Note: So kncrowder88 wanted a story about rain. I was only too happy to oblige. I think this vignette probably belongs in the same storyline as "Are Your Lonesome Tonight?" and "Circles." I also think maybe my writer's block has finally eased so I can get back to "Road Trip."

"Rain"

For kncrowder88

I put the finishing touches on the dinner table – four big plates and one little one, four big forks and one little one, four wine glasses and a spill-proof sippy cup – and stand back to inspect my handiwork. Do we need salad plates? Soup bowls? I'm sure my wife has told me what we're replicating for dinner tonight, but I suddenly can't remember.

"B'Elanna?" I call. "Do we need the little salad plates?" There's no answer, so I head for the kitchen. "Soup bowls?" Still no answer. My lovely wife isn't even in the kitchen. "Honey? Where are you?"

"In here," she calls absently. "Living room."

I cross back through the dining room and into the living room, where I find B'Elanna staring out the rain-streaked front window. I amble over and wrap my arms around her. "What are we staring at?" I ask, and nuzzle her earlobe.

She flinches away from me. "Them," she says, and I finally follow her gaze.

What I see out there in our muddy yard makes me laugh out loud.

The Admiral called late this morning and proposed an Away Mission for her favorite goddaughter. "We'd like to take her out for the day, Tom," the Admiral said. "Chakotay made a kite and he wants to try it out in Golden Gate Park. Then maybe lunch and a visit to the toy store on Fillmore Street."

B'Elanna and I weren't quite sure what to make of that. They've watched Miral a few times for us, but a whole day out with a three-year old? My daughter can be quite a handful when she wants to be. On the other hand, I didn't want to do anything to diminish the unguarded delight on the Admiral's face. It's been a tough couple of years for her – for them both, to be honest, what with the sudden death of the Admiral's mother, the incident on Cardassia, and Chakotay's slow recovery from PTSD.

I was hesitating, trying to decide how to temper the Admiral's enthusiasm without saying "no" outright, when my wife leaned toward the screen. "How soon can you get here?" she demanded.

The Admiral and Chakotay turned up an hour later and whisked Miral away with a promise to take good care of her…and maybe even enforce naptime, if they could find a moment. Maybe.

As Chakotay hoisted Miral to his shoulders and they traipsed out of our sight, I turned to my wife. "Are you sure this is a good idea?"

B'Elanna laughed in my face. "Hirogen, Borg, Species 8472, Vidiians, Kazon.Seska. They'll be fine."

When my wife grabbed the front of my shirt and dragged me to our bedroom, where we were blissfully free of a wriggling, kicking toddler for the first time in weeks, I had to concede that she was probably right.

Hours later, the Admiral and Chakotay have returned with Miral. None of them seems to be the worse for wear – although the Admiral does look a bit tired. In fact, they look great…aside from the fact that they're completely covered with mud, all three of them. Head to toe. Mud. They are jumping from puddle to puddle, sending up great showers of goo with every delighted leap, and they are laughing like idiots.

"What the hell?" I wonder out loud. "What are they doing out there?" I start to open the front door, but B'Elanna stops me.

"Just watch," she says. "Tell me if you see what I'm seeing."

I return to the window and stare at the trio. They've joined hands and are playing ring-around-the-rosie in the swamp that is my front yard. Miral is having the time of her life. She's had her favorite Aunt and Uncle to herself all day, and, nap or no nap, she is elated. I'm sure a large box of toys is about to be beamed to our front porch. If Chakotay has stayed true to form all day, my little daughter is undoubtedly stuffed with sweets, too. The Admiral's blue dress is mottled with mud…and possibly grape juice. She is grinning from ear-to-ear as they skip through the puddles. Chakotay's face is smeared with mud, probably because he keeps doubling over to kiss my daughter's sodden hair.

When they reach the end of the song – "We all fall down!" – Chakotay scoops Miral up in his arms before she can fling her little body backwards into a puddle. He holds her close, and the Admiral wraps her arms around both of them. She smiles up at him, a tender, warm smile that lights up her whole face, and he leans down and presses his forehead to hers.

They look happy.

Happier, I should say.

I tilt my head to one side, watching them.

"Do you see it?" B'Elanna whispers.

Chakotay says something that makes the Admiral draw back from him slightly. Still smiling, but now with wide, wonder-filled eyes, she gives her head a slow shake and shrugs. He turns his face up to the cloud-streaked sky and laughs out loud as if delighted with the Universe and everything in it.

I nod slowly. "I think I do," I say. I place my palm flat against the window pane. "I think I see it."

B'Elanna places her hand over mine. "Don't say anything."

"I won't. Not until they do."

I see B'Elanna's reflection in the glass nod once, decisively. "Dinner," she says, and turns toward the kitchen.

"I'll go get them."

"Get Miral first," B'Elanna says. She inclines her chin toward the window. "Give them a minute."

I step out onto the front porch and call out to them. "I don't recall giving permission for a mud bath, Admiral."

The Admiral laughs and motions Chakotay to lower Miral, who darts up the porch steps and into my arms. "Sorry, Tom," she says. "That was just a bit of spontaneous fun. I can't imagine you're unfamiliar with the concept."

I try to pry Miral away from my shirt, but it's no use. In short order I'm as covered with mud as they are. "I might have heard of it," I reply. "And it becomes a way of life when you're a parent."

Both the Admiral and Chakotay stop and stare at me for a startled half second. Then Chakotay speaks up for the first time. "I'm sure that's true, Tom," he says in his soft voice. "And I'm sure someday, Miral will have quite an arsenal of stories to tell about 'spontaneous fun' with Dad. Many of which could probably land you both back in New Zealand."

I feign offense. "Hey, now. I'll have you know my reckless days are completely behind me."

The Admiral arches an eyebrow at Miral, who is now hanging upside-down and squealing with glee, her ankles firmly in my grip. "Humph," I say. "I'll go clean this up. You two enjoy the fresh air for a few more minutes. Dinner will be served as soon as Miral is presentable again."

They thank me and sit down on the front steps while I take Miral, who is now clinging to my legs, into the house.

As I pass by the front window, I glance outside one last time. It begins to rain again. The Admiral squints up at the sky and lets the drops fall on her face, then places a long kiss on Chakotay's lips. When he presses the palm of his hand to her flat belly, I leave them in peace.

And when the Admiral declines a glass of wine with her dinner, B'Elanna and I just nod and smile and say nothing at all.

-END-