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Half of Angel's lupine face was gone, and the only thing keeping him upright were the two women holding his arms.
Lark sobbed in the dirt, his claws still stuck in her flesh. Kelly and Betsy lowered him to the ground. Then Betsy charged Denny, and slapped him so hard he dropped the antique Colt.
“Why the fuck did you do that?” she screamed.
“We couldn't save him,” he said limply.
“No, nothing can save you,” Betsy said, leaping at him with her hands clawed.
“No!” Kelly yelled, pulling Betsy off Denny. “Our friend is hurt. And I need help with her. Come on,” she said, yanking her back in the direction where Lark lay groaning.
Lark's back was covered in a lake of blood, pooling and trickling down her sides in waterfalls. It was dotted with islands of mud from Angel's hind paws, making it harder still to see how severe the damage was.
“I'll look away,” Denny offered, and started walking towards the fire.
“Now really isn't the time for modesty,” Kelly said, grabbing his hand and pulling him back. “These cuts are deep. We need water- all the drinking water we brought with us- to wash them out. And get the cleanest clothes you can find; we ran through the rest of Alan's bandages already. Betsy, take a few feet of rope and wash it off in the lake.” Betsy didn't budge from where she stood, glaring at Denny. Kelly shook her by the shoulder. “Now.”
Kelly collapsed to her knees when they left. It was taking all her strength that remained just to keep them from tearing out each other's throats. She felt more alone than seemed possible.
“It hurts,” Lark whimpered.
“I thought you were passed out.” Kelly said. “Hoped it, really.”
“No such luck,” she replied softly. “How bad?”
“Don't know,” Kelly said, grabbing handfuls of dirt and shoving them off her back. Her finger grazed a slash beneath one of the mud balls. “God.” The wound was as wide as two of her fingers, and she traced it gently up her spine.
“How bad?” Lark asked again.
“Not sure how deep,” Kelly said, “but you've got cuts down your back.”
“Never wanted to be a back model, anyway,” Lark said, laughing hollowly, then started to push herself out of the mud. “So long as I can-”
“Don't,” Kelly said too late, and Lark collapsed back into the dirt.
“Fuck. That was stupid. Why would you let me try that?”
“I learned years ago that I couldn't stop you from being stupid,” Kelly said with a smile.
“Ask,” Denny said, carrying water past her, “and ye shall receive.” He balanced a small stack of shirts and poured until the gallon was gone. For an instant they could see Lark's back clearly, and the series of slashes across it. The one Kelly had found seemed to be the shallowest of the bunch. After a few seconds the water was so thickly red that they couldn't see again.
“What's the thickest thing you found?” Kelly asked.
“Angel packed a sweater.”
“Keep that separate, for the bandage.” She took two shirts. She used the first to wipe the blood and water away from her back. A small gasp escaped Lark's lips, before she relaxed. Then Kelly layered the second over the cuts, and put pressure on them.
“Got your rope,” Betsy said.
“Give it to Denny, then help me hold pressure, here, and here. This is at least a two woman job.”
“And Denny's going to...” he started.
“Put those someplace to keep them clean and dry. We need to stop the bleeding before we try to bandage her. Shit.” She'd already bled through the first shirt. “Give us a couple more shirts, before you go.”
Denny handed them over, and they layered them over the first.
“You're doing great, Lark,” Kelly said.
“I know,” Lark said, stammering. “I bleed at a semi-pro level.”
“You're in shock,” Kelly said. “But you're doing really well. You've got to be in a lot of pain. When Denny gets back-”
“Speaking of the devil,” Betsy said, with an edge betraying her still-roiling anger.
“Would you see if there's any more painkillers? Maybe in somebody's backpack.”
“I've got tension headache meds, in my satchel.”
“Sure,” Denny said.
Kelly eyed Betsy, who shrugged. “It's not always easy being type A,” Betsy said. “Back in high school I'd have panic attacks anytime I didn't ace a test. But my parents taught me well; I waited until I got home to show it. Of course, I meant 'taught' euphemistically, since it was a combination of abusive parenting and inadvertently passing along unhealthy coping mechanisms. But 'taught' seemed more concise. And maybe a little kinder. I mean, I've mellowed, since then. But that's the other thing my parents taught me. It wasn't enough to be great. I needed to be exceptional, in everything, and any time I'm not...”
Lark groaned. “She's right,” Betsy said. “You're doing really well. Very brave, braver even than tackling the embodiment of your greatest fear off me.”
“In retrospect, seems like a silly choice,” Lark moaned.
“Don't be a pain, because I'm trying to thank you. You saved my life. And that... it makes me feel even crappier. When I proposed this weekend, I wanted it to go well, for everyone but you. I thought it was you, that Alan was cheating with. I know he was the first boy you kissed, back in high school, even if you kept it kind of quiet. And I half-expected that when push came to shove, you were going to end up on the outs with everybody, maybe completely out.
“And I thought that, at least in part, because you've always made me insecure. You can't out-petite me, but you were everything I couldn't be, physical, one of the guys. I got super jealous when Angel and I first started dating, when I was watching one of your scrimmages. He tackled you, and you ended up rolling around on the ground with your legs wrapped around him.”
“It wasn't like that.”
“I know. But it could have been, you know? If he wanted me, I'm pretty confident I'm the best me there is. But if he wanted something else, someone like you, for example, taller and more athletic, I couldn't be you. And even though I got pretty good at suppressing it, I realize I didn't ever get over it. I've been a shitty friend this entire time, and you-” her voice broke as she tried to choke back a sob.
“Don't girl out on me, now,” Lark said, turning her head to try to look at her. “We'll get out of this, together. But that means I need you strong, now. I may not have much fight left. So you'll have to fight for me.”