Chapter Fifteen: By the Light of Distant Moons.
“Don’t you understand?” whispered Ceros, his voice shaking with restrained yet unnameable emotion. “It’s you, Astra. It has always been you.”
He reached forward, placing a tentative hand on Astra’s well-muscled forearm. The lord of the Silvermanes gazed back at the sorcerer; stunned, for all his wisdom, if only for a single moment.
“Ceros,” the larger man murmured, a hitch in his breath. “I-I love-“
Ceros put a finger to his lips.
“Say it not, my friend,” he whispered, aware, not for the first time, of the fire that seemed to dance beneath his skin. He had not expected denying it to hurt him so. His voice cracked. “I’m sorry. I should not have spoken. You have oaths you must uphold. Your men have faith in-”
He in turn was silenced as Astra pulled him close. Their lips-
Cody Turner reflexively snapped his laptop shut as his mother poked her head through his bedroom door.
“Can you man the counter for a sec? I’ve gotta run for food.”
Cody pulled himself out of bed as his mother took her leave, and grabbed his apron off the chair beside his desk. He took a quick look at his clothes. Kinda messy. Meh. He didn’t care enough to change. He slung the apron on and went downstairs, casting a disinterested glance out of the window as he went.
Yup. Still raining. He wasn’t surprised. The sound of it pattering against the walls and roof had become so omnipresent in the past few weeks as to fade from awareness unless directly focused on. He was starting to miss the sun.
He stepped down into the lower level of his home and glanced through the kitchen door into the diner proper. There were only two customers inside, neither of them strangers. Sheriff Pete was sitting with an older man whose face was mostly bushy beard and eyebrows. Cody knew the man, even if his name didn’t come readily to mind. He ran the fishing goods store. It was hard to find someone you didn’t recognize in Rockford, blessed as it was with a population in the low two hundreds.
He stepped inside.
“-not sure about this, Pete,” beard-guy was saying. His head snapped across to Cody as he opened the door, staring at him a second too long, before returning his gaze to his companion, his voice lowering a fraction. “That thing out there weren’t normal. We tell the feds about it and next thing you know, I’m gettin’ dragged off by men in rubber suits.”
To his credit, Sheriff Pete managed not to roll his eyes.
“Calm down, Bill. We’re going to get this figured out. But you’ve got to tell the agent what you think you saw-”
“Fuck off,” Bill growled. “I don’t think I saw it. I saw it, staring right up at me out of the water, plain as I’m seeing you right now.”
Cody leaned against the counter, trying to pretend he wasn’t listening.
“What’s your point, Bill?” he asked. “Maybe you did see it. I don’t know. Remember last time this happened? That girl who said she saw a demon in the reserve?”
Bill nodded, his expression darkening under all the hair.
“I remember. Saw her running home by the lake. Poor kid damn near pissed herself.”
“We found psilocybin in her water bottle, Bill. Her boyfriend spiked her camping gear. That’s all it was.”
Old Bill was already shaking his head.
“Shrooms wouldn’t make me see what I saw,” he muttered. “I’ve been on those longer’n you’ve been alive and I ain’t ever-”
“Christ,” Pete groaned. “Don’t tell me that!”
Cody tried to disguise his snicker as a yawn. Old Bill glared at him.
Where did the seventies touch you, Bill?
Both men fell quiet. Cody pulled a notebook out from under the counter, found a pen, and started doodling on an empty page.
This was the town of Rockford, Oregon, where nothing happened and the people were crazy. That was just what happened when you dumped a couple hundred people in the middle of nowhere with no-one to talk to and nothing to do. People just went batshit.
Cody was pretty sure he was the sanest kid in town. He blamed the internet for that.
The rain kept on tapping away against the windows as he drew, Pete and Bill sitting in stony silence across cups of rapidly cooling coffee. Cody helped himself to a cookie.
There was something about the sound of rain that made it easy to get lost in drawing. Cody must’ve spent half an hour just standing there, leaned against the counter as he did his line-work. It was coming together pretty well; the figure of a half-clad young woman in the arms of an over muscled monster, the two of them looking like escapees from a sixties horror flick or the mural on a hippy van.
The sky began to darken, the sun slowly starting to set behind the clouds. That was when Cody saw the car.
It was a dinky little thing, mud-brown, twin headlights picking cones of muted light out of the gloom as it slid from the trees into Rockford proper.
Cody snickered as it hit a pothole.
His attention only really piqued when the vehicle turned into the diner’s parking lot, pulling to a halt in one of the inch-deep puddles of mud and water that still technically qualified as a bay. Bill and Pete were watching too, Bill trying as hard as he could to pretend he wasn’t.
The first to exit the car was a tall man, mid thirties, wearing the kind of cheap suit and serious expression that a decade and a half of media had more or less coded the idea of ‘FBI’ into Cody’s brain. The second figure was a kid; androgynous, to this distance, sloshing through the ankle deep water with far less swagger than the man, their build concealed by a hoodie that soon hung heavy in the rain.
They arrived at the door, the older man holding it open while the kid stepped in past him. It was a boy, Cody saw. A cute one, too, faintly Asian facial features framed by curls of waterlogged black hair.
The boy stepped inside, saw Cody, and made a beeline for the counter while his companion moved behind him toward Sheriff Pete and Bill.
“Hey there, what can I-” Cody began.
“Do you have hot chocolate?” the boy interrupted. “Please. I need it.”
They were out of hot chocolate. The only stuff they had left was for the house, not the diner.
Cody looked the bedraggled boy up and down. He looked miserable.
But that was his hot chocolate.
“I’m afraid we-” he stopped as the cute boy brushed his bangs out of his eyes with a hand. “-don’t have any marshmallows,” he adjusted lamely. “… Is that okay?”
The boy smiled. “I’ll make it work. Thanks.”
“I’ll be right back.”
By far the lamest thing about life in Rockford, thought Cody as he stepped through the door between the diner and the house, was the stunning lack of eligible boys.
In the entire town, there were eleven other kids within a few years of him in age. None of them were gay. Not even the cute ones.
No, he realized as he found the stove and started boiling up some water. Especially not the cute ones.
He’d have settled for bi. He’d have been over the goddamn moon. Just for a single other person to make out with. Just a little.
Cody hated being fourteen.
He opened up the cupboard, and found the hot chocolate box. It was the good stuff. The stuff that came in cartons of ten individual sachets. Just add water for the perfect, soul warming cup of cocoa. He opened the box.
There was a single sachet left.
He tore it open, poured it into a mug, and then went looking for marshmallows. Might as well go all in.
Bet he’s not even gay.
He returned to the diner to find the three adults now engaged in a muttered conversation of presumably great importance. Cody wondered if Bill had gotten to which drugs he was on yet. Pretty Boy himself was seated some way to the side, wedged into a window-booth that allowed a rain-splattered view of the surrounding town. All four streets of it.
Cody carried his cup of warm, marshmallow scented goodness over to the table, and reluctantly proffered it to the boy.
Pretty Boy took it, glanced down at the top of the mug, and gave Cody a smile.
“You found marshmallows.”
Cody grinned in spite of himself.
“Yeah. Just mini ones, but it’ll work, right?”
“Dude, what are you saying? Mini ones are better.” Pretty Boy lifted the mug to his face, gave the surface a few puffs, then took a sip. “Ohhh yeah, that’s better.” He glanced back up at Cody. “How much do I owe you?”
“Nothing,” Cody answered automatically. “On the house. Sorry it took so long. We uh. We didn’t have any real hot chocolate left so I had to go in back and-” he realized he was overexplaining and stopped himself. “…I’m Cody.”
Pretty Boy smiled again.
James went back to gazing at the phone beside his cocoa cup. Cody hovered awkwardly.
“… Need something?” James asked.
“No, no. Just… Mind if I sit with you?” Cody hoped his cheeks weren’t red. He gestured out the window. “It’s a small town. Not a lot of folks to talk to.”
The boy shrugged, then budged up a little way to the side. “Sure.”
Cody sat. Neither boy spoke.
The silence stretched just long enough to make Cody desperate.
“…So,” he muttered. “You know that thing, where you wanna talk, but it’s a total stranger and you have no idea what you’re supposed to say?”
James laughed. Then, without missing a beat, said:
“I like pop music. Top forties. Stuff with vocals you can sing along to. You?”
Wow. Kid was good at this.
“I like rock,” Cody said. “Songs from the seventies and eighties mostly. Kinda hard to get into new stuff when no one around you knows anything newer than The Killers.”
“No K-pop, then?”
That had apparently been the wrong thing for him to say.
So passed the next hour or so of Cody’s life, huddled up in the warm with a cute boy at his side, watching a stream of music vids via James’ apparently indefatigable internet connection. Interrupted only briefly when Cody’s mother returned to man the counter. Occasionally, they sang along together in an undertone. The cutie had an awesome voice. Eventually, though, the grown ups’ meeting drew to a close. James’ agent-ey companion stood from his seat.
“Thank you, Mr. Bourn, Sheriff Milne. I think I have everything I need. Please don’t hesitate to contact me again if you remember any further details. James,” he called over his shoulder. “Grab your stuff, bud. We’re heading out.”
James shut his phone off mid-song, flicking it into his pocket and pulling himself to his feet.
Cody pulled himself upright to let him out, his heart sinking a little.
“Bye, James,” he said. “It was nice meeting you.”
“Yeah,” James grinned back. “It was cool. See you tomorrow, yeah?”
Cody’s brain stalled out for a second.
“Yeah. We’re staying in town for a couple weeks while the big guy figures out some stuff. You guys are open all day, right?”
Cody tried not to grin too hard.
“Yeah. Yeah, we are. Later, man.”
Cody watched the other boy and his perplexing agent friend depart, a kind of warm thrill running down his spine. He started slightly when his mother’s voice spoke up behind him.
“Cute kid,” she murmured. “He gay?”
“To be confirmed,” he answered. “Call it sixty percent.”