“You’re thinking about him,” Margo said. It wasn’t a question, over the last year she had come accustomed to the vacant expression on Julia’s face when thoughts of Quentin overcame her. She climbed down from her perch, knowing no progress would be made with Julia so distracted.
“Q would have loved this,” Julia replied. “Not this,” she tossed the tile aside, “that.” She gestured to the woods surrounding the little cottage they now called home. “Fillory. The real Fillory. The magic here it’s so-”
“Pure,” Margo finished. It was true, this Fillory was just how she always imagined magic to be as a child back when she dared to dream. Before the Chatwins had come along to spoil it and the Gods tore it apart for entertainment. The cleanliness of if all was off putting. Magic comes from pain. That’s what Brakebills had led them all to believe. That made sense to Margo, pain she understood. Pain she knew how to use. But this? This untainted world of sunshine and ice cream, she didn't know what to do with it. What she did know was that she didn’t belong. And the more time she spent with Julia, the more she came to realize that neither did she.
Julia nodded, agreeing to Margo’s unspoken assessment. It felt wrong being here. And not just because Quentin couldn’t be here. He would thrive in this environment. A safe space where he could just live. To Julia it felt incomplete, maybe because she knew what would eventually come for it. As of now, the world was too soft, too welcoming, she didn’t trust it.
Margo sat down beside Julia. “I have to admit, I wouldn’t mind having him here.” She found that she truly missed Quentin. “And if we had Eliot at least we wouldn't have to rely on random peasants willing to trade food for magic tricks.”
Julia looked at Margo, puzzled at how Eliot’s presence would provide them with food.
“Lets just say his experience with hoes is broader than you would expect,” Margo half explained. They might be trapped in another time, but that was no excuse to expose Eliot’s secrets. “When we see him again, never tell him I said that.”
When. The word struck Julia. As much as Margo tried to hide it under layers upon layers of rage and indifference, deep down she was just as much a hopeful fool as the rest of them. There were rare moments like this where Julia could see the faintest cracks in her armor. And Margo was always quick to cover them up.
“Speaking of food, I think it’s time for dinner, or what you pass off as dinner,” Margo teased.
Julia’s attempts at magical botany had gotten better, but so far she had only managed to grow a handful of crops. Not that Margo’s attempts at hunting had proven much better. If she came across an animal she had no problem killing it. But she lacked the patience required to find her prey in the first place.
Julia rolled her eyes at Margo’s deflection and set out to start the fire. She gathered a few vegetables from the garden and began preparing them for the stew, while Margo prepared the rabbit she had managed to negotiate off a passing hunter.
They dined on a bundle of blankets near the mosaic. Just as Julia had finished her stew, Margo pulled out a bottle of wine and some glasses from a hiding spot under one of the blankets.
“How?” Julia asked bewildered that Margo had managed to scrounge up a bottle of wine out in the middle of nowhere. “You complain about not getting good enough food and you turn out wine like it’s no big deal.”
“Well, I do have my priorities,” Margo shrugged. “Besides, it's our anniversary.” She poured a glass and extended it to Julia.
Julia looked from the wine to the mosaic. “We really should work on it more. We barely got anything done today.”
Ignoring her protests, Margo pushed the glass into Julia’s hand. “Yes we really should,” she said as she continued to pour herself a glass. “But what’s one more day?” She raised her glass up to a toast. “To our first and last year at this.”
“What the hell.” Julia clinked her glass to Margo’s.
‘A year. Had it really been a whole year?’ Julia pondered. The first few weeks had been tense at best, violent at worst. Margo was not the forgiving kind and Julia had a lot to answer for. After a few weeks of open hostility followed by several screaming matches resulting in one literal explosion, the two found some common ground. She found herself intrigued by Margo once they had a real conversation without all the bickering and finger-pointing. She realized that so much of that anger stemmed from how much she cared about those closest to her. And yes, for her own protection as well. There was something about that approach that Julia found oddly comforting.
She felt Margo’s gaze upon her and took another sip of wine to distract herself. They hadn’t had any alcohol since they arrived, a fact she could feel with only her second sip. She’d be sure to pace herself and not allow Margo to refill her glass no matter how persistent she was. If tonight was to go as planned, she wanted to be sober. ‘Well, maybe not that sober,’ she thought as she took another larger drink from the glass, hoping the courage would flow through her.
Watching Julia’s lips pressed around the rim of the glass awakened old memories within Margo. All those nights when she would hear Julia crying from across the room and how she wanted so badly to crawl into her bed and just wrap her arms around her. All she was able to do was ask her the next morning if she was alright. And she always got the same answer. I’m okay. And yet, a few nights later she would hear her again and the next morning she would hear those same words. I’m okay. Julia said it so often it was clear she was trying to convince herself more than Margo. She didn’t need Julia to be okay, to pretend like everything was fine. They weren’t fine, had never been fine, and there was nothing wrong with that.
Julia made the first move. She leaned in to kiss Margo without hesitation. When she pulled away she expected to hear reluctance. That Margo would demand reassurance that she was okay and was sure that she really wanted this.
Before Margo had a chance to respond, Julia repeated her mantra. “I’m okay,” she reassured Margo. And for once she meant it.
Her heart sank when she saw Margo shaking her head slowly. Margo’s hand lifted Julia’s chin, forcing her to keep eye contact. The warmth Margo’s touch spread throughout her now a cruel reminder of what she was to be denied.
“No you’re not,” Margo said brushing the hair off Julia’s face.
Julia began to pull away, but Margo retained her grip, pulling her back in closer. Tears welled in her eyes from the frustration of Margo’s rejection. She was finally ready for this and she feared no one would ever believe her. That she would always be treated like a delicate piece of glass on the verge of shattering.
The sensation of Margo’s hot breath so close against her lips made the situation even more confusing. Julia searched Margo’s eyes for clarification. She couldn’t understand why Margo would do this to her after all they had been through this past year, why couldn’t she have just said no and walked away, why toy with her like this?
The desire she once felt turned to rage the longer Margo looked into her eyes. She attempted to push her off, but Margo held on tight, grabbing a handful of Julia’s hair to keep her from fleeing.
“You are magnificent,” Margo whispered as she closed the distance between them, meeting Julia’s lips with a passionate kiss.
Instinct drove Julia to return the kiss despite her mind still processing this sudden turn of events. As the kiss deepend the meaning was clear, they both wanted this.
The next morning, Julia woke still wrapped around Margo in a tangle of sheets that was their makeshift bed under the stars. She ran her fingers up and down the bare skin of Margo’s arm, admiring the peacefulness of the moment. The mask that always hardened her face had fallen in the night, but she still retained a jagged edge. Julia reveled in her untamed beauty. Warm and cuddly was overrated, it was that edge, that bite, so like her own, that Julia needed. A shared understanding that they weren’t quite alright and didn’t need to be. She turned her eyes to the mosaic, a part of her expecting it to be complete. If this wasn’t the beauty of all life, what else could it be?