Walking in, everything felt a bit odd to Nathan. The room was too big, and didn’t at all have the same vibe like their old Quarters had had; there was far more on display than what the old Casa did when they were rooming. Models, books, all sorts of things filled the space in an area that was actually a functional living room and not just a sort of shared foyer. Two factions drew into battle formations within Nathan’s brain; one of envy and the other muditā. Mostly, the latter was the stronger emotion of the two, with Nathan decidedly being vicariously joyful for Benjamin, knowing that the man had more than earned his spot as Chief Engineer. And as Ramius thought more on it, the begrudging side of him seemed to melt away.
Finally, he moved from the door and toward one of the proffered seats.
“I could do some snack type stuff maybe, though I’m not crazy peckish at the moment,” he responded, while eyeing up the bottle on the table, a slight eyebrow raising upward.
Whiskey and not the still stuff? Hmm.
"You didn't have to do anything," Ben’s voice broke his concentration on the minute detail, "You're my friend; all I need from you is... Just to know you still are."
“Not at all,” Nathan had responded reflexively, though then realized how the statement could be taken, and added to it,
“I mean, about the box. I couldn’t very well come without a housewarming gift…” he paused, “er. A Quarters-warming gift.”
Ramius had purposefully left out commenting on the second half of Ben’s statement. There were plenty of words that were sitting at the tip of his tongue, and few of them seemed civil enough for the beginning of a conversation. In the past, he might have just said those things, though now he kept his mouth in check more often than not. Placing the gift on the table, he then looked to Benjamin and the way he sunk into the chair, and Nathan knew there was more to be said. While Elias started to pour, Ramius motioned for a splash in his glass as well. He listened carefully even as he grabbed for the libation, bringing it up to his nose to take in the aromas.
"I'm sorry,” Ben said, and it echoed in Nathan’s ears.
Sitting quietly, the young man tried to keep a stoic face. There were just too many emotions in him that whirled about like a fire-devil spinning about in a sea of ash and soot. Just hearing Ben talk about it dredged up many things that Nathan had been busily burying in his subconscious since his ex-roommate had done a midnight run, except never came back. But as Benjamin continued, a different vein of feeling was struck, especially as the words ‘best’ and ‘friend’ were uttered. A mix of thoughts and sentiments washed over Nathan’s face, before he quickly covered it back up; though it didn’t stop the emotions themselves from rushing around.
It was at that point that Nathan took his first sip of whiskey, enjoying the flavor that hit his tongue, while the heat that emanated afterward was welcomed too. It didn’t burn like the rotgut did, but there was actual flavor beyond just pure ethanol.
"I never even took the time to ask you about Michelle…”
Nathan froze. Unmoving, he had missed the entirety of what Benjamin had asked next; he could have been a statue as even his breath was held. The name brought immediately the recollection of her face, and it was something that he couldn’t shake, at least not right away. As his breathing returned, forced by his brain to do so, he finally managed to blink. Slowly, the rest of his faculties came back, but Nathan stayed quiet for a long while after. How long, he didn’t know, but it was long enough for his fingers to turn slightly white in places from the pressure that he’d held onto the whiskey glass with. Releasing the grip a bit, he brought the glass up to his lips and took a sip again. There was a sort of heaving sigh as Nathan tried to get air back into his lungs to catchup on the lost oxygen from before. His brows furrowed together harshly, though his lips were pulled down into a more sad looking sort of expression.
“There is… a lot, to unpackage.”
Placing the glass down onto the table, Nathan then sat back in the chair and steepled his fingers in front of his mouth, as though he were about to say a silent prayer. And, perhaps, he was. The cogs turned, as he considered how he wanted to approach it all. Ben had done an excellent job in defusing the bulk of Nathan’s frustration and anger by being so upfront with the apologies. There was a lingering resentment at the bottom of that barrel, but nothing that couldn’t be covered and eventually forgotten over time. And then the pain that still traced its way through his veins made itself known too. But, mostly, it was lessened significantly. Finally, he dropped his hands, and looked directly at Ben.
“I can’t imagine what you’d have to do to not be my best friend, Ben. We’ve fought and bled together. I consider you a brother.”
There was a pause, and Nathan broke eye contact for a moment. Taking a deep breath in, letting it settle before releasing it, he returned his gaze.
“But I won’t lie that I… I’m hurt. I felt abandoned, not once but twice over. Both from people that I trusted the most. More than I ever thought I’d be able to trust. I don’t… I… suffice to say that **** got dark as **** for me. I’m still reeling from it all. It was like I was stuck on the wrong side of a weir, just tumbling over and over, getting a gasp of air but slowly drowning just the same. I’d grab onto anything just to get some stability, and maybe I’m still flailing,” he stopped himself suddenly, realizing that he was rambling.
Reaching forward, Nathan grabbed his glass and took a good swig, finishing off what had remained there. The empty glass was gently placed back onto the coaster.
“I know… I know that you know all that. You wouldn’t have invited me here, and wouldn’t have offered apologies otherwise. At the time I didn’t quite understand it all. But I’ve come to realize that you were caught up in things, and hearing you say it just reaffirms what part of me believed and knew from the very start; Chief Engineer isn’t an easy job. Less so when you’ve gotta monitor a system that hasn’t exactly been stress tested they way it was for our jumps. I mean… I knew all of that, but at the time… it, it just didn’t set. So… I guess that was just a long-winded way to say, I accept your apology,” Nathan chuckled, though it faded quickly.
Again, he leaned toward the table and picked up the glass that had just been refilled by Ben. This time, it was a more measured sip. He closed his eyes, forcing himself to taste and enjoy the drink instead of just throwing it down his gullet. Nathan’s hand still held the glass as he opened his eyes, which were now fixated on something across the room.
“She had said yes, you know. It was a yes. I’d never been so happy in my life, I think. But it was also the shortest span of happiness I’d ever had too,” another sip occurred.
“I hadn’t told her about the next upcoming Megasphere mission. Never mentioned it because… I dunno, there were a lot of reasons. Even just for the sake of operational security I probably shouldn’t have told her. But, I did. We argued some. I can understand her anger now, but at the time I thought she was being irrational... like the dumbass I am. There were words exchanged, the placing of guilt onto people… and then I confessed that I had volunteered for it.”
There was another long silence as he stared off. In reality, he was reliving every moment in his brain, as though it was all happening again.
“I don’t know why I said it; I have a compulsion for being honest, I guess. That was the nail… in the… and she said that security was already scary enough, and why would I go and volunteer for something like that? She couldn’t understand it. I couldn’t understand why she didn’t understand. There was plenty of misunderstanding.”
The seconds ticked on, as he kept going through the motions of those memories. But something snapped him back, bringing him into the present. He could feel his eyes welling a bit and he suddenly felt ashamed. But then he decided that Ben would likely understand. Still, he wiped his eyes so that he didn’t blubber completely.
“It didn’t help, everything that had happened on the planet before… er, the Megasphere. I mean, that didn’t help the situation, because I think it shook her some. Eroded her confidence in herself. In her choices.”
Yet another sip, and this time he held it in his mouth and swished it around before tilting his head back to gulp it down.
“She left that night. I don’t know how she got the transfer request in so quickly, but something tells me Tyra signed the orders the moment she saw them. There was no love lost there after the mission, I think. I don’t even know where… where…” he sighed heavily, gritted his teeth, and forced himself to say her name, “I don’t even know where Michelle is, or if she is okay. And I’m terrified to even find out…”
The last sentence sort of fell off, and Nathan went quiet. Only a moment passed though, before he suddenly looked up, straight into Ben’s face, and said,
“…but I still ******* love her, and I don’t know if I ever won’t love her.”
There were plenty of unasked questions in Nathan’s face then. The kind that, if answered in a certain way, would reassure him. But also the kind that, if answered truthfully and honestly, would give him little succor though might shorten the length of time it took to heal. Perhaps he already knew the answers too, but even after a month of asking himself, still didn’t accept or understand them.