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Worth living for

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He sees the flash of blonde hair first. She's moving quickly, darting behind the equipment that litters the floor, and he's hunting her assailants even before he stops to consider why.

Then he realises that it could be him she's running from.

He wants to point out he's already saved her life once today, and that she was very low on the list of people he wanted dead. (He didn't even have a damn list, despite Miles taking dickishness to new heights and Nora being her infuriating, intractable self. They were a whole,other list those two, and one day, he'll make them pay for it. But not today.)

Today, and more days than he'd like to admit before now, he seems to be focused on another Matheson altogether.

"Charlotte," he hisses into the too-quiet expanse. "Miles and Nora are back down the left hand corridor. I'll cover you."

He can hear her breathing, he realises, the rapid puffs of breath that suggest her ice-cool facade is slipping. He bridles as his salacious mind takes that and twists it, insisting on supplying the details of exactly how he'd like to make her pant. His trousers are suddenly tighter, and the shame floods through him, the physical evidence of his lust for this child somehow more damning than the lurid pictures in his head.

He'd actually congratulated himself on his self-control when she was his prisoner. It hadn't been easy, remembering the way their eyes had locked, hers a study in pure defiance. He can still feel the pull of her fury, the things it had made him want to do to her, and how close it had taken him to true evil. He'd never had so many hookers in his bed, and the way he'd asked them to avert their faces so that all he could see was the spill of dirty blonde hair as they bent over his desk or knelt at his feet ... he'd been grateful when Rachel and the kids had escaped. Thankful to know he'd never have the chance to be that man, so lost to debauchery that he'd consider taking a woman - child, he reminded himself, child - against her will, just because he wanted her.

This fierce warrior girl would object to the label, he knows that, but it had kept her safe, before, even if that first surge of astonished lust had him totting up the years within minutes of meeting her again.

He remembers the day she was born, remembers the tears in his brothers eyes as he shoved the phone towards him, zoomed tight on a wrinkled red face. It's near impossible to connect that newborn with this force of nature, but then he remembers the moments in between, the bicycle they'd given her for her fourth birthday and the devastation in his brothers eyes that first year after the Blackout, when the lost niece they both suspected was actually his daughter would have turned seven.

He wonders what it would have been like if they'd made it all the way to Chicago, and found her, and brought her with them. Would they have started the Republic at all, with a little girl to keep safe, or would they have perhaps run it better, cleaner, for her? Would she have grown up to wear a Militia uniform, born fighter that she is, or would the softer life have kept her sweet and safe, drifting around Independence Hall in pretty silk dresses? His pulse picks up at the thought, and it feels like sacrilege, watching her work her way around the edge of the room, back to the wall, one eye on him and the other on the door, as he imagines himself nudging her into an alcove, then lifting her skirt to find her even silkier underneath, thighs already slippery for him. He'd tease her gently, and maybe she'd call him Uncle Bass in retaliation, and he'd have to fuck her then, slow and deep as he muffled her cries with his hand.

"Quiet, sweetheart," he might have said as he pushed into her. "Miles will kill me if he finds out," he'd whisper into her hair and it would have been true and he would have felt bad about it, but not enough to stop. How long would he have lasted? She wasn't far past 21 now, and she'd been beautiful for years, he was sure of that. Would he have made 18? Surely he wouldn't have touched her before that? "Uncle Bass," the shade moans into his ear. "Just a little, please Uncle Bass?" and he's sick with the knowledge that he wouldn't have said no, no matter how old she might have been.

She nears the door and shoots furious, wary eyes back to him before she inches around the corner, still not willing to give him her back.

He glares at her and gestures her to safety with the huge gun. Indecision pulls at the corner of her mouth and there's a flash of - something - in her eyes that tells him she's secondguessing her decision to flee, so he levels it at the roof over her head then grunts in satisfaction as she darts away, fleet as a deer, skipping over debris and broken bits of humanity he'd left splattered around in his search for her.

And his fantasy Charlies all shrivel to dust and ashes in the face of that furious blue glare, mistrust and confusion and pragmatism and so much fight. His feet itch to follow her, but Miles is waiting and he'll look after her and ... it's not their time, yet.

She's a still a child, and he's still a monster who doesn't even trust himself, and things haven't changed enough, yet. Monroe shivers as fate goosesteps across his soul. Maybe he won't make it out of this sterile hellhole of a place. Maybe she won't. But something tells him there's too much karma heaping on his soul to let him go just yet, and he'll die before he lets anything happen to Charlotte Matheson.

And it's not like he can think of a better reason to live than to hear her say "thank you", and mean it.

("Thank you," a little girl warbles up at him, and her joy lights up his soul. "Thank you," a dirty virago lets slip from between clenched teeth, and gives up on trying to kill him, for today at least. "Thank you," a golden goddess breathes into his ear and crawls up over him to take him inside of herself, inch by inch, gaze locked on his, the future shining in her eyes.)

Monroe shakes his head to clear it of his delusion, then puts his mind to the realities of the situation. Randall Flynn and whatever game he was playing. Nora and her rebel friends. The troops outside that would shoot the Mathesons on sight.

He can't allow that to happen. "If you die, I'm dying with you," haunts him, even now. But not for the reasons it used to. It rips him apart, but the truth of it echoes in his bones.

Bass Monroe has finally found a Matheson worth living for.