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Double Exposure

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Sean wakes up in his own body.

Normally, that wouldn’t be news. Right now? Holy shit, it’s a relief.

Obviously it’s not like people actually suddenly jump into the lives of people they’ve never met, or even people they have. He knew from the start that it couldn’t be more than a vivid dream. It’s just... yeah, it was seriously vivid. And it felt like it went on for so long, a full day. Long enough for him to start to wonder if he was ever waking up.

It’s not like he ever did anything that interesting in the dream, besides hanging out in someone else’s body. Maybe that’s on him. It felt so real that he was kind of nervous about going out into some unknown place as some unknown girl.

So he just spent the whole time in her room. Fiddling with the guitar he knows barely anything about playing; Lyla showed him maybe four chords a couple years ago, and he wouldn’t know how to tune it. Getting increasingly hungry, with nothing to eat but a few cookies he’d found stashed in a drawer. Looking at her wall of selfies; seems like kind of a weird thing to have in your room, but he’s not judging. Well, not too much.

(Okay, he hadn’t been in her room the entire time. He’d cautiously ventured out to find the bathroom at one point; fortunately it’d just been a little way down the corridor. No urinals. He’d gone into a stall and pulled her pants down, facing the bowl, and suddenly realised he had no idea what the fuck he was supposed to do.

He’d figured it out. But it had been pretty awkward.)

She had a diary, full of stickers and doodles and clipped-in photographs. Her name...

He rolls onto his side, grabs his sketchbook and pen from the bedside table. Dreams fade, and he wants to write down the details of this one before it gets away from him.

Her name was Max. White. Eighteen, or at least she was eighteen the last time she mentioned her age in her diary. She was a photography student, which he guesses might explain all the selfies.

He can’t remember the name of her town or her school, but he thinks it was in Oregon. She definitely wrote that she used to live in Seattle; he remembers that.

It was weird, going through all her stuff, trying to piece her life together. Getting to know this person who wasn’t actually there.

He sets the sketchbook aside when he’s scribbled down as much as he can remember. Reaches for his phone.

Uh, that’s a lot of unread messages. Did something happen?

Wait, shit, he’s late for school! He forgot to set his alarm? Didn’t anyone wake him? Fuck!

He scrambles out of bed, unlocking his phone, scrolling frantically through unread texts to see whether there’s any explanation for why Lyla would have left without him. Or maybe she didn’t come by at all, maybe she’s not well?

God fucking damn it, there are messages from his boss, he’s late for work too—

Wait. That doesn’t make sense. His shift isn’t until after school. It’s still the morning, right? He didn’t oversleep that badly.

Unless...

He checks the date.

No way.

It’s Saturday.

He slept through an entire day?

-

“Did you sleep better last night?” his dad asks, when Sean comes into the kitchen.

Did Dad just let him sleep for thirty-two hours so he could make that joke? “Why didn’t you wake me up?”

“Did you ask me to?” Dad asks, frowning. “I didn’t know you had somewhere to be today.”

Yesterday,” Sean says. “For school.”

Dad scratches his chin. “Yesterday morning? Well, your eyes were open and you were talking, so I didn’t realise you were still asleep.” He pauses. “Although it may have explained some things.”

“I was awake?” Sean asks. “You saw me? Yesterday? It was Friday, right?”

He’s trying not to flip out, but how is he not supposed to flip out right now?

“Sean,” Dad says, “is something wrong?”

“I don’t remember Friday,” Sean says. “I don’t remember anything. It’s like I went to bed on Thursday and I’m just waking up now.” He waves his phone. “Apparently I missed work. I don’t remember that.”

There’s a pause.

“Are you sure about this?” Dad asks.

“I’m not lying,” Sean says. His throat is getting kind of tight. “I don’t know what happened.”

“Okay,” Dad says, “sit down. We’ll figure this out.”

Sean sits down. What the fuck was he doing yesterday? Is he losing his mind?

“I won’t be angry,” Dad says. “Have you been drinking? Drugs?”

“I – I mean—” Sean hesitates. “I mean, sometimes? Not a lot. I don’t think – I don’t think I’ve been taking anything that could wipe out a whole day. Is that even a thing?”

Did he try something new yesterday? Why can’t he remember?

“I did think you seemed strange yesterday,” Dad says. “Did something happen between you and Lyla recently?”

“What do you mean, something?”

Dad shrugs. “You didn’t seem comfortable around her. You know, when she came to get you for school. It didn’t feel right.”

“What do you mean, something?

“You know,” Dad says. “A fight, maybe. Or... not a fight.”

Sean groans. “We’re friends, Dad.”

Dad raises his hands. “Okay, okay.”

Unless—

Did something happen between them? Yesterday? He doesn’t remember; how would he know?

It was before they’d even gone to school, though; when was there time for anything weird to happen?

Dad says he was uncomfortable around her. He’s never been uncomfortable around Lyla.

“I think I need to talk to Lyla,” Sean says. “Maybe she knows what happened.”

Dad nods. “You’re serious about this, aren’t you?”

“I’m not lying,” Sean says, again. “I don’t remember.”

“Okay,” Dad says. “We can go to the walk-in clinic later, okay? You’ll be fine.”

-

“Yeah, you were super out of it yesterday,” Lyla says. “I said how’s Daniel and you said sorry, who’s Daniel?

Holy shit.

“You’re feeling okay today, though?” Lyla asks, watching him. She’s acting casual, lounging on her bed while Sean wanders restlessly around her room, but he thinks she might be worried.

“Yeah,” he says. “I mean, freaking out. But yeah.”

“Maybe it was just a one-off,” Lyla says. “You don’t remember anything?

He shakes his head. “It feels like I was just... having this really intense dream, the whole time. I was some girl at – I think college? Or some kind of boarding school?”

“Max?”

He looks sharply at her. “What?”

“It’s something you said yesterday,” Lyla says, sitting up a little straighter. “You said your name was Max and you weren’t supposed to be here. I thought it was just a joke I wasn’t getting.”

“Yeah, Max, that – that was her name. The girl.”

“You’re not fucking with me?” Lyla asks.

He holds up his hands. “I swear.”

“So you just spent all day hallucinating you were this Max girl?” She pauses. “Okay, I’ll keep watch, and if this happens again I’m sticking with you all day to make sure you don’t walk into traffic.”

It’s a reassuring thing to hear. Well, kind of. It’s just...

Was he hallucinating that he was Max? He didn’t think he was Max; he wouldn’t have told anyone that was his name. It was like he was himself, in Max’s body, in her life.

And meanwhile his body was walking around, forgetting to go to work, not knowing who Daniel is, being uncomfortable around Lyla, saying he was Max.

It’s not possible, right? It can’t be.

-

There are three Chock-O-Crisp bars left. He should take a photo, to wave in Dad’s face as evidence of Daniel’s crime if they’ve all gone missing by the end of the day.

He pulls out his phone and brings up the camera, and then he pauses, his attention caught by the ‘last photo taken’ thumbnail in the corner of the screen. He opens it.

He never takes selfies. Not when he’s on his own, at least. When did he...?

Wait. The camera’s one of the few functions of his phone you can use without unlocking it.

Did she take this?

He leans against the kitchen counter to study the photo, Chock-O-Crisps forgotten. It’s weird as hell, looking at his own face and thinking he might not be the one behind it.

The Sean in the picture is frowning slightly; he looks serious, he looks worried. She probably had the same worry he did: is this somehow just my life now, am I never going back to myself?

She left something behind. It’s not just unread messages or stories of how weirdly he’s been acting; this photograph is something concrete of her, here in his hands. It’s Sean, but he can’t see himself when he looks at it.

Maybe it was real?

Shit, what is he thinking? He had a psychotic break or something, and now he guesses he has amnesia. Yeah, it’s come out of nowhere, and he should probably be worried about it. But it makes a lot more sense than concluding that he and some girl he’s never met switched bodies based on a weird dream and a photograph he doesn’t remember taking.

-

When the school week starts again, he finds notes in his books on the classes he missed, in someone else’s handwriting.

-

“Who’s that?” Daniel asks, peering at Sean’s sketchbook over his shoulder. “Is that Jenn?”

“No,” Sean says. “Shut up.” How does he know Jenn’s name? Did Lyla say something to Daniel about her? Did Sean, somewhere in the time he can’t remember?

“Is she your girlfriend?”

“Shut up, Daniel.”

It probably does look kind of obsessive. He’s filled a full two-page spread with sketches of Max, trying to get her nose just right, the shape of her eyes, her freckles. The reflected version of her he saw in mirrors, the true-to-life version in her selfies. In one corner he’s made some preliminary efforts at pinning down an anthro form for her. He’s thinking maybe a deer.

-

He’s not at home. The realisation snaps him straight out of ‘just drifting out of sleep’ and into ‘very, very awake’.

He opens his eyes and sees Max’s selfie wall and his stomach clenches, hard.

He guesses it wasn’t a one-off, then.

-

Super weird dream, Max has written in her diary. Way too realistic. I was a boy in Seattle. Shaun?

Sean frowns. Uncaps a pen with Max’s teeth, crosses out Shaun, writes SEAN above it in capital letters.

He doesn’t like boy either; it makes him sound too young.

Still, seeing her writing about him: it’s surreal, it’s kind of exciting. They’ve never talked to each other, but she knows about him, she’s stepped into his life. It’s such a weird, intimate thing to share with a stranger.

He hopes she hasn’t found his porn collection.

She’s probably hoping he’s not reading her diary.

Here’s the really crazy thing: I woke up and I’d lost an entire day. Missed all my classes – Jefferson wanted to meet me in private to ask me about it, and I didn’t have a good excuse because I didn’t even know what happened. Starving. I figured maybe I slept through the whole day somehow, but I’d read my emails – I just didn’t remember reading them. Texts unread, though.

He hadn’t been able to unlock her phone. But she’d left her email account logged in.

He feels kind of bad for getting her in trouble. She went to school for him when she was in his body. Not work, but he guesses she wouldn’t have known he had to be there. He should probably try to find out if she has any classes today.

He should eat something, at least, if she’ll be waking up hungry otherwise.

And then there’s the last few pages in this. I didn’t draw any of that. I don’t think I could. Shaun had a sketchbook – it looks like the stuff in there.

He’d passed the time in Max’s room by sketching in her diary. The room itself, the view from her window. Tried to reproduce some of the photos on her wall.

She looked through his sketchbook?

Shit, she’s probably going to see all the drawings of her he’s been doing, and he’s going to look like a crazy stalker.

I keep thinking, maybe it wasn’t a dream. Maybe he was me when I was being him. It seems too crazy.

If that’s not it, what? Am I just losing my mind?

Sean writes a note next to it. Yeah, pretty much how I’m feeling too.

And then he keeps reading.

And the diary gets weirder.

She says she can rewind time. Can he do that? If he’s in her body?

He tries it. Knocks her teddy bear off her bed onto the floor, concentrates really hard, tries to rewind it back up there.

But nothing happens. He doesn’t know how it’s supposed to work. Maybe she’s just making things up.

Maybe he’ll learn how to do it if he sees someone get shot, like she did.

Yeah, hopefully it won’t come to that.

-

Now that he’s starting to feel like the Max stuff might be real, he’s really paying attention. And it feels real. It really does. He was wondering if maybe it just seemed that way in his memories, but everything is so detailed, every sense is accounted for.

He knows it’s impossible. But it feels just as impossible not to believe in it.

Maybe he’s just gone crazy.

There’s a timetable crammed into Max’s diary, first page. So Sean knows she has a photography class, and he knows what room number it’s in. He just... doesn’t know where that room is.

He manages to find his way out of the dorms. There’s a boy waiting outside. Sean feels like he’s seen him before.

The boy waves and says, “Max!” and makes his way over, and Sean realises two things simultaneously.

First: this guy is one of Max’s friends. Sean’s seen him in Max’s diary; some of the people in her life have full pages about them, with photos, which is definitely going to help him keep track of who he’s supposed to pretend he knows. He’s got a weird name Sean can’t remember right now. Something starting with W?

Second: he’s about to have to have an actual conversation with someone, as Max.

And, sure, it’s not his own relationships he’ll be screwing up if he gets this wrong. But, if this has happened twice, it could happen a third time, and it seems like he should probably be keeping Max happy if she can mess things up for him as well.

“Hey,” Sean says. “Uh, sleep well?”

Mr W beams. “Yeah, great! I mean, fine. How about you?”

Maybe he doesn’t have to worry so much. He’s already getting the impression that Mr W would be ecstatic to hear Max say literally anything to him.

Sean takes a calculated yawn. “Uh, could’ve been better. Sorry. I might seem kind of spacey today.”

“Oh,” Mr W says. “Up all night watching TV, or...?”

“Just couldn’t sleep,” Sean says.

“You know you can talk to me, right?” Mr W asks.

Sean absolutely cannot be drawn into a conversation about feelings here. It’s intrusive and weird and there’s no way he’ll be able to play Max convincingly; he knows some of what’s going on with her from her diary, and from being one of the things going on with her, but he doesn’t know how much of it is stuff she’d be comfortable sharing with Mr W. He just needs to do the bare minimum to keep Max’s life functioning and keep his mouth shut the rest of the time.

“Thanks,” he says. “I’m fine.” He pauses. “It’s just I’ve got class with Mr Jefferson, and I can’t remember where it is.”

Mr W laughs.

There’s a short silence.

“Wait, are you serious?” Mr W asks.

“Hey, I told you I couldn’t sleep,” Sean says.

“Okay,” Mr W says. He hesitates. “Are you... saying you want me to walk you there?”

Sean is starting to feel a little uncomfortable about spending too much time with Mr W. What if Mr W makes a move and Sean has to deal with it and then he has to tell Max what happened in the world’s most awkward note? He really needs to learn how to do this time-reversal thing.

But being walked to Max’s class is exactly what he needs right now, so he guesses he’ll take it. “That’d help. Thanks.”

Mr W brightens. “Yeah, no problem. Uh, where’s your camera?”

Oh.

Right.

Photography lesson.

“I left it in my room,” Sean says. “Sorry. I’ll head back and get it.”

-

Sean wakes up in his own bed.

School as Max went okay. Turns out she sits at the back of every classroom, so it was easy for Sean to keep his head down and not draw attention. The only problem is she’s older than him, so she’s further ahead. Plus she’s taking subjects Sean knows nothing about, like photography. So a lot of the time he didn’t really understand what was going on, just had to write everything down and hope she’d be able to make sense of it.

Mr Jefferson kept Sean-as-Max behind after class; apparently she’s late handing in a photo for some kind of competition. He put a hand on her shoulder and looked very sincerely into her eyes and explained that he didn’t want to see her talent go to waste. It was kind of uncomfortable; Sean’s never had a teacher treat him like that. But maybe it’s normal when you’re a girl?

At least he’s himself again now.

He opens his eyes.

Lyla’s sleeping in the corner of his room, on the beanbag chair. He kind of admires her ability to sleep anywhere.

He guesses he doesn’t have to check his phone to know if he’s lost another day, then. Lyla wasn’t here last night.

Which... means Max invited Lyla over? What?

Is Max messing with his relationship with Lyla? What is she trying to do?

He wakes Lyla up by throwing a pillow at her. It’s their tradition when they stay over at each other’s houses.

“Ugh,” Lyla mutters, throwing it back at him. She yawns and stretches. “Forgot I was here.”

“Yeah, me too,” Sean says, sitting up against the wall.

Lyla pauses. “Yeah, you had another weird day yesterday.”

“What are you doing here?”

“I said I’d be sticking with you all day if it happened again, right?” Lyla asks.

He should have figured it out. Lyla never makes promises she doesn’t mean.

“I was Max again,” he says.

“Yeah, you said. If it’s drugs, it’s not fair that you’re not sharing them with me.”

“You think maybe it could be real?” he asks. “I’m actually living this other person’s life, and maybe she’s living mine at the same time?”

They look at each other for a moment.

“Sean,” Lyla says.

“Yeah, I know,” Sean mutters. “I’ve probably got a brain tumour or something.”

He wants it to be real, and not just because hallucinations are bad news. The switching is such a weird, inconvenient thing, but it doesn’t seem right that Max might not exist.

-

There’s a note in his sketchbook. I feel like I should introduce myself, if this is just something that happens now? I’m Max. Hi? This is weird.

It’s so awkward that it makes him laugh out loud.

Sean, he writes next to it. Nice to meet you.

He adds a kind of above meet, after a moment’s thought, and underlines the spelling of his name.

-

He’s Max again, but he doesn’t recognise the room. Is this her parents’ place? In Seattle?

This bedroom doesn’t really look like Max’s style, though.

He’s still trying to figure it out when another girl comes through the door without knocking, towelling her blue hair dry. He’s seen her before, and it takes a moment for him to place where: she’s another person he’s seen paperclipped into Max’s diary. Chloe, right?

“Morning,” Chloe says. “Told you I could wake up early.”

“Hi,” Sean says. “Uh.” He’s been relying on Max’s diary to keep her schedule, but this is someone else’s room. “Do I have class?”

“What, do I look like your timetable?” Chloe asks.

Even if he does have class, he doesn’t know where Max’s school is. Shit. He might end up getting her in trouble again.

Wait, he can look it up online.

“It’s... Something Academy, right? Uh.” He glances around. “Where’s my diary? Did I bring it here?”

“Wow,” Chloe says. “You need some coffee?”

Well, it’s a nice excuse for how useless he’s being right now. “That’d be great. Thanks.”

“Wait,” Chloe says. “Wait, is this the thing you were telling me about? The boy thing?”

“The boy thing?” Sean asks.

“Sam,” she says.

Sean shrugs, totally blank.

“No, wait,” Chloe says. “Sean, right?”

“Wait, what?” Sean asks.

“You said you were this guy called Sean, right?” she asks. “Or maybe he was you? Are you Sean right now? Is that what’s going on?”

Sean stares at her. “I – I mean—” There’s no way she believes it, right? “Yeah. I’m Sean.”

“Oh, wow,” Chloe says. “You know Stepdouche tells me I can’t have boys in my room with the door closed? Shows how much he knows about me.”

“You believe me?” he asks.

“Hell, I don’t know,” she says. “But the time travel thing’s real, right? Why not the other crazy stuff?”

“The time travel’s real?” Sean demands. Yeah, he read about it in the diary, but it sounded way too nuts.

Chloe grins. “Good news: you could not have switched with a cooler person.”

-

More switches.

The doctors can’t find anything. He doesn’t think they will.

He’s booked in for an appointment with a psychiatrist. Max is the one who actually ends up going to the appointment, though, and Sean finds a note in his sketchbook when they switch back: That was SO AWKWARD, I’m really sorry if I screwed it up.

But they don’t send him for any kind of treatment, so he guesses she got through it okay.

Honestly, he doesn’t know if he wants treatment, even if he needs it. Even if this isn’t actually real.

He tells his dad it’s gone away. Lyla is the only one he still talks to about it. He doesn’t know if she really believes him, but he thinks she’s starting to enjoy the story.

He’s been resisting the urge to look Max up online. He hates the idea that he’ll find there’s nothing there. But he’s started trying to save money.

Oregon’s not that far, right?

-

“It’s weird,” Sean says. “I’ve been here so many times now. I feel like I know Max. But I’ve never actually met her.” He pauses. “Kind of wish I could.”

Chloe’s giving him a look.

“What?” he asks.

“You’re totally into her,” Chloe says.

There’s a twist in Sean’s gut. “What? No, I’m not.”

“You are.” Chloe laughs. “Holy shit, this is great. Have you been making out with mirrors?”

Sean can feel himself flushing. “Shut up.”

But it kind of sets him at ease, in this weird world where he’s living someone else’s life. Having someone dunk on him mercilessly: it’s like being with Lyla.

-

Lyla raps her knuckles on his head. “Is that Sean in there?”

“Yes,” Sean says. “And ow.”

Lyla grins. “Good. There’s no way you’re ditching me for the Halloween party to go be Max.”

“Shit, is that tonight?” He’s been losing so many days that it’s hard to keep track of time.

“It’s tonight,” Lyla says. “You’d better be there.”

Sean laughs. “Okay, I promise.”

-

He doesn’t make it to the party.

Chapter Text

Max wakes up in Sean’s body.

She’s lying on the ground. She can smell smoke.

What the—

She pushes herself to her feet, unsteady, her head throbbing.

It looks like a bomb went off. A police car is burning in the road.

What the fuck?

There are—

Holy shit—

There are bodies, there are people, unconscious or worse.

What the fuck? What the fuck? What the fuck happened here?

-

No!” Sean screams in Max’s voice. “No! No!”

He can’t afford to be here. He can’t afford to be here! He just saw his dad get shot, and – he doesn’t know what fucking happened after that. Is Sean’s body unconscious? Is he dead? (He can’t be, he can’t be.) They only switched when they were sleeping before.

Fuck, he has to get back to himself, he has to help Dad, he has to—

He flings himself onto Max’s bed. Tries to get to sleep. Maybe it’ll switch them back.

But how the fuck do you sleep after something like that?

-

The police officer is dead, as far as Max can tell. There’s a kid who’s covered in blood, but he seems to be alive, he’s unconscious.

Sean’s father is dead.

Fuck.

She tries to rewind time. But she can’t, not when she’s in Sean. Another friend, another father, another tragedy she’s helpless to do anything about.

Sean’s kid brother is still breathing, at least.

She pulls out Sean’s phone. She still doesn’t know the passcode. But it lets you make emergency calls without unlocking it.

She calls 911. She asks for an ambulance, maybe more than one. They ask where she is. She doesn’t know the name of the street, but she knows the general area of Seattle, so she’s able to give them rough directions and the door number; they say they’re aware of some kind of incident around there and there are already vehicles on the way.

They ask what happened. She doesn’t know. She says it might have been an explosion.

She can hear sirens.

-

There’s a knock on Max’s door. Sean yanks it open.

“Got your message,” Chloe says, ducking inside, holding up her phone. “What’s up? Is Max okay?”

He hadn’t been able to get into Max’s phone to make any calls, so he’d sent Chloe an email from Max’s laptop, after scrolling frantically to find her address. It’s Sean, I need help URGENTLY, please come to Max’s dorm room ASAP, bring your phone. Probably with more typos than that. He was typing in a hurry.

“My dad was shot,” he says.

Everything about Chloe, her expression, the way she’s holding herself, it all changes. She breathes out, short, sharp. “Fuck. Dead?”

He wasn’t ready to hear it asked so bluntly. “I—”

This can’t be happening. It isn’t happening.

“I don’t know,” he says. “I switched right after.”

“Okay,” Chloe says. No don’t worry, no I’m sure it’s fine. She probably doesn’t want to lie to him.

Shit.

“Who shot him?” Chloe asks.

“A police officer.” He feels sick. “Dad wasn’t doing anything. It was just – it was a misunderstanding, he was trying to help us. I don’t know what happened, I passed out—”

“And now Max is you,” Chloe says. “With this crazy police officer. What happens if you get shot?”

It startles him into silence.

It kind of hurts that Sean has so many things to freak out about right now – Dad, Daniel, Max, his own body – and Chloe’s just focusing on Max. He’s been thinking of Chloe as a kind of substitute Lyla, but he has to remember that she’s not. Lyla is his best friend; he’s pretty much a stranger to Chloe. She’ll be friendly with him when Max isn’t in danger, but Max is the one who matters to her.

He wishes Lyla could be here.

“I thought we could call her,” he says. “Find out – find out if things are okay.”

“We can do that?” She’s unlocking her phone straight away. “Number?”

He gives her his cell number. He hasn’t given Max the passcode, but she should still be able to take incoming calls. Hopefully she’ll recognise Chloe’s number.

He hasn’t done this before. He’s thought about it, or about asking for Max’s number, calling her when he’s in himself. But something about the idea of actually talking to her, with voices, when up to now they’ve just been switching bodies without actually crossing paths—

It’s intimidating. He knows her so intimately, he’s lived her life, he’s been in her body. And she’s been in his. He knows she’s at least showered as him; he’s come back too clean for her to have kept his clothes on.

He wouldn’t really know what to say. It seems like it’s easier to stick to leaving notes.

Right now, he doesn’t have a choice. They need to talk. Is Dad okay? Is Daniel okay? What happened?

“You sure that’s the right number?” Chloe asks, tense.

“She’s not answering?” Shit. What does that mean?

“It’s not going through. Number doesn’t exist.”

What?

Sean grabs the phone from her, checks. It’s definitely his number. He deletes it and re-enters it and tries calling.

Nothing. Unrecognised number.

He tries the house phone.

It’s answered in his dad’s voice.

He hangs up and bolts to the bathroom and throws up, because he suddenly knows, with complete certainty, that his father is dead. He was shot. If he’s alive, he’s in the hospital; he’s not at the house, taking phone calls. There’s no way that was real. He’s imagining things, and his father is dead.

-

“What happened?” Chloe asks, when he stumbles back into Max’s room.

He’s shaking, badly. “I don’t know.”

“But you couldn’t get through to her?”

He shakes his head.

“Okay,” Chloe says. She pauses for a moment. “You switch when you sleep, right?”

Sean nods. He can’t really speak much right now.

“You’re sleeping,” Chloe says. “I’ve got pills if you need ’em. But you’re going to sleep right now and we’re getting Max back here, and if it doesn’t work we’re booking the next fucking flight to Seattle.”

-

Sean wakes in an unfamiliar room, screaming for his father, for Daniel, for Max.

His father is dead, he’s told. It’s a horrible crashing down of all the suspense, every second since the switch. He knew, he thinks. But he didn’t know, not until just now.

His father is dead.

He begs to see Daniel. But they’re holding Sean in police custody, and Daniel has already been released.

There’s writing across the back of his hand. I’m so so sorry.

He keeps looking back to read it, over and over again, as if he could somehow get more out of it than those four words.

-

The police release Sean after a couple of days.

Some kind of explosion knocked everyone out and killed the police officer, as far as anyone seems able to tell, and they don’t seem to think a couple of kids would be capable of it. Especially as, by all accounts, it happened right after the shot was fired. No sign of explosives at the scene, and, in any case, nobody rigs up their yard with explosives just in case someone comes by and shoots their dad.

(Fuck.)

A gas leak, maybe, and the gun firing ignited it. Nobody seems to know. But they’ve decided not to charge him.

Maybe it’s for the best that Max took over. He can’t be sure he wouldn’t have done something stupid.

He wants – some kind of justice, he wants a trial, he wants people to know that that officer killed his dad. But the officer is dead. Maybe it’s easiest to leave it there, rather than forcing himself to go over and over what happened.

They ask if his dad had a will, like he fucking knows, like that’s something he should have to think about at fucking sixteen.

He asks where Daniel is. He’s in the custody of Karen’s parents, apparently. They’re going to send Sean down there as well.

He asks if he can see Lyla first. They say they can’t take detours. He’ll have to call her when he gets the chance.

His life is gone. It keeps hitting him, over and over. His life is gone.

-

Sean’s gazing absently out of the car window, thinking about Dad, when something suddenly clenches in his chest. Something’s – familiar, something—

The officer driving him glances out as well. She sighs. “I still keep expecting it to be there.”

“Expecting what?” Sean asks. He has to know. He doesn’t know why, but he has to know.

“Arcadia Bay?”

What?

She flicks her eyes over to him, back to the road. “Maybe you were too young to follow the news. Tornado wiped it out three years ago.”

What?

-

Sean says he needs to pee, asks if they can pull into the next service station. The officer’s fine with it, doesn’t follow him. Not like he’s under arrest any more; she’s just transporting him to his new home.

So it’s not hard to escape.

He heads back the direction they came, following the coastline. His shoes aren’t made for beach walking, and the sand shifts uncomfortably under his feet, but he might be spotted if he sticks to the roads.

He’ll go to his grandparents’ house later. He needs to get to Daniel.

But he can’t be taken there right now.

Right now, he needs to warn Max.

-

He sits in the ruins of Arcadia Bay, and he calls Lyla, and he just cries down the phone.

She’s horrified to hear about Dad. It hurts to talk about it, and it doesn’t change what happened. But it means something to know that someone else cares, he guesses.

She begs to see him. He has to tell her he’s already out of the state.

He stays on the line with her until his phone runs out of battery. There’s nowhere to charge it here.

-

Max wakes in Sean’s body in a pile of musty blankets.

She thought maybe she’d find him in prison, next time they swapped. She hadn’t realised she’d get him in trouble by calling for an ambulance; she’d felt really bad about it. He’d just seen a police officer shoot his dad, according to Chloe. He hadn’t needed to be arrested on top of that.

(But what killed the police officer? Chloe hadn’t known anything about that.)

This isn’t prison, but it’s not good. It looks like he’s squatting in an abandoned house somewhere. Dust everywhere, smell of mould, sunlight filtering through holes in the roof and walls. Did he end up homeless? Did the explosion damage his house too badly for him to keep living there? But it’s not like this place is any better.

She guesses maybe he and Daniel couldn’t have stayed there, anyway. They’re minors, and it seems like it was just them and their dad.

So what is this place? Where’s Daniel?

Sean’s sketchbook is lying open nearby. She grabs it and checks it for any messages.

There are some messy notes about his dad when she flicks back, about the fact he hasn’t had a chance to talk to Daniel since it happened. She can’t bring herself to read them properly. She focuses on the most recent page instead.

Hey, Max, he’s written. Don’t know about you, but I kind of assumed we were in the same time. APPARENTLY NOT. Or maybe it’s some kind of alternate universe thing? It’s 2016 for me – you figure it out.

2016? Three years in the future?

It seems ridiculous that her first thought is that it’s not possible. It’s not like it’s any weirder than her time travel thing, or than swapping bodies in the first place.

She tries to check on his phone, but it seems like it’s out of battery.

She’s been kind of thinking of trying to pay Sean a visit, next time she goes to see her parents in Seattle. It’s crossed her mind that he might not be real. It hadn’t occurred to her that he might be thirteen, that he might not even know her yet.

She looks back at his sketchbook.

I hope you switch in while I’m here. I don’t know how long I can stay. But I thought you needed to see this.

Apparently it happened on October 11, 2013 – tornado. Internet says 348 victims. If it’s after that day for you, I guess it’s another universe and you’re okay. If it’s before, GET EVERYONE OUT OF TOWN before it hits.

Max has a terrible feeling about this. She needs to get outside.

-

Max stands, in Sean’s body, in the wreckage of Arcadia Bay. She can’t stop shaking.

Her vision was real.

And she’s been doing so much switching bodies and jumping through time that she can’t say exactly what day it was when she went to sleep, but she knows October 11 is way too close.

-

Sean wakes up in Chloe’s room and scrambles out of her bed.

Arcadia Bay is still here. How long?

“What, did a snake bite you?” Chloe asks from the bed.

“I’m Sean,” he says.

“Oh, hey,” Chloe says, turning serious. “I’m really sorry. I know you were having a fuck-ass hard time last time you were here and I was kind of a dick—”

“What day it is?” he asks. “I mean, what date?”

“Uh, October ninth, I think.”

“2013?”

Chloe just looks at him for a few seconds. “Yeah. 2013.”

“Shit,” Sean says.

-

“Wow,” Chloe says, when Sean’s finished stumbling through his panicky explanation. “Somehow this keeps getting wilder.”

“What do we do?” Sean asks. “Can we get something out on the tornado warning system?”

Chloe raises her eyebrows. “Yeah, great idea. How?”

Okay, yeah, the government probably doesn’t take it that seriously when a couple of teenagers try to report a tornado two days in advance.

“Okay,” Sean says. “What gets everyone out of Arcadia Bay?”

“No one gets out of Arcadia Bay,” Chloe says. “It’s a shithole that eats people alive.”

“Like, free Super Bowl tickets in the next town over? Forest fire?”

Chloe winces. “Yeah, let’s maybe not cause any forest fires.”

Honestly, from what he knows about Chloe, that’s surprisingly restrained.

“Fake terrorist attack?” Chloe suggests.

So much for restraint. “How do you fake a terrorist attack?”

“Did Max tell you how we made a pipe bomb to break into the principal’s office?”

Sean stares at her. “Oh, okay, you do an actual terrorist attack.”

“Like, a small explosion,” Chloe says. “Barely anything. I’ve got a burner phone. We make an anonymous call to the cops to tip them off that something big’s going down, we set off a couple of tiny bombs to let them know we’re serious—”

“You’ve thought about this before,” Sean says.

“Can you blame me?” Chloe asks. “Who wouldn’t want to blow this place off the map?”

“Okay,” Sean says. “A tornado is literally going to do that. Please tell me we have another plan.”

-

“Max?” Someone’s poking her awake. “You there?”

“Chloe?” Fuck. She tries to get her bearings; apparently Sean fell asleep at Chloe’s desk. “Chloe, there’s a tornado, we have to—”

“Yeah, Sean already told me,” Chloe says. “By the way, you skipped school yesterday. We were planning things out.”

Max can’t even think about school right now. Arcadia Bay was gone.

“He says sorry he couldn’t fix it himself,” Chloe says. “Seems like we’ll need your time rewind for this one. I think it’s gonna take a few tries.”

“What? What are we doing?”

“We’re gonna break into the weather station and send out a tornado warning.” Chloe throws an arm around Max’s shoulders. “It’s time to fly, Super Max.”

-

Sean wakes in the passenger seat of Chloe’s truck, as Max. Chloe is driving. He doesn’t recognise the scenery.

He nearly cries with relief. They’re both alive. He’s been feeling more sick with nerves every morning he’s woken up as himself.

“Did you get everyone out?” he asks.

Chloe half-glances his way. She doesn’t bother asking if he’s Sean. “Most of them.” She pauses. “Twenty-nine people died.”

Shit. He tries to think of the people he’s spent time around in Arcadia Bay, as Max. The people who are important to her. “Your mom? Warren? Kate? Mr Jefferson?”

“They’re fine. They evacuated the whole school. And I made sure Mom got the message.” She pauses. “It wasn’t anyone we knew. Just... twenty-nine people.”

The specific number has a weight to it. It’s not thirty people. It’s twenty-nine, and she’s feeling every one of them.

“I mean, Nathan’s missing too, but he’s an asshole,” Chloe says. She lets out a hard sigh. “Can’t keep looking for Rachel in a flattened town. Fuck, I hope she got out.”

Nathan’s missing? Yeah, he definitely seemed like an asshole, from the times Sean’s seen him through Max’s eyes. And he shot Chloe, if Max’s story is for real. But he’s still a person Sean’s crossed paths with, and he’s missing in the storm, maybe dead. Sean knew the tornado was coming, and he still couldn’t help save everyone.

“We made a difference,” he says. He’s telling himself as much as her. “Max told you it was more than three hundred originally, right?”

“I guess,” Chloe says.

Sean’s pretty sure she’s feeling the same way he is. Hard to focus on the three hundred people they saved instead of the twenty-nine they couldn’t.

But a lot of people are still alive. That’s something. Maybe they’ll start feeling it eventually.

And Max and Chloe are still alive, and that’s a lot.

-

Nathan is found and rescued. Apparently he was waiting out the storm in some kind of bunker. Debris was weighing down the trapdoor, meant he couldn’t get out. He’d managed to lever it up just enough to get signal and send out an SOS.

The newspapers report the miraculous survival of Nathan Prescott. Max is glad to see it, even if he wasn’t exactly her favourite person.

The next day, the headlines say Police have ‘unanswered questions’ about Prescott bunker.

Things unravel pretty quickly from there.

Chapter Text

Sean’s been sharing a bed with Daniel; Claire and Stephen haven’t been able to rearrange their house to take ‘suddenly you’ve got two kids to look after’ into account yet. It seems like one of them should be able to sleep in Karen’s old room, which is kept locked. But Sean hasn’t suggested it. He definitely doesn’t want to sleep in there, and he doesn’t like the idea of Daniel being surrounded by Karen’s stuff either.

Honestly, right now, he’s glad to have someone nearby at night. He’s been having non-stop nightmares since the shooting.

So it’s not that weird to be waking up with someone in his arms. It only gets weird when he realises that that someone is definitely not Daniel.

“Shit!” He rolls away from her. “Chloe? Fuck, I’m sorry—”

“Hey, Sean,” Chloe says. She sounds tired.

It’s not Chloe’s room, or Max’s, he thinks, before he remembers that of course it isn’t; Arcadia Bay was flattened. This looks like a motel.

He’s not sure what the relationship between Max and Chloe is, exactly. He’s woken up sharing a bed with Chloe before, but never so up-close. There are some lines in Max’s diary that have been heavily crossed out, maybe because she doesn’t want him reading them.

He guesses it’s not his business, but it’s still hard not to try to work things out.

They’re both wearing clothes. He’s not sure that gives him any answers; it’d tell him something if they weren’t (he probably shouldn’t be picturing that), but wearing clothes doesn’t really rule anything out.

Wait, they’re both fully dressed, like they just collapsed straight onto the bed and went to sleep holding each other.

“They found Rachel,” Chloe says, flat.

It doesn’t sound like good news. “Shit. I’m sorry.”

Chloe gives a humourless laugh. “At least she didn’t abandon me on purpose, I guess.”

They’re both quiet for a moment, lying side by side.

“Sorry about your dad,” she says. “I don’t think I ever said.”

-

Max has been thinking about Esteban.

Sean lives in the future. Right now, in her time, Esteban should still be alive. There are still three years to go before the day he’s shot.

Does that mean Max could prevent his death?

The thought thrills her at first, but there are questions that make her nervous. What if the tornado happened because Max turned back time for Chloe? What if saving Sean’s dad destroys Seattle?

And what happens to Sean? The one she switches with, the one she knows? If she saves Esteban, Sean will be able to keep living with his father. But where does the Sean who lost his father at sixteen go? Is he dead?

She’ll try to save Esteban if Sean asks her to, she decides. She owes him that.

She hopes he doesn’t ask.

-

Hey, Sean’s sketchbook says, I’ve been thinking. You’re in the past, right? Do you think you could be in Seattle for Oct 28 2016?

Crap.

She hopes Sean swaps into her on the day, so she doesn’t have to be the one who’s responsible for this.

At least it’s not for three years.

-

Three years pass too quickly. She and Chloe travel the country, working jobs in the places they pass through. Or sometimes it’s Chloe and Sean, she guesses.

Thanks, she finds in her diary one day, after a switch. It’s good to see different places. I feel like I’m going crazy in Beaver Creek.

She can’t stay still either. All the destroyed homes she left behind, the people who didn’t manage to escape the tornado, the constant question of whether she’s responsible for all of it. The ghost of Rachel chasing them down.

Honestly, the days she gets to be Sean, away from it all, are kind of a relief. Lyla visits him sometimes, too, and she’s fun to be around, even if Max always feels bad for taking up the time Sean should be spending with her. She’s glad her need to escape is helping Sean as well.

But 2016 has arrived, and it’s ticking past in a blur. When she switches into Sean in 2019, Daniel is twelve. It’s crazy.

She wonders if Daniel still thinks Sean is acting weird some days. It’s been this long; maybe the Max days are just a part of Sean’s personality in his head.

As the day approaches, she leaves a note for Sean. It’s coming up. Are you sure?

All he’s written, when she returns to herself, is He’s my dad.

-

She doesn’t know exactly how it happens, but she knows the day, and she knows it was after Sean got home from school. She and Chloe camp out in Chloe’s truck across the road, keeping watch on Sean’s front yard.

Maybe this is a mistake. But it’s for Sean. He warned her about Arcadia Bay; she doesn’t know if she and Chloe would be alive without him. She has to try, at least.

She snaps a photograph, just in case she has to come back here.

-

In her head, Max has been running through the people who were around the wrecked yard when she regained consciousness as Sean, the day Esteban was killed. Sean, obviously. Esteban. Daniel. Someone she didn’t know, covered in blood. The police officer.

She has to stay alert. If all those people end up gathered together, it might already be too late.

So she sits up a little straighter when Daniel comes out of the house.

“Is that his brother?” Chloe asks.

The light level feels familiar too. Waking up after the shooting felt like a very intense dream, like it couldn’t possibly be real, but it hasn’t faded; it’s still the most vivid memory she has of being Sean, even after three years of switching.

Daniel’s lunging around, playing zombie all by himself. It’s kind of breaking Max’s heart.

And then Daniel stumbles into an older boy, a teen, getting blood – it was fake blood? – on his shirt.

“This is it,” Max says.

She has to make two grabs for the door handle. Her hands are shaking.

The guy’s grabbed Daniel, he’s shoving him around – what an asshole, the kid’s nine – and Chloe’s by Max’s side as she runs across the road, barely checking for cars, and—

Sean bursts out of the house’s front door as they pass it. He takes two steps in Daniel’s direction and then stops like he’s run into a brick wall.

“Chloe?” Sean asks, incredulous, and then, “Max?

Oh, wow, is that what his voice sounds like from the outside?

Chloe’s obviously thinking along similar lines. “Hey! Always wondered what you looked like.”

Max doesn’t have a plan, she doesn’t know exactly how this goes down. Sean’s never been specific about the details.

But she knows it happens in the yard.

“We need to get inside,” she says. “All of us. Right now.”

Sean’s still just staring at her. Max guesses your mind probably needs a moment to catch up when the person you’ve been long-distance bodyswapping with just shows up out of nowhere.

“I’ll deal with Sean,” she says. “Chloe, can you get Daniel?”

“No problem.” Chloe turns in the direction of the struggle and yells, “Hey, asshole! Let go of the fucking kid!”

Maybe not the approach Max would have taken, but she guesses they just have to hope it works.

“He got his fake blood shit all over my shirt!” the guy yells back.

“He’s doing you a favour!” Chloe calls. “The shirt makes you look like a douchebag!”

Well, it makes him drop the kid, at least.

Shirt Guy storms toward Chloe. “Who the fuck are you?”

“We need to get inside,” Max reminds Chloe, quietly but urgently. Sean’s dad was shot by a police officer. If they want to avoid the police showing up, getting into a fight in public might not be the best strategy.

Chloe ignores her, takes a step toward Shirt Guy. “Hey, I’m just here to stop my friend’s life getting screwed up. You get in the way, I will literally murder you.”

Okay. It’s not an ideal distraction, but it’s a distraction, and Max can use it.

“Daniel,” she calls, “come inside.”

Daniel looks hesitant, he looks confused, and it suddenly hits Max: as far as he knows, she’s a stranger. It’s the weirdest realisation. She’s been playing his brother for three years.

“Daniel,” Sean says, and Daniel listens to that. He hurries past Shirt Guy and into the house.

“You’re lucky you’re a girl,” Shirt Guy snarls at Chloe.

“Oh, you won’t hit girls but you’ll shove little kids around?” Chloe asks. “Great principles there. I can’t believe I almost thought you were a dick.”

Sean steps up to Chloe’s side, and so does Max, trying really hard to look like she knows how to fight. If they can intimidate this guy away—

There’s a police car coming. The realisation is like a brick to the chest.

They’ve taken too long.

Max tries to rewind, they can do this differently, but she’s been trying to cut down on using her powers and she’s rusty and she can’t make it work, she can’t, she—

Something happens that’s only happened for her a couple of times before.

Time grinds to a halt completely.

Chloe and Shirt Guy are frozen mid-argument. The cop car has stopped moving. Birds are hanging in the sky overhead.

“What?” Sean asks. “What? What?”

It startles Max so badly she almost loses her grip, almost lets time start moving again. She manages to hold it.

What?” Sean asks. “This is – this is way too much to take in. What’s happening?”

“You can move?” Max asks.

Sean stares at her. “Is this the time thing?”

“It normally doesn’t work like this. You can move?”

“Okay,” Sean says, “being able to move is normal.” He gestures at the frozen people. “This is what’s fucked up.”

Maybe it’s because of their weird connection thing?

Max looks at him for a moment. It’s such a stressful situation, but somehow she finds herself smiling. “It’s so weird to see you.”

“Yeah,” Sean says. “I mean... turns out you’re an actual person.” He pauses. “What are you even doing here?”

She really wishes she could say she’s just here to see him. “Okay. Turns out we don’t live in the same time. I mean, the me you’re swapping with, she’s from like three years ago.”

“What, seriously?” Sean asks. “Like this wasn’t weird enough.” He glances in Chloe’s direction. “I did think Chloe looked kind of different from yesterday.”

“Something really bad happens on this day,” Max says. “We’re trying to fix it.” She doesn’t want to go into the details before she’s sure they’ve managed it.

“Oh, yeah, Chloe said she wanted to stop your life getting screwed up, right?”

It takes Max a moment to realise what he means. “She didn’t say Max; she said my friend. She meant you.”

Sean looks startled, and then touched, and then worried.

“I’ll explain when we’re all inside,” Max says. They should be able to manipulate things; she was able to open the dorm doors when she stopped time before, after all. “Can you help me carry Chloe in?”

-

They get Chloe inside, Max carrying her shoulders, Sean carrying her legs and laughing in a slightly panicky way about how weird this is.

The moment they’ve got the front door closed, Max goes to the window so she can see what happens.

“Stay down,” she says. “Don’t let Daniel or your dad outside.”

Sean looks for a moment like he’s about to protest, or to ask for an explanation, but he must see how serious she is. “Got it.”

Max takes a deep breath, and closes her eyes for a moment, and then she opens them and restarts time.

“Uh, whoa,” Chloe says, behind her.

Max stays focused on what’s going on outside.

Shirt Guy looks confused as hell. Makes sense; he was talking to three people who just disappeared in front of him.

After a moment, he runs to the door and starts battering on it.

“What’s going on?” Esteban asks, coming into the room, and the sound of his voice makes Max tense up.

“It’s just Brett,” Sean says. “He’s being an asshole. Don’t answer it.”

Esteban sighs. “He’ll give up soon enough.” There’s a moment’s silence. “Uh, who are your friends?”

Max is willing the police car to drive past. But it stops, and the cop gets out.

It’s definitely the one from that day. The last time Max saw him, he was dead.

She concentrates on breathing steadily. Tries to prepare herself to rewind if she has to.

The cop calls out to Shirt Guy, or Brett, she guesses. Brett moves away from the door.

She can’t hear exactly what’s being said, but the cop seems to be asking questions, gesturing to the fake blood on Brett’s shirt. Brett points at the house as he answers.

Max holds her breath.

The cop makes a ‘move along’ gesture. Now that he knows it’s not real blood, she guesses all he sees is some kid harassing his neighbours.

It’s weird that he’s helping the Diaz family in this situation, and in another timeline...

Brett stalks off.

Max keeps watching until the cop’s gotten back in his car and driven out of sight. She lets herself breathe at last.

Esteban is still alive. And she didn’t actually have to rewind time to do it. Maybe that means it won’t set off any screwed-up fate stuff? Maybe it’ll be okay?

She turns around.

Esteban and Daniel are watching her, looking confused. Chloe and Sean are tense.

“Did it work?” Sean asks.

Max nods. “I think so.”

There’s a moment’s silence. Everyone is waiting for an explanation.

Max doesn’t know what to say, but she knows what to do.

She takes a few steps toward Sean, and suddenly they’re hugging each other like friends who’ve been reunited after years apart, and it’s surreal to think that they’ve never actually been in the same place before. Notes and photographs and walking through each other’s lives, getting to know each other without ever actually meeting. And now they’re both here.

-

“They’re just really good friends of mine,” Sean says. “Could they stay the night?”

“Max and Chloe?” Esteban asks. “I don’t remember you mentioning them.”

He’s alive. Max has to make an effort not to stare.

Sean kicks awkwardly at the floor. “I guess they just haven’t come up. Sorry.”

Esteban folds his arms and looks Max and Chloe over. Max is suddenly very conscious that this is the Sean she first met, the sixteen-year-old Sean. She was older than him even when the switching started, and three years have passed for her since then.

“How do you know these young ladies?” Esteban asks. “Forgive me for saying so, but I don’t think they’re classmates of yours.”

“We met at the skate park,” Chloe says.

It’s a smart lie. There aren’t that many places a sixteen-year-old and a twenty-one-year-old could get to know each other, but Sean’s a skateboarder. He must have mentioned it to Chloe during one of their switches.

Esteban is still looking warily at Max. It stings, a little. He was always so kind and open when she was Sean.

“Look, don’t worry about it,” Max says. “My parents aren’t far from here. We can stay with them.”

“I swear it’s nothing weird,” Sean says. “Please just let them stay here. They’ve been out of town, we really need to catch up.”

She can kind of understand what’s going on in Sean’s head, because it’s going on in hers as well. She doesn’t want to leave. They’re finally in the same place, and it seems too incredible to last. She feels like, if she walks away, he won’t be there when she turns back.

“Your parents?” Esteban asks. “Do I know them?”

“Uh, I don’t think so,” Max says. “Ryan and Vanessa Caulfield?”

“Ryan Caulfield?” Esteban asks. “Does he have a huge beard?”

What? “Uh, most of the time.” She digs a photo of her mom and dad out of her wallet. “You know him?”

“I’ve fixed up his car a couple times,” Esteban says. “You’re Ryan’s daughter?”

Sean’s dad knows her dad? She guesses it makes sense – Esteban owns a garage in Seattle – but this is blowing her mind.

“I guess there’s the air bed,” Esteban says, scratching his chin. “And we could make up the couch.”

-

She doesn’t know how to explain it to Sean. So she digs three years’ worth of diaries out of Chloe’s truck and hands them to him.

He presses a hand over his mouth as he reads through them. Three years of a life he never lived, told in his own handwriting. It must be a lot to take in.

There’s a lot missing. The other half of their conversation was in Sean’s sketchbooks. But she thinks he can get the gist.

-

Sean’s left Chloe and Max alone in his living room. It’s kind of awkward at first, this house that’s simultaneously familiar and not at all where Max belongs. But then Daniel crashes in and demands to know whether they’re good at Unkarted: Drake’s Racing, and they get drawn into a heated competition on the PlayBox.

Eventually Daniel gets bored and wanders away, but it’s helped Max to feel more at home, at least.

And then she hears a familiar voice outside. Is that—

“Is that Lyla?” she asks.

“What, the one Sean never shuts up about?” Chloe asks. “How would I know?”

Max listens, hard.

“Can I look yet?” someone is asking.

It’s definitely Lyla.

“Soon, okay?” Sean says.

He leads Lyla into the living room, hands over her eyes.

“I know this is your house, genius,” Lyla says.

Sean takes his hands away. Lyla opens her eyes.

And stares.

“Surprise,” Sean says.

“Uh, hi,” Max says. “I’m Max.”

“No fucking way,” Lyla says.

“Yeah,” Sean says. “Turns out she’s real.”

“You’re fucking with me,” Lyla says. “You met this girl, you drew her, you told me oh, that’s what Max looks like, you bring her here, it’s all just a way too high-effort prank.”

“Okay,” Sean says, “we need to get past the part where you don’t believe this, because it gets so much crazier.”

“Are you going to tell me this is Chloe?” Lyla demands, pointing at Chloe.

Chloe laughs. “Hey, I’m famous.”

“Uh, thanks for looking out for me,” Max says, getting to her feet. “All the times I was Sean. It was... really hard, early on.” She scratches her neck. “You made it a lot easier.”

“Holy fuck,” Lyla says. “Holy fuck, you talk like he does on the Max days. I mean, not the voice, but... the whole quiet intense thing, all the weird pauses.”

Max doesn’t talk with weird pauses. Does she? This is making her selfconscious.

Lyla shakes her head. “And Sean can’t act, so I know it’s not just him copying you.”

“Hey,” Sean protests.

Lyla takes a few deep breaths. She looks over at Sean.

“You’re really saying this is real?” she asks. “No bullshit. This is real?”

“No bullshit,” Sean says.

“Okay,” Lyla says. “I guess it’s real.”

She hugs Max, suddenly. Max is surprised into laughter.

“Nice to meet you, Sean’s imaginary friend,” Lyla says. “I can’t believe I’ve been hanging out with you all this time and I didn’t think you existed.”

-

Max has been wondering how the switching is going to work from now on. Is she going to switch into the sixteen-year-old Sean, and wake up to find Sean as her in the same room? Is she going to switch into Sean three years later, living a different life? Is she going to switch at all?

But it’s just like the last time she switched. She’s the nineteen-year-old Sean, and she’s in Beaver Creek.

This doesn’t make sense. She saved Esteban, right? So why would Sean and Daniel still be living with their grandparents?

She tries to look the shooting up online.

It’s there. It happened. Esteban Diaz, killed by a police officer in October 2016. The words feel like a blow.

She stopped it. She knows she did. So...

So... parallel universes? The Sean she knows is still living his life, but she saved the father of a different Sean?

She feels pretty bad about that. She guesses she couldn’t help her Sean, in the end.

But a part of her is privately glad that the Sean that she knows still exists.

-

Sean wakes in his own bed, but something doesn’t feel right. He—

He sits bolt upright.

This is his bed in Seattle. The one he hasn’t slept in in three years.

And he’s Max.

And there’s some guy sleeping on the floor, on the air bed they used to break out for guests.

It takes him a moment to comprehend that the guy is himself.

It sometimes feels like his life’s been one long mindfuck ever since he started switching with Max, but this is taking it to another level. This is absolutely not possible. Max was not in his bedroom three years ago. There’s no way he wouldn’t have remembered.

He wasn’t in his bedroom three years ago. It’s not exactly a three-year difference – it’s a little over – but he’s pretty sure that, by now, Max should be past the day of the shooting. Sean had marked the date for himself in his phone calendar, spent the whole day simultaneously excited and terrified, not knowing if he was going to see his dad again, not knowing if he was going to suddenly blip out of existence or lose all his memories of the last three years.

Nothing had happened. He’d resigned himself to struggling to drag himself out of bed for the next few days.

And now he’s here, as Max, on a day in Sean’s life that never existed. This isn’t real.

There’s a knock on the door.

Sean feels like he’s going to pass out. That knock is so familiar. He’s spent three years missing it. “Hello?”

The door creaks open.

“Just wondering if our guest wanted coffee,” Dad says.

And Sean’s crying, so suddenly and so intensely it’s like a switch has been flipped.

“Oh, hey,” Dad says, worried now. He comes into the room. “What’s wrong?”

The Sean on the floor, the other Sean, is awake by now, sitting up. He looks younger than he remembers himself. Hard to believe it’s only been three years. He guesses that day aged him more than he realised.

“Max?” the other Sean asks.

“Your friend’s just out on the couch,” Dad says. “Do you want me to call her in here?”

Sean shakes his head, and scrambles out of the bed, and pretty much throws himself into Dad’s arms.

Dad tenses up. Fuck. Of course he won’t hug Sean the way Sean remembers it; Sean is Max.

But it’s something, God, it’s something, and it’s so much fucking more than Sean ever thought he’d be getting again.

-

I couldn’t fix it, Max has written in his sketchbook. I tried. I really did. I saved an Esteban Diaz; I think it was just in a different universe, because your life is still the same. I’m so, so sorry.

It’s okay, he writes underneath it. You don’t know how much you’ve given me. Thank you so much.

It hurts that it couldn’t be undone. But another Sean and Daniel will get to keep their father, another Esteban will live out the rest of his life. And Sean was able to touch that life a little, at least, even if it was fleeting. He might have more chances, if Max stays around Seattle for a while.

He kind of feels like his own life was frozen on that day, like he’s been trapped in that moment ever since. Now that he knows for certain this is the life he gets, though, maybe it’s time to do something with it. He’s nineteen; he doesn’t have to stay here in Beaver Creek, climbing the walls.

He sets his sketchbook aside and closes his eyes for a moment.

He could start looking at colleges.