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Whittled Away

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Winona sits in the living room that only recently held the coffin cradling the too-still body of her eldest son, and takes another sip of her wine. She's been drinking very carefully throughout the wake, trying to keep it together for reasons she can't even fully articulate to herself. For Sam, certainly. Because Frank is drunk and hiding in the kitchen. Because other people expect George Kirk's widow to be the type of woman who always has it all together, because of what she's already survived.

How could she have failed Sam so badly? The question caroms around her head, a question to which she already has innumerable answers: drinking, leaving again and again because that's what being in Starfleet means, but she hadn't left her boys alone. Not ever; they'd had her family, and George's until his parents had passed away, and Frank.

Someone else in formal grays, a captain she doesn't recognize, stops to offer her condolences. Winona takes them, numbly, stores them away with all the others she's received. So many words, all meaningless. She's cold and hollowed-out, like she's become the vacuum she works in. The only thing she really feels is the tension at her temples where the severe bun is pulling at the roots of her hair.

The captain moves on; Winona barely even looks at her, comfortable with the fact that her grief will excuse any rudeness. She's searching the room, looking for Jim's somber face, Jim so much like George she aches every time she looks at him. He's not there and she gets up, needing to feel anything, grateful for the excuse to move, and worried about where Jim's gone.

She drifts through the rooms of her house like a ghost, avoiding eye contact and ignoring the silence that follows her. It's in that silence she hears a low growl in one of the back rooms, Admiral Archer's damn dog, but she's drawn to the sound despite herself. What little maternal instinct she has left, she supposes, when she walks in the room. Jim's playing tug-o-war with an old sock and the black-and-tan spotted beagle, his own lip lifted in a snarl to match the dog's, and for just a moment -- just one warp-swift moment -- she wants to smile. And then she sees that it's not just the dog with her son, but Archer himself, talking to Jim soft and low. Fury snaps through her like lightning, stiffening her spine. She's given enough.

She crosses the room in brisk strides. Jim sees her coming, reads the look on her face and stands up, dropping the sock. The sudden lack of resistance sends the dog sliding back about a foot. Archer looks up, too, and rises to his own feet.

"Winona," he starts, sympathy she will not accept from him in his tone. The dog barks at her when she stands behind Jim and wraps one arm around his chest, drawing him back. The top of his head brushes her chin.

"Stay away from my son, Admiral," she snaps. Jim's gone rigid against her; she can feel his heart pounding in his chest. He doesn't understand, she knows he doesn't understand how important it is he keeps his feet on the ground. The abject terror she'd felt when Frank had told her about the car.

Oh, Sam.

Archer raises his hands, takes a step back. "Porthos. Sit," he says, and the dog does as it's told and stops barking. Winona can feel the press of people behind her, watching the scene she's creating.

"I'm sorry, Winona. Boys and dogs."

"And stories? Heroism out in the stars?"

Archer's eyes widen slightly before he glances down at Jim. Whatever he sees there just draws deeper lines on his face.

"No stories about space," he says; she catches the slight gesture of his hand that breaks up the pressure of the crowd behind her. "I imagine he's heard enough about that for a lifetime. Just telling him about Porthos and the finer points of playing tug."

She glares, wishing she could melt a hole right through him. Jim squirms, only a little. She eases her grip, not enough for him to pull away. Archer has drawn nearer; she starts to step away.

"He's all I have left," she says, horrified by how hoarse she sounds.

"I know, Winona. I am sorry." And then he's gone, taking the audience with him. Frank is the only one who passes him, coming in to the room to set a hand on Winona's back, but she shrugs him off, violently. He hesitates, she turns to look at him and whatever's on her face is enough; he follows the others and closes the door behind him, and she's finally free to sink down into a sobbing mess on the spare bed, Jim unresisting and silent in her arms.