"Aint pretty, I know."
"No it aint" Larabee crouched in front of his friend. Vin Tanner - or what was left of him - sat in a chair with a thin towel pressed to a crack in his lip. Both eyes were black and purple, one completely swollen shut. The rest of his face and probably the rest of his body was covered with swelling bruises in vivid colors. The two men were at Larabees shack.
"Think I got blood on your floor, didnt mean to. Been waitin on ya awhile."
"Woulda been here sooner if I knew." Chris pulled Vins arm aside to have a better look at the bleeding. Vin had already taken off his hat.
"Who was it?"
"Damn horse thieves. Bushwhacked me crossin the wash." Vin shook the towel out with his left hand and crumpled it before pressing it against his mouth again. He kept his right hand in his lap. "Sorry about the mess."
Chris looked around the shack, but the only mess he could see was a thick line of blood that had trailed Vin from the door. "Did they get your horse?"
"Nope." Vin sounded proud. "He run off. Got more smarts than I do. Or more luck. They took off after him and I came here."
"He ran from the danger, hes got the smarts in my book." Chris stood up. "Itll take me a little while to get a travois together. We should get ya in the bed to wait it out."
"I aint a papoose and I dont reckon to be swaddled like one." Vin said.
"Theres no other way to get ya to town."
"Who said I was going to town? Leave me holed up here a few days, Ill be fine. Just send my horse back to me, when he shows up." Vin shook the towel out one handed again.
"Whats the matter with that other arm?" Chris asked.
"Hurts. Like everything else."
"Let me see." Chris ran experienced hands along Vins right arm. "Feels broken." He said.
Vin hadnt made a sound, but now his brief "Yep," came through clenched teeth.
"Anything else ya wanna tell me about?" Larabee sounded annoyed.
"Sure I gotta blister on my foot walking here from the wash."
"No." Vin shook his head. "I held on this long, reckon Ill keep."
"All right. Wont move ya then. Itll hurt less. Just sit tight til I get some boards for splints."
Chris went out to the pile of scrap wood behind the shack. It took him a few minutes of digging to find a couple of pieces the right length. He carried them back inside, saying as he walked through the door: "Ill give ya some whiskey for the pain before I set the bone."
But as he said it, he saw that Vin had stood and put his broken arm through the slats on the back of the chair. The other hand held the chair steady and with one strong pull, and one loud snap, the bone was set.
Vin wavered a little on his feet, but otherwise made no sound.
"What the hell are ya doing?" Chris demanded.
"Straightenin up the bone."
"Ya shoulda let me do that."
"Why?" Vin asked. He sounded genuinely confused.
"Because it hurts?"
"Never stopped me before." Vin carefully freed his arm from the slats and used his good hand to steady himself while he sat back into the chair. "Feels better now." Chris shut the door behind himself and set the wood on the table.
"I bet it does. Well need to get your coat and shirt off to put the splints on. Ya will let me help you with that, wont ya?"
"Well youre here. Might as well make yourself useful." Vin said, leaning forward to start shrugging his jacket off his left shoulder. Chris stared at him a minute and shook his head with disbelief that Tanner still wasnt waiting for him. "This wont keep while ya sleep, ya know." Vin said. Chris moved forward then and helped slide the coat over the broken arm. The shirt came next, revealing an arm swollen under the thin and dirty undershirt.
"Ya might get me that whiskey now." Vins voice was thin and tight. "Reckon that last made it twinge a mite."
"Hold on, Ill get it for you." Chris walked to the table and poured a good cupful, bringing it back to Vin.
"Appreciate it." Vin said. His left hand shook though as he took the cup, and Chris put his own hand under Vins to keep it steady. He took a few deep swallows without comment, even though Chris knew it had to sting his battered lip.
"Dont ya ever feel pain?" Larabee had to ask.
"Yeah, of course I do." Chris turned to set the cup back on the table. He thought about what Vin was saying. If he, Chris, was a wanted man, afraid not to keep one eye open all the time, would he feel pain? Pain would only make him vulnerable. "Maybe not, if I was in your shoes."
"If ya were in my shoes, yad have yourself a blister." The one eye he could still see out of, Vin cast on the boards Chris had picked up. "Think we might parley here a minute? Give that whiskey a chance?"
"Sure." Chris set the wood back on the table. "Ill get some water, get you cleaned up." He filled the washbasin from the rain barrel outside, and found another towel. "I think thisll twinge a mite too."
"I can do it." Vin told him.
"Ya cant even see out of both eyes at once."
"Ya keep talking like I never took care of myself before. Who do ya think ever took care of me when I was hurt on the trail? Been hurt worse than this and took care of it all on my own." Vin sounded more puzzled than irritated.
Chris soaked the towel in the water and wrung it out, and looked at Tanner. Hed suffered more than a mild beating. From the look of his face, he mightve even been knocked cold. Broken arm. Maybe broken ribs. Having to walk in that condition nearly three miles from the wash to here. Then sitting here, alone, waiting until Chris came out at the time theyd originally planned to meet.
He didnt want to imagine Vin hurt worse than this, and he sure didnt want to think about him having to hole up and heal all on his own.
"Im here, I gotta keep busy, right?"
"I can do it myself." Vin insisted and Chris handed him over the towel. He found an old sheet and tore it into strips to use to tie the splints while Vin began to swipe at the dried blood across his face.
"Dont open that lip up again."
"Yes Nathan." After a few swipes, Vin set the towel on his leg.
"Is that it?" Chris asked.
"Here." Chris poured some more whiskey into the cup and brought it to Vin. "Let me hold it for ya." he said, when the hand Vin raised shook even worse than it had before.
"I can hold my own cup." Vin said. So, like before, Vin held the cup, and Chris steadied his hand. "I wish ya would just take my help. Ya been hurt ya know."
"I was takin care of myself before ya ever came along," Vin said after finishing the whiskey.
"And doing a damn fine job of it too."
"I meant before today."
Chris set the cup back on the table and took another long look at Vin. "According to what you just told me, before today ya been hurt worse than ya are now and never had anybody to help ya take care of yourself."
"Yeah," Vin said, sounding like Chris was agreeing with him.Chris shook his head.
"Ya say it like it was a good thing."
"Only thing there was."
"And now?" Chris asked.
Vin shrugged. "Ya come in handy every now and then I reckon.."
"Im touched." Chris picked the towel up, rinsed it and wrung it out again, and crouched down to take his own pass at Vins battered, bloody face.
"Stop it will ya?" Vin tried to block him with his good arm, and struggled to get out of the chair.
"Where do ya think youre going?"
"Bed, where do ya think? Ya fill me up with whiskey, ya dont think Ill want to lie down?" He swayed a little on his feet, and Chris caught him with a supporting arm and walked him the half dozen paces to the narrow bed.
"I can do it," Vin said, but this time didnt try to brush off the help. When he sat down on the mattress, he sucked in a sharp breath of air.
"Look at me," Chris said. He repeated, "Look up at me," when Vin didnt. Vin saw what he had in mind, sighed in resignation, and shut his good eye. Chris refolded the towel for a clean side and washed the blood off of Vins face. When he was done and stepped back, Vin opened his eye again.
"Ya gonna do my hands too Mama?"
"Ha ha. The whiskey seems to be working, ya let me splint that arm now?"
In a quarter of an hour, Chris had the splint on and was tying the last knot. "Howd you ever splint your own arm?"
"Forked stick, torn bandana, my teeth and my other hand." Vin hefted his splinted arm to test it. "Im a handy guy."
"Are you drunk?"
"All right then, let me get ya laying down."
"I can -"
"Yes I know," Chris interrupted.
" - do it myself."
It didnt take very long after Vin was lying down for him to fall asleep. Chris pulled off his boots and socks, and used the towel to wash the red, oozing blister under his left big toe. When that was done, he tugged off Vins trousers, leaving him in his long underwear, and spread the blanket over his sleeping friend.
At least he thought Vin was sleeping.
"Thanks for taking care of me Chris."
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