It amazed Cole the sheer power his father contained. He loved watching him in action, while pretending that one day it’d be him out there defeating a powerful enemy. He stood captivated by the effortless movements Ezekiel and Gabriel preformed. Their spar looked almost like a calculated dance.
Six months had passed since Cole’s first training session. He was getting the hang of flying, and could leap up the tallest tree, or to the highest cliff ledge without much effort. His agility and strength was growing daily. A couple weeks after Raine and his father had taught him energy sensing, he learned how to harness energy as a weapon. He was even secretly working on an attack that he wanted to surprise his father with. It was still weak, but growing stronger every time he practiced it. He figured it’d soon be worthy of a name, one he had yet to think of. His father was sure to be proud of him when he saw it.
“They’re amazing, huh?” Ira grinned, swiping at the air trying to mimic his father’s punches at Ezekiel.
Cole nodded, “Yeah,” He said, then turned nudging Ira’s arm, “Come on, I need to practice. Father seems to be disappointed with me lately.”
Ira frowned slightly, not missing the hurt underlining Cole’s words, “He’s not disappointed with you. You shouldn’t have filled the tub with lizards and bugs is all.”
Cole grimaced at the thought, “Yeah...” He drawled.
“But wait until he sees that attack you’ve been working on!” Ira grinned, bouncing on the balls of his feet.
Cole’s ears laid back, “Sh! He’ll hear you!” He hissed, shaking Ira by the shoulders.
“He’s not paying any attention to us,” Ira’s words wavered with every shake. He grabbed Cole by the arms, stopping him, and giggled, “Relax! Let’s spar!” He quickly knocked Cole’s feet out from underneath him and took to the sky.
Cole tumbled backwards, catching himself on his hands and flipped back up to his feet. Using the momentum, he launched himself towards Ira. He leaned back, kicking out his right foot. As soon as his foot met with Ira’s forearm, Ira twisted it and pulled upwards. Cole twisted his body around, kicking Ira in the face with his free foot, releasing him from the hold. Using the rest of the momentum, he guided himself to the cliff side and jumped down to the ground.
Ira floated back rubbing the side of his face, “Ow.” He grumbled under his breath, falling back into his fighting stance. He hesitated for a moment then flew at the Drakon child.
Ezekiel halted his attack on Gabriel noticing his lack of attention on their match, “Gabriel!” He growled, blocking the Lycan’s halfhearted attempt at a punch, “Pay attention!”
Gabriel blinked and smiled sheepishly, “Sorry, Zeke, I got a bit distracted there,” He wiped at the sweat forming on his brow, “Cole has improved a lot.”
“What?” Ezekiel furrowed his eyebrows, looking to where Gabriel was pointing.
Cole had taken the upper hand in his spar against Ira. Ira was blocking and dodging the rapid fire kicks and punches from the younger boy, trying to find an opening in the attacks. Catching a break, he dodged bringing his knee up into Cole’s stomach. Cole gasped nosily, folding in half, giving Ira the opportunity to slam his fists in the center of his back.
“He’s been working hard.” Ezekiel said watching as Cole picked himself up off the ground.
Gabriel looked back to him, “You’re proud of him.” He grinned. The spark in his former teacher’s eyes was unmistakable. It was the same spark he had seen during his childhood whenever he accomplished something big. Even now, he would catch it in the older man’s eyes.
Ezekiel snorted softly, then allowed himself a small smile, “Yes, I am,” His face hardened suddenly, “But he’s nowhere near ready for a real fight.”
Gabriel sucked in a deep breath through his nose, “No, neither is Ira. They’re just boys. This is more of a game to them than anything serious.”
Ezekiel nodded, “They just have to be able to defend themselves. I don’t want Cole near a battle.”
Cole grabbed Ira’s tail and the boy yelped, falling to his knees.
“No fair!” Ira cried, swiping at Cole’s hands, “That hurts!”
Cole giggled running away, Ira hot on his heels.
Gabriel frowned slightly, “Yeah, I agree. Vince has been acting more cryptic than usual,” He tilted his head to the side, his eyebrow cocking up suspiciously, “He told me to keep my eyes peeled and to train Ira harder. He won’t say anymore, and I feel weird pushing Ira that hard. When I was Ira’s age, dad had me in all kinds of rigorous training programs. I don’t know if I could do that to Ira. I’m not like my father at all, I guess.” His shoulders slumped slightly.
“No, you’re not.”
He looked up at Ezekiel with slight shock. The older man eyed him seriously, closed his eyes and turned his head away.
“You use your brain a lot more than he ever did,” He said, opening his eyes, watching the boys hopping around, “A fight was a fight to him. It was exciting, fun, and all about the rush to him. He never took into account anything beyond himself, like the things, or people, he could lose. Not until it was too late.”
Gabriel’s eyes fell to the ground, “He always came through though.”
“At what cost?” Ezekiel folded his arms tightly over his chest.
Cole and Ira raced up to the two excitedly, “Dad! Dad!” They shouted simultaneously, both hugging their own father’s legs.
Gabriel stumbled back slightly and laughed, “What?” He ruffled Ira’s hair.
“We’re hungry!” Cole clung on tightly to his father’s pant leg.
Ezekiel raised an eyebrow, a half smile pulling at his lips, “Oh yeah?” He tilted his head to the side, “Go get some sticks for a fire, and you both can help us catch lunch.”
The boys looked at each other, “Okay!” They grinned, releasing their fathers and raced towards the edge of the forest.
Gabriel sighed, his hands running over the top and back of his head. “At what cost?” He repeated, tilting his face towards the sky with sudden seriousness. He looked at the older man and shook his head, “You’re right. I won’t allow myself to be that reckless.”
“You’re a good man, Gabe,” Ezekiel smirked, watching the boys quickly gather kindle, “I have no problem with training Cole, but... I’m going to go about it differently than when I trained with you. You needed help tapping into your potential, Cole is still a baby. He’s more mature than his age, but he has his moments.”
Gabriel smiled genuinely, “Thanks,” He nodded in agreement, “Yeah, I feel the same with Ira,” He looked out at the boys for a moment then turned to Ezekiel, “So... I overheard Cole say Raine was staying with him tonight, do you have plans?”
“Ah,” Ezekiel nodded, folding his arms across his chest,
“Yeah... A date.”
Gabriel’s eyebrows shot up, “A date!? You?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Ezekiel bristled.
“Nothing!” Gabriel held his hands up in defense, “It’s just never been your thing,” He shrugged nonchalantly, averting his eyes in a vain attempt at masking his confusion, “So who is she, someone I know?”
“You met her friend once actually.”
Gabriel pursed his lips in thought, “I did?”
“Mhm,” Ezekiel looked away, “Xadel, she was our waitress-”
“Who spilled all that food on you!” Gabriel exclaimed, his eyes widening, “I remember her!” He grinned, “How did you meet her friend though?”
Ezekiel rolled his eyes, “Yes, her,” He shrugged, “Ran into her with her friend one day after dropping Raine off at home.”
Raising his eyebrows curiously, Gabriel rocked back on his heels, “Oh? And that led to a date with this chick?”
“Her name’s Skyler.” Ezekiel corrected, “And no, that’s not what led to the date. She’s been over a couple times and suggested we go out with Xadel and her boyfriend. A double date I guess.”
“Oh... A double date, huh...” Gabriel leaned forward, trying to wrap his mind around what Ezekiel was saying. He was shocked the older man had met another woman, let alone had invited her over. Maybe he really was breaking out of his shell.
“What does Raine think of her?” He frowned slightly, his stomach dropping at the thought of how she must feel about the date.
Ezekiel looked at him in confusion, “Raine? She hasn’t met her yet.” He scratched his head, “Why?”
Gabriel shook his head, “Just curious! You two have spent a lot of time together since the wedding.” He laughed nervously, his hand going behind his neck.
“Yeah, she’s a good friend, easy to talk to.”
Gabriel’s shoulders relaxed, “She is... I thought she might have had some input on your date?”
Ezekiel furrowed his eyebrows, “Why would she have any input about it?”
Gabriel shrugged looking away, “I don’t know.” He lied, avoiding the question. Before Ezekiel could say any more, the boys raced up with arms full of kindling. He looked between the boys and Gabriel, trying to work out what Gabriel had been going on about. After a few moments, he decided to drop the subject.
Raine stuck her hands in her blue jean pockets, hesitating outside the door for a moment. She and Ezekiel had grown a lot closer over the past few months since the wedding. The more she got to know him, the more she felt herself falling for him. His sudden announcement of a date and asking her to watch Cole had blindsided her. It was the first time he had even mentioned seeing anyone, but the way he talked about the new woman made it seem like they had been going out for at least a couple weeks. Despite the sinking feeling, she agreed to watch Cole for the night. After all, what were friends for?
She pulled a hand out and knocked twice on the thick wooden door. She looked around absently, her mind wandering slightly about Ezekiel’s date, wondering what she looked like. What Ezekiel liked about the woman that she didn’t have…
The door swung open to Cole’s beaming face, “Raine!” He squealed, tackling her legs in a bear hug.
Raine stumbled, catching herself on the door frame, “Cole! You’re getting so strong, kiddo!” She reached down, picking him up, “Are you ready to have lots and lots and lots of fun tonight?”
“Yeah! Can we go hiking like you promised?”
“Duh!” Raine grinned, carrying the little boy into the house,
“Where’s your dad?” She asked, setting him down.
“Right here.” Ezekiel stepped out of the kitchen, buttoning his shirt as Cole ran past him up the stairs. Raine looked him over noting how the teal shirt looked striking against his olive skin, and brought out the gold in his eyes.
She smiled, “You look good.”
“You think?” He looked up from his shirt to her.
She ducked her head, feeling her cheeks get warm, and walked around the couch, “Mmhm,” She pulled off her backpack, sat down, and began to dig through it, “Nice color on you.”
Ezekiel watched her for a moment, Gabriel’s statement from earlier replaying in his head. He stepped towards the couch opening his mouth to ask her what she thought about his date, when Cole ran back down the stairs. The boy, now wearing a pair of hiking boots and a clean yellow long sleeved shirt, bounced excitedly in front of Raine.
“Let’s go, let’s go!” He jumped up and down.
“Okay, okay!” Raine laughed, standing up and tossed him a bag of trail mix, “Made some just for our adventure.” She zipped up her bag and pulled it back on.
“Yes!” Cole grinned, eyeing the pieces of chocolate mixed within the nuts and dried fruit, “This will be like real hiking!” He did a little dance unable to control his excitement.
Raine laughed again, “It will be.” She winked at Ezekiel.
He chuckled, “He’s been looking forward to this all day.”
“Oh yeah? I’ve really been wanting to go for a good hike, I’m glad he’s excited to go.”
Ezekiel smiled, “Hey... Raine, what do you think about-” A knock at the door interrupted him.
“About?” Raine asked curiously.
“Uh...” Ezekiel frowned slightly, hesitating. Another knock interrupted him again, “Never mind...” He straightened his shirt as he walked to the door. Pausing, he looked over his shoulder at Raine and Cole, “Are you two sure you’ll be okay tonight?”
Rain nodded, “Yeah, we’ll be fine!” She forced herself to smile reassuringly, her stomach tying itself into knots. He made eye contact with her, which made her stomach flip again, before taking a deep breath and opening the door. Raine leaned a little, trying to see around him to the woman he was greeting.
He stepped back, opening the door a little wider, “Hey guys, this is Skyler.”
Raine looked the woman over quickly. She had long, straight, shiny black hair, and eyes the color of rubies that matched her flawless skin. She was beautiful, and had the perfect body to boot, which made Raine feel slightly jealous. No, really jealous. She bit her lip, turning her focus onto Cole to keep herself from staring.
Skyler half smiled at the two in the house, “Hey.” She said softly.
Raine pulled her hair up into a messy bun while looking up at Skyler, “Hi, nice to meet you.” She waved, her stomach continuing its dance routine. Skyler was perfect. It was no wonder Ezekiel was dating her.
She nudged Cole, who half waved before turning to Raine, “Let’s go...” He whispered, pulling on her arm.
“Okay,” She chuckled, swallowing back the strange ache forming in her chest, “You two have fun. We’re off for our adventure.” She laughed nervously, allowing Cole to pull her towards the back door.
Ezekiel frowned slightly noticing the change in Raine’s whole demeanor as she left, “I’ll be back in a few hours. Cole! Behave yourself!” He shouted after them, wondering if maybe he should cancel the date. He hesitated in the doorway for a moment, before disappearing outside.
“I will!” Cole yelled, already sprinting half way across the yard.
Raine breathed in deeply through her nose, “Hey, wait up kiddo!” She called out, jogging to catch up, “I saw some nice paths the other way.”
“Oh, okay!” Cole ran in the direction Raine had pointed. He slid to a stop and back tracked until he was walking along her side, “Raine?”
“Do you think my father’s going to marry Skyler?”
Raine winced, “I don’t know, kiddo, why do you ask?”
Cole scrambled up a boulder; he shrugged looking down at Raine, “She only wants to do things with him. She thinks I’m boring.”
“There’s no way she could think you’re boring, Cole.” Raine helped him hop down from the rock and continue on the path.
He shrugged again hopping from side to side along the path, “Then why does she keep saying, ‘adults only’ about everything?”
Raine lifted an eyebrow, “What do you mean?”
Cole leaned his head back watching the sky, “She said, ‘let’s see a movie’. Father asked what one and that I wanted to see the robot movie she said, ‘oh no, this is an adults only date’.” He frowned, his eyes falling to the ground, “When he’s not around she gives me mean looks, and then pretends to be nice when he comes back. She makes us go to boring places and if I talk she says no. ‘Sh! We’re talking, Cole!’” He mimicked her voice, then rolled his eyes, “Father tries to stand up for me, tries to include me, but I think she wants him to get rid of me,” His eyes filled with tears as he looked at Raine, “I don’t like her,” He startled and held up his hands, “Don’t tell father that, please!”
Raine pulled him to her in a tight hug, “Hey,” She whispered feeling him relax against her and hug back, “I’ll tell you a secret too, okay?” She kneeled down before him, her hands resting on his shoulders, “I don’t like her either.”
Cole sighed in relief and smiled, “Thank you. Let’s go to the big tree!” He pulled on her hands, then let go and ran, “Race you!” He yelled.
Raine laughed softly under her breath watching him run ahead of her. She felt a pang of sadness for him before running after him.
The coffee tasted like ground dirt, and the place smelled like someone had poured a can of vanilla air freshener all over. Ezekiel pinched the bridge of his nose, a headache already forming and working its way into the back of his head.
“I love this place.” Skyler smiled, looking out the window wistfully.
Ezekiel nodded, “It’s... Great.” His vision was starting to swim,
“What time is the movie again?” He shook his head and blinked hard.
Skyler turned to him, “We have twenty minutes before we should leave.”
She smiled, the sarcasm going over her head. She reached her hand out, gently brushing his hand holding his coffee mug. Ezekiel recoiled, spilling his coffee all over.
“Shit!” He pushed away from the table, avoiding the hot liquid now dripping off the edge.
Skyler stood up, “What the hell!” She scowled, pulling her purse out of the coffee puddle, “Uhg. Great. I’ll be right back.”
Ezekiel watched in shock as she stormed off to the bathroom.
Xadel passed her on her way back, her face scrunching up in annoyed confusion.
“What was that about?” She thrust her thumb over her shoulder towards where Skyler had disappeared.
Ezekiel stood up and sat back down quickly, realizing he was shaking pretty hard, “I spilled,” He gestured at the mess, “I spilled some coffee.” A cold sweat was beginning to creep down his neck. He took a deep breath trying to steady his nerves, the overwhelming vanilla scent not helping. He was suffocating.
Xadel looked over the mess, “She’s mad about that? She’s so stupid. I wonder how she’d act if she had been the one stood up tonight,” She folded her arms over her chest, looking back at Ezekiel. Her face softened noticing his distress, “Hey... Are you okay?”
Very slowly he stood up, “I... Need to get some air.” He mumbled, flinching away from her trying to help him, “Don’t.” He shook his head, and she backed up, giving him some space. Once he was sure he wouldn’t fall over, he walked over to the counter.
“Hey. I spilled coffee over there on accident. There’s no napkins.” Before the kid at the counter could say anything, Ezekiel turned and walked out the door. He leaned against the wall outside the door, breathing in the fresh air deeply. Shakily he sat down on the ground, “This was a stupid idea.” He sighed, his nerves slowly steadying. After a few minutes the door opened and Xadel and Skyler walked out.
“Ezekiel? Are you okay?” Skyler asked rushing to his side.
He stood up, “Yeah, sorry, just needed some air.” He smiled weakly at her.
She smiled back reaching for his arm, “Oh good, the movie is going to start soon! Let’s go!”
He stepped just out of her reach, “Yeah, can’t wait.” He pointed to his left, “This way?” She nodded, pouting slightly as he started to walk.
“Give him some space,” Xadel grumbled at her, nudging her gently, “Obviously he doesn’t like that.”
Skyler gave Xadel a scathing look, “What do you even know? I don’t know why you’re even here, it’s not like you have a date.”
“Seriously? The fuck?” Xadel looked at Skyler with disbelief, her ears lowering, “Well, fine then,” She frowned, “I’ll just go home.”
“Good.” Skyler snarled.
Ezekiel stepped towards them, “You don’t have too,” He looked at Skyler with disgust, “It’s not her fault she got stood up. Why are you punishing her for that?”
Skyler humphed, “Do what you want,” She walked off, “We’re going to be late if we don’t hurry.” She shouted over her shoulder.
“Thanks, but I don’t have to go... It is your date,” Xadel sighed, walking slowly behind her friend, “I don’t know why she’s being such a bitch though.”
Ezekiel shrugged, “I don’t mind you coming along, she can deal with it.” Xadel smiled at him thankfully.
The theater wasn’t very far, and Ezekiel felt thankful for the short lines. He sighed sitting down in the cushy chair, the seat reclining a bit as he relaxed. Skyler sat down next to him and offered him some popcorn, while giving Xadel the cold shoulder. He shook his head taking a sip of the soda he ordered, the fizz helping settle his stomach from his earlier attack.
“I’ve been wanting to see this movie since I saw it was coming out.” Skyler giggled leaning into Ezekiel’s arm. His muscles tightened, his jaw clenching shut. He waited a moment before moving over a little, just out of her reach. She wrapped her arm around his instead.
The cold sweat started again.
Ezekiel carefully unwrapped their arms, “I need to use the bathroom. I’ll be right back.” He walked away quickly. He just made it to the bathroom and in a stall when his stomach turned. After emptying the mud water and what little soda he had drank from his stomach, he sat back on his knees.
“This was a really stupid idea.” He groaned flushing the toilet. Stumbling out of the stall, he made his way to the sink and leaned heavily against the cold counter. Running the water, he looked at himself in the mirror. Dark circles had worked their way under his eyes, his face two shades paler than normal. He shook his head in disgust at himself and rinsed his mouth out.
“At least she shouldn’t talk much during the movie.” He sighed, splashing water on his face.
It was close to midnight when Ezekiel returned. Raine looked up from her spot on the couch with Cole passed out across her lap.
“Hey,” She greeted Ezekiel softly, “Have a good night?” The knot returned in the pit of her stomach.
Ezekiel nodded, disappearing into the kitchen. Raine could hear the water run, shut off, and a glass being set down before he reappeared.
He moved around to her side of the couch, “Oh, he’s out,” He smiled in amusement, “How was he?”
Raine brushed a finger across Cole’s bangs, “He was great. We went for a hike, and he lasted a lot longer than I thought he would. He ate dinner, did some laps in the yard and crashed on the couch after watching some dinosaur movies.” Her heart jumped into her throat as Ezekiel sat down next to them.
“Good. He’s been a little bit of a handful lately. Isabelle said he’s been having nightmares.” He frowned leaning back into the couch.
“He mentioned that,” Raine looked down at the sleeping boy thoughtfully, “He’s afraid of losing you.”
“He’s not going too,” Ezekiel said defensively, then sighed, “It’s my fault. I don’t know what happened that first week he was born, I’m not surprised he feels like I’ve abandoned him.” He leaned his head back on the couch.
Raine shifted Cole to a more comfortable position so she could turn towards Ezekiel, “Zeke, he doesn’t feel like you abandoned him.” She looked at him sympathetically, “He’s just overwhelmed. There’s been some changes and he’s having nightmares. He said they’re of the war.”
“The war?” Ezekiel sat forward, “What do you mean?”
Raine blinked then shrugged, “I think they’re just from stories he’s heard. He said he dreamed that he was being attacked by a large wolf, and Ira was crying behind him.”
Ezekiel straightened up, “I should put him to bed,” He whispered, carefully lifting Cole from her lap, “I’ll be right back.”
Raine watched him disappear up the stairs before standing up to stretch out her back. She was considering getting her shoes on and heading out, when Ezekiel walked back down the stairs.
He motioned towards the kitchen, “I know it’s late, but could we talk a little longer?” Raine nodded following him in and sat down at the table.
Ezekiel filled up the tea kettle and set it on the stove, “Tea?”
“Sure,” She watched him move around the kitchen, noticing the tension held in his shoulders, “Zeke...?”
“Hm?” He pulled out a container of honey and two mugs from a cupboard.
Ezekiel sighed leaning against the counter, “Cole’s nightmares are my memories from the war.”
Raine tilted her head, “I’m not following...”
“Ira looks just like Gabriel when he was a kid. I saved Gabe from a Lycan when we first met, I never told Cole that, and neither has Gabe.”
Raine frowned slightly, “Does Joey know, or maybe Ira? Maybe he mentioned it to the boys?”
Ezekiel shook his head, “They know we met in the war, but not the specifics,” He turned towards the pot of boiling water and shut off the stove, “This is the first he’s mentioned details of his nightmares to anyone.” He placed a teabag in each mug, filled them with water, and then brought them over to the table.
Raine accepted the mug, setting it down in front of herself, “Even Belle?”
“He loves talking to Isabelle, but is very vague with her,” He returned to the table with the honey and sat down, “He told her he has scary dreams, but changes the subject when she asks what they’re about.”
Raine wrapped her fingers around the hot mug, “Maybe he feels like he can talk more comfortably at home?” She blew on the tea before taking a quick sip.
“Maybe he feels more comfortable with you.” Ezekiel hid his smirk with his mug, taking a slow sip.
“What?” Raine felt her face flush, “Oh, I don’t know Zeke...” She looked away for a moment, “Hey… how was your date?” She winced inwardly, afraid to actually hear the answer.
Ezekiel shrugged, “She kind of changed a bit. Her whole attitude was different,” He furrowed his eyebrows, his ears twitching back, “Movie was okay. Not something I’d see again... she picked it out,” He shrugged again, relaxing back into his chair, “She talked through the whole thing though.”
“Did she really?” Raine chuckled, shaking her head, “That’s a little rude.”
Ezekiel laughed, “Yeah, a little is an understatement,” He took a sip of his tea, “She wants to go out again soon.”
“Oh,” Raine swished the remaining tea in her cup, “Well... It’s getting late,” She stood up, moving to the sink and placed her cup inside, “I left the rest of the trail mix on the coffee table for Cole.”
Ezekiel felt guilty suddenly, “Raine?” She looked at him as he stood up and walked her to the door, “Thank you.” He said watching her gather her things.
She picked up her backpack and slung it over her shoulder, “Any time, really, he’s a good kid.” She smiled at him and opened the door.
Ezekiel leaned against the wall, “Are you busy tomorrow?”
Raine stepped out onto the porch, “Just a couple errands, nothing really important.” She turned towards him, “Is that when you’re going out again? Did you want me to watch Cole?”
Ezekiel shook his head, “Cole and I are going on a hike near Gabe’s. Would you like to come with us?”
Raine’s face lit up, “Yeah! That sounds great.”
Ezekiel straightened, “Awesome! Meet us here tomorrow around...2?”
“Sounds good, I’ll be here.” Raine smiled, “See you tomorrow!” She waved before running down the steps and taking off.
Ezekiel watched her vapor trail disappear before closing the door. He chuckled to himself, heading up the stairs to his room.