Summary: just a bit of fluff (sorry, couldn't help myself) and friendship. Kathryn and Chakotay spend a few peaceful minutes together before the return home.
Disclaimer: Paramount owns it all, even the clouds.
By sheer luck Voyager had stumbled onto a worm hole. In two days time they would be back in the Alpha quadrant. Everywhere that Chakotay walked on the ship he could sense the crew's anticipation. At first the excitement had been subdued, for fear of raising false hopes yet again. But once they were inside the wormhole, with firm sensor data from a probe that confirmed the location of its exit, the Captain had authorised a celebration. And Neelix, it seemed, had been secretly planning one all along anyway. The party was to be held tonight on the holodeck.
Chakotay had spent the past hour engaged in a less enthralling activity - making sure that his logs and records were up to date and ready for transmission to Starfleet headquarters. Although he wondered what his fate would be on their return - along with the other former Maquis on Voyager - he found his own anticipation overriding that knot of nervousness in his stomach.
Now he found himself touring the ship, seeking out other crew members - Maquis and Starfleet alike - and reassuring any doubts that they might have.
"Neelix to Commander Chakotay".
He slapped his communicator. "Chakotay here."
"Commander, I don't mean to bother you, but I've been trying to contact the Captain. I wanted to ask her something about the celebration tonight. And, well, to be honest, I can't find her."
Chakotay stopped walking. "What do you mean you can't find her?"
"She's not responding to her communicator. And the computer's not telling me anything either," Neelix said.
"Don't worry Neelix. It's probably a computer glitch. I'll look into it."
He started walking again. "Computer, locate Captain Janeway."
"Captain Janeway is not aboard Voyager."
"Uh-huh". Chakotay smiled to himself. The captain had told him at breakfast this morning that she wanted some time to herself on the holodeck and would prefer not to be contacted. He assumed she'd passed the message on to the computer as well.
Since he was nearly at the holodeck anyway, he decided to stop in and see whether she was finished with her time off yet.
"Computer, is the privacy lock engaged?"
Chakotay stepped through the doors and into bright sunlight. In front of him was a farmhouse - the Captain's childhood home in Indiana, he surmised. The house was still and quiet, apparently unoccupied. He strolled around the outside of the building, breathing in the fresh country air.
It took him a few minutes to find the captain, given that she wasn't moving. Actually she was lying down on her back in the middle of the grassy yard. As he moved closer, he saw her eyes were closed. He hesitated, unsure about disturbing her if she was asleep.
"This better be important Chakotay", she said, without opening her eyes.
He smiled. "Actually its not, I'm sorry. Neelix was looking for you and got worried when the computer said you weren't aboard. I just thought you should know in case you wanted to -"
"Turn my communicator back on?" she suggested.
"Something like that."
She opened her eyes and squinted up at him. "What did Neelix think I was doing? Sneaking back to earth a little ahead of everyone else?"
Chakotay laughed. "Maybe. Do you mind if I join you for a minute?"
"If that means I don't have to get up just yet, go ahead."
He sat down on the grass beside her.
"Should I ask what you're doing? Apart from napping I mean."
"Only if you lie down", she said.
"Lie down, Commander."
"Is that an order?"
Kathryn smiled. "I guess it is."
He stretched his legs out and leaned backwards, with his elbows bent and hands cradled underneath his head, mimicking the position Kathryn was lying in.
They lay in silence on their backs, staring up at the holographic sky.
"Can I ask what you're doing now?"
He waited, then glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. She was trying not to smile. He sighed. "Alright, I'll play. What are you doing."
"I'm looking at cloud animals."
"Cloud animals. Up there, in the sky."
He looked where she was pointing. It was a beautiful summery day, and the blue sky was scattered with fluffy white clouds.
"Kathryn, I don't know what you're talking about. I don't see any animals."
"It's something that Phoebe and I used to do together when we were both quite young", she replied. "We'd come out here on days like today and lie here, watching the clouds. Looking for shapes."
"See, that one there." She pointed with one arm. "It's a rabbit. The ears are a little bit too long though. Maybe it's a hare."
He looked where she was pointing, and sure enough, could see a vaguely rabbit-like shape.
Chakotay grinned at the thought of a young Kathryn Janeway using her imagination, and her time, like this.
"I thought you spent all your childhood buried in science."
She smiled. "Not all of it. This is quite relaxing, actually."
"Is that why you came here? To relax?"
Kathryn sighed. "I thought if I looked at another report I would throw up."
"I know that feeling."
They lay in comfortable silence for a few minutes more.
"So", Chakotay said eventually. "I should go and tell Neelix that you were being detained by giant cloud animals in the Indiana sky. That should reassure him."
She chuckled. "I'm sure. He might start to change his mind about wanting to see earth."
He looked over at her. "So how are you feeling about it?"
"Excited. Nervous. Giddy."
She shook her head. "A lot of reasons, both sensible and ridiculous. What the official position will be on the Maquis. What the Starfleet hierarchy will think about some of my decisions."
"And the ridiculous?"
She met his gaze for few seconds then turned back to the sky. "Whether being home will be partly a disappointment. I know, that doesn't make much sense."
She sighed. "I don't mean seeing family, friends, all the places I've missed. I mean my idea of home."
"We've been working towards this for such a long time," Chakotay replied. "It's not surprising, and not at all ridiculous to think about that. Whether the reality will be different from what we remember, what we've imagined. What we've built holodeck programs about for the past six years," he added.
Kathryn turned to face him again. "That's exactly it. I thought I was crazy thinking about this. Well maybe not crazy," she amended, "a little ungrateful."
He shook his head. "Not at all Kathryn. It makes perfect sense. When we think about home as somewhere we're from, or somewhere we used to live, rather than where we are now, then it's not just a place we're thinking about. It's a time, and a situation too. It's the people who were around us, the routines we used to keep. In that sense, it's true what they say, you can never go home again. Those things won't be the same."
She smiled at his understanding. "You're right. In that sense Voyager has been 'home'."
They were silent for a few minutes more. Although he knew there were plenty of other tasks he should be doing, Chakotay was reluctant to break the comfortable mood. And he had to admit, there were worse ways of spending time than lying in the grass next to Kathryn Janeway.
"Have you decided what you'll do yet?" she asked eventually.
"No. And I've been thinking about it for the past few years. Whether I'll stay in Starfleet or not. If they want me, of course", he corrected himself.
"They will if I have anything to say about it."
He had to smile at her quiet determination.
"But it's always seemed like a decision that's so far away. Now that we're almost there, I'm not sure I'm ready to make it just yet. I thought I'd take a little time off first."
Kathryn nodded. "That's not a bad idea."
He turned his head towards her again and met her gaze.
"I'm going to miss not seeing you everyday."
She grinned. "Really?"
She held his gaze, her eyes bright. "We'll always be good friends, I hope."
"Of course Kathryn".
Chakotay opened his mouth to say something more, but was interrupted by a chirp from his communicator.
"Commander," an anxious Talaxian voice greeted him. "I was wondering if you've located the captain yet. I know you said it's probably just a computer problem, but B'Elanna said -"
"Don't worry Neelix. She's right here."
Kathryn made a face at him, but sat up. "What's the problem Neelix?"
"No problem captain. Well not a major problem anyway. I just had a few questions for you about the food for tonight."
"I'll come to the mess hall right now."
Chakotay held out his hand and helped Kathryn to her feet.
"If I do leave Starfleet, I'm not going to miss these timely interruptions", he said.
She laughed. As she smoothed down her top he reached over to brush a cluster of grass seeds from her hair.
"Thankyou", she said, holding his gaze again.
They stood for a moment, watching each other quietly, until Kathryn broke the silence.
"I suppose we should go."
"I suppose we should."
As they walked towards the holodeck doors, hand in hand, Kathryn paused and glanced around before closing the program.
"Promise me one thing, Chakotay".
She smiled. "Come with me and visit this place."
"Only if you promise me interesting clouds to watch."
"It's a deal," she said, as the doors slid shut behind them.
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