She was so proud of herself and if it were any other day, Luke would have smiled. She underestimated her strength so much. He wished he could tell her that she was so much stronger than she let herself believe that she was. Strength did radiate from her and it was a different strength to the rest of them. It was touched with innocence and covered with humor but it was strength none the less. Only now was it coming to the surface.
He gritted his teeth as pressure was put onto it, fighting the urge to fall into shock. But it all seemed for nought now.
Luke wasn’t going to waste his last moments trying to convince her to fix him up. Either she would do it or she wouldn’t. There wouldn’t be an in between and there wouldn’t be a moment where she could take back her choice. The blood was dripping from his shoulder, it was too big of a wound to clot up with the bullet still there. It needed to be stitched up. And Charlie was too scared.
Luke never wanted Charlie scared.
“Then stop the van.” Luke coughed a little, his throat was becoming drier and drier. “Charlie, if you can’t do it, then stop the van and just…” He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t tell her how much he wanted her just… there. He’d be okay with her face being the last he looked upon. Maybe it would pain her but he would simply cup her cheek, let himself savour it before he drifted into nothingness. Would run his fingers though her brown hair, would lose himself in her eyes, would just be so focused on her that the pain would be secondary for a moment. “Just come back here.” There. He used his words, he told her what he wanted. And that was a first for him.
Luke had long since communicated with Charlie with looks and simple sentences. Talking to her took work, and he had put in the effort but telling her, explicitly, that he wanted her there was a stepping stone that he hadn’t been prepared to take. Maybe it didn’t matter so much anymore. Dead man’s last words had to count for something right. He wasn’t going to be upset about the fact that he was asking too much of her. He understood. He accepted. He wanted her next to him.
“Charlie, it’s okay. You don’t have to do this.”
Charlie’s heart sunk, she could hear the defeat in his words and she couldn’t help but feel like it was her fault that he was giving up on himself. It wasn’t Luke that wasn’t strong enough to deal with this, it was her and he was making it easy on her by giving up. ”It’s not.” She spoke barely above a whisper, afraid that anything else would give away the trembling and shaking in her voice and would alert him to just how afraid and weak she was feeling.
She exhaled deeply, wiping the tears away from her eyes in frustration. Why was she crying, damn it? Jules wouldn’t cry, Jules would be able to handle this situation without her emotions at war with themselves. Erik would have got him into a hospital, he’d have Luke on an operation table by now and would have used a con to trick the doctors into believing he was one of them. Josh, well, Josh would have had some brilliant scheme and all Charlie had was tears in her eyes and blood on her hands.
"No." Charlie spoke louder now, as if she’d only just seen Luke’s blood on her hands for the first time since she had found him bleeding and she was breathing for the first time again. She didn’t feel like she was suffocating, the air in her lungs didn’t feel trapped. She felt strong. "It’s not okay and I do have to do this. I can’t — I won’t let you die in the back of my van and you are not going to give up just because I had a little freak out.”
Her confidence surprised even her and for a second it was enough to silence the voices of doubt in the back of her head, the one’s that threatened to rear their ugly heads again and make her believe that he was going to die and it was going to be all her fault.
"I’ll be right back, okay? Just hold on, Luke." Charlie glanced at him for a second, she didn’t want to leave him but she knew she had to if she didn’t want this to be the last conversation they had. Charlie moved to open her mouth but thought better of it. She couldn’t tell him here, she couldn’t tell him all the things that Erik had teased her about and had been right about. Charlie might have been showing confidence when it came to wanting to be strong enough to save Luke, but she couldn’t do that with her feelings. What if he didn’t feel the same way? What if he did survive and she told him and it made things uncomfortable? The what if of the situation was too big of a one for Charlie to risk gambling, it was easier to remain the pretence of friends.
Luke looked up at her. She was scared, she was so frightened and it was his fault. So he acted. Gave himself a fighting chance. Because it was her. They joked often, saying he was a robot, that he didn’t feel much and to be perfectly honest, most of the time it was true. But he felt something when it came to Charlie. He couldn’t pinpoint what it was but something just… bothered him when it came to her.
"Your cardigan. Tear off the sleeves and ball up the rest, you have the strength, you can do it. Tie it around it." It would be a rough tourniquet but that was better than nothing. "We can’t go to the hospital, you know that, Charlie. We’ll be arrested.." His brain was slowing down, he didn’t know if there was an option. They needed their mastermind. "Just… just take me to the van. Lay me down in the back."
He leaned on her shoulder, trying not to put his whole weight on her. She would crumble if he did. But they got there, they got to her baby and Luke collapsed in the back, breathing heavily. “Go to the hospital.” His voice was quieter now. “Get all the surgery tools you can. The bullet needs to come out and that will have the tools for it. And… and we need blood. Or something that can take blood from one person and give it to another. A transfusion kit. But if I don’t… no blaming yourself. Never. Charlie, okay?”
Charlie didn’t argue with Luke when he told her what to do, though she had her doubts that she would actually be able to tear the sleeves of her cardigan off. His faith in her gave her a strange feeling in her stomach though, it was like she had just reached the top of a roller coaster and was waiting for the big dip. It made her not want to disappoint him, which only added to the pressure that she felt under his life literally being in her hands right now. As she pulled her way out of the cardigan, she couldn’t help but feel relieved that she chose not to wear one of her gamer jumpers today. Not that that would make her think twice about tearing off the sleeves to try and stop the blood from spilling of the wound, but a shallow part of her would mourn for the jumper. Charlie wasted no time after slipping out of the cardigan in tearing at the sleeve, and much to her surprise, she had been successful. “I did it!” She cried, almost fist pumping the air at her victory until she remembered that ripping the sleeve wasn’t the victory, binding the wound was. “I guess those building my muscle exercises have paid off, huh?” She had to make conversation as she bound the sleeve around his wound, every show and movie she had watched always said you have to try and the wounded person conscious and talking. She wouldn’t let him fall asleep, not until she was sure he was out of danger.
As much as she wanted to slump against the wall, admiring her handy working of binding his wound, she couldn’t. There was no time and Luke was starting to look pale. She didn’t need a PHD to know that was a bad sign. She nodded at his next instruction, and helped him away from the building and towards the van. Once she got him inside, then she could drive him to a hospital and he wouldn’t be able to stop her. Criminal records be damned, they’d got out of tighter situations than their criminal records presented. And if need be, Charlie could give them fake names and whip up a fake background right on her iPhone.
She almost couldn’t believe what she was hearing was being said by Luke, but she said nothing as she helped him into the back of the van. If he was going to allow her to take him to the hospital then she wasn’t going to ask any questions, maybe all that blood loss was making him think more reasonable. Even if they did get caught at the hospital, at least he’d be alive and deep down, Charlie knew the rest of the team would be able to get them out if it came down to it. She made a mental note then to text the rest of the team once she got Luke to a hospital and catch them up on what happened.
"What do you mean the bullet needs to co-" Charlie went white, almost as white as he looked now as he realisation of what he was saying was dawning on her. "You want me to take the bullet out, don’t you? Luke, I know I’ve said I’ve played doctor before in the past but I meant the way a man and a woman play doctors and nurses. Not the way professionals do." She felt queasy, both from the colour being washed from his skin and the thought of having to operate on Luke.
She was a hacker of computers and all things technical, not human bodies and what was inside of them, which Charlie was a firm believer that they should stay inside. Where she couldn’t see or feel them. ”I don’t think I can do this, this isn’t like the video games I play. This is too real.”
Luke pressed against the wound harder, leaning against a wall to keep himself up right. He could hear her breathing on the other side of the comms, the hitches as she realized what was happening. He wished the team was with them now, wished they could hold her back and just go but they were all in different sectors, all apart of different teams. They were cut off.
He didn’t want her to see him like this, he would have rather her keep picturing how he was at the dinner table, he didn’t want her haunted with the images of him bleeding out so he found his voice. “No. Don’t. Charlie, go. I’ll be okay. I’m always okay. But you should leave, you don’t want them to track your-“
His sentence was cut off as she rounded the corner, he was angry that she was risking this much for him. How had she not dealt with the fact that he was not at all worth this trouble. “Goddammit, Charlie.” He muttered, wishing he had something to cover the blood that was now staining every piece of clothing that he had on. The thing was Luke knew a hospital wasn’t an option and they had no contacts in this part of the world that would help them anyhow. His mind had already looked at all the options and none of them involved him surviving.
At least he would say a proper goodbye to her. He owed Charlie that much.
His protests fell on deaf ears, Charlie had already managed to somehow compose herself long enough to leave the van and her bubble of denial and accept the situation for what it was — life or death. Luke was fatally wounded, his words and his orders had given that away. If he believed he might make it, he wouldn’t have been telling her to leave. The rest of the team was scattered though, completing their pieces of this jigsaw. That only left her, she was his only hope and while she hated having that burden on her shoulders, she wanted to prove that she could stay in the ring. After all, wasn’t this what Luke’s training had all been for? So that she could join the rest of them on the front line more, so she wouldn’t be left alone and vulnerable in her van.
This wasn’t her van though, this was the real world and the real world slammed against her chest as she rounded the corner and was met with the sight of Luke, slumped against a wall for support and bleeding heavily. Charlie let out an audible gasp, the sight before her looked all wrong. Luke wasn’t the kind of guy who needed to lean on anyone, for emotional or physical support and strength, so the sight of him barely standing hit her hard. Luke was human, she had forgotten that. He was made of flesh and bone, not steel and armour like she had thought.
He could be hurt, he could be killed.
"There’s so much blood." Charlie placed her hand over her mouth, trying her best to avoid stepping in any of it. There was so much blood and it made the floor unrecognisable, it made Charlie reconsider her earlier revelation of Luke being human because surely nobody could have lost that much blood and still be breathing.
"We need to get you out of here, to a hospital or something. Can you walk?" Her voice was shaking, and as she knelt down beside him and reached out her hand to place on his shoulder, she realised that so was she.
Luke thought he had the upperhand, it was impossible for him not to have it in his mind. Charlie had to be kept safe, she had to be able to have enough time to get her code into the system. And they had already clarified that the security was mediocre at best. But the gun, that was something that he didn’t seem coming and he heard the bullet before he felt it. His body already reacted, disarming the man, dismantling the gun, other bodies littered on the floor. They were not dead, only knocked out and suddenly, Luke felt it.
"Charlie." He said her name, swaying slightly as the shock began to set it. He was fighting it, he would have to stay awake but he knew that without medical help, this was going to be his downfall… He was okay with it. As long as she was okay, Luke wouldn’t feel guilt in his final moments. His hand put pressure on the wound, blood soaking his fingers. "Charlie, you have to go now."
The moment she had heard the sound of bullets being fired over the coms everything had gone silent and slow; the world around her seemed to be slowing down so that seconds passing by began to feel like hours. That was how it felt to Charlie before she finally heard him say her name in her earpiece. Charlie breathed a sigh of relief, he was alive. Maybe the bullet she had heard being fired had missed him, maybe the sound of somebody struggling for breath was her own and not his. That could be possible, right? Because right now, Charlie really needed that to be possible.
Charlie, you have to go now.
Just like that, his words had destroyed the burning hope in her chest that she had been clinging onto. She knew what his words meant, it was too late for him and if she didn’t want it to be too late for her then she had to leave him behind. Screw that! Charlie wiped a tear from her eye using the sleeve of her hoodie, if it hadn’t been for the salty taste of tears on her lips she wouldn’t have even knew she was crying.
"Not without you." She took a deep breath, willing the tears to stop falling so that he couldn’t hear it in her voice. Charlie needed to stay strong, and the only way for her to do that now was to make him believe it. As long as he believed it then she would feel it. "Stay where you are, okay? Don’t move. I’m coming to you."
Luke forced a tiny smile in return for Charlie, he could always muster up the effort for her. She slid the gloves back on and Luke was proud. Proud that she was giving this another go, even though he saw the doubt in her eyes. Proud that she actually slid the gloves back on instead of putting it off till tomorrow. He had no idea what affect he had on the hacker. Luke slid his pads back on his hands.
“It’s important to me but I’ll put in effort. Meaning I’ll try not to push you so hard. I would rather you not get sick of me. And I like my face.” He smiled wryly, that was one of the first jokes he had cracked in god knows how many years. Moving past it before she could comment, Luke held up the pads.
“I want you to give me a jab, cross, duck, hook and uppercut. Just keep repeating that and then we’ll take a break. You’re doing good, Charlie.” Encouragement felt strange coming from his lips, it was unusual for him to do anything except bark orders but he didn’t want Charlie to feel like he didn’t know what she could do. Luke nodded every time Charlie landed a good punch, gently nudged her in the right direction when she wasn’t handling herself right. He was learning, just as much as she was. He was learning how to talk to Charlie, how to react to her. It had taken a few months but he was finally getting it.
If Charlie’s bones weren’t hurting before, they sure as hell were now. The voice inside of her head, which she was pretty sure was actually coming from her bones was begging and pleading her to stop. Charlie wasn’t lean and well muscled like Jules, Erik and Luke. She was all tiny bones, and slender arms and just all around general gawkiness. She was going to hurt more than they would after their training had finished, she knew that without a doubt. That didn’t mean she was going to give up though, no matter how hard and how loud her bones protested.
Despite the protests of her bones, Charlie was starting to feel like she was beginning to pick up a rhythm. She felt like her jabs were getting better, and her hits had to have been getting harder because her hands — even with the protection of the gloves — were aching more and more. Don’t give up, the voice inside of her head told her. It’s important to him, and he’s important to you so that makes his training important. His occasional nods verified Charlie’s own belief that she was getting better at this, though she doubted she wasn’t going to be ready to take on brute thugs on a daily basis like Luke did.
"Did you say something about a break?" Charlie asked, recalling something he had said earlier. It wasn’t giving up exactly, but she needed a break. It didn’t matter if it was a short or a long one, just as long as she got to sit and breathe for a couple of minutes and down a pint of her favourite chocolate milk.
Luke sighed. This was why he never did things that weren’t akin to beating the pulp out of someone. Things got lost in translation, people got the wrong idea and now he was probably going to have to make sure that everyone in the team could actually protect themselves. Yes, he was paid to get there before anyone got hurt but Luke was a planner, he looked at every option and sometimes he wouldn’t be able to get there in time.
"I apologize." If he kept his sentences short, he wouldn’t offend her again, that was his logic. "I didn’t mean to make you feel that way."
Luke looked at the gloves before forcing another rare smile in her direction. “You don’t have to do this anymore if you don’t want to.”
Charlie wanted to tell him that it was okay, that he didn’t need to apologise now that things had been cleared up between them and that it had mostly been her own fault for jumping to conclusions instead of just asking him. Computer coding she could understand, it was a series of numbers and letters that could be solved, but people? Yeah, they were harder than any binary code she had ever cracked or any firewall that tried to keep her out.
Instead she settled for offering him a reassuring smile, as well as finding people hard to crack, Charlie didn’t like to keep let her walls down around people for along period of time. She preferred keeping them up, hiding behind her fears with a quick witted joke or a sarcastic comment.
If he had told her that before they had cleared things up, she would have jumped at the chance to give up on his mission to train her — one he was bound to fail, because Charlie didn’t have an athletic bone in her body. She got a stitch just jogging down the stairs once to beat Eric to the mozzarella sticks. However, Charlie found herself conflicted. As much as didn’t enjoy the physical side of this training, she did enjoy having this one on one time with Luke and that made the training bearable most days.
Huffing a sigh, knowing she would regret it in the weeks to come when her bones ached and every step felt like hell, she slipped back on the gloves and strolled back over to the mat, turning back to face him. “I don’t want to, but you want me to. So, if it’s important to you, it’s important to me.”
Charlie [08:37 PM]: You didn’t laugh at my joke! DO YOU WANT WAFFLES OR NOT?
Erik [08:40 PM]: Terribly sorry. Ha ha ha ha.
Erik [08:42 PM]: Look, I was really fucking tired of waiting for an answer while you made sex eyes at muscles or tex or whoever that day. If you don’t want waffles, I’m going to eat my own. NOT COMPLICATED.
Charlie [08:45 PM]: I do not make sex eyes at muscles!
Charlie [08:45 PM]: It’s Dex, not Tex. It’s not hard to remember, meat head.
Charlie [08:46 PM]: WHAT’S NOT COMPLICATED IS REMEMBERING MY FRIENDS NAME.
Charlie [08:28 PM]: Two aerials meet on a roof, fall in love and get married. The reception was brilliant.
Erik [08:30 PM]: Telescopes?
Charlie [08:37 PM]: You didn’t laugh at my joke! DO YOU WANT WAFFLES OR NOT?
Charlie [08:28 PM]: Two aerials meet on a roof, fall in love and get married. The reception was brilliant.
He’d stuffed up, he could see it in her face, she was so close to running that he had to grab her, keep her there. He knew that she’d lock herself in her room with her computer and he wouldn’t see Charlie for days if he let that happen. He didn’t want to be the reason that she was upset. Watching her reaction, he felt a weight on his shoulders lift slightly.
Luke returned her small smile, glad that she got what he was trying to say. Sitting next to her, he ran a hand through his hair. Luke wasn’t good with conversation, he never had been but Charlie made the effort. She slowly understood what he would be trying to get across, she was pretty much his translator to the others as it was.
"A dead weight?" He stared at her, wondering how on Earth she had gotten to that conclusion. "No, how did you… Charlie, do you know how dead in the water we would be without you? You’re not even close to a…Did I give you that impression?"
Charlie, do you know how dead in the water we would be without you? The words sounded inside of her head, the smile on her lips growing wider than before. Those words were like music to her ears, soothing any remainder of the doubt that she had been feeling just moments ago. It was strange really, Charlie never doubted herself. She was the founder and one of only two members of the Charlie For The Win club, and never let what people thought of her get under her skin. She was thick skinned, she had to be to survive her years in foster care.
Children could be vicious.
"Yeah," Charlie dropped her gaze again, she wanted to come up with some kind of lie that wouldn’t make him feel bad but the only thing that came out of her mouth was the truth. "Sort of, I don’t know. It just occurred to me that you don’t go to these measures with the rest of the team. I don’t think that now though. I now know that you recognise how awesome I am."