A/N: Thank you to apegausurus for also leaving a review. Everyone who's followed, favorited or simply read the story so far is really making me want to try even harder to make it as good as it can possibly be. Also thank you to my best friend – R – who's always checking my work before I put it up and who's always down to have hour-long conversations about character development and dialogue (this is as close to a book acknowledgement as I can give you, but honestly thank you for everything).
- MILES -
"Oh, that's just great." Miles ground out.
"I'm sure old man Gene will know what to do. Maybe we should just head into town, man." Bass pressed him.
He had a point, but they'd be pushing it – Charlie needed to rest, not be hurled around in a horse all night. Even with Bass holding her upright, she was slumped and looked like she was on the verge of being delirious.
He sized up Bass, his brow was furrowed and his face riddled with concern. And in that moment Miles knew he had to ignore him and make this decision on his own. Bass wasn't thinking with his upstairs brain anymore. What worried Miles is that he may not be thinking with his downstairs one either, he may just be thinking with his heart.
"Bass, we're sheltering in the gas station. Four walls and a roof over our heads until this passes." He said matter-of-factly, not exactly an order but not up for debate either.
To his surprise Bass didn't protest further, which meant there was some reason in him still. He sighed and kept dragging his feet next to Charlie's horse.
- BASS -
Bass was counting the seconds until they reached the damn gas station. Charlie was like a ragdoll in his arms, but right when she shifted again something in the way her back brushed against his chest sent him back to two nights ago when she'd still been strong and full of life. He ran his hand through his wet curls trying to distract himself, he really shouldn't be thinking of her like that.
He side glanced at Miles who looked at him quizzically. Bass didn't respond, but they knew each other well enough for Miles to figure out what he was thinking.
"You dirty bastard. Can't you just keep it in your pants?"
Miles was right, he was out of line and he fucked up letting his desire get the better of him the night before. Charlie was a kid and although he hadn't exactly taken advantage, it really shouldn't have gone down the way it had. He made a silent promise to himself that he'd square things off with her as soon as he has a chance.
Only when they reached the gas station he allowed himself to breathe easy, he hadn't realized how much tension was coursing through his body. He'd been stiff, trying to keep Charlie's back straight and his arms ached from making a barrier so she wouldn't fall over the side of the horse. He pulled the reins and the mount came to a halt.
Miles approached and reached up his arms signalling him to pass Charlie down and Bass complied silently. Once Miles had her secured in his arms, he jumped off the horse and rushed to her other side, slinging her arm over his neck.
"Come on, Charlotte. A few more steps."
He kicked the door open and they guided her inside, beelining for Bass' bedrolls that lay where he left them hours ago when he ran to find her. Bass sat her up, removed and tossed her drenched leather jacket and rung her wet her before he lay her back down.
He threw his pack next to her and rummaged through it with shaking hands until he found what he was looking for – a neat roll of clean bandages. He carefully took her arm and started dressing it with careful movements. As he worked on her, he noticed somewhat bitterly that the fire had wiped away the Monroe Militia brand she'd acquired somewhere along the way. All the better he thought; he couldn't bear the sight of it on her skin. He'd noticed it a few times, more so during their encounter behind the bar, but he had no idea how it came to be. He made a mental note to ask her about it and offer another apology – if she'll have it that is.
- MILES -
Miles observed Bass take out clean bandages from his pack and wrapping her arm in the gentlest way possible, stopping every time she winced. He backed off and turned around, he really didn't wanna be seeing this – the parallels he drew in his head were inevitable and ended with Bass emerging from that tent ashen, his hands still stained with the blood of his wife and child, his eyes haunted, unseeing. But Charlie was strong, and her grandfather was a doctor and no one would allow for anything so horrific to happen to her. Those were the early days, when people still learnt the ways of dealing with a world with no power. And Charlie wasn't pregnant, he reminded himself.
He yanked off his drenched coat and threw it on the floor, then he made himself useful with starting a fire.
Bass was still fussing and he wanted to tell him to get a grip but he bit his tongue and let him be, he knew whatever this dysfunctional relationship, if he could even call it that, was they'd have to figure it out between them. They'd surely get enough resistance from Rachel once she got wind of it. He didn't need to interfere any more than he already did, at least not before he heard from Charlie.
Once Bass backed away and nudged closer to the fire, his eyes unflinching, still trained on the sleeping form of his niece, Miles spoke.
"So fill me in here, Bass. What exactly are you thinking? Go off into the sunset? Live happily ever after? White picket fence and a dog? Everyone knows what you look like and no one for as long as we're alive is gonna forget what you did."
Monroe's jaw clenched and he spoke through gritted teeth. " I wasn't alone in this, Miles. You left, but I sure as hell didn't start this little crusade on my own."
"I'm not denying that." He shrugged. "But I've made my peace with it. Are you ever gonna stop running?"
As he said it, Miles realised what exactly it was that brought him peace – it was Charlie. Having her in his life reminded him of what it was like to have something… someone to fight for, that there was still some good left in this world that made it worth saving. Ben's family, keeping them from harm was what propelled him forward in those early Blackout days when the world was plunged in chaos and anarchy. His only goal back then was making a safe place for them so they could survive.
He shook this last memory of his brother off, and focused on Bass, the one brother he still had left in this world. He looked like he was about two seconds away from ending him. A war was raging inside him, he could see that – he didn't want to keep running, this much was obvious, since he'd followed him around Willoughby without too much protest for the better half of a year. But maybe it wasn't just his presence in this backwater Texan town that made Bass stick around.
Charlie could do him good, there was no denying that, but what would he do to Charlie?
Bass didn't speak, so Miles continued. "I just hope you're not delusional about how this is gonna go down." He glanced from Bass to Charlie pointedly.
Bass looked back at Charlie with a look that sent shivers down Miles' spine, he could tell it was protectiveness mixed with longing. Yeah, sure enough they only slept together once, at least now he knew that much for sure.
"I know… Every woman I cared for is dead. But Charlie… She's not like that, she's not fragile. I don't have to protect her. But I want you to know that I will."
"And what happens the day you get caught? Because that day's gonna come, Bass. For both of us. And what then?"