Part 1 | Part 2-3 | Part 4 | Part 5 - Epilogue
Ezra had seen Chris angry many times. This was different.
Hed seen him snarl and growl, he seen Chris face taunt with rage, save for the little vein in his temple that would jump 200 beats per minute. But hed never seen this. This was different.
Hed been called into Chris office expecting a dressing down, a chewing out, an ass kicking. This was different.
While Chris stood ominously quiet, half-turned away, leaning on one arm as he looked out of his window, he, Ezra Standish, stood meekly, yes, for the first time in his life, meekly in front of Chris desk like an errant schoolboy awaiting his punishment.
"Good Lord, have I finally gone too far?" he wondered fearfully. This time, this one time, this first time when his motives had not been entirely selfish, had he gone too far?
Chris turned suddenly.
Startled by the sudden movement, Ezra snapped stiffly upright.
At least Ive got his attention for once! Chris thought with a small degree of satisfaction. Chris and Josiah had talked after Josiah had a chance to talk to Rain and no Ezra had never told Rain outright that Nathan was dying, but using his tone of voice and the right inferences that was the message shed gotten. Too bad the abilities that made Ezra so good at his job werent ruled with a greater sense of discretion.
Chris walked around his desk to stand in front of his agent, using his scant few inches of height to try and intimidate the other man. Cold hazel eyes held seemingly impassive green ones in an unrelenting stare. "Ezra, a team, a good team, works because of trust."
The words were spoken in little more than a whisper. Ezra did not miss a single syllable.
"You have severely abused that trust." Then slowly, pronouncing each word carefully, "Do anything remotely like that again and youre gone do you understand me?"
"Perfectly, sir." This was not a threat this was a promise.
Chris strolled back around his desk and sat down. He stared disdainfully up at his agent.
He had said it with more contempt than he had intended but damn it he had to make the man understand how serious he was.
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
This was the last thing he wanted to do.
That part of him, the baser emotional side that had assaulted Ezra, still wanted to finish the job. Ezra had intentionally misled Rain and though he had not intended to hurt her, he still had. The cool, calm, intellectual part of Nathan knew that if he hadnt played with the truth himself in the first place none of this would have happened. Still, it didnt excuse what Ezra had done but then there was no excuse for his behaviour either; civilized men do not beat each other up.
Nathan looked over at Ezra, who was engrossed in whatever he was typing. Vin and Chris were conferring with Buck at his desk concerning this afternoons scheduled court appearance. JD was leaning over Josiahs shoulder, guiding him through the latest updates to the expense reporting software. Now was the time.
He stood and made his way over to Ezras desk.
Clearing his throat before tentatively asking, "Ah Ezra?"
Ezra stopped typing and peered up at Nathan, his eye now a decorative sunburst of orange and yellow. The professional in Nathan couldnt help but be satisfied with how well the bruising was healing. "Yes, Mr. Jackson?"
"I um Rain tells me that I should apologize."
"If you are going to apologize for something sir, let it be for yourself and not because your paramour wishes it."
"It is I mean " Damn Ezra wasnt making this easy. "Ezra were friends, friends dont "
"I did not think that after what Id done there was anything left to salvage of our somewhat tenuous friendship Mr. Jackson, and as for an apology if anyone should express regret for this latest incident, it should be myself for "
"Ezra, shut up!" God the man was exasperating, he just wanted to apologize and get it over with and now every man in the room was listening in!
"My apologies Mr. Jackson "
"I dont want your apology and its Nathan! Friends call each other by their first names, mine is Nathan!"
"It is however, the custom of southern gentlemen to address one another formally " Ezra let the point go when he caught the annoyed look in Nathans eyes.
"We are not in the south and I dont care what southern gentlemen do!"
"Of course Nathan."
Ezra had done it again. Nathan had completely lost his train of thought. He rubbed his temples as he tried to gather his thoughts together again.
"You were about to apologize, I believe." prompted Ezra.
He sighed and dropped his hands back to his side, he looked a little shamefaced, "Look, the fact is Ezra, youre not the only one guilty of tampering with the truth."
"I dont understand."
"Where you bent the truth I withheld it."
"I dont understand."
"The JOB Ezra, the job on Ivan Pennells team in Kansas City."
"You didnt get the job?"
"No, I got the job, but I didnt want the job. I didnt want to go back to Kansas City, all I wanted was to be with Rain."
"I cannot blame you sir, she is a truly exquisite creature "
The sudden menacing spark in Nathans eyes stopped him mid-sentence. Ezra swallowed quickly, "She is a lovely woman. Who could blame you, sir?"
From somewhere behind him, Chris spoke, "Nathan, as long as youre on the subject, Id like to know whats been going on."
Nathan turned, Chris stood, hands on his hips, waiting expectantly for an answer.
Nathan eyes slowly moved from face to face around the room. Despite all that happened, no one was judging him. Their expressions were open as they waited patiently for his answer. Something caught in his throat as he suddenly realized that this was a show of their support for him. Rain was right, he couldnt leave here.
He swallowed and then coughed to clear his throat, "I guess I knew Id have to explain sooner or later." He didnt address any one person directly, "You see, with two busy careers and the distance, I felt like Rain and I were growing apart and I didnt want to lose her. Wed hoped Rain could have a found a job here by now but with budget cuts to social services her job market is pretty tight. The job with Pennell in KC seemed like a way to be together again, get married, maybe even think about starting a family "
He paused and looked directly at them all, "Im sorry, I havent been very honest with any of you."
"You gotta be honest with yourself first Nate, and then you hafta do what you hafta do," said Vin quietly. "Rains worth moren all six of us, ten times over, doesnt seem to me like itd be a hard choise to make."
"You dont know Rain, shes close with her sisters, with all of her family, family is really important to her. I dont have much family to speak of except for you guys "
"Man, are you in trouble," quipped JD. The room rippled with gentle chuckles and snorts. The light barb went along way to relieving the tension of the awkward moment for Nathan.
Nathan snorted gently and smiled, "Anyway, she was and still is, dead set against me leaving Denver."
"You would be sorely missed if that were the eventuality Mr. Jack Nathan."
Nathan held out his hand. After looking at the hand and then into bigger mans eyes, Ezra smiled slightly, rose from his chair and reached out to grasp Nathans hand. The two men shook. Apologies made.
"So! Youre not taking the job in KC?" asked Buck, breaking the pregnant pause that had descended.
"No, Ive already contacted Pennell and turned it down."
"Howd he take it?" queried Chris.
"He sounded genuinely disappointed."
"and so he should be," rumbled Josiah.
"Im not sure I havent screwed myself as far as any future opportunities are concerned though."
Chris made a mental note to contact Pennell and smooth things over for Nathan.
"What are you and Rain going to do?" asked JD. The warning glance from Buck came too late.
"Were taking some time to consider our options. I may have " He cleared his throat and didnt continue. Nathans strained manner told them all they needed to know, the relationship had taken a serious blow.
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
The members of the bullpen cast furtive glances in Nathans direction and then exchanged uncertain looks with one another. Their concern for their friend was obvious in their expressions. Nathan was angrily pounding away at the keyboard. The usually upbeat, cheerful member of the team had become sullen and short-tempered over the last few weeks. At the moment his computer keyboard was bearing the brunt of his discontent.
It was the third time Chris had told Nathan to re-do this report. He wasnt angry with Chris so much as at himself. The report was a piece of crap and he knew it. He just didnt seem to be able to concentrate on the mundane details of the job these days. A month had passed since hed announced he was leaving, four weeks to the day since hed fallen down the well, twenty-six days since Rain had left. The more time that passed the more likely, he figured, Rain was going call it quits between them. Hed taken the goddamn job in Kansas City to be with her and now he was going to lose her.
"Sonofabitch!" He cursed. The abused keyboard had produced a number of duplicate and nonsensical figures. Only then did he notice how quiet the room had become. He looked up.
No one was looking at him, he turned his head to follow the gaze of the rest of the men in the room. Rain was standing just inside the door to their office.
She smiled self consciously at the men in the room and then settled her eyes on Nathan.
She walked swiftly over to his desk. Suddenly everyone else found something interesting on their desks to look at, but the room was still uncomfortably quiet.
"Hi," she said quietly.
"Hi." It was all he could think of to say having been caught off guard by her sudden appearance. His gut curled nervously.
"Can can we go somewhere?" she asked after taking a quick glance over her shoulder.
"Ah yeah, sure!" He rose from his chair and grabbed his jacket from the back of his chair in one smooth motion.
Five sets of eyes followed them unobtrusively as they walked out of office. Nathan held a very respectful hand at the back of Rains waist as he held the door for her.
"Whattaya think?" asked JD two seconds after they were out of sight.
"I dunno." said Buck as he sat thoughtfully smoothing his moustache with his thumb and forefinger.
"Yer askin me?"
"Ezra. My name is Ezra, Mr. Dunne."
"Okay, Okay, Ezra, Whattaya think?" repeated JD anxiously.
"There is room for doubt," he mused out loud. "I would say Miss Rain has made a decision of some kind, her presence her would indicate that. But I could not get a clear sense from her as to what that decision might be."
Josiah, who had been sitting quite still, smiled suddenly as he turned to address the rest of them. "Im gonna take it as a good sign."
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
Rain sat stirring her coffee as she tried to decide about how she was going to begin. She had thought about it on the plane this morning but some how the words she had rehearsed in her mind werent the right ones anymore.
Nathan sat across the table from her and waited. Hed wrapped his hands around his coffee cup, outwardly he appeared calm but nerves had curled a tight knot in his stomach.
It was not quite eleven oclock. The little bistro half a block from the office was almost deserted on this mid-week morning. It would be another forty-five minutes before the lunch crowd began arriving. It was the quietest, most private place he could think of.
She pursed his lips, took a deep breath and looked up at him.
"Thank you for giving me the time to sort this out. The last time I was here, Id gotten so upset that I really couldnt think straight."
"Considering what happened, I can understand that," his voice was deep and soft.
He looked at her with those gentle eyes of his. They held that look she knew so well. He loved her with all of his soul.
She looked down for a moment, she had to get this said. He would not accept it easily.
"I thought about a lot of things over the last few weeks my job, yours, the guys and you and about what I really want in life." She paused and swallowed before continuing, "I kept thinking about what had happened and I always ended up thinking about the same thing " She paused for a moment and pushed her untouched coffee cup aside and folded her hands on the table in front of her. "I always ended up thinking about how I felt when I thought you were dying." She stopped again. Her chin was trembling but she continued on. "When I thought you were dying, all I could think about was the time we wouldnt have together if you were gone and how Id squandered the last two years because we were living in different cities."
He reached across the table and covered her hands with his. He thought she might breakdown completely, "Shhh, everythings okay now." he whispered gently.
She nodded and took a deep breath to regain her composure. "What I want most is to spend the rest of my life with you." She looked up at him. "It took me a while to realize you took the job in Kansas City because being with me was more important to you than this job more important than these men. You were willing to give up everything you have here to be with me "
"Rain, without you I dont have any "
"Nathan," she interrupted him, "please let me finish. You cant leave here, these men, theyre your family, what you have here with them is really special."
"Rain, youre special, I want you to be my family and I want you to be happy and for you that means happy in what you do for a living."
"I know that but theres more "
He waited, he was fairly sure he knew what was coming next.
"I have a feeling now dont give me that look," she scolded him sternly. "I know what you think about my feelings, but if I were a man youd call it a hunch and it would be a whole different thing as far as youre concerned."
"Okay, youre right." He held up his hands in mock defeat. He could afford to indulge her for a moment. "Whats your feeling?"
"I have a feeling that our future is here in Denver, not in Kansas City." She waited a moment, expecting him to object but no objections came. "I telephoned the contact for that last job interview, they should have made a decision by now but they havent. I told them that I would seriously consider an offer, even though it was step down. Theyre going to get back to me. If they offer me the job, Id like to accept it."
He couldnt believe it. An hour ago he thought hed lost her, now he was getting everything. The cost would be too high though, if the woman he loved wasnt happy. He held her eyes with his own for along moment before asking. "Are you sure? Are you really sure? Because it doesnt seem fair ..."
"Im really sure. Dont ask me to explain why, I just know that this is the right thing to do, for both of us."
"Babe " He lifted her hand to lips and kissed it. He took both of her hands in his and looked at her with serious eyes. "Im not as sure."
"But I am," there was an element of urgency in her voice. "This is right for us. Please Nathan, no more wasted time apart."
"Who are you really trying to convince?" He wondered if it was herself that she was trying to talk into this.
"You, only you," she said firmly.
"Alright On one condition making a life around me and our children wont be enough for you woman. I know you and if youre unhappy, if you arent challenged in your work, if it becomes necessary to move again so youll be happy, then we do it." He cocked his head little sideways. "Agreed?"
He watched her for a moment. He wanted to be sure. There wasnt a hint of doubt in her eyes. His instincts were telling him she was being honest, both with him and herself. He smiled and leaned across the table toward her, she did the same and they kissed gently and then again, more deeply this time.
They drew back from one another. He caressed her cheek with the backs of his fingers. "Do you have any idea how much I love you?" he asked seriously.
She smiled lovingly at him, "Almost as much as I love you." They kissed again, this time the kiss lingered, fanning the first sparks of passion. "You know," she said with a wicked glint in her eye, "my return flight isnt for another seven hours."
It took only a split second to realize what she was getting at. He grinned. "I like that way you think, lady."
"Cmon," he slid out of the bench seat and offered his hand to her. She smiled up at him and took it as she stood up.
"Shouldnt you let the others know?"
"About this! Hell no!"
"No!" she giggled. "I mean shouldnt you let someone know that you wont be back in the office today."
"Theyll figure it out."
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
Life returned to a relatively normal routine. Nathan was his cheerful self once again. Ezras face healed up nicely, without any "unsightly scarring," and he and Vin went back to arguing over the "dividing line". Another month passed until one morning Nathans telephone rang. It was Rain.
"Whats up?" They knew it was Rain. Every time she telephoned, Nathan dropped whatever he was doing and leaned way back in his chair, maxing-out its springs, as he stared off into space with a tremendously pleased grin on his face.
"Nathan, do you remember when I was doing my masters? I did a study, here at work that I used for my masters thesis. The Board had considered implementing it until budget cuts shelved it. That was a couple of months before you got the interview with Chris."
"Yeah, sort of, it had something to do with early childhood education I think."
"Close enough," he could almost hear her shaking her head in resignation, he really didnt remember. "The project has been resurrected! A private benefactor has come forward, the Future Quests Group. Theyre going to finance the pilot project and theyve asked me to be the project leader!"
"Thats great," he couldnt keep his disappointment out of his voice. His heart was sinking. He knew this was a great opportunity for her and a damn good reason for her not to move to Denver anytime soon.
"No, no its not what you think!" She had heard the disappointment in his voice. "The Future Quests Group is based in Colorado and I told them that I wanted to work out of Denver and they agreed!"
"Nathan this is a really great opportunity! I get my own budget. I get to choose the project team. It will be really busy for a while, but the best part is Ill be in Denver and we can be together!
"Rain, thats great! Thats really great!" This time his sentiments were heartfelt.
The rest of the men had been watching the one side of this conversation. Nathans initial pleasure at the unexpected phone call from her; followed by his confusion as to what she was talking about; and then his profound disappointment that suddenly turned into elation as he jumped to his feet.
"The project is only for three years, but Nathan, lets have a little faith here. Lets get married. Lets get married now and worry about whats going to happen after three years later."
"Yes, yes, Ill marry you."
The stunned looks around the room slowly turned into sly smiles.
"Nathan, I have to go, theres lots to do. Love you Babe "
"Love you t "
He was left standing looking at the receiver. She got a job, a really good job! He set the receiver down slowly and then looked up to see six questioning expressions.
He smiled and then suddenly an avalanche of words, "She got a job! A really good job, project manager, she wants to get married! Its here in Denver. Its not permanent, the job I mean, its for three years, but she asked me to marry her. Weve talked about it before but "
The torrent of words suddenly ended as he stopped and blinked. "Whoa Momma, Im gonna get married!"
Nathan was suddenly subjected to a lot of back-slapping and arm pumping as the other six rose quickly from their chairs and came over to shake his hand and congratulate him.
"Yer a lucky man Nate!"
"My felicitations Mr Nathan."
"Ya know what else this means?" asked Buck, his eyes sparkling with mischievous glee! "A bachelor party!"
The door between the kitchen and living room at Chris ranch swung shut. The engagement party was in full swing.
She finally had him alone for a moment.
"Miss Rain," his smile was broad and charming, he betrayed nothing.
"Ezra," she smiled back at him sweetly.
"I havent had to opportunity to congratulate you on your forthcoming nuptials. I have every confidence that you and Mr. Jackson will be most happy."
"Thank you. Tell me Ezra, what did you have to do with my getting the project managers job?"
He appeared to be quite taken aback, "Why, me Miss Rain? Nothing, I can assure you."
She watched him closely. The man was incredible! He portrayed absolute innocence.
She knew differently.
"Im must admit I am woefully uninformed as to what it is that you even do for a living, my dear."
She leaned back against the counter with her arms crossed. "Uh huh."
Palms up, he spread his hands out in a gesture of ignorance, his eyes wide and innocent. "Believe me I havent the slightest inkling as to what you are referring to."
"So youve never met Mr. Charles Thorne Simpson, Vice-Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Future Quests Group, even though he was your mothers third husband."
The innocent expression dissolved. Hed been found out. He debated for a moment as to what to do next. Then after short consideration, "I could probably lie well enough to have you believe me but after this most recent affair you would always wonder wouldnt you? As it is, I would doubt you could ever trust my word again after everything that has happened." He smiled a little regretfully "Yes, I spoke with him," he admitted without shame, "but believe me Miss Rain, I had little impact on his decision."
"Ezra, I think I understand why you did it and it was very sweet of you but I'd like to make it on my own abilities "
"Oh, have no doubt my dear, you have earned this. Charles is nothing if not an extremely astute and scrupulous businessman. Two things mother hadnt counted on when she married him. If he did not believe in this endeavour, he would not have endorsed it. And most certainly my connection with him would have very little bearing on his decision one way or another. I only mentioned this opportunity to him."
"Ezra, Ive met your mother and I " she paused a moment as she thought about how to say this tactfully, her one introduction to Maude and her then companion had been less than cordial and Ezra had been thoroughly embarrassed by her snubbing of both Nathan and Rain. "I dont want you indebted to this man on my behalf."
"Charles is an exception, among my mothers husbands. In recent years I have learned to recognize true friendship when it is offered. During their short marriage, Charles offered me such friendship but I was an angry, 14 year-old adolescent who had learned only distrust and cynicism. Their union was short lived but even after the divorce, he kept in contact with me during years when I needed a friend the most. My life would be very different today if it hadnt been for him."
"Under the circumstances Ezra I cant "
"Please, dont do this Miss Rain," he pleaded. "I have done you no great favour here."
She looked up at him, his eyes implored her not to give up this opportunity. Shed had first hand experience with his talents, but somehow she knew he was being truly honest with her. She smiled, "We owe you a lot Ezra, thank you."
There was a sense of relief to his smile, "You are most welcome." The eyes became guarded, "My dear, you will not mention this to Mr. Jackson or any of the others will you?"
Rain didnt completely understand why Ezra would not want anyone else to know but she would comply with his request. She smiled, "Of course not." And then she stretched up onto her toes and kissed him affectionately on the cheek.
"Thank you my dear."
At that moment Nathan, Josiah and JD came barging through the door with arms full of empty snack bowls.
"Hey whats going on in here?" Nathan demanded. "What are you doing kissing my fiancée?"
"I was just asking Ezra if he would give me away at the wedding."
"Say what?" Utter disbelief spread across his face.
"I asked Ezra if he would give me away at the wedding." She repeated patiently.
"Why not your uncle Harland?"
"Because I asked Ezra."
"Im not sure I want "
"Its either Ezra or my sisters."
Nathan visibly cringed and with a look of horror he turned to Ezra, "Ezra, Id be forever in your debt if you would agree to give Rain away at our wedding."
Ezra was mystified by Nathans reaction. "What is wrong with Miss Rain siblings?"
"Ezra have you ever watched the Simpsons? Do you know who Marges sisters are? Compared to Rains sisters, Marges are pleasant, generous people."
Rain punched Nathan, hard, on the shoulder, "My sisters are not that bad!"
Rubbing his shoulder, "Whattaya mean? They hate me!"
"Mr. Jackson you are speaking of cartoon characters, Miss Rains sis "
" are only too real. Summer refuses to learn my name, she calls me Norton and Meadow knows peanuts give me hives and always cooks with peanut oil when we go over."
"Meadow does not!"
"Rain, every time I eat there I break out in hives "
"She wouldnt do that!"
"Ezra, you have to help me out here!" Nathan appealed to the undercover agent.
"Miss Rain, are you sure there is not an appropriate male blood relative who could perform this honoured duty."
"I dont want any of them, I want you."
Ezra gestured toward Josiah and JD were standing behind Nathan refilling snacks, "Perhaps Mr. Sanchez could perform this honour, he surely would be more a more appropriate "
"Ah Ezra?" Josiah raised his hand as Ezra turned to look at him "Best man."
Looking back at Rain she simply cocked her as if to say, "Well whats it going to be?"
"Ezra, Id just say yes if I were you," advised Josiah.
Ezra was still unsure as he looked from Rain to Nathan and back to Rain.
"Ezra its either that or our first child is named after you "
"Now hold on a minute!" Nathan bellowed indignantly. "Were not naming any of our children "
"Miss Rain, I am, truly overwhelmed, by the honour you have bestowed upon me and it would be my greatest pleasure to act on your behalf."
"Whipped!" Muttered JD shaking his head as he shouldered his way through the kitchen door back to the party, "you guys are completely whipped."
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