One Hundred

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Notes: Dedicated and inspired by Sonya.

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Nine, ten, eleven, twelve ...

Smooth, firm, slow strokes sliding through wild, copper hair, removing unseen snares and tangles, tugging away at stubborn knots and the unpleasant little catches right at the tips of every strand. Steady and practiced, he slid the bristles of the long handled brush through the unkempt mess of his hair.

His mother's hairbrush. Long and white, with little, fancy, blue curly-cues and chipped, silver gilding, thick, horsehair bristles tipped in soft, downy ivory. He remembered the pale, spindly fingers that used to drag it through his hair, gently pulling at the fine, orange threads till they fell as they were guided and lay still within strong, old hands. The soft caress of fingertips with thick, chipped nails as they worked out knots and catches, brushing errant strands from his youth-plump face. One hundred strokes every night by the old woman who had smiled her worn old smile when he called her grandmother and tsked in her dry voice that she was not his grandmother, just an old servant of the family's, his caretaker. But always, her eyes had smiled at him and her thoughts had been pleased.

As she brushed, she spoke, telling him stories in the cold winter shadowlight beside the empty fireplace in their small stone home. For every stroke, another line of a story, mixing together into a soft, rhythmic lullaby till he merely drowsed in the stool before her chair. In the stillness she wove stories as she unwove tangles, telling him about the days before the wars when she had been a "mere slip of a girl", about his mother whom he had never known and about the father he rarely saw. She told tales of love and woe, of war and victory, of horror and adventure, and, upon occasion, the odd fairy tale about cats with boots and dogs with pipes.

He had loved the old woman.

Thirty-six, thirty-seven, thirty-eight, thirty-nine ...

Brush to make it fine, to shimmer and shine, leaving only liquid fire behind. Like a thousand tiny, thread thin lamps, shifting in a wave of crystal, burning flame. A million lamps to light his hair, but only one to set his world on fire.

His father's oil lamp. Slender and round bottomed, with thick, tinted glass sides and a shallow, copper bowl for the new, refined, sharp scented oil. A gift from a friend on the holiday, something that was supposed to be simply ornamental, a pretty bauble to grace the mantle or a low table. He remembered the tiny, twine wick that burst into brilliant light when the match was set to it. A match he had lit that one cold night, playing with things he shouldn't as he snuck into the cupboard to steal some glazed gingerbread left over from Christmas Eve while his father and the old women lay fast asleep in bed. In a burst the wick had lit and the newborn flame licked at his ill-placed finger. It fell in his childish startlement and fear, shattering into a wall of flame on rug covered floor.

In fear - of the fire and the punishment should he awaken them that lay so soundly - he had run, fleeing the house only to watch it turn to flame ... and they to never wake again.

In the end, in the charred remains on the small stone house, in the orange fire engines that screamed in the night ... he really was guilty.

Fifty-one, fifty-two, fifty-three, fifty-four ...

Brush to make it soft, smooth like silk and satin, glossed like gold and mirrors, a sheet of pure red gold to flash and dance, swishing softly at every breath and movement, a counterpoint to every heartbeat, every breath, a sound of silent life.

Crawford's glasses. Fragile, wire frames with pearl pattered rims and softly triangular lenses, perched just so on a sharp nose, accenting narrow, shrewd, gold eyes and errant strands of short, black hair. He remembered Crawford pushing the glasses up his nose, catching the light in a silver flash of stars and sun-dance, making the darkness of his murky apartment vanish away.

Even now, when the glasses were laid to rest on the stand beside the oracle's bed and the glimmering eyes closing in silent sleep, they were a source of his fascination. A delicate, fragile thing, meant not for fingers such as his or his teammates, made only for catching that elusive thing made of light and dreams ...

And while they sat, Schuldich's breathing matched another's breath for breath, blinking in sleepy satisfaction as the world became unfocused and blurred, fuzzy as his eyes slid closed again in quiet contentment. The sheets felt warm and soft against his bare skin as he turned, hazy, unimportant thoughts flitting free inside his head. Then his breathing slowed into sleep and the mind slid into the sweet world of dreams. In the next breath Schuldich returned to his own mind and left Crawford's to the peace of sleep.

Seventy-six, seventy-seven, seventy-eight, seventy-nine ...

Brush to make it smooth, like water and glass, porcelain and steel, to caress the wearer with perfect satin strands, alive with light and fire as a child with mischief and smiles.

Nagi's fingers. Long and slender, like delicate ivory spiders that drifted over shimmering webs, bending and folding with liquid grace, yet spindly and dry like bones, whispering with contentment as the old woman's fingers had long ago. He remembered them clutching a gun to the narrow chest, midnight eyes ashine with fear and the reflection of fragile glass and wire, desperate in it's reversed attempt to defend. The gun had twisted and snapped in the childish grip, shattered by the fluttering fingers of power fueled by fear. In silence, the boy had looked down, only to be caught in Schuldich's arms as the aftershock of power left him a shell of cobwebs and ivory spiders, content to be carried away into the flickering light.

Again Schuldich drifted, easing into the warm glow of accomplished work, of hands that washed and dried each dirty plate with precise and efficient skill, of sweet contentment at the normalcy of the chore. Wide midnight eyes blinked slowly as each dish was stacked and put into cabinets with careful hands. Dark bangs were puffed aside with impatient lips as the glasses were put away. Then the sweet lips smiled as all was put away and he stepped back to look at the now clean kitchen. A goodnight whispered in Nagi's mind as he slipped away and tipped his head to watch his own green eyes and wandering fingers.

Ninety-one, ninety-two, ninety-three, ninety-four ...

The brush clatters on the stand and hands lift to slide through copper strands. A test of supple sensation as like flax they bend to the weavers hand. Then the brush lifts again to slide through glowing metallic bands. Shimmering bars as light plays across wave after wave, red gold chains ...

Farfello's earring. Small and simple, a tarnished silver band in the midst of many bands, unimportant in it's anonymity, special only because it was first, dangling in the softest curve of flesh and skin. He remembered it twisting in his fingers as he turned the scarred head to face him, tugged without protest or fight as a bull by the ring, held fast by tender bonds, but touched not by pain. Fingers had lifted to break his hold, closing on a wrist with delicate design, only to forget what it was to break as Schuldich slipped like a serpent into the labyrinth of his mind. A bond that broke only when he moved his eyes, emerald liquefying gold to honey, tempering the liquid orb with the elusive grasp of sanity and of service.

Water splashed over pale, pale skin as once more Schuldich wandered the halls of thought, feeling the pleasure at the damp and heat and the thick smell of borrowed raspberry shampoo. A pleased sigh as hands rubbed the rough, bristled brush from Schuldich's own stash over soap scented skin, gouging away dirt and blood and sweat for the sweet feel of raw and tingling flesh. Pouty lips curving into a smile as snow white hair was shampooed and rinsed in the stinging, hot water that cascaded from the shower head to drench him in delicious waves of heat and sweet smelling steam. Silence except for water falling as he slid as liquid from the satisfied maniac's mind.

One hundred ...

Brush to remember, brush to forget, brush to calm the soul, unknot the pain as one unknots the hair, unravel the darkness as each tangle becomes undone, find peace and rest as the task brushes every care away, like water washing the skin and soul clean.

The brush settled itself quietly on the nightstand as he released it carefully from his grasp and rose to move on silent feet to his waiting, open bed and the embrace of waiting, pleasant dreams.

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