Wide awake, Miles stared at the ceiling. Beside him, Bass slept on peacefully, his body pressed up close. Ben knew something about the power - the thought continued to plague his thoughts. He’d always known the truth, deep down. Before the lights went out, he’d suspected Ben was working on something big because he’d been extra evasive, telling him to butt out and mind his own business. Eventually, had Ben quit returning his calls until out of the blue Ben calls with a vague warning that gets cut off mid-sentence. All the little pieces added up - Bass had always seen it. The phone call, Rachel showing up without her family. Even after enduring Ben’s self-righteous evasiveness and condemnation he’d denied it, allowed himself to think better of his brother. A brother he’d spent his life looking up to, never quite measuring up to. Only to be faced with the knowledge that his idol broke the whole damn world.
Miles rolled from the bed, hoping Bass would sleep through the night. One of them deserved sleep. Since their first tour in Iraq, a solid night’s sleep was a rare occurrence for Miles. After shoving his bare feet into boots, Miles slipped from the room, his restless feet leading him around the compound.
“Figured I’d find you out here.”
Miles turned. “Jeremy.”
“Word is Danny’s plan worked.”
Jeremy fell into step as Miles continued his wandering. He kept them away from eager ears, knowing the conversation would be best behind closed doors, but just the thought of being back inside made his skin itch.
“We both know you always knew the truth about your brother - that he knew about the power.”
Miles felt his jaw clench painfully.
“But, that’s old news. You know what all this talk of getting power back has had me thinking about?” Jeremy asked, voice lighter than the mood deserved. “I don’t miss it. Sure, I miss parts - two-day delivery, air conditioning, but my life before? No. You know I always hoped Monore was wrong about it. The power, your brother. Did you ever wonder what would happen if the power real, full power, came back? When a new government gets put into place, a newer, shinier version of the good ‘ol US of A? I don’t think they’d shake our hand and thank us for our service.”
“People like Aaron, they’d be welcomed back. Did you know he worked for Google? A regular corner office type. Tom remembers him from before, kinda looked up to him back when things like computer skills mattered.”
“I still can’t imagine Tom sitting in a cubicle all day.”
“Yeah, I doubt he’d want to go back to that world either.”
“What’s your point, Jeremy?”
“My point, Miles,” Jeremy stopped, faced Miles. “Is that whatever these pendants do, whatever it is Rachel knows, it’s bigger than we can imagine. I’m saying, I don’t want to go back, and while I know you suck at math, the reason I think you ignored what you knew, why you allowed yourself to believe Bass was crazy was because you don’t want to go back either. And you know that if anyone gets their hands on power, we might go back.”
They stood near the Irish Immigrants monument, overlooking what used to be the I-95. Miles remembered leading a convoy down the dirt roads in Iraq, a flak vest, and a helmet made of metal thinner than he wanted to admit the only things between him and any IEDs. Growing up, he’d believed the US had military superiority. After taking shrapnel in his first tour, he realized it didn’t matter who had the best, the newest, the fastest. Timing, and dumb luck. It had saved him more times than he’d admit. Same rules applied now, and the pendant was a time bomb. If it didn’t kill them, it might just kill everything they’d built, just like Jeremy feared. Just like Jeremy was right about him fearing. The great Miles Matheson afraid of a past that might never return.
“We can’t just put the genie back in the bottle. And having a single tank or a helicopter would get that bitch off our border.”
“Since we’re being honest,” Miles began. “We know it’s not that simple. Rachel - Ben, they had help.”
“Of course they did. We just need to know what Rachel knows, and I know you’ve got a plan for that.”
Miles raised an eyebrow before turning back to watch the first rays of sunrise reflect on surface of the Delaware River. At times, he knew he trained his people too well. Jeremy, Tom, Alec, Jim - they all knew him. It’d been the only way he knew to train them in the beginning. The only way to keep Bass safe was the create an army of people around him who were just as dangerous as he was.
“He’s expecting coffee and one hell of an explanation for waking up alone,” Danny said as he moved next to Miles. Now his nephew could sneak up on him. Commanding General indeed.
Miles breathed out a laugh.
“Miles here has a plan to find out more about the pendants,” Jeremy told Danny.
“Oh, and Uncle Bass isn’t going to like it,” Danny smirked. “So, he’s hiding.”
“Certainly not General Matheson, Commanding General of the Monroe Republic. He wouldn’t hide.”
“You two done?”
Danny put his hand on Miles’ shoulder. “This plan of yours that Uncle Bass won’t like, will it work?”
“Yeah, it’ll work.”
“We don’t have time to wait for an plan everyone likes. Uncle Bass knows that.”
“How do you know you’ll like it anymore than he does?”
Danny crossed his arms. “I’m a Matheson.”
Jeremy laughed. “He’s got you there, Miles.”
Miles clapped his hand on Danny’s shoulder. “You get to convince Bass.”
Danny blinked at him. “Come on, Uncle Miles - that’s - not, no way.”
“Mathesons,” Jeremy muttered as he turned back towards Independence Hall.
That night, a small smile on his face, Miles climbed onto the bed and settled himself astride Bass’ backside. They’d spent the majority of the day arguing about the plan, then when they’d finished arguing, they’d gone over the details until Danny told them to fuck off, and hauled Jeremy out the door before anyone even thought to stop him. Miles took in the sight of Bass sprawled out on the bed, arms akimbo, hair a mess of curls, his back bare to Miles’ hot gaze. Leaning forward, Miles pressed the pad of his thumbs into the meat of Bass’ scapula, feeling the tight muscle move beneath his touch.
“Miles what are you do-HNNG.”
Miles chuckled as he continued to press his thumbs into Bass’ shoulder, smoothing down the curve of his shoulder blade, following the line of his spine. He watched the way Bass’ skin moved under his fingers, felt him relax into the mattress as he continued to knead the muscles. Like bullets, certain oils became nearly impossible to find as the years went on, but they could still produce corn oil and peanut oil. During an early conversation about supply shortages, Miles teased Bass, told they would be exactly like the Civil War troops in appearance, weapons, and now peanut oil. They’d actually lost a number of men due to allergies, but the post-blackout world was Darwinian at best, Machiavellian at worst.
“Not that I’m not loving this, but, Miles, it’s been forever since you’ve given me a backrub, and I haven’t been injured in months.”
“We deal with Rachel tomorrow. We both deserve to relax first.”
“And the hard-on rubbing against my ass?”
Miles bent further forward, lips grazing the shell of Bass’ ear. “That’s for later.”
He chuckled and focused once more on the task at hand. Using the heel of his hands, Miles rolled the skin up and over the curve of Bass’ shoulder, rotating until his thumbs could press into the tendons along his neck. Working his way back down, Miles ghosted his fingers across the raised skin on his lower back, just above the swell of his ass. Their second desert tour, worse in all ways, gifted Bass with a mess of shrapnel that a few inches closer to the spine might have ended his marching career. Given their profession, it still amazed him that they both didn’t resemble patchwork men with networks of scars criss-crossing their bodies. Idly, his thumb traced Bass’ scar, his other hand moving up to press deeply into the lower half of his trapezius.
Miles slid to the side, hands lightly tracing up and down Bass’ spine. He leaned over only to find Bass fast asleep. With a rueful smile, Miles rolled onto his back and took himself in hand. All that time pressed up against Bass’ ass meant he needed to take the edge off of or he’d never sleep. As he worked himself, slow at the base, tightening as he moved up, a quick thumb swipe over the tip, he closed his eyes and allowed memories to surface. They had been MilesandBass their entire lives, and as puberty descended upon them, Miles remembered noticing things about Bass that he hadn’t before - some things he quite liked, and others he liked a lot less. The way Bass’ arms developed muscle tone, and that sexy muscle line on his bicep - he’d enjoyed that the most. The way other people took notice of Bass, his bright eyes, curly blond locks, and his smile - that Miles hadn’t enjoyed at all. Mostly Miles remembered discovering how much enjoyed having Bass’ attention all for himself.
Miles watched Bass walk into school with a smile on his face. Today the varsity baseball team sported their uniforms, and Miles noticed the way it accentuated his strong leg muscles, and stretched tight over his ass. When Bass saw him, his smile grew bigger, and Miles tucked his answering smile in the corner of his mouth.
“Can you believe it, Miles?” Bass began. “We’re playing at Bush Stadium tomorrow. In the state championship.”
“No, I hadn’t heard that.”
Bass laughed and knocked his shoulder against Miles’, lingering for a moment before pulling back. Miles immediately missed the feel of Bass pressed up to him, but quickly shook off the feeling. He’d always have Bass by his side.
“Coach won’t let you ride in the bus with us,” Bass continued as they walked down the hall towards homeroom. “He won’t let me not ride in the bus either.”
“You should be with your team,” Miles threw his arm around Bass’ shoulder.
“Yeah, Monroe. You should be with your team.
Miles moved his head so he could glare behind Bass’ back, not wanting to start a fight this close to the state championship. They’d already discussed how Miles felt about Kyle the shortstop. He’d irrationally hated him since the pre-season.
“You seem to always forget that Miles isn’t on the team. Coach said he didn’t play well with others.”
Bass stopped and leaned a bit more into Miles as he turned to face Kyle the shortstop. “Come on, man. Don’t start, alright? We’re going to State for the first time in basically forever, let’s just focus on that.”
The bell rang before anyone could respond, and Bass threw a pleading look over his shoulder as he continued on to their homeroom.
“In a minute.”
Bass frowned. “Miles.”
“Don’t, just don’t.”
With a frustrated sigh, Bass walked into their homeroom leaving Miles and Kyle the shortstop alone in the hallway.
“Don’t screw this up for him.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, man. I’m just happy coach has the team together for the drive to Indianapolis. Having us all together like that will be good for us, help us get closer,” Kyle paused, smiled at Miles. “You know, as a team.”
“You’re close enough.”
“If I didn’t know better, Miles. I’d say you were jealous.”
Miles forced himself to remain calm, to give nothing away. He recognized the look Kyle the shortstop gave Bass, the way his eyes lingered on his ass because it mirrored how Miles looked at Bass. Of course, Ben had been the asshole to point it out to him. Eyes full of half-censure, half-pity because of course it would be his best friend. Since that enlightening conversation, Bass featured heavily in all of Miles’ fantasies, his face lingering in Miles’ mind as he found release in the shower.
“I don’t like you, and I have no idea why Monroe puts up with all of your bullshit.”
Miles didn’t either, but he wasn’t about to say that outloud.
“He deserves a better friend than you. He deserves someone who will tell him how he feels.”
“And, that’s gonna be - you?”
Miles watched the blush spread across Kyle the shortstop’s face and smiled to himself. He didn’t have the balls to say anything to Bass. No one knew Bass like he did. He doubted the wanna be new BFF in Bass’ life knew how Bass hid an injured raccoon in the basement while he learned everything he could about healing it from the the vet, but he’d hadn’t wanted anyone to know he had roadkill in the basement, so he’d said it was a cat. After the raccoon died, Miles held Bass while he cried; he didn’t need to say anything. He doubted Kyle the shortstop knew how hard it had been for his sister Claire to learn how to ride a bike, or that Claire was actually her middle name. He wouldn’t know that Bass spent a whole spring break helping Claire learn, or that she came along with them now. Miles knew she’d master the big bike hills over the summer - he doubted the wannabe knew how much Bass worried about her getting hurt while learning to be a “dumbass adrenaline junkie” like Miles.
“We both know I’m a better option.”
“Mr. Matheson, Mr. Erny, you both should be in class right now, not loitering in the halls. I know everyone’s excited for State tomorrow, but that’s no excuse. Now, run along.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Miles didn’t look back as he walked into homeroom. He shook off Bass’ questioning gaze as he slid into his seat. They’d deal with it after the game because Bass wouldn’t forget.
He didn’t sleep that night. Thoughts about Bass, the game, his own yet to be identified feelings kept him occupied. He drove to Indianapolis on his own because he wanted the space to organize his thoughts; about halfway there, he wondered if it wouldn’t have been better to be squished in the backseat of Gail’s minivan listening to Claire and Angela bicker. He found parking, made his way to the main gate where security took his ticket and directed him towards Jasper High School’s section of the stadium. Once they were focused on the next ticket holder, Miles made his way through a side door, hoping to find the locker rooms. None of his thoughts were in order, and his heart hammered in his chest as he searched for the right room. He needed to see Bass. Fate, he decided, was on his side that day because Bass came out of a room just ahead of Miles.
“What are you - how did you get back here?”
“Miles, don’t get thrown out before the game even starts.”
Miles smiled. “Never.”
Bass returned his smile. “What did you say to Kyle? He’s been weird all afternoon.”
“Nothing he didn’t already know.”
“Okay, Miles, I don’t have time to guess who knows what, so are you going to tell me or do we table this until after we’ve won State?”
Miles licked his lip. “Just - just don’t hate me for this.”
Before Bass could respond, and before Miles could rationalize a different course of action, he hauled Bass flush against his body and pressed his lips to Bass’. It wasn’t like the movies. Time didn’t stop, music didn’t crescendo in the background, and his world didn’t tilt. He pulled back almost as quickly as he’d gone in, and he looked at Bass’ shocked face with fear and dread building in him. Until this moment, he hadn’t realized how much this could ruin literally everything. Without Bass, he didn’t know what he’d do with himself, with his life.
“You know you have like the worst timing, right Miles?” Bass rasped out, chest heaving as though he’d just run a mile.
“Yeah, I know.”
“We’re going to - later, this, we’ll - later.”
“I’m, I’m gonna go,” Bass pointed to the locker room. “There, and shoes. But, later, you know.”
After the game, they didn’t talk. Miles congratulated Bass on the team’s victory with his lips, and his hands as he relearned the feel of his best friend. They hadn’t made it home that night, either. Camped out on the side of the road in Miles’ car, windows fogged over as they explored each other with eager, if fumbling, hands, and wet kisses tinged with the innocence of adolescent experiences, and new love.
Miles moved his hand faster as he remembered that night. He’d seen Bass for the first time that night crammed in the backseat of a car he’d spent his whole summer working to buy. As he moved precome over the tip of his cock, Miles remembered the first time he’d seen Bass come. The wide-eyes, lips parted on a held breath before his whole body vibrated with the aftershock of sensation. He muffled his own cry as he came, come landing on his fist. Taking a moment to bask in the sensation, he moved his arm behind his head, face turned to see Bass relaxed in sleep. Tomorrow, Bass would scold Miles for not waking him up, but, as with last night, one of them needed sleep.
In one continuous motion, Miles lifted his foot and slammed it down just above the door handle, hearing the wood snap under the force of impact. He smiled. Rachel startled as she faced him. Her face morphing quickly into irritation, but he could see the rapid rise of her chest.
“What the hell, Miles?”
“Bass has always been a better host. I kept you tied to a chair for most of your first week with us. Now, Bass gave you a room, ice - anything you want. Even your kids.”
“I don’t - what’s going on, Miles?”
He smirked at the softly spoken words, the way her eyes softened to make her appear less threatening. She moved her body gracefully, allowing the light from the window to cast her in an ethereal glow. Snakes enjoy the warmth of the sun.
“Aaron told us about the pendant Ben gave him. The think tank you and Ben owned, but the government funded,” Miles pulled the pendant from his pocket. “Made this.”
If he hadn’t been looking for it, he would have missed the way her face flinched ever so softly. The way her eyes darkened, the shadow that passed over them.
“I’m not going to help you.”
Miles moved in close, trapped her in the chair, his arms bracketing her body as he leaned in close enough to see the different shades of blue in her eyes.
“You will, Rachel.”
He pulled back as the door opened and Danny hauled a bound and struggling Aaron into the room. Bass and Tom following.
“Rachel? You -you’re alive?”
“What have you done to him?”
“You should be proud of your boy, Mrs. Matheson,” Tom began, a sparkle in his eyes. “He was instrumental in discovering the truth your husband took with him in death. During his trip Philadelphia, Aaron learned the pendants provide power, but limited and unpredictable in nature. Who is Grace Beaumont?”
Rachel smiled vacantly. “I don’t know who that is.”
Tom smiled. “My job before the blackout wasn’t glamorous like our Mr. Pittman, but it did afford me skills I find useful today. One of those skills is knowing when someone isn’t being as truthful as they should be. You, Mrs. Matheson, are not being truthful.”
Miles watched Rachel assess the room, her eyes roving from Tom to Danny to Bass, then back to him. He could almost feel her thoughts, her plans as she quickly determined which might garner the most successful outcome. In Iraq, he’d seen the same look on the faces of men they’d captured, ones who knew their fates were sealed, but fought against it anyway. It made them unpredictable, dangerous. He remembered the first time he’d met Rachel, the way her gaze made him reach up and tug on the collar of his shirt, a gesture that had Bass looking at him with concern. Ben had been besotted. A fool in love if he’d ever seen one, blinded to the undefinable sense of unease everyone felt around Rachel.
“Enough,” Miles broke the silence. “Look, we don’t have time for this. Danny.”
He watched Danny pull Aaron over to the table, spread his hand out against the surface.
“Each time you don’t answer, or as Tom pointed out, give a less than truthful answer, Danny here is going to break one of Aaron’s fingers. Now, maybe they heal with time, or maybe he loses use of his hands.”
He watched her eyes fill with horror, saw them snap to Danny, who wore a blank mask, the face Bass claimed he wore right before he killed someone. Again, he felt that strange mixture of pride and horror at seeing it on Danny, but as usual recently, pride won out.
“Danny, baby, listen to me, you don’t have to do this,” Rachel pleaded, tears gathering in her eyes.
He met her gaze steadily, seemily unmoved by her tears. Miles wouldn’t know the truth of his feelings until later. Yesterday he’d claimed that woman wasn’t his family. Miles knew knowing, doing, and feeling were rarely the same thing.
“That’s up to you. Just tell them what they want to know, and Aaron will be fine.”
Rachel closed her eyes. “I can’t, Danny. You don’t understand what’s at stake here.”
He shrugged his shoulders, and looked to Tom for the signal.
“Mrs. Matheson, who is Grace Beaumont?”
“I don’t know.”
Tom nodded his head and Danny pulled his index finger sharply, the snap echoing loudly in the room as it broke. Rachel’s gasping breath drowned out by Aaron’s cry of pain.
“Are you happy, Miles?” Rachel turned to him. “Do you see what you’ve done to my son? This is why we didn’t join you. Everything you touch gets twisted into something heartless, something cruel.”
Miles shrugged. Ignoring Rachel - his only role in today’s show. Ignore her.
“Is it true?” Danny asked, voice softer, almost pleading. “Did you make the lights go out?”
“Danny - I - ”
“Mom?” Charlie asked from the doorway, remnants of the door at her feet.
“Charlie! It’s not - you don’t understand.”
Miles hadn’t seen Charlie approach, but he’d bet Danny had. He felt pride, definitely pride. Remembering Jeremy’s words earlier, he allowed himself to admit he wanted things to stay as they were. Sure, some things had been better with the power, but not as many as he’d thought in the beginning.
“Danny, what are you doing?” Charlie asked, wide eyes taking in the room.
“Finding out the truth. Rachel knows about the power, these pendants, some other people involved, but she won’t say anything. We’re persuading her otherwise.”
“Danny,” Charlie began slowly. “This isn’t you.”
“What would you know? You’ve been ignoring me the whole time? Abandoning me just like she did?”
“She’s our mother.”
“A mother who I only remember leaving me behind. Then, when I find her again, I learn she caused it all. She made the lights go out, and she doesn’t even care.”
Tom moved his hands behind his back. “Mrs. Matheson, please tell us who Grace Beaumont is, and why your husband would spend his final moments asking Aaron take the pendant to her.”
Miles watched Rachel turn to Charlie, tears in her eyes as she shook her head. “I can’t.”
He heard the snap as Danny broke another of Aaron’s fingers. He saw tears fall down the man’s cheek as his breath came in harsh pants. Not for the first time, Miles wondered how a guy like Aaron survived this long in a Google-less world.
“Rachel, please,” Aaron begged.
She looked around the room. Miles saw her process everything, work through her options, analyze the results.
“The pendant Ben had was one of twelve. Each pendant will power electrical devices, but they have a very limited range, only about ten feet. Grace designed them.”
“It’s true,” Charlie broke the silence. “You and - and dad, you are responsible for all of it.”
“Charlie, there’s a lot you don’t understand.”
“This whole time I believed you. Believed everything you said about Miles, about the militia - about Danny. But, you’re the one who caused it. You left us. You came here and left us behind when all along you knew exactly what happened, how to fix it - and you didn't do anything.”
“Charlie - ”
Without a word, Charlie stomped out the door. Danny moved to follow his sister before turning back to Miles who nodded. He dashed out after her, calling her name.
“Tom, take Aaron to the doctor. Have him set the fingers, give him something for the pain,” Bass said.
Miles looked at Rachel. “Do you know where the other pendants are?”
“That’s where we start.”