== San Francisco, Potrero Hill – after the events of Back to School subplot ==
Seagulls filled the air with their cries, along with a light crackling from a small fire contained in an insulated brazier. Surprisingly, there was not a cloud in sight despite the fog that had inundated the City in the morning. The West Coast was funny like that, Nathan mused. Or perhaps, it was just San Francisco. With the sun having past behind the horizon, a bright dusk had crept up with long fingers of light still peering out from behind the landscape. As it set, the slightest of breezes passed through the rows of housing on Potrero Hill. Sitting in a reclined wicker chaise, Nathan sipped quietly on a pint of Sapporo – a ritual that went as far back as his first visit to the City with his friend, Ada Miller. Of course, it only continued when he went to the Academy. Patio parties always made for exciting evenings after passing a tough exam.
Except tonight it was just Nathan on the rooftop, with not another soul in sight. In fact, he’d arranged it to be so; renting the very same private floor studio style apartment for a night, from the same concerned woman that had rented it to him during Academy breaks. Thinking back to those days, Ramius considered that he probably should have went home to Massachusetts and visited family, or at least, for more than just the occasional important holiday.
“Hmph,” tossing back the final swig of beer, Nathan poured himself another round. By his count, he was on track for a fantastic sleep – eight pints in, and going for his ninth.
“Ninety-one bottles of beer on the wall…” Ramius giggled to himself, being careful not to spill a drop of his precious suds.
“Eight in?” a voice called from behind him, startling him enough to push the glass in his hand away suddenly. Clumsily, he managed to grasp the drink in an awkward two-handed clawed catch, but not before spilling a bit on his pants.
Who the hell…?
Whipping his head about, a great big smile lit up as he recognized the face to the voice.
Jumping up from the chaise, it took a few steps for him to find a good footing, before Nathan finally grabbed his old friend in a tight embrace.
“What are you doing here? Why are you here? Wait. How did you know I was here?”
“Calm down Inspector Clouseau,” Ada returned the embrace, before pushing Nathan away to get a good look at him, “you are worse for wear, aren’t you?”
“Oh thanks,” Nathan scrunched up his face, and then stuck his tongue out, “Yeah? Well, you look tired!”
Faking shock, Ada gasped, then gave a playful punch to Nathan’s shoulder.
“Ow! Right in the bone Squeaker! Stop,” he started laughing as she chased him back to his seat.
“The 'famous' Nathan Ramius returns to San Francisco, his old stomping grounds, and you think no one would talk? And then, the same man returns to the Academy to commiserate with an old instructor? No… a current instructor… but why?”
“More like infamous. Anyway... wh-who said?” Nathan asked rather sternly; surprised that someone had ratted him out.
Tossing her head and hair back, Ada laughed,
“Everyone talks for the right price. You should know that better than most Natey. Angela told me. The moment you stepped through the doors of the Academy, you were made. I think she still has a thing for you.”
“Yes! Apparently, she waved to you, but you were way too gung-ho about something to even notice. Then it just took a little bit of chatting with the right people to find out where you were off to, but no one could figure out why you were there.”
“Well, the fewer that know, the better,” Nathan solemnly nodded and then took a good-sized sip of cold beer.
“Is that so? Not even your best friend can know?”
“Wait. You didn’t finish answering my question. Why or how are you here?”
“Teleporter to the Hill, then I walked here,” Ada made a sarcastic grin as she poured herself a round.
“Funny. I mean, on Earth.”
“I’m on shore leave. Heard you were here. So… I teleported over. Anyway, ‘why or how’,” she imitated Nathan, “isn’t important. What is important to me is that you are here. There has been some hub-bub about more than a few people from the Artemis being spotted in and around the Sol System.”
“Shore leave,” it wasn’t a lie, but Nathan was keeping something from Ada, who knew him better than most should.
“Mhmm. Just shore leave?” Ada pressed, taking her first sip.
“I… I can’t say more. Not about the others at least. As for me. I came back to the Academy…” a long pause filled the air between them, until Ada shook her head,
“Yes, we’ve established that already with the whole Angie thing. Are you really not going to say?”
Across and slightly down the street, a noisy group of people exited a small café, laughing and carousing as they did. It was enough to take Nathan’s attention for a moment until he heard a familiar huffing sound from beside him. Turning back, the features on Ada’s face reminded him so much of their past. There was so little that he could hide from her, because Ada knew not just when Nathan was lying, but when he was withholding information. It meant trying to keep surprise parties secret from her was all but impossible. In fact, it got to the point where their friends wouldn’t even tell Nathan when a surprise party was being held, so that way Ada wouldn’t be able to divine it from him. It wasn’t a choice he had; it was apart of who he was. Or, at least, it was a part of the relationship the two had.
“Oh Squeaker, I really don’t want to talk about it,” Nathan slumped onto the chaise, lazily grabbing a small log from beside the fire pit, and stoked the flames.
“That bad huh?” Ada relented some, taking another swig from her glass and looking out over the skyline.
The sound of the people who had exited the café echoed off the walls of other buildings; their laughter filling the air. Of course, being as loud as they were, they were bound to attract the attention of someone or something. The sound of two dogs baying at the rabble-rousers added to the noisy exfiltration of said coffee group. A shiver slid down Nathan’s back, while a smile cracked his lips apart. Being back on the rooftop, next to a fire, with Ada beside him, and the sounds of the City was like a warm hug. An embrace that seemingly had been missing for some time, Nathan realized. Just how long though, he couldn’t be sure. Nor was he sure that it mattered.
“Huh?” Ada’s voice snapped him back to the present like an elastic band.
“Okay, enough joking around, cause you are kind of scaring me a bit. What’s going on?” all the previous playfulness was gone from his friend’s voice; replaced with sincere concern.
Letting out a long sigh, Nathan only rotated his head to look at her, while his body was still draped across the chaise.
That one word was enough to make Ada nod her head, and take several minutes of silence, to allow everything to process between them. Both drank in between. And both knew exactly what needn’t be said, because it was completely understood between the two of them. Yet, that wasn’t all of it, and Nathan’s conscience wouldn’t let the conversation dwell on only that point for too long.
“And not just Ponm,” Nathan finally offered up, “but a lot of other things that have happened since I joined the Fleet.”
“There was a point, after the last mission where… where I didn’t know what I was doing any more. I was questioning everything. Overthinking, yes, but at the same time I needed to do that thinking, because… things happened, and…” there was a big gap of air, gulped up by Nathan through several deep inhalations, before dramatically let out in several hefty sighs.
“There are some things that happened that I legitimately cannot tell you. Unless you want to get debriefed and watch me get carted away to do brig time…”
Ada’s face grew into anxious apprehension, and a worrying furrow ran along her forehead.
“The stuff that I can tell you about though, isn’t really anything that would be news to you. It’s almost embarrassingly… it’s about things… roads, that we’ve been down before. Things that we… or maybe I, thought I had dealt with, but didn’t. And now, I just don’t know. You know? I’m at a point where I can’t quit, but I can’t see the way forward either. Where do you go from there? I’m stuck in a vortex I can’t escape, and I feel like I can’t breathe. We aren’t talking for just a few days… we are talking months now.”
“Oh Nathan. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because, like I said… some of it is old stuff that I thought I had moved past. Things that were between you and me. Things that hurt you. Do you know how hard it is to bring that sort of stuff up to you? That’s the lowest point our relationship had ever been in, and I feel like we never recovered from that. I failed you in a spectacular way, and now I just keep failing forward in time.”
Having not realized it, but somewhere in between all that speaking, Nathan had both sat up and finished his drink. Ada hadn’t responded, but quietly had a few sips herself, as she measured her words. It made Nathan nervous, as she took her time to formulate whatever it was that she was going to say. Of course, he thought the worst, because why not at that point? So far, Ramius felt like he had failed every test of his character and code up until that very moment between them on the patio. Having Ada walk away from their friendship would only add another notch.
“Nathan… you never failed me,” Ada didn’t look directly at her friend, but her words very much caught his attention.
“Did you screw up back then? Sure. But you never failed me. In fact, you probably helped me to see what was happening around me, more than I would have had you directly confronted me about it. Actually, if you had just talked to me about it, it probably would have pushed me deeper into Chad’s arms, because everyone was against him at the time. I couldn’t see past how people were treating him, to realize how he was treating me. I loved him. I really did, despite everything.”
“But if you hadn’t stepped in the way you did, I dunno. Maybe I might still be with him. Maybe I wouldn’t have ever joined Star Fleet. There are a lot of ‘maybes’ and ‘what if’ scenarios that we could play out, but all of it really amounts to nothing. Because you stepped up. Yeah, you went overboard in typical Nathan Ramius style…” Ada chuckled a bit, “but you never failed me. Now it’s my turn.”
Ada rose and walked the couple of steps over to cuddle in directly beside Nathan,
“I’m sorry,” her eyes peered deep into his, “for making you think that. For not addressing this sooner. This isn’t something you should have ever had to worry about. Or have it hanging over your head with everything else that you’ve been dealing with. Of everything you have to worry about, me… us… the past is not something you should spend energy on. Yes, it should still inform your decisions. Like maybe not throwing elbows at people,” Ada nudged him playfully again, with another lighthearted chuckle.
“Please Nathan,” she wrapped one arm around him, “forgive yourself. And if you can, forgive me too.”
Nathan turned and burrowed his face into her neck, wrapping both of his big arms around his friend.
“I… I…” Ramius stuttered, his voice cracking.
“It’s okay. You don’t have to say anything right now. Just hug, okay?”
A small nod was the only response, while the cry of seagulls from overhead pierced the silence, and the sun finally finished setting.