Somehow you find yourself walking between Charlie and Connor. Besides the bruises on his face, the only indications of his earlier fight with Jason Neville are an occasional grimace and rubbing bruised ribs. The three of you are silent until your son nudges your arm lightly.
“Thanks for that, back there,” Connor says quietly, looking straight ahead.
You nod, putting an arm around his shoulders and squeezing. Charlie gives the two of you a quizzical look, but you ignore it. Best not to embarrass your son by letting his girlfriend know that her ex-boyfriend nearly beat the shit out of her current boyfriend. Or hide-the-salami partners. Whatever it was they considered themselves.
You’re surprised when Connor speaks again. “And Charlie, I never said thanks for saving our asses back in New Vegas. Guess I owe you one.”
“Guess you do,“ she smiles with a hint of mischief. “Let me know if it’s going to be a regular thing so I can start a tab for you.”
You snort, interrupting. “You want to talk about keeping score? Then I believe it’s currently me—three, you—one.”
“Three?” Connors says incredulously and raises his eyebrows at you and Charlie. “Were either of your planning to share these stories with me?”
Charlie ignores him and glares at you. “I think New Vegas counts as two—after all, I rescued both you and Connor.”
“I had a plan,” you argue as she shoots you a disbelieving look. Fair enough—it was a pretty bad plan. “Fine, but we were in the same cage. Your `rescue’ would’ve required the same amount of effort if there had only been one of us in there. Like buying a candy bar in a vending machine and having two fall down instead of one.”
“Bull. I not only saved you, Monroe, but also the person that you were trying to save. That counts as double.”
She’s right, as much as you don’t want to admit it. Saving Connor is the same as saving you, because without Connor the only thing you’d have would be revenge—General Sebastian Monroe style—and no one wants a repeat of that.
“Fine, we’ll call it two. You still owe me one, though,” you tease her.
Her face quickly turns from playful to somber as she nods. “I know.”
The silence returns with a new strain of tension in the air. After a while Connor breaks the quiet once more by proclaiming that he needs to take a piss and lopes into the forest.
Charlie watches him disappear among the trees with a small smile, wincing suddenly as a cacophony of snapping twigs and crunching leaves reaches them. Stealthy, your son is not. At least in the woods.
After a beat of silence where Charlie still watches the space where Connor disappeared, you ask a question you’re not sure you want an answer to.
“Do you love him?”
She whips her head around to stare at you with a furrowed brow and pursed lips, the Matheson equivalent of flabbergasted.
“I barely know him,” she mutters, searching your face for something. You’re not quite sure whether you want her to find it or not.
“Enough to spread your legs for him,” you mutter under your breath, unsurprised when she hears your remark and scoffs and rolls her eyes. Okay, yeah, that was probably uncalled for. But she didn’t answer your question. “Sorry, that was out of line. But seriously, are you falling in love with him?”
“And this is your business how?”
She looks away from you and doesn’t say anything for long moment. Long enough that you think she’s not going to answer at all. You’re not sure if her silence implies “yes” or “no,” and which one you want it to be. But then, quietly, Charlie responds.
“He’s a Monroe.”
Before you have time to dig into that non-answer, Connor comes crashing out of the woods, sword in hand, blood smeared across his shirt, pants unzipped and equipment hanging out. You and Charlie draw your weapons before the words even leave your son’s mouth.
With their cover blown, Patriots begin pouring out of the forest. Charlie sends an arrow between the eyes of a khaki-covered soldier in front of the horde as Connor quickly stuffs himself back in his pants and zips them up in preparation for the oncoming battle. Yeah, not that kind of sword fight.
As the small clearing erupts into chaos, you make sure to angle yourself so that Connor is within your line of sight. After all, you didn’t just save the kid from getting pummeled to death by Jason Neville a few hours ago to lose him here. It’s merely a fortuitous coincidence that Charlie is fighting near your son and you can keep an eye on her, too. Not that she needs it.
Dozens of bodies later, three men charge you at once and then you’re spinning and ducking and slashing and blocking and parrying and finally you are standing there panting with their bodies fanned out around you. Another soldier engages you just as you realize Connor is no longer within your sight so you forcefully push your foe to the right, again and again.
As you find Connor’s profile amid the clashing swords and red arcs of blood, you almost wish you hadn’t. He is struggling to fend off a battle-hardened Patriot, not some green recruit. Your son is so focused on not getting skewered from the front that he doesn’t notice Jason creeping up from the back.
With an inhuman roar you slide your blade through the soft flesh of your opponent’s throat, realizing that you’re too far away to stop Jason in time.
Your roar catches Charlie’s attention as she withdraws her sword from the chest of a Patriot, only a few feet from Connor. Her gaze follows yours as Jason draws the elbow of his sword arm back. As he drives it forward, she moves and the steel plunges suddenly into Charlie’s stomach instead of your son.
Jason’s expression of triumph immediately turns to horror as he pulls the sword out of the only girl he’s ever loved and stumbles back. What have I done, you read on his lips as Charlie falls to her knees, mouth still open on a painful gasp. Connor fights on, oblivious to the bloodshed at his back.
Charlie’s hands move to cup the blood pouring out of her wound, as if she can catch the rest of her life before it bleeds away. She slumps to the ground.
You jump over fallen bodies and slip in blood-slicked mud in your race to get to her. Rachel, Miles, Gene, and Charlie’s band of merry men are busy elsewhere so you take the honor of severing Jason’s head from his body yourself, as much to avenge Charlie as to put him out of his misery.
Connor manages to find an opening in the defense of the Patriot he’s been fighting and cleanly dispenses him. You press your hands to her stomach and shout her name again, the panic in your voice finally alerting your son that the world shifted on its axis while he wasn’t looking.
“Charlie? Charlie! What the hell happened?” he yells, equal parts terrified and angry.
You ignore him as Charlie’s eyes flutter open, locking with yours. She smiles weakly. If you weren’t already on the ground, the sudden relief that courses through you would’ve forced you to your knees anyway.
“Hey, Charlotte. You know, you could’ve just answered my question with a simple `yes’ earlier—this seems a bit extreme.”
She looks confused momentarily before her eyes flicker to Connor hovering nearby as he protects the two of you from any encroaching Patriots. You wonder at her confusion—surely the only reason she would take a sword to the gut for Connor is because she loves him?
Charlie shakes her head slightly and emits a shaky laugh that turns into a bloody cough. Of all the blood you’ve seen, all the blood you’ve spilled, the red specks dotting her lips and chin terrify you the most.
She manages to lift her hand and place it on top of yours, which are still applying pressure to the hole in her stomach. Her eyes catch yours.
You barely register the words as her blue eyes slowly drift close and her hand goes limp.
“Charlie! Charlie! Open your eyes! Dammit, Charlie, open your eyes!” you roar frantically, desperately.
When she doesn’t respond, you finally process her last words. And that’s when you realize.
She didn’t do it for him.
She did it for you.