Chapter 48


"See, what I'm figuring is the guy at the front desk could probably be bribed to go out and get something for you. For us, I mean. That way I wouldn't have to go anywhere, which is fine with me because I do not feel like getting out again any time in the next few hours." Blair straightened up, tucking the damp towel between his ribs and elbow so he could take Jim's face in both hands and gently raise it. "I'm pretty sure I passed a coffee shop on the way in. I bet we could get him to bring us some eggs and toast - or whatever you feel like," he added hastily, looking into Jim's eyes. "And there's got to be a drugstore nearby too. Day manager in a place like this is probably used to all sorts of crazy requests, for a few bucks more I bet he would detour over and pick up some neosporin and a box of band-aids too, don't you think?" Blair's hair was hanging down in his face in tangled wet clumps, the ends brushing Jim's face. The expression on his face was a desperate plea for approval.

"And this is going on my credit card too, isn't it?" It was worth the effort of speech to see the relief in Blair's eyes.

"Hey, it's just because I hate to use my card, you know? It takes like forever to pay off that interest." Blair lowered his face and touched his cheek to Jim's forehead for a moment. Then, dropping to one knee in front of Jim, he drew the towel out again, shifted it across his palm to find a dry corner, and began to dab gently at Jim's face.

"But it's different with my credit cards?" Jim whispered.

"Well, yeah." Blair shrugged and grinned. "You don't charge me interest." He pressed the towel to Jim's throat, then moved carefully across his right shoulder, one touch at a time. The edge of the towel skimmed one of the burns, a dark memory of suffering imprinted under his collarbone, and a sound escaped Jim.

"I'm sorry," Blair whispered, lifting the towel away. "I'm sorry." He reached up and touched Jim's mouth with his fingertips. "Just a little bit longer now. I'm sorry it hurts."

Jim closed his eyes and tried to feel nothing but the soft press of those fingertips. All too soon Blair had lifted them away and gone back to blotting his way down Jim's arm, avoiding the ragged bands of pain above his elbow and around his wrist. When he reached Jim's hand, he laced their fingers together and held his palm pressed to Jim's until Jim opened his eyes and looked at him. "Do you really mind about your Visa? I guess I just never thought about it."

Jim wasn't strong enough to laugh, so he just looked at Blair, and Blair understood and laughed for him. Just a quiet chuckle as he returned to patting the towel over Jim's skin, a little more awkwardly from keeping their hands locked together as he worked his way down Jim's other arm, one touch at a time. "Tell you what, I'll pay you the interest in housework. I'll take your turn cleaning the bathroom for the next couple of months, how about that?"

Jim nodded a little. "Right. That always works," he whispered.

Blair's eyes narrowed in mock suspicion. "Are you implying I wouldn't keep my end of the bargain?"

"Never." Jim was so weary and so cold that when Blair lifted the towel away for a moment as he stood up to ease the pressure from his bent knee, he followed helplessly with all of his body.

"Gently," Blair murmured, so soft Jim wasn't entirely sure if he were talking to himself or to Jim. He released Jim's fingers, his hand coming up to rest on Jim's shoulder, carefully urging him to sit up straighter as he finished drying Jim's left arm. When he was done he said, "I want to get your legs now, all right? I don't want to use the towel on your chest. Can you sit up just a little while longer for me?"

Jim nodded because Blair wanted him to, and because he would try, since Blair needed this from him as well. He must not have been very convincing, because Blair whispered roughly, "Oh, Jim, I know," and put his hand on Jim's face, bending to press his cheek to Jim's temple, his sorrow and unswerving determination as plain as the kiss his touch stood in stead for. "Just a little more, so we don't get the sheets all wet."

"OK," Jim agreed quietly, and with that soft acceptance, Blair moved back half a step and knelt before Jim, dropping his hand from Jim's shoulder to his thigh.

"This floor is soaked," he complained, wrinkling his nose as he looked up at Jim. When Jim nodded, he smiled again, brilliantly, that expression of his a beacon in that dim, wet room smelling of strangers and mildew and cleaning supplies. But it smelled of Blair's shampoo and soap as well. Blair's imprint was here, as was his own, a subtle overlay of familiarity even here in the wilderness. He reached out to lay his hand on the side of Blair's face, cupping his bruised jaw as Blair began carefully patting the towel over his leg, the terrycloth folded in a rough sort of thick square that covered half the length of Jim's thigh. He patted gently around the outside of Jim's left leg, then the inside, coaxing Jim to open his legs enough to reach the damp flesh high on the inside of his thigh. Blair's touch was gentle and sure, even through the thick padding of terrycloth. He lifted the towel away gently when he was satisfied he had blotted as much moisture as he could, and laid it down again further down Jim's leg, covering his knee, then reaching carefully around and drying the tender flesh at the back of Jim's bent knee as well.

He stopped for a moment and sat back, looking up at Jim as though there was something he wanted to tell him. In the end he didn't speak, he simply covered Jim's hand with his own for a moment where Jim still held his jaw, and then carefully draped the towel over Jim's right thigh and repeated each gentle press down as far as Jim's knee.

Finishing as carefully as he had begun, he took a deep breath, leaning his head into Jim's touch, before lifting the towel away again and folding it into a smaller, tighter bundle which he used to blot his way down each of Jim's calves. He was, if possible, even more careful over the long bones of Jim's lower legs, cupping the hand that wasn't holding the towel gently at the back of Jim's knotted calf. Jim hadn't realized how much tension still trembled in his legs until he felt the muscles tensed fiercely against Blair's palm.

"It's gonna get better," Blair said stubbornly, stroking the back of Jim's leg with a light, easy touch. "I promise it will. You still believe me, don't you?"

Jim finally dropped his hand, but only so he could rest it on Blair's shoulder. It seemed to be enough. Blair bobbed his head, wet locks of hair beginning to curl on his shoulders, brushing Jim's hand. He blotted the tops of Jim's feet and then laid the towel aside. Jim felt Blair's hand curve around the back of his ankle and tug forward, getting Jim to straighten his knee so Blair could run his searching fingers along the sole of Jim's foot. Jim felt an old, familiar square-edged prickle. It was a grain of sand rolling across his flesh, and he couldn't help wincing.

"Easy," Blair whispered, looking up at him. "I'm sorry, I know. There's still just a little bit of sand on the soles of your feet that I didn't get in the shower. Know something? If you could just swing around here and set your feet in the bathtub, I could finish up and get rid of all this sand for good and --"

"Please," Jim rasped, looking away. He couldn't quite manage to face Blair's hopeful eyes as he said it. "Chief, please, can't it wait?"

"Yeah," Blair said immediately, his voice a little too loud. "No problem. Probably pick up more sand getting to the bed anyway. We'll finish up when we get some neosporin on these cuts." He got slowly to his feet, Jim's hand still on his shoulder. "So what do you think?" he asked softly. "Ready to go get in bed? Maybe you can get a nap while I try to get us some breakfast delivered this morning."

"Sounds good," Jim tried to answer. He didn't know if the words were loud and clear enough for Blair to understand, but the meaning must have gotten through anyway. Blair stooped and put his arm around Jim's back, under his shoulders, pulling Jim's arm over his own shoulders in turn.

"Ready?" Blair whispered. Jim nodded and leaned into Blair's support before he tried to stand, the point of Blair's shoulder pressing so hard under his own he could feel the pressure against the artery, the beginning tingles of blood loss at his fingertips. His thighs tensed as Blair began to straighten up, moving slowly to be sure Jim was moving with him.

"We slip on this floor, man, and that's all she wrote," Blair muttered, spreading his legs slightly to brace himself. Jim heard a sound escape himself that was close to a chuckle, and Blair laughed out loud and hugged Jim tighter for a moment, patting Jim's ribs where his hand was spread wide over Jim's side.

Jim stood, Blair's faith and laughter seeming to be all he needed. Far more important than his own lost strength. He swayed, black spots dancing before his eyes, but Blair stood strong, arm wrapped firmly around him, supporting them both. "You're doing fantastic," Blair said, his voice sounding calm and happy. "Just going to get you to bed now so you can get some rest." He turned carefully toward the door, guiding Jim with his whole body. The water on the floor was cold. "OK, so I'm looking forward to a little shut-eye too. That and breakfast."


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