Bass had been moody to the point of being recalcitrant ever since they’d returned from the ill-fated attempt to reunite him with his son. In the year and a half since Miles had taken up with Charlie and lost touch with Connor, he’d been pulled into one of the Patriot re-education camps in California. The end result of the reunion was that Miles and Charlie had barely been able to drag Bass away and escape with their lives. Connor had been left alive, but they weren’t sure how long that would last. He was a brutal killing machine with no free will or conscious thoughts of his own. The only up side of the situation was that it caused Bass to fully commit to the group’s efforts to destroy the Patriots.
Aaron’s mission of reconnection in backwater Oklahoma hadn’t gone much better. The nanites had judged their creator, and they seemed to have decided that he’d failed the test. There would be no more mystical assistance for Team Matheson.
By the time the two disheartened groups had reconnected, their spirits were rather low. A small bit of good had come from the failed endeavors, however. Charlie had managed to grab a piece of paper off of Connor that contained some writing she couldn’t read and the triangle and eye logo associated with the Patriots. Miles and Monroe recognized the artistic script from their Marine days, though none of the words were “stop” or “no guns”, so that pretty much exceeded the amount of Arabic that either had taken the time to learn during their time in the Middle East. They’d shown the letter to Rachel and Aaron after the group’s reunion. Rachel was no better off than the men.
Aaron glanced at it for a short moment and then casually read, “Priority targets in your vicinity. Execute with extreme prejudice. No hostages. Once sector cleared return to Oakland base.”
“You read Arabic?” Miles looked at Aaron.
“I assume none of you remember Google Translate?”
Four blank stares were the only response.
“Neanderthals.” Aaron grumbled. “It was a computer thing. Type in words and it translated them to whatever other language you wanted. I wrote the code. I learned to read a few other languages to help with the formatting and ensure the fidelity of the translations.”
The realization that they could now decode the messages from Patriot command had been a turning point for their group. Their tactics switched from random attacks to tracing troop movements and zeroing in on high priority targets. It had become notably more successful than their previous strategy.
They’d been following their trail of information for a few months by the time it had led them to a local Magistrate just outside of Louisville that seemed to be a hub for high priority information.
“His docket is full for the morning.” Rachel whispered to the small group around the courthouse. “Once he’s in the courtroom we should have plenty of time to break into his office and find the information we’re looking for.”
“Doesn’t sound like you’re gonna have much need for hitting or slicing. Guess I’m sitting this one out.” Bass snarked.
“I want you and Charlie in the courtroom.” Miles instructed. “You’re our lookouts. If anything goes wrong or feels off, we get out of here.”
“That room’s gonna be crawling with Patriots. You sure you want us in there sitting there front and center?” Bass asked.
Rachel answered, “They don’t know Charlie’s face as well as the rest of us, and no one’s looking for you since they think they already killed you.”
“I should be doing the recon with you.” Charlie pouted at Miles.
“Three’s already gonna be a crowd.” Miles informed her, then softened, “And someone’s gotta keep an eye on him.” His eyes darted over to Bass.
Recently, the job of babysitting Monroe had fallen to her more often than not, whenever his particular skill set wasn’t deemed necessary for the mission at hand. It was like they were afraid he’d get bored and just start killing people to pass the time if he was left unattended. Sure, he was surlier after what had happened with Connor, but he hadn’t gone completely off the deep end. Charlie felt like they were being a little ridiculous, but she supposed they had enough historical precedent on this topic to warrant being cautious. Being Bass’s keeper wasn’t really that awful. They’d developed a rapport over the months since they’d “reconnected” in New Vegas, and he had a veritable treasure trove of humorous old Miles stories that he never felt bad about sharing. What bothered Charlie the most about the arrangement was the way Miles routinely picked her mother over her for the important missions. The year she had spent with Miles tracking down Danny and then fighting the Republic had been the first time in her life that she had gotten to be the favorite child. Now, with whatever was going on between her uncle and her mother, Charlie had been dropped back to playing second fiddle. It stung a little. Bass had also noticed that he was never Miles’s first choice anymore, unless the situation called for swords to slice through vital organs repeatedly. It was just something else she and Bass shared, though neither ever dared to mention it out loud.
And so the groups separated as the townspeople began to filter into the courthouse. Miles, Rachel, and Aaron heading stealthily, at least as much as Aaron was capable of, around the back of the building as Bass and Charlie made their way inside. They took seats on the end of the row in the second aisle from the back.
“Settle in, kid. Looks like it’s gonna be another long day of defeating the Patriots by sitting on our asses.” Bass whispered to her, coaxing a bit of a smile to her lips. “What do you think the odds are that any of these cases will end up being something juicy and salacious?” He raised an eyebrow.
Just then they were interrupted by the bailiff announcing, “This court now comes to order. The honorable Judge Franklin Isaacs presiding. Our first case today is a property tax dispute between Frederick Wollard and the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Freddy, if you’d come on up and state your case.”
Bass rolled his eyes and let his head rock backwards on his shoulders in exasperation.
Fortunately for Bass, but unfortunately for the rest of the group mid-heist in the judge’s chambers, the cases had been finished in exceedingly short order. The tax dispute was dismissed after a few sentences. The second case was a drunk and disorderly charge that had to be rescheduled because the defendant had been arrested the night before and was still too inebriated in the town drunk tank to contribute to his own defense. A land dispute had settled out of court overnight, and the only witness in a horse thieving case had recently disappeared, leaving the case with no actual evidence, and getting it quickly dismissed. In all it had taken less than fifteen minutes.
Bass and Charlie exchanged worried glances as the audience began to collect their belongings, and the judge stood at the bench. Miles and friends still needed more time.
“If there are no further matters for the court, I hereby declare this session adjurn…”
“Wait!” Bass jumped up out of his seat.
“What are you doing?” Charlie hissed at him, her eyes huge.
“Play along.” He ordered in a whispered tone from the side of his mouth. The entire courtroom was looking at him now.
“What is it, son?” The judge asked.
“There was one thing I was hoping you could help us with, since it looks like y’all might have the time available.” He even added a slight twang to his accent for effect. Charlie rolled her eyes as he put a hand on her upper arm and pulled her to her feet.
“We’re on our way to meet up with family in Lexington, and, well… turns out that my girl here is… in a family way.” Bass beamed proudly.
Charlie barely kept the horror from her face, but was quick witted enough to pooch out her stomach as much as possible and drop a protective hand to her belly. She knew that playing along was probably a matter of life and death for her uncle, mother, and friend at this point, but she was not thrilled about where she thought this charade was going.
“And I’d like to make an honest woman of her before we meet up with her folks.” The crowd gave some supportive cooing sounds.
The judge smiled broadly at the happy couple and waved in their direction. “Come on up here young man. And bring that lovely young bride of yours.”
Bass took Charlie by the hand and all but dragged her into the aisle. As they made their way up to the judge, Charlie leaned in and snapped in Bass’s ear, “There’s no way this is legal, right?”
Bass just laughed at her.
“Who is this positively radiant young lady?” The judge addressed them.
Charlie was too mortified to think clearly and actually began to give her real name, “Charlie Math…”
Bass cut Charlie off, “Charlene Mathews, your honor. And I’m Jimmy, uh… James King.”
“Well Jimmy, Charlie… Are you two ready to get married?”
“Why, yes sir. “ Bass looked giddy. Charlie still just looked mortified.
“Miss, you don’t look so well.” The judge noted. “Are you sure you’re ready to go through with this?”
Bass gave Charlie a quick kick to her shin, and the stab of discomfort brought her mind back to the task at hand. “I’m sorry, it’s all just so… It’s the hormones…” She gave Bass a look that screamed “you owe me”.
The judge nodded understandingly. “Do you have rings?” He asked Bass.
Crap. Charlie realized that their little plan was about to be foiled. Who wanted to get married and didn’t have rings?
“Just for her.” Bass answered. Charlie’s head whipped over to face him in shock as he continued. “Times are tough and we’re heading east looking for work, so I only have the one.”
“That’s fair enough these days.” The judge placated.
Charlie suddenly became intrigued as he tugged at one of the thinner leather strands making up the cuff he seemed to always wear on his left wrist. When it untied, a single gold band, that she had always mistook for a buckle or simple adornment, slid free.
In response to her look, he whispered, “My mother’s.”
She looked at him skeptically, not entirely sure she believed what he’d said. That he had somehow managed to hang on to something like that for so many years was unlikely. But something about the look in his eyes and the way she knew he valued family over everything else leant the claim credibility.
“Then let’s get started, shall we?” The judge gestured to the court clerk, and she brought up a piece of paper. He filled in a few blank lines, and then addressed the pair before him. “Jimmy, if you’ll repeat after me. With this ring,”
He looked down at Charlie and took her hands in his. He slid the band onto the ring finger of her left hand and looked into her eyes. “With this ring,”
“I, James King…”
“I, James King…” He winked at her and she rolled her eyes.
“Take you, Charlene, to be my lawfully wedded wife.”
“Take you, Charlie, to be my lawfully wedded wife.” He sneered slightly at the slight change of wording to include her real name. She rolled her eyes again.
“To have and to hold from this day forward.”
“To have and to hold from this day forward.” He raised an eyebrow at her slightly at the part about the holding. She resisted ripping her hands out of his.
“For better for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health,”
“For better for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health,” He continued to look into her eyes, and she noticed them beginning to glisten ever so slightly with moisture.
Stupid ass, she thought. She knew she had been right when she’d accused him of being able to cry on cue. That damn sociopath had the crowd eating out of his hands. No way she could top that.
“To love and cherish, ‘till death do us part.”
“To love and cherish, ‘till death do us part.”
As he finished the last part, she mouthed, “That can be arranged. Again.”
As Charlie began to recite the same spiel, Bass felt a weird clenching sensation in his gut. Sure this was about as fake of a wedding as could possibly exist, but real or not, he’d just said those words. Before the blackout, he’d never had the slightest inkling to settle down. Getting married would have severely cramped his ability to sleep with any pretty face or hot piece of ass that he could find. After the blackout there had been Shelly. He’d been ready for it, even given her the ring that was now on Charlotte’s finger. They’d just never gotten around to it before… He refused to let himself think about that now. After that, he didn’t believe in any of it, didn’t want to ever go through that kind of pain again. So the President of the Monroe Republic had remained a notorious bachelor. But now that he’d actually recited the age old vows, he felt a twinge of guilt that the only time he’d ever say them had been a mockery of everything they stood for. Listening to Charlie reluctantly repeat them, he could still feel the words in his mouth like a bad aftertaste.
He was broken out of his reverie by a sudden change in the pitch and cadence of Charlie’s voice. “Yeah. There’s no way ‘obey’ is going to happen. How come he didn’t have to say anything about obeying me?”
Bass, and the crowd, just laughed at her. Of course, he realized, even in a fake wedding she would never agree to obey him.
The judge looked a little taken aback. “That’s how the traditional vows are written.” He began to explain.
Bass saved the day by smiling up at the judge. “I’m ok with this being a little untraditional. How about we just leave out that part.” He gave Charlie’s hand a little squeeze as he added, “She’s never obeyed me before, don’t expect that any words are gonna make her start now.”
She smiled up at him, realizing that it was the first time since this all started that it was actually Sebastian Monroe truthfully addressing Charlotte Matheson.
The judge seemed to be okay going along with it. “Well then, let’s try that again. Do you agree to love and to cherish this man, till death do you part?”
“Sure.” Charlie looked rather noncommittal. Then she caught Bass’s glare. “I mean, I do. Yes, I do.”
“Wonderful!” The judge exclaimed, a bit more excited about the nuptials than Charlie had been. “Then by the power invested in me by the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and the President of the great United States of America…”
Charlie and Bass both shuddered at the inclusion of the Patriots.
The judge signed the paper in front of him with flourish and announced, “I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride.”
Charlie knew that her performance up to this point had been a little lackluster, and that they did need to really sell the whole thing or risk being found out.
Bass looked a little hesitant as he leaned his face down toward her. She rolled her eyes, planted her hands on the back of his head, and pulled his face into hers. Their lips met and she went for it, before she had a chance to think or really consider what she was doing. He was a little startled, but fell into step quickly as she shoved her tongue into his mouth. He pulled her into his arms and kissed her back deeply. Their tongues warred for dominance, and seemed determined to work off the pent up anxious energy this whole awkward situation had created. She moaned slightly into his mouth and he couldn’t stop himself from pulling her more tightly against his body and arching into her. They were both losing it. The stress of this ill-conceived plan had been a bit too much for them and they had ended up desperate for some type of release.
They only pulled apart when they were interrupted by an awkward cough and “Ahem.”
They sheepishly pushed away from each other and then stared into each other’s eyes still dazed and bewildered by what had just happened.
“Not too hard to see how you two ended up in the situation you did.” The judge smiled at them knowingly, if slightly uncomfortable.
Bass didn’t seem like he had yet regained the ability to speak, so Charlie smiled up at the judge, “Thank you.”
“It was my pleasure. Best of luck to you and the baby.”
Charlie just smiled and put her hand on her abdomen again.
The judge then stood and announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to introduce Mr. and Mrs. King.” He began to clap and then handed a paper to Charlie.
As the audience began to clap as well, the happy bride and groom smiled, waved, and left the courtroom hand in hand.
As they exited the building they instantly separated. They walked toward their wagon, just in time to catch Miles’s eye as their companions came sneaking around from the back of the building.
He approached Charlie with a concerned look. “What happened in there?”
She looked up at Miles with cold eyes and shoved the marriage license in her hand against his chest. “Don’t say I’m not willing to make sacrifices for this family.” Then she walked over and silently hopped into the wagon.
Miles registered what the paper was and looked at Bass furiously. “What did you do?”
“What we had to, to buy you all enough time to get out of there.” Bass snapped. “Your intel was crap. That judge finished his shit in no time and was headed straight back to bust your asses.”
“So you decided to get married?” Miles yelled then looked around to make sure no one had overheard.
“I could have just started killing people, but I know you tend to frown on that these days.” Bass rubbed his hand through his hair and down over his face. “And you realize that the marriage thing wasn’t real, right?”
“I told you to come get us if there was trouble.”
“There was no way we could get to you first.” Monroe stood by his decision.
“Dammit Bass, I don’t like you going off script and dragging Charlie into it with you.”
“So I was just supposed to let you get taken out?”
Miles just growled and stormed over to the wagon. He wasn’t sure why Bass’s little gambit bothered him so much. He had bought them the time they needed without resorting to violence. Truth be told, it was actually a good plan. Then he looked back to see Charlie staring blankly into space as the rest of the team climbed into the wagon. That was the problem. He doubted she was the type of girl that ever spent time day-dreaming about her fantasy wedding, but even so, having to fake getting married to Bass as her first experience with the institution wasn’t likely to leave her with a good impression of it. And she’d done it because of him. Just one more good thing in this world that he’d ruined for one of the few people he cared about. It wasn’t really Bass that he was angry with.
The whole group had been quiet and moody for the rest of the day. It wasn’t that unusual for them, but everyone just seemed to be a little more on edge than usual when they set up camp for the night and ate dinner. Afterward, Bass had secluded himself and was sitting near their dwindling fire, poking at the embers with a stick. Charlie made her way over to him and sat down at his side. He didn’t turn as she sat, so she nudged him with her elbow until he finally acknowledged her.
“What’s going on? You made it all the way through dinner without a single joke about consummating our marriage. It’s not like you to miss a chance to give Miles a stroke.” She smiled at him.
“Got stuff on my mind.”
She knew that when he got like this there was no point in pushing. She spun the band on her ring finger one last time before pulling it off and extending it out to him. “I wanted to give this back to you.”
He made no move to accept it. “Might as well keep it. I got no one to pass it on to, and it’s not like I’m gonna settle down any time soon.”
She took his hand, pried open the fingers, and deposited the ring. She curled his fingers back around the ring and gave his hand a little squeeze. “You kept this with you all these years. You can’t tell me you suddenly don’t care.”
“Some piece of metal doesn’t change the fact that I’ve got no family left.”
She was surprised that he was being this candid. Something about today really had gotten to him. “How’d it happen? Your parents… was it after the blackout?”
He wasn’t sure why he felt compelled to answer her question, but he did. “A couple years before. Some guy got drunk, got behind the wheel, and crashed into their van. Killed my parents and my kid sisters.”
He looked her in the eyes finally. She really was sorry for him. How disgustingly ironic. He was being comforted about the loss of his parents and siblings by Charlotte Matheson, when he was the one that had caused her to lose hers. He pulled their sham marriage certificate from his jacket pocket and focused his gaze on it.
“Though I guess it could have been worse. I never had to get married to the drunk driver.” He tossed the paper into the fire.
Charlie watched the parchment catch fire and burn down to ash before speaking. “There’s a lot of blame to go around these days. You gotta find a way to let the hate go. Sounds to me like that guy made some bad choices. But I figure that if he’d known how his actions would come back to haunt him, understood how much pain he’d cause other people, he probably would have done some things differently.”
Bass was quiet for a moment. She obviously wasn’t just talking about the drunk driver anymore. “When you put it like that… I suppose he would have.” He looked up at her, unable to comprehend when he’d done something right enough to deserve having her show up in his life.
She got up and put a hand softly on his shoulder, then leaned down and spoke kindly, “Yeah. I know. I’m the best wife ever.” His shoulders shook with a little chuckle that didn’t make a sound. She leaned down and placed a soft kiss on the top of his head before walking over to join the others.
Aaron was reading through the stack of papers they’d stolen from the judge’s secret stash. He had a lantern set on the small table he was using to transcribe his translations, and continued to work silently and studiously. Charlie was the first to notice that something was up. She saw Aaron’s eyebrows hit his hairline and then he appeared to become even more focused on the letter he was working on. He scribbled his translation down frantically and then rechecked it once, twice, and then a third time.
“Aaron, what is it?” Charlie asked. Her questioning tone drew Miles and Rachel’s attention.
“Aaron?” Miles questioned.
“I… I think I’ve found something.” Aaron stuttered.
“You’re going to have to be more specific.” Miles was starting to look impatient.
Aaron’s eyes were the size of saucers as he held out the note with his translation scrawled across the bottom.
Miles took it and scanned the writing. “Is this right? You’re sure?”
“I’ve checked it like four times now. It’s right.” Aaron answered, still looking like he’d seen a ghost.
“What is it?” Rachel asked and took the paper from Miles’s hand.
“Bass, you’re gonna want to get over here.” Miles called out. When he made no move to join the group, Miles tried again. “Bass. Get your ass over here.”
“What’s it say?” Charlie asked as her mom read the letter.
“How is this possible?” Rachel asked Miles.
“What does it say?” Charlie asked again, angry at being ignored. Rachel handed her the letter and she read it aloud to Bass, who had just appeared at her side. “Recent events have raised concerns about the integrity of the reprogramming process. Lt. Neville…” Charlie’s eyes shot up and looked around the group before she continued, “…encountered his father on a routine patrol and failed to conform to reprogramming standards. Father and son are both currently working under the supervision of Commander Roger Allenford and are en route to the capital. Further evaluation to proceed on their arrival.”
The entire group was now on their feet and anxiously looking back and forth between their members.
Charlie was the first to speak. “That means…”
Miles interrupted, “That Tom’s alive. And if I know that manipulative bastard, which unfortunately I do, he’s working some kind of angle on the Patriots.”
Bass spoke as he grabbed the letter from Charlie’s hands, desperate to read the words with his own eyes. “It means that the reprogramming can be reversed, and that sick son of a bitch knows how I can get my son back.”
Charlie patted his shoulder. “So how do you feel about Washington DC for our honeymoon?”
Bass wrapped his arms around her, picked her up off her feet, and spun her around a few times before putting her back down and regaining his composure. Then he looked to Miles, “How soon until we can set out?”
“Morning. We’ll ride for DC in the morning.”
Rachel interrupted, “That letter is dated two months ago. We might already be too late.”
“We have to try.” Charlie fought back.
“I’m going. You all can do whatever you want.” The look in Bass’s eyes was pure determination.
“I’m going with you.” Charlie stood defiantly.
“Easy kids.” Miles rolled his eyes. “We’re all going.” Rachel opened her mouth to object, but Miles cut her off. “No discussion. We want to take these sick sons of bitches down, we’re gonna need all the help we can get. Turns out we’ve already got a man on the inside. That’s an advantage we don’t walk away from.”