Mr. Verres' sleep was uneasy this night. It wasn't the first time his son wasn't at home when he had gone to sleep himself, but as a responsible father it never quite suited him. He knew better than anybody else of Tedd's tendency to attract trouble.
So it was either the feint shimmer of light below his bedroom door or the noise of the front door slamming shut that instantly woke him up when Tedd arrived home at half past two. Normally, Mr. Verres would just have marked that fact and berated Tedd the next day about this behaviour, but something was wrong, he sensed.
He didn't consciously realize that the voice he heard was not his son's or that it sounded really disturbed. But, on some level in his sleepy mind, it rang a dozen alarm bells at once, causing him to get up and head downstairs in a hurry.
At the passage to the living room, he nearly bumped into Elliot – or at least he thought it was his son's friend – but before he could ask a question, his son said:
"It's me, dad, Tedd!"
"Tedd! What in the nine hells..."
"Something happened to Elliot... he's still breathing, but I can't wake him!" Tedd led his father to the couch, where he had laid his friend.
Mr. Verres was quick to push his son out of his way and inspect the unconscious Elliot.
"Explain! All of it!" he demanded, while checking the limp body that Elliot inhabited.
And so Tedd started to recount the events of this day. How Elliot's body had suddenly vanished at school, his mind fusing with Tedd's, how he asked Beta for help, zapped himself with the Elliot form and went out to retrieve the wand and how they split wrong. He didn't mention breaking into Sarah's house or where they got the Elliot form from and was partially relieved that his father seemed to caught up in wrapping his mind around the rest to ask.
In reality, his father had noted all these holes in his son' story, but just didn't deem them important enough to dig deeper at this moment.
Tedd closed with recounting the rescue at the bridge and how he carried Elliot home after not being able to wake him up again.
His dad let out a long sigh. "I have no clue how this all happened in the first place – not yet. But I have a strong hunch where the answer lies." And having dealt with immortals and the spirit plane on a regular basis, he was right on that assumption. "As for why he doesn't wake up... well, I suspect a strong emotional strain."
"What? But how... this is Elliot we're talking about!"
"I don't know, son. But..." Mr. Verres let out another sigh. "I know how you might be able fix this whole mess, even if I don't like to do this. Wait here," he instructed and went upstairs to fetch the apparatus from his desk that could have helped Tedd in the first place.
The young mad scientist just slumped into an armchair, resting his forehead on his palm. He was so immensely drained, both physically and emotionally, that he had reached a point of near total numbness. The only thing he was still able to feel was a shimmer of hope that things would be set right again. He had stopped caring about who might find out about this whole ordeal or that he was currently trapped in Elliot's body; he just wanted Elliot to get better again. Thinking that the last words they had exchanged had been in a quarrel... he just couldn't live with that knowledge!
He didn't even notice his father entering the room again.
"This, son," Mr. Verres announced, "is a method of accessing the spirit plane for a limited amount of time." He held up the small, orbicular device that he had taken home to inspect.
"The... spirit plane? How will that help?"
"If that magic wand you described went wrong – I regret the fact that we don't have time for me to study it now – then it is very likely that the reason lies there. That plane can influence magic in many different ways. If what I think is that case, then it is also very likely that you will find Elliot there. But I must warn you, son. Talk to nobody and nothing besides Elliot when you are there."
"I wouldn't normally send you to do it, but you will be the only one able to find Elliot there, if he is in fact hiding."
"Hiding? Why would he be..."
"You'll find out soon. Now..." he handed the device to Tedd. "Go ahead. There isn't much time," he ordered, pointedly not giving further explanations.
Tedd rolled the little orb in his hand for a moment. There was only one button.
Suddenly he was encased by darkness. There was no transition, no weird feeling, nothing. Just all the world around him had gone pitch black. But – strange enough – he could see his own body. He was wearing the clothes he had worn as Elliot now, but it was his own body, that he was looking down at.
But there was absolutely nothing around him. Where was Elliot? Where should he begin to look for his friend?
Before he finished that thought, however, he felt a small, tingling sensation on his right arm. Shifting his attention towards it, it turned out to be a white string, wrapped around his upper arm and then... disappearing? No. Once Tedd started following it with his eyes, he saw there was more to it. It led somewhere, but it seemed he could only make out the part of it that he concentrated on.
Having no other focus point in his void surroundings, Tedd started following the white string.
Was this really the spirit plane, he had to doubt. He had read about it and imagined it rather differently. Maybe something had gone wrong... no matter, he told himself. He had to try whatever was possible to find his friend.
Since there was no point of reference in the void, Tedd quickly lost track of time. He couldn't say if he had followed the string for only seconds or hours already.
But suddenly he was standing behind Elliot. His friend, too, was in his own body again, sitting there motionless.
"Elliot?" Tedd tentatively asked.
"You found me." It was a simple statement with a hint of surprise in it.
"Why, yes, this is the spi-"
"I hoped you wouldn't."
"What?" Tedd slowly moved to face his friend. Elliot just sat there, chin resting on his knees, his eyes closed.
"What do you mean?" Tedd asked again.
"You rescued me, didn't you?"
"Well, yeah, I helped you get back up. Don't you remember?"
For a long moment there was silence. When Elliot spoke again, there was sadness in his voice. "You put your life in danger because I was careless."
"So?" Tedd didn't quite understand what Elliot was getting at. "It turned out okay, right?" Something popped into his mind. What did his dad say? That Elliot was hiding?
"No! It shouldn't be this way!"
"What... do you mean?" Tedd was thoroughly confused now.
There was no indication whether Elliot had registered his friend's words. "You shouldn't need to rescue me," he just said.
Tedd thought for a second, before answering. "Nobody should need to rescue anybody. But sometimes we all need help, don't we?"
Elliot didn't answer.
"Why are you keeping your eyes shut?" Tedd asked on a spark of intuition.
"I - ...I don't know. I guess... I don't want to face myself."
Tedd sat down near Elliot. "Why are you afraid to face yourself?" he rephrased for his friend.
Moments of silence stretched into what may have been minutes. Tedd slowly grew restless. Hadn't his dad said something about there being not much time? But what was time in this place?
Finally, he heard Elliot claim: "I'm useless."
Tedd instantly opened his mouth to debate that, but something kept him back. It was so unlike his friend to, well, wallow in self-pity like this. There had to be something new, something that really threw him off.
"I don't think so," Tedd answered pensively. "And you know that. But if you suddenly do think otherwise, then go and do something about it."
"But... I can't..."
"Well, for starters, I'm also here to remedy our little body-swap situation. I don't know how yet, but I'm pretty sure I'll need your help. Only that won't work with your eyes closed."
Elliot's face was a mask, giving no indication what impact Tedd's words had on him, if any. But at some point, the words of his best friend must have pierced the veil of solitude that Elliot had kept up around him.
"You're right... Tedd."
And in the same moment as Elliot opened his eyes, it was like a giant eyelid around them was lifted and the darkness made way for the world again.
Now Tedd was finally sure that they were on the spirit plane. He recognized his living room around them, albeit in a somewhat blurry outline.
He and Elliot seemed to be sitting in the air above the couch table, but now that Tedd became aware of that, he began floating downwards again.
And there they – or at least their physical forms, as Tedd realized – lay motionless in the armchair and on the couch. And between them was that white string again, here easily visible. It bound them together, but was all in chaos. That's not how it was supposed to be, they both sensed instinctively.
But already Tedd felt the pull back to the physical realm. He remembered his dad talking about a time limit again. It seemed they had to hurry up now.
"C'mon, help me untangle this! Quick!"
Elliot moved to help him with the string, but it was easier said than done. Maybe with several hours at their disposal they could achieve something, but not in the seconds they had left. No matter how much string they untangled, there always seemed to be more knots and nooses.
"Damn, this won't work," Tedd exclaimed in frustration.
The pull got stronger.
"This seems to be a connection between us, am I right," Elliot asked calmly.
"Well, then..." he grabbed a bunch of string with two hands, as if to rip it apart.
"Wait!" Tedd yelled. "A- are you sure about this?"
"No," Elliot admitted. "But if it is some sort of bond between us, and that is what it feels to me, too, then we can rebuild it." He looked at Tedd, who saw the determination and trust in their friendship in his friend's eyes – and nodded.
And Elliot bulged his muscles and ripped the ball of string in two.
Tedd had the feeling as if something was ripped out of him, leaving behind a hollow void, but neither he did he have time to examine that feeling nor to contemplate if that was enough for their task. The pull got ever stronger, and he had trouble fighting it now. But what about Elliot? While Tedd had used his dad's device to get here and would take the same way back, what about his friend?
There was no time to explain and he wouldn't take any chances, so he just firmly grabbed Elliot's wrist and hoped that would suffice.
The way back wasn't as easy as his journey tothe spirit plane. He suddenly found himself completely without orientation, drifting through space – until he suddenly awoke on his back, his arm nearly cricked in a very uncomfortable position.
"Ouch," Tedd said confused, trying to move his arm. He only then realized, he was lying on his living room floor. Elliot, who lay behind him, and he were still grasping each others wrists, what must have brought his arm in such an unnatural position.
"Tedd?" Elliot loosened his grasp as he awoke too.
"I'm here, Elliot," the purple-haired boy let him know. "And it looks like we're back to our own bodies!"
Elliot let out a sigh of relief. "Wait... since when have we been in your living room? I wasted no thoughts on what I've seen in this strange place, but now..."
"You don't remember? Wait, of course you don't. You were out cold..." Tedd's voice trailed off. He had a feeling it was better not to remind his friend too bluntly of his moment of weakness at the bridge, even if it was completely understandable to Tedd.
Standing up, he added: "It's okay. But where's dad gone?" He took a look at the clock – he had only been gone for twenty minutes.
"Your dad? What else did I miss?"
"Well, he gave me this device," he pulled it out of his pocket, "to access the spirit plane."
"Spirit plane? So that's where... man, it seems like a dream to me now." Elliot shook his head in confusion and let himself slump into the armchair where Tedd had been sitting previously.
"Wait a sec, I'll just check upstairs," Tedd said and went up the stairs, heading for his father's room.
Not making a noise, he peeked inside – and indeed, his father was soundly at sleep in bed. Puzzled, but not questioning his luck, Tedd put the device back on the desk and went back downstairs.
He could not know, of course, that Mr. Verres' short-term memory had been erased yet again as Tedd had entered the spirit plane with the orbicular apparatus and that his father would carry no memories of this night.
"Right." Tedd slumped onto the couch. "You wanna take a shower before I drive you home?"
Elliot had already pulled off his wet jacket.
"Thanks for offering, but I'll just do that in the morning. I think I could fall asleep while standing now."
That won't change much after only three hours of sleep, Tedd thought to himself, but just nodded and said: "All right. Let's go."
While he was fetching his keys, something else came to his mind.
"I... wanted to say I'm sorry. I was out of line at Sarah's."
Elliot, who was already standing at the door, turned around to face him. For a moment his face remained fixed, but then he showed a tiny smile. "Accepted," he said with a nod.
The rain was still pouring when they made a run to the car outside, but the storm had lessened noticeably.
The entity was pleased. Those two mortals coming to the spirit plane had been easy to foresee, but the scenario of them severing their own bond to remedy the situation had not crossed the immortal's mind. That nearly made up for the fact that the mayhem it had caused was already over after only one night. But the mischievous entity had other playthings to keep itself occupied. Things like Magus, who was even more riled up now, as he had keenly felt Elliot's presence on the spirit plane. But the entity had kept the mortals well hidden from other denizens of this plane. Their interference would have made things much too predictable and boring.
The most wicked of immortals was pleased.
"...and a surprisingly powerful storm pushed across Moperville this night, packing over forty miles per hour winds. Several trees have been rooted or damaged, as reports say, but projections on property damage remain marginal..."
"Any of you noticed that storm?" Tedd asked with a nod to the radio at breakfast.
"I slept through it," Grace let him know.
"So did I," said his father over the newspaper.
Tedd, trying to keep a straight face, which was hard after only three short hours of sleep, nodded. "Couldn't have been so bad then."
For Tedd, the events of the night seemed to be in a haze now. He knew, rationally, that everything he remembered had happened. Heck, he got the scare of his life on that bridge and probably wouldn't ever cross a bridge again without his heartbeat accelerating. And there was also this distinct, but not really locatable sense of loss that he felt since they had returned to their own bodies, but still... he probably needed some time to sort all this out. And a good night's sleep. Yes, that in particular. Too bad he wouldn't get anything like that now... well, maybe during chemistry class... some living goo to keep the teach distracted and off his back...
"Tedd, c'mon, you gotta get ready too," Grace reminded him with a playful nudge.
"Huh? Wha'? Oh, yeah, coming." He wondered how Elliot was doing this morning.
The answer was an easy one: just as tired. When Tedd stood up from the breakfast table, Elliot was already packing the last things in his school bag, but he was rather asleep at the switch, as the saying goes. That made it a lot easier to ignore the looks that Ellen shot him after he had turned down their usual morning race, but some things just couldn't be changed.
Above all things, he'd like to have some time alone now, same as Tedd, but the need to not arise suspicion clearly hindered that. He could have faked being sick. But that would have included lying, and he knew just how good he was at that. And gods, he still didn't know what to tell Sarah. Oh yes, this would turn out to be an interesting day at school for sure.
And that included meeting Tedd again. Their ride back a few hours ago had passed mostly in silence, but that could be blamed on their shared weariness as well. But no matter the cause, Elliot felt that things would be different between them now. Maybe undetectable to everybody else, but things would be different – but that didn't mean worse.
Suddenly being startled from his thoughts by a call from below, Elliot realized he had stared into his schoolbag for the last minutes without moving a finger. With a determined grunt, he shouldered it and went to catch the bus.
The storm had passed by now, but the sun had not yet managed to pierce the thick clouds again. But it would do so again.
It always did.
End of Part 1