Disclaimer: Characters and situations owned by Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy.


Things were easy in Quor'toth. You had to keep your hair short; too many enemies could use it to grab you otherwise. His father used a knife, with quick, decisive cuts. Stephen had some dim memory of fidgeting early on, impatient for it to end. He could not have been older than three; later, he knew better.

"Don't move," his father said in this vague memory, but did not explain why. But there was so much hair, and it seemed to take endlessly. So Stephen stirred, turned his head, and promptly felt a sharp pain at his neck. The blade of the knife had cut him.

"I told you not to move," his father said quietly, not stopping with his cutting, and Stephen held still. He wanted to cry, but didn't. Moving had been stupid and a mistake, and he didn't want to make another. When his father was finished, he showed the blood drops to Stephen before he cleaned the blade.

"It will not happen again, will it, Stephen?" his father asked, and the boy nodded, earning a rare smile in return. "Very good. I will show you how to do it yourself in a brief while."

Stephen wanted to ask why, if he was going to hold still in the future; whether this was in some way a punishment. His father seemed to read his thoughts and sighed. His fingers with their weathered skin touched Stephen's neck.

"You should not let an enemy hold a knife at your throat, my son," he said softly, and grew silent.

During the summer he spent with Fred and Gunn, his hair grew and grew. He could have cut it, easily; nobody ever took his knife away, and there were so many other sharp blades in the Hyperion. Connor had no idea why he did not. Perhaps it was simply because he didn't want to waste time that way. At first, he still expected to be found out, any minute of any day, and later, there were too many other things to explore.

"Looks like a girl's," Gunn once said, after Connor had pissed him off by disappearing and returning unannounced again, with that tone that meant he needed a joke to express his anger with.

"No, it doesn't," Fred hastily interjected. "But you should use a comb more often, Connor. Oh. Oh, I'm sorry. You don't know how, right? Here, let me show you!"

After the first stroke, he jumped up and declared he could do it himself, and she smiled indulgently, saying something about "adolescent boys and their pride". He had no idea what she meant, but pride wasn't the issue. Caution was. It had felt oddly soothing, her hand on his head, and for a second, he had forgotten that she and Gunn were not really his friends. They were the undead monster's minions and would turn against him if they ever found out the truth.

Besides, one look had shown him a comb could be used in many ways. Stabbing out one's eyes was just one of them. He couldn't permit an enemy to hold a weapon so near his throat, could he?

His father had taught him well.

Cordelia had given him a list of the things she needed most urgently from the hotel, and combs (several), brushes (several) and scissors (one large pair, one for nails) were among them. After delivering them, he watched her covertly as she handled brush and comb as expertly as a warrior his weapons. He didn't quite see why she needed them - her hair looked fine to him just the way it had been when she had woken up next to him - but he admired the elegance of her movements.

"You know, what you're doing right now? That's stalking," she said, but there was no anger in her voice, just amusement. "I don't need any help with brushing my hair, Connor."

"I do," he said impulsively. She raised an eyebrow, but examined him and nodded.

"Looks like," she said. "Come here."

They were nearly the same size, so he knelt down in front of her to make it possible for her to reach his head at her leisure. It was all the forbidden things at once: turning your back on someone, allowing sharp tools at your throat. Closing your eyes, as he did when she parted the mass of strands shielding him, with her knuckles brushing his bare skin.