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He had her by the throat.

Quentin froze, cards in hand. It took seconds for all their intentions, all their plans, to implode. Poof, gone. Fast as a bowling ball smashing through a house of cards. He couldn't breathe, couldn't move, only stare at Julia dangling from the Beast's hand. Her eyes slid to him, pleading, before the snap.

The sound shot through him, a live wire on his nerves. The others were shouting, gasping, shocked into action, but he could only stare at Julia's limp form dangling in the Beast's grasp. His own body slack as he watched her slip from that careless hold, used and discarded. Her limbs splayed, strewn about, a marionette with strings cut. He held her glassy eyed stare through the crunch and snap of the Beast tearing through Eliot, through Margo and Alice, unable to look away. Their screams, their deaths were muted beneath the ringing in his ears. In seconds, it happened in seconds. She was dead.

He never told her.

There wasn't time. He thought they'd have time. When it was over, when it was just the two of them, surrounded by the magic they loved, away from James, away from all the little barriers between them. Her name filled his mouth, choking him, unable to move past his lips. Just say it, say her name.

"Quentin Coldwater." It was the Beast that spoke, in a smooth congenial voice at odds with the blood dripping from his hands. Quentin didn't want to look, didn't want to see the face of the one who'd murdered his friends, but as the moths peeled away he couldn't help it, finally tearing his gaze from hers.

Human features, yet not human, as if the humanity was scrubbed away or hollowed out. A hollow mask to hide the Beast beneath. How had he ever felt sorry for Martin Chatwin? The boy who'd become a monster frowned at Quentin, an expression of dissatisfaction crossing his features.

"No card tricks? No conversation?" The Beast's frowned deepened as he looked around. "No Jane?"

No, no Jane. They had summoned him here against her warning. He should have listened to her. Why hadn't he listened to her?

"Hmph," said the Beast. He straightened his tie, leaving bloodied fingerprints. "I must say, I am disappointed this time around. Usually you lot are a smidgeon more entertaining. Oh well." He reached for the chain dangling from his waist coat, pulling an antique pocket watch from his pocket. His eyebrows rose as he observed the time. "Very disappointing."

The fingers of the Beast's free hand twisted in the air.

Quentin ripped inside. The playing cards spilled from his loosened fingers as blood bubbled up his throat. He didn't fight it, not with Julia already gone. There was no point. They'd failed. He failed. Choked in the moment. Choking now. He gagged on the blood in his mouth, coughing in a futile attempt to clear his airway.

Martin, the Beast, was gone. Too disappointed to even stay and gloat. Quentin reached for Julia, dragging himself the final inches to clasp her hand. He could feel his body shutting down, could feel himself fading.

He should have told her.

A shadow fell over him. He couldn't see her through his dimming eyesight, could barely feel her hand pushing the bangs out of face, but he could hear the sadness in Jane's voice.

I should have listened to you. He wanted to tell her but his mouth was thick with death. She seemed to understand him anyway.

"I'm so sorry, Quentin. I–I thought knowing from the beginning would be what you needed. What would give you the edge. I," she stopped, covering her mouth as she looked at the others. "I thought you were smart enough to avoid suicidal impulses. Why didn't you wait?" Her voice broke on a sob. "None of you waited. None of you were ready."

Would they ever be ready? Quentin couldn't ask, his throat closed and clogged and useless as the rest of him. It happened so fast. Julia dead in seconds. How could they ever be ready for that?

"You panicked, didn't you? You couldn't handle something so big so soon?" Quentin couldn't concentrate on Jane's words, the sounds dimmed, fuzzed at the edges as if he sank into deep water. Jane continued on, her words echoing through him as he faded. "None of you could. It destroyed the connections you should have made. Penny bailed the first chance he got. Eliot and Margo were self destructive to begin with. Alice, still aloof, still cold. None of you could function, or bond. And Julia." She paused. "She died first. She shouldn't have died first."

She shouldn't have died at all. Quentin sank deeper, slipping under. He couldn't feel the pressure of Julia's fingers against his own. Couldn't feel much of anything.

"'Where ignorance is bliss, tis folly to be wise'," said Jane, her voice a distant ripple through the deep dark water over his head. "It's better, when you don't know Quentin. You live longer. Now for Julia--"

Quentin couldn't hear Jane anymore.

The coin spun on the table. Quentin stopped it with his finger, trying not to fidget beneath the doctor's appraising gaze from across the table. They couldn't keep him here. Besides, he had a party to attend. 

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