Nathan Stark's Town for Peculiar People
Jack Carter sighed. "For the tenth time, we're not lost, Zoe."
"Really, dad? Because we left civilization about 2 hours ago and I'm not sure that we'll ever see it again." Zoe waved her arms around, narrowly missing smacking Jack in the side of the head. "Look at this! I didn't know that there were this many trees in the world and I'm genuinely surprised this road is actually paved! Seriously, if this were a movie then we're going to get attacked by freakish rednecks any minute!"
Jack rolled his eyes at the teenage overdramatics but she did have a point, they hadn't passed a building in a while and all this nature was starting to become a little unnerving in the fading daylight and growing shadows. He reached into the glove compartment and retrieved his trusty road map.
"Oh, so we are lost? I knew it!" Zoe exclaimed. "I can't believe you don't have GPS in this car! Isn't it standard for a US Marshal to have that?"
"I do have GPS, Zoe," Jack replied as he tried to open the map to the correct page without taking his eyes off the road. "But it’s an app on my phone and someone ran down the battery playing a game about unicorns while I was in the bathroom at that last service station."
Zoe shook her head. "Dragons, dad, not unicorns. I'm not a child anymore."
Jack glanced at her, taking in the pierced nose and black eyeliner. "No kidding," he muttered.
He gave up on the map and tossed it to Zoe. "There, you check it while I drive."
She huffed but began trying to find where they were with minimal complaint for a change. Jack once again studied her appearance out of the corner of his eye and wondered where his little girl had gone. It seemed like just yesterday that she really had loved unicorns and worshipped the ground her dad walked on. Nowadays, she either picked and argued at every little thing he did or sat in sullen silence until he left her alone. They were only a few hours into her summer vacation with him and he already felt like hitting his head against the steering wheel. God only knew how the rest of the summer was going to go.
"I think that we should've taken a left back at that sign for the world's biggest Jell-o mould," Zoe told him as she studied the map and traced her finger along a road.
Jack stared at her in shock. "We passed that sign over an hour ago!"
She lifted her head. "This is what I was telling you...Man!"
"Okay, I get it, dude, but that's not..."
Zoe cut him off. "No! Man!" She yelled and pointed out the windscreen.
Jack turned back to see a man standing in the middle of the road. He swerved to avoid him but the car overshot and he ended up driving them right off the road and down a steep embankment. Zoe screamed but it was almost lost in the noise of tree branches slapping at the car as they plummeted past them. Jack took one hand off the steering wheel and threw it in front of Zoe, trying to brace her for the impact of them reaching the bottom of the drop but, before that happened, the car got snagged in the thick tangle of branches crisscrossing before them and they came to a complete stop.
For a few long moments, the only sound was the gasping breaths of both Jack and Zoe as they came down from their initial panic.
“Zoe? Zo, are you okay?” Jack finally asked.
She gave him an incredulous look and then began, “’What I did on my summer vacation’ by Zoe Carter...”
Jack shook his head. “Yeah, you’re okay.”
“...First my US Marshal father, who travels for a living, got us lost in ‘Deliverance ‘country...”
“’Deliverance’?” Jack gave her a sharp look. “How have you seen that movie? That’s not the type of...you know what? Never mind; not important right now.”
“...then he almost killed a man...who was randomly standing in the road in the middle of nowhere which is kind of creepy, but still...”
Tuning Zoe’s narrative to background noise, Jack leaned forward to try and see more out of the window but the undergrowth was too thick to see much. “Okay, I’m getting out to see how bad this is. Zoe, you stay here.”
“...hanging in a tree in a ditch. At which point my father thought it would be a good idea to leave me alone in the car to investigate the scary forest as if he’s never seen a horror movie ever!” Jack shot her a look and she held her hands up. “Fine, but don’t blame me if you get hacked to death by some psycho with an axe.”
“I am definitely having a discussion with your mother about what movies you’re allowed to watch,” Jack told her before opening the door to climb out.
He carefully manoeuvred his way out, with one foot on the steep ground and the other on a small, solid branch next to it but when he was completely out of the car, his full weight caused the not-so-solid-after-all branch to snap and he fell the rest of the way down the embankment with a startled yelp.
“Hey! Are you alright down there?” The man who they’d almost run over was standing at the top of the embankment, squinting down at them.
The breath had been knocked out of Jack when he landed flat on his back on the ground so it took him a couple of tries before he could shout back. “We’re not injured but we could use a little help to get back up to the road!"
“I’ll get on the horn to the local mechanic and get his tow truck out here,” the man called and then one end of a length of rope landed on the ground next to Jack. “It’s a bit steep down there so grab hold of that and we’ll have you out of there in a jiffy.”
“A bit steep, you think?” Jack muttered to himself as he used the rope to climb back up to the car.
It was almost worth the bruises he sustained in the fall to see the concern written on Zoe’s face and the visible check for injuries when he reached the car. It went without saying that she was back to her nonchalant, ‘whatever’ persona by the time the two of them reached the road but at least there had been a small crack in that tough girl shell she’d surrounded herself with these days.
“I really am sorry about that, mate,” the tall, lanky man on the road said in a broad Australian accent. “We don’t get much traffic out this way and I was a bit too engrossed in trying to track a gooligah to hear your car until it was too late.”
Jack looked the guy over as he tried to catch his breath. The man seemed genuinely remorseful about running them off the road and, judging from all the camo he was wearing and the rifle slung over his shoulder, the rest of the story held up too.
“You’re a hunter?” Zoe asked a little too aggressively and Jack prepared himself to head off one of her rants against murdering poor, defenceless animals. The guy was trying to help them, after all.
But before he could do anything, the man gave Zoe an affronted look and exclaimed, “Hunting? I’d never hunt another living creature. I track them, that’s all.”
Zoe blinked at him in surprise, apparently a bit wrong footed by that. Then she shrugged and gave the man a smile. “Cool.”
“The rifle?” Jack couldn’t help but ask.
“Tranquilisers, in case I need them,” the man said and at Jack’s blank expression, held out a hand for Jack to shake. “Jim Taggart, local veterinarian. Occasionally, I stumble across an injured animal out here and I need to get them back to my surgery so it’s easier to keep the tranqs on hand.”
“Local vet? So there’s a town nearby?” Jack asked after he’d introduced himself and Zoe.
Taggart looked taken aback by the question but before he could answer, a tow truck pulled up alongside them.
There was a flash of surprise that crossed the mechanic’s face when he first saw them but he held out his hand for Jack to shake. “I didn’t know that there was anyone new moving to town. I’m Henry, the town’s mechanic.”
“Oh, we’re not moving here,” Zoe told him. “Dad took a wrong turn about a hundred miles back.”
Henry frowned. “Are you saying that you’re lost?”
“I prefer to think of it as taking the scenic route,” Jack said and Henry gave the expected smile but it looked a little forced as he and Taggart exchanged a worried look. “Is there something wrong?”
“No, no.” Henry seemed to shake himself out of it and gave them a genuine smile. “Sorry, we’re not used to people just stumbling across us way out here. Normally they need to be aiming right for us.” He stepped away to peer down the embankment at the car. “So, I know that you got lost but how on earth did you end up down there? You seem to be having an eventful journey.”
“No kidding,” Zoe muttered but Jack chose to ignore that.
“It’s my fault actually, Henry,” Taggart said and explained once again about his ‘gooligah’ which made Henry chuckle.
“One day he’s going give up and just accept that Big Foot is a myth,” Henry told them and Jack gaped at the Australian.
“That’s what you’re tracking? Big Foot?”
Taggart ignored Jack’s outburst and instead gave Henry an arch look. “I have cabinets full of sightings of the gooligah. He’s out there, Henry. Believe me, he’s an elusive bugger but he’s out there. Speaking of which, I noticed some interesting marking on the trees over there so if you’ll all excuse me, I need to go and investigate some more.”
He saluted the small group then jogged to the other side of the road and soon disappeared from sight among the trees.
“Taggart’s a little...eccentric but he’s a good man with a good heart,” Henry assured them with a slightly indulgent smile. “Anyway, let's get your car on the truck and I can drop you at the sheriff’s office; you should probably make a report of the crash.”
Jack agreed and rolled his sleeves up to help Henry. It took about an hour for them to get the car on the back of the truck and a further ten minutes to drive to the town. This far away from everything, Jack had been expecting a handful of houses with a few municipal buildings and maybe a shop. What they found was a decent sized town, perfectly manicured and very pretty. It looked like the type of white picket fence town that you only saw on TV shows these days.
“Welcome to Eureka!” Henry waved a hand to encompass the town as he drove down the main street.
“Eureka? That’s a pretty cool name,” Zoe told him.
“We like it.” Henry nodded. “It’ll probably take me a couple of days to fix your car so you’ll have a chance to look around, hopefully you’ll like the town as much as the name.”
Jack held back a groan. A couple of days? That put a big dent into their road trip plans. He just hoped that there was somewhere in town that they could stay that wasn’t too expensive considering that he now had to pay out for the car repairs.
Henry pulled the truck into a parking space outside a building. “Here we go; the Sheriff’s station as promised. I’ll call Beverly’s once I’ve got a better idea of what I need to do with the car.”
“Beverly's?” Jack asked.
“Yes, the only B&B in town belongs to a woman called Beverly Barlow so that's where you and Zoe will have to stay while you're here,” Henry explained. “I’m sure that Sheriff Cobb will take you there once you’ve finished filing your report. Oh and try to stay on Deputy Jo’s good side; she’s a little fiery.”
“I’ll bear that in mind,” Jack told him as he and Zoe climbed out of the truck with their bags and waved goodbye.
Jack and Zoe exchanged a look when they once again got met with complete surprise when they walked into the Sheriff’s station. He had the feeling that was going to get old pretty quickly.
“The mayor didn’t tell us that we had new people in town,” the Sheriff said, getting to his feet to greet them properly. “I’m Bill Cobb and this is my deputy, Jo Lupo.”
“That’s because your mayor doesn’t know,” Jack replied after he’d introduced himself and Zoe. “Unless he’s psychic and can foretell when people are going to get completely lost.”
“You never can tell in this town,” Jo muttered quietly.
The Sheriff gave her an indecipherable sign and she nodded back before picking up the phone to call someone.
“Lost, huh?” The Sheriff poured them all a coffee. “I bet there’s a story behind that.”
“More of a moral really,” Zoe replied, taking a seat and putting her feet up on the Sheriff’s desk until Jack knocked them off and gave her a warning look. “And that moral is; don’t take a road trip with someone who can’t read a map.”
“Let me guess, he wouldn’t stop and ask for directions?” Jo asked, still waiting for someone to answer her call. “Typical man.”
“Actually, I have no problem asking for directions but until we got to the outskirts of Eureka, we hadn’t seen anyone for ages,” Jack informed her. “You guys really are out in the wilds here.”
“That’s the way we like it.” Cobb handed Jack a mug of the coffee, which Jack needed so badly that he didn’t even protest Zoe having a mug too. “Most of our townspeople came here to escape the rat race for a more peaceful existence.”
Jo had started talking quietly into the phone as whoever she was calling finally answered. Her voice was too low for Jack to pick up on what she was saying though.
“So...” Cobb pulled Jack's attention back to him as he sat back in his chair. “You were going to tell me just how you ended up in Eureka.”
“Right.” Jack nodded and then proceeded to fill the sheriff on the crash.
Cobb seemed concerned. “Do you want to make a report against Taggart?”
“No, it was an accident. I just need the papers filed for the insurance company,” Jack said and immediately Cobb’s concerned look lifted and he relaxed back into his chair.
“Thank goodness for that. I really didn’t want to explain in a report that one of my townspeople routinely goes out into the woods hunting for a yeti,” Cobb told him with a chuckle and then looked behind Jack when the station door opened.
"Mr Mayor," Cobb said, climbing to his feet once more. "May I introduce Jack and Zoe Carter, our disoriented wanderers."
Well, that explained who Jo had called. Although calling in the mayor because a couple of new people showed up in town seemed a tad excessive; the feeling that all these people were hiding something was growing stronger by the minute.
"Ah, yes," a deep voice said from behind him. "The visitors I've heard so much about already."
Jack stood up and turned, ready to greet this mayor when his jacket got a little snagged on the chair. All of sudden there was an almighty yell of "Gun!" and before he could react, Jack found himself on the ground with his face smooshed into the carpet and the deceptively strong deputy sitting on his back.
Jack let out a yelp of pain as Jo wrenched his arm up behind his back and then deftly removed his gun from the holster that had obviously been revealed when his jacket had snagged.
He managed to splutter out, "I'm a US Marshal!"
"Right," Jo snorted. "Of course you are. Convenient how you forgot to mention that before now."
"Because I'm not on duty!" Jack exclaimed into the carpet. "I'm just on vacation with my daughter and I wasn't about to leave my gun in the car. Check my back pocket, my ID is in there."
"Go on, Deputy Lupo," the deep voice said and Jo did as instructed, pulling Jack's ID free from the pocket.
There was a moment of silence before Jo said in a not-at-all-remorseful tone of voice, "What do you know? Marshal Jack Carter."
She let go of his arm and the weight lifted off his back, allowing Jack to clumsily get back to his feet. He rubbed at his sore shoulder and he swore that he had carpet burn on his forehead.
"Sorry about that, Marshal. Jo's very...enthusiastic about her job." The deep voice sounded amused and Jack lifted his head to get his first look at the mayor of Eureka.
His first thought was that the man was too young to be mayor of anywhere. He was about Jack's age and not the greying, pompous-looking, close to retirement person that Jack would usually associate with that role. This guy was well put together with his manicured beard framing a devilish smirk and wearing a suit that wouldn't be out of place in the more exclusive designer stores in Los Angeles. The man's striking green eyes twinkled with mirth and the overall effect ensured that Jack's second thought was that he really wouldn't mind getting to know this man a lot better.
"Nathan Stark," the mayor introduced himself with a firm handshake and Jack was pretty sure that he wasn't imagining the subtle but appreciative onceover the other man gave him before releasing Jack's hand. "I understand from Henry that you'll be staying in town for a couple of days while your car is being fixed so I wanted to make sure that you get settled in and enjoy your little stay with us. I've taken the liberty of calling ahead to Beverly Barlow's bed and breakfast so that she can get a couple of rooms ready for you."
"Jo will drive you out there," the sheriff interjected.
Jo gave him a mutinous look before she sighed and handed Jack back his gun. "Come on then. The quicker I get you there, the quicker I can get back and do some real work."
She grabbed her jacket and stomped out the station without looking back to see if Jack and Zoe were following.
"It was nice to meet you, Marshal," Stark said as Jack quickly grabbed their stuff to hurry after the deputy. "Perhaps we'll run into each other again before you leave town."
Jack definitely didn't imagine the flirtatious smile Stark gave him then.
"Yeah, I'd like...um...that would...nice. That would be nice." Jack turned and walked out of the door before Stark could see him wince in embarrassment.
He was rustier at this than he'd thought. In fact he probably hadn't flirted with anyone since Zoe's mom and they'd been divorced for three years now. He was very glad that Zoe had run on to catch up with Jo and hadn't witnessed that humiliating display; she'd never let him live it down.
Jo was already pressing on the horn impatiently so Jack put on an extra burst of speed to reach the Sheriff's truck. Zoe was smiling smugly at him from the passenger seat, having apparently called 'shotgun' in his absence, so he climbed into the back.
"Thanks for your help back there, by the way," he told his daughter dryly and she started to giggle.
"And spoil GI Jo's fun?" she asked. "Us girls have to stick together."
"Yeah, we do," Jo agreed. "But don't call me that name unless you want to piss me off as well."
"Fair enough." Zoe held her hands up defensively then looked back over her shoulder at Jack. "Besides, it was really funny, dad."
Jack rolled his eyes. "Well, as long as it was funny..."
He pretended to look huffily out of the window as Zoe burst into giggles again but privately he was happy to hear her laughing; she'd been so sullen and angry since he'd picked her up. If his ex-wife hadn't promised him that Zoe had actually been looking forward to their road trip then he'd have thought she hated the very idea.
As they drove past a couple of farms, Jack raised his eyebrows in surprise. It was definitely a much bigger town than he'd realised and obviously self sufficient; which he supposed it would have to be way out here. He idly wondered how they got their power, they were too far away from the power grid so it was probably solar or wind or something like that. He considered asking Jo but she and Zoe were sniping at each other good naturedly in the front and he didn't want to disturb them. Besides, perhaps learning a little more about the town would give him that excuse to visit the mayor and work on those flirting skills; who better to ask about Eureka, after all? Maybe he'd even be able to figure out why everyone seemed so on edge about Jack and Zoe being in town.
They pulled up in front of a large period house situated on a long driveway and again Jack worried about the cost. This place definitely didn't look cheap, it was more like one of those gorgeous New England B&Bs that couples took their honeymoons in. He'd only budgeted for him and Zoe to stay in various Holiday Inns along their journey but paying out for a place like this as well as, what he'd resigned himself to being, extensive repairs on his car meant that he might have to cut this road trip short. His gaze drifted to Zoe and he really hoped not. She'd still be staying with him for the rest of the summer but this two week trip was supposed to be a special experience, a chance to reconnect since their months apart and something they'd always be able to look back on as a good memory not a disaster that only lasted a couple of days before they limped home with their tails between their legs.
"So why does a town in the middle of nowhere need a B&B, anyway?" Zoe wondered aloud once she and Jack had climbed out of the car.
"I guess it was more to do with being a single woman rattling around in a very big house than with me having any grand expectations of a bustling career in the hospitality industry," replied a woman who must have been the Beverly Barlow everyone had mentioned.
She was walking down the front steps towards them and, again, she wasn't what Jack had been expecting - it was beginning to become a theme in this town. Instead of a folksy and welcoming grandma type that Jack had always imagined ran these country B&Bs singlehandedly, this woman was an attractive and professional looking woman in her early forties, complete with an outfit that wouldn't be out of place in a successful law firm or some such profession.
"Beverly." Jo nodded at the woman and then turned to Jack. "Try and stay out of trouble for the rest of your visit, Marshal."
With that, she drove off, leaving Jack calling a particularly weak, "You stay out of trouble, Deputy!" after her.
"I wouldn't worry about Jo, she's usually a little hostile but only until she gets to know you. And did she call you ‘Marshal’? I wasn't aware that you were in law enforcement." Beverly leaned down to pick up their bags, but Jack waved her off and picked them up himself.
"I'm on vacation," Jack explained. "No need to announce it to everyone if I'm not going to be working on a case."
Beverly's eyes flickered to Zoe who was inspecting the veranda which ran along the front of the house. "I imagine that your daughter probably appreciates having her dad with her instead of the US Marshal."
Jack blinked at the woman in surprise because that was exactly right. He had made Zoe a promise before they set off that he would not be tempted into doing any work on this trip - unless it was life or death, obviously. That was the real reason why he hadn't mentioned his profession at the Sheriff's Station until he'd been tackled. He'd assured Zoe that this vacation was just about them, which is why it was disappointing that Zoe had been so belligerent for the majority of the trip so far.
"She’s a teenager so she probably doesn’t show it," Beverly continued. "But I'd gamble this house that she does appreciate it."
That actually made Jack feel a little better and he smiled in response.
"So do you get any guests here?" Zoe asked Beverly as she led them into the hall.
"You'd be surprised actually," Beverly told her. "There are plenty of couples in town so this place is available if they need a night away from each other or a night away from their house. Even if they want a little extra spice by staying somewhere new that isn't as far away as a big city."
"You make it sound as if no-one ever leaves town," Jack joked and Beverly laughed but didn't reply.
Instead she showed them around the house, pointing out the various rooms, until finally leading them to a couple of bedrooms situated next to each other on the second floor.
"Take some time to settle in," she told Jack and Zoe. "I'm sure that you're both hankering after a hot bath considering the day you've had. Then when you're ready, come down to the dining room; I've ordered in some food from our local diner. I hope you both like pot pie, I know it's a little...pedestrian but I thought something comforting and familiar might be called for while you're staying somewhere new."
"That sounds great," Jack assured her and then exchanged a look with Zoe once Beverly had disappeared back downstairs.
"What is it with this town?" Zoe asked in a hushed tone. "Everyone either stares at us or they're OTT friendly. It's getting really weird."
Jack couldn't help but agree.
"I guess it's a small town thing?" he tried but he didn't really believe that, there was definitely something odd about Eureka. "Hey, if it gets too much, we can always visit Jo. She's not at all friendly."
Zoe chuckled. "True and she's the only real person we've met so far. All the others are like pod people...Hey! You don't think..?"
"They're not aliens, Zo." Jack cut her off before she could get started; she'd always had an overactive imagination. "Go on and grab a shower and we'll meet up downstairs for dinner. I don't know about you but I could eat a horse right about now."
They went their separate ways to freshen up before reconvening in the dining room where Beverly was already waiting for them with dinner ready to serve. Jack was admittedly hungry enough to eat anything but 'pedestrian' was definitely not the right word for that pot pie. It was one of the best things he'd ever tasted and he was already planning to hunt down this diner so that he could eat every meal there until they left.
"That was amazing!" Zoe declared after the three of them had polished off all of the pie and most of the accompanying vegetables.
Beverly laughed. "I'll be sure to tell Vincent that you said that; he always likes to know that his cooking is being appreciated."
"It's soooo appreciated," Zoe said as she leaned back in her chair.
They were all full so decided to wait a few minutes before Beverly served whatever dessert that this Vincent had sent for them.
“What brought you to Eureka?” Jack asked Beverly. “You don’t really seem like the type of person who would live miles from civilisation.”
“Are you saying that Eureka is uncivilised?” Beverly asked, her eyes twinkling with mirth. “Actually, my story isn't all that interesting really; I was just burned out. I had a successful practice in Washington and it took over my life to the point where I couldn’t even stand this job that I used to love so much.”
“Practice? So you were a lawyer?” Jack asked.
“Psychiatrist actually,” Beverly corrected and both Jack and Zoe groaned.
Beverly laughed delightedly at that reaction. “Let me guess, Zoe’s mother is a psychiatrist too?”
“You say 'psychiatrist', I say 'total nightmare',” Zoe told her. “She’s always trying to get in my head to understand why I brush my hair to one particular side or wear this colour nail polish instead of that one.”
Beverly nodded. “I can imagine. It’s a very difficult job to switch off once you’ve left the office, believe me.”
Zoe peered at her, curiosity written all over her face. “Is that why you had your breakdown?”
“Zoe!” Jack reprimanded.
“That’s okay,” Beverly assured him before answering Zoe. “It wasn’t quite a breakdown but I have no doubt that’s where I was headed. Before it reached that point I met Nathan Stark and he told me about this town his family had founded, far away from all the stresses I was buckling beneath. Oh, it sounded wonderful, like a calm oasis where I could be free from it all. So I sold my practice and came here, bought this house and I haven’t looked back.”
Jack blinked in surprise. “The Starks founded the town? Is that why he’s the mayor? I thought he seemed a little young for the job.”
“From what I understand, the Starks have typically held a high position in the town but don’t think that Nathan was grandfathered into the role, he definitely made his own path to being mayor,” Beverly told them.
“And he, what? Visited other people like you and invited them to move to his family’s town?” Jack asked.
This whole thing was beginning to sound a bit like a cult to Jack. There was the settlement in the middle of nowhere, albeit a far nicer settlement than any other cult he’d heard of, the mayor slash leader who was blatantly very charismatic and travelled the country looking for prosperous people that he could persuade to join him and the townspeople who were a bit jumpy with regards to new people showing up.
Beverly was watching him with a very amused expression. “I guess it probably does sound a little strange but Nathan really does have the best of intentions. I don’t think that he actually enjoys being the mayor; he’d rather be tinkering in his lab than being some kind of...leader of the town.”
Jack narrowed his eyes a little at that, that wasn’t the first time that Beverly had mentioned something that was almost exactly the same as he'd been thinking. His time being married to Abby had taught him that psychiatrists could infer a hell of a lot from facial expressions and body language but Beverly’s comments were bordering on freaky.
“A lab?” Zoe asked. “Like a chemistry lab or something? He’s a scientist?”
Beverly nodded. “A frustrated one. He told me once that his childhood dream was to win the Nobel Prize but he had to move back to town a few years before I got here in order to help run the place.”
Zoe frowned. “That’s kind of sad.”
“In some ways but I think that he’s proud of following in his family’s footsteps. So don’t worry about Nathan Stark.” With that, Beverly pushed back her chair and stood up. As she walked towards the door she said, “I think it’s time to tackle that dessert now.”
“Just so you know, I’m never becoming a cop or a shrink,” Zoe told Jack. “I’m following my own dreams.”
“Oh yeah? So are you going after that Nobel Prize?” Jack teased and Zoe threw her napkin at him.
“I could, you know!”
“I know,” Jack told her. “You can do anything you put your mind to, kid.”
Zoe gave him a surprised but genuine smile at that and Jack mentally gave himself a few parent points.
When Beverly returned with cheesecake, Jack and Zoe both tried to get more information out of her about Eureka but she had apparently said all she would say on the matter and they soon dropped it in favour of concentrating on the delicious cheesecake.
Walking back to his own room, Jack noted the sounds of Beverly moving around on the ground floor, probably still cleaning up after the meal. It was a good opportunity to sort out the payment for staying in the B&B so he changed course and headed down the stairs. Once he reached the bottom step he could hear her voice and realised that she was talking to someone. Curious about who else would have shown up at the B&B this late at night, he crept closer towards her voice on his stockinged feet. He paused outside the sitting room; the ornate mirror on the wall opposite him showed him the inside of the room and Beverly chatting on her phone as she sat on the comfortable sofa. He shook his head at his own ridiculousness, spying on a woman who'd been nothing but nice to them. He blamed it on his crazy day and began to make his way back down the hallway but the sound of his name stopped him in his tracks.
"Marshal Carter knows that something's not quite right but he has no idea what that something is. It might be an idea to spread the word that people are to stop staring at him and his daughter as if they're aliens that have been dropped into the middle of town," Beverly was saying softly into the phone.
There was a moment of silence as she listened to whatever the person on the other end of the phone was saying and Jack moved back to his spot outside the room. He could see in the mirror that Beverly had a slightly pinched look; obviously she had no love for whoever she was talking to.
"No, I haven't been able to discover that yet," she said before rolling her eyes at the reply she apparently received. "I can't find out something that the Carters don't know themselves. That's not how this works, Allison; you know that."
Jack frowned. Who the hell was this Allison and why was she so interested in him and Zoe?
Beverly suddenly froze and her eyes darted towards the door. Jack ducked out the way before she could spot his own reflection in that mirror and slunk back towards the stairs as he heard Beverly quickly end the call. He silently tiptoed two thirds of the way up the stairs, then turned and began to walk back down at a slower pace with a deliberately heavier step to make it look like this was the first time he’d ventured downstairs since dinner.
Beverly appeared in the hallway. “I thought that I heard someone out here.”
Jack smiled. “I’ve got a bit too much energy to sleep. I shouldn’t have had that coffee at the Sheriff’s station, it was far too late for caffeine.”
Beverly smiled back but Jack got the feeling that she wasn’t buying his innocent act for a second. So he decided to revert to the truth instead.
“I thought it would be best to sort out the bill with you now,” he told her. “Before Zoe finds a clothing store in town or I blow our budget at this fantastic diner of yours.”
“You’ll have to speak to the mayor about that,” Beverly told him. “He told me to send him the bill for your stay.”
Jack blinked in surprise at that. “Nathan Stark is paying for our stay here? Why?”
Beverly shrugged elegantly. “As I said, you’ll need to...”
“...speak to him about that,” Jack finished.
“On that note, it’s past time for me to go to bed,” she said. “Feel free to help yourself to anything in the kitchen and you know where the lounge is. I shall see you in the morning for breakfast. Goodnight, Marshal.”
Jack watched her walk away, irritated at the lack of a proper answer. But there was nothing he could do about that now, he’d just have to wait until the morning when he could pay a visit to the mayor – although for slightly less pleasant reasons than he’d wanted to earlier.
He was still too wired to sleep so he did indeed head to the lounge. He’d spotted a couple of DVDs in there earlier that he wouldn’t mind watching. Something with not much plot and lots of explosions was what he needed.
“Zoe!” The scream had come from upstairs and his heart clenched as he ran faster than he ever had in order to find his daughter.
He almost collapsed in relief to find her standing outside her bedroom door. Her eyes were wide with fear and she was brandishing a poker which she’d obviously grabbed from the grandiose fireplace inside her room.
“Dad?” She flung herself at him, her face filled with relief to see him. “I think someone else is here and they...Beverly...that sounded like her...”
“I know, Zo, I heard it too. Go back into your room and lock the door,” Jack instructed Zoe but she shook her head.
“I’m staying with you, dad. I’m safer with you,” she emphasised when she saw that Jack was about to argue.
Jack felt torn. He would feel better if he kept Zoe where he could see her; there was no guarantee that there was only one intruder, after all. But what if things got out of hand when he confronted whoever was hurting Beverly? Another scream came from the room down the hall but this one cut off abruptly and the urgency of the situation made Jack’s decision for him.
He told Zoe to stay close to him and do everything he said, even if that was to run away and hide somewhere safe. She readily agreed, hovering in his doorway while he grabbed his gun from where he’d stashed it in the bedside cabinet. The two of them then ran to Beverly’s room, with Zoe making sure to stay behind Jack, as instructed. Jack threw open the door and then froze at the sight before him.
There was blood everywhere, splashed over the walls and floor like some kind of gruesome abstract art. Beverly was on the bed, her unseeing eyes staring up at the ceiling and her expression frozen in an expression of perfect terror. Her face was the only thing untouched by the carnage because below the neck her body had been literally torn apart as if she’d been attacked by a pack of wild animals. However there were no wild animals in the room, just one man if ‘man’ was the right word. ‘Monster’ seemed closer to the mark.
Jack shook his head to try and clear it but the monster was still there, with claws instead of hands and black liquid eyes. Even worse than the burnt-looking, ink-black skin hanging off the monster’s frame were the writhing tentacles coming out of his mouth, twisting over Beverly in such a way that Jack got the impression they were feeding on her somehow.
“Oh my god!” Zoe said in a shaky whisper from behind him and Jack automatically moved his body to try and block her view of the room.
Or maybe it had been to block the monster’s view of her because while his tentacles were focussed on Beverly, the monster’s attention was fully on Jack and Zoe. He’d merely stared at them with those terrifying eyes until now but Zoe’s soft exclamation apparently broke the moment and it began to charge them.
“Run, Zoe! Now!” Jack yelled as he moved into a shooting stance and shot bullet after bullet at the monster until it suddenly staggered back a little then threw back it's head and howled, the high pitch of it almost unbearable to hear. Just as Jack thought his ears may start bleeding from it, the noise stopped and the monster dived out through the window and into the darkness outside.
“Zoe?” Jack yelled, immediately spinning on his heel and running back down the hall to find his daughter.
“I’m here,” Zoe replied from the bottom of the stairs. “Did you kill it?”
“No, it escaped,” Jack told her as he sprinted down to her. “But I definitely hit it before it jumped out of the window.”
“So it has to be dead, right? The fall alone would’ve killed it.”
Jack shook his head. “I don’t know, Zoe. I...I just don’t know. What I do know is that we need to get out of here, now. Beverly has to have a car. If we find it, then we can drive into town and get some help.”
Having a plan to follow seemed to help Zoe overcome her panic a little and she immediately ran to the office Beverly had next to the front door. “She probably keeps her keys in here. Unless you know how to hotwire a car?”
She looked at Jack hopefully but he had to admit that he didn’t; although he vowed to learn how to if...when they got out of this nightmare. Instead he busied himself with searching the room too until Zoe finally threw her hand up in triumph, the small bunch of silver keys dangling from her fingers.
Jack had found a couple of torches in the bottom drawer of the desk so he handed one to his daughter as he took the keys from her.
“That thing might still be out there so we’re going to move fast,” Jack told her. “The car can’t be very far so do what you did before and stick close to me, okay?”
Zoe gave a shaky nod but her expression was resolved and Jack felt so proud of her for being this brave that he pulled her into a quick hug and kissed the top of her head. They moved to the door, turned on their torches and Jack held up his hand to count to three but before he even got to two, red and blue flashing lights appeared in the small window of the door.
“It's Jo,” Zoe breathed.
“Back-up,” Jack said, gratefully.
They heard the car pull up outside and Jack opened the door, eager to get some help but instead he was faced with Jo and Cobb standing beside the truck with their guns drawn and trained on him.
“Drop your weapon and get down on the ground!” Jo yelled.
“What? No! You’ve got it wrong!” Jack shouted back. “We didn’t hurt her; we tried to help her but she was already dead!”
In the back of his mind he wondered how they already knew about Beverly but mostly he was trying to get them to lower their guns before someone got hurt.
Cobb frowned at Jack’s words and he and Jo looked at each other briefly before Jo repeated her order.
"Lose the gun and get down on the ground. Now!"
“Zoe, do as she says,” Jack murmured to his daughter. “We can explain what happened when everyone calms down.”
Zoe clutched onto the back of his shirt. “But we didn’t do anything.”
Jo shouted another warning and Jack knew that the third warning would be the last one.
“I know we didn’t,” he reassured Zoe. “It’ll be fine, I promise.”
Zoe released a heavy breath and dropped her torch to the floor.
“Okay, don’t shoot.” Jack made a show of carefully tossing his gun and torch onto the porch. “We are co-operating.”
He and Zoe lowered themselves until they were laying on their bellies with their hands behind their heads. Once they were in position, Jo came forward while Cobb covered her and she non-too-gently yanked Jack’s hands down behind his back and into handcuffs.
“Where’s Beverly?” Jo asked in a hard voice as she moved to repeat the action with Zoe. “What have you done to her?”
“We didn’t do anything,” Zoe insisted. “It was...”
“...someone else.” Jack cut Zoe off and gave her a subtle shake of his head, this wasn’t the time to start talking about monsters; Jo already seemed on the edge. “She was already dead when we found her.”
“A mysterious ‘someone else’? That’s really what you’re going with?” Jo snarled. “Pathetic, even for a wight.”
“Jo, check upstairs,” Cobb said in a firm voice, looking at Jack with disappointment. “Find Beverly.”
Jack heard the sound of Jo running up the stairs. He wanted to warn her about the gut churning scene she was about to find but that could only make things worse for him and Zoe right now so he kept his mouth shut.
“A father and daughter,” Cobb said quietly as he watched Jack and Zoe, his gun never wavering. “That’s a clever one. Very unexpected.”
Jack craned his neck to look up at him. “What are you talking about?”
Cobb didn’t answer though because Jo came back down the stairs.
“She’s dead,” Jo confirmed, with a slight tremor in her voice. “It was a hollow.”
Jack couldn’t help but ask, “A hollow?”
“Shut up!” Jo yelled and kicked him, hard, on the hip.
“Stop it, Jo. I mean it,” Cobb snapped as Jack cried out and tried to wriggle away from her.
“It’s their fault! They attacked Stark and they’re the reason Beverly’s dead!” Jo insisted. “They’re wights!”
White? That was the second time Jo had called them that and Jack had no idea what she was talking about and he had absolutely no idea what was going on. The world had gone crazy! Or maybe it was just this weird town.
There was the sound of another car pulling up and Cobb stepped outside to talk to whoever had arrived while Jo kept watch over Jack and Zoe. Zoe had obviously decided that staying quiet was the best idea and after that kick he’d received, Jack decided to follow her example even though he really wanted to ask about this attack on Stark that Jo had mentioned.
“We caught them.” Cobb’s voice floated in from the porch. “They were trying to flee.”
“Beverly?” A woman asked.
“Dead,” Cobb replied.
There was a pause before the woman said, “Bring them to the town hall. They have to undergo an examination before we decide what to do next.”
Jo grabbed hold of Jack’s cuffed wrists and yanked him to his feet. Her fingers where they touched his skin were hot almost to the point of burning him and Jack wondered for a moment if she was ill. A fever might explain her crazy ramblings. She pulled him out of the house where Jack finally got a look at the woman who Cobb had been talking too. Surprise, surprise; it was yet another beautiful woman in a designer outfit. In fact this particular woman was a complete knockout and Jack knew that he’d normally be very attracted to her if it wasn’t for the cold and hate filled glare she was sending his way.
“I don’t think that keeping them together is a good idea; God knows what sort of schemes they’ve cooked up,” the woman told Cobb. “Put the girl in my car.”
“No!” Jack yelled. “We’ve been co-operating with this craziness but you’re not taking my daughter anywhere; she stays with me!”
The woman sneered at him. “You can drop the act now. You’ve been caught red-handed.”
“You people are insane, you know that? You keep your damn hands off my daughter!”Jack began to struggle against Jo's hold.
Anything could happen to Zoe if they took her away. That monster could be anywhere. Hell, for as much as he knew, these people could be behind the whole thing and they got their kicks preying on the tourists who stumbled into their town. The best way to keep Zoe safe was to keep her with him.
Feeling more than a little panicked and crazed after the events of the past half hour, Jack yanked himself forward which caused Jo’s grip on his arm to slip a little. Taking advantage of that, he quickly twisted to one side and out of her grip entirely. He wasn’t sure what the hell he was doing, he just knew that he had to get to Zoe before these psychopaths took her away, so he put his head down and ran back towards the house.
When the prongs hit his side, Jack shouted in surprise as much as pain as the electric volts surged through his body and caused him to drop to the ground. Whilst he lay locked in a rigid position on the gravel drive, the attractive woman moved to stand over him and he saw the taser in her hand. At least they hadn’t shot him with a real gun he thought just before he passed out.
Zoe saw that he was awake and her face showed her own relief. He opened his mouth to say something but she shook her head and nodded towards the other side of the room. Wincing at the way the movement hurt his already massive headache, Jack turned to look at the small group huddled together near the doorway.
It was a good ol’ fashioned reunion; Cobb, Jo, Stark, Henry, Taggart and the woman who’d tasered him. They were all so deep in conversation that they were all but ignoring Jack and Zoe.
“...if you can’t keep yourself under control, Deputy Lupo, you’ll have to leave,” Stark was saying, his face grave.
“You know what they are,” Jo hissed. “Who knows how many more of us they’ve killed before coming here.”
Henry gave her a sad look. “You know the rules; they have to be examined first. Just to be sure.”
“Sure?” Jo practically yelled. “They were caught red-handed!”
Jack suddenly noticed how hot it was in the room. It felt like an oven in there and beads of sweat began to form on his forehead.
“Jo...” the taser woman put a hand on Jo’s arm. “It won’t take long to do the examination and then we can decide their punishment. We just need the male wight to wake up.”
“Well, if that’s all we’re waiting for then we can start now,” Taggart said as he suddenly stared right at Jack.
The entire group turned as one to confirm that Jack was indeed awake and Cobb put his hand on Jo’s other arm, probably to keep her from rushing Jack because she really looked like that was what she wanted to do. Stark nodded at Taser Woman and she picked up some kind of case before approaching Jack, her face grim.
After the spectacular failure of his earlier escape attempt, Jack forced himself to stay calm this time. He was a US Marshal for crying out loud, he couldn't afford to lose his head on the job but when it came to Zoe he'd turned into every other scared father he'd seen doing all the wrong things when trying to protect their child. He couldn't afford to do that now, he needed to be the cool and calm US Marshal to get him and Zoe out of this mess.
“What’s that?” Jack asked after the woman had set down the case and opened it. It seemed to be full of medical equipment.
The woman didn’t answer; instead she pulled out a syringe and drew some of Jack’s blood. She set the vial of blood to one side and then drew out a piece of equipment that Jack recognised from his visits to the ophthalmologist, that handheld magnifying thingymagigy that the optician used to examine your eyeball up close. But what really set his pulse racing was the vicious looking tweezers she picked up in her other hand. There was no way he was letting those anywhere near his eye so he began ducking his head out of the way whenever her hands came closer.
The woman huffed with impatience and Jack looked at her incredulously.
“Are you actually irritated that I won’ t let you take my eye out?”
This time the woman rolled her eyes. “I’m not trying to take your eye out, wight. I’m trying to remove your contact lenses.”
Jack was a bit thrown by that. “I’m not wearing contact lenses. My vision’s 20/20.”
Stark gave a humourless chuckle. “Unbelievable,” he said to Henry who also shook his head. “We don’t care about how well you can see, Carter. We’re trying to prove that you're disguising your true eyes with coloured contact lenses.”
"Oh, yes. We know about that little trick," Taser Woman told him with a nasty smirk, apparently misreading his obvious puzzlement over Stark's statement.
“Dad, do you have any idea what these nut jobs are talking about?” Zoe asked with more bravado than Jack knew she felt.
"Not a clue, kid," Jack replied equally calmly, his attention caught by Stark.
While Taser Woman had misunderstood Jack's confusion, it appeared that Stark hadn't and he was now looking between Jack and Zoe with a puzzled expression of his own.
"Taggart, a little help," Taser Woman said and the Australian walked across the room to stand behind Jack.
He caught Jack's head between his hands and held it in a firm grip to stop Jack ducking away from Tazer Woman's examination, no matter how hard Jack tried to do just that.
Tazer Woman held the magnifying thing (he was really going to have to look up what that was called when they got out of this) in front of his right eye and leaned forward to study it closely. She pulled back with a slight frown and then repeated the action with his left eye. She sent a fleeting glance at Stark and then checked both eyes again.
"Let's check the girl," she said and Taggart let go of Jack's head to move behind Zoe instead.
"It's okay, Zoe. It doesn't hurt," Jack reassured his daughter as she gave him a scared look when Taggart took hold of her head. "It's just like going to the optician. You know, without all the pesky medical licenses and that kind of official stuff."
Stark's frown had got even deeper as he watched all of this. "What is it, Allison? What's wrong?"
"I just need to check something," Taser Woman replied as she knelt down in front of Zoe and inspected her eyes. She sat back on her heels and gave a big sigh. "They aren't wearing contact lenses; either of them. These are their true eyes."
"What?! No!" Jo burst out. "It has to be them! They have to be the wights, there's no one else it could be!"
Allison shook her head. "I'm sorry, Jo. I have no choice but to conclude that the Carters are not wights."
The heat in the room rose another couple of notches and Jack would have complained about the rubbish air-con in this building but, honestly, he was just relieved that the ridiculous eye test seemed to have exonerated him and Zoe somehow.
"Taggart, you can untie Marshal Carter and his daughter from their chairs now," Stark said, ignoring the huff of frustration Jo gave at that.
"Right-o!" Taggart quickly undid the knots on Jack and Zoe's ropes before helping them both to their feet and enthusiastically clapping Jack’s shoulder. “I knew you were one of us really, Marshal. And welcome to town, I forgot to say that earlier.”
Jack stared at the man and his outstretched hand incredulously. "Welcome to town? Are you freaking kidding me?"
Stark stepped forward. "Marshal, you're understandably upset right now but..."
"Upset? Oh, upset doesn't even begin to cover what I'm feeling right now," Jack told him. "We've been treated with nothing but suspicion since we got to town. You had us spied on at the B&B and then, without any evidence, blamed us instead of going after the monster that really killed Beverly. This one tasered me for trying to protect my child..." Jack pointed a finger at Allison who actually did look shamefaced at that. "...then you subjected us to an unlawful, unconstitutional and downright weird detention. You people tied my fifteen year old daughter to a chair, threatening and scaring her when she's already been scared enough by what she saw at the B&B!"
Jack was all but roaring by the time he finished, visibly shaking with anger as he pulled Zoe into his arms, allowing her to hide her face in his chest.
There was a long moment of silence and everyone in the room averted their eyes, sheepishly. Even Jo, who it seemed had finally accepted that they weren't behind Beverly's death.
"You're right, Marshal," Stark eventually broke the silence. "I'm very sorry for what we've put you through. After I was attacked, we all leapt to the most convenient conclusion and got carried away. I know that I don't deserve it but I would like the chance to explain everything to you and Zoe. We can move to my office upstairs and I can get breakfast brought in; I'm sure you must be hungry."
Now that Stark had mentioned being attacked, Jack remembered Jo's earlier comment about it and could see a nasty looking bruise on his forehead. He fought his natural urge to ask more about that and instead looked down at Zoe, who was still hiding her face and obviously struggling not to give in and cry in front of these people.
"I think it would be best if we just leave. If Henry has a loaner car he can give us, we can be on our way as soon as possible. I'm sure my insurance will sort out everything about retrieving my car and getting Henry's back to town."
Henry was frowning thoughtfully at the wall beside Jack. He opened his mouth but instead of talking about a possible car rental, he instead asked, "What did you mean by 'monster'?"
Jack just stared at him.
"You said 'the monster that killed her'. Did you see who killed Beverly?" Henry continued. "I mean, actually see them?"
"Yes, we saw it!" Zoe yelled, spinning to glare at everyone with those angry tears finally welling up to stream down her face. "We saw that thing...feeding on her. She'd been so nice to us and it just ripped her apart as if she was nothing! And then you thought that we could do something like that..."
Henry stepped forward, ignoring the gasps from Allison and Cobb and instead steadily looked Zoe in the eye. "What did it look like, Zoe?"
"Like my worst nightmares," Zoe admitted. "It had these things coming out of it's mouth, like lots of tongues all twisting around each other."
She looked up at Jack for confirmation and reassurance that he'd seen the same thing and that she wasn't crazy.
"It had this horrible skin," he said, backing up Zoe's story and she slumped back against him gratefully. "Like it had been burned alive but was still moving. And it was really quick; it jumped out of that window like a bat out of hell and I know that I shot it at least once. It was hurt but that didn't slow it down one bit."
"Oh my god, you could actually see it?" Allison breathed. "How is that possible?"
Henry placed a comforting hand on Zoe's arm, squeezing gently before he turned to Allison. “I think it’s their gift. I once heard about someone else who could see the hollowgasts, a very long time ago, I guess that they were probably some ancestor of Jack and Zoe.”
Jack pinched the bridge of his nose with his spare hand because the whole talking over them about things they’d never heard about thing was happening again and now Jack's headache was returning with a vengeance.
“Hollow what?” he asked in a tired voice.
“Alright, that’s enough,” Stark said in a decisive voice. “Allison, I know that you want to check in on Kevin before school, so go ahead. On your way out, could you ask Fargo to get some breakfast for all of us and, by the looks of it, some aspirin, for the Marshal?”
Allison looked relived and grateful as she quickly packed up her things. As she walked past Jack and Zoe she paused. “I know that it probably doesn’t mean much to you right now, but I was just trying to protect my child. I should never have let it get as far as it did though and for that I am sorry.”
Jack didn’t know what to say to that so he just nodded and that appeared to be enough because Allison gave him a small smile before she left the room.
Stark wasn’t quite finished dismissing people. “Sheriff, I need to keep hold of Jo for a little while. Will you be able to start on the crime scene at the B&B without her?”
Cobb nodded thoughtfully. “I could use some help though. Do you need Taggart as well?”
Stark confirmed that he didn’t and Taggart appeared only too happy to help the police. He clapped Jack on the back as he left.
“No hard feelings, eh, mate?”
Jack stared after the chipper man in disbelief and when he looked back at Stark, he swore that he saw a small twitch of his lips.
“Alright, lets head to my office, shall we?” Stark said and led the way out of the room they were in and up a flight of stairs.
“Do you want me to start?” Henry asked Stark once they were all seated and Stark nodded. “Okay, as you’ve already guessed, this isn’t your average town. Eureka is actually a haven for people with, what we like to call, peculiarities. Or gifts.”
“Gifts,” Jack repeated. Henry had claimed that Jack and Zoe had a gift earlier, in among all the other crazy mumbo jumbo. “What exactly do you mean?”
“I mean the ability to do things that other people can’t,” Henry told him. “Basically, humans are split into two main groups. You have the coerlfolc, who are the common people and who make up the majority of people on earth. Then there are people like us, syndrigast – the peculiar spirit. We have that little something extra that sets us apart and makes us special. Our peculiarities.”
Jack held up a hand to stop him. “Let me get this straight; you’re trying to tell us that there are people who have some kind of magical abilities and they all live in this town.”
Jack waggled his fingers as he said ‘magical abilities’ in order to show just how nuts he thought that was.
Stark smirked as if he already knew how Jack was going to react and simply said, “Jo?”
Jo nodded before holding out a clenched fist in front of her. She slowly opened her fingers to reveal a small ball of fire sitting in the middle of her hand.
“Whoa!” Zoe leaned forward to get a better look. “How are you doing that?”
“It’s her peculiarity,” Stark answered. “Jo is a pyrokinetic; she can control fire.”
As Stark spoke, the ball of fire in Jo’s hand grew to the size of a baseball and then shrunk again. Finally, Jo blew on her hand gently and the ball disintegrated into loads of tiny sparks which floated into the air for a few seconds before each one snuffed out.
Zoe was staring at Jo with unconcealed awe but Jack still wasn’t sure that he believed it. It had to be a trick of some kind; people didn’t just create fire in their hands. He was about to say as much but there was a knock on the door at that moment and a young man encased in a giant, clear, plastic ball entered the room.
“Fargo, just in time,” Stark said with a smile. “Marshal Carter, here, was just about to tell us that he still doesn’t believe in peculiarities even after seeing Jo’s impressive display of fire control. Would you care to show him and Zoe what your peculiarity is?”
Fargo beamed at Stark. “I’d love to; just give me a second to put this down.”
He walked – rolled? - to the group and slid a large tray of food through a slot on the side of the ball.
After the food was deposited, Fargo turned to face Jack and Zoe. “Hello, my name is Douglas Fargo. I am Mayor Stark’s assistant and basically his right hand man in running the town.”
Stark cleared his throat meaningfully and shot Fargo a look.
“Right, right. ‘Get on with it, Fargo’,” Fargo said, causing Zoe to cover her smile with her hand. “Anyway, I am immune to gravity.”
Jack blinked. “I’m sorry...what?”
“Immune to gravity,” Fargo repeated. “Observe, if you will, the amazing feats of Fargo...go...go!”
Stark shook his head at Fargo's attempt at impersonating a tannoy announcement and Jo and Henry smiled at each other before Fargo unzipped part of the ball and stepped out. Almost immediately, his feet left the ground and he began to float.
Jack jumped out of his chair in surprise and just stared at the man who was slowly floating higher and higher. It took until Fargo’s swinging feet were level with the top of the table for Jack to shake himself out of it and walk closer to Fargo for a better look with Zoe close behind. They both began to wave their hands all around Fargo, checking for wires, but there weren’t any. Fargo was just floating in mid-air, and getting higher by the minute.
“So the ball you were in, that keeps you weighted down?” Zoe asked and Fargo nodded.
“Mayor Stark made it for me. He’s a great man.”
Jack stole a look at Stark who gave him a smug smile and Jack suddenly remembered just how attracted he’d been to the other man before all the death and kidnapping of the night before.
“I used to have to wear these giant shoes with weights in the heel and clomp about like a rubbish clown,” Fargo was saying from about a foot above their heads. “And when I was a baby, my mom used to tie rope around my ankle to keep me in the crib. But now I can just walk on the ground like everyone else, plus I look like I belong in Star Wars or something. It’s awesome!”
“That’s obviously my main aim as mayor; helping people feel like they’re in Star Wars,” Stark told Jack dryly and Jack couldn’t help but give a small chuckle. As soon as he did, it was like all the tension rushed out of the room and everyone relaxed as if they’d previously all been bracing themselves for Jack to lose it and start yelling again.
Henry and Jo began to help Fargo get back to the ground and into his ball while Jack and Zoe sat back down. Jack gave Stark a challenging look. “So what’s your superpower? Apart from building the Millennium Falcon in your basement.”
Stark gave a rueful shake of his head. "Now that's a question with a complicated answer. I'm what's known as an ymbryne. Basically our job is to find and protect other peculiar people, especially the young ones who are still trying to understand what they can do, and so our powers are geared towards being able to provide that protection."
Things were finally beginning to drop into place for Jack. "That's why your family founded the town. This inbin thing runs in your family, right?"
"Ymbryne," Stark corrected. "And, yes. The Starks have always had one current ymbryne whose job it is to be the mayor of Eureka, in all its previous incarnations. This generation, that job fell to me; no matter how hard I tried to fight it by running away to college. Sometimes you can't escape your destiny, you know?"
Actually Jack sort of did know what Stark meant, he'd always felt that way about being in law enforcement. His dad had been a cop but all Jack had wanted to do was play professional baseball. Yet when the baseball dreams had vanished in a car crash and Jack had joined the Marshals, something clicked into place, like that was what he'd always been meant to do.
"So what can you do exactly?" Zoe asked Stark as she helped Henry serve everyone their breakfast from the tray Fargo had brought in. "How do you protect the town?"
"Wolf syndrigasts can manipulate geography which essentially means that I make the town unplottable," Stark told her. "It's constantly moving location so that no one can find us. Of course, a moving town might be noticed so I also project a shield over the town that hides it from view."
"We found it," Zoe pointed out.
"Exactly!" Henry beamed at her. "Only peculiars can cross through the shield. That's how we knew that you were one of us, we just had to try and find out what type of peculiars you are."
Jack mind was on overload; it was a lot of information to get all at once and he kind of felt like he was in an episode of CSI - if they used crazy magical theories instead of actual scientific ones. He did feel his temper begin to rise again at the "we knew you were one of us" comment from Henry because if that was true then why had he and Zoe been treated so abysmally over the past few hours? But he'd already yelled enough this morning and decided that maybe he should at least wait until all the explanations were over before he exploded once more. Instead he latched onto something Stark had just slipped into the conversation almost casually.
"Whoa! Okay, back up!" He pointed at Stark with his fork. "Did you just say that you're a wolf?"
Stark, for some reason, looked sad for moment. "Occasionally. Male ymbrynes can become wolves and female ymbrynes become birds. Wolves manipulate geography and birds can manipulate time. When my mother was the mayor, she hid the town by placing it into a time loop."
Henry nodded. "Every day was April 15th 1947 on a constant loop that reset at midnight. Not that it really mattered to us inside of the loop but if we left the town then it was always that one particular day."
"That's the day that Jackie Robinson debuted in the majors," Jack muttered. When all he received were blank looks, Jack shook himself and got back on topic. "The town moves? The whole town?"
Jo rolled her eyes. "Well it would be a bit pointless if only part of it moved."
"But it moves?" Jack repeated.
"Yes it does," Stark confirmed. "Except that we're not moving right now, we haven't moved since you and Zoe came to town."
Zoe looked up from her Eggs Benedict in surprise. "We stopped the town?"
Stark shook his head. "No, I stopped it. We stop once a day for one hour, always somewhere new. It gives us the chance to connect to the internet and get some supplies, if we've stopped anywhere near a town. Mainly though, it gives me the chance to recharge a little every day. Constantly using my peculiarity gets a little...exhausting."
"Then you two arrived and that caused a stir," Jo said, anticipating Jack's next question. "We actually called a meeting about you and ultimately decided to stay put until we figured out what you wanted."
"You have to understand that no one has ever just shown up in town," Henry explained. "We usually have to go and get any new peculiars we find so we were a little on edge about you two. There was always the chance that you were only pretending not to know about us and that you were here to do us harm so in the end we voted to stop the town until we could be sure that you were who you said you were. That's why we sent you to Beverly, so that she would read you both."
Well that explained the bad treatment despite being peculiars but Jack frowned a little at the word 'read' , then the light bulb suddenly went off. "She could read our minds! That's why she always seemed to know what I was thinking!"
Henry gave nod and a sad smile. "It came in handy for running a successful psychiatric practice, I understand."
"I bet it did," Zoe snorted. "She could literally figure out what was going on in people's head. That's a nice con."
Stark grinned. "Yes, some people are better at handling their peculiarities than others."
"Some people have easier to handle peculiarities than others," Henry pointed out and Stark acknowledged that with a nod.
"Speaking of..." Jack raised his eyebrows at Henry expectantly causing him to laugh.
"I have what's known as 'innate capability'," he said. "Basically, I can look at something and know how it works without having to actually learn anything. It's not flashy but pretty convenient at times."
"Especially in a mechanic," Jack guessed.
"Don't let him fool you," Jo said. "He likes to pretend that he's just a mechanic but he pretty much does everything around town."
Breakfast was finished and all the empty plates had been piled back onto the tray waiting for Fargo to come and collect them. Jack decided it was time to address what the others were clearly avoiding.
"So what is it that me and Zoe can do? What don't you want to tell us?"
Again, there was one of those unspoken conversations between Stark, Jo and Henry while Jack and Zoe waited patiently. Finally, Stark decided to bite the bullet.
"You can see the hollows, that's your peculiarity." At their blank looks, he explained, "The monster that killed Beverly, that's what's known as a hollowgast and part of what makes them so deadly is that we can't see them."
"At all?" Zoe asked, looking shocked.
"Not entirely," Henry told her. "We can catch their movements in our peripheral vision and get fleeting impressions of them and sometimes see their shadows but by that time, it's usually far too late. Especially because they tend to hunt at night or in shadowed areas."
"Christ," Jack muttered. "So what are they exactly?"
"They used to be just like us, they were peculiars," Henry said. "But a large group of them got greedy and decided that they wanted more power. They got together and tried to find the source of our gifts."
Zoe frowned. "There's a source? Peculiars aren't made naturally?"
"Peculiar history isn't written down, for obvious reasons, but the story of The Artefact has been passed down over generations. It's said to be made of pure energy of unknown origin and that it's where the earliest peculiars got their power, " Stark explained. "The majority of peculiars believed that it was just a myth until this group went looking for it."
"They got way more than they bargained for," Jo picked up the story. "It blew up in their faces, literally."
Henry nodded. "Pretty much. The Artefact was just too much unstable energy for them to deal with and the resulting explosion could apparently be heard miles away. Everyone thought they were all dead, killed in the explosion, until peculiars in the nearby areas began being killed. That's when the peculiar community realised that the group had survived but they had been changed."
"Changed into the hollowgasts," Zoe stated and the others nodded.
"The more dramatic among us claim that their souls were ripped from them and that they now feed from peculiars in order to take their souls," Henry said. "That's where the name 'Hollowgast' came from, the idea that they're hollow syndrigasts who are trying to fill themselves up again."
"Is that what you believe?" Jack asked but it was Jo that answered.
"They're evil and they need to be put down. That's what I believe."
"Fair enough." Having seen a hollowgast up close, Jack couldn't help but agree with that.
"What's a wight?" Zoe suddenly asked. "Isn't that what you all kept calling me and my dad, 'wights'? What is that?"
"We did...again, sorry about that," Jo said, looking a little guilty, and Jack gave an amused huff.
"A wight is a hollowgast who has killed enough peculiars to evolve into a fusion of the two groups," Henry told them. "They're part hollow, part peculiar. They look human and have become a kind of shape shifter who can actually alter their appearance at will. Some of the stronger wights would also be able to pass through our town's barrier which is what happened last night; a wight came into town and attacked Nathan."
Jack leaned forward, his eyes flicking to that bruise on Stark's head. Now that the history lesson was over and Jack and Zoe knew enough to get by, they could finally move on to the issues happening in the town right now.
"Okay, tell me about the attack," he instructed Stark.
"There's not much to tell about the actual attack," Stark said. "I was here, waiting for Beverly to call and tell me what she'd learned from you two. I left the office to go and refill my coffee pot in the kitchen down the hall when someone hit me from behind. I apparently smashed into the edge of a cabinet on my way down." His fingers lightly brushed over the bruise and he gave Jack a rueful smile.
"The main problem is what they did to Nathan while he was unconscious," Henry said, looking at Stark with concern. "There's been a rumour floating around among the peculiar communities for a while which I've always put down to scaremongering before now. The rumour had it that wights had found a way to nullify an ymbryne's peculiarity by mixing their blood together."
Jack didn't take his eyes off Stark and saw the subtle play of emotions across his face. "I take it that it wasn't just scaremongering."
Stark shook his head. "Allison found a small puncture wound on my shoulder. It looks like the wight injected some of their blood into me because now I can't..." He stopped and took a shaking breath, which was the first time that he'd dropped the whole in-control-mayor persona. "I can't tap into the wolf anymore."
"And if you can't tap into the wolf then you can't move the town," Jack guessed.
Stark grimaced. "It's actually worse than that. I can't maintain the shield anymore. The town is completely unprotected."
"Which is how the hollow got in to kill Beverly," Henry added. "There's a hollow in town and we have no way to fight something that we can't see."
Jack glanced at Zoe and wondered if she'd figured out that the reason for this huge info dump over breakfast was because the town needed Jack's help. Their deal had been no working unless it's life or death and this was definitely life or death.
He decided to dive right in. "But now you've got me."
Zoe looked resigned and a little scared but there was no sign of the anger from the day before. Instead she quickly squeezed his hand before letting go again which Jack chose to view as her giving him her support. He guessed that seeing what had happened to Beverly up close and personal had changed the way she viewed Jack's job.
Stark, on the other hand, looked relieved at Jack's statement. "It goes without saying that having a trained US Marshal on our team is going to be a huge help."
Jo grumbled a little at that but it seemed to just be a token protest at the idea that the Sheriff's department wasn't enough.
Stark ignored her and kept talking to Jack and Zoe. "But the fact that you can see the hollow is, I believe, what's really going to get us through this. We've never had that kind of advantage on our side before."
Jack suddenly realised that it wasn't just Jack's help they wanted. "You need my help? Then you've got it but Zoe's staying away from it."
"Dad, if I can do something then I should," Zoe said and Jack felt another burst of pride for his daughter but shook his head.
"I appreciate that you want to help but I can't put you in that much danger, Zoe. I need you to stay safe."
The very idea of Zoe ending up the way Beverly had made Jack burst out into a cold sweat. He'd already lost his mind once, trying to protect her; there was no way that he could hunt down the hollow - and a wight - if Zoe was out there with him.
"Dad..." Zoe started but they were interrupted by Jo's radio bursting into life.
"Jo, there's been another one!" Cobb's grim sounding voice filtered into the room. "It's Bubay. The goddamned hollow killed Bubay. Over."
Jo was on her feet before Cobb even finished talking. "Where are you? I'm heading out to meet you. Over."
Cobb told her that he was at this Bubay's house and Jo marched to the door but Stark called out and stopped her.
"Deputy, hold up. The Marshal and I will be coming with you." He turned to Henry. "I need you and Fargo to get back to work on ways we can lock down the town while my wolf is indisposed. But more important than that, I'm putting you in charge of keeping Zoe out of harm's way."
Henry nodded. "I can do that but, in that case, it's probably best if we work from Sarah's. There's nowhere in town that's more secure."
Stark appeared to agree and pulled an electronic key card from his pocket before tossing it to Henry.
"I'll keep Zoe safe, Jack," Henry promised him. "You've got my word."
Jack thanked him and pulled Zoe into a quick hug. "I'll be back as soon as I can."
"Who's Sarah?" he asked Stark and got a grin from the other man, despite the situation.
"Sarah's an unfettered spirit who lives in a bunker next to my house."
Jack had a brief image of a hippy woman in flowing skirts for a moment before he realised that in this town, Stark probably meant that literally. He apparently wasn't all that successful at hiding his reaction to that because Stark and Jo both burst out laughing at him.
"Yeah, yeah, laugh it up," Jack grumbled. "But you did just tell me that I left my daughter with a ghost."
"Sarah's not a ghost," Stark assured him. "She's just a little lost. Her particular peculiarity was astral projection but then she forgot where she left her body."
"She forgot?" Jack asked, incredulously.
"Apparently it happens." Jo shrugged as she drove. "You'll understand when you meet her. Sarah's a little...kooky."
"Oh, so you've sent my daughter to be looked after by a kooky ghost. I feel so much better now." Jack shot Stark a look in the rear view mirror.
"I haven't sent her to Sarah, I've sent her to the bunker. Sarah just happens to live there," Nathan told him. "Seriously, Marshal, she'll be safe there."
"She will," Jo agreed. "That bunker is very well built and you don't want to piss off Sarah by trying to break into it. Trust me."
Stark frowned at Jo. "You tried to break into the bunker."
"It was a training exercise." Jo looked unconcerned, as if she did that kind of thing all the time. "I had a free day with nothing to do."
Stark sighed and rubbed his forehead. "We've been through this, Deputy. You can't treat Eureka like your own personal Special Forces boot camp!"
"No one cares," Jo retorted.
"They're just too scared to tell you!" Stark exclaimed. "You can be more than a little intimidating at times."
Jack raised his hand. "As someone who's been tackled by you, Lupo. I can confirm that."
Jo smiled smugly but didn't reply.
The truck pulled up outside a small house with a large willow tree in the front garden. Jack noted that the rear of the house, however, backed onto some surrounding woods; just like Beverly's B&B did.
Sheriff Cobb was waiting outside and if he was surprised to see Jack, he didn't show it. "Bubay's in the front room. I guess he fell asleep playing video games last night and never made it to bed."
He led them into the house and then to the room in question. It was even worse than the crime scene at the B&B and Jack was pretty sure that he'd have lost his breakfast if he hadn't braced himself for it. There was blood and pieces of the poor victim everywhere and it was probably the most frenzied killing that Jack had ever come across in his career. For a moment, Jack wondered how Cobb had even ID'd the victim but then he spotted a man's head stuck to the wall next to the TV which was ghoulishly flashing 'Game Over' in bright, garish graphics.
"Uh...how?" Jack quietly asked, pointing at the poor man's head.
"It was his peculiarity. Every surface he touched got stuck to him," Cobb explained in an equally hushed voice.
Jack nodded, unable to bring himself to be surprised at that. Not in the face of the horrible scene in front of them. He wasn't sure how long they stood there, transfixed by the utter carnage, but Taggart eventually walked in and broke the moment.
"There's something out back that you're gonna want to see," he told them and Jack swallowed a groan.
How much worse was this going to get?
Taggart led them to the edge of the woods where a load of branches had clearly been torn from the trees and the undergrowth trampled. There was also what looked like black oil splashed in places over the brushwood and across the grass.
"What the hell is that?" Jack crouched down to get a better look at the oil.
"No idea," Taggart said, mirroring Jack's position. "But I followed the path a little way into the woods and this stuff is all over the place."
Jo looked at Jack consideringly. "Didn't you say that you shot the hollow last night?"
"You think it's blood?" Jack took a closer look at the stuff, not that he had any idea of what he was looking for; it still just looked like black oil to him.
“It is possible,” Taggart said. “The distribution of it is consistent with blood droplets from injured animals I’ve tracked in the past, if you take into account the size of a Hollowgast and the fact that it moves on two legs instead of four...More like a wendigo, really.”
“A wendigo?” Jack raised an eyebrow, waiting for a smile or a chuckle to follow that joke but Taggart looked deadly serious.
“You don’t want to get on the wrong side of an injured wendigo, Marshall,” he told Jack. “One of the most dangerous creatures there is. Of course, an uninjured one would probably kill you as soon as look at you. They're an extremely bad-tempered race.”
“O-kay...I’ll bear that in mind.” Deciding to just drop the whole wendigo thing, Jack asked Taggart, “You said that you only followed the path a little way, do you think that you could track it further? Maybe find out where it’s hiding.”
“I can track anything,” Taggart told him. “I once spent four months tracking an atelopus balios through the tropics of Ecuador; a species so adept at hiding that they were previously thought to be extinct. Of course, tracking a Hollowgast and actually seeing the mongrel when I reach it’s hideout are two very different things.”
“Which is why I’ll be coming with you,” Jack said and Taggart grinned, apparently happy for an adventure.
“I’m coming too,” Stark suddenly said and bristled when Jack looked pointedly at Stark’s expensive suit and shoes. “This town is under my protection, Marshal. A little mud isn’t going to stop me trying to do my job, active peculiarity or not.”
“In that case, you go with them too, Jo,” Cobb instructed his deputy. “You get to protect the mayor and his over inflated sense of bravado.”
Stark huffed but didn’t protest the addition of Jo to the group. Jack guessed that he was subscribing to the ‘safety in numbers’ school of thought. And even though Jack knew that they’d ultimately be noisier with more people, he had to admit that he also felt better with a couple of extra people joining him and Taggart.
“Alright, you are going to need this.” Jo handed Stark her gun. “I’ve got my own firepower.”
Jack groaned. “You did not just say that, Lupo.”
“Too cheesy?” she asked with a grin.
“It was pretty bad,” Stark confirmed with a smile of his own.
Cobb cleared his throat impatiently, obviously not a fan of jokes at a crime scene. Jack knew a couple of other guys in the Marshals who were the same way but Jack had learned that if he didn’t do something to ease the edginess that came over him during a particularly nasty case then he was a couple of steps closer to this job driving him insane. There was nothing wrong with a bit of gallows humour as far as he was concerned.
“I’ve called Allison, so I’ll wait here for her team,” Cobb told them. “Be careful, all of you.”
He went back to the house and the remaining four all gave each other one last look as if to bolster themselves a little before Taggart started into the woods. Jack went next, with Stark behind him and Jo bringing up the rear. The first thing Jack noted once they were fully in the woods was the amount of destruction that the Hollowgast had caused, it had obviously crashed through the trees at some speed. The second thing was the complete absence of sound.
“The rest of the wildlife has been scared off,” Taggart whispered loudly, obviously concerned about that too. “I doubt there’s even a cricket left in here today.”
“They’re more sensible than us,” Jack whispered back and Taggart chuckled lowly.
“They usually are, Marshal.”
The group fell silent again and slowly picked their way through the woods. They didn’t really need an expert tracker because the path of destruction was pretty clear to anyone with eyes. That didn’t stop Taggart from throwing up a fist every so often, to make them all halt, and then squatting low to the ground to inspect a leaf or a sniff a snapped blade of grass.
Eventually they reached a clearing, except it wasn’t naturally occurring. All of the saplings had been flattened or ripped from the ground creating a small glade. The four of them stood in the middle of the glade and just stared at the damage at first before they spread out and began to inspect the area.
“Notice something weird?” Jack asked Jo when they crossed paths.
“Besides all of it?” Jo shot back.
“The blood’s only on the left hand side of the clearing,” Stark said and Jack nodded, impressed that the other man had picked up on that too.
Jo frowned and studied both sides of the glade. “Okay, that is weird. How did it do that?”
“It didn’t.” Taggart rose from where he’d been crouched, studying the grass again. “There’s more than one of the buggars.”
Stark swore lowly. “Are you sure? Without the town's shield in place, we’re barely able to take on one Hollowgast, let alone more of them.”
Taggart shrugged. “As sure as I can be without talking to the previous residents of the woods.”
“You think that you can find them?” Jo asked and then at Jack’s look of confusion explained, “Tag's peculiarity is that he can talk to animals.”
“Of course he can,” Jack said because it made about as much sense as all the other peculiarities he’d witnessed that day.
“Not just animals,” Taggart told him proudly. “Birds and insects, amphibians too...fish I have a little trouble with but we usually get there in the end. And I should be able to find the creatures who used to live here; they wouldn’t have gone too far, just far enough to get out of the way of the hollows. There was a lovely little family of raccoons that used to be here and I’ve got a decent idea of where they may be hiding.”
Stark nodded. “Okay, you gather as much information as you can. We need to know how many we’re up against now. But don’t go after the hollows by yourself.”
“I’m not a whacker, mayor. Give me some credit,” Taggart scoffed and then he paused before clearing his throat a little nervously. “I’d be happy of some company, Jo.”
Jo smiled and looked down for a moment, a slight blush on her cheeks.
Jack looked between the two of them in surprise. Jo and Taggart? Really?
“Sorry, Tag. I have to protect the mayor,” Jo said regretfully but Stark quickly jumped in.
“Don't worry about me, Deputy; I have the big, bad Marshal to protect me. Besides, we’re only heading back the way we came. Right, Marshal?”
“Right.” Jack smirked at Jo. “You stick with Dr Doolittle, he’ll probably need the back-up more than we will.”
Taggart looked offended by that remark for a moment until he obviously realised what Jack and Stark were trying to do. Then he gave Jack a big wink which was disturbing on many levels.
Jo on the other hand, looked torn. She blatantly wanted to go with Taggart but to do that she'd be defying a direct order from Sheriff Cobb.
"Jo, seriously, go with Taggart. I'll be fine with the Marshal," Stark assured her. "We really do need to know if there is another hollow in town. If there is then it's probably is a good idea for someone to watch Taggart's back out here while he's...communing with the local wildlife."
"Well, if you put it like that." Jo grinned at Stark for a moment before levelling a serious look on Jack. "If the mayor gets hurt on your watch, I'll hurt you."
"I am very good at my job, you know," Jack told her indignantly and she snorted then followed Taggart out of the clearing.
"Actually, we have no idea if you’re good at your job or not; being stuck in the middle of nowhere and everything,” Stark pointed out.
“Really?” Jack asked.
“Of course not really,” Stark scoffed. “We looked you up the moment you got to town. We’re not hermits out here.”
Jack rolled his eyes, unable to believe that he walked into that one. “Oh, excuse me. I’ve never been an eccentric cult leader so I don’t know just how cut off from civilisation you like to be.”
Stark laughed. “An eccentric cult leader? Is that how you see me?”
Jack shrugged but was unable to suppress a smile. “It’s how I thought of you last night but after the info dump from hell this morning, I may have amended that slightly.”
Stark raised an eyebrow. “Oh yes? Amended to what exactly?”
“An eccentric cult leader with a heart?” Jack grinned when Stark laughed again. “Seriously though? Beverly told us how you wanted to be a big time scientist so the fact that you gave all that up to protect these people is pretty awesome. And the fact that you're out here now despite your gifts being on the fritz tells me a lot about the man you are. Or wolf you are, I guess."
A slight shadow crossed Stark’s face and Jack frowned; he wasn’t sure what he’d said wrong, he’d meant it as a compliment. But whatever it had been, Stark visibly shook it off and smiled at Jack, gesturing towards the path back to the town.
“Shall we, Marshal?”
It had been a nice little moment outside of everything that had been going on but Stark was right, it was time to get back to reality. Jack started back down the path and then stumbled when Stark suddenly asked, in a low voice, “So, you were thinking about me last night?”
Immediately, Jack’s face flushed at the innuendo in Stark’s voice. He looked over his shoulder to either deny that or maybe try and come up with a suitably flirty reply (he hadn’t quite decided yet) when he suddenly felt a weird tingling sensation that had nothing to do with Stark and his stupidly sexy...everything. No, this was that same sensation he'd had at Beverly’s B&B just before the screaming started.
Jack went on full alert, eyes scanning the trees as he looked for the source of the warning his senses were shrieking at him.
Gun held up in front of him, Jack moved until he was standing ahead of Stark. He still couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary but he knew that something was out there so he quickly decided that he and Stark probably shouldn’t be.
“Run!” he whispered to Stark and they both immediately began to sprint back down the path of destruction they’d originally followed.
Instead of the tingling fading as they moved further away from the danger, it got more and more intense. Confused, Jack glanced around until he spotted a familiar, shadowy figure running straight for them from the side. It was too late to dodge out of the way so Jack threw himself at Stark, making sure to cover him when they hit the ground.
There was a brief flash of pain across Jack’s back as the hollow landed a glancing blow with it’s claws but it’s momentum carried it past Jack and Stark before it could do any more damage. Taking advantage of the hollow’s mistake, Jack rolled back to his feet and took aim but the creature was quicker to recover than Jack expected and used it’s tentacles to knock Jack’s gun out of his hands.
“Shit!” Jack didn’t even have time to try and get his gun back before the hollow dived at him.
As he landed, Jack’s head cracked against a rock on the ground and his vision blurred for a moment. The first thing he saw when his vision cleared was one of those razor sharp claws headed right at him. Without thinking, Jack grabbed the hollow by what passed for a wrist, stopping those claws millimetres before his throat was torn out; he could actually feel the tips of the claws scraping against his skin. Seeing as that tactic worked, Jack repeated it when the hollow raised it’s other arm but with both hands busy holding back the claws, Jack couldn’t stop the hollow's mouth tentacles from slithering all over his face and neck.
“Oh god! That’s so gross!” he yelled on reflex even as he kept struggling to hold those claws away from his throat.
A gunshot ripped through the air and Jack turned his head to see Stark standing with Jo’s gun in his hands, trying to aim at a creature he couldn’t actually see.
“A bit lower,” Jack yelled at him. “Aim for six inches above my chest!”
Stark took another couple of shots and this time hit the hollow in the side where it was crouched over Jack. It let loose another of those ear-splitting howls and let go of Jack as it staggered back. Immediately Jack rolled to grab his gun from where it was lying on the ground and, sitting up, emptied the entire clip into the creature before it could run away again.
The hollow collapsed to the floor with a loud thud, black oil spreading into a pool beneath it.
“Oh my god!” Stark whispered and took a step closer to it. “I can see it!”
Jack was still sitting on the ground, with his now empty gun pointed at the monster. “Really? You can?”
“I guess that it’s only invisible to us when the Hollowgast is still alive,” Stark hypothesized, studying the monster and Jack could suddenly see the scientist that Stark wanted to be. “That is very interesting and definitely something we didn’t know before now.”
“Congratulations,” Jack snarked between heavy breaths.
He lowered his gun shakily as the last few minutes finally caught up with him. Jesus, he’d had near misses before but they had nothing on this. He rubbed his throat with his free hand and shuddered as he remembered the light brushes of those claws.
Jack blinked and Stark was suddenly crouched before him, looking at Jack with concern. He had a hand on Jack’s shoulder and Jack wondered how long he’d been out of it.
“’M alright,” he muttered. “It was just a close one, that’s all.”
Stark nodded and straightened up, holding a hand out to Jack who gratefully took it and climbed to his feet. Once he was standing, Jack realised that he was a little too close to the other man. That adrenaline and slight euphoria at not being dead was still buzzing beneath his skin so instead of stepping back as he normally would, Jack took a step even closer.
Stark's breath hitched and his eyes darkened. The air between them almost visibly crackled but as they leaned in towards each other, they were interrupted by the sound of someone calling Stark’s name. It was probably a good thing because Jack had a pretty good idea of where that little moment would've ended and making out next to a dead monster was never going to be a good thing.
“We’ll revisit this later,” Stark promised, giving Jack one last heated look before he stepped back and called out their location.
A couple of minutes later Allison and Sheriff Cobb came in sight, following the same path from the house.
“Are you okay? We heard gunshots and...” she broke off as she suddenly caught sight of the dead monster. “What..? Is that it? Is that the hollowgast?”
“In all it’s icky monster glory,” Jack confirmed.
The sheriff paled as he too took in the sight of it. “My god!” He blinked and then looked around with concern. “Where’s Jo? And Taggart?”
“Taggart wanted to talk to some of his critters and I sent Jo to back him up,” Stark said and Cobb visibly relaxed at the assurance that his deputy was still alive, then he tensed again when Stark added. “We think there is more than one hollow in town.”
“More than one, are you sure?” Cobb asked.
Stark began to explain about the clearing and Taggart’s plan to find out more. While they were talking, Allison drifted closer to the dead creature on the floor and Jack followed her.
“As bad as you imagined or not as bad?” Jack asked, causing Allison to jump a little.
She waved away his apology with a smile. “I can’t decide, actually. It does look as horrible as I imagined when I was a child but the fact that it’s dead, that we can kill them? That does make me feel a lot better.”
Jack stared down at the monster that had almost killed him. “I can’t imagine growing up knowing that the thing from your nightmares is real. I can barely believe it’s real now and I’m looking right at it.”
Allison shrugged elegantly. “On the other hand, we grew up knowing that there are people out there who can fly or control the weather. To us, superheroes were absolutely real and not just in the comic books.”
“Fair point,” Jack conceded.
“When this is over...and I do have faith now that it will be over,” Allison told him, putting a hand on his arm. “You should stay and see the advantages of being peculiar rather than the negatives you’ve seen so far. I think you and Zoe will really like Eureka under normal circumstances.”
Jack smiled. “I didn’t think that normal existed here. Isn’t that kind of the point?” he teased.
Allison smiled back and Jack was struck once again by how attractive she was, especially now that she wasn’t treating him like he was the devil. Maybe if he’d met her before Stark, and if she hadn’t tasered him in front of his daughter, he might have made a play for her instead. Maybe.
As if summoned by Jack’s thoughts, Stark joined them and Jack didn’t miss the tightening of his expression when he spotted Allison’s hand on Jack’s arm. Apparently the mayor had a bit of a jealous streak; that was definitely something to file away.
“Allison, do you think that your team can get this back to your office?” Stark nodded at the Hollowgast. “I’d like you to do an autopsy, right away. We need any information you can gather on it.”
Allison looked a little green at the idea of rooting around the innards of a monster instead of a human but she nodded grimly. “It’s going to take me some time though so I need you to take Kevin after school.”
"Of course, I will." Stark checked his watch. “I can pick him up after we’ve checked in on Henry and Fargo, that’s no problem.”
Allison thanked him and gave Jack’s arm one last pat before they all headed back to Bubay’s house together, none of them willing to let their guards down again while in the woods. Jack took up the rear position, just in case he felt any more of that tingling so it wasn’t until they actually reached the house and Jack turned to ask Cobb a few questions about the town layout that Allison gasped and manhandled Jack into a position where she could push his t-shirt up and inspect his back.
“Why on earth didn’t you tell me you were injured?” she asked and Jack hissed as she touched a sore spot.
“I forgot,” he tried and it was the honest truth.
In all the insanity, he’d completely forgotten about that first rake across his back that the hollowgast had got in. And because he was wearing a dark coloured t-shirt in a shadowy wood he guessed that no one else noticed the slashes in the material or the blood until they were back out in the sunlight.
Allison tutted as she studied the wound, obviously unimpressed with that answer. “The cuts are shallow and you don’t need stitches but they do need to be cleaned properly.”
“I can do that when we’re at the bunker.” Stark suddenly materialised next to them and looked as annoyed at Jack as Allison did. “Apparently the Marshal can’t be trusted to look after himself.”
Jack shot Stark an exasperated look because he just forgot about a few cuts, it wasn’t the end of the world. Stark stared back, unmoved.
Allison looked between the two men, her expression confused and then thoughtful before she shook herself out of it and walked to the trunk of her car. She rooted around for a moment and then returned with a sterile package which she handed to Stark.
“Disinfect his back and then put the sterile dressing onto the cuts,” she told him.
She gave him and Jack another of those considering looks before hurrying after her team who were beginning the trek into the woods with a stretcher.
As they’d arrived at the scene with Jo, who was still out in the woods somewhere, Cobb drove Jack and Stark to this bunker Jack had heard so much about.
“Keep me updated on your wolf situation,” Cobb told Stark once they’d pulled up outside a perfectly normal looking house. “I’ll feel a lot better once that shield's back up and I know that we only have to deal with the hollows in the town and not worry about how many more of them are going to find us.”
“I will,” Stark promised but he had that shadow in his expression again and Jack realised that not being able to tap into his wolf was actually hurting the other man even though he tried not to show it. Like he was doing right now. “Let me know the moment Jo and Taggart get back into town.”
Cobb nodded and drove off, leaving the two men in the driveway of the house. Stark led the way past the house to a small piece of wasteland containing only a small metal shed structure. Once the door of the tiny structure was open, Jack could see that the whole thing was simply a doorway for a set of stone stairs leading down into the ground.
Once at the bottom there was another door which opened all by itself.
“Welcome, Mayor Stark,” a female voice said and Jack looked around for the source.
“Thank you, Sarah,” Stark replied. “Allow me to introduce Marshal Jack Carter. He’s going to be helping us today.”
“Welcome, Marshal Carter; father of Zoe Carter,” the weirdly formal voice said. “Zoe will be very happy to learn that you are mostly unharmed apart from that minor injury to your back.”
"What injury?" Zoe jumped up from where she had been sitting on large white sofa, just inside the door.
"It's nothing," Jack promised her, giving her a quick hug. "Didn't you hear the...um...Sarah say it was minor? It's just a scratch, I swear. Tell her, Stark."
Stark didn't answer for a moment, obviously still a little pissed about Jack not mentioning the injury but, when Jack began to make imploring faces at him over the top of Zoe's head, he rolled his eyes. "Dr Blake checked him over and he's fine. We just need to clean a couple of cuts."
Zoe nodded at Stark, relief etched on her face, before she gave Jack one last squeeze and returned to the sofa.
Henry managed to drag himself away from a large corkboard on the wall to greet Jack and Stark.
"Did you find anything new at Bubay's house?" he asked and Stark nodded grimly before filling the group in on everything that had happened.
"More than one hollow." Fargo looked like he was going to throw up.
Zoe, on the other hand, proved she was her father's daughter when she said, "At least we know that we can kill them now."
"We can kill them," Jack felt compelled to say. "You are staying here, Zoe Carter."
"I was just saying." She shrugged.
"How are things going here?" Stark asked and Henry led him and Jack over to the corkboard.
There was a map, which Jack could only assume was a map of Eureka, with various parts highlighted.
"We could really use Jo's expertise for this," Henry said. "But I'll get her to double check it when she gets back to town. Basically, I think that these are the best spots to lay booby traps."
"What kind of booby traps do you have?" Jack asked because he'd previously assumed that Henry making plans would be more to do with evacuating the town not going to war.
"We've been preparing for something like this for a long time, Jack," Stark told him. "We have a reserve of weapons that we've built up gradually. We may not be able to see the hollows but that doesn't mean that we're totally defenceless."
"Stockpile of weapons...another tick in the crazy cult column," Jack muttered and Stark smirked at him while everyone else just looked confused.
"And if I mentioned the underground bunkers that run beneath most of the town?" Stark asked and Jack snorted in amusement.
"Of course you have more bunkers," he said. "This one should have been a clue."
Fargo was looking between Jack and Stark with a puzzled expression. "The town was a disused army camp when Mayor Stark's grandparents bought it. So the bunkers came with the land."
"And those bunkers are going to be put to good use," Henry told them. "We think that we should evacuate all of the more vulnerable peculiars into the bunkers. Also the family members without gifts; just until this blows over."
Stark nodded. "That's a good idea. When can we get started on that?"
"Pete Puhlman's down there now, blowing out the cobwebs. It's been a while since anyone's visited the old bunkers," Henry said and Jack just rolled his eyes when Henry, Stark, Fargo and Sarah chuckled.
"Let me guess, this Pete's got super strong breath powers," he snarked.
Fargo blinked at him in surprise. "You've heard about him?"
"Just getting used to this town. Which is terrifying in and of itself," Jack told him and Zoe started snickering at that.
Stark turned back to Henry and Fargo. "How soon do we tell the town about what's going on? I don't want to cause panic but at the same time, I can't leave them totally unprepared. What's your take on it?"
"I guarantee that there are already rumours flying, you know what this town's like," Henry said.
Fargo put in, "But I think that they believe whatever's going on, it's probably got something to do with the newcomers."
The three of them looked at Jack and Zoe.
"We can't have that," Stark mused. "We need them to trust Jack otherwise they'll never follow his lead if need be."
"That's true," Henry agreed with him. "I'm sure Jack and Zoe will agree that we don't want a repeat of last night's shenanigans."
"Right." Stark nodded his head then stared at the corkboard, deep in thought, for a few minutes before seeming to come to a decision. "Okay. I think that we actually should tell everyone exactly what's going on, I don't want to keep people in the dark and have that cause another death like Bubay's. We won't evacuate to the bunkers until we hear from Taggart and Jo but anyone who wants to use them anyway are welcome to."
"I'd also try and move the people whose houses back on the woods further into the town," Jack added his two cents.
"Ooh, good idea," Fargo told Jack, only a little patronisingly, before he asked Stark, "Should I call a town meeting?"
"Yes," Stark replied. "Set it for early evening so that most people will be able to make it."
Fargo opened a little door in his ball and reached out to grab a laptop while Henry crossed the room to use the computer in the corner.
"Emails and the town intranet, it's the easiest way to call a meeting at short notice," Stark said at Jack and Zoe's curious expressions. "In the meantime, let's get that back cleaned up, Jack."
He led Jack down the hall, pausing to open a closet and remove a clean t-shirt which he then tossed to Jack.
When they were both in the surprisingly spacious bathroom, Stark busied himself with laying out the contents of the pack Allison had given him while Jack stood there awkwardly.
"Listen, I know that I don't really get it yet. I mean, this time yesterday, I didn't know that any of this peculiar stuff existed and, if I'm honest, there's still a tiny part of me that's still convinced that this is a very weird, very vivid dream." Jack rubbed the back of his head, feeling more than a little uncomfortable. "But...are you okay? You get this look whenever anyone mentions your wolf and I think it's affecting you more than you're admitting."
Stark stared at him for a long moment with an indecipherable expression before asking, "What look is that, exactly?"
Jack winced, not really sure why he started this conversation. "Like you're in pain?"
"Oh, fuck you, Jack Carter!"
Stark stepped closer to Jack who automatically raised his hands to defend himself because he'd apparently blundered over some line and pissed Stark off. But instead of attempting to strike Jack, Stark pulled him into a messy and fierce kiss.
Jack was so surprised at the action that it took him a couple of moments to process what was happening but as soon as Jack gave a low groan and wrapped his arms around the other man, Stark's own hold tightened and he backed Jack into the wall.
The kiss would never rank on the list of the world’s best kisses, there was a definite lack of finesse and an excess of desperation, on both sides, but it was exactly what Jack needed and judging from the little groans and the way he clutched at Jack’s arms, Stark felt the same.
When the need to breathe broke them apart, Stark buried his face in Jack's neck. Though Jack figured that he could probably use the man's first name by this point.
"Fuck you! You can't just come waltzing into town, looking like that..." Nathan muttered into Jack's skin between panting breaths. "...proving that you're a good man too by helping us when we really didn't deserve it after the way we treated you. And then you're worried about me and my wolf when it didn't occur to anyone else that it would physically hurt...Who are you? Where the hell did you come from?"
"LA," Jack answered and yelped when Nathan gave him a vicious pinch to the side. "Hey, I'm just me. A workaholic, divorced dad trying to connect with my daughter after years of putting the job first. I like baseball, burgers and beer; I'm nothing special. That's all you, buddy."
"Did you just call me, buddy?" Nathan asked, incredulously.
"I figured that it was a bit too soon for 'lover'," Jack said and that finally got Nathan to lift his head and raise an eyebrow at Jack who grinned back at him. "I guess I could go with 'cupcake' but that might get people talking."
"You're right, I've no idea why I like you." Nathan turned back to the medical supplies but there was a smile playing across his lips.
"Obviously, you just find me irresistible. It's a curse actually; I've tried many times to turn this off." Jack waved his hands to indicate his body.
Nathan laughed and threw a roll of bandages at Jack's head. "You're an idiot!"
Jack caught the bandages then threw them back to Nathan, willing to overlook for now, the fact that Nathan hadn't answered Jack's original question. It obviously was affecting him a lot more than he was letting people see but now that he was aware that Jack had noticed, Jack hoped that he'd talk about it in his own time.
He was proved correct when Nathan was carefully dabbing disinfectant on Jack's back and suddenly said, "You're right, it is painful. I refer to the wolf as a separate creature inside of me because that's the easiest way to explain it to others but it's more complicated than that and not being able to tap into him or shift whenever I want, it feels like a limb has been hacked off."
Jack guessed that the fact that he was turned away from Nathan made it easier for the other man to admit this so he didn't try to turn around or look back at Nathan over his shoulder because that would probably spoil the moment.
Instead he kept his eyes on the tile in front of him when he asked, "Why are hiding that? From what I've seen everyone in town loves you, Nathan. I'm sure they'd want to help."
"It's my job to protect them, not the other way around," Nathan replied after a moment. "This, what's happening in Eureka right now, it's probably the worst thing we've faced since the town was founded. If ever I needed to stay strong and be the confident, in control mayor then it's now."
Jack nodded because he could see where Nathan was coming from. "Do you know how to fix it?"
There was a puff of air against Jack's back as Nathan gave an unamused chuckle. "Those rumours we heard about the wights being able to nullify an ymbryne did give one possible solution. Apparently killing the wight stops the hold that their blood has on them."
"Well the first part of those rumours turned out to be true," Jack mused. "So we have to kill the wight as well as the hollows."
"Actually I have to kill it, "Nathan corrected. "And we have to find it first. If it snuck into town via the woods then it could be hiding out anywhere.”
Jack was quiet for a moment as he considered how best to broach this subject. Ever since that morning in Nathan’s office when he was first told about the wight, he’d got that old feeling in his gut about it; the feeling that had helped him close the majority of his cases over the years.
“Don’t you think that the timing of all this was a little co-incidental?” Jack finally asked.
“Of course it was,” Nathan replied as he applied a dressing. “That’s why we thought you and Zoe were the wights. We’ve been through this.”
“I don’t mean the co-incidence of me and Zoe arriving at the same time as the hollow.” Jack tilted his head thoughtfully. “Or maybe I do but in a more roundabout way...”
“Alright, I’m all done,” Nathan told him and stepped back. “What co-incidence are you talking about exactly?”
“The one where the wight showed up right after you decided to park the town in one spot for a day or two.” Jack turned around and pulled on the spare t-shirt Nathan had given him. “Unless there are enough wights in the world for them to be, at most, a few hours from you at all times then I think the wight was already here.”
“Already hiding in the woods before we stopped?” Nathan frowned at Jack then his eyes widened as he cottoned on to what Jack actually meant. “You think the wight is one of us?”
Jack nodded. “It makes sense, Nathan. A spy hiding among you, waiting for just this type of opportunity. As soon as they find out that the town’s going to be here for a while, they get a message out to the hollows and then enact their plan to take out the shield.”
“No!” Nathan shook his head vehemently. “No, you’re wrong.”
“Nathan...” Jack put his hand on the other man’s arm but Nathan shook it off.
“Jack, we didn’t get around to announcing the plan to stay here. Only a handful of people knew and they are all people that I trust. Not one of them could be a wight,” Nathan insisted.
Jack sighed. “Look, I get that you don’t want to think this of people you know but you have to at least consider the possibility.”
“Well, it’s definitely not Douglas,” Sarah suddenly said and Jack jumped out of his skin.
“Sarah, we’ve discussed the fact that you need to give people their privacy,” Nathan reprimanded even though it was clear to see that he was relieved at the interruption to that particular conversation.
“Wait...how long have you even been in here?” Jack eyed the ceiling suspiciously and tried not to blush at the thought that Sarah could have seen that kissing session earlier.
“I have just arrived, Marshal Carter. I am not in the habit of spying on people.” Nathan coughed and Sarah quickly added. “Anymore. Not since the mayor made it clear to me that people do not enjoy that... apart from Dr Taggart; he really doesn’t seem to mind.”
“And I absolutely don’t want to know why that is,” Jack told her.
“Was there something you needed, Sarah?” Nathan asked her, beginning to clear up the sterile wrappers.
“Douglas wanted me to ask you if you required him to order dinner from Cafe Diem,” Sarah replied. “He’s very thoughtful as well as handsome.”
Handsome? Fargo? Jack shook his head; this town definitely threw up some weird couples.
“Tell him that’s a good idea but not to order anything for me, Sarah,” Stark told her. “I have to pick Kevin up from school and so I thought that I would actually take him to the cafe to eat. You know that he gets a little claustrophobic in the bunker without Allison here to calm him down.”
“I think that you underestimate your own ability to connect with Kevin and keep him calm,” Sarah replied. “But I will pass your message along to Douglas.”
An awkward silence descended on the bathroom once Sarah left. Jack wanted to push Nathan on the idea that the wight was one of the townspeople but, from the way that he’d just shut down, he obviously wasn’t ready to hear it yet. He would just have to wait until he had a little more to go on than his gut.
“You’re pretty close to this Kevin then,” Jack eventually said, unable to take the silence any more.
“He’s a great kid,” Nathan told him. “Plus I did used to be his stepfather. So, yes, you could say that we’re close.”
Jack gaped at him. “Stepfather? You mean you used to be married to Allison?”
Nathan smirked at Jack’s surprise. “I am quite a catch, you know?”
“But you and Allison?” Jack reiterated even as he wondered at the way that his attraction to Nathan always sparked a little bit more when the other man was being cocky.
“We were married for four years but we ultimately make better friends than spouses,” Nathan explained seeming to take pity on Jack. “We were childhood sweethearts before I left for college and I think we wanted to recapture that when I moved back to town but we’d both changed too much in the intervening years.”
“Huh.” Jack tried to wrap his head around that. “It’s good that you’re still friends. I bet that messy divorces actually do get messy in this town.”
Nathan chuckled. “Yes, there have been a few incidents over the years but Allison doesn’t have a peculiarity so I wasn’t really in any danger of that.”
Jack raised his eyebrows at that, he’d wondered what she could do but he hadn’t really had a chance to ask her. “She doesn’t?”
“Unless you’re an ymbryne, peculiarities tend to skip one or two generations. So you and Zoe are pretty rare in that respect,” Nathan told him. “Alison’s dad was the one with the peculiarity and now Kevin has one too.”
Jack noted the way Nathan said that. “They didn’t have the same one?”
Nathan suddenly looked uncomfortable. “No. Kevin’s peculiarity is very complicated. He’s autistic and we believe that has affected his peculiarity in unexpected ways. The fact that he can’t communicate what he’s feeling makes it even more problematic.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know,” Jack said.
He couldn’t even begin to imagine how hard it must be to raise an autistic child, let alone one that also had a peculiarity. He gained a whole new level respect for Allison.
Nathan appeared to hesitate and then asked, “Why don’t you and Zoe join us for dinner? I’m sure we’ll be mobbed with questions when we first get there but when it calms down it’ll give you both a chance to meet some more of the townspeople and you can get to know Kevin a little.”
“Yeah.” Jack nodded, unexpectedly touched by the invitation. “Yes, we’d love to.”
As Nathan had predicted, he'd been instantly surrounded by people as soon as he entered Cafe Diem, all wanting to know what was going on in town and why the town meeting had been called. Jack marvelled at the way Nathan calmed them all down quickly, because he did it in a way that wasn't full of false assurances. He admitted that there was a problem in town and that they should all be more vigilant but explained, perfectly reasonably, that if he started giving out titbits of information here and there it was likely to cause more problems. He promised to tell them all everything he knew at the meeting when they were all together.
More than a few of them gave Jack and Zoe suspicious looks but the fact that Nathan was, not only voluntarily spending time with them, but also letting them near Kevin seemed to be good enough for most people. Especially for the cafe's owner, it seemed, because as soon as the crowd dispersed he immediately ran over to introduce himself as the Vincent who had been cooking them such amazing meals since they got to town.
"Man, that pot pie was spectacular," Jack told him as Vincent led them to a booth at the back of the cafe.
"And the cheesecake, oh my god!" Zoe added enthusiastically and Vincent beamed at the pair of them.
"Well, with that kind of reaction you are both welcome to eat here as often as you like," he told them. "Nothing makes me happier than people who appreciate my cooking."
"And that is the crux of his peculiarity," Nathan told them when Vincent hurried off to get them some drinks. "His emotions affect his cooking. The happier he is, the better the food that he cooks becomes."
"You are kidding!" Jack shook his head. "What happens when he's upset?"
Nathan chuckled. "You learn to appreciate home cooking until he's cheered up again. Luckily, he's a very upbeat kind of guy so it doesn't happen all that often."
Kevin hadn't said a word since they'd picked him up from school. Nathan had warned them that would probably happen because they were new to him and it took Kevin a while to warm up to new people so it came as a bit of a surprise when Kevin suddenly looked at Jack and asked, "Birthday?"
Jack looked to Nathan who explained, in a shocked tone of voice, "He wants to know your date of birth."
"Oh, okay." Jack turned back to Kevin. "It's May 13th 1969."
"5-13-1969," Kevin repeated before going quiet for a moment, then he looked back at Jack. "Tuesday."
He repeated the same conversation with Zoe to determine that she'd been born on a Monday then he fell silent again.
Nathan rubbed a hand over Kevin's hair affectionately. "It usually takes a couple of months before he warms to someone enough to want to figure out their birthday. I guess he likes you."
Jack smiled at the kid. "That's because Kevin has great taste, right, buddy?"
Kevin didn't answer but he did look at Jack again briefly so Jack was taking that as a win.
Nathan also looked at Jack but his expression was clearly one of fascination.
"Jack Carter," he murmured, seemingly to himself, before Vincent arrived back with their drinks.
Zoe looked between Jack and Nathan with an expression eerily similar to the one Allison had given them at Bubay's house before she got distracted by Vincent taking their food order. After that the meal passed more pleasantly than Jack had expected, considering the mob when they'd first arrived. Again, Jack was struck by the way the townspeople had taken Nathan at his word and backed off to wait until the meeting. There was obviously a lot of trust and respect for him in Eureka.
Occasionally, during the meal, Zoe would make a little noise of surprise or excitement and Jack would look up to see her attention focussed on someone else in the cafe using their peculiarity. Jack wasn't sure if they were just doing what they would normally do or if they were playing it up a little for the new people. He guessed it was probably a mixture of both as he watched a young woman absent-mindedly feed a sandwich to the extra mouth on the back of her head and then as a tall, skinny bald man closed his eyes and breathed deeply before, between one blink and the next, a second tall, skinny bald man appeared next to him. The two identical men then winked at Zoe before turning to order something from Vincent.
Nathan kept up a gentle narrative through all this, sometimes explaining a particular peculiarity or explaining what job so and so did in the town. For instance, they learned that Cobb's gift was the ability to heal himself and Nathan told them a story about how the Sheriff had once grown a new leg after his own had been chopped off during an incident with a runaway tractor. He also talked about the town's school and Kevin's studies, seamlessly keeping the boy involved and Jack could see what Sarah had meant about Nathan's connection with Kevin. It was clear that while Kevin didn't speak for the remainder of the meal, he did lean close to Nathan and appeared to be listening to every word he said.
Finally, after settling the bill and enthusiastically assuring Vincent that his food was still amazing, the four of them strolled to the town hall, ready for the meeting. Allison met them outside and even though there was a flicker of surprise at Jack and Zoe being with Nathan and Kevin, she didn't comment on it. Instead she took Kevin's hand and fell into step with the small group as they entered the building.
"I finished the autopsy and emailed you the report, Nathan," she said in a low voice so as not to be overheard and obviously avoiding saying the word 'hollow' in public. "I'll spare you all the grisly details for now and just say that their skin is thicker than a human's which would account for the fact that more bullets are needed to stop them. But once you get past that, their bodies are as fragile as ours."
Jack nodded. "So the same tactic should work again; just keep shooting until they drop."
"That's okay for you to say. It was like I was shooting at thin air," Nathan pointed out. "I just wish we had some better tactic than you shouting 'higher' or 'lower' like we're in some grisly version of 'Card Sharks'."
"It's still better than what we had before," Allison said with a smile at Jack.
Nathan briefly got that jealous frown again before covering it smoothly and this time, with the extra information he had, Jack had to wonder which one of them Nathan was actually jealous of.
"You're right," Nathan told Allison. "We're definitely in a far better position than we would be if Jack had any sense of direction."
Jack protested that while Zoe laughed and held out her fist for Nathan to bump with his own.
Henry, Cobb and Fargo joined them not long after that but the fact that there was still no word from Jo and Taggart was a definite worry. Jack exchanged a look with Cobb and resolved that he’d head out to look for them if they still weren’t back by the time the meeting finished.
The meeting was being held in the same hall that Jack and Zoe had been detained in that morning and Jack could hardly believe how much had changed in such a short space of time. His entire world had been turned on end and he wasn’t exactly sure how he’d be able to go back to his old life. He quickly pushed that thought away; he had bigger things to worry about right then.
The hall began to fill up just before seven pm and Cobb handed Henry a radio before going to patrol outside while the meeting was going on. Allison led the way towards the front row while Nathan broke off from the little group in order to head up onto the stage. Jack stopped Zoe from following Allison and instead the two of them moved to the edge of the hall.
“I’ve been thinking,” Jack began in a hushed voice when Zoe gave him a curious look. “If we can see the hollows then maybe we can see the wights too.”
Zoe nodded, “That makes sense.”
“I want us to keep an eye on the crowd during the meeting. If there’s a wight hiding out in town then we might be able to spot who it is,” Jack told her and her eyes widened.
“You think the wight is one of them?”
Jack glanced around to see if anyone heard her but the only people close enough were deep into their own conversation.
“It may not be the popular opinion but...yeah, I think the wight has probably been hiding out in town for a while,” Jack admitted.
“A spy waiting for just the right time,” Zoe muttered, immediately catching on to what Jack was saying. She raised an eyebrow at Jack. “Nathan didn’t buy into your theory, did he?”
“Wouldn’t even consider it,” Jack told her with more than a touch of frustration. “These are his people, he’s known them all for years; I can understand why he refuses to believe one of them has been lying to him all this time.”
“So, it’s up to us to find them instead. We can do that,” Zoe said, decisively and Jack couldn’t help but smile at her determinism.
They both found a spot towards the front of the hall where they could lean against the wall and observe everyone without drawing too much attention to themselves. Although that last factor was rendered moot when the first thing Nathan did was point the two of them out and introduce them to the room, emphasising the fact that Jack was a US Marshal and was here to help.
Jack manfully resisted the urge to roll his eyes and nodded at the townspeople while Zoe happily waved to everyone, obviously loving being the centre of attention for a few moments. And it did only last moments because as soon as Nathan mentioned hollows, everyone in the hall immediately fixated back on him instead.
Keeping half an ear on what Nathan was saying, Jack intently watched the crowd for anomalies or anything that just struck him as wrong. That was especially important when Nathan opened the floor to questions. Jack had learned in his job that anyone that was too aggressive or too laid back was worth watching for a bit longer.
He wasn’t sure how much time had passed but around the time that a woman with actual feathers for hair was loudly arguing with another woman, who was at least seven foot tall and built like a wrestler, over whether they should make a stand or evacuate to the bunkers immediately, Jack began to feel a familiar tingling sensation.
“Do you feel that?” Zoe asked him quietly. “I had the same feeling at the B&B right before...”
She swallowed hard, unable to finish that sentence.
“I felt it then too,” he told her, scanning the room with a bit more urgency. “And again in the woods before me and Nathan were attacked.”
The radio that Cobb had given Henry suddenly burst into life and Jack didn’t even stop to hear what Cobb was transmitting before he ran out of the hall, towards the Town Hall exit. Henry was close on his heels and Jack could hear more people following them. Jack burst out of the heavy wooden doors to see a hollow in the middle of the street, towering over Cobb who was lying motionless in the road. The sheriff had been completely ripped open from throat to belly and it was clear that there was going to be no self-healing of that wound. The sheriff was very obviously dead and someone behind Jack began to scream.
Jack had his gun in his hand before he was even fully aware of drawing and began to shoot at the hollow. At the same time, Jo and Taggart ran around the corner of the street opposite, apparently attracted by all the noise. Jo took one look at the body of her boss and friend and let out an anguished cry. Her eyes literally blazed with the fire within her and she began to throw fireball after fireball in the direction that Jack was shooting.
The hollow screeched as a fireball hit it and it spun towards Jo. Jack took advantage of that and shot the unprotected back that the hollow had just bared to him. His bullet hit home causing the hollow to cry out with that high pitched noise before it retreated, taking the body of Cobb with it. Jack tried to follow and shot off another couple of rounds but the hollow moved too quickly and was soon completely out of sight.
“It’s gone, Jo,” Jack told her but she didn’t stop hurling her fireballs down the street. “Jo! Stop!”
But she didn’t, not until Taggart caught her from behind, taking a firm hold of her arms even though her skin must have been unbearably hot. He whispered something into her ear and Jo started to shake.
“It took him,” she said in a broken voice. “Bill was already dead. Why did it have to take him away?"
Everyone knew the answer to that but no-one could voice it; it was too horrible to contemplate a friend of theirs being eaten by a monster.
“Alright, discussions are over.” Nathan stepped out to face the crowd on the town hall steps. “Everyone evacuates to the bunkers within the hour. Tomorrow we’ll revisit this for those of you who want to stand and fight but until then I want to know that everybody in town is safe.”
“Are you kidding?” The Feather Woman said. “We're not safe! It just killed Sheriff Cobb and we couldn’t do anything to stop it, not even with your fancy new Hollow Spotters!”
Jack blinked at her as she gestured angrily at him and Zoe.
“Don’t you get it, Carol?” Jo yelled at her. “Bill just sacrificed himself for you. You are safe and that’s because he stopped the hollow from getting into the hall. Standing around arguing now is just undoing everything he died for!”
“Jo’s right.” Vincent stepped forward. “The longer we stand around here, the greater the chance that the hollow could come back. I, for one, am going to the bunkers.”
There was a loud murmur through the crowd as most people seemed to agree with Vincent. Even Carol the Feather Woman reluctantly nodded her head.
After that, the evacuation went fairly smoothly. Jack guessed that witnessing firsthand what a hollow could do, stopped most people from taking too long packing their belongings because no one wanted to be caught alone in the town by the hollow. They didn’t get everyone into the bunkers in the hour Nathan demanded but that was always going to be a difficult ask. It actually took three hours but finally everyone was locked down for the night.
Things were a little cramped with all nine of them in the smallest of the town's bunkers but it would be easier to make plans if they were all together. There were three bedrooms which had been divided up between Jack and Zoe, Allison and Kevin and Jo and Taggart, seeing as he was the only one right now who could keep her calm enough that she didn’t set the furniture on fire. Henry, Nathan and Fargo would take it in turns to sleep on the sofas while one of them kept watch on the town’s surveillance cameras, which they’d patched into the bunker.
Allison put Kevin to bed as soon as they were settled. She’d kept him from seeing what had happened to Cobb but the upheaval of the night still must have been very upsetting for him. Jo couldn’t sit still and kept pacing the main room as they waited for Allison to return.
As soon as she did, Taggart began to give them his report. “I talked to several of the animals who vacated the woods behind Bubay’s house and they all said the same thing; that there were four hollows within the town boundary.”
There was a collective gasp at that news.
“Four?” Henry looked stunned.
“Oh, we’re all going to die horribly,” Fargo moaned from inside his ball.
“I said that there were four,” Taggart pointed out. “According to Henry, the mayor and the Marshal have already taken care of one. And we know that another one is injured after this evening.”
“Which is why we should track it down now while it’s not expecting it,” Jo said. “It’s going to be bleeding, we can follow that trail then Carter can tell me where to aim and I’ll burn that sucker to a crisp.”
“I’m not letting you try and track it in the dark,” Nathan told her, firmly. “Especially not now that we know there’s another two out there. It’ll be a suicide mission.”
“It needs to pay for what it did!” Jo snapped back and Taggart rubbed her back in a comforting gesture as the temperature in the room slowly began to climb.
“And it will, Jo. I promise you that,” Nathan assured her. “But we need to have a plan of action first. We’ve already lost too many people; I don’t want to lose anyone else.”
“Oh my god! Enough with the plans!” Jo shouted. “It’s just wasting time! We need to skip the plan and get on with the action. Or did you lose your balls when you lost your wolf?”
“Deputy Lupo! That is enough!” Sarah admonished.
Nathan looked like he’d been slapped and Jo blinked as if surprised she’d said that at all. Guilt and the remaining anger warred for dominance on her face for a moment before the anger won out and she stormed upstairs to her room.
Taggart gave them all an apologetic shrug before following her to make sure that she didn’t burn the bunker down from the inside out.
The rest of the group broke up after that, there was no use trying to keep planning when emotions were running so high. Besides they all needed rest; the majority of them had been awake for most the night before when they arrested Jack and Zoe and they wouldn’t be of much use to anyone if they were running on fumes.
Jack was surprised how hard it was to resist the urge to check that Nathan was okay, knowing that Jo’s insult probably cut him even deeper than the others realised. He had to settle for giving the other man a nod as he ushered Zoe up the stairs but he hated to leave it like that. His reactions to Nathan had been so strong, ever since they first got to town; he’d never experienced such a powerful attraction before, if he was honest with himself, and he definitely wanted to pursue that but he needed to talk to Zoe about what was going on before suddenly indulging in any public displays of affection.
“So...umm...how would you feel if I met someone?” Jack asked her when they were alone and each sitting on their beds. “To date...if I start dating someone...some guy. If I started to date another guy? Would that...umm...would you be okay with that?”
He risked a glance at Zoe who was staring back at him with barely suppressed laughter. “Oh my god! You are officially the worst at this! Do you talk to Nathan this way? Because if you do, it won’t matter what I think, he’ll be running for the hills.”
“Shut up!” Jack threw a pillow at her. “Wait...what makes you think that I’m talking about Nathan?”
She rolled her eyes as she caught the pillow and added it to her own. “Oh, please. You two have been making goo-goo eyes at each other since we got to town. It’s almost as bad as when mom started to date Dick.”
Jack chuckled. It never failed to amuse him that Zoe insisted on calling her mother’s boyfriend ‘Dick’ no matter how many times the man told her that his name was ‘Richard’.
“But not as bad, obviously. I actually like Nathan, he’s not going to let you walk all over him the way Dick does,” Zoe continued. “Besides, mom already told me that you like men as well as women so I always knew that was going to be a possibility.”
“Oh, she did, did she?” Jack frowned, making a mental note to bring that up the next time he talked to his ex-wife.
Zoe shrugged. “It was when she gave me ‘the talk’; to let me know that it’s okay if I like other girls. She’s convinced that I’m a lesbian and I just don’t know it yet. You know what she’s like.”
“Oh, I know.” Jack nodded, he’d put up with Abby’s psychoanalysis over every little thing for years. She'd had an absolute field day over Jack's bisexuality. “So you do like Nathan, huh?”
“He’s alright.” Zoe smiled then it dimmed a little. “He seemed pretty upset after what Jo said though. He didn’t deserve that.”
“No, he didn’t,” Jack agreed with a sigh.
“You should go and talk to him, dad,” Zoe said. “I know that you want to and I’ll be fine here. I’m so tired that I’ll probably be asleep in ten minutes anyway.”
Jack thought it over and then nodded. He was worried about Nathan and would feel better if he talked to him.
“Oh, and make sure to tell him that if he hurts you, the hollows will be the least of his problems.” Zoe had already snuggled under her covers so the threat was a little muffled and sleepy sounding but it made Jack laugh nonetheless.
Jack padded back downstairs on his stockinged feet and wasn’t at all surprised to find that Nathan was still awake and watching the surveillance cameras alongside Fargo while Henry slept on the sofa.
“You are allowed to get some rest, you know,” Jack told him. “I’m pretty sure you need it more than either of these two.”
“We've already tried that, Jack,” Henry’s voice floated out from beneath the pile of blankets on the sofa, proving he wasn’t as asleep as Jack had assumed. “He’s a very stubborn man.”
Nathan looked at Jack in surprise. “What are you doing back down here? I’d have thought that you’ve had even less sleep than me.”
“Actually I wanted to talk to you,” Jack told him. "Alone."
“Mayor Stark is a little busy right now,” Fargo said, archly. “We’re being vigilant. You never know what could happen.”
Stark’s lips twitched in amusement at what, Jack was sure, was the extremely unfriendly expression Jack was directing at Fargo.
“Sarah? Would you mind helping Fargo while I go and talk to the Marshal?” Nathan said and Fargo’s head spun to fix him with a pleading look.
“I would be only too happy to assist Douglas,” Sarah replied, delightedly, while Fargo groaned and dropped his head into his hands. “Oh no, Douglas. Don’t do that, you could cause damage to your lovely face.”
“I take it that Fargo doesn’t return Sarah’s affection,” Jack observed as he followed Nathan down the hall and Nathan laughed.
“Not even a little bit,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how much he tells her to go away, she just keeps on chasing him.”
They walked into a small office at the end of the hall and, as soon as the door was shut, Nathan pushed Jack against it and gave him a deep kiss which Jack enthusiastically returned.
“I didn’t come down here for this,” Jack protested between kisses. “I was worried about you.”
“I know you were,” Nathan told him. “That’s why you deserve to be rewarded.”
Jack’s chuckle turned into a low groan as Nathan managed to find that spot behind his ear.
“Interesting,” Nathan rumbled into his ear. “I wonder what other noises I could get you to make.”
“Hopefully, none that are too loud,” Jack said even as he grabbed onto Nathan’s hips to pull him closer. “My teenage daughter is only upstairs and I don’t care how alright she says she is with this, I don’t want her to hear us.”
Nathan stopped his exploration of Jack’s neck and looked at him in shock. “You told Zoe?”
“To be fair, she already knew,” Jack replied. “Apparently we make ‘goo-goo eyes’ at each other.”
“I’ve never made goo-goo eyes in my life,” Nathan scoffed.
Jack took advantage of his distraction to spin them around and do some exploring of his own. He sucked at Nathan’s pulse point and grinned when that caused the other man’s hip to buck against his own.
“Jack...” Nathan moaned quietly and his head fell back against the door.
His eyes were closed and his face slack and now that all of those little lines of pain were gone, Jack could see how tightly Nathan had held himself together all day.
“I’ve got you,” Jack whispered. “Just let go, Nathan.”
With that, Jack kissed Nathan again, keeping it slow and deliberate. He slipped one leg between Nathan’s and the other man rocked his hips forward with another moan. His hands slipped up under Jack’s t-shirt and Jack couldn’t stop the shiver that ran through him when Nathan began to scratch lightly at the exposed skin below the bandages.
When Jack started to kiss down Nathan’s neck, Nathan began rocking against Jack’s thigh repeatedly and Jack seriously thought he could get addicted to the little hitching breaths that Nathan was making. Not to mention the way Nathan’s eyelashes fluttered and the colour rose in his cheeks. Jack thought that he looked gorgeous like this and suddenly needed to see more. He needed see what Nathan looked like as he fell apart.
Nathan’s eyes flew open when Jack dropped to his knees. “Jack, you don’t have to...”
“I want to,” Jack broke in. “Please.”
Nathan just nodded, seemingly lost for words, which made Jack shoot him a smirk because he was sure that didn’t happen very often.
Pushing Nathan’s clothing out of the way, Jack tapped into his much younger self and began to use every trick he’d learned way back when. It wasn’t quite like riding a bike and Jack had a couple of false starts, taking Nathan too deeply, too quickly, but he soon built up the right rhythm and from the way Nathan clutched at Jack’s hair and shoulders and kept making those hitching noises, he was definitely enjoying the performance.
Jack raised his eyes to watch the utter bliss on Nathan’s face and the way the other man was biting his lower lip to stop himself from making too much noise. The heat unfurling through Jack's own body raised a few notches and he couldn’t stop himself from pushing down his own pants and taking himself in hand even as his tongue swirled around Nathan, revelling in the taste of the other man.
“Jack...oh god...” Nathan began to tug on Jack’s hair in warning but Jack just took him as deep as he could.
The quiet growl that Nathan gave as he completely fell over that edge was something that Jack knew would fuel his fantasies from then on. If not that, then definitely the slightly feral look in Nathan’s eyes just before he pushed Jack onto the floor and climbed on top of him. He batted Jack’s hand away and replaced it with his own, setting up a cadence which had Jack arching off the floor as pleasure twisted up and down his spine. He would be embarrassed by how quickly Nathan managed to take him apart but he’d been teetering on that edge for a while and, honestly, it felt too good for him to really care about it.
Neither man moved as they caught their breath and Jack found that he quite liked the feeling of Nathan sprawled on top of him.
“I have to say, Marshal, I’m a very big fan of the way you comfort the people that you’re worried about,” Nathan finally rasped against Jack’s skin.
Jack huffed in amusement. “That may have got a little out of hand.”
“Maybe,” Nathan agreed. “But it was just what I needed; to switch off for a while.”
Jack stroked a hand over Nathan’s back; a little thrown, for a second, by the realisation that they were both still wearing their shirts. “Has it helped with the pain?”
“I think it has,” Nathan replied after a moment’s thought. “It’s hard to explain; the pain is still there but it’s a bit more manageable now.”
“Because you stopped thinking about it for a bit, it stopped hurting as much? And because it was always on your mind before, that’s why it was getting worse?” Jack guessed. “Like when you get an itch underneath a plaster cast that you can’t reach.”
Nathan’s body shook slightly as he quietly laughed. “That’s one way to explain it.”
“Well, you know where to find me if it gets bad again,” Jack quipped.
They stayed where they were for a while, neither ready to face reality outside of their little bubble again but, bit by bit, Jack could feel Nathan begin to tense again.
“You know that none of this is your fault, right?” Jack eventually asked then heaved a sigh when Nathan pulled away from him. “It’s true. Sometimes evil just finds you, Nathan.”
Nathan didn’t look at him as he stood up and began to straighten his clothes. “If I hadn’t stopped the town or if I didn’t create the situation tonight by gathering everyone together in one spot...I’ve known Bill since I first became mayor, I’m not sure that I could have done it without his support and now he’s dead because of me.”
Jack was already on his feet, refastening his pants when he heard that and he immediately grabbed Nathan and turned him, deliberately looking him in the eye.
“Listen to me, carefully,” Jack ordered. “Cobb’s not dead because of you; he’s dead because of a hollow. You don’t have the luxury of taking on a tonne of misplaced guilt, Nathan, because too many people depend on you. They need you to be the strong and decisive mayor. Even if you don’t feel that way without the wolf you still have to act that way, for them.” He softened his voice and stroked the side of Nathan’s face. “You need to accept that you’re not responsible for Cobb, concentrate on protecting this town and I promise that I’ll be here when you need to fall apart a little.”
Nathan looked a bit shell shocked at that little speech and gave Jack a shaky nod. “Okay...I can do that.”
“Good,” Jack told him before drawing him in for a final, gentler kiss.
They briefly stopped off at the bathroom to clean up and make themselves a bit more presentable, then Nathan went back to join Fargo, Sarah and Henry while Jack headed back upstairs, very much ignoring the knowing wink that Henry tipped him on his way past. Zoe, true to her word, was fast asleep in her bed when Jack snuck back into their room and he smiled to himself as he listened to her soft snores before he dropped off to sleep himself.
“Jo’s gone!” Henry told them, as soon as Jack opened the bedroom door. “She snuck out to go after the hollow by herself!”
Jack swore and he and Zoe quickly followed Henry downstairs where all hell had broken loose.
“...a watch on her! That was your only job last night!” Nathan growled at Taggart who glared right back at him.
“And you were supposed to be sleeping in shifts down here. How the hell did she get past all of you, eh?”
At that Nathan turned his glower on Henry and Fargo who looked at each other uneasily.
“There may have been a point when I needed to leave and use the bathroom before Henry finished making us some coffee,” Fargo said nervously.
“My back was to the door for a minute at most,” Henry added.
Taggart scoffed. “This is Jo Lupo we’re talking about; she trains for this stuff. It only would take her seconds to get out...a minute would be leisurely.”
“Sarah? You didn’t see her go?” Jack asked but there was no reply. “Sarah?”
“She threatened to use Mr Anderson to make you all forget that I was here,” Sarah finally said in a small voice. “Then I would be down here all alone.”
“This Mr Anderson can alter your memories?” Jack quietly asked Allison who was standing next to him.
She shook her head. “Jason Anderson can erase parts of your memory.”
If it was possible, Nathan looked even angrier but it didn’t show in his voice when he reassured Sarah. “Jo didn’t mean it, she’s just not thinking straight at the moment. We would never forget that you are down here, Sarah.”
“Really?” Sarah asked with a sniffle and everyone rushed to promise that they would keep visiting her.
“How long ago did she leave?” Jack asked, falling into work mode.
Henry tilted his head in thought. “About 45 minutes to an hour ago?”
Fargo nodded and Sarah agreed as well.
“Alright, she got a big head start but we know which direction she's gone,” Jack said. “She’s following the hollow that took the sheriff so we start back at the spot the hollow disappeared.”
Twenty minutes later, after everyone had gathered weapons, Jack, Nathan, Taggart and Henry were heading into the woods a couple of streets away from the town hall, on the trail of the hollow and Jo.
“You holding it together?” Jack asked Nathan in a low voice.
Nathan kept staring ahead. “I am so angry right now that it might actually be a good idea to keep your distance for a while, Jack.”
“You don’t scare me, Stark,” Jack told him with a smirk and Nathan rolled his eyes when Henry chuckled at that.
Taggart threw up his fist and they all immediately came to a halt. It was easy to see why he’d stopped them. As well as the broken and trampled vegetation that signified a hollow had been through here, there was also now a line of scorched leaves and grasses which showed Jo’s trail. Jack wasn’t sure if she’d done it on purpose as her version of dropping breadcrumbs or if she was just losing control of her powers. Either way, they knew that they were definitely headed in the right direction to catch up to her.
After that, they all stayed quiet as they followed the scorch marks which made it easy to hear the small groan a little while later. They rounded a tree and found Jo, lying on the ground. There was a nasty gash on her forehead and a bruise already appearing on her jaw, indicating a tough fight where Jo was obviously on the losing end. Taggart dropped down beside her and pulled her close as she struggled back to consciousness.
She gave another groan and raised her hand to her forehead, wincing when she touched the cut. Then she stiffened and her eyes flew open, looking wildly around her.
“It’s alright, Jo,” Taggart told her. “It’s just us; you’re safe now. The hollow’s gone.”
“And left you alive,” Jack murmured, because that was strange.
Nathan gave him an unpleasant look as if he knew exactly what Jack was thinking. “Don’t go there Jack. Jo is not a wight.”
“Of course she’s not,” Taggart said in an offended tone of voice.
Jack held up his hands defensively. “I’m just saying that it’s odd that the hollow left her alive when they obviously had the chance to kill her. You have to admit that it’s a little suspicious.”
“And I’m just saying that your theory that the wight is one of us is ridiculous,” Nathan shot back.
“Carter’s right,” Jo suddenly said and everyone looked at her in shock. “It is one of us but it’s not me, it’s Cobb. He’s the wight!”
“Are you saying Cobb’s alive?” Henry couldn’t have looked more shocked if someone had told him the tooth fairy was real.
Jo got to her feet, with Taggart hovering around her. “I’m telling you that he’s alive, there was absolutely no sign of yesterday’s injury and his eyes were solid white.”
"How?" Jack had to ask. "We all saw the hollow attack him."
"No, we didn't," Henry said. "We just saw the aftermath. We saw Cobb's already dead body but if he's a wight then he's a shape shifter; he faked the injury so we'd all believe he was dead. Hell, his so-called self healing must have just been him shape shifting all these years!"
There was a brief moment of silence and then Nathan turned and punched a tree.
“Whoa! Nathan, what...” Jack began but Nathan kept going, kicking and hitting the tree while letting out a shout of pure frustration until Jack finally grabbed him and made him stop.
“Did that make you feel better?” Jack asked the other man who was trying to catch his breath.
“Not really,” Nathan managed to reply. “That goddamned traitor! I trusted him; we all trusted him! ...What? No ‘I told you so’, Marshal?”
“No,” Jack told him as he stepped back. “No, I won’t do that.”
“He’s been here all this time,” Taggart said. “Why? There are other peculiar settlements far less protected than this one. Not that I would wish a hollow attack on any of them. But why go to all this trouble here?”
Jack watched as Nathan and Henry exchanged a look and pointed his finger at the pair of them. “What was that? That sneaky, secretive look. You two know why they’re here, don’t you?”
Henry held up his hands in a placating manner. “Jack...I understand that after all the secrecy when you first got to town would make you think that but it wasn’t...”
“They’re after The Artefact,” Nathan said in a tired voice. “That’s why they’re here.”
“The Artefact? The blowing-people-up-giant-ball-of-weird-energy you mentioned earlier? That Artefact? Is in Eureka?” Jack asked, incredulously. He noticed that Jo and Taggart were looking just as flabbergasted as he was. “You two didn’t know either?”
“No one knew,” Henry said, dropping the act now that Nathan had blurted out the truth. “No one outside of myself, Nathan, Allison and...”
“...Cobb,” Nathan grit out.
“I thought it was buried under some desert,” Jo said. “How did you even get it here?”
Henry shrugged. “It showed up by itself. We think it was drawn by...”
He obviously bit off what he was going to say and glanced at Nathan who waved a weary hand at him.
“You might as well tell them the whole story, they deserve to know.”
Henry nodded and continued. “We think it was drawn by Kevin. It showed up days after Kevin was born, it just appeared one day in the old caverns.”
“The caverns under the Town Hall?” Taggart asked.
“That’s why we built the Town Hall actually, to cover up the entrance,” Henry explained. “We couldn’t have anyone just wandering in there.”
Jack was carefully watching Nathan while Henry talked and he didn’t like the way the other man was looking more and more defeated.
“What’s it got to do with Kevin?” he asked, gently and Nathan just blinked at him for a moment.
“He has some sort of connection to The Artefact,” he replied. “I wasn’t here when The Artefact arrived so I don’t know whether there was something that started it or if the connection is just naturally there. But when he was three he began to draw pictures of it, even though he couldn’t have known what it was and there were a few incidents when he went missing and we found him outside the security door to the caverns. Then, last year, he somehow got inside the caverns, we don’t know how because the door was still locked. But the security cameras caught footage of him touching The Artefact without any kind of side effect.”
“That’s his peculiarity,” Jack guessed. “The one you said was too complicated to explain.”
Nathan nodded. “He can’t tell us how deep the connection goes or if it hurts him. We don’t know anything about it, to be honest with you. All those dreams of being a great scientist and I can’t even learn enough about this thing to protect my own stepson.”
Jack squeezed Nathan’s shoulder in a comforting gesture when a sudden thought struck him. “Does Cobb know about Kevin’s connection?”
“Yes,” Nathan spat angrily.
“Then this whole thing was a trap,” Jack said. “He knew Jo would come looking for revenge and that we would follow to try and stop her.”
“And get all of our best fighters out of the bunker,” Henry continued, catching on to what Jack was saying. “The Artefact's no use to them if they still can’t touch it. They want Kevin too.”
“No!” Nathan immediately spun on his heel and began running back into town with the others close behind.
They arrived back at the bunker to find Cobb standing outside, holding Kevin with one hand and his gun in the other. Jack’s attention, however, was immediately drawn to one of the three hollows standing behind Cobb. This one had hold of Zoe who was trying her best to look brave but was shaking like a leaf.
“Sarah let me in,” Cobb explained, gleefully. “She was overjoyed to find out that I was still alive but she’s always had a soft spot for me, I made sure of that. I knew it would come in useful one day.”
“Yes, you had us all fooled. Congratulations.” Nathan was obviously trying to keep a hold of his temper but his voice held a definite growl.
“Not your mother, she never really trusted me. But you? You were so angry to have been dragged back to Eureka and only too happy to use the support of the kindly local sheriff,” Cobb taunted. “You made it really easy for me, Nathan. All I had to do was wait for the right moment and I’ve always been a patient man.”
“You’re an evil son of a bitch, that’s what you are!” Jo yelled, her eyes flashing but managing to hold back on creating any actual fire that could hurt the kids. “I can’t believe that I actually mourned for you!”
“Now, now, Deputy Lupo.” Cobb tutted. “There’s no need for name calling. I’ve always liked you Jo, that’s why I didn’t kill you this morning but I wouldn’t try my patience.”
He looked at the whole group. “Here’s what’s going to happen. Nathan is going to take us below the Town Hall and unlock the caverns. Then young Kevin here, is going to do his little trick and tell The Artefact to follow him. After that we all leave and the rest of the townspeople will remain unharmed and can continue to live their lives as normal.”
“You’re not taking my son anywhere,” Nathan told him and Cobb chuckled.
“Yes, I thought you might say that.”
He made a quick gesture and one of the hollows disappeared down the stairs to the bunker before re-emerging, carrying Fargo in his bubble.
“Tell them!” Cobb ordered Fargo.
“I phoned the other bunkers and told them to unlock their doors,” Fargo said, looking shamefaced and unable to meet their eyes. “I said it looks like the danger is passed but they are to stay in the bunkers until you give the final all clear.”
“He only did it because these monsters were hurting Allison!” Zoe yelled, wincing as the hollow’s grip on her tightened. “It’s not your fault, Fargo!”
“Allison is fine, just a little unconscious right now,” Cobb dismissed with a casual wave of his gun, ignoring the pained noise Kevin made at the mention of his mother. “But she’ll be a little dead if you don’t do as I say. And so will the rest of the townspeople. All gathered together with their defences disabled; it’ll be like shooting fish in a barrel. It’s either Kevin or the entire town, mayor; it’s your decision.”
Looking away from Zoe for the first time since they arrived back at the bunker, Jack watched Nathan struggle to come up with a way around making that decision, before doing the only thing he could do in this situation. He chose to take Cobb to The Artefact because that would at least buy him some time to come up with another plan.
Cobb looked triumphant and he ordered everyone else to go back down into the bunker.
“Uh, uh. Not you, Marshal.” He stopped Jack as Jack walked towards Zoe. “I’m not stupid enough to let the two people who can actually see the hollows stay together. You can come with us while your daughter stays here. But if you try anything stupid, she’s the first to die! Now, you and Nathan drop your weapons on the floor and back up.”
“Dad?” Despite her best efforts, Zoe looked terrified and Jack’s heart broke over the fact that he couldn’t comfort her and make it all go away.
“It’ll be okay, Zoe,” he tried to reassure her as he removed his gun from his holster and placed it on the grass. “Henry and Taggart will look after you.”
“That we will,” Taggart agreed.
“And they’ll have to get through me first,” Jo said, grabbing Zoe’s hand and giving it a squeeze while she nodded at Jack.
“So touching,” Cobb mocked, those white eyes adding to his grotesque expression. “Let’s go!”
Two of the hollows stayed behind at the bunker while the final one accompanied the small group back across Eureka to the Town Hall.
“How did you find out that The Artefact was in Eureka in the first place?” Nathan asked Cobb as they walked, obviously using the familiarity of his voice to help calm an increasingly distressed Kevin. “My mother didn’t even tell me it was here until she was dying and it became something I needed to know.”
“I didn’t, at first,” Cobb replied. “I was just here to find a way to break your mother’s time loop and give my brothers and sisters a nice meal. Finding The Artefact was an unexpected bonus but then finding someone who can talk to it and touch it, that was the jackpot.”
Jack shook his head in disgust. “You’re going to use a little boy? Take him away from his parents and everything he knows just to try and get a bit of extra power?”
Cobb laughed. “Oh, it’s not just a bit of extra power, Marshal. The Artefact could give us enormous power. Enough to bring us back to our former selves and even more than that; enough to grant us immortality.”
“Immortality? That's why you're doing all of this?” Jack rolled his eyes and looked at Nathan. “I’ve never understood why people would want that. Who wants to live forever and watch everything around you change and die?”
“I don’t believe they think that far ahead, Jack,” Nathan replied. “They’re just afraid to die and don’t look beyond that solution. They’re just...scared.”
“Oh, come on, Nathan; you can do better than that. Jo insulted my mother and all you can do is call us cowards?” Cobb shook his head. “Besides, if anyone should understand the benefits of living forever, it should be you. The frustrated, would-be scientist...imagine what you could do with all that time? The breakthroughs you could witness.”
“Are you actually trying to sway me to your side?” Nathan scoffed.
The early morning light caught Cobb’s eyes and gave them an eerie glow. “Apart from an occasional tendency to trust the wrong person, you’ve grown into quite the leader, Nathan.”
“Excuse me if I don’t accept a compliment from an immoral asshole,” Nathan snarked but Cobb continued to talk over him.
“And Kevin would benefit from having you with him, helping him discover what his gifts can do.”
Nathan’s hand clenched in anger but as they’d arrived at the Town Hall, he turned his attention to unlocking the main door instead of answering that.
Their footsteps on the wooden floors echoed loudly through the empty building as the mismatched group walked to the stair well and made their way down to the basement. Once there, Nathan swiped a card from his wallet through an electronic lock which opened the door to another set of stairs that took them down another couple of levels.
When they reached the stone caverns, far beneath the ground, Jack finally understood why Cobb needed Nathan to break into the cavern where The Artefact was kept. There was an enormous metal door that put the ones on the bunkers to shame and, as well as needing to scan Nathan’s thumb print, it also required a password that only he knew.
“Your mother did all this?” Jack asked as the door began to inch open very slowly, reminding him of the door on a bank vault.
“My mother couldn’t work the TV remote control,” Nathan said with a tense smile. “She had the Town Hall built but Henry and I installed all the security when I took over as mayor.”
Jack nodded, that made more sense. What didn’t make sense, however, was the way Kevin had stopped trying to get away from Cobb and was staring at the opening door with an almost serene smile. Jack caught Nathan’s worried look and knew that it wasn’t just him that found that behaviour strange.
The door had opened far enough that they could finally step inside and, when they did, Cobb gave a shout of sheer anger.
“What did you do?” He yelled at Nathan, pointing his gun directly at Nathan’s head.
But Nathan was too busy looking around the empty cavern in complete bewilderment. “It was here!”
“Liar!” Cobb shouted and stomped closer to push his gun directly against Nathan’s forehead. “Tell me where The Artefact is!”
As soon as Cobb moved, Jack took a step towards Kevin, intent on shielding the kid from the still hovering hollow but stopped when he saw that Kevin was suddenly surrounded by some kind of golden swirling aura.
“Kevin...” Nathan breathed a moment later, in an awestruck tone, and even Cobb stumbled back a couple of steps in shock.
“It’s in him,” Cobb said, staring at Kevin. “The Artefact is inside him. How is that possible?”
With reflexes that surprised Jack, Nathan immediately took advantage of Cobb’s distraction to grab for the gun. Cobb fought back and the two men fell to the ground, wrestling for control of the gun. The hollow moved towards the fighting men so Jack quickly moved to block its path. Cobb had been so confident that he hadn’t bothered to check if Jack or Nathan had any extra weapons which meant that Jack could now grab the knife he had sheathed in a holster on his calf.
The hollow swiped at Jack with his claws and Jack ducked, bringing the knife up as he did so and catching the hollow’s arm. The hollow made a pained noise and immediately hit out at Jack, too quickly for him to duck again, sending Jack crashing to the stone floor. The hollow jumped on top of him, claws primed ready to rip him apart, when it suddenly let out and anguished cry and began to convulse.
Jack scrambled out from underneath the hollow and was then able to see what had happened. Some of the golden glow surrounding Kevin had formed into a tendril that crossed the room and wrapped itself around the hollow. The hollow’s skin blistered and smoked wherever the tendril touched it as it continued to wind itself around the hollow tightly, stopping it from escaping.
Glancing across the room, Jack saw that another tendril was similarly twisted around Cobb. But Cobb was still refusing to let go of the death grip he had on the gun no matter how much pain the tendril was causing him and was actually managing to slowly turn the barrel of the gun further in Nathan’s direction.
Jack grabbed his knife from where the impact with the floor had made him drop it, and swiftly stabbed it directly into the hollow’s throat; putting all his weight behind the thrust in order to get it through that thick layer of skin Allison had warned them about. He could feel the skin give way with an almost audible pop. The hollow threw its head back, trying to scream, but all it could manage was a broken garble and it’s mouth tentacles shuddered. As soon as the hollow slumped, the golden tendril dissipated and the body dropped heavily to the ground.
With only a brief pause to make sure that the hollow was definitely dead and to pull his knife free, Jack raced across the cavern and grabbed Cobb’s hand. He added his weight to Nathan’s and they succeeded in wrenching Cobb’s arm back enough that the gun was no longer in danger of shooting Nathan. Then, knowing that Nathan needed to be the one to do this, Jack let go with one hand long enough to push his knife into Nathan’s. Without a single hesitation, Nathan accepted the knife with a firm grip and plunged it deep into Cobb’s chest.
Immediately, Cobb sagged against Jack and his fingers finally let up their grip on the gun as the life faded from him. The tendril around Cobb dissipated the same way as the one around the hollow had and Jack lowered him to the ground as Nathan sat up, still holding onto the handle of the knife.
“You just killed everyone!” Cobb rasped, his eyes drifting closed. “My brothers will feel me die and they’ll kill the whole town. You killed them all!”
Then his head lolled to one side and he was gone. That same second, Nathan began to shake and, before Jack’s eyes, his body twisted and contorted. It looked so painful that Jack winced in sympathy but before he could do anything, Nathan was gone and in his place was an ebony coloured wolf with striking green eyes.
Jack jumped at the voice from behind him and he turned to see Kevin looking at the wolf with a delighted expression. The glow was still swirling around him but it was already dimmer than before and dispersing rapidly.
The wolf padded over to Kevin and let him run his fingers through the thick black fur. Then wolf looked back at Jack.
“I knew you were a wolf but knowing and seeing are two different things,” Jack told him. “And as much as I want to get to know this side of you a little more, we need to go. Now!”
The wolf nodded, which was a very weird thing to see, and began to nudge Kevin towards the door. Luckily, he seemed happy to follow wolf!Nathan and by the time they had climbed all the stairs and were back on the ground floor, the glow had completely disappeared from Kevin leaving just a new golden ring around the pupils of his eyes.
The three of them hurried down the long corridor and burst out through the exit into the sunlight. They ran across the street but came to a halt when they saw the group running towards them from the opposite direction.
“Kevin! Oh my god!” Allison put on a burst of speed until she reached her son, falling to her knees and stroking his face.
“Dad!” Zoe yelled at the same time and Jack ran towards her, meeting her halfway and swinging her up into a fierce hug and burying his face in her hair.
“Thank god, you’re okay,” he muttered. “I was so worried.”
“Me too. I thought they’d hurt you,” Zoe told him, hugging him back just as hard, before she asked. “Is that Nathan?”
Jack nodded as he put her back on her feet and composed himself a little.
Henry joined them, also looking at the wolf. “It’s good to have you back, Nathan. I guess this means that you killed Cobb?”
“With more than a little help from Kevin,” Jack said and shook his head when Henry gave him a quizzical look. “We’ll explain later. What happened with you guys, though? Cobb said that the hollows would feel him die and attack you in revenge.”
“It did try but it didn’t count on Jo and Zoe lying in wait for it,” Henry replied.
“Don’t mess with the girls, we’re bad asses,” Jo said, nudging Zoe with her shoulder. “Zoe made an amazing spotter; I’m definitely stealing her for our next paintball game.”
“Your daughter takes after you, Jack. You should be proud," Allison told him.
Jack gave Zoe another hug at that. “I already was.”
"Only one of the hollows stayed with us though, the other one left just after you lot did.” Taggart nodded at Jack and the wolf. “We think it went to the main bunkers.”
“Fargo’s already gone after it,” Zoe said. “We couldn’t stop him. He just kept saying that he had to ‘fix what he’d done’.”
Almost before the words were out of her mouth, the wolf set off towards the bunkers. The entire group, minus Allison and Kevin, chased after him only coming to a halt at the first entrance where a ripped ball of plastic lay, shrivelled up on the ground.
“Oh no!” Jo whispered.
The wolf made a small whimper and nudged at the ball with his nose but then the moment was broken by someone screaming from inside.
“That sounds like Carol,” Henry said and they quickly and quietly climbed down the stairs.
Unlike Sarah’s bunker, this one was one long and winding corridor with a series of suites lining either side. The first suite they came to had its door wide open, allowing them to see the dead body inside. This one hadn’t been mauled in quite the same way as the other bodies left by the hollows, probably because this time the hollow wanted to kill as many people as it could, as quickly as it could, rather than taking it’s time over one kill. Even so, the damage was bad enough that it wasn’t until Jack stepped into the room that he recognised the tall, skinny, bald man from the cafe the night before.
“It’s one of the Baker clones,” Taggart told everyone in a hushed voice as he crouched down besides the body. “Poor buggar!”
The scream sounded again, coming from further down the corridor and the group resumed making their way down the corridor past all the locked suites, although they could see the occupants watching their progress silently through the small slat high up on the doors. Jack brought them all to a halt at the point where the corridor took a turn to the left and he carefully poked his head around the corner to take a look.
One of the suites hadn't managed to get their door shut in time and now there was a struggle ensuing with whichever of the townspeople was in there pushing the door from one side, trying to close it enough to engage the lock, while the hollow was pushing from the other, trying to get inside.
Jack knew that he couldn't risk taking a shot at the hollow while in the bunker. If he missed then the bullet would ricochet off the steel walls and likely hit someone else. His eyes flickered to Jo for a moment before dismissing her peculiarity; the fire would heat up the metal and possibly burn the occupants of the suite as well as the hollow. The best chance they had would be the wolf, even though he couldn't actually see the hollow. If Jack could direct him enough that he could pounce onto the monster then the rest of them could rush it while it was distracted.
He stole another look around the corner to get a proper fix on the hollow's position but got distracted by something dripping from the ceiling just behind the hollow. He looked up and his eyes widened in surprise when he saw Fargo floating up there. Fargo was looking a little worse for wear with his leg obviously having taken the brunt of the tussle he must've had with hollow before floating up out of reach but his face was set in an expression of determination and he was holding a large bowl of some kind of liquid, which was the origin of the drips.
At first, Jack thought that the liquid must be hot and that Fargo was going to dump it on the hollow to scold him but quickly dismissed that because that would be too hot for Fargo to hold this long. He watched as another drip hit the floor and began to grin as he figured out exactly what Fargo was planning. Jack crouched to whisper to the wolf then straightened and began using hand gestures to direct Fargo to a spot directly above the hollow.
At Jack's nod, Fargo dumped the contents of the bowl over the hollow and the tomato sauce coated the monster completely, suddenly making him visible to everyone. Immediately, the wolf leapt forward with enough strength behind it to knock the hollow to the ground. The hollow lashed out but the wolf, now able to see it coming, was able to easily dodge the claws and duck beneath the thrashing arms to grab the hollow's throat in his powerful jaws. The hollow didn't have time to let out so much as a whimper before those jaws snapped shut and ripped it's throat out.
Fargo began to cheer from above but Jack just slumped back against the wall in relief at it being over. Zoe burrowed into his arms and he tiredly kissed the top of her head as the suite doors began to open all around them and the townspeople emerged, cheering along with Fargo. Jack felt something cold nudge his hand and looked down to see the wolf sitting at his feet, tongue lolling out of his mouth and generally looking very pleased with himself.
Jack chuckled quietly. "Looks like you saved the day, Mayor Stark. I take it that you’ve already got the shield back up and the town's moving again?"
The wolf nodded and Zoe frowned. "That's looks so weird."
Jack hesitated and then stroked a hand over the wolf's head, grimacing when his hand came away covered in a mixture of oily black blood and tomato sauce. "Remind me not to do that again before you've had a bath."
The wolf made a huffing noise that almost sounded like a laugh and those familiar green eyes twinkled.
"I am so happy that you both decided to stay here with me while you are in town." Sarah sounded so delighted that Jack didn't have the heart to point out that they didn't really have anywhere else to stay.
He was a little amused by the fact her voice floated over to them from the huge bunch of bright yellow flowers which Jo had brought Sarah as an apology for her harsh words that morning. Obviously, the overjoyed Sarah was going to stay close to those flowers, admiring them for as long as she possibly could.
"I'm not sure how much company we're going to be, Sarah." Zoe gave a huge yawn. "I think I could sleep for a week."
"Me too, kiddo," Jack agreed as he slouched further down into the cushions and closed his eyes. "It's probably a good thing that the car's still a wreck. It gives us a chance to get some rest before hitting the road again."
He smiled as she dropped her head onto his shoulder. If nothing else, the disastrous start to their vacation had definitely brought them closer together.
"About the road trip, dad," Zoe started. "Could we just stay here? I'd love the chance to get to know the town and see some more of their peculiarities. I just feel like I fit here, you know?"
"I would be most agreeable to you and Zoe staying here for the summer, Marshal," Sarah put in eagerly.
"Thanks for the offer, Sarah. It wouldn't be for the entire summer though," Jack told her, his eyes still closed. "I have to be back at work in two weeks."
"Not if you find yourself a new job," a new voice said and Jack opened his eyes to take in the sight of Nathan Stark leaning in the bunker doorway smiling at them, his hair a little damp from apparently finally taking that shower.
"Well, look who's walking around on two legs again," Jack snarked but softened it with a smile of his own.
Nathan chuckled. "I would say that I was sorry about staying as a wolf for so long but I'm really not. I needed that after the past couple of days."
"I bet you did," Jack replied with an understanding look. "Are you feeling better now?"
"Infinitely," Nathan assured him and took a seat on the other sofa. "I meant it about the new job though. Eureka's sheriff position has just become available."
Jack stared at him. "Are you kidding? You want me to be the new Sheriff? What about Jo?"
"I think that Jo's rash actions this morning proved that she's not ready for the job," Nathan said and Jack had to agree with that. "You are more than qualified, Jack, and Zoe's right, you do both fit in here."
Jack tilted his head thoughtfully. That was definitely a tempting offer. He loved his job with the Marshals but being in Eureka did feel right. Plus, there were obvious advantages to staying, he thought as he raked his eyes over the mayor who smirked in response.
"Well it gets my vote, as long as I can move here with you, dad," Zoe said sleepily from Jack's shoulder. "And you can keep Nathan too. He's a bad-ass wolf, that's like a million times better than Mom's boyfriend."
"I'm so glad you approve." Nathan's sarcasm was at complete odds with the genuinely pleased expression on his face and Jack snorted in amusement which made Zoe start giggling.
"On that note, I'm heading to bed," she told them. "Only wake me if there's an actual apocalypse. Or if Channing Tatum shows up."
She kissed Jack's cheek and dragged herself off the sofa, sending Nathan a mischievous salute as she walked passed him. Sarah's voice, excitedly talking about the possibility of Jack and Zoe moving into the bunker with her permanently, got gradually quieter as she followed Zoe up the stairs.
"You really want me to stay, huh?" Jack asked Nathan once the girls were out of earshot and gave him a smug grin.
"Well, I know that you can't turn that off." Nathan gestured Jack's body and Jack barked out a laugh. "And I don't want anyone else out there getting the idea that they can have you when you're mine."
"Possessive," Jack noted.
"Wolf," Nathan countered and he moved from the other sofa to straddle Jack. "A bad-ass one, apparently."
Jack put his hands on Nathan's hips as he settled into Jack's lap. "If you're going to try and sway me with sexual favours, I have to tell you that I'm way too tired for any shenanigans right now."
"You and me both, Jack." Nathan rest his forehead against Jack's with a weary chuckle.
"In that case, come to bed with me," Jack suggested. "We'll sleep and then tomorrow you can talk me into staying."
Nathan pulled back and raised an eyebrow at him. "I need to talk you into it?"
"Not really." Jack shrugged then gave him a sly smile. "I'm just holding out for those sexual favours."
The two men headed upstairs and practically fell into the bed. The last thought in Jack's head before he dropped off to sleep with Nathan draped over him possessively was that he'd never been so glad to have inherited his father's dreadful sense of direction.
"It's exactly the same as the last five times you've asked me. Over," Jo answered immediately.
"It hasn't been five times," Jack scoffed. "More like...four. Over."
"Carter, you freak out every single time she goes to LA," Jo said and Jack could practically hear the eye roll he knew his deputy was doing. "She's not going to have changed her mind about coming home. Over."
"I know that," Jack replied even though there was always the small voice in the back of his head telling him that this time she'd want to stay with her mother. "This is the first time she's driven back by herself though. Over."
Normally, Jack would take a couple of days and go to pick her up once her vacation had finished but her mother had apparently bought her a new car during this particular vacation and Zoe had insisted on driving herself home to Eureka.
"You're worrying too much, Carter," Jo's voice broke in, disturbing Jack's thoughts. "Unlike some people, she knows how to read a map. Over and out."
"I can read a map, Lupo! I just like living on the edge sometimes," Jack lied into the radio. "Besides, if I hadn't have got lost that one time, then your boyfriend would never have stumbled across that rare species of frog he loves so much when he came to find me! So 'over and out' that, Deputy! Over and out!"
He leaned back against his seat with a sigh and stared moodily at all the trees surrounding the road. Luckily, he knew that Jo wouldn't hold his childish behaviour against him; she'd been through it all before and probably would again. She put up with it just like he put up with her, sometimes literally, fiery temper. They actually made a pretty good team.
He'd left the driver's side door open for the extra leg room so the sound of rustling in the grass besides the truck had Jack tensing automatically. If it was another of the creepy toys that Seth liked to bring to life and which would, more often than not, attack Jack then Jack was going to put him in the cell for a week this time. He relaxed instantly when a familiar black wolf emerged from the undergrowth instead of a plastic, cymbal banging, monkey.
"Did Jo send you out here?" Jack asked, averting his eyes as the wolf turned back into Nathan.
It didn't matter how many times Nathan told him that it wasn't actually painful, it still made Jack wince every single time he watched the change.
"Actually, Jo's doing a pretty good job of covering for you, I just know you too well," Nathan told him when the change was fully over. "Although I didn't expect you to come out here for another couple of hours. Are you actually planning on spending all morning sitting out here until she's back?"
"She might be early," Jack pointed out grumpily.
"She's going to be fine, Jack. Jo sent her the new co-ordinates for Eureka this morning and we're not actually that far from LA this time. Don't take it personally that she wanted to drive home herself," Nathan told him, unerringly getting to the heart of the matter. "She worships the ground you walk on but she's eighteen now; of course she wants a bit of independence."
Jack huffed and then turned in his seat, allowing Nathan to step between his legs and wrap his arms around Jack.
"I hate it when you're being rational," Jack muttered, dropping his head to Nathan's shoulder.
"Liar." Nathan chuckled. "You love everything about me, that's why you married me."
Jack hummed noncommittally and just took the comfort Nathan was giving him. Long minutes passed with the two of them holding each other out there in the woods but eventually Jack pulled back a little.
"Do you have a busy day back in town?"
"Well, I've got a meeting in an hour with Vincent about which supplies he needs for the month," Nathan said. "And then I'm spending the afternoon with Allison and Kevin; I've got some new exercises for him to try."
Kevin had come along in leaps and bounds since that fateful day with Cobb and the hollows. His autism still meant that he didn't communicate or act in the same way that other kids did but when it came to his peculiarity, or in this case, peculiarities, Kevin was streets ahead of anyone else his age. They'd quickly discovered that having The Artefact living inside him meant that Kevin had a little piece of every peculiarity. He'd never be able to control the weather in the same way that Stephen Whiticus could but he could definitely cause a slight breeze or a little bit of drizzle.
They hadn't seen him exert power in quite the same way as he had with Cobb though, which was why Nathan had created these exercises for him to test the extent of that power.
"So you have enough time for this then," Jack declared and pulled Nathan into a kiss.
He really had intended for it be one of those lazy kisses that would create a low grade simmer beneath his skin and keep him buzzing for the whole day in anticipation of getting Nathan alone that night. But he'd misjudged just how tempting their current position made it to go further and the kiss very quickly turned heated. Nathan gave a low groan and muttered something about getting caught in public again but Jack ignored that in favour of grabbing Nathan's hips and yanking him even closer, causing him to give a groan of his own.
"Jesus, what have I told you about old people and PDAs?" Zoe's voice broke through the haze. "Just because I wasn't here for the last month doesn't mean that that rule isn't still in effect."
Jack and Nathan jumped apart, they'd been so wrapped up in each other that they hadn't even heard the car approaching and now just blinked in surprise at the blindingly bright pink car idling next to them and the familiar blonde girl in the driver's seat. What wasn't familiar, however, was the guy sitting in the passenger seat, smirking at them. The guy that Jack had never seen before and was clearly far too old to be with his daughter. That was more than enough to act as a virtual cold shower.
"What is that?" Nathan demanded to know, his eyes narrowed as he pointed at the strange man with an expression of displeasure that Jack suspected rivalled his own.
The guy's smirk was fading and he was beginning to look a little scared but Zoe just rolled her eyes.
"Oh, chill; the pair of you," she said. "I swear that sometimes you're just as bad as dad is, Nate. This is Zane. I found him in LA and he's one of us."
She looked at Zane and gestured to the door. "Show them."
Zane looked at Jack and Nathan warily for a moment before shrugging. Then he stood up and walked out of the car straight through the engine block.
"Huh." Nathan studied Zane thoughtfully as he came to stand in front of them. "You can phase through solid items. Interesting."
"That's what Zoe said when she saw me sneaking into a movie theatre through the back wall," Zane said with a grin. "I'd never met anyone before that wasn't scared of me or who didn't try to explain away what they'd seen me do."
"You've never met any other peculiars?" Jack asked and Zane shook his head, that smile falling for a moment.
"I grew up in the system so I've never met my family. I always thought I was a freak," Zane said a bit too nonchalantly. Then he pasted that smile back on. "A very talented and good looking freak, obviously."
Jack snorted; just what they needed another arrogant peculiar running around the town. Although Jack suspected that a stay in Eureka with his own kind was just what Zane needed.
"Alright." Nathan nodded decisively, obviously coming to the same decision as Jack. "You can stay. Come by the Town Hall later today and I will give you the rundown of the town and find you somewhere to live for now."
"Cool!" Zane grinned and a lot of the tension in his body visibly melted away as if he'd been bracing himself for rejection.
"I told you that there wouldn't be a problem," Zoe told Zane smugly and he nodded as he walked back towards Zoe's car.
"Not so fast, newbie," Jack said, stopping him. "You drive back with me, not my far-too-young-for-you daughter."
"Whoa, okay." Zane held his hands up defensively. "Would it help if I told you I always go for brunettes? And older ones? No offense, Zoe."
Zoe carelessly waved her hand. "None taken. I prefer the shy, floppy haired type anyway. See you back at home, dad."
Her aloof tone belied the huge, blindingly bright and happy to be home smile she gave Jack as she drove off in that ridiculous new car and the knot in Jack’s stomach finally eased.
Nathan gave him a knowing look and then leaned in to press a quick kiss to Jack's lips. "I'm going to run back. I'll leave this one in your capable hands until later."
He quickly changed into the wolf and dived back into the undergrowth, leaving Zane staring open-mouthed after him.
"That was the coolest thing, I've ever seen," Zane told Jack eagerly when they were in the truck and driving back to town.
"Trust me, kid. You ain't seen nothing yet." Jack gave him a smirk. "Welcome to Eureka!"