Journey: 1st version

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Chapter 5

Ezekiel scanned the room, the conversation with Gabriel a month earlier replaying in his mind, “Small wedding my ass.” He muttered, guessing there were at least one-hundred people there. He may have been over exaggerating, but it certainly was more than thirty people, like Gabriel had told him. Four weeks had flown by, with the running around for wedding things, and the uneventful bachelor party the week before the ceremony. With both Gabriel and Valery’s contacts, the couple seemed to pull everything off flawlessly.

It had only been a few weeks since Ezekiel had started his sessions with Isabelle. After his episode with the restaurant, she had him meditating more often. She even taught him some new deep breathing exercises to help with sudden panic attacks. One of which, he was currently using as he sat in front of the group of people awaiting their meals. He looked over at Gabriel, the man whispering something in his new bride’s ear. Valery giggled, covering her mouth at whatever he had said.

Gabriel glanced over at him smiling, “You okay?” He leaned in closer.

“Yeah, I’m good.” Ezekiel said taking a deep breath, this was it. He stood up tapping his fork against his glass, making Gabriel blink in surprise. Slowly the chattering in the room quieted and eyes turned towards him. Ezekiel could feel a cold sweat starting to creep up, his mouth felt dry, and his knees felt shaky suddenly. He cleared his throat and picked up his glass, taking a quick drink, trying to ignore the sudden ringing in his ears.
“I... I want to thank you all for coming out tonight to celebrate with Gabriel and Valery.” He glanced around the room then to Gabriel, “I’ve known Gabriel for a long time. We met in unfortunate circumstances, and I don’t think I would’ve survived had it not been for him.”

Gabriel looked at Ezekiel solemnly, Valery squeezed his arm and he kissed her on the forehead.

Ezekiel nodded, looking back to the group watching him, “Over the years I’ve gotten to watch this kid grow up into the man he is today. He’s the most honest, loyal friend anyone could ask for. He’s the closest to family I’ve ever had, and I could not be happier for him today.” He looked back at Gabriel, “I’m amazed at the family you have created, and can’t help but feel really proud of you. Valery,” He looked to her, “I’m glad Gabe found someone like you. Beautiful not only on the outside, but on the inside as well. I’m very honored to be a part of your lives. Thank you both for allowing me to be here for you two.”

Gabriel stood up and hugged him, “Thank you.” He said over everyone clapping. He knew that this speech was something the Drakon had to have prepped very hard for mentally. He actually never expected Ezekiel to give a speech, and the surprise left him feeling a bit choked up. Laughing happily, he wiped at his eyes, “Thank you, Zeke.” He said again, sitting down.

Smiling, Ezekiel nodded, “Anytime, Gabe.” He sat down as Valery’s maid of honor, her older sister, stood up to give her speech. Once the group’s attention was focused on her, Ezekiel excused himself. He walked as casually as he could towards the room’s exit, his heart pounding in his throat. Once out in the hall, and the door closed, he sat down against the wall clasping his hands over the back of his neck. The humming in his ears came in waves, bringing with it flashes of light like a migraine was threatening to start.

“Fuck.” He half cried, trying to talk himself out of the anxiety attack, “You’re okay, you’re okay.” Rocking back, he pressed his back against the cold brick wall, “Not at Gabe’s wedding, you can’t do this now...” He took a deep breath and started counting, just like Isabelle had shown him.

He had counted to fifty when music started playing in the reception area. He was at one hundred fifty when the door opened and a little body attached itself to his side. He lifted his head finding Cole snuggling into his side. Lifting his arm, Ezekiel wrapped it around Cole pulling him closer.

“Hey, kiddo.” He whispered, the anxiety dulling to an annoying roar in the back of his mind.

“Everyone’s dancing. He wanted to come find you.”

Ezekiel looked up at Raine, his breath catching in his throat. They hadn’t seen each other since the dinner nearly a month earlier. He suddenly felt ashamed about it, but couldn’t take his eyes off of her. She was wearing a dark teal knee length dress with a purple sash around her hips. Her hair was down, the sides pulled back into braids, and her bangs brushed to the side. What caught him most about her was how brightly her hazel eyes sparkled in the florescent lights. She watched him coyly, a light blush creeping up over her cheeks darkening the longer he stared at her.

“You okay?” She smiled nervously.

Cole pulled away from him, “Father! Everyone’s dancing!” He pulled on Ezekiel’s arm, urging him to follow, “Come see!”

“Okay, okay...” Ezekiel stood up, “How long have I been out here for?” He asked, allowing Cole to pull him towards the door.

Raine placed her hands on her hips, “I’m not sure. Maybe around half an hour?”

Ezekiel winced, “I didn’t mean to be out here for so long.” He said opening the door, allowing Cole to run back in.

“It’s okay, I’m not too good at weddings either.” She winked at him before walking through the open door. Ezekiel’s breath caught in his throat for a moment at the gesture. He chuckled under his breath, shaking his head before walking through the door.

“Oh good, you found him!” Isabelle sang, holding Cole’s hand, “They’re finally playing some good songs to dance too.” She swayed her hips from side to side.

Cole giggled, “Come on, come on!” He let go of Isabelle’s hand and grabbed ahold of Ezekiel’s.

“You go ahead, kiddo.” He was already starting to feel light headed just being in the room. The room was moving to the roaring music, and not just the people, “I’m going to get some water.” His head pounded to the beat.

“Oh, Ezekiel, have some fun.” Isabelle nudged him lightly.

Ezekiel recoiled, “Don’t-” He managed to snarl out before Raine stepped between them, cutting him off.

“Hey,” She said gently pushing Isabelle back a step, “Izzy, I’m not feeling too good, I think I need a drink.” She turned to Ezekiel, looking up at him, “Mind if I go with you to get a drink too?” She mentally sighed, noticing the color starting to return to his face.

“Yeah,” Ezekiel nodded slowly, “Um... Cole...?”

“Is he okay with you?” Raine eyed Isabelle.

Isabelle blinked, raising an eyebrow at the look Raine was giving her, “Oh, yeah, that’s fine!” She smiled knowingly at her friend, winking at her as she turned to Cole, “Come on honey, let’s go dance with the boys.” She looked back at Ezekiel, “He’ll be fine!” She hollered over her shoulder, ushering the small boy away.

As soon as Isabelle moved away, Ezekiel made a bee-line to the bar. Raine hesitated a moment before following him over.

Ezekiel leaned heavily against the counter, “The strongest you-,” He caught himself, the words dying in his mouth, “Water, please.” He corrected, pushing back on his forearms.

“Are you okay?” Raine sat down on a stool next to him, leaning her elbow on the counter watching him gulp down the glass of water.

He sat the glass down on the counter with a sigh, “Yeah, fine.”

Raine turned leaning back, her elbows holding her up, “I’ll be honest with you,” He looked at her as she bowed her head sheepishly, “Isabelle and Valery came up with the idea to do the whole dinner thing, and talked Gabriel into it.” Her face flushed.

“Oh?” Ezekiel raised an eyebrow, “Gabe mentioned something like that...”

“Yeah,” She bit her lip then laughed nervously under her breath, “I guess it was a bad idea.”

Ezekiel felt his heart drop slightly and nodded unable to look back up at her.

Raine tucked her bangs behind her ear, “They think that I can relate to you with having PTSD from the war.” She tilted her head to the side, her face softening, “But mine is mild and mainly just affects my sleep.”

Ezekiel looked at her from the corner of his eye, “Nightmares?” He wrapped his fingers around the empty glass in front of him.

“Mhm,” She leaned forward, resting her arms on her knees, “We don’t have to be friends if you don’t want. I’m not here talking to you because of them... I just noticed you seemed to be having anxiety over the situation back there.”

“Friends,” Ezekiel snorted, the corner of his mouth lifting up in amusement, “I’m surprised you’re even talking to me. Aside from Gabe and his father, not many Lycans have acted very civil towards me, let alone wanted a friendship.”

Raine’s eyebrows shot up in surprise, “I have nothing against you or your kind.”

“Ah, but you fought with the Humans and your people, didn’t you?” He looked at her, suddenly feeling bitter.

Raine pursed her lips, “At first,” She said softly, “I was a naive kid, just in it for the fight. But the things I saw...” Her eyes darkened, “I did…”

“Yeah,” He motioned to the bartender for another glass of water, “You don’t have to say anything else.”

Raine stood up, disappointment washing across her face, “Like I said, we don’t have to be friends. It was a stupid idea Izzy had.” She mumbled, looking around for Isabelle.

“I didn’t say we couldn’t be friends.” He took a sip of his water, closing his eyes, “I’m just surprised you want to be is all, especially after...” He trailed off taking another drink, the bitterness fading at her body language. Maybe he was being harsh? His eyes slid over to her noticing the confusion drawing her eyebrows together.

“After...? Our… uh… date night thing?” She studied his face for a moment then sat back down, “I’m really sorry about all of that... I didn’t know it’d make you so uncomfortable.”

He looked at her in surprise, “I thought I made you uncomfortable. I couldn’t think of any reasons why you’d want to be there,” He looked away, “I didn’t think it was nice of them to set you up with me.”

Raine blinked, “I wanted to go with you.”

“You wanted to go with me?” Ezekiel repeated looking at her skeptically, “Why?”

Blushing slightly, Raine shrugged, “Uh... Well,” She stumbled, “You’re Gabriel’s best friend, and have an adorable son… you can’t be all that bad?”

Ezekiel smirked, “I guess not.”

Smiling a little, Raine turned around towards the bar, “I’ve wanted to get to know you… I’ve tried a couple times to talk to you.”

“Oh?” Ears perking up, Ezekiel looked up at the ceiling in thought, “Joseph’s party...?”

“Yeah, I guess that’d be the first time I got courage to talk to you.” She drew a circle with the water on the counter.

Ezekiel frowned slightly, “I’m not good at parties,” He tipped his glass back and forth between his hands, “I’m not good with people.”

“You know,” Raine shifted, lifting her hand to get the bartender’s attention, “I’ve noticed something that I’m a little surprised Isabelle hasn’t caught on to yet- Can I get a cherry fizz?” She said to the bartender as he stopped by, before turning to Ezekiel, “Or she’s just ignoring it.”

“What’s that?” Ezekiel turned towards her slightly, resting his elbow on the counter.

Raine lifted the glass of soda and took a sip from the black straw, “Your PTSD extends to touching,” She sat the glass down, “But not from everyone.”

Ezekiel let out a long breath, “No, not everyone,” He raised an eyebrow, “You’re pretty observant.”

“I guess... It’s not that Belle isn’t, or that she doesn’t know what she’s doing,” She pushed her bangs to the side, “She just doesn’t have a lot of experience with PTSD, aside from Gabe and I.”

Ezekiel nodded, “Gabe’s pretty open.”

“He is,” Raine took a sip of her drink, “I can talk to Belle for you, if you’d like?”

“No, that’s fine.” Ezekiel shook his head, “I’ll work on it,” He locked eyes with her, “Thanks.”

Raine flushed lightly, “You’re welcome.” She smiled, stirring her drink with the straw.

“And… I wouldn’t mind it,” He nodded to the waiter refilling his glass, “Being friends that is.” The way Raine lit up at the comment, Ezekiel was honestly surprised no one else seemed to notice.

~*~~

He shocked himself.

The night had flown by while he and Raine lost themselves in conversation. He found himself smiling easily with her, quickly becoming comfortable as she spoke. The music and chattering of the other guests faded away. It was only them and their words.

Isabelle and Vince had interrupted them with a sleeping Cole curled up in Vince’s arms. It had gotten late and everyone was leaving. Raine stood up saying goodbye as he took Cole from Vince.

“Would you like to come over tomorrow?” The words tumbled out of his mouth before he even realized what he was saying. She exchanged a surprised look with Isabelle, then smiled at him and nodded in agreement. He nodded back, smiled at Isabelle thanking her for watching Cole and left.

Where he had gained the courage to ask her to come over was beyond him, but here she stood in his backyard, watching Cole with amusement. The young boy was fumbling around the yard blindfolded. They were teaching him how to feel energy, a technique used mostly by Drakons and a few Lycanthropes. She had come over around noon, and they had been working with Cole for almost an hour. It was quickly becoming a test of patience for the young Drakon.

Cole sighed dramatically, “This doesn’t make sense!” He turned around and bumped into Ezekiel, “Ah!” He startled, “No fair!” He stomped his foot, taking the blindfold off.

“Cole,” Ezekiel put his hands on his shoulders, “It’s okay. Not everyone can do it-”

“No!” Cole growled, his foot stomping the ground again, “I can't do it!”

“Try again, kiddo,” Raine encouraged, “I didn’t get it at first either. It takes some concentration. Just like when you learn to hover.”

Cole pulled the blindfold back on, “I don’t know what I’m looking for.” He grumbled.

“Look for colors.” Raine said moving around to the other side of him.

Ezekiel backed up, smirking when Cole turned to Raine after a moment of concentration. He took a step towards her and she took a step back. Every step forward he took, she took another back, leading him around the yard slowly. Raine grinned noticing Cole was turning with her and moving more and more assuredly. Not paying attention, she accidentally backed up into Ezekiel and stumbled. He caught her, holding her steady so she wouldn’t fall.

“Oh!” Raine gasped, stepping forward, “Sorry, that was,” She blushed shaking her head, “Sorry.”

Ezekiel laughed softly, “Don’t worry about it.”

Cole took his blindfold off, “Was I doing it!?” He asked, “Was I right?”

“Yeah! You were doing great!” Raine turned to him, “I think you’re catching on.”

Cole grinned, “I could see a light blue light so I followed it.” He closed his eyes and faced Ezekiel, “Yours is... Purple.”

Ezekiel nodded, “Good job. Keep focusing and you might be able to see more details than just the color.”

“Really?” Cole’s eyes widened, “How far away will I be able to sense someone?”

“Everyone is different,” Ezekiel rubbed the back of his neck in thought, “I can only sense people nearby, but some can sense people far away. Like Daniel, he’s able to feel people miles away. He’s even able to use his energy to heal minor wounds in people.”

Cole looked away thoughtfully, “Oh,” He whispered, letting the information sink in, “So our energy can be used for more than just moving and attacking?”

“Yes, it can be used for a lot of things,” Ezekiel patted him on the shoulder, “Why don’t you go do your meditation, work on seeing your own energy?” He suggested.

Cole bounced on his heels, “Okay!” He chirped, running up towards the house and sat down in the grass in front of the deck.

Raine smiled, enjoying how eager Cole was to learn new things, “He’s a good kid.” She folded her arms across her chest, leaning back slightly, “How long have you been training him for?”

“Couple months,” Ezekiel said looking up at the sky, tipping his ears to the side, “I think.” He looked back at her and couldn’t help but smile back. She looked away, her cheeks turning pink for a moment. He wondered fleetingly if it was something he had said.

“You’re doing a good job with him.” She said softly glancing at him then quickly away.

Ezekiel looked from her to Cole, “Thanks,” He looked back at her mischievously, lowering his ears back, “Want to spar?”

Cole opened his eyes at the word spar, and crawled up onto the deck giddily, excited to watch.

Raine grinned, “Sure, sounds fun.” She readied herself in an open stance. Ezekiel raised an eyebrow making her smirk. She reached her hand out and beckoned him. Ezekiel charged forward, throwing a punch once he was close enough. Raine ducked her head to the side, catching his arm with her hands and flipped him over her shoulder. Ezekiel laid on the ground stunned for a moment, Cole’s laughter echoing around him.

He pushed himself up onto his knee, “Well, damn.” He chuckled, shaking his head at Raine’s amused grin.

“Come on father!” Cole cheered from the deck, jumping up and down and punching the air.

Raine sank back into her stance, “Don’t disappoint him, Zeke.” She ducked down as Ezekiel charged at her again, kicking out his feet with a sweep kick. Ezekiel fell forward onto his hands, throwing a back kick out, before flipping back to his feet.

Raine looked at him puzzled, “What was that?” She laughed, “You’re not being serious!”

“I am!” Ezekiel growled, his mouth twitching up against his will.

Raine pointed at him, “No, you’re not!” She shook her head as he laughed, unable to hold it back anymore, “See! I knew it!” She punched at him, hitting him in the arm, making him laugh more.

Cole giggled, looking nonchalantly towards the sound of footsteps softly coming around the house. He grinned upon seeing Gabriel rounding the corner. Gabriel held up a finger silencing the boy before he could say anything, and quietly walked around to him. Ezekiel and Raine, so involved in their sparring session, were oblivious to his arrival. Cole covered his mouth giggling as he scurried to sit next to Gabriel. The Lycan sat down on the edge of the deck flashing a smile at Cole while watching Ezekiel and Raine play fight.

“How long have they been doing that for?” He asked softly, amused at the scene before him.

Cole shrugged, “Not long. They’re so funny.” He giggled into his hands.

Gabriel leaned forward watching the two throw half ass punches and kicks at each other before breaking up into laughter. He smiled, glad to see his old friend so at ease and actually taking his advice to get to know Raine better. It had been a while since he had seen the man loosen up and actually laugh. He was even starting to look healthier.

Raine caught Ezekiel hard with a roundhouse kick to the chest. He skidded back, the air rushing out from his lungs. He doubled over for a moment, trying to suck the air back in.

“Are you okay?” Raine moved to his side, half laughing. She heard a set of laughter join hers and startled, looking up at the deck, “Oh! Gabe! When did you get here?”

Ezekiel straightened up, his face immediately sobering up, “Hey.” He coughed, finally able to get a few good breaths in.

Gabriel stood up, “I now feel safe knowing how hard you are training. You know, in case anything should happen.”

Ezekiel rolled his eyes, “Shut up, Gabe.” He grumbled, shaking his head as Cole fell over laughing.

“Are you expecting something to happen?” Raine raised an eyebrow, straightening her tank top out, “Maybe you should come join us then?”

“Oh no. No, no, no.” Gabriel laughed, “I’m good. I sparred with Vince earlier. That guy does not know the meaning of a light workout.” He sighed heavily and smiled, “I just wanted to see if

Ezekiel was interested in bringing Cole over for a barbecue later. You’re welcome to join as well.”

“Yeah! Come with us Raine!” Cole bounced excitedly, “You and dad can spar more.” He squealed with laughter as Ezekiel jumped up onto the deck and picked him up.

“I’ll show you sparring!” Ezekiel growled playfully, tickling Cole under the arms.

Gabriel exchanged amused looks with Raine, “Well? What do you think?”

Raine climbed up on the deck, “Sure, sounds fun. Can I bring anything?”

“Nah, mom and Valery have already started cooking. I think they’re making enough for the whole town.” Gabriel grinned, his stomach grumbling, “Good thing too, I’m starving.”

“Me too!” Cole shouted in between giggles and laughs.

“You’re always hungry!” Ezekiel laughed setting his son down, “Your stomach must be a black hole or something.”

Cole looked up at him with large eyes, “Is that bad?”

Ezekiel nodded slowly, “It is for everything around it.”

Cole looked at Raine with large scared eyes, making her laugh, “No kiddo, it’s not bad. Don’t listen to him.”

“Oh, good,” Cole sighed, “Can we go then? I really am hungry.” The three laughed.

Gabriel nodded, “Yeah, kiddo, come on.” He laughed, gesturing for the others to follow him.

~*~

Valery was setting places up outside when the group arrived. She looked up and smiled warmly at them as they approached.

“Hi guys!” She set down the last plate in her hand, “Raine! I wasn’t expecting you!”

“I know! We need to hang out more,” Raine smiled, hugging Valery, “I missed you! Need help with anything?” She asked, following Valery into the house, the two immediately falling into conversation.

Ira ran outside having seen Cole arrive through the window, “Cole!” He shouted grabbing onto the boy’s hand, “Come on! I got a new game!” The two ran back into the house.

Ezekiel snorted in amusement, “New game, huh?”

“Oh yeah,” Gabriel pulled a cooler out from under the table and opened it, “Val’s dad got him the newest gaming system. He’s hooked. Drink?” He fished around in the ice for a water, pulling out two at Ezekiel’s nod, “So, how’ve you been? Isabelle’s therapy helping?”

Ezekiel opened his water and nodded while taking a drink, “Yeah, it’s helped a little. The nightmares haven’t been as intense lately, so that’s a plus.” He shrugged, taking another drink.

“That’s great!” Gabriel cracked open his water, “How’s your memory been?”

Lifting a shoulder, Ezekiel tilted his bottle back and forth, “Coming back, some things are still fuzzy. I can’t put my finger on why I had Cole,” He paled slightly, “But I’m afraid it wasn’t for a good reason...”

Gabriel furrowed his eyebrows, “What does that mean?”

Shaking his head, Ezekiel set his water down and shoved his hands into his pockets, “I feel like a part of me I’ve kept in check is suddenly missing. I’ve started him with meditation, if what I fear did happen,” He looked at Gabriel, his eyes darkening, “He may need to be destroyed.”

Chills went down Gabriel’s back at Ezekiel’s words. He dropped his water and scrambled to pick it back up before all the water poured out from it.

“What?!” He put his water down on the table, drying his hands off on his jeans, “Why?”

Ezekiel shook his head, “My mind’s been quiet lately... He might be the part of me I had been fighting since I was a child. The passed down memories, fear, anger, and hatred.” He sat down on the edge of the table, his shoulders tense, “My father created me with his malice intentions to use as a soldier in his scheme to take over. He filled my being with his memories of war, fighting, and destruction,” His eyes glazed over, reliving some memory that did not belong to him, “Before the war began, I met with a Drakon guardian. He was old and dying and promised me power if I were to merge minds with him,” He smirked briefly, “I couldn’t pass it up. His selfless spirit clashed with the part of my father’s spirit residing in me and suppressed it. It opened my eyes to what was happening.” His eyes slid over to Gabriel watching him intently, “The day Cole was born my father’s intentions reemerged. I was flooded with anger, fear, and memories of events I wasn’t even alive for. Combined with my own PTSD and memories, it knocked me out. I think my body was trying to save me the only way it knew how, by expelling the toxin... And for some reason it resulted in Cole.”

Gabriel frowned, “Maybe it’s not like that, Zeke. Cole seems so pure, there’s no way he has those memories in him.”

“I hope you’re right.” Ezekiel sighed in defeat, looking up at Raine appearing at the screen door. Gabriel followed his gaze and jumped up. Taking the porch steps two at a time, he opened the door for her. She held a huge bowl of potato salad with both hands, her eyes wide.

“Gabe, you weren’t kidding about how much food there is!” She said setting the bowl down on the picnic table, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much!”

Gabriel laughed softly, the heaviness of Ezekiel’s story still sticking with him, “Mom and Val love to cook. I even offered to grill and they shooed me away. I did make that potato salad though.” He nudged the bowl gently.

“They let you do this?” Raine grinned.

“Last night after Valery went to bed.” Gabriel said sheepishly.
It took Raine a few moments to realize he wasn’t joking, “Oh wow,” She giggled, walking back up to the house, “I should see if they’ll teach me how to cook...”

Gabriel’s eyes widened, “They will, I hope you’re ready for that.” He said as she disappeared into the house, “Oh god,” He turned to Ezekiel, “There’s going to be even more food if she asks...” He breathed in deeply, “You’re going to have to take left overs home.”

“Right.” Ezekiel chuckled.

~*~

He thought Gabriel had been kidding when he said he had to take left overs home. He looked at his kitchen counter piled up with various plastic containers filled with food from the barbecue. That was only his portion of the left overs. Gabriel and Raine both had taken some home as well, while Christy filled up her fridge too.

“Why did they think this was a good idea?” Ezekiel grumbled, putting the containers away in the fridge. He glanced out the window over the sink at Cole playing in the yard. The boy had found a jar and was catching fireflies. A soft glow was casted over the yard as the sun set making it hard for Ezekiel to see anything but Cole’s silhouette against it. Tiny flashes of light flickered about, avoiding Cole’s outstretched hands. Occasionally he’d grab one and stick it in the jar, quickly snapping the lid back on tightly.

Ezekiel chuckled under his breath, turning back to his task at hand. After putting the last container away, he stepped out onto the deck. He stood watching his son silently, enjoying the quiet serenity of the evening.

Maybe he was wrong about Cole, he really hoped he was. He tried to recall the events of the day Cole was born for the millionth time. He could remember the anxiety attack vividly. The corners of his lips twitched down briefly. He could remember an egg sitting in the grass, its slate grey color making it look almost like a stone. Tiny cracks were working their way across the surface like a spider web. Focusing on this memory made another resurface, a smaller Cole standing in front of him with wide terrified eyes. Cole looked up at him from his jar and ran over, snapping Ezekiel from his thoughts.

“Look father.” He whispered, holding the jar up, “Aren’t they pretty?”

Ezekiel nodded pushing the last memory away. He noticed how carefully Cole had set up the inside of the jar. On the bottom was a layer of dirt so that the sticks and leaves placed inside would stand up. He was impressed.

Cole looked at the jar with pride, “Can I put them by my bed tonight? Like a night light?”

“A night light?” Ezekiel raised an eyebrow.

Cole nodded, “I want to watch them glow.”

“Sure,” He ruffled Cole’s hair gently, “Come on, it’s time for a bath and bed.”

~*~

“It was a bad idea I take it?”

“Very bad idea.”

Raine frowned, leaning to peek around the wall into the kitchen, “Oh no...” She whispered, seeing Cole sitting at the table, the firefly jar in front of him.

“They were all dead by morning. I didn’t think they’d die that quickly. Damn little things.” Ezekiel leaned back against the wall, his arms folding over his chest, “He’s heartbroken.”

“I see that.” Raine backed up, “What can I do?”

Ezekiel shrugged, “I don’t know, but he wanted you here. He said Gabriel and Ira would laugh at him.”

Raine tilted her head to the side, “I don’t think they would.”

“Neither do I, but he insisted” He threw his hands up slightly and shrugged, “It was the first thing he said to me that I could even understand.”

Raine stuck her lip out in a sympathetic pout, “Well, I better go talk to him.” She moved into the kitchen, Ezekiel following behind, “Hey kiddo.” She said softly, sitting down in the chair next to him. Ezekiel stayed in the doorway, leaning against the wall.

Cole looked up at her, his eyes red from crying, “Raine,” His voice hitched, his ears lowering, “Their lights have gone out.”

Tears ran down his face.

“Oh buddy.” Raine reached over, pulling him into a hug. Cole leaned heavily into her, wrapping his arms around her waist and hung on tight.

“It’s not fair! I didn’t mean to kill them!” He sobbed, shoving his face into her shirt. Ezekiel stepped forward, feeling like he was suddenly losing air at seeing how distressed Cole was. He stopped himself, noticing how calmly Raine held Cole.

She pulled him onto her lap so he was sitting more comfortably, “Cole,” She said gently, “Look,” She wiped the tears from his eyes and pulled the jar to them, “See how carefully you made this home for them?” He nodded, sniffling, “Look at the bottom, in the dirt. Do you see the little white things?”

“Yes.” Cole whispered, his bottom lip sticking out in a pout.
Raine smiled, “Those are firefly eggs. Fireflies don’t live very long, just long enough to lay their eggs. Because you so carefully put this beautiful home together for them, they were able to lay their eggs.”

Cole’s eyes widened, he leaned forward looking into the jar,

“Those are their babies?”

“Yes.” Raine smiled.

Cole hugged her then hopped down, “I need to go put them outside!” He said grabbing the jar and ran out the sliding glass door.

Ezekiel let out a long breath, “Wow... How?” He looked at Raine speechlessly.

She laughed softly, “I spent many summers catching fireflies as a kid.”

“You calmed him so quickly,” Ezekiel moved to the door, looking out at Cole carefully dumping out the firefly eggs in the yard, “Thank you,” He looked back at her, “He’s so emotional, I’m not used to it. I mean... Gabriel was emotional, but not quite like this.”

Raine nodded, “He’s pretty sensitive,” She got up and stood next to him so she could watch Cole as well, “Do me a favor?”

“Hm?” Ezekiel raised an eyebrow curiously.

Raine looked up at him, “Encourage that.”

Ezekiel looked out at Cole, his eyebrows furrowed, “Encourage him being sensitive?”

Raine chuckled sadly, “His empathy. Too many of our kids have been taught to be fighters so early. It’s so weird to pass by empty playgrounds, when they used to be so full when we were kids. Let him be a kid and play. We need more kids like him in the world.”

Ezekiel nodded. He knew what she was talking about. The war had changed everyone. Preparedness was a huge thing in the cities with parents. Kids barely had playtime anymore. He was suddenly thankful that he lived so far away from civilization- he didn’t have to deal with it.

“Okay.” He agreed, locking eyes with her briefly. She flushed, turning her attention back to Cole out in the yard.
Ezekiel felt his stomach get warm, and quickly moved to the refrigerator, “Did you have breakfast yet?”

Raine shook her head, “No, I was actually just waking up when you called.” She watched Cole collecting rocks, before turning towards Ezekiel.

“Ah,” Ezekiel rubbed the back of his neck, “Sorry about that,” He pulled out a carton of eggs and a container of milk, setting them down on the counter, “Would you have breakfast with us?”

Smiling, Raine looked over her shoulder at him, “Yeah,” She nodded, “That sounds good.” She said walking over to help.

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