Charlie had been through a lot of pain in her life, but this? Definitely made the top three.
"Ah! Son of bitch!" She shouted to the tent roof.
"Charlie, I need you to hold still," Gene told her. While his tone tried to be soothing, it was more irritating than anything.
"There's a bullet in me! You hold still!" Okay, so that didn't make any sense. Charlie was in too much pain and far too pissed off to care.
She and Bass had been out on a mission when they ran across a group of Patriot soldiers. They'd taken them out, as they always did ("We're the goddamn dream team, Charlie!") but not before one had gotten off a quick shot. It had hit Charlie in the left outer thigh, pretty high up. Bass had helped her get on her horse and they'd made it back to base in record time. His shouts had drawn her grandfather and mother out of the medical tent and soon enough, she was laying on an exam table, sans pants. Which sucked, because those jeans made her ass look fantastic.
Gene had reassured her by telling her that the bullet had missed the arteries, but was wedged up against bone. So he had to pry it out. In Charlie's opinion, it felt more like he was digging. For gold.
"Sweetheart, if you don't hold still, I could do more harm than good here," Gene explained, but Charlie didn't much care. It hurt so much, she was fighting back tears. No way was she going to cry in pain. It was getting harder to resist though; Charlie could feel the invasiveness of the medical tools underneath skin, in muscle, against bone. Now she knew why Maggie always lamented the loss of reliable anesthetics.
"Rachel, help me, I've almost got it!"
Charlie felt a surge of relief at her grandfather's words... at least, until she realized what "helping" entailed. Her boots and socks had been taken off after her jeans were cut away and it was confirmed she wasn't bleeding to death right then and there. Now, Rachel was standing at the end of the table that Charlie was laying on, hands bracing her left leg to the table.
Oh, this couldn't be good.
Just as Charlie was about to ask what was going on, Gene did something with a tool that hurt so bad Charlie thrashed on the table, howling in pain. Her back arched and she instinctively kicked out with her right leg, fighting to escape.
Suddenly, the medical tent erupted into chaos.
Gene dropped his tools and ran to Rachel, shouting at Charlie before demanding a nurse come help him with Rachel. The impact of Charlie's heel to her chest had sent her to the floor, yelping in pain. The sudden lack of opposing forces pinning her in place sent Charlie twisting to the ground as well. She landed in a heap between the tent entry flaps and the exam table. The fall was too much and the tears she had been trying so hard to suppress burst out.
Mother. Fucking. Ouch.
"What the fuck is going on in here? What did you do to her?!" Bass's familiar angry growl cut through the tent, leaving silence in its echo. Charlie was sure that she was the only one who was calmed by the man's presence, because he looked full-blown "President Monroe is about to execute you now" pissed. He dropped into a crouch next to her, ignoring everyone else in the room. "The hell happened?"
Taking a shaky breath, Charlie did her best to answer. "Hurts. B-bullet..." She did her best to explain, but it was too difficult.
Bass seemed to understand, nonetheless. Carefully, he scooped her up and placed her back on the table. When he moved to step back, Charlie kept her fist clenched into the neckline of his t shirt, a wordless plea to stay. His chin dipped in a brief nod Charlie let her fingers unravel from the worn cotton. They always had understood each other.
"Now," he said and turned away from her to address the rest of the tent. "Why didn't you give her any medication?"
"Wha- That's what you're concerned with? She just hit her own mother!" Gene shouted, and Charlie winced at the anger in his voice. She hadn't struck out at Rachel on purpose, it was just instinct. She was in pain and wanted to get away from it, and her mother just so happened to be in the way. She would have done the same thing to anyone trying to hold her down, even if it was Miles or Bass. They would have understood, though. There were some days that Charlie thought her mother saw her entire personality as a personal affront.
"She looks just fine to me. Besides, she's a tough old bird, aren't you Rach?" Bass's sneer was audible. "Why the hell didn't you come get me?"
Charlie wanted to know that too. Bass would've pinned her in place, even if she was kicking and screaming. He would do just about anything to ensure her survival, even if she bit hard enough to draw blood in the process.
Well, wasn't that an intriguing thought, certainly one she had entertained before. Charlie let mind wander as Bass, Gene, and now Rachel argued about a low supply of pain medicine and it moonshine could be used as a substitute. Bass was still standing next to the table, his left hand braced next to hers. Absentmindedly, she reached out a finger and traced the tendons standing out on his forearm, tracing them and the veins up to the hard swell of his bicep.
She was contemplating the muscle there, wondering just how long he could hold her up against a wall using just the strength of his arms when she realized that everyone had stopped yelling and were moving around again. The muscles under her hand bunched and shifted as Bass turned to face her.
"So, here's what we're gonna do. Doc's gonna dig that bullet out, I'm gonna hold you in place, and then you're gonna drink enough moonshine to pass out. Got it? Good." Bass nodded firmly and walked around the table to her left side. Charlie was about to pout and ask him to come back when he hopped up and sat in front of her. Wait, since when did she pout?
"I think I'm getting delirious," she mumbled.
"That'd be the pain. Just hang on a little longer, okay?" Bass reached out and placed his hand on her left knee. His touch was soothing. "Scoot forward."
"Why?" Charlie asked. He was sitting right in front of her, where was she supposed to scoot to?
"Put your left thigh over my lap, let your other leg just rest on the table behind me. I'm gonna grip below your knee and put my weight on your upper leg if I need to." Charlie did as he asked, scooting her ass gingerly forward, trying not to jar her injured thigh. She was sweating by the time her leg was propped across Bass's knees. "Okay, now lay back."
As Charlie followed his instructions and shifted into position, she spotted Gene coming back over with fresh surgical tools. Oh, she must have knocked the other ones into the dirt when she fell off the table. She hadn't meant to. "Sorry about the tools."
Her grandfather looked startled at her words. "Excuse me?" Now he looked angry again. Charlie didn't want an angry person trying to pull a bullet out of her, even if that person was a relative. She was about to say so when a sudden weight across her abdomen and torso stopped her.
Bass gently slapped his left hand over her mouth from where he was stretched over her body. "Let's get this show on the road doc, she's getting loopy from the pain."
"Funny, coming from you," Charlie mused when he pulled his hand away. That got a surprised laugh out of her partner.
Then, it was time to get down to business. The shock of fresh antiseptic cleaning out the wound made Charlie twitch. Bass sat up a bit and shifted over to get a better grip around her thigh as Gene pulled out the damn tools. This time, the first probe with the tweezers didn't make Charlie yell. She was too distracted by the press of Bass's denim-clad hip against her crotch. It wouldn't be that big of a deal, but she was wearing panties. And had just been fantasizing about him screwing her up against a wall. Oh well, at least it was distracting her from the blinding-
"Ow, shit! Stop, stop!" Charlie cried out.
"I've got it!" Gene shouted and Charlie almost passed out when she peered over to see him wiggling a sharp metal tool in her leg. Good thing she was laying down.
"Okay, he got it out! It's over, Charlie. The hard part's over." Bass reassured her, stroking her bare knee with his thumb. "Doc's just gonna stitch you up, and we'll get you some whiskey."
Giving a shaky nod, Charlie did her best to relax as Gene started to finish up. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Rachel hovering with two of the nurses at the back of the tent. They were clustered together and talking, occasionally glancing over at Charlie. She knew that they were talking about her, what had happened. Great.
She told herself to ignore them, and watched Bass instead. He was sitting upright now, his right hand still stroking her knee in a steady back and forth. His bright eyes were narrowed as he watched Gene start to stitch the bullet whole in her thigh. His left hand was wrapped casually, almost possessively around her hip, just inches away from where the bullet wound was. Despite the seemingly relaxed position, Charlie knew that the placement of his hand was purposeful: He was prepared to dart out and grab Gene's hand if he made any mistake. It may be twisted, but Charlie found it comforting, all that danger coiled tight (and between her legs...) and ready to spring in her defense.
"There we go," Bass said murmured. "You're doing great, Charlie. He's almost done."
"Mhm." Charlie nodded and bit her lip against the pull of the needle. She reached out blindly and grabbed for where Bass's hand rested against her hip, squeezing tight as Gene finished with the stitches.
"That's my girl," Bass stated, pride in his voice. "Hang on a little longer, I've gotcha."
Charlie barely felt it as Bass carefully lifted her leg so that Gene and a nurse could wrap bandages to protect the sewn-up wound. She was too focused on what Bass had just called her. Did he even realize what he'd just said, much less the effect it had on her?
As he eased her leg back down to rest against his own and passed her a flask that had been tucked into his back pocket, he winked at her.
Yeah, he knew exactly what he'd called her.
And he was right.