Chapter 1: Chapter 1
Sometimes, when he wakes up, he finds himself crying for no reason. Remnants of a dream he can barely even remember play through his mind, flashes and glimpses that don’t make any sense. But the feeling is always there - something is missing. Something, or someone, he is never sure which, but there’s a gaping emptiness in his life, something that he’d had before but that’s gone now.
There’s a bracelet around his wrist, a red ribbon wrapped multiple times over with a small silver dolphin pendant that glints in the sun. He doesn’t remember where he got it, but something about it feels like a lucky charm.
Fate is a fickle thing, sometimes. People are tied together across time, across space, and no one can discern the reason why. Soulmates exist all the time with no one being the wiser, and maybe a simple brush of hands feels like something more and maybe it doesn’t, but most people keep walking, not thinking anything else of it. It’s hard for us, you know. Hard to believe that something is bringing two people together, something stronger than attraction, something binding people together over more than a simple crush, something closer to love.
Even if the two have never met.
It goes without saying that dreams aren’t always just dreams. Dreams can be memories, too, reflections of a life you lived before, even when the memories are hazy and hard to find again. But you shouldn’t discount your dreams; you never know what they’re going to bring you to, whether that be a feeling or a person or an experience. And dreams fade, as you grow older. As children, as teenagers, our capacity for creativity is never-ending, our ability to believe wider than it will ever be.
It’s your job to not let that fade - to keep having dreams, to keep seeking that special feeling that your dreams bring to you.
Dreams and fate… they’re intertwined, you know. Sometimes, a dream is just a dream, and sometimes a dream is more. It’s important to pay attention to these sorts of dreams, because you have no idea where it will bring you.
Do you ever wake up after a dream and feel lost? As though there should be something there that isn’t? It’s a feeling that lingers in most of us, the idea that a dream was actually real, that you had something, and then when you wake up and your hands are empty and there’s… there’s nothing there, when something should be there, and you know it should be. Maybe the dream was a memory, or maybe it just felt real enough to you that the sense of loss stretches, makes your chest feel pale and concave.
Do you ever wake up with tears on your face and can’t remember why? Maybe the dream is showing you something you forgot, something that was so important to you once, enough that your heart is screaming for you to remember, because you were in love, or maybe it was just that this… this thing or this person was so important to you, and you can’t remember.
It’s sad, isn’t it? Well, it’s only sad if you can’t find it. And sometimes, it stretches off across time and space, and looking for it is harder than you want it to be. So you give up, and you continue waking up with tears on your face, and ignoring the emptiness in your chest, and move on with your day and think that one day, someday, you’ll forget altogether and the sense of loss will go away too.
Or maybe you don’t. Maybe you desperately cling to every scrap you get, every small, barely interconnected memory, until you can remember and you go looking for it, wanting to seek it out because it was something or someone you loved, and you deserve a happy ending too.
Which kind of story is this?
Hamid, don’t you remember? My name is -
gonna be longer, had to post it now. oh well! enjoy some confusing content!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The light streams in through the windows, casting shadows across the room as Zolf stirs in his sleep, yawning widely. His face scrunches up as he opens his eyes, blinking in the soft golden light. His mind feels hazy, almost like he’s chasing a distant dream, but it slips away from him before he can really remember it. There was something about… he can’t recall, but something about a city? Being in university? Which is just insane anyway, considering that Zolf had never even thought about going to university, before or after his father - well. He doesn’t need to think about it.
It was just a dream, after all.
He pushes himself up and glares at the clock on the end table. Even though it goes off at the same time every morning, he hates waking up at 6am just to get to the mines right when the sun comes up. The bed creaks as he leans over the edge, feeling around blindly to find his prosthetic from wherever he’d dropped it last night, before fitting it around his left leg. He stretches, rolling his shoulders, before standing.
“Seems like you’re finally back to normal.” He hears Feryn say, and looks over at the doorway. His older brother is standing there with an eyebrow raised. “You woke me up by screaming yesterday, thanks for that, and then you were acting super weird.”
Zolf squints over at him. He doesn’t even remember yesterday. “Uh… really?”
“Yeah, it was strange. Haven’t had a night terror in a while, hmm? And then it’s like you forgot how to do your job. Weird.”
“Sorry?” Zolf tries, but Feryn waves the apology away.
“We all have our off-days,” he says. “Hurry up, I’ve got breakfast cooking and we’ve got to leave soon.”
“Oi! Zolf!” He hears Sasha calling his name from down the road and turns back, catching her and Brock wildly waving at him. Or, Brock waving wildly, while Sasha puts one hand up quickly before it shoots back down.
Feryn laughs. “Alright Sasha? Brock?”
“Hey, Feryn,” Sasha says as he ruffles Brock’s hair.
Zolf coughs and nods at Feryn, head tilting up the road in the universal signal for ‘can you please keep going’. Feryn holds up his hands and acquiesces as Zolf hangs back with Sasha and Brock.
“What was up with you yesterday, mate?” Brock asks the moment Feryn is probably out of earshot. “You were all over the place, had no clue where your job was, what your name was?”
“Yeah, it’s like you didn’t know who you were,” Sasha adds.
“Really? Feryn just said I was acting weird…” Zolf mutters, casting a look over at his brother’s back.
“Yeah, sure, if ‘weird’ means having no idea where we are and no clue where the mine is -“
“And also no clue who we were, which is the most offensive,” Brock pipes up, glaring at Zolf.
“Ah, sorry about that, I dunno what happened. Seems to be fine now though, yeah?”
Sasha doesn’t look convinced, but Brock looks happy enough. “Fine. We’ve gotta get to Dad’s anyway,” he says.
Slowly, they head up the road after Feryn, chatting about the upcoming festival and the comet that should be visible over the town on the same night.
There’s a crowd up ahead, and Zolf, Sasha, and Brock catch up with Feryn, who’s watching the crowd chant with a dark look on his face. As they get closer, it becomes clear, and Zolf joins his brother in staring daggers at the man in the center of the group.
Hirald Smith, mayor of Countisbury and Zolf and Feryn’s estranged father, catches them looking at him and gives a subtle shake of his head. Zolf opens his mouth to say something, but Feryn’s hand on his shoulder stops him.
“He’s not worth it,” Feryn says under his breath. Zolf shrugs off his hand and keeps walking, ignoring the whispered comments from the crowd as they all pass by.
Brock peels off after that, heading down the road to his adoptive father’s antique shop. Sasha takes a step to follow him, but turns back to Zolf and tugs on his shirtsleeve to get him to stop walking.
“You sure you’re alright?” she says when he turns around. “Only, look, you were actin’ real weird yesterday, proper strange, and now everything just seems like you’re back to normal?”
Zolf shrugs. “Feryn said the same thing, uh, not really sure what happened. I don’t remember any of it, but. Sorry, I suppose?”
Sasha eyes him up. “Alright…” she says, and then she’s off after Brock, giving him one more confused look before he turns around and hurries to catch up with Feryn.
The sounds of children running around, of cars heading down the street, all vanish as the elevator descends into the mine, replaced with a vast emptiness broken only by the occasional echo of steel on rock.
“Please tell me you remember how to do your job today,” Feryn begs, clapping Zolf on the shoulder. “Or do I need to watch out for you even more so that usual?”
The people in the elevator around him laugh, and Zolf feels his face flush.
“Shut up,” he mutters to Feryn, folding his arms and frowning steadily at the floor. He doesn’t wait for Feryn as the doors open, stalking over to his locker instead.
Zolf opens the locker and squints at the sheet of paper he sees there, stark white against all of the dusty, coal-covered tools and clothes. He glances around and pulls it out, unfolding it gently. It’s definitely not from anyone he knows - the handwriting is completely unfamiliar, and the only three people who would even leave him a note are Feryn, Sasha, and Brock, and they’d all just tell him to his face anyway.
And the message is… not something any of them would have left him.
‘Who are you?’
next updates will be longer probably
sorry short chapter i’m struggling to write this bit :(
edit 8/4: added a bit to the end of this chapter because i kind of hate the dialogue of all of this so we’re gonna chuck it all in here and then next chapter is gonna be Way Better and we can finally get into the PLOT!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
He doesn’t quite forget about the note throughout the day. It’s stuck in the back of his mind as he works, and he glances around to see if anyone is giving him weird looks. But it couldn’t be anyone in the mine; no one new has been hired in months, and everyone there has known Zolf since he was a kid, either through his father or Feryn. It didn’t make any sense for someone to leave him the note.
It goes in his pocket before they leave, and he unfurls it again as they head out of the mine shaft, glancing down at the three hastily scribbled words on the now-sooty sheet of paper.
Who are you?
See, here’s the weird thing: if Zolf didn’t know any better, he would say that it was in his handwriting. It’s not exact, of course, but it looks messy enough to be his, and the ‘y’ is curled the same way. But he wouldn’t be leaving notes to himself, and even if he doesn’t totally remember the day before he knows he probably wasn’t writing himself cryptic notes.
He slips the note back into his pocket when he sees Feryn across the room, slipping his tools back into his locker and heading over to where his brother is standing.
“Good to see you’re more on top of it. Honestly, it was like you’d never touched an axe yesterday.”
Zolf laughs weakly and swings his bag over his shoulder.
“Ready to go?” he asks, and Feryn nods.
They head off together and Zolf tries not to think about the note, about who could have left it, the fact that he apparently wasn’t himself yesterday and that he only has hazy memories of the day before. But it’s burning a hole through his pocket and he can’t stop wondering just what the hell it means.
Who are you?
He and Feryn have a ritual. Once a week, they head off to sit on the nearby ridge as the sun sets, passing a drink between them as they watch the sun go down. They’ve been doing it ever since Hirald had left Feryn to take care of Zolf, although the drinking had become more of a recent indulgence.
They’re quiet on the walk over, Feryn taking a few swigs from his flask of whiskey before handing it over to Zolf.
The whiskey is smooth, going down, but Zolf is used to it enough that he doesn’t react.
A faint orange light has settled over the little town of Countisbury by the time they get up to their favorite spot. Feryn drops down onto the ridge and leans back against the edge, patting the spot next to him. Zolf follows suit, as they sit back against the ridge as the sun slowly begins to pull away from the sky.
“It’s golden hour, you know.” Feryn says, glancing down into the town below. “The time of day where the universe gets… fiddly. Strands unravel, times brush together.”
“Alright, you’re done,” Zolf laughs, grabbing the whiskey bottle out of his hands.
Feryn rolls his eyes. “I’m not even tipsy, Zolf, I’m just thinking about some stuff.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s almost the autumn festival, we have to create the offerings for the shrine. Just… thinking about some things our grandmother said a few years ago.
“What brought this on?” Zolf asks, raising an eyebrow at him.
“Okay, look. The shrine to Ceridwen. Our family has been giving offerings to it for decades. Apparently it was a way to protect the town from invaders, famine, all that. Me and you used to go up with grandma and she’d do the complete rites in the center of the circle.” Feryn takes another drink of the whiskey and points off into the forest, roughly the correct direction of the shrine, Zolf thinks. “Asking for them to bless us every year in autumn, to guide us. You’d even participate sometimes, clapping along and she’d dance around with you in the circle.
“But then mum got sick, and dad wasn’t around as much, so we kind of just… stopped.”
“I… don’t remember ever doing that,” Zolf mutters.
“No, you probably wouldn’t,” Feryn says, leaning back against the rock. “Now, we just go up to the shrine and leave artifacts. But it used to be more. Our grandmother - she died when you were just a kid, maybe 5 - would always tell stories about how our family was touched by magic.”
“Magic isn’t real , Feryn.”
He shrugs. “Maybe not. Grandma used to think so. Said that our dreams crossed into the waking world, that we wove stories into existence, and they all came together at golden hour. We were a favorite of the gods, once.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Zolf says, raising an eyebrow at Feryn. He took the last sip of the whiskey and winced as it burned.
Feryn doesn’t respond immediately, looking up at the sky with an unreadable look on his face. “Yeah,” he eventually said, “you’re probably right. But wouldn’t that be fun?”
Zolf sits in the windowsill of his room, staring out into the stars. The note is unfolded on his dresser, held down by a small rock he’d found as a kid and never gotten rid of.
Who are you?
There’s a soft knock on his door before Feryn opens it, coming in and sitting on the edge of Zolf’s bed.
“You’ve been quiet since we got back, and seemed tense. You okay?”
“It’s nothing,” Zolf says. And it is, really, except for the weird note he’d found, and Feryn being weirdly nostalgic over at the ridge, even though he gets like this around every festival.
“It’s not nothing, there’s obviously something on your mind. You know it helps to talk about these things instead of just letting them fester.”
“I guess. I don’t know, maybe it’s just like what you were talking about, with the festival coming up, but. I… you were talking about time, and it got me thinking, I just,” Zolf lets out a heavy sigh and rubs a hand over his face. “I don’t want to be a miner my whole life, Feryn, not like you do. I want to do something… I don’t know, I want to be in a city. Not this… town.”
Feryn is quiet for a moment, and Zolf turns to look at him.
“How long have you been thinking about this?” he asks, and Zolf shrugs helplessly.
“I don’t know, a while? It’s always kind of been in the back of my mind, but then the whole thing with Dad and then we needed more money and I graduated and didn’t even think about anything else but going into the mines.”
“I’m sorry you felt that way, I should’ve given you the chance to get out if you wanted,” Feryn says.
“S’not your fault,” Zolf mutters. Feryn claps a hand on his shoulder and Zolf locks eyes with him.
“It’ll work out, Zolf.”
“Yeah. Maybe,” Zolf says. Feryn gives him a sympathetic smile.
“Zolf, you’re 28. You’re not dying anytime soon, and there’s still hope of you going to the city, alright?” He pats him on the shoulder. “Why you want to leave your favorite older brother all alone in this small town defeats me, but I’ll somehow learn to soldier on.”
Zolf shoves at his arm but can’t keep the smile off of his face. “You’re my only brother, Feryn.”
Feryn swings his arms wide and grabs Zolf in a tight hug. “Then I win by default.” Zolf tries to scramble out of the hug and it turns into a mini wrestling match as Feryn just squeezes tighter and Zolf pushes ineffectually at his grip.
“Let go - gods-“
“My little brother is sad -“
“I’m fine, Feryn!”
“No let me hug you -“
“Gods!” Zolf finally scrambles out of his grip and stumbles off of the bed, overbalancing when he realizes he’s already taken his prosthetic off. Feryn’s hand reaches out to grab him, helping him keep from toppling over.
“...Thanks,” Zolf says, only slightly begrudging. Feryn lets him fall back onto the bed and stands up himself.
“Get some sleep, Zolf,” Feryn says, ruffling his hair. Zolf pushes his hand away with a scowl. “We’ve got an early day tomorrow.”
more coming up soon!
Zolf wakes up in an unfamiliar room.
hi kids check chapter 3 bc i updated it
tw: slight sexual harassment (zolf shuts it down p quickly, but just wanted to warn y’all!
The first thing Zolf realizes when he wakes up the next morning is that there’s no alarm going off. He scrambles up and reaches blindly to the side of his bed, grappling around for the prosthetic. “Shit, shit, shit ,” he mutters.
He can’t find the prosthetic anywhere, and glances around the room to see where he tossed it last night.
“What the…” he whispers.
This isn’t his room. For starters, it’s way too big, and - is that a walk-in closet? - much too opulent to even exist in Countisbury. And, he realizes as he looks down, he has both his legs. He slowly swivels on the bed and stands, glancing down.
“This is… a weird dream,” he mutters, running a hand through his hair. It feels softer than his, and significantly shorter. He turns and sees a mirror out of the corner of his eye and stumbles over, still getting used to not having to adjust for his prosthetic.
He stands in front of the mirror and his jaw drops. Staring back at him is a handsome Egyptian man, probably a few inches shorter than Zolf himself. He reaches a hand out and the reflection in the mirror does the same. Zolf jumps back, hand stretching up to touch his face. It’s more angular than his is, skin softer without even a hint of a beard.
“What the hell?” he says, tilting his head left and right.
“Hamid! Mate, we’re going to be late, and you know how Liliana is if we don’t beat her there. We gotta go -“ the door to the room slides open and Zolf whips his head around to look at the unfamiliar face poking his head around the frame. “You’re not even dressed? Hamid, we have class in twenty, if you’re not out in the kitchen in ten I’m leaving without you.”
The door slams shut and Zolf stands there in silence, incredibly confused.
“What the hell does Hamid mean?” he says to the open air.
Somehow, he struggles his way through the walk-in closet, glances at the truly incomprehensible clothing, shrugs his way into some trousers with way too many buttons and a button-down shirt that doesn’t really make sense but seems to match in the mirror, does a passable job at fixing his hair, gives a confused look at the many bottles of some sort of product on the counter and then stumbles out of the room, holding his shoes in his hand.
Walking is… different. He doesn’t have to mentally adjust for the prosthetic anymore, which had become so natural that walking now feels slightly awkward and forced. He makes his way down the hallway and into a kitchen that’s easily double the size of his and Feryn’s, and spots the man who had opened the door earlier.
“Dressing down today, Hamid?” The strange man who definitely knows who Zolf is supposed to be says with a smirk, eyeing him up and down. “What brought this on?”
“Uh…” Zolf starts, but he’s cut off by the sound of a phone beeping. He glances over at the man who gives him a raised eyebrow in return. The phone beeps again and Zolf feels it vibrate against his leg this time. He grabs the phone and looks at the lock screen with badly-disguised panic until it asks for a fingerprint. Zolf presses his thumb down and hopes it will work, mentally cheering when the phone unlocks and he can see the texts on the screen.
‘Are you and Gideon on the way?’ The first text message reads, followed by ‘I’ll be there in ten minutes. Don’t make me wait.’
Well, that at least clears up one mystery. The guy giving Zolf an expectant look must be Gideon, and Zolf can work with that.
“We should - we should get going?” Zolf says, and it comes out as a question despite how hard he tries to sound certain.
Gideon shoots him a weird look. “You sound different today.”
“Ah - really?” Zolf says, hoping his panicked expression comes across as more confused than anything else. “Must be. Losing my voice.”
Gideon just shrugs at that and heads toward the door, grabbing an apple from a fruit bowl on the table and rubbing it against a towel. “C’mon, you’re right. Let’s go. Can’t be late again.”
Oh, well. If it’s a dream, he might as well go along with it. Zolf follows Gideon as he leads the way out of the flat. He steps outside the building and stalls. This… this has to be a dream. There’s absolutely no way that Zolf would end up in a city, not after he’d just talked to Feryn about it, but there’s no mistaking it.
Tall buildings rise up around him as Zolf’s jaw drops open. It’s - well, it’s not exactly what he was expecting, it’s less gleaming and a bit more storied, more brick buildings that look like they’ve stood the test of time than immaculately conceived towers of glass and metal. But it’s beautiful, and Zolf stares out over the city even as people rush past him, giving him dirty looks as they step around him.
“Hamid!” Gideon yells, and Zolf jumps. “Come on, we’ve gotta go! God.”
“Uh, sorry, right,” Zolf calls back, and follows Gideon through the crowd, apologizing to people as he stumbles along, trying not to lose sight of Gideon.
It’s a difficult journey to the campus, even though the flat isn’t far. Zolf struggles to push through the crowd, for one; it would have been a nightmare to try and get through this with his prosthetic, but the body he’s in is small and doesn’t seem to be built for shoving through crowds, so Zolf is stuck making liberal use of his elbows as he stumbles through, and then they’re out and standing in front of a large, open, iron-wrought gate.
Gideon rolls his eyes as Zolf breathes heavily. “Jesus, Hamid, it’s like you’ve never walked through a crowd at all. What is up with you today?”
Shaking his head, he ambles on through the gate and, after a beat, Zolf follows him. Hey carve a path through the campus, cutting across the quad and ducking through a building until Gideon swears and comes to an abrupt halt. “She’s going to know we’re late,” he hisses, glancing off to his right, where an attractive young woman sits, glaring at the two of them.
Ah, this must be Liliana, Zolf realizes, and she’s impatiently tapping her phone against her leg as she sits on a bench and glares at them. Her foot is bobbing in the air and, as they get closer, she stands up with her arms crossed.
“Five. Minutes,” she says, raising an eyebrow at the two of them. “I told Hamid -“
“Yeah, yeah, we know, we’re late.” Gideon cuts her off, waving it off with a hand in the air. “This one -“ he points at Hamid - “decided to have a bit of a lie-in, and is acting all… funny.”
Liliana turns to look at Zolf, then, concern shifting over her features. “Oh, are you alright, Hamid?” Her head tilts as she glances over at him, lips pulling into a confused frown. “Are you… not wearing any makeup?”
Again, with the bloody makeup, Zolf swears - whatever. He pastes on what he hopes is a convincing smile, instead of going on a tirade. “Not today, no, uh. The alarm? Didn’t go off in time. Couldn’t…” he trails off, racking his brain for any sort of makeup terminology that would make sense, before settling on an easy, “didn’t have time.”
“Fine. Class it is,” she says, flipping her hair over her shoulder and striding away, leaving Gideon and Zolf to follow along behind her.
University is…not confusing, necessarily, but definitely not what Zolf had expected. The maths classes are a nightmare, and his brain hurts within five minutes of listening to the teacher explain some nebulous concept. He enjoys the lit classes more than anything else, and is almost tempted to get into a spirited debate over the sexuality of early poets until he thinks of having to deal with speaking in front of the entire class and clams up. Thankfully, either Gideon or Liliana are in each of his classes, and Zolf’s able to simply follow one of them along to the next class instead of getting hopelessly lost.
It’s funny, in a way that’s nearly sad. Zolf hadn’t had the chance or the resources to go to university; he’d immediately gone to the mines with Feryn and started helping to support the family. It hadn’t been much, but it was an honest living, and the less that he or his brother had to rely on their father for support, the better in their eyes. But, even just spending a day here has been incredible; Zolf wishes he could have maybe gotten the chance, and then immediately feels guilty when he thinks of Feryn, working as hard as he does to support them without relying on help from his father.
After one class where the teacher droned on and on about integrals and optimization and a whole lot of other topics that Zolf knew next to nothing about and tried to copy off of all of Gideon’s notes for, he simply gave up. It’s probably a dream, anyway, who cares if he’s missing a couple of pages of notes in the grand scheme of things? Maths was invented to confuse, and Zolf has a migraine. Thankfully, the seminar ends soon after that and Liliana loops their elbows together as they head outside, laughing.
“Einstein was in a right state today, wasn’t he?” she says, laughing. “More out of it than normal.”
“Yeah, he was a bit barmy. Maybe got knocked on the head one too many times trying to prove he could teleport. What do you think, Hamid?” Gideon says, and it’s not until he repeats the name that Zolf starts, mentally kicking himself for not cottoning on sooner. “Are you alright? God, you’re as spacey as Einstein is. Don’t go all conspiracy theory on us next.”
“Uh,” Zolf starts, “yeah, he - he was acting a bit odd, you’re right. Maybe it’s stress?”
Gideon shrugs. “What’s that man got to be stressed about, he’s tenured . Anyway. I’m starving - you two?” he says, and Zolf hasn’t really thought about it until now, but he feels absolutely ravenous. He realizes he hadn’t had time to eat this morning, nor a lunch break to grab a snack, and nods. It’s all weird, though; he would have thought you simply didn’t get hungry in dreams.
“We could go to that cute shop down the road,” Liliana says decisively, not leaving room for Zolf or Gideon to argue as she tugs them along. Zolf is all too happy to let her lead, considering he’s still half-convinced this is a dream and also he has no idea where to even go .
The shop Liliana mentioned is definitely cute, but it’s not as garish as Zolf had been expecting. It feels homey, with a large fireplace in the center of the room and couches neatly arranged around it. It’s light on the pinks and reds, and seems to have gone for a much more minimalist look.
The menu is limited, as well, although that’s not exactly something Zolf is unused to, considering the rotating five dishes at their local (and only) restaurant back in Countisbury. Half of the names seem to be in some form of French, and Zolf ends up just pointing to one instead of trying to figure out what it says. The waitress takes his order with a smile and grabs all of their menus before heading back to put all of their orders in.
Zolf sits there in a content silence as Gideon and Liliana gossip about people that he’s sure whoever this is - Hamid - knows, or maybe it’s some weird dream thing and his subconscious is pulling names he’s heard once or twice into the dream. It doesn’t take long before the waitress brings out their food, and Zolf can’t help but salivate at the delicious-looking tart.
“Looking good, love,” a middle-aged man says from the table next to them, leaning on the surface and giving Liliana a once-over with his eyes. His gaze lingers on her chest and floats back up to her face, giving her a salacious smile.
Liliana looks deeply uncomfortable but doesn’t look at the man, biting her lip and focusing on her sandwich as her knuckles tighten on her fork.
“Excuse me, we’re trying to have lunch,” Zolf says, swiveling in his chair and giving the man a glare. The man holds up his hands and leans back, whispering something in his friend’s ear. They both laugh while the third man glares back at Zolf before shifting his gaze to Liliana and winking. Zolf feels his shoulders tense up, but at a hissed warning from Gideon, turns back to their table.
He stabs at the pastry on his plate, glowering as they continue making lewd comments under their breaths. It’s clear they’re intentionally saying it sotto voce from their laughter and how they keep giving Liliana loaded looks.
“Just ignore it, Lili,” Gideon mutters, giving the men at the table one over from them a dirty look. “They’re dicks.”
Liliana frowns over at him but doesn’t respond, looking down at her food and moving it around on the plate slowly. The men at the table make another comment, perfectly pitched for them to hear it, and Zolf slams his hands down on the table as he stands up.
“Excuse me,” he says, doing the best he can to pitch his voice down an octave and sound threatening. “Are you done?”
One of the men raises an eyebrow at him and shrugs, while the other two elbow each other and snicker. “Do we have a problem here?”
“We’re going to if you don’t stop making comments about my friend.”
“Hamid!” Gideon hisses, tugging insistently at his shirtsleeve. “Sit down .”
Zolf tugs his sleeve out of Gideon’s grasp and levels his best glare at the men. “Well?”
“Maybe we do.” One of the men stands up and saunters over to Zolf, rolling his sleeves up.
“Don’t want to make a scene, do you?” Zolf says, glancing around the café as everyone turns to look at them. The manager of the café, a burly man with his arms crossed, has a frown on his face as he looks at the two of them. Zolf slips his hands into his pockets and smiles up at the man, who flashes a disgusting shade of red as his fists tighten.
One of the other men at the table stands up and grabs the bloke standing in front of Zolf by the shoulder, pulling him back. “Ain’t worth it, mate,” he says, nodding his head toward the manager. The last man stands up and gives Zolf a rude gesture before all three of them head out of the café.
The chatter slowly resumes throughout the room as Zolf sits down.
“That was reckless , Hamid, what were you thinking?” Gideon says, reaching over to flick Zolf on the forehead. “We definitely couldn’t have taken those guys.”
Zolf opens his mouth to retort, because he knew what he was doing, thanks, when Liliana cuts him off with a gentle hand on his arm. “I think it was sweet,” she says, giving him a smile. Gideon stutters for a minute before crossing his arms with a huff, sulking as he leans back in his chair.
They part ways as Liliana heads to her own apartment, promising to text Zolf - well, Hamid - and Gideon when she gets back. Zolf waves as she leaves, and then Gideon has an arm around his neck and is dragging him along down the road.
“What, playing hero today, are we, Hamid?” Gideon says, clapping Zolf on the cheek with the other hand. Zolf sputters and tries to push away from him until Gideon finally lets go.
“I was just being a decent person,” Zolf says. “You - you heard how they were talking to her.”
“Well, yeah, but that always happens to Lili. Better to just ignore it than to give the creeps the attention they want.”
Zolf frowns over at Gideon. “But that means they’ll keep thinking it’s okay. I’m - listen, you don’t have to, I suppose, but I’ll keep bringing it up when I see it, Gideon.”
“When did you grow a spine?” Gideon laughs, wrapping an arm around Zolf’s shoulder which Zolf immediately shrugs out from.
“I just wanted to do the right thing,” he tries, stuffing his hands in his pockets as they weave through the crowd, heading back toward the flat.
“Sure. Because any other day, you wouldn’t have stood up to those creeps. You wanted to be the hero, you can admit it, it’s just us!”
“I really didn’t,” Zolf says, insistent. “They were just acting like dicks, yeah? Didn’t want them to be able to get away with it.”
“Sure,” Gideon says. “And acting like Liliana’s own personal white knight wasn’t a bonus.”
“Uh… no?” Zolf says, trying to sound more convincing than it actually is. It’s true, anyway; he doesn’t have any feelings for Liliana, whether or not she’s a dream projection, but he doesn’t know if Hamid, whoever he is, does .
“Fine, don’t tell me,” Gideon says, rolling his eyes and looking slightly offended. “I’m just your best friend. Whatever, let’s go.”
Zolf doesn’t have a choice but to follow him as they head back through London, making their way to the flat.
Gideon doesn’t talk for the rest of the walk, seemingly content to stew in silence as Zolf marvels at the buildings around him. There’s nothing like this even near Countisbury. Zolf hasn’t been more than a couple of miles outside his town in decades, and this is an experience he doesn’t want to miss. It’s fun, but challenging, trying to look at all the buildings while trying not to lose Gideon in the hustle and bustle of the street, but he does a decent job of it.
They take the elevator up to the penthouse apartment, which is something that had escaped Zolf’s notice until this moment, and ride up silently.
He bids goodnight to Gideon, who gives a muffled grunt in return as he sticks his head into the fridge, looking for any sort of food. Zolf takes this as his moment to disappear, walking down the hallway and hoping he remembers where - yes, this must be it.
He makes it into Hamid’s room and shuts the door behind him, leaning heavily against it as he slides down to the floor, running a hand over his face.
It’s been… a day, that much is certain. He’s exhausted, and more than a little confused, but at least he’s back now, and he can sit alone in the room and figure out what the hell is going on. He remembers the note he had gotten yesterday and pulls out the man’s phone, tapping the diary app in the corner. It’s almost ridiculously organized, with an entry for each day over the past few months. He’s tempted to swipe through some, but hesitates. Even if it is a dream, it feels… wrong, somehow, to snoop through his things. Instead, he opens up a new note for today, writing down a quick message.
“My name is Zolf Smith. Who are you?”
It might be a dream, but just in case it’s not, maybe he’ll get some answers. He hesitates for a moment and adds “Has this happened to you?” before locking the phone and plugging it in next to the nightstand.
He doesn’t want to go to sleep, really. Because if he sleeps, he’ll wake up, and he’ll be back in Countisbury. But he can’t stave off the sandman forever. He stays up as long as he can, making a comfortable little nook as he sits next to the window and watches the cars drive down the narrow, twisting alleys, watching helicopters fly overhead, watching as the city never truly goes to sleep.
Hamid wakes up.
IS HIM! THE BOY! next chapter might be a while cause i’m still trying to figure out how to best transpose ‘movie montage’ in a fic SO
Hamid stretches with a loud, drawn-out yawn as his alarm beeps softly next to his bed.
What a strange dream. It’s all fuzzy in his head, but he remembers being stuck somewhere underground. No, not stuck, he was meant to be there, working, and there was a small town… the last wisps of the dream pull away from his mind as he rubs at his eyes. It doesn’t really matter, he thinks, and brushes it off.
He takes his time getting up; it’s a Saturday, which means lunch with Liliana and Gideon, and maybe Bertie if he deigns it important enough to stop by, but nothing urgent.
After a long shower, changing into a flattering casual outfit and spending time getting his eyeliner perfect in the mirror, he heads out the door to the kitchen.
“Morning, Gideon!” Hamid says sunnily as be spots the other man. He grabs the carton of milk from the fridge to make himself a bowl of cereal, slightly frowning as he makes a mental note to get some more groceries delivered soon. “Did you sleep well?”
“Morning, Hamid. Nice to see you’re back to normal,” Gideon says, laughing.
Hamid pauses at the counter, spoon in hand as he turns back to give Gideon a confused look. “What d’you mean?”
“You were so off yesterday, Hamid, what gives?” Gideon asks, pointing a fork full of eggs at him. “You didn’t even put makeup on.”
“I what?” Hamid exclaims, hand flying up over his mouth. “Not even - nothing?”
“Yeah, exactly, weird.”
This is, well, suboptimal is an underexaggeration; Hamid can’t help but stare at Gideon in horror.
“I can’t believe -“
“Oh, relax, I doubt anyone but me and Liliana noticed. You basically looked the same, anyway,” Gideon says dismissively. He picks up one of the newspapers from the stack on the chair and starts leafing through it, obviously paying little attention to Hamid.
If there are… any photos of that, Hamid is going to find them and burn them. No makeup… what was he thinking, yesterday? He finishes breakfast quickly, brow furrowed.
“Oh, and way to play the hero for Liliana yesterday, that was inspired,” Gideon comments, setting down the newspaper. He grabs a bag and a set of keys from the nearby table, rifling through the bag for a moment before snapping it shut.
Hamid stares at him in confusion until Gideon sighs and rolls his eyes, before explaining. “You know those wankers at the café? Stood up to ‘em yesterday, you did. Told them off and everything.”
“I was - I - what ?” Hamid nearly shrieks, taking a half-step back. Gideon just shrugs, looking unimpressed. “I don’t even… I don’t even remember doing that!”
“Yeah, it was ballsy, especially for you. Guess that’s what being in love with Liliana does to a man. You could have told me you were interested in her, Hamid, honestly. It’s not like I care.”
Hamid shakes his head rapidly. “I’m - I’m really not, and anyway, she wouldn’t be interested in me, we’re much better off as friends, it’s not - it’s not like that, Gideon.”
“Sure,” Gideon responds, slinging his bag over his shoulder and heading out of the apartment. “Anyway, you coming?”
Liliana isn’t any different, in that she keeps telling him how weird he was acting without even explaining it. After lunch, she pulls Hamid aside as Gideon starts heading down the road back to their flat. She seems… a bit warmer, to him, than she normally is, and she’s not making eye contact with him as she tucks a piece of hair behind her ear.
“Thanks, you know,” Liliana says, hint of a blush high on her cheeks. “For yesterday. I didn’t get a chance to say so.”
“Oh!” Hamid says, and he has absolutely no clue what she’s talking about, but based on how weird Gideon seemed to think he was acting yesterday, he’s sure it was out of character. Except - “Wait, is this about the café thing?”
Liliana looks at him like he’s grown two heads. “Well, yes? What else would it be about?”
Hamid shrugs, helplessly. “Gideon keeps saying I was acting weird, yesterday, and all of my memories are very hazy?” Liliana gives him a concerned look at that, and he winces. “No, it’s - it’s fine, really, just been a weird day, I suppose…?”
She doesn’t look convinced, but doesn’t push the issue. Hamid breathes a sigh of relief as she turns away without questioning him further.
“Oh - Liliana!” he calls after her and she turns around, questioning look on her face.
“I should have done it earlier,” Hamid says, and there’s a coil of guilt in his stomach as he realizes how often Liliana has had to deal with that, and how his and Gideon’s suggestions of simply ignoring it hadn’t been any help. “I’m sorry for not speaking up.”
“Yes, you should have,” Liliana says, a small smile creeping up her face. “But I’m glad you did now.”
Hamid makes a weak excuse to go to his room once they’re back in the flat. Gideon doesn’t really seem to care, collapsing on the couch and throwing an over his eyes as he waves Hamid on.
The door shuts behind him and he leans against it for a moment before turning the lock. It’s a few steps to his bed, and then he’s falling into the sheets, rubbing his temples as he tries to sort his thoughts out. His memories from yesterday are… basically non-existent. There might be a shade of a memory from class, but even that feels hidden and hazy, and he has absolutely no recollection of anything happening at the café.
He thinks back to his strange dream from last night, of living a life in a town he didn’t recognize for a day, and shakily pulls out his phone, flipping the calendar back a day.
“My name is Zolf Smith. Who are you? Has this happened to you?”
Hamid’s mind reels as he flips back another day. All the previous entries are the same, little notes he took about the day and what happened. Yesterday’s is the only one that stands out, and based on the strange dream he had, and the fact that everyone told him how weirdly he was behaving yesterday, and now this note...
why don’t these idiots trade phone numbers? well i could talk about how shitty cell service is in the sticks, or i could just say plot, of course.
‘twas gonna have a few more snippets but i got tired. might do some side stories in the future /shrugs
*dropkicks this chapter into the tag* yeehaw
(zolf - bold; hamid - italics)
A note saved on a phone:
“So, it looks like Zolf and I are switching bodies in our dreams. We have no idea how it could have happened, and no idea why it picked us two. The trigger seems to be sleeping - but when we wake up, we barely remember anything about the switch. It doesn’t happen every day, maybe two or three times a week.”
A list of ideas, ripped from a page in a notebook:
“This all makes no sense, but if we don’t figure out how to convincingly be each other we’re going to ruin each other’s lives -
- have to record the days
- tell hamid how to act better
- keep feryn from finding out”
A post-it note, dropped in the street :
“Ground rules, keeping track, how are we going to do this???”
Crumpled up paper, found laying at the bottom of a trashcan:
“Someone’s going to figure us out if we can’t get this right.”
Zolf always has a headache after they switch. He doesn’t know if it’s something Hamid does, or a side effect of whatever is making this happen, but anytime he wakes up with a headache, he makes it a point to pull his notebook to him from across his nightstand and flip to the previous day.
He and Hamid had decided to keep track of the days as best they can when they switched, since their memories of the switch were hazy and started to fade when they woke up.
It’s becoming a bit of a habit for Hamid to check his phone when he wakes up - immediately pulling up his calendar app and checking the previous day. Anytime he and Zolf switch, they do their best to write down a detailed description of what went on that day. This way, when people ask them what happened, they have an idea of it instead of having to stare at them blankly. It’s come in handy a few times for Hamid, although sometimes he’ll forget to check, or Zolf will accidentally leave out a detail, and he’ll be left confused and floundering until the other person explains it for him. Still, it’s the best method that they’ve been able to figure out, especially since the memories of the switch fade so quickly.
Hamid stares at the prosthetic in frustration. He’d thought he’d done it right this time, he really had, but when he’d stood up the prosthetic had felt unsteady, constantly slipping around and chafing against his limb. Letting out a frustrated huff, he pulled off the sock and tossed it to the ground, cursing under his breath.
There was a knock at the door and Hamid called out a quick, annoyed, “Come in!” and Feryn slid open the door. He glared down at the sock and the prosthetic leg until he felt Feryn sit on the bed next to him and rest a hand on his shoulder.
“Zolf? You okay?”
“Can you just,” he gestures weakly to the prosthetic. Every time he’s switched into Zolf’s body he’s had to get Feryn’s help with it; he’s nervous that if he does it himself, he’ll do it wrong and it’ll hurt Zolf in the long run.
“Oh,” Feryn says, and then he’s kneeling in front of Hamid with a concerned look on his face. “Is today a bad headspace day? Are you still with me?”
“Fine, just tired, I suppose,” Hamid says quietly, feeling bad for always using that excuse with Feryn.
“Alright, here we go,” Feryn says. “Tell me if any of this contact is too much, alright?”
Hamid nods, guilt pooling in his chest. It feels… wrong, to take advantage of this. But he doesn’t know how to put the prosthetic on well, and even with the help of Youtube tutorials he forgets some steps.
Feryn grabs a bottle of lotion and gently rubs it over Hamid’s leg, moving quickly as he does so. Next up is what looks like a weird silicone sleeve, which wraps around Hamid’s leg; Feryn runs his hands over it a few times, smoothing it out.
“Still with me?” he asks, and Hamid mutters a quiet affirmative.
Feryn rummages around in the drawer next to the bed and pulls out a sock, pulling it on over the sleeve. The prosthetic leg comes next, and Feryn gently fits it around the limb.
“Can you stand up for me?” he asks. Hamid does so, instinctively reaching out to hold onto Feryn’s shoulder as he momentarily loses his balance. Feryn waits until he lets go of his shoulder, and then reaches out and pulls the sleeve on the actual prosthetic up. “Can you pull it up the rest of the way?”
Hamid can, at the very least, do that, and rolls it up carefully, while Feryn grabs a pump from the drawer. “Good?”
“Yes,” Hamid says, and feels the sleeve around his limb tighten slightly as Feryn pumps. The leg feels steadier now, and he is able to walk around without feeling like he’s going to tip over.
“Still good to to go the mines?” Feryn asks, like he does every time Hamid has to get him to help with the prosthetic.
“Oh! Yes, of course,” Hamid says, glancing at the clock next to the bed. It’s nearly time for them to leave, anyway, and he’s not going to be responsible for Zolf losing a day of pay.
Feryn raises an eyebrow at him, clearly worried, but eventually nods. “Meet me downstairs in five minutes.”
Hamid nods as Feryn heads out of the room. He grabs Zolf’s uniform out of the closet and struggles into it, brushing his teeth and hurrying down the stairs so that they won’t be late.
Zolf stomps down the stairs, grumbling. Yesterday had been another switch day, then; Hamid never does seem to go to bed in a timely fashion, and Zolf always wakes up exhausted. Feryn is sitting at the table when Zolf makes it into the kitchen, sipping a cup of tea and reading the morning paper. Zolf grunts a hello - he is not a morning person when he’s tired, hell, he’s barely even a person - and grabs his own cup, rooting around in the fridge for some milk to add.
“Finally figured out how to put your leg on, huh?” Feryn says, giving Zolf a wink as he folds up the paper and sets it down on the table. “Thought it was day 1 all over again.”
Zolf rolls his eyes. He can’t very well tell Feryn that some small, pretentious Egyptian man pilots his body sometimes, and is apparently unable to figure out how the prosthetic works; he just has to sit there while Feryn teases him about it.
“Must have been really tired yesterday,” he says, and Feryn gives him a sympathetic smile.
Honestly, he’s going to leave an instruction sheet and tape it to his own forehead just in case Hamid is the one who wakes up in his body tomorrow.
“C’mon, Hamid, the restaurant is going to be crowded soon, don’t you want to beat the rush?” Gideon called, rolling his eyes as Zolf started to fall behind.
Zolf scanned through the menu on his phone, face blanching as he saw the prices. “Uh, isn’t this a - a little expensive?” he stammers, voice somehow coming out even more high-pitched as he exchanges a look with Liliana. “Maybe we could find a nice chip shop instead.”
Gideon grabs Zolf’s arm and tugs him forward. “Since when do you worry about money? Your father owns half the banks in the world, you can afford a $30 appetizer.”
Stomach rolling, Zolf lets himself be pulled along, wondering who the hell this guy is if he normally doesn’t even bat an eye at prices like this.
Hamid eyes the restaurant in front of them with distaste. It’s not bad , exactly, but it’s not exactly up to his and Gideon’s standard tastes.
“Er, Gideon, are you sick of Giovanni’s? Or Marcelles? Or House Maori?” Hamid asks, casting a confused glance in Gideon’s direction. They’re standing in front of Tuxedo, a nice little place near their flat that has decent reviews but simply isn’t up to the standard of the five-star restaurants they frequent. There’s not even a queue at the door (not that that’s ever halted Hamid, the al Tahans manage the bank accounts of most of the five-star restaurants in London, and in return always have a table on hand when they decide to use it). Still, Gideon leads the way in without answering and Hamid follows behind him, not wanting to be left outside in the crisp spring air. The maître d’ leads them to the table and they sit. Hamid pulls the menu out and begins scanning through their cocktails.
“Hamid,” Gideon says after the maître d’ has left, “we went to Marcelles yesterday, and you wouldn’t shut up about how expensive it was. Kept talking about how they should put prices on the menu if they wanted people to buy things.”
“Hmm. Did I,” Hamid says through gritted teeth. He doesn’t remember going to Marcelles, which is a shame considering how delicious their food is, which means that Zolf was probably there yesterday with Gideon. And commenting on the menu of all things.
Hamid is going to leave him a strongly worded note about taste and culture.
Hamid is so tired . The pickaxe in his hands is heavy, and hitting rock for hours on end looking for ore is boring . It doesn’t help that Hamid is simply terrible at using the axe, and misses half the time.
He hears someone call his name from behind and whirls around, seeing Feryn standing there and giving him a confused look. “All good over there?”
Hamid nods, wiping away the sweat from his face, and gives Feryn a thumbs up.
“Only… only three hours left, right? And then we get to go home.”
“We have dinner at old man Gusset’s on Wednesday, Zolf, you know this.” Feryn looks concerned as he reaches forward and resting a hand against Hamid’s forehead. “Sure you’re feeling okay?”
Hamid laughs and waves his hand away. “Of - of course. I’m fine! I just, I must have forgotten, of course it’s Wednesday.”
Feryn doesn’t look completely convinced but he does leave Hamid alone after that. Hamid lets out a sigh of relief and goes back to hammering, mostly ineffectively, at the rock.
Feryn keeps giving him concerned glances as Zolf chips away at the stone in front of him. Zolf can see the worry emanating off of his brother, and finally turns around to look at him.
“Yeah?” he asks, leaning on his pickaxe. “D’you want something?”
Feryn shrugs. “You were off yesterday. Kept looking like you were about to keel over from exhaustion. You sleep well, Zolf?”
“Ah,” he says. Hamid, then, since he doesn’t seem to remember. They’ll really have to work on that, considering that Zolf having a bad day in the mine has a bit of a bigger impact than Hamid might realize. “No, ah, didn’t sleep too well the other night. Nightmares, and all, but - it’ll be fine, I’m fine, sorry for… worrying you.”
“You don’t have to apologize for that , Zolf,” Feryn says. “Just let me know if you’re not feeling great in future, yeah? Losing a day’s work is better than being sloppy down here.”
Zolf nods, and makes a mental note to tell Hamid to go at his own pace when he’s down here and just watch what everyone else is doing to figure it out.
Zolf stares distastefully at the rows of makeup lining the counter. Hamid had said to put makeup on, and Zolf wants to respect his wishes, he really does, but who needs five different kinds of foundation, and how is Zolf supposed to know which is the right one to use? He glances at the clock and swears, loudly - he’s already running late, he doesn’t have time to put any of this on anyway, so he just sends a silent apology to Hamid and grabs his bag as he heads out the door. Gideon is sitting in the kitchen, as always, and raises his eyebrows when he sees Zolf.
“Going natural today, Hamid? That’s not like you,” Gideon says. Zolf doesn’t know what to do but awkwardly laugh, mumble something about trying new things and grab a banana from the fruit bowl on the table.
It doesn’t get better as they walk to uni; Gideon won’t shut up about it, for one, and then Liliana keeps looking at him like she’s never seen him before. And then she asks him to take a photo , “because we never get to see the natural side of you, Hamid, c’mon, smile!” and Zolf feels his stomach drop.
Hamid is going to kill him.
“Yeah, what Lili said. Smile, Hamid, c’mon,” Gideon cajoles, and Zolf shoots him a death glare before capitulating, forcing a smile as he tries to think of ways to explain this later.
“He - I did what!” Hamid yells, grabbing Gideon’s phone from him and zooming in on his own face in the picture. Sure enough, he can almost tell that it’s Zolf. The smile is a bit more muted, but still genuine, and he looks a little less comfortable being in front of the lens, and if you weren’t looking for it, you wouldn’t be able to tell.
Apart from, of course, the complete lack of foundation, or eyeliner, or mascara, or anything on his skin.
“You looked fine, Hamid, stop worrying. You can still be the prettiest boy at university without caking your face everyday,” Gideon says, rolling his eyes, and Hamid feels the urge to accidentally drop Gideon’s phone. Instead, he hands it back with a smile, and laughs, poking Gideon in the cheek. “Oh, of course, no need to be jealous.”
Gideon ruffles his hair and Hamid nearly shrieks as his hands fly up to bat Gideon’s away, nervously running through his hair to fix it.
“It’s not a big deal,” Gideon says. “Plus, Liliana couldn’t stop looking at you yesterday.”
Hamid grins, forced, and swears he’s going to print out an entire instruction sheet for doing make up, just in case they switch and Zolf decides to, once again, make the erroneous choice to… to parade Hamid’s body around barefaced.
Sasha pokes Hamid in the cheek and he yelps, pushing her hand away.
“What was that for?” he exclaims, scooting backward. She doesn’t respond, just squints at his face a little bit more.
“Mate, what’s on your face?” she asks, and Hamid’s hands flutter up.
“There’s something on my face?” he says, carefully brushing around, stalling in confusion as Sasha shakes her head.
“No, it’s - all over your face.”
Oh . The makeup. Hamid had gone out to get some foundation and eyeliner a few switches ago, and hidden it in the back of the closet. Nothing special and nothing expensive, just some basic stuff that he could use. Zolf must not have found it, since it was still there every time Hamid had checked, but he hadn’t felt comfortable using it until now. If Zolf wasn’t going to use makeup while in his body, he would just have to use it while in Zolf’s. Plus, it did complement Zolf’s skin perfectly, and the eyeliner just helped amplify his already-lovely green eyes. Hamid wasn’t branching out into eyeshadow or anything else, just some little enhancements here and there.
“That’s… new,” Sasha says dubiously. “Looks good, I suppose. Makes your eyes pop a bit more.”
Hamid can't help it - he preens. “Thank you, Sasha, I’m glad you like it.”
“So, no makeup today?” Sasha says, craning her head to look back at Zolf as they ride her moped through the streets.
“Look in front of you!” Zolf yells, holding tighter to her waist, and Sasha is wearing a helmet over her face but Zolf swears he can feel her rolling her eyes.
Wait - what.
He stews while Sasha drives them down to the beach, where Brock is waiting with towels and a picnic basket. The second the bike’s engine kicks off and Sasha pulls off her helmet, Zolf asks.
“Did you say makeup? When was I wearing makeup?” Zolf asks, trying to sound casual instead of sort-of pissed off. Sasha gives him a weird look, so he isn’t sure it completely lands, but whatever.
“Er, yesterday? You sure you’re alright, Zolf? Head working fine?” Sasha says, poking his temple. Zolf swats her hand away.
“I’m fine, just -“ going to kill Hamid. “Guess I must have been feeling off yesterday.”
Sasha shrugs. “Looked nice.”
Zolf’s sure it did, knowing Hamid. And at least Sasha isn’t teasing him about it. Not that she ever would, unlike -
Oh, gods, if Feryn saw Hamid yesterday… he’s never going to believe Zolf if he says he isn’t interested in wearing makeup. He’ll want to support Zolf, which is all well and good and which Zolf truly does appreciate, considering how much of an ass their father is, but it’s completely unnecessary for this occasion.
“Well. I, ah, probably won’t be doing it again, so,” Zolf trails off, hitching the bag up higher on his shoulder. He can deal with Feryn later, probably, or maybe he got lucky and Feryn didn’t notice.
“S’alright. I got pictures,” Sasha says and Zolf stops in his tracks.
“You’ve got what.”
Zolf, at heart, wasn’t a violent person. He believed in the inherent good of people, usually, and even with all the sulking was a relatively optimistic person. Sure, his dad is an ass, but he does have good ideas for the town that Zolf begrudgingly can agree with, even if Feryn disagrees. He’s met his fair share of assholes over the years, even gotten into scraps with a few, but there haven’t been many occasions where he just hates someone in sight.
And then Bertie McGuffingham comes to visit Hamid at university. Bertie goes to Cambridge while Hamid goes to Oxford, but they’ve apparently been friends since they were children, if Bertie’s stories are anything to go by.
See, Zolf isn’t a violent person. But Bertie. Bloody. MacGuffingham.
It’s like everything he does is intended to drive Zolf mad. First, it was the casual bigotry toward anyone who wasn’t as rich as he imagined himself to be. And then it was the braggadocio, talking all about his and Hamid’s previous exploits, some of which Zolf is sure he’s either making up or exaggerating, and some which he feels the need to confront Hamid about if they’re true.
The straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back was Harrison Campbell novels, which Zolf hadn’t seen coming, if he’s being honest. He had an entire shelf of his bookshelf at home dedicated to Campbell; the books were relatively cheap, so Feryn could afford to get them for his birthday or the holidays, and they were pretty good for trashy romance novels.
So, when Bertie insults them, after hours of dealing with the man and his stupid microaggressions, Zolf snaps. He doesn’t… completely remember what he’d called the man, but it wasn’t pretty, and it had devolved into a public shouting match that left Zolf storming off to the apartment and slamming the door to Hamid’s room shut hard enough to rattle the walls.
He stews for hours, muttering about Bertie’s dog not even being that cute, and how a man that large must have an absolutely pea-sized… brain. It helps him calm down, luckily, and once all the anger and disdain is out he pulls a notepad from Hamid’s desk toward himself and scribbles out a quick explanation and apology. Not to Bertie, obviously, because Zolf is still pissed, but to Hamid for reacting that way. After all, he has to remember he’s not Zolf , here, he has to act like Hamid.
It’s a bit of a drain, sometimes, if he’s honest, but he owes Hamid that much.
There’s nothing of importance on Hamid’s phone when he wakes up the next morning. Zolf always makes a list while Hamid writes a story, and today is no different. He tosses his phone to the side and stretches as he gets up and gets ready. There’s nothing on his calendar for the day, so a lazy Saturday it will be. He does the barest amount of makeup before heading out of his room, grabbing some of his homework from his bag on the way so that he can get started on it before the week starts in earnest.
The homework doesn’t get done for most of the day while Hamid dozes on the couch, picking the spot with the most sunlight. Gideon must come in some time later, since he’s sitting on the couch reading a book when Hamid wakes up.
“Oh, good morning!” he says cheerfully, and Gideon snorts.
“Hamid, it’s gone four. You’ve been asleep all afternoon.”
Hamid blinks. “Oh! Well, good afternoon, then, Gideon.” He sits up and yawns, rubbing at his eyes. “What are you reading?”
“New Harrison Campbell. Went out and picked it up this morning.”
Hamid can’t hide the look of disgust. “Harrison Campbell, really? That’s who you pick?”
“Well, you seemed to love him yesterday, considering you went off at Bertie about ‘em. Might wanna call Bertie and apologize, by the way.”
Hamid stares at Gideon for a minute, mouth agape. “I’m sorry, what? Me, like Campbell? You must be joking.”
Gideon gives him an incredulous look. “Hamid, seriously? You’ve been way more spacey recently, that’s for sure, but christ. You yelled at each other for at least thirty minutes yesterday.”
Oh, no . Yesterday was - there’s a sinking feeling in Hamid’s stomach as he realizes that Bertie would have spoken to Zolf yesterday, and rises unsteadily from the couch. “Yes, of course, I’ll get on that, excuse me.”
He heads out of the room and ducks into his. The notebook on his desk is open and Hamid sees a note scribbled down on there, signed with Zolf’s name at the bottom. He sighs and pulls the page toward him, scanning it through quickly. It’s short, everything Zolf writes is, but it basically outlines the argument that he and Bertie had had - namely, over Campbell books.
Hamid had never taken Zolf to be a romance lover; he’s really only ever associated him with a gruff, stoic appearance, and finding out about the Campbell novels makes him smile. Even though the books are vapid trash, it’s sweet to know that Zolf has a romantic side.
He just… won’t tell Zolf that he agrees with Bertie in this circumstance. And he’ll call Bertie and apologize, as well, say he’d momentarily lost his mind. Bertie will probably take it all in stride, anyway; he normally does, after all.
Zolf’s Ground Rules (an incomplete list)
- NO MAKEUP.
- Don’t be late to the mines!
- Stop spending my money with Sasha and Brock
- Practice walking with the prosthetic, Feryn knows I know how to walk in one and you’re apparently ‘awkward’
- See above: learn how to put it on
- Stop laughing at Feryn’s shite jokes you just encourage him
- Don’t listen to Sasha and Brock if they say they have a good idea, it will end in explosions
Hamid’s Ground Rules (an incomplete list)
- Take notes in classes
- Don’t be disrespectful to the professors
- Stop flirting with Liliana!
- MAKEUP! (please)
- If my sisters call, please don’t tell them I’m in love with anyone, they won’t stop asking me about them
- Just… don’t talk to Bertie anymore
- No jeans on days we have class. Make sure your outfits match.
- Gideon’s birthday is November 10 and Liliana’s is July 2, they will expect me to remember
Notes passed between two people, through phones and on paper:
“You know, if you’re not going to take good notes, the least you could do is copy off of Gideon, I can’t fail another exam because I can’t read your handwriting!”
“ My handwriting is fine, not all of us were lucky enough to have tutors who taught us everything, Hamid.”
“ How the hell does this eyeliner work, I swear to the gods, Hamid…”
“ Would it kill you to go look up a makeup tutorial! Really, Zolf, they’re everywhere, and I have my reputation to think about, not to mention Gideon and Liliana always knowing something is off when you don’t wear makeup.”
“Can you PLEASE stop flirting with Lili! I don’t actually want to date her! Plus, Gideon likes her, and I don’t want to piss him off.”
“ Gideon is a piece of shit anyway, I don’t know why you care so much what he thinks about you. Just today he wanted to pull a prank on Professor Einstein, and it was cruel. ”
“He’s - he’s just like that, sometimes, he doesn’t mean anything by it. Just… stop trying to set me up with Liliana. She wouldn’t be interested anyway.”
“ We’ll see about that. ”
“ Zolf, I’m not kidding, I swear to god.”
“You know, I think Sasha and Brock like me more. Brock’s a hugger, you know. Maybe I’m cooler than you!”
“Sure you are, Hamid. Whatever makes you feel better.”
“I could be!”
“God, how do you deal with this homework, none of it even makes sense.”
“It makes sense to me, I’ve studied it! Just leave it for me to do, and don’t copy off Gideon, he gets it wrong half the time anyway.”
“Fine, whatever. Just hope I don’t end up in your body on an exam day.”
“I can’t believe you only have one brother, you two are so close!”
“Yeah, well, we’ve been through a lot.”
“I have five siblings, and it’s absolute chaos around the holidays.”
“I can’t even imagine it.”
“Feryn seems like a good brother to have, at least.”
“Yeah. Yeah he is.
“Did you leave the paracetamol on the counter for when I woke up?”
“Yeah, your knee was hurting yesterday, Gideon said you tripped, so I figured it would probably last a bit. Left it out last night so you could take it when you woke up.”
“That’s… very kind of you, Zolf.”
“You know you don’t have to be friends with people who treat you like Gideon does, right, Hamid? You deserve better.”
“He’s - I know, yes, but he’s really not that bad, I promise. Just a bit prickly.”
“You still deserve to be treated better. You’re a good person.”
“... Thank you, Zolf.”
“I bought some lavender oil for you (don’t worry, it wasn’t expensive!) so that you can use it before you go to sleep.”
“Uh, thanks, but why?”
“Feryn says he hears you screaming at night, sometimes. Sorry, I know it’s none of my business, but… this helps with sleeping?”
“Oh, ah - thanks, then, I suppose. I appreciate it.”
“Maybe one day you could come to London? We could finally meet in person.”
“Yeah. Maybe I should.”
i’m not kidding when i say the last chapter was kicking my ass now i’m just forging ahead w all of this
we’re hurtling toward my favorite bit
The alarm doesn’t wake Hamid up in the morning and he breathes a sigh of relief - back in his own body, then, and relieved about it. He stretches in his bed, hands over his head to pull at his shoulders, when he realizes with a sinking feeling in his stomach that he can’t feel his left leg. Sure enough, when he opens his eyes, he’s in Zolf’s room, and he can’t help the groan.
They’ve been switching more often recently. What used to be a twice-a-week occasion feels more like four or five times, now.
At least Hamid knows how to put the prosthetic on, although he’d been highly unamused to wake up with an instruction manual taped to his forehead one day. It was still helpful, even if Hamid had almost refused to read it on principle.
Regardless, they're both starting to fit in more naturally with the other person’s life, and it’s been nearly five months since the first switch. There are still moments where they falter, of course, but it’s all starting to feel more real to both of them.
Hamid finishes getting the prosthetic on and changes, heading down the stairs and grabbing a bowl from the cupboard to make himself some breakfast. He doesn’t really fancy cooking today, so a bowl of cereal it is. Feryn’s already sitting at the table when he walks in, eating an omelette and drinking a black coffee.
“Why didn’t my alarm go off?” Hamid asks, glancing over at Feryn, whos face drops into a frown.
“Did you seriously forget? Zolf, god, we do this every year. Are you messing with me?”
“Ah…” Hamid starts, eyes darting around the kitchen for any sort of clue about the day and, finding none smiles weakly. “Of course not, just a little tired still. I didn’t - didn’t forget .”
Feryn doesn’t look like he believes him at all, but seems to have decided to let it slide for now. They eat together in silence, broken only by the news on the telly in the kitchen.
“We’re only a day away from the comet passing overhead, folks, and it looks like it will be directly above us on the night of the autumn festival!”
“Pure luck, Jimmy, but the perfect time for people to make a wish on a falling star. Count ourselves lucky!”
Hamid’s spoon scraped across the bottom of his bowl as he finishes up, wordlessly grabbing his own bowl and Feryn’s as he heads toward the counter and starts washing up.
“Where’s your offering?” Feryn asks, checking his watch. “We should be heading over soon, it takes a while to get there.”
“Let me, ah, let me go grab it!” Hamid squeaks, which doesn’t translate well in Zolf’s voice, and dashes back up the stairs. He makes a beeline for the notebook and, yes, thank god, Zolf’s written out an explanation, a note at the top denoting “ Just in case we switch. ”
Apparently, it’s a ritual that him and his brother do every year - there’s an old family shrine a few kilometres away, and since his grandmother died a decade or so ago, both he and Feryn are expected to bring offerings to the shrine to ensure good peace and prosperity for their family and the town. The shrine is, apparently, to a local goddess named Ceridwen, which is a name (not surprisingly) unfamiliar to Hamid. There’s another note about the offering, which Zolf says is tucked into the top drawer of his desk.
Hamid flips the page to see if there’s anything more, but the pages are blank and he shuts the notebook. Zolf’s desk, tucked over in the corner of the small room, is piled high with papers and a random array of objects. Hamid is careful as he pulls open the top drawer and sees an immaculately carved wooden dolphin, and gently takes it out of the drawer. It really is beautiful - Hamid had never known that Zolf was able to do this, and runs a finger along the smooth side.
“Zolf! Let’s go, it’s almost noon,” Feryn falls up the stairs, and Hamid jumps, almost dropping the dolphin.
“Right!” he calls back, cradling the dolphin close to his chest as he hurries down the stairs and meets Feryn at the door with a grin. “Ready to go.”
Feryn is holding what must be his own offering, a strangely beautiful metal goat, and Hamid can’t hide the awe in his voice as he reaches out a hand to brush against its little horns. “That’s amazing,” he says, glancing up at Feryn. Feryn smiles, and reaches out to ruffle his hair.
“See you’re branching out this year with… another dolphin. Truly inspired.”
Hamid laughs. “Oh, shut up,” he says, falling into the role of younger brother with ease. “I like dolphins.”
“I’m sure you do,” Feryn says with a wink, and Hamid groans and rolls his eyes.
“Feryn, that doesn’t even make sense, it’s not even funny.”
“To you , maybe,” Feryn replies. “Shall we?” He pushes open the door and gestures for Hamid to go first. Hamid steps through and waits for Feryn to take the lead, figuring they’ll grab Feryn’s bike and head up the road. Instead, they walk past it and out into the street.
“About how far away is the shrine, again? I know I ask every year,” he says, chuckling to hide the nervousness, “but I always seem to forget.”
Feryn rolls his eyes. “It’s a bit over five miles. God, Zolf, your memory is like a sieve.”
“You have no idea,” Hamid mutters under his breath.
The shrine isn’t anything special, but Hamid can’t help but feel a sense of reverence as he kneels down in front of it, Feryn to his side. Feryn reaches out a hand and brushes his knuckles against the stone surface, as Hamid mimics his actions. He reaches back into his bag and pulls out the metal goat from his bag, resting it gently on the raised rock of the shrine.
Hamid does the same, gently placing the dolphin down on the pedestal of the shrine, bowing his head as he does so. At his side, Feryn is muttering a quiet prayer to the god, Hamid thinks he called her Ceridwen, and Hamid closes his eyes in respect. He might not believe in gods, not the way Feryn and Zolf seem to, but it’s clear that this ritual has importance, and he won’t disrespect their beliefs.
Feryn finishes up the prayer and leans forward to kiss the stone of the shrine. When Hamid doesn’t make a move, Feryn turns and tilts his head toward the rock, giving Hamid an exasperated look.
Hamid hesitantly leans forward and, at Feryn’s encouraging look, presses his lips to the cool stone. He might not believe in gods, but that doesn’t stop him from thinking a quiet ‘I’m sorry’ for being the wrong one, for intruding on this moment.
It feels… wrong, being here, being the one doing this, when it was so clearly meant to be Zolf and Feryn, but whatever fates have decided to play this cosmic joke on him decided for today, of all days, to be one where they switch.
Feryn rises slowly and reaches out a hand to help Hamid stand, who takes it gratefully. Even after months of practice, he isn’t completely used to the prosthetic. Feryn claps a hand on his shoulder and, together, they step out of the shrine. Hamid can’t resist a glance back, and watches as the candle flames flicker and die.
The sun is setting, in the distance, as Hamid sits on the edge of the ridge and lets his legs dangle off the side.
Golden hour, his mind supplies, and he reaches out a hand almost unconsciously as the world around him becomes bathed in a soft golden glow. The atmosphere feels almost tenuous here, as though something is waiting for the string to snap.
Hamid closes his eyes and lets the wind blow through his hair and caress his skin even as his hand falls down into his lap. He glances around and the world feels hazy, a little less real, as the sun continues to set.
“It’s beautiful,” he says quietly, glancing over the town below before his gaze is drawn back to where the shrine is, where he’d gently placed Zolf’s tribute and tried not to feel like the worst sort of imposter.
“Golden hour always is,” Feryn says, and there’s something sad in the lines of his face as he turns to look at him and smiles, and it feels like he’s looking through Hamid. “You’re dreaming, aren’t you?”
Hamid wakes up.
His face is wet and he shakily brushes his fingers across his cheekbones, wiping away the tear tracks that have left marks on his face.
Why... he thinks, and then he registers that he was woken up by his phone alarm going off, and he scrambles over to grab it. It’s been going off for fifteen minutes, and Hamid feels his anxiety begin to spike as a text from Liliana comes in.
“Be there in a few! Can’t wait to see you today.”
“No, no no no, Zolf, what did you do ?”
There’s a note laying on his desk and, swearing quietly under his breath, Hamid opens it.
Convinced Liliana to go on a date with me - well, you - today at 10.30. You’ll be meeting her at the art museum. Don’t be late; first impressions are always the most important.
Shit. Shit, shit, shit, Hamid thinks as he runs around the room, grabbing the nearest clean clothes he can find and changing. He’s in and out of the bathroom to brush his teeth and fix his hair and put on the barest amount of makeup before grabbing his shoes and running out the door.
Thankfully, Gideon must still be holed up in his room down the hall, so Hamid doesn’t have to answer any questions from him before he’s out the door and walking purposefully to the nearest tube station.
Goddammit, Zolf .
Zolf wakes up with a gasp, the next morning. There’s a familiar dull pain in the very back of his head, which he now associated with the switch. So yesterday was a Hamid day, then. He remembers spending time in Hamid’s body, but the memories are so fuzzy it’s barely even worth trying to remember. The only thing he remembers with any sort of clarity is that he’d finally convinced Liliana to go on a date with Hamid today, and had let Liliana decide where they would go.
He takes the time to get his prosthetic on, and smiles at the bottle in his hands. Hamid had bought him the bottle a few switches ago, saying it was better and more moisturizing, and smelled loads better than the lotion he had been using. It was a sweet gesture, and Zolf had been using the lotion ever since. He makes his way over to the dresser and sees his notebook has been shut. Hamid must have been here yesterday, then. He flips it open but there’s no new information, which is more than a little weird. Whatever.
He checks the top drawer of his desk and the dolphin is gone, so Hamid must have been here for the annual shrine visit. Hopefully, Feryn wasn’t too weird, but Zolf has sort of come to expect it from his brother now.
Hamid is probably making his way to the date, Zolf thinks while changing. The date will be… it will be fine. Hamid just has to not be awkward and everything will be perfect. It’s obvious how much Liliana likes him, how much he likes her in return even if he tried to tell Zolf he was wrong. Gideon and his other friends from uni certainly hadn’t had the impression that Hamid wasn’t into Liliana.
He really does like her. And, he thinks, it’s not like - it’s not like Zolf has any claim to Hamid. Hamid will go on the date, and he’ll have a lovely time with Liliana, and it’s what he deserves . Someone to love him.
Maybe Zolf had - but, no, Zolf will always be here, and Hamid will always be in the city, and he’s lucky enough to be able to speak with Hamid through letters and notes.
He hopes Hamid and Liliana are having an incredible time.
He feels something on his cheek and turns toward the mirror. Tears are falling down his face and he didn’t even realize, as he reaches out toward his reflection. Shaking his head, he wipes away the tears and frowns.
“Why am I…” he murmurs, staring at the moisture on his hand.
Hamid makes it to the tube station in time to catch the next one heading down the Victoria line, dashing through crowds with muttered apologies as he finally makes it into the station. He checks his watch again, and its already 10.30, but he should be at the meet-up point in any minute now. Hopefully, Liliana will chalk it up to him always being late and not give him too much grief over it.
God, Hamid is going to be late to their first-ever date.
He glances around the station, standing on his toes to try and peer over the heads of the crowd. It doesn’t help that both he and Liliana are shorter than average.
“Hi, Hamid,” comes a pleasant voice from behind him, and Hamid jumps, spinning around. Liliana laughs as he turns, hand coming up to cover her mouth, before reaching out and grabbing his hand. “Sorry, you just looked so lost in thought, I couldn’t resist.”
She’s… beautiful, he thinks. She’s in a flowing sundress, a bright red color, and he feels his stomach flip as she squeezes his hand.
“You look amazing,” he says, and he catches a hint of a blush on her cheeks.
“Thank you, Hamid,” she replies, and then tugs him forward. “Come on. I know we said to go to the art museum, but I’m starving. Care for some brunch?”
Hamid grins over at her. “I’d love some.”
She laughs, and pulls him along. He follows behind her as she directs him to some hole-in-the-wall café, which he looks at with no small sense of badly-hidden disdain. Liliana must twig the expression, because she rolls her eyes good-naturedly. “Oh, come on, trust me? I know it’s not up to your or Gideon’s standards for aesthetic, but it’s absolutely delicious.”
Hamid isn’t sure if he believes her, but it is a date, so he lets himself get pulled inside.
Liliana was right, of course. The food is delicious, better than some of the five-stars Hamid frequents, and it’s nice being able to laugh loudly and not get dismissive and nigh-offended looks from the other patrons. Time passes and Hamid doesn’t notice. Zolf would have loved this place, Hamid thinks, and resolves to leave a note for him to come check it out. They chat for a while, mostly about school and Gideon, and then Liliana’s watch beeps.
“Oh! We have one more detour before the museum,” Liliana says, and Hamid nods, grabbing both of their receipts and heading to the counter to pay. She grabs his hand again as he comes back, and they both head out the door into the sunlight.
They end up at a small park after walking for a few minutes. Liliana lets go of his hand to dash ahead, making her way to a fountain in the middle of the park. Hamid follows along behind her, smiling. The park is quiet, only a few people walking by or feeding the birds, and it’s so calm. Hamid feels like he’s back in Zolf’s town, again, running around with Sasha and Brock. Both of them would love the fountain, it’s ornate and expensive for Sasha to admire, and the intricate metalwork is definitely something Brock and Feryn would love to inspect. Zolf would probably sit on the bench in front of the fountain and watch everyone else have fun, smiling faintly.
He realizes a bit late that Liliana is talking to him, explaining something about the construction of the fountain, and Hamid tunes back in in time to nod along. He glances back at Liliana when she stops talking and she has a strange smile on her face as she looks at him.
“What?” he asks, tilting his head.
She shakes hers, and turns away. “Nothing. Are you ready for the art museum?”
Hamid reaches out to grab her hand this time, and squeezes it. “I can’t wait,” he says honestly, and her smile becomes a little more real.
The walk to the museum isn’t a long one, but it’s past mid-afternoon by the time they’ve actually made it over. There’s some special exhibit going on this week, something called ‘Reflections’, which looks interesting. Liliana stops short to read the description of the collection while Hamid pays for their tickets and they head in.
The art museum is beautiful; all vaulted ceilings and open space, windows open to let a hint of breeze in while skylights let the sun soak into the room and the walls. There are a few avant-garde pieces in the front room that Hamid is intrigued by, and they spend some time looking at the large sculptures on the floor above and snickering at the naked ones. Art or not, it’s still funny.
They find the room with the special collections after bypassing the hallway of decorative plates, not really feeling like it’s a huge loss.
The collection isn’t massive; just an expanse of photos on the wall, all showing different landscapes. They walk along the wall, as Liliana points out some of her favorites. There’s a gorgeous photo of an old abandoned church, a still pond in the middle of trees, a crumbling statue raising above a hill, and a cracked mirror in what looks like a rundown bathroom.
Hamid’s eyes drift to the next picture and he immediately stops in his tracks, motionless. Liliana continues walking ahead, moving slowly as she looks at all of the different photos.
But this photo, on the wall… it was Zolf’s town. Hamid couldn’t remember the name, even though he knows that he’s heard it, and there’s no information on the placard sitting next to it. The lake in the center of the photo is gorgeous, and you can see the reflection of the sun on the water in the photo. The photo is too small for Hamid to really make anything out, but he thinks he recognizes the steeple of the school near the entrance to the town, and the ridge that he and Feryn have gone to sit on so many times.
It’s… beautiful. He wishes he could send it to Zolf.
“Hamid?” He jumps as he hears Liliana’s voice right next to him, and laughs nervously.
“Oh! Sorry, I was... lost in thought.”
Liliana cocks her head and regards Hamid with an inscrutable gaze. “Are you alright?” she asks, and Hamid blushes.
“Yes, sorry, I’m fine! I’m not sure what happened, sorry.”
She doesn’t say anything for a moment, just gazes at him like she’s sizing him up.
“Is… something on my face?” he says, and she shakes her head.
“No, you’re just… acting differently, is all,” Liliana says. “Let’s go through the rest of the rooms, there’s another photography display I’d like to see.”
They go through most of the other rooms in near silence, Hamid lagging behind thinking about that photos of Zolf’s town. There’s something about it, something that he can’t put his finger on, but he’s distracted for the rest of the trek through the museum. He still loves the art he sees, and sometimes Liliana will wait for him to catch up to show him something that’s caught her eye.
When they leave the museum, dusk is setting in. Hamid can almost hear Feryn’s voice in his head talking about golden hour, and can’t keep the smile off of his face. Liliana is walking ahead of him, like she has been for most of the trip, and he takes a few quick steps to catch up with her and lay his hand on her shoulder.
“Would you like to get dinner, or something?” Hamid asks, and Liliana turns around to face him with a knowing smile on her face.
“I think… we should call it a day, Hamid.”
Oh. “Oh,” Hamid says, anxiously playing with his fingers. God, he’d been trying so hard not to flub this, and went and did so anyway. “Did - did you have a good time?”
Liliana is quiet for a moment, considering. “I did. I like spending time with you, Hamid. You’re very sweet.” She pulls down the brim of her hat and laughs. “But… this entire day I felt like I was spending time with a friend. And that’s not a bad thing, obviously, but it didn’t feel like a date.”
“Oh.” Hamid doesn’t really know what else to say to that. “I’m sorry.”
She shakes her head. “Don’t be. I really did have a fun time, Hamid. And I don’t think you should be upset about this - there’s someone else you care about, isn’t there?”
“What are you talking about?”
“There’s someone else you’re in love with, Hamid,” Liliana says, smiling kindly at him. “It’s pretty obvious. You’ve been thinking about her all day.”
“No, I - that’s not - it’s not a her,” Hamid blurts out, in lieu of anything else to say. Liliana doesn’t look as taken aback as Hamid had been expecting her to, and the smile doesn’t fade from her face. “That’s - I’m definitely not in love with him, we haven’t even really met? I’m just. Sorry.”
Liliana shakes her head. “Hamid, you can really be dense sometimes. You’ve been distracted and it doesn’t seem like your heart is in it.”
“It is! I promise, Lili,” Hamid says, reaching out to grab her hand, but Liliana pulls away.
“I’m not mad , Hamid.” She leans up against the pillar outside the art museum. “It’s been fun hanging out with you these past few days. You seem different, so I can only hope that this guy, whoever he is, has been a positive impact.”
Hamid splutters for a minute, and Liliana just rolls her eyes, albeit good-naturedly. “Think about what I said, alright? And thanks for the lovely trip. See you tomorrow at class!” She leans forward and kisses his cheek.
And then she’s gone, heading down the pavement and turning back only to give Hamid a wave before she vanishes around the corner. He stands there under the one failing streetlight, blinking on and off as he watches her go.
This was - he couldn’t say that she was wrong. He had been thinking about Zolf, but it, well. It wasn’t like thinking about how his day was going or if he was being safe in the mine or what Feryn was doing or - or anything else, frankly, meant that he was in love with the man.
Hamid takes Liliana’s advice, and thinks. If he’d been on this date with Zolf instead… maybe they’d go to the cafe, first. Hamid could actually buy him food, even though Zolf has been using his money the entire time anyway. They could share one of the cakes, laugh about how absolutely crazy this all was, and then… Hamid wouldn’t take Zolf to the art museum.
Hamid could kiss him under the stars.
God, he’s been an idiot .
He’s - he’s in love with Zolf. Zolf, the person Hamid’s been switching dreams with for a year now, the person who always tries to make sure Hamid is comfortable with the situation, the one who set Hamid up with Liliana to make sure that he was happy, who - who -
It’s Zolf. Because of course it’s been Zolf, this whole time. What else would explain the way he can’t stop thinking about how soft Zolf’s hair is, how kind Zolf is, how much he cares, how much he wishes they could - could actually talk, not just leaving each other notes.
The way he feels when he isn’t with Zolf. When there’s a bit more time between changes.
God, Liliana was never going to let him live this down.
He pulls out his phone. Zolf had keyed his number in, with a stammering note about how now they can talk in person, or as close to in-person as they can get, without only having the notes to rely on. Hamid’s chest feels warm when he sees the little note, so like Zolf, an offer without expectation, and Hamid clicks the number without hesitation.
The line rings one, two, three, times while Hamid smiles, looking up at the sky above and wishing he could see the stars.
i promise this will be explained, it’s supposed to be a lil confusing
hi my name is bri ohallows and i love feryn smith
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Zolf’s phone is ringing. He rolls over once, hiding his head under his pillow, as he debates the merits of laying in bed for the foreseeable future. The town festival is tonight, but Zolf is perfectly happy skipping if it means he can stay in bed all day. But then Feryn would never let it go, and he knows Sasha and Brock can just break into his room with ease, so he might as well just stiffen his shoulders a little bit and deal with it.
Yesterday had been… less than ideal. He didn’t know what he’d expected, honestly; what, a tearjerking confession? For everything to go perfectly smoothly, for it to all work out? He’d hoped , sure, but he’d been trying to manage his own expectations.
Time to be realistic, Zolf , he thinks, before grabbing his prosthetic and pump and taking five minutes to secure it in place. The ringing phone is shrill in his ears, and he answers it with a sharp “What?”
“Geez, mate, you sound terrible. No affection for your favorite brother?” Zolf groans when he hears Feryn’s too-bright, too-chipper tone.
“Again, you’re my only brother,” he responds, voice dry. Feryn laughs, before making a quick comment to someone on his end, and Zolf rolls his eyes.
“ Finally out of bed, champ ?” Feryn asks, and the noise around him dies down as he must head to a quieter place. “ Come by the town square, we’ve got work for you before the festival tonight. ”
He’s so tempted to tell Feryn no, to say he’s sick or something. Instead, he sighs, and says, “Alright. I’ll… be there in a few.”
“ Hey, Zolf... are you alright? ” Feryn asks. “ You came home yesterday from wherever you disappeared to and didn’t even say a word to me. Is everything good?”
Zolf nods, feeling the familiar tightening in his chest. “Uh, yeah, Feryn, it’s… I’m dealing with it.”
“If you say so ,” Feryn says, sounding decidedly unconvinced. Zolf presses the heel of his hand into his forehead and just begs for his brother to get it, this one time, and not push. Whether by luck or Feryn actually picking up on the tone, he moves on, although the note of concern in his voice never really disappears. “ Sasha and Brock are already here looking for you. Apparently they want to know where you were yesterday too, which worries me as your brother cause you said you were with them, but we can deal with that after the festival, okay? ”
“Yeah - yeah, Feryn, sure, I’m - I gotta get ready.”
Feryn pauses, and Zolf can almost see the worried look on his face. His older brother never had been able to hide his emotions, always playing out for the world to see. It’s always made him feel guilty, and even now, halfway across town, he feels bad for stressing Feryn out. But it was something he needed to do, and now he knows , and it’s… it’s all fine. Whatever.
“ Well, I’ll see you in a bit. Love you .”
“Love you too, Feryn,” Zolf says, hanging up the phone and letting himself fall back onto the bed.
He doesn’t lay there for long; he had promised to help his brother, and he owes Sasha an explanation for just vanishing yesterday, and he hopes she’ll understand. He struggles out of bed and throws some new clothes on. He doesn’t have plans to come back and change before the festival, if he even decides to stay for it, so he dresses a little nicer than normal.
There’s an absence of weight on Zolf’s wrist that he hasn’t noticed until just then, and he glances down for a moment, until he realizes that his dolphin pendant isn’t on his wrist anymore. See, Zolf had almost never taken the pendant off, not since the day his mother had given it to him when he was still a kid and it barely even fit around his wrist.
Oh, shit , Zolf thinks, frantically, glancing around his room, opening drawers and checking the piles of paper and other random items stacked on his desk and dresser. The piles of clothes on his floor, the drawers of his desk, even under the bed and in the back of the closet, although it would have no reason to be there.
After nearly ten minutes of fruitless searching, the pendant is still nowhere to be found, and Zolf slowly rises to his feet from where he was kneeling, arm stretched under the dresser.
His phone beeps and he leans across the bed to grab it from the nightstand, pulling up the text message Feryn sent - a bunch of question marks - and he swears under his breath, grabbing a jacket from the back of his door and slipping his phone into his pocket as he heads out the door.
Sasha strolls up to him the second he gets close to the festival, trailed by Brock, who’s giving Zolf an almost betrayed look.
“Where the hell were you yesterday?” he says, pouting. “We were supposed to meet for lunch.”
“Ah, sorry,” Zolf says. “Something came… up?”
Sasha, wisely, doesn’t say anything, giving Zolf a loaded look as she glances over at him, which is basically the nonverbal equivalent of whistling loudly and inauspiciously. Brock doesn’t miss the look, either, and starts grumbling under his breath.
“So, what do we have to work on?” Zolf asks, and Brock thankfully lets him change the subject. There’s a look in his eyes, though, that means he isn’t getting away with it forever; that’s fine, honestly, he’ll tell Brock eventually. He just… needs a day or so to deal with it.
“Oh, Feryn wants us to hang some of the bunting. Apparently you’re good at untangling it, and I’m good at climbing,” Sasha shrugs, and starts making her way over to a nearby cart filled with it. Zolf follows, and Brock falls into step behind them.
“I’m just here for the glowing commentary,” Brock says, and Zolf shoves at his shoulder, dodging away as Brock chases after him to return the favor.
Sasha just laughs as she digs through the cart, pulling out all different strands and handing them to Brock. “Glowing commentary and workhorse, maybe.”
Brock pulls at a strand of her hair and Sasha yelps, rubbing at her head and glaring at him. Zolf rolls his eyes as they start bickering, grabbing the bunting from Brock’s unresisting grip and heading over to one of the shops.
“Sasha, can you bring a ladder?” he calls over his shoulder, grunting as he drops the pile of bunting on the ground.
She sticks her tongue out at Brock and grabs one of the ladders in the center of the square, walking toward where Zolf is beginning to untangle the bunting. Brock does as promised, providing quote-unquote glowing commentary while they work.
It doesn’t take them as long as Zolf thought it would, although it is mid-afternoon by the time they finish up and get everything set. The decorations look nice, if Zolf does say so himself, and he and Sasha stand next to each other and admire their job well done.
Feryn pops in a bit later, clapping them both on the shoulder and startling them. Sasha actually does jump away, hand going to her pocket like she’s going to pull out a knife and coming up empty. Zolf just rolls his eyes at his brother, who gives him a shit-eating grin before tugging on the side of his beard and dancing away, out of Zolf’s reach.
“It looks great!” Feryn says, coming back when Zolf’s folded his arms around his chest. “Really spiffing.”
“Sasha did a great job hanging ‘em up,” Brock chimes in, and then elbows Zolf (gently) in the side. “Zolf got ‘em untangled right quick, too. Made short work of it.”
Feryn laughs. “Thanks, Brock. It’s exactly what the council wanted it to look like. Great job.”
“Thanks,” Zolf and Sasha and Brock said in unison. Sasha and Zolf stared at Brock, eyebrows raised.
“What?” he said, shrugging. “I provided moral support.”
“Thought it was glowing commentary,” Sasha mumbles, and Zolf sniggers at her side. Brock pouts, again, and crosses his arms over his chest as he opens his mouth to argue, Feryn seamlessly cutting him off.
“Give us a mo’, yeah?” Feryn says, steering Zolf away down a small side alley, giving him a concerned look. “You alright, Zolf?”
Zolf nods, and then thinks better of it, shrugging.
“I will be,” he says. “Can we - can we talk about it after the festival? I promise I’ll tell you what’s going on.”
Feryn still looks worried, but he’s always been good about giving Zolf space when he really needs it. It’s like he has a sixth sense for when Zolf is spiraling and when he just… needs a day to think something through. So he lets it slide, pulling Zolf into a quick hug.
“I’ll hold you to that. I’ve got to head over to the football darts stand - promised Ms. Baker I’d help with the kids. You know where to find me, yeah?”
Zolf nods. “Yeah, I’ll head over if anything happens.”
“Alright. Stick with Sasha and Brock. Love you, see you later!” Feryn calls back as he jogs off.
“I’m an adult - yeah, whatever, love you too,” he mutters, rolling his eyes good-naturedly. Feryn ruffles Brock’s hair and waits for Sasha to nod before giving her a quick squeeze as well, and then he’s off, turning down an alleyway out of sight.
“The comet’s coming tonight, you know,” Brock says, glancing up at the sky. “Will be passing right over us.”
“Really?” Zolf asks, following his gaze. Brock nods at his side.
“Haven’t you been hearing the news reports? Everyone’s been unable to stop talking about it. Same day as the festival ‘n all.”
Zolf has been hearing about the comet, it just hasn’t been something he’s been much focused on, what with all the body-switching that’s been around. He’d planned on watching it, even if he doesn’t feel the best today. Sasha and Brock had helped him get out of his funk, even thought he’d just wanted to sulk inside all night.
“Here, we’ll get a better view from the field outside town, trust me,” Sasha says, smirk on her face, and tugs them both down the road. Brock follows, whooping and cheering, while Zolf carries on at a much more sedate pace. Comets are supposed to be the stars you wish on, yeah? Well, he’s got one or two rattling around, and if this comet is supposed to be as great as the newscasters have been saying it is, it should be able to fulfill at least one of them.
They lie down in the field together as the sun finally sets, laughing about something unimportant. The comet comes, and it’s as beautiful as it always is. It streaks across the sky, moving slower than Zolf ever would have expected. A soft blue light trails behind it, illuminating everyone and casting long shadows among the trees.
“Wow,” Brock breathes beside him, and then he’s running into the field as Zolf and Sasha chase after him, laughing.
Zolf wonders if Hamid can see it where he is. Wonders if Hamid has listened to him, taken Liliana to the bridge with the best view of the comet.
Best not to think about. That’s a problem for the future, not tonight. He’ll tell Hamid he’s sorry the next time they swap, and tell him the truth, and maybe then he’ll get an answer instead of a blank stare.
He glances up at the sky, watching as the comet continues along its path, gently moving among the stars. The comet splits, turning into two, and slowly falls, burning as it enters the Earth’s atmosphere.
(Somewhere, far away, a bell tolls.)
The number that you have called is out of service at this time.
Hamid frowns as he pulls the phone away from his ear. Maybe Zolf had written it down wrong? They were already trapped in each other’s dreams, anyway. It’s not like a fake number would keep Hamid away from him.
He pockets the phone and pushes off of the pillar as the cool night air blows against him. It’s a gorgeous night, perfectly clear as he heads down the road.
The next time they switch, Hamid will leave a note for Zolf, will maybe tell him how he feels. He owes it to him, after all. And maybe... Maybe Zolf will say the same?
He can hope, at least.
(Hamid doesn’t know it now, but there won’t be a next time. The days will stretch, time will move on, and he’ll start forgetting. Forget the sleepy little town, forget the man that he was in love with, forget that any of this ever happened. It will become nothing more than… hazy dreams.)
(also i would like to remind everyone *cough* abbegail that this fic has a happy ending i promise)
i wrote a solid 30% of this while in the midst of a panic attack it’s fine i’m fine
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Four months later
Maps and drawings of different buildings and natural rock features paper the walls of Hamid’s flat, covering nearly every available surface save for the windows. Each drawing is at least slightly different; some focus on different buildings - there’s a church steeple that can be found in many of the drawings, always from different angles. The desk is littered with markers and sheets, strewn haphazardly across the dark wood.
Hamid’s doodling again. He does this a lot in his free time, nowadays - and, since it’s the winter holidays, that means he has a lot. It’s all something that’s been on his mind for a while, some weird fixation he has for this town he can barely remember. He remembers it being Zolf’s town, and he wants to find Zolf again, figure out why the switches stopped, figure out why his phone has been disconnected. But he can’t even recall the name of the town, just some information about the layout and geography that he hopes will help as he tries to find it.
He remembers it being in the south, somewhere near Bristol, but that’s the extent of it.
He remembers the school; running there with Sasha and Brock for a picnic near the hill, laying on the grass in the sun as the kids played on the playground. He remembers the town square, Feryn playfully wrestling with him as they headed over to the mines. The lake in the middle of the town, that they would look over while they sat up on the ridge at golden hour.
Golden hour .
There was some sort of significance there, Hamid knew there was, but it was like it was locked away in his head, inaccessible. He’d tried to remember what it meant, tried to think what Feryn had told him about it, but it was like static had covered everything. It was more than a little frustrating.
This is why he was drawing the town from all different angles, trying to recreate the best picture from his memory as he could, in hopes that someone would recognize it and tell him where he could start looking.
There’s a gentle knock on his door and Hamid pauses, setting the pencil down and calling out a, “Come in!” as he continues surveying the other drawings on the wall. He’s close, he knows. All he needs to do is put everything together and then he can leave, can go search for Zolf and this mysterious town and figure out what the hell
“Hamid?” he hears the door creak open, and turns. Liliana and Gideon are standing there in the doorway, looking around at all the photos on the wall with confusion and concern warring on their faces. Hamid gets up and throws his arms around both of them, feeling them slightly relax.
“When did you get back from your trip abroad?” he asks, squeezing them tightly.
“Just this morning. Stopped by Liliana’s place to grab some things and feed Hubert, then came over here,” Gideon says, clapping Hamid on the back. “Missed you, mate.”
He lets them go and retreats back to his desk chair to sit, pulling one knee up and wrapping his arm around it.
“So, how was the trip?” he asks, grinning at the two of them. Liliana smiles back and sits on the couch, cheeks red.
“It was lovely!” she says, and then glances up at Gideon.
“Hamid, we have something we want to tell you,” Gideon says, sitting down on the same couch as Liliana and giving him a nervous look. Hamid glances between the two, taking in Liliana’s nervous flush and Gideon’s weak smile.
“Oh! Oh. Oh, my god, Lili, are you pregnant?” Hamid nearly yells, clapping his hands over his mouth.
“What? No, absolutely not, that’s - no, Hamid, what the hell?” Liliana says in return, face scrunching up in disgust. Gideon looks equally horrified at her side, face gone white as a sheet. “Why is that where - never mind, don’t want to know. No, Hamid, just. We’re… seeing each other.”
Hamid blinks at them both for a moment. “Uh… yes? I already know that.”
Gideon and Liliana both look surprised - well, Gideon more so than Liliana, who holds out a hand that Gideon slips a tenner into.
“Told you he’d figured it out,” Liliana says, holding Gideon’s hand in her own.
Hamid gives Gideon a faux-betrayed look. “Gideon, you both literally went on a three-week vacation together. I’m not stupid .”
Gideon opens his mouth and Hamid just holds up a hand. “Low-hanging fruit, Gideon, please,” and Gideon grins over at him, while Hamid rolls his eyes fondly.
They keep chatting, talking about their trip to Vienna and how beautiful everything was, and throughout all of it Gideon is looking at Liliana like she hung the moon and the stars.
He’s excited for his friends; really, he is. They seem so happy, even if it is quite ironic that Gideon used to tease him for being into Liliana (he wasn’t, thank you.) and now he’s the one who’s seeing her.
He’s excited for his friends. That doesn’t mean his chest doesn’t twinge every time he sees them smile at each other, doesn’t mean he doesn’t think of Zolf and wish he could have that too. But he’s so happy for them, and tells them so, even if he does stare down at the drawings after they leave the room as his hands shake.
I have to find you.
Gideon and Liliana are almost disgustingly domestic, which would probably be an annoyance if Hamid wasn’t a romantic at heart. Still, it’s hard not to think about holding a hand in his own, being able to cuddle next to someone he loves, so Hamid keeps researching with a renewed vigor. He checks out encyclopedias from the library, looks through magazines and maps to see if there’s anywhere that matches this place, but can never find any clues.
Gideon has all but moved out of the apartment a few weeks after they get back, so Hamid has a lot of time on his own to keep looking. University will be starting up again soon, and his free time will slowly be dwindling down when he has classes and assignments and a new student teaching position to fill, so he works harder, trying to chip away at this mystery. He wants to find Zolf, wants to be able to talk to him, just once, even, and tell him that he loves him.
You could call him obsessed, but Hamid likes to think he’s dedicated.
He’s surprised a few days before classes start by the buzzing sound coming from the doorbell. He glances at the video screen next to the doorbell and grins widely.
“Saira? Aziza?” Hamid exclaims, seeing his two older sisters standing down below his flat and waving at the camera. “Come up, come up, please!”
He can see them both giggle as the door unlocks, and they head over to the lift to get to his and Gideon’s floor. There’s a knock at the door moments later and Hamid throws it open, grinning up at the both of them.
“Hamid!” they exclaim in tandem, and pull him into a tight hug. He squeezes back with all he’s got, laughing into their shoulders. It’s been a few months since he’s been able to see either of them, after electing to stay at his flat instead of heading home for the holidays.
“What are you two doing here?” he asks, letting go of them but reaching down to hold their hands. Saira laughs, reaching out to poke him in the cheek. Hamid bats her hand away, giggling.
“Don’t you pay attention? Aziza’s company is here for a show starting next week. She wanted to come early and surprise you, and I had some vacation time left that Mr. Apophis told me to use up, so we decided to show up together.”
“Really?” he asks, turning toward Aziza. She nods, grinning. “That’s wonderful! How are mum and dad? Saleh? The twins?”
Aziza is the one to respond this time. “The twins are terrors. Mother told me that they broke the expensive Ming vase in the hallway while playing around, and apparently Ishaak has broken his arm again. He won’t tell anyone who did it, so it was probably an accident involving Ismail.”
“Saleh is doing well,” Saira chimes in. “He’s in rehab again, but it really feels like it’s taking this time. I think it’s going to work out for him. Honestly.”
“That’s wonderful!” Hamid says, clapping. “I’ll have to send my love. And mum and dad?”
Aziza and Saira share a look, and Hamid’s stomach sinks. “The bank is doing well, so dad is doing fine. Mum is struggling, with Saleh in rehab again, but I think she’ll get used to it soon. Plus, the twins are going away to boarding school soon, so she’s trying to come to terms with the fact that the house will be quieter than normal. Dad is planning vacations for them all the time so that she doesn’t have to be in an empty house.”
Hamid looks down, guilty. “I should go visit.”
Aziza nods. “You should. And if you don’t, I’ll drag mum and dad here, and you know I will.”
Hamid shudders; he loves his parents, he does, but he always feels like he has to be the immaculate host when they come to visit. He’d much rather go to see them. Plus, then he can visit some of his childhood friends as well.
“Well?” Saira says. “Show us around! We haven’t been to visit since you’d moved out of your old place, we want to see the entire flat!”
Hamid graciously bows to the both of them as he affects a nasally real estate agent tone, escorting them around the apartment. Saira and Aziza seem to love it, chattering on about the furniture and the color scheme, both of which Hamid had input on, and he preens.
He pauses in front of the door to his room, hand on the knob. “It’s, ah - it’s very messy, we can just skip it.”
“And miss teasing our immaculate little brother? I think not,” Saira says. “I’m sure it’s not that bad, you always were incredibly organized.”
Hamid gives her a weak smile. “We’ll see.” He pushes the door open and lets them both go in front, lingering behind as they each let out a little gasp.
“What on earth are you working on, Hamid?” Aziza asks, spinning slowly around the room as she takes in the drawings. She looks concerned and impressed as she pulls one of the drawings off of the desk to examine it more closely. “I knew you were good at drawing but this is exceptional .”
“Oh, just an interest of mine. It’s nothing special, really,” Hamid says, laughing to try to cover up the lie. “I find it relaxing.”
“It may have been a while, but I still know when you’re lying to us, Hamid,” Aziza says reproachfully, raising an eyebrow at him. “What is this for?”
“It’s… a weird story?” Hamid says, speaking slowly as he tries to figure out what his sisters will actually believe. They’ve always given him the benefit of the doubt before, but that wasn’t about switching bodies with a stranger in a random British town. And he’s not going to be able to brush this off, either. He takes a deep breath.
“I met someone.. online? A few months ago. Well, nearly a year, now. They were - he , uh, lives somewhere in the south, and I lost contact with him. But I miss him, a lot, and I want to tell him - well, a lot of things, but mainly that I - I just, um.
“I really care about him,” he says quietly, looking up from his interlocked hands and seeing both of his sisters standing there with twin looks of sympathy on their faces.
“Oh, Hamid ,” Saira says quietly, leaning in to give him a hug. Aziza joins her and Hamid sniffles, wrapping his own arms around his sisters. He wipes at his eyes as they pull back, glancing at the drawings on the wall.
“These are - I dunno, a way to try and find him again? I don’t, um. Don’t remember where he said he was from, really. I just know it was near Bristol, but it’s such a small town, I don’t know how I’ll find it again.” He grabs the largest drawing from the pile, a panoramic view of everything he remembers, and smiles down at it. “Maybe I can find him, though.”
Saira and Aziza are quiet for a moment, and then Aziza wraps her arm around his shoulders. “You love him, don’t you?” she says, a soft and sad smile on her face.
Hamid can feel the tears slip down his cheeks as he nods. “I never got to tell him.”
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Saira says, locking eyes with Aziza, who nods and stands up, pulling Hamid with her.
“Let’s go, then!” Aziza says, joining her elbow with Hamid’s, while Saira does the same on the other side, and together they start to march Hamid out of the apartment. “Let’s find him!”
“Wait, wait wait wait - I need the drawings, and my keys , and my wallet, and a change of clothes!” Hamid exclaims, digging his heels in. Saira and Aziza share a glance over the top of his head and, really, it’s unfair that they’re taller than him.
“Fine,” Saira says, and lets him go. “Get a bag together, and grab everything you need. We have a train to catch!”
They don’t really know exactly where to go, but Saira and Aziza’s enthusiasm doesn’t dim as Hamid scrutinizes a map of Britain, trying to decide which station to go to that will get them closest to where they need to be. Neither of them have a car, so they’re either going to need to prepare for a lot of walking or get cabs to drive them around.
After some discussion, they decide to get on at Paddington and disembark at Bristol Temple Meads. They can catch a cab from there and drive around, pop into some shops to see if anyone can help as they make their way southwest along the coast.
Aziza sleeps on the train, head lolling to the side to rest on Hamid’s shoulder. Across the aisle from them, Saira is dozing as well, curled up in her seat and leaning against the window. Hamid watches the countryside pass as the train slowly chugs along, waiting as the morning glow slowly turns to afternoon. He buys snacks for all of them from the trolley, stashing them away in his bag for when they inevitably get hungry later on.
His stomach won’t stop turning, and it’s not the movement of the train, either. It’s a particularly unfun mix of stress and worry, and Hamid keeps trying to pull it back. It’s only been four months since he last heard from Zolf, and he still doesn’t know why he cut all contact with Hamid. It might have been a wrong number, but that doesn’t explain why the switches stopped. He’s trying to remain positive, either way. Zolf… doesn’t have to return his feelings, or anything, Hamid just wants him to know , and to know why Zolf left him stranded, without any contact.
He’d really thought they were at the very least friends, but maybe Zolf didn’t feel the same. Maybe he just… felt saddled with Hamid, and once the switches stopped, moved on.
These thoughts aren’t helping anyone; Hamid shakes his head and tries not to think about it. Worrying before he even gets to talk to Zolf just means he’ll worry twice, and maybe it was just an innocent loss of communication, maybe Zolf misses him as much as Hamid does.
The train ride lasts for about two hours, and Hamid gently wakes Saira and Aziza up as it pulls into the station.
They catch a cab outside, Hamid asking the driver to go along the coast until they reach a smaller town. She seems confused and more than a little dubious, until Saira leans in with a winning smile (and two crisp £50 notes) and the driver shrugs and heads off down the coast, making light conversation with all of them along the way.
Their first stop is a small beach town, a one-street town with a single spotlight. Hamid thanks the driver, who agrees to wait outside while they duck inside a few shops,
“Good morning, sir!” Hamid says cheerily, heading up to the counter of a small bakery. “I had a few questions if you don’t mind?”
The man behind the counter gives Hamid a slightly confused look, but nods. “Sure, how can I help?”
He pulls out the panoramic map from
his rucksack and lays it out on the counter, flattening it out. “Do you have any idea where this is? I know this is, well, a little weird, but we’re trying to find this little town.”
The man at the counter peers over the map, rubbing at his forehead. “Might recognize that lake, there, but no names are coming to mind. Doesn’t look familiar to me otherwise, sorry.”
Hamid frowns, looking down at the map as well. “Nothing does?” he asks, and he must sound as forlorn as he feels, considering the man gives him a sympathetic smile.
“We’ve a lot of travelers around these parts, I’m sure you’ll find someone who can point you in the right direction.”
“Thank you, sir,” Hamid says, and tucks the map back into his bag. Aziza and Saira are sitting outside on a bench waiting patiently for him, chatting about Aziza’s upcoming show, though they quiet down and look at Hamid expectantly. He shakes his head and they wilt, but Aziza pops back up first, a determined look on her face.
“Maybe we’ll have luck with the next one, Hamid,” Aziza says, resting a comforting hand on his shoulder. “Buck up, we’ll get it figured out.”
Luck doesn’t seem to be on their side today , Hamid thinks sadly as they hit another dead end. No one has recognized the picture so far, and with each confused shake of the head or quiet ‘sorry, lad’, his heart and hopes begin to sink a little bit lower.
They’ve been going into shops along the main street of the town they’re in, having done this already in a few others, and it’s becoming a race against the clock as afternoon turns to early evening. Soon, they’ll have to find someplace to settle up for the night, or catch a train back to London.
“Your classes don’t start for a few days, yes?” Aziza asks, and Hamid nods. “Then we’re staying. Until we find him.”
Hamid’s throat feels tight as Saira agrees, hand holding Hamid’s. He leans in and gives both of his sisters a big hug.
“Thanks,” he mumbles, squeezing them tightly. They hug him back, and then they continue on their way down the road.
They go into a few more shops along the way, until Saira’s stomach rumbles and she drags them into a nearby café.
Hamid collapses into a booth with Saira next to him as Aziza sits across from them, picking up the menu and scanning through the options.
“Can I get you anything else to drink, loves?” a waitress, who’s name tag says Cleo, asks, coming over to their table. She has a lovely smile, and sets down glasses of cold water for all of them. Hamid and Saira ask for coffee, Aziza asks for a hot chocolate, and the waitress winks at them as she heads off, leaving the list of specials on the table for them to glance through.
In the end, they all order something different and share their meals. The conversation turns from Zolf to Hamid’s classes to Aziza’s show to Saira’s government work to how the twins are preparing for boarding school, before turning back to Zolf.
“I can’t believe you never told us about him, Hamid,” Aziza says reproachfully. “It’s been a year, I didn’t realize you could keep secrets this long.”
“I - it - I didn’t want to say anything, I wasn’t sure about any of it anyway, kind of thought it was all a dream for a while!” Hamid squeaks out, sinking down into his seat.
“Well, we’ll have to find him, and then me and Aziza can make sure he’s good to you. I don’t appreciate that he cut contact,” Saira says, slipping another piece of the pork and beans pie she ordered into her mouth.
“It - it may have been unintentional, I’m not sure,” Hamid says. “I still want to find him. He’s… he’s sweet, and kind.”
“I’m sure he’ll pass muster,” Saira responds. “But we are going to interrogate him first.”
“Maybe wait until after I tell him that I love him?” Hamid says, smiling weakly. Saira and Aziza share a look, which has been happening way too much on this little trip already, and in perfect synchronicity, chime in with a, “No promises!”
Hamid groans, head dropping into his hands. Aziza and Saira don’t even have a speck of regret on their faces, happily eating the rest of their and Hamid’s food. He sighs and leans back in his chair, looking up at the ceiling of the café.
“I just… don’t know what else to do,” Hamid says, pulling the sketch out of his bag. “We’ve been to so many towns, and no one seems to recognize this. What if - what if it was all fake? What if it was just a dream?” It isn’t something he’s been wanting to say out loud, as though putting it into the universe will make it come true. The only things that make him remember that he isn’t crazy are the barely-there memories of Zolf’s life and the notes that he left Hamid, tucked into a special folder on his phone. He - he couldn’t have made all of it up, he just couldn’t have, and maybe this would be his chance to finally find him again.
He lays the drawing down on the table. “I just… have no clue where it is, or if he’s even still there, I -“ have to find him , he thinks, and Saira and Aziza each give him a small grin.
“We will,” Saira promises, pulling Hamid in for a quick squeeze.
He really doesn’t deserve them, but he’s so glad they’re here for him.
“Oh, is that a sketch of Countisbury?” the waitress says, leaning over the table and examining the map. Hamid resists the urge to put it away and pastes on a friendly-enough smile. “My wife grew up there. That’s a gorgeous map, she’ll love to see it!”
Hamid’s mouth nearly drops open as the waitress calls for her wife, a woman named Betty, to come over to their table.
“See, my love?” Cleo says, gesturing to the map. “Isn’t it incredible?”
Betty’s hands fly to her mouth as she glances over the page. “Oh my word,” she says, reaching out a hand to brush against the paper. “It’s the old church, and the schoolhouse. And the docks down by the water… the town square, everything is here.
“Did you draw this?” she asks, turning to Hamid, smiling. “It’s amazing.”
He clears his throat, awkward all of a sudden. “Y - yes, I did, thank you. We’re looking for it, I’m trying to find an old friend, and this is everything I remember about the town. Cleo said you grew up there?”
Betty nods. “She’s right. It’s been a long time since I’ve visited Countisbury. Hard to do, now.”
“Wait… Countisbury?” Aziza asks, sharing a shocked looked with Saira. “Are you sure?”
“Grew up there, love,” Betty said. “I’d know that lake anywhere.” She smiles, a little fond, a little sad. “Miss it, sometimes.”
“Could you take us there? Or let us know where it is?” Hamid asks, nearly rising out of his seat with excitement. Finally, he could find Zolf, he could tell him how he felt, this could finally have a happy ending, maybe if he hopes hard enough -
“Oh, love,” Betty says, cutting through his thoughts and giving him a sad look. “We can take you there if you want, but there isn’t much to see.”
“Countisbury. The comet,” Saira says, at the same time Aziza covers her mouth with a hand.
“Oh,” she breathes, looking stricken.
“Can someone please explain what’s going on here ?” Hamid exclaims, looking around at the four of them. Aziza and Saira look shell-shocked, gazing over at him with their mouths open, while Cleo and Betty have nothing but pity and sympathy in their eyes.
“Hamid, Countisbury was...” Aziza starts, sharing a look with Saira.
“What?” Hamid whispers, as a single tear falls down his cheek.
The car ride is long, and silent. Hamid is anxious in the backseat, drumming his fingers along the car’s armrest as his leg shakes. Saira reaches over and gently rests her hand on his, giving him a sympathetic smile. Cleo is the one driving them; Betty had given her a kiss on the cheek back at the café before declining to come with them. Too many painful memories, she’d said.
The sun is setting on the horizon when Cleo finally pulls into an abandoned parking lot; Hamid glances off to the side and sees the schoolhouse standing there, taken over by nature as moss and ivy peek through the cracks in the stone. He’s out of the car the second Cleo throws it into park, hearing her yell a, “Be careful!” after him.
Hamid is running faster than he ever has before, shouting for Aziza and Saira to hurry up as his feet pound against the ground. He sees the mountain ridge up ahead and tries to go faster, begging, praying to whatever god that existed that Zolf was fine, that this was all a - a horrible nightmare, that Betty had been wrong about the location, that everything was okay, that the one person Hamid has never been able to completely forget and never truly remember wasn’t long dead, wasn’t torn away from him in a devastating meteor shower that decimated the entire town -
He stops short at the edge of the town, nearly falling to his knees as he sees that Betty was right.
It’s… gone. Everything is destroyed, trees blackened and sooty among the wreckage of a thousand homes, strewn about the land and cordoned off with long-since forgotten about caution tape. Hamid takes a step forward and stops, wary of where the ground would drop away under his feet. The schoolyard is a wasteland, desks and chairs strewn about the lawn. It’s the only part of the town that isn’t completely destroyed, the only part of town that is still standing.
The beach is covered in debris, wood and stone covering it to make it look almost black; the town square is nearly indistinguishable, buildings and supports smashed to smithereens as a lone, torn flag blows gently in the wind. It looks like a war zone, completely demolished and being retaken by nature. And, still, the lake stands in the middle of the town.
“Zolf?” he whispers, and takes an unconscious step forward, tear slipping down his face as he gazes out over the destruction. It’s an eerie sort of peace, Hamid realizes, as a flock of birds fly above. It’s the quiet of tragedy, of absolute desolation, of years gone.
Zolf - if Zolf was here, when this happened, there’s no way he survived it, and it’s that thought that breaks Hamid. He falls to his knees in the dirt, tears streaming from his eyes as he screams incoherently, fists clenching and unclenching ineffectually. Saira and Aziza are calling his name from far away as grief streams out of him.
He feels both their arms wrap around him as he screams, begging for it to be wrong, begging someone to tell him he was wrong, this wasn’t the place he knew, it had to be somewhere else, Zolf has to still be - he has to be able to talk to him, this can’t be how their story ends…
His sisters hold him as he rails against the universe, fists clenched on the dirt as his grief fills the quiet of the air around him, and he’s hiccoughing and nauseous and if he thinks, hopes hard enough maybe it won’t be true, and Zolf will still be here.
And then it stops, and he’s just kneeling in the dirt, elbows and arms and knees and forehead covered in it, and he doesn’t even care, because Zolf is gone, and somehow he died three years ago and Hamid fell in love with a ghost.
It’s over, he realizes, and it comes with a sense of calm. He gently untangles himself from Saira and Aziza’s grip, only just realizing now that they’ve been whispering words of comfort to him while he broke down. He stands on the edge of the town and sniffles, again, feeling the way his heart is cracked, straight down the middle.
“Hamid, this - you have to be remembering wrong, this can’t be the place,” Saira finally says, looking ahead at the completely destroyed shell of the town. “This - this isn’t possible.”
Hamid turns to look at her, finally, and tries to speak, voice coming out hoarse and quiet. “No, he - he left me messages, he talked to me,” Hamid says, pulling out his phone and pressing the calendar app, muttering ‘please’ over and over and over again until it barely means anything, until it’s just a quiet hum. The notes are all there and he pulls one up, desperate to prove that this was real , that Zolf existed , that this couldn’t all be a dream, couldn’t just be something that he made up inside his head.
And then, it all starts disappearing before his eyes. The letters shift and move, turning to binary and unreadable code before beginning to delete themselves.
“No, no no no no ,” Hamid says, desperately scrolling through his notes, looking for any sign of Zolf’s writing, Zolf’s messages to him. Each day, every single day that they switched, has been completely wiped away, even the extra notes they’d shared over the course of a few switches. It’s all - all gone, and Hamid feels the phone slip from his fingers and crash into the dirt as he too falls to his knees, staring blankly ahead.
“They’re disappearing,” he murmurs, before falling into all fours and letting his tears drip into the dirt.
The library is dark, when they arrive. Cleo had been kind enough to drive them, dropping them off with an offer to come back to the restaurant and stay with herself and Betty for the night. Hamid is barely moving, following along soundlessly behind Aziza and Saira as they keep casting him worried looks and muttering between themselves.
Hamid is sure it’s about him.
Hamid is sure he doesn’t care.
There’s no one else there, thankfully, as Cleo lets them in, pushing the door open and giving Hamid a quick hug.
“I’ll wait outside, for you all?” she says, looking between the three of them. Aziza nods with a quick ‘thank you’ and ushers Hamid inside.
The door shuts behind them and they’re left in darkness; Saira reaches out and flicks on the lights, which blink rapidly and then shower the room in a dim orange glow. They wordlessly decide to split up, Saira looking through old news articles and Aziza looking through history books, while Hamid gets on the computer and starts to search for any sort of information on Countisbury. Hamid… almost doesn’t want to find anything, doesn’t want to have to face the fact that it’s true.
Saira is the first person to find something; it’s an old newspaper piece covering the tragedy, from some local paper.
“The comet struck Countisbury three years ago,” Saira says, scanning the news article. “No one thought the comet would split. It seems like it was a freak accident.” She flips the page and blanches. “Over 500 people died that night. Everyone was gathered in the square for the town festival, no one had any time to get out.”
Hamid sees another news article and pulls it toward himself, reading it aloud. “Seeing the comet was supposed to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, as it passed above Earth’s atmosphere three years ago at the peak of the autumn festival of the small town of Countisbury. A single piece of the comet fractured off, and hurtled down toward the Earth, burning up as it entered the atmosphere and breaking into smaller pieces. It struck the town right after the sun had set. It was pure destruction.”
He stops reading, pushing the newspaper away and digging the heels of his palms into his eyes. He felt sick, lost. The comet had hit three years ago, how was he even talking to Zolf, much less walking around the town, four months ago? All of the memories are becoming more hazy, but Zolf’s face, the town square, Feryn, Sasha, Brock… they’re all burned into his skull, it can’t have only been a dream. It can’t be.
“Hamid…” Aziza’s voice cuts through his thoughts. Her face is pale as she walks back to the table, looking through the book in her hand. She hands it over to Hamid and he can read the cover: In Memoriam: The Town of Countisbury. His heart sinks in his chest and he takes it with shaking hands, flipping the book open to see names and photos listed, of all those who lost their lives that night.
He flips open the book and turns almost to the end, looking desperately for the ‘S’ names as his eyes flick through the photos, begging a god that he doesn’t believe in to have protected the people he cares about.
He sees two names he recognizes, first, and they’re not the names he’s looking for but he starts to cry anyway.
Sasha Rackett. Brock Rackett.
God, Sasha, no, not her , not when she was already trying to escape. Not Brock, please - He blinks, and tears run down his cheek as he turns the page again with a shaking hand, terrified of what he’ll see on the next page.
And then, in stark black ink, he sees their names.
God, no -
The entire world freezes as Hamid stares at his name.
No. No, no no no no no, no anything but this, please no -
A teardrop falls onto the page as Hamid takes a shuddering breath. His hand shakes when he reaches out and touches the picture next to Zolf’s name, looking younger than he had the last time Hamid had seen him, a bit less worn out, a bit more of a smile.
“Hamid, is that him?” Aziza asks, and the worry in her voice comes through loud and clear. “It can’t be, you have to be mistaken. The comet hit three years ago.”
“Four months ago, he convinced me to go on a date with Liliana,” Hamid says softly. “He - he bought me paracetamol when my knee hurt, he told off Gideon, he did everything, I spoke to him four months ago, this can’t be happening.”
Saira leans into him, wrapping an arm around his shoulders. “How can it be? If this is correct, he died three years ago, Hamid.”
Hamid shakes his head, heart slowly falling to pieces as he stares down at Zolf’s picture on the page. “The last time we spoke, the last time I had a note from him, he mentioned being able to watch the comet, I didn’t pay attention, I -“ he cuts himself off as his words feel as though they’ve been swallowed, and he breathes heavily as he looks up from the book, staring blankly ahead of himself.
“I - what was I-“ Hamid says, squeezing his eyes shut as his head starts to throb, an ache that comes out of nowhere, and Aziza and Saira reach out to him as he curls up in the chair, arms wrapping over his head as he tries not to scream.
You’re dreaming, Hamid hears, an echo from a forgotten place, a voice he doesn’t remember, and as he looks up at the mirror in front of him, he hears it again.
the rqdbfc: connor is a murderer they killed [redacted]
me, in the corner: :)
(abbegail you can murder me now)
(also did anyone catch how the exhibit last time was called ‘reflections’ :D)
not sure when i’ll update next but it will probably be sooner rather than later!
i added like 300 words just to hit 4k
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Saira and Aziza sit in the living room, both on separate couches, lit only by the dying candlelight. Betty and Cleo had been kind enough to offer all three of them their spare rooms, saying that there was no way they would let them go back to London or find an inn at this late an hour. Aziza and Saira had gratefully taken them up on it, while Hamid trailed along behind them, eyes red and puffy and looking completely lost with his hands shoved into his pockets.
They’d been able to take some books and maps from the library with Cleo’s permission, promising to return them tomorrow. Now, Hamid is sitting in their kitchen surrounded by books, poring over them. The faint sound of a pen scritching on paper will intermittently reach Saira and Aziza as they sit there, trading worries glances.
“Do you believe him?” Aziza asks, keeping her voice low as she cranes her neck to make sure Hamid can’t hear her. “That this all… actually happened?”
Saira shrugs, slowly. “I want to, because it’s Hamid, but. It’s a little incredulous, yeah? He’s been talking to a ghost for a year, it would seem.”
“More than a little,” Aziza agrees. “But the way he reacted… whatever really happened, Hamid obviously cares for this person.”
Saira hums, and they slip into silence again, save for the odd page-turning from the kitchen. The clock ticks on the wall, drawing them farther into the night, and still Hamid sits in the kitchen.
“He has been different, recently, have you noticed?” Saira says, with a faint smile on her face. “Happier. He was always so lonely in London, even with Gideon and Liliana there.”
“Really?” Aziza asks. “I thought he loved it there.”
Saira shakes her head. “It’s hard being away from family, you know. You weren’t there when he came back to visit last summer, he was… I don’t know. I thought he must have found someone he loved in London, and wasn’t saying anything about it. He was - you know how he gets? Sometimes? Stressed out and closed off?” She waits for Aziza to nod before continuing. “He seemed… looser, almost. More free, more open. It was nice.”
“And you think - it was him that did this? Who helped him?”
Saira shrugs again. “I’m not sure. It’s a strange circumstance, obviously. But I don’t think Hamid is lying.” She smiles, looking up at Aziza. “Maybe there is some magic in the world after all.”
Hamid can’t stop staring at the journaling app on his phone, where it says ‘no entries’, blinking back at him. He - yesterday, he had every single note that he had ever left, saved there, and now, they were all gone. As though they had never been there in the first place, as though they were never his to begin with, and Hamid really thought he was out of tears but he can’t stop new ones from falling down his face as he realizes that this, all this, is over now.
It must have been a dream. It had to have been, because things like this don’t happen in real life, people don’t switch bodies, and especially not with people who died three years ago. Hamid must have seen the news report of the comet destroying the town and just… dreamt about it. Imagined the life of someone in the town, inserted himself into the story. It has to be a dream.
And that’s the kicker, isn’t it? if it wasn’t… if Hamid really had been speaking to him, what was it? A ghost? An - an echo? A memory? Why… why him , why -
He - he was - Hamid’s heart beats once, twice, as he looks up, unseeing.
What - what was his name?
He hears a knock on the wall and glances over, seeing Saira standing there with a soft smile on her face.
“You should go to bed, Hamid,” she says. “It’s late.”
He gives her a weak smile in return, one that he’s sure barely even reaches his eyes if at all, before turning back to the papers splayed out in front of him. There has to be a clue here, somewhere, there just absolutely has to be, even if he isn’t sure what he’s looking for, he’ll find something that can help.
Saira comes and sits next to him while he’s flipping through one of the books; she’s quiet, now, kicking her legs up on the other chair, and Hamid can feel her eyes on him as he reads through another story of the tragedy.
There’s no new details, nothing , and Hamid didn’t know what he was expecting to find, but the fact that there’s just nothing there, nothing he can use , makes the hole in his chest grow bigger. He shoves the book aside, swearing under his breath, and through it all Saira sits there, resting a comforting hand on his arm as Hamid tries not to completely break down.
He breathes, in and out, slowly, because that’s really all he can do, and inclines his head slightly toward his sister.
“Thank you, really,” Hamid says, quietly, and he just knows that Saira can see the tear tracks on his cheeks reflected in the candlelight. He wipes them away and sniffs, turning away from Saira.
“I’m so sorry, Hamid,” Saira says, pulling her brother into a hug. He goes willingly, trembling, as her arms wrap around him and her hand strokes along his back. “I’m not going to pretend I know exactly what you’re going through, but I know how much it hurts to lose someone.”
Hamid can't stifle the sob that builds in his throat as his heart pounds again. The devastation of Countisbury, the absolute broken desolation, is burned behind his eyelids, forever. He ran around those courtyards, the school. The mines. Zolf’s home, the Gussett’s, it was always so vibrant and full of life, so beautiful , even if it had taken Hamid too long to truly appreciate it.
Hamid pulls his sleeves up, feeling confined, and the pendant on his wrist jingles. Saira reaches out to touch it, fingers brushing against the charm. “Where’d you get this? I’ve never seen it before.”
“Oh, this?” he stares down at the pendant. “I - I don’t remember, actually. It must have been a gift from someone…” he laughs, but it’s hollow. “Isn’t that embarrassing? Someone gave me this beautiful gift and I can’t even remember who it was.”
“It’s beautiful,” Saira says, and the charm glints in the candlelight as she twists it back and forth. The small dolphin looks like it’s dancing between her fingers, metal catching the light and shadows in such a way that it almost seems alive.
“I don’t even wear it, usually. It just - felt like luck, today?” Hamid says, and it feels as unsure as it sounds, but he’d seen the bracelet and needed to put it on before they’d left that morning. It grates at him, not being able to remember where it’s from, and he can feel a headache building behind his eyes as he tries to remember.
“Do you know what dolphins represent?” Saira asks, drawing Hamid’s attention back to her. “Harmony, balance. Peace. Maybe - maybe you did wear it for a reason, Hamid.”
There’s nothing he can say to that, he realizes, so he just tucks himself closer into her side as she gently strokes his hair. It’s nice, but there’s still a gaping maw in his chest the size of the ocean and he doesn’t know how he’s supposed to move forward from this, now.
Memories are straining against each other in his head, fighting as he tries to reconcile everything. If everything was becoming hazy before, that’s nothing like how spotty everything is now. It terrifies him, honestly; how long until all of the memories are gone, how long until he forgets what the town looked like, walking through the trees in the summer, the wind blowing through the branches? Until he forgets - forgets -
“Do you think I’m crazy, Saira?” Hamid asks, and there’s something broken in his voice, as much as he tries to keep it locked away. His sister doesn’t hesitate to reach out to him and turn him to face her, and the look of absolute, fierce love and care on her face almost makes him start crying again.
“Oh, Hamid, no,” she says, hands gentle where they rest on his shoulders. “You’re not. I promise. You have to hold onto that.”
They sit there for a moment more, Hamid feeling buffeted by unseen winds as he tries to stay tightly coiled, tries not to break any further than he already has. Saira is a comforting presence at his side, warm and solid as he rests against her.
Eventually, the moment ends, as all must, and Saira stands up, pressing a gentle kiss to Hamid’s forehead as she does. He does his best to lean into it, but his entire body just feels weak and tired.
“Please try and get some sleep?” Saira says as she leaves, lingering in the doorway to give Hamid a pleading expression. He nods, tucking the pendant back under his shirt sleeves, and she walks away.
He will get some sleep, eventually. Right now, he’s too afraid of what he might dream.
Hamid, don’t you remember? My name is -
Hamid’s eyes open and he blinks, unseeing, at the wall next to his head. He sits up, rolling his shoulders, as a deep ache sets in.
“Did I… fall asleep?” he mutters, glancing down at the maps strewn about the table. There’s a circle on one of the maps of Countisbury, surrounded with question marks. It’s slightly off to the side, away, Hamid thinks, from where most of the damage was. He sees his own handwriting next to it, saying ‘Around here!’ but doesn’t recall writing that down.
The pendant on his wrist feels colder than normal, and he holds it up, staring down at it. He doesn’t… remember where he got it, or when, but he’s had it for at least three or four years by this point. Ever since he’d come to London for uni. The pendant brushes against the inside of his wrist and he glances back at the map, trying to remember, begging -
He knows what he has to do.
“Aziza. Aziza!” Aziza feels herself get shaken awake and shoots up out of bed, looking around blearily. There’s a single stream of sunlight shining into the room, cutting through the darkness.
“Wha - what?” she says, blinking until she’s able to focus on Saira’s face. Saira looks a mix of panicked and annoyed, and Aziza groans. “What did Hamid do?”
“Hamid’s gone.” Saira explains, and Aziza throws the covers off of her as she turns to face Saira, cross-legged. “He left us a note saying he had to try one more thing, and for us to go back to London. He’ll meet us there.”
Aziza grabs the note from her sister and scans it quickly.
Thank you both so much for coming with me. I don’t know what I would have done without the two of you here.
Please don’t worry about me; I’m sorry I left, but I have to see one more thing before I can give up and let this go. Don’t be angry with Cleo for driving me. You both should go back to London; I’m not sure how long this will take or if it will even work, but I have to try.
All my love,
“God, Hamid, what are you doing ,” Aziza murmurs, looking down at the note. This isn’t atypical of her brother, running off to solve a problem on his own when there are people right there offering help, but she wasn’t expecting him to do so when they’re fundamentally in the middle of nowhere. She glances up at Saira, who looks just as lost as she feels, and gives her sister a sympathetic smile. “We’ll wait here for a day and then head back to London. If Hamid isn’t back by then, we’ll have to trust that he can take care of himself.”
Saira looks at her, dubiously. “This is Hamid we’re talking about.”
Aziza nods. “Yes, well, we can’t go on after him, since we don’t know where he is, and he can be an impulsive idiot at times, so we’ll have to wait until he finds us. Here -“ she pulls out her phone and tosses it to Saira. “He answers me more often than he answers you or Saleh or the twins, even, nevermind mum and dad. Tell him if he isn’t back by tomorrow afternoon, we’re going to leave for London, and tell him how to get to the station from here.”
“Alright,” Saira says, fingers already tapping away at the keyboard. “Sent.”
“What do you think he’s doing?” Aziza asks, casting her gaze skyward as she lays back down on the bed. “What else could he have to try?”
Saira shakes her head. “No idea. I went and looked at all of the books and maps to get an idea, and even asked Cleo about it, but there’s just… nothing. I think one of the maps is missing, so I hope Hamid took it so he can find his way? He’s hopeless with directions.”
Aziza rubs the bridge of her nose, sighing. “Well, there’s nothing we can do now. Once Hamid gets an idea in his head, he doesn’t let it go. We just have to wait and see if he shows up.”
“What do we do in the meantime?” Saira asks.
“Well, it looks like it’s going to be a lovely day out, so we’re not just going to sit around here,” Aziza says, decisive. “C’mon. Let’s see if we can scrounge up some breakfast, and we’ll find some shops down the road. Whatever Hamid’s doing… I hope it works, and he comes back soon.”
The next morning, the moment Cleo had woken up, Hamid had asked her to drive him to the ritual site. Aziza and Saira had still been asleep, and Hamid had left a simple note letting them know where he would be before he left. They had… done so much for him already, they truly had, but this part he had to do on his own. The ride over had been awkward, tense. Cleo hadn’t known what to say and neither had Hamid. He had the map on his lap and on his phone, following along and waiting for Cleo to reach the spot closest to the shrine. It hadn’t taken them long, maybe a 10-minute drive from the house, before Hamid had announced that they were there and had moved to hop out of the car as it had crawled to a stop.
Cleo hadn’t been all that willing to let Hamid out on the side of a random road in the English countryside, but he’d convinced her enough that she’d finally driven off.
Hamid had waited until the car had been out of sight before beginning to climb, straining against the rain.
He doesn’t know how long has passed since Cleo drove off, but he’s a bit frustrated that he hasn’t made more progress than this. The ridge is treacherous, in the rain. The leaves underfoot are slippery, and Hamid has to move carefully lest he fall down the slope and lose all the progress he’s gained. It’s hard work; he can feel the small cuts on his hands where he’s grabbed branches to keep himself steady, and his legs and arms are burning with the effort. The morning sun has just started to peek over the clouds as Hamid finally, finally makes it to the top, standing on the edge of the ridge that himself and Feryn had sat on at dusk. There’s a strange sort of peace up here, and if Hamid closes his eyes, he can almost hear Feryn’s low rumble next to him, the sound of Sasha and Brock laughing.
The dawn has finally come.
Hamid squints out over the trees, but none of it looks familiar to him anymore. He pulls out the map which, thankfully, hasn’t been damaged yet in the rain. He hunches over it, still trying to prevent the water from hitting it as best he can, and finds the spot he’d circled the night before.
Shielding his eyes from the water, he looks out again, in the direction he’d written, and sees a small glade in the center of a copse of trees.
“That’s it,” he murmurs, and tucks the map back into his backpack, pulling his hood tighter around his head.
The trek down is just as nerve-wracking as the trek up. Hamid falls once, catching himself on a tree before he can slip down too far, and the rain only increases as he gets closer to the ground. It’s not too far away, if his memories are to be believed, and so he soldiers on, arms wrapping around himself as he tries to stay warm in the freezing cold rain.
The sun peeks out over the clouds for a minute and Hamid squints as the rain lightens. He can see the shrine up ahead, just barely through the trees. He picks up his pace, stepping carefully even as the rain lets up and the sun shines through the canopy overhead.
The circle is still there, exactly where Hamid remembered it being, even if the rocks looked more worn, more moss-covered with no one left to take care of it. He stumbles over to the small stone shrine in the middle of the circle, somehow still standing and looking as untouched as it had the day that he had come here with Feryn to lay their gifts at the feet of the gods.
Feryn’s gift, an ornately designed metal pendant warped into the shape of a goat, knocked over into its side. Years and years of broken gifts litter the ground, and Hamid kneels down carefully.
And then he sees Zolf’s, a wooden carving of a dolphin. It matches the pendant on his wrist and Hamid can feel the tears forming behind his eyelids. He takes off the pendant, pressing a kiss to the dolphin charm, and gently puts it around the carved dolphin’s tail.
“This is… a part of him,” he whispers, reaching out and gently cradling the wooden dolphin in his hand. It’s cool to the touch, rain-dampened and fragile in his palm.
Feryn had always said that this place was special, that it was a place where reality was at its thinnest, and Hamid clings to that now, clings to the idea that maybe something can happen, that he can save Zolf and the entire town, that he can see Zolf for the first time, in his own body, and tell him how much he means .
Because time… it doesn’t flow in a straight line. It ebbs and flows, and sometimes people get tangled up together and refuse to let go.
And Hamid refuses to let go of Zolf.
“Please,” Hamid whispers, praying to a god that he has never believed in, and begging them to let this work. “I just found him again, this can’t be how our story ends, please.”
The wooden dolphin stays cool to his touch and the two candles at the base of the shrine remain unlit. Hamid doesn’t know how long passes before his grip on the wooden dolphin lessens and he lets his hands fall to his lap.
It’s not working .
Hamid cries. He cries for Zolf, for Feryn, for Sasha and Brock and everyone else they lost, for himself, for a dream that could never have become real, and he cradles the wooden dolphin close to his heart as he tries not to scream.
He sets the dolphin back down and stands, tears leaving streaks of makeup down his face. “I’m so sorry,” he whispers, bowing his head slightly.
He takes a step backward and his foot slips out from under him, unable to balance on the slippery moss.
He falls. The world shifts .
(Somewhere, a bell tolls.)
Time is laid out in front of him like a cord, bright red and twisting as Hamid watches the comet fall overhead. It trails a line of colors through the sky and moves, changing shape and disappearing before returning in a new position, and Hamid isn’t able to do anything but follow along with it as it carves a path through the darkness. And then the scene is changing, and he’s facing a bright white door in front of him. He pushes it open and -
“Mum?” he hears a young voice say, and he turns to see what can only be Feryn and Zolf as children sitting next to a woman in a hospital bed. The door is gone, and the vision is hazy around the edges as he watches.
“It’ll be alright, loves,” she says, reaching out and stroking a shaking hand through Zolf’s hair. “I’ll be home in no time.”
And then the cord is pulled taut again, and Hamid’s soul feels a tug, and -
“Where’s dad going?” A younger Zolf asks, and Feryn pats him weakly on the shoulder.
“Don’t worry about it, kid, he’s just going to check on Mum.”
Another tug, and a flash, and Hamid is standing in the rain at a funeral, tears pouring down Zolf and Feryn’s face as their father stands there, stonefaced but looking oh so broken in the eyes, and Hamid closes his own and -
“You can’t just leave us alone , Dad, we can’t -“
“Take care of Zolf. I have work to do,” Hirald says, and Zolf is sliding down a wall and burying his head between his knees, hiding from the shouts coming from the kitchen.
“You never listen , you -“ and there’s a shift, and Hamid tries to call Zolf’s name, tries to -
“I don’t want to do this anymore, Feryn,” Zolf says, standing on a mountain next to his brother and frowning as he looks out into the sunset, and he must be the same age now, must be the Zolf Hamid knows, and he reaches out and -
“I’m going to London,” Zolf tells Sasha, determination clear in his eyes as he starts to run down the stairs. “Don’t tell Feryn, just cover for me.”
“Zolf, London , what? Wait, don’t -“ and then Sasha fades into the blackness as Hamid spins, weightless, and the cord pulls him along unerringly, barely touching memories before they’re whisked away again, and then -
A tinny news report blares in his ear and he whirls around as much as he can. “The comet is coming tonight, and we hope every listener is ready to see the gorgeous lights in the sky.”
It’s tonight? is all Hamid has time to think before the house shifts and he’s in Zolf’s room, news still playing preternaturally loud in his head, and Zolf is there, and it’s the day he died, and Hamid can’t stop the tears from falling.
“Zolf, please, please , you have to run, you have to get away, now,” Hamid is begging, crying as he watches Zolf put his prosthetic leg on. “The comet is coming, it’s going to split , you have to convince everyone to leave -“
And then the vision is gone, sweeping Hamid away into the darkness as it gets replaced by a field, and Zolf is running, Hamid keeping pace as everyone around them screams, as he hears Feryn call Zolf’s name, as Sasha and Brock hold hands and race behind Zolf, terrified faces illuminated by the comet falling above them. Explosions sound all around them as the land is torn to shreds by the comet, and the onslaught is getting closer now, and there’s no more time, and Hamid can’t do anything, and -
“Zolf! Zolf!” Hamid screams, willing it to be enough, begging for Zolf to hear him, and then the darkness swoops in again and he’s falling, spinning and twisting and completely disorientated, into the stars.
sad crimes sad times
im so ridiculously proud of the weird flashback scene y’all don’t even know