She's dead weight in his arms - this girl who might be Ben's kid. Or hell, maybe she's Miles'. Who the fuck knows? Miles does, maybe. Rachel, hopefully.
Not that it really matters. Not now in a darkened world where DNA tests are as attainable as a transcontinental flight.
He looks down at her, watching for the gentle rise and fall of her chest as she lies prone against him.
Bass trudges on, deep in thought, arms laden. Miles will probably still hate Bass either way, but if she dies, there is zero fucking chance that Miles will ever forgive him. Miles loves this girl. Bass looks down again to check her breathing, noticing her curves not for the first time and corrects himself. She's not a girl. She's all woman and Miles loves this woman. Miles loves her because she's family and that's hard to come by these days.
Bass knows the truth of that more than most. So he gets it. Gets why Miles wants her to be safe.
Every step Bass sends him deeper into his own head. Briefly he wonders what Miles thought about Charlie's intention to travel solo. He was probably pissed but, knowing Miles, was too wrapped up in some Rachel drama to do more than tell Charlie to be careful.
Then again, maybe not. Maybe he worried more that she'd tell him to shove it if he treated her like a kid. Maybe he let her go with a wave, his heart heavy with loss.
Loss is something Bass understands. He wouldn't wish it on anybody.
Definitely not on his best friend. His brother.
So, he'll keep her safe.
Or as safe as a broken former dictator can keep a crossbow wielding firecracker like Charlotte Matheson.
Charlie with her derisive smirks and her smart mouth and her cold desire to watch him die. Charlie with the beautiful long hair and beautiful long legs.
When she'd shown up in that empty swimming pool vibrating with hate and anger – most of which was directed at him; he'd known that she was strong. Tough. A little like her mom no matter who her dad was. He'd realized that she'd come a long way, probably on her own. That took guts.
So probably Miles' kid after all.
But tonight her guts had gotten her into trouble and it was luck more than anything that Bass had been able to get to her on time. He tries not to think about what might have happened if he'd waited just minutes longer.
He replays the night in his head. What the hell was she doing alone in that stupid bar? He has no idea.
He glances down as he walks, assuring himself nothing has changed. She's still breathing. Her face is soft when not woke with anger. In sleep she looks younger, less edgy, less damaged by life and loss. In sleep, she is an innocent creature who needs someone to watch out for her. Bass smirks a little at the thought of what she'd say if he told her that.
She'd bite his head off and then she'd try to gut him like a pig with her cute little knife. Sleeping Charlie doesn't mind being protected. Doesn't mind being carried to safety.
Awake Charlie? Not so much.
Awake Charlie is a pistol. Like earlier today when she told him she was going hunting for dinner but instead ended up sitting in a shitty bar in a shitty town. How she ever looked at that crap palace and thought, 'Hell yeah, this will be a great place for a hot woman to drink alone' is beyond him. Clearly Charlie Matheson wasn't keeping her stupid to a minimum at all.
Those fucking perverts wanted to eat her up and spit her out. They were the kind of assholes that mothers usually warn their daughters to avoid.
Mothers not named Rachel Matheson, evidently.
None of that mattered. Not really. Bass is pretty sure his reaction would have been the same if only one guy was wanting to hurt Charlie. But it wasn't just one guy. It was several, so of course he'd busted in, breaking through the doors like a fucking superhero. And to Charlie's credit, she'd done a bang up job of defending herself before he got there. Might have managed okay if the bastards hadn't slipped her something. Yeah, she's a fighter.
A lot like her dad, probably. And that was what was in Bass' head, the idea that Miles would be proud of how well she'd done so far but now she needed help and obviously the fuckers had to pay.
The first blood spilt in that dirty shithole had been for Miles. As the red ooze began to gush, Bass' thoughts were focused on his oldest friend and saving him from losing another person he loves. Bass envisioned the devastation his brother would endure if she died. If that happened, Miles would never forgive him – not that he's hella good at forgiveness in general but that – letting her get raped or killed? That would be a death sentence on whatever fragment of friendship still remains.
So, yeah. The first one was for Miles.
The second one, though? Well, Bass wasn't thinking about Miles anymore. He'd looked at her - really looked in the flashes of time between the grunts and slashes. Her eyes were hazy. Her movements jerky. She was fading. And all around her were hulking neanderthals who wanted to hurt her. They wanted to hurt her bad, and Bass just wasn't going to let that happen.
Truth is he came a little unhinged at that moment. Maybe a lot unhinged. Not like it was the first time. Bass Monroe has done 'unhinged' a time or two.
Or five hundred.
His swords flashed and the blood of the guilty pooled on the floor at his feet. By the end, when it was over and they were all dead or in the process of dying, Bass was barely winded. His clear eyes met her murky ones as he pulled one of his swords from a dead man's chest.
He'd put away his weapons and gone to her. Her eyes were closed and she was slumped helplessly on the floor. The adrenaline was fading and sanity was returning and his heart lurched in that moment when he wasn't sure if she was okay.
Jesus, was she okay?
He'd knelt at her side, blood from his killing spree splashing unheeded under his boots. He leaned in close and watched her, fear in his throat. Who knows what they gave her or if there are more of them lurking somewhere around?
It was only when he verified she was breathing that he let himself relax. Not a lot. But he relaxed a little. And then he picked her up and carried her out of that awful place like some goddamn hero in a cheesy romance novel. Carried her away from that awful place full of dead bad guys. Carried her into the moonlit forest, occasionally looking down to make sure she was still breathing.
Breathing. In. Out. In. Out.
His own breaths are now one with hers and the only other sounds he can hear are the rustle of leaves on the trees and the rhythmic thump of his boots on the forest floor.
He holds her prone body close in the quiet night, keeping her safe.
So, yeah. He'd saved her.
In the beginning, he did it for Miles.
But in the end, he did it for Charlie.
And chances are, he'll do it again.