It’s all too much as he stares up at the sky above him. All he can hear is a pounding sound in his head as he tries to stand up, his legs wobbling. One minute he was lounging on the couch in the Physical Kids’ Cottage, arguing with Charlton and mapping out his next venture outside his Mind Palace. Now… he didn’t know where he was, but he immediately knew that he had regained control of his body and the monster was gone. But how?
Taking in his surroundings, he was vaguely aware that he must be in a forest somewhere. He was still finding his balance when he saw a woman facing away from him, bending over a large pit of fire. And even though he never knew her very well, he’s pretty sure he knows who it is.
“Julia?” Eliot asks, his voice wavering, still feeling the effects of whatever the monster put his body through these past… weeks? Months? Eliot felt his throat tighten. Years?
She turns around to look at him and it has to be something in her eyes because he immediately knows this isn’t Julia. He had always thought that she had kind eyes. Not that he’d ever tell her something like that, but looking into them now - they were not kind. They were too dark, pitch black in fact, and piercing to the core. It was unsettling to say the least.
“Oh good. You’re awake. You know, I wasn’t sure you would make it. My brother…” she laughs a soulless laugh. “My brother really took a toll on you.”
Eliot’s mind was racing a million miles a second, but it finally clicks. See, he had spent a while snooping around inside the monster’s head and he found out a few things about his past. One of those things happened to be that he had a much more dangerous twin sister who had been torn apart and put into four stones. So, no big deal right?
“So, listen,” he began, but not-Julia cut him off.
“Don’t worry. I locked my brother up in this jar,” she said as she held up an ancient looking container with silver markings. “He was getting on my nerves, but hey, at least he won’t be able to hurt you anymore.”
Eliot must have looked just as confused as he felt because she continued. “Look,” she said with a sigh and a shrug, “I don’t have time to explain my complicated relationship with my twin brother, but the reason I kept you alive is because I need you to give a message to your friends.”
Fuck. What now? All of a sudden he was standing in some random apartment in the middle of New York City. Why would she send him here? How was he supposed to find Margo? Quentin? He was definitely spiraling, feeling weighed down and fighting the need to just collapse right here on the floor and sleep for the next 24 hours. But he had a job to do and he needed to find his friends. Just as he started towards the door, he heard footsteps and voices coming down the stairs. Great. He was covered in blood and sweat, it was going to be fun trying to explain his way out of this one. But wait, he recognized those voices.
He saw Penny first. “I just… I can’t just sit in this damn apartment. I can’t lose her again, Alice, I…” His voiced cracked and Alice actually looked sympathetic?
“I know, but we’re going to get her back, okay. And remember, she’s basically indestructible so…” Penny almost looked somewhat convinced, but that was before Alice’s voice drifted off as her eyes found Eliot standing in the middle of the living room.
Penny and Alice stopped in their tracks at the bottom of the staircase, unsure of what to do. Eliot thought to himself that they were definitely not his first choice for a reunion, but he couldn’t help but smile at the familiar faces.
But his smile must have set off something in Penny because he started charging in his direction with a determined and angry look on his face. “Look here you monster piece of shit,” Penny started, standing directly in front of Eliot. “Where did you take her? Huh?!”
“Penny!” Alice seethed. “You’re going to get yourself killed.”
Penny turned to face Alice, “I don’t care! I’ll do anything to get her back.”
“Please,” he turned back to Eliot, and he could see the desperation in his face. “Please.”
Eliot didn’t know why he stayed so silent. He probably should have stopped Penny’s breakdown, told them that he wasn’t the monster, but he couldn’t think of what to say. He wasn’t close to them like he was with Margo or Quentin. Not by a mile. What could he say that would convince them that he was himself, that he was Eliot?
They were both looking at him now with wide eyes, waiting for his reaction. But he just dropped his shoulders and asked, “Are there any drinks in this place?” It wasn’t the best response, or at all appropriate, but he was craving anything that would make him just a little less sober right now.
He walked over to the kitchen and opened up the fridge, nothing. He opened up the cabinets next and still, nothing. Figures. He looked over at Penny and Alice who still hadn’t moved and were looking at him with incredulous expressions. “At least tell me you have a change of clothes because this…” he gestures to his bloodied graphic tee and cardigan sweater, “Is a fashion disaster and I will wrangle every single one of you who allowed me to be seen in this fucking crime against basic decency.”
Alice breathed a sigh of relief. “Eliot?” she asked as she stepped forward, voice wavering.
“Yeah, it’s me. I’m… back?” Eliot didn’t know quite what to say, the moment seemed very anticlimactic. He rocked back and forth on his heels as he watched their faces contort from confusion to relief and then back to confusion. But suddenly Alice was running towards him and wrapping him in a tight hug. Now it was Eliot’s turn to be confused.
Eliot hesitantly returned the hug just as Alice started to pull back. “Umm…” he stuttered.
Alice’s face reddened as she fixed her glasses. “Sorry, umm, I know we’re not close, like at all,” she smiled slightly, “But I did miss you, you know?” The last thing Eliot ever expected was for Alice Quinn, of all people, to feel any warmth towards him, but he was grateful nonetheless.
He smiled back just in time for Penny to start yelling again. “What the hell dude! You do realize that a monster has been inhabiting your body for like the past few months right? And now he’s gone and you didn’t think to start with that?!”
“You’re right. I’m a dick, but I have some information I think you’ll want to me to share,” Eliot said, staring down Penny. “Julia is alive, as far as I know. But the monster’s twin sister is in possession of her body. She trapped the monster in this jar thing? And she sent me back with a message.” he gulped, realizing how exasperated he sounds.
“A message?” Penny looked almost hopeful.
Eliot, Penny, and Alice were sitting on the couches in the living room of Kady’s apartment, which Eliot learned was warded to keep them hidden from the Librarians. He definitely had a lot to catch up on. They were still discussing the message from the twisted sister when they heard the front door open.
And that is when he heard the most beautiful sound, her voice unmistakable. “Look Q, pout all you want, but we needed groceries and you needed fresh air. So, you know, you’re welcome for giving a shit about you.”
“I know Margo,” Quentin scratched at his head, “But the monster… now he has my best friend and my…,” that’s when he turned from the door and locked eyes with the man sitting on the couch, “Eliot,” he breathes, finishing his sentence.
Eliot doesn’t know what he expected, maybe fear? Anger? Anything that resembles a hint of emotion as his friends stare down what they think is still a monster. But he looks into Quentin’s eyes, the same eyes that he stared into for fifty years. The same eyes that have always portrayed a sense of loss, but mostly just unwavering hope and optimism. But now all he sees is a glassy look of apathy, and his heart sinks. What did the monster put him through?
Margo speaks first. “Listen here you motherfucking…” But Eliot doesn’t let her finish. He stands up from his spot on the couch and walks across the room to envelop her in a bone crunching hug, his face in her hair.
“Bambi,” he sighed into the crook of her neck. “I fucking missed you.” Eliot felt her tense posture melt into his embrace as she realized it was him.
“Fuck El,” she was sobbing now. “You can’t just leave me alone like that,” he parted with her slightly to wipe the tears from her cheeks.
“Next time I’ll try my best not to get possessed by some bat-shit monster with serious family issues.” Margo huffed out a laugh and pulled him into a tighter hug. Over her shoulder he could see Quentin’s face and was frightened to see that his expression had not changed.
Eliot broke away from Margo to reach towards Quentin, but Quentin flinched away from him and avoided his gaze. “Q? It’s me, I… the monster, he’s gone now,” Eliot pleaded. “Q?” He could hear the desperation in his own voice, but he couldn’t find the will to care. He needed Quentin, he couldn’t get through this without him.
Finally, Quentin hesitantly met Eliot’s eyes. “Tell me something only Eliot would know,” he commanded.
“Arielle was pregnant with Teddy when you found me crying beside the Mosaic,” Eliot started. “I told you I was afraid. Afraid of being pushed to the side as you started your own family. But you just huffed out a laugh and told me that I was your family.” Eliot was pretty sure tears were running down his cheeks, but he continued, “I never thought that I would be a good father. My dad… was well, and there was Fray, which was a whole other deal, but still. It wasn’t until I held Teddy for the first time that I felt like I had the chance to do something right, because I loved him so fully and so immediately.”
He saw some unreadable emotion wash over Quentin’s face. Was it denial? Grief? Love? Eliot had decided that perhaps it was all three when Quentin rushed forward and grabbed him by the collar of his shirt to pull him down into a searing kiss. Somewhat taken aback, Eliot eventually returned the kiss with equal fervor and desperation, fingers trailing across Quentin’s cheekbones. His lips felt so warm and soft against his own, it felt like coming home. And it was over way too quickly.
When they finally pulled apart he was a little embarrassed to find that they both had tears in their eyes. But they both just stood there laughing and smiling as they held onto each other.
Margo, who to her credit, was standing to the side patiently waiting for their moment to be over, finally reached her limit. “Okay? What the fuck guys?” Her eyebrows raised, waiting for an explanation.
Eliot and Quentin startled out of their little bubble like they just realized there were three other people in the room, all of whom looked a little surprised at the scene that just played out in front of them.
“Who’s Teddy?” Alice asked. Eliot and Quentin glanced at each other and back to their friends.
Eliot just sighed. “We will tell you everything,” he eyed Margo, “I promise. But…”
“But we need to get you cleaned up and out of those god awful clothes,” Margo finished for him. She smiled and held out her hand towards him. As he followed her up the stairs, he stole one more over the shoulder glance at Quentin. His hair was shorter, but that wasn’t the only thing that was different about him. He looked so tired and beat down. He realized that here was a lot of healing both of them would have to endure before either of them were okay again. But for the first time he had hope that they would be.