Chapter 11
Healing Hands

Near Qingzhu (Zafiro), Haiyuan County, Shannanxi Province

It had been four days since Batista and Masako left Arroyo. As much as Batista wanted to conserve their money, he sprang for second-class tickets to the border. There was no way he go nine days in a standing room only third-class car. Second class cabins like this seated four with two fold-out racks for sleeping. Fellow passengers in the cabin came and went along the way, but at least until they reached Zafiro, it was just the two of them. There weren't going to be too many opportunities like this, which meant it was a fine time for Batista to change his dressings. The kind of damage he had suffered would have a way of sticking in people's minds and he didn't want people remembering him.
He grunted as started to take off his longcoat. You don't really appreciate all the muscles in the body and how they work together until you get hurt and they remind you how much use they get on a daily basis.
Masako noticed this and went over to help him get his coat off, saying, "You are so stubborn. Why do you not ask for help?"
"I didn't know you was offerin'," Batista replied. "Ow, dammit..."
Once the coat was off, he slid off the loop tied to the shotgun and went to work undoing the shoulder holsters. Not one to completely lower his guard, he set down the shotgun next to him in easy reach. He then undid the frogs on his shirt and Masako pulled it off of him. He looked down at the bandages and saw that they weren't too discolored by seepage. Too much for Masako's taste, though, apparently.
"You have waited too long to change the bandages," she said.
"What do you know 'bout it?" Batista asked.
"Enough to know you have waited too long to change the bandages."
"Well then, let's get ta changin' 'em. There's spare bandages an' a tin a' carbolic salve in the bag."
"Carbolic... salve?" Masako asked curiously.
"Ya use it on cuts an' bruises," Batista told her. "Works for horses, work for people too."
She got up to search through Batista's bag, which he had up in the rack, wondering aloud, "What else for horses do you have in here?"
"A ridin' crop ta whup ya inta shape if ya don' hurry it up."
She shot him a mighty dirty look for that and then went back to looking through the bag.
"Are there no scissors to cut through the bandages?" she asked. "Or a knife?"
Batista jiggled the the machete at his hip.
"That is not what I had in mind," Masako replied. "I will go ask."
She stood up and went to the door.
"No, wait--"
She was already out of the cabin before Batista could finish. The last thing he needed was her wandering around in the train alone asking questions that were liable to get her noticed.
Looking at all his stuff around him, he grumbled to himself, "Dammit, now I gotta put all this shit back on."
Just as he was starting to put his shirt back on, Masako returned.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"I was goin' ta get ya," he said. "Ya don't need ta be runnin' 'round out there."
"I am not entirely helpless, you know."
Batista was about to dispute that point when she held up a pocketknife.
"The porter let me borrow this."
Honestly, he did feel better about the prospect of her cutting off the bandages with that rather than fumbling around with a machete, but he wasn't about to give her credit for finding a solution so quickly.
"Jus' don't forget ta give it back," he said. "We'll have all sorts a' hell ta deal with if he gets it in his head that ya nicked it."
"I had no intention of keeping it," she replied, going over to him and kneeling down beside him. "Now hold still."
"Be careful now. I don't need ya puttin' any new holes in me. Ya sure ya can handle that thing?"
"I know how to use a knife."
She started with the bandages for his stomach wound. The blade of the pocketknife wasn't particularly sharp, so she had to do some sawing to cut through. As she started to peel off the bandages, it quickly became clear that they had gotten stuck to the wound.
"Ow, dammit," Batista grunted when she first started to pull on it.
"I told you you should have changed the bandages sooner," she said.
"Yeah, yeah, jus' don't yank out the damn stitches while you're pullin' on it like that."
"If you have any suggestions as to how I will do this, I would like to hear them."
Batista had to grit his teeth as she tried twisting the bandage to get it to come loose.
"It is stuck fast," she said.
"Get some damn water," Batista told her. "Pour some on an' soften it up a bit."
He meant for her to use the canteen, but she left the cabin again and a while later came back with a glass of water. He didn't even bother to reproach her for it. What was the point?
She started to pour some of the water over the part of the bandages that were stuck, careful not to use too much and make a mess of it. She let it soak in a while, then worked at it again, eventually managing to get it off.
Looking uncertainly at the wound, she asked, "Should it be so red?"
Batista looked down and saw that the wound was a little pinkish, which could mean an early sign of infection, not that there was much he could do about it if that was the case.
"Jus' gimme the salve," he said. "It'll be as good as anythin' for it."
Noting that he was keeping his right hand on the shotgun, she did not give him the tin of carbolic salve but instead dabbed some on her fingertips and spread it over the wound herself. Batista didn't fail to notice a little hesitancy as she did it. He didn't imagine she was too used to doing stuff like this.
Masako then took the spool of bandages and bound up Batista's stomach before moving up to the bandages on his chest. As with his stomach, the bandages had gotten stuck to the wound, but the same trick worked to get it off. The pock marks from the blast of rock salt were fairly shallow and he could probably ditch the bandages in two or three more days.
While she was spreading more salve on his chest, Masako asked him, "How... How do you bear it?"
Looking down at his injuries, Batista thought she was being a little too dramatic about the whole thing.
"Aw, this is nothin'," he said. "I've had a lot worse before."
Masako shook her head.
"Not just the wounds... All the killing... Always walking the line between life and death..."
So she was thinking of heavier stuff after all. It didn't change much, though.
"Look, princess, I'm a mercen'ry. Killin's my job. Walkin' 'tween life an' death's jus' 'nother day at the office."
Masako said nothing for a while and it wasn't until she was almost done with the new bandages on his chest that she spoke up again.
"You remind me of my father... When you killed those men before, your face, it was like some fierce god. I saw the same look on my father's face when he fought the assassins who had come to kill him. There were eight of them and he killed three... He would have killed them all if they had not fought like cowards."
It would figure the Celestials would entertain themselves with notions of honor and chivalry, dumb ideals that didn't last long on an actual battlefield. He meant to tread lightly on the subject of her father's death, but he wound up being honest instead.
"Fightin' fair jus' gets ya killed," he said. "If ya don't fight ta come out alive no matter what, ya don't come out alive."
"He was protecting me," Masako said. "Surely he knew he could not best them all. He was trying to buy time for me to run away, but I could not run..." Her eyes started tearing up and her voice cracked a little as she continued, "He died in vain... I was captured and sold and would have been abandoned to all dishonor..." She looked directly at him. "If it were not for you, I..."
Batista couldn't take those eyes of hers. There's no telling what might've happened if he didn't cut things off then and there.
Resting his hand on her shoulder, he said, "Alright, ease up, princess. That ain't gonna change nothin'. Jus' focus on doin' your bit ta stay alive till we get ta Lingmu an' maybe he won't've died in vain after all."
Masako wiped away her tears, struggled to put on a smile and nodded.
"Thank you," she said.
"Don't mention it," Batista replied. "An' thanks for the patch job. Couldna done better myself."