Separated by necessity for seven years, Dylan and Jono have built their own lives. Dylan has a new boyfriend and a new flat, while Jono's still struggling to move on, but when an unexpected event brings them together again, will the magic still be there? Can the pack reunite in time to stop the Forsyth cult? Will the Nemeton's curse ever be broken?
Onwards and Upwards
Dylan helps Harry prepare for his gig, which serves as the perfect night out for the whole pack - except Jono, who, seven years on, is still in London. A visit from Lily perks him up slightly, but when unexpected news arrives, how will he react?
Reeling from a surprise attack, the pack have to pick themselves back up, but with his gig the target, Harry feels guilty. Dylan comforts his boyfriend, while Jono hears devastating news from Lily and makes a bold decision. Yasmin is deflated as her date ends in disaster, and Freddie feels lost when Jonah breaks his rules again.
Dylan and Yasmin's worst fears are confirmed when the forensic evidence from the explosion arrives. Harry confronts his demons, while Jono arrives back in Crystalshaw for the moment he'd been dreading. Elsewhere, Freddie is intrigued by his new job, and Brett comes to a realisation about Cody.
With the news spreading about Jono's return, Dylan struggles to cope with his emotions. Can he resist the urge to see him? Harry's anxieties get the better of him, while Jeremy makes a startling discovery about the basement at Freddie's job. Brett worries about an absent Oscar.
1: Onwards and Upwards Written by MarthaJonesFan
Working the last shift was always the biggest slog for Barney. It was the deadest part of the day – nobody needed their laptop fixed at nine o’clock in the evening, yet for some reason, there was still two of them keeping the deserted repair shop open for another hour. It was a waste of time, and the money wasn’t nearly good enough to justify it.
The last customer had arrived at least an hour ago, and time seemed to be dragging, so Barney had to make his own entertainment. The beauty of working in a repair shop meant it was easy to look busy – nobody immediately assumed that he’d be playing Candy Crush on one of the laptops, so he could easily get away with it. In fact, it was fool proof; only one other person knew the truth, and Barney’s colleague Charlie was equally as guilty.
Outside of work, Charlie wasn’t the type of person Barney usually kept company with. Barney was clean-shaven and prided himself on being smooth faced. Charlie, however, was something of a hippie, with a colourful sunshine bandana being the only thing taming his unevenly shaped dreadlocks that grew halfway down his back. At work, however, they made an excellent team. Neither of them really wanted to be there, but experience in the world of technology was vital, and the pool of jobs in Crystalshaw was limited.
“I’m finally catching you up,” Charlie remarked, completing another level with ease.
“Not for long,” Barney defended, “Once I figure this level out, I’ll be flying ahead again.”
“Oh, you really think you’re all that, don’t you?” Charlie taunted.
“Because I am, duh,” Barney chuckled smugly. He had nothing to prove.
“Okay, let’s put it to a real test,” Charlie smirked excitedly, “Why don’t you take a trip into the basement?”
Barney’s arrogance quickly faded. The boss never showed their face – Barney didn’t even know their name, Charlie had conducted his interview as shop manager and the boss was nothing more than a mysterious entity as far as either of them knew, but they had just one rule: never go in the basement. It was non-negotiable, and as explicit as instructions went, “You know the boss doesn’t allow us down there.”
“Oh, if you’re too chicken,” Charlie teased, disregarding the rules. Barney was torn. The instructions were clear, but realistically, who was going to know? It wasn’t like anyone was going to be watching the CCTV of the shop like a Big Brother live feed, and Charlie was the only witness. His back was covered.
“Mission accepted,” Barney regained some of his bravado, not allowing Charlie to take an easy win. The basement door was, bafflingly, left unlocked – a strange move when it was supposed to be so closely guarded. Barney’s curiosity had never been stronger.
As he moved towards the door, Barney’s stomach began performing somersaults, tying itself in more and more knots as if it were keen to replicate Charlie’s hair. He wasn’t sure why – it couldn’t have been anything that exciting, but in the three months he’d worked there, nobody had dared step foot inside. Whatever it was had to be at least vaguely interesting, right?
Stepping through the creaky wooden door, Barney’s mind was immediately blown by what he could see. His mind went into overdrive. He panicked. Never had he seen something so horrifying, so grotesque, so… he didn’t even know. All he knew was that he needed to get out, and not just from the basement, or even the shop.
He needed to get out from Crystalshaw itself.
Panic over. Dylan had no need to stress any longer. Just minutes before the deadline, the article had been submitted. Finally, Dylan could calm himself down. His typically prompt and efficient style had been railroaded by a surprising number of social occasions distracting him over the prior two weeks, but nevertheless, the article was in on time. That was what mattered, and he was damn proud of it too.
Now, Dylan could finally wash up the growing collection of mugs coating the coffee table. His entire day had been spent typing an article about college life and autism, all from his own experience, and it was just the type of article he’d been wanting to write for years. Irritatingly, the timing couldn’t have been worse, and he’d have preferred not to type it up on such little sleep.
Thankfully, the kitchen was just a few metres away from the sofa. Their pad was small but delightfully cosy, and besides, the size wasn’t important when it had everything they needed. It was a small flat as part of a new housing development in Crystalshaw, and a lot of saving up meant they had finally secured a place of their own just a few months back.
“Ah, finally a clean house,” Harry smiled in his usual playful manner. He’d spent much of the day in their bedroom rehearsing for his next gig. He wasn’t a famous musician by any means, but he played occasionally at the local bar – it got him his share of the rent, at least, and he rarely looked happier than when he was on stage.
“Says the person who hasn’t showered today,” Dylan mocked with just as cheeky a grin.
“Hey, I showered before bed, stop your criticising,” Harry defended humorously as he fell into his usual end of the sofa, “Did you submit that article?”
“With minutes to spare,” Dylan answered, squirting some washing up liquid into the sink, “I swear, last night almost screwed me over. I shouldn’t have let you talk me into another round.”
“Babe, it was our anniversary, you’re meant to go a little wild,” Harry reminded, “And four years with you is something that’s definitely worth celebrating in my eyes.”
“Same,” Dylan smiled, carefully stacking the clean mugs upside down on the draining board, “Four years with you, I mean, not me.” They both chuckled. Harry had arrived in Dylan’s life at a time when romance had firmly taken a backseat. He’d been single for three years, and a few dates aside, he was happy with that. After all, nothing could quite compete.
That was, until he met Harry. He was kind, a good listener, funny, and seriously good looking, with wavy brown hair that languished down to his nipples, eyes that were colour-coordinated with his locks, and a body to die for, thanks to spending much more time at the gym than Dylan did. After everything that had happened, Harry was exactly what Dylan needed, and he was so happy they were building a life together.
“Did anything come in the post?” Dylan queried, knowing he was expecting one thing in particular.
“None, sorry,” Harry tapped the sofa, inviting Dylan over, “I’m sure it’ll arrive in the next few days.” Of course, Harry knew exactly what Dylan was anticipating.
“I hope so,” Dylan obliged, cuddling up to Harry like the perfect lock and key, “He’s never usually late.”
“I’m sure Jono has a good reason,” Harry soothed, “Not that I’ve met the guy. He could be a complete dick for all I know.” Dylan picked up a cushion and playfully hit Harry on the head. Of course, Harry knew the full story about Jono, from how brightly their love burned to how suddenly it crashed down. He was remarkably understanding whenever Dylan stressed about the absence of a postcard from the guy who was still technically his husband. It was beyond complex, and Harry was far more sympathetic than he needed to be, “Joke, I promise.”
“Good,” Dylan enjoyed his mini-victory, “Okay, I should get ready. Need to wear something nicer than pyjamas for your gig.”
“Dylan, you could come wearing trash bags and you’d still be the hottest guy in the room,” Harry smiled, “You invited the pack, right?”
“Yeah, they’re all coming, apart from Lily who’s visiting Jono. Jeremy and Felix got back last night so they’ll be there, and Freddie and Sammi are bringing Jonah for the first time, so it’ll be a good night,” Dylan replied. The pack had never been tighter – all of them had pursued their individual careers, but Crystalshaw never changed – they were always needed.
“Awesome. I should probably get down there for soundcheck, but don’t be long, okay?” Harry urged, planting a kiss on Dylan’s lips. Dylan felt so comfortable, and after feeling like his future had drained away for good, Harry had been the perfect opportunity to refocus.
No matter how hard he tried, Jono just couldn’t find the right words. He’d been sat trying to write his postcard to Dylan for an hour, but he just didn’t know what to say. Words were meant to be his speciality – as a journalist, they were literally his craft – so why couldn’t be pick the right ones?
Whenever they were together in person, Jono never once felt pressure to find the right words. Conversation always flowed naturally from one thing into the next, but one postcard every three months just wasn’t the same, especially when Jono had little to report.
There was no question that Jono felt delighted for everything Dylan had achieved. From finding a new man in Harry, to succeeding as a freelance journalist, and now moving into his own flat as outlined in his newest postcard. He’d made the last seven years count in every possible way, and Jono was undeniably proud. He wanted nothing more than to see Dylan succeed.
All of that, however, made Jono feel slightly inadequate. Sure, he had graduated college in London with a first, and worked his way up as an investigative journalist, but little else felt like it had changed. Jono was still flat sharing with Akshay, George’s friend from when he studied in London. Akshay was nice and made for a good flatmate, but they had little in common, and Jono had only kept in touch with a couple of people from college, so London wasn’t quite the social experience it had cracked up to be.
“Hey, Jono,” Akshay knocked on the bedroom door. They each had their own bedrooms with an en suite, but the living area and kitchen were shared. It was a sizeable enough flat, and Jono didn’t need any more space – he had a bed and a desk of his own, and with most of his possessions stored back at his parents’ house, that was enough, “Your visitor is here.” Instantly, Jono’s mood lifted. This was a long overdue visit from one of Jono’s favourite people. The person he’d trusted the most, for the longest time.
“Where’s the party at?” Lily beamed as she slid past Akshay and straight into Jono’s arms. He wrapped her in the tightest hug; it had been far too long since they were last together. After all, Jono wasn’t prepared to risk going anywhere near Crystalshaw, so Lily had to come to him, and it was dependent entirely on her work schedule. Freelance photography wasn’t easy to plan around.
“It’s so good to see you,” Jono smiled, sitting back on his desk chair while Lily collapsed onto the bed, “How was the flight?”
“On time, for a change,” Lily relaxed, laying her suitcase down on its back, “I see it’s that time again,” She pointed to the postcard lying flat on the desk, “I can take it back if it’s easier, it’ll probably be quicker, and cheaper.”
“I’ll need to actually write it first,” Jono sighed, “I’ve got nothing to say. Dylan’s doing so well, and I’m the same old, same old.”
“It’s not a competition,” Lily reminded, “He just wants to hear from you.”
“I guess I just feel a bit stagnant,” Jono admitted, “I’m twenty-six, I thought I’d be settling down now.”
“Like Dylan is,” Lily realised, “It’s okay to be jealous, you still love him, and he’s got someone else.” She always knew exactly how he felt.
“I’m sure Harry is great, everyone’s said he takes good care of Dylan, and I’m so happy he found someone who understands him, but god, I wish it was me,” Jono confessed. No matter how concrete the situation was, Jono couldn’t quite accept that things between him and Dylan were over forever.
“Okay, that’s it. We’re going out,” Lily decided, “You can choose, I don’t know my way around, but there needs to be boys. Cute ones, specifically. We’re finding you a boyfriend.”
“No, no,” Jono protested immediately.
“Yes, come on. Where’s that place with all the gay clubs? Soho? We’re hitting up Soho, little bro,” Lily stood up with a smug grin painted onto her face. She wasn’t going to back down, so Jono reluctantly grabbed his phone, wallet and keys. He didn’t feel as optimistic as his sister, but a little bit of attention from cute boys couldn’t have been bad, right?
Another day was nearing its close, and unusually, Yasmin couldn’t wait to get out of work. Overtime was her best friend on a normal day; she had work piling up, and there weren’t enough hours in the day to get through everything as thoroughly as she wanted to.
This was different though. For a change, Yasmin was finishing early. As adult life continued, plans with friends seemed to be few and far between, but Harry’s gigs were the perfect chance for a get-together with the people she cared most about. This time, work could take a back seat.
Yasmin felt exceptionally comfortable in her lab most of the time. It was a reasonable size, and everything was organised in just the way it needed to be. Her team were friendly, and though she was the newest person to join, it didn’t take her long to prove her worth.
Two timid knocks on her lab door sounded, followed by a sheepish Jeremy poking his head in. Much like Yasmin herself, he wore a plain white lab coat – stylish it wasn’t, but impeccable for sure. His thick mop of curls was tied back into an impressively neat bun, and he held a clipboard under his arm. Jeremy’s lab was the one opposite, which made it an even more welcoming place to work. Their line of work was different – Jeremy was a forensic scientist while Yasmin’s speciality was medicine – but their work overlapped occasionally.
“Sorry, are you busy?” Jeremy stood in the doorway as if he were afraid to come any closer. Of course, nobody was more welcome than him as far as Yasmin was concerned.
“Not at all, come in,” Yasmin invited, “Everything okay?”
“I’m not sure. I need your opinion on something,” Jeremy brought a sheet of paper towards her, “I was analysing a couple of samples from the murder scene downtown yesterday. This is from a strand of hair.” Jeremy handed the clipboard over with a printout attached, but Yasmin wasn’t sure what she was looking at. The picture made no sense to her.
“What is that?” Yasmin questioned, her brain baffled by the emptiness of the DNA analysis in front of her. There was absolutely nothing to examine.
“My thoughts exactly,” Jeremy continued, “We found a strand of hair, pulled from the root, which doesn’t have any DNA.”
“That’s impossible,” Yasmin was confused, “The follicle at the root should be rich in DNA. There must be some mistake.”
“That’s what I thought, so I checked, more than once, and I’m certain that it’s correct. I’ve never seen anything like it,” Jeremy clarified, “It can’t be human or animal without DNA.”
“Not a bad discovery for someone so jet-lagged,” Yasmin changed the subject with a jokey grin. It was Jeremy’s first day back after his honeymoon with Felix, and though they hadn’t had much time to socialise that day, it was obvious they’d had a good time by the series of photos on Felix’s Instagram page.
“I hope the bags under my eyes aren’t that obvious,” Jeremy chuckled, “Staying awake at Harry’s gig won’t be easy.”
“The tan disguises the bags,” Yasmin reassured playfully, “Besides, you’ve got to stay awake. It’s a big night.”
“Wait, you mean…Harrison’s coming?” Jeremy looked gobsmacked. He was the only one Yasmin had told about her dating app success. She’d been talking to Harrison for a month, and they hadn’t yet met, but what better opportunity than at a gig where her friends were mere metres away if she needed them?
“Our first date,” Yasmin continued, “He’s been super sweet, I really want it to go well.” Seeing her friends getting married and committing to relationships was difficult when none of that luck seemed to be going her way. She’d dated a few guys, but none were worth the time she spent on them for one reason or another. This time, things felt different. Finally, a dating app hadn’t let her down, or so she hoped. It was a big night ahead.
“You’ll ace it,” Jeremy encouraged.
“Thanks,” Yasmin blushed, “Hey, mind if I analyse the sample myself tomorrow? I’m intrigued.”
“Sure,” Jeremy accepted, “Knock yourself out. I’ll see you tonight, I’ve got some paperwork I need to do before I leave. There’s a megaphone in the cupboard to wake me up in twenty minutes.” Yasmin chuckled. A lot was running through her mind, but Jeremy was the calming influence she needed. Next stop: conquering the night ahead.
Panting like mad, his lungs desperate to be topped up with oxygen, Oscar felt exhilarated. He was simultaneously riding the insane high side-by-side with Brett, who was similarly breathless. After such an intense period, all Oscar wanted to do was lie beside the person he held dearest.
After all, things couldn’t have been better with Brett. Since graduating college, they had moved in to a small flat on the outskirts of town. It wasn’t huge, but it was home, and as long as they were together, Oscar couldn’t complain.
The rent didn’t cost much, either, and with Brett being one of the most hotly-tipped basketball players in California, their wage allowed for a lot of disposable income for their side project: activism. There was nothing Brett valued more than their voice, and defending the rights of the LGBTQ+ community was at the forefront of their priorities. Oscar admired it, and he wished he could take part in it more often, but the long hours at the local newspaper didn’t leave much wiggle room. As keen as he was to be a journalist, it wasn’t exactly his dream job, especially when most of the big stories in Crystalshaw couldn’t exactly be reported in the paper.
“I swear you get better and better every single time,” Brett commented. Their curls were messy from where Oscar’s hands had ruffled them up, much like Oscar’s own untamed mop. They looked so perfect, even with a red, sweaty face that Oscar undoubtedly shared. Brett truly was perfect.
“I don’t want to move,” Oscar basked in the joy of the moment.
“Me neither,” Brett concurred, “But I’m going to have to love you and leave you. The protest starts in an hour, and I need to be there early.”
“The café again?” Oscar queried.
“Yup, they’re putting their foot down. It’s not even about firing their transphobic employee, as good as that would be. It’s about the lack of policy against hate speech. It goes beyond just LGBTQ+,” Brett explained. Their passion was unparalleled.
“They’ll see sense when it affects their profits,” Oscar sighed. The world was so narrow-minded.
“Exactly,” Brett concurred, grabbing their pink, sleeveless top and purple skirt, “And this time, subtlety isn’t on the table.”
“Like it ever is,” Oscar smiled. Nothing made him prouder than seeing Brett be their authentic self.
“Too right,” Brett chuckled, “Okay, I need to go. See you at the gig babe.” Brett planted a kiss on Oscar’s lips before sadly slipping out of the bedroom. Oscar rolled over, cosying up in bed. He didn’t feel the need to move just yet – why would he waste the chance to relax on his day off?
“Looks like we’ve got the house to ourselves,” came another voice from the bedroom door. Oscar lazily looked round, moving as few muscles as he could. There stood Cody, wearing nothing but a red dressing gown that merged with his bouncy curls, “I think we should make the most of it.”
“I…I just…” Oscar mulled, still tired. His head was telling him he couldn’t muster the energy, but his body was saying something else, “Get over here.” Cody didn’t need any more persuasion. In an instant, he climbed onto the bed and immediately closed his lips in on Oscar’s.
This wasn’t the first time Oscar had experienced it back-to-back, though. Despite how well things had been going with Brett, Oscar couldn’t deny his feelings for Cody, too. He’d worked so hard to improve himself, and though it had been a bumpy road and he was no angel, he’d proved he could be trusted on multiple occasions. Not to mention how, above all else, Cody cared so deeply for Oscar.
Of course, everything that happened between them was above board – polyamory suited Oscar, and Brett was open-minded and supportive, particularly in the knowledge that they were always each other’s number ones. That wasn’t to say it wasn’t awkward, though, with Cody staying in the spare room. The atmosphere was impenetrable between Oscar’s two lovers at times.
Regardless, Oscar loved the feel of his body pushed up against Cody’s. The energy was different to Brett’s, but still so electric and exhilarating. It wasn’t the smoothest of arrangements, but Oscar made it work. It was the best of both worlds.
There was no sugar-coating it – Jonah’s day had taken a turn for the worst. What started as a fun, light-hearted morning had resulted in a meeting with the guidance counsellor as well as his guardians. Where was everyone’s sense of humour?
Jonah’s peers had scarpered before they could get caught, which meant he had to take the brunt of the consequences. After all, he wasn’t going to grass them up, but he’d definitely be having words that evening.
It could have been worse, though. The guidance counsellor was Keisha, who he’d known for years. Of course, in school, she was Miss Starbright, but a meeting with a teacher who spent many a night getting drunk with Sammi at their house? That couldn’t have been too bad, right? Keisha’s face said otherwise, though. She looked serious and stern – this wasn’t the Keisha he was used to. She looked so disappointed.
“I’m sorry to call you both in like this,” Keisha began. Freddie and Sammi were sat either side of Jono. For Sammi, she hadn’t needed to come far – her classroom was just down the hall – but this was Freddie’s last day off before his new job started. He wasn’t going to be pleased, “You’re lucky this isn’t with Mrs. Harding. I had to convince her that a meeting with the principal wasn’t necessary and that I had it under control.”
“We appreciate it,” Sammi nodded, “What the hell were you thinking, Jonah?”
“It was only meant to be a bit of fun,” Jonah defended.
“Fun? You’re not here to have fun,” Freddie sighed, “Riding bikes around the canteen isn’t going to help your grades.”
“I’m dropping history as soon as I can, it’s dull and pointless,” Jonah protested.
“That’s not the point,” Sammi replied. She was the calmest of the three, and according to Jonah’s peers, she was just the same in class, too. English with Mrs. Ruben was everyone’s favourite lesson, not that Jonah had ever been put in one of her classes, “You’re lucky you’re not being suspended.”
“It was a damn close call, too,” Keisha added, “Mrs. Harding suggested a compromise. Jonah, you’ll be having weekly meetings with me to discuss your behaviour and grades. We all want you to succeed.”
Jonah sighed. He had no choice in the matter, so there was no point debating – even if everything was being blown out of proportion.
“Don’t think you’re coming to the gig tonight,” Freddie scolded. That was the last thing Jonah needed: losing the one thing that he’d been looking forward to all week.
“Freddie, please,” Jonah groaned.
“No,” Freddie remained firm, “You can stay at home and catch up on the work you missed.” Jonah was fed up. He was usually close to his brother, but when it came to school, he was a boring disciplinarian.
Thankfully, Jonah already had a plan forming in his head. He wasn’t succumbing to boredom that night.
It had been far too long since Lily was in a club. She barely had the time to spare with the amount of travelling she did. A night out to let her hair down was exactly what the doctor ordered, and she knew she’d enjoy every second of it.
After all, being a photographer was surprisingly exhausting. It looked like the most tranquil job on the planet, and at times, it was. Local work meant a couple of hours out of the house followed by a cosy evening at home editing and selecting the best shots. However, Lily’s reach was global, and the travel was exhausting, so when a day off arrived, it was spent fixing jet lag instead of partying. She wasn’t sure how she ever had enough energy to host so many parties as a teenager.
Despite that, some parts of Lily never changed. Quickly, she had found herself in the middle of the dancefloor as if she were the main attraction every single night. The music had a strong beat, and that was all she needed with a little alcohol already in her system.
Disappointingly, Lily’s master plan didn’t seem to be working. Her view was somewhat obscured by her fellow dancers, but she could just about see Jono sat at a table by himself, staring down at his phone. It broke her heart to see him continually looking so sad. It had been the same ever since he moved to London, as if he’d left a part of himself behind in Crystalshaw. In a way, he sort-of did, and Lily hated to see it. He deserved the world. She wanted nothing more than to find a solution to their issue of two alphas in the same pack, but seven years of looking had been wholly unsuccessful. Hopes were low to non-existent.
Feeling her phone vibrating incessantly, Lily slid to the side of the dancefloor. She was sure it was going to be George checking up on her; he always liked to make sure she’d landed safely, and it was super cute. She knew she could rely on him to take good care of her.
Strangely, though, it wasn’t George calling. Three words flashed up on the screen: “Mom.” Something wasn’t right – her mum never called her, not unless there was an emergency.
“Hi mom, is everything okay?” Lily shouted over the noise from the club.
“Lily, it’s your dad,” Helen sounded tearful on the other end of the line. Lily rarely heard her mum cry. Now, she was worried, “He’s in hospital. He had a heart attack this afternoon. It’s not looking good.”
Lily’s stomach sank. She didn’t know what to say. She’d been gut-punched in the worst way. It had only been a day since she’d seen her dad, and he seemed just fine. They were planning to fly over to see Jono in a couple of months; he was going to be gutted. She needed to break the news to her brother, but the distance was going to hurt more than ever.
“I’m so gutted I can’t make it,” Josh mentioned, the backdrop of a stunning New York skyscraper almost distracting Dylan from what he was saying, “Tell Harry to come on tour, I need everyone here to see how good my sort-of brother-in-law is.”
“Try explaining that one,” Dylan laughed, trying to keep his phone still so he didn’t ruin the videocall, “Come and see my married brother’s boyfriend.”
“Things will get interesting on the occasion that Harry proposes,” Josh chuckled.
“I’ve not thought about that too much,” Dylan shrugged, “Harry knows the situation. It’s a pretty unique one to be in.”
“Fair,” Josh accepted, “Hey, I really need to go, I need to be on the subway within three minutes or I’ll be late for my date night with Sarah, you know what she’s like. Tell Harry I said good luck and give Libby a big kiss from me.”
“Will do,” Dylan smiled, “Say hi to Sarah for me. See you soon.” Josh vanished off his phone screen. Dylan missed having his brother around, but at least he was only a phone call away, and it was so satisfying to see him settled with a job and girlfriend of his own. He’d never seemed so happy.
With their catch-up complete, Dylan refocused on the night ahead. The gig was minutes from starting, and Harry was making the final preparations with his guitar on the tiny excuse for a stage. It was completely obvious that the bar didn’t usually provide much in the way of live music, but Dylan enjoyed the intimate feel of the venue.
“How do I look? I feel like I’ve just ran a marathon,” Harry was starting to seem nervous. He always felt the nerves before a show, even though over half of the crowd were his friends.
“You look amazing,” Dylan reassured. It was the complete truth – Harry looked drop-dead gorgeous all the time, even with a bedhead first thing in the morning. Dylan was awestruck by how he managed to be so perfect.
“I’ll take your word for it,” Harry blushed, “Hey, your mom’s here. Go say hi.”
“Break a leg,” Dylan nodded, not needing to be asked twice. He swerved through the tables, smiling at various members of the pack before reaching Caroline and Ed by the entrance. As always, Ed was calm and composed, but Caroline looked knackered, as if she hadn’t slept in days.
“Hey, you made it,” Dylan beamed. As much as he’d always appreciated his mum, leaving home had really taught him just how much he valued everything she did for him, single-handedly for many years too.
“Gemma said she’d babysit Libby until we’re home, first time we’ve had a night out in ages,” Caroline replied, relieved. Libby was seven now, and she had more energy than any of them could keep up with. Having a little sister had been the craziest learning curve for Dylan. She had the purest soul, and Dylan knew he would do everything in his power to protect her.
“Good evening,” Harry began, the chatter of the crowd immediately dying down. Dylan took a seat with Freddie, Sammi and George at the front, just next to Yasmin’s table; she looked pleasingly cosy with her date, a tall jock-type lad who Dylan certainly saw the appeal for. Nevertheless, Dylan didn’t get distracted. He focused on Harry, whose nerves he could feel brushing against his skin. He had no need to worry when he was obviously going to smash it.
Confusingly, as the crowd silenced, Dylan’s ears focused on another sound. A gentle ticking sound, like an old clock. Dylan scanned the room, but there didn’t seem to be any clocks displayed, and the sound was far too close for comfort.
“Can you hear that?” Dylan whispered to Freddie.
“The clock?” Freddie replied, knowing exactly what Dylan meant.
“I don’t think it’s a clock,” Dylan shuddered, “I think it’s a bomb. We need to get out. Now.”
2: Humans Suck Written by MarthaJonesFan
There was no doubt about it – Jonah knew he was playing with fire. Disobeying Freddie’s clear instructions could have been a recipe for disaster, especially after the day he’d had. There was no way he’d get away with his plan if Freddie knew about it.
Therefore, there was one success criteria to meet for the evening to be a success: don’t get caught. As soon as Freddie and Sammi had vacated the house, Jonah made his own way out the back. All he had to do was head back the same way within a couple of hours. It was fool proof.
Jonah had spent ten minutes casually making his way into town. The meeting point was obvious – it was the same one he always used to meet with Leah. That specific bench along the outskirts of the playground was somewhere they’d spent many an hour talking. She was the person he trusted the most, after all, and the only true friend he’d made in Crystalshaw.
“I thought you weren’t going to make it,” Leah looked relieved as Jonah finally reached his destination. She looked like she’d put effort into how she looked that night – more than usual, that was. She was naturally so pretty, but make-up gave her confidence, and Jonah loved the energy it gave her.
“When have I ever let you down?” Jonah brushed off, allowing his charm to do the bulk of the work.
“How long have you got?” Leah laughed.
“Rude,” Jonah joined the joke, “Look, as much as I love this bench, we need to get out of here. Freddie, Sammi and George are all literally over there.” Jonah pointed to the bar across the road. If Sammi or his brothers were to see him, he’d be dead meat. Taking a risk was the last thing he wanted to do when he was on thin ice already.
“Grounded, right?” Leah noticed, “I told you you’d get caught. Those idiots don’t care about you. Maybe you should try listening to me once in a while?” Leah was one of those people who were always right. Somehow, her brain arrived at the best decision or the correct answer all the time, and Jonah wished he had such a skill.
“Not explicitly grounded. I was just, you know, banned from coming out tonight. As long as I’m not spotted near that bar, I’ll be fine,” Jonah reasoned, convincing himself as much as Leah.
BAM! Jonah lost his footing, crashing abruptly to the ground. He wasn’t sure what had happened; smoke immediately obscured his vision, and his senses had never felt so disorientated. His first instinct told him one thing: check Leah was okay. He wafted his hand to try and spot her among the grey cloud that engulfed them in an instant.
“Jonah?” she called out. She was right by his side, much to Jonah’s relief. He reached out and met her hand, linking together for safety, “What the hell was that?”
Jonah looked over and began to panic. The explosion had come from the place he desperately hoped it hadn’t, “My family are in there.” He didn’t know what to do.
Much to Yasmin’s delight, the date was going swimmingly. Everything she was worried about turned out to be for nothing. Harrison was the perfect gentleman – good-looking, kind, and he had a great sense of humour. It couldn’t have been going better.
That didn’t stop Yasmin feeling anxious, though. Dating wasn’t easy in the supernatural world A normal date felt like a gigantic lie when she couldn’t exactly explain the technicality that she wasn’t actually human. How could she begin to explain what a nix was? When was the right time? Would he even believe her? So much could still go wrong – no wonder dating had hardly been a priority of Yasmin’s.
That was an issue for another time, though. Yasmin was fed up with her powers being a barrier between her and her love life, and so far, ignoring the matter entirely was paying off. It had been a long time since a boy had made her feel so happy. Josh was the last guy she’d truly cared for, and she desperately wanted it to work out better than that – it couldn’t exactly be worse.
“Your friend, is he any good?” Harrison queried as Harry greeted the crowd. He seemed to effortlessly comfortable – it was something that could easily come across as arrogant, but Harrison managed to stay on just the right side of the line.
“Trust me, I’d have thought of a better night out if he wasn’t,” Yasmin chuckled, “Unless you’re expecting opera or something.”
“Expect the unexpected,” Harrison smirked cheekily. Yasmin smiled politely, but she couldn’t help thinking that he had no idea quite how unexpected things could become.
“We need to get out,” Dylan yelled out of nowhere. Yasmin was startled – what was he doing? Harry was just about to start his first song, there was no way Dylan would interrupt unless he had good reason, right?
“Dyl,” Harry whispered, moving his mouth away from the microphone, “What’s the deal?”
“There’s a bomb in here, we need to get out,” Dylan justified. Yasmin didn’t doubt Dylan for a second – this was undoubtedly important, and unquestionably terrifying. Yasmin’s heart started to race.
“There’s no time,” Freddie added, his voice quivering, “It’s speeding up, I can hear it. Ten seconds.”
“Behind me,” Yasmin instinctively suggested. Some customers fled out of the door in a panic, but the pack trusted her without question, even if she didn’t have time to explain her risky plan. She needed to keep them safe.
“You can’t,” Dylan warned, standing protectively by her side.
“Just watch,” Yasmin focused. She felt a rumble beneath her feet immediately, raising her hands to issue the command. Rapidly, water splashed upwards, seeping out from under the floorboards in a rush.
Yasmin’s reflexes took over. Not only did she instinctively shield her face, but the water understood the biggest and most important command. The blast knocked Yasmin and the whole pack backwards, but the water immediately extinguished any flames
“Out. Now,” Yasmin commanded. They needed to get to safety – her powers had protected them, but the building wasn’t safe. Ushering the pack out, Yasmin caught Harrison’s eye; he looked horrified. She had some explaining to do.
Rushing out into the fresh air, Freddie felt immensely relieved to be out of danger – for the time being, anyway. He didn’t know why the bomb was in the bar, or who put it there, but he didn’t care – all that mattered was that he and his friends were safe.
The first thing Freddie did was check that Sammi was okay. She was right behind him on the way out, holding his hand firmly, and though the smoke had made her cough, she seemed otherwise fine. Freddie couldn’t help worrying, though. Sammi didn’t have supernatural healing abilities like most of them – if it weren’t for Yasmin’s quick thinking, Freddie could have lost his wife. Relieved was an understatement.
George followed them out, followed by the rest of the pack: Oscar, Brett, Caroline, Ed, Jeremy, Felix, Yasmin, Harry, and Dylan. They were all okay, and that was the most important thing to Freddie.
“What the hell was that?” Brett coughed, trying to catch their breath back.
“Is everyone okay?” Dylan verified, the group congregating across the road. A series of nods and brief replies of “fine” followed, but Freddie could tell they all knew it was a miracle none of them had been hurt.
“Who would have bombed the bar?” Sammi queried, baffled.
“It could have been anyone,” Caroline mentioned, trying to soothe everyone’s worries.
“Exactly, worrying won’t solve anything. I’ll get onto the station, get deputies securing the area in no time. We’ll find out who did it, I promise,” Ed reassured.
“The night we’re all together,” Yasmin panicked regardless. Behind her stood her date – Harrison, if Freddie remembered correctly – who looked traumatised. He seemed to be keeping his distance from the pack, and Freddie could hardly blame him. His brain must have been fried.
“You think it was co-ordinated?” Jeremy was horrified by the thought, as was Freddie, but the thought had crossed his mind too.
“We don’t know that,” Dylan replied, his tone brimming with hope.
“But we know there are people out there who want us dead. My dad’s cult,” Yasmin reasoned.
“Alright, it’s been a busy night. I think we all need to head home for the time being,” Ed took charge, “I’ll keep you all updated.”
“Freddie!” a voice called over. Freddie was taken aback to see Jonah sprinting over. What was he doing there? How could he have known about the explosion? “Are you okay?”
“We’re all fine,” Freddie quickly reassured, before turning his attention back to the more pressing issue, “What are you doing here?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Jonah brushed off, “I’m just glad you’re all okay.” His friend Leah tagged behind, an awkward guilty look painted on her face. That told him all he needed to know.
“You’re meant to be at home,” Sammi backed Freddie up, as he knew she would. Parenting wasn’t easy, but they tried their best for Jonah.
“All you said was that I couldn’t come to the show,” Jonah reasoned, trying to wriggle out of trouble.
“Come on, we’ll talk at home,” Freddie decided. George made eye-contact with Freddie, checking he had everything under control. George had a full-time job, meaning he wasn’t around as much to take care of Jonah, hence why Freddie and Sammi took the bulk of the responsibility. Freddie smiled back at his older brother – he could handle Jonah, but things seemed to be spiralling downhill fast.
There really wasn’t anywhere Jono wanted to be less than that nightclub. The music was good – he could rely on that in a gay bar in London – but he wasn’t in the mood, no matter how insistent Lily was on finding him a fella.
Depressingly, Jono had found himself scrolling through Dylan’s Instagram. Though messaging each other was off limits, they still followed each other and were always the first to like each other’s posts. Dylan didn’t upload much to his account, but he’d built up a collection of photos over their seven years apart. He still looked just as gorgeous as he did before – his dark waves were almost touching his waist, but otherwise, it looked like no time had passed at all. Jono wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to get over Dylan.
“Hey,” a guy approached, standing at the foot of the booth. He was tall, complete with a tight buzzcut atop a face with a smug grin and a six-pack visible behind a tight green V-neck t-shirt. He wasn’t Jono’s type at all, and he couldn’t have been further away from Dylan.
“Hi,” Jono raised a smile, but it took a lot of effort to be so polite, “Not to be rude, but I’m not really interested, sorry bro.”
“You sure? You’re looking lonely over here,” he continued, not getting the extremely obvious hint. Jono was feeling more and more uncomfortable. He wasn’t in the right frame of mind to be there. He needed to get out.
“I’m sorry, excuse me,” Jono stood up and went to slide out of the booth, but the guy was blocking the way. In a panic, Jono pushed him, barging through in a rush, but he lost his footing. The next thing Jono knew, he was on the floor, his elbow scraping the side of the table as he fell.
“Move,” Lily barked, immediately rushing to Jono’s defence.
“I…I…” the guy stuttered, attempting to distance himself.
“I suggest you get out of my sight,” Lily said without even looking him in the eye. Her attention was solely on Jono, helping him sit up, “Are you okay?”
“I’m bleeding,” Jono noticed, seeing the graze on his elbow. It was throbbing with pain, almost out-beating the music that was still blaring loudly.
“It’ll heal, don’t worry,” Lily reminded casually, “Come on, we need to talk.”
“What happened?” Jono panicked. Whenever anyone said they needed to talk, it was never for a good reason.
“Dad’s in hospital,” Lily answered, “And he’s in a bad way.”
Jono was stunned. He couldn’t find the words. His day was going from bad to worse, and all he could think of was one thing.
He wanted to go home.
Deflated, Dylan couldn’t relax. He had been desperately looking forward to Harry’s gig that night; it had been the one incentive motivating him to get through the stress of work. He was ready for a night supporting his man and seeing his friends, and that had been snatched abruptly from him out of nowhere.
For a change, Dylan had decided that home was the best place to be that night. As much as he loved the flat, there was no safer place than his family home, safe in the knowledge that his mum and Ed were nearby.
That said, Dylan couldn’t help feeling nostalgic. The house used to be so busy – after Jono departed, it felt like everyone else flocked away too. Josh moved out a couple of months later, and after two more years of college, Freddie used his dad’s inheritance to buy him and Sammi a house – his old house, no less. The newly extended Drummond household suddenly became too big.
It must have been so exciting for a seven-year-old, though. Libby had a whole house to roam around – not only did she have her own bedroom, but Josh’s room doubled as her playroom, while Freddie’s room also served as Ed’s office. Dylan’s room was left untouched – he’d only moved out a few months back, after all, and most of his stuff was still there; the flat didn’t have much room.
Moving out hadn’t been easy – Dylan wasn’t good with change, and though getting a flat with Harry was something he desperately wanted to do, it was still a big shift. Leaving the house he’d spent almost ten years in brought a sense of unease, but despite a few days of homesickness, Dylan was so pleased he’d made the leap. The idea of a new life with Harry was the dream that kept him going.
Harry was just as downhearted as Dylan, if not more so. It was supposed to be his big night, and it ended in chaos. He’d barely spoken a word since they got home. It wasn’t like him to be so down – he was usually Dylan’s ray of sunshine.
“Time for bed?” Dylan queried, hoping to make some sort of conversation.
“I’ve put fresh sheets on your bed,” Caroline informed. Dylan appreciated every bit of effort Caroline put in when he stayed the night at home. She made it feel like a night at a hotel, refusing every offer of assistance for the washing up or any other chores. It was obvious she loved having him around – she missed him just as much as he missed her.
“I don’t think I could sleep right now,” Harry sighed, “We could have died tonight, at my show.”
“Don’t you dare,” Dylan immediately defended, “You are not to blame. How could you have known what was going to happen?”
“Everyone was there,” Harry continued. He was obviously carrying all of the guilt, when he deserved none of it.
“It was a coincidence,” Dylan insisted. He knew in his head that there was a possibility it was a co-ordinated attack, but that still wouldn’t have made it Harry’s fault.
“I guess,” Harry begrudgingly accepted, “I just couldn’t live with myself if I thought I could have gotten you killed.”
“Even if you were to blame, I’m still here, right?” Dylan cuddled up to Harry. He was too cute for his own good.
“Dylan!” an excitable voice gleefully exclaimed as Libby sprinted in. She leapt into Dylan’s arms as if she’d not seen him for a month, settling in the middle of him and Harry. The truth was that it had been just over twenty-four hours since he’d seen his little sister – Dylan picked her up from school most days, with Caroline and Ed both working and Dylan’s freelancing allowing a flexible schedule. Regretfully, he hadn’t been able to pick her up that day due to his tight deadline, but Dylan loved playing such a big role in his sister’s life.
“Hey gorgeous,” Dylan embraced the hug, “Why aren’t you sleeping? It’s super late.”
“I heard your voice,” Libby answered, “Are you staying?”
“We both are, just for tonight,” Dylan answered as Libby twirled her tiny, precious fingers around the tips of his hair.
“Can I show you Rufus?” Libby questioned keenly. Her attention shifted rapidly as new thoughts appeared in her head.
“Who’s Rufus?” Dylan was confused.
“Toy dog,” Caroline replied with a beaming smile.
“Ah, a new friend,” Dylan remained enthusiastic, “Come on, you can show me before bed. Let’s get you upstairs.” Dylan met eyes with Harry as he sat up; he was smiling, and that put Dylan’s mind at ease. Desperately, he hoped they could move forward.
There was no way Jeremy was going to get to sleep easily that night. Enclosed spaces weren’t his favourite places at the best of times, but enclosed spaces with the exit blocked by fire and collapsing ceilings? It was basically his worst nightmare, and he couldn’t pretend he wasn’t feeling unnerved by the entire situation.
In an instant, his positive state of mind had collapsed like a game of Jenga. The honeymoon was over and reality had abruptly slapped him in the face. Jeremy longed to be back in Spain, living his best life on the beach every single day with Felix by his side. He’d never felt so calm and balanced before.
Jeremy couldn’t even attempt to sleep, though. The night was going from bad to worse, and he was driving Felix and Sammi to the hospital. Aunt Helen had called to say that Uncle Steve was in a very bad way, and with Jono and Lily hundreds of miles away, it was up to Jeremy and Sammi to be there for them both.
“He’ll be okay, I’m sure,” Felix encouraged, as Jeremy anxiously led the way through the hospital, unable to control the fast pace of his legs. With everything going on, he couldn’t find any peace in his mind.
“We don’t know that,” Jeremy stressed. He was feeling the pressure. The logical part of his brain knew that Steve could die, and both of his kids were an entire ocean away. The worst part was that Jono wasn’t allowed to come anywhere near Crystalshaw – he might never see his dad again, and that broke Jeremy’s heart.
“Aunt Helen,” Sammi observed as they approached the waiting area. She looked completely bereft, as if her whole world had collapsed. It put things into perspective for Jeremy; he never doubted how much Felix meant to him, but the thought of something tearing them apart terrified him.
“He’s in surgery,” Helen updated them immediately, “The doctors are being so vague.”
“Have you spoken to Lily?” Sammi wondered.
“She’s getting on the first plane back,” Helen answered, “And bringing Jono. He needs to be here.”
“He can’t,” Jeremy was worried. They were all aware of what would happen if Jono returned to Crystalshaw.
“No, he can come back for a short while,” Helen immediately stopped him in his tracks, “I don’t care about what some tree is dictating when I’m not convinced my husband will make it through the night.”
Jeremy couldn’t find the words to reply because she was right. The supernatural world carried far too much weight over humanity, but he couldn’t help fearing the worst. Things were going to get bad again, and quickly.
No matter how she tried to frame it in her mind, Yasmin couldn’t help feeling like a resounding failure. What was meant to be her big night had become an avalanche of disasters, and undoubtedly, it was all her fault.
Of course, the explosion was out of Yasmin’s control, but that hadn’t caused Harrison to scuttle off. Controlling the movement of water with her hands isn’t exactly something you’d expect to see on a first date, and explaining the situation would only have made things worse. Another opportunity blown.
For that night, Yasmin didn’t really want to be on her own. No matter what, she knew she had an open invitation to stay over at Oscar and Brett’s at any time – living alone could be daunting sometimes and her college roommates always made for the most reassuring company. She knew they wouldn’t ask her to talk, or probe for more information; they’d allow her to open up as and when she felt comfortable. Nobody else was better at that than Brett and Oscar were.
“Coffee?” Brett offered, a huge, welcoming smile on their face.
“Sure, thanks,” Yasmin nodded, trying to make herself as comfortable as possible on their sofa. Oscar was sprawled out next to her, while Cody had taken the armchair beside. He looked a little uncomfortable; Yasmin hadn’t ever had much to do with Cody, and though Oscar had forgiven him, others in the pack certainly hadn’t and he chose to keep his distance. How Yasmin felt, she wasn’t sure, though she hadn’t particularly gotten to know him to be able to make a judgement. Everyone deserved a fair shot, even if Harrison evidently didn’t think so.
“There will be other guys,” Oscar tried to reassure her. Though she knew Oscar meant well, it was a line Yasmin had heard far too many times before to truly believe, as much as her heart wanted to.
“Yeah, more of them who will run off as they discover what I really am,” Yasmin sighed.
“Humans suck,” Oscar concurred.
“Excuse me?” Brett chuckled from the tiny kitchen area.
“Okay, most humans suck,” Oscar corrected, “You’ve got an advantage, you knew what I was before we started dating.”
“In terms of being a werewolf, sure, but I wish I knew how terrible you were at washing up after yourself,” Brett continued to tease. Yasmin smiled, her concerns lifting like the biggest sense of relief.
“If he can’t love you for who you are, then he’s not worth any of your time,” Oscar encouraged. Yasmin knew he was right – there was no way she was going to settle for anything less than the best.
“He must be blind if he doesn’t want you,” Cody spoke up for the first time since she’d arrived. Yasmin blushed – a compliment never went amiss, especially from someone she didn’t really know.
WHAM! The window sharply slammed shut. Yasmin jumped out of her comfortable posture. The wind wasn’t that strong earlier that night – it was a clear evening, so how had the wind picked up so dramatically?
Nevertheless, after sharing a baffled glance with the others, Yasmin settled back down. She caught eyes with Cody, who smiled at her for the first time. Maybe Oscar was right after all – perhaps Cody wasn’t all that bad?
Unable to sit still, Freddie wasn’t sure what to do. His instructions had been crystal clear, and it was indisputable that Jonah had disobeyed him. Freddie always tried his best to be fair and reasonable with his younger brother – after all, that was always George’s tactic during his own teenage years – but Jonah pushed things to the limits.
Freddie couldn’t help blaming himself. Obviously, Jonah had good manners, and he was extremely protective of those he loved. He had so many good qualities, undoubtedly instilled in him by their dad. Things had changed in recent months though. He’d become resistant, and he was getting into more trouble at school. Had Freddie done something wrong? Being a parent to a teenager wasn’t easy, especially when Freddie wasn’t much older himself.
The truth was that it couldn’t have come at a worse time for Freddie. His job had folded – he’d grown extremely comfortable at the tech company, but the business had closed and alternatives in Crystalshaw were few and far between. The best he could find was a repair shop in town, but it was below his ability and a step down from what he was used to. At least it was going to keep some money flowing in.
“I suppose I’m grounded for eternity,” Jonah sighed, slumping on the sofa.
“What good would that do?” Freddie sat beside him, opting for a calmer approach, “You’d be pissed at me, then I’d be pissed at you, and we’d hate each other. There’s no way I’m letting us drift apart, but something’s changed, dude. What’s the deal with you lately?”
For once, Jonah didn’t immediately argue back. He took a moment, considering his words carefully. Freddie’s gentle approach was already paying off.
“I feel like I’m missing out on a secret,” Jonah admitted. Freddie’s heart skipped a beat. Jonah was completely correct – he, George and Sammi had decided to keep him out of everything supernatural. It had impacted all their lives irreversibly, particularly at high school, and Jonah didn’t need a distraction on his plate during his studies. They wanted to shield him for as long as possible.
“Why?” Freddie swerved any admission.
“You and Sammi always go silent when I enter the room, like you’re talking about something I shouldn’t know about,” Jonah continued, “I’m seventeen, Freddie, I don’t want to be left in the dark.”
“We’re just worried about you,” Freddie side-stepped. He didn’t want to lie to Jonah, so avoidance was the best tactic, “Your grades are slipping, and Keisha can’t be lenient with your behaviour for much longer. I want the best for you, dude. We all had rough starts, but if I can graduate, then so can you, trust me.”
Jonah nodded, accepting Freddie’s advice. It was the biggest breakthrough Freddie had had in months, and finally, he felt like he’d made some progress. Now, he could focus on tomorrow: the start of his new job. Freddie felt nervous, but it was time to think about the future.
Jolting awake, Harry was panicking. His breathing was fast, like he’d just finished a marathon, and his forehead was soaked in sweat. Depressingly, it was a sensation he’d felt before, notably earlier that night – more than once. Harry had given up counting exactly how many times his sleep had been interrupted.
Sleepless nights weren’t new to Harry in general, though. He’d had too many to keep track of over the years – anxiety had a lot to answer for. His teenage years were the worst, and high school was an experience he preferred not to think about. Music had been the perfect distraction and being able to build a career doing something he loved had been incredibly helpful for coping with his inner demons.
Things had been better with Dylan, too. He’d pulled him back from the brink – metaphorically and literally – and quite where he’d be without him, Harry wasn’t sure. Somehow, Dylan always knew the best words to use to soothe his worries. It was second-to-none; Dylan was unlike anyone else he’d ever met.
This was his worst night in a long time, though, and Harry knew why. No matter how much Dylan tried to convince him otherwise, Harry couldn’t help feeling responsible in part for what happened that night. The whole pack was there because of him, and he’d never have forgiven himself if even one person had been hurt. His friends meant everything to him, and he knew they were everything to Dylan too.
Thankfully, Harry’s sudden jolt hadn’t stirred Dylan, who was still fast asleep, the comfort of his old bed and familiarity of his mum’s house providing just the comfort he needed. Watching him sleep helped Harry calm himself down. It was a welcome reminder of just how lucky he was to have someone so gracious and kind, and good-looking too, even if he’d once doubted Dylan’s commitment due to the ongoing Jono situation. It was a strangely unique scenario, but Dylan had quickly made his love explicitly clear, and Harry trusted that.
Taking a sip of water, Harry tried to relax again. Whether he’d manage much more sleep, he wasn’t sure, but he was certain of one thing: he never felt safer than when Dylan was by his side.
Collapsed against a wall outside the club, Jono felt his whole world collapsing in on him. His mind was racing and his head was spinning, and he couldn’t process what Lily had told him. Too much was happening. He needed fresh air.
Lily had ushered him out of the club in a rush, and Jono couldn’t have been more relieved to be out of there. It was loud, claustrophobic and full of weirdos who couldn’t take no for an answer. That was before he found out his dad was dying.
Jono couldn’t help panicking. He’d not seen his parents in months, and the last he knew, his dad was fine. What had gone wrong? He was hundreds of miles away, and he’d never felt more cut off from Crystalshaw. He wanted to go home, to the one place on the planet he couldn’t go.
“Deep breaths,” Lily gently reminded, crouching by his side, “We’re okay, we’re safe.”
“Dad’s not,” Jono continued to spiral. Despite a patchy relationship with his parents, distance had brought them surprisingly close – closer than ever. They’d never devoted so much time and attention to both of their kids before. It was the one upside of the entire London move.
“We can get a flight tonight, we’ll make it,” Lily reassured, blatantly trying to keep both Jono and herself calm.
“I can’t,” Jono stressed, “I can’t get that close to Dylan. It will kill everyone, Lily. All werewolves, including you.”
“Not for a day it won’t,” Lily reminded, “It wasn’t immediate before, and the Nemeton’s been dormant since. I’ll let Dylan know and he can prepare, just in case.”
“No,” Jono insisted, “He can’t know. This doesn’t need to hurt both of us. It’s best he doesn’t know, I’ll come and go quickly and he doesn’t have to worry.”
“Okay,” Lily agreed, “We’ll grab what we need from yours and then head to the airport.”
“Right,” Jono nodded, inhaling deeply, “I’m coming back to Crystalshaw.”
3: Therapy Written by MarthaJonesFan
“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
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.
4: Last-Ditch Attempt Written by MarthaJonesFan
It had been a long time since Dylan last went to a concert. Truthfully, the idea hadn’t excited him in a few years because part of the spark had gone. Half of the fun was the company; he’d only ever been to gigs with Jono before.
Jono’s keen interest in music had rubbed off considerably on Dylan. Together, they had seen so many cool artists: Harry Styles, Cardi B, and even a meet and greet with Dua Lipa, the photo from which Dylan treasured more than anything. Him and the love of his life, having the best night together.
Going to a concert without Jono just felt wrong. Dylan was sure he could find someone to take to a show if he wanted to go to one – Yasmin, Oscar, Brett, pretty much anyone would have been down for a night out – but the experience of a night with the one he loved most was unbeatable and incomparable. Anything else would feel like a poor replica.
It was therefore no wonder that Dylan felt tentative about the evening ahead. It was only a small gig at a bar in town, a far cry from the arenas he’d visited with Jono, but this was still the first live music event he’d been to since Jono had to leave. It felt like a major moment, and Dylan wasn’t sure he was ready to let go of another part of the life he still desperately desired.
Nevertheless, Brett had invited him along for some company; Oscar had a work commitment, and they didn’t want to go on their own. After much consideration, Dylan had agreed, but mainly because he rarely got the chance to catch up with Brett, or any of his friends for that matter. The world of work meant he rarely had a free moment.
“Front row seats,” Brett smiled, “Thanks for coming, it feels like ages since we last got the chance to chat.”
“Of course, I’ve missed you. I’ve missed everyone, honestly, I feel like I’ve barely seen anyone since college finished,” Dylan replied, trying to relax himself. College was far from an easy experience, especially after Jono left, but at least he had all his friends around him.
“Trust me, I never took it for granted,” Brett was such a natural conversationalist, far more than Dylan ever was, “Spending my first year of college away from you guys taught me never to take one second with you for granted.”
“At least you had Johnny,” Dylan reminded. Loneliness had been the presiding emotion in his mind for a while, and he was definitely wallowing in his self-pity.
“True. I mean, in that sense, it was the best year of my life,” Brett fondly reminisced. Dylan admired how positively they still thought about Johnny. It was as if the memories never faded.
“Do you still miss him?” Dylan enquired.
“Because you’re missing Jono, right?” Brett realised. Nothing got past them.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be insensitive. I know it’s not the same thing,” Dylan quickly retraced his steps. The last thing he wanted to do was upset Brett.
“No, not at all. It must help to know that he’s still alive, but we both lost our first loves, and there’s no worse feeling,” Brett explained, “And yes, I miss him every single day. I think I’ll miss him every day for my whole life, but I’ve learnt to move on. I’ve got Oscar, he’s not a replacement, but I fell in love all over again with someone different, and you will too.”
“I’m not sure I could ever find anyone to replace him,” Dylan sighed. Jono was too big a gap in his life to plug just like that.
“Maybe you need to forget about replacing him and look for someone different?” Brett suggested. Dylan couldn’t lie – they had a point.
“Hey everyone,” a voice timidly tapped the microphone. Dylan spun around to face Brett’s old friend, and immediately, his breath had been snatched from his lungs. Standing before him on a makeshift stage at the back of the bar was one of the most beautiful guys he had ever seen. Immediately, Dylan met with his glistening hazel eyes, both holding their gaze for what felt like ages. Dylan was in awe. He ticked every criteria box for his type. His scruffy brown hair brushed against his shoulders, complementing his smooth skin flawlessly. He was breath-taking, and Dylan couldn't take his eyes off him, "I'm Harry, and I'm going to play a couple of songs. First up is a big favourite of mine."
Harry gently strummed his guitar, the crowd chatter dulling instantly. Dylan could feel Harry's nerves immediately fall away as soon as he started playing, and surprisingly, his own anxieties had quietened themselves too. He felt comfortable, and for a moment, for a single second, he felt something he hadn't felt in a long time: optimism.
Quite what Sammi was expecting to see in the basement, she wasn’t sure. Usually, basements were littered with old junk people had accumulated over the years, left to gather dust alongside the Christmas decorations that were dug out every December. They were effectively storage containers tagged onto buildings.
This, in that sense, fitted the criteria perfectly. The out-of-bounds basement below a tech repair shop in town was, ultimately, a bit of a junkyard, but it wasn’t the usual piles of boxes and random bric-a-brac. It looked like the remnants of a collection. A collection of the most unusual items. The most alarming items.
Some of them, Sammi could identify. Numerous jars full to the brim with mountain ash and wolfsbane on the shelves were equally blatant and concerning, but the rest of the items felt just as worrying. There were weapons: swords, guns and more, but also an array of scientific equipment next to an ominously placed fridge, plugged in to a socket adjacent.
The most horrifying observation was the biggest item in the room. Standing almost as tall as the ceiling was a cage, or the remains of one, anyway. The metal poles, which were wide enough to hold just one person, had snapped and were bent outwards. Whatever had once been in there must have been seriously strong to have broken itself out. All Sammi could hope was that whatever it was, it was ancient history.
“Woah,” Charlie raced in from behind her. Evidently, now the rule had been broken, he didn’t care about how far he delved into the mysterious basement. Presumably, he wouldn’t have understood anything down there anyway.
“Don’t touch anything,” Sammi warned, sharing a nervous look with Freddie. They both knew that it wasn’t good news. After all, Crystalshaw had a history of werewolf hunters, and somebody else having the capability to kill the supernatural was a massive concern.
“What even is this?” Charlie examined the cage first, awestruck by its presence.
“I’d rather not know,” Freddie replied, “I think we need to tell Dylan about this.”
“But what even is this stuff?” Charlie was fascinated, “I mean, it doesn’t take a genius to recognise guns and swords, but I’ve never seen anything else in here before. Why are you both so nervous?”
“Long story,” Freddie quickly justified, swerving the question effortlessly before Sammi could think of an excuse, “Come on, we need to get out of here.”
Sammi didn’t need to be asked twice. Whatever was going on down there was bigger than just them, and she couldn’t lie – she was terrified.
Returning to the bar was always going to feel terrifying to Dylan. After all, he almost died there, and there was no way of sugar-coating something so bleak. A targeted attack on him and his friendship group didn’t feel real.
The extra burden came from Harry, though. Dylan knew he was blaming himself, and that broke his heart. Harry didn’t deserve to carry the weight by himself. None of them were to blame, and desperately, Dylan wanted to alleviate his worries, but he knew it wasn’t that easy.
All Dylan could do was focus on finding the real culprit. Perhaps some justice would prove to Harry that it wasn’t his fault? It was the best idea Dylan had, and he was prepared to do anything in his power to restore the infectious smile that had been depressingly absent from Harry’s face for a couple of days
To do this, Dylan needed back-up. Typically, his most reliable werewolf company was Freddie, Oscar, and Jeremy, but all of them seemed to be preoccupied, so only one option remained: Cody. For a long time, Dylan had resented Cody for everything he’d put Oscar through. He was arrogant and seemed untouchable in his own little kingdom. Whether that part of him was gone for good, Dylan wasn’t sure, but everyone deserved a chance – Josh taught him that.
“What are we looking for?” Cody stood inspecting the wreckage. The structure of the bar remained, but only just. It was a shell of what it was before, always bustling with activity and high in energy. It broke Dylan’s heart – he knew it was Harry’s favourite place to play. Seeing the place where they first met in such a dire stage was depressing.
“Any scent that might help,” Dylan explained.
“Might be hard without a reference point,” Cody considered.
“I know,” Dylan sighed, “But we need to find something. Literally anything. There must be a clue.”
“Maybe there was, but it was probably blown to oblivion,” Cody reasoned, “I guess we can at least rule this place out if we search properly. I…it doesn’t look very safe.”
“So tread carefully,” Dylan replied. Nothing was going to deter him.
Leading by example, Dylan took the first step inside. Police tape surrounded the entrance, but it didn’t take a limbo champion to slide underneath. Cody followed; it was a relief to see he was so trusting in Dylan, because he wasn’t sure how mutual it was yet. Perhaps time really was a healer?
“Okay, what’s up?” Cody questioned before they could get past the door. Dylan was taken aback – he wasn’t sure how to answer, mainly through fear of misinterpreting. After all, it wouldn’t have been the first time.
“Huh?” Dylan chose not to answer at all.
“I can smell the anxiety, Dylan,” Cody replied. Drat. Dylan had no way out of that one, “You don’t have to tell me, I understand, but I wanted to check you were okay. If you’re not up to this, it’s fine.”
“No, I’m good, I just…” Dylan tried to convince Cody he was fine, but deep down, he knew he wasn’t, “Jono’s back. He’s in Crystalshaw.”
“Wait, isn’t that really bad?” Cody listened closely.
“Not immediately. His dad’s dying, he came to say goodbye, then he’ll be gone again I assume,” Dylan pondered, “But he shouldn’t have to. He gave up everything to let me live here, and he can’t even grieve with his family when the time comes. It feels cruel.”
“Is there another way?” Cody queried, asking the million-dollar question. Dylan didn’t answer. He knew there wasn’t a solution out there – they’d searched high and low for years, after all – but he couldn’t hide the truth. No matter how much he’d moved on, he still hoped that Jono could one day come home. He didn’t deserve to be apart from his family, and Dylan wanted his best friend back.
“Have you spoken to Harry?” Cody continued.
“To say that my ex, who I’m still legally married to and never actually fell out of love with, is back in town?” Dylan couldn’t help chuckling at how ridiculous the entire situation was. He’d be fascinated by it if it weren’t his reality.
“Fair,” Cody chuckled along, “But you deserve to be able to see him. That doesn’t take away from Harry and how much you love him.”
“We said no contact, except postcards,” Dylan remembered the strict but necessary boundaries they placed on themselves.
“You also didn’t expect him to come back to Crystalshaw,” Cody reassured, “Go on, you deserve to talk to him. I’ll look around here for any clues, and hopefully Oscar will show his face to help.”
Dylan’s mind was working overtime. He didn’t know what to do. His head and his heart were conflicted. He wanted to see Jono like mad, but it almost felt unfair on Harry. What was the right thing to do?
Strangely, Harry had been looking forward to therapy that day. It was exactly what he needed; the chance to talk about his worries to a third party. Saying them aloud helped him gain a sense of perspective, even if there was no obvious solution. It was a weight off his shoulders.
It had worked slightly, too, just enough for Harry to refocus his priorities on the mission, but he also had something else to worry about. He hadn’t had the chance to tell Dylan about seeing Jono at the hospital. In fact, he wasn’t sure whether it was a good idea to mention it at all. Was it a wound he wanted to reopen for Dylan? Selfishly, Harry couldn’t help worrying about the impact it would have on their relationship too. Would Jono’s return mess up everything they had together? It would be a lie to say he wasn’t jealous.
Either way, the pack had a mission to complete, and Harry was keen to play his part. The pack had become such a valuable support network for him, and Harry knew he’d do everything he could to help. Whoever inflicted such a sickening sense of guilt in him needed to be brought to justice. Maybe that was the solution he was after?
“Dude, how do you only have 152 followers?” Brett was taken aback.
“I mean, I’m not an up-and-coming basketball player,” Harry replied, humoured.
“But you’re a musician, social media’s the best place to gain a following,” Brett advised, “I’ll give you a lesson on TikTok one day.”
“Maybe once this cult is locked up for good,” Harry shrugged, “My career doesn’t feel so important right now.”
“Then let’s get to work. We’ll be done in no time if we share it out,” Yasmin kept them on task, “We can immediately rule a few people out. All of us, for starters.”
“Ed, Caroline,” Harry added, “George, Cody, Keisha.”
“Jono,” Brett chimed in, “I mean, he’s in London, but still.” Harry averted his eyes, not wanting to display the slight sense of guilt he felt about keeping the secret of Jono’s return.
“Um,” Harry found himself saying before he could stop himself. It was too much – he needed to talk to someone.
“Harry?” Yasmin picked up on his uncertainty.
“Jono’s not in London. He’s here, in Crystalshaw,” Harry revealed.
“What?” Brett’s jaw dropped. They looked at Yasmin, who seemed surprisingly nonchalant about the news, “Wait, did you know?”
“Jeremy only told me because we work together,” Yasmin justified, “He’s only back because of his dad, he’s in hospital and he’s not got long left. He won’t be back long, and he didn’t want Dylan to know.”
“I saw him at the hospital after therapy,” Harry explained. It made sense to him now, and he felt a little guilty for being so selfish when Jono clearly had a lot going on, “Neither of us spoke but I’m sure he recognised me. I wasn’t sure whether to tell Dylan or not.”
“The plan failed. I had to tell him earlier,” Yasmin replied, “He asked why Jeremy wasn’t at his lab, I couldn’t lie.”
“He’ll be okay. Dylan’s a fighter. He knows the situation better than anyone, and he knows Jono won’t compromise their deal,” Brett reasoned.
“He’s not heard from Jono in a while, his postcard’s overdue,” Harry started to panic, “I need to find Dylan.”
“Dude,” Brett attempted to reason with Harry, but Yasmin held her index finger up. She knew Harry wouldn’t rest until he’d spoken to Dylan.
“We’ve got this covered,” Yasmin replied, “Be gentle.” Harry nodded. He needed to find Dylan to calm his nerves.
Already, the waiting room was driving Jono insane. He knew the inevitable was only potentially a few hours away from arriving, but the purgatory they all seemed to be in felt never-ending. With the certainty of his dad’s fate, he somewhat wished he could be put out of his misery. No more suffering, for both dad and his family. Was that selfish? He wasn’t sure, but they needed to grieve.
Jono could only take the social media scrolling for so long. The same, tired routine of Instagram, Twitter and Facebook had worn thin, both in terms of content and Jono’s interest. There was nothing left to keep his mind off reality.
“Still awake?” Lily prodded him gently in the arm.
“Barely,” Jono sighed, “Trying to distract myself.”
“Why don’t you go and see the pack? You might as well, I’ll call you if anything changes,” Lily encouraged.
“I think it would hurt too much,” Jono admitted, “It’s like window shopping. ‘Here’s everything you could have won,’ except I didn’t.”
“In general? Or is this about Dylan?” Lily recognised. Nothing got past her.
“I don’t know if I could handle seeing him,” Jono confessed. It was the ultimate display of what his life in Crystalshaw could, and would, have been.
“Then maybe you might want to close your eyes,” Lily warned, her eyes swerving to look behind Jono. Jono’s heart began to race. His body tensed up, nervous about what was about to happen.
Tentatively, Jono looked around. He wasn’t sure what he was expecting to feel, but his body was freaking out. His heart was pounding like a drum kit, and his breath was short and sharp. In front of Jono was the person he had been so desperate to see for seven years. The person he trusted and adored the most. His favourite person in the whole world, a statement that carried more weight after living in a different continent.
“Hey,” Dylan smiled his usual kind smile. He looked so grown up; Jono had seen Dylan in his Instagram photos, but in person, it became obvious just how much he’d matured in seven years. His hair was so long now, just as he’d always wanted, and his face looked slimmer, though equally beautiful if not more so.
“Hey,” Jono replied, unsure of what else to say. He’d always considered the words he’d use on the occasion he’d see Dylan again, but he never expected the day to actually arrive. He was speechless.
Yet, at the same time, Jono could hardly believe his luck.
Freddie couldn’t put his finger on it. He felt weird and disorientated, and he didn’t know why. How could a tatty old basement full of junk make him feel so strange? It didn’t make sense.
Except, that was exactly the reason. The basement made no sense, and that stuff wasn’t junk, not to anyone who knew the truth. That much wolfsbane was bad news, and only someone who knew what it was would have that much of it stored. Freddie couldn’t deny it – he was terrified.
The immediate risk seemed low, though. That basement looked like it hadn’t been touched in years, and it was well hidden below the repair shop, so it was unlikely to cause them an issue that night. That was a relief for Freddie – a lot had changed since they were naïve kids chasing supernatural horrors out of Crystalshaw. He had a life to live, and telling Dylan could wait until the morning.
“Thanks so much for keeping an eye on him,” Sammi immediately greeted Jeremy as she flung herself down on the sofa. It was obvious they were both relieved to be home.
“No worries, I was hoping to spend some time with a certain teenager, but I’ve not seen him all night,” Jeremy laughed.
“That’s normal,” Freddie chuckled. He knew his younger brother like the back of his hand, being sociable wasn’t his strong suit, “Has he eaten?”
“I ordered pizza about ten minutes ago, for you two as well,” Jeremy replied.
“Legend,” Sammi grinned. Freddie agreed – his stomach was rumbling.
“Did someone say pizza?” Jonah bounced down the stairs, perfectly on cue. He looked chirpier than he had the night before, to Freddie’s delighted; he hated falling out with his brother.
“Yeah, it’s coming soon. Come join us,” Freddie invited, relaxing onto the sofa and leaving Jonah a space.
“How was your first day?” Jonah enquired, slotting perfectly between him and Sammi.
“Dull,” Freddie laughed, “My co-worker Charlie is nice, but the job is way too easy. I can’t complain when it’s bringing money in, I suppose, but I want something better as soon as possible.”
“Not to mention the weird ass basement underneath,” Sammi mentioned. Freddie was pleased to realise it wasn’t just him who couldn’t get the basement off his mind.
“Basement? Why does a repair shop need a basement?” Jeremy’s interest was piqued, and Jonah was sat quietly listening too, ready for the gossip. Freddie had to watch his words – Jonah couldn’t hear the truth.
The doorbell rang, its jolly tone sounding more grating than anything to Freddie’s ears. However, it couldn’t have been more opportune, “Hey, Jonah, could you fetch the door?”
“Sure, but I can’t promise there’ll be any pizza left by the time I get back,” Jonah bounced back out of the room. Immediately, Sami swiped away at her phone before showing something to Jeremy.
“Wait, you took pictures?” Freddie was concerned. They didn’t need nor want any evidence of them ever being in that basement.
“Just a couple, don’t worry, I’m not planning on distributing them,” Sammi reassured.
“What the hell?” Jeremy was horrified, staring wide-eyed at the phone.
“I know, right?” Freddie sighed. His mind was on overtime.
“Wait,” Jeremy zoomed the photo in, “Did you see this?” He took the phone from Sammi’s hand and showed them both. Though it was blurry, Freddie could still make out the indisputable logo of a horror story, “It’s the Lunar Sanctum. It’s back.”
Dylan had never felt so confused in his whole life. He was feeling an insurmountable mixture of emotions and every thought in his out-of-control mind was conflicting with another. There was no guidebook for how he was feeling, and it was almost too much.
It was strange enough to be sat next to Jono again. Dylan never anticipated that such a day would come, although for years, he’d dreamed of it. It seemed unreal, and if he found out he was dreaming, he wouldn’t have been shocked. After all, it wouldn’t have been the first time.
The oddest part was that Dylan still felt the same about Jono. After so long, the butterflies never faded. Jono still ignited the same fire, and it gave Dylan the most powerful warming sensation he could dream of. A feeling he knew he hadn’t felt in seven years.
“I’m sorry about your dad,” Dylan broke the silence. Jono had led them into a side room to talk in private, “My heart sank when I heard.”
“Thanks,” Jono replied. Dylan looked over to make eye contact, but Jono was staring straight ahead. The atmosphere was blatant – neither of them knew how to act or what to expect, “I’m sorry, I know my postcard is overdue.”
“It’s okay,” Dylan automatically reassured, “Is everything alright?”
“Yeah,” Jono replied, his voice quivering, “Same old, same old. Nothing much changes in London.”
“That doesn’t sound alright,” Dylan knew when Jono was lying. Nothing had changed in that regard, “Tell me the truth.”
“Damn, nothing gets past you. It never did,” Jono chuckled, “I mean, it could be worse. It’s true that nothing changes, but it’s so fucking boring, Dyl. I don’t feel like I belong there. I never found my people, or my places, or my dream job. It all feels wrong.”
“Because it is,” Dylan sighed. He felt so guilty. He wished so badly that they could just swap places, or even better, end the stupid curse for good, “You belong here.” An awkward silence followed. Neither of them knew what to say, because there was an unavoidable elephant in the room. Things weren’t the same, and Dylan had moved on.
“I miss you so much,” Jono confessed, finally breaking through the thick atmosphere, “I know you’re happy with Harry now, but I miss having you around. Nobody gets me like you do, Dyl. I need you.”
Before Dylan could begin to think about his response, the waiting room door swung open. To Dylan’s surprise, there stood Harry. How did he know where he was?
“Hey, everything okay?” Dylan greeted.
“I came to as you the same thing, considering, you know,” Harry gestured towards Jono with his eyes. He seemed agitated and frustrated, and that was the last thing Dylan wanted him to feel.
“I thought I recognised you earlier,” Jono smiled politely, his vibe being the complete opposite.
“Wait, you two met?” Dylan was taken aback. What were the chances of that?
“Sorta, I was just leaving therapy and we walked past each other,” Harry replied. Dylan could feel Harry’s anxiety against his skin, and it worried him.
“It’s nice to meet you properly,” Jono continued, “Dylan’s said so many good things.”
“Likewise,” Harry put on a smile back, but there was a definite tension in the air again. Neither of them were being honest, and Dylan wasn’t sure what to think.
“Jono can’t stay long,” Dylan justified, but he felt guilty. Jono was struggling, and he couldn’t let that continue, “Unless we find a solution. We have at least today, right? The Nemeton won’t go crazy just yet. It’s time for a last-ditch attempt. We need to get you home, Jon.” Jono beamed, and Harry nodded along too, but how honest he was being, Dylan was unsure. Tough conversations were on the horizon, and the first was one that Dylan needed to have with himself.
Brett’s yawn said it all. It had been a long day, and quite frankly, they never wanted to go Instagram stalking ever again. It was always fun to scroll through photos of hot guys, and being careful not to like a photo from three years back was an extreme sport, but this wasn’t the same.
On the bright side, Brett and Yasmin had narrowed the list down, and there were just a couple of accounts that didn’t make any sense. Most of the rest were Harry’s family, friends, or people from college who were miles away, so it was easy to keep track of who had a motive or an alibi. Both lacked profile pictures and only had a handful of followers each. Perhaps they were spam, but there was no way of telling.
“Okay, what now?” Brett wondered, “We don’t really have much to go off.”
“I’ve got an idea,” Yasmin replied. She always did, Brett was counting on it, “But it’s dangerous. We need Ed involved.”
“A honey trap,” Brett realised. It was their best shot, but they couldn’t help worrying, “What if they’re dangerous?”
“That’s why we’ll have Ed,” Yasmin replied.
“But Ed can’t stop a bomb going off,” Brett clarified. If the attack was going to be anywhere near as bad as the time before, a few deputies weren’t going to be enough.
“It shouldn’t get to that point,” Yasmin re-explained, “Someone needed to have planted to bomb at the bar in advance, right? If we give them enough notice, we can keep an eye on everyone who goes in and out of our chosen venue.”
“Genius,” Brett was impressed. Yasmin, as always, had thought of everything.
“Hey, look who’s here,” Yasmin glanced out of the office window. Just through the blinds, Brett could see Oscar approaching. Finally, he’d caught up with them. Where he’d bee in the hour since his work ended, Brett had no idea, but they were relieved he was safe.
“Hey,” Brett smiled as Oscar calmly entered the room. Unusually, he didn’t reply. In fact, his face looked entirely vacant. There was no semblance of Oscar’s usual self in sight. Brett was worried – what had happened?
Oscar’s eyes lit up, but they weren’t their usual illuminating yellow. They glared a piercing orange unlike anything Brett had seen before. The worry escalated to fear. This wasn’t Oscar. They were in danger.