Title: The Stars Go On Forever
Characters: Winona Kirk; George, Sam, Jim
Disclaimer: Not mine, making no profit; I'm only playing in the greatest sandbox ever.
Spoilers: STXI, TOS
Beta: Once again, gidget_zb came running to my rescue when I needed her most. My love for her is as endless as my love for Cherry Garcia ice cream, truly. Any grammatical or canon errors in here are my responsibility.
Notes: I'm fiddling with some things in the universe. Have not read the novelization and what I know of Winona comes from memory alpha AKA the Most Useful Site Ever. Other than that, um, I just had fun with this, just working out the possibilities of nu!Trek and one of the things that bothered me in the TOS backstory.
Teaser: Jim always settles at her side, head tilted back, eyes open and fixed on the night sky.
At the Kirk home, after dinner and coffee and conversation about her studies and an hour of oh, you don't have to call me Mrs. Kirk, dear he takes her out to the barn and shows off his car like a five-year-old boy.
"Somehow I doubt this is actually my car anymore," George Kirk decides from the passenger seat five minutes later and she laughs before she can stop herself because he can't even sound annoyed. No, he's grinning at her as she grips the steering wheel easily, watching her with that look that only she's ever seen on his face, the one she can't quite decipher. "I thought you never drove one of these before."
"Good learner," Winona reminds him and she can see his molars when his grin broadens.
He'd mentioned his father's old car a few weeks after they'd first met and she'd shaken her head and laughed because really, she'd thought he'd just been trying too hard. Then it's a year later and he wants to meet her father and, yes, he insists, he really does have that car waiting in Iowa, she can drive it if she wants. If she's willing to go meet his parents.
Right. George Kirk really has a twentieth century car at home.
She's never been so happy to be proven wrong.
Because Winona likes this car, likes the way it roars under her after George tosses her the keys and takes the passenger seat. Her hair is going to be hell to get untangled when they finally stop but the top is down and George is staring at her with that look that she's starting to think she doesn't need to decipher anyway. Before them, the road goes on forever, opens up as she increases speed and keeps going.
"What's your dad going to be like?" There's something important about the fact that he's more excited about meeting her father than anything they're learning at the Academy. Because Winona doesn't remember her mother. Because George had asked about her mother once and then dropped it when she'd explained, and it had taken her two months to realize that she loved him for that; for the lack of questions she has no answers to.
He doesn't ask again when she doesn't answer his question now, and she's content to see how far the road goes with George at her side and the car roaring under her while the wind tears the world away. When they stop hours later on the side of the road, they sit on the hood and tilt their heads back until all they can see is the sky, inky dark but not empty, stars scattered across the distance.
There are too many to count but they don't let that stop them.
"It's too early."
There's an IV tying her down and Chen is as much her friend as he's been since they first met at the Academy, standing close by her side when she needs him while the others watch monitors and listen to heartbeats. "All the vitals are good," Chen says for what has to be the twentieth time, and touches her hand where the needle cuts into her flesh. They're still worrying, still nervous, but the vitals are good and Chen may be good at comforting his patients but he's not good at lying to her so she knows he really is sure it'll be fine. "I think he's just sick and tired of being stuck doing nothing."
The whole crew is certain that this son is going to be trouble, they laugh about it in the lounge because a pregnant lieutenant doesn't happen on every mission and everybody loves the Kirks.
Winona has known her son was going to be trouble longer than anyone else has, has known since the baby decided that when he was awake, she had to be, too. It became her habit to head to the observation desk and sit and watch the stars for long hours while he moved inside her, already restless. She wishes she could be surprised now but she isn't, she can only feel scared and a little annoyed since she woke up hours before when her second son decided that he wants to come right now, thank you, and he'll come as fast as he wants. And frustrated. She's frustrated.
Frustrated because she'd promised their first son that he'd get to be there when the new baby was born, because she'd wanted to have the baby in Iowa, but she can cope with this. And it's not like she can hold it against either of her sons for coming early; she had showed up much too early herself.
She just wishes that George were already here because he'd promised.
He'd promised because she'd made him promise, because he'd been so late when their first son had been early that she'd been alone when George Samuel Kirk had been born. Alone when they put him in her arms, alone until George finally got there— frantic in a way he only is with her— and rushed to her side. He hadn't left her side until they'd left the hospital together, had actually handled missing the birth worse than she had, but still.
Winona groans as the monitor informs her needlessly that she's experiencing a contraction and Chen lets her grab his fist, grip it tight until she can get her breath back and let go. "He'll be here," he says when he knows he has her attention, folding their fingers together for a long moment before letting go. "Just give him a little bit more time, Winona, it'll be fine."
But George isn't there yet, can't get there yet because Robau needs him on the bridge.
Chen squeezes her shoulder, touches her hair, offering her a half-hearted smile as he keeps his eye on the monitors and she forces herself to settle back and wait for George.
The stars are still bright in Iowa but not bright enough.
Winona should be out there with—
She should be out there.
The desire grows faster than Jim does, climbing every tree he can find and never stopping until he's as high as he can get— to hell with the fact that he could fall and break his neck. Jim never slows and never stops, is always pushing forward and silently demanding she remain at his side. Her peers from Starfleet keep in touch, some because she's Winona, the head of her class, and others because she's George's widow; her old superiors are friendly and respectful when she talks to them, tell her about open positions in the sciences department at the Academy and how good she always was with the cadets.
Winona dates, even though she doesn't have to. She finds men that are almost like George but they aren't, and so she discards them. She finds men that are nothing like George and while that's a little better, it's worse at the same time because there's not even any pretending she can do. None of them get her science jokes that George always laughed at and she has no interest in anyone from Starfleet.
(Or maybe she just doesn't let herself have any interest because she can't do it again.)
Every night after dinner, she and the boys go out on the back porch and sit and watch the sky for hours. Sam always loses interest and runs off, grows quiet at everything that reminds him of the father he can remember, but Jim always settles at her side. He sits there like he'll always be a part of her (he always has been, he came from her) with his head tilted back, his eyes open and fixed on the night sky.
Birthdays don't stop being difficult.
She meets Frank when she hires him to figure out what's wrong with the engine of the Corvette, now making a truly pathetic rattling sound when she starts the car. He fixes it, and she can breathe again.
Winona's only been married to Frank two months when she returns to active duty in Starfleet.
The Corvette is gone when she gets home, has been taken from her; the loss feels like the Kelvin all over again, makes her throat burn and her hands shake because George's car is gone. She comes back to a mess, her older son staring at her tiredly and her younger son (her baby) exhausted and defiant. Frank is out of the house within an hour of her reentering it, and Sam forgives her before the week is over because he's already too tired to hold grudges. Jim isn't so lenient, is still staring at her with hard eyes, but she doesn't blame him.
She doesn't blame him for the car, either. Better it's destroyed than sold to someone else.
Although she could have done without Jim almost going over the edge with it.
Winona just waits.
Two weeks after she gets back, Jim finally joins her on the front porch, posture mutinous but expression needy. When she extends an arm across his shoulders, he slides to curl at her side, tilts his head back to take in everything that stretches above them. There are too many stars to count and too much space to know but there's no meekness in the line of his back as she squeezes his shoulder.
They sit there for a long time, Jim seeming like he had never been gone from her side. He hasn't forgiven her, there's too much of her in him for it to be that easy, but he still trusts her enough to join her. Then the tension begins to build in his spine because he knows her, understands her in a way she can't even understand herself anymore. So she answers the question he's asking.
"I'm going to assist a planet-side study," she says into the dark, and feels him shift. Winona takes a breath, lets it out and starts to count the pinpoints of light in the dark. When she hits triple digits, she kisses Jim's forehead, squeezes his shoulder again. "It's a good opportunity, a smaller colony that they're working to expand. There's a lot of potential—"
"When are you leaving?"
It's already been settled, she'd set it up before she even got the call that her son had sent a car over a cliff. They want her. This is her field, this is what she's been doing since she was six years old in the back yard while her father watched her from the porch. And now Jim's different, has lost some of the softness she never wanted him to lose. And she's Winona Kirk and everybody loves the Kirks. "End of the month." His fingers fold into her shirt. "The scientists who are going, Jim—"
"You said Frank was gone." The tone is accusatory, betrayed.
"He's already gone." She's made sure of it, used her first husband's name in a way she rarely does, but it's still not enough because the house has been tainted somehow. And the car's gone. "It's a colony—" She licks her lips, wants to be gone already because the world's not big enough for them. "I can take you," she breathes into his hair, and somehow feels him frown. "Jim," she tries to explain, but she can't get any farther.
Then he seems to understand because he looks over, eyes open and fixed on her and she doesn't know who he looks the most like, George or the world-weary woman she sees in the mirror every morning.
Maybe both, and it doesn't matter anyway.
The world isn't big enough for any of them.
During, there's no Starfleet.
During, she's one of the smartest and she's chosen even before she's aware that there are choices being made, is chosen when she's still desperately working with her team to prevent a disaster.
During, she never stops trying to find another way because there's always another way, because nothing's lost until someone accepts it is. (Her husband died, he didn't lose.) She keeps working and waiting and there are still options that no one is listening to but the worst begins anyway, and she envies George for the first time because he only had to last twelve minutes.
She has to last for months, has to last through food rations and hunger pains. Has to last through things that her mind takes in and then carefully takes apart because the mind is gloriously proficient at coping. Sam's strong, pushes himself forward with the durability of the man of the house, and Jim—
Jim stands at her side and never buckles once. In the last terrible weeks, he's no longer able to hide his weakness but he keeps up with her through sheer force of will, rebellious streak growing as his health deteriorates. Those last weeks of during, Jim keeps her going, is at her side until they're rescued and there are IV lines and a feeding tube and panicked Starfleet officers around Winona, all of them desperate for answers.
And then it's after, and she gives the largest report of her life, aches at the fact that Jimmy's is just as overwhelming, given between long hours of rest and moments when he goes quiet and glances at her. His grin never left but it's almost back to normal after the talking is done and the officers back away. He rolls away, copes the same way she does, and she knows he'll be more alive than ever when he drifts back.
So although she touches his back, she doesn't bother him.
When she falls asleep, she dreams of eight hundred hungry colonists who suddenly aren't eight hundred and wakes up shaking, palms sweaty and pulse jumping. Even with the lights dimmed, she can see the bones in her fingers when she looks down at her hands, so she watches her son instead, wishes she could see the stars, could orient herself.
But she's been tied down with IV lines and a feeding tube and they're stuck here for a while.
As soon as she can, she has the highest-ranking officer come back to see her.
She's Winona, top of her class, and she's George's widow.
When she tells the officer to seal the records, no one flickers an eyelid.
Later, Jim doesn't want to get off the ship when it's time to leave, stares at her accusingly when she ignores the silent demands to stay on, stay off the world. Winona agrees, shouldn't even though she does, but it doesn't matter. She doesn't know how much more Sam can take, and Jim's so much stronger than Sam, so she forces herself to adjust to the feel of gravity pulling her down again.
By the time they finally get back to Iowa, Sam doesn't even pretend to have any interest in leaving again, won't even come out at night with them. Winona understands better than she wants to, lets him stay in the house that feels wrong while she drifts out and tries to find the stars through the clouds. Jim doesn't join her on the steps anymore.
He wanders off by himself through the grass to watch the sky alone.
Sam is long gone, had slipped away with a last quiet look and a promise to come back when he was ready, and Jim's tearing the threads that tie him down faster than she can lay them out.
The new habit he'd made of missing class before they'd left has become the usual instead of the unusual, and even her dropping him off at school herself doesn't do any good. When he does his work, he does it well— but he can't focus, can't stay here long enough to think, and doesn't actually want to be here. So he doesn't do his work. He starts fights with the other boys even (especially) if he can't finish them, carries home bruises and cuts like they're souvenirs.
His movements become more frenzied, his gaze more restless.
She'd like to think it's simply what they survived, but it isn't.
It's more and less than that, more and less than her nightmares or the weight on her shoulders, more and less than the fact that she doesn't believe in promises anymore and is now paranoid about making sure they always have supplies in the house, more and less than the fact that she's alive. Alive when George isn't, alive when four thousand aren't. (Survivor's guilt, she remembers from the counselors after the Kelvin, but knowing what it is doesn't mean anything.)
Before she can blink, Jim is sneaking out to bars and clubs, searching for whatever new thing he can see in the distance. When he wanders home in the early hours of the morning, he sits on the porch and watches the stars fade as the sun lightens the sky, his expression quiet and frustrated. On nights when he can't get out, when there's nowhere to go, she can hear him pacing the house until he finally falls asleep on the couch, too exhausted to go on.
And then one night his pacing stops.
There's the sound of the front door opening, closing, and then a sudden silence.
Winona's halfway down the stairs when she hears that damn motorcycle start, and the sound of it is somehow completely different than it always is. She gets the front door open in time to see Jim roaring away from the house, red lights bright through the dust kicked up. Even at this distance, she can see the line of his back and the set of his shoulders as he tears away from her with only the clothes he's wearing. She stands on the porch and watches the motorcycle speed away into the dark. The pressure in her chest builds as he keeps going, tightens painfully until the red lights lift over the edge of the road and then vanish.
Jim is gone.
And then she's alone.
Winona can't tell where the land ends and the sky begins, it's so dark in the distance, but she blinks a few times and she can make out the pinpoints of light stretching above her. They're brighter than she can ever remember, brighter than they were when she would stare at them from the Kelvin with Jim shifting inside her before she lost her own softness, bright enough that she starts counting them.
When Winona hits the triple digits, she keeps going until the sky lightens and steals them away.