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This Slope is Treacherous

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Julia walked into a large sitting area and ran into Kady as she slowly tried to back away. Julia barely noticed, seeing Quentin lying prone on one of the couches. 

“Oh God. Q?”

Eliot hissed. He recognized the brunette. She had been at the hedge bodega. What the fuck was she doing at Brakebills?  

“Julia?” He intoned, hoping he got her name right. “How did you get in here?” He had a bad feeling about this. He didn’t know how long she’d been standing there, unnoticed.

“Ah, Miss Wicker, if I remember correctly.” Fogg said. 

Eliot thought he sounded unsurprised and far too civil considering she had to break into the wards to get on campus. 

Fogg sniffed the air. She was a Beta. And she smelled of Marina Andrieski. Of course, it all came back to Ms. Andreiski. Dean Fogg happened to remember the brunette standing in front of him. She’d just barely failed the admission exam. And she had been the first question Quentin had asked upon learning he had been let into Brakebills. 

Kady was looking down at her shoes and Penny just looked confused.

“I…” she licked her lips and swallowed audibly. The room was drenched in the scent of ammonia. Julia’s distress was even more tangible than Eliot’s. She blinked. “Look. It doesn’t matter how I got here. What matters is, I can help. I can give you the exact wording of the spell. It was supposed to be a joke.” 

“Bullshit! You clearly did this to get even,” Eliot snapped, anger lacing his tone and his gaze.

“Oh, fuck you,” she spat. 

Penny laughed. “A joke ? You have to be fucking with me.” He composed himself before nearly spitting, “Do you have any idea where he is right now?” 

He was beyond pissed. He still didn’t like Quentin, but even he wouldn’t call this ‘a joke.’ Whoever this chick was, she had a warped sense of what funny was. 

Eliot opened his mouth to speak next, but Fogg cut in, turning to Julia. 

“It’s almost certainly too late,” he sneered, the cruel expression finally breaking his cool facade. He took a sharp breath, composing himself, “If I had had the exact wording half an hour ago it would have made all the difference, but at this point, Ms. Wicker there is no ‘helping him,’ it’s entirely up to him.”

“There’s got to be something.” Julia was crying. Her hand was curled into a fist, her nails biting deeply into her palms.

“Why would you do this?” Penny asked. 

Eliot was still glaring daggers at Julia. Both Penny and Eliot’s nostrils were flaring; they were both angry, but Eliot hadn’t had a chance to get a word in. And Penny— Penny didn’t even like Quentin— but he didn’t hate the dude, either. The facsimile of the hospital in Quentin’s mind reminded Penny too much of where he used to go to visit his mom. Quentin had been hospitalized before, which Penny had seen hints of back when they roomed together. But before now it hadn’t been anything concrete. He knew Quentin struggled, he never heard the fucking end of that, but this this was done intentionally. Cruelly. Beyond cruel.

Eliot was fighting to keep his temper leashed. He wanted to speak, but he had to focus on not losing his shit. He couldn’t afford for his magic to react to how he wanted to hurt— no, he wanted to kill Julia. But Quentin wouldn’t like that if— when he woke up. And Eliot would not lose control. He would not kill again.

Fogg spoke again. “No, Penny. She didn’t think the spell up, let alone cast it by herself, did you Ms. Wicker?”

“I didn’t. I’ve been working with some…” she started to explain before cutting herself off, looking a little sick. “Q warned me about them.”

“You’ve been slumming with hedges.” Eliot snapped, his tone short but telekinesis firmly in check.

“Not just any hedges,” Dean Fogg said. “A safehouse led by a particularly nasty ex-fourth year.”

“Marina Andrieski. She was expelled.” Julia blinked, trying to gather her thoughts. Maybe if she knew what Marina did she could understand what happened. But Julia was too shaken to properly think of the right words to ask her question. All she could get out was, “She… what did she…?”

Dean Fogg understood. It was a common question regarding Marina Andrieski. “She is a standard sociopath, Ms. Wicker. She managed to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes until a few months before graduation. She was expelled for nearly killing another student in what she called an ‘experiment,’” Fogg waved a hand as if to ward off any questions. “The details are irrelevant. Now she might have managed to effectively kill another.” Fogg may have sounded calm, but he felt a vast anger. Andrieski was still a pain in his ass, even several years after her expulsion. He couldn’t help her. But maybe he could help Ms. Wicker not make the same mistakes going forward… not accepting the girl into the twenty chosen first year students had clearly been a mistake. 

There was coughing from the couch where Quentin lay. In the time it had taken for Julia to arrive and Fogg to explain, he’d managed to untangle himself from the remainder of the web. The metal scorpion body that had been enchanted with the Matarese’s essence, having done its job, came flying out of his mouth, clattering across the floor. Eliot immediately sat back down at Quentin’s side. 

“Are you okay?” he asked.

Before Quentin could respond, Julia stepped forward with a relieved and breathless “Q, thank God!” But before she could get closer, Eliot spoke up.

“No,” he said. “You don’t get to comfort yourself here. Not with the spell you cast.”

Julia started crying again. She shook her head. “I didn’t—”

“Julia?” Quentin rasped.

“Someone get him some brandy.” Fogg interjected. Eliot summoned some using his telekinesis, grabbing the bottle from the air and pouring Quentin a glass. Fogg then turned towards his student. “Are you alright, Quentin?”

“I, uh, yeah.” Quentin said. “I’m, uh—. I’m pretty confused, but I’m alright, or no worse than I was before. I uh... I guess.” He looked up at the room and did a double take when he realized Julia was in fact there. At first it seemed natural, but Julia wasn’t a Brakebills student. “Julia? How— why? Whaaa-t are you doing here?”

“Ms. Wicker here was just explaining how she learned the spell you were trapped under?”

“Jules...” Quentin’s tone and puppy dog eyes radiating hurt. He looked up at her, asking for confirmation. “That was... you?”

“Quentin, I swear — I—” Julia paused, looking down, before speaking softly. “It was only supposed to be a joke.”

Quentin’s hands clenched, his nostrils flared, his jaw tensing before he bolted up.

“A joke? Julia, you put me in the hospital again. A joke ?” Quentin’s voice gained both conviction and volume as he continued. “You know what that’s been like for me.” 

All eyes in the room were affixed on Julia. 

“You were there.” He looked down again, half collapsing onto the couch, his leg bounced and his gaze honed in on the fibers of the couch upholstery, just visible past Eliot’s body. 

“I’m…” Julia started. She spoke and her voice had a slight quiver in it as she cried. “I’m sorry, Q. I really…” she sobbed. “It was only supposed to be—”

“You should leave, now.” Eliot interrupted, his voice like ice.

Quentin just sat there, shell-shocked and unsure of what to think or feel. His arms were wrapped around his knees, and he squeezed tightly hoping the sensation would help ground him. Julia was responsible? How? What was going on?

“Actually, Miss Wicker,” Dean Fogg interjected. “If you could follow me to my office, I would like to speak with you.” Julia kept looking at Quentin. She realized Eliot wasn’t going to let her near him, and Quentin couldn’t even look at her. Julia turned to nod at the Dean.

Eliot was confused why Henry would want to speak with her, especially after the dangerous stunt she had just pulled. Regardless, Quentin was going to be his focus until he said he was alright. Penny’s reaction spoke to how bad the situation had been wherever Quentin was, and at the moment, Quentin was still clearly in shock.

“Of course.” Julia said before slinking off behind him. 

As Julia left the Cottage, she ran into a familiar scent and face. “M—” Julia barely stopped herself from saying ‘Miss’ before saying, “Margo?” 

The mint-and-amber-scented woman turned to her. “Oh,” she drawled. “You’re Marina’s beta— sub,” she corrected herself before continuing. “Right? How’d you get in—”

“Bambi? Is that you I hear?” Eliot called from the other room. While he hadn’t seen her, he’d smelled her and thought he’d heard her voice. Sitting there, doing nothing wasn’t helping him. More importantly, it wasn’t helping Quentin. “Can you grab some snacks for me and Quentin from the kitchen?”

“Yeah, El. Of course,” she called back. 

Margo turned to address Julia “Another time, then? I do have to catch your name some time,” Margo winked at Julia before moving past her and towards the Cottage’s kitchen.

While Eliot was waiting for Margo to bring him and Quentin snacks, Kady and Penny checked in on Quentin. Even though Kady lived at the Cottage, she was often doing her own thing, and not really part of the group. Even shy, reclusive Alice engaged with the Physical Kids more often than Kady did. Kady spent her time with Penny and some of the other psychics. 

Prior to the web, Kady and Penny had neither liked nor disliked Quentin. But now (although they’d never admit to it) they felt a bit of a fondness for him. Penny was finding he didn’t mind hearing Quentin’s thought spirals. As much as they had pissed Penny off, Quentin wasn’t the ‘woe is me’ type. Not in the way Penny first thought. After learning about Quentin’s hospitalization, Penny felt a greater sense of understanding. Quentin struggled. Genuinely struggled. And he really was doing what he could. Including blasting Taylor Swift because it was one of the few things that made him smile. Penny couldn’t begrudge him that anymore. As for the mind trip that was that spell, Penny was bewildered. If that woman had really seen Q hospitalized, why would she spell him back there? 

“Dude, that was seriously fucked up. Who was that chick?” Penny asked.

“Her name is Julia.” Quentin puffed out his breath, “She is—” he shook his head, like he was trying to reset his brain. “She was my childhood best friend.”

“That’s some fucked up shit from a life-long friend” Penny snarked, spite clear in his tone. 

Quentin didn’t get why Kady or Penny for that matter seemed to care. Penny hadn’t stopped snapping about his mental wards, and Kady went through an endless cycle of calling him names beginning with Q, but never actually Quentin. Why would they now act like they gave a fuck? It just didn’t add up. Unless Penny just pitied him. But that also didn’t seem like the type of thing that Penny would give in to.

Kady spoke softly, “We’ll leave you two alone, but Quentin? If you need anything please let us know.”  It was the first time she got his name right. 

“Even if it’s just a refresher on mental wards and Taylor Swift.” Penny grumbled, but his comment lacked it’s usual bite. While he no longer begrudged Coldwater for liking Swift, it didn’t mean Penny had to listen to it. “Seriously though Quentin, let us know.” Penny spoke kindly. It was drastically out of character and didn’t make a ton of sense. Quentin wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth, at least not with everything else that was currently reeling through his mind. It seemed they recognized their lack of care in the past.

Kady and Penny turned away and walked towards the exit of the cottage sitting room. Quentin didn’t know it, but Eliot was pumping out possessive pheromones. Even with Kady and Penny scent bonded, and Quentin unpresented he was not thrilled with the attention the usually callous pair was showing Quentin. But Quentin couldn't let their kindness pass without regard.

“Wait, Kady, uh, Penny” Quentin called. “I, uh. Thank you for having my back and for the uh, for your offer.” They both nodded at Eliot and Quentin before leaving the room. Eliot sat stiffly next to Quentin, not really moving yet. 

Eliot turned his full attention to the first year sitting next to him. 

Quentin had sat up after he had coughed up the Matarese’s shell several minutes prior, and was still nursing the glass of brandy that Fogg had Eliot pour.

“Are you okay, Q? Is it okay if I call you that?” Eliot’s tone was gentle and he was looking at Quentin with a look of such care that Quentin struggled to return his gaze. Eliot’s full attention was surprising and startling. 

Quentin knew they were growing closer, but seeing it in Eliot’s eyes and hearing him ask to use a nickname after everything that had just happened caused Quentin to unravel, his emotions leaving him feeling small, and seeking comfort. He nodded, and ended up in Eliot’s arms, his legs tucked up on the couch under him so he could lean against Eliot. Eliot rocked him gently while making soft soothing noises. The Alpha’s noises were interspersed with the occasional statement: ‘it’s okay,’ ‘let it all out’, and ‘I’ve got you.’ When Eliot finally said ‘I’m here for you, Q’, all of Quentin’s agitation and fear ebbed. The tension left his body and he settled into a space where only comfort and care evoked any emotion. Despite the events of the day, Quentin was at a sort of peace, one he tended to only find in a subspace. Eliot had him .. 

Margo came in soon after with a platter of snacks: some cheeses, crackers and fruit. Eliot was holding the first year so gently, with a care Margo had only seen him express for her. It lit up her heart, while another part of her went cold. The duality was sharp, and easier for her to snuff out than for her to confront. Some serious shit went down. That was clear. Maybe that would explain Eliot’s behavior, she thought. 

“What trouble did you two manage to get into while I was gone? And why was Marina’s beta here?”

Quentin was oddly floating. He didn’t quite recognize what Margo was saying as he settled further into Eliot’s arms and let Eliot speak. He recognized the space he was in felt similar to a subspace, but Eliot said he had him. And Quentin trusted him. He was safe to just be.

Margo sat next to Quentin, angling her body so she was facing the cuddled pair, but not quite touching them.

“Marina’s beta?” Eliot said, cocking an eyebrow over Quentin’s head.

“Yea, I told you about—” Margo started.

“Oh!” Eliot cut her off. “I remember. Well, it just so happens that she’s also Quentin's Julia. The one from the book incident?”

“Well, shit.” She drawled, “You don’t say?” Margo was a little stunned. She had joined Marina for a rather intense scene where they had topped Julia, whom at the time had been simply known as Marina’s beta. It turns out she had had a threesome with Quentin’s best friend. 

“She and Marina cast a rather vicious spell. They roofied Quentin, trapping him in his own head, in his own nightmare,” Eliot explained. “It was some sort of psych hospital.”

Margo had to bite her lip. This was definitely serious. Eliot’s phrasing aside, that sounded like hell. “It was bad enough that Penny was pissed on Quentin’s behalf.” Eliot responded.

Margo’s eyes widened in surprise. She knew Penny didn’t like Quentin, and even he was pissed. Whatever Julia had done was majorly fucked up. 

“We weren’t even sure he was going to wake up.” Eliot’s arms squeezed Quentin tighter against his chest. “Ever.” 

Quentin burrowed deeper into Eliot’s arms. Knowing he should redirect the conversation, Eliot floated a piece of cheese and fruit up to where he and Quentin were cuddled up. “You should eat a little something, Q.” 

Quentin blinked a few times, but when he realized Eliot was speaking to him he leaned forward and took a bite of the proffered food. He didn’t feel like talking about where he’d been. But he was happy to let Eliot take care of him. After finishing the piece of cheese, he buried his face in Eliot’s chest again.

Margo sat there, her eyes downcast. This was serious. And it had bonded Eliot to Quentin in a way she wasn’t sure Eliot realized. The two had been growing closer ever since that first weekend where they took to the Hudson, but while she’d heard Eliot talk about Quentin as Q in passing, she’d never heard him called Quentin that directly. Given how much time the trio spent together, Margo would have known about the nickname. She trusted that Eliot would talk to her about it when he was ready.

She didn’t know if Eliot had caught on, but Quentin’s shock looked a lot like subspace. She thought there was no way he was going to present as anything other than Omega… but she could be wrong. She didn’t doubt herself often, but it sounded like the gravity of the day’s events could be enough for her to be wrong. 

“Q, honey,” Margo crooned. She knew she was more of the protecting type than comforting, but Quentin was hurting. She wanted to be there for her friend. “Can I join you and El?” she asked.

Quentin nodded. 

Margo scooted over and draped one arm around the back of the couch, mostly over Eliot’s shoulders and behind the perched Quentin. She settled her other arm on Quentin’s back, her hand stroking his hair. Margo sat a little cheated out still so Eliot could fully focus on Quentin and she could function as a buffer to the world. 

They sat together like that for hours. Eliot and Margo murmuring comforting things to Quentin, and Eliot telekinetically feeding him. Eventually, Eliot and Margo told Quentin he needed something more substantial, and Eliot softly asked Quentin if he was okay to cuddle up to Margo so he could cook them dinner. Quentin nodded, and after Eliot wandered off to the kitchen, Quentin scooted closer to Margo and rested his head in her lap. He lay there with her stroking his hair until Eliot called that their food was ready. 

After their meal, Margo and Eliot convinced Quentin he should talk to Professor Lipson. They made their way to the infirmary, but Quentin didn’t say much. His words were often mumbled and cut off. Lipson ran magical diagnostics before clearing him medically and magically. She told him if needed he could safely double his potion — the magical anti-anxiety and anti-depressant he’d received at the beginning of the year — for the next several days, saying it should help with any residual mental effects from the Scarlatti’s Web.

 After the trio left, Lipson couldn’t help but think about Quentin. It had been three weeks since he had been tested for his discipline and designation. His potions, while clearly necessary, could interfere with the timing of his presentation. Given how he was responding to Margo and Eliot, Lipson wouldn’t be surprised if—or more likely when— he presented as an Omega. 

She knew the rumors about Eliot and Margo. That the pair were an open diad who often slept with Alphas and Betas, but avoided Omegas on principle. She hoped that they wouldn’t abandon the boy after he presented. But at the end of the day, all Lipson could do was support Quentin’s mental health; advise him and provide both mental and physical health treatments to him to the best of her abilities. 

She hoped that whatever friendship the three had formed, that had broken through the icy exterior of Margo’s facade and through Eliot’s typical aloof nature was strong enough to weather the likely storm that Quentin’s presentation would evoke. The trials were fast approaching. Mid-next week, Quentin and the other first years would be put to the test. She had already arranged for Quentin’s magical medication to be available at Brakebills South (BBS). As much of a dick as the Brakebills South Alpha professor Misha Mayakovsky was, he at least respected modern medicine despite some of his more classical beliefs. 

Quentin would pass. The fact that the faculty had discussed the boy’s prowess spoke to that. But how he would cope with the freezing Antarctic and her borderline abusive colleague was another story entirely. And given their protectiveness of Quentin, it seemed Lipson may have to check in on Eliot and Margo as well. Alphas didn’t do well when separated from people that their instincts screamed were part of their pack. And Margo and Eliot’s behavior towards Quentin spoke that no matter what the undetermined boy was to them, at the end of the day, Quentin was theirs in a way that only Alphas and Omegas truly understood. As an Alpha herself — a well kept secret among the staff — Eleanor Lipson recognized the attachment and care in the Alphas’ eyes. Only time would tell if their instincts would overturn the diad’s aversion to taking an Omega partner.