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Something to Soothe the Mind (Part 3) by Fantasy Weaver


Direct continuation of part 2. Please read other parts for context. This is a very heavy and emotional part of the story, so please read at your own discretion. Enjoy.

-Fantasy Weaver


Note

1:Some foul language ahead

Something to Soothe the Mind

Part Three

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Tarek gave his shoulders one last squeeze before he rounded the chair to his station. While the man fumbled around in sliding drawers and getting his tools ready, Dari took this moment to brush his fingers lovingly through the frail raven strands on his head, knowing that these were the last few moments he would have with them before the month-long process of growing them back.

He felt each strand between his fingers, noted the disparity in texture, eyed how matt and dry his mane looked, touched the patches on his scalp, felt each one with the tip of his fingers, wondering what they would look like soon. He pulled his hand away, dragging with it a dozen hairs stuck between his fingers.

He cast the strands aside, closing his eyes as he reeled in his mounting despair, tilting his head back to blink away the tears threatening to fall from them.

Shuffling from the workstation caught his attention; Tarek approached with what Dari recognized as a weighted hairstyling collar. He had often seen the stylists at his salon drape them over client’s shoulders for especially precise cuts, as the added weight straightened out a patron’s posture.

Confused as to what the man needed that for, he shifted restlessly in his seat, asking, "Why are you using that?"

Tarek paused before he could completely round the chair, humming questioningly at the raven. Dari gestured to the shoulder weight, and Tarek explained, "It’s to help keep you calm." At Dari’s uncertain stare, he elaborated, "It’s like how people use weighted blankets to sleep better. We’re using the same logic here."

The young man stared down into his lap, realizing that the snow-haired man meant he was too agitated, and needed him to relax, something not so easily achievable in his current state. "Oh…I see."

He tensed at the feel of the barber gathering up his hair, wanting to twist in his seat to demand what he was doing. "I’m just pinning your hair," Tarek patiently explained.

‘He must think I’m such a drama king. Get it together you idiot’ his subconscious raged internally at him. To react in such a way, over getting his hair put up in a clip; honestly, how much more did he need to humiliate himself?

But Tarek said nothing. Once he had pinned the young man’s hair temporarily in place, he draped the collar over Dari’s heaving shoulders, and as soon as the weight settled upon them the young man felt his agitation settle somewhat. It was like he said: the heaviness from the collar seemed to dull the sharp edges of his anxiety.

That feeling, however, did not last very long. The taller man already took the steps to his station and picked up a cape to wrap him up in. This one, unlike the sleeved vinyl sheet Dari had worn during his examination last time, was made of a synthetic fabric, perhaps polyester, much more akin to cloth or hemp fabric in texture. No sleeves. ‘Probably to stop you from touching your hair,’ his mind relentlessly went on, ‘Maybe he saw how much you were touching it and thought "oh boy, this guy is going to be so annoying if he keeps doing that" and made sure you wouldn’t be able to. Are you happy with yourself?’

‘Shut up. Just shut up’ he told himself fiercely. He wouldn’t put words in Tarek’s mouth, nor would he let his invasive thoughts get the better of him.

Still, he swallowed thickly when the barber came over with the cape. He kept his head resolutely bowed, as if that could stop the man from fastening the sheet around him, as if this alone would prevent this from happening.

He breathed an unsteady breath through his nose when the other’s hands gave a light touch either side of his jaw, "Lift your head…"

Although a part of him wanted to resist, he obliged, letting the hands carefully tilt his head into a straight position, and then tilting it just a slight bit back to expose his throat. He closed his eyes as the cape came to rest against his neck, and exhaled as it was firmly clasped into place.

Breathing in and out multiple times, Dari felt Tarek adjust the material around his body and the chair. Scared brown eyes stared into the mirror, finding only his head and an endless sea of white. The chair had nearly disappeared from sight, as had his body from the neck down.

He folded his hands together under the cape, gripping them together tightly to stop himself from shaking.

Tarek took the clip out of his raven hair, letting the strands fall loosely around his covered shoulders. Some more hair loosened from his scalp, falling to the cape. Dari could already imagine chunks of the stuff littering it.

The barber went to his station, and what Dari saw had his stomach churning unpleasantly. On a small, rounded square base resided a slim, sleek white clipper encased in a glass container, in which a sterilizing UV light kept it clean and ready for use. He was more than familiar with the sight of it, having spotted similar models at the hair salon, but never had they been used on him. Now though, his caretaker took it in his right hand. No wires were required for most equipment these days, as was the case for this clipper. Like the rest of the room’s aesthetics, a blue light indicated it was ready to be used.

Tarek walked over to him, clipper in hand.

"F***…" Dari cursed under his breath, feeling himself slowly losing his grip on reality. He turned his head to the right, opposite to where Tarek had placed himself beside him. Three short breaths puffed out of him, and his entire body shook as he exhaled long and hard.

Tarek placed his unoccupied hand on his shoulder again, making Dari angle his face towards him. The taller man had that reassuring smile gracing his features, the one that seemed to always calm him even at his most panicked. Those cool blue eyes regarded him softly, and he found himself drowning in their endless depths. Perhaps, if he stared long enough into them, he would lose himself and sink into the oceanic deep they held, away from all this.

Away from all the pain.

"I’ll start at your side" Tarek briefly informed him, readying himself to start the shaving process.

The clipper gave a small, soundless click as the man turned it on, and as soon as it had the low, almost silent whirring of the blades could be heard in the quiet room.

A hand armed with a comb came to lift the raven hair away from his temple, and the clippers approached-

"Wait!" Dari cried out, his hands pushing out from under the cape to still the approaching tools. His voice had come out in a trembling hiss, as though he were in pain. In some ways, he felt he was; to lose his hair brought him a dull ache in his chest, and made his heart feel like it would burst through his ribcage so hard it pounded against it.

Tarek paused, turning the clipper off immediately at his patient’s outburst. He brought the tools down, away from Dari, and let his eyes gaze into the mirror, at the scared young man’s reflection.

Dari stared for a moment more into his reflection, biting his lips against the tide of emotions about to break through his façade. He took one last, longing look at his hair.

He blinked hard, nodding. "I’m ready…" He didn’t feel it, but any more dawdling and he would surely die.

He blinked his eyes open just in time to see Tarek nod at him in turn. "You’ll be alright" he reassured him.

Not a moment later, he turned his clippers on, the comb came back to push the black hair aside, and the clipper blades were placed at Dari’s sideburn.

What was it that they said about car accidents? That when one happens right in front of you, you just can’t seem to look away from it. Even as the carnage and destruction happens, your eyes stay glued to it, like a moth attracted to a flame…

This was like that in many ways. Even as Tarek pushed the clipper slowly up his sideburn, to his temple, almost all the way to his crown, Dari could not help but watch as it happened. This almost felt like an out of body experience, where the man in the mirror surely couldn’t be him; he was a simple passer-by that had stopped to watch the action, to watch this sad young man as he got his hair shorn to the scalp, to gaze at something so intimate and private, that he had no right to see.

But the clipper, quietly whirring away near his ear, felt all too real, and as the first locks of hair were freed from his head, as they fell silently to the cape, to his shoulders, to his lap, Dari felt himself snapping back to his situation.

He shook, eyes still planted firmly in the mirror, and pursed his lips, tightening them almost painfully to hopefully stop himself from whimpering before he had a chance to.

The moisture in his eyes blocked his vision, and for a terrible moment everything was but a watery blur, before the tears finally leaked out, tracing down his cheeks until they dropped from his jaw or chin. He sniffed, lips pulling back in an ugly expression of despair as a sob rose up in his throat.

He brought his right hand up from under the cape, slowly brought it to his face, covered and rubbed at his leaking eyes.

Dari hadn’t realized Tarek had stopped what he was doing until a consoling hand came to rub soothingly at his upper back and neck. Another hand patted him gently on the shoulder as he wept, and Dari could only breathe harder at the gesture.

His shoulders quaked with each shuddering breath and sob that made its way out of his throat. How pitiful he must have looked; as much as he had tried to stop this very thing from happening, of letting himself be so vulnerable in front of Tarek, nothing he could have done would have been enough.

The taller man had removed himself from his quivering patient. His hand reached for a tissue dispenser on the counter, and retrieved a few which he silently offered to Dari. The raven blinked away some tears, and stared for moment at the offering, before gratefully accepting it. Twice now, Tarek had witnessed him cry, and both times, he had said nothing. His actions, however, spoke volumes.

As Dari wiped furiously at his eyes and nose, the barber asked, "Do you need a minute?"

Still heaving a sob every few seconds, the young man shook his head. They had already begun; any time they took to let him calm down would just drag this out for longer than what was completely necessary. "Please just…" he breathed, "just be as quick as you can."

"Are you sure?" He could only nod in response. "Alright then."

Dari blearily opened his eyes, forcing himself to straighten up in the chair to let the hair specialist do his work. He clutched the bunched up tissues in his fist, one that he brought up often to wipe at his eyes.

Tarek took his clipper and comb again, and approached his patient’s side. He sent the young man a glance through the mirror, smiling despite the situation they were in. "If it helps," he said as turned the clipper on, "try to just concentrate on the feeling of getting your head shaved, and not on the visual aspect."

Dari scoffed, though it came out as a rather pitiful sob instead. He didn’t have it in him to give any sort of response to that. Concentrate on how it feels? He hadn’t really given it much thought on the first swipe, having been so focused on the horror displayed in the mirror.

The quiet whirring from the clipper seemed deafening in his ears as the snow-haired man approached with them. Dari cringed into himself, unconsciously trying to remove himself as far away from the source of discomfort as he possibly could.

Tarek’s voice steadied him, "It’s okay, just relax."

He brought the clipper up his head, the blades purring softly against his skin as they rid the young man’s scalp of his dark hair. He clenched his teeth at the sight, of seeing his precious hair fall lifelessly to the cape and floor. Shuddering breaths escaped him as his left temple was revealed. How stark white the skin there appeared. He couldn’t bear the sight.

Tarek, at the very least, was careful in his approach. He bent his ear, and brought the clipper around it in precise, measured movements. Long, short and dustings of hair tumbled into the cape, and with every lock that fell, Dari could only manage to let the tears fall harder.

‘Two or three weeks’ he kept repeating to himself, if only to drown out any angry thoughts that might want to surface at the moment, ‘Two or three weeks, and this will all be behind you.’

He hoped.

The barber slid the clipper along behind his ear and up his skull. The change in pitch whenever the blades crunched through his tresses made him flinch and choke out a sob every time. He panted, brought the tissues to his face, but more tears fell regardless.

When he made a cry like some sort of wounded animal, Tarek stopped for a moment, having just rid the left side of his head of any hair.

Dari covered his mouth with his hand, eyelids shutting tightly, urging himself to quiet down and not make this any harder for either of them, but it was so, so hard.

"Dari," Tarek called out to him, fingers tapping his arm to get his attention, "Dari, look at me. Listen," he rubbed his thumb over his patient’s caped arm.

A pair of sorrowful brown eyes peeked up at him, their owner’s features in complete disarray. Heavy pants passed through a slightly open mouth, every intake shaking the man’s lithe body.

"I know this is scary," Tarek acknowledged, having been through this process before with many other people, though, to see Dari so shaken up caused a much more acute sense of guilt to gnaw away at him. He wanted to put the man at ease. "I just want you to listen to me, alright?"

The raven wasn’t sure he could manage that; he felt as though his senses were completely muddled. Nevertheless, he gave a strained hum, nodding.

Tarek regarded him with such an odd look then, and Dari wasn’t certain whether or not it had been regret flashing in his ocean irises, but it had certainly not been anything professional. "I want you to close your eyes. Forget the mirror for a just a minute. I’m going to do the back anyway, so you won’t see anything." He paused. "Can you do that?"

Had he the energy to scoff or retort, he might have; of course he could. He just didn’t know what Tarek had planning and that scared him.

"Trust me, you’ll feel better," Tarek’s words were sincere, full of promise. His voice and features had returned to being professional, yet still, in his eyes, there was that spark of something Dari couldn’t put his finger on.

With much effort, the young man acquiesced, letting his eyelids fall over his eyes, blocking out the sight of himself covered in that hair-strewn cape.

He heard the clipper being turned on again, and without being able to see his caretaker, he almost felt more nervous. He sniffed, breaths coming fast and uneven. "I want you to listen to my voice, even while I’m working on your hair, alright?"

"Yes, please just…" Dari muttered.

"I know, be quick." Tarek positioned the clipper at the base of his nape, his free hand angling Dari’s head forward slightly. "I want you to breathe in and hold it until I say so." He paused briefly, allowing the other to process his sentence. "Breathe in…"

He did, and as he did, could feel the snow-haired man pushing the clipper through the hair at his nape, pushing up past alopecia patches and through the thicker strands at his crown. It was hard to keep his breathing steady; low whimpers still spilled out from his throat, but he did his best to keep his breath in, just as Tarek had asked, until the man told him to exhale.

The clipper came away from his scalp. "…and breathe out." Dari did so, feeling slightly less dizzy. He felt the taller man repositioning the whirring tool. "Breathe in," he repeated, and the raven complied.

This breathing exercise went on for as long as Tarek sheared the back of his head. The pattern stayed the same: a swipe from the clipper was accompanied by a deep inhale, and when the tool was taken away, freeing raven hair from his head, he would exhale just as deeply.

Throughout this process, Dari felt himself slowly calm down, the thunderous thoughts plaguing him quieting down until they dissipated entirely, and all he could hear was Tarek’s deep, even voice, the string by which he led himself out of the maze of his disorderly mind. The sobs died down, only affecting him every few minutes now, though his eyes still leaked moisture. Tarek told him to keep his breathing steady as he passed the clipper over his denuded nape in short bursts, ridding his scalp of whatever dusting of hair he might have left behind on his initial passes.

The young man, mind clearing of the terrified haze, recalled Tarek telling him to concentrate on the feeling of getting shaved. With any visual stimuli blocked by his closed eyelids, Dari’s body unconsciously felt touch better than had he been relying on vision alone. And though he knew what the clipper was doing was ridding him of his hair, something decidedly not nice in the moment, he did understand how Tarek’s words to him held some merit.

The act, while unpleasant, did not mean the action was. In fact, Dari could almost say that it felt…nice, in a way. The barber did not apply force or move the clipper in awkward positions, nor did he nick him with the fast moving blades. No. He slid the clipper prudently over his nape and scalp, even when going faster. His fingers stretched his skin, and lead the tool along it proficiently. There was no hassle; every movement Tarek made seemed calculated, and seen as he had done this to more than one person before, this did not strike Dari as special.

Eventually, the barber rounded the chair to his patient’s right side. The young man’s breathing had settled considerably. A quiet sigh of relief made its way out of Tarek’s mouth, so silent Dari did not take notice.

As he watched the raven’s shoulders rise and drop once, he spoke, "If you can keep your breathing steady, you can open your eyes."

If. IF he could breathe steadily. He said it like Tarek knew that the moment he opened his eyes he would start panicking again. Perhaps that was true. Dari certainly didn’t think he could manage that, but he needed to see the shearing of his head. He needed it to fully comprehend and accept the decision he had made, to see himself transform and know that the reflection staring back at him was truly him. That it wasn’t some terrible nightmare or the result of his over-active imagination.

The young man inhaled deeply, and forced his wet eyes open. Immediately he spied the left side of head again, denuded and bare and pale, and knew, without a doubt, that the back of his head was no better. And now, Tarek would take down the remaining hair on the right side of his head and his crown.

The barber combed the long strands out of the way, blue eyes glancing briefly at his reflection, before bringing the clipper to the remaining sideburn. He opened his mouth slightly, as if to say something, but reconsidered, whatever words he had wanted to say dissipated in the air around them.

Dari breathed, staring as the clipper went up the side of his head as it had at his left ear. It wasn’t easy keeping his breaths steady, but he did his best. The -by now- thoroughly wet tissues in his hand did little as he used them to wipe at his face, though he did so out of habit. A chunk of hair detached from his head, and slid softly down into his lap.

The young man stared at the dark pile, a contrast to the stark whiteness of the cape. He tore his eyes away, the sight too heart-wrenching to bear. All that long hair, all those years of growing it out, decimated in minutes.

He opened his mouth, letting out a quiet sigh, urging his fears to leave his body with it.

Tarek broke the silence then, clipper shearing a path behind Dari’s ear, "I only ask because some people request it," he began. "Do you want to keep a lock of your hair?"

Dari stared into the dark strands in his lap again, before flicking his eyes back up sadly. He shook his head as another lock added itself to the mound. "No, thank you…"

Silence engulfed them once more.

Dari stared in the mirror, still thinking about the feeling of the clipper as Tarek made little swipes at his head with it. He thought that perhaps in any other situation, where he had wanted to shave his head, he could see himself enjoying this. The sudden release of pressure on his scalp felt somewhat good, and the vibrating blades against his skin reminded him of the facial brush he used to wash his face in feeling. But in this situation, at this moment, still being very much attached (in the figural sense) to his hair, and being angry with himself, with his condition, for not giving him any choice in the matter…he couldn’t let himself find any enjoyment in this.

Finally, all that was left was the top of his head to shear. Tarek, bless the man, did not pause or say any words to make Dari feel better. By now, perhaps the barber knew better. Dari did not ask to find out.

The clipper sheared a first path from the right, going higher after every pass, until finally, the last bits of Dari’s hair had fallen to the cape and floor.

Dari pinched his eyes shut and brought his hands up from under the cape to press his face in their palms. Sobs he didn’t know he still had the energy for pushed past his tightly closed mouth, muffled under his hands. Tarek finished passing the clipper in quick fashion before turning it off and placing it back in its holder.

Dari heard the tissue dispenser getting used, and peeked two red-rimmed eyes out from between his fingers, once more accepting the bundle of wipes that the hair specialist passed him with a quivering scowl. Tarek squeezed his shoulder as he passed by him, taking the few steps to stand behind the seat.

A few moments passed in which the young man cried out the negativity coursing through his body. His eyes glanced at the mirror again, and found the reflection looking back at him, equally distraught and helpless, could not be him, despite having seen the transformation he had undergone. He almost laughed; he couldn’t believe what his eyes were telling him, and yet, there could be no mistake.

He calmed himself, taking a few unsteady breaths as he lowered his hands from his face. He barely saw Tarek standing behind, so entranced was he by the sight of his shorn head.

Shakily lifting his hand, Dari allowed himself to touch the denuded skin, cringing at the feel of sandpapery stubs beneath his fingers. He could plainly see the numerous irregular alopecia patches, distinct from the rest of his clipped head by the lack of hair follicles. He was a spotted mess of dark stubble and smooth spots of skin.

He was right. This was so much worse. What he thought were maybe a dozen or so patches were in fact many dozen smaller spots littering even the parts of his head with most of his hair. They were everywhere.

He bit his lips, trying hard not to cover his head with his hands.

"It’s so ugly…" he found himself admitting out loud; whether he had intended to say it or not, he had, and his eyes lifted to the barber when this one once more rested his hands on his shoulders.

Tarek shook his head slightly, regarding Dari with genuine sympathy. "Just remember that this is temporary," he reminded him ardently, "that we are going this to fix this." One of the man’s hands came to pat his head, wiping away stray hairs that clung to the stubble. He forced a smile to his lips. "It’ll look a bit better after the hot towel shave" he stated with conviction.

Dari almost didn’t want to stay for the rest. He wanted to go home, away from here, from prying eyes and prodding hands, from this headache of a day and from Tarek who had no right to be as kind and patient as he was being with him; Tarek who, despite Dari doing nothing but complain, cry and whine about this, was nothing but sympathetic and gentle and understanding. Perhaps that was the worst thing about all this. Tarek didn’t know what it was like, and yet he stood beside him and gave him a shoulder to cry on. The man had every single hair present on his head, had a job which, from first glance, he seemed to love, and looked as healthy as could be.

He had no idea how hard this was for Dari. The young man sighed tiredly; he couldn’t know, and he couldn’t blame the man for that. He didn’t even know where he was going with all these thoughts. He wanted nothing more than to crash into his bed, burry his face in his pillows and never come out, not for anything, even this.

Maybe it was the way he rubbed at his eyes with one hand, or the near-silent sobbing, or the way he slumped in the chair, but Tarek was smoothing his hand over his upper back, the pressure from the strokes conveying a sense of pity that Dari no longer had the energy to hate.

"We’re almost done," Tarek reminded him, his voice quiet. "You might find the shave to be a bit more relaxing than shearing your hair was."

He no longer cared. ‘I’m so f***ing tired…’ was all his mind could muster.

"I’ll get started right away," the barber intoned, leaving his trembling patient for a moment, returning with a towel he placed on the quaking shoulders, and going back to the station.

Tarek could see the pain written all over Dari’s features. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that the young man had a lot of issues, and that they had only scratched the surface of them. He had explained himself to Dari before, about how alopecia can be triggered by stress. There was no doubt in the barber’s mind that his anxiety ran deep.

As he went over to the towel warmer, waiting for the sterilizer to finish, the snow-haired man thought about the standard questions he had asked Dari at their first visit, and wondered how long he had been living with so much pent-up stress, truly. "Seven months" he had said, but Tarek knew better than to believe that.

He isn’t a therapist, he reminded himself. He could listen, offer a little bit of advice, but he was not equipped to deal with a patient to that level. ‘I’m a barber with a doctorate; I specialize in making hair grow back and therapeutic treatments, not helping a person deal with their demons.’ Or at least, he told himself so. Sometimes his patients shared a little too much.

Dari, on the other hand, did not seem to share enough.

No. It wasn’t his business. He was only here to help with his alopecia and listen to whatever Dari wished to reveal to him. He would not pry, he SHOULD NOT pry.

Tarek shook his head. Finally, the towel warmer’s doors slid open with a sound of releasing pressure. The man washed his hands at the sink, dried them off, and took the towel from the steaming case.

Dari had moved his hands back under the cape while Tarek had been busy, and from the looks of things, had also pushed the mound of his hair in his lap to the floor. That wasn’t surprising.

Swollen, solemn brown eyes watched his every move as he made his way behind the chair again. His fingers unfolded the hot towel, placing it in a way that he could wrap his covered hands around his patient’s bald head. He let the steam from the towel roll off the young man’s patchy scalp, allowing him the time to adjust to the heat.

"Is this okay?" He asked after a few seconds. Dari nodded wordlessly, and Tarek wrapped the towel around his head.

Almost immediately he felt some of the tension escape the other’s body. Tarek hadn’t had this service done to him in a long time, but there was no forgetting how nice a hot towel felt to his shaved scalp, and despite Dari probably not being happy about this whole thing, there wasn’t any doubt in the barber’s mind that he must find some inkling of enjoyment out of this. ‘Here’s to hoping’ he thought to himself.

A look in the mirror showed Tarek that Dari did not seem to comprehend his body’s reaction to the application of the towel. Perhaps he could help him with that.

Slowly, he pressed his palms, splayed his fingers out. He could see Dari breathing harder, and took this moment to help him regulate his breathing again. "Take a deep breath, close your eyes, and lean your head back…" he instructed, guiding the young man’s head back with one hand while the other lifted the head rest just a tad, and had Dari press his head against the cushion.

He pressed his freckled hands against the hot towel, allowing the steam to soften the hair and scalp, moving his hands along as he did so. When the other man sighed, and his eyelids closed, Tarek let his lips tilt back, happy to see that this, at least, helped. "Good. Just relax for a bit. I’ll get everything ready."

A long, uneven sigh escaped the man’s open mouth, but otherwise he stayed perfectly still as the barber removed himself.

Tarek went to the countertop, his right hand with his wristwatch flicking upwards to load his personal screen. He swiped his fingers across the screen, going into his station’s tool settings to get the straight razor ready. Immediately the glass casing that housed the metal tool glowed with the same sterilizing lavender light. He knew for a fact the blade had already been replaced with a new one.

While the razor got disinfected, Tarek took his synthetic-fiber shaving brush, also recently cleaned, and his shaving dish to the sink in front of the mirror. He filled the deep dish with hot water and soaked the fibers of his brush thoroughly.

The man let them sit there as he flicked his screen up again, moving to the locked cabinet compartment which housed the Hair Therapy products. He snorted to himself; why and how people had been able to steel his and other employee’s products in the past was a mystery, but not anymore with their fingerprints and passwords needed.

He selected the products he would need and the compartment opened to let him take them. Depositing the ones he didn’t need right away, Tarek took the sleek, matt white bottle of pre-shave oil and squirted a generous amount into his open palm.

The snow-haired man walked back to Dari, who had not moved an inch from where he had left him. The constant scowl and furrowed brows had softened somewhat, and Tarek could only wonder what the poor young man had to be thinking. He shook his head, and came over to the chair.

"I’m going to remove the first towel," he called out before he did exactly that. Dari lifted his head from the headrest, allowing the removal to be done more easily, especially with the barber only having one available hand. Tarek jerked his head to the right, a visual signal to get the laundry basket to float over to him, and when it did, he chucked the used towel into it.

The hair specialist placed himself behind the barber chair, lowering the headrest with his left hand, eyes venturing to Dari’s reflection to see how he was doing. A pair of anxious brown eyes stared back at him.

"Close your eyes," Tarek urged again; if he was so distressed by his current appearance, he may as well not see it. Dari obeyed, eyes closing tightly. Lingering moisture still trickled every now and then, but the young man was quick to wipe the drops away.

Dari had to admit that what Tarek was doing, telling him to close his eyes, to breathe, and telling him what he was doing, did help ease some of the raw emotions eating away at him. He didn’t ask what the barber had in his palm, and didn’t argue when told to stop staring at his reflection, and perhaps that was the best course of action.

He sniffed, now fully aware of how stuffy his nose was after all his crying, but felt he could only breathe through his mouth once Tarek started to spread the slick product onto his head. Dari had told himself more than once that he couldn’t enjoy this, and yet, the way his caretaker rubbed and massaged his scalp, sans hair, felt almost good.

No. It felt…more than good.

Against everything, he let himself ease up and relax in between Tarek’s hands.

For now, he would not think of anything else. His body, as spent as it was, wanted nothing more than to let all the tension melt away under the constant pressure those warm, freckled hands provided.

Had he the energy, he would have whined at the loss of Tarek’s massaging hands, but stayed quiet. Soon, his head was once more enveloped in the warm, wet heat of one of those soft towels, and the barber pressed his hands as he had with the last one. Unbidden, he leaned his head back without prompting, and Tarek lifted the cushioned headrest for him again.

The seconds ticked by, and while Dari had his eyes closed, he listened to the taller man shuffling around his station, heard the sound of the faucet again, and the clinking of two hard objects hitting each other. It almost sounded like Tarek was mixing something, the sound only somewhat comparable to when Dari stirred his coffee by hand -on the days he didn’t let his home system do the work for him. He dimly wondered what could make such a sound, and decided it wasn’t worth the very limited brain-juice he had left to ponder over this.

When a hand came to lift his head back up, Dari did so mechanically, allowing the other to remove the second towel from his head. This time, the young man kept his eyes closed, not wanting to find out what Tarek was going to do.

The man’s soft voice broke his train of thought, "I’m going to apply the shaving lather now."

Somewhere in some dark corner of Dari’s mind that had not succumbed to panic, fatigue or stress, a small voice reminded him of when Tarek had explain what this type of head-shaving entailed, and that this lather he spoke of was exactly what he had predicted when they had spoken of this before. But he didn’t have much more time to think about this.

Even as his caretaker applied the lather, he kept his eyelids firmly shut. Whatever the other was using to apply the foam felt nice enough. It moved along his denuded scalp in firm, circular motions, spreading the rich cream over every bit of his skull.

He licked his lips. Despite how bad this evening had been, curiosity gnawed away at him. He didn’t really want to see his head covered in lather -or bald for that matter- yet it still interested him to know what Tarek had in his hand. So Dari decided to take a quick peek, if only to satisfy the burning need to know.

He blinked his eyes a few times, unaccustomed still to the bright white and blue interior of the workspace (and it probably didn’t help that his eyes were sensitive from crying), but after a few seconds, the young man flicked his gaze to the barber, who worked a small brush silently over his head. By now, most of his skin had been covered in white, fluffy cream, and Tarek was just about to finish at his nape. The barber saw him watching him, and gave him a half-smile, perhaps relieved to see him so much calmer.

To be honest, the only reason he was calm was due to his fatigue.

He cast his eyes to his lap, flicking a stray strand of hair from under the cape. Tarek passed the brush along his nape, the warm lather soothing to tight muscles of Dari’s neck despite everything. Soon, the taller man went back to the counter to put the brush aside, and while he did, Dari looked at his reflection. It was a bit ridiculous if you asked him, to have his head completely covered in the shaving cream. ‘You just don’t want to think about what’s underneath, or -oh wait- what isn’t there anymore’ his subconscious taunted him, coming back from the silence that had engulfed it.

He took a cleansing breath, willing the annoying voice to slip back into the darker corners of his subconscious.

A metallic sound had the young man snapping his head back up, and the sight that met him almost made him pale. Tarek held in his hands a black metal straight razor. Dari stared at the tool apprehensively, noting the sharp edge. He wasn’t unfamiliar with such shaving implements, again, having seen similar models at the salon, though the ones over there had been solely used in conjunction with a special attachment on the blade to use for feathering hair.

He swallowed. He would leave here tonight completely bald. There would be no hair to speak of after this.

The taller man approached him; sometime while Dari had been staring intently at the razor, Tarek had draped a towel over one of his square shoulders, adjusting it so it wouldn’t fall off as he worked on his patient. He came to Dari’s side, his free hand making the young man turn his head slightly to the right to work on him.

"Stay still for a few minutes. It’ll be over before you know it" Tarek told him, his right hand positioning the straight razor as his left hand pulled the skin taught-

"Please don’t nick me" Dari rushed out before the man could begin, feeling himself flush in embarrassment and fear for what was to come.

Tarek looked at him, eyes a calm sea of blue. "I won’t."

Nothing else was said. The barber brought the razor forth, and a first, careful swipe cleared a path along Dari’s scalp.

Dari watched, tired eyes following the movement and the cleared patch of skin left behind. There really would be nothing left from the look of things. The strip was just as deathly, ashy pale as the rest of his skin, even more if that were possible. Pursing his lips, he stared unseeingly at a spot on the countertop, letting the last few tears gathered in his eyes drop to the cape, uncaring for how he may look.

The young man stayed perfectly still as the barber shaved his head, allowing for the quick removal of foam and stubble. Tarek slid the razor along the top of his head first, from his crown to his forehead in steady strokes that Dari barely felt.

The steady sound of the metal blade against his scalp seemed so loud in the quiet air of Tarek’s office, echoed off the walls of Dari’s head almost deafeningly. Each pass of the razor was met with minimal resistance, before even the hardiest of raven stubs succumbed to the cutting edge of the blade.

Tarek guided the razor along the left side of his head, making careful swipes around his ear. Dari barely took notice when the other switched sides and did the same movements. All that was left was the back of his head.

A warm hand placed itself atop his denuded crown, pushing, "Bend your head a bit…"

He applied the razor here as well, sliding the tool all the way down his neck. The first swipe had Dari giving a shudder, finding the sensation to be odd on his virgin scalp. That sliding motion had felt peculiar, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to dwell on it.

His caretaker’s fingers pulled on his skin slightly before every pass, ensuring the closest, most comfortable shave. Despite how horrible it all was, Dari felt grateful for the way Tarek treated him, even if his sympathy and pity had Dari wanting to shove the man away from him at times, to reject the consolation and reassurances, for his own peace of mind. And yet, the calming gestures, the shoulder squeezing and patting on the back…why not accept them, this once, in his most vulnerable of states. They were offered freely and genuinely, so why not give in?

The last of the lather and stubble were taken away, and Dari only stared at the counter, eyes dried up of their tears.

Tarek shuffled around the room, disposing of the lather-ridden towel at his shoulder and placing the razor back in its sterilizing case. The bald man lifted his eyes up to watch the snow-haired man come over with yet another towel. This one, unlike the others, did not steam when he approached with it.

Tarek’s features were set in concentration as he answered the questioning glance, "It’s a cold towel to close up your pores and soothe your skin."

With a flourish, the towel was wrapped snuggly around his head, and a shiver coursed through Dari’s body at the coolness permeating his skin. For a moment, he hoped Tarek would press his hands to his head, as he had with the hot towels, but the taller man had left for his barbering station, grabbing bottles of products and moving around busily.

The barber removed the towel, tossed it with the others in the hovering laundry basket at his side. On a floating tool tray, Tarek had placed two vials, both of which had measuring pipettes as their caps. He placed himself behind the chair, taking one of the two pipettes.

Dari watched closely as Tarek got his attention with a tap to his shoulder. He held the pipette with his right hand. "This is moisturizing oil for your scalp. I’m going to rub a few drops into your skin" as he said this, he squeezed the applicator, and the clear oil dropped onto Dari’s scalp.

After the barber had put the product back on the tray, he applied his hands to the young man’s head, the slick oil helping to glide his hands along the smooth skin. Dari allowed himself to close his eyes, relishing in the relieving pressure of Tarek’s strong hands. He had such a headache after his crying, and for now, this was nice; this was welcome.

A shame that the massage didn’t last very long, and that Tarek soon had moved on to apply the second vial of product. He spoke absentmindedly, "I’m going to put the protection serum on your scalp too, so you don’t have to do it tonight-" the hair specialist lifted his gaze from the task, seeing that Dari was definitely not listening to him. "Dari?"

He flicked his brown eyes open, blinking, "What?" he whispered. He just wanted this to be over…

Tarek seemed to understand the unsaid words in the other’s gaze. "I know you must be tired, but I need you to listen now. This is about the treatment."

Right. There was a reason for all this madness, after all, Dari thought bitterly. The reason he was here in the first place, sitting with his hair on the floor -where it most certainly should not be- was to treat his alopecia.

He sighed, one hand coming from under the cape to rub at his temple. "I’m listening…"

Tarek’s lips pulled down into a slight frown, eyebrows furrowing in sadness at the dejected tone. Nevertheless, he explained what he was doing. "Usually the protection serum has to be applied in the morning and at bedtime, but since I’m about ninety-nine percent sure you’re going to go straight to bed when you get home, I’m applying it for you now." Tarek, Dari thought, was absolutely right about that. The man continued, dropping a measured amount onto his scalp, "I’m going to show you the basic method for rubbing it in, but if you forget the manoeuvres while at home, don’t worry about it and just rub it in however you want. We’ll focus more on your treatment at your next appointment in two days."

Dari simply nodded, watching half-heartedly as Tarek showed him how to massage the oil-like substance on his head. The man made firm, inward circles around his forehead and temples, and moved his fingers along his non-existent hairline, all the way to his nape. He repeated the same movement again, before splaying his hands over his crown and massaging there in larger circles. Then, he used his fingers to zigzag across the expanse of shaved skin. He finished simply by running his palms a few times over Dari’s head.

The bald man let out a breath of relief when, finally, Tarek removed the cape. It too went into the laundry basket, before the barber also rid him of the weighted collar around his shoulders. Dari had completely forgotten it was there in the dizzying storm that shaving his head had been. It hadn’t really helped all that much in the end.

"Here-"

Dari snapped his head up in Tarek’s direction, spying the waste bin he held out to him. For a second, Dari stared at him stupidly, until he realized he still had wads of used tissues in his hands. Flustered, he threw them in, biting his lip.

He looked at his reflection now, rid of the cape and of his precious hair. It lay in piles on the white floor around the chair. The young man stared aghast at the sight of his head, smooth, nearly shining in the bright lights of the workspace, aided no doubt by the products on his scalp.

He averted his gaze, licking his lips. He didn’t have any more tears left to shed over this, not now anyway.

"We’ll start your treatment at your next appointment," Tarek informed him as he got something from his tray before sending it away. His blue eyes found his own brown ones in the mirror. "I’m sure you’re just about fed with me for one session, huh?" He chuckled, a small smile brightening his features as he attempted to lighten the mood.

Dari blinked slowly, sighing, shoulders shrugging apathetically.

The non-response seemed to deflate Tarek’s mood as well, though he hid his own lack of enthusiasm for the situation behind a mask of professionalism. The bald man watched as his caretaker lifted the thing in his hands, or things, rather. Dari stared at them; it looked like some fabric or soft material of sorts.

"These are silk caps and head-scarves," the barber explained, showing the difference between each one. "When you go to bed tonight, you’ll need to put the cap on. It’ll keep the products concentrated at your scalp without absorbing any, while letting your skin breathe." He lifted one of the head-scarves, "And when you go out, it’s best to wear something on your head to protect it. If you have a hood, it’s fine to not wear one, but don’t wear any hats. Wear this instead."

Tarek let him inspect the cap and scarves. The texture of the material was soft, cool and slippery. Faintly, he remembered his mother owning a silk bedspread that she used during the hotter months, and he now understood why, from just feeling the difference in temperature. The cap had a flexible rim, and seemed skin-tight, and the scarves had two lengths; a short square and a larger one.

"Usually a lot of men don’t take the longer scarves," Tarek said, "But when you’re alone at home, it can be nice to have one ready after a shower." He paused, "I recommend at least taking a white scarf and a dark cap, but if you have any color preferences…"

"Ah, um…" Dari shook his head, "Black, dark blue, I guess is fine."

Tarek nodded, and went to the barbering station to retrieve the requested colors, as the ones he had given Dari were all white. He took the ones from Dari’s grasp and placed them in a matt black bag with the Hair Therapy logo on it.

"Another important thing before I let you go," Tarek went on, putting a new bottle of the protection serum in the bag, "Even with the head scarves, you should put some SPF on, so I’m going to put a bottle of our sun-block in here too."

Dari nodded, shifting around in the barber chair, waiting impatiently to be lead back to the reception.

After a moment, Tarek flicked his wrist, making the chair turn away from the countertop, and allowing Dari to lift himself from the huge seat. The young man did so slowly, his legs just as unsteady as they had been when he first sat down. This day could not end sooner.

After being given the bag of necessities, Dari immediately covered his head with the hood of his shirt, feeling all sorts of self-conscious, not unlike he had been feeling even with his hair still attached to his head. He was well aware of how red and swollen his face looked, and the embarrassment from being seen so unguarded still plagued him greatly.

He cast one last look at his hair, lying lifeless on the floor, a dull ache coursing through his being.

The walk back to the reception felt so much worse than the walk they had shared coming into Tarek’s office. The silence that engulfed them seemed so stifling, like a crushing weight on both their shoulders, yet neither said anything as they alighted in the waiting room. There was no need to confirm anything with the receptionist this time, so Tarek walked him all the way to the exit, much the young man’s discomfort.

Brown eyes found pensive blue ones, and stared at the thinning lips as the taller man tried to find the right words for the awkward departure.

Dari, for once, was the one who felt pity. "I’ll see you Wednesday," the words spilled out in a rush before he could stop them, and he started to turn away from Tarek when this one laid a hand on his arm, stopping him in his tracks.

"You’ll-" the man began, but changed his mind half-way through, ending up with a more professional, "Have a good night, Dari."

He blinked, and pulled his arm out of the other’s grasp, leaving through the automatic doors without any further acknowledgement.

It was only when Dari was finally in bed that night that he let himself weep.

XXXXX

TBC

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