Take a moment to consider what you’d do if in one moment you were alone in a dark alley, and you suddenly stepped into daylight onto an expansive green lawn. Trust me, you’d be freaking out. I was. Even if you are someone like me, who believes that stuff like Platform 9¾, the Starship Enterprise, Fillory, and magic are all real. Especially when you’ve been waiting for a moment like this—a moment you don’t even know what it is yet, but which is happening nonetheless—all your life.
Even as I started lowkey hyperventilating, it only took a moment to notice there was someone reclining on a wall, many yards ahead of me. It was a bit of a relief realizing there was at least someone I could try to get some answers from.
I can’t tell you now what all was spiraling in my mind as I trudged toward the figure, but it was a lot. By the time I was close enough to be within earshot, my brain just...glitched. So began one of the most embarrassing moments of my life. And, as it turns out, the most transformational moment of my life. But I digress.
I followed him, mouth agape, babbling incoherently, hating that I couldn’t form a sentence. I wanted to say six or eleven things at once, yet nothing fought its way to the surface. Or everything did, maybe. I remember thinking that if I was somehow in upstate New York, that portals or transporters must be real, and how amazing and cool was that? But then I realized I was following what had to be some otherworldly being, to some unknown location, at a too-brisk pace, without any more information than “follow me.” My whirling thoughts screeched to a halt when my brain’s wheel of fortune stopped on “stranger danger.”
“But he’s not a stranger, he’s Eliot,” my mind helpfully supplied, right as he turned to ask how asking him would help. “Come on, or you’ll miss it,” he urged, as I jogged to catch up. What the fuck had I just gotten myself into?
I could not possibly conceive why Henry would send me to meet a new student. Obviously, I was Brakebills’ most promising talent, yet mentor material I was not. But the rumors were already out. Bambi and I had recently collaborated with some naturalists to create a new intoxicant so profound—and so perfectly safe, it was a masterpiece, really. It felt like cannabis, ecstasy, and cocaine all rolled into one. Plus, there was no hangover, no liver damage, none of the nasty side effects you trade to temporarily escape the mundane. Of course, we called it mélange.
It was a Thursday. The party was scheduled for Friday night, and we’d manufactured enough mélange to keep 100 of us blotto for 48 straight hours. We were going to fold time, probably only figuratively speaking, and I knew Bambi would chemically castrate me if I did anything to jeopardize her party. So, I acquiesced to Henry’s bizarre demand: whatever the sacrifice to continue flying under his radar, I would make.
I sat up on my elbows when I noticed movement in the hedge across the lawn. I’d carefully chosen this day’s ensemble to dazzle this “Quentin Coldwater,” escort him to the exam, and promptly ditch him so I could start pregaming the mélange. I stretched out to display my assets, lit a cigarette, and affected as much boredom as I could muster. And I waited for him.
I felt...something as I watched him approach me. He looked completely stunned. For a moment, I reminisced my own entrance to this august institution, and assumed I was simply feeling uncharacteristic sympathy for a kindred spirit whose worldview has just been dashed to flinders. How perfectly gauche. The poor ridiculous little lamb looked so confused, I wanted to pat him on the head. I hopped down right into his personal space to intimidate him with a once-over and no sooner did I land than the universe punched me in the gut. I have no idea how I remained standing.
Fortunately? If there was anything my childhood taught me, it was how to nonchalantly freak out. I couldn’t breathe. I headed away as quickly as I could, forcing my face into a blank mask, trying to vaguely recollect the symptoms of going into shock. My hands were shaking enough that I nearly dropped the card with his name but managed to fumble it back into the wrong pocket, at least. My senses were on fire, my dick was half hard, and I needed to sit right the fuck down.
Instead, I carried us toward the testing room, walking fast, even for me. I couldn’t even look at him for fear of losing my entire shit, because Eliot Waugh does not lose his shit in front of anyone, thank you very much. I grasped at the comfort of knowing that in less than 15 minutes, I told myself, I’ll lose my shit to Bambi. I could hold my shit together for 15 minutes. Bambi would know what to do.
I was touching up my nail polish in the living room, because I had no intention of my rooms smelling awful for hours. Fuck the rest of these cocks, they could share it with me. Waiting on Eliot to get back from his ludicrous, nonsense assignment to escort some rando to the exam was mind-numbingly boring. We had an epic party to plan. I looked at the clock again and noticed he should have been back half an hour ago when he burst through the door and made a beeline for the stairs, eyes wild.
“El? What is it, baby?” I asked, following him up to his room. He hummed quickly and tutted his door open. Once we were both inside, he collapsed on his bed, sitting with his eyes closed, hands on his knees, winded. I closed the door and cast a silencing ward to ensure privacy. He was pale as a sheet and visibly sweating, and I began to worry. Someone could have seen him like that. There were rules.
“Bambi, he’s here. He’s here right now and what if he doesn’t get in? What if they expel me and wipe my memories, too? He’s so cute and I just want to carry him around everywhere so he can be right next to me all the time, and pet him and pat him and squeeze him and stroke him and keep him safe, and I don’t understand why any of this is happening to me!”
I took his hands and held them gently in mine. “Honey. Wait. Are you saying you think that boy the dean sent you to meet is your soulmate? Let’s slow down a little, yeah? What was his name, again? Tell me what happened.” I noticed I’d ruined my nail polish and also that I literally could not care less about it.
“Margo,” he wailed miserably, nodding. “Bambi. He’s pocket sized. It’s absolutely precious. His name is Quentin. Quentin Coldwater. I felt...something...as soon as I saw him, and it hit hard as soon as I got close to him. All the stupid shit in the songs and romcoms is happening to me right the fuck now. I am literally dizzy with it. I can still smell him. I need to taste him. It’s all so clichéd. This cannot be happening! I’m a fucking cliché. I’m a fucking cliché, Bambi! The good times are over. What am I going to do?!”
I rolled my eyes as lovingly as possible. “Oh, grow a clit, Eliot. You’ll take your boy to Rite Aid later and do the test, just like everybody else does. No big whoop. If he’s your soulmate, he has to have magic. He has to be compatible. That’s how it works, remember? I can see why you’re freaking out—you’re in the middle of a once-in-a-lifetime event that not everyone gets, and it’s not one you get to plan for.
“I also know you know that magicians have much higher incidences of bonded pairs, which is why they have to let him stay if he really is your soulmate. They aren’t going to expel either of you or wipe your memories. There was always a better than average probability this would happen to you, just like there is for me and everyone else here. Yes, your life just changed. But it just changed for good, Eliot. Can you imagine the sex magic, if what they say is true?
“Okay, let’s recap. It’s barely lunchtime. He’ll be out of the test and interview in the next few hours, and by tonight you’ll be tenderly banging your cute, magical soulmate. This is a good thing, El. Even if I am already jealous of the time you’ll spend with him.” I pouted dramatically, “I won’t be your favorite anymore.”
I walked to his desk, plucked the #6 Barovier lens from his set, and peered through it at him. “Your aura has already begun to change; it’s happening whether or not you’re ready. Let’s go downstairs and get you something to eat before you fall over. You’re going to need your stamina. We’ll go find him later this afternoon, okay? You are Eliot Waugh, and you are fabulous, and this Quentin Coldwater has no idea how fucking lucky he is to have you. Go splash some water on your face, and we’ll have lunch. Also, did anyone see you sweating like a pig like that? What the fuck, Eliot.”
“I refuse to dignify that with a response,” he snapped, flopping backward onto the bed, feet still on the floor. He screwed his eyes tightly shut, covered his face with his hands, and took several deep breaths. “Okay. I’m...okay.” He scrubbed at his face and turned to stare into my eyes. “You will always be my favorite, Bambi. Always. I just. I just...need a minute to catch my breath.”
My meeting with Dean Fogg was brief. It took me about 3 seconds to make the decision. I absolutely wanted to attend Brakebills at all costs, even the expense of immediately abandoning my entire life and what I thought were my goals. Magic was real, there was a whole school for it, and Quentin was...somewhere around. I was happy to know he’d tested, too, and looked forward to finding him later to talk all about it.
There was a soft knock on the door. A guy about my age entered, handed the dean a note, and left. After I signed on the dotted line, the dean asked, “You are acquainted with Quentin Coldwater, are you not?”
“Yes, he’s my best friend. We’ve known each other since we were little kids,” I answered, making a hand gesture about 3 feet off the floor to vaguely indicate our relative ages. “You saw us together at the test. Where is he now? Did he get in?”
Fogg answered, “Yes. He was accepted as a Brakebills student. His demonstration of magic was extremely impressive. In fact, it impressed Quentin himself so much that he fainted and fell to the floor. Let me assure you. He is completely unharmed, Ms. Wicker. Come; I’ll take you to him now.”
I couldn’t help but think what a huge day this had been for Q—hell, it had already been a huge day for me. I love Quentin like a brother and know him better than anyone else. I know he doesn’t always do well in new situations. And today had been full of them: A dead guy and some kind of transporter followed by an unexpected test, plus this revelation about magic? I was a little concerned, but surely Dean Fogg would have mentioned if he was actually hurt. Wouldn’t he?
I woke up with Dean Fogg crouching next to me, gently shaking my right shoulder. Oh, good. On the floor. Yay, it’s Quentin Dies of Embarrassment Day. I rolled onto my back, groaning; my left side ached from how I must have landed. The dean helped me up after a moment and led me to a chair in a small office just outside the room where I had somehow telekinetically built a house of cards. So, yeah, magic is real, apparently. Also: ow.
Someone—a student, maybe—handed me a juice box and a package of crackers and strode away with Fogg. I guess I hadn’t eaten anything since early morning; after all, I was expecting to interview for Yale and go back home. My brain started to clear after a few minutes, and that’s when Julia appeared, running toward me.
“Oh my god, Q, Dean Fogg said you fell but you’re okay. Are you hurt?” Julia patted my arms, then scanned me head to toe and cupped her hand along the side of my face. “I’m, uh. I’m fine. I mean, my left shoulder kind of hurts, because I landed on it. And I have. Um, a headache. The snack has helped,” I said, brandishing the juice and crackers.
Fogg spoke up. “Mr. Coldwater. I am grateful to see you upright again. You missed the part where we tell you that you’ll be housed in the dorms until your discipline is determined. We already know Ms. Wicker’s discipline, so she will move into the Knowledge students’ house immediately. Ms. Wicker, why don’t you escort Mr. Coldwater to the dorms. He looks like he ought to lie down.”
My...discipline? Nobody had said anything about that. But Fogg was right; Q really did need to rest for a little while. I asked the dean for directions and held on to Quentin’s arm as we began our walk to the dorms. “Poor baby, let’s get you to bed for a bit. I’ll go check back with Fogg to find out where I’m supposed to be; I don’t even know what a discipline is.
“My meeting with him was interrupted—I guess when he got word you were awake. Hey, can I have that last cracker? I’m starving, too. I’ll find us some food, and be back here as quickly as I can, okay? You get a little rest, and then we’ll talk and get everything figured out.”
It wasn’t a long walk. I got Quentin settled, and he fell asleep almost immediately.
If I got to choose my soulmate, it would have been Margo. No one was as surprised as I when I found I kind of wanted to backhand her in the mouth when she said my Quentin “wasn’t that cute,” but I can’t imagine a universe in which I would actually harm her.
It was all I could do not to wear Quentin like a backpack as Margo and I gave him a brief tour of the campus. I could almost feel how he was reaching a limit, right on the verge of another freakout. I suggested that we get something magical to smoke; I knew a little bit of mélange would relax him considerably. Plus, it would relax me too. Win-win.
He followed us back to the Physical Kids Cottage like the world’s sweetest, most obedient puppy. I could feel our connection starting to undulate between us and wondered why he hadn’t said anything about it. But I knew he’d had a lot to take in, and I remembered my own terror, elation, and relief at finally having escaped the “normal” world. I had to admit I might not have noticed it either, had our situations been reversed. I was going to have to start admitting a lot of things before much longer.
I took a moment to silently congratulate myself for maturely considering Quentin’s situation, then sat him down next to Margo while I got the mélange and made us a round of cocktails. Getting him to smoke with us was as simple as handing him the pipe and lighter. Interesting. I warned him to only take one hit and see how he felt after because for now I knew I was only doing one of my own. We still needed to talk, as well as leave campus for the drug store, and I wanted to be reasonably sober for all of that.
Margo had been trying to scare Quentin off since the moment they’d met. Now, she snuggled up to his side, sliding her hand along his for too long as she took the pipe away from him. She batted her eyelashes and used her saccharine-sweet ‘mean girl’ voice, drawling, “So, Quentin, I’d always figured Eliot and I would be soulmates by choice. But now you’ve come along, his real one and all. Hurt him and I will delight in castrating you with my bare hands and feeding you your balls until you choke on them.”
“Bambi! Chill! Jesus!” I snapped. Quentin, too, was shocked, trying and failing to be subtle about sliding away from Margo. Apparently, he babbles when he’s startled, like, “I. But. He, uh, I don’t. Eliot?” I could only assume he was asking me for confirmation as he tried to burrow into the arm of the sofa, pleading with those sweet puppy dog eyes. I wanted to pull him into my lap and let him burrow into me. And rub myself all over him.
I glared at Margo, surprised at how furious I was with her. I hissed, “Bambi, dammit. Shut your whore mouth. This is not how I wanted this to go.” I took a deep breath and turned to my other half. “Quentin. I apologize on Margo’s behalf. I know this day has been banana pants crazy for you. But it’s true. You know it’s true.” I moved to crouch in front of him. “Unclench for a minute. It’s okay. You’re okay. Trust me, yeah? Get comfortable. Filter everything else out.”
He relaxed in visible increments over the next few minutes, during which Margo was thankfully silent. “Okay, better?” I asked. Quentin took a deep breath and blew it out. “Yeah, a little. I mean, it is a lot. Today. Has been. We only just met a few hours ago, and I already feel like you’re a part of me that I’ve known forever—even though I don’t really know you at all. And I want to. Know you. I want to know everything.”
Temporarily mollified, I went for broke. “Okay. So, do you want to do this here, or do you want to go to the drugstore first?” Margo gently interjected, “You’ll have to go to the drugstore anyway, to confirm so you can register. Quentin, I’m sorry I was a twat. You have to understand. Eliot means the actual entire world to me and I can’t fathom the idea of ever losing him. I want us to be friends. I do; El and I are kind of a package deal, and I would literally kill and die for him. I will be with you both through this, every step of the way, no matter what, okay?”
By now, the drugs had taken hold. It was clear I had become absolutely invincible, and I hoped Quentin was high now, too, because it would probably make this much easier. I was ready to irrevocably change my life. And lick him from head to toe. Quentin spoke up, “Yeah, okay. ...Thanks, Margo. Apology accepted. Okay, Eliot, I’m ready. Let’s do it the old-fashioned way; I mean, I do feel it. I feel you even though we haven’t initiated the bond yet. I’ve just been so overwhelmed all day.”
Quentin held his hands out to me, and I moved from crouching to sitting. From the corner of my eye, I saw Margo take the Barovier lens she’d borrowed from my room out of her purse. She held it in front of her eyes so she could watch, smirking. Bambi loves to watch.
“Wait! Jules!” Quentin cried out, scrambling to his feet and nearly tripping over me. Margo soothed, “Jewels? Honey, you don’t need a ring this time.” Quentin shook his head and gestured wildly. “No! Jules! Julia. She’s my, like you. Julia. Is my best friend. She’s here, somewhere, she tested today, too. She was supposed to come find me at the dorm. She’s a Knowledge student? She has no idea where I am. I passed out, earlier, at my demonstration. She must be worried sick. If Margo gets to watch, then Julia should, too. We need to find her, Eliot!”
I knocked on the side of the open door. “Hello? I’m looking for Quentin Coldwater. He was here about an hour ago. This is supposed to be his room. Are you his roommate? I’m Julia.”
“I’m Penny. You mean you know that loser? On purpose?” he asked me. What a miserable prick. This should be real fun. “Yeah, he’s my best friend, what the fuck?” I growled back at him.
“Dude needs to learn how to shield his mind. He thinks too fucking loud. I don’t know how he hasn’t peed his pants today, and neither does he.”
I sighed. Who the fuck even was this guy? “Thank you for that opinion. Do you have any idea where he went?” Penny rolled his eyes and crossed his arms over his chest. “No, I mean, I can hear him wondering how he hasn’t peed his pants today right now. I can hear him lowkey panicking right now. Ugh, god, he is giving me a fucking headache with his whiny bullshit.”
“Wait, you can read minds? That’s, wow.” Yep, this was turning out to be quite a day for me, too. Penny snorted, “Yeah, sure, it’s super wow to expend this kind of energy tuning motherfuckers out all day, every day. Your boy is thinking real hard about a soulbond with this dude Eliot. He came here with some girl Margo earlier. Quentin left with them.”
“A soulbond? Holy shit. Do you know who this Eliot is? Did they say where they were going? Can you…would you help me find them? Can you tell where someone is by reading their mind?” I had been on this campus less than half a day, and I was already asking questions I’d never dreamed of. I could hardly wait to start classes.
He raised an eyebrow, considering. “Your friend is about to lose his shit. Maybe you can get him to chill out. Or nut the fuck up. Or, preferably, both. Okay, yeah, sure, I’ll help you. If you let me get you a coffee or something later. Let’s go.” He winked at me.
For all his bluster, it was obvious Penny was as new to all this shit as everyone else. He had to be; after all, Fogg had said the dorms were for people who didn’t know their discipline yet. I couldn’t hate him, even though he was being a colossal dick. I guessed Penny’s discipline must have something to do with being psychic, but since he was still in the dorms there must have been some information missing somewhere. Who the fuck knew. Not my problem. But he was kind of cute and was helping me find Q—so he’d earned my respect. At least, for now.
We wandered around campus aimlessly for a few minutes when suddenly Penny stopped walking, and his entire body visibly relaxed. “We’re definitely heading in the right direction. He’s thinking about a new kind of high. His thoughts have slowed down. They must have given him some drugs. Thank fuck. At least he’s not panicking anymore. That’s some really good shit.” We started off in a specific direction, until Penny tensed up again. “Fuck. Wait. Nope, now he’s panicking about finding you. I’m pretty sure they’re in there.”
Penny led us to a Tudor-style that I guessed must be one of the discipline’s houses; I’d briefly seen my room with the other Knowledge students above the library. I knocked on the door, and a very pretty girl answered the door. Before she had a chance to say anything, I heard Q’s voice from across the room, shouting “Jules!” as he ran toward me and crushed me in a brief hug, nearly knocking me down. The girl introduced herself, “Hi, I’m Margo. You must be Julia. Looks like our best friends are soulmates; I’m sure we’ll get to know each other very well. Welcome to the Physical Kids Cottage.”
Quentin finally released me and gestured toward tall, dark, and handsome. “This is Eliot. We’re, ah. We’re soulmates. We almost, um, we haven’t initiated the bond yet. But we both know it’s there. Margo wanted to watch it happening, and I wanted you to be here, too. I’m so glad you found me! We were about to form a search party. Oh, um, hi, Penny. What are you doing here?”
Penny scoffed, rolling his eyes and scowling at Quentin. “You took off before Julia came back for you. She was worried shitless and didn’t know where to find you. We formed a search party, dipshit. That’s what I’m fucking doing here.”
Eliot looked down his nose at Penny. “What a charming anecdote!” He turned to me with what appeared to be a sincere smile. Hello, Julia, I’m Eliot. It’s very nice to meet you; I’ve already heard about your lifelong friendship with Quentin. I met him this morning when he stumbled onto campus. I was assigned to escort him to the exam. I immediately knew we had a connection while our sweet boy was mind-shitting all over the front lawn. Remind me to ask you later why you and Quentin didn’t arrive together, hm?
“Penny. It is positively delightful to have made your acquaintance, I’m sure, but my soulmate and I must attend to some family affairs. Bambi, my queen, I promise we will not initiate the bond until we return here so you and Julia can watch it happen. Julia, welcome to Clan Waugh.” With that, he turned to collect his jacket, and walked out the door. Clan Waugh, huh?
Quentin looked at me with his “please soothe me with a hug” face, and I embraced him tightly. I wondered how long it would take before Eliot learned to recognize this expression. I loosened the hold and tipped my forehead to his for a moment, waiting to feel him relax. Backing up a bit to look into his eyes, I couldn’t help but acknowledge, “Wow, sweetie, this has been the biggest day of your life, huh?” When he nodded, I continued, “Guess I missed part of it, but I am so. Incredibly. Grateful to be here with you.”
I reached up to catch a lock of his hair behind an ear. “So glad we get to experience this together. I’m so fucking proud of you, so happy for you, Q. Your soulmate! We have so much to talk about, it’s unreal. Go with Eliot. I’ll stay here and get to know Margo—it looks like I’m going to need to!” I leaned in to kiss his temple, took his shoulders, and turned him toward the door. I gave him a gentle push. “We’ll talk later.”
I swallowed the last of the protein bar, burped loudly, and tried to lean into what was happening. How had this become my life? Since this morning? I sat on the grass next to Eliot, carefully not touching, propped up on a white picket fence bordering the Fairfield Inn and Suites about a block from Rite Aid. The portal back to Brakebills was concealed in the trees in the greenbelt behind the property. I unwrapped the package, unfolded the directions, and scanned them quickly. “Okay, you ready to do this? You spit in that one, I spit in this one. We plug the tubes in each end and press the button. Then we wait about 2 minutes, it says.”
Eliot blew out a breath and popped the lid off the tube. “It’s not like we don’t already know the result. I don’t know why I’m so nervous. Okay. That’s not true. Margo is the only person I’ve ever allowed to know the real me. And even then, we don’t always tell each other everything. I’m … never going to be able to hide again, and I don’t know how I feel about that.”
I nodded and replaced the lid on my filled tube as he started to spit into his. “I never thought I’d get a soulmate. Sometimes my … brain breaks. I’ve needed inpatient mental health care, more than once. Part of me is worried it’s somehow contagious, that I’ll break you, too. But I’m also, I don’t know, relieved? Because now I’ll have someone who will finally understand. Maybe you can help me make sense of my brain. It’s so hard to describe something when the other person has no frame of reference. Just the possibility of something like that happening makes it feel like something to look forward to.”
Eliot clicked his tube into the unit, and I repeated the action with my own. He pressed the button, took a deep breath, and said, “Hi, Quentin. I’m Michael Eliot Waugh. I was born October 29, 1995, at 2:20 am, in Gatchel, Indiana. At home. On a farm. I’m a Scorpio with Libra rising, a Kinsey four and three quarters, wear size 13 footwear, my favorite color is aubergine, I’m very partial to Plymouth gin, and pineapple on pizza is one of the world’s best breakfasts as long as it’s paired with feta. My dad used to try to beat the gay out of me, and everyone in that hellhole excuse of a town turned a blind eye. I got the fuck out the week after I graduated high school, moved to New York, and learned how to become myself. You will repeat this information to no one.” His eyes flickered away from mine as he drank some water and lit a cigarette.
“That’s, um, holy shit, Eliot. My birthday is June 25, 1996. Born in Newark. All I know is that I’m a Cancer. I never really thought about the Kinsey scale? I’m whatever the middle is, I guess; I identify as pan. I like earthy greens? My parents divorced when I was in the 9th grade, and I lived with my dad. My mom never said so, but it was always pretty obvious she didn’t want me. She lives in Middletown, Connecticut, with her wife. She teaches English Lit at Wesleyan. I don’t think I would have survived my parents’ divorce without Julia. It was during that time I was inpatient for the first time.
“Margo said she’d have picked you as her soulmate. Ever since we met in kindergarten, everybody has asked Julia and me whether we’re soulmates. Apparently, we’re…not, but I spent a lot of years in love with her. Or thinking I was. It’s, I don’t know, she’s my person. And now you are, too.” I gestured to the testing unit. Its window very clearly displayed a plus sign.
I watched Julia push Quentin out the door. She seemed nice enough, sensible enough. Obviously loved the shit out of Quentin. I could work with that. I smiled at her. “So, Julia. Looks like we’re about to become sister wives, or sisters-in-law, or some shit. We should probably join forces. Come on in, take a load off.” I showed Julia and Penny to the sofa and we sat with Julia in the middle.
Julia laughed. “Thanks, I’d like that. It’s been one hell of a day already; I could use someone to show me the ropes. I appreciate it. It’s a lot to take in. Of course, you know that already. Hey, you all were talking before about watching the soulbond activate. I have to assume that means there’s something magical about it? How will we be able to see it?”
Ah, this girl seemed like a smart cookie. Maybe we would become actual friends after all. I wasn’t sure about Penny yet, though. “You guys just took the exam this morning, so you probably don’t know very much about magic yet, right?” They both nodded.
“Okay then, let me give you the 30-second crash course in aura reading.” I picked up the Barovier lens and handed it to Julia. “Take a look through it at Penny,” I suggested. She held the lens at eye level and turned toward Penny. “Holy shit! Holy shit. That is wild. What about you, Margo?” She moved her attention toward me, peering through the lens. “What the fuck, Penny! This is amazing! Look at this!”
Penny took his turn. As soon as he raised the lens, his eyebrows shot up. He examined each of our aurae in turn, then moved back and forth between us more quickly, presumably to see the differences. “Okay, yeah, that is pretty cool. I guess this, what is this, glass? This lets us see somebody’s aura. So, when Oscar Wilde and his Muppet baby get back, we’ll be able to see something happening with their aurae when they activate their soulbond?”
“Hey!” Julia and I shouted simultaneously, scowling at him. What a douche. I admitted, “I’ve never seen a soulbond initiate before. It’s not exactly something that happens every day, after all. But from what we know about the magical aspects of a soulbond—which you will learn more about in class—we should be able to observe some significant changes in each aura as they merge. Eliot’s aura already looks different since he met Quentin this morning.
“This is a #6 Barovier lens from the standard set of 13. This one is Eliot’s; I used it to check out his aura just after he told me about what was happening with Quentin. The colors and visible sigils had already started to change, even though they haven’t initiated the bond yet. I expected the sigils to be different, but I was surprised at the color change…
“Anyway, you’ll get your own set of Baroviers once classes start. Each lens lets you see different types of magic. You can use them alone or in combination—and you’ll learn all that crap very soon. Using Baroviers to view a variety of spells will be one of your first labs, and it’s actually kind of fun.”
Penny pinched his nose and shook his head. “Test’s positive. They’re headed back. At least Quentin isn’t about to wet himself anymore. That’s a goddamn relief.” A few beats later, Eliot and Quentin walked through the door.
I greeted the happy couple. “Congratulations, you two.” Eliot’s brows scrunched in surprise. “Bambi. How did you know we tested positive?” I gave Eliot a hug, then squeezed Quentin’s hands. I gestured with my thumb behind me. “Penny here is a psychic, which explains why he’s such a joy to be around. I showed these two how to view aurae with a Barovier.”
Penny scoffed. “Why don’t y’all just record the fucking thing? Jesus.” He looked at me. “Does that even work?”
I made a face and looked at Eliot to find he wore an identical quizzical expression. “I don’t know. Why don’t you give it a try? Get your phone out and set it up to record. I need to go get my own lens and find a third so Julia and I can watch while you record. I’ll be right back.”
I crunched my hands into my hair and squeezed. I noticed I was pacing frantically. “Fuck me, is there anyone else who wants to dictate the terms of my soulbond initiating? Does everyone have their goddamn popcorn? Anyone need a bathroom break? Fuck!” This day had already been at least three years long. I kind of wanted to sleep for a month. “Eliot, can we smoke some more of that…whatever it was we smoked earlier? I for one would like to try to enjoy the most important day of my life by establishing my soulbond relaxed and in a good mood, and I am neither of those at the moment.”
Eliot perked up, smiling softly at me. He was beautiful. I was so lucky. “Of course, baby. That’s a wonderful idea. Back in a flash.” I felt my cheeks warm at the endearment. I knew I would fall in love with him and wondered how it would happen, what it would feel like, how long it would take. Not all soulbonds were romantic in nature, but we both knew ours was. Would be. Whatever. Even though I knew he would fall in love with me too, it was hard to imagine what it would be like to no longer doubt I belonged.
My thoughts started to spiral. I couldn’t let myself hope the bond would help my broken brain. I couldn’t let myself dread the possibility of affecting Eliot’s. I sat down on the sofa next to Julia and contorted myself until my head rested on her lap. She ran her fingers through my hair reflexively. I imagined myself on this same sofa with my head in Eliot’s lap. I wondered what his fingers would feel like on my scalp.
I felt myself start to unclench—as Eliot had put it earlier—right as he appeared with the pipe and a lighter. I sat up and breathed in the light, sweet smoke. I offered some to Julia. “Try this, it’s the actual shit.”
Margo gestured toward Eliot. “Your soulmate invented it. Along with myself, of course, and a shockingly-less-than-useless Naturalist we know. We’re debuting it at tomorrow’s party. The whole school is invited; we’re celebrating the incoming class. We should have at least a couple hundred people here. You and Julia should both know there are a lot of parties here. Most won’t be as big as this one, which we expect to last until sometime early Sunday evening, but there’s something happening here almost every Friday and Saturday night. The Physical Kids have the best parties on campus, which is why we have so many. Supply and demand, you know.”
This had been such a long day, and I was legitimately worried how long it would take me to recuperate. I wasn’t sure I was up for that kind of party with or without a brand new soulbond. Which we still hadn’t even gotten around to activating.
“Eliot, can I talk to you a minute?” I stood and walked into the kitchen. When we were out of the others’ earshot, I said, “Eliot. I don’t usually do very well at large parties. Especially—tomorrow night? The whole weekend? I mean, we haven’t even bonded yet and I already feel like I need to decompress over the weekend before classes start Tuesday.”
Eliot’s face did some kind of thing I couldn’t interpret. “Well, I’m a required participant in the festivities. Smoking mélange with a few people using a pipe is great, but it’s not practical for the gathering we’re planning. So, every hour one of us will do a spell that essentially fogs an entire room with it. It only needs one person to work, so Margo, Josh, and I will alternate. I’ll talk with Margo and see what we can do. I’m sure we can teach the spell to a few other trusted people. We’ll ask Julia and Penny first!
“I absolutely—absolutely want to spend as much time alone with you as possible, given what we’re about to do. I also want the recognition and adoration I deserve for having created such a gift to humankind. I will have to make appearances. I want it all, of course.
“With you on my arm, I’ll be the envy of everyone on campus. We’ll be the envy of everyone on campus. And we will also do a lot of nesting in my—our room, okay? I’ll show you the silencing spells. You’ll love them. I promise, I will remove you from any situation the moment you become uncomfortable. By then, of course, I’ll be able to feel it through the bond. My top priority is you, Quentin. From this day forward, as it were. Now, can we go do this thing?”
I breathed a sigh of relief. The mélange effects had settled in and I felt calm and peaceful. I was glad to learn he was willing to talk things out, listen to and include my input, and make decisions together. It would be advantageous to at least meet some of the people I’ll be studying with here at Brakebills before classes started. I could power through. I decided to remain positive. Everything would be fine, with Julia and Eliot nearby. “Okay,” I smirked, “let’s go let our best friends creep on the most personal and intimate moment of our lives.”
I sat on the sofa between Margo and Penny, Barovier lens in hand. While Quentin was in the kitchen talking with Eliot, I wondered about Penny’s idea of trying to film it on his phone through the lens. Whether or not it worked, he’d still be able to see it happening. I wished we’d had the idea earlier when we were playing around, so we could have tested it. Still, I realized it would make an awesome gift to give them if it does work.
Margo, Penny, and I had arranged ourselves on the sofa again in the same formation as earlier. I liked Margo already, and I was thankful to know that Quentin’s soulmate had a relationship similar to ours; with them, it didn’t seem like it would take a lot of explaining. I decided to wonder later about how soulmates’ friends and family fit into the destiny of it all. Instead, I focused on how grateful I was that Quentin had somebody of his own to look after, someone who would look after him. He had such a hard time so often; heavens knew he deserved it.
Eliot followed Quentin into the room as the coffee table…moved itself out of the way. When he saw me startle, Eliot waved his hand, dismissively. “Oh, sorry. I forgot you don’t know. My discipline is telekinesis. We’ll talk about all that later.” He sat on the floor in front of us on the sofa, indicating a spot next to him.
He looked at all of us and turned his attention back to the floor. “Quentin, I don’t know what to expect here. I’m already shivering with anticipation. Seems like doing this sitting down is probably the safest way to do this. Bambi, we’re going to just reach out and take each other’s hands—on the count of three, so get ready to do your thing. Quentin, ready? One… Two… Three…”
I was entranced, watching how their aurae were already reaching out toward each other even before they lifted their hands. Everything in the room seemed to slow down. When they finally joined hands, I felt something kind of buzzing in the room—maybe it was magic? Their aurae kind of…splashed against each other as they touched—and then just…melted into each other in a riotous kaleidoscope of colors. It was probably the most gorgeous thing I’d ever seen.
I saw the first tear roll down Quentin’s cheek as he blinked a few times, chest heaving. “Hey,” he greeted his new soulmate. Eliot sobbed once and stammered, “Hi,” voice cracking. He reached out to wipe Quentin’s tears away as his own started. He cupped Quentin’s face in both hands and kissed him softly. Quentin threw himself at Eliot, enclosing him in a tight embrace. As they held each other and cried, I looked at Penny, nudging him to end the recording.
It was obvious Eliot and Quentin needed some time. Margo and I shared a look, stood, and went into the kitchen. When he noticed us leaving the room, Penny stopped fiddling with the phone and followed us.
You’d think the moment you learned magic is real would be the most important event of your life. Until this moment, I’d thought it was, too. Nothing has ever compared to this. You’ve heard every story in the world about what it feels like to touch your soulmate for the first time. You know, coming home to the mandolins and fireworks and whatnot, so I won’t repeat the same thing everyone else says. Just Google it or whatever.
What you don’t hear is what a soulbond is like between magicians. Quentin hasn’t been to a single class yet. He knows exactly zero spells. And yet, I could immediately feel his magic in me as well as mine flowing through him—it feels like it’s a part of the bond itself. How the hell did this even work for muggles? I didn’t even feel my own magic with such clarity until it twined with his, and I first felt mine at age 14.
I’m not qualified to diagnose his discipline, but I do know he has some kind of telekinesis, because I can feel it. It’s different than mine, though; mine feels more generalized, somehow. We’ll figure that out soon enough. I also can’t read his mind like Penny (which, just what we needed, another smug asshole psychic) but I have a vague sense of how Quentin is feeling almost all the time. That’s normal for soulmates.
While there are many kinds of cooperative spells, our magic now is forever inherently cooperative. From now on, we literally have to account for both of us when calculating spell circumstances—even spells we do alone. Quentin will learn magic this way from the ground up. I, on the other hand, have much to relearn. But there were a few things I was sure of right then.
I stood and clapped my hands once, leering at the crowd pretending not to watch us from in the kitchen. “Okay, everyone, show’s over. I am taking this gorgeous creature upstairs so we can consummate our bond.” Julia and Quentin made exactly the same wincing face, and Quentin groaned, “Oh my god, Eliot.” He turned the prettiest shade of crimson I’d ever seen, making me feel even more smitten and obsessed. I held my hand out to him, and when he took mine, I crushed him to me and kissed the top of his sweet head.
I was bonded to the world’s most beautiful soul and felt like the luckiest—and happiest—motherfucker ever to live. Caught up in the joy of the moment, I swept him up in a bride’s carry, making him bark out a laugh and ask me to put him down. But there was no way I was taking my hands off him any time soon. I started up the stairs, bearing most of his weight telekinetically.
I already loved him so much. I kissed his temple and nuzzled into his ear, “So glad you’re mine now. Gonna marry you, baby. Daddy's going to take such good care of you, give you every single thing you ever want, every hour of every day.” Quentin started to sputter and wriggle, but we reached my room. Our room. I put him down and interrupted, “Let me show you the spell that unlocks the door.”
Quentin’s focus immediately shifted. I didn’t think he’d seen anyone cast today; it seems like the kind of thing he might have mentioned at some point. I almost swooned when I realized I had the honor of teaching him his first spell. I told him, “Let me go through it once, a little slower than I usually do it, just so you can see the whole thing. Then I’ll show you how to do it, step by step.”
I went through the tuts for the door’s lock. “Huh,” said Quentin. “That little … finger dance? Is the spell that opens the door?” I laughed, “Yes, although there’s more to most spells than this one, which is a fairly simple spell. You’re going to have so much fun learning magic, baby. We have other things to focus on tonight, though, so this is probably all the magical education you’re getting this evening. Now, I’m going to lock the door again, then show you how to do this ‘finger dance.’ We call them tuts.”
I showed him how to unlock the door. He was an unsurprisingly quick study and although still clumsy, got it right on the second try. I turned the knob and opened the physical door, making a sweeping gesture indicating he should enter. I nudged him a bit farther into the room so I could close it behind him. “I’m going to cast a two-way silencing spell on the room. It’ll keep the noise in the rest of the house out while keeping anything we say—or any noises we make—within these walls. You’ll learn it pretty soon in class, so no need to practice this one; you can just watch.
“Welcome home, my Quentin. We will absolutely redo this room—including its size, because magic is fantastic—very soon. It’s not big enough for two. But we’ll make do for now, since we have so many other concerns.” I tilted his chin up and kissed him, telling him I wanted to kiss him everywhere. And I did, removing one piece of his clothing at a time.
I wasn’t sure whether it was the soulbond or Eliot’s talents, but we had the best sex I’d ever had by magnitudes. “Holy shit, Eliot.”
“Quentin. Quentin, Quentin, Quentin. You are going to be the death of me. You’ll probably hear from most of the campus about my promiscuity. You needn’t worry about any of that. There is literally no point in me trying to have average sex ever again. You said you identify as pan; it’s clear you’ve got experience bottoming. And, may I say, what a bottom it is.”
I could feel my whole body blushing. Eliot looked at me with hungry heart eyes. I wondered if he was ready to go again, because I was almost there already. “Yes, definitely pan, definitely experienced. I also consider myself a switch, but I prefer to bottom whenever possible.”
Eliot nodded. “I’m starting to believe there’s something to this whole soulmate thing.” I rolled my eyes as he chuckled softly, “Because I switch too but prefer to top. What are your feelings about open relationships, polyamory, that kind of thing? It’s not something I want to explore right away, but I do know it can be very nice to have sex with multiple people at once. Plus, although it doesn’t happen all that often, Idon’twanttostopsleepingwithMargo.”
“That’s an interesting question,” I replied. “Under normal circumstances, I generally don’t mind. But when there are strong feelings involved, I tend to spiral and wonder when the other person is going to leave me, which tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. But…you and I, we’re bound now and no one will be able to get between us—and that thought is an amazing comfort that will probably take some getting used to. I feel like we should wait to make rules until we know each other better, but I technically don’t have a problem with us sleeping with others—together or separately. Now, what’s this about Margo?”
“Before I moved to New York, I considered myself gay. Like, all the way, Kinsey 6 gay. I don’t know if it was a product of the female specimens of my hometown or what. I spent a lot of time in gay bars when I first arrived, having so much sex with so many random strangers I legit don’t know how I don’t have every STD. The City has so many beautiful women, and I began to notice passing attraction to some of them. Started fantasizing about what fucking them would be like.
But Bambi. Margo was the first woman I ever slept with, and it was good enough that it’s happened many more times. I’ve picked up a couple of random women to sleep with since then, with variable results. I think it would be incandescently hot for us to find a pretty girl to destroy. What about young Quentin? Did you always identify as pansexual? Did you first have sex with a boy or a girl?”
I smiled to myself, remembering. “My first sexual experiences were at camp the summer I turned 15. Chris…had ambiguous genitalia and was being raised as a boy. But that ambiguity didn’t keep my hands or mouth off it—in fact, I thought it was way hotter than having one or the other. I’d be one of a limited number of humans to have seen and experienced their uniqueness. I mean, yeah, sure, everyone’s is unique—yours is huge, obviously—but you know what I mean.
“We’re Facebook friends these days; they identify as enby, and I’m grateful that’s an actual thing. Anyway, we snuck around and made each other come once or twice a day for the full two weeks of that camp. Basically taught each other how to do the sex. And how to kiss.
“I’m sure it’s not surprising that I was never very popular even though I got to hang out with the ‘in crowd’ through Julia. I didn’t date very much at all. I had probably an average amount of sex, though; in a way I was kind of popular, since I slept with all kinds of people. It wasn’t that I didn’t have standards, as the other kids often accused. I realized pretty early on that people have so many attractive qualities that aren’t physical. Attractive to me, at least.
“I prefer sex with somebody I can have a conversation with before and after. I guess most people are too shallow for that. I’ve had lots of fuckbuddies who were nothing more than good friends—and, I’m still in friendly contact with most of them. But, you know, with the whole brain-breaking thing, I’m not good at approaching people romantically. And I’m shit at noticing I’m being flirted with. Most of my fuckbuddies just kind of happened. And they’ve been all over the gender spectrum. That you’re male is objectively no more or less interesting than that you have brown hair.”
Eliot feigned offense. “I’m outraged you find any part of me ‘more or less interesting.’ Let’s see if this is interesting enough for you.” He slithered toward the foot of the bed, and what he did with his tongue was very interesting indeed.
 I named them based on glassmaking history since having invented such a thing as glass seems like pure magic https://www.glassofvenice.com/murano_glass_history.php
 I selected this particular one because it is in upstate New York, fairly close to what appears to be rural areas where Brakebills could reasonably be concealed. I especially picked it because it looks like it never made it out of the 70s (from Google Streets view). The Fairfield Inn was just a bonus.
 At 4:02pm, we later learn, as this information is part of your personal Circumstances
 Can also be used as part of your personal Circumstances as a refinement so it’s helpful to know