Shining Armor

We've all got cabin fever. The ship is old, and it creaks with the waves. I can hear the pipes and the steel groaning all through, like a pair of giant hands has it by the ends and keeps bending it back and forth. Ships shouldn't make that sort of sound. Cruise ships in the Mediterranean don't make that sound--I assume. I've never been on a cruise. I've never been on a freighter, either, but I'm sure it shouldn't be making these sorts of sounds.

Miles is the worst of us. He can't sit still. They used to say I couldn't sit in a seat for three minutes without my knee jerking--they obviously haven't met Miles. I wonder if that's what I look like to everyone else. His eyes dart around, and when he meets anyone else's eyes, he jerks them away and mumbles something we can't hear. When Naomi asks who he's talking to, he snaps something back about a shadow that won't mind its own business. They say I'm crazy, but they obviously haven't met Miles. At least I'm only talking to myself.

Frank tries to hide the alcohol, and not doing a very good job of it. When I point it out, he doesn't get defensive, which I like. Most people get defensive, but not Frank. He's careful not to point out when I start rambling or waving my arms around, and when he has the time, he listens. I try to think that it's more that he's a good person than he's had too much to drink to care.

Charlotte takes care of the gun Naomi gave her. She takes care not to lose any of the pieces when she takes it apart to clean it, but she doesn't seem to mind when she gets the gun oil on her fingers. The girl's not afraid to get dirty. I lean over and ask her which parts are which, and she shows me where they fit on the gun when she puts it back together. She's dealt with guns before, but she doesn't say it. No one gets this good in two weeks. Especially not me. I'm still too afraid to pull the trigger, even at a target that doesn't move.

The sailors must've been told to leave us alone. I don't see much of them, aside from the doctor, who checks up on me to make sure I'm not hurting myself or anyone else. I told him I'm not as crazy as I look, and he just laughs.

It's been raining, and all five of us are cramped into the galley. Frank told me that they call it the galley at sea--I've been trying to find the right words for everything, but it doesn't seem to help much. They still look at me sideways, like I might blow up without warning. Like I've got dynamite strapped to my chest and my detonator hand is shaking on the trigger. Miles and Naomi especially. Mostly Miles.

Charlotte has her gun disassembled in front of her, cleaning with her fingers hidden under a dingy cloth black from gun oil, with Naomi standing far enough away to not be snooping. But she is snooping. Mine isn't snooping. I just watch, watch how her little fingers move so fast, how she knows exactly what to do with every little bit of it. Her eyes move back and forth so quick, like a bright blue blur that I can't keep track of.

Miles is the one that trips over the leg of my chair. He nearly takes it and me over with him when he falls, but instincts take over and I grab the edge of the table and manage to shake it hard enough to make both Charlotte and Naomi jump. Miles goes down with a thud and a few of his more colorful curses.

When I recover, I try to stand. "Sorry. Sorry, Miles--"

"What the hell is wrong with you, head-case?" He's red in the face, either really angry or really embarrassed. He's picking himself up, brushing off his pants like he fell in the dirt instead of the cold floor. Miles doesn't look like the kind of person used to dusting himself; not like little Danny Faraday, pushed into the sandbox by fifth graders who look like they'd gotten into their fathers' stashes of steroids a few years early. Miles looks like he's pushed his fair share of scrawny kids into the dirt, and I can't help but feel a little bit of pride in the unintentional retribution. It doesn't last long.

"I... I said sorry." It didn't work when I was a scrawny fifth grader, and it doesn't work now. Miles shoves hard at my shoulders and I fall back down into my chair as easy as through water. The front legs tip back, and for a second I think I'll go all the way over and fall with my chair to the floor. It thumps back forward after only another second, and I let go of my breath in relief.

Another chair scrapes away as Charlotte jumps up, her back to me. She's between my chair and Miles, and I wish I could see her face. By the way Miles' eyes go wide, he wasn't expecting retaliation.

"Hey," Charlotte snaps, and her pretty voice goes clipped and harsh. Her hands are fisted at her side, the tension tight all up her arms. "Just 'cause you go on tripping over your own feet doesn't mean you need to take it out on us."

Then Miles' eyebrows go up farther on his forehead than I thought physically possible. When his eyes sweep up up and down the front of her, something dark and hot flares up in my chest and I grip hard at the arms of my chair.

"Step back, Ginger," Miles snaps back, and I already know he's made a big mistake. Charlotte's spine goes straight and stiff, and even from my chair I can see all the muscles in her arms bunching up and she tightens her fists.

"What did you say?" If she sounded clipped before, I don't know what to call this. Tight and hissed, and she cocks her head to one side. I still can't see her face.

"If the head-case wants to pick a fight, he can fight it himself," Miles growls back, ignoring her completely.

I feel twelve years old again, hiding behind the phys-ed teacher on the basketball court, blood drying on my split lip and the three-hundred-pound star athlete on the other side grinding his fist into his palm threateningly. I know that fist's for me--for my face, at least. Maybe my kidney, if I'm unlucky. Miles' got that kidney look in his eye, and he's squinting hard at me over Charlotte's shoulder.

"You're not picking a fight, are you Dan?" Charlotte looks over her shoulder then, and there's something red-hot in her eye that Miles put there. It gives me shock, but it's not a completely bad shock. I nod, then I shake my head, not sure which one she wants. She takes the answer she knows I mean, turning back to face front. "See? So how about you back off, Ghostbuster?"

I pick the wrong time to laugh, but Charlotte doesn't turn away from Miles. For such a small thing, she's the perfect wall. She stands taller than she looks, arms bowed out at her sides ready to take a swing if she has to. The red hair helps--a warning color in the natural world; stay away, it might be poisonous. I wish I could see her eyes.

And Miles backs down. His shoulders slump back, but he sneers to replace it. "Not worth it," he's mumbling as he walks away. He kicks another chair, and it hits the ground with a silence-shattering clatter. He takes care to slam the door on the way out, just to be sure that he gets his point across.

Naomi rolls her eyes and takes off after him. She says something about team dynamics I don't hear and charges through the door he's just slammed, leaving me with Charlotte. She's still clenching her fists, still turned away from me. Then, she sighs and falls back into her own chair to match me. She leans her head over the pieces of her gun, then cradles her head in both of her hands as her elbows anchor to the table. I match her position, hanging my own head and letting my hot forehead lean into my hands. My breath echoes in the cave I've made, and I just listen to it for a few good moments.

"Thanks," I say at last. "For... for whatever that was." I peer over, and though she's still leaning into her hands, she's smirking just slightly.

"You all right, then?"

I look back to the table and nod into my hands. It's hot below decks, and my hair is damp from perspiration. I hadn't noticed until my fingers slip into it and my head sinks lower into my hands. "Used to it," I manage, and my voice takes on a dull echo from the closeness to the table. When I laugh, it sounds even stranger. "That's not usually how it's supposed to go, is it?"

When eyes meet again, she's still leaning in her hands but she's turned to look at me. I pretend the table is more interesting.

"Chivalry, I mean." I have to clarify too much. My brain works faster than my mouth and it takes too long to catch up to make much sense. "How am I s'posed to look out for you when you're always stuck looking out for me?"

She doesn't look much like a damsel in distress, but then, I don't look much like a knight in shining armor either. She's got a strong look in her eyes when she lays her hands down and away from her face. Like she's thinking hard, looking for what she really means. And there's a little curve of a smile, almost like it's an accident and she doesn't mean to show it.

"I've got my ass covered." She smiles more, the tips of her teeth peeking out. I don't laugh out loud, but I have to look away back to the table. The smile's gone out of her voice when she tells me: "You don't have to save me, Dan. No pressure."

I nod again, but this time, I'm twelve again. Split lip, blood in my mouth, sprawled on the pavement and trying not to cry. That's what they want, to make me cry, to make me hurt until I bleed and cry. She's not the one that needs saving, and we both know it. When comes to Miles, when it comes to Charlotte, I'm twelve and bleeding and crying.

I can't help the half-whimper that comes with the tears, real and in memories. Go away, go away, not now, please please please. Shutting my eyes doesn't help, and why would it? I'm exposed, a little twelve-year-old kid stuck on a freighter with no idea what to do.

"Hey..." She sounds unsure, but I feel her move in close. "Dan, are you all right?"

It helps that when she says it, she places her hand on the back of my neck. Her fingers are colder than my skin, and she kneads them in slow and careful. Twelve-year-old Daniel disappears real quick.

"Hmmm..." I'm nodding, so it must mean yes. And my head sinks further into my hands and I just let her keep her hand where it is. She's not soft and feminine like you might think--she has working hands, tough where they need to be, right up into the hair at the back of my neck.

"I think we could take him," she says, and I smile. I don't smile enough, and I know it. I'm laughing before I realize it, something subdued. She hasn't reclaimed her hand yet. "Bastard needs a taste of his own bloody medicine."

"You and me?" I'm sure I like her hand up and down the back of my neck, like I'm a cat. "What a team, right? I can't even take care of myself."

Then she laughs, and it's the most brilliant thing I've heard in a good long time. "Don't worry about your back, Daniel. I've got that covered."

Then, my head's up and looking straight across at her. Her hand's fallen to my shoulder, which is probably for the best. She's encouraging, smiling that smile that's barely there, like she's not sure she's even doing it. Reflexes. Something twitches up on my own mouth, and I try to look down and away. It doesn't work so well, and my eyes flick back up to catch hers.

"I... Well--" A nervous laugh, and I grind a hand into one of my eyes. Tears that didn't fall are still crusted there, but I ignore them. "Okay. Yeah. I've... I've got your back too, Charlotte."

She squeezes once at my shoulder, then she's scooted back over to her disassembled gun. She lets me sit close to her, watch her work and put everything back together. I'm not much for defending myself, with shadows of bigger boys looming in my memory and kicking sand in my face. But I've got a responsibility now. I can't fight, I can't throw a punch and follow through. I can't fire a gun and I don't have the strength of voice to even make a threat, let alone follow it. But I've got what I've got, what I was hired for. A brain isn't much of a defense, but I'll use it as I can.

She smiles up at me as she shows me how to reassemble a gun, and I smile back. Something worth defending, and I can only hope I'm as much to her. It doesn't matter who's the knight and who needs rescuing, she's the one wearing the shining armor


AN: Okay, there was not NEARLY enough DanLove in "Ji Yeon" was there? The Sun and Dan scene was adorkable, yes, but I demand more Dan-ness! Heh, my problems aside, here's another Dan/Charlotte onefic! What are we gonna call them? Darlotte? Charaday? Chan? Not that we need a classification... Because yeah. They rock. Speaking of... Classic rock is strangely really conducive to writing Dan. Especially Cream/The Who/Grateful Dead. Is that weird? Hmm... Anyway, lemme know what you think, leave me some love and tell me if I've completely lost it. Thanks sooooo much for reading, LOVE to all y'all, and STAY AWESOME!