Jedediah winces as his arm swings a bit too quickly, a bit too roughly, and collides awkwardly with the tent pole as he attempts to push the flap aside, cursing under his breath at the unpleasant sensation that follows and clutching his arm to him with the other. The upper area of his left sleeve is rapidly changing colors, from a grey-blue to a red that earned him quite a few concerned looks on the way to his tent. Their stares don’t bother him as the flap falls back into place, his form immediately swallowed up by his cloth abode. Though he’s grateful he’s alone now, so he can tend to himself. It’s not as though he’s a stranger to pain, though he grits his teeth as he moves to remove his vest, a fresh wave of discomfort radiating through him. He refuses assistance, however, and every Westerner in the diorama knows that. No matter how close they are, no matter their sex, no matter how much he hurts, his pride would never allow it. He snorts in defiance as he hears people shuffling about outside his tent, hears them whispering. They don’t much know him anymore. He can take care of himself, he thinks as he removes his gloves.
Gradually, the noise dies down, and he can’t help but smile in satisfaction. Perhaps they’ve found something more suitable to fuss over, he thinks to himself as he gets down on his knees to pull his medical kit out from under his bed. A thin coat of dust covers it, even at his size, and he disposes of it with a breath and a brush of his hand. He swings it up onto the bed with his good arm and sits beside it, starting on the buttons of his shirt and working quickly. Its removal is rough and quick; he can’t waste moonlight on something so trivial, yet he cannot disguise the grunt of pain as the fabric separates from the congealing blood on his arm. He tears his bandana from his neck and casts it to the ground before popping open the small box and removing a rag and bottle.
He needs to heal. Fresh blood oozes from his injuries, having been reopened at his rough treatment of his body, and he curses at himself, quickly soaking the cloth in alcohol and dabbing at his wounds. He hisses at the sensation, but keeps it to himself. He’s attending to himself, but roughly and quickly. All he wants is to get this business over with. There are other things to do this night, instead of fussing over wounds he will live through. Injuries are a hassle. Jedediah is not a particularly patient man, though mostly kind and willing to work with others. With himself, he isn’t so kind.
He’s attempting to mop the blood from a smaller wound on his ribs when he hears the shuffle of gravel right outside his tent. The healing process screeches to a halt as he tenses, holding his breath while waiting for the stranger. Their shadow dances on the ground just inside the flap, lingering there, as if uncertain whether or not to enter. Annoyance begins to peak in the blonde cowboy as he picks up a slight murmur of talking again, though further away than before. However, the figure is too close to be any of the voices he hears. Then, the tent flap ripples as if it’s been touched. He tenses, a biting dismissal sitting on the tip of his tongue, just waiting to lash whoever dares to enter. The cloth ripples once again, then is suddenly moved aside. The bright light from outside stuns him for a moment, brighter than the dim light in his tent, and he must shade his eyes. The figure is dark, and he recognizes them not by their appearance, but by their voice.
“These three years have made you reckless, Jedediah.”
There is laughter in that voice. The harsh retort that had been waiting on his tongue suddenly dies, lost in the intruder’s identity. He hadn’t expected to be chased here. Henceforth his inability to form a reply to such an invasion, let alone one he didn’t particularly expect. The figure had never dared venture here before, yet here he is, quickly enveloped by the tent as he steps inside. Octavius.
“What d’ya want, Octy?” the blonde cowboy swiftly replies, scarcely missing a beat.
But Octavius does. He’s fallen silent, studying Jed’s figure, taking in the state of his friend. His gaze lingers on Jedediah’s wounds, flitting from one to the next, but it cannot be read. It’s steady, does not reveal any of his thoughts, any of his emotions, and it makes the cowboy a tad uncomfortable. Octavius is not usually so obscure. Moments pass. Jed isn’t sure if he’s holding his breath or not, but the Roman blinks, and finally speaks.
“Look at you.”
It’s disbelief, irritation, frustration. Octavius closes the distance left between himself and the bed, his eyes never leaving the injuries, and Jedediah realizes he’s never been seen with wounds like this. Out of reflex, he defends himself; it’s not a big deal, he reasons, Octavius doesn’t need to be there, he has this under control. But the general isn’t even listening. He’s intent on Jed’s cuts and abrasions, watching them as fresh blood comes to the surface, observing his scars with a disapproving frown, and his mind is clearly unaffected by his friend’s protests.
Octavius is clever, and knows his method of healing. He picks up the bottle himself and a clean rag, soaks it in alcohol, and, without a word, begins to repeat his method, albeit in a slightly different fashion. Jedediah hisses. He hisses because of the pain, because he is being healed properly. He fights the urge to retreat from the contact. Octavius is trying to help, and won’t have any of his excuses. And the last thing Jedediah needs is to create some sort of commotion that’ll give people even more… ideas. Though this may do the job itself, he sweats, and swallows uncomfortably. But the thought doesn’t last as Octavius turns to the wound on his upper arm, making it sting so badly he winces. He bites his tongue and tries to ensure it goes unnoticed. His eyes are squeezed shut, but he feels the general pause a moment. The moment drags open into what feels like an eternity. Why won’t Octavius just move? Jedediah is certain it’s been ages, but Octavius does eventually begin to move again, as gentle as before. He’s grown used to the sting now, and opens his eyes.
Jedediah isn’t sure he’s ever witnessed the Roman so close to his skin. To say the least, it’s rather distracting, Octavius with a steeled concentration tending to his wounds with a touch so tender it stings. It stings because it is proper. But that doesn’t stop the pain. When he tenses, when he winces, it doesn’t seem to faze the general. That concentration is almost unsettling, with his torso bare and his friend so close. His intestines feel like they’re knotting in his belly, the air is too stifling, too hot. He heaves a breath, and watches the feathers on Octavius’ helmet move. All these years, he’s been more involved with this man than he realizes. Far more than he’d like to think about. His life had consisted of railroad building and battling Octavius before Larry. After the night guard made peace, they cultivated a friendship. The general on his knees, treating him, has been far more involved than Jedediah ever wants to consider. He shakes his head to clear it and bites his tongue. So what? They’re friends now. Nothing wrong with that.
Though even he has to admit it doesn’t feel so platonic when the heel of Octavius’ hand brushes his chest. His heart leaps against his ribs, so hard, so quickly that he could swear he forgot to breathe. The Roman must notice something has occurred. His deep brown eyes flick upwards to meet Jedediah’s, glowing with concern. The hand that holds the rag rests against his chest now, and Jed desperately wishes for it not to linger. But it does. Neither one moves. Neither one speaks.
Octavius is the first to break eye contact, his gaze traveling to where his hand lies on the cowboy’s muscled chest. Never has he been so close to Jedediah. Perhaps to some relief, there isn’t much contact to his skin. Yet it feels so tense, so intimate. Almost as if neither of them are breathing. Jed doesn’t dare protest, for fear of the attention it would bring, of startling Octavius. The Roman doesn’t dare move, for Jedediah has not consented to be touched any more than this, to be touched elsewhere. His friendship is too precious to risk losing. Too much for his heart to handle.
Before long, Octavius finishes his task with a final, gentle swipe over the cowboy’s chest wound. He tosses the bloodied rag aside and plucks a roll of bandages from the box, working diligently and carefully. They’re both silent, ignoring what has just occurred; a barrier has broken away between them, though both are too numb to feel it. All that can be felt is the thickness in the air, their hearts beating in their chests, the pulse like thunder, despite the quiet of everything else. The rustle of gauze replaces any words they would think of speaking. Octavius loops the bandages around the cowboy’s arm, his ribs, his chest. His skin is heated. In a normal circumstance, Jedediah would jest that he was starting to look like Ahkmenrah. Though any joke feels it’d leave a bad taste in his mouth now.
Octavius is quick, and his injuries are wrapped within a couple of minutes. As the Roman turns away to place the medical supplies back in its box, Jedediah takes a moment to breathe. It was so hard to when he was being observed so closely, and his chest expands a bit more freely now that he isn’t under such scrutiny. After sliding the box under the bed, Octavius gets to his feet, silent and stiff, and pauses a moment, as if waiting for the cowboy to speak. But Jed has no idea what to say. His mouth is dry, his tongue incapable of speech. However, Octavius clearly takes his silence in a much more serious way. He raises his eyebrows slightly, blinks once, then nods before turning on his heel and walking towards the entrance to the tent. Just before he’s nearly gone, however, Jedediah’s tongue releases itself from its constraints.
“Octy, hey uh… thanks.”
The general stops at that, but doesn’t turn around. A smile that can’t be seen slowly tugs at the corners of his mouth, and his voice takes an unusual tone. “You’re very welcome, Jedediah.”
With that, Octavius pushes aside the tent flap and vanishes. And as soon as he disappears, Jedediah bites his lip, starts to shiver, starts to ache, though it has nothing to do with his injuries now.