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Fic: On the Threshold of Those Days

Title: On the Threshold of Those Days
Author: caitri
Rating: PG
Pairings: background Kirk/McCoy, Charles/Erik
Word count: 6,600
Summary: Joanna and Winona. Part of the Printerverse. Written for tocourtdisaster. Kindly beta’d by the wondrous gadgetorious.
Disclaimer: I know this may come as a shock, but I am not, amazing as it may seem, Gene Roddenberry, J.J. Abrams, Paramount or Bad Robot. Just so you know.
A/N: So this takes place across several years in the “future” so it’s after the events of The Birthday Surprise. Also, some of the XMFC AU characters from my other WIPs were supposed to make very brief appearances before sticking around a lot longer than I thought they would.



I.

Joanna McCoy first sees Winona Kirk when she’s nine; that’s when her Daddy finally marries Jim.

She stands next to David Marcus at the ceremony; both their Dads have asked them to stand up front with them, to make their union a family. Having had to do something pretty similar with Mom and Clay the year before, Jo is just relieved they aren’t making her wear an itchy dress that makes her look like a skinny watermelon. Instead, she’s wearing a pink cheongsam embroidered with cherry blossoms she got to pick out while shopping with Miss Nyota and Miss Raven. Also unlike Mom and Clay’s wedding, she knows just about everyone who’s here: there’s Miss Nyota and Mister Spock with Amanda, who is about to start preschool; Mister Scott and Miss Gaila, Mister Hikaru and Miss Alice, Pavel (who had made her promise to never call him Mister) and Miss Raven, with her brother Charles and his husband Erik. There’s Mister Pike with his wife (Jo can’t ever remember her name), and Miss Janice with Doctor M’Benga. And David’s Mom, Miss Carol, and Jo’s own Nana McCoy, who wavers between real and forced smiles. Jo thinks it has something to do with Daddy marrying a man, but she’s not sure.

They are all outside, the sun warm but not hot like it is in Georgia. The priest is an older woman in a suit, who smiles at her and David when they take their places. Jo tries not to shift nervously, even though they are in front of everyone; instead, she looks out over all their heads, the way Jim had told her to if she did get nervous, and that calms her down a bit. That’s also how she sees a woman she doesn’t know come in, hesitantly, and take a seat next to Nana. She sees Mister Pike start and frown, then lean in to whisper something to her. The woman nods, and then Nana says something to her and they touch hands briefly, and that’s when the music changes and Daddy and Jim appear, walking side by side down the aisles created by the folding chairs. Daddy is in a light blue shirt and a dark suit; Jim in a brilliant white shirt and gray suit. When they get to the front and take their places by the priest, Jim winks at Daddy, and Daddy rolls his eyes.

The ceremony goes by pretty fast, and when it’s done everyone but them is shepherded inside, and that’s when they have to have their photos taken. That part takes way longer. When they finally do get inside, it’s way past lunch time.

“I have never been so glad to see chicken parmigiana in my life,” David says emphatically, “and I’m vegetarian.” They both know his portion isn’t really chicken, which is why they are giggling, but something about it just makes it out and out hysterical, and within minutes they are both laughing so hard they are crying.

“Relax, you two,” Daddy says as he sits next to her, dropping a kiss on the top of her head.

“What was so funny?” Jim wants to know, sitting on his other side and next to David.

“Nothing,” Jo and David chorus together innocently, but neither man seems convinced.

That’s when the blonde lady comes up to them. “Hello, Jim,” she says, and Jim looks shocked, and Daddy looks confused.

“Mom?!” Jim says in disbelief. “I didn’t think—I mean, I know—well—Hi!” he says, and Jo and David look at one another, because Jim never stumbles over words like that, ever.

“Mrs. Kirk I assume,” Daddy says in that deep way he has when he’s being polite but doesn’t want to be. He stands up, reaching out his hand in greeting. “I’ve heard—a lot—about you.”

“I can imagine,” Mrs. Kirk says to him, but most of her attention is on Jim. “I did RSVP, you know.” She winces at herself. “I just—I wanted—”

“I know,” Jim says. “I get it.”

Jo and David exchange another look and shrug, because this is all over their heads. “This is uncomfortable as all hell,” Jo whispers frankly, but not as quiet as she meant to, because Daddy says, “Tell me about it.”

She knows it’s serious then, because it always is when Daddy doesn’t get on to her for cussing.

Mrs. Kirk flicks a gaze over them, and to Jo’s surprise, the woman’s eyes are very blue and sad-looking. “I just—wanted to be here,” she says to Jim. “It’s important, and—well. I’m sorry.”

“Yeah,” Jim says. “Me too. But I’m glad you came.” He gives her an odd smile, one that’s not fake, but not not, either. “I’ll—we’ll—”

“We’ll all talk,” Mrs. Kirk says. “Later.” She hands something to Daddy then. “I’ll go, but you should have this. It’s—it’s what George would have wanted.” And then she gives them a watery smile and leaves as abruptly as she came.

“Who’s George?” David asks curiously.

“My Dad,” Jim says, staring at the box in Daddy’s hands. Daddy opens the box, and pulls out a gold ring. Jim inhales sharply. “That was—”

“Yeah,” Daddy says softly, peering at the thing in the light. “Can I?” When Jim nods, he pulls his new ring off, replacing it with Jim’s Dad’s. “It fits.”

“Yeah,” Jim says, “yeah, it does.” And he kisses Daddy’s hand.

They are clearly lost in each other for a moment, and Jo and David look at one another, shrugging. “Think we can play Guitar Hero tonight?” she asks him.

“Probably,” David says.


II.

Joanna first meets Winona that Christmas. Daddy and Jim have explained to her and David that Jim’s Mom wants to spend some time with them “as a family.”

“Then why does she just want us?” Jo wants to know as the four of them get into the rental car at the Sioux Gateway airport, ready to drive to Riverside. “What about Mom and Clay and Miss Carol?”

“More importantly, why does she want to have Christmas in Riverside?” David asks, shivering. “Can’t we freeze our butts off in San Francisco as easily as here?”

“Language.” Jim lightly slaps David’s back as the boy gets in the backseat of the car. Jim closes the passenger door firmly before getting in front to drive. He peers back at Jo as he fastens his seatbelt. “I think my Mom is kinda working on her definition of family right now. You two being here will help her out a lot.”

Jo doesn’t quite understand that. “I don’t get it,” she whispers to David as they get on the road proper.

“I think it’s a long way of saying that his Mom doesn’t like gays but she’s getting over it. Or something,” David answers in an undertone.

“Somethin’ like that, yeah,” Daddy says slowly, and she and David freeze half-guiltily. It doesn’t help that Daddy’s accent comes out when he’s feeling strong about something, and family is one of the most important things to the McCoys. “We’re just another kind of family. Not all folks get that, but most are learnin’ to, includin’ Jim’s Mom. It means a lot to us that she’s tryin’,” he adds pointedly.

Both of them are quiet at that. Then David pipes up, “But she does know I’m vegetarian, right?”

About twenty minutes later they pull up outside of a low, white house, with a tall, slate-blue barn behind it. There’s a big Christmas wreath with a big red and gold bow on the door, and fat red candles in each of the windows. The wind is icier on Jo’s cheeks here than it was at the airport, and she shivers inside her thick wool coat, and wishes they could have had Christmas in San Francisco instead, or better yet, Atlanta with its mild winter sun and Nana’s big kitchen overflowing with treats…

Mrs. Kirk comes out of the house; she’s dressed in jeans and a heavy sweater. “You’re here!” she says, coming up to Jim with her arms up, and he freezes for a moment before carefully hugging her back.

“Yeah, we made it,” Jim agrees as he lets her go, and she smiles at him.

“Come on in,” she says, holding the door open for them as they all shuffle in with their bags. Her house is welcomingly warm, and smells like pine needles and cooking things. Jo’s stomach growls, as does David’s. Winona smiles at them. “I have snacks set out in the kitchen. I made hot chocolate, too.”

“With little marshmallows?” Jim and Jo ask hopefully, and at the same time.

“Wooooooooow,” David says to the pair of them, drawing the word out real long, and not without a little envy. Marshmallows are one of the few non-vegetarian treats he frankly covets, particularly after a camping expedition the previous summer that involved Jim, Jo, and Spock making a mess of s’mores while Daddy and Miss Nyota laughed. David and Amanda had been consoled with chocolate bars—the toddler more so than the boy.

“Tell me about it,” Daddy agrees, squeezing David’s shoulder affectionately.

Jo enjoys exploring the empty farmhouse with her step-brother while they are there. Jim’s back is straight and stiff when they are out there, his smile strangely fake, and he doesn’t relax until Daddy touches his left hand with its new ring.

“He hates Iowa even more than Mom does,” David says softly.

“Why?” Jo wants to know.

David shrugs. “Dunno. They don’t talk about it.”

It will be several more years before Jim and Carol tell David and Jo about Riverside. Carol will explain how she met Jim as a little girl when she ran away while her parents were fighting and hid in the Kirk barn and he found her. Jim will tell them about how after Sam ran away for good, his stepfather Frank became even worse. The two of them were friends and allies, and played briefly at being more, and that was how David happened. By the time Carol knew, Jim had had enough of Frank and was going as far away as his motorcycle would take him. They will explain all this, and David and Jo will still know they left things out, and over the years they will piece more and more bits together. As an adult, Jo will gain a new appreciation for the man Jim ultimately became, how he fought to escape all that, and admire his patience and affection with both her and David.

In the meantime, Jo and Winona make cookies. Jim and Daddy and David go to a movie she doesn’t really want to see one afternoon, so Winona teaches her how to make snickerdoodles, measuring the sugar and cinnamon for the topping and adding just a bit of extra spice. “For luck,” Winona says, and they mix the rest of the ingredients together and place neat dollops of batter on the cookie sheets and then put them in the oven. Afterwards Jo licks the spoon while Winona washes the bowl.

“Did you and Jim used to make cookies?” Jo asks.

Winona concentrates on what she’s doing for a minute, then finally answers. “No,” she says. “I wish we had, but—no.”

“Why not?” Even as the words come out, Jo knows it wasn’t the right thing to ask. If Mom were here, she’d say something, tell her to behave, and Jo can tell from the set of Winona’s mouth that Jim’s Mom is unhappy. She thinks she should apologize, but instead the words seem stuck in her throat, her face is hot, and she’s licked all the sweetness from the batter off the spoon so she just holds it in her mouth, the curve of it against her tongue, and tastes its metallic tang.

Winona doesn’t say anything for a long time, and the silence is as thick in the air as the heat from the stove. Finally she takes a deep breath and looks Jo straight in the eyes. “I wish I knew what to tell you, Joanna, I really wish I did. But, the truth of the matter is that I was never as good a mother as I could have—should have been. Jim has paid for that over the years, him and Sam both. And I’m trying to make that right now, as best I can, but I know—it might—”

But Jo doesn’t know what it might be, because that’s when the oven timer goes off, and they pause to take the fresh cookies out of the oven. Jo puts in the next sheet of them in the oven while Winona puts the other on the cooling rack.

“Mind you set the alarm for ten minutes,” Winona says, her voice muffled, and Jo does before quietly putting the spoon in the sink. When she leans over to rinse it, she sees wet spots on Winona’s face, and on impulse, hugs her.

Winona smells like cinnamon and sugar and soap, and her body in Jo’s arms feels strangely insubstantial. She’s not like Mom, all soft and curvy. In fact, she reminds Jo of Jim, with her long, wiry limbs and something inside that makes her feel straight and strong. “Jim wouldn’t bring us here if he didn’t want to,” Jo says into the fabric of Winona’s sweater, because it has just occurred to her and because it is true. Winona makes a soft sound at that, and puts her arms around Jo to hug her back.

“You’re a sweet girl,” she says, her voice all wobbly, but it’s the sort of thing Jo has heard too many times from grown ups who think she doesn’t understand that they’re just saying things they think will make her be quiet. The sort of thing that annoys the hell out of her.

“I’m right!” Jo says stubbornly, resisting the urge to stamp her foot pointedly. Mom’s gotten onto her about that before, that and her “darn McCoy orneriness,” but Jo’s not gonna say something she doesn’t mean. It’s not any part of her nature, any more than it is Daddy’s.

That makes Jim’s Mom laugh, and she pats Jo on the back as she lets her go. Winona scrubs at her eyes with the back of her hand and makes a final, small sniff. “Well then,” she says, “let’s try these cookies out, shall we?”

She retrieves a pair of small plates and two mugs. Jo is carefully pouring milk into each cup when the timer goes off again. Winona puts the cookie sheet onto the other cooling rack, and starts to remove the still-cooling cookies from the first pan. She places two on each of the plates and puts the rest in a round tin with a wintry scene on the lid. Then she sits down at the table across from Jo and holds her mug up. “Toast,” she says, and Jo clinks her cup against Winona’s.

The snickerdoodles are soft and sweet, and when dipped into the milk leave behind a sweet aftertaste of spice. Jo all but inhales her cookies, and eyeballs the tin when done.

“We should save some for the boys,” Winona says, “but one more each won’t hurt, will it?” Her lips twitch a little, and Jo knows she’s pretending not to smile.

“I don’t think so,” Jo says, and decides then and there that she quite likes Jim’s Mom.


III.

Joanna knows she loves Winona when she’s sixteen.

Jo had been going through a Hemingway phase, aided and abetted by Erik and Raven (Charles despises “Papa”), who had given her A Moveable Feast for her fifteenth birthday. Like all the books that The Common Reader gang had given her over the years—and she still owns them all, too, even Winnie the Pooh which Erik had insisted on when she first met him when she was six, and they have their very own special shelf in her room in Georgia—she reads it to within an inch of its life. She takes immense pleasure in writing little notes in the margins of her copy with pencil, in sketching little Parisian scenes on the endpapers. The book is what convinces her to drop Spanish and add French, to the consternation of several of her friends.

“But Spanish is easier, Jo,” Michaela Cooper wheedles unsuccessfully, but Jo laughs.

“Spanish won’t help me when I go to Paris,” Jo says with a flirtatious flip of her hair, “and that’s that!”

“Like that’ll happen,” Michaela mutters, but Jo ignores her firmly. Instead she focuses her attention on her verb tenses and the formal vous and the informal tu, and in her imagination she walks down rainy streets and writes in smoky cafés and talks in her new, secret-ish language to dark boys with smoldering eyes.

Between learning French and spending too many afternoons feigning cramps to get out of gym and go to the library instead, where she devours the work of the various Left Bank artists (she loves Jean Rhys and Wide Sargasso Sea, but for the love she cannot get her mind around Joyce, not even Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man), she studiously neglects her assigned reading. After all, Silas Marner is nothing compared to Garden of Eden. By Winter Break, she has an A in French, shaky Bs in English and History, and high Cs in Calculus and Physics.

It’s the lowest set of grades she’s ever had.

“What’s goin’ on, darlin’?” Dad wants to know on their weekly call. He sounds worried, and it brings out his drawl something fierce. “Is somethin’ wrong? You know you can tell me and Jim anything, you know that, right?”

“I know, Dad,” Jo says, her face hot because embarrassment wars with affection. “Geez, nothing’s going on, I just—” And she breaks off, because all her dreams sound so silly out loud. She’d told Michaela once, in a moment of weakness, and Michaela had laughed and laughed and laughed, and then Jo had laughed too, fake laughter to cover up the pain. “I just have a lot on my mind, ‘sall!”

“Mmm,” Dad says, all thoughtful and worried, and Jo starts to feel guilty, so she changes the subject.

That Christmas she spends in Georgia with Mom and Clay, so she gets a series of long calls with the other half of her family on Christmas day: Dad and Jim using two phones for a long conference call and a shorter call from David, who is in his second year of college at Berkeley.

“You coming to town for your birthday, Squirt?” he wants to know. He started calling her by that nickname when he suddenly shot up a foot in height at fourteen, and he hasn’t stopped since.

“For a whole week,” she says excitedly. “It’s on Spring Break this year! And don’t call me that, geez!”

“Squirt. And awesome,” David says, and her heart warms because she knows he means it. He’s still the best step-brother ever, even if he does call her stupid things.

The last call is from Winona. She still calls Jim’s Mom by her first name, even after all these years, because nothing else has never sounded right. Not “Mrs. Kirk” and definitely not “Grandma.”

“Hey, sweetie,” Winona says. “Merry Christmas!” They chit-chat for a bit, and then talk turns more serious. “Your father and Jim are worried about your grades.” Jo flinches, expecting another round of sympathetic ‘you can talk to me’, but instead Winona sounds quietly smug. “I told them to calm down, you were being a teenager.”

Jo laughs in surprised delight. “You are so epic!” she says sincerely.

Winona laughs affectionately. “Thank you, dear.”

Jo swallows, throat suddenly thick with unshed tears, because she knows people are worried and— “It’s all so stupid!” To her horror, that last part is out loud.

“What is, sweetie?” Winona’s voice is patient and even, and that’s the only thing that makes Jo take a deep breath, and that’s how it all comes out.

Jo’s letting her grades slip because more than anything else in the world she wants to go to Paris and be a writer. She wants to walk by the arches of Notre Dame and go into Shakespeare & Company and peer into the windows of Maxim’s.

“I told you it’s stupid,” she says apologetically when she’s done, sniffling loudly because she’s crying. “Dammit!” she says in asperity at herself. “Sorry,” she adds.

“You’re your father’s daughter, alright,” Winona says in amusement. “And it’s not stupid. Wanting your daydreams is perfectly normal. It’s just important not to sacrifice reality for a daydream, you know? Otherwise, all you do is work hard to make sure your reality comes as close to your dream as you can. Understand?”

“Maybe,” Jo says. “I think. Yes.”

“So do you know what you have to do now?” Winona asks.

“Um, do my homework and not flunk out, huh,” Jo offers.

“Smart girl.” And Jo can hear the smile in Winona’s voice.

When school starts up again, Joanna buckles down and makes herself focus. She spends her time in class taking notes instead of doodling. She only takes out her treasured notebooks when all her homework is done for the night.

She still feigns cramps to get out of gym class though. There’s only so much behaving she can do. But that’s when Michaela has study hall so they end up working on their English essays together, so it works out.

By midterms she has straight A’s again.

And then it’s late March, and a few days before her birthday.

She flies in on Saturday morning, so Dad, Jim, and David are all there to meet her.

“Hey, squirt,” David says, picking her up off the ground in a hug. His dark blonde hair has grown longer and curly, and he hasn’t shaved in a couple of days so he resembles a tall, thin teddy bear.

“Don’t call me that,” Joanna says automatically, but she hugs him back.

“Listen to what your sister says,” Jim says with mock-sternness.

“How was your flight?” Dad wants to know as he puts his arm around her while David picks up her suitcase, and they all make their way to the car.

Over the next two days, Joanna is caught up in the usual whirlwind of greetings. Her first night in town they have a meal at home with Nyota, Spock, and twelve year old Amanda, who hugs her in delight.

“Can we have a girl’s night or something?” Amanda wants to know as Nyota brings out the dish of baked eggplant, Jim following with a bowl of salad and David with a bowl of chopped fruit.

Spock frowns, an expression that would be akin to panic on anyone else’s face. “Are you not too young for such an activity?” he inquires. Dad keeps his head down as he pulls chairs out for the others before sitting himself; Jo can tell he’s repressing laughter.

“We can watch a movie in my room,” Jo says calmly. “No big deal.” Especially since Dad’s old computer had finally given up the ghost two years ago and they had put a newer one with a better monitor in her bedroom (well, it was her bedroom three weeks out of the year and their home office the rest of the time) instead. That’s how the girls end up watching The Princess Bride after supper, the pair of them drowsing while the adults sit in the living room talking about the class Jim and Nyota would be co-teaching at The Center for the Book in the summer.

~

That night she dreams about the Dread Pirate Roberts owning a bookstore and Buttercup and Wesley working the customer service desk where Jo is hoping they’ll have the Colette biography she had already read, and it all makes sense. When she wakes up, of course, it doesn’t, and she laughs.

“What’s up, kiddo?” Jim asks when he sees her grinning as she comes out of her room midmorning. He is in the kitchen with a heavy mug of tea. “Want some?”

“Yes, please,” Jo says, and he pours her a cup. She can hear the shower running; she’s always the late-sleeper here. She sips her drink; it’s black tea with lemon. “Yum,” she says contentedly.

Dad ends up making them breakfast, and they enjoy a lazy Sunday morning. In the afternoon, Jo takes a few hours to go visit her friends at The Common Reader. She hasn’t visited in months, and doesn’t recognize the pretty dark-skinned girl at the counter. Her hair is dyed what was probably meant to be platinum blonde, but looks shockingly white.

“I’m looking for Raven,” Jo says, “or Erik if she’s not around?”

The girl, who is maybe a year or so older than her, grins. “You’re Joanna McCoy, right? They told me to keep an eye out for you. Erik’s upstairs in his office but Raven won’t be in for a while. I’m Ororo, by the way,” she adds with a little wave.

Jo grins back. “Call me Jo,” she says. She steps aside for a real customer, a tall man with bright red hair, and heads to the back of the store to take the stairs up to the second floor. The old-fashioned design exposes the second floor to the first through a wide empty expanse in the middle, surrounded by a navel-high banister, so she can see Erik’s office before she’s even up there. His door is open, and she can hear the low strains of the classical music he prefers by the time she’s at the top step. A couple of people are browsing in the stacks, and she navigates around them neatly.

Erik Lehnsherr has changed very little over the years, all things considered. He’s still tall and thin, dark hair cut close, though it is now threaded with gray. The familiar glass chest set sits by the window, light glimmering in the facets of the white crystal pieces. He’s reading a book, lips thin in concentration. Jo knocks quietly on his open door. “Hey, Erik!” she says when he looks up, and the older man stares at her, still dazed from his book, before his expression brightens.

Liebchen!” he says. “It’s been so long!” As ever, his German accent is all but nonexistent when he speaks English, except for the odd vowel here and there that makes him sound inexplicably Irish at times. He gets up, and as one they embrace. “How are you?”

“Good,” she says. “You? Where’s Charles?” she adds, because the man’s husband is usually here on weekends.

Herr Professor is camping at the coffee shop trying to finish yet another article,” Erik says. “You know how he is—that stage where nothing will do but a dozen cups of tea brought to him by someone else.” He rolls his eyes heavenwards in bemusement. “So bourgeoisie!”

Jo laughs and Erik looks pleased. He puts an arm around her, guiding her back to the steps. “Come, my dear girl,” he continues, “let’s see if we can pry him from his damned little metal box and join humanity for a little while.”

As luck has it, Raven is walking up the street towards the shop just as they leave. The older girl smiles and quickens her pace into a near-run just as Jo breaks from Eric to do the same. They meet in the middle, colliding with a force that would knock them over if they didn’t choose to spin madly in place with their arms around one another instead. Innocent pedestrians bypass them with tolerant smiles while Erik looks bemused.

“I’m so happy to see you!” Raven says just as Jo exclaims, “I’ve missed you!” They both extend the vowels of their yous out halfway past forever in their delight.

“If you’re quite done slavering over one another,” Erik says with properly European dignity, “let us go find Charles.”

This makes the girls giggle. “Can you?” Jo asks, and Raven nods. “I was early for my shift anyway. Plus,” she adds with a significant look at Erik, “my boss might give me a note.”

“You are completely ridiculous,” Erik says, but the three of them continue to Common Grounds anyway.

Jim stopped working there several years ago, but this coffee shop is a not insignificant reason that Jo still associates the smell of coffee with being happy and safe. Janice Rand is the manager here now, but she usually doesn’t work Sundays, so Jo probably won’t see her or Geoff until later in the week.

Charles Xavier, Professor of English at Berkeley and co-owner of The Common Reader (still one of the most popular independent bookstores in the Bay Area), is sitting by the window with an empty mug, bent close to his tablet computer, books spread open haphazardly across the table. Frankly, that cup isn’t long for this world, as close as it is to the edge. Raven rescues it neatly as the three of them silently join him at the table. Erik sits close to him, expression intent and lips twitching as he stares at his husband until Charles eventually becomes aware of their shared regard. He finally looks up, blinking owlishly at them all before settling on Erik.

“You know you look like a shark when you do that,” Charles says blandly. Erik blinks and then starts laughing, and a slow smile spreads over the professor’s features. He turns to Jo. “There’s a face I haven’t seen in a bit. Welcome back, love.”

They chat at length in the coffee shop, then amble back to the bookstore, Charles packing his work up to go without an argument. The pair of them eventually retreat to Erik’s study to play chess while Raven sticks around to talk about books—amongst other things—with Jo. This is how, as has usually happened every time Jo has gone to the store since she was a child, she ends up carrying a stack of new books to the counter.

“I’m glad Mom already gave me a gift certificate,” she says in genuine relief as Ororo rings up the order.

“Do they not have bookstores in Georgia?” Ororo asks.

“Not like this,” Jo answers, “but that’s true of most places—”

“That one’s free,” Raven says, pointing at a fat volume. “Put in my discount code, would you?”

“Don’t do that!” Jo says, but they enact this scene every year. One day she’s going to figure out how to pay them back.

“Ignore her,” Raven says firmly.

“Sure.” Ororo represses a smile as she taps a series of keys, peering at the title “Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation: A History of Literary Paris in the Twenties and Thirties. That’s some serious reading.”

“It’s the only kind I do,” Jo says truthfully.

~

Winona flies in the next day, especially for the occasion. When it’s time for the party proper, Jo looks around at everyone around her and as far as she is concerned, it’s the best birthday week she’s had since she was a little kid, when she met everyone for the first time. They are all there: Dad and Jim and David, and Nyota and Spock and Amanda, and Charles and Erik and Raven, who has Pavel firmly in tow, and Chris Pike and his wife (Jo still has problems remembering her name), and Winona.

Charles brings British crackers, passing around the cardboard tubes covered in brightly colored paper.

“I thought these were only for Christmas,” Jo says as he hands one to her.

“Birthdays too,” Charles says. He shrugs and grins. “A bit of an impulse lark really, to be honest. I thought you’d like them.”

Pavel nods knowingly. “Zhey vere inwented in Russia. Vhat?” he looks puzzled as Raven elbows him. “Eez true! Viki it.”

There’s enough of the things to be shared. Jo and David take one and hold either end, popping it open with a cheerful Craaaack! Out spills a pair of paper hats, a small plastic toy dog, and a slip of paper with several jokes on it. When they’ve all been opened, Winona brings out the large chocolate cake that Jo had glimpsed her working on most of the afternoon. In the middle of it is a single, pale blue candle with a flickering flame.

“Remember what I told you?” Winona says to her with surprising seriousness.

Jo blinks, mind blank, and then she remembers. Work hard to make sure your reality comes as close to your dream as you can. “Yes,” she says, coloring, but saying no more. It’s still a precious thing to her, her dream of Paris.

Luckily, if anyone is mystified by this exchange, they choose to ignore it.

Jo takes a deep breath and blows out the candle. Her family cheers.

“Well done, darlin’,” Dad says, kissing the top of her head.

“It was a little candle, Dad,” Jo protests, but she feels warm with pleasure anyway as she leans into his embrace.

Dad steps back and Jim puts an arm around him. “So this is the part where we have a bit of a confession to make,” the printer says.

“It’s my fault,” Winona says apologetically, but she looks pleased anyway.

“I think we might have something to do with it too, from the sound of it,” Erik says to her surprise.

“And by ‘something’ we mean ‘a lot of things’,” Raven says.

Jo stares at them, feeling completely lost, especially when Charles continues, “So it was only right that we took part in remedying the matter.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Jo says with complete honesty.

Nyota slips an envelope into her hand. It’s a long, thin one, the kind that typically has novelty cards inside. “We made this for you,” she says.

“Open it,” Dad prompts helpfully.

Jo slits the envelope open with the tip of one nail, carefully prying it open. She pulls the card out, recognizing the thick, heavy cream paper that Nyota makes. Someone, most likely Jim, has printed the message on it in clear Goudy Old Style. I can’t believe I even know that, Jo thinks in amusement as she reads the card.

The edges of it are ornamented with embossed arabesques, the front quoting a few lines of verse:


And coming where the crossroads separate
And down each vista glories and wonders wait,
Crowning each path with pinnacles so fair
You know not which to choose, and hesitate --



She opens it up, and a bit of folded paper falls into her lap. She picks it up in bemusement, holding it in one hand as she continues to read the interior of the card, which is decorated with a woodcut engraving of the Eiffel Tower and then the rest of the poem.


Oh, go to Paris. . . . In the midday gloom
Of some old quarter take a little room
That looks off over Paris and its towers
From Saint Gervais round to the Emperor's Tomb, --

So high that you can hear a mating dove
Croon down the chimney from the roof above,
See Notre Dame and know how sweet it is
To wake between Our Lady and our love.

And have a little balcony to bring
Fair plants to fill with verdure and blossoming,
That sparrows seek, to feed from pretty hands,
And swallows circle over in the Spring.

There of an evening you shall sit at ease
In the sweet month of flowering chestnut-trees,
There with your little darling in your arms,
Your pretty dark-eyed Manon or Louise.

And looking out over the domes and towers
That chime the fleeting quarters and the hours,
While the bright clouds banked eastward back of them
Blush in the sunset, pink as hawthorn flowers,

You cannot fail to think, as I have done,
Some of life's ends attained, so you be one
Who measures life's attainment by the hours
That Joy has rescued from oblivion.



She blinks rapidly, then looks at the folded bit of paper again. “This is a ticket voucher,” she says blankly.

“Can’t get anything past you, Squirt,” David says with a laugh.

“We kind of had a group discussion—” Jim starts.

“—that I decided worked,” Dad says.

“Paris?!” The word comes out like a squeak.

“I’m your chaperone,” Winona says quickly.

“And I’m your guide!” Raven leaps into her arms enthusiastically. Joanna clings to her in astonishment.

“How? Why? How?” Jo knows her mouth is hanging open like a fish, but she doesn’t really care right now.

“We were all worried about you until a little birdie told us what was going on,” Jim says, flashing his Mom a bright, genuine smile.

“And of all things a teenage girl could be obsessin’ about, I was relieved,” Dad admits. “Those two will keep you mostly out of trouble—I hope.” That’s when Jo flings herself into his arms to general soft laughter and applause. “Happy birthday, darlin’.”

“I shall prepare the dessert for consumption,” Spock volunteers, shaking his head at the display of emotion as he takes the cake back to the kitchen.

Jo hugs Jim next, and then Winona. “You’re awesome, Grandma,” she says for the first time, and Winona laughs, and hugs her back.


Epilogue

Jo checks her suitcase one more time, making sure she has everything. It’s late and Mom and Clay have already gone to bed. Her flight isn’t until late in the afternoon, but she’s going to meet Raven and Winona coming off their connecting flights. She has the window open, and the cicadas make a comforting, familiar song in the warm May night.

The flight to Paris from Atlanta is only a bit longer than the one she normally makes to San Francisco. She needs at least two books to read, three if the movie selection sucks. Luckily she hasn’t finished the ones she bought from her last trip to The Common Reader, so she puts them in her carry-on. Then she looks up at her bookshelf, grinning as her eye catches A Moveable Feast. She takes it down, peering at it closely: it’s been read a dozen times at least in the last year and a half, and she fondly traces the inscriptions on the titlepage.


If you are lucky enough to have lived
in Paris as a young man, then wherever you
go for the rest of your life, it stays with
you, for Paris is a moveable feast.
--Ernest Hemingway to a friend, 1950



Underneath the epigraph is Erik’s neat handwriting in elegant cursive and black ink: It is true, liebchen, it says, E.L.

Beside that is drawn an arrow in blue, followed by Raven’s rounder, loopier hand: Sometimes he’s right. This is one of those times. Love, Raven.

At the bottom of the page, Charles has the final word, per usual. Pay no attention to them. “Professor X.”

She grins at the words, then at the notebook that Raven had given her as a secret birthday present later that night two months before. Its faux-leather cover peeks out from the top of her backpack, nestled with her ipod and wallet.

If you want to pay me back, write me a story, Raven had said, before grinning impishly. Then become ridiculously famous and dedicate it to me, okay?

Okay, Jo had promised, and she meant it, too.

But when she does write, it’s going to be for all of them: all of her large, wonderful family, in Georgia and California and Iowa.

Especially for Dad and Jim, and Winona.

With a soft sigh, she closes the book, and adds it to her bag, too.


Author’s Gratuitous Notes

The poem quoted is “Paris” by Alan Seeger.

And Chekov is kind of right. The Russians have crackers, too, it’s just ambiguous as to who invented them first. *G*

Comments

( 21 comments — Add your .02 )
ageofalejandro
Aug. 9th, 2011 07:04 am (UTC)
I love this! Cute and well done. :3
caitri
Aug. 9th, 2011 02:40 pm (UTC)
*G*G*G* Thanks, bb!!
northernwalker
Aug. 9th, 2011 01:08 pm (UTC)
This was a lovely piece to wake up to. Now I want a Joanna- curse you, hormones!
caitri
Aug. 9th, 2011 02:38 pm (UTC)
*G*G* Thanks, bb! And nerdy kids FTW!
sail_aweigh
Aug. 9th, 2011 04:24 pm (UTC)
Aw, man, you had me blinking back tears a half a dozen times! This was just miraculous. :D
caitri
Aug. 9th, 2011 04:49 pm (UTC)
**HEARTS**

Okay I was so not expecting that reaction. Can you tell me when so I can get an idea of what I did? <3
tocourtdisaster
Aug. 9th, 2011 05:37 pm (UTC)
<3333333333333

That is all.
caitri
Aug. 9th, 2011 05:59 pm (UTC)
***EPIC SQUISH OF JOY***
weepingnaiad
Aug. 10th, 2011 06:01 am (UTC)
*sighs happily*

Gorgeous! As the mother of a teenager that just turned 15, you did good with Jo. Mine wants New York City, Paris, Italy, England. She's got grand goals.

Lovely!


caitri
Aug. 10th, 2011 01:48 pm (UTC)
*grinning from ear to ear* That makes me so happy, bb!!!!!! <33
suddenlyswept
Aug. 11th, 2011 05:38 am (UTC)
how did this sneak by me??????

<33333333

adorbs! just like you :D
caitri
Aug. 11th, 2011 02:17 pm (UTC)
*delighted squishes* <333
blcwriter
Aug. 11th, 2011 12:55 pm (UTC)
All of this makes me gleeful but this
“I shall prepare the dessert for consumption,” Spock volunteers, shaking his head at the display of emotion as he takes the cake back to the kitchen.
makes me think of the Spock/Cake icon, and so made me bwee.

Wonderful, darling.
rubynye
Aug. 12th, 2011 12:35 pm (UTC)
This is darling. I would write SO much more but I have to leave my desk!
caitri
Aug. 12th, 2011 01:46 pm (UTC)
*G*G*G* What you have there is making me grin happily!!!
treksnoopy
Aug. 14th, 2011 03:20 am (UTC)
This is so wonderful! The changes in her relationship with Winona are lovely to see and her relationship with David just made me giggle.
You absolutely nailed the drama that is "teenager with big dreams" and "no one understands me." Voice of experience x3 here.
*hugs fic & you*
caitri
Aug. 14th, 2011 03:23 am (UTC)
***squishes you with delight*** Comments like that make me so happy!!!!!!
joirerson
Aug. 14th, 2011 02:18 pm (UTC)
How adorable!! I love this verse.
caitri
Aug. 14th, 2011 05:20 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad you liked it, bb!! <3
secretsolitaire
Aug. 14th, 2011 03:35 pm (UTC)
Oh, this is very touching, especially the scene with Winona and the cookies.
caitri
Aug. 14th, 2011 05:19 pm (UTC)
*G*G* Glad you liked it, bb!!! <3
( 21 comments — Add your .02 )

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