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Crossroads

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For the third time today, Sean lost count of how many steps he’d done. His aching feet screamed ‘way too fucking many’. He only started counting as a distraction - anything to forget reality for even a second. The aches and pains, the sunburn, their traumatic journey. 

Everything.

God, he just wanted to crash and not move for an entire year - make that two. Officially hibernate. Before he could start the mental tally again, he heard a soft thud. He halted, glancing over his shoulder. There was Daniel, sat on a nearby rock.

“Come on.” Sean sighed, crossing his arms. “We need to keep going or it’ll get dark.”

Daniel stuck out his bottom lip, defiant. “I don’t wanna walk anymore.”

“We don’t have a choice, Enano.”

They couldn’t stop. If they did, they might never reach Puerto Lobos. After everything they had been through to get here, that couldn’t happen. No fucking way.

“But my feet hurt.” Daniel kicked off his worn shoes. The right sole was starting to come apart, a definite hole forming at the heel. “And my legs. And, and… everything.”

As he looked at his brother, Sean’s heart sunk. While Daniel acted childish sometimes - he was still a kid - he looked and sounded so much older now. Time had officially taken its toll.

“Okay, we can take a five-minute break.” 

Semi-reluctant, Sean joined his brother. He reached into his backpack, pulling out two water bottles and a sticky choco crisp. 

“Oh my god.” Daniel’s eyes lit up. “Where did you get that?”

“I’m a magician.” Sean shrugged, handing it over. “I kinda owe you one anyway.”

It was refreshing to see Daniel excited. Not downtrodden. Sean took out a tattered sketchbook, his blunt pencil gliding across the blank paper. They were in the middle of nowhere, chasing an impossible dream. Despite that, he found some comfort in solitude.

“Sean! There’s a truck.”

Daniel pointed down the dusty road. Tensing, Sean’s eyes snapped to the oncoming vehicle. He relaxed when he realized it wasn’t a police car… not a marked one, anyway.

“What should we do?”

Sean could tell Daniel was scared, even though he was trying to act brave. The slight quiver in his voice betrayed him.

“They’ll drive by. Probably.”

He didn’t want to blatantly lie - especially after he promised not to - but also didn’t want to panic Daniel. 

“What if they don’t?”

“We’ll deal with it.”

Daniel nodded. “Together.”

The truck slowed. Worrying. It was battered to hell, the beige paint job flaking off. One thing Sean was sure of, it belonged in a junkyard scrap pile. Esteban would’ve had a heart attack. Sean’s stomach dropped at the thought of his father, then shook his head to unsuccessfully rid himself of those bittersweet memories. As the truck drew closer, Sean finally noticed the hazard lights. He sighed with relief. 

They weren’t stopping because of him and Daniel. 

When it finally rolled to a stop, a woman got out of the driver’s side. She was pale and tall with long, faded green hair. Sean’s eyes were drawn to the part covered tattoo on her arm. Scribbled out. The woman didn’t acknowledge them, cursing under her breath as she popped the hood open. 

Daniel tugged on Sean’s shirt, eyes filled with tentative curiosity. Sean smiled reassuringly, even though he felt nervous. Maybe they could sneak away somehow…

“How’s it looking out there?” another voice asked from the car. 

It was difficult to see the passenger from where they sat. 

“Why don’t you get your boney ass out here and see yourself?” the green-haired woman called back.

“You know I don’t know shit about cars.”

The woman briefly peered around the open hood, a smile in her voice. “Always time to learn.”

“I am so gonna leave you out here.”

Another door opened and shut, a second woman leaving the truck. She was much shorter, her mid-length brown hair tied back in a half ponytail.

“So, what’s the damage?”

“Nothing some tinkering can’t fix.”

“You have no idea what you’re doing, do you?” the brunette asked smugly.

“Oh please, mechanics is in the Price blood.”

“It’s not a hereditary thing, you kno-”

The green-haired woman bopped her companion's nose, getting a loud groan in response. 

“Chloe… you got oil all over my face.”

“We’re road warriors now, Mad Max. Get your war paint on!”

“Sean,” Daniel whispered. “What should we do?”

Before he could answer, the shorter of the pair met his eye. She didn’t seem surprised at all, or worried. Sean found that odd. Anyone stuck in the middle of the desert should be wary of random strangers watching them.

“Hey,” she called out. “We could use some help over here.”

The first woman - Chloe - glanced up from her work, looking equally unperturbed. 

“I got it, Maxine.”

“Like hell you do. And it’s Max.”

“Legally speaking…” Chloe grinned broadly, “no, it’s not. Blame your parents.”

“Ha,” Max scoffed loudly, “like you care about legality.”

“I do… when it benefits me.”

“Right.”

Sean considered his options. Worst case scenario, they had Daniel’s power… although he didn’t want to rely on it. Sighing, he grabbed Daniel’s hand and cautiously approached them. 

Max smiled. “Say, you don’t know anything about cars, do you?”

“Our dad is…” Daniel hesitated, “was a mechanic…”

“Oh yeah? He teach you anything?” Chloe nudged Max in the ribs. “Because apparently it’s not genetic.”

Max rolled her eyes at the obvious dig.

“Yeah,” Sean nodded. “A little.”

“Awesome.” Max clapped her hands, the sound disappearing into the vast desert. “If you help, we can pay you in food. And maybe a ride, if this works.”

“Oh, uh…” He rubbed the back of his sore neck. “That’d be really helpful, actually.”

“Name’s Max, this is Chloe.”

“Sup.”

“Sean and, um…”

Sean paused. He was never sure if they should tell people their real names. It made them more vulnerable. So many people must’ve heard about them by now… and seen their pictures.

“Daniel!” Daniel said with a broad grin.

Holding his breath, Sean waited for their reaction. A flicker of recognition, any sign that they should book it out of there.

Max simply smiled back. “Nice to meet you guys. It can get kind of lonely out on the road.”

“I feel the love.” Chloe pulled a hair tie off her wrist, gathering her hair into a loose bun. “Where’re you guys headed anyway?” 

“Uh...” Sean hesitated. How much could he trust a couple of strangers? “Mexico.”

“Visiting family?” Max asked.

“Something like that.”

He didn’t want to say more than that right now. Just in case.

“Dude, don’t worry.” Chloe cracked her knuckles, then retrieved a small box of tools from the backseat. “We’re not here to grill you. Everybody’s got shit they wanna hide from.”

“Yeah… anyway,” Sean rapped the truck with his hand, “shall we see what’s going on under here?”

Daniel and Max hung back, letting him and Chloe work their magic.

“My dad taught me stuff about cars,” Chloe said as she checked under the hood. “I always loved taking shit apart… but not so much putting it back together.”

Sean passed her a wrench. “Sounds destructive.”

“You could say that, yeah. It’s easier destroying stuff than fixing it.” She sighed, then patted the truck. “This ol’ girl is proof of that. Found her in a junkyard.”

“That… explains a few things. Did your dad help you fix it up?”

Chloe offered a sad smile. “No, he… couldn’t. He, uh, died in a car accident before I got this rustbucket.”

“Oh, shit…” Sean’s stomach dropped. He was so stupid. “I’m sorry, dude.”

“Don’t worry,” Chloe waved away his apology, “it happened years ago.”

“Doesn’t make it any easier, I’ll bet.”

“They say time heals all wounds,” she shrugged, “but that shit still hurts sometimes.”

“Yeah…” Sean desperately wanted to talk about anything else right now. “So, how long have you guys been on the road?”

“About a week or so for this trip.”

“You travel a lot?”

“Sorta. We’ve been drifting around for…” she paused, shaking her head, “man, has it really been three years now? Crazy.”

“So, you just keep moving. Sounds like some people I know.”

“Plenty of people like us out there.” Chloe grinned. “Adventurers. We’ve got our base, but staying in one place too long makes both of us feel uneasy.”

Sean totally understood that feeling. They continued making small talk until they were ready to test their hard work. It took a couple of attempts, but eventually the truck sputtered to life. 

“Booyah!” Chloe hi-fived Sean.

As soon as Daniel heard the sound, he scurried over to investigate. Max followed behind, abandoning their sand drawings and castles.

“Wow, you actually fixed something. And nothing blew up in the process.” Max seemed genuinely surprised. “Maybe we should keep you around, Sean. You’re a good influence on her.”

Chloe shoved her shoulder, which she sidestepped with ease. 

“Cheater…”

“Like you can talk.” Max stuck out her tongue, unapologetic. 

“Whatevs.” Chloe jumped in the truck, honking the horn impatiently. “Hop in, losers.”

Daniel led Max by the arm, talking enthusiastically about the latest Hawt Dawg man comic. Sean still remembered all the stupid voices they gave the characters when they read them together back home.

How many issues had they missed since fleeing?

They drove for some time along the dusty road. Sean drifted in and out of sleep, so damn tired from all the walking. When he finally woke, it was dark outside.

“Man,” Chloe said through a yawn, “I’m sick of driving. Let’s stop here for the night.”

She turned right, pulling into a roadside motel. Sean bit his lip. They didn’t have enough cash to rent a room.

“Don’t look so worried.” Max pulled a duffle bag from underneath her feet, opening it up. “We’re paying.”

“Holy shit!” Sean clamped a hand over his mouth, then whispered, “Where did you get all that cash?”

“We robbed a bank.” Chloe cackled at Sean and Daniel’s shocked expressions. “Nah, I’m kidding. We just saved up a shit ton before heading this way.”

“We’ve wanted to go on a road trip like this for…” Max put some money in her pocket, zipping the bag up, “well, ever since we were kids, I guess.”

Daniel’s face lit up. “Like, a super awesome adventure?”

“Just like that.” Chloe nodded. “I totally wanted to be like Lara Croft.”

“And I’d be your faithful sidekick and companion,” Max said with a faint smile.

“You know it.”

Sean hoped he and Daniel could be just as free one day. “Seems like you guys made it.” 

Max and Chloe looked at each other, wistful. There was more in that one glance than words could ever say.

“It…” Max looked out of the window at the motel, “wasn’t an easy ride to get here.”

“It never is.”

The four of them got out of the truck. Max paid for their rooms, then they all headed upstairs with their stuff. 

“There’s some food in there.” Max pointed to a plastic bag in between the two single beds. “We’ll be next door if you need anything.”

When Chloe and Max left, Sean collapsed onto a bed. “Dude, I am wiped.”

Daniel jumped on his bed, spreading his arms and legs as wide as possible.

“Me too.”

Eventually, Sean rolled onto his side and grabbed the bag. It was full of snacks and treats, and some actual food. He also found an old packet of cigarettes in the bottom. Those probably weren’t meant to be in there, forgotten about. After food, while Daniel was taking a bath, Sean headed out to the stairs balcony to smoke. Someone else was out there too, Max.

“Hey.”

“Uh, hi.”

She glanced at the cigarettes. “And I’d just gotten used to life without smoke clouds.”

“Oh, sorry, didn’t realise you’d quit…”

That made her laugh. “Not me. Chloe.”

“I guess that makes more sense.”

“Seriously, don’t worry about it. I won’t even lecture you about how bad it is for your health or anything.”

Sheepishly, Sean lit up a cigarette while she continued texting. He had a serious case of deja vu right now - when they parted ways with Brody, the first time Daniel found out about their dad… calling Lyla. He stared longingly at Max’s phone. He really wanted to hear her voice again.

Max caught him looking, offering the phone. “You can use it if you want.”

“Are you sure?”

“Totally.” She glanced behind her. “I’ll, uh, check on Chloe. It’s way too quiet. Make sure she’s not conspiring with Daniel. She’s a good bad influence.”

“Good idea. Daniel isn’t exactly an angel.”

Max looked like she was about to say something, then shook her head. 

“I’ll come back out in a bit.”

Once she disappeared back into her room, Sean focused on the phone. It had been left on the message page. The most recent one was Chloe, then someone called David. Without thinking, he scrolled down. Some of the threads at the bottom were old, dating back to around 2013. His thumb hovered, ready to invade her privacy.

“Come on, Sean…. That’s not cool.”

Shaking his head, he pressed back to the keypad. Maybe calling Lyla again was a bad idea, especially when they were so close to Mexico, but…. He punched in the number he knew backwards by now. The phone rang. Heart in his throat, Sean waited. Just as he was about to give up, someone answered.

“Hello?”

“Lyla.”

He heard shuffling noises from the other end of the line and a door closing.

“Sean, is that you?”

“Yeah.” His voice wavered, eyes stinging. “I just… wanted to check how you were doing, you know.”

She didn’t answer straight away. 

“Not… great, but probably better than you are right now. Are you safe?”

He nodded, quickly remembering she couldn’t see him. “For now.”

Lyla sighed with relief. “You better stay that way.”

“I will. Promi-”

“Aaaaah!”

Sean felt something smack into his back, almost knocking him over the railing. The phone flew from his hand, plummeting to the ground.

“Shit!”

Before it could hit, it gently floated to a stop, then back up to the balcony. Sean exhaled deeply, snatching the phone from mid-air.

“What the hell, Daniel?”

“Sorry, I… were you calling Lyla?”

“I was trying to, before you almost killed m-”

Sean froze, suddenly realizing they had an audience. Max and Chloe stood on the balcony behind them, likely drawn out by the noise. How much had they seen?

Chloe was the first one to break the silence. “Nice reflexes.”

“You… saw?”

“My phone almost take a dive?” Max finished for him. “Yes.”

Taking it back, Max went into her and Chloe’s room. The rest followed her inside, Sean shutting the door. He hoped they were the only ones who saw the magic show. Why were they being so calm right now?

“People usually… freak out or something when they find out.”

“Maybe if it’s a surprise, then yeah, but…” Max smiled, wiggling her fingers. “You’re not the only one.”

“Wait, what?” Daniel’s eyebrows shot upwards. “You… you can do it too?”

“I can do… something. Like, tell you everything you have in your pockets right now.”

“You have X-Ray vision!”

Chloe shook her head. “Not quite, kid.”

“Okay, so… an old lighter with Puerto Lobos on it…” Max held her hand up, the lighter clutched in it.

Sean felt his pockets, his dad’s lighter missing. “What the fuck…? How did you do that?”

“She can…” Chloe paused dramatically, “time travel.”

Daniel clapped his hands. “That’s way cool!”

“In theory yes, but…” Max’s shoulders slumped, handing the lighter back. “It can really screw you over sometimes.”

“With great power comes great responsibility,” Daniel said solemnly. “That’s what Captain Spirit always says.” 

“Oh, and who’s Captain Spirit?”

“My friend! But I can’t tell you his real identity.” Daniel hunched over, covering the side of his face with his hand and whispered, “Mantroid would find him.”

“Maybe we’ll meet him someday.”

“You could team up with us!”

Rubbing his temples, Sean sighed deeply. “Daniel…” 

“You can join too, Sean.”

Max glanced at her phone, then held it out. “I’m guessing this is from whoever you called.”

There were five missed calls and a bunch of new messages.

Unknown: You okay?

Unknown: what happened?

Unknown: please answer

Unknown: im freaking out

Sean frowned. “Shit…”

“Here.” Chloe handed him a burner phone. “Put the number in here.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, we got a few of these. You know, just in case.”

After letting Lyla know he was okay on Max’s phone, he sent a message from the burner and arranged to call again tomorrow.

Max rolled her shoulders. “I think that’s enough excitement for one day.”

“Aw, but I wanted to-” Daniel was cut off by a big yawn.

“Rest up,” Chloe announced. “In the morning, we’re heading to a little place called ‘Away’. You guys can decide what you want to do after that.”

They parted ways, ready to officially end today. Sean’s eyelids felt so heavy. He felt like he’d been in the ring with a heavyweight boxer.

“Sean?”

“Yeah?”

Daniel turned on his side. “I’m sorry I almost knocked you off the balcony.”

“It’s… okay.” Sean sighed. Getting mad at Daniel wouldn’t change anything. “You’d have saved me. Just like you did Chris.”

“Yeah, because I’m Superwolf.” He paused, deep in thought. “I didn’t think there’d be other people. You know, like me. Not just people like Chris, who think they have powers. But people who… actually do. And different ones.”

“Neither did I.”

At least now, Daniel wouldn’t feel like he was such a freak of nature.

“There has to be like hundreds out there… somewhere.”

His little brother fell asleep almost as soon as he stopped talking.

“Maybe.”

As Sean laid there, staring at the ceiling and trying to ignore every single aching muscle, he managed a smile. 

Somehow, within just a few hours, their luck had changed.