Disclaimer: Don't own, so don't sue. I never did like Barbie, Ken was always my favorite. Since I'm too old to play with dolls, I play with these guys instead. <g>
Author's notes: For Karen. <g> A huge thank you to Tess for the brilliant beta'ing. Any final mistakes are mine.
Summary: Opposites do attract.
Spoilers: The Trial and Chinatown.
Nathan stood before the recent grave; too numb to feel the biting wind or the rain pouring down on him. He wouldn't be able to say how long the funeral had been over, only that he was finally alone; and grateful for it. He knew he should be thankful for the way his friends seemed to hover worryingly over him for the past two days, but somehow he felt nothing but resentment.
He had been surprised by the large crowd attending the funeral, but then, in the short time his father had resided in Four Corners, he had left his mark on a number of people.
Nevertheless, the raging storm had chased everyone away as soon as the casket was lowered to the ground. In a way, it was as if the skies were grieving with him, shedding heavy tears over his father's final resting place, the wind howling with the pain he himself was feeling inside.
He tried to read the name on the cross, knowing it said Obediah Jackson, but his vision kept blurring. A hand touched his arm gently, a voice speaking to him soothingly.
"Come on, brother. Time to get you out of this weather."
He allowed the other man to take him away from the gravesite, knowing if he resisted they would only keep on trying until he finally surrendered. Somehow he knew he was moving forward, away from his father, but he couldn't make himself feel anything, hear anything. It hurt too much.
Ezra strolled slowly through the deserted streets, grateful his night patrol was finally over. It was the best solution for him; it allowed him to play poker until the early hours of the morning, before having to exchange places with one of the other lawmen. It also meant he got to sleep late if he so wished it.
He walked into the saloon, expecting to find it empty, since it was the middle of the night. Instead he spotted Nathan, sitting alone by a table at the far wall, sorrow and grief surrounding the man like a shroud.
Ezra shook his head sadly. Obediah Jackson had finally lost his battle with consumption the day before. Since his father's death, Nathan had hardly said a word, beyond making sure the funeral went according to Obediah's wishes.
It hurt to see the healer go through so much pain, especially because Ezra had acknowledged long ago -- even if only to himself -- how much his feelings towards the black man had changed. From instant dislike, their relationship had changed to guarded respect, admiration, until they had settled into a prudent friendship.
When exactly those feelings had turned into something deeper Ezra did not know, nor did he intend to waste any time analyzing it. It wasn't as if Nathan shared his emotions, after all; the friction between them still managed to do enough damage for him to be wary of the healer.
Sometimes he thought Nathan might be aware of what was going on within his heart; it was the only explanation to why the healer occasionally went for the jugular when addressing him. Like during the time with Li Pong. That Nathan would think him capable of using the young woman as a slave... He had yet to receive Nathan's apology for his cruel words and probably always would.
He turned his attention back to the mourning man. From the amount of empty whiskey bottles currently loitering on the table, it was nothing short of a miracle Nathan was still conscious.
Heart sympathizing with his friend, Ezra walked over to the table, a hand resting gently on a slumped shoulder. "Nathan, you have been here for most of the day," he said softly. "You need to get some rest."
"'M hurtin', Ez." Nathan mumbled drunkenly, misery clear in his tone.
"I know, my friend." He squeezed the shoulder under his hand. "The pain will pass... in time. Come on, I will assist you in returning to the clinic."
He helped Nathan to stand, grunting as the bigger man swayed, leaning heavily against Ezra. Step by step, they exited the saloon, their pace maddeningly slow as they made their way to Nathan's clinic. By the time Ezra closed the door behind them, he was breathing hard from the effort of having to half-carry, half-drag the other man.
He sat Nathan on the bed, kneeling to take the healer's boots off. The hat and gun belt followed, as well as heavy coat. When he was certain Nathan would be comfortable enough to lie down, Ezra sat beside him.
"Are you going to be all right?" He whispered.
Nathan nodded slightly, slumping sideways until his head was resting on Ezra's shoulder. The southerner frowned abruptly, feeling soft lips brushing over his throat.
"Nathan?" He started, hearing the quiver in his own voice.
"S'okay, Ez," the healer slurred. "I know ya want to, I wan' it too."
Before Ezra could think of a thing to say, Nathan got hold of his shirt, pulling him close and kissing him full on the lips. He froze in shock, trying to resist the compelling mouth covering his, trying to ignore the fierce arousal suddenly taking over his body. He felt himself tilting his head, accepting the kiss, activity participating now, exploring the slick, whiskey flavored sweetness offered to him.
His conscience kicked in at that moment. Nathan was beyond intoxicated, grieving... It would be wrong to take advantage of the situation. Sighing into the other man's mouth, he pulled back, thumb ghosting over Nathan's lower lip in a feather-like caress.
"I don't think we should be doing this, Nathan."
The healer squinted at him. "Why tha hell not?" he asked breathlessly.
Ezra shook his head slowly. "It is not a good idea. You are inebriated, and probably not in your right frame of mind."
Nathan's jaw clenched in frustration. "I know wha' I'm doin', Ez," he insisted stubbornly.
"Perhaps," Ezra conceded. "How about a compromise? If you still desire this in the morning, we can discuss the matter."
Nathan sighed, but nodded tiredly. "'Kay."
"Let's get you in bed."
Ezra brought a nearly comatose man to his feet, rapidly pulling the bedding back and helping the healer to lie down. He snuggled the covers around Nathan, chuckling slightly as he heard the first snore coming from parted lips.
Grabbing a blanket for himself, he sat on the chair closest to the bed, and soon was joining the other man in sleep.
To say Nathan woke up with the mother of all hangovers was an understatement. He was nauseous, there was a whole Indian tribe drumming inside his head, and his tongue felt remarkably like sandpaper. He peeled his eyes open, squinting at the bright midday sun, frowning as he noticed Ezra sleeping peacefully on a chair near the bed.
His father's death and the last two days suddenly came flooding back into his mind, nearly making him double over in pain. He forced himself to relax, to absorb the fierce emotion, until he was once again able to breathe quietly. He remembered the funeral, Josiah taking him away from the gravesite to join the others at the saloon. He remembered ordering bottle after bottle of whiskey, hoping to buy a few hours of merciful relief from his sorrow.
He also remembered his friends coming and going throughout the day, worry clear in their gazes, until he had finally been left alone. Then Ezra had appeared in the middle of the night, his soothing voice and gentle hands guiding him back to the clinic. He fought the urge to groan as he recalled his lame attempt at seduction and Ezra's...
No. Not rejection. The southerner had left the choice up to him, to take up where they had left off if he still felt the same in the light of day.
But did he want to?
Truth was, Nathan would never have kissed Ezra had he been sober. He wasn't immune to the gambler's charms; it was hard not to take notice, not to drown in the beautiful green eyes, not to smile back at the wide, dimpled grin, not to enjoy the easy, catlike grace of movements.
And he knew Ezra was willing, he had caught the interest in the other man's gaze on more than one occasion, had seen the desire, as well as something deeper, stronger.
But they were about as different as the sun and moon. And if he was honest with himself... Ezra stood for everything he hated in mankind. True, the gambler had a good heart, there was no denying that. But he was still a conman, someone who had no qualms about taking money from those less fortunate and unlucky enough to cross paths with him. He could only imagine how many a folk had been left with nothing before Ezra had settled in Four Corners.
Even if Ezra had changed. And in Nathan's eyes he had. Of all of them, Ezra had been the one to benefit the most from their association. Somehow, the others seemed to be subtly influencing him, making him see the wrongness in what he did for a living.
So why didn't he take a chance? He knew deep down he returned Ezra's feelings, he might even help the gambler turn into a better man.
He sighed wearily. He knew why, why he hadn't made a move yet, why he hadn't signaled to Ezra he would be more than willing to share his life -- and bed -- with him.
As petty as it seemed -- as it was -- Ezra reminded him of a part of his life he would rather forget. His days as a slave, being passed on from owner to owner as if he was nothing more than a farm animal. And sometimes... sometimes that damn southern accent would take him back, to the post as he was being whipped because he had dared to protect one of the female slaves from rape; because he had shared his meal with an ailing friend; because he had given water to the poor bastard shackled to the post.
And then hate would rear its ugly head and he would snap at Ezra, knowing he was cutting him to the bone, knowing the other man would back away like a dog beaten once to often, only to come back again and again, boldly begging to be petted.
Nathan smiled ruefully. He had to give Ezra credit; no matter how many times he hurt the southerner with his purposely cruel words, Ezra would always climb back into the saddle no matter how many times he was thrown.
He sat up on the bed slowly, trying not to upset his stomach, watching the slumbering man. Even with a day's worth of stubble, Ezra was something to look at, especially without the usual emotional barriers to hide behind. In his sleep he looked younger, strangely vulnerable, although that couldn't be further from the truth.
His mind went back to his father, realizing with abrupt insight how much it had taken out of the old man to hide the truth about his mother's death, how painful it must have been, how much he had lost, suffered throughout his life because of it.
Nathan didn't want to go through the same pain, didn't want to have to keep hiding how he felt, what he felt. He suddenly imagined waking up every morning with Ezra by his side, imagined the heated arguments, the fierce make-up couplings...
It felt right, so damn right.
He stood on wobbling knees, walking over to the chair and crouching down beside it. He cupped Ezra's face gently, "Ez, wake up."
Sleepy green eyes fluttered open, confusion and drowsiness shining from within. "Nathan?" he rasped softly. "Something wrong?"
Nathan found himself smiling then, a wide, happy smile that he was certain would be forever imprinted in his face. "Nothin' wrong, Ez. Just... It's mornin' and... I still feel the same."
He saw understanding dawn in the green depths, a slow, sensual smile growing to match his own. And he as rose to capture Ezra's lips he knew they would be all right. For no matter how different they really were, no matter how much they ended up hurting each other, their love would always draw them together.
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