Previous: "Humans Suck"

Series 11 Episode 3

“Hey, can you zip this up for me?” Brett queried. No matter how much practise they’d had, there was no way they’d ever be able to zip up the back of their favourite dress without a helping hand. After all, they weren’t a contortionist, and annoyingly, dresses weren’t built for broad shoulders.

The dress was worth the hassle, though. It was unashamedly feminine, with gorgeous fluffy frills decorating the almost-garishly pink garment. There was no way it could go unnoticed, and that was what Brett loved the most. Standing out was their biggest skill.

Of course, as they started to make a name for themselves through basketball, Brett was gaining a little media attention. They weren’t famous by any means, but a basketball player who was non-binary and wore skirts and dresses much of the time? Naturally, journalists couldn’t resist, but Brett didn’t mind. It gave them a platform, and it was essential for them to use it.

“I should start charging for this,” Oscar chuckled, allowing himself a brief reprieve from packing his work bag, “It’ll probably earn me more than what I currently get.”

“Who knew the service industry was your calling the whole time?” Brett laughed as Oscar pulled the zip upwards. Abruptly, though, he paused, the zip only halfway up. A few moments passed, and Brett was confused. Had it gotten stuck? They turned around to check on Oscar to see him frozen, like a paused television. It was a peculiar sight, and Brett was growing concerned.

“Hey, babe,” Brett broke the eerie silence, but no reply followed. Oscar was blinking and breathing, but nothing more was happening. His hand was still gripping the zip like he was about to continue any second, but more seconds passed with no movement, and Brett was scared. This wasn’t normal.

“Oscar? Oscar?” Brett’s tone grew more and more urgent every time they aid his name.

“Alright, alright,” Oscar sprung back into action as if nothing had happened, zipping the dress the entire way up.

“Are you okay?” Brett felt spooked out. What had happened? Was Oscar playing some kind of weird trick?

“No, but I’ll be fine when I get home from work,” Oscar chuckled, oblivious. Maybe it was nothing? Brett hoped so, but either way, they weren’t sure they’d be able to shake the thought that it could be something more serious. Brett had to keep their eyes peeled, for Oscar’s sake.

There were no words that Jono could find to describe how it felt to be back in Crystalshaw. Even from stepping off the plane and hearing American accents swarming around him for the first time in years, Jono had the most unusual feeling in his stomach. Was it excitement? Was it worry? Maybe it was both, Jono concluded, but he wished the circumstances were better.

Of all the things Dylan had taught him, the one Jono never forgot was to be optimistic, even in the bleakest situations. Among everything that was going on, Jono was trying to think about how good it would be to see his hometown again. How good it would be to be reunited with his whole family for the first time in seven years. The situation could hardly be worse, but Jono was trying to see the upside. It was a skill he was still working on.

No matter how hard he tried, though, there was no upside to the horrific bland hospital corridors. He knew the reality of the situation was bleak, and the hospital set the tone – depressing, bleak and miserable. There was no optimistic outlook in a place like that.

“Jono,” Sammi immediately threw her arms around him as they reached the waiting area. Both Sammi and Jeremy had been to London to visit, but as with everyone, Jono hated being apart from them long-term. Being isolated was the worst feeling ever.

“Good to see you dude,” Jeremy was next to offer a hug. That hug meant more than most because Jono felt so guilty. He wanted to be at Jeremy and Felix’s wedding so much, but it was just another big occasion that he’d missed. At least Sammi and Freddie’s wedding two years before had prepared him for the loneliness that avalanched him every time he missed something else.

“You too, all of you,” Jono made eye contact with the whole group, including a shy Felix behind them both. However, his attention shifted mainly to his mum, still sat, staring longingly at him with desperation as if he could find a solution for her worries. Oh, how Jono wished he had the power to answer her prayers, “What’s the latest?”

“It’s not good news, sweetie,” Helen was barely holding it together.

“The doctors said he only has a few hours left,” Sammi added, a regretful tone in her voice, “He’s in a coma.” Jono’s heart sank. He couldn’t believe what was happening. He couldn’t think straight.

“Can I see him? I want to say goodbye,” Jono queried. The tears hadn’t arrived yet, but he knew they’d arrive in abundance soon. He had to keep pushing through, for his family’s sake as much as his own.

“You need to do it now,” Helen nodded. Jono took a deep breath. He hadn’t prepared for his moment, and he knew it was going to be the toughest thing he’d ever done.

“Hey, thanks for coming so quickly,” Yasmin greeted Dylan at the security gate. Dylan always felt daunted by the labs – the whole building was under such tight security and all visitors had to be screened on entry, even though Dylan was very much a regular. They might as well have given him his own lanyard to save effort.

“It sounded urgent,” Dylan was concerned. Whenever Yasmin or Jeremy called him to the lab, it was usually bad news.

“The forensics from last night,” Yasmin began, leading the way through the narrow corridors. The labs always seemed so quiet, as if nobody else was even in the building. Dylan didn’t think he’d ever walked past anyone else in the corridors there, “I think it confirms what we already knew but didn’t want to believe.”

Dylan shuddered. He knew exactly what that meant – the explosion wasn’t an accident. Someone started it on purpose, but how could they have known? What in the forensic report was such a giveaway? Could they identify a suspect? Dylan was desperately hoping their problem could get solved sooner rather than later, but things were never that easy.

Yasmin swiped her key card into Jeremy’s lab, where Alexis was stood waiting for them. She was Jeremy’s assistant, and though Dylan didn’t know much about her, she was always willing to help them out, even though she didn’t know the full details of most of their enquiries.

“Where’s Jeremy?” Dylan wondered, noticing his absence from his own lab.

“Don’t you want to know what we found?” Yasmin swerved. She didn’t usually keep things from him, but Dylan needed to hear the update; he’d probe her more afterwards.

“Go ahead,” Dylan nodded. He was all ears.

“The debris from the bar was laced with the most unusual substance,” Alexis began, not even needing to look at the printout she was holding, “And when I say laced, it was completely soaked in it.”

“Soaked in what?” Dylan was desperate to know.

“Wolfsbane,” Alexis revealed. There it was. The confirmation Dylan had been waiting for. Something like wolfsbane wouldn’t have been present if the attacker didn’t know exactly what they were doing. It was unsettling to know that there was a skilled assassin out there, with the pack firmly on their radar.

“Who would know about wolfsbane?” Dylan chose his words carefully.

“My dad,” Yasmin immediately replied, “The cult.”

It had been a long seven years since the cult first exposed themselves to the pack. Seven years since Mia turned out to be working against them all along. In the time since, the pack hadn’t seen hide nor hair of the alleged cult. In fact, Dylan wasn’t convinced it even existed – it could easily have been made up by Mia to justify her deranged behaviour. However, while, this was certainly evidence in its favour, it raised more questions. Why had they been quiet for so long? What was the aim?

“Thanks Alexis, I’ll talk to Ed, unless Jeremy’s already on it?” Dylan swung the discussion back round.

“He didn’t want you to know,” Yasmin gave in reluctantly, “Steve’s in hospital. He had a heart attack, and it’s not looking good.”

“What?” Dylan was stunned. The Chadwicks were still like family to him, and though he hadn’t always been close with Steve nor Helen, it had been a huge comfort to keep some part of Jono close to him in their absence, “Why couldn’t he tell me?”

“Because Jono’s back,” Yasmin revealed. Dylan was speechless. His mouth felt like sandpaper and his hands clenched together. He didn’t know what to think.

‘Excited’ wasn’t the word to describe how Freddie felt about his new job. It was a step down compared to what he was used to, and the pay wasn’t as good either, but it was truly the only tech job in Crystalshaw. Beggars couldn’t be choosers, and Freddie needed a job.

Regardless, Freddie tried to remain optimistic. A repair shop would bring good experience, and most importantly, it allowed for money to keep flowing through. Upkeep of the house wasn’t cheap, especially with a teenager in tow.

The shop itself wasn’t big – it didn’t need to be when it was only staffed by a couple of people at a time. There was enough room behind the cash desk for a couple of chairs which double up as their workstations, but roomy, it was not. Freddie was making himself comfortable on one of the cheap, fold-up chairs, while his shift partner Charlie was on the other. Charlie was also the shop manager, and he interviewed Freddie for the job in the first place. His appearance was unkempt, with a speckle of facial hair and thick, long dreadlocks tamed only by a technicolour bandana. His vibe made Freddie feel immediately comfortable – he hadn’t been dulled or tamed by the world of work, and Freddie respected that.

“Oh, and the kettle’s just here,” Charlie continued his casual introduction, showing Freddie the ropes by pointing to the kettle in the corner of the desk, “We’re allocated a budget for refreshments, so we usually take it in turns to buy milk and teabags.”

“Good thing there’s a shop next door,” Freddie chuckled politely, hoping to make a good impression, “What’s in there?” Freddie pointed to a door at the side of the counter. It was just about the only thing left that Charlie hadn’t covered in his whistle-stop tour.

“Out of bounds, sorry,” Charlie shrugged, “It’s the basement, but I’ve never been down there. The boss explicitly forbids it. The last guy broke the rules and ran out screaming. I never saw him again. Whether he quit or got sacked, I don’t know.”

“Woah,” Freddie was intrigued, “What could cause that sort of reaction?” There was nothing like a mystery to grab his interest.

“I don’t know, and I’m quite happy not knowing if I’m honest. I value both my job and my sanity,” Charlie brushed it aside with a chuckle, but Freddie wasn’t going to forget about it so easily. Something more was going on, and if he’d learnt anything from Dylan, it was that there was no such thing as a coincidence.

There was no doubt in Harry’s mind that the explosion at the bar was a setback for him. It wasn’t the first, and he knew it wasn’t going to be the last either, but things were different this time. Harry could recognise the signs and the change in himself, and he knew what to do; his therapist was always at the end of the phone to book an urgent appointment with.

Since he moved to Crystalshaw five years before, Nina had been Harry’s saving grace. She listened unconditionally, and her advice felt realistic and appropriate to whatever his situation was. Without her, Harry wasn’t sure he’d have had the courage to take the first step with Dylan. To start building a future for himself. Therapy had been the making of him, and Harry wasn’t ashamed to admit it.

“Have you told Dylan how you feel?” Nina queried. Harry had told her about the explosion, minus some supernatural details, of course. He kept the focus on his emotions: how scared he felt in the moment, how relieved he felt to be out, and how guilty he felt after. The guilt was what prevailed – Harry felt responsible, and the whole pack could have died because of him. It was a heavy weight to carry.

“Sort of. He reassured me, told me it wasn’t my fault, and sure, I know I had nothing to do with the bomb, but everyone was there to see me. It was advertised on social media and everything. I almost got my friends killed,” Harry explained. Dylan was always understanding, more than anybody else, but that wasn’t enough this time.

“Do you think your friends blame you? Does Dylan?” Nina questioned. She spoke slowly, considering every word with the utmost precision, and every choice was always the correct one.

“No, they’re more focused on finding out who did it,” Harry shrugged, swirling his hair back behind his ear.

“Maybe that tells you something about how they feel? The only one punishing you is yourself, Harry, so there’s only one way you can start to move forward,” Nina advised.

“Forgive myself,” Harry realised. It made perfect sense; it was easier said than done, but Harry knew what to do, “Thank you.”

“Any time,” Nina smiled, standing up to usher Harry out, “Call again if you need to.”

“Will do,” Harry slid his favourite denim jacket back on and headed out the door. Whether he was ready to forgive himself yet, Harry wasn’t sure, but he had another perspective to consider: that of his friends.

Taking a deep breath, composing himself, Harry made his way towards the hospital exit. It was an environment Harry hated, though he accepted it was a necessary evil. It was a small barrier between him and the therapy sessions he knew he needed.

Suddenly, Harry did a double take. A young lad was approaching, walking in the opposite direction. He looked familiar – eerily familiar, in fact. Harry doubted himself. It couldn’t have been, right? He couldn’t mistake those dark, long curls, though. He’d seen them in so many photos scattered all over his apartment.

Then they locked eyes.

And he was just as gobsmacked as Harry was.

Harry kept walking, pretending he hadn’t noticed, but it couldn’t have been clearer. Now, he had to consider one important question.

How could he tell Dylan that Jono was back?

Baffled, Jono felt like he had seen a ghost. Had he just walked past who he thought he had? He’d seen the photos on Instagram, they even followed each other despite having never met or even spoken to one another. Despite being back in Crystalshaw, Jono hadn’t even considered that he might bump into someone like Harry. It had startled him to see him in the flesh.

So much was going through Jono’s mind. He wanted to talk to Harry, find out more about him, and find out how Dylan was doing. There was no doubt that they had a lot of love for each other, but Jono couldn’t help being curious to hear from the horse’s mouth.

The chance had passed, though. Harry had scuttled off in a hurry; he’d obviously recognised Jono too and panicked. Either way, it wasn’t the time nor the place for chit-chat, and Jono truly had no time to waste. He was about to embark on the most difficult conversation of his life, and he felt sick. The nerves were too much, and part of him wanted to back out. If he put it off, maybe his dad would be able to pull through? Then he wouldn’t need to have any conversation at all.

Jono wasn’t stupid. He knew how naïve that was, but he couldn’t face the truth. He didn’t want to admit that his dad was dying. He’d not even thought about the day he might have to say goodbye forever, because it felt so far away. He’d taken his family for granted for too long.

Lily jogged behind, a coffee in her hand from the vending machine back down the corridor. The one comfort Jono could take was knowing he had his big sister by his side throughout They were in it together, just like old times.

“Deep breaths,” Lily reminded. Jono could tell it was difficult for her too. She wrapped her right hand around Jono’s left and pushed the door open for them. The hospital room was even worse than the corridors, silent besides the regular beeping of the heart monitor. It was a constant reminder of their father’s mortality.

“I don’t know what to say,” Jono fretted. He had one chance to make the conversation count; he didn’t want to mess it up.

“Speak from the heart,” Lily advised, “At least you’ll know you meant it that way.” Jono nodded – that was all he needed to hear.

Together, they stood side-by-side facing the saddest sight Jono had ever witnessed. His father, usually full of energy, moving from one phone call to another as his job never seemed to stop, was silent and still, his eyes closed as if they were glued. He had an ugly hospital gown draped over his body, replacing the usual suit and tie, and wires were plugged into his chest and arms. It was a far cry from the man Jono was used to.

“Hey dad,” Lily took the lead, “Look who’s here.”

“Hi dad, I came home,” Jono struggled to speak. There was a gigantic lump in his throat, determined to block any sounds coming out other than cries, but Jono pushed through, “I miss you, dad. I was looking forward to seeing you and mom in London. We were going to go on the London Eye, remember? Get there early to avoid the British queues, you said.”

“And get home before the drunks arrive,” Lily chuckled.

“I’ll never forget that night, taking you and mom into Soho. The look on your face when people were puking on the street,” Jono smiled, wiping away the relentless stream of tears as if they were never there, “I wish I had more of those memories.”

“I’m glad we were able to make some in the last few years,” Lily added, making it into a positive, “I know you tried your best for us, dad, and I’m sorry we argued.”

“Me too,” Jono continued brushing tears frantically from his cheeks, “Thank you, dad. Love you.”

“Love you,” Lily concurred, holding his still hand. Jono placed his on top, a family united for the final time. His heart was breaking, and it was clear Lily’s was too. More than ever, they needed each other, because the coming days were going to be some of the hardest ever.

As the car skidded to a halt, Brett grabbed their kit. It had been a hectic day of full-on training, and they’d barely seen Oscar all day. They couldn’t forget his strange behaviour that morning, but all they could do was hope that it was a one-off.

Begrudgingly, Brett therefore had to accept a lift from Cody. Their own car was at home, and with an urgent text from Dylan, they didn’t have time to go all the way back from the gym, so Cody picked them up on the way. It made for an awkward atmosphere, though. Despite living together, they almost never had any time alone, and honestly, Brett wasn’t unhappy about that. Oscar may have forgiven Cody for his actions years back, but Brett felt differently. They didn’t trust him, and they tolerated him solely for Oscar’s sake.

“Are you sure Dylan wants me there?” Cody questioned, breaking the awkward silence.

“No,” Brett replied honestly, “But this concerns you too, and no matter what Dylan thinks, nobody wants to see you dead.”

“Fair,” Cody shrugged, “Believe it or not, I didn’t come back to Crystalshaw to cause trouble.”

“I know,” Brett acknowledged, “Oscar thinks the world of you now, and I think the world of him. If you’re making him happy, I’m good. Nothing else matters.”

“I won’t let him down, I promise,” Cody reassured, “I hope you’ll let me prove that to you. I’ve got no pack anymore. Nobody to show off in front of. Nothing to lose, except him.”

“I believe you,” Brett confirmed, “And I’m willing to give you a second chance.” Cody had been back no more than six months or so, and to his credit, he had been on his best behaviour. Maybe they needed to cut him some slack? “Come on, Dylan’s waiting for us.” Brett heaved their heavy gym bag up and out of the car, lifting it onto their shoulder before leading Cody into the sheriff station.

Inside, Brett had expected to see most of the pack there already, but the sheriff office was worryingly empty. Only Dylan and Yasmin were stood with Ed; the pack seemed to be quickly depleting.

“Hey, where’s Oscar?” Dylan greeted, obviously equally alarmed at the low turnout.

“Work, I guess he couldn’t escape,” Brett replied, “Where’s everyone else?”

“Freddie’s at work, Harry should be on his way, the Chadwicks are…kinda preoccupied,” Dylan vaguely replied, “So I guess it’s just us.”

“What’s the deal?” Brett queried, keeping a keen eye on Cody behind them. He looked unusually vulnerable; a far cry from the power-hungry alpha they knew years back. Suddenly, Brett’s opinion was shifting. Perhaps he wasn’t the worst person to share Oscar with after all?

“I’ve got a meeting in ten, so we need to get a move on,” Ed nudged.

“Sure, I’ll catch Harry up,” Dylan nodded, “The forensics from the bar came back. The bomb was covered in wolfsbane.”

“So it’s them? The cult?” Brett assumed. It made the most sense, and they’d been waiting for an attack for years. Brett didn’t anticipate it being such a cruel, heartless, yet also somehow cowardly act. Whoever it was couldn’t even face them, which was quite the opposite of their esteemed idol Forsyth, who took the most pleasure in everything he hunted.

“Probably, but we can’t be sure right now,” Yasmin replied, “Whoever it was, we need to keep our eyes peeled. By now, they must have seen that it didn’t work.”

“And we need evidence,” Ed added.

“They saw it on my Instagram,” Harry appeared at the office door, “They must have, it was the only place it was advertised. My account’s restricted so it must be someone who follows me.”

“You’re a genius,” Dylan smiled proudly. Brett was forever in awe of how much Dylan adored Harry – they were a match made in heaven, “Harry, take Yasmin and Brett and go through your followers. I’ll see if I can get a scent from the bar. Cody, I could do with your help.” Brett noticed Cody’s face perk up. He looked delighted to be included. What was left of the pack had come together as a team, as they always did, but Brett still had one concern – why was Oscar taking so long to arrive?

Freddie’s first shift was drawing to a close, and it had been smooth sailing all round. He hadn’t expected anything to the contrary – not much could go wrong with fixing laptops and smartphones.

It had been somewhat tedious, though. The shop wasn’t exactly in the centre of town, so customers seemed few and far between. Time had passed surprisingly fast regardless, thanks to the company of Charlie. Delightfully, they had a lot in common – comics, video games and all sorts of geeky interests that Freddie never shared with anyone. It was refreshing to find someone so similar.

Ding! The rusty bell announced someone’s arrival as the door creaked its way open. Freddie glanced at the clock – it was five minutes to closing time, and he needed to get home. Sammi needed him, and with everything going on with Steve, there was no way she’d have been able to sort Jonah’s dinner out as well. He needed to shoot off.

“We’re closing,” Charlie announced, without looking up, “Come back tomorrow.”

“I came to pick up,” the voice replied. Freddie immediately perked up. He knew that voice, and it was the voice he was looking forward to hearing the most: Sammi.

“What are you doing here?” Freddie smiled, “How’s Steve?”

“Not great, Jono and Lily are there with Helen, Jeremy and I are taking a break, he’s gone home with Felix. Thought I’d surprise you and pick you up,” Sammi explained, “Honestly, I just wanted to see you.” It was a lovely surprise; Freddie was delighted to see his wife even sooner than expected, especially after everything she’d gone through in the prior twenty-four hours.

“Care to introduce me?” Charlie interrupted. Freddie had been so distracted that he’d almost forgotten his new friend was there.

“Of course. Charlie, this is Sammi, my beautiful wife. Sammi, this is Charlie, my new friend and the shop manager,” Freddie did the honours, “The keeper of the mysterious basement.”

“The what?” Sammi chuckled.

“Well, it’s not Charlie’s basement as such, but it’s out of bounds. Nobody knows why,” Freddie mentioned. All day, he’d been curious about what could be such a big secret down there. Most basements were easy to ignore – they were unnoticed by anyone who didn’t have a specific reason to use them. If specific instructions were given to avoid the basement, it had to contain something worth hiding.

“And you haven’t explored down there yet? Dude, come on, you’re slacking,” Sammi teased.

“The last guy got fired for it,” Freddie sighed. Sacked on day one was the last outcome he needed.

“Or was so horrified by what he saw that he never wanted to come back,” Charlie eerily added. Freddie assumed he was joking, but he couldn’t tell without knowing what was down there.

“Well, I’m not an employee,” Sammi confidently marched behind the desk and towards the shoddy basement door. Amazingly, it wasn’t even locked – that was one hell of a trust exercise, Freddie thought.

“No,” Charlie attempted to protest, but Freddie couldn’t ignore his curiosity any longer.

“Come on, this is our chance,” Freddie encouraged. Charlie paused, obviously trying to find an excuse not to, but no words came out. Obviously, he was curious too. Either way, it was too late – Sammi had already flung the door open and started to take in the sights. There was no turning back.

“Oh my god,” Sammi exclaimed, stepping just one foot inside, “Guys, you have to see this.” Freddie couldn’t get inside fast enough – he had no idea what to expect, and that made him feel excited.

And scared.

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