The bells toll, and Miles drinks.
He continues to drink, even when Charlie touches his arm and tells him I’m here, which he appreciates more than she can know. The bar is dark and should be smoky (does no one smoke anymore? What would they smoke anyway?) if it was a real bar.
Everyone wants me to go to Hell. Not you, Miles.
Charlie hovers, hesitating, but when Miles doesn’t (can’t) say anything, she touches his hand, and slips away, leaving him to his devices and memories and his drinking.
A few hours later when it’s pitch black outside he wanders to the edge of the town, the Rangers and the Patriot guards watching him warily. He touches the hilt of the sword he wears and they leave him alone, if only for the night. This night.
How could he possibly think no one would figure out who he was? If they had known whom Bass was…well.
It’s muggy and it’s Texas and Miles staggers, the laces of his boots too loose and he’s tired, so fucking tired of everything that when he finds a fallen hollowed out log he abruptly sits, his sword shoving at his waist awkwardly until he fumbles with the sheath, dropping the accursed thing next to him in the dirt.
He pulls the flask he’d brought from his jacket pocket and drinks.
He could let the memories flood back, could let every little thing that they’d ever said to each other fill his mind with blackness until he couldn’t stand himself anymore, couldn’t stand the pain and the idea that this death was one of many that was on his head.
But it had been General Monroe that had been executed, not Bass. Not his friend Bass, Sebastian, his friend from childhood, the crazy brother he’d adopted when he’d realized he and Ben were too different to truly be close like what he’d wanted.
He’d loved Ben, like anyone would love a brother. He’d loved Ben’s kids (still did) and he’d loved Rach-
He wouldn’t go there.
I wouldn’t go there.
“Yeah, well, where else am I supposed to go? It happened. It’s still happening. And now she’s killed you.”
The other man shrugs. I tried to tell you.
“You were jealous.”
A laugh. Miles, you have been drinking. We don’t talk about that stuff either, remember?
Not in college, not back in basic, not during the Trenton campaign, not when Miles had entered Bass’ bedroom and had put a gun barrel to Bass’ head.
“I didn’t want you dead, Bass.”
You’re a damn liar, Miles. You’re the one who walked away. You’re the one who forced me out of power. You’re the one who stuck that gun in my ear. You’re the one who told me I was nothing to you.
Miles swallows. Fuck, but why in the hell would this apparition he had conjured be such a dick? And too damn honest? He sips from the flask and doesn’t turn his head. The wind blows through the trees thick with summer leaves and he can smell cottonwood, and must, and can hear the sounds of the town celebrating the execution of one of the most looked for villains in the country.
And here sits the other one.
“You went off the deep end, Bass. I had to leave.”
The ghost leans forward and rests his arms on his knees. When Miles chances a look, Bass is wearing his old Militia uniform and high fancy boots, the “M” buttons at his neck shiny and perfect. Affectations, all of them. He wonders why he doesn’t see the scruffy Bass, the one that’s been with him for the past few weeks.
I did what I had to do to protect you. Protect my family.
“We’ve been through this. I have a family. I have Charlie and I have to take care of her, now. You lost it, man.” He sips more deeply this time. “You didn’t have to kill innocent kids.”
They tried to take you from me. Don’t you get it? You’re all I have. Always were – my family - the ghost-Bass’ throat bobs. I loved my parents. I loved my sisters. I lost them.
Miles closes his eyes, that night in the cemetery flooding him, his shame at almost letting Bass do what he had planned still there, eating at him, turning the rot gut he’s been drinking into acidy slush in his stomach. Why does he care anymore? Bass had lost it. Had lost everything, had turned into a psycho that Miles didn’t – doesn’t – know anymore.
But…he turns to look at the ghost-Bass.
He’s scruffy now, wearing the brown jacket and jeans and boots, and his pupils are wide and his eyes are bright and shining and Miles imagines this is the Bass that Rachel had just executed with some sort of drug cocktail that had to have hurt. He pinches his lips shut, and tilts the flask – fuck. Empty.
“You can go now, Bass. I’m done with this,” he pitches the container into the dark woods somewhere, slowly blinking his eyes, his voice rough, his booted foot tunking against the sword on the ground. “I’m done with this.”
But he can’t be, because he promised Charlie he wouldn’t leave her, and he won’t.
But he has to reconcile himself with this last death that’s his fault.
I got nothing left, Miles. I got nothing.
“Don’t do that, Bass.” Miles sways as he tries to lean away from the ghost. “Don’t say that. Things were different then.”
Wind in the trees; hot breeze that lifts his hair off his nape and it’s suddenly cold, the hair there standing up as though Bass is trying to –
You promise me. When we were kids. Why now? You let me go in the tent. You let me believe you thought we were still brothers.
“Shut UP,” Miles groans, and stands. “Why are you even here? You’re dead, this is my mind, and I don’t need to forgive myself for anything.”
And there it is. He takes a few steps away from the fallen tree and from the intangible Bass, who’s still watching him. Miles rests his suddenly shaking hands on his hips, his own stink wafting to him, and he cocks his head to the side, the sound from the town celebrating the execution (murder, really, be honest, Miles) wrapping itself around his ears and body and fuck’s sake.
The moon is bright and he can see double, triple Bass’ when he turns. Wavering in the whiteness, the other man is a boy, a young Marine, a grieving husband and father, a penitent seeking Miles’ and the Matheson’s forgiveness.
Bass needed forgiveness. So does Miles.
Even if it’s just for tonight, and even it’s going to take more than one time to realize it, and even if he’s kind of lying to himself.
But if it will make the pain he’s carried in his brain and heart for too many years go away at least for a little bit, well, Jesus Fucking Christ. It’s been too long he’s felt like this.
Too long. Too long, too many years, and can’t he just let something go for once in his damn life? Can he live on with Bass dead because of him, really, can he live on feeling this drunken burn and can he live with himself, really?
That’s the main thing, right there.
He turns and crouches at the feet of the three/four Bass’. Wind whines through the trees, and the murmuring voices of the Rangers walking patrol is music that warms his mind and he rolls his thin lips even thinner and he reaches out and touches the shifting vision of Bass.
It’s weird and mushy and Miles wants to laugh (he knows he’s still pretty drunk), but if this will take the constant ache away, the hollow that the drink doesn’t fill anymore, he’ll do it. He’ll do it and he’ll accept his craziness and deal with the fallout later.
“Bass,” he says, and the three/four become one.
It’s Bass around the time of the Trenton campaign, young and the light in his eyes isn’t nuts and Miles wants to sob, because this is the man he’s known for his whole life and this is his brother, before the world took that brother away.
Space, infinite silence; Miles feels the other man’s leg solidify under his fingers and he smiles despite the ridiculousness of this. Bass had done things he’d promised Miles he wouldn’t do. Things that Miles probably shouldn’t forgive him for.
But the more he thinks, the more he swallows whiskey and watches Rachel and Charlie suffer their losses (and his own), the more he just can’t do the hate anymore.
It’s too much. He’s done his own share of fuck ups and the hate is wearing him down and he needs to be strong for Rachel and Charlie and Aaron and the others and he needs to let some of this old shit go. Even if Bass doesn’t deserve the forgiving, he needs it. Miles needs it too.
Even if it takes him more than just this once to accept it.
“You got me.”
The smile is blinding and what Miles always remembered about Bass, and how the other man could always turn an argument his way just by flashing that grin. But sometimes it was false –
Not this time. Miles feels the heavy thing that’s been twisted around his heart start to shatter and let go, the twine of wire and barbs sucking back from the soft muscle and viscera and no matter what happens now, he can do this. It may not hold true every day, and Bass has/had done some shit Miles will never forget or maybe never truly forgive, but he can let go of the hate. For his own damn sake. He deserves that. Tonight, he can do this.
You’re my brother.
“Yes,” Miles nods, and he can feel the coolness of the ghost’s forehead touch his own. “Yes, Bass. Cause no matter what you did, no matter how you let the crazy take you, I gotta do this.”
Even if it was only for him.
He looks up at the wetness that shines in the Bass ghost’s huge expressive eyes. He swallows and knows that he will still feel a little tug of guilt for doing this for himself. But Bass is gone, and that’s all he has left. He’s got to let the past be just that. Not the black hole that Bass had spent too many years trying to suck Miles into.
He finds he understands the other man and his motives and his unwavering loyalty and it makes his heart slam in his chest and he reaches out a hand and touches the misty cheek of the Bass in front of him, who’s now child Bass, now Bass with chains on his wrists, now Bass in his uniform, now Bass with Shelly’s blood on his hands.
Forgive. But don’t forget.
I love -
They’d only said that once, and it was a long time ago, and they’d both been drunk with cheap rum and post-fucking exhaustion and they’d both been embarrassed and not sure how to act now that they’d done that but Miles remembers it and closes his eyes so he can’t see Bass say the last word.
That’s too much right now; he can only take the amount of things he’s been able to realize just now and nothing more. Maybe he’ll think about them saying those words later.
He straightens and reaches for his sword and straps it back on his belt, only a bit unsteadily and he can feel the whisky fading as the moon begins its descent.
See you, Miles.
“Go on, Bass. You’ve earned it,” Miles lets a laugh burst through his chest, an alien invader that rips his innards to shreds, blood and heart and organs torn from the thing he’s just done. He’s not sorry. He’s lighter and heavier all at once.
Not just yet, brother.
Bass is gone when Miles turns, his image dissolving to reveal Rachel coming toward him, sweat soaking her, a shovel in her hand, dirt on her forehead and clothing and the look on her face –
“I need you to come with me,” she grabs his arm, the fingers holding the spade flecked with a bit of red and blisters. He shakes the remainder of the drink off (well, most of it), and raises his eyebrows. “I’m not sure I’m up to you right now, Rachel.”
“For once in your life, just do what I ask, Miles, okay?”
She turns and he watches her stride off, her shoulders stiff, her body seeming to vibrate with something he can’t quite name. She stops, but doesn’t look at him. “Come on.”
He swallows for the hundredth time and does, the oddly ripping sensation in his chest still there, Bass’ words tripping through his brain, his actions and his own suddenly realized tears dried to tiny indistinct lines, forgivable.
Maybe not forgettable, though.