"Hey, congratulations," Eli turns away from his Kino console and tells her, all smiles and genuine enthusiasm. "I hear you're going to be a mom. That's great."

A mom.

Mom.

The single word almost crushes her in an instant.

TJ has to grab the doorframe to keep her knees from buckling. She doesn't think Eli notices, but the colonel is watching her. He never misses a thing. She flashes him a tight smile. Nothing wrong here.

"Yeah. Great." She says.

She's tried so hard to keep it impersonal. Not get attached. Anything can happen out here. Do not tempt fate, and all that. Don't call it 'the baby' when 'fetus' will do just fine. It's not 'he' or 'she', or 'son' or 'daughter'. That sounds too much like a promise.

Except it slowly creeps up on her. Soft flutters become insistent heels and fists, and 'the baby' becomes 'child'.

Our child.

She knows those two words have power over him, and she tries to use them sparingly, though sometimes it can't be helped. She needs some sort of reaction from him.

She hasn't thought of herself as a mother. She hasn't done anything to deserve that title yet. She hasn't kissed scraped knees and wiped tears, or packed peanut butter sandwiches and sunscreen for school outings. She hasn't read bedtime stories, or walked the halls with a feverish and teething toddler.

All she's done is make a mistake. That hardly qualifies her.

She breathes deep and the head rush fades. "Thanks Eli."

And then a radio chirps and Colonel Young is paged. "Mom," he says, just to her, as he steps past into the hallway and it makes her breath catch again. He nods. "You'll be great."