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Set just before the events in 'Year Of Hell'. And if TPTB can ignore the discord between J & C caused in 'Scorpion', then so can I.
Chakotay's suspicions were raised the moment he stepped onto the bridge. As the sound of the doors hissing open registered in the ears and minds of the crew members present on the bridge, every single one of them turned their head to look at him.
Frowning he forced himself to continue walking but couldn't help but notice that they continued to stare at him, smiles forming on just about every face he looked at.
He wasn't a paranoid man by nature - if anything he was too trusting - but this was enough to put anyone on edge. Taking his seat with an unusual amount of enthusiasm and gratitude, he noted that Kathryn wasn't in hers. Then he noted that B'Elanna was creeping towards him from the engineering station with a PADD in her hand and the absolutely biggest damn grin gracing her features.
The first words out of his mouth should have been "Yes Lieutenant?" or possibly "Yes B'Elanna?" All he could blurt out was "What?"
Apparently defying the laws of physics her smile grew bigger and he just knew she was resisting the urge to laugh with all of her strength. But then, so was everyone else.
"Here you go Commander," She said cheerily, practically shoving the PADD into his hands. "Here's a request I was asked to pass on. You know, the kind you usually read for a second before 'taking it to the Captain'."
It was absolutely impossible to ignore the emphasis on particular words. Obviously she - they, all of them - wanted him to go into the ready room, but what the hell for? She continued smiling at him. They all continued smiling at him.
Sighing, he stood from his seat.
Shaking his head he walked towards the ready room and pressed the button requesting entry. She quickly granted it and Chakotay was sure that as he stepped through the door he could hear six sets of footsteps thudding towards the door behind him.
He was half-way through opening his mouth to make a comment when she lifted her head and he saw her.
His mouth stopped.
His legs stopped.
His body stopped.
The PADD thudded to the carpet, forgotten and unwanted.
The words came out.
"Different?" Kathryn offered, smirking at his reaction.
"Yes," he agreed, nodding wholeheartedly. That was definitely the way to describe it.
Kathryn had cut her hair.
Cut her hair.
"Your mouth is still open."
She was enjoying this! He studied her smirk for a moment before forcing his mouth shut and bending down to pick up the PADD. Walking towards her desk he slumped into the chair opposite hers without invitation, unable to take his eyes away from her.
She matched his gaze evenly with a smile until - slowly - a frown developed over her brow. "You're disappointed."
"No," He assured her immediately, a bit too forcefully. "I guess...I just got used to the idea that it would always be...well...long."
Chuckling, she lifted a hand and ran it through her hair dramatically. "It does take a little getting used to." She moved her hand away and he tried not to stare as her hair stuck out in various directions.
"So, any particular reason for the haircut? Do you have a date you're trying to impress?" He teased, long forgetting about the PADD he held in his hand.
Kathryn sighed and rested her elbow on the desk. "I just *adore* the way the male mind works. A woman cuts her hair for apparently no reason and he automatically assumes that it's because of a man."
Grinning, he rose his eyebrows. "You didn't answer my question." He knew very well that she wasn't dating anybody on board, but it was so easy to get under her skin when he wanted to. "Anything special you have planned with Neelix?"
"What would you do if I said yes?"
She had him there. "I'd probably have to re-evaluate my entire belief system."
Faking a look of annoyance, she leant her chin on her hand. "What's wrong with Neelix?"
"Nothing. Neelix is...adorable..." He coughed "...in a hedgehog kind of way."
"I don't mean it."
She rolled her eyes. "Right."
"Besides, I think that's a compliment."
"Some compliment. I wouldn't want to hear your insults."
Shaking his head he looked down before looking quickly back up at her. Yup, the haircut was still there. "Why then? Really?"
Shrugging, she pulled away from the table and sat back in her chair. "I felt like a change, not to mention the fact that the ponytail was really starting to get on my nerves. It was just..." Waving a hand in the air, she gestured in the vague area of her head "...hanging there."
Speaking of hanging there, he couldn't let her continue for a moment longer without telling her. "Umm, Kathryn..."
"When you ran your hand through your hair earlier you kind of...mussed it."
Her mouth opened to form a perfectly shaped 'o'. "Oh. Thanks." Again raising her hands she attempted to pat her hair back down into place, but there were a few areas she kept missing.
Placing the PADD on the desk, he leant forward with his hands extended. "Here. Let me."
Her hands grew still on her head as his came closer. Silently she lowered hers and allowed him to proceed.
Chakotay tried to get it over with as soon as possible but there was one clump of hair that just wouldn't go back down again. What the hell did she put on her hair anyway?
After he had been fussing with that one clump of hair for over thirty seconds she reached up a hand to cover his. "It's okay," She whispered. "I'll live with it."
He didn't move, but his eyes moved to her face. "I like it," he told her simply.
And he had the not-so-sudden, almost irresistible urge to do something. He didn't, because he knew exactly what would happen if he did.
It happened anyway. Of course. Someone must have been reading his mind.
"Seven of Nine to Janeway."
Unbelievably, she didn't move. "Go ahead."
"The Astrometrics section is ready for the inefficient 'opening' you are insisting on holding."
They both nodded.
"Acknowledged. We'll be there shortly. Janeway out."
Smiling, he watched and felt as she shook her head almost minutely. "I guess we'd better go. They wouldn't want to miss out on our speech."
He guessed that now wasn't the time to tell her that he could imagine touching her hair forever. "I'd say you wouldn't want to. You've been rehearsing it for weeks."
"Well so have you," she pointed out.
He nodded, smiled, and - both reluctantly - they pulled away from each other.
"What was on that PADD anyway?" he asked, finally remembering.
Kathryn picked it up and read over it, knowing almost for certain that it had been nothing more than a diversion to get him into the ready room. "It's a request from Neelix. He wants to know if he can hold a celebration in honour of the new Astrometrics lab later this evening." She looked up at him and shrugged.
He shrugged in return. "Sounds like a good idea. I'll replicate the salad."
"I'll bring the croutons," Kathryn smiled broadly, then headed towards the exit.
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