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The Creation of Quentin

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It’s embarrassing, but he’s a little afraid of elevators. It’s not heights, and not enclosed spaces, but some potent combination of the two that’s always done him in.

Q has lived a long life, and done many miraculous, dangerous things. He’s encountered the odd situation over the centuries where he’s been forced to step into a box and allow a complex system of weights and pulleys lift him into the sky. Today is just one of those days, and he’ll get past it and move on.

It doesn’t help that this particular mission also involves going under cover. It’s a job more suited to El, really, with his confidence and his ability to stand out and blend in in equal measure, as the situation calls for. But unfortunately, he’d already blown his chance by meeting with their mark earlier, before they’d realized this level of espionage would be required.

It’s a stupid marketing firm, in New York, at the top of a high rise. The year is 1962. Q is going to work, dressed in a suit, and Kady Orloff Diaz is by his side, dressed sharp and ready for a day as his secretary.

Which is demeaning, because Kady would be ten times better at the job Quentin is pretending to do today, but, well, there you have it. El had been eliminated from consideration for this job because of his earlier role. Penny, Margo, and Julia had all been eliminated for—other reasons, ones that make Q’s blood boil even now as he steps through the sleek doors and into the cramped space.

The office is on the thirty-third floor.

He slips into the back corner, and Kady goes with him, though the look in her eyes tells him she’s not pleased. She feels trapped in here just the way he does, although her anxieties are more pragmatic, less psychological. There are some evil men in this building. Some men who want to use their magic to take over the minds of the masses. Being trapped in a metal box with them is not ideal.

But of course everyone is too busy with thoughts in their own heads to even register Q and Kady, as the elevator begins to grind its way up.

Q thinks of El. There is an antidote to the pulse-pounding, sweaty fear pooling in his gut at this exact moment, and it’s holding El’s hand. If he had that, if he could focus on the pressure of fingers squeezing around his own, tangling them together, he’d be able to control this. Slow his heart-rate down. Stop thinking useless, irritating thoughts about how at the end of the day, he’s going to have to get back in the damn elevator for the trip down to the lobby. Maybe he’ll take the stairs, down thirty flights. Maybe he’ll throw himself out the window and then find a way to wipe everyone’s minds of the memory when he miraculously hops back up, unhurt among the broken glass…

Kady’s arm brushes against him, and he turns to meet her eyes. She lifts an eyebrow. Q becomes aware that he’s breathing loud enough to be heard. The next-nearest man, a tall portly fellow carrying a briefcase, looks over his shoulder and frowns at Q, before turning back to look at the sheet of paper clutched in his hand.

And then of course, even if El were here with him, he couldn’t exactly hold his hand in an elevator full of businessmen. In public. Where people would have opinions.

Sometimes Q wants to go back to a time where men were allowed to touch each other without it meaning anything wrong or perverse. Other times, he wants to go to sleep for a long, long time, wake up and see if the world has found a way to get over itself in a century or so.

He swallows, feeling his throat close up. He’ll see El tonight. It’s ridiculous to miss him. But he would have found a way, pressed together in this cramped space, to comfort Q. He would have pressed their arms together, dipped a hand behind Q’s back, in the space between his body and the back of the elevator, pressed his palm there for just a moment, silent and solid. Q would have unspooled, calm in that affirmation of his presence.

A hand on his elbow, and it takes him an embarrassing amount of fortitude not to flinch at the touch. It’s Kady, of course. Sliding a few inches closer to him in the press of bodies. She tugs on his elbow until he drops his arm, only then realizing that he’d had it curled around his stomach, the way he does when he’s trying to hide his panic.

Kady touches the back of his hand with her fingers, then wraps her hand around his and gives a single squeeze before dropping away.

When the interminable ride finally ends, Kady holds Q back from the flood of bodies exiting the elevator. She turns him around so they’re face to face, and raises an eyebrow. “Maybe next time, tell me if you think you might panic.”

“Panic is a strong word,” Q says, but his entire body unclenches the second he steps out into the carpeted hallway. They turn as one towards the office, and Q runs through his cover story, his persona for this job, trying to put the fear behind him. “But yes, I should have said something.”

“You thought it wouldn’t be so bad,” Kady says, still speaking in an undertone. “And then somehow—”

“Somehow it always is,” Q finishes.

Kady takes his hand again, and squeezes it. Q still wishes El were here, but he’s glad he has Kady, too.

“Well, focus up,” Kady says. “I can’t have you distracted today.”

“Who put you in charge?”

“Margo. You were there.”

Q thinks about debating her on the finer points of Margo’s actual instructions, but then just smiles and shakes his head. He’s happy to follow where Kady leads. And he’s got hours in front of him before he has to get back in that damn elevator.