Quentin can’t believe Alice has dragged him, of all places in the magical universe, to her parents’ house. “Would you have come if I had told you?” she asks. And he has to admit that no, he probably wouldn’t have, because one, he’s heard nothing but terrible things about Stephanie and Daniel, and two, he’s a total coward when it comes to parents.
Mostly it’s the second reason.
Everyone thinks their parents are the worst parents ever. So Quentin has always taken all of Alice’s complaints with a grain of salt. Yeah, your parents sucked. Yeah, they have no purpose or meaning in life. Yeah, they’re self-centered, horrid people who never understood you. I believe you, baby. I’m so sorry. Uh-huh. They were awful.
Except Alice was totally fucking right.
From the Roman architecture to getting offered goat penis to Alice freaking out over her mom's alleged affair with Joe, this is, he thinks, what Margo and Eliot would call a total dumpster fire.
But Joe’s a traveler. Joe can help them find Penny. Except it involves sex magic, because all magic from where he comes from is sex magic. Quentin understands now, on a deep and fundamental level, Alice’s desire to escape this fucking madhouse of a Roman villa.
“You have to climax at the same time,” Joe says. “I assume that won’t be a problem?”
“No,” Quentin says.
“Um,” Alice says.
“Well you want the spell to work, don’t you?!” she snaps.
Oh my fucking god, he thinks. Margo was right all along. She’s totally been faking it.
So Quentin’s forced into a sit-down with an interplanetary sex therapist. The questions are invasive and embarrassing. What positions do you normally use? Does she prefer clitoral or vaginal stimulation? When did you lose your virginity, with whom, and how? Describe it. Describe a normal sexual encounter with Alice. He doesn’t bring up his bisexuality. He doesn’t bring up Eliot.
He’s dying of shame but attempting to pretend that this is a normal fucking conversation with an actual psychiatrist. He’s had enough of those, after all. But the room is too big, the sectional sofa all wrong, the light streaming through the picture windows too fucking bright, even if it is muted and gray. He ends up stumbling and muttering and turning red, twisting his hands in his lap and hiding behind his hair. He picks at his cuticles until they bleed.
After a few hours of this, Joe must despair of him. “Look,” he says. “Try one of these.” He waits until Stephanie and Alice aren’t anywhere near and slips Quentin a vial of liquid. “Add it to her drink. In conjunction with a certain spell, it’ll make her climax at the same time you do.” Joe teaches him the charm. It’s simple, really, a few Poppers strung together with some Arabic.
“Thanks,” Quentin says, and pockets the vial.
“What I said about a good connection between your genitals? I was wrong. Are you sure you don’t want me to pinch-hit this one for you?” He leans in, touches Quentin on the knee. It’s invasive and weird and Quentin flinches back.
“No! No, god.”
He and Alice fight, in her childhood bedroom of all places, the Garden State soundtrack on the dresser next to them. How could you fake it, blah blah blah. How am I supposed to get better at something if I don’t even know I’m doing it wrong? Her answers are vague and ridiculous and basically meant to save his ego. He can’t help but think: Eliot never faked it, obviously, but he would never lie about something so important. Margo has too much self-respect to fake it. Alice, on the other hand, is too scared to even tell him what she wants. What the fuck does that say about their relationship? What does it say about his relationship with Eliot?
He slips the clear liquid in her water when she goes to the bathroom, mutters the Arabic and flexes through the Poppers. They need to get Penny back from the Neitherlands.
When she comes back, she drinks the water, sets it down on the CD case. They try again. And it’s different this time. She starts telling him what she wants. Touch me here. Bite me. Yeah, that’s it, Quentin. And he finds himself getting aroused, not necessarily by the sex, but by the directness, something he hasn’t had since his time with Eliot. She even climbs on top of him, something she’s never done before, and he lies back and enjoys it, watches her perfect tits bounce and lets her ride him. Jesus, it feels good. He closes his eyes. He sees Margo instead. He snaps his eyes open, watches Alice’s nipples, leans up to suck one of them. Finally, unable to stop himself, he grabs her by the hips and pumps himself in and out of her. She’s making panting, desperate sounds. He’s never heard them before. He fucks her harder, and the sounds turn into gasps, into “oh, oh, oh, Q, oh, I think I’m going to —” and he spills himself inside her. He feels, for the first time, her spasm around him. So this is what she feels like, he thinks.
“Oh, Quentin, you girly fanboy piece of shit, you did it,” Penny says from across the room.
Alice’s head whips around. She covers her breasts. Quentin sort of shrugs. “I did it,” he says.
“We did it,” Alice corrects him.
Penny turns his back. Quentin and Alice rearrange themselves into some semblance of decency, and he turns back around. “Let’s get back to Brakebills,” he says. “I got some information on the Beast.”
They say goodbye to Stephanie and Daniel before portaling back to the Cottage. Quentin has never been happier to see Eliot and Margo, though he can’t quite put his finger on why. She was right, he thinks again. He wants to tell her. But there’s no way he can, so he just hugs her and Eliot, Eliot who never lied to him, especially not about something so important.
Eliot who was broken in so many ways, but not that one.
He feels dirty. The sex magic felt good, but it was ugly. He wants to shower. He wants to wash it off him. He never wants to do it again. When Alice suggests they go sleep in her room, he begs off. He needs to be alone.
No. He needs to be with Eliot and Margo.
But he can’t, so he goes to his room. He takes Fillory and Further off the shelf. And he reads, and reads, and reads, until sleep finally finds him.