She'll lie and steal and cheat, and beg you from her knees.
Make you think she means it is time
She'll tear a hole in you, the one you can't repair
But I still love her, I don't really care
-Stubborn Love by The Lumineers
"You don't need to come with me," Charlie called out to the figure following her on the dirt road.
"Like hell I don't," Bass spat out.
"Maybe I misspoke and you just don't understand. I don't want you to come with me."
"Ohhh, well that makes all the difference."
Charlie paused and glanced behind her. "Really?"
There was silence as they walked another mile or two, until Charlie spoke again. "I mean it, I don't need you."
"Did it ever occur to you that I need you?"
Charlie halted and turned slowly to her walking shadow. "What?"
"Look kid." Charlie flinched at the term Miles had so often used on her. Bass seemed to notice because he lowered his voice. "You lost your mom, your uncle, and your friend. I lost my son and my best friend. I'd known Miles since I was six. Even when he was out for my blood, I still considered him my brother. So, the way I see it is you and I have nothing in this world but each other."
Charlie felt her insides twist at the reminder that Bass was her sole connection to her family now. There was nothing left. When he put it that way, she knew there was no choice in what happened next. She turned back around and started walking again.
"Just so you know, I'm headed down to Mexico. I want to get as far away as I can from these damn Patriots. I don't want to hear no complaining about it."
They were ambushed by a handful of the poor bastard kids that were brainwashed by the Patriots. It was only a couple of them, so they didn't stand a chance against their numbers, but they were able to do damage, picking off a few of them. It was probably their intention. Habian's strategy. Going old-school, like the original Patriots.
Bass grunted as he pulled a sword from a body cleanly. He turned back toward the group to see one missing from the group he had been sitting around the fire with. He searched around him, only then noticing the body on the ground. He ran to his son, falling to the ground next to him. If he had imagined the death of his son, he would have thought he would have a few minutes to pass on a few last words to him, or at least to tell him that he was sorry for everything. Instead, the body was still, all life had vanished from the body. It was over. There was nothing more to it.
He felt a hand on his shoulder. He glanced up to see Miles staring down at him, pity filling his eyes. He jerked the hand off, stumbling up to get away from the grotesque image of his dead son just lying there. He pushed his way away from the group, only stopping briefly next to Rachel.
"You thought they were poor innocent kids, huh? A son for a son. I guess we're even," he hissed.
He stalked off into the brush, hating the tears that were clouding his vision. How many times would he have to lose the most important person in his life? How many times could a man face unimaginable loss and still continue forward? He waited until all of the sounds of camp died down and he could no longer see the distant fires before he collapsed on the ground, hunching over. He took deep, gasping breaths, trying to keep his body together as it trembled uncontrollably. It took about 30 minutes before he calmed enough to uncurl his body.
Sometime later, he heard the distinct sound of boots stomping through the brush. The person wasn't even trying to be stealthy. Somebody who knew he would be itching for a fight and was making sure their presence was known. He didn't turn around, just waited for the person to make themselves known.
Charlie plopped down onto the ground next to him and handed him a bottle of light brown liquid. He took it without saying a word, taking a long gulp of the bitter alcohol. He braced himself for comforting platitudes. But there were none. Charlie just sat there silently, every now and again taking the bottle from him to have a drink before passing it back.
"Is this what I did to you?" Bass whispered hoarsely.
"I'm sorry too." There really was nothing more to say.
Charlie was tired. Of course she was tired of losing people, tired of living without a roof over her head, and more importantly tired of her traveling companion, who had been suspiciously quiet for the last week. She was tired of all of those things, but more than anything, at that moment, she was physically exhausted. She wished she could curl up on a bed and sleep for fourteen hours. Hell, she wasn't picky, she would take sleeping on the ground.
But there really was no time. Every day there were new whispers of the growing reach of the Patriots. They weren't dumb, they knew that she and Monroe made it out of that final battle alive. She could only hope that they didn't view them as a threat now that they lost all of their men. Nonetheless, she was anxious to reach Mexico, where Miles said it was a stable place to live. If she wasn't allowed to go down in a blaze of glory, Monroe had vetoed that idea, then she wanted to get the hell out of dodge and live the rest of her life in quiet.
"This seems like a good place to make camp. Let's cut it short a few hours early."
"Come on Charlie,your eyeballs keep sliding to the back of your head."
"I'm not tired."
"Like hell. Don't be difficult Charlotte."
"I'm not being difficult," Charlie bristled.
"Well, you're sure as hell not being easy," he responded.
Charlie stumbled and she felt a wave of nausea pass over her. She doubled over and threw up all over a bush. She dry heaved a couple of times before wiping her mouth and standing back up.
"I think that settles it then. Take a seat and I will grab some wood for a fire."
That's how Charlie ended up lying on the ground next to a crackling fire, bundled up under her blanket and her jacket. The nausea had passed, but she still felt bone-tired.
"You're got to learn to take of yourself Charlie."
"When did General Monroe become so concerned about my safety?" Charlie muttered, staring into the flames.
"Since I'm the only one around that seems to be concerned. You can't keep looking for other ways to check out of this life. It doesn't work like that."
"Calm down, I was just tired. I didn't know I was sick with something."
They both froze as somebody came stomping through the trees. Charlie tried to get up, but Bass pushed her back down as he stood to stand in front of her protectively. He raised his gun, ready to shoot the stranger. However, before the person got close enough to see them, they turned and went off in a different direction. Only after a few minutes, did Bass relax and lower his weapon. She realized then that she was safe with him and that he would protect her no matter what.
"Dammit, they are pushing through our lines," Miles called out.
"We aren't going to last much longer. We should retreat back to the safe house," Bass responded as he laid down another round of heavy fire on the Patriots.
Bass looked around as Miles took over shooting. He spotted her about a dozen yards back behind a mound of rubble, taking out as many Patriots as she could. "She's behind us. We can grab her as we retreat."
Miles paused firing, crouching behind their upturned wagon. He seemed to be considering Bass' words. He gave a heavy sigh before nodding. "I'll cover you while you get her out. I'll be right behind."
Bass wanted to argue that they should switch, but knew once Miles got something in his head there was no changing his mind. "Fine."
Miles waited for a break in the firing before popping up to provide cover for Bass. However, the moment that Miles moved from behind the upturned wagon a bullet landed in his chest. Bass wished that time would slow down, but instead everything sped up. He heard Charlie's screams in the background, but she probably was unable to move based off the heavy shooting that the Patriots started up again. Bass fell forward toward his friend, putting a hand on the chest wound. There was no coming back from it.
"Miles, you son of a bitch, you can't do this to me."
"Bass," Miles gasped, struggling to breath. "Take Charlie and get her away from this. From all of this. Don't let her become like me, fighting for vengeance that doesn't exist."
"Like she is going to listen to me."
"I don't care if you have to lock her in some basement. She needs to live. She's all that's left of Rachel. Promise me."
There was no hesitation in his answer. "I promise."
"Good, protect her, like I couldn't. Keep her…." Mile's eyes drifted close, one final time.
Bass wanted to let out a sob, but he squared his shoulders instead, taking stock of his surroundings. The few straggling rebels were doing another round of firing on the Patriots, and he lept into action, getting Charlie safely away.
It was a week and a half later, right after crossing the Mexican border in the dead of the night that Charlie started to become suspicious. She did the mental math over and over again, becoming more and more agitated with each passing thought of it. She trudged forward, feeling the weight of her realization falling over her. Glimpses of that night flashed in her mind's eye.
"This looks like a good place to camp for the night."
Charlie nodded silently, actually taking in her surroundings. They were next to a river, with some trees to cover them. It was a good location, not that it really mattered. Since crossing the border she has felt safer. Between being out of Patriots territory and having Monroe with her at all times, she felt protected.
"I'm going to go down to the river and wash up. Will you start a fire?" Charlie asked.
"Sure," Monroe replied easily, glancing at her.
She walked off with an extra set of clothes and her old pillowcase that acted as her towel. She turned to the river and walked down stream until a few trees blocked her from view. She quickly divested herself of her clothes, stepping into the icy river. She took a few steps in and just sat on the smooth rocks. It wasn't exactly comfortable, but she felt like she had to get all of the dirt off her skin. She scrubbed vigorously with a spare rag she had. His tongue traced the shell of her ear, sending sparks shooting through her body. She dunked her head underwater, trying to push out the unbidden thoughts from her head. "Charlotte," he groaned breathlessly. She felt herself start to shake and she didn't know if it was from the river or her thoughts.
She stood up and moved to the shore, drying off quickly. She paused as her hands came to her stomach. She traced the lines of her belly, wondering if the bump she felt there was imagined or real. She tried to picture Monroe's response when he told her. She cupped her hand over her belly protectively, an instinct she didn't know existed in her flaring up. She didn't care. She thought of her mother, Nora, and Maggie. All of the women that had tried to protect and guide her. If they could do it, so could she.
She quickly dressed before returning to camp, happy to see the fire crackling in the growing darkness. She saw Monroe sitting on the ground, hands on his knees, as he stared at the fire that was currently roasting the one rabbit she could catch today. She was grateful because she hadn't had the stomach to do the skinning and cleaning the last couple of days due to the overwhelming urge to throw up at the smell.
She caught his eyes as she sat down next to him. She started to work her fingers through her tangled hair, pushing it forward so the fire would dry it. There was a peaceful calm between them at that moment, and she took her time gathering her words before speaking.
"So, I have something I need to tell you and you need to stay calm. I don't know how you are going to take it."
Monroe turned to her slightly. "Okay…"
Charlie took a deep breath, forcing herself to meet his blue eyes as she spoke. "I think I'm pregnant and before you ask, it's yours."
Charlie had imagined he might lash out or give her a comically jaw-dropping incredulous stare. Instead his face stayed impassive, the only sign that something was going on under the surface was the twitching of his jawline. He froze for a few moments before hunching forward, cradling his head in his hands before exhaling roughly. "Fuck," he ground out.
"Look, I'm not looking for anything. You got me across the border and obviously I'm not going back to fighting now. You've done your duty for Miles, you can get the hell out of dodge."
He looked up then and Charlie inhaled sharply at the pure emotion written on his face. He had never looked more human in that moment, panic evident on his face, unshed tears brimming in his eyes. "Is that what you think of me? That I would just abandon you?"
"I don't know what I think anymore. Obviously this wasn't something either of us planned on and look…I just want to give you an out if you want."
"Do you want me around? Would you trust me with this?"
Charlie didn't know how this got turned back around on her. She was going to leave it all up to him. In all honesty, she hadn't pictured Monroe sticking around. She tried with all of her might picturing Monroe with a baby in his arms, but it was impossible for her brain. But the man that was currently staring at her made her pause. The man in front of her became someone she trusted with her life. He made her feel safe in this world and she didn't know if she could do all of this alone.
"Yes," Charlie whispered.
Monroe nodded solemnly. "Then you aren't getting rid of me. I'm not going anywhere."
Charlie didn't even know that was the answer she was looking for until relief rushed through her system and all of a sudden this whole prospect seemed doable.
Bass watched as Miles took another swig from the bottle. Bass felt like he was on Matheson babysitting duty since the death of Rachel three days ago. He had to make sure that Miles didn't actually die from alcohol poisoning and he had to make sure that he shoved food in front of zombie-like Charlie every few hours because he wasn't convinced she would do so of her own volition.
Bass waited until Miles passed out by the fire before taking off to go relieve Charlie of her watch. He walked through the trees before coming upon Charlie, perched on the front of the wagon, watching the road in the distance.
"Why don't you go get some rest," Bass suggested as he jumped up on the wagon to sit on the bench next to her.
"I'm not tired," she tersely responded.
"Look, you haven't slept in days and you're going to be of no use to us if you can't hold your own in the fight. Go to sleep Charlotte."
"Come on." Bass felt his annoyance rising.
"Damn stubborn just like your mother," he bit out, realizing his mistake right after the words slipped off his tongue.
Charlie's face clouded over with anger. "I'm nothing like my mom. I don't abandon people I care about. I don't kill billions of people over some crazy science experiment. I don't cheat on my husband with his brother. I don't…." Her voice became more and more distressed. "I'm not dead like her."
"No, you're not," Bass whispered.
"I'm just so angry. Why am I angry at somebody who's dead? What is the point of that?"
Bass shook his head. "I don't know. It's not fair."
"It isn't. I don't want to be left alone."
"You're not. You still have Miles." Bass paused, considering his words before speaking them. "You have me. We're not going anywhere."
Not speaking, Charlie studied him before leaning forward, capturing his lips in a searing kiss. Bass instinctively reached out, pulling Charlie closer to him. Charlie didn't hesitate before climbing onto his lap, deepening the kiss. Bass felt like every nerve in his body was on fire. He gasped for air, pulling back, taking in Charlie's lust-filled gaze.
"What are we doing?" He asked.
"We're forgetting for a few short minutes."
"Charlie, that's not…"
She cut him off, kissing him. She pulled back, once he stopped resisting. "Either you can fuck me or I will find one of those soldiers over there who is willing. I'd much prefer you, but they can just as easily scratch that itch."
Monroe groaned, knowing she wasn't bluffing. The idea of her being with one of those men, made his blood boil. He didn't trust them with her and something akin to jealousy ripped through his body. He didn't want to analyze the situation. Instead he gave into his most base desires in that moment by pulling her shirt over her head and leaning forward to scatter kisses all along her collarbone.
He may be going to hell, but at least he was going down in a blaze of glory.
"This place looks pretty dead," Charlie commented as she stared at the weather-worn, single-storied home. It was probably quaint in a former life, but now it just looked dingy and dust covered.
"That's what we're hoping for. This place would be perfect because there is a town just about two miles west of here."
"Well, after you then. I'll cover you."
They crept up the overgrown lawn, their guns raised, before stepping up onto the wrap around porch. The wood creaked under them, but nothing came out at them. Monroe tried the door, but it was locked.
"That's either a good sign or a bad sign. It could mean somebody still cares about the property, but it also means that it hasn't been looted."
"Well, why don't you break the lock?" Charlie asked.
"Nah, I want to keep the lock working, this could be a really good place for us." He paused.
Charlie didn't miss the emphasis on the word us. They were an us now. Maybe not a couple, but they were connected somehow. She really didn't want to talk about it right now.
"Let me check the windows." Charlie changed the subject, set her gun down, and moved around the porch. She got lucky on her third window. It jiggled some and she tried putting more of her weight behind it.
"Here let me get it."
Charlie backed off and watched as Monroe jimmied the window open. He crawled through the space, giving her a hand as she followed. They paused and took in their surroundings. The house had a few furnishings still, mostly covered in dust. The air was stale, as if the house hadn't been lived in for a while. It was kind of surprising, though, that the place hadn't been messed with. Charlie walked around, surveying the house. There were two bedrooms, both with beds in it, a living room, dining room, and kitchen.
"It's perfect," she whispered.
"Yeah it is," Monroe murmured as he joined her in staring out the sliding door to the field behind them.
"I wonder who owned this place? Why hasn't it been looted?"
"I'll ask when I visit the town."
"We need supplies. You need supplies. We've got to get some better food and I've got a few remaining diamonds. I can ask around to see if anybody knows who owns this property."
"I can come with."
"No," Monroe nearly shouted.
Charlie took a step back, not knowing what had gotten into him. "Look, just because I'm pregnant doesn't mean I can't take care of myself. You are sorely mistaken if I'm going to lie down for the next six to seven month to be an incubator for your baby."
"Of course I don't expect that." Monroe shook his head and swore under his breath. "Look Charlie, we need to talk." He walked back into the living room and took a seat on the dusty sofa. Charlie followed him into the room, but remained standing, her arms crossed across her chest. "This is something that only Miles knows about."
"You can trust me," Charlie whispered, already feeling her anger fade at his subdued tone.
Monroe waited a moment, before starting. "I was married once, her name was Shelley. She was pregnant and we were so happy. It wasn't exactly planned, but we thought this was going to be our hope for the future, the way to make the world a better place and all that other clichéd crap…" Monroe trailed off, staring down at his clasped hands.
Charlie was afraid to speak. "What happened?"
Monroe's eyes, filled with unshed tears, rose up to meet hers. "Shelley died in childbirth, along with our baby boy. The midwife said she hemorrhaged out. All I know is I was sent to get fresh water and everything was fine, but when I returned, they were both dead. All I could think was that this world had killed them. Maybe if we had more supplies, were living in something other than a tent, or she just didn't have to do so much in those preceding months. I kept running those maybes over and over in my head and it drove me insane…literally. When you told me that you were pregnant…I just can't let that happen again. I can't lose you too."
"Oh Bass…" Charlie walked over and sat down next to him.
"So, yes, I'm going to be overprotective the next six or seven months and no I don't expect you to just lie there, but please, for my peace of mind cut me some slack. It's not that I don't think you're capable, it's just..."
Charlie put her hand up. "I get it Bass."
The softness in his voice nearly broke her heart. "Of course. Look, I'm not saying I'm going to do everything you say…"
Bass chuckled, "You wouldn't be you if you did."
"But I will try to be more reasonable and take steps back when I can."
"That's all I ask." Bass leaned forward, pulling her into his arms.
Charlie didn't know anything in her life was missing until she felt Bass' arms encircled her, fully encompassing her. She felt her insides settle. Despite what Bass just told her, she felt like things might turn out all right after all. This place was perfect and if they could find out whose it was, everything would be even better. That reminded Charlie of something. It didn't take her long to conclude that she could trust him with it.
She pulled back, not completely, so she was still close. "If you're still going to town to get supplies and look for the owner of this house, I have something that could help you." She pulled her left boot off and then dug into the toe, pulling out a small bag. She handed it over.
Bass opened the bag, tipping the contents into his open palm. His mouth dropped at the pile of diamonds and gold coins in his hand. "Where did you get these?"
"My mom. She had been saving them for a while. She told me about it a couple weeks before she died. She had wanted me to have something to start a new life after we defeated the Patriots. Slightly different circumstances, but I think the sentiment is still the same."
"If we can find the person that owns this property, if there is anybody that owns it, then we can buy it. I'm trusting you not to run off with my money."
Bass laughed, "I wouldn't dare. Well, I should get to town before it gets too late. Will you please stay behind, just in case the town isn't so friendly to outsiders?"
Charlie considered Bass, his soft expression, and she knew there was only one way to answer. "Yeah I will. Actually, throughout this entire conversation I've been half dreaming of those beds. I'm exhausted."
"Good, you take a nap. I'll go out through the window and close it behind me, so you'll be safe. Any requests?"
Charlie lit up. "Oooh, any kind of fruit and also some bread, something baked today."
"You've got it," Bass smiled, leaning forward and pressing a kiss to Charlie's forehead. It was so quick, it was obviously instinctive. "Be safe."
Charlie returned his smile. "Be safe too."
"When did Sleepy over there pass out?" Charlie asked as she returned with a couple of rabbits.
Bass snorted, getting his tools to help Charlie skin the rabbits. "About 30 minutes ago."
"Are you sure you two are related?"
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"I'm just saying I've never seen anybody sleep more than your son, while I've only seen you asleep like three times, you're always up before everybody."
"Being almost assassinated in the middle of the night has that effect on you."
"It's been years, get over it already," Charlie teased. "How many times have you fallen asleep and not been almost assassinated? Really, the odds are small considering the thousands of times you have been asleep."
Bass couldn't help it, he laughed. "I think you're just trying to lull me into a false sense of security."
"Oh please, like I would kill you in your sleep. That has none of the satisfaction of really making you suffer. I personally couldn't understand Miles' move. If it were me, I would have been more creative. Covering you in honey and setting loose a whole hive of wasps near you."
"Ouch, that is pretty twisted. I'd take a knife in the dark over that any day."
Charlie chucked. "Danny and I came up with that one day after Mrs. Kazinsky yelled at us for smashing her flowers from playing soccer when I was about 13. She was this crotchety old lady who could sense if kids were having fun, and then she would do everything in her power to stop it. That particular day she really laid into me for not acting like a lady, that I was too much like a boy. I would never get a boy interested in me at the rate I was going. Danny jumped right in, yelling why would I be interested in boys, that's gross. And even then, if they didn't like me, then I think the exact quote was 'they're just a stupid face.'"
Bass noticed Charlie's smile start to fade at the memory of her brother. His heart clenched, knowing he was the cause of death of her brother, yet she was sitting here helping him prepare for food. "I'm sorry."
Charlie looked up and gave him a sad smile. "Everybody thought that I was the protector of the two of us. But, he protected me too. He always had my back."
"That's what siblings are for. I had two sisters that I would have done anything for."
"You did?" Charlie perked up.
"Yeah, Lyla and Tyra. Lyla was two years younger than me and Tyra was five years younger. Lyla was this musical prodigy that spent all of her time in her room practicing the cello. Tyra was probably the most intelligent person I knew. She was brilliant in a way that boggled my mind. She started taking college classes when she was fifteen. They both had these amazing futures and I loved them so much. We teased each other constantly and anytime I came home on leave, it was like no time passed. My family would be sitting around the dining table, and it would be chaotic and loud with laughter and jokes."
"Drunk driver. Killed all four of them a couple of years before the blackout."
"Shit, that's awful. I had no idea."
"I hated that person who caused their death so much, could never forgive him. The irony is that I turned into him. I did the same thing to you. I'm your family's drunk driver."
They were silent for a few minutes. "Your actions led to the death of my dad and brother. You did not directly kill them. It took me a while, but I realized there is a difference and I've long since forgiven you for your part."
"You have?" Bass hated the hope that coursed through him in that moment.
"Sure, as long as you forgive me?"
"For starting the rumor that before the blackout you were a lead member of a boy band."
Bass laughed, tension leaving him. "How do you even know what a boy band is?"
"Miles explained it to me once."
"Figures. Well did he tell you how he tried to sleep with some 19 year olds by convincing them he was the tour manager for One Direction?"
Charlie pushed back her chair and ran out the open sliding glass door, throwing up in the overgrown bushes. She heard the familiar steps of Bass coming up behind her. All of a sudden her hair was out of her face and his warm hand rubbed comforting lines along her spine as he crouched down next to her. She gave a few more drive heaves, before feeling comfortable enough to stand fully up, wiping her lips with the back of her mouth.
"I hate this," she whined.
"I know," Bass spoke soothingly, pulling her into his arms. "It should be over any day now."
"Really?" Her voice laced with hope.
"Yeah, if my math is right, you should be into your second trimester and things will even out a hell of a lot."
"That's good, because I'm not sure how much more I can take."
They both froze at the same time, hearing the sound of the undergrowth rustling. Two sets of feet by Charlie's ears. Monroe pulled out his gun, ever prepared, before putting his body in front of Charlie's, acting as a human shield. She would be indignant, if she hadn't left her own weapon on the dining room table where she had been eating lunch.
Two women, one elderly, one Charlie's age, walked around the corner before raising their hands at the sight of the gun. They both had dark skin, probably from working in the sun, with matching curly brown hair. Bass paused before he lowered his own.
"We came because somebody in town told us that a man came around a couple days ago, asking about this property," the younger woman said with a heavy accent.
Bass hesitated, but Charlie's gut told her that these women meant to no harm at all. She shoved him aside, coming forward. "Yes, that was him. We have been traveling for a while and we found this place. We didn't mean to intrude but it looked abandoned and we really needed some place to stay."
The younger woman turned and translated this to the older lady, who responded quickly in Spanish. The younger woman spoke again, "This was my uncle's property, but he died a few years ago when the influenza outbreak happened. It is my mother's now, but we live a mile east in our own house, so we've had no use for it. It's too far away from town for anybody interested in renting it. We've left the property locked up and nobody has touched it since then."
"We're sorry to intrude then. I'm Ally and this is Michael."
"I'm Izzy and this is my mom, Maria," Izzy said before translating their names to her mom.
Maria smiled brightly, before stepping forward and reaching out to Charlie. She touched Charlie's slightly protruding belly, while speaking enthusiastically.
"My mom says that you are with child and that in this world that is a blessing from God."
"Tell your mom thank you. My husband and I have been traveling, looking for a place to settle down. If she is interested, we would be willing to buy the property. We have diamonds and gold we could pay her with."
Izzy conveyed this to Maria while Charlie smiled at Bass, who had taken a step back. He just watched passively.
"My mom says she would be willing, the house is no use to us now and it would go to a family. She said there are two conditions."
"What are they?" Bass asked suspiciously.
"That you make this a home again, use the land to create something. And that you come to dinner tonight at our house. You both look tired from your travels. She is the best cook in town, ask anybody."
"We would love that," Charlie responded. "We can work out the details of buying the property then."
"Great," Izzy exclaimed. "Come over around sundown, that is usually when we eat. If you start to head north, you will hit a stream, just keep following it. It will lead to our house."
"Sounds good," Charlie replied, smiling at both women.
That didn't need to be translated as Maria, clapped her hands once excitedly, before giving Charlie and then Bass kisses on both cheeks. She and her daughter hurried off, speaking quickly between them.
Charlie shook her head in disbelief at what just happened, before heading back into the house to retrieve a water bottle in order to wash out her mouth. She chewed onto a few mint leaves, getting the acidic taste of her mouth, all the while Bass was shadowing her moves.
"What was all of that?"
Charlie sighed. "What was what? I think it was pretty obvious what was going on."
Bass followed her as she made her way into one of the bedrooms. "You just told them we had that money, without checking their story. You really trust them?"
Charlie crawled into bed, exhaustion catching up with her. "Yes, I do."
"Obviously not enough to tell them our real names, Charlotte."
"Well, I'm not stupid, Sebastian," she mimicked.
His full name seemed to calm him down some. He scrubbed his face with his right hand, before glancing back at Charlie, who just stared right back up at him. "You do know you are infuriating."
"I've been told that a few times. Come lie down with me."
Bass hesitated, thus far they have kept separate bedrooms. "There are some things…"
"Look, we are a married couple now…"
"Yeah, thanks for that by the way."
Charlie looked down, fidgeting with her pillow, before looking up. "I sleep better when you are near me."
That made Bass freeze. "Really?"
"I feel safe and it is the only way I get really restful sleep. Please lie down with me."
Bass didn't hesitate this time, joining her in the bed.
"What are you doing up?"
"I'm knitting a sweater." He couldn't keep the dry sarcasm out of his voice as he continued to sharpen his sword. He sat on the wooden floor in front of the fire, the only thing casting light in the living room of the farm house they were currently taking refuge in.
"Ha ha ha," she responded, throwing herself onto the ratty old couch, her blanket wrapped around her.
"Ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer."
"It's not a stupid question when it's the middle of the night, this safe house is relatively safe, and there are at least three guys outside who are on lookout."
"Fine, what are you doing up?" Bass charged back, knowing the answer but wanting to shut her up.
It worked but the silence felt heavy and strained to Bass. Bass sighed, feeling guilty after recent events.
"I have difficulty sleeping some nights so I sharpen my sword, it can sometimes lull my mind into sleeping."
"Why can't you sleep?"
"I imagine it's the same reason you can't, images running through my mind of every single action I regret. Mine's a much longer list."
"And your solution is to sharpen your sword."
"Well, considering there are no women in camp willing to sleep with me and there are no late night infomercials anymore, yes I sharpen my sword."
Charlie pulled her blanket around her tighter, leaning into the couch more fully. They were quiet once more, this time the silence wasn't suffocating.
"I just keep thinking that there could have been some way for me to shake Jason out of it. Maybe if I said something to him, something meaningful that would have pulled him out."
"Yeah, that feeling is never going to go away."
"What? Aren't you supposed to tell me it's not my fault or that there was nothing I could do?"
"If you wanted that bullshit you could have talked to Miles. I'm sure he has already said that to you and look how well that turned out. No, I've had enough people say that to me in my life to know that those words never make you feel better. You tell the people that they do, that they are right, but deep down that gnawing feeling won't disappear. You'll just forget about it certain days, or other days it will be faded and worn. Some days, though, that nagging itch is going to flare up and there is nothing you can do to stop it."
"I guess I appreciate the honesty."
"I've never been anything but honest."
"True. Will you do me a favor for all of that honesty?"
"What?" Bass asked cautiously.
"Talk to me."
"We are talking."
"No, I mean distract me from what happened. Tell me some stories about you and Miles, before the blackout."
Bass understood what she was asking. Part of him just wanted to walk out and leave her. He felt uncomfortable with the growing connection and trust between them. However, one look at her small frame huddled on the couch told him that he couldn't do that, not after everything he had put her through. No, he would always be subject to her whims and desires.
"Did Miles ever tell you about how he and I organized our senior prank?"
"No," Charlie laughed. "I can't imagine having you two as students. What did you do?"
"Well we set up a ping pong table in one teacher's classrooms to make it look like a game of beer pong had been played," Bass paused at her quizzical look. "Okay, let me take a few steps back. Ping pong is a game…"
It wasn't until his second story about Miles and his first double date that he noticed that Charlie had dozed off. Her face was serene and she looked peaceful.
Charlie cursed under her breath as she tried buttoning her jeans. They were always tight to begin with, but now they were uncomfortably so. It wasn't like she had a closet of options either. She held her breath, sucking in her stomach long enough to get the button through the hole. She needed to get something else to wear because pretty soon she would be walking around naked if she didn't get some other things.
Life had settled downs for them in their little house, with Maria and Izzy coming by now and again to check up on them. Their family was kind and boisterous, having them over for dinner several times in the previous couple of weeks. Maria's husband, Cesar, had helped Bass out with starting up the fields. He said that in a year or two, they could have a fully functioning farm on their hands. It scared her sometimes, hearing them talk about the future so assuredly. It's not how she had lived for the past two years and it was unnerving. But, there really was no reason they couldn't make this their home. They had bought the property from Maria and Cesar, the locals were friendly with them, and the house felt like home already.
She made up her mind then; she was going into town and seeing if she could find some bigger clothes. She went to their stash of money and grabbed a few bits of gold, thinking she would pick up some provisions while she was at it. She headed out the open sliding door and tracked down Bass in a nearby field to let him know she was leaving.
"Hey, I'm heading into town. I need some new clothes and I want some more of that bread."
Cesar kept working as Bass stood up and turned to Charlie. "Can it wait a few hours? We have a good rhythm going."
"I don't need a chaperone to go to town. Plus, you know how tired I get in the afternoon. I want to go now and there is no reason not to."
"Except you haven't been in town before by yourself and I don't like it."
"I didn't ask your permission or if you like it," Charlie hissed. "I was merely letting you know where I was going so you wouldn't be worried."
Bass dragged her over a few feet so they were away from Cesar, who eyed them while he worked. "Look, it's just not safe with you going by yourself and it would be better to wait for me."
"It's not a big deal going into town. I've done it a bunch."
"Yes, with me."
"Oh get over yourself," Charlie said, exasperated. "You're not my guardian."
"Yet you're the one acting like a child. You practically are one." Bass' voice rose, along with his temper.
"What does that say about you that you fucked somebody that is practically a child?"
"It says that maybe I made the biggest mistake of my life."
"Good to know. Glad we got that cleared up," Charlie said, her voice icy and smooth. She turned to walk away but was stopped by Bass' hand grabbing her arm.
"We're not done here," Bass ground out.
"Take your hand off me or I swear to God I will cut it off in your sleep." Charlie yanked her arm free and stormed off, through the house and down the road to town.
Charlie tried to let the argument go and enjoy her late morning walk to town. She let the sounds of the small, bustling village surround her as she meandered through the market. She found the bread she had been craving, fresh from the oven. She also found a small clothing shop full of used clothes. When she mentioned to the owner that she was pregnant, the woman pointed her into the direction of some summer dresses that had stretchy wastes. While it wasn't her normal style, always preferring pants for their practicality, she bought them, realizing the practicality of pants wasn't quite so important anymore. The lady even let her change into one of the dresses in the backroom, allowing Charlie to take a breath of relief as the flowing fabric made her body feel free. She did a small twirl, happy with the results. She even indulged herself, browsing a table laden with worn paperbacks. She picked out a handful, truly feeling decadent. It was then she realized she could delay it no longer, and she set back toward the house. Her belly churned at the thought of facing Bass. She didn't know if she was more angry, scared, or sad at the confrontation earlier.
She entered the house, dropping the bread and books on the kitchen counter, before heading into their bedroom. There was Bass, sitting on the bed. He had obviously cleaned up from his work earlier, but his face was etched with worry and stress.
"That won't happen again," Bass spoke first. "I can't lose it like that again."
Charlie sighed, hearing the contriteness in his voice. She knew they weren't going for round two, so she went over and sat down next to him on the bed, taking his hand in hers. "No, it can't."
"I've just not been sleeping well the last couple of nights and I took it out on you. Every night, I'm kept up by my worries of how to raise a child. Both of my children have died, and I can't help but think that's a sign that I shouldn't have any."
"Of course you are going to be a great dad. You had two great parents as examples and you had two little sisters to practice on. I don't know how, but we are going to be okay."
"Can you tell my brain that, because it's having a hard time recognizing that."
Charlie smiled, bringing Bass' temple next to her lips. She kissed it softly, whispering, "Everything is going to be okay. You can take a break from the worrying for now."
She ran her hand soothingly through his curls and he didn't pull back. Instead, he turned more fully toward her, so their foreheads were touching. "You have to understand that I didn't mean what I said earlier about you or this baby being a mistake."
"Everything about our situation is messed up, but you have to know that I love you. I understand if you don't feel the same way or you need more time, but that is how I feel."
Charlie leaned forward, brushing her lips across his softly. "I love you too."
They staid like that for a few moments, breathing in the same air, eyes shut, letting the peacefulness settle around them. After a minute or two they both opened their eyes and it was then that Charlie saw Bass smile.
"I like your dress by the way."
"Thanks, I haven't had a dress since I was kid. I will admit that the first thing I did when I put it on was twirl."
"Do it for me?" Bass smirked.
"No," Charlie giggled.
"Please?" Bass gave her his best puppy dog expression.
"Fine," she said, mock seriously, before standing up. She took a step from the bed and did a quick spin, laughing as she did so. When she stopped, Bass was grinning, but there was something soft in his eyes. "What?"
"It's just you remind me of someone I once knew."
"Bastian! Bastian! You came!" Charlotte shrieked, jumping up and down in the entranceway, before running forward and enveloping his legs in a hug.
Bass returned the hug as best as he could from his height. "Hey, Charlotte, I can't believe how big you have gotten."
"Guess what? I turned four last week?"
"You're four? Wow, you're practically a lady. I hope that doesn't mean my present won't fit." He did his best to keep his tone as serious as possible.
Charlotte lit up. "Present?"
"Although, maybe you're too big."
"I'm not too big! I promise!"
"I don't know."
"Bastian, please!" She begged, widening her eyes at him.
Bass sighed dramatically, "I guess you can try."
Bass set his duffle bag down, unzipping it to pull out the box wrapped in Disney princess paper. He handed it over to her, his hands barely releasing it before she started tearing the wrapping off. She quickly opened the box, pulling out the present and dropping everything else. She squealed as she held up a Belle dress.
"Uncle Miles told me you love Beauty and the Beast."
"Thank you! Mom can I put it on?"
Bass turned his attention to Rachel, Ben, and Miles who had been watching the scene from the kitchen at the back of the house. He forgot they were even there.
"Sure honey. I'll help you get the tags off."
Charlotte didn't need any further permission as she ran upstairs to her room. Rachel walked by, smiling at him, and leaning forward to give him a kiss on the cheek. "I'm glad you could make it Bass."
"Thanks for inviting me, Rachel."
"You know you are welcome here anytime you're on leave. Charlie asks about you two all of the time."
"MOM!" Charlotte interrupted, peering down from the top stairs.
Rachel and Bass chuckled. "Look what you've created," Rachel teased before running up the stairs to join her daughter.
Bass took his duffel bag into the living room, setting it next to the couch. He headed into the kitchen, where Miles already had a beer opened for him. He took it, nodding his head in thanks.
"So, how was the drive?" Ben asked, obviously not knowing what else to say. It had been a few months since the accident and Miles had refused to let him stay on base for Thanksgiving.
"Not too bad," Bass responded, taking a long pull from his beer.
They made small talk for a few minutes until they were interrupted by a blur of yellow running in. "Look! Look! Look!"
They watched as Charlotte twirled in a circle, the poofy skirt spinning out around her. Charlotte's laughter rang out in the kitchen. The men's laughter joined hers, her joy contagious. When she stopped spinning, she faltered, balance obviously thrown off by being dizzy. Bass caught her, pulling her up into his arms,
"Careful there, Charlotte. Don't want you to cut your head open."
"What do you say to Bass for the dress?" Rachel reminded Charlotte.
Charlotte thought for a second, then grinned, throwing her arms around his neck in a surprisingly tight hug. "Thank you Bastian."
Charlie couldn't take her eyes off her; the perfect little human that she and Bass had made. She was sleeping peacefully in her arms, while Charlie herself leaned back against Bass' chest, his arms wrapped around her. The birth had been frightening, she remembered Bass' terrified expression throughout the whole process. She had wanted to tell him that everything was going to be alright, but she had been in the worse pain of her life and she had felt no assurances of that. But the midwife coached them through it, helping bring in their beautiful daughter. It was a couple of hours later, the midwife resting in the other room after helping Charlie clean up and get settled into bed. The midwife had ordered the two of them to get some rest, but they couldn't stop staring at her.
"What should we name her?" Charlie whispered.
"We could name her Rachel."
Charlie knew that he meant that as a sweet sentiment, but she had to hold back her laugh. "You hated her."
"I did not."
Charlie just tilted her head and gave him her patented "Are you serious Bass?" stare.
"Fine. But, she was your mom and she should be remembered for that."
Somehow that didn't sit with her, especially as she stared down at their daughter, feeling the love she had for her daughter consume her. She imagined being a part of her daughter's life, guiding her. "Rachel wasn't my mom, not really. Maggie was."
"Miles mentioned her once or twice, but you never talk about her." While a statement, Charlie felt the question inherent in his words.
"It's difficult, because I treated her so horribly. I have a lot of regrets, but one of the worst is Maggie's and my relationship."
"Tell me about her."
Charlie took a calming breath, drawing her finger along their daughter's cheek. "Maggie was with my father. She had kids before the blackout that she couldn't get back to. She became a part of our family, and she looked after Danny and me as if we were her own. She was there for everything, my first crush, my first period, and my first broken bone. She came with me in search of Miles without hesitation. For all of this, I was ungrateful and sullen, picking fights with her all of the time because she wasn't my real mom. I had an idealized version of my mom in my head, and all I could think was Maggie wasn't her. I was such a brat, but she did so much for me."
"I hate to break it to you, but that's how teenage daughters are with their moms. I remember when Tyra went through this phase where she was constantly fighting with my mom over the littlest things. She just kept saying that my mom was interfering in her life. When I asked my mom how she could put up with all of the fighting, my mom just said that she knew that Tyra loved her and that this was just her way of asserting her independence. I bet you anything Maggie knew the same thing, knew that you really did love her. She wouldn't have followed you if it wasn't the case."
Charlie let a few tears fall down her face, remembering the woman who raised her, more than her mom ever did. She wanted to believe him, that Maggie knew that she really had been grateful for her and that she owed her life to Maggie. When thinking of what kind of mother she wanted to be, she didn't think of her own mom as an example, she thought of Maggie instead. She sent up a little prayer, hoping that somewhere Maggie would receive it. "How do you feel about Maggie for a name? And then Lydia after your mom."
Bass kissed the back of her head, tightening his arms around her. "I love it."
"Welcome to the world Maggie Lydia Monroe."