Margo stormed into the cottage, Fen close on her heels. “Which one of you fuckers is responsible for this?” she yelled, as soon as the door was open. Turning towards the living room, she found the group of them gathered around the table. “And who the hell is in my body? Because I swear, if it’s Q trying to stress eat his way through this, I’m gonna -”
She was cut off by Kady’s voice, gentler than most of them were used to hearing it, asking her “How’s the fairy?”
Margo just stared in annoyance, trying to process, but Fen jumped in to answer. “She’s okay. The-Your,” she corrected, taking in the nametag on Kady’s tank top that read Julia, “magic, I don’t know, I think it reversed time, and it saved her.”
“That’s good,” Julia nodded, unnerved by her own body staring back at her with so much hostility. Margo, meanwhile was trying to make sense of who was in whose body, and who that left to be in hers. “So you’re… Margo?” Of the three questers unaccounted for, only Margo would look at Julia like that.
“Bambi!” she heard Eliot shout, though it sounded all wrong hearing his familiar nickname for her from Alice’s voice. He rounded the table to embrace her, and before she could blink, he was being thrown across the room. The panic in her chest froze him, Alice’s small body dangling in mid-air, fear and confusion in her eyes.
“What the fuck?” Margo muttered. She glared at Julia, who scratched at the table nervously. “This body is so goddamn jumpy. Don’t you ever relax?” She tried to keep the venom in her voice, but it all clicked into place as she said it, and some small part of her felt bad for the other girl, always tense and on edge.
Quentin came down the stairs, as if on cue, and the tension in her shoulders relaxed at the sight of him. Margo filed the information away for her later, reading his nametag to find out who Quentin was. Penny, that other timeline’s Penny anyway, started to walk towards her, before realizing she wasn’t Julia and he wasn’t welcome either way. He moved to one of the couches, shooting a confused look at a still hovering Alice-Eliot. Margo, meanwhile, swung back around to Julia, gesturing at her best friend still stuck in the air.
“Just… think about him as El, and picture him floating down gently. My powers are more intuitive, less about spellcasting.” Margo pictured El, his smile as they fell into bed together after an all-day party, and floated him back down to the floor. He smiled at her but stayed across the table, and she couldn’t blame him.
“I’m sorry, El,” she implored.
He smiled back at her, Alice’s features an approximation of his loving grins. “It’s alright, Bambi. You should have seen what a klutz I looked like trying to get used to this tiny body. Though at least if I’m stuck as a girl, I’ve got great boobs.” Julia rolled her eyes at that. Margo laughed, picturing Eliot tripping over himself and his short legs.
“So, body swap? I take it we found another key and it decided to dick us around as part of this fucked up quest?” Penny seemed to shrink further into the couch at that, his shoulders hunching over making him look more like Quentin.
“Yeah, Penny over there,” Penny’s body glared at him, and even without a name tag, Margo would have recognized the temper as Kady, “decided to just grab the key before Quentin could stop him. Next thing we knew, we were all somebody else.”
“Right.” Margo, too, glared at Penny, if only to have someone to blame. “So, if we’re all here, that leaves…”
“Quentin and Alice in our bodies,” Eliot finished for her. They’d all rather not picture that awkwardness, the tension of those two alone together aboard the Muntjac. “Josh and Todd were in the cottage too, they just switched with each other, worked out nicely.” A pause, and then, “I wonder if Q’s in me.”
“Wouldn’t be the first time,” Margo grinned, her wicked smile losing some of its effect on Julia’s kind features.
“Wouldn’t be the first time either way. I just hope he’s not ruining my posture.”
“Look, we need to figure out how to fix this,” Kady interjected, before either of them could continue. “Julia’s powers should be able to switch us back.”
“Yeah, except I don’t know how to control this! This isn’t magic, this is weird god-level stuff.”
“Look, Kady’s managed to control Penny’s body enough that she stopped travelling all over.” Kady shuddered at the memories - flitting between places, between worlds, just hoping she didn’t end up somewhere dangerous and trying to focus to end up back home. “We can get you to control mine. Let’s just go upstairs and try to work on it?” Julia offered, trying to reason with Margo.
Margo rolled her eyes, but nodded with a sigh. “It’s a good thing I’m in Kady,” Julia said, as they walked towards the stairs. Kady choked back an inappropriate comment at that, but Julia simply continued, “My body is comfortable around hers.” Kady’s heart twisted in her chest at the earnestness of the comment, but she squashed it down. They had bigger problems to worry about. She was in the body of the wrong Penny, and it felt like a betrayal. She wondered, if someone else had touched the key, which Penny would have been swapped. Being trapped in the Underworld seemed a better option than this - being in a body at once all too familiar and foreign, scars she didn’t want to know the stories behind mixed with the ones from his childhood he’d told her about during lazy days smoking in bed. She was glad most of her mind was taken up by focusing on not travelling, to save her from reflecting how fucked up this whole mess was.
Margo sat on the bed, running through basic Poppers to get a feel for Julia’s powers. Julia paced as she instructed, agitated movement from one end of the room to the other. “Can you just...stand still?” Margo asked, gesturing at her path of motion, tone full of annoyance.
Julia sank down beside her on the bed, running her fingers through Kady’s mass of hair to get it out of her way. “Sorry, this body just has so much energy. I don’t know how Kady ever stays still. I definitely get why she punches things now.” Margo grins slightly at that, and it’s progress. She can tell Margo is still thinking about how her own body and how it reacted to Eliot earlier. “Look, I’m not usually that jumpy -”
Margo cut her off. “Whatever,” she waved her hand dismissively. “You don’t need to explain yourself to me. God knows you have every right to be a bit jumpy.”
Julia shook off the comment, forging ahead. “I’m not, though. I mean, sure, yeah, maybe a bit more than most. But it’s because of the extra stress, it’s making it worse. Like how stress makes this body desperately want a drink.” Or drugs, she thought, but she kept that bit to herself. She made a note to offer to cure Kady’s addiction, once she was back in her own body, though she suspected the other girl would be too stubborn to accept.
“Oh, fuck,” Margo exclaimed, quickly standing from the bed. “Did anybody warn Josh not to drink too much?” At Julia’s confused stare, she explained, “Todd only has one kidney,” before marching off to go and find them. She was out the door before Julia could explain that she was thinking of livers, not kidneys, but Julia couldn’t help but be amused seeing her get so fired up over worrying about Todd.
Julia made her way downstairs, deciding to check in on how the others were handled their bodies while she waited for Margo to deal with the boys. Kady was rummaging in the kitchen for food, Eliot was mixing drinks, and Penny remained slumped on the couch. She recognized that look on Q’s face, the way his body shrunk in on itself. Awkward as things still were with this new Penny, she walked over to take a seat beside him. “You okay?”
“Yeah, I’m good,” he answered, not bothering to open his eyes. “This body is just absurdly tired. And why the fuck can’t I concentrate? Nerd boy here got ADD or some shit messing with my brain?”
“No,” Julia ran her hands through her hair to deal with her anger at his tone, “that’s just the depression.” Penny sighed at that, unable to bite back with a mean comment when Julia’s tone is so gentle. He thought about every carelessly cruel comment he’d thrown Quentin’s way since he jumped timelines, and he couldn’t help the hint of regret creeping in. This Quentin did not get his Julia killed. This Quentin was this Julia’s best friend, someone her body instinctively relaxed around, and Penny knew this Quentin wasn’t a threat to her. He still saw that Beast version of him’s face every time he looked at him, remembered the way a face full of moths had called out for his dead soulmate…
Penny stood up suddenly, heading to the dining room to find Eliot. “Fuck this, I need a drink.”
Julia was able to coach Margo to use her power, and they were all back in the right body. Alice had immediately run off, desperate to be anywhere but with Quentin after being trapped beside him for hours on the Muntjac. Kady and Penny had both disappeared to deal with the day’s ordeal and to avoid each other, leaving just Julia and Q in the cottage. Julia is glad to be back in her own body, to feel the flow of powers under her skin, but the stress of the day remains in the taut lines of her neck, the knots in her back.
Quentin, too, was reeling from the effects of the swap. For a short time, he’d been in someone else’s head - he’d been in the body of someone whose brain worked. He’d made peace with returning, of course, but the brief reprieve and the switch back had hit him like a truck. Like going through withdrawal. He was perched in one of the arm chairs, knees pulled up to his chest and his hands scratching at his sleeves. Julia places a gentle hand on his shoulder and he startles at the touch, too lost in his own head.
“Come on, Q, it’s been a long day. We should get some sleep.” He nodded jerkily up at her and stood to follow her upstairs, his hand on her arm. He opened the door to his room and immediately flopped on the bed, a sight with enough familiar dramatics that it brought a smile to Julia’s lips. She hovered in the doorway and Quentin, without opening his eyes, patted the space beside him on the bed for her to come and join him. She quickly climbed in beside him, pulling back the covers as he wormed his way underneath without getting up.
Julia laid her head on his chest as a pillow, his heartbeat under her ear and her fingertips as she traced patterns against the fabric of his shirt. His hand came up to wrap around her back, steady and warm and gentle. He smelled like childhood and old books, and she could feel the tension leaving her body. As she drifted off to sleep, the hand against his chest infused him with a warmth, enough to ease the day’s effects, and he kissed the top of her head sleepily as it spread through him and he drifted off to join her, both of them sleeping better than they had in months.