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Marsti gave up on the brush a while back, when it kept catching in the dense snarl of Folykl’s hair, eliciting a hiss of pain no matter how gently she tried to draw it through. It would have been easier at the start to take a pair of plane bisectors to the whole mess, but setting aside the fact that Folykl would probably prefer to keep her hair, Marsti doesn’t believe in doing things the easy way instead of the right one. That left the slow and careful option: a seat on the loungeplank with Folykl curled beside her, head resting in her lap as she worked through the knots and tangles with her pointstubs instead.

The job is mostly finished now, though Marsti is mindful still of the stiff shoulders that mean she’s pulling too hard or too abruptly. The brush is probably usable. But Folykl’s hair is thick and soft, and she likes the weight of it in her hands, the way it’s almost like touching skin. It’s filthy still, but untangled, it will wash easily, without the need to worry about pain.

“Better?” she asks, working her claws again through that dark mane from the scalp on out, finding no knots or snags. Folykl lifts her head to follow the touch, pressing for a scant moment against her palm before sinking back with a shaky sigh.

“Yeah,” she says. “Better. Thanks.” She tenses slightly, never comfortable with too much regard, and adds, “If you tell me I could be pretty, I’ll feed you to somebody else’s lusus.”

“Oh, really?” Marsti says with a laugh, tugging just a little harder. She wasn’t going to. She wasn’t even going to say that Folykl is pretty, no matter how Marsti’s breath comes up short just looking at her. Folykl is a skinny, slouching compendium of crude jokes and insults, and she smells like unwashed laundry and accumulated fever sweat. Pretty doesn’t begin to approach relevance, and that’s just how Marsti likes it. She lets her hand stray from Folykl’s hair to her bony shoulder and down over her flank, feeling the outline of her body through the fabric of that sweatshirt.

“Just try it,” she says, “but I’ll tell you something else instead.”


“I’m not here for what you could be.”

She seals the promise with a hand curled around Folykl’s narrow hip, and she’s rewarded with a blush that leaves her mind wandering through thoughts of hauling Folykl into the ablutionblock, getting her out of those dirty clothes and scrubbing her thoroughly, relentlessly, everywhere. By the time she’s satisfied, she thinks, the only thing clinging to Folykl’s skin will be the scent of soap and the memory of her touch – but she’s only almost finished here, and she doesn’t like leaving anything half-done. Besides, Folykl is as effective as a sleepy purrbeast for enforced immobility. Her weight is welcome; the quiet, contented noise she makes when Marsti strokes her hair again is enough to make patience worth it.