Disclaimer: I own nothing.
Author's Note: I apologize for how long this took to post. Whenever I tell people I'll have something finished shortly, my muse bursts out laughing and decides to take a long, unplanned vacation. But at long last I have finally posted the final chapter. Enjoy!
It's a long and tense walk to the rebel camp. Jim is too angry and hurt to speak, and only God knows what's going on inside the head of Miles Matheson. Anyone can see that he's in pain. But he's also stubborn as hell, which means he isn't going to let anyone help him until he's so far past broken that fixing him is nearly impossible. For now all Nora can do is stay close and hope that he doesn't completely self-destruct.
They reach Echo Base to find a mess of wreckage. Obviously something happened in their absence. Thankfully Nora knows the location of the fallback point, so they trudge onward through the trees. The silence is so thick that she's starting to fear for her own sanity when she finally catches sight of a glimmer of fire through the trees. A few minutes later they're practically on top of the camp. Aaron is sitting on an old water cooler near the edge of the camp, staring distractedly down into a fire. He doesn't show any sign that he know they're there. Nora doesn't have anything against Aaron, but sometimes she has to wonder how he's managed to survive this long.
"Hey, what the hell happened?" she asks as their trio enters the boundaries of the camp. Aaron's head jerks up and for a moment he looks like a deer in headlights. At least, that's how the expression goes. Nora wouldn't know. She's never actually seen one. But then Aaron recognizes them and he stands to his feet. "We looked for you at Echo Base. It was a mess."
"It's a long story," Aaron says evasively. He sounds like he's still trying to figure it out himself. His eyes flick uneasily to Jim, who makes no effort to look any less intimidating. "I'm just glad you found us."
"Where's Rachel and Charlie?" Miles asks. Aaron turns and looks over his shoulder. Nora catches sight of Rachel standing over a campfire not far away. She's obviously in pain. Nora can't even imagine how badly she must be hurting. Losing parents is hard, but it's also just how life is. The reverse, however, is beyond cruel. No parent should ever have to bury their child.
Miles take a half step forward as if he's planning on going to her, but then Charlie comes out of the trees and he stops. Rachel turns and she and Charlie say something to each other. Even at a distance, Nora can tell that something has changed between them. Rachel seems almost defeated. And Charlie's posture is uncharacteristically vulnerable. Then suddenly Rachel's arms are open and Charlie is in them. Mother and daughter reconciled at last.
It should be a beautiful moment, but Nora's gaze shifts worriedly to Miles. He and Charlie have been all the family each other has for the past several months. Now that Rachel is back, that dynamic is going to change. One look at his face makes it clear that Miles knows it. He's standing as still as a statue, his gaze locked on his niece and sister-in-law. He looks like a lost puppy. It breaks Nora's heart.
Everyone always assumes that Miles Matheson is tough as nails. They think he can handle anything, that he doesn't need anyone else. Miles himself even believed it for a while. But none of it's true. The truth is that for all his bravado, Miles is only human. And like any human being, he can be hurt. He might not admit it, but Nora knows him well enough to see that Danny's death crushed him. He blames himself for what happened. For anyone else that guilt would be a heavy load, but for Miles it's downright suicidal. He's already holding up so much. This added burden just might be the straw that finally breaks the camel's back.
For as long as Nora's known him, Miles has always had a reckless streak. As time goes on it has turned into a tendency toward self-destruction. He's the sort of man who carries on until the task is accomplished or it kills him. And if he isn't careful, his grief is going to do exactly that. Which is exactly why Nora has to stop him.
Nora Clayton has always been a doer. She assesses the problem and then she acts on it. She's also remarkably level-headed. That combination is what makes her such a good soldier. She sees things the way they are and determines the best course of action. She's a realist through and through. But there's something about Miles Matheson that makes her want to be more. Something about him makes her dare to hope and even dream. Because despite his rough exterior, Miles really is a good man at heart. And even after everything he's done, the truth is that Nora still loves him. She's fought it and denied it and ignored it with everything in her, but as she stands there watching him, she finally has no choice but to admit it. She's still in love with Miles Matheson.
She holds back for a moment, waiting to see if Miles will turn around. He doesn't. The man is drowning in his grief and he can't even admit it. Nora takes a tentative step forward, trying to think of something to say. But words have never really been her strong point. Instead she simply reaches out and slips her hand into his.
I'm right here, Miles, she thinks. You're not alone.
His hand tightens around hers. She might not have said the words aloud, but he still got the message. And he isn't pulling away. It's not much, but it's a start. One she'll gladly take.
Together they stand in silence, quietly watching Rachel and Charlie. Miles never says a word. Nora doesn't ask him too. Instead she just stands beside him and waits. He already knows he can't do this alone. Maybe someday he'll realize that he doesn't have to. Someday he'll let her back in and show her his battered heart. Someday he'll let her try to put him back together. It might be tomorrow or it might be several years from now, but someday that moment will come. And when it does, he'll find her still standing right beside him. Until then, she's willing to wait. Because as hard as she's tried to ignore it, she still loves him. And love doesn't leave.
But it isn't just for his sake. Although Nora would never admit it to anyone, she needs Miles too. She needs him to give her a reason to believe, needs him to remind her why she fights. She needs him to give her hope that maybe someday all of this will be over and she can actually have a chance at a normal life. A chance at happiness. She needs him for that just as much as he needs her to hold him up. Maybe that's why they fit so well together. Two bruised people, each in need of what the other can offer. Maybe somehow they can help each other. Maybe it doesn't even matter. Maybe the important thing is that they have each other.
Maybe for now they can make that be enough.
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