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Meeting Charlotte Matheson

Chapter Text

Five Years Before the Blackout (2007)

The first time they meet, he’s twenty-five and she hasn’t hit her first birthday. It’s July and he and Miles are on leave after finishing a deployment in Iraq. They know they’ll probably be going back, but they’ve got two weeks and home is about the only place they want to be. Used to them, by now, their parents try to arrange things for the families to do together. Miles’ dad grumbles something about thinking the boys might want some time away from each other, but his wife shushes him.

It’s a sunny, perfect weekend, and the itinerary includes a picnic in the park. It’s not officially the fourth, but the fireworks are supposed to be that night, so they’re settled in for the day. Ben and Rachel come in from the city, and Bass ignores any looks Miles and Rachel (the-lying-cheating-conniving-bitch) may or may not be exchanging in favor of throwing the football around with his dad and playing keep-away with the Frisbee from his sisters.

Coaxing Miles out to play isn’t as hard as it might usually be, either, for which he’s glad: Rachel’s busy with the baby and, glances aside, Miles is trying to stick to the part where he doesn’t hit on his brother’s wife anymore. (Bass kind of supports that a lot.)

Mr. Matheson calls them back over when the burgers are ready, and Bass gets to the table right behind Rachel. She’s trying to manage the baby and the plates and Ben’s engaged in some debate or another with Bass’s dad, so he’s not helping, and Miles has been captured by Bass’s youngest sister, so he’s not helping, and the next thing Bass knows there’s a baby in his arms.

“Hold her for me, will you, please, Bass?”

His beer gets set down fast so he can use his second arm, and it’s not like he couldn’t hold her with one (fuck, she’s tiny), but he was, like, twelve the last time he held a baby.

“Hey, kid,” he says, bouncing her a little as her weight settles in his arms.

“Charlie,” Rachel corrects automatically, making up a plate for Ben.

“That’s a stupid name for a girl.” It comes out just as automatically. “Miles said her name was Charlotte.”

“Which is a lot of name for a baby,” Rachel says, shooting him a glare. “Charlie suits her.”

“It’s a stupid name for a girl,” Bass repeats. “She’s gonna get teased and asked if she’s a boy.”

“It’s a new millennium, Bass. There’s even talk of repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Her smile is sharp.

He utterly ignores it, doesn’t even blink, blue eyes staring back at the blue eyes staring up at him. “Kids are kids, Rachel.”

She huffs something and mutters under her breath, but Bass is pointedly ignoring her. After a minute, he ignores the food, too, wandering away to sit in one of the free chairs under a tree, baby cradled more surely in his arms.

Knowing it annoys Rachel, he calls the baby “Charlotte” every time he speaks of her from that day forward. Miles doesn’t get it, but the looks he was giving Rachel shift, and it’s Bass he’s watching as the other young man refuses to let anyone else hold the baby the rest of the day.

Chapter Text

Two Years Before the Blackout (2010)

It’s Christmas. Bass refuses to go home, won’t set foot in the town, doesn’t care if Miles’s parents are still there. He tells Miles he’ll just stay on base, go to the mess for dinner, no big. Other guys will be there. It’s not like a whole base of Marines can just fuck off for the holidays. That’s not the gig they signed up for.

No way in hell Miles is leaving Bass alone for the first Christmas since his family died. Bass gets the feeling that Miles is kind of terrified of what he’d come home to, if he did.

He wants to tell him he’s not going to try that again.

He realizes he can’t really promise that.

So, Bass agrees to a compromise that makes him roll his eyes a bit and give a long-suffering sigh (that gets him punched in the shoulder and told to “play nice”), and Miles calls his folks and they all meet in Chicago instead.

There’s a warmth and brightness spilling through the house when they arrive, laughter and delight at being together, at Miles being home safe. Bass hovers on the edges, aware of the scrutiny, sympathetic as it is, aware that he’s being watched. They try to be subtle about it, but none of them are that good. They knew his family, came to the funeral. Miles’s mom tells him that she put wreaths out for them, on the graves, for the holidays. It’s meant to be a kindness, and Bass chokes out his thanks before excusing himself and stepping outside.

They’ve got a white Christmas, snow covering the ground, pretty and powdery and perfect. His mind dances around past Christmases, past snowfalls. Teaching his sisters how to make snowmen. Having snowball fights, kids against their parents. Really, it was him and his dad--his mom had horrible aim and even though the girls were getting better, they had distance issues on their throws.
No one cared.

The door opens behind him. Expecting Miles, he doesn’t turn around, doesn’t say anything.

“How come you’re out here?”

Not Miles, then.

Bass turns and regards the little blonde girl hovering in the doorway.

“Better shut the door before you let the cold in,” he tells her, almost automatically. Her lips curve in a tiny smile, and she does so, stepping out into the yard. He gives her a critical look. “You need a coat, Charlotte.”

“Nobody calls me Charlotte ‘less I’m in trouble.” Her gaze is grave, like she knows something’s up. Kids are pretty perceptive.

Or maybe that’s the tear tracks on his face.

“Well, I do. I’ve called you Charlotte since the day we met.”

Her little frown is serious as she moves toward him. “We din’t meet, b’fore.”

“Yeah, we did. But you were real little, just a baby.”

“Like Danny.”

“Littler.”

She giggles, knowing enough to know grown-ups don’t say “littler.” When she does, they tell her she’s wrong. Reaching up, she takes his hand. “Was Uncle Miles there, too?”

“He sure was.”

“I don’t ‘member him, ‘cept once a lil’ while ago,” she confides. “He was at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, but after T’anksgiving. He din’t want to play, though, an’ left before bedtime.”

“Yeah, I know.” They’d spent Thanksgiving Day on base, having asked off for Christmas. Doing both, just a month apart, was kind of pointless, they’d thought, so even though they weren’t on duty, they’d stayed and gone out for dinner at a local place, then spent the day sacked out in their room watching football and doing…other things.

They’d been in Jasper on Saturday. He still wasn’t sure how Miles had swung the impromptu leave for himself. Had a suspicion he’d told their commander he was worried about Bass.

“You wasn’t there.”

“No.” He shakes his head. “I mean, I was in town, but I didn’t come for dinner. I...had dinner with my family that night.”

“Oh.” Her fingers play with his, teasing in and out. Angela used to do that, when she was really little, and his gaze fixes on their hands. “How come you’s here, now, an’ not with them?”

His throat nearly closes, and he shakes his head. “Miles is my family now. Don’t you want me here?”

She looks up at him, eyes as blue as his, and he meets her gaze and tries to hide the tears in his.

“Maybe. Can you build a snowman?”

He laughs, and it’s about as happy as the night Miles told him he had him--necessary like air, but cold comfort in the face of the huge, gaping holes in his life. He nods, though. “Yeah. I can. Me and Miles used to build the best ones when we were kids.”

“Can we now?”

He looks inside at the adults and the warmth and the light, then down at the little girl trying not to shiver, holding tight to his hand.

“Well, we’re gonna need some charcoal. Raisins and carrots. And coats and hats and mittens.”

“For the snowman?”

“Well, one set, sure.” He tugs her back toward the door. “But rule number one of snowman building is to make sure your hands don’t freeze off, so. We probably should get ours, too.”

Inside, Charlotte runs to her mother, demanding everything Bass told her they needed. Rachel (the-lying-cheating-conniving-bitch) shoots him a look he pretends not to see, moving to get his coat.

“You okay?” Miles’ hand is warm on the cold skin at the back of his neck.

“Yeah. Kid wants to build a snowman.” His fingers flex a bit around the hat he just picked up, and he swallows, looks back at Miles, leans a little into his touch. “Come help us?”

There’s a snowball fight before they’re done, him and Charlotte against Miles, which Miles declares unfair. She can’t throw very far, but her aim is deadly, and when they come back in for hot cocoa by the fire, the smile on Bass’s lips is small but real.

Chapter Text

One Year Before the Blackout (2011)

They’re supposed to be in Cabo for a week of well-earned sand, sunshine, margaritas and alone-time, but they’re rushing back to Chicago instead. Miles told him he didn’t have to come, but what the hell’s the point of Cabo without Miles?

The boy--Danny--is always sick and there’s some kind of surgery or another he needs. Bass will admit to not really having paid attention to the details. Ben and Rachel are clearly scared to death, and Bass watches Miles watching Rachel (the-lying-cheating-conniving-bitch) and wishes he’d gone to Cabo with whatshername. The one who keeps texting.

Except not really.

Charlotte hovers around the edges, clearly upset, but no one’s paying her much mind, so he and Miles decide that’s how they can be helpful. They go to Chuck E. Cheese and bang moles on the head and eat way too much pizza and drink way too much soda, and when Miles starts singing along to the radio, Bass joins in and Charlotte claps for them, laughing.

Miles wants to be at the hospital for Ben (and Rachel, the-lying-cheating-conniving-bitch), but Bass eyes Charlotte and offers to stay home with her. No reason she should have to be there, right? And he hates hospitals. He also hates watching Miles worry over Rachel, but that’s neither here nor there.

They seem grateful he’s willing to babysit, though Miles gives him a knowing look as he leaves. Bass flips him off, then makes sure Charlotte didn’t see.

She’s snuggled up next to him and they’re watching Beauty and the Beast, when she asks, “How come you call me Charlotte? You never call me Charlie.”

He can’t really tell her that it’s to annoy her mother, or that it started out that way, so he just gives her a bit of a smile. “I think it suits you better. It’s like...you know how people have special names for the people they like? Nicknames and stuff.”

“Like Daddy calling Mama ‘honey,’ even though she doesn’t come in a bear?”

Bass blinks a bit, and has a moment of picturing Rachel in a plastic bear that almost sends him into hysterics until he can get it under control and answer Charlotte. “Yeah, like that.”

“So?”

He arches an eyebrow at her. “So. Charlotte’s my name for you. ‘Cause no one else calls you that.”

“But why?” She shifts to her knees, ignoring the movie she’s seen a thousand times to focus on him. “Uncle Miles just calls me ‘kid.’”

“Because--Charlotte is a princess,” he tells her.

“Like Belle?”

“Just like her. Only real.”

Her eyes widen, and she sucks in a surprised breath. “Really real?”

“Yep. Wanna see her?”

She nods and bounces a bit.

“Then go brush your teeth and get ready for bed, and I’ll come up and tell you her story and show you her picture, okay?”

She’s off the sofa and up the stairs in record time, and Bass thinks this whole taking care of kids things is a piece of cake and isn’t sure at all why people make such a fuss. (He’s conveniently forgotten his sisters’ less stellar moments in a haze of perfected memories, obviously.)

He hunts on his phone until he can find some suitably glamorous and beautiful pictures of Charlotte Casiraghi and a couple of video clips of Grace Kelly at her most princess-like.

“‘M ready!”

When Miles gets back, Bass is stretched out on top of a bed with pink ruffles. Charlotte’s all tucked in beside him, but apparently his chest makes a better pillow than her own. One dark eyebrow lifts, and Bass shrugs. As careful as he can, he tries to dislodge her without waking her. It only partially works; she blinks awake and stares at Miles for a moment before giving him a sweet smile.

“Bass says ‘m a princess like the dancing lady’s daughter.”

“Granddaughter,” Bass corrects.

“Princess Charlotte,” she goes on, without really caring about the details. “Of...Monticello.”

That gets her a quizzical look, and one for Bass, too.

“Monaco.”

“Right.” Miles still looks bemused, though whether by the story or Bass bothering to tell it is anyone’s guess.

“I gotta go, okay?” She’s clinging to his hand and looking stubborn. “You gotta sleep.”

She reluctantly lets go, settling back and using her pillow as it was intended, but calls out as he starts down the hallway to the guestroom, “Bastian?”

Moving backward, he pokes his head back in. “Yeah?”

“If I’m a princess, are you a prince?”

His lips quirk a little. “Nah. Princes are boring. And they have to be king one day.”

“What are you, then?” Her eyes are closed, her voice trailing off, so it’s really not clear if she hears his answer or not.

“Guess that makes me the knight in shining armor.”

Chapter Text

Fifteen Years After the Blackout

His amplifier doesn’t work. She’s built him something that doesn’t. Fucking. Work. Bass curses softly, and strides out, barking an order at Strausser. “Get her. Get the girl. Take them to the boy. Now.”

Bass makes his way to the lab, walking in slowly. His gaze sweeps over the scene. Rachel (the-lying-cheating-conniving-bitch) is hovering over the boy who looks a little worse for wear. A young woman--girl--sits next to him, long honey blonde hair just a few shades darker than he remembers. He pushes those memories away as her gaze flicks to his, wary.

“Rachel. Must be nice, having both of your children with you.”

Across the room with measured steps, but he’s not looking at the woman who’s disappointed him again and again (like she doesn’t know she owes him). He keeps his gaze on the girl. Just wariness. No recognition. He doesn’t know why it bothers him, but it does.

“Hello, Charlotte. It’s nice to finally meet you.”

No rebuttal, no flicker of memory.

“I’m General Monroe.”

Not Bass. (Not the knight in shining armor. Somehow he’s become the evil king.)

“What did you do to my son?”

The wistfulness is gone in a heartbeat. “I am completely and utterly done playing games with you, Rachel.” Done being nice. Done bargaining. He’s been nice and bargained and cajoled for too many years, and he still doesn’t have what he wants. “You know what that is, right?”

Her gaze falls; Charlotte’s flickers to it, back to him.

“Amplifier.”

“A real one. Your friend Dr. Jaffe was building me a backup, that is until you shoved a screwdriver into his chest.”

Charlotte has been watching them, and he sees her expression change. He’s aware, and he’s more than happy to point out how he’s not the only bad guy in the room.

“Mom?”

He looks back at her, sympathetically, tone softer for her than Rachel. “Oh, I’m sure there’s a lot about your mom that you don’t know.” She’s still watching him with those impossible eyes, but he stays on course. “You’ve seen one of these pendants before, right? Know what it can do?” She just watches him. “Well, that machine amplifies its range, makes jets fly, tanks roll. And your mother’s going to finish it for me.”

She doesn’t take her eyes off of him, even as she asks, “Mom, what’s he talking about?”

“She’s gonna be a real patriot, isn’t that right, Rachel?” He’s finally able to pull his gaze from Charlotte to Rachel, something triumphant flashing in his eyes.

“Mom? Look at me. Whatever he’s asking you to do, you can’t do it.”

She’s fucking adorable in her defiance, and beautiful, and Bass is fixated on her, amusement on his face. “Is that so?”

He waves a hand, steps back and Strausser pulls out his gun, checks it for bullets.

“No….no no no no no no no…” Rachel moves to put herself in front of her kids, frantic.

Charlotte just shift closer to--and in front of--Danny.

“Mrs. Matheson, I’m sorry. But you’re going to have to choose which one of your children I’m going to kill.”

“You son of a bitch!”

That’s to him, and he wonders how Rachel can still look so betrayed. All he ever asked her to be was reasonable.
“Mom, listen to me.”

“Which one? The boy or the girl?”

Charlotte’s speaking quickly, intently--but not frantic, not like Rachel. “I’ve seen the militia kill dozens of people and if you help him they will kill hundreds if not thousands, Mom.”

She’s so passionate. Bass glances at Rachel, but only for a moment. He can’t keep his eyes off Charlotte.

“The boy or the girl? Which one is your favorite?”

“No!”

He likes Rachel afraid. Seems...right, somehow.

“Mom, some things are more important than family.”

“Choose now!”

God, Strausser’s even more dramatic than Bass has been accused of being. He want to tell Charlotte she’s wrong. Nothing is more important than family. Nothing is more important than her family, but he’s been kicked out of it, and so why should he protect it?

“Pick me!”

Bass blinks; Strausser swings the gun; everyone looks startled as Charlie stands, putting herself in front of the gun.

Strausser recovers, though, cocks the gun, aims it at her head. “All right. Have it your way.”

“No!”

“It’s okay.”

She’s got those eyes on Strausser now, staring him down, ignoring the gun in her face. Bass feels a shiver run down his spine. Awe. Admiration. Arousal.

…Huh.

Strausser’s finger twitches and Bass is ready to knock the gun away, though he can’t. Never let them call your bluff. Miles taught him that. Well, basically. Miles taught him never to bluff.

“Stop! Stop! I will finish your damn amplifier!”

It’s hard to tear his eyes away from that resolute face, those fearless eyes.

God, she’s just like Miles.

“Stop.”

The look she turns on her mother is disgusted.

“See. Just like Miles always said. A good hostage works every time.”

Now he’s the one getting the look. Defiant. Like she’d like to kill him where he stands. Strausser looks disappointed, but puts the gun away.

Bass still stares at Charlotte.

“Take them back to the holding cell, and if she...” (the-lying-cheating-conniving-bitch)... “Steps out of line, if she even breathes funny…” He makes himself look back at Charlotte. “Kill both the kids.”

He has to look away then, turn away then, walk away then.

Or he might regret his lost status as knight.

* * *

He sees her image before he sees her, fed through wires into monitors he hasn’t had time to marvel at, yet. Funny how quickly, instantaneously, we remember how to move through worlds we haven’t seen in some time.

Rachel (the-lying-cheating-conniving-bitch) tried to kill him, but like all other attempts by everyone (including himself) it failed to take. He’s not sure if he’s pleased or disappointed, at his core, but at the moment, he is, at least, focused on survival.

The little chat about not doing so didn't bring up pleasant memories, and her words are ringing in his ears.

”You killed Danny. You murdered my son.”

She’s right. He’s always made excuses, and in her tears, in the simple, broken, pure grief of someone he’s known for half his life (maybe not liked, but known) there’s a truth he can’t shake off.

”You’re right, Rachel. I’m sorry. No more excuses. I know exactly how much blood is on my hands, Rachel.”

He can’t get Charlotte’s eyes out of his head, mingling with Rachel’s and Miles’s and Emma’s and his son, all mixed up, and all equally condemning. And then, there she is, on the screen. With Miles.

”Unlock the guns, Rachel. No matter what I’ve done to you before, you gotta believe me. I don’t wanna let another one of your kids get hurt. I will help you.”

“You’re lying.”

He stares at her in disbelief. “Oh, you wanna kill me so bad, you’re gonna let Charlie die?”

She looks to the screen, then back at him. “What about Miles?”

His stomach clenches, and he feels a little sick. There’s too much there, and she has no right to ask about Miles. “No promises, but I will save Charlie, I swear.” He sees the moment she believes him, watches the shift in her eyes. “Open it.”

Finding them isn’t hard. The noise from the coil weapons is like a homing beacon. He hears the crash, hears Aaron as he calls Charlie’s name. When he comes around the corner, a guy is leveling his weapon at the girl trapped underneath the shelving.

One shot and blood is everywhere. Impressive, honestly.

He moves toward her slowly, aware of Rachel at his back, aware of the fat guy staring at him in terror, but focused solely on the girl looking at him like she wants to tear his eyes out.

“Hello, Charlotte.” She glares more. “A ‘thank you’ would be nice.”

He has a feeling he’s more likely to get gutted first. The faintest grimace, almost like regret, shines for a moment.

He walks away without another word.

Chapter Text

When they meet again, they’re both tied up at the bottom of an empty pool. Her dropping in on him--quite literally--the night before surprised him. He shouldn’t have been surprised, really, that she was tracking him (why else would she be here?), but that she’d gotten so close and he hadn’t known...impressed him.

The girl who wanted to meet me, he thinks and shakes his head a little. It’s not comfortable trying to sleep standing up, and he doesn’t sleep a lot anyway, so he passes the night watching her instead.

He knows it the moment she comes awake, the intake of breath before she even moves. Her struggle is immediate, instinctual, and he watches before speaking.

“Rise and shine.”

She looks at him, and he can’t decipher it, but on his part there’s a sense of being in this together. They’ve got a common enemy again. That’s something he can work with.

Those eyes, though, and that look are turned on the bounty hunter. When he pulls her shirt away from her wound, when she cries out, Bass winces and makes a vow to make the boy pay for that. Her look, though, is that pure defiance, and he thinks it’s possible she’ll make the boy pay himself.

He doesn’t speak again except to defend himself from the accusation about dropping the bombs, and he can tell from the look in her eyes she knows he didn’t do it, too. Good. The looks they give the bounty hunter are near identical rolls of their eyes.

Bass wonders if she notices.

He’s working on his escape plan when she tells the asshole exactly what he’s going to do to them. The smirk that curls his lips is gone before anyone looks his way.

She knows him too well already.

His questions about Miles and Rachel go unanswered, but there’s another answer he needs more, the piece that’s been eating at him. He asks about Randall. She doesn’t have to say a word—as always, her eyes tell the whole story.

He’s willing to let her sit in silence, but when she mocks his guilt, his temper flares. He knows the blood on his hands. He saved her, for Rachel (the-lying-cheating-conniving-bitch) and for the little girl she once was.

He’s no longer General Monroe; he’s trying to find his way back to Bass, but she is Charlie, not Charlotte, and he’s surprised that can hurt after everything. This. Her. The coldness, the anger…

He did this to her.

He can’t help trying--he’s not even sure for what. There’s no defense for what he’s done, but he isn’t who she thinks he is, and part of him wants to find a way to make her see that.

“You don’t know me, Charlotte. A lot of people depended on me to protect them, and what did they get for it? Cooked in their own skin.” He feels sick every time he thinks about it.

“Well. Did it ever occur to you, you sucked at your job?”

There she is, snarky and unafraid, and he’s impressed again, but it’s a challenge he can’t just stay quiet through. “You know, maybe Miles has a right to talk to me like that. Maybe. You? You don’t. So watch your mouth.”

The look he gives her is the one that’s cowed hundreds and his Charlotte just smiles. “You don’t get to tell anybody anything. You’re nothing.”

Is it possible to be hurt and aroused at the same time? God, he’s fucked up, but he’s just watching her, now, waiting to see where she’ll go with this. What she thinks she can tell him that he doesn’t already know.

“Just a drunk fighting for coin in a whorehouse.” He watches the smile, remote, detached, mocking, and that hurts far more than her words.

Tell me something I don’t know, Charlotte.

“And if you won’t put yourself out of your misery, I’d be happy to do it for you.”

Don’t tempt me. Somewhere inside his head, there’s a far younger, more innocent man, looking down at the small fingers curled so trustingly around his, the blonde head resting on his chest, falling asleep to the sound of his heartbeat so she can dream about princesses and knights and happily ever after.

That’s the world he wanted to give her. They’ve made her something as far from it as they can get.

He just stares at her for a long minute, and then he laughs. She looks confused for a moment, then flashes that razor sharp smile at him, and he’s got to knock that off of her face. She went for the jugular. He does, too.

“Wow. You know, kid. You might be trying to run away from your mom…” She’s still smiling, looking oh-so-pleased with herself, ready to counter whatever he throws at her. “But you are a hell of a lot like her.”

The smile disappears. He’s glad. It wasn’t one that suited her.

* * *

Locked in the back of a wagon, he does exactly what she told them he would--though minus the throat slitting at first. It’s almost too easy (Who the hell do they think he is?) She’ll be getting free too, soon, he knows, and coming. It’s what he would do, if he were her.

He’s got a weapon, he’s killed one of them; the boy is almost dead when the pipe hits him, hard. Defending himself from the bounty hunters was easy--they hadn’t been trained by Miles, they don’t know how he fights, they aren’t prepared.

She’s not, really, either. But there’s one distinct difference--he was happy to kill them, no remorse. He’s not willing to hurt her.

So he takes the blows, while trying to reason with her.

“Stop, Charlotte, stop.” She keeps coming. “Listen…” She doesn’t. He doesn’t want to hurt her, but he doesn’t want to die, either. One blow to her solar plexus and she goes down--winded, in pain, but she’ll be fine. No real damage done.

He runs. She chases.

* * *

The next day, he lets her catch him. He even calls her “Charlie.” The look on the boy’s face at seeing them on the same side--at least against him--is fucking amusing though. When they know what they need to, he raises the gun.

“Okay, thank you.”

Her hand is on the muzzle, pushing it down the moment he’s ready to pull the trigger.

“We’re not going to shoot him.”

Bass blinks. Stares at her. “...Excuse me?”

“I don’t like to kill, unless I have to.”

For a moment, they just stare at each other, but he shifts out of firing position, knocks the boy out again, walks slowly past her.

He wonders if she realizes, remembers now. Knights swear to protect the princess, follow her commands.

Charlotte holds the leash to pull him back.

He can’t let her know that, though.

“So, what’s next?”

It’s good she’s asking him.

“I’m guessing Miles is with your mom.” (The-lying-cheating-conniving-bitch.) “If I know him, he is.” And Bass knows him. Well. “You’re gonna go warn him.” Not her. Him. “And I’m comin’ with you.”

It’s cute how she thinks holding the leash means she can deny him the right to protect her. Protect Miles. He lets her walk away. But, this time he’s the one who chases after her.

* * *

The place she picks to take a break is not one he likes the look of, but, truthfully, few places are these days. He contents himself with jerky and crackers, a drink from his canteen, leaning in the shadows of the building, waiting. No reason she needs to know he’s there, but he’s determined to stay close.

The door rattles, but doesn’t open. He can hear her voice, but not make out the words. There’s no mistaking the mocking menace in the men’s tone, though, and his stomach clenches. Bass has his sword and knife both drawn the instant after he kicks open the door, shattering the lock. The men turn, and he takes in the situation with a sweeping glance.

Charlotte is drugged, clearly, and what they have planned for her makes a growl catch in the back of his throat. Not while he has breath in his body. He wants to take his time, to make them pay for every evil thought they had about her, but she demands his attention, his care, so he makes it fast. It’s not about vengeance, it’s about her.

Bodies fall before they can even protest, one, two, three, four. He meet her bemused gaze with a burning intensity as the last one gasps out his final breath. She’s still struggling and there’s fear there, anger at her own helplessness, but Bass just holds her gaze, keeps his eyes on her as he pulls the sword free.

When he picks her up, it’s as gently as he knows how. There’s blood on his hands he doesn’t want to get on her, but there’s nowhere to wash it away without leaving her alone, and that’s something he’s not going to do again. He tries not to transfer too much, to keep her pure (even though he’s already stained her so deeply the little girl who maybe could have loved him is as dead as the men on the floor). There’s nowhere safe out here, so he takes the wagon, finds them a place.

He doesn’t sleep all night, nor when the sun rises, nor when it sets again. He just watches her, just stands guard.

“I know I can never make it up, but I have to try.”

He’ll be her fucking knight, yet, though she’ll have to forego the shining armor bit.

Chapter Text

Bass isn’t sure when it shifts. One moment he’s pathetic, a sociopath, cold, empty, a killer. The next she’s bringing him Miles and stepping in front of the gun her mother is aiming at him, the way she stepped between Strausser’s gun and Danny. She even looks stricken, like maybe she will grieve when they stick the needle in his arm.

“Take care of your uncle, kid.”

Not all he wants to say, but he hasn’t earned the right to say more. He can’t call her “Charlotte,” then, for whatever reason. He’s let her down, again, won’t be able to save her family.

Her smile when he wakes, after Rachel (who’s still a-lying-cheating-conniving-bitch, but whatever) saves him (Charlotte’s doing, not Miles’s, he notes), seems to be as much for him as it is for Miles, and he files it away in his memory—what it feels like to make Charlotte Matheson smile again.

There’s relief under the confusion (she doesn’t know who Batman is, clearly—Ben and Rachel fail at parenting), and another smile when he saves them, uses that killing he’s good for to let her and her family live a few more heartbeats. It’s Miles who says it, though, that he needs him, and he tells himself it’s Miles he stays for, but as they melt into the high school halls, he doesn’t look back toward where Miles and Rachel have gone.

He keeps his focus firmly on watching Charlotte’s back.

They don’t need to speak, but he wishes they could when the disappointment floods her eyes as he makes for the exit. There’s nowhere to hide on his side of the hall, and they aren’t armed enough to make a stand. That look in her eyes, the stunned betrayal after so much approval, guts him, though.

It’s almost worth it when he kills the Patriot, lets her kill the other and she looks at him again.

“You came back.”

Almost like he’s her knight in shining armor, after all.

* * *

There’s something about a whole squadron of men burning around you that makes an impression. Faint shivers of horror slide through Bass as he lays awake thinking about it that night. Aaron’s a mess of shocked grief. Gene’s alive, at least, and pumping Miles with antibiotics. Rachel (the-lying-cheating-conniving-bitch) is sticking to his bedside like some kind of middle-aged-Juliet.

They’ve put Bass in one of the guestrooms, at least, given he carried Miles back to town, but God knows he can’t sleep. He just keeps seeing Charlotte’s eyes: the betrayal and the wonder, the disdain and the approval, back and forth in a dance that makes him as dizzy as his behavior must make others.

He closes his eyes to better hold the vision of hers, but hears the door creak open. Evening out his breath, he stays where he is, pretending to sleep, but tense, ready to spring into action if Gene’s come in here with a truly lethal needle. The step is light, though, as light as the scent of soap in the air.

Charlotte.

The room is silent except for the sounds of them breathing: him, slow and measured; her, fast and uneven. He’s about to give up the pretense as the silence stretches, but then its broken by the slide of a zipper, the rustle of clothes, the slip of fabric over skin and onto the floor. His breathing all but stops when the sheet lifts, the bed dips.

Her skin is hot when it presses against his; the callouses on her hand are a delicious friction when they slide up his length—hard with almost embarrassing speed; she tastes like honey when her lips capture the moan that escapes his as his hips roll up into that stroke of her hand.

“Shh…Mom’s in the next room…”

An echo, another voice, another room, another set of furtive touches, but it’s just that, an echo drowned out by the reality around him.

He obeys, though, (no need to draw the ire of the wicked queen), and keeps his appreciation to silent sighs across her skin; brutal grips on the sheets when her mouth replaces her hand; blood-drawing bites to his lower lip when her lips find his throat and something even hotter, slicker, tighter encompasses him as her hips rock down against his.

She rides him with the reckless abandon and precise aim with which she threw snowballs; kisses him with the vicious demand that laced her barbed insults; comes with the silent intensity with which they both dispatch their enemies.

He can’t stop the cry of her name as he spills into her recklessly, but she swallows it down and milks him for every drop.

For all he might have fantasized about it a time or two (or two hundred), he never dreamed he’d truly know her like this, and, as they both come back down, he has a flickering thought of every other way in which he’d like to know her, let her know him. But thoughts of the future dissolve into memories of the past and coalesce in the moment of now when she snuggles and tucks in beside him and decides his chest makes a better pillow than her own, falling asleep to the sound of his heartbeat.

No doubt, they’re both too scarred for it to be relevant anymore, but for a moment, he remembers a dream about princesses and knights and happily ever after, and, as he falls asleep, the smile on Bass’s lips is small but real.