its over ? …
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I yelled, and because apparently not every instinct I had was now
Francesca's, I put both hands over my crotch, realising too late this
left my top half fully exposed, which is when Rob, the real Rob, which
is to say the version of him that looked like a short, curvy South Asian
chick, ran to the bottom of the stairs to see what was going on.

"Mate!" he said sounding delighted.

I swore at the pair of them and bolted into my room, slamming the door
shut behind me. Francesca was sitting bolt upright, a panicked look on
her face.

"Bloody Rob and Banshari!" I managed. "Both here." Then I realised her
eyes were fixed firmly on my chest.

"You can't be serious," I complained. "I've been out of the room for
like, ten minutes."

Francesca peeked below the duvet. "Not my responsibility," she said. "I
don't suppose we've got time for one more before we go downstairs?"

"No," I said firmly, retrieving Francesca's clothing from various
corners of the room before Rob came in and start high fiving us.
Francesca grumbled but started pulling on some jeans.

"Well," said Rob smugly as Francesca and I entered the living room.
"Well, well, well."

"Just don't," I warned him, although it was Banshari who I couldn't
help looking at it. She just looked like... Rob. Obviously, that was Rob's
physical body, but she was sitting like him too, manspreading on the
sofa in his sweats and rugby shirt, scratching her jaw where she'd left
a little designer stubble.

Rob was holding a backpack in front of him, hugging it to him almost. I
didn't recognise the clothes he was wearing: a clinging neon green
summer dress with matching trainers and a chunky wooden bead necklace.
Wait, had he been shopping?

"Fine," he said innocently.

"Hey, Francesca," said Banshari, almost shyly. Francesca, who'd put
herself in the armchair in the corner, arms defensively around her
knees, lifted her jaw in acknowledgement but said nothing.

"Okay, whatever," I said, because it didn't look like anyone else was
going to break the awkward silence. "I came over to see if Francesca was
okay and... one thing led to another. Yes, it was inappropriate but
we're in a weird situation and actually.... I think it was a good thing.
I think it helped."

Rob, to my surprise, nodded seriously. Banshari and Francesca shared a
look, until Francesca turned away. I couldn't tell if it was a good
look, but the tension in the air seemed to lessen slightly.

"So," I said to Rob, glancing over at Banshari. "Have you two, uh..."

"No!" He actually sounded shocked. Banshari, for her part, merely
smirked. "We've been too busy. We're more like mates."

"Best mates," said Banshari, shooting him a look of fondness that I'd
never seen real Rob, actual Rob, give to anything other than maybe an
extremely rare football card. Suddenly I realised that under the
backpack, they were holding hands. Now I was confused.

"Okayyyy," I said. "Wait, what do you mean, you've been too busy?"

"We've been checking out the university archives," said Banshari. Now I
knew that wasn't Rob, I couldn't imagine a less likely sentence coming
out of that mouth. Although according to Francesca's face, whose jaw was
gaping, that wasn't the sort of thing Banshari said as a rule either.

Rob nodded and zipped open the backpack, pulling out some papers and
spreading them across the bodged-together bit of old door we used as a
coffee table. He looked up at me almost shyly.

I picked up the nearest paper. It looked photocopied, taken from some
ancient parchment or something, the letters scribbly and crabbed with
the occasional diagram and pointed star.

"I was looking for anything to do with the ritual," said Banshari. "And
then I thought, why not look in the university archives? I did some
filing there as a temp in my first years, there's all sorts of mad stuff
down there. And then we found it."

"Found what?" I asked uneasily. I was still looking at the papers. The
language wasn't something I'd ever seen before. It almost made my eyes
itch to look at them.

"A way to hack the ritual," said Rob.

I dropped the paper as though it was on fire. For all I knew, it could
burst into flames any moment anyway.

I felt a movement next to me. Francesca had moved over, sitting on the
arm of my chair. She picked up another of the papers, looked at it then
over at her friend.

"Bans," she said. "What's going on?"

Francesca, it turned out, had underestimated just how much Banshari
appreciated playing the game of life in the cheat mode that was being a
big white dude. She was really into it. She and Rob had been comparing
notes throughout, as I already knew, but the conclusion they'd come to
wasn't one that I had expected.

"We don't want to switch back," said Rob, looking me straight in the

I didn't know what to say. Luckily Francesca did.

"What the fuck are you talking about? Banshari, what the fuck is he
talking about?"

Banshari said nothing, looked down at the papers.

"Look," I managed to say finally. "It doesn't matter, it's not like we
have to do anything. We just sit tight and Wednesday morning we all wake
up in the right bodies."

"Wait," said Francesca uneasily. "What do you mean, 'hack the ritual'?"

It turned out deep in the university archives was a version of the very
ritual Banshari and Francesca had found on the dark web. Except this one
had an extra bit you could insert, before the thing came to its natural
conclusion, which meant things didn't have to go back to the way they'd

"If we read this right," said Rob, "Bans and I will stay as we are, and
only you and Francesca will switch back. We could do it right now. That

"...if you and Francesca do actually want to switch back," finished
Banshari helpfully.

"If we want to switch back?" I managed to squeak out, finally. "What do
you mean, if we want to?" I shook my head. "I don't even know why you
don't want to." I stared at them then. "Something's gone wrong, hasn't
it? The ritual's having a weird effect, it's doing something to your

But Rob shook his head. "We've talked about it. I know, I thought it
sounded a bit mad at first, too. But I like being Banshari!" He gestured
down at her body. "I'm used to being massive and getting my own way all
the time and all that, it never occurred to me things could be any
different. But then when Bans and started hanging out and I saw how much
she loved being me... I dunno. Suddenly I wasn't in a rush to get back."

"But..." I sputtered. "She'll lose fifteen years! And also, what
about..." my voice lowered. "What about her culture?"

Banshari rolled her eyes. Rob just looked annoyed. "What about my
culture? I have a culture as well, you know."

"Yes," I said quickly. "Sorry."

Rob extricated himself from Banshari's larger hand, reached out and
took mine. He looked at me with Banshari's large dark eyes, and I knew
then that it was still Rob in there, and it always would be.

"Mate," he said. "We really want to do this. But what do you two want?"

I'd be lying if I didn't say I thought about it for a moment. Stay
younger, in a body considerably more flexible than my real one, and
wealthier, even if it was laid out very differently? I'd have to make
certain sacrifices, make some huge adjustments but... the thought didn't
fill me with existential horror the way it would have done just a couple
of days ago.

"We'll give you some time," said Banshari softly, and led Rob out into
the kitchen.

I looked up at Francesca, still perched on the arm of the chair,
looking stunned.

"What do you think?" I asked. She looked down at me.

"I suppose this was my idea in the first place," she said. "Although it
never occurred to me it would work, let alone being forever."

"Sure," I said. "But that's when you thought it was a fantasy. Not just
that it could happen in the first place, but... who you thought I was.
What my life was like."

She looked at me for a while, her face thoughtful. Astonishingly, I
could see her weighing up the possibilities. Sure, she'd be fifteen
years old, poorer, have to cope with male changing rooms, thinning hair
probably, my family history wasn't great on that front. But it would
give her a chance to avoid confronting her past, all the mistakes she
made, everyone she'd every pissed off with her bad decision making. All
the Gemmas out there. She could start again, as a completely different
human being. And maybe, after the morning we'd just had, being a
straight male didn't seem quite as bad as it might have done.

She opened her mouth, but I wanted to get in there first.

"If you want my life," I said. "You can have it. I'd trust you with it,
and you'd have to trust me with yours, but weirdly, I think we could
make a go of it. It's your call."

Which, I realised the moment I'd said it, was way too much
responsibility to put on another person. And was it really as selfless
as it seemed? Maybe I wanted something different as much as she did. I
didn't know what Francesca's life was like, not really. I might have
stepped into her shoes for a few days but that didn't qualify me to keep
walking in them - I knew nothing about her family, what her plans were
after qualifying, any of that. I didn't want to be her, I just knew that
when it came down to it, I wasn't sure how much I wanted to step back
into my old life either.

Francesca looked at me for a long time, then reached forward, putting
her arms around me.

"I'm ready," she said, and I took a deep shuddering breath as I
realised I wasn't sure about this at all, and then I understood what she
meant. "To be me again," she continued. "You know that feeling when you
realise you've got a lot of tidying up to do? That's how I feel now. I
don't want to wait until Wednesday. I want to get on with it."

I nodded. "Shall we call them back in?"

I nodded, then stopped. "Wait!" There was something I had to do first.
I took my breasts in my hands and held them one last time.

"Goodbye girls," I said, looking down sadly. "I just wanted to say I'm
really really going to miss you." And then then I patted between my
legs. "You too," I said. "You've taught me a lot."

Francesca rolled her eyes, then realised I was glaring at her.

"Do I have to?"

I nodded sternly.

"Ugh, fine." Awkwardly, she put a hand over the crotch that would soon
be mine again. "I just want to say that having one of these was
everything I hoped it would. But I won't miss having testicles. I don't
get those guys at all." She looked up. "Will that do?"

"Sure," I said. I looked at her and couldn't help smiling.


"I was thinking," I said, "it's going to be really weird having you in
my lectures next term."

"No offence, but I was thinking I might switch modules?"

"Makes sense," I said.

"So," Francesca said when Rob and Banshari had returned to the front
room and I'd explained that thinking about it, we'd quite like to go
back to our original bodies, thanks very much. "What do we have to do?"

It turned out Francesca and I didn't have to do much of anything. As
soon as the sun had gone down, the other two took a sheet of paper each,
turned off all the electricity in the house and lit a candle on the
table between us.

"Are you sure about this?" I asked for probably the fifth time. "And
wasn't it the two girls who read it last time?"

Banshari sighed. "Yes, but this time, Rob and I want you two to swap
back, but not him and me unaffected. If we're the ones who activate the
ritual, that's how it works. As long as no-one puts us off."

That last bit was definitely aimed at me. I opened my mouth to say
something sarcastic, caught Francesca glaring at me from the corner of
my eye and shut it again.

Banshari picked up her paper, cleared her throat - and stopped. We
heard voices approaching.

"Can't risk anyone getting close," said Banshari. "No idea how that
would affect things."

We waited until the passers-by, students by the sound of it, had faded,
then heard only silence.

Banshari cleared her throat. "Wait," I said suddenly, "is this the same
deal as last time? Does nothing happen until the morning?"

Banshari shrugged. And began.

It was spooky at first, hearing Banshari reading occult text aloud in
Rob's voice, with Rob joining in on, as far as I could tell, every fifth
word, with Banshari's voice. Then it slowly became... a bit dull actually.

I'd like to say the candle flickered dramatically, or a mysterious wind
played at the curtains or that anything weird happened at all. Just the
repetitive sound of Banshari and Rob repeating the same weird phrases
over and over again.

I risked a look over at Francesca, reckoning if anything was different
to last night, she'd know, at least. Her face was strained, staring at

I guess all our friendships were going to change after this. For the
first time, I wondered how our living arrangements were going to be
affected. I couldn't exactly share this house with a twenty-one-year-old
female hockey player, could I? The university would pitch a pit.
Similarly, from the authorities" point of view, Francesca would be
sharing a house with a sports science lecturer in his late thirties, so
that wouldn't wash either. The logical thing would be Francesca and Rob
sharing their house while I shared with Banshari until we sorted things
out, but I didn't know how comfortable any of us would be that

I yawned. The constant looping drone of Rob and Banshari's words were
making me sleepy. Looking over at Francesca, I saw that her eyes too,
were starting to close, which was the moment I finally thought, "Wait,
is this really starting to work?"

I could feel my heart starting to pound, my pulse echoing in my ears -
and Francesca's too. Mine slowing down to her rate, hers speeding up to
match mine. Woozily, I held my hands, Francesca's hands, out before me,
peering at them. They were still mine - I mean hers - but they didn't
quite feel under my control anymore. I looked over to Francesca, having
to turn my whole head to do it, and saw her prodding her face - my face-
confusedly with a finger. For a moment I thought I heard a knocking
sound from a long way away, but then it stopped.

I caught Francesca's gaze and found myself smiling foolishly at her. It
was working. It was actually working. For a moment I felt a trace of
indescribably sadness, that maybe going back to my old life wasn't the
answer I'd been looking for. Wasn't there something else I could do?
Some other option, even if I couldn't conjure it up right now? Then she
smiled back, and I knew it was best for her, that of all of us it was
Francesca who most needed to find herself and make everything right.

"Here we go," I heard Francesca's voice slur, or it might have been
mine, it was hard to tell. Except Rob and Banshari's voices had halted
for a moment because the door to the living room had opened.

"I'm so sorry," said Katie, looking confused and alarmed, as well she
might, once she realised she'd walked into something very weird indeed.
"I remembered there was a spare key and I could hear something, but no-
one was answering. Andy, I changed my mind. I want to try again."

I stared at her. She stared back at me, then her gaze flickered over to
Francesca in my body. Or it might be me now and I was Francesca?
Something felt like it might have gone wrong, because it's possible I
was in both bodies now. Or maybe neither.

Katie's eyes opened wide in alarm as Rob and Banshari desperately tried
to start up the chant again, but the words were going wrong, or the
moment had been lost, because now the candle really was flickering.

Katie staggered for a moment and sat down heavily on the floor.

"Could someone go and open a window?" she asked politely. "I feel a

And then everything went black.