“The Colonels want a meeting with us,” Bass announced as he walked into the room, the door shutting behind him.
Miles pinched the bridge of his nose. “They can wait until after.”
Bass moved behind Miles, hands trailing teasingly up his spine before massaging the knots in his shoulders. Miles reminded himself that now was not the time to bend Bass over their desk and fuck him until they both fell over. His shoulders relaxed as he felt the warmth of Bass’ lips against his neck. “You can’t put them off forever,” Bass’ whispered words stirred the fire building in him. “Not all of them know - ”
“That I tried assassinate the President of the Republic?” The words felt like a bucket of cold water.
Bass sighed and moved away. “Come on, Miles. They only know what they hear - rumors, snippets of whispered conversation. We meet with them, and you control the narrative. They’re not going to oppose you.”
Miles leveled a look at Bass. They should oppose him. If he’d done his job right, they would oppose him, but maybe Bass had a point. He was back. His position had never been revoked.
“I might just kill them.”
Miles took a sip of his coffee, wishing for something stronger. He refused to be anything less than fully functional for the ceremony today. Every cell in his body wanted a bottle of scotch, but he owed it to Danny. And he had to lead the oath. All part of solidifying his return to power, his re-ascension. The need for ceremony wasn’t lost on him, but that didn’t make him like it. He’d rather the discentors just come attack him. At least then he’d get to kill somebody.
“Sir,” Jeremy greeted as he walked in.
Miles raised an eyebrow.
“There are some gentlemen waiting outside to see you.”
Miles nodded. “Of course.”
“Take them to the War Room,” Bass ordered. “We’ll meet them there.”
Jeremy nodded, “Sirs.”
Miles turned to Bass. “I hate when Jeremy gets all formal.”
Bass smiled. “Officers help maintain order, Miles. They control the big picture; we need them because we can’t be everywhere.”
“I hate when you do that.”
Miles pulled his sidearm, cleared the round from the chamber, checked that the magazine before reloading, and thumbed the safety. It wouldn’t save anyone, but it might give them enough time for Miles reconsider their importance to the Republic. He strapped his sword belt on and straightened his jacket. The blue uniform made him smile because only he and Bass had them. Not the even the colonels. He shook his head in disgust. Even the colonels had been his idea back when they’d been establishing the Republic. Not all of the area they had acquired had been completely without leadership, and as they had continued to decimate everything in their path, it became apparent that convincing the leaders to surrender, to become enfolded in the Republic would be their best option. Miles regretted his generosity.
Striding down the hall, Miles felt Bass a step behind him. Without so much as a pause, Miles shoved both doors open effectively capturing the attention of everyone in the room. Eyes betrayed men before they ever opened their mouth. Miles examined each man’s reaction as he strode in the room, noted which ones followed him with their own gaze, which looked away. Several displayed an open hostility Miles welcomed because he needed a way to vent his mounting frustration with this whole charade. Didn’t these men recognize their own insignificance?
“Monroe, what’s the meaning of this?”
“John,” Miles began. “Stop talking.”
“This is absurd. We demand to know what the hell is going on. If rumors are true,” John paused, “And they always are, he defected after attempting to shoot you in the head. Orders for that should be to shoot him on sight. Instead, he brought his family back with him? And called everyone in from our posts to pay hommage the nephew of the defected, former, commanding general? What aren’t you telling us?” John looked at Bass the whole time, ignoring Miles’ presence in the room.
Miles watched John’s gaze swivel over to him. Saw his eyes scan around the room, looking for support, for enemies, for an escape. Still, he stood to his feet, face a mask of arrogance that had Miles’ hand tightening into a fist. He swung out, caught John solidly on the jaw. The man staggered back, but didn’t lose his footing.
“We don’t tell you a lot of things,” Miles answered. “Last time I checked, we don’t answer to you.”
“You’ve been gone for years, Miles. Years. But, you show back up one day and we are expected to act like you were never gone?”
“Why not? Everyone else has.”
“I’m not everyone else. I’m - ”
“John, shut up and sit down before he kills all of us because you can’t control you damn mouth.”
Miles bit back a smile. He knew the voice well. Knew if there were any men in this room he owed an explanation to it was Jim Hudson, who he’d send to Annapolis weeks before he...left. It hadn’t been much, but it had been the only form of protection he’d been able to offer at the time. Neville managed to find everyone who’d been on the list, but he’d never met Jim at the Post, so there’d be no way for anyone to know, not even her. Miles wasn’t Commanding General for nothing.
“I’d do what he said.”
Miles held John’s venom-filled eyes as the man made his way back to the table.
“It’s all true,” Miles began. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Jim stiffen. “I did leave the Republic in the middle of the night. Made it look like I tried to assassinate the President.”
“Now why in the hell would you do that?” Jim asked.
“Its was the only way people would believe I wasn’t with the militia anymore. A lie I needed everyone to believe because there’s real possibility we can get the lights back on.”
Miles looked over at Bass. They hadn’t discussed this earlier because Miles hadn’t had the plan until he’d heard Jim’s voice. The best lies included a strong version of the truth. Rumors about the power would override rumors about his defection, and that would only help them move things along.
“How?” John demanded.
“That’s not your concern, John. The reports I’m receiving from the border tell me you might want to consider focusing your energy on the assignment you’ve been given,” Bass spoke for the first time. Miles admired the way Bass could use his voice like a velvet covered fist, soothe people into a false sense of security before squeezing the life from their bodies.
“Sir, the rebels are - ”
“There are always rebels, and we’re once more on the verge of all out war with Georgia, so you’re going to focus on doing your job, Colonel.”
“If there is a way to get power,” Jim began, eyes moving to meet Miles’, “We could stop the war with Georgia before it started. Foster wants our blood, but she’s even minded enough to know when she’s lost. I think she could be persuaded into negotiations.”
“I think you’re right, Jim. It’s something we should discuss more later, but there are more immediate activities to attend. Today is a celebration for the Republic, a day to relax and enjoy the festivities that Captain Neville’s wife, Julia, has been tirelessly organizing. Go join your families, who I’m sure are happy to have you home. We’ll meet again tomorrow.”
Miles watched as everyone began file out of the room, Jim paused at the door and Miles nodded to him. They had a lot to catch up on after the ceremony. The door shut quietly, and Miles went to pour himself a drink, only to stop himself at the last minute.
“Out with it.”
“You disappeared for years, Miles. We deserve to know what happened. We’re just supposed to accept that you were out on a mission, the details of which you wouldn't trust to any of your senior officers?” John asked.
“Yeah, you are.”
“That’s not good enough!”
“Colonel Faber,” Bass interrupted, voice deceptively soft. “You’d do well to remember that you serve at the pleasure of this militia. You were awarded the rank of colonel in exchange for your cooperation in the surrender of Baltimore. We owe you nothing. The militia owes you nothing. The Republic owes you nothing.”
Miles held John’s gaze. Of all the men they’d commanded over the years, John had always been the most arrogant of the bunch. When they attacked Baltimore, it had been a slaughter. They’d learned from earlier mistakes, and didn’t waste time with negotiations. They established the Baltimore Act as soon as the ceasefire had been signed. John’s blood still lived within the fibers of the paper. After, the battles had been easier, shorter. John had viewed his surrender as a way to maneuver into power, and Miles allowed it because Trenton nearly killed his body, and Baltimore took what was left of his soul.
John snapped to attention. “Sir.”
Miles watched him leave the room. He hoped that man gave him an excuse to kill him. Jaywalking, spitting on the sidewalk - anything.
“Why didn’t we make Jeremy a colonel?”
Bass laughed. “He wouldn’t let us.”
“Miles,” Bass placed a hand on his shoulder. “Go see Danny. Make sure he’s got his uniform on correctly.”
Miles smiled. “Yeah, ‘cause I’m so good at that.”
“Make sure he has the the top button done.”
Miles rolled his eyes, but the distraction worked. He walked down the halls to Danny’s room. Days were longer now which cleared the gloom from the hallways. He enjoyed the flickering of firelight, but after a while it was nice to see something a bit brighter. As he raised his hand to knock, he realized he didn’t know what to say. He’d never had a son, and Bass gave the speeches when needed.
The door opened soundlessly, and filtered light caught dust particles near the table under the window. The room held nothing he associated with a young man on the verge of adulthood, and this room held little of Danny, of anyone, at all. For the first time since the blackout, he found himself hating his brother for the damage he’d caused. That night when Ben called, he’d brushed it off, rationalized it as something other than what it was. But Bass knew; Bass had always known. Ben did this to his own family and died before he ever had to account for his actions. He saw Danny by the fireplace, uniform half on, hair a wild mess on top of his head. Family trait.
“Uncle Bass kick you out?”
Miles smiled, inclined his head. “Today’s the big day.”
“Yeah, they’ve had us practicing the ceremony a lot. I didn't think walking across a stage was so complicated, but the DIs got half the guys convinced they’ll be shot if they screw it up.”
Miles walked over to where the uniform jacket lay across the foot of Danny’s bed. The green wool and leather helped in the long winters, but with spring approaching, it was just for show. In the early days he’d fought Bass on the uniform, thinking it a waste of resources. He looked at the Monroe Republic flag sewn onto the shoulder of Danny’s blue shirt. Ben would kill him for this if he were alive. After all the trouble Rachel went through to save her family from him, abandoning them to escape from his grasp, now here they all were, and he was training Danny to be a killer. The guilt he expected didn’t come. Bass would consider it progress.
“Are my mom and Charlie really going to be there?”
“Yeah, front row. Jason’s gonna escort them.”
“She still won’t see me.”
Miles walked over to Danny, uniform coat held in his hand. “I know.”
Danny turned around sliding his arms into the sleeves as Miles draped the jacket over his shoulders, watched his nephew become a member of the militia he created. When he turned back around, Miles smiled as he began to button up the uniform.
“Bass told me not to forget the top button.”
“Don’t let him see you unbutton it.”
Danny looked up at him, eyes disbelieving.
Miles shrugged. “He only calls you on it if he sees you doing it.”
Danny smiled. “I’ll remember that.”
“It gets worse from here, more complicated.” Miles regretted the words as soon as he’d spoken them, but they were true.
Danny tilted his head, regarding Miles with eyes so like Ben’s. “I kinda expected that. People talk a lot, you know? Especially around the training unit because we’re not important enough to report them. I know you tried to kill Uncle Bass, and I know my mom knows something important - something that will help the militia, but she won’t talk. Whatever. Mostly, I know she didn’t leave with you when she had the chance. Charlie has these memories of her, you know? I have one. The only memory I have is her walking away from us, and I remember how much Charlie screamed, and cried,” Danny paused. “Did she ever even try to leave? To come back to us?”
Miles shook his head as he buttoned the final button. “No.”
Danny turned away. Miles saw the boy’s shoulders drop, then watched as he shook himself before straightening his spine and turned to face him once more. “How do I look?”
Miles took a step back, regarded the young man his nephew had grown into since arriving in Philly. He felt pride.
“You look good, kid.”
A gentle breeze whispered through the clearing. Miles looked out at the assembled people. Everyone came in for the big graduation ceremony, and for a glimpse of the newly returned General Matheson. Julia did a fine job preparing everything. The flag of the Monroe Republic flew tall to the right of the stage, large canvas tents with tables dressed with pristine white linens, sparkling candlesticks, porcelain dishes, and glass goblets set up for dinner. Julia stood to the far side of the tent; Miles watched her command the servants and assistants she’d requested for the day.
“Julia,” Miles greeted as he made his way over. He watched her turn, saw the way her face morphed into something less harried, and far more genuine than what he’d seen in his office.
“General Matheson,” she greeted. “I hope Danny’s excited for today. I remember Jason’s ceremony, how nervous he was. Tom looked over his uniform for hours to make sure it looked perfect. Jason made me promise not to cry, and Tom, he hid it well, but he’d never been more proud of his boy than he was that day.”
“It’s good to have Danny home.”
Miles’ answer felt more honest than he’d intended. Seeing Danny in the uniform earlier settled a longing in him, soothed the lingering wound his brother’s abhorrence left. Rachel turned herself over the militia just to keep her family away from them, told him they were ashamed to call him family. Maybe he just liked knowing not all the Matheson’s hated him.
“Well, it looks great,” Miles said, looking around the clearing once more as people started to filter in and find seats.
“Thank you, sir.”
“Julia, please. Miles.”
She didn’t respond immediately. He felt her assess him before she smiled and nodded her head. “It’s good to have you home, Miles.”
Everytime he encountered someone he became increasingly aware of how badly his plan to fix things had backfired. No one benefitted from him leaving. Nothing worked out as he’d thought. He’d been miserable, too, in his shitty bar in Chicago. Almost like his own skin didn’t fit him right. Then Bass came for him, brought him home and somehow everything fit again.
“You know,” Miles smiled. “It is good to be home.”
Half an hour later Miles watched Jason escort Rachel and Charlie to the VIP section. He made his way through the crowd. At least it looked as though both Rachel and Charlie had taken advantage of the baths they’d been provided, and the new clothing. After all, this was a show he was putting on for everyone and he couldn't afford for his family to show up looking anything less than his status dictated. Every once in a while he did listen when Bass said things about decorum, and image. Extra guards stood in strategic places around the VIP section, and Miles smiled to himself as Jason’s planning. To everyone else, it would be an extra measure of protection for the Commanding General’s family, not men stationed to ensure Rachel behaved.
“Rachel, I’m glad you could join us,” he greeted.
Her fake smile caused his own lips to tug up. “The invitation was impossible to refuse.”
“Charlie,” Miles greeted. “Danny will be happy you came.”
Her eyes held the same hatred as his mother. Not that it mattered. They were here. He turned to leave, but Rachel’s hand on his shoulder stopped him. She pulled him in close, her lips grazing his ear. “I don’t know what you think you’ll accomplish with this, Miles.”
Miles smirked. “You’re here, Charlie’s here. And Danny - he’s mine.”
Rachel moved to slap him, but Miles grabbed her hand. “Don’t.”
They glared at each other before Bass came up to him, a gentle hand on his shoulder pulling him away.
“Rachel,” Bass greeted. “I hate to interrupt a family gathering, but I need to borrow Miles for the ceremony.”
Miles met Rachel’s gaze. “I never did thank you for making this possible.”
“You’re the same bastard you’ve always been.”
Bass tugged Miles away before things could escalate further; they were on a schedule. Miles nodded his thanks before walking onto the stage. Looking out at the assembled citizens of the Republic, he couldn't help but feel proud of what he’d help build. The current class of recruits filled the front rows, a combined look of nervous excitement on their faces. He found Danny and nodded his head to where Rachel and Charlie were sitting. Danny followed his gaze, and while he looked happy, it was guarded. He felt another chess piece move, breaking the stalemate he’d been locked into with Rachel.
“Thank you for coming,” Miles began, his voice carrying out across the audience. “As established with the first official class of recruits, the top ten percent of the graduates will be commissioned as officers in the Monroe Militia. This tradition helps maintain the good order of militia, and acts as a small measure of our pride in their efforts. The majority of the recruits keep our NCO and enlisted ranks healthy and energized.”
He watched as the recruits began to line up to the side of the stage in order of their ranking. Luckily for everyone, he’d convinced Bass that he shouldn’t be the one to be giving any speeches. In a nod to Captain Neville’s success with this class, Miles suggested he be the one to give the graduation speech. Unlike the first graduating class, the boys no longer recieved the brand during the ceremony. Now that they had an established capital with medical facilities, the graduates earned their brand under the supervision of trained medical staff. Not that it made the process less painless since they weren’t allowed painkiller, but the chance of infection lowered - with Danny being branded, he would take what he could get.
He shook the hand of each graduate as they came across the stage, returning the salute mechanically. Danny met his eyes as he walked forward, and he couldn’t repress the smile that spread across his face.
“Sir,” Danny greeted, hand out.
Miles took his hand and pulled him in for a hug. “I’m not Ben, and I’ll never be able to make up for that, but - I’m proud of you, Danny.”
A wide-eyed Danny pulled back a bit. “I’m learning neither you or my father were the men I thought you were.”
With a final squeeze, Miles moved back. “Congratulations, Lieutenant Matheson.”
Danny snapped to attention and rendered a sharp salute. “Thank you, sir.”
Miles returned it. “Good man.”
When he’d promoted all the recruits, Miles called Neville to the stage and took his seat next to Bass.
“I’d like to start by welcoming the new officers, NCOs, and enlisted men into the militia of the Monroe Republic. Today’s ceremony marks the beginning of a journey, the recognition of a new family. You have the honor, the privilege, and the responsibility of maintaining order within the Republic, and protecting its borders from chaos,” Neville paused. “This is a sacred duty. All of those who came before you, who died creating order, laid the foundation for you to uphold the proud traditions of this fine nation. I remember the day I took the oath, and received by brand with pride. At the time, I didn’t think I’d experience another moment like it. Then, years later, my son walked across this very stage.” Neville looked over at Miles. “I can imagine General Matheson feels the same pride in welcoming his nephew into the militia as I did welcoming my own son. Those of you who welcomed your children to our ranks no doubt share our pride. Serving in this militia has been my greatest privilege, and the single most important action I’ve ever taken to protect not just my own family, but the families of each and every citizen of this great Republic. Ours is a duty of sacrifice, of dedication, and one not all capable of undertaking. I had the privilege of overseeing the training of this graduating class, and I must admit to being impressed. Be proud of your choice, and serve with honor. To the newest members of the Monroe militia, I charge you with the words of a leader none of you are old enough to remember, but his words stand the test of time: ‘It is not merely for today, but for all time to come that we should perpetuate for our children's children this great Republic, which we have enjoyed all our lives. I beg you to remember this, not merely for my sake, but for yours...the Republic is worth fighting for, to secure such an inestimable jewel.’"
Miles leaned over to whisper in Bass’ ear. “Did he just - ”
“Yup, he did. Lincoln, 1864. The same speech I used when Tom finished his training.”
“Did we have a ceremony?”
Bass shrugged. “After a fashion.”
Miles laughed as he stood to return to the stage. He returned Tom’s salute as they traded places. “Thank you, Captain Neville.”
He faced the audience once more. “Recruits. Stand.”
As one, the group stood to attention. He caught Danny’s eye and inclined his head. “The oath represents your solemn promise to uphold the laws of the Monroe Republic. Those unable to accept that duty, now is your final chance to leave.”
He paused. No one ever left. Not anymore. He nodded, and they began the oath.
“I swear to uphold the law of the Monroe Republic, to defend with my life its citizens against all enemies. I swear allegiance to the President of the Republic, and swear to obey all orders given to me by officers placed in authority over me to establish and maintain order in a world without it. I so swear.”
Miles watched as the group rendered a salute. He held them for a moment, allowing the gravity of the moment to resonate with them before returning their salute.
“Company,” Miles called out, “Dismissed.”