The fire roared in the fireplace, tongues of flame licking up into the chimney and filling the ramshackle cabin with the smell of burning soot. Sweat itched at Charlie’s hair - the heat, nerves - as she wrapped the bloody shirt around her hands. The hot metal still stung her hands as she pulled the knife out of fire. The thin metal glowed, white along the ragged edge and dull red at its core. The scabs of old skin caught on the metal sizzled and stank.
‘Enjoying this?’ Bass asked, voice creaking and raw in his throat.
Charlie laughed. It sounded a bit frantic, even to her. She could still taste bile in the back of her throat. ‘Yeah, that’s why I puked.’
She turned around, wiping her sleeve over her forehead. Bass sprawled in a battered arm-chair, the peeling leather stained with blood and battlefield grime. His arm was cocked up, hand tucked behind his head, and the half-cauterized wound on his side stretched over slabs of tight muscle.
‘You ready?’ she asked.
He closed his eyes and dipped his chin in a minimal nod. Charlie wasn’t. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, steadying her hands as she straddled his thigh. One, she counted down to herself, two and… Skin bubbled under the knife, visibly blistering, and blood cooked into thick, congealed scabs. Charlie swallowed hard, bracing her hand on his shoulder, and tugged it away. She repeated the process twice, sealing it up. Bass’ muscles twitched under his skin, clenching into hard, new lines, but he didn’t move.
‘Sometimes you still scare me,’ Charlie said, stabbing the knife into the arm of the chair.
Bass opened his eyes, pale as ice against skin tanned from a summer on the border. ‘Good. I’d hate to think I was losing my touch.’
She snorted and pushed herself off his shoulder, rubbing her hands down her thighs. Now that they could get away with it, they were shaking. The stink of burning flesh - of Bass’ burning flesh - was stuck in her nose, so ripe she could almost taste it.
‘I need a drink,’ she said abruptly.
Bass was gingerly shrugging his shirt back up, pulling it over his side. ‘You know where it is.’
It had taken Charlie two months of border warfare and one razed town to find out that sometimes the only thing to do with feelings was drink them. It didn’t help you forget, just gave you an alternative to sleep. She took a swig of raw whiskey, slouching down in her hard backed chair, and frowned at Bass when he held his hand on.
‘Should you be drinking?’ she asked.
‘Yeah.’ He took the bottle off her and sat back, watching her with hooded blue eyes as he drank. ‘You’ve stopped flinching.’
‘Yeah,’ Charlie sighed. ‘I miss that.’
‘It’d get you killed.’
Charlie scrubbed her fingers through her hair and shrugged. She couldn’t explain to Bass that - sometimes - she thought that might be best. Did the world need another bloody handed Matheson, with no skill but killing? 20 years from now, if she wasn’t a corpse, would she be President Matheson waiting for some naive kid to come looking for revenge.
Or maybe she just needed to drink more.
‘Brooding. You’ve got the same constipated look Miles got.’ He handed the bottle over. Charlie wiped her hand over the mouth of the bottle and took another drink. Across from her Monroe shifted, hand touching his injured side absently. ‘Truth or dare?’
She blinked at him. ‘What?’
‘Truth,’ he said. ‘Or dare.’
Charlie blinked and then a slow smile curled her mouth. ‘Seriously?’
He slouched and shrugged. ‘It’ll pass the time.’
It was, Charlie supposed, better than sitting in silence. Bass hated silence, hated stillness. He’d pick a fight if he had to, just to fill the air with words. And why not.
Three quarters of a bottle later and well past twilight, and Charlie was wiping tears of laughter from her eyes. ‘Really?’
‘It seemed like a good idea t the time.’
‘It never is,’ Charlie told him.
Charlie pulled her hair back from her face, twisting it into a rough knot. ‘...Truth,’ she said, tipping the bottle to her mouth.
Pale eyes stared at her, unnervingly intent, and Bass swiped her tongue over lips lower lip. ‘Do you ever think about me when you masturbate.’
She coughed, spluttering, and liquor scalded her throat and back of her nose. Wiping her nose on her sleeve, she stared at him, ‘...what?’
He grinned at her. That open, terribly charming smile that lit up his face. There were only three people who got to see that smile usually. It strange to realise you were one of them.
‘You heard me.’
‘Masturbate?’ he said. ‘I know that’s a lie.’
Charlie shifted uncomfortably, pressing her thighs together and feeling a hot twist of something trapped between embarrassment and arousal. She swallowed.
‘Do you forfeit?’ Bass asked.
Except, why not. He’d done this before, making her squirm with a dark, mocking sexuality. Usually she ended up flustered or angry, hand shoved down her pants while he left to find a whore.
‘Sometimes,’ she said. ‘You call me Charlotte, and fuck me up against a wall or...or on that couch.’
He blinked. ‘What couch.’
‘The one you nearly had Strausser blow my brains over,’ she said. She wondered if she should blush. It was kind of perverse, but he’d asked. ‘I thought I was going to die and you...you looked at me like you would fuck me while I was getting on with it.’
His throat worked around a hard swallow and he dropped his hand to his trousers, pressing against the bulge of his groin. His fingers curled.
‘You asked,’ she said. The air felt hot when she breathed in. ‘Truth or dare.’
Charlie chewed her knuckle. She knew what he thought she was going to ask, she could see it in his smirk.
‘Did you ever touch Miles' cock?’ she asked, spitting the words out before embarrassment could corral them.
They stared at each other. For a second, Charlie thought she’d won.
‘Yes,’ Bass said.
Charlie felt her eyes go rube-huge with surprise. People talked about it, they gossiped, but nobody really meant...
‘When?’ she demanded. 'Did you-‘
‘Should have asked that,’ Bass interrupted, a smirk catching the corner of his mouth. 'Your turn.'
Charlie pouted at him.
'Rules of the game,' he shrugged, spreading his hand in unapologetic helplessness. 'Truth or dare, Charlotte. If you still want to play?'
She would have expected it to be a challenge. It wasn't. Just a question, carefully neutral. Charlie thought about it, hiding her face behind the bottle. It would have been easy once. She hated him. Still did, sometimes. It wasn't that she didn't know what he was. Dangerous. Unstable. Cruel. Obsessive.
Except now she had seen the good in him. Loyal. Clever. Fierce. Kind - surprisingly, heart-breakingly. He was the man who had killed her brother and the man who had carried her a mile out of a firefight - complaining all the way about her fat ass.
‘Dare,’ she said, clearing her throat as her voice caught on the back of her tongue.
He rolled out of his chair, moving like he wasn’t injured, and she flinched in surprise, bottle sliding through her fingers. Bass caught it, long fingers wrapping around the neck, and set it down on the floor.
‘Let me kiss you,’ he said.
Charlie took a quick, rough breath - tasting sweat and blood and pain. ‘I-’ He waited, expression still and curious. ‘OK.’
He braced his hands on the arms of the chair, muscles pulling tight in his forearms, and leaned in. His breath tickled her cheek, warm and wet and damp. If he kissed her cheek, she was going to punch him in the scabbed ribs. Stubble scraped roughly against her cheek and she tilted her head back, parting her lips. A flush slipped up her cheeks when he didn’t do anything, breath slipping between her lips with the sour heat of whiskey.
‘Get on with it,’ she told him.
That smile creased his face, the one that made his eyes look sane and his mouth kissable.
‘I didn’t say...’ His head dipped, breathing against her throat and down the shadow of her breast. ‘That I was going to kiss...’ Broad hands caught her hips, tugging them forwards until her bottom was barely balanced on the chair. ‘Your mouth.’
Thumbs nudged her t-shirt up, rubbing over her skin in a rough, nerve-tingling caress. He blew into her belly-button, making her gasp. She twisted her hands in his shirt, knuckles brushing the hard clench of muscle.
It wasn’t a complaint. He tugged her belt open, pins and rings jangling - making him mutter his usual complaint, and down. She hitched her hips compliantly - rules of the game, right? - and he shifted his hands to under her backside. His mouth branded heat against her flesh, a pleased chuckle vibrating through her when he found her already wet.
‘Charlie,’ he growled against her, making her toes curl. ‘Charlotte, my sweet little killer.’
She laughed, a sharp, ragged sound, and moved her hands up into his hair. The curls were soft against her palm, fingers catching in the knots and tangles down close to his scalp.
‘Only you would think that was...sweet talk,’ she said, struggling to keep her voice even. His tongue explored her like she was virgin territory, tracing the wet lines and folds of her sex from the outside in. Patterns on her skin, swirls and circle and a steady patience that made her squirm eagerly up into his mouth. ‘I’m not a killer.’
He bit her thigh, tongue sliding apology over the blooming bruise. ‘I’ve seen you fight.’
‘I’m a rebel. A soldier.’
‘Same thing.’ He looked up at her, mouth and chin wet. It made his beard curl ridiculously and a laugh threatened in her chest, all warm and mercurial. ‘Don’t let them make you care, Charlie. It’ll just break your heart. You don’t want to end up like me.’
He nudged her knees wider, shoulders pressing against her knees. Muscles trembled down her thighs, visible under tanned skin. The thrust and curl of his tongue inside her made her whine and pull his hair, gasping out an apology right after. He growled amusement against her, lipping his way up to her clit. His lips pursed around the nub of flesh, sucking it into his mouth. Teeth scraped over it, pinching instead of biting, and she bucked. His chin bumped against her, another jangle of reaction clenching through her.
Sweat wet her skin and god...god...She threw her head back, pressing her toes down against the floor and biting her lips closed as she moaned. Charlie had learned to orgasm in haylofts and tents, muffling pleasure against her fist or a sweaty shoulder. It was habit.
Fingers clenched against her ass and Bass rubbed his rough chin against her, the sensation making her toes tighten. ‘Don’t do that,’ he told her. ‘Scream for me. My name, God’s name. Let me hear you.’
She felt the smile, sliding over her skin. ‘Because I’ve never heard you come. Not even when you were right against my back. Just little whimpers and shudders.’
Heat washed over Charlie, a flush crawling from her belly and up over her boobs to her face. ‘I did not.’
‘I could smell you,’ he crooned. His tongue flattened against her and his fingers slid inside her, stretching her wide enough to hit the sweet spot between pleasure and pain. ‘I could hear you.’
Charlie came with a scream, his name tripping off her tongue despite herself. ‘Bass. God, oh God, Bass. Please.’
It wrung through her, hot ripples of pleasure, and left her limp and sprawled out lewdly. His chin rested on her belly and his fingers were still inside her, curling against her tightness. It was impossibly hot and wrong and stupid. She should push him away, rewrite this to something she could live with. That they could all live with. Then Bass kissed her tummy, tongue dipping stickily into her belly button.
‘Truth,’ he said, ‘or Dare.’