(Eighteen years later)
"You said let's see who turns up. You said let's give them a choice. Many crew members have built a new life here with our encouragement so I was concerned. I wasn't sure who was going to show up."
Kathryn threw her arms up in frustration as she ferociously entered their bedroom discarding her jacket and kicking off her boots as she paced back and forth in exasperation.
"So I stood there and I watched the town center overflow with so many of our crew and their new families, overwhelmed with pride at their choice to continue the journey home. Even some of our T'lojan friends eagerly volunteered. I was thrilled until I very quickly realized that conspicuously absent was our own son!"
"You can't expect him to feel the same way as we do. He's never known any other home," Chakotay returned, his voice much calmer than his wife's. "Mateo is happy here."
"I understand that. I know this is hard for him. But he's only fifteen. We're his parents and there's no way we're leaving him behind. We're not leaving any of our children behind." Kathryn stopped pacing and threw herself onto the bed, sighing loudly with the action. "Why does he always have to be so … stubborn!"
Chakotay pressed his lips together to minimize the smile that had come with her words. Mateo looked like a much younger version of him, but his personality was all Kathryn.
"It's just going to take some time for him to get used to the idea. He doesn't want to say goodbye to his home. To his friends." He reminded her. "We've had a good life here."
"I'm not denying that. But many of his friends are children of Voyager's crew. They'll be coming with us, along with a few T'lojan families. And countless times since we've landed here you've reminded me that home can be anywhere. So why can't home be Voyager for a few years, until we return to Earth?"
Chakotay bent over the bed and kissed her forehead lightly. "Kathryn, I know how much continuing on this journey home means to you. How long you've waited, and how hard you've worked to get Voyager functional again. Just try and see it from his side. Mateo doesn't mean to hurt you. Not showing up today was just his way of letting you know he's sad about leaving."
Kathryn released a breath and replied more calmly. "I know. I do understand. There are things about here I'll miss too. People who have become part of our family. I'm so lucky to have you, you've always been the voice of reason." She gently kissed him, her lips lingering on his.
Eventually, she stood up, grabbed a warmer jacket, put it on, and headed for the door. "Tell the girls I'm going to find our wayward son and remind him how much he's loved and how we could never make this journey without him," she said more cheerily as she pulled on her shoes.
"Mateo is smart and good with his hands, and he likes exploring. He'll find his place on Voyager eventually," Chakotay replied.
"And if he keeps trying to run away and hide, at least on Voyager there's always the brig." Kathryn smiled widely.
Chakotay laughed at her teasing tone. "If we spilt up, we might find him faster," he said following in her footsteps while closing the door to their wooden cabin behind him.
A lanky, dark-haired boy stormed through the woods. He had to get away before he exploded.
The boy picked up his pace on hearing the far-off cry.
Looking over his shoulder, he noticed his father was closing in on him. He stopped to whirl about and shout. "It's not fair! I don't want to go!"
Catching up to him, Chakotay explained, slightly breathless. "Mateo, I understand you're upset. But this has never been a secret. This has always been a possibility."
He didn't try to hide the derision in his reply. "Yeah, Mom's always talking about Voyager this and Voyager that. Getting supplies for the ship. Updating the computer systems. Running drills. She can't wait to leave our home."
More sternly, his father replied. "That's not true and you know it. She loves it here as much as you and I. There's far more to it than that."
"Then why does she keep insisting on making the colony kids take tons of technology classes? I hate math."
"Just because it takes a little effort on your part doesn't mean it isn't worthwhile."
"When are we ever going to use all this stuff?"
Mateo's heart had always belonged to this planet. Cultivating plants, growing food, breeding and tending animals. Exploring and learning about the different biomes. He felt a living breathing connection to this planet. Not to some starship made of metal.
In some ways he hoped that his father could relate.
"Running the power grid and defense net uses plenty of those skills. And they came in pretty handy on that shuttle trip to the Southern Hemisphere." His father reminded him.
As much as he hated to admit it, he knew his father was correct. In a resource scouting trip, when they'd unexpectedly run into intruders, Mateo had automatically been able to modulate the force field to protect them from enemy fire, leaving his father free to execute evasive maneuvers.
Mateo was a smart boy. He was aware that everything his father was saying was true. He just didn't want to think about it. He wanted to wallow in his misery.
"Dad, you don't understand. This is the only home I've ever known. I was born here. I don't want to leave. I can't even tell you the difference between T'lojan and human traditions."
And there was this girl…
Thinking of another angle, Mateo said, "You're the space explorers – I'm not. I'm happy here. Why do we all have to go? Can't I just stay behind?"
He could talk to Z'eham. Their families had been close for years. They'd probably agree to sponsor him.
"Absolutely not." Was Chakotay's firm reply.
Then it occurred to Mateo. "If we lived on Earth, you'd let Isabel leave home and join Starfleet in a heartbeat. Wouldn't you?"
Starfleet. Mateo was sick of hearing his mother reverently drone on about it. Its higher purpose and lofty ideals. His older sister, Isabel, was practically a clone of his mother, requesting extra math assignments, doing her own astrometric projects. Their mother was already tutoring her for the Academy entrance exam.
He tightened his fists as he realized that it was Isabel's fault that he was in this situation.
Pushing a hand through his closely cropped graying hair, Chakotay took a cautious step forward. "Son, there's a world of difference between known and unknown space. We hope to return to this world. We have many close friends who have practically become family. We'd also like to bring back technology to share with them. To improve conditions here.
"But there are no guarantees. The wormhole your sister discovered that leads to the Beta Quadrant may only work one way. Or it could collapse before our return trip. Even though we've done our best to maintain Voyager, the repairs might not be sufficient to allow us to complete the journey, though it will be a considerably shorter trip than seventy years. While our initial surveys suggest the planetary war is over, we don't know for sure. We might run into other active war zones. We just don't know. And with so many unknowns, our family stays together."
"But I'm practically an adult!" He pressed his point. "I'm fifteen. And once we arrive on Earth, you know you're gonna let Isabel join Starfleet. Will we all have to stay there because of her? Or will you let her stay on her own?"
"That's a different situation, Mateo, which I'm not discussing. I don't have any answers. Like I said, with so many unknowns, right now, our family stays together. Do you understand?"
He recognized his father's tone of voice. This was non-negotiable.
Frustrated, he bit his lip. "It's just…this is home. And there's Pavara..."
A native T'lojan, adorable with her tiny stature and lush plum colored hair, she was everything he'd ever dreamed of. He'd been thrilled when they grew closer last year. She loved nature as much as he did. They'd spent a lot of time working in the gardens, cataloging plant species and studying local bird life. Pavara had a killer sense of humor. He loved how her cheeks grew darker lilac when he teased her.
His father's eyebrow rose with interest.
"Dad, she's not going to wait for me."
And while the T'lojans were fairly progressive people, they weren't about to let a fifteen-year-old girl leave on a starship without her parents, even though the adults were friends.
"Be honest with her. You never know."
Mateo held his breath, hoping on everything that was sacred that his father wouldn't start talking about the obstacles that he and his mother had endured for years on end. How they almost didn't become a couple. How fate had intervened and brought them together. His sisters loved their story, claiming it was so romantic, and insisting they repeat it ad nauseum.
"She's not gonna wait five or ten years." Becoming angry, he said, "It's not fair! Why do we all have to go? Mom's being selfish! She doesn't care about anyone but herself!"
"That's enough!" Chakotay's voice rose. "You will not talk about your mother that way. Do you understand?"
He was tempted to salute but he knew his father wouldn't appreciate that. He'd already pushed him too far. Sometimes the man was so calm, the boy felt tempted to push him, just to get a reaction.
Mateo was fully aware that his mother cared deeply about him and his sisters. And when his father had gone missing while on that survey mission a few months ago? She'd put on a brave face, but he knew she was barely holding it together. He'd seen her clinging to his father upon his return.
"Go home. Go to your room. Think about how you're going to apologize to your mother."
It was bad enough when his mother got into command mode. But when his father did, you shut your mouth. Sometimes it stunk to have two former captains as parents.
Dragging his feet, he turned towards the house.
"But Dad, I'm going to miss the coming-of-age quest." His voice cracked. He hated that he sounded so whiny.
Although the ritual, where fathers and sons spent a weekend in the wilderness was distinctively T'lojan, it had become his culture. Despite his vastly different physical appearance, he considered himself part of the T'lojan tribe. He hoped that these rituals meant something to his father too, or that in the very least, that he could appreciate them.
Chakotay took a minute to respond. "You know, it'll take time to finish getting the ship ready."
"But the ceremony has to take place when the two moons are fullest at the apex position." And that wouldn't be for another six months.
"I know. Let's see what I can do. The T'lojans have been more than gracious integrating our cultures. They might be willing to make an exception. And there might be a few other boys joining Voyager that will be affected by this as well."
"Thanks, Dad. Thanks for understanding. I'm sorry about today, I know how important it was to Mom." Once his emotions subsided, he would apologize to her.
Chakotay put his hand on his son's shoulder as they walked back to their home.