"Who said you have any choice?", said Monroe.
She flung herself back down on the ground again. Her legs still felt wobbly if she was honest. What she had seen in his eyes she believed this time. It didn't matter what she wanted to do, he wasn't letting her go. Act of faith or no.
Then stood for a moment and then sat down again too. He stared into the remains of the fire, his face fierce now, no sign of the pain and sadness that had been there moments before. Charlie huddled down onto the ground and to her surprise felt herself giving into sleep.
Monroe watched her sleep for a while. Whatever her reaction, he had meant what he said to her, but then again, maybe a sociopath always believes that. He wished he had some whiskey to drown in.
The sun was just coming up when Charlie woke up the next morning. The fire was out and Monroe was nowhere to be seen. The heaviness was gone from her limbs, so she knew the drugs were finally gone from her system. For a few moments, she thought about taking off again, but she realized it was pointless. He would track her down and much as she hated to admit it, she did trust that he would take care of her, at least until they got to Willoughby, and that she would stand a better chance with him if they ran into any trouble. She drifted back to sleep again. When she woke up, she didn't know how much time had passed but the sun was much higher in the sky and still no sign of Monroe. She glanced around the camp and realized that although the wagon was still there, there was no sign of his stuff. She was suddenly worried that he had left her and was shocked that the thought didn't make her happy.
She packed up her stuff and was walking over to the wagon when he suddenly appeared again, none of the emotions of last night were there. Now his face was back to being closed and hard. The sudden relief she felt seeing him made her wince, feeling like it was a betrayal of everything she cared about and the dissonance brought her anger lashing out.
"Good morning Charlie. I'm surprised you didn't take off again."
"What's the point? You would only track me down and catch me again, like I'm some kind of livestock to trade. I wasn't going to give you the satisfaction. You're so sick, you'd probably enjoy it too much. Where were you anyway? Whoring? Torturing small animals?
He tossed her a bag with some food in it. "Thought you might be hungry," he said.
She glanced at the bag in her hands. "Ah, now I get it. Who did you kill to get this?" she sneered.
Charlie knew she had touched a button, but his voice was still controlled. "Charlie, I get that you're angry, but if you don't stop this bullshit, there will be consequences and I'm damn sure you won't like them. " He came striding over to her, too fast, close, his face inches away. She swung her fist into his face, not as hard as she would have liked, but hard enough to make him stumble backwards.
For a second, he could feel the control on his temper slipping. His face was reddened with anger as he slammed her up against the wagon, the boards cutting into her back. His arm was up against her throat, pinning her. Hot. Male. The scent of his skin hit her senses. She struggled pointlessly, trying to push him away. "Take your hands off me, you evil bastard. You're not my dad, or my boss or my commanding office. You are the man who destroyed my family and I owe you fuck all, and certainly never respect or obedience." The words came up of her mouth with such venom, flecks of spit hit his face and she looked into his eyes, almost willing him to hit her. She knew if he lost control completely, he might kill her, but somehow that was still preferable to the realisation that she was glad that he hadn't abandoned her.
"Don't be so fucking childish Charlie. You have, what, a year's experience of fighting a war? I have twenty. Twenty years of war, killing and staying alive. He took a breath and he relaxed a fraction, feeling the soft skin of her throat slide against his arm as she stopped struggling. "I'm not telling you what to do because you're a child, or because I want to control you. I'm telling you because you're so fucking green and I am trying to make sure you don't get yourself or me killed. I might be a monster, or whatever creative insult of the day you've picked that makes this all easier for you to bear, but please Charlie, I'm just trying to keep you alive. She saw the fury drain from his eyes.
"Fine," she said, realizing that he was probably right, but she was just so tired of being told what to do, especially by him. He eased his arm away from her throat and she squirmed out from underneath and stalked to the front of the wagon and swung herself up. "Let's get go. The quicker we get back to Willoughby, the quicker I'll be done with you."
Monroe shook his head, feeling a bit out of his depth; out of his depth because he had no idea how to deal with this girl that he could crush with his bare hands. The problem was that she seemed to have no fear and he just didn't remember the last time he had to deal with someone who wasn't afraid of him. Sighing, he climbed up into the wagon and flicked the reins. The wagon shuddered into motion.
For an hour, they didn't speak. They just plodded through the deserted countryside, with the sound of nothing but the sound of birds and hooves. Charlie stole a glance at Monroe. He stared ahead, a million miles away, the planes of his face hard and set. His long calloused fingers flicked the reins. A sudden image of his arm, hard and masculine, against her throat, jumped into her mind and the thought of how those hands might feel on her skin shocked her. Horrified, she stared straight ahead, eyes fixed, trying to push the images out of her mind.
Monroe sensed Charlie's movement and looked over at her. God, she looked so young sometimes and for a moment his heart ached for the teenager she had never had the chance to be. He knew he had a large part in taking that away from her. And here she was, definitely not a kid anymore and taking her revenge on him every chance she got. Even though she got under his skin like nobody he could remember, each insult, each word of abuse she spat, felt to him like a twisted kind of blessing. As if each blow he took from her forgave one of his long-forgotten sins.
Willoughby 10 miles
"So, General Twenty Fucking Years Experience, what's the plan?" Charlie spat. Despite himself, Monroe laughed.
"I have no idea what to expect", he said. "And, there's no one around. It's too quiet and that worries me. I have a bad feeling about it. I think we should ditch the wagon and walk from here."
Charlie nodded and started to climb out of the wagon. "What, no arguments?" said Monroe, surprised again. "Nope", she said. "In this case, I agree. Just because you're a psycho doesn't mean you're wrong all the time."
They let the horses go and set off, well away from the road. The heat of the afternoon was much more bearable now that they were past the worst of the summer, so the walking was easy, but they walked in tense, uneasy silence, scanning constantly. Suddenly Monroe grabbed Charlie's arm and pulled her down, crouching into the grass. He pointed to a group of men in the distance.
"They look too clean to be good news. They look like they are wearing uniforms," said Charlie.
They exchanged a look. "I'm guessing we're already too late to warn Miles and Rachel", Monroe said.
Charlie and Monroe stood in the shadow between two buildings, out of sight. Monroe was close enough to her that she could feel his breath on her neck. She squelched an impulse to lean back into him. What was wrong with her? He was old enough to be her father, he was still a monster and right now, they were in danger of being seen and probably killed and this is what she's thinking about?
Monroe put a hand on her shoulder. "There – I see him. Coming right towards us."
Charlie was relieved to see that Miles was alone. Her mom would probably have started yelling and brought the soldiers down on their heads. She slid out of the shadows into Miles's line of sight and stood, motionless but smiling, waiting for him to see her.
"Charlie," he whispered, when he saw her. The smile broke even further across her face. She was surprised how unfamiliar the smile felt. Miles closed the space between them and pulled her into his arms. He hugged her so tightly, she could barely breathe. "You're okay. Thank God you're okay. Let me look at you." Miles pushed her back to get a better look and was shocked by her appearance. What must she have been going through to look like that?
"I am fine Miles, but before you say anything else, you need to know I'm not alone. I came with Monroe."
Miles looked around, trying to see Monroe. "Bass is here? "I don't understand. How did you end up with Bass?" Monroe stepped out of the shadows; just enough so Miles could see him, but still saying well hidden from anyone on the street.
"There's a bounty on me. They are saying I dropped the ICBMs," said Monroe. Charlie heard the bitterness in his voice. She hated that she now knew him well enough to know that while he didn't shy away from his responsibility for all the awful things he had done, it was eating at him that he was being blamed for something that he hadn't. Miles and Monroe exchanged a look. Charlie saw that it was heavy with layers of meaning for both of them, but she had no idea if that was good or bad.
"We need to get you both inside, before anybody sees you," Miles said. "Follow me and stay close". Charlie was relieved. She hadn't been sure how Miles was going to react, but as always, he was the pragmatist. As much as she didn't want to admit it, Monroe had been right. No matter how much they all had reason to hate him, they were all on the same side, at least for now. Charlie and Bass followed Miles back to a house. As they went inside and Miles closed the door behind them, the tension she hadn't even realized was there started to drain from Charlie's body and she relaxed a little for the first time in months.
"In here", Miles said, leading them into the kitchen. Monroe and Charlie sat down at the table and Miles plunked some glasses of something down in front of them. Charlie had no idea what it was, but it burned her throat in just the right way. Monroe pulled the bounty posters out of his pocket and threw them down on the table. Miles's face paled when he saw the one for Rachel.
"One of the Patriots just tried to kill her". A friend she'd known since she was a kid." Miles said bleakly. "He tried to kill her even though he said they wanted her alive. What I don't know is what they're planning to do with her if they already know who she is."
"Is mom okay?" asked Charlie, dread pooling in her stomach.
"Yes, but the guy she killed, no so much. Rachel buried him in the hole underneath the bar that he'd just dug for her." Relief flooded through Charlie as they all laughed, despite how gruesome the punch line was.
"So, what do you know about the Patriots, Miles?" asked Monroe. Suddenly, they all heard a door slam and Rachel's voice. "What is going on here", she demanded and she burst into the room. Charlie, Miles and Monroe had all stood up as Rachel stormed in. For a moment she didn't see Monroe, but when he emerged from the shadows, his face defiant, she screamed. "What the hell is he doing here?" and pointed a shotgun at Monroe's face.
Miles moved, but Charlie got there first, jumping in between Monroe and Rachel. Monroe's face was granite, but his eyes betrayed the tiniest surprise at Charlie's reaction. He would have expected her to ask if she could pull the trigger.
"Mom, no," Charlie said, holding her hands up. "Put the gun down. You have to listen first". Rachel looked at Monroe over Charlie's shoulder.
"Show her the posters", said Monroe. Miles picked up the posters and held them up so Rachel could see them. She glanced down, but didn't lower the gun.
"Mom, please put the gun down," Charlie said, taking half a step closer. "We came here to warn you about the Patriots, but we were too late. We need to work together, not kill each other." A few long seconds passed.
"Fine, Rachel said, lowering the gun at last, eyes still fixed on Monroe. "I will listen, but I'd better hear a good story, because I may have failed the last time I tried to kill you Bass, but I won't fail if I try again".
Later than night, Miles poured the last of the whisky from the bottle and slugged it down. Only Charlie, Miles and Monroe were left in the kitchen. Everyone else was long gone to bed tired from speculating what the Patriots might be planning. "It's late," said Miles. "We should figure out where you are going to sleep", he said.
Charlie looked at Monroe, shaking her head. "Bass, we can't stay here. The only reason the Patriots are here already is because they knew this is where mom grew up. They came here ooking for her. If they find you as well, it's all over. We have to leave."
The tiniest smile lifted the corner of Monroe's mouth, when he heard her call him Bass.
"I don't care how dangerous it is," Miles snapped back at her, "you are not going anywhere with Bass. You have to stay here with us".
"Charlie, he's right. You should stay here with Miles and your mom. Get some rest and decent food. It is going to be tough without you, but I think I can look after myself," Monroe said. He had meant it as a good-natured tease, but he knew he got the tone completely wrong when he saw the look on her face. She jumped up, furious.
"What, I should stay here with them, waiting to be taken in case they need some kind of leverage so they can get mom or Miles to do what whatever the hell they want while the torture me? Oh, wait, I forgot. You invented that move," she said, practically spitting in Monroe's face.
"And you", she said, spinning around to look at Miles, "when will you stop treating me like fragile little girl to be protected from harm? It's so damn patronizing. Most of the time these days, it seems like I am the fucking harm."
Miles and Monroe exchanged a look and then Miles rolled his eyes, sighing heavily. "Fine," he said to Monroe, "maybe she has a point, but that doesn't mean I have to like it, and if she gets so much as a scratch because of you…"
Charlie rolled her eyes. "Miles, are you listening to yourself? I have been alone with him for the last three weeks and he's saved my life." The memory of waking up beside Bass after the drugs slid into her mind. She had said some vicious things to him that night, and at the time she meant them all, despite the fact that he had probably just saved her life, or at least saved her from something possibly worse than dying. She looked over at Monroe and he smiled that almost invisible smirk of his, that once made her want to punch him, but now... She hated that her hate was wavering and she couldn't explain why.
"And, it might come as a shock to you," she said, carefully not looking at Monroe for fear of letting him see what might be on her face, "that he's been the perfect gentleman the whole time".
Miles glared at Monroe, who returned the glare with a grin and put up his hands in surrender. "Would someone care to tell me how Bass saved your life?"
At the door, Charlie hugged Miles, inhaling his familiar scent that by now was the closest thing to safe she knew. Finally, she pulled away from him. "Tell Mom I'll be okay and that I'm sorry I left without saying goodbye."
Miles took hold of her hands. "She'll come around Charlie. I hate this as much as she does," he said, looking over to Monroe, "but I know this makes sense. We can't do much from inside the walls. Whatever intel you gather will help. I'll see you both in a few weeks.
Charlie was surprised when Miles went over to hug Monroe. You take care of her Bass, or I'll kill you myself". Charlie felt tears prick her eyes and swallowed it down hard. The tired and worn look on Miles's face almost broke her heart. She ached to stay longer, to feel she was back with family, loved.
"Charlie," said Monroe softly, "we should go." He touched her shoulder as the "we" twisted uncomfortably in Charlie's stomach. When did we become a "we", she thought.
She kissed Miles's cheek and then stepped out into the dark with Monroe. They walked silently through the almost deserted, dark streets. As they were about to turn around the corner into the most open and most dangerous part of their route, Monroe spun around, grabbed Charlie and pushed her hard into the wall, back into the shadows. Her face was crushed against his chest as he leaned down and whispered, his breath hot in her ear. "Patriots. Don't move". Fear made her senses sharp and she heard Monroe's heart beating fast, surprising her because she'd never known him show emotion in the face of danger. At the bar after those men drugged her, when he burst in, he he'd looked like a machine, just scything them all down, barely even breaking a sweat. She couldn't see anything, but then she heard footsteps and her own heart beating faster. For a moment the steps came closer, and then finally quieter as they faded into nothing. She exhaled raggedly, not even realizing she'd been holding her breath.
"They're gone", Monroe said releasing quickly, all too aware of their proximity. He didn't trust himself not to react to the feel of her body pressed against his. "Now, let's get to somewhere safe for the night," he said, setting off into the dark, trying to squash the feeling before it took root.
They walked for a long time, deep into the countryside, looking for a safe place to stop for the night and stopped near a clump of trees with some good scrub for extra cover.
"I think this is as good as we're going to get Charlie. Sorry, it's not the bed with soft sheets, with Miles and your mom nearby that you could have had. And, we're not going to able to have a fire either."
"I get it Monroe. It's okay. I knew what I was getting into. I'm tough", she said.
Monroe looked at her, barely visible in the bit of moonlight they had, wondering what had changed. Why she had dropped the teenage-style tantrums? Why was she suddenly the good little soldier? He remembered her reaction to Miles telling her she had to stay. That was the moment things changed, he realised. One minute she's telling him how much she hates him and the next, she's calling him Bass. It wasn't that she had started to forgive him, or even started to understand him. No, she was probably just rebelling against Miles and Rachel. He sighed, feeling more disappointed than he cared to admit.
"What?" Charlie asked. Monroe didn't reply. "I mean what's with the big sigh?"
"Nothing important. I was just wondering why you called me Bass back there." He wished the question unsaid immediately. He hated how needy it sounded.
"I can go back to psychopathic monster or fuckwit dick for brains if you like. It's nothing to me either way."
Monroe laughed; a real laugh that felt so alien to him. How many months since anyone really made him laugh? "No, I liked it. Bass is good."
"No he isn't. Bass is many things, but none of them good", she retorted, wishing she hadn't. It sounded better in her head, way too suggestive when it came out of her mouth.
"You're wrong about that Charlie – there are things I'm very good at and not all of them involve killing people.
Even though she couldn't see his face, she imagined there was a suggestively raised eyebrow. Ugh.
"Oh God, you're disgusting. Just go to sleep," she said as coldly as she could manage, but she still had to suppress a grin. Why did it sometimes feel so easy with him, like she'd known him for years? When she wasn't fantasizing about slitting his throat, or trying to make herself stop remembering what it felt like to feel her body crushed against his chest, she had to admit that she got be herself around him; just Charlie, not Rachel's daughter, or Miles's niece. A sudden pain stole into her heart when she remembered that the only time she had ever felt like that before was when she spent time with Danny. She looked across at Monroe, and as he leant back onto the ground and closed his eyes, she realized he was trusting her to take the first watch, that he now trusted her not to try to kill him as he slept. How the hell did this happen?
Monroe closed his eyes. At first when she flung insults at him, he had welcomed it, like a penance, taken pleasure in it even, but now it just felt painful, exhausting. She was half his age, she was Miles's niece, and she had a grudge against him a mile long, and he had just slipped into banter with her, like he was human again for the first time in years. The feeling of being out of his depth stirred again. You're getting soft, Monroe, he thought, time to stay focused.
"Charlie, wake up. We have company."
Charlie's eyes opened and she saw Monroe crouching over her, with a finger over his lips. She nodded and started to get up quietly, staying low, and hidden. Still the good little soldier then, Monroe noted with a note of pride that he couldn't explain.
"Patriots?" she whispered in his ear. He willed his brain to ignore the feel of her hair brushing against his cheek. "I can't tell. Too far away."
Charlie peered through the trees and saw three men coming straight towards them, although they were just chatting, so she didn't think they had been tracked down. This was just an annoying crossing of paths with strangers.
"Not Patriots," Monroe concluded. "Charlie, will you trust me?" Charlie nodded. "I didn't kill you while slept, did I? But, I don't think I'm going to like this, am I?" Monroe shook his head.
Monroe grabbed Charlie by the hair and pulled her stumbling to her feet. He dragged her out from behind the trees where the men could see him. His body had relaxed into a swagger. "Calm down, you stupid little bitch, or I'll slit your throat," he yelled at her. The three men were close enough to see and hear the little drama.
"Morning Gentleman", he said, in completely unrecognizable accent. Charlie struggled to get away from him, but he hit her across the face hard and she lost her footing and fell down at his feet, still shocked from the blow.
One of the men had a shotgun that he pointed at Monroe, and the other two pulled knives from their belts. There was no sign that they recognized Monroe. Despite the weapons, Monroe stood completely relaxed. "Can I interest you in a little business?" he said. "This lovely young lady is in need of a new home and I'm willing to trade."
"Please don't do this to me," Charlie whimpered. Monroe laughed and grabbed her hair again and pulled her to her feet and as he did, he pulled her close to him and draped an arm around her neck. The man with the knife stepped forward to Charlie and grabbed her chin in his hand to take a closer look at her face. "She's purty. How old is she?" he said grinning, with teeth gapped and rotting.
"Eighteen and very good company if you know what I mean." Charlie felt Monroe's hand slip off her shoulder and slide down her back. He felt him tuck a small knife into the waistband of her jeans.
Rotting Teeth suddenly pulled Charlie towards him, and held up a knife to her throat and she could smell the stench of his breath. "How about we just take her instead", he said with a snigger. Monroe took a step towards Rotting Teeth, but the man with the gun raised it towards Monroe's head so he stepped back, holding up his hands. "Look, I don't want any trouble, just some food, maybe a knife…"
"No deal," Rotting Teeth said. "So, why don't you just git on your way so nobody gets hurt, while we all get acquainted with your young miss."
"Fine. You win." said Monroe, glancing at Charlie, and nodding almost imperceptibly at her. Charlie whined a little, and tried to squirm away from Rotting Teeth, while she gently slid the knife from her waistband into her hand.
"Okay Gentlemen. I hope you have as much fun with her as I did. Goodbye y'all". Suddenly a knife appeared in Monroe's hand and by the time he had thrown it deep into the chest of the man with the gun, Charlie had stomped down on Rotting Teeth's foot, twisted around, and jammed her blade into his throat. Monroe was already over to the last man by the time he'd had a chance to react, and Monroe rammed his fist into the man's face. He toppled heavily to the ground and Monroe pinned him with this foot by the throat. Charlie couldn't help being perversely impressed by Monroe in full slaughter mode. He was almost balletic.
"Please don't kill me," the man said. "Take anything you want," his voice little more than a whimper.
Monroe showed him the bounty poster of Rachel. "If you tell me what you know about this woman, I'll let you live". The man looked at the poster. "That's the woman that them Patriots want, aint it?. I don't know nothing about her though."
"Where are you from?"
"From Hectorville, a few miles east o' here", he said.
"And what do you know about the Patriots?" demanded Charlie.
"Patriots? Not much, but I believe they're sayin' want to bring back the United States but I don't know about that. There's not much interest in these parts.
Monroe looked at Charlie and Charlie nodded and turned away. Monroe pulled the man to his feet, and as he did, whipped his arm around and slit his throat. The man dropped like a stone. Charlie didn't even look back as she went through the pockets of Rotting Teeth. Monroe watched her, wondering what she was thinking. He had expected another tirade about how much of a monster he was to kill the last one, so she had surprised him when she walked away.
Charlie found nothing much useful in the pockets of the dead men, but she wasn't sure what she was expecting anyway. The fact that she had just killed a man was not lost on her, since the sight of his blood on her clothes turned her stomach and her hands were still shaky and here body was awash with adrenaline. However, she knew the old Charlie would have tried to get Bass to let the last guy go, but she knew he and the others would probably have raped her, killed her and thrown her body by the roadside like trash, so she wasn't sorry at all.
A few minutes later, they had stripped the bodies of all the valuables and food and were on their way.
"Did you have to hit me so fucking hard, Bass? I know you take great pleasure in handing out punishment, but even so." Charlie massaged her swollen cheek tenderly.
"Sorry. But I had to make it look real. If it's any consolation, you handled yourself excellently. You kept your cool and you reacted without hesitation when the moment came."
"With respect, Bass. Fuck you. And the next time, the set up had better involve me kicking your ass, or I will go back to planning how to kill you in your sleep." For a moment, she wondered if she'd gone too far, but Monroe just grinned at her, wondering how he had managed to come out with something that sounded so pompous.
Charlie knew her words were meant to be fighting, but she didn't really have the heart to mean them. Much as she was loathe to admit it, she felt alive like never before; and mostly because of him and his games, and his stupid sexy grin, with his stupid sparkling white teeth. God, she hated him.
Monroe's grin faded as he examined her glowing face recognizing the look. "This high won't last Charlie. And when it fades, you're going to feel like shit".
"It's not the first time I've killed someone Bass," she said, walking on ahead.
"Yes, but it's the first time you enjoyed it, right?"
"I didn't enjoy it. We just did what had to be done. Those guys were going to take me and God only knows how many other young girls have…." She stopped and faced him. "Now I get it. I couldn't work out why that set up, although, God knows, being dragged by the hair and hit across the face is a fun way to start the day, and by the way if that's one of your sexual fantasies, eww, but you just wanted to see whether they deserved to be robbed or if they deserved to die and they failed the test. You were the fucking judge, jury and executioner. I have to hand it to you Bass, you can be a cold son of a bitch."
"I didn't see you calling for clemency back there," he said almost primly, trying not to dwell on the fact that she might have been considering what his sexual fantasies might be.
"Like I said, we did what had to be done," she said.
"I recognize the high you're on Charlie, and the crash is coming, believe me. But you're right, I don't feel bad about this one." He sighed inwardly. He knew this meant he was responsible for taking just a little more of her optimism, adding another small piece of darkness to her spirit, but yet she seemed hell bent on going down this road and while he didn't quite know why, he knew he didn't want to let her go down it alone.
They walked on through the day, without seeing another person. They walked hard enough that they had no breath for talk, but as darkness started to fall, Monroe noticed an abandoned barn. They walked towards it, skirting round it cautiously, making sure that it wasn't a trap, or otherwise occupied, but it turned out to be long abandoned.
"I think we might risk lighting a fire so we can cook the rabbits those guys had caught", said Monroe. Charlie nodded. Her stomach growled at the thought. They built a fire behind the barn, as far out of sight as possible. A little while later, a pair of rabbits was roasting and the aroma was mouth-watering.
They ate in silence, sucking the delicious meat off the tiny bones. With a pile of the now cleaned bones in front of her, Charlie stared into the fire. Monroe had been right, the high had worn off and now she felt empty. Not that she regretted what they had done, but just that it no longer seemed anything but calculated, brutal and cold. Was this how it started for him, she wondered.
Monroe looked over at her. "Was I right about the high, Charlie?" Charlie nodded, but didn't offer any more conversation. Monroe was about to suggest putting out the fire and getting some sleep, when she spoke.
"Bass can I ask you something?" She didn't wait for him to respond before rushing on. "What happened to you?" she said. "I mean, that monster in Philadelphia who seemed to take joy in manipulation, murder and cruelty – the Monroe that Miles and Rachel told me about, the one that I saw. How did that happen? I know I didn't believe you when you tried to say it before, and I might still be the most naïve idiot ever if it's all just an act, but it just doesn't seem to me like you are that man. The Bass I've seen these last few weeks has been kind and thoughtful, hard and vicious for sure, but not without reason and I've never felt anything other than safe with you, well, maybe not those first few days, but even so. I just don't get it." The words came out in too much of a rush, and Charlie felt like she must sound like an awkward teenager trying to speak to a cute boy.
A sliver of lightness flared in him as he heard her words, like a tiny window had been opened, but when he looked up at her and Charlie saw the bleakest look that she'd ever seen.
"I don't know Charlie. I don't know if I will ever know. I might once have said it started when Miles left the Republic – I blamed him for a long time because he broke my heart. But truthfully, it started before then. Probably back to when we were kids. I was so alone after I lost my family, everything familiar gone in a heartbeat. I had nobody in the world except Miles, but I was too afraid of losing him, so I ended up holding on too tight. When you hold on too tight, you end up crushing it. He had always been my brother, always my centre, and when he finally lost faith in me, I was finished. I did something unforgivable, so he and Nora walked out of the Republic and the more I tried to keep control, the worse it got. I could feel myself falling into this darkness that I knew was me, but I couldn't stop myself. I thought about ending it all so many times. I never wanted to be General Monroe and I wouldn't have been if it wasn't for Miles. Some nights, holding a gun to my head was the only thing that made it bearable; there was comfort in knowing that I could end it at any time. And then at the tower, when I thought Neville was going to execute me, I welcomed it because I thought it was all finally going to stop."
Charlie watched the emotions storm across his face as he spoke. She had been expecting him to tell her to shut up, or make some flippant comment. She hadn't expected him to really talk and now she wondered why she could ever have thought he was a cold, emotionless robot, because the more she knew of him the more she thought he was probably the most feeling man she'd ever met. She waited for him to continue.
"After the bombs, I felt relief for a while; relief that the Republic was gone, that General Monroe was gone. But it didn't last because then the guilt started to hit. Seeing everything that I'd done in the cold light of day was almost intolerable. That's why you found me fighting in New Vegas. I found that the nightly beatings just helped keep it all a little bit at bay. Then you came along with your crossbow and tried to put me out of my misery, but you failed." He laughed bitterly and looked her in the eye for the first time since he had started to speak. "Okay, I know, I should shut up now. You're probably thinking this is all a pile self-indulgent, manipulative bullshit and you're about to tell me how much of a pathetic egomaniac I am."
Charlie moved over so she was a little closer to him, close enough to lean over and take his hand. Monroe went still, afraid that any movement from him would break the spell. He watched her in mute disbelief as she lifted his hand to her lips and kissed the back of it, and then placed it gently back down on his knee. To his horror, a tear rolled down his cheek.
"I don't deserve you", he said, his voice cracked.
"No, you probably don't," she said, with a small smile, "but you have me anyway." Monroe had no idea what she really meant, but he would accept it, whatever her reason.
Charlie's emotions churned. She was reeling from what just happened. She didn't know why she had taken his hand like that, or why she said what she said. It had just been an impulse, but she knew it wasn't a lie. For what seemed an age, they looked at each other, neither one knowing what to say or do next. The silence stretched, longer still, until an owl hooted, from somewhere in the barn. Charlie jumped, momentarily startled and the moment broke and time seemed to start up again.
Monroe stood up and started to put out the fire. He held out a hand to Charlie and he hauled her to her feet. "You should get some sleep," he said, his face unreadable. "I'll take first watch".
Charlie slipped by him, into the barn. At the door, she turned to him. "Goodnight Bass," she said.