The war is still raging, battles have to be fought. The scent of smoke and the golden light of the fire that is made to keep them warm, fills the air. It's a cold night while stars linger above her, high in the night sky.
Tall trees shield them from the rest of the world and unwanted eyes. Aaron and her mom are asleep. Miles is taking first watch. When Bass, because it is Bass now, no matter how hard she tries to deny that to herself, knowing he probably knows anyway,gets up from his place near the fire, Charlie follows him with her eyes when he walks out of their camp and deeper into the forest.
She has seen the look on his face. She knows he needs his space. They all do. This life under the stars is hard. But tonight, she has to talk to him.
She finds him sitting with his back against an old tree, not far from their camp. He is staring in the dark emptiness in front of him. The night lingers heavily in the forest around her. The moon adds soft silver light to the spaces between the trees.
Bass knows it's her even before he looks up. After spending so many months on the road with her, and fuck, he knows it's fucked up, but sometimes he misses it being him and her, he misses having her all to himself, he knows what her boots close sound like.
She can be quiet when she wants to, so Bass knows she wants him to know she is here. She pulls him away from his thoughts about the hell his life has become. The fact that Connor is out there on his own with Neville is slowly driving him insane.
When he finally looks up, Charlie meets eyes that feel haunted. His blue eyes look darker now they are filled with hard edges and an endless loneliness that is hard to keep away from her heart. The shadows of the night play with his sweaty curls, his beard and the strong lines of his jaws.
She nods to the bottle standing next to him. 'You want to share?'
A pale grin that doesn't reach his eyes appears around his mouth, breaking through the misery that flows through his shoulders. 'Would it make a difference if I say no?' His voice sounds rough and tired.
'Probably not.' Charlie's answers with a grin on her own. Monroe offers her his bottle as an invitation. She takes the bottle from him.
'Fucking Mini Miles,' he grumbles under his breath.
Charlie decides to ignore his grumble and the way it makes her feel while she lets the booze flow through her system.
She sits down next to him. He keeps on staring in front of him, but something smug, and something else that should not be there, burns inside his chest when he realizes how close she decides to sit next to him. Hell, it's a nice change from all her death threats and loathing. Maybe on some other day he would have confronted her, but tonight he keeps his mouth shut. Bass looks at her while the moonlight brushes her face.
They drink in silence. His wide shoulders are close and she welcomes the warmth radiating of his body. Her leather jacket brushes against his. She breathes in his scent of leather and whiskey. They listen to the forest and share a bottle under the stars.
Charlie did not forget why she is here, with him. She takes a deep breath before she speaks.
'I want to give you something…something I've found…' She surprises herself when there is a rare hesitation in her words.
It's what's hiding in her voice that catches his attention. He is used to her Matheson insults. The way her voice sounds in the dark, makes it impossible to look away from her. He never expected her to talk to him the way she just did, in the history of ever.
Charlie slowly pulls something out of the pocket of her jeans. And there, in her hand is the picture he did not know existed. He is looking at Emma. Fuck. Emma…She is holding a small baby, and he immediately and instinctively knows it is Connor.
It's the only thing of those first years with Connor he never got to have, that is still left. He freezes.
'Where…' his voice sounds hoarse while she gives him the picture.
'I found it close to the train tracks.. where we…' she can't finish what she wants to share with him. They both know why, because the memory of Neville's cold eyes before he had almost killed her, again, is too close.
They are both back at the night where they had met again, standing on opposite sides of the same fight. When Connor had left with Neville, she had returned to the place where Bass had saved her life in the shadows of a train.
She had gone back to that place, maybe for Connor, for the friendship she had found with him and the fact he was one of them, but the whole truth was that she had looked for Connor's tracks for Bass. Because of what he did for her instead of what he did to her, for what he has lost, and because of what they have become.
She has never told anyone about that night, she has never told anyone about the picture that was hiding between faded autumn leaves on the ground close to the train tracks, waiting for her to find. She had recognized Emma. She had never told Bass. She had never found the courage. But she had carried that picture with her. Until today. Until tonight.
Bass' hand is trembling when he looks at the picture in his hand, and Emma and Connor are too damn close to the part of his heart that carries all the hurt of what could have been. He curses at himself, hoping Charlie doesn't see what he can't hide from her. And in the middle of nowhere, shielded by the shadows of the forest and the night around them, he can't outrun the empty hurt of not being allowed to be a part of his son's world for so long. Tears he curses away start to cloud his eyes.
'It belongs with you, Bass.'
He doesn't answer but she knows he has heard her. Seeing Bass like this makes her have to swallow her own hurt away, hurt for the people she misses. It's the one unexpected thing they share. Loss. He never talks about Emma, about Jasper, but she knows how hard this must be for him. She had doubts about giving him the picture because of all the old wounds it would rip open, but she could not not give him what did not belong to her.
She gets up, giving him the time and space she knows he needs. Before she walks away she gently moves his hand to his shoulder. 'I'm around, okay?' The small shift in his shoulder under her hand tells her he has heard her, and what she is trying to tell him.
She is about to walk back to their camp when he is suddenly there. She turns around. His eyes are deep and waiting for her. The moonlight lights up his eyes. He is tall and close. He cups her head with his strong hand. It feels warm against the skin. She freezes. She is too shocked by his sudden gentle touch to do anything else.
He moves his head to her face. 'Thank you,' he mumbles into her hair. Fuck, he hates how his own voice sounds. But he needs her to know. He needs to know how fucking much it means to him, for her to give him what she just did.
There is something fragile and strong in her eyes. He expects her to pull away but she doesn't move and is still close to his chest, so he lets the moment burn between them.
A slow but strong kiss lands somewhere between her lips and hair.. She lets it happen while her hair brushes against his beard and his chest is so close she can feel the warmth of his skin above the v of his t-shirt. It's rare, standing so close to him, to see this side of him and to discover this side of herself, surrounded by the night air, in an honest moment in the middle of their war.
The war is still raging, battles have to be fought. Their camp is silent, the scent of smoke and the golden light of their fire fill the air. It's a cold night while stars linger above her, high in the night sky. She soaks up his warmth while she lets Bass hold her.
Author's Note: This story is a birthday present for the wonderful Lemonsupreme. From the moment I've started reading fanfiction I fell in love with her stories and from the moment I've started writing fanfiction she has always been there with kind words and support. Wishing you a very happy birtday (and coffee and birthday cake and so much love) or as we say over here in the Netherlands: Gefeliciteerd! Love from Love