By the time Neville found them the missiles had hit, no-one had the heart to fight. Not even Uncle Miles. They let him cuff them and take their swords. It was a sign of how bad things were that he didn’t even gloat.
Charlie couldn’t look at Jason in the lift on the way up. That was OK. He couldn’t look at her either. Guilt and blame hung between them like a curtain. Jason had betrayed them - again, and the fact it was her only made it worse - and she might have helped kill everyone they knew. Including his mother. What was there to say now?
In the shuffle topside Charlie ended up sharing one of the choppers with a rabbity-looking captain who wrung his hands. He’d lost half an ear recently, the scab of fresh cautery crusting the wound. Charlie didn’t want to talk to him either. She hunched over, leaning her elbows on her knees, and stared at the cracked toes of her boots.
The captain broke the silence.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said. She looked up, a frown pinching her eyebrows together.
‘For this,’ he explained, grabbing her arm. He wrestled her up, ignoring her hobbled attempts to fight, and dragged her over to the open door. The wind caught at her clothes and hair, tugging her out. She dug her heels and grabbed at the doorway with cuffed hands.
‘No. No. Please,’ she said.
‘I have to do this,’ he said, sounding angry at her for not understanding. He yanked at her hands, her nails ripping off down to the quick. ‘General Neville’s orders.’
He shoved her, the heels of his hands thumping against her back. Her stomach fell before she did, but she still fell. She didn’t want to scream for them, but she did. As the ground spun up towards her she closed her eyes and hoped that preacher who’d come through their town once was right. She’d like to see Danny again, and Nora.
There was a sharp, body-wide pain and then everything greyed out to black.
Waking up was a surprise. It was cold and she hurt, from fingertips to toenails, but she wasn’t dead. She coughed, spitting up blood and water, and tried to move, kicking against nothing.
‘Charlotte,’ a rough, familiar voice growled in her ear. ‘Stop it. Calm down.’
Fuck that. She struggled and slapped, dunking them both. Her sluggish brain caught halfway up with the day, realising she’d landed in the lake. She splashed her way back to the surface, sneezing and spitting still, and tried to swim. Pain stabbed up her leg every time she kicked, her foot flapping clumsily and at angles it shouldn’t move, and one arm wasn’t working right.
Monroe came up a few feet away, his face grim.
‘You going to drown yourself from spite, Charlotte?’
‘Yes,’ she spat.
He trod water with irritating ease and waited.
Charlie’s arm got tired, her aching leg dragging until she couldn’t make it move anymore. She went under again, sucking in a mouthful of cold, stale water. The adrenaline kick gave her enough energy to struggle back to the surface.
Not enough to fight when Monroe hooked his arm around her chest, fingers digging into her ribcage. She could feel his body under hers, his chest against her back like a float, and his breath was hot against her neck.
‘I seem to be making a habit of rescuing you, Charlotte,’ he said, towing her towards shore.
She’d have fought him if she could, but she felt as about as strong as a wet rag. The best she could manage was resentment as she leant her head back against his shoulder.
‘I didn’t ask you to,’ she muttered.
‘Your mother did.’
Charlie grimaced, her mouth kinking around the knot of feelings she had for Rachel, and didn’t say anything. When they reached the shallows she tried to stand up, but her leg crumpled under her - sharp pain jabbing up into her knee from her ankle. She bit her lips bloody to stop from screaming and tried again, lurching from fall to fall like that was walking.
Five steps was all she could manage before she ended up on her hands and knees on the stones, puking up mouthfuls of sour bile and water. It burned her throat even as the cold racked shivers through her.
Monroe waited until she’d done and then picked her up, cradling in his arms like a child. He carried her up the shore, stumbling over the rocks and breathing hard. It was reassuring that she wasn’t the only one knackered.
They reached the shelter of an old beached tree and he let her slide out of his arms. Charlie bit her lap and balanced on one foot, hanging onto him reluctantly.
‘What did you think jumping out of a helicopter was going to accomplish?’ he asked, lowering her down onto a hummock of grass.
‘I didn’t jump, I was pushed,’ she sullenly. He crouched down in front of her and started unlacing her boot. Charlie thought about kicking him, but - sorry, Danny, always sorry - it seemed an impossibly amount of effort. ‘Why are you helping me? I want you dead.’
He cupped one hand behind her knee, holding it in place, and pulled her boot off. It hurt like someone was twisting barbed wire around her foot. Charlie screwed her eyes up tight against tears and pressed her fist against her mouth, chewing on her knuckles to hold back a scream. Monroe did her the courtesy of pretending not to notice, tossing her boot aside and poking at her foot roughly.
‘Is it broken?’ she asked through gritted teeth, knuckling tears out of her eyes and willing him to prove her wrong and say no.
If it was broken, he might as well let her drown. Even if she survived - out here, alone, barely able to hobble - she’d be stuck. No way home. To whatever was left of home. She didn’t even know the way, never mind being able to walk there.
‘Can you wriggle your toes?’
She bit her lip and tried, the curl of her toes yanking the barbed wire tight around the bone. A sob snotted out of her.
‘It’s broken,’ Monroe said, putting her foot down. ‘I’ve seen worse.’
Shit. Charlie dropped her head back against the tree and tried not to break down.She almost missed his next question.
‘Did Tom leave any men at the Tower?’
‘Why?’ she asked.
Monroe looked at her like she was stupid. ‘We need food, shelter and, unless you want that foot to fall off, medical supplies. The Tower’s our best bet.’ He ran his hand through his hair, shuddering as the water ran down his neck. ‘So, guards?’
He wasn’t leaving her. The wave of relief that hit Charlie brought her closer to tears than desperation had. She still hated him, but...he wasn’t leaving her. Blinking back tears, she sniffed and tried to remember.
‘I don’t think so,’ she said, voice small and cloggy. ‘He left the tents, but I didn’t see anyone left behind.’
A humourless smile twisted Monroe’s mouth. ‘He doesn’t have enough men to sacrifice them for guard duty,’ he said. ‘Not when he wants to take over my Republic.’
‘By now it’s probably gone,’ Charlie said dully.
‘Georgia won’t have moved that quickly,’ Monroe said.
It took a second for Charlie to remember he’d not been in the room with Randall. Hating him so much, made it feel like he was. She wiped her hands over her face, cheeks raw with water and tears, and hesitated, wondering if she should tell him or not. In the end, it seemed like the right thing to do.
‘When the power came back on,’ she said slowly. ‘Randall launched IBMs towards the East.’
He looked blank for a second, then swallowed. ‘ICBMs,’ he corrected. ‘Did they land.’
Charlie looked down, hiding behind strings of dark hair and couldn’t bring herself to answer. His hand tightened against her calf, making her flinch, and then relaxed.
‘So it’s gone,’ he said quietly, voice odd. ‘After all that.’
He looked...Charlie wasn’t sure...but after a minute he shook whatever it was off and stood up. Charlie tried to drag herself up the tree, but he just picked her up again. She squirmed in protest.
‘Just get me a stick,’ she said. ‘I can walk.’
Monroe snorted. ‘I want to get there today,’ he said. ‘And if I drop you, that ankle isn’t going to get any better.’
He waited. Charlie thought about it for a second and then made herself relax, hanging on to the shoulder of his jacket with her hands.
‘You never told me why you were helping me,’ she said.
‘Want me to stop?’ he asked.
Her fingers tightened helplessly on his jacket, fear cold in her bones.
‘I promised your mother,’ he said, walking along the beach. There was silence for a second and then he added, in a quieter voice. ‘I promised Miles - a long time ago.’