Nathan scoffed when Tom didn’t answer immediately. “Fine. I can make it on my own.” He got to his feet, and Tom could not help but notice Nathan’s shakiness. He leaned on the wall for support, his head down as though he fought off dizziness. Tom immediately felt bad for delaying.
“Okay, let me help. I’m…sorry.” He didn’t quite know what he was apologizing for, but he knew Nathan needed help. Tom wished Nathan would tell him what was going on. Maybe if Tom helped, he would tell.
Nathan grunted, and let Tom support him. It was not quite as difficult as before, when Tom had helped him down the hall. Nathan had gotten stronger since then, at least, and could support more of his own weight. Once he was securely on his feet, though, Nathan pushed Tom away.
“I don’t need to constantly lean on you. Just…be there if I fall, okay?” He tried to make it commanding, but his tone failed due to his weakness. It sounded pathetic, almost pleading, and the blonde sensed this. He looked away from Tom as if ashamed.
Tom didn’t know what had Nathan so weak and upset, but he didn’t care if Nathan sounded pathetic or not. He would help him, and then maybe later Nathan would help him if he needed it. Nathan had been the one who carried him to the doctors, hadn’t he? Tom brushed that thought away as soon as it surfaced. It embarrassed him to think about it, for some reason.
Tom followed as they passed by some other people, and Nathan tried to straighten up and look stronger than he obviously felt. Tom felt a pang of empathy at that. Didn’t he, too, want to look competent all the time?
It didn’t last, and as they walked Nathan began to lean on Tom slightly for support. Tom began to worry. What exactly was wrong with his friend? He helped him to edge of the deck, and then suddenly panicked. How could Nathan get across the bridge? Where was the official for this side?
“Let me rest for a second…I can make it.” Nathan sat down near the railing, catching his breath. Tom waited nervously, eyeing the bridge. He hoped Nathan made it without trouble. They couldn’t go two at a time.
“You go first. Don’t fall, okay?” Nathan grinned sardonically at him, and Tom felt a little better. If Nathan could make jokes about it, he couldn’t be that badly off, could he?
Tom wandered over to it, eyeing it once more. He glanced back at Nathan one more time, who almost appeared asleep, before hopping onto the bridge. He took a deep breath and ran across, not letting himself get psyched out by the height. Before he knew it, he was back home, and the navigator was smiling at him.
“Good job. You didn’t get scared this time.” Tom just smiled back and stood at the railing, waiting for Nathan.
He didn’t wait long before he saw Nathan step up onto the bridge from the other side. He took his time, though, not running like Tom had, and Tom grew nervous until Nathan made it safely back on Ruthen’s deck.
“C’mon, back to my room.” Nathan spoke up, breathing hard, and Tom silently acquiesced. He hoped Nathan felt better soon.
Tom followed Nathan again, who didn’t appear quite so willing to lean on him now that they were back home. They made it down to the lower deck where their rooms were before they were suddenly stopped.
“Hm. Well, I figured you were up to something.” Tom looked up and saw the same scary old man that he had run into in the hall. Archibald?
Tom’s reaction was nothing compared to Nathan’s. His eyes widened, and his knees suddenly shook. “Mas…Archibald, I’m sorry”-
“You’re right. You will be sorry.” Archibald spoke. Nathan suddenly pushed Tom roughly away and took the old man’s slap full force across the face. Tom jumped back, terrified. Nathan fell down from the hit, his hand to his face. He was crying now, his eyes tearing soundlessly.
Tom looked up at the man. What did he want with Nathan? Archibald saw him looking, and sneered at him. “This is none of your business, boy. When you have subordinates, you keep them under better control than him.” He pointed contemptuously at Nathan, who lay on the ground trying to control his tears. “Now get out of here!” He raised his hand again, and Tom split, racing down the hall as fast he could. He heard Nathan cry out again, but didn’t look back until he reached his room, locking the door.
Something was wrong here. Nathan was obviously terrified of Archibald, but why would Archibald have control over him? Nathan was his subordinate, but why? What had Nathan done? Gotten into a fight? Tom felt terrible. Nathan had been crying…Tom never witnessed him cry before. Tom brought his knees to his chest, fighting the urge to cry himself.
Life wasn’t fair sometimes. He had been looking forward to this day, to exploring, and all this had happened. He would stay in his room until dinner, he decided. He didn’t want to leave again. What if Archibald came after him? He felt like a terrible coward.
Nothing had gone right today. Hopefully it would be over soon.