“Boone, do you trust me?”
The young man looked up at Locke’s words. John had declared a holiday from the buried hatch that had been consuming the lion’s share of both men’s attention for days. A vacation from the mystery hadn’t meant a day of leisure, however. Quite the opposite. Boone had spent the morning helping John with various chores and, despite the physical exertion, the change in routine had been a welcome relief. Late morning had found Boone sitting quietly, following John’s lead by sharpening his knife. Even though he was being unusually meticulous about it, Locke had finished his task first and begun puttering with a bowl he’d made from a block of wood last week. Locke had some plants they’d gathered earlier in it and seemed intent on mashing them into a pulp. Used to the older man’s mysterious ways, Boone had waited. John would explain later – or not. Either way, Boone was content.
“Of course I trust you,” he responded to his companion’s question. Boone frowned; the question stung a little. He knew he wasn’t exactly Jack or Sayid, but hadn’t he proven himself to Locke, just a little bit?
Locked reached over and put one hand on Boone’s shoulder. “I know you do,” his voice was reassuring, but Boone found more comfort from the clear eyes that squarely met his own. “But sometimes, it’s important to have a vocal affirmation of that trust.”
Boone’s frown this time was one of concentration. Locke could give Yoda a run for his money in the enigmatic department.
“So,” he said slowly, encouraged by John’s ready nod of approval, “You knew that I trusted you, but wanted to make sure that I knew that I trusted you?”
With a sigh, Boone shook his head. “Sometimes I think I’ll never figure you out, John.”
That got him a quick grin and Boone was surprised at how seeing it made his heart flutter.
“Come here, Boone,” Locke instructed, getting up.
The older man had been sitting on a large rock and gestured for Boone to take his place. Boone shrugged and did as he was told. The two men were in a small clearing and the rock was pleasantly warm from the sun.
“Comfy?” John asked.
Boone wiggled a couple of times and then settled. “Yeah, I’m good.”
Locke swallowed heavily, but before Boone could wonder why, his mentor was issuing orders.
“I want you to close your eyes and tilt your head back.”
Without a word, Boone complied. For a minute, he worried about Locke leaving him, knowing that John was so silent on his feet, that Boone would never hear him go. Thankfully, the older man kept talking, allowing Boone to track him by his voice. Sitting with his face turned towards the sun and listening to Locke speak was a strange, but oddly soothing, experience.
“You can tell a lot about a man by his beard,” John was saying, a faint scraping noise accompanying his words. “Not by how thick it is or what color it is, but from *why* he’s wearing it.”
A cool sensation touched Boone’s cheek and he startled, his eyes popping open to find Locke standing very, very close. So close, in fact, that his face took up most of Boone’s field of vision. “What was that?”
Locke smiled again, causing the corners of his eyes to crinkle. He held up the bowl and showed Boone that it was filled with a light green colored paste that was slightly foamy. “Don’t worry, it’s just a type of soap. Close your eyes again.”
Boone looked at the bowl and back to John. Sighing, he closed his eyes and left off trying to figure out the older man. Simply giving himself over to the experience brought a sense of peace that was itself a balm.
“Good,” John’s voice sounded pleased and Boone knew, that by complying with his companion’s wishes, he’d made the right decision.
“Now,” Locked continued, “a man wears a beard for any number of reasons.”
Locke continued to spread the paste over Boone’s face as he spoke, causing the young man to shiver. Those strong, calloused fingers stroked over Boone’s cheek with a strength that wasn’t obscured by the goop covering them. Boone shifted on his rock. He wasn’t sure when his admiration for Locke began to grow into something more. He also wasn’t sure why Locke had taken him under his wing, but Boone was certain he wasn’t going to risk anything that potentially could cause John to regret it. That included exposing his adolescent-like crush on the man. In fact, had Boone known that Locke’s question would lead to experiencing this kind of intimate touch, he would have found another way to prove his trust. One that wouldn’t make it so hard to keep his feelings hidden.
“Some men wear beards because they’ve given up on life,” John began to theorize. “Or they think life’s given up on them. It’s not so much laziness on their part as apathy.”
Boone was listening intently and flinched a little with surprise when he felt a metal edge press against his skin. A warm hand placed on his shoulder steadied him and, when Boone kept his eyes shut, it patted him approvingly.
“Other men,” Locke continued, steadily drawing his knife along Boone’s cheek,” grow a beard to hide something.”
“Hide what?” Boone asked, taking advantage of a brief absence of the knife moving against his skin.
“Depends on the man,” came the ready reply. “I suspect that Sawyer could explain better.”
By this time, the knife was being stroked along the other side of Boone’s face. Locke used the same long, even movements he had before, which were almost mesmerizing in their rhythm.
“But, John,” Boone asked when he had a chance. “Most of the guys here are growing beards. Razors are kind of in short supply, you know.”
Rather than sounding upset at being questioned, when he responded, Locke’s voice seemed amused. “You and I are not the only men here with knives,” John pointed out. “In this heat, a beard is uncomfortable, almost unsanitary. And yet, most of our compatriots have chosen not to be clean-shaven.”
The knife left Boone’s skin before Locke asked, “Care to make a guess about what they might be hiding from?”
Obviously, Locke was not being literal. A beard wouldn’t help a man hide from a polar bear or any of the other island dangers. Similarly, Boone knew his mentor also wasn’t talking about hiding any scar or other physical deformity. Locke went deeper than that. For the first time in his life, someone assumed that Boone had depth too and he absolutely didn’t want to disappoint the man that believed in him.
With his eyes closed, the sounds of the jungle seemed louder. Boone had never realized that the rustling of plants could make so much noise. Maybe it was just because he’d never been so isolated before....
With that thought, the answer to the question Locke had posed became crystal clear.
“They’re hiding from their fear,” Boone said. “They’re afraid we won’t be rescued.”
Fingers grasped Boone’s chin and gently lifted it. The motion was a precursor to the knife shaving the sensitive skin there. Boone had to work hard at not swallowing as his body reacted to the touch; every hair that Locke scraped away seemed to be taking a slice of his control with it. Keeping a tight rein on his desire was becoming harder and harder to do.
“I think you’re on to something, Boone,” Locke responded warmly before stepping back. “There, you’re all done.”
Boone opened his eyes slowly, blinking to readjust to the bright sun. One of his hands came up to touch his cheek and he wasn’t surprised to find the skin on his face to be perfectly smooth. Only John Locke could give a man a shave in the middle of the wilderness with a knife and have it turn out as good – or better – than any salon treatment he’d ever had. Boone felt more comfortable without his itchy stubble already, although at the same time he felt oddly bare and vulnerable.
“Next time, I’ll show you how.”
As Boone considered the words ‘next time,’ Locke turned to go. Not wanting the older man to leave, Boone blurted out the first words that came to him.
“But, John, what about guys who just like beards? Or know that having a beard makes them look older or less pretty, so other people will take them seriously? Or think they look better in them?”
Locke grinned and shrugged. “It’s only a theory, Boone.”
He turned to leave again and, this time, Boone asked the question that was really bothering him. “Why, John? I mean, it feels good, really good, to be clean-shaven again, but are you telling me to stop hiding? Because I thought you’d already helped me past that Shannon thing, but maybe you’re seeing something I’m not. Or maybe it’s because I’ve gotten lazy? I’d do something about that damn hatch in a minute, if I could figure it out, but I haven’t been much help with that.”
To Boone’s intense relief, Locke had come the few steps back to him by the time his questions wound down. He didn’t know, however, how to feel about the look of concern in the other man’s expression.
And he definitely didn’t know how to react when John gently cupped his hands around Boone’s face.
“Sigmund Freud once said that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Maybe I just wanted to see your face again,” Locke said warmly, his thumbs stroking the soft skin of Boone’s cheek. “It is a beautiful face, Boone. It’s a damn shame to cover it up.”
When Boone’s mouth opened in shock, John chuckled and swooped down for a quick, chaste kiss. This time, when the older man turned to leave, Boone didn’t try to stop him.
“Next time, Boone,” Locke vowed, “I’ll teach you how to do it.”
“I’d let you teach me anything,” Boone was quick to call out.
John smiled again, making his next words sound like a promise instead of arrogance. “I know.”
Boone stood, absently touching his cheek, as he watched Locke stride off into the jungle. He didn’t know if John’s theories about the motivations of beard wearing were truth or a pile of crap. Frankly, he didn’t care.
All Boone knew, or cared about, was that his own bearded days were over.
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