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Commander Edward Janeway walked the halls of the Viceroy, conducting his usual daily inspection of the ship. But his mind was only half on his work. The other half, as it had been the last couple of days, was on the offer from headquarters. 
Capt. Clarke had presented it to him: Twenty-five years after Voyager had returned from the Delta Quadrant, the Federation was finally making overtures to the area. Starfleet was building a space station there, close to the border. They wanted him to serve as XO. 
"Permission to speak freely, sir?" 
"Of course." Grayson Clarke kept his amusement in check. His first officer wasn't always so formal about speaking his mind. 
"Why me? Am I being asked because of my name?" 
"For public relations value? I don't doubt someone at headquarters hasn't thought about it. I understand the Admiral ... and the Captain .... were asked to attend the dedication, and refused. And knowing the Admiral, I doubt that the refusal was a polite one." 
Janeway laughed. "I suspect you're right, sir." 
"But Edward," Clarke said quietly. "Please know that no one would offer you the job if you were incompetent. Personally, I told Admiral H'tarch that you were a damn fine first officer, and I did not want to lose you. But I won't stand in your way should you want this." 

He was back in his office now, absently toying with his father's Maquis insignia, the one Chakotay had given him when he made Commander. Why was he still debating this? He'd already made his decision, especially after talking with Claire. But yet, he hadn't made it official. Something still gnawed at him.  Sighing, he turned to his console and keyed in the combination. 
As her image filled the screen, he was vaguely surprised to see she was not in uniform. There was no reason for it; she had been semi-retired from the fleet for years. She seldom put on a uniform now. But somehow, when he thought of her, he always saw her in his little-boy image; in a red and black uniform, her auburn hair surrounding her face. 
The smile on Kathryn Janeway's face, however, was the same one she always reserved for her firstborn. "Now this is a pleasant surprise," she said, putting down her paintbrush. 
"Painting again?" 
She nodded. "Something for your brother. While he was on that engineering project in Bajor, he fell in love with some seascape. So he brought back some pictures and challenged me to paint it. Said if I didn't, he'd get Phoebe to do it for him." 
"And you couldn't have that, now could you?" he laughed, knowing that the sisters' rivalry continued, even though they were both in their seventies. "So where's Dad?" 
"Your sister dragged him off to guest lecture for one of her colleagues at the university. He'll be sorry he missed you." 
"How is he?" 
"Fine. Gabriel spent some time with us while Thomas and Mattie were on Bajor. He ran your father ... actually both of us ... ragged. Guess we're both slowing down." 
"Ah! You both run circles around me." Truth was, he didn't like to think of them as growing old. He wanted them to stay as he remembered them aboard Voyager; strong, capable. 
"So how's Claire, and the children?" she said, changing the subject. 
"Michael and Kate are fine ... they loved the pictures you sent of the new puppy. Claire is busy. We're investigating some new star clusters, so cartography is on overdrive. And by the way, the new fuel cells are performing just fine." 
"I know dear," she said dryly. " I see your reports." 
"I know," he chuckled ."I'm probably the only commander in Starfleet who writes to his mother every week." 
"That's why you're the XO," she deadpanned. "That's the only way I'd hear from you." 
It was a game they played; she had spent the last 15 years doing alternate fuel testing for the fleet. The Viceroy was the first of the Pacific class to use those fuels. Part of his job was to send weekly reports to Starfleet, which made their way to her. 
She put her hand on her chin and bit her lip slightly. "Now my dear, out with it. You didn't call me in the middle of your duty shift to chat. Though I may already have some idea..." 
He laid the offer out for her, along with his concerns. She shook her head. "I suspected as much. Your father and I were invited to the dedication. He was annoyed. I was livid. Sometimes I'm sorry we wasted the ship's energy on collecting data ... considering how little the Federation did with it. " 
"I don't know about that. Every ship out here has some of the technology you brought back." 
She smiled wryly. "I know, and that's gratifying," she said, her voice a bit softer. "I'm just thinking of all the missed opportunities for exploration ..." 
She shook her head. "As for you ... it's an interesting offer, but I thought you were aiming for your own starship. How does this fit in?" 
"Not very well." 
"What does Claire say? She has a stake in this, too." 
"Career-wise, it doesn't matter to her. She's concerned about taking the children out there. I reminded her you handled 15 of us out there just fine." 
"Hey! Don't use me as your shining example now. Claire has good reason to be concerned. I doubt that quadrant is any tamer ... I lost too many good people out there ..." she said, her voice trailing off. 
The haunted look on her face shocked him. "I guess, " he said, trying to pull her back, "that while I really don't want the job, there's something that's pulling me toward it." 
She studied him for a moment. "Perhaps," she said slowly, "you're homesick." 
"Homesick? " 
"Why not? You were born out there. Those stars were the first ones you saw. Or don't you remember your father coaxing you off the observation deck every night to have dinner?" 
"Sure, but ..." 
"And I do remember that when we finally got back to the Alpha Quadrant, you informed me in no uncertain terms that you wanted to go back to the Delta Quadrant. Now that was a kick in the pants." 
"Not fair, Mom. I just didn't want to leave Voyager." 
She smiled wryly. "So you joined Starfleet and spent most of your adult life on starships. Congratulations, you're partially recreated your childhood." 
"Is that a problem?" 
She shook her head emphatically. "Not if you're happy. But I don't want you running back to the Delta Quadrant on the basis of some romantic childhood notion." 
"I didn't think my childhood was based in fantasy." 
"Most childhoods are based in fantasy," she laughed. "You were too young to know, and we certainly weren't going to tell you, how life really was out there." 
"So, how was it?" 
She sighed. "Look, you know what it takes to run a starship. Try it without supply bases and space stations. There were some wonderful things in the Delta Quadrant, but having to beg, haggle and occasionally steal supplies and power sources wasn't among them. Neither was being chased by Videans who wanted to use us for spare parts ... or Borg. 
"There's something I never mentioned ... not even to your father." she continued. "Had we not got the transwarp working when we did, I'm not sure we would have made it back." 
He looked at her, puzzled. 
"Starships weren't made for decades of deep-space exploration. Not without maintenance, anyway. Truth was, Voyager was falling apart. Metal fatigue. B'Elanna had the crew patching and replacing ... but every time we went into high warp, I worried that we'd lose a nacelle ... or a bulkhead would collapse." 
"Why didn't you tell Dad this?" 
She burst out laughing. "Your father, my dear, would have made a very good case that we stop the journey and settle down on some nice M-class planet. I couldn't do that. Not without a fight, anyway. I vowed to get the ship and crew home. And dammit, " she said, her eyes twinkling. "I did." 
He had to smile. "So let me get this straight. You think I'm the one trying to get home now?" 
"Maybe," she said, still smiling. "Much as I wanted to believe differently, ' home' for you wasn't Earth. Never really would be. Maybe it's because you spent more time on Voyager than Thomas or Tala. Or maybe you inherited a double dose of wanderlust from us." 
She was leaning on her chin again. "I suspect that someday you will go back to the Delta Quadrant. But when you do, go on your terms. Not to run some public-relations project." 
"Aye, Admiral," he said, grinning. 
She chuckled. "Nice to know my opinion carries some weight." She glanced to her left. "I should let you get back to work. And I need to get moving; I have a lunch date." 
"Oh? With who?" 
She looked mischievous. "My favorite ... pardon me, my other favorite first officer." 
It was his turn to chuckle. "Well, tell Dad to have some dessert for me." 
She smiled and pressed two fingers to her lips, then placed them on the screen. He returned the gesture. 
"Take care of yourself, Paka ... let us know what you decide." 
"You take care of yourself. I love you." 
"I love you too, son." 
"And Mom ... thanks," he said, as her image faded from the screen. 
He sat back for a moment, lost in thought again. He smiled to himself. Maybe, just maybe she was right. 
He tapped his comm badge. "Janeway to the captain." 
"Yes, Commander?" 
"If you have a moment, sir, I have that answer for headquarters ..." 
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