At first she didn’t notice anything. She had taken up a new project now that all her research had been destroyed. She hadn’t expected planting Talaxian tomatoes would be so relaxing but it was. She spent hours with her hands deep in dirt, thinking how her parents probably would get a good laugh out of it when as a teenager she barely acknowledged a world outside her science books. No camping trips and no blooming gardens would convince her otherwise.
Maybe one just had to reach a certain age first, she mused, before one truly could appreciate the awesome ways in which nature continued to thrive. Humans were just a blip in time, nature was forever. It suddenly made her feel small and insignificant.
Chakotay spent many hours in the woods, getting logs for the cabin he intended to build. They only saw each other during meal times.
She tried not to look too closely at him sitting at the other side of the table because when she did her throat constricted and she found it hard to swallow her food. She still was trying to figure out how their relationship might change and progress after they had had “the talk” some days ago.
Although their little barbershop experience certainly had moved things forward. She still remembered breathing in his scent from so close while cutting his hair. The scent that now always would be Chakotay for her.
So, at first she hadn’t noticed anything. It must have been her imagination that he simply looked better every day. This couldn’t be the case, right? He was still the same old Chakotay as ever. Except he wasn’t. Once she allowed herself a good look on his face she finally realized what was different about him.
What had been just a Five-o-clock shadow the day before yesterday now had become a proper three-day stubble. Her heart skipped a beat when she noticed how much this scruffy look suited him.
The stubble was not black like his hair, it had a salt-and-pepper look and she couldn’t help staring. Forgotten was her food, fork hanging in the air, halfway up to her mouth. She wondered what it would feel like if she touched it. Would it be scratchy or soft?
He noticed her stare. Of course he did. He would have to be blind not to. She couldn’t have been more obvious if she tried.
He put down his fork as well and cringed. He cringed? What was there to cringe about while she was getting hot flashes over here? Something told her they were not on the same boat with this.
Concentrate, Kathryn. He is saying something. You probably should listen.
“... and then the laser shaver broke and I wasn’t able to repair it. I’m sorry, I know I must look awful.”
Finally her brain was catching up with his story.
“So that’s why you are hiding in the woods all day long?”
He blushed and looked down at the table. She tried to suppress it, she really did, but eventually a heartfelt chuckle broke free.
He looked up, surprised, still sporting that adorable blush. Before his surprise could turn into anger about her reaction, she hastened to explain.
“And here I thought you let it grow just for me. To impress me. With your manliness. I...”
She was rambling, she knew she was, but she couldn’t stop. She only did when his face took on a look of incredulity.
“You... you actually like it?”
“I do. Very much so. Yes.”
“Well, I don’t. I want it gone. Sooner rather than later.”
His earnest reaction made her calm down as well. She could feel how dead serious he was about this. She set her plate aside resolutely.
“If you really feel that strong about this, we should do something about it!”
He looked puzzled.
“Now? I told you, the laser shaver is broken, and the replicator refuses to make a new one.”
“I’ll have a look at the replicator tomorrow. But there are... other ways, if you don’t want to wait that long.”
Without explaining further she got up and went to her room. It didn’t take her long to retrieve a small wooden box. She knew exactly where she had put it. She always knew where it was.
It had once belonged to her father.
At week days, when he didn’t have much time before going to work, he’d used a laser shaver like everyone else. But on the weekends and on their numerous camping trips he liked to do it the old fashioned way, with a shaving brush and a straight razor. He claimed that the result felt so much better. And that it was important to not forget one’s roots.
She used to sit and simply watch him do it. It was a quiet time of bonding between father and daughter. She also liked running her fingertips over the brush. It was made from hair of Regorian goats, which had the softest hair in the whole galaxy.
This shaving set was very old. Her father had inherited it from his father, who had inherited it from his. Kathryn did not have a brother so after her father died she’d asked for this box. She wanted something to remind her of the good times, instead of his awful death. And she carried it with her ever since.
She went back to the main room, put the box on the table and opened the lid to show Chakotay its contents.
“This once belonged to my father.”
That’s all she was able to say, and all that needed to be said. From the look in his eyes she knew he understood. He had his medicine bundle; she had this box of shaving utensils. Everyone needed some small keepsake, a reminder of the past.
The atmosphere in the room suddenly had changed. It was very pensive. None of them knew how to break the silence that had settled.
Finally Kathryn took a deep breath and tried to lighten the mood.
“I carry it with me everywhere in case there’s a man needing a good shave.”
He smiled at that. Much better. She couldn’t see the dimples under the scruff, but she knew they were there, and it would be a pleasure to carve them out again.
“So how many men have you already shaved then on your trips through the galaxy?”
She appreciated his try to match her playful tone.
“None,” she had to admit. He looked worried at that, his eyes travelling the sharp razor blade. Probably wondering whether losing the stubble was worth having that close to his throat.
“I had to shave my father a few times though when he had sprained his wrist. I had watched long enough to know how to do it. Do you trust me?”
He looked her full in the face then, and slowly nodded.
“I trust you, Kathryn.”
So it was settled. Chakotay took one of the chairs outside, to the same spot where she’d cut his hair. The day was still bright enough so she would be able to see what she was doing. Then he grabbed the sheet they had already used and started to put it over his shoulders.
“Ah, it’s probably better if you take off your shirt. It’s going to get wet otherwise.”
He shot her an unreadable sideways look from under his lashes, but willingly took off his vest and then pulled the shirt over his head.
All of a sudden Kathryn was confronted with a bare smooth bronze chest. And she realized she hadn’t thought this through properly.
Hastily she turned away, collecting her things and her thoughts. Behind her she could hear Chakotay leave the shelter.
She’d always seen her father shave bare-chested and had made the suggestion out of habit, without realizing the effects it might have on her. But she needed a calm hand and calm head when working with such a sharp tool.
She was in for big trouble.
Way too quickly for her liking the replicator had a bowl of shaving cream ready and then she could not find any more reasons to stall. So finally she went outside as well.
Chakotay already was sitting in the chair, patiently waiting for her. She brought a small foldable table where she could store all the necessary items.
Then she put a towel that had been soaked with hot water on his face, to soften the hair. He grunted from under it.
“Is it too hot?”
“No, it’s okay,” came his muffled reply.
Off came the towel then and using the brush she lathered his cheeks, neck and chin generously with shaving cream. He sighed barely audible.
She could feel him gradually relax under her hands.
“Okay,” she instructed, “lean back and try not to move.”
She stood to his left side, intending to start at his right cheek.
“Blow out your right cheek a bit, like this, to give me a smoother surface to work with.”
He did and she set to work with short sharp strokes. Once she’d started there was no hesitation anymore. A great calm came over her as well. Only the birds in the trees and the scratching of the blade could be heard.
Between strokes she cleaned the razor in a bowl of water.
Finally his cheek lay smooth and bare before her. Time to move on to the neck and chin.
She realized in what a vulnerable position Chakotay was, allowing her to work so close to his throat. He kept himself perfectly still and was breathing shallowly, but steadily. His trust in her was almost overwhelming.
Once this delicate area was done the side of the mouth and above the upper lip followed next.
“Now open your mouth and pull your lips inward, like an O.”
He did that as well and she worked very carefully around all the crooks without nicking his skin.
Finally she did the other cheek in the same way as the first and once she had wiped away any leftover cream she washed his face with cold water and applied some after shave as well.
Then she stepped back, announcing, “Done! How does it feel?”
Chakotay jumped up as if he could not sit still for a second longer. His hands were stroking his face. His eyes lit up with a look of wonder.
“Thank you, that feels incredible. Here, wanna feel as well?”
And with that he had taken one of her hands and put it on his cheek. It felt indeed very smoothly. No hint of stubble left at all. It was a pity to see it gone but if it made Chakotay smile then it was worth all the trouble.
He seemed to read her thoughts.
“Maybe I can grow stubble for you again.”
“Maybe I can shave it off for you again.”
They looked at each other. She should clean her tools but she couldn’t move. All of a sudden she became aware that they were standing too close. She could see a mischievous gleam appear in his eyes, but she was too slow to react. He’d already bent down, scooped up two fingers full of cream and put it on her nose while saying, “You have something on your nose.”
Kathryn never was one to back down from a challenge. Scooping up a handful of cream as well, she managed to smear it at his face, where she just had cleaned it off a minute ago.
She had not specified a size when she asked the replicator to make a bowl of shaving cream, so the one that had come out was huge and she had barely used a quarter of it. There was still enough of it inside for them to have a proper play-fight with the stuff. They were running after and dodging each other, continuing to soil themselves everywhere with cream.
Only when the last remnants had gone they finally stopped, breathless. It had been a long time since she’d laughed so much that her belly hurt. She felt delighted, carefree, aroused.
Chakotay was panting and looked down at himself.
“Well, I guess I need a shower. A proper one, with real water. Do you want me to fetch a bath for you?”
Still trying to catch her breath as well, she lightly said, “Would be a shame to waste so much water, wouldn’t it? Why don’t we share the shower instead?”
For the second time today Chakotay had a look of incredulity on his face. It pleased her that she still managed to surprise him. He probably was wondering whether she meant what she just had said.
She was wondering the same thing. But she looked forward to see what would happen next.
Only one way to find out.
Linking arms, they went back in side by side.