Chapter 1: Dancing With Our Hands Tied
Quentin was a bit of a gleeful mess, he was practically vibrating with excitement. Fillorian Designations were real?! He had only been in classes at Brakebills for a total of three days, and already there was all this talk of Alphas, Betas, and Omegas. It was something straight out of Plover’s “Fillory and Further”. He couldn’t believe it, could the books he grew up reading actually be based on reality?! This was a fan’s ultimate dream! With all these elements from the books actually being real, could this mean...could Fillory be real? Does the fantastical land actually exist? What about the Cozy…?
“Seriously?! SERIOUSLY! Learn some mental wards already Coldwater!” Quentin’s psychic roommate snapped, cutting off his thoughts. “All you think about is fucking Fillory, what the fuck even is a ‘cozy horse’? You’re annoying as fuck. Can you fucking leave?”
Quentin grimaced, shrinking back a little at the outburst. After a small pause, he started mentally singing “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift. He looked over expectantly at Penny, who was meditating on the floor.
“And fucking stop with the Taylor Swift shit already.” Penny huffed, glaring at him. After motioning to the door, Penny closed his eyes and tried to recenter himself. Quentin smirked, satisfied at his successful attempt to further annoy his surly roommate.
Deciding that it was probably in his best interest to give Penny some space, he got off his bed and grabbed his book bag. Heading in the direction of the library, Quentin thought now was as good a time as any to read up on the physical biology of magicians. Before he signed his Brakebills paperwork, Dean Fogg had taken the time to explain that since real magic is highly technical, in theory and execution, it will be extremely taxing on a magician’s mind and body. Therefore, a magical adept’s body will go through physical changes to better adapt to practicing magic. This being largely the result of magic being a living organism itself. It essentially mutated (although Fogg had skirted around the word “mutation”) an adept’s body to present as one of the sexual designations, serving multiple purposes that Fogg assured him covered in a mandatory seminar during week two. Quentin, however, was just itching to figure out how much Plover had either gotten right or pulled from magician biology. He loved Fillorianverse, obsessed over it, and the thought of it being real had him practically prancing to the library.
Quentin was pleased when he finally found a comfortable looking nook, under a magical window, in the depths of the library. The scene beyond the pane was of a different location, a field somewhere snowy. There was no way the view could be of Brakebills. Not with the wards causing the campus to lag two months and twenty-eight days behind the rest of New York’s seasons, it was still warm and sunny within the school’s grounds.
Quentin set his belongings, and the recommended library books, down and took a seat. According to the titles of the books, the term was “sexual designations”. Quentin had only ever interacted with this premise in the context of the Fillory books. As a Fillory stan, he had vehemently argued with people from other fandoms, contesting that the correct term was actually Fillorianverse. Versus what other fandoms called this system of sexuality, Omegaverse.
Quentin chuckled a little as he cracked open the first book titled, “Designations for Dummies”. At least this publisher knew its audience, and opted for some humor.
Essentially, magicians gained a designation once their magic and discipline developed enough. There were a few different ideas as to why the magical population evolved this way:
“1) It was the wellspring’s’s way of boosting the magical population. These biological changes allowed additional magicians to get pregnant.
2) The symbiotic Alpha/Omega bond increased not only cooperative magic capabilities, but also the local ambient magic.”
“Designations help magicians better control their magic, as well as find a partner with compatible magic and genes…
...Alpha and Omega designations do have anatomical and personality based effects.”
Quentin wondered if the physical elements were similar to the aged-up fanfics that took Plover’s Fillorian Designations and played with its sexual implications.
He heaved a deep sigh at the thought, and flipped to a page in the book with a biological traits chart:
- Scent glands on neck and wrists are more pronounced than those of a Beta, but less pronounced than those of an Omega.
- A female Alpha’s clit function more similarly to a sheathed penis, most Alphas clit’s growth are triggered by Omega pheromones or specific spells
- female Alphas can only impregnate magical Omegas
- undergo ruts
- only triggered by ritual magic, or prolonged exposure to a compatible Omega in heat.
- equivalent of a heat where an Alpha is most virile
- the base of the penis or the clit magically expands into a knot, not dissimilar to canid anatomy
- this helps a pregnancy be more likely to take as it effectively plugs an Omega and insures less semen seeps out
- this can be triggered either by pheromones or by spells
- protective instincts can be sparked by a compatible or familial Omega's heat
- scent glands on neck and wrists are more practically superficial and not so different from normal skin
- scent glands on neck and wrists, more pronounced than the glands of Alphas and Betas, especially in heat
- magic allows for an internal shift in circumstances in male Omegas allowing impregnation during heats
- undergo heats:
- female Omegas are more likely to conceive in heat
- male Omegas can only conceive during heat
- for some, heats are only triggered by certain rituals. While others have them monthly like a period.
- There are spells to suppress heats, although suppressing heats is bad for an Omega's health and magic.
- a mating period where an Omega's scent becomes nearly irresistible to compatible Alphas and Omega's need to seclude themselves and keep themselves filled and satisfied for 3-5 days. Easiest to weather with a compatible Alpha
- longest recorded heat in history was a ritual induced heat lasting 14 days
- all Omegas stay wet through the entirety of their heat
- instincts, especially to nest and scent, grow stronger during heat.
A lot of this was fairly standard, things that the mundane world seemed to have gotten right. The information on female Alphas was helpful. Although unlike other Omegaverse canons, Fillorianverse always had an equal amount of female and male Alphas. Fillory’s magical components were key to the fandom meta. Clearly sexual designations mirrored this.
Quentin’s biggest concern about his predicament is the likelihood of him presenting as an Omega. In such a case, he would have to worry about pregnancy…. While the text claimed conception was only possible during heats. If Quentin did present as an Omega, he’d definitely want to do additional research to really figure out if there was any chance of it happening other times. The last thing he needed was a pregnancy.
But god, actual knots existing... Quentin blinked and tried to distract himself with things that wouldn’t make him drool. He shook his head, and flipped to the section on social hierarchy, hoping the courts of Fillory weren’t accurate in their portrayal of designation politics.
He glanced at the book’s charts on the subject and immediately cursed under his breath. These were in fact, almost the exact same problems that Plover described the Chatwins seeing in Fillory. Such as Omegas being seen as submissive. Although Plover had omitted the sexual submission factors from the children’s books. And had not called the Fillorian secondary designations, sexual designations, like some of these texts did.
According to the text, Omegas are seen as being magically weaker, and are also expected to be both sexually and generally submissive (unsurprising given what the fandom forums were always joking about).… Although, it’s implied that bonded Omegas are stronger, and only have submissive urges towards their bond-mates.
On the other hand, Alphas have to be careful with their aggressive urges. These urges increase an Alpha’s chances of “niffining out.” Whatever that meant. Supposedly, mating with an Omega decreases these chances. Well, it at least brings down the probability to the same statistical chance that any non-Alpha magic user faced. Mating with a Beta does help, but it’s not as effective. Quentin would have to ask Eliot and Margo what “niffining out” meant. Considering how it was framed, Quentin surmised it was not a good thing.
Betas are assumed to be the most balanced in both temperament and magical ability. Quentin didn’t know what he wanted more, to be a bonded-Omega in perfect harmony with his Alpha, his dom(me). Or to be an independent and stable Beta with no additional issues or aspects to worry about, well, beyond kink at least. Quentin knew the Omega aspect could make his life a lot harder, but he thought, come-on? A mated bond? His 16-year-old self would’ve jizzed in his pants at the thought. He also acknowledged there was no-way he could be an Alpha, not with his submissive tendencies.
Skipping ahead to manifestations, he saw that someone had written in the margins: ‘Usually when assigned one’s Discipline, occasionally post BBS.’ The note was next to the line: “Magic development differs from magician to magician. Designation can often be magically detected prior to an adept presenting.”
He likely had some time before his discipline was determined. Eliot had mentioned that the determination wouldn’t be till later, but he hadn’t specified when it was going to be. Everything pointed to the magic needing some time to develop, but none of the texts Quentin pulled gave an exact timeline. Also what the hell was BBS?
In the mean-time however, he could scour the fillory forums. He’d never needed an excuse to escape into his favorite Fillorianverse fics before. And now that he had one, well, why not bury his head in hot porn? Especially now that he knew it could be real? He could be a real Omega with real heats, and could have a real, warm, live Alpha to knot him. Quentin blinked and tried to refocus. It wouldn’t help anything for him to get hard in the middle of the library.
He had a sudden thought, maybe some magicians knew their designations prior to them being tested or presenting. He didn’t see much here, but it couldn’t hurt to check the forums. Maybe Margo and Eliot knew where he could get some cell-service or internet access. Quentin didn’t actually know what the enigmatic Alphas saw in him, but they clearly enjoyed his company. After all, why else would they have continued to track him down and invite him to dinner most nights? Granted, despite having been at Brakebills for only a week, Quentin had already heard some rumors about the duo. Apparently, they’re both highly sex-positive, with one caveat. They didn’t sleep with unpresented magicians or Omegas. No one knows their exact reasoning, but their dynamic could certainly be considered odd. If the rumors are true, of course.
All of Quentin’s Fillorianverse knowledge, paired with the reading he’d done in the library, pointed to two Alphas mating being extraordinarily rare. Additionally, they didn’t really act like mates; at least not in the traditional sense. Their interactions didn’t read like the all encompassing romance associated with Fillorianverse. Also if there were health components associated with mating with a non-Alpha, why did the two still devote themselves entirely to each other? Had they ever thought of finding a third?
Quentin stopped his train of thought. At the end of the day they’re definitely in a queer relationship, which he was all for and also: it’s none of his business. It wasn’t like the dyad was actually interested in him like that. Chances were, he was just some “flavor of the month”. Something he’d heard they’d had throughout the previous two years. Plus, he was likely an Omega. And if that were the case, they definitely would not be interested. Hell, they probably wouldn’t even want to stay friends with him. He had heard rumors that there was an Omega in the year above him that had presented super early after fucking the pair. If Quentin had to guess, he would say it was Todd, given the way Margo and Eliot both teased him mercilessly and avoided him like the plague.
Quentin would definitely not be that type of Omega. The puppy, following uninterested and borderline cruel (but Margo and El are pretty cool, so they wouldn’t be intentionally cruel, right?). Regardless, even if his kinky inclinations manifested in being an Omega, at least he knew how to navigate a d/s relationship. Well, sort of… He knew the theory.
He knew about S.S.C.-Safe, Sane, Consensual, vs. R.A.C.K.-Risk Aware Consensual Kink vs. P.R.I.C.K.-Personal Responsibility in Consensual Kink, and even had his own limits sheet. He has scened a fair amount at a local dungeon, and has a few different play partners he’d switch between. But he’d never managed to find a compatible long-term dom(me). If it came down to it, and he presented as a Beta, maybe he could find some Alpha play partners? Ugh, but if most Alphas had the same rules as Margo and Eliot, he was going to have a hard time scratching that itch on campus while he waited to present.
Quentin shook his head, bringing himself back to reality. For now, there was nothing to do but track down Eliot and Margo. Maybe there’d be a printer so he could at least keep some of his favorite pieces on-hand.He sighed, got up and placed the books on a library cart. He returned all the books except for one. He decided to hang onto the “Dummies” guide book. He figured it’d be a good resource to compare against the Fillorianverse wiki and fics. He did the tut to check out the book, packed his messenger bag up and left the library.
As he was walking across the Sea he couldn’t help but recall the day prior, and how Margo and Eliot had treated one of the few presented first years.
He had been sitting near one of Brakebills’ numerous fountains, playing with cards while idly glancing through Amelia Poppers’ “ Practical Exercises for Young Magicians” . Margo sat lounging in front of him, with Eliot behind him leaning against a wall, cigarette in hand. Quentin glanced up and Margo followed his line of sight, both of their eyes falling on Alice as she walked past.
“Ah,” Margo sighed, “there’s one of those every year. ” Her voice was mocking, with a hint of disdain. Quentin turned to her, puzzled.
“One of what? ” he asked.
“Overachiever, shy, yet knows they’re smarter than everyone else,” her eyebrows raised a tad, her voice becoming truly mocking, “therefore, everyone hates them. ” Her fingers doing air quotes as she rolled her eyes.
“Yea, Alice is like… ” Quentin started. He paused to shake his head, gazing down at the book in his lap and muttering, “ I don’t know how she does it. ” Margo’s expression was one of disbelief.
“That’s Alice Quinn?” She asked, sounding a little taken aback. She quickly laughed it off and said, “Yeah, don’t bother trying to compare yourself. I heard she comes from a whole family of magicians. It's good to be aware that the world is inherently unfair.” Margo’s posture shifted, “Act accordingly. ” She rubbed her lips together, turning to Alice who was still passing by across the Sea. “ Hey, Alice,” her voice pitched up as she addressed the girl, “come join us.” She waved Alice over, “ Make some friends. Take a load off. ” Alice turned abruptly, walking away quicker at Margo’s address.
Eliot sighed, “ poor, little Omega girl. ”
Quentin sat there, frozen. He didn’t feel great about how Margo and El singled her out. Especially upon learning that she had already presented. It wasn’t common knowledge, but Eliot and Margo must have maybe... smelled her? There were rumors about the Alpha pair, and their peculiar behavior towards Omegas. But maybe they wouldn’t have noticed her if it wasn’t for him. If he hadn’t been looking at her, or made it clear he was jealous, maybe Margo would have left her alone.
Later that day, he had spotted her in one of the on-campus coffee shops. He approached her, hoping to apologize. “ Hey Alice. ” He said softly, she glared up at him before returning to her book. “ Look my friends, they were, they were just -- ”
“Cruel, unoriginal ?” She interrupted, her voice was flat and emotionless, eyes narrowing into a glare. But Quentin was determined to apologize, if at least to soothe his own guilt.
“Yeah. Sorry.” he moved to sit across from her. “ Just... um… look honestly, um, it’s... ” he stuttered “ it’s my fault that they said that. ” He slowed down. “ They saw how jealous I am, and… you’re the best. It’s easy for you. ”
“No, I study.” She snorted, her gaze returning to the book opened in front of her.
“Then you get it.” Quentin said emphatically, “ I barely… I’m terrified I’m gonna get kicked out...I need” he stressed this word, his fear and his commitment clear, “this place. I never had friends or parents who under-”
Alice cut him off again, rolling her eyes as she looked up at him.
“Look, my parents are useless, crazy people who never taught me a drop of magic. Okay?” She explained brusquely, her gaze turned icy cold. She was far from the shy and subdued girl he thought she was. “So, if you think that my family is some sort of advantage, you've been misinformed. ” She paused, “ Now is there anything else I can do to make you feel better? Or are you good?” Quentin knew he had fucked up. The venom dripping from Alice’s every word had him squirming in his seat. He averted his eyes and blurted out a brief apology. He got up quickly and fled the coffee house. Alice hadn’t even bothered to watch him go. She just returned to her book, intent on her research.
Quentin had felt bad about Margo and Eliot’s behavior, but he didn’t know how to think about it. They were his friends, the only two people who seemed to even like him at Brakebills. Plus he enjoyed their company. He loved Margo’s ice and Eliot’s sharp edges. It was nice being around other queer folks who understood him. Even if that understanding didn’t extend to how he had been bullied; if it had, they would have left Alice alone.
By the time Quentin finished thinking about how things had went down with Alice a few days ago, he found himself at Margo’s door. Snapping himself out of his stupor, he remembered why he was even seeking out the two Alphas in the first place. Quentin knocked on the door.
Margo had just about had it with Eliot.
“Margo, I’m not ready for Quentin to see me repeat outfits.” Eliot whined, holding up three different vests, clearly anxious. “Which vest?” Margo sighed, she was all for wooing ickle-firsties, but good god, they should at least wait until after they’ve presented. Ever since Quentin Coldwater had stumbled through the hedges, strode across Brakebills’ Sea, and gazed up at Eliot with his “big-brown eyes, floppy hair, and slightly opened mouth that would look perfect wrapped around a cock,” (his words, not hers). It’s been Quentin this, and Quentin that, and “Margo, isn’t he just precious?” Margo liked the boy well enough, don’t get her wrong. But there was also no reason for her or Eliot to get attached to the doe-eyed first year. She and Eliot weren’t even considering a consistent third , let alone a committed one . Well, not as far as Eliot had mentioned at least. And even if they were, they would have to choose a presented Beta or Alpha. As far as Margo had seen, Coldwater was the dom-the-anxious out of me type. He was far too likely to present as an Omega. Pushing aside her own feelings on the matter for the moment, she suggested one of the proffered vests, “The green brocade El, I’ll wear a slightly darker green.”
As Eliot shrugged the vest on, she pulled out her own outfit. A close-fitted black top with mesh cutouts and a short dark green pencil skirt. Eliot coiffed his hair, completing his look, while Margo got dressed and spelled her make-up on.
Just as they were finishing up, there was a knock on the door.
“Margo?” Eliot jumped at Quentin’s voice, “Are you and Eliot around?”
Smoothing out non-existent wrinkles out of his vest, Eliot opened the door with a smile. Using his telekinesis, he stacked his vests, that had been spread across Margo’s bed, into a neat pile on her desk.
“Quentin,” Eliot said, sugary sweet, as he beckoned the first year into Margo’s room, “come in.”
“Uh...thanks. I...” Quentin murmured as he wet his lips, his tongue darting out for just a second. Eliot fought off the urge to kiss the boy, wanting desperately to feel that tongue in his mouth. Careful to keep his gaze steady, he waited expectantly for Quentin to finish his thought. “I might a-actually have two questions?” He said shakily as he took a seat on Margo’s bed.
“Sure.” Eliot replied courteously. He was more than willing to impart some of his wisdom to the doeish first year, “What can we do for you?” Eliot asked, sitting down on the bed opposite of Quentin, legs demurely crossed. He gave Quentin a discreet once over, quickly taking in the way his hair draped so nicely over his broad shoulders. One day, he’ll be able to get Quentin into something other than a t-shirt and a plaid long sleeve. Grunge was popular back in the 90’s, but like denim on denim, it needed to stay in the 90’s.
“I, uh, do either of you know what ‘niffining out’ means? One of the books I was reading mentioned it.” Quentin asked, a little self consciously. At the word “niffin”, Margo and Eliot both tensed. With Eliot suppressing the vicious growl rising in his throat.
Margo swallowed and responded, her voice a little icy, “It refers to becoming a niffin. A niffin, being a magician who channels so much magic they burn from the inside out. Their own magic consuming them whole. Supposedly they erupt into flames. Either way, the magic burns out whoever they were, leaving only a monster in its wake.”
“They say the flames are lightning blue…. Supposedly a third year niffined out about five years ago. But no one’s ever proven it to be more than just a rumor.” Eliot continued somberly. Neither he nor Margo bothered to mention how talking to Alphas about niffins was considered extremely rude. There had been a time when the two of them had sworn they’d seen blue lightning skittering across the surface of the Woof Fountain. And before presenting, they would tell the story to spook other first years. Now that they were both Alphas, it was less funny-frightening and just plain terrifying. But it was obvious Quentin didn’t know proper etiquette.
Quentin shut his mouth and swallowed. “I uh. Thanks. I um...” He shook his head. “My second question isn’t quite so loaded.” He continued. “I just wanted to know where on campus I could go to get internet access or cell service?”
“Honestly, I’m surprised you didn’t ask sooner.” Margo said, “We can definitely show you the media room.” as she got up, she noticed Quentin’s eyes following her figure. She purposely stretched as she passed him, “come along now Quentin. You too El.” Putting a little more sway into her hips than she really needed to, she headed out the door. Nothing wrong with showing off the goods, especially when the pencil skirt hugged her ass so well.
The three magicians walked across the Brakebills campus, headed towards the Physical Applications building. Buried in the basement, there was an odd room, filled with hanging crystals that had an old computer and printer. God, Quentin hoped there was an incognito mode or a way to fully wipe the browsing history when he left.
“This room is always open. Although, you may want to watch when you come down here. Some folks aren’t shy about their porn preferences.” She smirked. Quentin felt a warm blush spread across his cheeks at her words.
“Uh, go-good to know. Thanks.” He stuttered out. He hoped it wasn’t obvious that he was, in fact, planning on reading smut. Quentin walked up to the computer and sat his bag down next to him.
Margo and Eliot gave no indication that they were going to leave. “Thanks guys. Um...” Quentin tried to figure out what to say.
Eliot’s eyebrow shot up and the corner of Margo’s mouth quirked. “El, we should leave the poor boy to it then.” She pulled Eliot out of the room behind her, “Don’t forget to scrub the browsing data, or to log out of livejournal.” Margo didn’t see it, but the latter part had Quentin’s brows furrowing. How the hell did she know?
Regardless, now he could at least do some research, and print some things in peace. The note above the printer read that it has been spelled to never run out of paper or ink, definitely a bonus. Quentin sighed and opened up the internet browser, reaching down for the “Designations for Dummies” book while waiting for the homepage to load.
Margo and Eliot were walking back to the cottage, arm in arm.
“Livejournal? Really, Margo?” Eliot questioned.
“Oh, like you didn’t have him pegged, El?” One of her eyebrows was raised, a smug smile plastered on her face. “That boy is practically a walking Fillory forum. I’d bet that golden broach of mine, that you've borrowed 10 times since we got back to campus, that he’s looking up Fillorianverse—”
“What verse?” El interrupted.
“How Fillory fans refer to sexual designations El.”
The two fell silent. Eliot knew Margo was vaguely worried about him getting attached. And that she was also pretty annoyed with his first-year boys. But he hoped Margo knew that she was the one for him. Pretty boys were pretty. And Quentin was just so easy to rile up. He wanted to swallow the boy whole.
But it would pass, it always passed. Margo was his forever. And pretty boys were just pretty boys. They both knew that.
Chapter 2: Delicate
Eliot and Quentin spend their day out on the lake getting to know one another.
AN: Mentions of Mental Health, (institutionalization, medication, minor su1cidal ideation and brief mentions of not wanting to live
Big thanks to my betas Dylan|Cosmic Cinderella| Brakebills Dropouts and my friend Miles <3
Eliot was bored, like sucking a dick for ten minutes straight, and still can’t get it up, bored. It was the first weekend of the first semester of their third year and instead of planning their usual weekend-one bash, Margo was off doing some paper for a class he wasn’t taking this semester. When he tried to convince her to help him throw a party or at least come and study out by the barbecue, she’d insisted he ‘pull his head out of her twat and entertain himself.’ Whatever the fuck that meant. After spending the morning puttering around behind the bar, wiping down glasses and polishing the warm wood of the bar-top, he decided he needed a change of pace.
Naturally, this resulted in Eliot trying to track down Quentin. They could spend the afternoon lazing around campus, giving Eliot an excuse to watch the pretty first year. He made his way to the dorms, hoping Quentin would be there.
Eliot strolled over to the main building, to the wing where the first year dorms were housed. He got to Quentin and Penny’s room. Finding the door ajar, he knocked lightly melodically calling “Hey Quentin. Up for an adventure?”
As the door opened at his touch, Eliot found Quentin perched on his bed. The first year looked relaxed, his face still buried in a worn-looking book. Despite not knowing him long, Eliot presumed it was a Fillory novel. Quentin sat alone, his gruff roommate nowhere to be seen.
Quentin looked to Eliot, his eyes crinkling in the corners as his mouth broke out into a wide smile. He tucked his bookmark in saving his page and closed his book with a small thud,. Quentin got off the bed and stretched, yawning as his muscles flexed, his shirt rising to reveal a sliver of his stomach. Eliot swallowed, eyes fixated on the thin line of exposed flesh. He hadn’t expected Quentin to be so toned. He couldn’t help but wonder what it’d be like to have Quentin under him as he licked down along his hips. Would he moan? Or would he shiver in anticipation, knowing there was no way Eliot wouldn’t go further south. That was definitely one way they could pass the time. Eliot blinked and grinned, suppressing the flash of lust he felt at the thought of what Quentin’s skin would taste like.
“Sure, I’m not busy,” Quentin shrugged. “What were you thinking?” He asked, looking up at the upperclassman.
“Nothing in particular. I just thought it was a beautiful day and I wanted to get out of The Cottage.” Eliot winked, turning to leave. He was pleased that Quentin had accepted his invitation. Granted, he wasn’t expecting the first year to put up much of a fight. Quentin had been joining him and Margo at the cottage for dinner every night for the past week, only turning down an invitation once because he had class.
Quentin grabbed his hoodie, unsure of what Eliot was planning, but happy to be included. Catching up to Eliot who had started walking, Quentin looked around, expecting to see a familiar long haired brunette there as well.
“Where’s Margo?” he asked, curious to where she was, given that she and Eliot always seemed to be joined at the hip.
“She’s busy with some paper or whatever.” Eliot shrugged. “Unfortunately, the promise of adventure was not enough to tear her away from whatever boring shit she’s working on.”
The pair fell into a comfortable silence as they walked side by side, aimlessly wandering around campus. Campus was quiet despite the nice weather, with most people opting to stay indoors. Every now and then they would pass by different gaggles of students hanging out; there was even a circle of people playing telekinetic frisbee. Besides the infrequent sounds of other people’s conversations, the only noises they heard were of their own footsteps and the rustling of the trees.
“Do you consider yourself smart?” Eliot asked suddenly, the first to break the silence of the past fifteen minutes.
Quentin looked at him with a puzzled expression, stopping in his tracks. What kind of a question was that , he thought. There’s different types of intelligence; what was Eliot really trying to ask? Was he about to be the butt of some joke? Quentin struggled to figure out how to best answer the question.
“I mean. Uh, um…. I guess?” he replied, stopping in his tracks and looking at Eliot in confusion.
Eliot turned back to look at where Quentin was clearly thinking too hard. He raised an eyebrow.
“You guess?” Eliot tilted his head and the pair started walking again, Quentin walking quickly to catch up. “Everybody here is. We’re all the best from our various little corners of the world. I’m sure you’ve noticed how hard magic is? You don’t just wave a wand and mutter some Hollywood Latin. There’s a reason most people can’t do it.” Eliot pulled out a new pack of Merits and smacked it against his palm to get the loose tobacco to settle as they continued to meander around the Sea.
“Almost everyone on campus is brilliant, and has some sort of shitty backstory. All of them tragic, some more than others. Most magicians have their shit. Especially the god-forsaken students and faculty members on this damned campus. They teach you early on that magic comes from pain.”
Eliot plucked a cigarette out of the pack and brought it to his lips, his fingers moving deftly in a tut, the tip smoldered to life. Quentin watched Eliot’s hands intently. Quentin thought nothing of it: he was just interested because the spell looked useful. But if it was just that, why was he so captivated by the graceful movements of Eliot’s fingers? Quentin opened his mouth to speak, hoping to ask Eliot to teach him the spell. Instead, Eliot posed a rather personal question.
“I wonder what your backstory is, Quentin. You seem like the high-strung super-nerd type.” He took a long drag of his cigarette. “What goes on in that head of yours?”
Quentin sputtered, gawking at Eliot, “I, uh-” Quentin’s mind immediately kicked into overdrive, his heart pounding in his chest.
Why was Eliot so interested in him? What the hell did he expect Quentin to say? Did his backstory count as “tragic?” Everyone has depression these days, right? Everyone medicates, and everyone and their mom is in therapy, right? So he’s been hospitalized a few times. It wasn’t like he had grown up in an abusive household or had witnessed a murder. He just had depression. It wasn’t the type of thing most people would want to talk about with old friends, let alone with someone they had only known for a week.
Seeing the fear on Quentin’s face, Eliot stepped in, graciously saving Quentin from himself. He laughed, “You don’t actually have to answer. We all have our secrets.”
Quentin nodded, his shoulders un-hunching as his anxiety settled at Eliot’s answer. His “story” didn’t really matter at the moment anyway. It wasn’t like Eliot actually wanted to get to know Quentin that well; the question was probably just Eliot’s version of small talk. The subject was dropped as the pair continued to walk in silence for a few more minutes. They ended up on the far side of the Sea, curling around the back of the main house.
Even after two full years at BrakebillsEliot still had a knack for finding new and astonishing places on campus. Walking along the rear of the main house they arrived at the edge of an odd terrace. It was decrepit, yet elegant.The wood was rotting and old, but was held steady by the vines climbing around its arches. The end of the terrace led out into what looked like a handsome Victorian boathouse. It seemed in slightly better condition, likely held up by spells as the vines on it were much thinner, rather than the narrow trunks holding up the terrace.
If there were any boats Margo would be very jealous about missing out on this little discovery, Eliot thought. He’d have to show her some other time. Perhaps the three of them could return and go out on the water together. Firmly committed to snooping around, Eliot beckoned to Quentin.
“Come along, Quentin,” Eliot’s long legs outpaced Quentin’s as he strode across the terrace towards the boathouse. “Daddy wants to see if there’s a boat we can take out on the water.”
They entered the old building and found a wooden double scull suspended in the boathouse’s rafters. Rather than dealing with the pulleys, Eliot let it float down to the water with a lazy hand movement.
“Telekinesis is just as useful as it seems,” Eliot’s voice was sultry as he winked at Quentin. The boat splashed lightly into the water and Eliot held out one hand with a flourish to Quentin, still using his telekinesis to hold the boat close to the dock with the other.
“Beauty before grace, Quentin,” Eliot smiled down at Quentin.
Quentin flushed. He knew Eliot flirted with everyone, that he wasn’t special for it, but it didn’t stop his face and neck from turning red. He clambered into the scull, tilting his head down to hide his reddened face behind his hair. Eliot wished he could see how far down Quentin’s chest the rosy color extended.
Eliot boards the little boat after Quentin. They forgo grabbing oars in favor of using magic. Eliot did a short one-handed motion and muttered a few words in some language Quentin didn’t recognize. Eliot’s magic propelled the small boat forward with a lurch. Eliot repeated the gesture, his fingers flowing through tuts too fast for Quentin to really see, and rowed them further out onto the Hudson.
They sat listening to the sounds of the water rushing under them and the birds in the trees along the river. A paddling of ducks swam in the small wake behind them for several minutes, quacking curiously, likely hoping they had food. Eliot would have to remember to bring peeled grapes when he came out here with Margo. He kept propelling them forward until about half a mile upstream from the boathouse they hit the edge of the Brakebills wards. The warm summer air vanished, leaving behind the cold autumn briskness that existed outside of Brakebills. The river was quiet outside of the wards. They didn’t see any other boats on the water. Eliot continued to move them upriver a ways past the wards and then allowed the current to carry them slowly back towards Brakebills. They floated serenely, only the sounds of nature filling the air. Eliot alternated between using the spell and allowing the current to carry them.
Eventually he decided it was time for his next cigarette. He pulled his pack out and brought another cigarette to his lips. He was about to light his, when he stopped to ask Quentin, “Want one?”
Quentin nodded and Eliot magicked another one out of the box towards Quentin. Quentin blinked wildly, his mouth opening in surprise. He expected Eliot to simply hand him one, not magic one towards him. Eliot took advantage of Quentin’s open mouth, telekinetically depositing the cigarette in between his parted lips. It hung from the corner of Quentin’s mouth. Eliot leaned closer to him, holding out his hand to let Quentin light the cigarette in the flame flickering above his fingertips. Quentin found the whole interaction strangely intimate and felt his face flush as the cigarette caught. He inhaled and let out a slow rolling cloud of smoke, stammering out a belated thanks as the last of the smoke left his lips.
He inhales another lungful of smoke before speaking.
“Eliot. I. um.” He paused thoughtfully. He felt anxious bringing this up. Did Eliot really want to know? Was it even worth sharing his story? Would it live up to the “tragedy” Eliot said most magicians experienced? Was it worth sharing his story despite it not living up to the tragedy most magicians lived through? Or had Eliot just been asking a rhetorical question? Quentin felt comfortable with him. Despite meeting Eliot only a week prior, he wanted to let Eliot in. There was something about the Alpha that drew him in. That made him feel safe. Quentin could be anxious or rambling and Eliot wouldn’t mind. Eliot would look at him with an open expression, focusing on him, nodding and smiling widely when Quentin said something particularly interesting. Why not let him in a little? Why not say fuck it… What did he really have to lose? Well, besides one of his two friends at Brakebills thus far? But did it really even matter?
While Quentin was stuck in his thoughts, Eliot had once again stopped rowing and was allowing them to drift back towards the wards and warmth of Brakebills. Quentin decided to bring up the subject from earlier.
“You asked about my tragic backstory?” He took another drag of his cigarette. “Do you really want to know?”
Eliot paused in his movement, unsure of how to respond. He hadn’t thought that Quentin would take him seriously and share. His bravery surprised Eliot, and while he hadn’t originally meant the question to be more than idle curiosity, he now found himself actively intrigued by the thought of knowing what fueled the nervous first year. He settled on a small nod and a sweep of his hand to prompt Quentin to continue. His posture is stiff, but open. He cares about Quentin, and while he knows not to get attached, especially not this early in the semester, his curiosity outweighs his sense. He can always giggle over the information with Margo later, especially if Quentin did flunk out.
While Eliot was deciding if he wanted to know, Quentin was busy agonizing over if his experiences were severe enough for Eliot. He wondered what types of tragedies were standard or average, doubting something as mundane as depression often made the docket. Finally processing that Eliot had nodded, that he did in fact want to know, Quentin spoke.
“It ummm, I um-- I’m not sure if it’s actually as bad as the standard for most magicians….” He hesitated.
Eliot looks at him expectantly, and without judgement. He let some sympathy bleed into his expression. He hoped his face communicated that he wanted to know Quentin’s history, and that he wasn’t going to judge him. That Eliot had his own story too, as unlikely as he was to share it. His expression comforted Quentin. He began to explain.
“Before I got here-- to Brakebills, I mean-- I was in the hospital. I have—or had—I don’t know, uh, this feeling that I couldn’t shake where I felt hopeless because nothing was never not going to be pointless and empty, then, uh... ” his posture was closed off, yet the cigarette in his right hand still shook as he gesticulated. “... why go on? And then, I got here. It’s amazing I survived as long as I did not knowing about magic.” Quentin blinked back tears from his eyes. “I can’t ever go back. I’m not doing that badly in my classes. I just, uh, knowing that if I were to flunk out, I would lose all knowledge of this place and all knowledge of magic? It’s fucking…” Quentin couldn’t find the words. It was devastating, life ending, the worst possible scenario in a way he didn’t think he could live through.
Eliot had nodded a few times during Quentin’s explanation. Wow, Quentin’s brain didn’t treat him kindly. Eliot had known that would be the case, with Quentin being a fairly decent magician. Well, decent enough for being a week into his training. Eliot felt compelled to volunteer himself as a safe harbor. Well, Himself and Margo. She was a part of him after all.
Eliot couldn’t help it when, after Quentin had trailed off, he offered, “If those feelings ever come back, please tell Margo or myself. Seriously, Quentin. We like having you around.”
He had been planning on pausing here for effect, letting Quentin think on this first bit. Quentin smiled shyly but let out a small laugh. He filled the planned silence, “Thanks, but uh-- you’ve only known me a week… I seriously couldn’t burden either of you with that. I mean, I should be fine now. Fogg suggested I stop my meds so that--”
“What?” Eliot grabs his cigarette from his mouth, pausing mid-inhale to interrupt the first year. “You had antidepressants that Henry told you to stop taking?”
Eliot had heard rumors of this happening to students, but he had never met someone who actually talked about it. Especially not before Brakebills South. Lipson’s mental health wards caught those who had previously slipped through the cracks: students often found their mental health wearing thin during their time in the brutal Antarctic. The semi-psychic wards caught thoughts of self-harm and self-neglect due to brain imbalances.
“Fogg. Henry Fogg.” Eliot was short in his reply.
“Oh. Um” Quentin bit at his lip, “Yes? To both?”
Was Eliot mad at him? Of course he would listen to the school if they told him to stop. They told him he was depressed because he hadn’t known that magic was real. Surely after a few more weeks at Brakebills, his brain would be less broken? He’s doing magic for Christ’s sake. If that wasn’t having purpose in his life, what else was there?
Eliot watched Quentin, his anxieties showing through in his body language and facial expression. It was difficult to stay focused on their conversation, but Eliot knew he had to show Quentin that he had options to support him; that there were other magicians with mental health issues, and while Brakebills as an institution was a piece of shit about it , Professor Lipson worked hard to be there and do what was best for the students. The upperclassmen were responsible for passing down information about Lipson’s after-hours clinic and the services she provided after the week-two seminar. This was all done without Fogg’s, or more importantly, the university investors’ knowing.
Eliot let out a long sigh. “I’m going to take you to the health center on campus on Monday. And we are going to talk to Professor Lipson. There are some decent magical antidepressants and medications. I’ve heard of students saying similar shit about Henry, but usually they manage okay until they either tell someone or until Lipson’s mental health wards pick it up.”
Another thing that Quentin was somehow bad at. His mental illness wasn’t “bad” enough for magical wards to pick up on. Quentin looks down. He watched the water splash against the side of the skiff, the current gently leading it back to Brakebills. Eliot could see Quentin getting caught up in his head again and tried to explain.
“Her wards aren’t perfect. Some people have natural resistances to psychic detection wards and spells. Plenty of students fall through the cracks until later in the semester.”
Quentin snorted. Penny constantly read him like an open book; it was unlikely that he had any sort of resistance to psychic magic.
“Wards and spells don’t work on the same frequency as most natural psychics,” Eliot remembered Quentin’s complaints about Penny and figured it would be worth mentioning.
Quentin took comfort in that information, but still worried about how Lipson would respond to his specific kind of depression.
Eliot could tell that Quentin seemed to really minimize his hardships. From the little bit that Quentin had told him, it seemed like he’d really struggled, going as far as hospitalizing himself. That was something Eliot wouldn’t do even under duress. It was tragic that Quentin had to live that way, and Eliot was thankful he got the opportunity to really see him. To see his resilience, his bravery. Eliot certainly had never been that brave. He had only opened up to Margo for the first time because of the Trials. Fucking secrets magic. So what did it say that the quirky nerd in front of him had shared something so deeply personal? Eliot didn’t know, but Quentin made him want to be brave too.
And maybe some of the braveness was simply helping the first year with his tuts. Eliot had seen Quentin hunched over Popper’s guide with it lighting up red over and over again. Quentin would swear and struggle to perform the tuts accurately.He had anxious tics that occasionally messed up a spell. The guide didn’t tell the user what they were doing wrong, only that something in the figure was incorrect. Quentin’s fear of losing access to brakebills was one that could potentially be easy to solve. All Elliot had to do was offer a way to make sure the first year didn’t flunk out. From what Eliot had heard, he knew Quentin had little trouble with the written work. If the rumors were true he was doing more than fine. Rumor had it that the faculty were considering bumping a few students up to second year after Brakebills South… the names that had been whispered under awed breaths were Alice Quinn, Kady Orlaff-Diaz, Penny Adiyodi, and one Quentin Coldwater.
Eliot’s first years didn’t usually catch his attention this way, but something about Quentin’s authenticity and magical prowess had the third year’s interest. Having Quentin around was worth helping the boy study.
If there was any chance Quentin felt he was struggling, the least Eliot could do was to offer his assistance. While Margo would understand him saying they’d help if Quentin struggled with his will to live, Eliot knew Margo will be pissed at this next part. She’d get over it, eventually. He wants to help the first year. Eliot took a drag from his cigarette, trying to exude casual confidence.
“If you ever need help with your schoolwork, Margo and I are more than happy to help you out.Support isn’t exclusive to your mental health, Quentin.” Eliot was surprised with himself for verbalizing this. He didn’t do friends; not outside of Margo. But he felt bad for Quentin, and enjoyed his company without the need for mood-altering drugs and drink. This felt different. They were becoming friends; or at least as close to friends as Eliot would allow.
Quentin’s mouth hung open in surprise for the second time since they’d taken to the water, but this time he was speechless. It was clear to anyone at Brakebills that Eliot hated to study, yet here he was, offering to help Quentin with his classwork. It didn’t align with what Quentin knew about Eliot. Rumors about the closed-off party king who went through boys like a wildfire were abundant and often supported by multiple people.
Quentin didn’t think Eliot genuinely cared about Quentin. It felt like some sort of joke. Why would he offer Quentin free tutoring or support with his mental health? Maybe he felt bad about Quentin’s depression. Eliot had agreed to listen to Quentin, unless Quentin had read him wrong. Had Eliot shook his head no instead of nodding yes? But if that was the case, then why would Eliot have been kind to him and have listened intently? It just didn’t add up. But Eliot had extended a general statement of I’m here if you need me and Quentin could at least be polite. He nodded and said a brief thanks.
Quentin attempted a long drag of his cigarette, but it had gone out in the minutes that he had been sharing his feelings with Eliot. Quentin rolled the cigarette back and forth between his thumb and forefinger in an anxious motion. Even with Eliot’s reassurances, he felt anxious. He felt compelled to apologize for his lack of tragedy and for the severity of his hospitalization.
“Um… I’m.. sorry. I didn’t mean to just drop that on you. I--“
“ Okay, uh- ” Eliot cuts him off, holding his hand out for the unlit cigarette and shifting uncomfortably.
It was clear Quentin wasn’t quite understanding him. Eliot felt that perhaps if he shared one of his own tragedies, Quentin would understand one of the most crucial things of being a person: everyone had painful secrets. Eliot told himself that he would only be sharing to make Quentin feel less alone, and not for Quentin to actually see past the walls he had put up for his own protection. He wasn’t about to share anything heavier than how he had discovered magic. There was no reason to share that Eliot had his own bomb to drop..
“I’m going to tell you something deep and dark and personal, okay? Ready? Good.” Eliot says all of this quickly, as if despite sharing willingly, Eliot would rather do anything besides open up to Quentin. “I killed someone. ”
“What?” Quentin interrupted, his hand outstretched for Eliot to relight his cigarette.
He immediately caught himself and gestured for Eliot to continue explaining with his empty hand. God, Eliot had listened quietly without judgement and Quentin would not be the asshole who then turned around and judged Eliot. Eliot, who had been so kind while Quentin’s brain spat out the worst-case scenario.
“I was 14. He was this—” Eliot took a deep breath. “He beat me up. So I’m downtown walking on the street eating a candy bar because by then I already ate my feelings at a professional level — and I saw him crossing the street, heading right towards me. ” Eliot chuckled, but his mouth was twisted into a grimace. “There was this bus coming,” he lowered his voice and it shook so slightly that Quentin almost didn’t notice.
“I barely thought the thought… and bam. I knew immediately what I’d done, that it was me. My nose,” he gestured broadly towards his face and then relit Quentin’s cigarette for something to focus on “just started bleeding. Like something straight out of a movie. ” Eliot’s Adam’s apple bobs as he swallows. “Logan Kinnear died instantly, and I ruined my favorite button-down.” He inhaled sharply into a harsh laugh. “And that is the story of how I discovered I was telekinetic .” He looked away from Quentin, off into the distance and took a long drag from his own cigarette.
During which, Eliot surprised himself again, for just a moment considering sharing where he was actually from. Maybe in another universe, he could have shared that he’d grown up on a farm; son to a homophobic ass of a father. But this Eliot was far too closed off. He had let Quentin in some, more than he had with others, but that was just to help Quentin understand. Eliot didn’t think he wanted to let Quentin get to know him.
Eliot watched the smoke coming from his mouth as it faded from a billow to a wisp. They both sat there in silence, Quentin finally coming to the realization of what Eliot had been trying to say. Eliot’s magic was just trying to defend him. It was brutal, but it protected him. It was tragic and horrible that Eliot carried around this guilt with him.
In some ways, Quentin thought, that’s the real tragedy .
Quentin blinked in surprise at this thought. Eliot was cool. They were friends (at least in Quentin’s eyes), which Quentin admittedly didn’t have many of. But he didn’t know if he’d respond the same way to Julia if she had confessed to the same crime. Somehow, Eliot was different, and it confused Quentin.
Eliot saw the initial clarity on Quentin’s face change to minor confusion. Eliot needed to make sure that Quentin knew what he meant; why Eliot, who usually masked anything real about his pre-Brakebills life, had shared, oh god , an actually intimate detail of his life.
“I’m not trying to tell you it gets better. God no.” Eliot huffed and tapped his almost-gone cigarette on the side of the skiff, ash floating down to the bottom of the boat right next to his shoes. “What I’m trying to tell you, is that you’re not alone. I wasn’t joking when I said that magic doesn’t come from talent. A funny little irony they don’t tell us is that it comes from pain. ”
Even with Quentin’s doubts about his own hardships, maybe knowing that his ability to cast came from that same awful, horrible place would help him accept that he was meant to be here: that the proof was his presence at Brakebills, and his ability to cast anything, even if it was only the few spells he’d learned in Practical Applications. Quentin was enough.
Eliot and Quentin spend the rest of the afternoon out on the water, sharing innocuous pieces of themselves with one another. Quentin tells Eliot about the map that adorned the underside of Julia’s family’s white dining table, drawn in crayon of Fillory. In turn, Eliot shares stories about how he and Margo threw the best parties on campus, and how the Naturalists had the best drugs, both magical and mundane. How Eliot and Margo once spent an afternoon tripping so hard they were walking on rainbows. It’s only when Quentin’s stomach rumbles loudly that instead of allowing them to continue to drift, Eliot starts rowing them towards the boathouse.
Eliot convinced Quentin to join him for dinner, specifically, “barbecued fare” at the cottage. Regardless of if Margo joins, Eliot wanted to make brioche-bun top-grade beef hamburgers for dinner. Quentin thought it sounded delicious, but insisted on being allowed to take a shower and change into something cleaner first. If Bambi still decided her studies were more important, that was her loss.
Margo did end up joining them for dinner, announcing herself loudly and then reclining into one of the chairs set up outside by the grill. Eager to share, Quentin excitedly tells Margo about Eliot’s discovery of the boathouse, which then evolves into them talking deeply into Fillory lore. In charge of the grill, Eliot watches them both fondly as they climb into the minutiae of the series. Without Eliot realizing it, Quentin’s humility and insecurity had burrowed itself into Eliot, adding to a seed that had slowly started to take root deep inside Eliot’s heart.
Chapter 3: It's Nice to Have a Friend
Quentin joins Eliot and Margo for their weekly Mimosa Sunday Brunch. Eliot takes Quentin to the Health Center to discuss mental health treatment, and Professor Lipson teaches the mandatory first year Sexual Designation Education Seminar.
Thank you so much to my wonderful Beta reader Miles!
The Mental Health discussion has a bolded warning before and afterwards. It's largely a discussion of prior treatments (including his hospitalization), diagnoses and medication.
Saturday had been a blur for Quentin. After their impromptu barbecue he had been up until almost three, chatting and drinking with Eliot and Margo. They had sat in front of the large fireplace, sipping at Eliot’s magical ever-full flask. Quentin had enjoyed the pairs’ company and the conversation had moved naturally. When Quentin and Margo had giggled over Fillory, Margo sat stroking Eliot’s hair. Quentin had half-listened while Margo and Eliot debated the better of two strains of LSD the naturalist gave them the previous year. Eliot would talk, Quentin sitting in silence listening. Quentin and Eliot’s conversations had tended to vary, going from mundane to more serious. Margo had continued to stroke Eliot’s hair, letting the pair have time to discuss mutual interests.
At times a subject would come up that all three would actively engage in. For instance, the quality of Taylor Swift’s music was a rather heated debate. Eliot had proudly sworn that all country music — including Taylor Swift’s discography — was trash, while Quentin and Margo both had leapt to Swift’s defense. Margo felt mixed about the music itself, but Swift was a successful woman benefiting off the bull-fuckery that was dating men and that was enough to win Margo over. Quentin went on to explain how Swift wasn’t actually country and a fair amount of her more recent songs were more in the realm of pop and folk, which are decidedly not country. Margo and Quentin bet while Eliot was out of the room that they could play a Swift song that Eliot would like, and the man wouldn’t even realize it was Swift. The entirety of the encounter was loud and boastful as the trio drunkedly debated the validity of other musicians and all managed to agree on Lady Gaga’s prowess.
The evening had ended with Quentin finally falling asleep on one of the many couches in the Cottage. When he woke up, he didn’t entirely remember what the trio had talked about, just that he had felt warm and safe, and entirely unanxious. Unfortunately, that peace didn’t carry over into his morning. Unable to remember exactly what had been discussed Quentin, worried he may have embarrassed himself. He returned his focus to his breath, knowing there wasn’t anything he could do now… except potentially damage control. After calming down, he noticed the smell of coffee and sat up. He yawned and sat up on the couch. His shoes were off, but his feet knocked against them when he moved to get up. He left his boots where they were and padded over to the kitchen. Eliot stood over the stove, flipping pancakes.
“Quentin,” Eliot smiled brightly.
If Eliot was greeting him that kindly, surely he couldn’t have fucked up the night before.
“Good morning sunshine,” Margo drawled, nursing a cup of coffee and smiled gruffly at him.
Despite the grumpy attitude, Margo was still put together; her hair falling in soft curls and her olive complexion glowing in the soft sunlight that filled the room. She was even wearing a designer looking outfit and heels.
Christ, thought Quentin, glancing at the clock on the stove. Eleven am on a Sunday morning .
Eliot, in contrast, was artfully disheveled. He wore a pair of silk pajama pants slung low on his hips and a patterned red-orange silk robe untied and open. His hair was curlier and looser than his usual coiffed style.
Eliot raised an eyebrow at Margo and she sighed.
“Join us,” she took a sip from her mug. “Coffee?” she asked.
He hadn’t noticed it until now, but there were three place settings on the table. Only one of them had a mug full of steaming hot coffee. Whoever filled the mug left enough room for Quentin to add creamer or milk, and there was sugar set out on the table. He took the seat across from Margo and picked up the coffee, taking a sip without adding anything to the still steaming liquid.
Eliot looked over his shoulder from where he stood tending the stove. “How do you like your bacon Quentin?”
“However you’re making it is fine.” Quentin had a preference, but nothing he wanted to burden Eliot with. He was kind enough to make Quentin breakfast, and Quentin would be damned if he made a big deal out of things.
Eliot looked at Margo, “Bambi, crunchy as usual?” She glowered a bit, then grunted her agreement. .
Margo was clearly not a morning person. She seemed moodier and a little more dour, even for her. Silence fell over the trio, the sounds and smells of sizzling bacon filling the air. Margo drained the last of her coffee, starting to look a little more alive.
“Mama needs a mimosa. Quentin, do you want one?” Margo got up, depositing her mug in the sink. She hadn’t bothered to ask Eliot, already knowing his answer.
“Always Bambi,” Eliot said, answering like she’d addressed him.
Quentin nodded, but Margo already had grabbed three champagne flutes and a bottle of champagne from one cupboard. Quentin didn’t know why she had bothered to ask him, if she listened to Eliot’s answer before his own. But there was alcohol involved and he wouldn’t complain.
Margo tutted over the bottle and it started to perspire. Quentin thought it must have been some kind of chilling spell. She went over to the fridge and cursed upon opening it.
“Well shit. Fucking Todd. I think the ass finished the last of the fresh-squeezed orange-juice.”
“There should be some in my bar fridge” Eliot called. That fridge was warded, only granting a select few Physical Kids access. It kept people — but especially Todd— out.
“I’ll be right back.” Margo sashayed out of the kitchen, lightly slapping Eliot’s ass as she passed him, turning around the table ruffling Quentin’s hair before disappearing from sight.
“Did you sleep okay, Quentin?” Eliot asked. At this point he was turning off the burners, and it looked like he’d used the last of the pancake mix. He had finished cooking the bacon as well as some fluffy looking scrambled eggs.
“I’ve heard that the couch isn’t the most comfortable thing to sleep on.You would’ve been welcome to join me, there’s plenty of space in my bed.” Eliot paused here, looking Quentin in the eye, wanting to gauge his reaction.
He wasn’t sure if he was pushing too much. Eliot never did more than flirt with first years pre-presentation. But Eliot delighted in Quentin’s response. His face. flushed a bright red. Eliot smirked, entirely too pleased, but quick to temper whatever Quentin may have been thinking.
“I could’ve crashed with Bambi if you’d prefer having the bed to yourself. There’s plenty of rooms here. We could have made something work.”
Quentin felt less embarrassed, but his blush took a while to subside. At first, he thought there was no way Eliot meant what he was saying. He wasn’t offering to sleep with Quentin, was he? His amended statement made more sense. It was an offer to share a bed, or use the bed, because no one in their right mind preferred a couch. But Quentin hadn’t minded. He remembered feeling warm, and the couch next to the fireplace was more comfortable than some of the couches he’d surfed on in undergrad. Sometimes he would travel a few hours for private play parties or kink conventions and he’d crash on a play partner’s partner’s couch.
Quentin took another sip of his coffee, feeling the warmth of the mug in his hand, and the flavor of the roast on his tongue grounding him to the present moment. He swallowed. While he was thinking, Eliot joined him at the third setting at the table. The food floated over, depositing the pans on trivets already set on the table.
“Really, Eliot. I didn’t mind.” Quentin’s brow furrowed, a flash of the previous night returned. “I’m pretty sure I passed out on the floor while you and Margo were still drinking.”
Eliot chuckled, serving himself a healthy portion of eggs, and some bacon. He willed the fridge open, then shut as he floated over some fresh cut fruit to the table.
“That’s right.” Eliot said, scooping some fruit onto his own plate. “I had to float you up onto the couch… well next time if you’re too tired to go back to the dorms, just let me know okay? You don’t have to sleep on the couch, Quentin.”
He took a bite of bacon, noticing Quentin still hadn’t plated any food for himself. While chewing, he telekinetically served Quentin. He gave him a short stack of three golden pancakes, a healthy serving of eggs, and several pieces of bacon. He also floated some fruit over onto his plate.
Eliot thought about the way they were starting to speak to one another. They had only known each other for a week, but their interactions were more familiar than Eliot had originally intended. Yesterday they had both opened up to one another while out drifting on the Hudson. Today there were bound to be shifts given the depth of the truths they knew about each other. Yet, these shifts confused each of them on different levels.
Quentin — who hadn’t expected Eliot to be so intimate, despite the quickness of things — was starting to see that maybe Margo and Eliot did want to be his friends. Though only time would prove things one way or another.
Eliot was seeing if he wanted more from Quentin than to just get in his pants post-presentation. Maybe he’d even want to befriend the boy. It was something he didn’t do very often. It was still only an inkling. But Eliot knew himself well. He bonded fast, and if he didn’t want Quentin in his life, he’d have to cut him out soon.
For a long time — since The Trials really — it had just been him and Margo. Eliot didn’t know what it would mean if he did start to care for the boy. And at this point, it didn’t even matter. It was just small talk after all. Time may be an illusion, but at this particular moment, Eliot had some breathing space.
Margo sauntered back into the dining area holding a pitcher full of an orange liquid.
“Thank god for your bar El.” She had mixed the drink back over at the bar. The pitcher had the same wet sheen to it that the champagne bottle did.
“It’s not Sunday brunch if mama doesn’t get her mimosa on!” Margo filled all three flutes to the brim.
Eliot reached out with his magic, floating one of the flutes into his hand. He took a sip.
“Mmmm. Good as ever,Bambi. Thank you.” Eliot’s voice was saccharine sweet.
Margo grabbed the two remaining flutes and passed one to Quentin. “Mimosa Sundays are a tradition in this house .”
Quentin chuckled and tucked a loose strand of his hair behind his cheek, his face breaking out into a wobbly smile.. He didn’t mind a mimosa in the morning, but he needed his coffee. He wasn’t the best sleeper and his two cups in the morning helped compensate for his restlessness at night. On bad mornings, where sleep had been particularly elusive the night before, he sometimes even needed three. Today he could probably get away with a single cup… and several glasses of mimosas. Margo, unsurprisingly, made a kick-ass mimosa. He hummed as he took another big sip.
“This is really good, Margo.”
She smiled, her teeth showing, glinting in the light. “I know, bitch. El may be the number one bartender in the cottage, but I know how to make a decent drink when it’s needed.” She narrowed her eyes, still smiling widely. “Even if I can’t manage homemade fancy ass personal secret recipe nonsense that twat can.” She gestured to Eliot, who almost spat his mouthful of mimosa into his eggs. He laughed, a bright tinkling sound.
“Bambi,” Eliot sassed, “don’t put yourself down. Daddy may be king,” Eliot gestured to himself with his free hand “but you sure as fuck hold your own.” Eliot’s hand moved to rest under his chin, his smile wide and toothy.
“Damn straight, I do.” Margo raised her glass, knocking back the rest of her mimosa before pouring herself another glass. Eliot also served her food, floating some bacon and a stack of six pancakes onto her plate.
“So Quentin, what do you think of Brakebills so far?” Margo asked, using her fork to cut bluntly into her pancakes.
Quentin swallowed the bite he had been working on.
“Uh, I mean, it’s been okay. Learning magic is really cool, but it’s also super technical? And not in a way you’d expect?” His brow furrowed. He started gesticulating, fork still in hand.
“It’s like advanced mathematics, linguistics, and the intricacies involved in palming coins or other hand-focused stage-magic rolled into one. It’s fascinating. But god, the theory. Sometimes I just want March to shut up, and let us try a spell. Not that there’s anything wrong with March or Brakebills — ” This last part Quentin spoke quickly. He was worried that ragging on his professors wouldn’t be okay with Margo and Eliot.
They laughed and Quentin’s eyes grew wide, almost tearing.
“You’re not wrong. The first week is boring as a cis-het man who talks a big game about himself, but doesn’t reciprocate. All limp dick talk and no play.” Margo said.
Quentin had no idea how she’d said it with a straight face, but it seemed like Margo and Eliot were laughing with him and not at him.
“Professor March is also terribly dry,” Eliot chimed in. “Handsome, but dry. That man could use more lube and a good dicking.”
“You think everyone could use a good dicking El.”
Quentin laughed. Margo and Eliot were enigmatic and funny. They were magnetic. And for some unknown reason, they were taking the time to hang out with Quentin. They were asking him about his day and his interests. Quentin had performed a variety of stage-magic tricks for the pair before he got too drunk, and the two actually found it interesting. Quentin didn’t know why they were interested, but he hoped they would continue to be his friends. They were super cool, and they made Quentin almost feel like a cool kid himself. And that was with his neuroses still running full steam ahead, as he’d only known them for a week.
“There’s a seminar on Sexual Designations sometime this week, right?” Quentin asked.
Eliot huffed and Margo let out a small growl causing Quentin to jump.
“Claws away Bambi,” Eliot chastised. “The boy doesn’t know any better.” Eliot turned to Quentin, who was looking down at his plate, his face pale.
“Quentin, the reason dear Bambi is so incensed is Brakebills is a private institution and our kind investors hold certain opinions on the ‘proper’ etiquette so to speak for presented Alphas and Omegas.”
“And while the actual sex education aspect is surprisingly decent, the designation politics and...” Margo sat her brows drawn in, her hand making small circles in the air as she searched for a sufficient word.
“Sexuality expectations” Eliot supplied. Margo nodded her thanks at him.
“The designation politics and the presumed sexualities of the audience are largely filtered by the classical expectations and hopes that our beloved investors hold.” Margo’s smile when the word ‘investors’ crossed her lips was savage and deadly. She clearly did not like them.
Quentin didn’t want to out himself as a big nerd, but holy shit, the readings he’d done implied it, but he hadn’t been sure . This made the dynamic Eliot and Margo portrayed taboo in a sense on campus.
Eliot spoke up. “The sad part is Professor Lipson doesn’t actually believe in the ‘required’ material that she’s stuck teaching. There’s a whole rumor mill that when Fogg asks it only “supposedly” goes back to her about what to believe and what to discard or take with a grain of salt from the lecture.”
“The contraception and various spells she teaches are at least useful.”
“Point Bambi. And her descriptions of the biological changes was definitely helpful.”
“She also covers some scent theory too,” Margo explained.
Quentin raised his eyebrows, surprised. Up until now, everything the diad had been saying hadn’t been surprising. Yet, despite all his Fillorianverse knowledge and his reading from earlier that week, Quentin hadn’t heard of scent theory. Margo was taking another bite of pancakes, and while she didn’t catch his interest, Eliot caught its thread.
“Scent theory is a concept in some magical communities that think our scents have to do with our personalities. Well, mostly have to do with our personalities. Some ascribe it to some bullshit like destiny or predetermined mates although most magicians think that’s utter horse crap.” Margo snorted, nodding in agreement at Eliot’s words.
“Lipson will explain more of this,”
Holy shit! Soulmates possibly existed? Quentin’s mind spun with the possibilities. There were some similar tropes in fanfiction, but somehow this specific one never merged with Fillorianverse, or at least not based on scent. There were the tattoo and pocket tropes, but nothing related to how someone’s pheromones smelled.
Even if fated mates did exist, it’s not like Quentin would have one anyway. It wasn’t worth torturing himself over the idea.
Margo and Eliot continued sharing information about the seminar, telling him some of what to expect. They said other statistics and things would be easier to answer after, and surprises in the class were always fun.
Quentin left the Cottage after brunch. He wandered back to his room to grab his books and head to the library to get some coursework done. Sunday was the first night Margo and Eliot didn’t invite him to the cottage for dinner. Quentin didn’t know whether to be concerned, or if he should relax and enjoy his first evening on campus to himself. Margo and Eliot had already had brunch with him. Essentially two of the three “standard” meals in a day. Would it have been weirder for them to then also invite him to dinner? He had mentioned he had a lot of schoolwork he had to finish tonight. That was the only reason they let him stop after three glasses. If they could have, would they have kept Quentin at the cottage, plying him with mixed drinks and conversation? But he had schoolwork and couldn’t get expelled.
All he could do was wait. Do his homework, and see if tomorrow he still had two friends on campus.
Quentin finished his homework with enough time to spend several hours stressing about Margo and Eliot. He went to Practical Applications, which involved a lot of attempts to cast spells, and few successes. Feeling dejected, he walked out of class only to see Eliot leaning against the wall smoking a cigarette. Inside an academic building. Quentin sputtered a bit.
“Smoke ward,” Eliot said loftily, as if that explained how he got away with it.
Quentin guessed it sort of did. If the ward caught the smoke, there was no reason for anyone to complain. Well, Quentin guessed they could complain about Eliot damaging his own lungs, but they were adults and who at Brakebills would actually give a fuck.
“Walk with me, Quentin.” He continued to smoke as he started walking.
They left the PA building and walked to the East Wing of the main house. Eliot paused here to finish the last few puffs of his cigarette. He and Quentin talked about their mornings, and Quentin complained about the spell from PA that morning. Eliot nodded and smiled at all the right times. When he got down to the filter, Eliot snuffed out his cigarette and vanished it.
They walked through a set of double doors and found a variety of students in what looked like modified teal scrubs? Quentin couldn’t quite tell what their attire was. Eliot approached the main desk. “We’re here to see Lipson for drop-in hours.” He said brusquely.
The young woman behind the desk nodded.
“Take a seat. She’s just finishing up with another student.” Eliot and Quentin moved to sit on a couch.
The clinic felt more like what Quentin imagined a bougie doctor’s office to look like, instead of what he was used to. There were leather couches and chairs scattered throughout the room. Instead of tvs and magazines, there were a few puzzles and books. A copy of “Designations for Dummies” was on the table in front of them. Along with “Sexual Designations and the Magical Economy.” It had an interlocked A and Ω on the cover, and boasted strengthening your magic as an Alpha or Omega on the inside flap.
This was clearly one of the investor’s contributions , Quentin thought, or at least it looked like it based on Eliot and Margo’s description the day before .
A random student walked out of Lipson’s office, holding a paper bag. They made their way to the clinic desk and started talking with the receptionist. There must be some kind of muffling spell, as Quentin couldn’t hear anything. There must have been a privacy ward placed around the desk, as Quentin was unable to hear a word they said, despite being within earshot of what looked like a loud conversation.
“Misters Waugh and Coldwater.” Lipson called through her open door. Eliot stood, smoothed invisible wrinkles from his vest and beckoned his head for Quentin to follow him.
“Eleanor” Eliot crooned. She sighed looking up at them.
“To what do I owe this pleasure Eliot?” She said, sounding a little fed up with him.
“I have an ickle-firstie your ward missed.” Quentin cringed at how cavalier Eliot’s tone was.
He futzed with his sleeves, worrying at a seam that was starting to come loose.Lipson looked at Quentin with curiosity.
“Hi Quentin,” she said. “Whatever you say to me is confidential. The university and the Dean don’t have access to any records unless they pertain directly to an on campus incident like a fight. If you want Mr. Waugh to step out so we can speak privately he will do so. If you’d prefer he stay, that’s fine as well.”
Quentin nodded. “I, uh. He can stay.”
“Mr. Waugh mentioned that my ward missed you?”
“Yeah,” The hem on Quentin’s sweater started to unravel as he continued to pick at it.
“Were you receiving any treatment before joining the magical world, Quentin?” Lipson was calling him by his first name, rather than his surname. It was a tactic he recognized. She was trying to build familiarity and make him comfortable despite the semi-formal setting. He nodded again.
~MENTAL HEALTH DISCUSSION~
“What kind of treatment, and what diagnoses?” She asked, spelling a pen to take notes. She motioned to the couch for them to sit.
“They don’t translate exactly to magical science, especially given magical biology, but there are some indicators that can be useful. Especially any previously effective medications.”
“I … recently checked myself out of a psychiatric hospital, The Midtown Mental Health Clinic. They couldn’t keep me as I wasn’t a danger to myself or others,” Quentin swallowed. His sweater was continuing to unravel.
“My doctor did put me on new meds before I left, though.” He spoke softly, sticking to facts. He wasn’t proud of how he got the beginnings of help, yet here he was two weeks later, still dealing with depression symptoms and the more than occasional intrusive thought.
“I have ‘major depressive disorder’ and ‘significant anxiety issues.’” Quentin chuckled, crooking his fingers into little air quotes. He didn’t think they were that bad, but he knew whatever technical jargon had been tossed around could help Lipson; she said it would, after all.
“The term ‘attachment disorder’ has been thrown around a few times, too.” Quentin looked down at his lap, bringing his hand back to fiddle with the string attached to his sweater.
“They had just put me on a new mood stabilizer. I took it the day before and the day of my Brakebills test, but stopped before I knew if it was going to be effective for me. Dean Fogg told me I wasn’t depressed. He said I was a magician. I just,” Quentin’s voice cracked.
“I just didn’t know it. And that’s why I felt so, so useless .” Quentin heard Lipson take a deep breath.
He felt his thoughts distort, thinking it was about his own mental circus, before he redirected. She was probably more pissed at Fogg than him. He took his own deep breath: inhale, two three four, hold, two three four, exhale two three four. The rhythm of box breathing soothing him. Grounding him to the moment where Eliot sat beside him and Lipson across from him.
“There are some who find that magic alleviates their minor depressive episodes,” Lipson said cautiously. “Considering the relationship between magic and trauma, the amount of magicians who need mental health care is higher than the average population. In a lot of ways, magicians are worse about their mental health” Lipson watched Eliot as she said this, “than our mundane counterparts. The support that magical biology provides through sexual designations and mates helps alleviate this some, but for others it makes it worse.”
Quentin could understand that. He pretended he didn’t notice Lipson’s gaze on Eliot; it wasn’t his business. There must be something in Eliot’s history that Lipson knew that he didn’t know… or maybe it was just about Logan Kinnear? Either way, Eliot would share if he was ready. He could focus on his own shit in the meantime.
“Will my presentation affect whatever treatment you’d prescribe?”
Lipson pursed her lips, taking a moment to think.
“Not necessarily. Hormone cycles if you’re an Omega could have some impact and treatments sometimes delay presentation, but once we find an effective treatment it will just be about adjusting it to match any potential new hormonal circumstances. We’ll have you fill out a full medical history questionnaire and we can send requests to your previous places of treatments. I can also set you up for an appointment to run some diagnostics and make a treatment plan. If self harm has ever been an issue there are both spells and potions that can act as wards.”
Quentin looked up to Lipson, nodding ever so slightly.
“If that’s all for today, I will see you once those forms are filed, Quentin.” She dismissed the pair.
Eliot and Quentin left the health center, Quentin with a big stack of paperwork to return to the center ASAP and Eliot satisfied he’d helped the first year get more acclimated to magical life.
Quentin ended up returning to the health center on Tuesday. He dropped off his paperwork, and they were able to schedule him for an appointment after his last class of the day. When he returned, Lipson spent the appointment asking additional questions and running magical diagnostics. He was there for two hours before she let him go telling him he once again should come in the next day.
Quentin did return, only to find she had a few different potions prepared for him. She made him sniff them.
“Tell me which of the potions don’t smell appealing,”
The first mixture made Quentin gag. Lipson shook her head and held out the second flask. Quentin smelled the next two and they were fine. The third he took several whiffs of and Lipson nodded approvingly.
“We may have to adjust the dosage a few times, but this mixture should be effective. Once you present it may have to be altered. It can sometimes delay presentation, but not often, or significantly. If you have any side effects feel free to come in and let someone at the front desk know okay?” Lispon looked him dead in the eye.
“And Quentin, if your mental health grows worse and it’s not effective let us know. You should notice a difference within two days. If things get bad while you wait, there are alternative treatments and stop-gaps. Despite what Fogg said, magic is by no means a cure all.”
Quentin spoke a soft thanks before heading back to his dorm. He hoped the potion helped. Lipson wasn’t wrong. His first week and a half at Brakebills unmedicated hadn’t been the smooth happy ride Dean Fogg had promised. Having magic didn’t fix Quentin. If anything, it was just another thing for him to juggle.
It wasn’t easy.
It was difficult.
And just because the people around him all had their own tragedies, and in some sense he was supposedly “understood” didn’t mean everything disappeared. He hoped the magical medication was easier to dose and to modify than mundane meds… The last thing he needed was a negative med experience causing the shakes while he was working through a complicated sequence, like the one they were supposed to perform on Friday. But Lipson had said any side effects. Not severe side effects, but any. God, he hoped magical meds were side effect free. That would be incredible.
The potion she handed him was in a flask. It had a month’s worth of potion in it, spelled to refill after he drained each dose. She had mentioned seeing him tomorrow or on Thursday before the designation seminar if he needed anything.
Quentin downed his first dose before bed. Nothing felt different, but he went to sleep with hope fluttering softly against his breastbone. Maybe while magic itself wasn’t a cure-all, magical antidepressants were a little less hellish than mundane ones.
~End Mental Health Discussion~
Thursday morning dragged on for Quentin. He rolled out of bed, feeling fine. He went to his classes and killed time until the mandatory evening seminar that was being hosted in the Physical Applications lab. When Quentin arrived, Professor Lipson stood at the front next to a blackboard reading: Sexual Designations 101.
The blackboard behind her was spelled with a nifty little spell that let her do a few little tuts and it would rewrite what she had said in the sequence she had said it. It was the closest you could get to powerpoint with how magic messed with electronics. It was a pain in the ass. She was not happy to be teaching the seminar again. No faculty member really wanted to teach it, but as both the primary healer at the health center and the head of the healing discipline, it ended up being her responsibility. She couldn’t help the feeling that if she had free reign over the material, if she was allowed to actually follow the fucking science, maybe the presentation wouldn’t feel like such a burden.
The investors always observed the seminar through Dean Fogg, ensuring that the information shared didn’t diverge with the carefully crafted image that classical magicians pretended they maintained. In the investor’s opinion — the McCallisters’, specifically — Omegas and Alphas needed one another. They were to be “discouraged” from both queer relationships and mating with betas following the belief that A/O relationships boosted the ambient magic.
Lipson really didn’t think that was true. There was nothing that proved it one way or another, and she was being told to give incorrect, or at the very least fallacious ideas as scientific fact . She liked her job, and with her wards and position she was able to do what she could for the students stuck within Brakebills’ archaic systems. That, and through both the rumor-mill as well as the 1-on-1 support she provided at the health clinic itself. The upperclassmen informed the first years about the bits of the lectures were exaggerated, that as a private institution Brakebills had some archaic beliefs about Alphas and Omegas, and despite the lecture, Lipson was actually one of the “good ones.” Lipson looked up at the clock. It was two minutes until the proposed lecture time and her students had steadily been filing in.
As this was a mandatory seminar, she had to wait for everyone to arrive. And if some adept had the idea they could skip, she’d have to send someone she trusted wouldn’t skive off to track them down and bring them back to the Practical Applications Lab, where the lecture was always held.
At two minutes past the hour, the last two students filed in; all twenty freshmen accounted for. Thank god this group had enough self-preservation to take an interest in their own biology.
Quentin had snagged a spot in the second row. He pulled out both a notepad and pen, along with the “Designations for Dummies” guide book. Alice had beat him to the classroom and was seated primly two desks to his left. Having already presented as an Omega in a magical family, Alice didn’t necessarily need the seminar, but she was hoping that the healer would have some information she didn’t already know. She also had a notebook and pen at the ready in front of her.
Penny and the brunette Quentin often saw with the psychic — presumably the person who Penny kept locking him out of their shared room to have sex with — were the last two to arrive. Penny sprawled in his chair in the last row, seated directly behind the brunette who had also leaned back in her own seat, placing her feet on the desk in front of her. Neither Penny nor the woman brought anything to take notes with. The rest of the first year class filled out the room around them. Despite only having 20 students per school year, the PA class room had a total of 40 seats. Some of the upper division electives were offered to multiple years and the extra desks were needed. It left the room only half full. As if he magically knew she was about to begin, Dean Fogg slipped into the room, standing at the back. He knew that without his presence, the boards’ wishes may not be honored, and he didn’t have time to deal with a funding problem.
“Good afternoon everyone. I know most of you are likely dreading this, remembering how awkward high school sex education was. I will be doing my best to keep things factual and accurate as well as keeping modern politics in mind-”
Fogg hemmed from the back wall.
“My apologies. I will do my best to explain what is expected of each role in a classical setting such as our fine institution.” Lipson took a deep breath.
This happened every year, she could drop vague hints about it being the board’s influence rather than “real” expectation. And paired with the upperclassmen, she was able to successfully disseminate accurate information.
“Sexual designations are triggered by the development of an adept’s magic. It is the magic taking root within an adept’s body and transforming it allowing the body access to greater magics. I’m sure many of you remember how exhausted your first minor incantation left you? Well, part of presenting is an increase in your magical capabilities and reach. There is some variation among the different designations. As some of you may know the Designations are — ” Lipson tutted and the following words were written in three columns:
Alpha Beta Omega
“Now, these designations have to do with both the biological changes they provoke and new social hierarchies.” She tutted again and as she spoke, bullet-points appeared matching her words.
“Temperament wise, Alphas are seen as both the strongest magically, the most dominant, and the most aggressive. This unfortunately results in significantly higher chances of them overusing their magic and becoming a niffin. A burnt out shell of a Magician. An Alpha’s risk of becoming one is significantly lowered by mating with an Omega and only fractionally influenced by mating with other Designations. Compared to most Magicians, Alphas are 50% more likely to niffin out, and it’s reduced to a standard 7% if they mate with an Omega. That likelihood is only reduced , to 46% more likely of niffining if mated with a Beta, Alpha or Mundane. This chance mostly applies to casting major arcana, however if they lose their temper and reach to cast in anger they are more prone to losing control of their power. Further questions on this can be answered during office hours at the health center.”
Lipson struggled to keep a straight face through these inflated statistics. The scientific evidence actually placed Alphas at 10% more likely to niffin out, 20% compared to the average 10%. Their 20% chance reduced from to the slightly above average 14% if they mated at all, and 10% with an Omega. The board insisted she massively exaggerate this, going as far as giving her the false numbers. Quentin’s hand shot up.
“If any of you have heard other statistics please feel free to bring your questions to office hours and I would be happy to provide you with more information.” She said.
She knew Fogg would be pissed if she let someone correct her. And Quentin clearly had the dummy book in front of him, his hand held up tentatively. Alice Quinn’s hand was also up, her posture straight and her gaze steady. Lipson continued, ignoring their raised arms, and Alice attempting to raise hers even higher.
“Betas are seen as the most neutral designation and temperament. Where Omegas have often been called, ‘obedient,’ ‘submissive,’ and the weakest magically. Societally, it is ideal that Alphas and Omegas choose one another as mates. They are the most compatible magically, which with the biological changes magic causes, also extends to best genetic matches.” Lipson tried not to shudder. Parts of the ‘required’ curriculum flat-out read like eugenics. Alice had finally lowered her hand. Quentin kept his up.
Quentin, familiar with Fillorianverse, and even other Omegaverse readings (he would never admit it but he did occasionally read Harry Potter fanfiction), recognized how Lispon was giving a generic “for the good of society” type spiel about the benefits of A/O relationships.
Alice snorted, as the daughter of two classically trained Omegas, she knew all about the “investors” and the exaggerated statistics the school was required to teach. Her parents, obsessed with both mundane and magical sex, had given her a lot of information on sexual designations. Alice recognized her parents were far from perfect, and was hoping to learn something new in spite of the investors’ influence.
“The reason for this being the ideal is that Alphas and Omegas undergo the most magical biological changes. As a magical adept develops their magic, the magic in turn develops their body, altering it, streamlining the body’s natural channels and ley-lines. While we do not know the exact reasons why, many believe that these changes were to boost three things. First it boosts the magical population, by allowing more Magician — about every other male — to conceive, and raising conception rates significantly during an Omegas’ heats. This statistic is higher than normal ovulation conception rates among both mundanes and non-Omega female magical pregnancies.”
Quentin’s arm ached… he finally lowered it. Clearly there was an agenda here. Who would have guessed that magical sex education was just as fraught with politics as mundane sex ed. It was a real flashback to the abstinence only, heteronormative bullshit he’d been spoon-fed in the public school system. Hopefully others knew enough about sex-ed, or had friends to cut through the bullshit for them.
“Second: there are ‘ well-supported ’ theories on how more A/O pairs means more ambient magic. This boosts the magic available to all magicians, not just the mated A/O couples.
Third: the magical boost to an A/O couples’ magic directly benefits other Magicians’ access to greater power. There’s a symbiosis not only between the A/O mates, but also between all magicians and mated A/O pairs.” Lipson hoped her pointed words were informing those who cared about what was really being said and what was true.
“Betas gain scenting abilities for the sake of finding a magically compatible mate, but conception among Betas is entirely the same as that is for mundanes. Of course this can be magically boosted if a couple is struggling to conceive.” She tutted again, a line appearing below the current information.
“As for physical changes, the most drastic changes are undergone by female Alphas and male Omegas. Female Alphas may experience genital tenderness as their clitoris magically expands and their anatomy shifts to allow for the larger organ. It is an extension of the clitoris, but is mostly sub-dermal and under the hood unless triggered by compatible heat pheromones or spell-work. Their ejaculate is magical in nature, eliminating the need for testes. Male Alphas may experience some tenderness in their testes as their magic saturates the existing structures. This tenderness typically lasts two days.
“Male Omegas undergo more pervasive changes. Their magical internal Circumstance shift to allow the natural production of lubricant and the ability to get pregnant. Magic forms an additional cavity within the male body similar to a uterus and ovaries that contain magical based eggs. A pregnancy conceived during heat has a higher chance of producing magical offspring. A male Omega’s first heat is rougher than the average monthly cycle. A male Omega's first head is rougher than the average monthly cycle. In the first 24 hours, the body will use natural sex magic to trigger biological changes. These changes aren’t visible to the eye, as magic does a bigger on the inside type transformation.
“Female Omegas also have a stronger first heat,but that’s more related to the magic infusing itself into the existing uterus and ovaries. Female Omegas no longer have regular menstruation, and instead have heats.. Heats for male and female Omegas last approximately four days, though some find their cycle on the long end of seven days, or on the short end at two. Heats can also be induced magically.” The board behind her had started drawing diagrams showing the regular and altered anatomy of each combination.
“Alphas, Betas, and Omegas, all develop scent glands. These glands are most pronounced on Omegas and are on either side of the neck, and one on each inner wrist. A permanent bond is formed when an Alpha pierces the skin of an Omegas gland with their teeth. Typically this is done during an Omega’s heat when the gland is the most swollen.
“There are two primary types of bonds as well as a lesser-known phenomena known as a scent bond. The two primary bond types are a permanent bond and a scent bond. The permanent bond provides the most protection for both the Alpha and Omega. The protections provided by permanent bonds include Omegas not needing to worry about Alphas outside of their mate bothering them during heats, and the soothing nature of the bond preventing the Alpha from niffining out. A scent bond, in contrast, is more casual. It’s achieved through rubbing scent glands against one another. This bond provides some protection during heats, and alleviates some of the danger of losing control of magic, dropping the niffin likelihood closer, but not fully to the percentage rate of the average Magician. The third type of bond is an imprinted bond. This bond is super rare and is easily overridden in most cases. This is not something to worry about as the chances are about 5% for this occurring. It’s exactly what it sounds like and is mostly pheromone based.
“The basic spells that all designations should keep in mind if they enter a relationship are a scent inhibitor and suppressor, a locking spell tied to specific Circumstances, a contraceptive and cleansing spell for male Omegas, as well as a neutral contraception spell for all females. The last spell I will be teaching is a magical emergency call that will ring in the nearest medical facility on campus. It’s primarily for emergencies for Omegas during their heats, but can be used by any Magician at any time.
“Other spells for either inducing knots, or unsheathing female alpha anatomy can be discussed via private appointment at the health center or evaluated in the pamphlets I will be providing you. The pamphlet contains all the basic and necessary spells. I will demonstrate the etudes one by one. Please save any questions for the end. If you need help with pronunciation, as always there are fifth years who volunteer as tutors in the library.” With that, she proceeded to spend the next hour going through the steps for the five basic spells.
When Lipson finally did ask for questions, she pointedly asked for questions on the spells and ignored both Quentin and Alice’s outstretched hands.
No one else had anything to say, ending the hour-long seminar. Quentin noticed Alice was also scowling and he tried to approach the stand-offish Omega. She brushed him off, pretending not to see him. He didn’t chase after her, still embarrassed by Eliot and Margo’s behavior towards her the week prior. Quentin meandered back to his dorm room. He set his bag down and curled up with The World Within the Walls, intent on finishing the last fifty pages before starting his school work.
Chapter 4: Blank Space
Quentin moves into the cottage, meets Kady and has a heart-to-heart with Alice.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
It was week five when Dean Fogg finally gathered the first years to explain how Brakebills tested for disciplines and designations, as at this point everyone should have developed their own brand of magic for the tests to detect. For efficiency purposes, each student was assigned a faculty member to test them. Quentin was assigned Professor Sunderland. Quentin’s appointment was set for noon.
She made him hold a pair of scarabs and recite the alphabet, first in Greek and then in Hebrew; then handed him a potted bonsai before immediately yanking it away and frowning. She showed him a complex etude and had him cast multicolored sparks, which provided no new information. She even tried oneironautics, peering into his dreams for an answer. But she wasn’t able to find anything concrete: nothing indicated a specific discipline for sure. Eventually, she told him neither his designation nor his discipline was obvious at this time; that she had other students she needed to test, and explained this happened on occasion and they’d just have to test him for his discipline again next year. As for his designation, they gave him a sad, outdated little pamphlet on what to expect when he presented and elaborated he was to notify the school so they update his medical file. He should remember sexual designations did affect medical care, especially magical medical care, and it was extremely important. He was to notify the infirmary during their normal business hours if anything changed.
Just as he was about to leave the classroom, he realized he hadn’t been assigned housing: Brakebills sorted their students based on the type of magic that their discipline fell under. For example, Eliot and Margo were both Physical Kids. Eliot’s discipline was telekinesis, while Margo’s was cryomancy. There were also psychics, naturalists, knowledge, healing and illusion umbrellas. Without a discipline was he going to be stuck in the first year dorms? Oh god, he’d never hear the end of it. He turned around and asked Sunderland,
“Um,” he gulped. “Sorry, but without a discipline am I going to have to stay in the dorms?”
“No,” Sunderland laughed. She paused with her head tilted to the side, eyes narrowed in thought. “There should be space with the Physical kids. You can move there until your discipline manifests.”
Dejected, Quentin slouched the whole way to the Physical kids Cottage— or as he’d come to know it, the Cottage. At the very least, he was slightly mollified that Sunderland hadn’t told him he was an Omega. He wasn’t sure how well he’d deal with Margo and Eliot ignoring him like Todd after such a frustrating day. Plus, while he didn’t have his discipline, he did have his friends at the Cottage. When he arrived he found Alice standing there, arms crossed and giving the front door a frown. He had seen her around campus in passing, but they hadn’t spoken since he’d approached her to apologize and she’d snapped at him. She reached towards the door with one hand and curled her fingers, murmuring something in a language Quentin didn’t understand.
“Ow!” yelped Alice, jumping back from the door, narrowly avoiding a shower of white-hot sparks that sprayed out from the door handle.
“Are we locked out?” Quentin asked.
She glared at him over her glasses and huffed.
“Yes, obviously,” her tone was indignant, clearly frustrated with having to answer what she thought was an obvious question. “And it looks like it might actually be hard to get in .” She gave him a cool glance before moving her gaze to her shoes. She huffed again, and turned to walk the short brick wall just across the grass.
Quentin decided to try the door for himself. There was a sticky note stuck to it that read: Let yourselves in! Unlike when Alice had tried it, the door didn’t shock him. He twisted the knob, but it was still locked. He gripped it more firmly, testing left, then right, before nudging the door lightly and then more firmly with his shoulder. He frowned at the door, then exhaled slowly and searched for an answer in its grooves and cracks. His investigations were in vain, as he found nothing. The door held no clues; not even a riddle to solve, like the West Gate of Moria in Lord of the Rings (he tried). Quentin glared once more at the offending barrier as if the door had grievously insulted him. He heaved a long and frustrated sigh before retreating and joining Alice on the bricks.
Quentin decided to try and be polite. To make conversation.
“So, uh. What’d they say your discipline was?” Quentin awkwardly sat down next to her, not quite sure if she even wanted his company, let alone if she was willing to answer his question.
“Phosphoromancy,” she replied curtly, her head propped up by her hands. Her eyes never left the door.
“Wow, cool. What’s—“
“I manipulate light. ” She cut him off, the blank expression on her face never changing even as she held up her hand and turned it completely invisible for a moment.
“There are much cooler disciplines.”
“Are you kidding me? You have light bending powers!” Quentin exclaimed.
He was absolutely shocked at Alice’s indifference to her own discipline. How could she be so apathetic when there were people like him?
Alice shrugged, and turned her head towards Quentin, finally tapping out of her one-sided staring contest with the door.
“ So what’s yours?” she inquired with an air of genuine curiosity.
“Um,” Quentin eyed the ground in embarrassment, “ I’m uh...undetermined , ” he whispered, a blush starting to form on his cheeks. His mind was racing a mile a minute; his anxiety kicked into overdrive as he tried to anticipate Alice’s reaction.
Alice’s brow furrowed in confusion. “Undetermined? Can they even do that?”
“Yeah, Sunderland said it happens sometimes, so I guess they’ll test me again next year like Sunderland implied, or something.” Quentin shrugged, trying to sound casual, like being undetermined was no big deal.
“ Then why were you assigned to the cottage?” Q uentin didn’t get the sense that there was any judgement behind her question. It appeared to come from a place of honest interest.
“ Literally, just because they have extra space. ”
Alice decided she could try to comfort Quentin. Not having a discipline and then being stuck wherever there had been room probably sucked.
“Well, when we get in, if the rumors are right they should at least have that mind-blowing signature cocktail. Hopefully it won’t be all bad.”
“If we can get in,” Quentin lamented, as he stretched his torso, sighing when his spine cracked and realigned.
The pair sat in silence for a little while longer, each of them debating possible solutions, before ruling it out themselves or having the other rule it out when brought up. The only sounds that could be heard were the chirping of the birds and the gentle rustling of leaves. Before long, they heard footsteps coming in their direction. They glanced up and saw a dark-haired girl from their year walking towards the cottage.
She spotted them and raised her eyebrows while approaching the door. She didn’t even flinch as the doorknob shocked her. She looked furious for a split second. Then her face settled into a neutral expression as she moved her hands, releasing a blast that resembled battle magic at the locked door.
Quentin jumped, and Alice raised a single brow.
The door cracked and blasted open with a boom, falling to the floor inside and letting the loud music filter out through the open cottage doorway. The excited chatter of party-goers carries through the doorway as well, filling the previously serene doorstep with noise. The girl confidently stepped through the doorway and over the broken door, disappearing into the crowd.
Quentin looked at Alice, his eyebrows raised in surprise, mouth open. Alice did a half shrug with her right arm before dusting off her skirt and heading to the open door. Quentin grabbed his messenger bag and raced after her, hoping the door wouldn’t materialize solid in front of them before they got there. There was cheering as they entered.
Margo groaned loudly. “What took you so long? I’m starving.”
Eliot, somehow knowing there would be three of them, had a drink in one hand and was holding his hand in a tut to keep two others afloat beside him. He approached them with a cigarette between his lips to welcome the three new physical kids
“Welcome to our gracious abode. Please do let me know what you think of our signature cocktail,” Eliot handed Quentin his drink, letting his hand linger on the glass briefly. He floated the other two drinks to the girls. That done, Eliot turned on his heel with a flourish before he and Margo wandered off to some other part of the cottage.
Quentin had known that Eliot and Margo were the top of the food chain at the cottage, but being the official welcoming committee confirmed it. Quentin, Alice, and the other new physical girl walked over to one of the cottage’s many couches and sat down. They nursed their drinks in silence for a few minutes.
Quentin was perched awkwardly next to Alice while the other first year sat on the adjacent stretch of the couch. Quentin had seen her around, even in his room with Penny sometimes, but she’d never given him the time of day. Seeing she hadn’t yet introduced herself, Quentin took it upon himself to try and be friendly and make conversation.
“So, I’ve seen you hanging around with Penny.” He said. “What’s your name and discipline?”
The brunette looked up, like she was impressed that Quentin had the balls to talk to her.
“I’m Kady. Never would’ve thought someone would get battle magic discipline at a school that refuses to teach it.” She shotgunned back the rest of her drink, before putting it down on the coffee table that sat in front of the couch.
“I’m—” Quentin started to respond.
“Quincy,” Kady cut in, speaking over him.
Alice bit back a laugh and Quentin gawked at Kady for a split second, before glaring at her.
“Penny’s old roommate, right? Obsessed with Fillory?” She scoffed through the second sentence.
He wasn’t sure if he cared to correct Kady. Especially if she was friends with that douchebag . Plus, if she didn’t care to get his name right, he didn’t think correcting her would make any difference.
“And Alice Quinn.” Quentin’s glare turned to a scowl as she got Alice’s name right.
She had the gall to smirk in amusement at Quentin’s expression. She got up and wandered off without even saying goodbye.
“God,” Quentin said, “What a bitch,”
Alice raised an eyebrow.
“Like you’re one to talk?” she said with a little smile, like she thought Quentin was funny for saying so. His glare shifted from the space Kady had vacated and honed in on Alice.
“Glad to know that’s what you think of me,” he sniffed, irritated. He took a sip of his drink.
Alice was about halfway through her own drink. She leaned over and whispered with a slight hiccup, “ I’m not an experienced drinker, Quentin.”
Quentin rolled his eyes, letting his mouth smile a little bit and whispered back over his drink.
“I couldn’t tell.” He finished the rest of his drink and then conjured a deck of cards to play with. He shuffled them and Alice burst into a fit of giggles, punctuated by the occasional hiccup.
Quentin’s sense of smell hadn’t evolved yet, but to the others in the room, Alice’s scent was growing stronger. The smell of sweet toffee started to fill the air around them. Alice leaned over into his personal space and Quentin tensed up. She started speaking, slurring her words a little.
“Mmmm, have I mentioned that I think you’re really really cute?”
Quentin couldn’t believe it. Was she flirting with him? Even after implying he was a bitch? No. She couldn’t possibly be flirting with him. She seemed to read his mind and she whispered at him again.
“I do mean it you know, even if your face shows— hic— you couldn’t possibly believe that I do.” Her voice had begun to waver.
Quentin blushed harder and continued to shuffle his cards while trying desperately to hide behind his hair. Drunk Alice was more relaxed than sober Alice. She even tried to climb into his lap. Quentin scrambled away, quick enough where she couldn’t manage it, but slowly enough that he could have at least tried to help her if she fell.
“Ummm, Alice.” Quentin said, shifting uncomfortably. “Er, let’s figure out what room they put you in, and uh, maybe get you some water?”
Alice giggled in response, nodding and glancing up at Quentin through her eyelashes. Quentin was astounded by her flirting. He thought there was no way she’d be doing this if she were anywhere close to sober. The least he could do was treat her like he would any other good friend who happened to be drunk— not that he’d even really had any friends besides Julia and James— and make sure she got somewhere other than the cottage sitting room to sleep it off. Even if Alice had thought he was attractive when she was sober, Quentin’s attention was elsewhere. He could feel how his gaze kept wandering over to the Alpha dyad in the corner.
As he attempted to lead her up the stairs, Quentin let himself glance back at Eliot and Margo one last time.
Eliot was staring off into the distance, not looking over at him, but Margo saw him. She even winked at him. Quentin rolled his eyes at the implication that he and Alice were going upstairs for any reason other than getting her safely to her room.
Quentin and Alice made it up the stairs without either of them falling. Alice clung tightly to Quentin, swaying lightly.
When Quentin approached the first door, he noticed a name plate. This door had something illegible engraved for the first word. Someone had then scratched out the original engraving and wrote Todd in a black marking pen.
Quentin passed several more doors, reading off each of the nameplates silently, finding his own room, before finding Alice’s.
He opened her door with one hand, using the other to try and prop her up. Just like when they’d first moved onto campus, Brakebills had magicked their stuff into their new rooms. Alice’s room had a stack of canvases in one corner. Everything besides that must have been magically tidied away. He half-carried, half-dragged Alice to her bed and leaned down to help her with her shoes. As soon as they were off, she latched back onto him.
“Alice, I need to go now, so you can sleep.” Quentin tried to kindly extricate himself from her grip. She shook her head and just held on tighter.
He clearly wasn’t going to be leaving her side for the time being. He managed to get her to shift enough for him to slip off his own shoes, before he leaned back on the bed, she curled up against his side, her head on his shoulder.
Quentin was tense at first, pretty uncomfortable with the physical intimacy with a woman he barely knew. It was only after an hour or so, when he realized he was well and truly trapped with her that he started to relax.
The next thing he knew, he was being woken up by Alice groaning. He opened his eyes blearily to watch her reaching her hand up to her temple.
She had objectively adorable bedhead and her glasses were crooked on her face from how she had slept in them. She was surprisingly unguarded in a way Quentin had never seen her.
“Why are you in my room, Quentin?” She blinked a few times as she continued to rub her temple. “And why do you seem less hung-over than me?” She was bleary-eyed, but was quickly becoming more terse as she woke up.
“I uh, I wanted to make sure you got to your room safely, and by the time we got up here and took your shoes off you wouldn’t let go of me.” Quentin stammered, afraid she would be mad.
Alice nodded at that. Although Quentin couldn’t see it, Alice was thinking about how her mom— sorry, how Stephanie— was when she was drunk. Alice wasn’t surprised to hear she was super clingy.
“Thank you, Quentin.” He caught a glimpse of sincere eyes peeking out from behind her hair, before turning away with a blush spread across her cheeks. “I didn’t say anything too embarrassing, did I?”
Quentin thought it was strange to see the usually stoic Alice blush.
“Umm, you mentioned I was um—you said I was cute, but I mean, you were also super drunk so I totally understand that um, you don’t actually think that—” Quentin stopped talking when he saw Alice’s puzzled face. He shook his head.
“Outside of that, you were just, uh, clingy and, uh, giggly.” His speech was fast, and he kept starting and stopping like he always did when he was anxious. But Alice didn’t seem to mind.
She nodded before speaking. “I’m just glad you aren’t an Alpha.”
Quentin’s jaw relaxed in surprise at her statement, his eyes going wide. He hadn’t even considered the implications that Alice’s designation—Omega, he recalled— would play on her getting drunk in a public space.
“Oh,” He said, still shocked and uncomfortable. Alice took that as a response to her designation, rather than to the possibility of her being harmed.
She responded like he had commented on her designation.
“Yeah, smart, brilliant Alice Quinn is an Omega.” Her voice dripped with a cool, mocking tone. She scoffed before speaking with a more humorous air, “You should have seen the expression on Fogg’s face when I showed up already having a designation.”
Alice then moved to fully sit up with a groan. Her hands moved through a sequence of Poppers 17, 5, and 3, and with a muttered bit of Greek she started rubbing her temples. After a few minutes she looked a little less hungover.
“What spell was that?” Quentin asked. Penny nursed hangovers often enough that it was clear Quentin’s roommate didn’t know the spell.
“It’s an adaptation from a migraine healing spell.” Alice explained. She paused for a second, her eyes pensieve. “My brother taught me the basics when I used to get the occasional headache. His name was Charlie. He taught me the horse spell I did the first day in March’s class…” Her voice was somber as she spoke of her brother.
“He was a student here five years ago. I’m... really only here to figure out what happened to him. They wouldn’t say. They didn’t even bother to invite me because of it.”
The hurt on her face, both around her brother’s death and her lack of invitation was obvious. Quentin fought past his usual awkwardness to make eye contact with her and show he was listening with care. He kept his gaze soft as she continued explaining.
“I had to find the way in myself. It wasn’t that hard. I just stole one of my parents’ alumni keys.”
After hearing the full story, Quentin was even more impressed. He had known Alice was smart. He had heard she got into Brakebills without being invited, but he hadn’t known the details. Margo and Eliot had their speculations, but when he’d brought up alumni keys they had dismissed the idea— it was impossible:all alumni keys were charmed with McNaughton’s Unstealable.
Given how Margo and Eliot had brushed over that as even possible, Alice saying it wasn’t that hard was almost more than impressive.
“Wow, uh, that’s…” Quentin trailed off. “That doesn’t make any sense. You’re like… no, you are the smartest person in our class.” He shook his head incredulously. “So you just walked in?”
“Yeah. They didn’t realize I had gotten on campus. They were really confused. And they didn’t believe it when I told them. At that point they felt they had to give me the entrance exam and I passed.” She paused.
“It’s not the same without Charlie. He would have been a fifth year this year. If he had chosen to do the additional year that is.” She chuckled, smiling sadly.
Quentin nodded. He remembered Fogg had explained that Brakebills students took four years to get their degree, but had the option of staying on a fifth for further studies and specializations.
“He likely would have, he loved to learn a lot. It was one of the things we bonded over… He was my best friend. My only friend really.” She had been staring off in the distance acclimating to her new room, not looking at Quentin. Her window had these white lacy curtains over it, and the light moved wisped through in swirling floral patterns. She glanced down at her lap after sitting up, and she shifted her legs under herself. She was anxiously rubbing one of her hands, trying to soothe herself.
“I get that,” Quentin responded. “I only had two friends growing up. I can’t imagine what I would have done if James or Julia had gone off to school without me. Let alone…” Quentin trailed off.
“Yeah,” Alice sighed. “Things were never the same after. My parents were never really fond of me, and after Charlie died things got,” she paused, “worse.” The last word was said dejectedly.
Quentin chuckled. He didn’t mean to, but he did.
“I—uh, sorry.” he tripped on his words in his haste to explain. “I get that too. Mine stopped being fond of me when—” Quentin paused to take a nervous breath.
“Mine stopped being fond of me when I was pretty young. It only got worse after I was hospitalized for the first time. I was pretty young. Thirteen, maybe? My dad tries at least. But my mom,” he inhaled sharply through his nose. “she just didn’t—doesn’t get it. I can’t do anything right.” Alice had been looking at Quentin, and she nodded at his words.
“It’s nice to meet someone else who gets it.” She said softly.
Quentin smiled at her before agreeing. “Yeah, it kind of is.”
They held eye contact for a few moments before Alice’s gaze returned to her lap, her hair falling in front of her glasses.
“Thank you for listening, Quentin.”
“Uh, thanks, Alice. This was nice.” He stumbled over the last word. “I hope…” He paused, his mouth moving silently like he was trying to find the right thing to say.
“I hope,” he started again, “we can become friends.”
“Me too, Quentin.”
“I uhh… I have a question that may be a little weird— about designation stuff?”
Alice’s eyebrow raised. She was focused on him and a little skeptical, her lips slightly parted as she nodded.
“I was wondering if you had any idea that you were going to be an Omega before you presented, or if you saw any, uh, saw any signs?”
Alice smiled kindly, quickly understanding where Quentin was coming from. She chuckled awkwardly.
“I…” she paused, shaking her head.
“My parents are, well. They’re a bonded Omega-Omega pair. My mom—sorry, Stephanie ,” Alice carefully enunciated her mom’s first name, “as she prefers I call her,” Alice shook her head again, stopping.
“I didn’t want to be an Omega. But yes, there were signs, as Stephanie ,” Alice practically sneered her name, “so gleefully pointed out.” Alice turned towards the window and swallowed.
“Charlie was an Alpha. I think that was part of the reason they doted on him more. I was quiet, and shy.” her lips pursed. “I rarely spoke, unless directly spoken to. I really respected authority, and rarely lashed out. Well, with the exception of with my parents, but Omegas lashing out towards other Omegas is hardly seen as disrespect. When I did finally present, all Stephanie said was ‘I told you so’. My dad had to take me heat shopping.” She blushed.
“God, that was so embarrassing.”
Quentin nodded, smiling lightly and sympathetically. “Yeah, I can’t imagine going sex toy shopping with my mom.” He chuckled.
“It was better than shopping with Stephanie, but yeah. It was awkward.” She also laughed.
“The other big thing was how I responded to Charlie before he died. The way I gravitated to the only Alpha in the family or in my life, really, was seen as a sign.” Alice leaned her head back against the white headboard and blew her hair out of her face.
“It wasn’t one my parents told me about. Just something I learned about after starting here and doing some reading. Charlie died before I presented.”
“Thank you,” Quentin said softly.
“What about you?” she inquired.
It was Quentin’s turn to hide behind his hair and blush.
“Margo and Eliot. They…” She paused, a little confused and honestly frustrated with herself for not thinking of it before. They’d discussed their disciplines, but not that Quentin hadn’t presented.
“Wait, is that why I can’t really smell you? Have you not presented yet?”
Quentin was torn between blushing and laughing. He started with a blush, but when Alice started laughing he couldn’t help the laughter bubbling up in his chest. They laughed for a minute or two before Alice shook her head.
“I’m sorry. I guess,” she stopped and sniffed the air, “I think I smell Margo and Eliot, their scent more than yours. I just never noticed. I’d always assumed…” She trailed off and took a deep breath before speaking again.
“Charlie presented late, too. A few weeks after BBS is what his letter had said. He wouldn’t say what that stood for. He said he had an idea of how he would present though. That it had been obvious for a while, but it was like his magic and body were catching up with his brain.”
Quentin nodded, understanding what it felt like to have an idea about his designation. For him, his sexuality— which he guessed now extended to his sexual designation— was the one thing he’d always been sure of. It was the one thing he didn’t have anxiety about.
Alice nodded. Based on his answer and how he gravitated towards Margo and Eliot, she knew now, too.
“I, uh. I don’t want to go into too many details, but in general, being an Omega is pretty manageable. Time off for heats sucks, but outside of that, other than the posturing Alphas and the occasional crappy Beta nothing changes all too much.”
“Thanks,” He said sincerely, with a smile.
Alice nodded sharply. “Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like my room to myself.”
Quentin got up, grabbed his shoes, and made for the door.
“Thank you, Quentin. We should study together or something sometime. It was nice talking to you.” Alice said softly.
He turned to reply, but she had already laid back down, and had even shut her blinds. He padded quietly out of her room, heading towards his.
He opened the door with his name on it and was once again astounded by Brakebills’ efficiency. All of his belongings were piled around the room, the mess on his new desk identical to the one he had left on his dorm room desk. The only difference between his and Alice’s rooms was that his posters were already pinned to his walls. Next to one at eye-level was a note. The note wasn’t from Brakebills. It was from Eliot and Margo.
We noticed you were busy with the vixen from your class. We took the liberty of hanging some of your posters and shelving some of your books. We’re excited for you to be joining us here <3
-Margo and El
PS: the sticking charm we used for the posters is on the back
He stared at the note, not even thinking about the new spell. Instead he thought about the two Alphas. He recognized that it should have felt invasive, but there was something soothing about the two of them setting up his space for him. It was almost as if, by that action, the two of them accepted him as a Physical kid despite his undetermined discipline.
Margo and Eliot sat lounging against one another as they watched Quentin help Alice up the stairs.
“What’s your obsession with your new flavor of the month?” Margo asked, swirling the wine in her glass.
“ Oh, come on. He’s a high-strung super nerd. We love those.” Eliot sighed at her.
They both giggled over their drinks, thinking about playing with him. Quentin was unlikely an Omega; they couldn’t smell him over the general din of smells in the common room. To an Alpha, Omegas were always easiest to pick out of a room.
Margo smiled, but it didn’t quite reach her eyes.
“We do love those, El. We do love those.”
Her half-smile didn’t reach her eyes because she had a feeling. One she wasn’t sure Eliot had picked up on. Quentin wasn’t just a high-strung supernerd. He was a high-strung Fillory supernerd. Chances were he knew about Fillorianverse, and likely about his own designation in some capacity. And just cause they weren’t smelling him now, didn’t mean he had presented, or that he’d presented as a Beta.
After all, Margo had always loved Alpha!Watcherwoman fic. Not because she wanted to be dominated by her, but because she saw herself in the Watcherwoman. As the Alpha in charge, having power over whatever Omega she had under her thrall at the time was enticing. She liked that sense of control, the ability to bring peace and order to an Omega’s life.
When Lipson told her that she was an Alpha, Margo hadn’t been surprised. Honestly, her discipline hadn’t been that surprising either. Although they were nowhere near as close to each other before the Trials, the little bit of her scent that Eliot had picked up on had a sharp menthol smell. Cold and minty, it was unclear if it was spearmint, wild, or something similar like eucalyptus. Cryomancy—working with ice—fit both her personality and her scent.
Margo thought back to her conversation with Quentin and the day they had been discussing Fillorianverse headcanons. He had stopped himself before talking about presentations, which meant he knew something about himself that he didn’t want them to know about. She was worried for Eliot, (and herself, if she was being honest) who obviously enjoyed Quentin’s presence even if he wouldn’t admit to it being any deeper than usual. She was scared that Quentin would present as an Omega, and what that would mean for them.
Fuck , she thought. That’s the only reason we haven’t tag-teamed him yet . He practically screamed that he needed a good fucking. But they didn’t screw undesignated first years; that was their agreement.
It got too messy if they ended up being an Omega. The pheromones lingered, and paired with how newly presented Omegas had to navigate the new social constructs of their designation, it just wasn’t worth it.
I mean, that’s how we ended up with Todd , she thought.
Back when Eliot and Margo had first gotten into Brakebills, she and Eliot had hit it off instantly. They developed a fast friendship and quickly found that co-topping people was super fun. While Margo knew Fillorian designations, she didn’t really grasp how that could affect one-night stands that she liked to have. Even after their first year at Brakebills, neither she nor Eliot realized that even sleeping with undesignated magicians could cause issues.
Elliot Todd was their prime example. He was a new student at the beginning of their second year, fucking eager to please—and although you’d never hear them say it now— decently good looking. Eliot also more than vaguely liked the idea of fucking someone with the same name.
Eliot and Margo had fun taking the boy apart. They weren’t monsters, they did provide aftercare. But they’d intended Eliott Todd to be a one-night stand and when he presented as an Omega earlier than most, after only two and a half weeks at Brakebills, that’s when they started having problems. It was rare for this to happen, but by sleeping with Margo and Eliot before his magic finished developing, Elliott Todd had gone and imprinted on them. It was a fledgling bond, one that could be easily broken by a light scent bond or even just a tad of a fucking backbone. However, Elliott Todd. Elliot Todd had no fucking backbone, and when he did get assigned to the Physical kids Cottage, Eliot demanded that Elliott Todd share his middle name, and to go by it from now on: the Cottage only had room for one Eliot. Todd didn’t even argue. He just agreed. A stronger Omega might have been able to ignore or even worked to break the light bond. Instead, over a year later, Todd continued to try and get into Margo and Eliot’s good graces. Then, after Todd presented, Margo and Eliot noticed he smelled of baby powder and cleaning products. The smell of talc made the pair want to hurl. Somehow, despite the clear incompatibilities, Todd was still obsessed with them.
Todd had been a mistake. One that lived under the same roof, and attended some of the same classes. It was fucking exhausting.
When the Trials happened, Margo and Eliot developed two rules.
One: they wouldn’t fuck Omegas, no matter how good they smelled.
Two: Margo and Eliot came first. They were a unit, not to be separated.
And then, after the Toddening: no fucking undesignated first years.
Once again thank you to my lovely beta Miles <3.
Also I have the next two chapters written and in the revision process. I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to update again soon.
Chapter 5: Wonderland
Quentin learns about hedges and his time in his own “World Within the Walls.”
AN: warning for hospitalization (think episode 1.4 World Within the Walls)
Once again thanks to my lovely beta Miles <3
"'Cause nothing's as it seems
And spinning out of control
Didn't they tell us don't rush into things?"
- Taylor swift
Quentin was peacefully curled up in one of the Cottage’s many nooks with a well-loved copy of a Fillory book. While he loved that he was living with Eliot and Margo— and not Penny—living at the Cottage also had a pretty big downside. Over the past two weeks, his reading and studying time suffered at the pair’s whims. They asked him to join them on excursions, meals, or even to just lounge and chit-chat. They even continued to include him in their highly exclusive Sunday Brunches. Oftentimes, Quentin would see them either individually or as a pair kick others out of their beds and the house, not even allowing their one night stands the opportunity to have breakfast, let alone brunch. But Quentin was always welcome.
Quentin sighed, hearing Eliot’s voice filter through the din of the Cottage. He was really hoping to finish his book.
“Quentin,” Eliot called, “I need your help. Highest priority.”
When Quentin glanced up at him, Eliot took the opportunity to reach for Quentin’s book and set it down before Quentin could even bookmark or glance at the page number. Quentin glared at him and huffed.
Eliot paid Quentin’s reaction no mind as he grabbed Quentin’s arm and dragged the first year into another room where a cardboard box sat, rattling precariously on a table.
“We have a real problem.” Eliot said, starting to pace.
“Is it in the box?” Quentin asked, eyeing the shaking package with curiosity. He couldn’t help but wonder what a rattling box had to do with Eliot’s obvious anxiety.
“Professor Sunderland came looking for a book from the Physical Cottage Library and it’s missing .” Eliot stopped looking Quentin in the eye briefly. He resumed pacing and explaining “I diverted her attention, but—”
Quentin cut him off, not understanding what a missing book had to do with anything. “What does that have to do with the box?”
Eliot turned to face him again “Books at Brakebills, Quentin, are not just books . One goes missing, it’s not just a library fine we’re talking about.”
Quentin had never seen Eliot so disturbed. His eyes were wild. Quentin knew Breakbills was severe with their punishments—memory wiping students who failed was common practice—but Quentin didn’t know what they would do about a single missing book. Or what it had to do with a cardboard box.
“What are you talking about, Eliot?”
“We’re talking about—” Eliot started, stopped, and ran his hand through his normally perfectly coiffed hair, pulling lightly on it in agitation.
“We have… occasional parties. During one, someone took a book, and if we don’t find that book the faculty are going to take a closer look at our parties.”
Eliot spoke like Quentin was also responsible. Yet, it was Eliot always dragging him to the parties Eliot and Margo hosted.
“That can’t happen , Quentin.”
Quentin shifted his weight from foot to foot. While he couldn’t smell the ammonia in the air that Eliot radiated, Eliot’s distress was palpable beyond the scent level. It was quite rare for the personable Alpha, and Quentin didn’t quite know how to handle it. Eliot also stillh hadn’t explained the box’s importance. It was clearly relevant, given how Eliot’s eyes kept shooting glances at it.
“So are you gonna tell me what’s in the box, or…?” Quentin asked, his curiosity finally getting the best of him.
Eliot snapped his fingers and the book burst out of the now open box, its pages a flutter as it defied gravity. Quentin jumped.
“What the hell is that?” His mouth gaping open in surprise and his brow furrowing in confusion.
“The missing book is Volume One,” Eliot pointed to the book angrily throwing itself at the walls and windows, searching for an exit from the sealed room. “ That is Volume Two. She’s going to lead us to her mate.”
“Oh,” Quentin said, like it was the most obvious thing possible. Because books were always sentient and had mates, like Magicians.
Quentin shrugged; it was Brakebills. It was just a normal Tuesday. The pair would have an adventure like always, even if this one had the potential for rather severe consequences, unlike their usual, more casual outings.
After determining that Volume One wasn’t on campus, Eliot and Quentin took a portal into Brooklyn. They were walking down the street when the box started shaking violently.
“Hear that? She’s getting excited. I think we’re close.” Eliot smiled, shuffling the box into Quentin’s arms without warning, leaving Quentin scrambling as it immediately tried to jump out of his arms. They had just approached a run-down bodega that looked to be of little importance, but Eliot held up a spell-lens to it.
“This bodega is warded up the ass.”
Eliot approached the bodega, and looking closely, he recognized the black heptagram with a key cut out.
“Fucking hedges,” he muttered. He’d have to explain it to Quentin as well. “Hedge Witches,” he said, disdain dripping from his voice, “are amateurs. Magical D-leaguers. Only something, like, 1-in-50 present or ever figure out their designations. It’s a mark of pride among them rather than the standard.” Eliot laughed. Quentin swallowed heavily. Was he no better than a hedge? Some magic users didn’t present? What about—
Eliot continued speaking, not noticing Quentin’s darting eyes. “Sad and desperate people. Once one of them offered to blow me for a spell. They were barely a witch, let alone a magician. It was fairly worth it.”
Quentin sighed in relief; they weren’t really magicians. He would present. It would be okay. Having snapped himself out of his spiral, Quentin was about to ask for more information on the differences between hedges and magicians, when Eliot raised a finger cutting him off.
“Let me do the talking, okay?”
Despite Quentin’s lack of presentation, Eliot’s demeanor screamed presented Alpha magician. Quentin would just have to see what a ‘hedge’ was in comparison to the magicians from Brakebills.
They entered the bodega and the box went crazy, causing Quentin to knock over a display as he tried to wrangle it closer to his body. He was about to apologize when he remembered Eliot’s instructions. Eliot said something in Spanish and they were buzzed into the backroom.
They approached a small set of stairs, leading to an open space. Quentin noticed people practicing spells and studying.
“These are witches?”
One of the hedges was working through a particularly gnarly sequence and having a tough time by the looks of it. Their casting wasn’t as refined as the sharp movements of Poppers that Quentin saw at Brakebills.
“Hm. Pathetic.” Eliot said, spotting the issues in the hedge’s casting. It was a standard Popper he was botching. “No? Ugh this kid’s trying Popper 4. It’s painful, but not all that difficult.”
A ginger man approached them. Eliot sniffed the air, noting he was a Beta. There were also three Alphas that frequently spent time here. Only the Beta and one Alpha were among the eight hedges gathered in the room. The second Alpha wasn’t home, and had only been gone a short while by the smell of it. The third Alpha was barely detectable and was almost never around. The Beta ginger opened his mouth. “Hear you’re selling something.”
Then from behind them, someone called.
“Quentin?” It was Julia.
Quentin’s mouth dropped open in shock. He didn’t see Eliot watching him appraisingly, nor was he able to smell the possessive pheromones Eliot was suddenly filling the space with.
Quentin had hoped Julia would find magic, that she’d continue fighting tooth and nail for what she loved. But based on what Eliot had said, hedge witches were barely magicians. And while there was no way their interactions wouldn’t be different, there was a part of him that missed her. He had wondered how she’d respond to Eliot and Margo. Eliot was unlikely to play friendly with any hedges, and Quentin wasn’t sure of his own opinions of them yet.
Quentin managed a response amidst the chatter in his head.
The box in his arms broke the moment, trying to jump out of his hands again. The rest of the witches in the room started to size them up.
Eliot scented the room again, catching the scent of one or two other almost-presented magic users in addition to the three Alphas and Beta. This coven was stronger than they looked, though it was still unlikely they could keep up with a freshly-presented first year, let alone match Eliot’s two full years and change of classical training.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Julia questioned. Her voice was calm.
“What the hell are you doing here?” he snapped back.
“You know these guys?” the ginger asked the brunette.
“Yeah, they’re from Brakebills.” she responded dismissively.
“We’re friends—” Quentin started to say. Eliot cut him off, radiating dominance.
“That’s right, we’re from Brakebills. We’re classically trained, and we want our book.” His voice matched the sneer on his face.
“We don’t have your stupid book.” The ginger Beta fired back.
But all of a sudden there was a thumping, rattling noise as a book came barreling past them, flapping through a previously closed door towards the book in the box Quentin had been trying to contain. Volume Two escaped the box and rushed towards its mate. The two books started fucking. One book engulfing the other’s spine between its pages. Everyone looked on in confusion, and the ginger Beta asked,
“Are they… fucking?”
“Yep.” Eliot responded, looking disdainfully at the hedges, as if they were wasting his time. “Love wins,” he sassed before going after the books.
The hedges just gaped at the classically trained adepts as Eliot picked up each volume and placed them back inside the box. They left with both books and not another peep from the peanut gallery.
They descended the stairs and let themselves out of the back door. As they walked out onto the street, Julia called after Quentin.
“So, that’s it?”
He turned around. Julia was storming out of the building to confront him, angry. “That’s all you’re going to say to me?”
Eliot called in what Quentin didn’t yet know to recognize as an Alpha tone, but Quentin ignored him. Julia had been his family for most of his adolescent life and even Quentin’s developing instincts recognized that over an Alpha’s attempts at dominance.
“I don’t know what you’re doing here, Jules.” Quentin sounded irritated and disappointed. “You’re better than this.” Julia looked hurt at his phrasing, her mouth frowning even deeper and her eyebrows raising.
“You say that like I had a choice,” Julia hissed.
“Of course you have a choice.” Quentin said it like it was the most obvious answer in the world. He was definitely judging her, and she thought he had no ground.
“No, I didn’t. Because guess what? Magic wasn’t just handed to me on a silver platter. This,” she gestured to the safehouse behind her, “was all I was able to find on my own.”
“I told you to please tell Brakebills about me,” Her voice wavered. “I didn’t join Marina’s coven the first time they approached me. I waited a few weeks after my birthday.” She looked down, an angry snarl on her face, but it settled as the anger passed, showing the genuine hurt underneath.
“At first, you know, I thought maybe they’d actually test me again, and then I figured someone would at least come and try to take my memory again, and then…” she paused for effect, shaking slightly at the thought of her time in limbo.
“I was just waiting. It took me weeks to realize you never told them about me at all.”
That was true, but Quentin hadn’t not thought about her either. “Look, Jules, I…”
She shook her head, cutting him off. “You were my best friend.”
“Yeah, and so I let it go.” Quentin responded, snapping at her. Because he had. He had hoped she’d find magic on her own, but he hadn’t really known what that would mean. He thought at the least she’d deserved to know about it. And a petty part of him thought about what he had and she didn’t. But no, it was more about her knowing it existed. A vestige of his old life that had meaning and that knew about this new him. But she didn’t get it. And she didn’t understand Brakebills.
Her voice quavered as she asked annunciating each word “What does that mean, ‘you let it go?’” His head shook as she tried to explain, “No, that’s crazy I can actually do—”
He cut in. “The people at Brakebills, Jules, they can bend light. They can read minds. They can fly. They have sexual designations like in Fillory. You can—” Quentin stopped before scoffing. “You can do a party trick.” Quentin spoke with conviction, this last phrase said with a calmness that had evaded the rest of the words.
In Quentin’s mind and world he was right. And there was no room for Julia’s hurt. Not when she couldn’t do magic. Quentin’s own lack of designation didn’t matter, because Brakebills had chosen him .
Julia huffed, “So this is it, then?” the hurt radiated from her voice, “The real you. The real Quentin Makepeace Coldwater.”
Eliot bit back a laugh, the sound reminding Quentin of his presence.
Quentin ignored Eliot; he knew he’d hear it from both him and Margo about his middle name later. But right now, Quentin wasn’t going to have Julia judging him, not after how she treated him.
“Do you ever stop to think about how maybe you treated me?” He spoke in an accusatory tone.
“What?” She sounded confused and also hurt. “I was always there.”
Quentin laughed. He started in a mocking tone. “You were so nice and you were so sweet to poor little Q,” He emphasized the nickname she always called him, “who couldn’t get his shit together. How many times did you pull me out of bed from a depressive episode, or miss school to come visit me in inpatient—”
“Don’t put that on me. How dare you ? I was always there for you Quentin!” Quentin didn’t care.
“Between you and James it was a two-for-one charity case.”
“That’s your interpretation. Why are you saying this, Quentin?” Julia’s voice only rose in that last sentence. She wasn’t going to take what Quentin was saying lying down; it took their entire friendship completely out of context.
Quentin escalated things further, raising his voice practically yelling. “Because that’s the truth , Julia!” His voice was laced with conviction and real hurt.
“No, that’s not true—!” she backpedaled, shocked by what she was hearing Quentin accuse her of. She had always been his friend. She felt everything fall into place with his next sentence.
“You knew how I felt about you, Julia.”
She was off-kilter, her confusion clear on her face. She knew on some level what he was talking about, but she didn’t really believe Quentin thought that was the entirety of the issue. That Quentin would throw away years of friendship over this. She spoke softly, unsure of what was yet to come. “I don’t know what—”
“Admit it. Just admit it! Admit it already, Julia!” Quentin repeated himself, clearly not willing to take no for an answer. She nodded her head, swallowing, tears gathering in her eyes.
“So you’re going to punish me for that? You’re going to ignore Every. Single. Part. of our friendship just because I wasn’t interested in fucking you?” she articulated each word carefully, but the last two hissed from her mouth like poison.
Quentin looked at her, still serious.
“I don’t know what else to say. I don’t— You can’t blame me.” Quentin was always second, and Julia was throwing a fit the one time where he got first?
In each of their minds they had the higher ground. Yet, they were looking at each other, confused if they should be mad or if they should feel hurt. Quentin chose his anger and kept pushing.
“Does James even know that you’re here? You’re hanging out with a bunch of tweakers who are turning tricks for spells.”
Julia scoffed angrily. “Are you kidding me? These people want to —”
But Quentin cut her off again, the only thing he was reading right was her anger, missing her hurt entirely.
“Stop slumming because you’re pissed you lost for once in your life.”
The part of Quentin that resented Julia — the one that had enjoyed... no, that thrived on him being important, that he had something she didn’t — was dominating his mind during this conversation. There was no evidence of how he had thought about what she might think of Eliot and Margo’s interest—or lack thereof—in him. Or how she would react to Penny harassing him for his own mindspace; of how he had thought she would probably teach him the strongest mental wards she could find. There was no evidence of his hope that she’d find her way to magic, real magic: not the party trick she had shown him earlier.
The Quentin in front of her now was all his hurt and his rejection, and none of his understanding. His compassion came forward in his warning to her:
“I’m sorry, but I mean it. You could really get hurt doing this shit, and for what?”
He was concerned, but he was clearly missing the point. The point of how he would have felt for it to have been the other way around. But in his concern for how she was learning magic, he forgot that the thing that had bonded the two of them as children, had been their love of magic. This time it was him telling her to grow up. Him telling her to leave her Fillory behind. But she had finally remembered what Fillory had been about, what magic had felt like. And she wasn’t going to let go.
“Do you love magic?” her voice was gravely as she questioned him. “Is it in your soul? Is it like the secret heart of what you always were?”
“So you know how I feel.” She said her piece with conviction, spinning on her heel and walking away, her sweater trailing behind her in the wind. The tatters of their friendship hung in the distance that grew between them, and with it, their anger and hurt were left to simmer.
Eliot had been hanging behind Quentin, smoking a cigarette, letting the scene in front of him play out.
Eliot remembered what it was like. Tying up loose ends—well, the one or two that existed for him from his time at SUNY Purchase—after getting into Brakebills. He remembered the divide between himself and the people he knew. How, after he presented and was trained classically, the relationships became untenable. He recalled what Quentin had told him about Julia. He had left out how he’d truly felt about her. Eliot was a little surprised. Quentin was usually so open with him. But he wasn’t hurt. After all, the Alpha still kept a fair amount to himself.
After Julia re-entered the bodega’s back door, Eliot put his cigarette in his mouth and golf-clapped. Quentin approached him looking a bit like a kicked puppy.
“Makepeace, Huh?” He quipped, trying to break the tension.
“Shut up, Eliot.” Quentin said.
Usually he could take a joke, or at least only be jokingly indignant, but his mood was black. His interaction with Julia had sucked and he wanted to wallow in it.
Eliot just nodded, taking the criticism. He’d try and comfort Quentin with alcohol once they returned to the cottage. The pair walked silently back to where they had portaled into Brooklyn, just a block or two down from the bodega.
Quentin was going to think about this interaction with Julia several times over the next few days. While he was still angry afterwards, eventually he’d remember how he had felt glad to be different, and also wished he could be sharing this with her. He’d remember how he had hoped the latter would come true, because at the end of the day he hated how much she was hurting. And how he had thought about how he’d feel if he were in her shoes. She was learning homebrew Hedge Witch magic. He was going to be a Magician.
Eventually he’d think again about his original idea of trying to get her admitted to Brakebills. He’d think about how while it was far-fetched—especially given the odds Eliot and Margo had shared previously— Julia seemed determined enough. Maybe those odds were bullshit. Maybe one day they would cross paths and actually get to enjoy discussing magic, rather than just discuss learning methods and how doing home-brew studies were super dangerous.
It had been a full week since Quentin and Eliot’s little excursion into Brooklyn. With the book safely recovered, Eliot and Margo had continued to hold their renowned cottage parties. Quentin had joined the partying and he must’ve taken one too many of Eliot’s delicious drinks. He woke up to a wicked case of cottonmouth and a pounding hangover.
The mattress was lumpy underneath him, and the pillow was flat. He sat up and took in his surroundings the best he could despite his vision swimming. He looked up, the window was high up, higher than he could reach. Below it was a set of older paperback Fillory novels. The walls were blank, that special just off of white color that seemed to be popular with hospitals. His Fillory posters were nowhere to be seen. There were only the two beds built-in to the floor, two nightstands bolted to the wall, and two sets of shelves with rounded edges.
He moved over to the dresser in the corner. The top drawers only had laceless hoodies and pajamas and the second drawer only had underwear. Quentin was trying not to panic, but the room reminded him of the psychiatric hospitals that he’d checked himself into in the past. He felt something plastic on his wrist, and looked down. It was a hospital bracelet.
What the hell was going on? Was he really in the hospital again? How did he get here and what about Brakebills? Quentin had remembered drinking the night before, but certainly not enough to have caused him to check into a hospital. Did he forget to take his potion? Was he having some sort of reaction?
He turned around and found a large man holding a stuffed pink rabbit staring at him. Quentin jumped, jamming his hip into the corner of the dresser behind him.
“Dude, you’re in the wrong—” Quentin started, looked around again and confirmed there were in fact two beds and bars on the window. “—or, am I in the wrong, uh,” he stopped and backed away, leaving his potential roommate in the room where he’d woken in.
Quentin padded out into the hall. There were nurses in blue scrubs and doctors in white lab coats milling around. Other people —no, patients— wandered around in pajama-esque attire. He felt wary until he spotted Eliot.
Eliot was more disheveled than he’d ever seen before. His usually perfectly coiffed hair lay uncombed and dangling in his face.
“Hey Q,” Eliot called brightly. The real Eliot never called him that. His eyes looked wild and he grabbed at Quentin smiling like some sort of manic pixie.
“Do you have them?” he sing-songed to Quentin.
His hands were suddenly in Quentin’s pocket, groping around searching for something. He was completely in Quentin’s space, but not in the intentional way Quentin was used to. This was desperation.
“My happy pills! You know I need them, Q. I want to float, and fly atop the clouds!” Eliot’s voice was dreamy. His gaze turned more accusing and his tone grew harsh.
“Do you? Do you?” He yelled in Quentin’s face. Why was Eliot begging him for drugs?
Someone wearing a lab coat, a doctor, wait — Dr. London from the Midtown Mental Health Clinic — approached them.
“Eliot, they’re looking for you in arts and crafts,” she said.
Eliot smiled, stopping his ransack of Quentin’s pocket.
“Watercolors,” his voice was still lighter than Quentin expected. He smiled a looser smile, before dragging a thumb across Quentin’s lips, “Without me, they’re just so bland.” He walked off, slapping Quentin’s ass on his way to (presumably) art therapy.
Jennifer was a mundane doctor. Why would Quentin have come here instead of going to the Brakebills health center and Professor Lipson?
“Quentin, could I speak to you?” Dr London asked.
Quentin looked after Eliot, trying to piece together whatever the fuck was going on. He nodded before trailing after her, following her to a room that was an eerie amalgamation of things from Dean Fogg’s office and the office he remembered from Midtown Hospital.
“Okay, this is obviously a dream where I realize I’m in a dream.”
She answered him the way she always did: questioning how he got there. “So you think your life is a dream?”
Quentin furrowed his brow.
“That’s not what I said. I think this is a dream. Some weird amalgamation or fusion of the fucking hospital and Brakebills.” Quentin chewed his lip.
Jennifer looked at him and nodded. “Do you know why you’re here Quentin?”
“I’m not here though,” He said adamantly.
“Something... happened with Julia. Do you not remember?”
Quentin shook his head. He remembered their fight outside the safehouse. But it hadn’t been anything bad enough to send him to the fucking psych ward.
“Are you okay to see her, Quentin?”
“Of course,” He said. He was still super confused. Jennifer got up to open the door. Quentin looked where he expected Julia’s face to be. He looked down. She was in a wheelchair.
“Hey Q,” she said. Her voice was raspier than it used to be.
Quentin’s jaw dropped and his heart lurched, beating erratically in his chest. What the hell happened. Julia saw the confusion on his face.
“Jennifer mentioned you’re struggling again… Do you want me to remind you what happened?” Quentin swallowed audibly.
“I’m not crazy, Julia. We have to be trapped in a spell. Do you not remember?” Quentin was astounded how she had forgotten. Brakebills hadn’t even been able to erase it the first time. What the fuck was going on.
She looked at him with pity.
“Don’t look at me like that!” he snapped.
She reached towards him, saying his name softly, and that’s when he noticed a glint on her ring finger.
“You’re engaged?” He asked, puppy-eyed and his lip quivering.
“It’s okay Q, we just booked the church.” He pulled away from her.
“No Jules,” he snapped. “It’s not okay. What the fuck happened?” His voice started to rise, and he started yelling “I got into Brakebills and we had a fight, but why the fuck am I in a mundane hospital? Why are you in a wheelchair? Magic is real!” He panted, before shrinking. “It has to be….” His eyes lit up. “I can prove it, watch.”
He carefully tapped his fingers together, butterflying the backs of his hands, flexing his fingers one at a time before shooting them up, casting a fireworks spell. He watched the mini-fireworks with awe. Magic was real. He was doing magic!
“How can you not see this?!”
He looked towards Julia and then to Dr. London. They were looking at him with pity. He was still holding his hand up, he could feel the magic moving, the fireworks still shooting from his fingertips.
“Jules?” he asked, feeling fragile. He shook his head. “NO. I know I got into Brakebills. This isn’t real. This CAN’T be real!”
“Q,” Julia reached for him. “I wanted to see the fireworks too.”
“How’d you know they were fireworks?”
“No, how’d you know they were—“
“That’s enough Quentin,” Dr. Londoncut in. “Either let Julia tell you what happened, or we should end today's visit.”
Quentin was glaring at Julia. How did she know what he was casting? This had to be a spell. She knew about magic. That was the only explanation.
“She can go.” He said. He couldn’t bring himself to look at her as she wheeled herself out of the room. He sat looking at the floor.
“Quentin,” Jennifer started, ”I know you believe you just cast a spell, but Brakebills and magic aren’t real.” He just nodded, pretending to agree. He’d have to figure out a way out of this spell on his own, without her watching.
“Can I go back to the rec room?” he asked.
“Yes, go ahead.”
He wandered dejectedly back to the room. He curled up on one of the seats, bringing his feet onto the chair and wrapping his arms around his legs. He started thinking: if this were a spell, then where was his body? The last thing he’d remembered was being at Brakebills. If he was at Brakebills, would he be able to contact someone? A psychic kid, maybe? Penny never stopped harassing him about his wards, going as far as banging on his door at the Cottage to tell him to tighten his shit when he visited Kady. Penny had been at the party last night. Quentin could contact him. It was time for him to blow this popsicle stand.
He walked over to where he had seen a schedule posted. Music therapy was in an hour. He could start singing before then, but if he could get others to join, it could boost the signal. Or, at least more voices would mean more annoyances for that douchebag . Well, Quentin would stop calling Penny that if he found him and helped him get the fuck out of here.
Quentin wandered back to his room, grabbing one of the Fillory books before returning to the rec room to kill the hour.
Fillory was soothing, even in this bullshit back-assward place. The hour flew by. Music therapy started and when the therapist asked for a song to sing. Quentin started the opening lines to Shake it Off, his favorite song to torture Penny with.
“I stay out too late, got nothing in my brain. But that’s what people say.” Dr. London smiled at him and he got up and kept singing, off-key.
The song ended. And nothing happened. But the Penny that was in his dream world, one of the janitors, had it firmly stuck in his head. That should do it. Hopefully. All Quentin had to do now was wait.
And he did. The days passed, one after another. Eventually, he started believing he was really in the hospital.
Jennifer had Julia visit again, but Quentin barely noticed. He was so deep in his own mind and his depression. She tried talking to him, but it went in one ear and out the next.
The door across the room slammed open and Penny — the real Penny in his usual boho clothing, normal accent and prickly attitude — stormed over and yelled in Quentin’s face.
“Dude! The fuck have I told you about that song?”
Penny was growing really sick and tired of Quentin Coldwater’s bullshit. You’d think that after more than six weeks at Brakebills, and after living with a psychic roommate that the idiot would at least try learn some fucking mental wards.
“Penny?” Quentin asked, his voice quavering.
“Yeah, idiot.” Penny snapped and rolled his eyes.
“You’re not real.” Quentin said firmly, getting up and walking away.
“Yeah,” Penny said and followed, shoving him roughly against one of the walls. “How’s that? Real enough?”
Quentin was breathing hard, his back against the wall. “That hurt.”
God, if Penny ever found out that he found himself turned on, he’d never live it down. But right then, it was exactly what he needed to feel, to know what was real. And who was he kidding? Penny knew. He was in his head, after all. .
“Do it again. Harder.”
God, Coldwater was fucking lucky. If it weren’t for designations Penny would be wondering what kind of sick shit his ex-roommate was into. Yet, honestly? Penny knew what went on in Coldwater’s head. And it sure as shit was not vanilla. Even before learning more about sexual designations. But still, he wasn’t going to push the man without more provocation.
“What kind of sick shit are you asking me to do Coldwater?” he asked. What Quentin did on his own time was his own business, but Penny sure as shit didn’t want to be involved.
Quentin just half growled, pushing Penny demandingly. “Harder.”
Penny responded. Pushing the boy was surprisingly fun. His little gasp of air and how he raised his hands. Coldwater was sort of cute, when his brain wasn’t bleeding emotionally everywhere. Penny half wished he’d known that this was the trick to shutting Quentin’s mind up when they’d roomed together. Maybe he would’ve found him more tolerable. He would’ve been fine to at least consider domming Coldwater if it meant he’d get a quiet brain night.
“Oh,” Quentin panted, his hands reflexively gone up next to his head like Penny was about to pin him. His brain spun while he caught his breath. He was right! Brakebills was real! He was stuck in a spell, he had to be. He looked around and noticed something.
“Nobody here can see you!” he told Penny.
“Cause this isn’t real, dumbass.” Penny snapped. “It’s all in your head. For fuck sake, I’m in your head and I want to go back to sleep. So please for the love of god, stop singing that stupid fucking song.”
“Wait, wait, wait—” Quentin started saying, desperate to get out of this dream.
Penny couldn’t leave. Not until he got Quentin help. Quentin couldn’t stay here knowing it wasn’t real. Penny—the real Penny— had heard him singing Shake It Off and incepted him. He could find his body and help wake him up.
“Oh my god.” He said, smiling, “it worked.” He was still panting. “I did that. I called you. I called you with the song.”
Quentin kept repeating the same thing. Penny thought he was acting weirder than normal.
“I’m in trouble. Seriously, help me.” Quentin shook lightly. “What is today out there?”
Seriously, what had Coldwater been drinking? Or — smoking?
“Wednesday,” Penny said, perplexed. His brow was furrowed and he was looking at Quentin like he’d grown another head.
It was only Wednesday? Quentin had felt like he’d been gone for weeks.
“God,” he sighed. “I’ve only been gone for a night. Am I asleep out there somewhere?” he asked.
“How the fuck would I know? I don’t know what you do at night, and man I don’t want to know.” That last part was half a lie. Penny was now curious. Coldwater liked it rough, and despite his ‘woe is me’ depression brain, he was cute. Right now he wanted Coldwater to fuck off, so he could sleep.
But Quentin was very determined and pried.
“Where are you?” he asked.
“Trying to sleep, man. It’s the middle of the night .” Penny emphasized the time. Dear god. It never fucking stopped, did it?
Quentin looked him dead in the eye and spoke with conviction. “This is not a dream. It’s a — it’s a fucking spell“ He gesticulated before gesturing at the elaborate hellscape around him, “I’m stuck and this is a spell. Listen, please find me. I need to be conscious to break the spell.”
“Jesus, man.” Penny said.
“Wake up.” Quentin said. He needed Penny to find him ASAP. He didn’t want to be here any longer than he had to be.
“Wake up!” Quentin said a little louder.
“WAKE UP.” he yelled, grabbing Penny by the front and shaking him.
Penny found himself shooting up in his bed, startled awake by Quentin’s yell.
Penny groaned as he slid out of bed. At least Quentin had the decency to summon me after the morning started .
There was light streaming through his window. Penny rolled his head and stretched his neck and shoulders. Fuck. It was too early to be awake when his classes wouldn’t be starting for another few hours. Damn Coldwater. Always a pain in my ass.
He shrugged on a checked shirt, buttoned it up halfway and pulled on pants. Slipping on his shoes and started trekking from the psychic house over to the Cottage. He found Eliot out on the porch having a cigarette.
“Hey!” Penny snapped. “Have you seen Quentin?”
“Try his room?” Eliot’s eyebrows were raised. Why was Penny looking for Quentin? He never gave the poor boy any rest . Eliot stubbed out his cigarette and trailed after Penny. Penny took the stairs two at a time. He pounded on Quentin’s door and tried opening it. It was locked. He was about to knock it down when Eliot cut in.
“Let me.” The door opened for him, Quentin’s wards recognizing him. Quentin wasn’t there. His bed looked rumpled, but like he hadn’t slept in it.
“Shit,” Penny cursed. He turned around heading back towards the stairs. Eliot looked after Penny like he was crazy. “Goddamnit.”
“Ummm,” Eliot started.
Penny sighed, “Look. I just want to find Coldwater. He summoned me to his dreams cause he’s stuck in some kind of spell.” Penny groused.
The pair started walking down the stairs.
“Okay, look, there was a party last night.” Eliot explained.
He stepped in front of Penny heading towards the Cottage’s large set of sitting rooms. Eliot didn’t get what the big deal was.
“He’s probably just sleeping it off under something, or someone, or —” The door opened and Kady cut Eliot off.
“Hey.” She said, walking over to Penny.
“Where have you been?” Penny asked.
It was odd that she wasn’t at the Cottage. Hell, it was odd that Eliot was up this early given there was a party last night. She had come home with him last night but snuck out before he woke. It wasn’t their norm.
“I had to run into the city.” Penny nodded at her explanation. “What’s up?”
“Your lover man here thinks our little Quentin got roofied last night.” Eliot sounded unimpressed. “Look, we checked upstairs, but once we cover the house we should spread out and check the rest of campus—” Penny started.
“I know where he is.” Kady interjected.
She had been the one to roofie him and then dragged him into a closet. He had to drink certain herbs in order for Marina and Julia to be able to cast their spell. But she wasn’t going to tell Eliot and Penny that. She had composed herself before coming back to campus, and had cast a scent-block ward so if she did start radiating distress others wouldn’t be able to smell it. She led them to one of the cottage’s many linen closets and opened the door.
“He crawled in here and passed out around one,” she lied.
Penny and Kady gathered around Quentin’s body. Penny moved a sheet off of Quentin’s face.
“Anyway, I’ve seen weirder.”
“Come on,” Penny said, slapping Quentin’s face. “Hey, wake up.”
Eliot crouched in the doorway and saw the gentle rise and fall of Quentin’s chest.
“He’s breathing, thank god. That’s something.” Eliot sighed and then swallowed heavily.
The air in the closet started to smell like ammonia. Neither Penny nor Kady commented on the Alpha’s distress.
“Let me try,” Kady reaches over Quentin’s body, starting to cast. Her hands hover over his prone body and her spell has no effect. She shakes her head, frowning. “This is bad.”
“How bad?” Penny asked, he was also distressed now and the smell of ammonia in the room was thickening.
“We need to tell the Dean bad.”
They all looked down at Quentin.
“Do you know where the Dean’s office is?” Eliot asked the two first years.
He was hoping he could stay with Quentin, levitate him to a couch and watch his body. Not that he was in any real danger on the floor of the linen closet, But it would make Eliot feel better. Quentin was his friend, and this was serious.
Penny huffed, “Yeah, I do.” The fucker kept calling him in to discuss his traveling. “We can go.”
Eliot nodded and moved to let the pair out of the closet. After they left he used his telekinesis to levitate Quentin out past the pool table and onto one of the cottage’s couches. He sat next to his body and waited for Penny and Kady to return with the Dean.
Dean Fogg arrived at the Cottage followed by Professor Li, Kady and Penny. Eliot stood up, getting up off the couch and out of the way. Fogg immediately went to cast diagnostics on Quentin.
“Hmm,” he hummed. The description Kady and Penny gave sounded familiar to Fogg. As his diagnostic spell finished it became clear his inkling was right.
“I thought so. The spell is called a Scarlatti Web. We cannot break it. No one can.” Fogg said plainly.
Kady’s eyes widened. Shit . Had she watched as Marina and Julia basically killed Quentin?
“Wait, he’s not gonna wake up ever?”
“I said no one, not nothing” Fogg clarified. “We need to summon a Matarese.” He nodded to Professor Li who had stood behind him when he was evaluating Quentin. “Lower the wards, please.”
Professor Li was Brakebills’ resident demonologist, along with one of their ward masters. As with all practicing demonologists, he had a deep understanding of wards. It was needed when working with demons. One misstep in a ward-net in summonings or banishments often meant death. The second Fogg had suspected the Scarlatti’s Web, he’d sent for Professor Li to meet them at the cottage and to bring a Matarese shell. Professor Li handed Penny a small gilded cage, which contained a mechanical scorpion body. Professor Li gently lifted the metallic body and placed it on Quentin’s chin.
Fogg started chanting, while Professor Li’s hands smoothly flowed through the summoning spell’s movements.
“Daemonium Matarese, ecce vocavi, te in carcere liberare mens est et imperio scarlatti telem nobus.”
Eliot, Kady and Penny looked on with confusion.
After they finished the casting, Eliot spoke. “That’s the answer?”
Fogg nodded before starting to explain. “It shorts out the cerebral cortex which should break him out of the spell. Well, halfway.”
Kady wanted to shrivel up and die. She thought Fogg had the solution. But Quentin may still be well and truly fucked, and she had watched it happen.
“The spell is like a prison, in the middle of the desert. The Matarese breaks the prison, but you have to get yourself out of the desert. It will be a lot easier with a guide.” Fogg calmly continued. He didn’t seem too worried about his student.
Eliot was used to Fogg’s indifference, but it was really pissing him off here. It wasn’t like Quentin had chosen to be magically roofied. He huffed.
Fogg looked at Penny. “Penny, are you ready?”
Fogg clearly expects me to do all the heavy lifting. Why didn’t he bring one of the psychic professors? Ugh, probably ‘cause I’ve already been in Quentin’s mind. Penny thought before stepping forward, sighing. He nodded and moved to sit so he could incept Quentin. Again.
As Penny entered his trance, Professor Li moved to hover over Quentin, his hands resting in the air about a foot above where the Matarese shell layon Quentin’s face. He cast a second spell, just tuts this time and the mechanical scorpion body jittered to life. It crawled into Quentin’s open mouth,and he gagged before swallowing it whole.
Eliot and Kady both looked disgusted. Eliot couldn’t help but think Quentin’s throat would be sore after that. The Matarese shell wasn’t exactly small. And it looked sharp too. It was easily three inches long, with spindly legs and a stinger.
Inside Quentin’s head, Penny couldn’t find Quentin. Penny ran, searching the hospital setting which was still crawling with imagined nurses, doctors and patients.
“Quentin! Quentin!” he yelled. He was still unable to find him: in the time it had taken Penny to get Quentin help, the spell had started fighting back.
Penny stumbled into an operating room just in time. Quentin was strapped to the table, a doctor in her white lab coat standing over him with a scalpel. Quentin was writhing and begging her to not go through with it.
Penny took charge of the situation.
“Hey! Don’t.” He cut Quentin off from his fearful rambling. “Stop talking! Stop listening to her! There are only three things that are real —”
Quentin sat whimpering and breathing quickly as he listened to Penny. A real black scorpion, not the gold steampunk one that existed in the real world, crawled out of Quentin’s mouth.
“You, me, and that. ” Penny pointed to the Matarese.
Quentin coughed. The scorpion exiting his mouth had been vaguely terrifying, but was definitely less terrifying than a lobotomy. His throat ached. It was real .
Penny was standing there, conviction in his every move and word. He would bring Coldwater back. He could do it, convince him of what was real again. Quentin was not going to die on his watch.
“There aren’t any straps holding you down. This is not a hospital. You are not crazy. You can make it disappear! Do it! DO IT!”
Penny was right, Quentin could do it. Dr. London disappeared and the room around Penny blacked out.
Wherever Quentin had gone, Penny couldn’t follow. He returned to the outside world, gasping. Fogg walked closer to Quentin again, and did another diagnostic, his hand hovering over Quentin’s prone body.
Fogg sighed, “It isn’t working.” He said sternly. “What happened?”
His gaze zeroed in on Penny, like it was Penny’s fault it wasn’t working.
“I don’t know, I-I-I went there. I told him… The Matarese even did its thing, but then… everything just went black.” Penny sputtered.
The room grew grim, Kady started backing away from the scene as adrenaline took the place of the mind-numbing fear, and walked backwards into someone coming up to them from the door.
Chapter 6: Interlude: A Cheshire Grin
Julia plays a “prank.” Marina explains her story, and takes Julia to Brakebills.
Heavy use of pet names below and the first of the sexy content (very very mild in this chapter sadly).
Thanks again to my beta Miles <3
I have the next three chapters in editing right now and thought I'd leave a little present of two updates in a row.
Earlier That Day in Marina’s Safehouse:
Julia gasped, Marina sat next to her smirking, the coolness of her absinthe and leather scent calming the beta.
“Okay. Good job, baby girl.” Marina cooed, the feigned warmth in her voice along with her words sending shivers down Julia’s spine.
“Wow,” Julia said in awe, Marina chuckled at her sub’s tone, “My whole body, every part of my body, is tingling. I mean you didn’t tell me it would feel…” Julia trailed off.
“So good?” Marina leaned in for a kiss, leaving Julia breathless from her touch this time instead of just the magic. Marina pulled away, leaning up to Julia’s ear before whispering, “It’s high-end, designer cooperative magic. It does something to your cells to channel all that juice. Everyone gets stronger. Did it make you wet?” Marina’s hand reached to feel Julia’s crotch over her pants.
“Mmmm, I can feel you through your jeans, pet. I really shouldn’t keep being surprised by how hot you are for magic.”
Although Julia had melted into Marina’s touch and words at first, she had some reservations about the spell. She pulled her posture up a little straighter, but left her hand where Marina’s could reach it.
“Um, I just… I didn’t think Q would fall in so deep.” Marina’s hand trailed over the back of Julia’s.
“Oh, this is nothing,” Marina smirked.
“Uh, what…” Julia began, confused. “What do you mean by that, Marina?”
“Well, I mean he might want to take his shoes off and get comfortable.” Julia frowned at Marina’s cavalier tone. “We cooked up a whopper here. I don’t see him getting out of it.”
At that, Julia pulled her hand away and hissed slightly, the sound of distress unusual on the beta’s tongue. Marina turned to a corner of the room, ignoring her distressed submissive in favor of chastising the other alpha in the room.
“Even with your boyfriend’s help.”
Kady stood leaning against a chair in the corner, watching Marina and Julia interact with distaste.
“I thought the idea was to just mess with him.” Julia responded, confused by Marina’s admission.
Marina trailed a hand up Julia’s arm. “My idea was to fuck him up hard, and you loved it even harder, baby.” Her last word was whispered in Julia’s ear and punctuated by Marina pulling on Julia’s hair. Julia fought Marina’s grip, fighting harder than the occasional bratting she pulled to look Marina in the eye with some frustration.
“Yeah, I said fuck him up, not kill him.” Julia snapped. Marina chuckled at the exaggeration.
“Wait, what? Kill him?” Kady, who had been silent up until then said sharply.
“Oh, he’s not gonna die, darlings.” Marina interjected. She looked first at Julia, before briefly gazing at Kady. Kady’s scent; the star anise and black pepper was stronger in the air than the other alpha usually let it get. Kady was usually careful not to posture near Marina, but she clearly forgot her place in her distress. Marina let it slide. Newly presented alphas were rarely good with keeping their scents, let alone their instincts in check. Kady’s self-control was very impressive, given she’d only formally presented a few weeks back. Marina would decide if she’d let Julia’s disobedience pass later. “He just might not actually ever wake up.”
At Marina’s words, Kady turned to glare at Julia. At this point, Julia was turning away from her domme in true distress, ammonia filling the air overpowering Julia’s normally floral scent.
“Oh my god.” Julia looked like she was going to be sick.
Marina had enough, “You are not going limp out on me here, either of you. This is game time, ladies.” Marina turned away from Julia, telling Kady, “You got the ball, Kady. Don’t drop it. Now go put all that sweet hotness to work.” Marina let one hand rise in a shooing motion, dismissing Kady while refocusing on Julia. “Now as for you, baby girl, how would you feel about a little play time? Hmmm?”
Julia was still looking away from her, which would not do at all. Marina raised a hand, reaching up to grip Julia’s chin between her thumb and pointer finger. She could feel Julia’s teeth grit, her jaw tense under her hand. Marina’s brow gathered.
“You’re not actually upset are you, pet?” Marina asked. Julia swallowed but held her tongue. Marina sighed.
“I guess we can leave now, then. We will be talking about this later.” She said, her tone lighter than usual.
She liked playing with Julia and hoped the beta’s surly attitude would pass after they retrieved Marina’s memories.
Marina teleported them to an area with more foliage than the city, and based on the weather change, they were upstate and closer to Brakebills. Marina looked around before venturing in a certain direction, clearly knowing what to look for even if not where she was going. She stopped suddenly. Julia turned to her.
“Now what?” Julia asked, as Marina lit a cigarette.
“We wait. Patience is a virtue after all, baby girl.”
Marina was still treating Julia like her submissive, and Julia was not in the mood.
“When are you going to tell me what all this is for?” She questioned sharply.
Marina raised her eyebrows. She was certain she had told Julia. Well, at least that she had told Julia something, enough that the beta would hold her tongue.
“I did. Bigger. Better. Magic.”
“Yeah, you just never mentioned how.” Julia was still surly and it was almost disdain that dripped from her tone.
Clearly, Marina had overestimated how badly Julia wanted to learn, and it was a bit of a shame, really. She was now starting to lose her patience with the beta.
“I guess I could tell you now.” Marina paused, as if considering, but at this point she already knew what she was going to say. “No, I don’t feel like it. Maybe later, when I can make you beg, you always do like that pet.” Julia kept glaring at her. Marina went for the kill. “Mmm, or how about never? That’s a growing possibility.”
Julia looked away as Marina trailed off. She loved magic, and Marina made both magic and sex fun, but it was quickly becoming obvious that Marina was a bit unhinged. Marina didn’t care to the point where others’ feelings or health were irrelevant. It was concerning in a mentor, and even more concerning in someone she was putting her trust in every time she submitted to her.
They waited. Eventually wards shimmered to life in front of them and then disappeared.
“Dean Fogg, following the playbook.” Marina’s tone was amused. She decided to be generous, but sighed before launching into an explanation. “The only thing that can break our spell on your ex-BFF is a Matarese.”
When Julia didn’t recognize the demon’s name she elaborated with an eyeroll: “an evil bug spirit of the underworld. But the only way one of those can get into this sugary wonderland is to lower all the protective wards and shields in the school, letting any old anyone waltz right in.”
The school appeared in front of them.
“Including yours truly. Welcome back to Brakebills, baby girl. Let’s go steal their shit.”
Marina strode off in front of Julia, and once they reached the main path she let Julia catch up. Julia followed a single pace behind her. As they made their way onto the main grounds, Marina decided to reveal a bit about herself. “The old Alma Mater hasn’t changed a lick.”
Julia looked at Marina surprised. Her Domme rarely revealed anything about herself.
“Wait, you went here?”
“Yep,” Marina popped the p before continuing “Kicked out three months before graduation.”
Julia tried to connect the dots.
“So, what, this is just revenge?” Marina smiled at the question.
“When you’re here for that long — well, honestly that long and having presented, especially as either an Alpha or Omega — they can’t just erase you. They take you into a special room off the dean’s office and remove every memory you make here. Every single magical thing you learned here is amputated, cut from your mind.” Her expression shifted into a smile “But those memories are stored.” She was practically giddy with excitement. A rare look for Marina.
They entered the building and approached a locked door. She continued to explain, “Normally there’s a shield on this door a hundred magicians couldn’t break. Now…” Marina snapped and the door opened. “Keep a lookout, pet.”
With that, Marina walked into the room, leaving Julia in the hall.
“Wait what’s going…?” Julia trailed off.
She waited in the hall, standing there for several nerve wracking minutes before deciding her concern for Quentin was greater than her loyalty to Marina. She enjoyed her time with the Domme, but even after their fight, it wasn’t worth Quentin’s life. She hoped she wouldn’t be too late… he had to wake up.
She cast a basic locator spell. It led her to a Victorian looking house. She opened the door, and stepped inside what she would later learn was the Cottage.
Chapter 7: Better Than Revenge
Julia walks into a scene of her own making as everyone waits with baited breath for Quentin to wake up.
Thank you so much to my wonderful beta Miles and to those who have continued to read and cheer me on <3
There are 3 chapters in the editing process that I'll hopefully have up soon.
Warning for the use of the word sociopath. I’m aware that this is no longer a term used in good faith and am using it within a context that is in character for someone who is very dismissive and unaware of modern mental health practices. I do not suggest or condone others using it for themselves. The modern term, Anti-Social Personality Disorder (ASPD) is highly stigmatized and sociopath is no longer an acceptable descriptor. For those looking for more information I have placed links in the bottom A/N section of this chapter.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
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.
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.
Here’s the links for people who want more information about ASPD:
Chapter 8: Interlude: Through the Looking Glass
Julia and Dean Fogg converse.
Thank you so much to my lovely beta Miles <3, my cheer-readers, and a big thank you to everyone who's been reading and commenting <3.
I really appreciate your support.
“So you know Miss Hanson, then?” the Dean asked.
Julia kept a straight face, nodding. She didn’t have to elaborate. Her sex life was none of his business. Even if Julia’s night with Marina and Margo had been some of the best sex of her life.
“Good to know.”
He must have clearly had some sort of idea going through his head, but Julia wasn’t sure what.
The rest of the walk to his office was filled with an awkward silence.
When they arrived, he looked unsurprised at the open door and remained silent until he’d shut the secret door Marina had left open. He gestured at the seat opposite of his on the other side of the desk.
“Miss Wicker, Miss Andrieski aside, it’s clear you know about magic and profess enough skill to have presented.” Fogg sighed.
He usually didn’t have to explain this next part. Nor did he particularly like to or want to. “What you don’t know is that you failed our entrance exam by a mere two points.” He paused at the look of incredulity on her face, smiling just a bit before continuing, “or rather, you scored two points lower than the other lowest score on the written exam.”
Julia sat processing the information.
“So... the exam wasn’t pass or fail?” she asked.
“No. It was. And then it was ranked. Only the top twenty scores are let in each year. Given your questions at the beginning of the exam, I would wager that the two points that kept you from being admitted were a matter of time, rather than capability.” Fogg paused, giving Julia time to nod. He was certainly reading her correctly. “Now then. How you remembered or learned about magic is less relevant. What I am curious about is why cast Scarlotti's Webb? And why learn from Ms. Andrieski?”
While waiting for Julia’s answer, Fogg poured himself a glass of whiskey and took a slow sip. He didn’t mention how he smelled Marina all over Julia. It was common knowledge that in her Brakebills days, Marina often both tutored and bedded the same underclasswomen, especially Betas and Omegas.
Julia took a deep breath, composing her thoughts. “I thought the web was a joke. I understood some of the basis of the spell, but Marina didn’t explain that she couldn’t —that she wouldn’t be able to wake Quentin. She framed it like some basic hypnosis or psychic spell,” she paused. “It was only supposed to be a joke, not the—” Julia stopped, struggling for the right word, but Dean Fogg cut in instead.
“Magic at that level Ms. Wicker, is never a joke. Clearly, Ms. Andrieski skipped over certain aspects of your magical tutelage.”
“The only reason I was learning from Marina is because I thought I didn’t have a choice! I wanted to learn magic and as far as I knew she was the only one who had the knowledge to teach me.” she paused, angry now. “Back when I first remembered, I had asked Quentin to speak to you on my behalf,” she looked up at Fogg. “I learned a spell all on my own. Quentin called it a minor party trick. Even though I had proof I could do magic,” she stopped, her voice hollowing out in her hurt, “he never told you. And after a while, I realized he was never going to. I was and I am devoted to learning magic. It’s my whole world. I don’t,” her voice broke. “I don’t trust Marina. Not anymore. Not even enough to teach me. But I don’t know what my other options are, and if I even have any.”
Fogg nodded. “And if there were a space for you here at Brakebills, would you accept?”
“In a heartbeat.” Julia said. “The night I asked Quentin to speak to you, was the same night Marina’s people found me. I even held off on contacting them, but when I didn’t hear from Quentin or you again, I knew it was my only shot at learning magic.”
“You have options now, Miss Wicker. Obviously, if you’d prefer to continue to learn from hedge-witches, I will not erase your memory.” The Dean said. “But I see no reason why you couldn’t test for your discipline and see if you are at the same point in our curriculum as the other first years.” He watched her, gauging her reaction. “We’d go from there.”
“I greatly appreciate the opportunity Dean Fogg.” Her face had broken out into a large smile. “I...” She shook her head as if her answer wouldn’t be obvious. “I would prefer to study here.”
Fogg smiled back at her. He decided to indulge himself and share how he’d heard about her during admissions. “Just so you know Miss Wicker, Professor March did complain about your question regarding if as an institution we’d prefer ‘sheep,’ to ‘students who make actual inquiry’,”
Fogg said the last part with an especially fond smile. “I look forward to seeing where you are placed. Professor Sunderland will be administering both of your exams. Does tomorrow at noon work for you? We can set you up in the empty first year dorms.”
Julia nodded. She didn’t have any plans for Sunday. And she certainly hoped the Professor who would be testing her didn’t resent her for pulling her in on a weekend.
Julia couldn’t help but smile. Her brief fling (yes, that was what she was going to call it) with Marina wasn’t worth concerning herself with anymore. Marina wasn’t worth a world without Quentin, and she never would be.
The most important thing to Julia in that moment was that she was going to learn magic from an actual university. She was finally going to Brakebills.
Professor Sunderland was not surprised Dean Fogg was once again summoning her over the weekend. Emergencies and all sorts of tom-foolery happened on campus, weekends and school days alike. When she’d arrived at Fogg’s office, the situation turned out to be tom-foolery. Dean Fogg had admitted a twenty-first first year, breaking their traditional numbers. Dean Fogg had given her some background, as she needed to ascertain both her discipline and if she could join the current first years without additional tutoring.
The woman had been trained by hedge-witches— including the Brakebills expelled Marina Andrieski— up until now. In Sunderland’s opinion, people who associated with the vile Alpha were either also terrible people, or just had been deceived by the woman’s supposed power and magical prowess.
Ms. Wicker had just missed the cut-off to be in the first year class. She had somehow overridden March’s memory wipe and had been fervently searching for any way to learn magic. Sunderland would now be the one to put that learning to the test.
She sighed. She handed Julia a packet consisting of a compilation of randomly chosen questions from tests that the first years had been administered over the last 7 weeks. Julia would then have five hours to complete the exam, at which point Sunderland would test her for her discipline. Sunderland sat down with an academic journal while Julia got to work on the exam.
Julia was surprised to find she knew all of the practical application components, most of the magical history, and a fair amount of the herbology. She knew a small amount of astronomy and was proficient in all of the language based questions. She would definitely have studying to do, but the stuff she didn’t know looked highly interesting and like it would give her the deeper understanding of the mechanisms of magic that she craved.
At the five-hour mark, Sunderland called time and told Julia she could take a brief break if she needed to. Julia excused herself to briefly use the bathroom and then returned, saying she was ready to learn what her discipline was.
Sunderland cast a grading spell over Julia’s packet, and while a red pen hovered over Julia’s test writing in corrections and marking correct answers, Sunderland started testing Julia for her discipline. It took three different tests for Sunderland to determine that Julia was a Knowledge student, and only two additional tests to ascertain that her discipline was meta-composition. As a Knowledge student Julia was drawn body, soul, and heart to the study of magic. As a meta-composer, Julia’s specialty would be in constructing and deconstructing different spells.
Sunderland showed Julia the attic above the library where the Knowledge students lived. The one other first year Knowledge student, a lanky blonde boy named Ian was in the common room. She introduced the two and told Julia that the Dean would contact her with information regarding her test results.
Ian showed her the attic, and Julia marveled at it. Like the library below, the walls were lined with shelves filled with books. There were couches, arm chairs, and tables to study at. There was a kitchen and a magical balcony. Julia’s room already had her stuff filling it. There was a large four poster bed and several bookshelves around her room. Her desk was large and there was an architect’s drafting table in one corner.
There was a popping sound and a sealed envelope appeared on the desk. Inside were her test scores and a letter from Fogg. She had gotten full marks on the language and Practical Applications. Her weakest points were magical history and astronomy. As a knowledge and metacomp student — which Fogg revealed was also his discipline and specialty — Fogg trusted that she could catch up on her own. If she were to need a tutor, she could go to the regular office hours in the library where TA’s helped students with various subjects.
All there was left for Julia to do that day was to pick a book, and bury her nose in it. A book on magical theory open in front of her, Julia sat enraptured reading like a starved woman. But a thought weaseled its way into her mind.
What about Quentin? She was finally a student at Brakebills, but at what cost? Quentin may have woken up, but would he forgive her? At this moment all she wanted to do was to make sure he was alright, but it didn’t seem like it would be okay to check on him. She remembered a time from when they were younger and she’d hurt his feelings: Quentin either needed time, or an explanation and reassurance. After the spell she cast, time was probably the most important thing. Now that she was at Brakebills, she had time. They’d have classes together and they lived on the same campus… She’d get the chance to explain, and hopefully to reconcile.