After a few more minutes of walking, they both arrived back at Justin's barracks. To his surprise, the room was occupied by a noticeably smaller number of people than had occupied it that morning.
"Where is everyone?" Justin asked.
"We're allowed to visit with other barracks until nine o'clock," Sam explained. "But I think they should be coming back here shortly."
Justin looked at his watch and realized that Sam had an excellent internal clock; it was eight forty-five.
"I'll get you some shampoo," said Sam, breaking away from Justin and exiting the room.
Justin walked toward his bed, taking the case of alleged "painkillers" out of his pocket and reading the front of the plastic container.
HIGH STRENGTH PAINKILLERS
Take after meals
The label looked harmless enough. After all, maybe they were just high strength and the ones he had gotten in the infirmary had been the normal kind.
But do I want to take that chance? Justin thought. What if they are deadly? All the nurse had to do was stick a label on the container. I don't have any proof either way.
Suddenly another, completely unrelated thought struck him, and he tossed the case of pills on his bed as Sam returned through the doorway.
"Sam?" Justin asked.
"Yeah?" Sam replied, a small bottle of what Justin took to be shampoo in his hand.
"How come I never met Derek before if he's with you three?"
"Actually," Sam replied. "He's a fairly new addition to our team. I told him about it two days ago, after dinner. So he never got to see you because you didn't show up the next day. That's why he didn't believe you were actually Justin Evarb this morning; he thought you were just kidding around."
"You just asked him you if you wanna' escape?" Justin asked, incredulously. "Isn't that kinda' risky?"
"Not necessarily," explained Sam. "I can usually tell if people are safe to ask most of the time. I've made a few mistakes in the past, but I ask in such a subtle way that it's easy to cover up if I've asked the wrong person."
"But what if Derek had been, like, a spy or something?"
Sam smiled a small, closed-lip grin that seemed to fit his face perfectly. "Like I said - I can read people pretty well."
"Really?" Justin asked, hoping Sam would explain further. It sounded interesting.
"Yeah," he replied. "For instance I can see that you aren't sure if Francis did you in or not. I think most of the time you don't believe something just because someone told you; you have to find out for yourself."
Justin's face took on the amused expression one usually gets when someone else has revealed something thought to be hidden. Sam's face also took on an unusual expression, though his was not one of amusement. It seemed as though he were deliberating over whether or not to continue telling Justin things he may not have known about himself. Was there something else Sam had read in Justin?
For a moment, the two stared at each other - Justin unsure of what to say next and Sam seemingly caught in a mental limbo. Finally, Justin spoke.
"You really think Francis didn't do it?"
"I don't think he would've done it if he wanted to," Sam stated, coming out of his trance. "He's just not self-centered at all."
Justin nodded his head slightly, digesting Sam's testimonial.
"Here," said Sam, handing the shampoo to Justin. "I'll use my name on the shower; it takes points too."
"Thanks," Justin said, very appreciatively. He walked back over to his bed, stripped to his shorts and followed Sam into the bathroom.
Sam keyed his information into the pad on the shower stall and the door opened with a very non-climactic click. Justin moved to enter the stall, but Sam stopped him. It wasn't a physical impediment, as though Sam stood in Justin's way or had grabbed his arm. It was something else - perhaps the fact that Sam still stood at the doorway to the shower, mouth slightly open, words waiting just behind his lips.
"What is it, Sam?" Justin hadn't asked the question, but it had been implied by the concern on his face as he stood half in and half out of the stall as the shower head behind him - shoddily assembled - oozed water from its tip: drip...drip.
Sam took a micro-step closer to Justin. Justin shivered, though he didn't know why - it was not cold in the bathroom.
"Justin," Sam started. "I...I really want to thank you; you've been so...so nice to me, to all of us. You didn't have to. You could have just come in one door and gone out the other - end of story. But you came back and helped us, and look what happened."
Justin felt Sam's eyes on his leg, examining his wound then traveling slowly upward.
"Look at what happened to you because of me. Look at what I did to you." Sam's hand brushed Justin's thigh. But it's my calf that's injured, Justin thought dreamily. He took a small step back and Sam seemed to unknowingly follow.
"You've received so much punishment but haven't gotten mad at me or any of us."
"It wasn't your fault," Justin replied, taking another step backward into the shower, Sam matching his progress. "You asked me to help; you approached me, but I was the one who decided in the end. What happened to me happened because I wanted to help. The only thing you really did was ask me; there's no real harm in asking something, right? You asked and I agreed."
"No," said Sam so softly it bordered on a mere exhalation. "No, I guess there's no harm in asking."
Two more droplets of water fell from the shower head and merged together upon striking the ground: drip.....drip. Sam went on, even softer. Justin could almost taste his breath, they were so close.
"I guess the only harm in asking is being denied. That's the worst part - thinking about it over and over and worrying about how it could go wrong."
Sam took another step forward. Justin did not move. He was not necessarily invading Justin's personal space so much as including himself in it. An invasion would have implied discomfort and Justin was quite comfortable.
Justin took a breath to speak and happened to gather up in that breath the scent of Sam's skin. For a moment, he was too overwhelmed - there was something about that smell. It was new and familiar at the same time. It seemed a wholly intimate experience - this fresh sense of Sam. Finally, he spoke. His voice was now equally hushed.
"I'm glad you did ask me, though. I'm glad you had the courage. If I had been in your position, I'm not sure I would have been so...brave."
"I was really scared, though," Sam replied as he gained another inch toward Justin. "I was trembling; honest."
Justin could feel the warmth pulsing from Sam, could feel his body heat ever so faintly against his skin. Sam's lips parted to continue his thought. Justin watched him breath in just as he had done moments earlier, absorbing him.
"What if you said 'no?'"
Sam didn't so much step as lean closer. The distance between them was now purely theoretical; the only thing capable of fitting between their tensed bodies was permission.
"I won't," whispered Justin.
Sam's lips met Justin's as they both took a step toward the back of the stall, the dripping shower head anointing first Justin then Sam with twin water droplets. Justin's rear bumped a lever on the shower wall and while both boys tasted each other for the first time, the head exploded with gushing, warm water, raining down upon the two of them as their inhibitions circled the drain and were lost forever.
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