Harran was not what it used to be and it most likely never would. It had changed once before when oil had been struck and the rich got richer, and it changed when the dead began to walk. Of course, they didn’t start out dead but that wasn’t the point. Kyle didn’t think he’d ever get out of the hospital and out of the GRE’s clutches but here he was, cured of all things and back in Harran. He sighed and looked over at his hotel window, neon light bleeding in from outside venues. The hotel Atar in Old Town wasn’t the most high end in the world but nothing could convince Kyle to step foot near the Striped Dragon Hotel, no matter how free of biters it was. Kyle squeezed his eyes shut and inhaled deeply, exhaled slowly. This was the hard part, trying to convince himself that it was perfectly safe to fall asleep without the security blanket of UV lights to cleave the night. Five years later and it was still hard. Why did he even say yes to Brecken about coming back to Harran? ‘I mean, I was going to come back at some point, just not so soon,’ he thought to himself. But Kyle knew why he said yes, said yes because of who was asking if he was being honest with himself. He hadn’t pictured himself getting close to anyone during the initial start of the mission, and then Jade and Rahim happened. Fierce, brave, Jade and her eager younger brother with no sense of self-preservation. It cut him deep, deeper than other missions gone wrong when he still worked for the GRE, and he had seen the senseless slaughter, warlords. The Harran Quarantine had been something else entirely.
Brecken had been something else entirely too. With a job like his, Kyle knew better than to get in any kind of relationship but trapped in Harran and running for The Tower, it had happened. Most of the people at the Tower either didn’t know or didn’t care but it didn’t matter. It hadn’t gone very far and Kyle knew it couldn’t go far because he was sticking his neck out too much to be fair to Brecken. Even after finding out he was a GRE agent (former), Brecken still contacted him after they were evacuated, medicated, and cured with Camden’s research. Antizin drops had resumed at some point in his time in the countryside, buying everyone precious time and that’s where everything becomes really fuzzy. He had quite a bit of head trauma from his scrap with the mother. He only remembered shoving her away before she could force the elixir down his throat and then he truly cannot remember anything besides waking up in the military hospital.
Kyle jerked awake at the sound of his cell’s alarm before he realized he was at the hotel, warm light filtering in through the glass. He was going to meet Brecken and Troy at a cafe today. He scrubbed a hand down his face and took a few calming breaths before he threw the covers back. Outside, he could hear cars, people, even a few dogs barking as they were walked. Harris Brecken and Troy. The last time he had seen her, they were on that platform as the rain came down in sheets, preparing to let the outside world know there were still survivors in the city. Kyle pulled on jeans and a t-shirt then took the elevator down to the lobby. As it descended, he half expected it to malfunction but the ride was smooth and the doors opened without a hitch. The clerk smiled at him as he exited and he gave a weak smile back, still feeling exhausted. Jet lag huh? Walking through the streets of Old Town in complete safety was a foreign concept to him but there he was, strolling down a street as throngs of living people moved past him, on their way to work, the bazaar or the park. Here and there were remnants of the city’s not so distant past, dark brownish red smears visible on the light stone walls and pathways. It would fade with time but not fast enough. He looked around casually, saw a mother holding hands with her little daughter as she held a paper bag of groceries on her hip. A young man went by, his dog on a leash, a fluffy brown dog sniffing curiously at gum and cigarette butts. Stores were open and in business, boutiques, mom and pop stores, a bakery, or a small office. The smell of grilling food wafted on the air. Kyle swallowed thickly as he passed a wall of pictures, notes, some candles plastered to the cement below. Many people who had been evacuated in the beginning were still trying to find loved ones, go back to their homes. The reason Brecken had asked him to come to Harran was to come to the survivor group meetings. Some survivors were still coming forward to attend and Brecken had insisted if Kyle was there it would be a good example. He supposed so and he had helped a lot of them. Harran was healing and it started with the people.
The cafe wasn’t very busy and Kyle took comfort in it. He hoped he didn’t look too sleep deprived as he spotted Troy and Brecken. It would take some getting used to, to see Brecken without his head wrapped in bandages. He had kept his own hair close-cropped but Brecken’s was thick with a bit of wave. “Over here, mate!” he called and Kyle couldn’t help but smile. Brecken and Troy were seated at a table with four seats, the pair sitting in the chairs right next to the wall. Troy was leaning back with all the grace of a leopard, one arm around the back of the empty chair. “Good to see you man,” Brecken said and Kyle felt less tired and anxious.
“You too, Breck’,” he said. “Good to see you, Kyle,” Troy said cooly but he knew she meant it. “How have you guys been?” he asked and Brecken had a playful look in his eye.
“Troy’s got a girlfriend,” he said in a teasing tone, almost in a big brotherly manner.
“She’ll be out in a minute. She’s powdering her nose,” Troy said dryly but cracked a small smile. Kyle leaned back and looked at both of them. “Why do I feel like you’re planning something?” he asked cautiously but lighthearted. “Who’s thi-Kyle?” He felt as if he had snapped his neck, he turned so fast to the familiar voice. Ezgi looked at him in disbelief. She didn’t look too different, her dark hair pulled up into a bun but the stripe of hair was electric blue now. She wore an oversized band tee knotted at her stomach, showing a sliver of skin, with denim shorts. He really didn’t mean too but he blurted out, “You’re with Troy?” causing Brecken to erupt into laughter.
“Oh shut up Kyle,” she huffed and took the chair besides Troy who looked smug. Well...there go Michael’s chances if he’s even still alive.
With the Quarantine survivor’s Group in two days, Kyle had plenty of time to see more of Old Town and all the beauty it had to offer. “You know..” he muttered as he and Brecken followed Troy and Ezgi who were holding hands, “I practically walked into most of these apartments and raided the fridges,” he admitted somewhat sheepishly. At this, Brecken broke out into barking laughter and Troy glanced at them briefly with a raised eyebrow. Now as Kyle looked up, he could see closed shutters, people lounging and smoking on balconies, watering their plants. Kyle reached up and rubbed the back of his head and felt the line of scar tissue through his short brown hair. One of the nurses had explained it was most likely the injury that was the cause of his memory loss. He supposed it was; he didn’t even remember it happening.
“Hey, Crane have you visited the slums?” Brecken asked lightly but there was a hint of something more in his voice. He knew why. He swallowed thickly and nodded.
“Yeah, for a bit. It looks better though,” he said. It only took a zombie apocalypse for money to be used for the people. The streets had been improved and were more stable, up to code buildings had been built. It wasn’t perfect but it was something. Most of all, the Tower was now an apartment building for low-income families. It was bittersweet for Kyle to see the place he had called home in hell to finally be what it was meant to be. In fact, when he had stood at the stairs and simply stared up at him, an older man sitting on a bench had chuckled and asked, “Lived here during the quarantine?” and explained that plenty of people came back to the Tower to look at it, even go inside. “It does,” Brecken agreed. “There’s a plaque on the wall inside. A couple of old safe zones have plaques, like the Uni,” he told Kyle. Although the day had started out sunny and warm, it had grown cloudy and windy, darker clouds gathering at the edges of the city. It would rain today. If the ache in his joints was any indication it was going to be a big storm; God, he felt like an old man. Kyle’s only consolation was that his past injuries didn’t stop him completely. He could still run around Old Town if he really wanted to. As they went up a flight of stairs, Kyle looked out into the horizon where clouds turned midday into early evening, a cool breeze picking up. “Welcome to one of my favorite spots in the city,” Ezgi laughed as they entered what Kyle was pretty sure was a Hookah Lounge. Nothing wrong with that, he just wasn’t expecting it. An employee gave them each a new sanitary mouthpiece and showed them to a seating area where Kyle recognized Savvy and Michael.
“Crane! Good to see you!” Savvy chimed and he smiled. Also, he was pretty sure he knew why Michael’s eyes were tinged red. He gave the group a lazy smile and waved to them from his place. Brecken leaned over and whispered with amusement, “Seems Michael had something before he got here,” and Kyle suppressed a shiver at his closeness. There was a deafening boom as thunder ripped across the sky, the rain announcing itself with full force. The lights went out for a split second before flickering back to life. Kyle realized both he and Brecken were taut as bowstrings, waiting for something that was no longer a threat. Even Troy looked ready for trouble, one arm extended in front of Ezgi. “Let’s uh, sit down then,” Kyle said in as steady a voice he could muster and they surrounded the hookah. Good lord those padded benches were comfortable. It was still kind of strange to see everyone (relatively) relaxed and wearing jeans and casual wear. No more being decked out in athletic gear to traverse the city looking for supplies.
His head swam a little with the tobacco but in his defense, he hadn’t smoked in years, not since a cigarette here and there in high school for health reasons.
“What have you been doing all this time?’ Savvy asked and Kyle leaned back a bit. “Been in and out of physical therapy for a while. I’m pretty much done,” he explained. He didn’t mention the part about being in a coma for about three months, then being hounded by the GRE for another six months. “Mostly a crap ton of paperwork about the GRE,” he said quickly. Yeah, they were in deep shit. Up to their ears in crap. “Good to hear you’re better,” Savvy said in his impossible cheery voice and it broke up the tension. Brecken, however, had fallen quiet though no one mentioned it. Kyle swallowed thickly. He had lied to all of them in the beginning, put them and himself at risk just to get close to Rais. He had every reason to never want to see Kyle again. Kyle wasn’t sure how long they’d been at the lounge but it certainly didn’t feel like three or four hours. He learned that after Ezgi escaped to Old Town through the sewers and Troy helped her get to the loft, they had grown close but didn’t officially get together until after they were evacuated and screened. Now, she went to Harran University. Jasir was alive and well, still running his reclaimed and safe farm back in the countryside. “He knows. And he supports me, finally,” she said rather exasperated. Still, Kyle got the impression things were better between father and daughter, even if it was none of his business. Brecken was still quiet which gnawed at Kyle’s conscious, and he stole a few glances at the former tower leader.
Then, “I have something stronger back at my place if you guys are up for it,” Brecken suggested and Savvy shook his head. “You guys go ahead, I've got to go. And I’m pretty sure I need to help Michael get home as well,” he said with a laugh. It was true. Michael was leaning against his seat with a severe squint and if he was trying not to look high off his ass it wasn’t quite working. “Where did you get it anyway?” Kyle asked nonchalantly as the four of them walked back to Brecken’s apartment. The rain had lulled and he hoped it didn’t start back up on the way. Brecken snorted. “Some guy who thinks he’s a wizard or something,” he said.
“Oh...I think I know who you’re talking about. He blasted music when the quarantine was up. Said he kept things out by force of will.” Kyle told Brecken whose expression said it all. “Are you two talking about Ishaq?” Troy cut in and they looked at each other and she laughed. “He’s certainly something else,” she concluded. Kyle didn’t mention that he’d gotten herbs for Ishaq so he would tell him about his future.
Brecken’s apartment was close to the coast and the scent of ocean spray and petrichor drifted like a perfume over the darkened city, neon and streetlamps casting their soothing glow over the streets and buildings. The building was quiet with most people having been home for a while and huddling to escape the new onslaught of rain. “Damn, we barely made it,” Ezgi laughed as they turned in the lobby and saw the rain coming down in sheets, the palms bending in the wind. As they settled into his apartment while Brecken retrieved the items from his bedroom, Kyle looked around. It had the same Turkish flair of every other apartment in Harran, two couches in the living room and hand-woven tapestry hanging on the wall. There was an incense burner on the coffee table. It had a cozy lived-in feel, something Kyle wasn’t quite used to. Brecken entered the living room already having taken a hit, coughing a bit as he passed the joint to Troy, who was closest. “I don’t think Ishaq even needs anything to see what he does,” Kyle laughed and Brecken smiled shook his head. “You should have seen Michael the other night. He did the longest bong rip I’ve ever seen in my life, almost two minutes long, I swear,” Ezgi giggled as she passed it to him. He took a decent hit and leaned over the table to give it to Brecken, his throat burning.
It had been years but that was because he was usually drug tested. Well, those days were pretty much over. Brecken turned on the tv but it was on some trashy reality show merely for background noise. No one seemed to mind. Well, Troy was the most relaxed Kyle had ever seen as she leaned her head back against Ezgi’s chest, looking very satisfied with herself.
Kyle almost didn’t feel anything until he shifted on the couch to get comfortable and almost rolled off entirely, his muscles relaxed, his mind pleasantly blurry. Brecken found it entirely too funny. “Dude, shut the fuck up,” he drawled which made Brecken laugh even harder.
That was the thing about being high. Any little thing was suddenly hilarious and the four of them could not stop cracking up at whatever bad show happened to be on. They must have been there on the couches for at least two hours until the tiredness began to sink in.
“You can take the bed,” Brecken told Ezgi and Troy who slowly got to their feet and made their way to his room. “Let me get you a blanket,” Brecken slurred as he unsteadily sat up.
“I can always go back to the hotel,” he said. “Not like this,” he laughed and slowly wandered off to one of the hallway closets to grab a spare blanket. Kyle really didn’t want to get up now, much less trudge his way back to the hotel. The weed had eased the ache in his bones and he felt entirely too relaxed now. Brecken dropped a folded blanket on his chest and collapsed on the other couch, groaned into the cushion. Once, way back when the dead walked, Lena had found them asleep on the couch in the room serving as HQ in the Tower, dead asleep legs tangled together. Did Brecken remember that? ‘Not now, Crane,’ he told himself. He sat up and swayed a moment before reaching up and tugging his shirt up over his head, folded it up and put under his head. “Jesus Christ, Crane,” Brecken slurred. He looked over and his eyes were locked onto his chest and stomach which was littered with scars. Deep, reddish purple valleys of scar tissue that would fade in another five, ten, years. Not to mention the lines of old scars, soft pink silvery scars that stood out on his tan skin. It was times like this Kyle was grateful he couldn’t remember his fight with the mother. “They don’t hurt, Breck,” he assured him, put an arm under his head. Nope, just his fucked joints. “Sorry, Crane that was rude of me...I sounded like some stupid kid on the street,” Brecken apologized and Kyle laughed. “It’s alright. Was...was that the countryside?” he asked quietly. There was the sound of the television, along with quiet murmurs coming from Brecken’s bedroom. He almost couldn’t hear the rain anymore.
“Yeah. It’s a beautiful place. Even better now that there aren’t biters anymore.” he said. But Kyle could still hear the mother’s voice echoing in his very mind.