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“Oh, my God.” Eliot took a step back instinctually. They had been so wrong. About everything. He was wrestling with both shock and awe over the utter the depths of their stupidity. They had been told, over and over, that this Thing was feared by the Gods. The monster was ancient, and he realized dimly that they must look like mayflies by comparison. Their sheer arrogance that they could control It, they could win, was ultimately to be their downfall. He should have been used to losing by now, as apparently they were Wyle E. Coyote and the Universe was the fucking Roadrunner, and somehow they never, ever managed to see the anvil coming.

This time it just felt so fucking personal.

The monster advanced on him, head cocked to the side. It smiled at him, and Eliot felt like he might vomit. He felt frozen in place, any instinct to fight or flight completely absent. It must have tired with his inaction, and with a small flick of Its wrist, he was flung backwards onto the dirty loading dock floor.

It stood over him, eyes glowing. It brought it hands together as if in a prayer, and a pulsing white light was emitted, almost like the flash of an atomic bomb. The light illuminated the dingy interior, making Its eyes flare once more. Then, everything went mercifully black.

***

Henry Fogg sighed, looking at the man seated before him. Quentin Coldwater had always worn his misery like a hair shirt, visible for all to see. But this Quentin seemed completely broken. Henry understood why, what he had been through, what they had all been through. It would have broken anyone. Trouble seemed to shadow Quentin and his group of friends, no matter the timeline. He marveled at the difficultly they had gone through trying to defeat the Beast. Of course his students would stumble across something even worse.

“Why?” Quentin’s voice sounded hoarse, almost from disuse. “Why did you do it?”

Henry rubbed a hand tiredly over his face. “Believe it or not, it was for your benefit. I was trying to protect you.”

“Jesus Christ, you left us completely fucking exposed!” Quentin slammed his hands on his desk. Apparently, he still had some fire left in him after all.

“Yes. Well. I didn’t have all of the information. I didn’t know about the monster Mr. Waugh was going to let loose.”

“Eliot was trying to save me.” Quentin closed his eyes, as if in pain. “He thought he was doing the right thing. He didn’t realize…” He took in a shaky breath. “None of us knew. And then, you fucking erased our memories, and we had no defenses when It came looking for us. We didn’t even know we were magicians! We were completely vulnerable!”

Henry sighed again, rising up and pouring two stiff drinks. He handed one to Quentin who just stared at him, unmoving, finally giving in and taking the tumbler from him. He sat it to the side, untouched. He probably thought it was drugged. Not that Henry blamed him. He took a long sip from his own glass. “So, how did you get your memories back?”

“It was Margo, really. She was the one who first remembered.”

Henry was surprised. “Ms. Hanson remembered?”

Quentin gave him a sad smile. “She has a fairy eye.” Henry would have to ask him about that later. “She knew something was wrong. Once she figured out she could see two sets of memories with it, she tried to find Eliot first, of course. And she did. But, she could see It was not Eliot, not anymore. So, she found Julia, knew she would have enough power to undo it.” He licked his lips slowly and took another deep breath. “From there, they found everyone else. Everyone, but me. Because the monster found me first.”

“So, how did you…”

Quentin held a hand up, forestalling questions. “Penny travelled in and snatched me while the monster was sleeping. Once we were all together again, we had to come up with a plan on freeing Eliot.” He looked down and shook his head. “We had no fucking idea what we were doing. We were just so desperate to get him back.” At that, his voice did break.

“But, you managed to free him?” Quentin nodded sadly, his eyes were shining. “How?”

Quentin shook his head and shrugged. “Penny had a plan. It involved luring the monster out of Eliot and into this woman, Vale.”

“Vale? Who was she?” Henry pulled his eyebrows together in confusion.

Quentin sighed, world weary. “I should probably start from the beginning. It all began with the vampire, Sokolov.”

***

“A vampire?” Margo paced, irritated, in front of them. “Are you fucking kidding me? Your genius plan involves a vampire?”

Penny sighed. “Yo, Queen B, just hear me out, alright?”

Margo stopped her pacing for a moment. “That’s High King B.”

Penny threw his arms up, exasperated. “Fine, your majesty.” He ran a hand over his face.

Truth be told, Quentin was a huge fan of pissing Penny off in as many ways as possible, but he actually wanted to hear him out. Any plan at this point was better than what they had currently, which was nothing. “Margo, let’s hear what he has to say.”

Margo looked at him, narrowing her eyes. “You? Siding with him?” Margo looked around the floor at her feet. “This is me. Waiting for the ground to open and swallow me whole.”

“Look. This dude was a traveler before he was turned. And, he is old. Like millennia old.” Penny paused, searching the others’ faces, letting this sink in. “Like he was around the last time the monster was out of the cage, old.”

“Seriously?” Julia slid down from her perch on the wall. Quentin didn’t fail to notice Penny’s eyes soften, just a fraction. “He knows the monster?”

Penny smiled softly at her. “Knew.”

“So, why does he want to help us?” Kady played with the ends of her hair, pulling at split ends.

“Because, the monster has something Sokolov wants.” Penny looked at them again. “He fell in love. With a human. Which apparently is forbidden in the magical creature world. He has a very old spell from the last time this fuckbag roamed the earth that we can use to lure the monster into her. He knows how to somehow bind the monster to her. That will power her up or some shit and they can actually be together.”

Josh had wandered over. “Wait. He’s a vampire. Why not just turn her?” Quentin was wondering the same thing.

Penny shook his head. “Apparently, if he did that, she would just be a….fledgling…I think is what he called it. She couldn’t even be near him, at that point. He would have to wait for another millennia for her to become a master vampire, or whatever the hell he is. If she survived that long.”

Margo was glaring at him. “So, wait. Let me get this straight. This vamp is going to free Eliot from the monster because he wants his forever Buffy?”

Penny scoffed. “Well, she’s not a Slayer. Are Slayers even real?” He looked up to the ceiling. “Anyways, evidently she’s a powerful hedge.” He slapped his hands against his thighs. “Look, I don’t know. Could this be a trap? Sure. But in the absence of literally any other ideas…”

Kady cut in. “This is the stupidest fucking plan. Best case scenario, we’re all fucking…fledgings…or whatever. Worst case, we’re all dinner.” Quentin couldn’t tell if she was so pissed that it was Penny, or if she really did think it was a stupid plan. Probably a little of both.

Margo pulled out her High King voice. “Do you really think that Eliot would want some old ass vampire’s fuckbuddy out there, running around with the power of this Thing to do the hell knows what…”

“Yeah. It’s a shitty plan.” Penny shook his head and shrugged. “You think I don’t know this? But, like I said, this is the first idea we have come up with in over a month, and in that time, the monster is riding around inside of Eliot doing God knows what…”

Quentin sighed, tiredly running a hand over his face, gearing up to speak. Margo must have noticed because she tried to cut him off, but he held up a hand. “Ok. So. In the ridiculously off-chance that we would even agree to this, what would we have to do?”

***

Henry shook his head in utter disbelief. “So. You banded with a vampire to free Eliot?” No wonder trouble followed these sad fucks like they were the Piped Piper.

Quentin glared at him. “Well, it worked!”

He told the Dean how they met with Sokolov and Vale in a neutral location. They explained the monster had been hunting powerful magical creatures, trying to both boost up Its own power as well as shake them down for any information about the six of them. Apparently, It was still on the hunt. So, the plan was, to drop the wards around them and lure It in. Then they would use collaborative magic to bait the monster into Vale. Once Sokolov had bound It, Penny would travel them all back to the warehouse they had been hiding out in. The whole operation had taken less than ten minutes from start to finish.

Henry snapped his fingers. “So, just like that? Do you have any idea how dangerous…”

“Eliot almost died, ok?” Henry was surprised at the raw emotion he saw on Quentin’s face. “Once that Thing realized what we were doing, It tried to kill him.” His breath hitched. “It almost succeeded.” Henry began to appreciate the depths of feelings between the two men. He wasn’t all that shocked, they had been together in several of the timelines.

Henry brought his hands together, rubbing his index fingers over his bottom lip thoughtfully. “And, you were sure it was Eliot? That this wasn’t some trick?”

Quentin closed his eyes. “Julia checked him out, as did Margo.” He licked his lips. “Trust me, he was Eliot.” He almost smiled, but, remembering, caught himself. He shook his head. “There was no way we could have known what was coming next.”

***

Quentin was sitting on the ratty couch in what they had fashioned as a common area, folded in on himself, head resting on his knees. He flicked his gaze up towards Eliot as he came into view. “Hey.”

“Hey.” Eliot had somehow discovered a bottle of rum and two cleanish glasses which he filled as he headed towards the couch, setting the bottle on the crate they were using as a coffee table. Leave it to Eliot to find the only half decent bottle of hooch they had in this shithole. Quentin knew he just had his reunion with Margo, and was looking for company.

“Thanks,” Quentin slid his legs to the floor, downing half the glass in one go, settling it on the crate and shoving it a bit forward with his fingers. He moved away a little, closing in on himself.

“So…” Eliot glanced sideways at him. He was tapping his foot nervously and chewing at a nail, avoiding Eliot’s gaze. “How are you?” Quentin still refused to look at him but stopped the toe tapping. The silence stretched out for a good minute between them.

“Christ, Eliot.” He took in a huge breath and brought his hand up over his eyes. Seemingly out of nowhere, he began to weep, huge gut-wrenching sobs, bent over and shoulders shaking.

Eliot pulled Quentin in towards him, tucking him under his chin. He grabbed Eliot's shirt with one hand, twisting at the fabric and clinging on tightly, laying his other on his thigh. Eliot kept repeating comforting things, running a hand slowly over Quentin’s back. “It’s ok. It’s going to be ok. You’re ok. It’s ok now.” After a long while, his sobs slowly began to lose steam, and Quentin started taking huge gulping breaths. He sat up again, drying his eyes with the sleeves of his hoodie. “Ok?”

Quentin was just staring at him, eyes sticky and hot, arm over his mouth, still breathing hard. He closed his eyes, and took one last hiccupping breath. “Sorry I… Fuck!” He clenched his jaw.

Eliot sighed. “No…it’s…a lot.”

“You have no fucking idea.” He collapsed back onto the cushions, head back, studying the ceiling.

Eliot reached over and gently took one of Quentin’s hands in his own, running small circles over his wrist with his thumb. Quentin lifted his head and was staring at their joined hands. Eliot was abnormally at a loss for words, and he knew he was probably wrestling with feelings of guilt. “Q, I'm…”

Quentin launched himself at him, all desperate mouth and tongue and teeth and need. He could tell that Eliot was taken off guard at first, grunting in surprise, but quickly reciprocated, returning the passionate kisses with sucking and grasping. Without preamble, Quentin slid onto his lap, straddling him, pausing momentarily to strip off his sweatshirt and pitch it on the floor, then continuing his assault on Eliot’s neck. Quentin rocked his hips into him, feeling Eliot was half hard already. Eliot’s hands were marking his back, tracing his giant cacodemon tattoo with his nails, and he moaned when Quentin bit his earlobe. At the sound, Quentin suddenly pulled back, breathless, looking down at Eliot, then around the room. He realized just how exposed they were in their current location. “Uh. Yeah. Um. We should probably…” He flicked his eyes towards the one of the corrugated steel doors that he had been using as a bedroom.

“Yeah.” Eliot’s voice was rough. He moved to stand, and Quentin carefully swung off of him, standing as well, but immediately reached up to kiss him again. After a long minute, Eliot pulled back and smiled at him, cupping his jaw. “Q…we’re not going to get very far if you keep doing that.”

Quentin grabbed his sweatshirt in one hand and Eliot’s hand with his other, urgently pulling him up towards his room.

***

Finally. The reason why Coldwater had come to him in the first place. “So, what happened at the warehouse?”

Quentin closed his eyes briefly, steeling himself. “It was Eliot who told us where the monster was headed next.”

“Eliot?” A low alarm began sounding in his head. “That didn’t strike any of you as…odd?”

“The monster had literally just been inside of his mind. Eliot knew exactly what It wanted.” Quentin made to reach for the glass of whiskey, reconsidering at the last moment. “It was after a book. I guess the book was like the manual of all things monster related, including how to capture It.” He shifted a bit in his chair. “Problem was, it was in the poison room in the Neitherlands library. Even if we could get there, which we couldn’t, we would all die before we could get it.”

The alarm was growing momentum. “So, what was the plan?”

Quentin sighed. “It was a Librarian, actually, who reached out to us.”

“Who?”

“He said his name was Victor.” He shook his head and shrugged. “He told us the Library was pretty much completely defenseless against this Thing. Told us he would meet us in the Neitherlands with the book.” He let the silence spool out for a few moments before speaking again in a low tone. “We were such fucking idiots.”

Henry stood and poured himself another drink. “So. He was waiting for you in the Neitherlands.” He already knew a lot more of this story than he was letting on, letting Quentin fill in any blanks.

“Of course.” He shook his head sadly. “Except, instead of the book, he had six manila envelopes. With our names on them.” He clasped his hands together, letting them fall between his knees. “Turns out, Victor was working with the monster. ‘Mutually beneficial arrangement’.” He made air quotes to emphasize. Fucking millennials.

“What was in the envelopes?” He sat again, draining more than half his drink.

“Pictures of loved ones.” He gestured with one hand. “Eliot’s nephew. Julia’s sister.” He licked his lips slowly. “My dad.”

“All with the proverbial sword of Damocles hanging over their heads, I presume.” Henry drained the rest of his glass. “So, what was the monster really after?”

Quentin approximated a small box with his hands. “Some kind of box.” He ran a hand tiredly over his face. “It was a small blue boxy…thing. Victor had a picture. I dunno. We called it the ‘Tesseract’ and the name stuck.”

“Tesseract?” Henry recognized this from Norse mythology, not getting the connection.

“From ‘Thor’?” Quentin rolled his eyes and shook his head in disbelief. “From what we understood, it was like a kind of jacked up…niffin box. Something that could potentially hold the monster forever.”

Henry had been calling it “Pandora’s box” since he had heard of it, but he guessed “Tesseract” was as good of a name as any. “So, what? The monster wanted to get it before anyone could use it?” Quentin shrugged. “What was it in for Victor?”

“Fortune and glory? How the fuck should I know?” He slumped back into his chair, defeated. “All we knew was, if we didn’t do this, all of our loved ones would be killed.”

Henry sighed deeply. “So, what happened next?”

***

They were gathered on an overpass overlooking a loading dock which backed up to a massive warehouse. No one was particularly thrilled to be there, they had gone three rounds about it, but they finally realized they had no other choice. Quentin tried not to think of the slippery slope aspect of them just yielding like this. They were so fucked either way, pretty much.

The Tesseract was currently being protected by one hundred battle magicians, dressed in black combat gear. They could see they were fanned out in all directions, and if they were to succeed, they would need to be tightly coordinated. The plan was rather uncomplicated, which helped. He was pretty certain they were going to fail horribly though, in some new and creative way they hadn’t even considered.

“So, everyone clear on their roles?” Margo looked around at each of them. “Josh and Q—you’re the lookouts, take the perimeters, use those flare guns if need be.” Quentin glanced at the giant gun appreciatively, hoping he would get to fire it. “Once Eliot makes a distraction, Julia, you do your thing. Penny, you go in from the right. Me and Kady will take the left. I think the bad boy is housed somewhere in the middle.” She pointed with her gun to the large building off of the loading dock, swiveling towards Eliot. “El, you ready with the light show?”

He gave her a tight smile. “Baby, I’m a firework.” He glanced over at Quentin, who tried to smile encouragingly at him, but he knew it just came off as nervously lame. Eliot stared at him for a moment before pulling him into a kiss, hard and fast, quickly releasing him. Under normal circumstances, Quentin would pretty much have died of embarrassment, but right there, in that moment, about to walk into clear and present danger, he couldn’t bring himself to care. Eliot held him by the shoulders. “So, you know. Don’t die.”

Quentin gave a small laugh, “Yeah, you either.”

“Alright, enough with the PDA, dickwads. We’re burning daylight.” Margo cocked her gun, tossing Eliot a wink. “Regulators, let’s ride.”

They all fanned out to their predetermined locations, waiting on Eliot. Quentin could barely make out his outline in the darkness, a mere shape at this point, approaching the loading dock. He felt like he was holding his breath, waiting for the main event. Suddenly, the sky brightened in a beautiful violet and yellow pulse of light which mushroomed up before the shock wave took out all of the windows in the loading dock. Quentin was watching this with awe, seeing the outline of Eliot illuminated against the glow. Then, the inevitable rush of the guards. He was trying frantically to keep track of Eliot, but soon lost him. Hopefully he had been able to get to his hiding place in time. He didn’t even hear Josh approach him from behind.

“Hey!” He spun around, startled to see Josh loping towards him.

“Josh? What are you doing here? Aren’t you supposed to…”

“You always underestimated me, Quentin.” Josh held his hand out towards him. “That’s why you’re going to lose.” The monster flashed Its eyes.

Oh shit.

***

“So, you didn’t see what happened?” Henry was pacing again, but stopped to lean his hands on his desk, peering down at Quentin.

His gaze fell to the ground. “No. I was the first one knocked out.” He looked completely wrecked, on the verge of tears. “When I came to, it was all over. Everyone was gone. I went back to the safe house, but no one was there. I don’t even know if they got the Tesseract.”

Henry dropped into his chair. He blew out a long breath, regarding Quentin carefully. “Quentin, the ‘Tesseract’, as you are calling it, was never there to begin with.” At Quentin’s confusion, he held up a placating hand. “That place was devised for one reason only. Those battle magicians were under our employ. They were brought in to protect Calypso.”

Quentin gaped open-mouthed at him. “Holy shit. Callie? She’s…”

“Dead.” Henry chose not to supply the detail that she had been found with her spinal cord fashioned into a bolo tie around her neck. The kid was already shaken up enough as it was. This monster was a sick fuck.

“Oh, Jesus.” He could tell Quentin was working things out now. “So…the whole thing. All of it. Was a trap?” He sighed, wiping his hand over his face. “And the Tesseract?”

“Somewhere safe.” Henry was not about to divulge that once he finally understood the power of this Thing, he had cashed in the most valuable favor he had ever been owed. The Venice canal dragon had agreed to protect the Tesseract, with her life, if necessary.

“Quentin, I need to ask you something.”

Quentin just held his hands up, now what?

“Have you seen Eliot since this happened?”

He scrunched his eyebrows together in confusion. “I told you, I haven’t seen anybody. I have no idea where he is…”

Henry waited a few moments before continuing. “It was Eliot who came up with the plan for this supposed book on the monster, right?”

Quentin ran his hand through his hair, tugging at the strands. “Right, I mean, I told you he…”

“Yes.” Henry leaned forward in his chair. “But, have you considered that maybe the monster never left Eliot? That this was all an elaborate ruse? So that the monster could use you lot to get to Calypso?”

A look of horror crossed Quentin’s face. “No. No. That’s not possible.” He was completely nonplussed. “No. I know Eliot. Probably better than anyone. There is no way…”

“Just think about it. What better way to win your trust then to wear the face of someone you loved?”

“No. I know him. He was Eliot.” Quentin was just shaking his head, but his eyes revealed the truth was slowly dawning on him.

“This Thing? It's ancient and evil. You don’t think It could course correct and find a different way to get what It wanted?”

Quentin had completely shattered at this point, and did break down, sobbing. Henry allowed this, handing him a box of tissues. When he finally gained control, his voice was breaking. “Please,” he was begging. “Please, you have to help him.”

Henry sighed. “I promise. I will do everything in my power to bring him back to you.” He just hoped he could make good on his vow.

***

It liked being in Eliot, being so tall. It never quite mastered the fluidity that real life Eliot seemed to have over his own limbs, though. Being in Josh, It had felt sluggish all the time by comparison. But Josh had served an important purpose. Josh flew under the radar, just on the boundaries of the inner circle, invisible enough that no one would ever suspect as It watched and learned. But being in Quentin? It loved being in Quentin. Quentin was compact and lithe, and quick to movement, which could be of great use in the days to come. Quentin was at the very heart of things, and everyone loved him, even Penny, even if it was just a little. But no one more than Eliot. That is why It had to wait until the last possible second to make the jump. Eliot would see It coming a mile away.

It jogged up to where it could feel Eliot was standing, calling out to him. “Eliot.”

The man turned and looked at him with confusion. “Q?” It was the gait, It knew. It always took a little while to figure out how to move in a new body. Eliot’s mouth fell open as he finally got a good look, and he stepped backwards. “Oh, my God.”

It brought Its hands together, sending Eliot back to the safe house with Josh. He wasn’t going to kill any of them. They were far too cherished of an asset. Plus, It liked playing with them very much.

It was so easy to overtake the others, trusting It was Quentin, loving him. The little goddess had helped keep the battle magicians in place with her magic, and he was easily able to make his way towards his prize. The Architect would immediately recognize It for an entirely different reason.

***

Henry walked around his office, trying to relieve some of the tension that had built up over the course of the conversation with Quentin. His gaze was skipping around thoughtfully, looking at the room from Quentin’s perspective. Noticing the postcard “Greetings from Transylvania!” with a shot of Dracula’s castle that his brother had sent him from a European vacation several years prior. Something started to worm itself into the front of his brain, something insidious that he did not yet fully understand.

He gazed over at his beloved Victrola gramophone, found in an antique shop in San Francisco when he was an undergrad at Berkeley. He said his name was Victor. The sinister thoughts rolling around in his mind were becoming fully formed malevolence.

He was wholly in a panic by the time he picked up the book off of the edge of the desk, spine facing where Quentin would have sat. Advanced Phosphormancy and Light Refraction. First edition. Edited by Sokolov and Vale. “Jesus Fuck!”

He began running as he fished his phone out of his pocket. Eleven missed calls. He stabbed the voicemail button. He heard Pearl Sunderland’s terrified voice. ”Henry, please pick up! The monster has Quentin Coldwater! Eliot Waugh contacted me. If you see Quentin, whatever you do, you have to clear your head, Henry. Eliot says It can read minds!”

He made it outside just in time to see the monster make it across the Sea. Hearing him, It turned around, tilting Its head appraisingly. It winked at him before bringing Its hands together, as if in a prayer.

And like that, poof. It was gone.