“Good morning, kids!”
Gwen strode into Kimrean’s room with less flair than a circus performer, but more flair than a politician. (Which, for one has never actually seen politicians in action, is not much less flair at all.) She smiled at the teen —teens— occupying the bed and received a tiny smile in initial response.
“Good morning, Gwen.” It was quiet, which undoubtedly meant that Adrian had reacted to her entrance first.
The small smile grew into a grin that would have sent a shark swimming back to its mother to ask for more teeth. “ Gwenny!”
“Good morning, Cassiopeia,” Gwen said, bracing herself seconds before the lithe body leapt up to slam into her with all the force a seventeen-and-three-quarters year old could muster.
Kimrean leaned back from the embrace a moment after they’d begun hugging Gwen like they’d just met again after parting for years. “It’s Diana, actually!” Diana said brightly. “I changed it again this morning. That’s Wonder Woman’s real name! Did you know that!? I just learned it earlier!”
“Oh!” Gwen ruffled their choppy blond hair fondly. “Well, good morning, Diana, then. Or, should I say, Wonder Woman?” she winked conspiratorially at Diana, who beamed back up at her proudly.
“Oh, spare me,” Adrian muttered, removing himself from Gwen’s personal space and sitting back on the bed. “When are you going to just pick one name and stick to it?” he asked aloud, sounding incredibly put-out.
Diana shrugged their shoulders. “When I find one that’s the best name?” she offered. Adrian huffed and rolled his eyes.
“But you love me, bro!”
Gwen hid her smile behind her hand as they devolved into general sibling bickering. They were already a long way from the frustrated, crazed-looking kid that had been shoved into her hands three months ago, and she couldn’t have been any prouder to see the change.
“Alright, we’re juuust about finished,” Gwen told Kimrean, once she’d finally administered the last of the day’s tests. Adrian had been still throughout, as per the norm, but his sister had been restless right up until Gwen had announced that she had a surprise for her that would only be brought out when everything was done.
Diana was upon her immediately. “Do I get my surprise now, Gwen? Do I, do I, do I? Please say yes! Pleasepleaseplease—“
“—please stop ,” Adrian interrupted flatly, cutting Diana’s begging off short. Despite the sharpness of his glare, though, his left hand grabbed onto the sleeve of Gwen’s scrubs and tugged at it incessantly until Gwen finally laughed and nodded.
“Yes, I’ve got it for you in my bag,” she said.
Kimrean stared down curiously at the book when it was handed over. Gwen watched their face closely, watching as Adrian’s annoyed expression was replaced with Diana’s excited one.
“It’s a book of baby names,” Gwen explained. “I figured you might like to look through it instead of stealing names from Wonder Woman.”
When Kimrean looked back up, their eyes were positively shining, and Gwen felt a stab of warmth go right through her at the gratitude encompassed in that one single glance. “Thank you!” For the second time that day, Gwen found herself with an armful of lithe, bony teenager. It was all she could do to return the hug. “Thankyouthankyouthankyou,” Diana continued in a steady stream until she let go again.
As soon as she launched herself back into bed, Diana opened up her new book and began to pore over it in earnest.
A sigh bubbled out of Kimrean’s mouth then, as long-suffering as a mother of four toddlers in a line seven little old ladies deep at the supermarket.
“Why are you encouraging her?” Adrian complained, his nose still buried in the book. “This is ridiculous. I thought you liked me, Gwen.”
Gwen smiled and took a seat in the chair beside their bed. She reached over and patted their right hand once before withdrawing again. “Be nice to her. You’ve had your whole life to be Adrian. She’s only had three months to be Diana.”
“Paulina,” Kimrean corrected absently, with the finger of their left hand poking at the name curiously.
Gwen nodded once, conceding. “She’s only had three months to be Paulina. You can be patient with that, can’t you?”
“No,” Adrian muttered. His face twisted into a grin.
Paulina: C’mon, you gotta let me have this! You won’t even call me sis, at least lemme find the right name!
Adrian: (cringing) That’s because the thought of calling you ‘sis’ makes me feel physically ill.”
Paulina: (smugly) Well, there you go!
Gwen shook her head, fondness gathering at the edges of her smile. It was time to change her angle. “The sooner she goes through those names, the sooner she’ll find one she likes and stops torturing you,” she said to Adrian. “Doesn’t that sound appealing?”
It took a moment, but slowly, Adrian nodded. “Alright. I hope you’re right.”
“Hey, have you ever known me to be wrong?” Gwen replied, spreading her arms wide in a gesture that clearly stated she had nothing to hide. “C’mon, now. Who’s always right?”
“Nobody is always right,” Adrian said, frowning.
“I am,” Gwen said, and she watched Adrian struggle with the clear test of logic before huffing and rolling his eyes without replying verbally.
Triumphant, Gwen stood to go. “I’ll be back in a little while, kids,” she said, and was rewarded with a quiet bye from Adrian in response. Paulina absently waved her left hand. They were still reading intently when Gwen held a hand up with a wave of her own before heading out.
“Oh! Maybe I’ll be Beatrice!” Gwen heard as she shut the door. “That’s a nice name.”
“It’s a horrible name. Beatrice is even worse than—“
Gwen grinned to herself, alone in the hallway with only her thoughts for company. She had such high hopes for those kids… She was going to be sad to see them go, when they finally gained their autonomy at eighteen. Her grin slowly faded, slipping from her face like fleas from a greased cat. Those poor damn kids…
She scrubbed one hand over her face, straightened up, and strode down the hall. Job first, emotions later. Whatever she felt about the Kimrean kids, she still had a tight schedule to keep.