But there won't be anything
Compared to what the world has shown us
We're nothing but a speck
Let's give them what they least expect
-14 Arms by Crash Kings
Charlie pushed through the brush to distance herself from the current argument that her mom and Miles were having. Aaron wasn't much for company these days, so she went to the only other person left in the group. She plopped down on the ground next to Monroe, mimicking his position of leaning back against a fallen tree.
Monroe glanced at her, raising an eyebrow in question. Charlie studied him for a second, amusing herself that this was the man that she sought refuge in. It amazed her to look at him and no longer feel the all-consuming wrath she had grown accustomed to. She didn't know how she felt about him anymore, but it was no longer hatred. She turned away from him, hoping to signal to him that she didn't want to talk about it. He seemed to receive the message because he stayed quiet.
It was only after the arguing voices in the distance quieted, did she feel like speaking.
"Did you know?"
There was a heavy pause, before Monroe sighed. "No, I didn't. I've had my suspicions. You are remarkably like Miles was when he was your age." He paused and considers his words. "Well, still is for that matter. I didn't know anything for sure, though."
She considered his words before continuing, "You know, you might be the most honest person I know."
"I've nothing to hide anymore. I'm a man of simple ambition; kill the people that destroyed my city."
"I don't know what I'm even fighting for anymore. For the longest time all I wanted was revenge for Danny and my dad, but that no longer seems like an option. My hatred for you fueled me for so long that now I don't know what I'm attempting to fight for."
"You have a family that is more dysfunctional than a damn Jerry Springer episode, but a family nonetheless. And if that's not enough, help me kill the bastards that nuked my city, then you can go back to hating me and plotting the many ways you are going to kill me."
Charlie felt a little lighter at his words, and the hint of amusement in his eyes was reassuring.
"Look at it this way, you don't have to change your name, you're still a Matheson."
That got an actual laugh out of Charlie, for which she was rewarded with a small smile from Monroe.
"I cheated to pass Algebra. I read trashy Western novels. I didn't have my first kiss until I was 17."
"You're making it difficult," Charlie whined as she passed the flask back to Monroe.
"That's the point. Take your best guess."
"I'm going to go with the first kiss being the lie."
"Ha! It was the cheating one. I never cheated in any of my classes, that was always Miles."
"You didn't have your first kiss until you were 17?"
"Why is that so surprising Charlotte?" Monroe smirked.
Charlie could feel a blush beginning to form, but she refused to back down. "The string of mistresses you left behind in New Vegas brings forth a different picture."
Monroe laughed. "What can I say? I was late bloomer. Miles was always the ladies man."
"The great Sebastian Monroe was shy growing up?"
"I was just Bass back then…still am now." His tone was soft and earnest.
Charlie shifted. "Okay, my turn."
"Shoot," Monroe responded after taking a sip from the flask. He then sent it back her way.
"I loved Harry Potter growing up. My first kiss was when I was twelve. I had an imaginary friend named Marley until I was nine."
"I think the kiss is a fake-out. I'm going with the Harry Potter one."
"Nope, it was the imaginary friend. I never had one, Danny did. I loved the Harry Potter books. Aaron would read them to Danny and me every day during school. We would pretend to be wizards during recess."
"Let me guess, you were always in Gryffindor?" Monroe teased.
"And you probably always admired Slytherin?"
"They are a vastly underrated house. Draco was just misunderstood."
They both laughed and as they quieted, they could hear the distant fighting of Miles and Rachel, round five. The mood instantly shifted.
"It's funny that I was the one that was lied to my entire life and they are the ones that are fighting."
"There's a lot more going on between those two, this is just the battle they chose to fight about."
"I didn't think that having to claim me as a child would be such a contentious issue," Charlie scoffed, taking another drink from the flask. She couldn't help but voice her inner most insecurity.
"Hey, it's not about you." Monroe paused after getting an incredulous look from Charlie. "Okay, it is, but not the way you think. It's just…well, Miles has learned that he had this amazing kid that he missed out on raising and seeing grow up. Take it from me, he's wondering right now if he would have turned out better, if the world would have been better, if he had chosen to be a father rather than a general."
"What do you think?"
Monroe contemplated the question before shrugging. "I honestly don't know."
Charlie jolted awake for the third time that night. She glanced over at Aaron's restless form in the bed next to her. She quietly scooted from the bed before sneaking over to the adjacent room of the abandoned farmhouse they took refuge in. She cracked the door as quietly as possible. She peeked in, the moonlight from the window lighting the figure that sprang up in his bed. Monroe gave her a questioning look.
"Aaron's a kicker."
Monroe snorted, before tossing the other side of the covers back in invitation. Charlotte smiled in thanks before climbing into the warm bed.
The next morning she woke, half expecting for this to be awkward. She cracked her eyes to see that she stayed on her side of the bed and he his. He was sprawled on his back. The only parts of them that touched were their feet, and she was not one to complain considering how toasty they were at that moment. She slept more peacefully than she had in a long time.
She stared at Monroe's sleeping form and she had to admit that he looked peaceful in this state. The lines on his face were softened and the ever present tension was gone. Years were wiped from him.
As if sensing her stare, Bass shifted in his sleep before opening her eyes. He glanced over at her and gave her a soft smile. "Mornin'" His voice was scratchy from sleep and his expression soft. She could see him finally, the ever allusive Bass that Miles and her mom talked about.
"Good Morning Bass," she whispered.
His smile only brightened.
General Monroe stood in front of her, pointing a gun at her. "Choose. Is it going to be your mother or your brother? You can't have both."
The panic bubbled up. "Kill me, not them."
"It doesn't work like that Charlotte. You have to pick one or I pick both."
She darted her eyes between the two faces, one more familiar than the other. There was terror written on both of their faces, but her mother gave her a small smile. "You know what to do honey."
Charlie nodded. "I pick my mom."
Monroe's laugh sent a chill down her spine. "Wrong choice." He twisted the gun around and shot Danny point blank, his body crumpling to the ground.
Charlie woke with a gasp, only to be greeted by the face from her nightmare.
"It was just a dream Charlie," Bass murmured to her as he crouched over her body.
"Get away from me murderer," she spat out, scrambling from her spot on the ground. She stumbled away from him, angry tears blurring her vision. She felt the leftover panic from her dream still gripping her insides. She tried to run, but she ended up tripping a few dozen yards form camp. She huddled on the cold ground and just cried. The realization that the dream wasn't real started to sink in, but it didn't make her feel better, it just made her feel worse. Monroe had caused the death of Danny and she wondered what he would think, seeing her confiding in Monroe and becoming his friend. Those thoughts only served to make her angrier.
She heard feet approaching, but she was in no mood to deal with Monroe yet. "Go away. I don't want to talk about it."
"Too bad kid," Miles gruffly replied.
Charlie looked up and his face softened at seeing her tear-stained face. "Miles…" She didn't know want she wanted to say, but all of a sudden seeing him there filled her with relief. She crumpled forward and started to cry again.
"Hey, hey, hey. Kid, it's okay." Miles sat next to her, wrapping her in his arm and cradling her head to his chest. "Shhh, Charlie, it's okay."
He stayed like that, letting her cling to him tightly as she cried herself out. It was only after the hiccups subsided did he loosen his grip on her. "What happened Charlie?"
She looked up at Miles and knew she could trust him. "I had a dream that Monroe made me choose whether to shoot Danny or mom and when I said my mom, he shot Danny instead."
"And you saw him when you woke up and…" he trailed off.
"And I freaked out. It made me realize how wrong I am for talking to him and not hating him."
"Look, Charlie, it's not that simple. It never has been. There's nothing wrong with you. We've all done terrible things. You've killed people. I've killed people. Your mom's killed people. All of those people were somebody's Danny, somebody's kid, somebody's spouse. I'm not excusing Bass, but you have to remember, he wasn't alone in all of this, and I hold my fair share of the responsibility for what happened with him and the Republic. Everybody deserves a second chance."
"But, I can't help but picture what they would think, Nora, Danny, my da-" She quickly cut her word short.
Miles didn't hesitate before responding. "I don't pretend to understand what kind of friendship you've struck up with Bass, but I know things have been rough lately, more so than usual. And I've noticed that you and Bass get along. Just the other day, he said something, I didn't catch what, but you laughed like I hadn't heard you laugh in months. Your dad and Danny would want that for you."
Charlie nodded. "Okay."
"And kid, Ben was your dad. Nothing changes that. He raised you and loved you more than anything. You can talk about him to me."
Charlie smiled, leaning over to hug Miles. "Thanks Miles."
"Come on, let's head back."
When they got back, Monroe was watching the fire, obviously waiting for them. He met her eyes and Charlie felt her stomach clench as she saw the tension and worry that filled his features. Miles glanced at the two of them before clearing his throat. "I'll take the next watch Bass, why don't you guys get some rest." Miles walked off, ostensibly to check the perimeter, but it gave them a measure of privacy.
"I'm sorry," Charlie whispered as she sat down next to Bass.
"You don't have to be sorry."
"I know, but I am. It was just a nightmare."
"About me," Bass grunted, still staring at the fire.
"Yes." Charlie didn't sugar-coat it. "It was a dream that you shot Danny."
"I might as well have."
"Maybe, maybe not. It doesn't matter because he's dead and you are here helping us. You can either brood over it or you can come lie down and get some rest with me." Charlie pushed herself up and returned to her bedroll. A minute or two later, Bass shook out his sleeping bag next to her and got in.
"Come on Bass, wake-up," Charlie whispered as she shook him.
Bass jolted as he came to. He blinked heavily for a second, looking around at their surroundings before his eyes fell on Charlie's. He shook his head before moving out of his sleeping bag. He gestured to it, to offer it to her. She took it, although she unzipped it to wrap around her. It was still warm from his body, and it smelled like sweat and trees, just like him. He raised her eyebrows at her in silent question. They had gotten better at communicating with each other using minimal words. It had been useful numerous times now.
"I'm not tired. I thought I would keep you company."
"You just want me to tell you more about The Count of Monte Cristo," Bass responded as he went over to the log she had sat on during her watch. She plopped down next to him.
"I liked you telling the story the other day. It was interesting."
"Okay," Bass smiled. "Where were we?"
"He just got locked up."
"Ah yes. So the prison cell was dark, except for a lone window up in the ceiling. There was a small bed of straw in the corner…"
Charlie let Bass' smooth voice wash over her and she felt herself relax. She pulled the sleeping bag tighter around her, bringing another whiff of Bass' scent. As he continued telling the story and she got lost in it, she subconsciously leaned against him. He jumped a little, but then relaxed, moving his arm to wrap around her. Eventually his voice lulled her into sleep.
Charlie shifted her feet as she stared down a deer that was a few yards away. She slowly raised her crossbow, trying to not make any sudden movements that would spook the animal. She inhaled, about to let loose an arrow when the ground lurched underneath her. The ground rolled underneath her, and the forest transformed into a deafening nightmare. A tree crashed down not far from her, but trying to move was out of the question. She vaguely remembered Aaron instructing her as a kid what to do in case of an earthquake, duck under a table or stand in a doorway. It was never covered what to do if you were stuck outside.
Eventually the rolling stopped and Charlie gave herself five seconds to try to catch her breath and push down her fear, before running back towards camp.
"Mom? Miles? Bass? Aaron?" She called them all, trying to locate people.
"Charlie?" Bass' voice called out.
She shifted her direction to find the source of the voice. "Bass?"
A moment later Bass emerged from some brush out of breath. He strode forward, grabbing her arms and studying her carefully. "You okay?"
Charlie breathed a sigh of relief after doing her own scan of his body. "Yeah, you?"
"Never better. Nothing like an earthquake to wake you up in the morning."
"Come on, let's go find the others."
They moved through the undergrowth in the direction of the camp. They called out occasionally, but heard no response. As they got closer, she heard Miles' voice, but his words made her pause. She put a hand up to stop Bass from yelling out.
"Rachel? Rachel?" He called out before muttering, "Come on Rach, don't do this to me."
"Miles?" Her mom's voice called out.
"Rachel? Is that you?"
Charlie stepped forward past a few trees, putting herself in a perfect vantage to watch the two as they approached each other.
"Miles!" Rachel exclaimed as she crashed through undergrowth. She ran into Miles' arms and she made out their quiet words.
"I'm so glad you're alive. I was worried. Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine."
They stayed in their embrace for a few moments, before Miles pulled back. "Have you seen Charlie?"
"No. We should find her."
Charlie felt her stomach clench at the realization of how much her mom and Miles meant to each other. They were each other's number one priority. It stung to know that it took them a minute to realize that they needed to find her. She felt angry tears prick at her eyes, but clenched her fists, willing them to go away.
She flinched when a hand came to her shoulder. She turned to stare at Bass, who looked surprisingly kind in that moment. The man that had caused her so much pain was also the man that came searching for her in the forest, even when her parents did not. She gave him a small smile, feeling as if he had her back. At the moment, that gave her the strength to turn around and call out to her mom and Miles.
"Hey Bass," Charlie called. "D'ya want to come help me with gathering some wood for the fire?"
Bass shrugged. "Sure."
They quietly set off into the woods. That was the nice thing about being with him, words weren't needed to fill the silences, which Charlie much appreciated. Charlie waited until they were a good 100 yards from camp before she halted. Bass gave her an inquisitive look at her sudden stop.
Charlie didn't give herself any more room to think about it or second guess herself. She leaned up, placing her hands softly on his bristly scruff, before ghosting her lips across his. Her lips tilted up as she felt the familiar settling feeling in her gut that she got whenever she was around Bass. Like maybe, the world wasn't about to spin out of orbit after all. The feeling that her world was shifting, ever since that day the Militia killed her father, had never left her. She has always been looking for someone to ground her. But those people kept dying or leaving her. Bass hadn't.
She stayed for a moment in his space, keeping her eyes closed as she felt every breath of his tickle her face. She slowly opened her eyes to see Bass completely confused. She shifted to move back, but Bass' hand reached around her to pull her back close.
"Charlie?" His voice was rougher than she had ever heard it, that one word holding so many questions.
She knew he was asking why him? Why now? Was she sure? What the hell was she thinking? She gave him the truth in return for all the honesty he had given her. "You came back. You always come back for me, even if I don't want it. You make the world stop spinning and for a few short moments I can breathe easy knowing that you've got my back."
"You deserved better than this life."
"Maybe, but this is the life I have now and I'm choosing you to be in it."
Bass nodded and gave her a sad, but sweet smile. It wasn't the blinding smiles she read about in books when she was a girl. He didn't laugh as he twirled her in his arms and they didn't embrace passionately. But there was an understanding between them, a deep and now unbreakable trust that was stronger than any confessions of love and passion. In this world that they lived, that was more than they could have ever hoped for.