The Camels' Back
Notes: Thanks to Sunglow for the title. I'd thought of it myself, but it was a real Twilight Zone moment when she came up with the same one. Must be a case of twin telepathy; spooky!
Surely no one should shed as much hair as Blair did? Jim wondered as he cleaned the drain for the second time that month. It wasn't even long strands either, like the ones that regularly appeared on the back of the sofa after they'd watched a game together. Reluctantly zooming in on the sopping mess, he saw that some had split ends, but others had been cut deliberately. Is that what Sandburg had been doing to clog the drain? Couldn't he afford a barber like the rest of them?
His hand stilled in the process of dumping the hair into a bucket, guilt slithering down his spine as he realized that Blair probably couldn't afford it. Every penny was stretched to the limit, which is why Jim never mentioned rent except as a passing joke. Damn. Quickly finishing with the drain, Jim levered himself up and took the bucket to the sink to wrap everything in newspaper. He'd have to think very carefully about how to handle this if he didn't want to upset Blair with insensitive comments, but from now on, Sandburg could clean the drain.
The water slowly swirled down the drain, and Jim tried not to zero in on what was slowing it up. Things had been tense for the last few weeks, and Jim was reluctant to rock the boat in what had been a stormy sea. It was easier now, with Sandburg working his ass off at the Academy, but there was an almost manic air about him as he blew in and out of the loft. It felt like it was only a matter of time before something happened, and Jim wasn't sure if it was going to be a good thing.
The loft door opened and Blair dropped his keys into the basket, walking stiffly over to the kitchen to grab a beer from the fridge. Standing in the bathroom doorway, Jim noticed the knotted muscles through the thin T-shirt and the bruise forming on his left bicep.
"Rough time?" he asked quietly, getting a small shrug in return.
"Just landed badly, that's all."
"How's it going anyway?"
"Okay," Blair's voice sounded tired, "it's just something I have to practice at."
Jim wasn't sure what to do with this version of Sandburg. He was so sure that this was the solution to all his problems; he'd have a job, a paycheck, still be able to work with Jim, what more could he want? Jim avoided the nagging voice that mentioned an academic career and credentials that would take Blair away from him. Unfortunately, his annoyance with the nagging voice bled through into his next comment, and it may also have been a subconscious desire to see the Sandburg he'd known before the press conference.
"Well, there's something else you have to practice at."
"Huh?" Blair looked up, eyes wary and shadowed.
"This crap I keep finding in the drain." Jim tapped the bucket with his foot, sending it wobbling a few inches across the floor. "It's your mess, you clean it up."
They stared at each other for a brief moment until Blair dropped his eyes to the bucket, seeing another mess he'd had to clean up. Hand shaking minutely, he lifted it and removed the leather thong that restrained his long curls, eyes burning and throat tight with tension. Taking a deep, shuddering breath, he spun towards his room and slammed the door, leaving Jim wishing he'd bitten his tongue.
The sound of harsh breathing reached him and then an unfamiliar sound propelled him forward to find out what it was. Opening the door, his eyes widened in shock at the sight of Blair hacking at his hair with a pair of scissors, chunks of auburn curls falling to the floor as he sawed through them. Lunging forward, he caught Blair's wrist and wrenched the scissors from his hand before he could do any more damage.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?"
Blair wrapped his arms around his middle and shook his head, sinking down onto his bed and rocking slightly, a lone tear slipping down his cheek and landing on his khaki trousers. Jim watched the damp droplet spread and shook himself free of the impending zone. Now just wasn't the time for it, when his best friend was falling to pieces in front of him. Following his instinct for once, he did what he should have done that time with Maya; sat down next to Blair and pulled him into his arms, rocking him until the tears dried up and he lay quietly against his chest.
Jim pressed his hand into the ravaged curls and started to talk. He apologized for being an insensitive jerk, for assuming that Blair would be happy to be a cop, for not telling him how much his sacrifice had meant to him, for everything until Blair stopped him with a finger against his lips.
"It's not your fault, Jim. I could have told you what was going on in my head. I've never hesitated before now." Blair let out a watery chuckle that ended in a hiccup.
"You don't have to do this, Blair, not if you don't want to." Jim's stomach churned at the thought of losing him.
"I do, that's the thing, Jim. I really do." Blair pulled back to look up at him, "I just don't know if I'm ready for it right now."
"It's too soon, isn't it?"
"Yeah. I need to get away for a while."
"How long is a 'while'?"
"I don't know." Blair sighed, willing Jim to understand. He felt Jim's fingers tighten in his hair and the slight tug that encouraged him to sink back down into Jim's arms.
"Do you have to be alone?" the words were hesitant.
"You'd come with me?" Blair spoke into the soft fabric under his cheek, soothed by the steady heartbeat.
"Only if you want me to."
"Okay." Blair looked down and picked up a loose curl, the proverbial straw that broke the camels back, "Sorry about this."
"You want me to do something about it?" Jim asked quietly, " I can tidy it up a bit for you."
"If you don't mind." Blair agreed and pulled reluctantly away, "It'll be easier if I wet it down."
"You go ahead and have a shower, and I'll tidy up in here." Jim picked up the scissors, eyes drawn to Blair's tear-streaked face. The blue eyes were clear of the shadows that had clouded them and Jim felt a deep rush of relief that eliminated the tension he'd unconsciously been harboring. He smiled tentatively at his friend and partner, receiving one back in return.
Jim worked in silence, trimming the long curls to match the length of the shortest. The natural wave of Blair's hair would take care of any mistakes he made, and he indulged a long-held desire to run his fingers through the fine strands after each cut.
Blair leaned his head against the firm stomach behind him, soothed by the gentle fingers massaging his head as his butchered hair was tidied up. For a brief moment, he regretted his hasty actions, but it had had the benefit of them finally clearing the air between them. They'd take some time off together and rediscover their purpose; maybe even find something new, if he was reading right the way Jim was holding on to him now. He was shedding more than hair, here, Blair thought sleepily, and tilted his head further into Jim, smiling as he felt the whisper of a kiss.
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