TITLE: Entangled
AUTHOR: Blue Fenix
AUTHOR'S EMAIL: the_blue_fenix@yahoo.com

"Blast!" It wasn't much of a problem compared to dangling under an enemy airship, but it was surprisingly painful. Rebecca tried again to untangle the mass of metal from her hair. "You and your bright ideas, Passepartout." A comb was even less help at the disentangling process than her fingers had been, and the single mirror in her pocket-sized cabin on the _Aurora_ was no help at seeing the back of her own head. This was going to require help. Rebecca Fogg wrapped a velvet dressing gown around her -- annoyingly difficult, with one hand clutching her scalp -- and went into the corridor. "Passepartout?"

The passage outside was little larger than a closet. It comprised all the leftover space on the _Aurora's_ upper deck which wasn't partitioned into her room, and Phileas' room, and a cubbyhole for his valet. A spiral staircase led down to the main deck, a wall-mounted ladder led up to a roof hatch. The remaining space barely gave a person or two room to stand. "Passepartout." Rebecca aimed the call down the staircase.

The narrow mahogany door to the opposite cabin swung open. Phileas stood there in shirt sleeves, caught in the act of putting on a clean collar. "He's gone," her cousin said. "Verne somehow ruined his good clothes since he last wore them in Paris. Passepartout took him to get new ones. At great expense, no doubt." He noted the hand clasped to her skull. "Have you got a headache, then?"

Rebecca gave him a mean look. "What I have is an experiment in weapons concealment gone wrong. You'll have to do, I suppose. Come in here and get this thing off me."

She watched him covertly as she led the way back to her own cabin. It was reckless to assume anything about Phileas' condition if he'd been out of one's sight for an hour or two. This time he was calm, sober, and in his right mind. No reason he shouldn't be. Their intended mission, watching the opening of a gallery here in Lyons against the presence of international art thieves, was more of a sop to Anglo-French politics than a serious cause for worry. Rebecca sat down at her dressing table again. "What I need help with is the other of these." She picked up a piece of flat, curved brass from the dressing table. It had several protruding legs, like a double-sided comb. In the center, a leaf-shaped piece of steel two inches long was held in place by a clip.

Fogg slid the steel sliver loose and held it by the base between two fingers. Both edges and the point were glittering sharp. "I believe this is mine."

"They're copies. Passepartout showed me the lapel daggers, and between us we came up with the scheme of hiding a set of them in my _coiffure_. Nothing an opponent would expect ... unfortunately we badly underestimated the weight." Rebecca moved her hand; another brass spider was knotted into her hair. "I can't even get the dagger from the holder without cutting my hair along the way."

Phileas pulled tentatively at the piece of brass; Rebecca winced at the pressure on her scalp. "It would be simpler to cut it out with scissors."

"Thank you, no. I have no intention of coping with a bald spot or an uneven trim every time I do my hair for the next ten years." Rebecca tilted the mirror so she could see Phileas' face behind her. "You can at least see what you're doing."

"Very well." Phileas bent down a little, bringing his face within a few inches of Rebecca. She continued to watch him in the mirror as he set about the delicate task. That was one of the many maddening things about his mercurial temperament. When he chose he could be absorbed for hours getting something precisely right, like picking a lock or stacking a deck of cards. At other times, his patience could be measured in seconds. She'd had the good fortune to get detail-Phileas rather than short-fused Phileas on this occasion. He was also being considerate in the way he set about the chore, supporting the brass trinket with one hand so her hair wasn't continually pulled. "Here you are." He spread the tangle of hair apart with two fingers, and carefully withdrew the steel dagger. "That's half your problem, anyway." He dropped it to the dressing table.

Rebecca let her eyes dip closed. There wasn't much to see from this angle, and she would be glad for a few minutes' rest before they set out for the gallery. Phileas' fingers moving in her hair were soothing, now that the pulling on her scalp was gone. She didn't especially like being touched, at least not without fair warning, but Phileas had always been different. No circumventing of inner alarms was required. He was simply part of her, like her own hand. She could almost fancy that her own nerves extended all the way through the skin-to-skin connection, making them one. It was a warm, satisfying feeling. She could feel the snarled hair loosening as her cousin kept working with it. The release of tension felt good. The past month or two had been stressful. She'd scarcely realized how tired she was until she closed her eyes. It would be lovely to simply doze for a while right here, with Phileas stroking her hair.

-----

Phileas Fogg felt his cousin's head dip slightly forward as some of the tension left her neck and shoulders. His eyes fixed on her reflection in the mirror in front of them. Rebecca's were closed. The fine muscles of her face were relaxing too; her lips had softened into a faint smile. Phileas was glad she wasn't looking at him. His own eyes were showing too much need. He could put the mask back in place soon enough, when he had to, but please not yet.

His fingers had kept working of themselves at the delicate task, teasing loose the trapped strands of hair a few at a time without breaking them. Now the brass dagger-holder dropped into his hand. His only tenable excuse for pawing at Rebecca was gone, but she didn't seem to have noticed. Take that as a gift, while it lasted. He noticed that the rest of her elaborate hairstyle -- at least four small braids swooping in arcs along the sides of her head, he was no good at the names of these things -- had been hopelessly distorted by the pulling weight of brass and steel. If she was going to have to start over in any case ... Phileas detached the end of one braid from a hairpin and began unraveling it. Rebecca didn't notice, or at any rate didn't object to, the additional help.

Phileas knew enough women of the world, and intimately enough, to know that most of them had one or two full-time maids looking after clothes and hair. Absolutely typical of Rebecca, to insist on producing the same labor-intense effects by herself. He knew that Passepartout gave her considerable unofficial help when she was aboard _Aurora,_ at least with the care of her clothing, but these fripperies still ate two or three hours of her day. It was the family vanity -- God knew he had a healthy dose of that himself -- combined with Rebecca's fixed determination to rely on no one. If she'd asked his opinion -- not that she would -- he could tell her that at least two-thirds of this female primping went completely unnoticed by the men it was supposedly meant to impress. Layers of fringes and frills, complicated hats, particularly devoted belles who laced themselves so tightly they looked ready to break in half ... the only purpose, if it had one, was to show off to other women. The dressing gown wrapped around her now, simple dark green velvet -- why couldn't they wear something like that?

He moved to another braid, the last one. It fell apart almost at a touch, leaving a lock of her hair like solidified flame in his fingers. His face was close to it; he caught a faint musky scent. That, too. Before she finished dressing, she'd spray herself with essence of embalmed flowers. A lot of it, to compete with the different embalmed flowers of every other woman in the place. What was the point, exactly? It wasn't as if she smelled bad; Rebecca was a fastidiously clean person. Phileas inhaled more deeply. She was ...

The natural scent of her hair and skin, in the larger dose, struck Phileas like a bullet in the chest. It bypassed his brain entirely and went straight for lower parts of his anatomy. He was suddenly, achingly aroused. It was a good thing Rebecca's chair had a solid back or he'd have considerable explaining to do. More than a little dazed, _Shortage of blood to the brain, probably,_ Phileas tried to carry on like a helpful cousin in his right mind. Her hairbrush was at hand. He fumbled for it and began to smooth the surface of her hair. God, her hair. The color too suddenly struck him as if he was meeting a complete stranger. Sunsets, forest fires, a Phoenix rising from its ashes. Too thick and heavy to yield much to the brush, with a slight natural wave that sprung back into place after the bristles passed by. He wanted to gather the whole silken mass of it up in both hands, and bury his face in it, and breathe. He wanted to dive underneath it, to the softer red-gold strands at the back of her neck, and suck on the ivory skin at the nape until she was gasping his name. He ...

Phileas made himself stay perfectly still, against the impulses of hands and other body parts that were ready to grab without asking his brain's permission. There was a very good reason, and if his head stopped spinning he'd remember it ... _She doesn't want me._ Ah. Such a simple idea; he shouldn't have so much trouble retaining it. He turned the hairbrush in his hands, moving very carefully, and set it on the dressing table. "There you are." His voice sounded almost normal.

Rebecca blinked, recalled from some daydream -- Phileas fought back a stab of jealousy -- and smiled at him in the mirror. "I appreciate it." She took up the brush herself. "I'll barely have time to get ready as it is."

"You don't have to do anything complicated." Phileas was having a little difficulty forming complete sentences. If he dropped a cufflink or something in the direction of her door, he could turn and get back to his own quarters without her seeing his condition.

Rebecca nodded, her attention on the chore at hand. "I know it's all the same to you, dear cousin, but I do like to look acceptable at formal events. I won't make us late, I promise."

Gaah. At least he was able to turn toward the door with some measure of dignity. Phileas stopped just short of it, and looked back over his shoulder. "What's the name of that scent you wear? I noticed there's a perfumer's opposite the gallery. I could get you some more."

"That's sweet of you. But they wouldn't have it here. M. Andreas in Paris makes it to his own formula. If you still feel indulgent next time we're in the city, by all means do; he charges the earth." Rebecca frowned faintly. "I thought you considered perfumes and such to be pointless?"

"Did I say that? Lord, no. I think you should wear it every time you stir out of doors." Phileas ducked through the doorway as if fleeing from gunfire.