Toby struggled against the ropes tying him to the kitchen chair, but Claire had been like a Girl Scout or something, because she clearly knew her restraint methods. The Amulet of Daylight was on the counter, high up enough that even if Toby could get the chair over there, he had no chance of getting the amulet back.
When Claire wandered back into sight, Enrique cradled in her arms, she gave Toby a brief nod before sitting in the nearest chair herself and smirking at him briefly.
"From what I've heard, I expected a little better from you," she said. "The Trollhunter's supposed to be this badass warrior with the power of daylight at his command, and here you are taken out by a teenage girl."
"A, you took me by surprise," Toby retorted, "and B, I'm betting you're not really a teenage girl. What are you, a changeling?"
"No, I am one hundred percent a human teenager," Claire retorted. She bounced Enrique in her lap. "This little monster, however…"
There was a flash of light, and Enrique was replaced with a little green troll, who leered at Toby. "Man, if I'd known all it took to take you out was a pretty smile, we would have gone about this completely differently."
"Did I say you could talk?" Claire demanded, the cradling hold looking a little more like a captive grip now that she was holding a troll instead of her brother. She shrugged at Toby, her smirk fading to a smile barely there. "Look, I'm sorry about this, but this little monster said you're the only person who can help me get Enrique back."
"From the Darklands," Claire said, leaning closer to Toby. "That's how you get Changelings, right, kidnapping a human to the Darklands and leaving a troll in their place? Unless this little monster lied to me." She looked back down at the Changeling, grinning toothily at him. "Did you lie to me, you little monster? Did you do all this just to get the Trollhunter here, thinking that you could steal his magic amulet while I was distracted?" The lilting tone of her voice sounded nice, but there was a threat there. It was a little terrifying, and, if Toby was going to be completely honest, a little hot.
"No!" the Changeling protested. "That's how things work, honest!"
"He's right," Toby said. "But getting in and out of the Darklands isn't easy - or smart."
"So what if it's dangerous?" Claire snapped. "What if it's hard? If it's to save my baby brother-"
"Hey, no, I get it!" Toby replied. "Not literally, obviously, but if someone replaced Jim-"
"So what's the problem, hm?" Claire asked, tightening one hand on the Changeling's shoulder.
"I bet the Changeling didn't tell you there's a horde of man-eating trolls just waiting to invade the minute the portal to the Darklands - and there's only one - is opened."
"No," Claire mused, scowling down at the Changeling in her arms. "He never mentioned that."
"I still don't get it," Claire muttered, watching the trolls hauling the Killahead Bridge through Trollmarket.
"Get what?" Toby asked.
"This, the whole - invade Earth and start up a war business," Claire replied. "It's a terrible plan. Sure, they could rampage a bit, but people have more powerful weapons than they ever did, and against an enemy who's powerless for a good portion of every day, we could probably wipe them out."
"Huh." Toby hadn't really thought the 'Gumm Gumms rampaging through the human world' threat through a lot, and from the scrunched concentration on Jim's face, he hadn't, either. "That's…"
"There's something more going on here," Claire mused, before her gaze slid to Jim. "So how about us ordinary humans hit the books while you do the whole Trollhunting thing?"
It was, from Jim's expression, something of a dream come true. And now that Claire had brought it up, Toby was curious.
"Go away," Toby snapped at the door when a knock came.
The intruder didn't leave, and, as it proved to be Jim, just pushed the door open, although he remained at the threshold of Toby's room, waiting.
"What do you want?" Toby asked. "I thought you'd be shacked up in the library with Miss Nuñez."
Jim blushed, a little, but shook his head. "It's not - we're not-"
"You two can do what you want," Toby interrupted. "And I couldn't care less what you do. But I am mourning a troll I was proud to be the wingman of-"
"Oh!" Jim stepped into the room, fumbling with a book, one of the old troll ones. "That's why I'm here. Claire - she really knows her way around a library, you know - found this old book, and I talked to my mom. Not about trolls!" he protested, waving his hands protectively in front of him. "Just in general. You see, trolls think of Creeper's Sun as a deadly poison because a troll who's been poisoned turns to stone, which makes them look dead. But - it turns everything to stone."
Toby squinted at Jim, almost seeing where this was going, but unwilling to hope. "And?"
"So it's more like a curse - and curses can be broken. Claire only found pieces of an antidote, but she bets the Janus Order would have a complete one. Rico confirmed as much, and she's doing more research as we speak."
Toby was on his feet, crushing Jim to him before Jim could continue, ducking his head against the other boy's chest for a little support as his eyes teared up. "Oh - thank you," he murmured against Jim's chest.
"Hey, it was mostly Claire," Jim said, patting Toby's back. "We lucked out, getting her on the team."
Toby was inclined to agree.
Toby eyed the wall in Claire's room warily. It looked like something Eli Pepperjack would do, snippets of articles and scraps of photos linked with string and pins. Of course, unlike Eli Pepperjack, whom Jim was keeping away from anything truly incriminating by pretending to join in his hunt for the weird and unexplained, Claire knew what was going on.
"I've connected the dots, Toby," Claire declared, pointing at the center of the board, where there was a drawing of a dark-haired woman with piercing green eyes.
"This is about that thing you overheard in the Janus Order's headquarters, isn't it?" Toby asked.
"Yes!" Claire pointed at what looked like a page ripped from a diary. "The Changelings said something about Morgana, which can't be a coincidence, when Merlin made the Amulet of Daylight. So I read a dozen books on Arthurian legends and asked Blinky for help, and I've figured it out. The Gumm Gumms can't beat us - not without some serious firepower. And who better than the woman with a notorious beef with Merlin? Hell, I'd be willing to put money on it that this whole troll thing is just a proxy war between those two."
"Huh." Toby stepped closer to the board, which looked like complete nonsense. But Claire was smarter than him, and, more importantly, had been spending a lot of time in Blinky's library. Also, he was pretty certain she was still experiencing side-effects to all the books she'd eaten while under the effects of Elixlore. There was a drawing of an old white dude with a woman who looked way too young for him, and another of a gleaming staff, and one of-
"Why is my ninth-grade family tree project up here?"
"I'm trying to figure out the likelihood that you are actually part-troll," Claire replied, absent-mindedly. "I'm not a hundred percent certain you aren't the reincarnation of the Shattered King. It actually shouldn't be up here; it doesn't have much to do with Morgana." Claire frowned at the piece of paper. "I must have mistaken it for my chart about Mordred."
"Don't worry about it," Claire said. "That's for later. So. Thoughts?"
"I think...if they're trying to find Morgana, we need to find Merlin."
Claire glared at the collapsing, flooding chasm that had, until recently, held the Staff of Avalon. Toby edged next to her, uncertain if this was a hug situation or not. It would be for Jim, but he wasn't certain where he stood with Claire.
"Um. Are you okay? Because we need to get out of here before this place collapses on us."
"Yeah," Claire muttered. "Come on." Aaarrrgghh and Draal collapsed the tunnel behind them as they retreated down the only free exit from the chasm. Toby trailed after her, deciding that it couldn't hurt to try.
"Like, I get that the Shadowstaff was important to you, but there are worse uses to put it to than getting rid of Angor Rot," Toby said. "Also, I sort of forgot you used to play softball, so that throw sort of surprised me. Surprised him, too - I don't know if you saw the look on his face, but the dude was shook, getting hit in the face with a delicate magical instrument."
"Hm," Claire replied, shrugging.
"And I know Draal seems mad, but I'm sure he appreciates the save," Toby added. "Take it from a guy who's had to listen to him for months - that stereotypical honorable warrior thing is just a front - has to make it look good for the other trolls. And even if he isn't grateful, I am. We already lost one friend to Angor Rot, and I would not relish trying to retrieve a statue from the bottom of the ocean on the off-chance we'd be able to revive another. So in case you never hear it from Draal...thank you. So much. You're amazing, even without the Shadowstaff."
Toby bumped into Claire, then, who turned, staring at him intently. She was biting at her bottom lip, thinking. And then she leaned down and kissed Toby's cheek. "Thanks, Tobes," she said, before turning away to follow the others.
Toby followed in a slight daze, mind running along a dozen threads. Did this mean she liked him? Did he like her? Would it be a betrayal to date her, when Jim had been in love with her for years? Was Jim still in love with her?
(Toby couldn't say for certain, actually. Jim was spending more time around Eli and less trying to admire Claire from whatever distance was appropriate - he didn't know if it meant he'd gotten over Claire, was attracted to Eli, or something else.)
Unfortunately, he didn't have a lot of time to work through that, because they found the actual literal tomb of Merlin, except it was less a tomb and more an "extended nap room", because the wizard was alive.
"And who is this lovely young lady?"
"I'm sixteen, you pervert, so keep your eyes to yourself."
When Toby reached the top of the stairs, Claire was waiting for him. She looked angrier than Toby had ever seen her, brow furrowed so her eyes were only slits, arms crossed, hands digging into her skin.
Toby was honest enough with his feelings now to admit it was sort of hot.
But they had more important things to talk about. Probably.
"How much of that did you hear?" Toby asked.
"Everything," Claire replied. "You're not seriously thinking about going through with this, are you?" Her gaze darted to the bottle in Toby's hand and her expression, if anything, darkened. "You are."
"I…" Toby might have been able to formulate an actual response if he had any faith at all in Merlin. As it was, all he could do was fumble for what Merlin had told him. "He said I couldn't achieve my destiny as a human-"
"Well fuck him!" Claire snapped. "From what I've seen, he doesn't remember the future like he does in The Once and Future King, so you're just being brainwashed by the fact that he's an old white man. And human? Did you forget you're the reincarnation of a troll king?"
"I don't know if that-"
"The Quagawumps believe it. You're a troll king. You're a human teenager. You're a warrior and a good friend, a wingman, and pretty cute when you aren't being a dumbass. You're a Trollhunter, and more importantly, you aren't the only one. Your friends are Trollhunters, too - bridges between humanity and trollkind. You don't have to be strong enough to do this alone, Toby."
Toby blinked, and when he did, his vision was blurred. Claire didn't look quite so angry now, and when the bottle slipped from Toby's hand, she actually smiled.
"I." Toby sniffed, feeling tears slipping down his cheeks. "Can I? Um." Claire stepped in and hugged him, and Toby hung on tight, sniffling. Because everyone - Blinky, Draal, Aaarrrgghh, and now Merlin, had told him the Trollhunter had to stand alone. He'd felt weak and frustrated every time he'd had to ask for help. And now-
"So how about we go back downstairs and tell that old wizard to fuck himself?" Claire asked, and Toby laughed, sniffling, into her shoulder.
Claire found Toby on the roof of his house three days after the trolls had left. Toby had spoken to Aaarrrgghh by magic mirror earlier that morning, but it wasn't the same. He hadn't talked to Claire at all since the Not-So-Eternal Night.
She sat next to Toby, nearly close enough that their shoulders touched, and stared out toward Jim's house. "Hey," she said.
"Jimbo's following up on something Eli needed help with," Toby said.
"Cool, cool," Claire replied. "Notenrique's been talking about helping place the other familiars back with - well, not their families, necessarily. But somebody's. I think he's bored, now that Morgana's gone."
Toby huffed. "Bored isn't so bad."
"Really?" Claire asked. "You don't miss being the Trollhunter?"
"If I were the Trollhunter, I'd be halfway to New Jersey by now," Toby retorted. "No one needs that." Still, his pockets felt light without the weight of the Amulet in it. "Thanks, by the way."
"You're going to need to be specific, there. I've done a lot for you over the last year," she replied with a chuckle.
"For talking me out of - you know," Toby said. "I...haven't talked about it with anyone else. It'd worry them." It had, in the end, been the reason he'd begged Merlin to remove his connection to the Amulet of Daylight. He didn't need to sacrifice the life he had here for an oath he'd never intended to take, not when there was a troll eager to take on that burden.
"Well. Thank you for listening to me," Claire replied.
"You don't need to thank me. You made a lot more sense than Merlin, and you were right - he was just running around assuming we'd listen to him because he's an old wizard."
Claire huffed. "Well. It wouldn't be the first time a guy listened to an old white man he'd just met over a girl he'd known for years."
"Aw, you know me better than that. I'm cute, when I'm not being a dumbass."
Claire's cheeks darkened at that statement, but she was still smiling. "You remembered that."
"It stuck in my mind, for some reason," Toby said. He was quiet a moment, taking a steadying breath. "Though. It made me wonder what. Um. Kind of cute you meant."
Claire snickered. "I take it back," she said. "You're kind of cute even when you're being a dumbass."
"How about this?" Claire asked. "We can talk about it over dinner, alright?"
"What?" Toby repeated.
"Seven o'clock, Friday," Claire said as she stood to clamber back in through the window. "We're doing Mexican - I somehow recall you liking that particular cuisine."
It did take Toby a few minutes to sort of what was happening, to find his (mental) footing. It was a good sign, he guessed. The classic happy ending. Guy gets chosen for fantastic destiny, makes some new friends, defeats a fantastic evil, gets the girl. In whatever way getting a first date could be considered 'getting' anyone.
And without the weight of the responsibilities imposed by the Amulet of Daylight, it felt like a beginning - and a hopeful one. A whole life laid out in front of him, with few dangers or uncertainties that compared to the ones he'd already faced.
Plus, he had a date, which was a good first step that could only be improved by finding some time to hang with his best friend, so Toby grabbed his phone and started the rest of his life.