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Soolin had asked Vila whether he was good at hairdressing. After recovering from the initial shock, Vila had jumped to some very worrying conclusions.

"I'm... not *that* way inclined, if that's what you think. A ladies' man, me, through and through."

Soolin had rolled her eyes and shaken her head.

"No, I didn't mean *that*. I know you are good with your hands--wipe that smirk off your face!--and I was wondering if you could help me with my hair. It's slightly too long for one person to handle."

"Ah, another elaborate 'do. Why don't you just chop it?"

At Soolin's murderous glare, Vila decided that this was a good time to Shut Up. Soolin was standing far too close to the gun cabinet for comfort.

Soolin had let out a sigh of exasperation, and pulled Vila along with her towards her room.


It came to Vila, now, a memory: it forced itself past the block years of brain manipulation had created, through the similar blocks he'd created himself in order to stay sane. It was the memory of plaiting his little sisters' pale hair; how they always insisted that it should be Vila who dressed their hair and arranged it in pretty shapes; because Mother's hands were "always hurting" and "pulling too hard" and "just... not right".

Vila had loved it, his nervousness always dissolved by the simple task of plaiting, locks slid over and under and over and under, gathered up with pins. Then over and under all over again, him humming a merry tune, a trance and a magic in weaving those plaits. Sometimes he improvised a song with silly lyrics to his sisters to help them keep still while he worked his art; sometimes he told them stories.

His memory now unlocked by Soolin's hair, he remembered one story in particular, from a rare happy summer's day from a childhood of hopes turned bitter and sour. It was a story of a brave prince who climbed up a high tower on a princess' long braid of golden hair.

Now, Vila was not brave--at least not foolishly brave, like the prince had been--and he most certainly wasn't a knight errant. But he did feel as if he was climbing all the way up to heaven, so good it felt to relax and be allowed so close to someone as restrained as Soolin. It was as close to heaven as you could get, under the circumstances.

Surely, a thief's heaven must be full of shining things: like this, golden plaits like sheaves of wheat ripe in a warm August wind. Rippling, like the tremble of his fingers, as he fumbled with a catch for a second, lost in his reverie, as much a magical fantasy as the strands of gold trusted in his hands.

Trust his nature, then, to hoard it all for himself, greedily inhaling the floral scent of her shampoo, as if his head wasn't swimming already. He was luxuriating in the silken flow over his palms as he gently parted the hair there, just at the nape of her neck, and the soft contented sigh as Soolin leant back into his hands.

Poor girl, he thought, you're trusting a thief. Trusting a treasure-house of sensations in the care of someone who wants to steal it all, slip all the valuables into the deepest pockets of his mind; and who, later, in the safety of his own room and with the cleverness of his own hands, will use them to stroke himself, roughly, unable to help himself... Yes, his thumb would rub the wet head of his cock as perfectly as his thumb now rubs at your temple, oh, *Soolin*...

...until he would soil it all, mar the beauty of such innocent pleasures with sticky semen, destroying those moments, never able to touch her in the same way again.

Control yourself, Restal, he told himself. And *you* too, down there, he told his cock, already chafing against his trousers, *you*, stay down.

Deep breaths. Keep calm. Yes. That's better.

He slid the last pin into place, a specialty from his own pocket.

"Is that all right, Soolin?"

Soolin turned her head this way and that in front of her gilded mirror.

"It's lovely!"

Her laughter was that of a young girl, not of a hardened assassin. It warmed Vila's heart, and he added another jewel: a teardrop-shaped, virginal blue stone, on the back of her head. She wouldn't know, she wouldn't even be able to see all the extra decorations he'd added to each plait until later.

Vila smiled, and... gambled. He reached to hug her from behind, saying goodbye. Soolin smiled and chuckled happily.

Then, and only then, he planted a very light, chaste kiss on the back of her neck.

It was a faerytale, really, for he hadn't expected her to respond positively; he had expected a slap, not... this. Soolin turned and smiled at him, lifting his hand to her lips, kissing the palm with tenderness.

"Thank you, Vila."

He smiled back at her, would've ruffled her hair if it wouldn't have meant ruining his masterpiece. Quickly, he turned, extricated himself, and ran.

The brightness of the corridor would be gold enough for him; safe enough for him. Soolin would never know how he would cherish the light she'd given him with that kiss, sunlight to warm him on cold and lonely nights, sunlight to be savoured in the cool dark of his room.