Set six months after 'Alone No More', it's confession time for Stoker and realisation time for Charley, but will it all work out in the end?
Charley was kneeling down on the floor, taking a look at her bike when Stoker rode into the Last Chance. He was greeted by a warm smile from Charley.
"Hey Stoker." She said cheerfully and waving at him.
"Hi beautiful! Got your groceries." He said, pointing to the brown paper bags on the back of his bike. He climbed off his bike and took off the helmet.
"Great! Thanks." She said in appreciation. She stood up and wiped her oily hands on a rag.
"Anytime." Stoker replied, looking Charley over admiringly. To him, there was nothing more attractive, anywhere in the universe that a lady wreck jockey with her overalls smeared here, there and everywhere with oil and grease. It was one of things that attracted him to Harley. It was one of the things that endeared Charley more and more to him.
Stoker had been staying on Earth with Charley for over six months. He'd crashed his ship into where else but the Quigley Field score board after having a little accident involving a can of root beer, and he'd had no where else to go but to Charley. Following on from a conversation about Throttle, in which he'd told Charley that he knew about her feelings for her Biker Mice leader, she'd broken down and he'd decided to stay with her for a while, knowing that she really needed a friend to help her get over him. He had needed a vacation anyway and it wasn't as if they desperately needed him back on Mars. They weren't at war with the Plutarkians anymore and the planet was getting back on its feet just fine.
Stoker had stayed true to his word and listened to Charley talk if she needed to. He even had a hand in helping her quit smoking. The morning after he'd arrived, he'd found Charley rooting through her trashcan. When he'd asked what she was doing, she'd replied
"Looking for something to calm me down."
She had then gone onto explain that she had taken up the nasty habit of smoking after the guys had left. Knowing that smoking isn't good for you whatever planet you come from, Stoker had, after helping Charley clear up the mess she'd made, made a deal with Charley that if she could quit smoking all together in three months he'd take her out for dinner and dancing. Surprised to hear that he would be staying that long, Charley took him up on the deal.
She succeeded within her timescale, and had therefore been treated to dinner at Chef Andy's, and back at the Last Chance they danced on the roof in the moonlight.
Chef Andy's wasn't the most romantic place to eat, but at least he wouldn't attract any attention to himself. Charley had explained that the owner had been friendly with the Biker Mice.
Dancing on top of the Last Chance was another idea intended not to attract attention. Stoker thought Charley might get a kick out of it as well. It was kind of romantic. She seemed to be really enjoying herself at the time, which was another bonus.
Stoker knew that was the night that his feelings towards Charley were changing, and he was seeing her more than as just a friend.
He'd tried to make his feelings obvious, flirting with her, spending time with her, being liberal with hugs, but she didn't seem to notice. He wasn't sure if she was fully over Throttle, even though she hadn't talked about him for a long time of her own accord, and whenever he mentioned him she didn't get upset. He wondered if maybe Charley wasn't interested in him that way, which was disappointing to him. He still kept trying. He loved a challenge!
Back in the moment, Stoker noticed that there was some oil smudged across Charley's cheek. He took the oily rag from her hands and used it to gently remove the majority of the dirt from her face.
"You had some oil on your face, babe." He explained.
Charley blushed. "Oh." She then smiled. "Hungry? I'm starved."
"Yeah. Eats would be good." Stoker said.
"Great. I'll go clean up and you can take these groceries upstairs and get started in the kitchen." She said with a grin before disappearing up the ladder to the bathroom. Stoker smiled as he watched her go.
'Charley - gotta love her!' He thought.
Sometime later, Stoker had managed to figure out how to use Charley's electric tin opener and had emptied the contents of a tin of beans into a pan, where it was warming through nicely. When Charley came into the kitchen, drying her hair with a towel, she looked over Stoker's shoulder to see what he was cooking.
"Beans?" she asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Yep, beans." Stoker echoed. There was pop and Charley turned her head to see two pieces of browned bread sticking out of the toaster. "Beans on toast to be precise, babe."
Charley had to chuckle. "Beans on toast, huh? I take it cooking isn't a part of the standard freedom fighter training program then?"
Stoker frowned, "OK, so I can't cook, but I think I've done a pretty good job. At least I didn't burn the garage down."
"Good point." She said. "I'm sure it'll be great, Stoker." She added as Stoker took the beans off the heat and arranged the toast on two plates before spooning the beans on the top. He handed a plate to Charley and then they sat down together at the kitchen table.
Stoker watched nervously as Charley began to eat. Only when she had eaten a few mouthfuls did he start to eat. The meal was eaten quickly, so very little was said between them. When she was finished eating, Charley smiled and said:
"Delicious Stoker. Possibly the best beans on toast that I've ever eaten, and I'm not just saying that."
It was now Stoker's turn to blush. "Thanks. That's the first time I ever cooked for a lady."
"Well, I think you did a great job. If you want, I could teach you how to cook other things."
"That would be great," Stoker said, genuinely excited, "but I must warn you that I am a terrible student. I'll probably initiate a food fight or something."
"Tut tut! Bad students get detention." Charley said, leaning forward slightly.
Stoker raised an eyebrow. Was she flirting with him? Stoker leant forward. "So what happens to bad students in detention then?" he said in a low voice.
"They have to wash the dishes." Charley said with another wicked grin.
Stoker chuckled. That wasn't exactly what he had in mind. He responded, "I'll tell you what, you wash the dishes while I lock up downstairs. Then I'll open a bottle of red wine and see you on the couch."
"Deal." Charley agreed. She stood and gathered the dishes and headed to the sink with then.
Charley and Stoker sat on the couch as they had grown into the habit of doing at the end of each day. They would either watch TV or a movie, listen to music or just talk whilst enjoying a glass or two of wine. Stoker had grown fond of wine, especially red wine. They were currently listening to the radio. They'd hardly spoken and were both quite happy to be in each other's company.
"Stoker, have you ever been in love before?" Charley suddenly asked. Stoker was a little shocked. It was a totally out-of-the-blue question.
"Yeah once, but I think you know how that turned out."
"Harley?" Charley asked, suddenly ashamed of her carelessness. "I'm sorry, Stoker. I didn't think ..." Stoker stopped her before she could continue.
"It's OK. I'm over it. In the end I think she made the right choice. I'm just sorry that things turned out the way they did. I think she would have been good for Vinnie."
"Do you ever think about her?"
"From time to time. I'm over her now. It took me some time, but I got there." He took a sip of wine and sat back in the couch. "Life goes on. The way I see it, you can't spend your whole life wondering about all the 'what ifs'. I know that the hardest thing in life is watching someone you love, love someone else. It's painful for a while and sometimes you can't help but wonder what it could have been like if the two of you could have been together, but eventually you just have to let go and move on."
"I understand where you're coming from," said Charley. She was leaning forward on the couch, her arms hugging her knees. "I think I'm ready to move on, but I'm scared that I'll never fall in love again. I feel like I've had my shot, and I think that's why I'm still hanging on to Throttle."
"There's no rule saying that you can't fall in love more than once in your life. You shouldn't be afraid to look for love. If you can't let go of the past, you could miss other opportunities for love, even the ones that are right in front of you."
Charley nodded. She knew he was right. He was very clued up on the subject of unrequited love. He'd been through it with Harley. He was the best person to advise her about it.
Stoker sighed as he watched Charley resume a more upright position. He was torn. Should he tell her the truth about his feelings for her, or not? That was the question he'd been asking himself ever since the flirting in the kitchen earlier that evening. It seemed like the opportune moment. They were on the subject of love after all, and he didn't think that Charley was going to come to the conclusion that he felt something for her at any time soon.
"Charley, I've got a confession to make." He said, his voice slightly shaking with nerves.
Charley had a look of concern on her face. "Yes?"
"I lied when I said I'd only fallen in love once. Actually it's twice." He said.
"And I'm still in love with lady number two." He said, hoping it didn't sound too cheesy. He felt sure that he was no good at saying this kind of thing right.
"Do you want to talk about her?" Charley asked, her curiosity growing about Stoker's second love.
"I'm looking at her right now."
Charley stared at Stoker wide-eyes. What had he just said? She was ... he was ... this was too much for her to compute.
Stoker looked back at Charley's face. Her expression looked shocked, and that didn't read as good in Stoker's book.
"Please say something." He pleaded softly. Charley just sat there staring at him. She couldn't speak. This revelation was too much for her at that moment.
Her silence was killing Stoker. He downed the rest of his wine in one gulp and stomped off to his room, slamming the door behind him. He needed some space. He felt embarrassed and hurt and felt like he'd never be able to look her in the face again.
Charley still sat there, staring dumbly at the space that Stoker had once occupied.
'He ... he loves me?'
Charley sat on the couch with her head propped up by one arm, staring into space. She was going over and over in her mind the conversation that had transpired between herself and Stoker no less than a couple of hours earlier. Charley had been getting a lot of good vibes from Stoker over the past few months, but she had no idea that it was leading up to what had just happened between them.
Stoker's confession was just the beginning. She hadn't reckoned on it making her realise a few things herself. It was her own realisations that were scaring her more than anything. Had she been so blind that she couldn't see that he had developed strong feelings for her? It would explain a lot of things, such as they way he had been treating her lately and the glances he'd give her when he thought she wasn't looking. Had she become so dense that she didn't realise that she had developed the same feelings in return? She'd never really noticed the butterflies in her stomach she felt when she was with him. She could never understand why she missed his company and easy laugh when he was out. Was she just using Throttle as an excuse to deny what had been brewing between her and Stoker? The most correct answer to this question was yes. She'd been over Throttle for a while, but was still using him to push Stoker away.
She knew she had to talk to him. She couldn't leave this situation to fester. She felt awful for hurting him with her silence, but she couldn't speak for shock. It had taken her half an hour from when he had left the room to move her position into a more comfortable one in order to think. If she felt this way about it, she could only imagine how Stoker was feeling. She stood up and walked to his door.
Charley trembled with nerves, took a deep breath and knocked on the door. Stoker didn't reply, meaning he was either asleep or ignoring her. She went in regardless. Stoker was sitting on the edge of the bed with his hands on his knees and staring at the wall. He didn't even move when Charley came in.
After an uncomfortable moment of silence, Charley spoke:
Stoker turned his head to look at her. The expression on his face told her that he was upset with her.
She continued, "Stoker, I've got something very important I want to say to you."
"What?" His voice was full of anguish. He wasn't sure if he felt like talking at that moment. He felt a mixture of embarrassment and hurt. He'd poured his heart out to her and she had said nothing in response.
"I just wanted to say thank you."
"For what?" He was puzzled.
"You've helped me to realise that I can't spend my life pining for someone or something I can't have. Life goes on and I have go to. If I don't, I could miss many opportunities that would guarantee me ultimate happiness ... and I don't want to miss out on the one that's right in front of me."
"What are you saying? You feel for me as I do for you?"
"Yes. Yes I do. I just didn't realise it."
Stoker's expression took on one of relief. He gave her a small smile and patted a space on the bed beside him. Charley sat down and faced him.
"Why didn't you say anything before? I feared the worst." He said.
"I was in shock. I didn't expect it at all. It took a while for it to sink in. That's when I realised that I have been so wrapped up in myself that I've never noticed what was right in front of me. For that I can't apologise enough." Charley explained, shyly reaching for his hand and holding it. Stoker's heart began pounding harder when she did that.
"It's OK, babe. I did kinda just drop it on you. I didn't know how else to tell you. I didn't think you were going to take the hints I've been giving you." He said, squeezing her hand gently.
"Like I said, I've been a little dense lately."
"OK, a lot."
They sat holding hands and staring at each other, both of them not really sure what to do now. The next step was obvious, but both were too nervous to initiate it. Charley licked her bottom lip out of nervousness and Stoker decided to take the initiative. He leant forward slowly, giving her the opportunity to pull away if she wanted to. She didn't, and leant forward herself. There lips met and they kissed slowly and softly. Stoker reached his free hand up to caress Charley's face, deepening the kiss while Charley wrapped her free arm around his neck.
When they finally parted for air, they were both smiling.
"I enjoyed that." Charley said. "I've never kissed a Martian before. At least, not like that."
Stoker chuckled, "Want another go?"
They kissed again, this time wrapping their arms around each other and totally enveloping each other.
Charley was in heaven. Kissing Stoker felt so good. She'd never felt so wonderful. Her heart was pounding so hard she thought it was going to leap out of her chest.
Stoker felt good, and he felt flustered. He also felt that if they continued like on like this that their relationship would progress very quickly within a matter of minutes!
He ended the kiss gently. Charley looked disappointed, but that disappeared when he smiled.
"Sorry beautiful, but unless you want to move beyond first base I suggest we cool down for a bit." He said, stroking her cheek.
Charley giggled, "I suppose you're right. I think now would be a good time to go back to the couch and perhaps snuggle and watch a movie or something?"
"Sounds good to me, beautiful."
Charley stood, took Stoker's hand and led him back into the living room. They spent the rest of the night holding each other close, drinking wine and channel surfing, with the occasional kiss in between.
There was something that was bothering Charley and it had only occurred to her just after they had settled down to watch TV together. What about Stoker going back to Mars? Surely he'd have to go back one day, wouldn't he? If he were to go back, would she go with him? Or would he stay on Earth with her? Even though it was a tomorrow kind of question, the kind that ruined today, she still needed to know. Was this relationship worth having if he was going to leave her in the end?
Charley lifted her head up off Stoker's chest to talk to him, "Stoker?"
"There's something I've been meaning to ask you. It's about you and Mars."
Stoker smiled. He had a feeling that this would come up. "Don't worry about it, babe. I ain't going nowhere. Right now I couldn't think of anywhere I'd rather be than here with you. I don't know what's going to happen tomorrow or the day after that or the day after that, but I can assure you that you're not going getting rid of me that easy."
Charley put her head back on his chest. "That's good to know. I don't want to have to be alone again."
"You won't be, babe, I promise."