Newt was fifteen when Ripley left on a long-range salvage op. She stayed in their apartment with Hicks for six or seven months, until the company called and told them that Ellen's ship had dropped out of sight.

Hicks wasn't anything legal to Newt. He was just a guy Ellen was seeing, and even Ellen had never adopted her legally, so when the state worker came by, he couldn't do anything.

Later, Newt realizes how it looked, them living together.

She blossomed early. That was Ripley's word: "blossomed". Newt was embarrassed about her hips and breasts for a long time. Ellen was straight up and down and tough as nails. Newt needed a bra by the time she turned twelve. Men turned to look at her on the street when she was thirteen and fourteen.

She spent a lot of time with her arms folded across her chest.

At fifteen, she's worked out, mostly, how to be a girl. She knows how to deflect male attention, how to wash menstrual blood out of her underpants, how to shave her legs. She doesn't need Hicks to tell her any of these things.

Which is good, because Hicks is the most awkward person she's ever seen, around girls. She guesses that Ripley skewed tough enough to make him comfortable, even tender with her. With her, though, after she – "blossomed" – he's been distant, polite. Military. Once she needed new underwear and Hicks handed her his credit chip and stood at attention outside the store until she was done.

They are like strangers with each other.

This is what the state worker sees, when she comes to visit and see how Newt's doing. And she thinks that maybe Hicks is doing something bad to her, but that's not how it is. Hicks is the safest person Newt has ever known.

Except for Ripley.

The state takes her away from him.

For the next three years she lives in three different foster families and in two group homes. It's okay. The state does its best to take care of its wards. She expected worse.

Hicks calls her for a while, and then he tells her that his unit is being sent to the Belt to fight the aliens, and she doesn't hear from him again.

It's a war. Lots of people get lost in the mix. So she tries not to care.

At eighteen, she's free. Free is just a nice way of saying that she's alone, though. Newt is smart as anything, but all she has is her secondary diploma, and no way to get into university. She has nowhere to go, and she needs to make rent, so she gets a fake ID and takes a job tending bar down near the docks. The bar's clientele is mostly Marines and civilian fleet personnel. Newt pretends not to notice that she's picked this place because every other person reminds her of Ripley, or Hicks.

It's not bad. She's good at her job, the money's decent, and she has her days free to pretend to study for the scholarship exam she plans to take next summer. If she scores highly enough, there's a chance her further education will be funded by the Company.

She wishes Ripley had gotten around to adopting her. It would make things a little easier.

Newt has a friend who works at the bar with her, Kylie. Kylie works the tables in the back, where they serve food before eleven P.M. And after eleven, she works the tables in the front, where they serve beer in a glass. The serious drinkers tend to hang out at the bar.

Men hit on Newt all the time. At first she covered up and tried not to look at them to much, until Kylie took her aside and sweetly explained how much more money she'd make if she wore a shirt that showed a little skin, and smiled at the customers.

Newt buys a shirt because Kylie recommends it, and learns how to smile at people without really looking at them, and starts putting money into a savings account. Not a lot, but enough. Some of it she uses to buy new shirts, though. Kylie was right. On the nights she wears a top that shows some skin, she takes home enough to cover her rent for the week.

Men are silly, Newt thinks.

On a Thursday, Newt is working the bar at around eleven, refilling a drunken manager's glass here, not-listening to a story about a marriage collapsing there, when she looks up and sees him standing in front of the tap.

Hicks.

He has an extra scar along his eyebrow. The first thing Newt wonders is if the scar means that he had an eye reconstructed. They're doing that now, implanting crazy cybernetic parts to replace whatever got blown off you in the Belt.

The second thing Newt wonders is if Hicks recognizes her. She just assumed at first, but as she moves up to him, she thinks that maybe he doesn't. His gaze sweeps over her, from the hair that she wears long and loose on work nights, to the shirt that shows the curves of breast and waist and leaves a scant strip of flesh bare above the waistband of her pants.

Newt swallows hard. She thought he'd recognize her. Like a drone, she moves up to him.

"What'll you have?" She asks.

She's already reaching for a beer glass (she can tell what people want before they order, almost all the time, and she'd know that Hicks liked a draft Two Star even if she hadn't known, from before) when he catches her wrist in his strong fingers.

"Newt," he says.

She drops the glass.

After she cleans up the pieces, she finds him out back, on the loading dock. Hicks is smoking one of the little ersatz cigarettes that are popular now that nicotine tax has gone up so high.

She sits down next to him.

"Hey, kid," he says, and bumps her shoulder with his own.

"Hey," Newt says, and they sit that way for a long time. After a time, she rests her head on his shoulder, and he lets her.

She hears the city settle into slumber around them: the muted roar of shuttles from the spaceport, the occasional horn as two skycabs narrowly avoid a mid-air collision.

Far away, she can hear the river.

Hicks grinds out the cigarette and slides his arm around her.

"You okay?"

"Yeah," she says. "I work, and I have a place. I'm okay."

"I'm sorry," Hicks says. "I'm sorry I left you."

"It wasn't your fault," Newt says. "I know you would have stayed, if you could have."

"Yep," Hicks says. He hesitates.

Newt knows what he's going to say.

"You ever hear anything about—"

"No," she says, quickly, cutting him off. "I'd have contacted you, somehow."

"Yeah," he says.

Hicks half-holds her like this for a while longer before she has to get back to work and he has to check in on base, and Newt thinks, once or twice, that she can feel Ripley's long, slender fingers, ruffling through her hair.

In the morning, when she's been sleeping for only three or four hours, her vidphone alerts her to someone at her door. She's unsurprised that it's him, and unsurprised that he's a little drunk.

And somehow, she's unsurprised that he falls into bed with her, and that she arches her back and spreads her legs for him, just like she's seen women do in the holos.

It hurts, a little. Hicks grimaces when she cries out, and tries to pull back. Newt grips him tightly, and won't let him stop.

She's surprised that she likes it so much. Newt hasn't liked anything very much for almost ten years.

Afterward, she pretends not to notice Hicks' tears falling onto the crown of her head. He pretends not to notice hers.

That night, Newt dreams of her mother.

fin