Chapter 46

The shampoo worked better the second time, breaking into a mass of thick white foam that caught the trailing ends of hair. A few globs of the lather slid away from the rest, coasting down the curve of Blair's spine and over Jim's arms, tingling as the bubbles broke with a constant crackling. Part of it ran over the raw spot on his wrist, and for a moment he didn't realize why the sensation felt so strange. His hands cupped Blair's shoulder blades, then moved upward slowly, as if drawn without knowledge of their goal until his fingers were lost in the heavy mass over the nape of Blair's neck. "Jim?" Blair asked uncertainly, holding very still as Jim's hands covered his.

"It doesn't hurt," Jim sighed, his hands moving languorously, slowly copying the motions Blair had used, somehow turning them from bare necessity to soothing, almost sensual massage. His hands drifted over the backs of Blair's, then sank into the soft, slippery tangle of hair, sliding through the strands until they caught on stubborn knots. The last few grains of sand were sliding through as well, but they were slick and skittered across his skin, bereft of enough friction to scratch as they had before. Besides, the small irritation was easy to ignore under the warmth of Blair's scalp resting in his palms like a gift.

"Oh," Blair breathed, whispering as he lowered his arms out of the way. "OK." He tipped his head back with easy trust, letting its weight settle more firmly into Jim's keeping. Blair shut his brimming eyes and said nothing more, but the way he laid his hands on Jim's shoulders in a relaxed, steadying grip spoke of his invitation. The movement arched his chest against Jim's, pressing their bellies together until the soft, matted hair on Blair's stomach was flattened against Jim's skin, their thighs shifting in contact. There was no sand left between them, and the simple sensation of skin touching skin without pain made Jim relax even more. The weary anticipation of constant hurt was beginning to fade at last.

Blair seemed to feel it too. He brought his hands down and wrapped his arms carefully around Jim's back, his eyes still closed, his head resting trustingly in Jim's hands. Looking down into Blair's face, Jim found a near smile on Blair's lips. The morning's beard darkened Blair's cheeks and chin. The froth of foam swept back from his forehead, and lay in white shadows around the tendrils that escaped Jim's hands and curled against Blair's neck and shoulders.

The contentment on Blair's face and the suds beginning to dribble down his brow made him a sweetly comical sight, save for the dull red bruise still darkening over his jaw. Jim brought his hand forward, wanting to brush away the suds on Blair's forehead before they ran across his face, though his own hands were full of soap as well. He used the side of his wrist to try to sweep them back, and a thinner tendril of foam swept perversely around Jim's wrist and ran down the middle of Blair's forehead. Blair squeezed his eyes shut tighter for a moment, wrinkling his nose, but then he relaxed again, eyes calmly closed as the watery trail of suds crossed one closed eyelid, ran down his cheek and spilled over his lips.

"Sorry," Jim whispered.

Blair just smiled a little more, and squinted open one eye. "S'okay," he murmured back, and then made a face at the taste of soap on his lips.

"Keep your eyes shut," Jim said, softer still. Talking was such an effort. Holding his arms up like this to work his hands through the warm, yielding weight of wet hair and shampoo suds was an effort too, but Blair relaxed against him, his head resting heavier still against Jim's hands, and it did not seem to matter that Jim had no strength of his own left. He was afraid the deep ache in his left wrist would make him clumsy, so he spread the fingers of that hand against the side of Blair's head, fingers working carefully under the weight of soapy wet hair to reach the velvet warmth of his scalp, and simply let his hand rest there. His fingers were still spread wide, palm curved as though he could support the weight of Blair's head if Blair needed him to.

He moved his other hand back across Blair's scalp, pushing his fingers gently through the soft density of Blair's wet hair. The individual strands had a glassy feel against his fingers. When his fingertips touched Blair's scalp, he made slow circles, cherishing the slight yield of flesh over the curve of Blair's skull, the way individual follicles stirred under the gentle pressure, and the quiet sound of pleasure Blair made, not seeming entirely conscious of it.

Letting his hand slide back further, he gathered a palm full of hair, thick with froth that spilled between his fingers and ran down the back of his hand. He felt the jittery agitation of soap bubbles sliding over the abraded flesh on his wrists, but the pain was so faint it didn't matter anymore. At least not at this moment. Errant tendrils of hair slipped between his fingers to veil his hand, and where Blair's hair lay softly over his wounds, there was no pain at all.

He eased his hand up through the silken, foaming locks, more of them spilling around his hand, slipping down his palm and behind his fingers, until he held the curve of Blair's skull in the palm of his hand and the gentle wrap of the strands circled his whole wrist, freeing him for that moment from the memory of captivity. And then again, dropping his hand to gather the soap-heavy ends that prickled against his palm, lifting the tumbled mass until it spilled past his fingers, and his palm and fingertips were against Blair's scalp. The slick strands were beginning to tangle, washed free of sand and grit, glassy silk around Jim's fingers.

Blair let him go, unwrapping his arms from around Jim's waist, leaving a few suds that had trailed from his soapy hands to slide down Jim's back. He brought his hands up and covered Jim's where they were still buried deep in his hair, and said without opening his eyes, "Let's get this rinsed out now, OK? Think we've been in the shower about long enough."

"All right," Jim managed. Though Blair's arms were no longer around him, they were still pressed close, Blair braced against him, his flesh warm, no tremor in the long muscles of his thighs. His breaths were steady and deep, swelling his chest against Jim's with every inhalation. "Tilt your head back," Jim directed, and gently pressed forward with his body, urging Blair back into the sputtering stream from the showerhead.

At that Blair opened his eyes wide, and looked up at Jim for a moment, then shut them again fast, blinking miserably at the soap.

"Told you to keep your eyes shut," Jim whispered. Blair nodded with a rueful smile, still blinking. He slid a step back backward, slowly, being sure Jim moved with him, and dropped his head back into the spray. His hands were still over Jim's. The touch of Blair's palms on the backs of his hands, soap and a few tangled strands of hair between them, and gentle pressure the soft flesh on the underside of Blair's forearms against his own arms seemed to cushion the battery of falling water.

Jim felt the onslaught and winced against it, but he was gazing down at Blair whose eyes were squeezed shut now that it was too late, his nose wrinkled, mouth turned down in a frown of concentration as the water pattered down on his head and their hands, and once more, the pain was less important than their touch. It was so far away and distant he would not have felt it all, save for the trembling weakness in his own body he could not still.

Jim swept his hands back slowly, chasing water and soap between his fingertips. Blair's hands covered his own, protecting him from the direct force of the water as best he could. Blair shifted against him, twisting his head further back so the water ran across his forehead and down his face. He seemed so naked, so vulnerable to Jim in that moment, his arms raised, his eyes screwed shut as water washed across his face. The shampoo was receding in a white line back across Blair's scalp and Jim followed it with his hands, combing his fingers thickly through Blair's hair to allow the water to wash more deeply. Blair's fingers were gently interlaced with his own.

Past the nape of Blair's neck, Jim wrapped his hands carefully under the mantle of wet hair. Blair's hands were guiding him as he gathered the heavy locks off Blair's shoulders and gently wrung the soap and water from the ends. He drew his hands back to Blair's forehead and began again. Blair was resting more of his weight against him, though Jim didn't think he realized it. He was simply exhausted, relaxing helplessly into the meager pleasure of the lukewarm water washing the last traces of salt and sand away.

Jim tried to comb his fingers through Blair's hair again, but with the shampoo suds mostly gone it lay too heavy and close to his scalp. He settled instead for moving his fingertips in slow circles back over Blair's head. Blair's hands still lay over his own. Freed from the weight of grit and sand and salt, the locks were beginning to curl again, even drenched as they were. Jim could feel the implicit coils dragging back from the weight of the water.

Blair was still holding his head back under the water, still counterbalanced contentedly against Jim as the water poured over his closed eyes and ran from the ends of his hair. Jim understood. After this night, the surcease of pain seemed more important even than rest. If it weren't for the trembling weakness in his own legs, he could have stood here like this forever too, holding Blair's head in his hands. He wished he could. He knew what would happen next, after getting out of the shower, drying off, allowing Blair to treat his injuries. It would be a return to the pain and dependence and desperate need. He did not regret his need for Blair, but just for a moment longer it was so sweet to remain still and allow Blair to rest against him. In his gratitude for the tenderness of this moment, a glimpse of the life Blair would help him reclaim for himself, he bent his head and touched his lips to Blair's brow in a brief, soft kiss.

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