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The Carnival Wake

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Maison Adelaide was just about the last place he would have looked for Ezra's sorry hide, and so of course that was where he found him. The rooming house was a handsome two-story building in the middle of a colored neighborhood about a mile northeast of the canal. It had caught his eye from the street corner with its fresh coat of peppermint-green paint and its wrought-iron balconies, even before his gaze had fallen on the figure sitting on the front step next to a blackboard and chalk sign that advertised breakfast for a dime.

Nathan froze where he stood and was jostled as the rest of the traffic walked on.

He had made it into New Orleans in the pre-dawn darkness, and he'd spent the last twelve hours wandering the city, venturing into some of its dingiest gambling halls and getting the rush from the back doors of some of its finest hotels before finally making his way on recommendation to this narrow street off Esplanade Avenue in search of a bed for the night. All day he had been braced for a glimpse of a red-feathered derby in a crowd or a snatch of familiar patter from a poker table, but now he had given up for the day and his defenses were down, and he just stood there in the middle of the street, gut-punched.

Ezra stuck out like a turkey in a hen house from where Nathan was standing, but no one else seemed to pay him much notice as he sat there on the steps, shoulders slung low while his hands occupied themselves with a deck of cards. A group of little children were gathered some ways off, watching the fans and flips of the cards with cautious curiosity. As though sensing the new scrutiny, Ezra looked up slowly. The deck disappeared up his sleeve, and he warily reached up and took off his hat.

Maybe, Nathan would later think, maybe if he had been wearing his gun, he would have drawn on Ezra then and there. But he wasn't wearing his gun, and he wasn’t for a reason. As it was, his legs carried him slowly and stiffly across the street. When he finally stood looming over Ezra, close enough to see the threads of silver in his hair and the sleepless shadows under his eyes, his voice came out low and quiet, cracking in the middle: “Bastard.”

Ezra flinched just like it had been a gunshot. The children scattered but didn't go far, probably hoping for a show.

“Well?” Nathan said, and his hands clenched and his arms crossed to keep from reaching out and grabbing Ezra and doing God knows what to him. “Ain't you got anything to say for yourself?”

Ezra looked down at his shoes for a long moment, working his jaw like he was letting some poorly chosen reply get chewed up and swallowed. Then he reached into his coat pocket and drew out his cigarette case. He offered one to Nathan first, and when Nathan only stared, he took one out for himself and struck a match off the step to light it.

“I can’t say I was certain I'd be seeing you,” Ezra said before taking a long, slow drag from the cigarette.

The admission made the knot in Nathan's back loosen just a little, and he threw his bag on the step and sat down heavily with a frustrated grunt. “Yeah, well,” he said, deliberately misunderstanding him. “Ain't like you made it that hard to track you down.”

Ezra blew out a puff of smoke and then examined the cigarette with a dissatisfied expression. He stubbed it out. “This world of ours is getting smaller, Mr. Jackson. Soon there won’t be any room left for liars and sodomites.”

Nathan frowned and glanced quickly around, but Ezra's voice had been pitched soft and hadn't carried. The children had lost interest and had started up a ball game a couple of houses down. He shifted uncomfortably nonetheless and loosened his collar. It was hot out. He had forgotten how stifling it got around these parts, even at sundown, even in February. The humidity hung all over him, making him feel short of breath and dirty. It was worse, somehow, than the constant clouds of dust back home.

“Have you had dinner?” Ezra asked abruptly.

He shook his head. He could smell something cooking in the house. Roast pork, he thought, with fresh bread and something sweet. His stomach let out a croaking complaint.

“If you hurry, Madame Roy might let you in at the table.”

“Madame Roy?”

Ezra nodded up at the sign. “The eponymous Adelaide. The pork is overcooked, in my opinion, but there's coffee and pie.”

Nathan glanced back at the house. He shook his head again, this time in tired incredulity as he rubbed a hand against his mouth. New Orleans was something else, all right, but as far as he knew, people were still particular about public houses. “How did you even talk your way into this place, Ezra?”

Ezra smiled then, quick and bright, like he always did when he had gotten something over on someone. “I told Madame Roy that my daddy used to live in the neighborhood.”

And there it was, really. The thing that had dragged him out here all this way—besides the anger, at least. After nearly twenty years of knowing Ezra Standish, he could still find himself squinting at him and asking, without having a clue of the answer: “And did he?”

That smile narrowed, flattening out on one side. Ezra cocked his head, looking out at all the faces and fashions, the colors and classes. It was carnival season, and the streets were crowded with all sorts, all of them moving with too much spring in their steps for Nathan’s mood.

“Unlikely,” Ezra finally proclaimed and then paused before amending, “but not impossible.”

Nathan snorted and rose to his feet. His knees crackled like dry leaves on the way up. “Coffee,” he said, grabbing his bag. A hot cup of real coffee might be the high point of a day like this. The wooden steps, soft with the damp, creaked under his feet as he made his way to the door.

“Nathan?” Ezra said suddenly, just as he had put his hand on the latch.

He looked back. Ezra was still staring out at the street, and his hands were fidgeting like he wanted to light another cigarette. The deck of cards slipped out of his sleeve, and he held on to that instead, his knuckles turning white as he clutched it tightly.

“How, ah, how was the funeral?”

Nathan closed his eyes briefly and took a deep breath. Then he stepped into the rooming house and shut the door behind him.

~*~

In the autumn of 1866, the city of New Orleans was broke and angry but picking itself up out of the rubble, and so was Nathan Jackson. He must have been seventeen or so by now, he figured, but the number sat in his head like a wet lump of clay, shaping itself into one thing or another every time he thought about it. One minute he felt like an old man, bowed over by the burden of living his three score and ten in a fraction of the time. The next he felt young and stupid, as if the last year and a half had snuck by while he was sleeping, and there he was, still flitting around on the wind with no idea how to make a life for himself as a free man of the world.

He hadn't planned on ending up in Louisiana. He had only known that he was going to get himself killed or go crazy if he stayed in Alabama, and so he had picked a direction and started walking and didn't stop for ten days. The ghosts of the plantation followed him, hanging on to his shadow and weighing him down every step of the way. He'd had to go back—he had promised he would—but in the end there hadn't been anything but heartbreak waiting for him. His brother had died of typhus not long after Nathan had made his escape. His sister and her husband might have gone to Chicago, someone said. Maybe New York. Maybe Halifax, up in Canada.

There was no one left alive who knew what had happened to his father.

He took a share of a room in a crumbling tenement house in the middle of what he was told was the “Viyuh Cahray.” He couldn't understand half of what the other fellows said; he didn't know a lick of French, and even their English was strange. He kept to himself and didn't make trouble, and they ignored him for the most part, only laughing at him when he opened his mouth. They were six to the room, crammed in shoulder to shoulder on the floor, and the building was infested with anything that could find an inch to cling to. Still, it was better than lying awake at night in a burnt-out field with his knife in his hand.

There was a little money left in his pocket after paying two weeks' rent in advance, and he used the last of it to buy a new shirt and pay for a shave. With that, he got himself a job hauling crates and running errands on the river. He had thought he might like being on the water, but he didn't. The smell of silt and algae made him think of iodine and wet feet rotting in boots. The clanging and clattering and cussing made him jumpy.

It was dangerous work, and it was only a week into the job that Nathan found himself stitching up a gash in a man’s scalp with nothing more than a needle and thread and a bottle of spirits. His heart was pounding, and his head was a world away on a noisy battlefield as the other men gathered around to watch. He focused on his thread work, only dimly aware of someone hollering for a doctor and someone else calling back from the street.

The crowd shuffled and shifted, making way.

“You—what do you think you’re doing?” The voice that interrupted was deep enough to rumble.

“Keeping this man from losing another pint of blood,” Nathan said stubbornly, refusing to look up until the stitching had been tied off.

It was only when he had finished that he sat back on his heels and peered up at the stranger. The man was of a size to match his voice, both broad in the shoulders and bordering on fat. He was forty or so, maybe older, and well-dressed. He was too dark and his accent was too flat for him to be a local Creole. A minister—that was Nathan’s first thought, and so he reluctantly stood up. “I’d shake your hand, but…” He looked down at the dirt and blood. He was going to need to have his shirt laundered.

The man ignored the gesture, kneeling down instead to examine Mr. Armand and glancing back at him from the corner of his eye. “What’s your name, boy?”

Nathan bristled and met rudeness with rudeness. “What’s yours?”

He saw the man’s lips twitch as he examined the stitches and peered into Mr. Armand’s eyes.

“Pitcher. Doctor Eli Pitcher.” There was the slightest emphasis on the title. “And this is not altogether terrible work. Where did you learn to do this?”

“I was a stretcher bearer,” he said shortly. “Name’s Nathan Jackson.”

The man only nodded, and Nathan lingered, watching as this Pitcher fellow gave Mr. Armand instructions for caring for the wound and sent Johnny Sykes off to fetch a drink of water. Nathan rinsed off his hands and stuck them awkwardly in his pockets, and then he found himself following with a few halting steps when Pitcher stood up and began to set off back towards the street.

"Hey," he called out after him. "You, ah, you really a doctor?"

The man stopped and turned around, looking slightly amused. "Rush Medical College, 1851," he said, and then he looked Nathan over in consideration. "I would have charged that man a dollar for stitches like that, you know. More if I'd had to make the call, but given that you work here, we might consider it an office visit."

Nathan smiled modestly. “I guess he's lucky I was here first."

He expected Dr. Pitcher to smile too, but the man only arched an eyebrow. "You don't intend to charge him?"

"Of course not." His own smile faded slightly, and his brow creased.

"Why not?"

Nathan’s frown deepened. He shrugged, hesitating. “Well...he doesn’t make any more money than I do.”

“Does he make any less?”

“No, but—”

Doctor Pitcher held up a hand, forestalling him. Then, seemingly after a moment's thought, he reached into his pocket and drew out a fine gold watch. "Let us say you're in the market for a timepiece, Mr. Jackson. I happen to be selling one." He flipped it open. It was handsome, all right. "You approach and inquire as to how much I want for it. I tell you that it's free."

Nathan found himself stepping back just a little warily, his head tilting to one side. "I'd ask if it was broken."

The watch snapped shut with a well-oiled click. "My point precisely. We are suspicious of things that are under-priced."

Nathan understood his meaning. He shifted uncomfortably, but he understood. "I don't know," he said, shaking his head. "A man could take a watch like that for free and melt it down for the gold, at least."

Doctor Pitcher's face drew in; if that was a smile, it wasn't a happy one. "Your voice says...Alabama? Georgia? I expect, Mr. Jackson, that you know all about being rendered for scrap."

Nathan opened his mouth, but by the time he found voice to respond, Dr. Pitcher had turned on his fancy heel and marched back into the street with his big shoulders squared. Nathan watched him silently for several moments before the foreman called for him, and then he reluctantly got back to work, his mind casting far afield as he took down a wall of crates. He never did charge Mr. Armand one penny, but he began to wonder, there and then and for the first time in his life, what his back and his hands and his brain were really worth.

~*~

As it happened, the roast pork was a little dry, but there was plenty of gravy to go with it, and the coffee was hot and tasted better than anything he'd had since leaving Four Corners. He sat alone at the recently cleared dinner table, hurrying through his meal half out of hunger and half out of embarrassment at forcing the landlords into awkward hours.

Mrs. Roy turned out to be a tall, handsome woman about his own age who had a generous hand when cutting him a slice of pecan pie, and who hovered over him as he ate, watching him with undisguised curiosity.

"So you're Mr. Standish's cousin," she said, looking him over speculatively. She spoke with a soft, warm Creole accent that was much lighter when she addressed him than when she had called back to her husband in the kitchen or chastised her little boy for running through the house.

"Yes, ma'am," he said, awkward as always when Ezra dragged him into one of his lies, and he finally had to add for his own conscience, "something like that."

She looked him over again, but whether she believed a word of it or not, her sharp eyes and her slightly curving mouth did not betray to one side or the other. "He was beginning to wonder if you were going to come, I think."

Nathan swallowed hard at that, a bit of pie crust getting caught in his throat. He nearly hadn't, in all honesty. He had felt nothing but tired after the funeral, and leaving the half-warm comfort of four friends who were grieving nearly as much as him was just about the last thing he had wanted to do. The reproach in her voice itched at him, though, confirming that it wasn't just sloppiness that had made Ezra travel under his real name all the way from home to here: he had wanted to be found. It took a little more of the fight out of him, and he sat back tiredly, letting his dinner settle.

A girl of sixteen or so with her mother's looks came in to clear the plates. She paused to gaze longingly out the window at an informal party gathering in the street. At a stern glance from her mother, she turned her attention back to the table and whisked the dishes away.

"Your cousin says you're a doctor," Mrs. Roy said.

He ducked his head. "Well, not exactly, ma'am."

"Hn." She visibly chilled at that, crossing her arms. This time when she peered at him, it was much less kindly. "I don't hold with tonics, I will have you know. If you expect to sell any in here, I would think again, monsieur."

He was quick to shake his head, holding up his hands in defense. "What I mean, ma'am, is I ain't a physician. I just heal folks. Stitch up cuts, pull teeth, that sort of thing. For those in town who can't afford the proper doctor." And for some who had simply stuck with him by choice after Dr. Marshall had set up his practice, although he supposed there was no point in boasting.

She seemed to ease a little at that and gave him a restrained but respectful nod before turning the talk from his business to hers. "Your cousin took our double room, but he said you might like your privacy. There's one room vacant, though I can't be holding it past tonight."

His face went hot despite himself. Goddamnit, Ezra.

"I'll take the vacancy," he said stiffly, and he paid for it.

Mrs. Roy ably palmed the bill and slipped it into her apron. Then, with a sharp "Vyensee!" she called for her son and had him fetch Nathan's bag.

He followed the boy up a damp, narrow staircase to a hallway with four numbered doors. He didn't have to ask to know which one was Ezra's. He had figured out from looking at the building that only one room had both a street-facing balcony and a window that opened to the alleyway. The one he was led to was right next door.

"If-you-need-anything-y'all-just-ask," the boy rattled off, obviously by rote, as he lit the lamp for him. "Kitchen-closes-at-nine, door-is-locked-at-ten, house-is-quiet-by-eleven, lights-out-at-minuit."

Nathan had to smile, and he sent the boy off with a penny. Then he sat down on the bed and let his bones slump tiredly. It was a pretty room, clean and stylish. The bed was soft and dressed in light linens, and the wallpaper looked and smelled brand new. There was a painting of the Gulf of Mexico hanging on the wall—also new, he thought. It had that modern look, all blurry and shadowless, and when he forced himself back to his feet for a better viewing, it just so happened to bring him close to the window.

He flicked open the curtains a crack and looked down at where Ezra was still sitting on the front steps. The sun was properly setting now, having disappeared behind the westward buildings. The street lamps were being lit, and in the waxy orange glow of them, the street looked just as unreal as the painting. The people were smudges of rich oil paint, mingling over food and drink and music. Only Ezra was close enough to be crisp in his moss green jacket that was high dandy back in Four Corners, but here seemed to look a little old compared to some of the fashion in the streets—a little behind the times.

Ezra sat still as a statue for a while, staring out at God knows what, and then he rose abruptly. As Nathan watched, he paced the step restlessly four, five, six times, his mouth clamped grim and silent and his hands balled into fists. He then took off his hat and ran his hand almost violently through his hair, an uncharacteristically graceless movement. Then he turned once again, and Nathan couldn't see his face anymore, only the tension in his back and shoulders.

Nathan closed the curtains and then, missing Josiah so badly it hurt, he silently got ready for bed.

~*~

Josiah Sanchez was not the first man Nathan ever laid down with, but he was probably the first one he had ever wanted to look in the eye afterwards.

All right, he would later think, maybe it wasn’t what a man would feel for a woman. But it was something more than the desperate couplings of war, when any hand was the same in the dark and getting off was the only thing that could make a man stupid enough to go to sleep, and that something was wholly new to the young man Nathan still was when he came to the New Mexico territory.

The first time it happened was maybe six months after they met. Setting eyes on someone new—a white man least of all—and thinking straight off, ‘This man here, he’s going to be my friend,’ was something likewise strange to Nathan, but that just seemed to be how it went with Josiah. One day they were introduced, and the next they got to talking, and the next Nathan was spending hours at a time wandering the desert with this mad prophet, hearing about places all over the world and borrowing his books.

One night they got drunk together. At that point, Nathan could still count on the fingers of one hand the number of times he had gotten drunk on anything that wasn’t medicinal, and on even fewer fingers the times he had trusted anyone enough to do it with company. They shared some whiskey, and Josiah didn’t hesitate to drink straight from the mouth of the bottle and then hand it over, and Nathan, figuring madness wasn’t catching, went ahead and granted him the same courtesy.

They were sitting out under the stars and a big old summer moon, hidden in the shelter of a half-crumbled church wall that Josiah had built up and torn down at least a half-dozen times in the months that Nathan had known him. The desert night was cool, but they had built a fire, and in the flickering light of the flames, Josiah’s smile was sharp and his pale eyes glinted. They traded stories and jokes, and then, maybe around midnight, right in the middle of spinning a yarn and while Nathan was still laughing, Josiah paused and said, “My friend, you do have a smile,” and leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.

Nathan froze, startled, and then abruptly went warm. He rolled his shoulders, suddenly very aware of Josiah’s nearness and the solid heat of him. “Are you going funny on me, Josiah?”

He expected Josiah to draw back at the crack, and he did some ways, but he didn’t go far.

His little smile didn't fade either. “You going to shoot me if I am?” he asked.

Nathan wet his lips distractedly, his thoughts chasing themselves in riled-up little circles. “I don’t have a gun.”

Josiah outright grinned then. “You going to stab me?”

Nathan thought about the unasked question, embarrassed and uncertain but not entirely uninterested. This was lonely country; that was one of the reasons he liked it. Women were few out this way, though, and those that were here were usually married or working. That hadn't bothered him up until now. He heard some men talk like it was a real hardship, going without that sort of company for a year, or a month, or even a week, but he had never seen what was the matter with a man’s own hand and no one getting hurt or taken advantage of. He...liked Josiah, though. He was already counting him as a friend, and there was something altogether honest about his smile and his hands. Something that Nathan found undeniably appealing.

He looked around, making certain they were all alone. Then he lifted one shoulder and let it drop.

“Nah,” he said, and he smiled.

This time it was him who leaned in, only meaning to reach for Josiah’s buttons, but to his surprise, Josiah’s warm, dry lips pressed to his own. He had never kissed a man before, and for a moment there was almost something funny about it—funny-funny, not funny-queer—and his stomach rippled at the sensation of whiskers against his upper lip. Then one of Josiah’s hands clasped his waist, and the other curled carefully, almost sweetly, around the back of his neck, and then the hot flicker of the tip of a tongue darted across his lips. His urge to laugh faded to a wisp, replaced by something hot that tightened up breathlessly inside him. He shivered.

They ended up lying down in the dust together, the old saddle blanket twisted up and useless beneath them, and it was the most quiet Nathan had ever heard Josiah outside one of his somber moods as they kept on kissing, the only sounds their quickening breath and the soft rustle of cloth and the just-nearly-there whisper of slow hands on bare skin. It felt so good that he nearly shook with pleasure, and when he pressed back into the kiss, it was hard and fearlessly, because Josiah was just as sturdy as he was.

If he had thought about it at all, he would later muse, he would have expected Josiah to be a bellower, great bear of a man that he was, but when he spent in slick spurts over Nathan’s hand, he only buried his face against Nathan’s shoulder and let out three hard, shuddery breaths and clung to him tightly. Nathan wasn’t far behind, with Josiah’s hand stuttering and pausing for hardly a few seconds before starting up its slow persuasion again, twisting him up inside until he finally broke loose and let it come.

He closed his eyes as he spent, and Josiah’s other arm tightened around his middle, and he was hot as anything as his breath caught and his hips hitched. It was the done thing, he knew, to roll over straight away afterwards and pretend nothing had happened, but Josiah kept on kissing him long after, and it felt good and warm and kind of funny again. He chuckled, and Josiah gave him a squeeze.

A little while later, they cleaned themselves up and sat shoulder to shoulder in front of the fire, and after the barest pause, Josiah picked up his story right where he had left off.

~*~

It had to be some time after midnight when someone tapped softly on Nathan's door. The party in the street had mostly dispersed and moved indoors, but someone was still playing the horn nearby. It was a mournful tune, soft and bittersweet, rising now and then to what nearly sounded like an anguished wail. He tried to ignore the tapping, in annoyance at first and then guiltily. If Josiah—

Here he paused and took a deep, shaky breath.

—if Josiah were here, he would be giving Nathan that look. The one that might as well have said, ‘Go easy on him,’ even if the words would never leave his lips. Nathan’s jaw set stubbornly.

Ezra wasn't put off, however. There was no lock, and the house was dark enough and Ezra's touch light enough that Nathan didn't see or hear it but rather felt it when the door opened. A touch of cooler air drifted in from the hallway.

He was lying on top of the covers in his drawers and undershirt, and the draft was a sweet prickle over his bare skin. Ezra stepping inside and shutting the door behind him was less welcome, but that voice in the back of Nathan's head that wasn’t quite Josiah’s pointed out that beyond the discomforts of a stifling room and a strange bed and the street noise, he had mostly been waiting up to see if Ezra would even bother to say goodnight.

He listened to the nearly silent sound of sock-muffled footsteps. Ezra stepped into the sliver of streetlight that snuck through the curtains, then sat down on the edge of the bed beside Nathan's feet and hung his head. He was still mostly dressed, though his waistcoat and collar were unbuttoned, and he smelled like he had been drinking.

"What do you want?" Nathan whispered tiredly.

Ezra was silent for several long moments, and then he shook his head slowly from side to side. "I'm sorry," he said shortly. "Is that what you want me to say? I'm sorry."

Nathan stared up at the ceiling. He didn't want Ezra to say he was sorry, he wanted Ezra to be sorry. And he sounded sorry, maybe. Not remorseful, but down and dirty sorry, like a man who had fallen off the water cart or cheated on his wife.

He wet his lips, and in the confines of the room, the sound was obtrusively loud. "I want," he said quietly, "for you to tell me why you didn't have the goddamned decency to stay until he was buried."

Ezra curled forward, elbows on his knees. Nathan could very nearly hear the wry, dry curve of his mouth. "I doubt he missed me."

Nathan sat up so abruptly that Ezra jerked away. He had to bite down hard on the inside of his cheek to keep from raising his voice and waking up the whole rooming house. "For God's sake, Ezra. Did it even once enter your head that maybe I needed you there?"

Ezra turned and looked him unflinchingly in the eye then, maybe for the first time since that last terrible morning in the clinic. His eyes were wide and damp, full of mingled bafflement and misery and bite. “Oh please, Nathan. When have you ever needed anything from me?”

He nearly flinched, and his hands curled tightly into fists at his sides. “That man was the best friend I ever had,” he murmured, his voice low and choked.

Ezra did not reply for some time, and then his mouth stretched into a mean joke of a grin. "I see. It's good to know where I stand."

Nathan glowered at him, his jaw tightening and his teeth grinding, and then he pulled the quilt up and turned over, putting his back to the room. Somewhere down the years, he had figured out that ignoring Ezra was just about the worst thing you could do to him. “I love you, Ezra, but I sure as hell ain’t your friend right now.”

The bed creaked as Ezra gave a hard start. Nathan held himself still and tense, staring at the wall. It occurred to him that he had probably never said that out loud before. The first part, that is. He fought to keep his breathing quiet, as if he were somehow cold enough to fall asleep. As if he were every bit as selfish as Ezra.

A hand tentatively settled on his hip. He nearly kicked Ezra out of spite, but he pursed his lips and went on ignoring him instead, pretending he couldn’t feel the weight of the touch. He waited for Ezra to draw his hand back. He waited for Ezra to leave, sorry as he was, and go back to his room and drink until he passed out, or maybe to storm out of the rooming house entirely to go find a poker game or the next train out of here. Time stretched on, however, and Nathan found himself counting the seconds of one minute, then five.

He closed his eyes. He listened, and he waited, and sometime in the night the horn player packed up and went home. Then the sound of the party next door finally quieted. Sometime after, when the night was still dark and the room was devoid of any sound save for his and Ezra's careful breathing, Nathan drifted off to sleep. He dreamed of being seventeen again and alone in the city, and the distant sound of the dockworkers and watermen setting out before sunrise crept into his sleeping mind. In his dream, he could smell and taste the water, and wherever he wandered along the damp docks, a shadow followed him, its hand on his hip.

Ezra was finally gone when Nathan woke up to the smell of breakfast. His eyes were blurring and sore, and his neck was stiff from sleeping on the wrong side all night. He hadn't slept nearly long enough, three hours at most, but his stomach and manners demanded he rise. When he sat up, he could still see in the covers the faint imprint of where Ezra had evidently perched for a long while.

He rose and dressed and then washed in the shared accommodations at the end of the hallway. Then he hesitated in front of Ezra's door. He could hear him downstairs, talking to the little boy. His voice had that familiar rise and fall he used when he was showing off a card trick. Nathan opened the door and looked inside. The bed was still made; even Ezra at his neatest couldn't fold corners like that. He shook his head, then rubbed his eyes and proceeded downstairs.