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2231.273 [9/30/31; age 27]
The air, George reflects, has a certain addictive quality. It's highly oxygenated, and almost metallic. It almost forces you to take deeper and deeper breaths as your brain attempts to figure out what's wrong with it.

George has been here for fifteen days. He has yet to figure out how not to give himself a headache within the first fifteen minutes of entering the Isolated Intensive Care Unit of Starfleet Medical: San Francisco. It's such a stupid, pedantic thing to notice, but he's feeling a little out of control, and having fucked up air isn't really helping him keep his shit together.

Right now, he's sitting in the nice, ergonomic chair beside her bed, watching the medical equipment monitor the lack of change. At least the brain scans aren't spiking in agitation. She's sleeping peacefully. When he came in this morning, René (the day nurse) had said she'd managed to go 24 hours now without screaming.

George shifts. It's not sleeping, and it's not peaceful. It's medically-induced coma. He rests his elbow on the chair and braces his chin in his hand, the other loosely wrapped around his PADD. There are a few shiny patches of brand new skin, but she's like Snow White in her coffin of glass: protective environment where the skin they'd had to slice off could regrow unhindered and uncontaminated.

"It's too infected," Kasab had explained. Miko Kasab was her attending: helping to marshal all of the care and specialists. "We had to remove the damaged and infected tissues, but it looks much worse than it is. Her immune system is compromised, so it will take a while for it all to grow back: she'll look strange, but we'll have her medicated—she won't feel it, Commander Kirk."

George had nodded, and then gone into one of the conference rooms, sat down in one of the chairs, and cried, and then punched a hole in the wall.

He glances over: the plaster's a little rough, right there. Shoddy workmanship.

"Son?"

George jumps: he hadn't even heard Pop come in. "Hey, Pop." He stands with a groan and presses a hand to his lower back as he puts the PADD on the seat of his chair. He's been sitting too long: not enough room to pace. He'll go for a run in a bit, then maybe get a massage.

Pop wraps his arms around him, and under the sterile smell of hospital, he smells like the aftershave he's worn George's whole life, shoulders comfortingly broad even though they're under the soft, giving fabric of scrubs instead of his usual worn and pilled flannel shirts or worn-through tees. He looks good for 53. Hell, he probably looks better than George.

Pop doesn't let go, and George feels a flash of impatience. He doesn't need this comfort; doesn't want it. Not right now. He's grateful his parents came out from Riverside to San Francisco as soon as the crew of the USS Black Hawk were evacuated off the remnants of the ship and rushed off to Starfleet Medical. They moved into George and Winona's apartment to watch Sammy so George could focus on Winona's care 24/7. It was great of them: Sammy didn't get uprooted this way—it put the least amount of strain on the two year old.

"How's she doing?" Pop asks. His tone says he's trying not to be sympathetic, because George has never really been good at taking pity or symptathy even when it's offered with the best of intentions, but he looks at Winona and the lines in Pop's face deepen.

"The new pain cocktail seems to be working. They're…trying to simulate a Vulcan healing trance, and I have no idea how that's going, but she's not screaming, so…I don't know. Theory is that if her brain doesn't know how bad her body is, it will…lessen the stress and adrenaline levels, which will boost her natural immune system. It made sense when Kasab was explaining it," George sighs, rubbing the back of his neck.

Pop nods, his hand resting on George's shoulder.

"Well, I brought you food. It's in the family room on the third floor, got your name on it and everything. Real food, not this replicated shit that passes as food here in San Francisco. How's it going with insurance?"

"Perks of being in Starfleet—we're covered. And Starfleet sent a clerk down to inform me that I have compassionate leave until she returns to active duty, which is good because I was due to ship out in… two months, and I don't know how long this is going to take." He's talking to the spot over Pop's shoulder. It's easier, somehow. "And I still don't know what the hell happened up there."

Pop smiles slightly.

"How's Sam?" George asks, guiding him back out of the IICU and into the hall.

"Sammy's doing good. Asking about you. Thinks you're in the other room—every time you stop conferencing he goes and looks."

George smiles, but it doesn't last. He's going to get premature wrinkles. Of course, he's been saying that for twenty years now, and always blaming it on her, but this time he's serious. And gray. He's going to find gray hairs not from his kid but from his wife. He should have fucking known.

"Anyway, he's an easier kid than you were."

"I was fine," George protests. He might have been an only child, but he was a fine kid. When he wasn't being incited to riot. And that came later.

Kind of.

"Until you turned five," Pop agrees, eyes twinkling.

"That wasn't my fault," George says, grinning tiredly, because it's an old conversation, well-worn grooves for words he doesn't even have to think about to say. Even still it feels fucking weird, and he puts his hands in his pockets. "Talk to me about Sammy. He like the zoo?"

"Gorillas made him sad," Pop says, shrugging. "He liked the penguins, but mostly he loves watching the whales."

"Gonna take him to the aquarium tomorrow?"

"Thought we might. Kids love fish. And dolphins."

George smiles. "He loves the um…they have like, a tank in the middle, that the building is sort of wrapped around? So it goes all five stories high. He likes that. And touching the sting rays—he thinks that's pretty cool."

"Sting rays, got it." Pop rubs his shoulder, and George leans into the touch slightly. "She's gonna be fine. And then she's gonna kill people."

"Yeah. That's what I keep reminding myself."

They hug, and George forces his arms to unlock. He's not a kid. He can't just cling.

"You know I just spent four months almost getting thrown out of Starfleet?" he asks her. "I thought they were going to bust my ass down to ensign. And now you're back and I have…no idea what happened."

She doesn't move, not even a flicker of movement under her eyelids.

"Yeah. I thought I'd raise some hell too," he agrees, and settles down to set up a few meetings.

 

2209.192-193 [7/11/09-7/12/09; age 5]
George was an only child. His pop worked at the quarry, his mother ran the scrapbooking club and the PTA and worked part time at the library. It was life in a small town.

He didn't really understand what the drama around Jenny Lawson was—he knew she was very beautiful, tall with long blonde hair and beautiful blue eyes. She was the most beautiful woman in the town, but he knew that people didn't like her. His mother didn't like her.

But he knew that once in a while they'd go over to Jenny Lawson's house and drop off a cake. They never went inside.

So when Mama came home and pulled out a cake, George assumed it was normal. He climbed into the car and got buckled into his seat, and watched the trees and houses fly by the window as Mama tapped her steering wheel and sighed at nothing in particular. It was the sigh of "Oh, here we go." The sigh that signaled somewhere a fight was going to start.

The Lawson's house needed paint. The grass wasn't mowed—almost long enough that George could hide in it. He stuck close to her legs, and the steps and the porch boards squeaked under his bare feet. He cried out when a sliver dug into the soft arch of his foot.

"Come on, honey," Mama said, and knocked on the door. George sat down on the splintered and brittle boards and pulled a gigantic piece of wood out of his foot. Huge.

No one answered the door.

"Jenny?" Mama called. "Jenny, you home?" She knocked three more times, and then waited. And then repeated. "Jenny?" Knock-knock-knock "Jenny?" Knock-knock-knock "Jenny?" Knock-knock-knock.

And then, from somewhere deep inside the house, was an almighty crashing sound like something really big falling over and shattering.

Mama shoved the door open and ran in. "Jenny? Winona? Is anyone—?"

In the kitchen there was a mess on the floor, and a barefoot girl George's age. She had hair the color of straw and was wearing a white sun dress. She had freckles all over her face, which was red. In her hand was a pile of plates.

She slammed those on the ground too.

George hid behind Mama as Mama yelled, "Winona Lawson, you stop that this minute!"

"No!" Winona Lawson shouted back.

"Jenny!" Mama yelled.

"She's gone," Winona informed her, stamping her foot. It was bleeding. Her legs were bleeding too—all these little cuts. She pulled a mug off the counter and hurled it at them.

"Ow!" George yelled, rubbing his chest. "Stop that!"

"You're not the boss of me!"

"That's a bad job," he yelled back, and put on the flip flops that someone had kicked off (must have been her, because they were only a little bit small for his feet—he was growing) and then walked over the broken dishes and shoved her in the chest before Mama could stop him. "Do you understand me?"

"No!" she shouted, and shoved him back.

"Oh, for crying out loud," Mama groaned, and grabbed both of them by the arms and carried them to the living room. "Winona, you just sit there until I get your daddy home. George you just—no fighting. Honestly," she muttered to herself, and pulled out her phone, moving into the dining room to yell at Winona's daddy.

"I hate you," Winona informed him.

"Well I think you're mean," he said, and stuck out his tongue, standing over by the window at the front of the room so he wouldn't push her again.

"I am mean," she replied.

"Fine."

"Fine."

"Fine."

"Fine."

"FINE!"

And then she did something he didn't really expect. She sat down on the floor in front of the couch on the dirty carpet and put her face in her knees and screamed.

George stood, frozen. No one…did that before. Around him. And he could see her underpants between her feet because her legs were bent up and—

She was crying now. Just crying and crying and crying and crying. Like she couldn't breath. Like she couldn't stop.

And Mama was still talking on the phone in the other room, so George sat beside her and touched her shoulder carefully because she hit, and maybe she was just gonna hit him again.

And then he wrapped his arms around her and she ended up somehow kinda crying into his neck. And it was hot outside, and her breath was really hot and wet and he was sweating, all sticky on his back as he rubbed her back and shoulders, like Pop and Mama did when he had to cry.

"It's okay," he said softly, because that's what you say to crying people. "It's okay, sweetheart. It's okay."

"Sweetheart" was what his pop called his mama when she was really upset. She couldn't hear him, he didn't think. Over the sound of her crying. But he just held on and maybe cried a little without knowing why, it just—it was really sad.

Pain bloomed hot on his neck, sharp and hot and throbbing, but he didn't really—think to look. He was busy trying to make her stop crying so she could breathe.

When Mama came out she said Mr. Lawson was on his way back, and George didn't think that Winona heard.

When Mr. Lawson came through the door he looked horrified at the mess, and George heard him saying,

"I didn't know, Anne! She didn't say anything, just smiled at me—you know, left for the weekend—'course you know, it's Riverside, everyone fucking knows—but she came back last night and it was fine. How the fuck was I supposed to know she was gonna fucking bail on us?"

George didn't understand, not really. But Winona wouldn't let her dad get close and George didn't mind being so hot if it means she wasn't alone. He still wasn't sure what was going on…but she shouldn't be alone.

Mama went into the kitchen to clean up, and some of the other ladies came over and sighed and clucked and did stuff to make the house better, and Jim Lawson sat down in a chair looking like he couldn't see anything.

But when it was time for everyone to go, he got up and picked Winona up. She was asleep: being that sad and that angry made you really sleepy: George knew that from experience.

Then Mr. Lawson put his hand to George's neck, kind of where it turned into his shoulder.

"You okay?" he asked.

George frowned, and put his own hand there. It stung a little, and there were scabby flakes that were…blood.

"Yeah," George said. "I don't know—"

Mr. Lawson nodded. "Thanks for coming over," he said, and then walked up creaking stairs to put her to bed.

Mama drove him home and put him to sleep after cleaning up the bite mark on his neck. For years, this will be a source of great pride and admiration. At the time, he kind of wondered if she was like a rabid squirrel or something.

Mama looked sad, and hugged him longer than usual, and George slid into bed and thought about his mama leaving them without telling.

He thought he'd be too busy crying to break things: he would have probably called his pop right away. That's what you did in emergencies: called a grown-up. If Mama hadn't gone over to visit Mrs. Lawson, Winona probably would have been in the house all alone until her pop showed up.

He wondered why she didn't: maybe Winona didn't like her pop.

And then the screen in his window got kicked in and he almost died of fright because maybe monsters were real.

But it was only Winona Lawson, who crawled into bed with him.

"I'm sleeping here," she said.

"Okay," he agreed, slowly, and pulled the sheet over them. She looked really sad, and it was weird that she was here, but she'd had a long day and maybe she really didn't get along with her daddy. "Maybe we'll have pancakes in the morning."

And she smiled, just a little. "That'd be nice. I like pancakes."

"Everybody loves pancakes," he sighed, because duh. But it made her laugh a little, so that was okay.

In the morning, Mama blinked and Pop called Mr. Lawson, but Mama made pancakes and Winona stole George's because she was mean.

In the other room Mama was telling Pop what happened, and George and Winona didn't mean to overhear, but sound travelled. And they both stopped eating and sort of leaned towards the living room to hear.

"She came back from God-knows-where the night before, acted like it was all fine, you know, the way Jenny does," Mama was saying. "And then he went off to work and I guess she flew the coop. I only went over to make sure there was food in the refrigerator because Lord knows the man has no idea how to cook and that little girl's a hellion. You should have seen her, Tiberius. They're going to be living off of a grand total of one glass, a coffee mug, one dinner plate and one dessert. The silverware she didn't seem to be able to destroy, so there's plenty of that."

"Wait, she up and left the kid?"

"Emptied the account, too. Nolan got ahold of his husband, and Ted's going to help Jim put a hold on all the accounts and make sure she can't wipe out Winona's college fund, but she hopped the world. No one knows where it was to: Ted said there was a charge to a taxi, right to San Francisco, and then she bought a ticket up to space dock and… well. From there, who knows?"

"Jenny's always skipping out."

"She took everything, Tiberius. Everything. The worst part is that she told Winona. Told her she wasn't ever coming back. Didn't care if Winona starved. God, that girl's insane, though. Too much like her mother."

"She's five, Anne."

"She bit George. So hard he's going to scar. He didn't say anything, either, though I could have slapped her a little for it. He's a good boy, sat with her the whole time. But damnit, I could just take a shotgun to Jenny Lawson."

"I'll call Nora, see if she can get a replicator installed at the house at a reduced price, or on credit. Rotten thing to do."

"…Do you have to be so understated?"

"What, you just condemned a little girl for overreacting, I'm afraid."

George looked at Winona, whose eyes were red and wide and whose lower lip was trembling.

"You bit me," he accused, pointing at his neck. "Like an animal."

She stuck her tongue out. "Did not."

"Did too!" He stared at her indignantly, and she grinned, just a little.

"Mama, we're going to go play outside!" he called, grabbing her hand and pulling her behind him out the front door and into the corn fields where the stalks were way over their head.

"What if we get lost?" she asked after they collapsed in the dirt, breathing hard from running fast.

"I know this place like the back of my hand," he told her, because that's what Pop always said.

They got lost.

Pop looked like he wanted to laugh when he found them, covered in dirt and wild-eyed in the middle of the cornfield.

"This is all your fault," George whispered.

He'd be saying that for the rest of his life.

 

2231.280 [10/7/31; age 27]
"…Went that well?" René asks when George walks back into her room.

"What?"

"You're a little…" René trailed off and waived his hand up and down. "Pissed, I think is the word."

George huffed out a laugh. "Yeah. I hate hitting dead ends."

René checked a few monitors and then turned to look at him. "What's up?"

"Nothing. Bad day at the office."

René nods, and slips out, and George sits in his chair. They want to turn it into a story about the triumph of spirit in adversity. They want it to be a recruitment poster. Of 400 person crew, 11 survived. And there are no clear answers.

She doesn't look better. The medicine's keeping her nice and quiet, and skin is starting to grow back slowly, but they keep on cutting it away and then using the regenerators, worried about the infection that was killing her. Based on the burns and wounds, they figure she was just down in the engine room using her bare hands to fix things, coaxing warp out of a shot engine and core. But it took four months, and she didn't eat much("severely malnourished and dehydrated" was the official phrasing), and he doesn't know what it was, exactly that happened.

And he goes to Starfleet and gets…stonewalled.

He's about two days from breaking through the firewall and security, and after he punched the shit out of a bag in the gym he's back here breathing in too-clean air, still pissed off and scared as fuck.

Research vessel his ass.

She looks sunken in, corpse-like. Fragile. She's strong and she's fast, and she once made a Cardassian cry (no, he still has no idea what happened. He walked across the green to be almost bowled over by this sobbing Cardassian and that triumphant look in her eye had made him not want to even know). But without the exasperation and that wry grin, he's not sure exactly what to do with her.

"Commander Kirk?"

He blinks up at Dr. Kasab. "Hey, Doc. I didn't know you were stopping by—" and fuck is he hoping that this is a random visit and that she's not here to say, "Oh, she's never going to wake up."

"I just got some test results back, and I wanted to tell you as soon as possible."

George's throat tightens, and his hands begin to sweat. He sucks in his lips and bites for a second before swallowing and nodding. Brain damage, shit.

"Her brain scans that we just got back from the labs are fine. The concussions are healed and we haven't found any new bleeding. The rashes and lesions we saw on the upper-deck crew are nowhere in sight: it's possibly due to the fact that she stayed with the engines, five decks below." Her dark face spreads into a smile.

"So when she wakes up…" he prompts, because he needs to now what to expect—if there's a chance of amnesia due to something they would know about now, rather than just trauma which is a fun game of "wait and see!" He's not ready to smile: just because it's not brain damage doesn't mean there's not something awful just lying in wait.

"She'll be your loving wife." Kasab says that earnestly, and George laughs helplessly, waving a hand when she takes a concerned step forward and glances for the nurse.

"No, no. It's just… when she wakes up? She's going to try to get me to let her up so she can go kill a few Admirals and possibly her captain. And then she'll be really annoyed that she's not being immediately released." He considers it, and then realizes that Kasab is now looking at Winona with some surprise. She must not talk to the ER doctors. They know Winona. She was a favorite of theirs for a while, back when they started school.

"Thank you," George says, trying for earnest and not sure where he lands on that spectrum. "I'm…I really appreciate you coming down here to tell me in person."

"My pleasure. I'll be checking in either a week or when she's discharged, whichever comes soonest."

"So I'll see you in a week."

"Most likely," she agrees.

The meeting with the dermatologist and the infection specialist doesn't go as well.

She'd come in with lesions and staph infections, with wounds that looked like they'd been cauterized for lack of any other medical options. The doctors had had to cut away the dead tissue to regenerate healthy skin—which was unusual, and made them make him sign about seventeen forms to cover their asses—but apparently there was one resistant strain.

"My recommendation," Dr. Pilmann, the dermatologist, says, " is that we use sonic treatments in combination with regeneration and old school antibiotics. Hypos don't work when the patient is allergic, and her allergies are varied enough to make me want to be very cautious, especially when her system is this fragile."

"You should be aware, however," Dr. Fox, an immunization specialist who was consulting, chips in, "that there are risks with sonic treatments. It might stress her system too heavily, and lengthen or deepen the coma."

"But the other option is what, standard hypos that would have bad side effects?" George asks.

"The hypos carry higher risks," Pilmann agrees, nodding her head. "I'm not going to lie, this is a fragile situation. Her condition is tenuous, but requires treatment. I feel that the regimen of antibiotics and sonic is the best of two not-great options."

George took command classes, and he knows how to run a ship and let people be good at what they do. He's good at that. He nods. "We'll do that. Can we localize the sonic treatment to try to mitigate some of the side effects or strain?" he asks Fox, who nods.

"We can do that."

The sonic treatment is a variant on how radiation was used to kill cancer cells, only these sonic pulses disrupt or kill bacteria. Or viruses, depending on what setting.

She goes in for the treatment and he goes for a run until his legs are about to give out on him and his lungs are burning. It's like he wants to outrun this, which is stupid, and not really who he is—or who he likes to think he is.

He sighs and jogs back to the hospital, takes a shower and changes back into scrubs, lays down in the patient family room, and stares at the ceiling. They're not inseparable, not anymore. Not since coming to Starfleet and getting commissions. But the fact that she's not present—that he can't comm her or talk to her…it's making him crazy.

 

2219.072 [3/13/19; age 15].
The nice thing about the policing system being run by robots is that George had been able to make bail without having to be an adult.  Or, rather, his fake i.d. and matching bank account had been enough to make bail since they were thirteen.  George would take a moment to reflect on how nice that was if, say, he wasn't bailing her out for the second time this month.  For some stupid shit, too.  Trespassing.

What the everloving fuck?  On top of that, it was four in the morning.  George was exhausted.  He wanted to be in his nice bed, not walking down the depressingly familiar gray halls of the county police station.

"Are you fucking with me?" he demanded.  She looked at him.  Her shoulders were hunched forward, which might have been a defensive pose or it might have been that she was just a bitch.  Either one was entirely valid at that point.  "Trespassing?"

She swung her foot up onto the lip of the bench, even though the door slid open.  Her head made a dull noise when it hit the wall.

"Okay, get up, or I'm letting you rot in here," he warned.  He was going to have a migraine: he could feel it coming.  "I am sick as fuck of having to bail your ass out, or convince teachers it was an accident, or get whoever you punched that it was their own damn fault.  I get it— this town sucks and you hate it.  Fine.  Whatever.  But you keep dragging me into it and hey, newsflash, I'd really like to get out of here and go to Starfleet, which I can't do with many more black marks on my official record!  And here's a revelation: neither can you!"

"Didn't really see you kicking and screaming," she said flatly, shoving past him and heading for the door.  George made abortive frustrated gestures at her back, and then tore at his hair.  Maybe he needed a goddamn break. Maybe a decade was the limit: maybe he couldn't take it anymore. Maybe this whole fucking epic romance that everyone had scripted out for them (around them) was just…bullshit.

He hit the gas too hard and gripped the steering wheel too tight, driving back to her house. There was still snow on the ground: he flexed his cold hands. He hadn't grabbed a jacket or anything, just pulled on his jeans and ran out the door, because she was annoying as fuck but he didn't want her—

He didn't want her actually rotting in some fucking cell.

He pulled into the driveway. Jim was braced against the porch, breath hanging hot and white in front of him, and it glowed in the moonlight.

Winona slammed out of the car and brushed by her dad. Jim watched, the way George did, both of them stuck in her wake. And then Jim turned, and walked down the steps. George cut the engine.

"Everything okay?" Jim asked quietly.  Usually, Winona slept over at his house after a break-out. George's parents didn't know: not really. They might have suspected, but…it was willful ignorance.

"Yeah," George said, finally. "Yeah. I gotta get home. Have to be up in two hours for school."

Jim nodded, and stepped back.

George feigned sick and stayed home.

Okay, maybe he wasn't faking, because hey, running out in the middle of March's cold snap in jeans and an old tee apparently encouraged all the latent germs in his body to take hold all at once.

He fucking hated being sick.

See, the thing about Winona was that her mom leaving her scarred her.  The fact that she abandoned Winona knowingly, and said as much...George knew at five that that left a mark. And a decade later she had abandonment issues a mile wide, on top of the fact that she was just…crazy.

She also had this vicious, violent streak in her—a part of her that couldn't see where the line for appropriate behavior was, never mind whether or not she'd crossed it. Sometimes he thought they were like Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket.

He knew that part of the reason she was restless was that she wanted to see what was out there.  Wanted to see what it was that her mama picked over her, and it was just because he was stubborn as all get-out that he came with.

He wasn't sure where the violence came from, unless it was because she wanted to be the one to hit first.

He knew that before Jenny left, Winona'd been a handful.  Jim liked having someone to talk to, and George listened because Jim could fill in blanks: could help George not punch her in the face because he got where she was coming from.  He knew that she kept people at a distance deliberately.  He knew she pushed his buttons because she was waiting for the time he turned around and left.  For good (he leaves a lot: slams out of rooms or runs across fields or storms out of barns, but he always comes back).

And he knew, as he built a pile of tissues and watched bad daytime soaps, that he'd come back this time too.

But the thing was, it'd been a decade. George had been in and out of principal's offices and taken aside by teachers for ten fucking years. Because they thought he had some sway.

Because they knew he was in on it—but no one could prove it. Winona got caught, but George never did. George couldn't ever decide if that was because she somehow managed it that way, or if it was because people genuinely thought he was the easier target. Like, if they could convince him to behave, he'd rub off on her.

But George was the one who ground his foot into her toes and made her shut up, who walked half-step behind cleaning up messes.

He was the most popular boy in their class because he had to be: because people had to like him. No, that wasn't fair. He liked most of the people in their class; got along with all of them. But maybe he went the extra mile to go to movies or hang out in basements because then they came to him complaining and when he said, "Yeah, I'll talk to her" they believed him.

Never mind that whatever she'd done he'd been at least 45% responsible for at any given time.

Even so, knowing it didn't make him any less pissed at her for not caring.

He stayed angry. For two weeks, he stayed angry, and then it was easier to just…stay quiet. To hang out with Owen and Henry and pretend her desk wasn't next to his.

"…What happened to my official record?" she demanded, slamming his door open a month later. Actually, 29 days, but almost a month. "What did you even do?"

It was self-defense. George knew how to bullshit and hack; to take charge of a panicked situation (there had been an incident with fireworks… they don't talk about that). George could lie without incriminating himself, to make it up as he went along. Things that other kids maybe tried for but George succeeded at because of Winona fucking Lawson.

"I cleaned it up. A little," he said, putting the PADD aside. "You might wear it like a fucking badge of honor, but Starfleet's not gonna take you with more marks, and you're fucking going if I have to drag you by your goddamn hair because I'm not gonna get left while you die in fiery wreckage somewhere. So just…shut the fuck up."

He glared at her, daring her to say something else. She just looked at him. Her hair needed combing, ratty and too long, and her freckles had faded off her cheeks a little. She was vibrating in the door, and beyond her, downstairs, he could hear Mama making dinner. Chicken, by the smell of things.

George pulled himself up against the headboard and bit the inside of his lower lip to keep from saying anything. He was going to wait this out, he— he was.

"I'm not going to die in fiery wreck," she said.

George snorted, closed his eyes and hit his head against the headboard because Jesus fuck. That was so not—

The bed dipped slightly, and then he felt her hands curling around his knees, pushing them together so she could rest her chin on the dip. If he moved his feet he could knock her off.

"Hey, George. Hey. Hey."

He cracked an eye open. She was just watching him, with her gray-blue eyes. "Your mom's making good food."

"I guess we could feed you," he relented, just a little, opening his other eye and sighing.

"I get cranky when not fed," she agreed.

"I know," he sighed, but when she curled up against him and braced her feet against the wall with her head in his lap, talking a mile a minute about some stupid political snafu, he breathed a little easier.

It wasn't quite fixed. They weren't quite fixed, not yet. But they would be. It'd be fine. Or else he'd throttle her with his bare hands.

 

2231.283 [10/10/31; age 27]
It takes him three days to get through the firewall. He's out of practice: he hasn't had to hack a security system in a long time.

He pulls up the captain's logs of the Black Hawk's last run, sits in his chair while she breathes steadily. He's not sure how he feels that that's what's comforting.

Fucking Christ.

»CAPTAIN'S LOG, Stardate 2231.074
Have failed to make contact with the Gelan Research Team. After a careful scan of the planet, this does not appear to be due to hostiles, though one must always acknowledge that there may be life forms which our sensors are not capable of picking up. The planet is stable, and yet there is no response from the GRT. Preparing to beam down a crew in order to investigate further.«

»CAPTAIN'S LOG, Stardate 2231.077
Research facility completely abandoned. No sign of the crew anywhere, though there are signs of violence. Perhaps a struggle occurred: not one of my team could make it out. Have collected samples for further analysis, but CMO speculates an illness of some kind was likely the cause of such complete loss. CMO has taken air and plant samples to test this hypothesis.«

»CAPTAIN'S LOG, Stardate 2231.78
Crew under siege. There appears to have been a prior species, incorporeal, inhabiting the planet. They appear to require hosts, and need the host bodies to be dead, though not brain-dead. They are biologically designed to achieve this end. There seems to be an immunity several crew members have. Commander Kirk, notably, is unaffected. Am preparing to execute General Order 13«

»ACTING CAPTAIN'S LOG, Stardate 2231.87
This is Fatimah Hasan, highest ranked surviving officer. CEO Kirk engineered a pulse beacon which killed the beings calling themselves "Umani." They have not resurfaced for two days, but whether the pulse beacon or the fact that those of us surviving, 11 out of 400, are all immune to them cannot be determined for certain. Our ship is drifting in the black. We have no medical personnel.«

»ACTING CAPTAIN'S LOG, Stardate 2231.213
Have gone to see Kirk. She is in bad condition. We are all starving and dehydrated, but the engine room's conditions are very hot and she is constantly sweating. I believe her to be running a fever, but she will not be moved. We are a week away, at our current rate of progress, from arriving at the solar system's edge where we will be sensed. We are all desperate, and look to be corpses. They will put us immediately into isolation, if we are not fit for the morgue.«

George sits down on the floor, because if he sits in the chair he's too close to standing, and if he stands he can walk, and if he walks he's going to go kill someone.

Where the fuck was Starfleet?

He grabs the PADD and does a quick search. This is the problem with Starfleet: once you're in the system, you're in the system. He could get into personnel files, history, highly classified operations…but all he wants is this—to know out of the eleven, who were the ones who died. And then there it is, on his PADD, deceptively innocent looking:

»»A'TAER, BEDILIAK: deceased
»BUCKET, CAROLINE: deceased
»ENTENIE, ROSE: deceased
»FIBBOCHI, IDINA: living
»GETEPP, ADALIA: living
»HASAN, FATIMAH: deceased
»KIRK, WINONA: living
»K'UWI, OIW: living
»QUEUR, ENID: deceased
»TOU'RKRE: living
»T'REIK, DAUGHTER of STROCK: deceased«

He realizes with a sick feeling that that leaves only four of them still alive—someone else has died in the past week without anyone but the family noticing the passing. It's just…wrong. Fucked up. He doesn't want blanket media coverage, but he wants…information. He wants this to stop reeking of a fucking cover-up. He wants Starfleet to live up to its promise of no one alone.

He hasn't seen one of his COs extend anything to him. He feels like he's going this alone, and usually he'd be okay because, you know, Winona. Except she's the one down and this—

He wants to know what research is being done into the actual cause of the Black Hawk's problems. If the neurologist was seeing what it might have been about Winona that kept an alien from taking up residence in her brain. If Starfleet paid the neurologist to do that without getting his consent. He wants this to stop being a conspiracy. His life is not this movie, okay? It's not.

Because his theories about her being a hardass are all well and good: fine. She is—there's no denying that Winona is the strongest person he knows, that she gets the job done one way or another, and she will not yield. That's her personality: has been since they were five, for crying out loud. But it's one thing to say all of that and know it to be true and then to suspect that it had something to do with the aliens' apparent incapability to leave her brain-dead. He's never met Rose Entenie or T'Reik or…hell, any of the ones who survived. He can't say whether they were hardasses, too. If their husbands or wives or parents would look at them and say, "Are you kidding, no alien would try to take them down. Or if they did, they'd fail. Hard."

He has to go down to the cafeteria. The problem, he thinks, is that he's gotten used to being able to sit back and let her take care of shit. Be the scary one.

"Um…you're… Kirk?" a man asks, coming over to his table. He looks really, really tired, and sits in the chair across from George. He has the soft look of a scientist or a civilian. George isn't really in the mood.

"Yeah."

"I'm David Fibbochi—my wife is—"

"One of the survivors, I know," George agrees, and relaxes his shoulders, just a little.

The man swallows, and nods abortively. "Do you—I mean, you're in Starfleet. Have you heard…anything?"

"No, I haven't been apprised of the situation."

David looks at him for a minute. "Oh yeah?"

"Yeah."

"Look. You're the only one who's in Starfleet. You have to have some pull…I looked you up, you're a commander. I mean, that means something, and you're young for a commander. I'm not trying to butter you up it's just—look. We want a hearing."

"And you think I can get you a hearing?"

"Our wives are dead or dying. We have just as much a right to know as you why Starfleet sat on its ass." David leans across the table, looking intent.

George slouches back in his chair slightly, hands wrapped around a coffee he's not going to drink.

"Not just us, either," David insists. "All of them. Everyone whose family died. We all deserve to know."

"I'm not arguing."

"So you'll help."

"I'll see what I can do."

David smiles in relief, his whole body loosening like someone's cut his strings. It's such a funny thing: somewhere along the line George got really good at convincing people he wasn't an asshole. It's a complete lie.

There will be a hearing. There will be a cover up, and he'll tow the line. Unless she dies.

"That's blackmail, Kirk," Admiral Meadow says when he explains this to her.

"Not blackmail, ma'am. But that wasn't a research vessel: Gelan hasn't been of interest since we found it. And then suddenly 396 people are dead."

"There was a parasitic species—"

"I'm more interested in the 'why they were there in the first place' part of this," he interrupts. "In case I haven't been clear yet."

"You're playing a very dangerous game, Kirk."

"I'm not playing."

The hearing is scheduled for October 29th.

David smiles at him in relief, and 600-odd people give him and his uniform suspicious looks until it ripples through that he's the guy who got them this hearing.

"So…this is good, right?" David presses.

"This means that they'll be giving reparations, beyond the life insurance policies," George says, scanning the three admirals and the clerks. Meadow is one of them, but he doesn't recognize the other two. "The ones who survive will probably get an equal amount in hazard pay."

"…But that's good, right?" David presses. "We'll get answers."

George grins at him, and nods. "Yeah. We'll get answers."

They won't be the truth, but they'll get answers.

"This convenes the official Hearing on the USS Black Hawk's latest mission. Given that none of the crew could be here—"

"Because they're in the hospitals," George says, fully loud enough to be heard, propping his foot up on the chair in front of him and sprawling.

The Admiral—George is fucked if he knows what his name is—lifts his heavy eyebrow at him. "And who are you?"

"George Kirk. Sir." Says it as contumeliously as possible.

"Mr. Kirk—"

"Commander." Oh, this guy is on his last nerve already.

"Commander Kirk, then. I'll thank you not to interrupt proceedings."

"I just want it in the transcript that the people in question, the four still living, aren't absent because they're vacationing on Orion, but because they're all in medical comas. Sir."

"Let the record show it," the other unknown Admirals says, gesturing for the first to be quiet. She takes over. "Officer Okska, please report on what you have learned of the Umani."

"As far as we can be certain, the Umani were a corporeal people. They were believed to have died out when a civil war broke out and biological warfare was engaged. However, one sect believed themselves capable of leaving their physical selves and reaching a 'higher plane.' Based on crew reports and the logs we were able to recover, it appears they were trapped there in a state of limbo after achieving a separation of body and mind, unable to progress: stagnant entirely. And so they endeavored to use hosts. It seems that they would enter the body of an individual and shut down the brains to the point where only autonomic functions were persisting. This gave them control of the brains and they were able to re-corporealize."

Well, that at least is true.

"What went wrong?" Meadow prompts, leaning forward.

"The crew fought back, understandably. All eleven of the initial survivors were noted to be, by various sources, 'immune.' All complained of a headache, which appears, given the anecdotal evidence, to have been the first symptom, but then were fine."

There are a few…rambling, scholarly-sounding explanations on Umani culture and how it interfered with sensory issues.

And then they seem to be done. Which…fuck no.

"Why didn't Starfleet realize something was wrong?" he demands, standing again and bracing against the rail. David exhales a little: it sounds like relief.

"Commander Kirk."

"No. My wife's in a coma, so you're going to tell me why, when it's procedure for vessels to check in every 72 hours with Starfleet unless otherwise ordered, it was a surprise when the Black Hawk limped into view. There were four months where it wasn't picked up on that this was a problem. Four months. It was a scientific anthropological trip that was supposed to take nine months. It took six, and for four of those it was MIA."

"Well, it was actually only off the grid for two months," one of the clerks says. George raises his eyebrow. Oh, really? "We think that the Umani realized they were going to have issues and pre-recorded updates. The Black Hawk's systems were ruined, but they were transmitting updates that were legitimate."

David glances at George and George nods like he buys it. This is a better answer for these people—it's not the truth, or it's not the whole truth, but this might genuinely be why Starfleet ignored them when families said there was a problem. Hostile alien races are much easier to cope with.

The thing is, he's doing this. Participating in what he's pretty fucking sure is a farce, but he spent four months worrying about a lack of check-in. He spent four months freaking out a little, but getting reassured by the hierarchy. And he— he needs to believe that Starfleet is the good guys. He needs to believe that they don't think their people are expendable. If she dies, he's coming after all of them. With a fucking baseball bat.

If she doesn't, but he finds out that this was…he still might come after them with a baseball bat. And it won't be a wooden one.

He meets Meadow outside the hearing. "Why were they going to Gelan?"

"Kirk."

"Why'd they go to Gelan, Admiral?"

She sighs, looks away. "I don't know. It was a…classified mission. We figured it was botanical or relocation of witnesses or something, but—"

"But?"

"It's Gelan, Kirk. That rock isn't interesting, and you'd put a prisoner on Gelan, not a witness."

"You're stonewalled."

"Yeah. I'm stonewalled."

"But the thing about the transmissions?"

"It was a research vessel, so the priority wasn't high. The part about the fake check-ins, that's true."

"I want those files."

"Kirk, you could lose your star on this."

"I'm on the verge of losing my wife on this. I want the damn files."

He walks off, because if he doesn't he'll commit acts of violence that won't just bust him out of Starfleet, but get him into jail.

He goes home, and holds onto Sammy for a while, eats Mama's cooking and tries to get back into the headspace that resembles normal. This is what she does, not him. He'd want to know. Those families deserve the whole truth. When he knows it he'll tell them. Leak it. Who cares if he loses his star?

"You're running yourself into the ground," Pop says flatly after lunch. "Right into the ground, George."

"Yeah," he agrees. "But this is complete and utter shi—crap."

Sammy blinks at him, then goes back to his space ships. George takes another cup of lemonade and nurses it.

"Sure, George," Mama agrees, putting her hand on the back of his head briefly before moving into the kitchen to help Pop with dishes. "But sweetheart, when did you last sleep?"

She bullies him into napping with Sammy, who thinks it's hilarious that Daddy's napping too. Whatever. He wants a do-over. On life.

He wants her to walk in the door and say that they're going to some corner of the globe that's struck her fancy just because she wants to go.

 

2216. [Summer '16; age 12]
"Sweets, if you don't actually talk I'm gonna like, strangle you or something," he groaned, picking up his comm for the seventeenth time that night. It said something unflattering about him that he kept picking up, he was pretty sure. Whatever.

"I just like knowing you're there," she replied, and it had be four because they'd moved onto the disturbingly honest portion of this farce they call "night." He glanced at the clock: 4:09. 4:10.

"You wanna come over?" he asked. At least if she came over he could stick her in the bed, pulls the covers over them, and he could get some sleep.

"Can't. They're downstairs."

"Sweetheart, you're so fucking crazy and I'm not awake enough for this and—" Wait. "They?"

"She's back."

"What?"

And then he stopped, because she can only be—

"Oh fuck no."

He took the mustang—she got it running when they were eight, and now it was anti-grav and smooth as butter and sometimes he thought she loved it better than him. He jammed it into gear and took off towards the Lawsons's house. He was twelve, but he grew up on a farm: he knew how to drive when he was six. It was dilapidated and weary—it kind of looked like Jim Lawson, who always looked like he went three rounds with someone and lost.

"Sweets!" he shouted, trying not to feel like he was in a teen movie. It was hard. "Sweets, get your ass out here!"

She leaned out the window. "Oh, wherefore art thou Romeo?" she sighed breathily, and he laughed because she's such a fuckhead. She was a squirrel, though, and so she slid down the side of the house as easily as she climbed up the side of his, in—

"That's my shirt!"

"Shut up and move," she muttered, rolling her eyes like he was missing the point. He moved, only because she was the one that the sheriff would be expecting, and he could do his "I was only trying to keep her out of trouble, but then I was hijacked and it wasn't my fault, really, officer" routine. Which…he wasn't really sure why people still bought that. Clearly he went of his own free will every time.

There was also the fact that someone had to bail her out, and she blew through money like it was water, and he knew enough to save. Okay, so at twelve they hadn't been in a situation requiring bail money, but George wasn't stupid, and the whole town expected the day to come, and he wasn't one to scoff at self-fulfilling prophecy.

So she drove. But then she just kept driving.

"We've got school tomorrow," he pointed out, in case she'd forgotten. It was possible. Winona was smart, but she hated school, and most of the teachers hated her. It was the whole "talking back" thing she did.

"Don't you want to just go?" she demanded, stopping on the edge of town limits and then looking at him. "Don't you want to go…out? Up?"

He looked at her for a long time, and then down the road. Yes. Because there had to be more, and he wasn't…made for quarry or farm. Maybe it was too much exposure to her but he wanted up and out so bad he could taste it.

"When you go," he said, finally, "You've got to take me with you. Don't go without me."

She sighed, like he was missing the point, so he moved over and kissed her, soft and earnest, like a promise, before saying into the space between them, "I mean it, sweets."

"I'm going," she replied, and he nodded, because okay. Because Jenny Lawson up and left her family and it almost wrecked the two people she left behind. But Winona was better for it, and Jim…he was a good guy. He loved Winona, and even when he was bad at being a dad, the fact that he loved her so openly made up for a lot.

"First we're going to my house for like, jackets and money," George decided, pointing. She squealed the tires turning them around, and he sank low in the seat, feeling the seat belt dig into his skin. He was going to die. This was such a mistake.

Climbing up the side of the house into his room, he grabbed his backpack and his comm and his 'Winona Emergency Fund' which his parents laughed at but was totally legit because that was seven years of birthday and Christmas money right there, which was $1,400 dollars. At least. Then he threw underwear, another pair of pants, and two shirts into the backpack. Then thought about it and grabbed socks.

"Until we run out of gas?" he asked as he slid back into the car, feeling breathless and exhilarated. It was so illegal-they were going to get caught and Pop was gonna have to bail them out, but…he didn't care. He really didn't.

"East or west?" she asked with a grin.

"East," he decided. "No, south. I want to see New Orleans."

She laughed and they headed south. They stopped for chips and candy and pop and got breakfast sandwiches at six, and blasted the radio and laughed, feeling old. Reckless.

He called his parents at seven, when they were probably about to go up to get him to get ready for school. He probably should have left a note.

"Where are you?" Mama demanded, and she sounded frantic. He winced. He didn't mean to panic her.

"Where are we?" he asked Winona, who looked around and shrugged.

"Out of Iowa. Maybe like, bottom half of Illinois? Not Missouri yet."

"We're going to get so lost," he muttered, and Mama shouted;

"Lost?"

"Mama, we're fine. It's me and Winona. We got gas and the mustang and money."

"I—talk to your father." There was some rustling in the background. Winona was laying on the hood of the car, not bothered by panicking parents and possible groundings until thirty.

"George? George? What's going on?" Pop demanded brusquely.

"Nothing, it's—Mrs. Lawson's back and so we just… you know. Split?" He winced: he didn't mean for that to be a question.

"You've got school." Pop sounded like he was trying not to yell. George could envision it: he was probably drumming the nearest surface with his fingers.

"It's the last week of school, no one ever does anything. Plus I have a 4.0 this year, and actually, so does she." It was a weird thing. Like, he knew, intellectually, that she was smart and stuff. It just always was kinda stunning when she got As. Probably because the teachers really didn't want to give them to her.

"George, neither of you have your license."

"Yes, but we're abiding by speed limits so there's no cause to pull us over. It'd be discrimination against little people."

It was possible that Winona was a bad influence on him, but she raised her eyebrows and held out a Coke. He opened it and took a drink, watching her eat gummy worms by the handful. That's so gross, he mouthed at her before shifting the comm and saying, "Pop. We'll be back in less than a week. We're going to New Orleans, we'll check in when we get there and like, every day. Okay? I gotta go, we want to get there before sunset."

"George, it's June. The sun sets at 8."

"We could get really lost, Pop. Love you!" He disconnected.

There's a minute where she looked at him, and it hung heavy in the air: we could turn around.

"So…about the burning daylight thing?" he asked, and stole a gummy worm from her.

It took them twelve hours, and by some miracle they didn't get pulled over. Probably because when they switched drivers he drove the speed limit in a really anal way. They parked the car and checked into a motel—well, Winona managed to get them checked in, and the place was cheap and crummy and smelled kind of…funky, but it was some place new, and he had all this jittery energy from the drive. He sat on the edge of his bed while she explored the tiny room and its bathroom like she was going to find Narnia behind the Clorox.

He checked in with his parents, who were suspiciously evasive on the subject of Winona's parents. Whatever, not like he was really invested in them. He might be glad they got together to have a kid, but then they kind of fucked her over, so. Well, Mrs. Lawson, anyway. He kind of wanted her to die in fire.

"We're going out for dinner," she decided, hopping onto the bed.

"Yeah, okay," he agreed, because it wasn't like he had stuff to make something in the motel room.

They wound up in a dive off the tourist path.

It was dark, somehow, even though it was lit with neon lights. There was a live jazz band playing in the corner and it was clearly the kind of place where everyone knew each other; the kind of place that had regulars.

"What can I get you kids?" the waiter, whose name was DeShonte (at least according to his nametag), asked.

"We're from Iowa," Winona informed him, shifting to grin up at him. The waiter grinned back—people did that with her. George sat back and watched, because it was just fun to watch her. To see her tilt her head and smile and not be aware of the fact that she was really pretty—that people reacted to that as much as the charm. "And we want to eat stuff you couldn't get in Iowa. So no cheeseburgers and no hot dogs or, you know. Generic food."

DeShonte laughed and took the menu. "Okay, then. And on a budget, I think?"

"Um, yeah," Winona agreed, nodding seriously before tilting her chair and head back and laughing. DeShonte shook his head with a grin, and went to place the order.

The manager, Mr. Malcolm, came over with their food, and showed them how to eat crawfish and listened as Winona depicted the ride over. She was such a fucking exaggerator, but George never won when he tried to override her so he just suffered and ate sweet potatoes.

Which wasn't really a hardship.

"She's fiery," Mr. Malcolm chuckled as Winona paused for breath.

"She's psychotic, don't be fooled," George retorted, throwing a piece of shell at her. She grinned at him, smug.

"Pretty little thing like this?" Mr. Malcolm winked at her and Winona shook her head and rolled her eyes but laughed.

"Oh…" George loved telling Winona-stories. There was something about the shock value, or the fact that people flat-out refused to believe him for so long, until the evidence overwhelmed them.

"George, don't you dare," she threatened, waving her knife at him. George grinned, because she'd wreaked havoc around him his whole life but he was in the eye of the storm: nothing was gonna happen to him.

"When we were in kindergarten Becky Garland wouldn't shut up about how pretty and perfect her hair was for a whole week. Her mom was finally letting her wear it down and had probably been talking up what a big deal it was, so Becky was, you know, proud. She just was a little bit of a jerk and made fun of everyone else's hair in comparison. So this one gets sick of it and cuts her hair off. Grabs the ponytail in one hand, sits on her and chops it off. With like, the dinky scissors they give you. The plastic ones. It took like…five minutes."

George had gotten in trouble that time: mostly because he'd stood there staring. But they'd all stood there staring because who did shit like that? But apparently George was supposed to have magically been a good influence. He felt, sometimes, like the entire town was waiting for him to magically transform her into a good person. Hah. Yeah, right.

"To be fair, she had it coming."

"She cried for a month, sweets," George shot back, because she'd always been so complacent about that, but he couldn't stop the grin.

"You didn't," DeShonte laughed, slapping the table with his big hand.

"I did. And I stabbed a TA with a pen." She said it like she was commenting on the weather or something. Like it was no big deal. Which, at the time, it really really was.

They'd drawn a crowd, but that happened with Winona, and so George just kept an eye on things and grinned.

"To be fair he was a little handsy, and it was second grade," he put in. Winona considers this.

"We had a seminar about the bad kind of touching after that."

"Where in Iowa was this?" a waitress whose nametag reads 'Shoniqua' demanded, laughing.

"Nowhere," George said wryly. "Farm and quarry country."

"No wonder you two got out."

"We're going back. We've got to finish school and my parents would probably hunt us down, and since I'm the one paying for this whole mad endeavor…" George spread his hands, and gave Winona a "Don't get any ideas" look.

"Girl, do not stick with a man who controls the money like that," Shoniqua warned Winona, who raised her eyebrows and then held up George's wallet.

He reached for his pocket, where it was, out of instinct, and then gave her a long look. And then he ate another bite of sweet-potato cheesecake to soothe his soul. He freaking loved these sweet potatoes.

"Preach," DeShonte agreed, nodding at him like he'd said something wise. Mr. Malcolm laughed.

"How old're you kids, anyway?" he asked.

"Twelve," George said, before Winona kicked him in the knee.

Mr. Malcolm stared, and he and DeShonte and Shoniqua seemed to have a frenzied conversations in gestures and glances that George couldn't quite interpret, and let it be. Which was a relief, because they'd made it all the way down without anyone calling the cops on them, it'd be a shame to have it happen then.

When it hit nine, the band started up in earnest, and Winona laughed and clapped along, and so he got up and dragged her out. No one was dancing yet, but clearly they were just waiting for someone to get them started. He put his hand in the small of her back and gripped her hand tightly and they dance like crazy, laughing the whole time and gasping for breath, and for the rest of his life he'd remember how she looked with neon lights in her hair and her head thrown back into a full-throated laugh as a New Orleans band played jazz in the background.

Mr. Malcolm wouldn't hear of them paying, and he looked horrified when he heard where they were staying. He scribbled down an address and handed it to Winona.

"I'll call ahead," he said. "Gotta be careful around here, kids."

The new motel was less sleazy, and the big woman behind the counter told them to call if they needed anything.

He laid down, shaking he was so tired but…

"What?" she asked, flopping down beside him. "Pretty good, right?"

"It's like a knack you've got. 90% of the population you hate, but that 10% you can tolerate you always find, and they give free stuff."

"Damn straight," she agreed, wiggling and pulling the sheet over them. "Stick with me, kid, 'cause we're going places."

And he believed her.

When they got home, a week later, he was grounded for life. Iowa was much colder than Louisiana, and much more subdued. Also, no sweet potatoes.

But staring down both of his parents, who looked betrayed and heartsick, he couldn't bring himself to apologize.

"I'm not sorry," he said finally, because he wasn't, and they always told him not to lie.

His parents and Mr. Lawson realized it was a lost battle, so they drew up guidelines. George and Winona were allowed to take off for spring and summer breaks, or three day vacations, as long as there was public transportation.

By the time they enlisted in Starfleet, they had to, because they'd been all over the planet already, and if they wanted new and exciting, they had to go up. He never said it, but he wondered, sometimes, if that had always been the point.

 

Jenny Lawson only ever showed up once again. At Jim's funeral, when Winona was seventeen. He'd died of heart failure, which had surprised absolutely no one except Winona, who'd looked completely betrayed. Jenny didn't stay long. She had to take an ambulance to the hospital to tend to the broken nose and fracture in her cheekbone.

Winona packed a hell of a punch.

 

2219 [age 15].
Technically, they'd been dating since they were eleven. But "going out" to eleven year olds meant sitting at the same table, or sitting next to each other at recess and…they'd always done that.

They sealed the deal with a kiss, but—okay, what happened was that he went out to the movies with Trudy VanHooten.

Okay, that was mean to Trudy, and he should have felt bad about it (or so Mama said) but Winona was stupid about some things. And besides, if Frank Hallie got any closer to her George was going to kill him, and Winona was the one with the record so obviously if one of them was going to take drastic measures, it should have been her.

So he went out with Trudy and came back and waited for her to show up while he changed into his pajamas.

He never heard her climb up the house, which was worrying, but he left the screen out because he didn't want her to like, accidentally break her neck.

"Did you kiss her?" she demanded, sitting in his window.

"I think she kissed me," he said, scrunching up his face with the memory and sitting on the edge of the bed.

She narrowed her eyes at him. "Are you messing with me?"

"Saliva was exchanged," he informed her, spreading his arms. "What do you want, a DNA sample?" Then he eyed her, because… "You don't, do you? Because no good can come of that, and I know everyone thinks I give into you a lot, like, more than your dad, but I am not giving you a DNA sample of the girl who kissed me."

"I don't want a DNA sample. And you do give into me." She climbed in and shoved her hair back. He sighed and threw the brush from his bedside table at her, which she caught (irritating).

"I know. I'm trying to keep you from recidivism by showing you that people value you when you're not a flaming idiot." He liked 'recidivism' as a word. It was nicer than saying "doing the same stupid shit over and over again."

"I haven't broken into the Piggly Wiggly in like, months," she pointed out, settling and brushing her hair viciously.

"You only do it because you can. You don't even take anything," he agreed as they stretched out on his bed. "You're seriously bored, sweetheart. Gotta get outta this town."

"Yeah, well. There's this idiot who I can't really ditch."

He looked at her and raised his eyebrows, which prompted her to sigh like he was such an idiot (which he wasn't, he could play her like a fiddle, not that he'd ever admit it). "You know what, forget this. You are clearly incapable of taking a hint."

"Pretty bad, yeah," he agreed, and then smiled into the kiss she pressed to his lips.

They did that for a bit—pressing lips together and touching cheeks, shoulders—suddenly uncertain of where it was okay to touch. It was like a promise that would keep: only them.

#

But it was high school, fifteen, and a massive falling-out before anything ever really came of it. Kissing was consistent from thirteen, and he'd been to second base, but there wasn't any pressure. It was lazy and easy.

But Frank Hallie was still lusting, even if George wasn't sure who he was lusting after, sometimes.

"Man crush," Owen laughed as they changed in the locker rooms. "He's got such a man crush."

"We are not men," George pointed out, panting. Track. Such a bad idea. Why was he on the track team? He hated running. God, why hadn't she talked him out of this shit? He turned on the shower.

"I have hair—"

"Shut up!" Owen yelped, pointing at Henry, who grinned at them slyly. Henry was a big talker.

Henry watched too much porn.

"So, did you get any yet?" Owen asked George in what he probably thought was a low voice, but kind of ricocheted around the tiles of the shower stalls and was only marginally lower than a yell.

"What?"

"You're the one with a steady girlfriend," Henry reasoned. "And damn, Winona is hot."

"I'm so flattered you think I'm hot, Henry," Winona said amicably from where she's leaning against the stalls. Henry slipped and disappeared into his stall with a thud. Owen peered over and nodded.

"Still alive," he announced. "Hi, Winona. Did you see the sign for boys only? No? Never mind."

"What'd you do?" George demanded, rinsing out the shampoo and shutting off the water.

"Nothing." There needed to be a law: she couldn't lie when she was crackling with smug energy.

"Sweets, are we going to find anyone's car in the auditorium tomorrow?" George sighed, grabbing his towel and wrapping it around his waist firmly. They so were.

She smirked. "Maybe. C'mon, I'll give you a ride home."

"Winona, tell me you have gotten some," Henry implored her. She lifted her eyebrow and then grinned as they left the locker room and headed for the parking lot. That was the thing: George couldn't ever let people infer things. She was some sort of master at it. She'd gotten good when he'd dared her not to lie for a whole week. She'd just let other people lie for her and then believe them when she didn't say anything. He'd tried to argue that it was lying through omission, but the argument hadn't stuck.

She was saying something: talking about what she was doing in shop or her latest run-in with the principal. He tuned it out. Not intentionally, he just got distracted by the way her hands moved on the steering wheel.

He was fifteen. A cloud suggestively shaped got him horny, okay? He had a condom in his wallet: he bought it on a stupid whim a few months ago, feeling brave and being out of town.

Small towns. Not conducive to sex lives. He was pretty sure everyone got their sex supplies off the internet or out of town.

But nothing happened, because…he didn't know if he was waiting for the moment to be right, or for her to make the first move, or what. But it was good: whatever it was, this weird exclusive but not really sexual thing between them—it was good. They fit well, like a puzzle, or a dovetail joint.

She got the replicator to give them pizza, and they did what little homework they had, watched terrible shows on TV and laughed at the bad science in them, and then Winona, because she was a freak, made him watch a few more episodes of Stargate Atlantis.

He told her he really felt for John Sheppard, dealing with Rodney McKay. He could empathize. She hit him with a pillow and sulked. It was a good night.

And so, the next morning, tucked together in the middle of her queen-sized bed (because Jim did spoil her, was desperate to make up for Jenny leaving ten years ago, even then), he didn't expect her to blink at him and then lean in and kiss him. Her hand curved around his neck under his ear, and he thanked dental advances for genuine long-lasting fresh breath in a stupid moment before exhaling against her mouth. He slid his hand on her hip, moved instinctively for a better angle, and it was more chaste than their kisses had been for a long time, but the promise hiding in the corners made him seek deeper, tracing her teeth with his tongue.

It could have been awkward, but it didn't get there, and it was nothing like the porn he watched with Henry that day he was never going to talk about ever. He had to take a second to kind of contort to get out of his boxers and she slid out of her underwear and pulled off the tank top, which he helped with, their fingers fumbling together because there was no fade-in/fade-out option on real life.

Winona didn't moan throatily or lick her lips, but she did laugh, and say, "No, seriously, is this okay?" when she wrapped her hand around his dick. And he had no idea how the porn guys last for like, hours, because he was about to blow any second.

"No, don't!" she laughed. "Wait. Stop. Stop." She reached over him to pull the drawer of her bedside table out and hand him a condom.

"Oh god, the whole town knows," he groaned, and tried to remember that really mortifying day in health class and rolled it on.

"No, I went to Hills," she informed him, handing him KY. "Use it."

He slicked up, tried not to explode at the pressure of just his hand on his dick, and when he slid in she was tight and fluttered around him, and they worked slowly together, him braced over her with her ankles hooking behind his knees.

"Oh, fuck," he groaned.

"The idea," she gasped, and reached a hand between them, rubbing her clit while he fucked her, graceless but good, god, so good.

Disposing of the condom was gross, but, as she pointed out, better than pregnancy.

"What time is it?" he asked when he came back to the bed.

"Eight."

"It's too early," he decided, "for a Saturday. Go to sleep."

She looked at him and deadpanned, "Romance is dead."

"I love you too," he snorted, rolled over, and fell asleep. It was a really auspicious moment.

It was possible that later, over breakfast, they made up a better story, and then practiced (both in word and in deed) to make sure it had a ring of truth about it. Really, people had such high expectations of them.

Kinky, high expectations.

It was their duty to make those fantasies a reality.

Or something.

 

2232.24 [1/24/32; age 28]
"It was covert, wasn't it?" he asks her. Every other person has been released (all three of them). She's still in a goddamn medical coma four months later. "The operation. The 'research.'"

Her hair looks brittle, even though it's soft to the touch. He strokes it and then holds her cool hand.

Her eyelids look paper-thin, a pale violet that reaches to her eyebrows and paints across the tops of her cheeks. Her lips are pale, the insides a sharp pink, and there's hardly any color on her cheeks. Even her freckles seem subdued.

He hates this so much.

"Hey, sweetheart. Remember when we got married? Remember what you promised?"

No response, and he wants, very seriously, to scream. It's choking him.

He'd always thought that Shakespeare was writing a comedy in Romeo and Juliet. It was a satire, making fun of kids who think they're in love and go to ridiculous extremes: everything in the play overblown and exaggerated.

He'd always snorted at Romeo taking the poison at seeing what he thought was Juliet's corpse. Now he's beginning to get it, and it scares the shit out of him.

"You okay?" Stacey asks as she comes in.

"I'm contemplating Romeo and Juliet."

"Oh, that's not good."

"No. You married, Stacey?"

"Not anymore," she snorted. "I've got a five year old at home, but he's the only good thing that came from that."

He laughs a little, contemplating her. Stacey's curvy, wears retro make up and has a tattoo of a ladybug on her neck. Just a little one—life sized. She says it's for luck.

"Why?" she asks as she checks whatever it is that she checks when she comes in.

"We were going to have a quick civil service, you know? But my mama threatened to cry and—"

"It's harder when family's involved," she agrees. "I had a big old church wedding. You?"

He grins. "Top of a hill, in blue jeans."

"Right on, man," she laughs. "That's the way to do it."

"Yeah."

"You thinking about the whole "'til death do us part" bit?" she asks.

"We didn't say that bit," he muses, and then twitches his lips into a smile. "Went without saying, you know?"

"Mm."

 

2222.247 [7/7/22; age 18]
They got married July 7, a month after they graduated from high school.

"We should just run away and do it. Let's go to New Orleans."

"We haven't been to New Orleans since we were twelve."

"I liked New Orleans."

He sighed, stretching out on the bed. She always laid on the side next to the wall. He read somewhere that people watch people because they don't trust them not to run. He'd always watched her. He didn't like to think that somehow, thirteen years later, he still didn't trust her not to run.

But he was the one who pushed for marriage before Starfleet. It was just…he didn't like the idea that someone at some point could tell him no. That they couldn't do this, this thing they have. That it was against regulations, somewhere down the line. It was just practical. He had her, he wasn't giving her up, and he wanted the legally binding piece of paper to say so.

If he'd had to drug her and haul her to the justice of the peace in handcuffs he would have.

"You did like New Orleans. You also liked Havana. And Mexico City. And Lima. You like southern regions busy with people who you play like a fiddle."

"I like warm places. They keep my toes warm." She conspicuously didn't address the second half of his statement. Which was true. So entirely true. People in embracing cultures liked Winona for reasons beyond George's comprehension. She made easy friends with them. She was still in touch with Carmen, from Barcelona.

"So will San Francisco."

"That's true. But we're not getting married in San Francisco."

"No, we're getting married here. Because your dad wanted you to. And because my mama will have crying fits and my pop's almost forgiven you for wrapping the mustang around the tree but he won't if you don't let him buy us a ridiculous wedding. And our classmates want to see this before we go off to bigger and better things."

"Bigger than this town."

"Hella bigger," he agreed, and then laughed.

"No independently-written vows."

"God, no."

"I'm not wearing white."

"I'm shocked. I can't even breathe, sweetheart. That's how shocked I am."

His mama was more than happy to plan it, and George wound up supervising everything because if Winona saw flowers at her wedding she would have probably run away just on principle. What principle, George didn't know. She'd invent one.

They got married on top of the hill in his pop's field. It was a fucking miserably hot day, and he was in jeans and a white tee and she was wearing shorts with a tank top.

Okay, the plan had been maybe for them to wear something fancier (they hadn't committed, really, just sort of made vague noises), but she'd pulled him into the barn, sat on the hood of the corvette and pulled him against her. His hand had crept of its own accord under her dress and slid the panties (if you could call that bit of lace underwear, and Jesus fuck she was already wet) down her thighs and off.

And it wasn't his fault if, after he stood close again, his fingers slid into her and he rolled his knuckles over her clit, gasping against her lips as she tongue-fucked his mouth. He was straining, and the khakis gave a lot, so he was tenting, which…attractive.

She was pressing into his fist, trying to get him to press harder, one of her hands coming down to cover his and he laughed, bit her lower lip before pulling back, shifting and unzipping as she came, gasping and shuddering, her hips snapping. All his.

"How long?" he grunted.

"Twenty minutes and some, come on, George, fuck me, let's go."

"I will gag you," he promised, and her eyes darkened and—anyone could walk in. This was not smart.

See, she wasn't really…vocal, just verbal. Constantly talking, filthy words dripping from her lips and going straight to his cock. He was an asshole, so he slid back, and gagged her with her own panties. She could spit them out. He was holding her wrists, but she could spit them out.

She didn't, just glared, and George had to take a second because if he didn't he would have come in his pants. Jesus fucking Christ.

Bent her over the hood of the car, dropped the khakis and his boxers, lined up and shoved in, benefit to being married (like he'd ever thought of anyone else, please) and she was dripping down her thighs, Jesus Christ, so good.

She was already sensitive, already hot, bent over the hood of the car with the back of her skirt hitched up around her ass, hands pressed flat against the hood, not moving even though he wasn't holding them there anymore.

It's fast, sliding in and out and he actually can't marry her if he's thinking about how he just filled her up like, twenty minutes before, so he comes over her ass.

They so had to change.

He pulled the panties out of her mouth and grinned, kissing her. "So…"

"Shut the fuck up," she snapped, grinning and wiping her ass off with them. "I don't even think I have a change, and this is so not an option." The dress was ruined. It died for a good cause.

If he was a suspicious man, he'd suspect her of planning its demise.

But that was how they wound up getting married in jeans and a white tee and her in shorts with a tank top. Those were the only clothes she had at the house, and he wasn't wearing goddamn khakis if she was in Daisy Dukes. Well. Close enough, anyway.

It wasn't like they'd told anyone to dress up—the dress code had been casual. They were just…setting an example.

Mama started sobbing as soon as she saw them.

The justice of the peace looked at them both with weary green eyes. "Seriously?"

"We wanted to elope," Winona pointed out. The justice of the peace had probably been in that job for a century, and leaned against her cane as though it was the only thing helping her endure this ignominy.

"Friends, family. You have all gathered here to see Winona Margaret Lawson and George Samuel Kirk legally wed. Apparently this is very brass tacks, so, if you'd —"

"I, Winona Margaret Lawson, swear to take you with me when I go," Winona informed him, and the justice let out a long-suffering sigh that might have been a death rattle.

"I didn't—" the justice began, and George laughed, waving her off.

"I, George Samuel Kirk, find those terms agreeable. And I swear to willingly sit in the passenger seat."

"That's—" the justice tried again.

"George!" Mama protested.

"Oh, fine" Winona sighed, glaring at the sky. George bit his cheeks and tried really really hard not to laugh.

"Dude, man up," Henry whispered, nudging him. Right. Manning up.

"Thank you," Mama sighed, and settles down.

The justice glared at them both.

"Winona Margaret Lawson, will you receive George Samuel Kirk as your lawfully wedded husband? Will you share your life with him, hold your love firm, and dutifully care for him in all the varying circumstances of your life?"

She inhaled through her nose, and eyed him. George narrowed his eyes at her. "Yes. I will."

"Excellent," the justice muttered. "And George Samuel Kirk, will you receive Winona Margaret Lawson as your lawfully wedded wife? Will you share your life with her, hold your love firm, and dutifully care for her in all the varying circumstances of your life?"

"In all varying circumstances is ominous, don't you think?" he asked her. "I mean, fitting, but—"

Henry knocked into his shoulder again, and George grinned. "Yeah. I will."

"Then by the powers vested in me by the State of Iowa and the United Federation of Planets, I pronounce you legally married. Congratulations, you deserve each other."

Winona snorted and they leaned in for a kiss, easy and chaste.

The reception was a barn dance, which was ridiculous, and Winona leaned over and said, "I think Frank cried."

"It was a moving ceremony," he replied earnestly, and she laughed.

"Oh yeah. So. I got handcuffs."

"Leather or metal?"

"Leather. Metal bruises too much, and you're delicate like a flower."

"I'll show you flower," he muttered, and then reflected. "Except not. Think we can escape?"

"Um, yes."

He laughed, and tugged her over to say good night to his parents.

"We're so happy for you both," Mama quavered. "Making it official. It could have been a nicer ceremony, of course but…well. How would we know it was you two? At least the town will be talking about it for months."

"Years, surely," Winona disagreed, and Mama laughed.

"Yes, probably years," she agreed, and hugged Winona tight. "I still remember you as a little girl in a sun dress breaking dishes," she said, voice shaking again. "And now look at you both. Graduated, off to Starfleet, married…" She bit her bottom lip and gazed at them both.

"What you're mother's trying to say is we're proud of you," Pop interjected, hugging them both. "Go on, get out of here."

"Love you, Pop. Mama," George said, and then left, ignoring cat calls. "You think any of them are going to get out of this town?" he asked.

"I don't know," she replied, pausing before sliding into the corvette. "They might. It's not a bad place to raise kids."

"Yeah, but it's not a great place to be an adult if you're not a farmer."

"George?"

"Yes, Mrs. Kirk?"

She smacked him upside the head. "They're all farmers or quarry-miners. No one in our graduating class is going to leave town."

He grinned and pulled her in for a kiss. "Yeah. What went wrong with us?"

"So much."

"I blame you," he informed her.

"That's probably fair."

 

2232.45 [2/14/32; age 28]
George Samuel Kirk Jr. was born on August 12, 2229.

He very nearly took his mother with him.

She was allergic to the drug that they'd given her to ease the contractions: apparently the dickwad performing the delivery didn't read her chart.

And so George had been forced out of the operating room (because the delivery room turned into an operating room) and he had sat for six hours, shaking apart, until the doctor said he could come in. They'd named him fast, because he'd wanted her to know what Sammy's name was before—if—they hadn't been certain she was going to pull through.

She had, of course, and she loved Sam, but they never wound up calling him George. He liked the name Sammy. Nobody'd been Samuel in two generations: his grandfather's name—he barely remembered him, he'd died when George was three.

But Sammy—he was everything. Happy, bright, and perfect.

George smiles at the thought as he opens the door. She's going to come out of it, according to the latest testing. She can handle it, now. Thank fuck.

Sammy is all smiles, no reproach for having been away, for only videoconferencing for days at a time. George sits and just holds onto him, and it's so important not to fall apart, not to cry in front of Sammy, but this little boy in his arms just makes him want to fall apart all over. Sam stays tucked into his arms, small arms wrapped around George's neck. Finally he clears his throat; is okay to pull away.

"Want to go get breakfast?"

"Pancakes!" Sammy shouts, and runs (and falls) to get his shoes and bring them over.

They go to the diner down the block where Winona and George practically lived during school. Now it's a treat: then it was a necessity. The pancakes are as good as the ones his mom made back home—it had been a godsend finding that in the vastness that San Francisco had seemed then.

He lets Sam order whatever he wants, because he's feeling guilty, and stares down a few cadets with his special "I married Winona Lawson, I could break you" eyes when they're too crude and loud around his kid.

One snorts, and he lets his voice slide into his "I am your CO, bitch" register. "Do we have a problem, cadet?"

"No, sir," the cadet replies, back stiffening like someone yanked his spine, and high-tails it.

Sammy laughs at him, and George grins at him reluctantly. Apparently the Winona DNA inoculates him from the glare. It's probably a good thing.

"So, tell me about the zoo."

And Sammy does, in his faltering language that has George filling in the gaps and Sammy laughs when George gets it right. It's an easy rhythm, and he loves this: loves being a dad. Loves Sammy.

He spends the whole day just soaking him up: it's like recharging his battery.

The official findings on the USS Black Hawk's doomed mission have been released for public consumption. Winona comes off as something of a hero, and George gets a few glowing mentions from David, whose become the poster boy for the spouses.

"I've got to go back to see Mommy, now, okay?" he says after dinner. Sam looks at him, then at the door.

"Mommy still sick?"

"Yeah, Mommy's sick. And I've got to stay with her so she gets better. So I'm not going to be here when you wake up. But I'll be back okay?"

"Okay," Sam decides, and hugs him tightly. George holds on for a while, just like he did when he came. Then he kisses the top of his head, and hands him off to Pop, hugging him and kissing Mama's cheek.

"They want to bring her out of sedation tomorrow, so. I'll keep you posted," he says softly.

"You just take care of you and Winona," Mama replies, squeezing his hands. "And stop harassing the brass, George."

He blinks at her innocently. "Me? I stopped that months ago. The official report came out, what more could I possibly want, Mama?"

"Mmm. You've got the whole world thinking you're not trouble," she informs him as she walks him to the door, "but I'm your mother. And I remember everything."

He laughs, hitting the elevator button. "I love you."

"I love you too, baby."

The walk back to the hospital is a bad one: he feels heavier the closer he gets, the tension sliding back into place in his shoulders.

It's true: even Meadow doesn't seem to remember that he was kind of an asshole (and when he says "kind of" he means an utter asshole. He knows there was something on that planet. He knows that only the captain and the XO knew about it, and both of them died, leaving the crew who limped the Black Hawk back to Earth completely ignorant. Winona was going to choke a bitch).

"Have a good time?" Stacey asks when he comes in.

"I did. How was she today?"

"No change, except for healing. The sonic treatment has worked, so when they bring her up…we're fairly confident she'll come out well."

"This is Winona. She never does what she's supposed to," he murmurs, and then reconsiders. "Well. She does it on her own timeline. According to her own moral code."

"You know what? I can't wait to meet her," Stacey confides.

"Yeah, well. Be careful what you wish for."

It takes four hours for her to surface instead of 36.

Four long, tense hours in which he's pretty sure they're going to have to treat him for heart palpitations. Jesus Christ. He's 27. He's too young to be dealing with this. Or too old. Or—fuck it all.

"My mouth tastes really bad," she informs them all very seriously.

Stacey's lips twitch but she valiantly suppresses the grin as she hands her a breath-freshening strip. Winona sucks at it, blinking around.

"Hi," Winona says, decisively.

"Hey. Welcome back," he manages.

"I hate that ship." She takes the water Stacey offers, but doesn't drink it. She doesn't like water. Needs lemon. He'll have to remember to tell them. God, he's so glad to be able to tell people things she likes when she's alive.

"I know," he agrees, taking her hand, pressing his forehead to the back of it before kissing her knuckles.

"It was shit," she continues, and he can feel her watching him, but if she's not going to talk about it then he's not going to talk about it. He's just going to have a small breakdown over her hand. Nothing to see here. Move along.

"I know," he says again.

"I had to limp it back. And break the replicators because I needed the parts. No food." She sounds mournful, and if relief wasn't hitting him like a kick to the gut, so hard his eyes are watering and his throat is closing up, he'd laugh. Some.

"Hey, Kirk."

"Yeah." He inhales wetly, blinks away the tears and looks at her, can't bear to look away, can't bear for it to be cloudy. Has to see her like this. Alive. God. He's been grieving. He's been grieving for four months. And now he's got her. He's got her back.

"I'll take you with me." Two kids, in a mustang at the edge of the world they knew, making a stupid promise.

"Promise?"

"Swear. When I go. I'll take you, even if I have to shoot you."

"I love you." He leans up, kisses her. "You're not allowed to ever do that again." She laughs, cups his cheek, and he can feel her hand shaking a little. But she ignored his moment, so he's ignoring hers. It's true love, or some shit.

Stacey makes a strangled noise.

"I'll go get Sammy. He'll want to see you. You good?"

"Wake me up if I'm asleep." She smiles faintly, and he kisses her again. He smiles, and leaves to call Pop and Mama to tell them to bring Sammy over.

"The scary thing," Stacey says softly from behind him. "Was that you were…serious."

He blinks at her, pausing in the door. "About what, Stacey?"

"About her shooting you. I just thought you were devoted—you were serious."

He grins, slow and simple. "I guess."

He'd soldier on. For Sammy.

He'd try.

"She's awake, and wants to see Sammy," George says. "I know it's late—"

"No, we'll be right over," Pop says, and yawns. "Be there in 20."

"Thanks, Pop."

He slides the comm back into his pocket, glances up at the sky, and thinks, fucking finally.

Then he turns and heads back inside. He was gone for all of 10 minutes.

When he walks into the room, there are two admirals, again, neither of whom he recognizes, three security officers, and a woman who is five years older than when he last saw her, but no less dangerous looking.

"Oh, thank god you're here," René says. "Stacey left and I got here and bam, all these people. Who are they?"

"Trouble," George mutters. "How is she?"

"Fine. Pissed, kinda scary, but medically she's fine."

George nods and starts for the room, then turns, "My parents are bringing Sam—just, stall them until this is over, will you?"

Stacey nods, and heads for the front desk to tell the receptionist.

George walks into the room, pushing through the cluster to sit in his chair and fold his hand over hers.

"They trying to sell you the line?"

"They're such shit at it," she says, gesturing at all of them. "I'm almost embarrassed for them."

"You have to understand…" one of the admirals tries.

"I do?" She looks at George, and he grins and shrugs.

"Kirk, it was a failure—" the other admiral begins.

"Gross failure."

"—of the system, but it was an aberration, and we've taken steps—"

"I'm sure you have."

"—to ensure that it will never happen again," he finishes, looking exasperated and flushed.

"But you let it happen once."

"Regrettably." The problem is—well, the problem on top of the fact that it happened—they don't seem like they found it very regrettable. They probably have a concept of not dwelling, moving on, but Winona's the last one to come out of this, and they seem like they're just relieved that she's pulled through so they can put the mess behind them.

She nods, tightly, because everything still must feel tense. The way she's holding herself and the way she's squinting serves to just make her look out past the side of homicidal and into genocidal. George can't help the grin from spreading, and Phil gives him a strange look.

Maybe this was what his parents were talking about when they said he had everyone fooled into thinking he was a mitigating influence.

He looks at the dangerous woman with short hair and pretty eyes, and she looks back, implacable. So that's how this was.

It's kind of a relief to know he was right: it was all covert. And it's liberating to know that they'll claim security and classify it, so it won't be on him to tell the families the truth: give them the why. It gets to be a tragic accident for everyone outside of this room. Charming.

 

2224 [age 20].
Their second year as cadets they took a summer guided tour of core Federation planets. Winona got edgy and uncomfortable on Vulcan, which surprised no one, but liked the parliamentary planet, which surprised George.

"Come on," she laughed when he mentioned it as they walked down the expansive streets. "Everyone's an asshole here. This must be where my mom was from."

He considered that. "Does that mean you're going to punch people, sweetheart?"

"Possibly," she replied, and then flashed a grin. It wasn't…reassuring, and he gave her a look. "Here, this is Stillwell's."

Senator Stillwell, one of Earth's senators, invited them to walk with him in the garden. As they wandered through the maze of shrubs, the senator and Winona fell into an argument.

Which shocked George to his core. Really. He exchanged wry looks with the bodyguards and looked around. It was a lovely garden, if you discounted the fact that there were whole planets who would never make enough money to buy one of the roses.

"Please, the governor of California was the best of bad choices, but he's still terrible," Winona snorted.

"No, no, he's…well. Verbose?" Stillwell suggested, clearly trying not to laugh and failing miserably. George grinned and shook his head. The only reason the governor was a subject of conversation was due to the interest he'd been taking in Starfleet and the influence he was trying to exert over it. "And without policy so much as political ambition."

"And without brains, really," Winona dismissed. "He's as corrupt as they come, and somehow he thinks that wooing the Vulcan ambassador is going to curry him favor. The man who cannot stop lying trying to get in good with the people who can't."

Stillwell looked at George. George was a firm believer that if people took her on in conversation, they should be left to die in the holes that they dug themselves. He wasn't helping: he could win fights with her. Stillwell floundered a little, trying to be charming. It didn't work, and George shouldn't have enjoyed watching him fail as much as he did (and he really, really did).

When it happened, it happened so fast he wasn't sure what was going on.

It sounded, improbably, like firecrackers, and he actually wondered if there was some sort of festival on the planet until he saw the expression on one of the bodyguard's face as the other one collapsed face-down.

By the time he'd turned to grab Winona, it was over.

All three assailants dead, and Winona holding the bodyguard's phaser.

Stillwell just stared at her and George walked up, standing behind her and tilting his head to scan the perimeter. "That all of them?"

"I think so." She handed the standing bodyguard back the phaser, and then looked at Stillwell. "So you were saying about Ambassador Sarek?"

He just looked at her, and she looked back at George. "What?"

"So when you said you were going to test out of marksmanship—"

"She got it before I could even grab for it," the bodyguard said vaguely, gesturing helplessly.

"She's sneaky," George agreed, handing the phaser back to her. "Do we need to sign an incident report or—"

"No, we'll take care of it," Stillwell said, clearly shaken, and George nodded, and followed Winona back out.

She knew exactly how to get out.

"So… three people, dead. How did you do that?"

"Shooting range on campus," she shrugged. "Sometimes I skip class and go down there. I wonder why they targeted him."

He felt like this was something he should have known about, memories of TAs getting their hands stabbed through with pens and Becky Garland's shorn hair and various bruises and broken bones that littered their joined history surfacing to roil uncomfortably in his stomach.

It wasn't that he thought she was going to become a serial killer—he honestly didn't. It was just…she didn't need the temptation. She liked engineering—she liked mechanics and physics, and he liked her better like that. She was happiest when she was putting a machine back together: their apartment is littered with parts that she's eliminated or bypassed because she figured out a way to make things more efficient. He has to wear shoes in the house because those little metal things are gunning for his feet.

"Sweets—"

"It's fine."

"Three people are dead."

"Instead of the senator."

"I don't need to be worried, right? I mean, I know they deserved it, but—I don't need to worry about you, right?"

"They were going to kill him. And all of us. I didn't have the luxury of aiming at kneecaps because it was set to 'kill' and you can't incapacitate with 'kill' in any way except, you know, entirely." She unlocked their hotel room (so much nicer than all those dives they'd stayed in as kids) and shrugged. "I don't know what you want me to say."

He nodded, because…well. It was them, or the bad guys, and he liked being alive. She didn't do it unprovoked, and if he'd been quicker on the draw, it would have been him.

Then the recruiting efforts started.

At first it was just messages: "Winona Kirk, Special Agent Umbetti calling. I heard from the Senator about your experience. We'd like to talk to you about specialization."

He wanted to know what kind of special agent identified themselves as such. Maybe not secret ones. It didn't matter, the messages all got deleted.

And then professors started in on it.

"I thought this was a peacekeeping armada," George drawled at the seventh one. Winona had already laughed and walked off.

"Sometimes, son, you keep peace at point-blank range," the commander replied. "Someone has to be able to take on the Klingons and Romulans, and they're better at espionage."

"She would suck at espionage. She'd also suck at being any kind of agent. If she didn't agree with the mission, she'd fuck it up on purpose. Call our teachers in Riverside and ask them about assignments she didn't agree with. Or hey, you had that problem with the last paper. Where she wrote thirty pages on why it was a stupid assignment because your hypothesis was invalid. You remember. You gave it an A."

"Mr. Kirk, I realize your wife is a difficult—" he began, and George could picture very vividly punching him in his shiny fat face. He wouldn't. But it was a comfort knowing he could.

"Don't try that angle. I'm not recruiting for you. She likes machines. She likes engines. She's going to be in engineering on a Starship. If you convince her otherwise, I might—might not stand in the way. But you won't."

"Don't be so sure. The agency we're discussing can be quite persuasive." The bastard had the nerve to smirk. There were students filing in, and George wasn't fighting this fight. He didn't have to: he'd won before it was even a gleam in anyone's eye.

"Have a good class, Commander."

"What was that?" she asked, pushing off the hallway wall and raising her eyebrows.

"Some mysterious agency wants you to be the stick."

She frowned.

"Instead of the carrot…? Did you sleep through history?"

"Sometimes."

"I know," he sighed, and then squinted against the bright sunlight. "You working tonight?"

"Yeah. My Spanish and Cardassian are getting much better," she said, beaming. "And Klingon. Klingon is satisfying, because everything you say is just fucking dirty."

When they'd gotten to San Francisco, George had gotten a job as a research assistant with Professor Gold—now he was TAing three of her classes and working with the entire department. It was good work, and would look great on his resumé—assisting the entire Strategy & Tactics department would help him get into Command School. But Winona had snorted and said she wanted to be around machines, so she found a garage down the street from the apartment they were renting and had bullied the shop owner into letting her work there. She was there most nights, and Sanchez, the owner, didn't seem to care when she showed up or left, only that she stayed. Allegedly, business was thriving. She just…liked machines. He was pretty sure that it had something to do with the way they were predictable, or puzzles that she could put together faster and better than anyone else.

"I'm shocked that you're enjoying it. Does anyone at the garage speak Klingon?" She was, he had noticed, taking a lot of language classes. Apparently she had an ear for it. He wasn't sure why she needed Klingon and two dialects of Romulan, but he was taking two advanced physics courses and a coding course, so…it didn't really matter.

"No, it's like my ace in the hole," she replied, smirking. "I'll see you around nine."

"I'll be at home. Writing that paper." He really shouldn't have put it off so long. He had all the notes and the materials all marked off and waiting, but he couldn't ever bring himself to write something ahead of time. He'd probably pull an all-nighter on this one.

"You shouldn't have put it off so long." Winona, improbably, did things when they were assigned to her. Within three days of an assignment, she had it done. Drove him nuts.

Especially because sometimes, when she was feeling particularly evil, she would lay on the bed and slide a hand between her legs and put on a show. Because she was evil.

And then he'd have to leave it alone and fuck her against the wall, and then rush to get the paper done even faster. Because she was the devil.

"I do my best work under pressure," he reminded her, because that, at least, was true. He did.

"Mm. I know." She grinned, and leaned up for a kiss, holding the back of his neck and taking no prisoners.

Someone catcalled—well, began to, and then realized who it was and stopped, making a mangled sound like they were trying to swallow their tongue. Maybe George should start supervising what exactly happened in the gym when she went.

"I'll see you at home," he said, dismissing the thought.

He stopped by the pizza place and brought home a large pizza, two two-litres of diet Coke, and then went up to the apartment. Sixth floor, but it was nice: had room to grow, if they ever decided to have a family.

When he talked her into it, because he was going to be a dad if it killed them both. But he had a stealth campaign all marked out, plotted and planned and super-password protected and embedded like an easter egg in his PADD. She wouldn't put that much effort into finding it.

Really, the argument would be easier to make if someone could figure out how to have a biological male of the species carry the young. He was pretty sure she'd agree if he was the one who was knocked up.

He was thinking about that, so he didn't notice that there were three people in the living room until he went into it to begin spreading out on the coffee table and working.

"Can I help you?" he asked, once his throat allowed for speech. Two women and one man. The standing man and woman were younger—only a few years older than him. The older woman was sitting, her hair cut short and her jaw square, a pug nose and very pretty eyes.

And wasn't that a thing to notice, given the fact that she had a gun, not a phaser, in her hand. Safety off, his brain helpfully noted. Awesome.

"Your wife isn't home."

"No, she's at the garage. What do you want?"

"I received a—"

"Why don't you people talk to her?" he interrupted, annoyed. "I mean, you want her on your strike team or something—"

"It isn't that at all, Mr. Kirk. We are intelligence-gathering. Your wife could work for us while performing her duties in engineering."

"I'm not the one you're recruiting."

"Indeed not, but she is married to you."

"Look. If you guys are intelligence, you should have checked up on her."

"We have. She is an excellent marksman, both with a pistol, a phaser, or a long-range sniper rifle. She throws knives with a 98% rate of accuracy. She does not flinch away from inflicting real harm at a short distance, something that people in this day and age of technology usually find distasteful. She has been charged seventeen times with assault, all as a juvenile. They were never prosecuted, likely due to your family's influence in the community and the collective immunization to the radical nature of her actions due to prolonged exposure. She picks up language quickly, makes decisions just as rapidly, and is an excellent judge of character."

"I know. She married me."

"So she did. Which leads me to my offer for you, Mr. Kirk."

"Excuse me?"

"We didn't just check up on her. You grew up together."

"Yes."

"You are a mitigating influence."

He laughed, because what?

"Mr. Kirk. Hiring your wife would be a risk, because as you told the Commander, she would follow her own code of morality. We want you to come on as her handler."

"No."

"You would make more in a week than you would in a year in Starfleet."

"No."

"Mr. Kirk," she sighed, and raised the gun. "I'm afraid I'm not asking."

"No, you were leaving," Winona agreed from the door, and shot the two standing people. "No, don't even try it."

"How'd you know?" he asked, not turning because, hey, gun still trained on him. He tried to remember if the whine of her firing had been more 'kill' or 'stun' and realized he couldn't. Fuck.

"I'm psychic," she said.

"No, really."

"Forgot my new spanner."

"Good timing."

"I know, right?"

"If you're quite through?" the woman demanded in exasperation.

"Get the fuck out of my house, stay away from my family, and stay away from me. This is an official no. Press me harder. I fucking dare you."

And standing with a gun pointed at his head while Winona said all of that in a calm, even voice…he could see the appeal. Why they'd want her so badly, because she was so fucking dangerous like this. Psychotic: shake your hand or stab you.

But the line—the line between who she was and who they wanted her to be—was in the choices, and in the little decisions, and she made the right ones every day. Starfleet, Sanchez's Auto instead of whatever these people thought she should be doing.

"I can see when you've made up your mind," the woman said, putting her gun back in its holster and drawing up her coat. "Stunned?" she asked of her agents.

"Out cold. Be another three hours," Winona agreed. "And you're not leaving them here."

"Indeed, no," the woman agreed, and four other people came in, picked them up, and exited.

"That was so cloak-and-dagger," Winona said after they'd left.

"Right?" George demanded. "God. She was like, queen of the assassins, and she wanted to keep you as a pet."

"Licensed to kill," Winona agreed, grinning. "Oh, hey, pizza."

"An assassin with ADD," George muttered, and sat on the couch to begin his paper. "You'd get distracted by shiny objects."

She sat behind him, crouched so her knees were on either side of his arms with her chin digging into the crook of his neck. "You don't really have to write the paper."

"I really do."

She pressed her face into the back of his neck, and he frowned, fingers stilling on the keyboard as he turned, slightly. "Sweets?"

"Mm."

"You okay?"

"You almost died."

"I did not."

"She could have shot you."

And it was true. "Yeah."

"Yeah."

He wrote his paper, and she slept, curled on the couch beside him. He ended up oversleeping, and then had to run to class to hand it in in yesterday's clothes. He didn't think anyone was keeping deliberate track of what he wore, but he felt…scummy. Like the inside of their drain.

He got rewarded when he came home and she—well, first he almost got killed by the new security system, but after that, when he made it inside, he found her in the shower.

"What, you gonna wait your turn?" she scoffed when she heard him—though to be fair, she might have heard him come in—he'd sworn a lot, fucking retina scanners, what?—and that was pretty much blanket permission and oh, oh fuck. Tile wasn't exactly conducive to…well, any kind of sex, especially when it was wet, which…shower.

But she just laughed when he lost his balance and slid down in the tub, his cock still in her mouth.

When she'd kissed him after, he'd thought there was no way life could possibly have gotten better.

And then Sammy'd come along.

 

2232.046 [2/15/32]
"My parents are bringing Sam over," George says in an undertone to Winona, as the fevered pitch of admirals arguing rises impossibly higher. Problems with a Starfleet hospital: the brass are allowed to invade and be obnoxious with very little repercussion, like doctors bearing down like the wrath of a omniscient, all-powerful entity (George refuses to say "God"—not after his last run out into the black, where they ran into seven of those so-called "gods"—petty bastards).

George watches the woman in the back, but she just watches what's going on without intervening, which is pissing him off. This is bluster, and she's the one who knows what actually happened because he'd bet everything he's got that she's the one behind the mission.

"Did we get it?" Winona asks.

He blinks, looking at her, then following the line of her gaze away, to the other woman.

She looks unnerved momentarily, then eases the expression into something patronizing. "Get what?"

"Whatever it was you wanted. Whatever it was that kept us out there—"

"You did. You did, Kirk." She slides closer without seeming to move, settling on the other side of Winona's bed. Winona's hand has curved into a fist, and he knows the woman hasn't missed it, is waiting to see which way Winona's gong to jump. "My offer is still open, and right now it's not an offer. You know sensitive information—"

"What?" George snaps, frowning at them both. He hates this—like he's playing catch-up. Like they started this conversation and then put it on hold for four months or so.

"I had to pull apart the ship to keep it going. There were a few lines of really interesting code," Winona explains.

"And now I'm telling you that we're not suggesting or asking nicely anymore, Kirk. You're being drafted. I've cleared it with Starfleet—"

"No."

"Kirk, I don't think you heard me."

It happens fast enough that George kind of wants to sink through the floor when he recalls it later. At the time, he's just completely confused and freaked out.

She has the woman's gun, and she's pointed it at her own head.

"Listen to me when I say this, because I'm not saying it again," she says in a quiet, cold voice that makes his shoulders stiffen, breath caught in his throat like a stone. "I am not joining up with you people. Of a crew of four hundred, four of us are still alive. I'm okay with it being three. You touch my family, you touch my crew? I pull the trigger. This is a no. This is a complete and utter 'no.' Do not pass Go, do not collect $200 dollars. We understand each other?"

The woman looks at her, eyes narrowed and forehead smoothing out. "That, Kirk? That is the best "no" I've ever gotten. All right. I'm beat. The offer's still open. Should you ever want."

"Fuck off."

The woman holds out her hand for the gun. Winona lifts her eyebrow. George remembers, vaguely, that he should inhale again.

"No."

The woman smirks, and nods. "All right then. Have a good life, Kirk." She walks out with an astonishing amount of swagger for a woman who's probably in her seventies and just got turned down cold. George is slightly impressed.

And then Winona puts the gun down and puts the safety back on, and he sees red.

"What the fuck was that?" he demands, because—what?

"What did you want me to do?" she snaps, glaring at him. He can see a nurse turn on his heel outside their door and walk the other way rapidly.

"Not put a gun to your head, you stupid fuck!" he shouts, waving at it and putting his other hand to his head, because now he has a migraine. "Not threaten to pull the trigger!"

"It was a bluff." And if she thinks he's going to believe that—

"Bull. Shit." He notes, vaguely, that she has color on her cheeks. Good. That's good. Mostly he just wants to scream or cry or hit something (someone) really fucking hard. "Bullshit, sweetheart."

"Do you know what the code was? Romulan tech for inertial dampeners. That was it. All that for inertial dampeners, George. We endured noncorporeal parasitic beings for inertial dampeners that I could make in my sleep because that was the planet they picked for a fucking drop, and you want to bitch at me for—"

"We have a kid. You're not allowed to just—do stupid crazy shit like that. You're not."

"It's the job."

"The job doesn't supersede our family. Not by a long shot. And if you're thinking otherwise—"

"Then what?" She's got her hand wrapped around the gun. He doesn't feel threatened, god, he's just getting progressively more pissed that that's what she's clinging to, when he's holding on to the sheets on her bed like a man trying not to drown.

"Then maybe we gotta reevaluate shit," he says unsteadily.

"You're overreacting." Her voice has changed. Now it's cold. Calm. Still. Afraid. It loosens something. Thank fuck.

"You put a gun to your head with every intention of pulling that trigger!" he yells, gesturing wildly. "Are you fucking stupid? Of course I'm freaking out! I don't want to be left here alone, you psychotic!"

There's a long silence. One of the monitors informs them both insistently that her heart rate is elevated. He feels like he's going to throw up. He wants to look at her, to find the answers in her face because this is them, and he's always been able to read her. But for the first time he's afraid of what the answers will be: that this will be the time it's too much. That he can't take it anymore. That she can't give him a reason to keep coming back.

He stares at the wall so hard that colors start undulating at the edge of his vision. Greens and purples and blues. Probably from exhaustion. Shit, when did he last sleep?

"George." Soft.

"What?"

"I almost died because of three lines of code and twelve schematics. We lost 396 people."

He exhales, takes the gun away and tucks it into the back of his pants before taking her hands. Yes. "Yeah."

"I had to break the ship and put it back together. We were dead in the water so many times, and they were all so fucking useless so I had to do everything and—they had families. I had to watch them die, after the attack. We barely—they looked like our people. I killed…I killed a lot of them.

"And then we had to jettison them—couldn't keep the fuckers on board and we didn't have enough—They were just floating by the viewing screens, and it could have been me."

He watches, quiet, waiting for her to go on, to see if she will—can. Sometimes it takes a while for the story to come out. Sometimes she doesn't just drop it all in the open. He can wait. And then her expression starts to crumble, and he can't bear it. "But it wasn't."

"But it wasn't," she repeats, raising her hands to her face. She leans over, and he moves to sit on the bed, wrapping her in his arms and holding on just as hard as she does, letting her cry into his shoulder. Scream. Scream like she's not ever, ever going to stop, and this—this he knows.

Her breath is hot and wet, when she finally stops screaming and sobs like she can't breathe: won't ever be able to. He's not five anymore.

"It's okay," he says softly, because it will be: because he fucking says so. "It's okay, sweetheart. It's okay."

It's an hour before Stacey brings Sammy in—René's already come on for the night shift, but Winona grins at Sammy and lets him poke at the sensors stuck to her body. Listens to him talk and laughs and seems whole.

George wouldn't have done it. He wouldn't have broken his family. He just…needed to know that she wouldn't either.

2232.060 [3/1/32; age 28]

"So, I bought the Connor house."

"That place is a mess."

"Yes, but I figure, we put all that work into it when we were kids, I've always had a fondness for it. So I bought it."

She gives him a dark look.

"Becky Garland had better not show up with a casserole."

George grins. He's not going to say she did. He's going to really enjoy the moment Winona walks into the house, which he's moved most of their furniture into from the apartment in San Francisco, and finds about a dozen or so casseroles and pies.

She's back to normal—even the PT says that she's all good to go. Starfleet still gives them medical leave. Their next assignments will be—well, he's going to be XO on a research vessel, the USS Kelvin.

"Okay, so… it's not bad to be here," she admits, sitting on the bed.

"You only say that because the entire county knows you're back."

"I like the notoriety," she agrees, stretching out. He leans in the door, from the bathroom and enjoys the view. Sammy's in bed: worn out from a day of swimming and picnics on the English River.

"Yeah, well. All of San Francisco knows your name at this point, all of Starfleet does, and apparently it's going around the galaxy like wildfire."

"What can I say? I just have one of those personalities."

"You're so insane."

"You say that a lot."

"Remember the time you almost drowned Owen?"

"He felt me up."

"I know. We dared him to."

She gapes, and he laughs and stretches out beside her on the bed.

"George Kirk, you asshole," she chuckles, wrapping an arm around him. "See, everyone thinks you're the good guy—"

"Only in comparison."

"That's what I'm saying," she agrees, and leans in for a kiss, long and filthy, licking into his mouth and sucking his bottom lip, nipping at his tongue when he slides it into her mouth, fingers pushing the tanktop up.

"You realize we've been doing this for thirteen years?" he asks.

"Oh my god, what the hell is wrong with you?" she demands. "Put that fucking mouth to good use before I go see if someone else is interest—oh fuck!"

George moves fast when properly motivated, burying his face between her legs and sucking her clit. He rubs his thumb just over, hard, how she likes, and strokes his tongue over her clit. Her thighs tighten around his head and then relax, and Jesus motherfuck, good shit. She's wet and rolling her hips down against his face.

There are days he likes to stay down there, make her come again and again and again until she doesn't know anything but his name, looking completely wrecked and fucked out in his bed. They've got real jobs and a kid—they're not teenagers anymore and everyone around him his whole life has implied either in word or action that this—this need would fade. Or at least its persistence—that it'd stop being fun or it wouldn't be enough.

"I'm gonna fuck you," he decides, and she laughs, pulls him up to lick his face clean. He pulls back, pastes a look of uncertain concern on his face and says in a gentle, patronizing voice, "You're healthy enough for—"

He doesn't finish the sentence. Doesn't get a chance, because she pulls a ninja move and he's on his back with her slowly settling down on him, hot and wet and fucking perfect. God, yes. This.

She leans over, her breasts grazing his chest and god, he wants to suck, and then she's reaching up, putting his hands over his head and holding his wrists as she rides him. He catches a nipple, sucks it and grins, just a little, as she throws her head back and groans, a deep sound that shudders through her whole body. She's grinding her hips against him, twisting just enough that this isn't just about her getting off—isn't her using him, even though it looks that way and he appreciates that: the show of it.

"Fucking healthy enough," she mutters, and he laughs, snaps his hips up into her and her rhythm stutters, just a bit.

"Come on, sweetheart," he coaxes, arching up to bite her neck, then worry the other nipple. She's so fucking gorgeous. "Come on. Come on, baby. Come for me. Now."

And she does, arching over him and grinding down on his dick, against his pelvic bone as she shudders and clenches.

"Haven't you come yet?" she pants, eyes dancing at him once she's done, and he glares at her because he's close, so fucking close, if she'd just fucking move already.

Because she's awesome, she does, bouncing and griding and twitching her hips and oh, fuck yes, there, and he's shooting his load into her so hard it feels like getting punched in the gut.

#

Three weeks later she gets the news that she's pregnant. They really should have seen that one coming.

She glares. He starts buying things and he and Sammy start working on the nursery. Sammy is so excited at the idea of a little brother or sister, comes to the doctor's appointments. He's so excited Winona can't even manage to be annoyed for more than a month.

Until the casseroles start coming in.

Honestly, when they both end up having to go to the Kelvin it's almost a relief, except for the part where they're leaving Sammy.

There are only so many times he can stop her from killing bearers of casserole. If she's trying to kill Hastings, well.

That's deserved. He can get behind that.

"All I'm saying," she says as they head towards the Earth Spacedock for the year tour (which is longer than it should be, and he's going to figure out how to shorten it because who the fuck wants to have a baby on a space ship?), "is that the man is taking drugs. I could cut it with bleach."

"Everyone would know it was you, sweetheart."

"That's true. I could make it an accident."

"Isn't that a contradiction in terms?"

"Stop arguing semantics with me." She puts her foot up on the seat in front of her, and the young kid in the seat glances back. Oh, he's new. Fresh out of command—maybe still in command school. George smiles slightly, in apology, and the kid looks away fast. George looks at Winona, who's looking over the shuttle to see who's in her department: what idiocy she's going to be saddled with.

A few people stopped by—they'd been at docking and there'd been a shout of, "Oh, thank fuck it's Kirk! Hey, Jennings! Kirk's here! We're fucking saved, man!" and George had known it wasn't one of his people. His people didn't swear so openly: only engineers were that bawdy—because they could get away with it.

"I hate Sadar," she'd said. "But not as much as I hate Hastings, so maybe I'll let him live."

George had laughed and seen incident reports on his horizon. Gigs and gigs of incident reports.

"Sweetheart," he says, "aren't you going to have your hands full anyway? You know, too much so to have time to kill anyone?"

"Yes. Because the Kelvin is a fucking terrible design and there are too many people on it. On the other hand…stress relief."

"There is that," he agrees, watching the dock come closer, something unfurling in his stomach. He fucking loves his job. And hell, it's only a year, and then he can take a teaching job for a few years or something—stay dirtside to be with the kids and she can go into the black. They'll figure it out.

Heh. Kids. If he didn't know she'd cut his hand off, he'd touch her belly. She barely tolerates it when he rests his head there when they're asleep. But he's figured out a technique: sleep with his head in her lap and he can be close to the baby and she doesn't get annoyed. Perfect solution. Only it's hard to execute properly. Still. Kids. They could stop at two—two's a good number. Sammy and a little brother or sister. A good-sized family.

"You're grinning like an idiot."

"Why shouldn't I grin?"

"Because Hastings is a fuck-up."

The man in question turns, looks at her, and then looks absolutely horrified. Winona smiles meanly at his back as he beats a hasty retreat. He's probably going to Robau to protest his 2IC. Robau's a good guy: he'll tell Hastings where to shove it. Robau's the one who, when they saddled him with Hastings, put in a request for Winona specifically. Smart guy.

"Life is good, sweetheart," George informs her, because fuck all it is, all of space opening up around them. Sometimes, on Earth, he thinks it's possible to feel claustrophobic on a planet. That he can only breathe in the wide-open expanse of space.

She looks at him, then beyond him at the doc and beyond, and grins a little, almost in spite of herself. "I do like this part."

Yeah. So does he.