Karolina had assured her that once the pain over Gert's death was less immediate and severe they'd begin to open up, but until then Xavin to her own devices most of the time. Even Koralina was so busy trying to offer comfort to the others that Xavin suspected that the only reason she saw much of her at all was because she also had grief to deal with.
That night, with little else to do, she found herself flipping through a stack of magazines she found piled up on a table. She knew that understanding Earth's culture would be an important part of learning to blend in there, and that it would make Karolina happy if she were able to do so, but the things were almost insufferably dull. They were filled with picture after picture of ill-fed women in impractical clothing, not even any good for giving Xavin new ideas for clothing to form when they went out since she was unwilling to make anything which would restrict her movement. The only thing which might possibly be useful to her were the hairstyles.
She was trying one, her hair twisting this way and that apparently of its own will as she worked out how to get it exactly right, and wondering whether it would appeal to Karolina when a voice piped up above her, "Do you always do it like that?"
Xavin started, her head whipping up to find Molly peering down at her from between the rails of the banister around a loft above her. The child was too sneaky by half for someone that Karolina had described as 'the baby of the group'; none of them should have been stealthy enough to surprise Xavin like that. "Do what?" she asked.
Molly jumped down to the same level as Xavin, her eyes briefly flashing purple as she landed. Xavin was making a mental note to lecture her at some point on needlessly wasting her energy like that when Molly spoke up again to explain herself. "Do you always just shapeshift your hair instead of doing it yourself? Isn't that kinda cheating?"
"This is doing it myself," she informed her, unsure of exactly what she was getting at. "How is it possible to cheat at hairstyling?"
"Well, if you're trying to make yourself look nice for Karolina, it's not as special if you just make yourself look nice, right?" She smiled suddenly and reached out to grab Xavin's wrist and start pulling her off in the direction of her room. "Here, if you dunno how to do stuff with your hair the normal way I can help!"
Xavin realized that protesting that in her own eyes she was doing it the 'normal way' wasn't likely to help. Karolina had told her that in time the others would grow accustomed to her shapeshifting, just as Karolina herself had, but that time had not yet come. Besides that, it would be a good chance to attempt to grow closer to Molly and she had promised Karolina that she would do her best to befriend the others.
"I dunno how to do fancy stuff like what your were trying to do," Molly rattled on as she lead Xavin to a seat in her bedroom and found a hairbrush, "but I can teach you how to do a braid! It's super-easy, and once you know how to do it you can add ribbons and stuff to make it prettier. Now don't worry about letting me brush your hair, 'kay? I'm really good at doing it without pulling on knots, 'cause my hair gets all tangled up really easy so I had to learn how be careful not to pull."
"I wasn't afraid that you'd harm me," Xavin said, trying to settle into place. While that was true, her fighting instincts didn't like to let her allow another person stand so closely behind her when she couldn't see what they were doing.
"I guess you wouldn't be. Having your hair tugged isn't a big huge deal if you can get shot without it bothering you much, huh?" Molly asked. For a moment her hands paused in their task of gathering up Xavin's hair, then she quietly added, "I'm really sorry that happened to you 'cause of me, by the way. I guess I never said so yet, did I? It's not 'cause I wasn't sorry, there was just all that other stuff that happened an' I forgot."
"There's no need for you to apologize," she reassured her. "I chose to take Nico's place knowing full well what was likely to happen. With my abilities it was the only reasonable course of action."
"But it still hurt, didn't it?" Molly pressed on. "Even if you can move all your parts around so he couldn't kill you."
"Pain is.. not such an inconvenience for my people as it is for yours," Xavin attempted to explain, as Molly finally began her brushing. "Any young skrull must learn to not be bothered by such an injury; if they allowed themselves to be shocked too badly by pain they might be unable to react quickly enough to modify their body so they'll be protected from any lasting harm."
"Wow, skrulls are really lucky about that kind of thing." Molly finally began her brushing, starting with small sections of Xavin's hair as she searched for any tangles then moving on to long smooth strokes as she found none. "Let me know if I do pull anywhere too much, okay?"
"I shall." Xavin closed her eyes as Molly worked, beginning to understand the appeal of tending to hair by hand. There was something soothing about the movement of the brush and the way Molly's shifted through it separating out individual locks.
"I guess you've never even had to ever do this before, right?" Molly asked as she worked. "I bet if you asked 'Lina-bean she'd like to do it for you sometime. She might even know how to do some hairstyles like the one in that magazine you were looking at! I never tried looking at any of those long enough to learn anything from them 'cause they're super boring; the only reason we've got them is for when Nico needs new ideas when she's making clothes."
"I'm glad to hear that they aren't considered standard reading material," Xavin told her. "My opinion of them was the same as your own."
"I bet Gert would've been really glad to have you around if you think like that. She would've thought you could help her balance out how many girly girls we have, since there's Nico an' Karolina on that side an' me in between." Xavin tried to pretend that she didn't notice the way that Molly sniffled loudly after that observation, and let go of her hair briefly to scrub at her own face. When she spoke again she sounded like she was making an effort to be cheerful. "Okay, now I'll teach you how to braid! First you take your hair and pull it into three pieces, can you feel that."
"It's easy enough to understand."
"Well, then you take the left piece and move it over the middle piece, then move the right piece over the middle piece that used to be the left piece. And you just keep going like that! I could teach you how to do a french braid too, that starts way up at the top of your head instead of down where your hair's all loose, but I dunno how to teach it so you'd be able to do it to yourself. I can't even do one to myself; my hair ends up going all waggly and weird since I can't see the back of the top of my head."
"Then I'll be sure to seek out your help if I ever find it necessary to french a braid," Xavin said, trying to sound if she was taking all this talk of hair styling as seriously as Molly was.
"I'll be happy to help!" Molly happily exclaimed, her fingers flying down the length of Xavin's hair. "We've really gotta find more stuff like this to do, 'cause you're special to Karolina which means you're special to me too even if I don't know you at all. But she wouldn't have brought you back if you weren't nice so I know you're not gonna be like Topher all over again, or like Alex."
Xavin's teeth clenched together tightly at Alex's name. Karolina had spoken of him rarely, but the pain which was still so obvious on her face every time she brought him up made it so that in whatever underworld Alex had found himself lurking in he'd best be glad that the monsters he'd attempted to serve had granted him a quick death. Xavin would have made sure that the traitor suffered much more pain for what he'd done to Karolina if he had survived to meet her. But getting angry at the child for daring to compare them would hardly help forge ties between them, so she forced herself to just say, "I swear that you've judged me correctly. That will never happen."
"Great!" Molly snapped a rubber band around the end of the braid, then lifted it up to tickle the end of Xavin's nose with her hair. "Okay, all done! Now let's go show Karolina!"
Once again Xavin found herself being dragged along by her wrist as Molly took off through the building. The only difference was that this time Molly shouted, "Lina-bean! Hey, Lina-bean!" all along the way.
"Molly, you don't need to yell when you're trying to find me. You'll bug the others." Karolina eventually replied, coming out of the kitchen. But when she noticed that Molly had Xavin with her a slow smile stretched across her face at the sight of the two of them together. "What have you two been up to?"
"Look!" Molly told her proudly, "I taught Xavin how to do a braid!"
"Hey, it looks like you did a really good job too. Nice work, Mol, I'm so glad you're around to help her out with this sort of thing," Karolina said, curling the end of the braid around her hand.
At the warm look in Karolina's eyes suddenly Xavin started to think that maybe Molly had known what she was talking about all along.