Margo had said five minutes, so all Eliot had to do was count to sixty five times. Or he could count to three hundred once. Somehow, that didn’t seem quite right. Tilting his head back, Eliot quickly did the math in his head to double check and make sure that five multiplied by sixty was, in fact, three hundred. Then he realized he had no idea how long he’d spent thinking about math and now didn’t know how much time had passed or how much longer he’d be kneeling on the floor. Groaning, Eliot let his head loll back to stare up at the ceiling. Margo had said five minutes and yet he was starting to think he had been kneeling there for at least an hour.
“Keep your hands still,” Margo told him as she loudly turned a page in her magazine.
With a put upon sigh, Eliot stopped twisting his fingers around his curls and repositioned himself so his hands were clasped together at the back of his neck. He repositioned his weight, more out of boredom than discomfort, and chanced a glance at Margo. She was comfortable laid out on the bed, eyes on the latest issue of Vanity Fair instead of on him which he found wholly unfair. What was the point in keeping proper position if she wasn’t even watching him to make sure he was doing as she’d asked? Well, he decided, if she was going to ignore him then he wasn’t going to play anymore. In a moment of idiotic defiance Eliot dropped his hands from his neck and went to push himself off the floor.
Before his fingers had even touched the hardwood Margo’s hand was around his wrist. “That’s the opposite of keeping your hands still, El.”
“I’m bored,” he whined, letting his head fall to rest against Margo’s shoulder. “I’m bored, this is boring. I honestly think watching paint dry would be more entertaining.”
Indulging Eliot’s dramatics, Margo brushed her fingers gently through Eliot’s messy hair as she moved to gracefully kneel down in front of him. “I’d feel so much worse for you if you hadn’t asked me to do this,” she reminded him, irritation slipping into her voice.
She was mostly right and Eliot felt like he was allowed to be just a little bitter about that. While he couldn’t technically blame her, that was exactly what he was going to do. “Actually you said I needed to calm down and I just agreed with you. Agreeing isn’t the same thing as asking, Margo. Besides, how the hell is kneeling on the floor supposed to help me be calm? That’s—ow!”
It didn’t actually hurt that bad when Margo slapped at Eliot’s thigh, his trousers absorbed most of the blow, and he reacted more to the sharp sound than anything else. Still, he put on a pout and rubbed at the spot as though it was still stinging.
“Number one, you’re already way calmer than you were. Number two, this might go better and easier if you actually bothered to listen to me when I talked. Number three, you put me in charge and I don’t remember asking to listen to you sit there and complain. Number four, back straight, hands behind your back this time.”
Eliot opened his mouth to argue but Margo’s expression told him that this would be over faster if he just pretended like he was listening to her. He made a great show of straightening himself up and clasping his hands behind his back, all the while looking at Margo with barely suppressed annoyance. It wasn’t Margo’s fault, she was the only Dom he knew and trusted enough to get this close to him, to see him like this. If anyone asked then Eliot would tell them he’d lost his real ID years ago but he was pretty sure that he was classified as a Switch, because telling the truth was the most dangerous thing he could think to do. With Margo it was different. She wouldn’t hurt him, wouldn’t take advantage of him, just because he was stamped with the horrific title of Submissive. Unfortunately for both of them, it also meant that she was the only one he could go to when he needed to Sub and it worked about as well as any of his other plans.
“And how long am I supposed to stay down here?” he drawled out, his fingers already starting to twitch.
Margo settled down on the floor, making herself comfortable against the pile of pillows by her bed, and shrugged. “Until I say otherwise. I know you, Eliot, you just try to count seconds if there’s a time limit.”
He frowned and rolled his eyes. “I do not…”
“Less talking more submitting. And since you can’t be trusted to sit quietly on the floor by yourself…back straight.”
Great. If he’d just waited three hundred seconds before getting bored then this could all be over and he could go back to telling Margo about the cute little first year boy he’d seen. Now he had an indeterminable amount of time on the floor with Margo keeping a watchful eye before he could gush about his flavor of the week. He shifted on the floor, trying to find a position where the cold wood didn’t hurt his knees too bad, and earned himself a scowl from Margo.
“Focus, Eliot. At least try to stay still.”
Oh sure, it was probably way easier to be still while sitting on a pillow throne. Kneeling was easy, that was part of what made it so boring. It had been nice the first couple of times when Margo had commented on how pretty he was and what elegant posture he had. Now it was just routine and that made it lose any entertainment value Eliot might’ve once given it. Not that there was much else they could do. Save for serious situations, Eliot had a long list of things in his ‘hard limits’ category for scenes with Margo. Although, as he tried to find something to occupy his mind he began to rethink what was and what wasn’t allowed.
Not wanting to continue to try and meet Margo’s glare, Eliot cast his gaze toward the ceiling. Maybe this would be easier if he gave the ceiling a paint job, it already boring and the off-white color just made it that much worse. Wait, it wasn’t all white. There was a reddish stain right beside the overhead light that was either blood or wine. Eliot suspected wine because he couldn’t imagine how he would get blood on the ceiling. It wasn’t completely outside the realm of possibility. It did make more sense that he would be more willing to spill blood than wine.
“Eliot!” Margo snapped.
Tearing his gaze away from the ceiling Eliot gave up, letting his arms fall. It wasn’t fair! It wasn’t fair because he hated this! He hated the fact that a firm voice could make his insides quake. It wasn’t that he couldn’t rebel against it. There were times when someone’s voice dropped an octave that everything inside him screamed to kneel and he had to learn to ignore it and pretend it didn’t make him shiver. More than that though, he hated how fucking bad he was at this. Any other Sub in the world could probably very easily kneel on the floor in front of a trusted Dom for five minutes and yet there he was struggling to keep his hands still or his head up or gaze steady. It wouldn’t have been a problem if he didn’t need it! If he didn’t need the release that came from submitting then he would just give up entirely because he sucked at it.
“Shh, shh, hey, don’t do that, come here,” Margo said, her voice dropping to almost a whisper as she moved across the floor to Eliot. “You’re getting yourself worked up and frustrated and that’s definitely not helping. Just relax, there we go.”
He let Margo pull him over to the pillow pile and rested his head on her shoulder while she stroked his hair and started up a mantra of telling him how good he was. The praise sent a wave of warmth through his chest and he reached up, his fingers gripping the front of her shirt so tightly that his knuckles turned white. The steady stream for affirmations from Margo made him feel safe enough to breathe again and let himself calm down. Unfortunately, calming down just reminded him how stupid he was for getting upset in the first place. The only Subs who needed who worry about being good were Subs actively involved with or looking for a Dominant, not Subs who were using their best friend as a stevia version of a Dominant.
Margo kept rubbing circles on Eliot’s back, patiently keeping up the reassurances. “There we go, there’s my pretty boy,” she said as Eliot finally lifted his head up. “Is that what you needed? Just the nice parts?”
Eliot shrugged, realizing he’d like it better when she was just telling him how good he was. “Less questions, more petting,” he told her, settling back down.
“Well, you seem calmer than you were. So, tell me about this first year that got you all hot and bothered.”
Brightening significantly, Eliot sat up with renewed energy. “His name is Quentin, I met him two hours ago, and I love him. He’s the single most awkward person I’ve ever met. Actually, I don’t think he’s a person at all, I think he’s a physical manifestation of awkwardness that has taken the shape of a very soft, very cute, very confused, very cute—“
“You already said cute.”
“Very cute boy. I met him on his way to his entrance exam, he tripped over a line drawn on the floor, and then apologized to the floor. Honestly, perfection.”
Margo hummed as she carded her fingers through Eliot’s hair. “Well, if he’s as cute as you say he is then we’ll have to fight over him.”
“I saw him first.”
“Yes, but I’m Margo and when I want something I get it so you’d better hope he isn’t nearly as cute as you’re playing him up to be.”
Eliot rolled his eyes at Margo’s faux threats. “He’s so not even your type. He’s soft, sweet, and submissive. You’re Margo, you like something that’s at least a bit of a challenge.”
“That must be why we’re such good friends.” She paused, brushing Eliot’s curls from his face. “Seriously though, do you feel better or do you need more time?”
“I’m fine,” he assured her, as he sat up and stretched. His joints popped and groaned as he moved from being in odd positions for the past half hour.
Margo stared up at him for a second, clearly unconvinced of how ‘fine’ he was. For a moment it looked like she was going to call him out on it, but instead she said, “I don’t remember telling you that you could get up.”
“We’re out of scene.”
“Not until I say we are. Lie back down and try that again.”
Eliot knew exactly what Margo wanted; he just absolutely hated asking for any kind of permission to do anything. It was the single most humiliating part of anything and he was sure that he would never ever get used to it. “Margo, come on!” he groaned, rolling over and kicking his foot against the floor. Instead of a reprieve this only earned him another slightly stingy swat on his leg.
“One task, Eliot, that’s all I ask. Do one little thing and we’ll be done.”
Four words, that was all he needed to say, four words that made furious. Gritting his teeth, Eliot closed his eyes and tried to disconnect himself from his body enough to ask for permission without dying of embarrassment in the process. “May I get up?” he managed, spitting out the question with no regard to respect or etiquette.
Despite the attitude, Margo smiled and ruffled Eliot’s hair. “Of course you can, don’t be ridiculous,” she said with a smile. “If you want you can even show me this apparently very cute boy.”
Ear burning, Eliot pushed himself away from the pillow pile, moving toward the mirror to make sure his outfit didn’t look too rumpled. As he walked he tried to ignore how much tension had drained from his shoulders. “You can’t have him, I called dibs.”
“Dibs are only valid if we see a guy at the same time. You have an unfair advantage.”
After straightening his tie Eliot turned and offered Margo his hand, “Then I guess you’ll get your challenge after all.”
Grinning, Margo took Eliot’s hand and pulled herself upright before linking arms with him. “We could always share. Don’t look at me like that! I’m very good at sharing.”
“Don’t worry, Bambi, we’ll find you your own little first year.”
The conversation was relaxed and easy like it always was with Margo. It seemed so easy for her to slip out of her role as a Dom and quickly just be his best friend again. Instead of telling him to sit still and watch his posture she laughed as his quips and pointed out which first years she saw who looked like they’d flunk out within the first month.
Something about the first year dorms made Eliot think of old asylums. Perhaps it was the institutional florescent lighting or the peeling eggshell paint on the walls or the fact that the bat wing style corridors gave him major Kirkbride architecture vibes. Whatever it was, Eliot was thrilled he got to live in the warm, cozy cottage without the smell of axe mixed with industrial cleaner assaulting his nose. Also, the cottage had much better security than the dormitories. There were, technically, locks on the door but nothing that couldn’t be thwarted with a simple spell.
Eliot led Margo through the corridors until he found a door with a little white card that said ‘Quentin Coldwater’ in black lettering. It looked as though there had been another nametag on the door above Quentin’s name but now all that remained were two sad pieces of double-sided tape. Eliot listened at the door for a moment, it sounded like there was an argument going on inside. Well, the drama would have to wait.
“Quentin!” Eliot greeted as he swung open the door. “This is the interruption you’ve been waiting for!”
Humming to herself, Margo looked Quentin over like he was a bracelet in a glass case at Tiffany’s. “Hi, I’m Margo,” she purred. “He’s not that cute. Although….” A smile tugged at her lips as she delicately reached out to ghost her hand along Quentin’s tie. “Small, shy, Submissive. My three favorite S’s.”
Eliot playfully clicked his teeth at her. “Down girl, I saw him first.
Quentin blinked, looking between Margo and Eliot with curious confusion. It took him a moment to gather his words up but, unfortunately, when he did open his mouth to speak he was interrupted.
“Can I get a moment of peace in this place?”
His lack of special awareness and hyper focus on Quentin hadn’t allowed Eliot to realize there was someone else in the room. Eliot tilted his head, taking in Quentin’s roommate, thinking that if he were more into scarves and toxic masculinity the boy would be someone he might be interested in having a forgettable one night stand with. For now, though, Eliot decided it was best to focus on his current conquest; in part because he was still relaxed from his scene with Margo and didn’t want to risk accidentally embarrassing himself in front of a strange, first year Dom.
“No, welcome to Brakebills,” Eliot said before turning on his heel. “Come along, Quentin, we’ll give you the grand tour.”
It wasn’t that Eliot thought Quentin necessarily needed a full tour of Brakebills but it did give Eliot time to put on a mask and be the center of attention. Feigning confidence, he led Quentin along the garden path, pointing different building, people who were cool (that is to say, Margo and himself) and people who were uncool (which, incidentally, was everyone else). It seemed like it was going well. Quentin’s eyes were on him and Margo’s occasional commentary kept Eliot from having to ramble on for too long.
The absolute amazement in Quentin’s eyes made Eliot somewhat nostalgic. Almost everyone at Brakebills had been through the same experience. Sure, there were a few outliers, people from magical families or those who had experienced safe houses, but, for the most part, everyone spent at least a week in wide-eyed wonder, marveling at the miracle of their new, magical life. If only that astonishment lasted, if only magic stayed magical.
Eliot’s monologue was cut short just as he was getting to the good part regarding where to find the best parties (spoiler: the best party was whatever party he was at). He’d been standing on a stone bench, giving him more of a height advantage than normal which made him able to spot a dark haired girl hurrying through the crowded courtyard. How had Quentin made another friend already, Eliot wondered, maybe it was his super outgoing and confident personality.
“Quentin!” the girl called again, her smoky voice ensnaring Quentin’s attention.
“Julia!” Quentin lit up and hurried over to the girl, embracing her in a tight hug. “I thought I saw you in the exam hall but then I wasn’t sure, I wasn’t even sure if the exam was real because—“
“I know, it was insane,” Julia finished for him, keeping a tight hold on his hands. “The questions kept randomly changing and moving around—“
“And then—I mean, I got to invent my own language so that was cool—“
“Then having to go in front of a panel and do magic—“
“I didn’t even know I could do magic before—“
“I know! Me neither!”
They bounced off each other in that fashion for quite some time and Eliot realized that Quentin probably wasn’t going to introduce him to this friend he apparently had now. At least, Eliot hoped this girl was just his friend. Snaking his arm around Margo’s waist, Eliot cleared his throat in the hopes of ending their excited jumping.
“Well, this is all very twee,” he said once Quentin’s focus was back on him, “aren’t you going to introduce us to your little friend here?”
Looking more apologetic than he should’ve been Quentin quickly nodded. “Right, yeah, sorry, I just got—um, anyway, right. Jules, this is Eliot and, um, Mar—Margo? Yeah, Margo. They were showing me around campus. And this is Julia.”
Julia stood up a little straighter. “Nice to meet you,” she said, offering out her hand.
“She’s my best friend since forever, basically. And we, um, we used to do magic together—not real magic but, like, stage magic. Like cardistry…”
God, he was cute. It was somehow painful and adorable to watch him stumble over his words, Eliot could watch Quentin ramble forever. He wondered what it would look like if Quentin ever actually relaxed. That was something he had to see. “Pleasure.” He ignored Julia’s hand and opted to instead rest his head affectionately on Margo’s shoulder.
Eye sparkling dangerously, Margo gave Julia a predatory smile. “Love the blazer,” she said in a way that only sounded like a compliment if you didn’t know her well.
Realizing that no one was going to shake Julia slowly lowered her hand in slight embarrassment. As though she forgot what she was wearing Julia looked down at her blazer, smoothing out the lapels. “Oh, um, thanks. I like your shoes.”
“Everyone likes my shoes.”
Alright, these awkward introductions had officially gone on too long. Quentin wasn’t being endearingly awkward so this was boring now. “As I was saying before we were so rudely interrupted,” he said, smiling as though he were joking, “we’re having a party tonight. Celebrating the last day before the crushing stress of not flunking out threatens to give many of us nervous breakdowns and increases our suicidal ideation. Anyway, we’d love for you to join us.”
“That’s certainly dramatic,” Julia mumbled to herself. “You’re inviting us to a party?”
“We’re inviting Quentin to a party,” Margo clarified, her voice slow and sweet as though she were talking to a particularly stupid child.
“Don’t be rude” It was clear to Eliot that Julia was Quentin’s safety friend, meaning he wasn’t likely to leave her side while in a new place. For now, they were a package deal and he could play nice. “His little friend is more than welcome to join us.”
Margo paused, looking to Eliot to make sure he was sure about this. “Of course, the more the merrier,” she said once she got her silent confirmation that Eliot knew what he was doing.
“Just be there between eight tonight and…three in the morning.”
“And wear something slutty but still classy.”
“Ta for now, children.”
Linking arms, Eliot and Margo headed back down the path towards the cottage, leaving Quentin and Julia no time to confirm or deny the invitation. Though, Eliot didn’t have any doubts that the two would show up. After all, they were so ecstatic about attending a magical university that they must’ve been at least curious as to what a magical party would entail.
“Do we like her?” Margo asked once they were out of earshot.
One of the beautiful things about being friends with Margo was that you were never alone in your hatred for someone. They were a team who hated people together. For his part, Eliot absolutely despised Melanie Wong. He’d never met her and Margo hadn’t seen her since the fifth grade. However, Melanie Wong had stolen Margo’s headband once during recess, which meant now Eliot had to be enemies with her until the end of time.
“Hard to tell. Dom?”
Margo scoffed. “Not a Dom and definitely not Quentin’s Dom,” she assured him. “Actually, if I had to guess then I’d say…” Margo pressed her forefinger to her temple, feigning deep concentration. “Switch.”
“What makes you so sure?”
“I’m psychic now. And I stole her ID.” She smirked, holding up a white leather clutch wallet.
Everyday Eliot found a new reason to be thankful he was on Margo’s good side. “Have I told you how much I absolutely adore you?” he asked, lifting his hand to twirl her around as though they were dancing.
She smiled, laughing as she braced herself against his shoulder. “Maybe once or twice, but you can tell me again while you help me find an outfit.”
Less than twenty-four hours ago Quentin had been prepared to abandon his childish hopes of ever getting into Hogwarts or going on a magical quest to save a princess trapped in a faraway castle. In the bleak, grey Brooklyn streets he had accepted it was time to relinquish himself to a passionless life as a philosophy major whose only plan was to quietly die before having to make a career out of his degree. The fight to keep holding onto even a modicum of hope had exhausted him to the point of defeat.
Now here he was, standing on the lush green quad of a magical university with the summer sun shining down on him. He didn’t even care why it was suddenly summer, afraid that if he questioned it then the illusion would shatter and he would be thrust back into bitter reality. Taking it all in Quentin thought he should be happy, ecstatic even, that he was here and this was real. But there was a nagging fear in the back of his mind, something telling him that if he enjoyed it too much then it would all come crashing down around him. He tried to shut that voice down, trying his best to enjoy this and believe it was happening.
Julia’s voice brought him out of his head and back into the moment. He relaxed a little, remembering that he wasn’t alone in this. It was hard starting a new school, and having his best friend there definitely took some of the pressure off. As long as he had Julia he felt safe.
“Since when do you go to parties without me dragging you there?” she asked, half teasing half concerned.
That was actually a really good question and Quentin didn’t quite know how to answer it. Sure, he’d never been accused of being the life of a party and maybe once or twice he had ducked out early to find a quiet place where he could just be alone, but he had a good feeling about this one. “It’s a party at a magic school, that’s gotta be different than a regular college party.” His mind was already wandering to imagines of Gandalf’s fireworks filling the air over the Hudson.
Tilting her head Julia looked him over as though seeing him for the first time. “Is this the new Quentin Coldwater? Magician and party animal?”
“You did say it was time for a change.”
She broke into a full, bright smile, the kind that reached her sparkling eyes and reminded Quentin of childhood. “I will admit that when I said that I wasn’t expecting us to end up in…” She paused, glancing around the quad and trying to find the right word to describe their situation.
“In Fillory?” Quentin finished for her, relieved when she nodded and didn’t make fun of him.
“I say, Rupert, what adventures do you think we shall find in this place?” Julia said, putting on a fake British dialect and linking arms with Quentin.
Walking with Julia, pretending they were in Fillory, felt safe and familiar. It was like all the stress Quentin had been dealing with in the outside world melted away when he passed through the magical barrier. “We have a ball to attend at Castle Whitespire tonight,” he told her, putting on the same faux dialect.
Her smile faltered and Julia squeezed Quentin’s upper arm. “Yeah, um, how much do you know about those people? The ones who invited us to the party?”
Oh, he hadn’t meant for things to get serious. He’d enjoyed their pretending for the moment that it lasted and wasn’t sure what he’d said to mess it up. “Eliot and Margo? Well, I met Eliot when I first got here, he showed me where the exam room was which I guess is just something the older students do so we don’t get lost? Because I definitely would’ve gotten lost.”
“No one showed me where to go.”
“Maybe they knew you wouldn’t get lost?” Quentin shrugged because it wasn’t like he knew how anything here happened; he was still trying to parse though why he was here at all. “Anyway, I guess Margo’s Eliot’s best friend so…they seem nice.”
Julia’s expression made it clear she didn’t agree. She was quiet for a moment, her lips pursed in thought as they headed down the garden path. “Just stick close to me until we’re sure they’re nice,” she finally said.
Quentin didn’t know how to explain it to her but he trusted Eliot. Sure, he hadn’t known him long, but he was nice and hadn’t done anything to make Quentin feel uneasy. He suspected that people who went to Brakebills were different from other people. They did magic and somehow he assumed that made them nicer. Although, he was still glad that Julia would be there with him. Eliot and Margo probably had their own friends they wanted to hang out with and Quentin suspected they wouldn’t enjoy spending the whole party with him following them around like a lost puppy. He’d have no problem staying close to Julia, she was his safety friend and he usually stayed close to her at parties anyway.
“Hey, can we get ready in your room?” Quentin asked as they approached the dorms. “My roommate is…kind of aggressive.”
“Did he do something to you?”
The last thing Quentin wanted was to start a new school with a reputation of having Julia fight his battles for him. Not again. “No, no, not exactly. He’s just, well, he’s Penny. It’s fine.”
Julia still looked concerned but didn’t press the issue. “Sure. My roommate is kinda weird, but in a good way. I think you’ll like her.”
He certainly hoped so. He hoped to like everything here. This was a new start, a new chance, and everything he’d dreamed of. He felt like Rupert Chatwin stepping though the wardrobe and planting his feet on Fillorian soil for the first time. Magic buzzed around him, reminding him that he wasn’t like Rupert, he was like Quentin, which was usually a horrible realization. Except this time being like Quentin meant he had his own magical journey before him and with Julia at his side he was more than ready to explore what Brakebills had to offer.