"The lights around the Christmas tree don't burn as bright
And all around the world it isn't a silent night
Outside I hear the voices sing the sweetest sounds of caroling
But somehow there's a sadness in the song
In our hearts we know that something's wrong
It's a different kind of Christmas
In a different kind of world
Even though it looks the same
Everything has changed
It's a different kind of Christmas"
"A different kind of Christmas" by Leann Rimes
"Maybe this isn't such a good idea," Bass warns Miles, as they drive towards Ben and Rachel's house.
"It was my idea, of course it's a good idea," Miles counters. "Besides, Rachel's parents aren't going to be there this time, so you don't have to worry about it being awkward."
"No, you don't have to worry about it being awkward," Bass replies. "Honestly Miles, you can face off with Afghani insurgents, but a cuddly grandpa makes you wet your pants?"
"I'm not scared of him," Miles defends quickly. "The guy hates me, no matter what I do or how polite I am, he always looks at me like something nasty he stepped on."
"It's your Matheson charm," Bass explains. "You have this super power of pissing people off. Look, I'm just not really in a very festive mood, Miles," Bass argues.
"Which is why this is a great idea," Miles points out. "Besides, there's no way in hell you're spending Christmas alone, that's just all kinds of sad."
Ever since that night in the graveyard, they never discussed the "incident", as Bass calls it in his head. But it's always there between them, festering and while Miles isn't exactly walking on egg shells around him, he keeps sneaking glances at him and gets that look in his eyes whenever he thinks Bass is just a little too drunk or a little too morose. Well, screw Miles- Bass has a right to grieve for his family, has a right to be depressed or moody if he wants to be.
They arrive at the Matheson residence 20 minutes early and Bass grasps the small gifts he brought with him, as he follows Miles to the door, like an inmate towards his execution.
"Just pretend, for one evening that you're capable of smiling," Miles begs him, as he knocks on the door, warming up his cold hands with his breath.
"Miles, Bass," Rachel greets them at the door with a small smile, her eyes getting that pitying look that Bass hates so much. "Come on in."
"Uncle Mi!" Charlie runs over and attaches herself to Miles' leg.
"Hey, peanut," Miles lifts her and gives her a hug. "Say hi to Uncle Bass."
"Hi Uncle Bass," Charlie waves at him earnestly, making Bass grin.
"Hi, princess," Bass says and gives her a peck on the cheek.
"Where's Ben?" Miles asks Rachel, putting Charlie down.
"In the kitchen, which is where I need to be," she says apologetically. "Put your coats in the closet and make yourselves at home, we'll be ready to eat soon."
"Anything I can do to help?" Bass offers, putting his presents under the tree. Judging by the overabundance of red tinsel, garland and candy cane, he assumes Charlie helped decorate this year.
"You can help set the table."
"Uncle Mi, come play with me!" Charlie grabs Miles' hand and starts pulling him towards the living-room, which is littered with Legos, puzzles and other various toys.
"Only until dinner time, then we put the toys away," Rachel warns Charlie, who drags Miles after her. Bass follows Rachel into the kitchen and greets Ben, who is checking on the turkey.
"Bass, I'm glad you could make it," Ben says distractedly, letting Rachel take over. "How're you holding up?"
"I'm ok, thank you for having me."
"Look, I know we haven't been in touch that much, but you're family Bass, you know that, right?"
"Like the drunken Uncle that nobody can get rid of," Rachel pipes with a cheeky grin, as she closes the over door.
"Right," Ben huffs. "What I'm trying to say, is that you're always welcome here."
"Just make sure you call first," Rachel hands Bass some plates, gently squeezing his fingers, before letting go.
"Got it," Bass chuckles. "Thanks, I mean it." They both nod at him, before going back to their various tasks. Bass sets the table, enjoying the mindless labor and the chatter around him.
"Benjamin! Your daughter is cheating!"
"No, I'm not!"
"Kids, behave yourselves," Ben calls from the kitchen, trying to hide a grin.
"I'll go check on Danny," Rachel announces, disappearing into one of the bedrooms.
"Bass! Get your ass over here and help me!"
"Language, Miles," Ben warns.
"You're pathetic, you know that?" Bass tosses over his shoulder, finishing with the table. "You're getting your a- butt handed to you by a three year old."
"I told you already, she's cheating."
"There's no way she's this good at a memory game. Come on, Bass, there are Pirates on the cards!"
"Would you stop it already? I'm not obsessed with Pirates!"
"Didn't you two always use play Peter Pan and Captain Hook?" Ben asks knowingly. "Weren't you always Hook?"
"Hook is cool," Bass defends himself. "He's got a hook instead of a hand!"
"He got his ass kicked by a kid," Miles says.
"Well, at least he didn't get his ass kicked by a three year old in a memory game," Bass grins as he walks over to them. Miles and Charlie are sitting on the floor, the different cards scattered face down between them. Bass sits on the couch behind Miles and tries to give him suggestions.
"No fair!" Charlie exclaims, hitting the floor with her tiny hands. "You two and I one."
"Oh look, she can also count better than you."
"Shut up, Bass!"
"Daddy!" Charlie calls towards the kitchen.
"You two are seriously something else," Ben complains, as he joins them, shaking his head. "Ganging up on a little kid."
"She's cheating somehow, I know it," Miles squints at Charlie and pokes her in the chest with a finger. Charlie giggles and swats his hand; Miles uses the opportunity to tickle-attack her, sending her into a fit of giggles, rolling on the floor.
"That was always Miles' preferred method to winning arguments," Ben deadpans, causing Bass to snort in amusement.
"Dinner's ready, if you can manage to tear yourselves away," Rachel comes into the room with Danny in her arms and eyebrow arched. Charlie jumps to her feet, before Rachel reminds her to put her toys away. They all pitch in and return all the toys, before sitting at the table, Danny in his high chair next to Rachel, banging his plastic plate. Charlie sits herself between Miles and Bass and chats to them animatedly about the decorations she helped make for the tree, what she asked Santa for and all the presents Grandma and Grandpa will bring her the next time they come for a visit.
Bass isn't sure if it's Charlie's infectious spirit or spending time with people he cares about that doesn't involve shooting, drinking or sex... But for the first time in a while, he feels… Not quite happy, but calm inside, the pit in his gut smaller than it was before and he can breathe unburdened. Bass looks up at Miles and grins at him gratefully, knowing he'd understand; Miles nods to him once and reaches behind Charlie to squeeze Bass' shoulder.
"Merry Christmas, Bass."
Bass and Miles are going over maps and strategies, when Jeremy waltzes into their tent.
"Dammit Jeremy," Miles says, irritated. "Could you-"
"Knock?" Jeremy arches an eyebrow. "On what- the tent flap? Or do you want me to announce myself before entering your sacred abode?"
"Wise ass," Miles grumbles and Bass grins slightly. "What is it?"
"I need you two to come with me."
"We're kinda busy right now," Bass points out. "What is it?"
"It's a surprise, come on- the plans can wait, I don't think we're getting attacked tonight," Jeremy says, holding open the tent for them. Bass and Miles exchange a long suffering look, before Miles sighs, relenting and following Jeremy outside. Jeremy leads them to a large makeshift tent made out of several connected smaller ones.
Miles walks inside the tent and freezes. There are two long tables set with plates, silver wear and cups, while the beds and crates are lined up on both sides like benches. "What the-?"
"Merry Christmas," Jeremy says grinning.
"Shit, I completely forgot," Bass says, looking around in shock.
"Me too," Miles shakes his head, before turning to Jeremy. "You did all this?"
"I helped," Jeremy corrects, indicating a woman coming towards them, her back straight and gait confident. "It was her idea."
"And you are?"
"Julia Neville," she says, pushing a lock of honey away behind her ear. "I'm Tom's wife. I just wanted to thank you for taking us all in, giving us shelter and a place to stay."
"You don't have to thank us," Bass says.
"I know, but it's nice to be appreciated," she says with an easy grin. "I thought you might enjoy a proper Christmas dinner, we all might."
"That's… Very thoughtful of you," Miles says, nodding at her. "Thank you."
"I can't take all the credit- Jeremy here has been a tremendous help," she ducks her head bashfully.
"Thank you, both of you," Miles says, glancing at Bass. "It's been a rough couple of months; I think we could all use something nice right now." Bass averts his eyes and follows Miles to the table, uncharacteristically quiet. More and more of the men and women join them at the tables and Bass takes it all in mutely. He watches Tom and his son join Julia, who occasionally throws a glance in their direction.
"That woman is crazily efficient," Miles muses. "We should keep an eye on her, she seems… Crafty."
"You're paranoid," Bass says distractedly, as food is place in front of him and their glasses are filled with what he hopes is liquor. Everyone looks at them expectantly, waiting for them to say something. Miles glances at Bass, before he sighs and stands up.
"I'm not really good at this touchy-feely stuff," Miles starts, earning a snort from Jeremy. "I just wanted to say thank you, for this. We're all just trying to survive and sometimes we focus on that so much, we forget what really matters and what's worth fighting for." He raises his glass and the others follow. "To comrades, friends and family." The other people in the tent echo his sentiment and Miles quickly sits down, slightly embarrassed.
"That was beautiful, man," Jeremy says playfully. "I was tearing up."
"Shut up," Miles grouses. "Or I'll use you as a dummy in the next training session."
Bass watches them bicker with a small smile, but he feels disconnected, numb, like he isn't really there and is just watching everything through a TV screen. He tries to follow conversations, to work up the energy to come up with something to say, but it's all too hard, too damn exhausting.
He watches as people around him chatter and laugh, but his eyes keep drawing back to Julia Neville and her family. He looks at their little kid- what's his name again?- and wonders what his own kid would have looked like. They should have been here, sitting next to him, sharing this moment with him. But they're dead, just like his parents and little sisters, because Bass seems destined to lose everyone he cares about.
"Excuse me," Bass says, getting up; he leaves the tent, ignoring the looks and Miles' questions. He can't breathe, everything is getting too suffocating, just too damn much and he need to escape, needs some space and to be alone.
Bass ignores the looks he gets as he makes his way to the cells, ignores the quick salutes and hasty "Sir!" and "Mr. President!" No one bothers asking him what he's doing there, making sure to get out of his way as quickly as decorum allows. He supposes that rumors of his 'twitchy trigger finger', as Jeremy put it have been spreading; in his defense, it was one Lieutenant and the guy was shifty as hell.
Ever since Miles… Left, things have been different. All the high ranking officers that were left, the ones that weren't involved in the insurrection, are walking on eggshells around him. He can hear them whispering, gossiping behind his back, just waiting for him to stumble, to hesitate for one moment too long, before the knives come out. He can't trust anyone, not after Miles and he constantly feels like he's on the precipice of something, be it a coup or all-out war with Georgia and it's filling him with restless energy that's just looking for an outlet.
He stops outside the cell's door and takes a deep breath. It's a stupid idea; he can imagine the mocking look on her face and he doesn't think he can take the humiliation. He wishes Jeremy was here, so they could spend the evening getting wasted and getting laid and he could just get through tonight, be hung-over tomorrow and then business as usual. But he sent Jeremy to patrol the Georgian front, after the guy made a snarky comment about Bass missing his other half; it was either send him away or beat him to a pulp and Bass still isn't sure if he made the right choice. He doesn't need Jeremy, he can get through tonight without him. It was a normal night, just like any other, no need to ascribe some deeper meaning to it, when it was just another date on the calendar.
But then he thinks about that pit at the bottom of his stomach, the pressure building in his head, the weight sitting on his chest, slowly crushing him and constricting his breathing; he thinks about the last few times he felt that way and what might have happened if Miles hadn't been there. Well, Miles isn't here now and Bass needs to figure out a way to hang in there on his own. Tonight, he just really needs a sense of normalcy, to forget for one evening about Miles, The Republic and President Monroe; he just wants to be Bass and be around someone who has known him since before… Even if that person hates his guts and would probably stab him in the back, if given half the chance.
Bass grits his teeth and motions to the guards to open the cell door; he waits for the guard to close it behind him, before he takes a step into the rank, dank room. The only light in the room comes from the lantern he carries and it takes his eyes a moment to adjust, before the blurry dark figure on the cot turns into Rachel Matheson. Her hair is a tangled mess, her shirt and pants are worn and in need of a wash or an incinerator, but her cold blue eyes are as sharp as ever, always assessing and calculating. Rachel shifts on the cot and the clanking of her manacles reverberate off the stone walls, breaking the silence.
"Rachel," Bass greets her pleasantly. He hangs the lantern up and leans against the cell door, seemingly at ease, but every muscle in his body is coiled and ready for action, should she try something.
"Bass," Rachel smiles at him with cold politeness. "To what do I owe this pleasure?"
"There's something I want to ask you," Bass starts, before faltering.
"You always ask me the same questions, you're like a broken record," Rachel says with an impatient huff. "My answers aren't going to change; I don't know where Ben is and I don't know what caused the Blackout."
"I'll stop asking, when you start telling me the truth," Bass gets himself worked up, before he pauses and shakes his head. "I'm not- that's not why I'm here."
"Oh? Why are you here, then?"
"It's Christmas Eve tonight-"
"And you wanted to wish me a Merry Christmas?" Rachel asks mockingly. "How thoughtful of you."
"I wanted you to join me for dinner tonight, get you out of this cell for a few hours."
"Dinner? With you?" Rachel laughs in disbelief. "I'll pass, thanks."
"You don't know what I'm offering," Bass continues, swallowing his unease. "I want one civil evening with you and in exchange, you'll get upgraded accommodations. Not that this place doesn't have its… Charms," Bass indicates the cell derisively. "But I'm offering you a room, a real room with a window, a bed, a lamp, books… This is a onetime offer, Rachel, things could get better for you, but remember they could always get worse."
"You really need to work on your pitch, Bass- ending on a threat isn't the best motivator to be civil," Rachel says slowly, considering it. "Why now? I've been your prisoner for years and you've never made this offer… It's because of Miles, isn't it?" She says shrewdly, zeroing in on any perceived weakness like a laser. "Miles is gone and now- what, you're lonely? That's pretty sad, don't you think?"
"One evening in exchange for a room," Bass grits his teeth and plows on. "Take it or leave it."
Rachel looks away, biting her bottom lip, as she contemplates. Her shoulders square in resolve and she turns back to him, her blue eyes determined. "On one condition."
"This is an exchange, not a negotiation-" Bass starts.
"It depends on how desperate you are for my company," Rachel grins tightly. "I'll do it, but no more visits from Strausser."
"I can't promise you that," Bass shakes his head and folds his arms over his chest. "But I can promise not to have him question you, unless I think it's absolutely necessary."
"I don't trust your definition of 'necessary'."
"That's a shame, but you don't really have a choice," Bass grins back. "I'd like your company tonight Rachel, but I don't need it- how bad do you want that room with a view? A reprieve from Strausser for a week, maybe even a month? Given enough time, you could probably MacGyver yourself a way out of the room, maybe even manage to escape."
"Don't patronize me," Rachel says, her face a mask of cold fury. "A prison is a prison, even if it has a nicer view and a fluffy pillow."
"Maybe, but being in a 5 star prison is better than being in a 2 star one," Bass shrugs. "It's your choice, but I have my own condition: I want a nice evening Rachel; you don't have to pretend to be happy, but you will be polite and communicative. And no stabbing, or trying to kill me or to escape."
"You want me to be polite and communicative? Then no talking about 'The Blackout', it's off limits," Rachel adds.
"Fine, tonight it's off limits," Bass concedes. "Right, so no Blackout talk, no escape attempts, no murder attempts…. Might be a bit of a dull Christmas," Bass says with a toothy grin, that Rachel steadfastly ignores. "I see you're already working on your Christmas cheer. OK, you have yourself a deal. The guards will take you to your new room to get change and freshen up; someone will fetch you when dinner's ready."
"I can't wait," Rachel says sarcastically, her lips twisting into a semblance of a smile.
"That's the spirit," Bass grins; he picks up the lantern, raps on the door and leaves without a backwards glance, leaving Rachel once more in near total darkness.
"Bass?" Miles asks a few minutes later, at the entrance of Bass' tent, before taking a tentative step inside. "You ok?"
"Of course I'm ok," Bass laughs, as he takes another sip of his nearly empty bottle. "Why the hell wouldn't I be?"
"Well, you left in a bit of a hurry there," Miles says hesitantly. "Kinda rude, after all the work they put into it to not even stay for dessert."
"Tell them I'm sorry, that I caught something," Bass slurs, gesturing with his bottle.
"You can tell them yourself."
"I can't be around people right now, Miles," Bass holds the bottle like a lifeline, his eyes watering. "I just… They should have been here, I could have had a family and then I lost it, because I must have killed babies and kicked puppies in a previous life, I mean how else can you explain it? Why do I always lose everyone, Miles?"
"I don't know, Bass," Miles says, sitting down on the bed next to him. "Bad things… They just happen, you know? There's no reason, just bad luck."
"I can't keep doing this Miles," Bass says hollowly. "It hurts too much."
"Hey! Listen to me," Miles yanks the bottle from him and puts it on the floor, before grabbing Bass' face from both sides. "You don't get to check out on me, you hear me? I just got you back from being a homicidal nut-job; I'm not going to lose you again."
"I thought I had nothing left, then I had Shelley and a baby and then I lost them and now I lost everything, all over again," Bass says with a hysterical laugh. "Just rinse and repeat."
"Not everything," Miles says urgently, still holding Bass' face. "You still have me. I don't know where Ben and Rachel and the kids are, my folks are dead… You're all I have left; all we've got is each other."
Bass lurches forward and kissed Miles on the mouth, knocking their teeth together. Miles draws back in surprise and confusion.
"Bass, what're you-?"
"Just, shut up, Miles," Bass sighs into his ear. "I need this right now, just for tonight."
Miles' eyes peer into Bass' pleading ones and Bass remembers juvenile fumbling, mostly out of curiosity, quick hand jobs in deserts, out of boredom or when they just needed to feel grounded, to feel connected to someone. They never spoke of those moments, never gave them a name, pretending that they were meaningless and just another secret between friends.
Bass can tell the moment Miles gives in, before the man runs his fingers through Bass' curls and pulls him towards him for a searing kiss. Bass lets himself get lost in Miles' touch, in his heat and familiar body, knowing that it's ok to allow himself to be adrift in the torrent of his emotions, because Miles will be there to make sure he doesn't drown; Miles is his anchor and he grabs on tight and just lets go.
Bass sits in the dining-room and waits impatiently for Rachel to arrive. She isn't late, not yet, but he just knows that she's stalling, making sure she'll arrive just on time and not a moment earlier. He had her room set up before he even approached Rachel with his offer and even had a few sets of clothes there for her to choose from, among them a nice, purple evening dress, which he knows she won't wear. She won't dress up for him; she'll wear pants and a shirt, something simple, but acceptable.
Bass debated whether or not he should wear civilian clothes, shed his President Monroe persona in favor of Bass, but he knew it was pointless. He may not want to be President Monroe tonight, but it'll be there between them, whether he's in uniform or not and any pretense otherwise would just draw more attention to the elephant in the room. At least he took his jacket off, opting for a more casual look.
He hears footsteps approaching and looks up in time to see the guards escorting Rachel inside. Bass' lips quirk, noticing her wearing black pants and a blue buttoned down shirt, just like he suspected she would. He finds her more beautiful this way- plain clothes, no makeup, her hair drying in natural waves that cascade over her shoulder. More importantly, she looks clean, which is already an improvement over her previous condition. A shower and a change of clothes can do a person wonders.
"Rachel, you look lovely," Bass stands up and greets her.
"Bass," she acknowledges and watches him apprehensively as he slowly makes his way towards her. He stops a foot away from her and the tension is clear in the tightening of her mouth and the hardening of her eyes.
"I trust that you have everything you need in your new room?" Bass asks as he pulls out a chair for her at the end of the table and motions for her to take a seat.
"Being in a cell for a few years, you learn how meaningless things are," she sits down and looks straight ahead, avoiding his gaze.
"Rachel…" Bass warns her. He puts his hands on either side of her chair and pushes it in towards the table, but doesn't withdraw, his hands almost brushing against her hands that are resting on her lap.
"Everything is fine, thank you," Rachel grits out, her neck twisting back so she can meet his eyes. Bass pauses a moment, savoring this small victory, before pulling back and walking to the other side of the table to take his own seat. The solid oak table is about 6 feet long and 3 feet wide, with a cream colored table cloth adorning it. There's no tree to be found, no tinsel or garlands to show that it's Christmas and not just any normal dinner.
The guards stay just inside the door, seemingly ignoring the goings-on of the room, but alert to Rachel's every move, should she try anything. Maids bring steaming dishes to the table, quiet and deferential, their eyes never rising above the table.
"You couldn't even give them a day off today?" Rachel asks with an arched eyebrow.
"They volunteered," Bass answers, waiting for them to finish piling the food on the table. Once they leave the room, Bass continues: "They're single and don't have families to be with. They get paid extra for working on the holiday and get to take leftovers home- trust me, they'll eat like royalty tonight." He notes Rachel's look of disbelief and snorts. "You're surprised I treat my employees decently?"
"I'm surprised they're even paid," Rachel says breezily. "I expected slave labor."
"Well, as Miles always says- never piss off the people handling your food, or they might piss in your soup or poison you," Bass says with a small smile. An awkward silence descends on them, so Bass clears his throat. "Dig in, I promise it's better than anything you've eaten in the last few years, maybe even since the Blackout."
"We said we wouldn't-"
"We're not- I'm not talking about the Blackout, I was just… Never mind," Bass sighs, as he grabs the bowl closest to him-mashed potatoes- and passes it to Rachel, putting it on the table and quickly removing his hand, making sure their fingers don't touch.
They spend a few minutes, silently putting food on their plates and passing it to each other, the only sound in the room is that of the cutlery, ceramic and glass shuffled around. Bass takes a bite from his sweet potatoes and declares: "It's not as good as yours."
"What?" Rachel asks, confused, moving the food on her plate unenthusiastically from side to side.
"Right after my family died, Miles dragged me to your place for Christmas," Bass reminds her. "You had this sweet potato dish-"
"With pecans and sweet Chili sauce," Rachel finishes for him.
"Yeah," Bass nods. "I remember it was good."
"Thank you," Rachel says, finally stabbing her sweet potatoes with her fork and taking a bite. "You're right, mine was much better."
Bass smiles and eats some string beans, before saying. "I think my worst Christmas dinner was when I was twelve and had the flu- I had a fever, couldn't keep anything down and my mom made my favorite dishes. I was so miserable the whole night."
"What about the time you spent Christmas in Iraq?"
"Which time?" Bass asks with a crooked grin. "It was shitty and the food was crap, but at least the company was good."
Rachel eats silently for a moment. "The first Christmas Ben came over to my parents' house, I wanted to impress him, so I insisted on making the turkey myself," her lips curl up self-deprecatingly. "I burned the Turkey and the stuffing was inedible. Thankfully, my mom, ever the practical one, made sure to get a chicken as well."
"Your turkey was perfect when I was there," Bass says, taking a sip of his wine.
"I learned from my mistakes," Rachel acknowledges with a shrug, taking a sip of her own wine. "Then of course there's the time Danny swallowed a Lego and we spent the evening at the emergency room." They continue to amicably share stories of past Christmases, keeping the conversation light; by the time dessert is served another silence settles on them, but not as suffocating as the first.
Bass is on his third glass of wine, while Rachel is still cautiously sipping her first, her eyes always alert and guarded. "Wanna here something weird?" Bass asks her with a lopsided grin. "I know I shouldn't, because I shouldn't give a crap about him after what he did- but I wonder where Miles is right now, what he's doing."
"It's not that weird," Rachel says quietly, looking off into the distance. "You two were joined at the hip for so long; it probably feels like a piece of you is missing."
"You're thinking about your family," Bass concludes, his blue eyes almost sympathetic. "You're probably wondering where they are, if they're safe. I can't imagine how hard it must be to be away from them now."
"No, you really can't," Rachel says darkly, her lips narrowing. "Miles left; my family was ripped away from me."
"You gave yourself up," Bass' voice grows cold. "You chose to abandon your family. They could have been here with you right now, or you could have been there with your kids; it's your own fault that you're not together." Rachel's eyes harden as her face becomes a vacant mask and Bass knows he went too far.
"I'm sorry, I'm not trying to start a fight, Rachel," he explains, rubbing at his tired face. "I guess I'm just not great company right now. Every time I was in a bad place and couldn't find a way back, Miles was there and he made sure… He kept me sane, saved me from myself. He told me he'd always be there and now he's gone."
"What happened?" Rachel asks tentatively. "Why did he leave?"
"I don't know," Bass shakes his head. "He didn't say- I just woke up to a gun to my face. He was organizing a coup, Rachel, he tried to kill me."
"He didn't try hard enough," Rachel mutters, before she thinks to stop herself. Bass gets to his feet with a scrape of his chair that startles Rachel. He marches to her and leans over, getting in her personal space.
"I'm not the only one Miles left," Bass says acidly. "He left you behind, ran off with Nora Clayton and didn't think twice about what would happen to you. Miles is gone, he's not coming back to save you." He lets the word sink in, his face inches from hers and he can almost taste the sweet wine on her breath. He backs away and Rachel visibly releases a breath, her fingers letting go of the knife she was clutching.
"Thank you for a lovely evening, Rachel," Bass says courtly, turning his back to her. "The guards will take you back to your room." He motions to the guards, who crowd in on her as she gets to her feet, fingers drawing away slowly from the silver wear.
"I…" Rachel starts, before biting her lip and shaking her head. "Goodnight, Bass."
"Goodnight. Oh and Merry Christmas, Rachel," Bass says with a tight grin as she's escorted out. "As always, it's been a pleasure."
The two are lying in Bass' bed, too tired to get up and clean up; Bass is enjoying Miles' warmth and doesn't want to leave his side and risk breaking the spell.
"You know, I've been thinking," Miles says apropos of nothing.
"Don't strain something." Bass says with a grin, still buzzed from the alcohol and sex.
"Ha ha," Miles says, elbowing Bass in the ribs, before sitting up and looking at Bass seriously. "I think we're working on too small a scale, we need to think bigger."
"What are you talking about?" Bass asks, looking up at Miles in confusion.
"This," Miles gestures widely. "We need to start thinking long term. We've been so focused on surviving day by day, but we haven't been making any kind of plans for the future."
"Taking over some land- a town, maybe a city. Get ourselves into some buildings, grow crops, lay down roots, maybe even…" Miles pauses, causing Bass to sit up and look him straight in the eye.
"Maybe even what?"
"Maybe even become an autonomy," Miles says hesitantly, his expression dead serious.
"You want us to become our own country or something?" Bass laughs. "That's crazy, Miles."
"Maybe," Miles acknowledges. "But think about it, Bass- we can give these people so much more than shelter and protection. We could give them stability; keep them safe, we could start rebuilding everything that we lost three years ago."
"We're soldiers, Miles, what do we know about governing people?"
"We could learn, I mean how hard can it be?" Miles says with a sarcastic smile. "Or we let someone else take care of the administrative crap, I don't know. This could be our thing; we could really do some good for these people."
"I don't care about these people," Bass says curtly.
"I care about you," Bass continues, capturing Miles' gaze with his blazing eyes. "If you really want to do this, I'm in. If you want to walk up to the Reddington Clan and go out like Butch and Sundance, I'll be right there with you." Bass vows, his voice dark.
Miles' eyes have that look they had when he came back from raiding that other camp, but Bass doesn't care if Miles disapproves; he needs him to know where Bass stands. "I'll follow you to hell and back, Miles. You're all I've got left in this world and I'm not letting you go." He leaves a speechless Miles on his bed and gets up; he retrieves a washcloth to clean himself off, feeling more centered and determined than he's felt in a long time.
"The Patriots are everywhere, Monroe," Charlie informs Bass in hushed tones, as she returns to their tent. "Looks like they're spending Christmas in New Vegas, I think they're trying to organize a big dinner."
"Of course they are," Bass says with an eye roll. "It's a great way to boost morale and get on people's good side."
"We can't leave now, or we might get spotted," Charlie says with a sigh. "If they get a good look at you, we're screwed."
"Looks like we're stuck here, at least until they move on," Bass says, cursing silently to himself.
"I'm sure it’s just for the night," Charlie says. "Maybe also tomorrow, but they told the circus ringmaster they'll be on their way after that."
"That's what they said in Willoughby," Bass points out. "We're so close, Charlie- I'm so close to finally meeting my son and I'm stuck here."
"Just for a day or two," Charlie says sympathetically. "Monroe, you've waited this long, what's a few more days?"
"You're right," Bass says, shaking his head. "But patience was never one of my strong suits."
"You have a strong suit?" Charlie asks with a grin, earning her a half-hearted scowl. Charlie ventures outside to get them some supplies and food for the evening, making sure to avoid the Patriots, not wanting to be noticed or approached.
She returns with bread and two broths and an apologetic shrug. "Sorry, this is all I could get, most people are at the Patriot's dinner."
"It's not the worst Christmas meal I've ever had," Bass says, as he takes the bowl from her. He swallows a spoon full of the broth and scrunches up his face. "But it's definitely close." Charlie quietly eats her meal, one unenthused spoon after another. "How about you?"
"What's your worst Christmas you've ever had?" Bass asks her, eating a bit of the bread and looking at her expectantly.
"What's the point in dwelling on it?" Charlie asks, stirring her spoon in the bowl.
"It's not about dwelling, it's about sharing stories and laughing at them," Bass explains. "Miles sort of started this tradition when we enlisted and were miserable in the middle of nowhere- coming up with our best, worst and just weirdest birthdays and holidays. I guess most things didn't look too terrible, when you put them in perspective."
Charlie's quiet for a moment, before she lays her bowl down and wipes her hands. "After mom… Left, dad tried to do everything. The first Christmas we settled into Sylvania Estates, he wanted to make sure we had a proper Christmas meal, but he wouldn't accept any help. He couldn't hunt anything down and he overcooked the potatoes," Charlie shakes her head fondly. "In the end, Caleb Jenkins took pity on us and invited us over for dinner. I think Mrs. Jenkins gave him some pointers, because his cooking got a lot better afterwards."
"Seems like a family tradition," Bass says with a small grin. Charlie gives him a confused look, so he explains: "Rachel told me about the first Christmas she brought Ben over to your Grandparents' house and she wanted to do the cooking herself, apparently it was a disaster."
"I don't remember Christmas from before the Blackout," Charlie admits sadly. "I don't remember much, just little moments here and there, sometimes just a general feeling. I don't remember us as a family from before."
"You guys were disgustingly wholesome and happy," Bass supplies. "Like a Hallmark greeting card."
"Sometimes it's hard to imagine we were ever happy," Charlie muses to herself, before shaking her head. "Ok, your turn- worst Christmas?"
"I've got a lot to choose from," Bass says with a tight grin. "Worst Christmas dinner I ever ate was definitely in Afghanistan, half the platoon came down with a stomach virus, I swear that food was leftovers from the First Golf War."
"Maggie could cook," Charlie says with a small smile. "I hated that she was trying to be part of the family, trying to replace my mom- but I was so relieved when she took over the cooking from my dad."
"Your mom could cook too," Bass says with a wistful smile. "I'm not sure if it was skill or a stubborn determination to never fail again."
"Probably her being stubborn," Charlie replies, her voice flat. "Everything always has to go her way."
"Did you two get into another fight?" Bass asks curiously. "Is that why you left your mom and Uncle to go on a road trip with me?"
"We didn't fight, exactly," Charlie explains hesitantly. "Nothing happened, it's just… Nothing's changed. They never tell me anything, they always lie to me or keep things from me, like I'm just a stupid kid who can't handle the truth. I just couldn't stand to be around them anymore, I needed a break."
"To be fair, I think the two of them have been lying and keeping secrets for so long, it's become second nature to them," Bass says with a shrug.
"I thought things were getting better, that they trusted me more," Charlie says annoyed. "But there's so much I don't know, I feel like there's always more to whatever they're talking about. And then there's this thing between them."
"I'm not surprised."
"You know what my mom asked me, when she found out Miles was with me in Philly?" Charlie asks him quietly. "She said 'did he hurt you?' What did he do to her that she would ask me something like that?"
"Your uncle wasn't a very nice guy, back in the day," Monroe puts down his bowl. "He didn't get the nickname 'The Butcher of Baltimore' because he sold meat, Charlie."
"I know that," she says indignantly. "But what did he do to her? Please, I just need to know, I need someone to finally tell me the truth."
Bass looks at her long and hard, before he nods. "We thought your dad knew something about the Blackout and how to turn the power back on. Miles tracked you guys down and gave Ben a chance to say goodbye to you, before he was supposed to turn himself in. But it was Rachel who came to the rendezvous point, not Ben and by the time Miles went to find him, you three were long gone."
"She gave herself up to protect us," Charlie realizes. "Why didn't she tell me?"
"You have to ask her that," Bass says. "Miles… Wasn't very happy to be played like a fool. We interrogated Rachel for years, trying to find out where Ben was, if she knew something about the power, but she never talked. She's always been stubborn."
"Then how can she stand to be around Miles, let alone be with him?" Charlie asks incredulously.
"Love conquers all, or some shit like that, it doesn't have to make sense."
"It didn't start when we rescued mom in Philly, did it?" Charlie gives Bass a probing look; he sighs and looks away. "Did it start when my parents were still together?"
"I'm not sure," Bass says cautiously. "I never asked and they never said anything… But yeah, I'm pretty sure it did."
"How could they do that to my dad?" Charlie asks in disgust.
"People don't choose who they fall in love with."
"No, but they can choose who they fuck," Charlie spits. Bass wants to tell her to watch her language, before he remembers that she's not a kid anymore.
"Things aren't so simple and people make mistakes," Bass says, almost defensively. "We're human beings, Charlie, we screw up and hurt and betray people we care about."
"Are we still talking about my mom and Miles, or are we talking about you?" Charlie asks shrewdly.
"Nobody's perfect," Bass continues. "You keep putting people on a pedestal, all they'll do is disappoint you."
"I don't think they're perfect," Charlie counters. "My mom helped kill millions of people and then she caused the Surge and Miles founded the Militia and did terrible things, I get it. It's just… I wish they'd just be honest with me, so I could find a way to deal with whatever they're hiding from me and move on. Every time I think I've got a handle on it and forgive them… I find out something else, something worse and I'm worried one day I'll find out something I just can't forgive them for."
"Well, if you can forgive mass murder and ending the world, I don't think you have anything to worry about," Bass says flippantly. "I don't know if my son will be as forgiving, if he knows about even half of the stuff I've done."
"You won't know until you try," Charlie reasons. "Even with everything… I'm glad I tracked down Miles and found my mom again and met Grandpa. I've lost everyone I ever loved; they're the only family I have left."
"I lost everyone I ever loved as well," Bass confesses. "I know what it's like to cling to any family you can claim."
"Yeah, but did you have to watch every single one of them die, right before your eyes?" Charlie asks sardonically.
"Ok, you definitely win the pity game," Bass says and the two chuckle, before Bass says seriously: "There's a part of me that's scared the minute I get him, I'll lose him, just like I lost everyone else. Maybe I should just leave well enough alone, instead of dragging him into my world and somehow getting him killed as well."
"That's up to you," Charlie says. "I can't tell you what to do. But if I were him, I'd want to know who my dad is and how desperate he is to be a part of my life."
"I'll get obsessed, like I always do and scare him off," Bass says, swallowing. "Miles used to be all I had; we've been together our whole lives and even he left me."
"Yeah, well you two just can't seem to get rid of each other. You should have seen Miles when you were being executed," Charlie says gently. "I've never seen him like that and I've seen him when he lost other people he cared about."
"There's too much between us," Bass says dejectedly. "We've hurt each other too much, betrayed each other- I don't think we can ever be the way we were."
"Maybe not," Charlie agrees. "But you'll still be family and you'll still look out for each other, just like I'll eventually go back to Miles and my mom."
"They need you, Charlie."
"I know, they always need me to save their asses," Charlie says with a brazen smile.
"No, I mean they need you," Bass intones. "We're all messed up people and we've done bad shit in our lives, but you've managed to change them for the better. You made Miles a better person and you're the reason Rachel saved my life. Like it or not, you're their moral compass."
"I didn't ask for that responsibility."
"And I didn't ask for my good looks and charms, but we all have our Cross to bear," Bass says with a cheeky smile, earning him a disbelieving look, but a small smile as well.
"This time last year I had dad and Danny and Maggie, and the only thing we were worried about was cutting down enough logs to get us through winter," Charlie says, reminiscing. "Now they're gone, but I have mom and Miles and Grandpa… And here I am, stuck with you for Christmas."
"So at least the company is good," Bass grins toothily." Trust me, it can make all the difference. I would have never thought last year that Miles and I would have a truce or that I would have a son. Things change, you just have to appreciate what you have, while you have it."
"That sounds like a toast," Charlie says; she pours them both some whiskey from a flask and raises her cup. "To family, even if they drive us crazy."
"To new beginnings and second chances," Bass raises his cup and they clink them together, before taking a generous sip. "Merry Christmas, Charlotte."
"Merry Christmas, Sebastian."