Many thanks to all of you who left reviews for the third instalment – so very much appreciated. This took a lot longer to write and skips over the events of the last couple of episodes and takes place a little further down the road.
Charlie smiled, resigned, knowing that Monroe had put shutters down, but before she started to analyze what he might be hiding, she heard footsteps in the hallway. "Hey Bass, you lazy bastard." Miles came in and leaned in the doorway smiling. Charlie hadn't seen such an uncomplicated smile on his face in a very long time and it made her heart lift. "How much longer are you going to lounge around in bed being waited on hand and foot? Anyone would think you'd died and gone to heaven."
"Fuck off Miles," said Bass, glad of the distraction. "Rachel shot me so full of crap I can barely remember my name, let alone get up off mine to save your sorry ass."
"Lightweight," he said, grinning. "Just try to get some rest Bass," he said turning and heading back down the stairs.
Monroe was still holding Charlie's hand and she found she didn't want to move, to make the moment last, but as she looked up at him, she saw that he was already drifting away again. She watched how his face relaxed as he fell asleep, and how he seemed so much younger, so much less troubled. "Charlie?" She heard her mom's voice floating up from downstairs. She reluctantly let go of Monroe's hand and went down to join the others.
"When will he be back to normal?" Miles asked Rachel. "We can't risk staying here much longer; they'll be tearing apart the countryside looking for us."
"He's still going to be a bit out of it for another day or so," said Rachel. "But he should be good to travel in the morning."
"So how did you do it mom? Did Granddad know?" asked Charlie, still trying to make sense of what had happened.
"Nobody knew. Everyone just assumed I would just be so delighted to see him die, nobody thought to check up on me. I wasn't completely sure that I was going to get the dosage right. There was probably a good chance he might have died anyway, but a chance was better than nothing."
"Why did you do it? Why did you give him up and then save him?" Charlie was trying hard to be civil, but she was struggling to make sense of everything and her mom was not making things any clearer.
"I had my reasons Charlie," Rachel said. Charlie knew from her tone that she wouldn't elaborate. She knew her mom would never forgive Monroe for everything that had happened, so she had no idea why she would have risked herself to save him, especially as she had ratted him out in the first place. It didn't make any sense. For Charlie, things were different now, and although she still can't quite understand why, she had moved on and she had started to think of Monroe as family. Well, maybe not exactly family because that would be weird. That night, she lay awake for a long while, unable to get Monroe out of her head. Only a few hours ago, she had believed him dead, and now he was here, alive, and docile because of the drugs. Yet another version of Monroe she hadn't met before. Had she even seen the real Monroe? She thought maybe he wasn't even sure himself any more.
The next morning, Charlie had woken up, feeling tired and unrested. In fact, she hadn't slept well since the night before they came to Willoughby. She flushed, remembering how she had sat in Monroe's lap and he had pulled her close.
After she got dressed and gathered up her things, she slid her knife down the back of her jeans. She tiptoed across the landing and peeked into the room Monroe was sleeping in, but he was gone. When she got downstairs, only Aaron, Cynthia and her mom were there.
"Where did Miles and Bass go?" asked Charlie, helping them pack up the gear. Rachel frowned when she heard Charlie call him Bass, but then the door opened suddenly. Charlie grabbed for her knife, but relaxed when she saw Miles, followed by Monroe. She was surprised to see how well Monroe looked, the horror of the last couple of days erased from his face. He saw her watching him, and she dropped her eyes, embarrassed.
"Bass and I have hatched a little plan", Miles said.
"What kind of plan?" asked Rachel suspiciously.
"A couple of fun projects for Charlie, Bass and me before we leave. Just a little something for them to remember us by."
"No, not Charlie," Rachel said firmly, shaking her head. "Whatever you and Bass want to do, that's up to you, but Charlie's coming with me."
"It's a three person job Rachel. We need her, and as soon as we're done, we'll join you. It'll be fine. She's not a little girl any more," said Miles.
Charlie couldn't help her eyes sliding towards Monroe's, and she saw the tiny smirk lift the corner of his mouth.
"I'm going mom," said Charlie, rolling her yes. "Of course I'm going."
"Charlie, you don't even know what it is," Rachel snapped, but Charlie was already picking up a rifle from the table and as she slung it over her shoulder, she moved over to stand between Miles and Monroe. Now it was Rachel's turn to roll her eyes, but Charlie also noticed the furious glare that her mom threw at Monroe. She glanced sideways at Monroe's face, but he was impassive. Whatever that was about, she had no idea.
Rachel shook her head, disgusted, realizing that arguing was going to be a waste of time. A little while later, after some strained goodbyes, Rachel, Aaron and Cynthia left. Charlie, Miles and Monroe set off in the opposite direction, back towards Willoughby.
"Stop," a soldier in a patriot uniform yelled. He was sitting up front of a horse drawn wagon. He signalled the driver to pull up. A body lay prone in the road. "Richards, Muñoz, go check it out. And be careful," he ordered. The rest of the soldiers jumped down from the wagon, on alert, guns raised.
Richards and Muñoz jumped down from the wagon and cautiously walked over to the body, keeping their rifles aimed at its head. It was a girl. Barnes jabbed her shoulder with the barrel of his gun, but she didn't move. Muñoz leaned it to pull the girl's hair away from her face, because they couldn't see if she was alive or dead. Suddenly, the sound of gunfire from the trees took their attention from her, and the rest of the soldiers in the wagon started yelling and diving for cover, and in the chaos of bullets and screaming, and then swords clashing, neither man saw the body jump up behind them. The girl stabbed one through the ribs, and as he slowly slumped to the ground she grabbed his gun and shot the other one. A few moments later, all went silent.
"Charlie, you okay?" yelled Monroe, jogging out of the trees over to where she lay.
"Yeah, I'm fine," she said. Monroe's stomach lurched with a rush of relief that he didn't expect. She was struggling to get up under the weight of one of the men she'd just killed, so Monroe stuck out a hand and he hauled her to her feet.
"You?" she asked.
"C'mon babe," he said. "Do you even need to ask?" he said. For a moment, Charlie wanted to slap that smug 'babe' off his face, but damn, he was hot when he grinned like that.
"God, but you're an arrogant bastard," she said, laughing.
She saw Miles checking through the cargo in the wagon. They were pleased to find that Monroe's intel had been correct. Charlie hadn't asked how he had got the information, and she probably didn't want to know anyway, but they were not disappointed by what they found: enough gunpowder and fuses for what they had planned. The three of them stripped the weapons and ammo from the soldiers, dragged their bodies off the road and climbed up into the wagon. Charlie sat in the back, while Monroe and Miles sat up front. She couldn't help admiring the view of Monroe's wide shoulders and his sweat-soaked hair curling around his ears. Stop it Charlie, she told herself sternly.
Despite the fact that they had just killed seven men between them, Charlie felt light. Partly Miles she thought. He had not been happy to see Monroe when she first brought him back to them, but it seemed he'd had a change of heart. Longing for the end of someone you hated, trying to kill a man you hated, was so much easier than losing a man you realized you'd never stopped loving, only hating what they had become. Now, whatever misery had been between them, they appeared to have put aside for now, as she watched their heads bent close, laughing. She was envious. She had never had that kind of bond with anyone, not even Danny.
"So, what are you two giggling about, like a couple of little girls?" she said, watching them together.
Miles turned his head back towards her. "We are not giggling, Charlie," said Miles. "Are we Bass?" he said.
Bass shook his head. "Charlie, are you sure you didn't get a knock on the head back there?"
"It was definitely giggling," she said.
They skirted around Willoughby and headed east, and although they expected it, they didn't run into any trouble. About eight miles out, they came to an abandoned farm and Miles suggested they camp for the night.
They made a small fire and cooked some of the rations they had taken from the wagon and while they ate, they went over the plans for the next day. Miles and Monroe seemed to talk mostly in code, shorthand developed from all their years together. Charlie kept losing the threads of what they were saying, and found herself trying not to yawn.
"Charlie, are we boring you?" said Miles, raising an eyebrow.
"Yes, you're both very, very dull," she said laughing. "Nothing interesting ever happens when I'm with you two."
Monroe laughed. He felt a comfort being around both of them like this, a fragile sense of belonging that he barely dared acknowledge. It was a feeling he had craved for so long and he thought he never would again.
After they put out the fire, Miles took first watch as Charlie and Monroe lay down to get some sleep. She lay down with her back towards him, and she was all too conscious that he was close enough to touch her and she wondered what he was thinking.
The railroad that was the main source of supplies and troops in and out of Willoughby crossed a small river twenty miles east of the town and that railway was also the main artery of communication between the patriots, so that was their target. They had waited until after nightfall so they could work in darkness, and now, Charlie and Monroe were on one side of the bridge, setting charges around one of the bridge's support columns.
As they worked together, Charlie couldn't help thinking about Nora, Nora who had taught her what little she knew about explosives and who had bled out in her arms at the tower. Nora would have known exactly what to do in this situation. She would have loved this, she thought sadly. She looked over at Monroe, remembering that Monroe had captured Nora and tortured her for information about the rebels and her stomach churned. How could that have been man she knew now?
"Charlie?" said Monroe. "You got something on your mind?"
"Just thinking how much Nora would have loved this," she said watching his face for any hint of reaction. A flash of pain washed across his face and he frowned.
"Yes," he said in a quiet voice. "She would have." Monroe cursed Charlie, knowing she had twisted that knife deliberately and she had been right to; Nora was yet another whose blood was on his hands. The guilt weighed heavy on him.
"I'm all set Bass" said Charlie, changing the subject, seeing his reaction and then feeling like a huge bitch for deliberately provoking it.
Miles had been on the other side of the bridge, working on the other support column. Monroe whistled across the bridge and signalled to Miles that they were ready. Charlie and Miles lay down, hidden in the shadows of the supports, while they waited for Miles to finish. Charlie's heart was loud in her ears, willing Miles to finish before they ran into a night patrol and she tried to keep her fears down to a bearable level. Finally, they heard a whistle from the other side of the river; the signal that Miles was done.
Monroe lit the fuses on their side, while Miles lit the fuses on the other side. Charlie and Monroe ran off the bridge and Charlie flung herself down in the grass by the side of the river and counted. Miles took off the opposite why, but they couldn't see him in the darkness. Suddenly, they saw the bridge supports bow out and warp, and then a cloud of smoke and dust roes a moment before the sound of the explosion rolled over them like a wave. Monroe put his arm around Charlie to cover her head as he ducked down beside her. When the roaring stopped, Monroe quickly let go of her, taken aback by the instinctive action to protect her. Charlie looked up from under Monroe's arm. She was delighted to see mangled track, splintered sidings and partially ruined supports.
"We did it Bass!" she said, sitting up, but her words trailed off when she saw lights flickering along the other side of the river. Torches. And they did not belong to Miles.
"It must be a patrol. We need to get out of here because it's only a matter of time before we run into trouble on this side of the river." said Monroe, getting up and trying to pull Charlie with him.
"But what about Miles?" Charlie said, trying to shake him off.
"What about him," Monroe said flatly.
"We can't just leave him there," Charlie said. "We have to go help him."
"Charlie, we can't. We're on the wrong side of the river. No bridge, remember? Besides, Miles has a horse, he has guns, and he can take care of himself." Monroe swung himself up onto the horse they had kept on their side of the river. He grabbed Charlie's arm and swung her up behind him, pulling her so hard, she felt like her shoulder was about to dislocate.
Charlie was still struggling against the grip on her arm and before she had a chance to settle, Monroe kicked his heels into the horse's flank and the horse took off. Charlie had to scrabble to catch hold of Monroe to stop herself from falling and she took a vicious pleasure in digging her nails hard into his torso to hold on, still angry with him for leaving Miles behind.
"Fuck, Charlie," he hissed at the sudden pain, and he slowed the horse down.
"Sorry," Charlie said sarcastically. "I was afraid I was going to fall."
"Do that again and I'll throw you off the horse and leave you behind too."
They rode on in angry silence. Charlie was sick with anxiety about Miles. She knew Monroe had been right about everything, but fuck, how could he be so cold about it? It was Miles, not some foot soldier with no name. He had to be safe. He had to be
Monroe rode through the night until they were well away from the explosion. Despite what he'd said to Charlie, he was worried about Miles too. He had hated leaving him behind just as much as Charlie, but there had been no choice, and sometimes you had to make a tactical retreat even if it made you feel like a monster again. He was relieved to feel that somewhere along the way, Charlie had stopped being angry and had leaned into his back, and was glad to feel her arms slide back around his waist.
Charlie found herself struggling to stay awake, lulled by the movement of the horse and Monroe had felt her hold on him slipping and he was worried that she would fall, so he decided to stop, thinking that they had probably gone far enough for it to be safe to stop.
"Charlie, how are you doing? Still awake?" he said, as he pulled up the horse.
"Hmm?" Charlie muttered sleepily.
"We are going to stop here."
Charlie walked through the woods, the smell of damp leaf mulch a familiar comfort, reminding her of long, fun days spent with Danny when they were kids. She carried a couple of rabbits that she'd shot and enjoyed the warm sheen of sweat that came with the exercise of hunting. She walked out of the forest and down towards the river.
Charlie walked along the riverbank to the old marina shed where she and Monroe had spent the night, but she stopped dead when she heard crying from inside. She crept slowly up to the door, and there was definitely crying. She pushed opened the door as quietly as she could, and found Monroe standing in front of a young man. The kid was on his knees, hands tied behind his back, tears pouring down his face, completely terrified, and to her horror, he reminded her of Danny, same age, build and colouring.
"Get out," Monroe spat at Charlie. He didn't want her to see this, afraid that she go right back to hating him.
"What are you doing?" she shrieked. "He's just a boy."
Monroe sighed. There was no point in pretending. He realized he didn't want to pretend with her and if she hated him, the she would hate him.
"Fine," he said. "Stay if you want." Monroe turned back to the boy. "Now, where were we Peter," he asked, voice dangerously honeyed. "I've asked you very nicely, I think, so it would only be polite to answer my questions".
"I don't know," he stammered out.
"I think you do," said Monroe.
"I was just on patrol and I got separated. I don't know where the rest of them are. I swear. We were to find out who blew up the bridge at Westbury."
"And you think I did it, just like everyone thinks I nuked Philadelphia?"
The boy bowed his head. "I don't know. You are supposed to be dead." he said, his voice wavering. Monroe took a step closer to the boy, menacing.
"I told you everything I know," the boy said, panic colouring his voice. "I'm a new recruit and they don't tell me much. Please, don't hurt me, I don't know anything."
"Thank you for your honesty. I appreciate it," Monroe said smiling. He put a hand gently on the boy's shoulder and looked sideways at Charlie.
"Bass, please don't," said Charlie, in a whisper. "He's just a kid."
But Monroe turned back to the boy and stabbed him, a near-instant kill through the ribs into his heart. His body slumped to the ground, blood pooling around him.
"Why did you do that?" screamed Charlie, rushing over to Monroe. "He wasn't responsible for any of this. He was just a kid. Bass, he could have been Danny." She pushed him hard but he didn't stumble and instead, he closed the distance between them, his face twisted into a snarl. Charlie backed away until she hit the wall of the shed.
"He was a fucking patriot Charlie, no matter how young he might have been. Do you really think he would have been able to keep his mouth shut? You think he wouldn't have gone back and spilt his guts? He knew who I was and he would have told them I was alive. So, how long do you think before they connected the dots to your mom?"
"So, that's it? The second things get tough, you immediately go back General Monroe mode, nothing but a ruthless killer with no shred of humanity? Just like you left Miles behind without a second thought."
"The patriots don't give a damn about that boy, and they would have slit his throat in a second if they thought he was no longer useful. Charlie, after everything you've been through, can you really be so fucking naïve?"
"You make me sick," she said, swinging her fist. She almost connected with Monroe's chin but he grabbed her arm to deflect it. She didn't fight his hold on her, but her eyes blazed with defiance, daring him to hit her back. Monroe's mind went blank and his only thought was that she looked so fucking beautiful that before he could stop himself, he reached out his free hand and traced her collarbone with his fingertip. He felt Charlie's breath catch and he watched the fight drain from her eyes. She looked down at his fingers trailing her skin.
He was still holding her right arm and he pulled her hand towards his mouth and bent his head to kiss the inside of her wrist, but instead of touching soft smooth skin, his lips touched the scar tissue of the her brand. He had known she had it, but in that moment, like ice water, it stopped him dead.
Charlie felt his hesitation and she saw it on his face and fury slammed into her.
"You have got to be kidding me", she yelled. "You are such a fucking coward Bass. You're fine with murdering a child because he might be a liability; you abandon your best friend without a backward glance, you were happy for your thugs to murder most of my family and god knows how many other people's families, you used your ex girlfriend as a bargaining chip, and you kept my mother hostage. And apparently you're fine that you had your militia abduct god knows how many innocent kids and held them down and branded them, like cattle, just like they did to me," she said, waving her wrist in his face. "But admitting that you want to fuck me - that's where you draw the line? Really? You are just unbelievable. What is it? Are you worried what Miles might think if he found out? Well, for all you care, he could be already dead, so what does it matter?"
Monroe burned under the accusations, cold shame writhing. She was right about all of it and he could only wither under the onslaught, but she wasn't done.
"Or is it my mom?" she screamed. "Worried that she might finish what she started if she found out?"
He felt her words like she'd hit him with her fists and Charlie saw his reaction, it was just a flicker, but it was enough. All the furious glares between her mom and Bass, her mom flipping out about the way she looked at Bass. It all made horrible sense.
"Oh my God, that's it isn't it? You made a deal with her about me." Monroe dropped his eyes in complete defeat. "Do you even realise that she that ratted you out to the patriots in the first place," she shouted. "She told them where you were and she probably planned the whole thing. And you were too stoned to know you'd been played. God, I hate you both."
She stormed out of the shed and Monroe watched her go, roaring in frustration and regret, slamming his fist against the wall.
He heard a muffled scream. Charlie. He ran to the door, grabbing his rifle. He opened the door a crack and peered out. There were four men out there by the riverbank. They were dressed in patriot uniforms and one of them one was holding Charlie, twisting her arm cruelly up her back. When he saw the pain masking her face, Monroe's vision turned red. He wanted to destroy them, obliterate them all from the face of the earth. He lifted the rifle and started shooting. Charlie took advantage of the confusion to struggle out of from her captor's arms and she flung herself away, trying to get out of the crossfire. One by one, Monroe shot three of them, with icy control and robotic precision. Charlie had almost managed to get out of reach, when her captor grabbed her ankle and she hit the ground hard, and then he dragged her back towards him, her skin scraping across the hard ground. He pulled her roughly to her feet and seized her by the throat and then she felt cold metal against her temple.
"Come out you fucker, or I'll kill the bitch", he yelled at Monroe, and then hissed in Charlie's ear "I hope he's a dumb fucker, because I would really enjoy putting a bullet in your pretty little brain." Monroe stepped out from behind the door, rifle raised. Charlie saw the look on his face, the vicious joy that made his face glow with malice and blood lust and she knew that she would be safe. Monroe advanced with the rifle. The man took a couple of steps backwards, jamming the gun harder into Charlie's temple.
"Drop the gun," he yelled, "Last warning."
"Not going to happen. You just let her go, and maybe you'll live to see another day," said Monroe, amusement in his voice, he said advancing another step.
The man took another step backwards towards the river, dragging Charlie back with him. She nodded at Monroe, a tiny gesture, but one he didn't miss. As she flung her head to the side, away from the man's body, Monroe fired; a clean shot to his head. But as soon as he fired, Monroe realized he'd miscalculated; he hadn't realized quite how close to the river they were standing and the weight of the man falling backwards, his arm still locked around Charlie's neck, took her with him right over the edge and into the water.
"Charlie," he bellowed, as he watched her disappear into the river. He saw her struggling to get untangled from the body, and was relieved when she pulled herself free, but the relief died in his chest as he realized with horror that she couldn't swim and he saw her being pulled down the river, struggling to keep her head above water. Without a conscious thought, he tore off his shirt and trousers and dived in after her. He swam as fast as he could, but she was already lost under the water by the time he got to her. For a moment, he couldn't see her and the panic started to rise in his chest. Then he caught a glimpse of something pale among the weeds and dived down, holding his breath as long as could. The water was churning so the visibility was terrible. He flailed his arms around in desperation, until, with a stab of joy, he grabbed onto something soft. He pulled Charlie up with him, taking in huge gulps of air as his head broke the surface. He swam for the riverbank, knowing that she was already unconscious and fear curdled in his lungs.
With dark spots at the edge of his vision, and his muscles burning with the effort of swimming so hard, he got her to the edge of the river. He hauled her out onto the grass and his heart sank when he saw her face was blue and her eyes were closed and still. "Charlie, no, no no", he moaned. Not Charlie as well, he couldn't stand it. She wasn't breathing and he couldn't find a pulse. He couldn't let her die. Trying to ignore the rising anguish, he laid his hands on her ribs and started chest compressions; still nothing. He bent close, pinched her nose and sealed his mouth over hers. "Stay with me Charlie," he whispered as he watched her chest rise and wall with his breath.
He could feel everything coming apart. He'd spent so long hardening his heart, building defences to protect himself. Since Miles left him, his heart had been stone. Nobody had ever got close; he didn't allow anyone to get close. His men had feared him and none were friends. Sex was nothing more than a release, never the same woman twice and never bothering to find out their names. He told himself it was the way to keep himself sane, but he had been fooling himself; his sanity had been a mirage. After the bombs, he had lost himself in New Vegas, knowing how close he had been to oblivion, every day willing someone to hit him hard enough to end it all. And then she had appeared in the swimming pool, like a tiny light in the dark and against every instinct to protect himself, he'd let her in, let her get close, and now she was going to die. He brought his lips to hers again, breathing for her, filling her lungs with his pain and finally, with relief flooding into every pore, she convulsed, choking out the water in her lungs. She was still unconscious, but breathing. She was breathing. She was alive.
He gathered her into his arms. Even though the day was not cold, she had begun shivering violently. He carried her back to the shed and once inside, he stripped off her wet clothes. He wrapped a blanket around them both and settled back with her lying against his chest, her head tucked under his chin. Her body felt so small and fragile, but he felt her breath warm and regular against his neck. Despite the danger of them being found, especially with the bodies still lying outside, Monroe felt himself being pulled into sleep. He struggled to keep himself awake, tried to fight it, but drifted away again.
Monroe woke up to feel cold steel digging into the soft skin underneath his chin. All senses on full alert, he opened his eyes slowly.
"What in the name of holy fuck is all this?" said Miles, his sword pressed into Monroe's throat and a fierce glare on his face.
Monroe looked down at Charlie, curled on his lap still. "Miles, chill your fucking jets," said Monroe. "It's not what you think."
"Start talking Bass", Miles said, jamming the point of the sword in a little harder. "Or the steel will talk for you."
"She fell in the river and almost drowned. It turns out, she can't swim." As he spoke, Charlie stirred a little and the blanket slipped from her shoulders, revealing Charlie's brown skin moulded against Monroe's naked chest.
Miles groaned, shaking his head. "You have got to be fucking kidding me Bass."
"She wasn't breathing Miles, and she was cold, wet, shivering and unconscious. I needed to get her warm and dry as fast as possible, fucking SOP. I would have done the same if it had been you." He pulled the blanket back up around Charlie's shoulders, covering them both.
"Maybe so, but I don't think you would have spent the rest of the afternoon cuddling with me curled up in your lap.
"Miles, you're jealous! That's so fucking cute," Bass said, his voice like ice.
"Fuck off Bass," Miles said rolling his eyes. "She's my niece and seeing you both practically naked together… Miles shook himself, dog-like dropping his sword. "Bass, that's just something I can't unsee."
"Miles," Monroe said, his voice thawed. "Nothing happened, okay?" He waited for Miles to react, but Miles stayed silent. "Now", Monroe continued. "Are you going to tell me what you've been doing the last few days?"
Charlie heard voices from far away. It was Miles and Bass, and so she felt safe and warm. She nestled closer into the warm arms around her. She smelled a familiar, warm woodsy smell, mixed with sweat and as she shifted, she felt a hand run gently up and down her spine. Monroe's hand, leaving a trail of delicious shivers as it went. Her eyes flew open and she saw Monroe's face, inches away from hers.
"How are you feeling, Charlie?" said Miles, acid in his voice. Monroe hadn't noticed that he had started stroking Charlie's back and stilled his hand abruptly. Charlie turned her head and saw Miles looking at her, his expression disapproving.
"Miles, you're back," she said. "Are you okay?"
"Yes I am, Not sure about you though", Miles said, pointedly.
"I was in the water" she said, vague memories suddenly surging, a rush of panic and fear. "I couldn't breathe." Charlie looked up at Monroe and started to sit up before she realized that she was naked and lay down again, feeling a blush spread across her cheeks. "What happened?" she asked.
"Yes, interesting question," said Miles. Monroe glared at him.
"How are you feeling Charlie?" said Monroe. "You might be a bit bruised. I had to give you CPR after I pulled you out of the river. You've been unconscious for a couple of hours."
"You saved me again?" said Charlie. "It's becoming a habit Bass." The images, still swirling in her mind, were fuzzy, but then in stark clarity, with a jolt, she remembered the fight. She looked up at Monroe. He saw the stricken look on her face, and he shook his head, so small she didn't know if she'd really seen it, but she didn't say anything else.
"So," said Miles. "Now that we're established everyone is peachy, Bass is going to put you down so you can both get some clothes on. Okay? Please tell me that you are both going to put on some goddamn clothes."
Monroe eased himself out from under Charlie, leaving her safe under the blanket. He was wearing only underpants and those left not much to the imagination. Charlie blushed again and ducked her head. Monroe left the shed to get his clothes that were still on the riverbank.
Miles picked up Charlie's clothes and threw them at her. "I think these are dry now," he said, the disapproving look still on his face. "So can you please get dressed?"
"Miles, what's with the look?"
"There's no look," he said.
"Yes, there's a look and you can just knock it off. And for your information, first of all, I'm an adult, so you don't get a say in what I do with my personal life. Second of all, whatever I get up to with Bass is for me to decide. And third of all, like he already said, nothing happened, so I don't know why you're being such a drama queen about this."
She turned her back to Miles and put her clothes on as quickly as she could. When she was dressed, she turned back to him and he sighed, like he was in physical pain. "Charlie, just tell me you haven't already fallen for the Monroe bullshit. You know he'll break your heart."
Charlie looked at Miles with a disbelieving expression. "Miles, seriously, pot meet kettle."
"Well, maybe so, but I was hoping that there would be a least one Matheson that would be fucking immune."
"I did try to kill him first," said Charlie.
"Yeah, so did I," said Miles. "More than once. It didn't do any good."
Charlie closed the space between them and put her arms around him. "Miles, I'm glad you're okay. I was so worried about you. I hated that we had to leave you."
Miles hesitated a second and then wrapped his arms around her and hugged her tight against him. "I'm fine, Charlie. You don't need to worry about me."
Monroe was prowling outside the shed and he wondered if they thought that he wouldn't be able to hear them. Despite the supremely fucked up situation, hearing them squabble about him lifted his spirits. He loved hearing her talking to Miles like that, just like he used to, like he'd started to do again. Charlie wasn't afraid of anything and he'd already known that. But it was more than that. Even though she'd believed she'd lost all her family, just like he had, instead of sitting in a graveyard with a gun to her head, feeling sorry for herself, she'd taken herself off to Chicago and single-handedly dragged Miles out of his slow suicide by whiskey. She'd watched her whole world fall apart and then she'd come for Monroe and dragged him out of his own slow suicide in New Vegas. Despite how young she was and how green she was, she was stronger than the both of them and however much they might think of themselves as tough, battle-hardened soldiers, she owned both their asses, no matter how much they might try to deny it.