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."
Luke pulled the pads off his hands, more concerned that he had been before. It was so rare that Charlie was serious with any of them, she was normally the one who smiled and had sugar rushes that none of them could comprehend. But at her question, he froze.
Her face had dropped, she wasn’t looking at him and Luke felt a rush of guilt at the mere idea that he had upset her. That wasn’t what this was about it, he never wanted to do that. His eyes widened and he tried to think of what to say, tried to explain that the idea of her being hurt, even in the slightest, would drive him insane.
Letting out a breath, he gently took the gloves off her hands. “The others, they’ve had training and it’s not that I don’t worry about them but I worry about you more.” That didn’t come out right, that made her sound weak. He began to stutter over his words, kicking himself internally. “I mean - shit - Okay, Charlie.” He sat her down on the bench where he did weights carefully, trying to move his mouth into the words that his brain wanted to say. “Okay. Look. I would never forgive myself if something happened to you when I could have trained you to get yourself out of it. We’re in a dangerous line of work, we annoy a lot of people and if you’re put in harm’s way, I want it to be so you don’t need me. I mean, it’s okay if you want me around but I…dammit… I want you to be safe. Just in case. This is a precaution.”
Luke let out another deep breath, rubbing his temples with his fingers. “Did that… Does that make sense?”
Luke’s words felt like he had just punched her in the stomach, knocking the wind right out of her. So, she had been right? He did think she was weak. She didn’t want to hear any more after that, she didn’t want to do another second of training. She just wanted to grab her bag, run back upstairs and lock herself in her room like she always had. It’s what she was good at. This was why Charlie stuck to computers and video games, nothing on there could hurt her as much as his words had.
Charlie was about to do just that before she felt he took her wrist in his hand, leading her over to the bench and sitting her down. She was thankful for that kind gesture, if he was going to deliver some more home truths, at least sitting down would cushion the blow for her.
Tucking a strand of hair behind her ear, she listened to his words carefully, something she had become accustomed to since they began working together as a unit. Not many people could speak Luke, but spending all of that time having him inside of her ear, made her somewhat an expert in deducing what it was he was trying to get across. Though things still got lost in translation at times, which became evident to Charlie as she felt the ache in her chest ease away, the realisation that his words had once again became lost in translation brought a soft smile to her lips.
"So, you don’t think I’m dead weight?" She finally lifted her eyes to meet his steely gaze, the ache in her chest replaced with the sensation of butterflies fluttering around inside of her.
Luke was trained to notice tiny shifts in people. It gave away what moves they were about to employ, if they were going to be a liability, if they were going to be unpredictable. It was apart of being a hitter, you had to have the ability to keep control of a situation.
And he could tell by the force of Charlie’s punches that something was stirring under the surface. It bothered him. It really bothered him to know that she wasn’t actually happy right now. This was one of the few times where they were actually alone together and she seemed to hate it. Luke was aware that she detested the physical aspect of this but he didn’t expect it to be this much. Yet, something in his chest twinged selfishly at the idea of giving it up.
He paused, dropping his hands, letting them both take a break. “Yes? “
Charlie felt relieved when he dropped his hands, glad for the break from pounding her fists against the pads. Weren’t those things created to avoid people getting hurt doing this? Maybe she was as weak as she thought Luke saw her as. She hoped not, because now more than ever did she feel the urge to prove herself, something Charlie never really felt. There was a time when she was content spending her days behind her computer screen, the only human interaction she indulged herself in was when she verbally abused people on Call of Duty for staying in her re-spawning spot and killing her over and over again.
Somewhere along the line though, Luke’s opinion on her had come important to her. Which was a strange concept in itself considering how much she didn’t like him, or about any of the team members when they were first banded together. You put that many criminals into one group, people were bound to clash. What she didn’t expect was wanting him to think highly of her — or at least not think she was dead weight.
"Why is it you’re only training me?" Charlie found herself unable to look him in the eye, the anger that she had felt towards his assumed reasoning behind the training replaced with a fear that she could have been right. And if she was, she didn’t want him to see the look on her face as she would try to digest the harsh truth.