“I guess if you wanna get yourself lost where no one can find you, it’s probably pretty hard to do better than a city in South America with eight million people in it,” Sean Gerardo muttered aloud to himself.
He was standing on the roof of his Uncle Sebastian’s apartment building, overlooking the massive city of Bogotá. Or at least, the tiny part of it he could actually see from there, since the apartment wasn’t that tall. The narrow, cobblestone roads below were busy with the afternoon traffic, and he could hear music coming from the Usaquen Market that was just down the street. Which reminded him that he should probably work his way through the tourists to pick up a few things for Columbus and the girls.
“Did you say something, sobrino?” The voice came from the doorway onto the roof, where Uncle Sebastian himself was just emerging carrying two glasses.
Sebastian Gerardo was a fit man, though not a very tall one. At his full height, he was only about five foot seven. His hairline was receding, but he still looked like he could run a marathon without too much trouble. His arms were thick with corded muscle, and his gray-blue eyes looked like stormy clouds moving through a clear sky.
The man joined Sean at the edge of the roof, and Sebastian handed him one of the glasses. Taking it, the boy enjoyed a sip of the Avena Colombiana, which was essentially a creamy milk drink with sugar, cloves, cinnamon, and oatmeal in it. He’d tried describing the drink to his roommate before, but Columbus had gotten stuck on how ‘gross’ oatmeal in a drink sounded. Which was his loss, really.
“Yeah,” he answered his uncle after enjoying another delicious sip. “I said that moving to a place like this is a good way to make sure no one can find you.” Using the glass to gesture out over the other buildings, the boy added, “Especially if the person looking for you doesn’t live around here.” Glancing back to his uncle, he met the man’s gaze. “Tourists stand out.”
Sebastian had stooped to scratch at Vulcan’s head as the mechanical dog sat near the edge of the roof. Vulcan made a happy noise before picking up his metal ball with a hopeful look. Sebastian took the ball and threw it to the other end of the roof, prompting the robot-canine to go chasing after it, barking happily.
“Yeah, they do,” the man finally responded to Sean. Looking back to the boy, he added, “So you’re probably wondering where Mateo is, since he wasn’t here to meet you like he usually is.”
Instead of answering right away, Sean took another drink, longer this time as he turned to look back to the city. When he spoke, he tried to keep his voice as light as possible. “I figured he was probably trying to stay out of my line of sight until you had a chance to talk to me about why he’d set off my Stranger sense.”
Looking back that way to find his uncle’s surprised stare, he added, “At least it better be that. Because if it’s because you’re worried about me finding out you two are an item, I’m gonna have to kick your ass, Tío Seb. Being a Stranger is one thing, but if you think I’d give a shit that you’re gay, then you don’t know me at all.”
For a few seconds, Sebastian said nothing. His expression was unreadable as he stared at the boy before finally lifting his head as a look of realization passed over him. “Your Edge vision.”
Nodding, Sean turned away from the roof to face his uncle. “Yup. Kinda hard to uhh, mistake a guy you’ve known pretty much your whole life turn into a werewolf.”
Taking a visible breath, Sebastian glanced toward Vulcan before speaking again. “Okay. Well, obviously you haven’t said anything to anyone yet. So… thank you. I guess you’ve got a lot of questions. I know it might be hard to understand, but–”
“He’s not evil,” Sean interrupted before the man could go on. “Yeah, well, him saving my life from those gangbangers that broke in kind of spoiled the surprise on that one.”
Straightening, he continued to meet his uncle’s gaze. “It’s okay, Tío Seb. We should probably talk about this stuff all together, shouldn’t we? I mean, if he’s somewhere close by?”
Remaining silent for a few seconds, Sebastian eventually nodded. “Yeah. You sure?”
Sean didn’t look away. “He saved my life. Even if there wasn’t more, even if there wasn’t… all this shit I need to tell you about, that’d be enough to give him the benefit of the doubt. Neither of you have to prove anything to me.. You think I’d take some teacher’s words over yours? You think I’d kill Mateo just because of some paranoid tradition? He’s family. You’re family. Like I said, you don’t have to prove a damn thing. You already spent my whole life proving it.”
Head tilting a little as a tiny, obviously relieved smile touched his face, Sebastian asked, “Something happened up there?”
“Yeah, a lot of things,” Sean replied. “But it’s probably better to talk about it in person. Together. You know, with family. So you gonna tell your boyfriend it’s okay to come up here?”
Coughing, Sebastian nodded quickly. “Sí, well, I ahh, already did.” He tapped the side of his head demonstrably.
No sooner had he finished saying that, than the door onto the roof opened once more and Mateo emerged, carrying a glass of his own as well as a tray of pandebono, a sort of cheese bread. Like Sebastian, Mateo wasn’t a very tall man, standing only an inch higher than his companion. Unlike the other man, Mateo also wasn’t large in any other way. Rather than having muscles layered on top of muscles, the man was almost rail thin.
“Hey, Sean,” he greeted the boy, extending the tray to him. “Heard you’ve got a bit of a story to tell.”
Smiling faintly, Sean took one of the pandebono. “Yeah, well, you know how it is. Go up to school to learn how to fight monsters and find out not all of them are evil. Especially the kind that save your life.” Pausing then, he added, “Thank you, Mateo. You uhh, I know what you risked. I know what you’ve probably been going through ever since I went up to Crossroads, what you had to be afraid of. So… thanks. Thanks for what you did, what you risked.”
Clearly swallowing hard past a lump in his throat, it took Mateo a few seconds to find his voice. “Hey, kid, you… couldn’t let anything happen to you, huh? You’re practically family, after all.”
Sean shook his head firmly. “No. There’s no practically about it. You’re family, Tío Mateo.”
“Family,” Mateo’s voice was gruff, his voice clearly thick with suppressed emotion as he carefully set down his tray and drink before offering a hand to the boy. “Thank you.”
Looking at the offered hand briefly, Sean took it and squeezed. Then he pulled the other man into a tight, firm embrace. “You saved my life, even though it could’ve cost you everything. Thank you.”
Stiff with surprise at first, Mateo quickly relaxed into the hug, tightening his own grip around the boy. “It wasn’t that much of risk. Losing you would’ve cost everything, Sean.”
Eventually pulling back, Sean found a smile. “Though you’re running out of excuses not to make each other honest men.” Teasing them with a wink, the boy’s grin grew at their expressions. “One of you needs to propose to the other and get this over with.”
Nudging his shoulder with a fist, Sebastian cleared his throat. “You said there was something about what’s been going on up there, eh?”
“Sure, sure, change the subject,” Sean shook his head. “But just so you know, if I don’t get to be the best man for one of you, I will be deeply disappointed.” Head tilting then, he amended, “Though I would settle for flower girl. That looks fun too.”
Sobering, the boy took a breath. “Anyway, as for what’s happening… I can’t tell you all of it. I mean, I want to, but it involves magic secrecy spells, so… anyway, it starts with this girl named Flick. Flick Chambers, her mom….”
“And that’s pretty much all I can tell you,” Sean finished up awhile later before taking the last bite of the last pandebono. “Actually, your whole thing… here, made me wonder if you guys were part of that rebellion.”
The two men looked at one another, frowning slightly. Sebastian finally spoke. “If that’s true, then… we wouldn’t remember if we were.”
“Makes sense though,” Mateo offered with a thoughtful look. “If there was something like that going on, I would’ve been all over it.”
Nodding slowly, Sebastian made a face. “Until they erased…” A noise of anger escaped him then. “I’ll kill that carechimba, I swear to–”
“Easy, Tío,” Sean cautioned, putting a hand on his uncle’s arm. “Take it easy. We’ve gotta play this cool for now.”
“This necromancer,” Mateo put in then. “You said his name was Fossor. I’ve heard of him. He’s not one to mess around with. He’s one of the bad ones, probably one of the worst Nocen. If he’s got your friend’s madre… you guys are gonna need all the help you can get.”
“You volunteering?” Sean asked with a little smile at the man.
“You need us,” Sebastian put in as both men nodded, “and we’re there. No hesitation. Like you said, sobrino, we’re family.”
“I have some packmates I run with that’ve had dealings with necromancers,” Mateo added, “Mostly bad ones. Werewolves don’t really like that kind of stuff. But I’ll see if they know anything more about this Fossor and any woman that he keeps around him. If we can dig anything up, I’ll let you know.”
Smiling faintly, Sean nodded. “Thanks. I uhh, I’m sure Flick’ll appreciate anything you can find out. We’re kind of flying pretty blind here.”
“You will be careful,” Sebastian ordered. “You find out anything, anything substantial, you let us know. You got it?”
Sean agreed, and after a little more back and forth, Mateo raised an eyebrow. “You like this Flick girl, hmm?”
“Sure,” Sean replied with a shrug. “But not like that. I mean, sure, she’s cute and smart and all that. But she’s got this thing for her roommate. Or possibly this other girl, the one with the vampire sister I told you about.” He had put together Shiori’s connection with Asenath shortly after their trip to the Meregan world, and eventually talked to his roommate and Shiori herself about it.
“Anyway, I’m not sure what’s happening there. Either way, I’m not really in the running.”
After observing him for another few seconds, Sebastian smiled slowly. “Maybe not her, but there is another one, eh?”
It was Sean’s turn to flush a little bit. “Ehhh, well, you know. She’s not exactly on my team or anything. But there is this girl. Roxa. Roxanne. She’s this cute little Silverstone blonde surfer chick. She uhh, she’s got this mechanical cougar, like Vulcan there. Except hers turns into this hoverboard, it’s…”
Catching himself as his own little partner stared at him reproachfully, Sean crouched to scratch behind Vulcan’s ears. “It’s not nearly as cool as this guy. But still, she’s pretty awesome. And did I mention cute? Because I can get more descriptive.”
Laughing, Sebastian shook his head. “I think I can picture this girl pretty well. So have you said anything to her?”
“Been a little busy so far,” Sean pointed out. “Besides, how do I start? ‘Hey, you wanna go out on a date and talk a little Crossroads treason?’”
“Maybe ease into that a bit later,” Mateo cautioned with a chuckle. “But you never know how someone will react to things until you get to take the time to get to know them.”
Nodding slowly, Sean quipped, “So ask her out on a few dates before getting into the whole ‘everything you’ve been taught this year about monsters is a total lie’?”
“Now you’re getting it,” Sebastian grinned. “Plus, maybe you should have Mateo cook for her. That’d make her warm up to the whole ‘not all Strangers are bad’ thing pretty quick.”
Still smiling, Sean looked back and forth between his uncles. “You know,” he started thoughtfully. “I might just take you up on that someday.
“But right now,” he added with an easy smile, “it’s Thanksgiving. So let’s talk about the most important thing.