Nate's not too sure about Sully's 'friends'. He didn't look to happy to see them when they walked into the bar, and he had a face like a god damn thundercloud when he told Nate to go sit in a corner and not make any trouble. Since Nate had never really seen Sully look that dark before, he was inclined (for once) to do exactly what he was told.
But that doesn't stop him from watching. The friends are all big guys, well muscled, crew cut. They're wearing the kinds of clothes that you can hide a lot of things in and under, and their boots are all business. They look like they can take care of themselves and a few other guys at the same time.
Nate's got no idea what they're talking about, but he knows that Sully's body language is stand-offish, resistant – Sully's been teaching him a lot of things lately, mostly how to spot a dangerous situation before it starts getting dangerous and he's not sure this situation qualifies as that yet but he knows that Sully would never look like that unless there wasn't something serious going on.
The waitress – a friend of Sully's - looks about as worried as Nate feels when she turns up and places four fresh beers on the table. The visitors hardly glance at her, but Sully's expression softens when he looks up at her in thanks. She pauses a moment, and he says something to her and she nods and goes back to the bar, and then two minutes later, she's putting a soda down in front of Nate.
"He wants you to finish your drink and go upstairs, Nathan," she says in a soft, easy voice. She always calls him Nathan, like it makes her more like his mom or something.
"Who are they?" he asks and reaches for his drink just for something to be doing. To Rachel's credit, she doesn't look back over at Sully's table, just grabs her cloth and wipes down his table.
"I don't know," she says, but she looks a little cagey so he thinks maybe she does. "Be a good kid and go on upstairs, all right?"
"Yeah, all right," Nate agrees distantly, still watching Sully. He sucks back his drink – probably a bad idea; he always has to get up in the middle of the night to pee if he drinks before bed – and gives the men another once over, looking for something, anything he missed. The conversation looks to be getting a little heated. No one's raising his voice of course, but Nate knows anger when he sees it. Seems like Sully isn't giving them the answer they want.
And then suddenly Nate goes from worried that this might get ugly to sure it's going to. One of the guys, the one sitting closest to Nate, leans forward and Nate sees two things in quick succession - one, the guy's sleeve slides back to show a tattoo on the outside curve of his bicep, an eagle perched on an anchor, gripping a rifle and a trident with something, maybe a skull in it's beak.
And two, the guy with said tattoo is reaching slowly under his jacket.
Sure, he could be reaching for his wallet to pay for the drinks, but Nate doesn't think so. He just trusts his instincts like he always has. He gets up, ignoring the way his heart is suddenly pounding, and walks directly and obviously straight over to Sully's table.
All four men freeze, but Nate makes sure he's looking only at Sully.
"Sully." He puts as much whine into his voice as only a fourteen year old boy can. "I'm bored."
Sully looks at him a moment, completely forgetting to mask his surprise.
"Who the hell is this, Sullivan?" the guy demands, but thank god his hand is easing away from whatever he was reaching for. "You never told us you had a kid."
Sully smiles a little, sort of strained. "He's not mine," he grunts. "I'm just… looking after him for a bit."
Yeah, Nate thinks, looking after him teaching him how to steal shit better.
"That's fifty lashes there, Sul," another of the men says like it's some kind of joke, and Nate stares at him because he doesn't know why, but he doesn't like the speculative way he's suddenly looking at him.
"It's not like that!" Sully says angrily, and catches at Nate's hand. His grip is bruising, but there's something like fear in his eyes now and that makes Nate's blood run even colder. "Didn't Rachel tell you to get your ass upstairs?" he demands of Nate, unusually harsh. "It's getting past your bedtime."
"Yeah," Nate whines again, throwing in a pout this time just for good measure. Just because his own dad never treated him like a normal kid, doesn't mean he doesn't know how to be one. "But you promised me I could read that journal and I don't know where it is."
Sully stares at him a moment longer, and then relaxes like he just can't win against a teenager's arsenal of manipulation tactics, which they both know is entirely not true.
"Fine," he sighs. "I did, didn't I."
"Hey," the guy with the tats and the gun says. "We're not done talking here, Sullivan."
"Oh, I think we are," Sully says, still gripping Nate's wrist like he thinks he's going to run away as he pushes his chair back and gets to his feet. "I've already given you my answer, and it's final. Drinks are on me. Nice to see you again, boys."
He turns, Nate in tow, and walks easily and casually over to the bar where Rachel is pulling another round of beers for other customers.
"We running?" Nate asks him under his breath, making sure his body language is completely natural - nothing to see here, move along - but Sully just gives him a bemused, half smile.
"No," he says, giving Rach a wave good night as they duck behind the bar and through the internal door that accesses the living spaces upstairs. "I don't think so. Not yet, anyway."
"Okay," Nate says.
"So, I guess, thanks, kid. You saved me a lot of grief just then."
"Sure," Nate says, like it's nothing, but inside all that cold from before is melting under a kind of gentle heat. Without speaking, he twists his wrist in Sully's grip, but when Sully lets him go he latches on to his hand, also a little like it's nothing.
Sully gives him another surprised look as they climb the stairs and Nate feels that warmth rising into his face, so he looks for something else to talk about.
"So, what'd that guy mean about fifty lashes?" he asks, curious. Sully coughs.
"It's a… Naval thing," he hedges. "Nothing for you to worry about."
That distracts Nate. "You were in the Navy?"
"That was a lifetime ago, kid," Sully sighs. "What did we say about lifetimes ago?"
Nate frowns. "We don't ask about them, but it's okay to tell if we want to. But you don't want to tell me, do you."
"Not right now, Nate," Sully says, gently and a little sadly.
"But one day?" Nate presses.
"Sure," Sully agrees. "One day. Now get your ass to bed."
It's ridiculous the way Sully insists Nate get to bed at a decent hour (before midnight, he says) but no one's ever bothered to care about him that much before to make it an order and somehow Nate doesn't really mind. Suddenly, he thinks about telling Sully about what it used to be like at home – what it was really like, why he doesn't flinch when people yell at him, why he got good at climbing and why Sully can't break him of the habit of locking his door or putting something up against it when he sleeps at night – and just as suddenly he can sort of understand why Sully maybe doesn't want to talk about when he was in the Navy, or who those guys were to him.
"Okay, okay," he gripes, letting Sully's hand go when they get to the hallway and darting forward to his door. "I'm going. See you in the morning, Sully."
He pauses at his door, and Sully ruffles his hair as he passes by and stops at his own door.
"I'll be right next door, kid, if you need me. Okay?"
Sully always says that. Lately Nate's started to think that maybe it's because maybe Sully's already guessed some of Nate's lifetime ago, and Nate's not sure how he feels about that but if they don't talk about it then he doesn't have to try and work it out.
"Ditto," he says. "My shit's always packed, in case we have to book it."
Instead of looking dismayed, probably like a normal parental figure would, Sully just looks pleased.
"It'll be fine," Sully reassures, and rather than sounding like a platitude, he sounds confident. "Maybe tomorrow or the day after, we might look at moving on."
"Oh," Nate says, smirking. "So, lots of noise from you and Rach for the next couple of days, huh?"
Sully looks mildly outraged then, and swings a foot in the direction of Nate's ass even though he'd never reach. Nate just laughs and ducks inside his room and as he closes the door, he hears a warm, "'Night, Nate."
"'Night, Sully," he calls back, and then locks his door, kicks off his sneakers and strips down to his boxers and falls into bed. And as he curls himself up and readies himself for sleep, he can hear Sully moving quietly about next door. The sounds aren't threatening, the way they used to be. That lifetime ago is over, and this – complete with divey bars and dangerous men – is what's passing for normal now.
But that's okay. Normal wasn't working for Nate anyway. But maybe this will.