julia, the danger she's in by being a new Monster's ride. Quentin runs down what they know so far about the curse, Josh, the Secret Sea, and the Drowned Garden. Plover waves him off like a persistent moth, and Quentin steps back, shoulders slumping.

Alice isn't used to seeing his eyes so clearly. She remembers -- she remembers Quentin ducking behind a hank of hair, one watchful eye peeking out and the other hidden away; she remembers the feel of his hair between her fingers, always smooth and more fine than she expected, curling lightly at the ends. She isn't sure what it means that he's kept it so short, the way his glamour identity wore it; when she saw him, that first time after she escaped from the Library, she was startled by how short it was, how he pushed it past his temple to get it out of his eyes. Who was cutting it for him? Julia?

She felt abruptly, uselessly jealous, imagining Julia's long thin fingers working through Quentin's hair, trying to tug a smile onto his face. She had hated Julia for what she did to Quentin, her oldest friend, and then she'd felt bad for her; and then Alice didn't give two shits about Julia or Brakebills or oxygen. Somehow she still thought about Quentin, though, decorporealized in the tail of a comet in the Andromeda Galaxy, or pulling the antennae off weird little alien bugs. She only ever looked in on him once or twice, enough to see that his heart was still beating and that his dreams were full of the Alice-That-She-Was.

Alice thought about the kiss in the kitchen again, bit her smile off her face; she still couldn't believe it was real, that Quentin -- forgave her. Trusted her again.

Plover, useless as usual, finally stopped babbling, and Quentin sent him away, back to the court of Whitespire that he would never appreciate, only mock in his thoughtless, arrogant fashion.

Alice shivered. She hated listening to Plover talk.

She and Penny stood together, watching Quentin fumble out blandishments towards Fillory, the flat, nearly sarcastic tone of his voice doing more to fuel the curse than Plover's fumbling did. Quentin broke off, and she stepped towards him, dropping her nervous hands and then raising them again to touch his face, draw his attention. Support him, be there for him, like a mantra inside her head; all the things she didn't do before because she didn't want their relationship to be about carrying one another.

She is starting to understand just how little she understands about healthy relationships with other people. Also, it's becoming evident just how fucked up her parents were, and how they fucked her up. Part of, she thinks, taking responsibility for her own actions is recognizing the ways in which she didn't have models of good people, or good relationships. But the larger part of taking responsibility is owning the shit she did, and acknowledging that shit to herself and to the people she hurt.

On her better days she recognizes that most of the work is acknowledging the shit to herself. And trying, somehow, to forgive herself.

On more typical days she writes long, emotional emails she will never send. She writes them to Charlie, because he'll never see them. She misses him, the brother that she lost and the Niffins they could have been together.

That's also probably something she shouldn't be thinking.

In the Drowned Garden, Quentin spills out his frustration and anger and heartbreak, all the things he used to believe that have been ruined, and Alice tries not to flinch; she doesn't want to believe she's another thing he used to believe in that's been ruined. She reaches for something to say, straightens Quentin's hoodie with nervous fingers, and with the kind of honesty that is still painful and probably always will be tells him to be himself, that he should be himself, that believing in magic -- the way he did when they first met, when he changed her and her life and her heart -- believing in magic the way he did, the way she knows he still does, deep down, is perfect exactly as it is. Being an adult doesn't mean that you have to throw away what you used to love she says, with conviction, because she may not ever believe that for herself. But she absolutely believes that for Quentin.

She doesn't know what else to say, and the kiss they shared is still fragile, hanging between them, so she hopes she's done the best she can to reassure him and leaves Quentin to his dahlias and his disappointments and his childhood dreams. As she turns towards Penny, one more thing comes to mind: she tells Quentin about the Cozy Horse, how she saw him when she was a Niffin, and she doesn't lie to him.

It probably isn't the best time to tell him that the Cozy Horse was a douchebag with a badly managed addiction to fairy dust, but she thinks she hit the most salient point.

Alice and Penny leave Quentin there, climb back upstairs to the secret entrance to the Secret Sea, and Alice leans against the wall, closing her eyes. Martin's magic is everywhere in Whitespire, along with hundreds of layers of other spells by dozens of magicians, Fillorian sorcerers and Magician Children of Earth and more that she can't classify. She can't look at the world without analyzing all its contingent parts; that was true long before she ever Niffined out.

It's just easier to look away and close her eyes.


Additional author's notes.


starshipfox: (margo dissaproves)
[personal profile] starshipfox wrote:
Apr. 17th, 2019 11:59 am (UTC)
I really like how you capture Alice: how strange and apart she feels from everyone, and how being a niffin has changed her. I like how you explore the ways in which her pre-niffin life have informed her decisions, and how she's struggling a lot to parse out how she feels now, and how she wants to be with other people. It's wonderful to read a story that really grapples with the complexity of her character, and it's lovely to see the touches of magic too: how magic continue to be a solace to her, and a source of disquiet. Beautiful work!
templemarker: margo - are you fucking kidding me (Default)
[personal profile] templemarker wrote:
Apr. 18th, 2019 10:57 pm (UTC)
<3 thank you! Alice is not a character with a lot of balance -- she's gone to too many extremes over the period of the show. But she is a character who is really striving towards balance, whatever that ends up meaning for her.
greywash: Alice&#39;s awkward attempt at something approaching a smile (alice quinn)
[personal profile] greywash wrote:
Apr. 17th, 2019 12:12 pm (UTC)
Ahhhhhhhh I love this! One of the things that I feel like is something I struggle with a lot, in writing Alice, is precisely something I feel like you nailed, here: the way her distance-from is constantly interacting with her interactions even with people she wants to be close to—Quentin, here, in particular, who she can love and want to be affectionate towards but constantly has such a sense of the gulf between them. That's a really hard space to occupy, and I think you nailed it; and I love the way that that plays against the things that your Alice does feel and engage with more viscerally (magic, in particular).
templemarker: margo - are you fucking kidding me (Default)
[personal profile] templemarker wrote:
Apr. 18th, 2019 10:59 pm (UTC)
Yes! Definitely that distance. I interpret it like -- she's trying to filter things before she reacts to them as much as possible, because she knows/believes her reactions are off, both from what her more conservative, vulnerable self reacts to and from how other people -- especially Quentin -- react.

So that distance seems very important and purposeful, but more significantly, very functional.

<33 thank you!


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