Disclaimer: Still own nothing.
Author's Note: This seems to be the chapter everyone was waiting for. Watching Miles in this scene I definitely felt like there was so much going on inside his head that could be explored. Hopefully I did it justice. Enjoy!
"When you're overwhelmed and you've lost your breath
and the space between the things you know is blurry nonetheless."
The first person he sees when they enter the camp is Aaron. He's sitting with his head down as if he's learned something that he doesn't know how to accept.
"Hey, what the hell happened?" Nora asks as they approach. Aaron's head jerks up and he stands to his feet. "We looked for you at Echo Base. It was a mess."
"It's a long story," Aaron says. From anyone else that phrase would sound evasive, but from Aaron it sounds like it really is a long story. He eyes Jim warily before continuing. "I'm just glad you found us."
"Where's Rachel and Charlie?" Miles asks, mildly surprised that Aaron isn't sitting right beside them. Usually he follows Charlie around like a lost puppy.
In answer, Aaron turns to look over his shoulder. Miles follows his gaze and sees Rachel standing by herself at a campfire. She looks lost. He's about to go over and check on her when Charlie appears from behind a tree, clearly heading for her mother. On an impulse, Miles decides to hang back and watch things play out.
Rachel looks up as Charlie stops beside her and the two of them exchange a few words. Miles watches in silence, waiting to see if they need him to step in and play referee. He knows from experience that both women are more than capable of holding their own. A full-on fight between them would be enough to make the rest of the camp run for cover.
He can't hear what's being said, but suddenly Rachel looks close to tears. Then she opens her arms and Charlie is in them faster than he can blink. That comes as a bit of a shock. When Miles left, mother and daughter were barely even speaking to each other. And now here they are picking up almost as if Rachel never left.
He knows he should be glad that the two of them have managed to reconcile, but somehow the sight of Rachel standing there holding Charlie feels like a punch to his gut. Up until a second ago, he was the one Charlie turned to. Only now she's found her mother and suddenly Miles is once again the outsider in his own family. He supposes he should have seen it coming. Of course Charlie would pick her mother over her black sheep of an uncle. And he and Rachel have far too much history for her to let him into the remains of their family. So while his niece and sister-in-law are letting their grief draw them together, it's also causing them to close ranks. And it's leaving him on the outside once again, left to struggle through his own grief as best he can. Alone. And that hurts just as much as losing Danny. The fact that it's Charlie turning away from him is just salt in the wound.
Charlie was always his favorite of Ben's kids. As a little boy, Danny had always been too sick to really do anything interesting. There was also the fact that he seemed terrified of his uncle. If his parents tried to leave him with Miles, he would promptly burst into tears. It would be days into any visit before the kid would even come near Miles on his own. But not Charlie. She would skip right up to Miles as soon as he opened the door and drag him off to aid her in whatever mischief she was currently making. She was always so spunky and unafraid. Charlie may not remember much about those years, but Miles certainly does. He can't even count how many times she got him into trouble. But being his favorite also meant it was impossible for him to stay mad at her.
He keeps telling himself that's why he agreed to help her. That it was because she's always been his favorite. But the truth is that by the time she found him he had successfully transformed himself into a good-for-nothing washout who didn't give a damn about anybody but himself. Not even his favorite niece begging him to help save his nephew could break him out of the deep, alcohol-drenched rut he had dug himself into. No, the real reason he had gone with her was because the militia had finally tracked him down and if he was going to be on the run, at least his niece and the rest of the Scooby gang might be able to provide some entertainment along the way. He's not particularly proud of that fact, but there it is.
But even that hadn't been enough to make him stick around for long. He had been ready to wash his hands of the whole sorry mess and leave Charlie holding the bag. It had taken the combination of her kidnapping and Maggie's death to make him decide to stay. Because that day he had discovered something that shocked him to the core: Charlie needed him. Not his skills or his face or his name but him. Miles can't even remember the last time someone needed him. For the first time in years he had finally had something to live for. Something to fight for. So he had decided to stay. Because Charlie needed him.
But as he stands here now looking at Rachel and Charlie, he realizes with a pang of sadness that his niece doesn't need him anymore. She has her mother now. And that throws him even more than Danny's sudden death. Over the course of their journey Charlie has become his rock. She is the reason he does what he does. She is the reason he's secretly trying to become a better man. She is the reason he has kept going even though the loss of his nephew is tearing him apart. He does it because Charlie needs him to. Only now she doesn't need him anymore and Miles suddenly feels like a drowning man whose lifeline has been severed.
There's a quiet movement behind him and then a hand is slipping into his. Nora. Her grip is gentle and reassuring. Miles clings tightly to her hand as his throat tightens and his eyes begin to burn. He can feel her looking up at him and he starts to turn and meet her gaze, but then he stops. He knows that the second he looks down into her compassionate eyes he'll break. So instead he keeps eyes in his niece and sister-in-law, even though watching them hold onto each other is slowly tearing him apart.
His hand tightens around Nora's, the one thing currently keeping him afloat. Because the truth is, she's right. He is grieving. Grieving the nephew he'll never get to know, the young man who died far before his time. And the worst part is that it's all his fault. If he had just fired the damned rocket instead of getting knocked over, Danny might still be alive. If he had shot Monroe when he had the chance, if he had made sure Rachel was dead before he abandoned ship, if he had gone to protect his family instead of cowering behind a bar all those years... So many ifs. So many things he could have done differently. Things that could have saved Danny's life. Maybe Ben's too. But he did what he did and now they're both dead. And the regret is slowly killing Miles too.
Although he'd never admit it, he desperately needs someone to hold him together. He had expected it to be Charlie, but instead it's Nora standing beside him. Her hand is the one thing keeping him grounded right now, silently giving him the strength he needs to keep going. It's not much. But maybe, just maybe, he can make it be enough.
Like it or not, there's nothing he can do to change the past. What's done is done. He couldn't protect his nephew or his brother. But he can still protect his niece. He can fight to give her a better world. And maybe if he tries hard enough, maybe if he saves enough people, maybe he can finally balance the scales and buy himself some peace.
The old Miles would have turned tail and run by now, would have cut his losses and gotten the hell out. But Miles isn't that person anymore. Charlie has changed him. The new Miles, or maybe it's the older Miles, isn't going anywhere. He made her a promise. And he intends to keep it. Come hell or high water, he's staying. And if the day comes when she needs him again, he'll be right here waiting for her.
So how was it? Leave a review and let me know. The final chapter will be from Nora's point a view.