Journey: 1st version

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Chapter 2

He could hear laughter before even opening the car door. Ezekiel pinched the bridge of his nose, fighting back the headache threatening to ruin his day even more. He unbuckled his seat belt and opened the door finding Cole already out and waiting for him.

“Let’s go! Let’s go!” He grabbed his father’s hand and pulled on it, “Please? Please?”
Ezekiel pulled his hand free, “Go on, kid, I’ll be right behind you.”

Cole flashed him an excited smile and ran off without another word, disappearing around the side of the house. Ezekiel steadied himself. He hated large groups. It didn’t help that he knew almost everyone, it still made him feel uneasy and anxious. He breathed in deeply through his nose, slowly letting it out while walking to the house. As he rounded the side, Gabriel greeted him.

“Hey! Was just coming to see if you were okay?” He smiled warmly.

Ezekiel nodded, “I’m fine.”

“Good,” Gabriel looked behind himself distractedly, then back to Ezekiel, “I wanted to talk to you.” He lead the older man away from the backyard.

“About what?” Ezekiel’s ears flickered back as he followed Gabriel in step to the front of the house.

Gabriel stopped and turned to Ezekiel, “I’ve started training Ira. He wants to learn to fight, and he’s really good at it. I was thinking since you’re training Cole, we could do sessions together with the kids?”

Ezekiel shrugged, “I don’t see a problem with that.”

“Awesome,” Gabriel smiled, “Oh, and the other thing...” He rubbed at the back of his neck already flushing in embarrassment, “Ira is obsessed with Drakons now. I’ve had to explain some things since Joey keeps insisting that you guys are aliens.”

Ezekiel smirked, “Aliens?”

Gabriel sighed loudly; his head leaning back as he rolled his eyes, “My dad-”

Ezekiel let out a short laugh, “Of course.” He said rolling his eyes.

“I know, I know.” Gabriel hung his head, “I’ve been doing some damage control. But maybe one of those sessions we can explain to the boys some history, including Joseph.”

Ezekiel shrugged, “I don’t see a problem with that.”

“Great!” Gabriel relaxed, smiling, “Everyone’s out back. Mom should be cutting the cake soon.”
“Wait.”

Gabriel stopped and looked at Ezekiel quizzically.
Ezekiel frowned, “Why were you telling Cole about Xerxes?”

Gabriel blinked, “Xerxes...? Your father? I didn’t tell him anything about him.”

“Odd,” Ezekiel raised an eyebrow, “He asked about him last night, I assumed...” He trailed off with a shrug.

“I don’t think so... Maybe Joey said something about him,” Gabriel leaned back on his heels, “Like I said, he’s been all over the subject ever since seeing Cole.” He sighed, shaking his head.

Ezekiel stiffened, the hairs on his neck standing up, “I’d rather not have to talk to Cole about him just yet... The war, maybe, but not him.”

Gabriel nodded, “I’m sorry, I’ll pull Joey to the side later and tell him to be more careful.” He said, slowly starting towards the backyard.

Ezekiel sighed, “Thank you.” He said following suit. The two walked around the house into the backyard. He immediately spotted Cole and Ira standing at the edge of the yard watching Joseph and Trevor spar.

Trevor was the only child of Vince and Isabelle. Isabelle, having been a nurse during the war, met Vince when he staggered into a civilian hospital after a particularly gruesome battle. She said he asked if he had died and gone to heaven, he said she drugged him and forced him to stay with her. Something about, “I’d never date a Human” also usually accompanied his version of the story. Whatever the case, it was rare to see one without the other nearby at these parties.

“You’re too weak, Joseph!” Trevor laughed, dodging Joseph’s fist. He crouched down low, then like a grasshopper, sprang up into the air at least 10 feet high.

Cole staggered back watching the boy flip to the ground, landing on his feet, “Whoa!” His eyes were wide as he whirled around trying to follow Trevor running around him to get behind Joseph.

Joseph back flipped over Trevor, putting him in a headlock on the way down, “Am not!” He spit out, yelping as Trevor flipped him and pushed him to the ground. Trevor jumped back; bouncing like gravity had no hold on him. He sported a cocky grin across his face. He knew he was in a league higher than Joseph, and he was soaking it up.

Ira and Cole exchanged looks as Trevor and Joseph sized each other up, “They’re so good!” Ira said excitedly.

“Boys! Cake!” Christy shouted, carrying out a large birthday cake to the picnic table set up in the middle of the yard.
All four boys whirled around and screamed, “Cake!” Then raced towards the picnic table Christy was setting the cake up on.

“Sit down, sit down!” Isabelle swatted away Trevor and Joseph’s grabbing hands, “You’ll get a piece! You two know better than that!” The boys giggled, climbing onto the picnic table bench, tails wagging excitedly.

“We still have to sing!” Valery reminded them, bringing out a stack of green paper plates to the table. The boys immediately broke out into a scattered chorus of Happy Birthday while giggling.

Christy frowned at them, “Really? I haven’t even lit the-” She raised her hands up over her head as the kids sang louder, “Okay! Okay! I’ll just light them.”

Valery laughed, nudging Isabelle at Christy’s frustration, “Just let them have their cake.” She said to Christy, while exchanging amused looks with Isabelle.

“Yeah, Christy, don’t stress it.” Raine chimed in, carrying out a stack of cups in one hand, a jug of juice in the other, and a bottle of soda tucked under her arm. Her muddy brown hair fell in her eyes as she walked, blinding her temporarily. Juggling the items and trying to brush her bangs to the side, the cups slipped from her hand scattering across the ground, “Eff.” She hissed under her breath, quickly setting the drinks down on the table.

“Yeah, yeah,” Christy shook her head, lighting the last candle, she stepped back, “Go ahead, Joey, blow them out.”

Joseph grinned, “Thanks, mom!” He laughed, blowing the candles out with one breath.

Helping Raine pick up the cups, Isabelle shot her a mischievous grin, “He’s here.” She whispered with a wink.

Raine looked at her skeptically, stacking her cups and putting them on the table, “Uh, huh,” She motioned at Isabelle’s hair, “Did I tell you I love the new color?” She cracked open the containers of soda and juice, ignoring Isabelle’s previous statement, “Purple fits you.”

Isabelle ran a hand through her hair, “You think?”

Valery handed Christy a lime green paper plate as the woman cut the cake, “Yay! Happy birthday, Joey!” She cheered, then winced, reaching out to steady the stack of cups tipping over from the boys rocking the table with their roughhousing, “Careful, Raine! Don’t let them knock over the punch!” She grinned at her friend.

“Boys!” Raine laughed at the kids playfully pushing and shoving each other, “Give your mom’s a break.” She winked at them, putting out cups filled with juice on the table. She nodded to Isabelle, “Yeah, the blonde was too much, I like this lavender color, it’s pretty.” She stepped back, watching the other three work like an assembly line, cutting and serving everyone a piece of cake.

“Good,” Isabelle smiled at her, “You know how much I love purple.” She grabbed herself a plate of cake.

Raine grinned picking up a piece for herself, “Oh yeah, I know.” She giggled, lifting her fork to her mouth, and stumbled forward as Isabelle shoved her, “Hey!” She turned on her heel, “What was that for?”

“Sorry, didn’t mean to push you that hard.” Isabelle held her free hand up apologetically, “But look,” She tilted her head to the side, lifting her eyebrows, “Over there.”

Making a face, Raine looked in the direction Isabelle was nodding in, towards the house where Ezekiel was standing.

She turned back to her friend with raised eyebrows, “You’re really going to push this, aren’t you?”

Isabelle nodded vigorously, “Oh yes! And you better hurry up over there and tell that husband of mine to get his ass over here.” She pressed her lips together in annoyance watching Vince walk over to Ezekiel.

“Look who’s come out of hiding.” Vince sidled up to Ezekiel a mischievous look on his face.

Ezekiel ignored him, taking a bite of cake. The blue frosting tasted like cheesecake, he wondered briefly if he liked it or not.
“That your boy?” Vince continued, unperturbed by Ezekiel’s silence.

Ezekiel decided he did like the frosting and took another bite.
“Then it’s true what they say about Drakons.”

Ezekiel sighed, “What do you want, Vince?” He said annoyed that he was being interrupted away from his cake.

Vince bristled, angry he wasn’t getting the reaction he wanted from the Drakon man. He shrugged, calming himself while giving Ezekiel a scathing look, “How does one have a child with just himself? Aren’t you a man?” He nudged Ezekiel with his elbow.

“Are you... Propositioning yourself?” Ezekiel looked at Vince curiously, his ears twitching forward.

Vince opened and closed his mouth in shock, then grumbled something and walked away.

Ezekiel smirked, thoroughly amused with himself.

“Nice.”

He looked up from his cake to Raine carrying a piece of cake over, her tail flicking playfully side to side. She grinned at him having overheard the conversation with Vince.

“He can really get on my nerves sometimes.” She said nonchalantly, cutting into her piece of cake.

Ezekiel took his plate to the garbage can sitting next to the back door, “I don’t think he can help it, it’s ingrained in him.” He dropped the plate in the garbage and turned slightly, looking at Raine curiously.

While he had known the woman for years, this was the first he could remember her making any attempt at talking to him. To be fair, he hadn’t really tried to talk to her either. Especially not with that thing she called a ‘boyfriend’ lurking around. He glanced around, half expecting the Lycan to intercept her walking over.

Raine lit up, “I think you’re right,” She stood on her tip toes to look over his shoulder at Vince now standing near Isabelle, “Never would have guessed Belle would want to be with a guy like that though.”

“No?” He looked over his shoulder at the two, then back to Raine, “He seems just her type, maybe even better for her than most.” He folded his arms over his chest and leaned against the picnic table facing the group. His eyes scanned over the group, picking out familiar face after familiar face, but no sign of Raine’s boyfriend.

Raine lifted an eyebrow leaning back on the flats of her feet, “We’re talking about the same people here, right?” She asked, finishing up her cake and tossed the plate away.

Ezekiel nodded, “Think about her last relationship.”

Raine tilted her head back in thought. The last guy Isabelle had dated cheated on her every chance he got. Raine remembered a time she had gone with Isabelle to the mall and they found the guy there with another woman. He made the excuse that they were just friends, but couldn’t explain why his tongue had been half way down her throat. Yet Isabelle stayed with him for a good 3 years before finally letting him go. Ezekiel was right, even though Vince was a jerk he wasn’t a jerk to her. She managed to bring out another side of him that he rarely showed around the others.

“Huh... You’re right.” She looked at Ezekiel, “And after thinking about it, he has changed a bit too. I mean, he’s still a jerk, but he’s not as bad,” She winced, “I guess I’m not one to talk though.” She mumbled embarrassedly.

Ezekiel caught her last statement, his ears flicking back with curiosity. He shrugged, deciding not to question it by the look on her face, and turned his attention to his son. Cole was watching the older boys sparring again, his tiny hands balled up at his sides. This time the boys were hovering in the sky while fighting. Ezekiel could see Cole’s jaw nearly hitting the ground at the sight.

Raine pulled her hair back into a messy bun, “He’s cute... Your son?”

“Yeah,” Ezekiel nodded, folding his arms over his chest, “He’s mine.”

Raine smiled, her tail swinging out to the side, “He has some great potential, that one,” She nodded confidently, “Are you going to train him?”

Ezekiel looked at the woman out of the side of his eyes, “I plan on it.”

Cole shook out of his trance on the older boys and ran over. He skidded to a stop before Ezekiel, his eyes large with excitement, “Father!” He looked over his shoulder at the older boys then back to Ezekiel, “How are they doing that?” He was bouncing, his attention dancing between the older boys jumping and flying around the yard, “It’s like you! Can you teach me?”

Ezekiel knelt down next to his son, resting a hand on his shoulder. Cole stopped bouncing and looked at him, “You’ll learn, but it takes a lot of concentration.” Ezekiel nodded towards Joseph jumping over Trevor, “You have the potential to do that plus more. Remember what I told you about energy and meditation?”

Nodding, Cole resumed bouncing, “So I can do that too?”
Ezekiel smirked, “Yes, one day. We’re going to start training with Gabriel and Ira next week.”

Cole grinned, “Really?” He whispered, and Ezekiel nodded, “I’m gonna go tell Ira.” Cole said backing up.

Ezekiel stood up, “Have fun, we’re leaving in a bit.” He called out as Cole ran over to Ira. The two jumped up and down in excitement.

“You made his day.” Raine laughed softly, nudging Ezekiel’s arm.

Ezekiel flinched at the contact, snorting softly as though she had caused him some kind of pain.

Raine’s face dropped slightly, noticing she had caused the Drakon some discomfort, “Oh, sorry.” She backed away.

Gabriel appeared with a half-eaten piece of cake on his plate, “Hey guys!” He said cheerfully around a forkful of cake, his lips blue from the frosting.

“Hi, Gabriel,” Raine greeted, smiling warmly at him, “How’s it going with the little guy?”

Gabriel grinned, “Great! Valery and I have been moving into our new apartment, and he’s so excited about having his own room.”

Raine laughed, “Aw, I hope the best for you guys. I couldn’t be happier for you two. I’m excited to see Val back, I’ve really missed her.” She looked between him and Ezekiel, noticing the Drakon was looking increasingly uncomfortable, “Well...” She stepped back awkwardly, “I need to get going. I’ll catch you guys later.” She waved before turning and walking away.

Ezekiel watched her walk away suddenly feeling disappointed. He lowered his ears, confused at the feeling. He felt eyes on him and turned to Gabriel, the younger man looking up at him quizzically.
“What?”

Gabriel shrugged, “Nothing,” He looked down at his cake thoughtfully, “You know she’s single now, right?” He said softly looking up at Ezekiel with a smile.

Ezekiel furrowed his eyebrows, “What? Where’d… where’d that come from?” He stuttered, noticing the mischievous glint in the Lycan’s eyes, “I hope your son doesn’t pick up your weirdness, you’ll be in for a lot of trouble then.”

“My weirdness?” Gabriel made a face then laughed, “I just thought you’d like to know that.”

Unable to make eye contact with him anymore, Ezekiel looked around, “Right.”

Gabriel was grinning, amused at the shyness of his friend, “You okay?”

Ezekiel nodded slowly, taking in his surroundings. He was starting to feel like people were looking at him. Suddenly he was hyper aware of just how many people were at this party.
“I think it’s time to go,” He said, a cold sweat starting at the base of his neck, “Stop by later?”

Gabriel nodded, noticing the alarm washing over his old friend’s face and demeanor.

“Cole!” Ezekiel called out, waving the boy over when he looked, “Time to go. Say goodbye.”

“Bye!” Cole shouted, waving at his new friends as he ran to his father.

Gabriel followed the two around the house, “Are you okay?” He whispered, not wanting to draw anyone else’s attention to them. Ezekiel helped Cole into his car, buckling him in before closing the door.

He leaned against the door for a moment before turning to Gabriel, “I’m fine.” He said steadily, opening the driver’s side door and climbing into the seat, “You can stop by later... if you’d like.”

Gabriel stepped back away from the car, “Okay.” He watched Ezekiel close the door and pull away. He waited for the car to disappear down the driveway before turning back towards the house.

~*~

As soon as they had gotten home from the party, Cole started in asking about training. Ezekiel had put him off for over an hour while trying to calm his nerves. The young boy, only slightly aware of his father’s distress, had followed him silently around the house at an arms distance. If not for his son’s presence, Ezekiel knew he would have stopped at the closest store on the way home. He knew he’d be cracking open at least his second bottle and pouring it down his throat. The thought made him feel queasy and his head spin.

Once the ebbing sense of anxiety had diminished, Ezekiel reluctantly agreed to a sparring session with his son.

Cole fell to the ground panting hard. Sweat dripping from his hair, a nice purple bruise faintly forming just under his left eye from an earlier fall. He pushed past the burning ache in his muscles and stood up. Wiping at the sweat on his face, he readied himself in the fighting stance his father had just taught him. Ezekiel stood before him casually, his black gi making him look all the more intimidating. Cole swallowed, closing his eyes briefly to summon up his energy again.

“Don’t take your eyes off your opponent,” Ezekiel barked, dropping back into his fighting stance, “Closing your eyes opens you up to a hit.”

Cole snapped open his eyes and nodded, dropping into a fighting stance that mirrored Ezekiel’s. He looked Ezekiel over then lunged at him. Pulling back his arm, he swung his fist for Ezekiel’s jaw. Ezekiel blocked it with his forearm and Cole stumbled, falling to the ground with a grunt.

“How come I can’t jump like Trevor and Joseph? Or float and fly like you and Gabriel?” He growled in frustration, his fingers digging into the grass, “Why am I so weak?”

It was only thirty minutes into their session and the young Drakon was already getting frustrated. Ezekiel had trained Gabriel the same way his father had trained him, he didn’t show him much mercy. Gabriel was a different case entirely. He already had some training and experience with Martial Arts; he just didn’t know how to tap into his strength. Cole was a clean slate, new to everything.

“You’re not focusing your energy the way I taught you too.” Ezekiel said easing out of his stance.

Cole frowned, “I’m trying too!” He sighed heavily, sitting down on the ground, folding his legs lotus style, and closed his eyes, “I can feel it but then it goes away.”

Ezekiel folded his arms over his chest, “Don’t let go of it, picture it moving underneath you, lifting you,” Cole was silent, his eyebrows drawn together in concentration, “Relax.” Ezekiel whispered, and Cole’s expression softened.

His clothes started to rustle slightly as a dim white light engulfed him. Ezekiel smirked, not daring to say anything to break Cole’s concentration. Slowly the boy lifted himself up off the ground.

“Open your eyes.” Ezekiel said softly.

Cole opened his eyes and blinked, finding himself eye level with his father. He grinned, opening his mouth to say something but fell back to the ground.

“Ow...” He jumped to his feet, “Did you see that?” He laughed, jumping up and down, his pain forgotten, “I did it! I did it!”

Ezekiel nodded, “I saw,” He allowed himself a small smile, “Remember that feeling and soon you’ll be able to do it without thinking about it.”

“Hey Cole!” A small voice shouted.

Cole looked to his left and grinned running up to Ira, Joseph, and Gabriel as they walked up.

“Ira, Joey!” Cole laughed, “I did it! I floated!”

“Good job, kiddo!” Joseph grinned, ruffling Cole’s hair.

Ira smiled, “Really? You have to show me!” He turned to his father, “Daddy, can we go play?”

“Go have fun.” Gabriel nodded, and the two ran off laughing and yelling made up war cries.

He watched the two in amusement before walking up to Ezekiel, “How’s the training going?”

Ezekiel looked away from Cole and Ira trying to harness their energies to float, “He’s a lot like you were.” He answered monotonously.

Gabriel grinned, “Stubborn?”

“Emotional.”

Gabriel barked out a laugh, “Well, he is still a boy.”

Ezekiel nodded, his face softening as he watched his son hover an inch off the ground before falling back, “He is,” He turned to Gabriel, “But he is a fast learner.”

“I see that,” Gabriel smiled, watching Cole show Ira again how to hover, “He has quite the shiner,” He turned back to Ezekiel, “Then again, so do you.”

Ezekiel’s ears perked up, he reached up to his face and smirked, “He got me good.”

“Ha!” Gabriel grinned, “Getting slow?” He joked nudging Joseph, “I brought Joey along, thought maybe we’d have that talk?”

Joseph looked up at Gabriel, a wave of panic washing over his face, “Talk? What talk?”

“I told you we were going to talk to Ezekiel about Drakons and Lycanthropes.”

Joseph pouted slightly, “Oh, I thought we were going to spar.” He grumbled as Gabriel turned towards the younger boys and called them over.

“Sit down,” Gabriel instructed as Ira and Cole joined them.

Joseph flopped down on the ground, “You’re really an alien, right?” He said, his eyes growing wide with curiosity.

“No,” Ezekiel shook his head, noticing the instant disappointment running across the teen’s face, “Both Drakons and Lycanthropes are from this same planet, just like the Humans are.”

Joseph sighed, leaning back on his hands, “Why did my dad say you were aliens then?”

Gabriel nudged him, “Dad had quite the imagination. Listen and you might learn something more interesting than that.”

Ezekiel rolled his eyes, “I wouldn’t doubt that Kaden came from another planet,” Gabriel shot him a look that made him smirk, “We all came from a similar ancestor many, many years ago. At some point our species branched off and evolved into the three we have now. For the most part, all of our species have gotten along and lived peacefully together.”

“Until the war.” Joseph said picking at the grass in front of him.

Cole looked from him to Ezekiel, “What’s a war?”

“A war is when many people fight,” He clenched his jaw, giving an uneasy look to Gabriel, “The war happened almost fifteen years ago,” Ezekiel felt his stomach tighten at the memories resurfacing from the thought of it, “Drakons were used as a scapegoat for some evil people to gain power.”

“It was a long time ago,” Gabriel cut in, “We’re still recovering from it. A lot has changed from when I was kid... When we go into town now, you might notice people giving you certain reactions, especially if you’re all together.” He frowned.

Joseph raised an eyebrow, “What kind of reactions?”

Ezekiel exchanged looks with Gabriel; he wasn’t comfortable having this conversation with the kids. He was beginning to understand why Isabelle and Christy kept the boys within their group of friends and away from the city. They didn’t want them to have to experience the things they had lived through.

Gabriel swallowed, shifting uncomfortably, “Weird looks, some might say rude things. People are still caught up in the untrue and mean things said and done during the war.” He said trying to simplify the situation as best he could for the younger two.

“Gabe, you don’t have to worry about me, or them,” Joseph stood up, “No one will mess with us, I won’t allow it. People are still worried another war might break out and they’ll be caught up between friends if they dared to move on. I know you two went through a lot,” He looked between the two men, “And thank you for that.” He said seriously, taking them both aback, “Can we go play now?”

Gabriel nodded slowly, still shocked by what Joseph had said with the maturity and intensity of an adult, “Yeah, go for it.”

Joseph smiled, “Come on, kiddos!” He called out taking off towards the waterfall. Ira and Cole exchanged confused looks before climbing to their feet and running after him.

“Well, I don’t think that was exactly the conversation I was looking to have with them...” Gabriel stood up shaking his head. He watched Ezekiel stand up and dust himself off, “I talked to Isabelle.”

The two stood in silence watching their boys play. Ezekiel wished he could take his son and run, but he knew there wasn’t a logical reason for doing so. The conversation about the war had him feeling on edge. His palms started to sweat and his mouth was going dry. He’d kill for a drink.

“What did she say?”

Gabriel shifted feet, his weight leaning heavily to one side, “If you ever need someone to talk to, someone professional, she would help.”

“Hm.”

“I didn’t witness half of what you did during the war,” Gabriel’s face turned white, “But Isabelle has been helping me when I need someone to talk to.”

Ezekiel shook his head, “I don’t need help.”

“Come on Zeke,” Gabriel sighed, “Not just with the past, but with… with everything that’s happened recently. You suddenly have a child, don’t you think that’s an odd decision you made? Especially after-”

“Stop,” Ezekiel growled giving Gabriel a look that made him wince, “I’m working on that. I haven’t had a drink in months.”

Gabriel forced a smile, “I’m glad,” He rubbed the back of his neck, “I’m just saying, she might be able to help you remember why you made that decision to have Cole.”

Ezekiel turned away, watching his son tackle Ira to the ground, the boys giggling happily. He breathed in deeply through his nose, “Okay.”

Gabriel blinked, “Really?”

“Yes, really. It’s not just about me now... I need to...” Ezekiel squinted his eyes and lowered his ears, “I need to let go of my pride a little bit.” He turned away from the cold breeze picking up while wiping his palms on his pants, then folded his arms tightly against his chest.

“I’m glad you’re considering it.” Gabriel leaned his head to the side, “Have you been able to sleep?”

Ezekiel shrugged, “A couple hours here and there,” He scratched at the back of his neck, “Nightmares...”

Gabriel frowned, “I hear ya,” He laughed nervously, trying to shake off the dread creeping up his back, “Scared Val the first time I had one.”

“Sorry, kid,” Ezekiel’s arms dropped to his sides, “That’s not something you should ever have had to live through at your age.” He watched Cole race across the yard after Ira, fall, and get up running again, “I’d kill anyone that did that to either of them now.”

Ira turned and tackled Cole, pulling on his ears. Cole cried out grabbing onto Ira’s tail and pulled. The two rolled around on the ground in a stalemate, neither letting the other go, both crying. Joseph tried to break them apart, only seeming to agitate the situation more.

Gabriel smiled ruefully, “I’m there with you on that,” He stepped forward, “Okay boys!” He called out clapping his hands together, “Break it up!”

The boys fell apart, both rubbing their sore appendages and crying, “He started it!”

Ezekiel stood by watching Gabriel go to the boys and crouch down talking to them both calmly. He waited a moment, watching in awe at how quickly the boys calmed down. Gabriel certainly was a natural. He was a little envious of how easy the man made parenting look. As he approached the boys were already apologizing to each other and then back to laughing.

“You’re good with them.” Ezekiel said as he stopped next to Gabriel, the boys now chasing after Joseph.

“Hm?” Gabriel looked over at Ezekiel, then blinked, “Oh,” He laughed, “Thanks. I think it’s just having experience with Jo at that age.” He smiled thoughtfully.

Ezekiel folded his arms over his chest, “Could I get Isabelle’s number from you?” He shifted uneasily.

“Yeah!” Gabriel pulled out his phone, “I’ll text you it.”

“Thanks,” Ezekiel looked away, watching the clouds roll in from the distance, “Do you remember how things were before the war?” He asked quietly.

Gabriel tucked his phone back into his pocket, “Not really. I have a couple memories, but they’re mostly of being at home. Why?”

Turning slightly so that he faced the younger man, Ezekiel shrugged, “I used to go to the playground when I was a child. My father would send me there during his meetings,” His eyes grew cold as he spoke about his father, his hands closing at his sides, “Things were a lot different then.”

“I don’t know the last time I saw a kid playing on a playground,” Gabriel admitted sadly, “Even at the elementary schools. Mom had Joseph going to a school in the city for a while, until she realized they weren’t letting all the kids play together,” He frowned, “It’s been years since the war ended... I thought people would be beyond it by now.”

Ezekiel shook his head, “Paranoia doesn’t just go away. We’re a generation of post-traumatic stress. We’ll be dealing with the repercussions of that war for many more years.” The boys ran by, dodging Gabriel and Ezekiel with peals of laughter.

Gabriel smiled sadly watching them, “Do you think we can avoid that with them?” His eyes slid over to Ezekiel.
Leaning back on his heels, Ezekiel lifted a shoulder, “I hope so.”

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