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We Will All Be Changed

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“I like to think that nothings final and that everyone gets to be together even when it looks like they don’t, that it all works out even when all the evidence seems to say something else, that you and I are always young in the woods, and that I’ll see you sometime again, even if it’s not with any kind of eyes I know of or understand.”

--- Tiger Lily, Chapter 45


*************************************

 

Penny worked in a hardware store about twenty miles from downtown Detroit. The owner even let him stay in a room above the small run down store. Rent came out of his pay, so Penny was barely making enough money to buy food, but it was better than living out of that rat infested motel he’d been staying in when he first got to town.

 Penny also knew that this one room, even one as small and drafty as the one he lived in, was better than living out on the streets during the coldest winter Penny had ever experienced. Snow and ice covered everything Penny could see out of the windows in his room that looked over the road of mostly closed businesses and the last payphone left in the whole country. The air outside was colder than Penny had ever imagined it could be and he had not fought off the chill in his bones since arriving two months before.

 Lighting a joint and taking the first drag of the morning, he looked over his shoulder at the woman still asleep in his bed. Her name was Abbie and they met on his first night in Detroit when she sat down next to him at a bar. An hour later they were fucking in the bathroom.

“It’s morning,” There was no response. “Hey, it’s morning.” Penny gave a shove at the lump next to him in his bed as he pushed the blankets aside, his feet dropping to the cold floor. The whole room felt cold, the winter air slipped through his shitty windows and settled all around him. Blowing out the smoke he couldn't tell what was smoke and what was his own breath. It actually made him almost miss Florida, almost.

 “How can it be morning already?” Abbie asked sitting up, her long dark curls cascading off her bare shoulder and she shielded her brown eyes from the light from the foggy windows.

 “Are you looking for a lesson on how the earth rotates around the sun or would a more metaphorical answer suffice.” Penny quipped and Abbie rolled her eyes as she flung back the blankets and quickly started gathering her clothes.

 “Cute,” she smirked, slipping the straps of her bra up her arms. ”You don’t wanna go one more time before I go?” Penny considered it but the need to just be alone for little before he had to work won out this time.

 “Maybe I can hit you up later tonight?” he suggested.

 “Sure,” Abbie slipped the little black dress she’d worn the night before over her head and turned to him again. “Want to get some dinner before?” Penny was caught off guard by her question. He and Abbie didn’t do that sort of thing and there was no way Penny was willing to change that now.

 “I can get dinner on my own,” he said, not even bothering to sound sorry. Abbie snorted as she dropped her shoes down in front of her.

 “Sorry, almost forgot,” she said slipping her foot into her black heels. “No last names, no stories, and no meals.” With a smirk on her face, Abbie walked over to Penny and took the joint out of his fingers and put it between her lips.

 “Thought you were fine with that,” If she picked up on the slight annoyance in his voice Abbie didn’t let on. She took a long drag and held the smoke for a moment before blowing it and passing Penny back his joint.

 “No,” she said with a light cough. “It’s fine; I just thought after two months of this we change things up.” She turned from him and went over to his dresser where her long, dangling earrings lay.

“I’m not looking for things to change,” Penny told her. Abbie didn’t say anything as she dropped her earrings into her purse. Penny felt frustration grow inside him. He knew how to bring her to a screaming orgasm with no problem, but deciphering the look on her face now was beyond Penny’s abilities.

“I’m cool with that,” Abbie said stepping away from the dresser and picking up her coat off the chair she sprawled it on the night before. “I just hope you know that it’s okay to let someone in some time, even just a little.” She smiled pulling her coat and shrugged. “You aren’t bad company Penny.” She zipped up her coat and fluffed up her hair and then gave him a big smile. “See you around.” Then she was gone and Penny alone again.

 *****************************************

 When Penny was ten, he learned that who he thought was his mom, was not his biological mother. His dad felt he was old enough to know the truth. His birth mother had appeared in their small town one day and his dad was in love. He didn’t know where she came from and he didn't care. They had a whirlwind romance that ended with him alone with a newborn. She sent a postcard a few weeks later and explained that she was never supposed to be a mother and they would both be better without her interfering. Just as quickly as she entered his life, Penny’s dad told him, she was gone.

A few months later, with the knowledge that his mother left because of him, Penny was feeling more lost and unwanted than he’d ever felt when he heard a voice in his head for the first time. A kindly gentleman with a soothing British accent would reassure him that he was wanted and he was special. Why else could heard this man speak? He was chosen, like the heroes in the books he read. He didn’t need to worry about his missing mother because there were big plans for his future.

He came to rely on that voice, even as other voices and sounds begin to fill his head, that voice became his friend. It was easy for him to be alone because not only could he hear this voice, but he could hear others as well. He was on a date with a girl and he heard her thoughts about how annoying she thought he was and couldn’t wait to get away from him. He started to hear things like that all the time, the little horrible things you think about yourself began to filter into his mind with voices of people who claimed to be his friend. But there was always the voice, reassuring him that he didn’t need friends or people in his life. He was destined for so much more.

 Penny watched the clock all morning. The hardware store was completely dead, they’d had one customer all morning and if it stayed like this, he could cut out early.

 “Hey Roger,” Penny said walking into the supply closet his boss, Roger, called his office “Stores still dead man, you mind if I head out for a long lunch?” Roger was a big guy, all muscle, someone you did not want to mess with. On the weekends he worked as a bouncer for a few of the local clubs. He was bald with a face that seemed to have a constant scowl. Penny liked him, but he did have a strange penchant for those dumb kids books.

 “Yeah,” Roger said setting down his copy of Fillory and Further Book One: The World in the Walls. “It’ll probably be like this for the rest of the afternoon.” He leaned back in his chair which squeaked under his weight.

 “That’ll be good,” Penny said. “Give you time to finish your nerd book.” Roger flipped his middle finger at Penny, but he was smirking along with it.

 “I like it, fuck you,” he said and Penny snorted. Roger didn’t look overly offended and knew he shouldn’t. Penny might give him shit for his reading choices, but Roger was one of the few people Penny actually respected. He was an honest guy who had given him a place to live, didn’t say anything about the amount of weed Penny spoke, and didn’t give a shit what people thought of him.“Go on, get out of here before I change my mind.” Spinning the chair away, Roger picked up his book and went back to his dumb fantasy world.

 “Thanks, man,” Penny said rushing out of the office. Grabbing his coat, he took a deep breath before going out into the cold, he knew he would never get used to this weather. He shoved his hands as deep in his pockets as he could and looked down at his feet to shield himself from the icy wind that he was walking right into. Of course, this goddamn bar had to be in the opposite direction that the wind was blowing. Once he was done here, Penny was going to be on the first bus out of town and would never complain about the heat again.

 The reason Penny was here in this frozen wasteland was to find his mother. About a year ago, the voice he had relied so heavily on, disappeared. For the first time in over ten years, Penny felt truly alone. He began to wonder more and more about his mother. He had decided, years ago, that he didn’t care about finding her. She was the who left him; he had nothing to say to her. But now he began to wonder if she left not because she couldn’t handle being a mother, but because she heard voices in her head as well. She might have the answers he was never able to get from his dad, so he set out to find her.

 It took him almost a year, but Penny was able to track down his mom to Detroit where she worked in a run-down bar. The same bar he went too on his first night here and met Abbie. He went in that night with the full intention to confront her, but when she handed him his beer, she didn’t recognize him. Not he should have been surprised. She had left so fast after he was born, he doubted she ever once looked him. But something about being face to face with the woman who gave birth to him for the first time in his life and her not even knowing it hurt somewhere in him. He lost his nerve after that and lost himself in the hot girl who sat next to him.

 It had been two months now, and Penny was tired of this place and wanted to leave. But he couldn’t leave without talking to her first. He needed answers.

 Walking into the tiny bar, Penny saw her right away. She was laughing at something a guy in a trucker hat was saying as she poured him another whiskey. She was shorter than Penny, thin with tan skin and dark hair that had bits of grey. She looked probably older than she was like she hadn’t led the healthiest of lives, and Penny wondered if she used drugs as he did to quiet the voices in her head.

 “Hello there!” She suddenly called out, looking over at Penny standing frozen in the doorway. “Have a seat and I can get ya something!” She turned away from him and started talking to the same guy again and Penny once again felt a sinking feeling inside him. She had no clue what he had come to say and some broken piece in him felt sorry for her. She ran from something all those years ago; whether it was from the promise of dirty diapers and sleepless nights or fear of passing on her crazy onto her child, she got away. She started a new life, probably never worrying that the baby she had would come to find her. Now here he was ready to pull the rug right out from under her. Her child was pissed at her and heard voices in his head and he blamed her for it all.

 Suddenly, feeling nauseous he rushed to the bathroom, making it to the tiny toilet before he threw up the small amount of food that was in his stomach. Splashing water on his face, Penny stared himself down in the dirty mirror.

 “Come on,” he whispered to himself. “Don’t be such a fucking pussy.” Rinsing his mouth out one more time, Penny dried his face off and then pulled open the door ready to try again. But it wasn’t the bar on the other side. He faced hallway with white walls and grey carpet. There were large windows on either side and sunlight poured in from. There were trees were outside with green, lush leaves, no sign of snow anywhere. Directly to his left was a sign with an arrow pointing down the hall that read: To Exam

 “Well fuck.”

 **************************************************

 The first thing Quentin noticed when he emerged from the bushes was the sudden change in temperature. A hot summer sun now beat down on him when moments before he was in the cold and dreary November air. The note he had been chasing was gone from his mind as he looked around at the large, beautifully landscaped lawn where he now stood. Trees surrounded him and he faced a massive, prestigious brick building with a sign that read Brakebills.

 “You’re not supposed to be here.” Quentin practically jumped out of his skin as he spun around. Leaning against a tree stood a tall, thin man with neatly styled dark hair wearing black pants, a white button-up shirt and black vest with a pin of a bee on it. He was probably close to Quentin’s age and was lazily smoking a cigarette with an expression of almost regal importance. Taking a long drag on his cigarette and inclined his head towards Quentin as if he was expecting some explanation for his sudden appearance.

 “Oh, shit-uh, I’m sorry-” Quentin couldn’t make his mouth work and words and sounds just tumbled out. He tripped a little on his own feet as he pointed to the bushes where he had come. “I was just-I don’t even know-where?” The other man just sighed undoubtedly annoyed that what was probably a needed moment to himself had been interrupted.

 “The exam is in the main hall,” he explained pushing himself off the tree and started walking toward Quentin. “You’re in the complete opposite direction.” He inhaled one more time on his cigarette before flicking it away.

 “Exam?” Quentin asked his eyes going wide. A smile broke out on the other man’s face and he chuckled, the smoke blowing out his mouth with each exhale. The expression on his face changed slightly, from annoyed to amused.

 “No one’s told you?” he asked. Quentin shook his head numbly, a tightness growing in his chest as this horrible feeling that he was where he was not supposed to began to creep in. “What’s your name?” The question surprised Quentin; it hadn’t crossed his mind to introduce himself.

 “Quentin Coldwater.” He said.

 “Quentin Coldwater?” A smirk went across the other man’s face as he said Quentin’s name slowly like he wanted to make sure he’d heard correctly.

 “Uh huh,” Quentin said with a nod. Standing just inches away from Quentin now, the other man looked him over as if he was trying to decide if this was worth his time. Quentin felt his heart start to race under his scrutiny. Aside from being one of the most beautiful people he’d seen this close, there was something about him that Quentin couldn’t quite place. Confidence almost seemed to pour out of him. He stood up straight unlike Quentin who slouched and ducked his head away from the world. He seemed to be everything Quentin wasn’t and against all his normal instincts, Quentin desperately wanted to know who he was.

 “I’m Eliot,” he said finally taking a step back. “Come on; I’ll show you where you need to go.” When he turned and started walking away, Quentin considered staying where he was or going back through bushes at least, but before he could overthink the idea his legs started moving, and he was fumbling after Eliot.

 “Where are we exactly?” he asked trying to keep up with Eliot’s long strides.

 “Upstate New York,” he said over his shoulder. “Where are you from?”

 “Brooklyn,” Quentin said, finally catching up with Eliot.

 “Oh, that’s dreadful,” Eliot quipped. “How did you end up all the way back here?”

 “I, uh, I don’t really know,” Quentin said. “It’s been a weird day, but I followed a note through those bushes-” Quentin just shook his head. He didn’t know how to explain that after finding a dead man at his Yale interview, a paramedic had handed him an envelope with a manuscript to a book that, until today, Quentin had always believed to be a rumor. A note that was attached got caught up in the wind and Quentin had followed it through some bushes until he ended up here. The book, The Magician's: Book Six of Fillory and Further , was still in his messenger bag that hung on his shoulder, bouncing against his thigh as he sped up his pace to keep up with Eliot. They walked through a hedge and came out in front of a fountain with a bizarre statue of a wolf with its pups suckling it’s hanging nipples.

 “I thought I was going into a 7-11,” Eliot said. “Next thing I know, here I am.”

 “Where is here?” Quentin asked, still not understanding what was going on.

 “Brakebills,” Eliot said it as if Quentin should have figured that out by now. “And here is where you need to be.” Eliot stopped in front of another large brick building similar to any prestigious college Quentin had seen. Quentin looked up the stairway leading to the entrance then looked back at Eliot.

 “The exam?” he asked again. Eliot just nodded. Clearly, he was not going to give any more information on what exam Quentin was supposed to be taking.

 “My advice,” Eliot said. “Don’t overthink it. Just you being here means you’re smart enough for this place, so believe you belong here and you’ll do fine.” He then turned and set off back to where they had come and Quentin found himself oddly touched by his words.

 “One more thing,” Eliot said, turning back around and held up one of his long, thin fingers. “If you repeat to anyone that I was anywhere near a 7-11 at any point in my life, I will make your life a living nightmare.” Quentin blinked, no longer feeling quite as touched. Then Eliot smiled again and gave him a little wave. “Good luck!” Then he was gone for good.

 Turning to face the large building in front of him, Quentin found himself alone in this place for the first time and he felt the beginnings of a panic attack coming on. He was only two days post a short stay in a mental hospital and was still adjusting to the new meds they’d given him. Was this place even real? Maybe he had checked himself out too early and now he had finally lost his mind.

 Looking back where Eliot had disappeared, Quentin considered running off that way to find him. It was easier when he had been there. He tried to ground his thoughts and reminded himself of what he knew was real about today. He met his best friend, Julia, for breakfast and she helped prepare him for his Yale interview that was later that morning. They parted ways after that. He off to his interview and she went to the library to finish a paper. Then there was a dead man and a strange manuscript that lead Quentin to this place.

 Before he could panic any longer, Quentin somehow made it inside and followed the signs that brought him to a large room with tables lined up ready for test taking. There were probably close to fifty people who wore the same bewildered expression Quentin sure matched the one plastered on his face.

 “Quentin?” Quentin’s heart leaped to his throat as Julia seemed to appear out of nowhere. “Q!” Rushing forward, she threw herself onto him and the feel of her solid weight against him finally anchored Quentin to his own reality. Closing his eyes, he hugged her fiercely back, a breath of relief blowing out of him as the smell of Julia’s familiar perfume calmed his fears.

 “Jules?” he said when they finally pulled away. “What the fuck is going on?” The people around them were in various stages of dress. Some, like he and Julia, were dressed for the cold, November morning they had just left. Others were dressed in clothes better suited warmer weather and there was even a guy only wearing a towel.

 “I have no idea,” Julia said, her hand weaving through her long brown hair, tugging on it a bit like she did when she was stressed. “I used the elevator at the library and ended up here.” She threw her hands up and a small smile broke on her lips. “They say we’re here for some kind of exam.” Quentin knew that look; she wasn't panicking like him.

 “Yeah,” Quentin said. “Do you know what kind?” Before Julia could answer, a booming voice interrupted the bits of conversations and Quentin saw a man in a suit standing at the front of the room, his hands behind his back.

 “Please everyone,” the man said. “Have a seat.” Quentin and Julia quickly found an empty table and sat next to each other. Quentin watched the man in front as he scanned over the crowd, waiting for everyone to sit down. For a brief moment, their eyes met and Quentin felt a strange sense of deja vu creep through him and a chill ran down his spine.

 “Hey Jules,” he wanted to know if she thought he looked familiar but before he could ask, the man started talking again.

 “Welcome to Brakebills University.” He said. “My name is Henry Fogg; you may address me as Dean. You are all probably wondering why you are here and I can assure you everything will be made clear very soon. But you have all been selected to take a preliminary exam into this pretentious establishment.” Julia reached out and grabbed his hand. When he looked at her, excitement was all over her face. She was challenged at this moment; she didn’t care what this exam was or where they were, she wanted to pass.

 “If you pass this portion then you will move on to a more individual assessment of your abilities before being formally invited to join the University. Dean Fogg paced the front of the room, looking at as many people with his intense stare as he could. While Julia was getting more excited, Quentin felt his nerves pick up with each second. He had no idea what kind of exam this was. There had been no warning a no study time; he had no clue what was about to happen.

 “There will be complete silence during the test.” the Dean continued. “When you have completed the exam, turn it over and wait for the end of the allotted time. Water will be available to anyone who wants it. You have two hours. Begin."

 ************************************************

 Coming to Brakebills was the best thing that ever happened to Eliot. Growing up in a town too small for his liking and a family who didn’t understand him, he started to believe happiness was not part of his future. He spent his childhood being teased by kids at school and ridiculed by his father at home. He didn’t have anyone in his life who was on his side or understood him. Then he was transported to a magical school and was set free from all his fears and restrictions. His parents were given an explanation as to his disappearance and after one awkward phone call to his mom, he cut off all ties to his family. He made a vow that he would never go home again.

 Brakebills became his home almost instantly and meeting Margo on his first day had introduced him to the feeling of what family was supposed to be. He fit into Brakebills like he never had back in Indiana and he found himself excelling without even trying. There were beautiful people here and for the first time in his life, he was able to act on his feelings and not have to hide. This was everything he had ever wanted and he never wanted to leave.

 When Dean Fogg told him he could stay during the summer break, he was relieved in ways he couldn’t even explain to Margo. She invited him to spend the break with her at a resort, but he turned her down. He wasn’t ready to leave the campus yet, it was the first place he could remember feeling safe and this wasn’t going to last forever. Besides, having the entire cottage to himself for a few weeks sounded perfect after an intense first year. He had become a goose for fuck's sake.

 At first, it had been great. The campus was virtually empty with only a few professors and staff who kept office hours. He slept for two days straight and then drank for three. He felt his first inkling that he should have gone with Margo instead of being alone in his thoughts. The worry he carried with him, bringing shame along with it, was his irrational fear that if he left the school for too long, then he would never get back. He knew it was pathetic, and he drank that fear down all summer.

 But for the past few days, students had been trickling back and Margo’s return earlier that morning had made everything in Eliot’s world right again. He felt like he was missing a part of him and he vowed not to take Margo's presence for granted again. He had also found someone, a sweet little mess had stumbled up to him and Eliot knew this boy needed his and Margo's help.

 “Bambi!” Eliot exclaimed as he burst into the living room of the cottage where Margo was sprawled out on the couch as she flipped through the latest issue of Vogue. “I’ve found him.” Eliot could barely stop himself from knocking the magazine out of her hands to get her full attention.

 “Found who Tinkerbell?” Margo asked, not even looking up as she flipped the page, sending the smell of multiple perfume samples into the air.

 “The love of my life,” Margo looked up skeptically at that and Eliot shrugged. “Or at least my next project. Margo, he’s so cute, you have to see him.” He shoved her legs aside, tired of waiting for her to do so, and sat down next to her.

 “That was fast, didn’t the exams just start?” Margo asked tossing the magazine on the coffee table and finally gave Eliot her full attention. “Where did you find this one?”

 “He came in the wrong way,” Eliot explained, his tone shifting for a more dramatic flair. “The poor thing was completely lost, and I whisked him away to the main hall so he could take his exam. If it weren’t for me, he would have missed the whole thing and I would never see him again.” Eliot leaned back against the couch with a wistful sigh as Margo straightened out her hair, not looking impressed.

 “You know he might not even pass.” she pointed out and Eliot frowned.

 “Don’t ruin this for me,” he warned her. “He’s too cute to fail, just wait till you see him.”

 “Alright,” Margo said, doing her best to feign interest in another one of Eliot’s many crushes. “What’s his name?”

 “Quentin Coldwater.”

 “Okay, now I really don’t think he’s going to be cute,” Margo said giggling.

 “You know what?” Eliot snapped with a glare. “You no longer get to make judgments on who I like, not after what you did.”

 “And what did I do?” Margo asked. Before Eliot could say anything, the answer to that question came bounding into the room. Todd, another student in their class, came right up to them with an accomplished smile across his face. Eliot shot Margo a smirk and she narrowed her eyes at him.

 Eliot and Margo had always found Todd utterly annoying. Early on during their first year, Todd began following the pair around, doing everything he could to get their attention. He offered to do their homework, would make them weed brownies and clean their rooms. They may have let him do those things, and his weed brownies were pretty good, but actually, hang out with Todd? They would never. Then they went to Brakebills South.

 Brakebills South was Eliot’s worst nightmare. Not only were they in Antarctica, a frozen wasteland, but they were isolated from each other and could not speak. He spent a month locked inside his own head where his inner demons almost got the better of him. When they were finally allowed to speak again, they were turned into foxes and released out in the wild. He had wanted to reunite with Margo and frolic in the snow with her, but Margo sidled up to Todd instead. After that, Todd would frequently hang out with them and Margo stopped complaining as much.

 Even though she still liked to act like Todd was beneath them, when Eliot turned down her offer to spend the summer break with her, she took Todd to the resort instead.

 “Margo!” Todd chirped. “All of your bags are unpacked and your bed is made exactly the way you like it.” He started to sit down next to her on the couch, but Margo pushed him away, her eyes darting to Eliot’s smug face.

 “Is there anything else you want me to do?” He asked, not phased by her actions. “I thought I could make you dinner, that chicken casserole you said-”

 “That’s enough Todd,” Margo interrupted him sharply, standing up she grabbed his arm. “You can run along now. I’ve seen enough of you the past few weeks to last me a lifetime.” Eliot sat back against the couch as Margo pushed Todd all the way to front door. Glaring over at Eliot, she opened the door and shoved Todd outside.

 “Do you want to meet up tonight?” Todd didn’t even seem to care that Margo was throwing him out of his own house. Instead, he just kept staring at Margo like all she was the moon to his stars. Eliot almost felt a twinge of sympathy for the poor kid; he really had it bad.

 “Goodbye Todd!” Margo said louder and swung the door shut.

 “You smell like strawberries,” Todd said wistfully before the door shut in his face. Eliot walked to where Margo was leaning against the door with her arms crossed. He could tell she was embarrassed, but he saw almost a hint of something else there that he couldn’t place. He wondered if it was genuine affection for Todd, but he didn’t want to go there, so he pushed those thoughts aside.

 “You were asking me what it was that you did?” Eliot asked, smiling triumphantly. For a second Margo frowned, like she was ready to defend herself but then her face changed and she switched tactics instead.

 “You know,” She said, the tone in her voice shifting like she was about to tell Eliot some good gossip. “Todd isn’t all bad. You should see what he can do with his fingers.” Eliot shuddered and stepped away from her. Eliot did not need the mental image of Todd in a sexual sense in his brain.

 “That’s enough,” he said holding his hand up. “Let's go see how close the exams are to being done. I’ll show you someone actually worth our time.” He slipped his arm through Margo, who pursed her lips and raised an eyebrow.

 “When he’s not talking,” Margo said. “Todd is actually pretty talented. The things his tongue can do are pretty impressive.” Eliot sighed. Margo knew that if she dangled a juicy sex story over his head, he would eventually bite.

 “Okay fine,” he said. “You can tell me, but can we call him something else? Like Javier or Pablo, or Fred?” Margo looked at him confused.

 “Fred?” Eliot shrugged.

 “Just as long as it’s not Todd.” Margo shook her head as Eliot opened the door and they stepped outside.

 “Oh my god,” Margo muttered rolling her eyes. “This boy of yours better be cute of I will never stop giving you shit.” Eliot just nodded, though he didn’t think there was any way Margo wouldn’t like this guy. Eliot could feel it in his bones, Quentin Coldwater had come into their lives for a reason. It was going to be a very exciting year.

 ******************************************

 So it turned out Penny was a magician like he would ever have wanted to be that. But they had given him more answers than he probably could have pulled from his mother. He wondered if she was also a magician, but he shook his head of those thoughts. He was here now, he no longer needed her for answers. She could go back to being the horrible woman who left her newborn baby without a second thought. He was good with that.

 He hoped the story they were going to tell Roger about where he was would be a good one. He felt bad for cutting out on him, but he hated the cold. He thought maybe he could send Abbie a text later, though cell reception at this place was pretty much a joke. It was probably better this way; she was showing hints that she was getting attached and Penny didn’t live his life that way. It was time to embrace this next thing, at least for now.

 Looking down at the slip of paper that had his dorm room number on it, Penny found the right room and saw the door was open a crack. Stepping inside and looking around, he found another person flailing about the room. He seemed to be attempting to pull a green sweater over his head but had somehow become stuck. Penny heard him grunt and mutter a few choice words under his breath before the shirt finally came off his chin-length brown hair flew in all different directions and his cheeks were flushed red, but he looked relieved. He took a few breaths before he seemed to notice Penny standing there and his face flushed deeper red with embarrassment.

 “Oh uh,” he muttered trying to push his hair back into place. “Are you my roommate?” he asked. Penny looked him up and down. He was short and twitchy.

 “I guess I am,” Penny said, his mouth turning down in disgust.

 “Okay,” Pushing the last strands of hair behind his ear, he held out a hand to Penny. “Quentin Coldwater.”

 Penny hated him instantly.

 

Chapter Text

Henry Fogg remembered the day he was named Dean of Brakebills University, a place he felt more at home and more himself than anywhere he’d ever been. He was only thirty-five at the time, the youngest Dean since the late 1930’s, and he had been naive enough to think that the job wouldn’t change him. He envisioned making changes to what he felt were outdated and narrow-minded views on the teachings of magic. He would be an inspirational figure who would put students first and fight against the bureaucracy that made a mess of everything. But years went by and they chipped away at his idealism and whittled it down to hard cynicism. Then one day, a man with a face shielded by a swarm of moths came and changed the course of Henry’s life forever.

As he stood amongst the carnage of what had been some of his most promising students, a woman appeared and claimed to be a fictional character from his childhood. Jane Chatwin had a plan and if he agreed to assist her, then they could save everything. So the timelines started, and Henry’s world was lost to one that was forever looping and blending together so that he no longer knew what was real and what was spells. It was hard to remember that there was a point in this strange way of living. That there was an evil that would be defeated one day and when that happened, he would finally be freed.

Pouring himself another glass of whiskey, Henry knew from too much experience that this second glass was nowhere near enough to get him through the mountain of paperwork he had ahead of him. He would be here late again, so he pulled off his tie and decided to get comfortable. The burn of the whiskey did little to soothe his situation the way he hoped and he leaned back in his leather chair, the smell of the last student's heavy aftershave still lingering in the air.

“Hello Henry,” There it was, right on time. That chirpy, English voice Henry was beginning to know better than his own here to crash into his own personal hell and make everything worse.

“Jane,” he said nodding curtly, pulling back up to his desk. He set his glass down and stared into the dark liquid as it settled to a standstill.

“You know, I was thinking,” Jane said taking the seat across from him and dropped the overstuffed manila folder she carried onto his desk. “I think I would like to be called Clare this time around. It has a nice ring to it don’t you think?” She adjusted the floral scarf tied around her neck with one hand, the other smoothing out the few stray hairs that dared fall out of place of her immaculately styled bun.

“I think it sounds like you are having a fun name game while I clean up the bodies of my dead students over and over.” He wasn’t bitter when he said it and made sure to keep a touch of humor in his voice, but he'd meant what he said.

“Listen, I know that last one was rather difficult,” Jane said reaching forward and touching his arm. For once, sympathy played across her features and Henry could remind himself that she was also human. He drank the rest of his whiskey in one gulp, hoping the alcohol would drown out the sounds of the screams that still echoed in his mind as the Beast slaughtered everyone in front of him. Even worse was the horrible silence that followed when it was all over. “But I think we learned a lot from it and that will only help us moving forward.” Jane’s hand slipped from his arm and she sat back straight. Business as usual once again.

“And what did we learn?” Henry asked, his glass coming down on the desk with a loud thud, maybe louder than he meant it too but Jane only watched him patiently as ever.

“They need to go to Fillory,” She said sternly. “It always ends more bloody when they don’t make it.” Henry nodded, conceding at least to this. Though he knew it was only better when they went to Fillory because then he would not have to witness it.

“How much do you plan to interfere this time?” Rolling up his sleeves to his elbows, he shook himself from the grizzly scenes that were threatening to play on repeat in his mind and put on his best business as usual mask as well.

“I’ll hold off for now, let them learn a thing or two,” Jane said tugging at the cuff of the soft pink blazer she wore. “How did the exams go? Did our boy make it in time?”

“He did,” Henry said. “You got him the book?” Jane pulled out a tube of lipstick out of her purse and she smiled before touching up the red to her lips.

“I always get my part right,” She said raising one of her eyebrows. Henry chuckled, knowing this wasn’t entirely true, and crossed his arms across his chest with a touch of smugness.

“Is that right?” he asked with a smile. “Care to explain the Janet situation then?” Jane snapped the lipstick closed and tossed it back into her purse with a shake of her head.

“Now Henry, I told you things could shift from time to time,” She reminded him. “Magic is not always perfect and after what happened to Janet in that last timeline-” Jane stopped, that look of sympathy coming back for just a moment. Jane always had a soft spot for Janet, who had suffered particularly bad the last go around. So much that it had somehow created a shockwave that changed Janet’s name to Margo. Henry remembered the soft look of regret Jane had on her face when Janet showed up for her Brakebills exam with the new name, like some scar left over from Jane’s mistake. “And a name is just a name; she’s still the same girl. Though I do miss her cute pageboy haircut.”

“I guess,” Henry said. Jane smoothed out her skirt, for a moment the nervous energy she rarely showed peeked through, and then she let go of whatever unpleasantness she had before Henry could call her sentimental.

“And how did it go with Kady?” She asked, her tone snapping back to more prim and detached.

“Her memory was wiped just as we discussed,” Henry told her. “God only knows what Marnia will do when she finds out.” His ex-student would not be happy to find her hand-picked thief not only had her memory wiped but more so, did not gain access to Brakebills to cause the trouble she often did. He knew what she was after, and Marina had yet to get her own memories back but Henry could feel that coming. One way or another, Marnia would find a way.

“Marina is not our problem this time,” Jane scolded. “Your obsession with her will have to wait. You need to focus on teaching them; they need to be ready.” He sighed, she was probably right, without Kady at the school, Maria was more out of the picture than usual. He should enjoy it the same way he enjoyed that blissful timeline when Quentin flunked his entrance exam.

“Don’t I always?” He asked, melancholy dripping from his tone as he poured himself another glass of whiskey and offering the bottle to Jane, who shook her head.

“Don’t start to get glum now Henry,” Jane said, her voice getting chirpy again and she stood and took the glass from his hand. “I have a good feeling about this one.” She did a quick spell and changed his whiskey to water. With a proud smile she handed it back to him, he hated that spell.

“Optimism is not a good shade on you.” He said looking up at her, knowing that the second she was gone this water was going back to what it was.

“No, you’ll see,” Jane said walking towards the door. “The number twenty-three has always been a lucky one for me.” Henry stood up, his back protesting and the room was spinning slightly, though not enough to stop his drinking, and he crossed the room to stand with her.

“It’s also a god awful Jim Carrey movie.” He told her reaching for the door handle.

“Who?” She asked with the most genuinely confused look on her face that it made Henry smile.

“Nevermind,” He opened the door for her and kissed her lightly on the cheek. A rare moment of true tenderness between them that was sometimes needed to get through these time loops. “Goodbye my dear, I will let you know if Clare needs to intervene.” She smiled, clearly enjoying the name she had picked.

“And I will let you know when it’s time,” She straightened out his collar and then gave it a gentle tug. “Chin up Henry, we’re going to get this right.” He nodded, hoping for once she was right. Jane gave him a final pat on the shoulder and walked out, back to do whatever it was she got up to on her own. Henry was left alone again in his office with only a mountain of paperwork and a half-empty bottle of whiskey to keep him company. It was going to be a long night.

 

****************************************

Julia couldn’t believe she had ever been excited about the possibility of getting into Yale. That the Ivy League school would have actually made her happy and fulfill the simple need of enlighting her soul the way Brakebills University had done. She couldn’t believe that she had gone her whole life not knowing that magic was real and that it flowed inside her. Humming under her skin, almost beating like a secret heart to who she really was. Sitting under a tree with Quentin she stared across the lush green campus and marveled at the magic that was happening around them.

A group of students to the left of them were making a rose bush grown and then wilt away before disappearing as it had never been there. Two girls by the fountain had created a rain cloud, the rain trickling into the water, and was now creating small lightning bolts. And the physical kids were across from them, apples floating in the air, and they laughed as each took a turn levitating above the ground. Three days into her classes and Julia couldn’t believe there had ever been something before Brakebills.

“I thought there would be more Latin,” Quentin said looking up from his textbook. “All those magic spells from books and movies always sounded very Latin to me.” Julia smiled, forever charmed by her best friend and the sweet puppy dog look that usually accompanied his thoughts.

“I knew that was why you took Latin back in high school instead of French with me to get that trip to Paris.” Quentin shrugged, tucking his hair behind his ear and his mouth twisted into a smirk.

“Well, not the only reason,” he said. “Ms. Bradbury was really hot.” Julia laughed, her head dropping back against the trunk of the tree. She had almost forgotten about Quentin's crush on the Latin teacher and how she and James would tease him about it whenever they could.

“I bet if you went back, you could totally have a shot at her,” Julia said. “Fulfill your teenage fantasy and show me and James we were wrong to make fun of you.” It was the first mention of her boyfriend and a look passed between them, a kind that said they both knew it was weird they hadn’t mentioned him sooner.

“Have you talked to James?” Quentin asked, closing his book. “Did he get the same story our parents did?” Their families believed they had each gotten into a coveted and elite program where Quentin would study finance and law for Julia The illusion magic had been so solid that when Julia spoke to her parents, they weren't even upset about her not going to Yale like she knew they wanted.

“I actually haven’t talked to James,” Julia said, her textbook now suddenly looking very interesting.

“Why?” Quentin asked, clearly surprised. “He’s your boyfriend.”

“Well, he’s your friend.” Julia reminded him, brisling a little that she should be the sole communicator to the person that, since their freshman year of high when James switched schools, was the third to their trio of misfits. The three of them used to practice magic tricks day and night, took turns reading Fillory out loud to each other and debated endlessly on the theories of what happened to Martin Chatwin.

James shook off his nerdy tendencies first. The summer before their sophomore year, James got rid of all things magic and Fillory. He made it on the wrestling team and went from nerd to jock in no time. Julia had been surprised by this new version of James. He wore contacts instead of the coke bottle glasses he had before, and his skin cleared up. More than looks, Jame developed confidence that Julia couldn’t ignore. He wanted to better himself and instead of whining about the things he hated about himself like Quentin often did back then, he did something about it and changed. It wasn’t long before she let go of Fillory and magic tricks, turning it in for parties and losing her virginity to James on the night of senior prom.

“You guys just were about to move in together,” Quentin pointed out. “What happened to that?” Julia pushed her books aside, a sigh of frustration blowing out of her.

‘I have no idea, okay.” She said holding her hands up. “I’m sure he’s either talked to my parents or he was informed just like our families. I’m sure he’s as happy for us as our parents were.” Picking back up her textbook, she felt settled with her version of how things went with James and hoped Quentin would as well.

“Are you going to tell him the truth?” Quentin asked, obviously not done with this conversation. “Do you think I should? Or would telling him about magic get us kicked out?” Julia knew she could count on Quentin's anxiety for being expelled from all this to give her a reason to keep a secret from James.

“It probably would,” Julia said setting her book back down. “It’s best just to let him think whatever story they told him.” Quentin looked skeptical and set his own books aside.

“You’re okay with just lying to James?” he asked. “For the rest of our lives?” Julia squirmed a little, she knew she shouldn’t and the thought of lying her boyfriend should be eating her up inside, but it didn’t. It was like there was what should be and then there was magic and nothing else mattered after that.

“I don’t know,” She finally said. “Who says he’ll even be in the rest of our lives.” Quentin looked surprised by this, a kind of surprise that brought them dangerously close to the topic they were not supposed to talk about.

“Are you going to break up with him?” Julia knew about Quentin’s feelings for her, she had always known, but nothing was ever going to come of it. She adored Quentin and never wanted to time in her life that he wasn’t there, but her feelings were strictly familial and they weren’t going to change. She hoped that in time, his feelings would fade and they could reach a point where the threat of it being a conversation they needed to have would be gone.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I guess, I mean what do we have in common anymore anyway?” Quentin shrugged, looking as if he wanted to agree so Julia would dump him quickly. But Quentin was a good person at heart and he couldn’t help himself to want to try to fix any problem he saw in front of him.

“How about your life?” he asked. “You guys have been together forever, you’ve grown up together. That’s a lot of history there.” He wasn’t wrong. They had been together for eight years; he was the only man she’d ever loved, or even slept with. A big part of her identity was being one half of James and Julia. He was her safety net and without him, she wondered if she could be as confident as she paraded herself around to be.

“We did grow up together,” She agreed. “But maybe now it’s time for me to go out and be a grown up. Find who I’m supposed to be, not just as James’s girlfriend. Besides,” She stretched out her legs, crossing her ankles. “I just want to focus on magic right now. I’m still riding this high of magic actually being real Q; I don’t have time to think about dating.” Quentin smiled a real genuine smile that said he was happy for her, even proud.

“I think that sounds like a good plan.” He was being sincere and his words didn’t have any of those complicated feelings mixed in. What he said was his pure love for her shining back and she leaned over and kissed his cheek. He blushed and Julia giggled before turning back to her textbook.

When Julia looked back up a few minutes later, Quentin was staring across the courtyard with a confused look on his face. Following his gaze, she saw Eliot over with the other physical kids. He was talking to another one of the first years, the one who had shown up to the exam in a towel, and Eliot was running his fingers through the other boy's feathery brown hair. It was obviously very flirty and Quentin seemed to pick up on that as well. Julia knew that look on his face and when Quentin saw her watching him, he quickly looked away.

“I saw that” Julia said. Quentin’s hair fell forward and shielded his face as he hunched himself over his textbook a little bit more. Doing whatever he could to make himself smaller.

“Saw what?” he asked, trying to sound nonchalant and Julia rolled her eyes.

“Come on Q,” She said, her hand gesturing towards Eliot. “You have always had to worst taste in men.” Quentin did not have the greatest luck when it came to his love life. He was socially awkward and never really wanted to even try to get out there. Julia had tried to set her up with various people over the years, hoping that if he saw that she liked these people, then he could relax and just be himself for a change. It never really worked but Julia kept trying. Especially because if she let Quentin find someone on his own, he always attached himself to someone who would break his heart.

“That’s not true,” Quentin said, trying to defend himself.

“Oh come on,” Julia said. “Parker?” Quentin frowned, looking almost offended. Parker had been a guy who Quentin had a few classes with their senior year of high school. He transferred at the start of the year from California and was the most stereotypical surfer dude Julia had ever seen. She was turned off by him immediately, but Quentin developed an instant crush.

Quentin had a pattern when it came to the men and women he liked. He liked women who were smart and a little more on his level. Shy, sweet girls who blushed easily and could sit next to him and read for hours. With men though it was the opposite. He liked strong personalities and confidence for days. The ones who walked through the world like nothing bothers them and everything came easy. Quentin was attracted to men who were everything he wanted to be and thought he never could be. Parker had been like that, and when Quentin introduced her to Eliot the evening after the exams, she knew instantly that Eliot was just the same.

“What was wrong with Parker?” Quentin asked.

“You pinned after him like a lovesick puppy for an entire semester and when he finally slept with you, he never spoke to you again.” Julia reminded him. Parker didn’t care about Quentin; he was the type of guy who didn’t care about anyone but himself. Quentin couldn’t see that though and he was left confused and heartbroken.

“Who says I wanted him too?” Quentin asked doing his best to sound indifferent about his feelings about Parker. Julia knew better though; she was the one tasked as his best friend of putting his heart back together when Parker stopped talking to him.

“You did,” Julia said leaning forward to get closer to him. “When you would get sad and whine to me about how he hasn’t called you back.” Quentin rolled his eyes, but then his gaze found Eliot again. Eliot was laughing at something towel boy had said like it was the funniest thing ever. Giving the other boy the attention Julia could already see Quentin craving from Eliot.

“Look, I get it,” She said watching as the physical kids seemed to be finishing up with the study session they had going on and towel boy was making his exit. “Eliot is very attractive and charismatic and has all the things you look for in guys, but a guy like that is heartbreak waiting to happen. He would want just one thing from you and once he got that, he’d be gone and you’ll only end up hurt in the end.” Deep down Julia knew that she was making pretty unfair presumptions about someone she didn’t even know, but wanting to protect Quentin beat out social decencies every time.

“I’m not even thinking that about him,” Quentin said, not quite looking at her and Julia barely suppressed rolling her eyes. Julia felt like it needed to become her job to find someone else for Quentin to pour his attention into and get his mind off that certain second-year boy.

“You need someone you have more in common with,” Julia said sitting forward and started scanning the courtyard. “Someone nice who won’t use you for sex.” Someone had already come to her mind and if by fate, that someone walked out of the library and into the sunlight at that moment.

“If you’re thinking about setting me up,” Quentin started to say, but Julia just waved him off before he could continue, she’d heard all his complaints about her match-making skills before.

“Alice!” She called out. The blonde looked up from the book she’d been reading and smiled shyly in Julia’s direction. “Come join us!” Waving her over, Julia smiled proudly at Quentin.

“What are you doing?” Quentin hissed sitting forward.

“Introducing you to someone you actually should date,” Julia said. “Don’t worry, she’s my roommate and she’s really sweet.” Quentin looked over at the approaching Alice and then frowned at Julia.

“Weren’t you just telling me how you wanted to focus on magic and not dating?” Quentin asked. “Why can’t I do the same thing?” Julia sighed and scooted closer to her friend.

“Because,” she said tucking a stray lock of hair behind his ear. “Your heart never knows what’s good for it and I am the angel protecting your future Coldwater.” Quentin narrowed eyes but had no comeback. Julia knew she had won this battle.

Alice walked up to them, holding her books against her chest and her face half hidden behind a curtain of her straight blonde hair. When Julia walked into her dorm room for the first time, Alice was already there putting her clothes away neatly in the closet. She instantly liked the other girl. Alice was sweet and polite, offering to make more room in the small shared closet for anything Julia needed. She let even told Julia to pick out which bed she wanted even though Alice had been there first. She also came from a whole family of magicians that Julia found absolutely fascinating, but Alice was so humble about them that Julia was immediately charmed by her and they had become almost instant friends.

“Hey Alice, this is my friend I was telling you about, Quentin.” She turned her head to Quentin, hoping she was conveying a look that told him to be social. “Quentin, this is my roommate, Alice Quinn.” Quentin fumbled to his feet, tripping as he did and almost went falling headfirst into Alice, who hugged her books tighter to herself as she took a small step backward to avoid Quentin’s flailing limbs. Julia had to bite her lip to keep from laughing; they were off to an unimpressive start.

“Uh-sorry, hi,” Quentin mumbled. He plopped back down to where he had been sitting and looking as if he wished the ground would swallow him up.

Hi,” Alice said, shifting her weight from one foot to the other.

“Sit down,” Julia encouraged. Alice sat down on the ground, tucking her legs around her and moved the hair out of her face. “We were just going over chapter one,” Julia said holding up Amelia Popper’s Practical Exercises for Young Magicians.

“Which one are you on?” Alice asked, reaching into her bag and pulling out a copy of the book as well.

“Well, I’m on Popper number eight,” Julia said, glancing over at Quentin, who was having trouble getting past Popper number four. Alice nodded, flipping her book to the correct page, Quentin was watching her curiously the entire time. “I could help you with that one.” Alice offered, her eyes glancing Quentin’s way.

“That’d be great,” Julia said. “And then you have to show us that horse thing you did in class, wasn’t that cool Quentin?” Julia elbowed Quentin, prodding him to get involved in the conversation. On the first day of class, Alice had gone in front of everyone and did a spell that transformed a glass marble into a glass horse that could move and run.

“Uh, yeah,” Quentin said sitting up a little straighter. “How did you do that exactly?” Alice looked away from them, a look of discomfort momentary passed over her face but it was gone before Julia could question it.

“It wasn’t hard,” Alice said impassively, no hint of a smug attitude Julia would almost expect from someone as talented as Alice was. “Just a variation on Dempsey’s Silent Thermogenesis and Cavalieri Animation spell. It’s a bit of mix and match I guess.” Julia smiled at the way Quentin’s eyes seemed to light up a little, a smile coming across his face as he became more impressed with her by the minute. Talent was probably one of Quentin’s biggest turn-ons, and Alice was one of the most talented people in their class.

“It was really impressive,” Quentin said and Alice smiled at him, looking a little more proud of herself than she did a moment before.

“We should start a study group,” Julia declared. Quentin and Alice both looked at her with almost twin expressions of confusion on their face. “We can help each other out, keep ahead of the curriculum, I think it would work really well.” Alice smiled, Julia could tell she was already on board, and Quentin just nodded.

“Sounds fine,” he said, though she could see his attention was being pulled elsewhere. Before she could figure out what, Eliot bounded up to them and she had her answer. Eliot was wearing a blue and white Cardington sweater over his button-up shirt and vest and it almost gave off the air of someone who belonged in a romance novel set in a proper home in England during the second world war.

“Quentin!” Eliot said coming to a stop right next to him. “This is the interruption you’ve been waiting for.” He didn’t even glance at her or Alice, and one look at Quentin told her they had become just as invisible to him as well.

“We were just in the middle of something,” Julia said, inserting herself into the conversation as she shot Quentin a look. Eliot turned to her and shrugged.

“You can two can tag along,” he said before turning back to Quentin. “I did promise you I would show you through the Maze didn’t I?” Quentin looked over at Julia a little nervously.

“I was actually really interested in seeing that,” he said with a look that said he knew that Julia didn’t approve but he wanted to go anyway.

“As I said,” Eliot said. “You are welcome to join us.” Julia was about to insist that this wait for another time, but Alice spoke up first.

“Actually,” She said pulling out the book she’d been reading out for Julia to see. “I found the spell that Professor Van der Weghe was talking about this morning. It’s a cooperative spell that needs two people.” She shot Quentin an almost apologetic glance, but Quentin didn’t look offended, he was gathering his books instead.

“Well that works out just fine then,” Eliot said brightly. “You two can work on that and Q can come with Margo and me in the Maze.” He then reached down, seized Quentin’s arm and hauled him to his feet. Julia continued to frown at him, but Quentin just pulled his bag up to his shoulder and tucked his hair behind his hair.

“Uh, we can meet up later?” Quentin asked and Julia shrugged, there was no stopping him now. “It was nice meeting you,” he said to Alice before Eliot began to drag him away. Watching them go Julia could feel the worry inside her build. Eliot wasn’t going to be as distracted from his interest in her friend like she had initially thought and Quentin would probably end up hurt despite any interfering she could try to do.

“He seems nice,” Alice said quietly after a moment and Julia sighed.

“Come on,” She said gathering her things. “Let's work on that spell in our dorm.” Glancing once more at Quentin and Eliot, who had now joined Margo by the tree the physical kids had been, she knew this was going to be harder than she thought.

*******************************************

“What were you doing talking to Alice Quinn?” Margo asked once Quentin and Eliot had joined her where she sat on a bench under a tree just across the sidewalk. She was just finishing up a spell that was rolling a joint and held it up for Eliot take. He stuck it in his vest pocket and then pulled out a cigarette snapping it lit.

“She’s Julia’s roommate,” Quentin answered, looking back at her and Julia as the two gathered their things and prepared to leave. He knew Julia was pissed and hoped he hadn’t offended Alice by running off. She really had seemed nice. “We were talking about a possible study group. How do you know her?”

“You don’t know?” Margo asked, her eyes lighting up in a way Quentin had never seen before. “She comes from a whole family of Magicians, way far back.” Margo began smoothing out her hair, watching as Alice and Julia started walking away.

“Really?” Quentin asked craning his neck to look back at Alice as well. Quentin hadn’t heard, he hadn’t really thought about magical families like in Harry Potter. Knowing that was a thing made him giddy in a way he would never admit to out loud.

“Her connections go really deep,” Margo said, her tongue darting out slowly to wet her lips and her fingers tangling into the necklace she wore around her neck.

“Easy there, Bambi,” Eliot said from where he was leaning against the tree, smoking his cigarette. “You’re practically drooling.”

“Oh shut up!” Margo said elbowing him in the side. “ What do you think she has under that pilgrim tent of hers?” Quentin had yet to figure Margo out. She was probably the most beautiful woman he had ever seen in real life and what she was doing giving Quentin a second of her time was beyond him. She had a sharp tongue and was brutally honest, but she never seemed to be outright mean. She wasn’t warm and cuddly by any stretch, but she didn’t lack complete sincerity.

“I think Julia wants to set us up,” Quentin told her, still unsure of his feelings on that.

“What?” Eliot snapped, his cigarette dangling between his fingers.“Why?” He looked almost genuinely upset by this, but then Margo smacked his arm playfully and they both laughed. He brought the cigarette to his lips with a quick wink at Quentin as Margo turned her attention back to him.

“You should totally jump on that,” Margo said seriously. “Think of the opportunities that will be available to you because of her family.” Quentin frowned, not comfortable of the idea of being with someone for that shallow of a reason.

“I don’t think that’s a good reason to be with someone.” He said pushing his hair behind his ear nervously and looked at Eliot over his shoulder. Eliot was staring right back at him with an air of importance. He took a long drag on his cigarette and then blew the smoke out right in Quentin’s direction.

“Oh my god.” Margo groaned. “Listen Q, it would be pixies and rainbows for days if life actually worked like that, but it doesn’t. It’s good to know that the world is inherently unfair; act accordingly.” Quentin looked back at Eliot for some kind of confirmation on this, but Eliot was looking away from him. The end of his cigarette held his attention now. Before they could talk further, Todd came running up to them holding a plate with something covered in plastic wrap.

“Margo!” Todd said breathlessly and presented the plate to her proudly. “I think I’ve finally got it.” Quentin heard Eliot scoff behind him and saw an annoyed look come across his face.

“Oh, hey Todd,” Eliot said with sarcasm dripping from every syllable. It was easy to see that Eliot was no fan of the other second year. Quentin, on the other hand, didn’t really have an opinion on Todd. They’d said all of three words to each in the past few days and it was clear that Todd only was interested in Margo when he was around. Quentin figured that this was why Eliot was so annoyed. Either he didn’t like having to share his best friend with someone he deemed so unacceptable as Todd, or he didn’t like someone not giving him that undivided attention. Quentin hadn’t quite figured that part out yet.

“Are you sure this time?” Margo asked looking a little skeptical. “Because you said the same thing about that last batch and your penis-”

“These won’t do that,” Todd assured her, cutting her off before she could finish that sentence.

“Wait,” Eliot said pushing himself off the tree and coming to stand next to Quentin. “What did the brownies do to Todd’s penis?” Todd opened his mouth like he was actually going to answer that but Margo elbowed him in the side.

“His penis is fine,” Margo said. “And if he’s right and these brownies work then you are going to be kissing his ass so I would be nice to him.” Eliot rolled his eyes as he flicked his cigarette away. Quentin wasn’t sure what the relationship between Margo and Todd was precisely. Eliot told him they had some casual thing, but the look on her face, defending him to Eliot, made him believe she cared a little more than let on. But, he didn’t know Margo well enough to know if that was true.

“What’s it supposed to do?” Quentin asked, curious about what they were actually talking about and hoping to get the topic away from Todd’s penis.

“They’re pot brownies,” Todd explained holding up the plate. “And it’s magically grown weed that is designed to magnify and lengthen your orgasm.” Quentin blinked, something like that had not even crossed his mind as a possibility.

“Well,” Eliot said looking as if he wanted to find a way to insult Todd, but couldn’t hide that he was impressed. “I guess that’s cool.” Eliot took out another cigarette and tried not to meet Margo’s smug smile.

“You can do that?” Quentin asked. “Make magic pot brownies?”

“Of course,” Todd said. “This strain wasn’t my idea though. There was a student, Josh Hoberman; he came up with this. Apparently, he was close to figuring it out, but he was one of the third years who disappeared.” All but four of the third year class had disappeared last spring and no one knew what happened. The remaining four were evasive when asked if they knew anything and there had been nothing left behind to explain the disappearances. So everyone was left to wonder and speculate on the most horrible thing that could have happened to them.

“And now you’re finishing the project in his memory,” Eliot said and blew out a puff of smoke. “How noble.” Margo scoffed as she took the plate from Todd’s hands and grabbed his arm.

“You two will have to go through the maze without me,” She said pulling Todd along as she started walking. “We have a few things we have to go do now.” Todd waved at them before Margo gave him a sharp tug and they quickly disappeared.

“And then there were two.” Eliot’s voice was right next to him and Quentin jumped a little seeing Eliot suddenly standing next to him again. Eliot chuckled, pleased with himself and then pulled out the joint Margo had given him earlier. “This is the real reason the Maze is one of the greatest places on campus.”

“It's a good place to smoke pot?” Quentin asked.

“Exactly,” Eliot said and the two of them began walking in the direction of the Maze. Quentin looked over at Eliot as they walked and smiled a little to himself. He wasn’t all that disappointed it had ended up just the two of them. He knew Julia was probably right and Eliot did flirt with everyone, but Quentin was happy to get to spend a little time alone with him anyway.

“So Julia really wants to set you up with that girl?” Eliot asked after they had walked for a few moments without saying anything.

“Yeah,” Quentin mumbled. “She’s always trying to set me up with someone, pretty much since puberty.” Quentin had lost count of the number of people Julia threw at him throughout their friendship, but so far none had stuck.

“You two never dated each other?” Eliot asked and Quentin almost tripped over himself in surprise.

“What? No, that’s-why would we?” he stammered. “We’re best friends, not-you know, and besides she-I mean, we’re best friends.” He could feel his face burning, and he felt like an idiot. Eliot snorted, clearly amused, and then held up his hands in surrender.

“Okay, okay,” he said soothingly, stopping for a moment to rub Quentin’s shoulder. “Didn’t mean to hit a nerve.” Eliot started walking again and Quentin scrambled after him.

“You didn’t hit a nerve,” he tried to explain. “It’s just a weird assumption that just because we’re friends that we would be interested in each other like that. It would be like if someone thought you and Margo were sleeping together.”

“Oh we’ve done that,” Eliot said airily like it was no big deal.

“What?” Quentin tried his best not to let his utter shock shine through too much but he was sure he looked as surprised as he felt.

“Only a few times,” Eliot said facing Quentin and taking a drag of his cigarette. “When we’re drunk or bored enough,” Then he smiled and leaned closer to Quentin. “And if we have a third person to join us.” Quentin felt his face grow hot and a familiar stirring somewhere else and Eliot turned away and started walking again. “Sex is just sex, Quentin, it’s doesn’t have to mean anything. It’s about time you learn that.” Quentin followed him and tried to ignore the cold punch of disappointment in his gut as they walked in silence for a few minutes.

“How are your classes going?’ Eliot asked finally.

“They’re fine,” Quentin said, glad for the mundane question and that the conversation could get away from sex. “I’m having some issues with Popper number four.” He mumbled. He felt embarrassed to say, Julia had gotten it without any trouble.

“Oh, I can help you with that,” Eliot said. “You’ll get it.” Quentin glanced up at him as Eliot inhaled on his cigarette one last time and flicked it away. Pushing certain feelings about Eliot aside, Quentin was grateful that Eliot had taken an interest in him. He didn’t make him feel stupid like he easily could have and he always seemed to be encouraging him. No matter what Julia said about him, Quentin knew that he had at least found a good friend.

“And as much as it pains me,” Eliot said putting his hand on his chest dramatically. “If Julia really does try to hook you up with Alice, I guess I can help you with that as well.” Quentin frowned.

“Why would I need help with that?” he asked.

“As cute as I think you are Quentin,” Eliot said putting an arm around Quentin’s shoulders. “Something tells me you aren’t that great with the art of seduction.” Quentin looked up at him sharply. He didn’t want Eliot thinking that about him.

“I could be,” Quentin said defensively, but Eliot didn’t look convinced.

“Please,” Eliot said, barely keeping the laughter out of his voice and. “but, if I do this there is something you must promise me.” They came to a stop at the start of the Maze and Eliot turned to face him.

“What?” Quentin asked, a little unsure of what Eliot would want from him.

“That you will always love me most,” Eliot said with a soft smile. That wasn’t what Quentin had expected him to say. Surprised by the way his stomach practically flipped, he felt pathetic. Eliot could get anyone he wanted and probably was. Quentin was nothing, just some depressed super nerd who couldn’t even get past Popper number four. Putting a smile on his face, he reminded himself that he couldn’t get lost in what was only playful flirting.

“You do know we basically just met each other.” Quentin reminded him, his chest felt a little tighter with excitement when Eliot just shrugged.

“Well, I bond fast,” Eliot said, waving his hand.“Time is an illusion, and I did find you first. If it weren’t for me, then you would have missed the exam and you would not be standing here right now.” Quentin smiled. Though he was sure he would have gotten there eventually, Eliot had helped him that first day and he was grateful for that

“That’s true,” he said ad Eliot took a step closer to him, catching his gaze Quentin suddenly felt frozen.

“Then you promise me that even if Julia makes you date that poor little magic girl, you’ll love me most?” Quentin shook his head, Eliot was going to be an interesting friend.

“I promise,” he said with a smile. Eliot grinned and then pulled out the joint Margo had given him and held it between them.


“Good,” He said and then put his arm back around Quentin’s shoulders. “Now, I will show you the best place to smoke in there but as a warning, the hedges animals do walk around. They’re slow, so you don’t have to worry, but we’ll be smoking so I don’t want you to think you’re hallucinating or anything.”

Eliot continued to ramble to him about the six different fountains inside the maze that were named after former deans and Quentin took the joint from his hand. Together, they disappeared into the Maze.

Chapter Text

Penny supposed there were worse places to be than Brakebills University. It was certainly better than being stuck in what felt like perpetual winter, and the past two weeks at Brakebills had at least been interesting. Not even his cynical self could pretend that the magic he was learning wasn’t cool as shit. And while he may not be the fantasy nerd like his roommate, Penny had enjoyed that stuff as a kid. He used to pretend that he could do magic and slay dragons and all that nerdy bullshit, but it didn’t mean he would have thought this would all be possible.

If he could change one thing about this experience though it would be his roommate; Penny couldn’t remember the last time he had been around someone who’s mind drove him as crazy as Quentin Coldwater’s did. He tried to feel sorry for the guy since it was apparent that serious mental health issues were going on with him, but there was only so much sympathy Penny could feel for the guy. Quentin was a twitchy ball of nervous energy that Penny could feel scratching in his brain. Almost every thought he had would echo in Penny’s mind whenever Quentin was nearby.

Penny hated himself a little bit just for knowing about Quentin’s sad and pathetic love life. He seemed always to be stressing over his lifelong crush on his best friend or the new girl he met that he liked. But none of that compared to the constant string of thoughts about the second year guy that Quentin followed around campus like a puppy. Penny begrudgingly was rooting for him to pick one so maybe he could spend all his time with them and Penny could have some peace.

“Hey Penny,” Looking up from his book, Amanda Orloff walked around the tall bookcase next to the table he’d spread out on. He met Amanda on the first day of classes when they sat next to each other and found they had a similar sense of humor. Amanda was tall with broad shoulders and could probably kick his ass without even breaking a sweat. In Penny’s book, she was awesome. “Surprised to find you in the library,” She smirked before turning to look through the shelves in search of a book.

“Anything to get away from my roommate,” Penny said flipping his page on his textbook and leaning back in his chair. The Brakebills library was a lot smaller than Penny would have thought for such a large university, but they made up for it in the number of books they were able to cram in there. Tall bookshelves filled almost every area and you have to weave yourself around to find a place to sit. Tables were scattered randomly along with armchairs and a few loveseats. Most notable were some of the books that, through strange and complicated magic, had taken flight and could usually be seen fluttering around the ceiling.

“Don’t worry,” Amanda said pulling out a book to inspect it. “I hear we’re going to be sorted into our disciplines soon, so as long as he’s not psychic like you, then you’ll be rid of him.” She gave him an encouraging smile and placed the book back on the shelf.

“He’s not psychic,” Penny said frowning. “And I hate that word.” Amanda laughed and whatever she was about to say was drowned out by a new voice inside Penny’s head.

“Fuck! You piece of fucking shit! Fucking work!”

“Penny?” Amanda’s voice cut back interrupting the frustrated curses of disembodied female voice ringing in his head.

“What?” He asked, snapping his attention back at Amanda as she walked around the table to the opposite bookcase.

“I said, what word would you use?”

“Uh, I guess-”

“Fuck! What is your problem? Why won’t this fucking spell work?”

This time Penny felt like he could feel where the owner of this voice was. Leaning over, he peeked around the bookcase to the table on the other side. All he could see were books and papers sprawled out, but not who was sitting there.

“Whatever you want to call it,” Amanda said turning her back to Penny as she scanned the books in front of her. “When you learn that your discipline is psychic magic just remember that I will be right there to rub it in your face.” She pulled out a book and Penny could see straight through to a girl sitting at the table on the other side. Her brown hair pulled into a messy bun and her face clearly showed the frustrations that matched her inner monologue.

“Well, I wouldn’t expect any less,” Penny mumbled and his eyes locked on the other girl. She was attempting a spell but it didn’t seem to be working. Her fingers bent into positions that Penny couldn’t see, but it couldn’t have been right judging by the string of obscenities.

“Did you know that locator spells don’t work in here,” Amanda said. She slammed the book back on the shelf and Penny lost sight of the other girl. “Something about the amount of spells and charms cast around here. Basically, it just cancels everything out. How are we supposed to find anything? The card catalog system here is a joke.” With a sigh, she leaned against the bookshelf with a look of defeat.

“You could ask one of the librarians,” Penny suggested. “Isn’t that their job?”

“It seems really unfair,” Amanda said. “I would like to look for my book without having to talk to someone. If magic can’t help with that, what good is it for?” She smirked and Penny nodded in agreement. The two of the shared the opinion that generally, people sucked and avoidance was always the way to go. “I’ll see you around Penny,” Amanda pushed herself off the bookshelf and rounded around a corner in search of someone to help find her book.

Stepping around the bookcase, Penny watched as the girl he had spotted tried again at the spell she evidently had been working on for a while. She sat crossed-legged on the chair and was hunched over the textbook in front of her. With a clear view of her hands now, Penny recognized the spell she was trying. He also could see her fingers bent so forcibly, probably from the stress, that there was no way that spell was going to work.

“Your fingers are too tight,” She turned her head to look at him and Penny got a good look into beautiful brown eyes that were sending an intense glare his way.

“Excuse me?” she asked, clearly not happy to be interrupted.

“Your fingers,” Penny repeated pointing at her hands. “They need to be more relaxed for that spell to work.” Penny leaned his shoulder against the bookcase as she looked down at her hands, fingers twisted together so tightly it seemed they would be stuck.

“You know,” she said shaking her fingers free. “I didn’t ask for your advice so why don’t you just fuck off?” Penny smiled, which was a response she obviously didn’t want and turned quickly away from him. Taking a deep breath, she tried the spell again. Her fingers relaxed a fraction and Penny snorted seeing her take his advice. The spell didn’t work again and she spun back around to face him.

“Don’t you have something better to do than stand there like some fucking creeper?” She spat. There was something about the tone in her voice or the way her nose scrunched a little as spoke, but Penny immediately liked her. She was tough, but probably completely unaware of that fact and that made her all the more intriguing.

“No,” Penny said walking over to her table. “I’m also right about your fingers. Professor Sunderland was talking about that the other day in class.” Taking the seat across from her, Penny held up his hands. “Something about being so tense it doesn’t let the magic out or some bullshit.” Penny saw her relax somewhat, one her legs dropped down to the floor and her fingers fell away from each other.

“I’ve seen you in that class,” The look on her face was curious and Penny tried to read her thoughts, but now nothing was coming from her. She had a strong mind. With her frustrations gone she had better control and Penny could only sense quiet from her. He felt relieved in a way; he didn’t get that kind of calm from many people. “You don’t really seem the type to be paying attention.”

“I’m not much of a person to have a type,” he said. “But if I was, then I think I would be the type to know when they hear good advice.” she rolled her eyes at that.

“I know what I'm doing,” she insisted. “I've got it.”

“You do have it,” Penny quickly agreed. “You just need to loosen up a bit. Watch,” Penny held up his hands and then interlocked his index fingers the same way she had. Bringing his pinkies to hook around his thumbs, he murmured the Turkish spell and then slowly moved his hands apart. A small rainbow appeared between his hands, small but vibrant. It lingered in the air for a few seconds getting brighter before fading into nothing. Gone, as it had never been there. Penny smiled at the impressed look in the other girls face and then she locked eyes with him.

“I’m Julia.” Penny grinned.

“Penny,” he said. Julia closed her book, looking unimpressed with it now and turned her attention back to Penny. She opened her mouth to speak, but Penny knew the question that was really on her mind.

“The answer is yes.” He said before she could say anything.“Till you pass out and then again when you wake up.”

*****************************************

“Oh fuck!” Julia cried out wrapping her legs around Penny’s waist and pulling him deeper inside of her. His moved his hands down her neck and came to a stop at her breast, circling her nipple with his thumb. A gasp forced out of her and she gripped his short hair with her fingers. Her hips rocked against him desperately, his dick inside her was bigger than she was used to and she only wanted it deeper inside of her. “Faster,” she demanded.

It was never like this with James. Julia had never been like this with James. She had never made a plea for what she wanted. She had never known that she could before. Julia had been so young with James, so unaware of the power of her sexuality that their sex life had been a few well-rehearsed moves that could get James off as quickly as possible. Pleasure for her was rare and she thought that it was fine that way. But Penny poured attention onto her like she had never known. He trailed kisses down her neck; his fingers rubbed against her clit even though he was thrusting deep inside her. He responded to every moan and move she made. Julia wasn’t used to this, and she had never been this wet before.

In a swift movement, that Julia could barely even register happening, Penny flipped their positions and Julia was now on top and in control. She pressed her hands down on to his chest, sinking herself completely on him. She had never been in this position before. Penny looked up at her, his mouth open and eyes hooded; the pleasure of her in control was all over his face. He nodded to her, his teeth coming down on his bottom lip. Julia moved on top of him, twisting her hips in ways that she never had before and letting herself decide what felt good. Penny thrust back, easily matching her pace, his chest heaving and she could feel him shaking underneath her.

“Oh god,” She threw her head back as electricity hummed through her whole body. Tingling up her spine and taking the breath right out of her. Closing her eyes, she dug her nails into the sensitive skin around Penny’s nipples and he growled his appreciation in response. Sweat was dripping down between her breast and she lifted herself off him slightly and adjusted her legs around him, finding a way to give herself even more leverage. When she opened her eyes, she saw his face screwed up tight, completely lost in the pleasure that was flowing between them. That was when she noticed they were no longer on the bed.

They were floating about a foot off the bed and it seemed with each thrust of their hips, the higher they went. When Julia ground her back down on him completely again, pleasure exploded inside her back arched; feeling her orgasm approaching. She slammed her hand against the ceiling in an attempt to brace herself for the explosion inside her that was reaching its peak. Every sound was lost to her as her orgasm slammed into her, jolting through her entire body in a way she had never experience before and everything went black.

****************************************

Julia’s face screwed up in disgust as the alcohol went down her throat. It burned all the way and lit a fire in her chest. Coughing she shook her head and passed the bottle of triple sec over to Penny who hesitated slightly before taking a drink. She caught the grimace on his face as he swallowed, but he seemed to have an easier time drinking it than she did. He held the bottle out and studied the label for a minute with a small smile on his lips.

“I used to drink this stuff in high school,” he said shaking his head. “Tasted just as godawful back then.” He held the bottle out for Julia but she shook her head. One sip of that had been enough for her.

“Why did you drink it if it was so god awful?” Penny shrugged and took another swig before he set the bottle on the ground next to the chair he’d pulled up to Julia’s bed. He was clad only in his jeans now, which he hadn’t bothered even to button up.

“Same reason we’re drinking it now I suppose.” He shrugged and looked away from her. “Only thing I could get my hands on that would make the voices go away.” Penny had already told her how he heard her voice in her head. That part of her that had this insatiable need for more knowledge had a million questions, but the look on his face now showed Julia the burden that Penny must live with every day. She would never understand so she kept her questions to herself.

“Well,” Julia leaning back onto the pillows on the bed. “It’s not mine; it’s my roommates. So she’s the one with the strange taste.” Penny snorted.

“Sure,” he said looking back at her again.“Blame it on the girl who isn’t here to defend herself.” He smiled, a cool, easy smile that Julia always thought she had the confidence herself to pull off. Twisting her fingers in the soft t-shirt she had pulled over herself, she leaned over and pulled out the pack of cigarettes she kept hidden in her side table. She offered one to Penny and he took it with a nod of thanks

“Well, I can assure you,” Julia said as she snapped her cigarette lit. “If it were me who was smart enough to sneak alcohol into the dorms, I would have gone for something a little different.” She took a drag on her cigarette and Penny crossed his arms across his chest with a curious smile.

“Would you?” Julia nodded and tucked her feet underneath the sheet on her bed. “What’s your poison?” Penny reached back for the triple sec again, slipping his unlit cigarette behind his ear. He propped his feet up on the bed and twisted the bottle in his hands a few times.

“Whisky,” Julia was used to the surprised look Penny had on his face now. She always liked the way men would react to her drink of choice, like she was that girl, someone who, in her staid, predictable life she never had been. But James didn’t like any attention he could feel threatened by, so soon Julia’s favorite drink was a Bahama Mama so James could laugh with his friends over his girlfriend's girly drink choice.

“I’ll remember that for next time,” Penny as he took a drink and groaned. “Fuck, this shit is not good.” He laughed and set the bottle back down as Julia watched him curiously. She glanced over at his shirt that was still on the floor where Julia had dropped it after she tore it off of him earlier. She could feel her cheeks flush at the memory and leaned further back into the pillows on her bed, decking her face away for a moment.

“Next time?” She asked, trying to hide the insecurities that were flaring up inside her. “You would want a next time?” It had always been her understanding that these random hook-ups never amounted to anything and once the guy got what he wanted they would never speak to you again.

“If that would be something you wanted,” Penny said casually, raising an eyebrow. “There could be many next times.” Julia, thrown off by a bit more, laughed despite herself which only made Penny smile more. Julia liked the way Penny looked at her like he didn’t know what she was going to do next. Even more so, Julia liked how she felt when he looked at her like she didn’t know what she would do next.

“I don’t usually do this,” Julia said sucking her cigarette to ease this unfamiliar feeling that twisted around inside of her. “I always was the good girl, you know? Good grades never skipped a class. I had the same boyfriend all through high school and college. Even lost my virginity on prom night. The most predictable and cliched night possible.” She took another drag on her cigarette and Penny chuckled, letting his feet drop to the floor. “So I’m just really out of my element here.” She felt embarrassed, laying out all the things that had made her parents so proud of her. The same things that now, two weeks into her studies at a school for magic where cheating was not only encouraged, but taught, they only felt like things that had not truly prepared her for the life she was supposed to live.

“Are you always this high strung?” Penny finally asked.

“Excuse me?” Her legs dropped and she sat forward with a bit of a jolt. Ash fell off the tip of her cigarette and onto the crisp, white sheets on her bed, but Julia paid no mind to it.

“Look,” Penny said as he leaned forward and swiftly brushed the ash way. “I’m not into relationships or any of that bullshit. It’s pointless really, letting yourself get attached to someone who is just going to leave in the end. I’m much better on my own.” He leaned back again and Julia stubbed out her cigarette.

“That’s a pretty negative view.” She pointed out and got herself another cigarette.

“It’s realistic.” Penny shrugged. “And which of the two of us is freaking out?” Julia frowned.

“I am not freaking out,” she said as she lit her second cigarette.

“Whatever you say,” he said crossing his arms. “But I’ll just say to you what I said in the library. You need to loosen up.”Julia blew out a puff of smoke. She was beginning to agree with him on that. Penny leaned forward again, coming closer to her so they were just inches apart. His eyes locked with hers and she felt the same magnetism pulling them together that she felt when she saw him make that rainbow. Like suddenly the only thing that mattered was kissing him and never coming up for air.

“I’m not offering you a lifetime of happiness or some bullshit that’s completely unattainable.” His hand came up to her face and he pulled some of her loose hair behind her ear, his thumb trailing down to her earlobe and Julia felt a shiver go through her. “But I can offer you a way to redirect some of that tension you have let build up inside you all these years. Finally, let the real Julia out,” Julia’s heart was pounding in her chest as Penny drew himself closer to her and brought his hand to caress her cheek before his thumb ran along her lips. “Because the woman who I got to see just now, so completely undone that I’m hard right now just remembering the way you moved on top of me.” Julia’s eyes closed and she could feel her own arousal beginning to hum away.

Julia had never felt so powerful as she when she was on top of Penny. She felt in command and loved the way he had been in complete awe of her. She felt even more powerful than she did on the day of her exam when Dean Fogg demanded magic and gold sparks shot out of her fingertips. Now though, with logic and her own neuroses seeping back into her brain with each passing second, she never felt so powerless.

“Penny,” She whispered, her hand moving up to his neck where she could feel his pulse thudding under his skin. She shifted where she sat and was surprised to feel how wet she was getting again.

“I think that’s the real Julia,” Penny said, his voice soft now. Julia opened her eyes and found Penny looking back. Staring into his eyes right now, that powerful feeling was coming back so strongly that she could almost feel her fingertips glow. “What do you say?” Julia studied him for a moment and let herself process everything he had said logically, or as logically as she could when she really wanted to climb into his lap and bury his cock deep inside her.

“Let me see if I get this.” She said licking her lips and trying to ignore the way her clit was practically throbbing. “Is this the story of boy with commitment issues meets girl who’s a serial monogamist? You know, a tale as old as time?” One corner of Penny’s mouth turned up into a smirk.

“And doomed from the start,” he said moving forward and brushing his lips against hers. “But it could be fun.” Julia’s breath caught in her throat and just as she was about to give in to the heat between them, the clock over Penny’s shoulder caught her attention.

“Shit!” She exclaimed and pulled away from him. Penny sat back, his hands going up like he had done something wrong.

“Or not,” he said quickly. “Seriously, it’s completely up to you; I’m not here to pressure you.” Julia almost laughed but was more endeared by him than anything in that moment.

“No, sorry, it’s not that,” she said. “It’s just-I’m late for my study group and seeing as I was the one who forced my friends to do it, it would look bad if I missed it.” She got up and swiftly started gathering her clothes. “You should come,” Penny raised his eyebrows.

“I don’t do study group,” he said and Julia rolled her eyes as she tugged her jeans on.

“Oh come on,” she said. “It’s just my two friends who are way more socially awkward than you so you probably won’t even have to talk to them.”

“Well in that case,” Penny clapped his hands together. “Sign me up.” Julia could feel the sarcasm and smiled as she shook her head.

“Come on,” She said walking over to him. “That whole zen magician thing you got going on could come in handy. And besides,” Straddling herself across his lap she was pleasantly surprised to find him still hard. “Watching you do magic might have been the hottest thing I have ever seen.” This time it was her who brought her lips to meet his in a searing kiss. His hands went up her back while hers held onto his face in a desperate attempt to stay in control. When they pulled away she could tell she had convinced him.

“Well, when you put it that way,” he said and Julia let him up so he could get dressed. “I don’t want you to think this means something. It’s just study group right?”

“Scouts honor,” she said holding up three fingers. “Just study group.” Penny gave her a long look and Julia could practically feel that he didn’t believe her. She didn’t know if she believed herself, but it was what she wanted. She wanted to be that girl, the one who was as cool as Penny and didn’t need to be with anyone to feel complete.

“Alright.” He finally agreed.

At that moment, Julia could feel the door close on who she used to be. The old Julia who did what she was told and stayed with a man so she wouldn’t have to face who she really was was gone forever. The new Julia who took her place didn’t know what the hell she was doing, but she was diving forward, arms spread out and eyes closed.

*********************************************

Quentin checked the clock on the wall for what felt like the hundredth time and it still told him the same story. Julia was now almost a half hour late and he and Alice had already maxed out on their awkward small talk quota for the day. Alice had grown tired of waiting and was already taking notes on the chapter they were supposed to be reading. Quentin wondered if she was just really looking for a reason not to talk to him since he could never keep up with her and Julia when it came to their studies.

Quentin watched her as she scribbled furiously, stopping only to tuck her hair behind her ear when it would fall into her face. He didn’t know much about Alice except that she was as painfully shy as Quentin was anxious. She only really talked to Julia and seemed only to tolerate Quentin’s presence most of the time. Julia had it in her head that the two of them were destined to be together. Quentin didn’t hate the idea, he just didn’t see how that was supposed to happen when the two of them could barely begin a real conversation. She was beautiful though, Quentin couldn’t deny that.

Another look at the clock proved that only one minute had passed since he last looked and Quentin gave up. Reaching into his bag and pulled out The Flying Forest and began to read. Quentin hadn’t wanted to do the study group in the first place. Julia and Alice caught onto everything they were learning so much faster than he was. Even studying with them, and the more private tutoring session he’d had with Eliot a few times did little to boost his confidence. He had begun to worry that he was going to flunk out any day now.

“Which book is that?” Quentin almost didn’t register that Alice was speaking to him but when he looked up, she was looking at him expectantly.

“Uh,” Quentin could feel the burn of embarrassment creep in. “The Flying Forest.” He waited for her to roll her eyes or ask him why he still read those kids books, but instead, she smiled.

“I love that one.” She said setting her pen down. “I love them all actually, they really helped me through-” her voice trailed off and in an instant, Quentin could recognize the pain that flashed across her face and he was reminded of the first time he saw Alice.

On that first day in class, when she made her little glass horse, as the class applauded her talent, the horse ran off the table and crashed on the ground before Alice could catch it. She stood over it for a moment, a look of strained grief etched on her face and Quentin felt heartbroken for her. Even though he was brimming with jealousy at her obvious talent for magic, Quentin could see the compassion and tenderness inside her. The jealousy eased away then and was replaced with affection.

“Yeah,” he said closing the book and leaned forward on the table. “Me too.” She smiled and Quentin was finally glad they were alone.

“Hey, guys!” Julia bounded around the corner of the library they were tucked away in, her face flushed, and dumped her bag onto the table. “Sorry I’m so late, but I brought someone.” The next person to round the corner was the last person that Quentin wanted to see.

“Penny?” His roommate looked about as unhappy as Quentin felt and they both turned to Julia with matching looks of betrayal on their faces.

“This is your friend?” Penny asked her pointing at Quentin. Julia glanced between them, looking unsure as she started to take out a book from her bag.

“You guys know each other?”

“He’s my roommate,” Quentin told her, quickly putting away his Fillory book. Penny gave him non stop grief about having the books in the first place, he didn’t want him to start teasing him now for reading it.

“This is the guy you’ve been bitching about?” Julia asked. Quentin could tell she was trying not to laugh and he just frowned at her. He really didn’t see what was funny about this situation.

“Wait a minute,” Penny said. “You have been bitching about me?” He snorted and Quentin fought the urge to strangle him by the scarf around his neck.

“Are you actually surprised or are you just fucking with me?” he asked and Penny opened his mouth to deliver some clever response when Julia put a hand on his arm.

“Okay,” she said. “Why don’t you guys use this as an opportunity to get to know each other better. Work together and all that.” Penny scoffed and Quentin shot Julia a glare, but she didn’t seem to care about either of their reactions. “Penny, this is my roommate Alice.” Julia gave Quentin a quick frown and he rolled his eyes. She was pissed, that was what that meant, even though Quentin felt he was the one who had the right to be mad right now.

“Right, Alice,” Penny said taking a seat at the table. “That spell you did with the glass horse was really impressive.” He sounded so nice when he was talking to her and Quentin immediately felt it dig under his skin.

“Thank you,” Alice said softly, a slight blush to her cheeks and Quentin slammed his pen down on the table. He already had to deal with Eliot flirting with every guy that passed them by, he didn’t want to have to deal with Penny flirting with Alice as well.

“We should get started,” he said curtly. “We’ve been waiting for almost an hour-”

“Okay, I’m not that late.” Julia interrupted with a laugh as she sat down, grinning at Penny.

“Just saying,” Quentin mumbled, his attention back on his textbook in front of him now. “This whole thing was your genius idea in the first place, it would just be nice if you actually showed up.” Julia didn’t say anything, but she didn’t need too. Quentin knew from all the years they’d know each other, exactly how pissed she was with him but he didn’t care.

“So, uh,” Alice said awkwardly and putting on a bright smile. “How did you guys meet?” She was obviously trying to keep things civil and Quentin felt his affection for her grown a little more, and with some of his anger recede.

“We actually met here in the library,” Julia said, putting on her biggest smile just to piss Quentin off he was sure. “I was struggling with this spell and he had some really good advice.” Julia and Penny smiled at each other and Quentin recognized the look on Julia’s face. Like she had some secret she couldn’t wait to share and he knew instantly more than advice was shared between them.

Quentin didn’t like the jealousy that was flaring up inside him. Especially when it was attached to Julia. His feelings for her were something he’d spent most of his life trying to forget. It was embarrassing enough, loving her for this long and knowing nothing was going to happen, he didn’t need to add jealous asshole to the mix. But did she have to do this with Penny of all people?

“Cute story,” he said picking back up his pen. “But we’re supposed to be studying.” Looks were exchanged between the other three and Quentin pretended not to notice. Instead, he buried himself in his school work and soon they followed suit.

Quentin tried to ignore the looks between Penny and Julia or the way she would chew on her lip as she watched him cast a spell. She had never looked at James this way like she was just barely stopping herself from throwing him on the table and fuck him right in front of him and Alice. Quentin felt uncomfortable with that image suddenly in his head and made more of a conscious effort to not look at them.

After working in mostly compatible silence for the next twenty minutes, Quentin and Penny found themselves alone while Alice and Julia went in search for a book. Quentin was concentrating on his fingers. He had them in the correct position, his middle fingers bent over his index fingers and his thumbs underneath. As he slowly moved his hands apart, a tiny black dot appeared and as his hands moved further apart the dot began to grow. He could feel the spell working, the circumstances all coming together and he started to feel proud of himself. But that was the exact moment the spell fell apart. Shaking his hands out, Quentin sighed with frustration.

“Do you want any help with that?” Penny asked condescendingly. Quentin looked up at him through his hair that hung in his eyes. Penny was leaning back in his chair, book propped up with his hands and his dumb scarf artfully flowing off his shoulder. It was like he posing and Quentin rolled his eyes.

“Do you know how the spell works?” he asked tightly, Quentin hadn’t seen him actually do anything except on heat spell and read his book. Julia seemed to think Penny was something special, but Quentin knew better from sharing a room with this guy the past two weeks. By Quentin’s observation, Penny just sat around drinking and giving Quentin shit, that was all he seemed to be good at. How he even got into Brakebills in the first place was beyond Quentin’s understanding.

“Probably better than you,” Penny said with a smirk. He leaned further back and put his attention back on his book.

“What spell was it that you helped Julia with?” Quentin asked. “It really couldn’t have been that impressive.” Penny shrugged, finally closing the book and tossing it on the table, and then sat forward with a grin on his face.

“Wouldn’t you like to know,” he said raising an eyebrow. “But it might be too much for your virgin ears to handle.” Looking all too proud of himself, he leaned back again and waited for Quentin’s response.

“I’m not a virgin!” Quentin snapped, louder than he meant too and he quickly glanced around. Luckily no one was close enough to hear him, Penny seemed to find it hilarious though.

“Whatever you say nerd boy,” he said laughing.

“I don’t understand,” Quentin said running a hand through his hair. “How could Julia-”

“Want to fuck me instead of you?” Penny interrupted and Quentin felt his cheek go hot. If Penny knew about how he felt about Julia there was no way he was keeping that himself. “Don’t look so scandalized Quincy,” Penny snorted. “And no I didn’t say anything to her about your little crush.” Quentin felt slightly relieved about that, but also very disturbed how Penny knew in the first place.

“How do you-” he started

“Because you leak every thought that goes through your head,” Penny said. “You mind is almost as annoying as the rest of you, probably more because it just never shuts up.” Quentin had been vaguely aware of Penny’s ability, only from overhearing a conversation between him and Amanda, but Quentin hadn’t really thought that his roommate would be listening into his thoughts.

“You listen-” his voice came out higher than he meant, so he cleared his throat and tried again. “Why are you listening to my thoughts? Haven’t you heard of privacy?”

“Oh, I’d love to give you privacy,” Penny said quickly. “Do you know how to close your mind cause I will show you right now.” Quentin frowned.

“I thought I was, Eliot gave me-”

“Yeah,” Penny said stopping him. “And maybe if you actually paid attention instead of daydreaming what it would be like to blow him, you’d actually know how to do it and we’d both be happy.” Quentin opened his mouth, ready to snap back at Penny when Alice and Julia came back. Penny smiled at him triumphantly.

“Hey guys,” Julia said reaching for her bag. “I completely forgot that I was supposed to meet up with Gretchen to share some notes with her, so I’m going to have to cut out.” Penny jumped up first, probably glad to get out of this and Alice quietly gathered her things as well. Quentin shook his head and slammed his textbook closed.

“Well, maybe if you weren’t so late, we could have gotten more done.” He mumbled. He felt all their eyes on him so be busied himself with shoving everything into his bag, careful not to look at the glare on Julia’s face.

“Okay Quentin,” Julia said tightly before turning to Penny with a smile. “Was it as bad as you thought?” she asked. Quentin almost expected Penny to gloat.

“Almost,” Penny said as the two began to walk away. “I think you're going to have to make it up to me.” They rounded the corner and soon were out of Quentin’ sight. Watching them go, he slung the strap of his bag across his shoulders and could feel the anger building up inside him was quickly reaching its breaking point. Hadn’t Julia been the one who kept steering Quentin away from Eliot because she didn’t approve of him? Her opinion seemed to matter when it came to Quentin’s love life, it only seemed fair that his would too.

“Quentin?” Alice said softly from somewhere behind him. “Would you-”

“Sorry,” Quentin said, cutting her off. “I need to-” Not even bothering to finish his own sentence, Quentin quickly made his way out of the library. Stepping outside into the early evening sunlight, the whole campus was bathed in an orange glow. Julia was only a few feet away, walking down the stairs and Penny didn’t seem to be with her anymore.

“Julia!” Quentin called out, stumbling a bit down the marble stairs. He made it to her side and she shot him an annoyed glance but didn’t stop walking.

“What is it now Quentin?” She snapped making a point of turning her face away from him. “You’ve made it very clear that I have pissed you off.” Quentin scoffed and then grabbed her arm to get her to stop. Julia pulled her arm away but turned to face him now. Her cheeks were flushed a little pink the way they did when she got mad.

“Penny?” Quentin asked facing her now. “You said you weren’t going to date anyone and then you pick Penny of all people?” Narrowing her eyes at him, she was quiet for a moment. Quentin could practically see her trying to come up with an answer that would carefully tiptoe around the forbidden topic of his feelings. It was the bear they never poked, but for the first time, Quentin almost wanted them too.

“Jesus Q,” She finally mumbled pinching the bridge of her nose. “I didn’t know he was your roommate, don’t spin out over this.” Quentin shook his head, if any right to spin out over something, now was the time. Julia always had an opinion on who he wanted to date, it was his fucking turn.

“Yeah, he’s my roommate,” Quentin said nodding.”You’re actually going to see him again?” Julia just shrugged her shoulders and brushed her hair out of her face. Suddenly looking more defiant, like now she just wanted to piss Quentin off.

“So what if I do?” She asked crossing her arms. “Don’t make a big deal of this, it’s none of your business anyway” She turned to walk away but Quentin stopped her again. He had a point to make and she was going to hear it.

“But it’s your business to decide who I can sleep with?” he asked. “Because unlike me, who actually knows Penny and what an asshole he is, you’ve decided that Eliot is off the table for me without even getting to know him” Julia ran her hands through her hair and head dropped back. “Do you really not see what a hypocrite you’re being right now?”

“Oh my god,” she groaned, looking back at him she tossed her hands up in the air. “Is this really about Eliot? Do you really want to sleep with him that bad?”

“Jules,” Quentin snapped, he didn’t want her to get out of this without actually giving him some kind of answer.

“Because I’m not you Quentin!” she shouted. “I don’t get myself all emotionally attached guys who don’t know how to love anyone other than themselves.” Quentin scoffed and shook his head. She acted like she was so much better than he was and maybe she was but she as hell wasn’t as perfect and adjusted as she liked to make herself out to be.

“No, you just use James as a shield so you don’t have to get close to anyone and then you parade around calling that love and monogamy.” he shot back and she narrowed her eyes at him. He had hit the nerve he had been going for.

“That’s bullshit,” she said quietly.

“And now you’re cheating on him-“

“Oh, you’re James’s big protector now?”

“With fucking Penny of all people. You can just have sex with whoever you want but my penis-“

“How did you know we had sex?” He stopped when he interrupted him this time. “Did he say something?” Quentin just shrugged.

“He didn’t have too,” Julia put a hand to her face for a moment, shielding either embarrassment or rage, Quentin wasn’t sure. She took a few deep breaths, then her hand fell from her face and she glared at Quentin.

“Look,” She said holding up her hands. “Fuck whoever you want Quentin, I don’t care. But who I fuck is none of your goddamn business.” She turned away from him and this time Quentin didn’t stop her.

“So, what about James?” he called out, deciding if he was already this low, he might as well go lower. “You could at least actually break up with him first.” She turned back to him and Quentin saw a flash go across her eyes, like she wanted to slap him, just for a second, but resisted. Instead, she closed her eyes for a moment and seemed to collect herself again.

“Q, I love you,” Julia said calmly as she opened her eyes. “But fuck you.” Before Quentin could try to stop her again, Julia turned and stormed off in the direction of the dorms and the conversation was officially over. He watched her until she was out of sight and the first pangs of guilt were starting to settle in. Turning around, he was surprised to see Alice standing a few feet behind him, watching him with an unreadable expression on her face.

“Oh shit,” he said. “I, uh, I didn’t know you were there. I just-”

“Do you want to go get some coffee?” Alice interrupted him this time and the question was not what Quentin would have expected.

“Coffee?” he asked and Alice nodded. “With me?” she smiled and for the first time, she didn’t look as shy as she usually did.

“Only if you want to.” She said. There was something so sweet about her. Her soft smile and bright blue eyes and the way she twisted her fingers together while she waited for Quentin to respond.

“Coffee sounds great.”

*********************************************

There was only one small coffee shop on the campus. It wasn’t much, about a dozen tables and tall windows that let natural light pour in. It had decent coffee and small selection tea, sandwiches, and strangely enough, ice cream. For the first years still living in the dorms, it was the only other place that offered an alternative to the food at the dining hall which considering this was a school for magic, the food was pretty terrible.

Looking around, the place was pretty deserted. Besides he and Alice, there were only three other people who all seemed to be finishing up. Glancing out the window, Quentin watched as the lights from the lampost began to switch on one by one, the sun was almost set and the purple sky was getting dark. He looked across from him to Alice who was twisting a paper napkin between her fingers, watching him quietly as if waiting for him to be the one to start talking.

“I’m really sorry,” Quentin said finally breaking the silence. “I shouldn’t have yelled at Julia like that, none of that was my business.” Quentin still felt like he was the one who was right in that argument, but he didn’t like how it had gone. He especially didn’t like that Alice had seen it. She seemed to be searching his face, trying to decide something he didn’t know.

“You’re going to apologize to Julia right?” Alice asked, her face serious. Quentin could tell that Alice cared about Julia and he found himself feeling relieved. He didn’t want to admit, but he and Julia were growing apart. They had been for a while now it had just been easier to ignore that fact back out in the real world. But now, here at Brakebills, they were faced with what was really going on. At least he knew that Julia had Alice to talk too and he had found Eliot.

“Yeah, of course,” he said quickly. “And I’m also really sorry you saw all that. I don’t want you to think anything-” Quentin stopped mid-sentence as drinks were set down onto the table in front of them. One of the four third-year students brought them their drinks. She was tall and skinny with dirty blonde hair that hung limply at her shoulders. Her name tag read Georgia and she had the same far-off look the other third-year students Quentin had seen. Not saying anything, she shuffled away from them and Quentin wondered once again what could have happened to the rest of her class.

“It’s okay,” Alice said before Quentin could try to apologize again. “As long as you say the same to Julia then we’re okay.” She smiled at him, reaching for the sugar.

“I will,” he said and then watched as Alice started to pour the sugar into her coffee and didn’t look to be stopping. Her face had an almost serious look to it like this sugar was the most important thing and Quentin couldn’t stop the smile on his face.

“What was that all about?” She asked, finally glancing up at him and noticed his look. Sheepishly, she set the sugar aside and picked up her spoon instead. “It seemed pretty serious.”

“It’s nothing really,” Quentin said looking down into his own cup of coffee. He didn’t even like coffee, he’d been so surprised she wanted to get a drink with him he hadn’t just ordered what she had. Making more of a decision seemed too much for him to handle at this moment. “It’s a lot of stuff that I think goes back to things she and I avoid talking about.” Alice gave him a look of almost genuine pity, a look he’d seen from so many in his life. She had probably either guessed about his feelings for Julia or even worse, Julia had told her.

“You don’t like Penny?” It was more of a statement than a question and Alice took a sip of her drink, her wide eyes looking up at him almost magnified by her large glasses.

“I don’t,” Quentin said. “But it’s more than that.” He sighed and tried a sip of his drink and grimaced. He still didn’t like coffee. Alice smiled and then passed him the sugar and he almost laughed.

“It helps,” she said simply and Quentin wondered if she was just talking about the sugar. For the first time, he felt like he could open up to her. He poured in some for him, though a considerable less amount than she had.

“Julia and I have known each other for a long time.” Quentin began. “You know, we were two kids who tested well and got placed in all the same classes together so we were kind of forced to be friends.” He always liked to believe that Fillory brought he and Julia together. That magic had brought this wonderful girl into his life and that meant they were destined to be together. But the reality was much simpler than that, and the only thing that really brought them together was good grades.

“In school, we were both the top of our class, neck in neck almost.” He said trying the coffee again. The sugar had helped, but he still didn’t like it so he pushed it aside. “But she always did just a little better than I did, grades and socially she’s way beyond me.” Quentin tucked his hair nervously behind his ear embarrassed a little to admit to his own social awkwardness. Though if there was anyone who would understand that, it would be Alice.

“I know she deserves everything she’s got,” Quentin went on quickly, he hoped he didn’t sound like he felt like he should be ahead of Julia just because he wanted too. “She works her ass off and puts herself out there more than I do, it’s not that.”

“What is it?” Alice asked quietly. Quentin chewed on his lip as he tried to figure out the words to what he was feeling. He’d never talked to anyone about this before. The only other person he could talk to in his life up to this point had been James, and there was no way he was going to complain about Julia to her boyfriend.

“I guess, I’m just always in her shadow a little bit.” He finally said. “Like no matter how good I’ll be at something, she’s going to do it better or do it first.”He hated how immature and petty he was sounding, but he also knew he needed to explain. “Even coming here, she got sent right to the exam, signs pointing the whole way and got to speak with professor March before it started. Me, on the other hand,” Quentin scoffed and gestured out the window. They were nearby where he had first come through and he could see the tree that Eliot had been leaning against when he got there.

“Over there,” he said pointing. “I came in through the back end, wrong way of course, and if it wasn’t for Eliot, I probably never would have taken the exam in the first place.” He looked back at Alice, who had been listening to him patiently and he felt grateful. “I feel like I’m supposed to be here but I don’t really feel like I belong here yet, and she fits right in. I guess I’m just jealous and the only way I know how to handle that is get mad at her for sleeping with my roommate.” Quentin would have thought that saying all that out loud would make him feel better, that’s what everyone said about problems after all. But Quentin didn’t feel better, he only felt more pathetic.

“If it makes you feel any better, I wasn’t even invited to take the exam,” Alice said more into her coffee cup than actually to Quentin.

“What?” Quentin said, almost dropping his cup in surprise. “How is that possible? You’re one of the best in our class.” Alice shrugged as she pushed her cup aside and folded her hands on the table in front of her. Quentin immediately felt stupid for asking that question, she’d probably been asking it a million times over.

“I don’t really know,” she said. “My brother was here five years ago and I couldn’t wait to come here myself.” Quentin had never even thought to ask Alice about her family. He hadn’t really known how without making it sound like he was fishing for information on her magical family like he’d seen a few other students do. It only seemed to upset her when they did.

“I waited for a portal to take me here, but it never happened.” She looked out the window, the sun was completely gone now and Quentin could see their reflections in the glass. “I was supposed to come here last year, and when nothing happened this year I decided to come here on my own.” She looked away from the window, picking back up her spoon, she idly started stirring the coffee around

“Did you brother help you?” Quentin asked and there was a momentary pause of Alice’s stirring.

“He died.” She said it without much emotion or at least lacking the emotion Quentin would expect that kind of admission to hold.

“Oh,” Quentin didn’t know what to say and she didn’t seem to expect him too.

“I took a bus most of the way,” Alice said, quickly moving past the dead brother conversation. “This place isn’t really on a map though, or really accessible by a road, so I ended up walking through the woods.”

“How did you find it?” Wards, shields and strong illusion magic hid the school from the public eye. Eliot had explained to him that basically to the real world, the whole campus was just miles of woods that were protected from hunting and development because of rumors of a rare endangered bird that used the area for the mating season.

“It’s not hard if you know the right spells,” Alice said with a shrug. “Dean Fogg was surprised, he wanted to turn me away but professor Van De Waugh felt sorry for me I think. I must have looked bad, I had to sleep in the woods so I had twigs and leaves in my hair.”

“But you were able to take the exam?”

“Professor Van De Waugh insisted,” Alice explained. “Dean Fogg eventually backed off.”

“And then you passed?” Alice nodded.

“And then I passed.” Passing that entrance exam had been one of the greatest moments in Quentin’s life. Even now, two weeks later with doubts and fears over whether he was supposed to be here slamming around his head, thinking back to that moment made him swell with pride. Alice however, looked so unsure and almost disappointed, like what it took for her to get here had yet to be proven worth it.

“I don’t think we’re supposed to be anywhere Quentin,” she said looking at him directly for the first time since she’d begun telling her whole story. “Life is random and crazy and the idea of destiny is bullshit when you really think about it.” Quentin was surprised by Alice’s more pessimistic view on this whole experience. She came from a magical family and was one of the most talented people in their class. If there was anyone who was supposed to be at Brakebills, it was Alice Quinn.

“So what if you came in the wrong way,” she said. “You’re here, that’s all that matters.” This was the longest conversation he’d had with Alice since they met and Quentin could feel his affections for her grow. He had thought that having the family Alice did had given her some kind of boost that the rest of them would never catch up too. Now he saw that she hadn’t had it so easy, but she hadn’t let that stop her. She got herself to this school by any means necessary and was working her ass off to stay. He could at least be more grateful he’d gotten here in the first place and not whine about how it happened.

“Well, for what it’s worth,” Quentin said reaching his hand across the table and placing it on top of Alice’s. “I’m glad you’re here.” Alice smiled at him, a light blush creeping onto her cheeks.

“Thank you,” she said. “I am too.” Quentin gave up on his coffee and by the time they left, the sky was filled with stars.


***************************************************

Penny tucked the bottle of whiskey behind his back as he knocked on Julia’s door. He had been debating for the past hour whether he should be here or not, but finally settled on the fact that he was a giant pussy and he should just go see her if she was on his mind. When she opened the door, the look of pure bewilderment on Julia’s face made that hour of worry worth it. He smirked back at her and gave her a little shrug because he was a little surprised as well.

“What are-” She cut herself off blinked at in confused. “What are you doing here?” It looked like she had been getting herself ready for bed. Her hair hung down wavy over her shoulders and she wore a tank top with blue and white striped boxer shorts that were so surprisingly sexy that Penny had to shift a little from where he stood.

“I thought you’d like this,” He pulled out the bottle of whiskey from behind his back. It wasn’t a full bottle, a little more than half was gone, but he hoped she would appreciate his effort anyway.

“A half-empty bottle of whiskey?” Though she was smiling, she was still playing it a little coy with him. Holding back her excitement just enough that Penny had almost to guess if she was actually happy to see him. He smiled back, accepting her challenge.

“I didn’t take you to be a half empty kind of girl.” Penny leaned on the doorframe and hoped he didn’t look like the idiot he knew he was. She was biting her lip as she shook her head and Penny was transported back to a few hours ago. The moment he realized the two of them were floating above his bed, Penny grabbed onto Julia’s waist to keep her steady on top of him. She looked amazing, biting her lip, hand in hair, breast heaving above him. But more amazing than all of that, she had been glowing. Not just metaphorical glowing, an actual yellow glow was bursting out of her. Penny didn’t know if it had been his own ecstasy or some weird sex magic they had stumbled on, but it had been the most erotic moment of his life.

“What are you doing here?” she asked again, leaning herself again the door frame as well, matching his position.

“I saw you and Quentin fighting,” Penny finally admitted. “I thought I would stop by and see if you were okay.” He hadn’t gone far from the library when he felt that buzzing that seemed always to signal when Quentin was nearby. He saw the two of the arguing and it didn’t take mind reading to figure out they were fighting about him. Maybe it was guilt that brought him now, but he didn’t like the idea of Julia being upset, so here he was.

“I didn’t expect you to be the checking up on someone’s feelings type of guy.” She quipped. Penny snorted and took the bottle back from her.

“Are you going to let me in?” he asked. Straightening herself up, Julia stepped aside to let Penny in, taking the bottle back from him as he did. He sat down on the edge of her bed and watched as she opened the bottle and took a swig.

“You and Quentin okay?” he asked. Julia shrugged and sat down next to him and passed him the bottle.

“We’ve been friends for most of our lives,” she said. “Sometimes we fight, you don’t need to worry about it.” Penny nodded and took a drink for himself.

“I could kick his ass if you wanted me too,” he said only half joking. “Just say the word.” Julia chuckled and took the bottle back from him. She studied the label for a moment and Penny wondered if she was considering taking him up on that offer, even just for a second.

“No,” She said with a smile. “I’m pissed at him right now, but I still love him.” Taking a dink, she coughed lightly before looking at him a little more critically. “You could be a little nicer to him though.” She pointed out and Penny should have seen that coming.

“He’s really annoying,” he said with a frown as he leaned back on his elbows on the bed.

“Yeah, well, he’s still my best friend.” She took another drink and then passed the bottle to him. “And he wasn’t wrong, you have been a dick to him. You should be nicer.” Penny sat up and took another drink and then set the bottle down on the ground; he could feel a buzz already taking over.

“You do know about his weird obsession with Taylor Swift right?” Julia laughed, something that lit her whole face and Penny felt something tighten in his chest when she did. She was fucking beautiful when she laughed.

“I’m very aware of that,”

“And you still want me to be nice to him?”

“It would mean a lot to me,” she said it sweetly, leaning herself back against her elbows, and stretching out a bit. Penny’s eyes trailed down her shirt, the low cut of the tank top giving him a view of the breast underneath.

“Well,” he said laying back until he was eye to eye with her. “I’ll do it for you.” She nodded, satisfied and her eyes darted to her door.

“Alice could be back any moment,” she said.

“I wouldn’t worry,” Penny said. “She’s in my dorm with Quentin. They’re geeking out over his Fillory books.” Julia’s eyes widened and she sat up. Tucking her knees under herself, she gave Penny a playful shove and laughed.

“I knew they would like each other!” She exclaimed. “How did it seem to be going?” Penny shrugged and sat up. He hadn’t really paid much attention to them, just saw Quentin holding up two of his dumb books and Alice was actually looking impressed.

“I don’t know,” he said. “All I know is I didn’t want to be there for their nerd fest, so I got out of there.” Julia nodded, her expression changing to more of a thoughtful one now.

“Is that why you’re here?” she asked. “You didn’t want to be in your room?” Penny knew the question behind the question. He also knew the answer was probably the one she wanted to hear. Even if Quentin and Alice hadn’t been in his dorm, he probably would have sought out Julia. He liked her. He didn’t know what it was about her but he liked the way his mind would quiet down when he was around her. She was like this calm, bright spot in a dark forest and Penny didn’t know what to do with that. But there was no way Penny was ready to admit to that just yet. He may be honest, but not when it came to his own feelings. Besides, they already knew how their story was going to go.

“Don’t forget how our story ends.” he reminded her. “The boy with commitment issues and the girl who’s a serial monogamist never do get the happy ending they deserve.” One corner of Julia’s mouth twitched up and Penny could almost sense the spark of challenge ignite inside her. A spark of excitement bubbled up inside of him and he felt pulled into her gaze. Searching his eyes, her smile slowly grew and she nodded, more to herself than to him.

“Give it time.” she challenged. And for a moment, Penny thought that maybe falling wouldn’t hurt as bad as he’d always feared it would. Maybe it would feel like flying.

 

 

Chapter Text

Margo held the record for fastest entry into the physical kids cottage, a fact she was quick to share with Alice and Quentin after it took them four hours before Alice burned down the door. They had taken so long; their late arrival almost ruined the grand plan of an afternoon barbeque. Today was supposed to be the last nice day before it would start getting cold and Margo had already spotted a few leaves that had gone from green to red. Days were getting shorter now and by the time Eliot got the grill going, the sun was in danger of setting.

Scattered around the large yard were the other occupants of the cottage, most of who were already drunk thanks to the strong drinks Eliot made while they waited for their newest members. Most had already eaten, but Todd was still at the grill making some last minute hotdogs for Surendra, a second year who had a few too many of Todd’s pot brownies. Todd was talking animatedly to the stoned man, who only bobbed his head along, no doubt only pretending to pay attention. Margo was sure Todd didn’t care, he would talk to a cactus and probably come out of it feeling as if he made a new best friend. Todd was like that, friendly and open; everything that Margo wasn’t. Across the yard, Todd’s gaze found hers and he smiled. They were a good eight feet apart, so Margo allowed herself to smile back. He might not notice from this distance.

“Eh,” Eliot appeared next to her. “Does he have to wear my apron?” He handed her one of his green cocktails that were dangerously sweet and sat next to her on the loveseat. She leaned on him and his arm slipped around her, pulling her against him.

“He could be wearing nothing,” Margo said raising an eyebrow. She liked the apron on Todd, even though the kiss the cock and rooster thing was a little clichèd.

“You’re right,” Eliot said making a dissatisfied face. “He can keep it.” She patted his cheek and pushed for him to take a drink.

“That’s so sweet of you,” she told him and he nodded, a serious expression on his face like he took her words more seriously than she had meant them.

Eliot still wasn’t ready to give Todd much of a chance and Margo didn’t blame him. Todd had been this annoying little gnat that buzzed around them during their first year. It would only be logical to swat him away, but Margo hadn’t done that. Instead, she grew to enjoy his company. Some of his jokes were funny and he was one of the few people she’d met that could keep up with her sexual appetite. More than that, he didn’t try to change her as so many had in her life. He didn’t expect her to be the silent, passive pretty girl who made excellent eye candy. He didn’t even try to get her to share her feelings with him and act like they were something she wasn’t able to be. She liked that and she, to her complete horror, was beginning to like him.

She wasn’t about to tell Eliot that though. The last thing she needed was him pointing out how stupid she was being. What would be the point of developing feelings for anyone, let alone Todd? Having those kinds of feelings were just a lost cause and she’d spent most of her childhood learning that lesson. Eliot’s gaze though was locked on Quentin, who was sitting under a tree with Alice, sipping his drink and laughing at something she must have said. It seemed that Eliot was having a harder time letting go of his own lost cause.

“You and your first-year boys,” Margo said with a sigh. “When are you going to let this one go?” It was typical of Eliot to become obsessed with any new cute boy he found, but it normally only lasted a week or two. They were closer to the end of the first semester than the start and this thing for Quentin Coldwater had not let up. In fact, it had only gotten worse.

“What do you think he sees in her?” Eliot asked ignoring her question.

“Her boobs,” Margo said with no hesitation.

“Oh come, they’re not-”

“They’re perfect.” Looking across to Alice, Margo chewed on her lip. She was dying to get Alice to wear something a little more revealing. Eliot pulled away from her, a smile on his face that said he an idea.

“You should hook up with Alice,” he suggested which surprised her. “Seduce her away from Quentin so I can swoop in.” Eliot must really be getting desperate if he would turn to pimping Margo out for his quest at a chance to fuck that high strung super nerd. She almost felt sorry for him.

“Right,” Margo said with a laugh. “Like perfect, uptight Alice would be interested. Something tells me she has never had an orgasm in her life.” Not that Margo would even turn down a chance to be with Alice Quinn, in fact, she’d be lining up right now if that were a possibility. But was as straight-laced as they came and Quentin seemed to be her perfect little match.

“Is that you backing down from a challenge?” Eliot asked looking genuinely surprised. “Or you only want a very annoying miscreant to warm your bed?” He was trying to push her buttons and she wasn’t going to fall for it. She looked across to Todd again. He had pulled out a guitar and was leading a sing-along, a fucking sing-along. Margo hated herself for how much she wanted to go over and join him.

“You know, what is Quentin doing here in the first place?” Margo asked, narrowing her eyes at Eliot in a gentle threat to go with the topic change or there would be trouble. “He doesn’t even have a discipline.” Quentin wasn’t the only one to not have figured out their discipline during their first year. There were at least three in the second year class who still didn’t know their discipline, but it didn’t mean she wasn’t already planning on teasing Quentin when she had the chance.

“We had room,” Eliot said leaning back and finishing his drink, his gaze never leaving Quentin.

“Bullshit,” Margo said. “I happen to know that the naturalists have more room than we do.” Willow, a bendy second-year naturalist student Margo had hooked up with at a party last year, told her they had yet to fill the room of the two third years who’d disappeared last spring. And while the cottage had an extra room, even with Alice moving in, it already felt crowded even with the three missing third-year physical kids.

“Okay,” Eliot said, jutting his chin up. “Chambers owed me a favor; I caught him stealing wine from Henry’s private collection over the summer.”

“Weren’t you also stealing wine?” she asked full well knowing they had celebrated the end of their first week back at Brakebills together by sharing Fogg’s wine. Eliot had been so proud of his thievery at the time.

“Yes, and that’s why I posed for his painting,” Eliot said easily, like that had been a fair and logical trade-off of some kind.

“God, you didn’t do it naked did you?” Margo asked with a snort.

“Please,” Eliot said putting a hand to his chest delicately. “I had a frisbee.” He smiled at her and Margo shook her head. It was just so Eliot to essentially pose naked for one of their professors and then wait this long to tell her about it.

“So you asked Chambers to put your boy in the cottage?” Margo glanced back at Quentin who was slumped back against the tree looking like a sad puppy. Quentin did have the amazing ability to be so pathetic most of the time that Margo didn’t even have the heart to make fun of him for his Fillory obsession or his anxious little self. It was almost too easy and Margo was one who strived for a challenge.

“Our little Q does not belong in a tree of all places,” Eliot said. It was hard to imagine Quentin up in that treehouse the naturalist lived in. He was clumsy enough on solid ground. “We can take much better care of him here.” Quentin was watching Alice now as she performed a simple fire manipulation spell. A burst of flame erupted from her hands and the colors changed from red to a bright blue as the flame got bigger. She shaped it into a ball between her hands, letting it hang there before bringing her hands together and snuffing the fire out.

“And Alice?” Eliot rolled his eyes; his disappointment made very clear.

“I didn’t think Alice would be here too,” he said with a pout. “I thought she’d be stuck in the attic with the rest of the knowledge students.” Margo had been surprised that Alice was placed here as well. She always had her nose in a book and didn’t seem to know how to have fun. To her, that meant knowledge student, like Quentin's friend Julia. But the phosphoromancy had been an interesting discovery, one that Margo had many questions about, most of which were sex-related.

Eliot pulled out his enchanted flask of a never-ending drink. He switched up the contents every few months and Margo was pretty sure there was scotch in there at the moment. She felt a little bad that Alice's surprise discipline had ruined Eliot’s plans of getting Quentin to himself, but what did Eliot think was going to happen? That he and Quentin would fall in love? She was pretty sure Eliot had never even been in a relationship longer than a few weeks. He wouldn’t even know what to do with Quentin if he got him. Trying to avoid looking back at Todd, she reminded herself that the story of happily ever after was one that she and Eliot were just not destined for.

“You know,” She said, slipping her arm through his, offering him to only form of comfort she knew. “Rumor has it you gave him your blessing.” Eliot tucked the flask back into his pocket and frowned.

“It’s not a rumor if I was the one who told you.” he pointed out.

“Point is,” Margo said. “You encouraged him.”

“With explicit instructions to love me more!” He pouted like that request had been some binding contract that Quentin had violated and was now flaunting in his face.

“Look,” Margo said taking his hand and placing it in her lap. “Will it make you feel better if I told you that Todd says they haven’t even kissed yet and it’s been weeks.” She threaded their fingers together and squeezed his hand. Pulling his focus away from Quentin, Eliot looked to Margo hopefully.

“Maybe if you could just distract her for a bit.” He looked so hopeful that Margo knew there was no way she could turn him down.

“Alright,” She agreed looking over at Alice. “But I really don’t think seduction is going to work in this case,” Eliot pulled Margo up with him as he stood up. He straightened out his vest and did a quick check to make sure his hair was acceptable in an overly fretting kind of way that Margo found adorable.

“Well, just talk to her for a bit, keep her busy so I can have some alone time with Q,” he said. “I have somewhere I want to take him and I need to do it before it gets dark.” His eyes were back on Quentin and Margo was surprised to find an almost wistful look in his eyes. She’d never seen him look like that before and some part of herself, a part she rarely let herself acknowledge, wished he would look at her like that sometimes.

“God you really have it bad.” She said softly. His expression changed to a slight shade of embarrassment like he knew how stupid these feelings were. She had to admire him a little. Eliot was much braver at admitting he had actual feelings that she was.

Behind Eliot, Todd was making his way inside the cottage. He saw her looking and lifted his arm in a wave, that big dumb smile still locked in place. She shook her head, he was always so happy; he even smiled in his sleep.

“Alright,” Margo said standing up. “Let’s try to get you laid.” Eliot bounced up in excitement and Margo picked up a bottle of wine.

Linking their arms together, they made their way over to the two first years. Alice, seeing them first, dropped her hands from the spell she was getting ready to cast. Either self-conscious with more of an audience, or reluctant to show off her talent, she pulled her arms around herself effectively blocking herself off from their possible scrutiny. Quentin, when seeing who had joined them, almost looked relieved. His eyes on Eliot, he sat up closed the book that was open on his lap.

“Hey,” he said, a smile breaking out on his face. “Eliot, those drinks you made were-”

“Just what you needed?” Eliot asked, leaning against the tree right above Quentin’s head. Quentin had to crane his neck up to look at him, forcing Eliot to be Quentin's main focus with Alice even out of his peripheral vision. Margo almost applauded the move.

“Well, I was going to say strong,” Quentin said.

“Like I said,” Eliot shrugged. “Just what you needed.” The two of them smiled at each other like idiots and Margo glanced over at Alice. She wondered if Alice could see what she did, but Alice wasn’t looking. She had already gone back to reading her book.

“Listen Q,” Eliot said grabbing Quentin by the arm and hauling him to his feet. “There is something I need your help with, highest priority.” Quentin swayed a little as he tried to gain his balance and looked over to Alice.

“Uh, I just-” he mumbled. Alice looked up but offered no objection on her face but wasn’t really encouraging either. “I guess-” Before he could change his mind, or Alice could try to stop him, Eliot pulled Quentin away and the two ran off into the wooded area behind the cottage.

“So Alice,” Margo said, swooping in before Alice could wonder where they were going. “Phosphoromancy? That’s pretty neat.” Alice frowned and fumbled to adjust her glasses. The two of them had only spoken to each other very briefly since the start of the year. Alice didn’t project open and friendliness, but neither did Margo.

“Do you really hold the record?” Alice asked eyeing Margo curiously. “At opening the door the fastest?”

“You bet your ass I do,” Margo said proudly and handed her the bottle of wine. “Why? Are you really that surprised?” She did her best to keep the bite out of her voice because she was only half kidding. She wasn’t about to get offended that she wasn’t as smart as Alice, or at least she wasn’t going to show that vulnerability to Alice.

Margo wasn’t one of the top students at Brakebills, when looking at her grades she was probably pretty average. She wasn’t like Eliot, who just seemed to understand the mechanics of magic in what was almost second nature. He only seemed to need one look at a spell and he had it mastered. Margo also wasn’t as hardworking as Todd. Things were more difficult for him and he needed to work his ass off for every spell he cast. But he put that work in and it paid off for him. Margo was fierce though, chilling and calculating in what she did. She may present herself as an average student, but what rolled underneath her veins was anything but.

“I’m not,” Alice said quickly. “I was just wondering how you did it.” Margo grinned. She may not be as book smart as Alice or Todd, or as naturally gifted as Eliot, but she had her own gifts.

“Froze and shattered it,” Margo explained holding up her hand. Even in the comfortably warm October air, her fingers frosted over. “I do a special kind of cold magic, that’s my discipline.” Alice’s eyes widened just a fraction as she watched Margo’s hand almost as if she was impressed.

“So is that the correct way then?” Alice asked. “Freezing it?” Margo shook her head with a smile. It was almost sweet the way Alice expected just one answer to a problem at Brakebills, the place where logic went out the door once you began.

“There’s no correct way.” She explained. “This is physical magic, that covers a lot of different ways to open a door. And using light to burn a hole in the door was definitely impressive.” Bringing the bottle of wine to her lips, Alice looked away from Margo now.

“It was Quentin’s idea,” she said as she took a drink, her face scrunching up like she found the taste of the dry wine distasteful.

“Why do you do that?” Margo asked after a moment.

“Do what?”

“Give all the credit to some guy who isn’t even that cute.” Alice dropped the bottle down in between them in the grass and she adjusted her glasses on her pale face.

“It was his idea.” she insisted. “I didn’t think of it.”

“But you did it.” Margo pointed out. Alice just looked at her blankly, she didn’t seem to understand and Margo almost felt sympathy for her. “Don’t diminish your own power just because you want to blow him.” Alice opened her mouth like she was about to protest but Margo went on before she could. “Besides, with who your family is, you’re going to miles ahead of everyone.” Alice’s eyes dropped down again and her fingers knitted together as she began to fidget.

“I never learned magic formally as a kid or anything,” Alice explained. “My family’s not-” she stopped herself and a grave look overtook her pale face. Alice had that about her Margo had noticed, like some anger underneath the ineffable air of tragedy.

“I get it,” Margo said, her voice coming out softer than she expected it too. “Mine too, pointless and toxic.” Alice finally looked at her again and for just a second they smiled at each other, a feeling of understanding hung in the air and that was something Margo rarely felt from someone.

Margo knew better than most people how family can let you down. Her parents had been high powered lawyers in LA. They cared more about their jobs than their own daughter, who they treated as a virtual stranger the hour they saw her a day. Her mother spoke more fondly of the plastic surgery she had to get rid of the stretch marks she gained while pregnant than she did the birth of her only child. A string of nannies raised Margo until she was old enough to be sent off to boarding school where her parents didn’t even have to pretend to care about her anymore.

Margo didn’t know the meaning or the point of family, not until she came to Brakebills and met Eliot. In him, she found someone like her. Lost and broken in ways that were hidden deep behind a lofty mask of insouciance. But Eliot could see past hers and she saw past his. She saw he was someone who cared, and like her, cared way too much. She loved Eliot more fiercely than she loved anyone in her life and her life hadn’t given her much when it came to people who cared about her.

“So, if your family didn’t teach you magic,” Margo said. “Why weren’t you asked to take the exam?” It wasn’t a secret or at least a secret from Margo that Alice Quinn had somehow evaded the wards around the school. Margo had been dying to find out how she had been able to do this since she heard the rumor.

“You’d have to ask Dean Fogg,” Alice said reaching for the wine again, a frown back in place.

“I heard that you snuck past the wards,” Margo said leaning toward her. “Is that true?” The look in Alice’s eyes was much more cautious as she took another drink.

“Yes.” Margo felt the spark of excitement that always accompanied a promise of juicy gossip. She and Eliot had been speculating for weeks and were dying to know how this girl broke all the rules and still was allowed to attend.

“The wards are fingerprinted.” She said, lowering her voice slightly. “How did you do it?”

“It’s not hard,” Alice said sitting up a little straighter. “Why do you care?”

“I’m just curious,” Margo said with a shrug. “I just want to be your friend I guess.” She looked Alice up and down and felt a part of her softening.

Margo had never had many friends. Sure she was a queen bee of sorts at her boarding school, but she was more feared than anything. Girls either kissed her ass to get on her good side or they would spread nasty rumors about her that ultimately made Margo even more popular. For the most part, Margo didn’t dwell too much on her past. There was no point because it wouldn’t change the past and here at Brakebills, everything had their thing.

“I don’t feel like you do,” Alice said frowning. Margo didn’t like the way the words felt like a wave of cold water washing down her back. Her breath strangely caught in her throat and a breathy laugh escaped her.

“What?” She asked. It wasn’t like her to care but mainly because it wasn’t like her to try to connect with someone like this. Sure she had been doing it for Eliot’s benefit, but for a few seconds, she had thought Alice could become her friend as well.

Alice didn’t say anything else. Instead, she stood and after brushing the few stray leaves caught on her skirt, walked away. Margo watched her go, swallowing down the pain that crept up. Clutching the wine bottle closer to her chest, she reminded herself that this is why you don’t try. People, as a rule, were only disappointing and patronizing. Keeping herself from forming more attachments had been the right way to go.

“Margo?” Standing above her was Todd, looking down with all the concern of a Disney forest creature. “Are you okay?” For a moment, she wanted to fall into his arms and let him comfort her. She wanted to cry on his shoulder and ask him why she was like this. Why was she so broken that the world could only see every ugly shard of her soul but not the whole person that she really was? She wanted to believe he had the answers and they would be enough to heal to whatever was so wrong inside of her.

“That’s not a question you’re allowed to ask.” She said instead, swallowing past the lump in her throat. “Just for that, you owe me at least two orgasms.” Standing up, she handed him the bottle of wine.

“Well,” he said. “If that’s what you want.” He still looked concerned but the sudden promise of sex put a new smile on his face. Margo nodded and then clapped her hands at him.

“Let’s go!” Todd was off in a flash, scurrying along to her bedroom like a virgin on his wedding night. Margo took one more moment to make sure her mask was fully back in place and glared at Alice across the yard. Fuck her, she thought. She hoped Eliot was fucking her boyfriend right now.

 

********************************

 

Brakebills sat right along the Hudson River which didn’t seem like the ideal place for a so-called secret school, but thanks to the powerful wards that surrounded the grounds, Brakebills and it’s entire campus was invisible to the outside world. The powerful wards had been there for over a hundred years and had created a few oddities along the way. The main one being the fact that time ran differently at Brakebills.

Eliot estimated that Brakebills time was a few months behind the outside world time. So while they were experiencing the mild mid-October weather, everyone else was deep in December with its holiday’s and unpleasant weather. Quentin’s parents only seemed slightly confused when he explained to them that he wouldn’t be home for the holiday’s this year, but they didn’t ask questions about why. He figured whatever Fogg had sent them to explain the school must have covered the strange schedule. It was always a possibility however that they just didn’t care.

Eliot dragged Quentin to see where the campus and river connected and a small boathouse sat unattended and unlocked. Inside the found a variety of small boats, including a rowboat by the door. Eliot suggested a boat ride and Quentin was quick to agree even though neither knew anything about rowing a boat.

They figured it would be easy but getting the boat into the water had been a much more difficult process than either had expected. Once it was finally in the water, after much grunting and bitching, they were both too tired to figure out how to row and settled on just floating aimlessly until they decided to go back.

Eliot was stretched out in the back of the boat, smoking a cigarette and balancing perfectly like the regal prince of Brakebills he was. Quentin sat awkwardly with his feet tucked under the wooden seat and every move he made he feared would topple the boat right over. Quentin once again marveled at Eliot’s ability to just fit into any situation with perfect ease and grace.

“Next year!” Quentin exclaimed. “They said they can try again next year!” He waited for Eliot to look as offended for him as he felt, but Eliot just let his head fall back and a large puff of smoke blew into the air. It hadn’t taken long for the conversation to settle on Quentin’s lack of a discipline and the panic it was creating inside of him.

“You’ve mentioned,” he said dropping his head back. “Three times,” He tapped his cigarette gently, the ash falling into the water and Quentin watched it float away.

“And did you know professor Sunderland even admitted that disciplines are bullshit?” Quentin went on. “First she goes on and on about how your discipline is tied to who you are as a person but then she full on told me that it was pointless in the end because we all end up studying the same thing!” Eliot only shrugged and lazily took a drag off his cigarette.

“I know,” he said and blew out the smoke down towards the water. “Because you already told me that.”

“I mean, why try to assign everyone something if the staff doesn’t even believe it’s important?” Sunderland had told him it more about tradition at this point. That and she was sure that professor March would have a heart attack. No one knew more about disciplines that he did, so much that Sunderland guessed that disciplines was disciplines.

“If it’s not important then why are you still upset about it?”

“And if everyone gets one how can they just pass up on me? How can I not have one?”

“Maybe your discipline is whining,” Eliot suggested. Quentin finally stopped his ranting and looked at Eliot with a frown. Eliot just shrugged.

“Eliot, I’m serious!” Quentin said, frustration growing in his chest that Eliot wasn’t taking this as serious as he had wanted.

He expected it from Penny, who just laughed and generally didn’t care what was happening with Quentin. Even Julia’s brush off of his feelings didn’t surprise him She was so enamored with her the discovery of her own discipline, that she couldn’t care less about Quentin’s problems. Alice shrugged it off as well as unimportant. She was acting like the disciplines weren’t a big deal, like it wasn’t cool as shit that she had light bending powers.

And maybe he should have expected it from Eliot as well. Eliot’s discipline was telekinesis, and it was something he had known about since he was fourteen. But he had wanted Eliot to agree with him on this and to have a plan to help Quentin find out his discipline. Or at least, sympathize with him. No one had done that for him yet.

“I am too,” Eliot said sitting up. “You’re overthinking this whole thing. There are a handful of people here with no discipline, you’re not some pegasus.” Quentin’s response was quickly lost in his confusion of what Eliot meant by this.

“Pegasus?”

“You know,” Eliot said flicking his cigarette. “A magical horse creature when you want to call something rare.”

“I think you mean a unicorn,”  Quentin suggested. Eliot’s lip pursed slightly and he lifted his finger as if to quiet Quentin so he could think.

“Well, I like Pegasus better.” He finally concluded and Quentin rolled his eyes.

“You know, not all us knew we were telekinetic at the age of fourteen like you,” Quentin said and Eliot shrugged almost proudly. “Or, have been hearing voices in our head since we were ten.”

“Aww, are you still jealous of Penny?” Eliot cooed, smiling.

“And Julia,” Quentin shook his head. “She was only in with Fogg for fifteen minutes before he figured out she was a knowledge student and her whole spongy brain.”

“Is that her discipline? A spongy brain?”

“And Alice has her phosphoromancy, and then there’s me. And I’m not anything, I’m a -I’m a squat-mancer.” He wrapped his arms around himself like he could somehow hold all of his insecurities inside of him. Eliot’s expression changed then, and more serious look came over his face.

“You know that’s not true,” Eliot said all humor suddenly gone from his voice.

“Do I?” Quentin asked, the feeling of the familiar weight anxiety suddenly was bearing down on his chest. Like Eliot’s sudden shift in his tone finally gave him the permission to actually panic. “Everyday I wake up feeling like I can’t breathe because I just know that this is going to be the day I get kicked out of here.” Quentin was suddenly finding it hard to breath just sitting in this tiny boat. Three other students had already flunked out and sent home. Eliot had told him that when that happened, your memory was erased. Quentin couldn’t imagine what that would be like. For all this to suddenly be taken from him.

“You’re not going to get kicked out.” Eliot tried to reassure him as he leaned forward.

“You don’t know that,” Quentin exclaimed. The little rowboat swayed and Quentin clamped his hands on the sides to steady it. Eliot moved his own hand to the side and the boat immediately stopped. Quentin wondered if it was Eliot’s telekinetic powers doing it or Eliot was doing it all on his own.

“I’m not like you Eliot, this shit doesn’t come easy for me and I need this place.” Tears flooded Quentin’s eyes, and turned his face away from Eliot, hating himself for all his insecurities pouring out of him. Out of the corner of his eye, he could only see Eliot’s hand, cigarette between his fingers, and relaxed as he gave Quentin a moment with patience that made Quentin feel grateful.

“Before I got here,” Quentin said, his voice shaking just a little. “I was in the hospital.” Quentin hadn’t spoken about this to anyone, not even Julia. Eliot didn’t say anything, just brought his cigarette to his lips and inhaled deeply all while watching Quentin intently.

It wasn’t his first stay in a hospital, but it was the first time Quentin had checked himself in. His doctor had called that progress, but to him, it just felt like defeat. Things had just gotten overwhelming for him. He graduated from Columbia and had an interview set up Yale. He should have been happy, he should have felt like he deserved it after all his time spent studying, but he just felt empty. He tried to explain what he was feeling to Julia, but she didn’t understand. She told him what she always told him, that it was time to grow up. He needed to get rid of his Fillory books and commit himself to the real world. She didn’t know why he was still holding onto those books and why he couldn’t finally get over himself.

“I have-had, I don't know, this thing that I never could shake,” Quentin tried to explain. “That if nothing was ever not going to be pointless and empty then, uh-why go on? ” Quentin didn’t know how to explain the mess that was his brain. The only one who had ever listened to him was Julia, but as they got older her patience for his brain that never seemed to function right had begun to wane. Which was why when he spent an entire night sitting across from a razor blade, he didn’t call her

He checked out of the hospital two days later with a new plan. He would try one more time to see if he could belong in this world. He would follow Julia’s advice and get rid of everything Fillory. Then he would go to his Yale interview and if it went well, he’d go on with life. But if he’d done all that and nothing was different, he was done trying and he’d visit that building he’d always had his eye on. But instead, he had come to Brakebills.

“If I get kicked out of here then I don’t know what I’ll do. I’ll just be back out there as some depressed super nerd and-.” Quentin’s voice cracked and he dropped his face. “I can’t go back.” There wasn't anything out there for Quentin; it was the only thing he was sure about. Looking back at Eliot, Quentin saw a mix of emotions wash over his face but judgment was not one of them. Eliot’s mouth opened, but quickly closed and he took another drag on his cigarette.

“Okay, I-” Eliot said and stopped himself again and shook his head. His eyes met Quentin's and then he sighed and flicked the ash off his cigarette. “Okay, what I’m about to tell you does not leave this boat, is that clear?” Quentin blinked and swept his hair out of his face.

“Uh, okay,” he agreed, a little unsure.

“Okay,” Eliot closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “I’m sure that by my impeccable taste and refined demeanor, I give off an old money, Kennedy family connection vibe don’t I?” Quentin looked down at the expensive looking shirt Eliot wore, the vest and his perfectly pressed pants and shrugged his shoulders.

“I guess?” Quentin wasn’t the best judge of these things, but Eliot did put off the vibe that he was better suited for much more regal surroundings.

“The truth is,” Eliot gave his cigarette a hard suck like he needed the nicotine to get his confession out. “I grew up on a farm, in Indiana.” The words almost seemed painful for him to say and Eliot's face twisted in disgust like it had left a bad taste in his mouth.

“A farm?” Eliot nodded and smoothed his hand down the front of him like he was regaining his composure.

“My family was paid not to grow soybeans,” He explained. “We didn’t have much and I know more about manure than I feel comfortable saying out loud.” Quentin smiled at that and the smile Eliot shot back made that fluttering feeling in his stomach even harder to ignore.

“I have three older brothers, truly impressive men, all tall, strong and thick-necked with brains as small as our town.” Quentin couldn’t picture what brothers of Eliot would look like. Surely not as he described them. “My dad didn’t know what happened with me, blamed it on chewing tobacco but he never stopped chewing so I don’t know how much he really thought it was that.” Picturing Eliot working on a farm was almost harder to imagine than who his family could be. Quentin had never seen Eliot do any kind of physical work. Eric, the boy in the towel, was always at his side to carry things or clean something so Eliot wouldn’t have to lift a finger. When they had fumbled to get the boat in the water, Eliot had struggled almost more than even Quentin did.

“I didn’t fit in outside of home either.” Eliot went on, taking a short drag off his cigarette that almost reached the end.“The kids at school were- well, I’m sure you can guess. Just to give you an idea, they once tossed me into a dumpster because my pants were pressed.” Quentin frowned, he sometimes took for granted that bullies hadn’t been his problem in school. No one, but Julia even knew he existed which meant bullies left him alone, but so did everyone else.

“Then I would go home and-well, my dad only knew how to communicate with his fists so-“ he stopped himself and watched his cigarette burn the paper for a few moments. The faraway expression on his face was more lost than Quentin had ever seen on Eliot before. In the silence hanging in the air, Quentin didn’t need more detail than that and his eyes once again filled with tears. Eliot took one last drag on his cigarette and tossed it away then rubbed his hands on his side like he hoped the moment of his vulnerability would wipe away.

“High school ended and I finally got out of that house. Unfortunately, scholarships offer so much so I was still trapped in Indiana. Just now in a slightly bigger, small-minded college town that liked to pretend it was more progressive than it was. But then I came here and like you, all was well.” Eliot smiled and pulled another cigarette out of his vest pocket. Quentin hung his head for a moment.

“If you’re trying to tell me it gets better-” he started, because he'd heard that one already.

“God no, no-” Eliot said quickly, forgetting for a moment about lighting his cigarette. “I’m trying to tell you, you are not alone here. Funny little irony they don’t tell you. Magic doesn’t come from talent, it comes from pain.” Eliot held his gaze like he was waiting for Quentin to understand.

“All the stuff churning around inside won’t get you kicked out, it’s what’s going to keep you here.” He snapped his fingers then, his cigarette becoming lit and he leaned back as he breathed it in.

Quentin realized he had been wrong about Eliot and everything wasn’t as effortless as it appeared to be. His confidence might just be a facade he put up to hide the real pain that was underneath. Maybe Eliot knew more about what Quentin had felt most of his life better than anyone he’d met before. Eliot let his hand drift down to the water, his fingers dipping down and the light got caught in ripples, shining even brighter for a moment.

“Do you know what I have if I leave Brakebills?” Eliot asked, his eyes back on Quentin in an intense stare. “Bullshit Indiana,” he snorted and blew out a puff of smoke. Quentin didn’t like the idea of Eliot back where he didn’t belong.

“You wouldn’t have to go back to Indiana,” Quentin spoke up. “You could come to Brooklyn.” A smile slowly spread across Eliot’s face and he looked almost genuinely touched.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever be desperate enough for Brooklyn,” Eliot said raising an eyebrow. “But I do like the offer.” Eliot then took a long drag on his cigarette and when he blew the smoke between the two of them, he looked back at Quentin.

“Do the smoke trick I taught you.” Quentin smiled. He brought his hands up and the as if he were directing a symphony, he moved the smoke around until it formed into a boat. A boat much grander than the one they were on, one Quentin would imagine sailed the seas of Fillory. It sailed through the air almost with purpose before it slipped past the enchantments and was blown away by winter winds.

 

*****************************************

 

“I don’t often want to agree with Quentin,” Penny said darkly. “But this discipline thing is utter bullshit.” Julia eyed him from her spot on the couch. They were sitting in the common room in the physical kids cottage with Alice and Quentin. They were having their study group and the last thing Julia wanted was to hear more complaining about disciplines.

“Oh my god, the both of you.” Julia groaned, letting herself sink further into the couch. “It’s been two days and the non-stop complaining about your disciplines-”

“Or lack of a discipline.” Penny interrupted shooting a smirk across at Quentin who was sitting cross-legged in an armchair. Quentin’s mouth dropped slightly, and Julia had to bite her lip to keep from smiling.

“That was kind of uncalled for,” Quentin said, his face mostly hidden behind his hair and his book open in his lap. “And I have not complained once today.”

“At least they put you here,” Penny said gesturing around the room. Penny had a point there. The cottage seemed to be one of the better places to actually live on campus. While it wasn’t large, it was spacious and the open room filled with couches and chair offered a very lived in kind of feel. Julia enjoyed living in the attic above the library, but she had to admit that this place was nice. “This is a lot better than with those psychic freaks.”

“Aren’t you now one of those psychic freaks?” Quentin asked. Penny glared and Julia could almost see him working out an insult to throw back at Quentin. Not wanting this to turn into a fight, Julia put a hand on Penny’s knee and smiled at him.

“You know, Penny,” she said quickly interjecting. “My offer still stands, you can always stay with me.” He smiled at her, the kind of smile that still sent a shiver down her spine. She had broken up with James the day after meeting Penny. When she called him from the lone payphone on campus, he hadn’t even seemed surprised and agreed that they had grown apart. With that, their eight years of dating and ten years of friendship was quietly ended all before the time ran out on her dime.

Julia was still waiting for some feelings or sadness or regret but it had been two weeks and she only still felt relieved. Penny probably had a lot to do with that. They spent most of their time together and she had never felt as relaxed as she did when he was there. Penny didn't like the idea of dating, so they weren't and Julia was enjoying the fun, easy way they were together.

“As much as I would love to take you up on that,” Penny said. “Staying in that tiny little attic they stuck you doesn’t seem much better than the shitty tower with all the meditating.”

“Have you tried meditating with them?” Alice asked. Her stuff was sprawled out over the coffee table and she sat on the floor in front of Quentin, working on two different assignments simultaneously.

“Oh hell no,” Penny said seriously. “I am not drinking their Kool-aid.”

“I’ve heard meditating has positive health benefits.” Quentin cut in. “Like helping with someone’s temper.” Julia snorted and the glare melted off of Penny’s face into a playful smile.

“They can’t all be that bad,” she said, moving closer to him on the couch.

“They are,” Penny insisted. “They have these enclosed consciousness areas which are little rooms that you go and cry and process or some shit.” Penny rolled his eyes and Julia gave his arm a squeeze, mostly to keep herself from laughing but Penny seemed to appreciate it.

“Process what?” Alice asked looking confused.

“Fucked if I know,” he said tossing his pen across the couch and Julia snatched it out of the air. Penny was obviously ready to be done with studying. “They say it’s an amplifier, like turning up these powers are a good idea.” Julia didn’t say anything, but to her, that did sound amazing. Since coming here she had been devouring every piece of magic she could get her hands on and it never seemed to be enough. The need to know more and grow her power was, sometimes, hard to ignore. Having a room to amp up whatever spark was inside her was something she wouldn’t turn her back on. But Penny was different, and she was beginning to think that was why she liked him so much.

“It makes sense why they spend all their time at that creepy fountain someone died at.” Penny finally concluded and Julia frowned

“Which fountain?”

“Van Pelt,” Alice said with a sour look on her face. “The one closest to the main hall.” Julia frowned. The fountain was one of the larger ones with a creepy statue, it wasn’t a pleasant image so Julia didn’t pay it much attention. “I always hated that fountain.”

“Eliot said it’s enchanted as shit,” Quentin spoke up. Julia had to suppress rolling her eyes, it was almost a reflex now when he mentioned Eliot.

“Of course he did,” she muttered and Quentin shot her a glare.  After the fight her with Quentin, Julia was trying not to criticize Eliot as much as she had been. Quentin had been right about a few things. She was continuing to see Penny and Quentin had made a better effort to be supportive. Julia knew she needed to change some of her own behavior as well.

She could accept that he and Quentin were going to at least be friends and she could try to get to know him. Though when she did, she saw that he was kind of a snob and a little too into himself. Quentin may find that attractive, but she didn’t. She did find him to be an impressive magician, however, and if he had something to brag about, it was definitely that.

“Did someone really die there?” Julia asked. She wondered if that was a real thing or just an urban legend that everyone assumed was real.

“Are you guys talking about woof?” Walking into the room, Margo brought her hands to her hips and she raised an eyebrow at the group. Julia and Margo had never spoken before. She could count on one hand how many times they’d even been in the same room. But Julia knew all about Margo. Quentin, while being completely intimidated by her, liked her but she wondered if he just wanted to stay on the good side of Eliot’s best friend. Margo didn’t seem to be all that nice, but she at least was nice to Quentin and Julia appreciated that.

Alice, on the other hand, didn’t trust her. And while she felt Alice had good instincts, Julia also knew that Alice had a hard time trusting anyone. Julia was sure the only reason it had been so easy for them because they’d shared a tiny room together for the past two months. She knew that Alice didn’t even fully trust Quentin yet, so maybe she would take her opinion with a grain of salt.

“Do you know anything about who died there?” Quentin asked finally tucking his hair behind his ears. A more interesting topic than Penny’s discipline had presented itself and Quentin seemed eager to jump subjects.

“Of course,” Margo said sitting down on one of the armchairs, right in the center of all of them. “Not a lot of people know the story but there is very little around here that I don’t know about.” Margo grinned, she almost seemed to be basking in the sudden attention on her and Julia could see why she and Eliot were such good friends.

“What happened?” Penny asked and Julia was surprised to find him looking almost as interested as Quentin did.

“Well the first thing you need to know,” Margo said, straightening her back and folding her hands in her lap. “You need to understand the importance of the fountains.”

“What about them?” Julia asked. Other than the strange pick for sculptures, the fountains seemed to be one of the least interesting things at Brakebills.

“They’re not just your average fountains,” Margo explained, now bringing her hands up as she spoke. “Brakebills was actually built here because of the fountains. Not the other way around. No one is really sure why, but if you ever spend any time at them, especially woof, you start to notice some strange things.”

“Like what?” Penny asked.

“Little things at first.” Margo leaned forward a bit now, her eyes almost gleaming. “Like the sky might seem to be a different shade of blue or the clouds would be different. But, if you watched for long enough, you’ll start to see faces that you don’t recognize. They say that the fountains act as a portal to other worlds.” Julia felt a chill go through her and she backed herself up to Penny. Other worlds sounded like a much more ominous thing than Margo’s gossipy tone made it seem and it opened a small pit in Julia’s stomach.

“They?” Penny asked, not looking as disturbed as Julia felt. He did put his arm around her, getting her more comfortably against him “Who are they?”

“You know, they,” Margo said putting more emphasis on the word as if that was an acceptable explanation.“The collective they of the world. Who do you think?”

“Okay,” Penny said rolling his eyes. “What do they have to do with who died there?”

“The fountains are important in this,” Margo insisted. “But about who died there, that was all because of a girl named Emily Greenstreet.” Across from her, Alice sat up a little more and shut her textbook. Even Alice had been sucked into Margo’s story.

“What did she do?” Alice asked, her voice barely above a whisper. Julia saw the smile on Margo’s face grow with excitement.

“She was here, in the cottage about five years ago,” Margo explained. “She was pretty but kind of boring. No one really had anything bad to say about her because she was so underwhelming until she started sleeping with one of her professors.” Penny shifted behind her and Julia could see his interest in the story growing.

“Did they get caught?” Quentin asked.

“It was a pretty big rumor, but only amongst students,” Margo said. “The other professors and Dean Fogg were pretty clueless about it. But that was probably only because the professor came to his senses and ended it before it could go that far. He was married you know?” Julia’s mind went to all of her professors and she wondered which one it could have been. None of them stood out as someone she would dare risk her position at this school though.

“Emily was devastated after that of course,” Margo went on. “So she started spending a lot of time at woof and she spent so much time there that she started to see those faces they always talk about.” Penny shifted behind her and Julia could feel him tense with annoyance.

“Right,” Penny scoffed. “They.” Margo made an exasperated sound and shrugged her shoulders at him.

“Yes, they,” she shot back then flipped her hair over her shoulder. Penny smiled at Julia almost proudly at that. “Now Emily, from spending so much time at woof, actually began to communicate with this other face she saw in the fountain. She was able to unload all her problems to this mysterious person and eventually they gave Emily a spell that would make her professor love her again.”

“What?” Quentin asked. “Like a love spell?” Margo brought her hands back together on her lap, her smile brimming with excitement like they must finally be getting to the good part.

“It was a spell to make her more beautiful.” Julia could almost feel the air shutter with the wince that went through all four of them at once. They had only been at the school for two months but all of them had learned that spells that change your appearance, just end badly. There was something about the way you look and how ties to your very being that made those spells dangerous. That this girl even accepted such a spell was almost heartbreaking.

“What happened to her?” Alice asked, her eyes wide.

“Well as you can imagine, the spell backfired pretty badly,”  Margo said. “Supposedly her face was pretty disfigured, how exactly I’m not sure but it was bad enough that Emily decided that she was going to kill herself. So she went straight to woof but before she could, someone came to stop her.”

“Was it the professor?” Quentin asked almost hopefully. Julia found it almost sweet that Quentin would root for Emily and her horrible professor, but instead, she just felt sorry for him.

“No, it was another student,” Margo answered. “Some poor unfortunate boy who was madly in love with her. She knew this of course, so she would sometimes flirt back in hopes to make her man jealous, but she never really liked him.” Julia saw both Alice and Quentin shift uncomfortably and she wondered where their minds had gone.

“But he came to her rescue,” Margo went on. “Maybe he hoped that if he could fix her, then she would finally love him back. Which is pretty pathetic when you think about it.”

“Did he?” Julia asked even though she knew the answer was not going to be a pleasant one.

“He tried, I guess you have to give him credit for that,” Margo said. “But he pulled to many different spells together, it was untested and probably a little sloppy in his frantic state of mind and the spell got away from him. You know what happens then don’t you?” Julia looked around and saw Quentin and Penny with the same confused look she knew matched her own. They had all been warned how dangerous magic could be and pushing yourself beyond your limits would result in horrific consequences.

“Yes,” Alice’s voice surprised Julia. Her face had gone ghostly pale and her blue eyes shone with unshed tears. “He became a niffin.” Margo looked almost impressed and she tilted her head towards Alice in acknowledgment.

“What’s a niffin?” It was Quentin who asked it but the question had also been on Julia’s lips.

“You seem to know what it is Alice,” Margo said crossing her arms, her hands clasping her elbows as she waited for Alice’s response. Alice just glared at her and kept her mouth shut. Julia looked between the two and started to feel like something more personal was going on.

“Fine, I can tell you,” Margo said, tossing her hands from her arms and Alice looked away. “When you push past what you’re able to do, you lose control and the magic burns right through you until it is the only thing left. Who you were is gone and all that is left is a niffin, a dangerous and deadly creature of pure magic.”

Julia looked down at her hands and tried to imagine what that must feel like; for the magic inside her to take over and be all that is left. She tried to ignore that small burst of excitement that was spreading through her chest. Like a challenge for her to push the bounds of what could be possible and to be the one who could stand on the edge not become a niffin.

“What happened to the girl?” Penny asked, breaking the silence.

“Her professor fixed her up. I guess she finally got his attention in the end.” Margo said with a satisfied grin. She sat further back in her chair, crossing her legs at her ankles. “Then she dropped out, gave up magic entirely, full muggle. Fogg set her up with a job in the city. I don’t know what they told the boy’s family.” Julia didn’t miss the way Margo’s eyes hung on Alice’s face a moment longer than everyone else. Alice was looking away, her face hidden behind the curtain of her hair. Julia

“Which professor was it?” Quentin asked.

“One you guys don’t know, at least yet.” Margo leaned forward, ready to tell them all about the professor at the center of this whole story when Alice suddenly stood up, her papers swirling up in the air.

“Excuse me,” she said tightly, and with one final look at Margo, Alice rushed out the front and it slammed behind her. An uncomfortable silence fell over the room. Julia started to stand, wanting to make sure Alice was okay, but Quentin stopped her.

“Let me,” he said and quickly made his way out the door. Julia sat back against Penny’s chest and looked over at Margo. She wasn’t sure what about the story had upset Alice, but she could guess. Julia knew about Alice’s brother, and the timing did line up. Margo couldn’t have possibly known, or at least that was what Julia would hope.

But Margo was smiling at the door like she some plan had just been executed flawlessly and Julia could feel anger inside her grow. Margo’s eyes met Julia’s and there was no regret to be seen.

“Was it something I said?”

 

*****************************************

 Quentin found Alice just outside the door, sitting with her back to him on the first step off the small porch of the cottage. The sun had long since set, and the air had chilled to the point where Quentin could see his breath billowing out in front of his face in quick short bursts as his chest tightened from the surprise of the cold. Alice was only wearing a light pink sweater over her black baby doll dress and Quentin wondered if he should go back in to get a coat for her.

 “I know you’re there Quentin,” Alice said, her head turning slightly his way. Even with most of her face turned away, Quentin could see the tears rolling down her cheeks. Seeing her cry felt like a punch in the gut to him. Alice seemed so delicate at times like she was made of glass that was always teetering on the edge of falling. But as he got to know her, he saw that was the outer layer of who she was. Alice was tough and built with a strength that Quentin was sure he would never possess. But now, crying in the cold moonlight, she was suddenly as fragile as she had always seemed and Quentin felt an overwhelming need to protect her.

“What’s wrong?” Quentin asked, coming to sit next to her on the steps, the cold was forgotten from his mind as he took her hands into his. Alice shook her head, almost seeming frustrated with her own tears.

“I always thought my brother died in a car crash,” she said, slipping her glasses off her face.

“You brother?” Alice hadn’t mentioned her brother once since the coffee shop and Quentin hadn’t asked. He was unsure what was proper to ask and decided to let her speak about it if she wanted too.

“He was here five years ago,” Alice reminded him. “He was a physical kid.” Quentin looked back at the door where everyone was still inside and frowned.

“Wait,” he said turning back to Alice. “You think that was him?”

“It was,” Alice said bitterly. “He used to call me once a week when he was here. He told me about Emily. He was so in love with her, but too afraid to make a move. He thought that if he could prove to her how much he loved her, she would finally see him.”

“Are you sure it was him?” Quentin asked. Alice scoffed and looked almost angry at him now.

“Of course,” she said. “And Margo knew it too.” Quentin was surprised.

“I’m sure she didn’t know,” Quentin said. “She just likes to gossip.

“She knows,” Alice said then dropped her face down to her hands. “God, my fucking parents.”

“Do you think Fogg lied to them too?” Quentin asked thought he didn’t know why he would need too. Alice’s parents were both magicians, so there would be no need to hide the magical reasons behind their son's death like they would for the unmagical families. “Maybe they just wanted to protect you, easier to think it was a car crash?” Alice scoffed at the idea of her parents doing something to protect her and Quentin realized she’d never mentioned her parents before. He had no idea what the relationship was just like she had no clue about his own home life and she’d never asked.

“My parents are awful people who ignored their children in favor of a sick game of who could make the other more miserable.” The tone in Alice’s voice was one that Quentin had never heard. Not like the short and careful way she usually spoke. Her dislike and resentment toward her parents were laced with every word. It was as if the more she spoke, more layers of the armor she kept around her were slowly coming off.

“They can’t see a world without magic, never could.” She reached out and curled her cold fingers around Quentin’s hand and Quentin moved closer to her. They probably didn’t tell me so I wouldn’t blame magic for Charlie’s death, because they knew I would and right now I kind of do.” Fresh tears spilled down her face and Alice bit her lip, her cheeks and nose red from cold and the anger that had sprung up. Quentin moved closer to her, bring his free arm around her shoulders and pulled her to him. For a moment, she laid her head against him and for a moment there was warmth.

“Charlie taught me that spell I did the first day,” She said against his shoulder. “The horse?” Quentin nodded, letting his chin rest on the top of her head. He didn’t know if he should talk, he knew he wouldn’t know what to say so he hoped Alice just needed him to listen right now.

“He was good, not just as a magician, but as a person. He was always helping people, falling in love with them.” She sounded more wistful now, like the anger was met with the memory of her brother and was cooled by her affections. “I loved him so much and when he died I think something broke in me and I don’t think it will ever be fixed.” Alice moved now, pulling herself away so she could look Quentin in the eye, her eyes were more blue than he ever saw and he gently brushed the tears off of her face.

“Charlie never told Emily how he felt about her,” she said. “He was so preoccupied with getting her to notice him he never thought to actually say the words.” She brought her hands up to Quentin’s face, her icy fingers trailed down his cheeks as she searched his face for something he wasn’t sure of.

“I don’t want to be like Charlie,” she said looking straight into his eyes. “Destroying myself for someone who’s in love with somebody else.” Quentin realized he no longer felt the cold, and he’d completely forgotten about the others still inside. Somehow it had just become him and Alice, locked in their own little pocket world meant only for them.

“I like you Quentin,” Alice said. “I’m completely terrified of that, but I like you and I don’t want to be like Charlie.”

Quentin could almost feel the air crackle and bend around them as she spoke. Like seeing the real depth of what Alice kept hidden behind the veil she put between herself in the world had erupted a kind of spell Quentin he had yet to learn. Looking into her eyes, the moonlight shining back at him, it was like he was seeing her for the first time. Exposed and vulnerable in ways he didn’t think she was capable of. Quentin knew that this moment would change his life forever and every inch closer to kissing his lips was just sealing his fate.