"Have you heard them?" I asked after we'd been sitting in the grass for at least twenty minutes. I was starting to get itchy and wanted to move around.
"Not for a while," he said. "Ready to go?"
"I should go first," I told him. "They're after you, not me."
"You took a bullet to the leg, I'm not sure you're in any position to be the scout."
I made a face. "I can walk. Give me ten minutes." He looked like he wanted to argue but didn't say anything. I walked towards the tree line listening for the search party. I didn't really think there was anyone still out here, but I wanted to be careful. I wasn't sure I'd be able to take another surprise attack on this leg.
Just when I was about to circle around and head back to the clearing I heard something and saw a flash of light. "Crap." I backed away slowly. The group was in between the clearing and me and I wasn't sure how I was supposed to warn Bass. I was beginning to rethink this idea. The light disappeared and I started heading diagonally towards the clearing, hoping to avoid them. I collided with something and the something made an "oof" noise.
"Ciara?" A familiar voice asked.
"What are you doing out here, where's Bass?" He asked.
I frowned. "I'm not telling you that. Did you see that light?" I asked.
Someone cleared their throat behind me and I turned to see Rachel, Charlie and Aaron. "That was us," Charlie said holding a lantern.
"What happened in the tower? Where's Nora?" I asked turning back to Miles.
"Nora is dead," Miles told me. "Ciara, there's something you should know." I stared at him waiting for him to continue. "Randall Flynn had ulterior motives, he's a Patriot." Miles spat out patriot like it had a bitter taste.
"What does that mean?" I asked.
"He blew up Philadelphia, Ciara," Charlie told me. "And Atlanta."
"No," I said shaking my head. "I don't believe you."
Miles grabbed my shoulders and made me look at him. "I'm sorry."
"I left them," I mumbled. "My dad, and Garrett, I left them."
"If you hadn't you'd be dead, Ciara," Miles told me.
"What's the point?" I asked. He hugged me tightly. At first I refused to cry, but then it hit me that this time I wasn't going to get another luck break. I started sobbing and Miles stood there, hugging me, letting my cry all over his shoulder, for what felt like hours.
"We should keep moving," Charlie said quietly. When I turned around I met her eyes and I knew she understood, she'd lost people too. Miles put his arm around my shoulder and let me lean on him so I could keep my weight off my leg.
"Where are we going?" I asked after a long stretch of silence.
I wasn't sure anyone was going to answer but finally Rachel spoke for the first time since I'd found them. "Texas."
Two Months Later
"Well, I think you're about ready to get back out there," Dr. Porter told me.
"Thank God, I have been out of commission for way too long," I said. When we arrived in Willoughby Rachel's dad had taken a look at my leg. He said that while it had been taken care of pretty well originally, I'd messed it up more traveling between Colorado and Texas. I'd basically been confined to the house for the last two months because Dr. Porter and Miles thought that was the only way I'd rest it.
"Just because your leg is all healed up doesn't mean that you should just run out there on your own, this place has been a mess since the bombs. Refugees spreading out everywhere. Not to mention the ankle you sprained is going to be weak maybe for the rest of your life, I wouldn't run on it any more than you have to." I'd almost forgotten about my ankle, which I'd apparently sprained at some point on the way to Texas. It was easy to ignore his warning when I was just lounging around the house, but I knew that he was right about it being weak.
"I'm not your granddaughter, try lecturing Charlie, she is leaving too," I told him.
He looked surprised. "Charlie is leaving?"
"She can't be around Rachel while she's like this." Truthfully I didn't want to be around Rachel either. It wasn't that I blamed Rachel for the bombs but she definitely blamed herself. She could hardly stand to be around me; I was basically a walking reminder of the thing she felt guilty for.
He shook his head. "I'm going to have to talk to Charlotte about that."
"You do that," I said. I was doubtful that he'd have any effect on his granddaughter. "Thanks for the help, Doc."
"Take care, kid."
While I was packing up my things, Miles came in my room. "Where do you think you're going, Ciara?"
I sighed. "I don't know, Miles. Anywhere, nowhere, does it matter?"
"You won't be able to find him."
"You don't know that."
"There are millions of people out there, do you even know where to start?"
I shrugged. "Miles, what choice do I have, he's family."
"You met him once, you don't know what he looks like now, and you don't have any leads."
"Then I'll go back to Indiana and find a lead," I told him. "And on the way I'll find Bass too. Unless something drastic has happened I know what he looks like, at least."
"I was beginning to think you forgot about him."
"Never." I sighed again. "Look, you and my dad are," I quickly corrected myself, "were a lot alike, except for one thing, he was always optimistic."
"For all you know Bass was killed by his former soldiers, maybe in that same field you left him in."
"If that's what I find, and I don't think it will be, then so be it. I'm going to find him and my cousin."
"Do you even remember his name? How old were you when Emma brought him to visit? Four?" Miles asked.
"I know my cousin's name, Miles," I said, annoyed.
"You didn't tell Bass."
"I didn't trust Bass. Even when I trusted Bass, I didn't trust him."
"I know that feeling," he mumbled.
"Anyways, doesn't matter, you're right, I don't have a lead. My first priority is to find Bass."
"Because I abandoned him in the middle of a forest in Colorado, obviously."
"You wouldn't have done that if you really cared about him," Miles said.
"And you wouldn't have spared his life, on multiple occasions, if you cared as little as you pretend to," I countered. "Look, you aren't changing my mind about any of this."
"Fine, but the least you can do is go with Charlie. Two people are better than one for a lot of reasons, you'll make a good team."
"That's a bad idea."
He grabbed my bag. "No it's not, now come on."
Four Months Later
Miles had been right. As much as it pained me to admit it, Charlie and I actually worked together quite well. I wouldn't exactly call us friends, there were no late night campfire chats about hook ups or dramatic cry sessions over the things we'd lost, but we didn't hate each other either.
We got out of Texas after a few weeks and had mostly been wandering through the Plains Nation. We had stopped in a pretty decent town a few days ago and Charlie and I had already become regulars at one of the local bars. I liked it because they had a crank record player and people would play old music, the scene was very me. Charlie liked the place because since the Tower she'd appeared to be giving Bass's drinking problem a run for its money. Not that I didn't drink, because I did, bad habit I'd picked up from Bass obviously, but I never ended up hammered in someone else's bed.
Tonight however, Charlie appeared to be more willing to chat with the bar's other patrons. A few people at the counter were telling her about their experiences with the few minutes of power. You could hardly go anywhere without hearing about the temporary flash of lights. Someone started the record player up again drowning out the conversations. The next time I looked in Charlie's direction she'd left. No surprise there.
The next morning my bag being tossed onto my stomach woke me up. "Get up, I got a lead on Monroe."
"Did you pack my stuff?" I asked. I pushed myself up on my elbows and looked at my bag.
"I thought you might appreciate a few extra moments of sleep. Plus I didn't want you to ask questions here, too many ears." When I didn't moved she rolled her eyes. "Look, do you want to find Bass or not? I'm going with or without you."
I nodded and got out of bed. "Where is he?" I asked.
She shot me a look. "Too many ears. Come on."
She didn't speak again until we had gotten a significant distance from town. "You're being a little paranoid, don't you think?"
"I can guarantee you that we aren't the only people looking for Monroe." She sighed. "The bartender –"
"Last night's hook up?" I asked. She glared at me again. I held my hands up in surrender. "Hey, I'm not judging."
"Anyways, he saw my militia brand and told me that he saw Monroe a few weeks ago."
"A place called New Vegas, it's not far from here."
"New Vegas," I repeated. "Why does that not even surprise me?"
"Maybe because your boyfriend is a self destructive alcoholic?"
"And you aren't?" I countered. "And he isn't my boyfriend."
"Well not anymore," she mumbled. "Not that I approved of that relationship at all, but if you liked him so much why'd you leave him."
"Well, I'd say that finding out that my last remaining family member and my only friend were both murdered at the same time lead me to a fragile emotional state and decisions I wouldn't have made otherwise," I said sarcastically.
"I think I'm realizing why we don't talk."
"Let's just agree to not do that until we get there," I suggested.
"Fine by me."
"I think we're getting close," Charlie said, breaking the silence which held through the entire second day of travel.
"Considering we've walked by at least seven prostitutes and two people trading fake diamonds, I would agree with that assessment."
It wasn't long before the sign came into view. New Vegas didn't look like a town; it looked like a slightly oversized traveling carnival. The very bottom of the totem pole and it was packed with every sort of lowlife you could imagine. "Well, we aren't in Kansas anymore," I mumbled.
"Actually we might be," Charlie responded. I wasn't sure if she was joking or if she was seriously too young to get my reference.
"Where do we start?"
"That tent over there looks popular," she suggested. She was right, to our left the stream of people appeared to be flowing straight into the largest tent.
I shrugged. "That's as good a place as any." As we pushed our way through the crowd I tried to tell myself how unlikely it was that we would actually find Bass here. I didn't doubt he might have been spotted here but a few weeks were a long time. He might have moved on by now. But part of me felt like this was it, the pay off of four months with Charlie.
"He might not be here," Charlie told me gently when we reached the front of the line.
"I know," I snapped. "I'm not getting my hopes up." She shrugged and stepped through the tent. There was a wall of people surrounding two fighters. People were holding up money and betting on their favorites. Charlie was searching faces in the crowd but I grabbed her wrist and pulled her straight through the spectators, until I could see the fighters clearly. "That's him."
"Ow," she said, yanking her wrist away. "Go up to the front, so he sees you." I whirled to face her with a panicked look. She rolled her eyes. "Or we could wait until he's alone."
"Yes, that, option two," I said. She sighed and we waited until the fight ended.
We followed him from the tent to another, less packed tent with gambling. We watched from a distance as he approached one of the tables. One of the scantily clad girls sauntered up to him and arranged herself so there was as much physical contact as possible.
A guy walked up to us. "You ladies looking to play?"
"Not exactly," Charlie told him. She pointed at Bass. "What's his deal?"
"Jimmy? He's been here for a while, he's a pretty good fighter and people like watching him."
"Huh, ok, thanks."
"You sure you don't want to play?" He tried again.
"We aren't in the business of wasting money, sorry," I told him. He shrugged and left to bother someone else.
"Sorry," Charlie mumbled.
I shrugged. "It's my fault, I went out to see if the coast was clear and –"
"And Miles blew your world up," she finished. "Literally."
"Yeah," I said after a moment. "I made a mistake."
She shook her head and pulled out a pouch and poured what was left into her hand, one tiny diamond. "Well, I guess it's a good thing we found him. We're running low on currency."
"What are you doing, Charlie?" I asked.
"I'm getting you what you want." She walked up to the guy who'd talked to us.
"Changed your minds?" He asked.
"No, actually, my friend is interested in Jimmy," Charlie told him.
He sized me up. "He doesn't typically take girls back to his trailer on the nights he fights."
"Look, we just need you to get him to meet her later," she told him. "Alone."
"What's she got that these girls don't?" He asked.
"She's a red head," Charlie told him matter-of-factly.
He sighed. "What's in it for me?" She held up the diamond. "That it?"
"She could always knock on his trailer." That was a very good point, why was she insisting that Bass met me somewhere.
He took the diamond. "Fine, I'll tell him. No promises." He turned and walked off.
"Why does he have to meet me?" I asked Charlie.
"Because we don't know how he'll react. You come knocking on his door; he might not let you in. Better to have a fight out in the open where neither of you can throw things at each other."
"Who said we were going to fight?"
She gave me a knowing look. "Don't pretend like you're one of those couples that are going to run into each other's arms and have some novel-worthy reunion. You hate to love each other. You can pretend I'm wrong, but I never am. Anyways, it basically comes with the territory, red heads are known for their temper."
"Why is my hair color suddenly so important?" I asked.
"I thought that if Bass knew you were a redhead he might be more likely to come out. There aren't a lot of red heads here, you stand out. Even if he doesn't believe it's you he might still be curious."
"You have your moments."
She patted me on the shoulder. "You're alright, I guess."
We waited an hour for "Jimmy" to finally headed back to his trailer and Charlie and I followed him. She stayed behind while I got closer to the trailer. The guy from earlier went in with Bass and came out a few minutes later. I bounced on my heels nervously. Charlie was right, I had no idea if Bass would even want to see me.
After what felt like an eon, Bass finally emerged from the trailer. He looked around with tense shoulders. He didn't see me in the shadow but I caught a glimpse of his face, his lips were slightly parted like he was about to say something. I took a deep breath and stepped forward.
At that exact moment an arrow was shot from the direction I'd left Charlie, but before the arrow could hit him, someone knocked him unconscious. Two men appeared and dragged him towards their horses. I took off running after them and I could hear Charlie running behind me. But the men had a wagon and quick horses and they were racing away from me. My ankle was screaming at me despite that I'd only been running for a minute. I realized this was hopeless and stopped in my tracks.
"Guess we shouldn't have traded our horses, huh?" Charlie said stopping beside me.
I turned to face her. "What the hell was that back there?"
"I wanted to kill the man who killed my brother," Charlie told me.
"So that was the plan the whole time. That was the reason you wanted Bass out of his trailer."
"Don't you want to kill the people who killed your dad?" She asked.
"Yeah, but you know what's more important to me? The people I care about, the ones that are still alive."
"If it weren't for me, you wouldn't know where Bass was."
"If it weren't for those guys, Bass would be dead."
"He may not be General Monroe anymore, but he still killed my brother."
I started walking and Charlie stayed behind. "Stay here if you want but I don't think either of us will be able to get to him on our own," I called. I heard her footsteps behind me.
"If I get the chance I'm going to kill him."
"And I'll put a bullet between your eyes," I said the same way I would tell someone the weather. She stopped again but after a moment she resumed following me. I was glad to see that we'd come to an understanding.