Of Hair-Care and Water-Fights

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Notes: Well, everyone, it's another 'wouldn't go away until I wrote it down' fan-fiction. That being said, proceed at your own risk. ^_^

This is to take place following the episode, 'Hair I Stand, Head in Hand,' in which Malcolm causes Sam's hairdryer to go berserk and zap his head.

It's just a bit of ridiculously silly speculation that I have felt compelled to write, as the makers of the show seemed to have no inclination whatsoever toward continuity.

Anyway, at the end of the show, Kilokhan did something to Malcolm's hair that we, the unfortunate viewers didn't really get to see very well. I had, until recently rewatching the episode, thought that he had simply turned it white. However, not until finishing the story did I find out that he'd actually made it disappear altogether. Naturally, I was unwilling to let twenty-five pages of ridiculous story go to waste, so I put in some sad little explanation about why the poor kid's hair was white instead of gone. So let's just call it a 'Failed Logic Special.' ^_^

Anyway, this story stems from the fact that we never found out how he got his hair back to normal. It is the kind of thing that happens when Rhianwen has a spare hour or three and far too much coffee...

Thank-you! ^_^

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"My hair!" Malcolm sobbed. "What did you do to my hair?! It's GONE!"

"Rather creative of me, don't you think?" Kilokhan cackled with as much amusement as a computer program, mysterious in nature and origin or not, could feel.

"Kilokhan! Undo this! Right now!"

Kilokhan made a disapproving noise.

"It is not for you to command of me anything, meat-thing. You may humbly request a...favour, but you may not make demands of Kilokhan! Overlord of the digital world!"

"Fine! Please give me my hair back!"

"Very well," Kilokhan grumbled, shooting a beam of blue light forth from the computer.

Malcolm put a hand to his head, nodding in satisfaction at the texture of hair beneath his fingers.

"Thank you," he shot at his computer screen, standing to leave and continuing in a mutter as he left the closet, "you moronic digital jackass."

Kilokhan chuckled to himself.

"You are welcome, meat-thing."

His chuckle grew louder when, seconds later, an anguished howl drifted from the bathroom, one door over.

"It's WHITE!"

-----------------------------------

Malcolm sighed heavily, scowling darkly at his reflection in the bathroom mirror several mornings later.

'How in the hell am I going to explain this?' he lamented silently.

Indeed, there was nothing out of the ordinary in the young man's ensemble of all black, his slightly too-pale face, or dark eyes.

The source of the problem was none of these, and was instead rooted in the hair falling nearly to his shoulders in a smooth, sleek, and dazzlingly white mass.

"Goddamn you, Kilokhan," he muttered, praying one last time that the effects of whatever the hell his computer generated best friend had done to him might wear off before he had to leave the house.

Following the failure of the Plexton virus Malcolm had sent into Sam Collins' hair dryer - just to give him a nasty surprise in time for picture day - Malcolm had had several rather harsh words for Kilokhan, who had, as though a switch had been flipped, become instantly vindictive, and had shot a beam of blue light at the unfortunate boy's head. Seconds later, he had found himself sporting at the tender age of sixteen one of the most dreaded signs of aging: a total loss of hair.

'At least he gave me SOME hair back, even if he made it white' he reflected with a sigh, turning resolutely from the mirror. No, it wasn't going to change back, he wasn't going to be able to convince Kilokhan to change it back - at least, not without a hell of a lot more ass-kissing that he flatly refused to do right then - and worrying over it, and consequently making himself late for class and thereby giving everyone ample time to stare at him as he made his way to his seat, wouldn't help matters any.

Now, had any other young man been thrown into this situation, they might have opted out of school entirely until the problem had been corrected, and indeed, Malcolm was no exception, having already employed this mode of complete and utter avoidance for most of the week. He was also no exception to the rule that no student would be stupid enough to blatantly skip class on the day of an exam counting toward 30% of their math grade.

And so, a very miserable Malcolm grumbled his way out to the dark green Honda parked outside his house, and then proceeded to grumble his way to the school parking lot, and finally, to grumble his way into the school.

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"Shut up," he snapped pre-emptively at one boy who eyed him curiously as he grumbled his way through the heavy wooden double doors of the school.

"Sure, man. Whatever," the boy replied with a shrug before making his way outside for a quick smoke before classes. Damn, but that Frink kid must have found some heavy-duty bleach! He wondered what brand it was, and thought briefly of asking, but changed his mind as he found himself fixed with a more ferocious glare.

"I wonder if Collins still has that paper bag," Malcolm sighed, heading towards his locker.

-------------------------------------

And it seemed as though this was the golden opportunity to ask...

-------------------------------------

"Hey, guys," Sam greeted easily as he came to a stop in front of Sydney's locker.

"Hey, bud," Tanker said sleepily.

Sam raised an eyebrow.

"Rough night?"

"You don't know the half of it."

"Oh, come on, Tanker," Sydney laughed, prodding him in the ribs with her elbow. "Doesn't it make you feel better to know that, even though you had to stay up all night to do it, you got ALL that math homework done?"

"Actually, it makes me feel like my head's gonna explode," Tanker sighed. Then he frowned at her suspiciously. "You were up all night with me. Why are you so damn chipper?"

"Starbucks," she replied simply, pulling a massive paper cup from her locker and taking a long slurp. "Venti Moccacino. Way too much caffeine, and way too much sugar. Just what you need to start the day. Want a sip?" she concluded innocently, holding the cup out to the two boys.

"Hey, I'll take cold pizza and a warm soda any day," Sam chuckled. "Thanks, though."

Sydney shrugged.

"More for me."

"Hey," Tanker began in a hushed tone, thick with restrained laughter. "You might wanna offer some of that to Malcolm. He looks like he could use a bit of Dutch courage...and a good stylist."

"Tanker, Dutch courage is alcohol," Sydney explained patiently.

Sam was meanwhile gawping rather rudely at the young man across the hallway from them.

"Syd," he murmured, "you'd better take a look."

"What are you talking...about..." she trailed off, staring in fascination at the stark contrast of white hair with the dark that it undoubtedly should have been.

It was at just this moment that Malcolm decided to turn around, thus catching our startled heroes in the act of staring at him.

"If any of you so much as says a word about my hair, you will live to regret it," he snarled, turning abruptly back to his locker.

"Uh, of course we won't say anything, Malcolm," Sam assured him lightly.

"Yeah," Tanker agreed, feeling as though his lungs might burst at any second with the effort not to laugh. "I've gotta get to class, anyway."

"Me, too," Sam agreed, quite relieved at having been let easily out of a very sticky situation. "See you later, Syd."

"Yup. Bye," she replied absently, making a show of occupying herself with digging in her locker for that one elusive book until both boys had rounded the corner. Then, looking carefully to either side, she crossed the hallway and leaned against the locker next to Malcolm's.

Lifting his head slowly from where it was buried in his locker, he turned to glare at her.

"Yes?"

"I've gotta ask: what happened?"

"I specifically asked that no one mention this!"

"Oh, do you honestly think you'll be able to impose that kind of silence on everyone today?"

"I can if I kill everyone who mentions it."

"Right," she scoffed. "And would that be with your brute strength, or your hitherto unnoticed telekinetic powers? My money's on the telekinetic powers, personally..."

"Oh, shut up! What do you WANT?"

"I just want to know what happened."

Silence.

"I don't know, alright?" he finally said with a glare. After all, he couldn't exactly tell her the truth... "I woke up, and it was like this."

She raised an eyebrow sceptically.

"How much stress do you have in your life?"

"What?!"

"Stress can cause premature greying...although, not THAT premature...or that sudden..."

"Please. The last thing I need right now is someone spouting all the possible medical causes for this."

"Okay, that's fine. I just have one more question: why haven't you fixed it yet?"

"Fixed it?" he echoed. "How?"

"Just dye it back," she shrugged.

This cut to the quick. To have such a thing suggested to him, who prided himself on his low-maintenance good looks...unthinkable!

"What?!" he sputtered again, being rather short on original responses that day. "I will NOT be known as the boy who dyes his hair!"

"Malcolm, there are about three hundred guys here who bleach their hair regularly. Even Tanker does it. It's just that he's so bad at it, he misses."

"Oh!" Tanker's voice drifted in from his class. "I wondered why it was still all dark!"

Sydney blinked, then shook her head and continued.

"We're in California! It's almost required!"

"Yes, and those boys are all morons."

She bit her lip, nearly choking in the attempt to keep back a decidedly flippant and rude response that would have been more typical of her burly football-playin' crony than her.

"True. But I'd say you had a good reason."

"It's out of the question. I don't know the first thing about how to go about it, anyway."

She shrugged again.

"Alright. Just wondering. Bye."

His reply was an irritated growl as she swung her book bag over her shoulder and started from the hallway.

'This IS going to be a very long day...'

-------------------------------------------

Perhaps if our young anti-hero had known exactly HOW long his day was going to seem, he would have set off for home, and thirty percent of his math grade be damned. However, as he started to class under the watchful gazes of sixty curious peers, he decided with a philosophical shrug that his day couldn't get much worse. After all, when one had hit rock bottom, there was nowhere left to fall.

------------------------------------------

In a perfect world - well, if one ignores that Malcolm likely wouldn't have taken up in a partnership with Kilokhan and would have thus avoided white hair - this might have been the case, and he might have passed through his day with little more than the odd gawp in his direction.

However, the world was not a perfect one. Not by a very, very long shot. The longest shot possible.

And so, the gods smirked knowingly down upon young Malcolm Frink, nearly feeling sorry for the poor boy, as he entered his morning art class.

Now, as everyone knows, although the rule doesn't apply to all artists, there are several specimens of that goodly ilk that are rather...eccentric in nature. As such, the first thing that greeted Malcolm as he walked through the door into the classroom was a shriek of,

"Dear God, it's Count Dracula!"

With that, he found himself being pelted with the garlic that several girls had brought as a component of their collaborative sculpture piece.

'Aromatic,' he thought briefly as he fled.

And from high in the heavens, someone threw down a chisel and a hammer.

"I suppose you're trying to make a point?" Malcolm shouted indignantly at the upper regions of the sky. "Well, kindly recall that I didn't actually say that things couldn't get any worse!"

"Malcolm, stop yelling at the narration," Amp frowned as he happened past. "This narrator's a little vindictive. You don't even WANT to know what happened to my cousin the last time he yelled at the narration."

"No, but I'd stake my reputation as an antisocial, misunderstood artistic genius on the fact that you're going to tell me," Malcolm sighed, rubbing his forehead wearily.

"I've never seen a lightning bolt hit with that kind of precision. Indoors," Amp added before trailing off and staring oddly at Malcolm. "There's something different about you today..."

Malcolm glared at the taller youth.

"Is it my hair, by any chance?"

Amp's previously puzzled expression cleared as a light of realization broke over him.

"Oh, it's gone now. It was just that you weren't scowling like you usually do. You had this expression of utter terror instead; kinda like this!"

And with that, Amp's face shifted into an expression of exaggerated fear reserved for horror movies that don't deserve the listing of 'B,' or even of 'C' or 'D.' Somewhere in the neighbourhood of 'Z-list,' if one were honest.

"That-"

"But come to think of it, what DID happen to your hair?"

"Damn you, Fates!" Malcolm howled at the sky, shaking the chisel angrily.

"Uh, be easy on him, okay, guys?" Amp requested fearfully, also gazing upwards. "He looks like he's had a bad day. Or, y'know, six thousand and eighty-four of them." Then he turned to Malcolm. "Well, I've gotta go."

"No one was asking you to stay," he returned coldly as Amp bounded off down the hallway. "Finally, a little peace."

However, it seemed as though this was an elusive prize for the unfortunate Mr. Frink.

"Why aren't you in class?" Sydney asked curiously as she approached from the other direction. As she drew nearer, she frowned, wrinkling her nose slightly. "And why do you smell like garlic? Is this a drama exercise gone horribly wrong?"

"Art class," he grumbled, sensing the futility of resisting this impromptu interrogation.

"Um...what?"

"A group of girls decided that I was the reincarnation of Count Dracula, and they chased me from the room, pelting me with cloves of garlic."

"What kind of teacher just sits by and lets stuff like that happen, no matter how flaky the class is supposed to be? No offence to artists, of course," she hastened to add, smothering a smile.

"The kind of teacher who was leading the band of vampire hunters," he replied, rolling his eyes.

"Gotcha. So, are you beginning to consider the option of hair dye?"

"No!"

"You will," she predicted gloomily, starting away from him. "You will."

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"You will," he mimicked sarcastically to himself as he took his seat in his biology class an hour later. "What the hell does she know, anyway? Just because she has the top score in the school...in the past twenty years...and she managed to prove me wrong that time...and that other one...and that other...six. Damn her..."

"Good morning...class..." Mrs. Larson trailed off in bewilderment as her eyes lit on Malcolm.

Still, one couldn't bring the physical abnormalities of a student to the attention of the entire room, even if, from the way they were all staring, the entire room was well aware of them. If the abnormality was unintentional, she could be sued for emotional assault very easily, and if the abnormality was intentional, she would simply be giving this silly boy the attention he was looking for. And so, Mrs. Abigail Larson simply straightened up, tugged at the cuffs of her brown tweed blazer, and began her lecture.

"Today, we will be discussing invertebrate mating...hair..." she trailed off again as her gaze was drawn, as though by magnet, to the glaring whiteness of Malcolm's hair.

Several students snickered, but were quieted effectively by a stern glare from Mrs. Larson over the top of her glasses down her long, thin nose, which she concluded by fixing a more loathing version on Malcolm.

Damn the boy, why did he have to sit in the front row?! He was doing this on purpose, wasn't he? That was it - he was making fun of her! He had noticed those three grey hairs of hers, and was trying to keep her from forgetting about them! And in an instant, what had previously been an unfortunate accident that she was to ignore at all costs, shifted to a deliberate, cruel attempt to destroy her self-esteem.

"Malcolm, if you're so desperate for attention, please seek it somewhere else!"

"But...but..."

"But me no buts, young mister," she interjected. "Just...go to the office, or something."

Grumbling to himself as he gathered his things together, Malcolm sent a piercing glare to a group of girls at the back of the room, giggling and glancing up at him every now and again, then looking down, whispering something to one another, and laughing again, more loudly.

"I hate everybody," he sighed as he trudged from the classroom.

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And thus went the rest of the young man's morning: attending classes, and promptly leaving them, though not always due to something so drastic as being pelted with garlic, or dead chickens - oh, how Malcolm had been cursing all things gym-class as he sprinted through the hallways after that incident! - or even as being commanded by the teacher to leave the class.

Nonetheless, by the time the morning was drawing to a close, he was beginning to wish that he had come only for the math exam. Why this hadn't occurred to him that morning remains to this day one of the great mysteries of the ages.

At any rate, his state of mind was not particularly stable and calm as he ducked quickly into the men's washrooms upon seeing the group of garlic- bearing girls from his art class approaching toward him. And so, upon glancing into the mirrors and catching sight of something utterly horrifying, he barely managed to hold back a scream of disbelief and rage at the absurdity of the fates.

There, about two millimetres from his scalp, standing out in stark contrast with the sweep of white hair, were roots of his natural colour.

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"Mmm...Coffee..." Sydney sighed happily, cuddling the paper cup protectively, and then uttering a shriek of surprise and pain as coffee sloshed over the sides and onto her arm as the cup crushed under her grip. With a self-deprecating laugh, she took a long slurp from the steaming cup of coffee - and then uttered another shriek of pain. "Ow! Hot! Hot! Hot!"

Sam and Tanker looked on in baffled concern for a moment from the other side of the cafeteria table. Amp did not, being rather engrossed at that moment with mastering the art of paddleball. Finally, Sam spoke up.

"Syd? Do you think you should maybe...get some help for this addiction of yours?"

"It's not an addiction!" she snapped. "I just wuv my coffee!"

"Yeah, that's the problem. When you start using mushy language to describe a beverage, I start to worry."

"Oh, and I guess you'd know all about addictions, Mr. Eighty-Seven Cans of Coke a Week," she shot back at him icily.

"She's got you there, man," Tanker snickered, slapping his smaller friend on the back.

"Ack!" Sam shrieked as he was slammed forward into the tabletop. Then he peeled himself off and glared, first at Tanker, and then at Sydney. "And that's eighty-THREE cans of Coke a week, thank-you very much."

"Oh. How silly of me. Eighty-THREE cans a week," Sydney amended sarcastically, rolling her eyes. "Now, if you wouldn't mind, could you pipe down and let me drink my coffee?"

As she stroked the side of the cup lovingly once more, Tanker turned to Sam.

"I think we should think seriously about an intervention," he muttered.

Sam shrugged.

"I don't know how well that would work..."

"Hey, it kinda worked on you," Tanker snickered. "We got you down to fifty- two Cokes a week."

"A small victory, but one that we could claim completely as our own," Sydney giggled, overhearing.

This was the last that she found the chance to say on any subject, as at that moment, a hand closed itself around her arm and dragged her effectively from the table with a strength obviously born of desperation, as it certainly didn't come from anywhere else.

"Oh, hi, Malcolm," she greeted cheerfully once she had regained her balance.

"Okay, fine. I'll do it."

She stared at him blankly.

"Er...do what?"

"Dye my hair back to its normal colour," he sighed in defeat.

If the concept of the sweatdrop had existed within this universe, it is nearly certain that Sydney should have put it to good use at this announcement.

"Okay; you dragged me out of my chair, gave me a bruise - how the heck did you manage that, by the way? Have you been working out? Since this morning? - and worst of all, made me spill my coffee, just to tell me that you've relented and decided to have a brain, after all? I mean, I'm happy for you, but-"

"You're going to help me," he broke in.

"What?" she said flatly.

"You heard me."

"Of course I heard you, but...are you nuts?"

"I already told you that I don't know a thing about how to do it."

"You still know more than I do."

"But you're a girl! Don't you come with an inborn sense of these things?"

"My, my. What great strides feminism has made," Sydney groused bitterly. "Of course it doesn't mean that! I mean, I'll be glad to help you, but I think we should find someone who knows what they're doing. Maybe Jennifer-"

"NOT Jennifer!" he yelped, panicked. "And not anyone who'll be likely to tell Jennifer, either!"

"Oh, fine," she sighed, rolling her eyes. "Although she's probably already seen you."

At this, she found herself gripped by the front of the shirt and pulled closer until they were nose-to-nose.

"Don't. Say. That," he growled.

"Okay, okay! Now, let go of me before your hand slips down another inch and I remove anything that might be of use if you should ever get very, very lucky and actually get a date with Jennifer."

He shoved her away, crossing his arms petulantly and reflecting that this was one of the more creative ways of threatening castration that he had heard this week.

"So, who else do we ask?"

Sydney shrugged helplessly.

"You've got me. I could see if Sam or Tanker would know..."

"I could throw you out the window," he suggested sweetly.

"You couldn't throw my pet kitten out the window," she snickered. "Maybe my pet hamster, but...no, not my pet hamster, either. Not without a good year of rigorous weight training first."

"Oh, shut up!"

"Fine," she sighed. "So, what made you change your mind?"

"Roots," he replied flatly.

"Roots? That Canadian lumberjack store with all the fleeces? I think I have a hat from there..."

"No! Roots! In my hair!" he barked, pointing to the top of his head.

"Oh...wow. They ARE showing, aren't they?"

"No; I thought it might be fun to pretend," he scoffed.

"Don't be sarcastic, or I won't help you," she threatened.

"Fine, fine," he sighed, "Now, where do we find someone to help us?"

It seemed that, for once, the Fates may just have smiled down upon young Mr. Frink. Of course, it would eventually turn out that the smile was one of barely restrained glee at his suffering, but of course, he didn't know that right away....

"Hi, Sydney!" Mandi, the president of the Tanker Fan-Club, chirped as she bounced past, her bleached blonde hair swinging about her face. "Hi, weird guy who always wears black!"

"Hi, Mandi," Sydney greeted, snickering slightly.

"Hi, stupid girl with the IQ of a potato...or worse, of Tanker."

"Do NOT disparage Tanker!" Mandi growled, brandishing her hairbrush menacingly.

"He's sorry, Mandi. Really, he is," Sydney assured her, suddenly recalling this girl's nearly dangerous obsession with the quarterback. "Hey, I've got a question: how much do you know about dyeing a person's hair?"

"Well," Mandi began, putting a finger to her chin in great consideration, "I dye my own hair about twice a month. And I do my friends' hair when they need to get it done again."

"So...you're pretty good..."

"The best out there!" the blonde chirped proudly.

"Great! Wanna help us dye Malcolm's hair?" Sydney asked eagerly.

Mandi pondered this for a moment. Then...

"Nope!"

With that, she turned and bounced away.

"Good grief!" Mrs. Starkey exclaimed as she sidled past the two teens staring in utter confusion after Mandi. "I knew that Winters grey early, but this is ridiculous!"

"Mrs. Starkey, he had a bit of an accident," Sydney explained in a hushed tone. "Hey, speaking of which, do you know of anyone who knows how to use hair dye properly?"

"Know of anyone?!" Mrs. Starkey repeated incredulously. "I am offended! You are looking at the woman who was dyeing hair for the greatest rock-stars in the world since before she was in high school!"

"Then you'll help us?" Sydney prompted excitedly, completely ignoring the frantic gestures to shut up from the young man beside her.

"Sure, I'll help," Mrs. Starkey laughed. "It might be fun. Meet you two here at four-thirty? That's when my shift here ends."

"Sure!" Sydney chirped.

"Please, someone kill me," Malcolm implored of the skies, closer to tears than he had been in many a year...or many a day, as it were.

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As he found himself sitting motionless on a stool in the Foresters' bright, airy kitchen, garbed in an old housecoat in the interest of not staining his clothing, as a young female in plastic gloves prepared to smear some sort of foul-smelling goop onto his head and a less-young female perched on the counter instructed her as to the right way to apply said goop, he began to think that this plea had been a bit premature.

NOW he wanted death. Preferably painless, and as far from Kilokhan, Mrs. Starkey, hair-dye, and all this damn yellow that it seemed this whole bloody family was addicted to in their decorating schemes.

The past hours had been quite a whirlwind to the poor boy. At the specified hour he and Sydney had both arrived at the cafeteria to find Mrs. Starkey waiting for them with a glint in her eye that frightened him horribly. She had announced that they would go buy the proper colour of hair-dye, but that they would have to apply it at one of their houses. She didn't, she told them emphatically, want her apartment stinking of hair-dye for the next three days.

To this, Malcolm had rejoined quite snippily that he didn't want his house permeated by the odour of ammonia, either.

And so, playing peacekeeper for the first, but certainly not for the last time that day, Sydney announced with a weary sigh that they could use her house. Her parents would be at a cocktail party until at least nine, so they would have plenty of time.

And so off they had set, and for a time, his fellow student and the surly cafeteria worker became both so engrossed in the task of finding the perfect colour of hair-dye that neither found the time to say a word to him, or to each other, or to any other living creature (beyond 'MOVE IT, KID!!!' to the unfortunate twelve-year old boy who accidentally got between Mrs. Starkey and her destination). It had seemed almost as though this process could pass relatively painlessly.

Until, that is, Malcolm had been so foolish as to put this pondering into words.

"This might not be so bad, after all."

And then the skies had blackened, and a bolt of lightning and a crack of thunder cleaved the heavens in twain.

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'Fine,' Malcolm had reflected with a scowl up at the sky approximately twenty minutes later as he re-emerged from the bathroom, his clothing safely covered up by a ratty old bathrobe that Mr. Forester had been on the verge of getting rid of. 'It WILL be so bad, after all.'

This estimation was not altered at all by the stunned silence that greeted him as he walked into the kitchen where Mrs. Starkey was busily mixing up the bottle of hair-dye, and Sydney was busily covering everything in the nearby vicinity with layers of newspaper. Nor was it altered by a shrill and tactless peal of laughter from Sydney, who, at the sight of Malcolm wrapped in fraying burgundy flannel housecoat about four sizes too large for him, dropped her pile of newspapers and collapsed to the ground, unable to contain her mirth.

"Oh, shut up, will you?!" Malcolm commanded, crossing his arms and, unbeknownst to him, making himself even sillier than before as he fought off both rather unexpected side effects of her laughter: the urge to laugh himself, and a sensation somewhat akin to the horror that had filled him at the thought of Jennifer seeing him in a ridiculous situation.

"Hey!" Mrs. Starkey said sharply. "If you want, she can just send you home, and you can see how well you manage this hair-dyeing thing by yourself."

"Sorry," he muttered, nevertheless shooting Sydney another glare.

"No problem," she gasped, wiping her eyes and climbing to her feet. "Sorry. There's just a funny story about that robe."

"Oh, good God," Malcolm sighed. "Do I want to know?"

"Well, last year, a bunch of my aunts and uncles and cousins came to spend Christmas with us. So, we decided - well, our parents decided that all us kids should put on a Christmas pageant of the Nativity."

"Who'd you get to be?" Mrs. Starkey asked mildly. "Mary?"

"Me?" Sydney repeated, blinking. "Oh, no, I was a sheep. The best sheep ever, I'll have you know! Anyway, I had this one cousin who was in Grade 7 at the time. And you know how guys are in Grade 7. They're too cool to do anything that might be fun."

"Just guys?" Mrs. Starkey put in, leaning sideways against the white tiled counter and suppressing a grin.

"Oh, fine. You know how PEOPLE are in Grade 7," Sydney amended.

Malcolm raised an eyebrow. Would this story come to a point any time in the near future, he wondered, thus voicing the thoughts of everyone who has ever read a Rhianwen 'fic.

"Go on," he urged, wanting nothing more than to get out of this far-too- cheerful house sometime before school began the next day.

"Okay; so, anyway, we made my cousin, Oliver, be a shepherd. And since he didn't have a robe of his own, we gave him this one. But he really, really didn't want to be a part of it - he said his friends at home would never quit laughing at him; I still don't know how he thought his friends would ever find out about it. Anyway, we still made him do it. And when you came out of the bathroom glaring like that, Malcolm, it just reminded me of Ollie."

Malcolm and Mrs. Starkey exchanged uncertain glances.

"I guess you kinda had to be there," Sydney concluded, laughing sheepishly. Baa...

"I guess," Malcolm agreed flatly. "Now, although I'd love to spend the rest of the day standing around in an ugly bathrobe and sharing fond...and weird...childhood memories with you, can we please get on with it?"

--------------------------------------------

So, taking him at his word, the two women had ordered him to get onto a stool surrounded by newspapers, lest any of the dark-coloured gel splatter to the ground - after all, Sydney told them sheepishly, her parents would kill her if she stained the white linoleum.

Mrs. Starkey had flatly refused to apply the colouring herself. As she said, if she wasn't being paid for it, she wasn't going to be a part of it, aside from offering the occasional helpful tip. That kind of thing could very easily lead to a lawsuit nowadays. And of course, she demanded of the teens, how was Sydney ever going to learn if she didn't try it herself?

Neither had bothered to ask her exactly when she expected Sydney to be putting this knowledge into application next, but had simply exchanged long- suffering glances as they had started the ever-dreaded cosmetic process.

Aside from the fact that the smell of the stuff was beginning to make his eyes water and his nose run horribly, Malcolm had to admit that it wasn't nearly so bad as he had expected.

He wasn't entirely sure whether that vaguely pleasant tingling in his scalp was from the ammonia seeping into his brain, or from the monotonous circular patterns she was rubbing repeatedly into his hair. Indeed, he reflected in mild surprise, his peer seemed to know how to use her hands rather well. From here, his thoughts began a direct downward slide into the gutter as he wondered what other hidden talents she might have, which had led to several inappropriate mental images of her applying them, and seconds later, found himself thanking Providence that these two insane women had seen fit to put him in a housecoat. It conveniently hid his increasing...discomfort.

'Amp in a cheerleading outfit...Amp in a cheerleading outfit...Amp in a cheerleading outfit,' he chanted silently to himself. 'Mrs. Starkey in a baby-doll...eugh.'

As well, the agony that the process might have otherwise brought to all involved was lessened by the fact that Sydney, as instructed by Mrs. Starkey, had taken a moment to allow each handful of the goop to warm up in her hands.

"Nothing shocks you out of year of growth quite like icy-cold gel being rubbed into your scalp," the older woman laughed heartily as the younger squirted another dollop of said gel onto the top of his head.

"Scalp?" Malcolm echoed nervously. "It's not going to stain, is it?"

"Heck, of course not," Mrs. Starkey assured him with a slap on the back that made him pitch forward. "The colour comes out of skin in about a week."

"Mrs. Starkey!" Sydney exclaimed reproachfully as a blob of darkly coloured goo landed on the back of the young man's neck. "Don't shake him around like that!"

"A week?!" Malcolm repeated, panicked, wondering at the back of his mind if the burning sensation in his neck where the dye had fallen was a bad thing.

"Oh, it's not so bad," Mrs. Starkey assured him, winking at Sydney, who was currently sifting through a drawer of tea-towels as successfully as she could with her elbows (after all, taking off the plastic gloves at this point could be more trouble than it was worth, and there was no way she was taking her chances with those kinds of chemicals, without gloves! Not that she was telling that to the boy currently having them dumped on his head, of course). "It'll just look like a smudge of dirt. Or a bruise," she cackled. "You could tell everyone that Sydney beat you up..."

"Only if I get to say that I got a few punches in first," he intoned darkly, glaring at that same young lady as successfully as anyone could glare at someone who was standing behind them, wiping off the back of their neck with a towel.

"As long as we can say I won," she agreed cheerfully. "Mrs. Starkey? Does it look like I got all the spots?"

The large woman made her way over, inspected the boy's head closely, and nodded.

"Looks good. Now we leave it for twenty minutes."

"Gosh, that's an awfully long time," Sydney frowned. "What do we do until then?"

"We set the timer, and go watch TV," Mrs. Starkey replied, punching the allotted amount of time into the microwave timer.

"Great!" Sydney chirped, then frowned again. "But we'd better leave Malcolm here. Mom and Dad'll kill me if any dye gets on the carpet..."

"Sure thing. See you in twenty minutes, Malcolm. Have fun," Mrs. Starkey grinned at him as the two started upstairs to the den.

"What?!" Malcolm sputtered, annoyed. "You're just going to leave me here, in a strange kitchen?! What if your parents come home unexpectedly? What am I supposed to tell them?"

"Say it's a hazing ritual for the tennis team," Sydney suggested. "Mom and Dad are used to that kind of thing."

"With the company you keep, it isn't surprising," the young man sighed, rolling his eyes.

"Hey, Syd! Get up here! I don't know how to work this remote, and my show's about to begin!" an insistent voice barked from upstairs.

"Just a minute, Mrs. Starkey!" she shouted back, rummaging through the drawers once again. "I know I put that shower cap around here somewhere..."

"Might I suggest you check a bathroom? Preferably one with a shower?" Malcolm asked icily.

She glared at him briefly, then went back to her exploring.

"Ah-HAH!" she exclaimed, pulling a small cardboard package from a drawer.

He eyed her warily as she unwrapped the plastic headgear, and even more warily as she approached him.

"Just hold still," she requested absently.

He pulled back.

"Just WHAT are you planning to do with that?"

Now it was her turn to roll her eyes.

"I'm going to smother you with it. What do you think I'm going to do? I'm putting it on you so you don't end up dripping all over the floor!"

"One would have thought the newspaper everywhere would have taken care of that..."

"I don't wanna take any chances," she informed him seriously as she slid the shower cap into place.

He scowled darkly as she stepped back to look at him, and her expression immediately twisted oddly.

"You're trying very hard not to laugh, aren't you?" Malcolm sighed.

Wordlessly, Sydney nodded.

"Well, I thank you for that much, anyway."

"No problem, Mother Clairol," Sydney would have said, had she not burst, at that moment, into wild, uncontrollable giggles once again.

Malcolm crossed his arms and watched from his stool as she rolled helplessly about on the floor.

"Are you almost finished?" he demanded, exasperated, several minutes later.

"Almost," she assured him before dissolving into another gale of laughter.

"What's going on down here?" Mrs. Starkey demanded, stalking into the room and stopping short as her gaze lit on Malcolm. "You poor boy," she chortled, shaking her head. "You poor, poor, poor, poor, POOR boy."

"I hate everyone," Malcolm informed the world at large for the second time that day.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Starkey's expression had shifted from one of amusement into one of exasperation as she pulled the shower cap off of Malcolm's head.

"You missed a spot," she informed Sydney. "Actually, you missed about six."

"What?! So, I'm going to have to do this again?!" Malcolm wailed.

"Unless you wanna walk around looking like a zebra," Mrs. Starkey shrugged. "The choice is yours."

"I'll do it again," Malcolm sighed. "When can you two help me next?"

"Hell, I can just run down to the corner store and pick up another bottle now," Mrs. Starkey shrugged. "But in the meantime, Syd, try to get his hair rinsed out and dried. Otherwise, the colour's gonna get way too dark."

"Sure thing," Sydney agreed, shrinking back as a full-force Malcolm-glare nearly pinned her to the wall.

With a satisfied nod, Mrs. Starkey started out the front door. The next moment, the sound of a motorcycle revving drifted in through the open window.

"I never said I was good at this stuff," she reminded him defensively, breaking a long moment of silence.

"Whatever," he said coldly. "Let's just get this over with, please."

"Fine," she sighed. "Come over here. We'll just rinse the dye out in the kitchen sink."

"Sure."

He bent over the kitchen sink, and she started the water.

"Close your eyes," she commanded tersely once the water had reached a good temperature.

Then she grabbed the spray hose, depressed the nozzle, and aimed the spray of lukewarm water at the mass of hair plastered to his head. The stuff began to run down the drain, staining the water a dark, murky colour somewhat resembling a deep plum.

'God help me if we've dyed his hair purple,' Sydney groaned inwardly, running her free hand through his hair to work apart the strands matted together by the dye.

'God help me if I have to stand up suddenly,' Malcolm groaned inwardly as he felt her press against him closely from behind in order to reach, reflecting that the housecoat had been good for something, and wondering exactly how quick she would be to notice and kill him if he had to stand up and reveal a decided...return in his earlier state of discomfort.

Still, no matter how hellishly endless a situation may seem, it must at last find an end. And so, after three gruelling minutes during which Sydney had wondered exactly how much freaking dye a person's hair could hold, and during which Malcolm had wondered exactly how much longer he could hold his breath so as not to accidentally snort some of that dye up his nose, the sound of running water stopped.

"Stay there," Sydney requested.

As the sound of footsteps behind him grew softer, he nodded as best he could. Seconds later, he found a towel wrapped around his head.

"Thanks," he said shortly, drying his hair quickly and handing the towel back to her.

She nodded silently, then accepted the towel and handed him a comb.

He stared at it strangely.

"You comb your hair with it," she clarified. "Unless you want met to do it for you."

"No, thank-you," he intoned, voice like ice as he took the comb and stalked toward the bathroom, deliberately not thinking about the part of his mind that was urging him to take her up on the offer.

"Go use the washroom upstairs," she called after him. "There's a hairdryer in there, too."

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"Have I mentioned yet that I hate everyone?"

Sydney looked up abruptly from her book at this question...

...and the next moment, her book dropped unheeded to the ground as her gaze lit on a rather startling specimen of humanity.

This figure was glaring at her with such intense loathing that she felt she might burst into flames at any moment. However, the sheer force of the glare somehow failed to be as intimidating as it might otherwise if one took into account his hair, a dingy sort of grey from not leaving the colour in long enough to take effect with bizarre patches of starkly contrasting white, giving one the impression that his head was wrapped in the hide of a rather unhealthy elephant.

"If you laugh, Sydney, you WILL regret it," he growled as the corners of her mouth started twitching. "After all, this is YOUR fault."

"I guess you're right," she murmured, dropping her eyes to the floor lest actually looking at him bring upon her another attack of giggles from which she might never recover.

"Is Mrs. Starkey back yet?"

"No," she squeaked, the effort to hold in her laughter becoming nearly physically painful.

"Well, I hope she is soon," he sighed, taking a seat across from her at the kitchen table and resting his chin in his hand, the fingers of his other hand drumming absently on the tabletop. "I'm beginning to feel a little silly."

Perhaps it was this gross understatement, or perhaps it was the apathetically annoyed posture of the young man. Whatever it was, Sydney found herself unable to restrain her laughter any longer, and burst immediately and unceremoniously into fits of giggles.

"Shut up!" he commanded, glaring.

"I...I...can't," she gasped, trying desperately to straighten up.

"Shut up NOW!" he barked.

"...Trying," she assured him, but apparently not having any success for all her well-meaning attempts.

"Try harder! I'm serious, Sydney. I've had enough of this! Stop it!"

This had no effect, save to elicit more laughter from her.

He scowled at the young woman, who was, by this time, rolling helplessly on the floor once again. Well, she just had to be taught a lesson. No two ways about it. But how? Too bad there had been no excess dye; smearing it in her eyes until she would be no longer able to see anything to laugh at was an appealing thought. At least, for about half a second, until he remembered that there was something he kind of liked about her eyes. Not the bright blue of the eyes that haunted his dreams, but nice to look at nonetheless. Warm, if a little timid.

At this point, Malcolm happened to glance over at the sink. Along with the spray-hose.

And a plot of revenge was born.

Smirking, he strode over to the sink, flipped on the faucet, pulled out the nozzle, and aimed it at her.

"Stop laughing," he suggested pleasantly. "Now."

Still his command had no effect. So, with a shrug, he depressed the nozzle.

"Ack!" she shrieked as a stream of water hit her directly in the face. "Malcolm! What are you doing?!"

"I'm making you stop laughing at my suffering," he replied easily, following her with the stream of water as she bounced to her feet and tried to dodge.

"Okay, okay! I'm not laughing anymore. Now stop it!"

"Oh, I don't think so," he said smoothly, smirking wickedly at the now completely drenched girl in front of him.

"There's water all over the kitchen! My parents are going to KILL me!"

"That's your problem," he shrugged.

"Malcolm, knock it off before I come over there and make you!"

"That, I would like to see," he chuckled.

"Fine," she shrugged.

The moment she said it, Malcolm knew that he had made a mistake as a very angry girl launched herself at him, taking them both effectively to the ground.

"Ow..." Malcolm whimpered sadly as his head bounced off the tile.

"Ow..." Sydney agreed wholeheartedly, unable to climb off of him for a time.

He glared up at her.

"At least you didn't have someone land on you," he reminded her icily.

"Yeah? Well, at least YOU didn't get soaked with cold water - while wearing a white tee-shirt," she rejoined angrily, climbing off of him and making sure to 'accidentally' kick him in the shin at least once as she did so.

Thus, she was rather miffed when he appeared not to notice being kicked in the head, staring in complete awe as he was at her chest as he climbed dizzily to his feet.

"Malcolm?" she called sharply.

"What?" he asked absently, eyes still glued to her soaked shirt.

"You're dead," she informed him cheerfully, leaping at him and taking him down easily once again.

"Ow!" he shrieked as once again, the back of his head became intimately acquainted with the floor.

"That's just a warm-up," she promised him, balling her hand into a fist and pulling it back.

Before she could strike, though...

"Hey, hey, hey! What's going on here?!"

"Um..." Sydney began, turning around, still on top of Malcolm, and shooting the cafeteria lady a sheepish smile. "Hi, Mrs. Starkey."

"Hi, yourself, kid. What the hell's going on? I leave for fifteen minutes, come back, and you two are on the floor, trying to continue HIS family line!" she concluded, the corners of her mouth twitching slightly as she gestured to Malcolm, who seemed to be of quite mixed feelings about his current predicament. Although he was rather nervous over the fact that Syd seemed to be out for his blood, it wasn't an entirely unpleasant sensation to have her straddling him like this.

"It really, really, REALLY isn't what it looks like," Sydney assured her desperately.

Mrs. Starkey raised her eyebrow.

"In that case, I don't even want to know."

"I was trying to beat him up, because he squirted me with water, and my shirt got all wet, and then he was staring, and-"

"Hey, hey, hey, I said I didn't want to know!" Mrs. Starkey reminded her sharply, grabbing her arm and tugging her off of the young man on the floor. "Now, let's get on with this, alright?"

"Sure," both teens agreed miserably.

-----------------------------------------

And so they did, this time with the aid of the ever-capable Mrs. Starkey who remarked with a dark scowl that she didn't trust these two crazy kids not to screw it up again...or to lose focus and screw each other...up, of course, she added sarcastically.

Once Mrs. Starkey had taken over, ordering Sydney to get the hell away from the hair dye and find them something to eat - an order which she rather resented; it WAS her kitchen they were using, after all - the rest of the process went surprisingly quickly, and although Malcolm disapproved greatly of having Mrs. Starkey at such a close proximity (instead of Sydney, as he never would have admitted), he agreed that it was probably just as well.

-----------------------------------------

Yes, all was well that ended well...or something, the young man reflected as he nodded in satisfaction at the image that greeted him as he looked into his bathroom mirror. Gone was the dramatic white that had been the bane of his existence for the past several days, and back in place was the familiar mass of dark hair sweeping back from a starkly pale forehead.

Then, as a twinge of pain radiating from a lump on the back of his head made him start, he rubbed it lightly, completely unaware of the warmth filling his eyes and the tiny smile crossing his mouth.

Alright, so the ordeal hadn't been completely without its good points, he admitted with a shrug, but he was still damned if he would be the one to challenge Kilokhan's good humour any time in the near future!

Of course, due to the focus of 'Super-Human Samurai Syber Squad' on the fine art of continuity, he was.

The very next day.

And the events of that day, just as the events of so many days before it, were never spoken of again.

Isn't North Valley a magical place?

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End Notes: Whoo! A long, rambling story that came to no discernible point! I'm good at those! ^_^