winona smile

Fic: How Winona Kirk Fell in Love, Found Her Strength, and Healed a Relationship with Bread Pudding

Title: How Winona Kirk Fell in Love, Found Her Strength, and Healed a Relationship with Bread Pudding
Author: igrockspock
Characters/Pairings: Winona Kirk, Jim Kirk, Winona/George
Rating: PG-13
Summary: George Kirk seduced Winona with bread pudding, and the rest is history.
Notes:: For boosette, who requested bread pudding in the alphabet meme. Thanks to thistlerose for the beta.
Word Count: 4100



The rumor on campus is that George Kirk's dorm room smells really, really good. He'd finagled a single (unheard-of for a first year) so no one knows what's happening inside, except that it smells of cinnamon, cream, and occasionally maple syrup. So when George asks her out, Winona really has no choice but to say yes, even though being the captain of the shooting team takes up what little time Starfleet Medical Academy leaves her. She simply cannot surrender the opportunity to be the first to know whether George Kirk is secretly a pastry chef or secretly engaged in a vast prank involving cinnamon-scented air freshener. She might even have accepted some bets on the matter from her roommates. They were betting on pastry chef, but Winona, ever the cynic, had put ten credits down in favor of an elaborate scheme to seduce women with the false promise of domesticity.

On the evening of their first date, he opens the door before she rings the buzzer, and asks, "Are you taking bets on why my dorm room smells good?" before she can say hello.

"Do you normally accuse your dates of running illegal gambling operations?" she shoots back, unfazed – well, mostly unfazed – by his sparkling blue eyes and the casual way he leans against the door frame.

"Only if they're actually doing it," he says, grinning mischievously. There's a dimple on his left cheek.

"Don't flatter yourself,” she snaps, but she can hear the smile in her voice. “It's hardly illegal when there's ten credits, a bottle of nail polish, and my roommate's eye shadow on the line."

"I was hoping I was worth more than leftover makeup."

"Please. I've been standing here for ages, and you haven't even invited me inside."

His smile is so warm and radiant that she can feel the heat of it in the pit of her stomach. He's cute, she thinks, even though she doesn't mean to. She steps inside, tugging off her jacket as she goes, and he moves to stand behind her. She looks up at him questioningly.

"I'm helping you take off your jacket," he says, looking bemused. "Don't tell me you've been dating the kind of jerks who claim chivalry is dead?"

"No comment," she mutters, hoping he doesn't notice the sweat stains she'd let accumulate along the collar of her jacket. As comebacks go, it's pretty lame, but her head is spinning.

The room is not what she expected. Like everyone else's, it is neat enough to be ready for inspection on short notice, but where most cadets have posters, his walls are lined with shelves of real paper books that make her itch to read their spines. She steps toward a shelf filled with tattered red volumes and is startled by a warm draft emerging from beneath the bed.

"Oven," he says, gesturing at the small chrome box crouching among his shoes. "Not strictly regulation."

A timer dings, and he seizes a red and white checked towel from atop a stack of star charts. Only then does she notice the rest of the room. A table fashioned from cardboard boxes sits where the second bed should be. Two tea lights in candle holders she recognizes from the one credit store sit on top of it, casting long shadows and gold-tinged light on the wall.

"Dinner's served," George says softly behind her and deposits a bubbling casserole dish on the desk, where she knows it will leave a scorch mark.

"I've got the one chair." He smiles apologetically, scooting the desk chair toward her.

"A gentleman and good looking," she says and somehow isn't surprised to see him blush. She lets her fingers brush his when she pushes the chair back toward him.

"I think there's enough floor for both of us." She can feel his eyes on her as she settles onto the floor in front of the improvised table, and she looks back over her shoulder and smiles. She likes the way he looks at her -- like he appreciates her rather than just wanting to fuck her. She can't say the same for many of the male cadets around here.

He serves her on a saucer that says PROPERTY OF STARFLEET ACADEMY MESS HALL around the rim.

"So you're a thief as well as a chef," she says.

"Aspiring chef. And I prefer poor but resourceful."

She wonders if his eyes always twinkle like that and why she hadn't thought to look before. Not that it's easy to answer that question when the aroma of, well, whatever's on her plate is making her stomach growl. It smells like what she'd always imagined a grandmother's kitchen would have smelled like, if she had ever known a grandmother.

Her stomach growls again and George laughs.

"Eat up," he says, gesturing at her plate.

The first forkful burns her tongue, but that doesn't stop her from devouring the whole thing with unseemly haste.

"Like it?"

"I wish I could lick the sauce off my plate."

"Believe me, Winona, I wouldn't mind if you did," he says. He sounds sincere, not lecherous, but she still hates him a little bit for the way he makes her blush. After that dessert, she can forgive him. Almost.

"No licking till at least three dates."

She makes her voice as severe as she can, considering that George looks so good in the candle light that she kind of wants to lick him now. She wonders if he would taste like cinnamon.

"Does that mean I get to take you out again?"

"If that means I get to eat this again, you're on. What is it anyway?"

"Bread pudding. Kirk family recipe. Passed down by word of mouth through ten generations."

He looks almost indecently proud.

"What's in it?" Winona asks even though she has almost no interest in cooking. She does, however, have a lot of interest in the attractive and charming man who had gone to the trouble to bake for her on their first date, and she figures it's in her best interest to keep him talking. Besides, if he goes on too long, she can always stare at his pretty blue eyes.

But George waggles a finger at her.

"I'm onto you, Winona. A little flattery, you get my recipe, and then I never see you again."

"You'll see me. This Sunday, eighteen hundred hours at the pool hall in the basement of Cochran Hall. That is, if you're not scared I'll kick your ass."

"Hardly. In fact, I'll be taking bets against you. But you're still not getting my recipe. You want to keep eating my bread pudding, you'll have no choice but to marry me."

"I hate to break it to you, but I'm not the marrying kind."

She rises to her feet slightly unsteadily, still weighed down by the bread pudding in her belly.

"But I am the kind to kiss a cute guy good bye at the end of a really good first date."

It turns out that George Kirk really does taste like cinnamon.

***


Three quarters of a loaf of bread sits on the polished wooden cutting board in front of Winona, arranged in towers of perfect white cubes. She is good at cutting things regularly; she'd learned that in the cadaver lab at the Academy. Somewhat guiltily, she sweeps the smashed remnants of the other quarter of the loaf into the trashcan with the back of her knife. The soft, smushed shapes cling together, refusing to let her forget that she is new at this, that at first she had not known she needed to cut bread with a serrated knife. A quiet reminder that George had been the one to cook, and this is one more thing her boys will have to do with out now that he is gone. One by one, she scrapes the bread fragments from the metal blade, then wipes a damp cloth over the crumbs on the counter. She'd learned that in the cadaver lab too, how to clean everything up before moving onto the next step.

"You're comparing cooking to doing autopsies? That's a little creepy, Wi," George's voice says in the back of her head. Six months after his death, his voice is distant and a little hollow, like it's coming from the end of a long tunnel, and she pictures him behind her, translucent and flickering. His smile is the same though.

"Hush," she mutters. "I'm learning to make your bread pudding for the boys."

"It's not my bread pudding," he says, voice tinged with anger and hurt.

"I know," she thinks back at him, wherever he is. "I should have asked you, just in case."

To tell the truth, she doesn't know why she should have fixated on this one thing out of all of the stories and quirks and odd tidbits of knowledge that had died with George. But two weeks ago, when Sam confessed that he'd forgotten what his father looked like, Winona could think of nothing but George in their dorm room, chest puffed out with absurd pride over his bread pudding. Ever since, she had been determined to give the boys this one small, human treasure of their father's. As if it would be enough to erase everything they had lost when he died.

As little as a week ago, she had thought he'd been lying about not writing the recipe down. Who kept a five-hundred-year-old piece of history some place as vulnerable as their head? George apparently had, and so had dozens of Kirk men and women before him.

At first, she had been calm and methodical in her search. When the boys were in bed, she'd hacked into the password-protected journals George had left behind, skimming them for recipes while leaving the rest of his thoughts as private as possible -- whether to honor him or to spare her, she wasn't sure. But it was not there. She'd ransacked the kitchen then, dumping out dozens of antique recipe boxes, letting the yellowed cards cascade across the white tile floor. When she could breathe again, she picked them up one by one, frowning at the spidery handwriting. Reading them all took days. There were yellow cakes, chocolate cakes, and red cakes, a dozen kinds of lasagna, apple pie with crust made from real lard. A thousand things George would have liked to make if he had the chance. But no bread pudding.

So she scanned George's favorite digital recipe collection for how to make bread pudding, and came up with eleven pages of options. She tried in vain to recollect the exact taste of his, berating herself all the while for never asking him if she tasted a pinch of allspice or a dash of nutmeg. Finally, she had chosen at random: Vermont Maple Bread Pudding with Walnut Praline. And now here she is, standing in her seldom-used kitchen in front of a counter that is gradually blurring with tears.

She wonders what she will tell the boys, if she should pretend it is their father's recipe so that they'll have a little more of him left. They had so few traditions; they hadn't had time, and she'd always been gone. She takes a deep breath, corrects herself. She hadn't always been gone; they had always been gone. They had decided together to leave Sam with her mom until their last tour of duty finished. Neither of them had imagined that they were surrendering what little time they would have together as a family. Guilt and regret were useless now. Not that that stops her from blaming herself.

She imagines the weight of George's hand on her shoulder and begins formulating what he would say to make her feel better. Then she shakes her head and draws herself up straight, trying to gather strength from everything that is solid and comfortable and real around her. She opens her eyes. George is not here. These little fantasies of hers were -- are -- comforting, but they are not a way to memorialize her dead husband. They are preventing her from accepting that he is gone. She will have to do this herself.

She props the recipe padd against the wall to keep the glowing text out of the sun's glare. She will do this one step at a time. First the eggs, then get the whisk, add the cream and the sugar a little at a time.

***


The day after Jim saves the Earth, Winona brings him bread pudding. She had worried that she would look ridiculous and embarrassing walking across campus - someone's mother wearing an old flannel shirt, carrying a foil-covered casserole dish -- but the quad is empty, and the few people she passes don't spare her a second glance. The front doors of the dorm are wide open, and as she wanders through the cool tile-covered hallways, she wonders what she will do if Jim doesn't answer the door. It only now occurs to her that he might not be home.

That would be all right, she tells herself. Her son must be a busy man now. She can wait for him. It would prove that she's meeting him on his terms, not hers. And it would give her a little more time to think. A little more time to guard against the possibility of him closing the door in her face.

By the time she rings the door chime, she's convinced herself he won't be there, so she jumps a little when he actually opens the door. She waits a beat. He doesn't close it. When she looks into his eyes, she sees an expression she's not used to. Guarded, she thinks, rather than defiant. He stands in front of her, muscles tensed, a stylus twirling between his fingers. Waiting for her to make the first move.

She wants to tell him how terrified she'd been when she realized that he could have died in space, just like his father, and she never would have seen him again. Starfleet can find lots of captains, but she only has one youngest son, who is absolutely not allowed to risk his life to save the earth. And by the way, did he have any idea how embarrassed she was? The last she had heard -- through the Academy grapevine, by the way, and not from Jim -- was that he was grounded for academic integrity violations. She'd told everyone that her youngest was safe, that he hadn't even left the ground, and then she'd had to hear from a coworker that his face was plastered all over the news.

Instead, she says, "I brought bread pudding," and offers the dish.

"Thanks."

She can't say whether he means it or whether he's just being polite, but he takes the dish and stands aside so she can step through the doorway.

He has bookshelves just like George's, and she studies his books so she won't have to look at the ring of bruises encircling his eye and his neck. If she looks at those, she'll have to ask if they hurt and how he got them and if she can make them better, and Jim has never cared much for her mothering.

"Are you okay, Mom?" he asks, and suddenly she realizes that she has been staring. She can't help it; every second she needs to reassure herself that her son is still alive.

"Yeah. Thanks for asking."

Part of her regrets her simple, superficial answer; Jim had sounded sincere, even concerned. But she does not want to want to threaten their fragile peace with an honest answer.

"Are you? Okay, I mean."

He nods, a single, sharp bob of his head.

"We should eat."

It's not really an answer, which makes her worry even more, but her heart eases a little when he peels the foil off the top of the bread pudding and smiles.

"You used to make this all the time when I was a kid. It's the only thing you ever cooked."

She smiles back.

"I never was much of a cook. That was always your father's job."

"Yeah, I, uh, figured that out." Because you didn't tell me, she adds, but he doesn't say it. They both look at an old cast iron skillet on a shelf by the desk. She recognizes the flaking red enamel on its underside. It had been George's.

"I should have given that to you before."

"It's all right. I found it."

He sounds tired but not accusatory. She breathes out. No argument, then. He picks up a clear plastic glass filled with silverware from the shelf behind the skillet. PROPERTY OF STARFLEET ACADEMY MESS HALL, it says on the side. The fork he offers her has a Starfleet insignia on the handle. She is about to tell him that his father stole silverware too, but she doesn't get a chance before Jim says, "I'm starving. Let's eat."

He digs straight into the dish, inhaling more than she thought possible in a single bite. She had forgotten how boys -- no, men -- eat. For awhile, there is nothing but the sound of him chewing and swallowing vast mouthfuls, interrupted only by an occasional chug of water. He doesn't stop until the whole casserole pan is empty, and she wonders suddenly if George had liked to cook just so he could watch his loved ones eat.

Jim leans back in his chair, face blissful.

"Thanks, Mom. I was really hungry."

Winona resists the urge to calculate how long it's been since they've had a moment like this one - one where she had behaved like an ordinary mother and he hadn't resisted her or found fault with her.

"Thank you for letting me stay," she says. She really means that, but she sees Jim's wariness. It's too easy to add to it: thanks for letting me stay for once. It's the start of a fight they've had before.

She shakes her head.

"You don't have to answer that. I just mean it's good to see you. And this place. It brings back memories."

"Yeah?"

It's a clear invitation, and she fumbles for a story. Swapping their academy stories should have been an old habit by now, but of course, Jim hadn't exactly called for advice when he enlisted. He simply disappeared, and one day she got a message that said, "I'm at the Academy." She asked why, and he replied with, "I don't know." He hadn't wanted to hear why she had joined, and didn't want her help figuring out why he had. She sent him packages at finals week, watched his name appear in press releases, and did not try to visit. Now that he actually wants to hear from her, she doesn't know what to say; all the little stories she'd saved up and all the lesson she'd learned seem insignificant to a starship captain who had just saved the world.

"What do you want to hear?" she asks at length. She tries but does not entirely succeed in keeping the challenge out of your voice: prove to me that you actually want to hear something I have to say for once..

His voice is softer than she had expected when he answers.

"Tell me something about dad."

"Well, he was first in his class. You probably know that. He was always up late at night studying, and..."

She trails off.

"That is so not what you want to hear."

Role model George, the only version she had ever offered him. Probably the only version anyone had ever offered him.

"He had a single room his first year."

She does not tell him who George had blown to get it, or the ridiculous bet she'd had to make to find out.

"We had our first date in Zefram Cochran Hall, Room 11A. He made me bread pudding."

"This bread pudding?"

It hurts to see Jim's eyes light up at the possibility of having something of his father's. That was why she'd never told them where the tradition came from - she didn't want to see them disappointed when she admitted that she'd faked it.

"No."

She pauses before she tells the whole story of her failure.

"He had this secret recipe that had been passed down in the family for generations. He said he could tell me, but then he'd have to kill me. It was supposed to be given to the oldest child on their eighteenth birthday."

"Sam? He would've been pretty disappointed."

They both pause, remembering the spoons melted onto the stove and smoke alarms ringing in the background.

"I'm sure you would have charmed it out of him. Or beaten it out of Sam."

Or Sam would have grown up loving to cook if George had been around to teach him, she adds silently. Not that there's any use brooding on maybes. Not that she's ever really been able to stop herself.

"I'm sorry I don't have the recipe for you," she says. "I should have asked your father. I just...thought he'd be around. And I didn't have the heart to say I was feeding you a fabricated version of your father's tradition."

"You could have told us, Mom. You didn't have to be so perfect all the time."

Easy for you to say, she thinks. Then she remembers the number of times she had criticized her own mother's parenting. The universality of it is almost reassuring. If they hadn't been having this conversation about George, they would be having it about someone or something else. This is what parents do, she thinks, make mistakes and try to pick up the pieces. Hers were more dramatic than everyone else's, but then, everything with Jim was larger and more dramatic than it should have been.

He seems to be thinking the same thing because he snorts and says, "Not that my behavior really promoted flexible and lenient parenting."

"We both made mistakes," she says softly. In her imagination, they both look up at each other and share a smile. In reality, they both stare down at the table and let the truth of it sink in.

She had not imagined that she would invite him back to the house tonight, but if she's going to do it, now is the time. He'll be gone soon, she realizes with a start. Whether he gets to keep the Enterprise or not, Starfleet would be foolish not to send him to their biggest battles and worst emergencies. That one day she had spent waiting to hear if he had survived would be magnified by a thousand and stretched over light years. She of all people had reason to know that she couldn't count on seeing him again after he shipped out.

"There's got to be a thousand old recipes back at the house," she says. "From the Kirks, I mean. If you ever want to, you could come look through them."

She'd put all the recipe boxes in the attic, back when she was learning to make the house hers instead of hers and George's. She doesn't think he'd ever found them. It would be something new, something she could give him.

"But I know you're busy. The ship and all," she adds hastily to make it okay for both of them if he wants to refuse.

He looks down, scrubbing his fingers through his hair.

"Yeah, I, uh, have to take about seventeen ranks' worth of promotion tests, and there's an interview with GalactiNet..."

"Yeah, I understand. I didn't think you'd have time."

She gets up and pushes in her chair so he can't see her disappointment. It was foolish, really. They'd come a long way today just by having a civil conversation, and it wasn't as if she couldn't come visit him again.

He touches her shoulder and she breathes deep, trying to keep the tears in.

"Mom, it's alright. I'll see you before I go. What are you doing on Friday? I'll come then."

She smiles back at him and doesn't bother to hide that she's wiping away a tear.

"I'll see you then," she says, making herself look into his eyes -- George's eyes -- without seeing the bruises on his face. "And any other time you want."

He hugs her then, and she is startled by the strength of his arms around her body. She had been taller than him the last time he hugged her.

"I'm glad I got to see you again," he says against her hair.

"I love you too," she whispers against his chest.

She carries that moment with her on her way out the door, down to the shuttle bay, and all the way back to Iowa. They're not fixed, not by a long shot, but it's a start.
Damn - this just rocks! And I don't even like bread pudding. This is a lovely picture of both Winona and Jim, coping and dealing. Nice!
Thank you! The truth is, I actually hate bread pudding, but that was the prompt, so I went with it. I'm glad you liked it!
You're not supposed to reduce me to tears! Or maybe you are, considering the subject matter.

This maybe hit me so hard because of all the "what ifs"--what if George had told her the recipe, what if she'd talked of him to her kids, what if she'd tried not to be so perfect.

And, in the end, they're both imperfect characters and trying to make amends.

Beautiful imagery, though. I could almost smell the bread pudding, but that was probably because I just made french toast.

(also: love the way you wrote George)




Thank you! I really had fun with George, trying to make him like Jim, but still his own person. And I'm glad it came through that both Jim and Winona are imperfect. The first draft kind of made Winona look like the bad one, and I didn't want that. Anyway, I'm really glad you enjoyed it :

Oh, what an amazingly moving portrait of Winona and her relationships. The scene in the kitchen when she's talking to George, and the story of her searching for the recipe was just heartbreaking. This was so well done, and the imagery was so beautiful. And of course, now I really want bread pudding.
Thank you so much! I'm so relieved that all the relationships worked, and I did not even realize there was imagery, but I'm very glad it was there!
*flails* Oh my goodness-- this is so fabulously amazingly fantastic. I absolutely and completely love it. George and Winona's first date was so sweet and endearing and a little sassy and just lovely! And I just cried for Winona when she was trying to make bread pudding after George's death, and the comparisons to autopsies and George's voice in her head just made it even more real and heartbreaking. And the scene with Jim was so wonderful-- so tentative and testing and sad but hopeful. I think I'm just hurling out adjectives at this point, trying to find one to fit properly, but just know that I absolutely adored this! *flails more*
Thank you so much, especially for the positive feedback on Jim. As you know from beta reading my remix, figuring out what to do with him is kind of a challenge for me sometimes!
Oh, god. *sniff* This sort of scene with Jim and Winona always gets me. I like this detail:

She smiles back at him and doesn't bother to hide that she's wiping away a tear.

Because she's not trying to be the perfect mom anymore.

Your George is so charming and lovely. My heart broke a little at the idea of Winona trying and failing to make his exact bread pudding. *sniffs some more*
Oh, this story this story ♥

I cannot express adequately how much I love it, but it is the kind of punch in the gut that I love so much in fiction and also: Your Winona, and shades of what might have been, and also her being imperfect but still a good person and Jim.

(I want to give everyone hugs and am also assuming that Grandpa Kirk is not with us any longer, otherwise he would have been around as keeper of recipe?)

And oh, oh this:

"I'm sorry I don't have the recipe for you," she says. "I should have asked your father. I just...thought he'd be around. And I didn't have the heart to say I was feeding you a fabricated version of your father's tradition."

"You could have told us, Mom. You didn't have to be so perfect all the time."


Because of the expectation that Mother means being everything to everyone and also doing it flawlessly OR ELSE, and seeing that acknowledged puts me in such a happy place. Because no, she doesn't have to be so perfect all the time but that doesn't make any easier to accept that sense of not being good enough.

And also, Jim The Man-Shaped Vacuum Cleaner omg. I LAUGHED, I will totally admit to wallowing in the hilarity of that awesome image ♥

Whee! I'm so glad you liked it, since it took me such a ridiculous amount of time to write it! Emotional stories are so tricky for me.

I think you're right about motherhood and perfection, and I think it rings especially true for Winona, who feels like she has to make up for George not being there by being perfect. And it's tragic, really, because a lot of us want mothers who are human beings who we can understand and take care of too.

Also, secret: Bread pudding is so on my list of 5 least favorite foods ever. *snicker*
Spectacular!

This:
"Do you normally accuse your dates of running illegal gambling operations?" she shoots back, unfazed – well, mostly unfazed – by his sparkling blue eyes and the casual way he leans against the door frame.


And this:
"Thank you for letting me stay," she says. She really means that, but she sees Jim's wariness. It's too easy to add to it: thanks for letting me stay for once. It's the start of a fight they've had before.


So perfect.
Thank you so much, especially for quoting the parts that worked for you - that kind of feedback really helps me write!
I really love your Winona, and her relationship with Jim- they're not perfect, but they're trying. And your George is great.
Thank you - I'm really glad that both of their imperfections came through. In the first draft, Winona came off as the bad one, and I didn't want that.
Oh bread pudding! It's a family recipe for us as well, and even then it's not really a recipe, it's all 'chef's measure' stuff that we worked out through trial and error, so I can see how this would have developed - the traditions being altered slightly, imperfect yet perfect just the same :D

I love the little insights into all their characters, it's very understated, and works brilliantly :D

love love LOVE it! :D
Secret: I really dislike bread pudding, but luckily it appears that most of my readers enjoy it!

Anyway, I'm really glad you enjoyed the story! I worked on this one for a long time, so feedback means a lot.
This is perfect foodfic, and both breaks and heals my heart.

*applauds, wiping away a taar*
Hee! I did not know that foodfic was a genre, but if so, I certainly enjoyed contributing to it! I'm glad you liked it :)
Ahhhh this is beautiful and I cried.

--and now I will try to say something actually coherent... I love this Winona. She seems so human and so real to me. I think a lot of people try to combat the weeping widow Winona by making her very harsh and independent, but I absolutely love seeing a Winona who doesn't see herself as being weakened by being in love. The scene with Jim was so beautiful and prickly and perfect in its not-perfectness and I absolutely loved it.

...yeah, that wasn't actually any more coherent, was it.
Thank you so much! It was absolutely coherent, and it means a lot -- I worked on this story forever!