CHASING RABBITS

by Keaton Bridges

Four years post Endgame. Chakotay finds that his usual charm with the ladies is a bit lacking.

Miral Paris sat up in her big-girl bed and rubbed her sleepy eyes with small fists. A noise came from beyond her bedroom door which stood ajar and she stilled to listen. Her dog, Berkley, sometimes made sounds when he slept - her daddy said that Berkley dreamed of chasing rabbits - and she thought it must've been him. She hugged her fuzzy purple targ close and with a big yawn, settled back down only to bolt upright when she heard the noise again.

That was not Berkley!

Discarding the targ, Miral rolled over on her tummy and slid off the bed feet first then padded across the room to open the door wide. On silent bare feet she walked down the hall following the noise to the living room. There she discovered it's source. A big man was asleep on the sofa.

Miral wandered over to get a closer look, curious and unafraid, and covered her ears when he snored again. She giggled at the way his cheek and lips fluttered, then looked him over in the soft light of dawn. He slept on his stomach with the left side of his face buried in the pillow and an arm hung over the side, knuckles resting on the carpet. Rather than wonder who he was or why he was sleeping in her house, Miral was more taken with his appearance and the racket he was making. Was he dreaming of chasing rabbits?

When his cheek and lips fluttered violently with an especially loud snore Miral giggled again and this time noticed that with her ears covered, her laughter sounded strange. She began to experiment with other sounds until the man grunted, mumbled something she didn't understand, and rolled over on his back.

Miral gaped wide-eyed, not because he'd stirred, but because he had done something that her mommy had told her she must never do. He'd written on his skin with marker! Right on his face! Oh, he was going to be in big trouble and she decided that she would have herself a ringside seat. She climbed up on the sofa near his feet, being careful not to touch him, and perched herself on the armrest. With elbows on knees and chin resting in her hands, she waited.

Chakotay stirred again and with a groan and a stretch, opened his eyes. He blinked at the unfamiliar ceiling and it took him a moment to remember where he was. Then, he got the distinct feeling that he was being watched.

Lifting his head he immediately spotted the little person sitting near his feet, and smiled despite the scowl she wore.

"Well, hello," he said softly so not to frighten her. Miral's eyes moved briefly to his tattoo but she gave no response. Chakotay slowly raised up on his elbows and continued to smile at her. "I'll bet I can guess your name."

"You're in trouble!" she declared, pointing at him with a pudgy finger.

"I - I am?"

"You're not s'posed to write on skin! Markers are for paper."

Chakotay scrubbed most of a grin from his face as he sat up and swung his feet to the floor. B'Elanna had told him that Miral was quite precocious, but she'd failed to mention that the child had mastered a pretty mean Klingon glare. He looked at her and tapped his tattoo.

"This isn't marker, Miral," he said in his friendliest voice, determined to win her over. "It's called a..."

"You're in trouble," she repeated firmly, crossing her little arms high on her chest. Clearly, she would hear no argument. Nor was she impressed that he knew her name.

"I'm sure your mother and father will explain it to you. They're very good friends of mine, you know?"

Miral had propped her chin in her hands again and merely stared at him without answering.

"I hope that you and I can be friends, too."

"Don't you have a bed?"

Taken aback by the question, his answer was delayed. "Well, yes, I do. But it's back home on Earth."

"That's where my Nana and Papa live," she said with the smallest hint of awe.

Chakotay saw an opportunity to win points with her and seized it. "Yes, I know. They're friends of mine too. In fact, they asked me to give you a message for them. They said to tell you that they miss you and love you very much." He could see the wheels turning as she contemplated whether or not to believe him. It couldn't hurt to try another name drop. "Owen and Carol tell me that you have a dog. Bucky, right?"

"Berkley," she corrected firmly.

"Right. Berkley." Chakotay turned his face forward and scratched his temple. Never would he have imagined that a four year old could be so intimidating.

"Did you dream about chasing rabbits?"

Again he was momentarily thrown. "Rabbits?"

"Berkley does. Daddy says so." Miral sat up and smoothed the soft pink fabric of her gown over her knees as she went on. "He makes funny noises when he's sleeping just like you."

Chakotay made the connection and grinned. He really did need to see the Doctor about that when he got home.

"No, there were no rabbits in my dreams."

"What then?"

"A zebra with polka dots instead of stripes." The fib succeeded in softening her expression, just a little, so he enhanced it further. "He had jiggly eyes and a funny hat, too." He was pleased to see what he hoped was the beginning of a smile on her face but before he could be sure, Miral stood up and started to bounce on the sofa.

"What's your name?" she asked.

"You mean I haven't told you?" he asked with feigned shock. Still bouncing, Miral shook her head. "My name is Chakotay."

She stilled and suspicion returned to her eyes. "Huh?"

"Cha-ko-tay."

"That's a funny name."

"It's an Indian name."

Miral stared at him for a long moment then turned her head to look at something across the room. Chakotay followed her line of sight to the television set B'Elanna had given Tom on Voyager. When he turned back to Miral, she was staring at him curiously.

"Do you have a horse?" she asked.

"No."

"A bow and arrow?"

"No."

The suspicion ramped up to a whole new level and Miral plopped back down on the armrest with her arms folded. "You're no Indian!"

Chakotay realized that her perception of Indians had come from those she'd seen on the old westerns on Tom's television set, and frantically searched his mind for a way to explain to a four year old that he was not that kind of Indian. Judging by the look on her face, he doubted that she would believe him anyway. Still, it was worth a shot.

"There are different kinds of Indians, Miral. Just like there are different kinds of birds, and dogs."

"Well do you have a tepee?"

"No, I live in a house like you."

She gave an exaggerated exhale as if exasperated beyond endurance. "Then what do you have?" she asked with arms outstretched, mimicking an adult.

Chakotay couldn't help the small laugh that escaped him. Miral's question - or rather her demand - was to know what exactly made him an Indian?

"I have this," he answered and tapped his forehead. "It's called a tattoo, and it means..."

"You can't have any fun with that," she huffed with a roll of her eyes. "Don't you have anything fun?"

Rubbing his chin, Chakotay withheld a sigh. She was one tough cookie. He had never had this much trouble finding his way into the good graces of a child. In fact, he'd always prided himself on how quickly children took to him. Miral was single-handedly ruining his winning streak. It had to be the Klingon blood.

"Well, I know how to do fun things," he offered rather weakly.

She challenged him with an upward jut of her chin. "Like what?"

"I can play Hide & Seek, and...oh, I know lots of fun stories." Miral was not impressed, so he dug deeper, drawing on memories of his own childhood. Problem was, he doubted that any of the activities he remembered would appeal to a little girl.

It began to look like he'd have to admit defeat and that pained him. He thought the world of Tom and B'Elanna. How would they take the news that their daughter couldn't stand him?

Miral had quietly watched as the emotions behind Chakotay's thoughts crossed his face. She stood and walked over to him, slid down the cushion to sit with knees bent and her tiny toes peeking from beneath the hem of her gown, then reached over to pat his hand. Chakotay looked down to find her eyes full of sympathy.

"I'm glad you came to my house, Kachotay."

He swallowed a grin at her first attempt to say his name. "You are?" Miral nodded emphatically. "Why?"

Because I can teach you how to have fun."

"You would do that for me?" Chakotay was finding it harder by the moment to contain his smile.

"Yep! I mean yes."

"That's very kind of you, Miral. When can we start?"

She squinted up at the ceiling as if thinking very hard and he had to bite his tongue. When she looked back at him she wore her serious, grown-up face. "When daddy and mommy wake up." She leaned closer and lowered her voice. "We have to be quiet 'til then."

"Good idea," Chakotay said with a solemn nod. He scooted down in the cushion and rested his head against the sofa like Miral. "Perhaps we should just talk quietly while we're waiting."

"Okay."

"Do you like living here on Sorva III?"

"I guess so. Do you like to live on Earth?"

"Yes I do."

"How come?"

"There are lots of reasons. My house is there, and my work." He leaned toward her a bit and smiled. "But most importantly, the people I love most are there."

"Like who?"

"My wife, and I have a cousin..."

"You have a wife?" Miral interrupted with interest. "Why didn't she come with you?"

"She wanted to very much, but the Doctor thought it best that she stay home."

"Is she sick?"

"No. She's going to have a baby soon."

Miral smiled at long last and Chakotay decided instantly that it had been well worth the wait.

"I love babies," she announced. "My friend Shelly has a baby brother and I got to hold him."

"You did?"

"Yeah. I mean yes. Holding babies is hard." She was slipping back to grown-up mode. "They wiggle a lot."

"I'll keep that in mind."

"You mean you didn't know that either?" she asked incredulously.

Chakotay almost groaned. Everything had been going so well. He really needed to stay on his toes. "I suppose I'd forgotten. After all, it's been four whole years since I've held a baby."

"I'm four!" Miral said proudly, holding up the appropriate number of pudgy fingers.

"Yes, I know." He tapped her knee once with an index finger. "You were that baby." Chakotay was thrilled to see that he had finally impressed her.

"I was?" she breathed, eyes wide.

"That's right. It was when we were still on Voyager. You were only six hours old when I first held you."

"Did I wiggle?"

"No, not much. You were asleep." Chakotay pretended to grow thoughtful, gave his chin a rub for effect. "You know, I'm sure glad you reminded me how much babies wiggle. I won't forget that when our baby comes."

"Are you getting a girl baby or a boy baby?"

"A girl."

"Can I hold her?"

"Of course you can," he answered and winked. "I'm sure she'll like that."

Miral beamed for a few moments before her face fell. "I can't hold your baby. Earth is too far away."

It was not his place to tell Miral that her parents would soon be moving back to Earth, but he couldn't stand the dejection on her little face. "Sure you can. The next time you come to Earth to visit your Nana and Papa."

"When?"

"Well, I don't know, sweetheart. You'll have to ask your mommy and daddy."

"Will you take me there, Kachotay?"

"I'm afraid I can't do that, Miral."

"Why not?"

"Your parents would be terribly sad if their little girl went away without them. You wouldn't want that now, would you?" To his surprise, she appeared to consider it. "And what about poor Berkley? It would break his heart if you left him." Acceptance settled over her and Chakotay was relieved.

"Yeah. I mean yes." She shook her head. "I don't want him to be sad. He needs me."

"That's right."

"Do you have a dog?"

Chakotay almost hated to answer. "No."

"Are you going to get one?"

"Perhaps. After the baby comes."

Miral held up a finger as she imparted more of her grown-up wisdom. "A dog is a big respon - respon..."

"Responsibility?"

"Mmm hmm. You have to feed him and play with him and wash him with the hose so he won't smell yucky." She lowered her hand and wrinkled her nose. "Sometimes babies smell yucky too."

"Yes, I know. It's not very pleasant, is it?" Miral shook her head adamantly. "But a diaper change usually takes care of the problem." Chakotay was rather proud of himself for proving to Miral that he wasn't entirely clueless. He worried a bit however when it appeared that the wheels were turning in her head again.

Miral suddenly scooted off the sofa and scurried across the room to a toy box, picked something up and rushed back to the sofa.

"Do you know who this is?" she asked and thrust a doll in his hands.

Chakotay grinned. Apparently she preferred to have the upper hand with knowledge and was determined to stump him. He turned the doll toward him and held it's long synthetic hair away from its face. His smile vanished. "Uh, yes. It's Barbie," he said and handed the doll back to her. Why he'd known the answer was not exactly a pleasant memory.

Miral tilted her head slightly and watched him curiously. She had picked up on the change in his demeanor and, keeping a sharp eye on him, climbed back on the sofa to sit beside him. Twisting the doll's hair around her finger, she spoke nonchalantly.

"My Daddy says a lady on Voyager looks like Barbie."

Chakotay dragged a hand across his stubbled face and swallowed a groan. It was the second time in a week that he'd heard that comparison, although Miral's lacked the venom of the first. Kathryn hadn't dealt very well with her third trimester. She'd been feeling the normal insecurities about her body image, which had prompted the scathing comment about his former girlfriend.

Miral was still watching him and he forced up a smile. "That's right. Her name is Seven."

"My mommy says Barbie has more per- personality."

Chakotay stared at her for a couple of heartbeats then burst into loud laughter. When he covered his face with the pillow to keep from waking his hosts Miral discarded the doll and climbed on his lap, pulling at the pillow.

"Why are you laughing, Kachotay?" she asked, then pulled harder. "Tell me!"

Chakotay lowered the pillow when he'd gotten control of his laughter and wiped tears from his eyes, still chuckling under his breath. "I - I'm not sure you'd understand, sweetheart." The last of his laughter died away as he looked into Miral's expressive eyes, bright with a child's curiosity. He brushed a wisp of hair from her cheek and grinned, filled with renewed joy and excitement over his upcoming fatherhood.

Miral seemed intrigued by yet another side of 'Kachotay'. He glanced at the time and calculated the hour in San Francisco. Kathryn would be getting ready to retire for the night.

"You know what Miral? I'll bet Kathryn would love to see your doll."

"Kathryn Janeway?"

"That's right."

"I know her!"

"You do?" he asked, pretending ignorance.

"Yeah. I mean yes. She called me when it was my birthday."

"She's my wife, you know?"

"I like her!"

"Me too. Very, very much." Chakotay scooped her up and stood then bent to retrieve the doll and handed it to her. "Now don't forget to show Kathryn your doll, and tell her what your mommy said. All right?"

"Okay."

"Good girl."

He chuckled to himself as he carried her to the study. Kathryn was going to love this, he thought, and she could probably use a good laugh right about now.

~end~