Charlie ran the brush through her hair one last time. She barely recognized the woman that looked back at her from the mirror these days. But then, that was the point really. Shaking away those thoughts for the moment, she got her feet and went to the full length mirror to take in the whole picture. She wanted to look appropriate for tonight.
The first difference was her clothing. Charlie was clad in a black dress made out of finer materials than any she had ever owned. The front was relatively modest, with long sleeves and a collar that brushed just under her collar bone. A slit in the long skirt came up to mid-thigh and revealed not only her legs but heels. It had taken Charlie some time to learn to walk in the shoes but she loved them. And they fit her new image. As did the rest of the dress. It was backless, dipping to the small of her back just before the curve of her ass and edged in black lace.
On her face was pre-Blackout make up. Darkened eyes and red lips. Perfect for the new woman she was becoming. Her golden hair fell in perfect waves down her bare back completing the darkly seductive and dangerous look she was going for.
"Charlotte," a voice breathed. "You look beautiful."
Charlie turned to the man that had been responsible for her metamorphosis. "Thank you, Bass. I wanted to be perfect for you."
"You already are," he assured her. He held up a black velvet box. "I brought these to complete the outfit."
Charlie took the box and opened it to reveal a pair of brilliant diamond chandelier earrings. "They beautiful," she smiled. "Give me a moment to put them on."
She moved back to the vanity and set one on each ear. A woman looked back at her from the mirror. Sebastian's woman. And she was very proud of that fact.
"Are you ready?" he asked quietly.
"Ready," she nodded, taking his arm.
Together they made their way to the ballroom. The public reason for this gathering was to celebrate Charlie's birthday. But the private reason was for peace talks between California and the Republic. The last barrier to Sebastian ruling from Atlantic to Pacific. Soon they would conquer their neighbors to the north too and then they would own the continent. But now California was ready to give them anything they wanted. Seems they weren't so fond of their people being butchered. And Charlie's inside information had achieved just that.
Charlie felt all eyes on her as they entered, side by side. Few of the gazes were happy but that didn't bother her. They should fear her. At twenty years old she ruled next to the most powerful man in the world. And she had made most of it possible in one form or another. Yes, she was glad people were just as afraid of her as they were of her husband.
"Do you like it?" Sebastian asked once she had a chance to take everything in.
"It's perfect," she smiled. "Just like everything you do for me."
Sebastian kissed her hair. "Happy Birthday."
Charlie felt a pleasant smile tugging at her lips that soon turned into a frown as she glimpsed the pair in the corner. "What are they doing here?" she growled.
Bass followed her gaze. "Now Charlotte, be reasonable," he said. "They're your family, they should be here for your birthday."
Charlie pursed her lips. "I don't want them here," she insisted.
"Oh now, don't frown, angel." Bass turned her face towards him and gave her an apologetic look. "I didn't mean to upset you, you know that."
Charlie took in the blue eyes so full of sincerity and softened. "They don't like us," she reminded him in a quiet tone.
Bass laughed. "Most of the people here don't like us, Charlotte. Those two just happen to be vocal about it. But only because they want what's best for you."
"You're what's best for me."
"They don't see it that way."
Bass gave her a soft smile. "They don't' know that. Please, Charlotte, cheer up. I can't stand to see you upset on your birthday." Charlie gave him a small smile. "Look, you go and mingle. I'll take care of them."
"Thank you," Charlie murmured as she kissed him once more. She turned to survey the crowd that kept sneaking glances at them and noticed a pair of women in an opposite corner that she wanted to talk to.
Priscilla Strausser and Julia Neville smiled at Charlie's approach. "Happy Birthday," Priscilla said pleasantly.
"Such a lovely party the president put together for you," Julia added.
Charlie offered them her own smile. She knew that Priscilla's enjoyment was genuine. The other woman liked Charlie in a very honest and refreshing way. Julia, on the other hand…Julia feared and respected her in equal measures. Julia knew that Charlie had the power to rip apart her family as Julia's husband had once done to the Mathesons. But Charlie saw herself as a benevolent ruler. The Nevilles were useful, one and all, and so she encouraged Bass to treat them fairly. But she never let them forget that she was the one bending Bass' ear these days.
"Sebastian always feels the need to go the extra mile at celebrations," Charlie said with a small laugh. "But I can't say I'm wholly unpleased by the outcome."
"Stop being so modest," Priscilla admonished. "You deserve to be celebrated."
Charlie smiled modestly and cast her eyes downward as the women showered her with compliments. There was no need to show her power tonight.
While Charlie spoke with her compatriots, Bass weaved his way easily through the crowd. People nodded their hellos and murmured their compliments on his planning skills. Bass accepted them all with practiced ease as he neared his goal. The pair in the corner was easy to pick out from their shabby clothes. And the fact that there were clusters of heavily armed Militia on all sides. They weren't obvious about the weapons though. Bass didn't' want to subtract from Charlotte's party. "Miles," he greeted. "Rachel."
"Enjoying your power trip?" Miles asked, voice dripping with sarcasm.
"As a matter of fact I am," Bass agreed, deciding not to play the game they usually engaged when in public. "But I'm afraid your enjoyment has come to an end. Charlotte has requested you both return to your rooms immediately."
Rachel glared at him. "Whatever lies you've told her won't last," she predicted. "Charlie is going to get out from under you one day."
Bass pretended to be shocked despite having been through this argument numerous times. "Lies?" he repeated. "Rachel, I'm wounded. I've never told your daughter a single untruth in all our married lives." He enjoyed the shudders that ran through both of them at the word 'married'.
"Of course you didn't," Miles agreed. "Charlie would naturally choose to go with the man that murdered almost her entire family."
"You can ask her yourself if you don't' believe me."
Rachel shook her head. "Abuse victims never out their abuser," she replied. "And before you point out Charlie's lack of bruises, not all abuse is physical."
"I've never abused Charlotte in any way, shape, or form," Bass told her. And it was true. Because he hadn't needed to. Controlling Charlie had been the simplest task in the universe. All he had to do was not treat her like Charlie.
Charlie was a girl. A girl that was sick of those she loved dying, sick of feeling disappointment and disapproval everywhere she looked, sick of being treated like a child. And that was all she ever got from Miles and Rachel. All she probably ever would get given the state of things these day.
But Bass had stepped in and called her Charlotte. He had never once talked down to her or insulted her or thought her anything less than his equal. Bass treated her like an adult because that was how she presented to him. And Charlotte found she liked that.
So he continued to call her Charlotte. Continued to respect her as a grown up woman who was quite the formidable enemy. And when his men had eventually captured all the Mathesons, Bass made sure they were given every luxury but freedom. Every wish they could have wanted he gave them. And he made a point to visit with Charlie daily.
The visits hadn't gone well at first but Bass was patient. He continued to make overtures to her as he would the ruler of any rogue military. And Charlie began to come around when she realized how much Bass actually respected her intelligence. It had been his promise to let Miles and Rachel live that had been the final tipping point. Bass had sworn to keep the two remaining Mathesons as safe as possible as long as Charlie remained by his side. The relief on Charlie's face when she realized her family's lives were no longer in her hands was a sight Bass would never forget.
"You can't really think we're so stupid as to believe you're not manipulating her somehow," Miles growled.
"The thing with Charlotte is that she doesn't need manipulation," Bass told him. "She just needs to be treated like an adult." He snapped his fingers and guards appeared all around tehm. "Now, these gentlemen are going to lead you back to your rooms. Please don't make a scene, it's Charlotte's birthday after all." Both Mathesons glared at him but held out their wrists to be cuffed again. Bass gave them a pleased smile. "I'll make sure Charlotte stops by first thing tomorrow," he promised as they were led away.
With that bit of unpleasantness over, he went to find his lovely wife. "Enjoying yourself?" he asked as he placed a kiss on her shoulder.
"Much more now that you're here," she said. "Did you take care of our little problem?'
"Of course." Bass smiled at her. "You know I'd do anything for you Charlotte."